Muslim religious groups like Raza Academy and Tahaffuz Namoos-e-Risalat Board and Prakash Ambedkar-led Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) have reportedly pressurised the Maharashtra state government to introduce ‘Prophet Muhammad Bill’. The aim is to bring an act to stop blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad and religious figures of all religions.
As per a report in the Times of India, though the bill is promoted as the ‘Prophet Muhammad Bill’, the draft bill prepared and submitted to the government has been titled ‘Prophet Muhammad and Other Religious Heads Prohibition of Slander Act, 2021’ or ‘Hate Speech (Prevention) Act, 2021’.
A group of Muslims in Mumbai has decided to fight provocative and blasphemous posts videos and cartoons through the legal route. Instead of hitting the streets and adopting a confrontational approach, they will counsel youths not to get violent and find remedies within the constitutional framework. Floating a legal cell under Tahaffuz Namoos-e Risalat Board Protection of the Honour of the Prophet Board, the group held its first meeting at Islam Gymkhana on 13 Feb and decided to counter blasphemous and provocative posts and videos in a peaceful and democratic manner.
It has often been seen that Muslim youths get agitated over blasphemous and provocative posts and hit the streets and clash with the police. This results in arson, rioting and then arrests and harassment.
In the recent past, there has been no instance of anyone making derogatory remarks against Prophet Mohammed, why this demand is being made? Could it be due to the rise of ex-Muslims in social media?
RISE OF EX-MUSLIMS:
Till recently, critical analysis of Islam in Youtube/ Social Media was done mostly by Western scholars and ex-Muslims from Syria like Wafa Sultan who is now living in USA. Later on couple of Pakistani expatriates living in countries like USA/Canada/Europe started their own Youtube channels and started expressing their views / life experiences. Few of the popular channels are:
1) Haris Sultan
2) Dr. Fouzia Rauf ( Saraswathi Dasi)
3) Amina Sardar ( No Love for Islam)
4) Mahleej Sarkari.
In India, one of the earliest ex-Muslim YouTube channel was that of Pandit Mahendra Pal Arya, a Muslim cleric who converted to Arya Samaj. Youtube Channels like Jaipur Dialogues, Neeraj Atri conducted discussions on various aspects of Islam. Neeraj Atri has produced around 50 videos in a series labelled Islam for Dummies. In addition to discussions based on Quran/ Hadees with Sri Shankar Sharan evoked lot of interest and following. Simultaneously these channels started hosting Indian ex-Muslims. This paved the way for Indian ex-Muslims to open their own Youtube Channels. Few of them are:
1) Dystopia to Reason
2) Ex-Muslim Zafar Heretic
3) Azad ground ex-Muslim
4) Indian Ex-Muslim Sahil
5) Kali Dasi (Sarah Khan)
These channels started sharing their experiences of ex-Muslims – their life as Muslims, how they became ex-Muslims, reaction of family/society and life after leaving Islam. One of the channels started a series labelled ‘Islam se Insaniyat tak- story of ex-Muslim’ where ex-Muslims share their life experiences.
ARRIVAL OF ‘SACHWALA’:
The quality of discourse in these channels underwent big change with the arrival of an ex-Muslim who calls himself ‘Sachwala’. According to him, from age of 10, he has undergone education in Madrassa and passed many examinations on Islam. He also had a passion for calligraphy. Later on, he went and worked in Saudi Arabia for around 18 years and there he acquired further in-depth knowledge of the Quran, Arabic and its various variants like classical Arabic. As he delved deeper into Islamic literature, the more he was convinced of various fabrications and interpolations. An article in Hindi on him Equipped with in-depth knowledge of Arabic and Islamic literature, he appears in various ex-Muslim YouTube channels with a specific question where people are invited to prove the same through Quranic verses alone. Some of the topics shook the basic foundation of Islam itself. A few of the topics are:
1) Prove that Quran was revealed to Prophet Mohammed
2) Is not taking of slaves, sex with slaves and sale/purchase of slaves by Prophet Mohammed against humanity?
3) Are declarations of Quran (Bayanat) against communal harmony?
4) Why should I be punished if Allah guides and misguides?
5) Is the present day Mecca the same as the one described in Quran?
These live debates which question the very basic structure of Islam last 3-5 hours and several Muslims come forward to put forth their point of view on above topics. It is worth noting that most of the callers are ordinary Muslims or those who are presently studying in Madrassas. None of the callers are well known figures of Islamic theology or scholars of Islam. Undoubtedly Sachwala has made a deep impact in the online ex-Muslim and Muslim community.
In channels run by women like Kali Dasi or Amina Sardar, women discuss how they became ex-Muslims, torture at hands of family members/ husband. While some have become Hindus after leaving Islam, many remain atheist.
In the course of various debates/ shows, many ex-Muslims join the discourse and they express their desire to discuss their own experiences with Islam. The hosts then include them in their ‘Islam to Insaniat’ series. Quite a few ex-Muslim women from India/ Pakistan who are now living elsewhere are also coming together and are on the verge of starting a separate ex-Muslim women’s channel. With Urdu being understood both in Pakistan and in India, these channels are having an impact in both countries.
EX-MUSLIM WOMEN DISCUSSING IN YOUTUBE LIVE:
In addition, the free and easy availability of the Quran in several languages, Hadees in English, books written by Ali Sina ( Understanding Mohammed ) etc. have spurred a big debate on Islam, its founder Prophet Mohammed, various wars fought in the course of the expansion of Islam, enormous suffering of humanity at the hands of Islam. Massacre of innocents in wars led by Prophet Mohammed, the capture of women and children as slaves particularly the battle with Banu Quraiza and capture of one of the wives of Safiya as a slave are being heard for the first time by Muslims. The marriage of 6-year-old Aisha with 54-year-old Prophet Mohammed is cited by women ex-Muslims as a prime motivator for leaving Islam.
It can be safely concluded that as critical analysis of Islam or open criticism of Prophet Mohammed in cyberspace has spurred Islamic clerics to put forth the demand for a Prophet Mohammed blasphemy law. Unable to counter threadbare discussion of Islam and Prophet Mohammed, through traditional methods like street protests, threats to life, Islamic clerics want to silence these channels through legislation. Such a demand was made in Pakistan and the Pakistan- Punjab assembly passed a resolution in May 2020 to this effect. A similar demand is being in India now.
(Author is Research Associate at ‘Center for South Indian Studies’, Hyderabad)