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Islam beyond the Five Pillars

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By Charles Le GaiEaton

Those who enquire about the basics of Islam are usually told about the “Five Pillars” of the religion. These relate to faith and to practice, but at a deeper level it might be said that there are two great pillars which support the whole edifice. These are Peace and Justice. They are clearly connected since there can be no enduring peace without justice. The very word Islam comes from the same verbal root as salam meaning “peace” and, since the religion is based upon total submission to the will of God, Muslims believe that real peace is out of reach unless it is based upon this submission within the universal order. They believe equally that there can be no real justice except as an aspect of submission to the source of all that is just and well ordered. Although God in Himself is beyond comprehension or analysis, the Qur’an gives us hints as to His true nature through what are sometimes called “the 99 names” and one of these is al-Adl, “the Just”. Another of these names is al-Muqsio, “the Dispenser of Justice” or “He who gives to each thing its due”.

The Quran praises those who always act “in the light of truth” and tells us: “Perfected are the words of your Lord in truth and justice”. It tells us also: “Behold, God enjoins justice and good actions and generosity to our fellows…”, and it commands us never to let hatred lead us into deviating from justice: “Be just! That is closest to God consciousness”. This, of course, applies to all believers who must fear divine justice if subjective factors or personal emotions lead them to deviate from the path of justice which is also the path of Islam, but it weighs heavily upon those who are required to adjudicate in disputes or to give judgment in criminal cases. There were cases in the early history of the religion when men whom the Ruler intended to appoint as judges fled from Court rather than assume this terrifying responsibility and we read of one who did accept the burden that his whole body trembled when he was called upon to give judgment, believing that a single mistake might carry with it the threat of damnation. The divine Judge stands over the human judge, observing all that he does, and human justice, even at its best, can never be more than a poor imitation of divine Justice. The Prophet Muhammad himself when he was called upon to adjudicate in civil actions warned the litigants that one of them might be more eloquent in putting his case than the other and thereby achieve an unjust settlement. “In such a case,” said Muhammad, “I will have given him a portion of hellfire”. This is clearly a grave matter indicating that those who seek justice must themselves practice it without deviation even to their own hurt. Under all and any circumstances a victory which is contrary to justice is a poisoned chalice.

 

Of special significance too is the relationship between justice and wisdom in the Arabic language. The words Aukm, “judgment”, and Aikmah, “wisdom” come from the same root, and al-Aakim (the “All-Wise” is another of the names of God in the Quran.

In the Christian tradition St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that, among all human pursuits, “the pursuit of wisdom is more perfect, more noble, more full of joy” than any other human enterprise. The Muslim might amend this slightly by emphasizing that one cannot “pursue” wisdom as one might a rare butterfly since it is a divine quality and out of reach of the human seeker as such. It is for us to lay ourselves open to this gracious gift by making ourselves fit and ready to receive it.

It is commonly said that Justice is or should be “blind”, in other words rigidly objective, but a Judge is required to possess the quality of insight in the most profound sense and can deserve no higher praise than to be described as “wise”, participating, as it were, in “the wisdom of Solomon”. Wisdom is as much a quality of character as an attribute of the mind. It has nothing to do with erudition which, however extensive, is necessarily limited in scope. A learned man can still be a fool when he steps outside the area of his expertise. The wise man is protected by his insight from folly – although not always from minor errors in the worldly context – because he possesses an inner yardstick by which to assess the situations he encounters. For the Muslim this yardstick is the Quran together with the example of the Prophet and their reflection in the human heart. There is no higher aim for the Muslim than the cultivation of what is described as a “sound heart”. From the sound heart comes sound judgment. The same is true of sound governance and, in Islam, this implies “ruling between” in accordance with wisdom rather than “ruling over”.

The Quran always emphasizes that Muhammad, though endowed with the fullness of wisdom, was only “flesh and blood”, capable like other men of error except when inspired from above, but it was his mission not only to convey with meticulous accuracy the revelation which descended upon him but also to offer the supreme example of what it meant to follow in his personal and his public life the full implications of the revelation no less meticulously. When he was dying and came for the last time to the mosque in Medina he said to the assembled people: “If there is anyone among you whom I have caused to be flogged unjustly, here is my back. Strike in your turn. If I have damaged the reputation of any among you, let him do the same to mine. To any I may have injured, here is my purse… It is better to blush in this world than in the hereafter”. A man claimed a small debt and was promptly paid.

Why is justice so important in Islam? The core article of faith is the oneness of God, reflected in the unity of His creation in its totality. This unity is reflected in harmony and balance. Injustice destroys harmony and upsets balance thereby provoking disorder. The Muslim is commanded to give primacy to prayer throughout his life and, in all that he does, to remember God. It is true that people can maintain prayer and remembrance under all conditions, even in the midst of chaos, but the fact remains that spiritual life prospers and flourishes when it has a stable base, a firm platform from which the ascent to the knowledge of God and the love of God can, as it were, take off. A disordered society compounded of danger and distractions, unjust and troubled, provides no such security. The man who has to watch his back all the time is diverted from the remembrance of God as is the one who has suffered injustice and must struggle to eliminate feelings of anger and resentment. Moreover injustice fractures the brotherhood and sisterhood of the believers which is an essential element in an Islamic society. Above and beyond this is the simple fact that He who is called “the Just” commands justice both in society and in every aspect of human relations. Since, in Islam, all things are inter-connected – this is an aspect of unity – it might even be said that every act of injustice jars on the cosmos as a whole like a discordant note in a piece of music.

Islam is a very realistic religion and the Quran itself recognizes the reality of human weakness. Those who are injured are permitted to take retaliation but they are reminded at every turn that it is better to forgive and to seek reconciliation. Muslims are commanded to return good for evil, thus breaking the vicious circle of animosity; “to do good to those who have injured us” in the words of one of the classical commentators on the Quran, but this requires human qualities which are by no means universal although they were characteristic of Muhammad. In his dealings with the pagans who tried by every means to destroy him and his community he exemplified the rule of forgiveness and reconciliation, forgiving even the most vicious of his enemies when he finally re-entered Mecca in triumph, providing them with gifts so that their hard hearts might be softened and peace prevail after the years of conflict. Justice might have required their punishment, but there is no contradiction here since there is more than one way to achieve balance which, after all, is the ultimate objective of justice. Islam describes itself as “the middle way”, a religion of moderation in everything except the love and worship of God. Muhammad condemned extremism with the greatest severity and today’s Muslims have a greater need to be reminded of this than ever before as they do of his saying that “anger burns up good deeds just as fire burns up dry wood”.

Extremism and anger are both of them ugly in their manifestations. In one of his inspired sayings (these are quite separate from the revealed text of the Quran) the Prophet said: “God is beautiful; He loves beauty”. It is significant that the Arabic word Aasan means both “good” and “beautiful”. The connection is clear since a good action or, for that matter, a good character has a quality of beauty which, in its turn, is related to the idea of harmony, just proportion and therefore of justice as such. It is worth noting that the English word “fair” means both just and beautiful. The Arabic verb adala, from the same root as adl (Justice), is usually translated as “to proportion”, “to create in symmetry” or “to be equitable”. Here again we have the idea of harmony which is dependent upon justice.

Muslim thinkers have always been interested in the science of numbers and their significance, and each letter of the Arabic alphabet has a particular number attached to it. Words derived from the root ‘DL, including adl, occur 28 times in the Quran, and, as it happens, there are 28 letters in the Arabic alphabet. These are related to the 28 “mansions of the moon” which determine the Muslim calendar. This may seem somewhat esoteric but, in the Islamic perspective, there are no chance coincidences and, for Muslims, it is further proof of the universal harmony which is the pattern of creation and a sign that everything makes sense when it is closely examined.

In Islam mercy always has the last word.


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Opinion

Chekhovian Tragedy

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By Amir Sultan

In his book In the Land of Israel novelist and writer Amos Oz classifies a tragedy into two types; one being the Shakespearean and the other Chekhovian. He writes,


“…there is a Shakespearean resolution and there is the Chekhovian one. At the end of a Shakespearean tragedy, the stage is strewn with dead bodies and maybe there is some justice hovering high above. A Chekhov tragedy, on the other hand, ends with everybody disillusioned, embittered, heartbroken, disappointed, absolutely shattered but still alive.”

 

William Shakespeare and Anton Chekhov (read as Chie-Kof) were both playwrights and dramatists. Both of them in their works have tried to shed light on various aspects of human nature. However, Anton Chekhov as seen by the renowned novelist Amos Oz gives us a better understanding of the tragedies happening with us. His portrayal of tragedy is what most of us go through. As the quote states that the Shakespearean tragedy ends with death as a solution to all problems and issues that a man faces. Demise of a person(s) like in Romeo and Juliet is what defines a tragedy. In comparison to it, Chekhovian tragedy is epitomized with life, life worth not living.

One of the aspects of modern life that typifies a Chekhovian tragedy in our time is substance abuse. Substance abuse is one of the huge problems that our generation is facing. Globally, according to World Drug Report (2017) there are 29.5 million people who are substance abusers. The number that is almost equal to the population of states like Nepal, Sri Lanka, Czech Republic, United Arab Emirates and many other countries.

It’s self-evident that all people are sober. Living life in light, joy and to its full, but suddenly some of them get introduced to a kind of psychoactive substance say marijuana, heroin or LSD that starts to bring a perpetual change in their life. First the body resists it by producing aversive reactions and this is the time when a person can refrain. But if s/he persists to take the substance the body of a person starts to crave for it. Moreover, the withdrawals and the incentive of pleasure produced by it hinder the process of contemplating and positive thinking resulting in sustaining of act willingly or unwillingly.

All this time the physiological, psychological and social aspects of human life are in a continuous shattering flux. Physiologically, the body weight gets reduced, sleep cycle is disturbed, changes in appetite patterns appear, functioning of vital organs like heart, liver and kidneys gets disturbed, and at times patient gets infected with viruses like HCV and HIV. Anxiety, restlessness, irritability, mood disorders, hallucinations and delusions and last but not the least a chronic psychosis is the harm caused to our psychological aspect by drug abuse.

There are innumerable changes seen in the social life of a substance abuser. From disturbed family relations, abuse with children, mistreatment with parents or a spouse, to disturbed financial status marked with a reckless spending and gambling. Besides, continuous drug seeking behaviour which leads to inefficacy in terms of occupation, school, vocation or sometimes complete sacking from a job, making the person’s life and the life of people around him wrenchingly miserable.

During this saga of self-deterioration, the person tries to look at his lived life through the glasses of past, present and future and founds himself disillusioned as he learns that substance abuse is not fun, embittered as he feels the bitterness of the act, heartbroken at the thoughts of mistreatment to himself and to the near ones and dear ones, disappointed because of not fulfilling the dreams he had seen and absolutely shattered but still alive, in other words, going through a Chekhovian tragedy.

(The writer is a Psychology Postgraduate from University of Kashmir and presently working as a Mental Health Counsellor at Drug De-addiction and Rehabilitation Center PCR Batamaloo. He ca be reached at: [email protected])

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ICJ ruling and Into-Pak relations

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By Marvi Sirmed

Just as Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, president of International Court of Justice (ICJ), started reading out the much-awaited verdict in the Kalbhushan Jadhav case, both Indian and Pakistani media, quite predictably, started pronouncing high-pitched victory of their respective countries.

Pakistan had claimed that its security forces had arrested Kulbhushan Jadhav, the 49-year-old retired Navy officer, from Pakistan’s Balochistan province on March 3, 2016 after he entered Pakistan via its border with Iran. Jadhav was subsequently sentenced to death by the Pakistani military court on charges of “espionage and terrorism” after a closed trial in April 2017, just over a year after his arrest. India, however, claimed that Jadhav was kidnapped from Iran where he had business interests after his retirement from the Indian Navy.

 

India followed this by moving the ICJ on May 8, 2017 for the “egregious violation” of the provisions of the Vienna Convention by Pakistan. Islamabad repeatedly rejected New Delhi’s plea for consular access to Jadhav, claiming that India was merely interested in getting at the information gathered by its “spy”. India also sought to suspend the death sentence of Jadhav and ordered his release from Pakistan’s custody. Pakistan had challenged the admissibility of India’s petition on three grounds: alleged abuse of process; alleged abuse of rights; and India’s alleged unlawful conduct. All three grounds were rejected by the court.

India’s plea to suspend the death sentence and order the release was also rejected. But Pakistan was asked to give immediate consular access to Jadhav as well as ensure his right to free trial under the domestic judicial mechanism of Pakistan. This gives both the countries enough ground to celebrate their respective victories.

The question now is how the verdict will impact the already strained relations of the two countries? While the verdict gives the opportunity to both the governments to maintain aggressive posturing, it has no practical bearing which way Pakistan may eventually choose to decide.

While the verdict of ICJ is not binding upon either party in the strictest of legal sense, it certainly sets a favourable stage for India to continue to portray Pakistan in a negative light internationally, in case the latter does not comply with the verdict. Pakistan, on the other hand, might comply in the end, but not before getting something in return.

The retired army officers in Pakistan, who are usually referred to as ’defence analysts’ when they come to TV studios and spell out what is considered to be the “thinking” of Pakistan’s powerful military establishment, continue their usual antics while aggressively emphasising that Pakistan is not bound to comply with the ICJ verdict. But if recent history is to be at all taken into account, to take their word is akin to falling right into their trap.

In the backdrop of recent economic troubles and political instability Pakistan has been facing for the last one year, it is beyond any basic sense of logical play to expect the nation to allow the aggression to linger, by not granting India’s most basic ask in this case – the proverbial lowest hanging fruit, ie, consular access to Jadhav.

It might not come, however, without a price. At the exact moment when Yousaf was reading out the verdict, American President Donald Trump celebrated the “finding” and the arrest of Hafiz Saeed on Twitter, who he describes as “mastermind” of Mumbai terror attacks. Saeed, however, has been living in plain sight all this while. He was never absconding in the first place. In fact, shortly before his (re)arrest, he was released on bail from his previous arrest. By playing this up, it betrays the mutual advantage it serves to USA and Pakistan.

When Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan meets Trump next week, he would arrive having already earned some brownie points. The so-called arrest of Hafiz Saeed might ease some tensions at FATF. USA will be in a position to claim winning yet another milestone in its war on terror. If Pakistan offers to graciously comply with the ICJ verdict, it might raise its ask too. The stick raising mood in White House has already changed to a carrot granting one. Bringing India to the table of comprehensive dialogue, after managing to elbow it out from Afghan peace process, doesn’t look like abad bargain.

But if Jadhav gets consular access, India would have the golden opportunity to demolish Pakistan’s claims of the “terror confession” by Jadhav. He would now most definitely claim confession under duress.

At the moment, the key decision makers in Pakistan do not want to disobey the court verdict. Their compliance of earlier Indian plea to delay the sentence bears witness to it. In any case, a dead Jadhav doesn’t benefit anyone. Except may be, Jadhav’s handlers, if he is indeed a spy.

(The author is a journalist with Daily Times and member of the executive council of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan)

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America & Pakistan: Back to a cosy future

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By Indranil Banerjie

Geopolitical gears appear to be shifting once again in South Asia with Washington being the primary driver. The question is whether this portends a return to the cosy relationship between the United States and Pakistan as in the past?

For, if Washington is once again planning to use Islamabad as a pivot for its South and West Asia policy, then New Delhi has reason to be concerned even though the imperative for such a development is neither hostile nor anti-India.

 

The hard fact of the matter is that a re-engagement or revival of the strategic inter-dependencies between those two countries has a direct bearing on India. While Washington’s view is global and multi-dimensional, Islamabad’s is not — it has always been India-centric and continues to be so.

New Delhi’s greatest concern traditionally has been the transfer of military systems and technology to Islamabad. It is difficult to forget that the Pakistan Air Force dared to attack Indian targets after Balakot simply because it had American-made F-16 fighter aircraft fitted with AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM).

This missile was supplied to the Pakistanis by the US as recently as 2011. India protested against the sales and for good reason too. It was well known that the missiles supplied would be a game changer in the South Asian context given that this particular variant, the 120C, with its range of over 100km, would out-distance any missile currently in the IAF’s arsenal.

Right enough, when it came to the crunch in the post-Balakot skirmish, there was nothing the IAF could do but throw an aircraft at the intruding enemy and get close enough for a shot. The downing of the MiG-21 piloted by Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman proved how much of a disadvantage India was at because of US military transfers to Pakistan.

In recent years, arms transfers by Washington to Pakistan have virtually ceased due to the deteriorating strategic ties since 2016. US President Donald Trump had suspended security and other assistance to Pakistan, accusing Islamabad of repaying US generosity with only “lies and deceit”. The main problem between the two arose from differences over Afghanistan. But now with Islamabad and Washington drawing close to a deal on Afghanistan which would allow an orderly US military withdrawal, the equations once again have changed.

The Taliban, which is controlled by Pakistan’s Army headquarters, seem to have agreed to hold intra-Afghan talks and could be amenable to some sort of power sharing. Perhaps, they might even allow a small US military presence to remain in Afghanistan. However, it is clear that Washington, in its quest to quit the unending Afghan war, is prepared to cede effective control in that country to Islamabad. China could also play a role as guarantor.

President Trump has, however, made it a point to reassure New Delhi that he intends to look after its interests. This is perhaps why he took personal credit for the arrest of arch-terrorist Hafiz Saeed, the mastermind behind the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, in Pakistan on Wednesday. This might suggest that New Delhi may not be left out completely in the cold in these shifting times.

But the story of change doesn’t end here. The Trump administration could be preparing to cosy up to Pakistan not because it hates or dislikes India but because it feels it might need the help of Pakistan’s jihadist generals to further its many and often complex aims in West Asia, where things are in a ferment today.

A hint of what might be in the offing was offered by the US Gen. Mark A. Milley, who was nominated by President Trump as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In his response to questions for his confirmation hearing at the Senate Armed Services Committee, the general stated: “From East Asia to the Middle East to Eastern Europe, authoritarian actors are testing the limits of the international system and seeking regional dominance while challenging international norms and undermining US interests… Our goal should be to sustain great power peace that has existed since World War II, and deal firmly with all those who might challenge us.”

He pointedly mentioned Pakistan as “a key partner in achieving US interests in South Asia, including developing a political settlement in Afghanistan; defeating Al Qaeda and ISIS-Khorasan; providing logistical access for US forces; and enhancing regional stability”.

Significantly, he called for a strengthening of military-to-military ties with Pakistan, adding: “While we have suspended security assistance and paused major defence dialogues, we need to maintain strong military-to- military ties based on our shared interests.” So now it’s back to the good old days of shared interests!

The first-ever summit-level meeting between Pakistan PM Imran Khan and President Trump is due next week (July 22) at the White House. Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who will be there, declared that this invitation constituted an “acknowledgement of the inherent importance” of bilateral ties. He was also quick to add that Pakistan was “mindful” of US priorities in war-torn Afghanistan. The times are indeed changing once again!

Perhaps Islamabad’s strategic importance, as an ultimate guarantor of “peace” in West Asia, has assumed more relevance given the rapid breakdown of Washington’s relations with Turkey, a Nato ally, over the purchase of Russian S-400 missile systems and other major disagreements. President Trump had warned Turkey not to go ahead with the S-400 deal, but Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan responded by declaring the S-400 deal to be “the most important agreement in [Turkish] modern history.” Deliveries of the missile system commenced from July 12.

This constitutes a huge snub to the United States. But things could get worse as some reports suggest that Turkey may be planning to assault parts of northern Syria controlled by Kurdish forces supported by the United States.

Things are also not going well for the Saudis in their war against the tenacious Houthis of Yemen, who are Shias supported by the ayatollahs in Tehran. Other Arab nations are quietly leaving the Saudi war. The regime change effort in Syria too has failed.

All this is reason for Washington to be worried. Hence the move to mend fences with estranged allies. New Delhi, on the other hand, which has big plans for boosting its relations with Washington, must heed the changes that could threaten to prick its ballooning ambitions.

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