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10. Mohammed Habib’s history-rewriting

10. Mohammed Habib’s history-rewriting

It is but rarely that a secularist or a Muslim actually takes issue with what I have written. Mostly they resort to swearwords and the use of institutional power to deny me access to important forums. So, when someone does take the trouble of reading a book of mine and even writing a rebuttal, I will gladly oblige and take my turn to comment on the comment.

10.1. Mohammed Habib’s revolutionary project

‘The writings of the Dutch historian Koenraad Elst have recently become popular among the Hindutvavadis of India. He claims that official (or officially sanctioned) history in India is subject to ‘’negationism’ - the denial or playing down of Muslim crimes in the past, as well as of a history of Hindu-Muslim conflict.’ Thus writes Amber Habib in an article titled ‘Elst on Habib’, published on his private website.1

My attention was drawn to it by a friend in 1999, but it may be a few years older, being a reaction to my 1993 book Negationism in India: Concealing the Record of Islam. According to his homepage, Amber Habib turns out to be a Communist, son of Prof. Irfan Habib, grandson of Prof. Mohammed Habib, as well as grandnephew of Badruddin Tyabji, a leading Congress Muslim. The young mathematician living in Model Town, Delhi, has married a young lady with a Hindu name and Hindu looks, and after that he has started neglecting his website. Well, happiness is a sleeping website.1

He seems to be a jolly good fellow, but having grown up with a reverence for Nehru and Lenin, his view of the Hindu-Muslim conflict is rather unfair. That is to say, by sounding balanced when commenting on a highly asymmetrical conflict, it does injustice to one of the parties. He sums up his view in this verse from Kabir: ‘Hindu says Ram is the beloved, the Turk [Muslim] says Rahim. Then they kill each other. No one knows the secret.’ Kabir belonged to a breed of Hindu converts to Islam who had retained their Hindu spiritual consciousness but poisoned it by imbibing categories of Islamic monotheism. He was the founder of the Santa-mata which had Hindu Bhakti of the Purans as its stock-in-trade but which paraded a monotheistic facade and poured contempt on the Hindu Pandit and the Muslim Mullah without knowing even the ABCD of Islam. That explains his great popularity in Nehruvian circles who know their Islam quite superficially but have developed contempt for Hinduism about which they know even less. Anyway, picking up a quarrel in the middle is pretty safe and mentally undemanding. But Kabir’s symmetry is false. No Hindu ever killed a Muslim simply for not worshipping Rama, but numerous Hindus were killed by Muslims purely for not worshipping Rahim.

Let us come to the point. Amber Habib has better things to do than to argue with me: ‘Due to the volume of charges thrown around by him, I cannot enter into a lengthy discussion of his views.’ This is convenient for the author, but I readily agree that life is too short and too precious to spend it on polemics. Habib jr. is willing to make one exception, though: ‘However, I feel his discussion of Prof. Mohammad Habib’s writings provides a useful example, by which his worth can be judged. The quotes below are from his book Negationism in India: Concealing the Record of Islam. The readers who care, may make some judgments for themselves by reading excerpts from Prof. Habib’s writings.’

Here we go: ‘Elst begins with: ‘’Around 1920 Aligarh historian Mohammed Habib launched a grand project to rewrite the history of the Indian religious conflict. The main points of his version of history are the following.’ Prof. Habib’s specialization was the history of the Delhi Sultanate. Therefore he did write about what Elst sees only as ‘’Indian religious conflict’. But this was not part of a larger ‘’grand project’.’

By ‘grand project’, I did not mean a grand research project, only a grand project of launching a new interpretation of the behaviour of Muslim conquerors in India. Given its far-reaching implications and its role as a model emulated by the dominant school of Indian historians, I believe that it is fair to call Prof. Habib’s project ‘grand’.

Amber Habib continues: ‘From the prefaces to his essay on Mahmud of Ghazni, it is also clear that Prof. Habib meant mainly to criticise the image of Mahmud as a religious hero among certain Muslims, and not to defend him in any way: ‘’There has recently grown up a tendency among some Musalmans of India to adore Mahmud as a saint, and to such [people], a scientific evaluation of his work and his policy will appear very painful. There is only one thing I need say in my defence. Islam as a creed stands by the principles of the Quran and the ‘’Life’ of the Apostle. If Sultan Mahmud and his followers strayed from the ‘’straight path’ - so much the worse for them. We want no idols.’‘

But that was exactly my point. The consensus view, shared by Muslims (not only recently), Hindus and Westerners, was that Mahmud acted as a Muslim, implementing the code of the mujahid as laid down by the Prophet. Habib’s new view was diametrically opposed to the centuries-old consensus: he claimed that Mahmud’s behaviour ‘strayed from’ the properly Islamic path. That he innovated by describing Mahmud’s behaviour as un-Islamic is what I wrote, and Amber Habib has now confirmed it.

Habib jr. correctly relates: ‘His first critics, therefore, were the self-same Muslims.’ And he quotes from Habib sr.’s foreword of a reprint of his essay: ‘The book was hailed by a storm of criticism in the Urdu press. But as this criticism - vindictive, bitter, hostile - was based on a complete’ ignorance of the originals, I took no notice of it. I reprint the book as it was written.’

So, here we have it from the horse’s mouth: the Muslims applauded Mahmud’s behaviour and they considered it impeccably Islamic. I only disagree with the professor’s claim that their conviction was due to ignorance.

10.2. Absolving Islam

Amber Habib then quotes me: ‘Firstly, it was not all that serious. One cannot fail to notice that the Islamic chroniclers (including some rulers who wrote their own chronicles, like Teimur and Babar) have described the slaughter of Hindus, the abduction of their women and children, and the destruction of their places of worship most gleefully. But, according to Habib, these were merely exaggerations by court poets out to please their patrons. One wonders what it says about Islamic rulers that they felt flattered by the bloody details which the Muslims chroniclers of Hindu persecutions have left us. At any rate, Habib has never managed to underpin this convenient hypothesis with a single fact.’

This is followed by the rebuttal: ‘Prof. Habib made no such claim. Again, it is best to quote him directly: ‘’No honest historian should seek to hide, and no Musalman acquainted with his faith will try to justify, the wanton destruction of temples that followed in the wake of the Ghaznavid army. Contemporary as well as later historians do not attempt to veil the nefarious acts but relate them with pride.’ He does say that much of what was written about Mahmud, was written hundreds of years after the fact, by a group seeking to legitimize itself by first canonizing Mahmud and then using him as a prior example setter.’

Here, Amber Habib may have a point. The quotation given should not be used to represent the whole of the eminent historian’s writing on Mahmud and the Sultanate, but judged all by itself, it does indeed acknowledge as factual the atrocities committed by Mahmud. In that respect at least, he did better than some of the later secularists, with whose more crassly negationist claims I seem to have confused Habib’s position. As for those who glorified Mahmud centuries after the fact, they based their stories on contemporary accounts, of which Habib sr. himself admitted that they accurately described Mahmud’s atrocities and destruction.

Next, my turn again to be quoted: ‘Secondly, that percentage of atrocities on Hindus which Habib was prepared to admit as historical, is not to be attributed to the impact of Islam, but to other factors. Sometimes Islam was used as a justification post factum, but this was deceptive. In reality economic motives were at work. The Hindus amassed all their wealth in temples and therefore Muslim armies plundered these temples.’

That Habib sr. made this claim concerning Mahmud, is already clear from the quotations given above. His whole point was to absolve Islam and attribute the crimes Mahmud committed to other factors such as, here, the desire for booty. Habib jr. comments: ‘Prof. Habib says this for the example of Mahmud of Ghazni. If he has made a more general claim to this effect, I have not been able to find it in his Collected Works. Which brings up the matter of Elst’s method - one should note the lack of direct quotation or reference.’

It is funny how often I, as a writer of heavy books overburdened with quotations and footnotes, have been attacked for not providing footnotes in my book Negationism in India, which had been started as a mere review article (of Sita Ram Goel’s book Hindu Temples: What Happened to Them) and was retained in that format even after growing to the size of a book in its own right. I referred to Habib’s writings purely from memory, having read some of them in India months or years before penning that review.

Professor Habib, described here as a specialist on the Delhi Sultanate, had to deal with many more Muslim fanatics and iconoclasts, the Delhi Sultanate being one of the most violent regimes in history. Invariably, sultans oppressing Hinduism invoked the tenets of Islam as justification. If we are to believe Amber Habib, it was only in the case of Mahmud Ghaznavi that the august professor disconnected behaviour from religion. So in all the other cases, say Malik Kafur, Alauddin Khilji or Sikander Lodi, Habib admitted their Islamic motivation? Habib can be quoted as confirming the Islamic injunction to idol-breaking as demonstrated by many Muslim rulers in India?

That is still not what I recall, but, not having Habib’s Collected Works handy even now, I am willing to take Habib jr.’s word for it. Let us assume that I wrongly extrapolated Habib sr.’s view of Mahmud Ghaznavi to Muslim rulers in general. Note, however, that this extrapolation would be accurate for most of Habib’s followers among today’s AMU and JNU faculty, and even foreign scholars like Richard Eaton, who do make these exonerating claims about Islam in the case of Muslim conquerors in general.

10.3. The ethnic factor

The next quotation from my own text is this: ‘Thirdly, according to Habib there was also a racial factor: these Muslims were mostly Turks, savage riders from the steppes who would need several centuries before getting civilized by the wholesome influence of Islam. Their inborn barbarity cannot be attributed to the doctrines of Islam.’

I readily admit that my choice of the word ‘racial’ was cheap and demagogic. Nowadays, racism passes for the ultimate mortal sin and I could not withstand the temptation to insinuate an allegation of racism against my opponents. Given the looseness with which the term ‘racism’ is used nowadays, the massacres of Hindus by Muslims and the concentrated hatred of secularists for the Hindus could easily qualify as ‘racist’. But coming back to reality, the fact remains that Habib and many others have described the pre-Islamic and freshly-islamized Turks as barbaric, and used that classification to explain some of their behaviour without implicating Islam.

Amber Habib sets the record straight: ‘Prof. Habib did talk about relatively ‘’uncivilized’ Turks, but this was in the context of their conflicts with the Persians. In his descriptions, these are not the Turks who made it to India - and further the first Muslim invaders of India were not Turks in any case. Phrases such as ‘’inborn barbarity’ seem quite foreign to Prof. Habib’s world-view and writing style and are more likely a projection by Elst of his own weird classifications of peoples. Prof. Habib’s argument is quite the opposite of what is presented here. He did not describe barbarians who were not yet soothed by Islam - but a sophisticated ruling class that perverted the ideals of Islam to its own ends.’

Before replying, allow me to quote one more round of Amber Habib’s argument. I am quoted as writing: ‘Mohammed Habib’s exercise in history-rewriting cannot stand the test of historical criticism on any score. We can demonstrate this with the example of Sultan Mahmud Ghaznavi (997-1030), already mentioned, who carried out a number of devastating raids in Sindh, Gujarat and Panjab. This Ghaznavi was a Turk, certainly, but in many respects he was not a barbarian: he patronized arts and literature (including the great Persian poet Firdausi, who would end up in trouble because his patron suspected him of apostasy, and the Persian but Arabic-writing historian Albiruni) and was a fine calligraphist himself. The undeniable barbarity of his antiHindu campaigns cannot be attributed to his ethnic stock.’

Habib jr. comments: ‘Prof. Habib does not attribute Mahmud’s behaviour to his being a Turk ‘’barbarian’, but (to the extent that background can be blamed) to the spirit of the ‘’Persian Renaissance’ and the subsequent submission of the Islamic ideal to the whims and desires of the rulers. To say Mahmud patronised Alberuni is a bit of a stretch - for Alberuni was a captive from one of Mahmud’s western campaigns and, while he travelled in Mahmud’s train, he enjoyed no special privileges. (his bitterness towards Mahmud is quite explicit in his Kitab-al-Hind.)’

Thank you, Amber, for this detail about Alberuni’s life story. It is most interesting to learn that one of the greatest scholars of the Muslim Golden Age, an admirer of India moreover, was not honoured in proportion to his exceptional merits, but was actually a captive and treated as one. But to return to the main point: as I already admitted, it is possible that at some points I have conflated Habib’s views with those of other secularists. It is very common in those circles to explain away the misdeeds of Muslims with ethnic factors of barbarity, e.g. numerous modem publications on the Prophet justify his use of violent means in imposing Islam as a regrettable but inevitable effect of the prevalent barbarity of the Arabs. The allegation of ethnic barbarity against Arabs or Turks is not my ‘own weird classification of peoples’ but standard fare in pro-Islamic apologetics. My point is that this ethnic-cultural explanation of Islamic behaviour is wrong, for the Arabs were not at all barbaric. They had many tempering conventions concerning warfare, and Prophet Mohammed’s novel contribution was precisely to break these and wage a total war.

Mohammed Habib and Amber Habib have certainly not convinced me that Mahmud’s crimes are in any way due to the Persian Renaissance. Firdausi was the prime exponent of this trend, and he was never guilty of such crimes. And it was precisely because he took the Persian heritage too seriously that he got in trouble with the Islamic establishment including Mahmud.

But even if we accept the Habib theory, and if we agree that Habib’s line in exonerating Islam of Mahmud’s crimes is unrelated to considerations of ethnic barbarity, we still maintain that his line was wrong. The explanation of Mahmud’s behaviour as un-Islamic, whether from savageness or from decadent oversophistication, is wrong in any case. The ‘sophisticated ruling class’ in Mahmud’s kingdom has not ‘perverted the ideals of Islam to its own ends’. Those who cultivated the Persian heritage did not destroy Hindu temples, while those who did persecute Hindus and destroy their cultural treasures have not done more than to faithfully apply the Islamic ideals. They emulated the precedents set by the Prophet of Islam himself.

10.4. Conversion by force, or was it by fraud?

Amber Habib has no quarrel with my following paraphrase of Mohammed Habib’s position: ‘Finally, the violence of the Islamic warriors was of minor importance in the establishment of Islam in India. What happened was not so much a conquest, but a shift in public opinion: when the urban working-class heard of Islam and realized it now had a choice between Hindu law (smriti) and Muslim law (shariat) it chose the latter.’ There, I was merely paraphrasing a very famous phrase of Prof. Habib’s, one not pertaining to Mahmud Ghaznavi but to Mohammed Ghori and his lieutenants.2

Amber comments: ‘Prof. Habib did believe that the sword failed to win any significant number of converts to Islam. In his view, the sword-wielders were only out for gain in this world and were not interested in conversions. Nor does he believe they would have succeeded had they tried. He gives credit instead to the Sufis and such preachers who spread a more egalitarian version of Islam through the country.’

In Prophet Mohammed’s biography by Ibn Ishaq, we find that practically all Arab conversions to Islam were the fruit of the sword. When Pagan tribes saw that their chances to hold out against Mohammed’s military onslaught had become very small, most agreed to acquiesce in the lesser evil, viz. to give up their culture rather than their lives. Others had joined Mohammed earlier for another sword-related reason: as fellow fighters in Mohammed’s Jihad, they would be entitled to a share in the war booty. Yet others, typically unthinking youngsters including the daughter of the leading family of Mecca, were eager to join what seemed to them to be the wave of the future, the army that went from victory to victory. It was only a very small minority that joined Mohammed because of a heartfelt belief that his claim of hearing Allah’s own voice was genuine.

In India and other countries, the percentages of the different categories of converts may have been divided differently, but the military superiority of Islam was practically always the overriding factor, directly or indirectly. Many were literally converted at swordpoint, but the largest number of converts were probably those, mostly in the urban artisanal castes, who wanted to escape the jizya tax and the numerous other disabilities imposed on non-Muslims, - a legal discrimination which supposed the existence of an Islamic regime, and this regime was invariably established by force. But I will concede that in some cases, gullible people were taken in by Muslim preachers or sufis who managed to link Islam with certain virtues or mystical experiences in the minds of their audiences. Even today, absolutely any self-styled prophet or cult leader manages to get a following, so why not in the Middle Ages?

But that does not mean that an opinion poll was held in which the Indians were given a reasoned choice between the Smriti and the Shariat (Hindu c.q. Muslim law) and then decided on the basis of their preference between these two. In any event, the law governing their day-to-day lives didn’t change much upon conversion, for most recent converts retained their Hindu customs (which in turn were generally not determined by the abstract Smriti but by caste tradition) for generations. To most converts, their first bite into beef, the classic test of abandonment of Hinduism, tasted very bitter, but they judged it was worth the nausea because it would increase their chances in life under an Islamic regime. The key fact here was not any ‘egalitarian’ pretence of Islam, but precisely the inequality which it imposed between Muslims and Hindus of comparable social standing.

10.5. Ghaznavi vs. other Muslim conquerors

About Mahmud Ghaznavi, I am quoted as writing: ‘There is no record of his being welcomed by urban artisans as a liberator from the oppressive Hindu social system. On the contrary, his companion Albiruni testifies how all the Hindus had an inveterate aversion for all Muslims.’

Amber Habib comments: ‘No such claim is made for Mahmud by Prof. Habib. Let us quote him again: ‘’It was inevitable that the Hindus should consider Islam a deviation from the truth when its followers deviated so deplorably from the path of rectitude and justice. A people is not conciliated by being robbed of all that it holds most dear, nor will it love a faith that comes to it in the guise of plundering armies and leaves devastated fields and ruined cities as monuments of its victorious method for reforming the morals of a prosperous but erratic world … the policy of Mahmud secured the rejection of Islam without a hearing.’

Amber Habib’s whole argument hinges on a supposed contrast in behaviour between Mahmud and the other sultans. But that contrast is in most cases false. The real conqueror of India for Islam, Mohammed Shihabuddin Ghori, has left a trail of destruction behind him of entirely similar proportions. The same thing is true, on a geographically smaller but otherwise similar scale, for other Muslim conquerors, including Timur, Babar, Ahmad Shah Abdali and down to the Pakistani irregulars who conquered parts of Kashmir in 1947. If Mahmud could not win the hearts of the Indians, then neither could his successors. They all set the Hindus firmly against Islam, precisely because they did ensure that Islam got a proper hearing. They showed Islam in the true colours of Prophet Mohammed. But for their military superiority, they would have welcomed extremely few Hindu converts into the Muslim fold.

But what about Mahmud’s chief predecessor, Mohammed bin Qasim? I am quoted thus: ‘His [Mahmud’s] massacres and acts of destruction were merely a replay of what the Arab Mohammed bin Qasim had wrought in Sindh in 712-15. He didn’t care for material gain: he left rich mosques untouched, but poor Hindu temples met the same fate at his hands as the richer temples. He turned down a Hindu offer to give back a famous idol in exchange for a huge ransom: ‘’I prefer to appear on judgement Day as an idol-breaker rather than an idol-seller.’ The one explanation that covers all the relevant facts, is that he was driven to his barbarous acts by his ideological allegiance to Islam.’

Amber Habib comments: ‘Prof. Habib points to many significant differences between Mohammed Qasim and Mahmud. The former was interested in setting up a fair government and in obtaining the consent and approval of the local population. He dealt harshly with opposing soldiers but left the civil population alone. It is not clear why Elst refers to mosques being left untouched. Mosques contain no riches - so this would be entirely in consonance with Prof. Habib’s view of Mahmud as a grand looter. Further, there could not have been many mosques at this time in India, let alone ‘’rich’ ones. Perhaps he is referring to Mahmud’s western campaigns. Prof. Habib’s thesis is that Mahmud’s desire was to expand his empire to the west, and the raids in the east were to provide finance as well as the mantle of a religious warrior. It is quite consistent with this that he would be more destructive in the east than the west. The story of the ransom is likely a latter day fabrication by those seeking to enhance Mahmud’s status as a religious hero - it makes little sense for Mahmud to be bargaining with those he has just utterly defeated. Further, there are accounts of other occasions when Mahmud left a town alone on receiving a ransom.’

It is true, as I discovered later on, that the story about Mahmud refusing the ransom is a. later fable retailed by the sufi poet Attar. I mentioned it at that time as I found it in almost all books on Mahmud and very popular among Muslim in praise of Mahmud as an idol-breaker. But even if it was true, the secularists would have ignored it or called it another bit of court poetry. Whenever the secularists find historical testimonies inconvenient, they fatally hear words like ‘myth’ or ‘fabrication’ crossing their lips. In this case it happens to be true that a later poet dramatized Mahmud’s well-known religious zeal into this story of his refusing the ransom and preferring to break the idol. But it is only an extra to a sizable body of evidence, and declaring it a fabrication won’t alter our solid knowledge about Mahmud’s Islamic zeal.

It is possible but by no means certain that Mahmud only came to India to plunder, not to conquer. This thesis is put forward by historians who want to avoid the impression that Mahmud was, in a way, defeated by Hindu strength and hence unable to incorporate India into his kingdom. Habib, though critical of Mahmud because of his poor public relations job for Islam, seems to have been among those eager to uphold Mahmud’s military reputation. The effort seems to be in conflict with elementary logic. Since Mahmud saw India as a source of wealth useful in financing his western campaigns, it would have been more logical to conquer India and enjoy a regular supply of its wealth. In fact, he did annex those parts of India where Hindu resistance could be overcome, that is, Gandhar (northern Afghanistan and Panjab upto Sindh), and western Punjab upto Lahore from which parts he was able to drive away the Hindu Shahiyas after a series of tough battles. In the rest of India he encountered unyielding resistance and we can surmise that though (like Mohammed Ghori) he intended to conquer India, he settled for mere material plunder and religious destruction simply because he wasn’t strong enough for a durable conquest.

But for now, let us go with the convenient secularist theory that he merely came to India with a limited agenda of plundering. In that case, pray, why did he have to break stone idols? These cannot be melted and turned into gold coins or iron swords. Why did he have to desecrate temples in all kinds of ways apart from merely taking out their golden objects? Clearly, his concern was not merely financial, it was also religious.

I am quoted thus: ‘The contention that Hindus stored their riches in temples is completely plucked out of thin air (though some of the richer temples contained golden statues, which were temple property): it is one among many ad hoc hypotheses which make Habib’s theory a methodologically indefensible construction. In fact, Habib is proclaiming a grand conspiracy theory: all the hundreds of Islamic authors who declared unanimously that what they reported was a war of Islam against Infidelity, would all have co-ordinated one single fake scenario to deceive us.’

And Amber Habib comments: ‘Even in present times, temples are recipients of considerable donations. Certainly, the writers of the time describe the temples as sources of immense wealth. Prof. Habib gives the following quote about Mahmud’s sacking of Somnath: ‘’Not a hundredth part of the gold and precious stones he obtained from Somnath were to be found in the treasury of any king of Hindustan.’‘

Habib jr. does not answer my main point, viz. that Muslim conquerors including Mahmud destroyed many Hindu religious statues and buildings regardless of financial value. Numerous Muslim sources testify to the religious motive. Alright, some religious objects in temples were made-of precious material, but they were not the only ones targeted by Muslim iconoclasts; stone and terra cotta sculptures were also destroyed.

Finally, the distinction which Mohammed Habib and Amber Habib keep on making between plundering and Jihad, between material gain and religious zeal, is a false one in the case of Islam. For a Muslim, emulating the Prophet Mohammed it is the religious act par excellence. The Prophet himself organized numerous raids on caravans and Jewish as well Arab settlements, 82 according to an oft-quoted count. Looting the wealth of the merchants, taking the passengers as hostages and raping the women among them: all this was performed by the Prophet and his most trusted companions. Mahmud Ghaznavi accomplished a very pious mission when he repeated all these prophetic precedents.

10.6. Not the Muslims are guilty, but Islam

My conclusion about this topic is quoted thus: ‘Habib tried to absolve the ideology (Islam) of the undeniable facts of persecution and massacre of the Pagans by blaming individuals (the Muslims). The sources however point to the opposite state of affairs: Muslim fanatics were merely faithful executors of Quranic injunctions. Not the Muslims are guilty, but Islam.’

But Amber Habib disagrees: ‘On the contrary, Prof. Habib drew a careful distinction between the original Islamic ideal, and the corrupted version adopted by the Muslim invaders and ruling classes in India. He spared no effort in taking the latter to task, while espousing the former as a worthy ideal.’

Well, that is exactly my point. Mohammed Habib tried to convince his readers that a consistent behaviour pattern of Muslim conquerors was un-Islamic eventhough it was nothing but an application of the precedent set by Prophet Mohammed himself. On that understanding of his position, at least, we seem to be in agreement. We only differ in evaluating the eminent historian’s opinion: Amber thinks he was right, I have argued that he was mistaken.

About my essential conclusion, Amber Habib writes: ‘Elst’s distinction: ‘’Not the Muslims are guilty, but Islam’, is a perplexing one. What does this mean in practice? Is the religion of Islam to be tried and convicted but its followers left in peace? It is clear this cannot be. His distinction therefore is mere sophistry.’

The word ‘therefore’, which implies that a reasoning is being concluded, is a little too much honour for the lone sentence: ‘It is clear this cannot be.’ Someone who is on his own admission ‘perplexed’ by a statement, should not go on to claim that its meaning and implications are ‘clear’ to him. It seems to me that he hasn’t understood my position that ‘not the Muslims are guilty, but Islam’.

My position is exactly the one which in Amber Habib’s opinion ‘cannot be’. Yes, I think that ‘the religion of Islam is to be tried and convicted but its followers left in peace’. Just as geocentrism should be tried and thrown out but its believers should be left in peace. Galilei didn’t think his opponents should be burned at the stake or otherwise troubled. All they needed was some exposure to free thinking about their cherished but untenable belief.

Amber Habib concludes: ‘To summarise, it is clear that Elst’s case against Prof. Habib rests mainly on a wholesale fabrication of his views and arguments - these are distorted till they become less feasible, and then attacked using rather questionable ‘’facts’. Why does Elst need to take recourse to such tactics? it would suggest an attempt to hide the weaknesses and gaps in his own arguments, by shifting attention to the ones he has constructed in his opponent’s.’

I will not try to snatch the last word from my worthy opponent. By now, the reader is sufficiently informed to judge the matter for himself.

It is usual for Muslim apologists of Islam to proclaim that Islam was and is being misrepresented by the mujahids of the past and the present and that true Islam stands for peace and tolerance. But they never tell us where to find the ‘true’ Islam they are talking about. Let them proclaim once for all that true Islam has nothing to do with the Quran and the Sunnah of Prophet Mohammed. Surely they cannot claim a monopoly over studying and interpreting Islamic scriptures. The world has not yet become an Islamic theocracy; kafirs are still and most likely to continue to be in majority and they have freedom to find out what lot those scriptures prescribe for them.


  1. Vide Not that it is important, but I am Flemish, i.e. Dutch-speaking Belgian. 

  2. Quoted e.g. by Prabha Dixit: ‘Prof. Mohammed Habib’s historical fallacies’, in Devahuti, ed.: Bias in Indian Historiography, D.K. Publ., Delhi 1980, p.202, from K.A. Nizami, ed.: Politics and Society in the Early Medieval Period (Collected Works of Professor Mohammed Habib), Delhi 1974, vol. 1, p.72.