April 28, 2008
Finished reading “No God but God”, Reza Aslan’s book recently, and it is an excellent read. It charts out the entire history of Islam, dating from pre-Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) Arabia and consequent developments, making it simple for the layman to comprehend origins of the Shiite-Sunni divide, how Islam is not homogeneous since there are multiple interpretations of its theology and practice. Two points struck out:
First, the description of Sufism, which as we know is the mystical understanding of Islam, the nafs (desire) that longs for unattainable union with God the Creator, and insatiable love. In the story of Layla and Majmun, the lovers are initially banned from seeing the other, and after years of separation, develop the sort of deep, aching love that even upon finally meeting, cannot actuate. The intense longing is best left as it is, since proximity would be too intoxicating for either party. The Conference of the Birds outlines the birds who travel far and wide to discover wisdom, only to find that it is the journey itself that has developed their characters that way inclined. Sufism is the mystical journey towards full knowledge of God, best described but not defined.
The second is that the Muslim world has struggled for centuries to come to a thorough understanding of the governance of an Islamic state. Prophet Muhammad himself attempted this model, and years later debates ensue on the best practice of a society based on rules of justice, fair governance permeating all levels of public life. It also struck me that the author says, what we have today is not as much an external problem between the Muslim and Western worlds, but rather – an internal struggle within Islam.
Finally, the author states in an almost enlightened manner the following:
Democracy, if it is to be viable and enduring, can never be imported. It must be nurtured from within, founded upon familiar ideologies, and presented in a language that is both comprehensible and appealing to the indigenous population.
I think this is a wise saying, not because I disagree with international standards and international laws. I do agree with these principles, but it is more true that until and unless democracy is driven by the local community for which it will serve, and birthed out of such a context, then importation of ideals will never work (even if to the pleasure of a minority community). I may be lambasted for these, but I believe these are debateable points yet.
This is all the more pertinent as I observe workings within the Muslim world here. The Ummah is considered the “People of the Book”, but some agree it is to include all of humanity i.e. God’s creations. The call is for all to work together in securing peace and harmony. There are few people who would disagree with principles of democracy but there are ways in which one announces it, or fights for it, that is less subversive for the host country. Feeling the pulse of the nations here, Islamic democracy has a chance to flourish and it must be given its own space and chance to do so.
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