By Abdul Bari Masoud

In an exclusive interview with Abdul Bari Masoud, Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH) President Mr. Syed Sadatullah Husaini spoke eloquently on Shari’ah guidelines on the prevailing situation. The young leader of India’s largest Muslim socio-religious organisation hoped that the country’s current phase would be brief and that no one should be disheartened. Excerpts:

In many parts of the country, Muslims face religious persecution. What is the most appropriate course of action? Are Muslim youths becoming agitated?

This anger is natural. The persecution has reached to an unprecedented peak and is being carried out blatantly with utter disregard to the law and all norms of civility and without any iota of fear of any consequence. This is an extremely chaotic situation and no society can afford it for long. I am confident, its span will be short and ultimately sanity will prevail.

Our approach should be to use all lawful means to defend and protect ourselves and all the vulnerable people.  Let me also emphasise that our efforts should not be confined to the emergency fire-fighting. The struggle should mainly target long term change of the situation and sustainable peace and justice.

The situation can be changed by two major means. One is awakening the conscience of fellow citizens. Modern societies are mainly governed by public opinion. Public opinion is no doubt negatively impacted by evil designs and propaganda machinery, but such deceptive techniques are always short-lived. If sustained positive efforts to bring true awareness continue, public opinion can be corrected. We should try our best to reach out to people. All people are not the same. Among our fellow countrymen, we have people who are concerned and working tirelessly to improve the situation. In fact, many of our fellow countrymen are working for our causes more than us. We must strengthen them. We must awaken the conscience of the silent majority, should not let the new people fall prey to the campaign of hatred, and we must try to isolate the hate-mongers.

Another means is to strengthen ourselves. Our backwardness is our weakness and makes us vulnerable. Vulnerability is an important reason that we are being persecuted. To overcome the vulnerability, we need to strengthen our faith, develop ourselves morally and progress educationally and economically. This community-building task is a long-term task and needs sustained efforts.

The present situation is the outcome of long negligence on our part. It cannot be turned overnight. But if we continue to neglect the long term necessities, and remain busy in only short term stopgaps, the situation will only worsen.

What are the Shari’ah guidelines if the situation worsens? Are there any Shari’ah instructions for Muslims residing in non-Muslim majority countries?

In such societies Muslims are torchbearers and ambassadors of Islam. They are required to represent Islam and Islamic values through words and deeds. That is their prime responsibility and fundamental duty.

In plural societies also, they are required to be firm and steadfast in all matters related to their principles. Islam wants to train men of character and such individuals cannot surrender their principles. So no matter, whatsoever difficulties may arise, we would stand for our values and our principles and would practise what we believe and what we preach.

Islam wants Muslims to become beneficial for the whole humanity. They are required to become assets for the whole society and contribute to the wellbeing of all people. Muslims cannot become a ghettoised community which is concerned only with it. They are required to work for the well-being of everyone particularly all the downtrodden and oppressed sections of the society.

Right-wing Hindu organisations argue that truth cannot be one and it cannot be the same thing, hence Hindu Dharma is more liberal, accepting many different aspects of truth. They want the Vedic dharma, like other Ibrahimic religions, to be recognised as the true religion. That is the primary source of conflict. How can Muslims, both as individuals and as groups, explain and persuade them?

The belief in the plurality and relativity of truth is itself a doctrine and faith and cannot be imposed on anyone. Those who believe in this have the right to believe. But those who believe in truth being confined to their belief, also have the right to possess their belief.

Having any belief and considering other beliefs wrong, doesn’t create any problem. In fact, in all sciences and in our day to day lives, we all have our own theories and beliefs and we consider all contradictory theories wrong. For example, there are many people believing in traditional medicine, who consider modern allopathy wrong and many allopathy practitioners do not believe in any traditional medicine. Such differences of opinion and conflicting beliefs are part of any civilised society. In all such matters, people engage with others, debate with each other, exchange the arguments and if convinced, change their opinion and if not convinced, agree to disagree, respecting each other’s right of having opinion and free speech. This is how ideas have been nurtured and truth has been searched and explored, by all civilised societies. As long as you do not impose your beliefs on others forcefully, or do not hate others based on their beliefs, there is nothing wrong in having belief in a single truth. So, there is no reason to exempt religion from this civilised norm.

The problem is not in having belief in one’s religion as the only truth. The problem arises when religion is used for hatemongering, for violence, for prejudice and for othering people and causing injustice to them. When religion becomes a tool to create mischief and win elections. This is what our right-wing brothers are doing and causing serious damage to the reputation of India.

Shouldn’t Muslims be able to be more flexible in some of these areas?

Muslims cannot be flexible with regard to their principles. In fact, remaining firm and steadfast in matters of principles has always been considered a virtue. In all traditions, this is considered a noble virtue. Muslims have firm belief and strong faith in their principles; so they cannot and they should not compromise on them. On matters of policy, strategy and worldly affairs, they have always shown flexibility. They have sacrificed a lot for the well-being of society and they should definitely do this in future also.

What recommendations do you give to the community for coexistence as the President of a well-knit all-India organisation?

I spoke about this in the first question. We need to be firm and steadfast yet pragmatic and outcome-oriented. Whatever situation we are facing cannot long for eternity. We have to live in this country and have to live with our countrymen. The kind of polarisation and division being created by politicians is harmful not only for Muslims but for everybody. The norm that is being established that elections can be won by dividing people should change. Hate speeches should no longer be the shortcut to become heroes. A situation should emerge wherein people should refuse to vote for divisive elements. We should think how this can happen. It cannot be achieved by empty rhetoric, or by hysteric reactions, or by just accusations and counter accusations or by lamentations and groaning. We need a change of mind for the people of India. Change of mind, so that sanity is prevailed….It is our responsibility and responsibility of every justice and peace loving citizen to work for such a change of mind. How it can be achieved, I have already given some hints in replying to the first question.

Who is entitled to do ijtihad in the current circumstances, when all sects, which is a reality, have their own Ulema?

Fortunately in our country we have some very good institutions that are bringing people from different sects together and paving the way for collective decisions on such matters. Particularly All India Muslims Personal Law Board and Islamic Fiqh Academy have rendered yeoman services in finding out the Islamic solutions to emerging problems. That is the only way today. Wherever we need new solutions, we need to work together collectively.

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