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Response of Islam to Contemporary Issues

EDITORIAL ONE MAN – MANY VOTES Sir Harold Me Millan’s winds of change took a long time to arrive in South Africa. Was South Africa living in the eye of the storm as the pressure began to build up around it? Never before in history has the release of one man been witnessed by so many people around the world. With the release of Mr. Nelson Mandela, South Africa has taken a distinct turn towards black majority rule. His release has paved the way for one man, one vote. Unshaken in its control, the National government had enacted and actively pursued apartheid (racial segregation) in every sphere of life. This system was supposed to be the life line of the white population, sixty per cent of whom are Afrikaans — descendants of the Dutch, Huguenot and German settlers – mainly belonging to the Dutch Reform Church. Although some other churches were partially more liberal towards racial integration on the pews, in the final analysis, Christianity must bear a heavy responsibility for the perpetuation of this system. Many of us live a very insular life in our cocoons of freedom, liberties and the rights that past generations have won for us. We are purblind to the plight of those who suffer religious persecution, racial discrimination or violation of other human rights which we take for granted for ourselves. We make tall claims of having abolished slave trade while having shut our eyes to the racial, social, economic and political enslavement of millions of black Africans in South Africa. One needs to be black to know the true injustice and the degrading nature of racial discrimination. Only he understands what it means to be crowded into shanty towns and with no-go areas while the rest of the world is told that he likes living in the homelands. Only he understands that his bright children will not have access to the educational system which is available to others of a different skin. Only he gets transported to and from work in return for a paltry wage in comparison to a person of another skin of equal skill and experience. Only he understands what it means to have churches, beaches, toilets, shopping precincts, farms etc. exclusively reserved for the whites. Day in and day out, the colour of his skin is the most noticable feature of the society he lives in and he does not even have a say in forming the rules under which he must abide. The political leaders of the world ought to hang down their heads in REVIEW OF RELIGIONS 3 shame in allowing this system to flourish for such a long time while gloating about their own cherished freedoms which are rapidly leading man to the brink of anarchy. Whereas racial discrimination has by no means ended, the greatest visible edifice of distinction by the colour of one’s skin has come tumbling down. Let us hope that the many pockets of racial discrimination which still remain open in very many countries can also be finally buttoned up. This would be one of the pre-requisites for a united world. In such a world we must start from the premise that all human beings are equal. Thus, no one can claim any privilege. The Holy Quran states that the only badge of honour is righteousness: 0 mankind, We have created you from male and female; and We have divided you into nations and tribes for greater facility and intercour- se. Verily, the most honourable among you in the estimation of God is he who is the most righteous among you. Surely, God is All-Knowing, All-Aware. (49:14) No people or group should look down upon another people or group by virtue of any difference of colour, race, language or descent. 0 ye who believe, let no people deride another people, haply they may be better than they nor let one group of women deride another, haply the last may be better than the first. (49:12) The believers are all knit under Islam into a single brotherhood. The Holy Prophet, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, announced in his farewell address that an Arab is not superior to a non-Arab nor is a non-Arab superior to an Arab; nor is a white person superior to a black one, nor a black person superior to a white one. All are brethren, one to another. In contradistinction to other religions of’the world, one may therefore describe Islam as being totally colour-blind. The history of Islam can elicit no instance where the colour of one’s skin has interfered in the meting out of justice. During the five daily prayers, all chasms which otherwise divide a society are removed. The greatest spectacle of human unity manifests itself even more visibly when more than a million Muslims, the males clad in two unstitched sheets of cloth, gather together on the plains of Arafat during the annual pilgrimage. No .other religion has a teaching anywhere equivalent to Islam on inter-racial harmony. Although the black Africans in South Africa have many hurdles yet to (continued on page 13) RESPONSE OF ISLAM TO CONTEMPORARY ISSUES (We produce a gist of a lecture delivered on the above topic by Hazrat Khalifatul Masih W, Head of the Ahmadiyya Community in Islam on February 24, 1990, at the Queen Elizbeth II Conference Centre, London.) Hazrat Khalifatul Masih commenced his address by thanking everyone for their presence and by stating that the address he was about to deliver posed a great challenge to him and that he would begin with the most crucial issue. The most serious malady in the world today, he said, is the lack of peace. Mankind has attained a high standard of material progress which has been made possible by the advancement of science and technology in every sphere of human requirements. Nevertheless man is not happy and content. On the other hand there is growing restlessness every where. This constitutes one outstanding feature of the contemporary world. Man is in search of peace. The word Islam literally means peace and is a religion of peace. It advocates and promotes peace. Its teachings guarantee peace in every sphere of human interest and activity. In this address I have categorised some of the areas in which the contemparary world stands in need of special guidance. The first is inter-religious peace then in social, national, international and economic fields. In the general religious scenario one cannot fail to notice that in religion there seems to prevail a paradoxical situation today. Religion is both losing its grip and tightening it in different areas. In some sectors of society and in most religions there seems to be a swing back in the direction of dogmas with rigid and intolerant opposition, while in other areas there is a desire for something new. Unfortunately neither of these two attitudes help in creating a good religious climate. Islam provides a solution for all these problems. I feel deeply concerned and disturbed at what is happening in the world of religion today. There is a deep urgency for religion to make a genuine effort to remove misunderstandings existing between man and man and religion and religion. I believe that Islam can provide the remedy in a manner which can fully satisfy the need. I have categorised this subject under different sections. I believe, for instance, that if a religion is to be helpful in REVIEW OF RELIGIONS 5 establishing world peace then that religion should present a universal message from God. Islam does just that and in this respect God says in the Holy Quran: And We did raise among every people a Messenger with the teaching, ‘Worship Allah and shun the Evil One.’ (16:37) And We, indeed, sent Messengers before thee; of them there are some whom We have mentioned to thee; and of them are some whom We have not mentioned to thee. (40:79) Thou art surely a Warner. And there is a guide for every people. (13:8) There is no people to whom a Warner has not been sent. (35:25) According to the Holy Quran all prophets are equal. This is essential for the establishment of inter-religious peace. As far as their ministry is concerned they should all be treated equally. Elsewhere the Holy Quran does admit that there are different statuses of prophets but that all have the same divine authenticity. God says in the Holy Quran: These Messengers have We exalted some above others; among them are those to who Allah spoke; and some of them He exalted in degrees of rank (2:254) This verse should be understood from the context. One of the companions of the Holy Prophet once declared that the Holy Prophet was the best of all the prophets. This happened on two occasions. In one case when discusing with a Jew the companion insisted that the Holy Prophet was higher in rank than Moses. When the matter was referred to the Holy Prophet he replied that he should not be declared superior to Moses. At another time he said he should not be declared superior to Jonah, the son of Mutta. The underlying principle to be borne in mind is that it is for God to decide and declare in what way one prophet is dearer to Him than another. The followers of prophets are not permitted to start quarrelling or fighting over who is the better prophet. Salvation cannot be monopolised. This is another beautiful declaration of the Holy Quran which is a highly essential factor for establishing peace among religions. God says in the Holy Quran: For every people We have appointed ways of worship which they observe; so let them not dispute with thee on the matter of the Islamic way of or worship; and call thou the people to thy Lord, for, surely, thou art on the right path. (22:68) 6 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS Surely those who have believed, and the Jews and the Sabians, and the Christians, whoso believes in Allah and the Last Day and does good deeds, on them shall come no fear, nor shall they grieve. (5:70) The Holy Quran makes it clear that the reward of these people would be their Lord. Again with reference to the people of the Book, whoever they may be, although usually in the Holy Quran they are understood to be the Jews and the Christians. The Holy Quran does not permit Muslims indiscriminately to censure all those who belong to other religions regarding their chances of redemption. It states that there are some people of the Book who stand by their covenant and recite the words of Allah at night. Furthermore they believe in God and the Last Day, they enjoin good and forbid evil, and they compete with one another in doing good works. They are among the righteous and they will receive their reward. Today there is a great misunderstanding due to the misunderstanding between Jews and Muslims. It is thought that Islam teaches that all Jews are destined for hell. This is totally false as borne out by what I have quoted from the Holy Quran. Referring to all the religions of the world the Holy Quran says: And of those We have created, there are a people that guide men with truth and do justice therewith. (2:182) At tha same time Islam claims itself to be a universal religion and that one day it will emerge as the one religion for all mankind: He it is (God) Who has sent this Messenger with guidance and the religion of truth, that He may make it prevail over every other religion even though the idolaters may resent it. (9:32) It should be borne in mind that no religion with a universal message can ever momentarily think of employing force to proclaim its mesage. The sword can win territory but not hearts. Force can bend heads but not minds. Islam strictly forbids the use of force for the propogation of its message: There is no compulsion in religion. (2:257) Righteousness has become distinct from wrong so there is no need for coercion. Let the people themselves decide where the truth lies. Again, addressing the Holy Prophet, God says in the Holy Quran: Admonish, therefore, for thou art but an admonisher. Thou art not appointed a keeper over them. (88:22,23) REVIEW OP RELIGIONS 7 But if they turn away, We have not sent thee as a guardian over them. Thy duty is only to convey the message. (42:49) If one meets with hostile reaction when delivering the message then how should one react? The Holy Quran teaches one should remove evil with goodness. Do not return evil for evil: Repel evil with that which is best. (23:97) Freedom of speech and expression is highly vital for the spread of the message as well as for restoring the dignity of man. Religion is not worthy of consideration if it does not restore human dignity. It is unbelievable that in a religion like Islam there could be restrictions on the freedom of speech. Today liberty and emancipation are two important slogans which in differnt ways are influencing the world to a lesser or greater extent. There is no doubt man is becoming more aware and conscious of the importance and value of liberty. The need for emancipation is being felt everywhere; but emancipation from what? The yoke of foreign rule, dictatorship, corrupt democracy, ignorance, superstition etc. Islam champions tha cause of liberty from all these maladies but not in a manner which would create disorder and chaos along with indiscriminate vengeance causing suffering to the innocent. God states in the Holy Quran that He does not like disorder. The role of freedom should be in a spirit of give and take. Unrestricted individual freedom is bound to effect the freedom of the innocent and weak. Nothing but anarchy is the end product of absolute freedom. Unfortunately in many advanced countries crime is being inadvertantly encouraged and protected in the name of individual liberty at the cost of peace of the innocent law-abiding citizens. Sometimes the concept of freedom is made an ugly picture when insults, abuse, and blasphemy are practised. Blasphemy in Islam is not considered to be a crime. I have studied the Holy Quran hundreds of times and I have not been able to find one verse which prescribes any punishment in this world for the blasphemer. The Holy Quran discourages indecent behaviour and talk, and hurting the feelings of others without justification. Yet Islam prescribes no punishment for the blasphemer. God’ says in the Holy Quran: When you hear the Signs of God being mocked at, sit not with those who indulge in such talk until they engage in some other talk. (4:141) No punishment is mentioned. The Holy Quran also states that Jesus and his mother Mary were made the targets of blasphemy yet no mention has been made about any punishment for the blasphemers. Even God has been blasphemed against and still the question of punishment has not been mentioned.