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Distorsions by Zakaria

Vinod Kumar

Dr. Rafiq Zakaria is an eminent person with a long list of accomplishments, and a well-known and prolific writer but his article "Islam a victim of distortion" ( June 17, 2002) is full of half-quotes and half truths. He has gleaned from history what suits his bias. The article is simply full of distortions and inaccuracies.

He wrote that the Hindus are ignorant about Islam -- which is mostly true -- but this ignorance has not been a curse for the Muslims, as he says, rather a blessing, for otherwise, the articles full of misinformation and distortions would not have seen the light of the day.

Let me discuss the main points raised by Dr. Zakaria one by one:

1. Kufr and kafir:

On the issue of kufr and kafir Dr. Zakaria’s contention is that "the term 'kafir' is derived from the world 'kufr', which means 'to hide or cover up'; it is generally used for disbelievers -- those who deny the existence and unity of God." This may be literally true but in Islam, connotation of "Kufr is basically disbelief in any of the Articles of Faith in Islam." (Sahih Al- Bukhari, vol. 1, Muhsin Khan, Kitab Bhavan, 1984, pp. li) Therefore, even though the Christians and the Jews believe in the "existence and unity of God," they have been called "infidels" -- kafirs.

The Hindus are guilty not only of "kufr" but also of "shirk" -- "worship of others along with God. "Shirk" also implies "attributing divine attributes to any other besides Allah." And to top it they are also guilty of idolatry -- an act which in the eyes of Islam is "worse than carnage" (The Koran, Dawood, Penguin Classics, 1990, 2:217) and "God will not forgive idolatry." (Ibid., 4:116)

Then he goes on to write the term kafir is not derogatory; and secondly, no Indian Muslim, "to the best of my knowledge" has used it for Hindus. In the medieval ages the Hindus, almost without exception, were called kafirs by Muslim chroniclers. It is hard to believe, knowledgeable as Dr. Zakaria is, he is not aware of the big controversy, about a decade ago, that was raised when Abid Reza Bedar, Director of Khuda Baksh Library in Patna questioned the use of the word kafir for the Hindus. (Indian Controversies, Shourie, 1993, pp. 387 – 397)

According to the Koran "He that chooses a religion other than Islam, it will never be accepted from him and in the world to come he will be one of the lost." (The Koran, Dawood, Penguin Classics, 1990, 3:85)

Kafirs – those who deny or not believe in Allah’s Revelations -- have only one place in the Koran – Hell: "Those that deny Our revelations We will burn in fire. No sooner will their skins be consumed then We shall give them other skins so that they may truly taste the scourge." (Ibid., 4:56)

"As for the unbelievers, the fire of Hell awaits them. Death shall not deliver them, .….." (Ibid. 35:36)

The Koran equates unbelievers with beasts (Ibid., 2:171) and is very explicit about what it thinks of them. I need not quote all the Ayats here -- these are well known and easily accessible. Only Dr. Zakaria seems to be unaware of them.

2. Hindus have "the most inveterate aversion towards all Muslims" Dr. Zakaria quotes Alberuni.

From this article it seems Dr. Zakaria is driven solely by his hatred of the Hindus. He blames Hindus for the antagonism between the Hindus and the Muslims. To prove his point he quotes a first rate scholar Alberuni. He is so sure of the ignorance of the Hindus, to make his point, he does not quote the whole context, not even the complete sentence -- just seven words at the end of it.

Read the full context of Alberuni:
"Mahmud utterly ruined the prosperity of the country, and performed there wonderful exploits, by which the Hindus became like atoms of dust scattered in all directions, and like a tale of old in the mouth of the people. Their scattered remains cherish, of course, the most inveterate aversion towards all Muslims." (Alberuni’s India, Sachau, pp. 22)

Being a good Muslim, Alberuni called Mahmud’s "ruining the prosperity of the country" as "wonderful exploits" but at the same time, as a scholar, he regretted -- eager as he was to learn the Hindu sciences -- that "this is the reason, too, why Hindu sciences have retired far away from the parts of country conquered by us, and have fled to places where our hands cannot yet reach, to Kashmir, Benaras, and other places." (Ibid., pp. 22)

In the very first chapter of his book, Alberuni discusses at length the differences between the Hindus and the Muslims and the circumstances that led to the antagonism between the two. Dr. Zakaria should read it with an open mind.

Were Hindus always so averse to Muslims as Dr. Zakaria would like his readers to believe? The testimony of earlier Muslim writers does not say so. When earlier Muslims had settled on the West coast, the king gave them land grants to build their mosques and preach their religion and convert freely.

3. Ibn Batuta

Quoting Ibn Batuta, Zakaria wrote "no Muslim was allowed to enter the house of a Hindu or give food in the same vessel as theirs." He went on to write "If a Muslim is fed out of their vessels, they either break the vessel or give them away to the Muslims."

Hindus had their notions of purity, especially in matters of food, which were in existence long before the Muslims appeared on the Indian scene. Al Beruni, three centuries before Ibn Batuta, observed that "the Hindus eat singly and they do not make use of the remainder of the meal, and the plates from which they have eaten are thrown away if they are earthen." (Alberuni’s India, Sachau, pp. 180)

This practice of not eating with others is not limited to foreigners or Muslims alone. It is still - to a lesser degree - prevalent even among the different castes of the Hindus. Whether it is right or wrong is a separate issue. To ascribe it solely in relation to Muslims neither presents a balanced view nor speaks well of an eminent scholar.

Quoting Ibn Batuta Dr. Zakaria laments "no Muslim was allowed to enter the house of a Hindu." There is an old saying "a house is man's castle" and no one has the right to enter it without permission of the owner. Prophet Muhammad had also said no one should enter another's house without taking permission first. A Hindu has every right not to welcome anyone in his house he does not want to and so does every one else.

However, Dr. Zakaria fails to mention the disabilities that the Hindus had to suffer under the long Muslim rule.

Just to give one example:
Qazi Mughis-ud-din of Bayana, while justifying Ala-ud-din Khalji's rigorous policy towards the Hindus, pointed out that, "if the revenue collector spits into a Hindu's mouth, the Hindu must open it to receive it without hesitation." Ala-ud-din assured the Qazi that he had given orders that the Hindu shall not be allowed to possess more than what is required for a bare subsistence. (History and Culture of the Indian People, Vol. 6, 1990, pp. 25)

And Dr. Zakaria blames the Hindus for antagonism between the two!

4. Religious places

Dr. Zakaria writes "Islam does not sanction the destruction of the places of worship of other religions." If it is true, then how can Dr. Zakaria justify Prophet Muhammad’s destruction of the idols of the Pagans of Mecca?

The Holy Quran also narrates the destruction of idols by Prophet Abraham (21:56-57).

If the Holy Quran does not specifically call for the destruction of idols or others places of worship, it also does not condemn or criticize the destruction of idols by Prophet Abraham or by Prophet Muhammad. Thus the followers of Islam have the example set by the Prophets Abraham and Muhammad to emulate.

The destruction of others places of worship has been carried out from the days of Prophet Muhammad. Had it not become an acceptable practice by Islam, why would have Kadir bi-illah Amiru-l-muminin, the Khalifa of Baghdad sent a khillat, such as had never been heard of, for the use of Sultan Saifu-d-daula?

Why would have he given the titles of "Yamin-d daula and Aminu-l millat, the friend of the amir-l muminin -- which had not yet been bestowed upon any prince, either far or near - on Mahmud? (Tarikh Yamini, Al Utbi, translated in History of India, Elliott and Dowson, 1996, Vol. 2, pp.24)

Sultan Mahmud’s main, if not sole, claim to glory is his plunder and demolition of Hindu temples. To the contrary, Sultan Mahmud instead of being bestowed with the highest honors should have been castigated for bringing infamy to the name of Islam.

Even today Mahmud is regarded as "champion of Islam."

If what Sultan Mahmud did – plunder and demolition of Hindu temples -- was unIslamic, why would the Islamic Republic of Pakistan glorify him by naming one of its most powerful and prestigious missiles in his name? Mahmud did not even come from the land that is now Pakistan. He was the conqueror of this land and demolished the temples of the ancestors of modern day Pakistanis. When Al Beruni wrote of "utterly ruining the prosperity of the country" -- the country he referred to was present day Pakistan. Why would an Islamic country honor the man who ruined its prosperity and especially if he committed such unIslamic acts?

5. Aurangzeb

"How is Islam responsible for what Aurangzeb did? Or, for that reason, any other Muslim ruler did?" Zakaria asks. He then goes on to say "the rulers of Delhi Sultanate as well as the Mughals were hardly acquainted with the real teachings of Islam." Yes, it is true that some of the Sultans of Delhi were illiterate and it is quite possible that they did not know the teachings of Islam.

But this cannot be said of Aurangzeb. "He had prepared himself for the sovereign office by self-reverence, self-knowledge and self-control. He was widely read and accurate scholar and he kept his love for books to his dying days. He wrote many copies of the Koran in his own hand and devoted his spare time in reading Arabic works on jurisprudence and theology and hunted for MSS of rare old books like Nehayya, Ahiya-ul-ulum." (History of Aurangzib, J. Sarkar, vol. 5, 1974, pp. 363) He is credited with having memorized the entire Koran. He lived the puritan life of a good Muslim. How many Muslim rulers have there been who were more Islamic than Aurangzeb was? He was so committed to Islam that many historians have called him an "Islamic zealot" and put the blame for the downfall of the Mughal Empire on his religious fanaticism. Muslims call him "a living pir."

How can Dr. Zakaria say "How is Islam responsible for what Aurangzeb did?"

As far as other Muslim rulers are concerned, in spite of some of them being illiterate, many of them had excellent knowledge of Islam. And those who did not, had a constant supply of Ulema at hand. Almost all Muslim Sultans ruled in the name of Islam and according to Islamic Sharia.

Dr. Zakaria's argument does not hold water.

6. Babar and Ayodhya

It is hard to believe that Dr. Zakaria does not know that Babar did go to Ayodhya. (Baburnama, Beveridge, pp. 656) The reason there is no mention of Babar's visit there in the extant Baburnama is because in the text there is a break of six months from April 2 to September 18, 1528 -- the period during which Babar is reported to have visited Ayodhya. (Ibid. pp. 603) To claim that Mir Baqi demolished a temple and built a mosque in its place without Babar, if not ordering it, even not knowing about it is beyond the realm of reality.

But anyway, the inscription inside the mosque clearly states that Mir Baqi built the mosque on Emperor Babar's orders.
"By the command of the Emperor Babur whose justice is an edifice reaching up to the very heights of the heavens,
The good-hearted Mir Baqi built this alighting place of angels." (Ibid., Appendix U)

And it is not that Babar did not destroy Hindu temples (Ibid., pp. 612). He is well known for massacres of the "Pagans" as he used to refer to the Hindus (Ibid., pp. 484) and building pillars of "pagan-heads." (Ibid., pp. 576, pp. 573, pp. 596)

At best, Dr. Zakaria is a poor apologist for Babar. Still, I wonder why would any Indian even try to defend Babar -- an invader of his own land? I don’t see Dr. Zakaria defending Robert Clive. Is, in secular India, one’s loyalty based solely on one’s religion?

If in writing this article, Dr. Zakaria's purpose is to promote communal harmony, I admire him for that. But his effort has been completely wasted. The way to do so is not to distort, deny or whitewash the facts or the past of one’s co-religionists but to accept them as they are and move on.

The End

June 22, 2002