Islamic Voice A Monthly English Magazine

October 2007
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Open House

Significance of Religion
By Rajat Malhotra

If this life is all about few hours, then what are we doing for our Hereafter? Are we preparing enough? Have we really understood the significance of Religion?

Any activity or action is preceded by an objective so that it is meaningful and result oriented. The framing of the objective would in turn depend on understanding the environment around and then forming the idea which should not only be practical, but should also be well taken by everyone. The laws of a nation, the norms of the society or business ethics are a case in point. However we have seen that many of these have changed with passage of time.

Religion on the other hand is eternal and does not lose its relevance with the changing times. When we talk of religion, the question that comes to mind is whether we would have continued the way we are if religion had never existed. The answer is same as whether the society or business would have continued without proper laws or system. The purpose of religion is to give man the guidelines on how he should conduct himself when faced with different situations in life. Religion gives man the reason for his existence and how he should plan his onward journey. It introduces man to his Creator. It gives him the conviction that if faced with temptation or a test he should not give in, and for this he will be suitably rewarded. Many say that the reward concept is wrong, but we have seen from the history how Marxism concept also failed as Man by nature seeks reward and requires motivation. This is the very reason why private companies fare better than the public sector companies.

Religion’s role is to give man the much-needed conviction in God and the Hereafter. To illustrate I would give an example. Once a ship was caught in a storm on its way to US in the Atlantic ocean. Everybody was running for safety except for a little girl who was playing with her doll unfazed with what was happening around. A curious person went up to her and said, “do you know that the ship is sinking and we will all go down with it.” The girl looked up at the man and said with a smile, :do you know that the Captain of this ship is my father and he is not going to let it sink.” This is how the conviction of a believer in God is when he understands the religion properly and believes that God Almighty will take care of him in adversity. So we all must understand that this life is like an iceberg wherein only the tip is exposed, a greater portion of the iceberg is beneath the water, similarly the real life starts only after death. The significance of the religion is to make this aware to Man. In chapter 10:45 of Qur’an it is mentioned that after death a man would feel as if he has tarried for an hour. So if this life is all about few hours than what are we doing for our hereafter? Are we preparing enough? Have we really understood the significance of Religion?

In a lecture at a religious institution, a non- Muslim had put a question to a Muslim Scholar who was talking on Islam that when the WTC mishap happened her 8-year-old daughter asked her three questions. Who are these people? Why did they do this? And I have a Muslim classmate and from tomorrow I shall not talk to her. The speaker rightfully addressed her by saying that it is the duty of parents to put things in perspective and tell their children that these people are not religious people, rather they are a group of misled or deviated people. Such groups of people are found in every religion like ULFA- Hindus in Assam, Christians in Ireland etc. Terrorism is not the monopoly of Islam. We should not link Religion with the actions of such people, rather their actions should be judged in the light of religious teachings. It is the duty of the religious leaders and thinkers to come forward and condemn such dastardly acts of violence. Only then we can say that we have understood the significance of Religion.

Islam and Democracy
By Muhammad Habash

The struggle in the Islamic world nowadays is a struggle for a piece of the Muslim mind.

Recently, I received an invitation from the Faisal Center for Islamic Research and Studies, which wanted me to talk about democracy, or “good governance,” as the participants called it.

It was obvious that the organizers’ goal was to revive religious and political speech in order to find a middle ground between Islamic faith and democracy. I argued that, as many Islamic scholars have recognized, Islamic jurisprudence is compatible with democratic values. Every country that has chosen democracy has come closer to achieving Islam’s goals of equality and social justice.

Democracy suffers in the Islamic world due to skepticism about everything that comes from the West, especially the US. Thus, some leaders view democratization efforts as a new form of colonialism or imperialism in disguise.

But the region’s hesitancy to embrace democracy goes beyond mere fear of Western hegemony. There is a deep philosophical dispute about the nature of democracy. Some Islamic thinkers point to an inevitable contradiction between Islamic and democratic values. They argue that Islam requires submission to the will of God, while democracy implies submission to the will of people. This notion was clear in the writings of Sayyid Qutb, who saw parliaments as preventing people from submitting to the rule of God.

Yet Qutb’s understanding contradicts the established practices of Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh), who created the first real state in the Arabian peninsula by declaring the Constitution of Madinah, which stated: “Muhammad and the Jews of Bani-Auf [who were citizens of Madinah at that time] are one nation.” Thus, social relations were to be based on equality and justice, not religious beliefs.

Indeed, the Prophet Muhammad’s most important political truce, the Hudaybiah Agreement between his rising nation and the leaders of Quraish (the dominant tribe in Makkah at that time), stated clearly that “everybody is free to join the league of Muhammad or the league of Quraish.” Many non-Muslim tribes, like the Christians of Nagran, the Jews of Fadk and the pagans of Khoza’a, joined Muhammad’s league and became part of the Islamic state. All Muslim and non-Muslim tribes had equal rights and freedom and enjoyed the protection of the state. Most importantly, Makkah was later opened to protect the pagan people of Khoza’a against the attacks of Quraish.

Reconciling the true understanding of Islam and democracy will, I believe, lead to a full realization of the richness of the Islamic experiment. It could also add great vitality to the democratic experiment by bringing it closer to the Muslim street. But the Islamic mainstream must first realize the importance of democratic reform, which is possible only by clearly understanding the Prophet’s message, which promises genuine solutions for every time and place.

Although the creation of centers to debate the concept of Islamic democracy reflect the natural evolution of Islamic thinking, it will not go unopposed.

As the ancient Arabs used to say: “A man’s choice is a piece of his mind.” The struggle in the Islamic world nowadays is a struggle for a piece of the Muslim mind.

(The writer is member of the Syrian parliament and director of the Islamic Studies Center in Damascus).