By Abu Osama
At the outset let me tell you something about the early days of my schooling. I never attended any formal school. I spent ten years of my life in a madrasa. Obviously, there I was put to learn the grand knowledge repository of Islam. But frankly speaking, I was never convinced by the idea of going to a madrasa. I had a rebellious attitude, questioned every established notion of my religion. Despite all such great ‘sins’, the moulvi teachers forgave me. Forgiveness is a basic tenet in almost every religious mythology and tradition when it comes to dealing with fellow human beings.
When I look back at my madrasa days after more than a decade, it gives me a different feeling altogether – certainly not the sophisticated but the practical ones. Though I grew up in a patriarchal structure, I have respect for women. I learnt Islamic history but I have reverence for other histories as well. I imbibed religious values, ethics and preliminary civic sense, yet had no communal inclination.
We have witnessed the changed contours of our country over a very short span of time. It seems as if it happened overnight. We could term it a paradigm shift in the case of majority-minority relations. The line of communication between Hindus and Muslim has been lost, disconnected. In his masterful biographical sketch of Sardar Patel, Rajmohan Gandhi writes that a major difference between Gandhi and Patel was Gandhi frequently interacted with Muslims while growing up. Patel never had such an experience. We don’t have a Gandhi with us to heal our wounds when the entire planet is reeling under an unbeatable virus.
The recent incident that took place in New Delhi’s Markaz of Jamat-e-Tablighi has stifled our way to combat the novel coronavirus. It has simply added some more fuel to the existing communal fire. The battle has taken a new shape, a new turn. The shouting match on prime time TV shows, lively discussions among intellectuals and liberals through media outlets, forwarded messages on WhatsApp groups, whispering over dining tables on the notorious international conference held by the custodians of Markaz follow the same trend of a unilinear perception crafted against Muslims around the world. We must applaud this brilliant attempt to destroy one more organization and people associated to it. In this given situation, nothing is unprecedented; it is an already anticipated episode. Perhaps, people are desperate to get some sensational news on their TV screens. They got the right news to consume during the unbearable lockdown days. We are going through the toughest time in the history of modern world in which each of us is frightened and helpless. Even in such a difficult time, we do not shy away from starting a Hindu vs. Muslim fight. It is alarming.
The propaganda has worked out nicely. The Muslim community has been constantly targeted for no reason across the globe. After each such incident, it goes into a deep guilt-trip as if the community has committed a heinous crime against humanity. The fear of small numbers (to refer to Arjun Appadurai) has riled the majority Hindus to the point that they see their fellow countrymen as enemies.
Let us also be frank with the fact that as a community, Muslims have failed to be pro-active in civil society participation, to respond to any humanitarian crisis, and so on. But who is responsible for this apathetic approach of my community? The Muslim elite are caught in the maze of ideological preference and sectarian fundamentalism. Many of them are disenchanted from even their ‘Muslimness’ and their religious and cultural roots. Some are walking silently the path offered by our ‘liberals’. Some are afraid of the larger Hindu community and do not find courage to assert their identity. We constantly search for some dynamic religious and political leadership to take the community forward.
In the aftermath of the Jamat-e-Tablighi episode, both media and politicians have joined hands to instigate and provoke the emotions of common people against this group, thereby strengthening the already existing stereotyping around Muslims. Like me, many people believe in our shared and collective memories, our tolerance for each other’s community, the composite culture which we grew up in from years of common living. However, we must accept that the Hindu-Muslim relation is no more symbiotic; the venom has already eaten away its core.
The proposition offered by my moulvi teachers about the immense power of spirituality and morality is now dampened badly. I feel as if I am losing the confident child within me. I feel ashamed of things I did not commit. Today when I travel with my family, I take all precautions because I am genuinely frightened, because I am not sure whether I can safely reach or come back home. Communalism is a pervasive ideological presentation in the form of a mental disease.
Amidst the countrywide lockdown, people are cursing the bearded and skull-capped individuals for adding more casualty and risk to thousands of lives across the country. We observe that people who usually are silent on many social issues have come out with a demand to punish these ‘culprits’. For a democracy, gossips are important but they become dangerous when they culminate into communal gossips. The extent to which people go these days to lambast Jamat-e-Tablighi is not a healthy trend for a mature democracy.
People in Jamat-e-Tablighi are ordinary people. They belong to common masses like the rest of the billions of aam Hindustanis do. Most of them are illiterate and cannot frame a proper sentence. They are preoccupied with the life hereafter. Other Muslim religious organizations do not appreciate them just because they follow the philosophy of renunciation and spirituality. Like many of us, they too are governed by the common perception and staunch belief that such pandemics are natural calamities, a kind of divine punishment for the people. In Tablighi Jamaat vocabulary, this disease can be surmounted with contemplation, meditation, chanting and offering additional prayers. All they have been trying to do is to heal and pacify the panic-stricken people psychologically. Their worldview may be called religious or traditional but certainly not communal. They may resist or may have resisted state intervention but they can certainly be made to understand the enormity of the situation.
Does not the Jamat-e-Tablighi deserve mercy from the educationally elite and economically affluent people of my beloved country? They must be given this chance to appeal for mercy in the court of common citizens. The legacy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam must be followed in this case, too.
Abu Osama teaches Social Work at Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad, India.
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