It is because of the actions of a few and the silence of the many that Muslims find themselves being judged in various countries of the world.
Millions, and the majority of, Muslims in India consider themselves Indian above all else. They need to speak up and not take refuge in silence
Indian Muslims are taking out morchas (marches) in support of the Rohingya Muslims. Some Muslim leaders are demanding that Rohingyas should be allowed to stay back in India, even if it is against the national interest. This reminds me of the following lines from Babasaheb B R Ambedkar’s book, Thoughts on Pakistan. He says:
The Islamic injunction to Muslims not to take the side of non-Muslims in any strife is the basis of pan-Islamism. It is this which leads Muslims in India to say that he is Muslim first and an Indian afterwards. It is this sentiment that explains why the Indian Muslim has taken so small a part in the advancement of India but has exhausted himself by taking up the cause of Muslim countries. And why Muslim countries occupy the first place and India the second place in their minds. Savarkar’s principle of one man one vote would mean a democratic, Hindu majority state. It would not be a Muslim state and hence Islam prohibits the Muslims from living in it. Islam can never allow a true Muslim to adopt India as his motherland.
In the Hindi movie Sarfarosh, which was a runaway hit a few years ago, the main protagonist, assistant commissioner of police Ajay Rathod tells his Muslim deputy, “Mere mulk ko bachane ke liye mujhe kisi Salim ki zarurat nahi hai”. Through this dialogue, the film had tried to face the continuing distrust between the Hindus and Muslims head-on. Whether it is about singing Vande Mataram, standing up when the National Anthem is played, or about alleged violence over beef-eating, controversy over Suryanamaskar or alleged denial of housing to Muslim tenants, this is the question often being asked by Muslim leaders and self-professed liberals: “Why are Indian Muslims constantly being pushed into the convict’s stand?”
It is a valid question, one that demands a truthful answer. But this question cannot be answered unless we acquaint ourselves with history as well the present. The first step towards solving any problem is to appraise the magnitude of the issue clearly and then try to find solutions. So let us accept the hypothesis of Muslim leaders that the Indian Muslims are being constantly pushed on the defensive because non-Muslims of the country have a feeling of mistrust towards the Muslims. Many Indian writers, from Swatantryaveer Savarkar, Babasaheb Ambedkar to Sheshrao More, have written about the Muslim mindset. Reading their works would be enlightening to everyone, especially the Muslims.
It is a fact that Muslims from the Indian subcontinent have been possessed with an idea called pan-Islamism for many decades now. ‘All Muslims in the world are united by their faith and they form a pan-Islamic identity that is stronger than any national boundaries’ is the core idea behind pan-Islamism. This is the reason why Indian Muslims feel compelled to agitate for the rights of Palestinians, Rohingyas or any other Islamic group that is being persecuted in their opinion.
Turkish leader Mustafa Kemal Ataturk officially abolished the Islamic caliphate. As per the consensus of Islamic majority over the centuries, the caliphate was the core political concept of Islam, and the caliph was believed to be the leader of all Muslims, and not just of the Muslims in Turkey. Abolition of the caliphate sent out shock waves among the Muslims of the world, and Indian Muslims were not an exception. Indian Muslims started the Khilafat movement, a pan-Islamic political protest campaign in support of the Turkish caliphate. Many Hindu Congress leaders like Mahatma Gandhi had supported the movement. But subsequently, the Moplah riots of Kerala, when the Mappilah Muslims of Kerala murdered, raped and forcibly converted Hindus, opened the eyes of many Hindu Congress leaders. Lala Lajpat Rai, Lala Hardayal and Swatyantraveer Savarkar were a few of them. Moplah riots forced Dr K B Hedgewar of the Indian National Congress to switch loyalties and establish the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), as an organisation to unite the Hindus.
The rift caused among the Hindus and Muslims over the Khilafat movement could never be bridged. The seed of the two-nation theory was planted during this movement. Eventually, it resulted in the bloody Partition of India on the basis of religion. Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the Democratic Republic of India became independent countries in 1947. A significant number of Muslims chose to stay back in India. However, did the ghost of pan-Islamism stop haunting the Indian Muslims even after Partition? The answer will have to be in the negative.
Immediately after Independence, the Indian Muslims underlined the fact that they were ‘different’ by demanding laws based on Sharia to govern their civil affairs. When the Constituent Assembly met to draft a modern democratic Constitution for India, its chairman Dr Ambedkar was well aware that India needs a secular Constitution, which would take precedence over all religious codes. However, leaders of the Indian Muslim community, including moderates like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad insisted on a separate Islamic civil code based on Sharia. The sacred principle of ‘One Nation, One Law’ could not be implemented and society continued to be divided. This eventually resulted in the Shahbano case, where a court judgement was reversed and a regressive law was passed that pushed the struggle of Muslim women for equality back by decades!
Indian Muslims need to realise the idea of pan-Islamism is a mirage. Many Indian Muslims have a soft corner for Saudi Arabia as it is the birthplace of Islam. But how does Saudi Arabia treat Muslims of other nationalities? Indian Muslims who have lived and worked in Saudi Arabia for years do not have the right to become a citizen there. They are treated like second-class citizens. Saudi Arabia is a rich country, but how many Rohingyas or Iraqis or Palestinian refugees has it accepted?
Pakistan was allegedly created to be a ‘paradise for all Muslims’. What is the status of Shias, Ahmediyas, Balochis and Hazra Muslims in Pakistan? Why are Muslims who migrated from India still being called Muhajirs and treated like pariahs in Pakistan? When the predominantly Punjabi Muslim army of Pakistan massacred 30 lakh Bengali Muslims in 1971, who was responsible for the genocide? Jews, Americans or Hindus? When Muslims flee Islamic countries as refugees, like in Iraq and Syria, why do they risk life and limb to reach Europe? Why do none of the oil-rich Islamic states like Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi and the UAE open their doors to Muslim refugees?
There is a lot of talk about Muslims being ‘uneasy and scared’ in India today. India has a Hindu majority, and yet, when there was an ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Hindus from the valley, did Muslims in any other part of India feel threatened of persecution? Have the Hindus ever tried to subvert the nation’s laws using their strength in numbers? The average Hindu doesn’t want special rights for Hindus. He just wants the same rights for all and special privileges for none.
With the advent of social media and the spread of the internet, the world has become a global village. We know what is happening in Barcelona or Dhaka within a few moments at the click of a mouse. Everyone has information at his/her fingertips and opinions are being formed accordingly. Each time there is a terror attack anywhere in the world, the needle of suspicion automatically points to Muslims first. That is a fact, and unfortunately, in an overwhelming majority of cases, the suspicion turns out to be true. Indian Muslims dislike being pushed onto the defensive, but have they tried to introspect why most of the terror acts in the world today are committed in the name of Islam?
No matter which country they live in, Muslim populations have always demanded special rights, privileges and protection, but Islamic states never grant that privilege to its non-Islamic populations. Have Indian Muslims spoken out against this hypocrisy? Each time there is an Islamic terror attack anywhere in the world, the stereotypical reaction of the average Muslim is, ‘but this is not the real Islam’ or ‘terror has no religion’. Next, they come up with wild conspiracy theories like ‘the Jews did it’ or ‘American policies are responsible for it’. Why is there no genuine attempt to look within by the Islamic society?
Fact is, this notion of Islamic victimhood is turning the average Muslim blind to the changing geo-political reality of the world. US drops a 10,000-tonne bomb in Afghanistan just to kill a few jihadis. No one bats an eyelid. Rohingyas leave Myanmar and seek refuge in other countries, and the world is not particularly concerned. Global society is slowly, but surely turning indifferent towards the Muslims. But very few Indian Muslims are willing to even face this reality, let alone trying to find the reasons behind it. Instead, they spend all their time playing ‘minority politics’. The tiniest minority in India are the Parsis. They are less than 100,000 in number, and yet, no one doubts their commitment to India, nor are they ever asked to furnish proof of their ‘deshbhakti’. Even though the Parsis are so few in number, no Parsi leader has ever said the community is feeling ‘uneasy and scared’ in India, but Muslims, who form almost 11 per cent of India’s population maintain that they feel ‘insecure’.
The reason behind this is the silence of the majority of Indian Muslims. It is true that only a small section of Muslims support terrorism. But it is these violent jihadis who have become the face of global Islam today because the majority has chosen to stay silent. How many Muslims spoke up loud and clear in the Salman Rushdie or Charlie Hebdo cases and denounced Islamic fundamentalism? It is because of the actions of a few and the tacit silence of the many that the 150 crore Muslims find themselves being judged in various countries of the world.
The existing religions in the world were founded centuries ago. All have had customs, traditions and laws that may have been valid then, but sound ridiculous and inhuman now. Even Hindus had ugly and violent traditions like ‘Sati’ and untouchability. But the reformists from within the religion spoke up against them and led the society to discard these inhuman traditions. An overwhelming majority of the Hindus supported the reformists and not the orthodox people who were opposing the reforms. Even today, the reform movement in Hinduism is underway.
Unfortunately, the few people who tried to reform Islam in India died a lonely death, like Hamid Dalwai. Dalwai’s colleague, Prof Mumtaz Rahimatpure was initially denied an Islamic burial in Kolhapur after her death because the community leaders declared her blasphemous. Her family members had to give an undertaking that they are devout Muslims for her body to be given a proper Islamic burial.
Is India really an intolerant country as it is made out to be by a few self-proclaimed liberals and Indian Muslim leaders? Parsis, Jews, and other communities have been welcomed into this country since centuries and have since then integrated so well with the Indian society that never have they felt ‘uneasy and insecure’. Why is it that only Indian Muslims feel insecure despite their large numbers? In fact, it is the Hindus of this country who feel insecure when they see mobs of thousands gathered for a funeral procession of a convicted terrorist. It is the Hindu who feels insecure when a mob of thousands of Muslims gather in Mumbai to protest against the persecution of Rohingyas by Myanmar and kick and destroy a national memorial, attack and grope female police officers and destroy police stations. It is the Hindu who feels insecure when thousands of Kashmiri Hindus are given the choice of ‘Ralive, Chalive ya Galive’ (convert, leave or get killed) in one night! It is the Hindu who feels insecure when innocent pilgrims on Amarnath Yatra are shot at by terrorists. It is this insecurity on the part of the Hindu society that gives birth to dialogues like ‘mere desh ko bachane ke liye mujhe kisi Salim ki zarurat nahi hai’.
If this situation has to be changed, Indian Muslims have to come out of their self-imposed ghettos and be vocal. They need to take definite positions on questions like supremacy of the Indian Constitution or their religious book, Shivaji or Aurangzeb. It is not enough to reiterate that ‘Islam is a religion of peace’. If Islam is to be indeed a religion of peace, Indian Muslims need to speak out loud and clear against the violent Al Qaeda form of Islam. Issues like loudspeakers on mosques, right of Muslim women to wear the clothes that they want to or triple talaq need to be debated openly from both within the community as well as with non-Muslims. Indian Muslims need to realise that their so-called leaders do not serve their interests when they make statements like ‘in 15 minutes we will finish the Hindus if the police are taken out of the picture’.
Islam needs to have its own reformist movement that looks at its traditions critically and discards outdated concepts like pan-Islamism, Ghazwa-E-Hind or Dar-Ul-Harb. Indian Muslims need to mobilise themselves to protest against issues that give a bad name to Islam like the destruction of Bamiyan Buddhas rather than destroying public property over the perceived persecution of Muslims in other countries. Everyone who lives in this country must accept that the law of the land and the Indian Constitution rules supreme. It is only then that the mistrust between Muslims and other communities will vanish.
In the movie Sarfarosh, the Muslim character, Salim replies to ACP Rathod with a terse, ‘aap bharosa to kijiye, ek nahi, hazaro Salim mil jayenge’. I firmly believe that there are millions of such Salims in India, who consider themselves Indian above all else, but they need to speak up and not take refuge in silence. As Martin Luther King Jr put it so succinctly, “the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition is not the strident clamour of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”
If Indian Muslims have to demolish this cage of victimhood, they need to break their silence.