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The good Muslim-bad Muslim binary is as old as Nehru

The Kashmir Monitor





Elaborating the title of his autobiography, The Sarkari Mussalman, Lt General Zameer Uddin Shah, former VC of the Aligarh Muslim University, argues:

Sarkari Mussalman… meaning those who worked for the government. I faced this phrase… when I was a young Second Lieutenant. I saw a few excellent riders from Aligarh Muslim University playing Polo. … I went to them and asked, “Please join the Army. We need good riders. You will also get to play Polo”. As they were leaving, I asked them again, “Will you join the Army. This is the last bastion of secularism. You will never be discriminated for being a Muslim”. No answer came from them but one of them said, “You are a Sarkari Mussalman, so you will say that”.

Lt General Shah’s explanation makes us aware of the fact that ‘Sarkari Mussalman’ should not be seen merely as a provocative title of a book. It is an explanatory template by which the attitudes, responses and actions of Indian Muslims, especially those who have become part of the so-called mainstream, are described and evaluated.

This term is also used to make a distinction between the favourable/acceptable Muslims and the non-acceptable Muslims – the bad guys of the community.

The good Muslims, we are told, would join the mainstream; while the bad Muslims would continue to raise sectarian demands and disrupt the progress of the nation. A number of different phrases are used interchangeably to describe good Muslims –secular Muslims, cultural Muslims, nationalist Muslims and so on – to counter the bad guys or communal Muslims, separatist Muslims, Pro-Pakistan elements and, more recently, the terrorist Muslims.

In this sense, the Sarkari Mussalman is referred to as an acceptable and trustworthy agent of the state/government.

The story of good Muslims versus bad Muslims is inextricably linked to the debates on postcolonial Muslim identity. It is worth noting that Hindu right-wing groups – the Hindu Mahasabha as well as the Jana Sangh – did not show any interest in evoking the good versus bad Muslim binary in the 1950s. They treated all Muslims as a homogeneous entity and asked them to Indianise their identity and religion and demonstrate their loyalty and patriotism.

It was Jawaharlal Nehru who introduced this distinction to legitimise his policies towards minorities and to oppose Hindu communal politics. In a letter to Ravishankar Shukla in 1954, Nehru wrote:

There are all kinds of trends among the Muslims in India and some of them are undoubtedly objectionable. I think, however, that we should not be led away by these and we should try to judge the broad situation objectively. (Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Vol. 25, p. 227)

The more elaborate conceptualisation of ‘good Muslims’ may be found in his letter to chief ministers in 1961. He said:

Recently there was a Muslim Convention in Delhi …My own reaction to this… was against it. Later, I came to the conclusion that it would not be right to try to stop it… I do not regret that it was held, even though I dislike much that happened there. The resolutions were not so bad, but the tenor of the speeches made was definitely bad. But, good or bad, it represented widespread feeling and we have to recognize that and try to get rid of it. It is that feeling of frustration which leads to narrow-mindedness and reactionary thinking. (Emphasis added; Letters to the Chief Ministers, Vol. 5, p. 457)

Being a serious political observer, Nehru emphasised more on the reasons, which forced a section of Muslims to feel isolated after the Partition, especially in north India. But the vocabulary of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ contributed significantly to set the ‘nationalist expectations’.

After Nehru’s death, a new imagination of good Muslims began to take shape. More broadly, three categories of ‘good Muslims’ may be underlined.

The English-educated, middle-class professionals, who have/had some association with Left-liberal politics, are the first type of Muslims. They are recognised as the ‘ideal type’ of community leaders. It is argued that this section would infuse the progressive impulse in the community and Muslims would be able to join the mainstream. Authors such as Khwaja Ahmad Abbas and diplomat Mohammad Yunus are examples of this type.

The second are the favourable Ulema and religious elite who are also treated as ‘good Muslims’. Although this tradition began with Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the manner in which controversial leaders, such as the Imam of Jama Masjid, Abdullah Bukhari, were promoted is quite astonishing. Indira Gandhi’s letter to Bukhari, which she wrote in 1979, is an example of this form of politics. She wrote:
Some incidents including the 1975 Jama Masjid incident, which took place in the past and during the Emergency, resulted in stress and strain and I am sorry that they left an atmosphere of misunderstanding and bitterness. Let this past be forgotten so that we can begin on a note of harmony and cooperation… We agree that all derogatory references to religious leaders should be deleted from textbooks. Our party is committed not to interfere in Muslim personal law… Urdu would be recognized as a second language to be used for official purpose in some areas. (A.G. Noorani, The Muslims of India, OUP, p. 183)

The outcome of this letter was quite obvious. The Imam not only supported Indira Gandhi in the 1980 elections but also legitimised his practise of issuing fatwas in favour of political parties.

The rise of the BJP in the recent years has led to the third category of ‘good Muslims’, the nationalist (Rashtravadi) Muslims. Unlike the progressive Muslims of the Congress/Left, these Muslims offer an uncritical support to the basic premises of the Hindutva project. They take pro-BJP position on controversial issues by emphasising their religious identity as practicing Muslims.

This is what Zafar Sareshwala, a highly successful Gujarati businessman and a staunch supporter of Prime Minister Narendra Modi (until recently!), says:
My physical appearance and “image” is that of a stereotypical Muslim. I have a beard, my wife wears a burqa, we pray 5 times a day, we’ve done Haj and we follow every Islamic tradition. But our views are enlightened precisely because we take the teachings of Islam seriously.

The celebrated image of A.P.J. Abdul Kalam (a Veena player, a Bhagwat Gita reader, a Sanskrit lover and a Muslim scientist!) is a fine example of a Rashtravadi good Muslim. This may be the reason why he was preferred over Aurangzeb – the bad Muslim – for commemorating the ideal Muslimness in contemporary India.
These versions of ‘good Muslims’ – either as Sarkari Muslim or as a nationalist – signify a specific norm in Indian politics.

All political parties need Muslims for electoral survival – not merely to symbolically address the highly diversified Muslim community as voters, but also to assert political influence over other social constituencies.

The good Muslims, in this framework, are shown as ‘lived examples’ who can fulfil the ‘standard expectations’ set for all Muslims.

Thus, when RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat says that Hindutva without Muslims is meaningless, he is not entirely aiming at reaching out to Muslims. Instead, he is addressing the common Hindus, who still do not approve of Hindutva’s anti-Muslim rhetoric.

The ‘good Muslims’ of the BJP/RSS, such as Zafar Islam and Zafar Sareshwala, seem to ratify this message silently through their symbolic presence in the party.

Lt General Shah is right. Muslim symbolism is an unavoidable phenomenon of Indian politics and Sarkari Mussalman is just an illustration of it.

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Beyond the Manifest

The Kashmir Monitor



By Amir Suhail Wani

Modern philosophical worldview with its nomenclatural diversity has pushed the human mind further and farther into trajectories of abstraction. The ideological extravaganza clad in tricky rhetoric denies any possibility of metanarrative, but simultaneously bombards the human mind with an infinitude of narratives. This irreconcilable dualism has rendered our intellectual tradition plundered, and made us survive on decaying ideological carcasses. Bonaparte is reported to have said, “I died because of too many doctors”; our state of affairs is no different. Ours is a state of ideological multiplicity which culminates into dread. The jargon of authenticity, and authenticity of authenticity ad infinitum, is going to render us intellectually bankrupt. There is such an impending gloom hovering over our intellectual horizon that multiplicity is in a continuous process of devouring the originality. Accepted, that truth in its process of manifestation assumes a multitude of forms, but to throw a mind open to all these forms without proper appreciation for this diversity, has created an aura of ideological inundation. It is believed that, loosely speaking, philosophy stands on the substructure of its contemporary science, though at times it may break away here and there from accepting scientific norms in its quest for ultimate realities, but the correspondence between philosophy and the science of any age is undeniable. Our contemporary scientific landscape has been dominated for the last hundred years by Quantum theory, which in its philosophical overtones favours uncertainty, chaos, subjectivity and perspectivism. These scientific notions have their philosophical equivalence in trends like existentialism, deconstruction and postmodernism.

The transition of epistemology and ontology from expansion of human understanding to its limitation has proved to be most grievous crime committed by pundits of Western philosophy. Philosophy, in the post renaissance era operated under the influence of science and this led philosophical methodology to be characterised by same shortcomings as were inherent to the science of the times. In placing entire emphasis on the sensory faculties of man, the philosophers of this era paid no attention to the rational and spiritual facilities of man. Hegel, Kant and others of their species metamorphosed the landscape of western philosophy which later had its repercussions of widest and worst possible nature. From what one can know the nature of question was now changed to what one cannot know. From what one can understand the emphasis was laid on what one can perceive by mere sense organs. Locke thought that the role of philosophy was not to extend the boundaries of knowledge but precisely to limit it. This limited epistemology and consequently bounded ontology constricted and constrained the trajectories of human imagination. Human mind, with its sensory, rational, imaginative, intellectual and spiritual possibilities of understanding is intrinsically infinite. The infinity of human imagination is not circumscribed by the finitude of human physicality. Man’s quest for infinity with all its possible implications finds its satisfaction in the perception of God, the institution of sacred and the concept of divine. Despite his physical finitude, man is infinite in terms of his rational and spiritual dimensions. Despite the fact constraints of space nullify his quest for physical infinitude and constraints of time defy his quest for eternity. But man, blessed with sensual, rational, cognitive, and spiritual faculties has devised means of conquering this finitude of time and space. Religion, with its overtones of spirituality and metaphysics is man’s response to his quest for eternal and literature with its all diverse manifestations is man’s response to his yearning for infinite.

Philosophy has reached a stage where one comes across notions like “morality as cultural relativity”, “gender structured language and its consequences on reality imaging”, and sometimes irksome theories like “reality as a social construction”. This is to say that philosophy has learnt not only to criticize concepts, but to dissect its own soul as well. But one is afraid to accompany a philosopher in this process of dissection. Though all these perspectives are healthy in their own right as long as their postures reflect a quest for reality (if there’s any), one must not lose insight of the fact that, any philosophy that weaves ideological fancies and recedes far from the realm of pragmatic human affairs, may survive well as an academic discourse, but it may never inspire humans to scale higher altitudes of life in living. These philosophies may survive the textual worth, but may fail to transform into living text; whether it is a presupposition of philosophy to become living text is an issue much debated in pragmatic, analytic and continental philosophical traditions. But in the east, this philosophical enquiry presents a quagmire of lesser degree to populace, for we share “the heritage of tradition”. The traditional itself is a touchstone reliable enough, that we can assuredly test the verity of any philosophical idea on this touchstone before incorporating it into our cultural corpus. The tradition includes in its lap: the old wisdom, religious inspirations and cultural constructions, and all of them are to be equally favoured to arrive at a comprehensive picture of life and the Universe that we live in.

(The author is a freelance columnist with bachelors in Electrical Engineering and a student of comparative studies with special interests in Iqbaliyat & mystic thought. He contributes a weekly column for this newspaper that appears every Monday. He can be reached at: [email protected])

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Congress and cow nationalism

The Kashmir Monitor



By Prabhat Shunglu

We promise to build gaushalas in all panchayats. We promise to start commercial production of gau-mutra (cow urine). These are not statements culled out from a political speech of UP’s BJP chief minister Yogi Adityanath. These are not guidelines from the Sangh Pariwar elder to a BJP functionary.

The two statements are part and parcel of the Congress manifesto for the impending state Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh.

The Congress released the manifesto in Bhopal last Saturday. Those present on the occasion included party seniors Kamal Nath, in-charge of the Congress campaign in MP, two-time CM of the state Digvijay Singh, and former Union minister Jyotiraditya Scindia, one of the lead campaigners and among the party’s top choices for the chief minister.

The Congress, in its manifesto, has also promised to build more cow sanctuaries and provide grants for their upkeep and maintenance. This in a state that boasts of developing the first cow sanctuary, whose foundation was laid by the RSS Kshetra sanghchalak Ashok Soni.

Expounding on the virtues of the manifesto that has strong shades of saffron and could have been mistaken for a BJP manifesto, Rajinder Singh — incharge of the party’s manifesto committee and deputy speaker in the state Assembly — made it clear the Congress wants to shed its pro-Muslim image. “The BJP used to brand us as Muslim party. Earlier we did not do anything to change the perception. It’s a conscious decision to do away with that tag,” Rajinder Singh told a correspondent.

The party has been out of power in the state for 15 years and is seemingly desperate for home coming. Surely, the Congress would like to exploit the anti-incumbency sentiments against the BJP’s Shivraj Singh Chouhan government. But the party seems unsure whether its traditional secular tag shall help it romp home and wrest the state from its arch-rival, the BJP, which has vowed for a ‘Congress-mukt’ new India it engineers to construct.

Is it the fear of getting irrelevant that Congress is out to soak up in a hue of saffron, hithero an exclusive domain of the BJP? Going by the manifesto’s contents, party leaders’ replies and party president Rahul Gandhi’s discovery of Hinduism (he started his MP campaign with a visit to Mahakaleshwar temple in Ujjain) the answer certainly seems to be in the affirmative.

Though on the face of it, the Congress shall be loath to discard the secular tag completely, but it feels there is a symbiotic relationship in being secular and being a ‘pro-Muslim.’ It’s the latter image it wants to shed for electoral gains, though it remains to be seen how the party shall uncouple the two.

But the more important question is this: Is the Congress well on its way to becoming a BJP? Is the party square with the fact that it ignored majority sentiments all along? Is it also the admittance of a sort of guilt that it didn’t do itself any good electorally by ignoring the majority sentiments thus far? So, was there merit in BJP’s long-standing accusation that the Congress politics has always been about minority appeasement?

The Congress manifesto isn’t just about the cows. The manifesto promises to build a religious tourism corridor in the state by invoking Ram and rivers, some of which are considered holy in India. While the BJP bares its teeth in preparation to reclaim Ram’s birthplace in the disputed Ayodhya site for the Hindus, the Congress has found a MP connect with Ram of Ayodhya fame. According to scriptures, Ram left his imprints in the state, a slice of mythology that has not been popularised. The party has promised to develop ‘Ram Path Gaman’, a corridor that traces the route of Ram during exile in Chitrakoot, MP.

In fact, for all its manifest appropriation of Ram and rivers (Ganga and Saryu — UP CM Yogi Adityanath has started Saryu aarti on the same lines as Ganga aarti in Varanasi, along with Saryu mahotsav) by the BJP, the Congress wants to replicate a similar model around these two symbols of Hindu faith in MP too.
If voted to power, the party manifesto promises to come up with Ma Narmada Nyas Adhinayam and develop a Narmada parikrama (circumbulation) route dotted with resting places for pilgrims every 15 km.

Congress’ dalliance with soft Hindutva since the days of the return of Indira Gandhi to power post- Emergency is an open secret. Rajiv Gandhi pushed that envelope further by opening the gates of the disputed site at Ayodhya.

PV Narsimha Rao was prime minister when the mosque was brought down. After the humiliating 2014 Lok Sabha defeat and a series of setbacks in the Assembly polls, Rahul set out to discover himself anew and found nirvana in wearing a janeu (holy thread) and going on a temple-hopping spree.

There is no gainsaying the fact when Rahul claims “country’s temples are not the sole property of the BJP and the RSS”. But tapping into identity politics by exploiting symbols of religion and faith to appear as a contender in the battle of competing majoritarianism has its own pitfalls, some of which have blown up in the face of the idea of India, as our constitutional forefathers had envisaged.

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Islam in Kashmir –Through the lens of becoming

The Kashmir Monitor



By Abid Ahmad Shah

Islam is one of the monotheistic and major religions of the world with an enormous following of 1.8 billion Muslims in the world. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) is the founder of Islam in Arabia. With the passage of time, the companions of Prophet SAW played a great role in the spread of Islam in the world facing a lot of hardships day-in and day-out.

The messenger of Allah sent his companions every right, left and centres to convey the divine message of one God to the people of the world in order to show them a real path of eternal religious prosperity.

History is replete with the facts that although Islam had reached Kashmir very early, but the practical aspect was missing thereof. Kashmir was once a non-Muslim land where people were accustomed to non-Muslim practices and were mostly Hindus. Thus, there came an intervention in their lives. Whether, we call it divine or by chance, Islam arrived to make its roots permeate into the lives of the masses of the valley of South Asia.

It was initially Hazrat Syed Sharaf-ud- Din Abdul Rahman(RA), a Sufi from Turkistan also known as Syed Bulbul Shah(RA) who provided the idea of Islam in Kashmir.

Unfortunately, there have been little literary forays into his life, although few references to him form a part and parcel of the historical narratives of the medieval Kashmir. He was thus the first Islamic missionary to Kashmir who laid the foundation of Sufi order here. He played a catalytic role in the spread of Islam to concretise the societal transformation at large. According to historical sources, many people in Kashmir embraced the creed of Bulbul Shah.

After this great saint, there arrived the descendent of Prophet Muhammad (SAW), known as Hazrat Mir Syed Ali Hamadani (R.A), a Sufi of Kubrawi order from Hamadan, Iran from central Asia along with 700 Sayyids in Kashmir to enlighten the masses with the glorious Islam and its practical aspects through his teachings. He was a Shafi Muslim scholar from an educationally well-off family. He was born in 1314 A.D. at Hamadan, Persia from parents namely Syed Shihab-Ud-din and Saiyidnah Fatima.

Shahi Hamadan R.A. came to Kashmir thrice with a noble mission of spreading the religion of Islam and arrived in Kashmir for the first time in 1372 A.D. and left for Mecca afterwards. Thereafter, he again arrived in Kashmir and stayed briefly and left vale again. Finally, he again came to Kashmir in 1383 and remained in Kashmir for a short span of time and left this earthly world towards eternal heavens afterwards and Tajikistan became the epicentre of his eternal bodily stay.

Shahi Hamdan is also known as Ali Sani (Second Ali) in Kashmir and revered by one and sundry with a linked genealogy through Imam Husain (R.A.) traced back to fourth Caliph, Hazrat Ali (R.A.). He contributed not only Islamic tenets and principles based on the Islamic philosophy for the people, but also contributed the dual elements of art and crafts in Kashmir.

He contributed subjects like ethics, science, philosophy, jurisprudence, theology, poetry and prose immensely in Kashmir. He also profoundly impacted the architecture in Kashmir through construction of Khanqahas and tombs.

The arrival and influx of Shahi Hamadan (R.A.) in Kashmir brought a socio-cultural and religious revolution. Shah-i-Hamadan was also an author and a poet par excellence who wrote books like, Zakhiratul Muluk and Muwwadatul Quraba. Zakhiratul Muluk dealt with his political ideology, the duties of rulers and the responsibilities of the people. Besides, he also authored several books spanning religious and spiritual aspects.

Awrad-E-Fathiya is a major case in point. It is the collection of religious prayers of great religious people which is recited every morning after the Fajr prayers in almost all the Hanafiya School of thought mosques reflecting the faith and deep commitment in one God laying emphasis on the the unity of God and His attributes.

Another important poetic collection of Shahi Hamadan (R.A) is Chahlul Asraar .Every year prior to Eid Ul Adha, the Urs of this great saint Shah Hamdan (R.A) is
celebrated on the 6th of Zil Haj of the Muslim calendar at few sacred abodes of his shrines, including Seer Hamdan, Dooru Shahabad, Tral and Srinagar as a mark of deep reverence and regard for the unrelenting efforts of this saint for the upliftment and prosperity of the people of Kashmir.

The inroads of Shahi Hamadan (R.A.) into Kashmir without any regard for the rewards makes the point clear that the great saint as a mark of legacy of the mission of his dynasty of Prophet Muhammad SAW cared about the people of Kashmir and yearned to stabilise their lives socially, religiously and culturally.

Today, when Kashmir is at the crossroads of uncertainty, whether politically or otherwise, if we follow the paths of the great religious saint, time will not be far when divinely support to our problems will annihilate them and a valley of scenic beauty will restore and regain its charm again and metamorphosize our pains into peace.

Together, by following the charted discourse of Shahi Hamadan R.A, our lives will blossom both here and hereafter. I still remember tears rolling down the cheeks of my deceased father Master GH Mohi Ud Din Shah at the time of prayer’s recitation of Urs of Shahi Hamadan R.A at dargah of the saint at Seer Hamdan. This was the time that etched my memory and solidified my love for the Auliya.Today,if we follow into the shoes of these mystics,there can really arrive peace in our trouble torn Kashmir.

(Feedback at: [email protected])

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