Muslims and Islam, and the Other Side of War

By M. I. Bhat

Any one in his/her normal senses would laugh away at the very thought of it given the tragedy – in terms of millions upon millions dead, maimed, orphans, households and businesses destroyed in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and (if you include indirectly) Pakistan over the past three decades – that recent wars inflicted upon Muslims. Add to this the stigma of terrorism that Muslims have been burdened with today individually and collectively in the eyes of non-Muslims world over. So there is actually everything for a Muslim to cry over than to look for even a faint streak of silver lining in such a large scale and down-to-earth destruction and loss of personality.

That in fact is what a significant proportion among Muslims point to and want their community to think about and change. Who are these within-community ‘well wishers’ who see and understand what the majority of their brethren don’t?

But first let a common notion be clarified that might as well help identify the “well wishers.” That notion is that the terms Islam and Muslims are interchangeable. That may be technically correct but in actuality the two are not even the same. To know what Islam or for that matter any religion is, one needs to go to, as one of the greatest contemporary Islam preacher Dr. Zakir Nayak would often say, the source, not look at what its followers say or do. In Islam’s case the source is Qur’an and the Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) sayings and doings (hadith and sunna).
Keeping this in mind, let us try to understand the ‘well wishers.’

This class of Muslims goes by several names that West has bestowed upon them, like ‘moderate,’ ‘liberal’ and, the one they feel enchanted with, ‘progressive.’

Like David Cameroon  calling himself a “committed” Christian, this class of Muslims, at least by sentiments, may not be any less committed Muslims but like him are “vaguely practicing.” They derive their understanding of Muslims and Islam mostly from media, not from Qur’an or mosque. The most vocal among them are easily identified by, for instance, their outright condemnation of suicide bombing any time it happens in the West but would keep mum over ‘Operation Cast Lead;’ or, when called to condemn America-led genocide in Afghanistan and Iraq they turn moralist and philosophical. For them 9/11 is a “tragedy;” Iraq war is punishment for Saddam’s foolish ego or Muslim’s scientific backwardness.

For their Muslim brethren, these ‘progressive’ Muslims want the best of the both worlds — the present and the hereafter. Logically sound and nothing apparently to beat it. Except when you consider what the best of the ‘present’ world has come to mean for this class of Muslims. It means nothing less and nothing more than what it means for every other person, be that of any other faith or no faith.

Because the highest standard of the ‘present’ world is what the Western societies have achieved and enjoy, the means prescribed by ‘progressives’ for achieving it also happen to be one unique, pro forma path, which is the Western, typically American.

In nutshell, they in fact belong to a homogenized population of one cross-culture, cross-faith community where each community member is in race to out pace the other in accruing material gains, irrespective of whether one believes or not in the hereafter and whatever that entails for the ‘present.’ these are the Muslims who provide grist to Paul Berman’s thesis of non-existence of Islamic civilization. Indeed the death and destruction that Muslims faced in recent wars, in particular the America-led wars, have happened with either active participation or passive indifference of this class of Muslims. On practical front, however, their advocacy and assimilation of Western values have failed to stop the West from implementing ‘The Clash of Civilization,’ howsoever hard one may try to color or camouflage it.

It is where the problem arises for majority of the Muslims who are known to be attached to their faith and are actively practicing it more than any other religious group and for whom ‘hereafter’ is something that keeps ringing continually, if not continuously, in the back of their mind. It is also what distances majority Muslims from their ‘progressives’ and, instead, easily flocks them in front of a mullah. On political front it is one of the contributing factors for the ever-widening gulf between Muslims and the West.

Equally importantly, if scientific and technological developments have underpinned the rise of the Western societies, it also has infused them with “I” and “me” the foremost in their lives, something that goes against Islamic concept of “we,” “us,” and Ummah; mercenaries versus mujahideen.

It is this very Ummah feeling that sizzles Muslims with pain and anger for the suffering Palestinians or what America manipulated for recruiting Muslims from far off lands for Afghan jihad. And it is what America is facing now in Afghanistan and crying vainly against Pakistani Taliban.

Having defined the two broad classes of Muslims, obviously the title has this ‘worldly unwise’ majority Muslims in the context.

The greatest and most unexpected result of the recent wars on this class of Muslims has been the resurgence in the fundamentals of their faith not just among the elderly but significantly among the youth. The beginning of resurgence dates back to two major events happening almost same time in 1979 that jolted the Muslims world and set the trend for revival of Islam.

The first of these was the Islamic revolution in Iran brought about by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeni replacing US-backed Reza Shah Pahlavi’s kingdom with the establishment of Islamic republic. Firearm shots by Shah’s forces were returned by milling crowds with Allah-o-Akbar, emphasizing Islamic moorings behind the revolution. Some of the positive consequence of this revolution may have waned since but continued ebbs and flows in confrontation between America and Iran over the past 30 years have at least indirectly helped maintain a sort of natural empathy for the premise of Iran’s revolution among the majority Muslims.

The second was the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan initiating a 9-year long ‘jihad’ that with the American help and publicity drew Muslims from different countries to fight against the Soviets. It is more likely that Muslim might not have labeled it as jihad if America didn’t publicize it so. After all Egyptians didn’t invoke jihad when they fought against Anglo-French in 1957 over Suez Canal or against Israel in 1967 nor have Palestinians used this term during their 63-year struggle against Israeli occupation. Credit for reviving the term jihad in the Muslim lexicon goes exclusively to America. Anyway, jihad became the catch word reminding Muslims of the sprit of their early history and reviving enthusiasm for their faith. 

If these two events weren’t enough along came another set of two events that further added to the already raised religious fervor: the first was the Palestinian Intifada in 1987-93 and second was the defeat of the Soviet Union at the hands of Afghan Mujahideen in 1989 and the re-birth of many Muslim states in the Central Asia from the clutches of communism. For an ordinary Muslim if the Palestinian Intifada was live example of faith-based defiance of and steadfastness against oppression, the victory of Afghan mujahideen was a perfect testimony of God’s promise of helping such steadfast against any enemy, however mighty.

Then there were some regional influences like demolition of more than 450 year old Babri mosque in India in 1992 that left a deep scare on the psyche of Muslims in the Indian subcontinent and fuelled sentiments for their faith.

In such a resurgent atmosphere it was natural for the mosque preachers to achieve ascendency and for ordinary Muslims to draw closer to Islam. I remember reading in early 1980s a news item reporting Indonesian Government feeling concerned with increased mosque attendances that included large proportion of youth. It was not unique to Indonesia but had become a universal phenomenon. Audio and video cassettes began to spread preaching Islam, soon to be taken over by Islamic TV channels and internet blogs.

Having primed the Muslims thinking toward their faith, what followed 9/11– the Afghan-Iraq wars – added fuel to already well lit religious fire. The result of elections in North Africa or the slogans heard in Bahrain, Yemen, Saudi Arabia or Pakistan are there for every one to see – it is reflection of the urge everywhere among Muslims to return to their faith and be ruled by people of strong faith.

That is as for the majority Muslims are concerned. What about the religion itself?

The affect has been mixed. Islamophobia is on ascendance, so is the vote share of political parties that openly or covertly propagate anti-Islam and anti-Muslim sentiments. Strong opposition to Islamic Center near Ground Zero, profiling Muslims and surveillance of mosques are perfect examples of the spread of Islamophobia in America. In Europe opposition to the construction of mosque minarets in Switzerland – a country that usually carried the impression of being rather free from religious and racial problems – and the French President Sarkozy himself advocating and then getting legislation passed against Muslim veil give a measure of how deep and pervasive Islamophobia has spread across the Atlantic into Europe post-9/11 and its importance for political parties to gain power.  Democratic Netanyahu’s banning Adhan is borrowing from his democratic peers in the West!

If this part of the story is depressing. That other part concerns the spread of Islam in the West among non-Muslims despite heightened Islamophobia and depressing condition of Muslims on international political front. 9/11 inconceivably prompted a spate for knowing about Islam among American Christians and in a short span thousands accepted Islam. The phenomenon has not slackened and the European scene is no different. It is this phenomenon that credits Islam among the fastest growing religions in the world. No ‘sword’ here!

The most astonishing part of the conversion (reversion) story, however, is that more than men it is women who embrace Islam – the same Islam whom “[m]any Westerners view … as a religion that restricts and subordinates women in both private and public life.” What on earth would make an educated Western woman go willingly for such an oppressive religion?

Trying to investigate this phenomenon some “leading historians, sociologists, anthropologists, and theologians” reach this conclusion (Women Embracing Islam, ed. Karin v. Nieuwkerk):  “The authors find that while no single set of factors can explain why Western women are embracing Islamic faith traditions, some common motivations emerge. These include an attraction to Islam’s high regard for family and community, its strict moral and ethical standards, and the rationality and spirituality of its theology ..”

What a slap to those who see only evil in Islam without ever bothering as little as to touch Qur’an, let alone read and understand it or pondering how they have debased humans in general (OWS is a poignant reminder) and women in particular. However tight Sarkozy and his band may put blinkers on their eyes and plug cotton in their ears, there are people who continue to see and walk into the bright light.

The other equally encouraging development for Islam is the increasing acceptance for one of its most fundamental economic features that is directly related to its concept of justice and social equality, that is, interest-free banking. Again, an unintended consequence: this time of Western economic meltdown. Growing at the rate of nearly 20%, Islamic banking is now available in a large number of Western countries including America and Britain. Only this year HSBC and Goldman Sachs issued Islamic interest-free sukuk bonds worth a total of $2.5 billion and in Russia AK Bars bank secured loan on Islamic financial terms.

Banks may have their interests at heart to open up to the Islamic financial system in the existing breakdown of conventional banking but Vatican is supposed to have far wider religious responsibilities and gaze. Writing in Vatican’s official newspaper, L’Osservatore , economists Loretta Napoleoni and Claudia Segre suggest Islamic sukuk bonds may be alternative to revive international financial system!. Before Vatican it was Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams who advocated implementing Shar’ia in marital law, financial transactions and arbitration in disputes!

– M. I. Bhat is former Head, Department of Geology & Geophysics, University of Kashmir, Srinagar, India. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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