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The seed for Udaipur-like killings is sown in madrasas. Regulate teaching of theology

For Islam to be at home in India, madrasas must have courses on Indian culture and tradition.

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The ISIS-style beheading of Kanhaiya Lal in Udaipur by two Muslims who claimed to avenge the slight to Prophet Muhammad is a hate crime and an act of terror, which has a long ancestry. As soon as the chilling video of the self-identified killers, brandishing blood-streaked machetes, brazenly gloating about their heinous deed, became viral, the usual reactions of different narrative-sects began streaming in on fairly expected lines.

In this article, I will focus on the reactions from Muslims and their underlying premises.


Also read: India’s blasphemy beheadings have a new audience—and they’re sitting behind smartphones


The Muslim reactions…

The first reaction from many vocal Muslims, on social media and other public platforms, has been that of a stunned embarrassment. They didn’t know how to react to something — though on expected lines, given the continuous fuelling of violent sentiments — that pulled the rug from under the feet of their narrative. Their dominant narrative has been that the Muslims are a persecuted community who have been suffering from the genocidal violence and holocaust-like situation under the Hindu majoritarian communal fascism. But here, a couple of Muslims, exuding the audacity of impunity, were exulting over doing something which, according to the narrative of victimhood, is instead done to them.

The other reaction has been more familiar. According to this clichéd rigmarole, which is peddled in the wake of every such horrendous crime, Islam being a religion of peace couldn’t countenance such violence, and that the perpetrators of this crime were not true Muslims. Some went to the extent of claiming that they were not Muslims at all. Now, how come an act by the Muslims of utmost Islamic deportment — from the skull cap to scraggly beard in the name of Islam, and for avenging the perceived slight to the Prophet with cogent theological reasoning and firm jurisprudential grounding — not be Islamic? It is as Islamic as it gets, and is understood and accepted by the general Muslims as such.

If, for argument’s sake, one were to concede that such violence wasn’t a part of Islam, one can’t help wondering at the absence of the characteristic outrage which follows if something slanderous is attributed to Islam? Is killing in the name of the Prophet a lesser sin than saying something indecorous about him? If not, where are the frenzied agitations which are associated, in public perception, with the defence of Islam? Why the Muslim organisations, institutions and seminaries do not come out in its condemnation as they would if they actually perceived an attack on Islam? Where are the spate of fatwas excommunicating the perpetrators of such crimes?


Also read: ‘Historic hurt’ is a modern phrase. Muslims were integral to South Indian gods


…and the reasons behind

The fact is that such violence emanates from the very heart of Islam. It is well-grounded in a systematic and elaborate theological reasoning, and has an unquestioned jurisprudential sanction at its back. It is the core component of the madrasa curriculum, and shapes the religious common sense of the Muslim society, according to which, it is a duty of every Muslim to make his religion victorious, by persuasion if possible, or by force if necessary. According to Hidaya, the compendium of Sunni Hanafi fiqah to which the majority of Indian Muslims belong, Jihad is defined as a war against those who didn’t answer the call of Islam. This book is one of the basic texts in every madrasa.

The preachers of a religion of conversion would inevitably deride other religions from where they seek converts. No wonder the mainstream Islamic literature of India is full of uncharitable remarks about the Hindu beliefs and practices, especially their polytheistic strand, fertility cult and idol worship. It has not been a problem so far because Hindus don’t have the concept of blasphemy. But if ever this courtesy were to be reciprocated in kind, all hell would break loose, as it recently did.

Thus, though a particular act of religious violence by some Muslims is formally condemned by most other Muslims, the ideology behind it is never questioned. That is why their condemnation lacks conviction, and they have not been able to build a credible counter-narrative against Jihadism.

Blasphemy, since there is no standard terminology for it in the Islamic literature, could be arbitrarily applied to a range of things from a disagreement on a dogma to the sacrilege of a sanctity. Disparaging the character of Prophet Muhammad is considered the highest form of blasphemy, even higher than the denial of God. There is a pithy Persian aphorism which says, “Ba Khuda diwana baash wa ba Muhammad hoshiyar (one could take liberty with God but must be careful with Muhammad)”.

According to all the four mainstream schools of Sunni jurisprudence, and also the Shia Jafari one, the punishment for blasphemy is death. Throughout history, both the Islamic state and the non-state actors — the vigilante groups — have been giving death to the alleged blasphemers, both for their own religious merit and the glory of Islam.

A controversial incident related to blasphemy that occurred nearly a century ago is worth mentioning. It is to do with a scurrilous book, Rangila Rasul, published from Lahore by Mahashe Rajpal in 1924, in which Prophet Muhammad’s character was slandered with tongue-in-cheek snide. Rajpal was killed in 1929 by a young Muslim carpenter, Ilam Din. He was hailed as a Ghazi. Muhammad Ali Jinnah defended him in the court, but couldn’t save him from the hangman’s noose. His funeral was attended, among other notables, by the poet Allama Iqbal who is reported to have remarked something to the effect, ‘this carpenter’s son did what needed to be done while we did nothing’. Ilam Din is regarded as a martyr, and his tomb is a shrine.

In 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa urging the Muslim to kill Salman Rushdie for blaspheming Muhammad in his book, The Satanic Verses. More recently, the governor of Pakistani Punjab, Salman Taseer, was assassinated by his bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri, for expressing sympathy towards Asia Bibi, a Christian woman accused of blaspheming Islam. Though the judicial process hanged Qadri, he is regarded as a martyr, and his grave has become a popular shrine. If the political circumstances were conducive, the killers of Kanhaiya Lal would be showered with similar honours.


Also read: Quran says no one can limit others’ freedom. Udaipur killing violates Islam’s golden rule


Regulate theological teaching

The moot question is not whether such acts of violence are in accordance with the true Islam or not. Even if they fit into the rigid definition of Islam, as they do, they have no place in the modern, civilised society from whose norms the Muslims have been benefiting as much as others. Returning every question back to the true and authentic Islam is a self-defeating exercise for two main reasons: One, why should the norms of modern, secular society be measured by the religious yardstick? Two, in religion, the more literal and orthodox interpretation will always command a greater credibility among the faithful.

No religion is a religion of peace or war per se. It’s all about what a religion’s followers do in its name. What they do is, inter alia, determined by its theological tradition and the hold that it exercises on the followers’ minds. Therefore, the teaching of theology has to be supervised and regulated by the state. In most Muslim countries, madrasas are under the state control. There is no reason why this shouldn’t be the case in India too. The madrasa curriculum needs to be redesigned according to the contemporary requirements. Portions of the syllabus that instil in the minds of the students a sense of religious supremacism should be replaced with that aspect of Islam which promotes humanism, pluralism, patriotism, peace and harmony.

Furthermore, for Islam to be at home in India, madrasas must have courses on Indian culture and tradition. A study of other religions, beside one’s own, would produce better Indian Muslims than the present sub-sectarian structure of madrasas allow. For any reformation in Islam, reform of madrasa is essential. More than science and mathematics, madrasas need humanities.

Ibn Khaldun Bharati is student of Islam, and looks at Islamic history from an Indian perspective. He tweets at @IbnKhaldunIndic. Views are personal.

(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)

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