Shari’a – A White paper
Implementation of shari’a (Muslim Law) has been exploited by Muslim governments, politicians, and radicals as an effective tool to establish themselves as credible leaders to assert power and control over Muslims and communities. The emboldening effects of Pakistan’s latest peace deal with the Taliban in Swat were obvious by their subsequent moves to implement their version of shari’a throughout Pakistan. Interestingly, the demands for shari’a’s implementation were made by a largely illiterate population who were essentially demanding better governance. The clergy’s rhetoric has had a deep psychological impact on the Pakistani population; the intellectual paralysis of the Pakistani leadership and their fear of confronting the clergy is evident from the fact that this illogical demand was rapidly endorsed by both houses of the parliament and signed into law by the President — all within the space of two or three days. The Taliban exploited this intellectual vacuum and took action to spread their control throughout the region; this resulted in military action to forestall their advances. The unnecessary loss of life, displacement of people and the overall destruction caused by the military action and retaliatory terrorist strikes, including suicide bombings in major Pakistani cities, is particularly alarming.
Shari’a, like jihad, has been grossly misrepresented. Rather than being a static law as presented by the radicals, shari’a is supposed to be an evolutionary process of legal interpretation that, if properly developed and implemented, has the potential to rival any modern legal system or constitution.
Shari’a was originally developed a few centuries after Prophet Mohammad’ssa death. It was based on Qur’anic principles and supplemented by the Prophet’s practices and exhortations and later by analogy and consensus. That process, developed around the agrarian economic system prevalent around the world, was hugely successful but failed when the global economic system was transformed to an industrial base in the 18th century. Muslims’ failure to transform shari’a to cater to the issues raised by the industrial economy essentially made it ineffective as alternate systems (constitutions) developed.
The convergence of numerous factors (geo-political, poor governance, corruption, absence of justice and social infrastructure, etc.) has created disillusion and frustration within Muslim societies and enabled radicals to exploit the situation. Radicals present impractical concepts such as a unified Islamic state to correct social injustices and restore the past glories of the Muslim Empires. Misrepresented concepts of jihad and shari’a have become the cornerstones of the imaginary reincarnations of their convoluted beliefs. The radicals’ belief that their version of shari’a will be a panacea for all injustices and hence usher in a period of peace and tranquility, will be examined against the economic and human rights record in countries where the radicals’ version of shari’a has been implemented.
This paper is an attempt to encourage critical analysis amongst Muslims to enable them to understand the concept and history of shari’a. It will describe shari’a and argue that the radicals’ versions are contrary to Qur’anic teachings – the fundamental and unquestioned source of this law — using examples from both Islamic history and current events, to establish the hollowness of the radicals flawed doctrines. Related topics such as the purpose of human life are discussed to enable the origins of shari’a, (rationale, development and practice in the early days) to be appreciated and are included to educate younger generations so as to combat radical-propagated misconceptions about shari’a and Islam.
What is Shari’a? Why do Taliban and other radicals want its imposition throughout the Muslim world? What attracts young children towards the radicals’ rhetoric and transform them into terrorists and suicide bombers? These and similar fundamental questions are addressed in this paper.
The term shari’a means “way” or “path to the water source” with the added qualifications that the source be eternal, elevated, has easy access, and is visible from a distance with the water being pure and flowing downhill. This metaphoric reference to water is not coincidental: water is critical for sustenance of life, shari’a is essential for the spiritual nourishment of human life – the objective of which is to transform human behavior from instinctive and elevate it to moral and eventually to the spiritual stage. Shari’a is thus the body of Islamic religious law within which the public and private aspects of life are to be regulated. It deals with many aspects of life including personal law (worship, dietary, hygiene, inheritance, marriage), to criminal law (restitution for injuries and murder) to matters of state, like governance, economics, banking, business, contracts, family, and foreign relations.
The fundamental roots and hierarchy of shari’a is the Qur’an, followed in order by the Prophet’s practices and exhortations (sunnah and hadith respectively), analogical reasoning (qiyas), and consensus of the Muslim jurists or people (ijma). Shari’a was primarily developed by early Islamic scholars during the 9th and 10th century and is grounded in the Qur’anic principles of peace, equality, and justice, supplemented with the above resources, which were developed by scholars over several decades. The global economy at that time was agrarian based. The shari’a developmental process was intended to address evolving contemporary social, civil, and spiritual issues as they arose. Differences of opinion for laws based on reasoning and consensus were allowed and this diversity in opinion was considered healthy. This process endured until the decline of the Muslim Empires and their subsequent colonization in the 18th century when the global economy transitioned to an industrial base thereby rendering the agrarian-based laws as somewhat irrelevant. These essential elements that made shari’a successful are an integral part of the Western secular democracies.
Any comprehensive debate on shari’a must include the differentiation between Islam — as presented by the Qur’an — and the political version of Islam that has been innovated and propagated by the politicized clergy (mullah) and other radicals . The fundamental intent of shari’a was to be a comprehensive law that could be uniformly applied for a diverse and growing population, within expanding Muslim territories that included new converts of different cultural and social backgrounds; the process was designed to evolve and address the evolving population’s changing needs. The most obvious evidence of this system’s success was the rapid development and prosperity of Muslim societies in which spiritual matters were decided by the Caliph while political matters were resolved by the rulers. The Caliphate was also a powerful symbol of Muslim spiritual unity. Muslim ascendancy ceased when the Europeans transformed the global economic basis.
Political Islam emerged during the 20th century to fill the void created by the disintegration of the Muslim Empires and the demise of the Islamic Caliphate. The shari’a of Political Islam, has its principal roots in Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi ideology. It is based on distorted and misrepresented Qur’anic concepts and is propagated today by clergy and other radicals. Justification of this form of shari’a requires accepting the abrogation of specific Qur’anic directives that prohibit violence., This, of course, is a preposterous claim because it contradicts the Qur’anic affirmation that the book is perfect, is the revealed word of God, and is absolute. Fadl documents the basis of the Wahhabi ideology and how it negates Qur’anic precepts to justify their position. Accepting this version of shari’a, refutes the integrity of the Qur’an and promotes acceptance of intellectual isolation and absolutism — rejection of alternate concepts that identify commonality of purpose with other groups to promote peace, harmony and human rights.
Fadl establishes the alliance between Abd-ul Wahhab, the founder of the Wahhabi doctrine, and the Saud dynasty that currently rules Saudi Arabia. He also records the atrocities committed by the Wahhabis in helping consolidate the Saud dynasty’s control over Saudi Arabia and the mutual dependence between the two groups. Interestingly, Fadl identifies 1970 as the period when Saudi Arabia actively started exporting the Wahhabi ideology throughout the Muslim world, following its standardization in Saudi Arabia. Petro dollars funded mosques, educational institutions, literature, instructors and prayer leaders throughout the world. In four decades, the Wahhabi ideology has strongly influenced the Muslims’ intellect globally, rendering it isolationist and violent.
The Qur’an is not a legal book and does not provide details about Islamic Law. Instead, it lists broad principles that guide human conscience and specifies the purpose, reason, objective, benefit, reward and advantage of its injunctions. Persuasively addressing the conscience of the individual, it highlights fundamental truth and claims divine origin. Its elucidations, perhaps to demonstrate that humans have no control over nature and highlight their relative insignificance in the bigger scheme of things, are supported by images or concepts of the resulting benefits by the observance of the commandments, or the harm that is prevented by adherence to its prohibitions. The Qur’an devotes more time to describe the laws that manage the universe and specifies a path based on high moral values and humanity. That prescribed path for humans contains no detailed prescriptions, except for a few obligatory actions and prohibitions. People are urged to develop the details and to resolve matters or define procedures, through mutual consultation, consistent with their culture, and environment, but based on the principles of peace, equality, and justice.
Early Muslim scholars used additional sources for guidance, to develop a Qur’an-compliant legal system that could be uniformly applied to meet the growing requirements of the expanding Muslim state. The scholars painstakingly compiled the sunnah (prophet’s practices) and hadith (prophet’s exhortations) through the collection and collation of verbal accounts from people who had personally, or through their ancestors, seen or heard the Prophet’s actions or exhortations, and cross checked their authenticity through the narrators’ piety and family lineage. These two databases serve to complement Qur’anic teachings. Six such books were completed about two hundred years after the Prophet’s death. As a general principle, these compilations are subservient to the Qur’an and, if contrary to its teachings, must be rejected.
The Qur’an, addressed to all mankind, invites critical research of its teachings and accords freedom of choice even in matters of faith. Claiming its teachings to be logical and in harmony with human nature, the Qur’an accepts that belief is a matter of conviction and not coercion. The object of its teachings is reformation of the individual and society — not amputation, decapitation, denial of human rights, and oppression of women. The radicals’ version of shari’a promotes theocracy over democracy, denies human rights and individual autonomy, and institutionalizes discrimination against non-Muslims and women. Interestingly, scientific technology and developments are based on the human understanding of the laws of nature which have be existed for all eternity. The only difference has been the human comprehension of these laws, understanding the underlying principles through education and research, and applying them to satisfy human fantasy or to resolve specific problems.
Thus shari’a should be critically analyzed and researched like any other system of law, practice and belief, to develop a clear understanding of its intent and scope. It should be contrasted with an acceptable standard and, per the Qur’anic claims, should boldly stand up to that scrutiny. Thus shari’a must, through constant review, keep pace with changes in society to ensure compliance with Qur’anic principles. Naturally, depending on the diversity of cultures, practices and intellectual maturity among societies, different opinions in details on matters that are legislated through logic and consensus will occur. And, these different opinions are allowed.
The broad principles enunciated in the Qur’an conform to several secular laws currently used in pluralistic societies. Ironically, the radicals’ version of shari’a falls far short of the minimum standards of justice widely demanded by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Accepting the radical’s pernicious interpretation of shari’a is, therefore, tantamount to refuting the Qur’anic claims that it is a blessing for humankind and a message of universal peace.
Shari’a – In Practice Today
Today, the word shari’a carries radioactive connotations in the developed world; both Muslims and non-Muslims abhor the atrocities (amputated limbs, beheadings, oppressed women, stoning to death, floggings, and other medieval punishments) and the denial of fundamental human rights. In most areas where shari’a is implemented, “justice” is dispensed through summary trials and courts organized by “madrassa-educated” mullas. Muslims are especially challenged by such inhuman treatment of alleged culprits that is speciously justified under the name of Islam. Many erroneously believe the radicals’ claim that they are imposing an Islamic (Qur’anic) edict and in spite of their revulsion, are unable to condemn it. Those who understand history and religion are especially saddened that their coreligionists’ practices are contrary to their professed faith yet they are unable to correct that misconception.
Many people in the West view shari’a as an archaic system that forcibly imposes unfair social ideas on people pertinently exemplified by the reports of brutal punishments from Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and parts of Sudan, Pakistan and Nigeria, etc., where some version of shari’a is enforced.
Shari’a’s reputation has undergone an extraordinary revival in the Muslim world during the past few decades. A century ago, forward-looking Muslims considered the original shari’a to be outdated, and in need of reform, possibly even abandonment. Today, 66 percent of Egyptians, 60 percent of Pakistanis and 54 percent of Jordanians say that shari’a should be the only source of legislation in their countries. Radicalized Islamic political parties, like those associated with the transnational Muslim Brotherhood, Jama’at-i-Islami, and the various religious political parties in Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sudan, and Nigeria, make the adoption of shari’a the most prominent plank in their political platforms; violent Jihad is the main component for attaining their objective.
Political Islam’s forceful advocacy of jihad to implement shari’a must not be taken lightly; every proponent of personal freedom, societal morality, humanity and human rights must be rightfully alarmed at such demands. Political Islam and similar radical religious ideologies remains one of the greatest dangers to humanity. Political Islam has neither been tamed nor moderated by progressive forces; it has the power to inspire the terrorist mind as was highlighted by the Munir Commission in 1954:
“If there is one thing which has been conclusively demonstrated in this inquiry, it is that provided you can persuade the masses to believe that something they are asked to do is religiously right or enjoined by religion, you can set them to any course of action, regardless of all considerations of discipline, loyalty, decency, morality or civic sense.”
Muslims often claim that many so-called violations of human rights are based on a misreading of the Qur’an and will quote verses in defense of their view. And they are correct, because radicals justify violence and human rights violations by claiming that Qur’anic verses have been abrogated – an untenable position that the radicals took before the Munir Commission in Pakistan in 1954. Thus, criticism of Political Islam should not be taken as criticism or condemnation of Islam according to the Qur’an. Political Islam actually distorts and misrepresents Qur’anic concepts as exemplified by events in Muslim countries where shari’a now holds sway; Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy documents the misrepresented concepts and its effects on teenage madrassa students who yearn to become suicide bombers. Chinoy also interviewed two teen-aged friends, whose homes were destroyed in attacks by US aerial strikes and Pakistani forces fighting the Taliban. One boy aspires to join the Taliban and the other wants to join the Pakistan Army to fight against the Taliban. Questioned whether they would hesitate to kill each other if confronted in war, both replied that they would not.
Some Muslims living in Western, secular countries now demand the adoption of shari’a for the Muslim community. According to a recent UK opinion poll, 40% of younger Muslims (16-24 years old) prefer living under shari’a law; 36% support the death sentence for apostasy; 75% support women wearing hijab; and 40% prefer sending their children to Islamic schools. This demand is either based on their erroneous assumption that the radicals’ versions of shari’a are consistent with Qur’anic teachings or on misconceptions that the agrarian economy-based 10th century shari’a, can resolve 21st century problems of the industrial world. They also fail to appreciate that applying religion-specific laws to each community and accord the same degree of justice to citizens in pluralistic societies is not possible. With the anti-Qur’anic examples of shari’a as practiced in Muslim countries today, do Muslims realize the practical implications of those demands? Do those Muslims making such demands imply that Islam can only be practiced under a specific set of rules? How would Islam’s claim of being a universal religion for the entire humankind rationalize this dilemma?
These results are especially disturbing because it is widely accepted that Muslims immigrated to the West to escape lawlessness, religious persecution, economic hardship, or to overcome the chronic lack of educational facilities in their own countries. That itself would imply the failure of perceived “Islamic systems” in their home countries. Why would they then want their adopted countries, with pluralistic societies, to adopt the failed systems they rejected when emigrating? Relocation to pluralistic societies should challenge Muslim immigrants to critically analyze their beliefs against those of their adopted societies’ and determine why they chose the pluralistic system over the one they discarded. A better understanding of this dilemma would enable them to adopt the positive aspects of their adopted society and reject their negative attributes. Having made a conscious choice to live in the West and condemning all Western values as bad for Muslims is sheer hypocrisy. And what about Westerners who accept Islam? Do the radicals expect these converts to simply change their current lifestyle to that of 10th century Arabia? Thus, the questions addressed in this White Paper assume critical proportions for that need to be fully addressed.
Radicals have exploited shari’a with the essential purpose of redefining culture and societies. Pakistan, for example, has rejected its rich cultural heritage and has aligned its society with Saudi Arabia’s as evident from the people’s dress code, mannerism, etc. Described by Hoodbhoy in stark terms, this transformation is widespread and people are confused at the loss of cultural identity. Radicals’ utilize their version of shari’a as a means to justify all manner of topics: from the trivial of mandating men to grow a beard of a certain length to extremely serious matters such as denying education to women, justifying inhumane punishments and implementing discriminatory laws. Each of these shari’a-justified laws infringes on personal freedom and is contrary to the Qur’an, which did not even empower Prophet Mohammadsa to impose God’s will regarding the faith. While telling the prophet that he was only a messenger, the Qur’an affirms total freedom in matters of faith. The radicals’ versions of shari’a are inconsistent with secular law. But, they do instill a sense of fear so as to maintain control by quelling dissent, by justifying human right abuses, by discriminating against minorities and by threatening non-conformists. Instead of promoting harmony, such outdated practices promote intolerance. What may have been proposed as deterrence in earlier days has now become the norm.
A cursory review of the social and moral condition of countries that have imposed political shari’a shows that that system has failed to improve people’s well being. Saudi Arabia, which has enforced the Wahhabi shari’a as state policy, has an atrocious human rights record. Women are not allowed to travel independently or even drive; rape victims are prosecuted, immigrant workers are routinely discriminated against, and public beheadings are routine. Drug and alcohol abuse, and other social evils are rampant despite stringent laws that mandate capital punishment for drug dealing. This is clear evidence that the Saudi Arabian model of shari’a has failed to promote human rights and curb demand for illicit drugs and alcohol, in spite of their draconian laws. The dismal human rights records of Afghanistan under the Taliban, of Nigeria and Sudan have also been well documented. Pakistan has now embarked on a similar path by acceding to the Taliban demand to implement shari’a in parts of the North West Frontier Province. Their experiment with shari’a during General Zia-ul-Haq’s martial law regime (1977 – 1988) set the country back a few decades and nurtured the seed of Islamic radicalism that was sown earlier by the democratically elected, but authoritarian, Prime Minister Z. A. Bhutto in 1974. Pakistan has acquired a unique position in the Muslim world by constitutionally defining a Muslim and by monopolizing Islam as a commodity under company and trademark law.
The same destructive trends are now becoming evident in other Muslim majority countries (Indonesia, Bangladesh, etc.) where demands for shari’a implementation are increasing. These demands show that the radicals’ propaganda favoring the implementation of shari’a has arrested the intellectual development of Muslims immigrating to non-Muslim societies. When new Muslim immigrants arrive in a non-Muslim country, they invariably visit the local mosque or Islamic Center or seek out other Muslims to overcome home sickness and to seek guidance regarding ethnic groceries and halal meat sources. Radicals, who either manage these institutions or have infiltrated them, seek out vulnerable individuals from the new immigrants. Freedom House surveyed mosques in the US in 2003 and documents the hate literature it collected from Saudi funded mosques. New immigrants either assimilate into their adopted cultures or accept the radicals’ powerful rhetoric about the dangers to Islam and the need to safeguard it against the corrupting influences of the society. Such messages strongly impact new immigrants who are keen to establish their identity in the alien country. Ed Husain documents this phenomenon in the UK and, as second generation immigrant, was influenced by this powerful message and became a strong proponent of shari’a’s implementation. Rather than analyzing and understanding the situation in their adopted land with an open mind, many immigrants become “born again” Muslims and accept the radicals’ dogma. Ironically, some European governments allow radical-dominated Muslim Associations or Islamic councils to define state policy regarding Islam.
Muslim critics of the radicals’ version of shari’a are accused of blasphemy or apostasy, which have been made criminal offences in some Muslim countries with severe, including capital, punishment. The Qur’an does not actually authorize Muslims to penalize others for these despicable acts; this is a matter for the judgment of God. Non-Muslims who want to help are accused of cultural imperialism, neocolonialism and racism, or of failing to respect “the other”. But cultural relativism is not the answer. Critics rightfully question the applicability of a 10th century, man-made law in the 21st century. The failure of the 10th century shari’a model in resolving the 21st century problems, even in so-called Muslim countries, is obvious.
Pakistan has taken a further step when in 1974 it constitutionally excommunicated a sect that considers themselves Muslims because it “injures the sentiments of Muslims”. Ironically, when the question was first raised in the 1950s, the clergy could not define a Muslim, a necessary prerequisite for excommunicating that group. With increased polarization amongst various sects, it is virtually impossible for any Muslim to accept a unified definition of a Muslim. Rather than separate religion from politics, Pakistan has made them codependent and both are on a steep downward slope as evident from the strong demands for implementing the shari’a – an undefined entity for the 21st century’s industrial economy – and the virtually daily terrorist attacks on innocent people. Sadly, the people are paying a heavy price for the country’s flawed policies.
The Wall Street Journal affiliate, Live Mint, published a thought provoking article “Why the Taliban’s going to win in Pakistan”. The piece argues that while the Pakistani Law is constitutionally mandated to be shari’a compliant, shari’a is only being selectively implemented under the Taliban’s demands. The article correctly holds the Pakistani leadership responsible for ceding authority to the radicals starting with the second constitutional amendment in 1974 where the Ahmadi Muslim sect was apostatized. The Martial Law imposed by General Zia-ul-Haq after the overthrow of the Bhutto government proved its Islamic credentials by forcing people to practice Islam; prayers and fasting were mandated and such so-called ‘Islamic punishments’ as public flogging implemented, along with the institution of ‘Islamic regulations’. The 11-year period of enforced dictatorial ‘Islamization’ transformed the society. This transformation was nurtured and successfully exploited by the US and funded by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries through the establishment of madrassas, which indoctrinated young children to serve as freedom fighters (mujahideen who, in their later incarnation came to be known as Taliban). These activities were channeled through the religious political parties that were naturally emboldened and raised militias and training centers to counter any opposition from competing ideological groups. Arabs and radicals from neighboring countries also arrived for training and fighting the Russians. This rapid societal transformation resulted in demands for shari’a’s implementation and also introduced gun and drug culture throughout Pakistan. Subsequent governments maintained this practice to continue their practice of complimenting the country’s defense policy by using these proxy fighters against India.
The vocation of mullah was not one preferred by youngsters as recently as a few decades ago. Only those left behind by the system opted for that profession, as a last resort. Today, religion has become an industry; the leadership has tasted success and wields strong influence over the government. They now aspire to assume the government of the country — through force or by the ballot — as their numbers increase rapidly. The confusion in the common Muslim’s mind and their inability to question and critically analyze dogma plays into the clergy’s hands who oppose secular education and demand absolute obedience. The definition of shari’a is the real issue and each sect has its own version. The problems of establishing a parallel legal system (shari’a), not fully developed for a 21st century industrialized economy but considered ‘perfect’ by some Muslims and the politicized clergy, have been well articulated elsewhere.
Radicals begin by claiming that sovereignty belongs exclusively to Allah. Of course, they mean His representatives and, as self-appointed guardians of the faith, they assume this sovereignty themselves. On this basis, the very concept of an Islamic state should be critically analyzed and properly understood. The imposition of shari’a must be supported but only after it has been properly defined and developed for the current era. It may, in fact, be similar to legal procedures being practiced in the developed world. The radicals’ versions of shari’a are in opposition to Qur’anic principles and must, in turn, be opposed because they have failed to provide peace, equality and justice to the people. Implicit in the radicals’ demands for implementation of shari’a is the failure of Muslim societies to provide justice to the people. Time-filtered fables, which have passed through generations, provide hope to Muslims that implementation of shari’a will transform their society to their ideal – a peaceful, corruption-free society, with equality and justice. Poor governance in Muslim countries allows radicals to exploit the vacuum and use religion as a slogan.
The atrocities committed under the prevalent versions of shari’a have been well publicized in the global media. The radicals’ versions of shari’a not only conflict with Qur’anic teachings but also conflict with many basic human rights that are enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights which is fully compliant with the Qur’anic teachings. Yet the radicals reject this reconfirmation that Islam is a religion of peace and justice. Ironically, Muslims are eager to migrate to the secular Western democracies to escape persecution in the so-called Muslim countries and for better educational and economic opportunities for themselves and their families. The reverse was true during the days of the Muslim Empires when Westerners immigrated to Muslim countries to escape persecution, seek educational and employment opportunities within Muslim Empires.
Object of Human Creation – the Qur’anic perspective
The Qur’an lists several objectives for the creation of humans. The more relevant to this discussion is to worship God. Worship does not simply mean prayers; it has a much broader meaning. The Qur’anic term Ibadah, translated as worship, means to subject oneself to a rigorous spiritual discipline, working with all inherent powers and capacities to their fullest scope, in perfect harmony with and in obedience to Divine commandments, so as to receive God’s Grace and thus to be able to assimilate and manifest His attributes in humans. This is the grand objective for the creation of human beings. The external and internal endowments of human nature enable us to fully understand that the highest God-given faculty is the one that awakens the human spirit and drives them to search after God and incites in them the noble desire to completely submit themselves to God’s Will.
The Qur’an asserts that humans are made “in the best of creative plans”, with the capacity to receive revelation,  and that God has endowed humans with an unlimited capacity to progress. According to the Qur’an, God has shown humans how to differentiate between right and wrong paths; that humans are free to act as they choose; that there is no compulsion in religion and that humans are superior to other creations.
The Qur’an defines the three stages of human development as instinctive, moral, and spiritual. It also defines the corresponding behavioral trait for each stage, with absolute justice being the minimum requirement for the first stage. The second stage would be to grant someone more than their due, and the final stage would be to treat others with such grace and overwhelming benevolence as one would treat one’s kindred. The three stages of human development are complemented by the corresponding stages of behavior. Coupled together, the stages of development and behavior or relationship are critical for the establishment of peace, equality, and justice in society and around the world.
The first stage of human development – instinctive stage – is described in the Qur’an as “the Self that incites to Evil”. The propensity towards evil and intemperance predominate the human mind; in this state the person follows natural instincts to survive and their behavior is akin to animal behavior. For example, eating, drinking, sleeping, waking, stealing, anger, sex, provocation, etc.
Humans need to be guided by reason and understanding to overcome and regulate their natural state in a proper manner to transition to the next stage – the moral stage. The Qur’an refers to that as the ‘reproving self’ which reproves or censures every vice and intemperance, directing attention to the consequences of their action. By advancing from the instinctive state to the ‘reproving self’ or moral stage, human behavior ceases to resemble animal behavior and becomes worthy of divine honor. This stage inhibits humans from submitting to their natural desires and leading an unbridled, animal-like existence. In this state, humans are able to practice good morals, without overindulging in any kind of destructive behavior, and maintain natural emotions and desires as regulated by reason and consequences. Although this stage censures every vicious action and prevents vices, it is not fully effective in practicing virtue; natural emotions occasionally dominate behavior and reasoning fails. This stage is akin to a child learning to walk and does not wish to stumble but falls and then feels remorseful over his infirmity. In short, this is the moral state of human self when it seeks to comprehend within itself high moral qualities and is disgusted with disobedience, but cannot achieve complete success.
The final stage – spiritual stage – is referred to by the Qur’an as the “Soul at Rest” and can be described as the beginning of the spiritual state of humans. At this stage the soul of a person is free from all weaknesses and is filled with spiritual powers and establishes a direct relationship with God. The only motive for human action at this elevated stage is to seek God’s pleasure without any worldly gain. The person undergoes a great transformation in this life and feels very satisfied, like living in paradise in this world.
The Qur’an complements the three stages of human development with corresponding principles of human relationship and behavior – absolute justice (ad’l), to grant someone more than their due (Ih’san), and to treat others with such grace and overwhelming benevolence as treating one’s kindred (Ita’I Dhil-Qurba) – that are essential for utilizing the attributes of human development. In addition to obligating benevolence, the Qur’an prohibits negative attributes like indecency, manifest evil, and wrongful transgression to prevent people from reacting negatively to other people’s shortcomings to ensure healthy relationships. Together, higher levels of human development and behavior will usher in the environment envisioned by Muslims.
As a minimum, God requires believers to act with absolute justice towards their fellow beings. From this initial stage, they are expected to move on to the domain of benevolence. They will then not only be just towards mankind, but will also learn the art of returning more than others’ dues; their generosity will benefit people without obligations.
Justice, in human relationships alone, is not sufficient to bring the desired transformation in the world. The Qur’an requires Muslims to voluntarily add benevolence to the act of justice and to then move further to the third stage which is the spontaneous expression of love and care as experienced by a mother for her child. The mother’s love for the child is involuntary; it is a natural flow which she does not generate, but one which she is carried away with; spontaneity is always central to her expression of love for her children. This example appropriately illustrates the spirit of Ita’I Dhil-Qurba. This heightened spirit of love is contrasted in the same verse with traits like indecency, blatant evil and wrongful transgression which the believer should eschew. These negative traits run counter to the virtues which God requires to be cultivated among the believers.
Attaining the highest stages of spiritual development and behavior is thus the ultimate objective for the creation of human beings; the entire regime of worship and moral and social injunctions are meant to help train and encourage human beings for attaining that objective. It is at the spiritual stage that humans begin to reflect God’s attributes and worship him in the true sense of the word. In so doing, they also take care of their fellow human beings, other creations, the environment and the entire system around them. The Qur’an thus furnishes clear guidance and direction to regulate and control the natural human states of development and guides its transition from the instinctive to the spiritual stage.
In summary, the Qur’an defines the hierarchy of human development and behavior or relationships, requiring people to progressively attain the highest levels in both categories. The object of religion is to enable humans to develop from the instinctive to the moral and ultimately the spiritual stage, simultaneously supplementing development with enhancing relationships from the minimum of absolute justice to the ultimate where people are treated with overwhelming benevolence while rejecting negative traits.
What is Shari’a?
Shari’a, as described earlier, is generally understood to mean a ‘law or ordinance’, a “way of belief and practice in respect of religion”. Other meanings include the ‘manifest way’, ‘the way to a watering place’, and ‘fluid and ‘fluidity’. A more profound definition of shari’a can thus be a system conforming to the surroundings but is firmly based on the Qur’anic principles of equality, peace and justice. Considered to be the expression of Divine Will, shari’a constitutes a system of duties incumbent upon Muslims, by virtue of their religious beliefs, and is based on traditional Islamic scholarship covering all aspects of life including personal law (worship, dietary, hygiene, inheritance, marriage), to criminal law (restitution for injuries and murder) to matters of state, like governance and foreign relations. The Qur’an contains rulings on various matters ranging from belief in the Unity of God, to the prohibition of polytheism, extra-marital sexual relations, etc. Fundamental to understanding the importance of the Qur’an is its immutability and non-abrogable nature.  The Qur’an was revealed in two distinct periods of the Prophet’s life, in Makkah [Mecca] and Madinah. The Makkan part established the basic principles of law whose essential components are religion, life, intellect, family and property. It is important to understand that certain classifications within each of these vary according to the degree of their permissibility and forbiddance in the sources, and are often open to some interpretation, specification and consensus (Ijtihad).
Elaborating the process that resulted in the development of shari’a is critical to fully appreciate its intent and scope. The broad Qur’anic affirmations required further development for which supplemental sources were required. The first step – the compilation of the Prophet’s practices and exhortations – was completed within the first two centuries of the Prophet’s death to serve as reference to develop a uniform system of jurisprudence or shari’a. The Prophet’s practices (sunnah) and his exhortations (hadith) were painstakingly compiled by scholars through the collection and collation of verbal accounts from people who had personally, or through their ancestors, heard the Prophet’s exhortations or actions, their authenticity being validated through the person’s piety and family lineage. Six such books were completed between 194 and 273 AH, about two hundred years after the Prophet’s death, to complement Qur’anic teachings by reference to his life. As a general principle, these compilations are subservient to the Qur’an and, if contrary to its teachings, must be rejected. But, of course, even these could not directly resolve most legal problems that arose later. Such problems were resolved by reason, analogy, and consensus which was given substantial weight in the decision making process. It is important to remember that only one component of shari’a – the Qur’an – is the primary source; the others are derived sources and dependent on human influences. The Prophet’s practices and exhortations, recorded almost two centuries later, are subservient to the Qur’an; consensus and analogical reasoning require regular updates to remain current with changing needs, knowledge and issues.
Shari’a, as we know it today, was developed under the Abbasid Caliphates of al-Mahdi (775-785 CE) and Harun al-Rashid (786-809) by two noted scholars Malik ibn Anas and al-Shafii. Shari’a was designed to create a uniform legal system for implementation throughout the Muslim (Abbasid) empire. These Abbasid Caliphs encouraged the emergence of a distinct class of scholars for this purpose. The ethos of Shari’a, like that of the Qur’an, was egalitarian. Special provisions were included to protect the weak, and no institution, such as the caliphate or the court, had any power to interfere with the personal decisions and beliefs of the individual. Each Muslim had the unique responsibility to obey God’s commands, and no religious authority, institution, or a specialized group of “clergy” could intercede between God and the individuals who were all considered equals. Shari’a was thus an attempt to rebuild society on criteria that were entirely different from those of the emperor’s court.
By the tenth century, most Islamic jurists received training in one of four Sunni schools of thought: Shafi’I, Maliki, Hanafi, or Hanbali. The shari’a thus contained a wide range of ethical and moral principles, legal methodologies, and many conflicting and competing judgments. This rich and diverse matrix of opinions and judgments was collectively considered to be God’s law. This multifaceted approach – the Qur’an, the Prophet’s exhortations and actions as captured in the collections of reports, consensus, and analogical reasoning – became the basis for a Muslim legal system known as shari’a.
Under the constitutional theory that the scholars developed to explain the division of labor in the Islamic state, the caliph had paramount responsibility to fulfill the divine injunction to “command the right and prohibit the wrong.” But this was not a task he could accomplish alone. It required him to delegate responsibility to scholarly judges, who would apply God’s law as they interpreted it. The caliph could promote or fire them as he wished, but he could not dictate legal results: Judicial authority came from the caliph, but the law came from the scholars. The caliphs – and eventually the sultans who came to rule once the caliphate lost most of its worldly influence – still had plenty of power. They handled foreign affairs more or less at their discretion. And they could also issue what were effectively administrative regulations – provided these regulations did not contradict what the scholars said shari’a required. Thus religion was separate and distinct from politics during that time.
The upshot is that the system of Islamic law as it came to exist in the 8th and 9th centuries enabled a great deal of freedom for interpretation. The simultaneous existence of four schools of Muslim jurisprudence during the 8th and 9th century proves this assertion. Unlike the radicals, modern advocates of shari’a as the source of law are not actually recommending the adoption of a comprehensive legal code derived from or dictated by the 9th or 10th century shari’a – because nothing so comprehensive has ever existed in Islamic history. Shari’a is thus not a hard and fast code of laws, for it does not lay down rigid injunctions regarding minor and ever changing details. On the contrary, the Qur’an grants people sufficient room to exercise and develop their power of judgment and their reasoning faculty to adapt an injunction of a general nature to meet a new and changed situation around basic principles. When confronted with situations where no definite guidance is provided in the Qur’an or in the practice or sayings of the Prophet, people are required to determine the best way to resolve the matter that is consistent with Qur’anic injunction and the Prophet’s practices and exhortations.
On a purely theoretical level, shari’a is based on the Qur’anic principles of peace, equality and justice. This simplistic generalization ignores the major role of human agency in the production of Islamic law. Prof. Khaled Abou El Fadl, Professor of Law at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) defines shari’a as “the sum total of all the legal opinions according to the various schools of thought, in addition to the principles and methodologies, were known collectively as the shari’a.” He further explains shari’a as:
“… Rather, Islamic law is produced by jurists interpreting textual sources and applying particular methodologies according to a fairly complex set of rules. The primary sources of Islamic law is the Qur’an, which Muslims believe is the literal, unadulterated word of God; the Sunna, which is a body of oral translations describing what the Prophet and his Companions said and did [collected and collated about two centuries after the prophet’s death]; rule by analogy, which is effectively the following of precedents so that a judgment in an old case is adhered to in a similar new case; and consensus of the jurists (or, according to some, consensus of the Prophet’s Companions, and according to still others, consensus of Muslims in general, as opposed to jurists). Other than these main sources, a ruling in Islamic law could be based on equity, public interest, or custom. This, of course, is a general overview of the sources that Muslim jurists relied upon in constructing and building the Islamic legal system. But it ought to be noted that there were extensive debates and disagreements about the exact meaning and application of each of these sources. … Muslim jurists exercised the dominant role in producing the set of judgments and rulings that we now know as Islamic law. In theory, Muslim jurists searched and interpreted the Divine law, and they exercised considerable leeway and discretion in deciding what is valid or invalid, what is legitimate or illegitimate, what to count and what to abjure, what to rely on and what to exclude. Because most of Islamic law is the product of juristic reasoning and interpretive activity, on any significant issue one will find multiple legal opinions all claiming to be correct. In the first couple centuries of Islam, well over thirty schools of legal thought, organized along the lines of methodological and interpretive differences, competed for the hearts and minds of Muslims. Although the competition among the various schools of thought was often intense, all schools were considered equally legitimate and orthodox. The sum total of all the legal opinions according to the various schools of thought, in addition to the principles and methodologies, were known collectively as Shari’a (the holy law of God). In the classical age the state could not produce Shari’a law; only the jurists could do so. Laws passed by the state were considered regulatory rules not included as part of Shari’a law.”
Illustrating the diversity of shari’a, Prof. Fadl describes his collection of about fifty thousand titles on Islamic law in his personal library – the vast majority written between the ninth and sixteenth century. Additionally, he feels that there are “hundreds (if not thousands) of other texts that I dream of acquiring someday, because there are yet many other opinions and views that I am eager to learn. Nevertheless, all these books together, those I have acquired and those I dream of acquiring, the published and unpublished, collectively represent what we call the shari’a.” These books represent a variety of approaches, schools of thought, and opinions written over the course of several centuries. Many of the titles are multivolume—in fact, some titles contain as many as fifty volumes in print.
Shari’a can thus be regarded as the path leading to Divine will and as the representative of the collective effort of Muslims at understanding what God wants from human beings. It is the bond that brings commonality of purpose for Muslims, brings them together despite its many different ethnicities, cultures, languages, nationalities, and political entities. Shari’a has thus become the symbol of unity and community for Muslims around the world. Throughout the classical period, several Muslim empires, countries, kingdoms, and principalities were ruled by independent rulers (kings, emperors, emirs, sultans, or caliphs) that at times were in military conflict with each other. But shari’a remained the transcendent symbol of unity, and the jurists, as its articulators and protectors, remained separate from political and military conflicts and other struggles for power. As such, the jurists, although belonging to a variety of schools of thought, provided the quintessential source of religious authority in the Muslim world. Thus the separation of politics and religion is inherent in the shari’a.
In summary, shari’a is a comprehensive system of Muslim law, developed by trained jurists and built around the Qur’anic principles of peace, equality and justice but supplemented by additional resources and regularly updated to stay consistent with the changing human needs for the diversity of cultures, languages, and countries. It is the symbol of Muslim unity and is supposed to be independent of national politics.
Need for Shari’a?
It is important to repeat that the Qur’an is the only primary and independent source of shari’a; it enunciates broad principles of peace, equality and justice around which details were to be developed by humans. Belief in the Qur’an – in its entirety – is an essential element of a Muslim’s faith. Claiming itself to be a ‘perfect book’, the Qur’an claims to be free of internal and external inconsistencies. These conditions make Qur’anic translation and interpretation especially difficult as, in addition to the interpreters’ and commentators’ linguistic skills, their knowledge of scientific and historical details is critical. Similarly, their cultural backgrounds and clear understanding of spiritual matters, or lack thereof, can influence their works. New scientific developments and historical discoveries are bound to help improve the Qur’anic message, which will evolve with increasing knowledge. Since the Qur’anic text in Arabic has no variants, any differences in interpretation can be critically analyzed and readily resolved through intellectual discourse.
The Prophet Muhammadsa was both the religious and the political leader of the Muslim community during his lifetime. The Qur’an, described his functions as, the creation and strengthening of faith, by drawing attention to Divine Signs, the moral and physical uplift of the people, teaching them the Law and furnishing them with guidance and expounding the philosophy underlying the Law. The broad principles and essential details prescribed in the Qur’an thus leave considerable room for future development to safeguard against restrictive rigidity. Indeed, it warns against seeking the regulation of everything by express Divine command, as that might make the framework rigid and inelastic and, therefore, burdensome. That which God has “left out” is meant to be devised; in accordance with the prescribed standards and values; in consonance with the framework, through mutual consultation to meet the need, and according to the overall standard of fostering equity and eschewing inequity. Claiming to be guidance for all mankind, God proclaims Islam to be a complete and perfect religion and guarantees its eternal preservation. Interestingly, the Qur’an begins by praising the Lord, the Sustainer of all the worlds, and ends by urging Muslims to pray to the Lord of mankind. Thus, both the first and the last words of the Holy Qur’an present the concept of the entire universe, and not merely that of a God of the Arabs or the Muslims. As a recipient of Divine revelation, the Prophet guided early Muslims on spiritual and worldly issues.
With Prophet Muhammad’ssa death, the Muslims elected a leader or caliph (substitute), based on piety, who assumed the responsibility for providing religious and political guidance. Four such caliphs, elected on the basis of piety, were the Prophet’s closest companions and are referred to as the righteously guided caliphs. The first four caliphs grappled with these difficult questions but their job was relatively simple compared to that of the subsequent caliphs who succeeded them during the period of political upheaval and geographic expansion when the caliphate became hereditary. The challenge for the subsequent caliphs was particularly grave; they were to develop a system for a more diverse and growing population of new converts with an assortment of cultural, tribal and social backgrounds. The object was to dispense justice uniformly and keep them united as a community. This became necessary because, as already stated, the Qur’an contains very little legislation but defines broad principles for resolving specific matters through consultation and consensus. The foundation for developing the Qur’an compliant system of governance evolved during this period.
The caliphs were faced with momentous dilemmas when it came to resolving difficult legal matters especially in areas where the Qur’an did not provide specific details. Their much larger, varied and increasingly more complex citizenry along with developments in education, science and arts, posed more difficult problems than those faced by early Muslims in Medina when Prophet Mohammadsa was alive. How would the Prophet’s deputy (caliph) preserve the essence of the first community in very different and ever changing circumstances? The need for developing a Qur’an compliant law – shari’a – was thus felt and developed against the back drop of this unprecedented upheaval.
Shari’a and Modern Constitution
The concept of shari’a, is very similar to that of a modern constitution. Both are destined to be the cornerstones of a legal system, the primary purpose of which is to establish a peaceful and equitable society, which encourages people to abide by the law and penalize the transgressor, with a view to reform and rehabilitate them; capital punishment is prescribed for exceptional crimes where the probability of reformation is extremely low. Both are built on the essential foundation of peace, equality and justice and are supposed to evolve through a process of consultation. Successful democracies have elected representatives where the executive, legislature and judiciary act independent of each other.
Originally developed on the same principles, shari’a resulted in a successful system for an agrarian economy. This was undone when the global economic system was transformed by the Western nations through a long and painful process of reformation, education, and industrialization of their societies, a process that Muslims failed to appreciate. The subsequent colonization of Muslim lands disrupted the process whereby shari’a could have been developed to cater to the industrial economic system. Muslim nations failed to industrialize and transform their educational system and thinking necessary to achieve that transformation. Instead, they attempted to resolve industrial-age problems with agricultural-age solutions. Their widespread frustration and anger at not being able to compete against the Western successes is understandable.
As described earlier, shari’a initially evolved to appreciate the separation of government and religion, which has now been accepted as a prerequisite for successful governance. Contrary to that experience, the demarcation between religion and politics is virtually non-existent in Muslim countries today where politicization of Islam has become the norm. By separating politics from Islam and focusing on secular education and the provision of human rights, the principles of shari’a can be used to develop a modern system of governance that could be very similar to any modern constitution.
But why reinvent the wheel when such systems – constitutions of secular democracies – are already available? The elected parliament is equivalent to the majlis-e-shoora (consultative body in Muslim countries) which, in some Muslim countries is still nominated by the monarch, defeating the very purpose of “mutual consultation” and the Western justice system is equivalent to the qazi (judge) system. Religion and politics are separate (to the extent possible), leaders are accountable, and people have access to justice, peace and have a social infrastructure that delivers their basic needs. Muslims must realize that the constitutions of secular democracies contain the essential elements of shari’a and their leaders can select from the various available models. Muslims must also realize that individual responsibility and accountability are essential elements for the success of any system of governance. These traits were the hallmark of the shari’a system when it was successful but are virtually non-existent in Muslim countries today.
A strong resurgence in demands for the implementation of shari’a has become common amongst Muslims. People who advocate the implementation of shari’a generally imply the establishment of good governance, easy access to justice and the elimination of the corruption endemic in most Muslim countries. Lack of quality and meaningful education and other basic necessities (clean water, electricity, etc.) prevent economic development and alienate the population. Without accepting responsibility, their leaders blame outside influences and conspiracy theories gain currency. The clergy urges people to reject modern (Western) concepts that will likely reduce their control over Muslims, and instead revert to the nostalgia of 8th century Arabia.
Several Muslim (and other third world) countries still rely on traditional conflict resolution systems based on tribal or cultural norms. The jirga system in Afghanistan and North West Pakistan and the panchayat system in the Indian sub-continent are still popular among impoverished sections of the population. These systems provide virtually unlimited authority to the jirga or panchayat and their decisions are binding, with no recourse to appeal to independent authority. Members of these bodies have no legal training and most may even be illiterate. Several examples of jirga or panchayat judgments, enforced by force, have recently come to light. These include gang rape of the alleged criminal’s womenfolk, child marriages as settlement, honor killing of women, or summary execution of the alleged criminals. The influence of money or social status in these judgments is obvious. This background of injustices, corruption and exploitation propels Muslims to demand the enforcement of shari’a in the hope that their access to justice would improve along with governance. The radicals capitalize on this vulnerability and thus their promise of speedy justice is attractive to the masses.
Islam and Human Rights
Life is dynamic, and so are man and human society. One characteristic of dynamism is that it generates friction, and in terms of social values that means differences and very often disputes. The right to differ lies at the root of all knowledge, inquiry investigation, research and progress. While, therefore, we must strive to safeguard the right to differ, to question, to dissent and on occasion even to protest, we must at the same time strive to secure that our differences, in every sphere — religious, philosophical, scientific, social, economic, political or whatever, should act and react beneficently and not destructively. When differences threaten to become acute they must be regulated; they must be resolved or adjusted through the adoption of agreed peaceful procedures. This means, broadly, that we must all submit to what has come to be described as the Rule of Law.
At this stage the main effort must continue to be directed towards obtaining wider recognition of the need to insure that human rights carry with them sanctions, which would serve to make these rights enforceable through judicial process. For this purpose, the principal instrument which should be used is the national legislature of each State, which should, through appropriate constitutional and legislative processes, invest human rights with legal sanctions enforceable through the national judicial system. This process would, however, prove effective only in the case of States in which access to judicial process is not unduly restricted and the process is guaranteed to take its due course without hindrance. In other words, a free and independent judiciary is absolutely necessary to effectively safeguard human rights and guarantee freedom, justice and equality.
For Muslims, and indeed for all mankind, Islam seeks to stimulate and deepen that consciousness. It emphasizes our duties and obligations, so that each of us, by due discharge of them, should help to safeguard freedom, justice and equality for all and should promote and foster human welfare and prosperity in all spheres — social, economic, moral and spiritual. It seeks to establish a pattern of society which, in all the changing and developing circumstances of a dynamic world, would maintain its character of beneficence in all spheres of life — individual, domestic, national and international. For this purpose it furnishes us with a framework of beliefs, duties, obligations, exhortations and sanctions along with comprehensive guidance.
The General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948. This document embodies the broadest consensus of contemporary civilization on human rights and will serve as an excellent benchmark to determine if the Qur’anic precepts support human rights to which virtually all governments are signatories.
Zafrullah Khan reviewed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights from the Islamic perspective, basing his analysis almost entirely upon the Qur’an and Prophet Mohammad’ssa practices and exhortations – the two most authentic and authoritative sources of Islamic teachings – and found the Declaration fully compliant with Islamic teachings. Khan observed that “while Islam lays down broad values and standards which clearly endorse the spirit and purpose of the Declaration, it does not pronounce verbatim on all the specific provisions of the Declaration. Some Articles of the Declaration restate and emphasize fundamental rights and principles, while others only declare and draw attention to objectives and ideals which should be progressively pursued as the aims of State policy. Still others spell out methods of giving effect to what is considered imperative or eminently desirable in today’s conditions as a practical expression of the enjoyment of freedom, justice and equality. The Declaration does not purport to be exhaustive, as, in the nature of things, no formulation of human rights could claim finality. Equally, it cannot be claimed that its provisions may not call for amendment or modification as the result of experience gained or of changes that may be introduced into the social, economic or political patterns of society and the State.” Khan cross references each Article of the Declaration with Qur’anic precepts, occasionally seeking support from the Prophet’s actions and exhortations. Initially published in 1967, this book serves as irrefutable evidence of the great value accorded by Islam to human rights.
Why do Taliban and radicals want to implement Shari’a?
Religion is an emotive issue to most people. The Muslim clergy has successfully monopolized Islam and aspires to exert control over Muslims. The clergy exploits poor governance and the attendant issues faced by the people and promises to provide relief by implementing a system based on the Qur’an. Well aware of the fact that Muslims are subdivided into numerous sects whose respective versions of shari’a have significant and irreconcilable differences, the Taliban, driven by their Wahhabi ideology, seek to impose their version throughout the world. Several ideological and regional dynamics are also at play in this equation. Sunni vs. Shia (Saudi Arabia vs. Iran) is the major ideological dynamic while several sectarian dynamics are at play regionally in the race to monopolize Islam. Proclaiming the implementation of shari’a as the objective provides them with a noble cause that people do not challenge because it is undefined and which the clergy can invent as they go. It provides an easy battle cry for people to rally around and keep them connected.
Ed Husain presents penetrating insights of a former insider, born and raised in Britain, about the inner workings of the radical Islamists and crucially warns about their objectives. His personal narrative provides arresting testimony of how an average British Muslim was drawn towards radicalism against the advice of his family and how he freed himself from the shackles of extremism. Interestingly, he identifies the ideology of Mawdudi (the founder of Jama’at-e-Islami in the Indian subcontinent) and Syed Qut’b (Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt) about the need for establishing a Muslim state using the slogan “Allah’s law for Allah’s land”. Moreover, he also implicates Wahhabi support, Saudi funds, publications and trained clergy to propagate radicalism amongst Muslims. Subsequent Islamic political groups further radicalized their concepts and developed strategies to accomplish their objectives. This work should serve as a wake-up call for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Muslims should understand the Qur’anic teachings and shari’a to negate the radicals’ propaganda, Muslim governments should keep politics and religion separate, improve governance, modernize educational systems, grant human rights to the population and encourage free speech while secular states should check the unlawful activities conducted under the banner of Islam.
What attracts young children towards the radicals’ rhetoric and transform them into terrorists and suicide bombers?
Radicals present a mythical solution of a unified Muslim political entity as a Muslim state with Jihad and shari’a as its central tenets; the jihadi forces of the imaginary Muslim state can avenge persecution of Muslims around the world and impose shari’a in their territories. Citing political wars where Muslims have been at the receiving end of a stronger enemy (Palestine, Kashmir, Bosnia, Chechnya, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.) and within Muslim countries where Muslim radicals are striving to assume political control (Egypt, Algeria, Turkey, Pakistan) as evidence of conspiracies against Islam by the Western (non-Muslim) countries, radicals exploit the sentiments of their coreligionists to seek sympathy. Moreover, denouncing Arab governments that were propped up by the victors after the Second World War as stooges of the West and claiming that the oil wealth of these countries belong to the entire Muslim population of the world, the radicals stated objective is to overthrow these governments. Packaging these ideas in such misrepresented Islamic concepts as blasphemy, apostasy, Muslim umma (community), and innovating new concepts e.g., land of peace (dar-ul-aman) and land of war (dar-ul-harb), “Allah’s law for Allah’s land”, radicals denounce democracy as un-Islamic. Proclaiming that sovereignty in a country can only belong to God, radicals go to the extent of declaring that Muslims cannot become loyal citizens of any non-Muslim government. This is contrary to the Qur’anic assertion not to create unrest and obey authority.,  For political expediency and political support to retain power, governments in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries connive with the radicals and have allowed them to monopolize Islam by assuming the right to declare who can be a Muslim and by apostatizing those who disagree with their convoluted concepts.
Additionally, to isolate Muslims further, the radicals prohibit Muslims from befriending non-Muslims. Some have even declared that the establishment of a unified political entity of an Islamic state is obligatory for Muslims while some radicals have even established a constitution for this illusion. The writings of such radicals as Jama’at-i-Islami’s founder Mawdoodi, Muslim Brotherhood leaders Syed Qut’b, Hazb-e-Tahrir’s founder Nabhani are further developed by radicals like al-Qaida and Taliban and propagated throughout the Muslim world.
Sadly, few Muslim scholars have forcefully denounced such concepts which are prohibited by Qur’anic teachings. Those who have were killed by the radicals. The intellectual isolation and closed mindedness of the Muslim population result in their succumbing to religious authority without challenging dogma; it may be the major reasons for their inability to check this dangerous trend. The larger reason is the governments in Muslim countries who control and censure the flow of information, prohibit free intellectual discourse on contentious issues and the petro dollars from Saudi Arabia that have spread the Wahhabi ideology around the world. The larger issues are the overshadowing of Qur’anic concepts by the radicals’ dogma and the traditional education system in Muslim countries that continues to churn out passive and receptive minds who serve as a conduit to spread the radicals’ convoluted concepts.
Radicalism of Muslim societies can be observed from the changes in overall behavior and dress code, hijab for women and beards for men, and increased ritualism over the past few decades (Attachment 1). The radicals’ rhetoric is designed to induce a feeling of guilt amongst Muslims that they are not able to prevent the persecution and exploitation of their brothers at the hands of non-Muslim powers who conspire to eliminate them. This sentiment is vividly captured by Ed Husain who cites the massacre of Bosnian Muslims in the 1990s as the catalyst for the radicalism of European, particularly British, Muslim youth. The events of Palestine, Kashmir, and Chechnya have similarly radicalized youth in other regions.
Husain has detailed the active recruiting techniques employed by the radical groups who target young students in the UK using “intellectual, high-profile, charismatic, controversial, media savvy personalities” who have been groomed for this purpose and effectively utilize modern communication techniques to recruit new members. Students in the UK are either from overseas living by themselves, or second and third generation immigrants seeking an identity. These radicals’ network is in place to befriend and recruit such students. Similar recruiting techniques are used by these groups in other countries where the invitation to join them in prayers at the mosque is hard to refuse.
The Taliban have tapped the poor villagers as a source of their foot soldiers and suicide bombers. Exploiting poor governance, lack of educational opportunities and poverty, they recruit youngsters in their madrassas under the guise of educating them and even pay a stipend to their poor families who are satisfied that their off springs will be schooled in Islam. The Taliban even recruit five-year old children. Ironically, these madrassas are also funded by radical groups or regimes; these young children serve as ideal candidates for brain washing and end up being terrorists and suicide bombers.
Shari’a, as known today, was developed in the 9th and 10th century, about 200 years after Prophet Mohammad’ssa death. Muslim scholars successfully established a system of governance and jurisprudence based on Qur’anic principles supplemented with the Prophet’s actions and exhortations, and also by analogy and consensus. That system was not static; rather, it evolved with the changing needs of a growing and diverse Muslim population with the purpose of providing justice and keeping the state from interfering with the personal matters of the population. Earlier, after the Prophet’s death, a system for electing a caliph (deputy) was instituted to lead the Muslims. A few decades later, with conquests and geographical expansion, the caliphate became hereditary and stayed with the victor. When non-Arab rulers ruled over Arabia, Arab scholars were appointed to define and interpret Islamic Law to satisfy the Arab population. This system worked well as the Muslim Empire grew in size and diversity, and when independent Muslim governments emerged as sovereign countries, because it demarcated and separated the roles of those scholars, who defined and interpreted the Law, and the government whose role was to implement it. Thus shari’a effectively separated religion from politics. It is important to remember that the Islamic system was developed around the agrarian economic system as that formed the basis of the global economy at that time.
Muslims failed to foresee the major transition of the global economy towards an industrial base by Western nations who, after 3-4 centuries of reformation and renaissance, educated their population and industrialized their economies; colonization of Muslim lands followed as the industrialized countries sought to expand their markets during the 18th and 19th centuries.
This abrupt shift in global dominance shocked the Muslim psyche and created a vacuum in the spiritual leadership of Muslims who could have guided the development of shari’a around the industrial economic base. Instead, the clergy urged Muslims to reject all things Western and revert to their old system without realizing the fundamental shift in global economics that changed the dynamics. Unfortunately, Muslims following the clergy’s advice rejected the Western educational system. The clergy presented misguided solutions to the crisis and misrepresented Qur’anic teachings to justify their proposals. The establishment of a unified Muslim state, jihad, shari’a, blasphemy and apostasy, and a host of other concepts were misrepresented and a few new ones made to justify their untenable position. Muslims failed to appreciate that the Western systems of secular democracies contain the essential elements of the successful shari’a system as has been discussed earlier. They also failed to recognize that the UN Declaration of Human Rights conforms to the Qur’anic precepts. In these intellectual oversights, Muslim leadership and individuals failed to rationalize that truth cannot be monopolized by any group.
The misconceptions about the mythical illusion of a successful, unified political entity of a Muslim state can be observed from several examples. The early history of the growth of Islam, as summarized earlier, shows the differences that crept in following the Prophet’s death; the first major split into Shia and Sunni factions occurred within three decades. The system of Caliphate which started after the Prophet’s death as an elected office became hereditary shortly thereafter. Subsequent wars between Muslim groups to seize control and the establishment of several political entities and empires is ample proof that a unified political entity as a Muslim state never existed. In recent history, Pakistan the only country created to safeguard Muslim interests in the Indian sub-continent on the basis of two-nation theory (Muslim and Hindu nations) in 1947, could not stay united. Islam alone could not maintain that country united when the Eastern wing became Bangladesh in 1971. Similarly, attempts by Syria and Egypt (1958-1961) to form a unified Muslim state were unsuccessful. Furthermore, the divisions within the several dozen Islamic sects are so severe that they cannot even agree on fundamental matters; they even disagree on definition of a Muslim and each major group has declared the competing group as non-Muslim. This current state of affairs is a reflection of the historical divisions cited earlier but the differences have only increased and the modern communication techniques have rendered the fissures in full public view.
The Taliban is not simply a bunch of terrorists and suicide bombers in Afghanistan and Pakistan: it is ideologies based on the facts articulated above that happen to be contrary to, and in defiance of, Qur’anic teachings. That ideology can only be defeated by deflating the misrepresented concepts and by re-emphasizing the original teachings of the Qur’an.
The blending of politics with Islam provides legitimacy to the politicized clergy and they become an important component in the political equation of Muslim governments. Many political interests are at stake in this debate and, as history repeatedly records, the blend of religion and politics is the most corrupting influence. The combination of poor governance, widespread corruption, lack of basic social infrastructure and modern secular education, and the absence of economic development opportunities coupled with a large and growing population of young people, is an assured recipe for disaster. The resultant frustration encourages people to support the flawed concepts presented by the clergy – Afghanistan and Pakistan are prime example of this phenomenon.
This vicious cycle must be broken. The radicals’ concepts and the Qur’anic teachings must be clearly demarcated to remove the confusion which fogs many moderate minds. Understanding Islam has become an absolute imperative because achieving such an understanding will determine the type of people we are – whether tolerant or bigoted, whether enlightened or ignorant. Deep introspection and self criticism is required by individual Muslims to determine if the tradition of Islam, with its inherited system of beliefs and convictions, contribute to the commission of these ugly acts of terrorism. Are the Muslims who commit acts of terrorism or who persecute women and religious minorities inspired by the doctrines and dogma of the Islamic religion? This question can be asked in more stark and blatant terms: did something go wrong with contemporary Islam, and if so, can Muslims continue to refuse a critical analysis of our current beliefs? Muslims have the intellectual and spiritual capability and the courage and the responsibility to reclaim and reestablish Islam as a humanistic moral force in the world today.
The problem, however, is that many Muslims are woefully ignorant about their own religion. Much of what constitutes Islam today was shaped as a defensive reaction to the postcolonial experience, either as the product of uncritical cheerleading on behalf of what was presumed to be the Islamic tradition, or as an obstinate rejection of what was presumed to be Western tradition. The burden must fall on moderate Muslims to articulate the alternative to the radicals’ menace. Moderate Muslims must be able to tap into the collective inherited memory of Muslims and remind them that the moderate way is indeed the heart and soul of Islam. The moderates should seek to fill the vacuum of authority by standing steadfast, upholding Islam as it was before it was co-opted and forced to alleviate the radicals’ sense of social and political alienation. Moderates should seek to convince the Muslim world that they are the guardians of the true faith, which existed for centuries — long before the radicals came along and decided that the Islamic faith needed fixing after the post colonial experience.
The radicals’ response to the moderates’ position can be summed up in one word – abrogation. Abrogation means that all the verses that speak about tolerance or cooperation with non-Muslims are null and void. That goes against the fundamental pillars of Islam to which the radicals respond that God had decided to invalidate all the Qur’anic passages that admonished Muslims to be forgiving or to seek peaceful coexistence with non-Muslims. According to them, God encouraged Muslims to be forgiving and be tolerant when Muslims were weak and could not afford to pursue a confrontational policy with non-Muslims. But once Muslims became strong, God commanded Muslims to seek the destruction of all non-Muslims — or, at a minimum, to be hostile toward them.
Whether radicals invoke the doctrine of jihad or some other jurisprudential doctrine, the fundamental problem is their intolerant and confrontational worldview, which acts like a prism through which they see God and God’s text. Unfailingly, radicals seek to find whatever doctrine or mechanism that will enable them to project their worldview onto the Islamic faith. Significantly, it is exactly because their worldview is not supported by the Qur’an that they have to resort to dubious methods such as declaring that parts of the Qur’an have been abrogated, not by human beings interpreting the text, but by God. This way they can avoid taking responsibility for ignoring parts of the Divine Book, and instead attribute the responsibility directly to God.
The ultimate objective of the law is to achieve goodness, which includes justice, mercy, and compassion, and the technicalities of the law cannot be allowed to subvert the objectives of the law. Therefore if the application of the law produces injustice, suffering and misery, this means that the law is not serving its purposes. In this situation, the law is corrupting the earth instead of civilizing it. In short, if the application of the law results in injustice, suffering, or misery, then the law must be reinterpreted, suspended, or reconstructed, depending on the law in question.
The only way to correct the flawed concepts and encourage introspection is through the free expression of ideas and intellectual discussion about all matters. Unfortunately, the freedom of expression and other fundamental human rights have been declared un-Islamic by the Muslim world, in contravention of the Qur’anic teachings. Ironically, the 57-member Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) adopted a resolution in March 2009 essentially prohibiting freedom of speech at the UN Human Rights Commission.
President Obama’s words in Cairo come to mind. He said: “… As a student of history, I also know civilization’s debt to Islam. It was Islam – at places like Al-Azhar University – that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment. It was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our mastery of pens and printing; our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed. Islamic culture has given us majestic arches and soaring spires; timeless poetry and cherished music; elegant calligraphy and places of peaceful contemplation. And throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.” Several obvious questions that Muslims needs to answer are: Whatever happened to the Muslims who paved “the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment”? What happened to the Muslim innovators, mathematicians, scientists, great thinkers, grammarians, theologians, poets, jurists, and architects who helped shape the world? Where are the free thinking intellectuals that created successful Muslim societies? What has changed in the system that prevents today’s Muslims from reaching the same potential?
In closing, the development of shari’a can be categorized into several phases: (1) the ‘initial’ phase – 7th to 8th – century that immediately preceded the Prophet’s death; (2) the ‘development’ phase – 9th and 10th centuries – when the system of shari’a was devised on the Qur’anic principles of peace, equality, and justice. The Prophet’s practices and exhortations were documented and verified and the system of using legal precedence, analogical reasoning, mutual consultation among scholars or people was devised; (3) the ‘maintenance’ phase – 11th to 17th century – when the shari’a principles developed during the previous phase were applied to the expanding and diverse populations of the Muslim Empires; and (4) the ‘decay’ phase – 18th to the 19th century – when the Muslim Empires after reaching the zenith of their power and becoming complacent were colonized by the Western powers who had successfully transformed their economies through 3 to 4 centuries of reformation, renaissance, education and industrialization. By the 18th century, the global economic base had been transformed to industrial. The Muslim system, based on agricultural economy, had thus reached a dead end as they had missed the proverbial boat that transformed the basis of global economics. The Western system of governance contained all the essential elements of success – equality, justice and peace – which are based on human nature and common sense. Rather than reinvent the wheel, Muslims should accept the changed global environment, separate religion and politics as was the case during the development and maintenance phases of shari’a and accept the fact that the secular democracy is indeed shari’a compliant.
Shari’a is a very emotive subject and, unfortunately, there are no short term solutions for clearing the grave misconceptions that crept in the system over the past 100-150 years and have left a deep impact on the Muslims’ psyche. Radicals’ exploit these wrong concepts to hijack Islam for their nefarious agenda. Intellectual debates amongst scholars are required for which the freedom of speech is essential.
Individual Muslims must understand Islam through independent research from the Qur’an. The educational system should be upgraded to encourage students to critically analyze any data and not to accept facts without verification. This will require Muslims to shun sectarianism, and critically review the various translations and commentaries to ascertain how Qur’an deals with the specific matters.
Muslim leadership must realize that good governance and fundamental human rights are mandated by the Qur’an and that secular democracies are shari’a compliant. Intellectual debates on such topics must be instituted for which discriminatory laws prohibiting such debates should be repealed.
 Customary salutation meaning “peace be on him”.
 report of the court of inquiry constituted under Punjab Act II of 1954 to enquire into the Punjab disturbances of 1953, p 223
 Khaled Abou El Fadl, “The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the extremists”, p 212, 217-219
 Quran Ch 5, v 49 “And We have revealed unto thee the Book comprising the truth and fulfilling that which was revealed before it in the Book, and as a guardian over it. Judge, therefore, between them by what Allah has revealed, and follow not their evil inclinations, turning away from the truth which has come to thee. For each of you We prescribed a clear spiritual Law and a manifest way in secular matters. And if Allah had enforced His will, He would have made you all one people, but He wishes to try you by that which He has given you. Vie, then, with one another in good works. To Allah shall you all return; then will He inform you of that wherein you differed.” And Qur’an Ch 2, v 3: “This is a perfect Book; there is no doubt in it; it is a guidance for the righteous,”
 Khaled Abou El Fadl, “The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the extremists”, p 201-19
 Ibid, p 61-70
 Ibid, p 70, 73, 87
 Qur’an Ch 42, v 39: “And those who hearken to their Lord, and observe Prayer, and whose affairs are decided by mutual consultation and who spend out of what We have provided for them”
 Sahih Bokhari (194-256 AH); Sahih Muslim (204-261 AH); Jamia Tirmazi (209-279 AH); Sunan Abu Daud (202-275 AH), Sunan Nasai (215-306 AH) and Sunan ibn Majah (209-273 AH).
 Qur’an Ch 2, v 257: “There should be no compulsion in religion. Surely, right has become distinct from wrong; so whosoever refuses to be led by those who transgress, and believes in Allah, has surely grasped a strong handle which knows no breaking. And Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing.”
 Meghan Cox Gurdon, “Freedom dies as radical Islam advances”, Examiner Columnist | 2/19/09 (http://www.dcexaminer.com/opinion/columns/MeghanCoxGurdon/Freedom-dies-as-radical-Islam-advances-39838867.html)
 Traditional Muslim seminary, largely used to indoctrinate Jihadis in the past few decades
 Noah Feldman, “It Frightens the West, but what really is Shari’ah”, International Herald Tribune, 15-16 March 2008.
 Report of the Court of Inquiry Constituted Under Punjab Act II of 1954 to Enquire into the Punjab Disturbances of 1953; p 231
 Ibid, pg 223
 Traditional head covering for Muslim women
 Qur’an Ch 42, v 49: “…We have not sent thee as a guardian over them. Thy duty is only to convey the Message. Leave it to God to make the Message effective.” And Qur’an Ch 88, v 22-23: “Admonish, therefore, for thou art but an admonisher; thou hast no authority to compel them.”
 Qur’an Ch 2, v 257: “”here should be no compulsion in religion. Surely, right has become distinct from wrong…”
 Enforced Apostasy: Zaheeruddin v. State And the Official Persecution of the Ahmadiyya Community in Pakistan, Law & Inequality; Vol XIV, Dec 1995, No. 1, p 277
 Ed Husain, “The Islamist”
 Islam and Human Rights Zafrullah Khan, Islam International Publications Limited
 Qur’an Ch 51, v 57: “And I have not created the Jinn and the men but that they may worship Me.”
 Qur’an Ch 95, v 5: “Surely, We have created man in the best of creative plans.”
 Qur’an Ch 15, v 30: “so when I have perfected him and have enlightened his mind with My revelation, do ye all fall down in prostration along with him.”
 Qur’an Ch 32, v 10: “Then He endowed him with perfect faculties and breathed into him of His spirit. And He has given you ears, and eyes, and hearts …”
 Qur’an Ch 87, v 3-4: “Who created and made man flawless. Who determined the measure of his faculties and guided him accordingly,…”
 Qur’an Ch 90, v 11: “And We have pointed out to him the two highways of good and evil”
 Qur’an Ch 41, v 41 “Surely, those, who distort Our Signs to seek deviation therein, are not hidden from Us. …”
 Qur’an Ch 2, v 257: “There is no compulsion in religion. Surely, the right way has become distinct from error; so whosoever refuses to be led by those who transgress and believes in Allah, has surely grasped a strong handle which knows no breaking. And Allah is All-Hearing. All-Knowing.”
 Qur’an Ch 17, v 71: “We have indeed honored the children of Adam, and provided for them means of transportation in land and sea, and given them wholesome food and exalted them high above the greater part of Our creation.”
 Qur’an Ch 16, v 91: “Indeed Allah requires you to abide by justice, to treat with grace and to give like the giving of kin to kin.”
 Qur’an Ch 12, v 54: “And I do not hold my own self to be free from weakness —surely the soul is prone to enjoin evil—save that whereon my Lord has mercy. Surely, my Lord is Most Forgiving, Merciful.”
 Qur’an Ch 75, v 3: “Nay, I swear by the self-accusing soul, that the Day of Judgment is a certainty.”
 Qur’an Ch 89, v 28-31: “thou soul at peace! Return to thy Lord, thou well-pleased with Him and He well-pleased with thee. So enter thou among My chosen servants, and enter thou My Garden.”
 Qur’an Ch 16, v 91: “Indeed Allah requires you to abide by justice, to treat with grace and to give like the giving of kin to kin. And He forbids indecency, manifest evil, and wrongful transgression. He admonishes you, so that you may take heed.”
 Qur’an Ch 5, v 49
 Qur’an Ch 2, v 3: ‘This is a perfect Book; there is no doubt in it; it is a guidance for the righteous;’ Ch 15, v 10: ‘Verily. We Ourself have sent down this Exhortation, and most surely We will be its Guardian.’
 Imam Al-Shatibi, Abu Ishaq Ibrahim, Al-Muwafaqat fi Usul al-Ahkam, (1341 AH., Ed. Muhammad Hasanayn Makhluf, Cairo: Al-Matba ‘ah al-Salafiyyah), Vol.III, p. 104
 5ee generally, Al-Raysuni, A., ‘Imam Al-Shaitibi’s Theoty of the Higher Objectives and Intents of Islamic Law’; (2006, Islamic Book Trust, Kuala Lumpur), pp.136-147, at P-l37
 Lit. ‘effort’ or ‘intellectual exertion to arrive at a legal conclusion’ This refers to the in-built mechanism in Islamic Law which allows for dynamic and time-specific interpretation in scenarios and contexts which were previously non-existent and which thus render the original prohibitions or permissibility applicable or non-applicable relatively.
 Sahih Bokhari (194-256 AH); Sahih Muslim (204-261 AH); Jamia Tirmazi ((209-279 AH); Sunan Abu Daud (202-275 AH), Sunan Nasai (215-306 AH) and Sunan ibn Majah (209-273 AH).
 AH (Anno Hegirae) or 622 CE marks the formal beginning of the Muslim calendar. Based on lunar calendar, with nineteen ordinary years of 354 days and eleven leap years of 355 days in a thirty-year cycle, Islamic dates cannot be converted to CE/CE dates simply by adding 622 years; allowance must be made for the fact that each Hijri century corresponds to only 97 years in the Christian calendar. The year 1428 AH coincides almost completely with 2007 CE
 The Islamic caliphate was formed after the Prophet’s death to lead the community. The first four caliphs (Abu Bakr, Umar, Utman, and Ali), elected based on piety and are known as the “rightly guided caliphs”. Internal dissent resulted in the assassination of the last three caliphs and a civil war broke out after Ali’s murder. The winner, a provincial governor Mu’awiyah, formed the Umayyad dynasty and claimed the caliphate in 661. The Umayyad Dynasty was defeated by the descendants of Muhammad’ssa uncle Abbas ibn Abd al-Muttalib who formed the Abbasid dynasty in 750 CE and also claimed the caliphate. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam)
 Khaled Abou El Fadl, “The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the extremists”, p 31
 Ibid, p 34
 Ibid, p 34
 Qur’an Ch 67, v 4: Who has created seven heavens in harmony. No incongruity canst thou see in the creation of the Gracious God. Then look again: Seest thou any flaw?
 Qur’an Ch 5, v 102-3: “O ye who believe, do not keep asking about things which, if they were expounded to you, would become troublesome for you… Allah has left them out. Allah is Most Forgiving, Forbearing. A people before you made such demands. And when they received the directions they repudiated them.”
 Qur’an Ch 3, v 100; Ch 42, v 39:
 Qur’an Ch 2, v 186; Ch 17, verse 90; Ch 18, verse 55; Ch 14, verses 2-3; Ch 34, verse 29;
 Qur’an Ch 5, v 4: “I have this day perfected your faith for you in every way and, having completed My bounty upon you, have chosen for you Islam as religion.”
 Qur’an Ch 15, v 10: “We have sent down this Book and verily We shall safeguard it.”
 A jirga is a body of tribal elders from the region brought together for conflict resolution
 A panchayat is a body of village elders, landlords, or politicians from the region brought together for conflict resolution
 Zafrullah Khan, “Islam and Human Rights”
 Ed Husain, “The Islamist: Why I became an Islamic Fundamentalist, What I saw Inside, and Why I Left” Penguin Books
 Report of the court of inquiry constituted under Punjab Act II of 1954 to enquire into the Punjab disturbances of 1953, p 227-230 under “Reaction of Muslims of non-Muslim States”
 Qur’an Ch 7, v 57: “And create not disorder in the earth after it has been set in order, and call upon Him in fear and hope. Surely, the mercy of Allah is nigh unto those who do good.”
 Qur’an Ch 2, v 206: “And when he is in authority, he runs about in the land to create disorder in it and destroy the crops and the progeny of man; and Allah loves not disorder.”
 Ibid, pg 91
 Ibid, pg 94
 Ibid, pgs 48-110
 Report of the Court of Inquiry constituted under Punjab Act II Of 1954 to enquire into the Punjab disturbances of 1953, p218
 President Obama’s speech in Cairo, 4 June 2009
THE ROOTS OF EXTREMISM IN PAKISTANHow Pakistan is being Saudi-ized and what this means for our futurebyPervez Hoodbhoy. The common belief in Pakistan is that Islamic radicalism is a problem only in FATA, and that madrassas are the only jihad factories around. This is seriously wrong. Extremism is breeding at a ferocious rate in public and private schools within Pakistan’s towns andcities. Left unchallenged, this education will produce a generation incapable of living together with any except strictly their own kind. The mindset it produces may eventually lead to Pakistan’s demise as a nation state.
For twenty years or more, a few of us have been desperately sending out SOS messages, warning of terrible times to come. Nevertheless I, for one, am surprised by how quickly these dire predictions have come true. Even as the flames of terrorism enveloped Mumbai and captured world attention, on the scale of things, that too was a relatively small matter. A full-scale war is being fought in FATA, Swat, and other “wild” areas of Pakistan with thousands of deaths. It is only a matter of time before this fighting migrates to Peshawar and Islamabad (which has already seen Lal Masjid), and then onwards to Lahore and Karachi. The suicide bomber and the masked abductor have crippled Pakistan’s urban life and shattered its national economy.
Soldiers, policemen, factory and hospital workers, mourners at funerals, and ordinary people praying in mosques have been reduced to globs of flesh and fragments of bones. But, perhaps paradoxically, in spite of the fact that the dead bodies and shattered lives are almost all Muslim ones, few Pakistanis speak out against these atrocities. Nor do they approve of military action against the cruel perpetrators, choosing to believe that they are fighting for Islam and against American occupation. Political leaders like Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan have no words of kindness for those who have suffered from Islamic extremists. Their tears are reserved for the victims of Predator drones, whether innocentor otherwise. By definition, terrorism is an act that only Americans can commit.
What explains Pakistan’s collective masochism? To understand, one needs to study the drastic social and cultural transformations that have made this country so utterly different from what it was in earlier times.
For three decades, deep tectonic forces have been silently tearing Pakistan away from the Indian subcontinent and driving it towards the Arabian peninsula. This continental drift is not physical but cultural, driven by a belief that Pakistan must exchange its South Asian identity for an Arab-Muslim one. Grain by grain, the desert sands of Saudi Arabia are replacing the rich soil that had nurtured a rich Muslim culture in India for a thousand years. This culture produced Moghul architecture, the Taj Mahal, the poetry of Asadullah Ghalib, and much more. Now a stern, unyielding version of Islam – Wahabism – is replacing the kinder, gentler Islam of the sufis and saints who had walked on this land for hundreds of years.
This change is by design. Twenty five years ago the Pakistani state pushed Islam on to its people. Prayers in government departments were deemed compulsory, floggings were carried out publicly, punishments were meted out to those who did not fast in Ramadan, selection for university academic posts required that the candidate demonstrate knowledge of Islamic teachings, and jihad was declared essential for every Muslim. Today government intervention is no longer needed because of a spontaneous groundswell of Islamic zeal. The notion of an Islamic state – as yet in some amorphousand diffuse form – is more popular today than ever before as people look desperately for miracles to rescue a failing state.
Villages have changed drastically, driven in part by Pakistani workers returning from Arab countries. Many village mosques are now giant madrassas that propagate hard-line Salafi and Deobandi beliefs through over-sized loudspeakers. They are bitterly opposed to Barelvis, Shias, and other Muslims who they do not consider to be Muslims. Punjabis, who were far more liberal towards women than Pukhtuns, are now beginning to take aline resembling the Taliban. Hanafi law has begun to prevail over tradition and civil law,as is evident from recent decisions in the Lahore High Court.
In the Pakistani lower-middle and middle-middle classes lurks a grim and humorless Saudi-inspired revivalist movement that frowns on every expression of joy and pleasurable pastime. Lacking any positive connection to culture and knowledge, it seeks to eliminate “corruption” by regulating cultural life and seizing the control of the education system.
“Classical music is on its last legs in Pakistan; the sarangi and vichtarveena are completely dead”, laments Mohammad Shehzad, a music aficionado. Indeed, teaching music in public universities is violently opposed by students of the Islami Jamaat-e-Talaba at Punjab University. Religious fundamentalists consider music haram. Kathak dancing, once popular with the Muslim elite of India, has no teachers left. Pakistan produces no feature films of any consequence. Nevertheless, Pakistani elites, disconnected with the rest of the population, comfortably live their lives through vicarious proximity to the West. Alcoholism is a leading problem for the super-rich of Lahore, a curious irony for this deeply religious country.
Islamization of the state and polity was supposed to have been in the interests of the ruling class, a classic strategy for preserving it from the wrath of the working class. But the amazing success of the state is turning out to be its own undoing. Today it is underattack from religious militants, and rival Islamic groups battle each other with heavy weapons. Ironically the same army – whose men were recruited under the banner of jihad, and which saw itself as the fighting arm of Islam – today stands accused of betrayal, and is almost daily targeted by Islamist suicide bombers.
Pakistan’s self-inflicted suffering comes from an education system that, like Saudi Arabia’s system, provides an ideological foundation for violence and future jihadists. It demands that Islam be understood as a complete code of life, and creates in the mind of the school child a sense of siege and embattlement by stressing that Islam is under threat everywhere.
Below, the reader can see the government approved curriculum. This is the basic roadmap for transmitting values and knowledge to the young. By an act of Parliament passed in 1976, all government and private schools (except for O-level schools) are required to follow this curriculum. It was prepared by the Curriculum Wing of the Federal Ministryof Education, Government of Pakistan. It is a blueprint for a religious fascist state.
EXCERPTS FROM THE ABOVE CURRICULUM DOCUMENTNational Bureau of Curriculum and Textbooks Federal Ministry of Education, 1995 Social Studies: At the completion of Class-V, the child should be able to:
“Acknowledge and identify forces that may be working against Pakistan.”[pg154]
“Demonstrate by actions a belief in the fear of Allah.” [pg154]
“Make speeches on Jehad and Shahadat” [pg154]
“Understand Hindu-Muslim differences and the resultant need for Pakistan.” [pg154]
“India’s evil designs against Pakistan.” [pg154]
“Be safe from rumour mongers who spread false news” [pg158]
“Visit police stations” [pg158]
“Collect pictures of policemen, soldiers, and National Guards” [pg158]
“Demonstrate respect for the leaders of Pakistan” [pg153]
Below are scanned pictures from an illustrated primer for the Urdu alphabet. The masthead states that it has been prepared by Iqra Publishers, Rawalpindi along “Islamic lines”. Although not an officially approved textbook, it is being used currently (2008) by some regular schools, as well as madrassas, associated with the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), an Islamic political party that had allied itself with General Musharraf. [These picturescans have been taken from a girl child’s book, together with her scribbles.]
“Alif” (A) for Allah; “Bay” (B) for bundooq (gun);“Tay” is for takrao (collision) and “topi” (cap); “Jeem” is for jihad; “Khay” is for khunjar (dagger); “Hay” is for hijab; “Zal” is for zunoob (an unfamiliar word even for nativeUrdu speakers, means sins). Note that even traditional Muslim musical instruments are worthy of the fire.
The world of the Pakistani schoolchild was largely unchanged even after September 11, 2001 which led to Pakistan’s timely desertion of the Taliban and the slackening of the Kashmir jihad. Indeed, for all his hypocritical talk of “enlightened moderation”, General Musharaf’s educational curriculum was far from enlightening. It was a slightly toned down copy of that under Nawaz Sharif which, in turn, was identical to that under Benazir Bhutto who had inherited it from General Zia-ul-Haq. Fearful of taking on powerful religious forces, every incumbent government has refused to take a position on the curriculum and thus quietly allowed young minds to be molded by fanatics. What might happen a generation later has always been a secondary matter for a government challenged on so many sides.
The promotion of militarism in Pakistan’s so-called “secular” public schools, colleges,and universities had a profound effect upon young minds. Militant jihad became part ofthe culture on college and university campuses. Armed groups flourished, invited students for jihad in Kashmir and Afghanistan, set up offices throughout the country, collected funds on Friday prayers, and declared a war without borders. Pre-911, my university was ablaze with posters inviting students to participate in the Kashmir jihad. After 2001, this slipped below the surface.
The primary vehicle for Saudi-izing Pakistan’s education has been the madrassa. In earlier times, these had turned out the occasional Islamic scholar, using a curriculum that essentially dates from the 11th century with only minor subsequent revisions. But their principal function had been to produce imams and muezzins for mosques, and those who eked out an existence as “moulvi sahibs” teaching children to read the Quran.
The Afghan jihad changed everything. During the war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, madrassas provided the US-Saudi-Pakistani alliance the cannon fodder needed for fighting a holy war. The Americans and Saudis, helped by a more-than willing General Zia, funded new madrassas across the length and breadth of Pakistan. A detailed picture of the current situation is not available. But, according to the national education census, which the ministry of education released in 2006, Punjab has 5,459 madrassas followed by NWFP with 2,843; Sindh, 1,935; Federally Administrated Northern Areas (FANA), 1,193; Balochistan 769; AJK 586; Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (Fata), 135, and Islamabad capital territory, 77. The ministry estimates that1.5 million students are getting religious education in the 13,000 madrassas.
These figures could be quite off the mark. Commonly quoted figures range between18,000 and 22,000 madrassas. The number of students could be correspondingly larger. The free room, board and supplies to students, is a key part of their appeal. But the desire of parents across the country is for children to be “disciplined” and to be given athorough Islamic education. This is also a major contributing factor.
Madrassas have deeply impacted upon the urban environment. For example, until a few years ago, Islamabad was a quiet, orderly, modern city different from all others in Pakistan. Still earlier it had been largely the abode of Pakistan’s hyper-elite and foreign diplomats. But the rapid transformation of its demography brought with it hundreds of mosques with multi-barrelled audio-cannons mounted on minarets, as well as scores of madrassas illegally constructed in what used to be public parks and green areas. Now, tens of thousands of their students with little prayer caps dutifully chant the Quran all day. In the evenings they swarm around the city, making bare-faced women increasingly more nervous.
A madrassa in Islamabad, one of the 70 or more that have been established in the last 20 years. (picture caption)
Madrassa students enjoying a burning of video cassettes and CDs in Aabpara, Islamabad’s main market in March, 2007. The materials had been handed over by frightened shopkeepers who thereafter switched to other businesses. (picture caption)
Total separation of the sexes is a central goal of the Islamists, the consequences of which have been catastrophic. For example, on April 9, 2006, 21 women and 8 children were crushed to death, and scores injured, in a stampede inside a three-storey madrassa in Karachi where a large number of women had gathered for a weekly congregation. Male rescuers, who arrived in ambulances, were prevented from moving injured women to hospitals.
One cannot dismiss this as just one incident. Soon after the October 2005 earthquake, as I walked through the destroyed city of Balakot, a student of the Frontier Medical College described to me how he and his male colleagues were stopped by religious elders from digging out injured girl students from under the rubble of their school building. This action was similar to that of Saudi Arabia’s ubiquitous religious “mutaween” police who, in March 2002, had stopped schoolgirls from leaving a blazing building because they were not wearing their abayas, a long robe worn in Saudi Arabia. In rare criticism, Saudi newspapers had blamed the mutaween for letting 15 girls burn to death.
The Saudiization of a once-vibrant Pakistani culture continues at a relentless pace. The drive to segregate is now also being found among educated women. Vigorous proselytizers bringing this message, such as Mrs. Farhat Hashmi, have been catapulted to heights of fame and fortune. Their success is evident. Two decades ago the fully veiled student was a rarity on Pakistani university and college campuses. The abaya was anunknown word in Urdu. Today, some shops in Islamabad specialize in abayas. At colleges and universities across Pakistan, the female student is seeking the anonymity of the burqa. Now she outnumbers her sisters who still dare show their faces.
Although individuals may still thrive in spite of it, the veil profoundly affects habits and attitudes. Many of my veiled female students have largely lapsed into becoming silent note-takers, are increasingly timid, and are less inclined to ask questions or take part in discussions. This lack of self-expression and confidence leads to most Pakistani university students, including those in their mid- or late-twenties, referring to themselves as boys and girls rather than as men and women.
While social conservatism does not necessarily lead to violent extremism, it does shorten the path. Those with beards and burqas are more easily convinced that Muslims are being demonized by the rest of the world. The real problem, they say, is the plight of the Palestinians, the decadent and discriminatory West, the Jews, the Christians, the Hindus,the Kashmir issue, the Bush doctrine, etc. They vehemently deny that those committing terrorist acts are Muslims or, if faced by incontrovertible evidence, say it is a mere reaction to oppression.
The immediate future is not hopeful: increasing numbers of mullahs are creating cults around themselves and seizing control over the minds of worshippers. In the tribal areas a string of new Islamist leaders have suddenly emerged: Baitullah Mehsud, Fazlullah, Mangal Bagh,… An enabling environment of poverty, deprivation, lack of justice, and extreme differences of wealth is perfect for these demagogues. Their gruesome acts of terror are still being perceived by large numbers of Pakistanis as fighting imperialist America. This could not be more wrong.
Chemistry department, Quaid-e-Azam University, 1985. Left wing female and male students are protesting against the university administrations actions. Note the absence of any head gear. (picture caption)
Chemistry department, Quaid-e-Azam University, 2008. Almost all females are either in burqa or hijab. (picture caption)
A classroom scene at the International Islamic University, Islamabad 2008. (picture caption)
In the longer term, we shall have to see how the larger political battle works out between Pakistanis who want an Islamic theocratic state and those who want a modern Islamic republic. It may yet be possible to roll back the Islamist laws and institutions that have corroded Pakistani society for over thirty years and to defeat its hate-driven holy warriors. There is no chance of immediate success; perhaps things may have to get worse before they get better. But, in the longer term, I am convinced that the forces of irrationality will cancel themselves out because they act in random directions whereas reason pulls in only one. History leads us to believe that reason will triumph over unreason, and humans will continue their evolution towards a higher and better species. Using ways that we cannot currently anticipate, they will somehow overcome their primal impulses of territoriality, tribalism, religion, and nationalism. But for now this must be just a matter of faith.
The author teaches physics at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad