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What words can mean

11 May, 2007

By Javed Anand


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Mumbai - On July 11, 2006, terrorists blasted bombs on several suburban trains in Mumbai, the industrial and commercial capital of India. Over 200 commuter! s were killed while many more were maimed.

Within 48 hours, over two dozen Mumbai-based maulanas, or religious leaders, representing the most prominent Muslim religious bodies in India - Jamiatul ulema-e-Hind, the All India Sunni Jamiatul ulema, Ahl-e-Hadith, Jamaat-e-Islami, Ulema Council, Milli Council, Tanzeem-e-aaimma Masajid, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, the All India Qazi Board, among others - came together to collectively declare all terrorist targeting of innocents as "barbaric", "cowardly", "inhuman" and "un-Islamic".

Within the same period, they also had an hour-long, wide-ranging meeting with two politburo members of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) visiting Mumbai in the wake of the terrorist atrocity. In the midst of this unusual Maulana-Marxist engagement, Maulana Athar Ali lobbed a remark sure to surprise many: "We have come to the conclusion that communists are the only genuinely secular politicians in this country," he said. The spontaneous endorsement of his statement from fellow clerics showed that the good maulana was speaking not only for himself.

Maulanas singing the praises of secularism at a meeting with Marxists? It happened, believe you me, for I, an avowed secularist who had something to do with bringing the maulanas together for a collective denunciation of wanton violence in the name of Islam, was present.

But aren't Muslims, religious leaders particularly, allergic to the very sound of the word secularism? Yes, they were. Until recent years the relationship between those who swore by secularism and those who kept faith was one of mutual antipathy, even animosity. For devout Muslims, secularists spelt anti-God atheists while for the latter all clerics were synonymous with irrationality, obscurantism, bigotry, intolerance and fanaticism. But having lived through the nightmare of escalating religious intolerance, hatred and violence in India, promoted by extremist rightwing Hinduism in the last two decades, both sides have discovered new meanings of the words "secular" and "religious".

Muslims in most Western countries today might worry about increasing Islamophobia, racial profiling and selective violation of human rights. But especially after the bloody violence against Muslims in India, first in the city of Mumbai in 1992-1993 and then state-wide in Gujarat in 2002, for the 150 million battered, brutalised and traumatised Indian Muslims, lack of security is the prime concern. What better time to learn who your friends are?

In Mumbai and in Gujarat, when Hindu mobs went on an orgy of killing, looting, arson, gang rape, and desecration and destruction of Muslim religious symbols, policemen chose to look the other way. Often, they did worse, conniving with the perpetrators of mass crime. In their hour of greatest need, Muslims discovered that they shared common ground with that very circle of secular activists, journalists and political leaders whom they had hitherto dismissed as anti-religion secularists and atheists.

And those who held that religion itself was the root of all problems had to contend with numerous instances of devout Hindus and Muslims alike giving protection to their neighbour from the other religion, risking the wrath of their co-religionists in the process. They have also had to factor in the example of compassionate Christian priests who, though vulnerable themselves, threw open the gates of their parishes to offer refuge to Muslims fleeing from mobs and an uncaring police force.

It is this shared, lived experience that spoke when the maulanas met up with the Marxists. Experience has taught them that whatever their personal belief, genuine secular democrats, atheists included, can be the believers' best friends; and that a devout person can simultaneously subscribe to the idea of a non-theocratic, secular state, based on the view that in multi-religious, multi-cultural societies matters of faith are perhaps best not mixed up with affairs of State.

Meanwhile, non-believers among the secularists have had the humility to draw the appropriate lesson from the examples of those who risked their lives to save people from a different faith. "It's no big deal, we did what we did because that's what our religion teaches us to do," said the oft-unsung heroes.

In short, experience has taught both sides that in so far as there are borders, those who have learnt to respect differences, be they believers or atheists, belong on the same side. And it is those who interpret or manipulate religion to legitimise violence in pursuit of power or ideology who belong to the other.

This article is part of a series on secularism and Muslim-Western dialogue distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.

Reader Comments:

Muslims in India and elsewher should change their approach for survival.

Javed,You are right.This is a new reality that should be taken into account.Actually the same is true here in USA,Muslims in general and Pakistanis in particular always voted for Republican party but their behaviour of hatred and hysteria against Islam couldn't remain hidden any longer.Muslims every where should behave intelligently and develop a good working realtionship with all parties and factions,rather than putting all eggs in one basket.This will always be beneficial.ANother thing muslims in India should do is to vote the challenger over incumbent even if the challenger offers slight better accomodation.Means muslims should have very good relations with all parties but keep their interest always in front of them.What has happened is that muslims have voted for a party without even enforcing some contract for the concessions and have worked as opponents of other parties.Realisation and changing strategy is the trick for survival.

Dr.Khan, United Kingdom - 15 May, 2007

This guy is here also!!! I am not aware of situation in USA, but both Mumbai and Gujrat has long history of riots. In both cases, muslims started it and when they were paid back with their own coin, they talks about administrative failure etc...
In both Gujrat and Mumbai, moslmes used to control the under ground activities ( extortion gangs. In Ahmedabad Altaf etc..., which was supported by Congress and in Mumbai Dawood Ibrahim, Chhota Shakeel, Tiger Memon etc... which were grooomed during Congress rules. That had created an impression that, moslems can cause immense damage to the people in Mumbai and Gujrat whenever they want. Thanks to Siv Sena and RSS, the myth is broken. RSS and Siv sena has organised large number of people and with seer number they have won. It is the Siv Sena, who have chased away these terrorists, who now operate from Dubai or Pakistan. Like Gujrat, Maharashtra should get another BJP-Siv Sena Govt. All these bomb blasts will go away (the way Modi is controlling it in Gujrat).

Nikus, Pakistan - 11 January, 2008

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