Setting the record straight

Setting the record straight

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan is a name synonymous with a liberal, moderate and tolerant interpretation of Islam. In this interview he demolishes many of the interpretations that have tarnished it in present times, says Jamuna Rangachari

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan is a renowned Islamic scholar whose life mission is to promote humanism and truth as the true message of Islam.

Internationally recognized for his contributions to world peace, he has received, among others, the Demiurgus Peace International Award, the Padma Bhushan, the Rajiv Gandhi National Sadbhavna Award and the National Citizen’s Award. A recent book, The 500 Most Influential Muslims of 2009, by Georgetown University, Washington DC, has named him “Islam’s spiritual ambassador to the world.”

With his long white beard and noble countenance, he reminded me of Rabindranath Tagore. What impressed me more that his numerous credentials and awards when I met him, was his ability to connect with everyone. I saw him interacting with, and answering the queries of everyone, especially the young. Once again, I was reminded of spiritual greats who have always understood that the spirit of the young must be given the right direction so that their energy and drive is not misused. He gave me his magazine, Spirit of Islam, and also made me a complimentary subscriber. Through my interaction and his writings, I could see that he was completely abreast of current events, and trying his best to correct the distorted image of Islam that has overtaken the religion the world over, even among the believers.

After completing the interview, I read his magazine, Spirit of Islam. Among his many writings, I resonated deeply with his analogy of Mahatma Gandhi’s satyagraha as the true symbol of jihad which achieved something remarkable through non-violence. I hope and pray that everyone listens to his sane and humane voice, and attempts to imbibe the true spirit of Islam. Excerpts from the interview

What is the role of religion and faith in today’s world?

Religion is basically a spiritual discipline. The sole target of religion is to develop a person spiritually. A spiritual person is one who is able to live with a positive mind and is duty-conscious rather than rights-conscious. Such a person is free of greed and hate, and is capable of assessing things objectively. He is one who possesses a predictable character. This kind of personality is the greatest need of present times.

Many people are wary of Muslims and Islam because of their perceived intolerance toward people of other faiths, whom they call kafirs. Who, according to you, are kafirs and how should they be dealt with?

It is totally wrong to divide people in terms of Muslim and kafir. According to the Quran, every person is insaan, or a human being. According to the Quran, all people have common ancestors, that is, Adam and Eve. This means that all people are blood sisters and blood brothers. According to a saying of the Prophet of Islam: “Al-khalq ayal Allah.” That is, the entire humanity is the family of God. According to this, Muslims must live in the midst of others as though they were their family members, and should deal with them accordingly.

The word kafir literally means denier of truth. But that can be determined only by one’s intention. Therefore, only God knows who is truly a believer and who is a non-believer. Muslims have no right to take the seat of God. Muslims must fulfil their own duties and should leave all other matters to God. In Islam there is no concept of being a born Muslim. Therefore, even a Muslim’s being Muslim will be established only when God confirms his or her being a Muslim.

According to Islamic teaching, Muslims have no right to declare a person or a community as kafir. This matter belongs to God’s domain. The duty of Muslims is only to treat others as human beings.

What is jihad? When and how should people take this up?

Jihad literally means to strive or to struggle. According to the Quran, jihad is a peaceful struggle for a noble cause. Jihad has no relationship with the sword or the gun. For example, a person is doing jihad if he or she fights against sentiments such as greed, tries to come out of negative thinking, or strives to peacefully end social evils, or bring human values to society.

In later days, the word jihad was extended to mean qital (war). This interpretation of jihad is not found in the Quran.

As far as qital is concerned, we must know that qital is allowed only for the purpose of defence by an established state. Qital is not permissible in Islam for a purpose other than defence. If someone wages a war in the name of qital for a purpose other than defence, then that is going against the teaching of Islam. Islam disowns such an act.

Everyone wants freedom to make their own choices. Does Islam permit its followers to do so?

The first clause of Islam is that every person has been bestowed freedom of choice by the Creator. Whether a person is making the right or wrong use of freedom shall be decided by God. No person has the right to make this decision about another.

What kind of education does Islam recommend?

According to Islam, there are two types of education: religious and secular. Religious education is the need of every believer. Secular education has a universal domain and is thus the need of the whole human society. Islam accepts the importance of both these forms of education. Islam leaves it to people on how to organise these two aspects of their education.

In the area of attire of especially women, it is said Islam has a strict code. This is not practical today. For instance, how can one expect a tennis player like Sania Mirza to be clad in a burqah while playing? What are your views on this?

Freedom is the right of both men and women. Both have the right to enjoy their freedom. As far as the burqah is concerned, it is not an Islamic teaching. It was innovated in the later period of Muslim history. It is ridiculous to demand that Sania Mirza should play in a burqah.

Many great singers, accomplished musicians and lyricists, are Muslims. Still, it is often said that Islam prohibits music. Could you clarify this?

Music is not prohibited in Islam. Music is a matter of a person’s own choice. It is a hobby and everyone can choose his or her hobby. There is no ban on music according to the Sharia law.

What is the Sharia law? Can it be revised as per the times and circumstances?

There is a Sharia (law) in Islam. Muslims are not required to implement the Sharia by force. Sharia law is a matter of option and not a matter of implementation. The word “revision” is not very appropriate in this regard. The better word is ijtihad. Ijtihad means to re-apply the spirit of the Sharia according to the circumstances.

In your view, should the citizen of a country give more importance to the Islamic law, or the law of the country he/she lives in?

Law of the land is to be followed by Muslims as by others. Muslims must follow Sharia in their personal issues, but as far as national issues are concerned, every Muslim must follow the law of the land as established by the Parliament.

Very often it is said Islam recommends theocracy and not other forms of government like democracy. Is this true?

This kind of thinking is completely wrong. There is no concept of theocracy in Islam. Islam believes in democracy. The Quranic word for democracy is shura. Shura means deciding social and political matters by way of national consultation.

What indeed is blasphemy as per Islam?

The concept of blasphemy is alien to the scheme of things described in the Quran. If any person has objections to what someone has said, then he can express his views through peaceful means such as publishing articles or books. No country has the right to institute a law on blasphemy and implement it by force on people. There is no concept of “thought-crime” in Islam.

What is a fatwa? Who is authorized to give a fatwa?

Fatwa is not a judicial verdict. Fatwa literally means personal opinion. If any person asks a mufti to give advice on a personal matter, then the mufti can offer his advice. This is a fatwa. No mufti has the right to issue a fatwa on his own about a person, without that person having asked for the mufti’s advice.

How do you view disorder and violence in different parts of the world in the name of religion? Who, in your opinion, is responsible for such inhuman acts?

The violence in the Muslim world in the name of Islam has no relation to Islam. It is entirely a form of tribal culture, rather than being derived from Islam. Some people started it for their personal interest and gave it the name of Islam. In this matter the ulema have made an unforgivable mistake by not openly condemning the violence, as a result of which it has continued to this day.

According to me, the future of both the Muslim and non-Muslim world is only one, that is peace. We have to adopt peace as a universal norm, and not the way of violence.

What is your vision for the future?

According to me, the future of both the Muslim and non-Muslim world is only one, that is peace. We have to adopt peace as a universal norm, and not adopt the way of violence in any circumstance. After the invention of weapons of mass destruction, the option for violence does not remain. In present times, the entire world has peace as the only option.