It must be said at the outset that this is no scholarly dissertation for academic appraisal nor does it aspire to qualify for theological approval. It is simply the attempt of a layman to understand and share that understanding with others.

During the thousands of years of Man’s existence numerous civilisations have come and gone. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) tells us that one hundred and twenty four thousand Prophets were sent, presumably therefore as many religions came and except for a small number remaining till today all the rest vanished. All species face death and disappear. Innovations, discoveries, technologies have always come only to become obsolete with time. It tells us that change and evolution are probably the most essential dynamics in the Divine scheme of things.

However there are constants too, for the believer God is an absolute constant. The Sun, Moon and various planets have been there for millions of years. What about the search for knowledge and truth? Have they not been a constant endeavour of mankind? Evil and good have existed since Adam. The need for security and a competitive spirit has been part of our nature. The capacity to love and the desire to kill coexist in humans just as the aspiration for freedom and the instinct to subjugate are ever present. Power and piety have always had their disciples. Extremists and moderates have for ever battled for ascendancy.

All these disparate emotions and feelings, desires and instincts coexist and interact with all of us in this evolving and constantly changing universe; however the impact is varied on each individual. Background, upbringing, environment, friends and teachers, opportunities for and the level and type  of education, financial status, genetic makeup, religion, nationality etc determine the personality of each individual  differently; the result of all these and many more permutations is a hugely diversified global population.

While this diversity is the strength of mankind, it is also the source of its differences, differences which if not resolved lead to violent or non-violent conflicts between individuals, or groups or countries. Intolerance and lack of respect fuelled by the pursuit of power are the primary cause of conflict conflagration.

Unfortunately religious intolerance has brought untold misery for the human race throughout the centuries and continues to do so even today in some parts of the world. History is replete with such occurrences where in God’s name God’s people have been and are being slaughtered. In spite of the teachings to the contrary, the Inquisitions were a common feature in Europe during the middle ages. The Crusades took place for almost an eternity, and the long persecution of the Jews in Europe. The twentieth century is also replete with religious violence:  the genocide of Jews by the Nazis, the Hindu Muslim massacres on the partition of the sub-continent, the Northern Ireland conflict between Catholics and Protestants lasting decades, Israel’s never ending oppression and violence on Muslim and Christian Palestinians, the genocide of Bosnian Muslims by Serbia, Shia and Sunni conflicts in Iraq promoted by western powers. The senseless killings of Shia’s in Pakistan that is gathering pace at present as well as the oppression and violence faced by religious minorities—Christians and Hindus-- under the Blasphemy Laws and otherwise.  The hatred generated deliberately by western states and their powerful media against Muslims since 9/11 and the resulting indiscriminate bias and prejudices against Islam and its people is nothing less than targeted oppression. Instances of their military abusing prisoners at Abu Gharaib or desecrating the Quran and defiling dead Afghan bodies; or appearance of  anti Islamic caricatures and literature is the result of the attitude created by this relentless anti-Islamic propaganda, so cleverly planned and executed by western media.

Mind you this is in spite of the fact that all religions call for respect and tolerance and no religion calls for  the use of force for enforcing its beliefs—The Holy Quran explicitly declares “There is no compulsion in religion” (La ikraha fid deen). Faith provides peace and succour, religious teachings promote love and support for fellow humans. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) set traditions of forgiveness and mercy for all mankind by freeing slaves, releasing the vanquished of different faiths, supporting the weak and poor. Not only humans, even animals received care, protection and kindness from him. Many of Allah’s Names reflect such attributes, for example: Al Raheem (The Merciful) Al Rahman (The Compassionate) Al Rauf (The Kind) Al Wadud (The Loving) Al Ghaffar (The Exceedingly Forgiving). Such instances and qualities can be found in the teachings of other religions too.

 Attainment of power, self righteousness, fanaticism, lack of knowledge and illiteracy are the major causes of religious extremism and violence. Up to the nineteenth century illiteracy played a great part in promoting intolerance globally; the semi literate or illiterate preacher leading his flock astray to maintain his hold and power, rulers promoting religious and sectarian hatred for achieving their political or territorial aims were common practices everywhere. With education the developed world has found more subtle and sophisticated ways to achieve their goals. While in parts of the developing world in Asia and Africa there are still many countries like Pakistan where nothing much has been allowed to change.

In Pakistan the scourge of religious and sectarian extremism is being practiced by a few types of organizations.  Those who wish to enforce their brand of Islam for attaining political power through what they call Jihad, but actually engage in terrorism. There are others who do not indulge in violence but would want to enforce their particular interpretation of Islam on others by the introduction of laws.

Diversity in mankind is the will of God, He has made us look and think differently. There are no two persons who do everything identically even if they are brothers. Then why are people demanding conformity?  When the Creator says there is no compulsion in religion, does He not mean that each one is free to follow his own will? Does it not mean that a Christian can continue to be a Christian even after the advent of Islam if he wishes so? Does it not mean that a person can choose to belong to any sect of Islam that he wishes to? The Quran is explicit when it says “And if Allah wanted He would have made all of you one ummat, but He did not do so”. How ignorant are those who wish to oppose God’s will.

Anyone who wishes to be a Muslim must conform on the following 5 pillars:

  1. Recite the Kalima:  There is no god but One God and Muhammad is His Messenger
  2. Pray five times a day
  3. Fast during Ramadan
  4. Give Zakat
  5. Perform Haj if you have the means. 
And follow the Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH) as The Quran says “Atee-ul-Lah wa atee-ur-Rasool” (Obey Allah and Obey the Messenger)

Whether you are Sunni or a Shia or a Barelvi or a Deobandi for that matter, the above five and the Sunnah are mandatory but, for instance whether while praying you fold your hands or you keep them by your side is up to your teachings. Therefore what right does the Lashkar-e- Jhangvi or ASWJ have to call Shias kafir if they follow these principles?? Or how can the Taliban insist that we must all follow the Wahabi sect’s particular interpretations. Nowhere in the Quran or in the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) such rights of ensuring compliance are stated nor bestowed on any particular school of thought—no chowkidars of the faith are either prescribed or required. Time and again we are asked to study the Quran and the Prophet’s (PBUH) Sunnah and reach our own conclusions or consult an Aalim of our own choice, or follow a school of thought that appeals to us. Each Muslim has the right to adopt the way to God that he chooses, within the principles set out above.  Conversions to Islam in the sub-continent, for instance, were not achieved by the sword as the Taliban want to do today, but were the result of the teachings and the lessons of love and care of the Sufi Saints. Power can be obtained by the barrel of the gun, but religious belief cannot be enforced by coercion and killings. The Taliban and all those involved in violent means to enforce their religious will must know that their actions are anti-Islamic; they are misleading and brain washing the innocent poor in their quest for power.

Islam is a great religion; flexible and liberal, modern and all encompassing. It is a liberator of mankind and some of us are trying to confine it to pre-Islamic times. Islam lays greater emphasis on the rights of man (Huqooq-ul-Ibad) than on the rights of God (Huqooq-Allah). Love, forgiveness, mercy, truth, honesty, tolerance and respect towards fellow humans are qualities required for a good Muslim. The Holy Prophet says “Abusing a Muslim is Fusuq (an evil deed) and killing him is Kufr (disbelief).” (Sahih Bukhari). Muslims we all are as we follow the five principles, the rest is up to Allah as to how He judges us. No one else has the power to redeem or damn any individual. There is not one “right way” to God, but more than one way to God.

The Muslim world has further weakened itself by creating schisms from within. Unnecessary hair splitting, intolerance and debasing one’s self to such levels of inhuman behaviour are all signs of lack of knowledge about Islam and God’s Will. God wishes tolerance, respect and unity in diversity. Therefore let us join together to strengthen our nation and resolve our differences through discussions and understanding rather than spread destruction through the gun.

by Farooq Sumar
The writer is a businessman and a former chairman of the National Textile Foundation.