By Sultan Shahin, Editor, New Age Islam
The Supreme Court’s judgement on the Presidential reference was widely acclaimed. But few people realise what it has actually meant for the Muslims. It has given them the greatest stake in the Indian democracy, a stake they appeared to have lost with the infamous demolition of the mosque in full view of the world. But it has also brought them to the crossroads.
Would they strengthen their stake in the system, reinvest their trust in Indian democracy or squander the tremendous opportunity gifted to them quite miraculously? These are some of the weighty questions facing them. On their answer to these questions will depend their fate for years to come.
A very thin line divides an opportunity and a disaster. In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling to return the Presidential reference on the Ayodhya issue. Things are said to have gone back to square one. Which presumably means, we will once again witness the futile course of dialogue between the Muslim leaders and the Hindu sadhus and sants.
Another option being discussed in the Press and possibly being considered by the government relaters to the recommendation of the high-powered Congress committee set up to suggest new and more credible sops to beguile the Muslim vote-bank. This is to club all the title deed cases pertaining to the Ayodhya dispute and present an omnibus case to the Supreme Court under Article 138(2) of the Constitution for expeditious disposal within a fixed timeframe. The Article binds the parties to accepting the final judgement.
The hope is that the militant Hindus would not be inclined to challenge such a decision in view of the Supreme Court ruling that what lies at the bottom of the dispute is the question of ownership of the disputed property. It is said these options are not mutually exclusive; negotiations can continue while the Supreme Court grapples with the property dispute.
Despite my almost incorrigible optimism, I find this situation quite perplexing. We have known the Muslim leaders for quite some time now. They have kept the Muslim masses embroiled in virtual non-issues for nearly half a century. I have been personally watching them closely since 1972 when I joined the Jamaat-e-Islami-run Radiance Viewsweekly as a trainee journalist.
The dispute about the minority character of the Aligarh Muslim University kept them and by extension the Muslim community busy for a decade —1972 to 1982. Following the restoration of the minority character, the leadership spent a few years praising Mrs Gandhi for the great courage she had shown in the wonderful restoration and looking for other similar peripheral issue until Allah was kind enough to induce the Supreme Court to grant maintenance to the divorced Shah Bano. All hell broke loose. Islam and Muslims were in danger of extinction. The Muslim Women Bill was a great triumph. Soon thereafter Allah showed his mercy again.
Muslims have gone through a traumatic period in the last several years. They have spent a lot of time in introspection. They have shown great wisdom and maturity in fending off severe and very brazen provocations. One hopes that it is this maturity that is now beginning to be reflected in the leadership’s rejection of some Muslim youngsters’ plan for praying at the site of the demolished mosque on the second anniversary of the demolition.
This brings me to my main plea—forgiveness. Forgiveness is the essence of both the Muslim and Hindu spiritual traditions. It is the only way out of the vicious and very debilitating grip of bad karma. It is our belief that one has to always pay individual or collective karmic debts in this or any subsequent incarnations or on the Day of Judgement. Both Hindu and Muslim spiritual traditions consider God as the greatest teacher, this world a great school, the events that involve us in this mayajaal (illusionary world) as messages.
What could this Great Teacher be teaching us in this section of the school through the great Babri Masjid-Ram Janam-bhoomi drama? Perhaps the all-important lesson of forgiveness. It may take us years, decades, centuries or millennia to learn this lesson. But learn we will. There is no escaping. God is a very determined teacher. We have the option to learn the lesson now. Let us exercise it.
I have a special plea to make to fellow Muslims, a plea I have never made before. Many reasonable Hindu friends asked me in the last few years of strife: why can’t Muslims make a gift of the Ramjanamsthan to the Hindus? What is the big deal? I had just one answer. No gift could be or should be made at gunpoint. Give-me-this-gift-or-I-will-snatch-it- from-your-hands-anyway is no way of seeking gifts. A gift of Ramjanamsthan at that point would probably have been cowardice.
But the situation has changed now. The gun has been taken away from the hands of our spiritually evolving brothers. The law of the land has asserted itself. At least one pillar of Indian democracy has once again come alive. Mrs Gandhi had emasculated it. Mr Narasimha Rao sought to misuse it. But lo and behold! It has once again come alive. Indian democracy may not be completely safe yet. But we have a greater stake in it now.
Wallowing in despair would be pointless. How long will we go on commemorating the follies of our neighbours on every December 6? Nursing self-inflicted wounds is no sign of maturity wounds should be allowed to heal in a natural process. By wallowing in anger and self-pity, we will be making the same mistake as some of our Hindu brothers.
Laws of karma
Laws of karma sanction one great privilege. Either of the parties to a dispute can set both the parties free of the karmic debt by exercising their right to grow spiritually and forgive the other party. Every calamity is said to contain the seeds of an equal or greater opportunity. The demolition of the mosque gives us an opportunity to strengthen our stake in secularism, peace and democracy.
The Babri mosque is no more. It has become a victim of Hindu-Muslim negative egos. Many precious lives have been lost in the process. The ideal solution would be that both the communities come together, forgive each other and mutually decide what to do about that piece of God’s land. Let us remember that there is no mosque there now. The memory of the mosque remains. The Babri mosque can never come back. Its demolition was perpetrated by a section of misguided Hindus referred to by the Supreme Court as criminals.
But Muslims should never forget that the vast majority of Hindus clearly disapproved of it. They neither rewarded with votes in the subsequent elections the BJP which was apparently responsible for the demolition, nor the Congress which had started the whole dispute in the first place in a clear bid to garner Hindu votes.
If this mutual forgiveness and reconciliation does not take place — and if present Hindu and Muslim leaders are considered representatives of their respective communities, it is not likely to happen — ordinary people of both communities must make their presence felt and come out openly for peace at all costs. If that too does not happen, we Muslims should thank God for providing us with this unique opportunity to exercise our option of forgiveness and making a gift of a piece of God’s land on the specific condition that it be used for nothing but building a place of worship, so that its sanctity is maintained.
I know this is not going to be easy. Forgiveness is never easy, except for the spiritually evolved. But I don’t think we have any other option. We have many things, important things to do. We just cannot afford to remain embroiled in inconsequential disputes. The renowned Islamic scholar, Maulana Ali Mian Nadwi had reacted to the opening of Babri Masjid locks the following day in these very sensible words: “Many mosques are in the possession of other people.” And indeed they are.
There were many mosques in East Punjab of the pre-Partition days? But very few are left as mosques today? A Punjabi Hindu friend of mine complained of so many mosques having been converted into gurudwaras and temples. His Muslim friend (not me, some great soul) reacted: “But they are still places of worship. There is only one God, after all. No matter what you believe in, you cannot but worship the same God.” Amen.
Posted on July 1, 2009
Originally published in The Hindustan Times, New Delhi, on 13 Jan 1995