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

The other example relates to the Muslim law of apostasy itself. Apostasy with its punishment of death had existed before the advent of Islam in some Semitic religions including Judaism. But Quran and the Prophet created no offence called blasphemy or a punishment for it. The offence and its punishment came into existence later on the basis of rulings of Islamic jurists. Today most Islamic states which follow Shariah have apostasy or blasphemy listed as a crime, meriting a corporal punishment. In Malaysia while there is no such central law, the state of Kelantan, one of its federating units, has such a law on its Statute books. Fears are being entertained in certain quarters that for maintaining Malay domination over power in the country, even the leading Malayan political parties at the centre may move towards adopting the Kelantan model. If they do, it will be one more fissure in the body politic of what is described as Ummah and a retrograde step against the globalizing movement among some Muslims, towards separating the religious community from a political identity.

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. Several trends can be prominently identified.

According to Maulana Mehmood Madani, head of the Deoband Seminary in India, the Muslims of India have had the best deal among all the Muslims of the world and the Muslims who nurse deep grievances against the Indian system, are usually part of the 30 percent of the Muslim population that lives in Muslim majority enclaves.

The most destructive to the social order are the Islamists. They reject notions of both the state and secularism, and aim to reach political eminence through sabotage, subversion and violence. Their ultimate aim is to exercise political power through a Caliphate of the whole Ummah. Anything or anyone outside the pale of their Islam is an enemy to them. Currently, Osama bin Laden is the high priest of this ideology. Older movements like the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamait-ei-Islami belong to this genre. 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.

The Wahabis and Salafis constitute a puritan strain, wanting Islam to be followed as it was in the seventh century Medina, with no deviation in practice or interpretation. The Arab model is the only model for them. Ultra conservative and orthodox Saudi Arabia is a Wahabi country. Their large scale donations to Madrassas in the sub-continent have promoted growth of the Arab model of orthodoxy among the Muslims of the sub-continent. Wahabis are rabidly anti-Shias.

A third category is of the traditionalists, who are rooted in the traditions of theology and law as they developed in the Umayyad and Abbasid eras. A die hard traditionalist is anti-reform but the realities of globalization and the recent waves of terrorism, linked to Islam, have made some of them anxious to accept some reforms. The Deoband Seminary in UP, India, belongs to this classification. It is to be noted that the influence of Wahabi money often succeeded in converting the traditional fundamentalist into an Islamist. This phenomenon was most visible in Pakistan where many traditionalists, moving from Deoband after partition, converted to extremism and Islamism. This happened because there is a thin line separating traditionalism from obscurantist fundamentalism and therefore, Islamism is an easy transformation for a conservative Ulema. In fact, reformists are a rare breed in Islam. Intellectuals of various persuasion remain within the orthodoxy of Islam for fear of being branded blasphemous. Those who do rebel, publicly or privately across the family dining table, want to make Islam contemporaneous. They stand for substantial changes in its laws and theology. Actually, Quran itself, in an abstract way, does not frown on change since it permits ‘Ijtihad’, a dialogue between the individual and his Allah, thereby allowing him a personal understanding of the truth that can become his Islam. For the clerics, however, ‘Ijtihad’, must remain within the doctrinal parlour of Islam.

Reformists often transcend into secular beings for whom religion becomes a matter of personal piety, unencumbered by the sanctions of the state or the reach of the theological legal system. The secular minded Muslim thus questions the idea that the sovereignty of Allah extends over all things, temporal or spiritual.

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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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