By Najeeb Jung
Feb 20, 2010
We owe the young Muslim our trust, due process and the benefit of the doubt — so that when the horror of something like Pune happens, he can spontaneously share the revulsion of his fellow citizens without the insidious taint of guilt by association, writes Najeeb Jung.
Sixty-three years ago as Nehru spoke of India's tryst with destiny, millions of Muslims rejected the Two-Nation theory and made their choice to stay in the motherland. India was their "madare watan" and India it was where they would live and die. When people questioned their integrity and commitment to the nation and suggested they were fifth columnists, they bore the calumny patiently.
The '50s and '60s were difficult years marred by a sequence of riots where often enough Muslims were at the receiving end. Even the pluralist Nehru's commitment to a secular politics wasn't enough to curb the police's tendency to visit retribution disproportionately on Muslims in the wake of a riot. Misled by the platitudes and promises of the political elite, Muslims remained a community bereft of leaders. But a quarter of a century after partition, attitudes changed. Young Muslim boys and girls left behind the sense of alienation and exclusion that had beleaguered their parents. The partition of Pakistan in 1971 and the foundation of Bangladesh was a landmark event that gave this new generation of Muslims the strength to speak in a more modern, secular voice and to stand up for their rights, their place in the Indian republic.
Today, despite sectarian tragedies like the razing of the Babri Masjid or the Gujarat pogrom, the young Muslim is very much part of the system. He has a confident sense of shared citizenship and wants to exercise his rights. What upsets him is the tired rhetoric of "Muslim alienation", the condescending op-eds encouraging him to merge himself into "mainstream" society, to contribute to Indian's burgeoning economy which seems to assume that he has spent his life in a backwater or another planet. He is tired of being stereotyped. He is a regular guy, who works for a living, thinks the same thoughts and nurses the same ambitions as the great Indian middle class that the world is justly celebrating. And so like Faiz he wonders: "Iss raah pe jo sab pe guzarti hai who guzri Tanhan pase zindaan kabhi ruswa sare bazaar Garje hain bahut sheikh sar-egosha-e-mimbar Kadke hain bahut ahle hakam bar sare darbar" (I go through all that one goes through while on this path At times alone in jail, sometime defamed in the bazaar The sheikh denounces me from the pulpit And the ruler lashes out at me in his durbar).
I work at a remarkable university where young boys and girls and grown men and women who truly represent India's diversity, give the lie to these divisive stereotypes. They hang out together, eat and drink together, see movies together and party together. Their thought processes, their aspirations are shared. They dress alike, they want similar jobs, they look for love and laughter, new friends, wider horizons. Like young people everywhere,they want to move on.
So when the horrors of Mumbai and Pune occur, and he hears the same cliches - Muslim alienation, local Muslims supporting Pakistani terrorists, the disgruntlement in Muslim youth after 9/11 and so on - he's gripped by that depressing deja vu. Once again Muslim men and women will be asked to wear their nationalism on their sleeves, be more vehement in their criticism of Pakistan than their non-Muslim fellows, to demonstrate their credentials as citizens.
If this patriotic Muslim citizen were to point out that in the aftermath of the Mecca Masjid blasts in Hyderabad, scores of young Muslim boys were yanked out of their homes, then either to be released after weeks of torture when there was no evidence to hold them or to disappear without trace, some columnist or pundit would comment on the defensiveness of the Muslim middle-class, or muse that educated Muslims were in denial. A single' encounter' in Batla House, New Delhi, located in a Muslim majority area is enough to put 'Muslim society' on notice and a sophisticated modern central university, with an unmatched nationalist lineage under a cloud. The alleged complicity of a serving army officer in a terrorist plot didn't lead people to conclude that the army or 'Hindu society' was violent or disaffected; it would be useful if the same benefit of the doubt were extended to those of this republic's citizens who happen to be Muslim.
But here's the thing: young Muslims understand the piquant situation they are in. After all, there is truth to the charge that an earlier generation of Muslims asked for a separate homeland and got it. They know they belong to a proselytising religion; they are aware of the flourishing myth that Islam gives no quarter to 'kafirs'. They know that Islam is misunderstood by non-Muslims and often misinterpreted by their co-religionists. They're self-conscious about the controversy regarding Muslim polygamy, the stereotypes about jihad, the promised hooris in heaven, the hideous penal practices of certain 'Muslim' states, the barbaric instances of inhuman behaviour by the likes of Mullah Omar in Afghanistan, the blasphemous justification of such behaviour by invoking the Nizam-i-Mustafa.
He knows that the violence practised by extremists makes the task of explaining Muslim belief and practice hard. With suicide bombers in the headlines, who cares to know that suicide is forbidden in Islam? Verse 195, The Cow, and verses 29-30,the Women, clearly state: "And spend of your substance in the cause of Allah, and make not your own hands contribute to your destruction; But do good." Every Muslim theologian will tell you that suicides are haram. Who wants to know that in practice having more than one wife is impossible because the conditions laid down for marrying again are so exacting, when people see manifestly imperfect Muslim men marrying again. Which non-Muslim will feel the resonance of Islam's assertion that all men are equal, when he or she can see Muslim states where Muslims are more equal than others, and Muslim men more equal than women?
The young Muslim in India is aware of all this. He struggles with regressive interpretations of his faith in his own life and he is completely integrated into the socio-economic fabric of India. Years ago, a friend in the IPS, Rashid Khan produced a film called the Seventh Man. His hypothesis was that every seventh man in Calcutta was a Muslim. But he was so integrated into Calcutta that his efforts and energy moved the economic wheels of the great city.While he was not rich, he worked at jobs without which the city would be dysfunctional : as a baker, a weaver, a barber, a butcher. Today's young Muslim has greater ambitions than that. He wants to start a business, be an engineer, do an MBA. He anxiously awaits campus recruitment, he crams for the UPSC exams and dreams of the civil services. Others want to be judges, lawyers, dentists and doctors, some want to be active politicians.
Each one of them is aware of the numerous handicaps he faces, the hurdles, the prejudices he is likely to encounter, the shortcomings in his own community, its inherent backwardness, poverty, lack of modern education, lack of a youthful leadership. And yet he wants to overcome all this and be part of this great nation that his parents chose to stay behind in, to be share in the promise Nehru held out on the midnight of 15 August 1947: he wants to be part of this nation's tryst with destiny. What we owe him is trust, due process and the benefit of the doubt: so that when the horror of something like Pune happens, he can spontaneously share the revulsion of his fellow citizens without the insidious taint of guilt by association.
Source: The Times of India, New Delhi.