February 26, 2020
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An Easy Trap

An Easy Trap

Javed Anand recently wrote in the Indian Express: On the other side of fear:

Yet there is something new and refreshing in the air. Read the statements of religious and political leaders as well as editorials and letters to the editor in Urdu newspapers. Take, for example, a letter by a Saudi Arabia-based Indian, Abdul Rehman Mohammed Yahya, published simultaneously as a boxed/lead letter in the Monday editions of three Urdu dailies in Mumbai: Inquilab, Rashtriya Sahara and Sahafat. The gist of the long letter is a rhetorical question addressed to fellow Muslims: “What did Prophet Muhammad do in the face of repeated insults heaped on him during his lifetime?” The answer: he forgave them.

It is a universal Muslim belief that the prophet never retaliated to repeated insults to him, through either word or deed. In fact, he taught his followers that “the wounds of words hurt more than the wounds of swords”. In other words, Muslims who hurt others through word or deed do violence to the teachings of the very prophet in whose name they claim to act.

Prof C.M. Naim responds in the same newspaper: Islamophobia and blasphemy

Surely, the present Muslim definition of “blasphemy” is not limited to “any insult to the Prophet of Islam”? Even in India, there are at least two prominent anti-“blasphemy” movements at play among the Muslims under the guise of “Tahaffuz” (Protection): Tahaffuz-i-Khatm-i-Nabuwat (Protection of the Finality of Prophethood), accusing the Ahmadis of “blasphemy”; and Tahaffuz-i-Namus-i-Sahaba (Protection of the Honour of the Companions of the Prophet), accusing the Shias of “blasphemy”. Not to mention the accusations of “blasphemy” against Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasrin. Second, while Anand is right in stating that it “is a universal Muslim belief that the Prophet never retaliated to repeated insults to him, through either word or deed”— and, indeed, the vast majority of Muslims live by that belief, and many may even try to emulate it in their own lives — it is also true that a few enemies of the Prophet were ordered by him to be mortally punished, including one or two who verbally abused him. A devout Muslim, therefore, may claim a right to follow whichever tradition suits his own inclination.

The issue should not be what the Prophet did or did not, for once we raise it we only fall into an easy trap. It becomes a conflict between only apparently equal claims of righteousness; quickly, it becomes another instance, at best, of sectarianism, and, at worst, of “blasphemy”. In any case, a devout Muslim may aspire to emulate the Prophet’s actions but by the same token can never claim to have done so. Yahya’s letter is a good sign, but so are also a few other articles. These are acts of personal piety, and one must be thankful for them. But the same boxed space — actually there is nothing special or prominent about it — in Sahafat (Delhi) that carried Yahya’s letter contained on September 29 a letter on the same subject of the video from a Muhammad Ziaur Rahman, department of Urdu, Delhi University, under the title: “Yahud wa Nasara Musalmanon ke Khullamkhulla Dushman (Jews and Christians are blatant enemies of the Muslims)”. Rahman claims, among other things, that on September 11 this year, the film Innocence of Muslims was shown in cinemas across the United States, and that the United States rained missiles on Iraq when a woman in Baghdad named Laila Al-Attar drew a cartoon of President George Bush [in 2003].


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