In today’s world when most of the Muslim world is caught up in violence and strife, tragically, justice is the last thing the world associates with Islam. As a Muslim, it pains me to see my religion misrepresented as an oppressive regime, but Muslim-majority countries in the world hardly present a better picture. In a welcome change in social narratives, however, Malaysian academic and Islamic reformist Chandra Muzaffar in his essay “Islam, Justice, & Politics”, argues that Islamic principles of justice may be a solution to the North-South divide. Unfortunately, whenever somebody mentions “Islamic reform”, most Muslims tend to adopt a position that looks something like:
So some sensible voices in Islam are lost in a cacophony of two extreme sides of the religion spectrum. Muzaffar urges the Muslim individual to adopt a more introspective position, but notes that illiteracy and language barriers may hinder that:
We may seek guidance of those who are well versed in the Qu’ran as we try to learn God’s Word, but the responsibility of understanding and applying it to our own lives is our own. There is another reason why the study of the Qur’an is the individual’s own obligation. The Qur’an itself asks us to shoulder this responsibility. We are challenged to
“Read! In the name of thy Lord and Cherisher who created – Created man out of A (mere) clot of congealed blood. Proclaim! And thy Lord is Most Bountiful – He Who taught (the use of) the Pen – Taught man that Which he knew not (96:1-5)”
Though the Qur’an beseeches the human being to “read,” to “write,” to “know,” the vast majority of Muslims today have no direct knowledge of the Qu’ran for the simple reason that illiteracy is rampant in the Muslim world. It is a sad reflection of the tragic state of affairs within the Ummah that the one religion which places greatest emphasis upon the acquisition of knowledge should have the largest number of illiterates as its followers!
Chandra Muzaffar (Chapter 12, Mehran Kamrava’s The New Voices of Islam, page 216)
Muzaffar, in his essay, though, is very idealistic in his view of Islam and Politics: His ideas to establish justice involve leadership roles by “Islamic governments”; proposed solutions involve beckoning the ineffective Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) to make universal literacy its primary objective, as he notes “if Muslim countries can spend so much on producing World-Cup-class football teams, surely they can do something about helping each and every male and female to read and understand the Qu’ran” (Kamrava, 216).
Overall, his essay, though a good read, was written through a solely Muslim lens, and is, therefore, biased. Though well-argued, he presents a typical “anti-Western” rhetoric in his paper at times, and fails to balance his views. It seems that the essay was written for a predominately Muslim audience, though he tries his best for universality.
Despite these flaws, I was glad to see a writer arguing for the need to understand religion before you blindly follow other people’s opinions on it: