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Doodh ka doodh, paani ka paani

June 16, 2003

Too much enthusiasm is not a good thing. So fired up was I by the news item on the Muslim Youths of India that I didn't heed the not-so-subtle hints from my pal at when I was pestering him for the organisation's whereabouts. I feel all the more stupid since said pal happens to be a rational Muslim and anything less than a passionate advocacy from him should itself have alerted me that something wasn't... er, kosher. So, next thing, I landed up talking to Syed Khan, the convener of MY India, with the intention of fixing an appointment for an interview. We never reached that stage: the preliminary Q&A over the phone quickly turned into an argument -- one which I knew there was no point in continuing.

According to Mr Khan, The Telegraph had picked up the story at a seminar on 'Muslims against Terrorism,' in which he spoke on the genesis of terrorism. The seminar was attended by the press; which is not the same as saying it was covered by the press: Leave alone the 'national' broadsheets, I couldn't find anything on it even in the city papers. Now I think, each ideological section of the media had its own sweet reason for sweeping the thing under the carpet: Embarrassment, contempt, insider knowledge, boredom, fright, whatever.

The thing about Syed Khan is that once he begins speaking, it's difficult to get a word in edgeways. Even before I could ask him anything -- and I mean 'anything' -- at all, I learnt that educated but unemployed Muslim youngsters had attended the 2 jihad camps in Mumbai; the divide between Hindus and Muslims is too wide; 'jihad' is a highly misunderstood concept, and what it really signifies; all the Hindu-Muslim problems are the creation of a US-Pakistan conspiracy as both countries do not want a strong India; POTA is a terrible law and must be abrogated; the Samajwadi Party's forthcoming anti-POTA rally, in support of the accused in the Ghatkopar/Mulund blasts, is totally wrong and reeks of political opportunism to further exploit its vote bank.

Frankly, though I do not subscribe to some of these views, I have no quarrel with others holding them. I mean, my eyes do not instantly squint with suspicion if someone says that POTA is against human rights, or that the communal divide is created by the US, or that unemployment produces jihadis (working doctors and professors trained in Mumbai's terror camps). These aren't necessarily pointers to leftism; one can think such asinine things and still be an asset to India (although a very dim one, hehehehe).

What will come as a shock to you, I reject the view that Muslims need to recite Vande Mataram and respect the very Hindu concept of Bharat Mata to "prove" their Indian-ness. When Mr Khan -- without my asking, of course -- declared that, as a Muslim, he refuses to pray to a nation-goddess, I thought: that's fine, doesn't bother me; I respect your commitment to your religious tenets, as long as you don't abuse my feelings by protesting, under the guise of "multiculturalism," the hymn's chanting in schools and public functions.

I don't know how Mr Khan would have reacted to that. For, before I could say it aloud, he had already launched into Punjab: In reference to the recent Islamic terrorism in Mumbai, he said, "I feel the government knows everything but they are waiting for the correct time to move and finish it off. Like they had done in Punjab; all the young people of Punjab were gone. The plan is to clear the youths to end the terrorism."

That's when my alarm bells started ringing. "Plan"...? "Clear off"...? KPS Gill "clearing off" Sikh youth...? Is this what's going to propagated in Maharashtra's towns and villages -- shun jihad or face ethnic cleansing by the "Hindu nationalist" government...? No, no, something was very wrong here. My eyes finally narrowed. It was time to ask the million dollar question -- the only one which instantly makes for doodh ka doodh, paani ka paani...

I firmly interrupted: "Mr Khan, what is your position on the Uniform Civil Code?"

"What is the need for the uniform code? Why should anybody insist that Muslims must obey it? Aren't we doing fine with the codes we already have?"

"Do you realise that a major grievance of Hindus is that Muslims have separate civil laws and this is considered to be a privilege and an appeasement of the minority?"

"We are Muslims, we have the Shariah and we must live under the Shariah. The Constitution guarantees us our religious rights."

"The Constitution also says that the UCC must be implemented. What about that?"

"Yes, yes, but the Shariah is holy to us and so we must follow it."

"Then, why don't you insist on following the criminal laws of the Shariah? Why don't you insist on Muslim thieves having their hands lopped off?"

"That's because India already has secular criminal laws. How can we change that?"

"India has them because Muslims didn't and don't ask for the Shariah's criminal decrees. Why is that?"

"I will be happy if total Shariah is implemented. But I don't know if that will be possible. Why do people take this small thing and make it into an issue?"

"If you support nationalism, how do you say that different communities must have different laws?"

"Dekhiye, it does not come between nationalism."

"But it divides people. If you're for nationalism, shouldn't you be working to first erase the root causes for that division, removing the things that cause anger in one community against the other?"

"All these problems are actually caused by the Hindu fundamentalists. Muslims react, they think all their rights will be taken away."

And so on and so forth till I realised that the crux of Syed Khan's argument -- Muslims Must Obey The Shariah Because The Shariah Is Holy -- stood like an iron curtain between his ears and his brain. No logic, no rationale can penetrate such a curtain -- and it's no use trying. There can be no reasonable answer because there is no thought, no reflection over a question. What emerges from the lips is only a centuries-old parroting, and such parroting is what generates religious fundamentalism of the worst kind. No rationalism, no nationalism, no humanism, can exist in such people. That is evident in the Hindus who believe the cow to be holy, or who bolster casteism by justifying it with cockamamie theories. It is manifest in the Christians who seek to convert the "savages" to their faith.

Ultimately, following a religion without one's being founded in common sense, leads only to bloodshed.

With Islam, however, that danger is maximised. For, unlike Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity, Islam is not about spirituality. Nor does it encourage intellectual debate as does Judaism -- in the yeshivas, students learn the Torah by questioning and arguing with the Rabbi. All structured religions have had a period of reformation, splitting them into orthodox and reformist components -- ie, all except Islam. And that's because not only is Islam, above all, an autocratic political credo -- one designed to conquer foreign lands and peoples -- but it has also been a highly successful one: The "religion of peace" holds sway over nearly all of Africa, most of Asia and more than a quarter of Europe. Why would such a people feel the need to take into consideration another people's views on political and civil life...? Perhaps, George W Bush and his neocons are the best thing to happen to Islam -- adversity just may give rise to rectification...

Syed Khan was quoted as having said that "for long people have put religion over nation and it's time to change that... Community, whosoever it is, should not come ahead of nation." And now he can't put a national civil code ahead of his religion...? Bullshit. I should have listened to, and not just heard, what my friend had said, and which Mr Khan confirmed to me: that he used to be a SIMI activist. I'd thought, so what, anybody can reform! But the truth is, hyenas don't lose their stripes.

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Varsha Bhosle

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