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Debating Islam ( 14 Oct 2012, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Use and Misuse of Freedom of Expression on This Islamic Website (New Age Islam) and Need for a Clear Agenda


By Muhammad Yunus, New Age Islam

Co-author (Jointly with Ashfaque Ullah Syed), Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA, 2009

The universal notion of ‘Freedom of speech’ empowers the oppressed to speak against the oppressor, the subject against the King, the holder of one set of doctrine (sect, religion, politics etc.) to question or criticize its opponents and so forth. The objective is to open up human mind to new thoughts, allow it to explore fresh ideas, scan new horizons and rise to new heights. But if the freedom of speech is used in a calculated way to insult other’s deities and ii) demonize a group of people, a website that has the rubric of Islam attached to it, must not entertain it as the Qur’an, which is the highest authority on all matters in Islam does not permit either of the above attitudes (6:108, 49:11).

Besides, if used to malign other’s faith or mock a rival group of people, it can open a floodgate of unhealthy discussions that will conduce to ill will among people, spawn evil and render this website into a vicious gossip forum. Let us take a few examples fresh in mind to illustrate this point, without meaning any offence to anybody.

Case-1: As article under the title, ‘To hell with you ‘O Mullahs’ brazenly derides the entire Mullah community by quoting the following parody from an Urdu poet:

“O Mullah: Your belly is like a steamship,

Your neck resembles that of a rhinoceros.

O Mullah:

Your robes and beard reek of scents and perfume,

But your body smells like an animal shed.

O Mullah:

You indulge in deceit and trickery,

Now stop eulogizing your amazing ways.

O Mullah:

We are of course not worthy of your path,

Go ahead excommunicate us from your community.

O Mullah:

You piously carry the Koran on your shoulders,

But your heart is full of animal dung.

O Mullah:

We do not need your heavenly Houries (virgins),

For us our homeland is the most wondrous paradise.

At a moment in history, when Muslims in the West are probably not too far from being classified as civilizational inferior, and word is in the air to expel the immigrant Muslims and nuke Muslim lands, and elsewhere, to the East, the Muslims are being branded as brutal conquerors and civilaztionally inferior; and internally their sectarian division is accentuating and growing increasingly violent, achievements in lawful pursuits is abysmally low, suffering and deprivation is widespread, and human rights violations (oppressing women, discriminating against minorities, forced conversions etc.) are raising alarm in the global community – the author found the parody quite odd and a clear indication of the intellectual mortification of those whom the society regards as intellectual elite. As the parody, if quoted on Western anti-Islamic website, would justify their demonization of the entire Muslim community, the author, as a peace loving human being called upon the author of the article to ask the Editor to withdraw it, but it is still there.

The author responded by adding a fourth verse (shown in bold) to a famous stanza by Percy B. Shelly:-

“We look here and after - We pine for what is not.

Our sincerest laughter - With some pain is fraught

Our sweetest songs are those - That tell of saddest thought

"Our favourite themes are those - That poison our religious thoughts."

There comes a commentator in defence of the parody and writes: 

Allah taala Quran-e-kareem men logon ko beast, suar, bandar, gadha, andha, behra goonga, bata hai.

Agar aap dhaki chipi zabaan mein kah rahe hain to koi hairaani ki baat nahi hai. Yeh mujhe pahle hi andesha tha

The commentator killed two birds with one stone: lampooning the mullah and ridiculing the Qur’an. As a Muslim - a witness to truth (2:143) and bidder to what is good and forbidder of the evil, the author prepared a counter-parody. However, he did not send it (except for the opening verse, quoted below) as the Qur’an also commands returning evil with good.

“hanste ho mullaon pe par tamiz nahi karsakte biwiyon, maaon aur baitiyon may,

Peete ho sharaab subah talak aur bhool jate ho kis se kiya rishta hai”

 [This is adapted from Sahir Ludhyanwi’s popular poetic imagery – yahan peer bhi aa chukey hain jawan bhi – tan o mand bête bhi .....]

The author, as a human being could also stoop to the lowest of the low and add more unsavoury lines to his above poetic gambit, however crude it may be. But before he could proceed further, there was a series of comments from the same fellow and the author was reminded of the adage – ‘speech is silver but silence gold.’  

 Case-2: A possibly well meaning non-Muslim commentator wanted to know how the Pope can allow building of a mosque when the Qur’anic verse 5:51 asking Muslims not to befriend the Christians and Jews is not expunged. A genuine question asked in a goodly manner. The same fellow (Case 1) bearing a Muslim name readily confirms, in blatant lie that the verse 5:51 represented the essence of the Qur’anic message. This gives a highly negative impression of the Qur’an and Islamic faith to the non-Muslims, many of whom are already hostile to the Muslims. The author explained this in an article: ‘The Qur’an’s regard for the People of the Book (Christians and Jews) and the believing humanity– a living testimony.’

 Case-3: Very recently a learned and well meaning commentator writes an erudite comment citing examples of the demolition of Hindu sites (Kashi, Madura) and building of mosques in their place – unquestionably a blatantly anti-Qur’anic act as the Qur’an clearly and unambiguously declares that God’s light is lit in all places of pure worship (24:36) and His name is proclaimed in monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques (22:40). He muses why no Muslim objected to it and attributes it to their fear of the fanatic king.

However, directed at the Muslim readers, and posted under the above noted article (in bold), it purported to seek a comment from the Muslim commentators. So this author, acting as the ‘defence’ lawyer cites the recent examples of Muslims dictators (Saddam Husain, Tikka Khan) attacking and destroying Muslim lands (Iran, Kuwait) brutally killing and poisoning their own people (the Kurds) and unleashing a reign of terror (the then East Pakistan). Attention was also drawn to the bloodiest massacre in Delhi (1739) in which some 20,000-30,000 men, women and children were killed by Muslim soldiers in a pace of six to seven hours. This author had to explain to the learned questioner, what he already knew for sure, that the military actions of monarchs, tyrants and leaders of the world were/ are dictated by their ego/ passion for glory and fame, commercial, political interest etc. and not any religious consideration. Therefore, how can present day Muslims answer for all the brutalities of Muslim attackers and tyrants? Can anybody with one hundredth as much intelligence as the learned commentator ask any American today why they dropped Atom Bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Can any sensible person ask a German today why Hitter killed millions of Jews?  

Other typical cases:

Cases-A: Time and again learned communally oriented scholars conflate Islam with Talibanism and other terror outfits (Boko Haram, for example) and stereotype Islam and Muslims with the worst aspects of their theology and with the most hideous crimes committed by Muslim criminals. This is nothing but an attempt at collective demonization as in the era of tribalism – the entire tribe was held responsible for the crime committed by any of its members. But history has left that era behind by almost a millennium. It is simply absurd and vicious provocation to apply this principle selectively at the Muslims today. 

A Muslim who is not mindful of Qur’anic commandment to honouring other’s religions can respond exactly in the same tone as there is no dearth of rotting skeletons and bloodstained episodes in the theological cupboards/ historical annals of all religions. Very recently a ‘defending commentator’ has matched evil with evil and has turned this website into a battlefield between a small team of commentators representing Hindu and Muslim faiths/ communities.

Cases-B: The fellow (Case 1 and 2 above) with a Muslim name and scholarship goes on appropriating into Islam all the weakest ahadith that the Muslims are barred from quoting: he falsely, determinedly, unfailingly and authoritatively projects them as the true representation of Islamic faith. Scores of comprehensive comments were posted to explain to him that weak accounts can be found in all religions as they evolved in an era when what we today call myth, fable, bizarre and grotesque fired the imagination of common people and filled them with awe and admiration for their leaders/ saints and gods/ God; and that even the Muslim compilers of these accounts have warned the posterity of their apocryphal nature and that they are retained in the compilations - not for quoting but on purely technical grounds.

Summing Up: The Christians and Jews today never discuss about the pogroms, religious wars and the great wars that lasted for more than a millennium stretching through to this very era (middle of the last century) and entailing immensely more brutalities, deaths and destruction than the far limited (in historical time frame) Hindu-Muslim interaction in this subcontinent – that too during an era three to six hundred years away. Can’t our so called intellectuals take lesson from them or are they paid agents of the enemies of Islam, Muslims and India?

With this I propose that the website adopts the following agenda instead of drifting without any direction:

To promote critical thinking (Ijtihad) in Islam

To enlighten the Muslim community regarding the social, moral, ethical and pluralistic dimensions of Qur’anic message.

To provide religious basis to the Indian Muslims to reform their society in accordance with the needs of the times – such as active participation in universal education, all art forms and national development projects    

To bring the Muslims closer to the core scripture of their faith – the Qur’an and to relegate theological knowledge to the specialist in order to meet the skill and educational demand of the present day world.  

To combat all communal, disruptive and militant, fanatic and demonizing elements

To promote inter-faith relations

To build a united and cohesive India and work towards an eventual cordial and harmonious relation with Pakistan.

The website also must guard against imposters and agents of enemies who can barge into it with Hindu and Muslims names in order to foil any healthy debate, block any reform in Islam, create inter-faith hostility and strengthen the hands of extremists, terrorists and fundamentalists – some of these are obviously on the payroll of the enemies of Islam and India but as traitors and mercenaries, they can be of any religion and assume any name.

This writer in his school days had memorized at least one thousand lines of Urdu poetry and read a few thousand lines more. Many poets – mostly Muslims, said things about God, Islamic prayer, mullah and preachers that may sound offensive as in the parody on the Mulla quoted above. But he has not read one single line demonizing any aspect of Hindu religion. Interestingly the Arabic word ‘sanam’ for ‘idol’ has been appropriated in Persian and Urdu in a romantic manner with the connotation of a ‘true beloved: ‘ae mere balam, ae mere sanam’ for example. Unfortunately financial pressure, passion for publicity and fame and the scope of free publication at the Internet has given birth to a boundless market for two virtually FOC commodities – hatred and pornography. One can post one’s photograph without wearing any cloth or without the cloak of taqwa (moral uprightness) as the Qur’an puts it (7:26) and earn popularity and livelihood. These are the parasites that gnaw at the base of this progressive website and need to be closely watched and if necessary weeded out.

The author does not claim to be perfect but those readers who have read his articles cannot take him to be a fool or anything but a lover of humanity. Therefore what he says merits at least some consideration.       

Oct. 14, 2012

Muhammad Yunus, a Chemical Engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, and a retired corporate executive has been engaged in an in-depth study of the Qur’an since early 90’s, focusing on its core message. He has co-authored the referred exegetic work, which received the approval of al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo in 2002, and following restructuring and refinement was endorsed and authenticated by Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by Amana Publications, Maryland, USA, 2009.