Progressive Muslim Voice

The Other Side of the River

Abhijit Majumder

Perhaps for the first time since the advent of social media in India, a patriotic and progressive Muslim voice is getting louder. A brave new generation of Muslims is bravely taking on the hypocrisies and fear-mongering by radicals in their own community and the ‘secular’ intelligentsia which has been enabling it for decades.

They are exposing rampant Hinduphobia by a powerful and vocal section of the Muslim commentaries that stand between the integration of the community with the national mainstream. For one thing western media like The Washington Post and The New York Times give disproportionate space to the divisive, separatist Muslim voice.

But back home, these new Muslims are becoming increasingly popular, influential, and assertive, whether it is on the Hijab controversy or a movie about the genocide of Kashmiri Hindus by Islamist terrorists. They are openly taking on the over ground Islamists who had so long monopolised the narrative in the community.

The first voices to make a mark were of young politicians like Shazia Ilmi, brothers Shehzad and Tehseen Poonawalla, and anchor Rubika Liaquat. But now, a dam seems to have broken. Amaana Begum Ansari, Khalid Baig, Arshia Malik, Nighat Abbas, Subuhi Khan, Nissar Guru, Sajid Yousuf, Suneem Khan, Wajahat Farooq and handles like Zafar_nama.

As ‘The Kashmir Files’ makes a splash nationwide with the truth about the Pandit genocide in the 1990s, Kashmiri Muslims like Sualeh Keen, Emaad Makhdoomi, Yana Mir, Raja Muneeb, Javed Beigh, Sajid Yousuf Shah, and Shaikh Mohsin have been vocal against the jihad ecosystem.

Central Waqf Council member Rais Khan Pathan leads the charge. Once a young, renegade Kashmiri civil services officer, Shah Faesal today talks national interest. So do the likes of Atif Rasheed.

The ‘sarkari musalman’ slur, reserved by the faithful for any Muslim, not on warpath against the mainstream, does not seem wash any longer. As Najmul Soda wrote in The Print: “The Muslim community came to regard itself as caught in an eternal conflict with the Indian State. The premise of permanent hostility with the State threw up labels like Sarkari Musalman for anyone who was seen to be aligned with the narrative of the State, popularly known as the ‘Idea of India’, of which democracy and secularism were the core elements. In the absence of an ideological commitment to democracy and secularism, these principles could, at best, be the second-best options for the ideologues whose narrative drew inspiration from medieval religious supremacism.

“Naturally, this would lead to a farcical situation where one could be seen posing as the zealous defender of the noble ideals of the Constitution, but actually harbouring an ideological antipathy to the same. Mere mouthing of liberal verbiage doesn’t suffice for a real commitment to those principles. Such a bizarre situation was enabled by the extra miles, which the official secularism would cover to accommodate the Muslim communalism. This type of “tolerance” dented the credibility of the secular ethic of the State.”

Progressive voices like late President APJ Abdul Kalam or Kerala governor Arif Mohammed have often been mocked by the champions of Islam. Then there are Muslims who have risen above narrow communal agenda and been honest to their professions like archaeologists KK Muhammad, who was part of the team that conclusively proved that remains of a destroyed temple lay under the Babri Masjid, or Justice Jaibunnisa Mohiuddin Khazi of the Karnataka High Court who delivered the verdict against hijab in schools.

But the new wave of youngsters is a lot more vocal and irreverent. They do not couch their words. They seem much less scared of the backlash. There are three main reasons for this change.

First, with Narendra Modi’s BJP in power at the Centre and CMs like Yogi Adityanath and Himanta Biswa Sarma in the states, they reckon that the jihadi forces will be a lot less emboldened. They also know that there is massive support for nationalism in new India. They see the hypocrisies and tyrannies of perverted secularism. They see how the overwhelming majority of Hindus who think and speak rationally are termed communal and bigoted Islamists are protected as ‘liberal’.

Importantly, the ruling BJP has not discriminated in terms of distributing resources on the ground. Its schemes like PM Awaas Yojna, Ujjwala, or direct benefit transfer have reached Hindus, Muslims, and every other community.

Second, globally young Muslims have been fed up with the writ of the violent orthodoxy which runs in the name of Islam. Their modern education and sensibilities make it extremely difficult for them to reconcile with unreformed Islam. Many Muslims find blasphemy, honour killings, homophobia and rampant misogyny unbearable. This is why movements like Ex-Muslims or Awesome Without Allah have found quiet but tremendous traction in Arab nations, Turkey, Iran, Syria and even Pakistan.

Third, a silently growing section of young Indian Muslims have had enough of othering and being othered. They don’t want to exist like a stubborn, basket-case cult.

If Islam is to keep them in its fold, it will have to change, reform and evolve as most other religions have. The young in the community needs a new set of leaders, people who talk a language different from the medieval.

And the great Indian civilisation, which has sheltered and nurtured so many in its bosom, will have to be especially protective of this new, bold wave of Muslims. They are special. They are saying things at great risk of ostracisation, boycott and even violent attacks. They ought to be made secure and celebrated for the sake of a united, vibrant future.

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Vol 54, No. 40, April 3 - 9, 2022