Thursday, November 06, 2014

Growing sectarianism among Indian Muslims: Trend of criticizing the 'other' sects, terming their practices as 'un-Islamic'


The growing sectarianism within Muslims, especially, the Sunnis in India, which I exerienced this year on Muharram, has left me deeply disturbed.

The sects and sub-sects existed earlier too. The Shia-Sunni conflict was no issue on the street anywhere in India, except in Lucknow.

In fact, people from all the sects, observed Muharram as per their own traditions. In the last couple of years, I had seen hardening of attitudes within Sunnis.

It seemed neither the Deobandis, nor the Barelvis, whom I knew, 'approve' of the way Muharram is observed. [See the TEN POINTS below]

Most of these people have less issues with people of other religions, but for their co-religionists [other sects], they have nothing but obsessive hatred.

Over the years, I had observed that criticism of other sects was getting more common in sects. But it's during Muharram, you see the ire so openly. This is really sad as it is one of the most syncretic traditions in India, in which all communities including non-Muslims, actively take part.

I see our shared culture in the way Muharram is observed in India. The manner in which non-Muslims take part in Ashura, show the basic nature of the people the land--respect for all religions, coexistence and communal harmony.

This year, I realised the extent of sectarian hate that has penetrated the Muslim society in India too. In fact, over the years, it has steadily grown. This is all the more ironic that even after seeing the situation in neighbouring country, no lesson has been learnt.

Now let me give you just two examples:

A. A newspaper posts pictures of Shias performing 'maatam' during the mourning procession, on its Facebook page, where its news links are shared. Within hours, there was a deluge of comments on the post of the paper.

Young Muslim boys and girls recklessly commenting--criticising, condemning and straight terming it as 'un-Islamic'. There was rage and hate in their language. The zeal to run down the 'other' was sickening. People adhering to other religions made few comments, and they weren't harsh.

B. The moment a person talked about 'Muharram' within a Muslim group-forum on internet, there were angry comments, terming 'Shias as non-Muslim', or all those taking part in 'Akhada or carrying Tazia as 'outside the pale of Islam'.

For two days, I kept commenting and replying until I realised that one just can't talk to them. Even to most civilised comments, there were angry responses from people who were just not ready to listen to anything.

As I have earlier also pointed out. the hate was especially for 'other sects' within Islam. No issues with non-Muslims, of course. That's also a unique phenomenon. But if minds are closed in such a way, I don't have much hopes at all, on that front too.
The procession of Tazias in Raipur, Chhattisgarh, Central India


1. FIRST problem with such people is that they instantly term any practice or tradition that has been observed for centuries, as 'un-Islamic'. There is no trace of tolerance.

The basic point is that when you belong to sect X, why do you expect member of sect Y to behave like you? Do they expect you to behave like them? But there is no answer to any such questions.

2. If you try to reason, the next line is straight, 'all those doing this [either mourning or taking Tazias] are 'non-Muslims'. Now, if you are all 'Ulema' and all are armed with the power to issue 'fatwa' terming any fellow Muslim as 'non-Muslim, then you should surely have no business with them. They are not Muslims, so ignore them. Why think about them?


3. Perhaps, the 'anger' is more because you feel that 'they follow your religion (Muslim) and are acting otherwise'. But who decides what is correct or incorrect. Everyone has their own interpretations. Mostly, one learns things from traditions and elders of the family.

It is like the religion you are born in. You talk of your tradition, but it may be just 200 years old. The other tradition, which you see as 'corrupted Islam' may be 1,200 years old. Who will decide who is correct or incorrect.


4. If you feel they are incorrect and you want to reform them or turn them like you, it is also impossible. Just because they too would want the same. And by straight starting with contemptuous talk, branding them as 'un-Islamic' and 'outside pale of Islam', how do you even expect to start a decent dialogue!

Then, whom it helps? You just satisfy your ego, by recklessly commenting on others, because you feel just your sect is right and you are the truly guided. Isn't it? Because your comments won't help anyone, at all. They just increase the hate and widen the gulf.


5. In fact, the minds are so closed that they are not willing to even listen. They instantly believe that a person who is walking with a Tazia, is performing idolatory, or someone who is hurting himself, is not a Muslim.

To you, your faith and beliefs, to them theirs--is the Islamic philosophy. Isn't it? Is it permissible in Islam to judge a fellow Muslim's 'iman' and term him as 'Muslim or non-Muslim'? Who the hell are you?


6. This passion is not visible elsewhere. There are hardly such activism when larger values of liberty and justice are at stake in one or the other country. These are the basic Islamic values but there are no such passion visible then.

7. Why the sudden passion and madness when it comes to Muharram or a few other practices during other festivals. What's the source of this joy which you derive from critizing and badmouthing people of other sects?
Tazias lined up in Dharmpuri, a small town in predominantly tribal Dhar district in Madhya Pradesh, India


8. Who gave you the authority? A person who is truly religious would rather be concerned about his own actions and worry about whether God is pleased with him, rather than casting aspersions on others.

For over a 1,000 years, major Islamic Ulema, never passed such judgments even on sects that bordered on heresy. Why every Tom, Dick and Harry has become a champion in terming any other sect-walla as 'non-Muslim'. Earlier, too the sects were there.

But the people were then tolerant and there was no question of opposing others' practices. If they personally didn't follow something, they joined or simply stayed away, remaining silent. But now, it's objecting and terming others 'non-Muslim', which is disgusting.


9. Many are dismissive of the 'rustic' or 'backward' looking rituals. The reality is that these traditions have evolved over centuries of co-existence and confluence of cultures--the strength of Islam, but your narrow-minded vision just can't see it.

For many, it smacks of a bad image of Islam. That's even a bigger joke. If the majority among us really had such worries about the image of Islam, no Western media or anything else [which you blame] would have tarnished our image to this extent.


10. It is this madness--'Only I am Right, all others are Wrong', which is responsible for this situation. And all these are now supposedly educated but acting like the trolls on Internet. Seeing how people get hostile and make it difficult to even engage with them, is simply painful.

The bigotry, the sectarian intolerance and the madness to expect others to act the way it should happen in your view--it's utterly disgusting and moronic. Frankly, now I don't know which sect I belong to, and I am not joking.

The reason is that I am a Sunni, but for me Muharram symbolises Imam Husain's sacrifice. If such is the level of discord, I wish to be known as a sect-less Muslim. In the concluding line, I hope that better sense will prevail someday. But will it?

[Note: While Shias take out 'Alams', the Tazias are mostly brought out by Sunnis and often Hindus. Among Sunnis, official position in sub-sects may be against it now, but the lower middle class, those of artisan class and the poor participate actively in Muharram. Also, there are certain caste groups too who observe Muharram more fervently]

SEE EARLIER POST: Muharram traditions, pictures of Ashura from Central India