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As Ramzan is the month in which the Qur’an was revealed, I am “Reading the Qur’an” by Ziauddin Sardar and below is an excerpt that caught my attention as it is so on the spot.
Al-Baqarah : A Middle Community.
It’s important in my opinion to emphasize that the Qur’an is not suggesting that Muslims are the Middle community; rather it is pointing out that Muslims can and should always strive to become a community of the middle way. As such the notion of the middle community is primarily a tool of self-reflection. It implies that a balance must be sought between our physical and spiritual needs, the demands of the body and the demands of the soul. Both need equal nourishment. In the Qur’anic scheme, there is no inherent conflict between spirit and the flesh, the desire for sexual fulfilment or good food and the quest for spiritual satisfaction. We can’t neglect either; but we also cannot become obsessed with one or the other. Nor are wealth and possessions in and of themselves to be shunned, but they are to be spent. Whatever we do, whatever we seek, whatever we accumulate can be purified by moderation and ‘spending’ that is operating a distributive inclusive outlook in all aspects of life in an environment open, tolerant and welcoming to all. This much is widely acknowledged by Muslim scholars. But beyond that, the notion of ‘a middle community’ has to be translated as an all-embracing idea touching all aspects of our life and thought. It suggests moderation in our approach to religion, which should not become the sole marker of our identity, a totalitarian obsession that undermines common human values, and eventually leads to self-destruction. It points towards a balanced approach to reason and revelation, science and values, ethics and morality. It argues for a more respectful and humble approach to nature, holding ourselves responsible and accountable as trustees, people who look after and preserve the environment for future generations. It demands fair-play, equity and justice in our economic activity and moderation in politics.
The message of the Qur’an is one thing, how Muslims actually behave in real life, and how Muslim societies shape and manage themselves is quite another. When I look around the Muslim world, I see not ‘a community of the middle way’ but communities of extremes – of obnoxious, ostentatious wealth in the midst of abject poverty, of religious zealots and self-righteous chauvinists, of despots and demagogues. I see societies profoundly confused about how and in what way to be Muslim, how to express and fulfil their religious identity in the complexities of the modern world. I see communities vacillating uncertainly between a truncated and fossilised tradition and vague imaginings about how to rekindle and recapture the glories of their history. I see communities of debate and concern offering plans for modernization, reform and revolution that turn out to be cul de sacs that do little or nothing to address the real problem.
And I see those who peddle the panacea of violence, the quick fix of the fun and bomb, the panic politics of animosity and destruction of supposed enemies, as if that is any answer to the predicament of making a batter, more peaceful and sustainable world. These are not communities displaying the quality and character they should derive from turning towards the Kaaba in prayer. And it is definitely not integrated and coherent as a community that ‘races to do good deeds’ (v.148 The Quran)