By Jacob K. Lupai
15 March 2012
Islam, believed to be the religion of submission to the one God, took off from Arabia in the seventh century and spread rapidly. To the north of Arabia it spread to Palestine and Syria, Iraq and Iran, and to Central Asia. To the west Islam spread to Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Spain and Portugal. In all Islam became the dominant religion over the whole of the Arab Middle East, along the shores of North Africa, across the Sahara in northern West Africa and through much of East Africa. Islam is the product of meditation by an illiterate but brilliant Arabian who seemed to have been exceptionally gifted with the art of meditation. It is said the Arabian spent some time each year meditating in a cave near Mecca, the birth place of the Arabian in present day Saudi Arabia. This was when the Arabian began to have some striking religious experiences which set him off in his career as a messenger of God.
The Arabian at first mentioned his revelations to his family and close associates but thereafter began his public career. In public the Arabian vehemently denounced polytheism and this caused alarm in people because of threat to the livelihood of those who depended on Meccan shrines. The ethic the Arabian pronounced was not fully in accord with the money-making mentality of the rich merchants of the city hence the message of the Arabian made little headway. However, in battles against his enemies in which the Arabian won, he was master of a large chunk of Arabia. The Arabian was perceived as a considerable military and political leader, and had behind him the assurance of faith as a result of his prophetic experiences. To Muslims the Arabian is an ideal figure, someone to be adored and followed, virtually seen as a perfect of the finest of human beings to whom God entrusted his final revelation. Those virtues of the Arabian meditator earned him the position of a prophet and Muslims the world over call the gifted Arabian meditator Prophet Mohamed. One should therefore be very careful in mentioning the name of Prophet Mohamed less one earns an unnecessary religious edict or fatwa from Islamic zealots for blasphemy.
Meaning of Islam
The word Islam is commonly used with two related meanings. On the one hand it denotes a religion, a system of belief and worship and on the other hand, the civilization that grew up and flourished under the aegis of that religion. Islam as a religion is closer to the Judeo-Christian tradition than to any of the great religions of Asia such as Hinduism, Buddhism or Confucianism. Judaism and Islam share the belief in a divine law that regulates human activity including food and drink. All three Middle Eastern religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, are closely related and appear as variants of the same religious tradition. Christians and Muslims believe that they alone are the fortunate recipients and custodians of God's final message to the humanity, which it is their duty to bring to the rest of the world. However, in contrast to Christians, Muslims use harsher methods as part of their duty to bring to the world the message of God through conversion to Islam believed to be the only pure religion.
Purity of Islam
The Qur'an, Islam holy book, is believed by Muslims to be the word of God sent down to guide humanity for all times to come. It is seen as a divine guidance to those who believe and contains principles and guidelines essential for social, political and spiritual guidance of humanity. The Qur'an is considered an essence of divine values, a collection of revealed principles, the understanding and following of which it is believed will lead people along the path of God. Islam is not just considered a religion but is a complete way of life. It has a well developed code for the individual as well as for family and society, and for the ruler as well as the ruled. The Qur'an is seen to provide comprehensive guidelines that have been and can be further developed into a complete social, political and economic system. An Islamic constitution is therefore seen to have well defined aims and objectives which include endeavours to build a society free from evils, diseases and crimes, create an environment where there is no discrimination on any other ground than actions of the individual, and bring justice to people. It is said in Islam peace has a comprehensive meaning encompassing all aspects of individual family and social life. In theory Islam seems to provide a pure system of governance that is effectively responsive to the aspirations of people.
One of the issues that contemporary Muslims are dealing with is the founding of an Islamic state. This is evidently an emulation of Prophet Mohamed's establishment of the first Islamic state in Medina to which he migrated from Mecca. However, Prophet Mohamed was no ordinary like latter day Muslims. In his great wisdom Prophet Mohamed demonstrated a democratic spirit quite unlike the authoritarian tendencies of many Muslims who today claim to imitate him. Prophet Mohamed chose to draw up a historically specific constitution based on the principles revealed to him and sought the consent of all who would be affected by its implementation. The first Islamic state established was constitutional in character and the ruler ruled with the explicit written consent of all the citizens of the state. To promote harmony and peaceful co-existence Muslims of today need to emulate Prophet Mohamed and draw up their own constitution specific to their conditions which should be based on the eternal and transcendent principles revealed by God. Muslims of today could use the constitution of Medina as an example of how to develop a constitution that is considerate to non Muslims. Articles in the constitution of Medina clearly suggest that prophet Mohamed could stand up for the rights of non Muslims. For example, freedom of religion was guaranteed for both Muslims and non Muslims and no non Muslim would be wronged for being a non Muslim. In Saudi Arabia, the birth place of Prophet Mohamed, no Christian Church today is allowed to be constructed there. What a contradiction to the constitution of the first Islamic state established by Prophet Mohamed the founder of Islam.
Marginalisation in the name of Islam
It may be amazing to note how Prophet Mohamed's interpretation of the Qur'an was so democratic, so tolerant and compassionate while contemporary Muslims like the Taliban in Afghanistan interpretation of the same is so harsh, so authoritarian and so intolerant that there is nothing but misery and mayhem. In Sudan marginalization and oppression in the name of Islam has been unbearable. South Sudan broke away precisely because of the misuse of Islam for naked marginalization and oppression. Darfur, Southern Kordofan and Southern Blue Nile are already in open armed rebellion not against Islam but the misuse of Islam for marginalisation and oppression of others. Interestingly Sudanese Islamists are in crisis for deception does not last forever. Sudanese opposition parties whose members are mostly Muslims have condemned pressures by Islamist parties and groups to adopt Islamic constitution in Sudan. The opposition Popular Congress Party has officially disassociated itself from a coalition of political parties and religious groups working to adopt an Islamic constitution. In contrast a coalition of radical Islamic groups threatens to topple the President of Sudan if he fails to heed demands for a constitution based on Islamic Shariah. This all seems to suggest that the game of marginalization and oppression in the name of Islam may be at an end. One other scenario is the accusation labeled on the Sudanese government of waging increasingly hostile campaign against another Islamist group (Salafi) allegedly under the influence of rival religious groups. This clearly demonstrates that radical Muslims in Sudan are in disarray because of using Islam as a political tool to manipulate and marginalise others. The puritan Islam of the time of Prophet Mohamed seems hard to come by when Islam today is used for a different agenda of opportunism, marginalization and oppression of people.
Contradictions in Islam
Contradictions in Islam are perceived as what Muslims preach in contrast to what they actually do in practice. In working for justice at every level Muslims are very clear when they preach from the Qur'an (4:135). However, how more often do Muslims work for justice at every level? A practical example of injustice by Muslims is the separation of Southern Sudan. Southern Sudan separated precisely because of injustice perpetrated by Muslims in Northern Sudan as they were the people in power throughout the post independence era. Radical Islam does not promote justice either. In the 18th century one Mohamed ibn Abdal al-Wahhab, a theologian in Arabia launched a campaign of purification with the declared aim of returning to the pure Islam of Prophet Mohamed. The campaign produced a doctrine which became known as Wahhabism. After the establishment of the Saudi state Wahhabism remained the choice of the royal family and now is the official ideology of the state of Saudi Arabia. It advocates a more strict Qur'anic law. Whether the Saudis are precisely following strict Qur'anic law is an open question. However, it is said extreme interpretation of Islamic codes by Wahhabists have resulted in senseless tragedies. For example, it is said fourteen students at a girl's public intermediate school in Mecca in Saudi Arabia died in fire. The Wahhabists are said to have deliberately obstructed rescue attempts because of the interpretation that the students were not wearing the obligatory public attire, long black cloaks and head coverings, for Saudi girls and women. In contrast many girls and women in Egypt and Turkey, which are predominantly Muslim countries, do not wear long black cloaks and head coverings. How can this contradiction in Islam be explained? Which is the path of God, wearing long black cloaks and head coverings or not? Could it be the case of fanatical Islam irrelevant to the pure Islam of Prophet Mohamed? Those may be simplistic questions but the answers may educate non Muslims.
Islam no solution to marginalization and oppression
Contradictions in Islam clearly show that Islam is no solution to marginalization and oppression. It is evident that leaders have used Islam to consolidate their hold on power. The Saudis' use of variant of Islam known as Wahabbism is in favour of the royal family to brainwash the Saudis to allow the royal family to have an absolute grip on power. In Sudan the use of Islamic Shariah did not help in keeping the country together as a strong united country. Under Islamic Shariah the marginalization and oppression of Southern Sudan was absolute that the only alternative was to split up the country. The predominantly non Muslim Southern Sudan was not the only to carry the yolk of Islamic marginalization and oppression. Although predominantly Muslim, Darfur, Southern Kordofan and Southern Blue Nile are all up in arms against their fellow Muslim rulers for having been deceived, marginalized and oppressed for so long under the name of Islam. From this simple illustration it may become clear that Islam is no solution to marginalisation and oppression.
The anger of Muslims fueled by their negative perception of having been exploited for so long have made them to take refuge in Islam with the mistaken belief that a return to pure Islam will deliver them from bondage. This is grossly misleading and erroneous. Leaders use the concept of return to pure Islam simply to fore long their stay in power as it is sweet to be pampered when in power. The crux of the matter is that it is not Islamic solution but an economic one to reduce poverty that can address Muslims' anger and frustrations among themselves and their anger at the perceived foreign exploitation. Osama bin Laden, a university graduate and one of the richest individuals in the Muslim world, would have worked for an economic solution to reduce the poverty among Muslims. However, instead of alleviating poverty, Osama bin Laden resorted to religious extremism as the only alternative to his imaginary heaven. This brought untold suffering to millions. What kind of religion that condones indiscriminate murder of the innocent is an open question for those with interest in religion to answer? Foreign exploitation of resources in the Muslim world is also to blame to some extent. Instead of sending jets to bomb and tanks to subdue, the billions spent could have been devoted to economic development to reduce poverty and improve living standards in the Muslim world. Muslims' attitude might have been different to non Muslims.
Religious extremism in any society that is multi-religious can be dangerous. The danger is that the society may find itself polarized along religious lines and clashes may occur. Extremists, moderates and secularists will have different ideas of how the society should be run. Poverty, frustrations and humiliation may breed religious extremism. Moderates and secularists are usually accommodating. In contrast religious extremists usually denigrate other religions. Islamic extremists convince themselves that non Muslims are destined to hellfire and violence towards non Muslims is sanctioned by God. In Islamic Shariah the life of non Muslims seems to be nothing but only worth a fraction of that of Muslims. This all suggests that Islamic extremism reflected in adoption of an Islamic constitution is no solution to marginalization and oppression of moderates and secularists. As already mentioned the breakup of Sudan into two parts was partly due to the application of Islamic Shariah. Sudan is also on the way for further break ups as the National Congress Party Islamic policies seem to be no solution to marginalization and oppression of the people of Darfur, Southern Kordofan and Southern Blue Nile.
In conclusion, the adoption of Islamic constitution or application of Islamic Shariah can only be maintained by the brute use of force and repression. In Saudi Arabia it is the Islamic police that use brute force to sustain Wahhabism. In Sudan, however, the Islamists are in disarray after Southern Sudan has broken away to become the independent Republic of South Sudan. The use of brute force to sustain an Islamic constitution or Islamic Shariah is no solution to the problems a multi-religious, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic nation faces.