Going Native Friday Review

Write back!

Sir Syed Ahmad Khan.   | Photo Credit: 09dfr Sir Syed Ahmed Khan

Everlasting answer to a book, containing profanities, lies in writing back, not clamouring for bounty hunt. Boisterous protest, burning books and unleashing mindless violence is completely at variance with the canons of Islam. This is exactly what has been preached more than one century ago by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (1817-1898), one of the most prodigious thinkers of the nineteenth century, who is better known as the founder of Aligarh Muslim University.

Much before setting up on educational institution at Aligarh, Sir Syed took up pen to articulate Islam’s moral and social commitment to a rational and human society. His Islam is not a world of religious bigotry, intolerance and clairvoyance and he explored the possibilities of the modernity for the Muslims and worked assiduously for the cultivation of modern approach to deal with ever-changing social realities.

He vouched for the spirit of the enquiry by deploring traditionalism and obscurantism. A prominent British officer and author, William Muir wrote a highly controversial book “The Life of Mohammad” and its blasphemous content led to widespread protest.

Sir Syed was very close to the British government as later on he was nominated as the member of the Vice Regal Legislature Council twice, the highest official position a native could hold. This aside, Sir Syed was the editor of the Aligarh Institute Gazette, the first multilingual newspaper of the country, which was read widely across the country. Sir Syed, instead of getting the book banned or launching a public campaign through his newspaper, decided to jot down a point by point rebuttal of the book.

He asked his co-religionist not to be swayed by the sentimental and demagogic arguments of those who want Islam to be known as the faith of the illiterate, intolerant and savage people. He perceptively reminded the readers of the vast schism between the Islamic concept of blasphemy and the brutal violence unleashed by the mischief mongers. In order to acquaint himself with the sources frequently quoted by William Muir, Sir Syed decided to undertake the journey of England as various books and references quoted by the author were only available at the British Museum. Having sifted through the sources, Sir Syed wrote more than a dozen rejoinders and got them published in the Pioneer and other periodicals in 1870, and later he got them published in a book titled, “Khutbat-e-Ahmadiya.”

Discussing the capital punishment for sacrilege, Sir Syed pointed out it was the legal provision implemented by some Islamic governments and if one is proved guilty of blasphemy by the court he can get the maximum punishment but no one has the right to kill a person who is said to be the guilty of profanity. The publication of “Khutbat-Ahmadiya” went a long way in dispelling the misunderstanding propagated by the Orientalist.

He frequently deviated from the widely accepted notions of religious postulates and even attempted an unorthodox exegesis of the Quran. He wielded pen in an era characterised by frequent acrimonious confrontations with the British and the bruised psyche of Muslim took refuge in the distorted notion of Jihad. He alluded to two indispensable conditions for jihad. First, there must not be any protection for the people of faith and second there should not be a treaty between the protected and protector.

According to the Islamic tenets, Jihad cannot be waged against a government that provides protection and religious freedom to its citizens. He asked the Muslims to make a difference between Jihad and rebellion as Islam never gives license to produce cruelty and violence. For him violence did not have the remotest connection with Jihad. His perceptive and pertinent views on blasphemy and Jihad seem more valid in an era where the term Islamic terrorism has gained tremendous currency.

He also made it clear that the sense of victimhood or persecution is the biggest obstacle in coming in terms with the modern world. Besides, Sir Syed, another prominent Islamic thinker Maulana Abul Kalam Azad also turned attention to the similar topic. In a time when Islam is erroneously linked to terrorism, it looks relevant to end up with a quotation of Azad. “Everlasting answer to a book, containing profanities, lies in writing back, not burning book and unleashing mindless violence”.

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Printable version | Sep 16, 2021 12:18:51 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/write-back/article7561258.ece

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