‘We Welcome Intellectual Debate, Not Rubbish’: Muslim Leaders

‘We Welcome Intellectual Debate, Not Rubbish’A Muslim leader dissects Taslima’s autobiography to tell Outlook exactly what’s offensive

what has Taslima Nasreen actually written that is so offensive to Muslims? Most people believe she has asked for changes in the Quran. Others say she has spoken out against the burqa. Still others have the vague impression that she is simply anti-Islam. Perhaps all this is true to varying degrees. But where Taslima may have overplayed her hand is in writing some highly questionable paragraphs about Prophet Mohammad. Till now, few people are aware of this.

Outlook asked Mahmood A. Madani, Rajya Sabha MP and general secretary of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, why he was campaigning against Taslima. Madani controls the powerful network of Deoband madrassas across India, and through this the All India Muslim Personal Law Board. His organisation, the Jamiat, is also believed to have led some of the protests in Nandigram, West Bengal. In response, the maulana provided the magazine with a Hindi edition of part three of Taslima Nasreen’s autobiography titled Dwikhandita (Split in Two) published in 2005.

In what is styled as an account of her life, Nasreen airs her views on Islam, the role of women in it, the Quran and so on. This much is unimpeachable: since everyone is entitled to their views. It’s paragraphs on the Prophet, between pages 64 and 66, that are believed to be “grossly indecent”, in bad taste, and not worthy of any intelligent debate on the Prophet or the religion he founded. “Most people wouldn’t write in this manner about an individual; Taslima’s done so about a figure revered by a billion people,” says a Muslim scholar.

Madani has now handed over the book—with the relevant portions highlighted—to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who too was reportedly surprised when he was told about what exactly Taslima had written. The Jamiat plans to file cases against her on charges of blasphemy and outraging public opinion. They have also invited concerned citizens to their Delhi office on December 1 to discuss the issue.

“People think we are angry because she has written against the burqa,” says Madani. “We are not fools. You are entitled to your views on the burqa. I am open to an intellectual debate on Islam. But not the kind of rubbish she has written about the personal life and character of the Prophet. She has called him an aiyash (philanderer), written about his relations with women and dirty details I cannot repeat. It is better for us to die in shame than to accept this kind of insult.” Maulana Abdul Hameed Nomani, also a member of the Jamiat, adds that the language used by Taslima to make up fictitious accounts in the life of the Prophet is “cheap and deserves the highest condemnation”.

Freedom of expression, Madani goes on to say, does not give one the right to hurl insults at any religious icon. Does that mean the Jamiat does not support the actions of M.F. Husain either? “We strongly condemned his action in hurting Hindu sentiment. He has also apologised,” says Madani. Nor does the maulana see the Taslima controversy as a Hindu-Muslim issue. “It is largely a debate between believers and non-believers. Let me tell you, many of Taslima’s Hindu backers would also be shocked if they read this book. No religious man would stand for an insult to another religion in this cheap manner.”

And while intellectuals would be the last people to echo the maulana’s view, sociologist Imtiaz Ahmad seems to agree with him when he says: “Free speech does not allow people to insult religion or icons.” However, that he thinks is precisely why conservative elements win the free speech argument, and that liberals may have made a mistake when using the free speech platform to defend Taslima. “Our case for Taslima should rest on the fact that India has always been a haven for persecuted people.” This is, indeed, the position the UPA has taken.

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