Islam and Humanity, by Muhammad Shahrour: Consequences of A Contemporary Reading

Islam and Humanity, by Muhammad Shahrour: Consequences of A Contemporary Reading

The likes of Huston Smith, Rene Guenon, Gai Eaton, Ninian Smart, Montgomery Watt, William McNeil, Pan Guang, Yvonne Haddad, indeed, Karen Armstrong, a former Oxford educated nun, turned religious scholar, have produced legions of books on "Islam".

One could go on and on and on. Exceptional mention should be reserved for John Esposito too, who has almost single handedly tried to defuse Islamophobia in the West.

But if one were to put one more twist on "militant radicalism," one could find thousands of analysts, pundits and thinkers in the East and West-----some genuine, others not--- who would concurrently seek to explain why Islam is a violent religion; or in contemporary parlance of international relations, an "ideology," of violent extremism.

This leads to an area studies that is cluttered with confirmation bias and selective rendition of evidence that almost almost always put the totality of the Muslims in the unsavory spot-light.

In the field of counter terrorism, for example, CVE (counter violent extremism), almost always feature "Islam"; not white supremacists, hyper national Buddhists, or, far right Hindu nationalists. The list of exclusion is telling.

If one goes further into PVE, or, the "Prevention of Violent Extremism," again the usual suspects are the same : Islam and the radical Muslims.

To be sure, when problem is a nail, every solution is a hammer, goes one English saying. "Islam" or at least a billion believers who profess themselves to be Muslims---those who submit and surrender themselves to the will of God--re trapped in this catch-all discourse that almost all of  demand them to prove that they are peaceful even if only a small minority of them are prone to violence.

The moment one promotes or,
expounds Islam, especially with the goal of exporting it to the rest of the world, even to engage in inter-faith dialogue between Muslim or non Muslim, Islam is seen as "threat" which could morph into a lethal combo of individual excesses (lone wolf suicide bomber) or collective mobilizations (war of all against all).

Muhammad Shahrour's book, published by Gerlach Press in Germany in 2018, which was translated from his original "Al Islam wa-l Insan,"with a foreword from Dale F. Eickelman, seeks to explain three important relationships which have often been neglected by all other books on Islam and comparative religions.

Islam and Humanity," is not just about "Iman" (faith); "taqwa" (consciousnesses of God) or "aqidah," (pillars of Islamic belief) let alone "jihad". All these are internal to, or endogenous aspects of Islam, more precisely embedded in the exposition of Al Quran anyway; what Muhammad Sharour, authoritatively referred to as The Book.

Unlike others, Islam in the scholarship of Muhammad Sharour, is comprised, first and foremost, in the belief of God; the good deeds; and the Last Day of Judgement (pp 12-15). The three must be hierarchical yet deeply organic.

Thus, the first seeming conundrum of the world of Muhammad Sharour seems to be: what about an atheist or a non Muslim ? Are they part of the humanity of Islam or "non Islam" ?

What some jihadist-like polemicists often refer to the latter as members "Darul Al Harb" (Community of War). Once listed as "Darul Al Harb," almost anything can be done to scandalize them.

This is where Muhammad Sharour disagrees with them (pp 17-18). According to Muhammad Sharour, even if an atheist disavow his or her belief in God,  that does not immediately make the person an enemy of Islam that must be eliminated.

As long as that person is driven by an unstinting belief to "conduct" him or herself in perpetual good deeds, "whether open or secret," he or she deserves to be treated with utmost compassion and kindness as God would have wanted.

What are the prime of these good deeds ? Somewhat along the lines of Confucianism, as elucidated by Confucius 2500 years ago in ancient China, first in Shandong before being promoted to the likes of Japan and the Korean Peninsula, even various parts of contemporary Southeast Asia, a good deed starts from loving one's parents (pp 19-20).

This is consistent with the famous Chinese proverb: of all the virtues in the world, filial piety (love of one's parents, especially during their old age), is the alpha and beta of all human goodness. Otherwise known as : Bai Shan Xiao Wei Xien.
Through out the book Muhammad Sharour, who now lives in United Arab Emirates (UAE) spoke of the prosaic forms of Islam, such as marriage, usury, feeding the orphans and helping the poor (pp 42-68).

But most importantly, the biggest contribution of Muhammad Sharour is the focus on------or rather away from-----sheer repetition of God as concept of reification (pp 69-118). God, in other words, does not have to be explain ad nauseum unless the believers are first trained and taught to believe in a universal expression of God. Not one that is placed in a strait-jacket.

Further to the above, Muhammad Shahrour urges his readers to think about the "Book," which is the Quran. The Quran enjoins all good deeds and forbids any form of compulsion in Islam (pp 119-172).

Thus even if one may be from the nation of Israel, ancient or current, or, the West, formed predominantly of Catholics, Anglo-Saxons, Protestants or Prebysterians, indeed, Jehovah's Witness, the key is to focus on the extent to which they race with Muslims and non Muslims alike to do good, as the clock towards the end of the world shall one day be nigh anyway.

In this sense, Muhammad Sharour's book is a total and comprehensive focus of what is known as "practical ethics." What makes society and a nation work ? (pp 173-202). If they do make the collectivity function well, indeed, better, and all round more pacific in nature, orientation, and trajectory-----where all could live and let live----then that shall be the true North of "Islam and Humanity."

It is also interesting to note that Muhammad Sharour did not elevate Islam by speaking of purported distortions of other scriptures or revelations.

Thus, unlike the late Ahmad Deedat, who can literally tear into the inconsistencies of the Christian Bible in various translated versions, televised efforts which to this day has won him millions admirers in Africa and the Malay world, or, Zakir Naik, an Indian Muslim preacher who is sought by India for sanctioning terrorism, but protected by the Malalysian government, Muhammad Sharour takes to all controversies in other religions like water off the back of the duck.

He glides on, and does not consider these polemics redeeming to Islam, necessary, invariably, reflective of the true teachings of Islam. In comparative religions, one can to one's lane without veering to the oncoming traffic of the other. The key is mutual harmony.

In this sense, Muhammad Sharour is somewhat of a perennial spiritualist, who focuses on the interiority of the heart, invariably the manifest deeds that follow the heart, rather than the professed "acts".

The latter can be done by individual and the state, indeed, the whole society. They could be practised to the degree of sheer hypocrisy too, where religion is considered the prime of all things, yet kindness and benevolence appear to be totally lacking.

Muhammad Shahrour, in his genial, gentlemanly, and generic style, did not pin-point any one, let alone any country that has fallen afoul of these edicts.

But Muhammad Sharour's works, if allowed to take grip in more countries and communities, might well be the first genre of Islamic scholarship in the modern and post modern world to break the unfortunate link between Islam and terrorism; by preaching universal kindness.

In this sense, Muhammad Sharour, whose Arabic expositions are available in You Tube, albeit with English subtitles, should be further promoted.

Indeed, in "Islam and Humanity," Muhammad Sharour was quick to point out that whilst many law-like verses in the Quran do carry the ostensible force of punishment, it is not the duty of the state per se to carry them out (pp xiii).

In other words, religion and politics should be kept separate. This applies to state and sub state actors who often (con)fuse Islam and punishment together, either in one form or the other.

Towards the concluding chapters, for example, Muhammad Sharour urged all believers not to chide, ridicule and humiliate others; as that would be the start of a war against all.

Rather, it is more meaningful to mutually encouraging to each other, indeed, to be good, through one's lips, by speaking well of others short of being unctuous, or, or quietly praying for a better world. And, if circumstances so permit, to be the one to conduct these good deeds themselves first (pp 207-210).

Be a lady and a gentleman, for the lack of a better word. In this sense, Muhammad Sharour personifies the ethics of the Prophet (peace be upon him), and all other Messengers of Peace.

Together the world shall stand in peace, divided it shall fall into pieces. The choice is clear. Muhammad Shahrour affirms the importance of a "'contemporary" reading (pp 207-208). Instead of blowing up idols and iconic arts in various parts of the world, one must understand that the "global consciousness," has changed. Islam can and must live in peace with all.

Muslims and non Muslims, having been socialized into modernity, in large numbers, do already know what is right and wrong (pp 63-64). There is no need to destroy each other's relics. To indulge in anything of the such is simply counter productive.

Indeed, Muhammad Sharour avers that while suicide is wrong, no one knows the circumstances that lead to one's suicide (pp 45).

The best is to leave it to God to understand his or her pain leading to suicide. This reading is completely different from many "tafsirs," or exegesis that condemn suicide as an act that leads one immediately to eternal condemnation.

However, Muhammad Sharour concurrently argues that suicide that leads to killing others is, however, forbidden. Thus acts of suicide bombing is a definite No-No in Islam (pp 45-46).

In this sense, Muhammad Sharour's work is very different from the run-of-the-mill faux Islalmic scholarship of the current days.

This is a must read for any governments and authorities that want to promote de-radicalization. It is also a book that can re-center countries that have gone astray. Through Muhammad Sharour, his basic ethics can lead many leaders into crrating a modest, and moderate, invariably, modern Muslim country.