By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam
What is it that riles a section of Muslims against Tarek Fatah? Let’s take what his opponents accuse him of on one by one in order to understand this specific anger against an individual. A section of the clergy accuses him of being an ISI agent, hell bent on fomenting trouble in India. This section also labels him simultaneously as an RSS agent who has made a secret deal with them to ‘malign’ Islam. Although for the neutral observer, linking him to both the ISI and the RSS might seem out of place, those accusing him make this observation without even thinking whether it is making sense or not.
Even if we grant that the basic problem of the Ulema is the foreign origin of Tarek Fatah, it still does not make sense. The Ulema as a whole have a rather sympathetic view of Muslims living in so called Islamic lands. After all, they are never tired of declaring their foreign ancestry and thereby underlining the so called fact that they are different from the majority of Indian Muslims. It is beyond comprehension then that they are likely to have a problem with Tarek Fatah who has lived part of his life in the promised land of Pakistan and the holy land of Saudi Arabia.
The only possible explanation for their anger is that Tarek Fatah has been able to break the narrative hold of these Ulema in terms of representing the Muslim community in India. Before Tarek Fatah, Mullahs would opine from the TV studios, proclaiming their love for the country and yet holding a belief which would go against the very grain of spirit of this nation state. There were differences among the Ulema but then these differences were internal and there was a broad consensus on how to present Islam to the outer world.
Tarek broke such representation by calling their bluff. Well versed in their literature, he argued that the Mullahs were lying and that deep down, they still harboured the desire of seeing Islam and Muslims as the victorious party in this battle against unbelief in the land of Hindus. Forcing Mullahs to acknowledge that they regard Aurangzeb as a Wali of Allah made him the enemy of these people. Tarek was now able to put his thoughts across as someone who had a different take on Muslim history and theology and as someone who was deeply critical of his own religious tradition. This is perhaps the most problematic thing for a Mullah: being critical of their interpretation of Islam.
It is not necessary to agree with all that Tarek has to offer. You can convincingly jettison his sense of history as erroneous. You can certainly make a case that he is projecting the concerns of the present onto the past and in doing so he makes most Muslims into a villainous murderous horde. But you cannot condemn him for being critical of much of Islamic literature and history. After all, for many decades, there has been a conspiracy of silence around the authenticity of Hadith, the relationship of Muslims to the Quran and more generally about how Islamic theology has treated people from other religious traditions and what it has to say about them.
There is a sense in which, in opening up these debates, Tarek has done a tremendous service for Indian Muslims. In place of silence over some critical issues, there is now a debate and more and more Muslims are coming out, speaking their mind and are saying that the Mullah does not represent their Islam at all. If today the Mullah is threatened about their near monopoly of Islam, some credit for this must go Tarek Fatah.
The fact that he was hounded out of the recently held Jashn e Rekhta, the Urdu festival in Delhi, makes sense only if we appreciate that he has been successful in antagonizing the Mullah to the extent that they cannot even bear his presence. Of course it were not just the Mullahs who wanted him out of the premises, but also many educated Muslims. But then again, let us not forget that Zakir Naik’s biggest supporters also happen to be these so called educated Muslims.
Searching for a mooring, the Islam of the Mullah gives them some anchor where they can all park their fears and anxieties about their religion. Islam becomes like an un- reflexive unthinking canon, something which goes against the very grain of the basic spirit of this religion. But then who cares to think about the core teachings of Islam and to debate it when it is the herd mentality which defines how a Muslim should think, act and behave.
In absolute terms, the attack on Tarek Fatah must be condemned. There cannot be any context to what was pure and simple an act of heckling, intimidation and violence. There is simply no excuse for this kind of behaviour. Certainly there are more civil ways to air one’s differences, but then who cares to keep a tab on their own instincts of hatred. I am appalled to hear excuses like Tarek Fatah shouldn’t have been there in the first place, that his mere presence ignited the mob because of his Islamophobic utterances. This is all nonsense. Nothing can justify violence, far less, when the person in question is not even speaking but has gone there in his personal capacity to buy some books.
These are all lame excuses but then such excuses have always been ready for a group of people. They are the same people who would raise the heaven and earth when the so called Hindu Right attacks liberal spaces. But then the same people are silent when the Muslim Right does the same. Why this double standard? This peculiar logic has given rise to a very hypocritical stance on right to freedom of speech where standards for both communities are different. The practice of the Liberals and Left has created a situation where the average Muslim believes that they are beyond political practices like freedom of expression. It is almost as if they have a right to offend everyone but they cannot be criticised by anyone. Tarek Fatah tested the limits of this community in terms of mounting an internal critique. His hounding must be condemned by all those who swear in the name of freedom of expression.
Arshad Alam is a NewAgeIslam.com columnist