Muslim moniker is sticky but I didn’t coin it



Why “They Call Me Muslim”, I have often been asked. How about “They Call Me Indian” instead? What if someone were to write under a competing title, “They Call Me Hindu”?

At times, the query may have popped out of naivety, but mostly, there seems to be a question behind the question.I would answer by saying I don’t like to be called ‘Muslim’ all the time. But much to my chagrin, the general tendency has been to put me, and millions others like me, in that little box called ‘Muslim’ and shut it up. This is the reality today for Indian Muslims, French Muslims, Dutch, American, Israeli and even British Muslims. And it must be some crazy out-of-the-box thinking to box in Muslims this way across the world. Therefore, they call me Muslim.

It actually has to do with the syntax of the sentence and etymology of the word. ‘They call me Muslim’ as opposed to ‘they call me a Muslim’.

In the latter of the two formations, the word conducts itself with dignity and behaves like a humane adjective describing the community a person might belong to. It is like using ‘azure’ to describe the colour ‘blue’.

Ditch the ‘a’ midway, as in the former of the two formations, and you might end up getting a euphemism for a ‘potential terrorist’. Or someone whose ‘patriotism is suspect’. When used this way, the word could also simply mean ‘non-native’, ‘usurper’ or ‘inward-looking’.

Islamophobia is impossible without reverence to ultra-nationalism, as opposed to patriotism. A nationalist, therefore, should always go about with a patriot — they show each other off to the best advantage. Both may well use ‘Muslim’ negatively at some point or the other. Every tribe after all will have its failings. But there’s a difference. A patriot speaks the truth though it may give offence; an ultra-nationalist, in order that it may.

The rise of ultra-nationalism — at the expense for all that it stands for — has sparked a mistrust of Muslims not limited to religious cranks alone.

So, a Muslim’s sympathy for Palestine is a sign of putting religion before nation. This yoking together with violence of things meant to be separate is dangerous.

Why does an Indian Tamil sympathise with a Sri Lankan Tamil’s plight? Do we not lament the plight of minority Hindus in Pakistan? Explained purely in terms of human behaviour, such fraternal tugs are natural and legitimate. Therefore, they call me Muslim.

For any Muslim, Islam is a universal religion based on a set of global principles. Therefore, Muslims do not have to decide whether their religion has to be subsumed within their Indian ethos, or the other way around. So, putting religion before country or vice versa is an irrational argument.

Islam calls Muslims to universal brotherhood. This is how an egalitarian religion was founded.

The Prophet had said in his last sermon delivered on Mount of Mercy: “All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action.” Click here

The sermon was delivered in 632 AC. By that time, nearly the whole of Arabia was Muslim. Therefore, the inference is clear. A Muslim, devoid of scruples, is not superior to a non-Muslim.

In the Muslim tradition, it is often said “you must respect the contract”. So, a deeper understanding of Islam will only unveil a Muslim’s obligation to be a deeply committed citizen wherever he/she lives. The concept of universal Muslim brotherhood is not a substitute for Muslim nationalism. There is nothing like Muslim nationalism in the first place. It has no religious grounding. It’s not possible to have such a thing, given the way politics within Islam has unfolded.

Had there been such a thing called Muslim nationalism, Sunnis would not have contested Shias on principles of faith. And there would have been a uniform model of governance rooted in Shariah-complaint theocracies. There would not have been one type of government in Lebanon and another type of petromonarchy in Saudi Arabia or Jordan. There would not have been a dictatorial regime in Iraq, while having a theocracy-backed democratic government in Iran at the same time.

It is high time we emphasized that Muslims do not have a nation but nations; not identity but identities; not culture but cultures. A French Muslim and an Indian Muslim could not have been more dissimilar than they now are.

It is the ultra-nationalist’s mix-up of universal brotherhood with non-existent Muslim nationalism that is responsible for such aberrations. Therefore, they call me Muslim.

Muslim-perpetrated terror is a reality and the vast majority of Muslims condemn it. They condemn it in Europe, in UK and here in India, too.

According to a Pew poll, the concern that Islamic extremism poses a major national threat is strongest in Morocco, the site of a devastating terrorist attack two years ago, where nearly three-quarters of the public (73%) hold that view.

A Gallup polling over six years and three continents, a sample equivalent to 90% of the world’s Muslims, showed that widespread religiosity “does not translate into widespread support for terrorism”. So it’s time we asked this: should we be at war with terror or should we be at war with Muslims?

We as Muslims must learn to argue off perceptions based on this dangerous method of ‘Googling Islam’. If you want to talk about Islam, you’re welcome. But then you must find better methods of studying the religion and its followers.

There is a propensity to transform abhorrent perceptions about a potent radical minority into a mainstream Muslim movement. Regardless of their potency and ability to cause death and destruction, the guilt of a few Muslims cannot be transferred to the vast majority of Muslims committed to the two Ls — lawful and loyal.

Native versus non-natives is a racist tendency. One only has to look at escalating attacks on Indians in Australia? So, the racist exclusion agenda calls for a global non-violent resistance. Whether you are an immigrant or indigenous is a question of time really. Therefore, “They Call Me Muslim”.

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