Monday, July 22, 2024

Namaaz in Temples : Precedent and purpose

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The 96th Sura of the Quran, titled ‘al-Alaq’ and considered the first revelation received by prophet Mohammad by traditional Muslim sources, can be divided into two parts. Ayats  1-8 are the words of the first revelation, the ‘Iqra’ verses, and 9-19 are the Ka’aba verses, where a distractor, Abu Jahl (father of ignorance, real name Amr ibn Hisham), tries to violently break up Mohammad’s prayer. It was reported by Ibn Abbas (Sahih Bukhari 6.482) that Abu Jahl announced he would stamp on Mohammad’s neck if he found him praying in front of Ka’aba, and by Abdullah bin Masud (Sahih Bukhari 1.241, 4.185, 4.409 and 5.193) that Abu Jahl had the entrails of a camel thrown upon the praying prophet.

Muslim narratives interpolated several supernatural legends in the scene to showcase Mohammad’s claim to prophethood. As per Abdullah bin Masud, Mohammad did not react in a hostile manner to the insult of having camel entrails thrown on him, and only called out to Allah thrice to punish the transgressors, effectuated in the battle of Badr where all seven transgressors were killed. In another version, Abu Jahl proceeded to strike Mohammad with a heavy stone, but upon approaching the praying Mohammad he was struck by terror, turned back and retreated because he had a vision of a terrifying figure. Traditional Muslim sources cite Mohammad as saying that the fiery figure was angel Jibril (Gabriel), and Abu Jahl would have been killed by Jibril if he came any closer to Mohammad. This vision and the deaths of the conspirators on the battlefield at Badr are advanced as proofs of Mohammad’s divine mission.

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Muslim sources are oblivious of the fact, however, that Mohammad was prostrating in front of the Ka’aba in worship of Allah, which involved, in accordance with the first principle of Islam, disowning and insulting the deities lodged in the Ka’aba. Abu Jabl swore in the name of al-Lat and al-Uzza, two of the more than hundred deities whose abode the Ka’aba then was, to punish Mohammad for his dishonourable actions.

Is it not a natural and understandable reaction of a devotee to take offence at insults hurled at their deities in their very home?

From the Islamic point of view, Abu Jahl was committing the gravest sin of rejecting Allah and his prophet. From the point of view of the Arab ‘polytheists’ whose leader Abu Jahl was, it was deeply troubling to see a self-declared prophet spewing unprovoked animosity towards their deities. Seen in that perspective, Abu Jahl was well within his rights to protect the sanctity of his deities and their abode, and defend them from the attacks a man he perceived as a madcap possessed by the belief that the deities lodged in the Ka’aba were false gods and a source of evil. If Abu Jahl stopped in his tracks from assaulting Mohammad, it could only have been out of a sense of compassion or due to some obstacle created by Mohammad’s high ancestry and his family’s prestigious position in the town’s social hierarchy. A clue comes from the biography of Mohammad’s uncle Abu Talib (father of Ali), who defended Mohammad against the anger of his enemies until his last day. There is a great debate over whether Abu Talib accepted Islam or died a polytheist, but there is no dispute that he protected Mohammad. It is likely that the strength and prestige of Mohammad’s relatives and benefactors afforded a considerable degree of immunity to Mohammad.

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When Muslims breach temples and offer namaaz, they do so with the idea and inspiration of imitating the prophet. What is wrong and deeply offensive to Hindus, is an act of faith and a measure of commitment to Islam for the believer in the prophet. After all, he believes he is faithfully performing the deed enjoined to him by the prophet in ayat 19 of sura al-Alaq. For performing namaaz in a temple, following the precedent of the prophet, a Muslim gets heaven, whereas for merely wanting to defend his deity and its sanctuary, the polytheist disbeliever, like Abu Jahl and company, get the eternal fire of hell.

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