“Sir, why is it that all terrorists are Muslims?” While I was teaching at Modern School, Barakhamba Road, New Delhi, a Class XI student asked me this question during a discussion on current events in the aftermath of the 2008 Mumbai attacks. This was a disturbing but pertinent question, and being a Muslim teacher who is also carrying the baggage of Partition, I was conscious of my responsibility to give a sensible reply to address the curiosity among young minds of a class of 42 students.
I told the student that the very meaning of Islam is “submission to the will of God”, just like the guiding themes of every religion in the world, but a fringe minority has hijacked the religion. It is this fringe, I said, that projects its violent image on Islam. The student wasn’t too convinced, nor were other students in the class. They said matter-of-factly that I wasn’t like other Muslims!
With so many voices stating that the religion advocates violence, Islam is today under the scanner. Not all of them can be wrong — people judge by what they see and today, from the murderers of Billapuram Nagaraju in Hyderabad to terrorists in Syria and Afghanistan.
Soon after Nagaraju’s gruesome murder, most self-appointed spokespersons of the Muslim community went missing, and those few who could be traced, criticised it but with a rider: They balanced their statements by invoking Hindutva, RSS, etc. There was no protest by the “Lutyens’ Gang”; “108 Former Civil Servants Gang” went missing; and the “Award Wapsi Gang” was nowhere to be seen. There were no dissenting voices from Darul Uloom Deoband or any other madrasa. JNU, AMU, MANUU, etc., were equally silent. The killing of the Dalit boy must be condemned forthrightly. No if… No but…
Nagaraju was a car salesman from Marpalle in Vikarabad district near Hyderabad. He and Syed Ashreen Sultana (23) had been in a relationship for the past several years, but the girl’s family was vehemently opposed to their relationship, leading to this tragic incident. The heinous act by Sultana's brother of murdering Nagaraju, ostensibly following Islamic tenets, is the murder of humanity.
Nagaraju’s wasn’t the first case of hate crime. The blood-curdling murder of a 21-year-old student named Nikita Tomar also comes to our mind. She was shot dead in broad daylight by a Muslim boy outside a college in Ballabgarh, Faridabad.
Ankit Saxena, a 23-year-old photographer, was killed allegedly by the family of his Muslim girlfriend in Delhi in February 2018, on a street near his home. He had been dating the 20-year-old Muslim girl for the past three years.
I was recently in Malappuram regarding a conference where I had first-hand experience of listening to even members of the Christian community raising their concerns over the growing number of love jihad cases in Kerala. This is something many organisations, grieving Hindu parents and families have been alleging for the last so many years — that there are forces active in Kerala that are targeting young women, brainwashing them in the name of “superior religious studies”, and pressurising them to convert into Islam.
Love jihad cases started getting media attention sometime in 2016. In July 2016, Mini Vijayan, a military official, had alleged that her daughter Aparna had been forcefully converted into Islam. Aparna was traced to Sathyasarani or the “Markazul Hidaya Educational and Charitable Trust” in Malappuram. She came to appear in court, accompanied by a woman called Sumiayya. Aparna, a BTech student when she vanished from her hostel in Kochi, had married a person named Aashiq, an auto-rickshaw driver from Malappuram.
In 2016, another case of a Hindu girl named Nimisha had come to light. In August 2011, Kerala Police arrested Sheena Farzana and Naser, the alleged “handlers” recruiting young girls in Kerala to go and “work” for Islamic State in Yemen. They were both from Sathyasarani, an organisation managed by PFI. Investigations led to the discovery of several other targeted conversions.
Nimisha, a 23-year-old Hindu girl, was among the 21 people from Kerala who had left the state to join Islamic State. Nimisha had converted, changed her name to Fathima, married another neo-convert, named Bexton and had left for Afghanistan. With Nimisha was another girl called Merrin, who had also converted to Islam, changed her name into Mariyam and had married another neo-convert called Bestin.
As a law-abiding Indian Muslim, like millions of others in India, my head goes down in shame each time I find a Muslim name attached to insane acts of terror. All acts of terror in Hyderabad, Malappuram, Mumbai, France, Belgium, Germany, United States, etc., must be criticised unapologetically.
That, however, is not the case. What’s most unfortunate is that sane Muslim liberal, secular voices aren’t loudly heard. I often feel let down by this Muslim characteristic. Secular and liberal Indian Muslims should make their presence felt. Others can’t fill in their spaces. And if they don’t stand up now, they don’t have the right to talk about liberalism and secularism. Even Hindu liberals and seculars seem to go soft on Muslim fundamentalists, especially in comparison to those in their own religion.
Today, Islam is under the scanner because many people have come to believe that the religion advocates violence. Not all of them can be wrong as people judge by what they see. Today, there is a small but extremely vocal element in the Muslim community that speaks and acts violently in the name of Islam.
The need of the hour is that the government must not wait for a long time to punish the murderers of Nagaraju and render them exemplary punishment. Given the fluid communal situation in India, saner elements among Muslims should take adequate steps to thwart attempts by fundamentalists to hijack the entire community for their divisive agenda.
The author is a former chancellor, MANUU, and commentator on social, educational and political issues. Views expressed are personal.