Moslems should first tolerate each other [Archives:2005/814/Opinion]

February 7 2005

When the eternal message of Islam was delivered to the ignorant Bedouins of Arabia, more than 14 centuries ago, it introduced several new social and cultural concepts, which were then completely unheard of. Not only did these new concepts set forth new guidelines for Moslems on how to interact with each other, but also introduced new frameworks for relations between Moslems and non-Moslems, who happened to be under the jurisdiction of a Moslem state. Thus, we saw how Islamic armies overran large territories, that were as familiar about Islam as they were about the shape of the Earth. Yet, when the people of these newly “opened” territories (Moslems called conquered territories “open territories” and described Islamic conquests as “openings”, meaning they opened up these territories to the just rule of Islam), saw the tolerance preached and practiced by the successive Moslem caliphates that prevailed, most of the people of these “opened” territories saw in Islam their path to freedom and self esteem and social cohesion. They willingly adopted Islam and before long Islam prevailed as the dominant religion in these newly acquired territories that have become part and parcel of the Nation of Islam. Some of the newly acquired territories went even further and became the bearers of the Islamic message and established their own empires, while insisting that they are still the continuation of the Islamic Ummah or Nation which they took over from the previous regime that has weakened by age or corruption or chronic disputes over who should wield power in the Islamic nation. A prime example is the Ottoman Empire, which never considered itself as the “Turkish Empire” but the Ottoman Caliphate (and the Ottomans had taken over the Seljuk regime, also a Turkish people) regarded themselves as the continuation of the Islamic State or Ummah and the universalism of Islam was assured up to the early years of the 20th Century. After World War I, the Ottoman Empire had petered out and became almost confined to the present borders of modern Turkey. Thanks to Western prodding, Mustafa Ataturk abolished the Caliphate and it was thought that Islam was finished as an institutionalized political order.

In other areas that were not “opened” by military force, Moslem traders paved the way for the entry of Islam to large tracts of territory in Africa and Asia. Because of the observance of these traders of their religious creed and their display of sound human behavior and tolerance of others, again Islam spread rapidly in these territories were these merchants settled down and made new homes for themselves at the insistence of the local populations.

Throughout all this history, mostly because of the political disputes that arose between various leading elements of the Quriesh Tribe (the Prophet Mohammed's tribe, PAUH), in the few decades after the Prophet's death, political sympathies became religious sects over the centuries. Even the originators of these sects had no inclination of forming any organized sects or religious orders, but were merely expressing their views on certain primary or secondary issues of Islamic theology. Moreover, the overriding motivation of most of these Moslem scholars, who were well known in their time for their piety and wisdom in Islamic Law (Shari'ah), were actually more concerned about the unacceptable deviations of the regimes that prevailed in their times or the corruption that officials of the Moslem State have come to implant as the rule rather than the exception. It was only after the passing of these “founders” of Islamic sects that those who sympathized with their conceptual interpretation sought to create institutional frameworks or “sects”. In principle, however Islam is really one religion and most of the sectoral differences within most Islamic states are for the most part concerned with secondary issues that have left major Islamic beliefs on the whole fairly uniform.

For this reason, notwithstanding the large followings that this sect or that sect were able to gather over the centuries, most Moslems looked to their sectoral differences as never worth feuding over, and literally accepted the existence of these sects, without prejudice to the overriding concepts of brotherhood and equal rights that all Moslems are entitled to. Thus states in which Sunnis prevailed left the Shiite communities in their realm carry on without trying to forcibly let the Sunni sect prevail, and the same is true where Shiites may have been allowed to establish Shiite regimes (as in present day Iran, where there is a sizable Sunni constituency).

However, some of the latest fundamentalists (such as those of Taliban) have come to create an unheard of schism within the Moslem world, by insisting that their interpretations of Islam are the only acceptable forms of Islam. These poorly informed deviates of Islam have even gone as far as sanctioning the blood and property of their fellow Moslems, of other sectoral persuasions. This is a serious problem that the Moslem world needs to deal with, if Islam is to maintain its forward looking image as a progressive and civilized religion that is unequalled historically and unmatched by any other civilization or empire, in terms of the tolerance that it practiced among its own constituencies and in allowing non-Moslem communities to remain within their midst. Not only were these communities allowed to remain free to practice their faiths as they saw fit, but Moslem governments were obligated to protect them from any harm from Moslems or non-Moslems alike. So, where do these deviates of Islam come up with their notions of declaring themselves the sole definers of Islamic beliefs and rejection of their own kind, which is as anathema to Islam as their ugly renditions of Jihad and their thirst for human blood?

The discussion continues.