Friday, June 11, 2010

The need for debate about religion

Raza Habib Raja's article on the need for debate about religion in Pakistan has been referenced already, but there are a few additional points to be made.

So my brothers and sisters come forward and let’s break this apathy!  Islam is our religion and we do not need these clergy to interpret it for us. Let’s all unite and break their hegemony. LET’S SHOW COLLECTIVE COURAGE AND NO MULLAH WILL DARE TO OPPOSE US. WHAT WE NEED IS NOT SPORADIC UNCOORDINATED EFFORTS BUT A UNITED, FOCUSED AND COORDINATED APPROACH. With our education and focus we will be able to break their hegemony and also this quagmire.

A secularist would say - I don't care about whose or what interpretation(s) you choose to put on religion  as long as you keep it out of politics and the business of the state.  The article and appeal made above seem to implicitly accept the non-secular state of affairs in Pakistan, and is a call to engage with the clergy at the political level.

Moreover, Hadood and blasphemy laws are solidly entrenched despite the fact that these were not enacted through a proper legislative procedure. Today parties are reluctant to even debate these controversial legislation[s] despite the obvious fact that these are in contravention of the modern day ideals of human rights.
 I remember an exchange on USENET that I had long ago with a religionist.  He was going to demonstrate to me that his religion was superior to mine, by comparison of the fundamentals.  He was very upset when he learned that I did not feel bound by the so-called fundamentals of my so-called religion that he had gleaned by reading some books.

If Islam does not include the modern day ideals of human rights, there is no way to add it without violating the basic tenets of the religion and changing its nature (that it was completed by the Prophet is an essential belief).  Once you start accepting ethical judgments from outside Islam, the clergy fear that you're on a slippery slope that will eventually reduce Islam to the status of Christianity in Europe.

If Islam does include the modern day ideals of human rights, then two questions arise - a. why did this not manifest itself before? and b. why do none of the clergy find these modern day ideals as already existing in Islam?

Sure, it is possible to interpret Islam to be consistent with modern day ideals of human rights; but modern ideals are not eternal values; and more importantly, you are interpreting Islam not in the light of Islam but in the light of a much broader world - the impetus for reinterpretation having arisen the existing inconsistency with modern day ideals. 

Such a fundamental change is likely to have you declared as a kafir; and the deadly nature of the clergy holding such an opinion about you needs to be ameliorated before any real debate can happen.

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