Indians, especially Indian Muslims, who have started understanding the period of 1947 to this day, with the new lens of a rising Bharat, are wary of scholars, civil society, media influencers and authors intellectualising terror or violent acts done in the name of Islam.
We saw this intellectualising in the Indian media in the decades following the Kashmir Jihad. Channels would be bombarded with justifications of how the Kashmiris were fighting the "occupation" by India.
Today, it has become necessary to correct the wrongs of such a narrative and also to guard against successive versions of it.
So, when Mustafa Akyol writes about the dubious roots of religious police in Islam, one has to take it with a pinch of salt, considering the author has also parroted the Western narrative of a ‘Muslim persecution underway in Modi's India’ from time to time.
Ironically enough, the majority of the Indian Muslims Akyol bats for, will not entertain the ideas he presents in his two books, Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty and Reopening Muslim Minds: A Return to Reason, Freedom and Tolerance.
Religious policing is familiar to us women of Muslim heritage since childhood. The images of the Gasht-e-Ershad (guidance patrols) of Iran enforcing the hijab/veiling on Iranian women makes people think of a squad of women and men, swooping down the streets, in buses and metros, even barging into homes to enforce piety and religious virtues.
But people need to see that religious policing is done by ordinary Muslims too, mostly the Muslim male, with the women carrying water for Islamists as their support wing inside homes, in schools, colleges, on the streets, neighbourhoods, etc.
Clearly, the Muslim ummah seems to believe that attainment of piety is ensured when a society achieves high Orwellian-state standards.
Mustafa Akyol's article traces a clear graph of the development of this policing which seems to have started right; but as happens with everything 'Islamic', the right intention gets hijacked (apologists love this term, as did Kashmir Jihad apologists).
So, the Quranic injunction of 'commanding the right and forbidding the wrong' is combined with the institution of 'hisba' to explain the hijacking of what was, at one point in time, rebellion against Muslim tyrants.
The crux of the reasoning in the article is that at the heart of Islamic Civilisation is the marketplace. Since the founder of Islam and many of the first Muslims were merchants and traders, the marketplace became an institution itself that had to be regulated and monitored for fraudulent practices.
Hence even women were appointed as inspectors in the early years of Islam under several of the early Caliphs right up to the time the Islamic Empire extended to Spain.
The inspectors who were supposed to stick to inspecting weights, measures and scales gradually 'shifted' to the zeal of holding people accountable for their right and wrong deeds and bringing them to book.
It is this 'shift' which shows a pattern in Islamic Civilisation, time and again — the male Muslim taking power from different schools of interpretation of Sharia law and Islamic jurisprudence; adopting the patriarchal interpretations of the Scriptures from accompanying texts, lore and literature while establishing himself as the inspector /gatekeeper of morality within the society he lives in.
The modern world knows these male Muslim men as the Taliban, a much more high-profile group that controls Afghanistan and tries to export its ideology to neighbouring countries through terrorism too.
But there are the local varieties too — the mohalla dada (don), or 'bhai' (goon) — a bully who goes around with his goon squad, enforcing piety on people, especially as a protector of the honour of women which by extension means the honour of the Muslim tribe.
So, the censor of morals by breaking musical instruments, pouring out wine from clay casks, beating the libertine and tearing off his silken clothing that used to happen in Muslim cities across the Islamic Empire, eventually gave way to religious police in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Malaysia and the Aceh Province of Indonesia and Iran, of course.
Since the institution of 'hisba' took inspiration from the Quranic injunction of "commanding the right and forbidding the wrong", it is easy to see why ordinary people would also take it upon themselves to be "Orwellian" to each other.
The Pakistani regular police has adab (decency) units who inspect and punish religious misdeeds, such as dancing 'seductively' on TikTok or eating or drinking in public during daylight hours in the holy month of Ramadan.
Not very different from the Muslim patriarch in the family forbidding jeans, working, reading subversive literature, or the neighbourhood street bully ordering a woman to veil up.
The philosophical questions that Akyol truthfully asks in the article are never asked by an 'ummah' that is never taught critical thinking or self-introspection, and a civilisation that condemned philosophers as heretics since the 12th century — 'What is "right" and what is "wrong"?, 'Who decides it?', 'What is the value of prayer, if it is performed out of fear, whether of the mutawein (religious police) batons or God? 'What is the point of any religious practice, if it is not freely chosen?'
The problem of these regressive trajectories, strands and traditions in Islam always emanates from the Hadith, a corpus of literature that grew in the first centuries of Islam, extending the laws laid down by the Quran for Muslims.
This body of religious laws has a mixture of solitary reported Hadiths and widely transmitted and popular ones, plus the fact that every single revered scholar who compiled them was a male ulema.
Those schools of Islamic jurisprudence that govern our Muslim Personal Laws today grew out of this male congress or convocation of centuries ago, with patriarchal interpretations of Quranic laws, as can be seen in Aurangzeb's Committee, comprising of Shah Waliullah's father, that pit together the Fatwa-e-Alamgiri (Owaisi swears by this, and hence is always opposed to reform to civil laws and liberties).
Religious policing destroyed the divinity in the revelations, preaching proselytising of monotheism, whether it was the marketplace provosts or the tyrants at home, matriarchal or patriarchal.
To think then, that the followers of this culture have the audacity to accuse the 'infidels', 'heathens', 'pagans' of tyranny or discrimination baffles one's mind, considering how many Muslims are still getting killed because "commanding the right and forbidding the wrong'' has been weaponised for not just believers but non-believers and non-Muslims too.
Arshia Malik is a columnist and commentator on social issues with particular emphasis on Islam in the Indian subcontinent.
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