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Why are Islamic countries not coming forward to take Rohingyas? Are Human Rights for Muslims only?

By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi, New Age Islam

10 September 2017

In a recent debate on Times Now (Rohingya Debate, 9/9/17), New Age Islam founder-editor, Mr. Sultan Shahin posed a pertinent question to the Muslim panellists: why do Indian Muslim leaders and ulema remain silent onlookers when human rights of religious minorities are violated egregiously in so-called Islamic countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other parts of the Muslim world? Thousands of Hindu girls are, for instance, he pointed out, abducted, forcibly converted to Islam and raped in the name of nikah with their abductors every year. Why no outrage among Indian Muslims who keep, rightly, protesting vigilante killings and other persecutions of Muslims in India and elsewhere. He reminded the Muslim leaders on the panel, that Huqooqul ibad (rights of the creations of God, and just humans, but even animals and plants) is a sacred value in Islam. Have we forgotten this, he asked forcefully.

Another pertinent point Mr. Sultan Shahin made was that “human rights are indivisible.” He added: “You can't have human rights for Muslims only. So, while, it would be a tragedy if India deported Rohingyas to Mayamar, the way Cuba and the US had turned back on 13 May 1939 SS St Louis, a luxury cruise liner with over 900 Jews, fleeing from Hitler’s persecution, and sent them back to their sure death, (at least 250 of them were later killed by Nazi Germany), Muslims also have to realise that it is our humanitarian and religious duty to raise such issues and protest persecution of non-Muslim minorities in Muslim countries, particularly those like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia that claim to be Islamic.”


Another important question that New Age Islam editor Sultan Shahin raised in the prime-time television debate was: Why are Islamic countries not coming forward to take Rohingyas? “Syrian refugees have been taken by Germany and other European countries, but Muslim countries are not helping them at all by granting them refugee status”, he said. It is indeed a matter of collective shame for the global Muslim ummah that Islamic countries are turning their back on the Rohingya refugees, as another Muslim panellist and activist, Shabnam Lone seconded in the same Television debate.

There is no doubt, Mr. Shahin asserted, that “India has legitimate security concerns in view of past events, and we also suffer from a resource crunch, but we cannot also forget that we are an old land of civilisation and culture and now democracy, that has always helped and welcomed persecuted minorities from all lands. It is this that makes us such a beautifully diverse country. Helping people in need is our sanskar.

Myanmar is being vehemently criticised for the grave violation of human rights in the ongoing Rohingya crisis. Humanism in Myanmar is believed to be on the verge of extinction. Women and children are being massacred, and innocent young and elderly men are being systematically targeted with barbarity. At this critical juncture, the Indian government’s stance to deport the Rohingya refugees has opened Pandora’s Box and is facing probing questions from the Supreme Court and the National Human Rights Commission. This deportation plan has also created a churn among the Indian Muslim leaders and intellectuals, particularly ulema who feel compassion for the Rohingyas. They are wondering how our country which has hosted refugees ever since its foundation could deport 40,000 Rohingya refugees who are among the world’s most persecuted minorities!

The government of India must shelter the innocent refugees, who look to India in hope to protect their life and dignity, said Founder-President of the All-India Ulama & Mashaikh Board (AIUMB), Syed Mohammad Ashraf Kichhauchwi. He told New Age Islam that India has always endeavoured to rescue the distressed immigrants from the world. “Just as neighbouring Bangladesh has opened up new doors for the victims on the humanitarian grounds, India should extend its helping hand to the Rohingya refugees”, he said.

Another noted Sufi activist, Syed Salman Chishti, gaddi nashin at Dargah Ajmer Sharif told New Age Islam: “Atithi devo bhava (‘the guest is equivalent to God’) is not only a promo for the tourism department. It is a well-established and deep-rooted culture of India.” He further stated that the phrase Vasudhaiva kutumbakam (‘the world is one family’) “is the deep conviction of all Indian citizens”, symbolizing that we consider the entire world “as one united family”.

Thus, the Indian government’s decision to deport the Rohingya refugees is seen an infringement of the legacy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. Tellingly, most Indian Muslims feel that the choice of such a move to deport all Rohingyas is “ethically egregious”.

But a crucial question that is grossly overlooked here is: why do Muslim countries and Islamic nations do not feel compassionate towards the distressed Rohingya Muslims? They have not yet sheltered even more troubled Arab Muslim refugees from Syria, Iraq, Libya, Somalia and other war-torn Muslim lands. According to a 2014 report entitled “Left Out In The Cold” by human rights organization Amnesty International, the Gulf Cooperation Council—which includes Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and the UAE—has not officially resettled a single Syrian refugee since the crisis began in 2011.

These Muslim countries, which are among the wealthiest Islamic nations, do extend financial aid and large donations to the Muslim immigrants and refugees. Recently, Turkey has also announced to provide 10,000 tonnes of aid to help Rohingya Muslims who have fled violence in Myanmar. But they do not take in refugees to their own countries. None of them officially recognize the legal concept of refugeehood.

Indian Muslim outfits like the AIUMB, Jamiat ul-Ulama-e Hind (JUH) and Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH) have rightly urged the Indian government, United Nations and international human rights organizations to help Rohingya Muslims who are facing persecution in the Rakhine area of Myanmar. But have they also appealed to the global ‘ummah’ to take effective measures in this regard? Why don’t Rohingya refugees find shelter in Muslim lands, particularly in the Gulf countries?

While expressing deep concern over reported killings of Rohingya Muslims, Maulana Syed Jalaluddin Umari, president of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind demanded that the United Nations, the OIC and various human rights organizations "pressurize the Burmese government to stop killing their own countrymen, restore their citizenship, remove all restrictions on their travel and focus on their social and economic upliftment", as reported by the Jamaat’s mouthpiece India Tomorrow. (1)

Similarly, the Jamiat ul-Ulama-e Hind (JUH) has urged the United Nations to convene a Security Council meeting to set a deadline for Myanmar to change its attitude towards the Rohingya Muslims. JUH has also urged the Indian government not to stop its traditional humanitarian treatment with Rohingya Muslims seeking asylum in India. “In this regard, India should follow the developed nations, including the European Union,” the JUH urged the Indian government, as widely reported in Indian media.

The Rohingya refugees’ crisis is evidently an essential human rights issue. But deplorably, as Mr. Sultan Shahin pointed out in the Times Now debate, “Islamic organisations in India never speak out when similar or more grievous human rights violations occur in the so-called Islamic countries at the behest of their regimes or Islamist terror outfits. “So, it is right to raise the question: “are human rights to be accorded only to Muslim minorities living in the non-Islamic countries?” Do the ulema and Islamic leaders ever condemn it when thousands of Muslim girls are kidnapped and indoctrinated into the idea of the ‘Islamic state’ and then exploited and maimed in the name of Nikah al-Jihad?

Of course, the Indian government’s plan to deport some 40,000 Rohingya Muslims would not go down well with the country’s historical pluralistic ethos. India has a long record of helping vulnerable populations fleeing from neighbouring countries, including Sri Lankans, Afghans, and Tibetans. But only those who have earned the credibility and right to speak on their behalf should be trusted and supported, not those who are out to make a political capital out of it. Most importantly, the Rohingya refugees should be helped on the humanitarian grounds, not on the basis of religion. Those trying to determine the refugees’ lot on the basis of religion rather than humanity are trying to promote ulterior motives.

At the same time, Indian should drop religious criteria in its refugee law. The government of India had proposed the amendment of the 1955 Citizenship Act to make the naturalisation process easier. But regrettably, the new bill would benefit only people belonging to Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism and Sikhism, which are considered minority religions in their countries of origin. It has excluded the displaced persons of Muslim background. Therefore, many believe that the government’s latest proposal to deport Rohingya is part of this bill.

Though India is not a signatory to any pacts obligating it to offer refuge, it has always sheltered refugees fleeing conflict and disaster, be they Syrian Christians, the Malabar Jews, or the Parsis of Iran who fled persecution. Therefore, the deportation of the Rohingya Muslims would be a departure from this humane tradition that India has upheld for decades.

Remarkably, the Supreme Court has sought to know the government's stand on a plea challenging its plan to deport Rohingya refugees. Also, it is gratifying to note that the Indian government has assured that it is “not going to shoot them or throw them into the ocean”.


The author is a scholar of classical Islamic studies, cultural analyst and researcher in media and communication studies. He can be reached at