What’s Wrong With Us? Time For Serious Muslim Introspection

Why is the Muslim world burning? What explains this turmoil everywhere? We have long blamed the West for this mess. Perhaps it’s time we looked at our own role in contributing to this state of affairs.

By Aijaz Zaka Syed

ENDLESS TRAGEDY...A Syrian man carries a wounded girl following an explosion that targeted a military bus near Qudssaya, a neighborhood of the Syrian capital. AFP

Watching the latest fun and games in Iraq and the fine mess that the empire has made of the fabled Mesopotamia is both edifying and sobering. This is where it all began: Civilization, society, culture, art and perhaps life itself. The home of Euphrates and Tigris, the cradle of civilization.

This is the land of Dar Al Hikma, the house of wisdom from where the light of knowledge shone across the world and saw the Muslim civilization touch the pinnacle of its glory.

This is where the magical world of the thousand and one nights came alive and Scheherazade spawned myriad fantastic tales.  This is where scholars like Imam Abu Hanifa taught tens of thousands of seekers of knowledge who came from far corners of the known world.

This is where Imam Hussain, the great martyred grandson of the Prophet, lies buried. He went down, with the rest of his family in Karbala, valiantly fighting in what is known as the ultimate epic battle between the good and evil.

It remains the most tragic event in Islamic history and – that of the world – as it saw the Prophet’s grandson and almost the entire family martyred at the hands of his followers. And it wouldn’t be the first or the last time that Iraq would see the bloodletting of Muslims at the hands of fellow believers.

Iraq is witnessing another epic battle today, perhaps to end all battles, as they always claim.

Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani last week called for a jihad to fight the marching hordes of ISIS fighters.  It is a battle between the good and evil, insisted his spokesperson during the Friday sermon.

In response, tens of thousands of Shia men, young and old, are rushing to enroll themselves, many of them from neighboring countries and even doctors and professionals living and working in Western climes, in what they see as the ‘holy war.’

A woman during a protest in New York City against the conflict in Syria.

Given the sharp, sectarian battle-lines already drawn across the Middle East, we may be in for an Armageddon, a free-for-all war that threatens to consume the whole of Islamic world.

Is this indeed a battle between the good and evil though? Who is right and who is wrong? There are no easy, simple answers.  What I see is a fratricide, a battle between brothers. What I see is the red tide of Muslim blood drowning and overwhelming the borders of the Middle East.

And whoever wins in this war, in the end it is the so-called Ummah and all that it stands for which will be the loser. It already seems to have lost. You will have to experience the sweetness and light that the Sunnis and Shias have been spreading against each other in social media and from the pulpit to know what I mean.

In response to my piece about Iraq last week, I received scores of mails from both sides of the divide. All of them accusing me of taking the other’s side while listing the historical crimes the other side apparently visited on their community.  I didn’t know we were capable of such unadulterated hatred and spite against our own!

I wonder if they follow the same faith, the same Book and the same Prophet? How did we end up here? Of course, much of this mess in Iraq – comedian Jon Stewart rightly calls it Mess-o-potamia – and extended neighborhood is a legacy of the empire.

The role our Israeli and Zionist friends have played in the US invasion of Iraq is also well known and documented.  Indeed, their shenanigans aren’t confined to Iraq.   The whole of the Middle East remains the target.

A toddler holds a placards as Indian Shia Muslim women participate in a protest rally in Bangalore on January 18, 2013 against the Shia killings in Pakistan. AFP photo.A toddler holds a placards as Indian Shia Muslim women participate in a protest rally in Bangalore on January 18, 2013 against the Shia killings in Pakistan. AFP photo.

The object is not just an all-powerful Greater Israel, from the river to the sea.  The plan envisions and necessitates the dismemberment and dispossession of the whole neighborhood.  This is what the Zionists and Christian extremists have long dreamed of and have been working towards it–silently and dispassionately.

I am not a sucker for conspiracy theories.  But this growing Shia-Sunni fratricide from Arabia to Central Asia fits in nicely with the plot.  And those who promote and fuel sectarian hatred and call for arms against each other, in the name of Sunni or Shia Islam, are deliberately or otherwise advancing the designs and agenda of those who see Islam as the last stumbling block in the way to their total global hegemony.

And these so-called champions of faith, these spurious scholars issuing edicts declaring each other apostate and justifying the killing of innocent Muslims have proved themselves far more dangerous and harmful than our open enemies. For they sit in our midst to undermine us from within.

You cannot go on blaming the West and Israel for all our woes. In this respect, our own incredible talents haven’t exactly been found wanting–from perpetually plotting against each other to abusing power by our elites.

Despite all the resources including oil which is the lifeblood of global economy being at their disposal all these years, if Muslim countries remain so far behind the rest of the world on every front, who is to blame?

Look at the farce that has been going on in the name of democracy and justice in the neighborhood.  Those who dared to bring about the change by way of democracy and through peaceful means find themselves behind the bars.  The messenger is shot down with the message.

And those who lectured us ad infinitum about democracy, freedom and free speech look the other way as these very ideals are trampled upon with an audacity that is breathtaking.  If Orwell had lived long enough he would have to invent a new language and grammar to make sense of the state of affairs prevailing today.

Is it any wonder then the groups like ISIS, Al-Qaeda and Taliban are increasingly winning? When the voices of reason, sanity and peace are suppressed, when people are denied their legitimate aspirations and are deprived of their basic human dignity, extremism wins.

This is what is happening across the region, from the edge of Africa to Arab Maghreb and Iraq and Syria (western commentators have started calling it ‘Syraq’!) to Pakistan and Afghanistan and beyond.

For far too long, Muslim intellectuals and governments have urged–and rightly of course—the Western powers to look at the roots of this conflict to understand the phenomenon of extremism and violence in the region and around the world.  Perhaps, it is about time we pose the same question to ourselves.

What has been our own—both individual and collective—role in contributing to this state of all-round chaos and corruption? Surely, we wouldn’t have come this far entirely without some of our own efforts and double standards helping it.

Why the Middle East remains stuck in a time warp and with absolutism, oppression and corruption in the 21st century when the rest of the world has moved on is something that all of us–especially our elites, intellectuals and politicians–need to ask ourselves.

This is certainly not something that our faith gifted us.  It came to liberate us.  Those who truly embraced it transformed the world.  It is who have invented all these chains and bonds to enslave ourselves.  It is we who chose to remain unfree and prisoners of monsters of our own creation.  Perhaps, it is about time we faced our demons.

Urdu version of this article appeared in daily Inquilab 28 June 2014 and English on Caravan Daily

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