‘Intellectual Crisis of the Muslim Ummah’ – International Conclave at AMU

Considering the prevailing crisis in the Muslim Ummah as an opportunity, several Muslim intellectuals from around the world sat down together recently at the two-day International Conference on ‘Intellectual Crisis of the Muslim Ummah,’ held at the Aligarh Muslim University, to revisit and rethink traditional solutions. The idea was not just to focus on the present Muslim issues and the prevailing unrest, but also to chart out a future course of action for Islamic unity. The outcome of the two-day event brings an interesting summary of how Muslims see themselves today and how they would like to be seen in the future, writes RAHEEL AHMAD.

Brushing aside concerns about his old age and failing health, the 76-years old prominent Muslim activist, Sheikh Dr. Kamal el-Helbawy booked his own air-ticket from Cairo to fly all the way to New Delhi and then traveled through the dusty roads to a university town, Aligarh… All he wanted was to meet and interact with prominent Muslim intellectuals, academicians, thinkers, religious activists and interfaith leaders from around the world who had gathered there for a two day conclave. Helbawy, who currently holds a dual citizenship of UK and Egypt, was the former international spokesperson of Muslim Brotherhood in Europe. However, later he resigned from the Muslim Brotherhood and started working independently for the Muslim community in UK as the President of Muslim Association of Britain. Addressing the people present at the conclave, he emphasized on the need to bring together Muslims from all the sects under one umbrella and present a unified Islam to the world. The ongoing turmoil in the middle-east with the war between the Houthis, a Shiite offshoot and Yemen’s majority Sunnis, seems to have become the last straw for Muslim intellectuals in shedding their sectarian folds. For quite a few years, the house of Islam appears to be engaged in a proxy war not only with others but within itself… To make matters worse, the global terror outfits like ISIS, Boko Haram, etc. have caused further damage to the already besieged Ummah. However, thankfully, very few Muslims support the violent steps being taken by some of these misguided youths who claim to be representing Islam.

Interestingly, it is probably the first time when the Muslim intellectuals from various sects sat down together with religious leaders of other communities for such an academic discourse. The Muslim intellectuals not only deliberated on issues but also realized that it is time to pose disturbing questions to themselves, as to: who they were, whether they really are one Ummah, one nation, united in faith… or smaller cults worshipping their own cult leaders… They also realized that it is time to think whether Muslims really wish to revive their Ummah [in its most profound sense] or perish as a result of internal fighting.

The question whether Muslims can take upon a leadership role in the new world order was posed to Swami Lakshmi Shankaracharya, who was also a participant at this event. The Shankaracharya emphasized that Muslims can definitely lead the world, provided they first become good Muslims themselves…This advice from a Hindu religious head bears particular significance for the Muslims and has been applauded by the community as a whole. Some intellectuals have blamed the Muslim leadership for the present-day crisis of the community. Expressing his views on this issue, Dr. Muhammad al-Ghazali from the Shariah Appellate Bench, Supreme Court of Pakistan said that the Muslim leadership is suffering from inferiority complex. Another panelist and a renowned Shia cleric, Maulana Kalbe Sadiq said that Sunnis and Shiite not only need to act as brothers but one soul. He mentioned that this was the message given by the Supreme Leader of Shiite community, Ayatollah Sistani from Iran. The two-day conclave is the brainchild of Dr. Rashid Shaz, who is an intellectual engaged in writing on various Muslim issues since a long time. He divides his time working as a Professor at the Aligarh Muslim University as well as on conceptualizing intra-faith and interfaith initiatives. Though he comes from an orthodox Muslim family, Dr. Shaz has been a vocal critic of the present day clergy. According to him, many of the problems of Muslims Ummah can be easily resolved if the Muslim clerics play a positive role by resolving internal conflicts amicably in the light of Qur’an.

The signing of the Islamic Unity Charter by all the participants at the conference, cutting across sectarian boundaries, also marks a significant shift from their earlier positions. Several Islamic scholars from US, Malaysia and other Islamic countries attended the event. Some of the countries sent their representatives from their High Commissions in New Delhi to keep a tab on the developments.  

     * Raheel Ahmad is a Muslim peace activist with a keen interest in interfaith and religious dialogues. He holds a Bachelor’s in Engineering and a post graduate in Management from IIM-Calcutta.

Welcome Address, Delivered at the International Conference on The Intellectual Crisis of the Muslim Ummah

Dr. Rashid Shaaz

“Hon’ble Vice-Chancellor, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, and my dear students!

         “Assalamu Alaikum!We are a nation in crisis, nay rather a ‘crisis nation.’ And since our crisis has a global ramification, we are looked at as a source of all crises. This contemporary image of ours is quite contrary to the Qur’anic image wherein we are portrayed as Khair-e-Ummah, the chosen people of God raised specifically to enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong. Our prophet, we are told in the Qur’an, brought with him no communitarian project for the benefit of the Muslim people alone. Instead, he was Rahmatun-lil-Aalameen, a blessing and mercy unto mankind. And as a continuing legacy of our beloved Prophet, we Muslims are supposed to be a divinely ordained nation in whom all nations of the world find solace and protection. But contrary to our Qur’anic image, look what has become of us. We are a nation in ruins. From Iraq to Syria and further down to Lebanon, from posh urban centers in Pakistan to the rugged hills of Afghanistan, and from the devastated lands of Libya and Egypt to the Arab centre of Yemen, Muslims are pitted against fellow Muslims. Imagine the chaos! Muslims are bombing Muslims. They are flying drones against fellow Muslims. The entire central land of Islam has turned into a battle ground where the Ummah of the Last Prophet is on a suicide spree.

          “Brothers and Sisters! Today, we are facing an Islamic meltdown. The Muslim world is being depopulated and at an alarming rate. According to a conservative estimate, in the 1991 Iraq War alone, “more than 80,000 tons of explosives dropped by coalition forces killed around 100,000 Iraqi soldiers and 350,000 innocent civilians. And after the bombing, 111, 000 people died due to shortage of medicine, of them 70,000 were children under fifteen. And the economic sanctions that followed the war, according to UNICEF documentation, resulted into the death of over half a million children. In 2003, Iraq again became a battleground resulting in the deaths of 650,000 people by June 2006, according to a survey published in Lancet. And, according to an OBR survey of Iraq War casualties, in just four years, from 2003 to 2007, more than a million people died. This is just about Iraq, a country of 30 million people. A civil war has gripped neighboring Syria, where some 250,000 people have perished so far, according to a UN report. Eleven million had to leave their homes, of them four million have taken refuge in neighboring countries. And according to some rights group estimation, around ten million people inside Syria do not have enough to eat. Imagine the scale of devastation! A country of 22 million people; of them eleven million displaced, four million fled to neighboring countries and ten millions who remain inside do not have enough to eat. Muslims killing Muslims, and with the help of foreign weapons and advisors, has become such a huge and established industry that today we have specific organizations devoted to counting our dead bodies. One such organization is Iraq Body Count that updates its website on a daily basis. Iraq and Syria are in total ruins. Taliban and other sectarian groups have created havoc in Pakistan. Afghanistan, which lost 1.5 million Muslims during the Afghan Jihad, has become an open wound. Now, an all-out war is raging in Yemen. And there are all indications that the flames of war will spill over to the entire region. Here again, Muslims on both sides of the conflict; Zaidi Shias locked in a battle with their Sunni brothers.

“One might say that it is over simplification to look at the entire conflict in Shia-Sunni paradigm, that there are other more complex factors involved. But those aware of what is going on in the minds of young defenders on both sides of the conflict cannot deny that a mad sectarian frenzy lies at the heart of the conflict. Shi’i youth coming from far places to defend the Shrine of Syeda Zainab at the outskirts of Damascus are doing it as a religious obligation. Similarly, when Salafi jihadis bulldoze Maqbara of Shaikh Ahmad al-Refaei, they carry it out with full religious conviction. The late Ayatullah Khomeni who championed the cause of Islamic unity, who wanted to do away with the man-made Shi’i and Sunni identity and who vociferously claimed to be the upholder of La Shia, La Sunnia! Islamiya! Islamiya! painfully realized in his later years that the eight year Iran-Iraq war, in which more than a million Muslims on both sides lost their lives, had eventually turned Iran into a defender of the Shi’i faith. Today, we talk of the looming Shia crescent, the increasing dominance of nuclear Iran and the Sunni world is made believe that the emergence of nuclear Iran will be tantamount to a slap in the face of Sunni Islam.

Dear friends! Make no mistake. It is our internal contradiction that allows others to occupy our lands, grab our resources, dishonor our women, kill our children, and depopulate our villages. They hire us for our own killing. Call it Sunni al-Qaeda or Shi’i Hezbollah, or be they Taliban or Da’esh, Jaish al-Mahdi or Sipah-e-Sahaba. We Muslims are strange mercenaries hired to kill our own sons and daughters. This is sheer madness, cannibalism of the worst kind.

Brothers and Sisters! Today we are locked in the deadliest and the bloodiest internecine conflict of our history. Never before in our 1400 years of long history, have we had so much sophisticated weapons and at such a large scale at our disposal to commit collective suicide. Never before have the self-hating preachers had the privilege of running hate shops on the internet or streaming out venom and filth through Youtube videos. Hearken, O Muslims! If we do not come back to our senses, the sectarian cannibalism will extinguish our existence.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen! The rise and fall of a nation is no big deal: it is a routine matter. But extinction of the Muslim Ummah is no ordinary concern. They are the upholders of the last message of God to humanity. Simply put, they are the continuing legacy of all the prophets and seers, and by virtue of being deputies of the Last Prophet, they have been entrusted to lead history till end times. It is because of our ejection from the seat of authority and guidance that the world is in such disarray. And our ejection took place because, contrary to the Qur’anic exhortations, “And hold fast the covenant of God together and do not get divided,” we preferred to look the other way. And so did God Almighty, our covenant with God was broken. God raised us as one nation. He chose to call us Muslims. Yet, we kept on violating the covenant. We acquired un-Godly identities, gave in to sectarian loyalties. And, even blasphemously called ourselves as Sunnis and Shi’is, Ismailis and Ibadis, Sufis and Salafis, Deobandis and Barelvis and so on. The sentence is painfully long. Today, the agony that we are in is a judgment on us by God who had very clearly warned us: “Verily, as for those who have broken the unity of their faith and have become sects – thou hast nothing to do with them. Behold, their case rests with God: and in time He will make them understand what they were doing.”

          “Ya Ayyuhal Muslimoon!To get back to the seat of glory and guidance and deserve God’s abounding mercy once again, we need to get rid of false identities and return to the fold of original Islam, the fold of one Ummah. Today, the Muslim mind is terribly confused. A vast gap exists between what the Qur’an enjoins and what our sectarian preachers and cult leaders preach. The crisis in the Middle-East and elsewhere where the Muslim is pitted against fellow Muslim is a reflection of the crisis in the Muslim mind. We know of the Sykes-Picot treaty, a secret deal that fragmented the world of Islam into many nation states leaving no room for any future unification of the Ummah, but we are not aware of, or at least not sensitive to the many ideological, Fiqhi and Maslaki Sykes-Picots that took root in course of time, which have become sacrosanct and, thus, have made any future unification of the Ummah impossible. It is time to declare that we reject all Sykes-Picots, be they political or ideological, and made out by veteran enemies or naïve well-wishers.

“A new beginning cannot be made unless we muster enough courage to reopen the Book of God and let God’s voice speak to us without any human mediation. Remember! Islam is a gift of God to humanity. It is our collective heritage. If it gets blurred or adulterated it is everybody’s concern.

“The two-day conclave at Aligarh which brings together some of the best minds from various sectarian affiliations is mainly intended to be a place for collective introspection. The conference is a befitting tribute to our beloved founder who always used his head for hard thinking and rarely as a cap-stand. To quote [Allama] Iqbal: “He was the first Indian Muslim who felt the need of a fresh orientation of Islam and worked for it. We may differ from his religious views, but there can be no denying the fact that his sensitive soul was the first to react to the modern age. The extreme conservatism of Indian Muslims which had lost its hold on the realities of life failed to see the real meaning of the religious attitude of Syed Ahmad Khan.”

Ladies and Gentlemen! I hope you won’t miss the symbolic significance of this historic seat of learning; a traditional abode for vibrant, dynamic and creative thinking in Islam, which is witnessing now an all-out revival under the visionary leadership of our vice-chancellor, Gen. Shah who has made it to himself to make this university number one in just two years time. With new roads and newer pavements, he has already fixed potholes on the grounds and if this conference is able to fix potholes in our minds, the all-out Aligarh renaissance will be achieved.

“As the convener of this high profile conference, it is my duty to make your stay comfortable and productive. I’m humbled by the huge and overwhelming response. Some six hundred people from across the world are here to take part in collective thinking. Around 200 hundred of them have come from various Indian cities, and 20 of them from abroad, they travelled all the way from Cairo, Islamabad, Kuala Lumpur, London, Paris, Moscow, Maryland, Atlanta, Washington DC and other cities. We warmly welcome our guests, especially foreign dignitaries, to the traditional Aligarh hospitality. It is humble, very basic and at times even challenging, but hopefully productive. I pray to Allah that He makes this conference a great success. Aameen, Ya Rabb ul-Aalameen!

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