I have been thinking about writing this for quite some time now. You may accuse me of being too self-centred as you read on, but I guess India is a free nation and everybody has a right to form his or her own opinion. So, I am again going to write about me and a lot of others who are like me, ‘secular Muslims’- you may not have guessed it right.
On my last weekly off, I visited a school friend whom I was meeting after a long time. An engineer by profession, this fellow, like one of us, has liking for movies, music and cricket, but the only point that distinguishes him is his over affection for his community.
Our conversation started with memories of our school, the football match in which we both had scored a goal each and then strayed on to a lot of other things. In the midst of the conversation, I mentioned about my last trip to Gujarat, telling him how impressed I was with the development there.
This somehow irked him. There is no doubt that Muslims and others were hurt by the religious pogrom in Gujarat in 2002, but it would be wrong to link it with the development in the state. But for my friend, praising Gujarat means praising Narendra Modi, the man who is believed to be responsible for the communal killings, which of course were horrifying and most condemnable.
I tried explaining him this reasonable point of view, but couldn’t change his opinion. And then he gave me a theory that I personally don’t subscribe to. He said, and I will quote him, “When a Muslim studies a lot, he becomes ‘secular’ but when Hindus study they turn even more religious”. This was a veiled attack on me rather than on my Hindu friends.
But I wasn’t particularly hurt. After all, I genuinely believe that in a democratic country everyone has a right to have opinions and express them too. And also because there are a lot of people I have met in my community who don’t appreciate people like me who are considered ‘secular’.
So, I am, in a way, “too moderate”. And if you are a regular with news, then you would know that this fate is shared by the renowned writer and lyricist Javed Akhtar, though he faces a bigger opposition.
But this problem persists cutting across religious lines. Yes, even the people of other communities react in the same way!
I have seen people nod furiously when I talk against useless fatwas, against terrorists and in favour of the secular credentials of our nation. But the moment, I say something in favour of Muslims, the reaction totally changes. They go on to brand me ‘another fanatic’ or they accuse me of being ‘pseudo secularist’.
There were instances of people going to the extent of using offensive language by telling me that educated people like me who support hardline Islam are the primary reason for rise of radicalism in India, and expect that I should blindly oppose anything that is Islamic.
But as I see the world, everything it seems, is in the shades of grey with its own pros and cons. The same is true with Islam also, like with any other faith. There are things on which people might disagree with but one with a little knowledge about it cannot deny the fact that, like every religion in the world, Islam also propagates good virtues.
If you are a secular Muslim in India, then it is a very fine line that you tread, no doubt. But I am happy treading the path that I firmly believe in. After all, who won’t agree that every man is born equal and religion comes only later.
At the end of it all, I can’t but empathise with Mr Javed Akhtar!