Experts drafting UCC could collaborate with Saudi authorities documenting Hadith so that the UCC debate is not lost in the binary of Hindu-Muslim politics
‘Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Forty-Year Rivalry That Unravelled the Middle East’ by Kim Ghattas is a non-fiction book that explores the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran and its impact on the Middle East. The book argues that the rivalry between these two countries is the root cause of much of the instability and violence in the region.
Ghattas begins by examining the history of the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran. It then goes on to discuss how this rivalry has played out in recent years, with particular focus on the Arab Spring, the Syrian Civil War, and the rise of ISIS.
A Dutch Lebanese journalist for the BBC, Ghattas, argues that the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran is a zero-sum game. This means that both countries see each other as a threat and are willing to do whatever it takes to gain an advantage. This rivalry has led to a cycle of violence and instability that has engulfed the Middle East. The book concludes by arguing that the only way to break this cycle is for Saudi Arabia and Iran to find a way to cooperate. However, Ghattas acknowledges that this is a difficult task, as both countries have deep-seated mistrust of each other.
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Analysts, think-tanks and geopolitical experts easily stretch Ghattas’ conclusions to encompass the Indian subcontinent that came under this ‘black wave’ during the late 1980s and subsequent 1990s. The fallout of 1979 – an important year for the Muslim world because of the Iran Revolution, the Siege of Mecca and the Afghan-Soviet Jihad, was visible in Jammu and Kashmir with terror groups enforcing the strict Wahhabi Islam through guns and terror acts, ethnically cleansing the indigenous Kashmiri Pandits and coercing the Muslim female population to veil up while closing beauty parlours and cinema houses; an act repeated in Taliban controlled Afghanistan, Khomeini controlled Iran and ISIS-inspired pockets in Nigeria, Maldives and other Muslim-majority countries, including India with 174 million Muslims, where burqas, abayas, niqabs and hijabs are becoming more visible.
It is a fallacy that Sharia laws are derived solely from the Quran, the Prophet’s examples (Sunna), Ijma (consensus of scholars) and Qisas (personal reasoning of scholars). There are five other sources of Sharia law, including local customs, independent opinion, public interest, equity consensus, and presumption of continuity.
Sharia laws are mentioned only thrice in the Quran, once as a noun, and twice as a verb. The word ‘sharia’ literally means the path made by animals going to a spot of flowing water (watering hole) or flowing water itself. Symbolically, it means the path to salvation, or Nirvana. The mention in the holy book is as ethical guidance or a moral code.
The Quran itself defines the mission of all Prophets – to guide the flock towards good moral conduct and code. But the transformation of this spiritual ‘moral guidance’ to political ‘Sharia law’ was a major betrayal that is now being uncovered by scholars, thinkers and authors around the Muslim world.
In his book ‘How Sharia-ism Hijacked Islam’, Hasan Mahmud argues that the concept of Sharia-ism has hijacked Islam and led to the rise of extremism and violence. Sharia-ism is a puritanical interpretation of Islam that emphasises the literal interpretation of the Quran and Hadith. Mahmud argues that Sharia-ism is a distortion of Islam and that it has been used to justify violence and oppression.
Mahmud begins by tracing the history of Sharia-ism. He argues that Sharia-ism emerged in the 18th century as a reaction to the Western colonial powers. The colonial powers imposed their own values and laws on Muslim societies, and this led to a backlash among some Muslims. Sharia-ists argued that the only way to protect Islam from Western influence was to return to a strict interpretation of the Quran and Hadith.
Mahmud then goes on to discuss the impact of Sharia-ism. He argues that Sharia-ism has led to the rise of extremism and violence. He cites the examples of ISIS, al-Qaeda, and the Taliban as groups that have been inspired by Sharia-ism. He also argues that Sharia-ism has been used to justify the oppression of women and minorities.
Mahmud concludes by arguing that Sharia-ism is a threat to Islam and to the world. He calls for a reform of Islam that will reject Sharia-ism and promote a more tolerant and inclusive interpretation of the religion.
The Saudi government’s decision to document Hadith in the 21st century is a positive step in the fight against the misuse of Islam by extremists. There are millions of Hadith, and many of them are contradictory. Also, extremist armed groups like ISIS, the Taliban, al-Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Toiba as well as politically radical groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, the Jamaat-e-Islami, and the Deobandi-inspired AIMPLB (All India Muslim Personal Law Board) have used Hadith to justify conservative attitudes, demonise liberalism, threaten progressive Muslims, violence, and terrorism.
By documenting the Hadith, the Saudi government is making it more difficult for extremists to misinterpret these texts and use them for their own purposes. The documentation of Hadith is a complex and challenging task. Saudi Arabia has established specialised research institutions and centres staffed by knowledgeable scholars to undertake this task. These scholars employ strict methodologies to verify the authenticity and context of each Hadith, drawing on the rich heritage of Islamic scholarship and expertise.
The initiative aims to provide a robust and authoritative Hadith collection that can be accessible to Muslims globally, promoting a balanced and accurate understanding of the Prophet’s teachings. It serves as a resource to counter radical ideologies that exploit misinterpretations of Hadith for their own agendas, and to promote a peaceful and moderate understanding of Islam.
By undertaking this effort, Saudi Arabia demonstrates its commitment to combating extremism, fostering religious moderation, and protecting the true teachings of Islam. It also supports the broader global effort to counter the misuse of religious texts for violent and extremist purposes.
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As Indian Muslims wait for the inevitable takfiri terrorism (pronouncing dissenters as ‘not true Muslims’) against the Saudi monarch Mohammad bin Salman, the authorities could meanwhile persuade the Deoband and Hanafi/Shafi school representatives among Indian Muslims to meet up with various religious scholars and jurisprudence experts worldwide to counter the threat of radical, political interpretation of Islam.
An example is Islam Nusantara of Indonesia, which encompasses the diverse cultures and traditions of the region. The term was first introduced by the Indonesian Islamic organisation Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) in 2015, as an alternative to the interpretation and representation of global Islam that is currently dominated by Arabisation – i.e., Saudi Wahhabism.
The Saudi venture in the documentation of Hadith is an important step in preserving the Islamic tradition and ensuring that Hadith are accurately transmitted and that they are not lost or corrupted. The experts drafting the UCC could collaborate with the Saudi authorities doing the documentation of Hadith to help promote understanding and tolerance between Muslims and non-Muslims so that the UCC debate is not lost in the binary of Hindu-Muslim politics.
By matching this Saudi initiative, and rectifying their import of Wahhabi Islam of yesteryears, Indian Muslims too can step away from the chokehold that the Muslim pressure groups and agenda activists of Muslim heritage have over them, perpetuating victimhood and help to dispel some of the misconceptions that exist about them.
Arshia Malik is a Delhi-based writer, blogger and social commentator
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author’s own