This Ramzan has unfortunately proven to be the possibly bloodiest in the last many years. A period of piety, self-introspection and discipline for many peace-loving Muslims and also an occasion for enjoying some good food over iftar festivities even for people of other religions has been scarred by the terror strikes in Baghdad, Dhaka, Orlando, Istanbul, Kuala Lumpur, Jeddah and Medina, among other places, justified by the perpetrators of these heinous crimes on the basis of a very extremist version of Islamic theology, though one should indeed also commemorate how two Muslims in Dhaka died refusing to segregate themselves based on religious identity (one wonders that if all the Muslims in that building had taken that stand, perhaps everyone’s lives would have been saved, as some moderate Muslims in a bus in Kenya saved the lives of their Christian co-commuters by refusing to segregate themselves based on religion) and we should also celebrate the victory of moderate Iraqi Muslim soldiers against the barbaric ISIS in places like Falluja. Indeed, dehumanising all or even most Muslims would not only be grossly unfair but even counterproductive.
The attack on Prophet Muhammad’s tomb in Medina, though, sent shock-waves and gave some spin-doctors a chance to advance their bizarre conspiracy theories of this not being a handiwork of jihadist terrorists (jihadism in the form of violent attacks by non-state actors against unarmed civilians being one of the most controversial interpretations of the Quranic doctrine of jihad, the conventional interpretation endorsing a holy war against evils within oneself or an armed struggle in case of violation of one’s rights, that too against the specific aggressors only after peaceful modes of conflict resolution have been exhausted, with many Quranic verses like 2:256, 5:2, 5:8, 5:32, 6:108, 6:151, 10:99, 49:13, 60:8 and 109:6 preaching peace, religious tolerance and human brotherhood). As unfortunate and reprehensible as this attack on innocent civilians in one of the most significant places in the history of Islam was, it did not surprise me.
For long, a section of ultra-orthodox Muslims have taken the Quranic injunction to not divinise Prophet Muhammad to the extent of trying to destroy his entire historical memory, so that he can’t be made a subject of worship, something they do accuse sections of Sufis of doing. However, rather than only following the path of logical persuasion and leaving it to God to judge whose beliefs are more appropriate, extremist sections of the Wahabi sect have, since the 18th century, violently targeted anyone who disagrees with them.
In 1803 and 1804, the Saudis captured Mecca and Medina and destroyed historical monuments and various holy Muslim sites and shrines, such as the shrine built over the tomb of Prophet Muhammad’s daughter, and even intended to destroy the grave of Muhammad himself as idolatrous, causing outrage throughout the Islamic world. A similar proposal had been underway even in 2014.
If the Saudi government and religious scholars could think on these lines, then what is stopping terrorists? Further, this must-watch video, dated May 2015, of a terrorist captured in Saudi Arabia, who tells a news anchor that anyone wanting to retain the Prophet’s tomb is practically an infidel and is worthy of being killed, explains it all.
In general, those advancing conspiracy theories about jihadist terrorism as being the handiwork of others to malign Muslims are requested to read this article.
Jihadist terrorism has undoubtedly emerged as a very major global threat, and mere condemnations from Muslims, howsoever heartfelt, though necessary and without ‘if’s and ‘but’s, are far from sufficient. Jihadist terrorism is the most extreme stage of an otherwise regressive and strongly community-biased/community-chauvinistic worldview, which needs to be addressed holistically by liberals within the Muslim community, and while anti-Muslim bigotry too needs to be rebutted, on the whole, Muslims lead regular lives in pluralistic democracies like here in India and in the West, often becoming big public figures and enjoying civil liberties, and Islamism (not Islam) is indeed the root cause of anti-Muslim bigotry. Ideas of a global pan-Muslim solidarity (Muslim ummah) and the idea of having an Islamic theocracy need to be abandoned for good, for these very ideas come in the way of effective integration of Muslims with others, whether in majority or minority, and make some Muslims go down the potentially slippery slope leading to jihadist terrorism (a broader discussion of such ideas can be seen here), which has only maligned Muslims and occasionally made them victims of hate crimes as a backlash. When Muslims rightly expect those of other faiths to exhibit humanitarian concern for innocent Muslims, it is equally valid for non-Muslims to expect the vice versa, and jihadist terrorism is indeed a cancer that often seeks to destroy even Muslims with the slightest difference of opinion on issues like retaining Prophet Muhammad’s tomb, leave aside other issues like constitutional democracy and women’s rights.
Now, more Muslims are dying in jihadist terror attacks than non-Muslims. Muslims would do well to note what Pastor Martin had said in the context of the Nazis-
“First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”
Geopolitical power games have been there and will always be, often taking a toll on innocent people, but an ideologically motivated death-cult involving ordinary people with no incentives is very dangerous to humanity, and is something that can only be eventually checked ideologically by subscribing to modern ideas of humanism and liberal democracy. True, such issues have existed in other religions too, which have been overcome to a great extent and liberals in those religious groupings are still fighting for what’s right, but to use whataboutism as a red herring is no longer a feasible option for Muslim friends.
Speaking specifically of liberal Indian Muslim friends, you must not shy away from taking on the orthodoxy in your religious grouping and introduce reform (which isn’t happening on a large scale, though the growing number of Muslims opposing triple talaq is a positive sign). However, a focus on that is possible only if you stop harbouring exaggerated narratives of victimhood, as if to suggest perennial oppression, subtly hinting at Hindus in general being oppressors (a notion which I have debunked here), fed to you even by non-Muslims of the likes of Arundhati Roy (the fallacies in whose worldview I have discussed at some length here). If you do not expect Hindus to take Muslim apologists of the Hindu right like Tufail Ahmad and Minhaz Merchant seriously (which is not to say that everything Tufail and Minhaz have said is wrong, and they have sometimes provided very interesting and balanced insights, but their apologia for the Hindu right does go too far very often), then why should you take non-Muslim apologists of the Muslim right seriously, when you lead a largely regular life with Hindu friends in educational institutions, workplaces and recreation centres? India’s constitution is strong (thanks to which hundreds of Hindu rioters in the Gujarat riots cases have been convicted, the judiciary has even been so sensitive as to say fourteen years after the Gujarat riots that even riot victims who have earlier defaulted on loans should not be barred from accessing special loans earmarked for them and many Muslims falsely accused of terrorism have been acquitted), unlike Pakistan’s, and there are enough Hindus, not only left-liberals but even centrists who are practising Hindus, who swear by the idea of secularism, and not every right-leaning person is an extremist altogether either. I understand that many of you felt let down by Narendra Modi becoming India’s prime minister, but that was with a low vote-share (the votes of the majority of the electorate not seeking Modi as PM got divided) at a time when the anti-incumbency sentiment was at its peak, and with Modi, during the election campaign and for some time even before that, making it a point to demonstrate commitment to religious pluralism. Besides, those particular Muslims and left-leaning non-Muslims of the subcontinent who shy away from condemning Jinnah for the Direct Action Day riots (before which Jinnah said he wanted India divided or destroyed and after which he said he didn’t want to discuss ethics) or are willing to give him the benefit of doubt, those who shy away from condemning Kashmiri separatists like Yasin Malik for killing and driving away the Kashmiri Hindus (also known as Kashmiri Pandits) or are willing to give them the benefit of doubt (as for the conspiracy theories and rationalizations offered about the exodus of the Kashmiri Hindus from their homeland, have a look at this piece, and it is noteworthy that none of the Kashmiri Muslim perpetrators have been convicted, unlike hundreds rightly convicted in connection with the Gujarat riots for the massacres in the Best Bakery, Ode, Sardarpura and Naroda Patiya, and the Kashmiri Hindus haven’t even been rehabilitated the way the Muslims driven out from the village of Atali have, and while the media has rightly consistently supported the Muslims of Atali, it has actually been biased against the Kashmiri Hindus on some occasions – so much for our national media, on the whole, being supposedly biased against Muslims) and those who shy away from condemning Azam Khan for the riots in Muzaffarnagar and Sahranpur (it is noteworthy that he has not even been “chargesheeted” in spite of sting operations suggesting his involvement, while Maya Kodnani was rightly convicted, and my point is not with respect to how much evidence is available in which case for what sentence, but whether the narrative of “Hindu riot-instigating politicians always go scot-free and Muslims are only victims, not perpetrators of riots” is true, and I believe that the issue should be ‘powerful vs. non-powerful’, ‘vote-bank politics vs. the spirit of democracy’ etc., rather than ‘Hindu oppressors vs. Muslim oppressed’, which would actually be half-true or even false in many contexts) or are willing to give him the benefit of doubt have no business to be spitefully critical of those shying away from condemning Modi or those who give him the benefit of doubt for what happened in 2002. And I emphasize that I am not stereotyping all Muslims – there are many of them who condemn the likes of Jinnah, Yasin Malik and Azam Khan in unambiguous terms.
When the BJP government did behave irresponsibly in the wake of the Dadri episode, India’s civil society registered its strong protest by way of returning awards and the BJP lost the Bihar elections (and even earlier, Hindu activists like the late Mukul Sinha fought for justice for the Muslim victims of the Gujarat riots). It is true that even under this Modi government, we had without any state intervention whatsoever, screenings of movies like pk, a film criticizing Hindu extremists and even questioning several mainstream Hindu beliefs and practices, and Haider, a film supporting the Kashmiri Muslim separatists and critical of human rights violations by rogue elements in the Indian Army (a taboo subject for many Hindu rightists, and those contending that the film was, in any way, biased against the Kashmiri separatists should read this article), with Haider even winning National Awards from the government as also Sania Mirza, a Muslim tennis player, getting the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award, and Syed Akbaruddin, a Muslim bureaucrat, continuing as the spokesman of India’s foreign ministry, even getting a further promotion, with their religious identities not coming in the way. In fact, this BJP government at the centre even apologized to the people of Kashmir when two innocents were killed by some rogue soldiers in a fake encounter. Even this government is launching schemes for the religious minorities like Nayi Manzil as also another one named after India’s great national hero and first education minister Maulana Azad. And if anyone claims that these are token initiatives by the BJP to prove its tolerance, doesn’t that also show the strength of Indian pluralism that compels the BJP to take such initiatives?
Yes, discrimination against Muslims in the sphere of housing is a reality, but while many Muslim communalists and left-liberals do rightfully condemn very strongly the Hindus doing so, they do so without trying to impartially evaluate the causes, though desiring that we sympathetically delve into the causes of what makes some Muslims resort to terrorism (but according to them, there’s no need to sympathetically understand Hindu rioters in the same vein, and such people even had issues with the movie Kai Po Che doing the same, where it showcased a Hindu who lost his mother in the Godhara train-burning resorting to anti-Muslim violence, even though that movie wasn’t in the least anti-Muslim). Discrimination against Muslims indeed exists in the context of being sold or rented out flats or bungalows in very many (though not all) Hindu-majority localities, but that again either has to do with a general sense of aversion to non-vegetarian food being eaten in their property, which is a legitimate choice for them to exercise (Hindus can lie about being vegetarian, as some acquaintances of mine did while renting an apartment in Gujarat, but given that vegetarians among Muslims are extremely few and far between, many would find it hard to believe that a Muslim is a vegetarian even if he/she really is one!) or the suspicion about terrorism, which does not to mean that such real estate holders imagine all Muslims to be terrorists, but given that all major terrorist attacks in India’s big, cosmopolitan cities (be it Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore or Ahmedabad) have been carried out by some Muslims, they view any Muslim stranger as possibly being a terrorist (and it matters little in this context what the causes of terrorism by some Muslims are or that Muslim terrorists in India and abroad, including in Muslim-majority countries, have also killed Muslims, for a non-Muslim does not wish to be bombed by a terrorist, even if that terrorist also poses a threat to his/her own co-religionists), and such a possibility of one’s rented out flat or bungalow being used to plot terrorist attacks can invite the wrath of the police or at least invite unpleasant occasions of questioning. Sikhs too faced this discrimination till the mid-1990s when Khalistani terrorism was at its peak (as pointed out by Kashmiri Muslim writer Basharat Peer in his much acclaimed book Curfewed Night), and those from the northeast do too, given that there are secessionist insurgencies in that region, and going by a survey conducted by the Centre for Civil Society (CCS), which is a globally reputed think-tank, there are actually many more landlords in Delhi averse to renting their property to live-in couples, irrespective of religion, than those averse to renting their property to Muslims, and indeed, it is not as though there aren’t any Muslims living in Hindu-majority localities. Also, given that left-liberals expect us to sympathize with, even if not support, terrorists, we can certainly do the same with paranoid landlords. And interestingly, it is this BJP government that has tried to take legislative steps to prevent this housing discrimination against Muslims and others!
(Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)