At the very outset, I may clarify that I am an Indian Hindu who is very critical of left-liberals like Arundhati Roy and Muslim communalists like Azam Khan. While strongly condemning the terrorist attacks in Paris (a beautiful city I have visited on more than one occasion, and there happen to be friends of mine who are French) and offering condolences to the near and dear ones of the victims, I must say that I am really annoyed to see Indians who posted nothing on their Facebook timelines after the terrorist attacks in Gurdaspur or the Bodo terror attacks killing hundreds and displacing thousands of innocent Assamese civilians last year (in which the perpetrators and victims were mostly Hindus, based on ethnic tensions) or even Maoist attacks on innocent voters and election officers at polling booths (and ultra-leftist terrorism has taken lives of innocent civilians globally, including in Greece and Peru, and De Soto, a free market economist, was unsuccessfully targeted in Peru), are now so actively posting about the Paris attacks, while the Western media only gives little more than a passing reference to victims of terrorism on Indian soil, or even trivializes the same by calling Pakistani terrorists killing our people “attackers” or “gunmen”. Some Hindu rightist social media commentators have blatantly or subtly misused these attacks to malign Muslims as a collectivity, and it’s ironic how they feel sorry for innocent French Christians but don’t seem to feel as sorry for innocent Indian Christians targeted by Hindu extremists, as was the case in the Kandhamal district of Odisha back in 2008, and how even these people opposed to “Western values” are talking more about the Paris attacks than they did about the Gurdaspur attacks (was it so because the Gurdaspur attacks embarass the BJP?).
My point is, and since these Hindu rightists love to use the “where were you when…?” argument in the context of anyone protesting against the intolerance under the Modi regime, if you are so international about condemning terrorism, then where were you when the Lord’s Resistance Army was ravaging Uganda and Eastern Lightning was killing innocents in China in the name of Christianity, Neo-Nazis were carrying out terror attacks in Greece and Catholic fanatics were bombing abortion clinics in the US, the Olympic Games of 1996 and places like Belfast et al – no, only New York, Paris and London are cool, eh? Of course, massacres of Dalits by the Ranvir Sena in Bihar justifying the same citing Hanuman burning down Lanka are not relevant either.
Indeed, the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis giving a Biblical basis for their racism and anti-Semitism; Catholic fanatics in the United States bombing abortion clinics and night clubs and having killed innocent civilians during the Olympic Games in 1996; the Catholic fanatics constituting the Irish Republican Army; some terrorists from the Baptist sect of Protestant Christianity in Tripura and Nagaland in India killing innocent civilians giving a theological justification for their actions; Khalistani terrorists killing innocent civilians acting in the name of Sikhism (they blew up an airplane flying innocent civilians); the Jewish Defense League in the United States and the Haganah in the Middle East having acted in the name of Judaism; organisations like the Ranvir Sena having carried out massacres of Dalits (including women and children) to avenge Naxalite attacks, justifying the same theologically, and perhaps most oxymoronically, Buddhist monks inciting violence against those of other religions in Myanmar and Sri Lanka (not only Muslims but even Chin Christians in Myanmar and Tamil Hindus in Sri Lanka) are all examples of non-Muslim terrorists. Terrorism in the name of Islam does not predate terrorism in the name of other religions.
Just like most Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus and Buddhists are not terrorists or supporters of terrorism, and they do not believe that their religion preaches terrorism, the same is the case with most Muslims. It is possible to quote any scripture out of context to justify malpractices, like some verses in the Bible namely Deuteronomy 13:12-15, Samuel 15:3, Leviticus 24:16 and Matthew 10:34 seemingly advocate violence against “non-believers” and the Purusha Sukta of the Rigved is taken by some to justify caste discrimination, but these verses do not define the entire religion.
There are Quranic verses like 2:256, 5:2, 5:8, 5:32, 6:108, 6:151, 49:13, 60:8 and 109:6 preaching peace, religious tolerance and human brotherhood, as does the letter from Prophet Muhammad to the Christian monks of St Catherine’s monastery and there are episodes from Prophet Muhammad’s life, as per Islamic lore, indicative of such an approach too, such as his allowing a woman to throw garbage at him daily and his succeeding in ideologically, winning over her by way of humanitarian affection. Those suggesting that peaceful verses in the Holy Quran are superseded by violent verses (which the vast majority of practising Muslims globally regard as contextual) would do well to note that verse 109:6 appears towards the end of the book, and preaches nothing but peace, and the Quran and Hadiths devote considerable space to talking about honesty (there’s an anecdote of Prophet Muhammad punishing a Muslim for stealing from a Jewish gentleman’s house), kindness, forgiveness, humility and striving for socioeconomic egalitarianism.
Very many mainstream Muslims do indeed believe that Islam is the only religion that can lead to God since the advent of Prophet Muhammad, as mainstream Christians believe the same for Christianity since the advent of Jesus, but that doesn’t entail intolerance towards those of other faiths. To explain this with an analogy, if a certain coaching centre (analogous to Islam or Christianity, going by the mainstream interpretation) claims it is the only one that can get students admitted into say, IIT (analogous to heaven), and even encourages its students to get students of other coaching centres and those not taking any coaching to join that particular coaching centre, it cannot be equated with forcing others to join their institute or killing those not willing to do so. In fact, both the Bible and the Quran preach the message of peaceful coexistence with other religious groups (the relevant verses in the context of the Quran have already been cited, and Rom. 12:18 and 1 Tim 2:2 may be cited in the context of the Bible).
Speaking of apostates of Islam (“ex-Muslims”) criticising their former religion, I know that there is a fairly well-known website run by an apostate and basher of Islam who has even offered a cash prize to anyone who can disprove his allegations against Prophet Muhammad (but there are books by apostates of other religions criticizing their former religions too, the most famous one being ‘Why I Am Not a Christian’ by Bertrand Russell, and there’s also ‘Why I am Not a Hindu’ by Kancha Ilaiah, leveling very strong allegations), but practically, he is the judge of the debate, or to go by what he is saying, the “readership” of the website, a rather non-defined entity. In fact, he has acknowledged that he came across a Muslim who “intelligently argued his case and never descended to logical fallacies or insults” and while that Islam-basher “did not manage to convince him to leave Islam”, that Muslim earned his “utmost respect”, which implies that practically, the Islam-basher is the judge of the debate. Likewise, that Islam-basher has mentioned with reference to a scholar of Islam he debated with, that the latter was “a learned man, a moderate Muslim and a good human being” and someone he (the Islam-basher) has “utmost respect for”. So, that Islam-basher’s critique of Islam, whether valid or invalid, has no relevance in terms of making blanket stereotypes about the people we know as Muslims or even practising Muslims. By the way, that Islam-basher bashes Judaism too. And it is worth mentioning that I have encountered several practising Muslims on discussion groups on the social media, who have, in a very calm and composed fashion, logically refuted the allegations against Islam on such websites. Indeed, several apostates of Islam have explicitly stated that while they personally left Islam thinking that the extremist interpretations are “right” and moderate ones wrong (as is the case with apostates of many other religions), that doesn’t in the least mean that they consider most people identifying themselves as practising Muslims support violence against innocent people (as you can see here and here).
This article mentioning an anecdote from the British parliament does make an interesting read in this context.
Not to forget that secessionists in different parts of the world – like the now erstwhile Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka (who killed civilians, bombing banks and marketplaces, and forcibly recruited children) or Bodo militants in India who recently massacred many innocent villagers in Assam, and ultra-leftist radicals in places like India, Greece and Peru – are also a cause of much terrorism globally, and they aren’t even always motivated by religion. And no, I am not in the least seeking to undermine the heinousness of the crimes committed by some in the name of Islam by pointing to others having committed similar crimes under other ideological banners, for a more highlighted wrongdoing is no less of a wrongdoing than a less highlighted wrongdoing (something those who always bring up the anti-Sikh riots in 1984, which had occurred in the wake of Indira Gandhi’s assassination or the forced displacement of Kashmiri Hindus, also known as Kashmiri Pandits, which had occurred, after brutal suppression of protests against rigged elections in Kashmir, out of context when the crimes of the Hindu right are discussed, need to understand), but only to point out that viewing only Muslims as villains, and that too, all or even most of them, would be grossly unfair.
And on a serious note, please don’t forget the sacrifices of the very many Iraqi, Syrian, Kurdish and Emirati Muslim fighters laying down their lives combating the barbarian ISIS, and the manner in which Kurdish fighters took pains to protect the Yazidis, a tiny non-Muslim minority in Iraq. And let’s not forget that when we had the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, the victims included Ahmed Merabet, a Muslim police officer who died fighting the terrorists (and by the way, there are more French Muslims in the local police than in the Al Qaeda unit in their country), Mustapha Ourad, a Muslim who was one of the magazine staff members killed in that attack and there was Lassana Bathily, a Muslim shopkeeper who gave sanctuary to many innocent civilians during the hostage crisis in Paris that followed. I would appeal to anyone resentful of Muslims as such to peruse with an open mind (not skim through and judge based on preconceived notions) this e-book of mine available for free download. Even in the context of the latest attacks in Paris, a Muslim security guard Zouheir, risking his own life, prevented one suicide bomber from entering a packed football stadium.
No, I am not deflecting condemning the terrorist attacks in Paris by way of whataboutoism – I started out by condemning them, but we need to move out of a Eurocentric worldview (which our media unfortunately follows, though not basically biased against Muslims, which is why the attacks on innocent Shias in Lebanon a day before the recent attacks in Paris didn’t get as much attention) as true humanists. And in fact, even speaking of the West, a report submitted by Europol, the criminal intelligence agency of the European Union, showed that only three out of the 249 terrorist attacks (about 1.2%) carried out in Europe in 2010 were carried out by Muslims. Even in the United States, most terrorist attacks from 1980 to 2005 were not carried out by Muslims.
Speaking of India, a column by Praveen Swami in our newspaper The Hindu (‘Terror data give lie to Giriraj Singh’s slur’, May 15, 2014) and one by Samar Halarnkar in the Hindustan Times (‘Naxal or jihadi?’, February 17, 2010) also eloquently point that out.
It’s not as though communalists under any banner, except arguably those actually resorting to killing innocent civilians, should be dehumanized or can never be logically made to modify their views, as the must-watch movie Road to Sangam, based on a true story, demonstrates, and to draw an analogy, you can see this video of a Muslim who initially wanted to become a terrorist wanting to blow up Jewish civilians but changed his standpoint about Israel for the better after visiting that country. It is not as though Muslims are another species that can’t be rationally engaged with, the way some extreme anti-Muslim rightists almost make them out to be, portraying Muslims in general as cruel, slimy, backstabbing and aggressive (many Muslims whom the non-Muslim readers would know personally would not exhibit such traits if the non-Muslim readers were to analyze dispassionately, rather than making baseless presumptions, and indeed, most Indian Muslims are of Hindu ancestry and so, they share the same genes as the Hindus – Hindu religious lore also refers to treacherous human beings like the Kauravas wanting to burn the Pandavas in a wax palace; so, treachery was not unknown to India before the advent of Islam, as royal family feuds among the Nanda and Gupta rulers also demonstrate, and some of the worst atrocities in history have been committed by the likes of Hitler and Stalin, who were not Muslims, nor was Chengiz Khan who was an animist), but like many people in other communities in different contexts, some (not all) Muslims are in the stranglehold of anachronistic ideas like a global pan-Muslim fraternity and the upholding of Islamic law, other than having prejudiced notions of an exaggerated sense of victimhood, and I have dealt with how to ideologically combat Muslim extremism in some depth in this article.
Sacrificing animals as a religious ritual is indeed not exclusive to Muslims, and ‘bali’ has existed among Hindus too, something Gautam Buddha (who lived centuries before Jesus and Muhammad) had opposed (and even Emperor Ashok the Great consumed meat of peacocks, which he stopped after embracing Buddhism, though interestingly, Buddhists in China, Japan, Bhutan, Vietnam etc. do consume meat, as do most Sikhs, Christians, Jews and Parsis, and what is halal for Muslims in terms of dietary regulations and the mode of slaughtering some animals is identical to what is kosher for Jews and several sects of Christians, and that is true for the practice of circumcision for males as well, which even has health benefits), and still continues in many Hindu temples across India, especially in West Bengal during the Navratri season. Also, it may interest some to know that the story of Prophet Abraham associated with Id-ul-Zuha is found in the Old Testament of the Bible too, which the Jews and Christians also believe in (those regarded as prophets by the Jews are regarded as prophets by the Christians too, with the addition of Jesus, and those regarded as prophets by the Christians are regarded as prophets by the Muslims as well, with the addition of Muhammad). And obviously, not all of Arab cuisine is non-vegetarian either, with Arab vegetarian dishes like strained yogurt using labneh cheese and sweet dishes like zlabia, popular in South Asia as jalebi!
One may add in this context that there is this totally incorrect notion that Muslims are the only ones who stop non-Muslims from entering some of their holiest places of worship like the Kaba in Mecca, but actually, several Hindu temples, like the Pashupati Nath temple in Nepal, too bar non-Hindus from entering them, while many mosques and Sufi shrines have absolutely no problem with non-Muslims visiting them or even praying there. Also, the conspiracy theory about the Kaba being a Shiv temple have their basis in the writings of one Mr. Oak, who was not even a historian, and he is actually not even taken seriously even by those historians, Indian or of other nationalities, who have saffron or other religious right-wing leanings, and in fact, some votaries of this theory claim that Lord Shiv has been ‘imprisoned’ by Muslims, which refutes the logic that God is all powerful! Oak also said that Christianity is Krishna-Neeti (though ‘Christianity’ as a term does not exist in Hebrew, and came about much later in history!) and many other such ludicrous things! There are websites making claims about non-existent Arabic texts to prove their point. While such propaganda (except the bit about Lord Shiv being ‘imprisoned’!) may please the Hindu chauvinist who desperately wishes to imagine ancient India to be the only centre of human civilization, impartially speaking, one ought to thoroughly dissect it before taking it seriously. These are just completely baseless rants being circulated on the social media that don’t have the backing of any serious historian, not even the most right-wing ones. These conspiracy theories are typical of loony religious rightists, including Muslim rightists in Pakistan attributing 26/11 to RAW and many genuine liberal Muslim intellectuals in Pakistan are dismissed by conspiracy theorists as agents of the CIA, RAW and/or Mossad!
There are also misplaced notions of Muslims potentially outnumbering Hindus in India, though the Muslim population growth rate is declining (not the population itself, which cannot decline usually for any community), and the population growth rate of Keralite Muslims is less than UPite Hindus, for instance, and yes, even otherwise, if someone sees Muslims potentially outnumbering Hindus in India as a real problem, they should appeal to the Indian government to legally impose a two-child norm for all Indian citizens, irrespective of religion, rather than just generate unnecessary hatred for an entire community and divide the nation. Many Hindus criticize Muslims for having many children because they practise polygamy as permitted by their faith (though census reports have established that Hindus are more polygamous than Muslims, even though it is illegal for the former, and I myself know a Hindu electrician in Delhi who has engaged in bigamy), even though that actually doesn’t make a difference to the number of children as long as the number of reproductive women remains the same. Four women would respectively give birth to the number of children they would, irrespective of whether they are married to one man or four different men! In fact, polygamy is not prohibited by Hinduism as a faith (and, in fact, it was outlawed for Hindus only after independence, and Nehru faced stern opposition for the same from orthodox Hindus). The Puranic lore is full of multiple marriages by a single man – to quote some prominent examples, Krishna had thousands of wives, prominent among whom were Rukmini, Satyabhama and Jambvati; his father Vasudev had two wives, Devki (Krishna‘s mother) and Rohini (Balram‘s mother) and Ram‘s father Dashrath had three wives, besides even Bheem having a wife other than Draupadi (Gatodkach‘s mother) and Arjun too had several, including Krishna‘s sister Subhadra. In fact, the law mandating monogamy for Hindus was introduced only after independence! Also, Islam mandates a limit of four wives and a responsibility of the husband to look after his multiple wives (if he has multiple wives in the first place) equally well, though I do agree that even this is anachronistic today. As for harems, these too have not been a monopoly of Muslim rulers, and the practice has existed among Hindu rulers too, such as in South India, and even among Buddhist rulers in Sri Lanka. And there are indeed many Hindus too, particularly in rural areas and in several cases, even among the urban educated class, who have several children even if they are monogamous. As Khushwant Singh has pointed out in his famous autobiography, many educated Hindus who have been public figures, like former president V.V. Giri, former prime minister Narasimha Rao and our very own Lalu Prasad Yadav have all had many children, and even Narendra Modi is the third of his parents‘ six children.
Also, there are some who accuse Muslims of being the only community that carries out inter-cousin marriages, but that is true for Parsis as well and Hindu lore mentions Abhimanyu marrying his maternal uncle Balram‘s daughter (though this is a South Indian folk adaptation not to be found in the Puranic lore, it shows that the idea hasn‘t always been abhorrent in Hindu societies) and Rajasthani folklore has it that Prithviraj Chauhan too eloped with his cousin and while even this is contested by historians, he has never been looked down upon for the same, and even today, this practice exists in South Indian Hindu societies.
An allegation often leveled against Islam and Muslim societies is sexism. It should be noted that Prophet Muhammad’s wife Khadijah was a successful businesswoman, and the world’s oldest existing university, which is in Morocco and dates back to 859 AD, was set up by Fatima al Fihri, a well-educated Muslim woman. Prophet Muhammad is even believed to have mandated education for all, irrespective of gender, as you can see here and here, and in fact, the education cutting across gender lines even includes physical education. Interestingly, Prophet Muhammad himself is believed to have said that children (he did not specify only boys) must be taught archery, horse-riding and swimming. In fact, a woman, Nusaybah bint Ka’ab, fought in his army, just as Hindu lore refers to Arjun’s wife Chitrangada as an ace fighter and how Kaikeyi and Madri were ace charioteers. This article discusses in some detail the freedoms accorded to women by Islam and early Muslim societies, and how they partook in war, diplomacy, business and several other fields of life, and how the veil came in later as a norm in Muslim history. Currently, many Kurdish Muslim women are bravely fighting the ISIS, and there was news of an Iraqi Kurdish woman, Rehana, killing over a hundred ISIS terrorists. Major Mariam Al Mansouri, a female fighter pilot from the UAE, has also been involved in anti-ISIS operations. While one would not assert that Islam or any other major global religion (and in this, we include the oriental faiths as much as the Abrahamic religions) is completely free from patriarchy (with all due respect to everyone’s religious sentiments), this mindset of prohibiting girls’ education represents a deeply patriarchal mindset among these ultra-conservative terrorists hailing from tribal Pashtun communities in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but has no basis in Islamic theology, and very many people across the globe who have identified themselves as Muslims have educated their daughters.
No Muslim-majority country (but for parts of them ruled by militias like the Taliban and ISIS), not even Saudi Arabia, has legally imposed wearing burqas (though only Iran has imposed headscarves; however, as regards wearing burqas, it must be noted that the Quran does not ordain it, nor do quotations attributed to Prophet Muhammad of undisputed authenticity), or prohibited women from driving (though only Saudi Arabia, other than militia-ruled regions, has imposed a ban on women driving, but a Saudi cleric also declared that there was nothing in the Islamic texts that prohibits women from driving. In Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, another Islamic state which largely follows the same Wahabi sect of Islam as Saudi Arabia, there are women-run family taxis, and Laleh Seddigh, an Iranian Muslim woman, is among the best car-racers globally, competing with men.
This is, however, not in the least to suggest that acts of terrorism by Muslims, such as the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, can be forgotten or condoned, and those advocating conspiracy theories about the same should read this article. Also, it is a fact that a radical brand of Islam has come to threaten democracy and human rights the way Nazism had in the former half of the 20th century, and Muslims ought to reject anachronistic ideas like a Muslim ummah and Islamic sharia, as I have discussed in this piece (which I would even appeal to non-Muslims seeking a solution to the problem of Muslim extremism to read), in which I have explained how these ideas are anachronistic and needn’t be seen as fundamental to Islam (if some Muslim asks what business do I have to interpret Islam being a non-Muslim, my reply is – how else do you expect non-Muslims to embrace your faith or at least not misunderstand it?). As for Indian Muslims, I would request them to read this piece too.
Also, to my Muslim countrymen, I must say that those of you (I may emphatically assert that I am not in the least generalizing all of you, as is clear from what I have been saying all along in this piece) who wish to demonstrate your “secularism” and “human rights activism” by idolizing anti-AFSPA Manipuri activist Irom Sharmila and wrongly generalizing the Indian security personnel as all being murderous, pervert rogues by pointing to their human rights violations in the northeast (and not only Muslim-majority Kashmir to showcase secularism), just like harping on the problems of Dalits and Adivasis, or Christians targeted by Hindu extremists, ought to speak up more openly against your own politicians like Azam Khan (who hasn’t even been charge-sheeted for his alleged role in the riots in Muzaffarnagar and Sahranpur, unlike Maya Kodnani and Babu Bajrangi, who were duly convicted and spent some years in jail, after which they were rightly or wrongly conferred bail), anti-Jewish hatred within your community, the forced displacement of the Kashmiri Hindus (as for rebutting the conspiracy theories and rationalizations offered about the exodus of the Kashmiri Hindus from their homeland, have a look at this piece), other instances of violence against innocent Hindus (take, for instance, the recent news of a Hindu boy in Bihar being murdered by Muslim extremists for marrying a Muslim girl, or the killings of innocent Hindus in a communal riot in Rampur over a petty issue of some Hindu farmers’ cattle having strayed into Muslim peasants’ farms or how before the Dadri incident, an innocent constable in Maharashtra was killed as a retaliation against the beef ban in that state, or how very many innocent Hindus were killed by Muslim rioters in Muzaffarnagar in 2013 and Gujarat in 2002 and not only the reverse), Shia-Sunni violence (which has occurred in India in places like Lucknow), the intolerance towards Ahmedias who are socially boycotted and occasionally violently targeted in India by Muslim extremists in India and whose right to free speech and freedom of religion is to a great extent legally denied in Pakistan, refusal to accept progressive verdicts of the Supreme Court as in the Shah Bano case, curtailment of females’ rights in Muslim communities in India in different ways, like disallowing them from playing football or acting on stage in some cases, non-Muslims not being given equal rights in many Muslim-majority countries and being violently targeted in our neighbouring countries (if such Muslims can shout against injustices by the US and Israel in Iraq and Gaza respectively, they can certainly look at our immediate neighbourhood), blasphemy and apostasy laws in Muslim-majority countries and so on (and for those of you not genuinely caring about the rights of others, why do you expect others to care for your rights?). Supporting northeasterners against what one perceives as a common foe with one’s Kashmiri co-religionists (the Indian Army), or riot-affected Christians against one’s common enemy (the Hindu communalists), or deriving cheap thrills by pretending to be concerned for Dalits with the objective of Hindu-bashing does not make one secular, impartial or someone who genuinely cares for universal human rights. The same holds true for left-liberal non-Muslims who try to showcase some intellectual elitism by selectively raising their voice usually against the wrongs of non-Muslim extremists or non-Muslim states.
(With inputs from my friend Akash Arora.)