(Translated from Urdu by Yoginder Sikand)
What is the role of violence in human life? Under what conditions does Islam permit violence? What rules and conditions has Islam laid down for the conduct of armed conflict? When does violence qualify to be termed as "terrorism"? Does Islam at all allow for terrorism? This article deals specifically with these questions, although it is not possible for me to do full justice to these issues in a single article.
The reason why I have chosen to write about violence and terrorism is today's particular context, where, in many places, Muslims have been made victims of violence and terrorism, while in numerous other places Muslims themselves have taken to violence and terrorism. Is it at all permissible for Muslims to do so? Will this in any way benefit Muslims? Can violence be undertaken by Muslims in retaliation for violence directed against them? These are crucial issues that I would like to discuss.
Today, the ongoing joint American and British conquest of Iraq and the growing wave of Hindutva aggression in India have created a sense of extreme nervousness among many Indian Muslims. They are apprehensive about what the future holds for them. In such a context, what must be done for ensuring a better future for the Muslims and for Islam? This article also deals with these pressing issues.
Violence and Morality
It must be stressed that violence is, in essence, an immoral act. A civilized society that functions on the basis of a proper code of morals can permit violence only for the punishment of crimes, in order to counter criminality, and for self-defence, so that individuals can defend themselves from the violence of others. Other than for these purposes, violence cannot be permitted. The proper way to attain one's goals is not through violence, but, rather, through dialogue, exchange of views, and peaceful persuasion. Using violence for religious purposes is wholly inappropriate, because it entails compulsion, while, as the Quran says, there can be no compulsion in religion:
There is no compulsion in religion; truly the right way has become clearly distinct from error; therefore, whoever disbelieves in Satan and believes in Allah he indeed has laid hold on the firmest handle, which shall not break off, and Allah is Hearing, Knowing.
Islam is based on mercy, love, tolerance, mercy and forgiveness. Killing, violence, disruptive activities and hard-heartedness all are not in accordance with the true Islamic spirit. As God says in the Quran, Keep to forgiveness (O Muhammad), and enjoin kindness, and turn away from the ignorant.
The Prophet Muhammad also preached softness and kind-heartedness, and warned that hard-heartedness and extremism do not produce any positive results. According to a tradition narrated by his wife, Hazrat Ayesha, the Prophet said that God is gentle and likes gentleness. He gives to those who act with gentleness what He does not to the hard-hearted. In a similar narration attributed to him, the Prophet is said to have advised people to adopt soft-heartedness and to stay away from violence, adding that while gentleness conduced to progress and welfare, its absence gave rise to a host of ills.
This is why Islam has forbidden offensive violence and has also not encouraged violence in retaliation. As the Quran says:
The good deed and the evil deed are not alike. Repel the evil deed with one which is better, then lo! he, between whom and thee there was enmity, (will become) as though he was a bosom friend.
This is not to deny that Islam does, in some cases, allow for violence, such as for defense or the punishment of crimes, but our effort should be to minimize the use of violence to the extent possible and to present before people the true image of Islam, which is based on love, concern and mercy. That is why the Quran has presented us with such models who, when they could have resorted to violence in reaction to the violence unleashed on them, chose not to do so. Thus, the Quran relates:
But recite unto them with truth the tale of the two sons of Adam, how they offered each a sacrifice, and it was accepted from the one of them and it was not accepted from the other. (The one) said: I will surely kill thee. (The other) answered: Allah accepteth only from those who ward off (evil). (27) Even if thou stretch out thy hand against me to kill me, I shall not stretch out my hand against thee to kill thee, lo! I fear Allah, the Lord of the Worlds. (28) Lo! I would rather thou shouldst bear the punishment of the sin against me and thine own sin and become one of the owners of the fire. That is the reward of evil-doers. (29) But (the other's) mind imposed on him the killing of his brother, so he slew him and became one of the losers. (30) Then Allah sent a raven scratching up the ground, to show him how to hide his brother's naked corpse. He said: Woe unto me! Am I not able to be as this raven and so hide my brother's naked corpse? And he became repentant. (31) For that cause We decreed for the Children of Israel that whosoever killeth a human being for other than manslaughter or corruption in the earth, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind, and whoso saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind. Our messengers came unto them of old with clear proofs (of Allah's Sovereignty), but afterwards lo! many of them became prodigals in the earth.
In the above verses, the Quran teaches us that Adam's noble son did not resort to violence even to defend himself. Immediately after these verses is another verse that announces stern punishment for those who spread strife, violate the law and engage in war against God and His Prophet.
Permission for Killing
It must be noted that in Islam violence that entails taking the life of another person is allowed only under clearly specified circumstances, as mentioned in the Quran. Till the early Muslims lived remained in Mecca and the Prophet Muhammad had not migrated to Medina , no permission was given to them by God to resort to any form of violence even though they were cruelly tortured by their Meccan opponents, which even resulted in the loss of Muslim life, such as that of a Muslim woman, Hazrat Summaiya.
The point may be raised that Muslims did not resort to violence in self-defensc e at this time because they were then small in number and weak. But, by the sixth year of the Prophet's declaration of his prophethood, a number of powerful and influential men had joined him and became Muslims, such as Umar and Hamza bin Abdul Mutalib, and they had even asked the Prophet for permission to take on the oppressors of the Muslims. Yet, even at this time, the Muslims did not receive consent to respond to violence with counter-violence. Instead, in the face of mounting violence and oppression directed against them, they were advised to migrate to Ethiopia . Consequently, more than 100 Muslims took refuge there.
It was only after the Prophet and many of his companions shifted to Medina that Muslims received permission to resort to violence to defend themselves from the attacks of others. At this time, the Prophet had established a political community that was ruled in accordance with God's laws. Yet, despite this, aggression and violence directed against Muslims, including those who had remained behind in Mecca , continued, and so God instructed the Muslims to resort to violence in self-defence, as a response to their opponent' barbarities. As the Quran declared:
Sanction (to fight) is given unto those who fight because they have been wronged; and Allah is indeed Able to give them victory; (39) Those who have been driven from their homes unjustly only because they said: Our Lord is Allah.
Elsewhere, the Quran says:
Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! Allah loveth not aggressors.
The sort of war that Muslims have been permitted to engage in by the Quran is not an offensive or aggressive one or one that is waged in order to capture and incorporate any territory into a Muslim political domain. Rather, this is a strictly defensive war that aims at preventing the aggressor from engaging in war again. When in Medina , the Prophet and the early Muslims were finally allowed to resort to violence in self-defence, and this was in a context when their Meccan opponents attacked the Islamic polity in Medina and also forcibly sought to prevent people from accepting the message of Islam, which was their fundamental right. Consequently, Muslims were given permission to fight so that strife could be stopped and everyone who wanted to accept God's path could do so. As the Quran says:
And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for Allah. But if they desist, then let there be no hostility except against wrong-doers.
And, elsewhere, the Quran says:
How should ye not fight for the cause of Allah and of the feeble among men and of the women and the children who are crying: Our Lord! Bring us forth from out this town of which the people are oppressors! Oh, give us from thy presence some protecting friend! Oh, give us from Thy presence some defender!
According to the Quran, by creating life and death God wants to test those who choose, on their own free will, to walk on the right path and those who choose to go astray. As the Quran puts it:
Blessed is He in Whose hand is the Sovereignty, and, He is Able to do all things. Who hath created life and death that He may try you which of you is best in conduct; and He is the Mighty, the Forgiving, Who hath created seven heavens in harmony.
Clearly, strife and corruption in the land often leads to people being denied the right to choose the path that they want to adopt for themselves. Thus, while Islam allows for Muslims to resort to violence to save their lives and lands from the attacks of aggressors, it also permits violence to challenge those who forcibly suppress people's right to follow Islam on their own free will. Still, it must be noted that in Islam the use of violence, whether for punishment of crimes or for the protection of Islam and Muslims or for upholding the right of people to freely choose their faith, is allowed only to the limit necessary for the purpose, because violence more than that required for a particular purpose is impermissible.
To reiterate, besides for the purpose of defensive war and punishment of crimes, resort to violence is not at all permitted in Islam, especially the sort of violence that results in the loss of life.
Thus, the Quran specifically states:
Say: Come, I will recite unto you that which your Lord hath forbidden to you: that ye ascribe no thing as partner unto Him and that ye do good to parents, and that ye slay not your children because of penury - We provide for you and for them - and that ye draw not nigh to lewd things whether open or concealed. And that ye slay not the life which Allah hath made sacred, save in the course of justice. This He hath command you, in order that ye may discern.
Elsewhere, the Quran says:
And do not wrongfully kill any living being which Allah has forbidden; and for whoever is slain wrongfully, We have given the authority to his heir, so he should not cross limits in slaying; he will surely be helped.
The last sentence in the above-mentioned Quranic verse indicates that the heir of someone slain wrongfully can indeed take revenge on the killer. But it is for the Islamic state, rather than for the aggrieved party, to take this action with regard to punishment for the crime of premeditated murder. Islam does not encourage violence in revenge for violence. Rather, as it sees it, the best solution is to work out means to prevent future violence, and with regard to past violence to adopt a policy of forgiveness. As the Quran lays down:
And those who, when an oppressive wrong is inflicted on them, (are not cowed but) help and defend themselves. The recompense for an injury is an injury equal thereto (in degree): but if a person forgives and makes reconciliation, his reward is due, from Allah: for (Allah) loveth not those who do wrong. But indeed if any do help and defend himself after a wrong (done) to them against such there is no cause of blame. The blame is only against those who oppress men with wrong-doing and insolently transgress beyond bounds through the land, defying right and justice: for such there will be a Penalty grievous. But indeed if any show patience and forgive, that would truly be an exercise of courageous will and resolution in the conduct of affairs.
In this regard, one should keep in mind the response of the son of Adam mentioned in the Quran, which I referred to earlier. True believers in God do indeed have the right to respond to violence with violence, but it must be remembered that Islam has before it certain higher goals that might demand a different sort of response, and it is precisely this that the Quran repeatedly points to. It is true that we have the right to react to violence unleashed on us through counter-violence, that is to say in self-defence, but we must also keep in mind that doing so might, in many cases, have a seriously negative impact on our mission of inviting others to God's path and of being witnesses unto humanity.
The Quranic verse that I just quoted was revealed at a time when the Prophet was still in Mecca and the Muslims were being cruelly oppressed. Yet, despite this, they did not receive permission to resort to counter-violence. Rather, this permission was received only later, in Medina , when an Islamic polity had been set up. Till such a polity is not in existence, retaliatory violence cannot possibly abide by the moral limits that Islam has set for it.
Violence and Terrorism
When some individuals or a group that are themselves not a ruling power in a particular country, but, rather, are subjects, resort to counter-violence, sooner or later their methods will degenerate into what we today call "terrorism". In this context, it must be noted that Islam has no room whatsoever for terrorism, including indiscriminate killing of people, non-combatants, women, children, the infirm and the elderly, burning people to death, mutilating their corpses and so on.
Keeping this in mind, survey the present context. On the one hand are nation-states that spend the resources of their nations on maintaining huge armies and buying the latest and most sophisticated weapons of war that can kill people on a massive scale. On the other hand are individuals or groups, who, in theory, are prohibited by their governments from possessing any sort of weapons. It is illegal for these individuals or groups to maintain an army. They cannot openly raise a volunteer militia. If they resort to violence against their own government or against the government of some other country, they must do so secretly. In attacking their enemies they cannot abide by the strict limits that Islam has laid down, because they cannot themselves choose the battle-field or the time of the battle.
They are forced to make secret preparations and to use any available opportunity to attack their enemies. This they might do by attacking civilian aircraft or killing civilians or trade centres, because they may not be able to easily target their enemies' military aircraft or army personnel or military installations. The level of organization and control over such terrorist activities is, of course, much less than that of the army of a regular state, primarily because those who engage in such activities must do so surreptitiously. The history of secret, underground movements that engage in this sort of violence clearly indicates that they cannot remain under a unified leadership for very long. Nor does the leadership have a very strong control over its activists at the grassroots, unlike in the case of a regular army of a recognised state. Such movements that take to violence even in response to state terrorism inevitably and necessarily degenerate into terrorism themselves. And, as I said earlier, Islam does not allow for terrorism at all, although it does allow for counter-violence, but under strict conditions and limits and in the light of Islam's higher purposes and aims.
The following incident well illustrates this point: When Abu Bakr, the first caliph [of the Sunnis] sent an army in the direction of Syria he instructed its commander, Zaid bin Abu Sufiyan, to abstain from killing any woman, child or very old person, not to cut down any fruit-bearing tree, not to lay desolate any habitation, not to unnecessarily slaughter any goat or camel, not to burn or disturb any bee-hive, not to tamper with the spoils of war and not to show cowardice on the battle-field.
Destroying property, blowing up buildings, setting to waste fields, etc. are all a form of "strife in the land" (fasad fil ardh), which is strictly prohibited in Islam. As the Quran says:
And unto Midian (We sent) their brother, Shu'eyb. He said: O my people! Serve Allah. Ye have no other God save Him. Lo! a clear proof hath come unto you from your Lord; so give full measure and full weight and wrong not mankind in their goods, and work not confusion in the earth after the fair ordering thereof. That will be better for you, if ye are believers.
Elsewhere, the Quran says:
And when he turneth away (from thee) his effort in the land is to make mischief therein and to destroy the crops and the cattle; and Allah loveth not mischief.
The counter-violence engaged in over the last two decades or so by Muslim groups in various countries, against the own governments or against non-Muslim powers, such as America, Russia, Britain and France, in response to their aggression or their anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim policies or their naked aggression, has clearly over-stepped the limits set by Islam. This is the case, for instance, of violence, driven by anti-Americanism, in recent years in places such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Yemen, Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and America itself, in which innocent people have been slain and public utilities have been destroyed. This has also happened, although on a much smaller scale, in our own country, India , as a response to the violence of a section of the majority community directed against the Indian Muslims.
Such acts of terrorism, even in retaliation, on the part of Muslims are clearly prohibited in Islam. These acts cannot be considered legitimate defensive violence. Nor can they be treated as necessary for stopping strife. They cannot also be considered to be punishment for crimes, such as that a legitimate government can impose on criminals. Without a doubt, it can be said that the counter-violence that Muslims have been resorting to in recent years is entirely contrary to the teachings of Islam, trespassing the strict limits set by Islam for the conduct of counter-violence. Assaulting embassies, hijacking aircraft, killing tourists, including innocent women, children, the elderly and other non-combatants, are entirely anti-Islamic acts. As a consequence of these terrorist acts, the image of Islam in the eyes of people across the world has been greatly tarnished. Ironically, it is in the name of that religion, Islam, which preaches mercy, kindness and love for humanity and even calls for the respect for innocent life in the course of war, that these cruel and wholly immoral deeds are being perpetrated. The media highlights all this, and shapes the minds of ordinary non-Muslims in such a way that they now regard Muslims with fear, dread and even hatred. For a community that is meant to invite others to the path of God, and whose mission it is to be a witness unto humankind, there cannot be a greater calamity than this.
Violence in Today's Context
After detailing the Islamic teachings related to violence and counter-violence, let us turn to the case of some specific circumstances under which violence, some might argue, might be legitimately adopted. In this regard, let us consider four particular contexts:
1. A Muslim majority country, where the government oppresses Islamic groups.
2. An independent Muslim land, which has been forcefully occupied by a non-Muslim country.
3. A democratic, non-Muslim majority country, where a section of the country's Muslims are oppressed.
4. Countries such as America and its allies that are today targeting some Muslim countries, groups and individuals.
A good instance of the first context is Egypt, where, for many decades now, a reign of oppression has been continuously unleashed on the Islamic movement known as the Ikhwan ul-Muslimun. In such cases, it is not proper for Islamic groups to react to state oppression through violence. Rather, they should use peaceful means to work for the preservation and promotion of human rights and justice.
An illustration of the second context is Palestine . The Palestinians' struggle against Israel can be considered a legitimate Islamic cause, fought in self-defence. It is for the concerned people to themselves decide that in this war when and to what extent violent means may be used, and when and to what extent other options may be explored.
The third context is one that prevails in our country, India . If in a democratic, non-Muslim-majority country a Muslim minority is being targeted and the government is unable to protect its life and property or deliberately allows or encourages others to attack them or even does this itself, as happened in Gujarat in 2002, what should Muslims do? Should they resort to violence in response to this violence?
It is, of course, true that, like other Indians, the Muslim Indians have the right to defend their life, property and respect. The law of the land allows people to take appropriate measures to stave off attackers, even it means that in seeking to defend one's life the life of the attacker is lost. However, due to the pressure of circumstances, some Muslims have begun to advocate offensive violence, or what they regard as preventive strikes. I am of the view that this is not at all appropriate. Islam does not allow for Muslims to attack others before they have attacked them. Nor does it allow them to attack innocent people of one community in retaliation for violence against Muslims perpetrated by their co-religionists. Some people might think that this sort of counter-violence is permissible as it might deter non-Muslim attackers or the state and its police forces from further anti-Muslim violence. But, in my view, revenge attacks against innocent, unarmed and peaceful co-religionists of those who attack Muslims is completely un-Islamic.
American Aggression Against Muslims
The fourth context that I touched upon earlier concerns the present-day American aggression against Muslim states and groups. Using the attacks of 11 September, 2001 as a pretext, America announced what it called a global "war on terror". The main targets of this war are Muslim individuals and groups that are angered with America or with their own governments, or those who regard the rapidly mounting American influence throughout the world as a threat to Islam and the Muslims, and who, therefore, seek to damage America and American interests. Because America regards certain Muslim countries as harbouring such Muslim individuals and groups, these countries have also been made a target of America's "war on terror".
It was because of this that America first bombed Afghanistan and then invaded and occupied Iraq , and is now talking of waging war against other countries that it is opposed to, such as Iran and Syria . Alongside this, it is also on the look out for individuals in Pakistan and West Asia who have committed, or can commit, acts of terror directed against America . Assisting America in its "war against terror" are pro-American regimes in countries such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, that are now instituting even greater controls on Islamist groups within their borders. Because of this, across the world many Muslims are greatly suspicious of America's intentions. They fear that just as America used the condemnable and criminal attacks of 11 September, 2001 as an excuse to pursue its preconceived agenda of invading Afghanistan and then Iraq , it will do the same with regard to Islamic groups and movements across the world, because it regards them as a danger to American interests. Using the "war of terror" as a cover, America wants to destroy all those who dare to challenge American hegemony, especially those who want to keep their societies safe from American-style immorality and permissiveness.
Muslims the world over are apprehensive about America's intentions, but the Indian Muslims are particularly concerned, because the advocates of aggressive Hindutva in India also have similar anti-Islamic intentions. They are denigrating our madrasas, surveying our mosques, keeping a close watch on Muslim missionary groups and seeking to impose laws forbidding religious conversions. India's Muslims are wary that extremist Hindutva groups might use America's global "war on terror" as a cover to pursue their own anti-Islamic agenda and that, for this, they will secure the help of Israel and its intelligence agencies.
For want of space, it is not possible for me to discuss these apprehensions in detail in this article. Relations between America and Islam, or between America and Muslims, cannot be seen simply in the context of recent events. Our concern in this article is the question of whether or not Muslims should take to violence in response to American aggression against them.
My argument is that, given today's circumstances, it is neither permissible nor beneficial for Muslims to take to violence to counter American aggression. On the contrary, this sort of violence is only causing further damage to Islam and Muslims. However, if America attacks any Muslim country without any legitimate reason, as it did in Iraq , undoubtedly the people of that country have the right to fight in order to defend their land. This applies only to the people of that particular country alone, and the violence must be conducted strictly according to the conventional rules of international warfare. To use the American invasion of any Muslim country as an argument to call upon ordinary Muslims everywhere to kill American citizens, wherever in the world they might find them, and to destroy American buildings, embassies or anything else representing American interests throughout the world, as some groups have declared, is anti-Islamic. It clearly transgresses the limits set by Islam for the conduct of counter-violence. Further, it causes far more damage to Islam and the Muslims themselves than it does to America .
The Need for Complete Abstinence From Violence
In my opinion, Muslims must not take to the path of violence against America . Muslims must also seek to stop those Muslim individuals and groups that have adopted this path. In the present circumstances, the path of violence can only harm the interests of Islam and Muslims. Hence, Muslims must not cooperate with or assist anyone who has taken to this path. Such people should not be helped financially or in any other way. In today's context, violence engaged in by Muslims against America necessarily degenerates into a form that is wholly forbidden (haram) in Islam and can be categorized as "strife in the land", which Islam vehemently condemns. Such violence cannot be ever legitimised, no matter for what purpose.
The violence that some Muslim individuals and groups have hitherto engaged in against America has wrought, as I noted above, grave damage to Islam and Muslims. The media has used this violence to depict Islam in a very negative light and to portray Muslims as cruel, hard-hearted and utterly inhuman, thereby causing many non-Muslims to hate Islam. Simultaneously, the American government has used this violence as a means to garner the consent of the American public for its global "war on terror", through which it has sought to target Muslims throughout the world. In this way, this violence has only strengthened the hands of right-wing American Christians and the Zionist and Israeli lobbies.
Muslims clearly lack the strength to counter American aggression through violence. To seek to defeat America through violence is foolish and tantamount to inviting one's own defeat. If Muslims simply have to confront America (and this is something that I do not agree with), then their welfare resides in doing so in the ideological and cultural fields, not on the battle-field. It is wrong to think that engaging in violence against America will serve as a deterrent that will stop American aggression against Muslims in the future. The experience so far does not indicate anything of the sort. The balance of power is so heavily titled in America's favour that it is completely unimaginable that violence committed by some Muslims against America could be so powerful as to prevent America from any future aggression.
I am also calling for Muslims to completely abstain from violence because this violence is causing great internal damage to Muslim society itself. The valuable material and human resources of the Muslims are being wasted on surreptitious activities, acquiring weapons and plotting and carrying out violent attacks, instead of on education, the media, political empowerment and economic development.
As I indicated earlier, individuals or groups which engage in violent activities against the state whose citizens they are or against another state necessarily have to carry these out in secret. At almost every turn, they are forced to violate the law. For such activities they evolve a new leadership, for the old established religious and political leadership of the community will not be willing to engage in underground, illegal, violent activities. Hence, the help of criminals is often taken, of people who know how to violate the law, smuggle weapons, travel under false names and fake passports and so on. Sooner or later, they will be forced to take the help of smugglers and international criminals. The sort of violence that these underground groups engage in can never remain within the boundaries strictly set by Islam, nor can pious Muslims engage in such activities.
The internal disruption and damage caused to Muslim society as a result of such violence is incalculable. In the Indian context, it would be absolutely wrong to let such un-Islamic individuals or groups take over the leadership of our community in the name of combating Hindu aggression. Instead, we would like our best people to take the lead in building bridges with our non-Muslim countrymen, people who, through their actions and words, are proper representatives of Islam, and who, even if they are forced to resort to violence in self-defence, would strictly obey the Islamic rules in that regard. It is also to be noted that during communal riots, when Muslims display proper moral conduct, such as protecting innocent non-Muslims who have no role in the violence, many non-Muslims come forward and display the same exemplary behaviour vis-a-vis Muslims, protecting innocent Muslims and speaking out and resisting their aggressive co-religionists.
Our actual weapon to combat Hindu aggression or right-wing Christian groups or American hegemonists must be our morality and character and the ideology of Islam that we are supposed to uphold and which we are bidden to communicate to the whole of humanity. When, in the face of some temporary pressure, we resort to violence, our moral stature is seriously damaged and we are diverted from our Islamic mission for humanity to tasks other than what Islam ordains.
Need For Transparency
Among the various reasons why Islamophobia and anti-Muslim sentiments can so easily be spread is that non-Muslims, such as in Europe, America and even in our own country, India , know little or nothing about Islam. It is difficult and time-consuming to communicate to others the story of the Muslims' past, but I think it is possible to easily disabuse people of the wrong perceptions that they have about present-day Muslims. What is taught in the madrasas? What happens inside mosques? What is preached by Islamic missionary groups? The answer to the wrong propaganda about all these issues is to keep our doors open to others to observe for themselves. It should be possible for anyone to be able to visit Muslim institutions to see things personally. Muslims themselves will benefit if their institutions become more transparent in their finances and management and clearly avoid ambiguity and secrecy. Records of their accounts and finances should be properly maintained so that no one can accuse them of garnering money in the name of providing religious education but using it to fan terrorism instead. This is also the appropriate way for saving our madrasas, mosques, charitable hospitals and other welfare institutions from falling prey to corruption. Their income and expenses should be properly recorded and audited and be open to public inspection.
Democratic Functioning of Islamic Institutions
When all the powers over finance and administration of an Islamic institution are in the hands of a single person, it is obvious that there will be a serious lack of transparency. For any institution to run on transparent lines, it is essential that decisions be taken collectively and through consultation. America and its allies allege that Muslim countries and institutions are un-democratic and that they are not governed through consensus or consultation. They accuse them of being dictatorial, and their leadership of not to being representative of the people, of being, instead, inherited from father to son, as in a system of monarchy, or acquired through force. It is a fact that this model of leadership characterizes many Muslim countries and institutions, including even their religious organizations, where the head continues to exercise control lifelong, till his death, after which he is generally succeeded by his offspring. Obviously, those who come to power through such anti-democratic means cannot take decisions in a democratic fashion. Naturally, this reinforces the impression that Muslims are mere puppets in the hands of their leaders, whether of their countries or of those who control Muslim institutions, and, therefore, in need of being "freed" by others.
It is utterly absurd that a characteristic feature that the Quran identifies with Muslims--that of consulting each other in their affairs--is totally lacking among them. Using this as an excuse, America and its allies have attacked Muslim countries and Muslim institutions in the name of promoting "democracy". The Quran very clearly lays down that Muslims must settle their affairs though mutual consultation or shura:
Those who harken to their Lord, and establish regular prayer; who (conduct) their affairs by mutual consultation; who spend out of what We bestow on them for sustenance
The more transparent Muslim institutions become, the more beneficial they will be to Muslims themselves. Running these institutions on the basis of mutual consultation will make them more effective and will secure them greater public support. If Muslim organizations and religious institutions seek to involve all concerned people in their decision-making at all levels, their credibility is bound to improve. Sadly, today the situation is markedly different, because of which these institutions do not have the support of all Muslims. This provides Hindu extremists in India and, at the global level, America and its clients, to level all sorts of accusations against these institutions. It is easy to accuse religious institutions led by individuals who do not represent the people of being enemies of humanity, intolerant and extremist. Because throughout the world Muslim countries, organizations, educational institutions and other organizations are not run on conventional democratic lines, they easily raise doubts and suspicions. If Muslims were to adopt transparency and democratic culture in all their political and cultural activities, allow for the free expression of views and democratic decision-making, and respect dissenting views, it will make it much easier for non-Muslims to properly understand them. In this way, some of the deep fears that they have about Muslims can be set at rest.
Popularity Among the People
As I just mentioned, transparency and democracy are essential for any organized effort on the part of Muslim institutions and movements to reform and uplift the community. But, a third ingredient is also required, and that is to establish strong fraternal links with people of other faiths, to share in their joys and sorrows and, as far as possible, to seek to solve Muslim problems, not as a unique case, but as something that Muslims share with other people. In actual fact, in India or elsewhere, the list of specifically "Muslim problems" is very limited. Muslims mostly face the same problems that others do, such as poverty, disease, lack of appropriate housing and hygiene, illiteracy, insecurity and so on. These problems afflict the majority of people in Asia and Africa, Muslims as well as others. Efforts to overcome these hurdles will be much more successful if Muslims work together for this with their non-Muslim neighbours and countrymen. Muslims must not seek to set up their own separate world. Rather, they must consider the whole world to be God's and, accordingly, seek to work for its welfare and progress. In today's context, when many non-Muslims are suspicious of Muslims, such joint activities with people of other faiths could play a major role in building bridges and promoting confidence and good relations between Muslims and others, doing away with the hatred and suspicions that divide them. This is absolutely essential in order to combat violence and terrorism.
Today, NGOs are playing a major role in serving society in different ways, such as by preserving the environment, fighting against pollution, working for peace and human rights, struggling against poverty, disease, illiteracy, bonded labour and child labour, demanding a respectable status in society for women and so on. Our religion commands us to take an active role in such activities and efforts. The present climate of extreme suspicion about Muslims also demands that we join hands with our non-Muslim brothers and miss no opportunity to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them, and this can best be done through working with them for these issues of common human concern.
While steering clear from violence is not the solution to all of the many problems besetting Muslims, it is obvious that it will certainly solve those many problems that are a result of a tendency noticeable among Muslims to take to violence or counter-violence. The question of when our present lamentable state will change for the better and we shall be rid of those weaknesses that hold back our development has been debated for a long time now. Many efforts have been made for the uplift of Muslims in terms of their education and health, their economic and political conditions. This work requires a long time, and must be done with care and determination. To fall prey to temporary circumstances and take to the path of violence will only be a sign of despair and a reflection of lack of wisdom. Muslims must abstain from this path. Instead, they must walk with determination and wisdom on the path that God has prescribed for them.
Written by Mohammed Nejatullah Siddiqui, (translated from Urdu by Yogi Sikander)
This is a translation of a chapter titled "Tashaddud, Islam Aur Tehrik-e Islami", in Mohammad Nejatullah Siddiqui's Urdu book, Ikeesvin Sadi Mai Islam, Musalman Aur Tehrik-e Islami (Islam, Muslims and the Islamic Movement in the 21st Century), Markazi Maktaba-e Islami, New Delhi, 2005, pp.27-52).
Mohammad Nejatullah Siddiqui is a leading Indian Islamic scholar, whose specialisation is Islamic Economics. Recipient of the King Faisal Award for Islamic Studies, he has taught at the Aligarh Muslim University and the King Abdul Aziz University, Jeddah. He served for sixteen years as member of the central committee of the Jamaat-e Islami Hind.