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Anti-Muslim Prejudices: Openness To Other Faiths And Clarifying The Terms ‘Fatwa’ And ‘Madrasa’ [Part 8]

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By Karmanye Thadani:

This is the last article in this series and it shall discuss some of the miscellaneous prejudices about Muslims, starting with whether they are open to other faiths. The fourth article in this series has already clarified that all Muslim-majority countries are not similar to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia.

Historically speaking, Raskhan, a Muslim nobleman wrote hymns dedicated to Krishna and Prince Dara Shikoh, Aurangzeb’s elder brother and a Sanskrit scholar, wrote a book highlighting the similarities between the Upanishads and the Quran as viewed from a Sufi standpoint. Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, the famous Sufi saint whose shrine in Delhi attracts pilgrims of diverse faiths, had mastered yoga techniques of meditation and was acknowledged by many Hindus as siddh. The Sufi saints in Kashmir, such as Nooruddin, made frequent references to Hindu scriptures and were called rishis.


Even today, many Muslim classical musicians worship Saraswati (as the Indian Muslim journalist Syed Naqvi points out in this video – he also bashes the Pakistani state for sponsoring terrorism) and there are indeed many Muslim painters and artisans who make paintings and sculptures of Hindu deities and other mythological figures (I personally know one such Muslim painter based in Gandhinagar, the capital of Gujarat, where I lived for five years for my college education and his was the only Gujarati home in that city I ever visited; theirs is a wonderful family and didn’t let the 2002 riots adversely affect their tolerance in spite of having to live in refugee camps then, and they were devout Muslims) and some Muslims who believe in highly heterodox versions of Islam like one Mr. Khan, an Indian from ISKCON (and he is not the only practising Muslim associated with ISKCON), who explains elaborately to an open-minded Pakistani Muslim how it is possible to practise Islam and Hinduism simultaneously, and that can be accessed here – it makes an amazing read indeed, though it would be unacceptable to mainstream Muslims (though that doesn’t mean that it would be fair to call them intolerant of other faiths and there’s more about them stated later in this article). Also, there are quite a few Sanskrit scholars from the Muslim community (for reference, please see this media report ), and interestingly, the man who scripted the very popular BR Chopra serial Mahabharat in Sanskritized Hindi happens to be a Muslim, Dr. Rahi Massom Raza.

There have been several cases of Muslims funding the construction and/or repair of Hindu temples (and in Europe, a church in Manchester) and helping Hindus break fasts, Hindus have done the same for Muslims too. I personally know a Bengali Muslim who has translated Sanskrit texts to English and is simultaneously very proud of his faith, though he practises a very heterodox version of the same, but I also know of Muslims who follow their scriptures taking them literally and are very tolerant and peace-loving (these are the ‘mainstream Muslims’ referred to earlier and their version of tolerance is of the ‘live and let live’ variety but not of embracing beliefs and practices of others; in other words, they may not accept prasad from a Hindu temple or fold their hands there but won’t support killing innocent people of other faiths and would have no problem in befriending non-Muslims either), considering the same to be an integral part of being a true Muslim.

Many Muslims also accept Ram and Krishna to be among the 1.24 lakh prophets sent by Allah (the Islamic texts say every nation was sent its messenger, which would obviously include the Indians), following a poem by the poet Iqbal, a Muslim, asserting Ram as a prophet, and great Indian freedom fighter Maulana Azad’s grand-nephew wrote a very moving column in the Hindustan Times on this subject — criticizing the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) for making public statements hurting religious sentiments by questioning Ram’s existence and endorsing the view of his prophethood as a Muslim, and even Muslim preachers like Zakir Naik (overall, I happen to be his bitter critic, as I have mentioned earlier in this series, but I won’t venture into that here), who only literally follow the religious texts, have stated that there is a high possibility of Ram and Krishna being prophets.

Then, there are Hindus who accuse only Muslims of making such a big fuss about denigrations of their religion, say the offensive cartoons of Prophet Muhammad made by a Danish cartoonist, the recent film mocking Islam or other denigrations of Islam. However, looking at the issue objectively, Catholics so strongly protesting against the Dan Brown novel ‘The Da Vinci Code‘ and the movie based on it (and the protests were not always free from vandalism; those interested can see this), Hindus getting outraged at the Deepa Mehta film ‘Water‘ which only exposed the truth about the condition of widows in the 1920’s and nowhere denigrated the Hindu religion per se, before its release, to the extent of not letting it be screened in India owing to threats of violence, Sikhs turning violent against the ‘Dera Sacha Sauda‘ because their leader Ram Rahim Singh dressed up like one of the Sikh gurus or Indian Jews protesting against Anupam Kher acting as Hitler in a Hollywood movie, are far more irrational and unfounded. A dialogue in the movie ‘The Passion of the Christ‘ was not subtitled for fear of Jewish extremists turning violent and the creator of an art display offensive to Christians (the display was called ‘Piss Christ‘) faced death-threats, though the peaceful protests against the same were certainly justified. If there are threats to the Danish cartoonist’s life, there were also threats to the life of the Muslim painter MF Hussain for his portrayal of Hindu deities in a fashion that was perceived to be offensive by Hindu extremists, though it was actually not derogatory at all, considering the openness and liberalism of Hindu art over the centuries and the paintings were actually not even all that revealing. Moreover, in the context of the recent film offensive to Muslims, ‘Innocence of Muslims‘ (or rather its trailer , many prominent Muslim clerics, like the mufti of Egypt, have urged to maintain calm (for reference, see this) and many of the protests were indeed totally peaceful.

Also, speaking of the movie ‘Vishwaroopam‘, the protests were peaceful, though unwarranted, and the film had been cleared by the censor board but evoked protests before its release by those who had not even seen it, but then, sections of Dalits too had reacted in a similar manner when it came to the Tamil movie ‘Ore Oru Gramathile‘ or the Hindi movie ‘Aarakshan’, even though the latter was pro-reservation!

A clarification about the word ‘fatwa‘ is also quite warranted. A fatwa is just a religious decree to do or refrain from doing something (with no legal backing) and is basically not a death warrant. Fatwas have been issued by progressive clerics against terrorism (as has been mentioned in the previous article in this series), favouring girls’ education (e.g. have a look at this media report) and against cow slaughter to maintain communal harmony, but unfortunately, these don’t get as much media publicity as much as regressive ones like those declaring women working alongside men as being un-Islamic or even to kill critics of Islam like Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen, and these fatwas instructing to kill have given a wrong impression to many as regards the very meaning of the word fatwa (the idea of there being a fatwa on an individual, implying some sort of religiously ordained death-warrant, is a misnomer)! In fact, instead of endlessly criticizing regressive fatwas and drawing attention of Muslims towards them, the media should report progressive fatwas more.

Likewise, the word ‘madrasa‘ instantaneously only reminds many non-Muslims of terrorism, though many madrasas are very progressive institutions teaching science, geography and other such subjects other than religion and admitting people of all faiths like convent schools, and there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that most madrasas preach terrorism. To know more about madrasas, kindly check out these – 1, 2, 3 and 4. I also recall seeing a video of a self-defence class in a Muslim girls’ school, and a devout Hindu friend of mine (he rattles off Sanskrit verses at the drop of a hat) from Bihar, who happened to have studied in an Islamic school for some time, tells me that he never faced any discrimination and in fact, cherishes some of the lessons he was taught from the Quran.

This brings the series to a close. I hope it helped to clarify some misconceptions and also change the outlook of some open-minded readers, aside from giving impartial and humanistic people more solid arguments to advance for their noble cause.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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