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Our History and Its Myths

By Hasan Jaafar Zaidi
hjzaidi@tehqeeq.org
(Excerpted and translated by Ali Hashmi) The political and ideological dilemmas faced by Pakistanis today are linked intimately to our reading of history. Some myths about this include: 1. If only we could implement, once again, the pure Islamic governments that existed in our golden past, we would solve all the problems facing our nation. 2. If all the Muslims of the world, exhibiting the unity and fraternity of our golden past, were to unite under the banner of faith, we would cure all the ills of the Islamic world today. 3. ‘Jihad’ can rid the world of infidels and ensure the supremacy of our faith. 4. The personal character and ethics of Muslims of our glory days were pristine and only by returning to those values can we rise to eminence in the world again. A recap of events over the last 150 years demonstrates the utter bankruptcy of these beliefs. During the Cold war, American Imperialism used resurgent Islamic movements as a useful tool and then turned these same movements into a new enemy when, after the cold war, the demands of Empire required a new enemy. The bogus ‘War on Terror’ against ‘Islamic Fundamentalism’ has been used, very effectively, to scare the world and particularly the American people into accepting the American Empire’s new wars of aggression which have turned America into the biggest practitioner of state terrorism in the world. The new ‘War’ served the purpose of securing vast oil and natural gas deposits in strategic regions where American troops are now stationed and huge new military bases have been built. Those who fought in America’s wars against the ‘God-less’ Soviet Union assumed that they were fighting for ‘democracy’ and self-determination to make the world safer for their brethren in faith. However, circumstances changed and the Soviet Union, due to various internal and external contradictions, dissolved. Hence, the ‘Evil Empire’ disappeared from the world. Starting with the exodus of the Soviet forces from Afghanistan till about September 11,2001, for 12 years, different Islamic factions waged jihad, not against enemies of Islam but against each other while America and large multinational corporations were busy shaping the new world according to their agendas. According to Michael Moore’s film ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’, the ‘Al-Qaeda’ network blossomed under the noses of American security forces until the tragedy of 9/11. The administration of George W.Bush used this as a pretext to launch their new ‘War on Terror’ and ‘Muslim’ and ‘Islam' became symbols of terrorism. Imperial war was renamed ‘Clash of Civilizations’. From Indonesia

to Morocco, dozens of Muslim countries have been the target of this aggression. Hundreds of thousands of young people in those countries have become cannon fodder for this ‘jihad’ and an equal number of innocent bystanders have perished. The Iran-Iraq war claimed over half a million lives and many times that number has since perished in Gulf wars I and II and the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. Any serious student of history has to wonder whether the world was a more violent place in the time of the ‘evil’ Soviet Union or now. Car bombings, suicide bombings, aerial bombardments, army invasions, the massacre of civilians and destruction of property, from forests to mountains, rivers to deserts, a sea of fire and blood is upon mankind. Islam’s holiest places, Makkah, Medina, Karbala, Najaf, none has been spared. During the Cold war, except for the festering sore of Palestine, Muslim countries were never in this condition. The ‘Evil’ Soviet Union’s presence guaranteed at least a modicum of peace. Islamic Revivalist Movements: The manipulation of Islamic revivalist movements by American Imperialism is not a new phenomenon. The last 250 years provide ample evidence of this. In the waning years of the 19th century when the existing Muslim empires began to disintegrate, many revivalist movements erupted, initially educational and reformative, later militant. In the Indian subcontinent, Shah Waliullah (1703-1762) initiated an educational reform movement, which later morphed into a militant fundamentalist movement under the leadership of Sayyed Ahmed Shaheed Barelvi (1786-1831). This was originally a revolt by farmers of Eastern Bengal against their English landlords which he redirected towards the Sikh rulers of the Punjab. His movement recruited young Muslim men from Bihar and Bengal for jihad and eventually sent them a thousand miles away to Peshawar where they began their agitation against the government of Ranjit Singh. According to W.W. Hunter, this movement had the indirect support of the British since, on their way to Peshawar, they had to pass through British administered Bengal, Bihar, UP and CP. When Muslim men in the employ of the British asked for long leaves of absence, it was well known where they were headed. Sayyed Ahmad's movement met with initial success and they succeeded in capturing some areas around Peshawar which was governed by Ranjit Singh. However, Ahmad attempted to implement a Taliban style fundamentalist Islamic government in those areas which ran counter to the centuries long traditional governance structures of the local tribes. One of those, the Yusufzai rebelled against them. In 1831, the French generals of Ranjit Singh, with the help of some of the local tribes ambushed Sayyed Ahmad's forces near Balakot and killed him, his trusted lieutenant Sayed Ismail, the grandson of Shah Waliullah and hundreds of his followers. Sayed Ahmad's 'army' fragmented and thousands of Bengali and Bihari youth perished in its aftermath, most never again returning to their homes. Sayyed Abul Ala Maududi, (1903-1979), a prominent revivalist Muslim leader and founder of the Jama'at-e-Islami said that it was no secret when these men set out for their jihad that the real power in Hindustan was not the Sikhs but the English. The only way, according to Maududi, to struggle for an 'Islamic revolution' was to oppose the British.

Maududi professes surprise as to how such an elementary fact was misunderstood by the leaders of this movement. A dispassionate analysis of this movement underlines the obvious beneficiaries of this movement: the British. The armed struggle of poor Muslim peasants in the Bengal was misdirected elsewhere and its effect in the Bengal declined considerably. The British wanted to destabilize Ranjit Singh's government since he had appointed French Generals in his army. Another beneficiary was Ranjit Singh who, after reestablishing his rule over Peshawar, appointed Hari Singh 'Nalwa', who received this appellation after reportedly killing a tiger with his bare hands, the first non-Muslim governor of Peshawar. Because of his brutality he was also famous as "the man with the terror of whose name Afghan mothers used to quiet their fretful children". Thus this movement fatally weakened both the struggle of the Afghans for autonomy from the Sikhs as well as the farmers of Bengal struggling against the British. Later, Sir Syed Ahmad's Aligarh movement encouraged modern scientific education for the Muslims of India to break the stranglehold of the Mullahs and helped in creating the educated layer of Indian Muslims who helped modernize India and were later instrumental in the creation of Pakistan. Another jihadi movement which lured ordinary Muslims out of their homes and to their deaths in far flung places was the Khilafat movement. In 1920 after Sultan Mehmed VI signed the Treaty of Sevres and abdicated the vast lands of the former Ottoman Empire to the victors of World War I, the secretary of the Jamiat Ulema Hind, Maulvi Abdul Bari declared all of India to be 'Dar-ul-Harb' ('House of War') and declared that all true Muslims should migrate elsewhere. This rather incredible pronouncement was endorsed by the Indian Nationalist Ali brothers, Muhammad Ali and Shaukat Ali as well as another prominent Muslim leader, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. Under the influence of this pronouncement, 18000 Muslims from Sindh and the Northwest Frontier province began a migration to Afghanistan. However, they were blocked from entering this 'Dar-ul-Islam' by the Muslim Afghan government and turned back to their homes. Thousands perished from disease and starvation particularly the elderly, women and children. The road from Kabul to Peshawar is dotted with numerous unmarked graves, the last resting places of these unfortunate souls led astray by their religious 'leaders'. Some managed to reach Turkey and were also turned back after the abolition of the Ottoman Empire. It is worth remembering that the Quaid-e-Azam, Muhammad Ali Jinnah never supported this lunacy. His hero was not the Sultan of Turkey but the secular Nationalist, Mustafa Kemal 'Ata-Turk' who in 1924 abolished the Caliphate and wrote a secular constitution legally separating state and religion. This was the model the Quaid used in the teeth of religious opposition from Ulema to wrest the new state of Pakistan from the British. Thus Sayyed Ahmad Barelvi's fundamentalist movement damaged the interests of Muslims in India while Sir Sayyed Ahmed's secular Aligarh movement strengthened them. The religious Khilafat movement damaged them while Jinnah's progressive leadership resulted in the establishment of the first Muslim majority state in Western India. In recent history, the so-called Afghan ‘Jihad’ is another example of how unsuspecting Muslim youths from all over the world, especially Pakistan, were lured to their deaths by religious leaders with the connivance of unscrupulous politicians. By the end of the

1970s, Afghanistan had become the forefront of the ‘Cold War’ between America and the USSR. Pakistan, whose leaders had declared the country a virtual colony of America ever since its inception, was front and center in this fight. Its military dictator at the time, Ziaul-Haq, who had the dubious honor of being the country’s leader when its first elected prime minister was hanged in a politically charged trial, declared the fight in Afghanistan a ‘jihad’ or Holy War. America and its allies poured money and arms into Pakistan and the opium trade became a major source of funding for the war. The US National Security Advisor at the time, Zbigniew Brzezinski, came to Peshawar to distribute aid to the jihadist groups. In subsequent years, he revealed that CIA support for the mujahidin had started before the 1979 Soviet invasion and was meant to entice the Soviets into, as he put it, their version of Vietnam. He referred to this as the "Afghan Trap" and viewed the end of the Soviet empire as worth the cost of strengthening militant Islamic group. The media in the West duly fell in line and wasted no ink in extolling the exploits, real or imagined of the ‘mujahidin’. In some cases, entire battles were staged for the benefit of the Western media and shown endlessly on news networks in the West to influence public opinion. The number of battles supposedly ‘won’ by the mujahidin would have been more than enough to conquer Afghanistan many times over. Militant religious groups in Pakistan benefited as well. Religious leaders who were hard pressed to even afford bicycles were now running around in expensive new cars and trucks. With the active support of the Zia regime, militant religious groups spread like weeds all over the country. The mountains of foreign arms and weaponry enriched the generals in charge beyond their wildest dreams. These same generals encouraged and supported the opium trade and grew rich off it. However, the same cannot be said for the simple Muslims who rallied to the call from places like Morocco, Algiers, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. In addition, thousands of young men from the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan joined the jihad. In 1989, after the withdrawal of the Soviet Army, these groups could not agree on a government. In spite of having sworn oaths of cooperation at the Ka’aba in Makkah, they were soon at each other’s throats and for 12 years, until 2001, waged blood thirsty war, not against the infidels, but each other. Interestingly, this too, was named ‘jihad’, a war in which Muslims were content to slaughter other Muslims. After the tragedy of 9/11, America once again jumped into the fray, this time openly with its full military might. From Kabul to Kandahar to Tora Bora, thousands of people were killed or maimed by American aerial bombardment. Many ‘jihadis’ (the former ‘Mujahidin’) were killed or fled for their lives across the border back to Pakistan. Thousands of young men from religious schools or ‘Madrassahs’ who had been indoctrinated and then thrust into the jihad came home. They were mostly children of land less peasants or poor farmers. Now they had no education and no jobs or skills except fighting. In the last 200 years, in the Indian sub-continent, these are just three examples with similar results. Religious groups, ignorant of ground realities and international politics have, many times, led innocent followers to their deaths for senseless reasons. Other examples could be quoted: 1. The Khaksar movement, led by Allama Inayatullah Mashriqui who organized an army of volunteers armed with spades to conquer India. It was eventually

disbanded by the Pakistan government after its leader had been jailed numerous times. 2. The Anti-Qadiani (or Ahmadiyya) movement which targeted followers of this sect from 1953 till 1974. Many people were hounded out of jobs and forced to flee the country, some were murdered. 3. In East Pakistan, 1971, immigrant Muslims from Bihar formed militant organizations called ‘Al-Badr’ and ‘Al-Shams’ under the supervision of the Pakistan Army. In addition to serving as informants against native Bengali Muslims, they also fought alongside the Army. After the fall of Dacca and the formation Bangladesh, they were prosecuted by the new state. Some managed to reach (West) Pakistan and many of those still live in squalid refugee camps almost thirty years later. 4. In 1977, a coalition of religious parties in league with the opposition declared the recent re-election of Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto a fraud and declared their mission to be the implementation of an ‘Islamic’ government. The resulting unrest brought the Army to power once again and Bhutto was later tried on trumped up charges and executed. General Zia, in order to cloak his dictatorship in legitimacy, declared an Islamic government his goal and provided money, arms and political support to all kinds of militant religious groups. They also served as a ‘battering ram’ against the scattered, remaining workers’ organizations, unions and political parties that had survived the onslaught of the Bhutto years. This fanning of religious flames eventually destroyed the social and ethnic harmony prevalent in society for hundreds of years and each sect gave birth to its own armed organizations laced with the latest weapons funneled through the Army. The Zia government with the aid of the Saudis armed and financed some of these groups while the Iranian government supported and armed others. Sunni mosques and Shiite Imam-Bargahs (places of worship) were increasingly targeted for bombings and became effectively off limits for ordinary Muslims. Prominent leaders from both sides, Sunni and Shia have been assassinated and there is no end in sight. Now the mayhem has been extended to Christian religious places and their associated schools and universities. While there has been no ‘propagation of Islam’, countless valuable lives have been lost including highly educated professionals like doctors, engineers, teachers, lawyers and bankers. The latest atrocities are the ‘suicide bombings’ which target everyone without remorse or forethought. People have been brain washed to such an extent that they are willing to blow themselves up and kill dozens of people in the belief that this will earn them an automatic place in heaven. Our Misreading of History Why do ordinary Muslims allow themselves to become a part of these barbaric schemes? What are the ideologies that attract them to such extremes? Some are convinced of the truth of these stories while others are not sure what to believe. All of this springs from our misreading of our history which we venerate and study as a religious text. We even refer to it as ‘Islamic’ history rather than a history of Muslims. Nowhere is the history of America or Europe referred to as ‘Christian’ history or the history of India as ‘Hindu’

history. The history of a people, a land or its rulers cannot accurately be called its religious history. The simple reason is that history describes the struggle for power or political supremacy between groups and is thus referred to as a history of that region or people. When the followers of one religion or belief system struggle against each other, politically or militarily, for supremacy, resources and power, this cannot be termed ‘religious history’; it is, in fact, the political history of that religion or belief system. Religion is a Divine matter and professes to be eternal while states, governments and political systems rise, fall, form and break apart in different eras. Let us now objectively examine some fallacies. 1. Islamic System of Governance: This is a term that has never been defined. The basic elements of a system of governance include how a government should be set up, how it should be run, how its powers should be defined and distributed, and lastly, perhaps most importantly, how should it be changed. Let us look at the political history of Muslims and see if we can find the answer to these questions. Let us take a look at what kind of government existed in Muslim lands from antiquity up till the zenith of the Islamic empire. The Evolution of the State: The state has not always existed in human history. Humans lived for hundreds of thousands of years without any semblance of what we today consider states. Ancient humans lived in hunter-gatherer societies that migrated according to supplies of food and shelter. In these groups, there was nothing extra to store or own. All of the tribes’ members spent all their time either hunting for food or looking for shelter. Everyone worked and the few meager tools that existed belonged to the tribe as a whole. There was no concept of ‘private property’ since there was no property to own. Once permanent human settlements appeared along river valleys and surplus wealth began to be produced i.e. food and resources above and beyond the immediate need of the tribe, there arose the problem of who ‘owned’ this surplus and how it was to the stored and distributed. Those who claimed ownership of this wealth became the dominant class or layer in society and it was to protect their interests that the system of hereditary Monarchy was invented with the Monarch claimed to be a direct descendant of whichever god the population worshipped. The initial centers of these Kingdoms were the valleys neighboring the great rivers Nile, Euphrates and Tigris about 5500 years ago. Around the same time or perhaps a little later, Kingdoms appeared in China and India. Later still they arose in South and Central America, then Greece, Rome and Persia. They evolved from city states which coalesced to form Kingdoms which later aggregated into Empires. Alexander ‘the Great’ of Macedon was one of the first emperors joined later by Ashoka in India and then the Roman Empire. In these Kingdoms, society was stratified into the Royal family and its descendants at the top of the pyramid, then generals and high ranking soldiers, then artisans and skilled merchants as an ancient ‘middle class’ and the rest of the populace at the bottom. In contrast, there were the lands that were devoid of natural resources and consisted mainly of deserts or forests. Resources for production of food and shelter (such as

grain and cattle) were limited. The inhabitants of these lands lived in tribes organized according to family descent. Each tribe was a miniature version of a state and each member of a tribe owed loyalty only to his or her own tribe. Tribal elders and leaders looked after the matters of the tribe and dealt with other tribes just as one state would with another. Treaties and alliances were formed, wars were fought followed by peace and new treaties. Friedrich Engels terms this a ‘tribal confederacy’. Neither one of these systems of governance were formed from religious principles. They arose out of the existing economic and social relations of the time. More advanced civilizations and their Kingdoms professed many different faiths. The Emperors of India, Persia, China, South America, Rome etc claimed different religions but their social and economic evolution to Empires was very similar due to their growing out of similar conditions in fertile river valleys. This can be considered the ‘secular’ system of the time. The other system prevalent at the time was those of economically deficient areas which had no central state to speak of but a system of tribal confederacies. This too was not based on any religion. The Mongols of the Gobi desert, the Berbers of North Africa, the forest dwelling tribes of Sub-Saharan Africa, the Turks and Afghans of Central Asia or the as yet unknown Indian tribes of North America all followed this loosely organized confederation system held together not by a religion or belief system but by their existing economic and social conditions of existence. Upon the emergence of Islam as an organized religion in the 7th century AD the known world was divided into two regions on the basis of their cultural development. The more highly evolved regions based in the above mentioned fertile river valleys rich in natural resources which had seen the rise and fall of many kingdoms and civilizations and regions that were resource deficient and thus less evolved in their societal development consisting of nomadic tribes living in deserts and forests in which the state, government etc had not come into existence yet. The Arabian Peninsula was amongst these resource deficient regions and there existed here a tribal society since times immemorial without any kind of formal government or state. On its fringes there were pockets of settlements where a nominal government existed and these included Yemen and Hadhramauth in the south where a hereditary monarchy had existed for some time allied with the rulers of ‘Habesha’ (present day Ethiopia and Eritrea) or with the Persian or Byzantine Empires. However, none of these governments had exerted any noticeable influence on the vast hinterland of the peninsula consisting of the Nejd, Nefud and the Hejaz. A short time before the Prophet Muhammad proclaimed his message, there existed several small states on the borders of Iraq, Syria and Bahrain that served as ‘buffer states’ between the Persian and Byzantine Roman Empires. Other than these small governments on its coasts or borders, the vast majority of the peninsula consisted of a loosely organized tribal confederacy. Makkah, Taif and Yathrib (present day Medina) were small settlements or villages also without any kind of formal government. The elder of a tribe was its leader but the village or settlement had no formal leader. Individuals were recognized by their tribe and they owed their loyalty to the tribe, not to a village or community. Blood relations were vastly more important than where a person was from. Tribes living in these resource poor lands did not need a system of formal government since every tribe was a mini-government in itself with the tribal elder its chief whose word

was law. If there were matters that involved more than one tribe, they were negotiated and settled according to centuries old traditions. Wars and skirmishes were fought for resources including wells, oases, trade and caravan routes and the offerings made by pilgrims to the Ka’aba during the annual ‘Hajj’. After a skirmish, tribal gatherings were called and new treaties signed which remained in force till someone violated it and the fighting would begin anew until another treaty was negotiated or one tribe or faction emerged victorious by force of arms. Agreements and treaties were considered sacrosanct and inviolable and would be concluded with men hitting hand upon hand and women agreeing verbally. This was called a ‘beyt’ and to break this pact was considered abhorrent. This could be considered the ‘secular’ political system of the time, based on traditions rather than religion. Each time there would be a dispute, the matter would be decided either by force of arms or, if none of the foes were strong enough to impose their will, by tribal councils. At the time of the proclamation of Islam by the Prophet, the keeper of the Ka’aba was his uncle, Abd’al Mutlib. However, from times immemorial, there was no formal ‘government’ or ‘state’ in existence. The tribal system existed according to its traditions and customs passed down from generation to generation. In all of the Hejaz there was no organized government nor any kings or rulers strong enough to compel anyone to do their bidding. Each tribe was headed by an elder or leader accepted as such by all tribal members. He received this rank either by virtue of being born in a rich family or because he was the oldest or wisest member of the tribe. He negotiated and settled all matters on behalf of the tribe. Every tribe had its own customs and traditions, some unique, some in common with other tribes. Each tribe also had a ‘hakam’ who served as a judge in matters of dispute between members of the same tribe. Various scholars have pointed out that Islam never rejected the tribal customs and traditions of the time. Some were incorporated into the new religion, some were eliminated and others changed. The Quran and the Hadith (the traditions of the Prophet) stress the importance of obeying the Prophet as a messenger, not a king or monarch. He himself never claimed kingship for himself. There were no courts of law and while people obeyed the Prophet in matters of religion, for worldly matters they were free to consult anyone they chose including someone not of their religion. Prior to migrating to Medina, the Prophet had concluded an agreement with the ‘Ansars’ of Medina on the traditional ‘beyt’. Other treaties with the Quraish of Makkah and later with other tribes were also on the principles of ‘beyt’. Naturally then, when the question of succession to the Prophet arose after his death, there was no guidance in either the Quran or any examples from his life. His companions had no choice but to use their own judgment and they did so, according to centuries old customs. His closest companions gathered in a traditional tribal council and everyone presented their arguments in favor or against their preferred candidate. Eventually, Abu Bakar, one of the Prophet’s closest friends, an early convert to Islam and the Prophet’s father in law was chosen as the leader and all those gathered swore a ‘beyt’ on his hand. In Arabic terminology, ‘beyt’ has been described as sealing an oath by hitting hand upon hand. This tradition was present in some European tribes as well and may have its roots in the body language used by ancient humans before the development of speech. Thus it is an early ‘secular’ tradition.

The second Islamic caliphate was decided by nomination, also according to tradition. The third was decided by a ‘shura’ or council. The transition between the third and fourth caliphate was carried out by force by rebels from various provinces of the nascent empire who gathered in Medina, confined Usman, the Umayyad caliph to his house and later murdered him. This was the norm in tribal society when succession could not be decided by negotiations and happened frequently in many parts of the world including those with established monarchies. Later, when negotiations broke down between the fourth caliph, Ali and the Emir of Syria, a neutral arbiter was appointed to resolve the dispute, another established tradition. Thus we see that in the first 30-40 years of Islam while the center of power remained the Arabian Peninsula, all disputes were effectively resolved according to the pre-existing tribal traditions and customs. Once the empire expanded to include those areas, though, which had been under hereditary monarchies and kingdoms for thousands of years, the center of power too shifted, first to Damascus (Syria) then to Baghdad (Iraq) and. accordingly, tribal customs were abandoned to be replaced by the system of hereditary monarchies prevalent in those areas. This transition was far from smooth. The assassination of both Usman, the third caliph and Ali, the fourth which led to the massacre of Karbala where Husain, Ali’s son and Muhammad’s grandson was slaughtered with members of his family including women and children by the Umayyad caliph’s forces led to the first great schism in Islam between the Sunni and the Shi’a and only then was the transition completed to a hereditary monarchy. The political system thus derived was not modeled on a divine text. It was formed over thousands of years as humans progressed through their social evolution based on their existing material and social conditions. The tribal system of the Arabs was prevalent in much the same form in many tribes all over the world. The Berbers of North Africa as well as the Mongols and Tartars followed more or less the same traditions. Even today, in Afghanistan, the North West Frontier province, Baluchistan and parts of Southern Punjab where tribal traditions have strong roots, local ‘jirgas’ or councils have much more influence than government institutions. Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406) documents that the responsibilities of the caliph were limited to enforcing the ‘sharia’ or religious edicts. There was no concept of kingship or governance such as existed in the kingdoms of the times. One reason for this was the teachings of the religion itself which stressed simplicity and thrift. The more basic reason was the tribal, nomadic system of the Arabs who were simply unfamiliar with any manner of luxury or opulence. When Caliph Umar, the second Caliph and a close confidant of the prophet appointed Muawiya as governor of Syria, Muawiya took up residence in the palaces vacated by the Byzantine rulers. When Umar expressed his disapproval, Muawiya’s response was that he ruled in areas neighboring the Byzantine Empire and needed to maintain a royal lifestyle to impress their envoys and ambassadors. Umar accepted this argument. Ibn Khadun writes that when the Arabs expanded their circle of conquests to include areas formerly under the rule of the Persian and Byzantine empires, they learned the customs and traditions of nationhood from the citizens of those areas and eventually adopted them. Hereditary monarchies were the prevalent ‘secular’ system of governance at the time and had developed independently of religious beliefs in ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, Persia,

India and China. It centered on the great river valleys of the time including the Nile, the Tigris and Euphrates (Babylon and Assyria), Danube, Oxus (‘Amu Darya’), Indus, Ganges and Jamuna, Brahamputra, Mekong etc. The government of the Pharoahs of Egypt, the ancient kings of Greece, the Roman Empire, the Assyrians, the Persian Empires of antiquity, the Ashoka kingdom in India and the Emperors of China, all of these were hereditary monarchies which had existed thousands of years before Islam was proclaimed in Arabia. Humans, therefore, had vast experience with monarchies and this was the most advanced system of governance developed thus far in all of human history. Thus, when the Arabs conquered the lands of Syria, Egypt, North Africa, Andalusia, Persia, Western Asia and the Indus Valley which had all been governed by hereditary monarchies for thousands of years, they adopted this secular system as their own. Syria and Egypt were then under the rule of the Byzantine Roman Empire while Iraq and Iran were ruled by the Persian Empire. The people in these regions had been living under hereditary monarchies for centuries and could only pledge allegiance to their new Arab rulers following the customs and traditions of their forefathers in which the opulence, luxury and glory of the monarchy were required to incite obedience. The Umayyads adapted this system rapidly and began to govern a vast empire stretching from North Africa to West Asia. The seat of power moved from Medina to Damascus which was the capital of the Byzantine Roman Empire. Later Baghdad, Cairo, Cordoba, Isfahan, Shiraz, Mashhad, Bokhara Samarqand, Kabul, Herat and Delhi all remained under their rule. In all these areas, Muslim rulers adopted the same hereditary monarchical system which their Christian, Hindu and Buddhist counterparts had utilized in Europe, India and China regardless of religion or nation. Over almost 1300 years till the early 20th century, dozens of Muslim kingdoms rose and fell from Spain to Indonesia, all monarchies in which religious beliefs were separate from systems of governance. The rulers of the time familiarized themselves with existing customs and traditions intimately, and were thus able to rule for hundreds of years. All Muslim rulers, whether Arabs or non-Arabs, followed this method and this era is considered the golden age of Muslim rule. Thus a system of government develops independently of religious beliefs and is based on human cultural evolution which is a continuous process. In the beginning, Muslims lived in a tribal confederacy in the Arabian Peninsula because society had only evolved until that stage. Later, they formed hereditary monarchies following the lead of the governments before them and this too, continued for centuries. Religion and governance were kept separate and even religious leaders or ‘ulema’ never struggled for political power. Some even opposed their rulers but never on the basis of declaring their rule ‘unIslamic’. With the Industrial Revolution in Europe, the next evolution of politics came to the fore. The fall of the Eastern Empires began with the bourgeois revolutions of the West, especially the French Revolution which laid the foundations of democratic values and institutions, elected governments, political parties, human rights and women’s liberation. The forerunner of this change was the Enlightenment movement in Europe which swept aside old ideas and ushered in new scientific and technological achievements with the help of which, Europe was able to subdue the decaying kingdoms of Asia and the Middle East. The Mughal Empire, the Persian Empire and the Ottomans, all collapsed like a house of cards. Millions of Muslims became European subjects not because their rulers had abandoned ‘Islamic’ values but because they clung to their outdated beliefs, refused

to embrace science and technology and rejected democratic ideas and institutions. Amongst Asian Empires, China, Korea and Taiwan as well as Muslim Malaysia embraced these ideas and joined the ranks of developed nations. Today, most ‘Muslim’ countries are subjects of Western powers and their people in general and their intelligentsia in particular struggle against confusion: between tradition and modernity, between East and West, between an ‘Islamic’ system and a democratic one and in their confusion become susceptible to all manner of extremist ideologies. Islamic Brotherhood and the ‘Muslim Ummah’: Another intellectual fallacy that we are prey to, is that Muslims in the past were united as one nation and if only we could replicate that unity, we would be triumphant. This has led to the fantasy of the ‘Muslim Ummah’. Human history is witness to the fact that unity is always based on mutual advantage, not on ideology and similarly with enmity, which is always the result of clashing material interests. If we were to study the history of Islam and Muslims from the time of the prophet till now objectively, we would see that people and nations that consider themselves ‘Muslim’ have never been united. This has been the case with all religions. Muslim brotherhood and unity are attractive concepts in principle but have never existed in practice. The Prophet made a point of emphasizing the fraternal nature of relations betweens Muslims, Arabs and non-Arabs, black or white, rich or poor but this did not make those differences disappear. Tribal rivalries and enmities dated back thousands of years and could not be eliminated by Islam’s teachings. These rivalries were to surface time and again starting during the life of the Prophet. They persisted during the rule of the first two caliphs and would arise again and again but were suppressed, partly because the vast lands of Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Iran were falling under the rule of the new religion along with their unimaginable wealth and bounties. However, by the time of Usman, the third caliph, these enmities re-emerged with a vengeance and both Usman and the fourth caliph, Ali was murdered by Muslim rebels. This was followed by more battles and finally the tragedy of Karbala where the Prophet’s grandson and his small party of men, women and children were massacred by the army of the Caliph. Once the Umayyads became rulers, the tribal rivalries between them and the Banu Hashim, the tribe of the caliph burst forth with the same ferocity as in the time of the ‘Jahiliyya’, the pre-Islamic period. The 90 years of the rule of the Umayyads saw hundreds of skirmishes between rival Muslim armies with eleven major battles that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands. This included Karbala and armed invasions of Medina (once) and Makkah (twice) by Umayyad armies, one of which rained rocks and flaming arrows on the Ka’aba until it collapsed. Thousands of Muslims in the holy cities were massacred. Similar campaigns were carried out in Spain, Yemen, Egypt and Syria. Several Umayyad caliphs were murdered by their followers, Yazid III’s grave was dug up and his corpse crucified by fellow Muslims. Prominent generals of the era including Muhammad Bin Qasim were tortured and assassinated on the orders of the Caliph. Qasim’s son committed suicide for fear of murder. The descendants of the massacre of Karbala were hunted down and killed. This was the ‘brotherhood’ of the Ummah in the time of the glory of the Arabs when the empire was expanding from North Africa to Western Asia and into Sindh.

The rise of the non-Arab Abbasids was a reaction to the ferocity of the Umayyads and once in power, they hunted down the remnants of Umayyad rule mercilessly. The graves of Umayyad caliphs were dug up, their corpses burnt and the ashes scattered. With the advent of a separate Umayyad government in ‘Al-Andalus’ (Spain), the ‘Ummah’ split into two and then into three with the formation of the Fatimid kingdom in North Africa. The time of the Abbasids can be divided into two broad periods, one in which the caliph had control over his territories and another in which he was a powerless figurehead, his power and influence confined to Baghdad and its immediate environs. Even in the former, revolts occurred with regularity and there was no unity based on religion..There were numerous fault lines in the Ummah during the rule of the Abbasids including that between the Umayyads and the Abbasids, those between the Abbasids and the ‘Ahlebeyt’, those between Arabs and non-Arabs and the internal conflicts amongst the Abbasid rulers themselves. All of these conflicts led to internecine violence and blood shed between Muslim nations and communities including between families in the case of the last one. The succession struggles between Abbasids caliphs were fierce and often blood thirsty with family members having no compunction in murdering others in order to ensure their access to the throne and its riches. In addition, beginning with the assassination of the fourth caliph, Ali, sectarian struggles in the burgeoning Muslim Empire were a regular feature. These involved the ‘Shia-e-Ali’ (‘Partisans’ of Ali), today commonly known as the Shi’a or Shiites. This was followed in subsequent years and centuries by the formation of dozens of sects including the Asha’arites (‘traditionalists’), the Mutazilites (‘rationalists’), the four sects of the Sunnis: Hanafi, Sha’afi, Maliki and Hanbali, and numerous others. Whichever school of thought gained ascendancy with the rulers of the time (based on whether they were willing and able to legitimize their rule) were given a free hand in persecuting and hunting down the followers of rival sects. In addition, the tribal rivalries of the Arabs followed wherever they went and there were numerous battles all over the empire between rival clans that pre-dated Islam. There were regular revolts within the Empire as well with governors and rulers of various provinces and territories declaring themselves sovereign followed by invasions and massacres. The various Muslim empires including the Abbasids and the Fatimids also were regularly at daggers drawn. Both Empires called themselves Islamic and the rulers of both declared themselves the Caliphs and true descendants of the Prophet. The Hashshashin from which the word assassin is thought to originate, was the Arabic designation of the Nizari branch of the Ismā'īlī Shia Muslims during the Middle Ages. The Nizari, or Hashshashin, as they were designated by their enemies, split from the Fatimid Isma'ili Empire following a dispute regarding the succession of their spiritual and political leader the Fatimid Caliph Ma'ad al-Mustansir Billah. They helped assassinate numerous officials in the Seljuk Turk governments and are even reputed to have been responsible for the murder of Shahab-ud-Din Ghori, the founder of the first Muslim government in the Indian subcontinent. Many Abbasid caliphs were arrested, imprisoned, tortured mercilessly and murdered by their Muslim ‘brethren’. Mahmud of Ghazni and the aforementioned Shahabuddin Ghori are considered two ‘heroes’ of Islam in the sub-continent. Both, at one time or another, formed treaties and pacts with Hindi rajas and Christian rulers to further their territorial ambitions. This, in brief, was the 500 year period (approximately 755 AD to 1258) of the ‘Golden Age’ of Islam under the Abbasids. This period saw the rule of 37 Caliphs of whom 14

were murdered by Muslims. However, this period also saw the zenith of Muslim achievements in learning and culture. The shining stars of literature, poetry, philosophy, mathematics, chemistry and medicine amongst Muslim scholars are too numerous to count and many are still revered in the West today. As described, there was no sign of any ‘Muslim’ unity or brotherhood anywhere. The reason for this ascendance was that the forces of orthodoxy, traditionally fiercely opposed to learning and experimentation were weak while the trends that promoted knowledge and its learning like the rationalist Mutazilites were stronger and had the support of the rulers of the time, if only temporarily. One the traditionalist sects reasserted themselves, the light of learning dimmed quickly to be replaced by an emphasis on orthodoxy and fundamentalism. Thus, when the Mongol invasion came with the sack of Baghdad by Hulagu Khan in 1258, every Muslim principality from Baghdad to Khorasan was wracked by internal dissension and sectarian tensions. Every sect was mortal enemy to another and would often collude with the Mongols to surrender the city or fort to allow the Mongols to destroy the followers of rival sects. In reality, the invaders would usually spare no one. A new political landscape appeared in the world of Islam after the fall of Baghdad. The Mongol conquerors gradually turned to the new faith and new centers of power and governments appeared including the Mamluks in Egypt, Syria and Yemen, the Ottomans in Turkey and Anatolia, the Timurids in West Asia and Iran, the Delhi Sultanate in India and many others. All of them remained at odds with each other and fought many bloody campaigns against rivals. Timur, the founder of the Timurid dynasty (also known as ‘Tamerlane’ or ‘Timur the lame’) waged numerous ferocious campaigns against the Delhi sultans and the Ottomans at one time invading Delhi and massacring its inhabitants so mercilessly that for years, Delhi was a ghost city. The Sunni-Shia divide was a constant source of conflict between the Ottomans and the Safavids of Persia. Thousands of Muslims were killed in their battles. Within the Ottoman Empire, the struggle for succession usually meant that whoever ascended the throne would first have their brothers and close relatives killed to leave no claimants to their throne. No religious leader ever condemned such acts. After hundreds of years, the only difference was that possible successors were imprisoned instead of being killed. During wars betweens Iranians, Afghans and Turks, building towers of human skulls from the corpses of the conquered was the usual custom. In India as well, the Northern kings were Sunni while those from the Deccan were Shi’a and forever at each others throats. Every Mughal emperor ascended to the throne after imprisoning or murdering his father and brothers. Religious unity was a pipe dream since even amongst blood relatives, there was no honor or mercy. At one time, there were no less than ten kingdoms in India from Punjab to Bengal. The Mughal Emperor Akbar, a staunch secularist and religious liberal was the first one to unite them under one banner. Even in his administration though, religious sectarianism was rife. There was no sign of any ‘Islamic’ religious harmony or unity although the arts, music, painting, poetry and architecture all flourished thus proving, again, that cultural progress and development has no connection to religious harmony. This overview of the history of Muslims is enough to demonstrate that unity is never based on religion or ideology nor is religious harmony a prerequisite for progress. Unity is always based on shared material interests, whether between oppressors or the oppressed. Today, millions around the world are united in their condemnation of

American Imperialism and aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan and protests are held in ‘non-Muslim’ Europe, America, Japan and Korea. This is in stark contrast to the governments and official policies of ‘Muslim’ governments who support America’s actions. Under these conditions, the natural allies of the people of Muslim countries are not the governments but the ordinary people living in the countries mentioned above who face the same conditions of exploitation and injustice at home.

‘Jihad’: Another historical fallacy posits that Muslims have abandoned ‘Jihad’ (literally ‘striving (in the way of Allah)’) and if we would only return to this noble endeavor, we could return to the ‘glory days’ of Islam. This fallacy has persuaded countless hundreds of thousands of Muslim youth to leave their homes to go to far off places where Muslims are involved in any armed struggles to join them. While their passion is laudable, the involvement of people who are foreign to a struggle often complicates and hinders matters rather than helping including conflicts with those they are supposedly there to assist. The Afghan jihad against the Russians is a case in point where people from all over the world including Arabs, Pakistanis, Somalis and many others showed up to join the ‘jihad’. Once the Soviets left, their internal conflicts came to the fore resulting in a horrific civil war that claimed thousands of lives and wrecked what was left of Afghanistan. A rare example of the type of ‘jihad’ described above in Muslim history is the Kharijites (literally "Those who Went Out") a general term embracing various Muslims who, while initially supporting the caliphate of the fourth and final "Rightly Guided" caliph Ali ibn Abi Talib, later rejected him. They first emerged in the late 7th century AD, concentrated in today's southern Iraq, and are distinct from the Sunnis and Shiites. Religiously they were strict traditionalists. The high point of the Kharijites' influence was in the years 690730 around Basra in south Iraq, which was always a center of Sunni theology. Kharijite ideology was a popular creed for rebels against the officially Sunni Caliphate, inspiring breakaway states and rebellions throughout the ‘Maghrib’ and sometimes elsewhere. They considered the smallest sin to be reason to brand other Muslims as ‘kafir’ (infidel) and proclaimed proudly that all non-Kharijites were inhabitants of ‘Dar-ul-Harb’ and the massacre of their women and children was religiously sanctioned. This, of course, is similar to our current jihadists who proclaim every sect except their own infidels, who tore apart Kabul and Afghanistan with their infighting after the Soviet withdrawal and are now busy doing the same in Pakistan. The Kharijites were a powerful force in the Umayyad era and revolted many times but could never gain political power due to their intransigent beliefs and eventually faded out under the Abbasids. Ibn Khaldun has mentioned several individuals in history who rallied their followers to begin a ‘jihad’ for religious supremacy. He is of the opinion that those who proffer these beliefs in the name of religion are either lunatics who need proper treatment or should be prosecuted for rebellion and sedition. Most, he believes, are rogues who covet political power under the guise of religion and adopt these tactics as a reaction against obtaining power legitimately.

The truth is that in the history of Islam, there have been only two occasions where the concept of Jihad was applicable. One was the Crusades and the other, the Mongol invasions. As we have seen though, never during those times did the ‘Ummah’ unite as one to fight the invaders nor was ‘Jihad’ ever proclaimed. The Fatimids, the Mamluks, Salahudin Ayubi (‘Saladin’) and other Muslim rulers resisted the Crusades on their own but not once did other Muslim kingdoms come to their aid nor was a ‘jihad’ ever proclaimed. The Mongol invasions were different still. Here, the prevailing Muslim kings actually invited the Mongols to attack their rivals and in some cases assisted them. In the Muslim cities sacked by the Mongols, religious sects were constantly fighting and would often vie with each other to see who could assist the invaders. Later, Muslims joined the Mongol armies in large numbers and helped sack Baghdad. Thus, even in the ‘golden age’ of Islam, every king fought their own wars, sometimes against other Muslim kings to defend their throne other times to enlarge their empires. The kind of ‘jihad’ espoused by Syed Ahmad Barelvi or the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden has been vanishingly rare in Islamic history practiced only by extremist sects like the Kharijites and Ibn Khaldun’s views on them seem accurate. Muslim ‘Character’ in the ‘Golden Age’: Another historical fallacy that is widely propagated is that Muslim rulers and commanders in the ‘Golden Age of Islam’ were paragons of virtue and purity, like the prophets, and if only we would emulate their character, we would be triumphant. In fact, this myth has been sustained and nurtured by fundamentalist Mullahs who ruled side by side with the kings and emperors of old and still chafe at their loss of influence once monarchies were replaced by elected governments. In fact, if we study our history as history and not as a religious text, we will see that those we venerate as beyond human failings were, in fact, humans with virtues and faults, the same as the vast majority of Muslims today. Muslim historians including Ibn Khaldun have described these qualities of rulers of the past quite objectively. In Baghdad during Abbasid rule, courts and preachers had declared alcohol legal and alcohol, dancing and carousing was quite prevalent in most Muslim kingdoms including the Umayyad, Abbasid, Fatimid, Ottoman, Seljuk and others. In fact, many caliphs of those eras died of alcohol related illness. Historians of the middle ages have written in detail about the political intrigues, the internecine blood shed, the opulence of their courts and their dissolute lifestyles contradicting the laws of the ‘Shariah’ and no one has accused them of maligning ‘Islam’. Their writings clearly demonstrate that most of these rulers were not religiously observant. They drank, enjoyed wine, women and music, had vast harems filled with women and sometimes young men and boys and yet, the religious leaders of the time sang their praises and declared allegiance to the king the same as allegiance to God. In turn, they were awarded pensions, stipends and all kinds of monetary support from the rulers and were an integral part of the machinery of the state. None of them declared this arrangement ‘Un-Islamic’ or spoke out against it. It was in the 19th and 20th century, once traditional Muslim kingdoms began to disintegrate against the rise of the Industrial powers that Islamic revivalist movements rose up to declare that the character of Muslims of the past was pure and the reason for their ascendancy was that they followed religions teaching strictly and without question,

that they were united in ‘Islamic Brotherhood’, that they were ‘above’ ethnic, linguistic or regional loyalties, that they were never greedy or treacherous, that they never drank or lived in opulence or womanized etc etc Of course the real reason for preaching these fantasies was that with the decline of the Muslim kingdoms and the rise of political governments, the influence of religious leaders had also declined along with their sources of money and support from the state. One way that they tried to obfuscate this issue was to begin referring to history as ‘Islamic history’ or ‘history of Islam’ and to turn the study of history into religious texts. The declining feudal landlords, aided by Western powers, were eager to assist in this charade. Religious ‘leaders’, to deceive ordinary people began presenting the history of Islamic Kingdoms as ‘Islamic history’ and blind worship of past glories was part of this deception. In the sub-continent, the leaders of the Deobandi and Nadwah sects were at the forefront of this effort starting from Shibli Nomani through Syed Sulaiman Nadvi, Abul Kalam Azad and Maulana Maududi. Later, the ‘Islamic’ novels of Nasim ‘Hejazi’, M.Aslam etc enlarged and popularized this charade. This popularization of nostalgia and fantasy led to ordinary Muslims thinking of Generals and Kings of the past as somehow more than mortals. Poets and artists contributed to this phenomenon with Allama Mohammad Iqbal’s poetry at the forefront in painting Islam’s past glories in unrealistically vivid colors and adding to the confusion and nostalgia of ordinary Muslims. Part of this was a reaction to Hindu fundamentalists presenting their past Kings and rulers as gods and goddesses. However, this wave of reaction could never address the real life problems of India’s Muslims. That task was left to the modernist, pro-education Aligarh movement of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan which attempted to slash the mental chains that bound Muslims to imaginary past glories. Sir Syed criticized hereditary monarchies in the strongest terms. Syed Ameer Ali, the Indian Muslim jurist, scholar and author wrote a history of the golden period of Muslim history but called it ‘History of the Saracens’ instead of ‘Islamic History’. Muhammad Husain Azad, the author of the masterpiece ‘Aab-e-Hayat’ and considered one of the best Urdu prose writers in his ‘Darbar-e-Akbari’ forcefully rebuffed the criticisms of reactionaries and presented history as separate from religious ideology. The interesting thing is that Muslim historians of the middle Ages who composed works to rival those of Herodotus of Greece, the ‘Father of History’, and Josephus, the first century Jewish historian never associated history with religious ideology. They examined the history of the Kings, Generals and courtiers of their time thru the lens of the monarchical system of governance, never confusing it with religious ideology. None of them called their historical works ‘Islamic History’ or ‘History of Islam. Foremost among them was Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabri (838-923 AD) who named his seminal work ‘Tarikh-al-Umum Ma-al-Maluk’ or ‘History of Nations and Kings’. Ibn Khaldun (732808 AD) called his monumental history ‘Kitab-ul-Ibar’ (full title “"Book of Evidence, Record of Beginnings and Events from the Days of the Arabs, Persians and Berbers and their Powerful Contemporaries"). There are countless other historical narratives by Muslim scholars that never professed to be ‘Islamic’ or ‘Muslim’ history. These authors never stretched the truths to portray Kings or Rulers as unrealistically religious and they took care to separate history from theology. If some of the subjects of their books truly were moral and virtuous people, they were described as such but it was rare to find kings or courtiers in these ranks.

These historians never shirked from pointing out the political struggles, the court intrigues, the internecine bloodshed and massacre of innocents, the luxury and opulence of the court including drinking, womanizing and homosexuality, all associated with the governments of their day. This was how power and wealth were obtained and kept and everyone knew that, therefore, historians felt no need to be apologetic about it. Muslim historians of today feel the need to either erase large periods of this history from their accounts or to describe it apologetically while painting the rulers of the day in the best light as virtuous and incorruptible. In addition, political campaigns to conquer new lands and subjugate people of other areas is presented as their quest to spread the ‘light of Islam’ rather than to add new territories and subjects to their empires. The inevitable massacres of innocents, the enslaving of countless women and children and the looting and bloodshed associated with these campaigns is either glossed over or justified in the name of religion. None of the historians of the past felt the need to justify any of these atrocities because they were the norm in the prevailing systems of exploitative monarchies. Non-Muslim conquerors behaved the same way in their military campaigns. The Industrial revolution and its global and far reaching social and political effects have forced reactionary Muslim historians to attempt revisions of history to try and convince people that a return to the days of those exploitative monarchies would be a desirable goal. They have declared separation of religion and governance as heresy while it is a historical fact that Muslim monarchs in the ‘golden age’ of Islam practiced strict separation of the two. These clumsy attempts to implement a distorted version of the systems of governance prevalent in the Middle Ages today are futile in the extreme. As far as virtue or morality are concerned, there is no shortage of virtuous, moral and religious people today. A people’s ascendance or their decline is never connected to their religiosity or lack thereof. This was as true in those days as it is now. Muslims have been attempting to ‘reform’ themselves along religious lines for over 150 years while our actual position in the world continues to decline. Any temporary improvements in that decline have been because of movements that stressed education and modernity and a break with the past. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan’s Aligarh movement is one example as is the secular leadership of Mohammad Ali Jinnah who managed to carve out a state in the teeth of Muslim religious opposition. The corrupt and exploitative policies of Pakistani rulers after his early death rapidly exhausted any possibilities that the new state had, forcing those same rulers to rely on the same religious leaders who opposed the formation of Pakistan in the first place. This has led to a steady and inexorable decline which continues to this day. If we were to study Muslim history as history instead of a religious text and study the leaders, rulers and reformers of our past as fallible humans as historians in the past have done, instead of as super-humans, we could plan a course for the future. It is only then that we can determine concrete goals instead of forever chasing phantoms in the past. The success of Muslim rulers of the past depended on how skillfully and efficiently they negotiated the existing social, economic and political realities of their day without confusing religion and politics. In contrast, we have not even begun to understand, let alone resolve our social and economic problems. The result of obsessive focus on religion is a poisonous inter-religious sectarianism that is consuming our societies from within. The Industrial revolution has ripped apart the social values of the agricultural past and if

we are to progress, it will require a concerted struggle against hereditary monarchical governance, social and class inequality, feudal values and religious reaction. This requires adherence to democratic political values, institutionalization of these values at all government and non-government levels, guarantees of basic human rights and freedom of speech and expression and a firm commitment to modern scientific and artistic values. Only on these bases can societies and governments be designed that will allow us to progress. In contrast, a yearning for the imaginary values that never existed in our golden past can only lead us further down the road to ruin. In summary, ‘Islamic government’ is an abstract concept. Systems of governance are built on the foundations of material and social conditions and this is true of Muslim governments in the past as well which included initially tribal confederacies and then hereditary monarchies. With the advent of the Industrial revolution and its associated democratic values, Muslim nations, instead of welcoming those changes chose to turn backwards towards an imaginary golden past and cling to the outmoded values it represents. Currently existing ‘Islamic governments’ present us with three alternatives: 1. The Saudi Arabian model of hereditary monarchy, 2. Afghanistan’s ‘Taliban’ model which is a futile attempt to impose the tribal confederacy structure of ancient Arabia and 3. The theocratic ‘Velayet-e-Faqih’ (‘Guardianship of the Jurists’) model prevalent in Iran which is similar to a monarchy except that religious leaders are in direct charge of the government. Every other Muslim country today is ruled by a military or semi-military government where the rights of ordinary citizens are severely curtailed. None of these systems of governance is adequate for the 21st century. The unity of the ‘Ummah’ is also an abstract concept. Alliances and treaties are based on material economic and social interests. The onslaught of the American Empire with its allies on Muslim and non-Muslim countries alike with the massacre of untold millions has enraged ordinary people the world over, Muslims and non-Muslims. In fact, ‘nonMuslim’ nations are more active and engaged against this threat. Thus the ordinary people of both Muslim and non-Muslim nations are natural allies against this common enemy, regardless of their religion, race or ethnicity. Instead of supporting the rogues who engage in religious rhetoric to send countless thousands to their deaths in far off lands, if the same people were to be galvanized to form a united front against international exploiters, it would be much more beneficial. Lastly, as far as virtuous ‘character’ is concerned, there is no dearth of moral or virtuous people today. In fact, as a proportion of the general population, there are many million more well intentioned and moral people in the world today, Muslim and non-Muslim than existed in the supposed golden past. Instead of wasting our time and energy on such nonissues, we should be concentrating on breaking free of the historical fallacies of the past to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Excerpted and Translated from ‘Hamari tareekh fehmi aur hamara fikri-o-siyaasi bohraan’ by Hasan Jaafar Zaidi. First published in ‘Mahnama Adb-e-Lateef’.