The fear and foreboding which comes with Covid-19 also brings some great opportunities for us. As they say, every challenge is an opportunity. Today, we have many unforeseen opportunities waiting for us; we may take them or let go. The lockdown has brought several hardships to people but its flipside is that due to restricted human movement all rivers have become so clean, sky is blue clear of pollution, chirping of birds is so distinctively audible, animals, both wild and domesticated, are roaming freely and fearlessly on streets and in the jungles. The point is that the pandemic has brought changes in the way we perceive our surroundings, think or have been thinking about it in the past. The lockdown brings to our mind fond memories of the past. And opportunities to reset several buttons in our lives. For example, the way we have looked at our environment, lifestyles, attitude towards poor, world relations and even relations between Indian communities. Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his addresses to the nation was quite successful in bringing the country’s people together.
Also, unprecedented situation arising out of the lockdown has slowed us down and made us realise that all humans are equal; they share the same fears and anxieties. This thought to some extent has helped shape up a collective consciousness of Indians. The PM’s call to people in coming together in holding vigils and similar gesture to break the boredom, fear and bringing encouragement for medical health workers was very well received by all communities, including Muslims. In fact, it was a spectacular sight on the day he asked people to light diyas, it appeared entire India was lit up as if it were celebrating Diwali. People of all religions participated. Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Jains and Buddhists all were so excited and responded overwhelmingly to the PM’s call. While this has surprised the entire world, it has brought a great ray of hope for Indian Muslims.
The PM’s Ramzan Mubarak tweet particularly addressing the Muslim community of India should be seen as a turning point. A cue which Indian Muslims must take to a new beginning. It is pertinent to note that Indian Muslims have been victims of agenda from several quarters. They have been sandwiched between malicious propaganda by Pakistan and weird ideas propagated by some Indian Muslim clerics. Recently, the image of Indian Muslims took a beating due to Tablighi Jamaatis, who were huddled together in Nizamuddin Markaz and failed to come forward for coronavirus testing due to fear of isolation. They were reluctant in seeking medical assistance, NSA Ajit Doval had to intervene to convince them to get hospitalised. The question is: do Tablighi Jamaatis represent all Indian Muslims? The simple answer is they do not. Why should the entire community be blamed due to the fault of a few hundred Muslims?
Also, Indian Muslims felt hurt when they become victims of Pakistan’s false propaganda. It all started with several purported videos of Indian Muslim fruit vendors spitting on fruits with a malafide intention to spread coronavirus in India. The videos went viral. Seeing those videos, a BJP leader from UP jumped the gun and appealed to the masses to shun Muslim fruit and vegetable vendors. Thus, depriving poor of their livelihood. However, BJP president J.P. Nadda was quick to intervene, and he sought an explanation from the concerned party leader for his inappropriate remarks. Eventually, it was discovered by intelligence agencies that those videos, which instigated people, were made in Pakistan and with an ill intention to unsettle the law and order in India. Fortunately, the Covid-19 lockdown has silenced the communal polarisation, which was spreading even faster than coronavirus, these days the polarisation is confined to social media, so there lies a great opportunity in the situation, where both the communities could benefit with the introspection aimed at nation building.
Remember, a nation prospers in peace and not in a turmoil. Historic aberrations caused by exploits of foreign Muslim rulers, British colonial divideand-rule policy had unsettled the peace-loving reality of India. But wounds of the past did not deter new generation Muslims, Hindus and other communities to assimilate into the idea of India. A section of Muslim population decided to migrate to Pakistan, while 35 million Muslims opted to continue staying in India, because of the love for their land, which they called their home. Both Indian Muslims and Hindus relegated their past into the background for a peaceful coexistence that rested on the pillars of mutual respect and trust. In independent India, especially in rural India, until an intense polarisation started, they had been living seamlessly, sharing their joys and sorrows together, with the conviction that they would evolve with the nation.
Unfortunately, over the period of time Muslims’ sociopolitical relations with Hindus have deteriorated and have now become extremely fragile due to various reasons. A feeling has set in that Indian Muslims are a regressive community more committed to international Islamic brotherhood rather than to their own motherland, India. Their religious identity has become more important than their national identity and this is a dangerous trend. And if the present situation is allowed to prevail, it could lead to further isolation and unrest. One of the reasons for this low in the relationship has been that Muslims have remained a closed, disintegrated community, unwilling to adapt to the changing circumstances. Indian Muslim clerics too have overemphasised the concept of ummah — a universal Muslim identity — rather than focusing on more practical Islamic ideas such as watan and mulk. Even the Quran in the second verse opens with Al-hamdu I-iLLahi rabbil- Alamin, meaning “All the praises and thanks be to God who is the Lord of the Universe.”
It does not say rabbil- Muslameen (Lord of Muslims only) but Alamin, meaning Lord of the Universe. However, today’s reality is different. The rise of the Islamists and their extremism worldwide have further worsened the situation and led to Indian Muslims being further alienated. According to Maidul Islam, a noted author on Indian Muslims, they have lost balance between “deendari” and “jahandari”. Islamists have projected dreaded terrorists as heroes and martyrs fighting for the cause of Islamic supremacy. They continue to harbour the fantasy of a Shariah-based Islamic Caliphate in India and across the globe. Since the 1990s, India has been one of the first few countries to face the brunt of Islamic digression in the form of terrorism. Islamists created and mobilised several terrorist outfits to carry out deadly terrorist attacks on the Indian soil. Thousands of Indians died in those attacks, including Indian Muslims, some becoming innocent victims, while others in uniform attaining martyrdom battling terrorism, but the juggernaut of “Islamaphobia”, was too overpowering to make any distinction. This misguided Islamist ideology has led to mistrust and hatred for Indian Muslims among Hindus and other communities. There is a growing perception that Muslims are a militant community and have nothing to do with peaceful life.
That’s why fellow Indians have been forced to questioned Muslim’s basic beliefs and their way of life. This has led to further alienation and formation of a new identity for Indian Muslims. A sizeable population of unemployed Muslim youth in India are today standing at a crossroads, hopeless, confused and highly vulnerable. It is only in India that we find a Haryana village from where Muslims fled during Partition but even today Hindus take care of their mosque, which they clean every Friday and ensure azaan is performed there. The Vedas are taught in a West Bengal madarsa. In Rajasthan when scarves are made the Muslims do the dying and the Hindus do the printing — they work together. In many parts of India, the shoes that the Hindu priests wear in temples are made by the Muslims. Even the effigies of Ravan burnt during Dussehera are made by Muslims. So that has been the composite cultural reality of India. However, today the nation is in a precarious situation where its sizeable population is being alienated by the day, leading to civil unrest among the community. It is due to their alienation that their attitude has become confrontationist. Vested interests and attitudes of certain political groups have also contributed to a great extent in creation of this situation.
Over the decades Muslims in India have only been used merely as a political tool. Unfortunately, the currency of Indian Muslim political thought too has been materialistic. The so-called secular political parties have lacked sincerity of intent and purpose; they have only focussed on short-term appeasement policies rather than long-term goals of nation building. As a result, Indian Muslims have failed to integrate into the mainstream. Unavailability of progressive political articulation and availability of a conservative Islamist political articulation among Indian Muslims have resulted in the presence of Islamist audience in a section of Muslims in India. In the end, it makes sense to quote a famous Urdu poet Bashir Badr: Dushmani jamm kar karo, lekin yeh gunjayish rakhna, jabh kabhi dost ho jao toh sharminda na ho (You may fight with each other as much as you want, but at least keep a margin in your enmity so that when you become friends again you are not embarrassed).