When people lose consciousness of the true spirit and values of their faith, their actions and practices no longer reflect the message of the religion they practice. The forms become an end in themselves as the greater vision that is meant to uplift and transform individuals and societies is lost. The significance of faith is reduced to a mere preservation of and adherence to the traditional outer practices that had once complemented and reflected the message. Religion becomes a museum for the preservation of the outer shell that was a container for the sustaining and life transforming core.
Focus is turned towards concepts of individual piety and self righteousness, disengaging people and groups from humanity. It is lost to such followers that belief in the Oneness of God is an acknowledgment of the oneness of humanity and serving God is serving and doing justice to humanity. True followers of any religion must concern themselves with human rights which is the ultimate purpose of faith. When human rights are trampled, religion is betrayed. Ideologues whose aim is to uncritically glorify the Muslims in history at the expense of other groups remain in control of the mosque pulpits.
Through the fog of deliberate misrepresentation these ideologues create an illusion of the unity of the Ummah: disregarding any appreciation of the responsibility and value of free community. Without any legitimate central authority to speak on behalf of the majority of Muslims who are Sunnis and with hardly any Government within the Muslim world having any credibility with its own people, there is a chronic deficiency of legitimacy allowing a â€œdictatorshipâ€ of obscurantism. The spirit of free inquiry, a major reason for Islamâ€™s past glory, is long buried and forgotten.
The Sharia to the Muslims is Godâ€™s law, yet it is human understanding and interpretations through which it has acquired the present framework.
It is clear that its dynamism needs to be revived since it is frozen in time and its relevance and applicability to the present is being called into question daily. Self appointed scholars reduce Islam to a tribal doctrine defended by zealots assigned to protect the honor and integrity of a faith that is everywhere under attack.
Incapable of making the case of the perceived and real injustices to Muslims by their own and others except through violence and confrontation, they are helping to nurture extremism. The wrath of tribal Islam towards those it considers its enemies is mirrored in the intolerance of fundamentalist Christians who also regard the current situation as a religious war, each party claiming God on its side.
Muslimsâ€™ most glaring failure lies in their inability to reconcile Islamâ€™s doctrine, with the modern world. In failing to reconcile Islam they have opted to allow it to regress into its past. This is where the insecurity of Muslims stems from and that is, since the past is undeniable and cannot be changed, they hark to the past, because it feels secure and not threatened. The past has become of a sort of â€œsecurity blanketâ€ for Muslims and they wrap themselves in it, whenever they feel threatened.
The concern regarding Islamâ€™s threat to others is necessitating not only political restructuring but more interestingly ideological retooling.
Serious and legitimate questions are being raised daily about Islam and Muslims; what do democracy and human rights mean in an Islamic society?
Can democracy and human rights make any headway at all in a society deeply divided between the rich and the poor, included and excluded, educated and uneducated, enlightened and the otherwise? To these and many other such questions, which affect the peace and stability of the world order, Muslims need to furnish the answers.
They must engage urgently in a radical reinterpretation of the Quran and their legacy if they wish to reverse the use of the scriptures as an ideological legitimization and justification for social injustices so prevalent within their societies.
A creative interpretation is needed that will reconcile Qurâ€™anic passages with the social responsibilities and accountability that the Quran demands for the uplift of the oppressed and marginalized. This is itself the true intent of the Sharia. It is about empowerment, choice and deliberation at individual and collective levels rather than control, dependence, obedience and passive reception. Muslims must rise to the challenge and not let others define them.
Dr. Nazir Khaja, Chairman, Islamic Information Service, California; nkhajamd@earthlink. net.