Choking the Space

BY: Mehboob Makhdoomi:

Broaden your horizons, overlook your disagreements, understand the situation and stand up for freedom of expression!

India is fast turning into a massively Islamophobic country, with very little room left for its Muslims to, simultaneously- practice their faith and be respected. The two have become a luxury & mutually-exclusive to each other. Apart from this trend being extra-constitutional, it can have alarming Socio-politico-economic ramifications. Not only is this hurtful to the Indian Muslims, but it is calamitous for India as a nation. 200 million Muslims is too colossal a population to be pushed under the rug of the minority argument.

The latest example is a media-trial of Dr. Zakir Naik. Some may argue that it’s the individual being attacked and not Islam. What is Islam to them? Agreed-Islam of extremists is No Islam, but their Islam is no Islam either. As long a Muslim doesn’t harm others, he should be allowed to have his own set of beliefs & practice his religion. However, for today’s India, that’s not the case. If your lifestyle is different from theirs, you taste prejudice.

Muslims in Bollywood do everything Islam prohibits them to do. So, they’re respected and in fact used as strategic assets to prove how Muslims can shine in the country. On the contrary, if you abstain from alcohol, don’t get into wrong relationships because of your religion, don’t go clubbing owing to the same reason, sport a beard/wear an Abhaya, you’re a misfit in Indian society. You’re a fundamentalist and an extremist too.

Dr Zakir Naik

I’m sure we all agree that there’s no way you’ll be respected. All these habits are your personal choices which doesn’t cause any damage to others, then why this negative prejudice. Why is it necessary for Muslims to exactly adopt their lifestyle, to integrate and be one of them? This is Islamophobia and this is the reason why Dr. Zakir Naik is a new target. He is no security threat but his beliefs, and his preaching is not in sync with, & are unpalatable to the current majority taste in India. And when their youngsters showed interest in his talks, he became an eye sore. Hence, the hatred.

I won’t even delve deep into the naïve accusations they’ve made against Dr. Naik, one of them being that he called on all the Muslims to be terrorists. It was in the context of a terror where a cop terrorizes a robber. Or else why would a ‘supporter of violence’ call upon his followers to be ‘terrorists’-a pejorative term, instead of a glorified one. A one minute investment into that video makes it evident. The point is that those who have accused him have watched the video and know it clearly doesn’t mean what they say it does, then why do they say what they say? The answer is they were looking for an excuse. These elements could not face his arguments, so this is how they retort.

Besides, following somebody on Facebook doesn’t necessarily mean your liking for the person, it could also mean inquisitiveness. And even if you like someone & are influenced by him, it doesn’t necessarily translate into your agreement with him, in entirety. The Dhaka attackers followed one bollywood actress too- who I’m sure didn’t radicalize them. That side of their personality was different from the infuriated side which led them to kill people. Indeed, Dr. Naik has his own view on international politics. Yes, he believes 9/11 was an insider’s job. That however is not tantamount to its justification, in any way.

One may agree/disagree with his opinion. Yes, he believes the United States’ foreign policy led to annihilation of thousands of innocent people and amounts to State terrorism. At the same time, he condemns suicide bombing and killing innocent human beings-Muslim or Non-Muslim. He did condemn 9/11, 7/7, 26/11 & even the Dhaka shoot-out. He’s the first scholar who introduced critical-questioning and logic to Islamic debates, which was considered to be anathema till then. It’s been about a decade that I haven’t listened to him, not because I like/dislike him but I found more commonalities and connection with few other contemporary scholars, given the places I lived in & the challenges I faced. However, that doesn’t bar me from calling a spade a spade.

It must be noted that Dr. Zakir Naik is an Indian Muslim, who a) opposed the Two-Nation theory, hence the creation of Pakistan b) publicly said that Muslims of India could cut their heads to defend their country and, c) called ISIS an ‘Anti-Islamic State’. This is the best an Indian Muslim could do to show loyalty to the state. Alas! Even this is not enough. This indicates ever-shrinking space for an independent Muslim thought in India. You’ve to keep on proving yourself, failing which you’re a traitor. If that was not the case, why would have there been no action against Yogi Adityanath & his ilk, who publicly asked his followers to exhume Muslim women from graves and rape them, while a Muslim scholar of international repute is being accused of something he hasn’t done?

Unfortunately, there’s another facet to it. Some Muslims, who have differences with his interpretations, are teaming up with Islamophobes to slander Dr. Naik. They’re taking sadistic pleasure out of it. What they fail to understand is that if it’s him today, it could be them tomorrow. At this juncture, they should get over their sectarian bias against him in the larger interest of Islam in the subcontinent, because Islamophobes don’t care about your sect; they just can’t withstand Islam. Therefore, I say, broaden your horizons, overlook your disagreements, understand the situation and stand up for Dr. Naik.

Mehboob Makhdoomi is a Harvardian & an MBA from Pennsylvania University (IUP) United States with a Research degree from Cardiff University, United Kingdom. 

makhdoomi.mehboob6@gmail.com