November 12, 2001


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One word: Khilafat
Dear Readers, VI
We, the suckers

Varsha Bhosle

No path to reformation

Last week, many readers wrote in asking what I had meant by 'Don’t Christians have a New Testament?' I admit, that closing paragraph is inscrutable. The reason being that the original one was felt to be too 'hot,' and so was changed – with my consent. For, toning it down would have required considerable space. Now, by no stretch of imagination am I well-versed in scriptures – any scripture. Nor have I ever been inclined to study religion. But as one travels down the bumpy road of journalism, it becomes obligatory to pick up some essentials here and there, however tiresome the route may be.

On reading up about the Bible, I found that a humungous amount of research and reformation has been part of the process that's led to the current versions of the book accepted by the different Christian denominations. The dating of the ancient papyri and parchments, the palaeographic analysis, the scientific tests conducted on the manuscripts and – most significantly – the examination and criticisms of the manuscripts' authority, have been a continuous process going on since centuries. As one contemporary critique states, "The final aim of Christian study of the New Testament is the better understanding of the revelation which it contains, and here the resources of human knowledge can be fitly employed, because the books of the New Testament were written and copied by men who were fallible like ourselves and under the influence of their human environment."

I was shocked to discover that the Hebrew Scriptures (ie, the Old Testament), contains 613 commandments, including 365 prohibitions, given by God to Moses. For instance, The Holiness Code in the Torah – the Hebrew term for the first five books of the Bible, also known as the "Pentateuch," consisting of the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy – permits slavery (Leviticus 25:44), and requires that a child be killed if s/he curses the parent (20:9), persons guilty of adultery be killed (20:10), the daughter of a priest who engages in prostitution be burned alive (21:9), and, a person who takes the Lord's name in vain be killed (24:16). Thanks to Charlton Heston, I'd thought that God gave Moses only ten.

Christians have many conflicting attitudes about the Bible. In fact, the beliefs of the conservative starkly contrast those of the liberal wings, with Roman Catholics and mainline Christians often holding intermediate views. For instance, whereas the conservatives believe that the writings of the New Testament are inspired by God, the liberals hold they are the beliefs or opinions of the authors and their faith group. While the conservatives hold that the book's accuracy is inerrant, the liberals feel it contains some errors, religious propaganda and fictional material. While the conservatives deem that all scripture is useful for guidance and spiritual development, the liberals think passages referring to slavery, the role of women, etc, do not reflect the will of God.

Point is, do we see any adhesion to the aforementioned Leviticus commandments by even the orthodox Christians and Jews...? Why and how were the majority-Christian states able to separate religion from governance, and tuck away the obsolescent commandments, while none of the Islamic states are inclined to do so? Forget about the Islamic terrorist groups and individual "miscreants," why is the "peaceful" Muslim citizenry of Islamic states – and that of secular ones – supportive of even the anachronistic and, yes, barbaric codes contained in the Quran?

Such questions have always foxed me. For instance, I've never understood why my otherwise-perfectly-rational Muslim friends living in the West consider the eating of pork a "sin." I mean, the pigs bred in Denmark feed on swill cleaner than the food consumed by humans in Pakistan! (I add for the benefit of Hindu veggie-nazis: herbs and leafy vegetables produced in India often contain traces of human faeces.) Or, why do educated British-Muslim women, if not in burqas, cover their heads and necks with scarves? It says to me that my brothers, my uncle and my boyfriend are rampant sex-maniacs just waiting to rape the first attractive woman they see on the street!

It is my considered opinion that there exists an iron curtain between the Muslim's faith and his power of reasoning – a curtain drawn by how the Quran is read and taught, whether at home or in the madrasas. There was a time that when I had set down some offensive verses of the Quran in my column, the sainted editor had wrinkled his sainted nose at the outrι-ness of it all – and it had actually shamed me into self-censorship. And what do we see today...?

Andrew Sullivan, in The New York Times of October 7: "Most interpreters of the Koran find no arguments in it for the murder of innocents. But it would be naive to ignore in Islam a deep thread of intolerance toward unbelievers... There are many passages in the Koran urging mercy toward others, tolerance, respect for life and so on. But there are also passages as violent as this: 'And when the sacred months are passed, kill those who join other gods with God wherever ye shall find them; and seize them, besiege them, and lay wait for them with every kind of ambush.' And this: 'Believers! Wage war against such of the infidels as are your neighbors, and let them find you rigorous'."

Eminent British historian Paul Johnson, in The National Review of October 15: "Islam is an imperialist religion, more so than Christianity has ever been, and in contrast to Judaism... Sura 9, verse 5, adds: 'Then fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them. And seize them, beleaguer them and lie in wait for them, in every stratagem [of war].' Then nations, however mighty, the Koran insists, must be fought 'until they embrace Islam'... These canonical commands cannot be explained away or softened by modern theological exegesis, because there is no such science in Islam."

He's right. Yesterday, I watched a BBC debate on the concept of jihad in the Quran, with a panel of five Islamic scholars and John Esposito of Georgetown University. The hapless anchor was trying his best to elicit from the panel the view that it's possible for the jihad verses to be abrogated or lowered in value. None agreed – the Quran is infallible and must be taken in its entirety, they said. They spoke about Greater Jihad (of the soul) and Lesser Jihad (of the sword) and of the "context" in which the martial jihad should be viewed. But the essence was: Palestinians are right in declaring jihad against Israel. If Kashmir had been brought up, you can be certain the answer would be the same.

The "communalist-divisive-fundamentalists" of India have been struggling against such aspects of Islam since decades. But the "secularists" and pinkos waged such a war to protect their minority vote-banks that they all but drowned the Hindutva movement. The very same happened in Britain – resulting in its Islamists becoming bolder. Farooq Dhondy writes in City Journal: "The general depression of the mill-and-mosque towns [of Britain] reflected itself in run-down, restless schools, without ambition or excellence. The activists and ambulance chasers of the Left demanded more multiculturalism in these schools – which gave cover to the ex-peasant community's demands for the Islamization of the schools' ethos and curriculum. They demanded – successfully, in some cases – that girls and boys be taught separately, that girl pupils cover their heads and limbs, that the schools serve halal meat, that Arabic and the Quran be taught, that British history classes depict Britain primarily as an exploitative, demonic nation. Principals who resisted these demands were branded racists."

How different is that from India...? The rejection of the Constitution-directed Uniform Civil Code, the enjoying of the Haj subsidy, the demand for SC/ST status for "Dalit Muslims," the salaries to mullahs by the state... what are these if not the imposition of twisted Islamic laws on a secular State...?

Rafiq Zakaria says in his essay, The Quran does not preach violence, that "Each verse [on jihad] mentioned aggression, tumult, oppression as the reason for fighting the disbelievers and each one cautioned that hostility should cease as soon as the threat receded. The verses are clear; but they have been twisted by fanatical Muslims on the one hand and inimical non-Muslims on the other to give their own interpretation, which violate the doctrine of freedom of worship and the basic features of the Quran. To take such verses out of context has been a regular pastime of Muslim theologians and non-Muslim detractors, who have proved to be experts in the art of selective and out of context quotation-mongering."

True, perhaps. Unfortunately, his argument falls flat on its face when accosted with Arif Jamal's: "The real objective of jihad in the life of Prophet Muhamad was to defeat the infidels and establish an Islamic state in Mecca, Medina and the Arabian island later on. This essential meaning of jihad remains even today. The main objective of jihad even today is to defeat the infidels and establish Islamic states all over the world. Muslims believe that the Earth belongs to Allah and they should establish the system of Allah on Allah's Earth. The infidel system must go" (Asia Times, October 10).

Arif Jamal, journalist and scholar, and born, educated and living in Pakistan, is accepted as the leading Asian expert on jihad. Whereas Zakaria, though also a scholar, is a Congress politician of pseudo-secular India. So who's going to buy Zakaria's line...? It would be more honest – and thus, more effective – to admit to the widely-accepted meaning of jihad. For only then can some progress be made in the reformation of held Islamic beliefs. As Salman Rushdie puts it: "...there needs to be a thorough examination, by Muslims everywhere, of why it is that the faith they love breeds so many violent mutant strains. If the West needs to understand its Unabombers and McVeighs, Islam needs to face up to its bin Ladens."

One Muslim reader asked me, what could the moderates do to bring about a change in Muslim society? Frankly, I don't have a clue – I'm still struggling with the infusing of some spine in our oh-so-secular Hindus! But as I think of it, when the government of the land that holds the holy places of Mecca and Medina, itself goes about stoning women to death and chopping off limbs and beheading men in public places, what are the chances of establishing a peaceable Islam elsewhere, anywhere...?

Varsha Bhosle

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