This article was first Published on February 26, 2008 at – :
Originally I responded to a request from Hasni Essa about Akbar, the great Mughal King and his experiments with Pluralism. It was a draft and I was going to do some study and respond in more details. Meanwhile, it got the circulation and my esteemed friend Dr. Javid Jamil and Shamim Siddiqi responded to it. All the responses are appended below. Here is my counter response. It is about co-existence. By the way, I would want you to express your understanding of the same, together we can learn more.
The attacks on Islam after 9/11 propelled me to study the veracity of the statements ascribed to Islam by the media.
The traditional translations of Qur’aan did not offer much hope, and it was a taboo to question those translations. Thank God for the internet, the net waves got flooded with information in addition to the availability of multiple translations of Qur’aan in the market. Every translation added a new dimension, and reflected translator’s background; they were obviously influenced by who they keep the company with.
The need to understand Islam, as it was intended, became a priority to me. I was driven by one of my favorite passages from the Bhagvad Gita – finding the truth is one’s own responsibility. The human fears, anger, ill-will, malice and the negative emotions are some times based on false propaganda, and liberation comes from it is finding the truth, as truth relieves one from anxiety and brings clarity and possible solutions, be what that truth may be.
Qur’aan is for all seasons and all ages, it is what you understand. The political criminals twist the constitution to support their agendas, just as the religious politicians twist their holy books to support their own agenda which is generally destructive. Where as the 99% of the population does the right thing by understanding the purpose of religion and live and let live.
Qur’aan, Al-Inshiqaq, Surah 84:7 “And as for him whose record shall be placed in his right hand,” (whose behavior in life characterizes him as “righteous”), and Qur’aan, Al-Inshiqaq, Surah 84:10 “But as for him whose record shall be given to him behind his back; (where it is stated that the record of the unrighteous “shall be placed in his left hand”. In reality, however; the present formulation alludes to the sinner’s horror at his record, and his wish that he had never been shown it (69:25-26): in other words, his not wanting to see it is symbolized by its appearance “behind his back”.)
Islam consistently encourages individuals to do well. It emphasizes one’s individual responsibility towards the peace and security of the society at large. Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) described a good deed as an act which benefits others, such as planting a seed, knowing well that, when it grows to be a full fledged tree it will serve generations of wayfarers with fruit and the shade. The world is a better place today because of a good legacy bequeathed to humanity by people of all faiths that came before us. We owe it to coming generations to leave the world a little better than we found it, to usher an era of justice and peace.
“There are the people who have never cared for their neighbors; they thought they would never return to God. Their Lord watches all that people do.”
It was a defining moment for me when I decided to delve myself into understanding Islam. Imam Feisal Abdur Raouf of New York had made a statement to the effect that Islam means peace; and a Muslim is one who brings peace. Over the years, I have pondered over who is a Muslim or a religious person of any faith for that matter? The following statement was the result “To be a Muslim (or to be religious) is to be a peace maker; one who constantly seeks to mitigate conflicts and nurtures goodwill for peaceful co-existence. God wants us to live in peace and harmony with his creation; life and matter. Indeed that is the purpose religion.” Each one of us is a carrier of the peace flag.
The above became my lens through which I was looking at the word of God, for me, as a Muslim, God’s word is Qur’aan. God is for every human being and no one owns him or has any exclusive rights with him (equally her or it). We are his creation and belong to him as he belongs to us all.
Islam is indeed an all embracing idea and justice is its core value. When there is justice, it puts people at ease; they are released from the fear that some one is going to take advantage of them or the fear that they will have to pay for their actions if they are unjust to others. The middle path as the Prophet called is the key for peaceful living. Qur’aan -55:9 weigh, therefore, [your deeds] with equity, and cut not the measure short!
When there is justice, one’s focus turns to living the life. No one would be lying to others; no one would be cheating, abusing or usurping what belongs to others and most certainly, no one would be taking advantage of the weak. The description of the day of the judgment is simply the pinnacle of learning about individual responsibility – you would stand on your own, neither your parents, nor the kids, nor your wealth or even the Prophet is going to do anything for you, your only defense is the good you have done to others. God is just and will serve justice to every human being. By the way, Qur’aan has assured God’s blessing and grace to every human who is Just; Muslim or not.
When the universe evolved, or simply when God created the universe, it was a two part system; Matter and Life.
Matter had a defined space and role to play. In this model, the creator God did not give freedom to the matter, it was put on a trajectory and was to do exactly what it was meant to do, and it has been doing this for millions of years, precisely and on time. The Earth takes ~365 days to revolve around the Sun; the light determines the plants, ice, water content and life. Qur’aan -55:6 “[before Him] prostrate themselves the stars and the trees.” Each one is simply playing its determined role; each item respects the space of other and co-exists in harmony. This is the model of peaceful co-existence.
When it came to life, God placed the brains and took away the defined role (like the role of earth revolving around the sun) and gave freedom to humans to use their intelligence and create their own abode of harmonious co-existence between billions of them. On the way, God gave manuals (for Muslims, it is Qur’aan) to each species or each community and nation to follow that model of peaceful co-existence.
Qur’aan, Al-Hujurat, Surah 49:13: “O mankind! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. The noblest of you, in sight of Allah, is the best in conduct. Allah Knows and is Aware.”
For the followers of the Qur’aan (manual) Islam is a complete way of life. However, others have their own manuals to follow to achieve peaceful co-existence. God offers the clarity to each one of the followers of different manuals, each nation and tribe has its own equilibrium and manual and we have to know one another.
As Muslims we have never had the chance to dig in more and find the truth for ourselves. We (followers of all faiths) are conditioned by the politics of religion to negate other manuals of God. However, God’s words (Qur’aan) are beautiful and respectful toward those who follow a different manual.
109:1 SAY: “O you who deny the truth!
109:2 “I do not worship that which you worship,
109:3 and neither do you worship that which I worship!
109:4 “And I will not worship ~hat which you have [ever] worshipped,
109:5 and neither will you [ever] worship that which I worship.
109:6 unto you, your moral law, and unto me, mine!”
It is a reminder for us to think about it from our manual’s point of view and learn to accept and respect the God given uniqueness of each one of us, then conflicts fade and solutions emerge.
Our goal is to duplicate the perfect model of Matter that God has created. We have to make our own pathways without conflict and create that heaven on the earth.
Insha Allah, as a Muslim, I am committed to continue to study and understand the concept of Pluralism and co-existence God has presented to the followers of Islam. My reference is some of the many verses in Qur’aan that direct us to create that model of bliss between all of his creation. I welcome Muslims and others to do research on this aspect, as no one owns Islam or Qur’aan; it belongs to all, just as other faiths offer salvation, Mukti, Moksha or Nirvana.
The concept of Tauhid is certainly understood in a few dimensions, one of them is a “one-single-physical God” despite the pronounced belief that God is not a being. Qur’aan – 112:4 “and there is nothing that could be compared with Him. Still it arms the politically oriented ones to imagine that are other God(s). We need to understand the depth of this concept.
Tauhid to me, at this stage of understanding is “unison” without “conflict”. – One source of creation, one originator, one universe, one people that leads to a model for conflict elimination and creating a blissful state of existence. Where fear, envy, jealousy, arrogance, ego, ill will, hate, malice and anger is overcome with the positive energy of co-existence.
God want us to succeed for human co-existence and duplicate the model of the matter. It is accepting and respecting the God given uniqueness of each one of us that reduces conflicts and brings solutions to harmonious co-existence.
I believe this was the intent of Akbar, the great Moghul King. To some of my friends and the critiques it failed in political terms, however, his legacy of harmonious co-existence will continue to inspire generations yet to come. India has been such a model with a few exceptions.