Conservative-Liberal Binary

To know about these newer stances we need to enter into the heads of these people and see how this ideological binary takes shape in their minds

Historically we have seen many of the Muslim groups divided on more than one issue. Many such differences spring from their stances which are fixed in the school of thought they come from. But, at present, due to modern education, this division does not always, and only, come from those traditional religious stances.

The modern day interpretation of the constructs of democracy, rights, education, freedom, equality has given rise to a newer binary overshadowing, but not neutralizing, the earlier traditional stances. In response to the modern education we can easily see this divide getting deeper and nuanced in comparison to the traditional stances.

Let’s see the manifestation of this binaryup-close at the heels of Taliban’s takeover in Kabul. We saw its expression when the pandemic came surging, and Muslims saw themselves settling again into these groupings and arguing from their standpoint. And again Muslims, world over, are seen divided in response to Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan. Some are happy, some partly happy, and some unhappy.

These reactions, as I said, cannot be wholly traced to the traditional schools, but to the newer distinction I am talking about. To know about these newer stances we need to enter into the heads of these people and see how this ideological binary takes shape in their minds.

Taking cue from the conservative-liberal binary in the west I have constructed two groups on the same format based on ideological underpinnings. You may not fully agree with the groupings but you can't ignore them altogether. All of us may not necessarily find ourselves settling into clear cut black and white groups, but this grouping gives us a clear idea of why do we usually see Muslims divided in terms of education, democracy, women rights and host of other issues. The groups, as I see them are, are:1. Revivalist 2. Reformist

Revivalist group: This group is sure that Islam’s revival is the solution to all the problems confronting the world today. Let’s get into the heads of these people and see how they think:

a) Idea about government: They have more faith in Islam than in science, technology or other resources. Their ideal is Islamic State (khilafat at best), whether in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey or elsewhere. They sometimes see use of force as legitimate to bring forth Islamic rule because it ultimately, according to them, will crystallize in the State of justice ordained by God. Wherever they see it happening they become happy.

b) Extent of control and rights of people: They believe that Islamic governments can even control and make laws in the areas which are usually considered (in western world) as private affairs/spaces: like dress, socializing, sporting beard, music, partying etc. They are more concerned about discipline (nazm-o-zabt) than rights, therefore, we see them usually talking about ‘self-control’ (discipline) than rights.

c) Idea about democracy: They believe in God's rule. “This is God's land, its governance is God's prerogative”. Khilafat (a kind of meritocracy), not democracy is their ideal. It's God's rule through His able vicegerents, not common-sense rule of law legislated by representatives chosen through majority.

d) Idea about freedom: They believe in the freedom within the precincts of Islam. Any freedom/right beyond is haram/illicit. They seek direction for even minute thing from religion. They are even worried about what is going on in other person's head about Islam. Since they do not usually approve pluralism in the true sense of respecting other opinions and religions, therefore, their pluralism is not about respect, it is more about tolerance. Their ideal is conversion/reversion of other people to their faith/opinion.

e) Idea about change:They believe more in revivalism than change. As such, worthwhile change is going back to the fundamentals. Hence the term fundamentalism. They usually desire to fit world into Islam, not Islam into the world. Their interpretation of the religious text is not as dynamic as the existing situation. For them change comes through struggle (Jehad) usually reviving the fundamentals of faith, which in most cases turns violent due to the intransigence of the oppressor. Therefore, these people usually support all pan-Islamic movements like Al-qaida. They would surely suggest peaceful measures when they feel war as counterproductive for them.

f) Idea about knowledge and education: They eulogize seeking knowledge that could bring them closer the Lord. Therefore, all such knowledge is their ken. They would surely abhor western knowledge and education but for its necessity in the present world for gaining power and hegemony (galba), they find no choice than to allow it. But deep in their hearts they don't trust such education as it gives rise, according to them, to a liberal mindset. Their ideal, in the final analysis, is Islamic education which must be free from all secular underpinnings.

g) Idea about gender: They clearly see the two sexes cut out for separate roles. Therefore, women are made for homes and men for the market. Men and women shouldn't mix, in education or elsewhere. So, they see this happening only under Islamic rule of their perspective.

h) Their dilemma: They are perennially hopeful about Islam’s power to set the example in the present world, but since they are unable to see any ray of hope in the Muslim rulers across the globe coming any way closer to this ideal, they pin all their hopes on Almighty without themselves having any blueprint on growth and development.

Reformist group: They believe that Islam basically is a message of oneness of God, therefore, it does not invite us to anything greater than this through His messengers. They see Islam as adjustable to any situation. They're reformist because they do not abhor change, and see west and its knowledge in good light. Now let's get into their heads:

a) Idea about the government: Majority of them feel that Islam does not necessarily need to be a State religion. For them religion could even be a private affair. Government, for them, must be run by the people's representatives (democracy) who legislate to run the affairs of the state. Even when they see a State in Islamic construction they wish it to be based on broader Islamic principles, not in minute details. They're not much happy about certain groups using militant means because they feel other groups of different kind could then use the same means to mount a counter attack, thus, if allowed, would turn the whole world into a warzone. For them Khilafat has evolved into the present systems of democratic government, as such, there is no need to revive Khilafat.

b) Extent of control and rights of people: They believe that Islamic governments cannot, and should not, control and make laws in all the areas. They respect private spaces, therefore, consider things like dress, socializing, beard as personal choices and rights. Music, photography, theatre are highly valued and considered as art and permissible. They feel literal interpretation of religious text as an antithesis to all growth and development.

c) Idea about democracy: They believe in rule of law. This is surely God's land, but it's for the human beings, who God had bestowed with good reason, to propose good and just laws. Since they keep State's role (if Islamic) as limited to certain general areas, therefore, they are more concerned about censuring the government about any infringements into the rights and freedoms of people.

d) Idea about Freedom: They believe in the freedom unless it clashes with some major injunction of Islam. They see role of many Ahadith (traditions) as suggestive. They see Islam's directive role in lesser areas than the revivalist group. They respect difference of opinion in religious and other matters, therefore, give no damn to what's going on in others head. They are plural to the core respecting opinions and religions. They don’t seek conversion but won’t mind if it comes about by the sheer realization on the part of the person. Their ideal is peace not conversion.

e) Idea about change: They usually desire to fit Islam into the world. Thus, they interpret Islam as dynamically as the present situation. For them change is the law of nature. Constructive change comes, according to them, through reform which in all cases must be non-violent. However, they feel Islam allows disciplined war in defence. These people abhor any pan-Islamic violent movements in the form of Daish or Alqaida.

f) Idea about knowledge and education: They see scientific knowledge as the game changer, as such, want all Muslims to be educated in modern sciences. About religious knowledge they want it to be taught in a way which would not make children conservative and anti-science. Usually, but in not all cases, they see west and its knowledge in good light. They want to educate children for betterment of all humanity in this life and hereafter, not for any kind of Islamic hegemony (galba).

g) Idea about gender: They clearly see equality between men and women as encouraged by Islam. Therefore, for them men and women must get equal opportunity towards education and occupation. They well tolerate men and women working together, and believe usually in very mild form of ‘Purda’.

h) Their dilemma: Since they mostly see Islam as a way of private life they are less bothered about what Muslim nations are doing. Being religious and modern at once, in many cases, keeps them struggling to synthesise the two: the sacred and the secular. In the end, sometimes, they keep ruminating on: nakhuda hi mila na visal-e-sanam.

The author teaches at IASE, M.A. Road, Srinagar.

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