During the times of Jesus, scholars of the Torah would hide parts of it from the masses in order to keep them deliberately ignorant of the teachings contained in it and used its rulings selectively within society, so as to favour the rich and powerful people against those who were less privileged. They perhaps appeared to have the well-being of the people close to their hearts, but still played upon their feelings to their own advantage. Jesus gave severe warnings of hell to them.
The Quraish before the advent of Islam were no different. History tells us that they were divided on the basis of class and wealth. There were the elite, who were political and religious leaders, oppressing the majority — the poor, the downtrodden. Because of the imbalance of power, the latter could easily be swayed into submitting and believing what the former would ask them to. They converted the House of God into a worship place of idols that catered to all tribes of Arabia, and they earned both income and status by being custodians of the Ka’aba, using this unique position for their personal and tribal interests.
Islam’s primary message being one of submission to one God was no different from that of Christianity, Judaism or any faith calling people to worship a single Being and doing good deeds in preparation for life after death.
The Prophet provided an example of how Muslims could live in harmony with people of other faiths, with love, acceptance and justice. Subsequently, Muslims demonstrated how their belief in God could give strength to a rational mind, and great scientists, philosophers and mathematicians were born.
The light of knowledge spread out from the Muslim world. Much of the technology of today has its origins in the inventions and discoveries of Muslims between the 9th and 13th centuries. Muslims were free: they were free to think, free to debate and free to use the rational powers bestowed upon humans by God. One of the main aspects of Islamic thought that is distinct from other faiths was that there was no formal clergy. There were scholars who argued academically and could certainly influence the common people. But their role was to educate people, not to rule them. The responsibility of belief depended on the individual and there was no coercion in religion.
Today, almost complete intellectual decay, ostentatiousness and misuse of religion to incite violence and spread chaos is rampant in many Muslim countries. A common feature is repression on the part of ‘religious’ men. When people begin to rely upon those they perceive to be scholars to interpret their religious beliefs for them, a master-servant relationship is born where the one in control can cause one’s belief and hence one’s emotions to swerve in any direction.
This approach, complemented by national and international power plays, has brought Muslims to the state that they currently find themselves in across the world, especially in countries that not only repress their own people but form alliances with states hostile to Islam to gain political power. A Muslim alliance minus a major Muslim country claims to fight terrorism, which in itself was nurtured by many of its members.
Countries that call themselves Islamic, having provided the institution of the state the doubtful and unnecessary legitimacy of being ‘Muslim’, are probably the worst examples of religious repression and control. While in some countries clerics have assumed the formal garb of being in power and government, others are increasingly controlled, albeit indirectly, by men of various factions and groups, all claiming to be saviours of Islam. Wielding the instrument of rhetoric and their ability to mobilise half literates, these individuals roam freely and have the power to negotiate agreements with governments on their own terms.
Their sway over some people has reached a point where all they have to say is that the sanctity of their faith is in danger, and thousands come out to cause havoc and bring the lives of millions to a standstill. This is when the religion they profess to believe in says very clearly: “… The punishment of those who… strive with might and main for mischief through the land … their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter”.
Much of the fasaad around us is a result of political manipulation and desire for power. This arises from the feigned or deliberate distortion of God’s word. Equally, there are many who follow their leaders blindly and believe in the oft irrational, misguided and distorted versions of what love of religion really means. They have not read what the Quran says: “Hold to forgiveness; command what is right; But turn away from the ignorant”.