A friend came from Gujrat and began discussing measures about bringing Gujrat to normalcy. Among others his suggestion was that it could not be one sided. What he meant was unless Muslims give up their separatist instinct and accept modern education and Indianness, things cannot change and Hindu psyche will remain anti-Muslim. I argued with him at length that it was not so and it was mere Sangh Parivar propaganda. After listening to my arguments it appeared he was convinced. Thus how necessary it was to propagate truth as against myths.
It is my conviction that unless those committed to secularism and communal harmony work hard and round the year we are not going to meet communal challenge. The RSS has been doing its propaganda against all religious minorities in general and against Muslims in particular for close to 77 years with consistency. The RSS pracharaks work round the year without any break. As against this the secularists wake up only when there is screeching headlines in newspapers about major communal riot and become complacent again until next riot takes place.
At least after the Gujrat carnage the secular forces should take communal challenge very seriously and start working consistently. It will also be necessary to train cadre for the purpose. Most of the Hindus including considerable number of secularists the myths propagated by RSS. I would like to throw light on some of these myths in this article.
The first and foremost myth is that Islam teaches violence and separatism and that it justifies violence against non-believers and as our own Prime Minister put it "wherever there is a Muslim population in the world, the countries live under threat of militancy and terrorism." It is obvious that it was not Prime Minister but the RSS pracharak speaking which was constantly drummed into his ears since his RSS pracharak says. It is a matter of shame that the Prime Minister of a country speaks against a section of his country's population. It is clear condemnation of all Muslims, not a section of Muslims, as he later claimed.
A section of Muslims - albeit a small section - could be separatist and there are separatists in all religious communities including the Hindus. A section of Ahom Brahmins of Assam is part of ULFA (United Liberation Front of Assam) which is demanding separation of Assam from India. It is a great myth that all Muslims of India in pre-partition days demanded partition of India. In fact a small elite Muslims, to safeguard their interests like feudal lords, a section of educated middle class, high government officials and a section of big businessmen were, in fact, responsible for partition of the country. Even a section of Hindu elite led by Mahasabha believed in Hindu Rashtra and talked of Hindus and Muslims being two separate nations.
Even Sikhs became very militant and demanded Khalistan. How can then Shri Vajpayee could dub entire Muslim community as separatist and causing militancy. Obviously he said so with a political motive and as part of Sangh Parivar agenda. It is also to be noted that Pakistan was not an Islamic project. No Muslim religious leader of any prominence supported Pakistan. Jami`at al-Ulama-i-Hind (the organisation of Islamic theologians of India) led by Maulana Husain Ahmed Madani vehemently opposed two nation theory and countered Jinnah's arguments by extensively quoting from the Qur'an and hadith (Prophet's sayings and doings). Maulana Madani even wrote a book Muttahida Qaumiyyat aur Islam (Composite Nationalism and Islam) and effectively argued against Jinnah and refuted all his arguments for Islam being the basis of nationalism.
Pakistan was elite Muslims' project in which Muslim masses were not involved, as they saw absolutely no benefit. And precisely for this reason they did not migrate to Pakistan. And Islam was certainly not responsible for creation of Pakistan. Even a fundamentalist orgainsation like the Jamat-e-Islami led by Maulana Maududi did not support Jinnah's Pakistan project as Jinnah conceived of a secular and not theological state.
Another myth popularised by Sangh Parivar is of jihad. It is interesting to note that the word jihad has not been used even once in the Qur'an for war. It has been used in the Qur'an for utmost efforts to spread good and contain evil. For war it used the word qital (which literally means to kill). The Prophet has said that the best form of jihad is to speak truth in the face of a tyrant ruler. It is true that some Muslim rulers legitimised their wars of conquest by projecting them as jihad. But neither Islam nor Muslims can be blamed for it. Those greedy rulers alone should be blamed for it.
Islam stresses peace and not jihad in the sense of war. Qur'an permits defensive war and never aggressive ones. It requires Muslims to lay down weapons as soon as the adversary does so and never to pursue the enemy and never to kill any non-combatant. These things are well known to any serious theologian of Islam. Islam is basically religion of peace though, like other religions, it was misused by certain vested interests.
Another myth is about darul harb and daul Islam (i.e. about abode of war and abode of peace). There is nothing in the Qur'an about such concepts. These concepts were developed by the 'Ulama when people in other countries began to embrace Islam. When some people embraced Islam and were persecuted by the rulers the 'Ulama called it abode of war but also developed another category namely Darul aman (abode of peace). A country where though Muslims were in minority but were free to practise their religion was described as abode of peace and it was duty of Muslims to live in peace and harmony with other non-Muslims.
Most of the 'Ulama in India maintained that India is an abode of peace and Muslims should live peacefully with Hindus. In 19th century when the Indian National Congress was formed Maulana Qasim Ahmed Nanotvi issued fatwa urging upon Muslims to join Indian National Congress and fight against the British rule along with their Hindu brothers. He also collected more such fatwas and published them under the title of Nusrat al-Ahrar (help for the freedom fighters). Thus it is totally wrong that Muslims consider India as darul harb (abode of war) and Hindus as kafirs.
Many Ulama and sufi saints have even accepted Hindus as ahl al-kitab (i.e. people of the book) since Qur'a describes Jews and Christians as people of Book as they possess Torah and Bible respectively which are revealed books from Allah. Many sufi saints like Mazhar Jan-i-Janan of Delhi argued that since Hindus possess Bedas (Vedas) containing truth they are also people of the book. Mazhar Jan-i-Janan argued that Allah has promised in the Qur'an that He has sent His guide to all the nations then how can he forget India, a great nation?
Another myth about Muslims is that they refuse to go for secular education and prefer only madrasa education and madrasa education makes them religious fanatics. This hardly stands any scrutiny. No middle class persons send their children to madrasas; it is only poor Muslims who cannot afford secular education send their children to madrasas. In fact the cause of lack of secular education is poverty, not religion. But so popular is this myth that madrasa education is ascribed to religious fanaticism and orthodoxy rather than to poverty. One will hardly find middle class children of doctors, engineers, accountants, managers, etc. in these madrasas. However, unfortunately the size of middle class among the Muslims in India is very small. Today dalits and Muslims are almost comparable as far as poverty is concerned.
With better economic situation secular education will naturally increase among Muslims. But communal prejudices are so strong and communal violence has become so widespread that whatever economic prosperity a small section of Muslims achieve is destroyed. And then these very people accuse Muslims of sending their children to madrasas. It is in fact communalists who throw Muslims out of mainstream again and again. Muslims are struggling to join the mainstream.
Another related question is of reforms. It is also related more to lack of liberal secular education than to religious fanaticism. As liberal secular education spreads among Muslims religious reforms would also become acceptable. Today, there is much more education among Muslim women than fifty years ago and hence there is mounting pressure from these educated Muslim women for necessary reforms in Muslim personal law like abolition of triple divorce in one sitting and regulation of law of polygamy. However, it is Gujrat like carnage, which pushes Muslims back and make them reluctant to accept reforms. More the security of life and property and more will be acceptability for social reforms. When ones house is on fire, as one Muslim put it, one cannot draw up the plans for interior design and beautification.
And supposing Muslims are as fanatical as the Sangh Parivar projects them to be, can one kill them in mass for that reason? Can Gujrat carnage be justified on these grounds at all? If Sangh Parivar is really sincere for pushing liberal secular reforms among the Muslims they should do everything possible to make them feel quite secure in India and also make sincere efforts to economically uplifting them by providing opportunities in services, professions and businesses.
Educated Muslims should also do serious reflection and make sincere efforts to promote consciousness for modern education, economic upliftment and liberal reforms. They should promote the spirit of dialogue with secular and liberal Hindus to remove stereotypes and misunderstandings both about Muslims and Islam. Reforms are necessary, communal riots or no communal riots. It is for the benefit of the community. No community can survive intellectually in the modern world without reform and change.
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(*) Asghar Ali Engineer is a rights activist and heads two organisations, the Institute of Islamic Studies and the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism. He has authored or edited 44 books on such issues as Islam and communal and ethnic problems in India and South Asia in general.