The Indian Muslim Liberal and The Challenge of Fundamentalist Islam

A scholar of Wahiduddin Khan’s background, learning and reputation has a decided advantage over other secular modernists. His religious background, deep knowledge of Islam and acknowledged status as an Islamic thinker are powerful assets.

He can get away with talk of reforms and reinterpretation, and take an unpopular stand on the Babri Masjid without the fear of being ostracized or declared a kafir. He can interpret the Quran without incurring the wrath of the mullahs.

On the other hand, his Western-educated counterparts, who are engaged in similar endeavors, are pitted against a wide array of forces rooted both in history and in contemporary political practices.

They are, above all, confronted with entrenched religio-political élites who have zealously maintained that the so-called Muslim issues fall within their exclusive domain.[1] – Mushirul Hasan, Vice Chancelor, Jamia Mila Islamia in 1997
Over 10 years ago, this man who is now eye in the eye of a storm had clandestinely confessed the inability of Muslim liberals like himself to take a critically secular stand on controversies dogging the Indian Muslim, whether it the dogma of archaic and repressive “women and personal laws”, rabble rousing disconnected political leadership, negative Urdu press, clergy based pressure groups, anti-reform elements, jihadi activists, etc.

Why Hasan chose to mystify the reasons for the same lies probably in the humiliating experience he suffered at Jamia in 1993 while trying to project a progressive Muslim face. Hasan chose the unprecedented approach of defending the freedom of expression of Salman Rushie, who was facing death fatwas for having authored the blasphemous Satanic Verses. Hasan, coming from a Muslim background showed exemplary intellectual honesty but proponents of this extreme form of literacy criticism made an overnight traitor of Hasan, thousands of them abused and manhandled him in the university campus and he was unceremoniously banished from Jamia despite him immediately recanting his un-islamic declarations.[2] His exile was interrupted when he was believed by Jamia authorities to have been truly converted into the mould of the typical Indian Muslim intellectual who has an academically respectable garb in secular cloaking.
Today, Mushirul Hasan chooses to provide legal aid to the suspects behind the Delhi-Jaipur-Ahmedabad Bomb Blasts which killed more than 150 people and consequently arrested in the Batla House encounter on the specious reasoning that they belonged to the Jamia Milia Islamia, and perhaps more pertinently to the supposedly ‘discriminated’ Muslim community. The travesty his actions have played on the secular ethos of constitution have not gone unnoticed by the more responsible of Indian journalists like Dhananhay Mahapatra who exposed the secular pretensions behind rationalization of this apparently communal action since the government was bound by the Constitution, in the Preamble of which the word ’secular’ was inserted through 42nd Amendment in 1976, to provide legal aid to all citizens irrespective of their religion, caste or creed.[3]

If the VC of Bhopal University, had resorted to the same measures to defend the ABVP activists accused of murder of a professor, the sanctimonious coterie of Mushirul Hasan and his like would have been the first to call it and ironically correctly – communalism!
No university or institution can be held responsible for the private actions of an individual student, howsoever heinous they might be! The university’s role should at best be restricted to rustication of the accused sine die and allow the law to take its own course. The vociferous defenders of Hasan’s myopic conduct like Prof Ajay K Mehra, who welcomes the lead Jamia Milia Islam has taken in the long standing demand of secularists and human right groups in “Defence of (the dignity) of the terrorist” [4]have caused irreparable harm to the secular fabric of the nation by implicitly insinuating against the institutions of the state which are supposed to bring terrorists to book which include both police and judiciary.

Will Prof Mehra who him self is a departmental head of Jamia, take the lead in verifying the antecedents of the terror accused Atif Amin who by another faculty’s admission did not even possess an identity card, and had never attended classes ever since his joining one month ago [5]
Usually, a university can at best verify the bona fides of its students, but in this case it will find impossible to even provide for a certificate of good conduct. Moreover, it is not that any insinuation was levelled against the institution except mentioning the terror accused’s association with the same which is the media norm i.e. like previously DU student held for murder/rape/cheating/etc. Then why did Hasan take the unprecedented step – why did the Jamia administration self-formulate the conspiracy to defame Jamia which has now boomeranged on themselves.

Unfortunately, in the process it has given rise to a wave of unwarranted rumours circulating in the world of Jamia with their yahoo message groups all flooded with garbage ridden ideas of fake encounters and questioning M C Sharma’s martyrdom. To be fair to Hasan he did not invent this perverted theory; it was floated beyond the lunatic fringes of ‘communalism combat’ into the mainstream by another fellow traveller of his, M J Akbar! The bigger question, is of course, why was the encounter considered an attack on Muslim identity in the first place! As one journalist employed with one of the most rabidly ‘secular’ newsgroup’s, in a fit of exasperation complained;
“Do I need to tell M J Akbar that police do shoot themselves to make a fake encounter look real? Rajbeer, Daya Nayak and Pradeep Sharma did not become hero by doing real shootings they became hero by killing captive ones. Mohan Chandra Sharma was also no saint. But why M J needs to indicate that M C Sharma might be a victim of a “friendly fire” when encounter happens in Jamia Nagar? My question is – Is he reacting as Muslim or as a responsible citizen of this country?” [6]
The Muslim Pressure Groups led by the colourful Shahi Imam of Delhi who was venting his frustrations in a valley of vituperations against Hindus and the police while presiding over the funeral of the killed terrorists must have played a role in the minority institution’s unceremonious actions, which explains why the Muslim liberal is actually an emasculated entity (which Hasan confessed 10 years ago) held hostage to the machinations of an exploitative, backward looking and fundamentalist clergy
Maulana Wahiduddin is no ordinary Muslim. While, his status as an Islamic scholar remains unrivalled[7], he is the rarest of Muslim liberals who has fearlessly trudged a different path against all odds. His radically modernist mind explains that “While the Quranic periodical was run on positive lines, the entire Muslim press of the present day is plunged in negativism. They (Muslim papers) act in this way because they want to prove that Muslims are entirely virtuous and innocent of all wrongdoing and that if they appear to have shortcomings, it is because of the harsh treatment meted out to them” Communal riots are not the creation of Hinduvta ideologues but in reality the “Reason for communal riots is the Muslims own rabble rousing leadership and yellow journalism.

And it is a noteworthy that wherever there is a concentration of Muslims, this over sensitiveness is very much in evidence, sooner or later it is the Muslims themselves who have to pay dearly for it at every level.”
Further unlike the secularists, he blames the Muslims’ ’own backwardness, which they misguidedly wish to blame on others.’[8] For him, “the Muslim press has been suffering from what I can only call quite unjustifiable self-righteousness on the part of Muslim intellectuals. It is this innate weakness which has prevented them from seeing their own shortcomings. All they can see are the plots of others behind every problem their community faces. Consequently, instead of engaging themselves in constructive activities, they spend their time inciting members of their community to protest against others”
He also derides the idea of a threatened Muslim populace and explains that “What has gained momentum in India since 1947 is not, in fact the persecution of Muslims but yellow journalism and an exploitative leadership which sustains itself by repeated allegations of persecution. If there is any danger to Muslims in this country, it is only from our so-called leadership buoyed up as it is by paranoid journalism.

There is no other real danger to Muslims”
Maulana Wahiduddin has not been taken seriously by the secular hawks because his well meaning words are an anathema to cultivation of Muslim votebanks against Hindu revivalists. In tackling the challenge of contemporary Islamic fundamentalism, Wahiduddin suggests that the original Islamic revelation had no place for murder of innocents [9]. He relies principally on Surah al Maidah 32 which states;
“We ordained for the Children of Israel that if anyone 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 anyone saved a life it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people. Then although there came to them Our Messengers with Clear Signs, yet even after that, many of them continued to commit excesses in the land”
Unfortunately, even this strategy of demonizing the jihadi by liberally interpreting the Quran is fundamentally problem. There are scores of provocative and violent verses in the Quran while dealing with infidels, and women which rival those of the Old Testament which can be reconciled by the Jihadis to their personal ideology. Secondly, even this liberal verse which Wahiduddin quotes is ambivalent. For the connotations of the clause, ‘spreading mischief in the land’ arguably include;
Denying the Quranic revelation which de facto arrives from doubting the authority and testimony of the prophet as recorded in the Quran
Questioning Quranic values and ethos
Practice of idolatry and other pagan customs
In a modern state, it will also include the practice of secularism – equal respect and privileges for all citizens irrespective of their religious beliefs including those who are children of the book, and even the idolaters as also atheists. Establishment of secular law over the Shariah is another essentiality of a real secular state.
Any attempt to resist Islamicization in the form of proselytization or violent subjugation
In all these circumstances, the verse in question implicitly authorizes violence to restore the superiority of Islam. After all, Innocent women and men had been killed in all probability during the age of the Prophet himself. Taking Maxime Rodinson’s standard biography in context, we refer to the killing of Abu Afak and Asma Bint Marwah. Afak was a 120 yr man who doubted the sanity of the Prophet and was promptly eliminated. Asma Bin Marwah was a poet, who decried Mohammed’s conduct. She too was later murdered while asleep in the company of her five children who were sleeping along with her.

Today, Muslim negationists accuse the incidents to have never taken place [10] although they are mentioned in the early standard biographies of the Prophet issued by Ibn Sa’d (who otherwise wrote a hagiography biography) on the flimsy ground that there is no isnad – chain of reporters. To claim the incident was a forgery by al-Hajjaj, on whom Sa’d possibly relied is tenacious since similar authorities aggressively defend him against forgery in the Quran.[11] Sa’d does not mention his sources of history, yet it is unlikely he would have included such a controversial incident until it was common knowledge. Moreover, the argument can be turned the other way round as is common in argumentum ex silencio! The isnad might have been erased by those with an agenda for whitewashing those incidents which were morally inconsistent with the pristine character of the Prophet.

After all, even the great emperor Akbar had his early jihadi track record whitewashed by himself or through Badauni and Abul Fazl, who both along with the mature and tolerant Akbar, discovered those despicable episode to be incompatible with a general history of their radically secular reign [12]
Moreover, not many Islamic theologians seem to have objected to this version of the story before the current clash of civilizations, probably because they did not find it so morally reprehensible unlike the thin skinned and critical conscious contemporary liberals who wish to portray the Prophet with the pen of perfect justice
Wahiduddin and genuine Muslim liberals will only become effective in contemporary politico-Islamic discourse, if they can detach the Muslim consciousness into reasoning beyond medieval dogmas and prejudices while ignoring the secular content in the quran/hadiths preferring restricting themselves to its spiritual quotient, in this modern age when certain quranic values may sound anachronistic. The late Swami Ranganathananda of the Ramakrishna Order incisively observed that it was the lack of distinguishing Sruti, the eternal from Smriti, the evanescent which was responsible for the crisis of modern Islam.

I believe, any biography of the Prophet can be encompassed only by the latter.


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