Some people got left behind

Irrfan Khan just took off from a cliff and he is flying highFacebook/ Irrfan Khan
Voices Religion Tuesday, July 26, 2016 - 18:15

Irfan Khan saved the best and the most uncomfortable for the last. It was a manel on “The Newshour” with Arnab Goswami to discuss Khan's latest comments on animal sacrifice in Islam, terrorism etc - comments which have got a few noses out of joint. The manelists were Taslim Ahmad Rehmani, President, Muslim Political Council of India, Mohandas Pai from Bangalore, Mufti Mohammad Manzur Ziahi and Zafar Sareshwala, Chancellor of the Maulana Azad National Urdu University.

Part One

There were the mandatory motherhood and apple-pie statements - all religions condemn terrorism. Beyond that, Khan dominated the debate without taking his name. Just as Goswami was wrapping up, the much-acclaimed actor subtly took down two planks which need to be stoutly demolished.  Thank you but no thank you, I need no patronising or claps for my conversation with my god he said in a reference to Pai who said Khan should be welcomed and supported. Turning to the Mufti who had been trying to foist his version of Islam, Khan said he didn’t need a middleman to understand the teachings of god as the Quran was open to interpretation and individual devotion. Unperturbed, the Mufti told Khan animal slaughter on the right day – the right day he insisted – was prescribed to attain salvation. Khan has promised to revisit this discussion.  

The cherry on the cake (or tight slap as we say in south Asia) was reserved for Rehmani who was relegated to the place of “background music.”  Rehmani went off on a tangent from the word go.  He accused Khan of some sins and attempting to pass of drinking alcohol as accepted by the Quaran to which Khan replied that he would take that onus on himself, why blame Islam. Rehmani piped in saying Islamic laws must be strictly adhered to, to which Khan asked where and in which country? Ouch, with a big O. 

I watched the programme twice. I am a fan of the actor and I admire public personalities who take positions on issues of national interest. Imagine if a famous Indian asked our politicians to button up and focus on the one and only one issue that threatens our future i.e. water? Khan did not have to take a public stand.  Like many of his Bollywood colleagues who are mealy mouthed about religion, Hinduism, Islam, faith, terrorism and fatwas and 'victimised' by careless journalists who 'misquote' them, Khan stayed the course during the discussion and promised that he would engage with all issues in discussions he deemed constructive. Earlier Khan had said he was happy to be living in a country (India) not governed by religious thekedars (contractors). The Mufti on the manel was not impressed. 

Part Two

The discussion unfolded at least two levels. One was very nuanced – it was the one Khan strode. Religion is a personal journey he said, one where seeking god and discovering the many mysteries was equally if not more important than reaching a pre-designated destination. Faith for him was like a house with many rooms (Life of Pi), each chamber a manifestation of doubt. Without doubt and questioning, there was no spiritual progress. 


Rituals could serve to discover the polish of the soul, but mindless practice of the same could make the relationship with god a transactional one where one gives and gets in a routine and mindless humdrum. As an example of his personal journey, he said he had stopped telling his child to be ‘proud’ of this or that (gharoor) as it - pride or ahankar (arrogance) - could lead to destruction. 

This man is unafraid and he is willing to engage because he is secure in his space. His intellectual finesse came through when he asked the Mufti this - even if it is okay to slaughter an animal, is it okay to do so (kar sakté hain, magar karna chahiya kya?). All religions are about can do, must do, need to do rituals but must we, he asked throwing a googly at the Mufti.  The scholar told Khan to read the correct version of the Quran and be correctly instructed.

And I save this for the last as well. Khan, perhaps inadvertently took down the new group of apologists on all sides in India and North America whose monkey balancing is now beyond comedy. This group consisting of both Hindus and Muslims have made it a mission to co-opt Muslims who criticise Islam either for what it is or when compared to Hinduism. It has boiled down to a small group of Muslims and Hindus certifying each other. Khan has rattled some of those chains by saying absence of vision is not the monopoly of any religion – besides who is he to ask who is to decide which path to knowledge is better as long as it is peaceful? 

That’s probably what hurts the I-know-best group the most  - the rigour and grandeur of a genuine search free for a conversation with god. The unbearable ease of a true seeker is always disturbing, especially intellectually.  Which is probably why the way to hell is supposed to be littered with good intentions. 

Mine? She's black. 

Note: The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the author

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