Jan 10, 2010
‘Khuda Hafiz, Muslim India!’ I was taken aback by this editorial in the December issue of the highly influential monthly journal founded by Syed Shahabuddin. I didn’t expect the redoubtable fighter for the cause of Muslims in India to give up, saying, “Muslim India was my favourite child, nurtured with love, time, energy and money for more than twenty years...Agonisingly, I realised that, with poor health and faltering finances, I had no option but to call it a day. So, the last issue is in your hand.”
I have been an avid reader of Muslim India, also an admirer of Shahabuddin. Not because I agreed with him. Indeed, I disagreed with much of what his journal contained and the sectarian perspective that he brought to bear on the issues he championed. I had first criticised his approach way back in the 1980s, when in a letter in response to his article in the Illustrated Weekly of India (now long-defunct), I had objected to his use of the phrase ‘Muslim India’ and argued that ‘Indian Muslims’ was a proper, non-communal alternative to it. The difference between the two phrases is salient to how we view the past, present and future of the place of Muslims in India.
Despite my differences with Shahabuddin, I have continued to admire him for two reasons. First, persons like him with deep conviction and commitment, who struggle tirelessly for a cause that transcends their personal interests, are always worthy of praise. In spite of the high profile he had in public life, he ran his journal from a very humble office. Genuine respect for the person with whom you disagree is a prerequisite for meaningful dialogue for the larger cause of Hindu-Muslim harmony.
Second, although many editorials and articles in Muslim India exhibited a sectarian Islam-first approach, the journal nevertheless gave space to a plurality of views expressed by Muslims themselves. It frequently highlighted the controversies and troubled conditions in Muslim countries. This couldn’t have been possible if the editor himself did not believe that contrarian beliefs were worthy of consideration and needed to be freely debated by Indian Muslims.
One such article, with a powerfully articulated critique of the rise of terrorism-prone religious extremism in Pakistan, appears in the last issue of Muslim India. Titled ‘The Saudi-isation of Pakistan’, it is by Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, a renowned Pakistani nuclear physicist and social thinker. Refuting the common belief that “madrassas are the only institutions serving as jihad factories”, he observes, “Extremism is breeding at a ferocious rate in public and private schools within Pakistan’s towns and cities. The mindset it creates may eventually lead to Pakistan’s demise as a nation state.”
Not a day passes without terrorist attacks in different parts of Pakistan. Yet, it torments Hoodbhoy to see that very few citizens and politicians protest. They only blame America for the terrorist acts, and not Islamic extremists. The pervasive belief in Pakistan is that “terrorism, by definition, is an act only the Americans can commit.”
What explains Pakistan’s “collective masochism”? Why has our neighbour surrendered so meekly before the “hate-driven holy warriors”, under whose threat classical music is on its last legs in Pakistan and fully veiled female students, “a rarity in Pakistani colleges two decades ago”, outnumber their sisters who still dare to show their faces? Hoodbhoy’s explanation is an eye-opener: “For three decades, deep tectonic forces have been silently tearing Pakistan away from the Indian subcontinent and driving it towards the Arabian Peninsula. This continental drift is not only physical but also cultural, driven by a belief that Pakistan must exchange its South Asian identity for an Arab-Muslim one.” Then comes Hoodbhoy’s loud lament: “Grain by grain, the desert sands of Saudi Arabia are replacing the rich soil that had nurtured a magnificent Muslim culture in India for a thousand years.”
The “magnificent Muslim culture” that Hoodbhoy and others like him in Pakistan and Bangladesh feel so nostalgic about was the outcome of Islam’s long, creative and mutually enriching interaction with undivided India. There were no doubt dark periods in this thousand-year-old history, when religious bigotry and tyranny sought to destroy India’s non-Muslim social and cultural fabric. But India survived, unlike ancient pre-Islamic civilisations in several Muslim countries. India and Islam influenced and changed each other in positive ways, which can be clearly seen in the distinctive “Indian” identity of Muslims in our subcontinent. Sadly, a renewed, petrodollar-driven attempt is now being made by the extremist interpreters of Islam in Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries to bring the entire Muslim world under their exclusive control. Which is why, Pakistan is today fighting for its survival. If fears of “Khuda Hafiz, Pakistan” are to be allayed, Muslims in Pakistan must re-embrace Civilisational India.
Postscript: In the death last fortnight of Abdurrahman Wahid, Indonesia’s former president, the world has not only lost a voice of moderate Islam and religious tolerance, but also a living link between Indonesia and Civilisational India. After becoming president, he participated in prayers at a Hindu temple in Bali, where he had earlier studied Hindu philosophy. An ardent admirer of the Indian epics, he had organised a Ramayana show for Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, when the latter visited Indonesia in 2001. I have vivid memories of that visit, which showed me the most non-Saudi face of Islam. Wahid warned Muslims against those who “pervert Islam into a dogma of intolerance, hatred and bloodshed”.
Source: © 2010 The Indian Express Limited. All rights reserved