What Should Indian Muslims Do?


IRFAN ENGINEER | Clarion India

India is experiencing an escalation in religion based communal conflicts in recent times. In this conflict, Muslims and Christians are easy and more vulnerable targets of the state and non-state actors. The non-state actors target Muslims in what has come to be known as mob lynching for transportation of cows and other animals, and during communal riots attacking them physically as well as damaging their properties. They are being subjected to economic boycott, and demonised as a community having separatist mentality. They are accused of ill-treating their women through the instrument of unilateral divorce, practice of polygamy.

Muslim community is accused of being regressive and fundamentalist, having little respect for the law of the land. Patriotism of Muslims is questioned, and they are demonised as terrorists. It is falsely alleged that their population is growing faster with the intention of becoming a majority community in India. Islam is targeted as an intolerant religion, which denounces non-Muslims as kafirs, with whom they must wage a violent holy war, including resorting to terrorism. The Muslim community is further being demonised as a community conspiring to wage ‘love jihad’ wherein Muslim men entice innocent Hindu girls into matrimonial ties with the intention to convert them to Islam and become a majority community.

Some Muslims are also being demonised as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. A section of Hindu extremists calls upon Hindus to wage a war against Muslims and push them out of Indian borders or even eliminate them. Some of the Muslim religious institutions are being reclaimed as structures built after demolishing Hindu temples and therefore they raise the demand for reclaiming them.

The state has done pretty little to punish the hate crimes against the Muslim community or to punish those guilty of indulging in mob lynching and communal riots. On the contrary, the state demolishes their homes for allegedly throwing stones on Hindu religious processions and launches prosecution against the victims of mob lynching for allegedly illegally taking cows to slaughter houses and holding them guilty of conspiracy to trigger off communal riots. In order to invisiblise cultural heritage associated with the Muslim community in north India, the state is on a spree to rename streets and railway stations which have Muslim sounding names.

In Assam and J&K, the delimitation process is carried out in such a way as to make it more difficult for the community leaders to get elected, as their numbers get diluted in the constituency. In Assam, they have been evicted from their homes, disrupting their livelihoods and politically marginalising them.

It must be said here that Muslims alone are not being targeted by the Hindu nationalist politics, their ideology, and their violent and extremist cadre. Other marginalised communities are also being targeted to varying degrees, in different ways and on different grounds. The other targeted communities are the Christians, the Dalits, and the Adivasis. The OBCs are also being disadvantaged and marginalised. Women of all communities are being discriminated against by patriarchal structures within the community and with acquiescence of the state. The economic policies of the state have also ensured marginalisation of the workers and peasants. However, in this article we are concerned only with the issues facing the Muslim community.

It must also be said here that all members of the Muslim community do not experience their marginalisation equally and are not equally vulnerable to targeted violence. Muslim women, the poor and the pasmanda Muslims (those converted to Islam from backward classes) suffer much more as their make shift homes are more vulnerable during riots; the livelihoods of daily wagers and casual workers are lost. Muslim women have been subjected to sexual assaults during riots. They also face domestic violence and face daily subjugation under patriarchal structures of state as well as communities.

How should the Muslim community respond to this conflict?

While the Hindu nationalist ideology sees the presence of the Muslim community as a threat to Hindu culture (which is in fact very diverse). They see the Muslim culture (which also is as diverse as the Hindu culture) as divisive. The presence of Muslim and Christian culture requires a political arrangement wherein the state is neutral towards, or equally distant from all religious practices and religious institutions. The Hindu nationalists believe that the state was crafted to be secular in order to accommodate the religious practices of the minorities. The Muslim and Christian minorities are an obstacle in creation of a Hindu state that enforces Hindu cultural practices and way of life.

Democracy and secularism are better options to a cultural or a theocratic state, even if the citizens of a country belonged to a single religion, spoke the same language or belonged to the same ethnic community or race. A theocratic state is an obstacle in evolution of religious practices and ideas. All followers of any given religion have diverse approach and understanding of their religion and need freedom to practice their religion in their own unique way, while the theocratic state enforces fossilized past understanding of religion, even while the society has evolved. Following and practicing any religion should come out of one’s own will rather than being enforced by the state, or any other institution. The laws and policies of the state should also be to promote the welfare of the citizens rather than confining the law-making process to looking into religious texts.

Now that the party which follows Hindu nationalist ideology is in power, having its political objective to recraft the state as a Hindu state, the Hindu nationalist cadres fearlessly resort to targeting the religious minorities, while the secular state is un-capacitated by those in power to take any action against them. Communal violence is an instrument to set a narrative wherein the Muslim community is demonised as disloyal to the nation, having separatist agenda, and practicing socially regressive and reprehensible culture like triple talaq. They are accused of conspiring to ring in and Islamic state.

Muslim political leadership

The Hindu nationalists selectively use history, based on mythology, constructed on half-truths with the intention to demonise the Muslim community, instil fear of the community among Hindus and mobilise the might of the state and Hindus to subjugate the community. History is invoked to present the Hindus as victims of Muslim rule in the past and weaponised to seek revenge for the alleged past misdeeds of the Muslim rulers from the poor sections of Muslims who are hardly aware of the past. While a large number of Muslims fought against the British rule for freedom and faced the gallows and imprisonment, the community must also accept that there was a section of leaders who bargained with the colonial state for higher share in the political arrangement on the basis of political weightage. They argued that the British took power from Muslim rulers and therefore they were justified in demanding higher share in the power sharing arrangement vis-à-vis the Hindu community. As the transfer of power was becoming a certainty, Jinnah succeeded in instilling fear of the Hindu community and the future state among the Muslims, and rallied a large section of the Muslim elite behind his demand for partition. The community must atone for Jinnah’s call for direct action in the year 1946 and the communal riots that followed in Bengal and Punjab wherein more than a million people were killed.

Demonisation of the community by the Hindu nationalists has gained ground among the Hindus also due to the behaviour of the Muslim community as a contributory factor – both in the past, as well as in recent times. The spate of electoral successes of the Hindu nationalists makes it evident that the Hindu nationalists are succeeding in demonising the Muslim community. The community leaders deny their responsibility and strongly assert their Constitutional right to be culturally different and require separate laws without justifiable or good reasons. For example, Abu Asim Azmi, leader of Samajwadi Party in Maharashtra and Member of the State Legislative Assembly, recently thundered during the monsoon session that he would not sing the national song – Vande Mataram. The defence of practice of instant and unmediated divorce by pronounciation of the word ‘talaq’ thrice as irrevocable, and the practice of nikah halala wherein if the husband wants to take back his divorced wife, she must first get married to another man and that man should divorce her after consuming the marriage are reprehensible. Even after the law against this unilateral divorce was passed, some Muslim leaders said that they would disregard the law and consider such a divorce as irrevocable in spite of the law.

While we need not be held hostage to history, the Indian Muslims need to accept their role and distance themselves from Jinnah’s politics, and indeed, communal politics of all hues and colours. In order to justify the separate electorates, the pre-partition Muslim League laid emphasis on their different culture. Jinnah famously argued that the two communities – Hindu and Muslim – were completely different, and they could not be yoked together under one state.

The Hindu community today is selectively reminded of the atrocities and violence inflicted on the Hindus that accompanied partition. The PM Modi’s Govt has called upon the nation to celebrate 14th August (when Pakistan was created) as Partition Horrors Remembrance Day. In that human tragedy, both communities suffered. The Muslim community needs to acknowledge the atrocities and distance themselves from it, even condemn it. Muslims also need to distance themselves from the atrocities committed by the medieval Muslim rulers, particularly when Hindu temples had been demolished, even though it is a truism that Muslim peasants, labouring classes, service providers, and artisans (ajlaf Muslims) were as oppressed under the Muslim rulers, as non-Muslims, and the Hindu peasantry, labouring classes, service providers and artisans were oppressed under the Hindu landlords and rulers, and who were in service of the Muslim ruler.

There must be a campaign to educate the Muslim community about democratic governance and their rights as citizens seeking a meaningful political life with other fellow citizens. The community needs to distance itself from communal political leaders who thrive on creating an illusion among the community that they would defend the reprehensible and regressive practices based on patriarchal understanding of the holy Quran and protect the community. These leaders have utterly failed in the past and even in the present to ensure security of the community. Such communal leadership merely seeks to convert the community into ensured vote-banks that would enable their claim to leadership. They seek to promote homogenization of the Muslim culture, undermining the cultural diversity based on language, local traditions, customs, and there is social caste-based stratification. There is also sectarian diversity. The communal leadership seek to mobilize the community around cultural issues like defense of the Muslim Personal Law, promotion of Urdu as lingua franca of the community and issue of the Ummah like the Dutch cartoons and opposition to Salman Rushdie stepping in India, etc. They willy-nilly promote Arabization of Indian Muslims in league with sectarian religious leadership.

The community must take a lead to demand state structures, institutions and laws that would protect all citizens from targeted violence, irrespective of religion, caste, region, ethnicity, language or region. The community should demand reparation policies of international standards that ensure non-recurrence of targeted violence – whether on religious minorities, caste or linguistic communities. Instead of the political demand to be treated exclusively with special laws, we should seek just and democratic laws that protect all and work for all. That would ensure alliance of all those who are subjected to targeted violence – Dalits, religious and linguistic minorities, etc.

The other institutions that would strengthen democracy and also work for all marginalised and discriminated sections of the society include an ‘Equal Opportunity Commission’; and compilation of ‘Diversity Index’. Religious and linguistic minorities, Dalits, women, other backward classes, all are discriminated against and an mobilization of social alliance of these marginalised communities would go a long way neutralizing the communal propaganda of the Hindu nationalists.

The Muslim community must look inward acknowledging their failures and emphasis on wrong issues as well. Democratic consciousness promoting equal citizenship, dignity of all citizens, particularly of the women within the family, within the community, and justice. Take lead in mobilising all citizens for governance accountable to the citizens, rather than exclusive rights and separate treatment for the community.

… to be continued.


(Irfan Engineer is Director, Centre for Study of Society and Secularism; he is also co-editor of a recent book, Babri Masjid, 25 Years On… Views expressed here are author’s personal.)


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