Last week I spent a good amount of my time understanding some trivial Hindu-Muslim divisionary debates in the country. It seemed as if a Mohalla cricket match was taking place, and each one was supposed to pick up a side to hoot opponents or cheer their favourites.
It started with some ongoing narratives that have long played a divisionary role in dividing Hindus and Muslims in India. Some versions remain half-baked, concocted, or misinformed, yet several influential people jumped the fence across the globe, taking sides. The Indian Muslims were portrayed as victims who needed urgent solidarity globally in their last stage. Only what remained unclear was what that support meant to achieve?
When the country debated Halal and Hijab matters, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) released a video message for Indian Muslims. However, both the issues are being heard in Indian courts. Secretary Maulana Janab Khalid Saifullah Rahmani said, “Muslims in India lived in more pressing times than in 1857 or 1947.” In his statement, Maulana Rahmani asked Muslims not to fall prey to communal forces and get incited.
Firstly, the statement is historically faulty. It was not Hindus or Muslims who were dealt with during the 1857 uprising when the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar – the leader of the Indian side, lost to the British. Secondly, in 1947, the Hindu and Muslim divide was one of its worst. Yet, leaders of that time weaved the idea of a secular India. The history of both incidents is immensely gory and disturbing. It is a shared history and equally painful. Scholars still figure out that the Indian poor and the disadvantaged from all communities were equally affected from all sides. The impact of the bloodshed then actually unified a battered nation that we call India today.
The Muslim scholars of today should refrain from further adding fuel to the fire that was extinguished long back. These statements incite hate, instil fear in the community, and are not in community service. AIMPLB is a non-government body; whether truly representational of Muslims of India or not is another matter, but it must play a larger role in bridging divisions. Fueling people’s baser instincts cause more harm than any good to the people and the nation.
As if the AIMPLB statement was not enough, in another video Al-Qaeda chief Ayman Al Zawahiri from an unknown location jumped into the Karnataka Hijab controversy and displayed his love for the young Muslim girl by shouting Allah hu Akbar. It is surprising to see a prominent member of a terror outfit, who, for their own stringent beliefs against women’s rights to education, suddenly have all the good words for a woman of another country. Shouldn’t Indian Muslim women think twice about what would have happened if a woman had acted in the same manner in the Taliban regime? Sensing the gravity of the situation, the girl’s father distanced himself from Zawahiri’s out-of-turn support for Indian Muslims.
Also, U.S Congresswoman Ilhan Omar cited the human rights issues of Muslims in India, encouraging her government to criticize the Indian government. Her intentions must be genuine, but it is debatable whether it reflects the true story and the rightful comparisons with other nations that she mentioned.
We understand that every quarter is tangled in a conflicting tone these days, from internal politics to foreign policies. While Indians usually refrain from interfering in matters of other countries except through well-established channels, these ways of raising issues of Muslims of India does more harm than good for the community itself. For example, a prominent advocacy group in the U.S., the Indian American Muslim Council, built objectional narratives about the Indian Muslim genocide and Muslim’s otherness through their Twitter handle.
That’s why the genuineness of their intention for the well-being of Muslims in India is questionable. Social Media indeed builds narratives but has created real-life effects, which could be harmful to the unity and peace of the nation and its people. Suppose all these people, besides just the intention of India bashing, have better plans. In that case, they should focus on community resilience and development in the fields of Muslim woman’s education, employment, and wellbeing.
India is a nation of two hundred and twenty million Muslims. It is now said to be the second-largest nation for Muslims globally. Indeed, the community struggles with the basic needs of life. But then, all disadvantaged people across the country suffer from the same fate. Dividing the country on the grounds of Hindus and Muslims will only create further ill will and disharmony.
(Author is Professor and Director, Forum for Muslim Studies and Analysis (FMSA), INDIA and also Former Media Advisor, Aligarh Muslim University. He may be contacted [email protected] )