Like Socialism, Islam Has a PR Problem
Socialism and Islam both have a PR problem: a permanent rarefaction problem. Both look antiquated and suspicious.
Even as faith in free markets falters, socialism’s best goal — people-before-profits — belongs in the historical dustbin. Islam’s humane principles of self-introspection and socialist goals of a greedless economy have hit a similar cul-de-sac.
An alternative to unbridled capitalism — Communists say it can only be socialism — was the talking point at the 11th International Meeting of Communist and Workers’ Parties that concluded in Delhi on Sunday, November 22.
Yet, socialism has only a slim chance really, with no real challenge to capitalism. “People say ‘good you are voicing our rights, but (what’s) bad (is), you are a communist’,” 26-year-old Norwegian, Federik Roe Brevig, of the Communist Party of Norway told me.
As I talked to socialists from the world over, I could hear them articulate some of their concerns, which were precisely Islam’s problems as well.
Islam’s image problem is equally serious. People want Islamic seminaries raided to see if they house terrorists, just in case. Like I said, if you have an image problem, you look suspicious to others.
It took more than just Voltaire, the fierce Deist, for Christianity to have its Reformation. It also needed Martin Luther’s “priesthood of all believers” and the European Enlightenment.
The Muslim World rightly needs to reconcile its religion, Islam, with modern realities. If Muslims don’t like being dictated to, then they must act. They can delay acting on two fronts only at their peril. One, what can Muslims do to address the deplorable acts committed in Islam’s name, like terrorism? Two, what can Muslims do to address choices encountered by Muslims in a new world, like those relating to education, divorces, marriages and, disadvantages and injustice?
I believe one can remain faithful to the immutable principles of Islam, based on scriptural sources, and at the same time take into account the evolving historical and geographical contexts.
The clergy often slips up because while their orientation allows them to stick to the immutable principles, they cannot account for evolving historical and geographical contexts, since they understand little of the latter. Relating two things requires an understanding of both.
So, we as Muslims must rise to the occasion. Reconciling Islam with modern values involves the understanding that Islam does contain and has place for these values in the first place. Rejecting the extreme ‘either/or’ situation is possible in Islam.
The European Enlightenment was led in part by an eclectic group of French thinkers in the middle of the 18th century: the philosophes. The philosophe movement centred round three basic ideas: Progress, Deism and Tolerance.
There are more than just echoes of these ideas in Islam. Philosophe progress entailed a) knowledge as a tool of progress b) overcoming ignorance c) overcoming human cruelty and violence through social improvements.
Deism was a term coined in the philosophe movement and denoted, in part, that religion should result in the highest moral behaviour of its adherents.
Thirdly, ‘philosophe tolerance’ reasons that a fair, just and productive society depends on religious tolerance.
Muslims, more than others, know that many patently Islam concepts run close to these themes. Do not the opening chapters of the Quran enjoin the Prophet to read? Does not Islam call upon adherents to first and foremost lead a spiritual life wedded to scruples? Is there not a specific verse in the Quran than calls for qualified respect of an unbeliever? (La kum deenukum wali’adin or Unto you your religion, unto me, mine).
However, humanist and reformist ideas of Islam are increasing becoming more and more rarefied.
At the Communist meet, Brazilian delegate Eduardo Gonsalves said capitalism would not go just because people are frustrated. “Socialism needs an action plan.” This needs to be replicated. Islam needs an action plan too.
We must start by asking some basic questions. What are the issues that we can negotiate, not with non-Muslims but among ourselves? It is imperative to have an intra-Islamic dialogue first, followed by a dialogue with non-Muslims.
Some of the worst forms of terrorism and a general misunderstanding of Islamic concepts have caused Islam and Muslims to be seen as a threat.
We as Muslims must create a positive presence wherever we go and whatever we do. We must reject all attempts — by Muslims and non-Muslims – to portray Islam as a radical religion and must be able to refute their views. At the same time, we must confront forces that play up fear of Islam to promote hard-line policies that aim to deny Islam a place in society.
Muslims must compete for public space and positions. And in doing so, they must be able to take a stand against radicals, reject use/misuse of religion to perpetrate acts against humanity.
Muslims must learn to distinguish between social, religious and political problems and not lump together political Islam, radical political Islam and Islamism. They must also be able to assert that Islam’s first and foremost requirement is a just society and spiritual way of life.
Confident Muslims are those who have a sound understanding of our evolving society. For this, critical thinking has no alternative. Our destiny is in our hands alone.