The phone rang just as I finished my breakfast. It was my sister calling from Kerala.
“Do you remember that professor who got into a controversy with a question he had set for an exam on Muslims?” asked my sister.
“Yes, has something happened to him?” I asked with a sense of foreboding.
“He was attacked by a group of people this morning and his palms have been chopped off,” said my sister who lives quite near to the college where the professor teaches.
I switched on the TV. A Malayalam news channel reported that about eight persons intercepted the professor’s car as he was returning home from church. They were carrying weapons like knives and axes. They also attacked the women in the car though not fatally.
My thoughts raced back to J. S. Bandukwala’s article in the latest edition of Outlook which I read last evening and the interview with Salman Rushdie in this morning’s Literary Review of the Hindu. Both Bandukwala and Rushdie are Muslims who think that there is something seriously wrong with their religion today.
Bandukwala traces the Islamic frustration primarily to the political clout that the West wields exploitatively over the rest of the world, particularly the oil-rich Islamic nations. Al Qaeda and the Taliban are results of that frustration, argues Bandukwala. He also identifies “the absence of education, in particular, science education” as another factor that worsened the problem. Related to this, he argues, is the absence of wise leaders in the religious community. Finally, he lists “obsession with the past” as a serious problem.
Rushdie also laments the pathetic narrow-mindedness of Muslims today. They wish to subsume human universals into the relative truths of their creed. Rushdie grieves over the death of the composite Sufi culture which was an example of how a religion can absorb elements from another religion and be more humane. The tragedy of the present Islam, as Rushdie understands, seems to be its blindness to the inevitable pluralism of human cultures and traditions. Laying strictures on the human imagination and potential for dreaming with the straitjackets of religion is to kill humanity itself.
History bears testimony to the fact that whenever any religion tried to assert truth as its sole prerogative, humanity with its infinite varieties was the tragic victim. Christianity subjected humanity to that sort of a diabolic terror in the Dark Ages. Is Islam going through its own dark ages?
Islam stands in need of an intellectual and imaginative awakening. It needs genuine leaders other than Osama bin Laden and the Taliban jihadists.
May Allah save us!