Attacking Lokmat for 'insulting' Islam will not rescue Muslims from ISIS

It is impossible to suggest that we show respect to such a flag, even if it contains symbols that are dear to many believers.

 |  5-minute read |   11-12-2015
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The Lokmat affair is a perfect example of the issues faced by average Muslims. I would use the phrase "moderate Muslims", but I do not know what that means. Does it mean the person is 51 per cent Muslim, or 75 or 22 per cent Muslim? Or like Diet Coke, the same product with a bit of fake sugar? Since nobody knows exactly what a "moderate Muslim" is, let's stick with average Muslim, although what is average about anybody is hard to judge, we are special in our own ways, some simply because of our extreme stupidity. But as we are talking about stupidity, let us return to Lokmat.

As many of us know, Lokmat is a Marathi daily. At the end of November, it did a story on the funding sources of the ISIS, which it published in its Sunday edition, Manthan. The story was titled "ISIS cha paisa (ISIS's money)". To illustrate the story, Manthan used an illustration showing a number of currency symbols all going into a black piggy bank. In the centre of the piggy bank was the same logo that sits at the centre of the flag used by the ISIS.

maxresdefault---copy_121115094558.jpg The illustration carried by Lokmat.

So far so good, except maybe not so good. The piggy bank was simple enough, but taking the logo at the centre of the ISIS flag meant that the photo editor had taken three Arabic words and painted them on a pig. As an editor of a Marathi magazine, he obviously did not understand what they meant. To anybody with a passing knowledge of Urdu, Arabic or Farsi - and no knowledge of Marathi - all that was visible were three words, "Allah, rasool (Prophet), Mohammed" painted on a cartoon of a pig.

This did not go down well, and soon there were protests outside the offices of Lokmat, and some of them were even attacked. A case was filed, Lokmat issued an apology, and the affair seemed to have passed us by. But did it? What exactly were the people at Lokmat apologising for? And why, exactly, did they need to apologise?

We can argue that, without the context of the flag, and with just those three words, the image could be seen as insulting. But given the context of the story, it requires a rather weird mind to process this as a personal attack on a faith rather than an inadvertent mistake. A sharp, or better yet, sarcastic, letter to the editor was all that this was worth. Instead we had political sloganeering, and much yelling and even some violence.

But take a little time to think, even if Lokmat had made the illustration the way it was on purpose, how insulting is that? I mean how does it compare to the fact that the ISIS, a group of people who seem to celebrate mass murder, the attacks on civilians, and glory in a nihilistic violence, march to war using the same symbols? Is the blood of innocents not offensive? Is it okay that the savage barbarities being committed by the ISIS are declared by them as the best form of living under Islam? That they call themselves an Islamic State, and march under the name of God, the Prophet, and a banner that carries Islam's most central message, "There is no god, except the [one] God?"

Religions, beliefs, political systems are judged by the way their followers behave. When a section of Muslims engage in and glorify mass murder in the name of their religion, Islam will be judged by their actions. It does not matter if a thousand Islamic scholars condemn the ISIS, for most of the world the flag of the ISIS, with its Islamic content, is now wedded to the ideas of brutality and savagery. It is impossible to suggest that we show respect to such a flag, even if it contains symbols that are dear to many Muslims.

This is unfair, of course. For Muslims who see these symbols, words and phrases as a special, sacred commitment through which they find a way to live a better life, it is painful to see them degraded. But please bear in mind, it is not the newspapers, it is not the US, or "the Zionists", or anybody other than the ISIS who are degrading such symbols. If Muslims want these words, these phrases, to be respected, then it is up to them to win the meaning of these symbols back from the ISIS, and associate them with good.

How is this possible? When the greatest armies of the world are not able to neutralise the ISIS (largely because they are more interested in killing one another than the ISIS), who are average Muslims to do so? The immediate reaction is that Muslims should condemn such violence, as the unnamed bystander addressed a knife wielding attacker in England, shouting, "You ain't no Muslim, Bruv!". But while that may make people feel good and create a shared understanding of what is, and is not, allowed in civilised life, it is futile to make people line up and condemn the crimes of another. Anyway, words are small things, actions matter more. So when the 500 plus mosques in Chennai became temporary relief shelters during the recent floods and the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind volunteers cleaned up both mosques and temples after the tragedy, it mattered.

The only way to earn respect for your way of life is by showing that it makes you a better person, and your faith - whatever you believe in, or don't believe in - makes life better for others as well.

Unfortunately, bad news usually gets reported more than good deeds. Nevertheless, I am confident that for every crime of the ISIS, there will be a thousand good deeds. And, please, if you are wondering whether protesting in front of a newspaper over a cartoon is a good deed, the answer is no. It is not.

It will win neither you, nor your faith, any respect. Go rescue your neighbour instead.


Omair Ahmad Omair Ahmad @omairtahmad

The writer is the South Asia editor of, reporting on water issues in the Himalayan region.

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