Thursday, November 23, 2006

MAHMOOD FAROOQUI (via Amardeep Singh) on the complex position the modern secular Muslim finds himself in India.

I am eager to tell the world that Muslims of the past were different, as they indeed were, but the hidden presumption is that the current Indian Muslims are a fallen lot, in need of reform. We are not entirely sure whether it is they or Islam itself that needs reform, but we are absolutely certain that reform is needed. The West is reformation itself, Christianity has been protestantised, Hinduism has been reformed by the State, but Islam we have been trying to reform for the last 150 years and have been on the defensive for as long as well. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan wrote letters justifying the British racial hatred of Indians — “They are right to treat us worse than dogs,”— before pleading that there is no contradiction between the Quran and science, that Islam was enlightenment and enlightenment Islam. Why must even those defending Muslims reduce all debate surrounding Muslims to Islam? Why do I continue to become perturbed by the treatment of Islam from both sides?

I am confused. On the one hand I bemoan the condition of Muslims in India; on the other, I am strongly aware of the fact that this State, like most others, delivers mostly to its elite, outside whose pale are not only Muslims but also most other marginal groups. On the one hand, I feel that we should have the space to be critical of certain strains in the world of Indian Muslims; on the other, I feel that sometimes we make too much of freedom of expression. I want Muslims to be different from what they are, but cannot tell how much of that desire is an internalisation of a vein of criticism and interrogation that has now gone on for over 200 years, not merely in India. What I do know is that the stereotype of the exceptionalism of Islam as a religion and the inexorable Muslim urge for separateness from the mainstream is one that cuts both ways. You can use it to condemn Muslims, you can invoke it to celebrate difference in a world where history has ended, where all roads lead to New York. That cannot be our only fate.

Read on.

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