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September 24, 2019

Forcing faith


September 24, 2019

One problem with history is that it is amenable to many interpretations with its persistent misuse by the power elites through conscious efforts to paint a whole picture from a single event.

Embedded in books, folklore, artwork, and traditions, historical accounts are presented as objective facts unrelated to and unaffected by the prevailing socio-economic and political conditions. History then shapes a community’s worldview that it uses to make sense of life and everything that affects it.

The role of history is particularly significant in the case of how Islam is promoted today. Islam, contrary to popular history, made inroads into other regions not through the sword and other forms of force but with its appeal to reason and the moral conduct of its followers.

Force was occasionally and primarily used against tyrannical systems and structures and not against individuals. Wars fought against the Makkan aristocracy and the Roman and Persian empires were all aimed at liberating individuals from the clutches of obsolete and suffocating socio-political systems.

Rather than restraining the creative spirit of human beings, Islam encouraged its followers to explore, to reflect, and to think critically about what they believed. Blind following of religious authority and the subsequent sectarianism was an offshoot of political struggle for power.

Both the Umayyad and Abbasid rulers in general forced people into submission and unquestioned allegiance through selective use of religious doctrines. That practice was gradually adopted by religious scholars and Sheikhs (modern Pirs) asking their students and disciples to accept their version of religion as final and binding.

As a matter of personal interest and the pervasive nature of religion in life, I particularly listen to debates on science/reason and religion on the internet. What intrigues me quite often is the challenge of modern science to the traditional sources of knowledge including paranormal experiences (mysticism) and divine revelation in the form of scriptures.

The former is associated with abnormal brain activities and the later with superstition and wishful thinking. Science defends its legitimacy by depending on the scientific method where claims about truth are put to empirical testing and independent verification.

I do not stand a judge or arbiter in the fight between science and religion here. The important point to note is the changing nature of fight and how the guardians of faith, aka Maulvis, try to win it. One can silence people with coercive tools (which include fatwa to declare someone apostate and infidel) but, fortunately or unfortunately, the problem is that there are no chains to fetter the mind.

The powerful clergy, assisted by the state, can poison a Socrates to death and condemn a Galileo for “vehement heresy” but no one, however powerful he may be, can kill an idea with a gun or a bomb. Reason has to be fought with reason and nothing else.

Today, we live in an era characterized by paradoxes, complexities, and contradictions. Religion and modernity have conflicting demands on our identities, lifestyles, and behaviors. The best option is to appreciate ambiguity and embrace diversity for peace to flourish and for the human potential to blossom into the common good.

Faith imposed not only loses its meaning but also its force to bring about positive change in the world. Faith predicated on legislation and fear produces robots at best and hypocrites at worst! Let our faith be informed by reason and nurtured by high moral conduct rather than be dictated from above by the state or from below by self-made defenders.

The writer teaches at SZABIST, Islamabad.

Email: [email protected]

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