By James M. Dorsey
Hindu Muslim relations are in a rout. Fear and prejudice have been weaponized.
Hindu nationalists fuel intercommunal strife by emphasizing an imaginary demographic threat. Muslims believe themselves to be in a situation similar to that of Jews in Germany in the 1930s that led to genocide.
India’s far right Hindu nationalist movement, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or RSS, the ideological cradle of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his cohorts, speaks of a 1,000-year war. While professing an interest in dialogue, the RSS is widely viewed as a catalyst of anti-Muslim violence and discrimination in India.
The movement speaks to individual Indian Muslim leaders, but those conversations are mostly private, and the Indian Muslim community has been unable to develop a leadership that can channel a dialogue that could produce results.
Stepping into the breach is Indonesia’s Nama, arguably the world’s most moderate Muslim civil society movement in the world’s largest Muslim majority country and democracy.
For Nahdlatul Ulama, engagement with the RSS is part of a bold and risky strategy to persuade faith groups, including Muslims, to confront their troubled, often violent histories and problematic tenets of their religions that reject pluralism and advocate supremacy.
For the RSS, engagement is about redressing historical grievances dating to centuries of Muslim invasions and rule, defending Hindus against perceived contemporary Muslim threats, and ensuring that India is a Hindu rather than a non-discriminatory, multi-religious state.
That’s a wide gap to bridge.
To discuss all of this, I’m joined by A. Faizur Rahman, a prominent Indian Muslim thinker and Secretary General of the Islamic Forum for the Promotion of Moderate Thought.
Most recently, Faizur authored a chapter on Muslimophobia in India in a just published edited volume, The Politics of Hate, that focuses On South Asia. The well-written, insightful chapter is a must read. Also. for further background on all of this, please read my latest column at https://www.jamesmdorsey.net/post/to-engage-or-not-engage-hindus-and-muslims-suss-each-other-out.
Below is a transcript of the conversation.
To watch a video version on YouTube please click here.
James M. Dorsey (04:03)
Faizur, welcome to the show
- Faizur Rahman (04:06):
Thank you so much, James, for that lovely introduction, and thank you also for having me on the show. It’s a privilege to be here and to speak with you.
James M. Dorsey (04:18):
The pleasure and the honour is mine. Let’s start with what is going on in India. We’ve seen in parts of India for the past two decades, and India as a whole since Prime Minister Modi first came to office in 2014, a spike in anti-Muslim violence and discrimination. At the same time, Hindu nationalists appear to be sending mixed messages. A BBC documentary denounced by the Indian government, laid the blame for riots in 2002, in in which more than a thousand people, mostly Muslims, were killed squarely at the feet of Mr. Modi, who was then the state’s elected leader. This weekend, Mr. Modi, in a rare conciliatory gesture, urged leaders of his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP to engage in dialogue with Muslims. At the same time, RSS leader, Mohan Bhagwat, spoke of a 1,000-year war and expressed regret for aggression against Muslims, adding that it was unavoidable. Wat’s going on and do you see an opening for a dialogue?
- Faizur Rahman (05:35):
Yes, the opening for a dialogue is always there in any situation or any circumstances because it’s only when our positions harden and only when we become too rigid and inflexible that we refuse a dialogue. But dialogue must be happen and it should be initiated. And I really appreciate in this sense that the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has been meeting some Muslim intellectuals and also has been sending out some reconciliatory messages in the media to the Muslim community. After all, we have no problem with Islam. I really appreciate these initiatives from Mr. Bhagwat and the RSS. but the whole problem, in my opinion, with this approach of the RSS has been its melding Indianness with Hindus.
In an interview about an year and a half ago, he said that he has no problem Muslims living in India. Well, that itself is a problematic statement provided he said that they accept India as their motherland Muslims, number one. Number two, accept the traditions (parampara) and its culture (sanskriti) and three that they should consider the respect the ancestors (samaan purvaj), the common ancestors of the Hindus and Muslims. Of course on the face of it, Muslims have never had any problem with these. Muslims have always accepted India as that motherland. We have no problem. I’m an Indian Muslim, I’m a, I’m prepped, I’m, I’m very proud to be an Indian, but I thank God that my ancestors chose India over Pakistan after the partition, I couldn’t have imagined a person like me staying in Pakistan and articulating my view free freely. I can do it in India.
So therefore I’m proud to be an Indian and I’m lucky to be an Indian, lucky to be in India without any doubt. So we have accepted India as our motherland. We have absolutely no problem with the ancestors, and yet Mr. Bhagwat makes this a condition as if Muslims have not been doing it. That is not true. So what in my opinion that needs to be done is perhaps Mr. Bagu and his organization and other such organizations must be convinced by Muslim scholars, Muslim leaders, religious and secular leaders, that the reality is Indian Muslims are Indians in the totality. First we are Indians first, and then perhaps Muslims later perhaps if this convincing message get across to the other side, I mean that could set the tone for a very meaningful dialogue with Hindu organizations. That’s my opinion.
James M. Dorsey (08:44):
Thank you. Is that something that Nahdlatul Ulama as a non-Indian organization, but a major Muslim organization can contribute, facilitate? Nahdlatul Ulama has had an dialogue with the RSS for the last two years. What is it that Naas sees, do you think? And have you seen any results from that dialogue or an impact of that dialogue?
- Faizur Rahman (09:13):
Of course, any dialogue from India or outside that actually brings about harmony between communities is always welcome, whether it is Nahdlatul Ulama or any other organisation in this context. Unfortunately, for the Indian Muslims, it has never been reported in the press. So, they’re not aware of this dialogue,. And even if they had been aware this is a dialogue which is happening between two organizations, which are in two different countries. Indonesia, of course. the largest Muslim population is in Indonesia and India is number two in terms of Muslim population. But unfortunately, the Indian Muslims do not know by and large such a dialogue is happening. And even such a dialogue that is going on, I do not know how much effect would it have on Hindu Muslim relations in India because the dialogue has to be in the context of what’s happening here. There’s a lot of mistrust between communities.
Unfortunately, there’s very little being done to dispel or to remove this mistrust. So, while I welcome the Nahdlatul Ulama dialogue with the RSS, what needs to be done here is such a dialogue must happen here. And I would suggest that it is the largest group at the moment, the Hindu groups led by the largest organization and the most influential Hindu organization in India. I think, and Mr. Bhagwat has been making some good statements of late. I think it’s up to the largest organisation in India to come forward, extend its brotherly hand because Mr. Bhagwat has always been calling on Muslims. So, they are brothers. Of course, we reciprocate that honestly and sincerely. It is this kind of organisation that must come and put a brotherly arm around our shoulders and talk to us.
So, I feel that such a dialogue must happen within India, between the large organizations such as RSS and other Indian organizations and Muslim organizations. When I say Muslim organizations, I don’t necessarily mean the religious organizations because religious organizations have been another problem, Perhaps, we could discuss this later in the interview. But this should be a dialogue with the Muslim community, which is moderate, which is liberal, and which does not believe in any kind of exclusiveness. So,it is with these kind of people that the Hindu organization must have a dialogue. And this must be a publicized, public dialogue, not private as you said.
James M. Dorsey (12:42):
It sounds to me like you’re advocating two different things even though they run parallel. One is a broader dialogue within India itself, among Indians, and two is a broader dialogue with Nahdlatul Ulama reaching out to various Indian organizations including Indian Muslim intellectual and religious organizations. Would that be a correct interpretation?
- Faizur Rahman (13:10):
Yes, of course. I mean, there’s nothing wrong in sustaining and continuing the dialogue with Indonesia. Certainly not. In fact, that should happen. And I think India was one of the prominent participants in the Religion Forum 20 recently at Bali. So, I think that should go on. But then what’s happening here in India is almost next to nothing. There was a meeting between some Muslim intellectuals, a few of them with Mr. Bhagwat. They went on record saying it in interviews to the media and writing articles about it. But the RSS itself has not so far acknowledged it. I wonder why if such a dialogue is happening there, nothing secret about it. After all, these two communities are Indians. Basically, we are Indian communities, we are brothers as Mr. Bhagwat says. And why should such a dialogue be closed? Discussing behind closed doors? It should be an open dialogue. It should be publicized. And most importantly, it should be unconditional. It should be in a position to give and take cause only a win-win situation in the end is beneficial to both sides, not just a win lose for either or any one of them.
James M. Dorsey (14:27):
You touched on a subject which, I think, is very important and that is who should the interlocutors be? Nahdlatul Ulama is obviously an organization that is led by Islamic scholars and clerics and it feels that the dialogue in India should be between religious figures, not only religious figures, but also religious figures. The question is whether that RSS wants to engage with religious figures or only with intellectuals and more secular people.
- Faizur Rahman (15:06):
At the moment the RSS has been engaging with both kinds of people. On the one hand, it has been publicly meeting religious scholars. The RSS chief had recently met with some Muslims, a few Muslim clerics. That was acknowledged, that was in the media. Whereas the meeting with Muslim intellectuals, I think five of them if I’m not wrong, was not publicized. It was held in private and that was disclosed only by one side. The Muslim side, the RSS has so far not acknowledged this meeting. And this is what I think needs to change. This dialogue must happen in open and with different stakeholders. See the clerics, the ulama (Islamic scholars) alone are not the representatives of the Muslims. Muslims are represented by a host of people. They have political interests, they have economic interests, they have social interests, and religious interests. So, I think the dialogue must happen with various stakeholders, not just any one set of people.
James M. Dorsey (16:22):
If I look at the dialogue between Nahdlatul Ulama and the RSS over the last two years, my sense is that that dialogue has offered the RSS far more than it’s offered Nahdlatul Ulama in the sense of legitimization by one of the world’s foremost Muslim civil society organizations. But also given the Nahdlatul Ulama’s concept of Humanitarian Islam, an Islam that is pluralistic and in recognition of universal human rights, that the RSS has been able to use that as a platform or as an ability to tell Indian Muslims this is what your Islam should be. Would you agree with that assessment?
- Faizur Rahman (17:17):
Absolutely. I have no issue with anyone telling Muslims what Islam is, as long as that is the Islam, which is there in the Qur’an. Because, as far as I’m concerned, the original source of Islam is the Qur’an. So, any Islam that comes outside the Qur’an and conflicts with the Qur’an cannot be the original Islam as taught and preached by Prophet Mohammed, Peace be upon Him. So therefore, if the RSS points out to Muslims, ‘Hey, this is what your prophet taught and preached, and why don’t you adopt that?’ I have no problem with anybody saying that to me, certainly not. But at the same time they should also allow the Muslims to say this to other Hindu organizations, including the RSS that the kind of Hindutva that you are propagating, which to all of us sounds very exclusive. It is also not Hinduism or what is also known as Sanatana Dharma original, the ancient way of life stood for and priest.
So that was very accommodative. That did not lay down any conditions. For instance the Sonata is actually more of a philosophy and it is an umbrella term which encompasses and accommodates within itself various philosophies, both religious, both, and sometimes even atheistic, materialistic, for instance, the Charvaka philosophy is almost atheistic. Even that is accommodated within Hinduism. It’s a very broad term and it’s very accommodative and no conditions imposed. So I think the exclusive kind of Hindutva that RSS and other Hindu organizations propagate or promote, I, in my opinion, and also in the opinion of many scholars among Hindus, many Hindu scholars and also Muslim scholars feel that that is not what original Hindu philosophy stands for. Perhaps the RSS could reconsider its position and move little away from the Savarkarian position on Hindutva where only Hindus are considered, where the Indianness is talked or spoken of, only in terms of Hinduism.
I mean, then you’re trying to anonymize in a sense both Hindu and Indian. I think that is little problematic. Perhaps the RSS should reconsider its position there. If that happens, if this is an exchange, and if both sides understand this, that yes, the Muslims cannot save, you are a non-Muslim board, you have no right to preach Islam to us, that would not be correct. After all, Islam is for humanity. Anybody has a right to read the Qur’an and understand it and even propagate it. We cannot monopolize the Qur’an. We cannot monopolize Islam, After all, Islam itself says it is for humanity. In a similar way, Sanatana Dharma, the Hindu tradition, the Hindu philosophy, is also universal. It can’t be monopolized by any one group or a community. I mean it belongs to all Indians in a sense. We are all Indians. That is what needs to be recognized.
So, if this exchange of thought is there, where both sides are told, see these are the universal values common to both these systems in Hinduism and Islam. Let us join together and work together to promote these values. I mean as brothers and sisters, I think that would be a great thing to do. Rather than any one person saying that what I follow is the only right path. This kind of exclusiveness or where we say that only we are right and others are wrong, I think should be avoided by all communities. I would go for such a dialogue and such a dialogue must always be to emphasize again unconditional.
James M. Dorsey (21:42):
This segues very nicely into my next question, which is that Nahdlatul Ulama hopes that its willingness to confront head-on iintolerance and supremacism in tenants of Islamic law will convince the RSS to develop a Hindu equivalent of Humanitarian Islam that calls for pluralism and universal human rights, and take a critical look at Hindu theology history and anti-Muslim attitudes. Is that something that you think is realistic?
- Faizur Rahman (22:12):
Yes, of course. Certainly. The only thing is that I have never considered Hinduism to be exclusive. I have always considered Hinduism to be a very moderate and a peaceful philosophy or tradition or a way of life. It stands for peace, it stands for harmony between communities. It’s accommodative, it is inclusive. The famous term Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam which actually equates humanity with one family. And again, these terms are there in thees, the Hindu texts such as the Upanishad and also the Vedas, the Rig Veda and many other Vedas. These terms are there. And there’s another term in Hindu philosophy which goes like this, Ekam Sat Vipra Bahudha Vadanti, which means the truth is one, Sages call it by different names. This is exactly what the Qur’an says. So there’s absolutely no difference. Even the Qur’an says, I mean Islam is one religion, n fact, I would want the Muslims to on the lines of what Nahdlatul Ulama is doing.
Islam basically was never a religion. It was a social movement basically it was a reformed movement. It came to liberate humanity from oppressive yokes. It was made into a religion much later after the Prophet. The Prophet was basically a reformer. Of course, he spoke of worshiping one God, it’s called Tawhid. And he never discriminated against communities. He took along everybody and it was needed. People were oppressed in the name of different gods. So he had to talk about the one unique universal God. In the circumstances that was the right thing to do. But then he was not preaching a religion exclusively. He was basically reforming society and at the same time liberating them from their oppressive yokes. In the context of the Prophet himself, it was the Meccan oligarchs who had actually imposed such a what do you call enslaved basically the people of Mecca.
He was liberating them. So in this sense, Islam is a liberative movement is an emancipatory movement. So therefore if you try to confine Islam to a ritualistic form of religion, that would actually negate what the Prophet stood for, what the Qu’ran preaches and advocates. So if the NU seems to be doing this, certainly for instance, I welcome the Nahdlatul Ulama’s idea that the word Kafir cannot refer to. It cannot. The idea of Kafir in the Qur’an is totally different from what we understand today. What we have made to understand today by the clergy, it’s totally wrong. The word comes from the word kufr. Kufr is usually translated as infidelity or lack of faith. Kafir has been used in the Qur’an. Three broad meanings, meaning I have, I’ve written that in my article. It won’t stand for anybody who rejects faith or anybody who suppresses rejects truth or suppresses truth or is ungrateful.
This has been used only in these three meanings in the Qur’an. So, it is more of an attitude of a person towards truth and rational.. It does not designate the faith or the lack of it of any person. So, if this is understood, there won’t be a major issue. And this point was raised by Mr. Mohan in one of the discussions he had with Muslim intellectuals. He said that Indian Muslims must stop calling Hindus kafirs or infidels. See the request or demand was legitimate if there was a problem. The Muslims were not calling Hindu kafirs. The problem is that Mr. Bhagwat throughout his discussions with Muslims refers to something Islamic that he tries to equate with the entire Muslim community.
And that is not true. The Muslim community, neither in India or any other place, is not monolithic and nor are they in agreement entirely with what the cleric say in some texts which are, which post-Qur’anic, the post Prophetic texts, .This word, kafir, or kufur] has never been used in the Qur’an or any of the Prophetic text to refer to non-Muslims. No, this comes much later. All the texts that refer to such points, such linkages between non-Muslims and lack of faith are texts that basically, came centuries after the Prophet’s passing away. So therefore, it is a clerical problem. It is not a communal problem. The Muslim community in India, I have been here for a long time. I have never seen any Muslim, my friends or anyone else I knew calling a Hindu a kafir.
No, we always call them Hindus or Sikhs or Christians. No, we never call them kafir. I’m part of the community. So, it is not Muslims that are doing that. There are some fatwas which make such a point. We have to question those fatwas and we have to disregard those fatwas. And this is where I feel that the Muslim clerics, the Muslim ulama must come forward and say that yes, this fatwas are there. They were said long ago and they’re not relevant any longer. They must come and say that openly. That will set the tone, that will remove a lot of mistrust between Muslims and Hindus. But, unfortunately, I’ve never seen any Muslim organization coming out and clarify that all, I mean non-Muslims are not kafirs, they have to clarify this.
They have to make a categorical statement to that effect. And unfortunately, as far as I know, to the best of my knowledge, no prominent Muslim religious organization has come forward and clarified this. So that is a problem which the Muslim community must overcome. And here I feel that the Muslim laity has also a role to play against the clergy. They must pressurize, they must come forward and influence the clergy to come out of their medieval mindset and live in modern times. I mean contextualize Islam. This will improve Hindu-Muslim relations to a large extent, in my opinion.
James M. Dorsey (29:52):
I want to come back to the issues of the kafir as well as the much broader issue of religious reform in a second. Let me just stick for a moment with the RSS, which is an almost 100-year old organization, 5 million members strong, and the voice of militant Hindu nationalism, Its influence has been obviously magnified with its disciples in national government for the past eight years. Is there any alternative to a dialogue with the RSS? And if not why have Indian Muslim leaders been unable to engage in the way that Nahdlatul Ulama has.
- Faizur Rahman (30:38):
There is no alternative to a dialogue. Islam does not believe in violence. The very name Islam means peace. So, a Muslim is one who stands for peace, who upholds peace, who promotes peace. Therefore, in my opinion, there is absolutely no room for an alternative to a dialogue. The Qur’an is very clear about it. And even this dialogue, the Qur’an says needs to be done in a very beautiful way. Even if it’s a debate, the verse which talks about it is: ud’oo ila sabeeli rabbika bil hikmati, wal mau’izatil hasanati, wa jaadil hum billati hiya ahsan. The verse begins this way: invite people towards the way of God with wisdom. I mean, not being aggressive, you need to use wisdom, you need to be very polite. And then, I mean, you know, have to talk in a language, which actually softens people. The word in Arabic means the speech or talk that softens people, not aggravates the situation.
And then, even if it has to be a jidaal or a debate, cause in a dialogue there can be a debate. Sometimes people may disagree. It has to be in the best possible way, in a civil way. This is laid down in the Qur’an itself and there’s no alternative to this. There is absolutely no violence. The Qur’an does not promote violence. All those verses about violence were in response to the attacks against Islam and the Muslims. And they were only self-defense with the Qur’an categorically stating that once they stop attacking, you have no right to even self-defense. Therefore, in no opinion, there is no alternative to the dialogue. And if Indian Muslims, the leadership is not in a position to have a dialogue with the RSS or Hindu organisations, there are several reasons for this. One, there’s hardly any Muslim organization which is, I’m talking about Muslim religious organizations, which is liberal or moderate enough.
At the back of their minds, all these organizations think that Muslims some way are superior. They have this supremacist understanding of Islam. I mean they also believe in what can be called salvific exclusivity. They believe that salvation can only be for Muslims. This is a problem with almost many Semitic religions or interpretations of Semitic religions. Even the Christians feel that salvation is only for Christians and maybe others too may feel so. But from Islamic point of view salvific exclusivity is alien to the Qur’an is alien to the prophets teachings. It’s is not part of their teachings at all. The Qur’an in very too powerful versus in Surah Baqrah (Chapter Cow) and Surah Maidah (chapter Table Spread) very clearly says that anyone who stands for peace, anyone who actually recognizes the universal law of the creator, is fit to be saved. So the Qur’an does not speak of any kind of exclusivism, but most organizations and the back of the mind always feel that.
Most of them feel, I’m talking about religious organizations, that Muslims are a better community or we have the truth. This attitude must go, this hinders dialogue. Many Muslim religious scholars who have studied in madrassas have told me that even non-Muslims have no right to interpret the Qur’an. If Qur’an can be interpreted, Islam can be interpreted or represented only by Muslims. This is another problem. Qur’an make no such distinction. So where did we get this idea from? All these things came much later during the Caliphates, several caliphates where the ulema-state nexus was there. They enjoyed a symbiotic relationship, the ulema and the rulers. Therefore, these people created all these things to let the rulers rule forever And the rulers never interfered with the ulema and decisions of the clergy. This system worked for a long time, and this is where all these problems, the exclusivism or the hatred against non-Muslims or salvation exclusivism came all about. If Muslim religious organizations are willing to do away with this and make Islam, restore the original inclusiveness of Islam, that would be a great step forward. And the other thing that may be hindering is that the RSS itself, as I said, sometimes speaks the language of exclusiveness.
For instance, I, let me quote in a recent interview Mr. Bhagwat, I have it with me here. He says that it says: Hamare Bharat mien jo Musalman hain…woh rahna chahate hain, rahen…purvajon ke paas aana chahate hain, aayen..’Hum aek samay Raja theh, hum phir se Raja banenge’ yeh chodna padega. [It means]: in our country, in our India, the Muslims who are here. If they want to stay here, let them stay. I mean we have no problem if they want to come back to the ancestral way of life, what is known as ghar wapsi kind of to go back to the Hindu roots, they’re afraid to come. The exclusivity here is that Mr. Bhagwat and his organisation seems to have at the back of their mind that India is basically a Hindu nation and we only accommodate the Muslims. This is a fallacy and then perhaps the RSS needs to address that. This hinders an open dialogue with the Muslim community, even with the Muslim clergy. In fact, what I’m saying is there’s a clash of exclusivisms here at the moment. This clash of exclusives must give way to an inclusive dialogue. The other part of w/hat Mr. Bhagwat said was, that yes, they (the Muslims) can be here or come back to our ancestral way of life. But they must give up certain things
Mr. Bhagwat says, this was quoted by The Organizer, the RSS publication. He says that the Muslims, if they start saying that once we rule India and we would like to rule India again, they have to stop saying this. Of course, there is nothing wrong in such a statement, I would entirely agree with Mr. Bhagwat. But the problem is Muslims are not saying that. Mr. Bhagwat himself does not or did not a offer single instance of the Muslim community as a whole saying it, or even a small group among Muslims saying that we ruled India and we want to rule again. No, Muslim and not even Muslim religious organizations have made such a statement. There’s no evidence that Muslims hold such views in India. No. So then why does Mr. Bhagwat say that Muslims must stop doing this when they’re not even doing it?
This all boils down to lack of trust. Perhaps Mr. Bhagwat has not been fully updated with what’s going on and perhaps he must visit a lot of Muslim communities. He must come and talk, visit Muslim people, Muslim societies. He must visit different mosques to meet them. This outreach he can do to know what, what’s in their mind. This will be a good step forward. But instead, if you just make statements, and the other part is all these statements are only made to RSS publications or or at RSS or Hindu functions. I think Mr. Bhagwat must also speak to the other media organizations. They must also come out and talk to Muslims Muslim organizations, Muslim people. Basically there should be a people to people contact.
Because believe me, when I tell you this, James, at the people to people level in India, there’s hardly any problem between Muslims and Hindus. I live in Chennai, I’ve gone to Delhi, I’ve gone to, many other places. I don’t see any problem between Hindus and Muslims. There’s no problem at all.If Mr. Bhagwat, if the Hindu organisations to reach out to Muslim society in general at the grassroot level, they will find that the Muslims in India love their country. The Muslims in India are totally as loyal as any anybody, any citizen can be. We have no problem. We are lucky to be here. We say we are very happy to be here, no doubt about that. At the same time, the Muslim religious leaders must also stop believing that all the Hindus are like some organisations. For instance, there was this recent Dharam Sansad (Religious Parliament) in Haridwar (a city in North India) wherein calls for a Muslim genocide were issued.
Of course, a case has been filed against such people. The entire Hindu community is not represented by these people. The Hindu community in India is a very moderate Islamic community. The Muslim clerks must also realize this and go out and reach out to Hindu communities and talk to them. And this is what will, in my opinion, will bring both communities together. If you just let organizations talk between themselves or talk privately, nothing is going to change much. I would suggest that there should be a movement at the grassroot level to bring the two communities together and talk of in a peaceful way, in an unconditional way and in a way that actually promotes brotherhood and sisterhood in the sense. From the Hindu point of view, I consider the RSS as the most influential organization at the moment.
So, if it comes from that side, they’re like our elder brother. Therefore, if they initiate a grassroot connection, a contact between the Muslims, I think a lot can happen. Muslims will certainly come forward and will we’ll extend the hand of friendship. It’s not that they’re enemies at the moment, no, at the moment we have no issue with any Hindu, I mean Hindu community or any Hindu group, certainly not. It is the other side. They seem to have some issue with us at the moment, and all these things are based on what you call misinformation. For instance, demography. Muslims are trying to outnumber the Hindus. No, it’s not possible. They’re not even doing it. All these fertility rates are false which I’ve written in my chapter in the book that you quoted. I have given reasons that Muslimsare not doing any kind of jihad, whether it is Corona jihad or love jihad.
There’s no evidence. Again, courts have said that. So this is based on the perceptions, which are not based on facts. If these misconceptions are clarified and if they’re overcome, I think that nothing can prevent India, I mean Indian Muslims and Hindus, from coming together and working towards the progress of our country and making it the Vish fuuu that the prime minister has been talking about. There’s no problem between Hindus and Muslim at the moment at all at the people to people level. It is only in some pockets due to some Western interest creating these issues. Otherwise, there’s no issue. What has happened is because of these interest groups, a lot of moderate Muslims and moderate Hindus are afraid to come out and speak up for harmony. Of the initiative is taken by the RSS and reciprocated wholeheartedly by the Muslim leadership and even the community, I think that would pave the way for, for a wonderful Hindu Muslim unity in this country.
James M. Dorsey (44:12):
I want to focus for a minute on one thing that you said, which is the definition that the RSS uses. I’ve heard some Muslim figures say that in fact the RSS definition of who is a Muslim or even who is a Hindu is an inclusive one. They basically argue that the RSS defines a Hindu in cultural terms and refers to that as including anybody who lives in India and doesn’t refer to Hindu as a religious group. Would you agree that that is the RSS definition, and would that be a healthy basis for dialogue?
- Faizur Rahman (45:05):
As I said, the melding of Indianness with Hindu has always been a problematic thing because the term Hindu has never been associated with Indianness in the past. No historian has ever associated it with Indianness itself. The Hindu historically has been used for the religion of people beyond the river Indus on this side. It may include the culture too, but at the same time there existed parallel communities in India, which were not Hindu in their outlook, because in India, even within the Hindu community for instance, the culture is very diverse. If Mr. Bhagwat is talking about cultural nationalism or cultural Hinduism, which makes all Indians culturally, one, again, that is not only historically but factually not possible because factually speaking, the culture in India differs from state to state. The culture in Bengal, of course an excellent culture, but it differs from the culture of Tamil Nadu.
It’ll differ from the culture of Maharashtra. It’ll differ from the culture of Kashmir, certainly. So these are all Indian states, this all Indian regions, and there are Hindus and Muslims. For instance, a Muslim in Tamil Nadu will be culturally close to the Hindus here, for instance, the Festival of Pongal, if you see the Festival of Pongal is celebrated both by Muslims and Hindus. But culturally, lot of Muslims here are Tamils and therefore they have no problem in celebrating a festival called Pali. Similarly, Muslim never do that in Bengal. There, they’ll be culturally closer to the Bengali, but they may not be culturally closer to say Hindu. That doesn’t make them anti-Hindu. Similarly, if Muslims don’t celebrate Diwali or the Pali, it doesn’t mean that they’re opposed to any Hindu festival. No, it is that they have been culturized in a certain environment and that process acculturation has happened historically for long periods of time.
Therefore, my argument is there is not one culture in India that can be termed Hindu or Muslim or Bengali or Tamil. All these cultures are there in those regions and all are Indian cultures. Anybody following that culture is as much an Indian as a person in Maharashtra following the Hindu culture there. The Hindu culture there refers from the Bengali culture. That doesn’t mean that they’re opposed to each other. Culture is geographical, culture is traditional in many senses. I mean there are a variety of histories. I feel that if Mr. Bhagwat or the RSS wants to talk about just one culture that does not exist in India, I mean India is a place of various cultures, a variety of cultures coexist peacefully and have been coexisting peacefully. If you try to limit it to one and impose it on others and make it conditional to establish a person’s Indianness, I think that would not be very good.
In terms of what they call bringing about communal harmony, I think we need to believe in the age-old doctrine of India called unity in diversity. We have been united despite our diverse religions, cultures and habits and traditions, we have been living as Indians ever since. independence. There had never been a problem. So why should it happen now? So therefore I feel the Mr. Bhagwat and the RSS must be a little more accommodative of other cultures and not define them in terms of any one culture. I feel that may not be the right way to move forward at the moment.
James M. Dorsey (49:29):
We’ve touched quite a bit during this conversation on the issue of religious reform, but I’d like to go a little bit deeper in that. You’ve said in this conversation, but also in your chapter you’ve argued that Muslims need to clarify their beliefs by stressing that India is not part of the Muslim notion of, the abode the war or Dar al Harb. And Nahdlatul Ulama declared that the concept of a kafir or infidel does not apply to non-Muslims. You’ve also explicitly called in the chapter for theological reform. My question is, are we talking about jurisprudential reform here in the way that Nahdlatul Ulama does? And if so, wouldn’t that not only apply not to concepts of the kafir or and Dar al Harb, but also to issues such as dhimmis, the people of the book in Islamic law, or for example, apostasy and blasphemy?
- Faizur Rahman (50:31):
Yes, yes, certainly. See it has to be two-pronged. The approach has to be two-pronged. The jurisprudential reform or reform itself can be jurisprudential as well as social. Jurisprudential in the sense that, for instance, in India, we had a recentl problem of talaq, an instance where the Muslim husband has a right to simply divorce his wife and throw her out of the house just by pronouncing the word talaq in succession. In three seconds, the wife is rendered a stranger and thrown out of the house. This is totally aun=Islamic, there is nothing to support this jurisprudentially but it was been happening in India. Finally the Supreme Court stepped in and invalidated it, and that was excellent judgment. I welcome and we Muslims all welcomed the judgment. Had the Muslim themselves done this, there would’ve been no need for the Supreme Court to intervene.
The Supreme Court intervened correctly and it was and it was an excellent judgment on triple talaq. There are many other jurisprudential issues which affect the community. Such reforms must happen. And there are other reforms legally also which should be done, which affect other communities. You mentioned blasphemy and apostasy. Apostasy affects the people within Islam. Of course, anybody who rejects Islam is termed an apostate and he’s liable to be killed according to many Islamic schools of thought. Here again this is not based on the Qut’an or any authentic Prophetic, these are all based fatwas or texts that came centuries after the Prophet, Peace be upon Him, had passed away. This goes for blasphemy too. Basically , if somebody criticizes an Islamic figure that’s construed as a blasphemy. And in Pakistan recently they have expanded the blasphemy law.
They have strengthened it further. They have said that it’s not just any statement against the Prophet but also against his companions and his wives and other relatives that will also be construed as blasphemy. And you can be jailed for 10 years with a heavy fine of a million rupees or something. I mean, once again, there should be reform here mainly because any law that you formulate in the name of Islam, in the name of Sharia, must satisfy two basic conditions. The first condition is it should be based on the Qur’an. It should not violate the Qur’an or any Prophetic statement. But most of these laws, as you see on blasphemy and apostasy completely violated the Qur’an and prophetic statements. The prophet has very clearly said in the Qur’an that yes, these people have abused you, these people have called you names, these people have caused you harm. But the Qur’an says, have patience with them and overlook and forgive them. In chapter five, the words use, oh look and forgive them, fa’u’foo, forgive them. This is the instruction of the prophet and prophet. And in chapter 73, ink, the prophet has been very categorical. I’m quoting, ‘have patience with whatever they say. Be patient with what they say, their abusive statements and disengage from them in a dignified way.’
Jamil is in a beautiful way disengaged from them without antagonizing them or abusing them back. And this is exactly how the prophet behaved through his life. There’s a statement of Hazrat Aisha, his wife who says that the prophet was a walking Qur’an, meaning he lived the Qur’an. Basically, he walked the Qur’an, he, it’s not just talked the Quran. He also walked the Qur’an according to his wife. So, the prophet did nothing, and in fact he’s category, he’s made to categorically state. In the Quran itself, I of my own self cannot change the Qur’an. I only follow what has been revealed to me. This is the Qur’an statement. So now when the prophet himself has stated so clearly that he will not go against the Qur’an and he has never gone against the Quran, all he has has been doing is following what has been revealed to me, revealed to him in the Qur’an, and how can we later on make laws that violate the Quran?
Certainly these laws, therefore for this fundamental reason, cannot be tenable under Islam. So therefore reform has to come, without doubt because this affects non-Muslims. Anybody can in Pakistan use blasphemy, I’m told, to settle scores with non-Muslim. If somebody wants some property. I’ve read in the media, if somebody wants any property of somebody, all that you need to do is accuse him of blasphemy. I feel that certainly these reforms are needed within Islam and that will also restore faith in others. I mean faith of others in Muslims, they will, they’ll start believing that yes, Islam is not religion. which practices these things. Basically, religion is justice to ensure peace. This is the perception that you need to build, the Muslim clergy must come forward and reform the laws, jurisprudentially and socially, all those laws that affect both Muslims and non-Muslims.
James M. Dorsey (56:52):
Indeed, unfortunately, we’re coming towards the end of this conversation, but before I let you go, I want to touch on one other issue of reform that you have highlighted in the chapter in the edited volume that I haven’t heard most other Muslim reformers talk about. And that’s the principle of dawah or proselytisation, which you described as a tool of Islamic supremacism. Can you elaborate on that a bit?
- Faizur Rahman (57:25):
Yeah, see, the word dawah actually means invitation. I just quoted a verse before, I mean a few minutes ago during this conversation this way, this is where the come from, Ud’u. Ud’u is invite and dawah is invitation towards the path of God with wisdom. But now Muslims have given up this wisdom and they also forgotten what the invitation means to the piece of the path of God. What does the path of God signify? Does the path of God signify signify religious rituals? Is the Quran talking about inviting people to g But now Muslims have given up this wisdom and they also have forgotten what the invitation means to the path of God. What does the path of God signify? Does the path of God signify religious rituals? Is the Qur’an talking about inviting people to grow a long beard, inviting people to wear a hijab or inviting people to pray five times a day? Of course, praying five times a day is an obligated practice? No doubt. Of course, these are Islamic practices, but is the Qur’an referring to these practices or is it talking about the general way of life where justice, peace, and equity, harmony is insured?
The values, the value system, this is what Qur’an is referring to. You invite people to a common value system, and that’s another word who says that. It says it to anybody, not just the Christians and Jews, it could be anybody with the book. Even the Hindus could be included in that term. So basically, it’s telling to all people, let us come to common terms, meaning let us find what is common between us and follow this path of God. The path of God does not mean that you invite person to something that is exclusively yours and tell him, if you don’t do this, you’re not part of this faith, you are outside it. That is not what the Qur’an is telling. That is the hikma who I’m talking about. It has to be done in hikma. Hikma or wisdom demands that we invite people to something that is common because otherwise why would another person come to a path which is exclusively mine and there’s nothing in it for him.
Islam is so inclusive that all it expects of you is to be a peace-loving person. That is what Islam signifies. Islam means peace. The Muslim is a person who follows Islam. Other words, the Muslim, the person of peace. This is what the Qur’an says, that Islam is the religion basically, and that the term religion, again, is not part of Islam, not part of the Qur’an. What is translated as religion in various Qur’an translations, it’s the term din. Din can be synonymous with dharma of the Hindu faith or Daena of the Zoroastrian faith where we talk about a way of life, a universal way of life. So this universal way of life is where the values are common. I mean not cheating anybody, not fooling anybody, I mean not being unjust and being just to people, spreading peace and harmony. These are our values which are common to all systems, whether Hindu, Christian or Muslim.
So this is what the Quran also reminds you and tells you that you have to invite them. There may be people who are violent, for instance, in the context of Mecca, the people who are violent people were calling them to an exclusive set of gods wherein they were using those gods. They were exploiting people by taking a lot of money from them in the name of appeasing those gods to sort out other issues, social issues. The prophets said, no, this is not, can’t be true. There can’t be so many gods. This is, it was in this context that the Prophet talked about one universe, one God, the concept of tawheed. So, when we invite people to God, this is what we are inviting to, but today the word dawah has been so misunderstood, so narrow that for instance, they would invite a person only to the Salafi path of God, the so-called Salafi understanding of Islam where, for instance this so-called televangelist named Zakir Naik, says that Muslims should not wish Christians on Christmas.
Muslims should not greet Hindus on Diwali. They should not wish others Hindus on Pali. In short, Muslims should not wish any non-Muslim on their festivities, on their festivals because once you do that, you become like them. You become appreciating those festivals. You should not be doing that because Islam is exclusive and if you adopt that, I mean you’re going away from Islam. This is not Islamic. This is not what the Prophet thought This’s not what the Qur’an stands for. This is not dawah. If you’re inviting people to this path of Allah, this path is not the path of God at all from the Qur’anic or Prophetic point of view. This what I was criticizing. I’m not criticizing the idea of dawah itself. The idea of dawah is dawah but what is the idea of dawah? It is not what these kind of people are preaching.
So my criticism is against that kind of a dawah where you call people to an exclusive way of life, which is completely antithetical to what the Prophet and the Qur’an stood for. Before I forget, there are some groups which believe that India is Dar al Harb, the abode of war or land of war. No, certainly not for me. India is Darul Aman. It is land of peace. Muslims are able to live in peace. More Muslims are killed in Pakistan today.
Of course, yes, we have a problem in India. I mean there are some organizations which are calling for the lynching of Muslims, and luckily and it’s a good thing that Mr. Bhagwat has also said that lynching is against Hindutva. I think he should come out further and call for action against these people who are doing it, call for legal action, and these people must be booked and be tried under the law. And at the same time, the people who call for genocide, they’re Muslims who called for violence, must be booked under the law. These all have in the recent past increased, no doubt about that. But by and large, India happens to be a peaceful place. I mean, no, I cannot think of myself living in Pakistan and making all these comments and writing all those articles from Pakistan. Many Muslim scholars in Pakistan where forced to migrate from to go to US or Canada or other countries to voice their opinions.
That is not the case for Muslims in India so far. I feel that in that sense, India is a Darul Aman, an abode of peace. Yes, there are issues. There are issues, and this is where I feel that people like Mr. Mohan must come out, put the foot down, and say that anybody, even if it happens, if it happens, especially if it happens to be, or even if that’s such a person happens to be a group, happens to be from within the Hindu fold, we will not tolerate any violence or statements that promote violence. If this is done, I think everything is sorted out, but at the moment, yes, it is happening. The laws are invoked against the people who have been lynching and making those statements. The cases are going, no doubt about that. But if such statements, activities are entirely stopped and Muslims reciprocate and consider Hindus also their brothers, I don’t see any reason why Hindu Muslim community should come about sooner than later.
James M. Dorsey (01:05:48):
Faizur, on that note, unfortunately time flies. We could easily talk for another hour or so.
This has been extremely informative and extremely enlightening. Thank you very much for joining me, joining the show, the Turbulent World with James Mm Dorsey, and we hope to have you back on the show very soon.
- Faizur Rahman (01:06:10):
Thank you so much for having me, James, and have a great day
James M. Dorsey (01:06:16):
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Dr. James M. Dorsey is an award-winning journalist and scholar, an Adjunct Senior Fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, and the author of the syndicated column and blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.