Islam is, however, not only the Book, but also its manifestation in the life of a unique human being who was sent to close the
Prophetic cycle. His life has been preserved to such an extent that we know what he said when he got up from his bed and what he did when he went to sleep and what he said and did in numerous other situations of his life.
By Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal
A logical answer to this question would be: the One who revealed the religion of Islam. But since He does not speak to humanity directly, it would logically mean His speech as manifested in the Qur’an. The Qur’an, however, is a book and books do not speak; they are read by human beings and therefore the right to speak about Islam passes on to those who have the knowledge of the Book. Islam is, however, not only the Book, but also its manifestation in the life of a unique human being who was sent to close the Prophetic cycle. His life has been preserved to such an extent that we know what he said when he got up from his bed and what he did when he went to sleep and what he said and did in numerous other situations of his life. This body of scholarship, the Hadith, together with the Book, in which there is no doubt, are the foundations of Islam. Thus, the most logical answer to the question, ‘who speaks for Islam’ should be: those who possess knowledge of the Book and of the life of the one to whom the Book was revealed.
This, however, is only a straightforward answer in theory because as soon as one starts to deal with reality, one comes face to face with a wide range of interpretation of the Book and an equally wide range of opinions about the body of literature called Hadith. In addition to competing interpretations, the foreground is utterly cluttered with rhetoric, politics, struggle for oil, international intrigues and hegemonic designs, and the rest of complexity of this post-modern world.
All of these factors have always been there and Muslims have been divided in their political behavior for centuries, but the situation has never been so complex as it is now, because in the previous centuries, there was a stable middle ground: rulers did what they used to do and the palace intrigues and political struggles of a small group of human beings produced a certain amount of disorder in the polity, but most human beings lived out their lives in relative isolation from these grand intrigues. The state did not control individual lives as it does now. Most human beings did not have much to do with it: their existence was not recorded in registers; they were not reduced to a number on their national identity cards and there was far less state interference in daily routines of life than it is now.
The present situation is utterly different from any previous situation in which Muslims have lived: the post-9/11 era has forced a rapid transformation of Muslim polity across the globe. The unleashing of the war of terror—and it must always be called war of terror and not war on terror—has been accompanied by a sharp increase in rhetorical battles and enormous changes to ground realities in the historic Shia-Sunni wedge. A very important part of the Middle East is now fuming with rage because of the rise of the Arab Shia political power in Iraq, which has initiated a battle for the rise of Shia power in Bahrain, which in turn involves the custodians of the two sanctified houses.
In addition to creating this battle ground, the post-9/11 push has succeeded in equating Islam and Muslims with terrorism, even though the reality is opposite to this perception which has been projected on the global scene by the cunning use of willing and involved media, technology, and through brute and raw power. To date, there is no external and verifiable evidence of who was the real master mind behind the events of September 11, 2001, but even if one takes the US government’s official story as true, there is simply no correspondence between the events of that terrible day and the number of human beings who were killed on 9/11 and what has been done to Muslims around the world since then. There is no justice in this response; it is sheer barbaric and brute response to a yet-to-be explained event.
It is, however, the longer term implication of that barbaric ruthlessness that is the subject here: as collateral damage of this war of terror, there is now no one who speaks for Islam. In the absence of authentic voices, there are illiterate politicians and military generals who shake in their pants by the slightest pressure from Washington DC, who have become the sole voices for Muslims. In addition, the post-9/11 scenario has all but killed the possibility of the awakening of Muslim polity that seemed just around the corner following the momentous events of 1979. That short-lived euphoria of an Islamic resurgence—which was heralded by a dramatic and revolutionary change in Iran in 1979, the emergence of oil power in the Arab world, and many other factors—has all but disappeared. Instead, we have a retreating Islam, if one can use this term.
Any act of terrorism around the globe is now automatically ascribed to Muslims, as was the case with recent mass murder in Norway. Muslims are guilty unless they prove themselves innocent; in all other cases, it is the reverse. Even if one construes this situation as an artificial creation of a devilish super power, it remains the operative reality not only in the Western world, but also within the Muslim world where anyone with a beard and a hijab is automatically a suspicious person. Another consequence of this war against Islam and Muslims is the enormous leverage Western powers have gained in the internal affairs of the Muslim world. From Pakistan to Libya and from Egypt to Tunisia, there is hardly a Muslim country where “independence” is a meaningful word anymore.