Saturday, Feb 29, 2020 | Last Update : 01:02 PM IST

Reclaiming our identity as Indians & Muslims

The writer is a master’s student of English Literature at Aligarh Muslim University. He writes about Muslim culture and history.
Published : Jan 17, 2020, 7:03 am IST
Updated : Jan 17, 2020, 7:03 am IST

The nationwide anti-CAA protests are spontaneous and there is little to no coordination within these.

Shashi Tharoor is respected across the board for his views, articulation, and commitment to the values of India
 Shashi Tharoor is respected across the board for his views, articulation, and commitment to the values of India

There has been considerable debate about the slogan of “La Ilaha Illallah” and its place, if any, in the anti-CAA protests. It has given rise to questions about assertions of Muslim identity in India today.  In his tweet, Shashi Tharoor has equated implicitly the credal statement of Islam “La ilaha illallah” to Islamist terrorism. The statement is the foundation of Islam, and as sweeping a statement as Mr Tharoor’s is, to say the least, problematic.

The nationwide anti-CAA protests are spontaneous and there is little to no coordination within these. Many have erroneously thought that “La ilaha illallah” is the slogan of the anti-CAA protests! Rather, it is an assertion of identity by those facing state-sponsored terror because of their identity. The shared faith in La Ilaha illallah is what unites the Muslims across the country, and Mr Tharoor, the most prominent opponent of this slogan, need not have fear of Islamist terror. India has been immune to Islamist terror from “normal” Indian Muslims because of a very strong sense of belonging to the country. It is this sense of belonging that has impelled us to protest against the CAA and the NRC.

The slogan of “La ilaha illallah” was raised in Jamia Millia Islamia, Aligarh Muslim University and in Kerala in solidarity with those students who were attacked by the state apparatus in these two universities. The state, through the police, was targeting Muslims as Muslims, hurling the filthiest abuses at them for being Muslims, and attacking them as Muslims.

Mr Tharoor is respected across the board for his views, articulation, and commitment to the values of India. For such a tweet to be coming from him was a shock to a community already reeling under a multitude of blows across the nation. The disenchantment with Mr Tharoor is perhaps reflective of the larger disappointment with the Congress, which has always claimed to stand up for the idea of India. The handwringing of the Congress over a vast array of injustices to Muslims, individual and institutional, had already spelt out its demise, even as Mr Tharoor seemed a whiff of fresh air. Yet, it seems that he embodies all the Muslim complaints with the Congress: selective action, an inherent bias towards Hinduism, an attempt to explain away that bias, and a ready explication of anti-Muslim sentiments. Those disapproving of the slogan of La ilaha illallah warn of non-Muslim alienation from the anti-CAA protests. That may very well be the case. However, how is it any different from asking Muslim voters to consistently support the Congress, despite its flagrantly anti-Muslim nature, for the greater good of the nation?

On October 17, 1919, the Khilafat Movement, which was started at the call of Indian Muslims, abounded in Islamic symbols. Apprehensions were rife among the British government and Indians about the impact of pan-Islamism on Indian Muslims. However, as Gail Minault points out, the symbolism contributed to the creation of a pan-Indian Islam. It was a source of pride for Muslims to be Indians, and this pride was fostered by the use of Islamic symbols in the Khilafat Movement, which merged with the Non-Cooperation Movement. Staunch Hindu figures such as Swami Shraddhanand and Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya were actively involved in the Khilafat Movement, and spoke at Jama Masjid in Delhi, prompting many to draw parallels with the Bhim Army chief, Chandrashekhar Azad. It is risible to think that Muslim protesters expect non-Muslims, or even all of the Muslims, supporting the movements across India to chant La ilaha illallah. But is it too much to ask that we not be obstructed from raising our slogans?

The liberal resentment against public expressions of Muslim identity is well-documented, with the narrative being that while Muslims may have started this movement, now that the “mainstream” figures have arrived at the scene, the burqa-clad women, and topi-wearing and beard-sporting Muslims must relegate themselves to following the leaders. This sidelining of Muslims is not limited to only this protest: it is a mental ghettoisation, much like the physical ghettoisation of Muslims in urban centres.
NRC ka masla kya?
La ilaha illallah
Tera mera rishta kya?
La ilaha illallah

The slogan had circulated much before the violence of December 15 on the campus of Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University. It was an attempt to mobilise Indian Muslims, and to strengthen the bond of pan-Indian Islam which had first been forged in the Khilafat and Non-Cooperation Movement. If the Muslims of India do unite and fight for their stake in the country, as Indians by invoking the Constitution, as they have always done, and also as Muslims, by saying “La ilaha illallah”, is that not a good sign? By chanting La ilaha illallah, we are espousing the idea of India where we can have an unhyphenated existence, as Indians as well as Muslims.

The unease with Muslims is hardly a new phenomenon. Writing about how Dr Syed Mahmud was bypassed for the first chief ministership of Bihar under Provincial Autonomy because of the “communal demands” of Dr Rajendra Prasad, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad regretted that the Congress nationalism had not reached a stage where it could ignore communal considerations and select leaders on the basis of merit without regard to majority or minority.

One feels that the Congress, as embodied in Mr Tharoor, has still not reached a stage where it could ignore communal considerations and support a demand for rights and assertion of identity without regard to majority or minority.

Statements refuting the anti-Muslim nature of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act abound, stating it should not be opposed as an anti-Muslim act, but as an unconstitutional one owing to its criterion of naturalisation of foreign citizens being religion. The anti-CAA protests are immediately against the CAA, NRC and NPR, and by extension, the lynchings, mob violence and the Ayodhya case verdict, but in its essence, it is a movement for us to live in India with dignity, to reclaim our right to our country which is being eroded with the approval of Parliament.

This movement is unique for Indian Muslims, as they are fighting not for religion-specific demands. Rather, it is a movement geared towards Muslims being considered equal citizens in the secular democratic republic that is India.

As such, it is all the more important to ensure that identity assertion does not become the only message which we take away from the anti-CAA protests. This slogan and indeed this movement should not be used to sketch a nation within which Muslims remain an insular and isolated unit. After all, it is a movement to reclaim our identity as Indians as well as Muslims.

The Muslims of India have marched with the tiranga at all of the anti-CAA protests, and we abide by the Constitution, and invoke constitutional values in our opposition to the CAA. Why then is our Muslim identity such a red rag? We have placed our trust in the Constitution, in the civil society of our country, and in the idea of India.

It is high time that we receive similar trust. 

Tags: anti-caa, shashi tharoor