Newspapers are full of articles, such as this one from Javed Anand, with references to how Prophet Muhammad forgave people who insulted him. The key message in Javed Anand’s article is as follows:
The choice is simple. Nothing can justify violence. So the “Muslim rage” must be unequivocally condemned and freedom of expression defended, never mind the motive behind the making of the 14-minute film and its pathetic cinematic quality.
That there can be no democracy without fundamental freedoms we already know…
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.
However, a response to this above article by Javed Anand, written by CM Naim appeared in the Indian Express today. It clarifies that Muhammad had acted differently as well. And that Muslims, depending upon their predisposition choose to act in a different way. He also points out that the interpretation of Blasphemy in even India is *not* limited to an insult to the Prophet of Islam. Here’s the gist of the author’s message:
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 (1). A devout Muslim, therefore, may claim a right to follow whichever tradition suits his own inclination.
There is no citation offered by the author, and thus i cannot back the claim. However, given the author’s credentials — Professor Emeritus South Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago — i would presume he knows his history well.
Now, Krishna did all sorts of manipulation and killed and got killed several people in the Mahabharata to win a “just war”. Debates on the just-ness of the Mahabharata war, and the dilemma of “What is Dharma?” is extremely well articulated and debated in the book by Gurcharan Das titled “The Difficulty of Being Good“.
My objective of bringing up Krishna’s case here is to clarify my stand that i am not denigrating Muhammad. I am actually writing this post for another purpose.
Just yesterday i was having a debate with a muslim friend about the need to question our religious belief systems, and giving more importance to our own derived experience and feelings (and even intellectual rationalization). He expressed, that this would then be like “creating ones own religion“.
Coming back to Krishna. While we Hindus treat Krishna (and Rama) as an “avatar” of the Creator, we are “free” to criticize and question the actions of our gods, gurus messengers and prophets. Books such as the “Difficulty of Being Good” are coming out of such deep introspection and judging Krishna by the moral standards of the society today. And this is the case amongst even devout non-intellectualizing Hindus.
Today’s article and the concluding sentence of the author — “A devout Muslim, therefore, may claim a right to follow whichever tradition suits his own inclination.” — clarifies that there is no *one righteous way defined by Muhammad*, as is claimed by the news articles (and by my friend), but it is open to interpretation based on the predisposition of the devout reader.
Hence, my stand that we need to question and find our own way amidst what feels right to our heart – *away from “belief” as taught by the culture and society we are born in* — and towards what our intellect, wisdom, personal experience, good judgment suggests, in-line with the times we live in.
I end with a quote from Mahatma Gandhi, and with a reference to a book by Herman Hesse – “Siddhartha” which speaks about the “search” of this man called Siddhartha, who declines to follow the tallest messenger of his times – Gautama Buddha – gaining his blessings, and having the courage to leave the *Sangha* to follow his own spiritual search; in which, he succeeds.
“Persistent questioning & healthy inquisitiveness are the first requisite for acquiring learning of any kind” ~ Gandhi