By Narendra Murty
Religious controversies like the cartoon on Prophet Mohammed or the resistance to the Da Vinci code, erupt because we are stuck in the externals.
We live in turbulent times – times of religious intolerance, clash of dogmas and fanaticism. These are also times when the gentle voice of truth gets drowned by the din of violence.
Two religious storms have swept the world in recent times – one, about the cartoons of Prophet Mohammed; and the other relating to Dan Brown’s book, The Da Vinci Code. One angered the Muslim world and the other, the Christian world. The seeming outrage was committed in the name of ‘artistic license’.
In the light of what happened in the last few months, one is tempted to ask: Are the foundations of Christianity and Islam so weak that any artiste can shake them? Let us study the two controversies and try to arrive at a sane view of the whole thing.
First, the cartoon controversy. Trouble started when journalists in some European countries (mainly Christian), caricatured Prophet Mohammed in their cartoons. It was a straightforward case of iconoclasm. Islam forbids the depiction of the prophet in any pictorial form. ‘Not putting Mohammed in pictures’ is an idol in Islam. The cartoonists broke this ‘idol’.
For centuries, Islamic invaders have broken the idols of other religions.
In a peculiar twist of fate, Islam is at the receiving end of the same act. Someone else is denigrating what Islam holds sacred. However, this doesn’t justify the act of the cartoonists whose intention was deliberate malice, not an expression of artistic creativity. The intention was to hurt – deliberately. This is the truth and no amount of nonsense about ‘artistic license’ is going to hide that.
The Islamic World at Crossroads
Considering the bad equation they share with the Christian world, what are they going to do in future if some more ‘creative artistes’ decide to express their ‘creativity’ by finding new ways to denigrate Islam and its prophet? This is a question they have to answer. Are they going to take to violence?
Muslims should realize that faith should stand on the solid foundation of one’s own convictions and trust in the eternal decree of God. They should study afresh the life of Prophet Mohammed and see how much opposition he faced in his lifetime from those whom he sought to deliver.
Religion is an inner experience, which defines one’s relationship with God. By reacting with violence to a provocation, Muslims are externalizing their faith, and anything external is always open to threat. Standing firm in their own faith, they should brush aside transgressions from these so-called ‘creative people’ who survive only on controversies. Allah would be more pleased if they were to retain their faith untouched by external provocations and actually believe I Allah hu Akbar- God is Great, like a true Muslim.
Koran itself speaks very clearly as to what should be done in these disturbing times: ‘I shall test your faith with many horrors. I proclaim good news to those who endure these tests with courage, to those who say in adversity: ‘We belong to God, and to God we shall return’. God will bless and forgive such people, he will guide them on the path of righteousness”. ( Koran, Chapter 2). Let us take the advice of the Koran and prove our faith to God.
The Da Vinci Scandal
The case of The Da Vinci Code is somewhat different and quite interesting. Here, we have a book written by a Westerner (I am not aware whether Dan Brown is a practicing Christian) meant primarily for a Western audience. The bone of contention is the idea that Jesus Christ was married, had a descendant and his bloodline lives to this day! The interesting part is that the Christian readers have turned the book into a bestseller! The enormous success of the book has prompted a movie based on it. Needless to add, the movie has also raked in millions from a Christian audience! In a sense, this is good because it shows an openness of outlook and no one has yet demanded Dan Brown’s head.
But the book has raised the hackles of orthodox Christians who are calling the work a blasphemy. Dan Brown puts forward the theory that Jesus was a married man and this fact was obliterated when the Gospels were compiled two or three centuries after his death. This, he says, was done deliberately with the overzealous intention of portraying Jesus as a messenger of God who is above sex and marriage.
Now it is true that the Gospels were compiled quite some time after the death of Jesus. The possibility remains that overzealous churchmen could have ‘left out’ some facts of their Messiah’s life. Whether this actually happened or not, neither the Church nor Dan Brown can prove conclusively at this stage.
I want to ask: Is the divinity of Jesus damaged by his marital status? Assuming that Dan Brown is right, in what way does the theory damage the divinity of Jesus?
The divinity of Jesus shows itself in his Sermon on the Mount, in his declaration of ‘the kingdom of heaven is within you’, in his demonstration of deep spiritual truths through simple parables and in his final plea of mercy for his killers: ‘Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do’. The divinity of Jesus shows itself in his words which still stir us and in his deeds of love and compassion. I consider Jesus a divine being for what he said and his deeds. His marital status is totally beside the point.
All the messengers of God have one thing in common. They possessed a divine consciousness. As far as externals are concerned, there could have been every possible variation – married, unmarried, educated and uneducated, men and women, meditators and dancers – because God is infinitely creative.
We have forgotten that religion is an inner experience. We have forgotten that the hallmark of a prophet is his divine consciousness, his spiritual power with which he uplifts the masses. Because we have forgotten this, we are embroiled in externals. And Dan Brown is laughing all the way to the bank.
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