Interview With Maulana Kalbe Sadiq
Maulana Kalbe Sadiq is perhaps India’s best-known Shi’a Muslim scholar. He is
also the Vice-President of the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board. In this
interview with Yoginder Sikand he discusses a range of issues related to Islam,
Muslims and inter-community relations.
Q: How, as an Islamic scholar, do you look at the issue of inter-faith
A: There are, broadly, two ways of approaching this question. The first is to
see it in terms of a so-called ‘clash of civilisations’. Another way is to look
at it as an opportunity and a challenge, to work for inter-faith dialogue, and
that is what I personally believe in and have tried to follow. I have had
numerous dialogues and discussions with Hindu religious leaders in India, and
with several Sunni Muslim leaders in India, Pakistan and elsewhere. Dialogue
through personal communication and contact, I believe, is the only way to clear
misunderstandings and bring the different communities closer. There is really no
other way out.
Q: How do you view the phenomenon of Islamism , that is
so much talked about today?
A: See, the Islamic law or shari’ah rests on certain basic fundamentals:
intellectual development, spiritual development and production of life, and
production of wealth. Now, a society which rests on these principles is a
balanced one. If that is what people are struggling for, I support it. But this
sort of thing cannot be imposed, because this is an age of dialogue. You cannot
force something down people’s throats. Instead, you need to convince them of
your claims by the force of your personality and character. The Qur’an very
clearly states that there can be no compulsion in religion. One also must
understand how religion has been misused for narrow political ends, so not every
state that claims to be ‘Islamic’ really is so. Is Pakistan really an ‘Islamic’
state? Are Saudi Arabia, Morocco or Iran? No, in my opinion, there is no state
today which can claim to be truly ‘Islamic’ in the true sense of the term.
A truly Islamic society, as the Prophet Mohammad defined it, is one where there
is complete social justice, which is not to be found in any of the so-called
Islamic states in the world today. In my view, the basic purpose of God’s
sending to earth a succession of prophets and scriptures was to end oppression
and establish social justice. So, as I see it, an ideal state would be one in
which nobody, irrespective of religion, is oppressed. Any other sort of rule is
not really ‘Islamic’.
Q: To come back to the question inter-faith dialogue, how have the Indian ‘ulama
typically viewed Hinduism? I think this has been often in very negative terms,
but do you see the possibility of a different way of looking at the issue?
A: I think the ‘ulama must discuss this question. The Qur’an talks about the
ahl-i kitab, or ‘people of the book’, whom it considers as ‘protected people’,
such as Jews and Christians. It recognises that they have been recipients of
holy scriptures. Now, in traditional Islamic jurisprudence there is another
group of people who are seen as similar to the ‘people of the book’, such as the
Zoroastrians, who also claim to have received divine scriptures. So, perhaps the
Hindus can also be considered, from this juridical point of view, as similar to
the Zoroastrians. I’ve read the Gita myself, and I can say that it preaches pure
monotheism and is opposed to idolatry. Those who have read the Vedas also make
the same point. And then, the Qur’an itself clearly says that God has sent
messengers to every community, so it might well be that the Vedas were divinely
Q: What do you feel should be the role of the ‘ulama in Muslim society? What are
your own feelings about how the ‘ulama function today?
A: A true ‘alim, as Imam ‘Ali once mentioned in a sermon, is one who struggles
for the end of oppression and for the establishment of social justice. I do
respect the present-day ‘ulama, but I must say that, on the whole, they have cut
themselves off from the public, from issues of contemporary social concern. Most
of them do not have any interest in working to alleviate the sufferings of the
people, as the Prophet did. I think that you cannot call yourself an ‘alim if
you do not help the distressed and the needy. Now, this sort of service is not
to be limited simply to preaching the virtues of religion, but must also include
providing people concrete services, setting up welfare organisations and so on.
The mission of the ‘ulama should be to help people, not to create more problems
Q: What are your views about the ongoing debates on madrasa reforms? Critics
argue that much that the madrasas teach is irrelevant in today’s context and
leaves their students ignorant of issues of pressing contemporary concern.
A: There is an immense stagnation of thought (jamud-i fikri) in most of the
madrasas, and this is a major problem. The major focus in the madrasas is on the
nitty-gritty of ritual actions, and there is really no effort to provide the
students with an awareness of the major issues in the wider world.
Q: Increasingly, in places such as Pakistan, there has been an alarming rise in
Shi’a-Sunni clashes. How do you account for this and what can be done to stop
the spread of sectarian conflict?
A: I do not believe that there is any inherent conflict between Shi’as and
Sunnis. After all, there are no Shi’a-Sunni clashes in India. Even in Pakistan
it is not really a Shi’a-Sunni conflict. Ordinary Shi’as and Sunnis in Pakistan
live together in peace. The real cause of these incidents of violence is
political, and politicians and some mullahs who claim to be religious leaders
have a vested interest in instigating sectarian violence. It is the work of
ignorant mullahs, who provoke their equally ignorant followers. I think
President Musharraf is doing a good job in courageously trying to tackle this
problem, for which he is facing considerable opposition and even threats to his
Q: At the theological level, how do you think Shi’a-Sunni differences can be
A: We cannot do away with all our differences, but we can narrow them down and
learn to live with those that remain. These different sects (mazhab, maslak) are
human creations, while true religion (din) is from God. That is why the Qur’an
uses the word ‘din’ and not ‘mazhab’ and ‘maslak’. So, you can remain associated
with whatever sect you want, but you must also remember that all the different
sects are made by human beings. Since the ‘din’ is divine, it must be primary,
and only after that need one identify himself with one of the many sects if you
wish. The problem arises when you reverse the order, and you place something
that is a human product over and above that which is divine.
When I point this out in my lectures people realise the futility of sectarian
violence and conflicts. You also have to appeal to people by your own character
and through peaceful dialogue. Let me give you an example. It is said that some
Ahl-i Hadith scholars consider the Shi’as as infidels. Once, I was travelling
with Maulana Abdul Wahhab Khilji, a senior Indian Ahl-i Hadith leader, and I
overheard him say to another maulvi that many of his friends were opposed to
his friendship with me on account of my being a Shi’a. He, however, told his
friends that he would be happy if I were to accept him like my own son!
The point I am trying to make is that people change their views not through
polemical wars but by being influenced by the character and behaviour of others.
If you show that you love them, they will express their love for you, too.
Hatred only produces further hatred, making the problem even more intractable.
And this principle is as valid in the case of intra-Muslim differences as it is,
say, in the case of Hindu-Muslim relations.