A global movement for moderating Islam is inevitable

Dr Mohammad Bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa is the first eminent Islamic scholar from the homeland of the Prophet who speaks publicly on issues that Muslims should discuss.
Keywords: Islam, Politics, Muslim, Saudi Arabia, Conflict, Religion, Peace, Faith, Asia, Global, Movement
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Islamic religious leadership often has scoffed at movements intending to reform or moderate Islamic jurisprudence and the overall outlook of the clerical class. The conservatives in the sub-continent always played obstructionist. Ijtihad, (reformation), is a significant idea in Shia jurisprudence but the prospect of a consensual opinion among the mujtahids (jurist-consults) has been elusive. 

Muslim orthodoxy, unlike other major religions, has resisted the need to evolve with the changing times. The consequences of a negative approach to the compulsions thrown up by the advanced scientific and technological age are unrelenting. Instead of gainfully readjusting to more modern ways of life, the Muslim clergy advocated rather fiercely distancing from ‘Western’ culture. Two reasons can be imagined. First, Muslims are fed with the ideology that Islam is the religion sent by Allah to supersede all other religions, and hence, Islamic society (ummah), being different from all other communities, is the superior one and must dominate. The second reason could be the resentment of European and then American domination of Islamic countries, and especially the Arab world from the 18th century onwards. As a result, western-led Judeo-Christian and/or secular modernity is seen as an oppressor or at least a threat.

We must recognise that distinguished minds in the Muslim community realised the losses the Ummah had suffered as a result of apathy and hostility to modern culture.  Thinkers like Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan or Allama Iqbal did rise from time to time in the Indian sub-continent, exhorting the ummah to adopt the good things of modern Western culture. Iqbal brilliantly put forth his ideas on the reformation in his scholarly work titled ‘Reconstruction of Islamic Thought’.  An outstanding Egyptian scholar put the whole narrative in a cryptic but meaningful sentence. Muhammad Abduh came back from Europe so impressed with the order and prosperity he saw that he told Egyptians: “I went to the West and saw Islam, but no Muslims; I got back to the East and saw Muslims, but no Islam.”

An outstanding Islamic personality of contemporary times, who has drunk deep from the fountain of Islamic knowledge on the one hand, and on the other has socialised with the Westerners for many years, is Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, called MBS by his Western friends and associates. No Islamic leader of our times has as deep an understanding of the need for drastic reforms in Islam as he has. Being in a position of authority and driven by a vision for the future of his nation, he has already undertaken several measures for pulling the Muslim societies out of a morass of obsolete practices and notions that have caused the backwardness and segregation of the ummah. It is an irony that a country which meets one-third of the world’s oil requirement should remain steeped in medieval conservatism. 

The Crown Prince’s lead has inspired many of his close associates and compatriots to initiate a reformation movement aiming at making Islam a moderate, vibrant and inclusive religion. He is fully aware that, while being under specific political compulsions, contemporary Muslims want to realise their aspirations. The failure to argue their case effectively and the resulting frustration have led them to resort to violence, oblivious to the dire and disastrous consequences of such an ultimately self-destructive endeavor.

Today we find that the largest number of people from a religious community leaving their native lands and migrating to the ‘West’ to make a living in orderly societies are Muslims. Why is it so? The root of their malaise lies in the politicisation of Islam in their countries of origin.

These questions have occupied the mind of the visionary leader of Saudi Arabia. We have a special reason to appreciate his courage and determination to initiate much-needed reforms in Islamic jurisprudence. Prince Salman is a firm believer in resolving disputes and differences through dialogue. He has taken some important measures to end the disastrous war in Yemen and strongly supported the invitation to President Assad of Syria to participate in the Islamic summit meeting in Riyadh.

The eminent Islamic scholar, Dr. Mohammad Bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa from Saudi Arabia, Secretary General of the Muslim World League, cited as one of the strongest global voices of moderate Islam, was in India until the 15th of July. He addressed prominent religious leaders, scholars and academics in Delhi. He shared the stage with Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, who also spoke at the gathering at the India Islamic Cultural Centre (IICC).

In his interface with Indian intellectuals and luminaries at various levels, Al-Issa spoke on a wide range of issues ranging from moderate Islam, dialogue between civilizations, religious tolerance, intercultural communication, non-violence and religious pluralism. During his stay in India, he met with external affairs minister S Jaishankar and minister for minority affairs Smriti Irani. He also called on President Droupadi Murmu.

It is a matter of great satisfaction that a leading religious scholar and ideologue from the heartland of Islam holding the high position of Secretary General of the Muslim World League, has chosen to speak in India for the promotion of critical causes like dialogue between civilizations, religious tolerance, intercultural communication, non-violence and religious pluralism. These are the themes that our Islamic theologians generally evade or do not feel comfortable with. It is a unique event that an Islamic religious leader from Saudi Arabia is speaking on topics like these.

India hosts the second-largest Muslim population after Indonesia. The significance of India is that it is a democratic and secular country where we have people of almost all existing faiths in the world who are all treated on an even keel.

Seven and a half decades ago, on the eve of their departure, the colonialists divided India based on religion. This unnatural act brought about the greatest holocaust one can recall in the history of mankind. Its scars are still festering. Nearly three decades later, the seceded nation got further divided into two not on religious but ethnic grounds. The foolhardiness of the inhuman act of dividing countries on a religious basis has left behind a mindset muddied by deep-seated hatred and animosity. All attempts of healing those scars are made ineffective by vicious and malignant propaganda and also by the perpetuation of a proxy war. India’s secular democracy is threatened because the perpetrators of that proxy war have failed to establish and strengthen the concept of democracy in their land. Waging a state-run proxy war has necessitated the creation of home-bred terrorist organizations to be labeled as jihadists, waging a religious war against secular democracy. 

The distinguished guest Dr. Mohammad Bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa is the first eminent Islamic scholar from the homeland of the Prophet who speaks publicly on issues that Muslims should discuss. They would thus come to the conclusion that this earth is home to people of all faiths and views who must live in harmony and not fight each other. His message echoes the principles and values of our constitution. This could be a watershed in the history of Islam in the sub-continent and have a transformative impact on the Muslim population of India. Moderating Islam is a guarantee of its prosperity and perpetuation in India. The visit of Dr Mohammad Bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa should not be linked to any political goal. His call is far above mundane political objectives.

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K N Pandita

K N Pandita has a PhD in Iranian Studies from the University of Teheran. He is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University.

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