Form over substance
Recently, the Lahore High Court dismissed a petition seeking to abolish of the use of term ‘My Lord’ for judges and the act of bowing before them. This single case reflects so aptly what is wrong with us as Muslims. It reminds me of the constant condemnation of devotees for performing the act of prostration at shrines as ‘shirk’. I don’t personally agree with the act of prostration at a shrine or elsewhere but all those who severely condemn it as ‘shirk’ should care to think about the intent behind that act. The act of prostration before Allah is for His worship (Sajdah al-ibadah). It is not the act itself which automatically embodies the spirit of worship but the intent of the one performing it which makes it so. Otherwise, didn’t Allah ask the angels to bow before Adam (pbuh)? Doesn’t the Quran mention the family of Prophet Yousaf (pbuh) prostrating before him? Have we ever paused to think that if a person chooses to do so at a shrine or in court, whether he is doing it with the intention of worship or merely out of respect (Sajdah al-tazeem)? In any case for a sajdah, there needs to be eight parts of body touching the ground (hands, feet, knees, nose and the forehead). Moreover, the sajdah could only be declared as worship if the person is doing it with that intention. It is only when these two conditions are met that a person can be committing shirk while bowing down in front of anyone except Allah.
Similarly, the term ‘Lord’ is linguistically used for a person who is in authority over a jurisdiction. It is used metaphorically for God. Even in Arabic, the word ‘Lord’ is translated to ‘rabb’ and has other uses. It can be used in various phrases like Rabb al-manzil (head of the house) or Rabb al-maal (capital investor). However, on its own, the word ‘rabb’ is only used as an epithet of Allah. Elucidating the same point the fatwa research committee at Islam Today explains: “The spectrum of meaning of the word ‘Lord’ is broader than its translation ‘rabb’ in Arabic. A Muslim speaking English can use it in accordance with English conventions. Its meaning is defined by its context and while in some contexts it only applies to the Divine, in other contexts it applies to various civil authorities. When the term ‘My Lord’ is used to address a judge at a court of law – there is no problem, since there is no ambiguity regarding the intent. Each language’s words must be used properly according to the conventions of the language in question.”
On a deeper level, as stated in the beginning, it shows that Islam has been relegated to a religion of form and not substance, of letter and not spirit. The physicality of Islam has taken precedence while its spirit has faded into oblivion. To have your shalwar above your ankles, your head covered with a flowing beard is more important than kindness towards fellow humans and being upright. Like Naseer-ud-din Shah’s character says in the film Khuda Keliye ‘Darhi deen ki inteha hai ibteda nahi’, but who cares? It’s more important to look like a Muslim than simply being one.
Saying prayers five times is religiously followed no matter how devious and dishonest we are otherwise. The point is if our namaz cannot result in us being better people, then it is merely reduced to an exercise regime. How appropriate then when Iqbal said ‘Log kehte hain bas Farz ada karna hai, aisa lagta hai jaise koi karz ada karna hai’. One should ask the petitioners if it sounds okay to them to be entertaining all the worldly thoughts instead of God while in the middle of a sajdah during a namaz. Isn’t that blasphemous?
Upon returning from a trip to the Scandinavian countries Iqbal remarked, while alluding to their general good character, that ‘I saw a lot of Muslims over there but no Islam whereas in my home country all I see is Islam but no Muslims’. We are quick to make a record smashing sized cake to celebrate the Prophet’s (pbuh) birthday rather than celebrating it by trying to follow his footsteps. To them, the label ‘Musalmaan’ is enough for salvation in the hereafter.
Tum hayya aur shariyat ke takazon ki baat karte ho
Humne nangey jimson ko malboos-e-hayya dekha hai
Humne dekhein hain ehraam mai lipte kayi iblees
Humne may khaney mai kai baar khuda dekha hai -(Iqbal)
The writer belongs to a fakir family and works as a development consultant in Lahore.