Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Is Tarek Fatah an Anti-Muslim Bigot or an Anti-Hindu Bigot? Certainly Not!

I must start with a confession. I know Mr. Fatah personally, having met him for the first time under very fortuitous circumstances, and we have been in touch since then.

Why Anti-Muslim Bigotry is Undesirable and Doesn’t Need to be Taken at Face Value, Even If Coming from a Muslim

Many non-Muslims have held several left-leaning fellow non-Muslims like Arundhati Roy, Pankaj Mishra, Suchitra Vijayan and Nandita Haskar to be biased in favour of Muslims and sympathetic even to radical Muslims, and indeed, if some of them portray illogical and exaggerated narratives of Hindus in general being mostly casteist and fanatically intolerant people, that doesn’t mean Muslims are expected to buy what they say, just because it’s coming from non-Muslims, and likewise, if a handful of Muslims is overly critical of their own community,  non-Muslims shouldn’t buy it on face value if it doesn’t stand the test of logical validity, and indeed, hatred from both sides only boosts each other and doesn‘t bridge any gap.

It is possible to quote any scripture (allegedly out of context according to its liberal adherents) to justify malpractices, like some verses in the Bible namely Deuteronomy 13:12-15, Samuel 15:3, Leviticus 24:16 and Matthew 10:34 seemingly advocate violence against “non-believers” and the Purusha Sukta of the Rigved, an ancient Hindu scripture, is taken by some to justify caste discrimination, but these verses do not define the entire religion. This article mentioning an anecdote from the British parliament does make an interesting read in this regard, as does this video make an interesting watch in this connection. There are Quranic verses like 2:2565:25:85:326:1086:15110:9949:1360:8 and 109:6 preaching peace, religious tolerance and human brotherhood, as does the letter from Prophet Muhammad to the Christian monks of St Catherine’s monastery and there are episodes from Prophet Muhammad’s life, as per Islamic lore, indicative of such an approach too, such as his allowing a woman to throw garbage at him daily and his succeeding in ideologically, winning over her by way of humanitarian affection. Those suggesting that peaceful verses in the Quran are superseded by violent verses (which the vast majority of practising Muslims globally regard as contextual) would do well to note that verse 109:6 appears towards the end of the book, and preaches nothing but peace. Thus, the insinuation that moderate practising Muslims do not know their scriptures well enough does not necessarily always hold water, nor does the view that Muslim extremists are all ignorant of their scriptures, and while there are both moderates and radicals with limited understanding of their texts, there are those well versed with the texts but engaging in their own contextual interpretation, and we have to help the liberals (like Kalam, well versed with the Quran, as subsequently discussed) and moderates win the battle within Islam, as had happened earlier with Christianity and Judaism.

There is a fairly well-known website run by an apostate and basher of Islam who has even offered a cash prize to anyone who can disprove his allegations against Prophet Muhammad (but there are books by apostates of other religions criticizing their former religions too, the most famous one being ‘Why I Am Not a Christian’ by Bertrand Russell, and there’s also ‘Why I am Not a Hindu’ by Kancha Ilaiah, levelling very strong allegations), but practically, he is the judge of the debate, or to go by what he is saying, the “readership” of the website, a rather non-defined entity. In fact, he has acknowledged that he came across a Muslim who “intelligently argued his case and never descended to logical fallacies or insults” and while that Islam-basher “did not manage to convince him to leave Islam”, that Muslim earned his “utmost respect”, which implies that practically, the Islam-basher is the judge of the debate. Likewise, that Islam-basher has mentioned with reference to a scholar of Islam he debated with, that the latter was “a learned man, a moderate Muslim and a good human being” and someone he (the Islam-basher) has “utmost respect for”. So, that Islam-basher’s critique of Islam, whether valid or invalid, has no relevance in terms of making blanket stereotypes about the people we know as Muslims or even practising Muslims. By the way, that Islam-basher bashes Judaism too. And it is worth mentioning that I have encountered several practising Muslims on discussion groups on the social media, who have, in a very calm and composed fashion, logically refuted the allegations against Islam on such websites. Indeed, as you can see here and here, there are several other apostates of Islam who have stated that while they personally left Islam thinking that the extremist interpretations are correct and moderate ones wrong (as is the case with apostates of many other religions), they have equally explicitly emphasized that that does not in the least mean that they believe that most people identifying themselves as practising Muslims support violence against innocent people, and this applies very well to apostates like Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasrin, who despite being on the hit-list of Muslim extremists and largely disowned by the Muslim community, spoke out fiercely against the Gujarat riots and the Dadri incident. Rushdie opposed the idea of voting to power Modi as India’s PM and later supported the award wapsi, while Nasrin expressed horror at the prospect of the cancellation of the Ghulam Ali concert in Mumbai, and she, as an atheist, has openly declared in her book Exilethat she wants not only Islam but Hinduism and all other existing religions to die out the way the Pharonoic and Olympian faiths have.

Basically, four approaches are suggested to counter the menace of Islamism (right-wing political Islam, of which jihadist terrorism is the most extreme manifestation) – the first is anti-Muslim bigotry, which is  actually counter-productive and only gives further fuel to the jihadist fire, the second is to harp on Muslim victimhood exaggerating it but without asking Muslims to introspect, which fails to explain why a harmless minority like the Yazidis of Iraq or a school-girl like Malala have been targets of jihadist terrorism, the third is denigrating Islam as a faith to make Muslims abandon Islam but which is only intellectually consistent coming from an atheist or agnostic for all faiths have controversial dimensions, and tu-tu-main-main debates over right or wrong interpretations of Islam or any other religion to prove superiority (otherwise, I do support promoting humanistic and progressive interpretations of Islam as accurate) can be endless, and the fourth one, which I subscribe to, is to promote a liberal and humanistic understanding of Muslim identity and Islam, rebutting wrong notions of perennial Muslim victimhood and portraying the likes of APJ Abdul Kalam as role models, which I think is the only viable option, and so, to acknowledge Kalam’s Muslim-ness is essential if he is to be promoted as a role model for Muslims.

I personally know several Muslims who are unprejudiced and are strongly patriotic Indians, and I see no reason to see Indian Muslims loyal to their country as particularly being exceptions to the general norm. In fact, a Hindu acquaintance of mine, who studied at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), told me that while those cheering for Pakistan were quite a vocal lot there, most Muslims cheered for India, and this was in a Muslim-majority setting where the apparently pro-India majority did not have to conceal its true feelings, and another friend of mine, who is an Assamese Hindu from Guwahati and who is very resentful of the Bangladeshi Muslim influx in his state, told me that on a train journey, he overheard a conversation between two Muslims from AMU bashing the students who cheer for Pakistan. Also, another friend of mine whose father is an Indian Army officer once told me that he loves the entire Muslim community (though I don’t support any stereotyping, positive or negative!), for once, his father was fired at by militants in Kashmir and his father’s driver, a Muslim, rushed to bear the bullet to save his father’s life! He also narrated another anecdote of how a Muslim once donated blood to save his father’s life and asserted that he was not in the least ashamed of the fact that “Muslim blood” (whatever that is supposed to mean!) runs through his veins!

Those arguing that while there may be some or many Muslims who are Indian nationalists but they are not devout Muslims or aware of their faith, I would hereby like to contend that being a practising adherent of Islam and being a secular Indian nationalist are indeed compatible as per liberal interpretations of Islam. The global pan-Muslim line of thinking is anachronistic, and I can prove my case on this point, even employing Islamic theology as a valid touchstone, and even the idea of having to de-link oneself from one’s non-Islamic heritage is not Islamic. Those time and again talking of a Muslim ummah or global pan-Muslim fraternity cite the following verse of the Quran-

“The believers are to live as nothing else but brothers.” (49:10)

However, in this process of heavily emphasizing a global pan-Muslim identity, such Muslims are providing an anachronistic interpretation. During Prophet Muhammad’s lifetime, Islam was largely confined to the Arab world and Muslims were under threat, since Islam had emerged as a challenge to the existing social order; thus, in that context, the emphasis on a religion-based fraternity meant something else (even Buddhism, which was a challenge to the existing order, emphasized the sangh in addition to Gautam Buddha and the dhamma, and even Christianity talks of a community of believers). However, with the passage of time, and especially now with the rise of nation-states (accommodating people of multiple religions) with a defined sovereignty that ought to be respected and global human rights activism (there were people of diverse faiths and nationalities, including people of Israeli origin, aboard the Gaza Flotilla), the concept hardly remains relevant in the same form. In fact, the fundamental message in the Quran is one of humanism. Verse 49:13, cited earlier and which comes after verse 49:10 (and later verses are believed to supersede earlier ones in the same chapter), illustrates this spirit and is stated hereunder-

“O mankind, indeed we have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.”

The above verse, while emphasizing human unity, also acknowledges nature’s law of diversity that makes the world beautiful, explaining the multiplicity of nations and tribes (without any religious connotation). This verse makes it clear that embracing Islam should not come in the way of being loyal to your nation, even if the majority there isn’t of Muslims, nor does following Islam imply a need to culturally or politically de-link yourself from your country. In fact, Prophet Muhammad reportedly even explicitly stated that a true Muslim must love his/her country (Hub al-Watan e min al-Iman). Moreover, the term ‘ummah’ appears in the Quran only twice and has been used to refer to nations, without any religious connotation, and it was also used in the constitution of Medina drafted by Prophet Muhammad to connote a nation where Muslims and non-Muslims coexisted harmoniously. In this connection, I’d like to quote some excerpts from Tariq Ramadan’s book ‘The Messenger – The Meanings of the Life of Muhammad’-

“Abdullah ibn Judan, the chief of the Taym tribe and a member of one of the two great alliances of Meccan tribes (known as the People of the Perfume), decided to invite to his home all those who wanted to put an end to the conflicts and establish a pact of honour and justice that would bind the tribes beyond alliances based merely on tribal, political, or commercial interests.

Chiefs and members of numerous tribes this pledged that it was their collective duty to intervene in conflicts and side with the oppressed against the oppressors, whoever they might be and whatever alliances might link them to other tribes. This alliance, known as hilf al-fudul (the Pact of the Virtuous), was special in that it placed respect for the principles of justice and support of the oppressed above all other considerations of kinship or power. Young Muhammad, like Abu Bakr, who was to become his lifelong friend, took part in that historic meeting.

Long after Revelation has begun, Muhammad was to remember the terms of that pact and say: ‘I was present in Abdullah ibn Judan’s house when a pact was concluded, so excellent that I would not exchange my part in it even for a herd of red camels; and if now, in Islam, I was asked to take part in it, I would be glad to accept.’ Not only did the Prophet stress the excellence of the terms of the pact as opposed to the perverted tribal alliances prevailing at the time, but he added that even as the bearer of the message of Islam – even as a Muslim – he still accepted its substance and would not hesitate to participate again. That statement is of particular significance for Muslims, and at least three major teachings can be derived from it. We have seen that the Prophet had been advised to make good use of his past, but here the reflection goes even further: Muhammad acknowledges a pact that was established before the beginning of Revelation and which pledges to defend justice imperatively and to oppose the oppression of those who were destitute and powerless. This implies acknowledging that the act of laying out those principles is prior to and transcends belonging to Islam, because in fact Islam and its message came to confirm the substance of a treaty that human conscience had already independently formulated. Here, the Prophet clearly acknowledges the validity of a principle of justice and defense of the oppressed stipulated in a pact of the pre-Islamic era.”

“From the very start, the Prophet did not conceive the content of his message as the expression of pure otherness versus what the Arabs or the other societies of his time were producing. Islam does not establish a closed universe of reference but rather relies on a set of universal principles that can coincide with the fundamentals and values of other beliefs and religious traditions (those produced by a polytheistic society such as that of Mecca at the time). Islam is a message of justice that entails resisting oppression and protecting the dignity of the oppressed and the poor, and Muslims must recognize the moral value of a law or contract stipulating the requirement, whoever its authors and whatever the society, Muslim or not. Far from building an allegiance to Islam in which recognition and loyalty are exclusive to the community of faith, the Prophet strove to develop the believer’s conscience through adherence to principles transcending closed allegiances in the name of a primary loyalty to universal principles themselves. The last message brings nothing new to the affirmation of the principles of human dignity, justice, and equality: it merely recalls and confirms them. As regards moral values, the same intuition is present when the Prophet speaks of the qualities of individuals before and in Islam: ‘The best among you [as to their human and moral qualities] during the era before Islam [al-jahiliyyah] are the best in Islam, provided they understand it [Islam].’ The moral value of a human being reaches far beyond belonging to a particular universe of reference; within Islam, it requires added knowledge and understanding in order to grasp properly what Islam confirms (the principle of justice) and what it demands should be reformed.”

Thus, Muslims in their respective countries, following their religious edicts, should be humanistic nationalists of their respective countries devoted to the truth. To defend the wrong actions of Muslims is not in line with Islam. Prophet Muhammad himself said that Muslims must stop fellow Muslims from oppressing anyone, Muslim or non-Muslim. To quote the relevant Hadith (Shahi Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 43, Hadith Number 624)-

“Narrated By Anas : Allah’s Apostle said, ‘Help your brother, whether he is an oppressor or he is an oppressed one.’ People asked, ‘O Allah’s Apostle! It is all right to help him if he is oppressed, but how should we help him if he is an oppressor?’ The Prophet said, ‘By preventing him from oppressing others’.”

Indeed, very many Egyptian, Iranian and Indonesian Muslims identify with and appreciate their Pharonoic, Zoroastrian and Hindu heritage respectively. While there is indeed no dearth of Indian Muslims who are staunch Indian nationalists, there is indeed a section that tends to identify with a global pan-Muslim fraternity more than India (like there are some Indian Tamils who identify more with Sri Lankan Tamils than with India, and there are some Indian Jews identifying more with Israel than with India, joining the Israeli army rather than its Indian counterpart) and do not identify with India’s composite culture, instead portraying the arrival of Islam in India as the onset of civilization in India. In doing so, they are being as biased as the extreme Hindu rightist historiographers who try to portray India’s “Hindu past” as civilized and Muslims as barbaric foreigners, and neither narrative should be acceptable in a country that claims to reject Jinnah’s two-nation theory (interestingly, Muslim rightist historical narratives of the subcontinent and even Jinnah’s two-nation theory have been questioned and rebutted even by liberal Pakistani Muslim intellectuals). The fact is that the one who manned Shivaji’s artillery was a Muslim, Ibrahim Khan Gardi was a Muslim from the Maratha camp and fought Ahmad Shah Abdali, and Man Singh and Jai Singh respectively fought Rana Pratap and Chatrapati Shivaji at the behest of the Mughals, other than Jahangir and Shah Jahan having Hindu mothers.

Terrorism, and even terrorism citing a theological basis, is not a Muslim monopoly. As you can see here, very many instances of terrorism globally, even in the name of religion, have been carried out by those identifying themselves as Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus and even Buddhists, the victims of the acts of terrorists from each of these religious groupings not always being Muslims. However, just like most people of these religious groupings are not terrorists or supporters of terrorism, and they do not believe that their religion preaches terrorism, the same is the case with most Muslims (and not supporting terrorism applies to even most of those Muslims with other regressive and not-so-liberal attitudes on issues like gender and homosexuality).

And in fact, even speaking of the West, a report submitted by Europol, the criminal intelligence agency of the European Union, showed that only 3 out of the 249 terrorist attacks (amounting to about 1.2%) carried out in Europe in 2010 were carried out by Muslims. Even in the United States, most terrorist attacks from 1980 to 2005 were not carried out by Muslims. And no, I am not in the least seeking to undermine the heinousness of the crimes committed by some in the name of Islam by pointing to others having committed similar crimes under other ideological banners, for a more highlighted wrongdoing is no less of a wrongdoing than a less highlighted wrongdoing, but only to point out that viewing only Muslims as villains, and that too, all or even most of them, would indeed be grossly incorrect. However, despite jihadist terrorists being a microscopic minority of Muslims, Islamist terrorism has become a bigger global threat for its well-coordinated international network since the 1990s, with the US-backed Islamist resistance to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan having signalled its rise. And, let us not forget that when we had the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, the victims included Ahmed Merabet, a Muslim police officer who died fighting the terrorists (and by the way, there are more French Muslims in the local police, including those who have died fighting jihadist terrorists, than in the Al Qaeda unit in their country), Mustapha Ourad, a Muslim who was one of the magazine staff members killed in that attack and there was Lassana Bathily, a Muslim shopkeeper who gave sanctuary to many innocent civilians during the hostage crisis in Paris that followed. Even in the context of the more recent attacks in Paris, a Muslim security guard Zouheir, risking his own life, prevented one suicide bomber from entering a packed football stadium. More recently, Kenyan Muslims very laudably protected fellow bus commuters, who were Christians, from jihadist terrorists, and Kurdish, Emirati, Iraqi and Syrian Muslims have also been fighting the ISIS. In India too, most of the terrorism is not by Muslims, as you can see here and here.

Sacrificing animals as a religious ritual is not exclusive to Muslims, and ‘bali’ has existed among Hindus too, something Gautam Buddha (who lived centuries before Jesus and Muhammad) had opposed (and even Emperor Ashok the Great consumed meat of peacocks, which he stopped after embracing Buddhism, though interestingly, Buddhists in China, Japan, Bhutan, Vietnam etc. do consume meat, as do most Sikhs, Christians, Jews and Parsis, and what is halal for Muslims in terms of dietary regulations and the mode of slaughtering some animals is almost identical to what is kosher for Jews and several sects of Christians, and that is true for the practice of circumcision for males as well, which even has health benefits), and still continues in many Hindu temples across India, especially in West Bengal during the Navratri season. Also, it may interest some to know that the story of Prophet Abraham associated with Id-ul-Zuha is found in the Old Testament of the Bible too, which the Jews and Christians also believe in (those regarded as prophets by the Jews are regarded as prophets by the Christians too, with the addition of Jesus, and those regarded as prophets by the Christians are regarded as prophets by the Muslims as well, with the addition of Muhammad). And obviously, not all of Arab cuisine is non-vegetarian either, with Arab vegetarian dishes like strained yogurt using labneh cheese and sweet dishes like zlabia, popular in South Asia as jalebi!

And for those suggesting any marriage between a Hindu boy and Muslim girl as amounting to “love jihad”, they may note that many Muslim women too have married Hindu men, like Sussanne Khan, Zohra Sehgal (formerly Zohra Khan), Neelima Azim (Pankaj Kapoor’s wife), Nargis and leading Mumbai cyclist Firoza, and some have even converted to Hinduism upon marriage, like famous sitarist Annapurna Devi (formerly Roshanara Khan), fashion model Nalini Patel (formerly Nayyara Mirza), Maharashtra politician Asha Gawli (formerly Zubeida Mujawar), South Indian actress Khushboo Sundar (formerly Nakhat Khan) and Bollywood actress Zubeida.

Not too long ago, even the Modi sarkar conceded that there is no evidence whatsoever to justify the Hindu rightist conspiracy theory of the Taj Mahal having been a temple of Lord Shiv. And yes, historically, while many (not all) Muslim rulers have a historical record of intolerance to Hindus, so do many ancient Hindu rulers like Mihirakula and Pushyamitra Shunga have a historical record of intolerance to Buddhists (of course, there can be a debate on the historicity of these allegations, but the point is that religious intolerance wasn’t unheard of even in pre-Islamic times in India). One may add in this context that there is this totally incorrect notion that Muslims are the only ones who stop non-Muslims from entering some of their holiest places of worship like the Kaba in Mecca, but actually, several Hindu temples, like the Pashupati Nath temple in Nepal, too bar non-Hindus from entering them, while many mosques and Sufi shrines have absolutely no problem with non-Muslims visiting them or even praying there. Also, the conspiracy theory about the Kaba being a Shiv temple have their basis in the writings of one Mr. Oak, who was not even a historian, and he is actually not even taken seriously even by those historians, Indian or of other nationalities, who have saffron or other religious right-wing leanings, and in fact, some votaries of this theory claim that Lord Shiv has been ‘imprisoned’ by Muslims, which refutes the logic that God is all powerful! Oak also said that Christianity is Krishna-Neeti (though ‘Christianity’ as a term does not exist in Hebrew, and came about much later in history!) and many other such ludicrous things! There are websites making claims about non-existent Arabic texts to prove their point. While such propaganda (except the bit about Lord Shiv being ‘imprisoned’!) may please the Hindu chauvinist who desperately wishes to imagine ancient India to be the only centre of human civilization, impartially speaking, one ought to thoroughly dissect it before taking it seriously. These are just completely baseless rants being circulated on the social media that don’t have the backing of any serious historian, not even the most right-wing ones. These conspiracy theories are typical of loony religious rightists, including Muslim rightists in Pakistan attributing 26/11 to RAW and many genuine liberal Muslim intellectuals in Pakistan are dismissed by conspiracy theorists as agents of the CIA, RAW and/or Mossad!

There are also misplaced notions of Muslims potentially outnumbering Hindus in India, though the Muslim population growth rate is declining (not the population itself, which cannot decline usually for any community), and the population growth rate of Keralite Muslims is less than UP-ite Hindus, for instance, and yes, even otherwise, if someone sees Muslims potentially outnumbering Hindus in India as a real problem, they should appeal to the Indian government to legally impose a two-child norm for all Indian citizens, irrespective of religion, rather than just generate unnecessary hatred for an entire community and divide the nation. Many Hindus criticize Muslims for having many children because they practise polygamy as permitted by their faith (though census reports have established that Hindus are more polygamous than Muslims, even though it is illegal for the former, and I myself know a Hindu electrician in Delhi who has engaged in bigamy), even though that actually doesn’t make a difference to the number of children as long as the number of reproductive women remains the same. Four women would respectively give birth to the number of children they would, irrespective of whether they are married to one man or four different men! In fact, polygamy is not prohibited by Hinduism as a faith (and, in fact, it was outlawed for Hindus only after independence, and Nehru faced stern opposition for the same from orthodox Hindus). The Puranic lore is full of multiple marriages by a single man – to quote some prominent examples, Krishna had thousands of wives, prominent among whom were Rukmini, Satyabhama and Jambvati; his father Vasudev had two wives, Devki (Krishna‘s mother) and Rohini (Balram‘s mother) and Ram‘s father Dashrath had three wives, besides even Bheem having a wife other than Draupadi (Gatodkach‘s mother) and Arjun too had several, including Krishna‘s sister Subhadra. In fact, the law mandating monogamy for Hindus was introduced only after independence! Also, Islam mandates a limit of four wives and a responsibility of the husband to look after his multiple wives (if he has multiple wives in the first place) equally well, though I do agree that even this is anachronistic today. As for harems, these too have not been a monopoly of Muslim rulers, and the practice has existed among Hindu rulers too, such as in South India, and even among Buddhist rulers in Sri Lanka. And there are indeed many Hindus too, particularly in rural areas and in several cases, even among the urban educated class, who have several children even if they are monogamous. Many educated Hindus who have been public figures, like former president V.V. Giri, former prime minister Narasimha Rao and our very own Lalu Prasad Yadav have all had many children, and even Narendra Modi is the third of his parents’ six children.

Also, there are some who accuse Muslims of being the only community that carries out inter-cousin marriages, but that is true for Parsis as well and Hindu lore mentions Abhimanyu marrying his maternal uncle Balram‘s daughter (though this is a South Indian folk adaptation not to be found in the Puranic lore, it shows that the idea hasn‘t always been abhorrent in Hindu societies) and Rajasthani folklore has it that Prithviraj Chauhan too eloped with his cousin and while even this is contested by historians, he has never been looked down upon for the same, and even today, this practice exists in South Indian Hindu societies.

An allegation often levelled against Islam and Muslim societies is sexism. It should be noted that Prophet Muhammad’s wife Khadijah was a successful businesswoman, and the world’s oldest existing university, which is in Morocco and dates back to 859 AD, was set up by Fatima al Fihri, a well-educated Muslim woman. Prophet Muhammad is even believed to have mandated education for all, irrespective of gender, as you can see here and here, and in fact, the education cutting across gender lines even includes physical education. Interestingly, Prophet Muhammad himself is believed to have said that children (he did not specify only boys) must be taught archery, horse-riding and swimming. In fact, a woman, Nusaybah bint Ka’ab, fought in his army, just as Hindu lore refers to Arjun’s wife Chitrangada as an ace fighter and how Kaikeyi and Madri were ace charioteers. This article discusses in some detail the freedoms accorded to women by Islam and early Muslim societies, and how they partook in war, diplomacy, business and several other fields of life, and how the veil came in later as a norm in Muslim history.  Currently, many Kurdish Muslim women are bravely fighting the ISIS, and there was news of an Iraqi Kurdish woman, Rehana, killing over a hundred ISIS terrorists. Major Mariam Al Mansouri, a female fighter pilot from the UAE, has also been involved in anti-ISIS operations. While one would not assert that Islam or any other major global religion (and in this, we include the oriental faiths as much as the Abrahamic religions) is completely free from patriarchy (with all due respect to everyone’s religious sentiments), this mindset of prohibiting girls’ education represents a deeply patriarchal mindset among these ultra-conservative terrorists hailing from tribal Pashtun communities in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but has no basis in Islamic theology, and very many people across the globe who have identified themselves as Muslims have educated their daughters.

No Muslim-majority country (but for parts of them ruled by militias like the Taliban and ISIS), not even Saudi Arabia, has legally imposed wearing burqas (though only Iran has imposed headscarves; however, as regards wearing burqas, it must be noted that the Quran does not ordain it, nor do quotations attributed to Prophet Muhammad of undisputed authenticity), or prohibited women from driving (though only Saudi Arabia, other than militia-ruled regions, has imposed a ban on women driving, but a Saudi cleric also declared that there was nothing in the Islamic texts that prohibits women from driving. In Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, another Islamic state which largely follows the same Wahabi sect of Islam as Saudi Arabia, there are women-run family taxis, and Laleh Seddigh, an Iranian Muslim woman, is among the best car-racers globally, competing with men.

And yes, all those resorting to whataboutism misusing the tragedy of the Kashmiri Pandits or other such episodes should read this article and this one. And yes, I, for one, do not, in the least, shy away from calling the MIM a communal party which should be rejected, as you can see here. For all residual resentment against Muslims, I’d request you to peruse (not skim through and judge based on one’s preconceived notions) this e-book of mine available for free download.

Who is Tarek Fatah and Is He an Anti-Muslim Bigot or an Anti-Hindu Bigot?

Tarek Fatah, a Canadian writer and intellectual has always found himself caught in the mire of the Islamist factions. Practitioners of ight-wing political Islam (Islamists) have always charged him with being both anti-Islam, anti-Muslim and pro-Hindu. The allegations leveled against him range from having a personality disorder to being in favor of the western powers, while being hostile to the Islamic world.

Fatah’s fight against radical Islam has not gone down all too well with the proponents of Islamism. Over the years, he has faced several murder attempts, death threats and innumerable fatwas against him and incidents this year are particularly alarming. In January, 2017, many Indian clerics in Kolkata had burned the effigy of Fatah, and shouted slogans of “Death to Agent of Jews Tarek Fatah”.  This was soon followed by Shahi Imam, Mohammad Nurur Rahman Barkati, who had issued a fatwa against the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, also issued one against Fatah and threatened to slit his throat on Fatah’s show, Fatah ka Fatwa.  Later in February, the All India Faisan-e-Madina Council, a Muslim organization, issued a bounty on the head of Fatah by stating – “Tarek Fatah is conspiring to disrupt harmony between Hindus and Muslims. He is an agent of our enemies. He must be stopped at any cost and our organisation will pay Rs 10,00,786 to any person who will decapitate him”. In February itself, Fatah was heckled and kicked by people, when he had gone to attend, simply as an audience and not as a speaker, in the Urdu Festival Jashn-e-Rekhta. Then surfaced several cases of terrorists and hired shooters, who attempted to kill Fatah. In April, UP ATS had arrested four terror suspects, who later confessed their plan to kill Fatah. Later in June, one Junaid Choudhary, a milkman’s son, was caught for planning to kill Fatah. After police interrogation, it was also revealed that Junaid was acting for underworld don Chhota Shakeel.

Back in December, 2016, Fatah was invited for a TedTalk on Balochistan in Panjab University where he was assaulted. The incident was much distorted in sections of the mainstream media, with Fatah being showcased as the aggressor. However, Harbir Singh's account, who was present at the time of the incident, throws a very different light to the incident. Furthermore, the whataboutism extended by the ABVP during the Ramjas College episode citing the Jashn-e-Rekhta attack a few days ago, falls flat, as they failed to aid Fatah when he was being attacked at Panjab University, as Harbir Singh further elucidates-

"It was ABVP students who invited Tarek Fatah to Panjab University in Chandigarh and then disappeared when Tarek Fatah had to defend himself in the glare of public view about the assault of the Youth Congress on him. He alone took responsibility and suffered the consequences. Till today, Congress lackeys like Shehzad Poonawala bring up the man who pushed and shoved Tarek in Chandigarh, describing him on National TV as Tarek Fatah's victim, and Tarek STILL does not call on the ABVP students to defend him and face the consequences of the university's displeasure.

Tarek did not put them on the spot and ask them to stand witness for what happened, did not put them in a hard place with the university administration, and stood alone while the media, and Islamists in Pakistan and India went insane with pleasure at the beating of Tarek Fatah.

Now, with the protection of the Delhi Police, the ABVP acts so tough, just when Tarek Fatah is trying to tell Muslims that its possible to talk and disagree without resorting to violence, just when he is under threat of death for only the crime of saying things that some people don't want him to say."

The threats to his life that he is facing prove beyond reasonable doubt that he is no agent of Muslim extremists. An article by one Ankur Jayawant criticizing him on a Hindu rightist website, distorts facts by saying that Fatah has not spoken up against Muslim extremism in Bangladesh and Afghanistan (Ankur Jayawant even wrongly mentions Badshah Khan to have been an Afghan, though he was actually a Pathan but from Khyber Pakhtunwa) while advocating India to have friendly relations with these two countries (a policy Modi has been following), when Fatah has, time and again, criticized the extremist elements in these two countries. Jayawant even wrongly states in that article that there are no Hindus in Balochistan, where there is indeed a sizeable Hindu population.

Fatah has indeed made the distinction between Islam and Islamism clear through his articles and social media updates.

One such example lies in the article ‘London’s New Mayor is no Islamist’ , where Tarek Fatah clearly distinguishes between an Islamist and a progressive Muslim. He debunks the myth that the new Mayor of London is ‘an agent of Israel’ or an imposter posing as a ‘liberal’ Muslim. Fatah clearly states that he fully supports the stance of liberal Muslims to fight against Islamic Extremists. His concluding remarks about a Hindu mayor in Islamabad or Jew representative in Baghdad do reflect his secular outlook towards social relations.

Moreover, Fatah clearly distinguishes between Islam and Islamism, and he makes the definition of Islamism or Islamofascism clear in this interview with Manish Pant

“Any use of Islam to develop supremacist ideas, which are political in nature and subjugate people who are not from that philosophy, is fascism. Fascism involves whipping up people under a certain order by employing non-state actors to implement policies of supremacy, whether it is the concept of Aryan supremacy in Germany or Italian Blackshirts. Islamofascism is a new form of fascism where the religion is implemented and used as a political tool to implement the goals of a worldwide caliphate, in which the Muslims will rule supreme and non-Muslims will either have to submit by paying a tax or convert or die. The Muslim Brotherhood, Jamat-i-Islami, Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba, SIMI, Taliban, Al Qaeda or ISIS, they are all different shades of the same animal; a worldwide Islamofascist ideology.”

After several recent fatwas and attempted attacks against Fatah, it becomes extremely important to question the image that Islamist apologists wish to portray of Fatah. Is he really against Islam and Muslims? Is he an agent of the Right wing in India? Does he not see any wrong in fundamentalism promoted by other fascist elements?

Fatah in an interview, also states that he considers Prophet Muhammad to be his idol.  Adding to this, Tarek Fatah’s social media profiles and several of his articles under the title “my kind of Muslim”, reveals a very different side of him, opposed to the kind that the Islamist apologists have the world believed.

Support for Liberal Muslims

Allegations against Fatah that he is an anti-Muslim bigot are baseless if one sees the narrative presented through his writings captioned ‘My Kinda/Kind of  Muslim’, where Fatah clearly differentiates between an Islamist and a Progressive Muslim. In the article ‘Muhammad Ali was my kind of Muslim’ he explains that it was Muhammad Ali’s resistance against white supremacy in America of the early 1960’s that lit the fire of political protest within him and others. Moreover, it was Ali who would later go to prison in the 1968 global student uprising over the Vietnam War. He further states “Ali carried the burden of being both black and Muslim with grace and dignity. He was my kind of Muslim.”

Fatah also takes to social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to support his ‘My Kinda Muslim’ narrative. In an interesting video, the actor Irrfan Khan responds to a conservative Muslim by revealing the baseless nature of his arguments by emphasizing that doubt is important in every religion and mindless following of any religion is always counter-productive for any society. This is further tweeted by Tarek Fatah which shows that he would always stand for principles of true secularism and condemn those who support a rather tainted version of Islam which is static in nature and provides no room for a healthy propagation of doubt. In another post presenting the ‘My kind of Muslim' narrative, Fatah lauds Irrfan khan for questioning the practice of Qurbani in Islam.

In several of his Facebook posts, he lauds Muslim sporting icons, who have defied all odds to achieve success in their respective fields. In a video which Fatah posts on his page, presents his ‘My Kind of Muslim’ narrative lauding an 8-year-old Kashmiri girl Tajamul who was crowned the Junior Kick boxing World Champion. In one other post, he lauds the efforts of Kosovo’s Judoka Majlinda Kelmendi, for winning an Olympic gold medal after fighting against all odds. Furthermore, in a post, Fatah shares an article of a Pakistani Pashtun Woman, Maria Toorpakai, who defied the Taliban by playing squash and subsequently escapes to Canada.  From all the above-mentioned posts, it can be clearly indicated that Fatah is against fundamental Islam and recognizes the success of Muslims who achieve success by defying the odds pitted against them, or as he calls them “my kind of Muslim”.

Fatah, promoting his ‘My Kinda Muslim’ stance, shared a video of an 80-year old Indian poet, Ajmal Sultanpuri, who recalled the India of his childhood when “there was neither Pakistan nor Bangladesh,” just good old Hindustan, which further promotes Fatah's stance of developing peace rather than portraying a bigoted picture.

His book ‘The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State’ carries many excerpts dedicated to acknowledging liberal Muslims-

“On the Monday of Friday, January 18, 1985, a dry north-easterly wind blew lightly across the Khartoum North prison. Sudan was about to hand Mahmoud Muhammad Taha, an author, politician and brilliant scholar of Islam – and veteran of the struggle to keep his north-east African country free of rigid sharia law. Sudanese dictator Gaafar Nimeiry had signed Taha’s death warrant a day earlier, based on a fatwa issued by the powerful Saudi cleric Sheikh Abdullah bin Baz.

As the handcuffed and hooded Taha climbed the stairs, thousands of Islamists who had been bussed into the prison jeered him. Members of the Ikhwan ul Muslimeen (the Muslim Brotherhood), who had been instrumental in introducing sharia law into Sudan in August 1983, were in a celebratory mood. Taha had exposed the bankruptcy and in-Islamic nature of the Brotherhood’ supremacist ideology, and he would soon be silenced.

Before putting the noose in place, the hangman removed the hood covering Taha’s face. Taha surveyed the crowed with a smile. Witnesses say that his eyes were defiant as he faced the executioner and stared at the Islamist mob with no hint of fear. The hood was then slipped over Taha’s head once again.

As the guards pulled the noose tight around Taha’s neck, the Muslim Brotherhood supporters chanted ‘Allah o Akbar, Allah o Akbar.’ The trapdoor opened. Taha’s body fell through it, wriggled violently but briefly, and then went limp, swaying lifelessly in the gentle breeze at the end of the taut rope. The state of Islam was dead. The Islamic State was alive.

Hanged for being an apostate, Mahmoud Taha (1909-85) was anything but a disbeliever. His arguments against turning Sudan into an Islamic State was rooted in Islamic tradition, the Prophet’s sayings, and Quranic teachings. However, as a co-founder of the Sudanese Republican Party in October 1985, he was a rare advocate of liberal reform within Islam and Sudanese people.

Even with his impeccable credentials as an Islamic scholar, he was a thorn in the side of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists in Sudan. In 1971, after conducting a widespread campaign against Sudanese Communists, the Islamists turned their attention towards moderate Muslim groups that could be an obstacle in their agenda to create an Islamic State in Sudan. They started a vilification campaign against moderate Muslims, in particular Taha’s Republican Party. In 1972 the Islamist clerics in Sudan obtained a fatwa from Cairo’s Al-Azhar University that branded Taha an apostate. In 1975 the Saudis also got involved- the Mecca-based Muslim World League and Sheikh Bin Baz declared Taha to have committed apostasy by opposing sharia law in Sudan.

Several weeks before his hanging, Taha and his group had published a leaflet titled Hatha aow al-tawafan (Either This or the Flood)—demanding the repeal of sharia law and a guarantee of democratic civil liberties under which a more enlightened understanding of Islam could be freely debated. It was this demand for enlightenment and civil liberties that led to his lynching in front of a chanting mob of Islamists. The kangaroo court that sentenced him to death concluded its trial in less than three weeks.

What was Mahmoud Muhammad Taha’s crime? By any Islamic standards, he was a pious Muslim, living in a state of Islam. However, his “state of Islam” came into conflict with the “Islamic State.” Taha was aware of the risks involved in opposing an Islamic State. He knew that in the longer than one-thousand year history of Islam, Muslim blood had fl owed freely any time power-hungry politicians, dictators, kings, or caliphs* had invoked Islam to create a mythical Islamic State. Honourable Muslims like Taha who have stepped in the way of the Islamist agenda have paid with their lives or liberty through the eons. They have been murdered by the state or beheaded by Islamist vigilantes who invoked the good name of Islam and sullied it in the process.”

“One of the harshest critics of a return to rigid Islamic rule was Ali Abdel al-Razik of Egypt in the late 1920s, when he campaigned against the revival of the caliphate. In his seminal work published in 1925, Al-Islam wa usul el-hukum(Islam and the Fundamentals of Authority), Razik argued against the Islamic State and advocated the separation of religion and civil society, drawing the wrath of the influential Al-Azhar University. His books were burned and he was declared an apostate for merely suggesting that the state of Islam did not require an Islamic State. His book was published in the aftermath of the collapse of the sux-hundred-year-old Ottoman Empire and the abolition of the caliphate system by Turkey’s founding President, secular modernist Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. For the first time since 632 CE, the Muslim world had no central political authority. The caliph’s authority had been on the wane since the rise of European imperial power in the 16th century, but the 1925 abolition came as a shock to much of the Muslim world, which was largely living nude the French, British, Dutch occupation.

It was in this vaccum of political authority that intellectuals like Egypt’s Ali Abdel al-Razik raised difficult issues. Razik questioned the need for the revival of the caliphate and proposed the idea of a nation state where religion would not interfere with the political process.

Razik’s opposition to the creation of the Islamic State in the form of a revived caliphate stirred anger among Egypt’s orthodox Islamic establishment. Paradoxically, a group of Islamic scholars chaired by Sheikh Muhammad Abul Fadl al-Jizawi, the rector of Al-Azhar, had already issued a statement reluctantly coming to terms with the abolition of the caliphate. They had even criticized Muslims who felt bound by an oath of allegiance to the deposed Ottoman caliph and regarded obedience to him as a religious duty. (The statement reflected the mood on the street, where Arab nationalists were already welcoming the weakening of the Turkish based caliphate and had intensified their campaign to have the caliphate returned to the Arabs.)

Razik’s critique, however, went beyond the simple acceptance of a fait accompli. He launched a vociferous attack on the centuries-old school of Islamic political thought. In this, he took on not only the orthodox Ulema (Islamic scholars) and Al-Azhar, but also self-styled modernist Egyptians like Rashid Rida, who oscillated between Arab nationalism and Islamic universalism, but never gave up on the Islamic State.”

“Razik, however, based his opposition on an Islamic perspective, considering his background as an Islamic scholar and as a former judge of a religious court. He argued that the caliphate or the Islamic State had no basis in either the Quran or the traditions of the Prophet. He rightly argued that the Quran makes no mention of a caliphate and invoked the verse that said, ‘We have neglected nothing in the Book’ (6:38).

As long as Razik restricted his criticism to the caliphate, the orthodoxy was willing to tolerate his views. However, when he challenged the long established belief that Islam as a religion necessitated the creation of an Islamic government, he crossed a line, leading to years of harassment and ostracization with accusations that he was a communist. Undeterred by the witch hunt, Razik concluded that (1) Government or political authority, as necessary as it might be seen to realize Islamic ideals and obligations, was not the essence of Islam and had nothing to do with the primary principles of the faith; and (2) Islam left Muslims free to choose whatever form of government they felt could solve their day-to-day problems, with civil society minus an official state religion being best able to offer such a solution.

Razik clamoured for the depoliticization of Islam, claiming that the only beneficiaries of the Islamic State were the tyrants who ruled Muslim populations and who were able to silence opposition by getting the Ulema to declare that opposition to their government was opposition to Islam.”

“In academic circles, no one has been more consistently critical of the Islamist agenda than the UCLA’s Kuwaiti-born Professor Khaled Abou El-Fadl. The author of numerous books, and a scholar of Islam with a brilliant mind and a sharp wit, he has single-handedly been demolishing the Islamist agenda from an Islamic perspective. In 2005, El-Fadl wrote in his book The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists, ‘To win this very real war that has done inestimable damage to so many Muslims and to the truth of the Islamic faith, it is absolutely imperative that moderates declare a counter-jihad against puritan heresy.’ In one of his rare visits outside California, El-Fadl addressed a conference of Muslim women in Toronto in 2002 in which he lambasted the Muslim community and its leadership. I was one of the few men in the room and was struck by his frank discourse. El-Fadl visibly stunned the women when he said: Our Muslim scholars must be the most dull and the most boring products that humanity has known, because each of them can say, ‘What I am going to do with my life is I’m going to write exactly the same things that were said for the past 600 years.’

The question to my fellow Muslims is this: If we consider these two Kuwaiti-born academics, why does a speech by Tareq Suwaidan, who talks about the destruction of Western civilization, attract two thousand screaming and chanting young Canadian Muslims, but one given by Khaled Abou El-Fadl, who advocates ‘counter-jihad against puritan heresy,’ attract only two hundred? Have moderate Muslims conceded defeat at the hands of their more vociferous and fanatic Islamist opponents and their bullying tactics?”

“(I)n the early 20th century, when most of the Muslim world lay occupied by European powers, the movement for an Islamic State was reborn with a fury that today threatens moderate, liberal, and secular Muslims more than it does the West.”

“From India to Indonesia and Morocco to Malaysia, the Muslim Brotherhood ideology of jihad and Islamic supremacy is being challenged by fellow Muslims.”

Has Fatah Ever Endorsed the Conspiracy Theory about the Kaba Being a Shiv Temple, as Writer Shoib Daniyal Has Stated on Scroll, A Well-Known Online Portal?

Having known Fatah personally and asked him about this, the answer is simple – no!

Does Fatah Always Support the Western Powers in their Foreign Policy Initiatives?

Far from it. Have a look at these excerpts from his book, for instance-

“The invasion of Iraq was manna from heaven for Al-Qaeda. Bin Laden could not have asked for anything more. I hope that, after reading this book, the conservative Republicans in the United States and their neo-conservative allies in the West will realize that in the battle of ideas, dropping bombs helps the foe, not the friend.”

“The United States did not hesitate to tap into this vast reservoir of brainwashed jihadis. In fact, the United States would finance the jihadis, using them to fight its global war on communism. For decades the United States had clandestinely helped jihadi groups quash pro-communist and nationalist Muslims inside the Muslim world. By the end of the 1970s, this covert practice was more visible, and the United States had become a covert supporter of international jihad.

Perhaps the clearest example of US endorsement of jihad came in the January 1980 photo-op showing President Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, standing at the historic Khyber Pass that marks the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pointing a rifle at Kabul, Brzezinski declared: ‘We know of their deep belief in God and we are confident that their struggle will succeed. Your fight will prevail because your cause is right and God is on your side.’

Standing alongside Brzezinski were the Pakistani military officials, CIA operatives, and the much-loved mujahideen (Muslim guerrilla fighters) of the time. Brzezinski urged the warriors to go forth and commit jihad. As the turbaned men who later metamorphose into the now-hated Taliban cheered, Brzezinski, resplendent in a traditional Afghan woolen cap, basked in their adoration. The Americans had finally found the dupes who were willing to die serving US imperial interests.”

With regard to his criticism of Western foreign policy, have a look at this article by himthis onethis one and this one too.

As he has stated in this article written not too long ago-

“(T)he United States has left a trail of destruction in every country it claims to have helped including Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and now, Yemen.

After propping up Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, two terrorist-producing countries, perhaps America’s downward slide, seen in the context of its farcical presidential election, is nature’s way of settling scores.”

On Explicitly Opposing Anti-Muslim Bigotry by Non-Muslim Extremists

One of the popular criticisms levelled against him is of being a “blue-eyed boy” of the Hindu right-wing. He has been seen by Islamists as being biased against Muslims in general, whereby he neglects the wrong-doings of the extremist groups of other religious. However, a glance through his social media profiles has painted a rather contrary picture, where he has equally criticized the Hindu, Jewish and even Buddhist extremists.

In a Facebook post condemning the anti-Muslim Buddhist bigots in Myanmar, Tarek Fatah writes – ‘This does not bode well. Nobody needs to die or be treated second class for what they believe or even if they believe in nothing.’ This was in response to the bills drafted by Ashin Tilawkar Biwonsa’s committee, which is better known as Ma Ba Tha, renders discrimination against minority Muslims and women as legal.

As for Jewish extremism, in a Facebook post about a Jewish extremist killing a Palestinian infant, captioned "This is the type of beast who makes me doubt my own opposition to the death penalty. Terrorist Jew kills a Palestinian child. Since he committed an act of terror, I suggest Israel hand over this Jewish settler to the terror outfit, Hamas.’" Fatah clearly expresses discontent over Jewish extremism and shares this article for further proof of the incident. Furthermore, Fatah has criticized Israel, in this video, among other videos, articles and books.

For the Islamists, Fatah is seen as an apologist of the loony Hindu rightists, who will venture to any extent to save the image of India being tarnished, However, In a Facebook post captioned ‘This should never again happen in India’; Fatah shares an article and condemns Hindu right extremist groups such as the Bajrang Dal for spreading violence and hate in the name of religion. In another post, he strongly condemns the mob violence of Jats, whereby they attacked Muslims in a village in Ballabhgarh. In several other occasions, he has strongly expressed his aversion to Hindu extremist outfits that have attacked Indian Muslims. In his Twitter post on the Alwar incident on April 6th, 2017, he condemns vigilante justice, done in the name of religion against Muslims in India.  This further goes on to show that he is deeply against the idea of extremism in the name of religion, and his opposition is not restricted simply to Muslim extremism.

The incident at JNU and one with the arrest of Kamlesh Tiwari open up a whole new debate relating to freedom of speech and expression and the government’s crackdown on dissenting voices. In another Facebook post, Fatah advocates for freedom of expression by sharing an article and reproducing a line from the text captioned – “Critics of India, and of Islam, should be free to speak” – which clearly shows his position of upholding the unbridled right to freedom of expression. The article, on the one hand, does criticize the sympathy shown towards the likes of Afzal Guru, while on the other, denounces the crackdown on students for voicing against the popular narrative prevalent in the country. Adding to the same is his criticism against the crackdown on Kamlesh Tiwari, who was arrested for criticizing Prophet Muhammad, in the same article. Furthermore, in this article, he has openly come in support of Umar Khalid, Gurmehar Kaur, Kanhaiya Kumar and others, defending their freedom of speech and expression, while expressing disagreement with their ideas. He also tweeted against Praveen Togadia for his anti-Muslim remarks calling for a genocide, after which he faced death-threats.

Why Does He Ally with Christian Right-of-Centre Political Forces in the West (even Having Endorsed Trump for US President) and Hindu Right-of-Centre Political Forces in India?

He, like many others, believes that the left, especially in countries that are not Muslim-majority, in its bid to fight Western neo-imperialism and anti-Muslim bigotry, has gone soft on Islamism, which he sees as the Nazism of our times (the biggest ideological threat globally to the modern conception of human rights) and is not really battling it, and as mentioned earlier, while he does oppose anti-Muslim bigotry, he believes that right-of-centre political forces in India and the West, while disagreeing with him on issues like abortion and homosexuality, are largely the only ones who wish to battle this menace, as he has discussed in this article, and given that these countries have strong liberal constitutions, they cannot easily become hard-line theocracies the way Muslim-majority countries have, and so, he believes he can ally with Hindu and Christian right-of-centre forces in the fight against Islamism the way Churchill and Roosevelt allied with Stalin in the fight against Nazism. It is noteworthy that he was earlier supporting Bernie Sanders for US president and had been critical of Trump, but only after Sanders (who had been critical of Islamism) went out of the race did Fatah support Trump, for he considered him to be a better option than Hillary funded by Saudi oil sheikhs.

Differentiating Between Islam and Islamism, and Supporting a Liberal Interpretation of Islam

Fatah, principally voices his concern against Islamism and never targets Islam as a religion, as is evident from his various interviews, articles and books. He is not an “ex-Muslim” or an apostate of Islam, and doesn’t think of their approach to fighting Islamism to be very productive, as he has elucidated in this article and this one. In this interview, he unambiguously states that he is opposed to Islamism and not Islam, and he talks about Quranic verses that have had a strong positive influence on his life in this article.

In one interview, he points to the difference between the Islam that once flourished in India (Vedic Islam practised to the “east of Delhi”, which carried the Prophet’s original message), to that which is practised in the name of Islam today in the Middle East (which was a distorted form of Islam imposed by those who grabbed power there) and countries like Pakistan (Arab Islam practised in the “west of Delhi”). While differentiating between the two schools of thought, he elucidates that “the development of Islam East of Delhi, where it spread, it has an indigenous character embedded in Hindustani wisdom and the Vedas (…) compared to the west of Delhi where there is a complete lack of tolerance”. He claims that if the foundations of Vedic Islam were laid on embracing the good, Arab Islam embraced domination on others.  He further elucidates this by giving an example of Islamic University of Jakarta to that of Islamabad. He states that if an idol of Ganesha (a Hindu god) can be celebrated in Jakarta, the same cannot be done in Islamabad which practices Arab Islam. He further states that the foundation of Arab Islam was laid on the blood of Prophet Muhammad by Abu Sufiyan, who was an enemy of the Prophet. Thus, by narrating this, he declares his aversion to Islamist “outdated thinking in a world of nation states”, while not being a anti-Islam in any way.

The following excerpts from his book ‘The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State’ make it clear what he spells out as his liberal interpretation of Islam which has no room for a theocratic Muslim state or an Islamic state (not a specific reference to the ISIS)-

“I write as a Muslim whose ancestors were Hindu. My religion, Islam, is rooted in Judaism, while my Punjabi culture is tied to that of the Sikhs. Yet I am told by Islamists that without shedding this multifaceted heritage, if not outrightly rejecting it, I cannot be considered a true Muslim.

In this book I attempt to draw a distinction between Islamists and Muslims. What Islamists seek and what Muslims desire are two separate objectives, sometimes overlapping, but clearly distinct. While the former seek an ‘Islamic State’, the latter merely desires a ‘state of Islam’. One state requires a theocracy, the other a state of spirituality.

Islam—my religion—offers a universality best reflected in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, where for thousands of years pilgrims have circumambulated the Ka’aba in the image of planets revolving around the Sun, walking around what they believe is the epicentre of their world. I have sat through many nights perched on the upper floors of the Ka’aba, watching as tens of thousands of people spun rings around the black cube, oblivious that they were mimicking the behaviour of sub-atomic particles of matter. Or perhaps a reflection of the millions of galaxies that swing around an invisible centre, in a whirlpool of limitless emptiness. Men and women have long trodden the sacred ground in a way that symbolizes the endless motion that gives life to this universe. The simple fact that countless fellow humans have walked this path and millions more will do so in the future, makes the Ka’aba a holy place; one’s mere presence becoming an act of worship. It is one of the few places in the world where humanity sheds its pomp, class, colour, and comfort to submit. Twice I have done the pilgrimage known as the hajj, once emulating my wife’s strict conservative Fatimide Shia custom and again, four years later, in my mother’s more relaxed Sunni traditions. On both occasions it was the sight of the human multitude, stripped to their bare necessities, that made me recognize the universality of my faith.

The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State is a cry from my heart to my co-religionists, my Muslim sisters and brothers. It is a plea to them to remove their blindfolds, once and for all; to free themselves from the shackles of conformity that have stunted their development for so long. In this book, I try to demonstrate that from the earliest annals of Islamic history, there have been two streams of Islamic practice, both running concurrently and parallel, but in opposite directions, leading to conflicting outcomes. From the moment the Prophet of Islam died in 632 CE, some Muslims took the path of strengthening the state of Islam, while others embarked on the establishment of the Islamic State.

The phrase ‘state of Islam’ defines the condition of a Muslim in how he or she imbibes the values of Islam to govern personal life and uses faith as a moral compass. In contrast, the ‘Islamic State’ is a political entity: a state, caliphate, sultanate, kingdom, or country that uses Islam as a tool to govern society and control its citizenry. At times, these two objectives overlap each other, but most often, they clash. Islamists obsessed with the establishment of the Islamic State have ridden roughshod over Quranic principles and the Prophet’s message of equality. However, Muslims who have striven to achieve a state of Islam have invariably stepped away from using Islam to chase political power, opting instead for intellectual and pious pursuits. These were the people responsible for what is glorious about our medieval heritage and Islam’s contributions to human civilization.

This book is an appeal to those of my co-religionists who are chasing the mirage of an Islamic State. I hope they can reflect on the futility of their endeavour and instead focus on achieving the state of Islam. Islamists working for the establishment of an Islamic State are headed in the wrong direction. I hope to convince my fellow Muslims that clinging to mythologies of the past is the formula for a fiasco. I would hope they stand up to the merchants of segregation who have fed us with myths and got us addicted to a forced sense of victimhood. Conventional wisdom in the Muslim world dictates that to move forward, we need to link to our past. Fair enough, but in doing so, we have all but given up on the future, labelling modernity itself as the enemy.”

“Muslims are told incessantly that true Islam can only prosper under the protection of an ‘Islamic State,’ but the facts suggest that nothing could be further from the truth. Muslims living as religious minorities in secular societies—be it in South Africa, India, Canada, the United States, or Britain— are able to speak their minds, live under the rule of law, and get equality of citizenship. On the other hand, Muslims cannot even dare to imagine such rights in present-day Islamic States. And as for as the caliphates of the past, in those that we have come to glorify and mythologize as our golden past, dissent invariably led to death.

The rich heritage left behind by Muslim scientists, thinkers, poets, architects, musicians, and dancers, have been in spite of the Islamic extremists, not because of them. My book will hopefully offer a challenge to these imams and is an attempt to break their monopoly on the message.

The book is also aimed at Pakistanis who deny their ancient Indian heritage despite the fact that India derives its name from the River Indus, which is in Pakistan. Pakistanis are the custodians of the ancient civilization of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, not Madain Saleh in Saudi Arabia or Giza in Egypt. When Pakistanis deny their Indianness, it is equivalent to the French denying their Europeanness. In attempting to forge an identity that defies language, geography, culture, clothing, and cuisine, many Pakistanis, especially the second generation in the West, have become easy pickings for Islamist extremist radicals who fill their empty ethnic vessels with false identities that deny them their own ethnic heritage.”

“In fact, dare I say that it is not Islam that needs to be revised or reformed, but Muslims’ relationship with their faith that needs to be addressed. This book attempts to show that whenever Muslims have demonstrated a sense of security and confidence in their faith, without wearing it on their sleeves, they have flourished. In contrast, whenever in history they became obsessive about rituals and defensive about their religion, as if it were a brand name that needed protection from competition, they stumbled. And as they became obsessed with religion, they stifled independent thought and individual liberties, seriously damaging their own societies. The debacle of Muslims in 13th-century Iraq, 15th-century Spain and 18th-century India came about when extremists of that time tried to whip society into order. This should have been a lesson for us all, but that was not to be.”

“Through this book, I hope to convince my co-religionists that we need to inculcate within ourselves the state of Islam and stop chasing an Islamic State. We need to break the literalist chains that confine our understanding of religion and be open to a more reflective attitude towards the divine.”

“One could say there are two Islams that Muslims have introduced to the world. One, peaceful, spiritual, and deeply respectful of the ‘other’, an Islam that relied on the Quranic expression, ‘To you your religion, to me mine’—the Islam that has deeply impressed people as they saw the integrity and transparency of Muslims and their commitment to honesty and social justice. It is this Islam that today makes Indonesia the world’s largest Muslim nation with 250 million people. No Arab or Turkish armies ever conquered this archipelago. No Moghul emperor sent elephant cavalry to Java. Neither did an Abbasid caliph ever get to see Sumatra. It was not people with noble family lineage who brought Islam to East Asia. It was ordinary traders and deeply spiritual saints who set the example for others to emulate. They did not rely on the supposed authenticity of their Meccan Arab bloodlines, but on the nobility of their behaviour and the character reflected in their actions. Because of them, millions turned to Islam, without relinquishing their language, custom, or culture.

However, parallel to this spiritual Islam, an equally militant stream of puritanism and supremacist philosophy was evolving. It sought statehood, political power, and mastery, not just over the conquered, but over competing Muslim interests as well. At the core of this divergence from spirituality and love of the divine was the notion of racial, tribal, and familial superiority, which gave birth to countless monarchist dynasties, each battling the other, all invoking Islam as their raison d’être. Muhammad would have wept to see how his message was misused to consolidate power and subjugate the population. With political power as the ultimate goal for most dynasties in Islamic history and even present-day regimes, Islam became merely a convenient method to acquire or hold onto authority. Whether it was from the pulpit or the throne, opponents from within the faith were almost invariably declared as enemies of Islam, and killed. Of course, this was not exclusive to Muslim dynasties. Brothers have killed their own siblings to retain power across the world, no matter what their religion. The difference is that while most of humanity has come to recognize the futility of racial and religious states, the Islamists of today present this sordid past as their manifesto of the future.

Today, the only Muslims who are free to practice their faith as they choose and participate in public life as equal citizens without having to validate their tribal, racial, or family lineage live as tiny minorities in secular democracies such as India, South Africa, Canada, and many European countries. Yet, even while seeing the advantages of life under secular civil society, many of them are committed to the establishment of an Islamic State. So deeply ingrained in the Muslim psyche is the idea of replicating the so-called Golden Age of the Rightly Guided Caliphs that few are willing to consider the implications of what they are asking for.”

“During the twenty-three years that Muhammad shared the message of God—the Quran—with the people of Mecca and Medina, many times he and the people were reminded about the role of Allah’s Apostle. A study of these Quranic revelations will help Muslims understand whether Muhammad was meant to be head of a political state or the head of a religious community, or both.

The Egyptian scholar Ali Abd al-Razik in his seminal work, Al-Islam wa usul el-hukum (Islam and the Fundamentals of Authority), says the Quran confirms the Prophet had no interest in political sovereignty. He adds that the Prophet’s “heaven-appointed work did not go beyond the limits of the delivery of the summons, entirely apart from any thought of rulership.” He quotes the following verses from the Quran to prove his point:

  • Whoso obeyeth the Apostle, in doing so hath obeyed God, and whoso turneth away from thee: We have not sent thee to be their keeper (chapter 4, Sura al-Nisa, verse 83).
  • And your people call it a lie and it is the very truth. Say: I am not placed in charge of you (chapter 6, Sura al-Anaam, verse 66).
  • Follow what is revealed to you from your Lord; there is no god but He; and withdraw from the polytheists. And if Allah had pleased, they would not have set up others [with Him] and We have not appointed you a keeper over them, and you are not placed in charge of them (chapter 6, Sura al-Anaam, verses 106–7).
  • Say: O people! indeed there has come to you the truth from your Lord, therefore whoever goes aright, he goes aright only for the good of his own soul, and whoever goes astray, he goes astray only to the detriment of it, and I am not a custodian over you (chapter 10, Sura Yunus, verse 108).
  • Your Lord is Best Aware of you. If He will, He will have mercy on you, or if He will, He will punish you. We have not sent thee [O Muhammad] as a warden over them (chapter 17, Sura al-Isra, verse 54).
  • Surely, We have revealed to you the Book with the truth for the sake of men; so whoever follows the right way, it is for his own soul and whoever errs, he errs only to its detriment; and you are not a custodian over them (chapter 39, Sura al-Zumar, verse 41).
  • If then they run away, We have not sent thee as a guard over them. Thy duty is but to convey [the Message] (chapter 42, al-Shura, verse 48).
  • Therefore do remind, for you are only a reminder. You are not a watcher over them (chapter 88, Sura al-Ghashiyah, verses 21–24).
If the Prophet was not a guardian over his own Ummah, then he certainly was not send to become a political leader or a king over a country. The Quran states that ‘Muhammad is not the father of any man among you, but he is the Apostle of God, and the seal of the prophets: and God knoweth all things’ (33:40).”

“The cause of the violence that has engulfed the Muslim world is centered on the premise of an Islamic State or a caliphate as the prerequisite for the flourishing of Islam. Among the contemporary opponents of the Islamic State is the brilliant Sudanese-American academic, Professor Abdullahi An-Na’im, who teaches law at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. In his classic book,Towards an Islamic Reformation, An-Na’im writes about the unrealistic utopian dream of an Islamic State: ‘The authority of the caliph was supposed to be derived from popular support without any principle and mechanism by which that popular support could have been freely given, restricted, or withdrawn. This is, I maintain, one of the fundamental sources of constitutional problems with the Sharia model of an Islamic State.’

It is no wonder Muslims like An-Na’im are the prime targets of the Islamic right. Islamists consider secular, liberal, progressive, or cultural Muslims and even orthodox Sufis a greater threat than the West. The reason is that Muslims opposed to the Islamist agenda cannot be fooled or charmed in a way naïve liberal-left politicians can. In fact, radical jihadis and their Islamist apologists have been targeting fellow Muslims for decades. Their conflict with the West is only recent. Long before Islamists donned anti-imperialist paraphernalia, they were the loyal storm troopers for the United States, targeting left-wing and secular Muslims or anyone who was able to unmask their fascist agenda and links to Saudi-funded Wahhabis. Even today, the primary enemy of the Islamist is the fellow Muslim who is unwilling to surrender to the harsh literalist and supremacist use of Islam as a political tool. The Muslims who stand in the way of the Islamist agenda pay a heavy price for their courage.

The call for an Islamic State gives false hopes to Muslim masses. The followers of Maudoodi and Syed Qutb are dangling carrots and the promise of heavenly pleasures to mislead the Muslim people.”

“The verse in the Quran that jihadis use to legitimize their terrorism says:

But where the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans, wherever ye find them. And seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war). But if they repent and establish regular prayer and practice regular charity, then open the way for them; For God is Oft-forgiving. Most Merciful.

Jihadis use this verse to justify their actions, not realizing that the verse was revealed for a specific narrow application for a particular skirmish with pagan Arabs. Early classical commentators stated very clearly that this was not an all-encompassing direction for the future. Sadly, other theologians with a radical streak have used this verse as their clarion call for jihad against the infidel. This is insane. Imagine using Winston Churchill’s wartime speeches as a call to wage war on Germany today.”

“Islamists argue that the period following the passing away of Muhammad was Islam’s golden era and that we Muslims need to re-create the caliphate of that time in order to bring the political system it was associated with into today’s world. I wish to demonstrate that when Muslims buried the Prophet, they also buried with him many of the universal values of Islam that he had preached. The history of Islam can be described essentially as the history of an unending power struggle, where men have killed each other to claim the mantle of Muhammad. This strife is a painful story that started within hours of the Prophet closing his eyes forever, and needs to be told. I firmly believe the message of the Quran is strong enough to withstand the facts of history. It is my conviction that Muslims are mature and secure in their identities to face the truth. This is that story.”

“Sharia is the legal framework within which the most private aspects of life are regulated for those living in a Muslim society. These laws are often in conflict with the laws of the country. Medieval in nature and its origin, sharia tries to deal with all aspects of modern day-to-day life, including politics, economics, banking, business law, contract law, family, sexuality, hygiene, and social issues. However, most of these laws are the work of ordinary mortals and have never been debated in any parliament, nor would they ever be put to such scrutiny. Legal scholar L. Ali Khan writes that there is ‘a muddled assumption that scholarly interpretations are as sacred and beyond revision as are the Quran and the Sunnah.’ He continues: ‘The Quran and the Sunnah constitute the immutable Basic Code, which should be kept separate from ever-evolving interpretive law (fiqh). This analytical separation between the Basic Code and fiqh is necessary to dissipate confusion around the term sharia.’”

“What Islamists do not admit is that the custom of the veiling of women in early Islam was not part of the dress code until Muslims conquered Persia and the Byzantine territories in the 7th century. It was only after this assimilation of the conquered cultures that head covering and veiling were viewed as appropriate expressions of Islamic practice. Since the veil was impractical attire for working women, a veiled woman was a sign that she belonged to the upper class and that her husband was rich enough to keep her idle.

Ibrahim B. Syed, a professor at the University of Louisville, Kentucky, and president of the Islamic Research Foundation, writes that hijab literally means a “curtain,” “partition,” or a “separation.” According to Syed, when pre-Islamic Arabs went to battle, Arab women on seeing the men off to war would bare their breasts to encourage them to fight, or they would do so at the battle itself. This changed with Islam, when the Prophet received a Quranic revelation asking women to cover their breasts with the garment the Quran refers to as the khimar, worn by Arab women as a head covering.

The respected Polish Islamic scholar Muhammad Asad, commenting on this verse of the Quran (24:31), writes:

The noun khimar (of which khumur is plural) denotes the head-covering customarily used by Arabian women before and after the advent of Islam. According to most of the classical commentators, it was worn in pre-Islamic times more or less as an ornament, and let down loosely over the wearer’s back. In accordance with the fashion prevalent at the time, the upper part of a woman’s tunic had a wide opening in the front, and her breasts were left bare. Hence, the injunction to cover the bosom by means of a khimar does not necessarily relate to the use of a khimar as such. Rather, it is meant to make it clear that a woman’s breasts are not included within “what may decently be apparent” of her body, and should not, therefore, be displayed.

The Quran itself does not state explicitly either that women should be veiled, or that they should be kept apart from the world of men. On the contrary, the Quran is insistent on the full participation of women in society, and in the religious practices prescribed for men. The Lebanese scholar Nazira Zain Ad-Din argues that self-control is far better a moral standard than the practice of draping women from head to toe.

In her book As-sufur wa’l-hijab, Zain Ad-Din proves it is not an Islamic duty of Muslim women to wear the hijab. She adds that in enforcing the hijab, society becomes a prisoner of its own customs and traditions. Zain Ad-Din argues that imposing the veil on women is the ultimate proof that men are suspicious of their mothers, daughters, wives, and sisters. This means that men suspect ‘the women closest and dearest to them.’

It is difficult to say exactly when the head cover and the face mask became part of Islamic law. What we do know is that the laws that emerged as sharia were first developed during the 8th and 9th centuries, when the Abbasid caliphs of Baghdad were ruling Islamdom. The “lawyer-theologians of Islam,” as Professor Ibrahim Syed refers to these clerics, operated in a religious environment with a self-imposed duty of formulating Islamic law and code of morality. It was these theologians who interpreted the Quranic rules on women’s dress in increasingly absolute and categorical terms, reflecting the practices and cultural assumptions of their place and age.

Fatima Mernissi, the Moroccan sociologist and feminist, in her book The Veil and the Male Elite: A Feminist Interpretation of Women’s Rights in Islam, writes that the sayings of Prophet Muhammad and the Quranic teachings have been manipulated by a male elite whose power could only be legitimized by religion. She says the Prophet’s sayings were fabricated to protect the privileges of men, while denying women full participation in Islamic societies. Mernissi attacks the age-old conservative focus on segregation of women. She argues that this is achieved by way of manipulation of the sacred texts, ‘a structural characteristic of the practice of power in Muslim societies.’

In Canada, feminist Farzana Hassan, author of Islam, Women and the Challenges of Today, has been a vocal critic of the Islamists who prescribe the hijab head cover as a mandatory dress code for Muslim women. For speaking her mind, she has received death threats and accusations that she is an enemy of Islam, an apostate deserving of death. Addressing the meaning of the word ‘hijab,’ she says: ‘The Quran speaks mostly of modesty when it enjoins ‘hijab.’ . . . Besides, hijab is more a state of mind. The modesty recommended in the Quran has more to do with modesty in conduct and demeanour.’

Elsewhere she writes, ‘the Quran remained silent as to the specific apparel to be worn [by women] . . . except for the occasion where it specifically suggested covering the bosom with a khimar . . . this was specifically designed to discourage the practise of earlier times when women dressed scantily with their bosoms remaining exposed.’

If Allah wanted women to cover their heads or their hair, why was he not explicit about it in the Quran? After all, nothing would have prevented him from sending a Quranic revelation, saying to Muslim women, ‘cover your heads,’ but he did not. The Arabic word for ‘chest’ is gayb, which is in the verse 24:31, but the Arabic words for head (raas) or hair (shaar) are not part of the verse. The commandment in the verse is clear: Cover your chest or bosom. But, because of the fabrication of medieval scholars and the cowardice of contemporary translators who do not wish to appear as transgressing these scholars, Muslims are being told that the Quran prescribes the covering of one’s head or hair.”

In a recent article by him, he argues-

“Allow me to share with you a quote about the depth of the ossification that has rendered too many Muslim minds irrational, unreasonable and in need of anger management.

In 1974, the Cornell-educated Indian Islamic scholar Hashim Amir-Ali translated the Qur’an and published it in its chronological order, the way it was revealed, as against how it was collated many years after the death of Prophet Muhammad.
He wrote in the preamble:

‘The Qur’an is read parrot-like in most Muslim homes. … The religion that passes for Islam today – the Islam of the masses and of the ruling classes in every Muslim country – is the Islam of the Middle Ages and not exactly the Islam of the Qur’an or the Prophet. … The lines of thought laid down a thousand years ago have vitiated the entire course of Muslim thought and history. It is this legacy of the past that has to be faced today.’ “

Fatah is clear that the interpretations of Islam he deems as inappropriate also come from strands of Islamic heritage, seeking to base themselves on verses in the Quran, and so, while the contextual interpretation is up for debate, to suggest that Muslim extremism has nothing to do with Islam would not only be incorrect but lead to an improper diagnosis of the problem,  which would fail to lead us to any solution.

Summing Up

Fatah, from childhood, was a practising Muslim and would visit the local mosque with his family  every Friday. However, his discontent with Muslim societies began with the spread of the Islamism, which was authoritarian in nature. Fatah is clearly not anti-Islam and believes in a more progressive and modern form of Islam which favours tolerance of other religions and non-religious views, democracy, gender equality and gay rights, causes he himself champions vociferously. He further warns that Islamism (not Islam) is a political creed that threatens the world. Furthermore, as opposed to the criticism leveled against him, he is not a blind apologist of Western powers or anti-Muslim bigots. He admits the proposition that the West had a major role to play in the rise of Islamism. In an article, he states “the Americans often supported dictators and radical Islamic forces as allies in their ongoing Cold War battles.”


Karmanye Thadani
Knowledge Council

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