"Muslims need to bring about revolutionary changes in our theology to make it compatible with the holy Quran as well as the needs of modern times".
Oral Statement by Sultan Shahin, Founding Editor, New Age Islam, on behalf of Asian-Eurasian Human Rights Forum; UNHRC, Item 9, General Debate, September 26, 2017
Sixteen years after 9/11, the issue of Jihadi terrorism has become even more complex and widespread.
First, though Jihadism is a violent offshoot of Wahhabism and Salafism, the international community has allowed the fountainhead of Wahhabi/Salafi ideology to continue to spend tens of billions of dollars to Wahhabise the world Muslim community.
Second, we recently saw with horror, but without any protest from the international community, the sight of a UN-designated terrorist, with a ten-million-dollar bounty on his head, launch a political party and nominate another US-designated terrorist to contest democratic elections in Pakistan. Apparently, some countries can ignore UN directives with impunity.
Third, the Muslim community has failed to grasp that Jihadism spread so rapidly around the world because at its core it is not very different from the theology of consensus that informs the religious beliefs and practices of all Muslim sects. That is why Jihadis are not impressed when we Muslims either proclaim that Islam is a religion of peace and pluralism or when we try to wash our hands off Jihadism by claiming that it has nothing to do with Islam. If we Muslims want to live as honourable citizens in the 21st century’s globalised world, we must rethink our consensus theology in all its dimensions and make revolutionary changes to bring it in line with the needs of present times.
Let me elaborate a little on the similarities in the core theologies of Jihadism and mainstream Islam as well as suggest the contours of an alternative theology of peace and pluralism, inclusion and acceptance of diversity, respect for human rights and gender justice. What are the fundamental elements of theologies of all sects including Jihadism that are the same and what can be done about them. Let us discuss a few here briefly.
1. Infallibility, universality and uncreatedness of all verses of Quran, regardless of the context in which some of these instructions came from God to guide the Prophet and his followers on matters that needed to be urgently taken care of then, but are no longer relevant in the vastly different circumstances today.
This belief is common to all sects and sub-sects of Islam today. There is a consensus around it. So Jihadis are not inventing a new theology if they say that those Muslims who do not follow the war-time verses of Quran literally by fighting the kuffar constantly or staying away from all non-Muslims in day-to-day matters are hypocritical, and that a good, honest Muslim is one who is perpetually engaged in offensive Jihad against non-Muslims. After all, this is what is taught in all religious schools or madrasas, regardless of the sect. We are told in our theological books that the only relationship between a Muslim and a non-Muslim is that of war, and that it is the religious duty of all Muslims to bring Islam to power in all corners of the world, either by persuasion or force.
A new theology would seek to break this consensus and try to convince Muslims that war-time verses of the Prophet’s time maybe important as a historical account of the near insurmountable difficulties the Prophet had to face to establish Islam but do not apply to us today in the 21st century. We cannot possibly be fighting similar wars. Muslims were fighting existential battles in the early seventh century. Islam was in its infancy and infants do need to be taken special care of. Now the seed that Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) planted in the inhospitable terrain of the Arabian desert has grown into a giant tree with branches across the world. There is no need for us to be fighting offensive Jihad “at least once a year” as Imam Ghazali advised in late 11th and early 12th century CE.
2. There is a consensus among ulema (religious scholars) of all sects that Hadith narrations (the alleged sayings of the Prophet) are akin to revelation, even though these were collected up to 300 years after the demise of the Prophet and contradict many of the core teachings of the Quran, the exhortations of God whose messenger the Prophet was. This theology of consensus implies that the Prophet spent the better part of his prophetic career preaching against the messages revealed to him in the holy Quran.
What has actually happened is that in the 48th year of the demise of the Prophet, his entire family was massacred and reins of power taken over by scions of the inveterate enemies of Islam who had fought battles against the Prophet and joined Islam only after his victory at Mecca, in a clear bid to subvert Islam from within when they failed to destroy it from outside. But they had to rule Muslims for whom Quran was the only holy scripture, which they understood, as well as had mostly memorized and written down. To undermine Quran, and create a distance between Muslims and the Quran, they evolved over the coming decades and centuries two institutions that remain very powerful until today. One was Hadith, that was called akin to revelation, and the other was that of Ulema or clerics who were proclaimed to be of the status of heirs to the Prophet, much better able to explain religion to Muslims than they themselves could.
The new theology will have to bring the focus back to Quran, and seek to dislodge both Hadith and Ulema from their present position of pre-eminence. These institutions evolved in the era of dynastic, despotic rulers, called Khalifas. It was natural for them to look for scriptural justifications for their exploitative, tyrannical, imperialist, expansionist, and supremacist policies. Not able to find justification for their policies in the Quran, which essentially guided Muslims on a spiritual path to salvation, they naturally created another scripture and put that on the same pedestal as Quran. The ulema were also deployed to subvert the meaning of Quran’s verses of war and make contextual verses into universally applicable instructions for permanent war.
3. Sharia Laws were first codified 120 years after the demise of the Prophet and have been changing since from time to time and place to place. It is only marginally based on Quran, most of it has been borrowed from pre-Islamic Arab practices. But the theology of consensus insists on calling it divine.
The new theology will go strictly by the spirit of Quran and allow Muslims to formulate their laws according to the needs of their time and place. Laws are and should remain dynamic and just.
4. The theology of consensus propounds a Doctrine of Abrogation, whereby earlier Meccan verses preaching peace and pluralism, patience and perseverance, religious freedom for all, etc., have been abrogated by later Medinan verses of war, asking Muslims to fight, and talking about virtues and rewards of contributing to war efforts in the way of God. It is said that the so-called sword verse (9: 5) alone has abrogated 114 verses of peace and pluralism revealed in early Islam at Mecca.
The new theology of peace should emphasise that the Meccan verses are the foundational and constitutive verses of Islam. They cannot be abrogated by any later verses of war. The Doctrine of Abrogation will need to be rejected in toto. It is the latter Medinan verses of war that have lost their relevance not the original Islam preaching peace and pluralism as revealed at Mecca.
5. The concept of Caliphate has no basis in Quran, but our theology considers it almost mandatory. This consensus view needs to be corrected in the new theology.
6. The theology of consensus is of the view that Muslims should migrate from Land of Conflict (Darul Harb) which is dominated by non-Muslims to Darul Islam (land of Islam). This has no basis in Quran. This is not even practical in contemporary world, though ulema keep using these terms. Even individuals have great difficulty getting visas to visit any country, these days, what to speak of millions of Muslims settling down in, say, Saudi Arabia, the pre-eminent Darul Islam. Saudis did not take even one Syrian refugee despite their horrible situation, though Germany (so-called Darul Harb) took a million Muslim refugees out of compassion for the suffering humanity. The new theology will have to reject such medieval ideas as completely irrelevant and un-Quranic.
Clearly Muslims have much hard work to do. We will need to bring about revolutionary changes in our theology to make it compatible with the holy Quran as well as the needs of modern times.
Republished with permission from NewAge Islam.