At a meeting of like-minded liberal Muslims last night, a proposal was made to take a step beyond our weekly forays into the travails that have led the Muslim community to regress further into the dogma-driven existence that draws its strength from medievalism and magical beliefs, defying both science and sanity.
Invariably the subject of the assassination attempt on Salman Rushdie came up. Despite searching for news about the Indian-born British novelist, we could not find any information about either his state of recovery or whether the author of The Satanic Verses had lost an eye during the multiple stab wounds inflicted on him by the New Jersey-born jihadi Hadi Matar.
Not a word on Sir Salman in any of the Canadian mainstream media obsessed with the firing of CTV anchor Lisa LaFlamme. As for the American press, it seems they too decided that the Rushdie story had run its course.
Then there was the Aug. 20 gathering at the New York Public Library organized by PEN America's president, playwright Ayad Akhtar, and attended by Rushdie's friends, among them authors, writers, artists and members from the literary community, including Tina Brown, Kiran Desai, Aasif Mandvi and Reginald Dwayne Betts who read from some of Rushdie's most celebrated works and wished the 75-year-old Booker Prize winner a speedy recovery.
"When a would-be murderer punched a knife to Salman Rushdie's neck, he pierced more than just the flesh of a renowned writer. He sliced through time, jolting all of us to recognize that horror of the past is haunting the present," CEO of PEN America Suzanne Nossel said at the start of the event.
There was much more said in defence of "Freedom of expression." Still, few dared to challenge the Islamist doctrine that permits ordinary Muslims to behead those who they believe have insulted Prophet Muhammad. Not one of these supporters of Rushdie dared challenge the doctrine that led to the 1989 fatwa by Khomeini or the 2022 attack by a New Jersey-born youth of Lebanese Shia ancestry.
Verse 5:33 of the Qur'an, which Muslims believe are the direct words of Allah as sent via Archangel Gabriel to Prophet Muhammad, reads as follows:
"Indeed, the penalty for those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive upon earth (to cause) corruption is none but that they be killed or crucified or that their hands and feet be cut off from opposite sides or that they be exiled from the land. That is for them a disgrace in this world, and for them in the Hereafter is a great punishment."
The above is just one verse of the Qur'an that could have motivated Rushdie's would-be assassin. Other literature from Sharia (Islamic law) developed hundreds of years after Islam's advent has endorsed individual Muslims' responsibility to honour their faith and Prophet even if that requires violence.
For the dozen of us discussing the issue, we just could not understand why American society or, for that matter, even Canada would not stand up for freedom of expression, even if it is seen as an insult to a religious figure. Surely if our Prophet was able to take insults from non-Muslims without losing his temper, why couldn't we Muslims, especially those of us who chose not to live under Islamic Sharia and sought a new home in countries where Church and State were separate and where cartoon strips such as "Jesus & Mo" are a source of laughter, not a beheading.
Fortunately, not all Muslim scholars have taken the harsh route to Islamic punishments. The Indian Islamic scholar Maulana Wahiduddin, in an article for the respected Times of India, wrote that contrary to what Islamists preach and propagate, "The Qur'an does not prescribe punishment for blasphemy."
According to Maulana Wahiduddin, more than 200 verses in the Qur'an reveal that the prophets' contemporaries repeatedly perpetrated the same act, which is now called 'blasphemy or abuse of the Prophet' or 'using abusive language about the Prophet.' Prophets, down the ages, have been mocked and abused by their contemporaries (36:30); some of the epithets cited in the Qur'an include "a liar" (40:24), "possessed" (15:6), "a fabricator" (16:101), "a foolish man" (7:66). The Qur'an mentions these words of abuse used by prophets' contemporaries but nowhere does the Qur'an prescribe the punishment of lashes, or death, or any other physical punishment."
As we broke up for the night, we were all sullen and sad at our inability to let ordinary Canadians and Americans become aware of the danger to our civilization at the hands of those who live among us, who celebrated the attempted murder of Sir Salman Rushdie.
Tarek Fatah is a Robert J. and Abby B. Levine Fellow at the Middle East Forum, a founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress, and a columnist at the Toronto Sun.