Shafi Sheikh sells shoes in south Mumbai's Muslim-dominated Dongri area. He supports his family of four by working at his shop from 11 in the morning till 10 at night.
But on Thursday, September 11, he plans to shut his shop and join many other Muslims across Mumbai to protest Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's visit to the city.
Says Shafi: "Sharon is a terrorist. He has killed hundreds of innocent people. He is an enemy of Islam. He has occupied the Masjid-e-Aqsa, our holy place in Jerusalem. He has no respect for my religion and wants to wipe out Muslims from the world."
As Sharon makes a historic visit to India, Muslim organizations across the country are holding demonstrations to voice their dissent to an Israeli premier's first-ever Indian trip.
Posters dubbing him 'an international terrorist' have appeared across Kerala, especially in the Muslim-dominated
Malappuram district. In Delhi, Hyderabad and Lucknow, slogan-shouting Muslims denounce Sharon as a
man who has been 'massacring innocent Palestinians.'
"It is ridiculous that the Vajpayee government should be seeking Sharon's advice on ways to combat terrorism," says Abdullah Wahab, a senior leader of the Jamaat-e-Hind's Kerala wing.
"It is preposterous to discuss strategies to counter terrorism with a person who has failed to contain terrorism in his
own country," Wahab pointed out, adding: "The Vajpayee government's love for Sharon represents the application of
the unethical principle according to which your enemy's enemy is your friend."
Wahab says all lovers of peace in India should protest Sharon's visit. "There is a hidden agenda behind the talks
between Sharon and Vajpayee. We should expose that," the Jamaat-e-Hind leader alleged.
Maulana Mohamad Saeed Noori, a Muslim cleric in Mumbai, promises "to greet Sharon with black flags at the airport and gherao his Mumbai visit. He is a murderer and a terrorist like Osama bin Laden. I would say he is worse than Hitler and Genghis Khan."
Maulana Noori is upset that the government has refused to divulge information about Sharon's one-day visit to Mumbai. "Whenever a foreign leader comes to India his itinerary is released in advance. In Sharon's case no one knows when he is expected in the city. He is coming like a thief to our city," the cleric said.
The discord over Sharon's visit has spread to the city's streets. Inaayat Qureshi, a fruit vendor in a south Mumbai street, asked rediff.com, "What was the need to invite Sharon? The Europeans don't allow Sharon to set foot in their countries. Why are we welcoming him? We are destroying our friendship with the Arab countries by inviting him."
Qureshi felt the Vajpayee government was sending wrong messages to the Indian Muslim community and the Arab world by inviting Sharon. "Our country always enjoyed confidence of the Arab countries. Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, was close to India when the Congress government was in power. God knows what he must now be thinking about our country," he added.
Syed Vicaruddin, chairman of the Hyderabad-based Indo-Arab League and editor of the Urdu daily Rahnuma-e-Deccan, believed Sharon's "ill-conceived visit has aroused very strong emotions among Indians. Even those who considered Prime Minister Vajpayee a secular person are having second thoughts today because he is playing host to Sharon, a war criminal responsible for massacres in Palestine and Lebanon."
"Right from the time of Mahatma Gandhi," Vicaruddin said, "we have been committed to the cause of Palestine. That has been the cornerstone of our foreign policy all these decades. Arafat has been a very close friend of India. The BJP government has dumped India's traditional foreign policy into the Arabian Sea and courted Israel and Sharon. Our blood boils at this betrayal."
Vicaruddin said the Palestinian struggle for restoration of their homeland could not be equated with what is happening in Jammu and Kashmir. Israel committed aggression and occupied the Arab territories in the 1967 Six-Day War, he said.
Ever since, Israel has defied the world and refused to abide by UN resolutions to withdraw from the occupied territories, including Jerusalem.
Asaduddin Owaisi, leader of the hardline Majlis-e-Ittehaadul Muslimeen in Andhra Pradesh, felt the BJP "wants to have a strong alliance with Israel and the United States," claiming that L K Advani's first visit as deputy prime minister was to the State of Israel.
Owaisi, a member of the state legislative assembly, added that Chief Minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu is also a fan of the Israelis. "Naidu invited the Israelis to set up a demonstration farm for drip irrigation technology in his constituency, Kuppam," he said.
This Israeli drip irrigation technology, Owaisi claimed, is being replicated in more districts in Andhra Pradesh. "But this
technology, experts say, is not at all useful to the state. The Muslims here see a larger design other than drip irrigation
technology in the growing relations of Andhra Pradesh with Israel," he said.
"In today's world," said Maulana Rizwan-ul-Qasimi, member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, "anybody can go anywhere, but Sharon's visit to India raises some serious doubts. What is the BJP government going to discuss with him? Do the discussions centre around efforts to promote peace in the world, particularly in troubled regions like West Asia? Or do the deliberations lead to a nexus of sorts, a conspiracy to thwart the peace process in Israeli-occupied Palestine?"
Design: Uttam Ghosh