“Hum kisi deen ke hon qael-e-kirdar to hain, namleva hain Muhammad ke parastar to hain” (Whatever religion we belong to, we respect the noble character. We revere Muhammad and his followers). This passage was composed and publicly recited many times by the eminent son of our Motherland, the late Kunwar Mohinder Singh Bedi Sahar.
The veneration of other sages and fortune-tellers was part of Indian culture. In the 1920s, the prominent poet and philosopher of the Indian subcontinent, Muhammad Iqbal Sri Ram as the “Imam of India” (India’s greatest spiritual guide), described the Mahatma Buddha as “the essence of Yakdana” (a dazzling gem in India). The Crown of India), and Guru Nanak as “Mard-e-kamil” (the seer par excellence). A little later, on a public occasion, Mahatma Gandhi described the Prophet as “a seeker of truth who today possesses undisputed influence over the hearts of millions of human beings” (Harijan, July 1934). It is unfortunate that a prominent religious figure admired by the nobility of her character, a scientist of Bedi’s stature, now shows disrespect for her, ignoring the words of the Father of the Nation about his “influence over the hearts of millions”.
The recent comments on the Prophet in the television debates, which angered the Muslim world, did not emerge out of thin air. A few weeks ago, on a religious occasion, some monks thought it appropriate to say unpalatable things about the founder of Islam. If the saints see no fault in slander, why should common men and women restrain themselves? But then, where did they find those stories about the Prophet? What they said about the Prophet must have been based on hearsay, but these rumors stemmed from some reckless phrases in ancient Urdu books, including some Muslim writers. Of course, these statements have been forcefully refuted by contemporary scholars of Islam. But why should unprincipled critics care about the truth?
Many stories from ancient religious scriptures – for all societies in fact – may not be compatible with modern concepts of human rights and gender justice. However, our age is not an age of indulgence in religious controversy in days gone by. We are citizens of a modern state whose constitution is secular and subject to a basic duty – “to promote harmony and the common spirit of brotherhood among all the peoples of India.” We must live by these ideals and stop looking for controversial elements in outdated religious literature to fight each other, to the detriment of the national interest.
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The Indian Penal Code contains a chapter on “Religion Related Offenses”. People in this multi-religious country are supposed to ensure respect for each other’s faith. Originally, it contained four sections (295-98) the last of which spoke of the crime of “uttering words with the willful intent to wound anyone’s religious feelings”. A new section (295a) was added in 1927 to set penalties for “willful and malicious acts intended to provoke the religious sentiments of any class by insulting their religion or religious beliefs.” In his background was a defamatory incident against Islam and its founder. Commenting on the new ruling two years later, Justice William Baker of the High Court of Bombay noted that “stinging sermons involving violent and egregious abuse against a founder or prophet of a religion or against a religious order would be an attempt to foment hatred or enmity for the followers of that religion” (Ambalal Paraji , 1929). To a large extent, the international human rights law of our time agrees with this position under Indian law. In a 2018 ruling, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that defamation of the Prophet of Islam “exceeds the permissible limits of substantive debate” and “could arouse prejudice and endanger religious peace”.
I grew up in a family where children were learning to respect the spiritual figures of ancient India because they could be divine messengers which fits with the Quranic verse which states “God sent prophets to all parts of the world not all of them are mentioned”. However, I am not a religious person, nor do I view the Prophet as a superhero performing a miracle, as many Muslims do, but as a revolutionary social reformer who, in the words of the late prominent Indian jurist Laxmi Maul Singhvi, was “a thousand years ahead of his time”. However, I am also disgusted by the way in which some brothers in our country use offensive language of the great reformer, which the American scholar Michael Hart placed at the top of a hundred names in The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential People in History (1978).
The law of India authorizes its executors to nip in the bud for any harm of this kind. The continued lack of proper legal process in a very sensitive case is causing anger among the people. The suffering of the Muslim masses from incidents of offending their Prophet is understandable, yet their violent expression also taints his just name. This reaction to his being vilified by a few misguided individuals cannot be justified on the basis of what is known in law as “choosing to defend evil”. The cure for the abominable social evil of religious disputes lies more than in the laws of law, and in the revival of the societal good.
At the World Parliament of Religions held in Chicago in 1893, the great Indian saint Swami Vivekananda said of the religion and the nation he represented: “I am proud of my belonging to a religion that taught the world tolerance and universal acceptance. We not only believe in universal tolerance, but we accept all religions as true. “. The world expects us to continue honoring his holy words in letter and spirit.
The writer is a professor of law and a former member of the Law Commission of India