Something is churning deep in the heart of Indian Islam, which calls for careful watching and deep analysis, as there are no obvious answers. Yet even a surface view shows that orthodox Muslims, especially religious leaders and scholars, wish to change the old grumpy don´t-enter-my-ghetto approach towards the Hindu majority. At the same time, the contours of a schism between secular Muslims and rooted-in-Islam Muslims are becoming apparent, and this calls for investigation.
One does not know when this shift took place, but the controversy over the Danish cartoons lampooning the Prophet has made it evident. As some politicians have raised the cartoon controversy in connection with Tuesday´s (March 7) blasts in Varanasi, it may be pertinent to begin here.
The linking of the cartoons with the bombs that took several lives in the holiest Hindu city suggests that the blasts are an Indian Muslim response to what happened in a European country. This is possible as some years ago, a famous American evangelist said something on a popular talk show in his own country and riots broke out in Sholapur, Maharashtra. The local MP went on to become the chief minister.
This time, however, there are reasons to believe that Indian Muslims are not interested in such contrived reactions to promote the political careers of non-Muslims. Nor are they interested in a sterile anti-Hindu approach towards securing their interests and ambitions in this country. That is why, when the cartoon controversy broke out, for the first time in public memory, a member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board conceded that a fellow Muslim was offending Hindu sentiments by painting goddesses, particularly the Saraswati, and Bharat Mata, in the nude.
Kamal Faruqi said he found the paintings shocking and unacceptable. There were no puerile excuses, such as Husain is not a practicing Muslim; his birth in a Muslim family establishes his Muslim identity. Later, the same view was espoused by the Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid, the man who once justified Taliban iconoclasm against the Bamiyan Buddhas. Yet, after condemning the nude Saraswati at a protest rally one Friday, the Imam further condemned the placement of Rama and Sita on tissue paper by a western firm.
This unique sensitivity towards revered Hindu icons suggests that the religious leadership and orthodox elements in the Muslim community want to prevent a communal divide and confrontation in India. This is partly because the Muslim leadership feels that violence is counter-productive, but more pertinently because the leadership of the international Ummah feels that Muslims must have political agency in their homelands. This means western domination of Islamic countries in the Gulf must be reversed, and further, that Muslims must have a stake in power in the western countries where they have sizeable populations, but no voice.
Since domination of hinterland nations like India makes no sense if one does not own one´s own heartland, Islam must logically seek to defuse its violent face in India and seek amity with its Hindu neighbours. The mindless offer of a Rs 51 crore bounty for the head of unknown Danish cartoonists by a foolish minister in UP does not detract from this argument. But the provocation in the Congress-ruled Hyderabad and the Varanasi blasts which have taken innocent lives is truly disturbing.
If, as the Mulayam Singh Government believes, the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) is behind the mayhem, and a terrorist killed in Lucknow is a Pakistani, then it follows that orthodox Indian Muslim leaders are distancing themselves from Pakistan, jehadi terrorism, and anti-Hindu misdemeanours. These leaders were quick to condemn the violence. It is, therefore, likely that they will privately command the faithful that jehad in India is a tool of western imperialism and jehadis are mercenaries of an anti-Islam conspiracy. This is, of course, not an act of altruism towards the Hindu community, but because peace in India is imperative for the inevitable conflict in Europe.
Sadly, it appears that forces are working to push Hindus and Muslims into a conflict neither side desires, and political leaders across the spectrum would do well to conduct themselves with caution and decorum. Congress has said it will act maturely, but the opposition BJP has unfortunately created the opposite impression. While the initial spontaneous reaction of party president Rajnath Singh was nuanced and careful, the subsequent hijacking of the issue by leaders who announced bandhs and yatras has created a wrong impression. Actually, bandhs are last century´s weapons and have outlived their utility.