The ulemas should help remove prejudices about Islam
My standard response whenever someone asks me if I am a good Muslim (I do get asked pretty often) is that I hope I am a good human being. I am not evasive, but the question is so loaded that I am unable to judge quickly what it means? Does it mean that I follow all the basic principals of my faith? If that be so, will it imply that I am not a liberal, progressive person? Maybe it is all in my mind, but I find the question extremely judgemental. Though I could be overreacting, I have a reason for being wary. I discovered a few years ago, that several non-Muslims, especially those who claim to be well-read about Islamic matters, have a perception about what a good Muslim stands for. According to them, to be a good Muslim, truthful to the tenets of Islam one has to cease being a good human being or a good citizen of any country; because Islam is a non-inclusive religion that makes extraordinary demands on its followers, making it impossible for them to either remain faithful to their country or retain essence of humaneness. Hence, it is no wonder that Muslims prefer to live in their ghettos and indulge in anti-national activities because they cannot be otherwise. The religion itself is such, see.
While the school of RSS is the most obvious proponent of this kind of thinking, number of notable authors who are not the card-holding members of the organisation, Arun Shourie, for instance, also has consistently written and espoused this idea. To buttress their arguments they quote verses from the Quran and passages from the Hadith, and when they do so you cannot argue with them because they are right. Indeed there are passages in the Hadith that suggest all of the above, sometimes even worse. I am no scholar of Islam, but what I understand is that like the Sword Verses which talk of Jihad, these are also in a context and do not really mean what they literally convey. It is the job of the Islamic scholars and the clergy to not only put such misleading verses in context but also the entire Islamic history, where violent phases co-exist with periods of peace, growth and scientific and cultural development. Forget about the social importance of this, it will help average Muslims to not feel apologetic when confronted with: ‘Are you a good Muslim?’ Yet, today everyone is focussed on terrorism.
As the after-effects of the war on terror started being felt by the Indian Muslims, some of whom became victims of religious profiling, the ulemas in India realised that they needed to take a stand, if not for anything else then to draw the attention of the government that a lot of innocents were getting caught in the whirlwind. Last year, the Deoband seminary, long held guilty for being the ideological crucible for modern-day Jihadis, took the lead and declared terrorism unIslamic. Inspired, the imam family of Delhi Jama Masjid, Bukharis, notorious for their inflammatory speeches from the pulpit of the Jama Masjid organised an international conference against terrorism soon after the Deobandi fatwa under the aegis of an NGO that they have floated called, Jama Masjid United Forum (JMUF). Incidentally, a few years back, Indian film actor Shabana Azmi had famously suggested that Imam Syed Ahmed Bukhari should be airdropped to Afghanistan so that he can fight the Americans there and leave Indians in peace when he exhorted Indian Muslims to rise against the Americans in support of their Taliban brothers. But things have certainly changed now.
JMUF’s endeavour last year must have been successful because they recently organised the second chapter of the terrorism conference at Delhi’s Oberoi hotel where it not only managed to get international participants but also roped in Perfect Relations for its PR work. Clearly, Bukharis have come a long way; they have money as well as reputation, which bring us to the main point.
While terrorism is an important issue, there has been an overkill of literature, conferences and seminars on the subject. The main problem that the Muslims in India face is prejudice and stereotyping. Everything else stems from this, whether it is backwardness, discrimination in public services, refusal of banks to give loans, landlords to give apartments, harassment by Right-wing parties, religious profiling by the police and so on. The reason the issue of prejudice has to be taken seriously is because it does not stem from ignorance or illiterate people, but from the intellectuals. One only has to read the minutes of meeting of the Constituent Assembly of India to realise how deep-rooted and widespread the prejudices have been.
Instead of wasting resources on organising conferences on terrorism, Muslim bodies should organise international, well-publicised inter-faith meetings/seminars to dispel these presumptions about Islam. Let ulemas and muftis from all over the world meet to put context to conflicting verses, so that both Muslims and non-Muslims have a better understanding of what the religion of peace stands for.