Retaliating against the Pen with the Sword is not the Way of Islam: Understanding Bangalore violence

By Abhik Bhattacharya

The falling of Bhoomi Puja in Ayodhya and the celebration of the first anniversary of Kashmir being constitutionally stripped off its special status on the same day if not akin to adding salt to the wounds of imaginary secularism, the violence in Bengaluru comes as a reprieve for the Liberal-Rationalist-Hindu-Nationalist networks of scholars and commentators. Revoking the ‘fears of small numbers’ they would come forth to criticize the ‘communalized violent Muslims’. There will be further efforts to use this violence as the scriptural representations of Islam. The spatially segregated Muslim localities across cities will further be looked down upon with what Radhika Subhramaniam calls ‘Culture of Suspicion’.

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The days will not be far when the Liberals will accuse the Muslims for being impatient and intolerant by scrubbing the dead cells of secularist ethos. They would be the same bunch of people who had in the recent past shared ‘#BlackLivesMatters’ in their long social media posts but questioned and opposed any anarchist activity on the sanitized streets.

The strings of humiliations from Babri Masjid to Kashmir – from Assam NRC to CAA will be forgotten and a causal relationship will be effectively established between the social media post and the violence. It may be possible that the social media post mocking the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) triggered the violent reactions but it was not the only cause. Though it is not to support any violent action, what one must remember is that the Muslims in India in the last six years have been relegated to a position of secondary citizens. Having been disrobed of human dignity they have become the victims of ruthless majoritarianism.

However, nothing will stop the commentators to connect these unfortunate streams of events with the Charlie Hebdo episode. Before the vilification of Islam as a religion further gains strength through the establishment of causal relationships and omission of the compassionate acts of the Muslims to guard a temple in the same week when another temple was foregrounded on the amputated and buried body of a lynched Masjid, I will try to draw references from Islamic scriptures both from the Holy Quran and Hadith to see what are the ways that the Prophet (PBUH) would have taken had he been here at this moment.

As per the Holy Quran, Islam is not only a religion of peace, rather it teaches compassion, love and empathy. In the Chapter on Ethics in the book Mishkat-al-Masabih, we find Prophet saying, “The Muslim who mixes with the people and bears patiently their hurtful words, is better than one who does not mix with people and does not show patience under their abuse.” This is considered as one of the basic tenets or fundamentals of Islam. In the context of statements from the non-believers, Allah instructs the Prophet to bear those with patience. In Chapter 33, verse 48 Allay says, “And do not obey the disbelievers and the hypocrites but do not harm them, and rely upon Allah. And sufficient is Allah as Disposer of affairs.” 

Instead of retaliation, withdrawal from the conversation is suggested until and unless the discourse is changed. Surah An-Nisa says, ‘And it has already come down to you in the Book that when you hear the verses of Allah [recited], they are denied [by them] and ridiculed; so, do not sit with them until they enter into another conversation’. 

If the Holy Quran is full of references where tolerance and patience have been advised, the Prophet’s life is a metaphor for tolerating innumerable abuses. Throughout the last millennium, there had been several works on shatm-ar-rasul (abuse of the prophet). However, for better references and authenticity we may consider Sahih al-Bukhari as a formidable resource.

The most common tradition tells the story of a woman who used to throw waste regularly from her balcony at the Prophet’s way. One day Prophet (PBUH) couldn’t waste on his path and he went inside, only to find her sick. When the Prophet (PBUH) extended his help, the woman was extremely ashamed and humbled. The woman, as the story goes, understood and accepted that the Prophet was preaching the truest religion of peace.

Another incident of Prophet’s compassion and empathy could be found when he went to the city of Taif to preach Islam. Though he thought that the people would listen to the words of Allah, events turned contrary. Not only was he abused and stones were thrown at him, but he was also forced to take refuge in a nearby garden of Quraish. It is said that when he was extremely injured and pained, Angel Jibrael came to him and asked whether he wanted the city of Taif to be smashed in between two mountains, the compassionate Prophet (PBUH) strictly opposed and denied such actions.

Islamic Scholar Imam Ghazali (1058- 1111 C.E.) while talking about Prophet’s compassionate attitude to his companions noted, “He was far from knowing anger and quickly showed compassion for things. He was the most loving of men toward other people. He was the most auspicious of men and did the most good to others, and the most useful and beneficial to others.” 

Another story that I have heard a few times during my primary fieldwork is extremely relevant in the current context. Once a polytheist poet came to the Prophet in Madinah to express his ideas on polytheism. The poet’s critique was directed towards Islam. The Prophet (PBUH) called upon the poet Hassan ibn Thabit and asked him to respond through couplets. What he wrote and recited more than twelve hundred years ago certainly come back with all its possibility – ‘Retaliating against the Pen with the Sword is not the Way of Islam’.

Prophet (PBUH) during his lifetime faced abuse, he never took the path of retaliation. The words of compassion guided his actions. Any social media post mocking him would have either resulted in him pulling himself out of the discourse or drafting some couplets to argue with rationality. It would have never been a violent show off at the city streets.

While the Karnataka State government is on its toes to retaliate in the way the UP Govt did against the anti-CAA protestors, this article is just an effort to recall a few simple instances of Islamic scriptural tolerance. To mix up and use ‘ditto theory’ to equalize and say in a liberal way that ‘all religions and its fundamentals are good and tolerant but what matters is the practice’ is nothing more than an act of omission. It deliberately overrules that Hinduism and its tenets are not vilified in every morning headlines even after millions of registered and unregistered cases of gender, caste and racial violence. However, when the accused is Muslim, Islam as religion becomes the fulcrum of the discourse.

Though the liberals will now believe that the scripture hardly matters, it will be them sitting on the media panels expressing their wills to save the Muslim women from the traps of both the Muslim men and the regressive religious attitudes whenever triple talaq will be discussed upon. Pretences aside, these Islamic sayings are a necessity of the hour to assert a religious community marginalized to such an extent that any dissent gone awry can create a ‘terrorist population’ with no diversity and differences. The violence must be condemned at length without forgetting the humiliations that breed it and without eliminating the appeals and teachings of Islam that is reflected in the rest of the city through the human chains protecting the last layer of secular performance and human morality.


Abhik Bhattacharya is a Doctoral Research Fellow at School of Liberal Studies, Ambedkar University Delhi. He works on Systematic exclusion and Spatial segregation of Muslims in Ranchi.