While browsing through the books on my bookshelf last night, ‘The Quran’ published by the Salaam Centre, Bangalore landed in my hands. I believe that each book that we buy or read gets a memory shot tagged to it. When we come back to pick those books again in distant future, we invariably travel time. Same happened with this book. I had to travel only a year back – 2015, Bangalore Book Festival at Palace Grounds. One incredible experience that I had thought of penning down and for some reason, completely forgot; it has come to this day that I write about it.
Almost all the books were being sold at a discounted price. However, at the center area of the fair, there was a huge stall where books were being given for free. Salaam Centre as it says is engaged in presenting the Quran, among non-Muslim brothers and sisters and also dispel the myths around the teachings of Islam, the Quran, and Prophet Muhammad. Going by what the Centre claims, it has gained huge success in disseminating the message of Prophet to all and sundry. I was extremely delighted that I was getting these books for free and from a centre which was working towards such a cause as I mentioned earlier. One of the attributable reasons for distribution of The Quran for free might be the verse –
Believe in that which I have [now] bestowed from on high, confirming the truth already in your possession, and be not foremost among those who deny its truth; and do not barter away My messages for a trifling gain; and of Me, of Me be conscious (AYAT al-Baqarah 2:41)
I saw a suave, young man who must be in his early 20s speaking fluent English with his audience at the distribution counter. While most of the helpers he had at the counter didn’t know English, he was put there to speak to the younger generation/English speaking parties/rationalists or whoever would have liked to ask questions. In a t-shirt and denims, he was more relatable than any other person at the counter. I don’t remember his name. For now, let us call him ‘The Modern Muslim’ or (TMM). In the time I was looking at the books, another young man who must be in his late 20s drew TMM to a conversation. He called himself a rationalist and mentioned that he didn’t follow any religion and had a question to ask about Islam. Let’s call him ‘The Modern Rationalist’ or TMR. I was the audience. Let’s call me ‘The Modern Audience’ or TMA.
TMR – I am not a religious person. I don’t believe in any sect. I am a rationalist. Can you answer a few questions of mine?
TMM – Of course, that’s what I am here for. Please ask any question you may have.
TMR – Please don’t mind but please tell me why is it that Islam doesn’t reform itself. Why even today people are forced to follow the Quran in toto. While we know that many of the rules or injunctions are irrelevant in today’s times, why is it that those things are not called out and declared irrelevant so that people can decide and know better?
TMM – I understand your question but the irrelevance you speak about is not true. They are relevant as they were centuries ago. If you can be more specific, I can perhaps tell you more clearly.
TMR – I am not sure if you are getting me.
TMA – Excuse me, if I may join you guys in the conversation, I would like to explain what TMR is talking about.
TMM – Yes Sir, please.
TMR – Yeah, please.
TMA – I think what he is talking about is a comparative study of religion in various phases of human development. Say, in the case of Hinduism, there have been reviews and commentaries, fact checks, course corrections by various commentators and philosophers from time to time. This perhaps keeps the religion relevant. Even in Christianity, the Church has apologized in time for various misdeeds of the past. Why is it that such a thing is not to be seen in the ambassadors of Islam? Taking one example, say the treatment of women in Islam. Nobody would say it is anywhere close to equality. Why is it that these concepts are not reviewed and called out as irrelevant in current times?
TMM – I understand your question Sir. One second, I will call my friend who can probably answer your question. I don’t completely know the Quran.
The Faithful Muslim or TFM arrives on the scene. TMM explains the question to TFM. Clad in ethnic wear, TFM is calm, composed and his demeanor reflects a self-assured nature.
TFM – Sir, these are innovations. There is no such thing as inequality in Islam. People who interpret it to be unequal are just innovating. The rule says we can’t innovate. Quran is Prophet’s words. We can’t review, comment, or critique it. It is out of our purview. We can just translate it as it is.
Then TMF quotes a few verses from the Quran to make his point.
TMR – That’s exactly my point. When you understand that it can be misinterpreted, then why don’t you do something so that everyone has the same interpretation of the book?
TMM – We are trying to do it brother.
TFM (looking at TMM in disagreement) – No, we are not trying to do that. We can’t reengineer anything. We are just trying to spread the message to as many people as possible.
TMA is a bit discontent with that response. However, wants to believe that TFM means good.
TFM goes to attend other counters.
TMA – Fair enough, let me have some books. I will read them and decide for myself.
TMM – Sure Sir, which ones do you want?
TMA – Please give me two translations, one to Hindi and another to English.
TMM – Yes Sir. We will gift you one more book which demystifies the ill notions about Islam. You might like it.
TMA – Sure, thanks a lot.
TMA collects his books and moves to the billing counter. TMM engages with other TMAs. TMA keeps the books in his bag which has other books too including Bible – The New Testament. The Modern Biller or TMB asks for the bag, reshuffles all the books to keep the Quran on top. TMA asks him why would he do that.
TMB – Quran is the revelation from God. It commands precedence over all the books. It has to be kept on top.(More about it here.)
TMA – While I respect you and the book, I can’t do what you are telling me to do.
TMB – Sorry Sir, then you can’t take away the books.
Saying this, he takes out all the books that TMA had got and places them beside the bag.
TMA – You can’t do that. This is what we were talking about a few minutes back. Respect is shown by reading a book and not by keeping it over other books.
TMB can’t take TMA’s blabbering anymore. He calls TFM. TFM tries to appreciate the whole situation.
TFM – Sir, for now please put it over other books. You can keep it the way you want to once you go back.
TMB (hesitatingly to TFM) – But this is the revelation of God. Even at home, shouldn’t he keep it on top of all the books?
TFM – Sir, please keep them on top for now. Otherwise, we won’t be able to gift them to you.
By this time, TMM gets to hear the conversation. He arrives at the scene and understands what is being done and suggested.
TMA – Were we not speaking of the exact thing a few minutes before?
TMM extends a meek sorry, puts all the books back in the bag not caring about the order and extends one more sorry before bidding a heartwarming goodbye.
I smiled and left the place to look for other books that would invariably insult(?) The Quran in my bag.