With friends like these…

WAS it George Bernard Shaw who argued that Islam is the world’s best religion and the Muslims are the worst followers?

By Aijaz Zaka Syed

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Published: Sat 18 Aug 2007, 8:50 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 1:07 AM

I have often wondered what might have prompted Shaw, a diehard socialist with a life-long affair with Islam, to reach this conclusion.

But you don’t have to be Bernard Shaw to know that if Islam is constantly under fire around the world, it is not entirely because of some elaborate Zionist conspiracies or Western machinations.

If Islam faces an acute image crisis today with every imaginable atrocity attributed to it, you need not look too far to see who really is responsible for this state of affairs. Trust me, we Muslims are as responsible as Islam’s enemies, if not more, for discrediting our noble faith.

Just look at what the new defenders of Islam from Hyderabad have just done. I found the spectacle of a literally cornered Taslima Nasreen and her equally vulnerable hosts fend themselves helplessly against the physical and verbal onslaught by the rabble-rousers of Majlise Ittehadul Muslimeen too sickening to watch.

Disgusted, I switched the television off. But you couldn’t escape this bit of reality TV as most Indian and global networks ran the story ad nauseam for nearly a week. Clearly, anything involving the Muslims sells.

The incident was all the more shocking because all this happened in Hyderabad. Not because the city of Charminar once happened to be my home. But because the great city, at the confluence of the North and South, has always been known for its cosmopolitan culture.

HYDERABAD has always loved and pampered its intellectuals, writers, poets and artists. While the world has moved on and other traditional centres of culture like Delhi and Lucknow have performed the last rites for their once great civilizations and ethos, Hyderabad still lives in its rich past and the so-called Ganga-Jamni culture that celebrates the best of Islamic and Indian traditions.

Not long ago, accomplished men and artists from other parts of India and the globe regularly descended on the Nizam’s Hyderabad and they were richly rewarded for their talents.

From Dagh Dehelvi to Fani Badayyuni and from Josh Malihabadi to Maulana Maudoodi, Hyderabad had been home to some of the best names in literature and arts. And this patronage wasn’t limited to Muslims. It was in this great city that those brave foot soldiers of the Majlis attacked Taslima Nasreen and her hosts.

I am no defender of the Bangladeshi writer. I am not familiar with her work. And I don’t care for what she stands for. That is, if she indeed stands for something. Men and women like Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen do not stand for anything. They stand for themselves. And they know how to sell themselves.

The Rushdies and Nasreens of this world are smart enough to know that the quickest way of attracting the Western attention and making big bucks is to assail Islam and Muslims. Like I said, anything against Islam sells. This is all the more true in the post September 11 times.

This does not however mean we should go after everyone and anyone who seeks to target Islam and the Prophet. Just think for a moment what the Prophet himself or early Muslims, faced with men and women like Taslima Nasreen and Salman Rushdie, would do?

The gentle soul who forgave all his tormentors and enemies baying for his blood when the whole of Arabia fell at his feet wouldn’t want his followers to physically target a woman. He even pardoned the woman who killed his beloved uncle Hamza and desecrated his body.

And the Book this Prophet brought us says, "Call to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and argue with them (Islam’s detractors) in the best manner." (16:125). Elsewhere the Quran says: "Do not be transgressors, Allah does not like transgressors." (2:190).

Do the actions of our Hyderabadi friends come anywhere close to these teachings of Islam? But then whoever said these men were driven by their love of Islam!

Whatever their motives, such vandalism in the name of Islam is not exactly likely to promote the cause of our faith.

Just pause and ponder for a minute. What has this particular episode given us? Only shame and acute embarrassment in the eyes of the international community. While the world once again debates our alleged intolerance, Muslims everywhere stand with their heads bowed in shame.

What is the difference between these men and the Hindu fanatics who have meted out the same treatment to artist MF Hussain? Would anyone respect the faith whose followers behave in this scandalous fashion? With friends like these, do Muslims need any more enemies?

Besides, this episode has come as a Godsend to a mediocre writer, loathed by her own people. Taslima Nasreen couldn’t have found better promoters of her sagging career.

I know we have been here before. But today more than ever, Muslim intellectuals, leaders and ordinary believers need to come forward to protect Islam from such dangerous defenders of the faith. They must tell the world that Islam has nothing to do with these shameful actions.

Never has Islam in its 15-century long history ever faced such a challenge to its image and identity. It is under siege everywhere facing as it does a massive character assassination campaign from both within and from without.

On the one hand, you have the gargantuan global propaganda machine, controlled and manipulated by the powerful Jewish lobby in the West that is gunning for Islam.

Armed with their satellite television networks, think tanks, newspapers and countless other publications and of course the Hollywood, these forces are running a relentless campaign against Islam and Muslims.

The idea is to totally discredit Islam as a religion that is driven by a hatred of the civilized world and its followers as a people who are savage enemies of peace, progress and all that the West stands for. I consider this ideological offensive far more dangerous for the Muslim world than the neocons’ War on Terror.

On the other hand, you have the champions of Muslims like the Majlis variety. Their contribution in undermining Islam and Muslims is equally phenomenal. Steeped in ignorance and driven by their own partisan interests, they are ever ready to exploit and distort the teachings of this noble faith to suit their own narrow agenda.

What happened in Hyderabad is a case in point. Under pressure on their own turf, Majlis leaders have rushed to ‘defend Islam’ by visiting this disgrace on us.

So who gives a damn if Muslims as a result come under fire for their intolerance of dissent and freedom. So who cares if this episode has once again exposed Muslims to accusations of being mean to their women.

This is what we do to Islam day after day, from one end of the Muslim world to another. We dump all our insecurities, our wretchedness, our sins and all our crimes in Islam’s account.

Just look at how our brave defenders have exterminated nearly 400 innocent people, many of them young girls and boys, from the Yazidi community in Iraq’s north.

FROM the killing fields of Iraq and Afghanistan to the streets of Islamabad and Hyderabad, Islam suffers daily at the hands of its followers.

You have the insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan threatening to slay hostages with a gun in one hand and the Quran in another.

You have all sorts of militants, from Al Qaeda to Abu Sayyaf, promising death and destruction in the name of Islam to the West for its historical injustices against the Muslim world.

But even if the militants indeed believe theirs is a just and holy war, must they parade Islam and Quran before the whole world every time they take on their enemies? Who would ask them what the Holy Book has to do with it! If you are fighting oppression and injustice, fight them by all means. But must you, in God’s name, drag Islam and Quran into the mess.

This distortion and misrepresentation of Islam and Muslims has been going on for years. But Muslim intellectuals and leaders have been mostly silent, except for some lone and feeble voices here and there, over this continuing atrocity against their faith.

Do Muslim leaders and Ulema realise what our silence means to the rest of the world? It means we implicitly support and justify what is being perpetrated in our name by desperate and self-seeking men.

This is no time to remain silent. If we care for Islam and genuinely believe in what it stands for, then we must speak out and speak out now. We can take on the enemies of Islam by presenting the true face of this great faith. We must fight the falsehood being purveyed in the name of Islam by taking the true message of the religion to the world. As the Quran suggests, let us “Repel evil with what is better,” — not with greater evil.

Aijaz Zaka Syed is a senior editor and columnist of Khaleej Times. The views expressed here are his own. He can be reached at aijazsyed@khaleejtimes.com.

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