‘Organizational Slavery: The Bane of Modern Muslim Movements’ (Part II)

In May 2007, Young Muslim Digest published the first part of the abridged text of the interview granted by its Executive Editor, BIJU ABDUL QADIR, to the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), or the National Center for Scientific Research, France. The CNRS is a government-funded research organization, under the administrative authority of France’s Ministry of Research. Founded in 1939 by governmental decree, CNRS has the following missions: evaluating and carrying out all research capable of advancing knowledge as well as that having social, cultural, and economic benefits for society, contributing to the application and promotion of research results, developing scientific information, and supporting training for and through research, participating in the analysis of the national and international scientific climate and its potential for evolution in order to develop a national policy.Presented here is the concluding part of this interview.



CNRS: What are your views on the way organizations like Jamat-e-Islami and Ahl-e-Hadith are functioning in India?

BAQ: These organizations, in the present stage of their development, still betray a narrow mind-set in that their thinking and planning remain confined to activities within their immediate group and territory. They do not have an internationalist outlook in any practical sense. They must learn to look outside, to see the internal and external problems that are facing them. Even when merely working from the context of their district, their state, or even India as a whole, they have to coordinate with many other organizations and factions purportedly working for Islam. This successful coordination is something they have not achieved to date. It would not be too far-fetched to even state that a certain degree of what we may call organizational slavery exists within every organization.

While organizations are there to serve the purpose and principle of Islam – in itself a great need of the times – their members lie entrapped in the grip of organizational slavery. This happens when the goal and vision for which the organization was originally set up are forgotten, and a kind of group feeling and ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude builds up among the activists in any organization. The attitude of present day activists of the Jamat-e-Islami make it seem apparent that they have all but forgotten the real reasons for Mawlana Mawdudi setting up such an organization. To him, it was meant to bring a new and total, holistic, orientation of the Muslims towards Islam, but this objective has been little understood in the original spirit, if not by the present-day leadership, then at least by the activists at the lower levels of the organization. Unfortunately, they now appear to feel, perhaps at the subconscious level, that the organization is an end in itself.

This consequently leads to such a tragic state of affairs wherein two separate Muslim organizations with even the same objective cannot get together in any complete way for any common long term, and sometimes even a short term, goal. This is what I do not agree with, since it goes contrary to the injunctions of the Qur’an where it says: “And hold fast (all of you) to the rope of Allah and be not disunited therein.”  It is a sad day, indeed, when even sincere Muslims cannot imbibe that other injunction of the Qur’an which asks them to “cooperate with one another in all that is by way of piety and righteousness, and refrain from cooperation with one another in all that involves evil and mischief.”

Muslim organizations can ill-afford to be clashing with each other while being blind to the forces outside that are eating them inside out. The Muslim Ummah is not confined within India; the Ummah resides within the entire Muslim world. You can’t ignore the Ummah in the US, nor can you do that with that part of the Ummah in Europe, as in France, where they are becoming more and more assertive, or in Britain where they can begin to think of dictating policies. In the Middle-East, Muslim homes are being taken away from them again by a new form of colonialism, whether that be in Iraq, Palestine or even in Chechnya or Afghanistan. These are the tumultuous events holding the Muslims down the world over.

Muslims, as a whole, must be aware of these internal and external problems, and must try to solve them to the best of their ability. This is no doubt a tremendous challenge to tackle; a challenge which Muslims must first seek to understand and to accept its existence as a reality before them. Solutions can come only after this realization. Before all else, however, it is the individual Muslim’s progress that is paramount. He, or she, must improve as a person, as a Muslim, as a warrior always engaged in Jihad bil-Nafs (or the battle against one’s own baser self). Through such struggle, through such a life lived in constant revolution against the evil in ourselves, the Muslim offers the highest, the ultimate, message that he, or she, as an individual, is capable of.

CNRS: In your view, which is the strongest organisation in terms of influence and numbers?

BAQ: I think the Tableegh Jamaat would be a strong contender for that position. A large section of Muslim youth is in the Tableegh Jamaat for the simplicity of its mission. The Jamaat-e-Islami too has a special following throughout the country in the sense that it inculcates a forward looking, and a more or less comprehensive enlightenment in its activists. I am more inclined towards the politics – or rather the social engineering – of the Jamaat-e-Islami than towards that of any other organization in India. Although one suspects, within the Jamaat-e-Islami, a lack of understanding, and a certain over-cautiousness that borders on indecision regarding priorities and policies for the Muslim Ummah in India, I daresay that a stronger following for the Jamaat-e-Islami is a positive sign as far as the correct interpretation of Islam is concerned. The Jamaat-e-Islami as organized by Maulana Mawdudi was one of the most positive developments in the Indian subcontinent. Today, the organization is at its strongest in Kerala where literacy rates, political awareness, and demography are all in favour of the Muslims. In other states, it is more or less a strong influence.

CNRS: In your view, who are the most important Islamic thinkers of our time? Why?

BAQ: That’s a hard question because they are so many. Modern thinkers, I can just tell you off-hand: Jamaluddin al-Afghani, Hassan al-Banna, Abul A’la Mawdudi, al-Shaheed Syed Qutb, Muhammad Qutb, Malik Bennabi, Khomeini and Shariati (where their thoughts pertain to the anti-imperialist, anti-colonialist struggle), al-Shaheed Ismail Raji al-Faruqi, Maryam Jameelah (formerly Margaret Marcus), Muhammad Asad (formerly Leopold Weiss), and many others.

The most influential Muslim intellectual in America in the last quarter of a century was Prof. Ismail Raji al-Faruqi, who was a Palestinian exile settled in the US. On 27th May, 1986 he, along with his wife, Lois Lamya al-Faruqi (who partnered him in many of his intellectual projects) were murdered at their home in the US. One of al-Faruqi’s pet projects was the Islamization of Knowledge, in itself one of the most tremendous undertakings within the Muslim intellectual horizon in recent times. Ismail Raji al-Faruqi’s analysis of the malaise of the Muslim Ummah revealed to him the incorrect premises of other reformers like Syed Ahmad Khan.

Faruqi ushered in a change in that outlook and created a new, solid, foundation on an epistemology that derived its entire rationale from Islamic sources. It is arguable whether the higher super-structure that he was contemplating at the time of his assassination might have been fulfilled had he lived today, but one thing is beyond doubt: his legacy of Islamization of knowledge continues to outlive our memory of the remarkable scholar-activist that he undoubtedly was. To his credit, al-Faruqi is the one who really made the inter-religious Judeo-Christian-Muslim dialogues a living reality in America. It is not too surprising therefore, that an American specialist on Islam like John Esposito was al-Faruqi’s first PhD student at Temple University, Philadelphia.

In the main, however, the whole body of Muslim intellectual thought in the past century or more has been oriented as much towards an inner revival as towards the need for the theoretical premises for a very physical resistance against foreign encroachment. Indeed, it’s been a whole tragic cycle of resistance, of occupation, and again resistance. And if you come to Afghanistan, it’s been the same for the past 30 years. People are just resisting occupation: when do they have the time to create civilization? They have only the time to offer sacrifices, or strategies to defend what remains of their lives and honour, in wars forced upon them.

CNRS: Do you think that the tradition of Ijtihad should be revived? And whether it has not been already revived in a way by all these young Muslims who go directly to the Texts, and bypass the teachings of the Ulama?

BAQ: With regard to the viewpoint that Ijtihad as a special discipline has been closed, I cannot but disagree granted the dynamic and continuing spirit of research and study enshrined in the Qur’anic text as a whole. Even the statements of the Prophet – at many places in the Hadith literature – corroborate this aspect of research and study based on new developments. However, it must be immediately pointed out that practicing serious Ijtihad requires Islamic scholarship (that understands well both the material and spiritual realms as one unit of existence) of a high order, and so the exercise cannot be expected of a layman in any successful way. Much in the same way as a casual reader of books on medicine cannot be expected to do a major surgical operation. Indeed, to a believer to whom matters of faith are even more critical (since his eternal salvation or damnation depends on it), the issue of Ijtihad will be of infinitely greater import, and thus will be exercised only with the utmost care and concern, and after a due process of study and reflection. But I think the best and most eloquent testimony to this truth of Ijtihad as applied to Modernism has come from the pen of the late Prof. Ismail Raji al-Faruqi himself who wrote:

“In one sense, Modernism is a nihilistic force which seeks to destroy tradition, to neutralize the power of religious ideals to influence life, to set man free to seek inspiration for his deeds from his own natural self, i.e., his personal or communal complexus of instincts, whims, passions and wishes; or finally to deny all need by the processes of life – the personal, the mental, the social, the economic, the scientific – for guidance by anything a priori, or external to themselves. In that sense, Modernism is a name for chaos and nihilism. Obviously, in that sense, it is the antithesis of Islam. But in its constructive sense, i.e., as a force for achieving a beneficient usufruct of nature under the moral law; as an attitude of a mind that is always critical of all information but equally open to the new evidence which life and existence present; as committed to concern with the totality of humankind and the wholeness of human life rather than a segment of it, Modernism is Islam as much as Islam is Tawhid.”

CNRS: In your view should girls be educated? Should women work?

BAQ: The Prophet (pbuh) is on record as having said that it is obligatory for both men and women to seek knowledge. As for women working, that should be only if the situation demands it. Otherwise, women have their own duties in bringing up a family, which are equally important as those of the men at work outside the family. But when a man cannot work, when he cannot earn for the family, or when he is incapacitated or dead, the woman is left alone. She may then work to ensure the survival of the family.

CNRS: In your view, should women follow Purdah?

BAQ: Yes, they must. Firstly, it is an injunction of the Qur’an, and thus a divine commandment. There is no questioning that if you believe in God. Then there are other reasons why they must do that, like women are respected more when they are covered up. The more women are exposed, the more this creates problems in society where it leads to temptation, moral anarchy and moral chaos. There are all sorts of diseases including AIDS that are spread through intermingling of the sexes: these problems are those which the West is suffering from more right now, as compared to the Middle-Eastern countries. There are higher divorce rates, higher number of single-parent families, difficult childhoods, etc. among the other evils that have directly or indirectly sprung up from sexual anarchy in society. The covering-up can be according to your culture, but the clothes should be loose, and all of the body must be covered except for the face and forehands.

It is also of interest to note that more and more Muslim women have now begun to adopt the Purdah for themselves by their own choice. This is despite the harsh measures being taken in some western countries like France where laws prohibiting head scarves have been brought into force. The particular case of Cennett Dougannay, a French school girl, who actually shaved off her hair when school authorities forced her to abandon her head scarf, is a poignant reminder in this regard.

CNRS: What are your views on polygamy and triple-Talaaq?

BAQ: With regard to Polygamy, there are injunctions of the Qur’an which have not prohibited it. One way to look at Polygamy in Islam is that it is only a contingency plan when a need for such a contingency arrives. Islam accepts the view that man is essentially polygamous by nature. You are an anthropologist, you must have studied that. But there are situations in human societies like large-scale wars, like what happened in Germany, and in Japan after the Second World War, when whole male populations were sent to the battle front. There was a drastic reduction in male population, and the excess of women who thus come into society were forced to remain spinsters or to go for some other illegal means of gratification.

Coming to the topic of Talaaq, it needs to be mentioned at the outset that according to the Prophet, the most hated among the things permitted by God is Talaaq. Of course, Islam is realistic, and so it is not oblivious to the fact that sometimes in a relationship there is no use in keeping the couple together. Divorce is thus to be resorted to only as the last option. Even then, it has to be enforced in three stages, triple stages. It’s not as easy as a section of the Ulama say that it should be in one go: ‘Talaaq, Talaaq, Talaaq,’ and that’s all there is to it. The traditions of the Prophet indicate that there should be a period of a month or more between each declaration of divorce. So after the first declaration, a man cannot be done and away with his wife.

The idea behind such legislation is that during this period there still remains a chance for the two to come together. If this does not happen, the husband is entitled to give a second declaration, and then he has to wait for another period of one month or more. So there are three stages, during each of which sufficient time is granted for the two to try to come together, and reunite again. This is how the Talaaq system works in Islam: a pattern in which the first priority is always given to effecting a reconciliation between the couple. And there are yet further conditions to be fulfilled. Marriages in certain cultures entitles the groom to receive dowry from the bride’s side. But, in Islam, it is the other way round: it’s the woman who demands from the man if he wants to marry her. Unless he gives her that amount called the Mehr, he cannot have her hand in marriage. So, in Middle-Eastern countries, you have situations where men with little financial means have to resort to government aid in order to give the woman her Mehr.

Incidentally, this offers us an idea of the position Islam has given to women. If divorce happens, the man is not entitled to take back the Mehr he had given her at the time of marriage. This is another factor that discourages the man from resorting to divorce.

CNRS: Your view on Muslim Personal Law and the Common Civil Code?

BAQ: Personal law is only one part of Islam. Islam has a comprehensive code of law just like any nation, any country. The Qur’an is like a constitution: it has its own penal laws, economic laws, criminal law, and a prescription for personal law as well. Viewed in this broader perspective, it would appear that it is quite impossible to practice Islam completely in areas where Muslims are a minority. As far as personal law is concerned, what difference does it make as of now, since piecemeal acceptance of Islamic legislation is like non-acceptance itself. The common civil code proposal is contradicted by the Indian constitution itself, because there is another clause in the constitution which ensures the freedom of religion to all communities. Personal Law is part of that freedom for all religions, not just for Islam. Practically too, common civil codes are impossible in a country like India where there are many different ethnic groups, each with its own distinct culture, religion and even dialect.

CNRS: Who, for you, is the ultimate ‘Other’?

BAQ: You mean the ultimate enemy; the ultimate opposition? If you think I have the West in my mind, you will do well to remember that many of the authors who influenced me are/ were from the West. I think what’s important here is that any culture or civilization that contradicts the normal, healthy moral constitution of the ordinary human being is a threat to the welfare of the human race. The real antagonist, as far as I am concerned, can be any  civilization that becomes as corrupt, as morally bankrupt, as spiritually empty and as carefree in destroying the whole world for its own vested interests or for that of a small group of people who run the administration, as is happening in the US today. Since the US leads this western civilization currently, the oppressed are easily prone to the belief that the entire Western world behaves likewise.

After all, one wonders whether it is not the common American who votes the wrong people to power again and again. If you are talking of an external rather than an internal opposition, I think we have already dealt more with the external opposition to Islam, or to what Islam stands for. Any civilization which clashes with the Muslim Ummah directly, on a one-on-one basis, which steals from the Muslims, which kills, maims, and loots; any civilization that does so is an enemy of the Muslims, and of any other people who have been wronged, for that matter. This is quite naturally so.

CNRS: What do you make of the general perception that young Muslims today are making it difficult for themselves to practice their faith; that they seem to impose it on themselves?

BAQ: If you impose something on yourself from the outside, then it becomes difficult to maintain any true affiliation to that which is so imposed. On the other hand, if one accepts something internally, then it becomes easy to relate to it at all times. The Qur’an itself is very realistic. It mentions categorically that unless the believer is in complete agreement with whatever the Prophet recommends for him, he will not be able to fulfill its requirements. Such purity of purpose as called for by the Qur’an can happen only if the believer finds no opposition within him to what the Prophet asks of him. Piecemeal acceptance and practice ultimately results in rendering the believer more or less a hypocrite.

CNRS: I was speaking of sincere, committed young Muslims who seem to live with a sense of guilt all the time.

BAQ: But this is not entirely a negative phenomenon. As an individual, you try to be obedient to God to the best of your ability. Perfect, sinless, believers hardly exist. So what’s the problem in that? Islam implies a state of peace that comes through submission to God. But that comes at a price. You can’t get it cheap. You can’t make it happen through yoga, or exercise. You can only aspire for it through sacrifice, and a constant readiness to let go anything that may be of value to you, if necessary. This happens only through your living your life through the woof and warp of human experience, through living very much as part of this world, not as a part away from it. In the process, the believer is content in the firm knowledge that his is the good pleasure of God in return. The more you struggle towards this end, more the options and opportunities that open up for you. Feeling guilty of our failures is part of the growing belief process: it confirms one’s position as a believer.

CNRS: What do you think of Muslim interaction with other communities in India?

BAQ: In the course of centuries of interaction, Muslims in India have imbibed the local culture(s). I suppose that speaks a lot for the cultural assimilation of Indian Muslims, even if it has been at the cost of their allegiance to core principles of Islam itself. Furthermore, the Mughal dynasty ruled this country for over six centuries. Had the Muslim rulers ever wanted to do so, they could perhaps have easily converted the whole country, but this did not happen. This speaks of the tolerance of the Muslim rulers of India: they allowed people to go by their own religion. Consider Spain, for instance, where Muslims contributed so much to the advancement of human civilization and progress. That much of Western material progress owes itself to the magnanimity and genius of an Islamic heritage is something that the Western world – now busy in directly or indirectly subjugating the Muslims – must be reminded of time and again. Almost all the advancements in science and technology in the West originated under the Muslims in Spain.

CNRS: Your views on the Ayodhya/ Gujarat violence?

BAQ: It is clear now as to what happened. At Ayodhya, a Muslim place of worship – the historic Babri Masjid – was razed down on the flimsiest of pretexts. This is one example of the injustices perpetrated against minorities in this country. Even the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) came out with a study which revealed that no temple existed before the mosque. Although a scientific study, it was not respected, for whatever reasons, by the different governments. In Gujarat, the Godhra tragedy was made a pretext for something that was already pre-planned. The forensic report from Delhi has now clarified that the Godhra train tragedy was an accident. So who is now to pay for the 2000 or more Muslims who died? If you look at the motives behind the pogrom, you may see that such massacres can happen anywhere where Muslims are economically strong, like they were in Gujarat. The people behind such politics of communalism exist throughout the country.

CNRS: Your views on 9/11?

BAQ: So much has been said about it by now that I hardly know what more to add. Even now, six years after the event, so many game plans and conspiracies are being suggested. There was a time immediately after the attacks, when Americans and Europeans were blaming their own governments for venturing into the wrong foreign policy decisions with regard to Muslim states. There was this speech at Cornell University (in 2004) by Lionel Jospin, former Prime Minister of France, in which he spoke out against the American Empire. The 9/11 Commission has announced that the WTC attacks may have been caused by a deliberate, criminal, negligence by the CIA. If they had wanted it, they could have stopped it. The US government was complicit in it, particularly because it needed a pretext to invade Afghanistan and Iraq. Later events have confirmed various hypotheses, like the absurdity surrounding the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) story on Iraq – WMD that were never there in the first place.

In time, a whole lot wider picture comes out to you. As far as the Muslim point of view is concerned, while what happened on 9/11 is understandable, it needs to be stressed immediately that Islam has its own ethics of battle, of warfare, through which it even humanizes warfare. No innocents can be killed, no women and children touched. As such, going by the Islamic conception of human rights, 9/11 was a regrettable incident. But again, if the Muslims were indeed the real perpetrators, this was only a reaction: this has to be mentioned and repeated as many times as necessary. The Muslim countries have to be left alone and exempted from Western interference.


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