Home Articles Of Islamophobia in the name of secular stereotyping

Of Islamophobia in the name of secular stereotyping

By Abul Kalam Azad,

Secularism, for many upper caste liberal Hindus, is a stick to beat the Muslims. They shed crocodile tears that can drown the entire nation over the apparent ‘communalization’ of middle class Muslims. They started betraying this extreme discomfort, as the author of this highly problematic article, at many young middle class Muslims ‘sporting long beards and wearing pathani suits’ because you know the body etiquette is all this country needs to brand a Muslim as ‘communal’ – a Hindu sporting a sindoor, a Hindu wearing a janeu, these specimens are capable of pure unadulterated secularism (or the Indian version of it) – and show dubious concern over them being usurped by ‘global jihad’.

This is a peculiar kind of Islamophobia that the people like the author in question seem to have mastered over- because it is very subtle and it waxes eloquent hitting at all the crucial buzz words that define the liberal secular modern values, which apparently the Muslim community is yet to catch up with. This rhetoric has been internalized so much in the middle/upper class/caste Indians so much so that no one hardly takes any offence at what it seems to me a vital component of the structural violence the media and ‘intellectuals’ of this country are so brazenly wont to commit on the marginalized Muslims.

Girl students during their class at Madrassatul Banat in Guwahati

Let me start with the title of the article: “Why secularism is a bad word for Muslims?”

Please note the blanket, and quite brazen, stereotyping of the entire community- since long time, Muslims of this country have become undeserving of any qualifiers like ‘some’ to be attached to the community. Because you know, all of us behave in the same way – all of us have beards (see, we hate salons!), all of us wear ‘pathani’ suits (we lack fashion sense), all of us are easily impressionable to the ‘extremist’ and ‘fundamentalist’ ideologies, and before I forget to mention, all of us lurve, just love, MIM and its brand of ‘communal’ politics (Never mind that it took six decades for it to establish itself in only two states).

Of course, the author laments about the abysmal conditions of the Muslim community, the findings of the Sachar commission report, the lack of political representation of the Muslims (to be accurate, he writes that this as the belief of urban liberal Muslims rather than a stark fact, and at some point in the article he calls this impression ‘skewed’, but ‘To err is human’ and all that jazz..) etc… Before I extend my hand to thank him, something pulls me back – my ungrateful mind draws my attention towards the causes he gives for these pathetic socio-economic-political conditions. – Of course ‘the Muslim clergy’ – those ‘regressive’ mullahs. Who are this clergy? Shia or Sunni? If Shia, who? If Sunni, who? – the questions which the author did not think it was necessary to either ask or answer. When it comes to issues of Muslims’, people ignore facts or sensible arguments and take great pride in spewing pre-conceived notions.

Thus spoke the author: “The Muslim clergy do not encourage parents to send their children to public schools, which they deride as carriers of Hindu ideology. As a result, many Muslim children are denied the benefits of modern education.”

Not because they don’t have enough money to feed the family (because of they are employed in menial jobs in the informal sector or rotting as an under-trials in our jails etc), let alone fund an education. No, Muslims self-marginalize themselves. They refuse to modernize, to get inside the bandwagon of secularism and this too, not because they are denied entry into this bandwagon, not because the bandwagon did not care to accommodate them in their rightful seats – it is solely because of our reluctance to imbibe modernism with the unflinching support of Mullahs and Maulvis.

This is the ‘self-marginalization’ myth. Elsewhere I wrote, while ‘musing over the curious case of ‘secular Muslim’
“The myth of self-marginalization of Muslims is a highly popular ‘belief’ in certain secular, progressive circles. The argument goes like this: ‘Most of the Indian Muslims are mired in religious dogma and fundamentalism. That really is the cause of their backwardness and marginalization. These are self-inflicted wounds they like blaming others for. Look at how secular, well-educated Muslims are prospering, all the same!’

These theories of non self-inflicted oppression are ways to evade the self-critique of our regressive religious practices and our fundamentalism that is at the root of our marginalization.

This, we need to concede, to preserve our tag of a “secular Muslim.”

Coming back to what author claimed. If only he had taken the trouble to read Sachar commission report, instead of randomly using it as a prop in the article, he would know that only 4% percent of Muslims who study, do it in Madrasas and now, even Hindus attend Madrasas. It is the hideous socio-economic conditions (poverty entrenched in social stigma and discrimination) that force many Muslims to never see the face of school, and many more to drop out of them.

This denial of upper caste liberal Hindu that it is the social-political structure that is extremely biased towards Muslims, and that is the main cause for their abysmal conditions – not because of the regressive nature of some Mullahs or some Owaisi- is highly condemnable.

TCN File Photo of a rally by MIM in Maharashtra during the recently concluded Assembly elections.

It is extremely amusing for me to note that these middle class liberal Muslims who are normally manipulated to debunk the claims of poorer Muslims that their socio-economic conditions are worsening day after day. Today, this very same middle class Muslim has become a cause of concern for these folks. Why, you ask? They are starting to diverge from the ‘secular’ parties, who have done zilch since decades to provide the community a life with dignity and security, and seek shelter in, what the author perceives to be a ‘communal’ outfit – hmm, yes, that taboo word, ‘identity’ politics. They kill us. They hack us to pieces. They rape us. They deny housing and education to us. All because of our identity! Now, suddenly, they start wondering why we are so conscious of our identity and why we are drifting towards parties that assert this identity and claim that they will fight for de-stigmatizing that identity.

But this is not to condone the politics and rhetoric of hate. This is just to point out that the source of ailment rests, untroubled, elsewhere – somewhere deep inside the fabric of Indian polity where the eyes of upper caste liberal Hindu can/pretend to never reach. It is not the Muslims that have become communal. It is the society, surrounding them, that has, since long has been, and increasingly so, communal and has distanced itself, and ghettoized this community for decades.

There is no point rambling over the distinctions in theory and praxis of secularism in the Indian context. The fact of the matter is many secular non-Muslims, locked in their exclusive gated communities, in this country are communal and now are starting to call all Muslims communal – because they suddenly noticed a bunch of bearded men in Pathani suits infiltrating their holy electoral citadels. The fact of the matter is many secular liberals fortify their secularism by rampantly spewing the hate-filled Islamophobic rhetoric. The fact of the matter is the ‘Srivatsavas’, the ‘Marathas’, the ‘Trivedis’, the ‘Sharmas’ will always tremble when anyone talks of “creation of a platform for the unity of Muslims, Dalits and OBCs as an alternative to the ‘secular’ parties.” Whether such a unity can ever become a reality is a different matter.

Because, he is afraid of losing the disproportionate sway that the upper caste Hindus have been holding ever since Independence, over the polity of this country. This is just upper caste rage directed at the subalterns to reclaim the territory assigned to them by birth and by way of caste/religion.

Finally, I confess that I don’t have a beard or a Pathani suit, and if possible, Mr Srivatsava and the upper caste intellectual brigade should go on a tour distributing Pathani suits to all the Muslims who don’t have and can’t afford it so that their hate-filled articles start making more sense.

(The author is a student at the IIT, Chennai. Mahtab Alam contributed in writing this article)

Noted: A shorter and edited version of the piece above was carried as rejoinder by Tehelka magazine and it can be read here.