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Published On:20 November 2012
Posted by Indian Muslim Observer

Shed prejudices about Islam

By Najeeb Jung

In the Indian context it is not so much Islamophobia but measured skepticism for the belief itself.
At a recent talk on the politics of Afghanistan, an elderly gentleman sitting next to my wife remarked that there were always problems in countries where Muslim governments were in power or where Muslims lived in large numbers.

This perception is indeed common among middle classes not just in India but also in large parts of the globe. While 9/11 seems the watershed point, large scale migration of Muslims into Europe and the demands on society that come with it have resulted in anger, indignation and an increasing acceptance of rightist ideology.

On the other hand, there is sullen indignation to this response from immigrants who expect a more egalitarian, tolerant and secular approach from democratic secular Western countries.

Global challenge

Therefore there is growing tension between cultures, religious traditions and conflicting identities, accentuated by the fact that the economies are no longer growing and the size of the cake is shrinking.

Because of this many politicians and voters are pushed into accepting ideas of extremism, fundamentalism, nationalism and Muslim bashing. British Prime Minister Cameron complained about 'segregated communities' that are conducive to Islamic terrorism and a life that is away from the mainstream. Geert Wilders' PVV did well in Holland, as did Rozenkranz's party in Austria (getting 15.6 per cent of the vote) and the right- wing Le Pen's Front National won 10 per cent of the seats in France. I believe, these parties that had been at the margins are now gaining acceptance for reasons of xenophobia and Islamophobia. North America is no better with a liberal observer like Arthur Schlesinger Jr. warning against the ' disintegration' of the American nation.

This in a country that prides itself for multiculturalism and where today the multicultural future projects Whites as a minority, Afro- Americans as a minority, Asians as a minority and Latinos as a minority! The reactions to the construction of a mosque close to where the twin towers stood in Manhattan, or the French restrictions on Muslim women in hijab, or the prohibition on constructing minarets for mosques in Switzerland highlight Islamophobia and an increasing intolerance towards the religion.

The consequence of course is that all this will ultimately pose a challenge to democracy itself. Democracies have indeed moved on from the earliest notions when democracy found roots in ancient Sparta and Athens and flourished in smaller domains. Obviously it was easier to function in mono cultural domains that gave ample scope for debate within communities.

Today the challenge is different because the system that was originally designed for small mono cultural societies has to deal with global interdependence, differing religious beliefs and ideologies thrown together, and a constant fight between science, modernity, religion and economic development.

India

In the Indian context the challenge is more unique in that Muslims are not immigrants in India. They came 1200 years ago in the form of seafarers and merchants both in north and south India and successfully merged with the social milieu.

The Delhi Sultanate was established in the late 12th century, about the same time Saladin was defeating the third crusade.

The poet and savant Amir Khusrau, in his classical work, the Nuh Sipahr, devotes a whole chapter likening Hindustan to the heavens and praising how Muslims fought for it and died for it.
The problem essentially came up when the Muslims confused the concept of nationalism with the concept of a nation.

The Muslim middle class, unable to compete with the more educated Hindu middle class began to demand a separate homeland. Even the great Iqbal who once wrote: "pathar ki murti main samjha/ hai tu khuda hai/ khaak- e- watan ka mujhko, har zarra devta hai" joined in the chorus for Pakistan.

While the Europeans and the Americans will continue to debate and fight their battles and wars for democracy and multiculturalism, the silver lining for them is the gradual change that is coming within Muslim countries evident from the movements in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen and Syria.

Because of higher levels of education in Europe and America they will soon enough understand that multiculturalism and pluralism is inevitable and to travel backwards is a recipe for disaster.

Truth

In the Indian context it is not so much Islamophobia but a measured skepticism for the belief itself. Muslims can argue till they are blue in the face, quote chapter and verse from the Holy Quran and instances from the life of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and the Hadees , of compassion, mercy, equality, devotion to the motherland, the contribution of Muslims to language, cultures, science, mathematics etc but they fail to convince a section of people that Islam is indeed a religion of love and not of intolerance that they have come to associate it with. These perceptions are indeed strengthened by actions of a section of Muslims in countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan, or the violent reactions to anti Islamic rhetoric in the Muslim World.
But the truth is that while politics of violence, resentment, and intolerance can work at times these are but pyrrhic victories that will undermine our democracy, our nation and our long term sustainability.

India with a population of over a billion people, with its shared history of language, culture, song and dance and intermingling cannot simply afford mutual dislike among its people. This is the simple truth, and the sooner we accept this the better because the World is moving on at an amazingly fast pace and if we are to be part of the entire package of scientific- economic growth, we must understand and acknowledge that we will live together, die together and progress or regress together.

The tragedy is successive governments make the right noises but little is done to enhance secular education in schools and universities, the ideal places to check the communal monster. This can happen only if there is absolute commitment to the spirit of the Indian Constitution and a shunning of vote bank politics.

[The writer is the Vice Chancellor of the Jamia Millia Islamia.]

(Courtesy: India Today)

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Posted by Indian Muslim Observer on November 20, 2012. Filed under , , , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Feel free to leave a response

By Indian Muslim Observer on November 20, 2012. Filed under , , , , , . Follow any responses to the RSS 2.0. Leave a response

1 comments for "Shed prejudices about Islam"

  1. Government won't actively promote
    secularism or undertake any measures
    that benefit the muslim community.
    Right wing hindus reacts indignantly
    to any such policy proposals. Courts
    also seem to squash such decisions as
    quotas for muslims in government jobs
    or admission in leading educational institutions. Enlightened institutions
    need to take the lead to include the
    muslims in their structure. In USA
    the leading universities took the
    initiative to accept candidates of
    African heritage and the businesses
    hired them upon graduation. Now it is
    common to find African-Americans
    represented in all major business,
    educational, military organizations.
    Of course, once a few made their entry
    they formed their groups to help
    the new hires and themselves in learning the ropes. Many were mentored
    by the senior white managers. Leading
    muslims should approach the major businesses and persuade them to hire
    qualified muslims and mentor them in their professional development. Once
    these muslims attain middle to senior
    positions they should volunteer to
    speak to the muslim students, offer
    themselves as role models and talk
    about the attributes for success.
    Muslims need to realize that the
    globalized world is moving fast
    and they need to learn many skills to fit into this world. Hard work and
    determination will pay rich dividend.
    Pakistan, Afghanistan and few other
    muslim countries will continue to
    portray Islam in poor light.Non-Muslims with some prejudice will use
    the example of these countries to paint all muslims with a broad brush. They are noisy and get the attention
    of the media. It shouldn't discourage
    the muslims. Determination and perseverance will be rewarded.

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