According to the author, the wealth of the Muslim community and government spending on the rituals of Islam for centuries would have been better utilized for establishing universities and technical and research institutes. The absence of these is a key reason for the decline of Muslims as a productive part of the society or country where they live
These are undoubtedly troubled times for India. Never before were the minorities, Muslims in particular, made to face such vicious communal hostility. The Hindu rightwing is at its aggressive best, combining facts with fiction to attack almost everything Muslims hold dear - their prayers, festivals, dress, even cuisine. Muslims are constantly provoked. If they respond even verbally, they face more wrath. It could not have been worse.
Hats off to Mohammad Aslam Parvaiz for coming out with his book on the problems Islam faces now. No, this is not a book about how to deal with Hindutva forces; far from it. A man of science, Parvaiz complains that Muslims across the world have jettisoned Islam’s true nature by sticking to parts of the Quran while ignoring much of what it says on how one must lead one’s life.
As a student of spirituality, I am convinced that the book will make waves in India and much of the Islamic world.
The Quran, the author says, tells people how to lead a peaceful and meaningful life. While it asks those who read it to understand and explore nature, these intellectual pursuits are almost missing in those who claim the Quran to be their guidebook.
Parvaiz moans that Muslims born in Muslim households are taught to ‘read’ Quran without understanding it. Over the last many centuries, Muslim society has cherry-picked certain verses of Quran as binding on them. These include five-time prayers, fasting during Ramzan, offering ‘zakat’ and making a pilgrimage to Mecca. The Quran, he says, is much more. By deserting the Quran, “we ‘Muslims’ have deserted Islam”.
This is the main reason the Muslim society seems to have turned its back to scientific principles in which it once excelled, giving a tough competition to Europe. A sizeable section of Muslims even feels that contemporary education churns out atheists. The result? Ignorance about Quranic teachings coupled with limited ‘religiosity’ has led to the curriculum which is followed in most madrasas today.
In the process, Muslims are widely misunderstood by others. Non-Muslims think a Muslim must be one who sports a beard and a skull cap, goes to a mosque to pray five times a day and slaughters animals to eat. But these are visible symbols. Parvaiz contends that the one who follows the guidance given in the Quran and grooms himself accordingly is alone a true Muslim.
Based on the Quran, Muslims must draw a road map for acquiring knowledge in every sphere and put it to the service of humanity. Parvaiz details what all the Quran says for human betterment. For instance, it underlines that one must meet his needs judiciously and avoid extravagance. As long as the Muslim followed the divine way, they ruled over the world and promoted justice, equity, peace and public welfare. When they began to neglect the Quranic system, it led to their disgrace and humiliation.
Unfortunately, Muslims are at present unable to understand or act on the Quran. According to the author, the wealth of the Muslim community and government spending on the rituals of Islam for centuries would have been better utilized for establishing universities and technical and research institutes. The absence of these is a key reason for the decline of Muslims as a productive part of the society or country where they live. “Their love for wealth, progeny and glory have made them indifferent to patronizing knowledge… It is time that we transcend sectarianism and shed false notions about our understanding of Islam and our intellectualism.”
According to the author, one reason why Muslims were hooked to a ritualistic lifestyle is because of the birth of a plethora of confusing and contradicting literature based on different sects that began to flourish. Slowly, Islam began to get diluted. Also, some Muslim rulers had a knack of not tolerating any criticism about themselves or their religious beliefs. Consequently, wars and persistent battles rendered the once-prized academic atmosphere unfavourable. Muslim mobs in 1857 plundered the library of Delhi College, tearing apart books on English and science; Arabic and Persian books were looted.
Parvaiz without doubt has complete faith in the Quran. Yet he tears to shreds those who he feels are following it selectively, ignoring all that it has said about how to be in tune with Divine creations. “Soulless rituals cannot provide any food for thought. These may arouse our sentiments. Yet they cannot produce those Muslims who may lead communities of the world.”
He goes on: “Today, Muslim localities are notorious for their filth and rubbish. We throw all rubbish outside our homes and shops. The drainage system is rotten. We encroach upon roads, making life difficult for everyone. We erect all sorts of barriers on roads. We generate various forms of disorder. The industrial smoke coming out of small- scale work units in every house and alley adversely affect the entire atmosphere. All this amounts to disobeying God’s commands.” (It is another matter that much of what the author says about Muslim neighbourhoods can be said to be true for areas populated by other communities in India too.)
Parvaiz explains what needs to be done. “Water, air, earth and all that is inside the planet are God’s signs. As Muslims we should not even think of disrespecting or destroying these signs.” His complaint is not directed at one section or country of Muslims. “No group, community or country of Muslims has ever prepared its progress model which is in accordance with the Quranic principles of justice, equity and selfless service.”
God, he says, has subjected everything to His laws. Indeed, all creatures who abide by divine commands can be called believers. Lip service and verbal claims alone will not and cannot help Muslims discharge their duty towards God. In real life, humans who are blessed by God seek to hold and hoard resources provided to them. Ownership and monopoly, he warns, are satanic concepts.
Parvaiz feels that the time has come to free Muslim educational agenda from religious and sectarian bias. Muslims should welcome all beneficial branches of knowledge. Character development has to be encouraged. One needs to train and produce Muslims who will follow Islam in full and not confine it to only a mosque or prayers.
“Islam will be their guide and mentor in every activity of life. This is the Muslim community which lost its way one thousand years ago.”
Non-Muslims too must read this eye-opener of a book as much as Muslims.
Title: The Scientific Muslim: Understanding Islam in a New Light; Author: Mohammad Aslam Parvaiz; Publishers: Konark Publishers; Pages: 184; Price: Rs 595.
(The reviewer is a veteran journalist and author)