By Dr. Aslam Abdullah, Editor-in-chief of TMO
Responding to a question about taking an American as a hostage, one of the Somali pirates told a news reporter, â€œWe do not kill people because we are Muslims. We are peaceful.â€ What a pitiful declaration of faith by a pirate who indulges in criminal acts.
The statement is not an isolated expression of oneâ€™s thinking. It gives an insight into the mind of a number of Muslims who believe that their faith is a a combination of a few rituals and few holy words without having any reflection on the character and behavior of an individual.
Some Muslims tend to believe that by offering a few rituals, observing a few dietary rules and giving preferences to certain dress code, their commitment to God is complete. They do not view Islam as a way of life reflecting every aspect of their life. To them, it does not matter how their relationship with their spouses or children are, or how do they respond to the needs of their neighbors or how do they conduct their business. To them, praying five times a day and wearing a certain dress are more than enough to fulfil oneâ€™s obligation to God.
The Somali pirateâ€™s statement is not different from the attitude of those who have total disregard to Godâ€™s guidance in their public life and dealings.
In fact, this attitude is the direct outcome of the teachings that many of our religious leaders offer to Muslims. They put emphasis on the form while neglecting the contents. They are very strict on issues such as on the length of a beard or a trouser or the width and girth of a scarf, etc., but they are unconcerned about the way a Muslim treats hi fellow Muslim brother or sister, or the manners towards oneâ€™s family members or the duties towards the country and the community or the relationship with non-Muslims. Islam is not a religion of mantras or a few fixed formulas. It is a manifesto for oneâ€™s life.
It invites people to maintain a balance in their life by following rules that benefit them alone. For instance, when it declares salat or prayer an obligation, it means that prayers will bring about a change in the behavior and attitude of the people.
It means prayers will not be mechanical, routing exercise, rather it will be viewed as part of a training to discipline oneself so that one is always conscious of Godâ€™s presence in every aspect of oneâ€™s life. If prayer does not produce that result then it is not effective as declared by Prophet Muhammad (s) in one of his sayings.
It is this attitude of separating divine guidance from real life that has created an imbalance in our lives, both individual and communal. When we say that Godâ€™s domain is only the masjid, or His power is confined to matters that deal with spirituality, then we are assuming that in matters pertaining to business and relationship, we can act on the basis of our whims and desires or individual interests.
This is fundamentally opposed to the Divine teachings that declare emphatically that His Guidance is meant to be followed in all aspects of life, specially in areas that involve other people. One of the main reasons of disintegration of many our communities is this dichotomy that many of us manifest. The importance of God is realized only in situation that we realize, we cannot handle on the basis of our thoughts actions. Otherwise, God is conveniently ignored. The attitude exemplified by the pirate deserves to be challenged and questioned because Islam is not a license to do whatever one can as long as certain rituals are observed.