Friday, July 16, 2010

Not quite modern

An ambitious article in the Pakistani newspaper Dawn ( attempts to summarize recent socio-political movements and suggests the way forward for a modern state in the Islamic context.

It is surprising that none of the readers who commented pointed out the various misused words (words spelt correctly but meaningless in the context). That notwithstanding, read on for a review of some of the main points.

> This created dictatorships which were always venerable
> to becoming myopic and elitist at the first sign of economic
> and political failure.

Vulnerable, perhaps, and not venerable.

> Purpose of Islamic legislation regarding punishments
> should be to reform people and not to exact revenge.

This is an oversimplification of one of mankind's most involved philosophical questions, surely! To reform and not to exact revenge? Why not? If A kills B, and the entire population, including A & B's admirers, solemnly affirm that they won't go kill, should A be let off?

> One cannot force someone to become a believer.

But one can! Various forms of torture, propaganda and brainwashing have been developed towards this end.

The point one expects of a tolerant, modern and free thinker is that one _should_ not force anyone to become a believer.

> No religious principal should be imposed by force,
> because Islam has declared that there is no compulsion in faith.

Principle, perhaps, and not principal. Although principal too makes sense, in the case of a religious dictator thrust upon a people.

> All administrative and political matters are
> human affairs and hence, not subject to religious rules.

This statement is banal at best and a shallow trivialization, at worst. Administrative and political matters are human, but religion is not? If religious rules do not involve humans, then there would have been no need to write this article.

> Religious extremism should be condemned

Why? As long as the extremism does not harm humans, animals and the environment, why should anyone be bothered if someone refuses to eat onions, or pigs, or insists on not working on Sundays (when planned in advance). The author probably means violence caused by religious extremism.

> Jihad is a means, not an end. It does not permit self-destruction
> and it does not legitimise killing civilians.

This is dangerous and surprising in someone who ostensibly advocates tolerance, justice and peace. Back in the day, it might have been easy to distinguish between a civilian and a soldier. Given today's informal militias and involved value chains, this is no longer possible. What about a retired infantryman, or one on leave, or in a military prison; or a hospital attendant wearing a military uniform, or a nurse, or an 85-year old Field Marshal, or someone who delivers office materials to a country's army headquarters, civil servants and politicians in the War Ministry, building maintenance in a munitions' factory? "Does not legitimise killing civilians" implies that it is acceptable and legitimate to kill human beings as long as they don't fall into the category of "civilians" (and, by the way, that latter definiton will be supplied in a separate letter).

> Preachers are spiritual guides, not judges (and vice-versa).

The vice-versa bit is puzzling. What does it suggest? That spiritual guides are preachers, not judges? All? Some? That judges are neither spiritual guides not preachers?

> Islam and Islamic law should be understood and implied
> by each generation according to its own conditions.

Implemented, perhaps, and not implied.

> It (Sharia) is man-made

Of course, it is! As is every other system of law. But the author's statement (along with "We should define Islam in such a way that it does not undermine its global standing.") appears to be blasphemous (from the point of view of an orthodox Muslim) - this is curious, as most of the discussion appears to accept the existence and uniqueness of the Koranic God.

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