In a recent Club House discussion, someone of Hindu heritage whom I thought to be a rational person kept opposing my view and stance of reform in Islam’s regressive practices. He brought in the argument that there were good Nazis too but then that doesn’t mean Nazism as an ideology was good. Hence Islam (which in his mind is as bad as Nazism) could not be reformed because of a few good Muslims who actually are “bad” Muslims in the eyes of the Taliban/Wahabbis/far-right Muslims.

I thought only Muslims were capable of such “obscurantism” but this was a disingenuous move to me by hardline right-wingers who though do not demonize Muslims and brag about having Muslim friends, end up doing exactly that. There can’t be any comparison between Nazism and Islam, me playing the Devil’s Advocate here. To do that means dismissing all the good that religion in general brings, and all the charitable work that Islamic groups do; all the progressive practices of Muslims all over the world; all the reform, the evolution, the change, the revisionism, even the dismissal of violent verses or Hadith that the followers have been recommending or advocating or practicing since the 12th-century well into the modern times.

I understand the impatience and resentment against Muslims, especially having to watch decades of appeasement politics regarding Indian Muslims for vote banks (the infamous Shah Bano case and many other similar cases in question). I patiently and understandably listen to the diatribe that Hindus have had it enough, or that we can’t wait for reform or a change in Muslim attitudes, or their efforts to assimilate in the country. But to categorically dismiss any reformation as impossible, or to be patronizing to people already risking their lives to waken the rationality within the Ummah, borders on the bigotry of low expectations. The least they can do is not be so mendacious.

People of Hindu origin whether believers or non-believers, liberally use the newly-discovered word – ‘al-takiyaa’- which actually means protecting one’s belief during extreme or exigent circumstances, even in front of Muslims (Shia jurisprudence). The resentful Hindus have termed it en masse as lying and anyone speaking of change, reform, progress, being critical is accused of lying, deception, insidious behavior, and “infiltration into Hindu groups” (I was accused of that by a chartered accountant from Ahmedabad once).

This is not the way to build bridges, there can be no healing between faultlines created by the Partition of India; no common ground for building the country can be found this way, which belongs equally to Muslims and Hindus and all other diverse people from various creeds. As a heretic Muslim who criticizes her own community, its regressive practices, its culture of gossip, unscientific beliefs, and superstition, its attitudes towards Jews, non-Muslims, Hindus, and everything else they deem inferior to them, it should not be expected of me to demonize harmless Muslims who believe in a God, in His Prophet, in the revelation of the Holy Text, in the tenets of Islam and go about their business of daily living with only one fault of theirs – being uncritical or unquestioning.

This absurd idea, that billions of Muslims should apostatize (leave religion) to have that elusive peace for all, is bigotry in itself. The Constitution of India gives everyone the right ‘to’ religion as well as the right ‘from’ religion. No one can shove non-belief down anyone’s throat, it comes from rationality and logic. Perfectly okay if someone wants to believe in a God or multiple ones, as long as they do not trample on anyone’s personal freedoms. India was built on secular values but is yet to become truly secular, when religion will be treated as a private matter, something personal between the individual and his or her God, with minimum public display of it. Realistically too, this is not going to happen so fools who are devising their strategy of nation-building on the unrealistic hope that billions of Muslims are going to become ‘murtad’ overnight, or in years or decades are delusional.

Ex-Muslims based in liberal democracies in the West enjoying the freedom of criticizing, questioning, advocating apostasy, do a huge disservice to those living and bracing it out in the developing countries where there are active blasphemy laws, where any tiny infraction against religion is taken as justification for murder (wajib-ul-qatl). But to ally with those who do not want to even entertain the notion of reform is downright dishonest. Reform has always been there since the inception of Islam, within its few decades of birth – Qurans with no punctuation marks; even the decisions to move the qibla from Jerusalem towards Mecca; (evidence in the existence of two-qibla mosques in various places in the Middle East proves this); compilation of the Hadith was in itself reformation of the existing laws; checking and rechecking Sunnah, the eventual addition of tabeers, commentaries to the Holy Text, various schools of thought developing, etc.

Reform never stops, even Muslims in the modern age, not following certain hadith which they feel does not align with their modern sensibilities of human rights are reformists. Increasing the marriageable age, the number of children, women imams, female qazis, gay & lesbian believers with their own interpretations (Irshad Manji; Dayee Abdullah) are all efforts to evolve from the medieval interpretations and habits and follow a more progressive, liberal Islam. Of course, the Taliban or Wahhabis, or Salafis might not think they are true Muslims, but then that is reform too. To subvert the definition of a true Muslim being the heretics, the dissenters, the agnostics, and the ossified, zombified, Talibanised believers being the “bad Muslims”.

I am hoping that those who have justified apprehensions about Muslims, Islam, Islamists, jihadis, learn to sift between the Muslims trying their best to bring their community out of the doldrums and the ones hell-bent on taking us to the 6th century.

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