Islamic organisations are at pains to explain the real essence of their religion
Sophia was sitting in a coffee shop with her friends when terrorists owing allegiance to the AI Qaeda rammed into the twin towers of the Word Trade Centre in New York. Her immediate response was of disbelieve followed by awe. But once the enormity of the attack sunk in, she felt embarrassed sitting with her friends. Everybody started talking of the Jihadis and why the Muslims were a violent and backward people. Sophia tried to explain be saying that not all Muslims are like that but the comments sounded hollow to her own ears.
“I didn’t know enough about my own religion to answer my friends,” she recalls. “Whatever they were saying made tremendous sense. After all, there was ample evidence to suggest that Muslims are intolerant. Look at what the Talibans did to the statues of Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan?” Sophia’s parents also could not answer her questions convincingly because even their knowledge of religion was confined to rituals and practices.
All these years, people like Sophia and her parents didn’t need to ask each other existential questions about their religion, but in the last couple of years adults are increasingly being pressed by questioning children. Says Tahira Ahmed, a mother of four, “The only things related to religion that I ever asked my parents or my children asked me were such innocuous questions as what would happen if we did not say our prayers five times a day or why must we fast during Ramzan, The most difficult question that I ever faced was why Muslim men can marry four times while the women cannot. “However, now Ahmed is besieged by questions she has no answers to. Her children come home from school and ask her why all terrorists are Muslims? Or whether Jihad really means killing the infidels? These days parents like Ahmed are concerned and they don’t want to dismiss these questions as trivial. If they don’t have all the answers then they are trying to look for them. “I don’t want my children to have a contrived idea of our religion.” She says.
Saeed Khan, who has recently started an organization called Muslim Youth of India, says, “Ironically, most Muslims are not aware about the true nature of Islam because the contemporary Muslim society does not reflect the true Islamic teachings. What most people observe are just the versions of Islam.” This and the worldwide ware on terrorism, which is being interpreted by many as the historic clash between Christianity and Islam has prompted many Muslims in a thinking mode. Organisation (SIO) and Chicago-based Iqra Islamic Centre (with branches in 40 countries including India) have started holding workshops and camps for school children. Apart from imparting the basic knowledge of their religion, these camps also aspire to portray the broad-based image of Islam.
One of the recurring questions that people like Malik Faisal, president, SIO face is about the real meaning of Jihad. The youth today has a problem identifying with a religion that supposedly condones killing of the innocents for whatever reasons. Even though most understand what Jihad possibly cannot mean that, they don’t have the exact answers. The irony is that even those who claim to be devout Muslims have a very fleeting and hybrid idea of the term. “It is unfortunate that even Muslims don’t know what Islam really is. All they know are the fundamentals and the rituals. They read the Quran without understanding its spirit,” laments Faisal.
At a random, informal survey conducted by FORCE across a cross- section of ordinary Muslims, including children and housewives, most respondents said that Jihad means fighting in the name of God, but the fight does not always imply violence. A few said that Jihad means propagating the message of Goad in whichever way possible. Only one in 10 respondents seemed aware of the duality of the term.
Faisal says that the SIO has been organizing weekend camps in Mahabaleshwar near Mumbai for school children so that they understand the nuances of their religion (including the much-maligned term Jihad). My India also hopes to serve this noble purpose. Even before the world understands the real import of Jihad, it is important that Muslims understand it themselves.
Says Khan “Muslims have for long been misled in the name of religion. It is time that somebody explains to them where they have been going wrong. I know of a few people who justify terrorism in the name of Jihad but their stand is wrong. These people quote from unverified and unauthentic Hadith which we and other Islamic scholars are trying to counter.”
People like him are taking recourse to a particular Islamic verse that says that killing of one innocent person is equivalent to the killing of the entire humanity.
“The sanctity of human life is described in an unambiguous manner and no true Muslim can justify killing for innocents as Jihad,” says Faisal.
The real meaning of Jihad
Bridging the great divide