As the holy month of Ramazan for Muslims concluded this year (2018), there was by and large a feeling of goodwill and festivity among the Muslims and others in Bihar (and India). The Ramazan message of peace, charity and brotherhood was meant to spread everywhere. The month, however, wasn’t free from violence in certain parts of the world where the Muslims were in majority.
The holy period started with a terrible Hamaas-led violence on the Israeli-Palestinian border and concluded with the murder of a noted Kashmiri journalist, Shujaat Bukhari in Srinagar at the hands of the separatist-terrorists. Shujaat represented a sane voice in the crossfire of hostile forces in Kashmir. The killers didn’t respect the government’s call for a month-long ceasefire in observance of Ramazan.
In addition, during the month, there were umpteen reports of violence of Muslims against Muslims in Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen. On 4 June 2018, for example, a suicide bomber killed 14 people outside a large congregation in Kabul where top religious leaders had just declared suicide attacks as violations of Islam.
In this month of fast, abstinence and prayer, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) -- considered an arch-enemy of the Muslims in India - delivered a master stroke by inviting a former President of India to speak from its platform.
On 7 June 2018, Pranab Mukherjee, a life-long member of the Congress party that has been critical of the Hindu nationalist RSS addressed its graduates on Nation, Nationalism and Patriotism. The RSS strategy to have its message conveyed by a non-RSS national personality attracting at the same time immense publicity succeeded to a considerable extent.
Putting the politics of the RSS and the Congress aside, did Pranab have something important to say that the younger generation of Indian Muslims must understand and adopt in their life?
The Indian Muslims know it very well that their ancestors belonged to India or the Indian subcontinent that went with the ebb and flow of many empire-building efforts. Before the Indian State began its formation in the 6th century BC, this region came under attack by the Greeks in the 4th century BC. Chandragupta Maurya defeated the Greeks and built up a powerful empire that covered North-Western and Northern India. Emperor Ashoka was the most illustrious ruler of the Maurya dynasty who famously returned to the path of nonviolence by embracing Buddhism.
Following the collapse of the Mauryan Dynasty, the empire splintered into small kingdoms around 185 BC. The Gupta Dynasty created another vast empire that met its collapse around 550 AD. Since then many dynasties ruled until the 12th century, when Muslim invaders captured Delhi and their successive dynasties ruled for the next 300 years. Babur defeated the last Lodhi King in 1526 at the First Battle of Panipat and thereafter the Mughal rule was firmly established.
The Muslim invaders came to India from many parts of the North-West (Mongolia, Turkey, Persia or Arab), fought ferocious wars among themselves on the Indian soil to expand their fiefdom and many of them cruelly executed Sharia laws. However, much before, with the Arab traders Islam had already arrived at the western coast of India (Malabar, Konkan and Gujarat) in the 7th century CE. The Cheraman Juma Mosque in Kerala was said to be the first mosque in India, built in 629 CE.
Another point Pranab Mukherjee repeated was that India assimilated all the outsiders - traders or conquerors - who came down to settle, absorbed their cultures and transformed them "to form a new synthesis and unity."
Throughout the centuries of invasion, conquests and settlement, the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent were, therefore, aware that Hindustan (defined in geographical terms) was their motherland as well and they had no hesitation in saying Vande Mataram, which in Sanskrit meant, "I pray/bow down to thee, the Mother" or, “Bharat Mata ki Jai.”
This inclusive nationalism that emerged, in the words of Jawaharlal Nehru, “out of the ideological fusion of Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and other groups in India” ran counter to the radical Islamist notion of nationalism that divided the world into the territory of Islam (Dar-ul-Islam), the regions where Islamic law ruled and the territory of War (Dar-ul-Harb), the non-Islamic lands whose rulers were counseled to accept Islam (or, by implication, fight wars).
Recall, Osama bin Laden’s ultimatum to President George W. Bush: The United States wouldn’t be harmed if he converted into Islam.
Unfortunately, in India and the world over, there are Muslims influenced by this vision of Islam and are very effective in misleading and provoking greater number of Muslims. They are the ones who would identify Yoga with Hindu religion, wouldn’t accept that their own way of doing namaaz (prayer) was closer to performing yoga. They would deny history, insist on Sharia law, territorial disloyalty, gender inequality and racial bias against Kafirs (Jews, Christians and idol-worshippers). They would also justify killings, extremism and terrorism.
They are the rabble-rousers who would shout at incidences of crime against alleged cattle stealers, smugglers, bootleggers and criminals, but stay silent where there were exemplary cases of brotherhood and cooperation between Muslims and Hindus.
This Ramazan season, a Hindu priest hosted a Roza-Iftar (break of the fast) party at a temple one evening where members of the Muslim community from the twin towns of Ayodhya-Faizabad participated. The 500-year old Saryu Kunj temple is adjacent to the disputed Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid. Unlike most of the Iftar parties arranged to attract political support, this party had no invitee with a political background.
As long as such disgruntled, mischievous members of the Muslim community regarded themselves as exclusivist special minorities entitled to deferential treatment by the constitution, people, politicians, administration and political parties, they would continue to give ammunition to the extremists among the Indian Hindu nationalists.
Therefore, good Muslims will have to stand against bad Muslims just as good Hindus will have to confront bad Hindus.
This is what the former President meant when he exhorted the RSS trainees “to wish for peace, harmony and happiness” for our Motherland. He expressed confidence in them because they were “young, disciplined, well trained and highly educated.”
Younger, disciplined and highly educated Indian Muslims must also not be lagging behind their RSS friends in strengthening their Motherland.
They must take the pledge this Ramazan-Eid season.
Dr. Binoy Shanker Prasad hails from Darbhanga and currently resides with his family in Dundas, Ontario (Canada). A former UGC teacher fellow (at JNU) in India and Fulbright scholar in the USA, he has taught politics and authored conference papers, articles and chapters on Bihar in previously published books in the United States, India, and Canada.
Dr. Prasad administers a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/OverseasBihari and has sponsored “Aware Citizenship Campaign” at a micro-level in his home-town.