Farkhunda Malikzada was a 27-year-old Afghan woman who was publicly slain and beaten by a mob in Kabul on March 19, 2015. A large crowd formed in the streets around Farkhunda when accusers began yelling, announcing her alleged crimes to the public. They claimed that she had burned the Quran, and for that, her accusers announced that she must be killed.
“In “Madd o Jazr-e-Islam (Ebb and Tide of Islam)”, an epic poem written in 1876, Hali speaks of these religious marauders, found in all times and places. He rejects their authority to speak on matters of religion. In the very first issue of his journal, Al-Hilal (1912), Maulana Azad also writes on these so-called keepers of religion: “It is a strange phenomenon that the very same priests who at the birth of new faith are agents of uplift and reform, become the instruments of vice and depravity once the movement has peaked. Rarely has any group caused as much harm to a religion as its own perpetrators and servants… Since the beginning of its history, Islam has been infested by the superstition and communalism of this group. Islam’s great achievement was to rid the world of their domination… But much to the world’s surprise, in a very short while, Islam played right back into their hands.”
“As Muslims, we need to heed such voices of sanity. These voices are among us; we don’t have to look towards the Western world. They are being raised in Afghanistan, in South Asia and West Asia. We need to rage against those who deliberately kill the spirit of a religion that was revealed to humanity, both women and men, as “rahmat” and “rahmaniyat”. Farkhunda is dead. Long live Farkhunda.”
The task of reform in Islam is many times more difficult and complex than it is for reform in Hinduism or Christianity, though I fully agree that the fundamentalists of all religions are badly wanting in compassion.
Islamic thought has a basic exclusivist trait which makes the task of accommodating other faiths and internal differences within the community an uphill task. One does not hear of many ‘Farkhunda’ stories. Not that it cannot be done; the Nawabs of Awadh went to great lengths in accommodating local sensitivities and succeeded in establishing unparalleled communal harmony. As a result, the Mutiny in Awadh took another full year to quell even after the rest of India had capitulated to the British forces. Some days ago, in response to another post of Sri Aniruddh Mithal, I had made some observations, which I am putting forth again for consideration.
For full appreciation, we must examine the issue from the perspective of the silent Muslim majority as well. The average common Muslim is mainly concerned with earning his living and looking after his family and their future. He has children to feed, clothe, educate; and then to arrange for their marriages to set them up independently. For this he has to conform to the norms of his society. While he does not want to antagonise the non-Muslims in his social context, he feels he cannot go against the norms laid down by the leaders of his society. On the other hand, we want him to raise the banner of revolt against the Mullahs and ask for changes in the social restrictions laid down by the Islamic texts.
Islam, as perceived and interpreted by most of its followers, does not permit any criticism of the prophet, his teachings and the holy texts. It does not permit anyone to leave the fold. Blasphemy and Apostasy are punishable by death in Islamic countries and strong social ostracisation in other Muslim societies. They are considered as crimes against God. Blasphemy by non-Muslims also attracts the same punishment. The stranglehold of Wahhabi ideas on the Muslim society is very strong. Dissent does not attract such extreme reactions in the case of Hindus or the Western world and hence it is not so difficult to raise ones voice against the existing practices there, but it calls for a lot of courage and sacrifice in the case of Muslims. The average Muslim is more of a victim than a religious crusader. ‘Meer’ says,
नाहक़ हम मजबूरों पर यह तोहमत है मुख्तारी की,
चाहते हैं सो आप करें हैं हमको अबस बदनाम किया –
‘Meer’ was of course different and he could have his say, and the times were also different. So he goes on to say,
‘मीर’ के दीन-ओ-मज़हब का अब पूछते क्या हो उन ने तो,
कश्का खेंचा, दैर में बैठा, कबका तर्क इस्लाम किया –
Religions and political ideas which incorporate violence as justified instruments of persuasion and propagation cannot be opposed easily as has been seen in Nazi Germany, communist regimes all over the world and Khalistan movement at home. So while we can no doubt exhort the silent majority of Muslims to rise up in rebellion, we have to be mindful of their difficulties. The stimulus for reforms has to come from within and only then it will be effective. This is only one half of the story.
Now if we come to the actions of the Western nations (led by the United States of America aided and abetted by all countries of Western Europe), they were not under any such pressure. Wahhabi Islam is propagated and financially supported by Saudi Arabia, a regime strongly supported and backed by the West. Why cannot these sermons by Western thinkers be delivered there? President Obama has also admitted that the Western interventions in Iraq have spawned ISIS. The Taliban were promoted by CIA. Afghanistan is in ruins today courtesy the US intervention otherwise at worse it would have been a country under Russian influence. ISIS is said to be manned substantially by Chechnian rebels, again nurtured by USA. Is it wise to humiliate nations and then expect them to be your loyal supporters? Are all the actions of Israel in Gaza and Palestine justified? Why is no advice being doled out there? Will it be wrong to conclude that the West on one hand expects the Muslims to take action to contain and eliminate their fundamentalist hardliners and on the other hand actively supports regimes and organisations who lead them?
Religion has acquired an undue influence in politics over the last hundred years and it is time the State asserts its supremacy. The State has to be staunchly and firmly secular.
We have to simultaneously call for changes in Western attitudes as well otherwise we all know that “ पर उपदेस कुशल बहुतेरे” .
– Pratap Srivastava
23rd May 2015