DR SQR ILYAS, 58, founded the Welfare Party of India on 18 April 2011, making it one of the youngest political parties in the country. Ilyas supports the import ban on The Satanic Verses and the anger against its author Salman Rushdie. In a candid chat, he tells Karuna John why it might be time India got a blasphemy law.
Do you see a higher level of intolerance in the Muslim community today?
It is not a question of intolerance. Everyone [in India] believes in a certain religion, and tolerance just means you tolerate my faith, I tolerate yours. For example, the Bhagvad Gita was banned in Russia. When people raised their voices against that, Muslims were amongst them. The Indian government brought a resolution in Parliament on the issue and convinced the government of Russia. Nobody asked how could India, being a secular country, pass that resolution? Muslims are saying: a person who insulted Prophet Mohammed should not be allowed to enter a country where there are people associated with different religions. [But] no one was listening to them. [In the end] all major Muslim organisations supported the stand.
Islam is bigger than Rushdie, so why is it threatened?
There is no threat. We are ready to discuss intellectually anything concerned with the Islamic faith. But if you are targeting the life of Prophet Mohammed and his wives, it is not a question of discussion. That is why it’s banned.
The import of the book is banned, but it can still be accessed online. So will you ban the Internet?
So many wrong things are coming [into people’s lives] through the Internet. If we were in a position of power and thought that certain things, like porn sites, were harmful, we’d have banned it.
The Muslims of India have varied opinions…
Which Muslim has said that in the name of tolerance, we will allow Salman Rushdie to say whatever he wants? If a person has a right to speak, we have a right to dissent. The entire community feels that when it comes to Muslim issues, the Indian media has been partial.
Does the Quran say what books can be written?
No, you can write whatever you want. But you can’t insult people. In many countries, there is a right to privacy. But in the name of tolerance, will they not respect privacy?
Do we need to protect the Prophet? Why are we offended on his behalf?
Never, but if someone insults my father, I will feel hurt. Even if my father forgives you, if I am in a position to stop you, I will. It is the attachment and belief that is hurt. Also, say this to a so-called liberated country like England that has a blasphemy law. People are concerned about Rushdie. They are not concerned about the entire community. Nobody asks us why we are feeling hurt.
‘No religious Muslim appreciated MF Husain. In the name of being liberal, we’re copying western ideas’
Do you think India needs a blasphemy law?
Yes. We already have provisions related to this. A blasphemy law will codify that.
The right-wing forces hounded out MF Husain. Did Muslims support that as well?
A ban on his nudes was justified. No religious Muslim appreciated Husain. We do not think it’s right to portray and propagate obscenity. We have tolerated a lot of wrong things under Western influences. This has disturbed our cultural values. Gay and lesbian culture is getting legalised. So is single parenthood and live-in relationships. All [are] Western concepts that have broken societies. In the name of being liberal, we’re copying that.
Karuna John is Associate Editor, Tehelka.com.