Thursday, 11 June 2009

Obama's speech and Islam in India

I liked Obama's speech to the Muslim world from Cairo. I can't understand why so many Indian commentators are only concerned about "he did not mention India though ...". I think that Obama was very clearly saying that he was talking about "countries with muslim majority" in the Arab world, since the issues related to thse countries are very different from those regarding a country like India.

I can understand Tavleen Singh's point in Indian Express that Obama's dialogue is one-sided and similar dialogue from Islam's side is needed. She writes:

"The Jihad did not appear one morning out of clear blue sky. It happened because of a system of education in most Islamic countries that perpetuates the idea that Islam is the best thing that happened to mankind and that pluralism is wrong in Allah's eyes. As for us happy idol-worshipping types, we are doomed to damnation. This idea is in direct conflict with the Indian idea of Sarvadharma sambhaava. But it is more than just religion that is the problem. ... President Obama seems not to know that there are more Muslims in the Indian sub-continent than any where and that we lived in relative harmaony till Saudi money started to fund Wahabi Islam."

While Tavleen Singh is known for her position on Islam, I have been a little surprised by relatively open criticism of traditional islamists in the mainstream Indian media that used to avoid any mention of these subjects.

Like the report in The Week (June 7, 2009 issue) called "Sheikhen Shibboleths - are Indian muslims getting arabised?" In an interview in this article, Dr Ghoshal from Jamia Milia university says

"The transformation of Pakistan under Zia-Ul-Haq and the Islamization of the society had an effect on Indian Muslims, creating an assertiveness on their part, which produced Hindu extremism, and in turn produced a sense of insecurity among Indian Muslims."

I am not so sure if I entirely agree with Ghoshal here. It is convenient to show Hindu extremism "a result" of Muslim assertiveness. I think that Hindu extremism, like all other extremisms, has much more complex roots.

In May 2009 issue of the Hindi magazine Hans, there are two interesting articles about Muslim identity and issues todays. In her article, Sanvidhan aur Kabeela(Constitution and Clan), Sheeba Aslam Fehmi feels that while Indian constitution gives equal rights to Muslim women, these are not really accessible to them and wonders if this is because Muslim women in India got these rights through default at the time of independence without really fighting for them.

In the same magazine, Rajendra Yadav, one of the leading veteran Hindi writers, raises up other issues about Muslim identity in India, in a surprisingly direct way, and asks why every thing related to Islam must look for answers from Kuran?

"What kind of rule is that we can't raise any questions about Kuran or about prophet Mohammed .. why they are above all questions? Tell me what kind of eternal truths are there that are beyond questions? Can there be rules given fourteen hundred years ago that are unchangeable truths even in todays scientific and rational era, that can not be questioned? ... Can't you be free of Kuran, Shariyat and Hadis? If you will not be free then how will this production of Talibans will stop, who kill a girl only because she did not want to leave her studies. .... I was very surprised when you said that many Muslim women wear Hijab or Burqa out of their free will without pressure or order from others. Don't you really accept that every religion conditions the women in a way? What ever they do out of "free will" is a result of unnamed orders from deep inside. A bird freed of its cage, comes back to the cage out of its "free will". In "Guest" the story by Camus, the prisoner who had run away from the prison, doesn't he come back to the prison by himself? Please don't call psychological conditioning as "free will".

In the June 2009 issue of Hans, Rajendra Yadav goes back to this subject and the responses he has received about his first article:


Against my editorial of May 2009, many Muslim friends have advised me that first I should seriouosly study Islam, only then my words will carry some weight. The same advise I get from Hindu religious leaders. Christians also say the same thing. ... For me "what I can see" of a religion is more important in deciding man's thinking and behaviour. Certainly Islam gives all the rights and equalities to women that are not available in any other religion. But around us and in far away places, the "religious torture" supported by Muslim women is in no way less than Hindu torture. Here I don't see Shariyat, I see only injustices that crush women's cries with cruelty.

History of Islam in India, the way it linked with other Indian religions, the way it created syncretic thoughts and traditions such as Sufi thoughts, is too precious and needs to be safeguarded by everyone. Also I feel that all the religions, including Islam, need progressive reforms in line with concepts of human rights, so an honest debate on different critical aspects is needed. This means that sacred texts must also be reviewed critically. I believe that future of India and the world depends upon it.

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