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Exporting our Islam!

Submitted by on December 21, 2007 – 12:53 am

Recently I came across an article ” Why we must export our Islam” by Nitin Pai. It made an interesting reading.

He writes: “In a secular state such as India, there is little role for the state in matters of faith and religion. But the rise of a radical, intolerant version of Islam around the world is also not in its interests. Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran have no self-imposed restrictions on promoting their own Islamic values. It is unlikely that India can counter these exertions of soft power by promoting the virtues of secularism to the Islamic world. But it could promote its own syncretic Islamic tradition to offer an alternative narrative to the world’s Muslims.”

Pai adds further: “So, is “Indian Islam” any different? Isn’t the violence of the Partition evidence to the contrary? For that matter, doesn’t the culpability of two upper middle-class Indian Muslims in a British terror plot prove that Indian Islam is not immune from radicalization? Not quite. More Muslims chose to stay on in India notwithstanding the communal bloodbath of Partition. As for the London-Glasgow plotters—the fact that Kafeel and Sabeel Ahmed had to harangue their friends and even the local mosque official in Bangalore suggests they were exceptions.”

I have a few comments to offer. Wherever there is a terrorism-related activity or a religion-based conflict in the world , Islam is a party to that. Secondly, why do not we see moderate Islamic voices coming out openly and condemning what ever is being done by a very small fraction of Islamic terrorists. Thirdly, why there is such a drought of democracy in Islamic countries? Not only that, in an increasingly globalization, Islamic countries (mainly Middle East: the fountain of Islam) are still not acting in a reciprocal manner (you can work in Saudi Arabia,for example, but can not have a place of worship if you are not a Moslem, you can not become a citizen there. Who will like to live there in a suffocated environment, is another question though!). Just now the news has filtered in that Mohd Haneef- an Indian physician- who was deported from Australia about 5 months back on the charges of terrorism 9but was cleared later on) has been cleared by an Australian court to return to Australia. Herein lies the contrast: Whereas modern democracies insist for fairness of trail and human rights, Islamic countries continue to be governed and regulated by laws and policies which do not treat all humans in a equal way! The case of a British teacher ( having allowed teddy bear to be named Mohammed) serving the prison in Sudan is fresh in the memory of people world over. The Sudanese Prime Minister refused to intervene!

I am not sure if Indian Islam (Pai feels that ours is a more moderate version) will have a healing effect on the Islam outside, but if we go by the Islamic version shaping up in nearby Pakistan, I have my doubts. Pakistani moslems have the same blood as their Indian counterparts, but why Islamic regimen there seems to be so mediveal! Or the difference in political paths that the two countries have adopted has resulted in different manifestation of the same philosophy? Thus I suspect the softer voice of “Indian Islam” may be lost in the cacophony of more intolerant Islam outside. In my views, Indian Islam seems to be more tolerant because we decided not to mix civilian rights with the cocktail of religious wine (read secularism) whereas Pakistan wants to see everything through the prism of religion (theocracy). Give some more autonomy to “Indian Islam” and you will see flurries of fatwas. Let me remind readers here that I am not satisfied with the kind of secularism we have in India. In a secular state, the personal laws are a blot. In a civilized society, if polygamy is unlawful for one citizen (read Hindu here), it can not be lawful for another citizen (read Muslim).

It is so agonizing to see the sectarian violence within Islam (Shias and Sunnis) and to see the bizarre rules (human rights, civil rights, women rights) which govern the society in Islamic countries in modern times. If as an outsider I could understand something, it is that it needs to be modernized or reformed. And who can take the lead: Islamic religious leaders and moderate voices. No religion is perfect though. When I am writing this piece, I just read the email by my friend, Surender Pal Singh, who added his comments on ongoing debate on Hinduism:

Hindutva (pro and against) is a big debate, Whatever is humanistic in Hindutva is good and whatever is inhuman, needs be discarded and reformed. I am of firm opinion that instead of adopting self-reformist stance the so called Hindutva streams in India are busy in thrashing minorities. They are raising the boggy of (religious ) ‘conversion’ but are never bothered to go deeply to understand the root cause of conversion. Why minorities are not raising such issue? Cause is simple – deep rooted stratification of Hindu society, As long as this is there, inhuman stance would keep on prevailing and person like me ‘ll never be in the position to claim that I am proud to be a Hindu.”

I agree with SP and would like to add that Hindu religious leaders should increasingly become aware of the pitfalls of caste system which continues to divide the Hindu and the Indian society at large! The politics of religious conversion is not that simple though! The psyche and nefarious designs of ‘converters’ must also be taken into account.

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