Understanding and Reviving the Muslim Psyche
By U. Mahesh Prabhu
Orthodoxy and fanaticism is found in every religious group, not just Islam. But in Hindu and Christian societies, there emerged a class of reformers who rejected such dogmas outright. There was, of course, a reason for this. Their religions were subjected to assaults and molestation as both had to face Islamic aggression. The defeat they suffered, stimulated these societies to reform themselves. Muslim society is unfortunate in this regard. It has never been subjected to the traumatic experiences of an assault which would have stimulated it to reform itself.
By attacks, I am not referring merely to political aggression in a limited sense; even Muslims have been subjected to such attacks. Despite Muslims being enslaved at times, their religion has never been threatened. On the other hand, whenever they defeated Christians and Hindus, they did not stop at just enslaving them. Followers of other faiths thus realized that if Muslims enslaved them, their religion was in danger. This is what compelled these societies to think of their own religion in a radically new manner.
In India, Hindus have often defeated Muslims and ruled over them. But they were never forced to embrace Hinduism. Even Shivaji, who could have successfully done so, did not attempt it. When some Christians defeated Muslims, they had already given up the idea of forcible conversion and Christian society was already entering the modern age. Before modernization, even Christians have resorted to forcible conversions.
Aurangzeb destroyed the temple of Vishweshwara at Benares (aka Varanasi), and built a mosque at the birthplace of Lord Krishna in Mathura. But the Western conquerors of Mecca and Medina did not inflict any such changes on the conquered. The Mosque of Omar in Jerusalem remained intact and so did the Muslim faith. Muslims were fortunate to have full religious freedom when being ruled by people of other faiths. In India, a King like Shivaji pushed back aggressors, yet instituted grants for the preservation of Pirs (spiritual Mullah) and Dargahs (sacred graves).
But history has taken absurd twists and turns, leaving the Muslim mind still medieval in its make-up. It has never shocked them into awareness of modernity. Indeed, one is inclined to blame history more than the Muslims themselves, for the phenomenon. In continuation, it appears that all so-called secular political parties in India have a consensus on retaining Indian Muslims in their medieval state.
The Congress Party has, in fact, shown that it is opposed to their modernization and reasons for this policy can be found in the nature of Muslim leadership within the party.
This leadership mostly consists of the orthodox and traditionalist Ulema. They exert a powerful influence on the senior leadership within the Congress. Hence it is not surprising that our political and administrative leadership, cannot modernize the Muslim community. Islam in India is perhaps still in its crudest form and that is why pan-Islamic movements exist in our country. This is also the reason why everytime the Prophet is criticized, Muslims here start movements and agitations, often unparalleled in most of the Isamic world. These Muslims still pressurize the government to adopt a policy favorable to the Arabs and against the Jews of Israel.
The mindsets of Muslims, globally, seem to have an absence of logic. For instance, take the battle of 'Badr'. This was the first battle to be fought by Muslims and the Prophet emerged victorious despite his army being badly outnumbered. His army consisted of 310 'faithful' Muslims. The Prophet's antagonists were the army of the Quraish tribe of Mecca numbering more than a thousand. His victory is a historical fact and hence, this battle is considered a memorable turning point in the history of Islam and as per Muslims, 'in the history of the whole world'! The victory can be attributed to numerous reasons, but the Muslim mind is still under the spell of this historical victory.
When discussing defeats and victories in battles, we resort to the scientific method. For instance, in the clash between Babar and Rana Sangha or Abdally and the Marathas.A scientific explanation of Babar's victory would be based on the fact that he had weapons superior to those used by his adversary. Similarly, in the battle fought between Abdally and the Marathas at Panipat, it would be a certain battle-formation at Panipat that was the deciding factor.
All three major battles fought at Panipat, have a single pattern—an advantageous position on the battlefield. There was a hill formation on the Panipat plain which had helped any army that occupied it to win the battle. A military expert has commented that the Marathas made a fatal mistake in occupying a disadvantageous position on the battlefield. This would be the scientific explanation.
However, the fanatic and orthodox Muslim mind is averse to accepting scientific explanations. It sees in every Islamic victory a repetition of the battle of Badr. The reason for Abdally's win is attributed to his being a Muslim. The cause of the Marathas defeat is said to be because they were Kafirs. How could a handful of Muslims win? The answer is that they were faithful. Why then did the Arabs suffer a humiliating and crushing defeat at the hands of the Israelis? The answer, this time, is that Arab leaders were not faithful Muslims! Nasser led the Arabs.
What exactly do these Muslims mean when they criticize Nasser for lack of faith in Islam? The answer, again, is obvious. Nasser is unfaithful because he refuses to impose the rule of the Shariat in Egypt. How could a handful of Muslims rule India for a thousand years? It is simple—they were possessed by tremendous religious zeal. How can Muslims regain their lost power in the world? To this the answer is again very obvious: Muslims across the world have to be made more devout.
Fanatics believe Islam to be the newest and therefore, the most perfect religion. They regard Muhammad as the last and final prophet. Hence, they believe that there cannot be any new religion after the advent of Islam. They believe that Islam does not need any modification. These Islamic dogmas do not suffer from the restrictions admitted by other religions. When Muslims believe Islam to be perfect and immutable, their faith does not extend to a purely theological domain. Islam has not merely given a theology; it has also given its followers a complete social and political system. Islam laid down the principles on which the relations between Muslims and infidels are based. An average Muslim who is orthodox in his view, fully subscribes to all these dogmas. Some of the Muslims like Maulana Moududi and Maulana Abdul Hassan Nadvi have even discovered an Islamic economic system in addition to these!
However, there were a few people like Sir Syed Ahmed Khan who urged Muslims to accept modern Western education. But there were repercussions. The Ulema of Deoband issued a fatwa calling him a kafir. Muslims remained backward because they were religion-bound revivalists who refused to modernize themselves. In this scenario, Sir Syed was a great visionary who heralded the Indian Muslim renaissance. It was due to his effort that the rigidly religious mind of Indian Muslims began to show some signs of thawing.
Educated Muslims began to redefine life and gave up the grand dream of converting India to Islam. A process of transformation had begun. This process should have brought Muslims close to Hindus and broadened their view of man and society. A view, which would have looked upon Hindus and Muslims as equals.
This process, however, was ironically reversed because modern Indian Muslims proved unequal to the task. Their modernity proved limited and they lacked the broad vision that could have ensured the complete success of the Aligarh renaissance. Sir Syed himself succumbed to the egoistical conception that Muslims were the conquerors of India. It was he who later became the father of separatist Muslim nationalism, and not Jinnah as it is commonly thought. Jinnah is only a later version of Sir Syed—revised and enlarged.
If we want more and more secular-minded Muslims in the near future, we must encourage and support those Muslims who are moving in that direction. For as long as Muslims remain monolithic in their thinking, their communalism will only increase. If they divide into two camps—the modern liberals and the orthodox puritans—their communalism would be much weakened.