A common Muslim in India is at a crossroads; he is torn between finding the appropriate balance between committing to his faith and trying to make sense of the negative rhetoric and stereotypes the society conjures about him and his faith. Currently there are people arguing for civil rights of Muslims, and Muslims are also seeing those who want to smear their entire faith and say that Islam is an inherently violent religion. Its easy to be bigoted when youre ignorant, so the easiest way is education. This isnt so much a battle of what it means to be a Muslim in India. Its a greater battle between broader India, of how tolerant and open-minded it will be about minorities, about Indian values of democracy and secularism. , about recognizing how true they want to be to the Indian values of openness and freedom for all.
The distorted images of Islam stem partly from a lack of understanding of Islam among non-Muslims and partly from the failure by Muslims to explain themselves. The results are predictable: the hatred feeds on hatred. Ignorance of Islam exists both among Muslims and non-Muslims. Non-Muslims, ignorant and misunderstanding Islam, fear it. They believe it threatens their most basic values. Fantasy, conjecture and stereotypes replace fact and reality. Similarly Muslims have their own misconceptions. They, reacting to the hate and fear of non Muslims, create a kind of defensive posture within their societies and a combative environment built on militant rhetoric. In this heat and misunderstanding, the voices of peace and tolerance are drowned. We need sanity in all quarters to let the truth prevail.
Religion is often portrayed simply as a social or political construct, although for millions of people, religion is a daily practice, and the very real framework of understanding that connects human lives to a spiritual reality. Their faith is the prism through which they view the world, and their religious communities are their central environments. It is difficult to overstate the importance of faith in the lives of so many. It is evident that most people around the world would prefer to live in peace than in conflict. Yet, often the only religious voices on the front page are those speaking messages of hatred or violence, especially in stories about conflict or social tensions. But at their very core, all religions espouse peace, tolerance and compassion.
One of the best ways of breaking down barriers we have erected between faiths is building relationships and getting to know each other. Its not just a platitude, although it actually is a verse from the Quran where the Lord tells He made us different so we can get to know each other. Taking that verse to heart and getting to know other people and by coming together on issues that are common to all of us can synergize a new spirit of bonhomie. Were all concerned with education and poverty, growing inflation, surging unemployment and taxes, where we can find our common ground and work toward a better world and better future for all of us. You are constant companions are either your office colleague or your neighbours across the fence I think its about relationships. And its kind of hard to hate someone that you know personally.
An ordinary Muslim carries a lot of weight on his shoulders; having a lot of responsibility. Having responsibility to his own community and responsibility to his fellow Indians to not only convey the right impression of Islam but embody the Islamic teaching of social justice and compassion and charity. You have to be an exemplarily upright and righteous individual ; people are going to look at you and judge other Muslims based on that interactions. Ive to be on my guard all the time because I know people are looking and they generally are going to associate any actions I do as a human being as representative of my religion. Were all ambassadors of whatever we are. Youre an ambassador to your faith and ideology as you live your lives. It is not what you profess or preach that matters; it is finally your conduct that defines you and your thoughts. Your public perception is built over a period of time and is shaped by the uniformity in your speech and behaviour .Any dichotomy is bound to erode your credibility and your loyalty to your faith can very well be misperceived as disloyalty to national values. The cardinal values that underpin your faith and your patriotism are normally shared by each other: ethical conduct and a pluralist character.
Muslims need to take a larger role in calling out the media when the anti-Islam campaign is at its crescendo. We have to start saying were not going to stand for this anymore. The media has to start looking at its role in how its perpetuating the anti Islam bogey. We all get branded. We are all for free speech. But free speech comes with responsibility. I would suggest that Indians need to start asking more questions. They need to talk to Muslims who are practicing the religion and not to self styled leaders of the community. It is not the Muslim clergy that has to be the centrepiece of Muslim aspirations or his mindscape; every common Muslim is a stakeholder and his voice must be assigned appropriate weight. .Muslims need to reach out to their neighbours, but they also have to reach out to their own people too so that mutual interactions can help refining their own perceptions of other communities.
Religious belief is often portrayed as the inevitable enemy of tolerance. This caricature is deeply mistaken. Tolerance is a virtue that requires deep religious or moral conviction. Moreover, it is rooted in a conception of the self that is rich enough to ground respect among diverse people. The virtue of tolerance leads to a type of behaviour that is conducive to cohabitation by people with deeply different beliefs and practices from ones own. This disposition requires nurturing through exposure to various scriptures and the writings of great sages in order to neautralise our natural inclination to view and reject the other as a burden or threat. Sceptical accounts of religious diversity undermine this religious grounding of tolerance and threaten the very diversity they wish to preserve. The Judaeo-Christian-Muslim conception of creation in the image of God is a powerful catalyst for shaping a mindset that is conceptually very essential for tolerance. The same pluralistic approach of the Abrahamic faiths should be reciprocated by other communities
It si worth quoting Dr S Radhakrishnan, the philosopher President of India :
What counts is not creed but conduct. By their fruits ye shall know them and not by their beliefs. Religion is not correct belief but righteous living. The Hindu view that every method of spiritual growth, every path to the Truth is worthy of reverence has much to commend itself. (The Hindu View of Life, 1962)
The Quran lays stress on tolerance and compassion and calls upon its believers to respect the religion and faith of others. It allows freedom of worship to all, even the pagans. The admonition, in this regard, is very clear:
Say: O ye hat rejects faith I worship not that which you worship nor you worship that which I worship and I shall not worship that which you worship not will you worship that which I worship unto you your religion, and unto me my religion. (Q109:6)
Several of the Qurans principles bear mentioning here.
The Quran asserts that monotheistic religions derive from the Divine: “The same religion He has established for you is as that which He enjoined on Noah — and what We now reveal to you — and enjoined on Abraham, Moses, Jesus, saying, ‘Establish the religion and do not become divided therein'” (Q42:13).
The Quran further states, “Say, ‘We believe in God and in that which He has revealed to us and to Abraham, Ismail, Isaac, Jacob, the descendants and that which was revealed to Moses, Jesus and that which was revealed to the prophets from their Lord, We make no difference between one and another and we bow in submission to Him'” (Q2:136).
Thus, the Quran makes the belief in all the prophets — from Adam to Noah to Abraham to Moses to Jesus — incumbent upon Muslims. All those prophets should be respected, as should their followers.
Every Muslim knows that he is a product of an Indian cultural milieu and he has an opportunity to contribute in some way to this experiment called INDIA by drawing from a heritage that has benefits for everybody. I realize that given the popular perception of Muslims that is a difficult thing to do. But I believe the Indian spirit of innovation and optimism allows us to take on that challenge. Every day I see some representation of me in the media. Its a difficult thing to escape. I cant hide from my Muslim identity because the media shows it to me every day. So I can either withdraw into my shell or I can respond to that conversation, and so its made me a tougher person, to be honest. Its also forced me to interact with people so that they understand my reality.
I think if people feel that their lives are enriched by my presence thats the best way to fight it. If they feel that whether its because they have a Muslim friend or feel their life has been enhanced by a Muslim in some way thats better than any PR campaign or public service message. Theres always a certain level of bias initially when people meet you.. I think that the main challenge is having those conversations and getting people to a place where they stop seeing me just as a Muslim, but a fellow Indian and person of faith. Being Muslim and being Indian are compatible and go hand in hand. You dont need to compromise your faith to prove your patriotism; real patriotism is demonstrated through the timeless values of Indian civilization-fairness, justice, tolerance and pluralism.
What is the path ahead? By spreading information and having difficult conversations. In my life Ive had people say to me, I dont know any Muslims but Ill remember you when I see the news. I hope that people realize that Muslim Indians are very patriotic and love India; we see it as our home. Ive spent my life in the public sector service because I believe in the values of this country. I hope that people know that there are many Muslim Indians that feel that way. They have to be given an opportunity and to be trusted .They will always redeem this trust as they have done all these ages.
The famous Persian poet Saadi Shirazi best surmises the Quranic ethos of pluralism in his celebrated poem Bani Adam,
“All Men and Women Are To Each Other
The Limbs of a Single Body, Each of Us Drawn
From Life’s Shimmering Essence, God’s Perfect Pearl;
And When This Life We Share Wounds One Of Us
All Share The Hurt As If It Were Our Own.
You, who will not feel another’s pain
you forfeit the right to be called human.”
(Gulistan, translated by Richard Jeffrey Newman (Global Scholarly Publications 2004)
Then we have the famous verse signifying the essence and spirit of a dialogue:
Guftagu Band Na Ho Baat Se Baat Chale
Subah Tak Sham-e-Mulakaat Chale…
Regzaron Se Adavat Ke Guzar Jayenge
Khoon Ke Dariyaon Se Hum Paar Utar Jayenge
(Keep the dialogue going, one word leading to another,
The evening rendezvous lasting till dawn
We shall cross the deserts of hate
And bridge the rivers of blood).
(Ali Sardar Jafri Sarhad)
Moin Qazi is a well known banker, author and journalist .He holds doctorates in Economics and English .He received an Honorary D Litt at the World Congress of Poets at Istanbul in 1991. He is author of several books on Islam including bestselling biographies of Prophet Muhammad and Caliph Umar.
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