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All religions harbour irresponsible and dangerous elements

A funny thing happened to me on Twitter recently.

It started predictably enough. I posted my piece about the current climate of hate: the shameful imprisonment of Munawar Faruqui. The case against the maker of Tandav.


None of these people had done anything criminal or even offensive, I said. They were pawns in a political strategy. The BJP, I wrote, wins elections because it poses as the party of Hindus. To remind Hindus that it is their protector, it invents provocations and searches for imagined offences. Then it targets the so called perpetrators of these imagined offences.


   What was extraordinary, I added, was that the BJP had managed to weaponise Hinduism, the religion of the overwhelming majority, for electoral gain. This had been tried before by smaller groups, say Dalits or Muslims, but never successfully with Hindus.


   For instance, the Satanic Verses controversy grew out of demands by Muslim politicians and the clergy for a ban on the book though none of these people had read it and so, did not actually know if there was anything offensive about it.


   The BJP, I said, was doing the same thing to Munawar Faruqui and the maker of Tandav. Was it a coincidence, I wondered, that so many of the people accused of offending Hindus were Muslims?


   The piece appeared in Business Standard and later that day, I posted in on Twitter where it quickly went viral. (7 .56 lakh impressions, 40,000 engagements etc.)


   The responses were not surprising. I was trolled by BJP supporters and the old whataboutery was on full display. What would have happened if Muslims had found a comedian’s joke about the Prophet offensive? Wouldn’t he have been beheaded? And so on.


   Many of the responses misrepresented my position on such issues as Charlie Hebdo and made it appear as though I had not defended the French magazine when it was attacked. In fact, not only had I defended Charlie Hebdo I had also tweeted its cover, with a cartoon of a figure who was supposed to represent the Prophet.


   I now retweeted my supportive tweet. Shortly after that retweet went out, the nature of the responses began to change.


   The BJP trolls stayed on. But I was also challenged by many anonymous handles. Could I name one maulana or moulvi who had demonstrated intolerance on behalf of Islam?


   This was hardly what the article was about and given that my chosen example was The Satanic Verses it was easy enough to answer. The Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid had been at the forefront of the campaign to stir up emotions over the book.


   In fact, there were so many instances of Muslim clerics advocating intolerant positions and of Muslim leaders playing with emotions, that I believed that the anonymous tweets came from those who wanted to trick me into naming Muslims who had shown intolerance. That way my concerns about Tandav and Faruqui would be diverted.


   But, the “name one cleric” demands have continued and so with much reluctance, here is my answer.


A) Anyone who googles The Satanic Verses controversy will know of the role of the Shahi Imam of Delhi. They will also know of how the crowd at Zakaria Masjid near Mumbai’s Crawford Market was incited to go on a rampage, causing damage to life and property.


 "The point to be made is that Hindutva forces are following the same template as The Satanic Verses ban and others like it."

B) You can also find on Google the details of Rushdie’s cancelled visit to the Jaipur Lit Fest in 2012 when Maulana Abul Qasim Nomani asked the government to cancel Rushdie’s visa. The visit could not go ahead because of threats to disrupt the Festival.


C) How about Taslima Nasreen? In 2013 Hasan Raza Khan Noori Miyan from the Dargah-e-Ala Nizrat declared that a fatwa had been issued against Nasreen for her tweets about the clergy and he demanded her arrest.


D) Sticking with Nasreen, freedom of speech and the clergy: in December 2013, the Shahi Imam of the Tipu Sultan Mosque in Calcutta asked for a ban on Dusahobas, a TV serial scripted by Nasreen, on the ground that it would hurt the sentiments of the Muslim community.


E) A mere ban is nothing compared to what else Nasreen has been through at the hands of the clergy. A week after she was attacked by radicals from her own community in Hyderabad in 2007, a meeting of dozens of clerics from prominent mosques in Calcutta asked her to leave the country. According to Reuters, one prominent cleric also offered a cash reward of a lakh of rupees to anyone who killed her.


F) Then there is Sania Mirza who didn’t even have to say anything to offend the clergy. A cleric called Sajid Rashid ranted about Mirza’s clothes on a TV show called Fatah Ka Fatwa. “Do you think Sania Mirza’s attire is legal? It is sexual and hence, unIslamic.”


G) Sometimes fatwas can be silly. The Idar-e-Sharia issued a fatwa against Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s poem Madhushala. Maulana Abdul Irfan Mian Farangi Mahali said that the poem praised wine which “hurt Muslim sentiments” and rallied the community against it.


H) Mufti Muhammad Shoaib Raza Qadri and Mufti Muli-ur-Rehaman of Darul-Uloom Magar-e-Islam issued a fatwa against Shahrukh Khan for alleged comments against Islam. The fatwa also said that Shahrukh could not be buried in a Muslim graveyard.


   It is not my case that all these fatwas were necessarily dangerous or that they should be taken very seriously --- though some are serious and are undoubtedly, matters of concern. My sole concern here is to respond to the claim that the Muslim clergy does not say stupid or intolerant things or arouse the emotions of ordinary Muslims.


   It does.


   So let’s not play the my-religion is better-than-your-religion game. All religions harbour irresponsible and dangerous elements. They are not necessarily representative of the religion as a whole which is why I was so reluctant to give instances of clerics who had provoked emotions needlessly.


   But yes, they do exist.


   The point to be made is that Hindutva forces are following the same template as The Satanic Verses ban and others like it. They are using religion to promote intolerance and to inflame ordinary people.


   What makes this even more serious is that these forces now have the power of the state behind the ban --- just as Ayatollah Khomeini did when he issued the fatwa against Salman Rushdie.


   So, instead of playing the communalists’ game and telling lies about how tolerant the Muslim clergy is, let’s fight the tyranny of a state that denies freedom of expression and curtails liberty.


   Anyone who chooses to divert the issue to sing the praises of the clergy is only helping Yogi Adityanath.


   One instance? I could give many, many more. But at the end of the day that would offer no relief to the victims of persecution.


   And Shivraj Chauhan and Yogi Adityanath would laugh all the way to the ballot box.



  • Kumail Changezi 28 Jan 2021

    I'm glad you decided to answer those questioning the original article and calling you a bigot.

    Absolutely absurd and unfounded accusations.

    I hate that you had to write a rebuttal, but I'm happy you did.

    Good luck.

  • Biswajit Dasgupta 28 Jan 2021

    It is pretty ridiculous how we are regressing to a Talibanistic regime. I can think of Iran and Afghanistan and how they were so advanced only to go back to stone ages.
    Your assessment of BJP is spot on. I fear they are on the verge of causing irreversible damage - not just to establish a fundamentally religious state but the constitution itself is under threat. Forget free speech, our fundamental right to life is under question as well. W

  • Ruchita Verma 23 Jan 2021

    Sir, whatever logical point you make against the rampant disregard for freedom of speech and expression prevailing today in our great nation will be met with challenges supported by illogical and absurd assertions. But it is really heartening to see that this is not deterring you to make your point. Hope the nation comes out of this darkness soon before its too late for the largest democracy in the world to free itself from the regressive shackles being put in the name of progression.

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