Maulana Kalbe Sadiq is perhaps India’s best-known Shia Muslim scholar. He is also the Vice-President of the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board. In this interview with Yoginder Sikand, he discusses a range of issuesrelated to Islam, Muslims and inter-community relations.
How, as an Islamic scholar, do you look at the issue of inter-faith relations?
There are, broadly, two ways of approaching this question. The first is to see it in terms of a so-called ‘clash of civilisations’. Another way is to look at it as an opportunity and a challenge, to work for inter-faith dialogue, and that is what I personally believe in and have tried to follow. I have had numerous dialogues and discussions with Hindu religious leaders in India, and with several Sunni Muslim leaders in India, Pakistan and elsewhere. Dialogue through personal communication and contact, I believe, is the only way to clear misunderstandings and bring the different communities closer.
How do you view the phenomenon of Islamism or Islamic fundamentalism, that is so much talked about today?
See, the Islamic law or shari’ah rests on certain basic fundamentals: intellectual development, spiritual development and production of life, and production of wealth. Now, a society which rests on these principles is a balanced one. If that is what people are struggling for, I support it. But this sort of thing cannot be imposed, because this is an age of dialogue. A truly Islamic society, as Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) defined it, is one where there is complete social justice, which is not to be found in any of the so-called Islamic states in the world today.
Your recent statement in support of family planning created a major furore, with numerous Muslim leaders and writers denouncing it as being allegedly against the shar’iah. What exactly is your stance on the question?
I am not sure of how the press reported my statement. It probably distorted it, but let me state that I supported family planning, not abortion or permanent methods of birth control. My understanding is that Islam allows for a couple to control the number of their children, taking into account their economic circumstances, and this has been the position of most Islamic scholars, of the different Muslim sects, from earliest times till today. At the time of Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh)himself some of his companions practised azl (coitus interruptus), and the Prophet (Pbuh)knew about this and did not prohibit it. This means, therefore, that it is allowed.
What do you feel should be the role of the ulama in Muslim society? What are your own feelings about how the ulama function today?
A true alim, as Imam ‘Ali once mentioned in a sermon, is one who struggles for the end of oppression and for the establishment of social justice. I do respect the present-day ‘ulama, but I must say that, on the whole, they have cut themselves off from the public, from issues of contemporary social concern. Most of them do not have any interest in working to alleviate the sufferings of the people, as the Prophet did (Pbuh).
What are your views about the ongoing debates on madrasa reforms?
There is an immense stagnation of thought (jamud-i fikri) in most of the madrasas, and this is a major problem. The major focus in the madrasas is on the nitty-gritty of ritual actions, and there is really no effort to provide the students with an awareness of the major issues in the wider world.
Increasingly, in places such as Pakistan, there has been an alarming rise in Shi’a-Sunni clashes. How do you account for this and what can be done to stop the spread of sectarian conflict?
I do not believe that there is any inherent conflict between Shi’as and Sunnis. After all, there are no Shi’a-Sunni clashes in India. Even in Pakistan it is not really a Shi’a-Sunni conflict. Ordinary Shi’as and Sunnis in Pakistan live together in peace. The real cause of these incidents of violence is political, and politicians and some mullahs who claim to be religious leaders have a vested interest in instigating sectarian violence.
At the theological level, how do you think Shi’a-Sunni differences can be resolved?
We cannot do away with all our differences, but we can narrow them down and learn to live with those that remain. These different sects (mazhab, maslak) are human creations, while true religion (din) is from God. That is why the Qur’an uses the word ‘din’ and not ‘mazhab’ and ‘maslak’. So, you can remain associated with whatever sect you want, but you must also remember that all the different sects are made by human beings. Since the ‘din’ is divine, it must be primary, and only after that need one identify himself with one of the many sects if you wish. The problem arises when you reverse the order, and you place something that is a human product over and above that which is divine.
When I point this out in my lectures, people realise the futility of sectarian violence and conflicts. You also have to appeal to people by your own character and through peaceful dialogue. Let me give you an example. It is said that some Ahl-i Hadith scholars consider the Shi’as as infidels. Once, I was travelling with Maulana Abdul Wahhab Khilji, a senior Indian Ahl-i Hadith leader, and I overheard him say to another maulvi that many of his friends were opposed to his friendship with me on account of my being a Shi’a. He, however, told his friends that he would be happy if I were to accept him like my own son! The point I am trying to make is that people change their views not through polemical wars, but by being influenced by the character and behaviour of others. If you show that you love them, they will express their love for you, too. Hatred only produces further hatred, making the problem even more intractable. And this principle is as valid in the case of intra-Muslim differences as it is, say, in the case of Hindu-Muslim relations.