This was arguably the most important comment on Islam that an Indian Muslim has made in a long time. But, instead of applause, Naseeruddin Shah found himself in the crosshairs of Hindu and Muslim fanatics. The actor, speaking of the return of the Taliban, said that Indian Muslims welcoming the return of “these barbarians” should remember that Indian Islam has always been different from Islam in other countries and, “that God never brings a time when it changes so much that we won’t be able to recognize it.
An attack by bearded mullahs with prayer bruises on their foreheads was no surprise. What surprised me was the virulence of the Hindutva troll attack. They laughed at him on social media with their usual nastiness, reminding him that last year he spoke out against the poisonous atmosphere Muslims have been forced to live in since Narendra Modi became prime minister. It is possible to say both things because both things are true.
It is not easy to be a Muslim in the “new” India. During Modi’s first term, cattle ranchers and meat traders were targeted and killed on suspicion of eating beef and illegally trafficking cows. During his second term, targeting extended beyond cows. Three weeks after Modi took office for the second time, Tabrez Ansari, 24, was tied to a tree and forced to sing “Jai Shri Ram” while being beaten by a crowd. By the time the police intervened, he was almost dead. He later died of his injuries. Since then, a pattern has emerged of this type of random attack. In recent weeks, an electric rickshaw driver has been beaten and forced to sing “Jai Shri Ram” as his little girl clings to his leg begging the crowd to stop. A bracelet seller was beaten up in Indore because he was in a Hindu region. He was arrested the next day because the daughter of one of his attackers accused him of assaulting her. There have been open calls to boycott Muslim stores and a social media campaign asks if there is a “conspiracy against India” that makes Muslims so important in the fruit and vegetable trade.
Now let’s talk about Indian Islam.
Mr. Shah is right when he says it is a very different religion from the brutal and barbaric religion practiced by the Taliban. People of my generation who grew up in northern India associate Islam not with prayer five times a day, but with poetry, literature, movies and music. Indian Islam did not prohibit these things. I have nostalgic memories of pre-Hindutva Delhi. It was a time when we went to mushairas and concerts every other day, a time when we went to Nizamuddin Aulia dargah on Thursday evenings to listen to qawwalis and a time when we got up early some mornings for breakfast. on ‘nihaari’ in Karim’s restaurant which is in the shadow of the Jama Masjid.
Mr. Shah is right when he says that Indian Islam has become a religion which adapts well to modernity. So it shocked me to hear a Hindutva leader say on a prime-time broadcast that there was only one type of Islam and only one type. of muslim. He then spat out the number of verses from the Quran that recommend violence against infidels and unbelievers. The other Semitic faith which regards us as “pagans” is Christianity, and it is still possible to meet missionaries in India who regard us very much as “devil worshipers”. The difference is that Christians in India have learned to deal with modernity better than Muslims.
Among Indian Muslims, a regression began to occur in the 1990s and ugly fundamentalist Islam spread across India, making its presence felt in the number of women who suddenly wandered around in black burqas, with only their eyes visible. After spending many years covering our Kashmir problem, I first noticed this in Srinagar. Then on a trip to Tamil Nadu, I noticed my taxi driver had a picture of Osama bin Laden on his dashboard and Tamil women were wearing salwar-kurtas and refused to talk to me without permission. of their Maulana. It was before September 11. After the September 11 attacks, at the start of the global war on terrorism, Indian Muslims, like Muslims around the world, began to see themselves as victims and the regression towards this medieval Taliban Islam accelerated.
Mr. Shah is right to warn Indian Muslims to preserve the Islam they were brought up with in India. It is definitely worth preserving because Indian Muslims have handled the modern world better and lived better with people of other faiths than Muslims anywhere else in the world. This is because they have learned so much from Indian religions which do not force people to follow rules and regulations which almost always end in semi-literate priests who decide your relationship with God.
With the Taliban back in Afghanistan and the Pakistani Prime Minister determined to make his country a Madinah fantasy, Indian Muslims must be very vigilant if they are to preserve their faith. Islam in India has always been different from Islam as practiced in other countries. He has enriched our culture by giving us some of the best poets, musicians, singers, writers and actors we have. He deserves to be cherished.