Struggles Within Islam And Outside
Shrine of Nizamuddin Auliya in Delhi
The politically assertive pan-Islamic tendencies and attendant violence apart, racial chauvinism and sectarian struggles are foundational to Muslims societies from their very early days, with doubts, acrimonies and hypocrisies almost acquiring doctrinal sanctity. Imagine newly-empowered Bedouin Arabs condemning Iranians as a dumb people, whereas anyone with a sense of history will know the latter as one of the most civilized and sophisticated nations of the ancient world. The Iranian attempt to remain relevant in the current geo-political context is continued to be challenged by Saudi Arabia, a close ally of the Americans who in turn is an ally of Egypt and Israel; ancient people caught up in ancient struggles.
On the other hand, Shias and Sunnis are also locked in an un-resolvable tussle, with both groups suspecting each other as eternal enemies, not to mention the predicament of smaller communities of Muslim believers. Like all other iniquitous societies, majority groups have always tried to use political power to persecute and suppress minority cultures. Any serious discussion on these outstanding issues either takes the form of unity of the brotherhood or is simply dismissed as seditious fitna. Some calm reflection and rational thinking can help develop a more just order of things, opening the possibility of tolerating difference.
Some sections of politically ambitious theologians may have exploited religious tenets to justify violence and other reprehensible acts, but as is often reiterated medieval Sufis have shown that it was possible to practice Islam and be tolerant and respectful of others who do not subscribe to their faith. Prominent Sufi figures are well known for their appreciation of the sincerity of Hindu devotees in their worship of the Lord, in whatever shape or form He might have been imagined.
In this context, one of the most touching stories is narrated by Hazrat Nizam-ud-Din Auliya of a Brahmin man who was content despite his pecuniary embarrassment after his entire property was confiscated by a town administration on account of apprehensions of some wrong-doing. When asked how he was coping with the adversity, the Brahmin replied that things were fine. When prodded further how could he say that despite his pitiable condition, he retorted that his sacred threat (jenau / zunnaar) was still with him!
Narrating this tale, Nizam-ud-Din commented that this kind of sincerity was rare in people and was something worth emulating. Indeed, those who are ready to kill or die for religion are themselves not sincere in practicing what they preach. For Sufis, it was possible to live in peace with others and there was enough theoretical justification to live in peace from within Islam also. Love God and love His creations was the simple mantra of the Sufi way, and reams of pages have been written by Sufi theorists to provide examples from the words of God, practice and sayings of the Prophet and the lives of leading Sufi masters of yore to justify the Sufi idea of love.
Some of the misunderstandings and confusion regarding Islam are due to the misinterpretation of the notion of jihad, loosely translated as holy-war on behalf of God. A closer look at the theoretical positions clearly identify the struggle to control one’s own self to be able to lead a life as a good human being on the righteous path for eternal bliss, a struggle called jihad of a great value (jihad-i-akbar). Lesser struggles might involve fighting to ensure that the righteous path shown by God was not forgotten altogether (jihad-i-asghar).
The encouragement for establishing what are recommended as acts of virtue and forbidding what are considered reprehensible, known in Quranic terms as ‘amr bil ma’aruf wa nahi an al munkir’, does not give a free license to kill those who differ. In fact, a variety of suggestions have been offered as possible ways to handle the situation – by force, speech, or migration. The difficulty with Islam in the current context is that some of the self-appointed custodians of the faith have taken upon themselves to set things right, according to their understanding of the laws of Islam and in a violent manner. Alternatively, it is also possible that some people are desperately trying to fulfill their political aspirations through violent means under the cover of Islam. The violent tactics of terror-groups such as ISIS and Boko Haram are completely irrational and cannot last for long.
A saner position will argue for the Quranic dictum, ‘to you your religion and to me mine (lakum dinukum waliyadin)’.
And, as the righteous people like to put it: God knows best!