Recently a lengthy scholarly article by Dr. Sherif Addel Azeem dealing with the conception of woman in the three Abrahamic religions, has appeared under the title of Women in Islam vs. Women in the Judeo-Christian Tradition: The Myth and the Reality. I have relied on such an article in double checking the historical data of the Islamic tradition on its conception and treatment of women. While agreeing with some of its premises and conclusions, I disagree with others as will become apparent further down in this essay. The juxtaposition of those variant views stimulated by Dr. Azeem’s article has yielded some surprising insights which I’d like to share with the reader.
As is commonly known, the Judaeo-Christian conception of the creation of Adam (which in Hebrew means first man) and Eve (which in Hebrew means first woman) is narrated in detail in Genesis 2:4-3:24. God prohibited both of them from eating the fruits of the forbidden tree. The serpent then seduced Eve to eat from it and Eve, in turn, seduced Adam to eat with her. When God rebuked Adam for what he did, Adam tries to place all the blame on Eve. “The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate it.” Consequently, God said to Eve: “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you.” To Adam He said: “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree … Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life…”
In this narrative, or myth if you will, both Adam and Eve get punished and held responsible for disobedience. God is not punishing one for the faults of another, which would be unfair; neither does he accept Adam’s rationalization that the woman is exclusively responsible for the deed of disobedience. He holds them both responsible and punishes both. This needs to be kept well in mind: God judges, assigns the blame justly and equally; both Adam and Eve are punished.
On the other hand, the Islamic conception of the first sin, while appearing similar to the Judeo-Christian view at first sight (complete with the act of creation, the idyllic garden where everything is good but where Satan lurks in the form of a serpent, the positing of limits to freedom, the act of disobedience, and a meting out of punishment), it is nevertheless different in its conception of woman and what it implies. Here Eve does not come across as a seducer and temptress. The narrative is found in several places in the Qur’an, for example: “O Adam dwell with your wife in the Garden and enjoy as you wish but approach not this tree or you run into harm and transgression. Then Satan whispered to them in order to reveal to them their shame that was hidden from them and he said: ‘Your Lord only forbade you this tree lest you become angels or such beings as live forever.’ And he swore to them both that he was their sincere adviser. So by deceit he brought them to their fall: when they tasted the tree their shame became manifest to them and they began to sew together the leaves of the Garden over their bodies. And their Lord called unto them: ‘Did I not forbid you that tree and tell you that Satan was your avowed enemy?’ They said: ‘Our Lord we have wronged our own souls and if You forgive us not and bestow not upon us Your Mercy, we shall certainly be lost.” (7:19:23).
A careful comparison of the two accounts of the primordial story of the Garden reveals some essential differences. The Qur’an seems to assign equal blame on both Adam and Eve. Nowhere in the Qur’an, try as one may, one will discover the slightest hint that Eve tempted Adam to eat from the tree or even that she had eaten before him. Here Eve is no temptress, no seducer, and no deceiver. Moreover, Eve is not punished with the pains of childbearing. God, according to the Qur’an, punishes no one for another’s faults. Both Adam and Eve committed a sin and then asked God for forgiveness and He forgave them both.
Needless to say, the image of Eve as temptress in the Bible, absent in the Qur’an has impacted in a negative way the image of women throughout the Judeo-Christian tradition. All women were believed to have inherited from their mother, the Biblical Eve, both her guilt and her guile, as part of original sin. Consequently, it is almost logical to think of all of them as untrustworthy and somehow, morally inferior. In the New Testament we read these words by none other than the evangelizer and prime theologian of Christianity, St. Paul: “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I don’t permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner” (I Timothy 2:11-14). Also this: “As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.” (I Corinthians 14:34-35). It couldn’t be more clear.
And yet a caveat is in order here. As the founder of Christianity, nowhere in the gospels do we discern Jesus teaching and approving any kind of subordination of one of his followers to another. Instead, he expressly forbade it in any Christian relationship. All three Synoptic gospels record Jesus teaching his disciples that any subordination of one to another, both abusive and customary, is a pagan practice—not something to take place among his followers. Having issued his strong prohibition against subordination of others, he prescribed the Christian alternative to subordination as being the exact opposite: profound service to others, extending even to making the ultimate sacrifice of giving one’s life if necessary: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”
His first phrase, “lord it over”, described the Roman masters who wielded ultimate and unlimited power. His second phrase, “high officials”, referred to lesser Roman officials who, having some limitations of power, “exercised authority” over their citizens. In the nearly identical passages in all three Synoptic gospels, Jesus sternly commanded his disciple that “It shall not be so among you”, clearly forbidding both abusive extreme “lording it over” others, and even more moderate, ordinary “exercise (of) authority” over others. Egalitarian Christians consider that this teaching of Jesus to the men who were the 12 Apostles trumps any subsequent interpretation of the teachings of Paul and Peter that allegedly establishes “Husband-Headship” requiring “Wife-Submission”, or denying women opportunities to serve in any leadership position within the Church. The New Testament of the Bible refers to a number of women in Jesus’ inner circle—notably his Mother Mary and Mary Magdalene who is stated to have discovered the empty tomb of Christ and known as the “apostle to the apostles” since she was the one commissioned by the risen Jesus to go and tell the 11 disciples that he was risen.
According to the New Testament, Christ saved a woman accused of adultery from an angry mob seeking to punish her, by saying: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her”.
Unusually for his epoch, Jesus is said to have provided religious instruction to women. The Gospel of John provides an account of Jesus directly dealing with an issue of morality and women. The passage describes a confrontation between Jesus and the Scribes and Pharisees over whether a woman, caught in an act of adultery, ought to be stoned. Jesus shames the crowd into dispersing, and averts the execution with the words: “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” According to the passage, “They which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last,” leaving Jesus to turn to the woman and say, “Go, and sin no more.”
Another Gospel story concerns Jesus at the house of Martha and Mary where the woman Mary sits at Jesus’ feet as he preaches, while her sister toils in the kitchen preparing a meal. When Martha complains to Mary that she should instead be helping in the kitchen, Jesus says that in fact, “Mary has chosen what is better”
The story of Mark 5:23–34, in which Jesus heals a woman who had bled for 12 year suggests not only that Jesus could cleanse his followers, but this story also challenges Jewish cultural conventions of the time. In Jewish law, women who were menstruating or had given birth were excluded from society. Therefore, the woman in Mark was ostracized for 12 years. Jesus healing her is not only a miracle, but by interacting with an unclean woman, he broke from the accepted practices of the time and embraced women.
So, Jesus treated women with compassion, grace and dignity. The gospels of the New Testament, especially Luke, mention Jesus speaking to or helping women publicly and openly. Martha’s sister Mary sat at Jesus’ feet being taught, a privilege reserved for men in Judaism. Jesus had female followers who were his sponsors, and he stopped to express concern for the women of Jerusalem on his way to be crucified. Mary Magdalene is stated in the Gospels to be the first person to see Jesus after his resurrection. In the narratives, Jesus charged her to tell others of what she had seen, even though the testimony of a woman at that time was not considered valid.
The historian Geoffrey Blainey wrote that women were more influential during the period of Jesus’ brief ministry than they were in the next thousand years of Christianity. Blainey points to Gospel accounts of Jesus imparting teachings to women, as with a Samaritan woman at a well, and Mary of Bethany, who rubbed his hair in precious ointment; of Jesus curing sick women and publicly expressing admiration for a poor widow who donated some copper coins to the Temple in Jerusalem, his stepping to the aid of the woman accused of adultery, and to the presence of Mary Magdalene at Jesus’ side as he was crucified. Blainey concludes: “As the standing of women was not high in Palestine, Jesus’ kindnesses towards them were not always approved by those who strictly upheld tradition. According to Blainey, women were probably the majority of Christians in the first century after Christ. Jesus always showed the greatest esteem and the greatest respect for woman, for every woman, and in particular He was sensitive to female suffering. Going beyond the social and religious barriers of the time, Jesus reestablished woman in her full dignity as a human person before God and before men … Christ’s way of acting, the Gospel of his words and deeds, is a consistent protest against whatever offends the dignity of women.
Comparing to Paul’s traditional standing towards women to Jesus’ attitude toward them, what becomes immediately apparent is that somehow his example was not imitated after his death and resurrection. Paul seems eager to put women in their proper place. To be sure, this is not unusual in many religions: the founder establishes certain innovative ideals which at times may even go against well established and revered traditions and customs, but after his death the initial enthusiasm and zeal begins to cool. The attitude toward women in Christianity seems to have been a retrogressive phenomena hardly representing the example of its founder. We shall see further down that something like that also happened to Islam: at a certain point in time a downward movement began and the religion begins to gradually lose its pristine impetus. To be sure, the theory and the ideal remain but the practice leaves much to be desired
Let’s in turn have the Qur’an speak for itself on this issue: “For Muslim men and women, for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in charity, for men and women who fast, for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in Allah’s praise– For them all has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward” (33:35). “The believers, men and women, are protectors, one of another: they enjoin what is just, and forbid what is evil, they observe regular prayers, practice regular charity, and obey Allah and His Messenger. On them will Allah pour His Mercy: for Allah is Exalted in power, Wise” (9:71). “And their Lord answered them: Truly I will never cause to be lost the work of any of you, Be you a male or female, you are members one of another” (3:195). “Whoever works evil will not be requited but by the like thereof, and whoever works a righteous deed -whether man or woman- and is a believer- such will enter the Garden of bliss” (40:40). “Whoever works righteousness, man or woman, and has faith, verily to him/her we will give a new life that is good and pure, and we will bestow on such their reward according to the best of their actions” (16:97).
It should be clear from the above passage that the Qur’anic view of women is no different than that of men. They, both, are God’s creatures whose sublime goal on earth is to worship their Lord, do righteous deeds, and avoid evil and they, both, will be assessed accordingly. The Qur’an never mentions that the woman is the devil’s gateway or that she is a deceiver by nature. Moreover, it never mentions that man is God’s image; all men and all women are his creatures, that is all. According to the Qur’an, a woman’s role on earth is not limited only to childbirth. She is required to do as many good deeds as any other man is required to do. The Qur’an never says that no upright women have ever existed. To the contrary, the Qur’an has instructed all the believers, women as well as men, to follow the example of those ideal women such as the Virgin Mary and the Pharaoh’s wife: “And Allah sets forth, As an example to those who believe, the wife of Pharaoh: Behold she said: ‘O my lord build for me, in nearness to you, a mansion in the Garden, and save me from Pharaoh and his doings and save me from those who do wrong.’ And Mary the daughter of Imran who guarded her chastity and We breathed into her body of Our spirit; and she testified to the truth of the words of her Lord and of His revelations and was one of the devout” (66:11-13).
In fact, according to Dr. Azeem, the difference between the Biblical and the Qur’anic attitude towards the female sex starts as soon as a female is born. For example, the Bible states that the period of the mother’s ritual impurity is twice as long if a girl is born than if a boy is (Lev. 12:2-5). The Catholic Bible states explicitly that: “The birth of a daughter is a loss” (Ecclesiasticus 22:3). It was this very same idea of treating daughters as sources of shame that led the pagan Arabs, before the advent of Islam, to practice female infanticide. The Qur’an severely condemned this heinous practice: “When news is brought to one of them of the birth of a female child, his face darkens and he is filled with inward grief. With shame does he hide himself from his people because of the bad news he has had! Shall he retain her on contempt or bury her in the dust? Ah! what an evil they decide on?” (16:59). The Qur’an makes no distinction between boys and girls. It considers the birth of a female as a gift and a blessing from God, the same as the birth of a male. The Qur’an even mentions the gift of the female birth first:” To Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth. He creates what He wills. He bestows female children to whomever He wills and bestows male children to whomever He wills” (42:49).
In order to wipe out all the traces of female infanticide in the nascent Muslim society, Prophet Muhammad promised those who were blessed with daughters of a great reward if they would bring them up kindly: “He who is involved in bringing up daughters, and accords benevolent treatment towards them, they will be protection for him against Hell-Fire”. “Whoever maintains two girls till they attain maturity, he and I will come on the Resurrection Day like this; and he joined his fingers”.
Now, to be fair, we should ask: is the Qur’anic position any different? One short story narrated in the Qur’an sums its position up concisely. Khawlah was a Muslim woman whose husband Aws pronounced this statement at a moment of anger: “You are to me as the back of my mother.” This was held by pagan Arabs to be a statement of divorce which freed the husband from any conjugal responsibility but did not leave the wife free to leave the husband’s home or to marry another man. Having heard these words from her husband, Khawlah was in a miserable situation. She went straight to the Prophet of Islam to plead her case. The Prophet was of the opinion that she should be patient since there seemed to be no way out. Khawla kept arguing with the Prophet in an attempt to save her suspended marriage. Shortly, the Qur’an intervened; Khawla’s plea was accepted. The divine verdict abolished this iniquitous custom. One full chapter (Chapter 58) of the Qur’an whose title is “Almujadilah” or “The woman who is arguing” was named after this incident: “Allah has heard and accepted the statement of the woman who pleads with you (the Prophet) concerning her husband and carries her complaint to Allah, and Allah hears the arguments between both of you for Allah hears and sees all things….” (58:1). A woman in the Qur’anic conception has the right to argue even with the Prophet of Islam himself. No one has the right to instruct her to be silent. She is under no obligation to consider her husband the one and only reference in matters of law and religion.
According to the Bible, a man must fulfill any vows he might make to God. He must not break his word. On the other hand, a woman’s vow is not necessarily binding on her. It has to be approved by her father, if she is living in his house, or by her husband, if she is married. If a father/husband does not endorse his daughter’s/wife’s vows, all pledges made by her become null and void: “But if her father forbids her when he hears about it, none of her vows or the pledges by which she obligated herself will stand ….Her husband may confirm or nullify any vow she makes or any sworn pledge to deny herself” (Num. 30:2-15). In Islam, the vow of every Muslim, male or female, is binding on him/her. No one has the power to repudiate the pledges of anyone else. Failure to keep a solemn oath, made by a man or a woman, has to be expiated as indicated in the Qur’an: “He [God] will call you to account for your deliberate oaths: for expiation, feed ten indigent persons, on a scale of the average for the food of your families; Or clothe them; or give a slave his freedom. If that is beyond your means, fast for three days. That is the expiation for the oaths you have sworn. But keep your oaths” (5:89). Companions of the Prophet Muhammad, men and women, used to present their oath of allegiance to him personally. Women, as well as men, would independently come to him and pledge their oaths: “O Prophet, When believing women come to you to make a covenant with you that they will not associate in worship anything with God, nor steal, nor fornicate, nor kill their own children, nor slander anyone, nor disobey you in any just matter, then make a covenant with them and pray to God for the forgiveness of their sins. Indeed God is Forgiving and most Merciful” (60:12).
In Islam, the honor, respect, and esteem attached to motherhood are unparalleled. The Qur’an places the importance of kindness to parents as second only to worshipping God Almighty: “Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him, And that you be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in your life, Say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, But address them in terms of honor. And out of kindness, Lower to them the wing of humility, and say: ‘My Lord! bestow on them Your Mercy as they Cherished me in childhood’ ” (17:23-24). The Qur’an in several other places puts special emphasis on the mother’s great role in giving birth and nursing: “And We have enjoined on man to be good to his parents: In travail upon travail did his mother bear him and in two years was his weaning. Show gratitude to Me and to your parents” (31:14).
The very special place of mothers in Islam has been eloquently described by Prophet Muhammad: “A man asked the Prophet: ‘Whom should I honor most?’ The Prophet replied: ‘Your mother’. ‘And who comes next?’ asked the man. The Prophet replied: ‘Your mother’. ‘And who comes next?’ asked the man. The Prophet replied: ‘Your mother!’. ‘And who comes next?’ asked the man. The Prophet replied: ‘Your father'”. Among the few precepts of Islam which Muslims still faithfully observe to the present day is the considerate treatment of mothers. The honor that Muslim mothers receive from their sons and daughters is exemplary. The intensely warm relations between Muslim mothers and their children and the deep respect with which Muslim men approach their mothers usually amaze Westerners.
The one question all the non-Muslims, who had read an earlier version of this study, had in common was: do Muslim women in the Muslim world today receive this noble treatment described here? The answer, unfortunately, is: No. Since this question is inevitable in any discussion concerning the status of women in Islam, we have to elaborate on the answer in order to provide the reader with the complete picture.
It has to be made clear first that the vast differences among Muslim societies make most generalizations too simplistic. There is a wide spectrum of attitudes towards women in the Muslim world today. These attitudes differ from one society to another and within each individual society. Nevertheless, certain general trends are discernible. Almost all Muslim societies have, to one degree or another, deviated from the ideals of Islam with respect to the status of women. These deviations have, for the most part, been in one of two opposite directions. The first direction is more conservative, restrictive, and traditions-oriented, while the second is more liberal and Western-oriented.
The societies that have digressed in the first direction treat women according to the customs and traditions inherited from their forebears. These traditions usually deprive women of many rights granted to them by Islam. Besides, women are treated according to standards far different from those applied to men. This discrimination pervades the life of any female: she is received with less joy at birth than a boy; she is less likely to go to school; she might be deprived any share of her family’s inheritance; she is under continuous surveillance in order not to behave immodestly while her brother’s immodest acts are tolerated; she might even be killed for committing what her male family members usually boast of doing; she has very little say in family affairs or community interests; she might not have full control over her property and her marriage gifts; and finally as a mother she herself would prefer to produce boys so that she can attain a higher status in her community.
On the other hand, there are Muslim societies (or certain classes within some societies) that have been swept over by the Western culture and way of life. These societies often imitate unthinkingly whatever they receive from the West and usually end up adopting the worst and most superficial (often called “progressive”) practices of Western civilization, the worst perhaps being the dispatching or religion per se as passé and unprogressive and not very modern and “enlightened.” In these societies, a typical “modern” woman’s top priority in life is to enhance her physical beauty. Therefore, she is often obsessed with her body’s shape, size, and weight. She tends to care more about her body than her mind and more about her charms than her intellect. Her ability to charm, attract, and excite is more valued in the society than her educational achievements, intellectual pursuits, and social work. One is not expected to find a copy of the Qur’an in her purse since it is full of cosmetics that accompany her wherever she goes. Her spirituality has no room in a society preoccupied with her attractiveness. Therefore, she ends up spending her life striving more in realizing her femininity than in fulfilling her humanity. The cartoon below brilliantly makes the point. But there must exist a more nuanced and harmonious view of women. Paradoxically, it turns out that the more balanced, harmonious view is the traditional one, often forgotten or discarded.
Why did Muslim societies deviate from the ideals of Islam? There is no easy answer. The ineluctable fact remains that Muslim societies have deviated from Islamic precepts concerning so many aspects of their lives for a long time now. There is a wide gap between what Muslims are supposed to believe in and what they actually practice, as indeed there is also one in Judaism and one in Christianity. The gap has been there for centuries and has been widening. Terrorism and ideological fanaticism is not and never was an Islamic phenomenon. Perhaps it is this ever widening gap that can be blamed for disastrous consequences on the Muslim world: political tyranny and fragmentation, economic backwardness, social injustice, scientific bankruptcy, intellectual stagnation, etc. The non-Islamic status of women in the Muslim world today is merely a symptom of a deeper malady. The cartoon of the two women carrying AK47, one Moslem and one Western, makes the point in this regard. Any reform in the current status of Muslim women is not expected to be fruitful if not accompanied with more comprehensive reforms of the Muslim societies’ whole way of life. Irshad Manji has recently shown us a possible way to analyze the situation and begin the reform process with her book titled The Trouble with Islam Today. The subject will be dealt in part II of this essay. Indeed, the Muslim world is in need for a renaissance that will bring it closer to the ideals of Islam. To sum up, the notion that the poor status of Muslim women today is due to Islam itself is an utter misconception. The problems of Muslims in general are not due to too much attachment to Islam, rather, they may well be due to a long and deep detachment from it.
Sedition law: Hand-maiden of the Modi’s government
Sedition laws have become a handmaid of India’s government under Narendra Modi to stifle dissent, incarcerate political opponents or persecute minorities. Shouting a slogan, wall chalking, social post “azadi” (liberty), wearing a prayer cap, or offering prayer on adjoining roads when a mosque is overcrowded could attract sedition charges. Even interfaith marriages or cow related offences could be tried as sedition. The Hindu-monk chief minister of Uttar Pradesh had directed his administration to try cow related offences under the National Security Act. Some states have passed love-jihad laws to prevent interfaith marriages. The over-ebullient Hindu extremists haul up even such people to the police stations who are happily married long before enactment of the law banning inter-faith marriages.
Apathy of India’s Supreme Court
Till recently, the Supreme Court had looked the other way in cases where there was blatant misapplication of the sedition law. Some verdicts smacked of communal bias. India being a secular country, the Supreme Court should have avoided dabbling into religious matters of different communities particularly of the largest minority, the Muslim. But, in vain. The Supreme Court pronounced that a mosque was not essential to Muslim way of worship. It allowed demolition of the ancient Babri Mosque. Thus it accepted the fictitious contention that Ram god was born at the site of the mosque millennia ago.
In marked contrast to its “Islamic” judgments, the Supreme Court had a benign attitude toward the Hindu religion. It admitted that a temple was necessary to the Hindu mode of worship. It allowed menstruating women to visit Sabarimala temple.
Supreme Court’s awakening
The plethora of sedition cases awakened the SC from its slumber. While quashing the sedition case against journalist Vinod Dua, the Supreme Court expressed ennui on slapping sedition charges to gag journalists. A Bench of the Supreme Court led by Justice UU Lalit upheld “ the right of every journalist to criticise, even brutally, measures of the government with a view to improving or altering them through legal means”.The case against the journalist had been filed by the ruling BJP and was fervently defended by the Himachal Pradesh state government. The journalist was accused of “criticising the prime minister and the Union government for mishandling of the migrant crisis during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic”. The court drew attention to the 1962 Nath case judgment. That judgment took the sting out of the sedition cases filed under Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code. In the aforementioned case, the Supreme Court had ruled that Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code can be used only when someone’s word actually leads to violence or generates an inclination for violence. The Section 124A describes sedition as punishable with imprisonment from three years to life, a fine or both.
Among journalists facing sedition cases is Siddique Kappan based in Kerala. He was arrested by the Uttar Pradesh police while on his way to Hathras to cover a rape case last year and had been denied bail. Kappan and 21 other journalists covering the Hathras rape case were charged under Section 124A.
Similarly, several prominent journalists were charged under the sedition law for their coverage of the farmers’ tractor rally in Delhi on Republic Day. The Supreme Court stayed the arrest of all of them. The Court observed that the Constitution has varying criteria for permissible restrictions on freedom of speech and expression and draws a boundary between serious and aggravated forms of public disorder which are calculated to endanger the security of the State and the relatively minor breaches of the peace of purely local significance.
India’s Supreme Court had earlier observed in its 1950 judgment on Romesh Thapar versus State of Madras. “Only a higher degree of threat pertaining to endangerment of the foundations of the State could justify curtailment of the rights to freedom of speech and expression,” Thapar was editing a weekly journal called Cross Roads which was constantly at loggerheads with the Congress government of the day.
Disregarding the guidance in this judgment, the successive governments continued to mis-apply the sedition law.
Birth of the sedition law
When the Indian Penal Code was enacted in 1860, the sedition law was not included in it. It took another 10 years for Section 124A to be included. Mahatma Gandhi was tried under this law in 1922. He told the court that the law had malafide intent. It was tailor-made to suppress the liberty of the citizen.
India’s Law Commission issued a directive in 2018 that cautioned that a simple expression of a thought inconsistent with the government’s policy did not qualify as “sedition”. One has to be circumspect while invoking the sedition law. Yet, the Commission’s voice has proved to be a voice in the wilderness. Sedition law is a handy tool to stifle dissent. It is hoped that India’s Supreme Court will define the contour of the law more stringently to preclude its misuse by the fanatic Modi government.
Buddha’s Legacy and Second Coming
Six years of unflinching courage, tenacious labor, and endless spiritual seeking transformed a human into a Godlike figure — Siddhartha became Buddha, an awakened one. His opposition against the most cherished concepts prevalent — Vedas (specifically the Karma Kanda section), Soul, and God — earned him the Nastika label including an undeserved blatant hostility and resentment during formative years of Buddhism, but could not deter him. Although Hinduism thrived thereabouts 1500B.C, culminating in the subsequent Upanishadic era, by Buddha’s period it suffered degeneration owing to the religious spearheaders’ obsession and incompetence; penance, sacrifices, shallow erudition, regurgitation of scriptures, and blind emulation of rituals. In that regard, the destructive criticism on the part of the Nastika schools/religions, undoubtedly Buddha’s contribution stands out, obligated the orthodox Hinduism to organize themselves on a rationalistic basis. During the Axial age (circa. 800 B.C – 200 B.C), the rise of the Nastika had triggered the establishment of the Astika schools(six schools accept the Vedas’ authority) which played an instrumental role in steering Hinduism towards the right direction, earlier somewhat strayed.
Buddha is celebrated and worshipped because of his attempts in bringing out the society entrenched in the mires of mechanical rituals, appalling caste system, and rampant violent sacrifices. Defying a decadent system that favored unearned hereditary privileges, he revolutionized the awakening of human consciousness asserting, “Everyone can be a Buddha”; virtually synonymous with “ Everyone is entitled to Brahman”. In other words, the Upanishadic Brahman/ Moksha corresponds to Buddhist Nirvana; both free individuals from the bondage of Samsara (the cycle of rebirth). His audacity in challenging the rigid system opened up spiritual doors to people from every walks of life, previously the prerogatives of the priestly class. Popularizing the Shramana tradition Buddha bestowed everyone the right to the metaphysical Brahman, or for that matter liberation (Moksha or Nirvana). This tradition was largely akin to Martin Luther’s (Protestant Reformation) initiatives, dismissal of “middleman”, against the corrupted Roman Catholic Church of the 16th century that sold indulgences under the pretext of hell and heaven.
A living embodiment of Satchitananda (pure being-consciousness-bliss), so great that Hindus hardly could ignore, thus conferring him the title of Lord Vishnu’s Avatar, regardless of recalcitrant Buddha’s downright rejection of Vedas’ authority. Meanwhile, there is no dearth of fanatics, always on the lookout for some minutiae to prove the greatness of their religion, exuding self-aggrandizement unabashedly claims the magnanimity of Hinduism to having accepted the Buddha. Such claims reek of cheap machination, megalomania, and political fervor; a personage who transcended all phenomenal boundaries, duality, and dichotomy would not seek any validation nor endorsement. Truth to tell, Siddhartha’s Nirvana(a mystical experience) and teachings corresponded to esoteric teachings permeated throughout the great Upanishads, unsurprisingly; dismissing him would have amounted to denying the clandestine spiritual wisdom of Hindu religious scriptures altogether. Buddha’s legacy is unparalleled among the greatest spiritual and religious figures the Indian subcontinent boasts, the likes of Nagarjuna, Gorakhnath, Adi Sankara, Meera, Kabir, Mahavir, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, and others.
The Second Coming
The all-time-greatest Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s magnum opus ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ brilliantly imagines the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, albeit during Spanish Inquisition. Infuriated, disconcerted, and exasperated over Jesus’ return, the Grand Inquisitor taking him under detention starts the interrogations with an unimaginable question, “Why have you come to trouble us?” How would things unfold if Buddha were to return — The Second Coming — his homeland and confront all the Nepalese?
Considerable energies are wasted unnecessarily, to generate a momentary conceited ecstasy and toxic glory affirming shared citizenship with him, ever readiness to go tooth and nail over the “claiming right” — the right to claim Buddha belongs to us. Repetition of the mantra as to his birthplace with some agitated-emphatic air — displaying a detrimental nationalist attitude flagrantly throw pejorative insults to denigrate neighbor’s claim — has been a widespread norm or strategy to evade the responsibility of wholeheartedly striving in his footsteps. Hijacked by political motives, little do we care to explore Buddha’s timeless teachings, let alone live in accordance with them or become a Buddha ourselves; when willingness to die for Ram Mandir suffices, nobody asks whether you lived like Ram or not. Regrettably, we must have stooped, expediently exploiting him as a face-saving card, presumably to conceal our inferiority complex that stemmed from an inability to achieve anything remarkable all these years. In the Second Coming, such desperation and naivety must disenchant and disgust Buddha, all the more because of our incompetence in not being able to solve more important issues like the draconian caste system that he condemned and attempted to abolish 2500 years ago.
To awaken one dichotomy and duality no longer exist; good and evil, pain and pleasure, friend and foe, all transcended. Yet Buddha would have felt astonished or dejected, noticing the unbelievable resemblance of all-pervading suffering, greed, enmity, conspiracy, envy, and so on between the 6th century B.C and the 21st century A.D. These human adversities may send him to vertigo, perhaps to depression, leaving him discontented and dubious as regards the potency of his teachings and Philosophy. Have the timeless teachings centered around — Dhamma or Eternal Law — sprung up from six years of labor meant for human welfare become obsolete and irrelevant in the 21st century?
No, not at all. The infallible teachings, undoubtedly, are potent and relevant, as they have transformed people, elevating human consciousness, albeit the number is quite unsatisfactory. In these 2500 years, Buddha must have been cognizant of the grim reality, trusting humans more than they deserve; the bar too high for many to aim at or take a shot. This fact, to most of us, is a difficult pill to swallow.
Interestingly, as soon as the attainment of Nirvana radiated his being, the Samsara was overcome, all past residual Karmas were worn out, rendering him unable to take new birth; therefore the Second Coming is impossible. Leaving no stone unturned, he relentlessly spread his invaluable message for 45 years and left hoping the future world will strive for the same goal of Nirvana or Awakening. However, accustomed to slumber and ignorance, his return may exasperate us like Dostoevsky’s Jesus did to the Grand Inquisitor, and thereby force us to reveal our hidden thoughts: “Why have you come again? We can celebrate you as a history, but not yet ready for your wisdom”.
The mobilization of different platforms to propagate the idea of Buddha’s identity and replenish animosity against neighbors over their hubristic claims is an insignificant and infinitesimal task compared to much higher noble causes characterized by the discussion, dissemination, exchange, and following of Buddha’s legacy. Buddha barely cares for trivial territoriality and our spiritual growth is his sole concern. Materialization of his vision — curing society of the abhorrent caste system, and elevating human consciousness replete with peace, love, compassion — should overpower our expedient toxic pride fuelled by obsessed utterances of the “Buddha was born in Nepal” mantra.
Although our external world has witnessed a dramatic transformation with all sorts of technological advancement, internally we are as vulnerable as 2500 years ago. Endeavoring and aspiring towards Buddha’s — The Arts of Living — the unnecessary fear of isolation, loneliness, mental breakdown, megalomania, stress, depression, greed, hostility, lust, violence, and hatred could be kept at bay. Buddha does not promise false hopes, fake blessings, or futile consolations, far from it; expecting spirituality to cure death, sickness, and loss is not a reasonable thing. Rather, it enables us to reconcile with inevitable existential realities, developing resilience and clarity. And more importantly, let’s not forget the fact that innumerable Buddhas can be born, like Siddhartha’s metamorphosis into Buddha, provided that we courageously venture on our spiritual journeys.
Islamophobia and Western World
“How Islamophobia developed in west and how it built track towards influencing life of common man?”
In this research paper we are going to conduct a research on Islamophobia, its causes, its impact. First aim is to define and explain phobia. Define and explain Islamophobia. Its main causes. How attacks of 9/11 influenced the lives of Muslims. Caricatures of Holy Prophet displayed in a school of France and magazine “Charlie Hebdo”. Consequences of Islamophobia are the main topics. In this paper I’ve brightened the aspects leading to Islamophobia, change of policies for Muslims in France.
WHAT IS PHOBIA?
A Phobia is an extreme fear of something. It may be an anxiety disorder in which fear of something is expressed. There are many factors that trigger a phobia, these factors may be environmental or genetic. But here we are talking about worldly phobia.
WHAT WE CALL, “ISLAMOPHOBIA”
There is a great debate on Islamophobia. If we talk about Islamophobia which is a very considerable phobia or fear for the west. Islamophobia according to western people is hatred and prejudice against Muslims. Islamophobia is a phrase used to describe baseless malice and agitation or hatred towards Islam, Muslims, and Islamic culture. It also throws light on discrimination that is faced by Muslims. Muslims face violence on daily bases. Circadian, they are victimized. Examples may vary from region to region, the way Muslims are treated and how arduous it is for them to face all the pessimism.
Commonplace, Muslims are attacked, their properties are attacked, their rights are violated, they face threats of violence. Muslims are blackmailed. Muslims face biased attitude at schools, workplaceand they also go through religion bigotry. Despite of all the endowment of Muslims, they are denounced and stigmatized. In a few recent years the terminology of Islamophobia gained vast popularity in west. Muslim minorities colonizing Europe face many issues on daily basis. This term spread widely in European countries in 2007. It was the after shock of economic crisis of 2007. They terrorists Muslims ( Muslim extremists) which proved to be fuel to the fire.
Muslim minorities in Europe have always been manifested in a wrong order. It is portrayed that Muslims want to isolate themselves. Due to this wrong image of Muslims that is being portrayed, they are not given indistinguishable rights at work places, school and other business sites.
About 20 million Muslims live in Europe. These Muslims are viewed as a threat to European culture and their ways of spending life. The word Islamophobia has become a part of political discourse due is all because of researches and citations of British and western think tanks. This term gains a number of critics. Western concept of Islam is only one-way street. Western people and leaders criticize Islamic values openly but they pay no consideration to frame of mind of Muslims.
ATTACKS OF 9/11
The 9/11 arsonist attacks exceptionally altered slant of public towards Muslims. Thenceforth, arsonist acts, the attacks by deadly jihadists in London, Paris, Brussels, and Barcelona have escalated trepidation. Aftermath of all these attacks by Muslim extremists, Muslims are regarded as terrorists by Europeans and they view Islam as a threat. The attack of 9/11 on twin tower was considered as an attack by Muslims, since then, Muslims are considered to bean ultimatum. Many changes were felt following these attacks. These terrible attacks left a horrific effect on Muslims. Muslims were considered as pessimists. President of the time Mr. George Bush launched “war on terror” which affected Muslim world badly. Muslims were the prey of this war. Countries like Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan became the pivot of American forces. Sadly, Afghanistan and Iraq also have masses of American troops.
9/11 made Islamophobia more acceptable. Muslims are considered as terrorists and attacks of 9/11 were scrutinized to be done by Muslim extremists such as Al-Qaeda.
ISLAMOPHOBIA AND FRANCE
Recently, a French school teacher Samuel Paty displayed the lampoons of our Holy Prophet (pbuh) upon which a Muslim student Abdullah. He waited for his teacher to come out of his home and he shot him down with an air gun. Abdullah was living there with status of a refugee. After that French policies started to slap down on Muslims. French President said:
“Islam in French needs Enlightenment.”
Further, he mentioned that we need to fight Islamist separatism.
He took measures and implemented new policies on Muslims which includes financing of mosques on French territory. Ban can be imposed on anyone visiting mosque.
On the other hand, Turkey which is also a western a country stood in front of France and retorted aggressively following the caricatures.
This is not the first time, such thing has also happened in France before in 2015. When a French magazine “Charlie Hebdo” published the mimics of our Holy Prophet(pbuh). Muslim extremists invaded the offices of Charlie Hebdo and killed 12 persons and injured 11. According to a report the killers were two Muslim brothers belonging to extremist group Al-Qaeda.
Charlie Hebdo, a publication that has always quoted controversy with satirical attacks on political and non-secular leaders. It published cartoons of Prophet Muhammad(pbuh) in 2012, following which France temporarily closed embassies and schools amid fears of reprisals. Its offices had been bombed in November 2011 after publishing a caricature of Muhammad on its cover.
CONSEQUENCES OF ISLAMOPHOBIA
Islam is criticized by infidels in very tough words through out the world. Muslims are held responsible for incendiary activities because of hatred and prejudices towards Islam. New policies are being implemented on Muslims. French policies started to slap down on Muslims. Muslims are most exposed to hate speech, racism, discrimination, bigotry at work place, educational institutes and mosques are ambushed by fascists. In India Muslims are being killed because they eat meat of cows and cow is a sanctified animal for Hindus. They are whipped and canned when they go to mosques. Kashmir has become a detention center as was Germany during the reign of Hitler for Jews.
Industry of islamophobia is on rise. In the U.S., about one-half of nationally representative samples of Mormons, Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, and Jews agree that in general, most Americans are prejudiced toward Muslim Americans. Specifically, 66% of Jewish Americans and 60% of Muslim Americans say that Americans in general are prejudiced toward Muslim Americans. Muslims(48%) have been through religious discrimination. It is always felt that Muslims will overtake the society and they will spread violence, hatred and bigotry in society. It is in people’s perception that Muslim’s will create problems. Well, it is not their fault up to major extent. It is due to extremist groups like Al-Qaeda which conveys terror in hearts of people. Another aspect is the role of the Media which tries to aggrandize every issue for commercial gain. The recent acts of certain so-called Muslim terrorists in America and other parts of the world added much more fuel to the fire which was already burning and the image of bad or evil which was already used by certain Western governments about Muslims got a stamp of approval for many people who are not aware of the true aspects of Islam.
ISLAMOPHOBIA, A FORM OF RACISM
Most scholars agree that Islamophobia is a form of racism. It is anti-Muslim racism. This type of racism stirs up hatred and prejudices on religious beliefs and ethnic backgrounds. Islam is baselessly labeled as treacherous to western civilization. They feel inferior in front of Islamic values. And they are always trying to prove Islam inferior and themselves, superior.
Islamophobia is illustrated as manifestation of cultural racism. Many people go through discrimination because they are perceived as Muslims. Western identities are created within white racialists.15 March, a gunman walked into the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand and opened fire. During the course of his killing spree there, and at the Linwood Islamic Centre, 51 people were slaughtered in their place of worship for no other reason than their Murderer wanted to decide their faith by himself. the racists in Northern Ireland who left a pig’s head on the door of the mosque . If this is not racism, then what it is? The motorists demanding £1,000 more to insure their car if their name is Muhammad, then what it is, called religious racism. Then how is it possible for native Muslims of those countries to spend a life of tranquility in those countries, where there not even minor rights of Muslims are protected. Where Muslims face troubles to go to their places of worships. This is not what they call freedom of speech. There is wide variability between freedom of speech and religious racism.
HOW TO ERADICATE ISLAMOPHOBIA?
It should be the first duty of teachers to exterminate such convictions from intellects of the young students and children. Islam is a peace loving religion. Muslims can not harm even an animal without any rationale. Media must also alter the way they present Muslims. Media must show things that are free from any kind of hatred towards religion. Politicians must also acknowledge ways to prevent Islamophobia. It would aid in preventing crimes. Differences in religious beliefs are basis of prejudices. These divergences take place in intellects of young children.
Islamophobia is rooted in minds of western people and other non-Muslims. Islamophobia is a slang which deteriorates the tranquility of human mind. Islamophobia is unbearable for Muslims and acts related to it. Such as exhibiting caricatures and lampoons of Holy Prophet Muhammad and then calling it freedom of speech. People are visually impaired to metamorphose among freedom of speech and hate speech. Hate speech, then escorts to ferocity. In retaliation of hate speech Muslim extremists pursuit anarchism. This anarchism ushers to Islamophobia and hence the cycle continues. Western states are chauvinists. Chauvinism has deeply rooted in intellect of people. Despicable oratory bestows people with license to treat Muslims preferentially. Muslims, in many parts of the world are conventionalized as arsonists and terrorists. They consider immigrants as foreign in their lands. Even the natives of those lands are prejudiced as foreigners. Muslim students and teachers are bullied. Together, we can flotsam bigotry and preconception and make world which is full of respect for religions.
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