By Usama Khalid
October 26, 2014
Should the Muslims of India change with the times, taking cognizance of the big political change in India, in order to ensure their survival? The coming to power of the Hindu chauvinists bodes ill for the traditionalist Muslims, the ones inflexible in their display of religiosity, who assert their rights under the Indian Constitution, identify themselves with the Arabs, are lukewarm toward Indian nationalism, and denounce America and its foreign adventures. They are also deeply prejudiced against the Shi’a, whether in India or elsewhere.
I’d posit that the conservative, almost Fascist, Muslims are responsible for creating a backlash among Hindu elites, who are forced back upon their religious identity, always so tenuous, when there is so much talk of “Islamic” terrorism in world media, or about Islamic sects and their divergent ways across the universe. The so called Arab spring and the Tahrir Square revolution held the world’s attention for a couple of years. It even inspired similar protests in the form of the occupy movement in the West, and the anti-corruption mass campaigns in both India and Pakistan. Hinduism needed its day in the sun, in the court of world opinion, and who better to proclaim it than Narendra Modi during a week when an Indian satellite raced toward Mars?
But why change, why not hold on to your tradition and be true to it? a graduate of the Muslim seminary at Deoband in north India could ask. This individual I will call Qasmi is a good representative of the institution because he has followed the seminary’s tradition of a student adopting his teacher’s name as an identifier. Qasmi, like many old-style Muslim family men, has eight children, teaches Arabic in a madrasa, acts as a local politician with a little vote bank of his own, and is thus sought after by politicians at all levels. He is a convenient source of incendiary pronouncements for any media outlet that contacts him.
His rhetorical question is: If most Muslims of India became secular, keeping their public expressions of religious faith and practices to a minimum, would they be any safer from the violence-prone nationalist killers? Would they face less discrimination in jobs, schools and housing?
One must keep in mind the Muslims’ experience in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the 1990s. For a Bosnian Muslim, it didn’t matter whether you intermarried with the Serbs and Croats, were secular in your tastes and habits, had nothing to do with Muslim fanaticism, rarely went to the mosque for prayers. Yet, when the battle lines were drawn and war waged against Muslims, it didn’t matter whether you were a believer or not, a nationalist or not, you were them, against us the Serbs, and Serbs had to avenge their 1389 defeat at the hands of the Ottoman Turks. The Hindu nationalists of the RSS kind come close to the Serbs in their depth of historical grievance. That’s one reason why Nathuram Godse, the killer of Mahatma Gandhi, was never disowned by the RSS. The great irony is that for true and real Hinduism, it doesn’t matter what you believe. It is your conduct that matters. Hindu elites, including the temple priests, had no quarrel with the beliefs Muslims espoused. They were happy to be left alone to regulate community life in accordance with their caste system. That was the historical contract with the Muslim invaders who settled down to establish a composite Mughal empire that lasted more than 200 years.
The national Indian television, Doordarshan, broadcast a major speech during fall 2014 by Mohan Madhukar Bhagwat, a top spokesman for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The broadcast was a departure from official secularism that had traditionally regarded RSS as a religious organization. To paraphrase, he let the word go forth that India is a Hindu state. Ask not what the country can do for you, ask what you can do for Mother India, Mother Cow and Mother Ganga. Bhagwat saw a new horizon of victory looming “as our goal of developing Bharat into the guide and torch bearer of the whole world” and ended with a call for even greater propagation: “That is why we should take the Sangh Shakha (the Hindu ideology) to each home in every village, street and community,” he said.
More seriously, Hindu nationalists and chauvinists have a right to propagate their truth claim, their national narrative just as much as Muslim mullahs and Christian missionaries have this right to preach and convert people to their view of life and afterlife. The problem is that there is no voice among the Hindu nationalist elites demanding an end to Brahmin supremacy, for the protection of Dalit rights, the expansion of their privileges, the rights of women to everything that is open to men. All that the nationalist Hindus want to do is to restore the symbols of Brahminical power and everything that flows from the concepts of Jati and Varna, the caste and skin color social hierarchy. One sure way they find to unite the Hindus is by demonizing the Muslims. Them and us. The tried and tested method of dividing the electorate. Polarizing the population. Then you can harvest their votes and ride to power.
The pendulum has swung in favor of the Hindutva forces. It’s time Muslims of India abandon the Saudi, the Wahhabi, the Arab, and the foreign construction of Islam. They must revive Indian Islam, the religion of the Sufis, the kind preached by Nizamuddin Auliya of Delhi, Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer and Gesu Daraz of Gulbarga, and by countless adherents of the Indian Sufi Islam in every part of India boasting a holy man grave in their midst and the attendant traditions that go with it. A revival of Indian Islam will not be easy, because worldwide the trend is toward conservatism, women wearing the Hijab or the Niqab. But in all likelihood, the Wahhabi and the conservative trend has run its course. If the United States keeps up the pressure on the adherents of a fanatical Islam, aided and abetted by such natural allies as India’s Hindutva forces, and the repressive Chinese authorities in Xinjiang, a change is possible in India, just as reform shows signs of life in Indonesia and the north African countries, and maybe in Turkey, too.
Usama Khalid is a Washington-based freelance contributor.