To be a Muslim is to be a peace maker; one who constantly seeks to mitigate conflicts and nurtures goodwill for co-existence and world peace - God wants his creation to be in peace and harmony, and that is the chief purpose of Islam; peace. www.WorldMuslimCongress.com
Islam and Pluralism
Mike Ghouse, February 26, 2008
Originally I responded to a request from Hasni Essa about Akbar, the great Mughal King and his experiments with Pluralism. It was a draft and I was going to do some study and respond in more details. Meanwhile, it got the circulation and my esteemed friend Dr. Javid Jamil and Shamim Siddiqi responded to it. All the responses are appended below. Here is my counter response. It is about co-existence. By the way, I would want you to express your understanding of the same, together we can learn more.
The attacks on Islam after 9/11 propelled me to study the veracity of the statements ascribed to Islam by the media.
The traditional translations of Qur'aan did not offer much hope, and it was a taboo to question those translations. Thank God for the internet, the net waves got flooded with information in addition to the availability of multiple translations of Qur'aan in the market. Every translation added a new dimension, and reflected translator's background; they were obviously influenced by who they keep the company with.
The need to understand Islam, as it was intended, became a priority to me. I was driven by one of my favorite passages from the Bhagvad Gita – finding the truth is one's own responsibility. The human fears, anger, ill-will, malice and the negative emotions are some times based on false propaganda, and liberation comes from it is finding the truth, as truth relieves one from anxiety and brings clarity and possible solutions, be what that truth may be.
Qur'aan is for all seasons and all ages, it is what you understand. The political criminals twist the constitution to support their agendas, just as the religious politicians twist their holy books to support their own agenda which is generally destructive. Where as the 99% of the population does the right thing by understanding the purpose of religion and live and let live.
Qur’aan, Al-Inshiqaq, Surah 84:7 "And as for him whose record shall be placed in his right hand," (whose behavior in life characterizes him as "righteous"), and Qur’aan, Al-Inshiqaq, Surah 84:10 “But as for him whose record shall be given to him behind his back; (where it is stated that the record of the unrighteous "shall be placed in his left hand". In reality, however; the present formulation alludes to the sinner's horror at his record, and his wish that he had never been shown it (69:25-26): in other words, his not wanting to see it is symbolized by its appearance "behind his back".)
Islam consistently encourages individuals to do well. It emphasizes one’s individual responsibility towards the peace and security of the society at large. Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) described a good deed as an act which benefits others, such as planting a seed, knowing well that, when it grows to be a full fledged tree it will serve generations of wayfarers with fruit and the shade. The world is a better place today because of a good legacy bequeathed to humanity by people of all faiths that came before us. We owe it to coming generations to leave the world a little better than we found it, to usher an era of justice and peace.
“There are the people who have never cared for their neighbors; they thought they would never return to God. Their Lord watches all that people do.”
It was a defining moment for me when I decided to delve myself into understanding Islam. Imam Feisal Abdur Raouf of New York had made a statement to the effect that Islam means peace; and a Muslim is one who brings peace. Over the years, I have pondered over who is a Muslim or a religious person of any faith for that matter? The following statement was the result "To be a Muslim (or to be religious) is to be a peace maker; one who constantly seeks to mitigate conflicts and nurtures goodwill for peaceful co-existence. God wants us to live in peace and harmony with his creation; life and matter. Indeed that is the purpose religion." Each one of us is a carrier of the peace flag.
The above became my lens through which I was looking at the word of God, for me, as a Muslim, God’s word is Qur'aan. God is for every human being and no one owns him or has any exclusive rights with him (equally her or it). We are his creation and belong to him as he belongs to us all.
Islam is indeed an all embracing idea and justice is its core value. When there is justice, it puts people at ease; they are released from the fear that some one is going to take advantage of them or the fear that they will have to pay for their actions if they are unjust to others. The middle path as the Prophet called is the key for peaceful living. Qur'aan -55:9 weigh, therefore, [your deeds] with equity, and cut not the measure short!
When there is justice, one's focus turns to living the life. No one would be lying to others; no one would be cheating, abusing or usurping what belongs to others and most certainly, no one would be taking advantage of the weak. The description of the day of the judgment is simply the pinnacle of learning about individual responsibility – you would stand on your own, neither your parents, nor the kids, nor your wealth or even the Prophet is going to do anything for you, your only defense is the good you have done to others. God is just and will serve justice to every human being. By the way, Qur’aan has assured God’s blessing and grace to every human who is Just; Muslim or not.
When the universe evolved, or simply when God created the universe, it was a two part system; Matter and Life.
Matter had a defined space and role to play. In this model, the creator God did not give freedom to the matter, it was put on a trajectory and was to do exactly what it was meant to do, and it has been doing this for millions of years, precisely and on time. The Earth takes ~365 days to revolve around the Sun; the light determines the plants, ice, water content and life. Qur'aan -55:6 "[before Him] prostrate themselves the stars and the trees." Each one is simply playing its determined role; each item respects the space of other and co-exists in harmony. This is the model of peaceful co-existence.
When it came to life, God placed the brains and took away the defined role (like the role of earth revolving around the sun) and gave freedom to humans to use their intelligence and create their own abode of harmonious co-existence between billions of them. On the way, God gave manuals (for Muslims, it is Qur'aan) to each species or each community and nation to follow that model of peaceful co-existence.
Qur’aan, Al-Hujurat, Surah 49:13: "O mankind! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. The noblest of you, in sight of Allah, is the best in conduct. Allah Knows and is Aware."
For the followers of the Qur'aan (manual) Islam is a complete way of life. However, others have their own manuals to follow to achieve peaceful co-existence. God offers the clarity to each one of the followers of different manuals, each nation and tribe has its own equilibrium and manual and we have to know one another.
As Muslims we have never had the chance to dig in more and find the truth for ourselves. We (followers of all faiths) are conditioned by the politics of religion to negate other manuals of God. However, God's words (Qur'aan) are beautiful and respectful toward those who follow a different manual.
109:1 SAY: "O you who deny the truth!
109:2 "I do not worship that which you worship,
109:3 and neither do you worship that which I worship!
109:4 "And I will not worship ~hat which you have [ever] worshipped,
109:5 and neither will you [ever] worship that which I worship.
109:6 unto you, your moral law, and unto me, mine!"
It is a reminder for us to think about it from our manual's point of view and learn to accept and respect the God given uniqueness of each one of us, then conflicts fade and solutions emerge.
Our goal is to duplicate the perfect model of Matter that God has created. We have to make our own pathways without conflict and create that heaven on the earth.
Insha Allah, as a Muslim, I am committed to continue to study and understand the concept of Pluralism and co-existence God has presented to the followers of Islam. My reference is some of the many verses in Qur'aan that direct us to create that model of bliss between all of his creation. I welcome Muslims and others to do research on this aspect, as no one owns Islam or Qur'aan; it belongs to all, just as other faiths offer salvation, Mukti, Moksha or Nirvana.
The concept of Tauhid is certainly understood in a few dimensions, one of them is a "one-single-physical God" despite the pronounced belief that God is not a being. Qur'aan - 112:4 "and there is nothing that could be compared with Him. Still it arms the politically oriented ones to imagine that are other God(s). We need to understand the depth of this concept.
Tauhid to me, at this stage of understanding is "unison" without "conflict". – One source of creation, one originator, one universe, one people that leads to a model for conflict elimination and creating a blissful state of existence. Where fear, envy, jealousy, arrogance, ego, ill will, hate, malice and anger is overcome with the positive energy of co-existence.
God want us to succeed for human co-existence and duplicate the model of the matter. It is accepting and respecting the God given uniqueness of each one of us that reduces conflicts and brings solutions to harmonious co-existence.
I believe this was the intent of Akbar, the great Moghul King. To some of my friends and the critiques it failed in political terms, however, his legacy of harmonious co-existence will continue to inspire generations yet to come. India has been such a model with a few exceptions.
Dear Br Mike
Your ardent support for pluralism is justifiable in intent but unjustified in essence. To talk of the acceptance of a plural society is one thing and to talk of unification of all religions into one and promotion of such an approach is other. The former has nothing bad in it. Every person has the right to conscience and practices his faith within the parameters of the system in which he is or has to live. This automatically leads to a plural society. All nations on the earth are plural in nature; there is no single country where all the people belong to the same religion. Even countries like Saudi Arabia and Vatican City have plural societies. As far as pluralism is concerned, literally it means deification of a plural society, which means that one does not just accept a plural society but prefers it over every single ideology. This type of pluralism is neither desirable nor possible because if one accepts this type of ideology it would require every member of society to believe in this ideology; those who do not believe in it will be either condemned or will at least get lesser respect than those believing in pluralism. This will again lead to dominance of one ideology over the other, as pluralism in itself is a specific ideology.
As far as Islam is concerned, it is in itself a synthesis of the best of all previous religions; and who can give the best except one who knows all. God has produced the best; and by declaring Muhammad as the Last Ambassador and Qur'aan as the Last Book, He has made it known to the mankind that nothing can be better than the Best. Mankind or any single man or a group of men cannot add anything to Islam that will make it better; it will only distort, degrade and destroy the best. It is another matter that there is always a room for better understanding and better application of what has been chosen for us. Qur'aan accepts a plural society but does not promote pluralism of religion, ideology or system. The Desire of God is that the whole Mankind should submit to one ideology, one Religion and One System. That is in fact the essence and aim of Wahdat (Unity).
Brother Mike, I know you have a golden heart which shines for everybody. Love all people and respect all systems; promote the right of all people to live respectfully irrespective of their beliefs, but please for God's sake, understand the difference between Pluralism and acceptability of a plural society. If you advocate pluralism, it would mean that you do not regard Islam as the Best and Final; if you advocate for the acceptance of a plural society it is already there in Islam.
Emperor Akbar's Deen-e Ilahi was certainly not an improvement on Islam; it only diluted its supremacy. If his intention was to bring non-Muslims closer to Islam through Deen-e Ilahi, it might be a Good endeavor in the eyes of God; if he thought he could give a better Deen than that of God, God's wrath will await him in the Hereafter. Only God knows the best about his intentions; we can only hope that Akbar proves to be good to God.
I hope we all try to follow Muhammad and the Deen he preached and not Akbar and his Deen-e Ilahi. There is nothing wrong however in thinking positively about Akbar's intentions.
Dr Javed Jamil
International Centre for Applied Islamics
Mohtram Javed Bhai, ASA
Living in a pluralistic society is different from behaving pluralistically. The problem with my beloved Br Ghouse is that for all practical purposes, he is gradually symbolizing himself as an epic center of tolerance for all whether it is right or wrong. In the radiance of such cultural events that he holds, the Islamic color, the "Sibghatullah" is practically lost or diminished to obscurity.
I personally pinpointed this feature of his predominating socio-cultural-political activities many a times in the past but he seems a bit adamant to his way of life and style of thinking. In this process, I fear that gradually he is likely to "lose" his original color, with which he was born and came to this age,
May Allah help him to see the light you have tried your best to show and give him the vision that the only Khair lies in inviting the humanity, this pluralistic society, to the fold of their Creator and Sustainer, the Deen of Islam.
Thanks for sharing this piece on Akbar.
In the beginning of February, on NPR Radio some author was discussing about the history of India he has sketched, particularly the Mughal period. The book is out, unfortunately I do not remember the name, and it was a British Author. I went on air with him and we talked about Akbar, he agreed the things you have said, and further acknowledge that Akbar was the first king in the history of mankind, who promoted pluralism.
Last Sunday, most of my family and friends saw Jodha Akbar, I did not get the chance to see it, but I am planning to see it this week some time.
Insha Allah, I will do some research on the Akbar and Din-e-Ilahi and write my comments. There is always a room to understand things in its perspective.
A few points I noted in the quick read;
Akbar indeed understood the purpose of religion which was to bring peace to an individual and harmonious co-existence in the society. A religious person is a peace maker; one who constantly seeks to mitigate conflicts and nurtures goodwill for peaceful co-existence. God wants us to live in peace and harmony with his creation; life and matter. Indeed that is the purpose religion.
Marrying for political convenience was the norm of the society for nearly two thousand years. Two of the Prophet Muhammad's (pbuh) marriages were social and political in nature to forge alliances between the communities to come together and remove the conflicts. It was for the greater good of the community. Akbar wanted to fall the religious barriers and establish the idea that religion was not the barrier. In fact, some 400 years later Allama Iqbal wrote "mazhab nahin sikhata aapas may byr rakhna" - religions do not teach us to keep barriers between us.
Akbar's pluralistic credentials were based on several elements including marrying to Jodha, he had Bhagvad Gita and many of the Vedas translated from Sanskrit into Persian and Arabic. I believe besides the faiths you have listed - Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, he also had Jews included in the discussion.
As Muslims, we still have to learn about Tauhid, the oneness of God on the one hand we recite Sura Ikhlas
112:1 SAY: "He is the One God:
112:2 "God the Eternal, the Uncaused Cause of All Being.
112:3 "He begets not, and neither is He begotten;
112:4 "and there is nothing that could be compared with Him
God is genderless, imageless and formless; he (it or she) is all pervasive energy. When he says that he is closer to us than our jugular veins, meaning he is our reflex when we want it to be, he is our thought... and that we cannot bottle him into any thing.
The Jews express the above Sura more accurately than us; they do not even write the word God, they write G_d to indicate he cannot be limited to a word. The Bahai's have gone little closer on grasping the concept of Tauhid. And Insha Allah, I will write my understanding of it as I understood from all the religions including Islam.
Tauhid is a conflict-free world of oneness, when we learn to accept and respect the God given uniqueness of each one of his creation, then conflicts fade and solutions emerge. That is Tauhid, oneness, and that is indeed Pluralism. Akbar was the first real king who explored this, but some how he was misunderstood, or the religious right wanted to maintain the barriers, thus Tauhid was shot by them as it happens with every society in every time zone.
"The notion that God had created a Divine Light that is passed down in an individual from generation to generation; this individual is known as the Imam." The idea has its own reasoning and logic which has made it survive for nearly 1400 years. I am sure there is material developed to understand it.
Personally, I have subscribed to the idea that every individual has an opportunity to be in tune with the creator and that can be achieved by any of the multiple prescriptions, meaning religious paths. As a Muslim, I tread one of the few paths, that I am familiar with and it works for me, as Hinduism would work for a Hindu, Judaism for a Jew and the above idea works for the Shia, as they have learned it in that fashion. All are legitimate paths; no one has to be wrong, for me to be right.
Many of the poets (not all though) and the scholars who served the kings at that time did a lot of chamchagiri, sycophancy. They were never satisfied with the titles and accolades they heaped on the kings to remain in their favors. I am surprised Abul Fazal did not call Akbar God of all Gods. Some of the political theories of the employee servants of the kings made everything subservient to the king.
I admire Akbar for the efforts he made in removing conflicts and nurturing good will. That is the purpose of religion, any religion. Islam is peace, and peace comes through justice in addition to removing conflicts and nurturing good will.
Jazak Allah Khair
In a message dated 2/24/2008 7:17:27 P.M. Central Standard Time, firstname.lastname@example.org writes:
Dear Mike Ghouse - President - WMC
What I am about to write to you here today perhaps going to be too controversial for many Islamists to digest. What I mean, Mike is to ask you, if what king Akbar practiced, his Din-i Ilahi during his reign deserves any merit and could be put on your MuslimAgenda as subject for discussion: WMC - as you would notice, I have also sent my message to several groups requesting them to post this in their esteemed forums to elicit response from their members.... whether it's possible to apply today Akbar's political theory by any community to bring harmony among people of all faiths, especially when extreme fundamentalism provokes denigration of Islam by West, after 9/11. As we all know, all religions are syncretic, drawing on the traditions that preceded them, and Akbar's Din-i Ilahi seem to be most inclusive of all. Shahensha Akbar as history shows had most pluralistic and political approach by his marriage of political convenience to Jodha without undermining each other's personal belief in their religion. Without question, Akbar's shrewd political move brought pluralism and moderation during his reign.
I am sure, Mike you have taste for Indian movies, especially Jodha Akbar presently being shown around the world in east and west. If you get chance, I would kindly suggest you go and see it. Personally, I enjoyed it myself very much for its grandeur and revival of Mughal Empire on screen. Also, AR Rahman's excellent Sufi musical, 'Khwaja mere Khwaja' when young king Akbar joins the Sufi dancers in trance.
Actually, main reason I had to bring this particular movie to your kind attention, Mike was to seek your opinion whether, what king Akbar tried during his reign despite his religion and culture, to bring about secular, moderate and pluralistic fervor by his intermarriage to a Hindu princess, Jodha. The movie shows, before marrying, Jodha puts two conditions to Akbar, if he wants to marry her: Allow her to remain a Hindu, and let her build a murti in her room for her to worship.
The political theorists and Islamic scholars surrounding Akbar were deeply influenced by Shia's Islam. In particular, they subscribed to the Shia's notion that God had created a Divine Light that is passed down in an individual from generation to generation; this individual is known as the Imam. The central theorist of Akbar's reign was Abu'l Faz'l, who joined Akbar's court in 1574 and is considered one of the greatest political theorists in Islamic history. He believed that the Imamate existed in the world in the form of just rulers. The Imam, in the form of a just ruler, had secret knowledge of God, was free from sin, and was primarily responsible for the spiritual guidance of humanity. This, to a certain extent, made the padshah superior to the Shari'ah, or Islamic law, and the Islamic scholars that interpreted it. Needless to say, orthodox Islamic scholars bitterly opposed this political theory, but instead advocated a close partnership between the Ulama, or Islamic religious and legal scholars, and the Sultan or padshah.
From a religious standpoint, Akbar's state was built on the principle sulahkul, or "universal tolerance." All religions were to be equally tolerated in the administration of the state; hence the repeal of the jizya and the pilgrimage taxes. In Akbar's theory of government, the ruler's duty is to ensure justice ('adale ) for all the people in his care no matter what their religion.
Akbar developed a new religion he called Din-i Ilahi, or "The Religion of God." Believing, as Muslims do, that every faith contained the essential truth that God is unified and one thing, he sought to find the unifying aspects of all religions. He originally began this project, long before he came up with Din-i Ilahi, by sponsoring a series of debates at his court between representatives of the various religions, which included Christianity (Catholic Jesuits), Hindus, Zoroastrians, and Jains. Eventually he included members of the Ulama, but the debates did not go well because of the intolerant attitude and behaviors of the Jesuit participants who wanted to convert Akbar, not discuss the formation of a universal religion.
Akbar was a devout and, so he said, an orthodox Muslim; still, aspects of his belief were in part derived from Shi'a Islam. The Din-i Ilahi , the religion that would synthesize the world's religions into a single religion, that he established was predominantly based on Islam. Like Islam, it was rationalistic and was based on one overriding doctrine, the doctrine of tawhid : God is one thing and is singular and unified. Akbar also elevated the notion of wahdat-al wujud , or "unity of the real," to a central religious idea in his new religion. The world, as a creation of God, is a single and unified place that reflects the singularity and unity of its creator. Finally, Akbar fully subscribed to the Islamic idea of the Perfect Man represented by the life of the Prophet or by the Shi'ite Imamate. There is little question that Akbar accepted Abu'l Fazl's notion that he was the Divine Light and was a Perfect Man. He assumed the title, "Revealer of the Internal and Depictor of the Real," which defined his role as a disseminator of secret knowledge of God and his function of fashioning the world in the light of this knowledge.
In addition to Islam, however, the Din-i Ilahi also contained aspects of Jainism, Zoroastrianism, and Hinduism. The Din-i Ilahi borrowed from Jainism a respect and care for all living things, and it derived from Zoroastrianism sun-worship and, especially, the idea of divine kingship. This latter innovation deeply disturbed the ulama ; they regarded it as outright heresy. The notion of divine kingship, however, would last throughout the history of the Mughal Empire.
Finally, we just wonder if any of Akbar's personal political and pluarist theology, if applied today would be practicle and applicable under religious pluralism, which you so wonderfully profess in your esteemed media.
Your kind response would be greatly appreciated
Peace and Pluralism
Jodha Akbar Review
Akbar in Jodha Akbar Having said that however it must be mentioned that if you
can actually sit through this phenomenally long film, you may actually walk ...
Also see with this movie review on sufism which is being shown in theaters :
'Bab'Aziz: The Prince Who Contemplated His Soul'
By Sheri Linden
Like strange desert creatures, a little girl and her blind grandfather emerge from storm-shifted sands, dust themselves off and set out on a journey with no map or timetable in "Bab'Aziz: The Prince Who Contemplated His Soul," a film steeped in Sufi mysticism and as transcendent as that opening sequence. Unlike the movie's wanderers, Los Angeles filmgoers must move quickly: They have but a week to experience the lyrical imagery on the big screen.
The World Muslim Congress is driven by the Qur'an, Al-Hujurat, Surah 49:13: "O mankind! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. The noblest of you, in sight of Allah, is the best in conduct. Allah Knows and is Aware." Our Mission is to work for a world of co-existence through inclusiveness and participation. As a member of diverse family of faiths, our efforts will be directed towards justice and equity to attain peace for the humankind with a firm grounding in commonly held values. No one should have advantages at the cost of others. Such benefits are temporary and deleterious to lasting peace. We believe what is good for Muslims has got to be good for the world, and vice versa, to sustain it. Indeed we aspire to promote goodwill amongst people of different affiliations, regardless of their faith, gender, race, nationality, culture or any other uniqueness blessed by the creator. www.WorldMuslimCongress.com