From Mainstream Works of History to Forbidden Writings

Shaukat Javed considers the consequences as the Punjab Assembly bans books in the name of ‘blasphemy’

From Mainstream Works of History to Forbidden Writings
The Punjab Assembly on the 5th of July 2020, demanded a ban on three books, terming them as “blasphemous”. Two of the books namely, After the Prophet: The Epic Story of the Shia-Sunni Split in Islam and The First Muslim: The Story of Muhammad (PBUH) are written by Lesley Hazelton while the third book, A Short History of Islam is by Mazhar-ul-Haq. Ironically both sides of the divide, including the leader of the opposition, supported the motion and delivered speeches praising each other on achieving this feat.

One wonders whether the movers have ever read these books or were aware of the historical events contained therein. A careful reader would find nothing blasphemous in these books. The matter did not end there: the speaker of Punjab Assembly went a step further by issuing a directive to the concerned department to impose a ban on these books and produce the required notification in one week.

Mazhar-ul-Haq's book has been standard reading among Pakistani students for generations

It seems that the honourable members of the provincial assembly were prompted by the dark forces of ignorance and bigotry and moved the motion without proper knowledge. They ignored the fact that the authors of these books have relied on primary historical sources written by famous Muslim writers like Al Baldhuri, Ibn Ishaq, Suyuti, Al Farabi, Tabari and many others. The books under question are impeccably researched and are wonderfully readable. The historical events narrated in these books were already recorded by earlier Muslim writers like Ibn Ishaq, or by Shibli Numani in Seeratul-Nabi (SAW) and Abu’l Ala Maududi in Khilafat o Malukiyat, as well as many more. Will the lawmakers of Punjab ban all these books and the works of Muslim scholars mentioned in the bibliography by the authors of the books now banned?

Lesley Hazleton is known for her research works on religious history, which she carries out with a great deal of objectivity. She provides references for her works and records the events backed up by traditions from Bukhari and Muslim. One may differ with her approach, but one cannot find anything sacrilegious in her accounts. Raza Aslan, the famous Iranian American Muslim writer, has also acclaimed these two books by Hazleton.

Such an action by the provincial lawmakers amounts to denial of knowledge and taking people back to the age when the printing of books was declared haram and punishable with death by various rulers such as those of the Ottoman Empire – which kept the Muslims backward while the West was printing books and widely disseminating knowledge. Islamic countries could never recover from these two hundred years of gap between enlightenment and ignorance.

Such an action by the provincial lawmakers amounts to denial of knowledge and taking people back to the age when the printing of books was declared haram and punishable with death by various rulers

The present era of technology, internet and other available tools have provided an opportunity to look through the concocted history recorded by the agents and supporters of religious obscurantism. It may be remembered that in the mid 1990s, when sectarian terrorism was at its peak, the religious leaders of the opposing sect even went so far as to demand a ban on the Nahjul Balagha of Hazrat Ali (KTW). Do we want to remain in the same mindset or do we want to progress making use of the knowledge provided by modern historians?

Quite simply, we must acquire knowledge from all available sources in order to reach the truth. The tendency of suppressing dissenting views must be curtailed in line with the democratic norms of freedom of expression, as long as it is not in conflict with the Islamic provisions of the constitutional framework.

All three books recommended for the ban do not carry any such objectionable material. It is essential that the voice of reason prevail and the concerned authorities do not act on the recommendations of the provincial lawmakers’ attitudes, which are inimical to knowledge itself.

The writer is a retired Inspector General of Police, who writes on security, terrorism and current affairs