Tolerant tradition, closed mind
Realpolitik with Balbir K. Punj
The ?tolerant? traditions of Islam were recently on full public display, when a 320-word small item in Newsweek (May 9 issue), about discretion of Koran at the American naval prison in Guantanamo Bay, where Al-Qaeda suspects are being detained, sparked of riots in far-off lands. According to Newsweek American military interrogators had allegedly placed the Koran on the toilet inside inmates? cells at the detention center in Guantanamo Bay and had ?in at least one case, flushed a holy book down the toilet.? It reportedly led to protests in Palestine, Egypt, Sudan, Pakistan and Indonesia followed demonstrations across much of Afghanistan in the past few days in which 14 people were killed and dozens injured after clashes with police.
According to a Reuters report clerics in Badakhshan province of Afghanistan wanted America to hand over to them anyone guilty of desecrating the Koran failing which they would launch Jihad.
First, the feasibility of ?flushing down? a standard-size Koran is quite questionable. But the reaction was certainly more startling than the act itself. The Newsweek has since then retracted the story. The State Department was found sending directives to its embassies to spread around the word that the U.S. government respects all faiths. The U.S. Department of Defence has reportedly asked the Koran to be treated like a ?delicate work of art?. According to a recently published report in the Washington Post, a three page declaration dated January 19, 2003 instructed how Pentagon personnel stationed at Guantanamo Bay should treat the Koran. It read that it is preferable to wear two-layer of gloves to handle the Koran.
One remembers how a couple of years ago when American fundamentalist evangelist Jerry Falwell took a dig at Prophet Mohammed, it had triggered off a small riot in Solapur, Maharashtra. One also remembers how during America'sWar on Afghanistan (2001) Muslims from Dakar to Djaktra demonstrated in favour of Osama bin Laden. This is the result of Umma (Muslim fraternity) that terrorist and terrorist suspect from 42 countries are being detained in Guantanamo Bay prison. It is the same Umma that manifests in unified Muslim reaction in various parts of the globe.
A couple of years ago when American fundamentalist evangelist Jerry Falwell took a dig at Prophet Mohammed, it had triggered off a small riot in Solapur, Maharashtra.
Babasaheb Ambedkar in his book Pakistan or Partition of India quotes Aga Khan??This is a right and legitimate Pan-Islamism to which every sincere and believing Mahommedan belongs?that is, the theory of spiritual brotherhood and unity of children of the Prophet?It connotes charity and good-will towards fellow-believers everywhere from China to Morocco, from Volga to Singapore? A famine or desolating fire in Muslim quarters of Kashgar or Sarajevo would immediately draw the sympathy and material assistance of the Mohammedan of Delhi or Cairo. The real spiritual and cultural unity of Islam must ever grow, for to the follower of the Prophet it is the foundation of life of the soul? (Dr. Babsaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches Vol 8. p.298).
But while Islam is being day and night presented as a ?religion of Peace? one wonders why every agitation of Islam is belligerent. Are there no other civil way of protesting which could preclude the loss of life and property? This is not true about other religions. Buddhist monks are known for self-immolation to voice their protests. They don'tbelieve in burning down the offender.
In 19th century British Prime Minister William Gladstone held up a Koran in the House of Commons, and proclaimed, ?So long as there is this book, there will be no peace in the world?. There are many who hold this view and in support quote verses like: So when the sacred months have passed away, then slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captives and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush, then if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way free to them; surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful? (Sura 9. Ayat. 5) or Fight against those who believe not in Allah, nor in the Last Day, nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth (i.e. Islam) among the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians), until they pay the Jizyah (tax) with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued (Sura 9, Ayat 29). Apart from such verses there are Hadith and Hidayas which call upon the faithfuls to do the same.
But it is not Koran but the Ulema who have kept Islam in currency. It is the Ulema (Islamic scholars) that control the Muslim mind. Had there been no Ulema, Koran would have become any other book on the shelf. Hindus have Bhagwat Gita but which Hindu is raising his great bow Gandib against oppression inspired by Gita. Gita might have inspired isolated people in history but it never became the central focus of any mass movement. It is because Gita is not taught in institutions where Hindu students study. No doubt teachings of Koran and Gita are vastly different. I am not comparing their exhortations but the very fact that while Koran is in active mobilization Gita is enjoying a quiet retreat.
The Ulema persistently tries to overturn secular regimes and bring back Islam back on tracks. Akbar trim-med their authority but they galloped back again with Aurengzeb. Aurengzeb was not their benefactor but their finished product. Their power was behind up turning of secular regimes in Iran, Afghanistan and Bangladesh and reestablishment of Islamic states. They nearly succeeded in Egypt and Algeria. The spectre of Islamic state hangs over Egypt and Turkey. We might see different faces but behind the faces it is the mind of Ulemas working ceaselessly for creation of Dar-ul-Islam everywhere. In Islam Jehad could be waged by either sword, or pen, or tongue and three are interchangeable. So the students of Islam could overnight change into soldiers of Islam.
A famine or desolating fire in Muslim quarters of Kashgar or Sarajevo would immediately draw the sympathy and material assistance of the Mohammedan of Delhi or Cairo.
Former President Al Asad of Syria, a relatively secular state in Mid-East, did not ban Koran. He got killed 20,000 Ulemas who wanted an Islamic state. Democracy doesn'tallow such drastic and brutal measure. But madrasas are breeding ground for Islamic terrorism. So democratic countries will have contain and discourage madrasas, seal off their sources of funding, and make Ulemas dysfunctional. Its alternative is Islamization.
(The writer, a Rajya Sabha MP and convenor of BJP'sthink tank can be contacted at [email protected])