At some point in our history, Islam was hijacked by well-meaning community leaders and turned into a religion of fear and compliance, rather than the balanced lifestyle that it actually propagates. It’s that eternal struggle for balance that was probably lost when people veered from the practices of moderation and sincerity because of a fundamental shift in what they aspired towards. Instead of focusing on what drove that shift and remedying that, the community leaders rallied around driving fear into the hearts of the people to encourage them to return to the path of moderation.
I think there is infinitely more to gain from leading a life of purpose rather than a life of compliance. Compliance has the potential of a successful outcome, but yields very little joy in the journey itself. Purpose has the potential for both, and so it is with Islam as well. Instead of constantly focusing on the repercussions of non-compliance, we should be focusing on the beauty and benefit of compliance. Rather than acting out of fear, we will find ourselves responding with passion and conviction. Every single chapter of the Qur’an, except for chapter nine, begins with the confirmation that God is the most merciful, yet everything that is preached is focused on His punishment and wrath instead. The logic around our approach towards learning and teaching about Islam is fundamentally flawed.
Understanding the wisdom behind something always leads to an appreciation for it. Where that wisdom has a direct bearing on our lives, it automatically leads to adoption of such principles into our own lives thereby entrenching the benefits of its practices because of the conviction with which we do it, rather than birthing a grudge practice because we’re afraid of the result of non-compliance. Personally, I blame the Indo-Pak influences for most of this. Based on my own cultural influences from my upbringing as a Muslim of Indian descent in South Africa, and referencing my experiences with Pakistani/Indian and Arab communities in my work abroad, the consistent trend is clear. The common motivator for discipline in the Indo-Pak communities is dominated by punishment or negative consequences that are to be imposed, rather than experienced as a natural outcome, coupled with an absence of opportunity or total intolerance to question the rationale behind what is being taught.
It is from this same quarter that I see regular accusations of deviancy and even disbelief against practicing Muslims simply because they (those Muslims) don’t comply with the preferred interpretations of the Indo-Pak-based schools of thought. The emphasis on the ritualisation of everything Islamic, and the focus on imposing social structures that have no direct basis in the traditions of the beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) lead to unhealthy dynamics that tear communities apart. What started out as a need for revival has fast turned into a turf war. The sectarian rhetoric continues to pour down in bucket loads from the pulpits, while at the same time pleading for Allah’s mercy in the delivery of rain to a drought stricken land.
I am convinced that there are simply too many self-proclaimed scholars brandishing about man-made titles that are supposed to emphasise their religiosity relative to the average Muslim, which establishes them, in the eyes of a warped society, as superior Muslims to the rest. Islam has never been about title-hood, inherited privilege, or binary thinking. It has always been about principles and values that align with the core nature of what we need to achieve a fulfilling and purposeful life coupled with a harmonious interaction with society. It is about moderation and justice, and subscription, not compulsion. Too often we mistaken laws that were intended for guiding our personal actions with laws that are intended to establish harmony in society. For this reason we see fit to pass judgement and, when within our means, punishment against those that indulge in an act that does not transgress the rights of others, but is only harmful to the individual.
Islam has been hijacked by the scholars long before it was hijacked by the West. The scholars, with their divisive politics, have made it easy for the West to use Muslims as their fodder for their wars. The masses that blindly follow play to the personal agendas of the scholars that seek to prop themselves up as leaders of a nation that have no leadership. This reminds me of the stench of opportunism among the same leadership that is ever ready to chastise the masses for their non-compliance or wayward behaviour, but never take responsibility as the self-proclaimed leaders that they are, for being incapable of leading the nation of Muslims out of the quagmire that we find ourselves in.
The most potent sign of the times, for me, is the fact that we are living proof of one of the major signs of the hour, where Allah promised to raise a nation that will re-establish the beauty of Islam because those that inherited its custom will no longer serve its true purpose. The majority of the growth of Islam is from reversions to Islam, and not from the offspring of families that were born into Muslim households. Islam is being wrestled away from the traditional strongholds that assumed to be the flag bearers of this beautiful way of life, but they’re so caught up in their self-praise and condescension on lesser Muslims, that they would rather assume themselves to be the strangers that were promised paradise, while not realising that they don’t fit the description to begin with.
I’m often reminded of the prophecy that states that a time will come when we will despise the scholars. The general assumption is that such a disgust towards scholars will be due to ignorance or evil intent on the part of the masses, but most don’t consider that it may be due to the unacceptable behaviour of the scholars themselves. I think the claim to being a scholar is akin to the profession of humility. The mere profession of the same leaves the claim null and void. We don’t need self-proclaimed scholars or schools of thought to resurrect the honour of the Ummah. What we need is a return to the Islamic traditions (the Sunnah) that won the hearts of the most vile of humankind at a time when even Europe was sunken in barbarism and acts of filth so vile, that most would prefer to recall it only as fairy tales or romanticised fictional stories instead.
Despite the hijacked history of Islam, it was not spread by the sword. The sword was only ever raised in defense of an imminent attack. Muslims went out to meet their enemies rather than wait for their enemies to come to their cities. These days we invite the enemies in, and then go out to plead for their mercy to escape the horror that we created at home. It is no wonder that the reverts to Islam consistently demonstrate a better understanding and appreciation of its intent and principles than most Muslims that have been raised in a traditional Muslim household. In the absence of authentic leadership, and a world full of tainted sources of knowledge, being a Muslim of moderation becomes exceedingly difficult at a time when questioning is needed, but is not afforded.