“Man is either your brother in faith or you are equal in humanity.”
We see this famous quote by Ali ibn Abi Talib (R.A.), the fourth Muslim caliph and undisputed authority on Islam. It quite essentially captures the essence of secularism in Islam, in simpler terms. Islam comes from the root word sal’m which means peace, and as a whole, it is peace attained by submitting to the Will of God. Islam prohibits monasticism and encourages followers to be involved in the affairs of the world, which is by definition the meaning of the word ‘secularism’.
We refer to secularism in terms of tolerance towards other religions and living in harmony with them, but the trend lately is shifting towards a very different approach to the concept. Today, I think, our minds identify secularism largely as ‘without God’ — an approach to almost all practices and aspects of our life without the concept of God.
The fabric of tolerance has been stretched too leniently in India these past few years. Recent politics aims to create a divide between the communities based on anything that can be used to manipulate the existing tranquility. We witnessed horrendous events against people belonging to the marginalized sectors and minorities. Being a Muslim and a student of a marked varsity, I have experienced some of that hostility myself. I wake up to hear almost every day about the various lynchings that take place, acts of hatred, intolerance, and antagonism just because of the religion we practice.
Being a Muslim in today’s India is painting a target on your back. We have to acknowledge at some point that these acts are specifically fueled by hatred towards the Muslim community. In my opinion, this hatred is nourished by people in power who wish to stay in power by creating a reality where Muslims are painted as enemies and schemers. Laws are being introduced that add validity to that hatred and any dissent against such laws or acts is called out as anti-national.
Be it Shaheen Bagh or various other protest sites all over the country, Muslims have been integral to them. They are on the frontlines raising their voice against the injustices, along with people of other communities who feel discomfort about the direction India is moving towards these days.
The fight against oppression is strong, but Muslims face a new kind of confusion, the question of an ‘acceptable Muslim identity’?
Muslims fear alienating their fellow non-Muslim compatriots and the ‘secular’ non-Muslims are hesitant to accept a practicing, non-moderate Muslim, because the current profiling depicts a fully practicing Muslim as a creature of ignorance, barbarism, and atrocity. If you say slogans like La Illaha Illallah or Allah hu Akbar, or if you brandish a beard with a skull-cap, or if you just generally refrain from going against the guidelines of your Islamic theology, you might find yourself fighting alone against the oppression.
Some Muslim writers advocate for a moderate approach and highlight the consequence of estranging our non-muslim brothers and sisters in this struggle. They promote a ‘non-existent’ moderate approach, and I say non-existent because Islamic doctrine is the word of the Holy Quran and the life of the prophet Muhammad. It cannot be edited or amended for the convenience of prevailing sentiments against the religion.
To be able to practice religion freely as guaranteed by the Constitution of India is a right of every Muslim and the preservation of a full Muslim identity should not be an embarrassment. If this is a fight for the sanctity of the Constitution, how can it be at the expense of the very thing it insures to protect? No religion advocates inhumanity, injustice, or cruelty, and Islam is no exception.
If Muslims are categorized into moderate and extremist sects, into good and bad, the identity crisis will worsen and it will be irresponsible of self-proclaimed secular Muslims that are legitimizing the claims of Islamophobes by creating an amended and edited Muslim identity to make our non-Muslim compatriots feel convenient. Tolerance is about living in harmony and accepting customs and traditions that are different than ours. We cannot invalidate a particular religious identity and ask them to disregard aspects of their practice if we truly hope for equality and justice.