Friday, February 5, 2010

Comments on Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer's latest article on "Islam and Modern Age"

Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer has been writing a series of articles, entitled "Islam and Modern Age" for quite some time. In his latest piece, he wrote:

"Politics is all about power games and hence the best role for religion and religious leaders would be to maintain its distance from politics and act as strong critic of political establishment."

Being a keen observer myself on religion and politics for the last three decades, I could not have agreed more with the above statement. When the Iranian revolution swept away the Shah, there was such an excitement in the entire ummah of Muslims, irrespective of Shi'a and Sunni, that they welcomed the marriage of religion and politics. As to the Shi'a it was more so, simply because of their understanding that Allah and His Messenger Muhammad (S) have ordained Ali (R) as the designated Caliph. That is, to them, the matter of khilafah was not left to the polity to decide. Imam Khomeini very successfully explained that concept of Vilayat-e-Faqih in his writings. To them, at least the majority of the Ithna Ashariya, there is no separation between religion and politics. However, the later history has confirmed Asghar Ali Engineer's observation. It was no accident that Ayatullah Montazari, one of Imam Khomeini's famous students, who died a few months ago, had also deviated from the line of his teacher. The Grand Ayatullah Sistani of Iraq, likewise, has also kept himself away from politics.

These historical observations, in the light of several verses in the Qur'an, lead many of us to say that while it is desirable that our government be run to adhere to the rules of God on earth such adaptation of laws may not all that be either easy or feasible, given our human weaknesses of greed, lust, power, ego, etc. As such, it is probably better to separate the two - religion and governance (or politics), the latter always leaving a tainted image on the former. However, I feel rather strongly that it is always better to have a religious person (i.e., pious one) behind the wheel of politics rather than an impious one. A person who does not fear God has no fear of His creation! This does not mean that a God-less person or an atheist could not be a better administrator or governor, or head of state; but chances are that he/she would turn into a tyrant like Stalin or Mao Tse Tung. A person, who on the other hand is mindful of his/her accountability to God, even after death for his/her worldly activities, is forced to be more caring and fulfilling the trust in government than the one who does not have that fear of Akhirah.

Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer's citations from the Sufi saints about the value of love should not however obscure the fact that none of them went outside the realm of Shariah. To them, tariqah without shariah is blasphemy. Their love for fellow creation allowed anyone - an idolater, a fire worshiper and a nominal monotheist - to feel welcome into their tent. That love basically transcended into many such devotees to renounce their taghut (false gods) in favor of one True God.

I also agree with Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer's statement that faith and reason are like two feet upon which human beings should support themselves. One minus the other is deficient. In that sense, probably our aqli school of thought - the Hanafi madhab within Sunni Islam - is closer to fulfilling that desirable balance. And Allah knows the best!

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