Do ‘liberal icons’ encourage identity politics among Muslims?

By Dr Kouser Fathima for

The ‘liberal icons’ are again preaching Muslims, especially women, about what is an acceptable form of dressing. This has unleashed a new cohered sense of identity amongst Muslims.

Support TwoCircles

Many Muslims, who generally stay away from identity politics, are now increasingly becoming more vocal and assertive about their religious identity. Not that these Muslims were ashamed of their religious identity or tried to hide it. Rather, they believed in multiculturalism, an avoidance of flaunting of religious identity. The repeated attacks and sermons by the so-called ‘liberal icons’ like Ramachandra Guha have, in fact, brought an identitarian awakening amongst Muslims. This has led to Muslims openly flaunting their faith and culture. The ‘liberal icons’ have a preconceived notion about Muslims, which is restricted to urbane Muslims, mostly non-bearded and non-hijabis, entertaining guests with their delicious biryani, enjoying an evening of ghazals and shayaris. They want to see the entire community in this homogenous light, forgetting that the Muslim community is multicultural and is as heterogeneous as any other community. There is no denying that non-bearded and non-hijabis are very much a part of the Muslim community. But these upper caste ‘liberals’ from the majority community are so obsessed with this image of a ‘liberal Muslim’ that they expect the entire community to be a replica of this image. Anyone who doesn’t adhere to this image is immediately seen as backward and regressive, forgetting that the basic principles of liberalism are freedom and respect for individual choice. If the ‘liberals’ from the majority community can’t understand the multidimensionality of a community, it’s their failure. They can’t expect an entire community to follow the rules set by them. These ‘liberals’ conveniently forget that these Muslims are exercising their individual choice and not trying to please the liberals nor waiting for their badge of acceptance.

No religion or culture should escape the sharp eye of critique. But there is a difference between evaluating a culture and blindly attacking it, based on one’s inbuilt prejudice and bias. It’s the fault of ‘liberals’ if they fail to understand and respect a faith and culture different from their own. Instead of preaching others, they must first try to understand the nuances of other cultures.

The repeated attack on the Muslim community has resulted in many Muslims now openly flaunting their religious identity. While these ‘liberal icons’ speak against identity politics, they push people towards it. There is a sudden surge in the number of hijabis and bearded Muslims. There might be various reasons for this. But the need for asserting one’s religious and cultural identity is related to the secularizing impulse of ‘liberals’, especially when Muslims are constantly dictated about what is acceptable and what is not. Many doctors, engineers, and educated Muslims are now seen wearing hijab and growing beards.

Living in Ivory towers and surrounded by like-minded people, the ‘liberals’ inhabit an echo chamber, resonating the same prejudices. Some of their biases are almost Islamophobic, cleverly disguised as liberalism. They have preconceived notions about how Muslims should dress and look and repeatedly remind them by setting rules of acceptance. Those who fail to adhere to these rules are blamed and shamed. This attitude of setting standards under the pretext of liberalism is increasingly becoming common among these so-called ‘liberal icons’, leading to their eroding influence in society. Contrary to their expectations, this has led to more assertiveness among Muslims, as more and more people openly flaunt their faith and cultural identity.

Although change is the only constant, any change that is enforced will ultimately backfire.

*This column was initially published on Cafe Dissensus. Taken with permission under Creative Commons licence.*