The keynote address in the seminar on freedom of expression I attended on Tuesday was delivered by Maulana Wahiduddin Khan.
Being a late arrival on the political scene (from February 1998), and focused almost entirely on economic and governance (not social) issues, let me say that I had not heard of this gentleman. Nor, indeed, of any of the panelists.
While I have no intention nor capacity to become a scholar of Islam, I do have the duty to understand Islam better if I am to understand Indian society and participate in Indian politics. So I have been learning bits and pieces about Islam through various readings. Recently, if you recall, I have commented positively on at least three Muslims:
a) Mike Ghouse
b) Reza Aslan and
c) Irshad Manji.
Now I find in Maulana Wahiduddin Khan yet another Muslim with whose interpretation of Islam I can live with – even advocate (as I advocate elements of Buddha's and Vivekananda's teachings in my writings).
I made extensive notes during the talk. The point that is becoming clearer is that just like (many) Christians were the GREATEST enemies of Christ for most of Christianity's history, so also many Muslims are the greatest enemies of Mohammed.
Such "Muslims" have garbled, distorted, and entirely turned the message of Mohammed on its head. There seems to be a race to the bottom among organised religions. The more irrelevant an issue that is insisted upon (e.g. burqua or not eating pork), the greater is one's power over the flock. This is PURE POLITICS, not religion.
Anyway, here are extracts from my notes of the talk:
Islam teaches TOTAL freedom (except the 'freedom' of violence). God said you must be free and no one shall impose restrictions on your freedom till Doomsday.
There is a difference between Muslims and Islamic teachings.MUSLIMS ARE NOT THE REPRESENTATIVES OF ISLAM. They are followers of Islam. They are a community. That doesn't mean they represent Islam. Islam is the Quran.
Freedom of expression is the basis of ALL development and progress. Freedom leads to discussion which leads to intellectual development which leads to both secular and religious progress. Absence of freedom leads to intellectual stagnation which cannot be distinguished from the state of death.
I (the Maulana) invite criticism for criticism is healthy. Thus, both reason and religion favour freedom of expression.
The idea of blasphemy is foreign to Islam. It was a latter innovation during the Abbasid period. Mohammed was himself personally criticised in the Quran. Mohammed was called a mad man, magician, and his claims were said to be false. None who criticised him was killed!
I (the Maulana) REJECT the idea that criticising the Prophet can be an excuse for violence. If someone criticises the Prophet through a book, you have the right to write another book to refute the criticism, but you have no right to take up the sword. There is NOT A SINGLE VERSE in the Quran that denies liberty of expression.
Jihad is an IDEOLOGICAL struggle, a peaceful struggle. Jihad is NEVER used in Quoran in terms of war.
War is permitted in Islam ONLY for defence. But even then war is the prerogative of the state. It is NOT up to any individual Muslim to take up a defence war on behalf of others.
Further, Islam makes clear that ONLY combatants are to be challenged in such defensive war, not the non-combatants.
In brief, I have NO REASON TO DISAGREE WITH A SINGLE WORD OF THIS INTERPRETATION OF MOHAMMED'S MESSAGE. To that extent I'm a practising Muslim, just as I'm a practising Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, and agnostic.
The Maulana is unfortunately getting old (but still seemed very fit, and many decades yet to go! I hope), but I hope there are a good number of young Muslims he has trained, so the message of LIBERTY that Mohammed represented will spread across the world in the coming decades and culminate in the peaceful, prosperous, free world that we all deserve to live in.
Maulana Wahiduddin Khan
The Maulana is a man of peace and liberty, widely recognised by many for his contributions. Fortunately, his work is now available FREE OF COST, online.
His articles. I've picked this article that he published in India Today last year.
Blasphemy is in the news. According to the general perception, Islam prescribes capital punishment to a person who indulges in blasphemy, that is using profane language against the Prophet of Islam. But this concept of blasphemy is completely alien to the original teachings of Islam. Before the advent of Islam, difference of belief was also a punishable act. They used to punish on matters of belief just as on matters of social crime. This old practice is called religious persecution in history. Islam abolished this practice. The Prophet of Islam declared that personal belief is a subject of discussion and persuasion rather than of legal punishment.However, if non-believers use profane language against the Prophet, Muslims are directed not to react. They have only two opportunities, either to simply ignore it or to respond on equal basis, that is, issuing a statement in return for a statement. The Quran says: “The recompense of an ill-deed is an ill the like thereof (42:40).” According to this injunction, reaction must be on an equal basis, that is, word in return for word, statement in return for statement, book in return for book.If you go through the Quran and Hadith (sayings and actions of the Prophet of Islam), the only two authentic sources of Islam, you will find that there is not a single Quranic verse or Hadith that gives this kind of injunction which says: “Man shatama nabiyakum faqtuluhu (Kill the person who commits blasphemy against the Prophet)".Such an injunction was added in the Islamic law only during the Abbasid caliphate, about 150 years after the death (632AD) of the Prophet. Although the majority of the Fuqaha (Muslim Jurists) of this period accepted the law, it was clearly an innovation which is not acceptable in Islam.According to a well-known hadith, there are three authentic periods of the Islamic history: the period of the Prophet, the period of Sahaba (companions of the Prophet), and the period of Tabien (companions of the companions). It is a fact that all the Fuqaha belonged to the Abbasid period which came after these authentic periods. According to a hadith, the Prophet of Islam has said: “I have left behind for you thaqalain, two authentic sources of Islam: the Book of God, and the sunnah of the Prophet. You will not astray till you adhere to these authentic sources.” (Mu’atta Malik, Hadith No.1661). And those additions made by the Muslims Jurists of the later history are certainly not a part of the authentic sources.According to this Islamic injunction, if there is a person who commits blasphemy, then the responsibility of Muslims is to meet him and persuade him and to remove his misunderstanding by peaceful means and if supposing he fails to understand then Muslims are left only with one option, that is to pray for him.There is ample evidence that tells us what to do in cases. For example, once when Prophet was in Mecca, one idol worshipper came to him and told him face to face, “Muzammaman abaina (O Muhammad you are a condemned person).” The Prophet simply smiled. This smile was a kind of moral response and was bound to hit his conscience. He fell into introspection. And after some time he accepted him as the Prophet and become one of his followers.Islam greatly believes in freedom of expression. I would like to say that the secular law of India in this context is more 'Islamic' than the so-called Islamic law of Pakistan.