Archive for the ‘Islamic Reformation’ Category

I have always believed in the modern concept of a secular nation state where all citizens – irrespective of their religion, race, ethnicity, culture, gender, and dare I say, sexual orientation – are awarded equal rights and protection. Now, I am smart enough to know that implementation of such a progressive concept in a third-world country created specifically in the name of Islam is very difficult.

That being said, I am equally sure that Pakistan can never be transformed into an Islamic state in which all so-called “Muslims” are in accord with each other on religious injunctions. This is because it is impossible to agree on a definition of a Muslim that is acceptable to all sects. Put differently, the tremendous variation in beliefs and practices of “Islamic” sects is a recipe for institution of tyranny as well as suppression and persecution of minorities.

The following excerpts beautifully illustrate the impossibility of reconciliation among various Islamic sects.

[Smokers’ Corner: To kill a mocking lizard; DAWN; Nadeem F. Paracha; 07 Sep, 2009; Excerpts; Copy and Paste]

That reminds me of the famous Justice Munir Report on the 1954 anti-Ahmadi riots in Lahore. In the course of the inquiry, Justice Munir pointedly asked every Muslim scholar who appeared before him if he knew of a definition of Islam which could be acceptable by the other sects as well; which could equally apply to everyone and by the help of which we could define, “Yes, this is a Muslim”, and “That is not a Muslim”

In the report Munir submits that no two scholars among all Muslim scholars interrogated, agreed on a single definition of what Islam was. In the case of one particular scholar, he wanted some more time to think over it, and Justice Kayani, who was a partner of Justice Munir in the enquiry commission, said: “I cannot give you more time because you have already taken more than fourteen hundred years to ponder over this question. Is that not enough? If fourteen centuries, plus some years are not enough for you to be able to define the very fundamentals of Islam, how much more time would you require?”

The full article is available at: http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/the-newspaper/columnists/03-nadeem-f-paracha-to-kill-a-mocking-lizard-ss-01


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I am delighted to note that a prominent group of Muslims living in Canada has recently called for a public ban on Islamic veil. Even more heartening is their reasoning: veil “marginalizes women” and denies them gender equality, one of the pillars of modern Western societies. I hope such progressive thinking becomes more common among Muslims going forward. It is a small but important step towards desperately needed reformation of Islam.

[Canadian Muslim group calls for burqa ban; DAWN; 09 Oct, 2009; Copy and Paste]

A Muslim group on Thursday called for a ban on the wearing of burqas in public in Canada, saying it “marginalizes women.” “The burqa has absolutely no place in Canada,” said Farzana Hassan of the Muslim Canadian Congress.

“In Canada we recognize the equality of men and women. We want to recognize gender equality as an absolute. The burqa marginalizes women.” Many Muslim women in this country are being forced to wear the loose robe and veil by their husbands and family, setting them apart from other Canadian women who are living freely, she claimed. Hassan acknowledged the Quran preaches modesty, but “it doesn’t have to be that you have to cover your face or you have to wear a virtual tent wherever you go. This is not a requirement of Islam or the Quran.” Hassan blamed extremist Muslims for its rising popularity in Canada. “To counter this trend, we are asking for a ban on the burqa,” she said.

The call follows an edict by a top Muslim authority in Egypt calling for a ban on the burqa. Several European countries, including France, Italy and Denmark, have also called for burqa bans in recent years. Last year, an Ontario judge ruled that a woman testifying against her alleged rapist does not have the right based on religious beliefs to wear a veil in court. The decision is being appealed. In 2007, a controversy also erupted over a Quebec election official’s decree to Muslim women to remove their veil at the ballot box so that their identity could be verified. Hassan was not able to say exactly how many women in Canada wear the burqa, but said “it is on the rise” in Toronto and Montreal.

According to a 2006 census, there are some 800,000 Muslims living in Canada. The Muslim Canadian Congress, which has some 300 members, describes itself as “providing a voice to Muslims who are not represented by existing organizations … that are either sectarian or ethnocentric, largely authoritarian, and influenced by a fear of modernity and an aversion to joy.”

The original article is available at: http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/news/world/09-canadian-muslim-group-calls-for-burqa-ban–szh-02

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Since a number of blog readers seem keen on conducting comparative assessments of various religions with total disregard to their historical evolution and subsequent reformation, they might find it worthwhile to read the recent remarks of Portuguese Nobel Laureate for Literature, Jose Saramago, on the Bible. With all due respects, religion has more often than not poisoned the mind of humanity. It is critically important for societies to counter obscurantist religious dogma with secular governance, modern education, equal rights, cultural tolerance, and freedom of thought.

[Nobel winner slams Bible as handbook of bad morals; France 24; October 19, 2009; Excerpts; Copy and Paste]

A row broke out in Portugal… after a Nobel Prize-winning author denounced the Bible as a “handbook of bad morals”. Speaking at the launch of his new book “Cain”, Jose Saramago, who won the 1998 Nobel Prize for Literature, said society would probably be better off without the Bible. The book is an ironic retelling of the Biblical story of Cain, Adam and Eve’s son who killed his younger brother Abel. At the launch event in the northern Portuguese town of Penafiel on Sunday, Saramago said he did not think the book would offend Catholics “because they do not read the Bible”.

“The Bible is a manual of bad morals (which) has a powerful influence on our culture and even our way of life. Without the Bible, we would be different, and probably better people,” he was quoted as saying by the news agency Lusa. Saramago attacked “a cruel, jealous and unbearable God (who) exists only in our heads” and said he did not think his book would cause problems for the Catholic Church “because Catholics do not read the Bible. It might offend Jews, but that doesn’t really matter to me,” he added.

The full article is available at: http://www.france24.com/en/node/4904933

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For what it is worth, I strongly condemn the fatwa issued by certain Indian Muslim clerics against the singing of Vande Mataram by Indian Muslims. It is an axiom of modern statehood that all citizens offer respect and loyalty to national symbols – such as, national flag, national anthem, etc – regardless of their religious affiliation or political beliefs. Indian Muslims cannot claim an exception… especially as they are they are quite a pampered lot, judging from the treatment meted out to minorities across the border in Pakistan.

As some blog readers are aware, I am also a Canadian citizen. This means that during citizenship oath taking ceremony several years ago, I had to swear allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen of England. (Canada is still technically under the British Crown and the Canadian head of state is the reigning monarch of England who appoints a Governor General). The thought never even crossed my mind to refuse the oath on the grounds that my grandfathers had fought the British to end colonial rule in pre-Partition India.

That being said, I am sorry to say that I am not surprised in the least at the ignorance, stupidity, and bigotry of the overwhelming majority of Islamic clerics. Pardon my racism, I believe the term best applied to these fundamentalist devils is the one coined by Hitler for (non-Aryan) Slavs: untermenschen (ie. German for “sub-humans”). I say this because the thinking of most non-Sufi Islamic clerics has not evolved over the past 1,400 years. Humanity has clearly moved on, but these loonies are still stuck in the age of Caliphate.

If it makes some blog readers feel better, please note that during General Zia’s Islamization drive in Pakistan of 1980s, certain influential clerics tried to have identity photos banned in passports and drivers licenses on the grounds that “images” are “un-Islamic” as they can lead to “idolatory”. Of course, they ran into a problem in that no one outside of Pakistan was prepared to accept identification documents without photos of document bearers. Oh, well!

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By “reformation” of Islam, I mean the following in Muslim countries:

  1. Introduction of secular governance and educational systems
  2. Promotion of “Western” democratic, representative, pluralist, accountable, and egalitarian governance ideals
  3. Equality of rights across all citizens – irrespective of differences in gender, religious beliefs, and sexual orientation
  4. Rejection of “pan Islamism” (ie. Muslim ummah) in favor of nationality and allegiance to nation-state
  5. Guaranteed female access to modern education and freedom to pursue professional careers
  6. Removal of female dress restrictions (ie. head scarves, veil, etc) and banning of female genital mutilation
  7. Elimination of officially sanctioned or officially tolerated clerical influence in state functioning or state policies
  8. Reinterpretation of Quranic verses that conflict with modern sensibilities (eg. interest-based banking; female testimonial, inheritance, and divorce rights; status of non-Muslims; pre-marital sexual relations; alcohol consumption; sanction of violence against “idol worshipers”; exhortation of  jihad, etc)
  9. Revision of educational systems to encourage independent, critical thinking and pursuit of modern, scientific knowledge
  10. Change in societal orientation to embrace globalization and humanity while rejecting purported “civilizational conflict” between Islamic and non-Muslim worlds
  11. Guaranteed freedom to engage in artistic pursuits
  12. Tolerance of cultural offerings at odds with Islamic precepts
  13. Protection of ancient pre-Islamic archeological sites
  14. Guaranteed freedom of speech and thought, with severe restrictions on religious hate propaganda
  15. Guaranteed freedom to worship (or disbelieve)

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In my opinion, the interpretation of religious scriptures must always be contextual. Religious edicts cannot be taken out of time,  place, and culture of their origin and passed as law in the 21st century.

As a corollary, religious scholars must not discourage reinterpretation of holy texts in the face of changing times. Nor should Islamic governments bother implementing Sharia law from a millenium ago.  “Change” is the only constant in human history, and has almost always marked the upward ascent of man. Given this truth, it is foolhardy to cling to an immutable, ossified interpretation of scriptures… especially when society clearly seems to have moved away on its own volition from orthodox clerical proclamations. Witness Indian Muslims’ love of music or Turkish Muslims’  insistence on gender equality, despite religious edicts to the contrary.

It is obvious that hardly any Muslims in the Subcontinent follow Quran or Hadith literally. Their way of life is governed by local culture and customs. It is high time that the Mullah wake up to this reality.

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Quoted below is an excellent article on the need for contextual interpretation of religious scriptures and avoidance of pseudo scientific “discoveries” in divine texts. I have already remarked extensively that ancient and medieval thought has no place in the 21st century. Organizational rules that were put in place for Christian, Muslim, or Hindu societies thousands of years ago in the form of religious injunctions have – for want of a better phrase – long outlived their utility and applicability. Similarly, in my opinion, it is foolhardy to look for pseudo evidence of major scientific or technological discoveries in religious scriptures in order to establish the validity or superiority of one particular faith. The scientific and technological advancements have come – and will come – only and only through dogged research and creative thinking, not professed religiosity.

[The great caving in; DAWN; Nadeem F. Paracha; 20 Sep, 2009; Copy and Paste]

Only a few days ago, while channel surfing on a slow-moving evening, I came across a show where an “alim” and his “scholar” guest were discussing the Islamic edicts on the issue of wife-beating. As the scholar insisted that the husband could use whatever degree of violence on a “disrespectful wife,” the host, who usually applauds the most reactionary notions about religion, was, this time, left gulping; perhaps conscious that his own wife might be watching this circus. He tried to soften the scholar’s blow by suggesting that “there’s a whole procedure to this,” but the guest just kept at it.

It was a classic example of modern-day religious programming which claims to use scholarly insights to close the gap between religion and modernity, but usually ends up opening various Pandoras boxes whose awkward and medieval contents make religion seem anything but compatible with contemporary society. The question is, why discuss such topics? We know that many a divine revelation has passages that modernist Islamic scholars have been grappling with for years, arguing that these need to be understood allegorically and in the historical context in which they appeared instead of discussing them as if the dynamics of society were still ruled by medieval impulses.

These TV shows claim to be making faith and its edicts easy to live by in the modern world, but the fact is they only manage to add another suffocating layer of social cumbersomeness that is found in societies (like Pakistan) that always seem busy shakily trying to balance religious literalism with modern materialism. The results of such a balancing act are not exactly an enlightening synthesis, but rather, an intellectual exhaustion that leaves society collapsing inwards. Its habitants then emerge sounding either suspicious (giving vent to conspiracy theories about imagined attacks on their beliefs), or somewhat deluded (they start flaunting grandiose, even xenophobic, ideas about the perceived superiority of their faith.

Maybe the most obvious reason behind such an existentialist collapse is that in societies where religion is dragged in as an ever-present social, political and personal facet, the weight of such an act (especially in a modern setting) is that people simply cave in. In their lethargy, they are thus left thinking more about afterlife, rather than energetically engaging with what they have as life here and now.

Mine is an objective enquiry that gets even more urgent when I see TV programming also trying to insist that whatever major scientific discoveries took place in the 20th century were already present in the holy book. My friend Fasi Zaka is right to wish that people would stop saying this because, for example, no one has been able to find a cure for malaria or chickenpox so far even though, as an article of faith, many Muslims may believe that it is there.

As well-known Islamic scholars like Professor Ziauddin Sardar, Muhammad Arkoun and scientists such as Professor Pervez Hoodboy suggest, it requires considerable mental gymnastics and distortions to find “scientific facts” in religious text. Yet such tendencies have become a lucrative fad. Bookshops overflow with such literature; television preachers talk endlessly about how many different scientific theories can be found in the holy book, only after they have been touted by scientists! Numerous websites are devoted to explaining the phenomenon. Prof Sardar laments: “The underlying message of these theories is that all the science you need is in the holy text – no need to get your hands dirty in a lab or work within mainstream theories.”

The emergence of such fads and theories, too, is maybe a fallout of the existentialist caving in of Muslim societies. In their introversion, they have also become intellectually lazy, on the one hand, refusing to contextualise medieval laws based on 8th and 9th century man-made traditions, and on the other, using convoluted pseudo-sciences (based on imaginative whims rather than hard scientific facts) to match the West’s claim to modern scientific dominance.

What most cranks in this respect never tell their gullible audiences however is that long before Muslims started claiming “scientific truths in the holy book”, Hindus and Christians had already covered this tricky territory. For example, Hindu fundamentalists claimed that what progress science had achieved was already reflected in Hindu sacred texts. They were quoting examples like ‘Pushpakavimana’ mentioned in Ramayana, when Harun Yayah was most probably in his shorts.

The original article is available at: http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/the-newspaper/columnists/03-nadeem-f-paracha-the-great-caving-in-ss-03

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