Blasphemy: its uses and abuses

November 16, 2020

Rohit Dhankar

These days, again, deliberate blasphemy is becoming a hotly debated topic on social media.  This new wave of interest in blasphemy started after slaying of the French teacher Samuel Paty for showing Muhammad cartoons. This act of mindless bigotry invited President Emmanuel Macron’s tough stand against Islamic terrorism, which, in turn, provoked further Islamic violence in Europe and threatening protest in many parts of the Islamic world. Many Islamic clerics and Muslim politicians supported by large numbers of believers in Islam seem to hold the view that the only punishment for insulting Muhammad is beheading. The underlying message of this attitude is that ‘in expressing your views publicly and debating in your own countries you will have to behave according to standards dictated by us, or we will kill you’. A completely unjustifiable supremacist stand on part of Islam. This is a successfully practiced centuries old, though crude, method of controlling peoples thinking. Limiting discourse is a sure way of controlling thinking, as thoughts develop in conversation in societies.

This tendency, though most pronounced and most violently practiced in Islam, is by no means unique to Islam. All religions and all believers in religious precepts do have this tendency, even if not always practiced so violently. As a reaction another section of people is resorting to mindless blasphemy. I came across some examples on a twitter handle depicting Rama and Muhammad in a homosexual embrace and a similar depiction of Sita and Kali.

The twitter handle announces more ‘art’ like this, involving Hindu Goddess Kali and Muhammad. The person(s) seems to be mainly interested in Islamic religious figures and Hindu gods/goddesses. In my view this is precisely the kind of blasphemy that needs to be avoided and discouraged. By discouraging, however, I most certainly do not mean beheading, trolling, banning or any kind of forcible restriction. All I mean is expressing opinion against such art.

To my mind this expresses only filth of mind. Why do I say that?

When blasphemy is used as a tool against curbing of freedom of expression and action it serves a purpose of widening discourse and making an important point to protect freedom. But when it is indulged in only to test the limits of tolerance of real or pretending believers it creates undue reaction which will eventually harm the openness of discourse.

To use it as a tool against imposition of undue restrictions on freedom of expression one has to make relevant points through it. For example if one makes cartoons of Rama to bring out or critique issues in his preaching, behaviour; or preaching and behaviour of his followers, believers and pretending believers; then it serves a point in the ongoing ideological struggle and discourse. There can be many issues in Ramayana of this nature, depending upon one’s interpretation. One can take Shanbuk’s killing, Rama’s and Lakshamana’s behaviour with Shurpanakha, Sita’s agni-pariksha, Sita’s banishment to forest, and so on.

Similarly, with Muhammad. One can take his bigotry, issues of child marriage, behaviour with his wives and slave girls, his preachings on war-booty, claims of revelation, claims of angels fighting alongside Muslims, necessity of fighting in jihad and so on. This kind of blasphemy will serve the purpose of bringing out issues in Quran and Muhammad’s own behaviour.

But making caricatures of sexual indulgence and imagining other kinds of deliberately insulting caricatures serves no purpose. Of course, one can stretch the point that Quran pronounces horrendous punishment for homosexuality, and therefore, showing Muhammad in homosexual relations is a comment on his preaching on the issue. But in my view, it should be done only if there are any indications of Muhammad himself being inclined to homosexuality, if there is reliable evidence of such acts on his part. Simply because he was against homosexuality does not justify, to my mind, such caricatures. Also, if there is any evidence in mythology (any version of Ramayana) of Rama being inclined to homosexuality it may bring out a point in the discourse.

What I am trying to argue is that the blasphemy regarding religious figures and divinities (prophets, gods, sons and daughters of The God, etc.) should be around the historical or theological evidence. That will help in bringing out characteristics of those figures which arrest discourse and human freedom. And will weaken the arguments of their believers on the basis of authority of these figures. On the other hand mindless juvenile filth will discredit the attempts of useful and positive blasphemy, will create a reaction against it and destroy its power of pungent irony and deep cutting satire.

On the pain of repetition, I am not talking of banning blasphemy or killing for it. All I am arguing for is a thoughtful use that opens up minds and avoiding uses which will finally blunt the weapon itself.


16th November 2020

Is Lord Rama turning into a Muhammad?

June 24, 2016

Rohit Dhankar

When I was a child in my 100% Hindu village one could openly condemn Rama for Sita’s agnipariksha and later vanavasa even after passing her through fire. I remember people (mainly youngsters) discussing these things without ever bothering about repercussions or anyone getting angry. The only rejoinder which came from some youth was “you do not understand the Ramayana and have no bhakti in your heat. That is why talking like fools”. Which was fine, by the discussing group, they just laughed.

When I was in college and university questioning Sita’s fidelity to Rama was no taboo among some groups and they did not hide their conversations from any one.  I am sure, though have no references at the moment, that there must be plenty of books and article where killing of Shambuk, shooting arrow at Bali from behind a tree, agbipariksha and vanavasa of Sita are seen as acts which do not behoove a Maryada-purushottam, and make Rama’s moral code rather suspect in the eyes of a modern reader.

Therefore, the news item in The Hindu of 24th June 2016 which says that Professor B.P. Mahesh Chandra Guru of the University of Mysore is arrested, and as a consequence of arrest suspended, for derogatory remarks against Rama made me wonder. Looking into several news items one could ascertain that on 3rd January 2015 Professor Guru while speaking on human rights remarked that “Ram of Ramayana had violated human rights. He suspected Sita’s fidelity and victimised her. I see this as a violation of human rights.” (Catchnews, 22nd June 2016)

From this single line of his speech one cannot really say what was his purpose or argument. If he wanted to make a point similar to, say, that the morality of religious mythology may not be compatible with today’s human rights and, therefore, can no more be treated as an ideal, then it makes perfect sense. However, imposing human rights on Rama as such is somewhat silly. In either case it is no crime to be arrested and victimised for. Actually he is perfectly within his rights in comparing Rama’s conduct with human rights; whether Rama bhaktas like it or not.

Actually Sita herself says something much harsher on the occasion of agniparikaha. When Rama shamelessly tells her that he conquered Lanka and killed Ravana to salvage his own honour and not for any love for Sita, and that now she is free to go anywhere, with Lakshamana, Vibhishana or anyone else, Sita gives a fitting reply.

One of the many nasty barbs Rama addresses to Sita is “Assuredly Ravana, beholding thy ravishing and celestial beauty, will not have respected thy person during the time that thou didst dwell in his abode.” (The Valmiki Ramayana, Translated by Hari Prasad Shastri. Published by Santi Sadan, London, 1952. Yuddh-kanda Uttararadha, Page 336.)

Sita brings to his notice the situation she was in, and says “If my limbs came in contact with another’s, it was against my will, O Lord, and not through any inclination on my part; it was brought about by fate. That which is under my control, my heart, has ever remained faithful to thee; my body was at the mercy of another; not being mistress of the situation, what could I do? If despite the proofs of love that I gave thee whilst I lived with thee, I am still a stranger to thee, O Proud Prince, my loss is irrevocable!” I find it interesting that Sita does not hint at the modern Bambaiya film dialogue “main Ganga ki tarah pavitra hun”. She makes an argument that pavitrata is an issue of the heart, and not of body. Then she tells Rama the Maryada-purushottam “But thou, O lion among Men, by giving way to wrath and by thus passing premature judgement on a woman, hast acted like a worthless man.” (ibid, page 337. Emphasis added)

Calling Rama a “worthless man”, by his own wife is harsher than pointing out that he violated human rights. And that is right there is the Valmiki Ramayana itself. So what kind of derogatory comments did Professor Guru make against the supposed to be Maryada-purushottam?

We are forgetting that Ramayana is quite open in discussing its characters’ conduct and often without mincing words. Valmiki seems to respect freedom of ideas and speech more than we do today, at least at places if not throughout the text.

This has been a tradition in Islam that one cannot question Muhammad, cannot say anything against him in public without severe retribution. In recent times Lokamat issue where they only published a cartoon with words in Arabic on a piggybank picture with the meaning “Muhammad is his prophet” is an example. The offices of the paper were vandalised, and the paper had to apologise. Kamalesh Tiwari for calling Muhammad a homosexual is languishing in jail. One can site dozens of examples. The tradition is very old. And is very robust even today.

It seems Rama is losing his cool and learning very fast from Muhammad in the recent times. Between two of them (and of course Bharat Mata, Gaumata and all that) perils of thinking people in India seem to be set to increase. Keep your fingers crossed—and safe—ladies and gentlemen with a mind.


Quran and violence 5: Two views from the same book

January 24, 2015

Rohit Dhankar

(Continued from part 4. This post is rather long for a blog. But I want to conclude it now.)

In this concluding part I will begin with looking at two articles, one of them written by a very well-known and rightly respected scholar of Islam Maulana Wahiduddin Khan and the other by some Dr. Jawwad Ahmed Khan from Jeddah who runs a blog called “Fundamentalist: How can the Ummah survive when its Prophet is cursed!”. []

The choice is deliberate to underline the tension between the liberal Muslims scholars and the fundamentalists.

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan’s article

The Maulana wrote the article under consideration in The Times of India on 2nd October 2012, titled “Blasphemy in Islam: The Quran does not prescribe punishment for abusing the Prophet”. He argues in this article that “[I]n Islam, blasphemy is a subject of intellectual discussion rather than a subject of physical punishment. This concept is very clear in the Quran.”

The Maulana quotes several verses from the Quran to prove his point. He admonishes Muslims for setting up “media-watch” offices and the attitude to “hunt for anyone involved in acts of defamation of the Prophet, and then plan for their killing, whatever the cost.” He further argues that this attitude goes against the freedom granted by the God (to test people) and the modern secularism; and Muslims should desist from this.

Dr. Jawwad Ahmed Khan

Dr. Khan argues for the exact opposite in his blog article “Blasphemy: Reason behind aggressive persuasion and Islamic perspective”. Why this blog article of an individual is interesting is that he also quotes verses after verses and in addition strengthens his argument on the authority of Islamic scholars.

Dr. Khan quotes four great Imams of Islam one by one, and on the further authority of Muhammad bin Sahnun comes to the conclusion that “There is consensus (ijma) amongst ulama that anyone who insults the Prophet (Peace be upon him) and finds his defects then such a person is “KAFIR” and there is promise of Allah’s torment upon such a person and in sight of Ummah the ruling regarding him is to “KILL HIM” rather whosoever doubts in Kufr of such a person then he/she commits kufr himself. The research in this matter is that anyone who abuses the Prophet (Peace be upon him) is Kafir and he is to be killed unanimously, this is “MADHAB OF ALL 4 IMAMS” Ishaq bin Rahwiyah and others have mentioned this Ijma. If the abuser happens to be a Dhimmi (non Muslim living in Muslim land) then according to Imam Malik (rah) and people of Madina he is to be killed as well.”

“The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) sometimes chose to forgive those who had insulted him, and sometimes he ordered that they should be executed, if that served a greater purpose. But now his forgiveness is impossible because he is dead, so the execution of the one who insults him remains the right of Allaah, His Messenger and the believers, and the one who deserves to be executed cannot be let off, so the punishment must be carried out”.
How is it possible to come to opposing conclusions while taking the same text as authority?

These opposite conclusions are puzzling to say the least. One can dismiss Dr. Khan’s interpretation as an unknown fundamentalist. But seems it will not do. As great Islamic scholars like the famous Ayatollah Khomeini came to the same conclusion in the case of Satanic Verses of Rushdie. And also Dr. Khan quotes great Islamic scholars.

One answer (among perhaps many others) can be found if one looks at the verses quoted by Maulana Khan and Dr. Khan respectively. Maulana Khan quotes verses 36:30, 40:24, 15:6, 16:101, 7:66 and 6:108. Interestingly all these verses are from the Makkan period after the revelations started. Muhammad at this time was behaving as a preacher and trying to convert the Makkan people. As far as blasphemy is concerned he routinely called their gods as false gods in these verses, who are just fabricated and have no authority. Obviously the believers were less in numbers and relatively weak in all kinds of power. The mission was to convert more from the Makkan population.

However, even at this time what Maulana Khan claims regarding blasphemy (that it was an issue of intellectual discussion) does not seem to be established. Most of these verses tell the believers stories about the prophets in the past who were reviled as liars, fabricators, etc. and several among them claim that these people who insulted the prophets were destroyed by the Allah. Maulana’a own translation of verse 36:30 makes this point clear if read with verses 36:29 and 36:31; that is, immediately before and after the quoted verse. The translation is “29 it was but one great blast and they fell down lifeless. 30 Alas for human beings! They ridicule every messenger that comes to them. 31 Do they not see how many generations We have destroyed before them? Never shall they return to them.” This hardly constitutes an intellection argument.

The points I am making are: 1. All the verses Maulana quotes are from the Makkan period of preaching. 2. They do not ask the believers to take any action against the blasphemers but issue threats directly from the Allah.

This issue becomes more curious when one notes the verses quoted by Dr. Khan. The verses quoted by Dr. Khan in support of killing the blasphemers are: 49:2, 24:63, 5:33, 9:65-66, 33:57 and 33:61. All these verses are from the Madina period.

In between the acrimony between the believers and polytheists intensified, Muhammad lost hope of converting them, and had to migrate to Madina. In Madina the believers came in power, formed a state, started plans for making the state an undisputed power in Arabia and making the Allah’s proclamation of He being the only God and Muhammad being the last prophet universal. Thus the religious movement turned into a political ideology and the prophet turned into a ruler. This was not use of religion for political gains; it was simply the metamorphosis of the religion itself into an empire building political ideology. There remained no religion outside the ideology and the ideology was based on the faith. They were the two sides of the same coin. And the coin was to have purchase for unmitigated power.

In this new situation blasphemy against the God and the prophet Muhammad could not be tolerated. However, one finds blasphemous verses against earlier prophets here and there, which may be quoted as examples of tolerance; but they are not about Muhammad, the seal of prophet-hood.

I looked at about a dozen articles on both sides of the divide; those who argue for a more tolerant attitude to blasphemy and those who argue killing blasphemers without fail. Largely the pattern of quoting verses from earlier Makkan period by the first and quoting verses from the Madina period by the second holds.

It seems the believers are trying to settle the issue on the authority of the Quran. The liberals among them are choosing the earlier revelations and the fundamentalists are choosing the later ones. [This requires more study, should be considered only an initial tentative hypothesis.]



The argument that Quran does not sanction violence against non-believers and those who are seen as enemies of Islam is not sustainable. The violence emanates from the Quran’s God himself. He is a violent God. Those who disobey him are killed and destroyed in this world and burnt in the hell fire hereafter. But then as far as hereafter is concerned many of the Gods love to burn people in the hell fire and cut them to pieces again and again, be they Hindu or Christian. It seems the very idea of God (in most of its forms, though not all) requires a very strong doze of fear and threats. So Allah is by no means unique in being the fountainhead of at the least imaginary violence in the hell. The issue seems to be how single-mindedly one believes in this ghastly imagination.

Since the argument that Quran does not sanction violence can be so easily refuted it cannot help deter fundamentalists. In addition repeated attempts to prove that they should not commit violence because their religion and religious book does not sanction it, actually ends up reinforcing the authority of their religion, as the only source of guidance. This precludes other humanitarian ideas from consideration, and renders them irrelevant. A more truthful, just, and perhaps even effective way could be to call a spade a spade. Admit that Quran is a violent book, that it often calls on believers to kill non-believer, it teaches them to hate idolaters, polytheists, and to wage a jihad to eradicate them, at the least in some parts of it. And explaining these parts away does not seem to be possible.

But it (The Quran) is also full of contradictions, repetitions and impossible stories. (I am sure, all religious texts, be they Hindu or Christian, have contradictions, impossible stories, adverse judgment and often even violence against their own unbelievers.) Therefore, it cannot be a book sent by the God, unless the God Himself is taken to be a creature whom today’s humans see as violent and even evil. It is a creation of ordinary human being(s) pretending or being under delusion to be messenger of the God. If people want to believe in it and prophet-hood of Muhammad, they are of course free to do so, no one has the right to stop them and ask them not to believe. But if they want others to live according to this book and obey Muhammad as prophet then they are taking their religious zeal too far beyond its legitimate scope. Other people have other religions and non-religions, and even the hated irreligion; and they have freedom to make their own choices.

There being sanction of violence in Quran, however, does not necessarily make the whole religion violent, nor does it mean that all believers are necessarily violent. To construct a non-violent interpretation of a religion based on Quran, however, has to be a strenuous theological task. There are practicing Muslims who are engaged in this task, but they will always be under pressure as their interpretation is striving against the natural reading and original impulse of the Quran.

The book Quran and Muhammad no more belong exclusively to the Muslims alone. Both, the book and Muhammad, have a profound effect on today’s world. Islam has become a political ideology like democracy, communism, Hindutva, and so on. Muhammad has become an ideologue like Gandhi, Marx, Plato, and so on. They impact peoples’ lives, I mean non-believers’ lives as well. And people in a democracy have full right to comment, criticise and lampoon all that impacts their lives. One cannot demand that ‘your life will be effected by my ideological beliefs but you cannot open your mouth against them’. That is plain oppression.

If someone reads Quran and finds it a violent book full of repetitions and contradiction and overwhelmingly plagiarised from the Bible, then that person has full right to express that thought.

If one reads the Quran, which is freely available in the market and can be downloaded for free from the internet, one can hardly miss that it contains many chapters and verse that are of direct benefit to Muhammad. They contain curses on his enemies, chapters 104 and 111, for example. Some give Muhammad special sanctions (33:50) and others threaten his wives into submission (66:1-5). A non-believer who notices all this is sure to suspect the genuineness of all three: the Allah, the Quran and Muhammad; in spite of elaborate explanation which all depend on first accepting the faith. The believers cannot ask these people not to think these thoughts, or not to speak them out if they have occurred to them. This would mean controlling other peoples’ minds and making others live according to the believers’ faith. No one has the right to expect that, no one has the right to impose one’s faith on others.

One should also understand that speaking out as a critique of, say; democracy, Hindutva, Islam, or communism; dos not mean forcing their respective believers into discarding these ideologies. This simply is expression of ideas in a free world. Therefore, the believers’ argument that free speech is being forced upon them is wrong. No one asks them to adopt free speech if they do not like to do so. None asks them to read books they do not like. But some of them would like to force other to abandon free speech even if others don’t like abandoning it.

In addition to these simple issues of coherence and credulity, the Quran raises many social and political questions. The issue of status of women (common to all religions), of non-believers in Islamic thinking, the issue of critical examination of doctrines and so on. These are genuine and important issues in a free society. The believers cannot expect everyone to accept their view points on these issues. Such issues cry for debate and democracies survive on open debates. Therefore, the believers have to learn to listen to hard questions and to engage in debate without losing their cool.

Obviously the same goes for the Hindu zealots in India, the argument is generalizable to all religious fundamentalism. As I said above, the topic in this article is Quran, that does not mean that Hindu zealots don’t have to learn to live with nude Saraswatis, critique of their religious books, those who don’t share their reverence for cows and medicinal benefits of cow’s urine.

As a matter fact, most of Muslims one meets can think on these issues with as much calm and criticality as anyone else can. It is a minority that gets up in arms on such issues, but that minority has to be restrained by the thinking majority in the community of believers. And in democracies, for the reasons above mentioned, right to expose a religion cannot be restricted to its believers alone. A fearless and un-tempered critique of all religious texts is everyone’s fundamental right. Those who demand respectful comment (in case of disagreement) on religious texts are asking people to be submissive in the face of belligerent threats. However, as a moral choice of someone to be respectful to faiths seems to be commendable to me. But that attitude cannot be made into obligation; it has to remain a personal morally preferred position. And when this respectful stance becomes so prevalent that some of the faithful (belonging to any faith) start demanding it as their right; it is a duty of a democratic citizens to speak against it clearly and resolutely.


Quran and violence 2: What the Allah says

January 12, 2015

Rohit Dhankar

(Continued from part 1)

As a reminder, this article is about presence or absence of violence in the Quran, and not at all about the individual Muslims or Muslim society in general. As there are a majority of Hindus and Christians who live their lives guided by their context and times in spite of what is written in Gita (or Manusmriti) and Bible, surely there are majority of Muslims who are products of their times and context in spite of what is written in the Quran. And hopefully their context and times make them all (Muslims, Hindus, Christians, etc.) more like each other in spite of their religious books. Therefore, this article makes no claim about how Muslims as individuals and members of a community think and act. Actually I think that Muslims are exactly like anyone else in a given society. The article is only about what is written in a book, Quran. But I do claims that some extremists get their inspiration from Quran and try to justify their actions on the basis of what is written there in. With this disclaimer, let’s go back to the Book then.

The threats of violence by Allah

The modern day Quran opens[1] “[I]n the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful.” [TuQ] Almost every chapter of the Quran opens with praise of Allah in terms of being compassionate, merciful, all powerful, all knowing, and so on. However, Allah is merciful and compassionate only to those who believe in him. To those who fail to believe he is a dreadful tormentor who visits on them destruction and annihilation in this world, and endless torture in the hereafter. For those who disbelieve the Allah has “a torment Mighty” [TuQ 2:7] in store. In this regard footnote numbered 49 explains: “A just retribution, after, the last judgment, to the finally impenitent. [Arabic word used in Quran] generally signifies any corporal punishment; and, by an extension of the original signification, any implication of pain that disgraces or puts to shame; originally, beating; afterwards used to signify any painful punishment, torture, or torment.”

Verses 2:23 and 2:24 challenge and threaten: “And if you are in doubt [of the Quran being a book given by Allah] concerning what We have sent down upon Our bondman [Muhammad] then bring a chapter like it and call upon your witnesses, besides Allah, if you are truthful. But if you do not, and you cannot, then dread the Fire whose fuel is men and stones, prepared for the disbelievers.” [TuQ]

The meaning of fire, stones and disbelievers is explained clearly in footnotes 103 and 104 of TuQ (footnote 102 also provides the authority of Bible). “These stones, which the polytheists worshipped and of which they carved idols and images, would be placed in the Hell alongside their worshippers to increase their mental agony and torture. Polytheism has almost invariably manifested itself in stone-worshipping, and ‘sacred stones’ are perhaps the commonest type of idols. … The Hell-fire is thus intended, primarily and mainly, for the infidels, the outright rejectors of faith, and not for mere sinners.”

These two are representative examples. One can multiply them hundredfold easily. But these few are enough for the point I want to make. The main enticements for accepting the faith that Allah offers are war-booty and protection in this life; and a life of endless enjoyment hereafter. Since this article is about violence in Quran I am citing no examples for this enticement. What is relevant here are the threats that Allah issues for non-believers, and Quran is replete with them, it is difficult to finish a page without encountering some or other threat. They mainly consist of visiting scourge in this life and burning in the hell in the next. All these threats are excessively violent. Therefore, Allah is merciful and compassionate for those who believe in the message revealed to Muhammad and obey him [obedience to Muhammad is obedience to Allah, and disobedience to Muhammad is disobedience to Allah]. ON the other hand he is very violent to those who do not believe in what Muhammad says and do not obey him.

This is a very important point. Being infidel is such a great sin that subjecting infidels to excessive violence hereafter does not detract from one being ‘merciful’ and ‘compassionate’. You can torture them and still remain infinitely merciful and compassionate, and even just! This may easily imply, and I suspect does imply to extremists, that the men who shoot cartoonists and innocent people can claim to be merciful and compassionate in spite of their violence as it is seen as justified. The violence of the fundamentalist (not all) among the believers springs directly from a violent God that they fear, love, submit to and worship with unwavering faith and single minded devotion. The Allah has no kind word to spare for the non-believers.

Sanction of violence

When one talks of the violence and killing of non-believers two versed are often flung at them as a supposed to be irrefutable argument that Quran sanctions religious freedom and forbids killing. We must first deal with these verses, then take up a few more examples.

Regarding the religious freedom the often cited words are “your religion to you and mine to me”. Let’s look at the Sura 109 (chapter 109) where these words are found. This is a very short chapter with very short six verses. This is how TuQ translates it: “Say thou: Infidels, I worship not what you worship! Nor are you the worshippers of what I worship, and I shall not be a worshipper of what you have worshiped. Nor will you be the worshipper of what I worship! Your requital shall be yours, and my requital shall be mine.”

To understand the full import of the sura we should also examine the footnotes. TuQ explains the context of the sura in footnote 571, this is how it goes: Some of the leading pagans of Makka had proposed to the Prophet a compromise between Islam and the ancient faith such as they conceived it, whereby he would concede to their gods an honourable place. This chapter indignantly repudiates all such suggestions. And, It (this surah) breathes a spirit of uncompromising hostility to idolatry. [Emphases added]

So this is an indignant repudiation of a compromise proposal and expresses “a spirit of uncompromising hostility”, while the last verse is often touted as allowing freedom of religion and tolerance. This is a command from the Allah to Muhammad to say this to the infidels. And the contempt for infidelity is included in the very address to the delegation. The often quoted last verse is “Your requital shall be yours, and my requital shall be mine”. Requital means “a justly deserved penalty”. If one remembers that the penalty for infidels is burning in the hell for eternity, then it is more like a warning (threat from Allah) than acceptance of peaceful coexistence.

This, however, is the harshest translation of the verse. I looked at about 6-7 other translations. This is the only one that uses the word ‘requital’; other use words like ‘way’ and ‘religion’. However, the context makes a few things clear. 1. There has been a dispute over believers criticising the gods of ‘infidels’. 2. The infidels come forward with a compromise proposal. 3. Muhammad addresses them (on Allah’s command) “O Infidels”. 4. Repudiates their proposal. 5. Accepts a mutually uneasy truce (till when?) in which a thinly veiled threat of Allah’s retribution is also included. Does not sound like breathing a spirit of tolerance at all?

 A small but significant point to be noted in this regard is also that this chapter is supposed to be revealed in Makka. The verses supposed to be revealed in Makka are noticeably softer to polytheists and idolater in comparison to those supposed to be revealed in Madinah. We will return to this point later on in the article.

The second often quoted verse is “killing a single human being is like killing the whole humanity”. This also needs an examination. The verse is 5:32 or 5:33 depending on translation. This is how the TuQ translates it: “Because of that We prescribed to the Children of Israel who so kills a person, except for a person, or for corruption in the land, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind, and whoso brings life to one it shall be as if he had brought life to all mankind. And assuredly there came to them Our messengers with evidences, yet even after that many of them are acting in the land extravagantly.”

The reference “because of that” is to killing of Abel by Cain. Moses is commanded by Allah to relate the story of two sons of Adam to Israelites. The verse 5:32 comes at the end of the story. In most of the defensive quotations the conditional phrase “except for a person, or for corruption in the land” is omitted. The verse in its original form is not a blanket injunction on killing; as one can kill a murderer and those who spread corruption in the land. Some other translations use the phrase “spread mischief in the land”. The Arabic term seems to be “fasadin” which is translated sometimes as “spread corruption” and sometimes as “spread mischief”. In many verses ‘dilatory’, ‘polytheism’ and ‘talking against Islam’ are termed as “mischief”. One needs to note that a believer can still kill for ‘mischief’, and talking against the Islam and Muhammad is defined as ‘mischief’.

NQ in connection with verse 5:32 gives a Hadith on authority of Sahih Al-Bukhari which lists the biggest sins. “Narrated Anas bin Malik: The Prophet said, “The biggest of Al-Kaba’ir (the great sins) are: (1) To join others as partners in worship with Allah, (2) to murder a human being, (3) to be undutiful to one’s parents (4) and to make a false statement” or said, “to give a false witness.” (Sahih AI-BukhfJri, Vol.9, Hadith No.10). The first among the biggest sins is polytheism. Quran calls idolatry, we will see presently, as a big sin as well. And giving false witness can easily include a statement like “Quran is not a book from Allah”.

Now if one looks at the verse 5:32 with its conditional phrase “in retaliation for murder, or (and) to spread mischief in the land” [NQ] and interprets ‘mischief’ as ‘polytheism’ and/or ‘idolatry’, one can kill without violating the Allah’s command. Therefore, this verse actually is misquoted, and is no injunction against killing polytheists and idolaters, particularly those who question the divine origin of Quran and prophet-hood of Muhammad.

The very next verse (5:33) commands “[T]he recompense of those who wage war against Allah and His messenger, and go about in the land making mischief is only that they shall be slain or crucified or their hands and their feet be cut off on the opposite sides or be banished from the land. Such shall be their humiliation in this world, and in the Hereafter theirs shall be a torment mighty”. [TuQ] A wide choice indeed!

So far we have been examining if the Quran gives freedom of religion and whether it condemns killing. The above quoted verse brings us to sanction of violence. Killing and various kinds of violence is clearly recommended against those who “wage war against Allah and His messenger, and go about in the land making mischief.” Mischief, as we have seen above, includes polytheism. Therefore, it recommends violence against polytheists. We will try to understand what waging war against Allah and His messenger means and how the Quran wants idolaters to be treated. (To be continued tomorrow.)


[1] In chronological order these verses were not revealed the first, they come at number five.

‘पीके’ के बहाने

December 30, 2014

रोहित धनकर

धर्म—मजहब, पंथ और रिलिजन के अर्थ में—बहुत कमजोर और डरपोक विचार है. यह बात खासकर धर्म के संगठित हो जाने पर सही उतरती है, और सब धर्मों के लिए सही है. चाहे वह हिन्दू धर्म हो, ईसाइयत हो, इस्लाम हो, बोद्ध धर्म हो या कोई और. उनकी हिंसक और आक्रमणकारी प्रवृत्ती धर्म के मूल में बैठे इस डर का नतीजा है, किसी ताकत का नहीं. यह डर स्वयं विश्वास के आधार-हीन, तर्कहीन और विवेकविहीन होने के कारण उपजता है. क्यों की धर्मं लोगों की असुरक्षा की भावना और जगत की रहस्यमयता पर पनपता है, अतः वह नासमझी और भय को सदा बनाए रखना चाहता है. लोग यदि समझने लगें और अपनी असुरक्षा को स्वयं संभालना सीखालें तो धर्म को बहुत बड़ा खतरा होता है. जो धर्म की इस कमजोरी की तरफ इशारा करता है धर्म उसको हिंसा से रोकना चाहता है. ‘पीके’ के साथ यही हो रहा है.

जिन हिन्दुओं को ‘पीके’ में दिखाए गए धर्म के टोटके, चालबाजियां, धोखे और छल आपत्तीजनक लगते हैं वे उनको मिटाते क्यों नहीं? सड़क पर लाल पत्थर रख कर रोज उगने वाले मंदिरों को ये क्यों नहीं हटाते? रामपाल और आशाराम जैसे बाबाओं के चरणों में ये सर क्यों झुकाते हैं? ‘पीके’ के तपस्वी जैसे धोखेबाज बाबा तो आज हर गली-मोहल्ले में हैं; इन के होने से तो इन हिन्दुओं को कोई शर्म नहीं आती. उनके होने की बात करने से, बता देने से शर्म क्यों आती है? ‘पीके’ का विरोध इस डर का नतीजा है कि धर्म की जड़ों की सड़ांध को लोग समझने लगेंगे तो उसकी धन कमाने की और सत्ता देने की क्षमता खत्म हो जायेगी.

‘पीके’ कोई कॉमेडी नहीं है, केवल कोई नासमझ ही उसे कॉमेडी कहेगा, यह एक तीखा व्यंग है. व्यंग (satire) और प्रहसन (comedy) का फर्क या तो लोग सकझते नहीं या फिर व्यंग को नरम साबित करने के लिए कॉमेडी शब्द का प्रयोग कर रहे हैं. वैसे भी धर्म की जड़ में जितना छल होता है उस को उजागर करने के लिए कॉमेडी बहुत हल्का हथियार है, यह काम व्यंग ही कर सकता है.

लोकतंत्र में किसी चीज का विरोध करने के लिए, किसी छल को उजागर करने के लिए, व्यंग का उपयोग एकदम जायज है; बल्की लाजमी है. कुछ लोग अपने विवेकविहीन विश्वासों की रक्षा के लिए दूसरों के विचारों की अभिव्यक्ती पर आक्रमण नहीं कर सकते. उन्हें यह इजाजत नहीं दी जा सकती.

क्यों की अभिव्यक्ती की स्वतन्त्रता हमारा अधिकार है, इस लिए इस अभिव्यक्ती का विषय चुनने का भी अधिकार है. आप किसी लेखक को, कलाकार को, इस बात के लिए बाध्य नहीं कर सकते की वह धर्मों की जड़ में डर, मूर्खता और धोखा उजागर करे तो सब धर्मों में इन की बात करे. यह लेखक या कलाकार का चुनाव है की वह किस की बात करना चाहता है और किसकी नहीं. उसे न तो सब की बात करने के लिए मजबूर किया जासकता है ना ही सब की बात न करने पर दण्डित. ‘पीके’ हिन्दू धर्म पर अपना ध्यान केन्द्रित करती है, और यह उसका हक़ है. इसके लिए उसे दोषी नहीं ठहराया जासकता. इस्माल और ईसायत की बात उसमें केवल एक संकेत के रूम में है. मेरे विचार से फिल्मकार यह कहना चाहता है कि वह हिन्दू धर्म के माध्यम से कुछ समस्याओं पर सवाल उठा रहा है; ये समस्याएं इस्लाम औए ईसाइयत में भी हैं. कोई और उनको विस्तार से ले, चाहे तो.

वैसे भी हम सब जानते हैं की इस तरह का करारा व्यंग इस्लाम पर करना ज्यादा खतरनाक है. (यह बात बहुत से लोंगों को बड़ी फिरकापरस्त लगेगी, पर सही है.) इस के कई कारण हैं. एक तो यह कि हिन्दू धर्म का कोई केंद्रीय रूढ़-मत (dogma) नहीं है. बहुत सारे रूठ-मत है, इन में कोई भी सर्वमान्य नहीं है. इस का फायदा यह है कि कोई भी ऎसी चीज नहीं है जिसे कोई न कोई नकारता नहो, जिस पर अंगुली उठाने से पूरे धर्म पर अंगुली उठ जाए, जिसकी जड़ खोदने से पूरे धर्म की ही जड़ खुद जाए. पर इस के नुकशान भी हैं, जैसे यह कि धर्म के नाम पर कोई कुछ भी चाल-बाजी कर सकता है. दूसरा कारण हिन्दू धर्म की आलोचाने के कम खतरनाक होने का यह है कि बड़ी कटु आलोचना का इतिहास भी रहा है इस धर्म में. अब तो संध की करामातों के चलते इस खुलेपन के इतिहास को खतरा लग रहा है, पर अभी भी लोग इस की रक्षा करने में समर्थ हैं. तीसरा कारण यह है की इस्लाम में मुहम्मद और खुदा पर अंगुली उठाने का जवाब हिंसा से देने का पुराना रिवाज है.

जहाँ कोई एक रूढ़-मत नहीं होता वहां विभिन्न संभावनाओं को तलाशने की गुंजाईश थोड़ी ज्यादा मिलसकती है. और उस रूढ़-मत पर चोट से डर भी कम लगता है. हिन्दू धर्म के बारे में यह आशानी से कहा जासकता है कि लोगों ने अपनी जरूरत के मुताबिक भगवान् और देवता बना लिए, कई बार भ्रामक विश्वास के कारण और कई बार जान बूज कर अपने किसी फायदे के लिए, बल्की लोगों को छलने के लिए भी. मुहम्मद के बारे में यह कहना कि कुरआन देने वाला जिब्रील उसके मन का भ्रम या जान बूझ कर घड़ी गई छल-पूर्ण कल्पना थी, कहीं ज्यादा खरनाक है. रश्दी ने यही कहा था. बीबीसी हिंदी पर पाकिस्तानी पत्रकार वुसतुल्लाह ख़ान का एक लेख है ‘पाकिस्तान में भी कोई पीके बनाएगा?’ के शीर्षक से. उसमें वे कहते हैं “ऐसी फ़िल्म पाकिस्तान में बनाने का अभी किसी का हौसला नहीं और कारण आप जानते ही हैं.” यह कारण इस्लाम के लिए भारत में भी लागू होता है.

पर इस से ना तो किसी को ‘पीके’ के विरोध में हिंसा करने का हक़ मिलता है नाही हिरानी को पक्षपाती कहने का. यह उनका चुनाव था, और जायज था. इस देश में बहुसंख्यक हिन्दू हैं, हिन्दू धर्म में ढकोशले और पाखंड की ज्यादा गुंजाईश है. यह पाखंड इसी धर्म में इस वक्त सबसे ज्यादा हो रहा है. और इस से होने वाला नुकशान भी इस वक्त ज्यादा लोगों को हो रहा है. तो व्यंग भी इसी पर सब से पहले होना चाहिए.

आखिर में एक स्पष्टीकरण और एक दावा: मैंने धर्म के बारे में जो कुछ ऊपर कहा है वह कई लोगों को बहुत सतही और भोंथरा लगेगा. इस में उनको विश्लेषण की गहनता और सूक्ष्मता (nuance) की कमी लगेगी. मैंने यह बात जान बूझ कर इसी तरह कही है. क्यों कि ‘पीके’ के सवाल भी इसी तरह के सीधे सादे हैं. उदहारण के लिए: इन इतने भगवानों में असली कौनसा है? कैसे पता चले? या, भगवान् को हमने बनाया या हमको भगवान् ने? ये बड़े सीधे और बुद्धूपने के सवाल हैं. पर कोई सूक्ष्म से सूक्ष्म ईश्वर-मीमांसा भी इन का उत्तर नहीं दे सकती. हाँ, गहराई और सूक्ष्मता के नाम पर भ्रम जरूर फैला सकती है. इन का जो सीधा-सादा विवेक है उस की चमक धर्म-मीमांसा की सारी लफ्फाजी से कहीं ज्यादा है.