Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Answer to the Pope

Answer to the Pope

Maryam Sakeenah

The Pope as the symbol and spokesman of the Christian world should have known better. When the Papacy maintains silence over the injustice, oppression and violence the Western leaders unleash on Muslim lands with that inspired "signal from God", it is clearly connivance. When he singles out Islam as a fanatical, violent creed and paints it in the ugly colours of a biased perspective, it is clearly dangerous prejudice. And it is serious.

We must find answers in the early history of Islam. The Christian world finds the Islamic idea of using strength to uphold the good and to establish it as unpalatable. The roots of this belief lie in the pacifist outlook ascribed to Christianity. But how viable is Christian pacifism? How enduring, how many times upheld through history? It was the Roman Catholic Church which, long believing that ˜He who takes up the sword must perish with the sword", sponsored relentless warfare in the Crusades. In 1099, when Palestine fell to the Crusaders, the victorious holy armies brutally attacked non-combatants who had taken refuge in the holy places, not leaving even a single hostage alive. We all know how the Spanish clergy, monitoring planned genocide, ˜purged" remnants of Muslim civilisation from Spain. We see the Western civilisation, with all the thrust on peace and pacifism that Christianity has, at the head of all major confrontations and man-made devastation the world has witnessed. The Crusades, the World Wars, the ruthless colonisation of ˜lesser people", the wiping out of the entire race of American aborigines, and now the holy "war on terror"!

It is kind of indigestible: the saintly Christian cleric harping on peace, piling corpses in his backyard! The roots of this inherent contradiction run deep. The pacifist understands the need for strength and the readiness to exercise it in the kind of world ours is. However, the ˜secularisation" of physical strength and its ouster from religious doctrine leaves him at a loss. He is stuck between loyalty to his faith, the desire to make it prevail (which necessitates activism), and his inability to do so following the dictates of pacifism that declare physical strength ˜unholy". On the other hand, the call of the real world and its exigencies is irresistible, and he succumbs to the necessity of displaying strength in order to prevail.

Yet, in so doing, he diverges or parts from his religious edicts, and knows it. Therefore, in this Christian's psyche, a sharp disconnect between religion and the world is created. War, which is a wholly secular concept to him, has to be taken to out of necessity. But it has to be dealt with irreligiously, as it is not within the precincts of sanctity. It is an unholy weapon, used for no nobler reason than that he cannot help it. As he fights these unholy wars, with the ethical orientation and the elevation of aim, his methods and motives turn ˜unholy" as well. Thus with the bulwark gone, the excesses and brutalities, the mean, low and lustfully selfish trivia fuelling confrontations become wholly justifiable. War is Caesar's domain; it has to be fought Caesar Borgia's way. Religion is reduced to the vile force that fires the hatred that is at the heart of such warfare, and no more. War comes to be used merely as a means to subjugate, acquire, possess, and impose.

This is very unfortunate. For, in thinking this, we stop seeing the effective use of strength as a means to a greater end: to stay the hand of the oppressor, to liberate and to uphold the good. It translates into activism or makes dominant whatever it accompanies. If it accompanies the good, morality blossoms and evil is pushed into its little dark corner. For a morally ordered world, where a spade is called a spade, strength must fall in line to back the powers of good. That is why moral ideologies need to fortify themselves with strength. It is what translates theory and sterile moral doctrine into active, meaningful implementation. It is this vision that Islam incorporates in its realistic outlook.

The essence of Islamic jihadist philosophy is that it sees force and strength as a weapon to resist and diminish the influence of evil and to uphold and stand up for the good and true. Therefore, the readiness to defend it and expound it is a natural part of being ˜Muslim". By making this concept of physical struggle for the most worthy cause a part of its religious fundamentals, Islam recognises the relationship between ideology/morality and strength, and sanctifies it. This is what creates the values of selflessness and sacrifice, courage and conviction that engender true, meaningful and enduring greatness and heroism_ the impregnable spirit of the selfless believer. This creation of the mujahid character is the formula for change for the better. Islam makes strength a means to a greater end, ennobling it, elevating it. Strength thus becomes virtue, as it aims at creating a moral order, stemming chaos, anarchy and suppression, recovering human values out of the quagmire of amoral chaos, reinstating respect for human life that comes with a belief in one God (tauhid).

A comparison is eye-opening. Hold in the balance the Crusader-mentality that cannot even draw a line between combatants and non-combatants as opposed to the Prophet's (PBUH) army who fought war as an act of faith, careful not to blemish their cause with unfair excesses at a time when the Roman, Persian and Byzantine armies were committing atrocious acts of barbarism to make their presence felt. In the battle of Badr, the Prophet (PBUH) said: “You shall not permit personal hate or revenge sway your hearts while fighting. You shall not raise your arms against anyone who is not a party to the fight. You will spare the old and the sick. You shall protect women and children from injury.� At the battle of Uhad, he said: “You are not fighting for land nor wealth nor bloodshed, but merely to defend the word of Allah and to keep high the banner of truth."�

In the second Khalifah Hazrat Umar's time, when Christian areas fell to the Muslims, Umar (RA) wrote a public declaration: "This is the safety that Allah’s humble slave Umar [RA] has granted to the natives of this city. This guarantee of safety and honour is for their lives, properties, Church and Cross, for the healthy and the sick, and the followers of all religions. Their churches will not be infringed upon, nor will they be demolished; their crosses will not be banned, nor will their properties be confiscated. In matters of religion, there will be no compulsion on them.� When in Umar's (RA) tenure, Muslims in Syria had to leave under pressure of the Romans, the Christian citizens came out into the streets in mourning, shedding tears of sorrow. The Bishop swore on the Bible saying, I swear by this Sacred Book, if we are ever given a chance to choose our own leaders, we will choose these Arabs."�

On the contrary, ideologies and systems that outlaw the use of force show the gaping loophole of such an approach in the arena of implementation. It doesn't work, leaving people scot-free to use whatever means can guarantee an easy victory. It is this silence about the right use of force that leads to all becoming ˜fair in love and war', as religion has not defined the motives and parameters for you. A Western war officer writes on effective war strategies: "When bombing, the victims must necessarily include women and children and other non-combatants, for the strategy of warfare dictates that only then can the enemy be intimidated, pressurised and forced to surrender as soon as possible."� The distinction is clearer than can ever be explained.

Yes, Mr Pope, one of Islam's great contributions was to infuse strength and earthly pragmatism into the spirituality of religious doctrine to make it viable. It was a monumental achievement. The ethos of Islam sees virtue in strength, and strength in that virtue. That is one big reason why Islam stands out of the whole array of spiritual doctrines. It is the only religion whose founder was a ruler, jurist and soldier, and lived all these roles to the fullest. It is the only religion that makes social activism and the willingness to physically struggle for it a part of its very fundamentals. It is the only religion that can see the role of religion not in the hermit's humble hut and the cave-dwelling of a sage or a Church altar, but in such secular arenas as the court of law and the battlefield as well.

Perhaps that is why our beloved Prophet (PBUH) has the most enduring legacy_ religious and secular_ of any religious figure. And that is why Shaw said that if any faith had the capacity to survive till the end of time, it would be Islam.