September 11, 2001
tragedy and the wars in
Afghanistan and Pakistan, the dialogue between followers of different religious,
spiritual and secular traditions worldwide has reached new heights and depths.
While followers of some religious traditions are dreaming of creating theocratic
states, secular minded people are working to preserve scientific education in
their schools and maintain the human rights of women, children and minorities in
their communities and cultures.
In these passionate dialogues, scriptures are playing a significant
role. Their interpretations and relevance in the 21st century can be
seen on a wide spectrum.
On the extreme right of the spectrum are the followers of religious traditions
who believe that scriptures are collections of divine revelations and are the
guidelines for writing constitutions for theocratic states. They believe in a
Creator God who not only created human beings but also provided them with
guidance through Prophets in the form of scriptures that contain laws for all of
humanity until eternity. They pray for the day when all human beings on earth
will make laws based on scriptures.
Still on the right but closer to the centre are the followers of spiritual
traditions who believe that scriptures provide personal guidance, unrelated to
matters of state.
To the left of centre are those who read scriptures as part of folklore—as a
collection of mythology and wisdom literature. They are of the opinion that
scriptures can offer enlightenment but are not meant as a basis for laws.
On the extreme left of the spectrum are the atheists who believe that scriptures
are completely outdated documents with no relevance in the 21st
In the last couple of centuries the disciplines of biology, psychology,
sociology and philosophy have been challenging traditional beliefs in God,
Prophets, Scriptures and life after death. The number of atheists, agnostics,
humanists and free thinkers has grown from 1% in 1900 to nearly 20% in 2000,
which means that one in five people in the world have outgrown religions. Such a
significant change is partly due to the discoveries of Charles Darwin, Karl
Marx, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud and many other secular scholars and
scientists whose discoveries are becoming increasingly popular with the passage
of time. Followers of these scholars and philosophers demand objective,
rational, logical and scientific evidence for any assertion to be accepted as
In the 21st century, many are coming to the conclusion that
religion and spirituality are private matters and that while all human beings
have the right to their private belief systems, they do not have the right to
impose their values on others. They believe that state laws should be based on
democratic, secular and humanistic laws according to which all citizens are
entitled to equal rights and privileges. The debates between religious,
spiritual and secular people are based on their understanding of what role
scriptures should play in people’s personal, social and political lives.
It is interesting to note that while most Christians support the
separation of church and state and most Jews have agreed to keep synagogue and
state separate, there are still many Muslims who find it difficult to accept the
separation of mosque and state. They dream of establishing Islamic theocratic
states with Quran as the basis of the constitution as they believe Islam to be a
complete system encompassing all aspects of life— personal, social, religious as
well as political. They are thrilled to see a secular
transforming into the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
Many secular people wonder which interpretation of Quran would be
considered valid for an Islamic state, because followers of each sect believe
that their interpretation is the correct one. When we read Muslim scholars like
Abul ala Maududi, Ghulam Ahmed Pervaiz, Abul Kalam Azad, Mirza Ghulam Ahmed and
many others, we are struck by their differences of opinion.
Some believe in one wife, while others believe in four.
Some believe in jihad with the sword, while others believe in the jihad of the
Some believe men are superior to women while others believe in the equality of
men and women.
Some believe in cutting off the hands of thieves and stoning adulterers, while
others believe that those punishments were from a particular time in the past
and no longer apply.
Some believe in Muslims having female slaves while others consider such
Even the subject of the origin of Quran is a great controversy for
Muslims. Some believe Quran was compiled at the time of Mohammad under his
supervision. Others believe that there were many versions of Quran at the time
of Mohammad’s death and that during the reign of Caliph Usman, the official
Quran was compiled and other versions were ordered to be destroyed.
It is apparent from this discussion that these questions and controversies make
it difficult for Muslims throughout the world to achieve a consensus. Many
Muslims are genuinely confused and unsure which interpretation of Quran to
follow: Shiite or Sunni, Ahmedi or Salafi, Deobandi or Brelvi. That is why some
Muslims believe that in spite of one text of Quran, there are many Qurans
because of different, even conflicting and contradicting interpretations,
reflecting many Islams that have evolved in different parts of the world in the
last few centuries.
In the 21st century Muslims are at a crossroads. They have to
…Political Islam offered by militant fundamentalist leaders
…Spiritual Islam shared by peace loving leaders
…. a Humanistic lifestyle based on scientific and secular values.
While some Muslims in Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia,
Afghanistan and Pakistan are working towards the foundation of theocratic states
based on a fundamentalist interpretation of Quran, secular minded people are
wondering whether Muslims will embrace modern advancements in science, sociology
and psychology or adopt a system that originated in the
nearly 1500 years ago. At such a juncture a passionate dialogue between
followers of religious, spiritual and secular traditions is crucial as it will
play a significant role in raising social consciousness and deciding the future
of humanity in general and the future of Muslims in particular. It will be
fascinating to watch whether in the future scriptures will become part of
theology or philosophy, will be considered divine revelations or folklore, and
will be perceived as myth or reality.