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Islam and Politics (18 Apr 2018 NewAgeIslam.Com)

Burqa Is Not Trishul


By Shajahan Madampat

09 APRIL 2018

A recent debate in The Indian Express on the country’s Muslims, triggered by Harsh Mander and taken forward by Ramachandra Guha, elicited dozens of responses in a host of other publications. This is welcome and timely. That Muslims as participa­nts were rare exceptions in that debate in the mainstream media proves Mander’s impassioned argument about the total marginalisation of Muslims in the country. Guha, fortunately, does not challenge Mander’s main lamentation, but argues that it is imperative for the Muslims to imbibe a liberal worldview and shun obscurantism.

Guha’s main argument in his dissent with Mander, succinc­tly articulated at the end of his article, is as follows: “Because Hindus are in an overwhelming majority in India, their communalism is far more dangerous than Muslim communalism. At the same time, one should recognise that discrimination by caste and especially gender is pervasive among Muslims too. And regardless of their own personal faith, or lack thereof, liberals must consistently and continually uphold the values of freedom and equality. They must promote the interests of the individual against that of the community, and seek to base public policies on reason and rationality rather than on scripture. In this struggle, liberals must have the courage to take on both Hindu and Muslim communalists.”

No one except arch fundamentalists will have any dispute with the above statement. However, in the process of framing his argument, Guha made some controversial remarks, including a shocking comparison of the Burqa, a dress, with Trishul, a weapon. These not only diverted attention from his core thesis, but also made him look insensitive to a commun­ity whose current obsessive preoccupation is not edifying ideas of social reform, but boringly mundane questions of dignified survival in their own God-forsaken ‘Modified’ country.

This writer holds no brief for either the skullcap or the Burqa, and agrees with Guha that the face-veil (particularly the Niqab) reflects a ‘reactionary, antediluvian’ mindset. But asking Muslims to shed all markers of their religious identity in the name of liberalism precisely at this juncture of Hindutva ascent and in the midst of a debate on the existential threats they face is not very helpful. Being a perfect liberal and a staunch defender of India’s composite culture did not save Ehsan Jafri from the Hindutva marauders in Gujarat in 2002.

Guha names three Muslim leaders in India who “had the potential to take their community out of a medievalist ghe­tto into a full engagement with the modern world”: Sheikh Abdullah, Hamid Dalwai, Arif Mohammad Khan. While Arif’s courageous position on the Shah Bano judgment was indeed praiseworthy, is it not ironical that one of the only three names he invokes is of a man who ended up in the BJP, the primary source of the sense of insecurity among the Muslims? Despite being a “secularising modernist” and believing “that patriarchy was a curse which kept their community backward”, Arif had no qualms in joining the BJP, which was neither secularising nor anti-patriarchal.

As for Dalwai, he was indeed an outstanding secular intellectual, but unlike the other two leaders Guha mentioned; he was totally deracinated, like, interestingly, Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Does he mean to say that it is necessary for a Muslim leader to abandon his Muslimness (by faith or culture or even a vague sense of belonging to a collectivity) in order to win the approval of the liberal intelligentsia? Did his liberalism, modern outlook and irreligion preclude Jinnah’s gradual transformation into a communalist?

Guha’s Call for a Liberal Order

These irritants notwithstanding, the arguments put forth by both Mander and Guha are not antithetical to each other at their core. A liberal, democratic, progressive, modern leadership is the need of the hour for the Muslims in India, particula­rly when even the so-called secular parties begin to look at them as an embarrassment. Even the current Muslim leadership in India will not dispute the fact that they are a bunch of nobodies compared to the towering personalities that led the community in the past: Sir Syed, Allama Iqbal, Maulana Azad, Shah Waliullah, C.H. Mohamed Koya and so on.

A cursory look at the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, arguably the religion’s most representative body in the country, and the emotive issues it took up over the past few decades will confirm one thing: the present religious and political leadership of the Indian Muslims consists of a bunch of myopic sentiment-peddlers with absolutely no vision—political or social—for the future of the community. This is true of most of the Muslim political leaders across the country as well. “As an Indian, I think the fact that the most important Muslim leader in our most populous state is Azam Khan is a disgrace to Muslims, to Uttar Pradesh, and to India,” Guha once wrote in an article aptly titled ‘Can Hindu Liberals Criticize Muslim Bigots?’

Way Out

So what is the way out? A liberal leadership within the Muslim community will emerge only if three fundamental preconditions—all crucial for internal democratisation—are fulfilled. The first concerns a modus vivendi to deal with the schismatic, theological diversities within the community. These differences in theological and jurisprudential matters are currently articulated in a highly undemocratic and defamatory manner. Followers of each sect or sub-sect think only they represent the true Islam and all others are doomed to eternal perdition. A language to debate these differences without mutual abrogation and excommunication is yet to emerge. Hence, the dire need for a process of internal democratisation and the creation of a dialogical, rather than a polemical culture within the community in matters of faith, without which there is no hope of a liberal transformation.

The second concerns the community’s penchant for turning every critical insi­der into a pariah. The moment you begin pointing fingers at what is wrong within the community, your othering and demonisation are stepped up. You ability to influence the community is proportional to your readiness to conform—in your beliefs, ideas, sartorial choices, lifestyle, theological and jurisprudential nitty-gritty. This general intolerance is manifested in more obnoxious ways when something that is ‘hurtful to the religious sentiments’ is in the public sphere, such as a work of art or fiction, a film or even a critical statement. The sad truth is that the community’s general attitude to issues of freedom of expression is no different from the Hindutva brigades. A liberal interior is impossible to take shape unless the Muslims deeply intr­ospect on this aspect and change course.

The third and most important precondition for the emergence of a liberal culture among the Muslims is the willingness to accept that a gender-unequal order is no longer sustainable. Their internalisation of the notion that upholding misogyny is an integral religious right is deeply flawed. This in spite of the voluminous works done by a host of Islamic feminist scholars who successfully demonstrated that it was possible to interpret the scriptures in a gender-just, if not gender-­equal, manner commensurate with the modern world. It is not mere happenstance that the Muslim women happened to be at the receiving end of most of the AIMPLB campaigns for ‘saving Islam’.

Having said that, one must add that none of these played the causative role in the current marginalisation and brutalisa­tion of the community. For that, we have to blame the venomous politics of Hindutva, in whose growth the confessional politics of the illiberal Muslim leadership sometimes wittingly or unwi­ttingly contributed. “It is fashionable in some quarters to blame the Indian Muslims for their predicament. In my view, while the absence of a credible liberal leadership has contributed, a far greater role in their marginalisation has been played by the malevolent policies of our major political parties. The Congress seeks to exploit the Muslims, politically. The BJP chooses to demonise them, ideologica­lly (but also with a political purpose in mind). The Congress wishes to take care of the (sometimes spurious) religious and cultural needs of the Muslims, rather than adv­ance their real, tangible, economic and material interests. The BJP denies that they have any needs or interests at all,” Guha powerfully argued a couple of years ago.

Related Article:

The Left-Liberals, Muslim Leadership and the State, Sadly: A Reply to Harsh Mander and Ramchandra Guha

Shajahan Madampat is a cultural critic and commentator.

Source: outlookindia.com/magazine/story/burqa-is-not-trishul/299976

URL: http://www.newageislam.com/islam-and-politics/shajahan-madampat/burqa-is-not-trishul/d/114963


  • The muslims view Trishul as a weapon...but the hindus see it as a symbol of Lord Shiva. Who is today using the Trishul as a weapon? Secondly an avowed secularist tries to defend the muslim but they turn on him. That way for many women Burqa is also scary and is a weapon used by ISIS and Taliban to subjugate women???
    Tolerance, secularism and accepting and understanding another's way of life is a two way street..no community can walk on it alone. We must practise what we preach and what we want other communities to practise. The hindu must pull up the hindu fringe and the muslim must pull up the muslim fringes..and we must teach our children.our religion is NOT superior or the only true way. People are good or bad not because of there religion, skin color, gender or caste but be cause of there actions. GOOD humane helpful honest and just people exist in all faiths and so do criminals. The hindu epics are a classic example of this the villians were all high caste hindus who had started to misuse their power i.e Ravana was a brahmin highly learned and Kauravas were Kshatriyas of the same family.

    By indiewater - 4/19/2018 4:45:52 AM

  • Having said that, one must add that none of these played the causative role in the current marginalisation and brutalisa­tion of the community. For that, we have to blame the venomous politics of Hindutva.
    The venomous politics of Hindutva/Trumps Islamophobia would have no leg to stand on IF liberalisation and transformation towards secularism happened among the muslims in India and in the muslim world. The average non muslim reads and observes everyday how wherever muslims are in a majority no other religious group has even breathing rights and this leads most people to fear the muslim community . And the burqa and niqab scare people too reminding them of ISIS and Taliban and oppressive regimes in Saudi and Iran....Today the world is a much smaller place..
    And organisations like AIMPLB and fatwas from maulanas and mullahs which are not strongly opposed by the average muslim do not help the muslim cause. Why are other minorities like Parsis sikhs, jains and buddhists not in the same predicament. Because they do not condemn the HR they engage with the HR and develop a climate of mutual respect and tolerance. 
    belive me hindus are the most accepting of diversity and individual and community rights . No one understands diversity and thrives in it better than the hindu....

    By indiewater - 4/19/2018 4:28:21 AM

  • Political parties exploit communalism because it is an exploitable issue. They will exploit anything that yields them some votes. Developing a culture that makes such exploitation non-kosher is a far cry for India. Minimally it will require a vastly more empowered and richly resourced Election Commission mandated to keep communalism out of politics in accordance with the spirit of the Constitution.

    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 4/18/2018 12:46:27 PM

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