By Tufail Ahmad for New Age Islam
8 March 2016
Ideas kill human beings. Let's see some examples. In 2011, Malik Mumtaz Qadri, a commando who was deployed to protect Salman Taseer, the liberal governor of Punjab, assassinated him for advocating reforms in Pakistan's blasphemy laws. Qadri, who was hanged on February 29 this year, believed that Salman Taseer had committed blasphemy of Prophet Muhammad. In January 2015, two jihadist brothers – Said Kouachi and Kouachi – believed that the editors of Charlie Hebdo magazine had committed blasphemy of Prophet Muhammad, barged into the magazine's office in Paris and shot dead a dozen people. In December 2015, Islamic clerics under Maulana Anwarul Haq Sadiq of Bijnor offered 51 lakh rupees to behead Kamlesh Tiwari for insulting Prophet Muhammad. Barelvi clerics across the world also hold similar beliefs on blasphemy.
Ideas are beliefs, concepts, perceptions, imageries, opinions, social customs, traditions, or simple thoughts that enter our minds. As humans, we think we are free. We think that our ideas are our own. We believe that our beliefs are good. We believe that our minds are free. But the truth is this: when we are born, we have no ideas. As a child, we long to catch fire or touch a snake. As we grow up, we begin to receive ideas of our parents. We nurture the religious beliefs of our families. If our parents are Hindus, we become Hindus. If our parents are Muslims, we become Muslims. If we are born in India, we become Indians. If we are born in a Hindu family, we think eating beef is not right. If we are born in a Muslim family, we think that eating pork is not right. Ideas capture our minds. We fight for inherited ideas, beliefs or customs.
Ideas break security barriers. Ideas have their own trajectories. Much before Indira Gandhi ordered the 1984 military operation in the Golden Temple, the radicalisation of Sikhs had been taking place under Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. Some Sikhs were already radicalised. The military operation further radicalised them. On October 31, 1984, two Sikh bodyguards assassinated Indira Gandhi. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was unhappy after India sent peacekeeping troops in Sri Lanka in the late-1980s. On May 21, 1991, an LTTE suicide bomber, Dhanu, killed Rajiv Gandhi at an election rally. Ideas have their consequences. Recently, Indian journalists were beaten up in New York, Dadri and Patiala Courts of New Delhi because the attackers held certain ideas about them.
Ideas bulldoze national boundaries. The Islamic States (ISIS) jihadists believe in the idea of a global caliphate. In 2014, the ISIS used bulldozers to demolish a post on the Iraq-Syria border because it was anti-caliphate and a result of the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, a secret pact between Britain and France to redraw the map of the Middle East. In February 2016, Umar Khalid, a student of Jawaharlal Nehru University at the centre of a major controversy over nationalism, allegedly declared: "I don't believe in any nationalism. I dream of a world without nations or boundaries." Prophet Muhammad too taught a world without boundaries but his self-styled followers would allow no Jews in Saudi Arabia or Sikhs in Lahore today.
Ideas break nations. In the 1930s and 1940s, it became acceptable that Muslims and non-Muslims could not live together in India. The acceptability of such opinions came over a long period during which Mahatma Gandhi supported the Khilafat Movement, which advocated a global caliphate led by the Ottoman Turkey. In 1947, Pakistan was created by the power of such Islamist ideas. 1971, Bangladesh became independent because the western Pakistani rulers felt Bangla-speaking Pakistanis were not equal. Currently, in parts of India from Kerala to Maharashtra to Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, some regions are described as "mini-Pakistan" – an expression used by Muslims.
Ideas take over democratic states. In 1986, Islamist ideas took over the Indian parliament. India's Hindu parliamentarians enacted a law, which quashed a Supreme Court order to give alimony to destitute Muslim woman Shah Bano. The law was passed to satisfy Islamist ideas of religious scholars. India is already a Shariah-compliant state in the matters of divorce, marriage, re-marriage and inheritance. Muslim husbands are forced to divorce through Triple Talaq and Muslim women suffer. Islamist ideas also impact on judiciary. In November 2015, Justice J.B. Pardiwala of the Gujarat High Court cited the Quran, not the Constitution, in a polygamy case, saying: "The Quran does not say that a Muslim … can marry for the second time and up to four times." The judges should cite the Constitution of India, not the Quran.
Ideas suppress people. For example, Islam is believed to advocate that non-Muslims cannot be the head of an Islamic state. This principle is enshrined in the Pakistani Constitution, which bars non-Muslim Pakistani citizens such as Hindus and Sikhs from becoming the Pakistani president. This way Pakistan suppresses its own non-Muslim citizens in order to satisfy its view of Islam. Several Muslim countries do not allow their own non-Muslim citizens from becoming the head of the state because in their opinion Islam does not permit it. In 2008, the Maldives barred non-Muslims from becoming citizens. In February 2016, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind (the Organisation of Indian Islamic Scholars) argued that the Muslim personal law cannot be subjected to scrutiny by the Supreme Court of India. Ideas also seek to suppress women. There is near-unanimity among Islamic clerics that Muslim women cannot head a government.
Ideas influence law enforcement. In India, ideas associated with political correctness mean that a Hindu can be arrested for criticising Islam. For example, Kamlesh Tiwari was arrested promptly by the Uttar Pradesh police for derogatory remarks against Prophet Muhammad. But another Hindu, a tribal worshipper of Mahishasura (who had been killed by Goddess Durga in Hindu mythology) cannot be arrested if he calls goddess Durga a sex worker in a pamphlet allegedly distributed on the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus. In the Bollywood movie PK, Aamir Khan, playing the role of an alien, chases and locks up an actor playing the role of Hindu god Shiva in an attempt to satirise the duplicity of the followers of Hindu religion, but Aamir Khan is not arrested. But if you draw a derogatory cartoon of Prophet Muhammad, possibly depicting him as a terrorist, as the Danish cartoonist did, not only the Indian police will arrest you, sections of Muslim masses will rise up and some hothead may even announce a reward for killing you.
Human beings are prisoners of ideas. Families, universities, newspapers and television channels incubate these ideas. Ideas coalesce into ideologies. Ideologies hegemonise human minds and prevent us from seeing social reality. Human beings do not like to see social reality. For example, each of us knows that one day we will certainly die but each of us behaves in our daily life as if we are here to stay on earth permanently. Intellectuals routinely bend social reality to their own ideological perspective to write books and articles.
It's not possible for individuals to discard inherited ideas completely but in matters of dispute we must follow the Indian Constitution. The Constitution is a way of resolving big disputes of the day and teaches us in which direction we are headed in our nation's life, much like Indian classics like Ramayana and Mahabharata teach us where we come from. It means this: you can eat beef in Goa legally, but not in Bihar where cow slaughter is banned. If you can arrest Kamlesh Tiwari, you must also enforce the Constitution and arrest the Islamic clerics of Bijnor who called for Tiwari's beheading. Religions are for the spiritual uplift of the individual in the personal domain of life and cannot dictate the policies of the government. It means this: if a woman objects to polygamy, and is willing to discard her inherited dependence on Muslim Personal Law, the Constitution of India must prevail, not the Quran.
(A version of this article was published in Hindi by Dainik Jagran on March 4, 2016.)
* Tufail Ahmad is Director of South Asia Studies Project at the Middle East Media Research Institute, Washington DC. He is the author of "Jihadist Threat To India – The Case For Islamic Reformation By An Indian Muslim."