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Not the first to be accused of blasphemy

By Bashir Goth - posted Monday, 9 July 2007

Britain knighted Salman Rushdie like many British citizens before him, honoured for their service to Britain. To honour Rushdie as a writer for his contribution to literature is a commendable initiative. This is purely a British affair and has nothing to do with any other people or creed.

To protest against what the UK does or doesn’t do for its own citizens is a flagrant interference in its internal affairs. It is like protesting against granting British citizenship to Rushdie, or to any other individual for that matter.

Salman Rushdie is considered to be one of the most illustrious and creative writers of the late 20th century. The fact that some people loathe him for insulting their sentiments or faith is beside the point. Rushdie is not the first and will definitely not be the last writer with a Muslim name to be accused of blasphemy.


The blasphemy sword of Islam has been hanging over Muslim writers, thinkers and poets since the dawn of Islam when the first fatwa was issued against the poet Ka’b bin Zuhair who was accused of insulting the Prophet of Islam in some of his poems. Zuhair had to convert to Islam and beg the Prophet for forgiveness in his famous poem titled The Cloak - as the narrative says, Mohammed removed his own cloak and placed it over the shoulders of Ka’b as a sign of pardon.

Ka’b’s poem starts with the following telling lines: “I have been informed that the messenger of Allah has warned me, yet pardon from the messenger of Allah is hoped.”

Mansur bin Hussein Al Hallaj, the 8th century mystic and thinker, was executed for proclaiming “Ana Al Haq” (“I am the truth”). The Egyptian Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfuz ran afoul of Islamic close-mindedness with his novel Awlad Haratina (Children of Gebelawi). He survived an assassination attempt in 1994 by an angry extremist assassin. His Nobel Prize was also seen as a reward for his betrayal of Islam.

Even Egypt’s man of letters par excellence Taha Hussein was blasted for his critical work on pre-Islamic poetry at the turn of the 20th century. Others who came under the hammer included Bangladeshi novelist Taslima Nasrin, Egyptian Nasr Abu Zaid among others.

The tragedy that all these writers share is that almost none of the Muslim mobs protesting against their works and burning their effigies read their works. Angry demonstrations pour out of mosques after hearing sermons by equally ignorant preachers who act on hearsay.

It is baffling to see Muslims making a fuss about books and cartoons or even company logos - one Saudi scholar once accused the 7Up soft drink company of blasphemy simply because, in his strange thinking, the 7UP logo closely resembled the word “Allah” when seen from the rear.


Yet none of them flinches a muscle when some of Islam’s holiest mosques are blown up in Iraq by fellow Muslims, when Muslim worshippers are mowed down in a hail of bullets in mosques in Pakistan and Palestine by their Muslim brethren and when innocent Muslim women and children are slaughtered by suicide bombers of their kith and kin in the streets of Baghdad, Gaza, Karachi, Kabul, Mogadishu and elsewhere.

It is beyond my comprehension to see how anyone can compare Osama bin Laden, a murderer who brought misery and shame to the whole nation of Islam, to Rushdie, a man of letters who uses his God-given talent to entertain and educate his fellow humankind. Isn’t it the holy Koran that always addresses its message to those “who think … who contemplate … who ponder … who use their intellect and reason”?

Didn’t the revelation of the holy Koran start with the word “Read” and told us that it was God who had taught man writing by the pen and taught him that which he knew not. So why is Rushdie ostracised for using that creative faculty which the majority of Muslims fear to exercise?

By honouring Rushdie, Britain has demonstrated the great value it places on human intellect in line with the true teachings of Islam, while by honouring Osama bin Laden, the Pakistani “scholars” have not only declared beyond a doubt their denial of the sole message of Islam, which means peace, but also their rejection of all human decency and rationale.

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First published in the Washington Post on June 25, 2007.

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About the Author

Bashir Goth is a Somali poet, journalist, professional translator, freelance writer and the first Somali blogger. Bashir is the author of numerous cultural, religious and political articles and advocate of community-development projects, particularly in the fields of education and culture. He is also a social activist and staunch supporter of women’s rights. He is currently working as an editor in a reputable corporation in the UAE. You can find his blog here.

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