Muslims' Abuse of Islamic Culture
Muslims' Abuse of Islamic Culture
(Bringing Islam to the World One Concept at a Time!
Taking the Qur'an to Every Home and Heart that Needs It --
And which One Does Not?)
Desecration of a Time-Honored Title Called Imam
Time was when "Imam" was perhaps the second most honored title among Muslims, next only to Amirul Mu'mineen. But that no longer is the case. Nowadays, Muslims cannot wait to throw that time-honored title on anyone anywhere just for the asking.
And there is no scarcity among Muslims of those who would all too readily yield to its lure, no matter how unreal their credentials for coming anywhere within light years of deserving it. If, in the process, that desecrates something as noble as the title "Imam," so be it.
That is what happens to nations and peoples who lose their sense of history, identity and culture. After that, they generally end up as little clumps of straw on the flood of time and circumstance, no use to anyone - themselves or others.
Ghuthaa' ka-ghuthaa issail, as the noble Hadith puts it.
Legends of Learning
This perhaps the most glorious of all honorific titles of its kind in Islamic history - Imam - was once conferred voluntarily, and by near consensus, by Muslim people on such distinguished supermen of Islamic learning and human history as Imam Abu Hanifah, Imam Ahamad ibn Hambal, Imam Bukhari and Imam Ghazzali.
Generally speaking, among the qualifications required for this highest level of social and intellectual Islamic exaltation was scholarly excellence that towered over everyone else's and service to Islam in terms of its vindication, defense and promotion that left all others humbled.
Imams of Yore:
Profiles in Scholarship, Service and Courage
From an intellectual point of view, men who were recipients of this honor throughout Muslim history were prodigious and prolific scholars and writers. Many of them filled the world with their voluminous and weighty writing on practically every conceivable topic of importance to Muslims - and the world.
To get a comparative perspective, you can call them, if you want, the Aristotles and Einsteins of Islamic and other available knowledge of their time - except better and much greater in some ways.
And they were human geniuses beyond dispute. It was said about Imam Abu Hanifah that if he set his mind to it, he could prove that the pillars and columns in your house were made out of gold.
His teachings filled and swayed the world and continue to do so after 1000 years.
Books of Imam Ghazzali and Imam Suyooti fill libraries to this day. One can only wonder how they managed to do all that writing, in addition to everything else that they did, on such a wide range of subjects, in a limited lifespan, using no more than an inkwell and a reed pen that they continually needed to dip in ink.
Instruments of their writing and scholarship were primitive at best, and slower than the slowest snail on God's earth, when compared to our newest electronic technologies of knowledge production and use. And yet the avalanche of their writing and scholarly output swept the world in all directions.
Socially and culturally speaking, they changed the Muslim Ummah and changed the world of Allah in which they were born, often for all times to come.
As a result, when Muslims of their time, and of subsequent generations, conferred upon them the title of Imam, they deserved it as fully as anyone ever deserved a title. What is more, they brought honor and luster to that title.
Thereafter, Muslims throughout history treated this title - Imam - with greatest respect.
Muslims of Pre-Partition India
Muslims of pre-partition (pre-1947) India mostly used Moulavi, Moulana, Aalim, Mufti or even Allaamah to refer to their Islamic scholars. When they used the expression Imam for someone appointed to lead Jama'at Namaaz in mosques, they carefully qualified it by saying Paysh Imam.
Some others elsewhere used whatever else they could lay their hands on: Mallam and what not.
The Arabs generally contented themselves with more neutral expressions such as Shaikh. Or they simply described the man's excellence and stature using other appropriate words.
But they all scrupulously left the time-honored title of Imam alone.
Remember, Muslims invented the science of Jarh & Ta'dil, the principles of source criticism and evaluation.
The Great Scientific and Cultural Sellout
I said Arabs.
If you want me to say, as so many Muslims and non-Muslims around the world say, "Muslims of the Middle East," instead of Arabs, I will say it, because I like to think of myself as a team player. But you need to help me by explaining to me you are going from what geographic direction to what.
Are you going from Mashriq (East) to Maghrib (West) or are you going the other way?
Let me say this too. Being a man of limited knowledge, I don't know the full background or meaning of the words East and West. But I have a fair idea that the Arabic expression Mashriq means the place from where the sun - or whatever else it is that Allah meant - rises and its counterpart expression Maghrib means the place where the sun - or whatever else it is that Allah meant - sets.
That means, in terms of the functioning of celestial bodies in the universe, one is the place from where light dawns on the world. The other, in a sense, is where darkness spreads from.
So, say that again please, you are going from where to where did you say?
No, this is not a historical, cultural, economic or social commentary on the peoples and civilizations of the East and the West. No time for that here. Gandhi thought it was a good idea.
That was Gandhi. All I am doing is trying to understand these two expressions - East and West - in relation to their Arabic counterparts Mashriq and Maghrib, especially as the Muslims hurl them at me.
And then they slice up the pie even finer into "Middle," "Near," "Far" and what not.
Many Easts and Many Wests
Besides, someone forgot to tell the Muslims the simple scientific principle that the earth is somewhat spherical in shape, well maybe with a little bump and a pull and a stretch here and there, which makes, depending on its location, proximity and position in the solar system, every direction East and West all at the same time.
Help me, thou physicists and astronomers! Did I get any of that right? We are not talking Einstein here, are we, by any chance?
If I did manage to get any of that stuff right, will you then allow me to recite here part of an Aayat that has baffled some of us for a long time? Actually a distinguished physicist-astronomer once asked me what it meant. Either about that or that other Aayat in Surah Ar-Rahmaan: Rabbul mashriqaini wa rabbul maghribain.
How do I know?
In any case, here are the words of the Qur'an I had in mind: Rabbil mashaariqi wal maghaaribi. I am almost in a trance as I say and write those words. That is how powerful they seem.
Paraphrase: I swear by the master of all those multiple directions in which the sun - or whatever it is that God Almighty meant by it - rises and sets.
Many Easts and many Wests, is that what it means, do you think? I have no clue.
Or as our wonderful ancestors - physical, intellectual and spiritual - used to say: Wallahu a'alamu bissawaab. Paraphrase: God knows what the right answer is.
Islam! What a beautiful culture of intellectual freedom and spiritual integrity it is!
Muslims Are a Blessed People
Muslims are fun people, don't you think? Blessed by God and yet bewildered and confused when it comes to their role as God's representatives on earth.
As people who have chosen Islam - if they did and do choose it - they will enter Paradise, if they continue to choose Islam until death. Provided God Almighty so chooses to dispose of their fate.
Muslims are thus a blessed people from that point of view. No doubt about that. A people bound for Paradise upon their departure from this world. But the question is what they do with this world before they leave it. And in what state and shape they leave it.
A world upon which God Almighty granted human beings dominion and over which he appointed them his Khalifah or representative.
I am not sure Muslims have gotten their act together on that score.
That is why I particularly love it when Arabic-speaking Muslims use the expression Ash-Sharqul Awsat to describe themselves and their geographic - should I also say cultural, political and spiritual? - location in relation to the rest of the world.
That is why every time a Muslim says Middle East, I say: Inna lillahi wa innaa ilaihi raaji'oon! What a great cultural copout!
What a victory for intellectual defeatism, geographical corruption and spiritual emptiness!
Western Wing of the Muslim Ummah
It is the Western Wing of the Muslim Ummah, a term that I coined in the late 1980s-early 1990s to refer to the Muslims of North America, England, Europe, Caribbean, etc., that chose to debase and corrupt the title of Imam by using it cheaply and cavalierly for anyone who would supinely succumb to this monstrous intellectual corruption, mostly for unavailability, in their case, in full or in part, of other popular honorifics or prefixes such as Dr. or Shaikh.
While Muslims of the Caribbean were perhaps guilty of nothing more insidious than native naiveté born of a monumental lack of depth and sophistication about Islam and its lore, Muslims of America had no such excuse and happily presided over this unforgivable corruption and pollution of the springhead of a 1200-year-old Islamic cultural heritage.
How I am tempted to say "Islamic sanctity!"
I have maintained for long that such corruption of Islamic tradition and culture by seekers of recognition, popularity, power, prestige and position and their mindless, self-seeking and mercenary promoters and facilitators will not go unheeded and quite possibly unpunished by God Almighty.
They will be held to account. As God Almighty does with all transgressors of truth and justice who fail to repent.
Muslim Behavior and Divine Retribution
In fact, I attribute, and I hope I am completely mistaken in this, but I suspect I am not, some of the succession of disasters to have hit the Muslims, and the world in general, over the past some time, including the mini-Dooms Day of September 11 and its terrible global aftermath, to violations of Islam, Haqq and truth on the part of the Western Wing of the Muslim Ummah.
And in particular its American component, and their general failure to convey and communicate the message of Islam to non-Muslims both in America and around the world.
For nearly five decades, Muslims of America did a lot of things except seriously and systematically reach out to non-Muslim Americans around them with the most beautiful and life-giving message of Islam - and the Qur'an..
Especially, White, middle-class, educated Americans.
As if they, White Americans I mean, were children of a lesser God who had no right to drink from the fountain of love and mercy, peace and justice that Islam is, and which God Almighty made the common heritage of all humanity. For decades, Muslims of America more or less stood at Islam's gates and kept the rest of the wonderful American people from it.
So were the Muslims of UK and Europe unable to convey the message of Islam to their non-Muslim British and European brothers and sisters for the longest time.
Nor were the Muslims of the Caribbean by and large any better able or willing to convey the message of Islam to their own non-Muslim brothers and sisters in the Caribbean, even though there were organizations and individuals in the Caribbean that made some splashes in this pond.
Muslims had all kinds of opportunities and means to take the most glorious message of Islam and the Qur'an to every home and heart that needed it - in North America; in UK; in Europe; and in the Caribbean.
But they all, in their own different ways, mostly and in large measure, chose, as the Qur'an puts it, blindness over sight: fastahabbul 'amaa 'alalhudaa.
And thereafter it was but natural that Allah's decision - Amrullah - should catch hold of them - and his world - Akhdha 'Azeezim Muqtadir - in its most terrible and crushing grip.
Judgment Day - Right Here in this World
And they had been clearly forewarned in the Qur'an, like other people in other places, saying if you will not do what you must in the service of humanity and in defense of the noble and divine principles of truth, justice and peace, and if you will love yourselves and this world more than God and all the wonderful things that Islam stands for, then just wait as Allah's decision finally arrives and gets hold of you.
Allah called it his Amr - his matter; his affair; his command; his judgment; his decision; his retribution; his punishment; his dispensation. Call it whatever you want. To the extent I can figure, the Qur'anic expression Amr does not have an exact English equivalent that would convey the totality of its meaning.
And it is all the more terrifying for being broad, unspecific and open-ended.
The Qur'an simply says: Fa-tarabbasoo hattaa ya'tiyallahu bi-amrihi - just wait till Allah's decision arrives.
Assault on Islamic History, Culture and Tradition
Many of these worthies who have been parading themselves as "Imams" on the Muslim stage lately are no more Imams, except perhaps in the most narrowly technical sense of being on retainer to lead congregations in a neighborhood mosque, or mosquette as a nice lady in America once put it, than you and I are Martians.
They and those promoting them as "Imam" commit an unforgivable assault on Islamic history, culture and tradition every time they use the title of "Imam" in the reckless way they do.
Allah, however, seems to have in general protected the Western Wing of the Muslim Ummah, until now at least, from such corruptions of Muslim cultural heritage as the use of expressions like "His Eminence," as that abomination has already landed like the Rock of Gibraltar on some other parts of the poor, benighted Muslim Ummah.
I am calling this expression an abomination purely in the context of its use by and for my Muslim brothers and sisters and not in relation to its use by my Christian brothers and sisters.
Who am I to tell the Christians what expressions to use or not to use to honor their priests? What Muslims forgot is that they have priests. We don't. The fact that Muslims are mostly clueless about things of this kind - among a lot of other things - is what makes Muslims who they are.
So is the expression "His Grace" is an abomination when used by Muslims for Muslims - as distinct from its use by the Christians. All Grace belongs to God Almighty, even though individual human beings can and should act graciously whenever they can.
Some Other Abominations of Language and Culture
There are other expressions that I dare not speak about. No, I do not fear non-Muslims. It is the Muslims that I do not wish to offend.
Like for example the expression Jalaalatul Malik, not for God Almighty, but for ordinary human beings who dropped out of the wombs of their mothers butt-naked in this world. Just the thought of uttering it frightens, as they say, the daylight out of me. And I don't think I ever did it before this day, except for educational and illustrative purposes.
If I were not scared, I would have said something like this: Muslims! What face will you show - that is (Pre-partition, pre-1947) Indian English for you - to the real Al-Malikul Quddoos? To the Al-Jaleel Al-Mutakabbir?
Those of you who coined that abomination - Jalaalatul Malik? Those of you who use it? Those of you who give it currency? Those of you who condone and facilitate it? Those of you who accept and embrace it and bask under its false and hellish glory? And those of you who fail to reject, condemn and criticize it in any form or fashion?
That is some of what I would have said if fear did not stop my pen or hold my tongue. Also, I have tried, for so long, not to make trouble for Muslims, if I could help it.
Time to Repent
I would perhaps also have said something to the effect: Remember Muslims, no matter what terrible things you may have done in the past, there is always the door of repentance that lies open before you until death slams it shut in your face.
So, Muslims, did you ever think of repenting? Making Taubah that is? Individually as well as collectively, for some of the havoc you have caused in the world, through your various acts of commission as well as omission? Things you did and the things you failed to do?
It is your Qur'an telling you to do so, you know: Wa tooboo ilallahi jamee'an, ayyuhal mu'minoon.
Paraphrase: All of you turn to God Almighty in collective repentance!
Don't look at me Muslims, if no one told you to do so before. That is the kind of leadership - of all kinds - you have foisted on yourselves. Don't blame everyone else, blame yourself.
Falaa taloomoonee wa loomoo anfusakum.
So, it is time to repent Muslims, it is time to repent.
Both individually and collectively.
An Outrage on the Principle of Human Equality
Also, the Global Muslim Ummah as a whole seems to be safe until now from such outrages on human equality and liberty as the expression "His Holiness," which violates the central Islamic premise of direct, free and equal access to God Almighty for all members of the human family, male as well as female, good as well as bad.
I am not saying this in reference to the Christians and their use of that expression for the Pope or anyone else, but purely in reference to the Muslims and any thought any of them may have of tapping into it for their own use. While the Christians can do what they want, Muslims have no such room to maneuver.
That is because there are no priests or "holy" people of any kind in Islam.
That means, according Islam, all humans are created equal. This was the principle that Thomas Jefferson chose to guide his thinking on the Declaration of Independence. It was a principle that Jefferson, and his fellow Enlightenment thinkers in Europe, in all probability, must have borrowed from Islam. Sadly, without giving Islam or Muslims any credit.
They often used to refer to Muslims as Turks in those days.
No Holy Humans, Only a Fistful of Dust
According to Islamic teachings, no human being, however special or exalted, can be "holy." Not you and I; not our leaders of any kind or category; not the Prophet of God himself, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam.
Kullukum min Aadam, said the Prophet, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, in a public speech that he delivered at Makkah before tens of thousands of his devoted male and female followers.
Paraphrase: "You are all descended from Adam."
And then the Prophet, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, proceeded to make clear the essence of a human being's birth and origin.
He said: Wa Aadam min turaab.
Paraphrase: "And Adam's origin is dust."
What a beautiful echo of the Biblical teaching of "Dust thou art!"
Message to Muslims
Nor did Allah ever mince words in the Qur'an, when he commanded his prophet, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, to go to the people and "Say: I am only a human being like you."
This eliminates all room for all aspirations or imputations of all forms and measures of "holiness" to anyone born of a woman. Anyone who traces his or her lineage to the fistful of dust that our common ancestor Adam, Allah bless him, was.
Of course, many Muslims, especially the more recent ones among them, including the Western Wing of the Muslim Ummah, sat on this most revolutionary doctrine of human equality and did not much bother to share it with the rest of the human family.
So, my message - Payaam - to my beloved Muslim brothers and sisters in America and elsewhere when it comes to the use of titles like Imam: Cease and desist, ladies & gentlemen, cease and desist!
Let Islam be, as someone I know once put it. Go find your cheap thrills elsewhere.
But my message - Payaam - to Muslims, when it comes to their larger role in this world? It does not have to exceed one word: Balligh!
Paraphrase: Go, convey to the world the beautiful message of Islam that God Almighty sent down to his prophet, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam.
Or, if you prefer: Fad'u wastaqim kamaa umirta.
Paraphrase: Invite people to the life-giving message of Islam, just as you were told to do, and do not waver.
How much clearer does it get?
© 2007 Syed Husain Pasha
Dr. Pasha is an educator and scholar of exceptional
talent, training and experience. He can be reached at DrSyedPasha [at]
AOL [dot] com or www.IslamicSolutions.com.