One writer feels its a race to the bottom

Adding fuel to the fire Zakir Naiks Mangaluru visit will just add to the fundamentalism competition
news Wednesday, December 23, 2015 - 10:27

Coastal Karnataka has, for some years, witnessed a kind of competitive fundamentalism, a race to the bottom, with numerous cultural, ideological, political and religious groups vying for followers. In January, this volatile situation is likely to see a major shift with the visit of televangelist Zakir Naik to Mangaluru.

On January 3, Naik will deliver the keynote address at a three-day conference organized by the South Karnataka Salafi Movement in the city. However, this news has been met with deep dismay by a section of Muslims in the region and intellectuals in the state. They believe that Naik’s brand of Islam is a blow to an already volatile socio-cultural and socio-political scenario and that it will give ammunition to fundamentalists and communalists in the region. On social media, opinion is divided, with both support and criticism equally loud.

Naik has been a controversial figure for several years. His views on a number of topics have been warily received. With his ability to quote verses from the Quran and other religious texts to ‘substantiate’ his arguments, the man is a crowd-puller, regardless whether or not one agrees with his views or accepts his often, simplistic arguments.

Unlike Naik’s first visit to Mangaluru in the late 90s, when the audience could not have been more than 300 people, this time organizers expect several thousand people in attendance.  

Ibrahim Kodijal, one of the organizers, says that Naik had been invited because he was an “international scholar” and due to his “contribution to Islam”. “Islam is a religion of peace. All religions preach tolerance. Others (scholars) don’t explain things properly. He gives the true picture of Islam,” Kodijal said.

Asked about Naik’s controversial views, such as his notion that women who are skimpily dressed are more likely to be raped than a woman wearing a burqa, Kodijal said that both Muslim men and women were forbidden to reveal their bodies.

In an apparent reference to an erection, Kodijal said: “Men get sensation.” Asked if men should not be told to control their urges, he said: “Have you seen the sisters’ (nuns’) dress? Women everywhere cover themselves. You see in Punjab, Gujarat, everywhere, women cover themselves up.”

Kodijal is the district president of the Congress and has been a staunch member for the last 46 years. Although it is the Salafi group, which has organized the event, he claimed that all Muslim groups in the region were assisting in the work.

Other Muslim groups however, officially at least, are keeping a distance from the Salafi group. A member of the Jamat-e-Hind who requested anonymity said that they had ideological differences with not just the Salafis but also Naik himself.

“We will inform our members that such a programme is there, but it is not compulsory. We will participate because it is a programme (for Muslims) and (we believe) in Umma (universal brotherhood of Muslims). However, we do not share the stage with them because we have ideological differences,” the leader said.

A Muslim writer who spoke to The News Minute on condition of anonymity said he had reservations about openly criticising Naik.

“If I openly criticise Naik, people will automatically assume that I identify with the Jamaat-e-Islami-Hind, and I disagree with them too. There is no difference between the Jamat-e-Islami-Hind and the RSS, both are dangerous,” the writer said.

State President of the Democratic Youth Federation of India Muneer Katipalla said that the Sangh Parivar would use this opportunity to further communalise the region.

Already, Hindutva groups such as the VHP, Bajrang Dal and the Hindu Jagrana Vedike have staged protests against Naik’s visit. The VHP says it has already invited Praveen Togadia to speak at an event on January 6. They have also submitted memoranda to the police, saying that they would not be responsible if there was any untoward incident in the city.

Calling these developments a kind of “competitive fundamentalism”, the writer who requested anonymity said, “This is a race to the bottom”.

“The real threat from Naik’s visit is to the tradition of Sufi Islam among the Muslims of the region,” Katipalla said.

Writer Fakir Mohammed Katpady said that Naik’s coming to Mangalore was an undesirable development for the coastal region.

“Naik seeks to spread a homogenous version of Islam. While Muslims everywhere have Islam in common, their cultural identities are different. Bearys too are rooted in Islam, but they developed a distinct cultural identity,” Katpady says.

The spread of Islam in coastal Karnataka was because of Sufi saints such as Syed Madani of Ullal (Mangaluru), Fakir Baba Waliullah of Kundapura (Udupi district), and Manvatti Bibi of Manjeshwara (Kasargod district). “They built a culture of Sufi spirituality,” he says.

Giving an example, he said in the last decade or so, several of the Sufi-based cultural traditions were being eroded. “This is happening because of the influence of Salafi groups, the Jamat-e-Islami-Hind and people like Naik.”

As a child, he recalls that his grandmother and other elders would tell him stories of Sufi saints. They would also speak of cultural traditions such as certain dances and rituals at weddings which were being gradually abandoned as people increasingly came under the influence of Wahabbi Islam practised in West Asian countries.

People of all communities from coastal Karnataka have had a long history of migrating to West Asian countries for work, the most recent wave being, from the 1970s onwards. Katpady says that one of the reasons Muslims were seeking opportunities in West Asian countries was because Hindutva groups made it difficult for many people to work.

Referring to the bhoota aradhane  – worship of ancestral spirits – in the region, Katpady said, “Earlier, the bhootas would ask ‘Have the Bearys come to ply their trade?’ There are many bhoota kola rituals in which Muslims were given prominence. All this has reduced.”

Katpady said that it was a “big tragedy” that “defensiveness about culture including among Muslims was on the rise. “Writers from the Muslim community face two dangers. If they criticise (aspects of their) community’s traditions, those who hate Muslims praise us. On the other hand, because of this, people in the community criticise us for exposing this, and we become unacceptable to them. There needs to be a balance.”

Katpady feels that as education levels among Muslims rose, they began to question whether their Sufi-rooted practices were Islamic or not. “They’ve begun to chase ulemas, people like Naik who propagate a fundamentalist view. They are forgetting that the very Sufis whom they are questioning introduced them to Islam.”

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