New Delhi (CNSNews.com) – A religious edict issued by 6,000 Indian Muslim clerics declaring terrorism to be anti-Islam is provoking debate in India
Organized by Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind (JUH), an Islamic socio-religious body, a conference in Hyderabad urged Muslims to work for communal harmony.
JUH secretary N.A. Farooqui said that as responsible citizens, Muslims “must reject terrorism and violence as decreed by the religious tenets.”
The fatwa against terrorism is viewed here as a response to criticism that Muslims condone violence. While many have welcomed the appeal, several Muslim leaders said it was an attempt to appease the majority Hindu community.
Mohamed Mukaram, imam of New Delhi’s famous 17th century Fatehpuri Mosque, said he resented “such an apologetic fatwa since all Muslims know their religion is against terrorism.” The Muslim community was afflicted with an inferiority complex, he said.
But Mohamed Sajid Rashidi, president of the All-India Imam Association, argued that it was necessary to inform the world that “Islam doesn’t encourage terrorist activities.”
Rashidi said Muslims need to “clear the air and speak about the basic tenets of Islam that are against terror,” noting that every time a bomb explodes “accusatory fingers are pointed at our community.”
Some view the JUH initiative as part of a plan to float a new Muslim party ahead of general elections due early next year. The JUH has complained that most Indian political parties take the Muslim vote for granted.
“There is a strong feeling that Muslims need a new leadership” since they are represented by leaders from outside their community, said JUH general secretary Mahmood Madani, a lawmaker in India’s upper legislature.
Abdul Qayyum Akhtar, founder of a madrassa (Islamic school) in Jaipur with a reputation for enlightened views, said the clergy should refrain from entering political arena. “They have already harmed Islamic interests worldwide with their conservative behavior,” he said.
Blaming clerics for lack of modern education among Muslims, Akhtar said their misguided politics would merely further isolate Indian Muslims from the social mainstream.
He, and others, say the JUH fatwa was too generic, and should instead have clearly rejected calls for violent jihad, regardless of motives.
Akhtar said clerics must shoulder the blame for jihad ideology since they label “every new invention, from television to mobile [phones]” as evil, and hinder women’s emancipation.
Although the scale of Islamist terrorism in India has not approached that of neighboring Pakistan, a series of deadly bombings over recent years has indicated the strong presence of fundamentalist elements.
Prof. Anwar Alam of Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi said that despite the growth in Islamic fundamentalist organizations, India has not witnessed large-scale Islamic militancy because of its constitutional framework of minority rights, a doctrine of secularism, and a strong democratic political process.
The vibrant dynamics of India’s multi-racial society have also compelled many Indian Muslims to seek modern education, he said.
But Muslim clerics continue to issue edicts aimed at keeping Muslims in line, for instance criticizing Western attire, dancing or singing.
Recently, a female tennis player was castigated for wearing short skirts and popular Bollywood movie star Salman Khan, a Muslim, was “excommunicated” for celebrating Hindu festivals.
Khan’s father, a leading columnist, lashed out at what he called “regressive acts of an outdated clergy, which cannot stomach a democratic difference of opinion.”
Sociologists here say poverty and lack of education make Muslims vulnerable to fundamentalism. A recent study found that nearly 25 per cent of Indian Muslim children aged 6-14 have either never attended school or have dropped out.
Muslims account for nearly 140 million of the 1.1 billion Indian population. While a minority in India, the community is the world’s third largest, after the Muslim communities in Indonesia and Pakistan.