By Farweez Imamudeen –
One aspect of the electronic, postmodern world is that there has been a reinforcement of the stereotypes by which the Orient is viewed. Television, the films, and all the media’s resources have forced information into more and more standardized molds. So far as the Orient is concerned, standardization and cultural stereotyping have intensified the hold of the nineteenth-century academic and imaginative demonology of “the mysterious Orient.” – Edward Said (Orientalism)
That the media shapes public opinion is an overt secret.
Shakespeare had the perfect example in Antony in his Julius Caesar; the same people who passionately chanted, “Give him a statue with his ancestors” when Brutus spoke, turned against him; the same man whom they declared as the next Caesar, and his friends, almost instantly. It only took Antony; Caesar’s right hand man, to ascend the stage and speak; and speak he did with words that were chosen to pierce their hearts and stir their deepest, darkest and deadliest emotions; the mission then was complete; the mob had been created, and so Antony said.
“Now let it work. Mischief, thou art afoot, Take thou what course thou wilt.”
Times have changed. The method seems ancient. Antony is no more, yet his apparition roams in what we now today call, the media.
Thus, public opinion can be molded, standardized and tamed to suit the interests and agendas of an elite few; when opinions are tamed thus, they can be unleashed to accomplish the private agendas for which they were created; when that happens, when the media proclaims, “Now let it work. Mischief, thou art afoot, Take thou what course thou wilt” Nazis will kill Jews, Hutus Tutsis, Sunnis Shias, Hindus Muslims, brothers brothers, and neighbours neighbours. Brutality will know no bounds, neither child nor sick, neither innocent nor guilty, and it will not cease until it runs out its fuel of wrath.
After a 30 year bloody conflict, Sri Lanka is yet again venturing into the dangerous territory of racial unrest; it was in the making; internationally the experts were brewing public opinion against Muslims; eventually and inevitably it crept into the local social psyche; history though had prepared the local context for its reception; The Media had only to play its Antonian role and propagandize; Mass opinion then, was formed; a new enemy was begot; and the Sinhala Buddhist saviors were called to purge the Muslim vermin and save their race. Thus, begins the war against a perceived enemy. The recent anti Muslim riots set the precedent for a new history; a new era of violence, slaughter and blood spill.
However the media is not alone. Among the various elements that are at work in actualizing the agenda of anti-Muslim public opinion, of brewing social opinion against Muslims, All Ceylon Jammiyathul Ulama (ACJU) is also one; this organization is not a resisting but enabling force. In fact this organization is more dangerous and threatening, for it works within the Muslim community; it exploits their blind trust over them to exercise their authority and construct a society that gradually moves towards a polarity, isolating itself from the larger society; in doing so it leads the Muslim community towards isolation. Thus, the Muslims of Sri Lanka are pushing themselves away from the mainstream and becoming more and more closed and isolated; they’re forming a new extreme identity; unawares they’re gradually losing their Sri Lankan identity, and if this phenomena persists then eventually Muslims would pave the way for Sinhala Buddhist extremism to destroy them.
But how does ACJU carry anti-Muslim propaganda? How do they stand in the way of co-existence? First we need to understand their foundations.
The crisis in Madrasa education
The Muslim religious leadership of Sri Lanka, alias ACJU, is the largest Islamic religious organization in Sri Lanka. It currently has 6000 members and 150 branches across Sri Lanka.The majority of member consist of graduates from local Madrasas. These are students who have spent nearly seven years in a local Madrasa learning the various sciences related to Islam – Qur’an, Hadith, Arabic language, Islamic law, History, and Tharbiyya. The basic qualification that is required to gain membership is a simple pass in Al Alim examination, which is conducted and regulated by the Department of Muslim Religious and Cultural affairs, and the Department of Examination Sri Lanka.
The question is; what knowledge do these future Islamic leaders attain through these Madrasas?
Since the students who graduate from these Madrasas are granted the leadership of an entire community; assigned positions of great responsibility such as financial advisers, marriage counsellors, psychologists, legislators, social scientists and judges that require an in-depth knowledge in various sciences, including psychology, anthropology, sociology, economics, medicine, banking and law, it would be expected that they receive a holistic education that encompasses all these sciences.
Reality though, is different.
Following are some of the text books taught in the Madrasas
|Subject||Text Book||Year Published|
|Al Qur’an||Thafseerul Jalalayn (Commentary on the Qur’an)||1459|
|Al Hadith||Bulooghul Muraam min adhallathil Ahkaam – By Haafidh ibn Hajar Al Askalani||1449|
|Al Fiqhul Islamiy||Thasyeer Mathan Abi Sujaah||12th century|
For instance the text book that is assigned for Fiqhul Islamiyya (Islamic Fiqh); the curriculum that is assigned for Al Alim level examination for law is nearly a millennium old.
Thasyeer Mathan Abi Sujah which is the prescribed curriculum is an explanation of the legal opinions of the erudite scholar of Islamic legislation Muhammad ibn idris ash-Shafi (died AD 820). Abu Shujah was a judge and a legal scholar of the Shafi school of thought who lived in Basrah, Iraq nearly three hundred years after Shafi. It was he who wrote an explanation to the original legal text authored by Shafi, which he called Mathan Abi Sujah, and the current curriculum is a simplified version of Abu Sujah’s explanation of Shafi’s laws. It’s important to note that Mathan Abi Sujah was not a revision but an explanation to the original text, and the modern recompilation is also not a revision, but a summary of the explanation of the original text. Thus the text that is taught in Madrasas right now is literally nearly a millennium old.
This passive uncritical importation of ancient texts is due to a phenomenon that occurred during the history of Islam which is referred to as ‘Baabul Ijthihad Mughlaq’ (The closure of the doors of reasoning).
Without going in to the details of history it would suffice to mention here that Shafi was a great scholar of his time whose texts are still referred to understand Islamic jurisprudence, and its contextual relevance. However, as a scholar of his time, his opinions, regardless of how remarkable they were, were certainly bound by the limitations of time and space.
I wish to emphasize that I’m not criticizing the Qur’an, which the Muslims consider to be the divine revelation. What I intend to bring to the readers’ attention is how the human interpretations of the divine text, which were restricted by time and space have been imported and taught in an era and place in which most of the opinions are not only irrelevant but dangerous.
The problem with the current curriculum is not only those ancient texts are taught verbatim, as we shall see, in the Madrasas, despite their contextual mismatch, but ironically they are not even the original books authored by the founder of the predominant school of thought of the Sri Lankan Madrasas, who is Shafi.
We are living in an era where slavery is (officialy) abolished, yet in our Madrasas they seem to acknowledge this abominable practice.
The following is an extract from the chapter of Inheritance and wills in Thasyeer Mathan Abi Sujah.
“seven people never inherit; the serf, the slave whose freedom is dependent on the death of his master, the slave woman who gave birth to her master’s child, the slave who has a contract with his master for buying his freedom, the killer, the apostate and the people of another religion”
There are several problems with the above legislation. Let us not discuss the blatant injustices that are endorsed and legalized against an oppressed minority. What makes this legislation null and void is the fact that the legislation is not derived from the Qur’an – the fundamental source of Islamic legislation.
Furthermore slavery was not something that the Qur’an encouraged. On the contrary it not only discouraged it, but strove from the beginning to abolish it.
It is important to understand that the Qur’an was revealed in seventh century Arabia where slavery was a norm, and an inherent part of the then Arab culture.
The chronological order of revelation clearly demonstrates an anti-slavery approach; A close reading would reveal this chronology; how Islam fought against the practice of slavery; how the texts condemned and called the people to fight against slavery in a society, and an era when slavery was a normal and integral part of the social, political, and economic fabric of not only Arabia, but the whole world. Thus the Qur’an was slowly but steadily fostering a revolution against a ruthless and brutal social practice.
So for example, at a time when slaves were treated as mere chattel and the property of his or her owner to be used and exploited the way the owner wished (they were publicly tortured and killed without any fear of retribution), Islam granted them rights, and sought to eradicate the social disparity that existed among the free and the slaves by encouraging the Muslims to marry them,
“And marry the unmarried among you and the righteous among your male slaves and female slaves. If they should be poor, Allah will enrich them from His bounty, and Allah is all-Encompassing and Knowing.” (Surah Nur:32)
The Qur’an never was able to abolish slavery, and for that matter no text can annihilate an evil culture that is deeply embedded in a society, rather it is the people who do it; what the Qu’ran did was to set the precedent to abolish it. In other words the Qur’an laid the ethical and moral principles, like equal treatment and justice that are necessary to fight and eliminate such anti-social practices.
This approach of gradual eradication of unethical cultural practices that are deeply rooted in the social psyche is completely logical from the point of view of social transformation, which is best achieved through making fundamental changes in the psychology of the masses; a positive social change that can only be achieved through time.
It is in this context that we need to understand Islam’s approach in seventh century Arabia. To quote Dr.Jasser Auda, a Muslim legal scholar,
“The first step that was taken in the first generation was to deconstruct the values that slavery was based on. Thus, Muhammad (Peace be upon him) expressed in loud and clear terms the alternative Islamic values: that ‘an Arab is not any better than a non-Arab, and a white person is not any better than a black person, except in terms of good deeds.’
He (Peace be upon him) also said: ‘Your slaves are your brothers, their food should be the same as your food and their clothing should be the same as your clothing, and if you beat your slave, then the only compensation that you can give him is to free him.’”
What followed was a bloody conflict between the powerful oppressive elite who preferred the status quo, and the revolutionists who set out to challenge it.
Dr.Jasser Auda continues to say,
“…Then, freeing slaves became an Islamic obligation in many legal cases and a general recommendation. Also, enslaving captives, which was a war strategy that Muslims practiced in the early stages of Islam, was not practiced by the Prophet (Peace be upon him) in his last battles. After he conquered Makkah, he told its people: “Go! You are all free,” as is well-known.”
It is clear then, that Muhammad (Peace be upon him) eventually succeeded in abolishing the ruthless practice of slavery in seventh century Arabia.
However, we still have the hyper literalists who either lack the knowledge to read between the lines, are ignorant of history or too bigoted to acknowledge their ignorance due to reasons driven by self-interests.
Just imagine the psychology of these scholars who are fed such outdated knowledge in a day and age where that knowledge is not only perfectly irrelevant, but extremely dangerous! Imagine what we let these so called scholars do to our future generation, and what evil we allow these unqualified preachers to perpetuate among the society! Imagine the dangers we expose ourselves to, consciously by letting these medieval Mullahs take the center stage!
*To be continued……