Thinking Response to an Irrational Act – The Charlie Hebdo Affair

Incidents of sacrilege, whether in the form of a Salman Rushdie novel or a cheapskate U-tube video or the Charlie Hebdo cartoon affair, continue to provide grist to the mills of the hardline Muslim clerics, who use it to whip up a frenzy amongst their ardent followers and influence many others along the way. The general collective response is mostly emotional and if the perpetuators get killed by self-righteous ideologues to avenge the slight to the Prophet’s honour, most of us heave a sigh of relief. ‘They had it coming!’ we say.

But is this the only correct response? As a matter of fact, there are two other broad alternatives, one based on rationality , the other on the Quranic text; in real terms, they are complementary, for isn’t it the Holy Book which likens those who do not use their sense of reason as ‘ the worst of beasts in the sight of Allah’.

Let’s first hearken to the clear guidance offered in the Quran:

” When you see those that scoff at Our revelations, withdraw from them till they engage in other talk ” (6:68)

” Show forgiveness, speak for justice, and avoid the ignorant” (7:199)

” True servants of the Merciful are those who walk humbly on the earth and say:’Peace!’ to the ignorant who accost them;” (25:63)

” Twice shall their reward be given them, because they have endured with fortitude, requiting evil with good and giving alms from what We gave them; and because they pay no heed to idle talk, but say:’ We have our actions and you have yours. We wish you peace. We will have nothing to do with ignorant men.’ ” (28:54,55)

in essence, the Quran advises us to counter evil with good. Not heeding Allah’s call for patience is in itself a greater blasphemy, and yet we chose to compound our error manifold by doing the unthinkable: committing murder, abetting murder and sympathising with murder, without realising that it has been made equivalent to the killing of humanity in entirety. When the Quran promises murderers a permanent abode on hell, do we really think we can get away with it on the Day of Reckoning? We can delude ourselves on earth but fooling our way into paradise will be a different kettle of fish. Our recurring tragedy is that we always seem to prize our own personal opinions above that of the Quran.

Looking at it from a rational perspective, though, our knee-jerk emotional response of wild-eyed denouncements, burning of our own public property and incitement to kill has, as a strategy, proved to be counterproductive. It has neither achieved much nor laid out a convincing argument, but has instead exposed the entire Muslim community to ridicule as a bunch of unthinking, bloodthirsty maniacs. The best poster child of Islam is the Muslim community and when the world sees all issues being resolved through violence without any mass counter-narrative emerging, it doesn’t bode well for Islam’s image. Sprinkle this with liberal images of beheadings by both state and non-state actors, mass killings of non-combatants, treating women and children as war booty, bombing schools and suicidal attacks on places of worship and one can well imagine the repulsion it generates in the civilised world. So when we ourselves portray Islam in such a negative light, responsibility for its adverse reaction in terms of vilifying Allah and His Messenger falls on our shoulders , as viewed in the light of a number of Prophetic Hadees. The greatest service we can possibly do to the noble religion of Islam is to unite in upholding the glorious principles enunciated in the Quran and thereby set a worthy example which elevates the status of our Prophet in the eyes of the world , something which many unbiased luminaries of other faiths already recognise.

While thus achieving no tangible results through the terror tactics of fatwas and incitement to murder, the downside is that it continues to fuel hatred against the Muslims as a community. Instead of stifling such fringe voices through ignoring them, we compound their worth. Consider this: Salman Rushdie was only known in literary circles, but after the fatwa against him, he became a widely-read celebrity, with many Muslims also glancing through his novel ‘Satanic Verses’ out of curiosity; ‘The Innocence of Muslims’ was a cheap third-rate U-tube video, which only attracted notice because of the attention Muslims drew to it; Charlie Hebdo had a limited circulation of 60,000, but after the ghastly killings, it published as many as 5 million copies in its very next edition.

is our over-reaction worth it? Isn’t it better to follow the Quranic injunction to exercise patience and display tolerance in the face of ignorance, rather than joining the ranks of the ignorant. The bottom line is that a sacrilegious act committed by someone who possibly doesn’t believe in any faith constitutes a sin for which no worldly punishment has been prescribed in the Holy Text, while the self-righteous amongst us wilfully commit unpardonable acts(of murder) in retaliation, for which a severe chastisement has been promised on the Day of Judgement. Is the trade-off worth it in the long run?


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