Controversial and non-conformist writers with a great deal of chutzpa may do well to read the following and refrain from displaying their betise and spitting on the sun.
“Hadrat Harith bin Muawiyah asked Hadrat Umar bin Khattab (May Allah be pleased with both) about stories, and he replied that it was a matter left to his discretion. (The reply was a pointer to the fact that he did not wish to discourage him from story-telling.) Hadrat Harith submitted that he wanted a holistic reply. Hadrat Umar elaborated his reply a little, “I am afraid that you will narrate a tale and it may lead to the swelling of your self-conceit. You may tell another story and your egotism will further increase. Then, it may so happen that you will entertain a notion of your being the highest star in the firmament, far, far above the common run of humanity. On the Day of Judgment, however, Allah may throw you down to grovel at the feet of the people.”
This remark suggests that, “if the story-teller aims at propriety and verisimilitude and avoids arrogance and posturing, there is no harm in the art of fiction.” (Vide an Urdu translation of an Arabic book by Talat Afeefi Muhammad Saalim. Urdu title is Aan Hadrat kay bayan farmuda sabaq aamoz waqiyat, New Delhi: Areeb Publications, 2006, p. 52)
S. Rashadath Ali has read Dwikhandito in Bengali and is genuinely incensed at Taslima Nasreen’s remarks on Prophet Muhammad (May Allah bless and greet him) and he has given a cogent and concise response in the form of a booklet Taslima Imbroglio. The reviewer has before him the second edition of the said booklet about which the publishers say that it has been “revised and updated by the author”. The booklet may need further revision and updating because M.F. Hussain has been exonerated by the Delhi High Court and Taslima Nasreen has been offered honorary citizenship in Paris and a few Italian cities.
The main thrust of the booklet is summed up in the following sentence: Rather than the person ‘Taslima’, it is her literature which is more damaging. (p.36)
This sentence clarifies that the author is not interested in witch-hunting and demonising a person. His quarrel is with the oeuvre of a writer. The qualities of Taslima’s writings, as enumerated in the booklet, are: they are mostly autobiographical, sex is a major theme, the element of humour is strong, and anti-Islamic diatribe may be intended to spice and spruce up her appeal to the readership.
It is the anti- Islamic passages which have irked and deeply hurt the author and earned the ire of the Muslim community. Some of the adjectives he has reserved for those passages are most filthy, denigrating, cheap, crude, abusive, atrocious, obnoxious. The frequently used adjective is ‘dirty’. He asserts that Taslima’s knowledge of Islam is shallow because she does not quote the Qur’an or historians of Islam and because she has committed “many common factual errors”. (p.7) He claims that her knowledge of Islam is based on hearsay. It is a pity that he has not given us a few of those factual errors as that information would have strengthened and corroborated his viewpoint.
Even though Taslima Nasreen has written poems and thirty books, Mr. S. Rashadath Ali does not credit her work with any superior literary merit. He quotes Shabbir Ahmed appreciatively, “Her books sell because of sex appeal and not for any literary value.” (pp.8-9) This is the attitude of the Muslims. The West thinks highly of her work and the author has been kind enough to give us an impressive list of prizes and awards given to her on both sides of the Atlantic. He is of the opinion that her anti-Islamic bias has endeared her to the West. An excerpt from a Hindu literary critic with impeccable credentials indicating the poor quality of her writings would have eliminated the element of subjectivity from his assessment.
It was in 1986 that Taslima Nasreen made her debut as a poetess. She was forced into exile in 1994 and now she belongs to ‘three cities of three continents, Kolkota, New York, Stockholm.’ And other cities can be added to these. For the last 14 years she has been in the eye of a storm. What has gone wrong with her life? Born in a Muslim family, bearing a Muslim name, she has grown up to jeer at Islam and the icons of Islam! There has been a grave failure of Islamic orientation somewhere.
However, a silver lining appears in the sable cloud. Consequent upon the public outcry, the objectionable passages have been excised from Dwikhandito. Coercion has her victories no less renowned than persuasion. As this excision took place after the Calcutta High Court’s judgment in Taslima Nasreen’s favour, the credit for the excision may go to her. Even Mr. S. Rashadath Ali quotes the following remark of hers in appreciation, “Islam will remain as it has always remained. Neither I nor any other individual has the ability to destabilise Islam.” (p.36) If this is her ultimate realisation, it augurs well.
Prof. Syed Abdul Wahab Bukhari of respected memory used to say, “Contemporaries and people close to a great person have the eminent qualification to assess his character and pass judgment; it is the succeeding generations that have the eminent qualification to assess the viability and relevance of his message; they have to depend upon the judgment of the contemporaries with regard to the character of the great person and they should avoid assessing his character on their own.” It is futile and positively harmful to resort to mudslinging against the greatest Benefactor of humanity (May Allah bless and greet him). Islam expects its followers not to revile even man-made deities.
Mr. Rashadath Ali invites the readers “to give a decent thought to the points raised in the book.” One of the points raised is the meaning, scope, and application of the phrase “freedom of expression”. His contention is that double standards are employed in the usage of the phrase. Muslims are described as obscurantists and fundamentalists if they protest against unwarranted and unmerited criticism of the Prophet (May Allah bless and greet him). He says that a Bangladeshi writer’s right to freedom of expression is more sacrosanct than the religious susceptibilities of tens and thousands of Indian Muslims.
Another point raised is the conflict between legislation and judicial activism. The courts have given their verdicts in favour of Taslima Nasreen and M.F. Hussain. These verdicts may be disconcerting to one group or the other. Muslims cannot but take the line of least resistance to the judicial verdicts.
Mr. S. Rashadath Ali has a point when he says that the Mass Media “vociferously defended Taslima’s right to slander and abuse.” He praises Tara News for projecting the orthodox Muslim viewpoint. He does not like irresponsible fatwas and destruction of public property as a reaction to Taslima Nasreen. The right course is to expect every creative writer to sanitise and bowdlerise his or her own expression without pressure from any quarter. The section on Media Malice is well-argued and is worthy of being read profitably several times.
An impressive list of celebrities is given on pages 18, 30, and 34. Their thinking does not seem to be different from the judicial verdict. Their opposition to Muslim reaction calls for a revaluation of the Muslim strategy. “Gandhiji’s secularism does not encourage anyone to defile or denigrate any religious head or the scripture.” (p.31) Why have these celebrities, noted for their secularism, adopted such an un-Gandhian attitude in the case of Taslima? Why can’t they see eye to eye with Siddharta Sankar Ray? (pp. 31-32) One is left with a sense of wonder.
Taslima Imbroglio is a booklet by a well-informed and well-read writer with a well-ordered mind. The reviewer hopes that those who read it will find profit and pleasure. Photographs in the booklet are not merely decorative supplements; they encompass the theme from different angles.