Indian Muslims Can Define Foreign Relations

YM Chitalwala

As President Obama along with Gorge Bush stood at ground zero on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the devastating terror attack, the USA looked chastened and there was much sober reflection. Osama is dead but the evil he presided over still lives on. A battle may have been won, but a prolonged engagement still looms large. Today, America’s military and economic might suddenly looks faded. Those who have reflected, have opined that the USA overreacted to 9/11 and branded Islam and its followers as terrorists. The American media spin doctors went into a huddle and unleashed global Islamophobia. The results for most Muslims were unnerving and they were made to feel that they were lesser citizens on the planet earth.

In India, several terror attacks took place, and the entire Muslim community came under the scanner. Not all incidents of terror had Muslim origin. Yet Muslim youth were indiscriminately arrested and kept confined in jails for years. However, the arrests made post-Samjhauta Express blasts and other such incidents negated the cries of the rightist elements that “all Muslims are not terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims”. To add to their woes, Gujarat 2002 had happened which had greatly undermined their sense of security. That was the reason why only a small number of Muslims took part in the anti-graft protest of Anna Hazare. Their primary concern is security and corruption comes next. Narendra Modi fights shy of owning up 2002 by way of moral responsibility. He, instead, sings paens to Sufism. But had he had even the basic understanding of what Sufism is all about, 2002 would never have happened.

As India’s middle class shines and the nation assumes global role, 180 million Muslims yearn to join the mainstream. Economically they are nowhere near being middle class and educationally they are trailing behind. Their world view is not coloured by an extremist ideology. Indian Islam is tolerant Islam and is very much rooted in the soil. Muslims across the country undertook anti-terror initiatives and held a number of rallies and conferences in several cities where terrorism was condemned and fatwas were issued. This fact has been taken note of by the USA which views Islam practiced in India as liberal and which can become a stabilising factor in South Asia. It wants to invest by providing for a programme that sponsored students’ visits to USA enabling them to participate in seminars and dialogues.

Indian Islam is unique in the sense that its geographical spread runs over the entire Indian Subcontinent. It is imbued with Sufi liberal ethos and is less West Asian and more Indian in outlook and spirit. It has assimilated Indian Bhakti tradition which led to the formation of a composite culture. Kabir, Bhulleshah, Shah Latif, Lalan Fakir, Hazrat Nizamuddin and the Khwaja Saheb of Ajmer are venerated both by the Hindus and Muslims. The reason why Pakistan finds itself culturally and politically adrift is that it has lost its moorings embedded in Subcontinental Islam. It is engaged in a futile quest for West Asian identity and in the bargain it has got Jehadi terrorism to deal with.

Now as India assumes the role of a major power in the region, its first priority will be to build economic bridges with Gulf countries, where 4 million Indians live and send 30 per cent of India’s total foreign exchange earnings by way of remittances. To the east we have extended our economic cooperation to the ASEAN countries. Indonesia and Malaysia are two vital members of ASEAN. Indonesian Islam is a liberal amalgam of Arab, Indian and local traditions which is in part shared by the Malaysian Islam. Indian Muslims have shared common bonds both with West Asian and East Asian countries. Geopolitically too this region is important as it forms the gateway to the Far-East. Malacca Straight is a vital waterway which leads to the South China Sea. China has hegemonic ambitions in this region. Therefore, strong strategic relations with countries like Indonesia and Malaysia can lead to India’s enhanced stature. Therefore, Muslims of India can become a strategic asset If they are encouraged to play a role in dealing with the Islamic world.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 November 2011 on page no. 2

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