The televised brutality against unarmed civilians seeking their dignity as seen in Egypt, and now in Bahrain and Libya is neither shocking nor unexpected. In many of the Middle Eastern countries the security forces, drawn mainly from tribes loyal to the elites, are hired to protect rulers at every cost and they have done what they were paid to do. In Egypt, the security forces showed some restraint because of the pressure that came from several US army generals under whose command many of the Egyptian military officials were trained. The US army did not want to be openly seen as an accomplice of the crimes against the people of Egypt. In Bahrain and Libya, the situation is different as the US army has little at stake there.
However, what is shocking is the perpetual silence of the leadership of various Islamic movements and Muslim intellectuals all over the world on these known and unknown acts of violence. Major Islamic seminaries in South Asia and South East Asia as well as in the Gulf are quiet. Known Islamic groups have avoided talking about people's right to dissent openly.
With the exception of a few Muslim organizations in the US and abroad, not many have spoken against the violence. Even here, Muslim organizations are reluctant to put their full weight in favor of democratic reforms. They are keen to enjoy the benefit of democracy in America and Europe but are skeptical about democratic reforms in countries with Muslim majority. The debate among some Muslim groups still focuses on the legitimacy of democracy as a form of government within Islamic thought. Many still believe that democracy stands opposite to the concept of divine authority, a position that was expounded recently by Ayman Al-Zawahiri in a statement issued after the departure of Hosni Mubarak from Egypt.
The despotism, the dictatorship and the monarchy practiced in almost every Gulf country and most Muslim majority nations, are nothing new. For almost seven decades, the rulers in those countries have been thriving on coercion and the violation of human rights. They have justified their rule by enlisting the support of a religious leadership that often misuse the Quran and the teachings of the prophet to denounce people's participation in matters of government.
Many Islamic movements and Muslim intellectuals ignore this reality conveniently. The reason is very simple. A number of these movements and individuals were and are still heavily financed by groups and businesses who have close ties with the regime. Some of the leading Muslim institutions in the Muslim world receive funds, directly or indirectly from various corrupt regimes.
During the last seven decades, these rulers have promoted a version of Islam, through financing Islamic institutions all over the world, that promotes sectarianism, factionalism and divisions on the basis of juristic interpretations of Islam. The religious hierarchy that backed them has succeeded in creating a theology that supports the rulers and denounces any attempt on the part of people to seek their dignity. Much of the religious literature that is in circulation in various languages of the world come from outfits that owe their existence to religious groups and businesses owing allegiance to the rulers.
What is ironic is that the opposition of such attempts mainly come from individuals and groups who are backed by the political opponents of the regimes or are the opportunists. Regional political rivalries have played up their conflicts. The Quran and the teachings of the Prophet were always misused by these groups to denounce the other. What an irony that the dictator of Iraq used the name of God to kill his opponents who in turn invoked the name of the same God to promote violence against the supporters of the ruler. When religious hierarchy is itself involved in misusing the faith to serve the political interests what can be expected of the masses?
Not many have tried to question the legitimacy of the regimes on the basis of their understanding of the Quran and the teachings of the Prophet objectively. On the contrary, they have projected the rulers as the shadow of God on earth quoting the Prophet to remain loyal to the elites even if they are wrong.
The Quran states very clearly that human dignity is the cornerstone of a healthy human society. Without ensuring the dignity, people cannot achieve their highest potential. Tribalism, feudalism, racism and ethnicism as well as class based differences are visible in the Muslim world, especially in the Gulf. Despite the claim of Islamic egalitarianism, there exists discrimination, and injustice in every aspect of social life. Labor laws are non-existent. Laws that could protect the dignity of women are absent. Laws that would prevent child labor are no where to be found. The right to dissent is not accepted as a legitimate Islamic concept. Even slavery can be found in pockets of the Muslim world.
Despite the emphasis of the Quran on the preservation of human rights and religious tolerance and freedom, rulers and their supporters twist the Quranic verses to justify every act of indecency.
Those who speak up against these injustices are either often declared heretics or foreign agents or ignorant of true Islam. Obviously, these labels justify their elimination from the society either politically or physically.
The situation is not going to last for ever. The betrayal of the so called Islamic movements and Muslim intellectuals will not prevent the younger generation to take matters in its hand. The access to information including religious information has empowered many people to take a genuine stand on issues and pay the price for that. By 2020, some 60 per cent of the Muslim world population would comprise of youth under the age of 30. This generation will refuse to live under suppression, and injustice. It would not accept the lack of human dignity and human rights as the general norm of the society. It will not tolerate the humiliation of women as well as men based on their gender or class or ethnicity. This generation has risen and will continue to rise demanding changes that will shake the Muslim world to the core. The thrones are shaking and the crowns are falling. It is time that those who have been on the side of injustice realize their wrongs and join hands with those who are seeking change.
It is time to realize that we Muslims are responsible for what has happened to us in the last several decades. We allowed it to happen to us. We allowed suppression and injustice to dominate us at the cost of our dignity. We played in the hands of the power elites and their backers in religious and business and academic circles. We supported the rulers by bowing before them in every sense of the term.
If we are responsible for the situation we alone can change it. Let us seek clarification from our religious hierarchy and religious organizations on people's legitimate rights to govern themselves and the illegitimate rule of despots, dictators and monarchs. We must not remain silent. In every Islamic circle, we must demand explanation for the silence of several decades. Those who who misled us to believe that human dignity and human rights can be compromised for the comfort of rulers have no right to continue to lead us in religious or social affairs. The revolt is coming. It is not only against corrupt rulers but also against those religious scholars too who are accomplice in the crimes against people.
Dr. Aslam Abdullah is editor in chief of the weekly Muslim Observer and director of the Islamic Society of Nevada.
In this case it is not hurtful speech but helpful speech. Islam has been used to oppress its citizens for years, Believers have had their voices silenced so an old and outdated understanding of Islam can masquerade as Allah's religion.