New Delhi, India - Following the controversy over author Salman Rushdie’s appearance at the Jaipur Literature Festival, which ultimately ended with even a video conference with Mr. Rushdie being cancelled, India Ink is speaking with Muslim leaders about the situation, their feelings about his “The Satanic Verses” and whether politics played a part.
Maulana Wahiduddin Khan is the founder of the Center for Peace and Spirituality, New Delhi. He has received the Padma Bhushan, the third highest civilian honor in India, and the Demiurgus Peace International Award. Malavika Vyawahare spoke to him this week at his home in New Delhi.
What is your reaction to the protests against Salman Rushdie’s participation in the Jaipur Literature Festival?
These protests were by a tiny minority, who are not representative of the Muslim community.
The protesters were completely wrong in doing what they did. Salman Rushdie has every right to come to this country. I heard his interview after the video conference was cancelled and agree with him when he said that all other freedoms rest on the freedom of expression. If you abolish the freedom of expression, all other freedoms will cease to exist.
According to Islam, you have to counter a book with a book; statement with statement. Countering a statement with violence is not right. It is un-Islamic. Protest and argument are two different kinds of reactions. The Prophet himself faced many negative things, abuses, but he never protested. The prophet’s life is a model for Muslims, thus violent protest in this manner is against the spirit of Islam.
What is it about Mr. Rushdie’s work that has offended you personally, and is offensive to the Muslim community?
I have read the “Satanic Verses”. The book is not based on historical facts. This author has quoted an event that did not happen and is totally fabricated. He has misconstrued the events that are described in Chapter 53, Verse 19 of the Quran. He has relied on those words as being part of the Quran which are in fact not; they are misreported by some non-believers.
Also, he has referred to the existence of harems and the Prophet having many wives as the existence of brothels. In Islam it is accepted practice to have more than one wife, he could have referred to the fact as polygamy or even harems, but to call them brothels is wrong and offensive. It has a negative connotation which the other words do not have.
Do you think that it was right of Muslims to take issue with Mr. Rushdie’s appearance, even by video conference?
Islamic law does not recognize violent protest; the word itself does not exist. In terms of democracy the protesters may have been right but not in terms of Islam. I do think Salman Rushdie abused his right to expression in the book but Islam recognizes the right to disseminate your ideas, if one expresses one’s ideas in a completely peaceful manner.
Islam does not require that the author should take into consideration the sentiments of his audience, but Salman Rushdie has misquoted history, which he has not right to do.
Muslims needed to protest peacefully, counter argument with argument.
How the government handled the issue? Do you think the Muslim community has been given a fair hearing in all this?
I do not blame the government of India. Those who say that there is a discrimination against how Muslim protests are dealt with and how protests by other communities are dealt with are wrong. There is no discrimination against Muslims.