Sep 1, 2019
killed liberal islam?
is under question across the globe even as Marxism becomes history. Serious
discourse about apportioning blame for present conditions upon liberalism is
widely reported. Nearer home, a particular version of liberalism we know as
secularism has been pushed into retreat by an aggressive version of
nationalism. Yet in his latest book, Who killed Liberal Islam? Hasan Suroor
returns to re-examine liberalism, particularly amongst the Muslims of India. He
begins with a reminder from his last book, India’s Muslim Spring: Why is Nobody
Talking about It? “I quoted a Hindu friend telling me that the idea of a
liberal Indian Muslim was a misnomer [sic].”
that the author proceeds to examine a variety of situations and reaction of
Muslims as indeed of other people. “‘Is there such a thing as a liberal Indian
Muslim at all?’ is a legitimate [question] to ask despite its offensive and
provocative tone. Muslims, including many moderates, though, remain in denial.”
He clarifies to the reader that he questions the authenticity of Muslims who
present themselves as the liberal and progressive face of Islam. “Most of them
have about as much to do with Islam or the Muslim community as champagne
socialists with socialism.” He amplifies this discourse through the examples of
Javed Akhtar and Naseeruddin Shah!
his exercise the author debunks the idea of 180 million Muslims as a
fundamentalist monolith and describes them as largely moderate. But it is
interesting to follow the path that takes him to his final conclusion that “the
job of reforming Indian Islam is best left to those who are better equipped and
better placed to do it — the moderates within the community”.
chapter of the book gives an interesting insight at the swinging pendulum of
internal community reform and return to roots tendencies amongst individuals
and institutions, resting his case for backing new generation moderate
reformers “who may not be high-profile figures but this is not the age of
transformational figures anyway”.
interesting historical backdrop from the Mughals to the Khilafat agitation
provides an interesting insight for those curious to discover how we reached
Partition. There is then a quick look at the world of Islam in modern times and
the retreat of liberalism starting with Satanic Verses and right up to Asia
Bibi in the blasphemy row in Pakistan, ISIS, Al Qaeda et al. However, there are
some matters that are carefully recorded and presented but without real
explanations. Why are young Muslims leaving Islam?
To put the
book in context, it is as important to know what the author thinks liberalism
is as a concept as indeed whether religion is a matter of pick-and-choose
according to prevailing or dominant sensibilities. The Indian Supreme Court has
grappled with this for considerable period and merely arrived at what it
describes as “essential features” that remain immutable and no-go areas for
judicial interference. Whether what is an essential part of religion must be
decided by religious leaders or the judges also remains a contested question.
But the fact is that there is an essential part and a part that is peripheral
or dispensable without destroying religion.
remains that religion and the right to practise it are part of the Fundamental
Rights chapter of the Constitution. Therefore, when people speak of reform,
that fact has to be kept in mind. Furthermore, religion is the core of a
cultural footprint that inevitably surrounds it and that too has protection in
the Constitution. Finally we cannot overlook the imperatives of plural
democracy that conceptually and pragmatically provides guarantees to those who
are numerically in a permanent minority. It is easy to label that appeasement
but the slippery slope that one steps on there can lead to disastrous
consequences for democracy and human rights.
all modern, democratic societies must tackle the conflict between modernism and
religion in light of changing social conditions and access to scientific
knowledge as indeed between what we know as “constitutional values” and
religion as a way of life. Interestingly, advocates of modernism sometimes too
easily assume that social systems familiar to them ought to be applicable to
all citizens. But to espouse that as a national imperative for unity is a
seriously flawed argument. If at all the argument for modernity has compelling
force it must not be based on an a priori endorsement of superiority of any
particular social system. One would carefully have to consider where diversity
is permissible and ought to prevail and where standard or uniform conduct is
imperative from the point of view of our commitment to substantive equality and
Marxist and the Mulla must give way to the new generation moderate. Moral
instinct and instruction are to be the touchstone. The author leaves us with a
range of interesting propositions and a collage of stories and attitudes that
any attentive observer of Muslim society will note. The author has done well to
sift through the material to show a cogent picture of a community in
considerable confusion in a world in many ways of its own making. Renaissance
is a long way; reform is both possible and imperative. This book is a timely
reminder of that but in the difficult conditions for Islam in India and abroad
it does not seem to provide a roadmap to the desired destination. Even the
short interview of the erudite Dr Tahir Mahmood stops short of marking the path
to reformist bliss.
Khurshid is a former Union minister for external affairs and an eminent author
Headline: Can instinct, instruction be combined to fashion a new liberal Islam?
Source: The Asian Age