It is important to have a serious discussion about religion because on this hinges our life and death, our future, our prospects for better life in this world. Much of the problems at political, social and individual levels that have bedevilled the Muslim world are attributable to our failure to think about religion. Religious fundamentalism is pathology according to the best of thinkers both inside and outside religion. Religion costs us guilt – hell in this world – if it is wrongly understood. I know many people, especially the young struggling to understand the call of religion and live upto its perceived ideals and failure on their part to make sense of certain things and the result is disaster. A life lived under the burden of guilt. Religion helps us to orient life to a noble ideal and if we fail to understand religion our whole life may get disoriented. Religion is a glad tiding and a warning. We mostly fail to read it in former terms. God-servant relationship is perceived more in Hakim-mahkoon than in Raoub-marbood or Beloved-lover terms. In fact political Islam is a project that has ignored or marginalized equally central aspects in understanding God-servant relationship. A few more points about how we debate religion and harbour a bagful of notions that prove counterproductive for both religion and its adherents.
Many people who have little idea of sacred texts, canon, great thinkers in the tradition or Aslaaf, who have contributed to the understanding of it, have no access to sources but read only commentaries and those too by popular than orthodox or serious scholars, make many generalizations and jump to conclusions on a host of vital and sensitive issues that one can easily show are mistaken. They think they know about Islam, about kufr, about the fate of people who belong to other religions. They think that their mandate is ideally proselytizing the whole world to Islam and cite examples of this or that scholar who has converted so many people. They spend energy in preaching what they think is pristine or pure Islam, a tawhid centric Islam shorn of shirk. They think that Islam requires rejection of the religious other and salvation is restricted to their school or sect. Now what is the problem? Let me explain in the form of questions I ask.
Is Islam just saying kalima or assimilating it, realizing it? Is it parun (reciting) orsarun (realizing) that is required? Doesn’t it require conversion of heart, mind and will? Is it easy to submit the will? Have we ever wondered that despite our knowledge of what should be done we fail to do the same? We fail to accept what God wishes in our day-to-day dealings? Karl Jaspers points out the problem of trivialization we all face, which implies our failure to take life and the spiritual opportunities it offers seriously, and thus trivializes life. Do we really love our neighbours? Don’t we have thousand and one grudges against fate or what God willed regarding almost everything? What is to be submitted if not the will? Are we ready to renounce our preferences even in small matters? Submission and faith in the Prophet (SAW) implies loving Prophet (SAW) above everyone. Who can say that he indeed loves the Prophet (SAW) more than he loves himself? Only saints seem to fill the criterion. How do we understand this love?
Now who rejects the prophethood of Muhammad (SAW)? Other religious communities? I analysed it? Are Ahl-i-Kitab written off or acknowledged in their own terms? Is there a blanket rejection of them or a more nuanced critique and acknowledgment at the same time? Is Islam a new religion or Religion as such? If the latter is the case how come Islam is identified with a separate religion?
Discussions, I have carried with a cross section of people including educated elite, have convinced me that so much confusion prevails regarding the very notion of faith, distinction of faith and belief, notion of metaphysics, religion, esotericism and theology all confounded in the popular discourse, the task of interfaith dialogue and what it means to be saved and who gets entry ticket to heaven. So what can be done? Taking religion seriously. Meditating on its meaning. Studying the religious other. Take note of philosophy and science that help to put in perspective the currently confounded discourse on religion.