Justice Markandey Katju: Taslima Nasreen’s knowledge of Islam

Justice Markandey Katju

By Justice Markandey Katju–

(Justice Markandey Katju is a former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own)

Islamophobia has been whipped up in several parts of the world, and there are many persons who have severely condemned Islam by people such as Christopher Hitchens, Douglas Murray, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, etc.

Among these critics of Islam is Taslima Nasreen, the Bangladeshi doctor who had to flee her country and rake refuge in India due to fatwas and death threats from religious extremists.

In India, too, Taslima faced threats in West Bengal and was attacked in Hyderabad. She lived in Sweden for a few years and now lives in an undisclosed location in Delhi. I have spoken with her a few times over the telephone.

Taslima is a brave woman. In her novel ‘Lajja’, she condemned the attacks on the Hindu minority in Bangladesh following the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992. The threats, fatwas and attacks against her are deplorable.

However, her wholesale condemnation of Islam seems subjective, probably stemming from her bitter personal experiences, rather than an empirical understanding of religion in general, or a deep study of Islam in particular.

Like Taslima, I too am an atheist, and want the abolition of sharia and its replacement by a uniform civil code, and we condemn suppression of women. But there our agreements end.

Taslima condemns religion totally. I too regard all religions as superstitions, and believe that the truth lies in science, which is never final; it is constantly evolving.

However, I also recognize that most people are religious. The poor people (who constitute the majority in the world) are religious because their lives are so miserable that, without religion, many would lose their minds, and religion provides them psychological succour.

Many of the better-off people are religious since the chance factor is still powerful in our lives, so they believe they must propitiate some supernatural being to ward off evils and get benefits.

Religion will no doubt disappear one day, but that will be after a long period of time when science has developed enormously so that we are no longer dependent on the chance factor, and can control our lives.

Religion cannot be abolished. It will disappear when the social basis of religion, i.e. poverty and the exploitation of man by man, will disappear.

Now, coming to Islam in particular.

Islam spread from Spain to Indonesia because of its great message of equality, which gave social emancipation to the depressed sections of society; for example, the lower castes in India.

Also, it inculcated a feeling of brotherhood. Thus, in his short novel ‘Palli Samaj’ (also called ‘Gramin Samaj’) the great Bengali writer Saratchandra Chattopadhyaya mentions that the Muslims in Bengal help each other in any misfortune like illness, financial distress, etc, a quality which he did not find among Hindus.

The Prophet’s dictum “for knowledge go even to China” (i.e. seek knowledge everywhere ) bred a spirit of rationality and inquiry, due to which, there was, at one time, great progress in science in the Arab countries.

Taslima does not seem to understand, and she only equates Islam with terrorism, killing of non-believers, suppression of women, etc. Her understanding is therefore unscientific.

No doubt there are extremists among the Muslims (as there are in other religions, too), like those who attacked the Twin Towers in New York in 2001, the Mumbai attack in 2008, and the Charlie Hebdo attack in 2015. But these are fringe elements. Most Muslims are peace loving and decent people, as is my own personal experience too.

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