Blasphemy and mob rule.
Here goes the Muslim circus again. Men baying like banshees, summoning their hounds from across the waters, cars set alight, windows smashed, stones thrown, flags burned, riots on the streets of Pakistan. A circus because a Christian woman called Asia Bibi was acquitted of blasphemy after spending eight years on death row. Her crime was to drink from the same cup as a Muslim and to blaspheme against the blessed Prophet Muhammad.
The circus is not new. We saw it in England when Salman Rushdie published his rather dull and twisted novel, The Satanic Verses. We saw it in France after Charlie Hebdo published cartoons insulting the Prophet, and we saw it in Europe after similar cartoons were published in Denmark.
Like the majority of Muslims, I too love, nay adore, the blessed Prophet Muhammad. But I feel no need to screech like a mad hyena when he is mocked, preferring to engage the person in conversation if possible. If not possible, then just walking away. Does this make me a lesser Muslim? No. I do it because the Quran gives express instructions to do so.
“When you see people mocking Our verses, turn away from them until they turn to a different subject. If satan makes you forget, then when you remember, do not sit in the company of those who do wrong.” (6:68)
In layman’s terms, Muslims are ordered not to sit in gatherings where their faith is mocked but to simply walk away. Nowhere in the Quran do I find orders to riot, burn, scream and destroy. In fact, the current circus in Pakistan is antithetical to the teachings, mission and life of the blessed Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). He taught peace, a good moral life, beautiful manners and above all, love for God. He commanded, “Spread Peace”, a reference both to the Islamic greeting of ‘Peace be upon you’ and to peace and prosperity generally in society.
He commanded, ‘The Muslim is the one from whose hand and tongue all others are safe.’ Well, setting fire to cars, smashing windows and cursing religious minorities is not really a good demonstration of this command. Above all, he guaranteed freedom of worship, including freedom to criticise, to all people. His first major achievement when he first moved to Madina was to sign the ‘Constitution of Madina’, a treaty that explicitly and in great detail promised the local Jewish and Christian communities safety and respect for their places of worship and religious icons. It is for this reason that religious minorities lived and thrived under Muslim rule, from Muslim Spain to Indonesia, from India to Algeria. When the Muslims ruled Palestine, the holiest site of Christendom, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, was the subject of intense rivalry between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. To keep the peace, the Custodians of the Keys were Muslims who were tasked for over a thousand years to keep the keys to the Church and to open and lock it every day. Yet Muslim extremists today seem hell bent on fighting their neighbours, in direct defiance of the commands of the Prophet they profess to love.
Here is another gem from the Quran:
“And the servants of God, most Gracious, are those who walk on earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them mockingly, they reply, ‘Peace’. (25:63)
Faith is a deeply personal affair and of course it hurts when it is mocked. But the Islamic faith teaches, nay makes mandatory, the learning of patience, good manners, moderate speech, and above all, respectful dialogue. If we are hurt by someone’s comments, engaging in constructive dialogue will help get our pain across. Burning cars just makes us un-civilised.