Sound from Saudi | Clutter and Coercion in the name of Islam

Sound from Saudi | Clutter and Coercion in the name of Islam

We are living in times when WhatsApp consistently reminds usof what is up. A week or two back I received a WhatsApp message: "What isIslamic objections to Qawali singing." Before resounding to the message Ichuckled to myself. How much in our routine interactions do we ask the samequestion – what Islam says! From silly to serious, the range is really amazing.As a member of a Muslim society I must confess that most of this overindulgentinvocation of religion doesn't reflect our seriousness about Islam. If itbetrays anything, it is the sub-standard reasoning, crisis of common sense, andaffected piety. Jesus Christ's sermon on the mount mirrors our image. We arenot serious about what Islam says, but are fussy about what-islam-says. Sothere is lots of clutter in the Muslim society that stays in the name of Islam.It needs a huge reformative process to declutter Muslim societies. And for thiswe need to focus on our children. We need to simplify Islam to them by tellingthem that Islam is not a layered and labyrinthine rule book that leaves nothingto our choice, likings, and common sense. We need to tell them that the rules,regulations, conventions, etiquette, and manners are a function of humaninteraction, produced over time. Islam is not an A to Z compendium of rules.

Some days later, someone WhatsApped a news story. This wasabout how Saudi Prince is dropping control of the state on matters that wereearlier thought of as the prerogative of an Islamic State: Saudi Arabia EndForced Prayer-Time Shop Closure. Since Saudi Arabia is a theocratic state, evenbefore Pakistan and Iran, it defines religion and religious practices for thepeople living in its territory. The dos and don'ts that are long gone fromother societies, including Muslim societies in other countries, are strictlyimplemented by the Kingdom. But for sometime now, inch by inch, the veil islifting.

The five time prayer a day is not like what Islam says aboutqawwali. Nimaz, mandatory daily prayers, is the core of Islamic religious practices.As a parenthetic remark this news story about prayers is full of detail, and itis not merely what the title of the story suggests. But the question we nowseriously need to ask ourselves is that can a Muslim state extract a visible,disciplinary, compulsive adherence to daily prayers. We all know that use offorce is in the nature of a state, but can force be used to impose a religiouspractice. Does it amount to compulsion, about which the text of Quran  clearly says that there is nothing of the sortin religion.

The understanding prevalent in today's Muslim societies isthat it is the duty of a Muslim state to establish prayers – Iqamat-e-Salah.But the view that it means to create an enabling atmosphere is more convincing.Besides, the Muslim government is asked to connect with the people through the institution of one weekly prayer onFriday. But we have stretched all this to the limits where Taliban coercedpeople to pray. And where does the spirit of prayers go if it is to be imposed.Another point in the specific question of prayers is that in the early years ofMuslim state the order of things was basically tribal. Tribe works like afamily, and the means of imparting behaviour in a tribe is decidedly differentthan in a modern diffused, democratic, and ultra technological society. In ourreligious zeal we miss to read these differences. We invoke history where weneed to bring in argument.

The changes that Saudi Arabia is now making in its stateoutlook appear outrageous to a religious mind. The reasons for this arepsychological as well as intellectual. Psychologically Muslims are living, nowfor more than a century, with a deep sense of insecurity. We perennially thinkthat Islam is in danger, and all other nations in the world are hatchingconspiracies against us. This has much to do with the loss of our politicalpower. Intellectually Muslim mind is comatose. It needs repeated reminders that Quran is no longer at the centre ofMuslim thinking. The legal, social, and philosophic attitudes developedthroughout our history have displaced the Quran. Muslims would require a hugeintellectual departure to change this psychology of insecurity and face theworld confidence. On the reverse side, Muslims require extra ordinary courageto ride over this psychological state of insecurity to unfreeze the mind.

Most of the changes, like allowing women to drive or noimposition of a dress code, or allowing businesses to remain open 24 hours;nothing goes contrary to our religion. In fact these bans and impositionsshould not have been there in the first place. But the unfortunate part of itall is that it is not happening as an internally driven process of reform. Thisall appears a response to the outward pressure from the West, from the businessworld, and also an attempt to hide embarrassment on what the regime does in thename of religion. It is much like Pakistan tightening the noose around militantgroups, and also making some changes in its religious outlook.  Closer home, Kashmir's Muslim society is alsobehaving the same way.

Great would be the times for the Muslims around the worldwhen our governments and societies restore the intellectual dynamism, and breakthis psychological barrier of fear.

Islam is an orientation of life towards good, away fromevil. It's minimal in its law, and religious practices. Its outward appearancein the form of customs and conventions is guided by the application ofuniversal ethics, and it takes care of the differences in human tastes, andcultural backgrounds. Islam is not a system of life, it's life.  The beauty of life is restored only whenclutter and compulsion stay away.

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