What to do? (Part 3)

Communicated

The Light (Pakistan), 1st March 1923 Issue (Vol. 2, No. 5, p. 2–3)

Religion too or, more properly, the wrong interpretation of it, has, as I said in my last [article], tended on the whole to enslave rather than to liberate. The Quran was given to us as our Magna Carta; we made it into another shackle on our freedom of the soul.

Revelation comes to revive and resuscitate. Like showers of rain — so the Quran puts it — which, being a message of renewed life to the dead soil, the Word of God comes to stir and awaken the soul of man. That the soul may bud, blossom, and bear fruit — is the one object of religion; its sole purpose.

Such is every religion at its inception. It kindles the spark of life in the heart of man. It sends a thrill of vivacity all through his frame. To him, life assumes a new meaning, a higher value. His soul breaks through all restraints; his heart expands. No longer does he live for the day and the dust. He lives for things higher, things nobler. He interprets life in different terms — terms of eternity. His life is filled with light, with harmony, with music. In one word, he becomes alive.

Such was Islam in its palmy day, in the days when a Muslim youth would not tarry to finish the few dates in his hand and dart into the thick of the battle; in the days when a Tarik [Tariq bin Ziyad] burnt his fleet on the coast of Spain, throwing the gauntlet to the whole of Europe; in the days when a Saladin’s [Salahuddin Ayyubi’s] daring and chivalry rang through the length and breadth of Christendom; in the days when Muslim lads knew the value of liberty and courted enlistment by competitive wrestling matches; in the days when a Muslim hoary head would rather fall on the field of action in the course of right than breathe its last on bed; in the days when Muslim women had the pluck to take an Umar [Hazrat Umar (rta)] to task for his omission; when honour was dearer than life and a Khola [Khawlah bint al-Azwar] had the go to knock enemy brains out with tent poles.

Such was the golden age of Islam. But the vision faded; the inspiration was lost — lost in the mushroom of religious books, religious schools, religious leaders, religious this, religious that. Everywhere there cropped up something “religious,” but nowhere was religion itself to be found. It was buried, as it were, under­neath this cumbersome overgrowth of system. Reality was sacrificed to ritual. Life was strangled in the frivolities of verbal quibbles. Religion which meant, first and last, life — life, free, full, rich, thrilling — came to be regarded as the sum total of certain forms and formulas, rites and ceremonies, expressions and obser­vances. In one word, what was at bottom internal — a type of soul — be­came external. Idolatry, if I may use the word, was resumed, under a new name — religion; the idol this time carved not out of stone or marble, but of empty ritualism, with a mass of all sorts of accre­tions. And on the top of this all there sprang up amongst them that most detest­able priestly class. The Mullah [clerics], the Pir [spiritual guide], the Fakir [dervish; spiritual ascetic] — in these was focused the entire curse of the fallen age. In the niches of mosques, in the shrines of saints, on their gaddies [spiritual thrones], and in their closets, they outdid the Pharisees themselves in their hypocrisy and letter-worship.

In ferocity of temper, they would fly, with all the sharpness of their claws and teeth, at one another’s throat. Their own bread and butter was all in all to them, go where the nation may, to the winds. Their petty jealousies, their greed, and — O Lord! — their cringing meanness — an abominable set, rightly foretold by the Prophet [Muhammad (pbuh)] as the worst of the Ummat [Followers]!

No longer was there a man with the moral courage of the old woman who called Umar to account, nor an Umar to listen to a woman of truth. By the lapse of time, degeneration set in, and a gene­ration of stalwart men and women was followed by a progeny of puny pygmies. Unworthy successors to a great race.

Where lies the root cause of the calamity and what to do? Maybe to diagnose the ailment should facilitate the cure. It was a blunder committed at the starting point. Religion took an entirely different turn; it censed to mean an ins­piration, an ennobling and vitalising force. It became, on the contrary, a deadweight on the Muslims’ soul and, like the old man of the sea on Sinbad’s neck, it choked his free breathing. It did not emancipate the soul; it tended to clip its wings.

Hence the need of the hour: Shake the shackles of so-called religion off! There is no such thing as religion distinct from life. You below, God overhead; the Quran before, naught else to stand between; take life by the hand and live it. That is religion, the only true religion. Let the soul be itself, have a free play, unhampered, unrestricted, unrestrained.

(To be continued.)

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