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Published On:28 July 2013
Posted by Indian Muslim Observer

Restoring the global image of Muslims

Islam did not spread because of the sword, but because general people of these regions felt that being a Muslim would lead to a better life

By Chowdhury Abd-Allah Quaseed

There are millions of Muslims all over the world, who rant about the lost glory of Muslims and the fall of the Islamic empire. They lament about how the dominion of Muslims – stretching from Spain from the West to the islands of Indonesia in the East, covering the whole of Central Asia, including former southern Soviet states, the Middle East, the whole northern African belt and the Indian subcontinent – was a glowing beacon of progress and advancement, through the middle ages when Europe was plunged in darkness and anarchy.

And then how it suddenly collapsed, allowing Europe and America to usurp the throne of global power, sending the Muslims back to the rear, where they have been languishing ever since.

The clerics in all the mosques pray for the re-emergence of Muslims as a united global power. Many wish for the day when Muslims can again hold a leading position of prestige and power in the world: where they won’t be viewed as suspicious violence-seekers or terrorists, or a backward regressive people, obsessed with suppression of women and the divesting of oneself from all the enjoyments of modern life.

But some of the Muslims, specially the clerics and the preachers, and even many of the members of the present young generation – who have recently become profoundly inspired by the teachings of leading Islamic scholars, at home and abroad and on the many TV channels dedicated to the preaching of Islam – feel that this status of importance can be attained through conversion of all the people of all the countries into Muslims.

They believe it should happen not only through zealous philosophising and teaching, but also through eventual establishment of a Khalifate empire across the world, governed according to strict religious laws, and administered by a central leader or governing body. In fact, there are many enthusiasts who are actively working towards what they feel is that end.

As a Muslim, I feel that it would indeed be wonderful if we could have a world where all the people could become Muslims, or at least a few billion more people could be converted to Islam. However, I would maintain that this should only be done through inspiration and not by force or compulsion, fear or the stimulation of feelings of guilt, and intimidation through constant vivid depictions of the horrors of hell, and most certainly not through violence.

We must not forget that at present, despite all the tireless efforts of such agents of the spread of the religion, there are only 1.5 out of 7 billion people of this world who call themselves Muslims. Among these people, more than half would be moderate Muslims, enjoying a significant blending of western cultures into their lives, while a quarter could be the more stauncher breed, and another quarter who, though allow themselves to be classified as Muslims, do not comply with almost any of the religious practices nor even the rituals.

Though I personally feel that it would be fascinating to enlist an additional quarter of the global population to our faith, I don’t think it is something that can be attained very easily, or in as short a time as many expect. And I hope that the delay does not frustrate those on the mission to spread Islam through preaching, into losing patience and adopting more radical means of expansion, such as political or military takeover.

I want Islam to spread, but gradually. I would prefer the spread to be of the more moderate kind of Islam that is practiced in most countries, so that the remaining people of the world would understand us better, be better able to identify with us, and find lesser reasons to fear us. That would draw people towards us and our ways even more.

Perhaps there should be more emphasis towards encouraging the Muslims who are so just by name, to take up more practices of the religion rather than trying to bring in new members to the faith.

And while I would love to have all the Muslim nations have peace between themselves and internally within them, which so many of them at present do not have, and to work with unity among themselves on many global issues, I do not feel the need to try and bring them all under any single leadership, as that does not seem to be a practical nor a necessary objective at this point in time.

In fact, I am very skeptical about the desire for creation of a single empire, for efforts towards that or propaganda related to that. It may be interpreted by the rest of the world as a camouflaged political desire for world domination rather than the spread of religion.

The more the zealous preachers speak of such Khalifate empires, I apprehend that we will only invoke more resistance and fear against ourselves – which we can well do without, and which will only retard our growth and progress as a race.

I as a moderate Muslim earnestly feel that the preachers should emphasise on the people willingly taking up the Islamic practices, from their own “awakening” rather than enforcing through governmental legislation. Only then would the multitudes embrace Islam wholeheartedly. Then the need for such legal or political coercion would not even arise.

The way to make Islam thrive again in the world is, according to me, to re-establish the reasons for which the Muslims were respected and to add to that list. So, what is really needed is for Muslims to flourish in every field of profession and rise to global fame and excellence.

If we examine history, we would find that Muslims from the 600s to the mid 1600s were among the most educated and enlightened people of the time. They were the ones who made the greatest advancements in science, astronomy, engineering, architecture, trade and commerce, in medicine, in surgery and much more.

They were great orators, poets, artists, builders and in their personal lives, they appeared to be relatively more peaceful, decent, honest, averse to negative elements such as corruption, fraud and rampant debauchery.

In general Muslims, even among non-Muslims were respected for all of these reasons and for being upright and just, and so were mostly sought out as leaders and arbitrators. Muslims had the biggest libraries and universities where knowledge seekers from around the world would come to study. Indeed back in those times, it was a matter of pride and fashion to be a Muslim.

Islam at that time was perceived as a religion that promoted open-mindedness, curiosity and thought and introspection as well as intellectual discourse. But tragically, with the dawn of the 1700s, came the emergence of the more fundamentalist form of Islam preached by people who were not endowed with the former wisdom, and one that discouraged all quest for knowledge beyond religious teachings.

From that point onwards came the downfall of the Muslims, which we deplore today.

If tens of thousands of Muslims could earn global recognition and fame, even if it be in fields that are traditionally not considered Islamic such as sports and entertainment, these thousands of individual achievements by Muslims all over the world will be what will raise the social and global perception about Muslims and draw more people towards the religion.

They will see that Islam offers them a good disciplined life and also allows them to materialise their dreams instead of only stifling them with religion most of the time, which is an unfortunate impression the world has about the religion because of the way it is preached at present.

Imagine if only, there were Muslims who could win at least two to three dozen Nobel Prizes in various arenas, over the next few decades, a few hundred Olympic medals (being clinched even by female Muslim athletes); if there were dozens of global prize winning authors writing about science, and all subjects; and even if there were a few dozen actors and actresses winning Oscars and other international arts and film awards, all of whom members of the faith; if there were great entrepreneurs (beyond Arab sheikhs) who climbed onto the list of global billionaires through intelligent and ethical enterprise; if there were a hundred top international pop stars, musicians, journalists, global TV presenters, etc of both genders who could proudly call themselves Muslims, and practice at least some of the principal rituals of the religion, at the very least in their personal and family lives. Indeed, then Islam would truly get a boost in its global reputation.

If Muslims never indulged in acts of violence, if Muslims were active members of the communities where they lived, if Muslims helped non-Muslims around the world, and did not just pray about people of their own religion only, as is done in many mosques (specially in Bangladesh), but for the world, Islam would regain its glory in the modern times.

We need to realise that in over 300 years, Muslims cannot claim to have contributed anything of significance to the advancement of human civilisation in the realm of science, medicine, industrialisation, engineering or any of the limbs on which humanity has walked up to here. They did not make any electricity, any machines, no electronic devices, not even transportation means. Muslims have not created any of the things that they are using all the time.

However, they often are using the technologies to malign or criticise people of other races that in fact invented these with their hard work and properly applied intelligence. And to intensify the despair of the moderate Muslims, there are some Muslims who have only served to make the followers of Islam appear to be the kind that rejects the existence of other races and religions, undermines them, and views them condescendingly.

This polarisation, further precipitated through occasional acts of violence and promises of violence by terrorist organisations has brought Muslims to their present plight of being considered synonymous for trouble. And that is the image we need to change for the Muslims to regain their glory.

Muslims also have to embrace people of all religions. Be more open to befriend others, and adapt more to people of other beliefs as well, without hampering their (the Muslim’s) own core values.

Muslims across the world should not seclude themselves from the communities they live in, in countries where they are a minority, fearing the others to be evil contaminants, but engage with them socially.

Muslims need to globalise and popularise the Islamic festivals, such as the two Eids, and involve people of all religions in celebrating these occasions through the hosting of feasts, special cultural programmes and perhaps even carnivals, fairs etc.

These occasions have to become like Christmas is all over the world, and how some pujas and Diwali are rapidly becoming in all places where Indians live. Islam must welcome everyone warmly to enjoy its festive spirit.

It has to appear to be a religion that can be fun too, and not reminiscent of the strict Puritans or the Amish sects of Christianity in the previous century, who were avoided by most for their rejection of modern advancements and all forms of enjoyment and entertainment.

Islam should promote decency and sobriety and the benefit of setting certain limits maybe, but should not brand itself as a complete reversal to the way of life people have become used to.

I understand that those who propagate the idea of the establishment of a Khalifate empire as the best and the quickest way to re-assert the glory of Muslims, may tend to disagree. But we need to understand that the so-called Islamic empire, which they would like to revive, was never one single empire. It comprised a large number of separate empires or kingdoms, many of whom were in fact embroiled in territorial battles with each other, and all of it did not also exist at the same time either.

For instance, the political control of Spain and many parts of North Africa were long gone by the 1400s and 1500s, which was when Muslim rulers gained control of the Indian subcontinent and regions further East. Also, it needs to be noted that the spreading of Islam was never the core objective of these imperialist expansions of territories but were in actuality, politically motivated.

The spread of Islam was a fortunate by-product catalysed and facilitated by the presence of Muslim rulers in those realms. It also needs to be pointed out that legal coercion or legislation never succeeded in spreading Islam.

The rulers who tried it were the ones defeated and ousted, or their policies led to the collapse of those empires, such as Emperor Aurungzeb bringing the collapse of Mughal rule. It was only emperors and kings who not only encouraged Islam through incentives and financial benefits, but also adopted an otherwise secular and tolerant approach to all other religions. They were the most successful in establishing Islam in those regions. Most of the earlier Mughal emperors are the best examples of that.

Indeed, Islam did not spread because of the sword, but because general people of these regions felt that being a Muslim would lead to a better life, not just spiritually, but in a worldly sense as well.

Muslims manifested certain traits that inspired people into wanting to emulate them and embrace the reason they felt was the cause for them being the way they were. Islam was a religion that spread harmony and unity among faiths, manifested by the crowds of non-Muslims thronging to the shrines and mausoleums of the Sufi saints all across India.

This is how we Muslims can truly re-emerge as a race that can be respected all over the world. We should all try to become ambassadors of the faith, become living proof that the religion gives us the inner strength to move on and achieve great things in all aspects of life.

If we can live in a way that inspires others to grow the spiritual faith inside their souls and carry the essence of the religion in their hearts at all times, the more literal believers will be discouraged from decrying such persons of excellence in their respective fields – who may not follow the version of Islam as preached by the more fundamental preachers – as being poor examples of what a proper Muslim ought to be; when Muslims can be the harbingers of peace across the world, and when the sheer charisma of Muslims inspires others to follow and emulate them.

I, as a moderate Muslim, also look forward to that day when being a Muslim is synonymous with being disciplined, law abiding, upright, courageous, generous, protective of the weak, chivalrous, wise, talented – the kind of person who would be given a privileged welcome in all the immigration desks around the world in every airport!

(Courtesy: Dhaka Tribune)

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Posted by Indian Muslim Observer on July 28, 2013. Filed under , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Feel free to leave a response

By Indian Muslim Observer on July 28, 2013. Filed under , . Follow any responses to the RSS 2.0. Leave a response

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