Make Mosques Inclusive Again 

 

By Amir Suhail Wani

THE life and teachings of the Prophet of Islam and the Quran demonstrate the inclusive, merciful and compassionate nature of Islam. Within the holy life of the Prophet itself, we come across incidents where the Prophet embraced not only marginalised and oppressed but his enemies and the enemies of Islam too, with the spirit of extending the canopy of mercy to all. This tradition has lately waned away and what we see is stark and ugly growth of ideology in the guise of Islam that is interested in exclusion more than inclusion - a circle under implosion. When one talks of Islam, one is inadvertently driven to the institution of the mosque and the overt and covert manifestations of exclusion in this Islamic institution of primary social importance. Mosques in Islam, aren't simply sacred spaces devoted to worship, but importantly, they function as indispensable social institutions within Islamic society with diverse social functions attached to them. But what has been tragically happening for quite some time now is that Mosques are turning more and more exclusive, closing their doors, literally as well as symbolically to those who otherwise need these spaces the most. A halo of hollow piety and misplaced religiosity has turned spaces of inclusion into spaces of exclusion, thereby violating the very essence of Mosques and demeaning their role and importance in Muslim societies.

Quran described the Prophet as one who cleanses people's hearts of filth, removing the unwanted substances from their souls and teaching them the book (The Quran). This explicitly translates into the fact that the responsibility of the men of the pulpit (Maulanas) isn't only to dispense, like a machine, the subtleties of religion to people. They are expected and supposed to act as models as well as sculptures of moral sublimity and ethical perfection. But this is possible only when our preachers are ready to accept humans as humans with all their fallacies and shortcomings. It is very much antithetical to the spirit of Islam to engage in "moral profiling" and ignore those who do not fit into these profiles. The need is instead to open hearts for those who stand in need of support and guidance, those who want to turn to their creator, mend their ways and rebuild themselves but are not shown acceptance at the Mosques or by religious clerics. This has had a regressive impact on how our youth engage with religion and in turn with society and ultimately themselves. The exclusion and rejection they endure stiffens them in their behavioural patterns and having been deprived of their right to mercy, participation and inclusion, they end up messing their lives, the lives of people around them and the society at large. This is not merely a hypothetical construct, but a real life issue which plays out in society now and then. It is not the prerogative of fallible humans to enumerate the criteria for inclusion/exclusion and then classify people into either of these classes. The realistic and only acceptable attitude for a preacher (Da'ee) is to leave open all portals of mercy and all avenues of inclusion. The transformation that the Prophet ushered by embracing those who were otherwise apparently not eligible for the same initiated one of the greatest revolutions in human history. A historian has described the companions of the Prophet as "nursery of heroes", but when one looks at their pre-Islamic career, they appear to be no more than ordinary tribesmen, at perpetual war with one another. Thus Islam is an alchemy of transformation, transforming the baser humans into paragons of humanity. It is not intelligible to Islam to pre-classify people into pious and wicked and prefer former over latter in an attempt of social Reformation and moral upliftment. It is an eye-opener to those religious men of our times who behave otherwise and in so doing tamper the spirit and essence of religion and scripture.

The last century has seen the sprouting of various religious movements in Islam emphasising inclusion and participation of one and all in the marathon of salvation. In the wake of these movements, the Mosques turned more inclusive, participatory and liberating, extending themselves to socially marginalised, religiously oppressed and underprivileged. In this way, the Mosques to some extent restored their social functionalism and cultural dynamism. But a crass misgiving characterising these movements was that like their predecessors, they paid little or no attention to gender inclusion and left out of the religious sentiments and issues of half of the population unaddressed. The fact was glossed over and forgotten that Islam rose to the occasion as an emancipatory and inclusive movement, including within the horizons of its messages all diversities of Cast, Creed, Gender, Geography and Ethnicity. But the passage of time blinded Muslims to these brighter of their religion and Muslim obsession with issues of little importance blinded them to the compassionate and ever embracing aspects of religion.

It is no impossibility that the religion which harbours inclusion, equality, social dynamism and the cultural compatibility will rise and reassert these liberating values again. But this path to liberating praxis is beset with ignorance of the fundamental and essential teachings of religion both on part of scholars and the youth. Our scholars, well versed in the traditional sciences as they are, are equally unaware of the challenges that modern world has thrown open at the religion. The young generation, raised up in modern academia as they are, are condescending about religion, despite their poorer understanding of the same. This bilateral ignorance has widened the gulf between the youth and the scholars, bringing them at loggerheads with one another. The way out to bridge this gap lies in revisiting the schemes - both of religious and secular education. The path to reconciliation and inclusion has to pass through the meadows of learning and understanding.


Views expressed in the article are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer 

  • The author is a freelancer, R&D Engineer and comparative studies scholar

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