Three bloggers have recently been mercilessly hacked to death for their alleged offence of blogging something derogatory about Islam. We do not know for certain what these three ill-fated bloggers wrote on their blogs and whether their writings amounted to offensive or blasphemous. Generally denunciation of Allah, Holy Quran and Prophet Muhammad (SM) is considered by the Muslims as blasphemy. A person is said to have blasphemed if he or she says, writes and draws pictures that suggest pejorative and satirical indication about the three basic components of Islam-Allah, Prophet and the Quran.
Allah is a divine entity, the Quran is a divine book but the prophet of Islam is not divine. Prophet Muhammad never claimed divinity and his followers also do not impute divinity upon him. The Quran portrays Prophet Muhammad as a human being having all human traits. Allah appointed him as a warner and as the best example for the mankind. Christians consider any criticism of Jesus as blasphemy because they attribute divinity upon him. Though Jesus did never claim divinity, yet a large section of his followers think that he is divine and equate him with God. But the position of Muhammad in Islam is not like that of Jesus. Muhammad was a simple man with flawless character. He was never adored or worshipped like God. So, whether any criticism of Muhammad will constitute blasphemy is a debatable matter.
Since Muslims all over the world hold Prophet Muhammad in high esteem and love him more than their lives, so no one should make any negative comment about Muhammad that may outrage the sensibilities of the Muslim community. It has become a fashion for a few writers and bloggers in our country to write something offensive about Quran and Prophet Muhammad and thereby stir the outrage of the common people. They do so purposefully to become famous overnight. They pass themselves off as free thinkers and claim that it is their fundamental rights to criticize anybody. We respect their rights. But one thing they should bear in mind that in the name of liberty they cannot cross the bounds of decency. Freedom does not necessarily mean free license and it cannot be limitless. Unbridled freedom disturbs peace. And if anyone's freedom threatens peace and creates unwarranted calamity, that freedom has to be restrained and curtailed. Abuse of freedom is a punishable offence. If free thinkers take note of this, we believe peace and harmony will prevail.
The Muslims need to be more tolerant towards the criticizers of their religion. Eminent writer Salman Rushdie in his satanic verses wrote disparaging comments on our Prophet which ignited vehement outcry and protest of the Muslims. His comment was regarded as blasphemy. The then top cleric of Iran Ayatollah Khomeini issued a Fatwa upon Rushdie. The Fatwa carried death penalty for Rushdie and authorized any Muslim to kill him. For fear of life, Rushdie went into hiding and remained for a long time under the protection of the British intelligence agency. He apologized and begged mercy. The Fatwa was withdrawn and then Rushdie returned to his normal life. Rushdie comes from a Muslim background. He renounced Islam and declared himself as an atheist. His criticism of Islam and the Prophet was construed as apostasy. The impugned Fatwa was issued basically due to his offence of apostasy. Before writing the Satanic verses, Rushdie was not as popular and well-known as he is now to-day in the Christian and the Muslim world. The Satanic verses accorded him name, fame and finally disgrace. He deliberately wrote the satanic verses to win a Nobel Prize.
The holy Quran emphatically declares that there is no compulsion in Islam. Forcible conversion is prohibited in Islam. So a man, who has once embraced Islam, has the right to apostatize. And this will constitute no offence so long the apostate does not by his deed and word harm Islam. Islam is a very tolerant religion. It encourages and fosters amity between the Christians and the Jews. A Muslim man can marry a Christian or a Jewish woman without converting her. A Christian or a Jewish woman can live in the house of her Muslim husband with her faith and dignity. When Spain was under Muslim rule, the Non- Muslims were better prosperous and secure. Today the Coptic Christians of Egypt enjoy more rights and privileges than the majority Muslim population. One needs to have correct and better idea or knowledge about Islam to make constructive criticism. The Muslim's holy book Quran is inviolable and sacrosanct. Hence it should be kept outside the purview of human criticism.
Bangladesh is a moderate Muslim country. Here people of all religious faiths can live in peace and harmony. Though Islam is a dominant religion and the bulk of the population are Muslims, notwithstanding the Non-Muslims enjoy here equal rights and privileges. Islam does not impede or curtail anybody's rights or discriminate against none. Religion does not have any role in the governance of our country. It is just a personal and private affair of the Muslim citizens. Though Islam is our state religion but it stands far removed from politics. The country is governed not by Islam but by democracy. So, there can be no reason for the free thinking Muslims and the non-Muslims to harbour grouse against Islam.
Freedom of speech and freedom of writing must be exercised with due caution, wisdom and responsibility. Freedom cannot be free-wheeling rights. The freedom that disrupts peace is amoral. We must not forget that reckless pens and reckless tongues are both dangerous weapons to destroy social peace and harmony. We need to remember the maxim that---the freedom of one's fist stops where another's nose begins. Similarly, freedom of speech and freedom of writing in respect of religion, holy books and prophets ceases the moment we are about to cross the bounds of decency. Religion is like a tinder-box. Anytime it may ignite fire and cause conflagration. That is why it needs careful and judicious handling. Hence freethinkers' freedom of expression and writing cannot be allowed to be used or misused in such a way that social peace is disrupted.
Farook Ahmed is ex-DIG of police and teaches at Atish Dipankar University of Science and Technology