I wrote this letter in response to an article published in the Statesman on the 16th of December by SM Murshed
first the original article and then my letter:-
To you be your way and to me mine’
It is said that Ms Taslima Nasreen has been sequestered from public gaze in Kolkata by a machiavellian sleight of hand practised by the CPI-M government, whose intention is to pander to a fundamentalist Muslim constituency. I need to join issue with the use of the word “fundamentalist” in the debate, for I suspect that its use is designed to lend legitimacy to it. The word is used by indolent wordsmiths who have a vague thought that it has a pejorative sense without quite knowing what that sense is. The word “fundamentalism” is defined in the New Shorter Oxford Dictionary as follows: “The strict maintenance of traditional, orthodox religious beliefs or doctrines; special belief in the inerrancy of Scripture and literal acceptance of the creeds as fundamentals of Protestant Christianity.” Going by this definition, I am a fundamentalist Muslim, for I believe, and practise, the five fundamental tenets of Islam, namely I believe in one God and that Mohammad was his Messenger, I pray five times a day, keep the fast during the entire month of Ramzan, give in charity the prescribed amount of my savings, and I have performed the Haj. So is everyone else in the world who regards himself as a true Muslim.Let us see what Ms Nasreen has said about Islam. We need not, to avoid prolixity, go through all her writings. It will be sufficient if we consider her novel, Dwikhandita, which was the subject of the recent storm in Kolkata. On page 48, she observes that a true Muslim is advised by the Koran not to be a friend of Jews and Christians and furthermore, wherever a non-believer is seen, he should promptly be killed. The Koran has not said any such thing. Two observations have been coalesced into one. They in point of fact allude to two different chapters and are separated from each other by their context. The first part of the observation regarding Jews and Christians will be found in Surah Al-Maida, Chapter 5, verse 51 and reads as follows: “O ye who believe! take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors: they are but friends and protectors to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them (for friendship) is of them. Verily Allah guideth not a people unjust.”The advice here, based on numerous episodes in the Prophet’s lifetime, is not to seek the protection of Jews and Christians in preference to Muslims. The words were to prove prophetic all through history. In medieval times, Muslims had to fight the holy wars of Christendom, namely the Crusades and in our own times the Palestinians continue to fight Jews for a home of their own in their own homeland and Muslim Iraq has to deal with the terrors unleashed by Mr George W Bush in search of chimerical weapons of mass destruction which, much after the event, are said not to exist. The second part of the observation alludes to the slaying of non-believers wherever and whenever found. A gentleman by the name of Arun Shourie said the same thing some years ago. Apparently, great minds think alike. The allusion is to Surah At-Tauba, Chapter 9. verse 5 of the Koran, which is in the following terms: “But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the pagans wherever ye find them and seize them, beleaguer them and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-Forgiving Most Merciful.”This chapter was revealed in the course of battle in which the pagans engaged Muslims after the treaty of Hudaibiyah, which they had made with the Muslims, had been violated by them. Frustrated by repeated violation of treaties in the past, the Muslims decided to fight to the finish. Hence the exhortation contained in the verse. Shades of the Bhagvad Gita in which Krishna urges Arjun to keep on fighting are to be found in this. But Mr Shourie and Ms Nasreen conveniently, and perhaps with malice prepense, overlook the second clause of the verse, according to which the pagans are to be spared upon repentance and upon accepting Islam. But what if they do not accept Islam? The answer is contained in verse 6, which reads as follows: “If one amongst the pagans asks thee for asylum, grant it to him so that he may hear the word of Allah and then escort him to where he can be secure: that is because they are men without knowledge.” The answer is that the pagan must not only be spared, but escorted to a place of safety. The supervening verses in Surah Al-Kafirun, Chapter 109 of the Koran may be taken as definitive on this point: “I worship not that which ye worship/Nor will ye worship that which I worship./And I will not worship that which ye have been wont to worship/ Nor will ye worship that which I worship./To you be your Way and to me mine.” We now see how the words of the Koran are distorted and then rehearsed out of their context. Not content with this, Ms Nasreen then launches a frontal attack on the Prophet’s character on pages 49 and 50. She mentions the wives in his “harem”, alluding to the fact that they were all taken for carnal pleasure. The Prophet first married Khadija when he was 25 years old and she 40. This marriage was happy and lasted 25 years until her death. During all these years, he remained abstemious and did not take any other wife, though the custom among Arabs those days was to take more wives than one. Upon Khadija’s death, he was miserable and lonely. He was persuaded by friends and relatives to marry again, which he did. He then had to fight many battles and each of them took its toll in lives lost, which created a large number of widows with no one to look after them. He proceeded to set a personal example by taking war widows as wives. Next, according to Ms Nasreen, comes the case of his “son’s wife”, whom he married after securing her divorce. Nothing could be further removed from truth. In the first place, the Prophet had no son of his own. He called Zaid, a freed slave, a son and had him married to his cousin, Zainab. The marriage was not successful for various reasons and resulted in divorce. That was a bitter experience for Zainab, who felt done in by the Prophet, who, in recompense, offered to marry her, setting a personal example to show no stigma attaches to the remarriage of a divorcee. This episode is mentioned in Chapter 33, verse 37 of the Koran. The important point to be made in this connection is that the Prophet did not maintain a harem for any carnal pleasure. At no time were there more than four wives, the maximum prescribed in the Koran. The wives were taken in succession in the circumstances mentioned above to set a personal example before asking others to follow suit. With the exception of two, all his wives were well advanced in years, well past the child-bearing age, at the time of their remarriage to the Prophet. Zainab, for instance, was 55 years old. Of course, Ms Nasreen is not expected to know these facts, for she has not studied the Koran. The coup de grace is reserved for the last, when, summing up her exegesis into the life and times of the Prophet, Ms Nasreen concludes with the words: “Eyee holo amader paigambar betar charitra aar taar jobbar arale lukiye thaka allah namer dhoka (such then has been the character of this rascal of a prophet; and concealed within the folds of his raiment is the hoax known as Allah)”. Can the Muslim world be expected to look on with equanimity as mute spectators on this wholly uncalled for, insulting and derogatory remark against Allah and his Prophet?This is not to justify the pyrotechnical display, accompanied by wanton violence and mayhem, to which Kolkata was treated on 21 November. That was sheer hooliganism and the agents provocateurs for it need to be discovered and adequately punished. But this is certainly to demand of the Central, as well as of the state, governments that Muslim religious sentiment, which has been grievously hurt by the animadversions of Ms Nasreen, be adequately addressed and suitable measures taken for assuaging the hurt sentiment. Ms Nasreen has now decided to withdraw the offensive parts of her book which have been discussed above. This proves that either she has no moral fibre or that she herself did not believe in the validity of her views, which were expressed for drawing attention to herself. It has been suggested in some quarters that the CPI-M government, in pandering to the Muslim votebank, whisked away Ms Nasreen to Jaipur, from where she was sent to New Delhi and that is where she now is under the protection of the Central government. It must not be forgotten in this connection that the BJP has espoused the cause of Ms Nasreen, for it has to pander to a countervailing votebank with her frontal attack on Islam.But what is Ms Nasreen's cause denounced by one party and avidly espoused by the other? Freedom of speech say the intelligentsia and the so called intelligentsia. This freedom, circumscribed by restrictions, is guaranteed to all citizens of India by our Constitution. In the first place, Ms Nasreen is not a citizen of India and, in the second, the restrictions mean that the freedom cannot be construed as a licence to attack the religious sentiments of any community. Ms Nasreen is free to exercise her freedom in the country of her birth and upbringing, which is Bangladesh, or in the country of her adoption, but not in India by abusing the hospitality extended to her on a temporary visa.If Ms Nasreen has freedom of speech, so does MF Husain, though it would be heretical to take the two names ~ one that of a third-rate writer and the other that of an internationally renowned artist ~ in the same breath. Where was the voice of our intelligentsia when the artist had to seek exile on foreign shores to escape punishment at the hands of those who found fault with his depiction of some deities? The artist is a citizen of India and he also has the freedom to express himself as he chooses. Perhaps, the difference between the two cases lies in the fact that in the one case Islam was being denigrated and in the other deities of a different denomination. It is sad to think that Indian society countenances these double standards.(The author is a former IAS officer)
Contrary to SM Murshed’s view in ‘To you be your way and to me mine’ in yesterday’s Statesman, Indian society, by and large, does not countenance double standards. M F Husain is certainly an artiste of international repute, nay, a maestro; and he is welcome to paint as he pleases, and many of us are unhappy at his enforced exile. Having said that, it is worthwhile to imagine the scenario if he had painted the portrait of ‘you know who’, fully clothed or otherwise, as per the dictates of his conscience. He would have barely lived to see the oncoming sunset!
The withdrawal of the offending portions of her book by Taslima proves that like most of us, she fears for her life. She was coerced and browbeaten by the powers that be, into doing what she did. Ulterior motives need not be read into her action.
If I remember correctly, Gibbon had mentioned those same episodes of the Prophet’s life, which differ very little from Taslima’s version. Was Gibbon, too, deluded?