Exodus in Hebrew Bible: Political Liberation or Spiritual Liberation?

Israel's_Escape_from_Egypt

Clearly, the event of Exodus was an incredible event of political liberation whereby God emancipated the enslaved Jews from the strongest powers of Egypt and created a sense of Israelite nationalism in them. It is interesting to note that this political liberation cannot be attributed to any intrinsic motivation for freedom or victory within the Jews themselves (which can be seen in their murmurings against Moses first when he asks Pharaoh for their freedom and later when they are led by him through the wilderness – Ex 16) but to Yahweh’s intervention, which in turn can be attributed to Yahweh’s overwhelming concern for the Jews, owing to His covenant with Abraham, and the hardships imposed on them by Pharoah: “And God saw the children of Israel, and God took cognizance of them” (Ex 2:25). Nationalism generally entails patriotic sentiments for one’s own people, but it can also constitute a strongly exclusive feeling of superiority over other peoples. Clearly Yahweh’s choosing Jews over Egyptians naturally engendered this latter strain of Jewish nationalism: “And the Lord gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians” (Ex 11:3), “and ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation” (Ex 16:6).

However, can the Jews’ successful attainment of political freedom from Pharaoh be seen as an absolute freedom for them from all restraints? Can we identify an element of spiritual liberation in the event of Exodus? Clearly, Exodus had to be followed by a strong sense of gratitude and worship towards another stronger power: “When they heard that the Lord had remembered the children of Israel, and that He had seen their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshipped” (Ex 4:31).  It is telling that Moses was instructed by God to repeat the following refrain to Pharaoh: “Let My people go, that they may serve Me” (Ex 9 – emphasis added). This suggests that, in Exodus’s direct corollary, the Jews were essentially going from serving Pharaoh to serving another power, the Yahweh. Arguably, this was not an absolute freedom rather a different type of servitude. Yahweh’s power, goodness, help, and miraculous intervention was not unconditional rather it placed strict expectations and laws, the Ten Commandments, from the Jews in return. Also, God reminded the Jews to always remember this day of Exodus and that their freedom from bondage was due to the power of His hand so He expects all Israelites to sanctify everything unto Him, and every human and animal born in Israel belongs to Him, and that they will have no leavened bread (13:1-3).

In the first glimpse, it appears that the event of Exodus proved quite costly to the Jews in terms of them ending up being subject to an extensive set of restrictions in their new-found ‘freedom’. However, when God commanded “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me” (Ex 20:3), it signifies that Jews were emancipated from all earthly powers only to submit themselves to one higher Divine Power. This submission to Yahweh was not going to be a humiliating experience as the enslavement by Pharaoh was, rather this surrender to the Divine was going to exalt Jews above all the peoples and distinguish them from the rest. In this sense, submitting to God can be seen as an instance of spiritual liberation, because it entails following the Divine law, instead of human subjugation, and finding strength in it. “The Lord is my strength and song, / And He is become my salvation” (Ex 15:2). The dietary restrictions as well as prohibitions from adultery, murder, theft, lying, and envy can be considered by some as commandments militating against absolute human freedom. However, if we view them as intending to emancipate human beings or Jews in particular, from enslavement to the primal instincts of their base self and the state of nature, they can be unequivocally considered by the Jews as leading to a spiritual freedom. This is a spiritual freedom which regulates morality through law and is illustrated by the famous formulation: “the wise restraints that make men free.”

To conclude, if we define spiritual liberation as a freedom from earthly control in favor of a Divine power, or as a freedom from chaotic human instincts in favor of a Divinely-ordained order, then we can see this spiritual freedom as a corollary of Exodus. However, if we define spiritual freedom as freedom to seek out God on one’s own terms, then we fail to find this kind of freedom in Exodus because the laws ordained to please God are very precise and very exacting.

Advertisements

The Analogy of Water in Tao Te Ching

tao_b

In Tao Te Ching, Tao is described as a “deep pool that never dries” (ch.4). In some places, it appears that Tao, though incomprehensible, refers to an Ultimate Reality behind all existence; in other places it appears as a way of life or ‘the highest good’ that individuals are encouraged to inculcate by imbibing the power of the former Tao. For me, the most interesting metaphor in Tao Te Ching was the analogy of water to describe Tao and to illustrate the model of ideal Taoist behavior.

I identified two, distinct yet interrelated, facets of the aforementioned water metaphor. Hence, water becomes a symbol of: i) virtues of humility, benevolence and inactivity ii) leadership and governance methods, and the ability to overcome obstacles.

  1. i) “The highest good is like that of water. The goodness of water is that it benefits the ten thousand creatures; yet itself does not scramble, but is content with the places that all men disdain. It is this that makes water so near to the Way” (ch.8). Thus, selflessness and willingness to be indiscriminately useful to others can be considered one of the highest goods. Moreover, highest good entails not being over-assertive, not striving to appear on the fore, or not obsessing with getting ahead, but effortlessly adapting to one’s surrounding and surrendering oneself to natural forces (force of gravity in case of water) and being satisfied with being on a low ground, ever-humble, at the same time effectively providing essential support to everyone. The sage avoids positive action “working only through the power of Tao, which alone cuts without wounding” (ch.2). From this I understood to mean that the wise person avoids acting in attention-seeking ways but still manages to make a significant mark in the world. Nonetheless, letting oneself go does not entail being ineffective or purposeless: “The sage just because he never at any time makes a show of greatness in fact achieves greatness” (ch.34) and “By this very inactivity, everything can be activated” (ch.48).[1] Thus, from water, one can learn virtues of a soft yielding nature that seem to bring inner contentment at the personal or individual level. Fascinatingly, stillness of water is concomitant with its clarity: “which of you can assume such murkiness, to become in the end still and clear” (ch.15), which can be correspondingly seen as a reference to the stillness of mind and senses, as in meditation, leading to clarity of thought.
  2. ii) The second aspect of water metaphor seems to have a firmer quality and a social dimension to it in that it seems to teach about the ability to overcome obstacles (by flowing around them) and an effective method of governance (following or remaining low). “What is of all things most yielding, Can overwhelm that which is of all things most hard.”(ch.43). “Nothing under heaven is softer or more yielding than water; but when it attacks things hard and resistant there is not one of them that can prevail. For they can find no way of altering it” (Ch. 78). This verse highlights the fascinating paradox of water that despite being the most yielding substance, it can cut through mountains through perseverance. For instance, in case of an obstacle in its way, the water continues to flow around it forming new channels at the same time eroding the edges of the obstacle and altering its shape in the process, and in the end it is the water that prevails. Attempting to translate this symbolism into human social conduct, the first example that strikes to me is that of overlooking or forgiving a person even if he advertently caused the most serious damage or loss to you, which may perhaps melt his heart and make him regretful of his actions and desirous of being friends with you (deeply reminiscent of Quran 41:34). Water can also be instructive in demonstrating leadership qualities: “How did the great rivers and seas get their kingship over the hundred lesser streams? Through the merit of being lower than they; that was how they got their kingship” (ch.66). This chapter explains that in order to be above the people, one must act in ways whereby one appears lower than the people. Also, a good general “fulfils his purpose but without violence” (ch.30). Thus a good leader can emulate the non-arrogant and non-violent qualities of water and still be able to achieve his purposes; a humble and kind ruler will draw the love of his followers which is arguably more enduring than evoking fear (though Machiavelli would disagree).

In conclusion, water seems to illustrate virtues with both a soft/individual and a firm/social dimension, although the latter appears to be derived from and built on the former. Taoist advocacy of inactivity cannot be seen either as an end in itself or as a resigned passivity, but as a means towards the end of activating inner powers that affect the world in imperceptible ways. This appears to be a world quite different from our own which increasingly values continuous perceptible activity as a sign of progress.

[1] I could not help but be reminded of these verses, which now strike as quite Taoist, from my favourite poem by Robert Frost: “Beware of coming too much to the surface / And using for apparel what was meant/ To be the curtain of the inmost soul.”

Raguel arbitrates between God and the spokesman for Muslims: A Response to Muhammad Iqbal’s Complaint & Answer (Shikwa – Jawab-e-Shikwa)

shikwa

Note: I originally wrote this poem, preceded by its description, as an assignment for one of my courses, whereby we were supposed to draft a creative or poetic response to any of the themes in Muhammad Iqbal’s Complaint and Answer (Shikwa – Jawab-e-Shikwa). Now, my poetic expression is admittedly low-quality but I still believed that the theme of Divine Justice I identified in these works and the discussion built around it is worth sharing.

Footnotes to the poem are crucial.

Description:

The main theme of this poem titled ‘Raquel Arbitrates between God and the Spokesman for Muslims’ is reflection on the conversation between God and Muslims particularly in light of the idea of Divine Justice, and that the essence of ‘Muslimness’, as per Iqbal’s conception, may not be unique to Muslims alone.

In this poem, the Archangel of Justice and Fairness takes over the task of arbitrating between God and Muslims, in the interests of restoring peace and harmony in the heavens and the Universe. He realizes that Ultimate powers of arbitration and dispensing Justice lie with God, but God Himself appearing as the accused party is a very unusual and striking situation for the angel, and he is left with no other choice but to intervene as a third party in order to resolve this conflict between God and the Muslims. After all, he has been trained in the Just ways of God, by God himself. Apart from adjudication, this Archangel’s role is also important in that he is deeply familiar with his main occupation: the principle of Justice, which leads him to repeatedly emphasize its importance to persuade the Muslims to reconsider their complaint and position.

In the Complaint, Muslims repeatedly lament their suffering disloyalty at the hands of God, and express their resentment over seeing God favour ‘others’ over Muslims. There tone is, for the most part, of a jilted and betrayed lover, to the point that they even refer to God at one place as ‘harjaayi’, which literally means someone who will go to anyone, an unfaithful lover; someone who enters into a relationship, and then terminates without a reason, to unite, temporarily or otherwise, with someone else. One of the verses in the Complaint, in Urdu, reads like: Rahmatai’n hai’n teri aghyaar kay kashaano’n par. A.J. Arberry translates it as ‘But the showers of Thy mercy other thirsting souls assuage’ (p. 16). I feel Khushwant Singh’s translation captured the sentiment more accurately: ‘Your blessings are showered on homes of unbelievers, strangers all’ (p. 41). This captures the dismay of Muslims seeing God bless ‘others’, who Muslims believe do not deserve to be favoured, since Muslims alone are supposedly the special, chosen people of God. There are various references to this sentiment: ‘Be it so; bid us gone and let the earth belong to others’ (Arberry, p.20); ‘Yet Thou too, alas, art changed, now us, now others favouring’ (Arberry, p.24); ‘But that infidels should own the houris and the palaces – ah, woe!’ (Arberry, p. 18). Raguel begins by recounting these complaints, by Muslims, of blessing ‘others’ as well as those of being abandoned by God. The Archangel finds it curious that the Muslims’ sense of entitlement mainly arises from their martial victories, or their imagination that since they spread the word of the God, they had entered into a perpetual covenant with God whereby they deserve to be protected, indulged, and esteemed for the eternity. So, Raguel inquires them of what else have they accomplished, in the fields of self-development and creative intellect for instance, to make their mark in the eyes of God. In Complaint, Muslims’ shock at seeing non-Muslims thrive mainly springs from their belief that unbelieving peoples, in terms of the Muslim conception, do not deserve God’s attention. Khanda-zan kufr hai ehsaas tujhe hai kay nahee’n: Disbelief is loud with laughter; art Thou deaf, indifferent? (Arberry, p.17). The use of ‘kufr’ is crucial because Muslim seems to highlight that the successes of non-Muslim nations in the fields of economy, politics, culture imply a victory of infidelity over Islam, which conjures up a dichotomy of Islam vs. Kufr, in which everything not Muslim is kufr, and vice versa. Raguel reminds the Muslim how this division is not entirely clear since Quran often refers to the word kufr to mean ingratitude, and it does not necessarily and invariably have theological connotations. Thus, I submit, an ungrateful Muslim (characterized by incessant ‘complaining’), too, can have the qualities of kufr, just as a non-Muslim can have the qualities of a ‘true Muslim’, as we shall see shortly. Raquel also chastises the Muslim in the court for repeatedly asserting that without his (Muslim’s) existence, God’s name would cease to be remembered; For Raquel this is arrogance of radical proportions and he analogizes it to that of his former colleague Azazil, later Iblis, who was expelled from the heavens because of such a heightened sense of self-importance and superiority.

Raquel then looks at the argument of the defendant – God – and notices that, to all these charges of infidelity, God responds precisely, on the mark, with the reiteration of his Law of Justice. ‘The Creator’s law is justice, out of all eternity/ Infidels who live like Muslims, surely merit faith’s reward’ (Arberry, p.48); and ‘If there were one deserving, We’d raise them to regal splendor/ To those who seek, We would unveil a new world of wonder’ (Singh, p.66). For Raquel, this short reminder is of such substantial significance that it brings the case on the verge of closure by highlighting how there was never a breach of promise by God, rather He unequivocally communicated to His creation that all efforts, irrespective of faith professed, shall be proportionately rewarded, and by that logic, lack of effort to be met with disappointment. God sees human as His co-creator in shaping the world. So for Iqbal, a true Muslim is the one who embodies ‘khudi’ which can be defined as the ‘realization and expansion of self-hood’, thus a non-Muslim who adopts these ‘Muslim’ qualities is promised commensurate success and reward. Thus, the boundary between Muslim and non-Muslim is not merely theological rather a non-Muslim can choose to adopt a Muslim lifestyle by exerting, relying on, and developing himself. Raquel poses to Muslims, how they can claim to love and know a God and yet be unfamiliar with His principles and promises of Justice, which is an essential part of God’s reality, and his Oneness. If they were acquainted with these precepts before, they would not find any logic in complaining about betrayal and neglect, rather they would look at their condition and that of others in the light of this very justice dispensed. Raquel also recounts Words of the God from the Quran, and finds it curious how the Muslim, even though when he professes nearness with the Quran, displays an appalling unfamiliarity with the principles laid out in it. To conclude, Raquel rules that the Muslim’s charges are weak and unfounded, since God has always been fairly explicit about his Principle of Justice, by virtue of which he blessed the ‘other’, and therefore He is not found guilty of cheating the Muslim.

-Sarah Khan

Raguel arbitrates between God and the spokesman for Muslims…

 

God, herein the accused, by Muslim a party aggrieved

Behold! Creator and created, entangled in a heated debate.

Though an intriguing spectacle, a rarity of a kind,

The unrest of it now must abate.

As the spirit of fairness and justice, the seeker of harmony, truth

After hearing both sides, I seek to adjudicate.

O Muslim, you blame your Lord,

For showering, upon unbelievers, His favors and grants.

Whilst you, the pious devotees, suffer His rage and neglect

And thus these resentful chants!

You brandish your victories with wars and swords,[1]

Can we hear, too, of thy creative, intellectual advance?

O brazen plaintiff, like a jealous lover

Charges of infidelity, towards God, you submit

For from you He snatched the world’s reins

And passed to ‘others’ whom you deem unfit,

Whilst you found yourself stranded, empty handed, mere promises

Your enemy brims with joyous riches, so enviously you covet

Conceitedly, you repeat: “Without our existence

The humankind would cease to remember Him.”

Such arrogant self-importance mirrors just the kind

That got Azazil exiled for refusing to submit to Adam

And God’s abandonment, you view as the smirking triumph of ‘kufr’

‘Kufr’ and this ingratitude, yet, could be one and the same[2]!

O God of all the worlds, comprehensible and unknown

To his accusations of infidelity, You reply with Your vital decree

Your law of Justice, eternal and universal

Rewards non-Muslims, for their Muslimness[3], equally

Those who seek, who work, and thus deserve

Are granted with splendor of powers that be

This jury then inquires you, O oblivious Muslim

That while you profess to uphold Tawhid, so you claim

How could you remain seemingly ignorant

Of Al-‘Adl, your Lord’s most striking name[4]?

Your God avers to be more than an entity Just,

But Justice and Him are to be one and the same

You declare you walked the earth

Holding Quran close to your heart

Open and Read; therein he says unmistakably He would not

Deal with anyone in ways unjust[5]

Nor does He wrong peoples

But it is they who themselves hurt[6]

Your case, O Muslim, turns weaker,

More on His Justice do we dwell,

That if you don’t exert to change your condition

He surely never will[7]

Where, then, do we find a promise violated

When He does not promise what He won’t fulfill[8]

Your God then bestows success

Upon ones who work for it

For Him a non-Muslim, assiduous and creative

Is a vicegerent, better than a sulky slothful Muslim

By a simple rule of Justice,

Not your forsaken fancy, nor His heedless whim.

Has it occurred to you, in the moments of introspection?

That according ‘unbelievers’ riches, the favours and the reins of the world

Merely springs from His promise of Divine Justice

They appeared more deserving, more striving – thus more Muslim – in eyes of your Lord

Thus the premise of your complaint

Breaks and falls apart

When he spoke these words eternal:

Nought shall be granted unto human but what he is striving for[9]

He addressed to humankind: believers, unbelievers alike

Are you unfamiliar with the ways of your God whom you claim to adore?

That glorious past, the lost esteem, you may well restore

If you complain less, and strive more

To the standards of justice, thy allegations do not hold

So close the case, to turn a leaf anew

Thus make your peace, and cure your fancies

For thy Lord hasn’t broken a covenant with you

Your understanding of the covenant, His principles and promises,

Merely turned out to be flawed: deluded, untrue

 

 

[1] From fifth to tenth stanzas in the Complaint, there are repeated references to the martial accomplishments of Muslims, and little or no mention of accomplishments in the field of science, literature, intellect, knowledge, creativity etc.

[2] The Complaint mentions that ‘kufr’ smirks at the losing Muslims; ironically ‘kufr’ does not necessarily mean theological dividing line between Muslims and non-Muslims. It is used in the Quran (14:7) in the sense of denoting ingratitude. I submit, when Muslims refuse to acknowledge favors granted to them and incessantly ‘complain’, they can also be accused of ‘kufr’.

[3] A term to denote that being Muslim, for Iqbal, does not merely entail professing shahadah, but it also involves a sense of self-respect, struggle, personal growth and development, a set of attitudes that can fairly well be embodied by non-Muslims.

[4] Al-‘Adl is one of Allah’s ninety-nine attributes which implies that God is Justice. Adl, in itself, means justice; Justice, therefore, is not merely a characteristic of Allah, but rather Allah is the embodiment, the realization of Justice. Therefore, anyone claiming to know Allah cannot miss this aspect of his existence.

[5] Translations by Muhammad Asad: Quran 18:49; For they will find all that they ever wrought [now] facing them, and [will know that] thy Sustainer does not wrong anyone.

[6] Quran 16:118; And no wrong did We do to them, but it was they who persistently wronged themselves.

[7] Quran 13:11; Verily, God does not change men’s condition unless they change their inner selves.

[8] Quran 3:194; Verily, Thou never failest to fulfil Thy promise!

[9] Quran 53:39; And that nought shall be accounted unto man but what he is striving for.

A Critique of Maududi’s ‘Human Rights in Islam’

(In the interest of humanity, I have decided to start uploading my term papers that I’ve written over the last four years for my undergrad. Knowledge, like joy, increases when shared. I know; you’re welcome humankind!)

Image

No student of Political Islam, whether he likes it or not, is able to deny the momentous influence of Syed Abul Ala Maududi in the aforesaid area. He is known to have written extensively on Islam and how Islam should shape every aspect of human life.  It would be safe to term him to be the most influential theologian, leader and Islamist thinker of India in the last century. The fact that his ideas have held such widespread impact makes it likely that his legacy will live on for generations to come. For the purpose of this paper, from his voluminous magnum opus, I have chosen to discuss and critique his pamphlet ‘Human Rights in Islam’ in detail. This document puts forth a doctrine which is a guideline for many Muslims who happen to be Maududi’s adherents, hence in large numbers. Human Rights is an important and widely contested issue in today’s globalized world politics. It is a generally held perception, mostly among Western audiences, that Islam is not only incompatible with human rights; rather it actively opposes the application of universal human rights. It is as though there is a tug of war going on between Islam and the West to vie as to who was the earliest indisputable pioneer of the introduction of human rights on the world stage. West tends to claim the roots of human rights in the Occidental tradition whereas Islamic thinkers seek to trace human rights back to Quran and Sunna. On one hand it is true that the ideas of ‘liberty, fraternity and equality’ emerged out of Enlightenment and French Revolution, which concurrently came about with the loosening grips of religion. On the other hand, we also see how Thomas Jefferson invoked God in the Declaration of Independence to establish the rights of humans: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights …” Later on in West’s history, such divinely inspired claims of justice provided primary motivation for numerous progressive movements, be it the Emancipation Proclamation by Lincoln as a step towards abolishing slavery, or the civil rights movement by Martin Luther King to eliminate segregation and secure equal rights for African Americans. Muslims, on the other hand, believe that it was in fact Islam that not only introduced the idea of huquq al-insaniyya i.e., the Rights of Humans 1400 years ago, but it is till date the greatest, unparalleled proponent of human rights. The idea of invoking God as a means to achieve the ends of justice is, therefore, not new. But perhaps what irked Maududi, and other Muslim theologians, was the fact that the same powers which colonized, subjugated and plundered weaker nations at some historical juncture, now claim to be the biggest champions of equal human rights and dignity, and simultaneously malign Islam as a hindrance in reaching their ‘noble’ goals. Therefore he provided his commentary to expound on his perspective of human rights in Islam, and apparently to exonerate Islam from the charge that it is incompatible with human rights. But as an Islamist ideologue, it does not come as a surprise that his position is not one that human rights ought to determine Islamic beliefs, rather, he believes Islam should help to determine human rights. In the course of our analysis, we will examine this position and also critique the validity of the claims put forth by Maududi in his article ‘Human Rights in Islam’.

It is interesting to note that any reader who has read Maududi elsewhere, for instance his articles ‘Al-Jihad Fi al-Islam’, ‘Islamic Law and Constitution’ etc. will easily notice that Human Rights in Islam is a watered down, somewhat altered version of his otherwise rigid views on women, freedom of religion, death penalty for apostasy, individual’s rights as a citizen and so on. There appears to be an uncharacteristic clemency in his tone in this article which does not agree with his definitive, unyielding style in his other writings and statements. This could be because of two reasons. Firstly, intended target audience: Richard Bonney cites Ishtiaq Ahmed whereby he accuses Maududi of dishonesty on the question of freedom of belief in the pamphlet under discussion (207). Since this article was published in the UK, and was directed towards the Western audience, Maududi made no mention of the doctrine of apostasy, rather emphasized on the Quranic injunction that proclaims no coercion in matters of faith. Ishtiaq Ahmed notices, that in the aftermath of anti-Ahmedi riots of 1953, Maududi declared before the Court of Inquiry that apostasy was punishable by death in Islam. Secondly, political evolution: Sam Houston notices that the totalitarian, communitarian aspect of Maududi’s philosophy gradually toned down according to the exigencies of time. For instance, in ‘Islamic Law and Constitution’, which was published in 1941 before the inception of Pakistan, Maududi provided Islamic rationale for an all-powerful executive (amir) and for total subjugation of the individual to the state. Pakistan’s creation was followed by anti-Ahmedi protests spearheaded by Maududi’s party, which led the government to clamp down on the agitators; Maududi was put on trial, found guilty of sedition and sentenced to death (later the verdict was reversed). These experiences made Maududi a stakeholder, and therefore personally concerned and interested in the protection of individual rights, due process of law, and freedom of political expression. It is clear that these circumstances led to Maududi’s disillusionment with the centralization of power in the executive, thus his newfound advocacy for the importance of protecting individual freedom of conscience. At this particular juncture, he penned the pamphlet under discussion.

Like every other work by Maududi, the starting point of this essay, too, is severe condemnation of the West. The argument reminds the reader, of the logical fallacy of tu quoque which is defined as an attempt to discredit the opponent’s position by asserting the opponent’s failure to act consistently in accordance with that position. Maududi asserts that West attributes every good thing to its own conception, even though there was no Western concept of human rights before the 17th century. In same broad strokes, he also paints UN, as well as UNHR, to be a farce that has no effective moral sanctions behind it. Accusing the other of hypocrisy does not truly help buttress one’s own position; instead it only serves to make ones arguments less objectively valid and more suspect. He goes on to claim that, on the contrary, Islam ensures unalterable human rights that have been conferred by God and hence they are “applicable to every believer” and that they are not subject to “scope for any change”. This raises two important questions. Firstly, the claim that ‘human’ rights in Islam are applicable to every ‘believer’ leads one to ask whether Maududian philosophy deems non-believers to be non-humans and hence not worthy that the applicability be extended to them regardless. Secondly, the assertion that any right given by God has no scope for change assumes no scope for expansion either. These kinds of claims which discourage evolution and adaptation with changing epochal circumstances cast doubts over the claim that Islam is a religion which is meant for all times to come.

Expanding on the ‘right to life’, Maududi states that it is not permissible for anyone to kill another human, except through the due process of law (Quran 6:151). A clear case can be made that even though he did not explicitly say it, for reasons explained above; this ‘law’ is the Shariah, according to Maududi’s understanding of which, its rules about apostasy make it possible to sentence people to death. In celebrating the righteousness of Islam, Maududi does not forget to, again, revile the West terming its declarations to be hypocritical in that they are, according to him, interested in protecting the lives of their own citizens or the white race alone (he gives multiple examples such as the destruction of Red Indians in America).

Whereas Maududi has written a separate document on women: Purdah and the Status of Woman, it is interesting to note that in his pamphlet on human rights, the only right mentioned related to a woman is ‘respect for the chastity of women’. He maintains that the chastity of a woman must be respected and protected regardless of her nation or religion. Not mentioning the actual women’s rights is, again, a sign of unwillingness to broach the subject and raises the question as to whether Maududi does not reckon women important enough to be considered as bearer of basic rights. He has made his views clear in his writing whereby he believes that equality of women, such as in modern secularized societies, only leads to promiscuity and loosened family values. Riffat Hassan condemns this chastity-obsessed approach, as though chastity is the only thing worthwhile about a woman to be protected, and as though Islamists are not worried about protecting men’s chastity. Protection of chastity does not qualify as a human right; it is neither a civil nor a political right. On the contrary, it has been used as a justification by conservatives and fundamentalists like Taliban to deny women personal freedom that they are entitled to enjoy, and to keep them restricted to chaadar and chaardiwari – housebound and in purdah.

Maududi goes on to claim that the sanctity of chastity of women can be found nowhere except Islam. This is a historically flawed, sweeping claim. Kautaliya wrote Arthashastra, no later than the 2nd century AD, to illustrate the Hindu political philosophy, in which he forbids, and lays out severe punishments for, violating the chastity of female slave girls. This text was written long before Islam’s advent, but this regulation has to be among the most liberal in history, in that how it protects the chastity of female slaves; whereas Islam explicitly allowed a master to have sexual intercourse with his slave women. Maududi writes that while Western armies have always raped and abused women of their conquered lands, such thing was not perpetrated by any Muslim army. This is a flimsy argument. Mayer terms this argument by Maududi to be a “curious, contrary-to-fact assertion” and writes that “there is no evidence that Muslim armies have historically conducted themselves any better in their treatment of women… and that prostitutes have not served the needs of soldiers in Muslim armies over the centuries” (101).Crimes against women in wartime are not allowed under any legal or moral system; violations in reality have little to do with what is theoretically permissible.

            When promulgating the individual’s right to freedom, Maududi starts a long exposition of how it was originally Islam, and not the West, that abolished slavery, by commanding to set the slaves free and treat them humanely. He then narrates, at length, how brutally the Europeans and Americans treated slave labour and now, with all their shameful record, they have the audacity to denounce Muslims for recognizing the institution of slavery. Slavery has now been abolished all over the globe and these kinds of arguments lack any theoretical or practical value. It is true that Islam guaranteed the lives of the slaves, but they had no property right; and Maududi’s claim that Islam has superiority over the West in abolishing slavery does not stand up to historical scrutiny. An-Na’im writes that since slavery was a norm at that time, Shariah recognized it as an institution and despite its encouragement for emancipation, “slavery is lawful under (traditional understanding of) Shariah to the present day “(172). Denigrating Western accomplishments by referring to its deviation, at different historical junctures, from modern human right standards, is akin to holding the golden age under the Prophet responsible for the malpractices that various Muslim societies over the centuries developed. This kind of smokescreen obfuscates the actual problems of oppression in the Muslim world and reflects the unwillingness to deal with them. Every civilization makes its positive contributions to the humanity and there should be no shame in recognizing West’s intellectual debt in terms of formally, legally, and irrevocably prohibiting slavery- certainly the lowest point in the history of human rights.

When Maududi talks about the right of equality of human beings, he claims that Islam enjoins absolute equality between ‘men’ irrespective of any distinction of colour, race or nationality. He cleverly evades the issue of discrimination based on gender and religion by avoiding mentioning equality in these two categories. Delling analyzes that by sidelining the rights of women and religious minorities, Maududi resorts to a “hypocritical way of allowing these discriminations to continue” (37).  These two categories are omitted, in this document, in an attempt to avoid answering sensitive questions; while Maududi has made his beliefs clear elsewhere that Islam, according to him, does not deem non-Muslims fit to administer state affairs, and prohibits women to participate in public life. Bielefeldt observes that by not including gender and religion in the criteria of nondiscrimination, and by not acknowledging the conflicts between Shariah and modern human rights, Maududi has reduced his essentialist, i.e. rigid and unchanging approach to a “superficial and uncritical ‘Islamization’ of human rights” (104). Maududi opines that superiority of one man over another is “only on the basis of God-consciousness, purity of character and high morals”. This is to say that Islamic standards of virtue and duty can lead people to claim a higher degree of dignity than those who fail to meet the religious standard. Bielefeldt maintains that “such dogmatic type of reference to a divine foundation of human dignity leads to a concept that … serves as a vindication to human inequality rather than justifying universal equality of all human beings in dignity and freedom” (104).

As we have discussed before, direct confrontation with the state of Pakistan led Maududi to begin advocating certain positive freedoms such as the right to participate in the affairs of the state, and the right to protest against government’s abuses. He also stipulated certain negative freedoms such as restricting the authority of the state with respect to interfering in the sanctity and security of private life. One wonders if Maududi and his party were in a position of state power and authority – instead of the victims of it – would he still tone down on his totalitarian inclinations and declare that state cannot encroach on the privacy of individual’s life, when we are all familiar that the underlying pillar on which whole Maududian philosophy stands is his concern with shaping all the aspects of human life according to the principles of Islam. Maududi maintains that government pries on the lives of citizens who are dissatisfied with its official policies. He claims that Islam terms this to be the root cause of all mischief in politics; it makes it difficult for a common citizen to speak freely. Again, as an example of ‘mischief’, Maududi sticks to his tradition of pointing out something Western; he refers to the evil of FBI agents meant to spy on the affairs of men, which Islam is strictly against. We can argue that if prying on people’s personal lives is reprehensible, it should by extension, also render preaching and censuring others on the basis their personal morality (‘forbid evil’) in their private lives unnecessary.

Maududi takes pride in declaring that Islam allows freedom of speech, expression, and association on the condition that it is used to propagate virtue and “not for spreading evil and wickedness”. This assertion is highly problematic in that Maududi does not, at all, define the open-ended terms ‘evil’ and ‘wickedness’. This deliberate loophole opens on the state the occasion to abuse power by making easy for it to define ‘evil’ to suit its own purposes. For example Houston and Oh note that government can prevent others’ religious activities terming them ‘evil’, or a discussion group gathered to debate religious issues or the proofs of the existence of God could be labeled as spreading ‘evil’ (6). Infact any party or organization that the government deems not in its favour can be proscribed under the pretext that it is spreading ‘evil’. Maududi maintains an air of superiority in claiming that Islam’s right to free speech is better than its Western counterpart because the former categorically prohibits evil. In my opinion, the latter is more functional in that the limits on the Western freedom of speech are relatively clear and precise i.e. hate speech and libel. Whereas the lack of a concrete definition of broadly vague term ‘evil’ in Maududi’s conception can lead to significant implementation problems. Perhaps, his aim is to remain open to the limitations Shariah rules bring about with reference to blasphemy. Mayer notes that using Islamic standards of virtue to organize public life, without giving the exact meaning of the qualification, leads one to “think of Islam as a curb on rights” (76), whereas Maududi is trying to make us believe the opposite. Although Maududi encourages toleration but he also stresses upon the necessity to “enjoin good and forbid evil”. It is not difficult to foresee that by allowing all Muslims to forbid each other from evil not only leads to self-righteousness galore, but the forbiddance would tend to manifest in the most violent forms. Irene Oh notes that these two injunctions (tolerance and the duty to forbid evil) lead to inevitable tensions, and Maududi fails to provide guidance as to which principle takes precedence if the two come into conflict, for instance, when a Muslim denounces Islam (4). Moreover, forbidding evil, for most part, necessitates prying on people’s personal affairs which, as already established, is prohibited by Islam. Taking the principle of forbidding evil too far, in the modern world, seriously undermines Mill’s idea of Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.”

Maududi includes two articles maintaining “freedom of conscience and conviction” and “protection of religious sentiments” in which there is a palpable contradiction. On one hand he claims that Islam forbids harassment of the ‘people of the book’ and coercion towards them to convert to Islam. On the other hand he does not address the question of whether we can extend the right of freedom to religion to include, also, conversion from Islam to another religion. Like the rights of women, Maududi chooses to conveniently evade this contentious issue. He chose not to confess that he supported killing those who convert from Islam, to avoid undermining the credibility of his human rights scheme.

It is a curious fact to notice that in the section of ‘Rights of citizens under an Islamic State’, Maududi presents fifteen articles, some of which we have discussed; none of them deals specifically with the rights of non-Muslims under an Islamic State. Although he does mention in passing that the lives and properties of dhimmis are as ‘sacred’ as those of Muslims, and that they have the same rights as Muslims. This is a misleading statement which does not accurately reflect Maududi’s views on the subject, which he expressed in other publications. In Islamic Law and Constitution Maududi explicitly stated that non-Muslims are ‘not fit to administer state affairs’ and so they cannot be employed in government posts. He corroborates his stance by adding that if it was desirable to induct non-Muslims in state machinery, then Prophet Muhammad would have set an example by doing so. That the Prophet did not even keep one non-Muslim member in his Shura convinces Maududi to deem non-Muslims unfit to administer state affairs. This argument is again invalid, because the Prophet’s life preaching Islam spanned only over 23 years, which is a very short period of time to set examples for practically every issue that has to arise until the end of the world. If something was not the need of the hour 1400 years ago and was not implemented, does not entail that it is prohibited. I would argue that it has been historically documented that Jewish, Christian and pagan communities living in Medina were termed as part of the ‘umma’ in the first constitution scribed by the Prophet after consultation. Umma in this context held a wider connotation that signified the idea of a community living together in association (Faruki 14). If contemporary political rights are to be determined by following the examples set in Prophet’s time, will the Muslims of today be willing to also follow this example set during Prophet’s time?

            The lip service of ‘equality of rights for non-Muslims’ is essentially negated when non-Muslims are denied the equality of opportunity, and are relegated to an inferior status. It is equivalent to saying that ‘we recognize your rights, your freedom of religious belief, as long as you do not meddle with the matters of the state under which you live, and remain confined to your menial jobs’. Elsewhere, Maududi also advocates the reimposition of jizya tax on non-Muslims. In Jihad in Islam Maududi writes that Islam will not interfere with the faith and rituals of non-Muslims. And then he also adds that Islam will ban usury, gambling, prostitution and all activities that it deems immoral. It will make it obligatory for even non-Muslim women to observe modesty in dress as required by Islamic Law. Does this not interfere with the rituals and norms of the non-Muslims? Maududi is silent on these matters in his Human Rights pamphlet.

Before summing up, it is important to note a palpable irony visible in Maududi’s framework: despite his bitter criticism for Western ideas, he unavoidably borrows western vocabularies to show that Islam has institutions comparable and equally ‘advanced’ as those in the West; he “ultimately mirrored those very Western paradigms he sought to oppose” (Houston 8).  This tendency arises out of what French scholars have called concordisme pieux (pious harmonization), the practice involving “strained attempts by Muslims to project modern intellectual developments that have emerged outside the Muslim world back into Islamic past” (Mayer 171). Islamic scholars are inclined to do this to preserve the credentials of their religion as a ‘comprehensive ideology’ which anticipated all value achievements of modern civilization.

Moreover, Maududi’s excessive reliance on extensive quotes from the Quran indicate that his approach is to use text of Revelation as a permanent guide to law-making, not reason and the exigencies of time. Khadduri maintains that reliance on a Divine Legislator, God, who is not communicating to people through prophets anymore, to make contemporary law, makes human rights in Islam static (79). Moreover, the making of derivative laws was also prohibited by the theologians of 10th century AD which further made Muslim legal system entirely static.

As a way forward, I would propose the approach put forth by people like Mahmoud Mohammed Taha and Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im in the area of human rights in Islam. They honestly maintain, unlike Maududi, that instead of concealing the contradictions between Shariah and modern human rights, one should candidly confess that the contradictions exist, and strive to make an evolved and reformed Islamic law. It is possible that the proposed reform may diverge from the traditional interpretation of Shariah in its attempt to keep in line with the current times, while also maintaining its Islamic legitimacy in order to be effective in changing Muslim attitudes and policies.

Works Cited

An-Na’im, Abd Allāhi Aḥmed. Toward an Islamic Reformation: Civil Liberties, Human Rights, and International Law. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse UP, 1990. Print.

Bielefeldt, Heiner. “”Western” versus “Islamic” Human Rights Conceptions?: A Critique of Cultural Essentialism in the Discussion on Human Rights.” Political Theory 28.1 (2000): 90-121. Print.

Bonney, Richard. Jihād: From Qurʼān to Bin Laden. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. Print.

Delling, Malin. “Islam and Human Rights.” Thesis. Goteborg University Department of Law, 2004. Print.

Faruki, Kemal A. The Evolution of Islamic Constitutional Theory and Practice: From 610 to 1926 /by Kemal A. Faruki. Karachi-Dacca: National-House, 1971. Print.

Hassan, Riffat. “Are Human Rights Compatible with Islam? The Issue of the Rights of Women in Muslim Communities.” The Religious Consultation. University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky, n.d. Web. 29 Mar. 2014.

Houston, Sam. “The Contours of Conscience: Maududi, Freedom of Conscience,and Comparative Religious Ethics.” Southeast Regional Meeting. American Academy of Religion, Greenville, SC. 16 Mar. 2013. Academia.edu. Web. 29 Mar. 2014. <http://www.academia.edu/4402914/ >.

Kautalya. The Arthashastra. India: Penguin, 1992. Print.

Khadduri, Majid. “Human Rights in Islam.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 243 (1946): 77-81. Print.

Maududi, Syed Abul A’la. Human Rights in Islam. Leicester: Islamic Foundation, 1976. Print.

Maududi, Syed Abul A’la. Jihad in Islam. Lahore: Islamic Publications (Pvt), 1990. Print.

Maududi, Syed Abul A’la. The Islamic Law and Constitution. Lahore: Islamic Publications (Pvt), 1990.

Mayer, Ann Elizabeth. Islam and Human Rights: Tradition and Politics. Boulder, Co.: Westview, 1991.

Oh, Irene. Islam and the Reconsideration of Universal Human Rights. May 2005. Essay by Assistant Professor. University of Miami, Florida, USA.

 

 

A Public Holiday for the Sikhs in the Land of the Pure?

Image

Recently, Punjab Assembly approved the resolution to make Guru Nanak’s birthday a public holiday. The sensationalizing brouhaha over inconsequential media stories has, as always, drowned out the importance of this headway.

As much as many people praised this approval as a welcome step forward, some naysayers continue to demean and deride it, remarking that this nation needs to invent new reasons to remain unproductive. This approach confounds two unrelated issues, and fails to appreciate the importance of this step for Pakistan.

The approval is of great significance for what it stands for.

This resolution, demanding Guru Nanak’s birthday to be declared as a public holiday, was tabled by Sardar Ramesh Singh, the first Sikh member of Punjab Assembly. It highlights the importance and effectiveness of the presence and representation of the non-Muslim minorities in the legislative body. Empower them and they will take care of themselves. They can chalk out their demands and advance them on a formal platform; this results in a positive atmosphere of inclusion where they can feel a sense of belonging, of being heard and respected.

Let’s recall that the constitutional structure of this country stands upon the Objectives Resolution which was passed against the will of all non-Muslim representatives in the Parliament at that time.

Sris Chandra Chattopadhya, speaking to the Constituent Assembly in opposition to the Objectives Resolution of 1949, clearly articulated his disappointment. He maintained that this Resolution inevitably gave a superior status to the Muslims by establishing Islam as the state religion. He explicitly stated that this Resolution was going to create a Herrenvolk, a master race who deems itself superior to all other groups. He said: “… I am anxious to see that (Pakistan’s) constitution is framed in such a way which may suit the Muslims as well as the non-Muslims. I have gone carefully through this Resolution and… I cannot persuade myself to accept this Resolution and my instruction to my party would be to oppose this Resolution.”

However, despite the categorical rejection by all non-Muslim legislators, this resolution was conveniently passed and appended to the constitution. It takes little thought to imagine that such provisions in the constitution would certainly have made the non-Muslims feel alienated and unwelcome citizens, right from the beginning.

Herrenvolk was indeed created and non-Muslims have suffered way too much at its hands.

But it’s never too late to move towards making amends. A good legislation might be a harbinger of a positive change in the mindsets.

This approval for a public holiday to honour Sikhism has come right after the Sikhs protested against desecration of their holy books outside the Parliament. It’s of a telling symbolic value. This reflects that the state is now willing, in one way or another, to make amends for some of the past transgressions. Cynics may claim that public holidays amount to nothing but lip service. This is not true and here’s why:

Prominent political scientist Alfred Stepan writes that whereas European democracies maintain a “highly separatist, somewhat a religion-unfriendly pattern of secularism”, highly ranked emerging Muslim democracies like Tunisia, Senegal and Indonesia are positively developing, fit for their own context, along the lines of “twin tolerations”. Twin tolerations entail a civil state, instead of a religious one, where religion respects democratic prerogatives, and the state respects some prerogatives of religion and recognizes its legitimate role in the public sphere. Stepan maintains that three civil states (Indonesia, India and Senegal), in the interest of encouraging mutual respect between religion and democracy, carry out certain public policies and practices. One of them is that these three countries actively contribute to the celebration of more religions than Western Europe does. Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Switzerland decree a combined total of 76 paid religious holidays. All holidays come from the Christian calendar and there’s none for any minority religion. By contrast, Indonesia offers six Islamic holidays and seven additional holidays to cover the sacred days of Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism and Hinduism. Senegal decrees seven Islamic holidays, and six for Roman Catholics, who are less than one-tenth of the total population. Senegal also subsidizes Catholics citizens’ pilgrimage to Rome. India offers five Hindu holidays and ten to accommodate its minority religions. Stepan calls this the “Respect All, Positive Cooperation, Principled Distance” Model. Institutionalizing respect for all religions is an ideal measure for traditional, heterogeneous societies.

Declaring public holiday to honour a minority religion is not a pretext to shirk work. It is a monumental gesture: to value all religions equally, to celebrate the diversity by not only allowing or tolerating, rather respecting the beliefs and practices of all religions.

It’s a welcome step; we must appreciate positive trends and hope for them to continue, instead of constant grumbling about everything that is wrong.

Don’t you ever wonder would 25th December still be a holiday if it wasn’t for the Quaid’s birthday?