Thursday, May 12, 2016

Secularization of An Islamic Republic

When the British colonized South Asia, the native population were believers in God. The Mughal Empire was disintegrating. There were many regions ruled by Muslim monarchs. The Muslims residents lived according to their centuries old traditions. Their culture was a mixture of Persian, Turkish, Afghan and Indian influences. Arabic was a foreign language for them and they were dependent on their scholars to interpret religion for them. The scholars for the most part were answerable to the ruler and presented the ruler’s version of Islam. The people were taught to read the Quran for blessings but were not aware of what they read. The rulers were not interested in educating the general population in the religious sciences. Most centers of learning were fixated by jurisprudence rulings about matters instead of the principles of religion. The societies were for the most part deprived from the fresh wisdom from the study of the Quran. In fact, the religious elite considered it haram to translate the Arabic Quran until the time of Shah Wali Allah of Delhi.

The British arrived with their technology, civilization, religion, culture and education and set about establishing their institutions for its dissemination from Calcutta to Delhi and beyond. The Muslims were in no position to oppose the civilizational onslaught. There were two main reactions from the Muslims. One group said that they will completely boycott the Western influence and culture. This group dispersed to the corners of society and study to the teaching of the religious sciences. The Darul Uloom of Deoband represents this group. Traditionally, its students have been blind to modernity. The second group led by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan said that they cannot avoid the knowledge which presented itself to them. He argued that they will study Western knowledge, take whatever fits Islam and discard all that does not. Modern Muslim education institutions were established in India and then in Pakistan based on this philosophy. In theory the attitude of this group was right, but in practise the students of these institutions were mesmerized by Western civilization and the hard physical sciences like physics. They applied the methodology of Western scientific inquiry to explain their own religion. As it was, the practise of Islam was lost in the decadent Muslim monarchies. 

These educated elite then set about explaining religion based on their own warped reasoning rather than through the understanding and practise of the Prophet (SWAS). There were very few students of this system who mastered Western knowledge better than the Westerners and excelled at it to the degree that they were able to see the inherent flaws in it. One such student was Muhammad Iqbal who then used inspiration of Quran and Hadith to realize flaws in Western thought and the centuries of decay which has characterized the Muslim civilization. He realized that the sources of Islam had the basis of a system of life which was inherently stronger, just and better. He outlined the methodology Muslims needed to regain the intellectual heritage through his seven lectures in the “Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam”. His poetry yearned to wake up the Muslims. Other than Iqbal, the majority of the graduates of this education system were Muslim versions of their colonial masters especially in later times. Other than the feudal landowners, in time they became the Muslim elite. It was such elite who were the leaders of the movement to create a modern nation state for the Muslims in South Asia – Pakistan. The theoretical basis on this state was to be the system of life of Islam. That was the rallying point for all the Muslims of South Asia.

When the Islamic Republic of Pakistan was created in 1947, most of its citizens were cultural Muslims in the image of the Muslims ruled by the Muslim monarchs of pre-colonial South Asia. They were completely depended on the ulema to explain the religion to them. The fact that they never attempted to learn Arabic and have a personal relation to the Quran, has resulted in a very strong Pakistani clergy in a religion in which there is no place for clergy. Whereas the Muslim clergy in India suffered deprivations and state oppression, their counterparts in Pakistan flourished in the Islamic Republic. Their waistlines expanded and they become notorious as “halwa eaters”. For the most part this clergy was educated in Deoband style madrasas and were alien to modern thought. Hence the gulf between modern education and religious education separated the society into people of very different thought processes. Using the masses, the clergy exerted their influence to make sure that the underpinnings of the new state was in theory based on Islam. Thus the constitution states that the sovernity of the State belongs to Allah and that no laws in the legislation can be made contrary to the Quran and Sunnah. But in practice all this has shown itself to be just lip service to Islam. The average Pakistani – educated or illiterate – is deeply sentimental about Islam even if they do not understand the principles of Islam. This sentiment is in fact not for religion, per se, but can be better understood as a form of nationalistic fervor.

Pakistan has managed to produce very few scholars who tried to reconcile the education from the modern secular West to the principles of the Quran and Sunnah. Maulana Fazlul Rahman Ansari was appointed by Ayub Khan for this task. After years of struggle he left Pakistan disillusioned to become the Distinguished Professor of Islamic Studies in the University of Chicago in the 70s. He was severely criticized back home by the Mullahs.

By and large, the people of Pakistan have been left ignorant of Arabic and dependent on a clergy to represent their religion, as the Hindu clergy did before them. A clergy who in out of touch with modernity. Due to their historical distance from forming a personal understanding of the message of the Quran in its source language, the revelation does not have the miraculous effect of their individual hearts to establish and grow eemaan. For the most part, the average Pakistani is stilled entangled in the legalistic complication of religious rulings. External form of Islam has become way more important to them than its essential wisdom and guidance. Due to a power struggle the clergy has divided itself based on sectarian and ideological differences and since people are ignorant to the basic message of their religion, they blindly follow the clergy who denounce all other groups to be misguided and destined to Hellfire. There are frequent infighting among the followers of these groups so much so that they refuse to pray behind one another. The participation of religious groups in national elections has resulted in smear campaigns of one Islamic party against another. The question of leadership prevents them from contesting elections as a united body.

In this backdrop, to the average educated Pakistani the bickering among its clergy and the general state of their followers, results in disenchantment with formal religion. To many, the ignorance of the clergy to modern thought and their blind followers, their infighting and their power politics, distances them from religion. Many await for the ideal Muslim leader to help save them. They elect one corrupt politician after another – each one turning out worse than the other. They do not realize that salvation lies in their own hands. Each Pakistani can change his destiny by educating and reforming himself. If he has secular education, he can seek religious education and vice versa.

Since the ideology of the State is theoretically Islam, every Pakistani pays lip service to it, but to most deep down they know that this is a farce. Thus Pakistani society is a society in which hypocrisy in institutionalized. When the 2005 earthquake happened in Pakistani, I made a general appeal in the oil company I was working in Abu Dhabi for donations. Soon afterwards, I was approached by my manager, a UAE national who had studied Mechanical Engineering in US. He was a practicing Muslim. He used to pray dhur in congregation and was in Makkah in the last 10 days of every Ramadan. He told me that Pakistan is cursed by Allah because Pakistanis made an oath to establish it on the basis of Islam and had shown themselves to by hypocritical in this pledge. This earthquake, according to him, was a punishment, so was the floods, the dismemberment of the country, the electricity crises, the law and order situation, the ethnic and sectarian strife, the domination of India and other countries, corrupt leadership, etc. According to him, Pakistanis deserved what they were getting.

In the absence of any practical ideology, the Pakistani state has become a failed state. It consistently ranks among the top most corrupt countries of the world. Its rulers set the example for its population by looting the nation. The son in law of the politician who promised to provide every poor Pakistani bread, cloth and housing, used his father in laws popularity to win the election and soon became the richest Pakistani in the land. In this state of affairs, the average Pakistani equates the failure of the State with the failure of its ideology, i.e. Islam. The War on Terror and the subsequent emergence of terror groups in the name of Islam has also led the whole society to secularize en mass. The world media from the West and India is beamed into Pakistan, exposing the average Pakistani to secular liberalism. Many seek escape from their painful state by immigration. Most of those who immigrate lose their religion in one or two generation. Those who try to hold on can seldom do so till the third generation.

The Pakistanis who are in diaspora throughout the world should realize that they are there due to divine collective punishment from Allah like the Jews were punished before them and were dispersed throughout the world. Their salvation is still the same. They have to change themselves and their children to change their destinies. As Pakistanis (for the most part) have proved themselves to be a hypocritical people, they will do well by associating with Muslims from other countries rather than themselves. Their repentance should include a complete cut off from the hypocritical culture they grew up in. A complete disassociation with Pakistani culture by cutting off all satellite channels in their homes is a good step. If their children lose the Urdu language they should not grieve, but rather take the opportunity to replace the language of hypocrisy with Islam’s source language – Arabic. They will benefit more if they stay away from traditional Pakistani religious groups in the West. It is better for them to join a heterogeneous jamaat with good representation of indigenous Muslims and indigenous or second generation Imams.

Rather than follow the Pakistani formula of success for their children, they must realize that role of their children in the West is not to become cogs in the secular machinery of the West, but rather to become agents of positive change by reforming Western society as Iqbal had envisioned. The West is already technologically very advanced. The effect that your child will have as a Computer Scientist in such a society is insignificant as compared to the role he can have by intellectually challenging the extreme nature of this civilization due to its distance from religion. Thus as spiritual doctors, you children can serve their host society better as it is their own society. As callers to religion, they have a lesser chance losing their way of life and in the process reconcile the modern with the religious in a manner that your intellectuals in Pakistan failed to do. Perhaps then may Allah forgive us.

Friday, February 5, 2016

A Call to Duty

(Translated from Urdu by Abu Abdullah -- from Shaoor - e - Hayat (author Maulana Yusuf Islahi))

There is no doubt that you pray regularly with obligation; keep the fasts; carefully pay the obligatory charity; if capable, you go for the pilgrimage; you are very sensitive about halal and haraam; you are very careful about piety and cleanliness. All this because you are aware of your being a Muslim.

Thank God, you are not alone in this. There are hundreds of thousands like you in the Muslim nation that follow the rulings of the Shariah. Despite our characteristic helplessness, even today Muslims follow their religion and its worship more than the followers of any other religion. Even today, there are hundreds of thousands of individuals among the Muslims whose lives are enviable examples in terms of their piety and their sense of duty. They are those whose lives and characters are as clean as a mirror, whose piety is beyond any doubt and in whom the society lays its trust. In fact, no other religion can produce people of their stature.

It is also a fact that the population of Muslims is the second most in the world. They have all sorts of resources and means. They have coal, petroleum, iron and gold. They are also wealthy and there are many parts of the world in which they are in the government. But it is also a hard reality that despite their religiosity, wealth and government, they are the most disgraced and ineffective of people. They do not have any opinion, plans, rank and importance. On a personal level you may certainly find in them hundreds of thousands whom humanity can be proud of, but on a collective level they have no stature in the world.

You are an individual in the Ummah. Your future is tied to its future. Does your conscious prompt you that the Ummah should be dragged out of this humiliated state and return to its former glory? Did you ever wonder, what is the reason for this worthlessness and humiliation? In fact, the Ummah has forgotten the duty for which Allah had created it. The Musllim Ummah is not a self-made nation like other nations. Allah created it for a specific plan and great reason. Allah has enjoined it a mission which was the same as that of the messengers. The sequence of prophets ended with that of Muhammad (SWAS). There will not be a prophet after him (SWAS). The duty of delivery of the way of life (deen) to humanity is incumbent upon this Ummah. This is the reason for its existence. It is for this purpose that Allah has enjoined this Ummah for and it is in this duty’s fulfillment that its destiny is set. Allah says:

“You should be such an Ummah that calls to good”.  (Ale Imran)

The meaning of “good” is any good deed and positive concern which all of mankind has considered it as such. Allah’s revelation also has considered it so. “Good” is all those good deeds, the sum of which is the correct way of life (deen), which all messengers of Allah have always brought forth for all slaves of Allah. The Ummah’s duty is to call humanity to this message without any bias. They should carry it out with the same feelings and desire that the messengers did it. That is because this is the mission that Allah has enjoined on this Ummah.

The similitude of calling to the right way with respect to the Ummah is like that of the heart in a human body. The human body is of good till the heart in it is working. If this heart stops beating then the human body becomes a pile of earth. This is because the heart is the provider of healthy blood to the rest of the body, thus keeping it alive.

If the Ummah is carrying out this duty with fervor by promoting the right factors according to Allah’s plans and wrong factors are being discarded, the good is being enjoined and bad is dying, then it means that the Ummah is alive. It means that greatness, prestige and high stature is its destiny. But if the Ummah is forgetful of this duty and becomes insensitive to the work of the true way of life (deen), then it is deprived of all life. So how can a dead nation reach the stature of prestige and greatness?

With respect to Allah all the Ummah’s importance is when it fulfills the demands of the duty for which Allah has made it great. If it neglects this purpose and it does not have the sense left in it as to the duty Allah has created it for, then Allah does not care who is trampling on it and who is humiliating it.

The expensive watch strapped on your wrist is certainly a blessing for you. You have placed it in its place because it tells the right time and you use it for organizing all your tasks in their proper times. If it always tells you the right time, then you beautify your hand with it and take proper care of it. You will not wish that even a drop of water falls on it; its sensitive glass to be hit by something. But the worthiness of the watch, its protection and care, etc. is valid only while it tells the right time. If it stops working time and again, sometime it runs half an hour fast; at other times an hour slow; you are fooled by it time and again; your schedule is affected by it; the purpose for which you put it on your wrist is not fulfilled; would you like to keep it on your hand and you protect it in the same manner? Certainly you will decide that this is not a watch but a collection of metallic parts. The proper place for it is not on the honorable hand but rather a recycling bin. Then you do not care what happens to it while it is being recycled; how it is opened and how its metal is melted. According to you, its proper status was due to the fact that it told the right time or not, because its creator created it for that purpose and you spent a small fortune to buy it.

Allah created the Muslim Ummah for the purpose that they propagate His deen to the rest of humanity, spread the good in the society and erase the bad. As long as they are carrying out this duty, they will gain Allah’s victory and protection. He will be its protector and overseer and will honor it with greatness and high stature. But if the Ummah is neglectful of this duty, neither its big population, nor its wealth and government will be of any good to it. Its excess in verbal glorification of Allah, extra prayers and Allah’s remembrance cannot lead it to honor. Neither does individual religiosity prevent the anger of Allah from descending upon it. If everywhere there is deviation from the truth and the slaves of Allah forget Allah and follow their desires so that they only care for themselves then you should realize that soon Allah’s wrath is near and nobody can escape His reach. Jabir (RA) has said that the Prophet (SWAS) said:

“Allah (SWT) said to Jibreel to destroy such and such a town. Jibreel said: Lord, in it is one of your slaves who has not disobeyed you even a wink of an eye. Allah said: Yes Jibreel, destroy him as well as the others, because all the town disobeyed and he was not affected by it.”

If this hadith causes you internal restlessness then value that feeling and supplicate to Allah that He increases this restlessness. Your duty is calling you and this restlessness can propel you to fulfill your duty.

Friday, January 15, 2016

A Peep into the Pakistani Psyche

Muhammad Asad was born Leopold Weiss, an Austrian Jew. He was able to feel the intrinsic truth of Islam through personal experience and study. So he entered that faith in the past century. He provided services to the then nascent Pakistan, by working on its ideological foundations. He concluded that the parliamentary system could be considered as the modern equivalent of the function of Islamic concept of shoora. He explained his position in his brief work called “The Principles of State and Government in Islam”. Thus he tried to justify the existence of a modern parliamentary nation state working on Islamic principles as the answer to Islamic government in the modern world.

Today we are at a better position to understand the validity of this assumption through hindsight. The experiment that is Pakistan has shown us the futility of trying to implement Islam top-down. Islam, by definition, can only be practiced based on the methodology that the Prophet (SWAS) taught us, i.e. from the grassroots changing one heart at a time. When a critical mass of the population has internalized the message, they will willingly submit to every Islamic command. Trying to ram Islamic Law down the throat of a population that does not even understand the holistic concept and implications of Islamic monotheism is a recipe for failure.

The strange marriage of Islam and the modern nation state has resulted in a unique psyche of a people. State indoctrination through its educational systems and media has produced a nation whose social problems can only be understood by understanding this psyche. The education system from grade 1 to university teaches a form of Islam which is intertwined with modern nationalism. It does this through its “Islamic & Pakistan Studies” curriculum, which is a compulsory subject for all. Through it, the student learns how the Muslims have a unique identity as compared to other religions and how this justifies that they should have a separate homeland. It is argued that if they did not separate from the Hindus they would have dominated them economically. Thus use of an ideology of deprivation to divide people is ingrained in the Pakistani mind. This scarcity mentality, of being a taker rather than being a giver, drives the average Pakistani. The subsequent shattering of Pakistani society into ethnic groups and sects is a direct result of this mentality. Every group is ready to work together to address economic and social deprivations and threatens to separate.

This ideology shows how the seeds of materialism that were sown at the conception of the Pakistani state have resulted in a complete tearing apart the social fabric of the current Pakistani society. Everybody from the head of the state to the common man is running the economic race, except a very small minority. People have organized themselves into groups and they feel no remorse to oppress others for their own economic and social well-being. The end result has been a total collapse of human values in a society where even brothers fight for their inheritance. Cheating, violence, theft, bribery, killing, kidnapping for ransom, etc. are common everyday happenings. People have become so used to them that it does not affect them anymore.

In this warped way of thinking all concepts are turned on their head to give a new meaning. Learning, which has a very high status in Islam, is now engaged in only to earn. In general, people have given up reading. They read just enough to earn their degrees and progress in their careers. For the most part, government only invests in education which can provide the graduates jobs. There is almost no investment in the social sciences, which are so important. The social sciences are the keys to developing human thought and consciousness. Unfortunately, not many bright Pakistani minds are pursuing them.

The holistic concepts of Islam are so brutally mashed to justify nationalism that they have become enigmatically difficult for the normal citizens to reinterpret. The fact that they have already studied “Islamic Studies” throughout their education deludes them into thinking that they already understand everything. The distance from Arabic, causes the average Pakistani to grope at different “isms” which they have studied in English to try to explain Islam to themselves. Many educated Pakistanis try to understand the Quran though English or Urdu translations. Although, they certainly gain some gems of wisdom in such a study, what they can achieve through direct Arabic reading and study is incomparably vaster. It will affect their hearts and minds more. Such is the miracle of the Quran. The Sufi traditions of Pakistan which were influenced by Hindu practices, have transformed Islam so far from its pristine original, that the ordinary Pakistani has trapped himself into centuries of un-Islamic concepts and practices.

Thus we have a society today that is steeped into materialism and uses Islam to complement, justify and perpetuate that materialism. For the most part, the population is deluded that they understand the religion. Generally, their concepts, culture and practices are alien to the Islamic ethos. They tend to justify every good or bad thing they do using the religion. They are excited into a jingoistic high at the mention of Islam. They get very emotional on hearing hollow slogans which politician after politician has exploited. No doubt, many Pakistanis have left Islam or became disenchanted by it, by observing the society around them. Many migrants to Western countries shed their religion when they shed their Pakistani citizenship due to the tight coupling of the two in their minds. The hope for Pakistanis as well as all Muslims, is to return to the pristine teaching of Islam through learning and practice. The unnatural wedding of Islam to nationalism and the crude manner that it has been implemented has inadvertently caused strange consequences in the Pakistani psyche. Only when the psyche of a critical mass of people has reformed, can we hope for a reformation at a macro level. Until then the real struggle is to reform oneself and those around us through the prophetic methodology of tarbiyya.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Holding Onto Hope

It seems almost all there is to life is related to our perception of it. People who have a habit of harboring positive thoughts have a happy life while those who keep complaining, experience bad consequences in life. In the process, they experience difficulties, miseries and depression. This perception has a direct effect on the quality of one’s life. This is a natural law. Indeed Allah (SWT) says in a Hadith Qudsi:

Allah the Most High said, ‘I am as My servant thinks (expects) I am. I am with him when he mentions Me. If he mentions Me to himself, I mention him to Myself; and if he mentions Me in an assembly, I mention him in an assembly greater than it. If he draws near to Me a hand’s length, I draw near to him an arm’s length. And if he comes to Me walking, I go to him at speed’

One of the scholars once advised: “if you see someone carrying many glasses in a tray in an unbalanced fashion, do not even say that the glasses will fall. Indeed if you do so they will certainly fall.”

The Prophet’s (SWAS) life is full of so many events in which having hope seemed so incredibly difficult. The changes of things going his way were so small, yet time and again he never lost hope or became depressed. On the outskirts of Makkah when they were just about to be caught outside the cave of Thawr he reassured Abu Bakr (RA):

“If you do not aid the Prophet - Allah has already aided him when those who disbelieved had driven him out [of Makkah] as one of two, when they were in the cave and he said to his companion, "Do not grieve; indeed Allah is with us." And Allah sent down his tranquility upon him and supported him with angels you did not see and made the word of those who disbelieved the lowest, while the word of Allah - that is the highest. And Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise” (9:40)

Indeed optimism was a prominent characteristic of his personality. He has been reported to have said:

“O son of Adam! You are free to choose from what befalls you in your life, between despair and hope, pessimism and optimism. However, you shall find your hope and optimism with Allah, and your despair and pessimism with Satan, 'in order that he may cause grief to the believers. But he cannot harm them in the least, except as Allah permits' [Al-Mujdilah: 10].” (Bukhari and Muslim). 

Certainly, having good positive thoughts and good opinion about Allah is a form of worship. He (SWAS) said:

“Hoping for good is also an act of worship of Allah” (Tirmidhi and Hakim).

Regarding persisting with patience in difficult times, he (SWAS) is reported to have said:

“Whoever abstains from asking others, Allah will make him contented, and whoever tries to make 
himself self-sufficient, Allah will make him self-sufficient. And whoever remains patient, Allah will make him patient. Nobody can be given a blessing better and greater than patience” (Bukhari).

As we approach the end of times, the global news seems sadder by the day. Life seems to get harder and harder. With a loss of human values in modern societies, crime, violence, indecency, etc. keeps increasing. Our younger generation faces challenges that we never dreamed about. Despite all the atmosphere of negativity, we must not give into complaining for indeed if we take the time to reflect deeply we will realize that despite all these problems we enjoy countless blessings.

Try to reflect and write down only 3 things in your diary that you should give thanks about for that day on a daily basis. If you do this exercise persistently, your outlook, health, the quality of your life and the events that will proceed from it will all improve. Countless scientific experiments in the field of Positive Psychology have shown this to be true. See

Remove all negatives from your life. Stop listening and paying attention to those who only complain. Trash your TV as even watching the news every day is a recipe for chronic depression these days. Replace them with positives. Volunteer in activities with group of people who are improving the condition of humanity. Be with those who are positive and their positivity will affect you.

Know that having good hopes is a natural medicine to a fulfilled and happy life. You have the power as to what attitude you adopt. Be positive. Allah (SWT) loves positive people who are engaged in constructive activity and do not have time for negativity. Engage in exercises that build gratitude. It has shown to have amazing therapeutic value. Be with positive people and cut off all avenues of negativity from your lives.