- On sadism masquerading as religion
It may not be conscious on the part of the more ardent religious folks, but this comes to the fore every so often when one converses with them. Its last instance was a few days back during a discussion on the lunar calendar. My opponent kept presenting arguments in favour of visual observation. I kept giving counterarguments. After this to-and-fro that went on for a while, he remarked (by way of signalling the conclusion of the discussion) that the only reason behind the very debate was ‘desirability seeking its room in Islamic jurisprudence’ (as if it were a crime!). When was desirability not a part of Islamic jurisprudence? I asked. Was it not the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) himself who instructed: Yassiru wa la tuassiru [Make (matters) easy and not difficult]? I failed to get a response to this.
The general approach among Muslims for many centuries now has been exactly the opposite of this instruction. Which is very unfortunate because countless debates over many an issue get affected by this sadistic preference for making life difficult for others, a preference that seems to have pervaded the very DNA of our religious classes.
It is not as if anybody is advocating changing the black and white parts of religion in the interest of convenience or ease. What is under discussion are the grey areas, especially problems raised by new inventions and the societies based on them, problems for which there are no explicit instructions. If, in such cases, there are two obvious avenues and the only ‘shortcoming’ of the one is that it is convenient and more practical, so what is wrong with that? Why vilify that and prefer (and even glorify) the difficult one if sadism is not at play?
This preference for the difficult over the simple sadly has a long history in our tradition. It has multiple consequences, all of them devastating. First, it robs the institution of ijtihad of any originality and freshness for fear of the solution being ‘too convenient’.
The question of how the honourable member (or anybody else for that matter) can differentiate between grooming and designing apart, the sadistic craving for seeing punishment meted out (that too, in the name of religion) though disconcerting, is by no means out of character for a society where schadenfreude seems to be getting more widespread by the day.
Another manifestation of the obsession for making matters difficult for others is even more calamitous. It has successfully been drilled into the heads of the bulk of the masses that they must follow one jurisprudence school in toto (in every matter, for the principle as well as its applications), that they are not allowed to pick and choose between the imams from different schools. That would be too convenient and would therefore be unacceptable. The different schools differ considerably in many matters (as is very natural); and since their leaders are not infallible there are bound to be cases where one school offers a more reasonable solution to a problem than the other. What, pray, is wrong in opting for the most reasonable one irrespective of where one finds it? In addition to causing much pain and inconvenience all around, this is precisely the sort of narrow-mindedness that fosters provincialism and ultimately leads to sectarianism.
This picking and choosing will open the gateway to insincerity and men becoming slaves to personal preferences, one is told. That people are likely to use this freedom to choose the easiest, not the most reasonable option. This sort of reasoning suffers from many limitations: One, it presupposes that the easiest and the most reasonable must necessarily be different things. Two, it takes for granted that people given a freedom will necessarily misuse it. Three, it focuses on intentions of people (which are unknown to anybody but Allah). We would be much better advised thinking the best on the part of others and devoting our energies to better things than worrying about what goes on inside a man’s breast. Let us leave the judgment of people’s motivations and intentions to Allah.
One can easily recognize this perversion when it appears under slightly different garbs as well. To give a familiar example, many a divorce (pronounced in the wrong way and hence falling in the grey area) is implemented under social pressure, because reconciliation of the couple would be ‘too convenient’ for many people’s liking. ‘The husband obviously is having second thoughts now that he has realized all the implications!’ is the standard argument used. ‘And your problem is?’ one so wants to ask.
Last month, MPA Rukhsana Kausar of PML(N) submitted a resolution in the Punjab Assembly calling for stern punishment to those indulging in the practice of ‘designing’ their beards. The question of how the honourable member (or anybody else for that matter) can differentiate between grooming and designing apart, the sadistic craving for seeing punishment meted out (that too, in the name of religion) though disconcerting, is by no means out of character for a society where schadenfreude seems to be getting more widespread by the day.