As an Indian Muslim of Kashmiri heritage, I get asked this a lot – what do Indian Muslims think of India, why do they not assimilate, why do they feel alienated; why do they have ghettos and siege mentality?
Over the years I have tried to answer these questions as best as I could – through my shared personal experiences, through being the voice of the silent majority, by reaching out to Muslims and Hindus across the spectrum, and by advocating reform not just in religions but also the country’s laws and culture and socio-political milieu.
My journey of being a zindiq (heretic) or critic of Muslim culture and its subsequent civilization, its history – overt and covert, explorer of its spirituality and essence began when my mother became the Shah Bano of Kashmir. She never got justice and we sisters grew up as polar opposites, one succumbing to the conditioning of her times and I, always the rebel, sticking my neck out to speak on that which was taboo, omitted, blasphemous, heretic, or an utter lie.
It has not been easy but when has nation-building being easy. As I walked on the lonely path, I discovered others like me, who had been clear about their identity (Hamid Dalwai towering over any Indian Muslim, in my humble opinion) or those who were questioning, reflecting, into activism, seeking change and forcing a churning in the Indian Muslim scene.
I was pleased to realize the New Indian Muslim is a nationalistic Indian, who believes in the Indian Constitution, the idea of India, and is aware of his/her Fundamental Rights and Duties. He or she aspires to be everything they can be in their lives; with their potential, talents, and skills as well as abilities. The New Indian Muslim is bold, smart, and not afraid to delve into the area of theology which their parents and grandparents considered off-limits and best left to the mullahs.
The New Indian Muslim is techno-savvy and has no qualms picking up controversial issues in Islam, which are taboo; just to normalise dissent; with the Internet as a learning, educating, and awareness tool; exactly as Gutenberg’s Printing Press was for the medieval age.
The New Indian Muslim is courageous enough to treat doubts, queries, and criticism about his or her religion civilly, and even face the label of blasphemy and Islamophobic (a misnomer, its anti-Muslim bigotry, the former is exploited to shut down debate). He or she is ready even though it means animosity from the clergy, a fatwa any day from the ossified mullahs, and the hazards that come within the Islamic community to be a dissenter, a heretic, or a rebel.
The New Indian Muslim takes pride in his or her heritage, which includes the culture of heresy, dissent, criticism, and debate (loosely translated ‘ijtihad’) whether it was in the so-called ‘Golden Age of Islam’; patronised by the Caliphs themselves or now — the best time for Islamic Civilisation to come out of the doldrums and the intellectual suicide we committed eons ago when we gave priority to Asharite traditions rather than the Mutazalite movement.
There is a fierce sense of social justice, political equality, and passion to pull the Muslim community out of slumber and bring them to the forefront of public life, as achievers — in entrepreneurship, academia, sports, arts, music, creative fields, technology, science, medicine, engineering, and global geopolitics.
The New Indian Muslim has immense love for all communities so that civilizations and cultures progress towards more pluralistic and tolerant societies. These progressive Muslims are not afraid to find the essence of the original “message” from the deserts of Arabia; if it means digging up old Qurans, scholarships for verses without punctuation marks, or new archaeological evidence showcasing the first Muslim communities living in peace and brotherhood after wiping away the superstitions prevalent in their societies and building new tolerant communities like the ones in Moorish Spain.
These scientific-minded Muslims don’t mind questioning, being critical, or skeptical about stories handed down since centuries in the folklore, myth, legends, metaphors, proverbs, or sayings -– the prevalent medium in those times of preserving literature. They keep going to the core intentions of those narratives and subverting the images of fierce and brutal Muslim invaders etched into the psyche of many populations; who bore the brunt of pillaging. They want to replace them with those of philosophical, scientific-minded astronomers, alchemists, medical practitioners, botanists, mathematicians, and theological dissenters whom even common Muslims are just discovering, again thanks to the Internet.
The New Indian Muslims are fiercely secular who believe that religion is a private matter and any open display of beliefs, borders on bigotry, and should not be encouraged or appeased. Rather the secularism of the Constitution of their country should be upheld in every phase of daily life. During the pandemic of the last two years, it has been essentially proven that Muslims are action-oriented who explore new ways of upholding the message of humanism in all religions through charity or volunteer work across communities irrespective of caste, creed, gender, or belief system.
Whether they were arranging oxygen cylinders for patients, going house-to-house to educate people of SOPs of the lockdown, or volunteering as blood donors, assisting hospital healthcare professionals; they proved that they cared as much for the country as any Indian did.
They are bringing new meanings and new interpretations to animal rights, women’s rights, child rights, and gay rights in Islam. They don’t mind exploring assisted suicides or pledging their bodies to medical science after death thus upending the notion that there is an afterlife and everything that we do in this life is actually a reward for the next. They have pledged to get their communities out of the medieval mindset and take them on par with other belief systems which evolved with modern times and contributed greatly to the advancement of humankind instead of staying wrapped in regressive philosophies and regressive cultural practices. Evolved belief systems develop medical research and chance upon life-saving discoveries and technological inventions.
This is understood by the millennial Muslims, swearing to get their communities out of the chokehold of the mullah/politician alliance and develop community leaders who will not hesitate to pull up families, mosques, ideologues who resort to extremism and fanaticism.
This extremism had ended up plunging entire generations into bloody gore and mayhem, scarring the collective psyche of peaceful communities by giving them the legacy of historical wounds.
The New Indian Muslims are exactly what is needed in the world right now. Whether they are debating the twisted sense of liberalism, nationalism, and citizenship rights of the likes of the Rana Ayyubs, Sharjeel Usmanis, Arfa Khanum Sherwanis or Saba Naqvis, etc or elevating APJ Abdul Kalam, Maulana Wahidudin Khan, Arif Mohammad Khan or Hamid Dalwai as role models and heroes of the Muslim communities.
The State needs to listen to these New Muslims who are paving the way forward for a new leadership among Indian Muslims here in India and everywhere. There is an existential war between regressive Islamists who are not averse to using nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare against populations whether Muslim or not. In this battle for secularism, freedom of speech, and pluralism, it is these New Indian Muslims who are at the front line and bearing the brunt of vicious smear campaigns, vitriolic online trolling, machete attacks, and even fatal stabbings.
It is the responsibility of every nation-state that wants the secular fabric of their country to be preserved and the responsibility of every rational, logical, democratic citizen to listen, protect, defend and promote these New Indian Muslims. This is the only way for a more peaceful world, a more tolerant Islam, a more understanding Indic civilization, and a more pluralistic approach to belief systems in India.(the new indian)
Arshia Malik is a Delhi-based writer, blogger and social commentator.