Sita Ram Goel
No newspaper or periodical worth its name in India will publish what I write in the lines that follow. Not because the subject matter is seditious or sacrilegious or obscene, or even controversial, but simply because it defies the Emergency imposed on this country by Muslim theologians and politicians backed by 'secularist' intellectuals and politicians and riotous Muslim mobs and plain terrorists.
The Indian intelligentsia, by and large, is very well aware of what Emergency means. It had a firsthand experience during 1975-77 when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi extended to everyone the fullest "freedom" to extol her, but put in jail all those who asked inconvenient questions about her doings. If any member of this intelligentsia is asked what he thinks of that Emergency, the answer is always a loud disapproval. But the same intelligentsia is not even aware that Islam has imposed an Emergency on India, so that everyone has the perfect "liberty" to praise its Allah, its prophet, its scriptures, its history, and its heroes but gets into trouble if he so much as says that Islam should answer some questions.
Muslims have a popular saying: ba khuda diwana bash o ba Muhammad hoshiyar (have fun about Allah but be careful when it comes to Muhammad). This seems to be a very apt warning because in the belief system that is Islam, Allah has been replaced by his prophet. One cannot be a Muslim merely by believing in Allah as the only God; one has to believe in Muhammad also as the Last Prophet. In fact Allah is not and cannot be known or even approached except through Muhammad. Allah has spoken through Muhammad in the Quran and acted through him in the Hadis.
The Hadis, collected labouriously and preserved meticulously, has been the source for the life story, Sirat, of the Prophet. We have as many as six life stories which the orthodox theology of Islam regards as sacred literature in which a "divine pattern of human conduct" is supposed to have been unfolded.
So far so good. The trouble arises when persons other than pious Muslims examine these life stories. There is a lot in them which offends man's normal moral sense and natural reason. But Islam does not permit anyone to probe that part of the Prophet's life. The Prophet himself had pronounced and carried out death penalty for all those who asked inconvenient questions about his person and mission. That became a permanent prescription for all Muslims.
There were many incidents in medieval Indian history when Hindus were put to death for making critical remarks about the Prophet. One of these Hindus was a schoolboy who got provoked by remarks which one of his Muslim classmates had made about Hinduism, and said something derogatory about the Prophet. He was put to death. Many such stories in medieval times must have remained unrecorded.
Muslim rule disappeared long ago from large parts of India but Muslim terrorism continued to prevail. Even the Christian missionaries who heaped vile abuse on all Hindu avatars, saints and sages, were careful when it came to Muhammad. The Arya Samaj was the first Hindu movement to take up a bold stand in this context. Maharshi Dayanand himself had showed up Muhammad for the sort of man he was. Soon after, however, the Arya Samaj was silenced effectively by a series of murders, notably that of Pandit Lekhram and Swami Shraddhananda. The British were inclined to permit fair criticism, particularly that which was based on Islamic sources. But they could not prevent Muslim assassins from taking the law in their own hands.
The movement led by the Indian National Congress made its own characteristic contribution to Muslim self righteousness. In the hope of winning the Muslims over to the nationalist platform, Congress leaders frowned upon all criticism of Islam and the Muslim rule in medieval India. Till the turn of the nineteenth century, Hindus by and large had never accepted Islam as a religion or Muslim rule as a native dispensation. The Congress leadership whitewashed both and, by means of sustained propaganda, made them acceptable to the Hindu intelligentsia.
The Communists who appeared on the scene in the twenties went much further. They glorified Islam as a message of social equality and human brotherhood, while they denigrated Hinduism as a system based on class exploitation and caste oppression. M.N. Roy wrote a book, Role of Islam in History, in 1939 in which he hailed the advent of Islam in India as a liberating force. Islam, he said, had come to complete the social revolution which Buddhism had left unfinished but, like Buddhism, was frustrated by 'reactionary' Brahminism.
Meanwhile, Christian missionary propaganda had made Brahminism the arch villain of Indian history. Hindu reform movements had picked up the plank. Brahminism was fast losing ground among the vocal Hindu intelligentsia. People like E.V. Ramaswami Naicker and B.R. Ambedkar identified Hinduism with Brahminism and declared war on both. So did the Sikhs. The Jains also started distancing themselves from Hinduism. Now it is the turn of the Ramakrishna Mission and the Arya Samaj. But that is a different and a long story.
What is relevant here is that Islam continued to gain the lustre which Hinduism was losing fast. In due course, it became a crime called 'communalism' to say anything except laudatory about Islam. The Quran and the Prophet were winning fulsome praise on every public platform. The slogan of sarva-dharma-samabhâva was becoming the national consensus. It never meant that Hinduism could not be criticized, even maligned and ridiculed. What it meant was that everyone was free to praise Islam as much as he pleased. The Emergency which Islam had imposed after its advent in India and which had caused resentment among Hindus for a long time, now stood fully sanctioned by the Hindu elite. All religions were equal. But Islam was more equal. Small wonder that Muslims acquired an unpre-cedented sense of self - righteousness; they had scored a triumph which their sword had failed to win for them in more than a thousand years.
That was the situation when the country was partitioned and drowned in blood by the Muslim League. The event entailed widespread resentment against Muslims. But Islam was hardly mentioned; if escaped unscathed.
The Hindu movements like the Hindu Mahasabha and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) had never showed any understanding of Islam even before partition. Most of their ire had been directed against Muslims. They had failed to see that Muslims were our own people alienated from us by Islam. The only saving feature was that they had not come out in praise of Islam. They had observed a stony silence on the subject.
The scene progressed after the advent of independence, particularly after Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru took command of the Indian National Congress and the country. His animus against Hinduism was derived from his love for Communism. He knew next to nothing about Buddhism; the only reason be hailed it as well as its hero, Ashoka, was that in his perception Buddhism was a 'revolt' against 'reactionary' Brahminism. Had he known the truth about Buddhism, he would have dropped it like a hot potato. The same psychology made him fall for Islam. Otherwise he was equally ignorant of, and equally indifferent to all religions. The Secularism which be espoused was not borrowed from the modem West. For him, it was only a smokescreen for Hindu-baiting. The fashion was picked up fast by a servile intelligentsia and became a national cult. The more one hated Hinduism, the more one prospered. Hindu-baiting became the most profitable profession in politics, the media and the academia. The word "Hindu" became a dirty word.
The Hindu Mahasabha had declined fast in post-independent India. But it must be said to its credit that it never became ashamed of being Hindu, and never went on the defensive when called communalist. It kept its earlier stand un-compromised, though it had hardly any say in public life any more.
The RSS, however, behaved differently. The ban imposed on it after the murder of Mahatma Gandhi had frightened it out of its wits. It went on the defensive all along the line, and started spending all its time in proving that it was not a communalist organisation. It retained the word "Hindu" in its private verbiage, but eschewed it from its public pronouncements. The word "Bharatiya" defined territorially and not culturally, became its substitute for the word "Hindu". All its fronts including the political party, Jana Sangh, became "Bharatiya".
Meanwhile, Muslim theologians and politicians had acquired a veto on pronouncing who was secular and who was communal. No one questioned that claim, at least not the Hindu leaders and organisations. No organisation, particularly no political party, could call itself secular if it had no Muslim members. The Jana Sangh had aspired for the label of Secularism from its very foundation. It was now shouting sarva-dharma-samabhâva louder than everyone else. It tried its best to enroll Muslim members. The highest ambition of the Jana Sangh and the RSS now was that they be accepted as secular by the Congress, the Socialists and the Communists. The other parties refused to oblige. The more the RSS and the Jana Sangh swore by Secularism, the louder they were accused of being communal. The RSS and Jana Sangh started losing fast their own identity without gaining the one for which they aspired.
The custodians of Islam were now ready to apply the litmus test. They staged a riot against a book, Muhammad by Thomas and Thomas, published in the U.S.A. and reprinted by the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay. The book narrated how Muhammad had become frightened when Gabriel came to him with the first revelation from Allah. He wanted to know whether he had been visited by an angel or a satan. So he rushed to his wife, Khadija, and told her what had happened. She asked him to inform her when Gabriel visited him next. He did so. Khadija bared her right and left thighs turn by turn, asked Muhammad to sit on each, and see if the visitor stayed on or disappeared. Muhammad did so. The visitor stayed on. Next Khadija bared her bosom, made Muhammad sit in her lap and embrace her. Even then the visitor did not leave. Finally, Khadija asked Muhammad to have sexual intercourse with her. The visitor disappeared. Khadija congratulated Muhammad that his visitor was an angel and not a satan.
This story was based on what can be read in every orthodox biography of Muhammad. Ibn Ishaq, the first biographer, says:
These two paras can be read by anyone on p. 107 of The Life of Muhammad published by the prestigious Oxford University Press, Karachi, Pakistan, first time in 1955, and reprinted seven times till 1987. The book is an English translation by A. Guillaume of Ibn Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah.
Moreover, the authors of the book Muhammad bore no malice towards the Prophet. On the contrary, they were endorsing, after the orthodox Muslim fashion, that the revelations received by Muhammad had a divine source.
No one knows who or what was the target of Muslims going of the rampage, demanding a ban on the book, and confiscation of all copies in print. It is quite possible that Prime Minister Nehru wanted to finish K.M. Munshi, the Kulapati of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan. Munshi had earned the enmity of Nehru because he took pride in Hinduism. In any case, whatever the motive, the book was banned. Munshi who was the Governor of U.P. at that time not only apologised publicly but also lied with a straight face that he celebrated the birthday of the Prophet every year! He was never known to have any soft corner for anything Islamic. But he was a weak man and a politician who felt uncomfortable if out of office. No one cared to examine or point out the source on which the authors of Muhammad had drawn.
The average Muslim does not know what is written in his scriptures. He has the normal moral notions of his Hindu neighbours. The Muslim theologians and politicians exploit his ignorance and mobilize him on the streets by ascribing to "enemies of Islam" what is in fact contained in their own sacred books! Even if some one points out the source, he can be accused of quoting out of context!
The same pattern was repeated in the case of the Hindi translation of Ram Swarup's Understanding Islam Through Hadis. The book was published in the U.S.A. in 1982 and reprinted by Voice of India, New Delhi, in 1983 from plates of the original edition. It is a summary, chapter by chapter, of Sahih Muslim, the second most sacred collection of Hadis. It was examined by the Delhi Administration and found unobjectionable. So another reprint was brought out by Voice of India in 1987. A Hindi translation was also printed in the same year. Two thousand printed copies of the Hindi translation were with the binder when they were seized by the police on December 19, 1987. A Muslim neighbour had read the translation and collected a mob which threatened to bum down the binder's establishment. The police intervened, took away all the two thousand copies of the book, and arrested the binder. The publisher, Sita Ram Goel, was arrested the same day along with the printer. They could be bailed out only after spending 18 hours in police custody. The Delhi Administration to which the case was sent up by the police, appointed two screening committees successively to examine the Hindi translation. It was found unobjectionable. Finally, on June 2, 1990, the Delhi Administration recommended to the appropriate court that the case could be closed. But the Muslim complainant stood up in the court and requested a postponement of the case. He said he would get the decision of the Delhi Administration reversed. The court gave him time, again and again, and on his failing to appear, dismissed the case on September 28, 1990.
Meanwhile, Rediance, a Weekly published by the Jamaat-e-Islami from Delhi, had raised hell in its issue of 17-23 June, 1990. "Most portions of the book are concoctions and distortions as well as defamatory and derogatory to the Holy Prophet", it wrote. It went on to quote passages from the translation without informing the readers that all of them are found in the orthodox collections of Hadis as well as the pious biographies of the Prophet! It depended on the ignorance of the common Muslim and ascribed those passages to the writer, Ram Swarup! Small wonder that some young Muslims visited the office of Voice of India, a few days later, and warned that 'such gemmicks' could cause trouble.
But what happened on 27th November 1990 was the most surprising event in the history of this case. A notification of the Delhi Administration announced that the Hindi translation, Hadîs ke Mâdhyama se Islâm kâ Addhyana had been banned and all its copies stood confiscated as soon as published. There was not the hint of a reference that the same Administration had screened the book not once but twice, over a period of three years, cleared it as unobjectionable, and got dismissed the case registered against the publisher and the printer.
Come March 1991 and the English original of the book
was also banned by the same Administration, without taking into account
the fact that this book had been in print and circulation in India for
eight years and that the Administration itself had found it unobjectionable
after having scrutinized it for months soon after it was published. Strange
are the ways of Secularism in India!