“A crossroad in history is a time of great instability. But it is the only time when the puny effort of a single man or woman can change the path of destiny — Unknown
When Abul Kalam Azad was in his mid-twenties he often wondered why Muslims could not be united despite having the same source of inspiration. It was the 1900s. More than a century later, we are passing through similar confusing and difficult times. We are neither as divided as some describe us to be nor as united as we would have thought we would be- we are still a dispersed nation. But despite many external forces working with all their might to shred us to pieces, we are there, visible just enough to have our presence acknowledged. We have dim lights, just enough to show them we are there.
The fact of the matter, however, is that Islam has always been at odds, intellectually, with those who wished to impose their ideology on others outside their beliefs and physically, as a force with those who have always sought power and ambition to keep their citizens under their sway, in a so incomprehensible manner that perhaps is best described as fear in the words of the British Prime Minister, Gladstone, “So long as the Egyptians have got this book (the Quran) with them, we will never be able to enjoy quiet or peace in that land”.
He knew too well how dangerously contagious Islam would be to the unjust colonialism if it was revived in its pristine purity. That the very presence of it was enough to make them act against it in some of the most sinister ways is proof of the unifying power that Islam holds. At its deepest level, its simplicity and humanity challenged the status quo of the ruling elite. The habit of othering Muslims, it seems, is rather old-fashioned and knowing this, despite many accusations, reaffirms that we are no stranger to our country.
This, however, brings to mind a harsher reality. When Tariq Ramadan said, “We want to tell people how great Islam is yet we are not great Muslims,” he described the general state of the Muslim community. Over the years, there has been enough influence on people to ‘moderate’ their religion or wear it in forms that others see it as befitting in the society. But the truth is that there’s nothing sublime in being less than who we are, or in recognising Islam for less than what it really is. There has been tremendous power in recognising our true identity and believing in it as such has many a times proven to be the source of all strength and resilience. True belief is said to be ashamed of nothing.
With all that is happening around us, it would be wise to take lessons from our past. And we learn that our failure to be united has always been the root of all our troubles. Instead of bridging the cracks left by our colonisers, many internal and external forces have widened them and sowed further seeds of dissension. It is our disunity that has made us easy prey to external forces of division. It is our disunity that we are victims of injustice and marginalisation, that has allowed the ruling elite to blatantly endorse hatred and vengeance against us. It is also our disunity, that we have no role models and little hope for the future generations. We may emulate godliness all day long, indulge in long prayers and fasts and recitations, but if we are at loggerheads all the time, even for the most trivial of things, we will have a hard time progressing forward as Muslims of the nation. In one of his discussions, Ramadan very eloquently summarised, “We can’t deal with unity if we rely on ignorance. We can’t deal with unity if we rely on arrogance. We are between ignorance and arrogance…Between arrogance and ignorance what we need is education…We are part of this unity, but managing this diversity out of knowledge.”
It is entirely up to us whether we be bystanders to our fate and allow forces of ignorance to gather strength or find a beacon of light in the Quran and the Prophet’s teachings. We have it in our power, should we so choose, to lift these clouds of darkness with knowledge, and spread the message of hope and humanity that the Prophet so strived to convey. Some of the important takeaways from his last sermon were that of Unity and Brotherhood; that every Muslim is a brother to another Muslim, and that none is above another human being. Our knowledge of him describes him as giving “an impression of dignity when silent and of high intelligence when he spoke. His words were impressive, and he was decisive, not trivial not trite, his ideas like pearls moving on their string.” Even a perfunctory glance of his day-to-day life will convince the reader of his exemplary character and reveal his elevated sense of civic responsibility that any citizen is required to display towards the society at large. His interactions showed kindness, compassion, gratitude and forgiveness. His character was the Quran.
We need to shield ourselves with the knowledge of the two sources he left behind- the Quran and the Prophetic traditions. This, coupled with the knowledge of our history, of our pioneers in the field of various sciences, the wisdom from our past, will build a sense of recognition and security in our identity. There is a famous adage that goes, “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” Being oblivious to our Islamic history makes us a rootless people.
We need to revive Islam for what it really is. There is a dire need to reorient our thought and stop reacting emotionally. Islam traversed boundaries even though it wasn’t always preached by word of mouth. Its pioneers preached through their actions, and interactions with their friends and family, neighbours, or even strangers in the marketplace. Their behaviour brimmed with high moral qualities which in turn reflected Islam in its pristine form. They had the intellectual humility of a kind that allowed them to be respectful of other opinions, dissent and, to be open to new ideas and to entertain them while keeping theirs’. And no matter which part of the globe they trotted to, they took the Prophet’s words with them- that the best of us are those who don’t harm others with their tongue and hands.
With the same nuance and some pragmatism we need to revitalise Islam in its true sense, build bridges with other communities and convey the message of love, peace and humanity that Islam stands for. We need to purify our faith of the impurities of bias and prejudice, explore Islamic thought, nurture activism and service of Islam and the community at large. We are more than just Muslims. We are Muslims not because we are born so, but by our emulation of the Prophetic way of life and we might as well hold on to this lest we tear each other apart over the same religion that has so frequently called upon us to unite.