Puppets of Faith: Theory of Communal Strife (A critical appraisal of Islamic faith, Indian polity)
Author: BS Murthy

Chapter 17
Shackles of Sharia

“Say: O disbelievers, I shall not worship that which ye worship, nor will ye worship that which I worship, nor have I worshipped that which ye worship, nor have ye worshipped that which I worship. For you your religion and for me mine.”

This revelation, which is endlessly repeated by the Musalmans to showcase the Islamic tolerance towards other religions, as is known, came to Muhammad when the leaders of the Quraysh tried to persuade him to agree to a compromise. And that was to avoid the schism his Quranic creed was causing in Mecca.  

Had the revelation revisited Muhammad after he broke Hubal’s back at the Kabah, it is a different matter though that the history of religious strife would not have been what it has been. As is seen, the unique feature of the Quran as a Scripture is that its ‘revelations’ are invariably linked to Muhammad’s life ‘n times besides being contextual to his mission ‘n means, which characteristic though the Musalmans seem to miss or are blind to it.

A large body of the umma has no means to read, much less comprehended, much that is in the Quran, save those faith-invoking suras of obedience and submission originated in Mecca and recited ad nauseam in the masjids. And it is these simple folks, who habitually cling onto Islam, and live like frogs in the Muslim wells. These poor and pious Musalmans, largely illiterate, try to subordinate their lot ‘here’ to their faith in Allah, and look up to Muhammad for deliverance in the ‘Hereafter’. However, it is on their religious dogma that the fundamentalist elements and their power hungry despots feed upon. These simple folks could be turned into street mobs, at will that is, by the unscrupulous elements amongst them with the false alarm of ‘Islam in Danger’, either from within or without.

Next in the list, numerically speaking that is, are the mullahs who, by training as well as by occupation, strive to keep Islam as pure and as straight as possible in this ever-changing world. The more the threat of dilution to their faith, all the more fundamentalists they tend to become, and one cannot blame them for it is thus the umma brings them into being. In a way, the moulvi-mullah combine erects the Islamic dams to protect the faith from being inundated by un-Islamic currents so that the masses that share alike the poverty of life as well as passion for the faith remain incapable to sniff beyond their Muslim noses. It’s thus, owing to their lack of modern education or personal moderation, and /or both, large masses of the Musalmans confine themselves  to the economic fringes, even in developed societies in which they happen to live.

However, the Muslim rich, like their counterparts in any religious group, wouldn’t, any way, share the religiosity of ‘the God mad’ poor though they make pretence of it. But, all the while, they grab the joys of the ‘here’ with both hands without any compunction as the pleasures of the ‘Hereafter’ are theirs anyway, for the mere fact of their being born Musalmans. After all, they have the Islamic assurance that a crook of a Musalman, and not even the saint of a kafir like Mahatma Gandhi, has a slot in the Paradise. Thus, the privileged Musalmans live in the rarefied world of Islam as their own masters, however, pretending to be the servants of Allah.

That leaves the educated Muslim middle-class to complete the grand spectrum of Islamic dichotomy. Well, their education and occupation wouldn’t be conducive to nursing the pure Musalmanic souls in their contemporary bodies, as per the Islamic tenets that is. Besides, while their middle-class earnings would enable them access to the worldly goodies for mundane comforts that Islam is inimical to; their exposure to the secular outlook befuddles their religious belief. With the imbibed faith coming into clash with their acquired lifestyles, the middle-class umma tends to suffer from a certain religious guilt. Though they realize the benefits of going easy on Islam, and wish as well that their community sheds the oppressive Arab cultural baggage that forms its religious burden, the accompanying guilt feeling makes them voiceless.

It is the paradox of the Islamic umbrella that under its Quranic shade the rich could indulge in an un-Islamic life, the clergy could exercise their religious license, the middle-class could gloat over their material goodies, and the poor could live on the religious diet, of course, all in the name of Allah the All Knowing. It is thus, in the umma the resourceful would draw their own lines, the poor dare not cross the one drawn by the mullahs, and the liberal minded get squeezed in between. In spite of it though, thanks to the pull of the Prophet, Islam emotionally unites them all against ‘the others’ while the sharia effectually divides them from them.

But it is the ignorance of the faithful and the self-interest of the mullahs, and the rulers alike, help keep the faith the way it was fashioned by Muhammad well into our times, and into eternity as it appears, well, unless the Islamic world turns upside down at some point of time in the future that is! However in the Indian context, even now, it  is the impotency of the Muslim middle-class opinion that enables the obscurantist moulvis, mullahs, and others among them to forever have a free rein on the Islamic bigotry and obstructionism. If anything, the mullahs remain averse to loosening their sharia grip on the umma for the fear of losing their clerical eminence and social control as happened with Brahmans, who lost their preeminence once the Hindu society began taking a reformist turn to catch up with the modern trends.

But then, what this sharia is all about, and why the Musalmans are so sensitive to it? We may as well learn from Roland E Miller’s Muslim Friends – Their faith and feeling, An introduction to Islam  published by The Orient Longman, Hyderabad. 

Sharia is the crystallization of the Quranic message and the Prophet’s example into a body of livable law. Whereas other religious traditions may emphasize an individual’s interior faith, Islam is more concerned with providing a unified structure for pious behaviour.”

“The theological origin of the Law is the basic relation between God and humanity that is governed by the twin poles of Command and Obedience. God is al-Rabb, the Creator-Master-Lord-Ruler-Judge Who gives commands to His creatures, and His commands become laws for His creatures. God is the Master, and a master’s will is made known in specific instructions. The opposite of master is servant (abd). Islam teaches that Muslims are the servants of God, who surrender to His will and obey His command. Moreover, there is an element of human need and divine mercy in the relationship. Servants need directions to guide them on the path of life, and God is a merciful master Who provides the needed guidance (hidayat). The sum of the guidance constitutes the clear road along which God’s servants should walk. The ideas of Master-Command, servant-obedience, and guidance-direction combine to produce the strong Muslim sense of religious duty that underlies and gives birth to the sharia. Islam is a religion of law. The sharia is the formal expression of this reality, and Muslim obedience to the sharia, in turn, reinforces the reality.”

“Even though ordinary Muslims cannot and do not pick up a book called the sharia and read it, the sharia has become the habit of Islam. Its intricacies are the concern of specialist scholars who can be called upon in time of need. The fundamental principle underlying the sharia is the idea that God is the Ruler and we human beings are His subjects. As Sovereign Lord, God must rule and does rule. He directly and actively governs His people. This is true both of individuals and the community. He rules through His power by which He exercises lordship over His creation, and He rules through specific commands by which He provides the needed laws for the correct conduct of life. “Thinketh man that he is to be left aimless?” (75:36). Thus the Sovereign Ruler is also the Supreme Legislator. As Legislator, He gives His subjects adequate prescriptions to carry on their personal and social lives. His subjects are dependent on His power and obey His commands.”

“The great divide owes to the Muslim belief that “the principles and institutions of Islam are all-comprehensive. They include the whole of human existence, emotions, thoughts, actions, economic deals, social relationships, bodily urges, spiritual demands, and every other value… Religion works as a complete code of life. The Muslim life consists of no dichotomy. In what a Muslim has to do in secular transactions, in his actions for social deals, individual interests, national demands, international brotherhood, nay, in all relations of human civilization, there is a complete direction, contained in the institutions which a Muslim follows… The name given to the whole system is Sharia.

“Owing to the complexity of the sharia the intricacies are the concern of the Imams and this is the source of the strength and hold of the clergy on the Muslim society. Since the Muslims live in societies not governed as per Islamic tenets they appreciate that every land has a set of laws drawn from human experience, accepted by public agreement and defined in human legislation, which its citizens should obey. Muslims understand the necessity of such national laws and obey them.

 But they generally do not think of the sharia as a human system. Human beings have certainly given the sharia language and force and have worked it out in practice, but the religious law of Islam is not viewed by Muslim believers as the product of human wisdom. It is founded on the Word of God and drawn from the example of the Prophet. The sharia therefore is sacred law, a higher law, the highway of God’s guidance along which Muslims should walk. As such this all-embracing code of life is also a code of religious duty. It is not the believer’s choice, nor the nation’s choice, but it is rather the imperative of din, the following of God’s will. We may therefore define the sharia as the Muslim code of religious duty that embraces all of life.”

It is as though, to deprive the umma any time-sense whatever, the ulema had conspired to stop the Islamic clock at Muhammad’s death, for them to grind their axes over the wheels of the sharia. While it’s okay with them that those inhuman penal provisions of the sharia are done away with everywhere, save in the land of Muhammad, they block every move at reforms relating to the Muslim Personal Law, which empowers the mullahs, besides catering to the Muslim male chauvinism. Moreover, there is an accompanying fear that a diluted sharia would obviously weaken the socio-religious hold of the mullahs on their community. Amidst this male clamor for the sharia, which is Muhammad’s diktat for the believers, which is so much in their favor, the interests of the Muslim females wouldn’t seem to count anyway.

However, it would be an idea to resolve the issue of the sharia by leaving it to the umma in a referendum - whether they endorse it in toto – the personal as well as the penal sharia – or opt for the law of the land they live in, say like in India, where they are preponderant. It should be interesting to see how many Musalmans, even in their Islamic hibernation, would like to have the rigors of the sharia all for themselves. And the outcome could well be the harbinger of change in the Islamic community conditioned for so long by the medieval mind-set of the mullahs that is besides the deliverance of its women from the burka, nika halala etc.

In the context of divinity of a religious message, it is worth recalling Jawaharlal Nehru’s profound observation in ‘The Discovery of India’ thus:

“It has always seemed to me a much more magnificent and impressive thing that a human being should rise to great heights, mentally and spiritually, and should then seek to raise others up, rather than that he should be the mouthpiece of a divine or superior power. Some of the founders of religions were astonishing individuals, but all their glory vanishes in my eyes when I cease to think of them as human beings. What impresses me and gives me hope is the growth of the mind and spirit of man, and not his being used as an agent to convey a message.

Mythology affected me in much the same way. If people believed in the factual content of these stories, the whole thing was absurd and ridiculous. But as soon as one ceased believing in them, they appeared in a new light, a new beauty, a wonderful flowering of a richly endowed imagination, full of human lessons. No one believes now in the stories of Greek gods and goddesses and so, without any difficulty, we can admire them and they become part of our mental heritage. But if we had to believe in them, what a burden it would be, and how, oppressed by this weight of belief, we would often miss their beauty. Indian mythology is richer, vaster, very beautiful, and full of meaning. I have often wondered what manner of men and women they were who gave shape to these bright dreams and lovely fancies, and out of what gold mine of thought and imagination they dug them.

Looking at scripture then as a product of the human mind, we have to remember the age in which it was written, the environment and mental climate in which it grew, the vast distance in time and thought and experience that separates it from us. We have to forget the trappings of ritual and religious usage in which it is wrapped, and remember the social background in which it expanded. Many of the problems of human life have permanence and a touch of eternity about them, and hence the abiding interest in these ancient books. But they dealt with other problems also, limited to their particular age, which have no living interest for us now.

Many Hindus look upon the Vedas as revealed scripture. This seems to me to be peculiarly unfortunate, for thus we miss their real significance - the unfolding of the human mind in the earliest stages of thought. And what a wonderful mind it was! The Vedas (from the root vid, to know) were simply meant to be a collection of the existing knowledge of the day; they are a jumble of many things: hymns, prayers, ritual for sacrifice, magic, magnificent nature poetry. There is no idolatry in them; no temples for the gods. The vitality and affirmation of life pervading them are extraordinary. The early Vedic Aryans were so full of the zest for life that they paid little attention to the soul. In a vague way they believed in some kind of existence after death.”

Now the moot point for the Musalmans to address is, wouldn’t Muhammad’s genius be behind fashioning the faith of Islam, after all? Well, Martin Lings picks up the threads of history after Muhammad had the honor of placing the Holy Stone at Kabah as it was rebuilt.

“It was not long after this outward sign of his authority and his mission that he began to experience powerful inward signs, in addition to those of which he had already been conscious. When asked about these he spoke of “true visions” which came to him in his sleep and he said that they were “like the breaking of the light of dawn.” The immediate result of these visions was that solitude became dear to him, and he would go for spiritual retreats to a cave in Mount Hira, not far from the outskirts of Mecca.”

After all, wouldn’t the power of concentration insensibly nudge one’s mind into the realms of divinity? Well, many scientists and artists had affirmed the divine inspiration they received in their mundane endeavors, didn’t’ they? Why that couldn’t have been the case with Muhammad as well? After all, didn’t he say that his mind’s eye would be awake even when his eyes sleep? It is in this context it is interesting to note that many Quranic revelations, such as the following one, mention his inspiration:

“And when thou bringest not a verse for them they say: Why hast thou not chosen it? Say: I follow only that which is inspired in me from my Lord. This (Quran) is insight from your Lord, and a guidance and a mercy for a people that believe.” 203. VII

As Nehru so convincingly argued, one can perhaps appreciate the real genius of Muhammad in shaping Islam if only the Quran is approached as the testimony of his inspiration. It is only then the Quranic injunctions could be seen in the given context for much of what is contained in it is contextual to the discerning mind. Thus, it would be interesting to note the breach of an eminently humane Quranic injunction even during the time of Muhammad.  

“It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces to the East and West; but righteous is he who believeth in Allah and the Last Day and the angels and the Scripture and the Prophets; and giveth his wealth, for love of Him, to kinsfolk and to orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and to those who ask, and to set slaves free; and observeth proper worship and payeth the poor -due. And those who keep their treaty when they make one, and the patient in tribulation and adversity and time of stress. Such are they who are sincere. Such are the God-fearing.” 

Yet, all the believing Musalmans kept their share of slaves, got as spoils of war, without qualms, and even Muhammad, who claimed that Gabriel would come to him every Ramadan to make sure that nothing of the Revelation had slipped from his memory, only freed his slaves, among them women, just before his death! The tendency of the Musalmans to revere Muhammad, though he himself maintained that he was just human, and approach his life with a sense of divinity binds them to the hadith and sunna without regard to the context in which he said what he said, and did what he did.

The problem with the Musalmans is that they fail to reckon the motive behind Muhammad’s moves in a given context. Even otherwise, it’s worth noting that the hadith and sunna are based on what Muhammad’s followers said that he said, and at any rate, they were all but an overawed crowd to be able to retain objectively in Muhammad’s prophetic presence. Was it not possible, the hallucinations, if not inventions, of such folks might have made their way into the hadith? Besides, hearsay is the bane of best of the times, even in the transparent age of ours, no less on the informed mind . That being the case, it is to be appreciated that the Musalmans are dealing with the hadith and sunna fashioned at a remote place of a bygone age.

After all, weren’t there thousands of remarks attributed to Muhammad that were found to be incredulous while standardizing the hadith on a latter-day! Thus, even at the best, the hadith but contains what the eminent compiler of it felt were genuine utterances of Muhammad and for the Musalmans to make themselves hostage to the judgmental authenticity of a single scholar, eminent though human, and thus fallible, is extraordinary indeed!

It is also worth the consideration of the Musalmans that for all the awe his followers felt for Muhammad, many as well dissented his decisions on occasion. Besides, the success of his prophethood led to the birth of three more prophets - Musaylimah, Tulayhah and Aswad – and a prophetess, Sajah. What is more relevant, they all held sway over their own considerable following in competition to the Prophet of Islam. Obviously, the antiquity of history had lost track of the other prophets, leaving the legend of Muhammad to rule the roost as the ‘Seal of the Prophets’, and to mould the sharia, clouding the mind of the Musalmans in the bargain. Thus, the inability of the Musalmans to conceptualize the sharia in the context of Muhammad’s life and times tend them on a path of blind alley.


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