Muslim countries are not as bigoted as world may think

While we often hear of the bigoted and conservative nature of theocracies and so-called Islamic states like Saudi Arabia, we are mostly unaware of the religious tradition prevalent in other Muslim majority countries.  (Representational Image: Wikipedia)

While we often hear of the bigoted and conservative nature of theocracies and so-called Islamic states like Saudi Arabia, we are mostly unaware of the religious tradition prevalent in other Muslim majority countries. (Representational Image: Wikipedia)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s maiden trip to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has led to the Emirati government allocating land for the construction of Abu Dhabi’s first Hindu temple. This move of the UAE government is bound to accelerate religious pluralism in the Gulf nation which is home to nearly 2.6 million immigrant Indians. The Emirati city of Dubai currently has two temples, one of which is dedicated to Lord Shiva and the other to Lord Krishna. These facts introduce us to an altogether ignored reality in certain Muslim majority societies.

While we often hear of the bigoted and conservative nature of theocracies and so-called Islamic states like Saudi Arabia, we are mostly unaware of the religious tradition prevalent in other Muslim majority countries. Indonesia, the country with the world’s largest Muslim population, is a secular nation. The Indonesian constitution is planked on the philosophy of “Pancasila” which is pluralistic in its outlook. The drafting committee of the constitution categorically decided to replace the word “Allah” with “Tuhan” so as to ensure that the minorities in Indonesia did not feel neglected and all communities could relate to the phraseology of the constitution.

Indonesia’s national carrier is called “Garuda Indonesia” whose name has been inspired by Hindu mythology. Garuda is the steed or “vahan” of Lord Vishnu. In fact, the Garuda Purana details the conversation between Lord Vishnu and Garuda. Some of the Indonesian currency notes carry pictures of Lord Ganesha and it is a common sight to come across statues of Lord Krishna, Arjuna and Ghatotkach while paying a visit to the Main Square in Jakarta, or the city of Bali.

There are examples from many other nations which can be recounted. Foremost among them is Turkey, which was built on the lines of fundamentalist secularism by none other than Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Ataturk brought in sweeping secularisation measures and cultivated the notion of Turkish nationalism. Lebanon is another mutli-faith country where the law mandates equality between Muslims and Christians. Following their independence from the erstwhile Soviet Union, the Central Asian nations of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, despite their Muslim majority societies, chose to embark on the lines of Leftism and secularism instead of Islamism. The same is the case with Bangladesh.

After its liberation in 1971 which effectively buried the dubious theory that Hindus and Muslims were two separate nations, Bangladesh chose to ingrain “secularism” within the preamble to its constitution and decided not to replicate West Pakistan by proclaiming itself to be an Islamic state.

Interestingly, several of these nations had been led by women. Megawati Sukarnoputri served as the president of Indonesia, Tansu Ciller as the prime minister of Turkey and Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia as prime ministers of Bangladesh. This is not to suggest that these states do not suffer from their respective set of domestic issues which are a challenge to the kind of secularism being practised in these countries. We’ve been reading about the brutal manner in which many secular and atheist bloggers have been hacked to death in Bangladesh. The word “secularism” was expunged from the preamble to the Bangladeshi constitution during military dictator Ziaur Rahman’s regime, but was thankfully brought back owing to a high court ruling in 2010.

Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a known Islamist, and the Pancasila philosophy is often criticised in Indonesia courtesy its secular grounding. No country is devoid of religious politics or communal discrimination, but the very reality that secular Muslim majority countries exist should be an eye opener for many. But at the same time, let us also recognise the reality of countries like Saudi Arabia which masquerade as “Islamic states.” The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) does not even provide its non-Muslim citizens the right to freely propagate their religion and build their places of worship.

How absurd can a state get, especially when it claims to rule under the pretext of Islam? Doesn’t the Quran explicitly mention religious freedom? Of course it does! Chapter 109, Verse 4 of the Quran says, “I have my religion and you have your religion.” Another much quoted verse is Chapter 2, Verse 256 which says, “There is no compulsion in religion.” These two verses from Islam’s most significant religious document clearly hint at how ignorant the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is regarding the teachings of Islam when it prevents non-Muslims from professing their faith freely and puts to death anyone who converts from Islam to any other religion.

One can cite more verses from the Quran to explain how integral the freedom of worship is to Islamic teachings. Chapter 22, Verse 67 of the Quran states, “We have appointed for every community ways of worship to observe. Let them not dispute with you on this matter.” The need to protect religious monuments belonging to non-Muslims as well as Muslims is also mentioned in the Quran in Chapter 22, Verse 40 wherein it is stated, “If god did not repel the aggression of some people by means of others, cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques, wherein the name of god is much invoked, would surely be destroyed.” And here we have the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with its redundant apostasy laws and completely un-Islamic ways of not allowing non-Muslims build their religious monuments and worship god in their own prescribed ways.

There are several theocracies like Saudi Arabia where such laws are common. In Egypt, Coptic Christians are often targeted and asked to prove their patriotism. This sort of racism was regularly manifested during the reign of the Muslim Brotherhood. Didn’t the members of Muslim Brotherhood hear tales of the Christian delegation which came to meet Prophet Muhammad from Najran? The Prophet didn’t just have a theological debate with them, but allowed them to pray inside Masjid al-Nabwi or the Prophet’s Grand Mosque in Medina. Yet, we had certain elements in Egypt questioning the Coptic Christians’ patriotism simply because of their annual pilgrimage to Bethlehem. They were labelled as being part of a Zionist ploy which is indeed laughable. This kind of an anti-Christian sentiment needs to be shunned.

Anti-Semitism is even more deeply entrenched as Islamic clerics in West Asia have repeatedly called for boycott of Pepsi, since Pepsi allegedly stands for “Pay-ever-penny-to-save-Israel.” Former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used to deny the holocaust and label the 9/11 terrorist attacks as insiders’ job. There is no space for such blatant lies in Islam. The Quran says in Chapter 2, Verse 42, “Do not mix truth with falsehood or hide the truth when you know it.”

The likes of Ahmadinejad have to recognise the horrors of the holocaust and treatment meted out to the Jews in Germany. Conspiracy theorists have to give up on the preposterous suggestion of US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)-Mossad involvement in 9/11. We must regret the fact that a terrorist named Osama Bin Laden used Islam’s name to commit an entirely inhumane act on September 11, 2001, which led to the death of thousands. He shall never be forgiven for that because Islam teaches that the death of even a single innocent person is like the death of all humanity (Quran: 5:32).

One more thing that is essential to undo the baggage of anti-Semitism rests in understanding that not every Jew is a Zionist sympathiser and not every Jew can be held responsible for the excesses of the Zionist state in Palestine. Lastly, we have our dear neighbour Pakistan where the population of religious minorities has historically been on the decline. Blasphemy laws are utilised to frequently frame non-Muslims and forcible conversions aren’t that rare. Owing to a hostile environment, the Hindu community in Pakistan has steadily shifted base to India which is a matter of great shame for Pakistan.

Whether a country is Muslim majority, Christian majority, Buddhist majority, Hindu majority, Jewish majority or atheist majority ruled by communists, it has to realise that freedom of religion and equality of all religions before the law is a must. No person can be deprived of any privileges because of his faith which is a matter of choice. Everyone must be treated equally. Muslim majority countries, in particular, are doing fairly well in some regions but have dreadful laws in places like Saudi Arabia.

A thorough revision of the law is a must in such regions to bring non-Muslims at par with Muslims as citizens of a free state. It must also be ensured that minorities within the Muslim community, be it Shias, Sufis or Ahmadiyyas are not discriminated against, labelled as heretics, and recognised as Muslims.

More importantly, the rights of women need to be recognised, which is possible only when the state bans female genital mutilation, introduces compulsory girl education, outlaws polygamy and gives women an equal say in matters of divorce, inheritance law and judicial testimony.

(This article was originally published in DailyO.) 

The Islamophobic Saint, Vivekananda!

Vivekananda (Reuters)

Vivekananda (Reuters)

Some months back I had written a piece titled “Indian Icons whose perspective of Muslims and Islam will shock you.” The concerned write-up was published by Youth Ki and attracted exceptional controversy primarily because of the controversial nature of the subject. A learned law graduate and an acquaintance of mine has written a rebuttal to my piece in which he has alleged that my piece is so biased that it, “has the potential to make Hindus lean towards being anti-Muslim and Muslims lean towards being anti-Hindu, and in the context of Indian Muslims, even make them lean in favour of being anti-national and help Pakistanis engage in anti-India propaganda.” The fact that the author through his own words exhibits the same sickening bigotry of associating Muslims with anti-India propaganda and helping Pakistan shows that he himself suffers from considerable Islamophobia in regards to Indian Muslims. He cites Islamist terrorists of the Indian Mujahideen and Muslim youth who burn crackers after India’s defeat to Pakistan in a cricket match as a proof of a “large number of Muslims” who are not loyal to the country. While there is no denying that Indian Mujahideen is certainly an anti-India terrorist outfit, there is also no evidence to suggest that Indian Mujahideen comprises of even 100 Indian Muslims. Similarly, the figure of those who celebrate after Pakistan’s triumph over India in cricketing ties might not even reach 1000. I wonder how this negligible lot who doesn’t even comprise 0.1% of the population of Indian Muslims be deemed as “large”. The Sachar Committee itself stated that the Indian Muslim community had never as a whole indulged in anti-national activities.

In his write-up the author has claimed that my write-up tries to portray that only Muslims are victims of prejudice. I would like to bring this to everyone’s notice that my articles on “Anti Semitism Among Arabs” and “Hinduphobia Among Misguided Muslims” have been appreciated by individuals of the likes of Economist and Former Economic Policy Advisor to Rajiv Gandhi, Dr Subroto Roy and Canadian Author Mr Tarek Fatah, respectively. I have also written a piece exposing the communal speeches made by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Founder of the Aligarh Movement. It is therefore preposterous to suggest even for a moment that I am over protective towards what Mr Thadani describes as “my Muslim community”. I would have certainly liked to spend time on the issue of Partition of India as Mr Thadani seems to suggest that Muslims were primarily responsible for the Partition along with the Muslim League. I wonder how come he found out that the bulk of the Muslims supported Muslim League and not Congress at a time when Universal Adult Franchise didn’t exist and only 11% or so of the population was entitled to vote during the 1946 elections in undivided India and only half of them exercised their right. Also, I find it hard to decipher as to why the majority of the Muslims chose to stay back in India and not go to Pakistan, something which they supported in large number as claimed by Mr Thadani. I recommend that he read Mr Mani Shankar Aiyar’s book titled, “Confessions of a Secular Fundamentalist” in order to find out who actually partitioned India: The Muslim League or Muslims. There are several other books too based on official documentary records of the transfer of power which took place between the British and India. “Partition of India: Legend and Reality” by HM Seervai and “The Sole Spokesman, Jinnah, The Muslim League and the Demand for Pakistan” by Dr Ayesha Jalal shall certainly help Mr Thadani in understanding the subject better.

Without wasting much time, I would now like to address the core issue. In my earlier write-up, I had furnished quotations which showed that Vivekananda, Tagore, Ambedkar, Gandhi, Patel and Nehru had certain wrong perceptions about Muslims and Islam.  Mr Thadani agrees with me in regards to the Islamophobic views of Mr Patel and Dr Ambedkar and has hence made my job easier. In Part 1 of his rebuttal to my piece, he has only defended Vivekananda. Perhaps, he shall defend others in a later piece which has not yet been published. Nevertheless, through this write-up of mine I shall try to puncture the counter arguments put forth in order to absolve Vivekananda of harbouring any form of Islamophobia. While talking about Vivekananda, I had stated in my piece, “The great saffron saint, Vivekananda, stated in the World Parliament of Religions that he hails from a civilization which holds all religions as true but astonishingly, the same Vivekananda while answering a few questions of the Editor of Prabuddha Bharat said, “Every man going out of the Hindu pale is not only a man less, but an enemy the more.” Vivekananda did not even hold Prophet Muhammad in high regards. He said, “He (Muhammad) was not a trained yogi and did not know the reason of what he was doing. Think of what good Muhammad did to the world and think of the great evil which has been done through his fanaticism.” Vivekananda’s perception about Islam can be judged from his comments about the Quran. Vivekananda stated that the Quran advises Muslims to kill the Non Muslims if they did not become Muslims.” Mr Thadani began his argument by stating that I concede that Vivekananda held all religions to be true in their own way and that his teacher, Ramakrishna was for a brief period of time a practising Muslim and a practising Christian. I must clarify that I never conceded that Vivekananda held all religions as true. It is something which only he can answer. I just quoted what Vivekananda said at the World Parliament of Religions and then I went on to mention the shocking statements given by Vivekananda only to expose the hypocrisy which was associated with his remarks. Also, it does not matter what Ramakrishna did as I did not even mention him during my discourse.

I must admit that Mr Thadani has been most intellectually dishonest in his rebuttal. I had raised three points in connection with Vivekananda’s Islamophobia and Mr Thadani has not been able to bust even one. Firstly, Mr Thadani has stated that Vivekananda’s controversial quote, “Every man going out of the Hindu pale is not only a man less, but an enemy the more” is “more in the context of Christian missionaries being propagated under British rule and their misrepresentation of Hinduism than having anything to do with Muslims.” I think that it is my duty to inform the readers that Mr Thadani has invented a lie to defend Vivekanda. I will reproduce a part of the conversation where this statement was made by Vivekananda to the Editor of Prabuddha Bharat. Here is the conversation: (as published in the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume 5, Pages 233-4)

Interviewee: “I want to see you, Swami”, I began, “on this matter of receiving back into Hinduism those who have been perverted from it. Is it your opinion that they should be received?”
Vivekananda: “Certainly,” said the Swami, “they can and ought to be taken”. He sat gravely for a moment, thinking and then resumed, “Besides” he said, “we shall otherwise decrease in numbers. When the Mohammedans first came, we are said – I think on the authority of Freishta, the oldest Mohammedan historian – to have been six hundred millions of Hindus. Now we are about two hundred millions. And then every man going out of the Hindu pale is not only a man less but an enemy the more.”

I think the Muslim connection with this shameful quote of Vivekananda has been well proved. It’s amusing to see a man who used to claim that all religions are true, worry about the demographic growth of a community which might outnumber his own community soon. This frustration drove him to label all converts from Hinduism as enemies of Hindus. Over here, Vivekananda sounds more like a Muslim fanatic Mullah who would recommend death for apostasy as is carried out in Islamist countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia. Mr Thadani has tried to justify Vivekananda’s comments by stating that, “an apostate of any religion would tend to be an ideological enemy or opponent of his former religion”. His euphemistic analogy hasn’t impressed me. Vivekananda’s tone clearly implied what he meant. In fact he went on to say, “Again, the vast majority of Hindu perverts to Islam and Christianity are perverts by the sword or the descendants of these. It would be obviously unfair to subject these to disabilities of any kind. As to the case of born aliens, did you say? Why, born aliens have been converted in the past by crowds, and the process is still going on.” These words are indicative of two things. First, Vivekananda held that majority of conversions from Hinduism to Islam and Christianity were through the sword which is factually incorrect (although forced conversions did take place) and second, Vivekananda’s contempt for Hindu apostates as he labelled them “Hindu perverts” and people of other faith whom he called “born aliens”.

We again get a glimpse of Mr Thadani’s intellectual dishonesty when he addresses the issue of Vivekananda’s comments regarding the Prophet. I wrote in my piece, “Vivekananda did not even hold Prophet Muhammad in high regards. He said, “He (Muhammad) was not a trained yogi and did not know the reason of what he was doing. Think of what good Muhammad did to the world and think of the great evil which has been done through his fanaticism” but Mr Thadani has only addressed the issue of Muhammad not being a trained yogi and has ignored other aspects of the quote. I will again quote Vivekananda to prove his disdain for the Islamic prophet, “He was not a trained yogi, and did not know the reason of what he was doing. Think of what good Mohammad did to the world, and think of the great evil that has been done through his fanaticism! Think of the millions massacred through his teachings, mothers bereft of their children, children made orphans, whole countries destroyed, millions upon millions of people killed! So we see this danger by studying the lives of great teachers like Mohammad and others. Yet we find, at the same time, that they were all inspired. Whenever a prophet got into the superconscious state by heightening his emotional nature, he brought away from it not only some truths, but some fanaticism also, some superstition which injured the world as much as the greatness of the teaching helped.” The quote which I have presented clearly shows that Vivekananda considered Muahmmad a fanatic and held his teachings and not rather misinterpretations of his teachings for being responsible for the massive bloodshed caused in the name of Islam.

My third argument was in regards to Vivekananda’s comment about the Quran. Vivekananda disparaged Quran and Muslims in one go when he stated, “And so also with the race. That race which is bound down to itself has been the most cruel and the most wicked in the whole world. There has not been a religion that has clung to this dualism more than that founded by the Prophet of Arabia, and there has not been a religion, which has shed so much blood and been so cruel to other men. In the Koran there is the doctrine that a man who does not believe these teachings should be killed; it is a mercy to kill him! And the surest way to get to heaven, where there are beautiful houris and all sorts of sense enjoyments, is by killing these unbelievers. Think of the bloodshed there has been in consequence of such beliefs!” In this quote we see Vivekananda calling Muslims the “most cruel” and “most wicked” race in the whole world. He has also gone on to suggest that the Quran advises Muslims to kill Non Muslims. When I had brought a similar statement of Mr AB Vajpayee to the notice of Mr Thadani in the past, he had said that “he did not know that Vajpayee passed such irresponsible remarks about the Quran”. I wonder how he would now defend Vivekananda’s remarks on the Quran. Perhaps, this is the reason why he chose to ignore this issue in his long rebuttal. Vivekananda made the mistake of making wrong claims about the Quran multiple times. He said, “The Mohammedan religion allows Mohammedans to kill all who are not of their religion. It is clearly stated in the Koran, Kill the infidels if they do not become Mohammedans. They must be put to fire and sword. Now if we tell a Mohammedan that this is wrong, he will naturally ask, “How do you know that? How do you know it is not good? My book says it is.”

Mr Thadani has presented certain quotes to show that Vivekananda wasn’t Islamophobic. The fact is not that I am not aware of those sayings; the fact is that Vivekananda was acting like a hypocrite while passing these statements. On one hand, he was acting like a universalist, on the other a communal bigot. Today, the world is suffering from the scourge of Islamist terrorism. People are killing in the name of Islam and destroying places of worship claiming that it is the Quran and Islam itself that has validated it. We need to ideologically destroy such kind of assertions as is being done by liberal moderate Pakistani cleric Tahir Ul Qadri. But if we read someone like Vivekananda then we’ll think that the Islamist terrorist is the true representative of Islam since the views of Vivekananda and the Islamist extremist regarding Islam are the same. Mr Thadani has quoted Vivekananda and mentioned that he said, “Nevertheless, among these Mohammedans, wherever there was a philosophic man, he was sure to protest against these cruelties. In that he showed the touch of the Divine and realized a fragment of the truth; he was not playing with his religion, he was talking, but spoke the truth direct like a man.” Should we absolve Vivekananda of the sin of Islamophobia just because he stated this? Certainly not! Because before stating this, he said, “Some Mohammedans are the crudest in this respect, and the most sectarian. Their watchword is: There is one God, and Mohammad is his Prophet. Everything beyond that not only is bad, but must be destroyed forthwith: at a moment’s notice, every man or woman who does not exactly believe in that must be killed; everything that does not belong to this worship must be immediately broken; every book that teaches anything else must be burnt. From the Pacific to the Atlantic, for five hundred years blood ran all over the world. That is Mohammedanism!” Through his words, Vivekananda makes it clear what he considers to be Mohammedanism.

I would not waste my time further by elaborating on Vivekananda’s sickening teachings regarding Islam. I would like to end by presenting a few more quotations of Vivekananda which expose his Islamophobic view of Muslims as being violent and butcher-like and his biased understanding of history. Vivekananda said, “To the Mussulman, the Jews or the Christians are not objects of extreme detestation; they are, at the worst, men of little faith. But not so the Hindu. According to him, the Hindu is idolatrous, the hateful kafir; hence in this life he deserves to be butchered; and in the next, eternal hell is in store for him. The utmost the Mussulman kings could do as a favour to the priestly class — the spiritual guides of these kafirs — was to allow them somehow to pass their life silently and wait for the last moment. This was again, sometimes considered too much kindness! If the religious ardour of any king was a little more uncommon, there would immediately follow arrangements for a great yajna by way of kafir-slaughter.” According to Vivekananda, we Muslims, consider Hindus as merely objects of slaughter in this life. Vivekananda held Islam and Muslims responsible for initiating violence in India. Probably he did not read about the treatment meted out to the Shudras or the persecution of Buddhists by Brahmin rulers like Pusyamitra Sunga. He said, “”You know that the Hindu religion never persecutes. It is the land where all sects may live in peace and amity. The Mohammedans brought murder and slaughter in their train, but until their arrival, peace prevailed. Thus the Jains, who do not believe in a God and who regards such belief as a delusion, were tolerated, and still are there today. India sets the example of real strength that is meekness. Dash, pluck, fight, all these things are weakness.” There is no point arguing any further. If people do not recognize Vivekananda as an Islamophobic even after reading these quotes, then they will never accept the truth and can continue worshipping him as a saffron saint.

Vivekananda’s interview with the Editor of Prabuddha Bharat:

Arun Shourie’s twin articles regarding Vivekananda in which he flaunts Vivekananda’s hateful perceptions regarding Islam with great pride:

Islamophobia in the West, Dhimmitude in Arabia

An elderly Muslim man walks through the streets of America (AP)

An elderly Muslim man walks through the streets of America (AP)

In 2010, it was Pastor Terry Jones who made international headlines for his plans of publicly burning the Quran on the 9th anniversary of September 11 attacks on the United Sates. Recently, an Islamic school in Britain was reduced to ashes in an arson attack executed by British teenagers as retaliation for beheading of a soldier by Islamist terrorists. The Boston bombings carried out by Muslim immigrants in America led to a series of revenge attacks on Muslims including desecration of a site which was supposed to be the standing point of a mosque in the coming future.

It was only after some hours that Ed Husic became the first Muslim Minister in an Australian Cabinet to swear in using the Holy Quran that he was flooded with hate mails and intense criticism for carrying out such an “un-Australian” act. Islamophobia in the West is a direct result of persecution of minorities in the Muslim-majority countries. For the ones involved in anti-Muslim attacks in the West, their actions are nothing but a fitting reply to the ones carrying out similar sort of barbarism in Islamist countries. This kind of “excuse making” exists on both the sides – be it Arab land or the West.

Universalization of human rights is the way towards taming hate mongers and violent activists whose agenda is to institutionalize persecution of religious minorities by means of law. Another step which is vital towards greater integration of immigrants and minorities is through adequate representation in government offices and legislatures. In 200 years of American democracy, only one Muslim American has made it to the Congress. Same applies to American Hindus and American Buddhists both of whom have had just 1 representative each in the Congress. In the Arab World, there are countries like Iran and Egypt who reserve parliamentary seats for people belonging to recognized religions like Judaism and Christianity but representatives from non recognized faiths like Bahai Faith don’t stand a chance to get elected.

While organizations like the OIC ie Organization of Islamic Cooperation and Arab League are becoming powerful proponents for putting an end to discrimination against Muslims in the West, there doesn’t appear an organization of equivalent stature to demand rights for Non Muslims in the Arab World. Yohunna Qulta, Deputy Patriarch of the Coptic Catholic Church in Egypt claimed in a television interview that the United States has done anything for the Christians of Iraq, Lebanon, Rwanda and Burundi. He said that more than a million Christians have died in the region due to genocidal violence and churches have witnessed destruction. While some might argue that America being a secular nation has no business regarding Arab Christians, the fact that the biggest Christian nation in the world chooses to overlook Christian persecution and continues to meddle its nose in the affairs of other countries in the name of human rights is in itself an oxymoron.