|| Satyameva Jayate ||

Dedicated to “Bharat” and “Dharma”

Is the problem at the heart of Islam, the silence of sensible Muslims?

Events of the last few weeks have once again thrown into sharp relief why numerous commentators across the political divide, ideologies & cultures worry greatly about Islam. Some do not just worry; they fear.

They worry about and fear an ideology that apparently condones killing of “followers” who may have second thoughts[i]; they fear an ideology which justifies war and violence against the “infidels” and enemies as long as it is for a “just” cause[ii]. They fear an ideology that shows no qualms in killing and maiming fellow believers simply because they have a difference of opinion or interpretation.

They worry about an ideology that considers half of humanity somehow “lesser” than the other half[iii]; that condemns young girls to a lifetime of ignorance and servitude[iv] and that justifies people getting into a paroxysm of rage over perceived or real “insults” to their sacred texts, symbols or figures.

And yet, the one refrain that almost invariably accompanies each such outbreak of barbarity and violence is “Islam is a religion of peace”. Except for one inconvenient fact: If it is, why do its adherents find it so hard to contain and condemn violence?

In the latest incident of such violence, Buddhist homes and temples were targeted and burnt in Bangladesh after a picture of a burnt Quran was posted on facebook[v]. Meanwhile “protests” against a poorly made film on Islam continue across the Arab world, in Africa, in Asia and of course in India too[vi]. “Protests” that have led to hundreds injured and several dead, including the cold-blooded killing of a diplomatic representative – raising questions on whether such “niceties” like diplomatic immunity and privilege are concepts that are no longer relevant. In Baghdad, the wave of violence engulfed fellow-believers too[vii]. Someone mentioned to me a few days back that Islam stands for brotherhood. I am finding it hard to see evidence of that.

What do the Muftis and the Imams have to say on all this? The vast majority keep quiet; some call for more “retribution” so the “infidels” can be taught a lesson. How can a religion whose leaders and followers openly call for the death of an alleged “blasphemist” call itself a “religion of peace”[viii]? Or is it “peace” only on our terms – and of our choosing?

Where are the Muslim reformists? And why are they silent? Why do even the most progressive Muslims limit themselves to just “condemning” these incidents rather than taking the next step and actually fighting for reforms?

Reforms that would make the faith much more compatible with the values of openness, with the values of a liberal culture? Reforms that would create space for tolerating alternative interpretations & alternative approaches to “Truth” – whatever that may be?

Reforms that would make the faith much more relevant – instead of setting the stage for a clash of civilisations?

Why don’t community leaders and scholars denounce these unacceptable, barbaric acts committed in the name of Islam[ix] and forcefully argue that Islam can co-exist with civilisation?

And that the Taliban are murderous perverts who have no place in a civilised society?

Why don’t the Muftis and the Imams take upon themselves the task of convincing Pakistanis and Arabs and Muslims elsewhere that it is quite alright to make fun of “Gods[x]”- and that there are other, alternative and peaceful ways to protest and express grievances or hurt sensibilities?

Or is the problem simply that unlike almost all other major religions, Islam has not yet undergone any reform or catharsis? Is this what holds Islam back?

Witness Saudi Arabia – the figurative heartland of Islam – where women are literally treated as “not equals” – and sometimes worse than second-class citizens[xi]?

Look at Maldives where the Islamic Affairs Ministry recently issued a circular banning “mixed-gender” dance events and where the Adhaalath Party, part of the Government, considers “youth’s addiction to music and songs, something that is ‘haram’ (forbidden)[xii]

Or Malaysia where government has begun holding seminars aiming to help teachers and parents spot signs of homosexuality in children, in order to curb the “problem” of homosexuality[xiii]

Or Iran where the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament regards law that prohibits girls below the age of 10 from being married off as ‘un-Islamic and illegal[xiv].”

Or closer home in Afghanistan, where a woman was publicly executed recently for the crime of adultery[xv] or Pakistan where more than a dozen girls aged four to sixteen were recently “traded” to resolve a dispute[xvi].

Which makes you wonder just who are these people who are making these rules and laws? And why do sane voices fear speaking up against them[xvii]? Is the problem at the heart of Islam, the silence of sensible Muslims?

[i] * http://www.pewglobal.org/files/2010/12/Pew-Global-Attitudes-Muslim-Report-FINAL-December-2-2010.pdf from which: “When asked about the death penalty for those who leave the Muslim religion, at least three-quarters of Muslims in Jordan (86%), Egypt (84%) and Pakistan (76%) say they would favor making it the law; in Nigeria, 51% of Muslims favor..

[ii] From The Age of Sacred Terror” by Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, Random House, 2002 (p. 55) and  Douglas Streusand, “What does Jihad mean?”, Middle East Quarterly, September 1997; quoted here: http://satyameva-jayate.org/2007/02/22/jihad-a-small-little-word/

[iii] “women being naqisat al-’aql (short of reason) and naqisat al-iman (short of faith)” from http://dawn.com/2012/06/01/women-and-faith/

[ix] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-18713545 Pakistan mob burns man to death for ‘blasphemy’ by Shahzeb Jillani 4 July 2012

[x] http://www.expressindia.com/news/columnists/full_column.php?content_id=87288 The Right to Laugh at Gods, by Tavleen Singh, Feb ‘06

[xvii] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raheel_Razaand  https://www.irshadmanji.com/Memo-YouTube-Dont-censor-death-threats and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Sr-hjDzWT8

Additional, indirect references and links:


The consultation was a great disappointment and proved how rigid our ulema are. The maulana, when rendered speechless, adopted tactics of munazarah (debate) in which the matter is twisted rather than giving a solid reply. He at last left in a huff rather than giving any constructive suggestion.


This post was cross-posted on ToI website where it created a bit of a furore with 255+ comments



October 15th, 2012 Posted by | Islam & Reform, Islam & Terrorism, ToI Columns | 10 comments


  1. Shantanu:

    Thanks for the outspoken views. Majority of non-Muslims do not want to express these sentiments/views even though they may be feeling the same way, just for the fear of being “politically incorrect”.
    Clearly, Islam is at war with the rest of the World. It is simply agonizing to see that majority of Muslims just keep mum, thereby providing their tacit support to these fundamentalists.
    I have a few observations:
    1. See the recent case of Malala Yousufzai. This 14 years girl in Pakistan was injured in a deadly attack by Taliban for promoting women education. There can be no worse dastardly act than this. This should be a tipping point for Muslims to stand against Jehadists. But you will never see a criticism that Taliban deserves. However, More than 10 Thousand Muslims ‘gheraoed’ Google HQ at London 2 days back to protest against the movie on Prophet. This shows their misplaced priorities. Would I ever see thousands of Muslims together protesting against deadly attack on a 14-years old girl Malala? I would urge Muslims to educate kids with science, liberate women and win some Noble Prizes rather than wasting their energies in protesting on a movie.
    2. People must question the violence that is part of Koran. There are enough references in this book which give unequal rights and treatment to women. I know spin-doctors might justify them, but there are not many logical justifications.
    3. There is an argument going around that Islam is not a religion. It is a socio-political movement. There is a merit in this argument. People may be inclined to look more critically at a ‘movement’ rather than a ‘religion’! For many do not want to be insensitive or judgmental about someone else’s religion!

    Comment by Munish Raizada | October 15, 2012

  2. Shantanu, Munish:

    I agree with the problems you mention about Islam and the fact that ‘sensible’ Muslims don’t speak up enough.

    But, by definition, sensible / rational people should have a reason for not speaking up. The reason is that they are too weak compared to the radical voices and fear punishment.

    Its hard for anyone to pinpoint the contribution of each factor but I think the Western governments have had a substantial role to play in weakening the sensible Muslim voice.

    eg: The US govt. has (to maintain its energy interests, arms sales and global clout) systematically and aggressively suppressed democracy and propped up dictators in the Middle East. This has fostered extremism among Muslims.

    Comment by Shailesh | October 16, 2012

  3. Thanks for the thought-provoking article that brings into focus the dilemma that the adherents of Islam have been presenting before the rest of the world.

    Isn’t it too late, and also pointless, to question whether Islam is a religion? Anyway, how can any non-Islamist arbitrarily assume the right to decide this question? I believe we must first accept the reality as it is, before proceeding further. And the reality is that Islam is a major religion with a charm that has attracted and inspired countless followers over time.

    Sadly, Islam also believes in concepts like ‘infidel’ and ‘jihad’ that continue to spur many Muslims into unleashing mindless violence against innocent people across the world. Islamist purists can’t and won’t permit any attempt to modify those portions of Koran that such violence-mongers use as justification for their horrible actions. It may be noted that even if desired amendments actually happen, nothing can stop some puritanist or the other from rejecting the same as un-Islamic!

    So, the governments have to continue to act against violators of law, and civil society intellectuals have to continue their efforts toward proper re-interpretation of Koran so that Islam truly becomes a religion of peace.

    Comment by H.P. Mishra | October 16, 2012

  4. The problem at the heart of Islam,in my opinion is not that sensible Muslims do not speak out. The problem is Islam itself.Every Muslim has first of all to swear fealty to Islam by reciting the ‘shahada’ or the Kalma–La Ilah Allallah; Muhammad ur Rasul Allah.(I bear witness that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is His Messenger) He thus shuts out all reasoning and must treat the Quran as the word of Allah—unchangeable,unquestionable, supreme. And when the Quran prescribes death for unbelievers in this world and burning in eternal hellfire in the hereafter he must accept it as God’s unalterable law.There can be no better illustation of the amazing hold that Islam exercises on the reasoning faculties of its adherents than the case of Allama Iqbal. The poet who wrote such wonderful poetry and penned “sare jahan se achchha Hindostan Hamara ,turned a rabid Islamist and wrote “Cheeno Arab Hamare Hindostan Hamara,Muslim hain hum watan hai sara jahan Hamara.”
    Imagining Muftis and Imams,who are the strongest protagonists of orthodoxy in Islam to open their mouths in favour of giving a reformist touch to Islam is to dream of the impossible.Yet there are Muslims who having seen Islam from inside have come out openly advocating its abolition. Anwar Sheikh,Ali Sina,Wafa Sultan are some examples. The latest is professor Salim Mansur of Canada who testified before the Canadian Parliament.( Pl see OTTAWA CITIZEN dt 12 Oct 2012)

    Comment by Satyarthi | October 16, 2012

  5. It is unfortunate that you do not see Muslims who come out with outburst of anger against shooting Malala across the world. If you watch, you will see such protests among Muslims across the world against any terrorists activities in the name of Islam. But sad fact is that this never get attention.

    What I feel is that what people like you and me should highlight is this positive gesture in order to expect more of it. Yes, when more such news is discussed, it is highly likely that more and more Muslims will be inspired and motivated to come out showing their anger against the cruel acts of these cowards! As I know personally, I can say it with confidence that majority of Muslims shun this idea of extremism and terrorism.

    I am not here for a religious argument. I do not like it. The point I want to make here is that condemn the cowardly acts of the terrorists group and at the same time, also try to highlight those small gestures among Muslims against it. I hope the positive news will attract more positive actions.

    Comment by Musthafa | October 17, 2012

  6. Satyarthi:
    Here is the link of Ottawa Citizen that you mentioned for the benefit of all:

    Comment by Munish Raizada | October 17, 2012

  7. Dear Musthafa:
    Here are my observations:
    1. It is indeed good to see people coming out to protest the heinous attack on a tender kid (14 years old girl Malala). Such developments must be encouraged.
    2. Your statement: “As I know personally, I can say it with confidence that majority of Muslims shun this idea of extremism and terrorism.” Please work with such people as the world needs such people to be more visible. As Martin Luther Kind said: “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”
    And you will agree that super- majority of the good Muslims are silent. In fact, abysmally silent!

    Comment by Munish Raizada | October 17, 2012

  8. I believe that nothing is wrong with so called sensible or rational Muslims those who are silent on the issues of violence or atrocity of other Islamist. They are to be as they are.In fact you can not term somebody as a ‘sensible’ or ‘rational’ Muslim.There shall never be sensibility or rationalism in Muslims because Islam prevents the to be so.Those who are silent or passive are having same mentality as those who are actively indulged in violent acts. The deference is of only thing that either they afraid of penal actions by territorial law or they have not got opportunity yet to behave so;because of their bread winning activity.One can not abridge,add or amend Koran. Allah has forbidden to do so.Therefore one has either to accept Islam as it is or one can reject it in Toto.There is no scope of reform in Islam.Santanuji please let the Muslims be as they are till the day of Kayamat. Don’t west your time and energy in thinking and writing about reform in them.

    Comment by Mahendra Tamhane. | October 21, 2012

  9. 1-World is made up of good(sensible) and bad(non-sense) people.good people are required to jell well with like minded and bring changes in various sectors at various levels.

    2-As far as Islam is concerned,sensible,rational Muslims are required to come out strongly to counter negative elements within their community.
    They are required to bring Socio-religious reforms.


    Comment by Rakesh Bhatt | October 22, 2012

  10. From Islam Needs a Reformation by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a brief excerpt:
    “As I see it, the fundamental problem is that the majority of otherwise peaceful and law-abiding Muslims are unwilling to acknowledge, much less to repudiate, the theological warrant for intolerance and violence embedded in their own religious texts. It simply will not do for Muslims to claim that their religion has been “hijacked” by extremists. The killers of Islamic State and Nigeria’s Boko Haram cite the same religious texts that every other Muslim in the world considers sacrosanct.

    Instead of letting Islam off the hook with bland clichés about the religion of peace, we in the West need to challenge and debate the very substance of Islamic thought and practice. We need to hold Islam accountable for the acts of its most violent adherents and to demand that it reform or disavow the key beliefs that are used to justify those acts.

    As it turns out, the West has some experience with this sort of reformist project. It is precisely what took place in Judaism and Christianity over the centuries, as both traditions gradually consigned the violent passages of their own sacred texts to the past. Many parts of the Bible and the Talmud reflect patriarchal norms, and both also contain many stories of harsh human and divine retribution. As President Barack Obama said in remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast last month, “Remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”

    Comment by B Shantanu | March 21, 2015

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