Rana Ayyub, a famed Indian journalist, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post about Sooryavanshi, a Bollywood flick released at the beginning of November, a box-office success, and how it plays with many “Islamophobic tropes,” such as “love jihad”:
The film stokes the dangerous “love jihad” conspiracy, which paints Muslim men as colluding to seduce or kidnap Hindu women or girls and convert them to Islam. But other Islamophobic tropes are the center of the film, which has as its male lead one of the biggest stars in India, Akshay Kumar — a big fan of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and an actor famous for his jingoistic, hyper-nationalist films.
She then goes on to specify it, and how all of this Islamophobia is facilitated by the rise of Modi, who, let’s remind the reader, has been democratically elected by the masses of “peaceful” Hindus in 2014.
But is Modi the only one to blame?
Bollywood’s Performative Indian Nationalism: Diluting Islam Through Hinduism
In order to show the “tolerance for Islam” in Bollywood, many Muslims, quite innocently if not naively, give the name of “Muslim figures”: the three Khan’s, actors who have been dominating the industry since the 90s, as well directors here, screenwriters there, and so on.
Yet, this “Islam” is artificial, Indeed, ShahRukh Khan, the biggest of the three Khan’s, is well-known for hosting Hindu idols at home and letting his children celebrate Hindu festivals, while Salman Khan regularly and mechanically calls himself both Hindu and Muslim.
This, of course, makes them ideal for the quintessential Bollywood movie to showcase “Indian nationalism” through the “union” of faiths. The movie is titled Amar Akbar Anthony (1977), Amar being the Hindu, Akbar the Muslim, and Anthony the Christian. The film has a celebrated line from the Christian character, who says:
Apun sab dharam ko manta hai; mandir jaata hai, masjid jaata hai, church jaata hai, gurudwara jaata hai
I believe in all religions; I go to the temple, to the mosque, to the church, and to the gurdwara.
One can easily multiply the instances of Bollywood stories and songs containing such ideas of Muslims pushed to promote shirk, but this movie is a case study considering it is the main theme, and also it has become a “classic” still watched today.
Another movie, for instance, Naseeb (1981), has a song with the following lyrics:
Yeh teenon naam hain mere
Allah, Jesus, Ram hain mere
These three names are all mine
Allah, Jesus, and Ram are all mine
Thus, way before Modi, Muslims have been asked to basically “perform” their nationalism through religious syncretism, that is diluting Islam in order to “prove” their “Indianess,” which itself means to show sympathies for Hindu idolatry.
As scholar of Bollywood Vijay Mishra notes in his 2002-book Bollywood Cinema: Temples of Desire, this “cultural syncretism” basically contains “an implicit directive to work within the formal determinants of Hindu culture,” and it was before the Hindu nationalist takeover of India.
By the way, let’s contrast this syncretic spirit — which is often translated into theologically false equivalences (e.g., “Allah, Rama, Krishna, etc., are different names for the same Being”, as basically the couplet above shows) — with the views of Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi, a 16th century Islamic scholar often called the most influential ‘alim produced in India along with Shah Waliuallah a century later, who wrote in one of his letters:
Ram and Krishna whom Hindus worship are insignificant creatures, and have been begotten by their parents. Ram could not protect his wife whom Ravan took away by force. How can he (Ram) help others? It is thousands of times shameful that some people should think of Ram and Krishna as rulers of all the worlds. To think that Ram and Rahman are the same, is extremely foolish. The creator and the creature can never be one. The controller of the Cosmos was never called Ram and Krishna before the latter were born. What has happened after their birth that they have come to be equated with Allah, and the worship of Ram and Krishna is described as the worship of Allah? May Allah save us!
Our prophets who number one lakh and twenty-four thousand have encouraged the created ones to worship the Creator. The gods of the Hindus (on the other hand) have encouraged the people to worship them (the gods) instead. They are themselves misguided, and are leading others astray. See, how the (two) ways are different!
“Love Jihad” – A Primer
Rana Ayyub, out of all the “Islamophobic tropes” in that movie, highlighted that of “Love Jihad.”
There’s a lot of academic literature on “Love Jihad,” with scholars saying all of this comes from demographic fears and sexual frustration, but Hindu nationalists often talk of “secular lies.”
So, let’s instead hear from Bhaṃvara Meghavaṃśi in his autobiographical I Could not be Hindu (2020), basically how as a Dalit he could not prosper in the RSS, the main Hindu nationalist organization:
From my days in the shakhas, I had often heard that one of the main ambitions of Muslim men was to have sex with a Hindu woman at least once in their lives. They believe it brings them savab, or reward in heaven. This longing is what drives them.
It was difficult to believe this at first, but as it was repeated again and again, I began to accept it as truth. They would say, look at Muslim students in school or college, they are less interested in studies and more in attracting Hindu girls. Gradually it appeared to me to be true, that Muslim boys were indeed only interested in getting Hindu girls to fall in love with them.
A young and rising leader in those days held the view that it was because Muslim men eat meat while Hindu men are vegetarian. Non-vegetarian food increases the libido, where the sattvik vegetarian diet of Hindu men douses sexual desire. One time a Sanghi lawyer declared, you know what, the root of their attraction is circumcision, Hindu women cannot resist this aspect of Muslim men. I didn’t understand much of this at the time. Later I certainly rethought many of these beliefs, but during my childhood, the stories took deep root in my mind.