If right-wing Hindus and right-wing Muslims are equally dissatisfied with “elite Muslims” like Javed Akhtar and Naseeruddin Shah, they must be doing something right. In the latest volley against them, A Faizur Rahman, a self-proclaimed moderate Muslim, accuses people like Akhtar and Naseeruddin Shah of stirring up Islamophobia, albeit “unwittingly” (‘The Prejudice Within’, IE, October 4th). It’s a way of saying that they are “anti-Islamic”, “anti-Muslim”. Akhtar and Shah should perhaps be happy about such labeling, as it places them directly in the society of liberal and progressive Hindus who are constantly targeted by right-wing Hindus as “anti-Hindu”.
For Rahman, the original sins of Akhtar and Shah are to sign, along with over 150 other Indian Muslims, a declaration on the Taliban issued by “a Mumbai-based Muslim team”. (Full disclosure: the “outfit” in question are Indian Muslims for secular democracy [IMSD] of which this author is the national consignor). The statement complained that “some of the Indian Muslims” were euphoric about the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan. Rahman claims that such âcarelessly used phrasesâ end up âfueling Islamophobic distrust of the ideological moderation of Indian Muslimsâ.
This is strange logic coming from such a well-read and informed person as Rahman. He has no doubt heard of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), an umbrella organization that represents most of the Sunni religious communities. Rahman can be aware of the Board’s consistent assertion that the Sharia laws, in contrast to “man-made” laws, are “given by God” and are therefore immutable for all time. Unfortunately for the board of directors, in a country like India, adherence to Sharia law must be limited to a staunch defense of Muslim private law. But the ideal remains an âIslamic stateâ governed by God-given laws.
On the day they came to power, the Taliban declared that Afghanistan would not be a democracy, but an “Islamic emirate” under Sharia law. This was the specific context of the IMSD statement calling on Indian Muslims to reject the Islamic emirate in Afghanistan. The opening paragraph of the declaration read: âIndian Muslims for Secular Democracy reject the idea of ââa theocratic state anywhere in the world. It therefore questions the legitimacy of the ‘Islamic Emirate’ that the Taliban want to enforce … “Lamented the fact that” some Indian Muslims “were delighted with the Taliban’s seizure of power, added the statement:” It is nothing but sheer opportunism and hypocrisy to support a secular state in a country like India where Muslims are in the minority and to welcome the imposition of Sharia rule wherever they are in the majority. Such a double standard gives legitimacy to the Sangh Parivar’s agenda for a Hindu rashtra.
The IMSD’s statement followed the statements of two high-ranking officials from the board of directors and the organization Jamaat-e-Islami, as well as the feedback that the IMSD received from Muslim activists at the grassroots level in several parts of the country. Who but Rahman will deny that an organization like the board of directors, which can bring tens of thousands of Muslims to the streets across India, speaks for “a part of Indian Muslims”?
If one believes Rahman, it is not the return of the Taliban to power with their agenda of the Islamic Emirates or the welcome declaration of some Indian Maulanas that has fueled Islamophobia, but the “carelessly used phrases” in the IMSD declaration!
In his article, Rahman quotes former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to state that Muslim terrorist groups have hardly found buyers among Indian Muslims. Isn’t he chasing a red herring? What does this have to do with what Akhtar, Shah or IMSD said? Who has argued that religious fundamentalism, intolerance, orthodoxy AND support for the idea of ââa theocratic state are, per se, synonymous with support for terrorism in the name of Islam? It has been rightly said that there is a striking resemblance in worldviews of religious rights regardless of the belief they claim to speak for.
The rise in Islamophobia in India and around the world should surely alarm not just Muslims but all right-thinking, peace-loving people. We must also beware of what some call the âIslamophobia Phobiaâ – a defense mechanism, a not-so-clever attempt to silence even rational criticism of Muslims or Islam, or the call for Muslim reforms. Like charity, criticism must begin at home.
Silence is not an option for progressive Muslims for fear of fueling Islamophobia. If anything, the Islamophobes keep asking themselves: Why don’t moderate Muslims speak? The sad fact is that very few moderate Muslim voices were heard when the Chennai police canceled the last-minute lecture tour of Afro-American feminist Islamic scholar Amina Wadud in July 2013 because some Muslim groups threatened to protest. Very few moderate Muslim voices were heard when the Raza Academy threatened in 2000 to burn the exiled Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen alive if she âdaresâ to break into Mumbai. Or when the left-front government in West Bengal flew it to the then BJP-ruled Rajasthan in 2007 for fear of losing Muslim votes.
What fuels Islamophobia is not when Muslims like Akhtar and Shah or IMSD speak out against the unsavory words and deeds of any Muslim organization or person. It is the almost silence of moderate Muslims in such situations that is taken by Islamophobes as evidence that âall Muslims are just like thatâ.
This column first appeared in print on October 12, 2021 under the title âListen to your wordsâ. The author is the Convener, Indian Muslims for Secular Democracy and Associate Editor of Sabrang India online