I’m a Muslim and I Can Never Go “Boo!”


I’m a Muslim and I Can Never Go “Boo!”

Illustration: Namaah/ Arré

You know, I can never go “Boo!” just like that. This concerns me. A lot. It threatens my idea of equality in the eyes of the law and my fellow citizens, even if I want to play a silly prank like the Australian Jalals (although, they are another level of Boo!) The only way I imagine coming out of a prank alive, is if I had paramedics on standby and perhaps an anticipatory bail in my pocket.

Why? Because I wear my religion on my sleeve – actually more like on my head in the form of a headscarf. And this happens to be a not-so-good time to be a practising Muslim. I don’t have to delve into history, but so that we are on the same page, it all started with 9/11, 17 years ago. I was in school then, but had to quickly become a bit of an Islamic scholar.

At 14, I was now a spokesperson on Islamic terrorism, Al Qaeda, and similar outfits, but I certainly wasn’t the youngest. Anyway, all of us doled out similar quotes. “This is not Islam,” “They can’t be Muslims,” “Islam forbids taking of innocent lives…” We were soon branded Muslims-in-denial. Then friends said, no, you are Liberal Muslims. Over time came another term, Apologetic Muslims. After that, I stopped keeping track.

Two years later, I realise, I do not have the liberty to shut out. That there is a real need for me to speak out.

Oh, but I am still angry about this spokesperson’s role being thrust on me. You see, just because you sit in a Chemistry class and enjoy balancing Na + Cl, you cannot be held accountable for the equations that go into making a bomb.

Irrfan Khan has a two-bit role – longer than his screen space in the Spiderman film – in my comeback story. At a promotional event for the film, he had a few things to say about Islam, and the problems that plague it today. Never mind what he had to say; it’s the response Muslim clerics gave that flabbergasted me. All they could come up with was “shut up” or something like that. Why couldn’t they take this opportunity in engaging in a healthy debate or take this as a chance to clear the air on some misconceptions?

Misconceptions like what, you may wonder? Well, there are tons. Go scouting for those in the comments section on any article on Islam or Muslims. It’s a landmine out there, of hate, some more hate, and then some more (it really makes me break out in a sweat). One such common find is Chapter 9, Verse 5 from the Qur’an, often raised or quoted as the Islamic license to kill. While I wouldn’t give all the credit to veteran journalist Arun Shourie for making it famous (surely someone must have beaten him to it), I have a grouse with him. One of his citations from The World of Fatwas is a gift that keeps on giving, for well-meaning people copy-paste and share it on social media with flourish.

Our work is cut out. It starts within our own community, within the Muslim youth.

What does the verse (9:5) say, “…Fight and slay the Mushrik wherever you find them…” Let that sink in, but not too much, okay? Because there is much more before and after it. Remember this is verse number F.I.V.E. There are four verses preceding it, and eight more verses after that continue to expound on the issue at hand for the Muslims “in a particular situation of that time”. The Chapter in entirety has 129 verses. Now, let me ask you, have you ever heard of the term “context”? Because some have conveniently failed to apply it in this case.

Even Mr Shourie in his book, skips to verse number seven after quoting verse five. That verse six, is the answer to what verse five holds. Mr Shourie must’ve had his reasons to skip the verse, but they aren’t apparent to me. Perhaps to follow a certain narrative, a liberty I wish at least journalists would stop taking.

The Surah (chapter) from which this verse is plucked out, talks about a treaty between the pagan Arabs of Makkah and Prophet Muhammed’s people, one that was unilaterally broken by the Makkans. The question before Muslims was, could they fight back and kill someone on the holy ground? The verses that are routinely cited, are a commentary on the instructions to handle this breach of faith and how to handle enemies in this “specific case” with many “buts” and “only ifs”. The verses instruct that pagan Arabs be given four months to consider their options, to honour the treaty, and live as law-abiding citizens under Prophet Muhammed or leave. It also orders Prophet Muhammed to escort them to safety until the waiting period, among other things. It is ordered that those who did not break the treaty must not be harmed.

Over the years, many Islamic scholars like Yusuf Estes or British-American author Lesley Hazleton, have explained the context of this verse; their videos are on YouTube. I resonate best with Texas-based Qu’ran scholar Nouman Ali Khan. He talks about pretend-playing with his children, as a lion come to eat them up. Now someone plays out a direct recording of “some” of his words to his kids, “I am going to eat you.” It’s an Oh My God statement. If he were to be questioned on the recording, did he say that? Yes, he did. Context? Who cares.

Islam is a religion of peace. There, I said it. And we’ll try our best to make people believe it.

Our work is cut out. It starts within our own community, within the Muslim youth, I agree. I wouldn’t call it a fight against extremists, it’s against deviants. It’s a lot of work. To clean up the public space, especially online, with a lot of misinformation floating around. The way many believe Mr Shourie, misguiding Mullas are just as influential. If nothing else, sounds from the last few months mark a deafening call – more than 42 are killed in multiple attacks across Pakistan ahead of Eid, 29 in Kabul, and 17 were killed in a mosque blast in the Afghan province of Khost.

I don’t think we can stop at introspection. That would be a luxury.

This story was earlier published on Sept 11, 2016.