Maulana Farhad Ahmad | Salaam”, vol. 39, n. 1, January 2018 | Religion and Security Council | 8 February 2018
What are the challenges and opportunities faced by the Muslims in India? I would like to discuss two points with reference to this question. Firstly, the greatest challenge that Muslims face today is their inability to apply Islam in their lives in the modern age. The reasons can be discussed in detail.
During the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad, when the Quran was revealed there was a direct applicability of the teachings. In later times, however, it was important for these teachings to be reapplied. This process of reapplication of the teachings of Islam is called ijtihad.
IJTIHAD: REAPPLICATION OF ISLAMIC TEACHINGS IN THE PRESENT AGE
After Islam was established as a religion, gradually Muslims gained political dominance. The Muslims held political power in many countries. They reapplied the message of the Quran and the teachings of the Prophet in their lives quite successfully. After a while, the process of reapplication took a backseat. Eventually, reapplication ceased to exist in the lives of the Muslims. There is huge difference between the previous age and the modern age. In the modern age, the process of reapplication needs a different approach.
Let us look at some examples for further clarity. For example, how can the Muslims and non-Muslims co-exist in a society on peaceful terms? Generally, Muslims have the tendency to fight and create their own separate state wherever they go. If we study the life of the Prophet of Islam, we find that he lived in Makkah for 13 years. At the time of his migration to Madinah, he told his followers that had the Makkans not chased him out, he would have never left Makkah. He left Makkah when all other options had run out. At that time, Makkah was inhabited by both non-Muslims and Muslims. If we reapply the teaching from this incident to present times, we will learn that in a modern society where there is an opportunity for Muslims to co-exist with non-Muslims, they must co-habit peacefully. We get this lesson from the life of the Prophet Muhammad. In the modern age, there is no religious persecution, as was the case in previous times. We are free to follow any religion along the lines of peace.
In Madinah, the Prophet made a pact with its Jewish and pagan residents in which he mentioned that the Jews and pagans were free to follow their religion and the Muslims their own. Although the Muslims were in majority in the society of Madinah, the Jews were free to practice their religion and culture. But today Muslims are unable to reapply this particular message in their respective societies, which has resulted in continuous fights in various Muslim countries.
MUSLIMS’ RELATIONS WITH NON-MUSLIMS
Another point of contention is whether the non-Muslim should be treated with respect or not. The Prophet of Islam and his followers were respectful to members of other religions in their society. Let us look at an example of such respectful behaviour displayed by the Prophet and his followers. Once, two companions of the Prophet went to Iran where they saw a funeral procession of a local Iranian in progress. When they paid their respects, people asked them the reason for showing respect to a non-Muslim. Explaining the reason, the companions of the Prophet narrated an incident from his life. One day, when he was in Madinah, a funeral procession went by and the Prophet stood up in respect of it. When it was pointed out to the Prophet that it was the funeral of a Jew, the Prophet exclaimed, “Was he not a human being!” The companions thus explained their reason for showing respect to the deceased Iranian.
Another field where reapplication fails in modern age is when Muslims prevent their children from being admitted in secular schools. After the Prophet migrated to Madinah, the first war with the Makkans took place—it is known as the Battle of Badr. When the war was over, some of Prophet’s opponents were taken as prisoners with Muslims to Madinah. During those times, prisoners of war were either killed or released against a hefty sum of money. But the Prophet released the prisoners of war on the condition that they would have to impart education to those Muslim children who were illiterate. This important example from the Prophet’s life shows that we must gather education from any available source. Religious or cultural divisions should never act as barriers in the path of education.
THE ISSUE OF BLASPHEMY
Another important point of discussion is the reaction of Muslims on account of blasphemy against the Prophet of Islam. We all are aware of the violent protests that take place whenever the issue of blasphemy arises. But the biography of the Prophet shows that he never opposed negative comments aimed at him. Once a woman humiliated the Prophet by saying that everyone should condemn him. She ridiculed him and referred to him by the word muzammam, which is opposite in meaning to the word Muhammad. Muhammad means praiseworthy, and muzammam means ‘a condemned person’. To that the Prophet responded by saying: “People’s denunciations go against the person who is named ‘muzammam’, not against me because my name is Muhammad.” The Prophet thus converted the negative reproach into a positive reaction. The concept of blasphemy or protest is nowhere present in the Prophet’s life.
An important remark of the Prophet is that the entire world be made a place of worship for mankind. It means that an age will arrive when religious persecution will disappear. All human beings, including the Muslims, will have the freedom to follow their chosen religion. The Muslims will be free to offer their prayers anywhere in the world without fear. But the Muslims of the present age do not understand this positive change that has come about in the present age. Muslims disregarded the important teachings of the primary sources of Islam, i.e., the Quran and the Sunnah, and laid more emphasis on secondary sources, such as fiqh, or Muslim jurisprudence which was developed in the later periods.
ATTITUDE TO MODERN TECHNOLOGY
A very important challenge in the lives of the present day Muslims is their inability to accept the positive aspects of technology. When the loudspeaker was introduced, the Muslim scholars had denounced it saying that it is forbidden in Islam. When printing press was invented, it became a forbidden item in the Ottoman Empire. Injunctions were issued against the printing machines. The reason behind this was ignorance of Muslim scholars of the nature of technology.
Let us see an example from the life of the Prophet. When the Prophet went to Madinah, he saw few Muslims performing artificial pollination. He enquired from them about what they were doing and when he explained to them that they were pollinating the flowers so that the harvest increases, the Prophet remarked that the process would not be of much help. Hearing these words from the Prophet, people stopped using the method of artificial pollination. The yield of harvest happened to be considerably less that year. On questioning, the Prophet came to know that people had stopped the process of pollination upon hearing his remark. The Prophet then explained to them that they must seek and accept spiritual advice from him. But where technology was concerned, they must use their own understanding since they had better knowledge about their worldly matters. Similarly, Muslims of today have to understand the positive aspects of technology in their lives.
In India, Muslim scholars are silent about important issues like blood donation and organ donation. When the benefits of these procedures have been proved on scientific and medical grounds, everyone should be allowed to donate blood and organs, if they want to.
Muslims should consult the Quran and the sayings and teachings of the Prophet for guidance on spiritual and religious matters. But for matters related to technology, science and medicine, one must use one’s judgement, worldly experience and knowhow to understand their benefits.