Let’s be clear.
What Riyaz Akhtari and Gos Mohammad did to Kanhaiya Lal in Udaipur is an extreme act of terror. To call it a murder would be obscurantism.
The men didn’t just commit a crime. They just didn’t kill Kanhaiya in his shop. They celebrated it. They bragged about the murder in a video made right after the gruesome killing, brandishing their knives. They didn’t see it as a crime. They saw it as an accomplishment. A kind of fulfillment of their divine duty. They did it in the name of their Prophet. There was no fear, no remorse. The disgusting smile on their faces in this video is heartbreaking.
What could drive a person to this extreme? The simple answer to this question is religion, or their interpretation of religion. Their belief that they needed to avenge an insult to their Prophet with blood. And that it was both their right and their religious duty. To hell with the law of the land and social norms. The video they later made to celebrate the murder of a hapless unarmed father of two was only meant to strike terror and fear into the minds of others. They sought to “avenge” the Prophet in this world, thinking of “rewards” in the hereafter. Not for a moment thinking of the consequences in this world. This amounts to a suicide mission, smiling and arrogant.
The Udaipur murder is a watershed moment in India. We have seen several videos of such barbaric killings in distant lands by ISIS terrorists beheading people in the name of Islam and its prophet. Cartoonists have been put to death by fanatics for making fun of Prophet. But this time it hit home. And Udaipur will cling like the proverbial albatross around the necks of Indian Muslims forever.
It is reassuring to see full and unequivocal condemnation of the killing by Muslim leaders, groups and citizens. But it would also be dishonest not to recognize that there will be many who would silently view Riyaz Akhtari and Gos Mohammad as heroes or find justification for their heinous act.
To try to explain Udaipur’s barbarism in response to what BJP leader Nupur Sharma said would be foolish and dishonest. Of course, what she said was abhorrent and Muslims – and Hindus – should demand action against her. But no amount of provocation can ever justify violence or murder.
The incident requires deep and honest introspection. Muslims need to reset their relationship with the Prophet vis-à-vis the society in which they live. Love for the Prophet is personal, violence in his name cannot be justified or sanctified. Divine law, perceived divine duties, “hurt” feelings can never be above the law of the land, social norms and contracts. Religious leaders, community elders, parents, teachers must all launch a large-scale campaign to stop the tide of radicalization and biased interpretation of religion.
I have long argued in my writings that Muslims must stop reacting to insults against the Prophet. This is the only way to make these insults and insults trivial and inconsequential. They are meant to provoke. The day Muslims stop reacting like hotheads to the slightest provocations in the name of the Prophet, such senseless acts will lose ground. No one can offend a person who has decided not to be offended.
Reactions to insults to the Prophet, be it a statement, a cartoon or a YouTube video, do the Prophet’s image no good. They, on the other hand, only serve the purpose of the provocateur. They further reinforce the image of the Prophet that is in the minds of critics of Muslims.
It is no secret that many Muslims have projected the worst interpretations of the Prophet’s message and the Quran. The whole world knows about the 72 promised virgins, the four wives, the most medieval anti-woman laws that parade in the name of Sharia. But so little has helped to focus on the teachings of compassion, tolerance, respect for other religions, gender justice that are all so intrinsic to Mohammad’s life. So whose failure is this?
Riyaz Akhtari and Gos Mohammad sprayed blood on the image of their Prophet with their barbaric act.
The prophet survived Dante’s inferno. But can he survive this onslaught from Riyaz Akhtari and Gos Mohammad?
(Mohd Asim is an editor at NDTV 24X7)
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.