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Islamic Voice Logo
MONTHLY    *    Vol 12-11 No:143    *   NOVEMBER 1998/ RAJJAB 1419H
email: editor@islamicvoice.com

BOOK REVIEW


A Reject-all Recipe : Living as a Muslim in a Plural Society


A Reject-all Recipe : Living as a Muslim in a Plural Society

Reviewed by Maqbool Ahmed Siraj

Dr. Fazlur Rahman Faridi

Publisher: Islamic Foundation Trust, 78 Perambur High Road, Chennai-600012.
Pages: 105, Price: Rs.65

Though nation-state is the basis of organisation of the current human society on a larger plain, even a cursory look at the current demographic map of the world suggests that no society is ethnically pure. Travel is now faster and easier. Media and communication technology has vastly reduced the pain of physical distance. Economy too is getting globalised. All these have encouraged families and societies to split and spread and yet retain essential bonds and emotional links. Media enables even smaller ethnic minorities to survive with distinct cultural identity. All these have weakened the aggressive nature of nationalism. Plurality is fast emerging as the basic characteristic of nation-states and all energies are being directed at making them even more accommodative of people from diverse cultural and religious groups.

Most Muslim societies in the past were plural and Muslims were generous in absorbing the useful features of their culture and ensured the security of those groups with their ethos. Yet the basic difference from today's situation lay in the fact that Muslims held the reins of power and determined the overall social conduct in those societies. Today nearly 25 crore Muslims live as minorities in various countries, mostly democracies, such as India, the UK, the USA, Canada, South Africa, Australia and new democracies like Russia and some of its former allies in the Soviet Union.

Islam dealt with the question of zimmies, the non-Muslims who lived within Muslim territories or administration. The Islamic states were responsible for their safety and ensured their social and economic development and justice. But then those were neither nation-states nor participative democracies. Moreover, Islamic sharia did not visualise such a situation where Muslims would be non-dominant participants, enjoying equality at least de jure. Dr. Zainul Abedin, the late editor of Journal, Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs (JIMMA), Jeddah, pioneered the debate on this question through a series of articles by Muslim and non-Muslim intellectuals. Till date, JIMMA remains the only informed forum for such discussion.

Dr. Fazlur Rahman Faridi in the book under review, looks at the question of how a Muslim should live in such a society which had no parallels in the past. Should they choose to co-exist or live in perpetual conflict? The book is mainly a theoretical debate and scrupulously avoids the practical difficulties involved in living as a Muslim minority individual in a non-Muslim society. The author first examines the alternative responses. The first of them to be rejected is the concept of composite culture, which according to Faridi, bases itself on irrationality of religion and dubbed by him as a remnant of the 19th century arrogance of mechanistic society and religion evoking conflict. Reciprocity in inter-community relations, as proposed by various inter-faith dialogue groups of the West is also rejected by Faridi for its insistence on renunciation of Islamic ethical values and being a hazy and fuzzy concept. He proceeds to reject the status quoist construct too, for its goal of equality of all religions, according to him, being misconceived and logically untenable.

Dr. Faridi is rigid and uncompromising in his approach to the subject and says Islam respects a plural society as a de facto situational reality and not as the ultimate ideal. He says that the concept of unity of all religions is a mistaken one and the plural societies are accidents of history, not of Muslims' own making. Presence of Muslims in several societies is owing to beneficial economic interaction, social interaction still being very restricted. This makes him to proceed to see Muslim's place as a 'daiee' (one who calls others to Islam, to be very precise in translation) in a plural society. It is simplistic to think if such a construct could be practicable in majority of minority situations around the globe. An individual does not live in a plural society as a frozen cube. He is a student, teacher, employee, spouse, trader, employer, manufacturer, colleague, neighbour and overall a member of the society. These situations involve interaction and an organic existence. Dawah cannot be the recipe for solution of day-to-day problems of communities as large as the Muslims in India, even though being a cherished yet distant ideal. Some of the perceived in-built asymmetries of Islamic norms of dealing with non-Muslims and lack of reciprocity in matters of similar rights of non-Muslims in Islamic states lead to cussedness and conflict in inter-communal relationship. These are evident from suggested manners of greetings, marriage, question of extent of participation in local festivals (which may not be essentially polytheistic in nature), respect for national symbols, song, slogans, emblem, expressions of patriotic feelings, participation in armed forces etc. etc. to be brief. Exclusivism practised by Muslims in some of these aspects spawns social alienation, something totally repugnant to cordial existence. Dr. Faridi skirts such issues and reduces the book to merely theoretical value. Consequently, the latter half of the book assumes the shape of a compendium on Islamic etiquettes, beliefs, teachings and practices and the promise of an intellectual debate wanes.

The debate on Darul Islam and Darul Kufr provides useful insight into the current situation in various Muslim states and the democratic West and puts the question of Muslim existence there in perspective.

Though the book is well-produced, editing is very poor with glaring omission of basic norms of writing, beginning right from the title page. There is an unmistakable feeling that the contents could have been compressed in not more than 70 pages.

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