The Resolute Reformer
 Imam Mohammad Tawhidi discredits the claims of any Islamic basis of talaq and halala. He suggests that the Muslims should follow the law of their land, because even many Ayatollahs urge their followers to follow the law of their lands
In the Preface of his best-selling book ‘The Tragedy of Islam: Admissions of a Muslim Imam’, Imam Mohammad Tawhidi remarks, “I feel that there is a particular responsibility on me to speak out against the extremists and fundamentalist ideologies that have infested my religion”. By being vocal on what is wrong, and then fixing moral culpability for those who are mute spectators, makes this Imam a well-received voice in India and around the world.
Imam Mohammad Tawhidi is an Iranian-born Australian Muslim Imam and a publicly ordained Islamic authority which comes from a prominent Islamic lineage. His ancestors were the companions of Prophet Mohammad and played a significant role in the early Islamic conquests.
He ended his relationship with the Iranian regime and continued his studies in the Holy Cities in Iraq. In 2014, ISIS conquered large parts of Iraq’s territory and murdered members of Tawhidi’s family. In 2015, Imam Tawhidi began to call for reforms within Muslim societies gradually. His views have been broadcast on international media and have been met with both criticism and praise.
Tawhidi is, therefore, one of those rare public figures: a reformer who not only denounces elements of Islam but actually seeks to restructure its teachings and interpretations. However, in the current global environment, the courage to promote such ideas inevitably leads to danger; the threat of violence is so present that Tawhidi has been forced to implement constant security measures in both his professional and private life.
Imam Tawhidi is dismissive of his critics and declares that he would rather focus on fighting for unity in Australian society and around the world than defending his qualifications. The Imam has maintained that he is willing to debate anyone on the tenets of Islam. Indeed, through social media, he has laid out challenges to various Islamic leaders and intellectuals in Australia to debate him on Islamic laws and teachings.
Spectre of Sectarianism
Although the Imam has been trained by both Shia and Sunni Islamic schools and religious authorities, he successfully avoided falling into the traps of sectarianism. He strongly opposes sectarianism of any kind and as a reformer Muslim scholar; he has difficulty with the fundamentalist elements which have led to the current situation of the religion as a whole. In his best-selling book, Imam has observed, “I have no regard for minor disputes within sects, and I criticise and expose the wrong within all Islamic denominations based on facts and solid historical evidences.” It is remarkable how the Imam posits no contradiction between what he preaches and he practices. He has dedicated an entire chapter in the book to the difficulties within his denomination, Shia Islam.
Though, the trajectory of social reforms which he sets may seem somewhat controversial to some people, he has been in favour of banning extremist clerics, shutting down extremist mosques, banning extremist books, shutting down extremist schoolsThe seeds of sectarianism within Islam have significantly led to radicalisation and extremism within many quarters of this religion, which stands of peace. Imam is clear in his mind that how this distortion crept in historically within Islam. Time and again, in his public interactions, he reiterated that all prophets come to spread peace and people believe in them because they come with that agenda. However, Islam became a political tool because of the man-made aspects that changed it. That’s how it became a political religion. The religion was gradually changed from succession to kingship. Here he pointedly corners the institution of Caliphate.
How then to proceed further and revive and rejuvenate the initial ideas of Islam and bereft it of extremism and sectarianism. The Imam dearly believes in the idea of social reforms and not religious reform. On multiple occasions, he has made it clear that he doesn’t believe that a religion can be reformed because reformation is man-made, while Muslims only believe in what comes from Allah. Though, the trajectory of social reforms which he sets may seem somewhat controversial to the people believing in the democratic ethos, he has been in favour of banning extremist clerics, shutting down extremist mosques, banning extremist books, shutting down extremist schools.
The importance, the which Imam lays on banning what he considers are extremist elements brings in the subjectivity bias. It makes the State the crucial actor in the process of reform and undermines the significance of individual social reformers like him, who know the inner functioning of a religion in and out! For example, what may be considered extremist in Australia and India may not be so in Saudi Arabia or Kuwait. Then how do we proceed to acquire a balanced approach when dealing with something as global as Islam?
Reforms and Reaffirmation
The Imam has always been upright when it comes to the ‘rule of law’, and how the global homogenising attributes of Islam should now give way to adherence of local laws. He doesn’t believe in the idea of Ummah. He has said that the one Muslim Ummah means that we all belong to one Muslim nation and if something happens in the East, the West needs to answer, and he doesn’t abide by it. When the notions of nationalism are getting stronger everywhere, nation-state and its people, expect allegiance to the terms of citizenship. Someone should be an Australian or an Indian Muslim, and the local laws of the State should govern their lives.
These ideals make the Imam a popular votary of the reforms which Governments around the globe, and especially in Bharat, are pushing for. He has discredited the claims of any Islamic basis of talaaq and halala. He suggests that Muslims should be following the law of their land. He suggests that even many Ayatollahs urge their followers to follow the law of their lands.
The emphasis on following the law of the land, vocally discarding the extremism and sectarianism and being the votary of peaceful and harmonious co-existence has made the Imam a much-liked voice in our own country. He is rare in himself because he is risking his life to speak truth to power! The conception of Islam being a global homogenous entity should now give space to the idea of localised ‘rule of law’, and this can lead to social reforms in societies where they have been delayed for different reasons.
(The writer is a scholar of modern history)