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. 


  1. The 90% who are peaceful are only so because they do not follow Islam in its original form. Also, these 90% peaceful people are peaceful because they still have humanity left in them. The moment they lose it, they become the other 10%. Islam in its true form is an ill drafted piece of religion.

  2. Pyare Sanjay Dixit sb! Hum undercover kya gaye ap jihad aur gazwa-i-hind ko hi challenge karne lagey eh?