Reflections on Islam, Liberty and Development II

Reflections on Islam, Liberty and Development II


By Hwaa Irfan

From Islam, Liberty and Development by Mohammad Khatami

 Freedom and Development

“…Sufism and mysticism, gained currency, namely Sufism and mysticism, gained currency, especially among the elite. And although Sufism can be viewed in some instances as a response and complaint to unpleasant and hapless circumstances it was a wrong and ill-fated response. Instead of challenging the bitterness of extant political reality and looking for a way of changing that reality through alternative realities and visions, resisted the dominant political thought altogether. As Farabi has said, many from this camp put forth the proposition that real understanding and salvation could only come from negating all that pertains to this world, including civil society. This means that by rejecting and staying away from politics, they left society in the blood-stained hands of autocrats. Instead of resisting injustice, they closed their eyes, even though they did not cooperate with oppressors.”

From amongst both the Shi’a and Sunnis, Sufism has over the years brought to life a fundamental part that has been extrapolated by the type of religious leaders who do not have the comprehensive knowledge of their forefathers in the mainstream of Muslim life. This has aided and abetted the kind of thinking that has reduced Islam to a simplified faith that can be delivered to the masses in dos and donts, or the halal vs. the haram. By  doing so, sometimes unintentionally, it has created an imbalance in the lives of many Muslims who desire only to practice their faith by means of being told what to do, with thinking about what to do, and without understanding more fully their own faith. This has made it all the much easier to establish the concept of statehood along Western lines, and hence development that has led to fundamental imbalances in Muslim societies, and the relationship of these societies with non-Muslim societies. It has also led to an imbalance within the Muslim psyche of all ages, general, as witnessed by one that has been a practicing mental health counsellor for over 30 years. However in saying that, the same applied to the extrapolation of the spiritual aspects of all divine faiths removing the practitioners of faith from the secular arena, and hence societal development.

Once the spiritual and the secular became separated, the two worlds more or less became alien to one another, resorting in a denial by the secular of the importance of the spiritual in the development of humankind. As we can all witness now, without denial, autocrats and technocrats have led human development to the edge of the precipice over a period of 400 years, whereby for many any real alternative or solution is incomprehensible unless it is man-made. It is the obstacle that Iran the country represents to autocratic global elite to the continued exploitation of humankind and the world’s natural resources. This is because the belief in man is greater than the belief in God and this belief has successfully implanted and entrained in the majority of humankind.

While the spiritual has successfully been resistant to entrainment by the autocratic global elite, it has helped to bring humankind to the precipice by non-participation in societal development in the main. However there is a gap, and that gap in filling with individuals of the spiritual practice who get involved in societal activities that have the ability to influence societal development albeit on a small scale, but moreso that gap has been filling with individuals whose natural intelligence has awoken out of the human spirit that refuses to be reduced to the human animal that can be programmed to obey as witnessed by the so-called “Arab Spring” and the “Occupy the World Movement” which in turn reawaken the strength in people’s power as exampled by the 60,000 demonstrators that can out in force against nuclear development in Japan in the aftermath of Fukushima. It is the people who represent the bridge between the spiritual and the secular that is now willing to resist the surmountable injustices perpetuated by the “blood-stained hands of autocrats.”

As the spiritual within the non-Muslim world via off-shoots of the New Age movement is establishing its role in the necessary changes that have to be made within the secular world, the spiritual within Muslims has yet to do the same for the development of Muslim societies, because as Khatami stated:

“… a sort of insularity and parochialism began to dominate Muslims, and this marginalized even Islamic philosophy, as esoteric and metaphysical as it was…”

In recent times (since 9/11) this has been reinforced by Muslim religious leaders who have adopted a position in society that is comparable to Christian religious leaders after the backlash due to their own authoritarianism that has been continuing since the French Revolution. Seeking acceptance from the mainstream, they have unwittingly cast aside the philosophical in order to gain legitimacy by the secular. In that strive towards legitimacy a big sacrifice has been made i.e. dualism for unity, and materialism for spiritualism, and the human animal for the human spirit. This has pervaded all levels of human development leading to the ostracizing of anyone and anything that did not belong, support or reinforce what has become the “modern man.”

Khatami refers to the mechanism of extracting thought from religious law reducing the practice of religion to a system of law that is no longer able to “adaptive, appropriate, and effective” then Khatami moves on to state:

“This was a very unfortunate development, but even sadder was the fact that Muslims took their hapless fate as manifest destiny, as the ineluctable work of God and nature, and after this people could not think beyond authoritarianism in the sphere of politics. People either submitted to this fate, or even if they thought of combating the extant authoritarianism, they could not find a mode of resistance other than force and the sword. Confrontations in the world of ideas, instead of focusing on the roots of authoritarianism, became enmeshed in factional squabbles… If a group found that the rulers protected their factional interests, they cooperated with them, and if their own interests were threatened, they fought with their rulers… Far less common in the history of our political thought is questioning the very nature of authoritarianism and searching for ways to overcome it.”

This is the question of our times. As we hear slogans like “Occupy the World”, Occupy the Heart’, and ‘Occupy the Mind” are we questioning the very nature of what our lives, and liberty have become? Admittedly, some of us are, but to what extent will that process engage to bring about the kind of change that will lead to a construct that can seriously place a halt to what we have become adapted to? At what point will we begin to realize that we are responsible for the “blood-stained hands of autocrats” by handing over our lives? At what point will we realize that those we allow to lead us, and those we empower cannot do the job because they lack the moral, spiritual and ethical basis to lead society as a whole? When we begin to occupy our hearts, minds and reclaim our souls then the voting population will be 100% and not the 52+% that determine our fate!

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