Chutzpah is the most appropriate word to describe Indresh Kumar’s speech at an iftaar party at Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia last week. The patron of the Muslim Rashtriya Manch, an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, lectured Muslims fasting for Ramzan not to eat gosht – meat – because it is apparently a source of many diseases. His followers reportedly offered people milk with which to break their fast.
Kumar’s speech provoked Jamia Millia students to protest, but it also enabled him to grab headlines and airtime. Subsequently, though, in an interview to rediff.com, he clarified that gosht means beef and not the meat of goat, which, he claimed, is called maas. This is lexical jugglery. In everyday usage, maas in Hindi translates as gosht in Urdu.
To rediff.com, Kumar made several assertions, which he repeated to other media outlets, about the Quran pertaining to the cow and its slaughter. A few of these are:
- “There is no mention of cow slaughter in the Quran or the Surah-e-Baqar, the biggest chapter in the Quran.” (Surah-e-Baqar is mostly written as Surah Al-Baqara, that is, Chapter: The Cow.)
- “Surah-e-Baqar talks about various diseases and, in fact, the chapter takes the name of the cow.”
- To the question which book in Islam prohibits eating cow meat, Kumar replied, “The Quran.”
- “You can check the hadith [the sayings of Prophet Mohammed] too, and you will find out that when he was served cow meat, he asked that it be taken away. He said, “Gosht bimari hai, doodh aur ghee shifa aur ilaaj hai [Cow meat spreads illnesses whereas milk and ghee are healthy and a cure for diseases].”
- “The holiest sites of Islam are Mecca and Medina where cow slaughter is not allowed and, therefore, selling gosht is prohibited.”
These assertions of Kumar smack of ignorance at best and mischief at worst.
Not an object of veneration
Al-Baqara does not talk of diseases. It does not have a single unifying theme but is a medley of parables, the stories of other prophets from the past, marriage and divorce, charity and usury, and a verse laying down rules for what is permissible for Muslims to eat. In this same chapter occurs the famous verse: “Let there be no compulsion in religion.”
Each of the Quran’s 114 chapters is titled for a word in them. The title does not in anyway render the object it mentions holy. This is true of Al-Baqara or The Cow as it is of chapters such as The Ant, The Pen, The Spider, The Cave. Kumar is wrong in believing that because a chapter is titled Al-Baqara, the Quran considers the cow holy.
Al-Baqara mentions the cow twice. Quite ironically, in one instance, it is mentioned in the context of a sacrifice, albeit to establish a philosophical point. Verses 67-73 retell the story of Moses (Musa to Muslims) when he communicated God’s command to his people to sacrifice a heifer. They kept asking Moses the precise type of heifer God wanted to be sacrificed, whether old or young or of middle age, and of which colour.
Verse 71 quotes Moses: “He [God] says: a heifer not trained to till the soil or water the fields; sound and without blemish.” It is only then the people sacrifice the heifer. About these verses, the cultural critic and public intellectual Ziauddin Sardar writes in Reading the Quran:
“It is a case of religious nitpicking run riot, a genuine human perversity…The moral I see here is: beware of the legalistic mindset in operating religion.”
The calf appears in Al-Baqara for the second time in Verse 51: “And remember We appointed 40 nights for Moses, and in his absence you took the calf [for worship], and did grievous wrong.” This harks to the Biblical story of Moses leaving the Israelites for 40 nights to receive the Ten Commandments. On his return, Moses finds his people have taken to worshipping a calf made from molten gold. God forgives them, however, as Verse 52 narrates: “Even then We did forgive you; there was a chance for you to be grateful.”
Sardar explains the import of Verse 52 thus:
“The example given is the story of the golden calf, but the point is more extensive. Throughout history humans have erred. In spite of worshipping the golden calf, a cardinal sin in monotheism, they were forgiven.”
These two verses certainly show that Islam does not consider the heifer (or the cow) as an object of veneration, as Kumar asserts. Nor is he correct in claiming that the Quran prohibits cow slaughter.
Verse 173 of Al-Baqara lays down the general rules describing what food is prohibited to Muslims:
“He [God] has only forbidden you dead meat, and blood, and the flesh of swine, and that on which any other name has been invoked besides that of Allah.”
Dead meat refers to the meat of a dead animal. This is prohibited, as is blood of animals or those slaughtered without taking the name of Allah, and pork.
No ban on slaughter
That the Quran does not prohibit the slaughter of cattle can be gleaned from Verses 71-72 of Chapter 36 (Surah Yaaseen). It says God created “cattle” so that people can use some of them to travel and some to “eat”. Verse 73 then states: “And they have [other] profits from them [besides], and they get [milk] to drink. Will they not then be grateful?”
This should establish incontrovertibly Kumar’s propensity to fabricate evidence from the Quran to support a ban on cow slaughter.
What about the hadith Kumar cited to claim the Prophet asked for beef to be taken away when it was served to him? Prof Towqueer Alam, who heads the theology department at Aligarh Muslim University, said no such tradition exists.
“But there is a hadith saying that during a feast, the meat of monitor lizard, which in Hindi is called goh, was placed before him,” said Prof Alam. “The Prophet did not eat it, though others did, suggesting that he was not disapproving of lizard meat. When the Prophet was asked why he had not eaten it, he said because it was not found in his country.”
It is possible Kumar could have mixed up “goh” and “gau”, or cow, in case he read the hadith in Hindi. But the Prophet’s dislike for certain food items was a matter of his personal taste. It did not make the food taboo. For instance, the Prophet disliked garlic because of its odour but it is widely used in Muslim households around the world.
No beef ban in Mecca, Medina
Kumar also asserts that cow slaughter and sale of beef is banned in Mecca and Medina. This is a brazen lie.
Scroll.in spoke with Duan Sooddn, a Sri Lankan chef at Mecca’s Al Bayt restaurant, which registers high on the travel portal TripAdvisor. “Yes, we serve beef dishes,” Sooddn said. He claimed the restaurant procures beef locally as well as from outside. “Who says there is a prohibition on cow slaughter and consumption of beef in Mecca?”
Moreover, the menus of Al Ansar and Kyoto restaurants at The Oberoi, counted among the most luxurious hotels in Medina, list several beef dishes. Scroll.in spoke to a staffer whose name is being withheld because he is an Indian citizen. “We procure beef from outside Saudi Arabia to maintain a uniform standard,” he said. “Our dish of beef medallions is very popular. We do not source our supply locally because the beef in Medina does not cook well.”
Given the ease of global connectivity, it is incredible that Kumar should twist facts, and invent them. But there is a method to his strategy: it is to address a large segment of Muslims in India who read the Quran in Arabic but do not understand the language. The illiterate among them cannot even access translations of the Quran to understand its meanings. They simply learn by rote the verses for the purpose of prayer.
So, when they hear a leader like Kumar claim that the Quran bans cow slaughter or the chapter of Al-Baqara is on diseases, there is a possibility they might believe him or get confused. More so as at functions, like the iftaar party at Jamia Millia, where Kumar was surrounded by Muslim members of the Muslim Rashtriya Manch who cheered and applauded him.
Forget the illiterate, even many educated practising Muslims have no clue to the meaning of the Quran unless they read its translations in languages they can understand. By sowing the seeds of doubt in them, Kumar seeks to calibrate the community’s mindset with the RSS’s ideology.
If Muslims might not know what is in the Quran, most Hindus certainly will not. Non-Muslim interviewers of Kumar do not have the requisite knowledge to challenge his assertions on the Quran. He gets a free pass to propagate falsehoods, in the process persuading Hindus to believe that Muslims eat beef despite the Quranic ban on it just to mock the majority community’s religious beliefs.
The Muslim Rashtriya Manch website claims that since it was established in 2002, Muslim intellectuals and religious leaders have embraced the RSS as “their true friend” and “Indresh Kumar as their messiah”.
As far as his speech at Jamia Millia and subsequent clarifications go, Kumar seems to be a messiah of falsehoods, ascribing to the Quran what does not exist and misleading Muslims into supporting the Sangh
The verses quoted above are from The Holy Qur’an: An English Translation by Abdullah Yusuf Ali.
Ajaz Ashraf is a journalist in Delhi. His novel, The Hour Before Dawn, has as its backdrop the demolition of the Babri Masjid.