By Saad Hafiz
Arguably, absolutism has played a part in some of the worst social and political evils throughout history. While there is little doubt that religion has made a valuable contribution to civilisation, religious absolutism has also exercised a pernicious influence at times. No one can deny the atrocities of the Crusades or the Inquisition and other evils started by the Church. Bloodshed justified by religious dictum became a widely accepted doctrine. People were branded dissenters, apostates and heretics, and ruthlessly eliminated. The terrible absolutist extremes of unbridled secular nationalism, Bonapartism and fascism are well documented. Recently, though, in contrast to a decline in secular sources of violence, the peace and prosperity of the world is being seriously threatened primarily by extremists who believe in using violence to promote and defend Islam. This violence has reinforced the perception in the west that Islam more than any other religion is amenable to absolutism. It is no longer enough to say that the spirit and letter of Islam works against absolutism.
See More: ‘Islam is in danger’ and ‘pure’ Islam must be protected at all costs from heretics and corrupting western influences. | A war of narratives
A problem with religion seems to be too much public faith, a loyalty to an absolute that excludes accommodation of other realities. Every religion is exclusive, lays claim to absolute truth and demands blind obedience. Judaism views the messiah-ship of Jesus as blasphemy. The greatest sin in Islam is to associate anything or anyone with Allah. Therefore, Christians who believe in the Holy Trinity are guilty of this sin. Buddhism and Hinduism deny the existence of a personal God while Hinduism refuses to bend on its teachings of the law of karma and reincarnation. Secular or less observant Jews in the US and Israel are considered no better than equally disparaged gentiles by ultra-Orthodox Haredi Jews. Some very conservative segments of evangelical Protestantism do not consider Roman Catholics to be authentic Christians. Salafi Muslims in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere are dismissive of any deviation from their interpretation of Islam by more moderate Muslims, especially the Sufi branch of the religion. Many Sunni Muslims in Arab states and their leaders view the Shia branch as heretical.
See More: There are analysts who argue that Muslims are not ready for democracy and that elections would only translate into victory for hardline Islamists. The facts tell a different story. | Living with political Islam
While the vast majority of Muslims today are kind, generous and peace-loving people who are committed to social justice, there is also a large number of believers who have been brainwashed into believing that every word of the religious scriptures are true, and so they reject scientific explanations. They oppose democracy and freedom of speech because they fear that modern democratic values will eventually replace conservative, religious ones. This set of believers is often absolutist, self-righteous, arrogant, dogmatic and impatient of compromise. They practice intolerance of other religions as well as of internal dissent and have a propensity towards violence. They are selective in their interpretation of their sacred texts: the Quran and hadith, not to mention sharia and Islamic history. They dream of a world purified by Islam and dedicated entirely to the worship of a vengeful God. For them, disbelief is the main cause of evil and democracy breeds disbelief by encouraging people to satisfy their own interests instead of living to serve the will of God. They believe that secular forms of government are a violation of God’s sovereignty over the earth and, therefore, all nations must submit themselves to the rule of Islamic theocracy. They are strongly convinced that Islam is the way to a perfect world. They can arouse powerful and sometimes irrational impulses, and can easily destabilise society, cause political havoc and create a veritable hell on earth. This goes against the original intent of religion, which was to encourage people to abandon greed, hatred and perversion so that they might make their own enlightened moral judgments based upon honesty, equality and compassion rather than following the often barbaric moral dictates of ancient religious scriptures.
See More: In the closed, fearful world of Islamic discussion, a discourse on these issues is considered offensive, dangerous or both. | A time for introspection
As with all organic symbols rooted deeply in human identities, Islam — like all other religions — is open to abuse by those seeking to wield power and terror. Whatever Islam’s problems and failures, they are the result of human fallibility, not some contrived view of religion or God. The issue, rather, is absolutism. Every human being has their own conception of how to achieve ‘the good life’ but, besides very limited exceptions, it is wrong and unnatural to impose these onto anyone else. One of the most important things in common with belief systems that turn into absolutist ideologies is that, despite their supposedly noble aims for humanity, they begin to violently enforce these beliefs onto people regardless of whether or not they agree. Islam is no different because, like all other beliefs, it is a spectrum and can be manipulated to its extremity for the sake of power. For the human community to eradicate intolerance, hatred and violence between faiths, and even within the same faith family, in this new century, will require that freedom of conscience and respect for believers of all faiths, and no supernatural faith, become paramount. Also, anti-absolutist ideals that are respectful of all religious stances must be revived.
See More: Part of the problem is that, in Islam, it is not the religious message that promotes the faith into the halls of political power as in Judaism and Christianity; it is an original state of political and military strength that promotes the religious message. | Islamic reformation
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