By John Cheeran
Nobody killed liberal Islam, because it wasn’t there in the first place.
In a timely, provocative and well-argued book, Who Killed Liberal Islam (Published by Rupa, Rs 595), senior journalist Hasan Suroor reaffirms that Islam does not offer space for liberalism.
Suroor says that a liberal Indian Muslim is, indeed, a rarity, judged by the generally accepted standards of liberalism–a respect for human rights, free speech, dissent, tolerance of individual freedoms and lifestyle choices, gender equality, etc.
Suroor’s quarrel is with the kind of liberal Muslims that media recognize–a Javed Akhtar, Nazeeruddin Shah, etc. Suroor calls them ‘inauthentic’ Muslims. He argues that the Left-wing Muslim intellectuals paraded as the community’s beating liberal heart have in fact done more damage to the cause of Muslim liberalism than good. By coming across as confrontational and hostile, they have the effect of undermining the few moderates who are trying to bring about change, says Suroor.
How true is this position?
Suroor says Indian Muslims are not a fundamentalist monolith. They may not be liberal but the community is largely moderate. Suroor admits that people of his ilk got it wrong on the nature of post-independence Indian Muslim society because they did not engage with ordinary Muslims.
Suroor concedes that after all these years, Indian Islam needs reforms but it should be carried out by the moderates within the community.
The one admission is, however, important. He says Islam has been a violent religion. He contends claims relating to Islam as a peaceful religion are based on a cherry-picked reading of Islam’s chequered history, ignoring its history of violence, intolerance, repression and cruelty. Islam was founded on the principles of equality and justice and was considered quite revolutionary at the time, but like all revolutions it lost its way in its quest for supremacy.
And here is Suroor’s analysis: The Western colonization of the Muslim world was not only a military and political humiliation for Muslims but a body blow to their pride and psyche. They were blindsided by its impact, triggering a sense of demoralisation so deep that they sought to escape it by seeking refuge in the past. Calls for a return to a pristine Islam became a battle cry of conservatives who saw the Muslim plight as divine retribution for their having strayed from the original tenets of Islam under Western influence.
And as is predictable, Saudi Arabia gets blame for jihadi Islam.
It remains to be seen how Indian Muslims would react when Suroor writes that no amount of breast-beating will help until the source of the toxic ideology that inspires jihad is tackled.
“It is the ruling ideology of much of the Arab world and is spreading rapidly to other Muslim majority countries. Yet we continue to pretend that extremists are not ‘real’ Muslims and don’t represent ‘real’ Islam.”
He says that there is no likelihood of Saudis abandoning Wahabism anytime soon and with liberals, especially in south Asia, not quite able to get their act together for reasons ranging from a sense of complacency that the storm will blow over, to a certain defesnsiveness in the face of widespread Islamophobia, the road back from jihad to ijtihad is likely to be a very long one.
Suroor says Islam doesn’t recognize the idea of a secular public space. He adds that Islam and secularism are incompatible as is acknowledged by many authoritative scholars like Egypt’s Yusuf al-Qaradawi who argue that Christianity is more comfortable with the idea of secularism because historically it has more or less maintained separation between State and religion.
Suroor does some blunt talking too. “Empires can no longer be built or expanded indefinitely by conquest of new territories as before. The Islamic theology of violence, exclusivity and world domination has no place in this modern world. Muslims need to urgently evolve a new ideology of peace, pluralism and gender justice suitable for this new world.”
Is the Indian Muslim listening?