By Iftekhar Hai -
Oakland Tribune - CA, U.S.A.
Thursday, July 13, 2006
Understanding and interpreting the Koran is an art, a science, and an inspired
Sufi commentators living in Islam from the 10th to the 15th century answered
questions in their own unique way.
They said that every verse of the Koran has four kinds of meaning: an esoteric
sense, an inner sense, a limit, and a lookout point. What this means is each
person is an island, gifted with varied intelligence, flowering in pluralism and
diversity, where differences of opinions and perceptions were looked upon as a
blessing in building intra-lingual and intra-cultural societies.
All this is removed from the Koran, when interpreted by the fundamentalists.
When the West underwent profound technological, economic, cultural and political
changes, Muslim societies fell behind because of fundamentalist thinking in an
idealized theocratic system -- held sacred and disseminated through schools.
The Sufi thinkers welcomed an import of ideas by reformists who did not wish to
sacrifice either Islam or modernity. They insisted in being genuinely democratic
But the theocratic leaders refused to learn foreign languages, science, and
technology, ensuring backwardness for their people.
The European Renaissance owes a lot to Sufi-minded Arabs who had translated and
enriched Greek philosophy and sciences, which were lost. And Arabic numerals
were introduced into Europe in the 10th century by Sylvester II, the first
French Pope, and an admirer of Arab-Islamic civilization.
In a dishonest interpretation of the Koran, Muslim women have suffered for
centuries at the hands of men and mullahs, and they still do.
Thirteenth century Mullahs justified the execution of the great Sufi thinkers.
Unfortunately, it was their deaths that precipitated the decline of the Muslim
world and eventually stifled reflection or innovation. Therefore, the principles
of democracy were forever buried.
Fundamentalists maintain nothing has changed since the age of the Prophet. And
they do not like it when the incompatibility between fundamentalist
interpretation of divine Islamic law and human rights is pointed out to them.
Moderation in Islam is not incompatible with human rights, nor is Islam
incompatible with pluralism and its corollary -- a secular state. Muslims are
enjoined to respect democracy and respect authority.
For me, there goes not a day when I -- together with the Silicon Valley
entrepreneurs -- worry about how a theology of liberation can be used toward
freeing religion from social, political and religious structures and ideas based
on injustice and exploitation.
Lessons of love, compassion and forgiveness, which are integral part of the
great faith are altogether absent in the teachings of the fundamentalists. So
are scholarship and reflection.
Iftekhar Hai is the president of the United Muslims of America Interfaith
Thursday, November 16, 2006