By Muhammad Maroof Shah
Jan 16 2019
We are encountering a sharp rise of the right in political or public sphere. The RSS has shown that it can’t be discounted in understanding new India. Islamists have compelled others to recognize them. Islam enters electoral politics in many ways. The Congress with its secularist dismissal of religion has been proved wrong in its estimate of the role of religion in public sphere and constructing a history that othered/marginalized religion. We are witnessing bitter conflict between Salafis and the Ikhwan in Egypt, Zionists and Hamas, Shi’ite and Sunni political forces, Taliban and its adversaries. Jamaat-e Islami has been in bitter opposition to its internal critics such as Ghamidi, and endorsing secularism as an idea in India and criticizing it in Pakistan. How do we understand such a bewildering range of responses?
Regardless of religious or scriptural warrant for the idea of Islamic State or what has been called political Islam, religion nevertheless asserts its claim, to the believing world, that comes into clash with the notion of the secular. If the Sacred can’t be left out of human consciousness being a part of it (or even grounds it), as Mircea Eliade and many other scholars of religion and philosophers have attempted to show and cultures are grounded in certain metaphysics and religion has been vitally present in public space, the idea of aggressive secularization can’t be pursued without serious pathological effects. Thinkers and critics of culture as diverse as Charles Taylor, Carl Schmitt, Herbert Dreyfus, Eric Voegelin, Talal Asad, Terry Eagleton, Slavo Zizek and S.H. Nasr are, in their own ways, pointing out limitations of desacralising or anti-transcendental secularist paradigm.
Religious Nationalism in South Asia
Majoritarian nationalism as a political ideology is a modern phenomenon that can be traced to pathologies of secularization and nation state formation. Religion as a force of mass mobilization gets hooked in these ideological battles over territories, resources and hearts and minds of vote bank.
Stalwart Ulama have opposed religious nationalism in India and Pakistan, and to be fair to Jinnah, he didn’t recognize Islamist ideological or theocratic agenda but embraced Islam as a significant factor in Muslim religious identity that in turn is committed to pluralism and religious freedom of minorities. And Iqbal, misappropriated by ideologues, was no Muslim exclusivist but believer in spiritual democracy.
Everyone knows that Jinnah was an embodiment of exemplary personal and professional ethic (Islam/religion is committed to) throughout his career, and especially later, was every inch a Muslim, and associated with Muslim intellectual and spiritual elite. His private life is marked by encounters with saints who influenced him and gave him firm conviction about his mission. Fearing misappropriation of religion for ideological uses, Maulana Azad, one of the greatest minds in modern Muslim politics vehemently though unsuccessfully opposed the idea of Pakistan. Gandhi, a religious politician of the first order, was killed in the name of religious ideology that drew inspiration from the same tradition that Gandhi upheld. Sheikh Abdullah converted to secular ideal of politics and resisted Jinnah citing inherent contradiction between secular Sufi Kashmiri ethos and what he supposed to be theocratic Pakistan. However, we know that Pakistan was not necessarily conceived/run in theocratic/anti-Sufi framework.
We also need to note that in current global order Islamist forces have been politically/militarily defeated/challenged in all Muslim lands and intellectually political Islam has been widely suspect as noted by Shabir Akhtar in Islam as Political Religion: The Future of an Imperial Faith. “Islam as a political religion is now uniformly condemned as a resolutely intolerant, potentially totalitarian, unmanageably anarchic, dangerously subversive, irremediably misogynist, irrationally homophobic and avowedly imperialistic form of theocratic terrorism which vows to forcibly assimilate the secular and Christian worlds to its own obscurantist norms while rejecting offers of democratic compromise and eirenic accommodation.”
This does not mean that Islam/Sacred as an Idea, an Ideality, as aspiration, as non-ideological faith informing every breath of a Muslim or the political can be or has been questioned. Islam inflected politics has been there and continues to be a force in all Muslim nations to varying degrees. One can go even further and assert with Maulana Azad that Islam’s key contributions of foregrounding equality and fraternity have been incorporated/appropriated by modern Western secular constitutions and one can say that Islam is everywhere as an aspiration of welfare states.
Thus essence of Islam’s socio-political message has been embraced, at least in theory and enshrined in constitutions. Islamists usually fail to see how Islam is already triumphant at spiritual (through diffusion of Sufi poetry/music and Islamic aesthetic), metaphysical (where it is indistinguishable from major world religions) and socio-economic planes and our basic task is actualization of God consciousness (Taqwa) that takes a lifetime of hard struggle against the Devil.
Majoritarian Religious Nationalism in Kashmir
Is there a majoritarian nationalism in Kashmir? One could assert, in the long run, a firm no because it doesn’t gel with culture of Kashmir and culture asserts its claim over civilisational or ideological formations. Culture is enshrined in the very heart of people’s life world – their attitudes, beliefs, myths, art, poetry etc. One can easily generalize that Kashmir is Sufi oriented culture and cultures can’t be rooted out or fought by political ideologies, majoritarian or not.
The only significant voice for majoritarian religious nationalism is supposedly none other than Geelani Saheb but, interestingly and importantly, he hasn’t made it central or necessary part of the argument against the status quo. His slogans like, Azadi Baraae Islam (Azadi for Islam) are, practically speaking more rhetorical than political. He has made it unambiguously clear that his personal religious and political preferences (like his love for Pakistan if he is asked to choose) can’t or needn’t be read as statements of the Hurriyat he leads. He has made it clear that the demand for self-determination is a political demand that shouldn’t be or can’t be read in religious terms. He has been invoking Islam’s history of resistance and its doctrines that have motivating role in inspiring people to resist political oppression. Leading Muslim thinkers in the twentieth century from Iqbal to Maulana Azad to Ali Shariati all had recourse to this political use of religion. In fact, religion has been influentially appropriated for the cause of liberation and anti-colonialism across the world and we have significant voices advocating liberation theology of religions including Islam.
Although Geelani’s political theology may be criticized on both theological and political grounds, we need to resist other simplistic and reductionist narratives that posit a secularization of politics and delinking of religion from identity formation that might translate itself into nationalistic project. We can’t afford majoritarian nationalism either outside the State (Hindu nationalism) or within (Muslim nationalism) but we need real hard work to construct a political theology that better gels with indigenous culture suffused with the Sacred and better accommodates religious/political others. Secular versus religious dichotomy and consequent imposition of binary either/or logic in political struggle or state formation itself needs to be transcended. The anxiety over majoritarian nationalistic orientation of current political struggle in Kashmir from minorities and other secular camps has been so far in the service of discrediting the movement. One must appreciate the point that Geelani has been most vociferously resisting calls for trifurcation of State on religious grounds. He has been especially articulate in arguing the case for Jammu and Kashmir’s political issue highlighting well known and accepted terms of reference for engagement with international community or neighbouring countries which have stakes in it. It needs little effort to sift the rhetoric of politically or theologically problematic Islamism one indeed quite profusely finds in Geelani from the principled standpoint as a member of Hurriyat that he has been advocating as a politician or leader.
The case of projected or fantasized Muslim majoritarian nationalism in Kashmir will never be strong as masses will resist it at some level. Intellectual difficulties of an idea of political Islam invoking majoritarian nationalism in a Sufi oriented culture shaped by diverse religious traditions that still live in folk consciousness are stupendous and would seem to dismiss the anxiety about its danger expressed from many quarters. However a possibility of rigging up mass frenzy in relation to ill understood ideological causes cannot be ruled out in a world where even mass protests and seemingly indigenous political movements are sometimes proved to be remote controlled or whipped up. Living in an age of contradictions, embracing a politically suicidal or contradictory idea is a real danger against which one can only hope that it will be averted or it will not be sustainable in the long run and die its own death. Meanwhile blood continues to be shed, people continue to languish in jails, environment continues to be deteriorated to an intolerable degree and politics, for the sake of politics that thinks little of people, continues to be a lucrative career for most of the leaders who matter. While the dream of Azadi continues to inspire and lure (even though, like Derrida’s Justice and Sufis’ Beloved it never comes in the shape of unsullied beauty in a world ruled by globalized capital where sovereignty and freedom are highly circumscribed categories and perhaps only symbolically meaningful, but must, nevertheless, be sought in ever closer approximations of limit situation) ideologies with stakes in blood and tears or trading sighs and cries continue to be invoked and another majoritarian nationalism is asserting in India that might call forth, in reaction, some form of pathological identitarian nationalism in Kashmir. Mirror images might be conjured up by ideologies for their own survival. We can’t afford complacent posturing and must be watchful of vestiges of any ideology embodying hysterics of “Schizophrenic Self” convulsing India as majoritarian nationalism with its fundamentally anti-spiritual, anti-religious and ideological character is cleverly disguised by its advocates but must prove ultimately a betrayal of both religion and people living in Indian subcontinent if not even beyond.
In Kashmir it is the fear/politics of majoritarain religious nationalism in the Centre that has been a factor in disintegration of PDP and disenchantment/resignation of IAS topper. It forebodes threat of disempowerment of ruling BJP in many states and arguably in the Centre in coming elections, alienated many Muslims/minorities of India, helps in discrediting profound doctrines and sciences of Indian traditions due to misappropriation and ideological use by the less informed advocates straddling conferences. Given recent memory of disasters perpetrated by non-democratic ideologies and modern man’s tryst with democracy, any ideology that distrusts dialogue (not just numbers/votes) that grounds democratic project and imposes certain narratives in any name including the name of God will find it hard to gain the support of masses, not to speak of intellectuals.
PS: Pakistan, according to Iqbal and Jinnah, has not been conceived as theocratic nation state but spiritual democracy committed to the Idea, and not ideology of Islam. It continues to be predominantly Sufi in orientation. No ideological movement that rejects Sufi ethos, philosophy, artistic/aesthetic and pluralist heritage of Islamic tradition can ever find firm footing In Kashmir or Pakistan. One is hopeful about India that a common Indian’s pluralist legacy will help defeat any exclusivist ideological current.