Let's be clear.
What Riyaz Akhtari and Gos Mohammad did to Kanhaiya Lal in Udaipur is an extreme act of terror. To call it a murder would be obfuscation.
The men didn't just commit a crime. They just didn't kill Kanhaiya in his shop. They celebrated it. They bragged about the killing in a video made right after the gruesome killing, brandishing their knives. They didn't see it as a crime. They saw it as an accomplishment. A sort of fulfilment of their divine duty. They did it in the name of their Prophet. There was no fear, no remorse. The disgusting grin on their faces in that video makes one sick to the core.
What could drive a person to this extreme? The simple answer to this question is religion, or their interpretation of religion. Their belief that they needed to avenge an insult to their Prophet with blood. And that it was both their right and religious duty. Law of the land and social norms be damned. The video they made later celebrating the killing of an unarmed, hapless father of two, was solely for the purpose of spreading terror and fear in the minds of others. They sought "revenge" for Prophet in this world, thinking of "rewards" in the afterlife. Not for a moment thinking of consequences in this world. It amounts to a suicide mission, smiling and arrogant.
This is horrifying.
The Udaipur killing is a watershed moment in India. We have seen several videos of such barbaric killings in far-away lands by ISIS terrorists, beheading people in the name of Islam and its Prophet. Cartoonists have been put to death by zealots for mocking Prophet. But this time it has hit home. And Udaipur is going to hang like the proverbial albatross around Indian Muslims' neck forever.
It's reassuring to see an all-round and unequivocal condemnation of the killing from Muslim leaders, groups and citizens. But it would also be dishonest to not acknowledge that there will be many who would silently see Riyaz Akhtari and Gos Mohammad as heroes or find a justification for their heinous act.
To try and explain the Udaipur barbarism as a response to what BJP leader Nupur Sharma said would be foolish and dishonest. Of course, what she said was abhorrent and Muslims - and Hindus - should demand action against her. But no provocation can ever justify violence or murder.
The incident needs deep and honest introspection. Muslims need to reset their relationship with the Prophet vis-a-vis the society they live in. The love for the Prophet is personal, violence in his name can't be justified or sanctified. The divine law, perceived divine duties, the "hurt" sentiments can never be above the law of the land, social norms, and contracts. Religious leaders, community elders, parents, teachers all need to launch a mass scale campaign to arrest the surge of radicalisation and skewed interpretation of religion.
I have long argued in in my writings that Muslims must stop reacting to insults to the Prophet. That is the only way to render these insults and abuses banal and inconsequential. They are meant to provoke. The day Muslims stop reacting like hotheads to the slightest of provocations in the name of the Prophet, such lunatic acts will lose traction. No one can offend a person who has decided not to take offence.
The reactions to insults to Prophet, whether a statement, a cartoon or a YouTube video, do no good to the image of the Prophet. They, on the other hand, only serves purpose of the provocateur. They further embolden the image of the Prophet that is in the minds of the Muslim-bashers.
It's no secret that many among Muslims have projected the worst interpretations of the message of the Prophet and the Quran. The whole world knows about the promised 72 virgins, the four wives, the most medieval anti-women laws being paraded in the name of Sharia. But so few have helped focus on the teachings of compassion, tolerance, respect for other faiths, gender justice that is all so intrinsic to the life of Mohammad. So whose failure is it?
Riyaz Akhtari and Gos Mohammad have sprayed blood on the image of their Prophet with their barbaric act.
The Prophet survived Dante's Inferno. But can he survive this assault by Riyaz Akhtari and Gos Mohammad?
(Mohd Asim is a Senior Editor at NDTV 24X7)
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.