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20 December 2014

In The Name Of Allah

n the midst of mourning in the subcontinent and inexplicable silence of the Arab world following the Peshawar attack where 132 children were butchered by terrorists came Tahreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s justification for the massacre that is likely to lead to impressionable minds among Muslims seeing religious reason in violence and those among Hindus seeing Islam as an evil faith.
Official statement from Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan after the Peshawar massacre
The message in Urdu above (in white on black background) issued by the terrorist outfit reads:
Tālibān ke tarjumān Muhammad Khurāsāni: kā kahnā hai ke mujāhidi:n ko hidāyāt di: gai: thĩ: ke woh sirf baRe bachchõ kā qitāl karẽː. Peshāwar ki: kārwāi: sunnat-e-nabvi: kay a’in mutābiq hai kyõ ke Nabi: kari:m ne bhi: Banu Qurayzah ke qitāl kay waqt yahi: shart-e-mubārak ā’id ki thi: ke sirf un bachchõ ko qatl kiyā jāe jin ke zer nāf bāl dikhāi denā shuru: ho gaye haĩ. Bachchõ aur auratõ kā qatl a’in-e-Rasool-e-pāk ki: tā’li:m ke mutābiq hai, ai’trāz karne wāle Sahih Bukhāri jild pɑ̃ch, Hadis ek sau aRtāliːs ka mutāl’ah karẽː.
[Taliban spokesman Muhammad Khurasani says (his) holy warriors were instructed to fight (or battle with) older children alone. The Peshawar action is exactly in accordance with the practices of the Prophet, as the kind Prophet had laid down the same auspicious condition during the Battle of Banu Qurayzah (a Jewish tribe of that era settled in Medina) that only such children be killed whose pubic hair had appeared. The killing of children and women is precisely in conformity with the teaching of the Holy Prophet; those who disagree may refer to Sahih Bukhari’s Hadith No. 148 in Volume 5 (Book 58).]
An incomplete translation of the passage, copied from an American website, appeared in India Today. And the record was not set straight.
Sahih Bukhari’s Hadith No. 148 in Volume 5 of Book 58 (the book is not mentioned in the Urdu text) is as follows:
Narrated Abu Said al Khudri:
Some people (i.e. the Jews of Bani bin Quraiza) agreed to accept the verdict of Sad bin Muadh so the Prophet sent for him (i.e. Sad bin Muadh). He came riding a donkey, and when he approached the Mosque, the Prophet said, “Get up for the best amongst you.” or said, “Get up for your chief.” Then the Prophet said, “O Sad! These people have agreed to accept your verdict.” Sad said, “I judge that their warriors should be killed and their children and women should be taken as captives.” The Prophet said, “You have given a judgment similar to Allah’s Judgment (or the King’s judgment).”
One finds no mention of killing children and women in the order; they are supposed to be taken as captives. This citation by TTP is a classic example of what ails the Islamic community. Any idiot gets away with callous quotation and interpretation of the life and times of Prophet Mohammed when he/she has to add a halo of religious sanction to his/her fanciful claim. This malaise is not restricted to terrorists, militants and extremists among Muslims; it affects the Islamic population at large. In the last 23 years for which this columnist has interacted with Muslims following his formal training in Urdu, then Persian and finally Arabic, grannies and nannies have been observed trying to discipline little children with the claim that the Prophet had ordained such and such things! Back home when I would look for authentication of the claim, more often than not I would find no such Hadith.
But holding women and children hostage isn’t a good thing either, is it? That is where the situation must be described to get the context. What exactly had happened in Medina (or Yathrib) of Mohammed’s time? Those who know the history of Abrahamic faiths would recall that the Middle East saw Jews, Christians and Muslims — in that order — emerge on the scene, with each succeeding religion claiming that God had sent incomplete messages to the previous prophets and that the messages sent to their own prophet was the last word. For the sake of convenience, the reader may overlook the fact that Christians believe Jesus was the “Son of God” whereas Muslims regard Christ as Mohammed’s predecessor in the line of Apostles, arguing that the formless God cannot father a son in the physical form.
It is in the scheme of things of religions that when one claims that the previous one is “incomplete” or “incomprehensive”, the latter wouldn’t take it lying down. Hence, persecution of Jesus and his followers by Jews and animosity of both Jews and Christians with Muslims was only expected. The fable that they are all descendants of Abraham who went their separate ways somewhere down the family tree does not help in smoothing the ruffled feathers.
In this chain of violence to establish a new community’s dominance in an area over which its predecessor held sway appears the episode of Jewish tribes in West Asia that would simply refuse transit of Muslim traders and travellers through the neighbourhoods where they lived since they were displaced due to the Jewish-Roman wars and settled around the oasis of Yathrib to practise agriculture.
Banu Qurayzah was the last Jewish tribe standing; all others had been vanquished and subdued in bloody battles. This tribe was initially on friendly terms with Muslims. They had lent tools of warfare to Mohammed’s army during the Battle of the Trench/Confederates (Ghazwah al Khandaq/Ahzab in Arabic) and did not side with fellow Jews when the fight was on, thanks to the Prophet’s diplomacy, though they did not lend their men to participate in the battle.
Historians differ on the claim that there was a written pact between Muslims and Banu Qurayzah, but it is entirely possible that the Jewish tribe did not side with the Muslims for reasons of bonhomie; rather, it was what came across as a lesser risk to them since they had to cohabit with Muslim tribes Banu Aws and Banu Khazraj in Medina. This neutrality notwithstanding, Banu Qurayza readmitted Huyayy ibn Akhtab, the chief of Banu Nadir whom Mohammed had exiled during a previous invasion.
Much after the Muslim victory in the battle above, Mohammed happened to recite ‘revelations’ that virtually condemned Jews. This infuriated the people of Qurayzah and their relations with the Muslims soured. According to William Muir, the Qurayzah said, “Who is Mahomet (Prophet Mohammed), and who is the Apostle of God, that we should obey him? There is no bond or compact between us and him.” The Muslim historian who insisted the pact existed in written form, Abu Abdullah Muhammad ibn Omar ibn Waqid al Aslami aka al Waqidi, invited the ire of his community because he could not furnish hard evidence in support of his claim that Huyayy tore the agreement into shreds.
But the end of the treaty is not the ultimate reason Muslims give to justify the assault on Banu Qurayzah. They attribute it to an order of God delivered to Mohammed via Angel Gabriel (Jibraaiyl in Arabic) when the Prophet was spending a normal day washing clothes in the house of one of his wives Hind Bint Abi Umayya aka Umm Salamah!
The Messenger of Allah returned to al Madinah in triumph and the people put down their weapons. While the Messenger of Allah was washing off the dust of battle in the house of Umm Salamah, may Allah be pleased with her, Jibril, upon him be peace, came to him wearing a turban of brocade, riding on a mule on which was a cloth of silk brocade. He said, “Have you put down your weapons, O Messenger of Allah?” He said, “Yes.” He said, “But the angels have not put down their weapons. I have just now come back from pursuing the people.” Then he said, “Allah, may He be blessed and exalted, commands you to get up and go to Banu Quraiza.” According to another report, “What a fighter you are! Have you put down your weapons?” He said, “Yes.” He said, “But we have not put down our weapons yet, get up and go to these people.” He said, “Where?” He said, “Banu Quraiza, for Allah has commanded me to shake them.” So the Messenger of Allah got up immediately, and commanded the people to march towards Banu Quraiza, who were a few miles from al Madinah. This was after Salat Az-Zuhr. He said, “No one among you should pray `Asr except at Banu Quraiza.”
    Ismail ibn Kathir
Thence the Prophet declared Umm Maktum the ruler of Medina and ordered Ali bin Abi Talib to command an army of 3,000 infantry men and 30 horsemen of ansār (helpers) and muhājiri:n (migrants) to mount an assault on Banu Qurayzah. As the army approached the Jewish tribe, they could hear the Jews cursing Mohammed, Muslim narrators claim.
As the Muslim army’s stranglehold increased, Banu Qurayzah’s chief Ka’b ibn Asad mulled over three options: mass conversion to Islam, killing their own wives and children and then pouncing on the Muslims in an almost suicidal attack, or a sudden attack on the Day of Sabbath. None of the choices was acceptable to the tribesmen. They approached Abu Lubaba ibn Abd al Mundhir of Banu Aws, believed to be considerate to the Jewish plight. Abu Lubaba asked the women what they wanted to do; they were ready to surrender after learning from the mediator’s gesture that the other choice was inevitable death. Abu Lubaba then pleaded with Mohammed for mercy, but the Prophet pleaded helplessness in the name of ‘God’s order’.
Once Banu Qurayzah yielded on the 25th day of the siege, the Jewish men were handed over to a Muslim convert Sa’d bin Mu’adh who bore a grudge against the Jews because of the grievous injuries he had sustained during the Battle of the Confederates. In his custody, up to 900 Jews were beheaded, their properties confiscated while their women and children were taken as slaves and bartered against horses among Muslim customers. Prophet Mohammed approved of all this in the name of Allah (according to hagiographer Muḥammad ibn Isḥaq ibn Yasar ibn Khiyar and historians Francis Edward Peters, Norman A Stillman, Muhammad Adil and Muir).
Adulthood of the victims was decided on the basis of pubic (facial) hair in this part of the account by Indian historian Safiur Rahman Mubarakpuri. I repeat, the Hadith cited by TTP does not have it.
Now, does the entire episode not smack of an utterly primitive and barbarian belief system, law and practice? It does, but Muslims were not the first to be so cruel. The judgment meted out to the victims was in accordance with the Law of Moses as stated in Deuteronomy 20:10-14. In terms of geography, therefore, can we say barbarism is integral to a collective and shared civilisation of the Middle East, which is not religion-specific?
Yes and no. It happened on innumerable occasions in the narratives of ‘Religions of the Desert’, but was never passed off as God’s will in ‘Religions of the Jungles’.
Jewish justice in the name of God
In the account of the Crucifixion, Mark 14:55-59 states that the chief priests had sought witness against Jesus to put him to death but did not find any, so they arranged false witness against him, but their witnesses did not agree together. Mark 14:61 states that the high priest then asked Jesus: “Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? And Jesus said, “I am,” at which point the high priest tore his own robe in anger and accused Jesus of blasphemy.
In Luke 22:67, Jesus is asked: “If thou art the Christ, tell us. But he said unto them, If I tell you, ye will not believe”. But, in 22:70, when asked “Are you then the Son of God?”, Jesus answers “You say that I am”, affirming the title Son of God. At that point, the priests say “What further need have we of witness? for we ourselves have heard from his own mouth”, and they decide to condemn Jesus.
Thereafter, in Pilate’s Court, the Jewish elders ask Pontius Pilate to judge and condemn Jesus — accusing him of claiming to be the King of the Jews.
Christian justice in the name of God
The Crusades in which thousands of Muslims — and also many Jews — were annihilated were military campaigns sanctioned by the Latin Roman Catholic Church during the High Middle Ages and Late Middle Ages.
Muslim justice in the name of God is explained above with the example of the invasion of Banu Qurayzah. That the worst imaginable ways of dealing with the ‘enemy’ is a West Asian phenomenon is undeniable.
Killing by Hindus may have divine sanction, fetish for bloodshed does not
Many instances of gore have been reported in India, too, but none came with the justification of the word of God. There are instances of brutalities in the Mahabharata, for example, but God — the form in which Krishna appears during the episode of Srimadbhagavadgita — only exhorts Arjuna to kill his kin for dharma. He does not prescribe means of killing such as beheading. The outrageous rape bid on Draupadi by Duhshasana and the obscene gestures at the hapless woman by Duryodhana following the dubious game of dice are not sanctioned by God. Neither is Bheema’s disgusting act of tearing apart Duhshasana’s chest during the war of Kurukshetra and drinking blood out of it — and an equally retributive and repugnant Draupadi soaking her hair in that blood — executed by the order of God. And there is no instance of taking women as slaves and selling them in the marketplace. Importantly, the Mahabharata is not a fight for dominance between feuding religions. Finally, for atheists and rationalists among Hindus, the epic is a myth, at best a well-written novel. Which means, in recorded history, Hindus have never been as barbaric!
Can a Hindu woman in this dreadful age when rapes are being reported at an alarming frequency mete out the kind of retribution Draupadi betrayed to her tormentor? In the nationwide demonstrations after the 16 December 2012 gang-rape, there were many voices demanding capital punishment for rapists, but none wanted the criminals to be released to a mob where they would be lynched [this writer received heavy blows of the police’s lathis during those demonstrations on 21-23 December that year].
I know of one incident that dates back more than a decade. A Hindu woman working in Saudi Arabia was molested by a local vendor. A qazi’s court was immediately put in place. The judge ordered the victim to chop off the hands of the perpetrator. She refused to be so sanguinary. She was ordered to leave the country for her defiance of the Shari’ah; she accepted the verdict though she badly needed the job, but was still not ready to play the role of the executioner.
The solution
This article, however, won’t end with condemnation of Abrahamic faiths. They have all found ways out of their respective theologies. While Jews in the United States and Europe are active in business and diplomacy, those in Israel attack Palestinians — rightly or wrongly — through conventional military means, not by dismembering the bodies of Arabs based on citations from the Torah. A massive chunk of European population turned atheists after the Second World War; their argument was, if God had existed, He would not have supervised over such widespread mayhem.
As for Muslims, hope exists in India even as turning a moderate means putting oneself in the line of fire of extremists in Pakistan and Afghanistan. There is a section, if not sect, of Muslims referred to as the “Koranists” by Western commentators. They do not go by the Shari’ah (code of Islamic laws) or the Ahadith (pl of Hadith — accounts of the life of Prophet Mohammed as narrated by his companions); they rely only on the Qur’an, the only book that all Muslims across all sects agree is the word of Allah (God), and not of a human prophet. Yes, there are verses in the Qur’an that inspire violence, but such verses exist in some holy books of all religions. That violence is not unexceptionable, and that it is to be used in extremely rare cases where all other options have been tried and ruled out are easy to establish if any verse is read with its preceding and succeeding verses — never in isolation — and then a scholar is consulted to know in what context they are applicable.
The Ahadith are untrustworthy not only because they differ from the narration of one Sayyad (Prophet’s companion) to that of the other, but also because their numbers have a margin of error of ±3,000 (as many alleged incidents may have actually never happened).
Of course, the Muslims will pooh-pooh any advice from a kafir like this writer. But challenge to the Ahadith is not a novelty I bring forth. A letter from Kharijite Abd Allah ibn Ibad to the Caliph Abd al Malik in 76 Anno Hegirae (695 Anno Domini) criticises the Kufans for taking the Ahadith for their religion abandoning the Qur’an:
They believed in a book which was not from God, written by the hands of men; they then attributed it to the Messenger of God.
A group referred to as Ahl al Kalam, who lived during the time of al Shafii (died 204 AH/820 AD) and mentioned in his Kitab Jima al Ilm rejected the Ahadith on theological grounds. Their basic argument was that the Quran was an explanation of everything (16:89). They contended that obedience to the Prophet was contained in obeying only the Qur’an that God has sent down to him, and that when the Qur’an mentioned the Book together with Wisdom, the Wisdom was the specific rulings of the Book.” According to them, “The corpus of Hadith is filled with contradictory, blasphemous, and absurd traditions.”
The Mutazilites, who represented one of the earliest rationalist Muslim theological schools, and are the later Ahl al Kalam (people of the Book), also viewed the transmission of the Prophetic sunnah as not sufficiently reliable. The Hadith, according to them, was mere “guesswork and conjecture” and “the Quran was complete and perfect, and did not require the Hadith or any other book to supplement or complement it”.
While Indian scholar and reformist Syed Ahmed Khan is abused by extremists in India and Pakistan alike, mercifully in India’s Muslim intellectual circles he is hailed and not vilified. He doubted and dismissed the Ahadith. In Indian society his memory is better placed than what Ghulam Ahmed Pervez, a friend of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, student of Allama Iqbal and critic of the Ahadith, could muster in Pakistan — a fatwa signed by more than a thousand orthodox clerics, denounced him as a kafir — or Kassim Ahmad could manage in Malaysia.
After a modernist Turkey fell into the hands of extremists, the Islamic stretch of the world from Arabian lands to Pakistan inspires little hope for reform. A recent article in Swarajya, containing a flurry of examples from history of Hindus, talked of a possibility of India regaining its ancient position of the vishwaguru (teacher of the world). Given Sir Syed’s exalted position in this country, India may well show the world how to be better Muslims swearing solely on the Qur’an.

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Surajit Dasgupta treats no individual, organisation or institution as a holy cow.