IN recent times, an upsurge of extremist movements, zealotry and fanaticism has almost shaken the foundation of our fledgling democracy. The government faces a dilemma on all fronts: governing a volatile country burdened with poverty, unemployment, landlessness and now religious antagonism and militancy. The government, as it appears, has not been able to make much of a dent in all these pressing problems.
Zealotry, fanaticism and religious militancy have no place in a progressive society destined to carve out an independent and dignified place in the contemporary world. The world in which we live today is radically different from what it was till mid-20th century. Today preservation of any closed system is not only unacceptable but also untenable. The world economy is becoming a single organism and no state, whatever its social system or economic status, can make any headway outside it. The idea of development at the expense of others has ceased to be a dictum in the statecraft. In the light of the existing realities, no genuine progress is possible at the expense of the rights and freedom of individual nations. The use or threat of force no longer can or must be an instrument of governance. All of us and especially the stronger and conscientious of us must exercise self-restraint, pragmatism and sensibility. At this hour of crisis, it should be brought home to all of us that freedom of choice, freedom of expression - to the extent it does not hurt the sentiment of others - is mandatory.
The world order is diverse. Thus we can talk about unity in diversity and that is what our Creator wanted us to assert. No one should coerce us to abandon our convictions, our philosophy or traditions nor do we urge anyone to abandon theirs. If we speak of the true spirit of Islam and its values, we at once find it in the essence of the ayaat, “La Ikraha Fiddin,” (Sura Al Baqara 1:256), meaning that there is no compulsion or coercion in religion.
If wisdom and pragmatism are our guiding force, we are still far from attaining the ultimate truth. The country today faces a grim situation. Disparate activities bereft of sensibility can de-stabalise the society. 'Fatwas' issued by the so-called radical scholars of Islam and zealots virtually opposing the literacy drive for women, poverty alleviation, healthcare, development and environmental programmes embarked either by the government or NGOs in the remote areas of Bangladesh, have stalled progress and development. In recent times, fanaticism and ultra-religious passions have unleashed powerful political and social cross-winds and conflicts. Buffeted by the currents, the ruling party is trying to preserve a precarious balance between secular moderates and religious conservatives. At stake is the growth and progress of the country. Prophet Muhammad's teachings galvanised the Muslim societies with hope but often the peaceful path that our Prophet (PBUH) charted out is not followed by radical zealots.
We may recall the great historical lesson of moderation and tolerance that prompted Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to sign the great treaty of Hudaibia. The significant part of the treaty that impresses all, regardless of religious conviction, is our Prophet's magnanimity, tolerance and self-restraint in the face of the highest of provocations.
Article (4) of the treaty reads, “Prophet of Islam and his party were not to enter Mecca that year, but they could enter unarmed the following year. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) went back to Medina that year. Another remarkable part of the draft of the negotiation was that the draft started with “Bismillahir Rahman-ir- Rahim”- meaning “In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.” The Quraish insisted on excising that sentence and it was so done at the instance of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The article of negotiation contained another word “Rasul-ul-Allah.” The Quraish refused to accept this word on the plea that they did not adhere to the faith (Islam) preached by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). On that point also, the magnanimous Prophet (PBUH) instructed Hazrat Ali to delete that word, but Hazrat Ali, out of his profound respect and reverence for Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) could not oblige him. Realising the sentiment of Hazrat Ali, the Prophet(PBUH) himself, with the assistance of Hazrat Ali, made the excision. Overwhelmed by the magnanimity of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), the Quraish tribe embraced Islam in large numbers.
Some radical Islamists have taken it upon themselves to create a society of their choice by force or even by eliminating those opposing their ideas. But in the Surah Gashiya (The Overwhelming Event) of The Holy Qur'an, Allah addresses the Prophet (PBUH): “Warn them and advise them, because you are only a preacher. You are not to manage their affairs. If any turn away and reject Allah, Allah will inflict severest punishment on them.” If we have followed and obeyed the injunctions of Islam revealed in the Holy Qur'an, in the truest sense of the term, then why are our so-called Muslim brethren (educators in Madrasas) behaving in such a wayward manner? People in the whole country, especially Muslims, are appalled that young madrasa students are creating an unstable situation in the society as well as murdering fellow human beings on ideological differences, without fully understanding the teachings of the Holy Quran. People are shocked to see that these impressionable boys have been misguided and instigated by the so-called proponents of Islam who have taken upon themselves the responsibility to salvage Islam.
Apart from the concern for lives and freedom that might be in jeopardy, nations fear that these radical groups might destabilise Muslim societies, driving larger armies of emigrants on the march for violence-free regions. Devout Muslims are always shocked to hear that the name of their faith, which means submission to Allah, can summon up such images of violence. Despite all the past visions of Saracens battling Crusaders, today's confrontations, as we see, is not a devotional conflict but a clash between perceptions of reality.
One wonders why we are losing sight of all these great and singular examples of self-restraint and superb sense of tolerance demonstrated by the prophet Muhammad (PBUH) even in that dark age. Moderation instead of craze for vengeance should be the clarion call of the day.
The writer is a columnist of The Daily Star.