Soon after the first edition of this book was published in July 1986, a significant judgment on some Ayats of the Quran was pronounced by Z.S. Lohat, metropolitan magistrate of Delhi. As most of these Ayats and others of a similar sort figure in the Calcutta Quran Petition of Chandmal Chopra, we thought it relevant to reproduce the impugned poster in which the Ayats were cited. Operative portion of the judgment is also being reproduced in order to give a glimpse of the arguments for and against.
The poster had been published on behalf of the Hindu Raksha Dal, Delhi, by its President, Indra Sain Sharma, and Secretary, Rajkumar Arya. Both of them had been arrested under Sections 153A and 295A of the Indian Penal Code. These are the same sections which were invoked by Chandmal Chopra in his petition for prohibiting publication of the Quran.
The publishers of the poster had cited 24 Ayats of the Quran under the caption, Why riots take place in the country. They had added the comment that these Ayats “command the believers (Musalmans) to fight against followers of other faiths” and that “so long as these Ayats are not removed [from the Quran], riots in the country cannot be prevented”.
The case acquired considerable weight when it came before the court because Indra Sain Sharma happened to be Vice-President of the All India Hindu Mahasabha at that time. The prosecution seemed to be convinced that it had caught a big fish. But the magistrate thought otherwise. He found that the prosecution had failed to provide sufficient grounds such as could enable him to frame charges. He discharged both the accused with the observation that “With due regard to the holy book of ‘Quran Majeed’, a close perusal of the ‘Aytes’ shows that the same are harmful and teach hatred, and are likely to create differences between Mohammedans on one hand and the remaining communities on the other” (emphasis added).
The poster was printed in Hindi. The Ayats it cited were taken verbatim from an authentic edition of the Quran published by an orthodox Muslim organization, Maktaba al-HasnAt of Rampur Uttar Pradesh. The edition provides the Arabic text of the Quran together with Hindi and English translations in parallel columns. We are reproducing the English translation of the Ayats.
“Some Ayats of the Quran Majid command the believers (Musalmans) to fight against followers of other faiths:
“There are numerous (other) Ayats of the same sort. Here we have cited only twenty-four Ayats. Obviously, these Ayats carry commandments which promote enmity, ill-will, hatred, deception, fraud, strife, robbery and murder. That is why riots take place between Muslims and non-Muslims, in this country as well as [the rest of] the world.
“In the above-mentioned twenty-four Ayats of the Quran Majid, Musalmans are commanded to fight against followers of other faiths. So long as these Ayats are not removed [from the Quran], riots in the country cannot be prevented.”
Defects in English Translation
On comparing the Hindi and English translations of the Ayats under reference, we find that at places the English rendering does not follow the Hindi version very faithfully. We think it worthwhile to point out as to where the English translation has failed to convey the full meaning in keeping with the Arabic text and the spirit of Islamic theology initiated by the Prophet and elaborated by orthodox schools in subsequent centuries.
For instance, the Hindi translation of Ayat 8.69 cited under No. 13 of the poster uses the words “ghanImat kA mAl”. This is in keeping with the original Arabic term. But the English rendering, “what you have won”, is a very weak version of what is sought to be conveyed. A closer rendering would be “war booty” or “plunder acquired through war”. In the Quran, Allah promises plenty of plunder to the believers, again and again. The Prophet also claimed that one of the six points of his superiority over earlier prophets was that while plunder was not lawful for them, Allah had made it so for him. He also laid down the rule according to which one-fifth of the plunder belonged to Allah and his Prophet, while the remaining four-fifth was to be divided among those who took part in the war which brought the plunder. This “sacred one-fifth” came to be known as khams which became in later times one of the four main sources of revenue for the Islamic state, the other three being kharAj (land revenue from the conquered peasantry), jizyah (poll tax from the People of the Book and others who were accepted as zimmis) and zakAt (charity from the faithful).
Similarly, the English word “strive” in Ayat 66.9 at No. 14 of the poster is too innocuous to convey the ringing militancy of “jihAd karo” which is used in. the Hindi translation. It is true that literally the Arabic word “jihAd” means “to strive”. But in the mouth of the Prophet as also in latter-day Islamic theology, jihAd is not a mere word like any other. It has become a whole institution, namely, aggressive war for the spread of the “only true faith” till the kAfirs get converted, or humble themselves by agreeing to become zimmis, or are killed en masse. The Prophet minces no words in making jihAd an obligatory duty for every Muslim. Allah himself harangues the faithful to vie with each other in spending their wealth and staking their lives “in the way of Allah” which is only a euphemism for jihAd. Ayats cited at Nos. 1, 4, 17, 19 and 21 of the poster make the message from Allah more than clear. This aggressive war was held up by the Prophet as superior to all other meritorious deeds such as prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, etc. The believer who kills kAfirs in a jihAd is honoured as a ghAzi and enjoys a higher status in the Muslim Ummah. The believer who gets killed in a jihAd becomes a shahId (martyr) and goes straight to the Quranic paradise without having to wait for the Day of Judgment like the rest of the believers.
Again, while the Hindi word “yAtanA” in 41.27 at No. 15 of the poster is quite close to the Arabic word “azAb”, the English rendering, “awful doom”, hardly conveys what is meant. The word “doom” carries a sense of finality, however awful. It happens and the story ends for all time to come. But the torments with which Allah threatens the unbelievers, again and again, are far more formidable. It is a continuous process in which the victims are subjected to ever more terrible modes and doses of torture. Ayats 4.56, 21.98, 41.28 and 9.58 cited in Nos. 5, 10, 16, and 18 of the poster tell something of the type of torment which awaits the unbelievers. “Terrible and everlasting torment” would have been a more faithful translation of the Arabic term.
Lastly, the English word “Garden” in 9.111 at No. 17 of the poster is a poor rendering of the Arabic word “jannat” which has been used as such in the Hindi translation. “Paradise” would be a more precise English rendering. After all, the paradise which Allah promises to the believers is no mere garden, however green, well-watered and full of fruit trees as well as fresh breezes it may be. What has made it particularly alluring for the faithful throughout the ages is something else, namely, the bevy of beautiful virgins who never grow old or lose their charms, and who never tire of providing newer and ever more plentiful pleasures to those who have lived or died for the faith. Lusty and lurid descriptions of paradise comprise a whole corpus of Islamic lore starting with the Quran and the Hadis.
“I have heard learned APP [Assistant Public Prosecutor] for the state and counsel of the accused and have gone through the relevant record on the file. The main thrust of the prosecution is that the above words1 in the disputed poster tend to create communal disharmony and [the comment] is an act with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of a particular class of citizens of India and is an attempt to insult the religion or the religious belief of the said class. It is also submitted that ‘Aytes’ in the form published in the poster are not available or are the distorted version of the same...
“There is a dispute that the 24 ‘Aytes’ published in the poster have not been taken from the ‘Quran Majeed’ translated by Mohammedan writer. It is found that they are reproduced in the same form as are translated in the said ‘Quran Majeed’. In my opinion the writer by writing the above words has expressed his opinion or suggestion and at the most it can be branded as a fair criticism of what is contained in the holy book of Mohammedans. By no stretch of imagination the opinion expressed by the writer that unless these ‘Aytes’ are removed from holy book of ‘Quran Majeed’ there will be no hope of stopping the communal disturbances in different parts of India, can be said to promote and attempt to promote feeling of enmity or hatred between different classes of citizens of India. In my opinion it is a sort of suggestion to the readers or at the most a fair criticism and by publishing such suggestion or criticism, the writer or publisher has not in any way outraged or attempted to outrage the religious feelings of Mohammedan community nor it tends to create communal disharmony or hatred between two classes. With due regard to the holy book of ‘Quran Majeed’, a close perusal of the ‘Aytes’ shows that the same are harmful and teach hatred and are likely to create differences between Mohammedans on one hand and the remaining communities on the other.
“I have personally compared the disputed ‘Aytes’ with ‘Quran Majeed’ translated in Hindi with notes by one Mohd. Farookh Khan and have found that most of the ‘Aytes’ have been reproduced in the poster in its original form as is available in the ‘Quran Majeed’...
“The close reading of all the ‘Aytes’ published in the poster and read from the book do not in any way give different meanings nor suggest anything that the same were published with malicious intention. Therefore, I do not agree with the contention of the learned APP that ‘Aytes’ Nos. 2, 5, 9, 11 to 19 and 22 are either not available in ‘Quran Majeed’ or they are distorted version of the said ‘Aytes’...
“In view of the above discussion, I am therefore of the view that there is no prima facie case against the accused as offences alleged against the accused do not fall prima facie within the four corners of Sections 153-A/295-A and hence both of the accused are discharged.
“dated 31st July, 1986
Sd/ Z.S. Lohat”
The portions of the judgment we have left out relate to technicalities such as case law on the subject or the correctness of certain terms used in the Hindi translation for conveying the spirit of the original in Arabic. We thought that while they are not likely to be of much interest to the lay reader, they mar the smooth flow o f the magistrate’s observations. Moreover, the magistrate has summed up in his judgment the substance of arguments advanced by the prosecution.2
When we published for the first time (1986) the documents relating to the Calcutta Quran Petition, we should have made it absolutely clear that we do not stand for a ban on the publication of the Quran. We take this opportunity to state unambiguously that we regard banning of books, religious or otherwise, as counterproductive. In the case of the Quran, we believe and advocate that more and more non-Muslims should read it so that they know first hand the quality of its teachings.
Our only intention in publishing the court documents of the Calcutta Quran Petition and providing a long preface to it, was to promote a public discussion of Islam as a religion, particularly its claim that every bit of the Quran and the Hadis has a divine source. This claim is used at present to prevent a close examination of what the book contains and what message Islam has for mankind at large. While all other religions have been subjected to such an examination, Islam has so far managed to remain a closed book. Our plea in the Preface to the first edition was that if such commandments as we find in the Quran emanate from what is proclaimed as a divine source, then the character of that source should also invite questions. Our rational faculties and moral sensibilities should not stop functioning the moment Allah’s name is mentioned. The character of Allah as revealed in the Quran also invites a close examination.
Sita Ram GoelFootnotes:
1Reference is to comments in the poster regarding the consequences of the Quran’s teachings.
2For full text of the case, see Freedom of Expression: Secular Theocracy Versus Liberal Democracy, Voice of India, New Delhi, 1998, pp. 1-9.