My Speech at 25th International Conference of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs  AT LUXOR, EGYPT 14TH NOVEMBER, 2015 

Concept of and means for religious discourse reform

The Islamic world is passing through most challenging times and the root cause of the problem is growing radicalism due to misuse of religion to gain political power by some radical Islamic groups backed by some forces who have vested interest in perpetuating the conflict. These people are misinterpreting the Holy Quran and Sunnah in a fashion to serve their narrow interests. There is no crisis in religion per se. Islam, in fact, has provided peace and stability to different regions of the world for centuries. Islam is a religion of mercy, unity and most importantly, peace with one's self and others, to defend not to fight. Over 1.5 billion Muslims, across the world, adhering to Islamic faith do not endorse violence and treat it against the Islamic ethos. Radicalism and terrorism are the greatest enemies of humanity and Islam. It is the common duty of all, including that of Islamic scholars and the Islamic world, to come forward and be united in the endeavours to remove this scourge of terrorism and radicalism. 

Islam is an ethical monotheistic religion. Muslims view that all law, ethics and morals come from God; therefore, the scholars have no right to change the Holy Scripture, the Qu’ran and Hadith. So the job of the Islamic scholars is to interpret the Holy Scripture through the guidance of mainly the Qu’ran and Sunnah, so that the ethical goals (maqasid) of Islam’s general message can be established. However, one must be very clear and cautious, while indulging oneself with the question of Ijtihad or Islah within the sphere of religion and religious discourse.    

       Muslims are bound by a code of conduct which Prophet Mohammed (S.A.W.), peace be upon him, set. He forbade the killings of women, children and elderly in war. Prophet (S.A.W.) warned that he who kills anyone who has a covenant of peace will not go to Paradise. In fact, he taught that justice is not only to humans but must be shown to animals and all living things. So much so, that cutting of a green tree is banned in Islam. The message of the Holy Qu’ran, as we have seen, is that the sanctity of human life is to be respected and any violation in this regard would be considered the worst crime.

The Holy Qu’ran and Sunnah encourage Muslims to respect the life and property of all the mankind. In Islam, rights are considered sacred, whether a person is Muslim or not. There are number of verses in the Holy Qu’ran which abhor violence. Islam also forbids aggressive warfare.

Terrorism is above all murder. Murder is strictly forbidden in Islam. The Holy Qu’ran says, “and do not kill a soul that God has made sacrosanct, save lawfully.”That is to say that murder is forbidden in Islam, the death penalty imposed by the State for a crime is permitted. The Holy Quran further says “… who so ever kills a soul, ---it shall be as if he had killed all mankind; and he who saves a life, it shall be as if he had given life to all mankind.”

Prophet (S.A.W.), is also quoted saying, “Being kind to others is good in every matter and if kindness is removed from people’s hearts, the situation becomes bad and worse.”Prophet (S.A.W.) also enumerated two qualities that Allah loves, that are clemency and tolerance. (See ‘Islam Is The Religion of Peace’ - By Dr. Abdul RahmanAlsheh, P.57).

To understand Islam’s stance on violence, one must refer to its original sources, the Holy Quran and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.), peace be upon him, which are explicit in their prohibition of any form of injustice including that of wanton violence which seeks to instil fear, injury or death to civilians. Islamic teachings instruct all Muslims to show mercy and kindness to every human being. The prophet (S.A.W.) is quoted saying, “the merciful and the kind people will receive the mercy of the God. Be merciful to people on earth and Allah the merciful will grant you his mercy. (Tirmidhi)”.

In respect to women’s rights, the degree of acceptance varies from country to country and women rights have not evolved uniformly. Islam allows a woman a status which is equal in dignity with that of man. The Prophet (S.A.W.), allowed women to play prominent roles in all realms of life: religious, political, educational, legal, moral & economic. Women were granted the right to education: Muslims believe it’s a religious obligation of all the believers and those who seek knowledge will be rewarded by God.    

Despite the sublime values of compassion and tolerance and all the noble virtues that Islam has stood for since the fourteen centuries of tolerant and radiant civilization, today, unfortunately more and more often, Islam has been associated with terrorism and violence due to the actions of a few misguided extreme individuals who’ve taken it upon themselves to do the most heinous crimes in the name of Islam.

Centuries before the Geneva Convention was drawn up, Muslims were bound by a code of conduct that the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.), peace be upon him, set.  He forbade the killing of women, children and elderly in war.

We must remember that in the 7th century, Islam was in the forefront of modernity, based on principles of social justice, economic equity, gender equality and democratization of polity. These principles have not changed. Muslims believe that those who seek knowledge will be rewarded with Paradise. Muslims are unanimous in their belief that the Holy Quran to be both the unaltered and the final revelation of God and it has come for all the people and for all the times. Besides this, the Islamic creed or aqidah is that the Prophet Mohammed (S.A.W.), peace be upon him, is the last of the Messengers and that he represents the final stage in the cycle of Prophet Hood.  

Religious discourse needs reform and there is no need for reform in religion. Religious discourse assumes significance in the current political, social and ideological scenario across the world and it should not be interpreted in any manner a change or alteration with religion.

Muslims need new vision and a comprehensive understanding of the religion of Islam. This is the time for introspection and self-correction. Time has come to think and change the religious discourse and dispel the misconceptions about Islam.

There is a need for a comprehensive approach to the problem of radicalization, including community engagement and building of trust among religious leaders, law enforcement agencies, social workers and local populations. Media can also play a major role in this regard as this can be effective in countering extremist propaganda. To tackle radicalisation, social integration of youth is extremely important. It is also equally important to provide employment and better economic opportunities to the youths.

This approach has been successful in India. Indian society is committed to social-communal harmony, brotherhood, unity, equality and co-existence. This is the reason that to a large extent, the terror groups have failed to lure Indian youths towards their ill design against humanity. For the socio-economic growth and prosperity of a country in this era of globalization, it is desirable that the State does not impose any compulsions to the followers of any religion. India is a vibrant democracy which largely takes care of not only its regional, ethnic, religious and linguistic diversity but also takes care of its economic stability. In such a positive atmosphere, the potential of youth can be harnessed for empowerment of the people and economic development of the nation.

I am happy to state my experience that Imams and other religious leaders have played a role of an ambassador for spreading peace and brotherhood in the society in India. Muslim community in India, despite efforts of some forces, has not been adversely influenced. This is largely because of true Islamic teachings and messages given by the Imams and other religious leaders.  

Some “evil forces” are trying to harm the basic principles and messages of Islam in the garb of religion. Imams and scholars will have to work together across the world and raise their voice unitedly to spread the Islam’s real message of peace and brotherhood so that such “evil forces” can be isolated.

Imams, the religious heads, have great responsibility to ensure that a peaceful vision of Islam is produced to ensure the eradication of false beliefs. They have the power to influence believers and can create awareness by preparing people to honor peace. Imams should tell people to show their indignation at any signs of hate and intolerance that may emerge in their own community. Since the role of peace is central and strategic one in Islam, many examples are available from the lives of Prophet (S.A.W.), and Imams emphasizing on peace.

Islam is a tolerant religion, but this sometimes gets misunderstood. There is also a need for Information Campaigns on the Islamic values of tolerance and acceptance as the snowballing effects of sowing seeds of hatred by extremists is growing day by day globally. The increasing manifestations of Islamophobia necessitate an urgent need for experts and Islamic Scholars to step in and speak up against the radicalism.

Each and every religion of the world be it Islam, Hinduism, Christianity teaches about tolerance, peace, communal and social harmony, equality and brotherhood. Lot of efforts has been generated at global and local level to initiate dialogue between various religious leaders and especially in multicultural nations.

India has been host to many conferences and summits where deliberations have undertaken, the ‘Fifth World Congress of Imams and Rabbis for Peace with Spiritual Leaders of the Great Traditions’, also a World Charter of Ethics on Religions was hosted by India. The objectives of these summits have been to address the issue of misinterpretation of Quran. The electronic, print and social media can, infact, be used to enlighten about Islam and Islamic culture both amongst the Muslims and non-Muslims.

The entire Holy Quran, taken as a complete text, gives a message of hope, faith, and peace for the entire mankind. The overwhelming message is that peace is to be found through faith in God, and justice among fellow human beings.