Between the Muslims and Islam: A missed boundary

The West must not judge Islam by the Muslims

The Islamic teachings about different subjects generally associated with Western values or systems like on human rights or democracy are highly debated across the globe. There are countless researches on Islam and its teachings about human rights, especially related to those of women; there are scholarly writings examining the compatibility of Islam and democracy and again, there are a lot of concerns about Islam’s alleged association with terrorism. In other words, Islamic teachings or principles are highly debated by international scholars, mostly by the Western, and clear distinctions are made or explored between Islamic civilization and the West.

Interestingly, while taking Islamic teachings as objective in many cases, international scholars have drawn different conclusions about the same subject. For example, while examining the relation between Islam and democracy, a special report titled Islam and democracy, published by the United States Institute of Peace concluded that the non-democratic nature of government in Muslim countries has more to do with historical, cultural, political and economic factors than with the religious one. There are many scholars like Huntington, Lipset, Lewis, Pipes and the list continues, who, while examining the compatibility of Islam and democracy reached to a conclusion that Islam and democracy are incompatible.

On the other hand, there is a good number of those scholars, such as Kramer, Halliday, Esposito and Voll among many others, who believe that Islam and democracy are not conflicting with each other. The conclusions are different and this is obviously understandable as the researchers have used different variables or parameters to examine the relation between Islam and democracy.

The scientific data gathered on different variables mixed with the interpretations of researchers could inevitably bring different extrapolations forward but as far as the understanding of Islamic teachings is concerned, many scholars use the Muslim practices as sole determinants, which is irrational.

Even then, we cannot expect that scholars would get to the same conclusion and by the way, this is not required, but at least one could see an unbiased image of Islam. Finally, its about time Muslims accept the responsibility to bridge this widening gap between Islamic teachings and Muslim practices, and emerge as the true representatives of Islam.

Here, the debate is not about the compatibility of Islam and Western civilization rather the point highlighted is that Muslims are the humans who have entered into Islam and Islam is a religion which is differently interpreted by Muslims. To what degree they enter into Islam determines how well they practice what is preached– the failure to do so has created a gulf between Islamic principles and Muslim practices.

Even the principles are interpreted differently; on the basis of difference of interpretations and certainly beliefs, Muslims have divided themselves into different sects. A step ahead is that, at a broader level, on the basis of Muslims perceptions about Islamic teachings, their interpretation and will of implementation of Islam, there are different categories of Muslims like conservatives, reformists and secular. This doesn’t end here, on the basis of Muslims’ misinterpretations of Islam, there are further different terrorist groups in which Muslims have been manipulating Islamic ideology as a motivation for spreading terrorism which is then used as a bridge by the West to link Islam with terrorism.

In short, Muslims interpretations about Islamic teachings are different and ultimately translate into a diversity in their practices. But, as far as Muslim practices are concerned, they are not always, in fact, rarely, aligned with Islamic teachings– not even with their own interpretations of Islam. Moreover, the phenomenon of politicisation of Islam is witnessed to grow in Muslim states where Islam is used by the politicians as a tool to serve their interests.

Additionally, more of the Muslim societies are following their cultures which are highly influenced by the Western culture. Similarly, the Muslim economies are highly inspired by capitalism which involves interests and accumulation of wealth in a few hands, not being absolutely aligned with Islamic economic teachings which allow growth but encourage distribution of wealth.

The point must be understood that there is an unseen boundary which differentiates Muslim practices from those of the Islamic teachings, and all that today’s Muslim does is not taught by Islam and all that Islam teaches is not purely done by the Muslims.

In fact, there is not a single Muslim country which is fully following the teachings of Islam. Therefore, the debates on Islamic teachings versus the Western system should either use primary source of Islam such as the Quran, for understanding Islamic teachings or if not, at least the debaters should demarcate a boundary between the Islamic way and the Muslim way of dealing with state or societal matters or they can also shift their debates to Muslims practices versus Western civilization.

To interpret on the basis of interpretations of Muslims about Islam, or using Muslims’ practices as a source of interpreting Islamic teachings is not a rational approach. If Muslims misinterpret Islam and make it a motivation for spreading terrorism, such as Al-Qaeda, which is considered a terrorist organization by international scholars, then it must be understood that neither all the Muslims are members of these organizations nor do all the Muslims support them.

There are only a few Muslims who perceive that their acts are rightful. So, at the end of the day, these are Muslims who are misinterpreting, more importantly, manipulating Islam for serving their cause where Islam itself, remains the same for all and is not different from its essence, rather it is perceived or interpreted differently.

Therefore, Islam should not be blamed for that which means that the Western conception about Islam which has generated the concept of Islamophobia needs to be revised by them.

In order to compare Islam with western civilization, or understand the convergences and divergences in Islam and the West, scholars must understand Islam and Islamic teachings objectively and contextually, rather than solely drawing conclusions from Muslims and Muslim practices

Even then, we cannot expect that scholars would get to the same conclusion and by the way, this is not required, but at least one could see an unbiased image of Islam. Finally, its about time Muslims accept the responsibility to bridge this widening gap between Islamic teachings and Muslim practices, and emerge as the true representatives of Islam.

Amna Shehzadi
Amna Shehzadi
The writer is a freelance columnist

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