Muslims: The threat from within
AIJAZ ZAKA SYED
Contrary to the relatively recent but widespread fiction, Islam took roots and spread in much of South Asia not at gunpoint.
Rather, it was embraced by the masses who were bowled over by the stark simplicity and honesty of Arab merchants and traders and the power of love and faith exemplified by saints and Sufis like Khaja Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer, Nizamuddin Auliya of Delhi and Syed Abul Hasan Hajvery of Lahore.
They might not have been great scholars of the religion. But they promoted and demonstrated the liberating message of Islam and its teachings of love, peace, universal brotherhood and equality before God with their actions and conduct.
Everyone talks about the wars that the Moguls — and various other Muslim dynasties -— fought to get and perpetuate their power in the subcontinent. But the real war for hearts and minds was fought and won by others. Their power didn't flow from the barrel of the gun or the sword. Muslim emperors and rulers might have built some mosques, as a token of appreciation and gratitude to the real ruler of the world, but they didn't represent Islam nor fought their wars for the religion.
If they invaded and fought Hindu kingdoms and states, they were not driven by any missionary zeal. At the end of the day, it was essentially a battle for power. If anything, many of the Muslim rulers brought nothing but disgrace to their faith — and the accusation that its growth is indebted to the long and powerful swords of the Moguls, Khiljis and Lodhis.
If South Asia is home to a huge chunk of the world's Muslim population — nearly half of it — today, the credit should largely go to real men of God.
What kind of people target such men of God, and people who love and revere them? And in the end what are they trying to prove? Can there be a more heinous crime than targeting men who spent all their lives in the service of God and humanity? But then what can you expect from the folks who do not spare God's own abode and unsuspecting, innocent men, women and children praying there? And all this, of course, in the sweet name of God, for crying out loud! They claim to be our protectors and guardians and the defenders of our faith. And they are saving and protecting us from our enemies by killing us! Indeed, with friends like these, Muslims do not need any enemies.
I've never been to Lahore (or Pakistan for that matter.) But as the home of Iqbal and Faiz, it enjoys a special place in my heart. However, to most people in Pakistan and across the border in India, Lahore is known as Data ki Nagari or the Data's city in reverence to the legendary saint and scholar Syed Abul Hasan Hajvery.
After wandering in the subcontinent, Data Gunj Baksh, as he's popularly known, chose Lahore as his home to continue his mission of promoting faith and love and showing the right path for over a thousand years. He's also the author of the most celebrated text on Sufism.
All Sufis did nothing but spread love, tolerance, kindness, generosity, acceptance and inclusion. The greatest of all Sufi poet philosophers Jalaluddin Rumi, who cast a lifelong spell on Iqbal, wrote: "The way of love differs from all others; lovers (of God) owe allegiance to no nation or sect (but the way of God)."
That was the way of the Sufis. Their doors were open for everyone, feeding the hungry and sheltering the weak. Some of us may not agree with their interpretation of Islam or some of the practices their overzealous followers have introduced over the centuries. But this is not about Sufism or how it's being commercially exploited by some.
This is about the increasingly dangerous and totally absurd interpretation of Islam. It's an appalling crime to send an impressionable 16-year-old to blow himself up at the popular shrine of a great saint who preached nothing but love and kindness. But it's an even greater crime and ultimate calumny against the religion when it's done in the name of Islam.
In fact, it's an affront to all religions. Perhaps no other faith abhors and warns against violence and injustice of all kinds and strife as Islam does. In fact, if Islam means acceptance or submission to the will of God, it also means peace, literally. More important, it preaches moderation, restraint and reason in everything we do, even in our devotion and prayers.
It warns us that killing one innocent human being is akin to killing all humanity and saving one innocent life is like saving mankind. The Qur'an constantly cautions us that Allah does not like those who spread strife and chaos on earth. We're told killing a fellow human being is waging war against God and Allah promises them harshest punishment.
But we have been here before and heard and said it all, haven't we? In fact, we keep repeating this stuff ad nauseam like parrots without anyone taking us seriously.
While we earnestly hold forth on the real teachings and message of Islam, a weary world looks away in disgust as the jackals in straitjackets continue to kill in our name and in the name of God. We could go on waxing lyrical on the peaceful nature of the great faith and its liberating teachings but the world looks not at our scriptures but at our actions, or rather of those who claim to be Muslims and shed innocent blood with impunity.
How long will this go on? And who's going to stop this endless dance of death? Pakistan was created in the name of Islam and won after immense sacrifices and at a monumental price. This endless spilling of innocent blood is therefore not only tragic but an assault on Quaid-e-Azam's vision for Pakistan. From mosques to madrasas and from mourning Shiites to Ahmadi shrines, no one is safe.
This is not a problem exclusive to Pakistan though. For whatever reason, the cancer of extremism is fast eating into the vitals of the entire Muslim world. A lunatic fringe has hijacked their faith and claims to speak on their behalf and all Muslims can do is wring their hands in helplessness.
In their long and eventful history, Muslims have never faced a greater challenge to their identity and existence. This sickness within is far more dangerous than what they confront from without.
Where are Muslim voices of reason and sanity? Where are our leaders, our Ulema and intellectuals when we need them so badly? Why don't they come out in the open to speak out against this distortion of our faith and morbid celebration of death? If their voices aren't heard, they must shout from the rooftops but speak they must. There's no other way to stop this madness. This is no time to hide.