Saturday, April 04, 2009

Should we fear the beard or Secularism?

Recently Mohammad Salim, a Muslim student studying at the Nirmala Convent Higher Secondary School in Madhya Pradesh, India petitioned the Indian Supreme Court that he be allowed to sport a beard, contrary to his school’s rules. The Supreme Court dismissed Salim’s petition and upheld the ruling of the Madhya Pradesh High Court which had ruled that Salim has no right to wear a beard if forbidden by his school rules.

On 30th March 2009 on behalf of the entire division bench of the Supreme Court, Justice Markandeya Katju commented as follows: “We should strike a balance between rights and personal beliefs. We cannot overstretch secularism. We don't want to have Talibans in the country. Tomorrow a girl student may come and say that she wants to wear a burqa, can we allow it?”

Why can’t we apply the same logic to the adherents of other religions? Shouldn’t the Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh be forced to remove his Sikh Turban whilst on state duty and during official functions? Shouldn’t all female Hindu officials including the President of India, Pratibha Devsing Patil be forced to remove the Bindi and any other Hindu symbols? Shouldn’t the BJP be banned for being a political party that overtly espouses Hindutva?

The hypocrisy is plain to see as the issue is nothing to do with religious symbols, it is rather to do with Islam specifically. We have seen the same happening in other so called democratic and ‘free’ countries, in France we saw the banning of the Hijab in schools and in the United Kingdom a Muslim schoolgirl Shabina Begum lost the right to wear the Islamic Jilbab (outer garment/burqa) at her school. What do they fear from a piece of cloth like the headscarf or facial hair? Justice Katju made it clear that it is not to do with the actual facial hair but what it may represent i.e. Islamic values, attempting to brand any Muslims who adhere to Islamic values as Taliban.

Since September 11, under the pretext of the war on terror, the non-Muslim world has undertaken a host of measures specifically aimed at Muslims. These measures include arbitrary arrests, physical torture, imprisonment without trial, surveillance of mosques, muzzling of Imams, and deaths in police custody. Some have even been forced to become spies. Muslims have also witnessed the endless vilification of Islam by the media.

All this has left an indelible impression on Muslim minds that secular democracies are incapable of guaranteeing Muslims the peace and security to practice their religion.

The plight of Muslims living under secular dictatorships supported by the West is much worse. In countries like Uzbekistan, Muslim males are routinely arrested for having a beard or visiting the Mosques too often. In Turkey, Muslim women who opt for university education are forced to abandon their hijab.

But the fiercest punishment is reserved for those who seek to criticize these tyrannical regimes; imprisonment, torture and extra-judicial killings can routinely be found in such countries. So we also find Muslims living in the Muslim world convinced that secularism is flawed and unfit to govern them.

Even non-Muslims living under secularism feel that their religion is vulnerable. Many Christians in the West view gay bishops, women priests, illegitimate children, and the commercialization of Christmas as malicious attempts by secular fundamentalists to subvert Christian values and replacing them with secular ones.

Likewise, secularism has failed to protect the Christian sects in Northern Ireland and safeguard the lives of Jewish, Christian and Muslim people living in Palestine. India, the largest secular state in the world, is prone to religious violence where Hindus, Christians, Muslims and Sikhs are all victims of secularism. So, just like Muslims, non-Muslims are also looking for an alternative system that can provide them with an opportunity to practice their religion in peace.

Islam is the sole ideology in the world where people of different faiths can worship and perform their religious duties without experiencing reprisals or insecurity. In practice this is secured by a true Islamic Caliphate state not the current Muslim states like Saudi Arabia nor the previous rule of the Taliban. In the past the Caliph safeguarded the rights of non-Muslims and Muslims alike, without discriminating between them. Take the case of Palestine: under the shade of the Caliphate, Muslims, Jews and Christians lived in harmony, a feat unrivalled in the history of mankind.

The Messenger of Allah (saw) said: “He who hurts a dhimmi hurts me, and he who hurts me annoys Allah.” [1]

Thomas Arnold describes the relations between non-Muslim citizens (dhimmi’s) and Muslim communities under the Islamic rule, he says:

“The toleration extended towards the Christian Arabs by the victorious Muslims of the first century of the Hijrah and continued by succeeding generations, we may surely infer that those Christian tribes that did embrace Islam, did so of their own choice and free will.”

Cecil Roth mentions that the treatment of the Jews at the hands of the Ottoman State attracted Jews from all over Western Europe. “The land of Islam became the land of opportunity. Jewish physicians from the school of Salanca were employed in the service of the Sultan and the Viziers (ministers). In many places glass making and metalworking were Jewish monopolies, and with their knowledge of foreign languages, they were the greatest competitors of the Venetian traders.” [3]

Secularism is bound to fail as it is a man made concoction which was based upon a compromise between the Clergy and the philosophers of Europe. After a bloody struggle lasting centuries they agreed to, ‘Render under to Caesar what is Caesar’s and render unto God what is God’s’ therefore dividing religion and politics and church from state. This idea in reality contains an intrinsic contradiction, if we acknowledge the existence of God, the creator and Lord of the Universe then who are we to relegate Him and His law to only personal rituals?

Shouldn’t secular symbols such as nightclubs and Bollywood be banned instead? As they represent secular values that lead to the increasing promiscuity in society where pre-marital relations are becoming the norm, sexually transmitted diseases are increasing, rape and molestation becoming daily items in the newspapers. Shouldn’t the poisonous liberal values be opposed instead of the headscarf or the beard which represents a Muslims adherence to Islamic rules that teach being good to neighbours, the prohibition of consuming intoxicants, honouring ones parents, helping the poor and needy and living a pious life.

Isn’t secular India a country where two thirds of the population live in poverty? Where corruption is deep rooted in the system from the police, government officials to the politicians? Some may argue that India is not a proper secular state, let us then consider the bastion of secularism, the western nations. Hasn’t the secular system led to more than 35 million Americans and 12.5 million British people living below the poverty line? Hasn’t the secular capitalist system been exposed by the current global economic crisis where the system of selfishness, greed and the free market led to the eventual collapse and recession we see today?

Contrary to the media portrayal of the Taliban, the Islamic Caliphate system established by the Prophet Muhammad (saw) himself in Madina and continued after his death is one that established justice, waged war against poverty, was a leader in innovation, science and technology, created communal harmony where people of all faiths lived in peace, worked to eliminate corruption, promoted education of all citizens male and female, Muslim and non-Muslim alike.

Instead of scaremongering and breeding fear of Islam non-Muslim societies need to open their minds to at least study it as a genuine alternative to the problems that plague the world today.

Abu Ismael al-Beirawi


[1] Reported by al-Tabarani in Al-awsat on good authority
[2] Thomas W. Arnold, ‘The Preaching of Islam,’ Second Edition, Kitab Bhavan Publishers, New Delhi, p.47
[3] Cecil Roth, ‘The House of Nasi: Dona Gracia’

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