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Blaspheming the Name of God By K. Itarwala, NewAgeIslam.

com Each religion, as it has come to be humanly, historically and conventionally und erstood, is premised on the notion that those who claim to follow it have a spec ial access to the Ultimate (called by various names), and that others, often def ined as disbelievers, are in varying manifest error. Such dominant understandings of religion are premised on the existence of sharp boundaries between insiders a nd outsiders, between the chosen and the damned. One of the functions of conventional religious discourse is precisely to reinfo rce such boundaries, brainwashing members of each community into imagining they alone possess tickets to heaven and that the rest of humanity are doomed to neve r-ending damnation in hell precisely because they are not members of this club o f the elect. Such communal-supremacist understandings of religion are, to put it mildly, hardly conducive to inter-community peace and harmony. They are, and ha ve been throughout history, a principal cause for unending strife (physical or o therwise) between religionists of all stripes. This is not, of course, to say that religion, or, to be more precise, the Ultima te, cannot be sought to be understood in more expansive ways that are respectful of people of other faiths (or of no faith at all). But the point is that it rar ely isnt by the religionists, who, in their dangerous delusion, firmly believe th eir own humanly- constructed notions of religion to represent the Ultimate. To p ut it bluntly, although they would hate to recognise it, by making claims about who enjoys God s grace and who does not, who is going to heaven and who is not a nd so on, the religionists claim to know the mind of God. That, of course, is th e height of arrogance and blasphemy as far as I am concerned, for God is, ultima tely, The Unknowable. The intensity of communal supremacism in religious discourse differs in the case of different religious traditions and within each as well, depending on how the y are interpreted. Some strands of Brahminical Hinduism, for instance, are premi sed on the notion that the Brahmins are not just Gods chosen people but, more tha n that, are virtual gods on earth (bhu devatas). On the other hand, non-Brahmin Hin dus are regarded, simply on account of their birth, as inferior in varying degree s, with the so-called Untouchables being considered not just non-human but as th e very epitome of every conceivable devilish quality. Non-Hindus are treated as virtually outside the pale of humanity, as polluting cow-slaying mlecchas and so on. Christian evangelists, for their part, fervently believe that non-Christian s as well as Christians who understand Christianity differently from them will b e thrown into Hell simply because they do not accept their particular and peculi ar understanding of the status of Jesus. Orthodox Jews are convinced that they a re Gods chosen people, and, hence, must dominate over the rest of humanity. For t heir part, most Muslims imagine that all non-Muslims are disbelieving infidels, who will be dumped into eternal Hell by a vengeful God simply because they do no t believe in the prophethood of Muhammad, pray in Arabic or venerate the Kaaba i n Mecca. In short, the religionists are firmly convinced that they know the mind of God, for it is on that basis that they claim that members of their fold are Gods elect and that all others are definitely out of Gods favour. This, to me, is a supreme act of blasphemous arrogance and represents, as I earlier said, the claim to kn ow the mind of God, who is, ultimately, The Unknowable. Such religionists arroga te to themselves the role of God although they often do not recognise this. For several years now, I have been wrestling with what I now consider to be thes e enormously degrading understandings about the religious other with regard to the Ultimate because I realise both how central these are in conventional religious

discourse and their lethal capacity to generate hatred and conflict. I am convi nced that unless these horrific understandings of the religious other are complete ly deconstructed and done away with, peace and harmony in our world will remain an impossible dream. I am, at the same time, however, quite convinced that the U ltimate can indeed be sought to be understood (always in a limited way) in a muc h more expansive and embracing fashion, but this is something that I will not br oach here. wo recent media reports about activists associated with the Tablighi Jamaat, con sidered to be the largest so-called Islamic movement in the world, prompted me to pen these lines while also providing me much food for thought on the horrific wa ys in which the religionists generally (and this transcends religious labels) im agine themselves and the other in relation to the Ultimate. The first of these is a statement by the captain of the Pakistani cricket-team, Shahid Afridi, an arde nt Tablighi activist, issued on his return to his country following the trouncin g of his team at the Mohali match. In a news report titled Afridi slams Indian me dia, the Daily Times, Lahore, reveals that in an interview aired on the Pakistani TV channel Samaa, the bitter Afridi declared, If I have to tell the truth, Indi ans cannot have the kind of hearts that Pakistani Muslims have. They cannot have the big and clean hearts that Allah has given to Pakistanis. The second, equally gut-wrenching, report, hosted on a Pakistani website, bears the revealing title Convert or Go to Hell: Tablighis tell non-Muslim Patients at Government Hospitals. It highlights the tragic tale of Christian patients in a go vernment-run hospital in Karachi being hounded by Tablighi missionaries on their death-beds, who exhort them to recite the Muslim creed. If they do so, they ass ure them, they would soon be transported to paradise. If they refuse, they are t old that God would throw them into hell, where they will rot forever. Brother, yo u must denounce your infidel ways. Kalma parhein (recite the kalma)," the report quotes the Tablighis as instructing the hapless Christians. "Become a Muslim, a nd God will forgive you all your transgressions against him. Die a Muslim!" A fe male relative of one such patient who politely requested the Tablighis to leave him alone (she dare not have told them to lay off and shut up, of course, for fe ar of being accused of blaspheming Islam), was bluntly told, "Do not interfere i n God s work." According to this report, such scenes are routine in Karachis hospitals, where Isl amic activists stalk the hallways of emergency wards, hoping to earn sawaab (relig ious merit) by converting non-Muslims on their deathbeds. These two reports clearly reveal my point about the central place and role of de meaning notions of the religious other in conventional religious discourses genera lly. They indicate several aspects of a certain mentality, of a particular way o f understanding the self and the other in relation to the Ultimate that are integr al to the ways in which not just Tablighis and other Muslims but, indeed, almost a ll other religionists, convinced about the inherent superiority of their own bel ief- and ritual-systems, understand the world. And this, I am convinced, is root ed in the religionists claims of knowing the mind of God. Take Afridis statement to begin with. Like several other members in the Pakistani cricket team, Afridi is a hardened Tablighi missionary. Like his fellow Tabligh is, he makes it a point to sport his religion, like a label or badge, in public, thinking this a divinely-decreed duty. Hence the spectacle of the entire Pakist ani cricket team praying ba-jamaat on the Mohali cricket pitch that spectators w ere regaled with (despite which, of course, Allah turned down their fervent duas for victory). When Afridi says, If I have to tell the truth, Indians cannot have the kind of hearts that Pakistani Muslims have, and elaborates on this point by adding, They cannot have the big and clean hearts that Allah has given to Pakista nis, he makes several theological claims, all of which, besides being utterly rid iculous Quranically-speaking, also thoroughly demean Allah, whose name he piously

invokes. But Afridi can hardly be blamed for his madness, for he only articulate s what his Tablighi Jamaat cult, in turn echoing widely-shared beliefs shared by many other Muslims , actually insists is authentic Islamic truth. That these cla ims has no Quranic sanction, I am convinced, is another point, but I will not di scuss that here. To understand Afridis theological claims more clearly, it should be stated that h is use of the terms Pakistanis and Indians may be taken to represent or be synonymou s with Muslims and Hindus respectively. When Afridi suggests that Allah has given Pa kistanis/ Muslims big and clean hearts and adds that He has these denied to India ns/Hindus, he clearly indicates that the God of his imagination is the God of M uslims alone or that this God is fiercely pro- Muslim and fanatically anti-non -Muslim. Non-Muslims or Indians/Hindus, Afridi seems to believe, have small and unclean hearts precisely because God has willed this to be so. That, to my mind, is, in effect, is a heinous accusation against God, an act of deadly blasphemy, rather than the praise of God that Afridi and his ilk stupidly imagine it to be . But of course it would be too much to expect Afridi to be hauled up for violat ing Pakistans brutal anti-blasphemy laws for such a preposterous claim about Alla h because in the minds of the mullahs and their cronies, this statement, far fro m being blasphemous, is a reiteration, even celebration, of one of the most cher ished beliefsthat their mere fact of being Muslim (in the conventional sense) m eans that Muslims have a special closeness to God which non-Muslims allegedly completely lack. Muslims are Gods chosen people, and non-Muslims are his enemie s, the mullahs are convinced. This, of course, is just one instance of a distressingly general phenomenon: th e bizarre conviction of the religionists that their own particular religious bel iefs, ritual practices and community identities are the only acceptable bases fo r winning the favour of God, and that all other systems of belief and ritual and membership in any other community are a sure way to Hell. The image of God that such a conviction is premised on is of a brutal, heartless, unforgiving and ent irely whimsical dictator, who causes millions of people to be born in families w ho do not belong to the single supposedly heaven-destined community and who despat ches them, precisely on that basis and for that very reason, to Hell after they die. The religionists share a common, unshakable conviction that simply by virtue of their membership, generally by birth, in a particular community (which they cons ider to be the sole repository of truth), they are, by definition, Gods chosen pe ople. They stupidly imagine that just because they hold on to a particular set o f beliefs, adhere to a particular set of rituals and claim to follow one or the other prophet or enlightened sage, God is on their side and will transport them straight to heaven where they will sport in eternal luxury. Contrarily, simply because others adhere to other beliefs, worship in ways different from theirs a nd follow some other human figure as their religious guides, they are sure that the latter are doomed to endless perdition after death. Such bizarre beliefs ref lect the religionists audacious claims of knowing the mind and will of God. They promote a suffocating self-righteousness and a visceral contempt for others. In their extreme forms, they create the dangerous delusion of imagining that ones ow n religiously-defined community is the sole repository of virtue and that others are bereft of any goodness at all. There is nothing at all lacking in ones own c ommunity, they come to imagine. Conversely, they are convinced that not a whit o f goodness is to be found in others. Thus, Afridi seems to imagine that all Mus lims /Pakistanis are good, and that all Hindus/Indians are despicable. In this s tarkly dualistic view of the world, Muslims lack any defects while non-Muslims lack any goodness at all. Is it any wonder how and why, given the prevalence of such views (which are fair ly dominant among Muslims ) people of other faiths should have a low opinion, t o put it mildly, of Muslims and of Islam? Can they at all be expected to love

Muslims or to appreciate their faith if Muslims are convinced that others ar e evil, incapable of any good in Gods eyes (no matter how virtuous they might oth erwise be), and that just because they follow a different religion and are membe rs of other communities, God will dump them in Hell, there to rot till eternity? Given that most Muslims do hold such preposterous views and are even convince d that these are basic articles of Islamic belief, one is forced to admit that Musl ims are themselves primarily responsible for the phenomenon of what is called Isla mophobia, for which they only want to blame others. Afridis frighteningly Manichaean view of the world is echoed by the Tablighi acti vists who hover around Karachis hospitals like vultures waiting for hapless non-M uslim patients to die. They are convinced, being led by their deluded mullahs to believe so, that simply by uttering a phrase in Arabic a non-Muslim can win Gods pleasure and be saved eternal torment in Hell. If such a person declines to utt er this phrase and change his communal identity, God will, they are utterly sure , punish him with eternal torment in Hell. A non-Muslims sincerity, piety, good d eeds and other such virtues, the Tablighis (like many other Muslims ) idiotical ly imagine, are of no value at all in Gods eyes. Just because a person follows a religion other than what the Muslims regard as Islam, God is bound to punish him in Hell, they are sure. In other words, there is, so the Tablighis (like most other Muslims ) believe, absolutely no room at all for non-Muslims in heaven, no matter how pious and vir tuous they may be. Simply because they approach God differently from how Muslims d o, using different rituals and liturgical language, and also because they consid er Jesus or the Buddha as their human guides, and not Mohammad, God, they believ e, will condemn them to never-ceasing torment in Hell. Only those who worship Go d in Arabic, and in no other language, and regard Mohammad as their guide, and n ot Jesus or Buddha or any other man of God, can enter heaven, so they have laid down! Such is the dominant understanding of Islam, unfortunately. It is one that has b een invented by the mullahs to bolster Muslim communal supremacy and the mulla hs own vested interests, and is constantly reinforced at every step. I find absol utely no sanction for such Muslim communal supremacism in my reading of the Qu ran, however. Of course, the mullahs and their cronies will vehemently disagree. The God I want to believe in and love is definitely not the jealous tyrant of th e religionists, who casts people into eternal hell simply because they might wor ship the Ultimate in different ways, using different languages or revering diffe rent prophets and wise men and women. My God is not the mean and despicable dict ator that the religionists have invented him to be. The Ultimate, for me, is def initely not a bloody maniac who, driven by irrepressible communal prejudice, thr ows people into never-ending Hell simply because they do not belong to a particu lar community. Such may be the god of most religionists, of the likes of Afridi and the Tablighis and other such Muslim chauvinists, of Brahminical supremacis ts, and of Zionist Jews and Christian messianists, but He/She/It is definitely n ot mine. K. Itarwala is a regular columnist for NewAgeIslam.com. URL: http://newageislam.com/NewAgeIslamDialogue_1.aspx?ArticleID=4446

Forward to a friend COMMENTS 4/15/2011 1:43:02 PM

Print Ghulam Mohiyuddin

Satwa Gunam says, "It is with regard to the individual who break the law and if the law hangs somebody it is not barbaric." This has no relevance to anything I had said. Are you talking to yourself?

4/15/2011 5:18:26 AM satwa gunam @ghulam, It is with regard to the individual who break the law and if the law hangs some body it is not barbaric. Law is made by the majority. That is the reason blas phemy is legal in Pakistan. So the definition of barbaric / illegal are all rela tive with regard the place and time.

4/15/2011 3:37:44 AM Ghulam Mohiyuddin Satwa Gunam says, "every criminal requires to be hanged by law and if i tis barb aric, the world is barbaric." What is this with reference to?

4/14/2011 11:24:50 PM satwa gunam @asif, I think it is an outright statement without getting too much into details on other religion. Probably you could read about Hinduism. Buddhism is Hinduism minus the ritualism. Probably a thrid party persentation by Max Muller on Hind uism might be a good point of reference.

4/14/2011 10:50:55 PM satwa gunam @ghulam Of course every criminal requires to be hanged by law and if i tis barbaric, the world is barbaric.

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