Moderating Islam: Revivalism vs re-valuation
Worryingly, Islam remains a criticized religion. People tend to have a far negative view of it. A censorious view of Islam is worrying because it has a direct bearing on how Muslims are viewed and accepted.
More than 4 in 10 Americans (43%) feel “a little” prejudiced toward Muslims — more than twice the number with a similar feeling against Christians (18%), Jews (15%) and Buddhists (14%), a recent Gallup Center for Muslim Studies survey report (titled “Religious Perceptions in America: With an In-Depth Analysis of U.S. Attitudes Toward Muslims and Islam”) has found. Click here.
The report is being shared with high-level policymakers, religious leaders and academics by the Muslim West Facts Project (MWFP), a non-profit partnership between Gallup and the Coexist Foundation. MWFP disseminates key poll findings of Gallup’s Muslim Centre to opinion leaders.
The study, one among many, is surprising: It suggests that a year after President Obama’s thumping Muslim outreach attempt in Cairo, little may have changed on the ground. The bad PR continues despite some other positive Gallup findings, that Muslims admire the West for its democracy, freedoms and technology, and American Muslims as a whole are second only to Jewish Americans in terms of educational empowerment.
Muslims’ capacity to reconcile their faith to evolving realities — social, political and economic — continues to be seen as inadequate.
Though a complex interplay of global events, past/present history and instinctive media reportage, present-day Islam’s image runs contrary to some manifest Quranic values.
According to me, in the present-day context, the current crisis in this great monotheistic religion needs to be addressed through two sets of instruments — re-evaluation and re-valuation, as opposed to revivalism that has been, historically, very narrow-based. Such a contrarian approach is the only viable way to open the critical door, if Islam is to be rescued from ignominy.
Viewing Islamic value-based systems
As yardsticks, I will use Princeton University definitions of value, valuation and evaluation, within the present context, however, for clarity.
Unless expressed in financial terms, value is said to be an ideal accepted by some individual or group. Evaluation is said to be an appraisal of the value of something.
Valuation, on the other hand, is the estimation of the nature, quality, ability, extent, or significance of a value. According to a standard definition, a value system is said to be a set of consistent values maintained by an individual or a group.
There are two reasons why Quranic values are important to understanding Islam, which then may form the basis of how the religion is viewed. One, the Muslim holy book is central to a majority of Islamic values and, two, Islamic culture is said to derive from it.
In my opinion, there are two major negatively perceived (ascribed) Islamic values — Muslims are less accepting of other religions (widely known as Islamic supremacy) and Muslims are prone to violence. Obviously, they run against modern values.
Deep-seated as they are, these views make Islam look dangerous; Islamic revivalism more so. Though very active, Islamic revivalists or preachers have focussed on just a handful of key Islamic values, such as prayer and fasting, ignoring others.
The Tablighi Jamaat, an organisation of preachers founded in the 1920s by Mohammed Illyas, a Deoband graduate, has restricted its preaching agenda to namaaz (Arabic: salaat) and mosque attendance.
Unlike Deoband’s cleric associations, Illyas did not consider it necessary to belong to a formal ulama or clerics’ organisation in order to preach Islam. Instead, he attempted an informal grassroots movement to encourage religious renewal among Muslims.
Since the Tablighi Jamaat is mainly an organisation of voluntary associations, there is no central administrative structure or manuals to preach Islamic values. The preachers travel door-to-door, inviting locals to join them. They strongly emphasise piety and humility. Those inspired are encouraged to join them. In this way, it spread throughout the Muslim world.
Islamic revivalism has seldom touched upon issues such as Islamic supremacy and violence and the Quran’s position on such issues. Is it because it never felt the need to address these issues, as it did not consider them to be a part of Islamic values in the first place?
Notably, both the issues — religious tolerance and killing of innocents –are addressed by the Quran, which Muslims consider the very word of God and was revealed 14 centuries ago through Islam’s prophet Mohammed. The Quranic position on these issues makes a strong case for viewing it as a time-honoured faith in harmony with modern values.
In a specific verse (Chapter 6), the Quran clearly prescribes tolerance and respect for other religions, regardless of whether this Islamic value has been adhered to by Muslims.
“Revile not those unto whom they pray beside Allah lest they wrongfully revile Allah through ignorance. Thus unto every nation have We made their deed seem fair. Then unto their Lord is their return, and He will tell them what they used to do.” [Quran, Chapter-6, Verse 006-108] Click here
When taught in madrassahs across India, it is customary for clerics to translate it thus in Urdu: “Tum doosro ke khudaao ko bura na kaho, nehin to wo tumare khudao ko burah kahenge.”
Don’t scratch others’ backs; or else they will scratch yours, a religion founded 14 centuries warned. So, there is no basis for Islam to be considered inherently intolerant or to treat violence as a prescribed Islamic value.
The Quran’s Chapter 2, verse 32, prohibits killing of innocents (which can be appropriated to modern-day terrorism): “…whosoever kills an innocent, it is as if he killed the whole of humanity, and whosoever saves a life, it is as if he saved all mankind.”
Therefore, re-evaluation and re-valuation of Islamic values, as they exist in their nominal forms, is necessary to lift the fog.
How Islam is viewed has to ultimately do with actions Muslims take, regardless of whether such actions constitute an Islamic value. As God says in the Quran (13:11): “Truly, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.”