Who can be a Mu’min? – by Shiraz Paracha

From mullahs to poets such as Dr. Muhammad Iqbal everyone describes ‘shan and aan’ (glory and prestige) and great qualities of a Mu’min. To be a Mu’min is the dream of a true Muslim. However, according to the Qur’anic description, any true believer can be a Mu’min.

The Qur’an uses the term Mu’min and Muslim both. The Arabic word Mu’min means ‘believer’, while the word Muslim means one who submits to the will of God. Since the Qur’an is the final message of God and Muslims are true believers of Islam therefore a Muslim can be a Mu’min as well.

A Mu’min is a person who believes in God, all His Prophets, His books and the Day of Judgment. The word Mu’min also means an honest, truthful, humane, kind-hearted and responsible person.

The first 11 verses of Surah Al-Mu’minoon describe characteristics of Mu’minoons.

As the divine book of knowledge, wisdom and guidance for the whole humanity, the Qur’an, addresses all believers, not just Muslims. Christians and Jews also believe in God. They, too, are people of the holy books. If a Christian or a Jew believes in Prophet Muhammad as the last Messenger of God, considers the Holy Qur’an as the final divine book and also believes in the Day of Judgment but prefers to remain a Christian or a Jew and at the same time this person is also honest, truthful, kind and loving. Can such a non-Muslim be a Mu’min? In the light of the Qur’an it is possible that a person be a true believer, without being a Muslim. The message of Qur’an is universal and not limited to a particular group of people.

Problem that Muslim societies face till this date is disagreement over the Qur’anic interpretation (Tafseer). Some insist that a particular interpretation of the Qur’an is absolute and final; others disagree and suggest alternate interpretations.

As human beings, all scholars who interpreted the Qur’an had limitations. They interpreted the Qur’an according to their own understanding and experiences. Several factors play a role in the development of human personality and psychology and overall understanding of life by a person. Our grasp of knowledge and our observation abilities depend on the times we live in, the environment in which we grow up, and our upbringing. Means and tools of communication available to us for exploring and searching knowledge also affect the quality of our work. Therefore when Mulana Maududi explains the Arabic word ‘Khusoo’ in his interpretation of a verse of the Qur’an, to him ‘Khusoo’ only means fear–fear of the powerful. Maududi translates ‘Khusoo’ into fear perhaps because Maududi had understood life only through fear.

But the word ‘Khusoo’ also means conviction, humility, humbleness, tranquility and dignity. So when in Surah Al-Mu’minoon verse number 2 the Qur’an says:

‘Successful indeed are the Mu’minoon, who offer prayers with Khashioon’

It could be interpreted in more than one ways.

Mulana Maududi interprets Khashioon’ as ‘those who offer prayers under the fear of Allah.

But another person can understand the above verse of the Qur’an differently and interpret it as ‘those who offer prayers with conviction, humility, humbleness and submissiveness. For such believers prayers are a source of peace and tranquility and where their soul and mind are focused in the love and praise of God’.

Both of the above interpretations could be right but they show different mindsets and different attitudes towards life. The aggressive role and rigid policies of Mulana Maududi’s Jamat-e-Islami prove how fear is understood and applied by Maududi’s followers.

Different interpretations of the Qur’an provoke debates. Healthy debates and discussion should lead to better understanding of the Qur’an but unfortunately it has not happened in Muslim societies.

Ignorance, arrogance and intolerance of Muslim clergy are main causes of misunderstandings, disputes and conflicts in the Muslim societies. Reducing their dependency on religious clergy in understanding the Qur’an would be a way forward for Muslims. The Qur’an provides general guidelines on building healthy life and society and everyone should seek guidance from the Qur’an directly. The Qur’an orders honesty, justice, truthfulness and fairness. An individual as well as societies can easily follow the Qur’anic teachings and at the same time can manage day to day affairs by devising rules, structures and systems that best suit their times.

For instance, in some Muslim societies the term secularism is a subject of debate. People at the one end of the spectrum consider secularism as un-Islamic, to others secularism means keeping religion out of daily lives and politics.

The Qu’ran says that everyone has their own religion. Addressing disbelievers in Surah Al-Kafiroon verse number 6 the Qur’an says:

‘For you is your religion, and for me is mine’

The Qur’an allows people to follow their faiths and believes. Islam does not believe in the use of force in converting people. No one should be forced to convert to Islam or adopt the Islamic way of life. Islam and the Qur’an preach non-violence, non-interference and tolerance. Indeed, Islam accepts multiculturalism and promotes tolerant societies. During the Muslim rule in Spain, for centuries, Muslims and Jews lived together and had contributed immensely towards the spread of knowledge and learning.

The Qur’an preaches tolerance but at the same time, it strongly supports the right of self-defense. Therefore if someone uses force to stop Muslims from performing their religious obligations, if someone forces a Muslim to convert to another religion or if someone attacks Muslims, the Qur’an orders Muslims to defend themselves. In Islam self-defense and defending the defenseless is allowed.

Fighting against the NATO forces in Afghanistan or resistance to the American invasion and occupation of Iraq are just. Likewise, political and military struggle against the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian lands is another good example of self-defense.

In all the above cases, non-Muslim foreign military have invaded Muslim lands. The attack on Iraq was unprovoked and illegal, the Israeli occupation of Palestine is utterly wrong, illegal and immoral, while the justification of attacking and occupying Afghanistan is not properly scrutinized and proved. Fighting occupying forces and invading troops is according to the Qur’anic teachings, nevertheless, the Qur’an also advises to use wisdom and adopt strategies to minimize harm and reduce risk.

Poet Dr. Iqbal is wrong (or wrongly interpreted) when he says a Mu’min should fight without weapons. It cannot be true in all situations and circumstances. Self-defense can take different forms and different strategies could be adopted. For example, if the attacking army possesses better weapons and means of war, in modern terms air power, nuclear power etc. It would be unwise to fight such an army without having counter technology and competitive fighting capabilities. Guerrilla warfare and ambushes against invading armies are tactics of intelligent warfare but there are limitations to those tactics.

Warfare techniques which harm innocent people and bring further troubles are not right and thus should not be supported. Suicidal attacks are wrong because they harm innocent people and in the long-term damage those who use self-defense as a justification of war. Military struggle is not the only way of self-defense. Political resistance and media campaigns can also be adopted to win support against aggressors.

Also all non-Muslims must not be deemed as enemies. People of other faiths also come to Muslim lands for business, work or education, or in support of Muslims. For example, before the 2003 attack on Iraq, dozens of Christians, Jews and people of other faiths went to Baghdad in an effort to resist the American and British invasion. Similarly, in the event of a natural disaster many non-Muslims go to Muslim countries to offer help and assistance. Attacking or killing such non-Muslims without actually knowing and deeply analyzing their intentions is against the teaching of the Qur’an.

Shiraz Paracha is a journalist and analyst. His email address is: shiraz_paracha@hotmail.com




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