Photo: U.S. President Donald Trump and his wife Melania Trump (fourth from right) arrive at UN headquarters for the general debate of the General Assembly’s 72nd session. Also pictured, Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed (third from right). 19 September 2017. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas. - Photo: 2021

Muslims Must Speak Out

Viewpoint by Rahul Singh

The writer is a former Editor of Reader’s Digest, Indian Express and Khaleej Times (Dubai). He is presently a columnist for the Tribune, and a freelance writer.

NEW DELHI (IDN) — Two persons have been in the news lately, both connected to films: Actor Naseeruddin Shah, and lyricist Javed Akhtar. I don’t know them personally, except that I once played tennis with Naseeruddin and interviewed Javed for a major Indian daily. But that was many years ago.

They are both in the news, because of two closely linked events: The 20th anniversary of the infamous terrorist attack on the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Centre, and the recent takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban. These two events have thrown a harsh spotlight on the Muslim community.

How have they reacted? That is the question that I shall pose, while discussing religious fundamentalism in other faiths as well.

The New York terrorist attack, widely known as “9/11”, shocked the entire world, and was condemned by all, except for some Muslim fanatics spewing venom on the USA.

The tyrannical rule of the Taliban over Afghanistan, from 1996 to 2001, characterized by the oppression of women—girls were banned from going to school and women from working—and the practice of what can only be called a barbaric interpretation of the Sharia law, darkened the already unflattering image of Muslims.  

Their demonization is bound to increase with the recent and sudden withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan, and the Taliban triumph. The present Taliban says it will be very different from the old Taliban.

However, there is little to support this. On the contrary, the earlier anti-women stance continues. When a Taliban spokesman was asked about the future role of women in his country, his reply was, “To give birth”!

Yet, two prominent members of the high-sounding All-India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), its Secretary, Maulana Umrain Mahfuz Rahmani, and its national spokesperson, Maulana Sajjad Noimani, came out publicly in support of the Afghan Taliban, praising the outfit.

Here are some of their quotes in a leading Indian paper: “It (the Taliban takeover) will now bring an era of peace for Afghanistan and the region”, “You (the Taliban) have got a chance to show Islam is a religion of peace”, and finally, that the Taliban had won, “Not with means and resources but belief and faith”, and that the victory was “a heavenly decision”. Well, we will have to see if the Taliban ushers in “an era of peace” and if it really was a “heavenly decision”.

The AIMPLB distanced itself from what these two Muslim worthies had to say about the Taliban, but the question needs to be asked, why did it not remove them from the high positions they presently hold, or at least condemn them, and thereby force them to resign? Do these two maulanas, Rarmani and Noimani, truly believe that the only role of women is “to give birth” and that women should not take part in any sport?

Which takes me back to what Naseeruddin Shah and Javed Akhtar had to say. Naseeruddin labelled the Taliban “barbaric”, rejecting its interpretation of Sharia, saying it was a distortion of the teaching of Islam. He called the Taliban “thekedars” of religion, an apt description. Islam needed to be reformed, he added, but the die-hard Islamists have repeatedly declared that there can never be any reform to a religion that is perfect.

Javed has gone a step further and compared the Taliban to the Rashtriya Sevak Sangh (RSS), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), and the Bajrang Dal. Just as the Taliban wants an Islamic state, he says, the RSS wants a “Hindu Rashtra”. To me, that is simply stating the reality.

But it was a red rag to the BJP bull, which turned on him with fury. Javed softened his stand by writing in the Shiv Sena mouthpiece, “Saamna”, that Hinduism was the most “decent” and “tolerant majority” religion in the world.

I have juxtaposed the miserably-performing AIMPLB, with what Naseeruddin Shah and Javed Akhtar have said. But why have some other well-known and respected Muslim bigwigs been so silent?

Naseeruddin is a relatively minor film personality, compared to the likes of Amir Khan, Shahrukh Khan, and Saif Ali. They have all had multi-faith marriages and have courageously stuck their necks out earlier when it mattered. Why not now?

Asaduddin Owaisi, a four-time Lok Sabha, with considerable credibility among Muslims, also needs to come out more forcefully against fundamentalist groups like the Taliban. As does the Syedna, the spiritual leader of the two-million-strong progressive Indian Bohras. They, too, follow the Sharia law, but their interpretation of it does not stone women found guilty of adultery to death.

Virtually every faith has its loony fundamentalist fringe. Islamic fundamentalism has hogged the news lately. But Hindu fundamentalism is not very far behind, with senior ministers calling Muslims “termites” and “traitors” who should be shot, not to mention cow vigilantes out to lynch those they suspect of transporting cattle illegally.

Sikh fundamentalism had also reared its ugly head earlier, with Bhindranwale and the Khalistan movement. Even Christianity has its fundamentalists. In 1925, a landmark “Scopes Monkey Trial”, as it was called, took place, in which a three-times US Presidential candidate, Willian Jennings Bryan, argued against the Darwinian theory of evolution, as he felt it went against the teachings of the Bible (he lost).

The extreme form of fundamentalism climaxed with perhaps the worst crime against humanity of our times, the “Holocaust”, during which six million Jews were killed by the Nazis, while the other “Christian” nations did nothing.  

But the truth of the matter is that in no country have the fundamentalists been in a majority. They have invariably been on the fringes. Most people, even in Taliban-run Afghanistan, are basically decent and peace-loving, though afraid to speak out against their oppressors.

But speak out they must, as the women protestors did the other day in Afghanistan, at risk to their lives. It is not good enough for non-Muslims to criticize the excesses of some Muslim fundamentalists. The criticism and the opposition must come from within. That is what really hurts the fundamentalists. [IDN-InDepthNews – 08 November 2021]

Photo credit: The Indian Express

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