A noted Indian Muslim politician and Supreme Court Lawyer, Mr. Salman Khurshid has authored a book recently with the title “ Visible Muslims, Invisible citizenship: Understanding Islam in Indian democracy” (2019), he has been an ardent follower of Congress Party and its secular ideology throughout his political life. He has also served earlier in the Ministry of external Affairs( 28Oct 2012-26 May 2014), Ministry of Law and Justice ( 28 May 2011 to 28 Oct 2012) and Ministry of Minority Affairs ( 19 January, 2009 – 28 Oct 2012) under the United Progressive Alliances (UPA). Mr. Khurshid has earlier authored several other books like, Triple Talaq: Examining Faith (2019), Sons of Babur (2012), Spectrum Politics: Unveiling the Defense (2018), and At Home in India: The Muslim Saga (2014). To be precise, Salman saheb belongs traditionally to an elite Muslim family of northern India. He was educated in the elite institutions and liberal environment like Delhi public school (DPS), St Stephen’ College at University of Delhi and Oxford, U.K.  Salman Saheb is a son of Mr. Khurshid Alam Khan and maternal Grandson of Zakir Hussain who was the third President of India and aloes served as a Vice-chancellor in Jamia Millia Islamia.

After two consecutive losses in the Lok sabha elections, for the Congress, the last one well-nigh augured the demise of the party sinking the latter to a historic low with a mere 52 seats in 2019 general election. While analyzing the future of the Congress, a well- known social scientist-cum-psephologist Yogendra Yadav wrote in the Indian Express that, “Congress should die, it has failed to protect the idea of India”. More enthusiastically, the BJP leaders proclaimed that the dream of “Congress Mukt Bhart” has now been realized. As Modi’s rhetoric goes, “the congress has become rotten now, when I saw Congress Mukt Bharat, I am merely fulfilling Mahatma Gandhi’s desires”( 7 Feb 2019, India Today).

However, this essay will not discuss the future of the Congress Party as argued by the BJP and others rather it will hash-out in considerable detail, engaging with Mr. Salman Khurshid’s book , Visible Muslims, Invisible citizenship’’. A serious attempt will be made to unearth how misconceptions about Islam and Indian Muslims in particular pervade the corners of the Indian public fuelled by Hindutva prejudices including the Indian corporate media. For instance, it is often claimed that Indian Muslims are not loyal to the Indian nation and hence for majority of Muslims ‘religious faith’ is a priority over Indian nationalism. In this respect, some sections of Muslims in India such as the late Syed Shahabuddin, stressed on Muslim identity first rather than the nationalist one. That was a reason why he named his journal ‘Muslim India’ (this journal was published by Shahbuddin to articulate the Muslim’s concerns in the Indian politics) in the place of Indian Muslims. However, Mr. Salman is not fully persuaded by him and argued conversely that the term ‘Muslim India’ should be replaced with ‘Indian Muslim’ (generally speaking, this term indicates that there are no contradictions between Indian identity and Muslim religious faith); that is the reason why Salman Saheb prefers the term Indian Muslim. A similar term ‘Nationalist Muslims’ was used for those Muslims who sided with the Indian National Congress and its secular politics and thereby opposed the Muslim League led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah. In the recent case of Zaira Wasim (a18 years old actress, who recently quitted the Bollywood film industry) again the tension between the Indian identity and her religious faith came out in the public sphere, simply because she gave more preference to religious identity over secular or cultural Muslim identity. However, while discussing the relation between Islam and Hinduism, the author says, “there is no inherent civilizational clash between Islam and Hinduism” (p-xii).

In the chapter-1, titled, ‘one nation and Multiple Nationalities’, the author has discussed about the challenges posed by communal forces before the composite culture, secular and inclusive idea of India enshrined in the Indian Constitution.   Contrary to the Hindu Mahasabha and the Muslim League,   the author observes, “Wahdat al-Wujud literally means, the unity of existence or unity of being suggesting oneness of being, similar to Hindu concepts”’ (p-3).  In today’s context, the BJP leaders always remind that if Indian Muslims can’t adjust according to the Hindu majaritarian norms and culture, they have an option to go to Pakistan. Moreover, it is crucial to underline here what the RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat had said on Indian Muslims, ‘‘[The] day it is said that we don’t want Muslims, it won’t be Hindutva’’ (cited by Salman, p-3).

However, for Mr. Salman the battle against communalism must be fought by secular Hindus and Indian Muslims together. To expound the point further he says, “the battle against communalism will be fought by majority Hindus whose commitment to the idea of India ensures that we remain a secular country. Of course, minority enrich that secular ethos with cultural flavor.  For whatever reason the ‘them’ and ‘us’ syndrome has plagued us, it is imperative that we obliterate the dichotomy and return to the Hindustani collective of HuM (Hindu-Muslim unity)” (p- 9).

More importantly, Muslims are prone to become Jihadii (The true essence of the term ‘Jihad’ is struggle for truth and fight against one inner self) and anti- Kafir in nature (actually the term ‘Kafir’ refers to those who refuse to believe in the one God and differ with basic fundamentals of Islam) which are wrongly understood by the majority of non-Muslims in India and elsewhere, viewing the terms as something specifically against them. To spread the misconceptions and myth about Islam, the ‘clash of civilization’ thesis;  which is wrongly propounded by hard-core orientalits like Huntington and Bernard Lewis to demonize Islam and Muslims across the globe. For them, orthodox religion like Islam is incompatible to modernity and liberal democracy; this demonization of Islam has become more widespread after 9/11. It is apt to note that this misconception about Islam is vehemently propagated by the RSS-BJP combine in the Indian social sphere to further polarize the masses.  Ever since the BJP government has come to acquire a centre stage in Indian politics, the insidious problem of lynching, hate crimes/speeches, violence against Dalits, simmering communal tensions and above all the ogreish characterization of Indian Muslims has been part and parcel of the government’s capacious project.  Thanks to the hateful environment created by Sangh Parivar, aforesaid incidents have now  become the ‘new normal’ in the Indian society; this point has been noted by the senior journalist (The Frontline) Mr. Zia-Us Salam in his book ‘Lynch File’, 2019.

Before coming to various themes and issues discussed in the book, let me briefly highlight the author’s intellectual and political leanings. Mr. Salman is known for his liberal and secular credentials in the Indian politics. He champions and professes the progressive ‘Idea of India’ put-forward by Mahatama Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Maulana Azad during the formative years of nation-building as mentioned in his book. In addition to this, Salman Saheb’s latest book “Visible Muslims, Invisible citizenship, has engaged with all the aforementioned issues and problems in a very thoughtful and critical manner. Even though, this book is not rigorously researched and based on field work, however, it should not be considered as defending party lines or seen as a series of ‘political pamphlets’ (the author admits this point too) [p- xii]. While describing the purpose behind writing this book, the author points out that it has been written to do away with the widely prevalent ambiguities about Indian Muslims and Islam in the minds of the Hindus born afresh with a renewed sense of ultra-nationalism.

This book has covered a plethora of critical issues like Islam, Indian Muslims, democracy, modernism, diversity, secularism, discourse around Sachar committee and Indian renaissance. In addition to this, the volume has also reflected on contentious issues like triple talaq, shrinking democratic spaces, problems of citizenship rights (on the several accounts, the Indian Muslims in their everyday life are not treated as an equal citizen of India, the point is discussed in this book and also highlighted by the Sachar committee report, 2006) stereotypical images of Indian Muslims (like wearing burqa, skullcap, beard and above all anti-national) in several chapters of the book. It is pertinent to note that this book has tried to dismantle these stereotypical images constructed by the orientalists (this point has been discussed by a noted public intellectual like Edward Said in his book, Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts Determine How We see the Rest of the World, 1997),communal forces and corporate owned media in the public domain. Put it differently, the author has discussed the concept of ‘Islamic modernism’, (this term refers to initiating reform in Islamic theology or developing new theology, ‘Im-al-Kalam’ according to the modern needs, of the  Muslim community, p-217), while engaging with the Islamic thought and writings of eminent Islamic scholars like Mualana Azad, Dr. Allama Iqbal and Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and problems of Indian Muslims in the larger socio-political settings rather than from the standpoint of Islamic theological doctrines. In doing so, he dismantled the ‘myth of Muslim unity’ created by the Hindu nationalist forces (for instance, it is a perceived that all Muslims believed in the concept of Umma, a universal brotherhood and hence they can never be a loyal to Indian nationhood) and clarifies that Indian Muslims are divided on the lines of caste, sects, region, language etc. In this respect, Salman writes, “Muslims of India can be broadly divided into three categories traditional, modern and postmodern. The first category is generally conservative, the second more liberal in approach too social norms, and third appropriately described as progressive or virtual atheists. Those in the last category are often seen as cultural Muslims” (P-7).

To be forthright here, it is not possible to cover all themes and essays discussed in his book however, relevant themes and issues like Islam and modernism, Indian Muslims, Secularism vs. Communalism debates, and diversity vs. Uniformity (ch-11) will be discussed here. The author has noted that in Indian academic circles, there is a large volume produced by Indian scholars to rescue Hinduism from the shackles of Hindutva. Salaman Saheb has cited, Mr. Shashi Tharoor,’s Why I am a Hindu (2018) as an example here. It is unfortunate that writings on Indian Muslims and Islam are not available to general Hindu audiences to dismantle the several stereotypical images created by orentalists and Hindutva forces. In his preface, the author observes:  “For me [Salman saheb], the task is a complicated mixture of explaining Islam to those who do not know enough about it; placing the identity of the Indian Muslim in the context of the Indian democracy; and deciphering the Muslim mind in a social political dimensions beyond theology. And curiously enough, it is task undertaken primarily for the benefits of Hindus, many of home in recent years have been forced to misunderstand Muslims and Islam”. (P-x)

Salman in  chapter-3 tiled as ‘Shrinking space’ has touched with the acrimonious debates which  took place in the minority space of The Indian Express, mainly between Harsh Mander, a social activist and noted historian Ramchadra Guha. In this debate, Mander points out that Muslims have become ‘politically untouchable’ and excluded from the mainstream development forcing them to face discriminations and marginalization in the larger public sphere. However, Guha disagreed with Mander and said that Muslim community is backward because of innate conservatism and lack of internal social reform on lines of religion and gender. For Guha, it is hard to find out liberals and progressive people within the Muslim community except few names like Arif Mohammad Khan (who recently has been appointed as a Governor of Kerala by the BJP government) and Hamid Dalwai. In doing so, Guha has said that burqa and trishul both are akin and must be discouraged to bring out in the public sphere. Most writers who wrote several pieces in the Indian Express disagreed with Guha’s formulations mainly his analogy between trishul and burqa and sided with Mander’s arguments on the marginalization of Indian Muslims in all walks of life. These debates have been nicely documented by Salman Saheb in his book. However, the piece written by Khalid Anis Ansari has not been cited by the author who has discussed the importance of caste-based hierarchy and exclusion, not religion as a lone category to analyze ‘Muslim questions’. For Ansari within the Muslim community there is caste divide like ashrafajlaf exist, the point has also been acknowledged by the author (p-13). However, for Ansari all shades of thinking like liberals, Left and Muslim elites, both religious and political, deliberately hide the caste-based social hierarchy, which is a striking feature of the Muslim society in India.

While discussing the social categories, the author has also mentioned that Muslims are divided into two social categories like Ashraf [upper caste Muslims like sayaids, Sheikh, Pathans and Mughals etc.) and Ajlaf [broadly known as OBC Muslims] (P-13). However, he missed out to mention the third social category Ajlaf (it refers to Dalit Muslims as also outlined in Sachar Report, 2006). To note, the author while discussing the contributions and the role of various Muslim organizations and individuals in nation-building in particular and Muslim society in general (Ch-12, ‘Leadership stakes’), has not mentioned the contributions of the Momin Conference and its leaders like Mr. Quyium Ansari( this organization was established by the lower caste Muslim weavers namely Ansaris in the late 1930s)  who played a crucial role in the nation-building process and vehemently opposed two-nation theory led by Jinnah. It is vital to underline here that the Pasmanda movement (the movement, is headed by the lower caste leaders like Dr. Eijaz Ali and Ali Anwar, came into existence after the implementation of Mandal commission in the late 1990s, and mostly active in Bihar) has played an important role to push the agenda of internal social reform by foregrounding substantive socio-economic issues. To further note, till the 1990s minority politics which was dominated by the upper caste Muslims have not invited attention about subaltern Muslim issues and always highlighted the religious and emotive issues like the minority character of AMU, Urdu, Muslim Personal Laws and so forth. For instance, there has been no systematic movement launched by the upper caste Muslims to demand reservations for extremely oppressed social groups like Dalit Muslims. To note that through the presidential order 1950, Dalit Muslims, and Dalit Christians have been kept outside the fold of reservations. It is to be noted that this unconstitutional step (keeping them outside the fold of reservation is contrary to the principle of the right to equality enshrined in our Constitution) was effectuated under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru. However, it is ironical to note that Salman Saheb who represents the secular trends of politics within the Congress party has also not bothered to raise the question of Dalit Muslims when he held a privileged executive position in the Ministry of Minority Affairs.  While discussing the Sachar Committee report (Ch-19), and the socio-economic status of Indian Muslims in his book, the author has not referred to Dalit Muslim’s pathetic living conditions and how to solve their problems. Besides the Sachar report, Dr. Ayuib Rayeen who wrote several volumes on Dalit Muslims with respect to Bihar, has  underlined that the conditions of Dalit Muslims is the worst than  any other socio-religious group, and it is sad to note that these communities are forced to live under extremely inhuman levels of subsistence.

Chapter -17 titled as ‘understanding Islam’, Salman Saheb has discussed the new theological approach (ilm-al Kalam) adopted by the great Islamic Scholars like Alama Iqbal and Mualana Azdad on Islam and modernism. While discussing the role of Iqbal to modernizing the Islamic thought, Salman writes, “Iqbal is an important figure in Islamic modernism. His study of modern philosophy led him to question traditional Islamic thought in the face of modern values such as democracy, equality, civil rights and nationalism”.( P-225).

On the contrary, Hindu Right/Orientalits, Salman says that Islam and democracy is not contradictory to each other. As he writes, “the thesis that is Islam is fundamentally inconsistent with democracy is misleading, by relying upon limited historical evidence in the development of democracy and ignoring the experience of Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, etc”( P-229).

In the aftermath of 2019 elections, Salman wrote the major idea behind writing this book, “This book will hopefully remain reminder of the vision blurred by the march of events: a solemn celebration of the Gandhi and Nehruvian idea of India. More than that, hopefully, it will be a reference manual for a new generation of Indians (Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Parsees, Atheists, agnostics, el al) to reclaim that idea.” (P -299)

To conclude this, no doubt, Salman Saheb in this book has vividly underlined a range of issues like Islam, Indian Muslims, citizenship rights, the role of Muslim leaders and organizations in the making of inclusive and progressive India, enshrined in our secular Constitution. However, after the recent rise of the Hindu nationalist forces, the image of Muslims and Islam have been created as something that they are not loyal to their own country and questions are often raised on their patriotic credentials, as earlier done by M.S Golwalkar in his book,  ‘We or our Nationhood Redefine’, 1935. As Golwalkar in his book writes, “those only are nationalist patriots, who, with the aspiration to glorify the Hindu race and nation next to their heart, are prompted into activity and strive to that goal. All others are either traitors and enemies to the National cause, or, to take a charitable view, idiots” (cited by Salaman, p-1). Therefore, the Muslims and Christians are not included in the Idea of India as imagined by Mr. Golwalkar and he deliberately argued for second class citizenship status for them.  Contrary to the Golwalkar and Hindu nationalist forces, Mr. Khurshid argues that Indian Muslims played a crucial role in the anti-colonial struggle and sided with the Indian national movement rather than supporting the two nation theory led by Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

Despite some limitations, still in order to understand the issue of citizenship, contributions of Indian Muslims in the nation building, democracy, composite nationalism, Islamic modernism, shirking secular space, diversity, nationalism,  Muslims identity, Islamic traditions, Indian renaissance and secular legacy of our founding fathers like Maulana Azad, Gandhi and Nehru, this book is a must read for social scientists, Journalists, politicians as well as general readers.

(The writer is a research scholar, University of Delhi)


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