Sunday 23 January 2022
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Muslims Changing Amid Fierce Resistance

Women among Muslims have been at the receiving end mostly due to obscurantist practices in the community, from which they want respite and freedom, an idea that men of the faith are gradually accepting too


Vinod Shukla
Senior journalist and political commentator

Dissenting voices and demand for reform in certain Islamic practices are a global phenomenon, but such voices emanating from within the community are certainly new in India, which is gaining ground now. India, which has over 10,000 years of civilizational history, has been critically evaluating, evolving and reforming its society. But Muslims, with their 73 sects, denied any reform — rather opposed them — their reaction to the Shah Bano verdict of the Supreme Court being the most important case in point. But now people belonging to the Islamic faith are correcting such practices that do not suit the changing time. If they are not allowed to do so, they are keeping themselves away from the faith as such — obviously in a quiet manner due to the fear of being ostracised and, worse, eliminated. A testimony to the fact is a Pew Research Centre survey released earlier this year that says 6% of Indian Muslims said they did not believe in God, and this percentage was higher than that in any other religious community.

In a trip down more than three decades in history, the nation saw the voice of Arif Mohammad Khan throttled, if not silenced, when he took up the case of alimony to Shah Bano by resigning from the Rajiv Gandhi government in 1986. But he gave courage to many in the community to raise their voices in the days to come. And with the passage of time, several voices like Khan emerged from the community and they are fearlessly campaigning for reforms. A woman activist Zakia Soman was constantly fighting against triple talaq and halala until the parliament made a law against it. Another activist Shayara Bano had filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court, asking it to hold three practices — talaq-e-biddat, polygamy and nikah halala — unconstitutional as they violated Articles 14, 15, 21, 25 of the constitution.

Social activist Amber Zaidi has campaigned against triple talaq as well as halala and toured across the country to awaken women against the practice, advocating at the same time a uniform civil code and population control among Muslims. She has filed cases on the necessity of a UCC and population law in the country in the Delhi High Court and Supreme Court respectively. She has become a voice of reform in Islam from within the community, inviting the ire of radicals. She is abused, threatened and harassed by resistors to change in the community.

Lucknow-based Shaista Ambar has formed the All India Women Personal Law Board, challenging the dominance of men in matters related to the community. But there is a section of people that openly challenges radicals who, for them, misguide people of the community against anything Indian and talk of the cultural identity of Indian Muslims rather than identify with the culture of invaders like rulers during the Delhi Sultanate or Mughals.

People like Lucknow-based Syed Rizwan Ahmed, UK-based Arif Aajakia, Pakistan-based Hassan Nisar, Arzoo Kazmi and Canada-based Tarek Fateh question the behaviour of Muslims of the Indian subcontinent.

Taslima Nasreen was so vocal against radicalism in the community she belongs to that she had to flee Bangladesh and had to take asylum first in Europe and then in India from where she was chased out of West Bengal under the rule of the UPA at the centre and the CPI(M) in the state. But despite all the threats, intimidation and abuses, she did not compromise on her conviction. All these people are fighting for change at the peril of being killed.

Many leaders in the past questioned radical Islamic practices too and questioned its practices being all-encompassing. The concept of brotherhood in Islam is not universal as per Dr BR Ambedkar:

“The brotherhood of Islam is not the universal brotherhood of man. It is brotherhood of Muslims for Muslims only. There is a fraternity, but its benefit is confined to those within that corporation. For those who are outside the corporation, there is nothing but contempt and enmity.”

BR Ambedkar

It is clear from the fact that all the 73 sects of Islam are at loggerheads with one another — so much so that Ahmadiyyas are no more Muslims and Shi’ahs are kafirs for other sects. The kind of cold response they received from the community in India shook their faith when Shi’ah mosques were bombed in Afghanistan every Friday, but none from the community came out against these attacks. On the contrary, there were nationwide protests against Israel’s retaliatory attacks in Palestine against the provocation by Hamas.

Allegedly, the unaccommodating nature of the community is driving many away from the community and a movement of ex-Muslims is gradually becoming a mass movement due to various behavioural issues with the community at large. The growing tribe of ex-Muslims in India may be shy of coming out in public, but they articulate their anxieties and concerns through social media platforms, including Facebook, YouTube, Reddit, Instagram, etc. In India, it has a historical perspective as the community wants to behave like the mediaeval ruling class in the country but plays the cards of poverty and victimhood in juxtaposition. They claim that rulers built the Red Fort, Taj Mahal, Qutb Minar and many other such monuments but want the Sacchar Commission report to be implemented, including the unconstitutional demand in it for religious reservation and Shari’ah laws. Recently, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board has gone to the extent of demanding a blasphemy law while opposing UCC in India.

The fairer tribe of the community has been at the receiving end mostly due to the archaic practices in the community from which they want respite in some cases and freedom from certain others. Nasreen was forced out of Kolkata and attacked in Hyderabad by radical elements. The most interesting thing is that people try to justify their acts by quoting the constitution.

Disenchantment with Islam is such that a daughter of Indonesia’s founding father and first president Sukmawati Sukarnoputri converted from Islam to on 26 October 2021 with her followers. Another such disenchanted person was Syed Waseem Rizwi, former Shi’ah Waqf Board chief, who was taking up issues of Ram temple by filing petitions in the Supreme Court like one where he said Mir Baqi was a Shi’ah and so only a Shi’ah could stake claim on the disputed structure in Ayodhya. He demanded that around a dozen Hindu temples demolished and replaced with mosques should be handed over to Hindus. He was speaking against terrorism. He wrote a book on Prophet Mohammed. He claims that his life is under threat for speaking the truth, but he is not ready to take things lying down. When he did not find an answer, he converted to Hinduism while he was already rejected from Islam as he says. Rizvi became Jitendra Narayan Singh Tyagi on 6 December 2021.

But unlike in the past when people were not ready to speak against wrong or humiliating practices, they are now accepting it with mass support. The practice of Mehram — women travelling to Haj must compulsorily be accompanied by male guardians — was also done away with by the union government with such an ease that clearly indicates people accepting these reforms. But what is really driving people away from the faith are threats, violent behaviour and radicalism. There is also a feeling among Muslims that despite Hindus literally pampering them for long, they remained rude to them and did not miss any opportunity to hurt the sentiments of people in general and humiliate them.

The action taken by Rizvi-turned-Tyagi is the manifestation of cumulative anger against such behaviour for ages. There are innumerable such people waiting for this to happen as people have been asking Tyagi how to convert. It’s to be seen how Muslims, by and large, respond to such changes, as people are not ready to take scholars on their face value with their stereotype.

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