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Association of Retired Senior IPS Officers (ARSIPSO)

This is with reference to my letter No. ARSIPSO/GS-BSD-4/2023 dated. 10/08/2023 on the 4th B.S. Das Memorial Lecture, which had to be rescheduled for unavoidable reasons.

The 4th B.S.Das Memorial Lecture to be delivered by Shri Anil Kumar Sinha, IAS (Retd.), on the subject Disaster Management: Creating Safer Communities, has now been rescheduled for October 14, 2023 as per the following:

Conference Room No. 2, India International Centre, Max Mueller Marg, New Delhi, October 14, 2023 (Saturday)



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REFORMS IN ISLAM:DOES UN HAVE A ROLE OR RESPONSIBILIY?

 
 

A.K. Verma

Appalled by the unilateral action against Iraq, by certain Western Nations, the UN Secy. Gen. Kofi Annan constituted a high level UN Panel in Nov. 2003, basically to examine whether such unilateralism posed a general threat to the international security order. In his letter to the Un General Assembly President, informing him of the creation of this Panel he said:-

“The past year has shaken the foundations of collective security and undermined confidence in the possibility of collective responses to the common problems and challenges. It has also brought to the fore deep divergences of opinion on the range and nature of the challenges we face, and are likely to face in the future.

The aim of the High Level Panel is to recommend clear and practical measures for ensuring effective collective action, based upon a rigorous analysis of future threats to peace and security, appraisal of the contribution collective action can make, and a thorough assessment of existing approaches, instruments and mechanisms, including the principal organs of the United Nations.”

Kofi Annan felt that the world had reached a decisive fork on the road in its march towards greater international security. One fork was branching off towards the propensity for unilateralism which meant a few would determine, overlooking others, what was the best for the whole world; and the other towards collective action through the pooled wisdom of all the nations. Annan, clearly through this Panel, wants that those who are inclined towards unilateralism should not be allowed to impose their will on the rest of the world.

The Panel has visited many centers around the world, engaging experts in diverse fields and is expected to submit its report to the Secy. Gen. Of the UN by the end of this year or early next year. In examining the issues arising from unilateralism, the Panel, however, seems to be taking a narrow view. Its enquiries appear to be directed towards unilateralism arising from political, military or diplomatic activities. It is apparently not looking into unilateralism which operates in the religious and cultural fields, from which the dangers to the international security are no less. This is a delicate field touching emotions, faith and beliefs, potentially a source of strong and wild reactions. But by itself it is not a sufficient reason to skirt the issues. The dangers from unilateralism have to be studied in a holistic and all inclusive manner. Otherwise the Panel can be accused of operating with a particular agenda in mind.

Islam easily qualifies itself to be identified as another unilateralist force from which many others apprehend a serious threat to their concept of a peaceful world order. Such views have been expressed in forceful voices in recent times the world over, sometimes suggesting that a clash of civilizations may be in the process of unfolding itself. These voices, particularly in the US and Europe, denounce Islam as being incompatible with the 21st century’s widely acceptable values of modernity and secularism. The most outstanding among the issues raised is one of terrorism. While most protagonists of such views will readily concede that all Muslims are not terrorists, many will point out that an overwhelming majority of them are Muslims and that these do not hide the fact that their inspiration is from their religion. Other troubling realities must also be faced. There is a wide divergence between the Islamic and the non Islamic world views on democracy, secularism, gender rights, freedom of speech and cultural imperatives.

All this has led to generation of fears and prejudices about the Muslims in the Western world. The reactions of the West are manifest in the changed immigration policies, in the debates in France over the use of head scarves by Muslim girl students, in the attitudes towards entry of Turkey, perhaps the most enlightened Muslim country of world, into the European Union, etc. As multiculturalism continues to find non acceptability in the Muslim world, the mutual distrust is on the increase. Afghanistan recently refused to accept a secular constitution. Iraq could easily go the same way even though under the Bathist rule religion had no place in governance and the Iraqi women had all the freedoms, denied to their sisters in many regions of the Muslim world such as Saudi Arabia.

Two reasons can be identified for this state of affairs. One is that the religious right and extremists have hijacked not only the religious agenda but also the political agenda. Their aims are to secure political gains, operating under the garb of religious sanctions. Their success can be measured by the increasing number of Madrassas through which a particular virus of vicious religious hatred is sought to be spread; through an increasing number of Mujahideen who equate suicide attacks as service to Allah and a growing world wide acceptance that the battles of today and tomorrow can be settled only through violence. Tomorrow’s battles include the objectives of setting up Islamic Caliphates the world over. The extremist leadership has been very successful in overlaying thick layers of confusion over such Koranic Concepts as justice, just wars and Jehad.

Jehad today is a much maligned word, thanks to its misinterpretations by the Mullah Community and the indiscriminate ignorant projection by the media. Seen objectively, the Koranic concept of Jehad is not atrocious at all. The greater Jehad is to be directed against the evil tendencies within oneself, in order to purify and elevate oneself into the path of righteousness. The lesser Jehad is to take up cudgels on behalf of the tyrannised and oppressed Muslims. Several limitations have been prescribed in the religious texts on the use of the instrument of the lesser Jehad. For example it can be sanctioned only by the governing class. But today many others have usurped this right, creating wide misunderstandings and misplaced zeal.

Koran certainly authorizes use of force under certain circumstances such as self defense or liberation of the persecuted Muslims whose freedoms and territories have been taken away by a tyrannical regime. But it does not sanction violence against the civilian population or non Muslims who are not a part of the persecution. Intertwined with such formulations are the issues of justice or just wars. Other religious creeds such as the Gita and the Christian Church also sanction just wars or violence in self defense. The UN charter and the Geneva Convention also agree in principle that waging a just war is not a crime against humanity. However, what the terrorist does to civilians, women and children can in no way be defended by the principles of justice or just war. Often he targets them directly to get maximum impact by way of propaganda. Therefore, the excuse of co-lateral damage by accident is not available to him.

Thus, the Islamic terrorist is as much guilty of violating Koran as any other humanitarian law. But the important thing in this complex reality is to separate the terrorist and his act of terrorism from the inspiration motivating him to be a terrorist. What are the sources of his inspiration; however misguided he might be in his interpretations? Are there any canonical texts which lend to easy misguidance with such aberrational misbehavior?

The issues of justice and just wars similarly get complicated by misplaced passion aroused by motivated partisanship or opportunist zealotry. None of us lives in a world which is entirely just and the right way to bring in a greater modicum of justice is through collective peaceful collaborative action. Throughout human history justice and injustice have co-existed together. As humanity marches towards greater fulfillment it is realized that peaceful ways offer a much higher dividend. Not wars but peaceful Satyagraha has led to the greater liberation of people the world over. Reconciliation and not violence holds the key towards future human progress.

The other key factor is the absence of reform movements in today’s Islamic world, which take note of the revolution in ideas in recent times and seek a conforming sympathetic stance in Islam. Among all the religions, Islam has proved to be the most rigid towards reforms. And the irony is that this rigidity is on the ascendant due to perceived injustices.

To be sure Islam is not per se anti reform. The Koran through its principles of Ijtihad allows space to a believer between him and Allah to practice Islam as he thinks best. Absence of an organized clergy in Islam enables the individual wide latitudes in his approach to Allah. The spread of Islam to territories outside the Arab world owes much to the Sufi traditions that got established and were practiced avoiding the rigidity of historical Islam. Shah Wahinullah (1705-62) was an early reformer whose emphasis on Ijtihad had a great liberating influence on followers of Islam. The movement for reconstruction in Islamic thought was carried forward in recent times by Sayyed Jamaluddin Afghan (1839-97) and Mohd Iqbal but the efforts to create Pakistan in the 1940s diverted the appeal to political ends from the spiritual and the intellectual. The Islamic thought in the subcontinent is still to recover from the damages of the two nation theory. The absence of any current reform movement within Islam in the subcontinent as indeed in the world elsewhere, ensured the continuity of prejudices and misgivings which are harming the world.

The religious right and extremists, operating through the Mullahs, want to maintain the exclusivity of Islam as it was in vogue several centuries earlier. Islam was democratic and enlightening within the sensibilities of those times but in today’s consciousness some of those concepts have become anachronistic. Some examples:-

  • The concept of sovereignty of Allah over everything. As a spiritual principle the concept is unexceptionable but how is it to be reconciled with the supremacy of the constitution in any modern state?
  • Freedom of speech. It does not extend to questioning canonical texts but modern societies want the freedom to question everything, and rightly so.
  • Equality of gender. Women have far fewer rights in Islamic societies than their sisters elsewhere. Parallel women rights to them is unthinkable in Islam.
  • Concept of Umma. Modern states have geographical boundaries but the concept of Umma legitimizes the role of Muslims to operate from anywhere. Terrorists misuse it.
  • Islamic brotherhood. Islam makes all Muslims as fraternity of Muslims, bound to help one another. In the context of terrorism some troubling situations arise as terrorists from different geographical areas tend to bond together. Expatriate Muslims are seen to be more loyal to their narrow causes than to the interests of the nation of their adoption.
  • Use of violence. Terrorists misuse Koran’s selective validation of violence and even claim the right to employ weapons of mass destruction. Such use will be a massive disregard of the Koranic injunctions to protect the innocents.

These are big issues today from which no citizen of the world, whether Muslim or non Muslim, can remain aloof or cut off. But unfortunately, the Muslim mind by and large is being held hostage to distorted religious teaching. There are very few signs of fresh or new thinking within Islam which can give rise to a wave of confidence that Islam is looking within itself to come to terms with the new breezes of wholesome ideas, blowing the world over.

The raw truth is that Islam does not look kindly to reforms. There is heavy punishment for deviations or apostasy in Islam which discourages the liberal from coming out in the open, even as the enlightened and intellectual Muslim is realizing the acute need for reconstruction of Islamic thought. Occasional articles in the media by Muslim scholars or publication of a book now and then by a Muslim author testify to the existence of a ferment within the Islamic circles at various levels. Such writers and some of them question their own faith also, lament that little is changing at the grass roots in the Islamic world but nobody seems yet ready to take the leadership for a movement for Islamic renaissance which percolates to the ground levels.

But the time for a full debate and reforms is already arrived. Delays in examining self perceptions may exact a costly price. Harmony in inter religious relationships and world peace require abnegation of all fanatic fringes and their replacement by a liberal modern thinking.

A formidable obstruction has been created by the political pressures on the Islamic world after 9/11. The Muslim psyche believes itself to be under siege one consequence of which is the impetus to consolidate to face jointly the challenges of the imagined onslaught. The liberal then ignores the cause which is at the core of his heart: he becomes one with the rest.

It is here that the UN can and should take a lead and organize world conferences and seminars to bring out into the open and carry forward the debate on the need for abandoning the straight jackets of religions and ushering in the reforms. Otherwise the unilateralism of religion will commit communities to doom and remain an abiding threat to international security and peace. The Secretary General can sanction special funding to set up a forum where inter-civizational problems and differences can be discussed as part of multilateralism. It will also amount to an effort to improve international security through removal of discords and contradictions in the social, religious and cultural fields.


The views and facts stated above are entirely the responsibility of the author and do not reflect the views of this Association in any manner.

 
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