Auron ka hai Payaam aur, mera Payaam aur hai / Ishq key dardmand ka tarz-e-kalaam aur hai! (Iqbal)
Once, a couple of young ladies knocked at my door. They wanted to offer me Christianity and save my soul. I listened to them patiently and respectfully and asked a number of questions along the way.
Then they asked me if I would join them in a prayer, to which I readily consented. When they were done, I asked if they would now join me in a prayer. They hesitated and then finally nodded yes.
And I prayed:
“Oh, our God Almighty!” I prayed. “Who art in Heaven! God of Abraham and Moses! God of Noah and Jacob! God of Jesus and Joseph and of all the other prophets! Creator, maker and master of everything! Here we are, holding our hands up to you for help. Help us, guide us, show us your path. Open our hearts and minds and lead us on to truth wherever and in whatever form it may be and then give us the humility and the courage to embrace it, celebrate it and rejoice in it!”
I finished with an Amen. My young Christian visitors said nothing. When I suggested to them if we can all say Amen together, they quite firmly refused.
So, this truth thing does not come easily to everyone. All too many people in this world fear truth, like the mythical vampire Count Dracula is said to have feared daylight.
Islam Is about Truth
And truth is what Islam is all about. No matter how you cut it.
You may be a good or a bad Muslim on so many different counts, but truth is the minimum threshold that every human heart must cross before entering God’s kingdom of his Deen – Islam – in this world.
There is no place for falsehood in the heart and mind of a believer – Mu’min. Those who base their lives on lies are technically called hypocrites – Munaafiqs – in the language of Islam.
And the Qur’an says that the Munaafiqs – who are essentially liars and falsehood mongers – would end up in the darkest dungeon of Hell: the lowest level of it.
And that is why also the Prophet, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, says that truth is a believer’s lost property. He has a better title and claim to it regardless of where he finds it.
So, when it comes to truth, the followers of the way of the Prophet, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, and quite a few of the followers of the way of the Byzantine Emperor and the Pope move in somewhat different orbits.
The followers of the Pope and the Emperor have the wonderful luxury of turning to some other human beings like themselves in this world and having their sins forgiven. Followers of the Prophet, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, have been given no such luxury.
They must deal directly with God.
Pontification by the Pope
What is interesting, therefore, is not what the beleaguered and harried Emperor thought or said, but what the Pope thought and said and did. And his reasons and timing for saying what he said and doing what he did. Those are the questions really worth asking.
Of course, the Pope, himself a learned academic, was giving a learned discourse, in a university, on the subject of faith and reason. And he probably thought this was a good place to make the Emperor’s point about Islam and the Prophet, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam.
There are two possibilities as to what the Pope himself believed or did not believe about Islam and Muslims. One possibility is that his views were the same as the Emperor’s. The other possibility is that they were not.
If the Pope’s views were the same as the Emperor’s, then the Pope should have said so, boldly and honestly, because, as Pope, it is both his right and his duty to do so: to speak the truth at all times. And a Pope should be able to express his views freely and openly, at the time and place of his choice, with perfect impunity.
As for Muslims, the Pope is entitled to nothing but politeness and respect from them.
But if the Pope’s views were different, then the Pope evidently missed a great opportunity to correct the error and the falsehood in the Emperor’s views. For, the greatest commitment of a religious leader, especially of the one with the Pope’s stature and role in the world, should be to truth – and not to expediency.
For, God is truth. And truth is where God is, no matter where that is.
Islam, Muslims and Violence
What ensued, unfortunately, was a bit of foolishness and naiveté on the part of the Muslims. The Muslims were reportedly upset, and they should be. They expressed shock, horror and outrage at what they thought were highly and gratuitously derogatory comments on Islam and the Prophet, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, by the Pope.
And it was anyone’s right to do so.
But some Muslims were also reported to have resorted to sporadic violence, which is clearly wrong. Those who engage in violence in the name of defending Islam clearly cross the line. For, Islam neither propagates, nor permits, nor condones violence as a means of discourse on Islam – or on any other subject – or as an excuse for anything else.
Many people may not know this, but the fact is, Islam and violence do not mix, even though a great deal of unresolved anger may be simmering among many Muslims. And there are a lot of reasons for that.
But Islamic teachings are not among them.
But when it comes to dealing with the People of the Book – Christians for example – Islam clearly requires Muslims to use better, superior and more civilized arguments and means of discourse.
Wa laa tujaadil ahlal kittabi illaa billatee hiya ahsan is how the Qur’an puts it.
Islam holds Muslims to a much higher standard of conduct when it comes to dealing with the Pope and his followers, which is not always easy to adhere to. But that is what God asks Muslims to do.
Confusion on the Apology Question
And then there was an “apology.” At least that is what some of the media called it. But who is to tell the media what to call what?
The Pope reportedly expressed sorrow over the “reaction” his comments caused among some Muslims, but, evidently, not over his choosing, at this rather delicate time in human history, to repeat the disgruntled Emperor’s anti-Islamic and anti-Prophet, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, rant.
That was not an apology by the Pope for his own rather unhelpful role in this episode. It was an expression of sorrow over the way in which the Muslims had reacted to his comments.
But what the Muslims must ask themselves is this: How do you force someone to apologize? The Pope or anyone else? For, an apology is a verbal expression of the remorse and regret a person feels in his or her heart for the wrong that person realizes he or she has done someone.
How do you force, bully or intimidate someone to feel those feelings in their hearts?
So, it was, in my view, a foolish and pointless thing for Muslims to demand an apology from the Pope, if that is what they did.
It Is the Heart that Must Apologise
An apology is a function of the heart and the mind and not just of the mouth or the pen.
Let me spell out some details of an apology a bit more clearly – so maybe Muslims can use it as a guide to deal with those who may attack or insult them in future. Because nowadays there is a great deal of talk about apologies, and somehow the Muslims seem to be associated with these situations in one way or another.
But at the same time, sadly, poor Muslims are not always the best represented when it comes to pleading their case before the court of world opinion or negotiating a deal with those supposed to be their adversaries or competitors.
While the other side usually has some of the best brains and talents and some of the most articulate voices working for it, Muslims often end up with an amalgam of leaders, spokespeople and representatives of a somewhat interesting and less competitive sort.
Thinkers? What Thinkers?
As for thinkers, many Muslims simply don’t believe in thinking as a virtue. And to some of them it may even be antithetical to what they consider to be Islam.
So, with friends like that who would want enemies?
I have wondered about this phenomenon for decades – and made some noises whenever I could. But Muslims generally demand what they call “practical” solutions to problems they often have no idea what they really are.
Islam is not about thinking, they will tell you, Islam is about “doing” things.
Poor, poor Muslims! Allah will not leave them forever in this pathetic state of helplessness. But if they chose to impose a state of ignorance on themselves, who can they blame for their problems but themselves.