This article was published in Viewpoint Online, here
I often find the dichotomy of the oppressor and the oppressed baffling, for it underestimates a very key component of human nature, i.e. hypocrisy and double standards. People fail to understand that the tormented could easily turn into tormentors, given the context.
India’s Muslims are the country’s largest minority. Depending on your source, their numbers range between 160-200 million. However, the community has been subject to injustices of the state and society. Communal riots, encounter killings, poisonous Hindu right propaganda that tries to portray them as outsiders and cultural pollutants; they have seen it all. And if all this weren’t enough, they have to face an even bigger detriment to their progress; their self-appointed leaders. These include et al., mullahs, politicians, and the Urdu press that claims to be their spokesperson.
As I glanced through today’s (24 September) Roznama Sahara, a popular Urdu daily in India, a news article on the front page caught my attention. The article, titled “Qadianon ki ‘Qurani taleemat numaish’ ke khilaf ihtejaaj”. The story described how Muslim organizations protested outside an exhibition organized by the Ahmadi community (described using the pejorative term ‘Qadiani’) because they claimed that Ahmadis were attempting to mislead the public by posing as Muslims (Surprise, Surprise!). The opening sentence said it all:
“Leading Muslim personalities in Delhi held a peaceful protest against an exhibition ‘Teachings of Holy Quran’, arranged by the Ahmadiya Jamaat India, an organization belonging to the Ahmadi sect, which have been declared as non Muslims every where in the world…”
The tone of the article betrays the prejudice on part of the newspaper against a minority sect, followed by no more than 100,000 people in India. I would like to question the editors of the paper behind their rationale. It has no right to brand people as Muslims or Non Muslims. It is high time that these self appointed leaders of the community stopped indulging in the politics of takfir and leave it to the people to determine whether they are true Muslims or not.
This is not the first time that India’s Muslim leaders have tried to rake up the Ahmadi issue. In April this year, C M Naim discussed this issue at length in his article ‘Learn From Pakistan’, published in the magazine Outlook. Apparently, the clerical class has tried to flog this dead horse from time to time. These actions betray both, the frustration of the clerical class, and their ineptitude. Have the Muslims of India run out of problems that they need to focus their anxieties on a miniscule community, which is now being branded as a ‘Threat to Islam’. Have these people learnt nothing from the mistakes of their Pakistani counterparts, and their baloney of branding everyone as Non Muslim?
In 1953, after the anti-Ahmadi violence in Pakistan, the government constituted the Munir Commission to investigate the violence. While conducting his investigations, Justice Munir interviewed several prominent Ulema and asked them to define who is a Muslim. Predictably, all ulema had different ideas about the matter and Justice Munir observed that
“Keeping in view the several definitions given by the ulama, need we make any comment except that no two learned divines are agreed on this fundamental. If we attempt our own definition as each learned divine has done and that definition differs from that given by all others, we unanimously go out of the fold of Islam. And if we adopt the definition given by any one of the ulama, we remain Muslims according to the view of that alim but kafirs according to the definition of every one else.”
But those were the golden pre-Zia days, when Pakistan was still a Muslim country and not an Islamic state. Since then, the country has witnessed the growth of sectarian organizations that seek to outdo each other in Takfir politics. The Sunni will call the Shia an infidel, the Shia will protest against the Sunni. Then, the Shia will call an Ahmadi an infidel and the Ahmadi will protest. Tomorrow, I will not be surprised if some dimwit from the Ahmadi community starts calling for the expulsion of atheists or agnostics. It is a bit like a classroom. The bigger bully attacks the smaller bully. The smaller bully, instead of uniting with his class against the bigger bully will pick out the puniest guy in the class in order to vent his frustration.
Anyway, I digress. The Ahmadi problem in India is inherently different from that in Pakistan. First of all, constitutionally, India is still a secular country. Secondly, our courts have been wise enough to let the people decide their faiths instead of indulging in sectarian politics. Thus, by and large, minority sects in India are safe. However, the growing radicalization within religious communities cannot be taken lightly. The rise of neo-fundamentalist preachers like Zakir Naik, with their cleverly disguised supremacist views and their urban middle class fan following could exacerbate societal tensions in the future.
India’s historical strength has been the accommodation of multiple, and often conflicting views. Surely, we cannot stop people from disagreeing with beliefs of others. However, it is when the disagreement turns into demands to de-legitimize those set of beliefs and people begin to indulge in insidious propaganda, which is when the problem starts. Perhaps it is time that we remind ourselves what Bulleh Shah once wrote,
Bulleya aashaq hoyo rabb da, hoi malaamat lakh
Tainu kaafar kaafar kainde, tu aaho!, aaho! Aakh
(Bulla, the lover of God, a thousand curses are heaped on you
They cry “infidel! infidel! ” - you say “so it is, so it is!”)