Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Imaan: Takmeel al-Insaan
Mankind in turmoil,
From ages immemorial.
For what, then, this memory undying?
What, indeed, is its lesson unyielding?
The battle for the Soul of Man -
Has it not raged off and on?
How often, indeed, has history seen it wax and wane!
Between the forces two: of Divine Spirit and the Demon's Mane!
What then the battle-cry of the One in his Mane of Vanity?
"For that Thou hast cursed me this day, this hour of calamity,
'tis for me to misguide Adam unto his last struggling seed;
Away from Thee; away from Thine; away from the Path that's his need!"
What, then, the Promise Divine, the countering cry?
God's Word that none of Adam shall the Demon, with success, try
Except for the ones of Adam whom no remorse sets aright,
For their sins - against their souls - of every day, every night!
This, then, is the hope, this is still the way
With which the believer may yet hold sway:
The Shield of Faith held above his head;
From right, from left, and on the Path he has to tread.
What of this Faith - this Imaan, you say: how is to be really had?
In this age far ahead of the Prophets' own, in these times not unchanged a tad;
Past a history beyond repair, all but cast within layers of deepening gloom,
Where the heirs of the Prophets walk blinded; where, thus, no hope there is to bloom!
Would that the Prophet be amidst us now,
To grant today's believers the faith: Oh, but how!
For, in his life, did the first believers directly see,
What faith truly meant; what its Reality!
Imaan then is no cheap commodity;
For which there is no price in its crudity.
To profess belief, therefore, is to profess nothing,
If with belief there is no practice, no sacrifice scathing!
Muhammad's Imaan did change the world;
But what of his followers: if all into one were today rolled?
Would their Imaan suffice to direct
History's course in positing Islam anew, erect?
Alas, dear reader, while one yearns for an 'Aye!'
The truth, dear reader, is but 'Nay!'
Recall the Messenger on the morrow: 'My followers, in their numbers - a multitude in sequence,
But, as froth on ocean waves, of little, or no, consequence!'
How has this happened, this plight insecure?
Whence has the 'Best of Communities' become all but obscure?
Is it not clear, the reason, to see?
The Imaan of the 'Best' has been for free!
That the price of true Imaan may not be belittled,
God has placed a requirement on the believers, well-considered!
For this is only in the possession of a heart open,
And a firmness in the knowledge of things unseen.
A knowledge unlike that of a worldly science,
Whose only motive is the discovery of manifest, and visible, rules and signs:
The Imaan of the Prophets called forth of the Believers
A discovery of signs hidden; of those of the heart, the redeemers.
That these facts unseen form the true - and eternal - Reality
Of the Hereafter, which to the Believer is no mere formality,
Was but ingrained in the lives of the Messengers
As the only truth worth living for against all harangues.
So great a truth was it to the Messengers Divine
That, to them, all done in forgetfulness of the Hereafter combine
To beget nothing in deeds but what the Qur'an calls:
'Mere ornaments of their lives,' which befools their doers in the Demon's very Halls!
Imaan, then, is firstly, to believe in the Creator of all
As the One, the Only, the Source of Life, Goodness, the Wherewithal.
And Ihsaan is, therefore, that belief in perfection,
Where the believer lives in the Creator's light, His benediction.
The struggle, relentless, for the cause of Imaan - if that be Jihad,
What then the holy study of possibilities in its way today but Ijtihad.
The Believer then is the warrior serene, not only of Imaan, but also of Ihsaan,
Not only in Jihad but Ijtihad too: all in the making of the Perfection of Man - the Takmeel al Insaan!
Saturday, April 12, 2008
'Conform, Not Reform!'
The Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), or the National Center for Scientific Research, is a government-funded research organization, under the administrative authority of France's Ministry of Research. Founded in 1939 by governmental decree, CNRS has the following missions: evaluating and carrying out all research capable of advancing knowledge as well as that having social, cultural, and economic benefits for society, contributing to the application and promotion of research results, developing scientific information, and supporting training for and through research, participating in the analysis of the national and international scientific climate and its potential for evolution in order to develop a national policy. As part of its research initiatives, in July 2006 the CNRS interviewed the Executive Editor of the Muslim Digest, an Islamic monthly magazine in English published from Bangalore, India, since the past quarter of a century. In this wide-ranging discussion with the researcher from CNRS, Max spoke of Islam, its premises, and of the predicament of the community associated with it within and outside the Indian subcontinent. Presented hereunder is the condensed text of the interview.
CNRS: What is a Muslim for you? What of the good and the bad Muslim?
MAX: A Muslim is a person who has accepted a certain state of being, a state of Islam. Anybody, anything, that accepts the state of Islam, is a Muslim. Islam is not a stereo-typed religion like Christianity and Buddhism where you have even the names of these religions defined by the alleged founders of these faiths. Islam is a state of peace and harmony which comes through the complete submission and total surrender to God. A Muslim, therefore, is one who accepts the law of God unconditionally and completely for himself/ herself. Strictly speaking, there is nothing called a bad Muslim. 'Bad Muslim' is a contradiction in terms. I am speaking from an idealist perspective.
CNRS: What is Secularism for you?
MAX: A compromise where peaceful coexistence between different communities and groups is given preference. It implies freedom for all people as long as they abide by the constitution. From the Islamic perspective, it's not compatible. In secularism, there is a man-made constitution that has to be respected. This is something unacceptable according to Islam, which insists on the way, the legislation, of God, since the human mind is relative and can therefore offer only relative solutions to human problems. But, in the sense that it tolerates other religions, yes, Islam is tolerant but not in the way secularism exhibits tolerance. We should distinguish between secularism and tolerance. A Shariah-governed state is preferable.
CNRS: But what of the Dhimmis under Islam? Are they not discriminated upon?
MAX: That Dhimmis have lesser rights than Muslims is a misconception foisted upon Islam. When the Prophet spoke about helping out one's neighbour, he never insisted that he was speaking of a Muslim or a non-Muslim neighbour. The egalitarianism and tolerance of Islam is well-known. In fact, the very term Dhimmi literally means 'the protected one' and so the community that goes by that title within an Islamic state is protected by the state, and, unlike the Muslim citizens, cannot be forcefully conscripted into the Muslim state's army when the state is at war with its enemies. Nor can the Zakat tax be extracted from them, as it is extracted by force of arms if necessary from the Muslim citizenry.
CNRS: How do you view Democracy?
MAX: As something by the people, for the people, and a state wherein the minorities are ruled by the majority opinion. In Islam, there is a rule of Divine law: the only thing of true value. All other systems, whether democratic, or authoritarian, are all man-made and so not acceptable within the Islamic dispensation which accepts no other law-giver other than God Almighty. Among man-made methods of governments, democracy is perhaps a lesser evil as compared to Fascism, and Nazism. But even this is proven wrong when we see what goes on in the United States today. The story doing the rounds today in the corporate media is that the US is trying to spread democracy. Actually, its a minority that rules in the US - a minority that does not speak the will of the majority.
CNRS: Which authors have influenced you the most?
MAX: There is the former Bosnian President, Alija Ali Izzetbegovich, with his magnum opus, Islam between East and West and his more recent Notes from Prison: 1983-88. There is also Arundhati Roy with her work on social issues like The End of Imagination, The Greater Common Good etc. (all of which related to some of the premises of Islam which I had, although she was a non-Muslim herself. It shows that morality is common for the whole of humanity, not just for the Muslims). There is also Sayyid Qutb, Mawdudi, Hassan al-Banna, Maryam Jameelah (formerly Margaret Marcus, she was an American Jew who later reverted to Islam and became one of the most prolific intellectuals of the Muslim world). These are basically reformist Muslim intellectuals of the last century; they all had a common thread running through their thinking. Other writers, like Edward Said (a Christian, with Christian principles, but whose system of values coincided with many of Islam; it again shows that despite your religion there is a common basis for human morality). From the Western side, there is again Noam Chomsky. I was also influenced by Ali Shariati, the intellectual ideologue of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, at a certain stage of my intellectual growth. As far as the growth processes in intellectual development go, it was not a problem for me that he was Shia. At certain levels, the differences between Shia and Sunni Muslims are more of a political nature, although ideological differences have been the real stumbling block on the path to a true unity between the two.
Thus, my direction in life was given to me by Islam and its Muslim reformists but then I found common things running throughout the intellectual world, whether Christian or Muslim. In the Indian context, even Medha Patkar is engaged in social issues which call forth your respect. There are also Western academics like Samuel Huntington who through his The Clash of Civilizations, generated debates that kept me in sustained intellectual ferment. It opened up various other things to me. It showed that the premises of the early Islamic reformists were correct. I speak of Huntington in a negative sense, because while he opened up a range of debates and discussions for my understanding, I never quite agreed with him. There is also John Esposito and Amartya Sen (his contributions to welfare economics again highlighted to me that the underlying concept of welfare economics was correct: that it actually underlined the structure of Islamic economics itself. He was awarded the 1998 Nobel for Economics for that.) Among other influences, the French revert to Islam from Communism, Roger Garaudy: I respect him for his incessant search after the truth, and for his commitment to stick to that truth, no matter what befell him.
CNRS: Why do you think you have been influenced so much by Islam and not the Left?
MAX: Islam is the only system which bases itself on an ideology which satisfies the inner longing for spirituality in man. This is a longing that you cannot deny, that even an atheist who does not believe in God cannot deny. It is the only system of belief, of thought, which gives us a basic purpose in life - something which man is always seeking after. This is not given by the Leftist, the Communist or the Marxist philosophy. The Marxist Philosophy bases itself on the very absence of God: there is no (divinely ordained) morality as such here. However, this is what the human being actually yearns for. No matter how you term it, non-believer or atheist or whatever, he is ultimately in an unenviable position where his principles stand compromised by outward practices. For instance, when he is rendered helpless, and caught up in such extreme situations of life, he is wont to appeal to higher powers: this is something you cannot deny. The only practicable ideology which pays attention to that is Islam, and it is also a theology of liberation, all rolled into one. That's only in Islam. That's not given by any other. In the capitalist-Western scheme of the world, on the other hand, man is treated as the highest power.
CNRS: In your view, who are the most important Islamic/ national thinkers? Why?
MAX: That's a hard question because they are so many. Modern thinkers, I can just tell you off-hand: Jamaluddin al-Afghani, Hassan al-Banna, Abul A'la Mawdudi, al-Shaheed Syed Qutb, Muhammad Qutb, Malik Bennabi, Khomeini and Shariati (where their thoughts pertain to the anti-imperialist, anti-colonialist struggle), al-Shaheed Ismail Raji al-Faruqi, Maryam Jameelah (formerly Margaret Marcus), Muhammad Asad (formerly Leopold Weiss), al-Shaheed Omar Mukhtar (Libyan revolutionary against the Italians) and many others. It's a whole tragic cycle of resistance, of occupation, and again resistance. And if you come to Afghanistan, it's been the same for past 30 years. People are just resisting: when do they have the time to create civilization? They have only the time to offer sacrifices, or strategies to defend what remains of their lives and honour, in wars forced upon them.
CNRS: What has been the influence of Abul A'la Mawdudi and Syed Qutb on your own way of thinking?
MAX: I think that it can be safely said that the most fundamental influences in my initial leaning towards Islam have been through the works of Abul Ala Mawdudi, Syed Qutb and Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi along with Ahmed Deedat's work against the contradictions of Christianity. All later accumulation of knowledge was, in my experience, essentially a confirmation of what the above-mentioned personalities meant to me. It is interesting that Syed Qutb himself acknowledged Mawdudi and Nadwi as his respected compatriots in the struggle for which he ultimately gave up his life in 1966. As a teenager fooling around with concepts of morality, commitment and sacrifice within Islamic history, what was especially poignant for me was the element of self-immolation, indeed selflessness, within the repertoire of both Mawdudi and Qutb as they stood up for all that was good and noble against the inimical forces that sought to hem them in. Their prodigious talent was no lesser than their iron will in the cause of Islam. As much is in evidence in Syed Qutb's monumental In the Shade of the Qur'an which is a commentary of the Qur'an that was composed, in the main, during the years that he spent in Egyptian jails as a political prisoner - or how should I say – as a prisoner of conscience. In addition, the revolutionary fervour that was set in motion by Qutb's seminal Milestones against the corrupt elites in the Muslim world has been instrumental in the resurgence of all revivalist movements in the modern Muslim world. So powerful was its appeal that the Egyptian government executed its author for his unwillingness to modify any part of the said treatise. But to kill a believer is not to kill a belief, and so Qutb's influence, like that of many other martyrs in the Islamic cause, continues to live on after his death. Abul A'la Mawdudi too had had his share of trials in the cause that he upheld, with him being sentenced to death at one point in his career. This sentence was later commuted by the Pakistan government due to national and international pressure. In short, I have believed that Abul A'la and Syed Qutb went beyond the average modern Muslim academic in their understanding of Islam as a comprehensive way of life and in their articulate validation of Islam as the true, and lasting, alternative to the problems of the contemporary world, Muslim or otherwise.
CNRS: What are your views on the Christian version of the theology of liberation?
MAX: The Christian theology of liberation is, I think, something very personal, at best, since it requires a leap of faith that is not always supported by reason; not always applicable at the societal level. For instance, the present day Bible would have us believe that Christ died for the sins of the world; that 'God so loved the world that he sacrificed his only begotten son that any believing in him should not perish but have everlasting life.' If this is the basis for human liberation then you will agree that it definitely entails a leap of faith that is unrestricted by reason or by the contradictions that such a statement gives rise to. To be fair, however, if we agree that Christian theology as it exists today offers the believer a certain code of conduct, of forgiveness, love and mercy, in his quest for a personal liberation from the afflictions of the world, we must also agree then that this code of conduct is essentially based on a philosophy of world-renunciation, not world-affirmation as in the case of Islam. But surprisingly, it is also a theology that, in historical experience, has not tolerated freedom of thought and reasoning; it is a theology that resulted in the hated inquisitions of the Middle Ages and the persecution of scientists in Europe and beyond. It has been a theology that saw sexuality as inherently evil and, thus, celibacy as the epitome of virtue. The Christian theology of liberation based on the handiwork of different people who wrote and edited the Bible through the course of the centuries, is a theology that is relative through and through, coupled as it is with the contradictions and inconsistencies associated with multiple gospel writers who were prone to all the shortcomings of the human mind. Of course, all this is not to state that reformative attempts have not been made or that they have been unsuccessful in Christian history. There have been several heroic attempts to stick to, or to go back to, the original teachings of Christ and the earliest disciples, but all of these were efforts against the scriptures that were deemed canonical and infallible by the third century after the disappearance of Christ. Foremost in these efforts were the struggle of the Unitarian Christians against the Church, the Protestant reformation of Martin Luther, the efforts of St. Augustine with his City of God, and of course, the luminaries of the scientific community like Copernicus, Galileo Galilee and even Sir Isaac Newton himself.
CNRS: Do you see Zakat, as donation? Do you respect the prohibition against riba? If, yes, how do you manage in daily life? If you want to buy a house, or if you want to send your kids to a good school, how will you do so? Islamic banking?
MAX: I do not see Zakat as donation. Rather, I understand Zakat as the right of the poor; not as charity, nor as dole-outs for the needy. I don't take interest. It's primarily an issue of obedience to God, as mentioned in the Qur'an. So since the Qur'an is against riba, we are against riba, and that's about it, at least on the surface. And, of course, if you dwell into the matter more deeply, you find the problems associated with interest/ usury. You begin to see how the world economy is geared to the capitalist class as against the Third World countries because of this factor. The interest rate's bearing on inflation in the economy is undeniable. As a tool of exploitation, interest must be discouraged, even done away with. Apart from the religious aspect, this has to be done even as a matter of social importance. As for meeting my own minimum needs like housing or other family requirements, we just save for the rainy day. We make it a point to see that when we are paid our salary every month, we don't just spend it all out. After paying up our Zakat dues, and after keeping aside enough for our monthly needs, we save the rest. Perhaps such inconveniences actually make us more responsible; and enable us to live within our means.
CNRS: There is no Islamic banking as such in India?
MAX: There are efforts going on. Now the government has given directions to the RBI to consider Islamic banking within the Indian economic system if it is a possibility. The Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh has given directives because, as an international financing system, it is gaining respectability throughout the world. You have many banks, even abroad, in the West, where you have these Shariah-compliant cells, quite apart from their main banking unit. This maybe to open it to Muslim deposits which would otherwise be lost to the Bank. But then, they know that it requires to be done, and so they are doing it. Islamic banking is here to stay.
CNRS: Do you think Islam can be easily practiced in India? When you work, can you obey the religious duties of Islam? If not, how do you personally reconcile this fact?
MAX: It depends on what type of interpretation you are looking at. If you are looking at an Islam where man is able to pray five times a day, give Zakat and fast during Ramadan and go for Hajj, yes: that can be practiced in India rather easily, at least as of this time. But the problem is deeper, because Islam is not just about these things. Islam involves a complete way of life, a complete system where all the fields of life are given specific laws, for instance: the judiciary, criminal law, the economic system, the social system, etc. Now all these things as a whole cannot be practiced in any place where Muslims are a minority, like in India, for instance. Wherever Muslims are a minority demographically, when they do not have the required political power in a democratic process to form bills in Parliament or to pass resolutions, or to change the constitutional law; when they are not in power in any important, practical, sense, they cannot practice Islam in full. Their Islam will be confined to doing the Salah, which is something that comes at a very personal level, to giving Zakat to the poor, fasting, and going for Hajj. These things are very personal but there are other socially related issues too, like I said, the judiciary, the economic system, an interest-free system, all of which requires a government, which requires political power if they are to be implemented. This is not possible in a country where Muslims are a helpless minority. It’s not just a question of demography, though. Even if you are in a Muslim majority nation, like Pakistan, for instance: they do not have Islamic laws there. On the contrary, they have governments supported by the West who are not sympathetic to Islam as a complete way of life. So wherever they are, whether as a majority or a minority, Muslims ought to try to abstain from laws which directly or otherwise requires them to compromise on their principles. As of now, this is the situation: they should try to stay away from compromising their salvation in the Hereafter for the superficialities, and compulsions, of the here and the now.
CNRS: What are your feelings about God? Which of the following statements comes closest to your view: everything in life is determined by God, God allows man to have some free choice in life, or God gives man total free choice?
MAX: As far as a believer is concerned, there are three stages in his/ her journey of faith: fear, hope and that stage where you do things solely for the pleasure of Allah. Some believers are in different stages, indeed, they keep changing stages. Sometimes, they do things out of fear of Allah, and also abstain from things out of fear of Allah. Then there are believers who do things seeking His Paradise, and who work on these lines. But then you also have that rare group of people who have gone past these stages, who do everything for the Pleasure of Allah: to get His good pleasure. Any good Muslim, at any point of time, keeps rotating between the three stages: fear, hope and the Pleasure of Allah. As for man's freedom of will, yes, man is given free will to live as he likes - whether to accept Good or to accept Evil. This is the moral justification of reward and punishment. Of course, in the sense that Allah knows what is going to happen, since He knows all infinity, He exists in all points of time. So He knows what actually will transpire, what will happen. It does not mean that He has affected it. These things are related to predestination and Taqdir. So it's a combination of the first and the last of the options you have mentioned.
CNRS: What are your feelings for the Prophet? What of the cartoon caricatures on Prophet Muhammad?
MAX: For the Prophet, I have respect, love, and allegiance worthy of the role-model that he was. Nothing more, nothing less. As for the Danish cartoons, I felt the cartoons were something to be totally ignored with the contemptuous indifference that they deserved. The personality of the Prophet has been attacked right from the time he started out with his message. This has been happening for the last fourteen hundred years. Muslims should live up to what Muhammad preached more than defending him while not yet practicing Islam in full themselves.
CNRS: What meaning do you give to prayer? Do you see it as a means to Jannah, as a duty (farz) as a good Muslim, as communication with God, etc.? Can one be a good Muslim without attending a mosque?
MAX: The Muslim Prayer (Salah) is all rolled into one. First, it is an act of remembrance; of Zikr; of remembering your allegiance to God. In praying regularly, you remember that you are under an obligation to Him; you remember that you owe obedience to Him, and then whatever follows is a corollary, a by-product. It's also your way to gain salvation; it's also your way to disciplining yourself. Many things follow. A Muslim can pray at home, although it is strongly recommended that he try to be with the congregation at the mosque every time. Praying away from the congregation might not be the ideal, but that, by itself, will not make him a sinner.
CNRS: Do you also see health virtues in fasting?
MAX: In Islam, principles and prescriptions have a two-fold aspect to them: that's the whole beauty of Islam; it's so perfect, so symmetric that there are no contradictions involved. In each of its tenets, in each of its rituals, its prescriptions for human life, there is this spiritual aspect to it, and a material aspect to it. If you talk of fasting, there is a spiritual side, a material side. The spiritual side, of course, is in your obedience to God which is always the more important. As for the material side of fasting, apart from the health benefits involved, fasting is about sharing the feelings of the deprived in society. If you talk of Salah, there is a spiritual side, and a material side there as well. The same goes for Zakat.
CNRS: What is the material side of Salah?
MAX: Disciplining oneself. You rotate your life around these five times, these five periods of the day. You do everything according to that. So wherever you are, whether in the railway station, in the market, you may immediately see a Muslim taking out his prayer-rug and start praying. This act talks to the world, it is a display of your allegiance to something superior to man, to humanity, at any time: no compromise whatsoever.
CNRS: What is the material aspect of not eating pork? Of eating only Halal food?
MAX: Look at it: modern science confirms that through pork you get hook-worms and other worms into your system. For health reasons: that's the material aspect of it. Alcohol: the same thing goes. The social destruction caused by alcohol is well known. America tried to bring in prohibitive laws during the 1930s but failed in implementing them. In Islam, it is a natural prohibition which people comply with because it comes from an authority superior to man, superior to the American Constitution. Halal (Islamically permitted) food includes meat of prescribed animals that have been slaughtered in a precise manner by disconnecting the jugular vein. Scientifically too, this form of slaughtering tends to allow for complete draining of blood from the body of the animal, thereby making it more palatable to human diet.
CNRS: What meaning do you give to ablutions?
MAX: Symbolic, physical-mental, inner-outer, cleanliness when addressing your Creator in prayer. Of course, you can't deny the general, external, cleanliness that ablution five times a day provides you with. This is all in the beauty of Islam. The whole list goes on like this.
CNRS: Do you think circumcision (khatna) is important? Why?
MAX: Yes, circumcision is an important recommendation and practice of the Prophet, indeed, of all prophets including Moses and Jesus. The Old Testament is on record that Adam himself was circumcised, that Jesus was 'circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin when he was eight days old.' That Paul, who had himself never even seen Jesus, thought it fit that succeeding generations of Christians may be absolved of the need for this important ritual and legacy is quite another matter. On the scientific side, circumcision is today hailed as one of the best preventive practices towards ridding society of the risks of sexually transmitted diseases and other related disorders.
CNRS: What is in your view the worst sin?
MAX: That man should deliberately deny God's existence - and as a result, His commandments - even after his best studies compel him to acknowledge the Divine Presence. This, I think is the home of all evil; indeed, the worst of all sins, for all else, all other sins, flow from this source, and from this source alone. Also, ignorance of God - whether feigned or genuine - can be no excuse either.
CNRS: How, when, and how frequently do you engage in Da'wah?
MAX: Da'wah happens in the sense that you are trying to communicate Islam with people. In that sense, the foremost requirement is to be a good Muslim yourself: your life is the biggest message you can give to humanity, to people to whom you wish to communicate Islam. So you need to be a proper, practicing, Muslim if you need to communicate; if you need to sound convinced when you speak to people. Unless you are practicing yourself, you are not doing it very convincingly. That rings equally true for any ideology, for that matter. Hitler believed in a particular philosophy - a racist philosophy - but he believed in it so firmly, in its value for the welfare, unity and, in time, the ultimate resurrection of his nation. So convinced was he that when he tried to communicate it to the German nation, people followed him in their millions to a war that ultimately destroyed whole notions of our times.
CNRS: Do you think it's a nice comparison?
MAX: Perhaps, not quite. But all I'm saying is that in Adolph Hitler we had a man who, even with a negative, destructive, philosophy, could convince millions, and finally turn up other people like him, when he was convinced of it himself. He could present his philosophy with such force only because he was convinced himself. The same could happen with any other philosophy, including Islam. Islam's is a positive, benign, philosophy and if you believe in that positive philosophy and are convinced yourself of the correctness of its position, and then try to convince others, it will doubtless have its own far more superior, multifold, effects. And since it is a positive philosophy, millions are easily influenced by it; indeed, all mankind is bound to be influenced by it, sooner or later.
CNRS: How do you go about Da'wah yourself? Do you involve yourself in some organized manner of Da'wah?
MAX: My profession itself is a form of Da'wah. That's why I am in this profession, although I was trained differently. I was trained as an engineer, in fact. I was working in the engineering field but had to leave it because of the compromises with principles that it entailed. Things that are rampant like corruption, things that are un-Islamic: I could not reconcile myself with those in my workplace. So I had to resign from my job with the engineering companies I worked with. So Islam is everywhere in your life: it's not just about Salah, and fasting. It's not just that: when you really live Islam you have to be doing so in the modern world, where you have your particular corners. Sometimes I hold seminars for Western-educated and/ or Western-influenced Muslims. This is because I believe we need to do a lot of homework as a community within the house, to clean ourselves first, before we proceed to communicate Islam to other communities.
CNRS: So it's basically through this journal that you do Da'wah. You are not with the Tablighis?
MAX: No. Of course, all these groups which try to sincerely propagate Islam to the masses have their own way of communicating with people. And we have different opinions about the best ways. As the Qur'an says, you must adopt wisdom in your approach towards people, towards communicating Islam towards people. You may need to look at the audience, at what type of thinking they possess. It's difficult to speak to a Western, in the way you talk to an Eastern. This approach has to be appreciated.
CNRS: What does Jihad mean for you?
MAX: Jihad refers to any effort to convey Islam, to defend Islam, by word, thought, or action. Every effort you make against evil, even with your own soul, your own self, for improving yourself personally: that's the bigger Jihad. Unlike the stereo-types given to it, like 'holy war' etc. Of course, when it comes to armed resistance, it's not a matter of whether it's Iraq, Iran, or Afghanistan. When people are unjustly stripped of their lands and their countries occupied, when their basic rights are taken away from them, you try to give this back to them, to defend them against injustice. That's the defense of their own right to exist: you can't take that from anybody. Even the UN charter for human rights declares that it's a fundamental right to survive, to exist. When it is taken away from you, it's very normal that you defend yourself. Of course, in that process, you should not allow the innocents to be targeted: that should not happen. In fact, in Islam, there are very strict rules of how physical warfare should be conducted, where women and kids cannot be targeted, where the monks, the clerics of other religions, religious personalities are not to be molested. Basic human rights should be ensured even in a battlefield. Physical warfare is the last resort, when there is no other way, when diplomacy proves useless.
CNRS: Do you celebrate Milad-un-Nabi? And what of Shab-e-Barat, 'Urs, etc.?
MAX: There are no authentic traditions to indicate that the Prophet celebrated Milad-un-Nabi, and that's how you need to look at it. Neither did his immediate companions. As far as Shab-e-Barat goes, there is no such celebration as far as the traditions of the Prophet are concerned. That's all part of the cultural baggage: that's what I call them. As Islam grew, it permeated different cultures. Muslims who embraced Islam belonged to different cultures. So lots of cultural remainders are still there with them. You have innovations in countries like India where they go to dargahs, to shrines. Whereas the Prophet prohibited the building of shrines above the graves, today it has become a means of livelihood with these dargahs and these festivals around holy men.
CNRS: Do you think that the majority of Muslims in Bangalore goes to dargahs?
MAX: Yes, I think everywhere in India, the majority of Muslims still go to dargahs. Among the younger generation, too, those who have not studied Islam still go to these places. However, there is this new generation of Muslims coming up who are more educated, and who make efforts to go to the sources of Islam. That's the whole difference between them and the immediate generations preceding them - the older generation which has been brought up with the cultural baggage attached. Many of them are today going to the roots of Islam, which is the Qur'an and the practice of the Prophet. There, they don't find these accretions: these additions came later on; they are innovations, and so we discourage these practices.
CNRS: What are your views on Sufism?
MAX: In all matters, we go back to the root. To the question: 'What did the Prophet think of this way of believing, this way which is call tasawwuf?' The Prophet and the men around him were almost ascetic; indeed, it seemed that they practiced a form of renunciation, where they took the least from that which this world had to offer them simply because they feared that worldly temptations would eventually lead to their fall in the Hereafter. Because they thought anything taken from this world might include things which came to them in an illegal way, in a way that was prohibited in Islam. So conscientious and morally awake they were that they lived more for the 'then and there' (Hereafter) rather than the 'here and now.' But its equally important to note that, at the same time, and as a general rule, they encouraged other Muslims to be moderate, though they themselves practiced a strict form of Islam that would go by the appellation 'puritanical' in modern terms. That philosophy, the purity of faith, was taken to different directions by the Middle Ages, so much so that praying or fasting were declared not important. What was important was your direct contact with your Creator. This was a deviation again, an innovation that Muhammad did not practice. Muhammad himself prayed, he fasted, he went for Hajj, he gave Zakah, he lived very much as a man of this world as of the Hereafter. Indeed, for him the Here was there only as a stepping stone into the Hereafter. Any sort of Sufism or, for that matter, any form of philosophy which deviates from the way Muhammad practiced it, is not acceptable. Granted the filtered truth that the spirit of the law is paramount over the letter of the law, that the faith communities that clung to the letter of the law over the spirit of the law have done so only at the cost of their internal solidarity, even the slight differences between the Mazhabs immediately pale into insignificance.
CNRS: Do you think that the tradition of Ijtihad (or deductive reasoning based on the sources of Islamic law) should be revived? And whether it has not been already revived in a way by all these young Muslims who go directly to the Texts, and bypass the teachings of the Ulama?
MAX: With regard to the viewpoint that Ijtihad as a special discipline has been closed, I cannot but disagree granted the dynamic and continuing spirit of research and study enshrined in the Quranic text as a whole. Even the statements of the Prophet - at certain places in the Hadith literature - corroborate this aspect of research and study based on new developments. However, it must be immediately pointed out that practicing serious Ijtihad requires Islamic scholarship (that understands well both the material and spiritual realms as one unit of existence) of a high order, and so the exercise cannot be expected of a layman in any successful way. Much in the same way as a casual reader of books on medicine cannot be expected to do a major surgical operation. Indeed, to a believer to whom matters of faith are even more critical (since his eternal salvation or damnation depends on it) the issue of Ijtihad will be of infinitely greater import, and thus will be exercised only with the utmost care and concern, and after a due process of study and reflection. But I think the best and most eloquent testimony to this truth of Ijtihad as applied to Modernism has come from the pen of the late Prof. Ismail Raji al-Faruqi who wrote: 'In one sense, Modernism is a nihilistic force which seeks to destroy tradition, to neutralize the power of religious ideals to influence life, to set man free to seek inspiration for his deeds from his own natural self, i.e., his personal or communal complexus of instincts, whims, passions and wishes; or finally to deny all need by the processes of life - the personal, the mental, the social, the economic, the scientific - for guidance by anything a priori, or external to themselves. In that sense, Modernism is a name for chaos and nihilism. Obviously, in that sense, it is the antithesis of Islam. But in its constructive sense, i.e., as a force for achieving a beneficient usufruct of nature under the moral law; as an attitude of a mind that is always critical of all information but equally open to the new evidence which life and existence present; as committed to concern with the totality of humankind and the wholeness of human life rather than a segment of it, Modernism is Islam as much as Islam is Tawhid.'
CNRS: Do you think that the education given in Madrasas is a good one? Do you think it is good enough to live in today's world/ society? Do you think Madrasas should be reformed? How?
MAX: Generally speaking, Madrasas today do not teach modern science and subjects related to science and modern technology. Since there is nothing against such instruction in Islam - rather since Islam actually encourages it - the present day Madrasas have to improve a lot in that direction. In Islam, there is no compartmentalization between state and religion, indeed, science and faith. It's all one whole. The current day mentality built up within the Madrasas has come up because of this compartmentalization, because of this deviation in the way those working behind the Madrasas look at knowledge. True knowledge cannot be divided into science, religion, social studies etc. The whole idea behind the Islamic knowledge structure is that it is one indivisible unit in itself. If you look at the Qur'an, there are more verses in it which call you to observe aspects of nature around you, than there are verses which call you to pray, to fast, to give the Zakah and to the other ritualistic aspects of Islam. There are more verses which call you to observe nature, to study, and to reflect upon the signs (ayahs) of God in creation. In fact, the first revelation which came to Muhammad started with the word, 'Iqra,' which means 'read,' or 'recite.' You see, that command had come to a man who was himself illiterate, himself unread: surely this has more to it than meets the eye? Why did a revelation come asking a man who is not read, who is an illiterate person, to read? The basic importance given in Islam was to the act of reading and understanding the signs of God in the universe. There are so many ayahs (verses) which ask us to ponder over the signs of God in the universe, and to thereby come to the realization that there is a Creator behind the Universe. This complicated universe cannot exist on its own; your complicated body cannot come by itself without a Creator. This is how Islam leads us to understand that there is a Creator. This aspect of the Qur'an which asks you to study science has been forgotten almost in its totality, in the course of the decadence that has crept into the Madrasa. In that sense, the Madrasas are yet to (re)understand the faith that they seek to represent and propagate.
More than reform, Muslim institutions such as the Madrasas - like the Muslims themselves - need to conform to the original Islamic teachings. Right now, there is little conformance with that. They just teach the ritualistic aspects and how you are supposed to wash your body, to maintain your cleanliness, and to do your ablutions. That's not what Islam is merely about. In fact, Islam is all that and much, much, more. Islam is also about an economic system, a judicial system, a charter of human rights, a procedure and premise (the true one!) for explorations into science and technology: Islam is a complete whole. This has to be explained to them, to those who run the Madrasas, in order that they begin to understand. That's the conformance to Islam more than reformation that is long overdue.
CNRS: How do you view the image and role of the Ulama in Muslim society?
MAX: As far as the Ulama are concerned, I think they must accept a certain statement of fact: in today's world you can be committed to the community of Muslims, or you can be committed to Islam first, but never to both. These two things are sometimes - especially in the difficult times that we pass through today - very separate things. You can be committed to the supremacy of Islam as an ideology, as a way of life in this world, or you can be committed to the supremacy of the community of Muslims which admittedly includes many types of people. Among these are those who are just born into a traditionally Muslim family (and have little else to show for their religious affiliations), and those who genuinely do not know much about Islam. Unfortunately, however, all these groups too are classified under the Muslim denomination. They identify themselves, and are seen as, part of the Muslim community. Be that as it may, the first priority for the Ulama should be to attach due importance to the supremacy of Islam and its principles, rather than to the community that professes to go by it but which miserably falls short of strict adherence to even its basic tenets and practices. There are few today who can look at an average Muslim, and then say that Islam is the religion he would himself accept. In fact, there are few Muslims around who, through their lives, will tell you that you are looking at the 'best people raised up for mankind.' This is a tragic situation, because Islam really is the best solution for the problems of all mankind. It's like looking at a drunkard who, while driving a Mercedes Benz car, rams it into a wall in a fit of drunken stupour, and blaming the car for the driver's irresponsible attitude. You have to blame the man for it, not the quality of the car. The Muslim community today has reached a position where they do not represent the actual Islamic teachings. So if their leaders, whether of the Ulama or the Umara, really wish well for the community or for Islam they need to make them to conform to Islam first. They need to be uncompromising in the practice of Islam in any place. There should be total acceptance of Islam. There cannot be piecemeal, half-baked acceptance of Islam. If anybody does that - if any leader does that - I'd think it very unfortunate, as something that can only further the community's further estrangement from Islam.
CNRS: In your view should girls be educated? Should women work?
MAX: The Prophet is on record as having said that it is obligatory for both men and women to seek knowledge. As for women working, that should be only if the situation demands it. Otherwise, women have their own duties in bringing up a family, which are equally important as those of the men at work outside the family. But when a man cannot work, when he cannot earn for the family, or when he is incapacitated or dead, the woman is left alone. Then she may work to ensure the maintenance of the family.
CNRS: In your view, should women follow Purdah?
MAX: Yes, they must. Firstly, it is an injunction of the Qur'an, and thus a divine commandment. There is no questioning that if you believe in God as the source of the Qur'an. Then there are other reasons why they must do that, like women are respected more when they are covered up. The more the women are exposed, the more they create problems in society where it leads to temptation, moral anarchy and moral chaos. You have all sorts of diseases including AIDS through intermingling of the sexes: these problems are those which the West is suffering from more right now, as compared to the Middle-Eastern countries. There are higher divorce rates, higher number of single-parent families, difficult childhoods, etc. The covering-up can be according to your culture, but the clothes should be loose, and all of the body must be covered except for the face and forehands. It is also of interest to note that more and more Muslim women have now begun to adopt the Purdah for themselves by their own choice. This is despite the harsh measures being taken in some western countries like France where laws prohibiting head scarves have been brought into force. The particular case of Cennett Dougannay, a French school girl, who actually shaved off her hair when school authorities forced her to abandon her head scarf, is a poignant reminder in this regard.
CNRS: What are your views on polygamy and triple-talaaq?
MAX: With regard to Polygamy, there are injunctions of the Qur'an which have not prohibited it. One way to look at Polygamy in Islam is that it is only a contingency plan when a need for such a contingency arrives. Islam accepts the view that man is essentially polygamous by nature. You are an anthropologist, you must have studied that. But there are situations in human societies like large-scale wars, like what happened in Germany, and in Japan after the Second World War, when whole male populations were sent to the battle front. There was a drastic reduction in male population, and the excess of women who thus come into society were forced to remain spinsters or to go for some other illegal means of gratification.
Coming to the topic of talaaq, it needs to be mentioned at the outset that according to the Prophet, the most hated among the things permitted by God is talaaq. Of course, Islam is realistic, and so it is not oblivious to the fact that sometimes in a relationship there is no point in keeping the two together. Divorce is thus to be resorted to only as the last option. Even then, it has to be enforced in three stages, triple stages. It's not as a minority of scholars say that it should be in one go, 'talaaq, talaaq, talaaq,' and that's all. The sources do not say that. The traditions of the Prophet indicate that there should be a period of a month or more between each declaration of divorce. So after the first declaration, a man cannot just divorce his wife. The idea behind such legislation is that during this period there still remains a chance for the two to come together. If this does not happen, the husband is entitled to give a second declaration, and then he has to wait for another period of one month or more. So there are three stages, during each of which a lot of time is granted for the two to try to come together, and reunite again. This is how the talaaq system works in Islam: a pattern in which the first priority is always given to effecting a reconciliation between the couple. And still, there are further conditions to be fulfilled. When a woman marries a man, in the Indian cultural system, the man is supposed to get dowry from the woman's side. But in Islam, it is the other way round: it's the woman who demands from the man if he wants to marry her. Unless he gives her that amount called mehr, he cannot have her hand. So, in middle-eastern countries, you have situations where economically weak males have to get aid from the government to give the woman her mehr. Incidentally, this offers us an idea of the position Islam has given to women. If divorce happens, the man is not entitled to take back the mehr he had given her at the time of marriage. This is another factor that discourages the man from resorting to divorce.
CNRS: Your view on Muslim Personal Law and the Common Civil Code?
MAX: Personal law is only one part of Islam. Islam has a comprehensive code of law just like any nation, any country. The Qur'an is like a constitution: it has its own penal laws, economic laws, criminal law, and a prescription for personal law as well. If you look at it in the broad sense, you'll see that it is next to impossible to practice Islam completely in areas where Muslims are a minority. As far as personal law is concerned, what difference does it make, as of now, since piecemeal acceptance of Islamic legislation is like non-acceptance itself. The common civil code proposal is contradicted by the Indian constitution itself, because there is another clause in the constitution which ensures the freedom of religion to all communities. Personal Law is part of that freedom for all religions, not just for Islam. Practically too, common civil codes are impossible in a country like India where there are so many different ethnic groups, each with its own distinct culture, religion and even dialect.
CNRS: Is it not a problem to say, in India, that Islam is superior to Hinduism? Can you imagine someone in a Muslim country saying publicly that his religion is superior to Islam?
MAX: You mean the Hindus take offence? India is quite free in that sense; people are generally not taking it in the wrong spirit. On the other hand, if we talk of a Muslim country, it should not matter to its Muslim citizens because such debates are welcome in Islam. Realistically, Muslims who are not fully aware of Islam or of Islamic teachings are more given to emotions. Again, it depends on the culture. If you have a set-up where Muslims are not so hot-headed or emoting all the time, there would be more tolerance in such a country. Otherwise, you will have the usual problems that come off a particular cultural mooring.
CNRS: Is there any ideal country for you? Any truly Islamic one?
MAX: Ideal country? Not as such. Not of now, at least. But efforts are going on to Islamize, to bring Islamic laws into many countries, but they have not succeeded fully. It's a progression; it is at an experimental stage. If you look at the whole picture of modern civilization and then at Islam, you will see that Islam has nothing against modernism as such. In fact, Islam welcomes modernism, in the sense that it helps man to live his life better, within his moral law, without breaking his moral law. Muslims ought to therefore be in search for such areas of residence, for such governments, and for such people who abide by an understanding of the Qur'an that is out and out modern, futuristic. Where it does not contradict the principles of Islam as enshrined in the Qur'an and the Sunnah, they must hope to employ all modern developments happening in the world for improving their quality of life. They must learn to use it for the cause of Islam, to educate the Muslims further, to discover the new ayahs or the signs of God in the universe and to utilize what God has given them in deciphering the secrets of nature as an aid to the better appreciation and worship of God. In that sense, one country that comes to my mind - although not in the complete sense - is Malaysia. It gives you a country that is, futuristic, and modern peopled by a core population that is Muslim (more than 53-55%). It has a government which is sympathetic to Islam, and which has established Islamic universities for the purposes of Islam in the world. There are fanatics everywhere but it's the moderate, yet holistic, approach that is lacking in many countries. But then there are other Muslim countries which could have reached that level but apparently they have not been allowed to. They have been suppressed and have been under colonial yoke for centuries. They are still struggling to throw it off their burdened backs. They are still being ruled by puppet governments which are not representative of the masses.
CNRS: Like in Pakistan?
MAX: Yes, like Pakistan for instance. Look also at Algeria. They tried democracy there, they tried a ballot box, they tried a referendum, but they saw that 92% of the population voted for the Islamic Salvation Front - a party which was trying to install Islamic law there. France immediately objected. France was there always objecting. Being a French citizen, you know what happened in the Algerian Revolution if you have studied your history, if you have read people like Malik Bennabi of Algeria, who wrote most of his books on Islam in France. His analysis of the human condition makes him a frontline sociologist, although he was an engineer by training. He wrote books, like the Quranic Phenomenon, which are read with sustained interest even today, more than 35 years after his death. An Algerian intellectual who participated in the revolutionary activities of his homeland while in France, it would not be too much to say that Bennabi was the intellectual architect of the Algerian Revolution, which ultimately saw France relinquishing its hold on Algeria after having snuffed out more than a million Algerian lives during the course of that struggle. For the past several centuries Muslims have not been allowed peace of mind, suppressed as they have been all the time. There has been no avenue for them to develop their science and technology, and their innate creativity that once made them the leading light of the known world, the veritable guide of all western progress in science and technology. Thus, the best amongst the Muslims are today engaged in a battle where they spend their time, their energy, and their lives in defending their countries, in defending their right to exist. When any people are forced into such a heroic resistance against the encroachment upon their right to exist, not to mention their heritage and their values, how can you expect them to create science and technology? The same has been the case for any country anywhere, in any age.
CNRS: Who, for you, is the ultimate 'Other'?
MAX: What do you mean? The ultimate enemy; the ultimate opposition? If you think I have the West in my mind, you will do well to remember that many of the authors who influenced me are/ were from the West. I think what's important here is that any culture or civilization that contradicts the normal, healthy moral constitution of the ordinary human being is a threat to the welfare of the human race. The real antagonist, as far as I am concerned, can be any civilization that becomes as corrupt, as morally bankrupt, as spiritually empty and as carefree in destroying the whole world for its own vested interests or for that of a small group of people who run the administration, as is happening in the US today. Since the US leads this western civilization currently, the oppressed are easily prone to the belief that the entire Western world behaves likewise. After all, one wonders whether it is not the common American who votes the wrong people to power again and again. If you are talking of an external rather than an internal opposition, I think we dealt more with the external opposition to Islam, or to what Islam stands for. Any civilization which clashes with the Muslim Ummah directly, on a one-on-one basis, which steals from the Muslims, which kills, maims, and loots; any civilization that does so is an enemy of the Muslims, and of any other people who have been wronged, for that matter. This is quite naturally so.
CNRS: What are your views on the way organizations like Jamat-e-Islami and Ahl-e-Hadith are functioning in India?
MAX: These organizations, in the present stage of their development, still betray a narrow mind-set in that their thinking and planning remain confined to activities within their immediate group and territory. They do not have an internationalist outlook in any practical sense. They must learn to look outside, to see the internal and external problems that are facing them. In merely working from the context of their district, their state, or even India as a whole, they have to coordinate with many other organisations and factions purportedly working for Islam. This successful coordination is something they have not achieved to date. I think it would not be too far-fetched to even state that a certain degree of what I call 'organizational slavery' exists within every organization. While organizations are there to serve the purpose and principle of Islam - in itself a great need of the times - their members lie entrapped in the grip of organizational slavery. This happens when the purpose and principle for which the organization was originally set up are forgotten, and a kind of group feeling and 'holier-than-thou' attitude builds up among the activists in any organization. The attitude of present day activists of the Jamat-e-Islami make it seem apparent that they have all but forgotten the real reasons for Mawlana Mawdudi setting up such an organization. He wanted to bring a new and total, holistic, orientation of the Muslims towards Islam, but this objective has been little understood in the original spirit, if not by the present-day leadership, then at least by the activists at the lower levels of the organisation. Unfortunately, they now appear to feel, perhaps at the subconscious level, that the organisation is an end in itself. This consequently leads to such a tragic state of affairs wherein two separate Muslim organizations with even the same objectives cannot get together in any complete way for any common long term, and sometimes even short term, goal. This is what I do not agree with, since it goes contrary to the injunctions of the Qur'an where it says: 'And hold fast (all of you) to the rope of Allah and be not disunited therein.' It is a sad day, indeed, when even sincere Muslims cannot imbibe that other injunction of the Qur'an which asks them to 'cooperate with one another in all that is by way of piety and righteousness, and refrain from cooperation with one another in all that involves evil and mischief.'
Muslim organizations can ill-afford to be clashing with each other while being blind to the forces outside that are eating them inside out. The Muslim Ummah is not confined within India, the Ummah resides within the entire Muslim world. You can't ignore the Ummah in the US, nor can you do that with that part of the Ummah in Europe, as in France, where they are becoming more and more assertive, or in Britain where they can begin to think of dictating policies. In the Middle-East, Muslim homes are being taken away from them again by a new form of colonialism, whether that be in Iraq, or in Chechnya or Afghanistan. These are the tumultuous events holding the Muslims down the world over. Muslims, as a whole, must be aware of these internal and external problems, and must try to solve them to the best of their ability. This is no doubt a tremendous challenge to tackle; a challenge which Muslims must first seek to understand and to accept its existence as a reality before them. Solutions can come only after this realization. Before all else, however, it is the individual Muslim's progress that is paramount. He, or she, must improve as a person, as a Muslim, as a warrior always engaged in Jihad al Nafs (or the battle against one's own baser self). Through such struggle, through such a life lived in constant revolution against the evil in ourselves, the Muslim offers the highest, the ultimate, message that he, or she, as an individual, is capable of.
CNRS: In your view, which is the strongest organisation in terms of influence and numbers?
MAX: I think the Tableegh Jamaat would be a strong contender for that position. A large section of Muslim youth is in the Tableegh Jamaat for the simplicity of its mission. The Jamaat-e-Islami too has a special following throughout the country in the sense that it inculcates a forward looking, and more or less comprehensive enlightenment in its activists. I am more inclined towards the politics - or rather the social engineering - of the Jamaat-e-Islami than towards that of any other organization in India. Although I suspect within the Jamaat-e-Islami, a lack of understanding, and a certain over-cautiousness that borders on indecision, regarding priorities and policies for the Muslim Ummah in India, I daresay that a stronger following for the Jamaat-e-Islami is a positive sign as far as the correct interpretation of Islam is concerned. The Jamaat-e-Islami as organized by Maulana Mawdudi was one of the most positive developments in the Indian subcontinent. Today, the organization is at its strongest in Kerala where literacy rates, political awareness, and demography are all in favour of the Muslims. In other states, it is more or less a strong influence.
CNRS: What do you make of the general perception that young Muslims today are making it difficult for themselves to practice their faith; that they seem to impose it on themselves?
MAX: If you impose something on yourself from the outside, then it becomes difficult to maintain any true affiliation to that which is so imposed. On the other hand, if one accepts something internally, then it becomes easy to relate to it at all times. The Qur'an itself is very realistic. It mentions categorically that unless the believer is in complete agreement with whatever the Prophet recommends for him, he will not be able to fulfill its requirements. Such purity of purpose as called for by the Qur'an can happen only if the believer finds no opposition within him to what the Prophet asks of him. Piecemeal, or selective, acceptance and practice ultimately results in rendering the believer more or less akin to a hypocrite.
CNRS: I was speaking of sincere, committed young Muslims who seem to live with a sense of guilt all the time.
MAX: But this is not entirely a negative phenomenon. As an individual, you try to be obedient to God to the best of your ability. Perfect, sinless, believers hardly exist. So what's the problem in that? Islam implies a state of peace that comes through submission to God. But that comes at a price. You can't get it cheap. You can't make it happen through yoga, or exercise. You can only aspire for it through sacrifice, and a constant readiness to let go anything that may be of value to you, if necessary. This happens only through your living your life through the woof and warp of human experience, through living very much as part of this world, not as a part away from it. In the process, the believer is content in the firm knowledge that his is the good pleasure of God in return. The more you struggle towards this end, more the options and opportunities that open up for you. Feeling guilty of our failures is part of the growing belief process: it confirms one's position as a believer.
CNRS: What do you think of Muslim interaction with other communities in India?
MAX: In the course of centuries of interaction, Muslims in India have imbibed the local culture(s). I suppose that speaks a lot for the cultural assimilation of Indian Muslims, even if it has been at the cost of their allegiance to core principles of Islam itself. Furthermore, the Mughal dynasty effectively ruled this country for over six centuries. Had the Muslim rulers ever wanted to do so, they could have easily converted the whole country, but this did not happen. This speaks of the tolerance of the Muslim rulers of India: they allowed people to go by their own religion. Consider Spain, for instance, where Muslims contributed so much to the advancement of human civilization and progress. That much of Western material progress owes itself to the magnanimity and genius of an Islamic heritage is something that the Western world - now busy recolonizing Muslim lands - must be reminded of time and again. Almost all the advancements in science and technology in the West originated under the Muslims in Spain.
CNRS: Your views on 9/11?
MAX: So much has been said about it by now that I hardly know what more to add. Even now, five years after the event, so many game plans and conspiracies are being suggested. There was a time immediately after the attacks, when Americans and Europeans were blaming their own governments for venturing into the wrong foreign policy decisions with regard to Muslim states. There was a speech at Cornell University by Lionel Jospin, former Prime Minister of France, in which he spoke out against the American Empire. The 9/11 Commission has announced that the WTC attacks may have been caused by a deliberate, criminal, negligence by the CIA. If they wanted it, they could have stopped it. The US government was complicit in it, particularly because it needed a pretext to invade Afghanistan and Iraq. Later events have confirmed various hypotheses, like the absurdity surrounding the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) story on Iraq - WMD that were never there in the first place. In time, a whole lot wider picture comes out to you. As far as the Muslim point of view is concerned, while what happened on 9/11 is debatable, it needs to be stressed immediately that Islam has its own ethics of battle, of warfare, through which it even humanizes warfare. No innocents can be killed, no women and children touched. As such, going by the Islamic conception of human rights, 9/11 was a regrettable incident. But again, if the Muslims were indeed the real perpetrators, this was only a reaction: this has to be mentioned and repeated as many times as necessary. The Muslim countries have to be left alone and exempted from Western interference.
CNRS: Your views on the events in Gujarat/ Ayodhya?
MAX: It is clear as to what happened. At Ayodhya, a Muslim place of worship - the historic Babri Masjid - was razed down on the flimsiest of pretexts. This is one example of the injustices perpetrated against minorities in this country. Even the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) came out with a study which revealed that no temple existed before the mosque. Although a scientific study, it was not respected, for whatever reasons, by the different governments that have come to power since that time. In Gujarat, the Godhra train tragedy was made a pretext for something that was already pre-planned. The forensic report in Delhi has clarified that the Godhra tragedy was an accident. So who is now to pay for the 2000 or more Muslims who were butchered thereafter on this pretext? If you look at the motives behind the pogrom, you may see that such massacres can happen anywhere where Muslims are economically strong, like they were in Gujarat. The people behind such politics of communalism exist throughout the country.
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
MERCY FOR MANKIND
Of recent days, in myriad ways,
A million controversies
Has risen today: all in chorus for an image;
Even as in bygone days, in a bygone age.
Not anything new then,
In their message too,
They recall but time's travesties.
Round and round a person they float.
A person unlike any time has witnessed.
Born within history's darkest slot,
Redeemer of Man in God and the Angels;
Foe of the Demon in whom he is harassed.
Thus has Muhammad withstood time and its test;
Thus shall he remain way above the rest.
No matter then what his detractors say;
For that's only where one in the Demon's snares lay.
Shall the Muslims then worry about Muhammad's name?
When God Himself has destined its eternal fame?
Won't the Muslims then look into themselves instead?
And see how much of his purpose they've all but worsted!
Would that be the love that they profess for him?
Is that the meaning of this clamour for his sake, this unending din?
Will they not then see the Demon's crooked Grin?
At this, his success in raising this contradiction!
Reminded then the Muslims must be,
That Muhammad did, indeed, cry of necessity:
'If truly thee loveth God, then follow thou me,
For then would God grant His love to thee.'
Is then the love of God or the love of Muhammad the more,
For a believer's faith to be washed ashore?
Away from the tribulations of the oceans of trial,
Away from the sea of fire prepared for those in denial.
And into the lap of the Bliss Supreme,
Into the bosom of the Paradise of Yore!
Nay! Verily then it must be the love of God,
Of which must come the love of Muhammad,
And of which must come the allegiance to Muhammad
And whence must proceed the obedience to Muhammad.
Muhammad - an angel he was not!
The pinnacle of creation - that was his lot!
For above the angels did his spirit soar,
Since in his Amaanah did he with patience forebear.
That from which God's creation withdrew,
Whence Adam, our father, upon himself threw
The Trust of volition, and of free-will,
In the face of the Demon's oath to instill
In us, of Adam, the disobedience to God's Law
And to make of each a manifest renegade, an outlaw.
But overturn the Demon's plot did Muhammad,
When time and time again he resisted;
Much in the pattern of the Prophets of Old,
Whose legacy he was repeatedly told.
Whose heritage was all but his inheritance -
The one thing that he held in the greatest reverence.
The legacy of Adam - our father - Noah, and Lot,
Of Abraham, David, and Moses who were never in doubt.
And to Christ, the Messiah, too was he akin,
For Muhammad did claim for himself the status of their next of kin.
So how then do the 'Christians' go about in calm,
With their task of maligning him who meant no harm,
Neither to their hero in the Messiah, the Christ,
Nor to his mother, Mary, the upright.
Howbeit then that their scholars forgot,
That in Muhammad lay the vindication of Christ.
That in the Arabian Prophet was the confirmation of Moses,
The knowledge whereof is granted to whomsoever God chooses,
Even today in these times of the Neo-Jahiliyyah; of the losers.
Have they not known the Old Testament Prophecy?
Through Isaiah, the Prophet, who, through his book, did cry:
"The Book is given to him that is not learned, saying 'Read!'
And he says: 'I am not of the learned!'"
How else was Muhammad given the Qur'an, the Last Testament,
But by this very manner uttered by Isaiah in the Old Testament.
Even as it is writ large in the Bible today,
Complete and perfect in the prophecy's every way.
Dante did try his hand in mocking Muhammad,
In his work; in his Divine Comedy that he composed.
For purposes more of belittling than of eulogizing
Muhammad's Mi'raj, his ascent, his rising.
But he whom God has lifted, none, let alone Dante, bringeth down.
For who be the Dantes of the world, but those that ignorance in its ignominy crown.
What then of the Mi'raj, the rising?
Was it then of the body or of the soul?
Or was it in both, the body and the soul?
Was it not a representation,
Of the real goal of Man, his destination?
The heights of the heavens would be his,
As in the Mi'raj whence Muhammad's sight ne'er did miss,
The heights above the angels, nigh unto the Throne;
The position of God's vicegerent, the role of Man!
But from that height could he also fall,
As did our father in his first fall.
Though only after a descent can there be an ascent,
Came about thus the sinusoidal wave of the Crescent!
Would that, O God, we live in the crests of that wave!
Would that, dear Lord, we of ourselves pave,
The once paved out way of Thy messenger,
Who often times did ask us to remember
The Message Thine in Thy Holy Book,
Which we have all but forgotten, all but forsook!
What then that message, ye ask?
For 'tis no easy one that: its task.
Remember not then that Qur'anic verse?
That informs us of the Muslim's role, to rehearse:
'Thus have We made thee a nation moderate,
Perchance thee stand a witness unto mankind (considerate).
Even as the Messenger amidst thee did stand,
An eternal witness unto thee (unto every soul, every land).'
For he was, indeed, God's lasting Mercy to Mankind.
Saturday, October 22, 2005
A REVIEW FOR AN INTERVIEW
He had known her since the past many years.
He had known her ever since his interest in Islam had found its first expression in the particular books that he sought out for his reading. To be precise, however, to know a person isn't exactly the same thing as knowing of a person. And for Max, this had been so very sadly true. It was sad because he had wished to have known her in person; to have communicated with her; to have shared his thoughts with her; to have held her in intellectual communion in the common aspiration that they both shared many great distances apart...
In spite of all his wishings, however, Max had never really known her; he had only known of her. Through her books, her writings, her autobiographical letters, her links with one of the foremost Islamic revivalists of the twentieth century after the disappearance of Christ, through her convictions, her loves, her hates...
He had followed her life as closely as her works. Not quite infrequently, he had wondered at the strange contours of her life; of her dignity; her perseverance in the pursuit of what she thought was the Truth. It had mattered little for her that she was in quest of something that was totally opposed to all that apparently mattered in her life, in her parents' lives, in the life of the community in which she was reared, in the face of her cultural contexts and in the face of her first beliefs...
Be that as it may, there are times when people make decisions with their lives. More importantly, however, there are times when people take on life-changing decisions. Most importantly, still, there are times when people stick to those life-transforming decisions once they are taken. Back in the years when Max first began reading about her, it was strangely compelling for him that nothing had mattered for MJ when she took that final decision to part ways with her past.
MM to MJ.
Max smiled to himself as he looked back upon the text of the interview before him on his editor's desk at the Muslim Digest. Her name in acronym was much better to his memory now, all these years past. He knew that she had shifted from her home in the United States after her complete reversion to Islam in her twenties. Indeed, she had shifted her home, her faith, and her life - all to begin anew. The Orthodox Judaism of her parents had ironically, and in actual fact, convinced her against the basic tenets of the Jewish faith while Christianity, for her, had always been an intellectual bag full of the most irreconcilable dogmas. Her very own American culture by itself churned up the greatest revulsion in her; she had rejected it outright. She had fought against its influence tooth and nail; she talked against it no end; she alienated herself from her friends in the American society within which was she reared and brought up; she objected to the crass, blind materialism of the American way.
While thus she remained in the United States, she had existed as an island. An island in a land of lakes. Hers was loneliness in her intellectual isolation. Hers was soon a gnawing depression that steadily ate away at her soul. At her very being. Until she finally suffered breakdowns, and had to be cared for at medical institutions that catered more to the mind than to the body. But unlike those who genuinely worried about her - like her parents - she knew what her ailment was, and her mind was the very last place in her being which was ailing: of that she was sure. She knew she had to break away from her environment, if she was to have a cure for her illness. She had broken away from the confines of restricting doctrines a while ago when she had discovered Islam; when she had stumbled upon the world of the Qur'an. But now that discovery had led to another pressing need: she had to move from the environment that bred a context always at war with the elements of the Qur'anic teaching. And she had too much of a resonance with the Qur'an to not heed that call which promised her life. There was too much of a resonance there for her not to undertake her personal Hijrah; her movement as of the spirit, so of the body, towards that call of Providence. That call which almost all men feel, but few heed in their business with the distracting glitter of this world: snare of the Demon in his hunt for the soul of man.
It had been sometime since MM became MJ while still in America. When Margaret Marcus became Maryam Jameelah. Maryam Jameelah who would then correspond with Abul A'la Mawdudi of Pakistan and accept his invitation to make Pakistan her home. That was her cue, and that was when she finally moved out of America and into Pakistan. From one culture to another totally opposing one. From one faith to another. From being an unmarried American woman in her late twenties into being the accommodating second wife of an Islamic activist in Pakistan. From being a depressed intellectual to being the caring mother of four children who were all born amidst the heights of a growing career as an intellectual and a writer. Through her prolific writings on Islam, she gave vent to her deep misgivings of the culture that she had just rejected. To Max, who had grown up with many of her distrusts and revulsions to the Western way of life, MJ had further reinforced his own growing conceptions about the world that was the Muslim's canvas. The world that was to be restructured in the image of God. The world both of the East as well as the West, for did not God Himself declare his Omnipresence as 'the Lord of the two Easts and the two Wests?'
MJ had been a beacon of light these many years, showing Max what Westernism was, and was not; is, and is not. And although he differed with MJ in her rejection of industrialism and modernism that was in any way tinged with westernization, he understood very well the reasons for her extreme caution. They were reasons, which, in the end analysis, he never failed to appreciate for the circumstances that necessitated such caution. He had ever appreciated her reasons - and her caution; indeed her apprehensions - in that they had emanated from no west-hating Asiatic or some rabid, illogical African ideologue content in blaming the Westerners - and perhaps, not altogether unjustly - for all the woes of indigenous races on the planet. He had appreciated her study of the West, because that was where she came from, because the West had been her first home, where she learned to talk, to walk, and to run, but not to fly. For in the domain of the spirit where man seeks his freedom the most; in that domain where satisfaction unattained counts as a life gone waste; in that domain was MJ constrained in her flights of freedom within her Western home. And that was where Max first found a system, a pattern of life that had gone all wrong.
In recent years, therefore, Max had evinced the greatest desire to meet MJ, before she became a thing of the past, before she entered permanently into the pages of Islamic history. To live in an age, a century, together shared with an Islamic celebrity was indeed an honour as things stood for Max. However, to get in touch, not to mention staying in touch, at least on the intellectual plane, was more of a dream for him. But then an entire generation gap and a great distance separated him and MJ.
'Will it be ever possible?' Max has asked the Wayfarer. 'Will it forever remain a dream until MJ or me die away, Wayfarer?'
And in his peculiar, inscrutable way in which he answered Max, the Wayfarer responded to his question in - of all things - a dream. A dream whence one night, and as he lay asleep, Max was introduced to MJ, wrapped up in her all-covering purdah. The dream was of course symbolic and to Max, who firmly believed in the potent symbolism of dreams, it was a prelude to action.
Max knew that MJ presently resided at Lahore, she being all of one and seventy years of age. His attempt to get in touch with MJ through a blog-writer friend in Islamabad failing, he lay awaiting the next opportunity. And Providence had been kind to him in that that opportunity came calling a few months ago. It came in the form of a book - in fact a dissertation - entitled 'Isaac or Ishmael?' that had come by airmail all the way from Lahore. It had been sent to Max by an elderly research fellow at the Al-Mawrid Institute of Islamic Sciences, requesting him ever so humbly for a review. How that elderly scholar came to know of him or to trust a review for so valuable a dissertation from so inconspicuous a figure as himself was, of course, beyond Max's power to know. What he did know, however, was that the opportunity that he had been long awaiting had now come knocking. Max's plan was simple: he would do the review for the scholar and, in turn, request him to arrange an interview with MJ for him. Both MJ and Al-Mawrid being in the same place, such an arrangement would not be beyond the bounds of possibility, Max had calculated.
And so the days passed by wherein Max diligently studied the question of the only son who was taken for the sacrifice by the Prophet Abraham under Divine command. Was it Isaac, as affirmed by the Judeo-Christian camp or was it Ishmael, as believed by the Arabs and the Muslims? That was the question discussed by the able scholar from Al Mawrid in his book 'Isaac or Ishmael?' It was a question that was of considerable interest to Max himself, and in some uncanny way it had come to have a faint relevance to the object of his immediate quest: MJ was once Jewish herself!
Max's apparent success with the review, when he finally finished it, was a thing of the greatest and most unmitigated delight to the elderly scholar from Al Mawrid. As far as Max was concerned, his scholar friend would have bought him the moon in return if he could, leave alone setting up an interview with MJ who was right there in downtown Lahore. His review of the book, from beginning to end, would read as follows:
For a book that was intended to be an appendix to another book namely 'Paran prophecy of the Bible regarding the Prophet of Islam,' the writer's contention that 'Isaac or Ishmael?' has instead become an attempt to solve a long addressed problem on the principles of objective research is, indeed, something of a humble understatement. Few Muslim scholars in the recent past have addressed the question of the identity of the actual son of the Prophet Abraham with such vigour and tenacity as has been done by Abdus Sattar Ghawri in his 'Isaac or Ishmael?' What makes Ghawri's work of particular relevance is his almost total, albeit deliberate, reliance on the Bible and the works of Biblical scholars to prove his point. Indeed, and as the author himself whole-heartedly admits, the question that he addresses in his book had been 'settled once forever' by the celebrated South Asian Muslim scholar, Imam Hamid al-Din Farahi in his masterly Arabic work, 'al-Ray al-Sahih fi man huwa al-dhabih,' which was later translated into English ('Who was offered for sacrifice?') by Nadir Aqeel Ansari while its Urdu version was produced by Amin Ahsan Islahi in 1975. Muslim scholarship on the subject, that was based primarily on Muslim sources, had, thus, probably effected a culmination with Farahi's work in the first quarter of the twentieth century. However, genuine Muslim scholarship on the same subject, based on Judeo-Christian sources, was not as forthcoming. It is, perhaps, into this genre of academic work on the topic that 'Isaac or Ishmael?' categorically falls, and in which it has become something of a pioneering effort.
To say, today, that the work of an artist has an innate tendency to grow on him as he progresses with it, is to say something that is generally accepted as a matter of fact. Indeed, true art - and any effort worth its time can be rendered to the sublimities of a quintessential art form - presupposes an evolution of purpose within the artist in his work. True scholarship, too, is not beyond the pale of such artistic renditions. That much, at least, is in evidence as one reads through the path of discovery which Ghawri charts out for us in the progression, indeed, the evolution, of themes that center around the moot question: was it Isaac or Ishmael who was taken for the sacrifice by Abraham? Doubtless, in this evolution of themes around the central point, there has been a broadening of the very scope of the book itself. Thus, it covers, and addresses a whole host of different, yet intimately related, incidents and issues that must necessarily be of the greatest interest to the genuine scholar, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. Amongst others, it covers the relevant themes of the site of Makkah according to the Bible, pilgrimage to Makkah as described in the Bible, the site of Al-Marwah in the Bible, King David's visit and pilgrimage to Makkah and of his later yearning to be there, the offering of sacrifices at Makkah as mentioned in the Book of Isaiah, the well of Zamzam and a brief, yet significant, outline of the history of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem.
The Judeo-Christian viewpoint on the subject has consistently been one which asserts that it was Isaac, and not Ishmael, who was taken for the sacrifice by the Patriarch Abraham. Strangely enough, however, and as Ghawri points out in his introduction, while the Bible has recorded the story of the sacrifice in a fairly detailed manner, the name of the only son of Abraham as Isaac has been mentioned but once in the whole of the narrative. Granted the strength of the contention over this issue down the centuries, it can hardly be any advantage, whatsoever, for the Judeo-Christian camp, that the son of Abraham offered for the sacrifice has been referred to as Isaac but once in the whole of the Biblical narrative. On the other hand, Ghawri also states that a majority of Muslim scholars affirm that it was Ishmael, and not Isaac, who was taken for sacrifice. Interestingly, this implies that there is a minority of Muslim scholars who, apart from the traditional folk-lore of the Muslims, are, at best, unsure of the exact facts of history: of the identity of the son of Abraham who was offered for the sacrifice. In the main, such a minority opinion amongst Muslims must necessarily owe itself to the fact that while the Qur'an describes God's command to Abraham and of Abraham's willing submission in taking his obedient son for the sacrifice, it does not, by itself, reveal the exact identity of the son concerned.
However, to go by the Biblical version of the identity of the son as being Isaac, would be to trust in the fleeting opinion of a redactor who penned down his wishful thinking, as being part of the Divine word, a full one thousand years after the incident of the sacrifice. Evidently, serious historians would hardly take such naive, or even pious, assumptions as genuine facts of history, particularly when the only instance in which the identity of the son is mentioned appears almost totally out of context, and in a manner which provides genuine grounds for suspicion. This, then, has been the methodology adopted by Ghawri throughout his presentation of the problem - a problem about which one observer noted very pertinently: 'Lying at the root of centuries old Judeo-Muslim differences, this controversy is all that the Judeo-Muslim relations stand for.'
Ghawri's has been an effort to, among other things, present a logical appreciation of the statements, factual or otherwise, that appear in the Bible. In thus providing a logical context for the narratives in the Bible, and with his own redoubtable understanding of history and data handling, his has been a thorough study of the subject which owes its authentication not to Muslim scholarship, but to the opinions and considered judgements of some of the greatest names in modern Biblical scholarship within the Judeo-Christian world. It is in this connection that reference must be made to the remarkable number of books and authorities which the learned author has consulted in the making of this ground-breaking research. Indeed, the extensive footnotes to which the attention of the reader is constantly invited in almost every page of the book constitutes a significant, if not a major, part of the work itself. In fact, the footnotes and annotations form a parallel world that operates on the reader's understanding in tandem with the main body of the book. The end result, of course, has been an overwhelming body of evidence in favour of Ishmael having been the son who was offered for the sacrifice: a conclusion made even more pertinent by the fact that it was derived almost in its entirety from the Bible, and from the works of renowned scholars of the Bible.
Of especial consideration, with regard to Ghawri's approach, must certainly be his eye for detail and his ability to go directly to the point; to the heart of the matter, as it were. While this approach has necessitated a seeming repetition of relevant aspects throughout the course of the study, when read in conjunction with the immediate context of the author's arguments, however, these repetitions almost never end in the dry monotony that would be otherwise expected of them. Contrariwise, they result in a further consolidation of the strength of the argument. One instance wherein the author's ability to go directly to the substance of the argument is seen quite early on in the work. A classical stance of the modern Judeo-Christian world with regard to the identity of the son taken for the sacrifice has been that while Ishmael was, indeed, the first born of Abraham, he need not be considered as such owing to his 'low' birth through Hagar, a mere bondservant of Abraham. As such, it must be Isaac, born through Sarah, the 'real' wife of Abraham, who needs to be considered as the first-born and the only son of Abraham. In a manner that amply illustrates the way in which he demolishes all such false, egotistic pretensions of the Judeo-Christian world, Ghawri quite simply brings the attention of the reader to the following passage from Deuteronomy:
"If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another hated, and they have born children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the first born son be her's that was hated: then it shall be, when he maketh his son to inherit that which he hath, that he may not make the son of the beloved first born before the son of the hated, which is indeed the first-born: But he shall acknowledge the son of the hated for the first-born, by giving him a double portion of all that he hath: for he is the beginning of his strength; the right of the first born is his." (Deuteronomy xxi: 15-17, KJV, p.181)
It would not be too much to say that Ghawri has merely allowed facts, and aberrations, from the Bible to speak for themselves. The rest of the matter should be easily settled by the common sense and intellectual logic of the impartial seeker after truth. The author's committed labours lend credence to the fact that scriptural aberrations or corruptions, far from hiding the facts, actually leave, in their wake, a string of clues and trails which the real historian, working with the advantage of hindsight, can sift and reassemble to reconstruct a semblance of what might, indeed, be the real Truth.
The sections appended to the book as Appendix I, II and III (titled respectively as Beersheba: the 'Well of seven' or the 'Well of Zamzam,' 'The text of the Bible and some types of corruptions in it,' and 'A Brief Account of the History of the Temple of Solomon') might very well have formed integral portions of the book, which, technicalities apart, they actually do. This is very much owing to the fact that they supplement the arguments in the core sections of the book, and the book would have been all the poorer for their absence from it. A useful index and a complete table of bibliographical references (which include 25 versions of the Bible, 39 commentaries on the Bible, 53 encyclopedias and 16 other Biblical studies, all by Christian scholars) must further place the work of Ghawri amongst the top-most references on the subject today. Indeed, it is hardly an exaggeration to say that 'Isaac or Ishmael?' has substantially altered the way in which the academic world must view the answer to the age-old question that it poses.
A fellow of the prestigious Al-Mawrid Institute of Islamic Sciences, Lahore, Abdus Sattar Ghawri is the author of a number of articles on the Biblical text that has special reference to the prophecies heralding the advent of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). He has also lectured extensively on the subject. This robust experience in treating the subject at hand is fairly visible in Ghawri's 'Isaac or Ishmael?' If the results of his honest labours are accepted in a spirit a impartiality and good-will within the community of Jews and Christians, it goes without saying that it will help in clearing the international atmosphere between the Muslims and the Judeo-Christian world so much vitiated by misunderstanding and hostility begotten of centuries of ignorance and mistrust. To this end has surely been the author's motivation, and in this end-result, most certainly lies, his higher reward. His highest reward, of course, must, like all other sincere efforts in the Islamic cause, find its expression in the presence of his Maker, the Changer of hearts, the Lord of all Creation.
Following the Al-Mawrid scholar's appreciation for the review, little time was lost in the execution of the next stages of Max's plan. Max's hurriedly prepared interview-questionnaire was sent from the Muslim Digest's office at Bangalore by email to the kind fellow at Al-Mawrid, and through him, MJ's consent for the interview clinched with the greatest ease, just as if she was waiting for it all along, or so Max imagined.
Less than a fortnight later, MJ had sent in her answers to Max's probing questionnaire through the untiring efforts of that most genial of scholars at Al Mawrid. When it arrived finally on his computer screen in its scanned-attachment version via email, Max had stared in complete silence, at that his first direct interaction with MJ, for what seemed an eternity. He had gazed in awe and wonder at the rounded handwriting of MJ, which despite her seventy-one years, was anything but illegible. The text of the interview dated June 7th 2005/ Rabi-us-Sani 29, 1426, and signed towards the end by MJ herself, would soon be printed in the pages of the Muslim Digest. In its transcribed form and lying there on Max's desk, it read as follows:
Max: We have always known about your conversion through contacts with Mawlana Mawdudi, but nothing about how in the first instance you got interested in Islam. Would you like to throw some light on your initial days of interest in Islam?
MJ: Like Muhammad Asad (Leopold Weiss), I first became interested in Islam by a fascination with everything Arab. I read all the books about Arabs I could find and loved to listen to recordings by Umm Kalsoum. Then, as now, most of these books were by Orientalists or missionaries and presented a very negative view which I knew was unjustified. Only years later I acquired knowledge about Qur'an Majeed through Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall's translation which inspired me with the desire to convert to Islam.
Max: You have settled in Pakistan since 1962. How different has been the experience in this shift of cultures, indeed, of ideologies, as in your case? Of course, your expectations of Muslim culture would have been quite high, and there must have been some disappointments especially in the beginning. Was it a lack of alternatives or, satisfaction with what you found in Pakistan or merely familial bindings that led you to remain in Pakistan, perhaps never traveling out once?
MJ: I settled in Pakistan at the invitation of Maulana Maudoodi with whom I had been corresponding for two years. He not only gave me emotional support as a new convert but also a permanent home in Pakistan, and helped me find a good husband. I have been on such good terms with his family. I never wanted to go anywhere else, convinced there was nothing for me in America. My first impression of Pakistan was that it was a very good Muslim country. Disillusions with its numerous shortcomings only came later.
Max: Have you performed Hajj and what has been your impression. Do you travel for 'Umrah and if you do, do you find changes in Arab adherence to Islam in the two holy Harams?
MJ: I talk with everyone I know who has returned from Hajj and read everything about it that I can. I deeply regret that the expansion of the Haram and the Masjid-an-Nabi could only be accomplished by the massive destruction of nearly all the Ottoman structures of the Holy Cities including numerous historic places associated with the Holy Prophet. Everything has been modernized/ westernized including much inappropriate technology. However, the comforts and physical accommodations have been vastly improved. Despite all this, returnees who have returned to tell me their experiences insist that the Hajj was the greatest spiritual experience of their lives.
Max: You have known the late Mawlana Mawdudi well in your close association with him. How relevant are his ideas for the future of the Muslim community today? How do you view the policies and practices of the Jamat-e-Islami in Pakistan today? How has its policies changed since the time that it was first launched in 1941?
MJ: At the beginning in 1941 Maulana Maudoodi was concerned with cultural matters in Islam's relation with the West. Now everything is politics. Placing politics at the centre of the Islamic mission is contrary to the traditions of Islam. However, Jamat-e-Islami deserves all the credit for restraining the worst excesses of secular military dictatorships.
Max: It has been said that the logic of your discursive approach has recently led you away from current forms of Islamic revivalism and even from the Jamat-e-Islami itself. It has also been said that increasingly aware of revivalism's own borrowing from the West, you have distanced yourself from the revivalist exegesis and have even criticized your mentor, Mawlana Mawdudi, for his assimilation of modern concepts into Jamat-e-Islami's ideology. How much do you agree with this?
MJ: I became disillusioned about the Maulana's disdain for the necessity for beauty in the lives of his followers, of traditional Islamic philosophy and Islamic art and his whole-hearted acceptance of industrialism, technology and evolutionism. But now I am less critical. Maulana Maudoodi, Sheikh Hasan al Banna and Syed Qutb devoted their entire lives to the Islamic cause and sacrificed all their time, energy and resources and even their lives towards that end. They strictly abided by Shariat all their lives and inspired many others to do so.
Max: You once said that you were totally in disagreement with what Allama Iqbal wrote in his 'Reconstruction of religious thought in Islam.' Can you please explain the basis of this disagreement?
MJ: In his 'Reconstruction of religious thought in Islam' Allama Iqbal attempted a most unconvincing reconciliation with certain 19th century western philosophies. The entire book is based on evolutionism and progressionism. It will remain one of the most well known classics of Islamic modernism.
Max: You have known the late Muhammad Asad through his writings and perhaps also in his capacities in the foreign ministry of Pakistan. Were his works like 'The Road to Makkah' and 'Islam at the Crossroads' instrumental in your own conversion to Islam? Did you ever perceive a certain evolution in his thought: an evolution to which you couldn't reconcile yourself in later years? If so, can you please explain where you differed from his viewpoints? What is your opinion about his Commentary (on the Qur'an)? Would you recommend its inclusion in Islamic studies, either private or institutionalized?
MJ: Muhammad Asad's 'The Road to Mecca' inspired my desire to live in a Muslim country and 'Islam at the crossroads' determined my entire literary career. However, his 'Message of the Qur'an' is almost entirely based on 'The Manar' by Shaikh Muhammad Abduh. It is filled with modernism and naturalism. Muhammad Asad was a great admirer of Shaikh Muhammad Abduh and was much influenced by him.
Max: Alija Ali Izzetbegovich, the former President of Bosnia-Herzegovina, has been one of the most unsung Muslim intellectuals in modern European history. What has been your own assessment of his life and works? How would you rate his work, 'Islam between East and West'?
MJ: Having only read a brief biography and obituaries and not 'Islam between East and West,' (I may say that) Alija Ali Izzetbegovich is renowned as the most distinguished Bosnian Muslim statesman.
Max: Writing in as far back as 1969, you had stated that the Muslim Ulema (with honourable exceptions) 'had become like the Pharisees against whom Jesus Christ devoted his entire mission. In their extremes of verbal hair splitting, some of our Ulema have outdone the Talmud and put the Rabbis to shame.' How much has the situation progressed for the better today, some thirty-five years later?
MJ: Although certain Ulema have shortcomings the righteous amongst them uphold the Shariat, combat bid'ah or innovations and can be regarded as the indispensable pillar of traditional Islamic civilization.
Max: Do you see a marked difference in approach on the part of the Orientalists in view of the spread of Islamic knowledge, and in view of questions of their intellectual integrity raised now and then, especially by Norman Daniel?
MJ: Even the most 'sympathetic' Orientalists think Islam should change in conformity to the demands of modern life; some of them even propose that Qur'an and Hadith be subjected to 'Higher Criticism' like Biblical studies, (and that) a search (be made) among modernists for one who could play the part of a Muslim Martin Luther and 'updating' Islam like Vatican II.
Max: Some years back when Frithjof Schuon was criticized in the Impact for his Sufi practices, you had reacted strongly. Do you agree with the ideas presented by him, and the practices he tried to promote?
MJ: I was utterly shocked by the article in Impact condemning Frithjof Schuon and considered it (and still do) the worst character assassination. When dissatisfied with revivalist books, I was at first greatly impressed with Schuon's writings. The writings of his school were alone in emphasizing the necessity of beauty and Islamic art, strongly condemned industrialism and modern science and upheld traditional orthodox Islamic civilization in every aspect of a Muslim's life. Schuon's writings remained my favourite books until I met with his divorced third wife. We became best friends and she related all her experiences in her 30-year life with Schuon. So Impact's article turned out to be true after all. My new found friend disclosed even more shocking facts about Schuon which utterly disqualified him as a spiritual guide. She disclosed that Schuon lived with three women without proper Nikah. He loved nudity and was accused in court of sexual child abuse. He hugged dozens of beautiful, bare-breasted young girls clad in only a transparent loin-cloth. He painted fifty pictures of his youngest wife in the nude. As entertainment, he and his followers danced native Indian dances. Outside Schuon's house was a life-sized statue of the Virgin Mary. Worst of all, he forbade his followers to befriend other Muslims. I still have all Schuon's books; they still attract me but I cannot look at them without a profound sense of shame.
Max: What, in general, is your assessment of the neo-apologists and propagators of Sufi ideas such as Schuon, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Martin Lings, or others of this class? Do you think that, in effect, they offer pantheism rather than impress about Islam's unique ideas and strict tawhid perspectives?
MJ: Like Schuon, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Martin Lings are my favourite writers. More profound criticism of Western philosophy, science and technology is not found among any of the revivalist writers. Martin Lings Seerat is by far the best in English - based entirely on Qur'an and Hadith.
Max: How do you rate Rene Guenon's writings? Do you think his obsession with the cyclic explanation, did away with whatever good criticism he made against the Western culture, and contributed nothing, despite his long stay in Egypt, to the projection of Islam as primarily rational?
MJ: No modern writer attacked modern civilization and all it stands for more than Rene Guenon. Next to him the revivalist figures appear childish. His all-out attack on evolutionism and progressionism is decisive and irrefutable. He proved the cyclic and disproved progress. No sensitive, intelligent mind can study Rene Geunon's 'Crisis of the modern world' and 'Reign of quantity and signs of the times' without being changed forever.
Max: How would you explain the exclusion of many powerful Muslim personalities of not only our own times, but even of the first half of the last century from the 'Encyclopedia of Islam' produced at Braille, when you find entries on other less influential men of the past?
MJ: The 'Encyclopaedia of Islam' is entirely an Orientalist work. The exclusion of these powerful Muslim personalities of the past and present serves their own nefarious purposes of keeping serious scholars ignorant about them.
Max: In your opinion, how effective is the present educational system in the Muslim world? Will a piecemeal attempts at making conventional western-style education conform to Islamic requirements suffice in effecting a lasting transformation amongst the Muslim youth today? Or will a wholesale shift in paradigm be necessary before a new edifice of education is built on premises that are strictly in keeping with the founding principles of the Islamic worldview?
MJ: The present educational system in Muslim countries results in imitation of Westerners. It destroys faith in Islam and the Islamic way of life. Maulana Maudoodi was most concerned about this when in 1939 he wrote Talimat and Tanqihat. Despite all their defects I am most opposed to the secularization or closing down of the Deeni Madaris - all that is left of traditional Islamic education for the young today.
Max: While the Jews have always disowned the 'Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion' ever since it was first discovered in the early years of the twentieth century, there is a widespread belief that the 'Protocols' form the blueprint for Jewish world domination. What is your own view on the 'Protocols' and the Zionist movement in general?
MJ: Nobody knows if the 'Protocols of the learned elders of Zion' is authentic or not (?). If so, it was probably written by Theodore Herzl at the first Zionist Convention in Basle, Switzerland in 1897. Literary similarities between the 'Protocols' and 'The Jewish State' (1896) are striking. Racial anti-semitism produced by the 'Protocols' which fail to distinguish between Judaism and Zionism is a Western import into the Muslim world previously unknown. Orthodox Judaism and Zionism conflict and are irreconcilable.
Max: The WTC attacks of September 11, 2001, have had a profound impact on the prospects for Islamic revival in the 21st century. How historic do you think is this development? What has been your assessment of global developments with regard to Islam and the Muslim world in the four years since the event? Do you perceive an attempt at neo-colonization of the energy-rich Muslim lands by the Western Powers led by the US as sufficient justification for those Muslims who have picked up the gauntlet and have responded in kind to the oppression that has become the staple fare of innocent Muslims in several parts of the globe?
MJ: The USA under President Bush is engaged in an all-out war on Islam: the same colonialism and imperialism as the British and French a century ago. But insurgency and suicide bombers are no effective response. Shocking disregard for human life, especially women, children and the elderly - all innocent non-combatants cannot qualify the struggle as Jihad. Jihad must be waged according to Shariat.
Max: Your views on the future of the Muslim people and the prospects for the Islamic faith in the 21st century? Do you see a vision of hope which bases itself on the inherent strengths - howsoever negligible - of the Muslim Ummah today, as against one which has for its premises the myriad weaknesses of the community?
MJ: As despair and hopelessness are forbidden in Islam, I view the future with great caution. The destruction of most of the outward signs of traditional environment and atmosphere in Islam, particularly architecture and Islamic dress for males as well as females is a catastrophic loss. Taqwa will remain in the next century although it will grow less and less and harder and harder to find. Many signs of the Last Days predicted by Hadith are now present. When asked what to do at the approach of the Last Days, the Holy Prophet replied: 'Separate yourself from the evil ones, concentrate on your own affairs and cling to the roots of the tree (of Islam) until death overtakes you in that state...'
Thus had come about Max's interview with a living celebrity of the Islamic world today. Sitting back in his editor's chair and with the review for 'Isaac or Ishmael?' and the interview with MJ laid out separately on his desk, Max considered the working of the small niche that he operated in the Indian Muslim Media scene. He amused himself with the idea that this interview would go down as the biggest 'scoop' in the Muslim media scene in India since a long time, for few other media outlets in India had reached out to an Islamic intellectual of the caliber of MJ in recent years. To Max at least, the timing of the interview was poignant enough: he had heard that MJ had become weak and indisposed since some time now. How many more active years she had remaining in her was anybody's guess. But then, how many active years, indeed, days, do any of us have any way? Every moment of our lives counted as if it were the very last, or so the Wayfarer would remind him again and again.
The interview with MJ, however, would remain special for in the months that followed Max would be writing fairly detailed life profiles on Ahmed Deedat and Zaynab al Ghazali who died in quick succession and that too in a single month (August 2005). Writing on Deedat was especially painful for, the guidance of the Wayfarer apart, Deedat was the man who had first put Max on a track that would take him through the mists of a Christianity concocted by St. Paul to the brilliant purity of Islam. Meeting Deedat too had been a dream for Max: one which unfortunately was not destined for fulfillment. After having written a profile on Zaynab al Ghazali, and without having recovered from the shock of having lost these pioneering Muslim intellectual-activists of the last century, Max would write to his chief editor at the Muslim Digest:
"Of late, and of a most tragic coincidence, sir, we, at the Muslim Digest, seem preoccupied fully with the writing of obituaries and profiles for successive luminaries of this Ummah who will now be confined to the halls of our memories and to the illuminating patches of the otherwise darkened pages of modern Islamic history. In their departure we lose not just their consoling presence, but even the very progress and consolidation of the vast corpus of our otherwise once-dynamic but now-stagnating knowledge base. Had not the Divine confirmation come to the prophet that in the Last Days knowledge will be divorced from the people inasmuch as our scholars will be taken away from us? Is this generation of the Ummah really doomed to witness the fulfillment of this Divine intimation?"
The chief editor's reply, as was expected of him, was crisp and to the point:
"The fulfillment of God's word notwithstanding, I invite you to pick up the gauntlet now and, in twenty years from today, to carry on from where they have left off. We are counting on you, Max."
"That, sir," thought Max to himself, "is taking matters a bit too far." Max was up from his table now, and as he walked past his cabin to the News Room adjacent, he found himself remembering and thanking that scholar-friend from Al-Mawrid in Lahore for making his interview with MJ happen before it was too late. In the course of the intervening chain of events, Max had made him his review as well in exchange.
A review for an interview. But then, did not the Qur'an itself state: 'Hal Jazaa al Ihsani illal Ihsan?', meaning 'Is not the reward for the good but the good?'