WHAT IS WRONG WITH THE MUSLIM COMMUNITY?
8 December, 2009
I have thought long and deep about the Muslim Community/Ummah. I have written several critical pieces since my Teori Sosial Islam (Fajar Bakti: 1984), followed by Hadis – Satu Penilaian Semula (Media Indah: 1986) and Hadis – Jawapan Kepada Pengkritik (Media Indah: 1992). In those books, especially the last, I have suggested some bold answers.
There is no doubt that the plight of the Muslim Community today, following its final fall with the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of nationalist Turkey and many other so-called independent Muslim states created by imperialist Britain and France after the First World War, could be traced to multiple factors.
Firstly, hardly twenty-five years after the death of Prophet Muhammad in 632 and during the so-called Righteous Caliphates of Othman Ibni Affan and Ali Abi Talib, what we may call its republican-democratic period 634-661 plus 23 years of Prophet Muhammad’s administration), the power struggle broke the Community into various and many political and theological factions, which 300 years later were reduced to two major sects, the so-called majority called Sunnis (Ahli Sunnah wal-Jamaah – begun as followers of the first Caliph Abu Bakr)), with several sub-divisonss. and Shiahs (early followers of the fourth Caliph, Ali Abi Talib) also with many sub-divisions. Thus we may say that the early struggle for power leading to divisons and leading to disunity is the first factor (division) that brough about the fall of the Community. Yet, we cannot say from history that small numbers necessarily bring abut weakness. Given other things (unity in purpose, for instance), a small number can yet place it in a leading position in society.
Secondly, we must consider the factor of the rise of theologically-opposed sides in the same nation-state: the secular and the religious establishments. During the early republic-democratic period of Muhammad to Ali, there was no such division. Muhammad and the rest of the Righteous Caliphs were leaders in both senses and perform both functions. We need not go into the conditions and the reasons for the rise of this new phenomenon in Islam. It certainly is not the nature and character of Islam to have such opposed secular-religious division. It certainly was due to alien influences that have illegally infiltrated into Islam.
The ulama-priesthood class with authority to dictate the affairs of religion has arisen in the Muslim Community. They legalized their rise and authority by interpreting the sacred texts to suit their interests. In this plot, the political class cannot avert blame That they allow this to happen, and moreover carry out an opportunistic relationship with them, is blame more than enough. The negative results this ulama-priesthood dictatorship over the Community stare in the face of the Community. In the third and fourth Centuries of Islam the door of ijtihad (individual creative interpretation) is closed. Sacred texts have been finally, fully and ultimately interpreted by what they call the Masters, the Four Imams (for the Sunnis; for the Shiahs, more imams, but less dogmatic, perhaps), and there can be no further interpretation or creative development in the interpretation of them. So that is a major problem, because life develops and cannot stagnate.
The Muslim Community was put into cold storage since then until colonialist Britain and France inadvertently took them out by breaking the Ottoman Empire with the bait of nationalism! From that time till now, about 85 years, have things changed? Many attempts to change were made, the so-called tajdid movement or reformation of reformers Jamaluddin al-Afghani (d. 1897) and Muhammad Abduh (d. 1905). This reform movement, more than a hundred years now, obtained varying degrees of success, but full, complete and final success still eludes the movement till today. In desperation more than in anger, I taunted the Muslim Community, the majority, that is, that have locked themselves into a castle that they built that looked beautiful to them, and threw the keys of the castle out of the windows! They will remain “safely and beautifully” locked in there till God, in His Incomparable Mercy, comes to release them of their own fatal folly.
That fatal folly is their giving up of the religion of Divine Unity (Ar. tawhid) for associating God with Prophet Muhammad and the ulama-pristhood class. As we know from the Quran, God forgives major offenses such as murder (remember Prophet Moses killing an innocent Egyptian and God forgave him), but He does not forgive idolatory, ever. The Muslims have idolized both their religious and political leaders! So they have to suffer the terrible consequences of the sin of idolatory!
In their desperation to show that they are following God’s approved religion, Islam, they are in rebellion against the world, especially the hegemonic West. So arose Osama Ben Laden and the attack on New York and current further revolt in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and further the independent stand of Iran in the unjust West-sponsored nuclear non-proliferation. Where will this lead us to? A safer world? No! It will lead us, both West and the Muslims, to near complete and total self-destruction. We say “near”, because, again God in His Incomparable Mercy, will not allow the Human Community to perish altogether. He has other plans.
Meanwhile, the Muslims must get out of their rut. It is easy, that which they failed to do for centuries. This only shows that which is easy is made to seem difficult by the Devil-in-Chief, Satan, formerly an angel, that in the beginning, the Quran informs us, rebelled against God.
The way the Muslims can reclaim their lost early leading position in the world is to place the authority of the Quran as guide in their lives above every other teaching, including the so-called Prophetic Tradition/ the Hadith. Other teachings occupy a secondary place. When it comes to interpreting the Quran, society must allow for different interpretations. However, these interpretations must be able to withstand scientific criticism.
Kassim Ahmad is a free-lance Malaysian writer. His website is www.kassimahmad.blogspot.com