Sunday, September 27, 2015

Is Islam a Religion of Peace, or can it be?

Two events concerning Saudi Arabia were highlighted during the past week or so. One was the infamous rape of Nepali maid servants by a Saudi diplomat and the other was a video of servant beating that went viral. Add to that was a previous event concerning a fatwa against AR Rehman, by a Barelvi outfit by the name of Reza Academy. All these events brought into focus the role of Sharia among the Muslims worldwide, and in India. It was argued that neither the Saudi diplomat nor the employer beating his servant were guilty per Sharia, and that AR Rahman had committed apostasy, both of which stand in stark contrast to the law as we understand it in the civilised world. As I was giving finishing touches to this article comes the evidence of callous Saudi neglect in the conduct of Hajj which has led to nearly a thousand deaths in a stampede, but has led to no accountability. We are not even considering the militant groups as their brutality is already well documented.
I have already written 3 articles in this series, two of which took into their sweep the role of Aurangzeb in promoting Islamic religious bigotry in India. We also discussed Wafa Sultan briefly. The other thinkers we have chosen for this series are Tarek Fatah, Maulana Wahiduddin Khan (Islam and Peace), Ayaan Hirsi Ali (The Heretic), and a new name - Maajid Nawaz, who wrote the very impressive "Radical"  and his experience of turning away from militant Islam to an effort to promote a peaceful version of Islam in the world through
We were discussing Wafa Sultan in the previous issue of this discussion. I recently saw her debating Anjem Chaudhary and Omar Bakri, who are the bulwark of Jihadi philosophy in the West. Anjem Chaudhary is particularly unabashed as he is more communicative with a greater command over English. So he said something particularly appalling - "Our stand is simple. Non-Muslims are guilty of not having accepted Islam, so killing non-Muslims is legitimate according to Sharia". Omar Bakri is equally forthright when he says that "If we come to your land and invite you to join Islam and you don't do it, then we are at war with you till you submit". 
Wafa Sultan spares no punches in her book "The God Who Hates". As an ex-Muslim who left Islam because of what she thought was a stifling and oppressive religion gives her unique credibility. She blames it on the teachings contained in the Sharia trilogy (the Qur'an, Sira and Hadis), and the emphasis on Arab culture and Arabic language. According to her, most of what is contained in Sharia only legitimises an oppressive, racist Arab culture in the language of the Prophet. All the obnoxious customs of a tribal Bedoo culture have been sanctified in the Sharia. All except the Arab male has been given a secondary status, and the nature of the narrative has been given a divine origin, and made immutable. This has created fundamental problems. Wafa as well as Ayaan think that the empire of Umayyads and Abbasids made their closet cleric write up much of the text of Sharia and closed all the doors to discussion in the 9th and 10th century. Tarek Fatah has given the complete historical perspective to this hardening of stance in his book "Chasing a Mirage: Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State".
The thrust of the argument of the two ladies is on certain aspects of Islam which make Jihad the best form of service to Islam and make any disagreement or dissent punishable as blasphemy, and also make getting out of the religion being dubbed as apostasy and punishable by death. Wafa Sultan calls Islam as "The Sealed Flask", which doesn't let a captive escape. Ayaan further calls the divine nature of the Qur'an and personal life of the Prophet a problem. She asserts that since Islam makes the Prophet as the ideal being, his later years in Medina spent more a military commander and a political preacher make it problematic for many groups - Jews, Christians, other unbelievers, women, dissenters, free speech protagonists, anti-obscurantism activists. They are all at grave risk. Not an ordinary risk, but risk of life itself. When a religion punishes internal and external questioning as blasphemy and ordains all believers to carry out the punishment, it is not a small problem, but a threat to global peace.
There is also the group which tries to project Islam as a religion of peace. Maulan Wahiduddin Mohammed in the period upto 2000, and Maajid Nawaz in more recent times have tried to argue that Islam is a religion of peace. They have pointed out to the tradition of Sufism, and the fact that 90% of Muslims are peaceful. Maulana Wahiduddin has written his own interpretation of the Qur'an and tried to explain the more offensive verses of the Qur'an with his own annotations. Maulana Wahiduddin has a practical aspect to advocating peace in Islam, and it's the practical view of a proselytiser. According to him, Islam has grown only during peace, and not during war. He laments that the partition of India virtually brought the proselytisation activity in India to a halt. Thus even his formula of peace is dictated by the concepts of Da'wa and Jihad, and the fact that these two can flourish better in a peaceful atmosphere. The good aspect with both the Maulana and Maajid is that they try and emphasize the more beneficent aspect of Islam and advocate violence to be eschewed.
The problem arises with the reading of the Islamic scriptures themselves. The violent sects like ISIS, Taliban, Al Shabaab, and Boko Haram read the Qur'an and Sharia in its literal Arab version. This version is full of violence and hatred towards minority groups and women. It's impossible for a youngster reading the Qur'an for the first time with the requisite belief system, to reconcile it with any of the peaceful intentions Maajid and Maulana advocate. It may be educative to watch a debate featuring Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Maajid Nawaz on the subject "Is Islam is a religion of peace". The debate started with 41% saying yes to the motion, 25% against and 34% undecided. At the end, the score was 36-55-9. So the problem is that it is easy to argue that Islam is a religion of peace till you start reading the Sharia trilogy. This is where Wafa and Ayaan argue that problem is not with the Muslims, but with Islam per se.
This is the dilemma the world faces, as also  the moderate Muslims, who would still be about 90%. However, 10% of 1.5 billion is still 150 million humans. That's a very very large absolute number which believe either actively or passively in violent Jihad. When indoctrinated with the kind of literalist exposition of the Qur'an which radical Islamists like Omar Bakri do in the above linked debate, it becomes almost impossible for youth not to be swayed. That's the reason I advocate a head on confrontation with the narrative espoused by the Islamists or the Radicals
In the next and concluding part of the series, I will attempt to highlight the specific difficulties the world faces with this narrative. I will also bring into focus the views of some Western and Indian intellectuals. 

Thursday, September 3, 2015


(Please click on each link and go through the contents before proceeding further to get the full import of this article)
I was in the middle of writing a series on the Intellectual churn within Islam, reviewing four books which I had the occasion to read over the past few weeks. It was in the middle of this that the NDMC decided to rename Aurangzeb Road in N Delhi as Abdul Kalam Road. I thought it was something that would be welcomed whole-heartedly by all Indians. However, I found Gopal Krishna Gandhi making a quibbling distinction between Aurangzeb and Aurangzebiyat. I wrote a piece on this momentous decision, challenging the GK Gandhi argument. I was, however, surprised to find a chorus of support for Aurangzeb. Some of it was ignorant but a lot more was motivated, with phoney arguments, as if Aurangzeb was actually secular but was only carrying out his mission of an Emperor. One of the better defence was made by Shoaib Daniyal. He gives five reasons in his defence of Aurangzeb just being the child of his times, and not the evil ruler he is made out to be. 
The first argument by Shoaib is that Aurangzeb actually was so beneficent that he built more temples than he destroyed. The bulwark of this argument of his rests on Richard Eaton. Ranged against Eaton, however, is a mountain of evidence. I wonder if Eaton ever went to the Bikaner archives where a host of evidence is available on his being exactly the kind of zealot that makes him a hated figure for most Indians. Eaton says that he destroyed only those temples which lay in territories opposed to him. This is complete hogwash. I had cited in my last blog a letter by his own son Md. Akbar who explicitly mentioned Aurangzeb's anti-Hindu bias. I reproduce it here along with its Hindi translation.

 I also find that Shoaib has quoted Jadunath Sarkar with approbation in support of his Jizya argument. However, what Jadunath Sarkar had to say about Aurangzeb's zeal for temple destruction and as you can see in this link that his general attitude towards Hindus as an Islamic warrior is totally different. In fact, it is as excoriating an indictment of Aurangzeb as anyone could possibly make. I would not put a Richard Eaton ahead of him, specifically because those schooled in religions of the Book have great problems comprehending the attitudes prevalent in the sub-continent. Shoaib has also ignored the most authentic book compiled by Sita Ram Goel which chronicles the destruction of Hindu temples by Islamic rulers in fair detail.
Shoaib's other four arguments are dealt with even more easily. All one needs to do is to click and visit this exhibition mounted by FACT-India. Of the 45 exhibits on display, each one demolishes the arguments advanced by Shoaib. Each exhibit is like a speaking document. What is at display is that here was an Islamic jihadi warrior bent on establishing an Islamic theocracy in India, giving the majority population the status of zimmi, by indulging in signal destruction of their religious and teaching institutions. The argument about jizya and zakat is equally spurious as evidenced by clicking this comparison. Add to all this his brutalities towards Guru Tegh Bahadur, Shambhaji, Devi Chand and the like and it becomes clear that the inspiration for Aurangzeb was not the exigency of statecraft, but a completely wanton, bigoted urge to spread Islam by sword. 
I now move to rejoin the series I was writing on the intellectual churn within Islam. Though I was intending to take up the peace argument first, I have to revise my order of reviewing the books. I take up Wafa Sultan's book "The God Who Hates" because her arguments seek to bare the mentality with which rulers like Aurangzeb are imbued. While reading her book a second time, I also chanced upon this video in which she debates the issue of Islam with one of the bigger hate merchants in the Arab World, Omar Al-Bakri. You can't miss this video.
While the detailed review would be done in the next part of the series. I would like to summarise what she seeks to contend. You must read her views in the context that she is an Arab who has given up Islam and who now lives in the USA. She has experienced the working of her former religion at its worst because it is in the Arab world that the most intolerant version of Islam is at work. She also contends that Muslims in other parts of the world are still largely peaceful because they do not understand the Arabic language and The Qur'an is not allowed to be translated in any other language. As an Arab, it puts her in a unique position to understand the violence contained within Islamic scriptures.
She holds the extreme view that all Islamic scriptures including The Qur'an preach violence against non-believers and women. The concept of justice is different for zimmies as they do not believe in Allah and cannot therefore claim the status that a Muslim enjoys. This is exactly what Omar Al-Bakri is saying in the above video and the view according to the Wahhabi and now increasingly Deobandi version of Islam. 
So the Aurangzeb Doctrine is actually the doctrine that the strict Arab legacy teaches its followers. One hardly needs to emphasise that it cannot work in India or anywhere else in the World. It doesn't work in most places where Muslims are in majority except some notable exceptions like ISIS, and some Arab countries in the MENA area. Let Shoaib Daniyal reflect on what Wafa Sultan and Jadunath Sarkar have to say even as I examine Wafa Sultan's book in greater detail in juxtaposition to the peace doctrine of Maulana Wahiduddin Ahmed in the next part of the series.

Credits: @drkiranvs for the jizya and zakat comparison, @aham1857 for the link to Jadunath Sarkar