Islam is derived from the Arabic root “salama” which means “surrender, submission, obedience, sincerity” and consequently “being in peace”. So in the religious sense Islam means, “being in a state of peace by surrendering to the will of God” and “obedience to His law”.
Today over a billion Muslims of the world are in a perpetual state of listlessness owing to a tirade of Islam-negative images, discourse, diatribe and stereotypes being directed at them. While the roots of Islam bashing and persecution can be traced back to the times of the Prophet (PBUH), the aftermath of 9/11 certainly saw Islamophobia reaching historic heights. Several reasons account for this disturbing imbroglio including the political policies and ambitions of the western governments, historical encounters between Islam and Christianity and agenda-setting of western media machinery; however, one of the most important factor that has lead to the current chaos and confusion is the absolute lack of understanding and scholarly guidance on what “true” Islam is within the Muslim World itself.
Islam (deen, the way of life) is based on Quran (the Revealed Word of Allah) and Sunnah (the ways of the Prophet). However, a cursory glance at the Muslim World will reveal that the Islam followed or in most cases “enforced” exhibits serious dichotomy and disconnect. Some Muslim countries have officially declared a certain form of Islam as their state religion (and they make sure that their form of Islam is enforced and strictly adhered to), while others have taken a relatively neutral stance. Yet others have declared themselves as secular Muslim countries. Many may regard this as vibrancy and plurality in Islam, but the truth is rather bitter and alarming.
For centuries, the Muslim World has been plagued by a serious dearth of intellectual discourse on Islam and its teachings. While Quran exhorts and encourages man to seek knowledge and learn; to discover himself and his Lord through this knowledge and to utilize the offerings of this universe for his blissful existence, progress and multiplication of his progeny, this trait of “pondering” and “questioning” has been consciously stifled by the pseudo-ulemas and retrogressive governments in the Muslim World. This has lead to a consistent decadence and digression of understanding of even the most basic and intrinsic Islamic principles. Similarly a mullah can be found in every mosque at every end of a street but they hardly ever do anything more than delivering war-mongering sermons on Fridays or bickering over frivolous issues like the length of the beard or the way the takbeer should be observed.
Borne out of this intellectual decadence and taking advantage of the void thus created, emerged a radicalized, extremist group, who took upon itself the task of “Islamizing” the Muslim society and representing (rather misrepresenting) the true Islam. This group loosely includes the Taliban, Al-Qaeda operatives, militants, mullahs, maulvis and their ilk whose philosophy today poses the greatest threat to the Muslim World. Their version of Islam has no Islamic authentication, their faith has no god to worship and their humanness has no humanity. They only serve to malign, defame and insult Islam. They brazenly and shamelessly use Islam to fulfill their personal and political ambitions. They are not religiously inspired, they are politically motivated. They employ religious symbolism of paradise and martyrdom to allure young minds to fulfill their destructive agendas.
Jihad is not suicide bombing, blowing up of innocent, unarmed worshippers in a mosque or killing of people who leave homes in the morning in search of livelihood; it is a pious practice of striving in the way of Allah by various means (Jihad al-Nafs, Jihad al-Lisan, Jihad al-Yad, Jihad as-Sayf). Similarly, women in Islam are not meant to be oppressed, mistreated and forced within the confines of their homes without providing for their physical, mental and psychological wellbeing; rather Islam empowers and encourages women to realize their true potential and lead their lives with dignity and self-respect within the parameters laid down in Islam.
So burning down of girls’ schools in Matta or other areas, public whipping of a young girl in Swat without ascertaining her sin, burning and closing down of barber shops and CD outlets have no precedence in Islam. It is due to this extremist and irrational behaviour that images of armed bearded men chanting and sloganeering, flogging and whipping, killing and beheading, burning and rioting are constantly splashed across the western media.
It is imperative to state that it is certainly the duty of Muslims to preach Islam to the non-believers so that truth may be distinguished from the falsehood. After that, whosoever wishes to embrace Islam may do so and whoever wishes to continue upon un-islamic belief may do so. But under no circumstances can people be violently threatened or forced to conform to Islamic faith. Decisive evidence in this regard is the following ayah:
“Let there be no compulsion in religion; Truth has been made
clear from error. Whoever rejects false worship and believes in
Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold that never breaks.
And Allah hears and knows all things.” (Surah Al Baqarah:256)
The Prophet (PBUH) spread Islam by being a practical example for the followers. He never exhibited violent behaviour even in the face of the most atrocious and barbaric cruelties directed at him and his followers. The state of Madinah was one of the most peaceful and tolerant societies the world has seen and yet these so-called forbearers of Islam “choose” to revive Islamic values not by peaceful means but violent, abhorrent devastation.
Immediate corrective measures need to be taken at individual, intellectual, societal and government levels to redeem the situation. Extremism, radicalization and ultra-conservatism might push the world to the brink of “clash of civilizations” in addition to polarizing the Muslim society. The entire Muslim World needs to step back and go through a phase of introspection, self-analysis and self-realization before it even begins to counter the external threats directed at it. It needs to get in touch with the true meaning of Islam. This can be done at the individual and collective level by ending the monopolization and “ownership” of Islam from the diktats of the faux maulvis, mullahs and the pseudo-scholars. The Muslim governments must end their official endorsements of a certain form of Islam and allow for open discussion, discourse and dialogue aimed at promoting and enhancing better understanding Islam and its philosophy. Every Muslim must strive to gain knowledge, read and understand Quran and Sunnah and endeavor to lead his life according to the true teachings of Islam.
Islam is a religion of peace, tolerance, harmony and co-existence. Therein lays the true spirit and essence of Islam. “Islam,” wrote George Bernard Shaw, “is the best religion and Muslims are the worst followers.” It is about time the followers take heed and prove him wrong.