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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Id Bayaan 1 October 2008: Ashraf Dockrat

Id Bayaan [1 October 2008/1 Shawwaal 1429]

As we gather here on this blessed day, greeted on our way here by the malaaikah, the angels of Allah who welcome us here and greet us again as we part from this Id ghah, we realize that we are united here in purpose. On this occasion where we give thanks we do so in a gathering of Muslims that shows strength and unity. This concept of unity is the topic of our talk this morning.

In a hadith Rasulallah sallallahu alaihi wasallam is reported to have said: This Din (religion) of Islam began in strangeness and will once again be strange. Glad tidings to those who are the strangers.

What constitutes the strangeness of Islam today?
Muslims find themselves in different parts of the world with nothing to unite them.
Muslims find themselves divided by ethnicity, race and tribal affiliations.
All of this despite the hadith of the Prophet sallallahu alaihi wasallam which states: All of you are from Adam and Adam was from clay. And that there is no preference for the Arab over the non-Arab accept in taqwa (God conciousness).
Strangeness is nowhere stronger when one group of Muslims are actively involved in battle with another without religious justification. When in Palestine Hamas and Fatah are at loggerheads while the Israeli occupation of the blessed lands continues with all its barbarity.
What can be a greater expression of strangeness when a Muslim leader asks for help from the enemies of Allah to fight fellow Muslims. When Pakistan allows its airspace to be used to attack Afghanistan and when Muslim countries in the middle-east allow the military bases of the enemies of Allah on Muslim lands. Muslims forget the command of Allah: You will not find a people who believe in Allah and the last day befriending those who oppose Allah and his Rasul even if it is against their fathers, brothers or family.

Disunity and weakness has been predicted by Rasul sallallahu alaihi wasallam when he said that people would gather around you as people gather to eat a meal, or that you will be like the flotsam and jetsum of a flood in your weakness. When the Prophet was asked about this disastrous condition of the Muslims, he explained that this was not because of their small numbers, rather they will be many. This weakness will be because they love the world and dislike death.

Disunity has weakened our affair to the extent that non-Muslims ask that if Islam was a true religion they will not be disunited and so far from the means of strength even.

What strangeness is worse than the situation where the voices of those that call to unity and strength seem strange and foreign? There can be no greater strangeness than this.

Are we not on account of the Din and Shariah we possess the most deserving of respect, honour, knowledge, virtue and progress? We are the direct inheritors of the Propeht sallallahu alaihi wasallam and the Sahabah. Has the time not come when Muslims have to regain their lost status and hold onto their mission and awaken from their slumber?

Let us for a moment reflect on Europe. Each of the countries are strong, nevertheless they have put their differences aside to form the European Union. United by a common currency these disparate countries have united. The Euro and the common economic system they have is for all to see. This is cause to reflect. We are divided and Muslim countries as at each other’s throats. We deprive one another of food and support and we yet claim to be under the shade of one Din. We have become the prey of wolves? Where are our leaders? And what are their concerns?

It is essential for Muslims to introspect. We have to in the face of this injustice hold onto the rope of Allah and unite our voices. We have to unite ourselves under the banner of Lailaha illallah Muhammadur rasul lullah. There is nothing greater to remove the disunity and friction than this. Achieving unity should be the concern of every individual of the ummah. Every journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. What is this first step? It is to know the rights and responsibilities of your fellow Muslim. It is to acknowledge the huquq al-ibād and to assert our brotherhood. “Certainly the Muslims are brothers, so join (fa aslihu) between your brothers”.

If we ponder over this concept of ukhuwwah al-Islamiyyah (Muslim Brotherhood) we will see that it is the most difficult call to Muslims today. If we realize what Din is and we Understand Din and practice on it (amal) we will love for our brothers what we love for ourselves. We will dislike for them what we dislike for ourselves, resist those actions that cause him/her harm, care for the sick and weak and help and give service to those as best we can. There can be no place for zulm at all.

Din al-Islam has two essentials that are fundamental and foundational:
tawhid 2, Equality between people.

If this is achieved we will achieve success. We have to realize that this is where the solution lies and try our best to achieve this.

Unity is not a concept about which we have a choice about. It is a fard of Din. Allah says: “And do not be like those who became disunited and broke into groups after clear signs came to them and for them is a great punishment” and Allah Ta’ala says: “And this ummah of yours is one ummah and I am your Lord so worship me.”

All scholars (here we are not referring to pseudo-scholars who hope that a Mahdi will appear and solve all the problems we face) are concerned with how this unity of the ummah can be achieved. The slipping of the Khilafah from the hands of the Musims meant disunity between Muslims. The matter has gone so far that Muslims lifted sword against Muslim. How many khutbahs and how many books have not been written analyzing this phenonomenon and providing solutions for achieving a united ummah.

We are not here talking about differences of fiqh and law. These differences existed from the time of the sahabah and are a blessing. Those that call for the abandonment of taqlid and see Muslims unity in a common jurisprudence have a very shallow understanding of the problem or the solution.

It is the wisdom of Allah that people have not been united into what the Quran calls a single people. Instead Allah tells us that who He blesses he unites on truth. “If Allah so desired he would have created mankind into one nation and you will continue differences accept who your Lord has blessed and for this reason Allah created you and fulfilled the word of your Lord that He will fill Jahnnam with people and Jinn” (Hud: 118-119). Ibn Abbas (RA) in his tafsir of this verse says that Allah created them for mercy not for differences. Muslims have to hold fast onto obedience to Nabi sallallahu alaihi wasallam. What is disliked is fanacticism and intolerance especially in matters where difference of opinion and positions are perfectly allowed and accommodated in the shariah.

As for matters of aqidah then all the sahabah where like a single solid wall firm of tawhid and the oneness of Allah. This made the ummah strong and they gained ascendency. Decline set in after this period. A decline that no Muslim can be happy with. When the capital of the Muslim world was Baghdad already a weakness started creeping in. There is weakness in consultation with other Muslims in other parts of the Muslim lands i.e. a weakness in administration and there was weakness in the concept of tawhid and belief amongst Muslims. The fatal blow was when in 656 AH the Tartars invaded the Muslim lands. Muslims were united again when the Uthmaniyyah Khilafah/ Dawlah united many disparate Islamic peoples and lands. However once again the failure to establish tawhid in the lands led to their fall. The European Colonialist found their way to the Muslim lands, assaulted these lands and occupied the land and the thought of its inhabitants. They became worst than what they were. Yet many sincere Muslims continued to be concerned with the situation of the Muslim ummah.

What we have to do is study carefully what unites us and remove the cause of division.

We have seen that the aqidah of tawhid and the fact that we are united on one aqidah and on one concern that emanates from it. We share a common vision and world view which unites us wherever we are on the globe and whatever the social, economic or ecological challenges humankind may be facing.

The first step then is to identify those obstacles which come in the way of achieving unity:

The first of these obstacles is the stagnation of many of the Muslim communities. Movement and activity is a solution to many problems.

There is also a strong relationship between freedom and unity. Sometimes these two concepts find themselves in opposition to one another. The lack of freedom and the resultant discontent because of the oppressive regimes who restrict these freedoms is the reason for much disunity. Good Muslims languish for years under horrendous conditions in prisons in Muslim countries. The disunity, the call for Jihad and the opposition to the corrupt leadership is a reason for disunity.

The inability to recognize that what is relatively insignificant and temporary needs to be sacrificed for what is permanent, important and fundamental. At times this requires sacrifices from some groups that is no less than the sacrifice of a shahid of his life for the cause of islam. The requirement for this is a strong Imaan and a good understanding of Islam.

Another no less significant cause for disunity is the economic disparity in the Muslim world which makes unity a pipe dream for most. In this regard it is significant to note that only 4% of the economic activity of the Muslim countries is between Muslim countries themselves while 96% of the economic activity of Muslim countries is with non-Muslims. A Muslim cannot find and source all his needs from Muslim countries and is forced to go to the West.

Disunity is also caused by the export of foreign culture and values to the Muslim countries.

The rise of nationalistic sentiments and false notions of nationhood and patriotism has been the cause of disunity after the decline of the Uthmanli Dawlah. Personal interests and narrow parochial thinking took preference over what was important and relevant to the ummah at large.

These are some of the challenges we have to face. Some are inheritied some are intractable yet it remains a fard and a requirement of shariah to achieve unity at all costs. As people concerned with the welfare of the ummah we all have to work together to put bricks into the wall of the unity of Islam.

Now that we have seen the obstacles let us move to the imperatives which have to drive us in order to realize the blessed unity. A unity based on a common worldview.

Firstly our aqidah is one. The risalah of Nabi Muhammad Sallallahu alaihi wasallam and the accompanying worry and concern that he had for the salvation of the ummah and of all of mankind is one. The Shariah is one. What then can be the reasons for our disunity?

Secondly we should be united by a common language which is Arabic. It is Arabic that carries our common ideas, our united culture, the thoughts of the Quran and sunnah and the legacy of Islam. Similarly the Arab nations need to learn the languages of millions of Muslims such as Urdu in order to better relate to their brothers.

Thirdly, we need to unite in professional associations and guilds. Tradesmen, doctors, lawyers, economists and academics need to pool their resources locally, nationally and internationally.

Fourthly it is necessary for us to have a common sense of daʿwah and a common support for duʿāt. In fact we all need to feel the responsibility to invite non-Muslims to Allah. Our daʿwah needs to include the concern for the socio-economic concerns of humanity. In our country where people go to bed hungry regularly and where there are child-headed households as a common occurrence, we need to be more concerned with daʿwah. We will be united through our common concern.

Fifthly we need to create centres of concern. Centres devoted to the concern of uniting the ummah and humanity. Every masjid needs to be transformed into a markaz to fulfill this task.

The sixth point we need to make is that of economics. We need to realize that very often in our modern world the political system serves as a slave and an adjunct to the capitalist economic system. Muslims need to provide leadership by providing just and fair economic systems and encourage trade and economic support for Muslims throughout the globe.

Lastly we need to think about how the Muslim world and the Muslim lands can achieve unity. For this we need the political will which has always been the hallmark of Muslims and their administrations.

In conclusion let us remember that there is no magic wand of unity. There is no Sultan with great power that can achieve this unity. Unity between Muslims in every part of the world can be achieved through unity in method and through justice. We all have a part to play in achieving this unity. Islam is ours. We have to share a common worldview. A worldview that insists that every person on the face of the earth should enter jannah. We have to take possession of that common worldview based on a love for humanity.

Yes this is a difficult task. It requires ikhlaas and sincerity. But remember: Every journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.

Id Mubarak!

The Madrasa Curriculum and System and Modern Demands

The Madrasa Curriculum and System and Modern Demands
By Maulana Rizwan ul-Qasmi (Administrator, Dar ul-Ulum Sabil us-Salam, Hyderabad, India)
(Translated by Yoginder Sikand)

The Quran is the last Divine revelation, and has been sent by God for all humanity. It will remain without any change or modification whatsoever till the Day of Judgment, for the Prophet Muhammad is the last of the prophets. The religion as represented in the Quran is eternal, and so are the Quran’s laws, its shariah, its knowledge and the need and the value of this knowledge.
But this does not at all mean that time has stopped forever and that conditions will never change. Rather, change is permanent. The demands of the age were subject to change in the past, and this applies even today. And just as in the past considerations were made to suit the then prevailing conditions, so, too, today in our interpretation of what God has entrusted to us those aspects that are subject to change must be kept in mind. Hence, madrasas must be mindful of contemporary conditions, needs and demands and keep the torch of the knowledge of the Faith burning in the light of all these factors. This, in fact, was the aim behind the founding of one of the first and, in many senses, unique madrasas in India following the collapse of Muslim rule in the country—the Dar ul Ulum at Deoband. This madrasa was not established simply to teach a few subjects. If its historical context is carefully studied, it appears that it aimed at addressing contemporary challenges as well, and that it had taken upon itself the task of the interpretation and expression of the Faith in the context of the changed conditions of the times in order to keep alive the torch of Islam in the face of fierce storm of Western atheism and materialism. Several other madrasas also soon emerged at this time that carried on with this mission.

There can be no doubt that these madrasas managed, with considerable success, to fulfill their duty of testifying to the Truth and communicating the teachings of the Faith. Many of the vestiges of religion that remain among the Muslims of the country today are a result of the dedicated work of these institutions. It is these signs of religious commitment that have become an eye-sore to Westernised, anti-religious forces. Madrasas need to carry on in this wise path of our elders and continue with the task, mandated by God and the Prophet, of demonstrating and witnessing to the Truth. For this, they must keep themselves in harmony with the changing needs and conditions of the times. They must seek to answer the new problems that the new times produce and to effectively face new challenges. When madrasa students step out of their institutions, which are sealed off from the outside world, they should not feel out of place and be led to think that they had spent much of their lives closed in a fortress that has nothing to do with the rest of the world. Rather, they should be in a position to guide society on the lines of the Faith, for today materialism and atheism are rife, and knowledge is framed and used in such a way as to take people away, rather than towards, God. Madrasas must provide their students with knowledge of contemporary developments so as to enable them to understand the objections against and criticisms of Islam and to effectively respond to them. Further, they must also train and inspire their students to effectively communicate the truths of Islam to others.

In advocating that madrasas be able to respond to modern challenges and suitably relate to contemporary demands I am certainly not arguing, as do some self-styled ‘progressives’, that Islam should be moulded according to the times, rather than the other way round, and that it be interpreted in the way the West wants it to be. It is absolutely erroneous to imagine that since the times and conditions have changed and so have many social and economic aspects of life, the Islam based on the 1400 year-old tradition of the Quran and Sunnah needs to be revised. It certainly does not mean that when we call for an Islamic Renaissance, for a new religious interpretation and for reforming madrasa education by taking into account the demands of the present age we are suggesting that Islam should be modified according to our own whims. Islam is the religion of nature and in its laws and commandments it has taken into account human nature. This, indeed, is the actual soul of Islamic law and the basis of Islam’s teachings. All the revolutions that the world has witnessed have had to do simply with external means and causes, while human nature and its basic demands and human feelings and emotions have remained the same and will always do so.

The Madrasa System of Education: Aspects in Need of Change and the Limits of Change

There is no doubt that the basic aims and objectives of madrasas have always been the same in the past, and shall remain so in the future, too. If Islam is an eternal religion and a guide for humanity till the Day of Judgment—as it indeed is—then the basic aim of the madrasas—that the path that God and the Prophet have prescribed for humanity, and which is the way to success, be taught and made known—cannot be altered. However, this certainly does not mean that the entire system and structure of madrasa education is beyond change, as if these are meant simply to serve as relics from the past, an archaeological curiosity for an age that has vastly changed. Study the history of the ulema, the renewers of the faith, the guides to the path, the history of people like Imam Malik and Ibn Shihab Zahri and down to Shah Waliullah, Maulana Muhammad Qasim Nanotawi, Maulana Muhammad Ali Mungeri etc.. You will discover that the real spirit running through their work and their writings was the same—the protection of the Faith and its propagation and revival in the light of contemporary thought. But yet, for this same purpose the methods that these leaders used differed from each other, each suited to their own age and context.

In this regard, then, we must examine our madrasa education system and allow for necessary changes. In addition, we must also recognise that the general level of the graduates that the madrasas are today churning out is, unfortunately, not very satisfactory, and that their contribution and benefit to society is limited, and, indeed, quite disheartening. Certain aspects of the present system of madrasa education are in need of reform in order to make it more effective and more in accordance with contemporary demands. In this respect one can point to such troubling issues as stagnation in the syllabus, excessive attention being paid to certain subjects and the corresponding lack of adequate attention to certain modern subjects, the focus on mastery of certain specified books rather than certain disciplines, shortcomings in teaching methods, the absence of teaching important languages and the lack of co-ordination and co-operation between various madrasas.

Stagnation in the Madrasas Curriculum:

When I say that the madrasa curriculum has stagnated, I certainly do not mean to argue that all the books that are presently taught in madrasas should be discarded or that they are unable to provide proper religious and intellectual guidance and understanding or that teaching them is wholly useless. Not at all. But, yet, it is an undeniable fact that from the point of view of what the aims and objectives of a proper madrasa syllabus should be, the majority of texts currently used in the madrasas deserve to be re-looked at. Many of them can be removed from the list of prescribed books that are part of the syllabus and, instead, be made for the students to read on their own.

In order to counter the powerful waves of materialism and atheism flooding in from the West and the accompanying criticisms of Islam’s system and way of life, madrasas ought to have included the causes or the basic purposes of Islamic rules or what are called the ‘secrets of the shariah’ (asrar-e shariah) as a separate subject in their curriculum. For this purpose, madrasas could have used Shah Waliullah’s well-known book Hujjat Ullah al-Balagha, and sections of some books by Imam Ibn Qayyim and Imam Ghazali and so on. However, because the dars-i nizami syllabus as formulated by Mulla Nizamuddin Sihalawi, which is still used by most Indian madrasas, did not give any importance to this subject, it was neglected in most Indian madrasas. Recently, some madrasas have included this subject in their syllabus but even in these institutions it does not get the importance that it deserves.

Today, as a result of new inventions as well as a product of the present global socio-political system, new legal issues have emerged. It is necessary for Islamic law to address these issues. For this purpose, Islamic scholars require a deep understanding of the sources, principles and methods of reasoning of Islamic jurisprudence. Madrasas must give greater stress to these than at present. Unfortunately, only two or three books on the principles of Islamic jurisprudence are included in the present madrasa syllabus. And even these have their limitations, being, for the most part, limited just to the Quran as a source of jurisprudence, and not dealing with other sources of Islamic jurisprudence, such as the Sunnah or practice of the Prophet, ijma or the consensus of the scholars and qiyas or analogy. Several suitable books for these are available and they should be included in the curriculum. Furthermore, madrasa students should also be familiarized with texts on the principles of jurisprudence written by scholars belonging to schools of Islamic jurisprudence other than their own.

Likewise, the present madrasa curriculum does not do justice to such subjects as the principles of Hadith and the principles of Quranic commentary. In some madrasas, no books on these subjects are taught at all or else some small booklets are used, and that too in a very cursory manner. Further, it would not be wrong to say that madrasas have not given the Quran its due. Generally, in our madrasas only two Quranic commentaries are taught: the Tafsir-e Baidhawi and Jalalayn. The former is clearly insufficient for expressing the actual spirit of the Quran, and it only entangles the reader in verbal puzzles. Further, it does not deal with the entire Quran, being restricted just till the Surah al-Baqarah. As for the Jalalayn, it is like a rendering of the Quran in a different form of Arabic. So, this is all that is taught in the madrasas about the Quran, although there are numerous books dealing with the meaning of and commentaries on the Quran that can be incorporated in the curriculum.

Madrasas give no importance at all to the teaching of history and to the books abut the life of the Prophet, although this was once a major area of specialization of the ulema. It is a subject that can never lose its relevance and importance. One of the reasons why much of the fiercely anti-Islamic propaganda coming out of the West has gone uncontested is because the ulema have ignored and are ignorant of the history of Islam, and so cannot counter the wrong allegations being made about it. Leave alone the history of non-Muslims or of recent global developments, about which they know almost nothing, madrasa students have an extremely superficial knowledge of even the early history of Islam and the Muslims. It is absolutely necessary that books on the history of Islam, of India and of the world be included in the madrasa curriculum.

Today, subjects need to be studied in depth and from their original sources. Critics of Islam have established specialized Islamic research centres, and they have a deep knowledge of our history, our beliefs, our theology and our laws, which they use to seek to distort the image of Islam. Islamic scholars should also study other religions, and for this, certain books can be included in the madrasa curriculum that provide an introduction to the various religions, their basic beliefs, their social and economic principles and the lives of their leaders, drawing upon their original and reliable texts and sources. Further, madrasa students must also be made aware of modern social and economic systems and philosophies and theories. They must have at least a basic idea of the thought of such key modern thinkers as Karl Marx, Lenin, Freud, Darwin and so on. While studying Islamic jurisprudence, they must be familiarised with the position of modern international law on key issues in a comparative perspective. Without this, modern challenges cannot be effectively answered and met.

Finally, it should be remembered that all these suggested measures of reform in the madrasas can be successful only if what are regarded as the ‘mothers of the madrasas’ (umm ul-madaris)—the larger ones that have spawned many others that follow their system—take the initiative first.

*This is an abridged translation of an article by the author titled Dini Madaris Ka Nisab-o-Nizam Aur Jadid Taqaze, which appeared in the January 2003 issue of the New Delhi-based Urdu monthly Tarjuman Dar ul-Ulum (vol. 10, no.8, p.23-32)