Having a single conformist society is not what India is about, writes Sameera Ahmed.

Voices Opinion Friday, February 07, 2020 - 16:38

Ten years ago, one would never see or hear the kind of rhetoric going around in the country as it is now. Ten years ago, the question was about industry and development, jobs and rise in prices. Ten years ago, we were all envisioning the India 2020 of Abdul Kalam’s dreams.

Cut to today, there is silent encouragement to instigate communalism, deepen differences and pit communities against each other. When a Union Minister is allowed free range to discuss shooting traitors on a public stage, it is not surprising that the same agenda is being followed in less obvious forums.

I’m tired of defending my religion time and again that I feel this piece is solely meant for me, to calm me down, to tell me that one confused writer cannot be representative of the society’s understanding of one religion. Then I realize that two shootings have occurred after the so-called call to shoot all the ‘traitors’. So I wrote my thoughts down anyway.

The article I reference is ‘Moderate Muslims: An oxymoron?’ published last week in a national newspaper. The question mark at the end of the sentence called out to me, and an otherwise rushed glance through the newspaper would have never led me to read that article. Also, ‘moderate’ ka mathlab kya hai? Am I falling in that category? Am I saving my religion by diluting it down and calling its ethos moderate, or is it my duty to call out my more extremist brothers and sisters and tell them to thumb it down a shade.

I digress. Coming back to the article, written by author Dr. KS Radhakrishnan (a former Vice Chancellor of a Sanskrit University), it essentially says that Muslims in India live a life of denial and hypocrisy. One, their Holy Book advocates both peace and violence in equal proportions. Two, Indian Muslims accept only the less violent portions of the sayings in the Book, which also goes against an important instruction in the Book – every follower of Islam should accept the book in its entirety or be considered not a true believer.

And hence, the hypocrisy of lives led by Indian Muslims.

Some of the other statements lifted from the Holy Quran and presented in the article to further cement the hypocrisy of said Indian Muslims:

“Naturally, a person who earnestly follows Islam, firmly believes that those who worship idols must be finished as part of his faith in Islam.”

“Now, what certain advocates of so-called moderation advise is that such aphorisms of the Holy Quran should be concealed when Quran is being interpreted in a pluralistic society like India, but that all such aphorisms must be revealed and made effective once Indian becomes a monotheistic theocratic society.”

“Do not marry idolaters until they believe. A slave-woman who believes is better than an un-believing woman, nor marry your girls to unbelievers.”

“Slay them wherever you catch them, and turn them from where they have turned you out; for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter; but fight them not at the sacred mosque unless they fight you there; but if they fight you slay them. Such is the reward of those who suppress faith. (2.191). What it says is that, an eye for an eye is the way of life ‘as fighting is prescribed for you’”

If the argument presented is freedom of speech, then the response should bear the responsibility of being factually correct in one’s statements, and of not creating misunderstandings in a time of vulnerability.

Every religion has followers of different intensities of faith. Some wager on the high, others fairly in the middle and others on the low. Some others disappear from the horizon altogether. This is customary across most beliefs.

The Holy Quran has a lot of advice to its followers, but as every reasonable person knows, it is based in a time of war and bloodshed. Everything has to be looked at in context, and it has been 14 centuries since the book was written. Times were different then, and the Book itself talks about the situation when believers of Islam were being targeted, and hence why violence was advocated. Things change, people change with circumstances. For example, a country that goes to war against its sworn enemy is now also offering to give some of their people citizenship (whether those people want it is a different story). That itself should be a firm example of not branding a child by its one action.

For instance, about the talk of killing the non-believers, the Quran points out in specific, multiple tribes who at that time, were in conflict with the Muslims. Peace treaties, war and violence were a part of this narrative for almost a decade over their religious differences. About the slave portion of the text, a non-believer woman was representative of the polytheists that they were fighting against and the indication of marrying a slave also called out to people to value people in their beliefs rather than their social standing. This article is not about explaining what Islam really is. Done and dusted innumerable times, it makes no sense to refute each line of that opinion piece with the right context.

What is incredible is that such statements can be made in this day and age without blinking an eye. I would rather someone have an intelligent conversation about what their religion means to them, than by one stroke paint a ghastly picture. We all have our differences in religious beliefs, political beliefs and family traditions, and that is what makes life interesting. Having a single conformist society is not what India is about and hopefully the country will come out of this unscathed.

The power of the word is immense. It is extremely concerning that at a time of such significance in the midst of the Citizenship Amendment Act’s relevance and on Republic Day, this newspaper has agreed to publish an article of such ghastly interpretation. Even if one person reading such an article believes in this spin of stories that the author has woven out, it is our loss as a democracy and a republic.

Sincerely,

A ‘hypocritical moderate’ Muslim

Sameera Ahmed is a journalist. Views are author’s own.