Islam and its many trends
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Issue Vol 24.1 Jan-Mar2009 | Date : 16 Oct , 2011

Except the war zones, palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan and the proxy war zones Kashmir and India, for quite sometime the rest of the world has not witnessed a major terrorist incident. This is because of the high grade counter-terrorism measures adopted by the US, European countries and others, and also perhaps due to a growing awareness in most of the remaining Islamic populations that terror is always counter-productive.

Modern day perspectives in Islam are not theology, law or philosophy driven. They are born of frustration as the Islamic world finds itself low in the world pecking order.

The Islamic civilization from its birth has gone through debates and counter debates. Except for the Shahadah (God is one and Mohammad is his messenger) and the five mandatory duties (Hajj, Zakat, Roza, Namaz and Shahadah) everything else in Islam has been subjected to deep scrutiny and analysis with the result that many schools of thoughts kept appearing and disappearing. Those that came through generally had the backing of the executive ruling power which gave its support only to those which helped it to survive and strengthen. Quran and the Prophet took a liberal view of who constituted a Muslim or believer, but in the first three centuries of Islam, there was a constant fighting over religio-political, legal, theological and other issues of doctrine. The differences were severe but ultimately the largest community of believers crystallized into what came to be known as Sunnis. While they called themselves the true Muslims, even they were not organically one. They got divided into following four schools of law – Hanafi, Hanbali, Shafi’i and Maliki. The most conservative among them is the Hanbali, which is practiced in Saudi Arabia. The widest following is commanded by Hanafi which the Afghans and earlier, the Ottomans adhered to. Shafi’i is the law in Malaysia. After Sunnis, the Shias are the largest group with their own legal system, the Jafaria.

With such divisions, it is quite evident that there could never be a unity of thoughts in Islam. Even on the validity of some scriptural items, interpretations differed. Absence of a Quran supported centralized mechanism or authority often led to conflictual analysis of verses of Quran or Hadith. However, if consensus could be developed on an issue, an annulment to or deletion of the verse was possible. Such modifications through Islam’s history saw it move away from the doctrines of caliphate, slavery and war booty.

The most destructive to the social order are the Islamists”¦For the Islamist, religious fundamentalism serves the purpose of a political tool. Rise of Jihadis, ready for martyrdom, in its ultimate analysis, amounts to a political manifestation and not a religious one.

Two other illustrative examples can be given to show that Islam is not a monolithic institution. Does a Muslim have the freedom to change his religion? There is no bar on it in the Quran, which broadly supports an individual’s choice to a religion. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 guarantees to everyone freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change religion. Many Muslim countries have subscribed to this declaration and are agreeable to extend such rights to all their citizens. But only a miniscule number of the Muslims in practice conceded to the Muslim a right to change his religion. A majority hold that the right to choose the religion excludes the right to change the religion for Muslims. For such Muslims, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights creates a problematic situation. The problem arises because many Islamic jurists in the medieval past ordained that a change of religion by a Muslim amounted to apostasy for which they prescribed death as the punishment. Here is thus a contradiction. While broadly supporting the concept that human rights accrue to people simply because they are humans, prejudice prevents the majority from extending this human right to the option to change religion.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Anand K Verma

Former Chief of R&AW and author of Reassessing Pakistan.

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