Is Critiquing a crime? Can Muslims be critical of their community?
Speaking at a Muslim public forum recently, a prominent Muslim American leader advised Muslims never to criticize fellow Muslims. In the same breath, he criticized Muslims who criticize fellow Muslims. That summarizes the ostrich-like behavior that Muslim leaders and intellectuals, in general, have displayed in the Americas and elsewhere. Be critical of everyone else but not Muslims or those belonging to my organization, tribe, party, or school of thought. Burying one's head in the sand and not looking at the reality in its eyes are not supported by the Quran or the teaching of the Prophet.
Muslims are quick to criticize everyone except themselves. When anyone breaks this culture of silence, hell breaks loose, and allegations start flying. It was in 2001 when the Taliban asked non-Muslims to wear special badges to identify them, a discriminator directive. I published an article on MSNBC and declared that as a gesture of defiance, I would wear the badge identifying with non-Muslims. I knew it was a symbolic gesture, and the Taliban would not even notice this protest. But I wanted to make the point that these practices demean human beings and have no place in our world. That evening, I received a phone call asking me to join a conference call with some of the community's elders. They chastised me for being critical of the Taliban and asked me to withdraw my article from the website. I did not. I paid the price as they shunned me from their conferences and mosques and declared me a persona non grata in their Muslim circles. I never regretted my decision. Later on, those who were critical of my stand also joined the anti-Taliban bandwagon.
My opinion originated in the Quranic dictate, a book that I regard my guide
The book that is the manifesto of Muslims clearly states:
O YOU who have attained to faith! Be ever steadfast in upholding equity, bearing witness to the truth for God, even though it is against your own or your parents and kinsfolk. Whether the person concerned be rich or poor, God's claim takes precedence over [the claims of] either of them. Do not, then, follow your desires, lest you swerve from justice: for if you distort [the truth], behold, God, is indeed aware of all that you do." (4:135)
The Prophet, in a famous statement, admonishes the believers to take a stand against objectionable matters. "Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then [let him change it] with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart — and that is the weakest of faith." [Muslim]
Human beings are fallible, including scholars and leaders. The Quran and the Prophet propose a check and balance method to ensure the accuracy and validity of an opinion. People should discuss their affairs openly and fearlessly.
Critiquing an idea is not putting down its promoter. It is the only way to recognize one's humility and humanity. Only the divine guidance and Prophetic actions are sacrosanct. The divine guidance is available in the Quran the Prophet's activities are reflections of the advice. Any statement or action attributed to the proplet, not in conformity with the Quran, is false. A prophet cannot betray the message he is responsible for relaying and live.
In the Quran, we find several instances where God and his messengers were critical of people and institutions. In chapter 80, the Quran reprimands the practice of ignoring people because of their personal or physical defects. In several statements, the Prophet is critical of his companions who take an extreme position in observing the faith.
Islam encourages open debates and discussions. A scholar or leader may make a mistake. An open discussion about an opinion or on a condition prevailing in the community minimizes the chances of errors.
Unfortunately, Muslims have abandoned these Quranic directives and have convinced them that to question or debate is a deviation from the faith. People look down upon those critiquing or questioning. It prevents people from having an objective understanding of their reality. We would learn to navigate only through debate and discussion and challenging our status quo in our troubled times.
We should not shy away from discussing everything and anything. Those Muslims who are raising genuine issues are not the enemies of Islam and Muslims. Questioning may cause discomfort to many, but it would ultimately lead to a better understanding of the situation. Let us hope that differences of opinion or critiquing the style of leadership leads us to a better future.