By Dr Shabir Choudhry
11 November 2011
Islam teaches peace, tolerance and coexistence; but it is unfortunate that our religion is perceived as violent and intolerant. We Muslims are mainly responsible for this false perception. Followers of other religions do not read what is written in Qur’an and Hadees; they see what we Muslims do and practice and that is how they create negative images of Islam.
It is unfortunate that most of negative things in society – lies, deception, fraud, fake medicines, drugs, violence, terrorism, extremism, kidnapping, rapes, forced marriages, sham marriages, bad manners – in short all kinds of evils are directly or indirectly associated with Muslims. This is not to suggest that only Muslims commit these crimes, however, most of these evils are found in Muslim societies; and in some European countries crime rate among Muslims is on rise, especially in Muslims from South Asia.
On the last Eid, a few days ago, I went to a local grocery store which is owned and run by a Hindu family. This family is very friendly, well behaved and respect us all. As soon as I walked in, a young employee greeted me, “Uncle, Eid Mubarak”. I said thank you with a smile and walked towards the counter. Owner of the store said, “Bhai Sahib, Eid Mubarak to you and your family”, and offered me some chocolates which he put in a tray and was offering to all his customers, and especially Muslims. I thanked him and took one chocolate.
He also congratulates me at the start of our holy month of Ramadan and on Eid that follows the fasting month. Like us Muslims, Hindus also celebrate their religious festivals; but according to teaching of some ‘Muslim scholars’ we Muslims must not say ‘happy Divali’ to Hindus, as it is a sin. Their teaching further states that we Muslims cannot say ‘Happy Christmas’ to Christians and share happiness with non Muslims on their religious days.
Rationale of this philosophy, according to this school of thought is that if I say happy Divali to a Hindu, it means I have accepted religious significance of this religious day. I don’t agree with this interpretation. When a Hindu says happy Eid Mubarak to me or another Muslim he is not accepting that there is one Allah and Prophet Mohammed PBUH is the last Messenger. Similarly when I say happy Divali to a Hindu neighbour I DO NOT accept Hindu religion or acknowledge religious significance of Divali, which according to Hindu religion is a celebration of happiness.
Because of this distorted interpretation of Islam and its influence, I sincerely and deliberately avoid sharing happiness with non Muslims on their religious days, even though I feel embarrassed when they very passionately wish me Eid Mubarak and offer me sweets on my religious day. I avoid meeting my Hindu and Sikh neighbours on day of their festivals that I don’t have to wish them happiness and become a ‘sinner’. However, a day after their festival I ask them if they enjoyed their festival, as to me that is not as same as wishing them happiness and not a sin.
Deep inside I feel this behaviour and preaching is wrong, as it depicts us Muslims as unsocial and people with bad manners. Furthermore, it encourages segregation and alienation of Muslims from the rest of human beings living in same town and who are part of the same society. Messenger of Allah, on the other hand said: Best among you are those with best manners. And has taught us to respect followers of other religions and promote peace and harmony.
If a non Muslim wishes me happy Eid, he demonstrates his good manners and shares my happiness. As a Muslim and good human being, I should reciprocate this by demonstrating better manners; or at minimum, express same kind of manners. But by not wishing them happiness what am I demonstrating? Am I not saying that we Muslims are not social and do not appreciate norms of civil society? Are we not saying that we Muslims believe in segregation; and we are not equipped with skills to live in peace and harmony with people of other faiths? Are we not saying that our religion and culture is ‘vulnerable’ and could be influenced by other religions and as a result we promote segregation to protect our religion and our youths?
This attitude of ‘segregation’ generates misunderstandings and hatred; and Islam DOES NOT approve that. Islam promotes peace, tolerance and co existence; and strongly opposes division and divergence in society. In fact, it is clearly stated that creating conflicts and divisions in families and society is work of Satan.
I acknowledge that I have not any research on this topic, which I normally do before writing on any controversial topic, hence my knowledge on this topic is not complete; and I am willing to learn and make appropriate changes to my views, if a learned person can enlighten me and others.
Writer is a leader of Kashmir National Party, political analyst and author of many books and booklets. Also he is Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs.