Q. I am Indian, and every so often these days, some of my non-Muslim friends comment that in countries where Muslims are in the majority, they force other communities to follow their rules and where they are in the minority, they cry foul about discrimination against them. My friends believe that the flaw is with the Islamic belief that it is the most superior religion in fact the only true path to God. Indeed the news we hear about the treatment of minorities in Muslim countries is not encouraging.

Also, some say that even if not all or most Muslims are terrorists, still most terrorists of today are Muslims, so they must be deriving their inspiration from somewhere in the Islamic scripture. In this day and age, it is difficult for me to understand this, along with the association between religion and state. The Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) was the final Messenger of God, so why the need to have Islamic kingdoms or states?

A. First of all, instead of disagreeing with your friends, you agree with what is true: that as far as we know, those designated as terrorists are indeed Muslims. But then you ask: do such beliefs come from the religion, or is it from the geopolitics? And why is it that we allow Christians to say that their religion should be the main one in Christian majority countries, but not Islam in Muslim majority countries? What we see now is a culmination of what happened after 1798 when Napoleon's invasion started colonization of the Muslim majority areas. This was followed by the British doing the same. The Muslims reacted, and as part of the fight against foreign domination, they resort to religion vocabulary.

The problem is that the very colonization that destroyed the Muslim centers of learning took away the power of the trained scholars, and so today we see doctors and engineers all speaking for Islam while the trained jurists are relegated to being silent onlookers. The loudest voices in the Muslim world are not trained jurists, but activists. In India you have one, Zakir Naik, who without any formal training in Islamic Law, has now taken it upon himself to misrepresent Islam as well as other religions. The modern Islamic state is based on medieval polity, and most Muslim states have not made the leap from the medieval time to modernity. If you read Karen Armstrong's "Islam," her chapter on "The Coming of the West" is amazingly astute, so too, Khalid Abou El Fadl's "The Great Theft."

Religionists, regardless of their faith, typically tend to believe that their religion is the only one that provides redemption. The Indonesian scholar Nurcholish Madjid showed that the Quran, when properly understood, is universalistic and accommodating of other religions, which also lead to salvation. He cited Ibn Rushd who maintained that all religions were equal, and all were valid paths to God. Nurcholish felt that once tawhid (monotheism) was understood as an inclusive, overarching concept, within which every religion has a place, there is no scope for any one religion to claim superiority over another, let alone wage war in defense of its unique claim to truth. The Egyptian intellectual Nasr Abu Zaid believed that the idea of Islam as a blend of religion and state is a modern concept and was absent from the seventh to ninth centuries. He felt that there must be a clear separation between religion and state in order for religion to blossom and progress. In the absence of this, creed becomes a religious and political weapon with which to persecute minorities and those with differing religious and political views. Furthermore, Abu Zaid believed that Shari'a law is human law and there is nothing divine about it.

Posted April 20, 2016