Religion, Philosophy and the Heart

The Ghamidi Phenomenon

Most of the Muslim world today is steeped in violent conflicts. Occasionally this violence spans out and hits other parts of the world. Though the reasons for this violence are not located entirely in Muslim societies, it has created an image of Islam, and Muslim societies, as being inherently violent. This perception largely guides the peoples’ understanding of Islam, and consequently their relationship with the Muslim world. Islam is generally projected as a religion that promotes irrational violence, and a reason for the Muslim societies to regress into medieval obscurantism. Though there are counter voices that contest this perception, and these come not just from the Muslim scholars, but the anxieties remain.

Javed Ahmed Ghamidi confronts these questions with a scholar’s calm. He is neither apologetic nor rhetorical. His research into the core text of Islam and his study of Muslim history is turning the understanding of Islam and the Muslim history upside down. While firmly stationed in Tradition, Javed dismantles the intellectual structures built over many centuries in the Muslim world. Away from the explanations like Global Power struggle, and far removed from the conspiracy theories, he locates the reasons for the present crisis of the Muslim world in the faulty understanding of the Quranic text and a misleading interpretation of the early history of Islam. In a nutshell, his is a Paradigm Shift.

Almost a century back, prominent Muslim philosopher Dr Muhammad Iqbal gave a series of lectures “attempting to reconstruct Muslim religious philosophy with due regard to the philosophical tradition of Islam and the more recent developments in the various domains of human knowledge.” These lectures were later published under the title, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam. However, this work found few takers compared to Iqbal’s poetry that became immensely popular. Since then, Muslims have not contemplated seriously on the suggestions of Iqbal. However, recent events have again forced Muslims to rethink some of the key contentious issues that stare them in the face. Several Muslim scholars have attempted to present the traditional narrative in a new style and idiom. In contrast, some liberal Muslims have suggested reforms in the very scriptures, considered inerrant and divine by the Muslims. Javed Ahmed Ghamidi is; however, the third trend becoming known to the world now. His influence, until recently, was restricted to the Urdu speaking audience. But now his works are getting translated into English and other languages of the world.

A former member of the Council of Islamic Ideology, a constitutional body, tasked with giving legal inputs on various issues to the Pakistan Government, and the Parliament, Ghamidi has become a popular figure in Pakistan for his unorthodox reading of the Qur’an. His intellectual conclusions affect almost everything related to Muslim societies, Muslim States, and the relationship of Muslims with other faiths. His opposition to suicide bombings, his criticism of Jihad waged by private armed groups, and rejection of the notions of Islamic Khilafah, and his ceaseless advocacy for democracy in the Muslim states has earned him admiration and rebuke, all at once. But he has opened the door for a renewed thinking about some cardinal questions related to Islam and Muslim history.

Ghamidi is an extension of the Farahi-Islahi school of thought. This school argues for a thematic understanding of the Qur’an through its own language and the parallels within it, the supremacy of the Qur’an over other subsidiary Islamic texts, such as the Hadith, thereby interpreting everything else in the light of the Qur’an, a distinction between Shari’ah (Divine Law) and Fiqh (Muslim Jurisprudence), some special dealings of the Almighty with the foremost addressees of a Messenger (Rasool), as against a plain Prophet, that do not apply to the people after that period, and a special Divine Law concerning the progeny of Abraham.

Ghamidi has developed a reconstructed religious thought of Islam without altering the Islamic tenets. He is well-grounded in classical Islamic tradition and never leaves this framework even though his conclusions on many issues are markedly different from the majority of the Muslim scholars. At a time when many pin their hopes on “moderate” secular Muslims to lead the charge against radical militant Muslims, Ghamidi offers a more powerful and profound deconstruction of the violent and bitter interpretation of Islam. His Magnum Opus Meezaan (English translation Islam – A Comprehensive Introduction) is an extensive study of the contents of Islam and a fresh interpretation of Islam from its original sources. According to him, the reason he has undertaken this task is that the interpretation of sacred texts has always remained a human endeavour and thus can never remain fault-free. He does not shy away from critically evaluating even the giants of Muslim scholarship, for only the Prophets are immune from error.

Recently, he has put forward a very comprehensive narrative on the relationship between Islam and State. He has explained how the extremists are actually playing God by taking matters that are to be left to God, in their own hands. He argues that the struggle to establish an Islamic State is not a directive of the Shari’ah and the directives related to the punishment of Apostasy, the Dhimmi status of non-Muslims under a Muslim government, prohibition of friendship with non-Muslims, greeting non-Muslims in an inferior way, etc. are not related to our times. In Ghamidi’s view, these directives relate only to the direct addressees of Prophet Muhammad. Ghamidi gave a series of lectures in Dallas in 2015 explaining the basis of his counter-narrative and critically evaluating the extremist narrative. His thought is being accepted by a good number of Muslims, particularly the young educated Muslims, but he has also made several staunch enemies from the extremists. Threats to his life and those of the people associated with him, have forced him to move out of Pakistan and seek shelter in Malaysia. A couple of his close associates were gunned down as well. But this has not deterred him from voicing his opinions, and he continues to talk about these issues with grace, and probity.

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