What is happening in the Muslim world is a cause of serious concern for every conscious being. Internally, most Muslim countries are ruled by despots, dictators and monarchs. A great majority of Muslim people suffer from the lack of freedom, human dignity and human rights. In several countries, poverty, unemployment and exploitation are rampant. Ethnic and cultural minorities face persecution and women do not enjoy the dignity that every human being deserves. Corruption is common. Cities have become overcrowded with unhygienic living conditions for most people. Water resources are scarce and apathy to social ills is widely prevalent. Diseases including AIDS are increasing with almost 45 per cent of the Muslim world population suffering from one or the other kind of health problems. Social and physical infrastructures are weak and despite all the changes taking places around the world, a great majority of Muslims are forced to live below the poverty line in sub human conditions.
Religious exploitation is on the rise. Rather than serving as a force to motivate people to change their living conditions for the better, religion is being offered as a pacifier to convince the masses that the poverty, ignorance and differences that exist among Muslims are from God and hence they should be celebrated and not challenged or changed.
Of course, these issues deserve the attention of every conscious human that is concerned about human dignity and the quality of life. However, Muslims have much more at stake in them. So far, the tendency among Muslims, by and large, is to ignore and focus on other issues that are no less important. Another way is to look at these problems is to separate religion from actual practice of the people. People practice what they have been presented by their religious leaders. Hence, that divide between practices of Muslims and the actual faith is false. Not many are willing to accept that most of the problems that exist in the Muslim world are due to a religious interpretation that relies more on history and customs than the actual divine guidance.
One such issue that Muslims have focused during the last 60 years is the political powerlessness in the high politics of the world. Many feel that that Muslims have been marginalized in world politics and their life and dignity have been compromised. They point out at some of the recent staggering figures to highlight their powerlessness. During the last 25 years close to half a million Muslims have been killed and many more have become victims of violence perpetrated in the name of nationalism, democracy, and religion.
Many Muslims are outraged at this bloodshed. They want to change the situation. In their desire to serve the Muslim interests, they fall back on their religious teachings to find guidance. It is here that differences of opinions occur among the people seeking change.
A group of people has referred to the concept of armed jihad overcoming the powerlessness. They believe that God allows them to use armed struggle to change their living conditions. They are willing to kill and die for what they call their religious duty. Even though, the overwhelming majority of Muslims including their scholars question this logic, the ideological divide between the two is very visible and clear. Those who believe in non-violent methods of change have not been able to translate their point of view opposed to armed struggle in actions. Violence is often justified as evident from the statements of those who support suicide bombing in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and other places.
The need of the hour is bigger than issuing a few statements against violence. The need of the hour is to organize a non-violent movement at all levels to bring about desired change. The religious leadership must be seen spearheading this movement in order to convince the masses that the divine guidance is meant to preserve life and not to destroy it. There is a difference between non-violent methods of change and pacifist approach. A pacifist accepts the status quo and resigns to non-action, while an advocate of non-violence believes that only appealing to the humanity of the aggressors people stand a better chance to change the situation. This view is supported by the Quran that says, “respond with dignity and gentleness (to all acts of hostility) as this is the only way to turn the conflict into a reconciliation.”
Obviously, this approach requires patience and total control over one’s thoughts of action. This approach does not view revenge or hatred as tools to achieve desired goal. Rather it rejects methods that would harm the opponents physically. Unfortunately, in several societies non-violence is seen as a sign of weakness. This view is against what our prophet taught us. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) once remarked that the strength lies in control of one’s anger.
This is easier said than done. It is often difficult to cool one’s passion and sentiments. The formula of a tooth for a tooth and an eye for eye often becomes the motto of those who seek justice and equality without realizing that this may not solve the conflict, rather, it would increase the number of maimed people.
Many young Muslims feel outraged at what is happening to their fellow Muslims. In their anger some of them are inclined to violence. Islam offers them an alternative to violence to express their legitimate anger. That alternative is non-violence not only in words but also in deeds. The persistence anger has to be given a positive spin so that reconciliation rather than conflict can progress. Young Muslims who are keen to help their fellow Muslims to overcome their pitiful conditions can initiate non-violent campaigns of change in their cities and countries. They can document everything that is happening to Muslims and approach people of conscious in every religious community to develop a broader front to seek justice. They can initiate petitions, peaceful rallies, peaceful corner meetings, and other methods such as fasting to highlight the plight of others.
Non-violence requires internal sufferings emotionally and physically so that the sufferings of others can be reduced. Activism based on non-violence makes the perpetrators of injustice realize the inhumanity of his or her action. Once that happens, change start coming in and change is what is desired even by the most angry people.
The time has come when Muslim words for a peaceful world must reflect the actions. Without that, they would remain part of a never-ending cycle of violence with no end in sight. Islam regards life the highest and the most precious divine gift. That gift cannot be put at the alter of anger and destroyed. That gift must be celebrated by living and let others live, leaving the ultimate judgment to the one who is best of all Judges.
Dr. Aslam Abdullah is editor of the Detroit based English weekly, Muslim Observer, director of the Islamic Society of Nevada, Las Vegas and the recently elected General Secretary of the World Council of Muslims for Interfaith Relation. He is also the vice President of the Muslim Council of America, MCA.