— by Ishtiaq Ahmed
Photo Source: BBC Urdu
A time to humanise Islam
There is a screaming silence from the custodians of Islam — the ulema — on the execution of Jaspal Singh, probably because he was not a Muslim. The Muslim masses have not taken to the streets in protest because they have been conditioned to protest only when something is perceived to be anti-Islam
The barbaric, appalling beheading of Jaspal Singh — one of the three Sikhs who were taken hostage by the Taliban — has shocked decent, peace-loving people all over the world. Two versions are in circulation. One that their families failed to pay the huge ransom that the Taliban thugs had demanded; two, that the ransom was paid but the Taliban insisted that the Sikhs convert to Islam, which they refused. In both cases there is absolutely no justification for the savage treatment meted out to Jaspal Singh.
Many Sikhs, totally shattered by what has happened, have written to me to find out if this is Islam. They even wondered why we keep talking of Islam as a religion of peace. I must say I have run out of arguments but would still like to believe that Islam can also develop its humanism like all other cultures or religions have been compelled to consider by the march of time. I will come to this issue later but first a few words about Muslim attitudes and reactions are in place.
It is important to stress that Sikhs and Hindus had been living among the Pakhtuns in peace and harmony all these years until the Taliban gained ascendance in Afghan politics and later also in the tribal belt and some other parts of the NWFP. Except for the murderous rioting of 1947, the overwhelming evidence from undivided Punjab was that the religious communities lived in peace and mutual toleration if not exactly total acceptance because of all the dogma involved. Therefore, we do have evidence to suggest that rivers of blood did not start running as soon as Islam came into contact with other religions.
However, there is something terribly inhuman about contemporary Muslim attitudes. There is a screaming silence from the custodians of Islam — the ulema — on the execution of Jaspal Singh, probably because he was not a Muslim. The Muslim masses have not taken to the streets in protest because they have been conditioned to protest only when something is perceived to be anti-Islam. Let some European draw a cartoon of the Prophet (PBUH) and see how we demonstrate our street power and mob fury.
However, even when Muslims kill Muslims, the ulema and the masses usually keep quiet unless someone in their own sub-sect or family is hurt. I do not remember any demonstrations in Pakistan or anywhere else in the Muslim world when Iran and Iraq waged a war against each other in the 1980s, which killed some 1.5 million boys and men. Beheadings and stoning to death are a regular occurrence in Saudi Arabia, in fact every Friday, I am told. Those given such savage treatment are Muslims from poor countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Somalia or non-Muslim workers from anywhere from Asia or Africa. Raping female servants, confiscating the papers of servants, paying them little or no wages are practices common to the larger Arab world of rich Emirates. I have never heard the Saudis or any Emirate regime execute any white man or woman, nay, even withhold their salaries that are always many times more than paid to qualified Muslims from the poorer countries. If they do, Uncle Sam knows how to admonish them. Yet, the devotion of non-Arab Muslims to the Muslim holy land is such that nobody dares say a word in criticism.
The same is true of Iran. The Iranian mullahs established their hold over a civilised and ancient people by terrorising them through the imposition of stoning to death and beheadings. Iran also allows muta or temporary marriage. I have never met any Shia who would allow his sister or daughter to contract temporary marriage. Obviously such a ‘freedom’ is only for poor women who must sell their body to make a living. I have yet to meet a Pakistani Shia — even a communist — who is critical of what goes on in Iran. Anyhow, the crimes against humanity committed by Saudi Arabia and Iran are easily accessible on the internet and all you have to do is to go to Youtube and see for yourself how these regimes punish alleged criminals.
What then is the problem? I think the problem is the same that once confronted the Europeans and others. Some 150 years ago decapitating the head was quite common. In fact, royalty was made an example. Mary Queen of Scots, the Bourbons of France and in our own South Asian context the heir-apparent to the Mughal throne, Prince Dara Shikoh’s head was amputated on the orders of his own brother and our national hero, Aurangzeb Alamgir. Hindus used to burn widows and indeed also kill in battle in a manner as was acceptable to Rajput norms — brutal and bloody.
The roots of terrorism in Islam however are deep. The murder of the Caliph Usman by fanatics and disgruntled Islamic warriors was the first expression of what was deeply gruesome within the Islamic Ummah. Remember, when the Prophet (PBUH) sent the first group of refugees into protection of a Christian King in eastern Africa, he made Hazrat Usman the leader of the delegation. The Prophet (PBUH) had four daughters with Hazrat Khadija — Zainab, Ruqqiya, Kulsoom and Fatima. Two of them, Ruqqiya and Kulsoom, were given in marriage to Hazrat Usman but both died early without leaving behind a child. Hazrat Ali was married to Bibi Fatima. Islamic fanatics, called Khwarijis, assassinated Ali. But the most infamous murder is undoubtedly that of Imam Hussain. A grandson the Prophet (PBUH) loved dearly. His head was severed by Muslims and his family was nearly wiped out without mercy.
That feud ended with the Hashemite clan of the Prophet (PBUH) tricking the Ummayyad clan of Hazrat Usman into attending a feast purported to establish truce between them. The feast ended with all but one Ummayyad chief being brutally murdered. The Hashemites celebrated the feast by making merry till late in the night while the dead bodies of the Ummayyads were lying under the tables.
It is this Islam that keeps coming back from time to time in Muslim societies. It can be directed against Muslims, even those deeply revered by their followers. So, if the Sikhs have been treated inhumanly or for that matter Daniel Pearl it is not surprising, deeply shocking as it may be because we do not see beheadings in the streets of Pakistan anymore. In Saudi Arabia and Iran they do. It is time to start accepting these facts and reflecting on how to transcend such barbarism.
Ishtiaq Ahmed is a Visiting Research Professor at the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS) and the South Asian Studies Programme at the National University of Singapore. He is also Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Stockholm University. He has published extensively on South Asian politics. At ISAS, he is currently working on a book, Is Pakistan a Garrison State? He can be reached at email@example.com
Source: Daily Times
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