What does it help? By MM Noble


I have been listening and watching Pakistani media for sometime, in particular reading the Urdu News papers. I have come to realize that there are many besetting misunderstandings in the minds of our Muslim friends that come to appear regularly in TV programs and news papers. These misunderstandings seem to be self-created and apparently result of desperation, inferiority complex and due to internal problems of Pakistan. But there has been a tendency of holding others responsible for this. Usually Western foreign policy, Western media, life style, moral values and Christian faith come under attack in this regard.

The recent event of Mr Rushdie’s knighthood has sparked a great deal of discussion once again. Many columnists have written regularly in various Urdu News papers i.e. Daily Jang, Khabrain etc. to express their views and voice their opinion. They have suggested many ways to combat, in their opinion, the ‘organised Western assault’ on Islamic beliefs and values. Some have questioned Western moral values [Galian Deney Par Azaz- Magrabee Akhlaqiat aur Islam (An Award for Blasphemy - Western Morals and Islam, Jang 29-30th of June Edition)]. In this column Sarwat Jalmal Asmai has hailed the way Muslims treated Jews and Christians in the past under Islamic rule, although he did recognize that both these communities never had an equal status with Muslims. Both Christians and Jews had to pay Jizya (a disproportionate servitude tax) for their protection, and were exempted from military service.
He blamed the Western World (a blanket term also for the ‘Christian’ world) of mistreating Jewish communities in the past and waging war on Muslims. He further accused the Western World of double standards or having decadent moral values. In the 2nd part of his column he suggested intellectual engagement through the media, to combat the ‘dirty Western campaign’ against Islam and its adherents rather than demonstrations and rioting etc.
Sarwat Jamal reckons that the ‘Western World’ is reacting out of fear because of the rapid growth of Islam in the West by publishing literature against Islam and encouraging ‘blasphemers’ such as Rushdie by honouring him with a knighthood.

I think as far as Sarwat Jamal’s suggestions of engagement are concerned, they are worth appreciating. However, his columns have raised the question about the myth of rapid growth of Islam in the west. What does he mean by growth? Is this growth through conversion of non-Muslims to Islam? I this is the case then I would like to challenge his statistics! In the Western world there are more Muslims leaving Islam than joining it, and the growth of Islam in this context is nothing more than a feel-good slogan. During last 10 years more than 5,000 Iranian Muslims converted to Christianity in Great Britain alone. Afghan, Algerians and Albanians are the next top nationalities, who is recent years have converted from Islam to Christianity in the West, and even the actual numbers are difficult to tell, though it is estimated to run in hundreds of thousands during last 10 years alone. Nonetheless Muslim growth in the West is indeed phenomenal, but the reasons for this growth are worth examining. The biggest reason is immigration and asylum, due to political trouble, poverty and lack of freedom in most Islamic countries. A lot of Muslims are desperate to spit on their homelands by flying straight into the comfort and freedoms of the West, and long queues in front of the Western Embassies in most Islamic countries are an undeniable proof of that. If this is the growth Mr. Asmai is boasting about, then this can be stopped easily by halting Muslim immigration into the West. Another reason for the Muslim growth is biological, as an average Muslim immigrant woman will give birth to a lot more children than a Western woman. But what does that prove, that Islam is a better religion because Muslims multiply rapidly through reproduction? Mr. Asmai and the likes of him need to have a touch with reality, pragmatism and rationality to help them have a balanced World view.

I am not surprised for Mr. Asmai criticising the Western morality, as it is due to his narrow perception of morality. Morality is not merely about veil and head covering; it is also about honesty, integrity, social equality, justice. In his moral Islamic society of Pakistan these commodities are quite scare, as the whole society is corrupt from top to bottom. One have to give bribes even for getting their legitimate right, poor is getting poorer, and justice isn’t available even to the Chief Justice. Muslims should be thankful to the Western countries where they are able to have prosperous lives, justice, equal human right, basically everything that is denied to the religious minorities in most Islamic countries. The very countries they criticise for low moral standards actually provide them what they can’t get in their own countries.

Sarwat Jamal has also acknowledged that both Jews and Christians never enjoyed equal status in the
Islamic reign which is true, because they were considered 2nd class citizens and this still is the case in many Muslim countries i.e Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia etc. Paying the Jizya was an acknowledgement of them being subordinate and therefore low in status. Non-Muslims find this aspect of Islamic societies very immoral.

Mr. Asmai accuses West of crusades and highlights the alleged atrocities that took place as a result. He should research the reasons that caused Crusades in the first place. Why Slahodin Ayubee waged multiple attacks on Jerusalem and its adjacent areas. To my understanding, he was trying to capture Jerusalem deliberately to symbolise Islamic superiority over Christians and Jews, so the violent spread of Islam through Europe in the west, and to India in the east, had to be defended. Would he tell us that how come Tariq-bin-Ziyad shamelessly attacked Spain, and then declared all its peaceful citizens as his enemies. Nonetheless Christians and the West have repeatedly apologized over crusades, but we hardly hear any apology over starting the era of bloodshed from our Muslim friends and historians.
I think the intellectual engagement with each other would never be fruitful if we don’t teach our present and future generations the true historical facts and acknowledge all mistakes. It’s time to move on rather than harbouring grudges over the past and continuously accusing others.

In addition, the same newspaper which published Sarwast Jamal’s columns also published Shabeena Faraz “Namoos-e- Risalat aur Umat-e-Muslima (Respect for the Prophet and Muslims; 30th June edition) and Aamer Liquat Hussain “ Kuch nahee sirf umtee ban jaieiy (trans: Nothing more but merely become followers; 29th edtion).

Shabeena Faraz accused the British government of giving shelter to Mr Rushdie, and saying if the Western world tried to victimise Muslims, then they would have only one way to retaliate, using their lives as weapons. This is how SF tries to justify ‘suicide attacks’ as a valid means to gain justice.

Let us have a look at a few misconceptions about the whole Rushdie affair. First of all Rushdie is not awarded Knighthood for writing ‘Satanic Verses’, but for writing a large amount of literary contribution before and after the ‘Satanic Verses’. His book ‘Midnight Children’ was written 10-15 years before ‘Satanic Verses’, and was part of the A-Level curriculum during eighties in the Great Britain. Rushdie is respected among literary circles for pioneering the South Asian Literature in English language, and thus providing a window for the English audience into the South Asian culture. Moreover, the British Govt. doesn’t decide who to give knighthood, as unlike most Muslim countries Britain is not a despotic authoritarian regime. It is a totally separate committee who takes nominations on literary merit before deciding who to give such awards. But since vast majority of Muslims around the world didn’t study, or shall I say can’t read Rushdie mainly due to illiteracy, they would jump on the band wagon to attack him.

Mr Aamer Liquat Hussain quoted from the Hadiths (Islamic traditions) to prove that Mr Rushdie is liable to death, this contradicting the mantra of moderate Muslim in the West. His column was published in Urdu, however I will try to include an extract of it here. For instance, Mr Hussain argues that the Islamic Prophet Muhammad himself ordered the murder of Kai’b bin Ashraf and Ibin Khatal and two female slaves (maids) because of their blasphemy against God and his prophet. He then quotes from the Quran especially Sura Tauba (9:79,80) and argues that in these verses, Muhammad is asked not to intercede for those who have blasphemed against God and his prophet. Even if he intercedes 70 times Allah will not forgive them because of their blasphemy.
He goes on to say that once someone insulted only the ‘land of Madina’, (one of the cities of Saudi Arabia where Muhammad migrated after the persecution at Makkah), and because of that insult, Imam Malak ordered him to be beaten, imprisoned, and beheaded because he insulted the land of my master/prophet.
Dr Liaquat Hussein mentioned the five Imams (Imam Malak, Imam Shafi, Imam Ahamd bib Hanbal, Imam Abu Hanifa and Imam Jafar Sadiq) who are in supreme authority in Islam, and insisted that they are all in favour of murdering the blasphemer. Mr Hussein said he had read “The Satanic Verses” back in 1994 and felt that Mr Rushdie should have been murdered again and again.
The last story that he mentioned to support his argument is quite interesting. He says in the reign of 2nd Islamic Caliph Umer, some Muslims complained about an Imam Masjid (leader of a Mosque) who used to read a particular verse from the Qur’an. Caliph Umer ordered this Imam be brought to him in order to explain why he was reading that particular verse. On questioning the Imam for any special reason, the Imam replied that he liked that verse because Allah had scolded his prophet in it. As soon as the Imam finished, Caliph took his sword and beheaded the Imam there and then.

As I read these authors, I was left wondering who is right. On one side, there are those who are urging readers to engage in dialogue and intellectual discussion in order to gain and give respect rather than merely demanding respect (as if that is their born right). On the other side there are people such as Mr Hussein (and many others) who are quoting many references to justify violence and murder.
People like Mr Hussein are poisoning many young and innocent minds. His quotations will only create extreme views, raising questions in the mind of moderate Muslims whether these quotes are still valid in the 21st century. Some will probably realise that their scriptures need re-interpretation for their relevance in the 21st century.

I am prepared to agree with Sarwat Jamal to the extent that we should resolve differences by engaging intellectually rather than using terror and preaching extremism.
Furthermore, Urdu channels and News papers need to play a major role for defusing hatred towards the West and its cultural values. Muslim countries who claim moral superiority have very little ground, if any, to base their claim. There is a very famous saying that ‘Those who live in glass houses, shouldn’t throw stones at others’. Our Lord & Saviour Jesus Christ said, ‘Why do you look at the spec of sawdust in your brother’s eye, and pay no attention to the plank in your own”

Above all, what does it help if we encourage violent extremism rather than help resolve it? Our world is striving for peace and we should work both individually and collectively to contribute towards that goal in order to make our world a better place by actively promoting civilised dialogue rather than preaching hatred.

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