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27 August 2011

The Muslim Dilemma on Anna Hazare

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By Abdul Rashid Agwan



By the fag end of the movement for Jan Lokpal bill, a communal debate emerged in media and society; whether Muslims should align with Anna Hazare and his indefinite fast or not. Perspectives took shapes, Arvind Kejriwal personally sought support of many Muslim leaders, media started floating stories of Muslim angst and anxiety on the backdrop forces and the counterviews, scholars raised points to make the discourse sour and sweet and various other issues were raised. It seems that the agitation will soon come to an end with a happy note on the acceptance of the three demands of Team Anna by the Parliament for consideration. However, one of the most interesting ends to the scenes of the fast unto death was the presence of Bollywood star Amir Khan on the stage and his breaking of Ramdan fast over there while wearing the skullcap popular among Muslims. More interestingly, for a few moments, Anna Hazre put on a similar skullcap in place of his famous Gandhi cap; thus almost closing the communal tone of the debate.


After a long silence, the ice melted ultimately. Muslims slowly started voicing their stand on the ongoing fast unto death of Anna Hazare against corruption. Their initial hesitation on the Jan Lokpal issue faded out. A couple of developments within the last week: All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawrat held a meeting of leading Muslim organizations which collectively resolved to support the agitation against corruption, Shahi Imam of the historic Jama Masjid of Delhi appealed Muslims to refrain from the Hazare movement due its Hindu overtones, another Shahi Imam of Fatehpuri Masjid of Delhi opined just the opposite on the plea of fighting corruption, Jamat-e-Islami Hind supports the cause but chose to remain away from participating in the agitation, Darul Uloom Deoband favored the cause but expressed its inability to join the movement being an educational institution, the Association of Indian Muslims of America expressed its solidarity with the anti-corruption stance of Anna Hazare, the Muslim member of Delhi Assembly from Okhla constituency Asif Mohamma Khan resigned from his party on the issue, and there is an increasing number of Muslims breaking their Ramadan fast and are seen offering their prayers on the site of the ongoing Anshan (fast unto death).

It will be unfair to say that Muslims have shown their first signs of popular support to Anna Hazare’s movement against corruption just now. There were a few Muslim faces on stage in the initial days of the campaign. Imam Ahmad Bukahri and Maulana Kalbe Javvad were seen among the leading campaigners of the India Against Corruption launched on 8th April 2011 from Jantar Mantar. Social Democratic Party of India, a Muslim-based political party, declared its support to the campaign for Jana Lokpal bill drafted by the Team Anna but with a rider that it will not be the sole panacea for the disease called corruption.

Several Muslim youths mingled with other campaigners at Jantar Mantar site. However, their romance with a new rising India remained short lived. The leaking stories of the RSS connection of Anna Hazare and the Hinduist overtones on the podium distracted the initial warmth of the community, which is still more or less confused regarding the motive behind the ongoing movement.

At the outset, the grand show of ‘Mother India’ on the background banner used during the Jantar Mantar phase of the campaign gave the signal that there was something fishy about it. The typical picture of Mother India, almost iconic of the RSS and its chauvinist organizations in the country, not only hinted of the mala fide motives behind the undertaken campaign but it was also seen by many as promoting idol worship in a tacit way. Such faces as that of Baba Ramdev, Ravi Shankar, Ram Madhav etc when constantly appeared on the stage of the campaign, reassured the public perception that the India Against Corruption was nothing but a proxy attack on the ruling front for political dividends. The appreciation of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi almost around the time by Anna Hazare for the latter’s efforts towards rural development amidst a peasant’s movement against the forced acquisition of agricultural land for industrial development by the state government, further confirmed these doubts. Active participation of the RSS cadre in organizing support rallies and demonstrations in most parts of the country reinforced the RSS-connection of the Anna movement in public perceptions. The enthusiasm of not only Muslims but also of the activists from other communities and secular sections slowly cooled down and there still remains a lot of hesitation in these sections in spite of the wider receptivity of Anna Hazare’s campaign among a variety of people.

There is no doubt that there have always been some comforting faces around Anna Hazare both during the first phase and the current one. The presence of leading human rights activists of known secular credentials like Prashant Bhushan, Kiran Bedi, Arvind Kejriwal, Swami Agnivesh, etc in the core group of the team Anna has been a strong practical rejoinder to the RSS-connection theories. Anna’s u-turnon Narendra Modi remark further strengthened the secular appeal of the movement. The stage at Ramlila Ground has a grand shining face of Gandhiji instead of the deity of Bharat Mata. And, now thes poradic public demonstrations against the MPs and MLAs of BJP, apart from those of the ruling parties, have brought back a lot of secular fervor for the Anna movement including that of the leading Muslims groups.

It is some innocent sections of youth, joined by some guided ones that are using slogans dear to the Hindutva organizations that are polarizing the campaigners on communal lines. When Muslims hear such chanting from the podium and even more from Anna Hazare as “…patitpavan sitaram sabko sanmati de bhagavan” they feel dejected since it would be the most heinous thing for a Muslim to mix ‘Sita Ram’ with Allah, a human temporal personality or personalities with a non-incarnate God. It is a matter of faith and belief for him. Imam Bukahri and Darul ullom Deoband vehemently raised this point. When Muslims hear the sloganeering of ‘Vande Mataram’ they can hardly forget that it is the most common device of the RSS groups for teasing Muslims and a strange pre-condition fixed by the Hinduists for allowing Muslims to stay in India (i. e. Bharat mein rahana hai to Vande Mataram kahna hoga). May be these feelings may not be there among the current sloganeering public but such slogans will be definitely interpreted even by many Hindus as the signs of RSS cadre around. What will happen if the Muslims sitting among the agitators raise the slogan of “Allahu Akbar” for invoking the Almighty to help the campaign succeed? Such an act will be taken by the campaigners as divisive and misplaced.

Then why not ‘Vande Mataram’ is treated so and be dropped from the agitation ground altogether? Perhaps the Congress would also like a communal divide on the issue for weakening it. The agitation for Jan Lokpal bill is in fact a secular cause and let it be so. Any religious overtone on the part of the majority campaigners would only result into the situation, something like the one the Muslim leadership is presently facing, i.e. forced to take a religious stand on it.

But the question arises why Muslims as a community should take some stand on the agitation at all? Are Christians taking any stand on it the way Muslims are? Are the Sikh organizations debating whether to support Anna Hazare or not? Are the Buddhists anxious to express their viewpoints on the issue? Is the religious leadership among Hindus perturbed to respond on the call? For that matter, no Shankracharya has so far expressed his support or dejection on the issue. No other social groups, their organizations or leadership are taking ‘yes’ or ‘no’ stand on the issue of Jan Lokpal bill. It is really a secular issue and must be kept as such. Corruption is an all pervading menace and all Indians must fight against it together. There is hardly any need to incite any communal overtones in that regard. A lot of youngsters and social activists hailing from a cross section of society are actively taking part in the agitation including Muslims, but not on the basis of their religious identities. They are rather seeing the issue from a secular angle and working with each other for saving the country from a monstrous problem. For them, it is a legal battle, not a sacred war cry. Then, why there should be the need of a ‘Muslim stand’? Why Darul Uloom Deoband or Jamat-e-Islami or Imam Bukhari should issue Fatwas favoring or disfavoring Jan Lokpal?

The Muslim response on the issue emanates basically from their apologetic mindset. By Hinduist overtones in the agitation, both in media and on the battleground, the RSS cadres or youth influenced by them have subtly created an impression as if only Hindus are fighting against corruption; and that means Muslims are refraining way from it, “as they are always on any larger national issue”. The Muslim leadership is innocently, or perhaps unwittingly, responding to such perceptions by either favoring the agitation in spite of their feeling that it may be perpetrated by the Hindutva organizations or it makes a call for non-cooperation while complaining for the same. There are Muslim leaders and organizations that may be inclined to take the opportunistic advantage of the hotly debated issue. For them this is a chance to express their noble stand and mobilize people on a popular upsurge. For many this is a time when media would be soft in giving coverage to their visibility on the issue and, therefore, they should come forward and take a stand on behalf of the community. This has been a persistent weakness of the Muslim leadership to unnecessarily communalize an issue and then take an unbecoming stand on it.

When the present outburst of ‘Muslim’ statements is compared with the ones expressed on the Tahrir Square awakening, it has already surpassed the latter one by many counts. This is nothing but a sheer imbalance of mind and character. Let Muslims support the cause not as Muslims, rather as Indians. The responsibility in this regard lies on the communal activists on both the sides of the fence.

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