Many Muslims seem to think that some secular ideology, not Islam, will save them. Some choose to blend Islam with Marxism, for instance.
One case study is India. Some Muslims there believe that their redemption lies in opting for nationalistic secularism in order to somehow repel the governing and rising brand of Hindu nationalism. But is this hope justified?
A few weeks ago, Tripura, a state in the North East of India, witnessed apocalyptic violence against its Muslims.
As the BBC reports, Muslims are around 10% of the 4 million population of the state. Hate crimes, powered by a Hindu nationalist organization close to the ruling BJP party, targeted Muslim individuals, Muslim businesses, and, of course, mosques.
Obviously, it’s not the first manifestation of state-facilitated Islamophobia since Modi was democratically elected in 2014.
Thanks to the resulting riots which made headlines in world media, we all remember how in 2019 the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and its evil twin, National Register of Citizens (NRC), were basically a legal way to make every single Muslim of India potentially stateless in his own ancestral land.
As a reaction, many Muslims have looked for solutions. Some claim the easiest solution is to rely on BJP’s prime rival, the Congress, a party which is basically synonymous with secular politics in the country. But is the Congress even “secular”?
The Congress, or the Politics of “Soft Hindu Nationalism”
Perry Anderson, the famed Marxist writer from the U.K., created some controversy with his 2012 book The Indian Ideology, where he attacked the founding myths of modern India through critical historiography.
One of the main targets of his criticism was Gandhi, called “Bapu” (father) by the masses of Indians. Anderson accused Gandhi of injecting religion into politics, unlike the early Congress which “had been studiously secular” before Gandhi’s leadership. In particular, he pointed out how Gandhi injected Hindu mythology in Congress’ rhetoric, thereby alienating the Muslim masses.
Indian political scientist and professor at NYU, Kanchan Chandra, writing for Foreign Affairs, blames another set of figures. Indira and Rajiv, a mother-son duo who were PMs in the 70s and 80s respectively. They both initially began as “secular” but then pandered to “Hindu majoritarianism.” For instance, the mother favored Hindus in Muslim-majority Kashmir, while the son let Hindus pray at the disputed site of Ayodhya in North India, where, a year after his death (like his mother, he was assassinated), a Hindu mob would demolish the Babri Masjid, destruction which, as per Chandra, also destroyed “Congress’ secularist credentials.” Since then the party, “has given up on making an ideological case for secularism.” In fact, as she notes, they also dropped the word “secularism” from their manifesto, and the current “Gandhi” which leads the party, Rahul, barely talks of secularism.
But is this only a matter of few Gandhi-like figures? Well consider Bal Gangadhar Tilak, who was one of the main influences on the “pacifist” Gandhi (it’s Tilak which launched “swaraj” or “self-rule” that Gandhi would famous amplify later on). Tilak was the one who injected radical and violent Hindu ideology into Indian politics to the extent that several analysts of Hindu nationalism (Christophe Jaffrelot, Chetan Bhatt, et al.) call him the “spiritual father” of this movement, and he was a member of the Congress!
As William Gould notes in his book Hindu Nationalism and the Language of Politics in Late Colonial India, the Congress party rallied behind slogans of “cow protection” for purely electoral gains. A major example of this is the Congress’ local politics in Uttar Pradesh in the 20s and the 30s. What makes the Congress’ politics in Uttar Pradesh particularly disturbing is that it is the single largest Indian state (population estimated at 230 millions in 2021). Furthermore, “cow vigilance” has resulted in the death of countless Muslims there. Not surprisingly, the state is ruled by Yogi Adityanath, a miniature monk who’s the most openly Hindu nationalist figure in contemporary Indian politics.
What’s Next for the Muslims of India?
Muslims of India have long embraced the idea of “composite nationalism” (or muttahidah qaumiyat in Urdu), that is, Hindus and Muslims are the same “nation” because of what’s perceived to be shared characteristics, from a materialist perspective at least (food, language, etc.).
Composite Nationalism has been supported by many Muslim religious figures, such as Maulana Azad, Maulana Madani of Deoband, etc., even if many argue that what these Muslim religious figures had in mind was a sort of federation where Muslim interests would be safeguarded, not the unitary and highly-centralized India post independence of Nehru. It’s said that Allama Iqbal wrote the following couplet precisely for these ulama who, he thought, lacked perspective in the more mundane areas of politics and secular ideology:
Mullah Ko Jo Hai Hind Mein Sajde Ki Ijazat
Nadan Ye Samajhta Hai Ke Islam Hai Azad!
In India, if bare leaves are given for sajdah,
The dull priest thinks Islam has gained emancipation.
Perhaps Iqbal is being unfair with such sentiments (which, by the way, could apply just as well to the supposedly politically-savvy liberal Muslims in the contemporary West). But considering the “secular” Congress’ long flirt with Hindu nationalism, a nationalism that regularly attacks Muslims and accuses them of “love jihad,” “narcotics jihad,” even “juice jihad,” (yes!), Muslims should reconsider placing their hopes in such a party and its supposed secularism.
Ultimately, secularism is an idol which asks only for blood and gives, in return, only blood. As history has shown, it certainly can’t save us in this life, let alone in the more important life to come.