By Cigdem Akti, World Bulletin
This week, we will publish the first part of our conversation with North America's two leading Muslim thinkers, Contemporary Islamic Thought Institute President Mohammed al-Asi and Crescent magazine Editor in Chief Zafar Bangash, who recently visited World Bulletin.
Al Asi and Bangash, who reach hundreds of thousands of Muslims in the United States and Canada for years, and work for the Islamic movement, made stunning, thought-provoking, encouraging and worrying statements during our conversation.
We started with the understanding of the Islamic movement and continued the need for creating a new language without using western concepts, but returning to the Allah's message as in addressed in the Koran. Al-Asi also discussed of his 10-volume first English commentary of the Koran.
Al Asi and Bangash believe that Muslims should create a new language by returning to the original sources and "opting out from the existing system" if the Islamic movements can not raise their voices in the political platforms.
The first part of the conversation is published today. In the second part, Al Asi and Bangash talks about the present status of muslims in Amerika, which they describe as "an empire is about to collapse," and in Canada that "has governed by people who are more neo-con than Bush", as well as their thoughts on future.
In the second part, two North American intellectuals will also share their ideas and proposals for the globalized world, presentation of Islam in the media and the pollution created by the media.
World Bulletin: I would like to ask to you, first of all, the concept of Islamic Movement. What do you think about this concept? How would you define it?
Zafar BANGASH: If you want to go to the roots of the Islamic movement I think you really have to say that the first Islamic movement led by none other than the Prophet Mohamed (SAV) himself. Because Islamic Movement essentially is the movement of Muslims to establish the laws of Allah in the face of this Earth. So if one go even further back, you can say that all the prophets are the leaders of Islamic movements. The only difference being not all the prophets were able to get the support of the people in order to implement the laws of Allah on Earth. So we see that the most successful Islamic movement was led by none other than the Prophet Mohamed (SAV) himself. So that example gives us the definition and origins and methodology of Islamic movement.
Islamic movement is an open system, it is not a political party. I think this is important, because a lot of Muslims are confused about this concept. Secondly, Islamic movement has to strifle establish an Islamic state. There is of course an hadith of Prophet saying "A Muslim either live in an Islamic state, or strife to achieve an Islamic state. Otherwise he dies a death of ‘cahiliya’ (ignorance)." So the function of the Islamic movement to establish the Islamic movement, this is essentially the manifestation of Allah's power and Allah's laws on Earth. So that is the Islamic movement.
Mohamed AL-ASI: Yeah, I can add to that. You see, Islamic is a word everyone knows. Movement is a word everyone knows. They have their dictionary definition. When you put two of them together, Islamic movement, what is generally meant by this is the consolidation of the political will of the peoples who identify themselves as being Islamic to bring about their self determination. Therefore, in the world of ideas and in the world of politics, there are other movements, with other ideologies, with other paradigms. The Islamic one is an independent one that is supposed to work in all of the societies on Earth.
In the time frame we are living in, Muslims are have been for centuries victims of forces of colonialism and imperialism. We still suffer from centuries of colonialism and imperialism. The Islamic movement is the effort that is brought together, directly or indirectly, -some people may belong to the Islamic movement and not know it-, to end of the day put together what we call today the responsibilities of state building. And the final definition of an Islamic state, which is the end process of the Islamic movement is determined by the peoples of that time and the forces of that time. Because for some people in today's world, they would like to see "what is the Islamic state, which comes as a result of Islamic movement? Is it belong on the political left? Is it belong on the political right? Ot it is belong somewhere in between?" I think Islamic state has a dynamic definition that you can't rigidly place it on the left even though there will be circumstances where state has to interfere so the speak in the affairs of its own society when there times of war. And in these types of circumstances the Islamic state, if we borrow the today's political terminology, is probably closer to the left than anything else. But I think in times of peace and security, when the guards are down, the Islamic state may resemble something of a state today that belongs on the political right.
So it is hazardous to try to put it either here or there, and the end of the day, it is a part of the function of the people who are responsible of the circumstances they find themselves in.
WB: You both believe that the Islamic state is the end product of any Islamic movement. So, what do you think of an agenda for today's intellectuals, for İslamic movements? What should be the agenda for the people who are participate an Islamic movement or believe they are belong to one?
BANGASH: I think the first thing they start, these Muslim intellectuals should clarify their own thought processes. They must cleanse their thinking. Because, we have followed a lot of western terminology that simply does not belong to us and simply does not apply to us. But we have been so much submerged by this, we have lost touch with the message of Islam in its totality. And this is why Imam Al Asi doing this ‘tafsir’ (commentary) for instance, to revive and to reinvigorate the Islamic concepts as they ought to be apply to Islamic society. To give you an example, and of course you know, I do not want to borrow from him, it belongs to him, it is his understanding and I appreciate that and I accepted...
For instance, you pick up any translation of Quran, if you look at the meanings of the words, "mumin and kafir", a mumin is refer to as believer, and a kafir is refer to as nonbeliever or an unbeliever. I mean these are meaningless terms, they have absolutely no relevance whatsoever. What really is need to do is to understand what Allah is saying to us when he addresses us as a mumin. And you can relate that to a more specific way when you study the Koran you will find that in the Koran in all of the Meccan Surahs (sections of the Koran) the Muslims are never addressed as "Ya eyyuhellezine amenu." Now, we need to ask ourselves, if it means "All you who believe", was the Muslims in Mecca believers, can they believe in Allah and the Prophet? And the Koran is being revealed to them? So why they weren't address by Allah as "ya eyyuhellezine amenu"? Why is it that they were only and only addressed in this sense in Medina? What changed? When they came to Medina, and the Prophet (SAV) arrived in Medina, a fundamental change occurred in their lives: An Islamic state emerged in Medina. Okay, that means that now the Muslims accepted the responsibility the governor of Allah to implement the laws of Allah in society. So that means that the Islamic movement at the time, since it had not implemented Islam in its totality in the society in Mecca, Allah did not addressed them as "ya eyyuhellezine amenu", address them as "ya ehhuhennas." You see that, when Muslims are addressed as "ellezine amenu" that means that they are not only accept the government of Allah but implement in society. So these are the concepts that we need to clarify in our minds.
A lot of Muslim intellectuals are confused about political parties, democracy and all kinds of things. Of course, you know, when somebody, when a Muslim says that "we need to clarify our ideas about democracy", people goes "oh, do you believe that Islam is compatible with democracy?" These are, I think, quite, you know these are not accurate questions. And Muslims must not ought to fall in this trap. What I mean by this, that Muslims of course believe there should not be dictatorship, there should be consent of the people. But how do you derive that consent of the people ise different question. We are told that the only approach is operating various political parties. But when all these political parties come from. In the Koran there are refers to only to political parties: either it is 'Hezbollah' or it is 'Hezbolsheytan'. There is no other thing in the Koran.It does not say you can have a party on the right or a party on the left, or in between, whatever.
So, if Muslims are clear about their understanding of the Koran and the sunnah and the syrah (the life of the Prophet SAV), then they will not rely on western concepts to organize their lives. A lot of the confusion in Muslim world today exist precisely because we live in this, you know, I would not say bipolar world , but we live in schizophrenic existence. On the one hand, we want to implement Islam in our lives, on the other hand we want to use western tools to implement Islam. We can't do it. Western tools are not going to enable us to implement Islamic society. We have to be clear about this. It is only and only through a clear understanding of Islam, its concepts, its terminology, that we will be able establish Islamic state.
I just one final note to add, you know, in Koran the word "taqwa " is used numerous times. There is no equivalent word in English for "taqwa." Because, English is a secular language, it evolved in a secular environment, the West, particularly in Europe, that detached themselves from religion all together, and Islam is not just a religion, as most Muslims refers to it erroneously. There is no single word in Koran that refers to Islam as religion, it is "deen." And "deen" is a very different concept than religion. So Europe detached itself from religion, from their religious roots. They have a horrible experience with their church. So they assume automatically that every "deen" including Islam has had the same horrible experience. We did not go through the Inquisitions, they have. They had their conflict with their church, they had to go through their Reformation and so called Enlightenment. We do not need to go through that we never had that problem. So we should clarify our own concepts: Number one, abandon western concepts, and number two go back to the Koran and Sunnah to see what offers, so we can implement Islam in its proper, original way in our lives.
WB: Living in a Western society and talking to westerners or Muslims who live in these western societies, how easy to do that, not using western words or concepts? How easy to define your ideas and establishing your own language?
AL -ASI: That is a very interesting question. Because, explaining İslam to non-Muslims requires two things: First of all, it requires that the language that is been used has to be libareted from the idiom, or the stereotypes, or the connotations that are loaded in non-Koranic, non-Arabic, non-Islamic language that's been used. In that case we're talking about English. So a person who is going to equip him or herself to explain Islam to people who are not Muslims have to be careful by their choice of words to convey the original Koranic and Islamic meanings to the target audience. That is the first thing that has to be done.
Second thing that has to be done is, there has to be a genuine effort for coining new terminology. That is one part of it. The second part of it is try to explain the Islamic words into the target language, in this case English. Brother Zafar mentioned the word "taqwa". "Taqwa" is one of these words that either we are going to have to coin a new word for in the English language, which probably become cumbersome; or we are just going to use the word itself "taqwa" but extensively explain it. We explain it, we set the stage, then we begin using it. Then we do this with other key words in terminologies that we're talking about.
Now, I want to go back to the question that about intellectualism. I think that is a very good question, because... I want to make this short and I want to make it understandable. Intellectualism is the counter part of ignorance. In today's world. Both of them always serve to same end that is we get nowhere. If we want to bring to the realm of health, look at the human body, ignorance is like malnutrition. A body that is going to disappear from existence because it does not have the nutrients that body requires. That is ignorance. On the other side, this intellectualism is like obesity. The more intellectualism a person has, the more flab that's on the body. Therefore it is very difficult to move. So the ignorance and intellectualism defeat movement. Don't misunderstand me, I'm not promoting ignorance or I'm not trying to demote the intellectual effort, in a sense, give credence to ignorance. No, no.
What I want to say is Islam is a movement. And the understanding of Islam originates from a movement, not from people who are functioning with active brains in a high tower somewhere, ivory tower intellectuals. Or some people refer to them as 'cafe revolutionaries.' We are not speaking, Islam if understood the way it was presented to the world originally, is a process of understanding, the problems that Muslims confront in their attempt, in their effort to socialize Islam. That all it is. That is why the Koran was not revealed one lump revelation at one time. Allah could have revealed the Koran in front of us now as one book at one time. Then there could have been study circles, there could have been universities, there could have been all of this intellectualism going on under the supervision of the Prophet to launch an Islamic reality. But it never happened that way.
The way it was done is a few "ayat" (verse) to come down to deal with a real human condition. And that human condition was corrected or solved or adjusted or whatever the case was, they move to another level, with another step. With a new issue, with a new problem, and they solved that. They incrementally did this for 23 years with the supervision of scripture with Allah revealing the necessary words and guidance that are required in the set of circumstances they were in. And they kept doing this, doing this until finally they have their Islamic self determination with the leadership of Allah's prophet, and the consolidation of the will of the people. So we did not have this intellectualism that right now as almost paralyzed our movement. We have the type of scholars, some of them call themselves 'alims', others call themselves 'fukaha', so forth and so on. We take the issues of today's world.
There are many issues, economic issues, political issues, military issues, financial issues, etc etc. What they want to is here, they want to say 'okay, we have an issue of poverty. How the Islam solves the issue of poverty in this world?' The issue of the poverty is created by the non-Islamic systems. You want to extract an Islamic solution for a capitalist problem? It does not work that way. The Islamic answers come to an Islamic society. So let us re-frame society and solicit these Islamic answers for this new Islamic society that we are building.
In this context we have Islamic thought at work. Not the ivory tower intellectualism that most new Muslims get affected or infected by. It is a pathogen. But it lives in our body. We have to rid of ourselves this, go down to the field, to the society, that is where Islam is, where it belongs, where it works. Does not work these prefabricated answers that we have muftis and others giving us nowadays.
WB: Let me ask you about this tefsir. What is your aim to write an English tefsir, what is the idea behind it?
AL ASI: There is a simple answer to that. That is to have the Muslim and the non-Muslim understand these original 'ayat' without all of the pollution and the noise that have disturb this understanding. Take all of that away, liberate the Koranic text from it, and presented to the listening and the thinking world out there, whether it is Muslim or non-Muslim. So they can understand, "what is all about?" In today's world, there are a lot of questions about Islam, İslam is "barbarism", Islam is "terrorism", Islam is all of these negative propaganda. All of this has to be settled, the only way to settle this is to present the message of Allah as was demonstrated to us by Allah's prophet. This is the simple answer to your question that what all of this is about.
If you read this, and this is meant for people who think, someone who is going to open these pages but has either an absent mind, or a dysfunctional mind, or a stereotypical mind, they are not going to get anything out of this. They have to come to this with open hearts and minds and understand what's being said. Without thinking, nothing is going to be accomplished. So please, there are many Muslims and many individuals out there who do not think, this is not for them. It is meant for those who think. If they open this, turn the pages and think thoroughly, then they begin to understand what Allah (CC) is telling us and how the Prophet himself explain this in real life, thru sweat, tears and blood.
WB: I would like to ask you to same question about living in a western society and establishing your own language to deliver the message of Islam. What is your take on this?
BANGASH: I think the first thing that we need to take note off is that the existence of Muslims in western societies has no historical precedence. You know historically Muslims never went out to non Muslim societies to live as subservient subjects. In fact, this simply reflects our drift away from Islamic values and Islamic principles. Look at the Islamic history: When Muslims went to the other lands, it was because of two reasons: Either to fight them or engage trade with them. Of course there is a third aspect, which is to deliver the message of Islam. But never to live as subservient subjects of there. I think there is no historical precedence of this for Muslims.
Now, maybe last 50, 60, 100 years, you find large numbers of Muslims migrating to non Muslim societies to live as subjects of those societies, because their own societies, Islamic societies, Muslim societies have been so weakened, so corrupted, so polluted, virtually impossible to live a normal existence over there. And Muslims who go, of course they gone for primarily economic reasons. But I think that there is also an opportunity in this. Because I have found that, Muslims who live in Muslim majority societies, whether it is Turkey or Pakistan or Iran, they take a lot things for granted. Because they are already living in a generally Islamic society, at least there is an Islamic culture around. But we don't have it over there. And a thinking Muslim very quickly becomes conscience of this, and he begins to feel threaten for his values as well as the future of his children. I know for a fact, every parent, at least every conscience Muslim parent, is deeply concerned about the future of their children. How they address this? According to their own understanding, which unfortunately in the majority of cases are very limited, they only think that Islam means to send your son or daughter to a masjid or madrasa or an Islamic center where they can read the Koran without knowing the meaning of a word of it. And when their children finish reading the Koran, they give a big party, they are very happy they deliver Islam to their children. Other than that, they have very little conception of Islam.
Another aspect is that, today we have to recognize that English has become a universal language, it is a universal language. At the past, five or six hundred years ago it was Arabic, today it is not. So, we have to address this message not only to Muslims also to non Muslims with the only language that everybody understands. We are siting over here, ideally we should have spoken Arabic, but you speak Turkish I don't, he speaks Arabic I don't, and I speak Urdu, you don't. So, the only common language between us is English. That is why we're force to communicate with English language. And so, muslims in the west, will find in this Tafsir and in the approach that's been taken and the explanation that has been offered, I think they will find, first of all an understanding of the Koranic message, and secondly a solace that there is a way out of this schizophrenic existence we're living in.
So in that sense, I find a lot of hope from the Muslims outside rather than inside. I don't want to discouraged Muslims, for instance the Muslims in Iran did a wonderful job, I think Turkey is doing a great job. But I feel very deeply sad and anguish about what is happening in Pakistan. I do not see a Islamic movement over there, it is a total mess over there. The society is corrupt to the core. There are so many problems, and yet you ask Islamic movements 'what are your answers to this?' they say, 'oh, we just have to participate elections and if the people want Islam they will vote us into Islam.' People have a simple answer for that. They look at the situation and they say: "We are suffering from poverty, there is corruption in the bureaucracy, we have hurdles every step of the way. Which party will be able to solve our problems? Is it the Islamic party or the secular party? They know the bureaucracy is secular, the whole system is secular, so why I should vote for the Islamic party? He does not know anybody in the bureaucracy to solve my problems. He does not know in the police force to get my son out, who is put in jail without any genuine reason. He does not know anybody in the judiciary to whispering the judges ears. Who can do it? Secular elite, because they are all connected. So they keep voting for the secular parties.
I keep on telling my brothers in Cemaat-i İslami in Pakistan, "look, if you opt out of this system, stay aloof from it, there is so much mess over there, people will ultimately be force to come to you. They will see as it is the only answer."
Whenever there is a mess in Pakistan, the option is either the military or same group of corrupt, crook, civilian politicians. I tell them the situation of the people of Pakistan is like mice: They say, 'this black cat is terrible to us and keep eating us, now we are going to elect white cat.' A cat is cat. If you are a mouse, it will eat you. So there is no point of electing a black cat or white cat. What you need to do is to align to get rid of these cats and mice, and take over the control of the society. So, we hope that by urging Muslims to clarify their concepts about what is happening in their societies and the outside, they can begin to rectify their lives and begin to bring about to change that is necessary for us to get closer and closer to the message of Allah.
WB: I have to ask: Are we talking about some kind of revolution as we speaking of opting out from the system? How?
BANGASH: Okay. It could be a revolution if the system does not allow a change, a peaceful change, then sure, absolutely, why not? Look at the example of the Prophet (SAV), what did he do? He brought about a revolution, but the system in Mecca refused to accept the change, he opted out of it, he went somewhere else, established his base and he came back and dealt with them. So why not, what is wrong with that?
I think, this happened in Iran. I mean, look at the example of Egypt. The system in the verge of collapse in Egypt. But there is absolutely no room for Islamic activist in that system. None whatsoever. So what should we do?
I personally believe that only option for them is a revolution. You know, Muslims are often accused of being intolerant. But I think the west and its agents are the most intolerant people in the world. They do not even allow a candidate to contest presidential elections against Hosni Mubarak. How more intolerant can they be? There is no tolerance over there. So, if there is no room for Muslims to bring about change peacefully, what do they do? I don't think there any option left.
Again, let me go back to Pakistan. You know, often people say 'people in Pakistan vote for secular parties', and I tell them 'you go and find out how elections are conducted in Pakistan. Every candidate spends millions of rupees, millions in election campaign, which is totally contrary to the Constitution. In fact, if the Constitution that secular system established in Pakistan, if they implement two clauses in that Constitution, 62 and 63, not one person sitting in Parliament would be able to sit in that Parliament. And do you know what are those two clauses: Number one, the person is to be honest, he should not be corrupt: and number two, that person has to be Islamically committed. Not one member of the Parliament in Pakistan qualifies to the qualities of these two articles. The whole Parliament is full of crooks, criminals, mass murderers, every crime that you can think of these criminals are present over there. Ruling elite in Pakistan run private jails. They have their own jails in their own localities.
You know, right now there are floods in Pakistan. Millions of people have been affected. Of course there is a natural calamity. But there is a man made calamity over there. Because, they have a huge system of canals and so on, and therefore dikes in various places.
So, if there is a big landlord, if he happens to be a prime minister or minister, if his land is going to be a inundated, he say 'no, do not allow it to coming to my land, brake the dike over there to a village', so 30 thousand people are displaced. This is happening today. This is the kind of corruption and immorality that exist in that society. What is the option, what people can do in those societies? How do you replace these corrupt people? And they get in the power, they rob left, right and center! Last year, on television in Pakistan, a member of the ruling party openly said on television, he was asked "why you people take bribes?", and he said "this is our right to take bribes, we were elected for that." Openly, on television he said that! Now, you tell me how more brazen can he get? You have a president of the Pakistan who is the biggest crook in the world, the biggest thief! There are cases against him in Switzerland, in Italy, in England and so on. How did he win billions of dollars? What do you do with this people?
You know, when ordinary people have no option to deal with these problems, I think revolution is the only solution.
(TO BE CONTINUED)