I’m going to cite a few statistical facts I feel deeply embarrassed about. But I have decided to press on regardless, believing these might dispel the impressions that many of the exuberant readers of Firstpost have about Muslims. This piece is particularly addressed to those whose sting lies in the vituperative language they employ to express their hatred against the community. Do not take offence, for this is an endeavour to initiate a dialogue with you readers.
The first statistical fact pertains to the Kargil war, which India was compelled to undertake for pushing out the Pakistanis from its territory. This mission India accomplished, at the terrible cost of the lives of 449 soldiers. Of these, 23, or 5.12 percent, were Muslims.
Only 5.12 percent, you might say.
But this number has to be perceived against the backdrop of another statistical reality: Muslims comprise just 3 percent, or roughly 29000, of the million-strong Indian army. This shows, first, that the fatalities among Muslim soldiers were marginally higher than their presence in the army.
Second, it proves false the Hindutva brigade’s propaganda that Muslims can’t be loyal to their country. This is because, it is claimed, Islam privileges the Muslim ummah, or community, over the category of nation. It is forgotten that the idea of nation is a modern construct. This apart, in the Kargil war against the Pakistanis, Muslim soldiers battled as ferociously as any, regardless of the religious identity of their foes.
Switch to 26/11, that tragic date of the year 2008 on which Pakistani terrorists bombed and sprayed bullets in Mumbai, killing 170. Of them, 34, or 20 percent, were Muslims. This relatively high figure, given that Muslims comprise 13.4 percent of India’s population, underscores the indifference of terrorists to the religious identity of their victims. For the terrorists, like the Muslim martyrs of Kargil, the nationality of those whom they wish to fight or kill is of paramount importance. Try telling this to those who bristle with irrational rage against the Muslims.
Turn now to anecdotal evidence. From time to time, you must have read newspaper headlines announcing the arrest of the spies of Intelligence Bureau (IB) or Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), who were found to be working for a foreign country. From Sikander Lal Malik to Rabinder Singh to Ashok Sathe, they have all been non-Muslims.
Obviously, R&AW’s counter-intelligence can’t stumble upon Muslims working as double-agents, not because their loyalty to the country is unimpeachable, but because it doesn’t employ members of India’s largest religious minority as a policy. This outrageous norm even the IB pursued till the early 1990s, its reversal propelling a Muslim officer, Syed Asif Ibrahim, to head the organisation today.
Indeed, it would appear that what fuels disloyalty to the nation is greed for money and factors such as a person being honey-trapped and then blackmailed into working against his country. Wouldn’t it be absurd to cite the IB and R&AW’s list of double-agents to claim that the Hindu way of life rendered these officials susceptible to blandishments?
But such sweeping statements constitute the kernel of bigoted comments against Muslims on Firstpost. Among the pet peeves of those making these comments is the belief that the Quran endorses and promotes violence, particularly against non-Muslims.
In support of this argument, Verses 190-195 from Chapter II of the Quran are often cited. These read: “Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not commit aggression: God loves not the aggressor. Slay them wherever you may come upon them, and expel them from where they had expelled you; for oppression (persecution) is worse than slaughter;… Fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for God. But if they desist, then all hostility shall cease, except against those who willfully do wrong.” (Italics mine)
All texts are embedded in their contexts, as were these verses, which were revealed to Prophet Mohammad when the powerful Quraysh tribe was preparing for the battle of Badr. Muslims were then just a few hundreds, compelled to take refuge in Medina because of the persecution they encountered in Mecca. The first line of the verses quoted above, quite evidently, tells Muslims that it isn’t wrong to fight in self-defence. However, these verses enjoin Muslims to cease hostility once the aggressor desists from attacking and persecuting them.
There is much controversy over the sentence: “Fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for God.” The phrase “religion is for God” has been interpreted as an exhortation to establish the supremacy of Islam. Cultural critic Ziauddin Sardar, however, writes in Reading the Quran: “‘Religion is for God’ implies worship in general by all faith communities. This is made clear in (chapter) 22: (verse) 40 where those who fight oppression in the ‘cause of God’ liberate ‘cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques in which God’s name is much remembered and ‘which otherwise would have been pulled down.’ The words used are exactly the same: ‘religion is for God.’”
All texts are liable to multiple interpretations. Thus, Sayyid Qutb, the intellectual ideologue of the Muslim Brotherhood thought the word “desist” didn’t mean simply refraining from aggression or persecution. For him, it implied that the persecutors and aggressors were “required to renounce their denial of God and their rejection of His message.”
By contrast, Maulana Mawdudi, the founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan, who wasn’t really a liberal, differed from Qutb, saying that “what is meant by desisting is not the abandonment of unbelief and polytheism” on the part of non-Muslims, but refraining from hostility to Islam.
Otherwise too, the Quran insists that there is “no compulsion in religion”. In Chapter V, verse 32, it says: “On that account: We ordained for the Children of Israel that if any one slew a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.”
Barring those of the ilk of Sayyid Qutb, most scholars agree that the Quran allows Muslims to mount armed resistance against oppression, or when their territory is invaded, or when people are persecuted on the basis of religion.
Are such injunctions any different from other great religious texts like, say, theBhagavad Gita?
Before the commencement of the battle of Kurukshetra, when Arjun saw that the army of his foes, the Kauravas, included his cousins and friends, he turned to Lord Krishna and said, “O Lord Krishna, what pleasure shall we find in killing our cousin brothers. Upon killing these felons we shall incur sin only… It would be far better for me if my cousins kill me with their weapons in battle while I am unarmed and unresisting.”
To Arjun, Lord Krishna said, “But if you do not fight this battle which is enjoined by dharma, then you will have given up your own dharma as well as glory, and you will incur sin… Either, being slain, you will attain heaven; or being victorious, you will enjoy the earth. Therefore arise, O son of Kunti, intent on battle.”
Like the Quran, the Gita has been variously interpreted. Mahatma Gandhi thought it extolled nonviolence, partly because only a few verses in it pertained to violence. Gandhi perceived Arjun’s love for his cousins as symbolical of the individual’s attachment to the world, which he must overcome to enable his exalted, noble self to blossom. Yet, many dismiss Gandhi’s insights into the Gita as an attempt to seek cultural justification for his philosophy of nonviolence.
Muslim and Hindu radicals mirror each other. The Hindu radical insists on literarlism, and invokes the Gita to justify his violent intent. In much the same manner, the Islamic prescription “to do jihad”, or to vanquish the baser, ignoble self, has been interpreted by the Muslim radical to justify his mission of tossing bombs at the innocent.
For many, the recreated memory of Muslim rule in India, from the Slave dynasty to Mughals, stokes passion of retribution among some Hindus today, against the alleged atrocities perpetrated against their ancestors. This narrative speaks of brutal wars fought against the Hindus, their conversion to Islam under the shadow of the sword, the destruction of temples, and their enslavement in their own land.
In this reconstruction of the past, not only are the possible beneficial aspects of Muslim rule glossed over, but history is turned into a forever throbbing wound which can’t heal unless the Muslims living today atone for the supposed sins of their forefathers. They can atone only through a submissive acceptance of the alleged humiliation they inflicted on the Hindus in the past. Or, if not willing, accept it under duress.
Forget this style of history-writing. Ask the more relevant question: Wouldn’t attempts at righting past wrongs also include, for instance, subjecting upper castes and, in more recent times, the dominant castes to the dehumanizing social behaviour they once adopted towards the lower castes? Would we insist on upper castes taking to manual scavenging to experience the horror of it?
Not too many decades ago, the Brahmins in Tamil Nadu kept a distance of 36 paces from the Nadars, whose women were proscribed from covering the upper portions of their bodies. When some Nadars converted to Christianity, their women began wearing blouses. Their sense of modesty provoked rioting against the defiance of this invidious social norm. Now that Nadars have become prosperous and empowered, would they be justified in demanding that Brahmin women walk around without a top?
All this isn’t to deny the involvement of some Muslims in terror incidents. But their love of terror can’t become the basis to stereotype the community, or to make sweeping comments about their faith inspiring them to violence. This is as absurd as citing the propensity of the Hindu-dominated LTTE to foment bloodshed, or the Hindu background of Maoists, or the indictment of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) by various commissions of inquiry in triggering communal violence, as indisputable evidence of Hinduism preaching intolerance and endorsing violence.
Undoubtedly, what should be India’s quest was best spelt out through a global essay competition that a cultural centre of a foreign country held nearly 15 years ago. The topic: How to liberate the present from the past and the future from the present?
Liberation can’t be achieved, as radical Hindu netizens believe, by allowing the past to cast its forbidding shadow over both the present and the future, shackling both to their morbid imagination.
A Delhi-based journalist, Ajaz Ashraf is the author of The Hour Before Dawn, HarperCollins India, releasing September 2014