How does someone maintain a relationship with God when one describes one’s life as: dull, miserable, demeaning, undignified and intolerable? If one believes that God is all-loving and all powerful, how then can one turn to God for help?
Do all Muslims need to have the same view to unite? No. This is not what is meant by unity. Unity is where truth-seeking Muslims from all over the world accept each other despite their race, (madhab), or view. The utmost important duty for every Muslim is to preserve and protect the Muslim unity and not to cause any division in the Muslim rank.
For the sake of Muslim unity, we should learn to tolerate each other. We should discuss and learn from each other. The best way to judge people is by their level of Taqwa (how will they refrain from doing evil).
Secular people tend to answer an emphatic “NO” to those questions, as do most progressive religious folk. Because religious fundamentalists so often present an easy-to-caricature version of faith-based politics – even to the point of implying that God would want us to vote for certain candidates – it’s tempting to want to banish all talk of the divine from political life.
But a blanket claim that “religion and politics don’t mix” misunderstands the inevitable connection between the two. Whether secular or religious, our political judgments are always rooted in first principles – claims about what it means to be human that can’t be reduced to evidence and logic. Should people act purely out of self-interest, or is solidarity with others just as important? Do we owe loyalty to a nation-state? Under what conditions, if any, is the taking of a human life justified? What is the appropriate relationship of human beings to the larger living world?
No one knows the importance of one vote than Rajasthan Congress president C P Joshi who lost the election in Nathdwara constituency by a single vote, defeated by BJP rival Kalyan Singh Chouhan. C P Joshi not only missed the chance to become an MLA but also lost his chance to become chief minister as he was the main contender for the post.
In India, voting percentage has been on decline and this has worried politicians and intellectuals alike. Rural India has larger share in total percentage of votes. Educated, urban middle class only likes to give opinions about sad state of country, corruption and immoral politics. But when it comes to act even in form of voting, they fail miserably. Worst terrorist attack, water logging and numerous other problems failed to move residents of Mumbai. Mumbai recorded only 45.98% in 2009 assembly election despite the fact that film stars and celebrities campaigned hard to promote voting and came out to vote in large numbers. Colaba area that witnessed terror at Taj Mahal Hotel, Nariman House and Cafe Leopold during the 26/11 attacks recorded dismal 36 percent voting. Nearly 11 months after the attack in and around Nariman House, the turnout was dismal.
Muslim backwardness is now well known and documented fact. In spite of all the problems and issues Muslim participation in election is always below the average. Low turnout of Muslim voters is one of the reasons for drop in Muslim representation in Lok Sabha and in assemblies. The last general election saw Muslim representation dropping from 37 to 30, whereas there are around 80 constituencies with sizeable Muslim population.
More or less similar situation is present in state assemblies. Bihar, which is going to poll in few days time, has only 15 Muslim MLAs. Out total 243 seats, 54 seats have sizeable Muslim population. Thirty seats of them have Muslim population between 20 to 30 percent and remaining seats have more than 30 percent.
The seats with 20-30 percent Muslim population have 16 BJP MLAs in the outgoing Assembly and in the 30 to 40 percent range, BJP has managed to win 5 seats. In seats having 40 percent and above Muslim population BJP has 2 MLAs. Araria with 59 percent Muslim population is represented by Pradeep Kumar Singh of BJP and Kasba seat with 45 percent Muslim population is represented by Pradip Kumar Das of BJP. Muslim apathy toward BJP is well know but still BJP comfortably winning Muslim dominated seats is something to ponder on.
BJP candidates defeated Afaque Alam of RJD in Kasba and Moidure Rahman of Congress in Araria by 6009 and 3151 votes respectively in the October 2005 Assembly poll.
BJP win from Muslim dominated seats is often attributed to the fact that many Muslim candidates jump in fray and this leads to division of votes. Parties will give tickets to Muslims in these seats either to attract Muslim votes or to spoil chances of other Muslim candidates. It will be Muslims duty to understand the motive of parties and choose the right candidate. Muslims are themselves to blame if BJP is able to snatch these seats from Muslims.
This time too, Shahnawaz Alam of LJP and Md. Afaque Alam of Congress are in fray from Kasba. In Araria, Zakir Hussain Khan of LJP and Moidure Rahman of Congress are in the fray. To take the advantage of division of votes, BJP has fielded Narayan Jha from Araria and sitting MLA Pradip Das from Kasba.
Effect of division of votes can be minimised by voting sensibly and heavily. It should be every Muslim priority to increase Muslim representation. Muslim representation has reached alarming level. Common man’s anger against elected representative is justified due to fact that majority of them just disappear after winning and lack of constructive work in their area. It is possible that Muslim MLAs will not do much for community after getting elected but their mere presence does make difference at local level administration.
Muslims should vote in large number not only to increase representation but also to keep the importance of their vote intact. BJP star campaigner Narendra Modi was refused entry in Bihar by Nitish Kumar as this could have polarised Muslim votes. Another star campaigner and hero of Ram Mandir movement L K Advani is not campaigning in the first phase where majority of seats are having large Muslim population. During campaigning leaders like Nitish Kumar, Sharad Yadav, Lalu Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan are accompanied by person sporting beard and skull cap like Abu Talib Rahmani and Ghulam Rasool Baliavi, just to show their pro Muslim image. It is different matter that many Muslims will not consider them as their leader. In this battle for survival, RJD-LJP alliance has realized the importance of Muslim votes and offered Deputy Chief Ministership and 15 percent reservation to Muslims. Even BJP has joined this race for Muslim votes when its state president C P Thakur appealed to Muslims.
It is unfortunate that everyone except Muslims realizes the importance of votes. In democracy, number only matters and counts. If Muslims, even with number on their side, are failing then they are themselves to be blamed. Right to complain comes with right to vote. One act of voting has affect on everyone’s life for next five years. It is too important to miss. Every vote counts and if you do not believe it, ask Mr. C P Joshi.
These basic moral/spiritual questions underlie everyone’s politics, and our answers are shaped by the philosophical and/or theological systems in which we find inspiration and insight. Since everyone’s political positions reflect their foundational commitments, it doesn’t seem fair to say that those grounded in a secular philosophy can draw on their traditions, but people whose political outlooks are rooted in religion have to mute themselves.
Role of religion in politics
Rather than trying to bracket religion out of politics, we should be discussing how religious traditions can play a role in a healthy politics, and one productive place to start in the context of the Christian tradition is Walter Brueggemann’s new book, The Practice of Prophetic Imagination: Preaching an Emancipatory Word. Building on the book for which he is most known – The Prophetic Imagination, first published in 1978 with a second edition in 2001 – Brueggemann moves beyond sectarian politics and self-satisfied religion to ask difficult questions about our relationship to power. He makes it clear that taking the prophetic tradition seriously means being willing to make those around us – and ourselves – uncomfortable.
|“A blanket claim that ‘religion and politics don’t mix’ misunderstands the inevitable connection between the two.“|
In the earlier book, Brueggemann argued that the tradition of prophecy demands more of us than a self-indulgent expression of righteous indignation over injustice or vague calls for social justice, what he calls “a liberal understanding of prophecy” that can serve as “an attractive and face-saving device for any excessive abrasiveness in the service of almost any cause”.
Brueggemann wants more from those who claim to stand in the prophetic tradition, which he asserts is rooted in resistance to the dominance of a “royal consciousness” that produces numbness in people. Prophetic ministry, Brueggemann argues in the first book, seeks to “penetrate the numbness in order to face the body of death in which we are caught” and “penetrate despair so that new futures can be believed in and embraced by us”. And make no mistake, Brueggemann’s concern is not the royal culture of Biblical days, but dominant culture of the contemporary United States and its quest for endless material acquisition and constant expansion of power.
Brueggemann also makes it clear that the prophet is not a finger-wagging scold. The task of prophetic ministry is to bring to public expression “the dread of endings, the collapse of our self-madness, the barriers and pecking orders that secure us at each other’s expense, and the fearful practice of eating off the table of a hungry brother or sister”. In other words, prophets speak the language of mourning, “that crying in pathos”, that provides “the ultimate form of criticism, for it announces the sure end of the whole royal arrangement”.
More than three decades after the publication of that book, Brueggemann returns to explore the implications of taking seriously the prophetic imagination, specifically for clergy. But while the book is aimed at preachers and their struggles to bring the prophetic imagination alive in a congregation, Brueggemann’s words are relevant to any citizen concerned about the health of our politics and the state of the world.
Gospel narrative vs Dominant narrative
The new book begins by arguing that the gospel narrative of social transformation, justice and compassion is in direct conflict with the dominant narrative of the United States: “therapeutic, technological, consumerist militarism” that “is committed to the notion of self-invention in the pursuit of self-sufficiency”. The logic and goals of that dominant culture foster “competitive productivity, motivated by pervasive anxiety about having enough, or being enough, or being in control”. All this bolsters notions of “US exceptionalism that gives warrant to the usurpatious pursuit of commodities in the name of freedom, at the expense of the neighbour”.
Right out of the gate, Brueggemann makes it clear that he is going to critique not just the problems of the moment, but the political, economic and social systems from which those problems emerge, and that to speak frankly about those systems means taking risks. Preachers who put the articulation of this prophetic imagination at the centre of their work – and he makes it clear that preachers don’t have to claim to be prophets, but should see themselves as “handler[s] of the prophetic tradition” – will most likely encounter intense resistance to the message. The dominant narrative does dominate, after all, and critics are rarely embraced.
Just as the prophets struggled to persuade a royal culture that preferred to ignore the message, so do contemporary preachers need to connect the dots and make a case that goes against the grain. Central to this process is that dot-connecting, that naming of reality.
|“Prophetic preaching does not put people in crisis. Rather it names and makes palpable the crisis already pulsing among us.”
– Walter Brueggemann
“Prophetic preaching does not put people in crisis. Rather it names and makes palpable the crisis already pulsing among us,” Brueggemann writes. “When the dots are connected, it will require naming the defining sins among us of environmental abuse, neighbourly disregard, long-term racism, self-indulgent consumerism, all the staples from those ancient truthtellers translated into our time and place.”
What masks those sins, Brueggemann writes, is “a totalising ideology of exceptionalism that precludes critique of our entitlements and self-regard”, and the prophetic imagination helps us see that.
Once we accept this critique of the systems that surround us, the next step is dealing with a sense of loss and the accompanying grief as we let go of the illusions that come with wealth and power. “That function of prophetic preaching is important because in a society of buoyant denial as ours is, there is no venue for public grief,” he writes. “It is required, in the dominant narrative, to rush past loss to confident ‘recovery’ according to a tight ideology of success.”
Brueggemann does not suggest we stay mired in grief; when society’s denial has been penetrated, prophetic preaching has the task of giving voice to “hope-filled possibility”. But he reminds us to be careful not to jump too quickly into an empty hope: “Hope can, of course, be spoken too soon. And when spoken too soon, it may too soon overcome the loss and short-circuit the indispensable embrace of guilt and loss. The new possibility is always on the horizon for prophetic preachers. But good sense and theological courage are required to know when to say what.”
This is our task – the tearing down of systems inconsistent with our values and the building up of something new, dismantling and restoration – not only for preachers seeking to be handlers of the prophetic tradition, but for anyone interested in facing honestly our political, economic and social problems. The task, in Brueggemann’s words, is “to mediate a relinquishment of a world that is gone and a reception of a world that is being given”.
Articulating the underlying values
Again, Brueggemann’s goal in the book isn’t to advocate for specific politicians, parties or political programmes, but to articulate the underlying values that should inform our political thinking. He seeks to confront truth (against denial) and articulate hope (against despair) in the face of a “denying, despairing, totalising ideology” that presents itself as the only game in town. While it is difficult for many people to let go of the dominant ideology, Brueggemann argues that people “yearn and trust for more than the empire can offer. We yearn for abundance and transformation and restoration. We yearn beyond the possible”.
Brueggemann’s analysis may resonate with many progressive people who aren’t churchgoers or don’t consider themselves spiritual in any sense, but who may ask whether his arguments need to draw on a religious tradition. Wouldn’t most of his arguments make just as much sense in the language of secular politics? I think they would, but there is great value in Brueggemann’s approach.
First, whatever any one person’s beliefs, the dominant religion in the United States is Christianity; around three-quarters of the US population identifies as Christian in some sense. The stories of that tradition are the stories of our culture, and the struggle over that interpretation is crucial to political and social life.
Even more important is the fact that church is still a place where people come to think about these basic questions. Even in the most timid church, the question of “what are people for?” is on the agenda, and hence there is potential to challenge the dominant culture’s values.
|“Even in the most timid church, the question of “what are people for?” is on the agenda, and hence there is potential to challenge the dominant culture’s values.”|
“The local congregation continues to be a matrix for emancipatory, subversive utterance that is not amenable to totalising ideology,” Brueggemann writes. “People continue to sit and listen attentively to the exposition of the word. People still entertain the odd thought, in spite of the reductionisms of modernity, that God is a real character and the defining agent in the life of the world. People still gather in church to hear and struggle with what is no on offer anywhere else.”
Brueggemann’s invocation of “God” may put off secular people, who assume that any use of the term implies supernatural claims about God as an actual being that directs the universe. But that is not the only way to understand God, of course. In fact, one of the greatest conversation-starting aspects of this approach is the always provocative question, “What do you mean by God?” When someone cites God, we can – and should – ask: Is God a being, entity, or force in the world? Is God the name humans use for that which is beyond our understanding? What is God to you? Rather than closing down conversation along sectarian lines, our religious traditions have the capacity to open up the conversations about meaning that are difficult to have in a privatised, depoliticised, mass-mediated, mass-medicated world.
To ask whether we should understand our world through a religious or secular lens is to misunderstand both – it’s not an either/or proposition. We have the tools of modernity and science to help us understand what we can understand about the material world. We have faith, traditions that remind us of the limits of our understanding. In the church I attend (a progressive Presbyterian congregation, St Andrew’s http://www.staopen.com/, http://www.jimrigby.org/) those two approaches are not at odds, but part of the same project – to understand a world facing multiple crises, drawing on the best of religious and secular traditions, struggling together to solve the problems that can be solved and to face the problems that may be beyond solutions.
In a world in collapse, these realities often seem too painful to bear and the work before us often seems overwhelming. The prophetic tradition offers a language for understanding that pain and finding the collective strength to continue.
Former PAS vice-president Datuk Dr Hasan Mohamed Ali who was sacked from the party on Jan 9 has given five reasons why he would not file an appeal on the sacking.
In an exclusive interview with Bernama, Hasan laid out the five reasons. – PAS has abandoned its original struggle to form an Islamic state and replaced it with a concept of a Welfare State, which can be implemented in any secular country with any system or political practice.
– PAS has lost its respectable stand and firmness, and thus often taken for granted by its partners in the opposition pact, especially DAP, which has gone to the extent of boldly rejecting PAS’ Islamic state concept.
– PAS is too eager to take over Putrajaya to the extent of sacrificing Islam and collaborating with DAP which is clearly “an enemy of Islam.”
– In 1981, through the “Amanat Haji Hadi” (Abdul Hadi’s Message) in Banggol Peradong, Kuala Terengganu, PAS concluded that Umno members were apostate for cooperating with non-Muslims, but now, the party has to eat its words as it is not only collaborating with non-Muslims, but also willing to be taken for a ride by the DAP.
– The loyalty of PAS elected representatives in Parliament is more towards Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, by giving huge attention to the opposition leader when he speaks in Parliament but the same level of attention has not been accorded to PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang.
Hasan said PAS had deviated from its original struggle and would continue to be deviated if it continued to stay in the opposition pact with DAP and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR).
“If the opposition pact wins the election with the existing component configuration, there will be no Islamic state, no hudud law and no Islamic elements in economic, social, agriculture and foreign policies.
“When PAS collaborates with DAP and PKR, PAS cannot form the Islamic state. Anwar, who is PKR de facto leader, doesn’t seem to be interested.
“I spent 15 years in PAS. I joined the party because I want Islam and ulama leadership, as promoted in the party’s tagline. That’s the biggest reason I joined PAS, but ulama leadership is no longer dominant and the concept of Islamic state no longer exists in PAS. So, on what aspect should I hold on to?” he said.
Hasan said PAS leadership must improve themselves and make an “islah” or a reform as the current principles upheld by the party were simply wrong.
“Although Putrajaya is very necessary, but to uphold the status of Islam, Malays and Malay Rulers should be the final goal of our political struggle,” he said.
Hasan, who is also former Selangor PAS Commissioner, said the minds of ulama had been corrupted by the presence of 70 per cent of “parasites in its top leadership.”
“After ruling Selangor for three years and 10 months, the opposition should’ve reviewed its strength, weaknesses and chances. I can list out 20 of their weaknesses, but the opposition pact didn’t do that and didn’t dare to do that,” he said.
He also slammed Anwar for keeping on testing people’s reactions through demonstrations.
“Demonstrations can be good, but not all the time. The country will turn into anarchy if everybody comprehends things according to their own ways of thinking,” he said.
Hasan also claimed that there was an unwritten law in the opposition pact that every issue must be referred first and foremost to Anwar.
This would eventually lead to an autocratic leadership and PAS being totally manipulated and used by PKR and DAP, he said.