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ISLAM AND THE NATION STATE

 

The domination by reactionary forces has prevented Muslims everywhere from becoming nationalists. Their leaders encourage loyalty to Islam above loyalty to the nation.

 

(Excerpted from articles in The Pioneer, November 7 to 16, 2001)

 

A. Surya Prakash

  

1. Muslim brotherhood

Over the last ten years, the Islamic brand of terrorism has claimed over 25,000 Indian lives. Among its victims are politicians and government servants in the troubled state of Jammu & Kashmir, Sikh families in Chittisinghpura, Hindu pilgrims at Amarnath and hundreds of policemen, soldiers and media persons. Most of the terrorists who have perpetrated these acts are young Muslims trained in terrorist camps located in Pakistan and Afghanistan and run by organizations like Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaida and Maulana Masood Azhar's Jaish-e-Mohamed.

The young men are told that this is a holy war ordained by Islam against India, an "infidel state". The slogan is potent enough to ensure that these terrorist groups have never had a dearth of recruits and cross-border terrorism has become a major industry drawing funds and support from Muslims globally.

It has been so sustained that the terrorists have succeeded in driving out the Hindu population from the Kashmir valley and from even the border villages of districts in the Jammu region. In short, this is a war being waged against India and India's fault, in the eyes of these fidayeen, is that it is a secular, democratic state and not an Islamic state like Afghanistan or Pakistan.

Given the brand of Islam that is now popular in the region, secular India will have to live with hostile neighbors for a long time to come and must therefore sufficiently equip itself to protect its borders.


But what does one do with the spin off that the slogan of Islamic brotherhood is having on India's domestic situation? Despite all the evidence available of Afghanistan's abetment to terrorism in India and bin Laden's repeated threats to our country, the Shahi Imam of Delhi's Jama Masjid sees him as a hero and calls upon Muslims in India to join his holy war. He was also telling the Organization of Islamic Countries on what they need to do to protect the interests of Muslims. His slogan, therefore, is not "India is under threat and all Indians must unite" but "Islam is under threat and Muslims must unite." Many other Muslim clerics and politicians have joined the Imam in arousing Muslim sentiments in favor of forces that have been bleeding India for decades.

How is it that other religious groups are not hooked to such extra-constitutional, trans-national brotherhoods? For example, why does not the Archbishop of Delhi call for a Christian brotherhood and for the rallying of all Christians around America and NATO countries? How is it that we never see the Buddhists beating their breasts over events in Thailand or Japan? Is there no lesson in this for the Muslim clergy?

 

2. Religion of sword

All this raises the question as to why, even 54 years after the Muslim demand for separateness was met through the creation of Pakistan, and India emerged as a secular state, the "Muslimness" of Muslims who opted for India will not dissolve into the great secular, democratic crucible called "Indianness". Is this something new or is there a deeper problem? There is need to dig up the past and look for answers but coming back to the Shahi Imam, emboldened by his own rabble-rousing abilities and the free rein he has had thus far, the Imam recently went so far as to shower expletives on Shabana Azmi during a television program because the latter had criticize him for promoting jihadi politics. Ms Azmi is one of India's most talented actresses and apart from her phenomenal contribution to our cinema — both avant garde and commercial — she has effectively deployed her power of articulation on behalf of women and several other disadvantaged groups. And being a Muslim and a woman, Ms Azmi, through her successes and her national standing, is living testimony to the liberal, democratic spirit that is at the core of our Constitution. Yet, why does the Imam — a man of God — use vile abuse to counter her argument? From where does he draw his sustenance?

Those who criticize the Shahi Imam for promoting jihadi politics do so without adequate understanding of Islamic texts. When the Imam calls for the bonding of Muslims against all non-Muslim forces, he is being true to his faith. Being an orthodox Muslim and a literalist, the Imam can produce dozens of ayats from the Holy Koran in defense of his utterances.

For example, there are several ayats that deal with the issue of Muslim brotherhood. The Lord says: "Verily, this Brotherhood of yours is a single Brotherhood, and I am your Lord and cherisher. Therefore, serve Me (and no other)" (Surah 21:92). "To each is a goal to which Allah turns him; then strive together (as in a race) towards all that is good. Wheresoever ye are, Allah will bring you together. For Allah hath power over all things." ( Surah 2:148). "Those who believe, and adopt exile and fight for the Faith, in the cause of Allah as well as those who give (them) asylum and aid - these are (all) in very truth the Believers: for them is the forgiveness of sins and a provision most generous" (Surah 8:74).

The Quran, therefore, commands Muslims to forge an international brotherhood. Twentieth century texts like the Constitution of India are perforce alien to it. This concept of brotherhood troubled many eminent Indians. Swami Vivekananda was one of them. In a lecture in California in January 1900, Vivekananda said: "Mohammedans talk of universal brotherhood, but what comes out of that in reality? Why, anybody who is not a Mohammedan will not be admitted into the brotherhood; he will more likely have his throat cut."


Dr BR Ambedkar, who gave us our Constitution, was also deeply troubled by the implications of this brotherhood. He said in his book, Thoughts on Pakistan, published in 1940: "Hinduism is said to divide people and in contrast Islam is said to bind people together. But this is only a half-truth. For Islam divides as inexorably as it binds. Islam is a close corporation and the distinction that it makes between Muslims and non-Muslims is a very real, very positive and very alienating distinction. The brotherhood of Islam is not the universal brotherhood of man. It is the brotherhood of Muslims for Muslims only. There is a fraternity but its benefit is confined to those within that corporation. For those who are outside the corporation there is nothing but contempt and enmity."


So, if a Muslim were to pursue the task of bonding with Muslims globally, he is being true to his Book. But such spiritual pursuits clash with our temporal reality. This notion of pan-Islamism conflicts with our desire to live within the parameters of the text, which we have given unto ourselves— our Constitution. The question, therefore, is, in the event of conflict, which of these texts should prevail? We need to address this question squarely and in a more substantive manner. But before we get there, we need to look at some of the other ideas in Islam that run against our constitutional scheme. For example, there are some tenets in Islam - kafir, jihad, dar-ul-Islam and dar-ul-Harb - which, when adhered to by the faithful, pose a very grave threat to citizens professing other faiths. We need to examine each of these tenets and their implications.

 

 

3. Secular Muslim?

According to Ambedkar, Islam effects a neat and ruthless division of the world into Dar-ul-Islam (Abode of Islam) and Dar-ul-Harb (Abode of War). Any nation or society, which is not ruled and controlled by Muslims is Dar-ul-Harb and it is incumbent on a good Muslim to wage war against it. This is a tenet which has the potential to wreck any secular Constitution and there is overwhelming evidence to show that this did phenomenal damage to the idea of Hindu-Muslim unity which Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Azad, BR Ambedkar and scores of other Congress leaders strived for in the run up to Independence. The pronouncements of the Shahi Imam of Delhi's Jama Masjid and other Muslim clerics in recent days only go to remind us that despite Ambedkar's Constitution, the idea is still very potent and has the capacity to undermine the concept of Indian secularism and nationalism.


The author of our Constitution, Dr Ambedkar saw this as a major hurdle to the peaceful co-existence of Hindus and Muslims within a nation. He said in 1940: "According to Muslim Cannon Law, the world is divided into Dar-ul-Islam (Abode of Islam) and Dar-ul-Harb (Abode of War). A country is Dar-ul-Islam when it is ruled by Muslims. A country is Dar-ul-Harb when Muslims only reside in it but are not rulers of it. That being the Cannon Law of the Muslims, India cannot be the common motherland of Hindus and Mussalmans. It can be the land of Mussalmans— but it cannot be the land of Hindus and Mussalmans living as equal. The moment the land becomes subject to the authority of a non-Muslim power, it ceases to be the land of Muslims. Instead of being Dar-ul-Islam, it becomes Dar-ul-Harb.

 Ambedkar was not being pessimistic. In the context of the politics of the first half of the 20th Century, he was being pragmatic. He knew that the Imams and Mullahs would always hold sway and, consequently, Hindus and Muslims would not be able to live in harmony within a single nation. All his arguments were therefore in favor of a separate Muslim state— Pakistan.


But Gandhi was an incorrigible optimist. Even as Jinnah and others prepared for the final assault to vivisect India, Gandhi said in October, 1946: "The Muslim League may call Hindus names and declare India to be Dar-ul-Harb, where the law of jehad operates and all Muslims who cooperate with the Congress as quislings fit only to be exterminated. But we must not cease to aspire, in spite of this wild talk, to befriend all Mussalmans and hold them fast as prisoners of our love."


All this of course made no impact on the votaries of Pakistan and eventually the separate Muslim state came into being in August, 1947, seven years after Ambedkar saw the futility of attempting Hindu-Muslim co-existence. Since Muslims constituted only 24 per cent of the Indian population, Mohamed Ali Jinnah and the Muslim League argued for a separate Muslim nation on the ground that the Hindu majority (kafirs) would subjugate them. The Muslim leadership got the separate state but 20 Million Muslims living in India preferred the secular state to an Islamic Pakistan.


Today there are 120 million Muslims in India and despite the historical baggage and communal violence, which was endemic at one time, the integrative process has been on. There is sufficient evidence of the success of the secular, democratic ideal in the Indian middle class, which is a happy pot pouri of religions and cultures. But thanks to the Taliban and bin Laden, the poisonous rhetoric of Dar-ul-Harb is being heard all over again and, unfortunately, this is being given currency by sections of the Muslim clergy. Whether India is a secular state which it is or whether India is a Hindu Rashtra, as Pakistan and several terrorist outfits would have us believe, it really makes no difference because as per bin Laden's Islamic Cannon Law, a nation which is not controlled by Muslims is virtually an enemy state.


The bin Ladens and Shahi Imams remind us of the not-so-flattering assessment of the Muslim mind made by some of the icons of our freedom struggle. Annie Besant said in 1921: "We have heard Muslim leaders declare that if the Afghans invaded India, they would join their fellow-believers, and would slay the Hindus who defended their motherland against the foe; we have been forced to see that the primary allegiance of Mussalmans is to Islamic countries, not to our motherland."


Twenty years after Besant published The Future of Indian Politics, in which she made these comments, Ambedkar spoke about the deleterious effects of pan-Islamism for a nation-state and said: "It is this which leads every Mussalman in India to say that he is a Muslim first and Indian afterwards. It is this sentiment which explains why the Indian Muslim has taken so small a part in the advancement of India but has spent himself to exhaustion by taking up the cause of Muslim countries and why Muslim countries occupy the first place and India occupies the second place in his thoughts."


Seen in today's context, when the process of integration has met with some success, these are indeed sweeping generalizations. Our experience over the last 54 years has been different. The Indian Army is one united fighting force and so are many other institutions. There is a huge list of Muslims — political leaders, scholars, scientists, and artists and icons of popular culture — who have made signal contribution to their motherland. To them, the idea of India has been "The Idea" and they have only one identity, the Indian identity. In fact, such is their contribution that one would be doing terrible injustice to them if one were to give them any other identity. Yet, the fact remains that the clerics continue to hold sway over the Muslim masses and continue to ensure that their medieval ideas block India's liberal, secular march.


Commenting on the hold that hardliners have on the Muslim masses, Hamid Dalwai, the author of Muslim Politics in India said: "Muslims have always believed that they are a state within a state and a society within a society. Their ideas of representation are based on this claim and therefore they run contrary to the concept of a democratic society itself. Today they believe in a parallel co-existence with the majority with complete autonomy as a community.”

 

Dalwai said this 40 years ago. The Shahi Imam's call for jihad, the impetus from the Muslim clergy for the strengthening of the Muslim rather than Indian brotherhood, and the current campaign among Muslims in Maharashtra and Gujarat against Western goods on the ground that they are "anti-Muslim", go to show that Dalwai's assessment holds good even today. In fact, there is evidence to show that far from integrating the Muslim masses into the national mainstream, the Muslim clergy has, over the last four decades, turned the adherents of Islam into a state within a state.


We need to examine the impact of these trends vis-a-vis the basic features of our Constitution, but before we do that let us see how two other religions - Hinduism and Christianity - have responded to the dictates of our Constitution.

 

4. Hindu and Christian Reform

 Let us now examine some Hindu scriptural injunctions and see whether they yielded to the will of our Constitution and if they did, what remains of them after they passed through our constitutional sieve.


According to Hamid Dalwai, Ram Mohan Roy represented the first phase of Hindu modernism. Savarkar represented the second phase and Nehru the third. It is interesting to see that the Hindus had a Savarkar and a Nehru almost simultaneously. The two phases overlapped. Muslims in India are yet to produce their Nehru or even Savarkar.


Though the Constitution was adopted two years after Mahatma Gandhi's assassination, his thoughts on religions and scriptures permeate the document. Way back in 1921, he had declared: "Scriptures cannot transcend reason and truth. They are intended to purify reason and illuminate truth." Some years hence, he took this logic further and said: "Every formula of every religion has, in this age of reason, to submit to the test of reason and universal justice if it is to ask for universal assent. Error can claim no exemption even if it can be supported by the scriptures of the world."


Does Islam, as practiced and propagated in the sub-continent, pass this test? Let us take a look at Christianity before we address the problem relating to lack of modernism in Islam.

 

 

The process of modernism began in Christianity long before the Hindus got into the act. So much so that it is nearly impossible for us to get a Christian today who will insist on enforcing and propagating everything said in the Bible. For example, retribution is the bedrock of the penal code in the Old Testament, like it is in the Quran and Manu Smriti.


These are just instances which show the capacity of these two religions — Hinduism and Christianity — to come within the secular, democratic framework. However reluctant the priestly class may have been, there is undoubtedly sufficient breathing space for liberals and modernists and their numbers, thankfully, are substantial enough to ensure that, at the end of the day, the man-made constitutional scheme prevails. Many protest movements and liberals the world over have played a part in pushing these religions on the path of reason.

As regards civilizing Hindu society, Gandhi's contribution has not been small. He declared at a prayer meeting in New Delhi in July, 1947 that "Every work labeled as scripture is not necessarily so. Moreover, a scripture to be scientific lends itself to amendations as the times may really require. They must progress with the times if they are to live in the lives of the people."


Why has this not happened in Islam in the subcontinent and why do the hotheads and literalists always call the shots?


Available evidence suggests that the problem — the paucity of liberals in Islam — is at least a century old. Mahatma Gandhi noticed it in 1924. "The reactionaries (among the Muslims) have nearly overwhelmed the liberal and tolerant teachers and philosophers of Islam. We in India are still suffering from the effect of that reaction," he said. Looking at recent events, it appears as if "we in India are still suffering"! In the early 60s, Hamid Dalwai, a progressive Muslim writer, said much the same thing but in much harsher tones. He said: "The only leadership Indian Muslims have is basically communalist."


Dalwai went on to say: "If Muslims are to be integrated in the fabric of a secular and integrated Indian society, a necessary precondition is to have a class of Muslim liberals who would continuously assail communalist dogmas and tendencies. The Ulema must be prevented from propagating anti-national ideas in the name of religion. The communalist Muslim press must be rendered ineffective."


Commenting on Islamic societies in general, Samuel Huntington said in 1995: "The general failure of liberal democracy to take hold in Muslim societies is a continuing and repeated phenomenon for an entire century beginning in the late 1800s. This failure has its source at least in part in the inhospitable nature of Islamic culture and society to Western liberal concepts."


Comparing Christianity and Islam, Huntington said: "Even more than Christianity, Islam is an absolutist faith. It merges religion and politics and draws a sharp line between those in Dar-ul-Islam and those in Dar-ul-harb. As a result, Confucians, Buddhists, Hindus, Western Christians and Orthodox Christians have less difficulty adapting to and living with each other than any one of them has in adapting to and living with Muslims.”


Even 40 years after he published his book, Hamid's hope that an army of Muslim liberals will emerge to take on the Ulemas has not materialized. On the other hand, Gandhi's assessment that reactionaries have overwhelmed liberals in Muslim society holds good even to this day. Nothing, not even the greatest democratic Constitution in the world, has helped alter that situation.


So, where lies the problem and what is the way out? Can a liberal, secular and democratic tradition grow from within the brand of Islam that is practiced in the subcontinent? Can a true Muslim be a secular person, or to put it differently, does Islam allow its adherents to live peacefully with persons professing other faiths? Unpleasant questions - but we need to debate this upfront in the light of the current attempts to strengthen Islamic brotherhood irrespective of its consequences to the Indian state and the Indian Constitution.

 

5. Century of resistance

 

However, the creation of Pakistan did not end the problem. Muslim leaders who stayed on in India pursued the politics of separateness and divisiveness. The Constituent Assembly, which had the task of drafting India's Constitution, began its sittings eight months before Independence. The country had been divided much against the will of Gandhi, Nehru and several others.


Days after independence, the Constituent Assembly was discussing minority rights and Pocker Saheb, a Member from Tamil Nadu, demanded that elections to the central and provincial legislatures be held on the basis of separate electorates. Pocker Saheb argued that non-Muslims would not be able to understand the needs of the Muslim community and that, therefore, the Muslims should constitute a separate electorate.


Leaders like Govind Ballabh Pant and Sardar Vallabhai Patel were stunned by the audacity of the demand, coming as it did within a fortnight of Partition and the creation of Pakistan. Sardar Patel said: "In this unfortunate country, if separate electorate is going to be persisted in even after the division of the country, woe betide the country; it is not worth living in." Fortunately India's leaders stood firm. Otherwise it would have thrown the country asunder yet again.


Then followed sustained resistance by Muslim members to the idea of a Common Civil Code. So much so, that the idea was eventually pushed to the chapter called Directive Principles of State Policy. But there was great resistance to this too, even though it was only in the nature of an advisory to the State. But Ambedkar put his foot down and insisted that the state had the right to legislate on issues like marriage and succession. As a result of the resistance of Muslim members of the Assembly, India does not have a Common Civil Code even to this day.


Muslim leadership has consistently resisted reform and their myopia has even prevented social legislation that could have benefited all citizens. An example of the absurd lengths to which they can go in the name of religion is the fate of The Adoption of Children Bill introduced in the Rajya Sabha in 1972. This Bill was aimed to streamline adoptions and to allow anyone wishing to utilize its provisions, to adopt a child.


"It sought to enact a secular and uniform law of adoption which any Indian desiring to adopt a child could make use of," says Tahir Mahmood. Until then, the law in force was the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956. This law does not apply to Muslims, Christians, Parsis and Jews. Under this act only Hindus could adopt and they could adopt only Hindu children.


The 1972 Bill aimed to repeal this law and bring a new law under which religion of the adoptive parent or the adoptee would have no relevance. It was meant to be a general law of adoption as suggested by several social welfare organizations. As soon as the Bill was published in the Gazette, the orthodox Muslims raised a hue and cry. And according to Tahir Mahmood, they demanded that the Muslim community should be expressly exempted from the application of the law. Says Mahmood, "According to a traditional consensus, adoption is derecognized by the Quran."


In the subsequent decades, we have seen several more obstacles to reform and integration. The 1980s saw the ulema successfully preventing divorced Muslim Women from getting Maintenance like other Indian women. In the later years, the Shahi Imam even gave a call for boycott of the Republic Day celebrations by Muslims. And in every instance the hardliners always prevailed over the liberals.

 

 6. Unconstitutional tenets


Talking about the Afghan invasion of India in 1919 and the attitude of Indian Muslim leaders to this and other related issues, Annie Besant said in 1922 that the Muslim leadership was saying that they were ordained to obey the law of their Prophet above the laws of the State in which they lived. This, she argued, was "subversive of civic order and the stability of the State". "It makes them bad citizens, for their center of allegiance is outside the nation, and they cannot, while they hold the views proclaimed by Moulanas Muhammad Ali and Shaukat Ali — to name the most prominent of these Muslim leaders — be trusted by their fellow-citizens. If India were independent, the Muslim part of the population — for the ignorant masses would follow those who appealed to them in the name of the Prophet — would become an immediate peril to India's freedom. Allying themselves with Afghanistan, Beluchistan, Persia, Iraq, Arabia, Turkey and Egypt, and with such of the tribes of Central Asia who are Mussalmans, they would rise to place India under the rule of Islam."


The central theme running through the opinions of Annie Besant, Gandhi and Ambedkar is the fear that within Muslim society, the hardliners always triumph, and that when it comes to the crunch, the Imams will insist on the scripture prevailing over everything else — reason, law and the Constitution. This trend, unfortunately, has continued for 50 years after independence and, given the insecurity of politicians, the Imams have tasted success at different points in time. As stated in the previous part, they have even prevented citizens of other faiths from having the benefit of secular laws (the fate of the adoption law is a case in point). One wonders whether there is hope at all. Are we going to bestow this veto power on the ulema forever?

 

7. The supreme text


The time has come to end the agony of the Muslim masses who are torn between the advice of the Imams on being part of an Islamic brotherhood transcending Indian boundaries and the constitutional mandate of subscribing only to an Indian brotherhood.

For this to happen, the state will have to first assert itself and silence the likes of the Shahi Imam, who are propagating jihad against non-Muslims and are building a parallel citizenry. This must be crushed by the state. Second, Muslim clerics, specially in Deoband and other seminaries, must come out openly against concepts that are aimed at intimidating fellow citizens and which do violence with fundamental constitutional precepts like fraternity and equality. 


There are over 880 million non-Muslim citizens in India today. How can there be fraternity between Muslims and non-Muslims when the clergy says Muslims are ordained to do battle with non-Muslims, and that their primary commitment is to a supra-Indian Islamic fraternity? When Osama bin Laden and the Taliban see secular India as Dar-ul-harb and yet, Muslim religious and political leaders to hail bin Laden and the Taliban as heroes and saviours, will they not lend legitimacy to the dream of Dar-ul-Hindu or Hindu Rashtra? Should such a movement gain ground, will this Constitution survive?


Third, what are Muslim politicians in the mainstream of Indian politics — Ghulam Nabi Azad, Salman Kurshid, Najma Heptullah, AR Antulay, CK Jaffer Sherief and PM Sayeed to name but a few — doing? Has there been a single initiative from their side to stop those who are fanning jihadi politics?


These politicians will have to be the catalysts of change. They cannot remain on the sidelines and just leave it to a few liberals and intellectuals like Ms Shabana Azmi and Dr Mushirul Hasan to take on the hotheads. The Islam promoted by the Shahi Imam has strong anti-liberal, anti-secular and anti-democratic postulates.


It will have to be the responsibility of the political leaders who are Muslims to popularise a version that is devoid of threats to fellow citizens. The truth is that there has not been any initiative in this regard from any of these politicians until now. Should they carry on with their silent acquiescence with the version of Islam propounded by the Shahi Imam — the version that brought about the Partition of India in 1947; the version that wanted separate electorates even after Partition; and, the version that bamboozled Rajiv Gandhi into bringing the retrograde Muslim Women's Bill in 1987 — their secular, democratic credentials will have to be called to question.


In this context one is inclined to recall Dr Ambedkar's fears. He died in 1956 and therefore did not have the benefit of listening to or reading about the fiery speeches of the Shahi Imam. Yet, he had said:


"The allegiance of a Muslim does not rest on his domicile in the country which is his, but on the faith to which he belongs. To the Muslim Ibi Bene Ibi Patria is unthinkable. Wherever there is the rule of Islam, there is his own country. In other words, Islam can never allow a true Muslim to adopt India as his motherland and regard a Hindu as his kith and kin. That is probably the reason why Maulana Mohammad Ali, a great Indian but a true Muslim, preferred to be buried in Jerusalem rather than India.


Ironically, we need to disprove Ambedkar if we are to save the Constitution that he has given us. In order to do this we must ensure that religion dissolves into the great crucible called the Constitution of India. It must yield to the Constitution and not the other way round. Should there ever be a conflict between a religious text and the Constitution, the latter must prevail. In other words, the Constitution is supreme. We cannot allow any other text to have a perch above it. This is the prescription for establishing a secular society. The Shahi Imam's prescription is a prescription for violence, disorder and disharmony. We are mandated by our Book to stop it!

 

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