, by SYED HUSAIN PASHA
Auron ka hai Payaam aur, mera Payaam aur hai, Ishq key dardmand ka tarz-e-kalaam aur hai! (Iqbal)
These days, everyone is an expert on Islam and Muslims. In as many cases as not, an instant expert, I must point out.
And the factors that breed this mushrooming of drive-by experts on Islam and Muslims are many. Not the least among which is the incredible amount of money that can be made by a claim to expertise on Islam and the perks and privileges that go with it.
And then there are all the personal and political axes that these putative experts have to grind, all of which makes this rash of drive-by expertise on Islam and Muslims truly a child of mixed parentage.(Iqbal)
A Quick Ticket to Name, Fame and Fortune
In this way, Islam has – and Muslims have – become a quick and easy ticket to name, fame and fortune to countless adventurers in the dim alleys of radio, television and newspapers.
As for the media themselves, they have literally discovered Ali Baba’s legendary cave of treasures in Islam and Muslims, if not the Holy Grail itself. With Islam and Muslims as their staple, their readership, ratings and incomes are secure for a long time to come. For as long as God Almighty would want things to be that way, as Muslims would say.
This world is after all his world and he runs it as he pleases. That is what makes him God.
So Allah’s Deen, and the followers of Allah’s Deen, continue to provide a means of livelihood to untold millions throughout the world. It is not for nothing that Allah sent his last prophet and messenger, Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, as a blessing and mercy to everyone and everything.
Water, Water Everywhere, Not a Drop to Drink
In Islam, expertise is a function of several things. Among them is the usual quantum of information acquired through reading, experience, reflection and interaction with experts. But among them also is unassailable personal and professional integrity and freedom from a generalized life of drunkenness, debauchery, avarice, exploitation, deceit, dissembling, blind partisanship and falsehood.
That is why in Islam true expertise is a blessing from God Almighty. And it is light that God sends down in this world to dispel darkness and improve the human condition. It is not rote amassing of a vast storage of information on topics of choice or its glib ventilation or exposition, but a serious internationalization of the underlying truth without regard to its origin, course or consequences.
That is why while comments from drive-by experts fill the airwaves and newspaper pages, very little real light escapes from them to a generally deprived and misinformed public. And that is why in the midst of all the make-believe flood of sights and sounds that is let lose on a parched world by the media with the aid of their drive-by experts, there are so few drops of real knowledge and illumination on topics and issues that are most vital to the well-being of people and the world in which they live.
How Do You Like Your Islam Done?
Among these experts, there are those who like their Islam done a certain way. Some like their Islam moderate. Others prefer an Islam that is civilized. Yet some others like an Islam that respects women. It is Islam a la carte all the way.
Unstated in all these stated preferences is the implication that Islam comes in different forms, shapes and sizes and people are free to order the kind of Islam that suits their palate. This, however, is not the case.
Another and a more insidious assumption is that one Islam is civilized and the other is not; one Islam is moderate and the other one is not; and one Islam honors women while the other treats them with disrespect.
There is also a third point which would almost pass for cute if it were not so blatantly offensive and racist: the Islam most Muslims know and have practiced for hundreds of years is the wrong Islam and the Islam recently discovered by drive-by experts to make a buck or push a partisan agenda is the right Islam.
Islam by Definition is Moderate, Modern and Civilized
The fact is that Islam is Islam. And Islam is by definition, and by its very nature, most moderate, most modern and most civilized. So much so that if something is not moderate and civilized then chances are that it is not Islam to begin with.
As for respecting women, Islam put women 1400 years ago on a pedestal so high that much of the rest of the world cannot reach it even on a spaceship, even in today’s space age.
Practically everything the world has done to give a semblance of rights and respect to women is a grudging and infuriatingly halting attempt to catch up with Islam. It has taken the world 1400 years and the world is still working at it.
A Unified Core and a Flexible Periphery
A unified core and a flexible periphery. These are the twin-secrets of permanence and change in God’s world. They are the twin-engines that make a belief system survive and function successfully across the spectrum of space and time. And Islam has them both in abundant measure.
That is why Islam survived intact all these 1400 years. And that is also why none of the other systems from that time retained their original form or true content.
Islam has a set of basic beliefs and practices that constitute its unified universal core. At the same time, Islam also has a wide range of peripheral beliefs and practices that make up the bulk of its teachings and which offer consumers, as it were, a rich range of options from which to choose.
By virtue of its unified core, Islam as a system protects its identity and ensures its continuity. It thus guarantees its permanence. Based on the resilience and flexibility of its periphery, Islam is able to accommodate and absorb the ever-present challenge for change.
Proof that Islam Is From God
These two things are precisely the requirements of a system that is designed to fit the needs of changing times, places, cultures and circumstances. It is also, you can argue, proof that Islam is indeed from God.
For, systems of human design fail this test on every count, which causes them to lose their identity due to the lack of a strong center. Or they die of a rigor mortis-type rigidity that is incapable of coping with change.
Without a unified universal core, a belief system tends to disintegrate into any number of pieces and schisms finally losing its true nature, form and identity. And without a menu of flexible choices, that system will crash and die under the weight of its own rigidity and lack of responsiveness.
That has been the story of Islam and non-Islam through the ages.