First Person | Let the Music Play

Don’t take fun out of faith

Ghazala WahabGhazala Wahab

When you fear you obey. When you love you submit. Like an unchained melody, love remains boundless, non-demanding and unstructured by societal conditioning. Obedience, on the other hand, requires set regulations; after all, what do you obey then? Obedience might be restrictive and perhaps a bit crippling, but it is not exactly a bad thing, given that it helps keep a large body of people within certain pre-drawn lines. Thriving on fear, it works on the principal of reward and punishment, which has proved to be an acceptable system for governance. Not so with religion, which is a different story altogether. Obedience in religion leads to rigidity about good and evil, right and wrong with terrifyingly violent manifestations.

Though religious origins do hark back to fear, with time the nature of prayer evolved from propitiating the angry gods to include devotion, often joyous and selfless. Reward and punishment became incidental as the relationship between the devotee and God became that of a lover and the beloved. And just as love dictates submitting oneself completely to the beloved, prayer acquired a form, content and means of it own.

One of the examples of this kind of devotion is the Sufi stream of Islam, where the Sufis likened themselves to lovers with God being their beloved. Similar affection or love developed between the devotees and the Sufis, though Sufis were never revered as God. They were considered the blessed ones and the devotees thronged them in the belief that they were closest to God in the presence of a Sufi. In the lively courtyards, and later dargahs, of the Sufis developed the musical form of Qawwali, in which words compliment the rhythmic claps. Sufis and others who found solace in this form of worship seldom followed any disciplinary style of prayer. Each evolved his or her own pace without getting restricted by what was allowed and what was not in the religion. It w

as faith based on love and trust rather than assurances of rewards in the life hereafter. Sounds like a fun religion, doesn’t it?
In the early years of Islam Sufis were revered all over, their legends travelled far as did they, and it is a historical fact that Islam spread rapidly across continents not under the shadow of the sword (as many claim), but through the gentle ministrations of these wandering minstrels. This was the reason that wherever it went Islam assimilated itself with the local culture and traditions. Hence, north Indian Muslims are culturally closer to north Indian Hindus, in matters of marriage, birth, death, food and clothes etc, than south Indian Muslims. The same is true in south, east or west India. Similarly, Indonesian Islam has elements of old Indonesian beliefs, including faith in the Occult. The recently deceased former Indonesian President Suharto, despite being a Muslim was a great believer in it and performed many of those rites from time to time.

Such unbridled religious form defies central authority. It militates against restrictive and fatwa-prone clergy; in any case, unlike other Semitic faiths most Muslims do not believe in formal clergy. So how could those claiming greater erudition or religious knowledge wield control over foolish millions who thought that they knew what was best for them? Revisionist Islam started rearing its head in the 18th Century, in the garb of reforms and ridding Islam of animist and other influences. Since, Arabia was Prophet Mohammed’s land of birth, Arabian Islamic scholars claimed better understanding and hence the right to interpret what was Islam as propounded by the Prophet. That the original purpose was political dominance and control over the millions of adherents of Islam, was clear by the alliance between Muhammad ibn ’Abd al-Wahhab and Muhammad ibn Saud sometime in 1740s. Under the agreement, al-Wahhab and ibn Saud divided the spiritual and the temporal world among themselves, with al-Wahhab getting the right to propagate his version of Wahhabi Islam and ibn Saud wresting political control of Arabia in perpetuity. To remove all doubts, he named his country Saudi Arabia. Fear of the leaping fires of hell and reward in the form of verdant gardens of Paradise became the centre-point.

For Muslims worldwide ignoring Saudi Arabia is not possible. There is an emotional attachment; it is Prophet’s birth place and he is buried there. Moreover, two of the most revered pilgrimage sites are located there. Partly through design and partly because of the blind faith of the ordinary people, a myth perpetuates that Saudi and by extension Arab scholars know best. By making Islam increasingly intolerant of anything that Wahhabi scholars have deemed as unIslamic, they have offered hapless millions as fodder to the Jihadi-churning factories. The intolerance has risen so much that fellow Muslims, who do not adhere to their line of thinking are pronounced apostates or heretics. In Pakistan, there are fanatics who do not regard people of the Shia and Ahmadi sect as Muslims. Once upon a time, Islam brought people together in a joyous celebration of life, but today it has been reduced to a faith of raging fanatics who think that hate and not love will bring them closer to God.


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