Prisoners of the Past
Old—be they things, formulas, methods, or patterns— always looks comfortable. It is so because it is known, seen, tested and tried. New, stranger as it is, is viewed with doubt, received with skepticism and adopted—if it comes to that—with fear. Continuing with the old is easy, smooth and effortless. Embracing the new involves challenges, entails effort and is full of risks. But old ultimately yields place to the new and gets phased out. Those insistent upon sticking with the old find themselves cast into the trash bin of history. New takes over the old, gets entrenched and reigns till it itself gets overtaken by the newer one. Muslims are generally residents of the comfort zones and also the ones who take pride in it. Glorifying the past is their pet pastime. Old is holy too. New scares them. They see in it a challenge to their faith, set of beliefs and traditions. In most cases, the reference to the new is a sacrilege for them. The new is also a threat to their way of living, mode of thinking and manner of behaving. No wonder then why the agents of change have been vilified, demonized and dubbed fifth columnists. Few amongst us are amenable to new ideas, tolerant of the criticism of the old and open to reform. So champions of the old are feted, status quoists are honoured, Islamic press feels no qualms in uncritically publishing the writings of the dead and singing paeans of the hackneyed and the trite. Revisionists face contempt and reformists stay condemned. ‘Revert to the old’ is the reigning slogan even though it is sounded through amplifiers, circulated over the Internet and propagated through radio and the TV. Scarcely do we realize that passage of time and change of locale could influence laws, social mores, norms of propriety and conventions, just as the traditions we follow were new at certain point of time in history. So sharia remains inscribed in stone; women must stay away from the mosque; zakat must be doled out only to madrassas; three talaqs at one go dissolve marriage irrevocably; moon must be sighted to herald lunar months; one not trained in a traditional madrassa must not interpret the Islamic law; non-Muslim judges must not adjudicate Muslim civil disputes; et al. The list of abominations goes on and on and manifestations of it are too palpable to be missed in the Muslim society. Evidently, this stage has been reached due to the dogmatic approach that Muslims have come to adopt and demonstrate in each and every sector of life. It does not help, to say the least. Rather it acts as an albatross against progress and development, to admit the least. It is time this mindset is given up to embrace changes, interpret the laws and the ancient text more progressively. Nations and communities do not commit collective suicide. They marginalize themselves by creating a sea of taboos and anathemas around them. Narrow vision stunts their outlook, lack of freedom of expression and articulation smothers dissent, and fear of loss of originality breeds rejectionism and spawns negativism. Gleefully clinging to their past, they have hardly anything to offer the world by way of contemporary. Consequently, the changes pass them by, reducing them to the signposts of an old era, objects of romantic past but irrelevant for future. Such people do exist, but live in the past. They are rendered to serfdom, consigned to sidelines of the civilization and are easy target for calumnies such as practitioners of terrorism. Phobias can be kicked up against them and chimeras can be churned up with ease. Prisoners of the comfort zones and enmeshed in the past, they have only to blame themselves, none else. Are we listening?