As Moslems, we need to assess ourselves [Archives:2004/784/Opinion]

October 25 2004

Hassan Al-Haifi
If the Holy Month of Ramadhan affords Moslems a chance to ponder their own personal situations and to determine their status with the Lord, Al-Mighty, it also should be a time for deep analytical evaluation of where Moslems as a nation stand in today's fast changing world. This starts at the country level, but certainly does not end there. Our religion has declared Moslems throughout the world as one nation bound together by the universalism of the absolute monotheism all Moslems are compelled to believe in and the brotherhood of faith, which the Prophet Mohammed (peace and blessings of Allah upon him) instilled in the hearts of all true believers. Therefore, Moslems everywhere in the world are bound by this indestructible affinity towards each other that the fate of a Moslem in any part of this world is the concern of every Moslem everywhere in the world. Maybe this is one of the least understood but inseparable realities that characterize the adherence to Islam. Ironically, the grass roots Moslems of the world of all sects and denominations visualize and sense this reality more than even the most strictest religious rulers of Moslem states, who follow a traditional attachment to the religion for the sake of political convenience.
Islam is indeed a powerful unifying force, if it is allowed to have its true sensational attachment to cross the artificial borders and transcend regional and international political affiliations, most of which were imposed on Moslem states beginning from the end of World War I, when the western powers that defeated the ailing Ottoman Empire and set out to divide the spoils of war between them. When these Islamic domains gained sought their independence from European domination, it was Islam that brought the resistance its mass popular appeal, rather than national affiliation and this is something recognized by most of the European powers that held territories with Moslem inhabitants.
However, upon independence, most Moslem “states”, began to veer away from the rallying call that brought their people together against the occupiers, and perhaps the former European powers that once ruled these states actually helped the placement of regimes that were not really keen on reestablishing Islam as a political force in their lands. These regimes knew well that allowing Islam to prevail in their domains would easily bring about desistence to these regimes as it did against the colonial powers. While giving lip service to Islamic dogma, specifically on the worship rites and other ceremonial aspects, most Islamic governments were able to let Islam act as a symbolic surface rendition, without allowing any political implications of Islam to have any effect on their ability to maintain their regimes. Thus, Moslem governments encouraged the building of mosques, but would not allow religious parties that adhered to more traditional renditions of Islam to rise to significant levels of political influence, even though some of these political parties had played a strong role in acquiring independence.
This repression of religious political activity paved the way for more radical renditions to fill in the religious vacuum which this suppression created. The Moslem populations of the world still saw in Islam a plausible political and social order they must fall under, because to a devout Moslem, the need for the prevalence of Islamic jurisdiction is indisputable if families are to be kept within the puritanical bounds of Islam and their chastity and purity is to be maintained.
This is not to say that Islam abhors modernization and the adoption of advance social and scientific developments. On the contrary, Islam encourages furtherance of knowledge and scholastic achievement. However, Islam does have a distinctive outlook on how to channel such a knowledge and how to control the negative connotations that could spoil the ability of the down to earth Moslem families to keep vice and social corruption out of the family and eventually out of the community. This does not necessarily entail an unbreakable attachment to crude or medieval practices, which regrettably many westerners seek to portray in the way Moslems view the right social conduct for themselves. However, it is partially due to the misrepresentations by Moslems themselves of the social norms that their faith really teaches. This misrepresentation was further expanded by the rise of the radical elements that sought to fill the vacuum of religious codes withered away by years of oppressive colonial and later home rule that sought to keep traditional organized religious activity under tight control for fear that it could incite rebellion or insurrection. Surely, it is impossible to disassociate politics from Islam, because Islam actually rose as a rebellion against all forms of repression and transgressions. In modern political philosophy what this really meant was Islam is indeed a force of liberation, that most Moslems view the only hope for reestablishing their rights and reaffirming their dignity. Yet, the so called modern fundamentalists have also failed to take note of the strong politicizing influence of Islam and went on to rely themselves on their own methods of suppression. Their strict adherence to ceremonial religious practices and their rejection of different sectarian interpretations was also another factor of their alienation from serving the hopes and aspirations of most grass roots Moslems and thus one will see little mass appeal to these radical renditions. Their access to funds has been the major source of their strength, but even that has little effect in convincing large masses of the Moslem constituencies where they have managed to operate freely.
In the next issue we will continue this discussion and see what Moslems need to do at the country, regional and international level to reassert themselves as a dynamic modern social force to be reckoned with.