Islamic Scholar Mr. Ishteyaque Amjad
Ishteyaque Amjad is the Vice President, Public Affairs & Communications at Coca Cola India and South West Asia. Mr Amjad is a practicing Muslim, he is a rationalist and believes in analyzing and researching any idea or thought. He also believes that faith is an extension of reasoning. From the young age of fifteen years, he began his exploration of Islam and its meaning. An alumnus of Symbiosis Institute of Management Studies in Pune, he has graduated with a Bachelor degree in Economics from Aligarh Muslim University. He is also an alumnus of the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun.
Meeting with Ishteyaque Amjad, VP Public Affairs & Communications, Coca Cola on 4-Jun-2019
What is one core principle that unites all the followers of your faith (either the faith as a whole or this particular sect of the faith)?
Mr Amjad explained that there are fundamentally two belief systems in the world for people. One who call themselves rationalists and the other who call themselves religious or faithful. The rationalists look at nature as God, since it is self-propagating and it evolves, it manages itself. Thus those who are faithful believe in the God of Nature. For many people, faith is an anti-thesis of reasoning but for him it is an extension of reasoning. He said he is a rationalist and would like to die a rationalist. He also added that he knows that rationalism alone does not explain everything in the world, therefore one needs faith. His view is that people need to either understand it or accept it.
He added that when a person accepts the idea of faith, there are two categories of faith. There is monotheism (belief in one God) and the second is multitheism which takes the person on the path of mysticism. Buddhism, Hinduism and Sufism within Islam are all examples of multitheism.
He further explained that culture and rituals unite people - in South india, a Hindu or a Muslim would be the same. There is no perceptible difference between them. In his opinion, culture unites people and not religion. Mr Amjad added that due to the monotheistic nature of Islam, there is a convergence to one Allah. Culturally they are all different. When one goes to pray in a mosque in Kerala, the recitation of Quran is the same but there are regional or cultural nuances that play a part in making the experience different.
Mr Amjad summarized that the three core principles of Islam were as follows:
To be charitable is fundamental expectation from a Muslim and that is the first core principle. He explained this through a story. He said that someone walked up to the Prophet and asked him how to be charitable. The Prophet offered many options and to each of them the person said he could not do it. Upon hearing this, the Prophet said he must simply smile at other people, that is also a form of charity.
There are moments of highs which make one feel like God and moments of lows which make us submit to God. To strike a balance between the highs and lows is the second principle. It is important to know that at the low point, things will get better. “Shukr” which means gratitude when one is going through good times and “Sabr” patience when the times are not so good. This summarises the essence of the second core principle. Accountability is the third core principle. The story Mr Ajmad spoke about is that someone asked the Prophet, “what is virtue(Neki)?” He said that anything which makes one feel happy is a virtue and anything that pricks one’s conscience or one wants to hide from everyone is a sin.
How did you decide to begin your study on religion? And Why ?
Mr Amjad said, he was born in a Muslim family. He grew up in a reasonably practicing Muslim family.
Around his teenage years, when he was 15 years or so, he realized there is a sense of resignation to God. He reminisced that he heard things like, “this has happened, oh God wanted it to happen.” While this was alright since he did believe this is an extension of reasoning, so he did not see this as a conflict. He realized that there was too much resignation to God, he started questioning that as a teenager. Mr Amjad’s late mother who was a practicing muslim told him to look for the answers. She told him to tell her the answers once he finds them. Then began his first foray into the exploration of God. In science there is a terms of reference, similarily in his case for the search for God there was a terms of reference, that essentially was the Muslim religion.
He added, he was not sure if it made him a better Muslim, it surely made him a better human being. The general belief about Islam is that it is a connection between God and a person. The person does things in the name of God, including things such as ISIS etc. Mr Amjad’s discovery is that, there is dedication in Islam, it means complete submission to God. The interaction is with the surrounding elements. He further explained, there are two statements which are profoundly interdependent and independent. The first is Hukuk Allah – which is the rights of God on you. Hak means rights, Hukuk in arabic is the plural of rights. The second is Hukuk al-abd – rights of everything that God has created on you, people’s rights, animal rights, plants rights, rights of way, rights of coexistence, right of exchanging pleasantries, rights of meals. Which is a larger part of living.
Mr Amjad, explained, in Islam, Prophet Muhammed is the epitome of Islam, he lived for 62-63 years, his first revelation was at the age of 40. So two-third of his life he was as a normal human being and citizen, one-third he was as a Prophet. His interpretation of this is that God wants the followers to be normal, extraordinary people. Prophet Muhammed was the only prophet in the entire lineage of prophets, he was not born as one. He acquired to become one. The story is when the revelation happened, he was very disturbed. He ran back to his wife fifteen years older than him, his reaction was that of disbelief. He added, this was 1400 years back, Prophet Muhammed thought there was an evil spirit. That was the thought process in those times.
Mr Amjad explained, his interpretation of this incident is that, those who say one cannot question must realise that the first reaction of the Prophet was to question what happened to him.
Mr Amjad also explained, the First verse of Quran means “Read.” Prophet was not an educated person, so in the genesis of the religion, the first instruction given is to read. Therefore the purpose of reading and importance of reading overshadows everything. The process of reading is, one assimilates, asks questions, finds answers, one assimilates more, that for him is the fundamental of faith and religion. That is aligned to the Islamic thinking
What was your first experience (experience of a union with God)?
Mr Amjad said that he was fasting the day when he had his first experience with God. He said that no two believers are the same and each person’s relationship with God is unique. For example a mother relates to each of her children uniquely, similarily the child relates to the mother uniquely. It is the same with God. He further added that he does not completely remember the day he felt the presence of God. He also said that every day he struggles to answer if it is right to have the relationship he has with God. It’s a relationship of love, where there are contradictions, conflict, dedication, submission and many other things.
What objects are employed during religious ceremonies or otherwise and what is the significance of each?
Islam is less concerned with religious objects. The Holy Book of Quran is the most sacred object. The book is supposed to be handled and read in a certain manner and is found in a lot of muslim households. The Quran usually rests on a pedestal in a clean place, it is never allowed to touch the floor or be underneath other books. Muslim men wear a cap or “topi” while they offer prayers as a mark of respect to Allah, usually the topi is white in colour it could have coloured designs.
Eid-ul-Fitr is an important festival for all muslims, it is celebrated after 29 to 30 days of fasting (Ramadan). During the festival, charity and donations is one of the rituals followed by muslims. Food is another big part of the celebration, feasting after a whole month of abstinence is part of the tradition. People are encouraged to eat, everything which is too sweet, too creamy and too rich to be eaten on a normal day.
What is the purpose of life?
Mr Amjad said that the purpose of life is evolution and becoming a better you. He said that in all societies, people become judgemental. They are not at peace with themselves and are constantly judging the other people. One becomes more empathetic towards the other people if one is at peace with themselves.
Evolution can mean different things - becoming a better human being, becoming a better leader, bringing a revolution or even changing the world order.
He questioned, “Why does one need religion?” – if the human being was born at the age of 18 and will die at 35, probably the need was not there. The evolution of dependence, interdependence necessitates certain guard rails and guidelines. A human being is different as a three year old child, a ten year old child, a young person and an old person. The relationship of a person as a father, son, grandfather is different from each other. These complexities or multiple forces need to be managed by something like religion.
What is your view on death and what comes after it?
Mr Amjad explained, most of the religions deal very little with life. They mostly deal with death. Most religions have an opinion on death. He said that since very little is known about death, all religions have an opinion and deal with death. He added that he had no view on death. A fundamental tenet of Islam states that a person will die and will be rejuvenated. He said that his view is aligned to that. He said that his belief is that there is evolution in life that is preparing us to die in a better situation and therefore allowing us to have a better claim on the after life.
He explained this to me by saying that if he owes someone some money and they both die, then on the day of judgement the person whom he owes money will have a claim over him. So he will have to give the person his virtues and the person will give him his sins.
What are some essential daily activities of practitioners of your religion?
Mr Amjad said, prayer is an important part of Muslims daily life. They are required to pray five times a day to maintain a spiritual connection with God and remind themselves of their ultimate purpose in life. Each prayer has a defined time of day when it needs to be performed. The five timings are noon, mid-afternoon, sunset, night and dawn.
Pilgrimage is another important activity that muslims follow. They visit Mecca which is the holiest city in Islam, that is considered a major pilgrimage also called Haj. They can also undertake smaller pilgrimages to tombs or shrines to offer prayers
Do you think younger people are less religious? Can you comment on why this is so?
Mr Amjad said that religion is not the only thing young people question. They question many established lifestyle norms which is imposed on them. Every environment has their own way of shaping the persona of a child and children start questioning that. He said that he does not think people are becoming less religious in general. Due to the information availability, the questions will have a certain basis but questions will still be there.
Why is there evil in the world?
He answered that evil exists due to human beings. He opined that being in conflict is fundamental to human existence and peace is an aspiration. Everyone strives to be peaceful but it is not the inherent nature of living beings. Purpose of life is to evolve and grow out of the evil within ourselves. Religion, one may say, brings violence, but that is not so, evil exists because people are violent. There are different manifestations nowadays, twitter accounts, trolling is also violence. Each one of us is a combination of evil and good, it is impossible for a human being to not have evil thoughts and deeds. When evil supersedes over good, we become violent people, if the good supersedes the bad we become better people.