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How the Constitution Can Bring the Religious and the Secular Together

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By P.K. Vijayan

We have always approached the constitution as amendable, but not so our various religious groupings and practices. In fact, while there have been many amendments since the constitution came into force, there has hardly been any major change in any of the religions practised in India in the same period. The few that have happened have been more regressive than reformative, and often violently so, for instance in the strong attempts to homogenise the various practices of ‘Hinduism’. This is a sure sign that constitutional provisions in and for the personal laws of the various communities do not have the sanctity or force that the practices and beliefs of the communities themselves do.

It is true that, compared to the more eclectic and narrative-rich ‘Hindu’ traditions, the ‘Christian’ and ‘Muslim’ belief-systems are narratively leaner, and more definitively and institutionally structured. They probably do not easily permit the multiplicity and variety of practices that ‘Hinduism’ does. They may therefore prove somewhat less amenable to alignment with constitutional norms, through creative re-interpretations, re-conceptualisations and reforms proposed here.

 

However, what they lack in terms of diversity of narratives and scriptural sources, they make up for in terms of histories and legacies of disputation, dissent and reformism that are as strong, if not stronger than corresponding legacies in ‘Hinduism’. This is exemplified, for instance, in the Christian Reformation movement, followed by the Counter-reformation, in Europe; and Islamic theology and jurisprudence, contained in the Shariat, is known to draw from at least four different sources, the Quran, the Haddith, the Sunna as well the collection of more secular forms composed of the Ijma, Qiyas, Ijtihad. If we include here the categorisation of crimes listed in Hudud, Qisas and Ta’azir, there is an even wider field of sources.

In any given disputation, there would likely be something that these traditions can draw on that is acceptable to them, while still remaining consonant with constitutional provisions. This is especially so for the belief-systems of ‘Christianity’ and ‘Islam’, which – unlike the caste-inequalities still practised in ‘Hinduism’. Perhaps it is time now to reassert the need to uphold the validity, legitimacy and appropriateness of constitutional provisions. It is time now to ensure that our belief-systems accommodate these provisions, rather than the other way around.

By the same token the constitution itself is obliged to explore ways to accommodate a particular religious community’s claims and practices, but without affecting any other community’s or other constitutional provisions. This approach is thus a dialogic one, which requires the legislature and judiciary too, to commit to the same constitutional principles they maintain and adjudicate on. The law cannot be above the law; it must ensure that that change is not just legally valid but also constitutionally appropriate.

Thus far we have dealt with some possible objections of ‘believers’ to such a programme. They may well have other objections too, and a dialogue on how to engage with, and negotiate those objections through this programme and approach, is both recommended and necessary. That said, there are also other possible objections to such a programme and approach, that may be raised by ‘non-believers’.

For instance, comrades on the Left and other such fellow rationalists may well protest that such a programme and approach encourages superstition and irrationality and perhaps even runs counter to the constitutional injunction to uphold secularism. One possible response to this is to recall the Marxian exhortation (credited to Marxist scholar Fredric Jameson): ‘Always historicise!’ Here, this means to also contextualise in our own historical, socio-economic conditions, steeped in poverty and inequality, and therefore steeped perhaps in faith. It would be psychologically and socially debilitating to remove or belittle that faith without simultaneously addressing those dynamics of multiple inequalities – of caste, class, gender, race, sexuality, opportunity – as well as the diversities of religion, region, language, ethnicity, profession.

As social precarity increases with intensifying and multiplying forms, extents and intensities of inequality, there is a verifiable increase in religious fundamentalism – arguably, an ‘opium-of-the-masses’ effect. But to dismiss it as no more than that is to adopt a rigid, dogmatic approach that is itself a form of irrationality.

In contrast, the approach and programme outlined here recognises that in such a context of multiple forms of intense and extensive social precarity, the turn to faith, while distinct, can nevertheless take a corresponding number of forms, some, if not all of which may resist any attempts to derogate or devalue (their) religion. A call to disavow faith may well – and often has, in the past – lead to a reactive communalisation rather than to the strengthening of secularism.

The approach advocated here recognises that the increasing hostility to secularism that we are witnessing today is due to the perception that it is founded on the principle of tolerance rather than of mutual respect and empathy. ‘Tolerance’, as feminist scholar Karen Gabriel has pointed out, ‘implies a latent potential to become intolerant at any moment. That is, it connotes a norm to which there are exceptions that must be tolerated (but also need not be tolerated)….’ She goes on to note that ‘This profoundly patronizing attitude and disposition on the part of its practitioners, registers the unequal power relation in which the minority is entirely dependent on the majority’s will to tolerance, rather than on any systemic guarantees. […] This tolerance is voluntary rather than mandatory (if it is mandatory, one is no longer tolerating, one is being restrained from becoming intolerant). Finally, it can be selectively applied, precisely because it is voluntary’.

In a context in which the beneficence of the community is more easily believed in and relied upon than the benefice of the secular state, the journey from a communal self-identification to a genuinely secular one is quite long. It requires transformations in the socio-economic contexts of these communities of believers as much as in their conceptions and understandings. The approach proposed here seeks to facilitate the taking of this journey to minimise the tendency to pose these two as unrelated at the very least, and when related, as antithetical positions.

This approach may prove to work even in cases where the conflict is not between a particular religion – or even religion in general – and the constitution, but rather between two religious communities, on religious or religion-related issues. In such cases, this approach would focus on the resources within each religion that would facilitate mutuality, and not just rely on say, similarities or shared experiences, for a meaningful conversation. It thus holds out the possibility of moving the discourse of secularism from tolerance to mutual respect.

It is necessary to find the resources within each religion that would facilitate mutuality for a meaningful conversation. Credit: American Center Mumbai/Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0

Another objection that may be anticipated from these same quarters is that the primacy accorded to the constitution in this approach is, at the least, naive because it appears to treat that document as holy, infallible. The constitution is, in fact, none of these. Rather (they would maintain), it is understood to be deeply disingenuous, and it is actually designed to protect the interests of dominant minorities, at the expense and suffering of the vast subjugated majorities. The more radical tendencies in these quarters have therefore even dedicated their lives to the overturning of this constitution, on these very grounds.

As such, the approach outlined here, that proposes to align the values and practices of religious communities with those propounded, protected and maintained by this ‘objectionable’ constitution, would be understandably objected to as a retrograde tendency. It may even be accused of making a religion itself, out of belief in the constitution.

It must be clarified that the approach outlined here does not in fact take the constitution as either infallible or as the final word on equality, secularism and justice. There will no doubt be societies in the future that will have another constitution altogether, and that will possibly look back on this constitution as being rather retrograde.

Be that as it may, what the current approach seeks to take into account, is the fact that a range of positions, from the fundamentalist-religious, to the constitutional-secular, to the fundamentalist-secular, coexist in contemporary contexts. In this, to insist on pushing a purist secular line as the only valid one is not only tactically and strategically barren, it is tantamount to a near-religious, dogmatically rigid, final-word position itself. Hence its characterisation as ‘fundamentalist-secular’.

In contrast, the approach proposed here seeks to draw the fundamentalist-religious positions towards greater concordance with the constitutional-secular. Such a consolidation of existing positions is, arguably, a necessary historical step towards the emergence of new contexts for new constitutional ideals to emerge. Then the current divide between the religious and the secular may cease to exist altogether.

That is an ideal worth working towards. And if a more creative, compassionate engagement with religion stemming from mutual respect and understanding, commitment to uphold the constitution and efforts to bring religious beliefs and practices in line with those of the constitution facilitate the realisation of that ideal, that is what is required. It is in this spirit that the Sabarimala issue should be approached. The same applies to the Babri-Masjid-Ram-Mandir issue and any such religious issue to have a meaningful conversation, born out of mutual respect, as well as respect for the constitution.

(Courtesy: thewire.in)


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Opinion

Quranic Meaning of Patience (Sabr)

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By Mansoor Alam

The Qur’an says to believers: ((2:3 – They believe in the unseen. This belief in the unseen is for every effort.
Obviously, the result of any effort does not appear right away. It takes time. One has to toil and struggle persistently. The result does appear – but only after some time. The people who have faith in the efficacy of this law – Allah’s Law of Requital – continue to work hard and continue to believe that the results will appear in due course. They do not get tired. They neither get frustrated nor get disappointed nor resign in the middle of their effort. This is what the Qur’an has called (Sabr) or patienc (103:3 – those who attain to faith, and do good works, and enjoin upon one another the keeping to truth, and enjoin upon one another patience in adversity.
The Quranicpatience (Sabr) does not mean that when nothing works; when frustration sets in; when people get disappointed; and when they think that nothing is happening then they are told: So, dear brothers and sisters! Do Sabr. What can be done?! Whatever was written in the kismet will happen anyway! Nothing can be done now!! This is not the right meaning of (Sabr).
But in the Qur’an patience (Sabr) is something what a farmer goes through day in and day out for months at a time with perseverance and steadfastness. This whole process is what is defined as (Sabr) according to the Qur’an and the one who perseveres through this process is called (Saabir). Qur’an said that this faith in the unseen – (Bil-Ghaib) requires ??? (Sabr); that believers must have full faith and conviction in this whole process of (Sabr). When the Qur’an says: ??(6:21But verily the wrong-doers never shall prosper [Yusuf Ali]. This means oppressors and tyrants won’t flourish; that they will eventually fail. This is the Law of Requital that the Qur’an proclaims. And this law is unchangeable (6:34). Tyrants and oppressors must remember that this law is bound to produce its consequence, no matter what. But how it will happen? It will happen according to this Qur’anic law of requital that what you sow is what you reap; that tyrants will fail; and that if others join hands with tyrants then the speed of failure will increase. And it must be borne in mind with 100% surety that oppression is bound to fail ultimately. In any case, this is the belief (in the unseen results of his actions) that keeps a farmer working hard; and he knows that each seed when nourished properly and taken care of will produce hundreds of grains.
Whatever laws the Qur’an has given regarding humans, they also have this characteristic that they do not produce results quickly. The complaints we keep hearing are: that Allah is just; that He does justice to everyone; that He won’t let tyrants succeed. But we observe daily that tyrants flourish; that dishonest keep on piling wealth upon wealth; that no business succeeds if done honestly. Then what is this?! Why the laws of Allah are not working? Actually, they are working but we do not have faith in them. We are not like the farmer who works hard and perseveres months after months, follows the laws of farming; then only he gets the fruits of his lab or after a long time. We, on the other hand, sit at home and say: Since Allah’s law is that from one seed will grow hundreds of grains then the day when hundreds of grains grow we will go and get them. This is not (2:3 – the faith in the unseen. According to the Qur’an the faith in the unseen means: that every worker; every labourer; every technician who has the conviction that whatever I am working on – maybe it may take one month or six months or a year, but one day it will work; that one day the result of the effort will bear fruit for which the worker is persevering day and night even while suffering hardships and hunger. This is the steadfast belief in the mission’s objective followed by continuous action and 100% conviction in the unchangeable law of requital of the Qur’an that the result is bound to come out for sure – at the proper time. We have belied this belief. The truth is that people do not have faith in the law of requital. People may say: Allah’s law of requital does not work; that we see that dishonest succeed; that dishonest businessmen flourish. When this situation becomes common in society; when fear and anxiety abound – then how would people be motivated to work honestly?!
The Quran says: “?67:12those who are afraid of their Lord”. What is this “fear” and what is meant by being “afraid of”?
The Qur’an says that a nation raised on the basis of its laws as well as its followers will have no fear nor suffer from any anxiety (2:112; 2:62; 2:274; 2:277). We, on the hand, right from childhood, sow fear of Allah in the hearts of children. To children then Allah becomes a symbol of fear and trepidation. In fact, humanity gets crushed with fear. Let us take the meaning of: there is nothing in this to fear Allah. Whenever, the Qur’an uses for example: “?23:57 then it means: being careful from the adverse consequences of violating the law of requital, being afraid of the consequences that are bound to occur if one does not follow the message of Allah; that when one violates His laws then one will suffer their destructive consequences. This is what is meant by fear. This is a fear of the unseen destructive results of bad actions which do not appear right away.
The Qur’an mentions that those who opposed the Prophet (PBUH) used to taunt him: Why don’t you bring the destruction that you keep on warning us about all the time?! On this, Allah told that they do not recognize His mercy; i.e., they do not realize that He does not punish people right away after committing wrong; that there is a period of respite between the wrong action and its consequence. This respite has been bestowed by Him so that people might realize their mistake and correct themselves and thus be saved from destruction. The Qur’an says that if you correct yourselves then it is good for you only. The period of respite is also an essential part of the law of requital and, indeed, is a mercy from Allah. Because, if we eat unhealthy food and if we get a disease (e.g. cancer) right away then no one will be saved. In this period of respite, small symptoms appear as warning signs. If we pay attention to these symptoms and are able to see a connection between continuing unhealthy food habit and the symptoms, then due to this period of respite embedded in the process, there is hope; there is possibility for treatment and cure. If, on the other hand, there were immediate punishment for wrong action, then no human being in the world would be saved.

 
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Opinion

Preparing for the Month of Mercy

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By Maryam Amirebrahimi

A lot of us yearn to prepare for Ramadan, but we have no idea how to start. Below are a few tips to insha’Allah (Allah willing) help prepare our minds and hearts for this upcoming Month of Mercy.
Make the Intention
Simple to do, with a powerful impact. Maybe you want to prepare for Ramadan, but between school, work, family, and your other activities, you just have no idea how to fit in ‘prepare for Ramadan’ time. Instead of separating ‘prepare for Ramadan’ from your daily activities, make your daily activities a MEANS of preparation for Ramadan.
For example, perhaps your mom asked you to pick up your brother from school on the day you finally had time to read a few extra pages of Qur’an. Instead of feeling upset as if you have lost a great opportunity to prepare for Ramadan, make the intention that you are picking up your brother to please Allah and prepare for Ramadan by obeying your mother, helping your family members, building ties of kinship…and the list continues.
The point is that preparing for Ramadan does not have to be some magnificent, enormous, extra-special thing that needs to be done at a certain time of the day. Many of your daily actions can be turned into Ramadan preparation actions with a sincere intention insha’Allah.
Do these Easy-to-Reap-Reward Actions
Ask Allah to forgive your brothers and sisters. “Whoever seeks forgiveness for believing men and believing women, Allah will write for him a good deed for each believing man and believing woman.”
It was narrated that Abu Hurayrah said “The Messenger of Allah said: ‘Whoever says subhan Allah wa bi hamdih (praise and glory be to Allah) 100 times, morning and evening, his sins will be erased even if they are like the foam on the sea.”
If a person says, “Subhan Allah (glory be to Allah),” 100 times, a thousand good deeds are recorded for him and a thousand bad deeds are wiped away.
Remember Allah when you go shopping. “Whoever enters a market and says: “Laailahaillallahwahdahu la shareekalah, lahulmulkuwalahulhamduyuhyiwayumeetuwahuwahayyunlaayamoot, bi yadihilkhair, wahuwa ‘alakullishayinqadeer.” [There is nothing worthy of worship except Allah, alone without partner, to Him belongs dominion and praise; He causes life and death and He is the Living and does not die; in His Hand is all the good, and He is over all things competent] Allah will write for them a million good deeds and erase a million bad deeds and raise him a million levels.” Up Your Worship
To help condition your heart for this blessed month, intensify your worship before Ramadan begins. Just a small, consistent amount is enough. The Prophet told us: “The deeds most loved by Allah are those done regularly, even if they are small.”
Make a prayer List Today
This is THE MONTH to ask for EVERYTHING, both related to this life and the Next. Let us not wait until the last 10 nights to make special dua', and then onceEid passes realize that we completely forgot about fifty other things we needed to make dua' for. Let's start making our lists now, and add to it as more things come our way. Insha'Allah this should help us remember to make constant dua’ in this month where duaa' is accepted, and help our hearts pour out to the One Who can make those dua’ happen.
Write out Your Objectives for Ramadan
Praying all of your fard (obligatory) prayers? Praying all of your sunnahs? Reading the entire Qur’an? Giving $1 in charity a day? Making itikaaf (a time for reflection and prayer in seclusion) in the masjid? Leaving one serious sin that you’ve been trying to get away from for some time now? Sincerely turning back to Allah? Write out a list, put it somewhere you will see it, and make dua' for your success in fulfilling your objectives. Make a Plan! Look at your objectives and try to plan out how to realize them in this month. For example, perhaps you are really struggling to pray your sunnah prayers. In this month, realize the enormity of the ajr (reward) of praying the sunnah prayers. Think that perhaps these sunnah will be the deeds that will be heavy on your scale of good deeds when you are intensely in need of them-on Yawm al-Qiyamah, the Day of Judgment. Therefore, fight to keep doing them all throughout Ramadan. If you can't pray your 2 rakat after dhuhr (the afternoon prayer) right away, make sure to do them as soon as you get the chance.
Your plan might look something like this:
Objective: Pray all of my fardh prayers.
Method: Envision myself on the Day of Judgment seeing the weight of praying my sunnah consistently during this month. Make sure to pray sunnah immediately after salah (prayer). If I cannot, do it as soon as the opportunity arises-don’t let myself put it off! Another example is that of finishing the Qur’an:
Objective: Finish the entire Qur’an in this month.
Aim to strive this Ramadan. With a very small amount of effort, such as just making a small intention or adding a few extra acts of worship, we pray that Allah will help our hearts soften and honor us with making it easy to turn to Him and open up to Him.

 
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Opinion

Qur’an Establishes Criteria for Human Development

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By M Alam

In determining how the Qur’an establishes criteria for human development, we can begin by exploring verse 1 of Surah Al-Mulk (67:1).
“Blessed be He in whose hands is Dominion; And He over all things hath Power” [Yusuf Ali]. The Arabic word ‘Barakah’ in this verse has been translated as ‘Blessed.’ But the word ‘Blessed’ does not reveal the full meaning of ‘Barakah.’ The root of ‘Barakah’ is (ba) – (ra) – (kaf). The meaning of this root is: something which is firm and stable in its place, which acquires proper nourishment and, grows and develops as a result, for example, like a tree does. Starting as a tender sapling, it must continue to receive nourishment so that it grows and becomes strong to stand firm and remain stable in its place. Should it be uprooted from its place it would not be able to survive, let alone develop? The tree must continue to stand firm, not for a certain period of time but, for its entire life. The Holy Qur’an also uses the word ‘Barakah’ for Earth (41:10). The Earth, fittingly, remains stable in its place and is a source of nourishment, growth, and development for everything and everyone.
Allah asserts that all authority and sovereignty belong to Him (Qur’an 67:1). The purpose of His authority is: so that He may continue to provide provisions for nourishment and development to all. In this single assertion, significant Islamic principles are established: An Islamic system should be firmly rooted. It must be sound, strong, and stable; and its purpose should be to provide nourishment and provisions for the development of all living beings. The very first verse of the Qur’an (1:1) establishes an essential principle of the Qur’an, stating that a system is only worthy of praise and appreciation when it upholds and fulfils the responsibility of universal development for all.
That is why the Qur’an states that the Supreme Being, in whose hands lies all sovereignty and authority of the entire universe, is responsible for providing nourishment and provisions for the development of all beings, and it is He who maintains the control and stability so worthy of our praise. Allah has established measures and standards – (Qadr) in the words of the Qur’an – in order to accomplish this aim while He maintains full control over all aspects of Qadr. He has Power over all things (67:1).
This is but one kind of development, i.e., physical development. However, human beings are more than just the physical body. There is, in addition, an essential aspect of our humanity which the Quran refers to as our ‘Nafs’. We can call it ‘human soul,’ ‘human self,’ ‘human personality’ or ‘human individuality’ but, none of these descriptions fully explains the meaning of ‘Nafs’. Human beings become a part of humanity solely due to their ‘nafs’. With respect to the physical body alone, humans belong to the animal kingdom. But there is something else within each human for whose development God’s attributes are necessary. One can call these attributes Permanent Values. The ‘nafs’ acquires its capability for development through these core values.
One self-evident principle which the Quran establishes for humans and which is common with animals, is that is that the human body develops from what it takes, from what it consumes. But the “human self” develops from another principle: self develops by that which humans give for the welfare of others; what humans do in order to improve the life of others.
However, this internal self or ‘nafs’ cannot be seen, cannot be felt; and others are not able to feel or touch it. If one has the ‘eye’ – not just the physical eye but also the mind’s eye – then one can feel one’s own self as to how much it has developed. For this, the Quran mentions the characteristics and the attributes of the Momineen. In reality, these Momineen are manifestations of these attributes. For example, the Qur’an has mentioned that a Momin will try to survive with less and lead a life of hardship himself and give priority to others’ needs above his own. This is not a decision that can be comprehended at the level of the physical body but only at the level of what the Qur’an has called the ‘nafs’ meaning the ‘higher self.’
The Qur’an explains further that a Momin is one who does this act of giving priority to others above himself and does this of his own freewill. By doing this, a Momin feels happy that he has been able to fulfil the needs of someone else who is more deserving than himself, even though his own life itself might be very hard. What is that entity within a human being that makes the decision to do this sacrifice? The human body cannot do this.
The human body’s development is based upon instinct as it is the case with animals. No animal will give preference to some other animal over the needs of its own body. Man behaves similarly when he lives at the material level, i.e., at the animal level. In fact, those living at this level may even indulge in looting and exploiting others. In contrast, an animal, when his stomach is full, never cares what happens to the leftover food, whether another animal eats it or someone takes it away.
An animal sits contented and continues on carefree. It is only this human animal that despite his needs being little beyond bread, continues throughout life seeking to fill an ever unfulfilled greed. The animal does not exhibit greed once its basic requirements have been met. In other words, when man falls, he falls very deep to the lowest level – below even the animals!
Our human level is considerably different in that it is this level that the Qur’an addresses. And this is intended for our own self-development. The Quran’s Qadr is a standard or measure so that we may acquire the attributes established in the Qur’an for the Momineen. For example, take human respect. This respect should be established in society as universal standard irrespective of colour, race, language, age, religion, wealth, or status. This respect should be based solely on the basis of being human. This is the characteristic of the higher human self, not of the human body. As for the human body, the strong and powerful body will easily subdue the weak and poor one.

 
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