The Limits of Tolerance in Islam

Category: Faith & Spirituality Views: 3001

Even worse than the death of 2,800 civilians at WTC, is the tragedy of openly holding Islamic teachings or Muslims responsible for every kind of terrorism, intolerance and extremism in the world. The years long anti-Islam campaign, spearheaded by a few American analysts until September 11, has suddenly become mainstream and many Muslims have proudly joined their ranks in criticizing Islam with new slogans and terminologies. Gone is the issue of finding the real evidence and culprits behind September 11 incident. Top on the agenda, however, is the place of tolerance in Islam and compatibility of this faith to the contemporary world.

Opportunist Muslim opinion makers are leading the pack of so-called moderate intellectuals, pretending to be bridging the ever-widening gap between Islam and the West. Khaled Abou El Fadl, fellow at University of California at Los Angeles, for instance, wants the Muslims to interpret the Quran in the context of ancient historical facts, but at the same time consider terrorism as an isolated phenomenon, independent of any historical or political context. Collectively, the cacophony of voices in the western media presents just one reason for the troubles around the world: Islam.

Analysts like Abou El Fadl believe, the intolerant Muslims consider Islam as "the only way of life," which "must be pursued regardless of its impact on the rights and well-being of others," (Boston Review January 2002). Such sweeping statements give the wrong impression that pursuing Islam is not only optional, but also harmful to those who believe in other ways of life, and that the Muslims, for the comfort and satisfaction of others, must deviate from the straight path because "that trumps any moral considerations or ethical values that are not fully codified in the law." Ignoring the reality of how actively the US is seeking to impose its way of life on others, these analysts complain that the "supremacist Muslim puritans" are "not satisfied with living according to their own dictates," but "aggressively seek to disempower, dominate, or destroy others." An in-depth analysis of the facts, however, reveal that the continuing world troubles are simply due to the reality which is the other way round - i.e., the US and its allies seeking their objectives to dominate or destroy. Unfortunately, the words that Mr. Fadl used -- control, dominate and destroy -- belong to Pat Robertson (February 21, 2001) when he made his attempt to demonize Islam, without getting labeled as "supremacist Christian."

As far responsibility for intolerance and quest for dominance is concerned: Did the "supremacist Muslim puritans" initiate the troubles in Algeria? Are the Muslim "fundamentalists" occupying non-Muslim lands? Have they driven out more than 800,000 non-Muslims from their homes? Are the Muslim "extremists" killing people with different way of life in Kashmir and Chechnya? Do the "supremacist Muslims" dominate the UN for defining rights and rules for the rest of the world to follow? What else could be "aggressively seeking to dominate others," if not the dictation to get others secularized and liberalized for adapting the western ways of life? What else is "disempowering others," if not sanctions on Iraq, Iran, Libya, Sudan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, etc? And what does "destroying others" mean if not the scale of destruction in the Gulf War and the sanctions that follows it?

We are witnessing phase-two of an organized attempt to eliminate Islam. The present state of virtual anarchy in the Muslim world is the direct result of a similar phase-one in early and mid 20th century. The colonizers made a determined effort to end Khilafa, centralize and empower the Muslim states, control the private religious endowments (awqaf ) that once sustained the juristic class, co-opt the clergy, and transform them into salaried employees. Confusion was created, whereby no one knew as to who speaks with authority on religious issues. In phase-one, legitimacy of the clergy was targeted. In phase-two his existence is being challenged. Religious groups are banned, Madrassa are being transformed into no less than public schools, and stigma is being attached to words like Mulla, Maoulana, Ulama, Jihad and even Islam. The profound vacuum in religious authority is being filled with the modern interpreters of Islam like Abou El Fadl.

It's easy to say than to substantiate that "militant Puritans" read Qur'anic verses "literally and ahistorically." Quran is not a simple book that anyone can interpret without the required knowledge and actual context. Quran is actually a guide for the humanity and it was meant for the generations to follow till the day of judgment. It was not meant for, or limited to, the momentary utility. Every instruction and every guidance is for all the generations to come. So, it is very difficult to conclude that some of its portions have no practical utility today. Or that such portions of the Quran lead some Muslims to "highly exclusionary conclusions."

As far the limits of tolerance is concerned, the Muslim reaction around the world is not due to wrong interpretation of Islam but due to their crossing all the limits of enduring western double standards and their treatment as second class citizens of this planet. And the Quran tells them explicitly: "O you who believe, stand firmly for justice, as witnesses for God, even if it means testifying against yourselves, or your parents, or you kin, and whether it is against the rich or poor, for God prevails upon all. Follow not the lusts of your hearts, lest you swerve, and if you distort justice or decline to do justice, verily God knows what you do," (4:135).

The so-called intolerance is in fact resistance shown by the Muslims with standing up for justice even against their own self-interests. The Taliban knew their military disadvantage against the Coalition of the super powers, but they stood for the principle of not handing over someone without any evidence against the accused. Talking in the past tense that the Islamic civilization "was pluralistic and unusually tolerant of various social and religious denominations" doesn't make any sense because Islam is still as much tolerant of various nations and religions. The others, however, are not. Why doesn't any one talk about tolerance in Judaism when dozens of the Palestinians are killed on weakly basis for the last 35 years? Why is the media silent about intolerant Hinduism that relentlessly oppresses Kashmiri civilians for the last 55 years? Why didn't the analysts analyze the intolerant Christianity when 300,000 Muslims were butchered in Bosnia and millions are still facing the wrath of Russians in Chechnya? Why the talk of tolerance is directed at Islam alone? Simply because the victim is the US, or the game was already planned to involve the Muslims without any concrete evidence against them.

In an attempt to please Islam-bashers, Muslims like Abou El Fadl go to the extreme of proving Islam as not the only path to salvation. They quote verses 5:49 and 5:69 in support of their claim. The problem is that such moderate interpreters ignore the crux of Islamic belief while delivering sermons not to read Quran out of context. These above mentioned verses become clear only when read in conjunction with other relevant verses of the Qur'an, for instance, 4:170, 5:16, 21, 7:157-158, 21:107, 25:1, 33:40, 61:6, 2:40, 3:31-32, and 4:150-151. Undoubtedly, Quran accepts the distinctiveness of the Jewish and Christian communities and their laws, while also insisting that Muslims are entitled to the same treatment as those other communities, but it is not mentioned anywhere that all faiths would lead everyone to salvation. Of course, it sets out an expectation of reciprocity for Muslims, but it does not allow them to also follow what the Jews and Christian do and believe. It definitely recognizes the moral ,worth and ri,ghts of the non-Muslims but does not relieve the Muslims of their responsibility to stand for the rights of their oppressed brethren. What crime did the Palestinians, Kashmiris, Chechens, Iraqis and others commit? Did we ever stand for the rights of the Muslims as we are lecturing for the rights, and acceptance as equals, of the Jews and Christian, to prove ourselves tolerant?

It is wrong to assume that the meaning of Quran "is often only as moral as its reader," which means if the reader is intolerant, so will be the interpretation of the text. If the text of the Quran were so fluid that anyone could interpret it according to his interest, it would never have been different book than all the rest from the beginning till the end of time. Mr. Fadl claims that the Qur'an and other Islamic sources "offer possibilities of intolerant interpretation." Actually, it depends, on whom the interpretation is being applied. The clear injunction of fighting an oppressor would certainly be considered an "intolerant interpretation" by an oppressor. And those, who make the people aware to stand up and face the oppressor, would definitely be considered by the oppressor as "puritans and supremacists" exploiting the Quran. It is not the reading that makes interpretation intolerant; it is, in fact, application of the Quran to real life situation, which makes the life harder for the intolerant oppressors.

If the text does not command "intolerant readings", so it prohibits tolerating injustice and repression of the innocents. Historically, Islamic civilization has displayed, and is still displaying, a remarkable ability to recognize possibilities of tolerance, and to act upon these possibilities. The so dreaded Islamic super powers and non-powers remained silent while 300,000 Bosnian Muslims were being butchered with a tight arms embargo in place on them for self-defense. The intolerant Coalition of the mighty, however, attacked to dislodge the Taliban without producing a shred of evidence about their involvement. On the other hand, everyone participating in the revengeful war on Afghanistan is tolerating the daily bloodbath of the Palestinians for the last 35 years in a so visible display of double standards.

It is not "the modern puritans," dissipating and wasting an inspiring moral tradition of Islam; it is the modern world leaders who are taking advantage of the Islamic tolerance to further force them into subservience, so that they may not only surrender their right to stand for their oppressed brothers and sisters but also the right to call for justice because a tolerant interpretation of Islam doesn't demand it. The Quranic interpretation has never gone wrong, except where it hurts the interest of the merciless and mighty oppressor. The burden of sustaining the limits of tolerance in Islam falls squarely on the shoulders of the giants who usurp rights of the Muslims, consider them as second-class citizens of this planet and sustain the rule of their oppressors in different ways.

John L. Esposito, director of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, highly appreciated Mr. Fadl's write up and added, the Muslim extremists "transform Islam's norms and values...into a call to arms, in order to legitimate the use of violence, warfare, and terrorism." Mr. Esposito forgets that it is simply a call to self-defense against the never-ending terror. If there were no action, there would be no reaction. Islam simply happens to be the religion of the oppressed and those fighting for their rights in the absence of all political options. Blaming them for wrong interpretation, discussing tolerance in Islam and making them even more tolerant of the oppression is not the solution. Islamic teachings and the Muslims would have been more tolerant today, only if the laws that apply to the Iraqis were also applicable to the Israelis; if the laws that apply to those who die in WTC were also appl,icable to tho,se who died in Afghanistan; if the universal principles applied to Kuwait and East Timor were applicable to Palestine and Kashmir. Intolerance would forever begets intolerance; regardless of any religion or people. And the sermons of tolerance may not help the West treat Muslims as second-rate people forever.

  Category: Faith & Spirituality
Views: 3001
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