Of state-sponsored greybeards (2)

A reflection on the main objections

The recent post on state-sponsored greybeards—arguing that it is in India’s interests to promote the India interpretation of Islam around the world—generated both heat and light. The latter merits further discussion, not least because of the events of the last few days, where it has emerged that among the individuals suspected of planning and carrying out the attacks in London and Glasgow were several well-educated Indian Muslims.

Let’s examine the key arguments against the proposal. The first, made by the Rational Fool, is that not only will a state policy of promoting Islam go against secularism, but it will also lead to a ‘slippery slope’ where adherents of other religions will demand similar support. And he’s right. Yet, in reality the Indian state is waist-deep into religion—among others it subsidises pilgrimages, supervises places of worship, lacks uniform personal laws and is about to introduce reservations based on religion. In practice then, the damage caused to secularism will be real, but marginal. Given that radical Islam is a serious international threat, trading off some more secularism to attempt to offset the bigger danger is not a bad idea at all.

As to his other point, it is certain that there will be competitive calls for the promotion of other religions. Yet the point that people missed—at least in the discussion on the previous posts—is that the notion that such a policy will be zero-sum is bogus. The promotion of a more tolerant interpretation of Islam—both at home and abroad—need not come at the cost of Hinduism or any other religion. Sliding down the slippery slope may be certain. At worst, this will lead to pressure on the government’s finances and a blunt the effort to tackle the Middle Eastern interpretation. The policy will be successful to the extent that the leadership is able to shape a national consensus on what the priorities are.

The second argument, made by Atanu Dey, is similar to the one made by Sam Harris: it sees Islam as an unreformable monolith which has no space for moderates of any kind. Attempting to reform or moderate it, therefore, is a fool’s errand. Given this understanding, it predicts near-apocalyptic global religious conflict as a cathartic solution. The problem with this line of argument is not only that it is too pessimistic or fatalistic. Rather, that it relies too heavily on the very extremist interpretations of the religion that are the cause of the world’s problems. There are far too many theological, ideological and political schisms within Islam for it to be the monolith it is often understood to be. Indeed, as The Economist argued in its recent article, the problem is that there are too many interpretations vying for space. The last half-century has seen the strengthening of the Wahhabi, Shia and Deobandi versions, mainly because these served the geopolitical interests of their backers—Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan. It is reasonable to suggest therefore, that these radical interpretations can be rolled back, or at least a balance struck, through the promotion of a countervailing strand. [Marc Sageman, who conducted an empirical study on 400 jihadis, concludes that the “war of ideas is important and we haven’t really started to engage yet”; via Gideon Rachman]

That brings to the fore the other question—asked by Yossarian—is “Indian Islam” any different? Isn’t the violence of Partition, as Atanu pointed out, evidence to the contrary? For that matter, doesn’t the culpability of upper middle-class Indian Muslims in the British terror plot prove that Indian Islam, if there was one, is not immune from radicalisation? Not quite. What of the fact that more Muslims chose to stay on in India notwithstanding the communal bloodbath of Partition? And take the contemporary case of the London-Glasgow plotters—the fact that the Indian brothers had to harangue their friends and even the local Mosque official suggests that they were the exceptions.

This is not to say that there are no radical individuals and groups among Indian Muslims—there are, many have been involved in acts of terrorism and their numbers are growing. Nor is it to suggest that Indian Islam does not itself need reformation—it certainly does. Rather, we can conclude that it is possible to distinguish among various strands of the Islamic religious tradition and strengthen those that can counter the more intolerant ones. Such a project will not be easy, but as Libertarian wrote: “India is easily the best place to address the issue. Great powers solve giant problems. No other great power has both the incentive and the capability of solving this issue.”

53 thoughts on “Of state-sponsored greybeards (2)”

  1. Nitin, i tend to agree that the indian state needs to promote its own form of Islam. Sufism, (from my very very minimal understanding) is different and not as radical as Wahbism.

    On the issue of promoting other religions, why not? anyway enough mnoey is being wasted, so some more being wasted on other crap, some more on promoting hinduism, jainisn etc might be worth it.

    Promoting hindusim abroad might also bring in revenue, likewise if the govt decided to promote sufism.

  2. Nitin,

    By promoting a version of Indian Islam or any Religion – I am afraid India might end up creating _non-political_ religious actors who become powerful in Indian Politics. They can easily sway the population with their “whimsical” interpretations of religion and once they become powerful with state support – there is no way of discrediting them unlike political actors who have to face elections. All religions are personality centric and once a legend is created…all India can do is make him a martyr.

  3. which version of indian islam r u talking about ?
    one must not forget sufi ism but
    right now as things go both the congress and commis
    are promoting Deobandi islam as prophessed by the
    tabligi jamaat as it is kinda easier to garner votes

  4. Rather than “promoting the Indian version of Islam”, the Indian state must generate debate on radical Islam. For too long, the Indian state has stifled debate on radical Islam for fear of hurting the religious sentiments of Muslims. This is contradictory for if Islam is a peaceful religion, then moderate Muslims should have absolutely no problem with the Indian state taking a tough stance against them. This should change. Truth has been sacrificed at the altar of a flawed political correctness. Maybe it’s time we start calling a spade a spade.

  5. Correction. Read it as:

    …then moderate Muslims should have absolutely no problem with the Indian state taking a tough stance against the radicals.

  6. Nitin, have to disagree with you here. Our basic problem as a country is that we don’t enforce laws that are on the statute books. Why should we elevate goons and terrorists to ideologues fighting for a cause? And what is the cause anyway? More Muslims are killed by other Muslims than by non-Muslims.

    How different are these Bangalore doctors from Veerappan or Phoolan Devi? Except that they have graduate degrees and claim to be fighting a jehad. Each time these killers get promoted to being part of an imaginary global war, there are suddenly more recruits attracted to the cause. Instead, when a bomb goes off somewhere and they are treated as killers, they are stripped of the mask that adds to their aura, at least in some eyes. So far though, we haven’t seen a single culprit caught…

    State sponsored indoctrination won’t do anything except create new avenues allowing people to get rich on government money. And knowing the government they will probably hire the most incompetent greybeards too.

  7. What is precisely “an Indian version of Islam”? Is it a variation like Shia and Sunni? Do Muslims recognize this or is it an invention of the pseudosecular Indian mind? Or is it a school of Islam that is rooted in Indian soil such as the Deobandis? Is Deobandis the more peaceful version of the Religion of Peace? How much more peaceful can Islam get when it is proclaimed by all Muslims and non-Muslims like GW Bush and Tony Blair that it is the Religion of Peace?

    Inquiring minds would like to know.

    Hasn’t this technique been tried before? Remember Afghanistan, the CIA and the Taliban? Remember the US funded Osama and his merry band of liberators (did you know that one of the space shuttle missions was dedicated to them?) and how the monster turned against Dr Frankenstein?

    What exactly does it mean to say “the Indian state should promote a less virulent strain of Islam?” Does it mean that some politician or bureaucrat will take my money (taxes) and spend it on attempting to convert non-Muslims to the “Indian variety of Islam” so that there are say 500 million who are “more peaceful Muslims than the average non-Indian variety Muslims” and who will act as a counter-weight to the “less peaceful followers of the Religion of Peace globally”?

    Is it a good idea to take my money under the threat of violence (yes, taxes are coerced if they are used for purposes that are not morally just) and use it to support an ideology that I will not support freely? Should the state be in the business of promoting the Religion of Peace, however more peaceful the intent of the state is?

    If radical Islam is a problem, can’t radical Islam be replaced with say Buddhism? Was Afghanistan Buddhist before it was taken over by Islam? Admittedly Buddhism is not a Religion of Peace and neither is Jainism but if India has to be in the business of exporting religions, shouldn’t it export a homegrown one rather than a variation of an imported one however peaceful it is?

    Can you point to any part of the world in the last 100 years where the trend is towards less radicalization of the Muslim population? Is it true that the trend has been a monotonic increase towards a more fundamental adherence to what the Koran and Traditions are? What direction do you think Rage Boy’s development will take: to take more offense or less offense?

    Do you think that 50 years ago an Indian Muslim politician would have dared to announce a reward for the murder of foreigners for some funny sketches? Indian muslim doctors have plotted to murder the English in their land? What is the trend — towards less violence or more violence?

    Inquiring minds would like to know.

  8. Nitin,

    I am less worried about further dilution of the separation principle – I agree that the way the Indian State practices secularism has diluted it already to ε ppm – than the risk of the State turning into a full blown theocracy. Do you really believe that the State’s attempt to meddle in the affairs of the Faith, will not induce an equal and opposite attempt by the Faith to meddle in the affairs of the State? It’d be worth our while to recall Thomas Jefferson’s stark warning in this regard,

    In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.

    -Thomas Jefferson, letter to Horatio G. Spafford, March 17, 1814

    We need to find a better defense against the “Sword of Islam”!

  9. Nitin, like I said in the other post, it is the how part that we drift. India should promote its version of Islam, but that should not be by the state. Calls for promoting other religions apart, it becomes easy to hijack such a promotion. The terms for such an attempt by the state should be laid clearly. It should strictly be to further India’s national interest (read security) and should never take a missionary turn. How we define national interest is moot and years of experience only suggests that we need to be prepared for any perversion.

  10. Tavleen Singh comments in the context of our leaking-heart PM’s “I-lose-sleep-when-terrorists-get-caught” remark.

    The true faith is not the Islam that we have lived with in India, in relative harmony for centuries, but a disagreeable Arab version that expects women to dress like black crows and men to beat them if they show a hint of skin…In India we are particularly vulnerable to it, because we have the second largest Muslim population in the world, and thanks to the perfidy of our political class, it is a population that has been bred on grievances. What is worse is, funds from Arabia are being used to set up schools to spread Islamist thought across our Dar-ul-Harb.

    This new, globalised Islam tolerates Christianity and Judaism because they are religions of the book, but us idol-worshippers are doomed to hellfire. As for ideas like secularism, pluralism, and freedom of worship, or no worship at all, such ideas are anathema to Wahhabi Islam…

    This has to stop if we are to revive Indian Islam and there was once such a religion. It was a religion that had imbibed from India the right to ask questions and even, dare it be said, question the very existence of God and heaven. It gave us poets like Mir and Ghalib, who expressed these questions in some of the most beautiful poetry ever written. Ghalib warned against lifting the veil from the Ka’aba, in case there, too, we found only this same heathen god, and Mir wrote in one of his most famous poems of sitting in a temple, putting a tilak on his forehead and giving up Islam altogether…

    Today, Ghalib and Mir would be beheaded for such talk. The new Islam allows no questioning. It is a totalitarian idea that can only produce fanatics.

  11. Nitin,

    Your post seems to say that religious fanaticism (esp. the islamic variety) is the root cause for most of the terrorism around the world, and hence needs to be countered with a moderate ‘Indian’ version of Islam.

    However, if you consider the places where most of the terror seems to be emanating from (such as the Middle-east, Afghanistan & South Asia) they have other things in common than religion –

    – Almost all countries in these regions are low income & third-world
    – Almost all regions had imperialist forces operating till the second world war and its peoples were subjugated by the ‘white christian man’
    – Almost all regions have simmering territorial disputes that have gone on since the second world war that were fallouts of their independence movements, the cold war or other types of external intervention / internal strife
    – Many of these countries have had continuing western intervention even after the end of the cold war

    It is not surprising then that most countries became inward-looking, relied on socialism and its people became more intolerant & radical as their conditions became more wretched.

    Letting everyone live their lives would be a big step towards world peace and rooting out terror of all kinds.

    On the topic of exporting a moderate version of Indian Islam, it will be a painfully slow process even if it were to work. For you would still not stop the extremist teachings that induce a tiny proportion of the world’s islamic population to take to terror. I would be very surprised if this tiny proportion of people who get influenced by radical islamic teachings would understand the logic of modernism & moderation in Islam as they are as much against them as the so-called infidels.

    Secondly, bringing about an economic change in these regions through free trade & universal modern education might be a faster way (even then it will probably take decades) for religious extremism to die a natural death – that there are a few well educated terrorists doesn’t mean we can discount the rationalism that modern scientific education brings upon most students.

    Thirdly, religious fanaticism clearly doesn’t exist only in muslims, there are fanatic hindus and christians as there are fanatics in every religion – if the state does sponsor moderate islamic teaching, why should it not sponsor moderate christianity and moderate hinduism (and by extension, all other religions and atheism). This would also ensure “slippery slope” doesn’t arise – all religions would get their space and money.

    Fourthly, even if we agreed there is an Indian Islam that is different from others, how do we separate that from what is different due to differences in culture than from what is due to differences in religious thought?

    Fifth, and this is slightly cranky idea – if we did think that the export of a moderate religion was indeed a solution to religious extremism, why shouldn’t the Indian government create one (like Akbar created Din-i-illahi, e.g.) from what we think is the best in each religion rather than propagating several?

  12. Nitin, I think Rational Fool (and Anand et al) is on the money. This will definitely be a slippery slope and more than any imagined lofty principles of separation of church and state, it is my contention based on how things actually tend to work. That is particularly so given the nature of our polity.

    It is true in theory that our unique demographic break up can work in India’s favour (at least as far as containing the fundamentalist threat is concerned) given that most muslims are tolerant enough to live and let live in their day to day lives. In reality, the state is likely to prop up people with unimpressive credentials in upholding freedoms and rights. Likely scenarios are that either folks with ‘impeccable’ secular credentials good at mouthing PC inanities or an old fashioned closet bigot would be ‘chosen’ to lead the masses (without their consent in form, of course).

    Not too sure this is a good idea at all. Whatever freedoms we have left will disappear. Competitive intolerance?

  13. Nitin: the broad strokes seem right i.e. India should grab the bull by the horns and lead the Muslim world. The involvement of the state in the enterprise leaves me very uneasy, though. The state has consistently botched up everything it attempts outside politics. There are good reasons for the state to stay out of religion and business. Just as there are good reasons for religions to stay out of politics.

    The movement to reform/rationalize/organize Islam must come from the folks with the most at stake i.e. Indian Muslims themselves. The Bohras are a very good example of a pragmatic approach – not democratic – but very effective. The model of having a religious head and a power structure may be the simplest device to guarantee orderliness in process – no more two-bit maulvis running around issuing fatwas. The Catholic church has many skeletons in the closet e.g. the pedophile problem. The important goal is to deal with the issue in a predictable orderly manner, not in a democratic street-protest manner.

  14. This proposal – to state sponsor a certain version of Islam- is so laughable that—–it makes me cry.
    When put in practice it will inevitably lead to such a holy mess(pun intended) that it would be impossible to clear it. A religious monster unleashed by a secular society will ultimately come back to devour that society.
    I have just written a couple of posts at my blog about the cluelessness of the media about jihad.I am sorry to see that cluelessness over here too.


  15. Nitin, and those opposing him, the nature of the promotion has been left unanswered. Nitin does indicate that state should promote its own version of islam. The state has numerous mechanisms by which it can promote its own version of islam namely

    1) Through the usual public policy building etc, funding madrasas etc

    2)State can also use covert methods to promote its own version, and therefore it will convey the picture that indian islam is taking roots elsewhere own its own.

    Nitin has not clarified which mechanism he wants the state to use, while those opposing him have assumed the former mechanism. If Nitin prefers the usage of the latter, then it makes sense to me.

  16. Nitin,

    Who will decide what constitutes “Indian Islam” ? Of course, the very same radical muslims from AIMLPB, scores of madrassas, Deoband, JMI, AMU etc. What difference ?? (I am being cynical here, all right, but we have precedents to draw conclusions from)


    Responding to your reply in the last post on greybeards. My point was about numbers, not citing a few exceptional examples to counter the point. I was talking about the general trend. I wanted to convey why teaching islam in colleges and universities(stated by some other commentator) is not only a ridiculous idea, but its highly hypocritical. How many Indian universities offer Hinduism studies, compared to Islamic studies. Lets say – some xyz university wants to teach Hinduism. Will that happen without a howl of protest from the usual pseudo-secular cabal? Of course, UGC funds BHU, but BHU is Hindu in name only. Is there any reservation for Hindus there, like JMI or AMU have reservations for muslims.

  17. >>> Sufism, (from my very very minimal understanding) is different and not as radical as Wahbism.

    Is sufism, really that peaceful as it is made out to be? I am not asserting, because even I am not sure, but I did read somewhere that Sufism too was violent and radical, and responsible for inciting the destruction of many temples.

  18. Nitin –

    The most intriguing thing in this debate so far is your silence on the comments 🙂

    Anyway – my 2 bits.

    What you say is true i.e. that the world needs the ‘Indian Islam’ more than the garden variety that is mushrooming at a frantic pace.

    I differ with the ‘State should propogate Indian Islam’ argument.

    I would in fact argue quite the reverse- Indian Muslims are doing very well in showing a different face of the Muslim and that has been noticed across the world…well till Mr. Haneef and kafeel etc spoiled teh party.
    Our culture, our films, arts, sports, politics is an enduring testament to the kind of Islam that is being practised. Almost everything that wahabbi islam forbids finds a fertile soil in India.
    The point is this – that the rest of teh Islamic world in fact has these choices before it. It can choose the Wahabbi way or the ‘Indian’ way. Right now, it is the Wahabbi way thats winning. Given that the Indian state is not looked at very favorably by the Islamic world (in terms of intentions), it will be a folly to trip up a good thing that is going right now.

    I would say in closing,propagate the INdian Islam by all means, lets just leave the state out of it.
    Let each Muslim be an ambassador for this version as it is today. It is upto the rest of the world (Islamic and non) to decide which one truly swings for a united world.

  19. Nitin,

    To propagate an “Indian” version islam, thought to be somehow more “tolerant” of other kinds of islams, is really a futile exercise in barking up the wrong tree.

    As stated earlier in post 1, the Indian version of islam, if we call it that for convernience, is as far more deadlier than anything on offer elsewhere.

    Indian islam is quite and low key today because it has been largely defanged with the formation of Pakistan. But it is waiting for numbers. Once it has the numbers, be sure it would be a menace again, as it was before 1947.

  20. we would be lucky if we manage to stave off the ever growing arab influence on indian islam; let alone dream of exporting it to a consumer [arabs] who deems it as polluted [due to prolonged exposure to the idol worshiper] and it’s originators as racially inferior.

  21. There is no such thing as Indian strain of Islam. If people of many religions have peacefully coexisted in India, it is due to the underlying principles of Sanatana Dharma. So the Indian state should actually promote Sanatana Dharma to the rest of the world.

  22. I think the approach here is all wrong. An India that exhibits religious tolerance and maintains a firm wall between church and state will engender lively debate on all sorts of religious perspectives.
    The best way to promote an “Indian” view of Islam is to lay the groundwork for vibrant academic and cultural dialogue on the matter. If we continue to produce the art and the writing they will spread throughout the world through simple diffusion. At that point it’s simply a matter of leaning of other countries to stop censorship and allow Indian culture in.

    Cultural imperialism? Probably. But that’s what you were advocating anyway was it not?

  23. >>>>
    As stated earlier in post 1, the Indian version of islam, if we call it that for convernience, is as far more deadlier than anything on offer elsewhere.

    I agree. Eg. Deobandi has spawned Tableeghi and Talibani style islam. See the myriad number of fatwas issued by indian mullahs, on trivial issues. Even the courts have no influence on them, islamic laws hold supreme over the laws of the land.

    >> So the Indian state should actually promote Sanatana Dharma to the rest of the world.

    Not at all possible. That would undermine secularism.

  24. >>>> So the Indian state should actually promote Sanatana Dharma to the rest of the world.

    >>Not at all possible. That would undermine secularism.

    By definition of the basic principles of Sanatana Dharma, it cannot undermine secularism. If anything these principles enable a peaceful secular society that we have in India which we take for granted and politicians are trying to destroy.
    I again stand by the comment that there is no Indian strain of Islam. Any perceived Indian strain derived from being able to keep peace with the neighbors of different beliefs is a result of practice of Sanatana Dharma by all parties. Who are the Indian Muslims? Most of them were practitioners of Sanatana Dharma before they were converted.
    My father told me of a Muslim neighbor of his in a village in Tamilnadu who went to Pakistan after the partition. Six months later they came back because they felt like fish out of water in Pakistan, being Tamil Muslims. Culturally they are different and human beings have a tendency to be attached to the soil they were born.
    Why could not Muslims and Christians live peacefully in Lebanon?
    Why could not Muslims and Christians live peacefully in former Yugoslavia?
    Could it be that the inherently pluralistic nature of Sanatana Dharma was completely absent in those societies?
    Taking Yugoslavia and Lebanon as examples, it seems to me we should promote Sanatana Dharma so people CAN continue to practice their own faith system and also coexist peacefully with people of other faith systems.

  25. >>Not at all possible. That would undermine secularism.

    Sumitra, I was just being a little sarcastic. Any mention of betterment of Hindus or Hinduism studies, even if not funded by government, raises cries of fundamentalist, communal, divisive forces etc… Asking for promotion of Sanatana Dharma is not secular, as per India 😀


    On second thoughts, do you mean that
    1. Indian government actively promotes and exports Indian strain of Islam.
    2. Indian government talks about Indian muslims as an example, in the background, and does not export the idea of Indian islam as such..

    I think second is all right. But it wont last long anyway, India is beginning to produce Kafeels and Haneefs..

  26. Shadows,

    Haneef is not yet convicted(he has just been detained for questioning), so shall we show some human dignity due to him? It could easily be you or me accused of being a terrorist just because you/me took a one-way ticket to India!

    Such ethics will apply to bloggers as well, I beleive 😉

  27. There’s just another point I’d like to add.

    Secularism as state policy is meaningful only within the domestic context. To insist that Indian foreign policy must always be “secular” would be to miss a fundamental principle of international relations—the international environment is anarchic (there is no world government) and states act to maximise their relative power using any means at their disposal. To argue that a secular state should abandon the use of religion as a means to projecting power would be to argue that we should fight with one hand tied behind our backs.

    Faith in secularism or liberal democracy didn’t prevent the United States from backing religious regimes, autocracies and dictatorships during and after the Cold War. Sometimes this backfires, and spectacularly. But those who point out how backing the “mujahideen” led ultimately led to 9/11, don’t also tell you that the strategy succeeded in defeating the Soviets. Let’s face it, the United States won the Cold War—and many of us who didn’t live under the shadow of nuclear attack can’t truly appreciate what defeating the superpower adversary means.

    So if India’s Islamic values allow it to ‘balance’ the projection of power by the Middle Eastern states and Pakistan, then India should do so by all means.

    Note that this is not the same as the “communalisation of foreign policy” which is allowing the national interest to be compromised out of “sensitivity” to the feelings of citizens of one or the other religion. India, unfortunately, has a long history of doing so.

    My argument is in the domain of foreign policy. Leveraging Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism or Sikhism as an element of soft and hard power is a good idea; not doing so, especially while the threat before us is from global radical Islam, would be self-defeating. Will this be without side effects and unintended consequences—not at all. One such, as pointed out by a commenter, is that promoting Indian Islam abroad will lead to “communalisation of foreign policy” as the flow of ideas can go both ways. It does not rule out the promotion of Indian Islam, but rather tells you what to watch out for and guard against.

  28. Nitin,

    Care to define what “Indian Islam” is and how it essentially differs from the Islam of Saudi Arabia or Pakistan?


  29. More along the lines, does “Indian Islam” follow a different Quran, a different set of Hadiths? Can you point to any Islamic authority who actually admits that there is a “version” of Islam that is Indian (or even Pakistani) which is in any significant way divergent from the standard interpretation of Islam as the most perfect and the final revelation of the Allah Almighty as revealed to the Most Perfect of Humans? Would not the admission that there is a variant of Islam that is somehow different automatically label it as inferior because any variation of a perfection is by definition not perfect?

    All this talk about “Indian Islam” would be fine if only one knows what one is talking about.


  30. Atanu,
    My point precisely. Let us define Indian Islam first. Any attempt at definition has to take in the local native cultural context and then you are stepping into the Sanatana Dharma boundary.

  31. Atanu,

    Care to define what “Indian Islam” is and how it essentially differs from the Islam of Saudi Arabia or Pakistan?

    The difference is not of the letter, but of the practice. The practice is considerably different in India than in the Middle East. Method of prayer may be different (Ed: sorry for the typo) the same—how they live their lives is what is important. Compare say: the fraction of Muslim women driving cars, or two-wheelers, or walking without the burqa/scarf, in India and any Middle Eastern country.

    More along the lines, does “Indian Islam” follow a different Quran

    That is self contradicting for a faith like Islam.

    a different set of Hadiths?

    I’m sure you are aware of how different readings of the Hadiths, from different schools and scholars lead to diversity in the Muslim world.

    Don’t forget the various Sufi sects, or the Dawoodi Bohras or for that matters the Ahmediyyas/Qadianis.

    Inquiring minds would be advised to read Yoginder Sikand’s Sacred Spaces, Bastions of the Believers or Struggling to be Heard.

    Can you point to any Islamic authority who actually admits that there is a “version” of Islam that is Indian (or even Pakistani) which is in any significant way divergent from the standard interpretation of Islam

    Obviously not. But I can point you to many Islamic authorities (like the ones above) with huge followings that claim their interpretation of the Islam is the standard one.

    The entire point of my argument is that the Saudi, Iranian and Pakistani-backed versions of the religion are gaining ground, claiming “authenticity” and marginalising the others. It’s a capture effect.

    So here’s the point: lumping everyone together in one broad stroke of the brush is not merely a generalisation, but is also a self-fulfilling one. Today, there are far more Saudi funded mosques and madrassas in places I grew up than there were 20 years ago.

  32. The entire point of my argument is that the Saudi, Iranian and Pakistani-backed versions of the religion are gaining ground, claiming “authenticity” and marginalising the others. It’s a capture effect.

    One could theorize that the more wing-nut fringe notions of Islam take hold, the less likely it will be for run-of-the-mill Middle Easterners to be willing to identify with them.

    This is something we see in America now where a lot of the current generation of children have been completely turned off to Christianity because of how extreme and bellicose the Christian Right has been.

  33. Nitin,

    The difference is not of the letter, but of the practice. The practice is considerably different in India than in the Middle East. Method of prayer may be different—how they live their lives is what is important. Compare say: the fraction of Muslim women driving cars, or two-wheelers, or walking without the burqa/scarf, in India and any Middle Eastern country.

    So can we ponder for a moment why the practice of Islam in India is different? Could it have something to do with the fact that in India Islam is embedded in a non-Islamic ethos? How does one propose to change the Islamic environment of Islamic societies so that the Muslims there get embedded in largely non-Islamic populations? Can the Indian state really change the composition of Islamic societies?

    I have a larger point. It’s a fool’s errand to aim to change how people choose to live their lives. It not only cannot be done but the unfortunate side effect is needless conflict and violence. I am an unwavering supporter of Sharia for Islamic states because it is consistent with my view that people should have the freedom to live the way they want to live. Imposing a liberal democratic society on people who wish to live under the Islamic law is as abhorrent to me as the imposition of Sharia on people who wish to live by some other code.

  34. It is true that there are many “interpretations” of Islamic scriptures and Islam can no longer be called a monolith. However all such “interpretations” should have at least few ideas in common (or else they would not fall in the common catagory of Islam). For example all the “interpretations” will agree on the point that Islam calls for worship of none other than Allah.

    Now, whatever way the Islamic scriptures are “interpreted”, if they singularly repeat that non-muslims are sinners in the eyes of Allah and are doomed to suffer hell-fire, how can one resolve the contradiction between common-sense humanism that looks at all the human beings as innocent(and any foundation of a civilized society rests on this common-sense humanism), and Islam that considers a human being as sinner unless s/he is a muslim. so called “Indian Islam” can not be free from this dilemma.

    To pull this story further, once you are taught to believe certain people, not as innocent beings, but sinners doomed to hell-fire, your conscience is dulled to the level of seeing these people being killed, miamed and being enslaved and feeling no sense of disgust. Do you really think a civilized society can survive in such an atomsphere?

    Looking at the “Indian Islam” from the other angle, is not “Indian Islam” a version of Islam that rejects bigotary and violence inherent in Islam and imbibes typical Hindu values like tolerating all kind of opinions(There is no concept of blasphemy in Hinduism), accept pluralism as a way of life (Hinduism perhaps much less monolithic than Islam, but various sects are never at each-other’s throats. If various sects of Islam are at each-other’s throat, does not that mean that even though Islam is not monolithic, it does not consider pluralism a way of life) etc.

  35. Wow! Anwar Shaikh!

    Acorn is read by Anwar Shaikh? That is amazing unless of course it is not the real Anwar Shaikh and someone is merely pretending to be him.

  36. @Atanu Dey: Leaving aside the fact that there are several people named “Anwar Shaikh” in this world, the one you are (probably) talking about is dead (to the best of my recollection).

  37. @Nitin: Sorry for the double comment.

    @Atanu Dey:

    I have a larger point. It’s a fool’s errand to aim to change how people choose to live their lives. It not only cannot be done but the unfortunate side effect is needless conflict and violence.

    Since this is a “larger point”, I presume that you are not limiting your dictum only to the religious aspects of living a life.

    Several thoughts come to my mind: we lived with Socialism, we lived with the practice of Sati, the world was full of monarchies not so long ago and people really believed their Kings to be God-incarnates or some such nonsense.. I am not even going back to the days when everyone believed that the Sun goes around the Earth etc.

    People change their ways of life quite regularly actually. Usually in tiny little ways.. till a point comes when the new way of life is radically different from the old one. Everything about people’s so-called “ways of life” can be changed. Not that it is always as easy as proving that it is actually the Earth that goes around the Sun (the proof was easy, getting people to accept it was tougher), but unless one is willing to thing beyond written-in-stone ideas, it won’t happen.

    And then there is the whole “how people choose to live their lives” bit in your dictum. Does that really apply? In general? Or even in this specific context of religion?

    There are tonnes of practical problems with the implementation of Nitin’s idea, but being a “fool’s errand” is not one of them.

    Just my 2 kopeks.

  38. Not to contradict our bureaucratic overlord, but he is clearly drawing the wrong inferences.
    Atanu did not say that change can not happen, he said that change can not be accomplished by shoving down the throat by the outsiders.

    Case in point, Iraq and to some extent Afganistan.

    Atanu called it fool’s errand, being Atanu unko haq hai 🙂

    I will put it differently
    “There is only one step from the sublime to the ridiculous”

  39. (#40) Vivek Kumar, you are right. I did know that Anwar Shaikh was no more but forgot that fact. Oops.

    (#41) My position is people should be free from coercion. That goes for everything. I should not be coerced into some other’s way of dressing or thinking or whatever. My gripe with monotheistic religions is that it is coercive. Their god is a dictator. Now I insist that the monotheists have the freedom to believe in whatever mindless crap they wish. But when they try to force their belief on others, it is time to tell them to f*** off. If people want to change, great, go ahead change. Don’t want to change, or cannot change? Don’t change. Want to be stuck with a 7th century ignorant mindset? Sure, do that but keep it to yourself. Like I said, more power to those who wish to live under Sharia. But if they wish to impose it on me, they are inviting ridicule at the very least, and death if they persist.

    (#42) Gaurav, thanks for clarifying the point. And for dictating dictatorial powers to me. 🙂


  40. @Gaurav: As I have said elsewhere, feel free to contradict me. There is no other way for you to help your bureaucratic overlords 🙂

    @Atanu Dey: So as long as coercion is not involved, would you be fine with the implementation of Nitin’s idea? Are propaganda efforts (or the new word for it, “psy-ops”) okay?

    Of course, other objections still stand..

    As an aside, while I agree that I should be free from coercion (and the responsibility of ensuring this lies with me).. I am not against considering ideas where I am the one doing the coercing (as long as it serves the interests).

  41. Vivek Kumar, of course if Nitin’s idea can be implemented without coercion, I am all for it. But would you please explain how it can possibly do that? I mean, Allah is not likely to hand over the money that the state will spend in “converting” people into “peace loving Indian Islam”, is he? Or are you under the impression that the state magically materializes resources which it can then spend however it wishes? Is the state Satya Sai Baba? Or perhaps Jesus Christ — turning water into wine and feeding thousands from a few loaves of bread and five fish? Do we really believe in magic?

    So the state has to take money out of my pocket. That is coercion as I definitely would not voluntarily fork out my money for anyone to go about promoting Islam.

    I had assumed that it is common knowledge that people should be free to do whatever they want with their persons and their property (with the only caveat that they don’t coerce others or impinge on their reciprocal rights). I don’t care how much Joe Blow spends of his own money on converting Jane Doe to whatever delusion he wishes. I just don’t want anyone to take my money and spend it on converting others. It is immoral and wrong.

    I am at a loss to understand which part of this simple principle is not clear. I would be happy to elaborate.

  42. Nitin: your idea of projecting soft and hard power in foreign policy using religion as one of the tools is appealing. Very pragmatic. How people live their lives is paramount. What book they subscribe to considerably less so.

    The point of Saudi-funded madrassas is accurate and pretty horrific. My (with-low-probability misinformed) Kashmiri friends tell me that jihad there is almost entirely Saudi-funded – the Pakistanis are just the boots on the ground. It pisses me off when they look on down on Indians in general, and Indian Muslims in particular as woolly-headed (part-time) idol/saint worshipers. High time we did something about this sorry state of affairs. Once the oil shackles are broken, the first is to start a competitor to OIC. Court Iran heavily as a counter-weight to the Saudi nutjobs. Collar Bangladesh and win Indonesia and Malaysia over. The Pakistanis can then decide whether they still descend from Arab warriors or whether they admit to “soft” Indian roots.

    If your point was less about religion and much more about politics, I heartily agree.

  43. @Atanu Dey: First of all, a bit of apology for misunderstanding your position. I didn’t realize that you were using the term “coercion” for the State taking the money out of your pocket. I was under the impression that you were against coercing people to change their way of life. Glad to have that cleared up.

    Now, coming to your objection about State using public funds to implement certain policies. Unless you are arguing for doing away with the State altogether, I find it hard to see how your objections would hold. The only consideration has to be whether a policy makes sense or not. If it does, then State has no choice but to use public funds. Or should the State go around and take every person’s signature on a contract every time a policy has to be implemented?

    I suppose we can now go back to thinking about the merit (or the lack of it) in Nitin’s idea.

  44. International figures huddle around Egypt’s Brotherhood – Feature

    [Ridley], who was similarly barred from the trials, said that the alternative now is “to name and shame the judges, the prosecutors, (and) the police.”

    “It’s a great shame and I really feel your pain,” she said addressing the families of the accused, “but we have to try to make a difference and get your (families) out of these prisons.”

    [Egypt’s] government wants to promote what [Ridley] referred to as “a diluted form of Islam” and so they have always feared the “real Islam” that [the Brotherhood] practices.

    “(They want) a pacified Islam that means that we submit to the West and not to Allah,” she said in her fiery statement, calling on the people to “expose the government for what its is; a puppet for America (and) a complete sham.”

    [Ridley] said that she believed the Brotherhood leaders were punished not because they are [Egypt’s] foremost opposition group but because “neo-conservative think tanks in America have been trying to link [the Brotherhood to Hamas].”

    You may substitute the bracketed characters and organizations with their counterparts in India (that shouldn’t be too hard, should it?), and draw appropriate inferences in the context of this post.

  45. >>> Such ethics will apply to bloggers as well, I beleive

    Bala, Ok, forget haneef, what about the other two? Also, there is a very strong case against haneef, its not just about the one way ticket. For one, he was in regular contact with both the other bombers, and he was one of the planners of the glasgow attacks.

  46. >>>> It is true that there are many “interpretations” of Islamic scriptures and Islam can no longer be called a monolith.

    Do you realize that when you call it an “interpretation” , it means that you are not even sure about what is written in the koran !! And they would kill for it..

    >>> so called “Indian Islam” can not be free from this dilemma.

    Still, does it justify terrorism? The fact that “should I kill someone because s/he is not muslim” is a dilemma speaks a lot…

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