Friday, December 18, 2015

Indian history, Islamic terrorism and optimism for a peaceful coexistence

I watched a nice talk in YouTube by the former senior medical officer of Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Mumbai, titled, “Why Did Muslim Rulers Destroy Hindu Temples? Facts and Myths”. I learned many facts that I did not know before. But few of my friends doubted credibility of some of the facts mentioned there. I am not any historian and cannot vouch for credibility of all the facts. 

It's widely believed in India that almost all the ‘secular’ political parties and its loyalists appease and exploit religious minorities for electoral gain, distort facts to suit its own narrative of history. Misuse of religious sentiments and racial intolerance have worsened after current Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, came to power. But India got the dubious distinction to become the most racially intolerant country in the world, jointly with Bangladesh and Jordan, before Modi led BJP won last general election in 2014.

To me, it does not matter why those Muslim ‘invaders’ came to India, other than wealth and setting up a kingdom of its own, like any other king of that time, how many Hindu temples  were destroyed or how many people were killed by them. We must accept that none can change the past. But we can learn from it, so that we can avoid making the same mistake and build a better future- as a country where all of its citizens can live peacefully with shared prosperity.

In reality, all human came from central Africa. Then they migrated all over the world. There are two alternative theories on when first human arrived in India. One theory says modern human (Homo Sapiens) arrived in India around 70,000 years ago. The other theory postulate arrival of a closely related Homo heidelbergensis, who left Africa about 800,000 years ago, reached India about 250,000 years ago, while modern human (Homo sapiens) evolved in Africa about 190,000 years ago. We do not know if modern human and Homo heidelbergensis interbred and mixed genetically or to what extent. But we do know that Modern humans out competed the Neanderthal natives,so-called hobbits, in western Europe, but they did interbreed and it has huge consequence on subsequent human evolution and spread of civilizations as we see it today.

It will not be unfair to say that Indian Hindus and Muslims, who are mostly converted Hindus, came from abroad. Latest data show that upper caste Indians (mainly North Indians) are genetically closer to West European ancestry (so-called Aryans) than ‘indigenous’ Indian people, mainly the local tribes in north India and distinctive southern Indian population. Most Indian groups descend from a mixture of two genetically divergent populations, Ancestral North Indians (ANI) related to Central Asians, Middle Easterners, Caucasians, and Europeans; and Ancestral South Indians (ASI) not closely related to groups outside the subcontinent. The date of mixture is unknown. One estimate postulate that ANI-ASI mixture dates ranging from about 1,900 to, 4200 years ago.

Violence and hatred in the name of religion or caste or any such issue is basically ignorance, compounded by a very innate human nature to prove its own individual supremacy. People of different faith or religion, race etc are interacting more, live in more multi-cultural societies these days. The consequence of something or fault of someone else is quickly passed onto others very fast these days. Local issues are not so local or limited in its impact. World refugee crisis and global Islamic terrorism, including so-called ‘lone wolf’ attacks inspired by extreme religious ideology from abroad, are not so uncommon.

Muslims are the worst victim of sectarian and/or religious violence in the name of IslamThe most favored destinations of refugees displaced due to religions or caste or tribal conflicts worldwide, are western secular democracies like USA and countries in western Europe. Muslims are no exception. Indian history provide an excellent opportunity to understand it. Western world is relatively new in this game, openly acknowledged Islamic terrorism mainly after 9/11 terror attack.

More we learn and analyze, more we realize the need to treat the ignorance and our human desire to prove individual supremacy. We can get a very realistic, practical example during our marriage, when most of us try to defame, demean the in-laws, find fault in others during marriage. For many it become a constant thorn in conjugal relationship in subsequent years. To solve the issues, we need to accept faults of both the sides without being biased. The target is to make that relationship and marriage successful, happy; and not to prove whose family is better, more civilized, more educated, more cultured etc. The same analogy is equally valid for religious intolerance, hatred and terrorism. 

It does not matter much even if Babur or other Muslim kings came and ruled India with a very bad intention of insulting Hindus, destroying ‘Indian’ culture, which does not seem to be true. Most importantly, we cannot undo it. We better target the ideology of supremacy than the people following such irrelevant or distorted ideology. The war on Islamic terrorism can never be won by using only force in India or Europe or America or middle-east or other parts of the world. It will also be counter-productive to ban Muslims from entering USA, as some American politicians are suggesting.

Muslims need to understand that everything written in Quran is not right and cannot be the basis to live one's life, particularly in a multi-cultural, secular democracy. yes, I read Quran (english translation, of course). There are too many  verses in Quran that openly incites hatred and violence, mainly against non-believers. Many more against women and other minorities. Throwing few verses of peace from Quran or loudly chanting, “Islam is the religion of peace” would not help much. It would not erase the fact that there is not a single country in this world with Muslim majority population where religious minorities flourished and its population increased, based on percentage of total population. The rate of decrease of minorities cannot be explained simply by the difference in birth rate. On the other hand, the number of Muslims almost always increased in any secular democracy, including India, USA and UK.

We are yet to understand why so many Muslims in non-Muslim majority or non-Islamic countries think they should be allowed to follow Islamic Sharia law, in totality or selectively. About 
51% Muslims in USA62% in Canada, 40% in UK42% in Russia and 77% in Thailand think that way. 
Generally speaking, support for Sharia among Muslims is very high in most Islamic countries in Africa and Asia, mainly where Quranic study is mandatory and judiciary is based on Sharia. Some secular democracies, like India, partially adopted Sharia for Muslims. It has a huge socio-political consequence. Many Indians are demanding abolishing such religion based laws there.  It's little more baffling considering the fact that support for Sharia law is far lower in many Islamic or Muslim majority countries, e.g. Turkey and Albania 12%, Lebanon 29%, Kazakhstan 10%. Such data from India is not available, as expected. It seems that Indian policy makers rely more on political correctness, personal faith and electoral equation than hard data and logic. 

Here, we need to understand that Sharia law does not come from Quran, but was inspired by Quran and teaching of Prophet Muhammad, as its followers perceive it (this is very crucial). There are only few verses in Quran dealing with legal matters. The classic Sharia law took shape around 900 AD, long after Prophet Muhammad’s death in 632. Islamic specialists in legal matters in Middle Eastern Arab countries assembled handbooks for judges to use in making their decisions. Sharia was not a code of laws, but a body of religious and legal scholarship which continued to develop for the next thousand years. 

The experience of Hamtramck, MI, the Muslim majority city in the USA is not that great for most non-Muslim residents there and rest of America. Once the Muslims got majority in the city, they changed city law and gave permission to broadcast its call to prayer (Azan) from loudspeakers atop its roof. It also started teaching Quran in public schools. If the Muslim residents were so annoyed by church bells, as their leaders claim in the BBC report, they should petition city council to stop or minimize Church bells during weekend prayers, rather than starting their own 7 days a week and 5 times a day loud affair. It must not be allowed in any civilized secular democracy. It raises concern for non-Muslims when Muslims become majority. Such experiences seem to have helped Michigan Governor to be among the first to oppose Syrian refugee resettlement in USA and most importantly in the state of Michigan.

After talking to few educated Muslims from around the world, I realized that people who follow Islam and believe in every word of Quran, do not agree that religion is a personal matter and must remain personal. They also do not agree in the definition of justice, the way we in the western world and other democracies believe, i.e., in short, “greater good for larger number of people”. It's very disturbing.

It seems that many moderate Muslims who were brought up in western societies (e.g. Irshad Manji) are more interested in changing the interpretation of many of the verses of Quran. They do not say that everything written in Quran is not true or right, Quran cannot be the basis for living in modern civilized societies, and, one can remain a devout Muslim despite of not accepting each and every word in Quran.

Many do believe that extremist groups like Islamic State (IS or Daesh), Taliban, Al-Quida etc actually interpret Quran more accurately, accept as it’s written. We hear so much about IS these days, mainly due to its very brutal rule and practice of Islam. All western and even most conservative Islamic countries like wahhabi Sunni Saudi Arab and Shia Iran oppose IS. They are engaged in intense military conflict in Syria and Iraq. All these governments want to establish 'representative government' there. Most of these military powers, except Russia and Iran (who support Syrian regime), bet on non-IS rebel groups. But a recent poll says that about 60% in these Syrian rebel groups support IS ideology.

Perception of Islam by these extremists and terrorists would not change much by the peaceful verses in Quran. They will find enough motivation from many other verses that preach violence, hatred and dominance over others.  

Educated and moderate Muslims need to understand that they have to come out aggressively and assertively, as few rare Muslims are trying. Many educated Muslims living in western countries or other secular democracies do not practice Islam in day-to-day life. But they are reluctant to admit that openly. It can be for several reasons, including fear of being ostracized by their Muslim friends and relatives and fear from the extremists. But they have a bigger responsibility, as they are the people who are more interested to live in prosperous, peaceful secular democracies compared to those who believe in extremism in the name of Islam in middle-east or other parts in Islamic world.

Ultimately, the reform of Islam has to come from within, within the Muslim community. Such change can never be successful or sustainable if imposed from outside or via force. Educated and moderate Muslims have to assert the Muslims from less fortunate background that one can still remain a Muslim by accepting that everything written in Quran is not right. Moreover, they do not need any certificate from anyone else, religious priests or otherwise, to decide how to become or remain a Muslim, so long they are following the law of the land, remain ethical and honest to their duties as a human being. It’s equally applicable to any other issue of racial intolerance to prevent downfall of any society and country. The impact of Quran is more profound on Muslims than Bible over Christians, or Gita over Hindus.

One example is dietary restrictions based on religious belief- like eating pork or beef. Pork is equally banned for Christians (as per Bible- Old Testament) and Jews, for the same reason as in Islam- “it’s unclean, as it has split hooves and do not chew cud”. Many, if not most, Christians and Jews eat pork and openly admit it. Many Hindus do not eat beef thinking that it’s banned by Hindu religion. Then, there are many Hindus who eat beef. The famous Hindu philosopher and social reformer Vivekananda was among them. I wish I could tell the same about Muslims.

For me, it’s not so important why the Muslim rulers came and set up its empire in Hindu India. It’s more important what can we learn from our history to make a better, more prosperous and peaceful future for all of us. Everyone likes to live peacefully and help their children to have a better life. Sustained peace is possible only via justice or righteousness. The educated and moderate Muslims can do it. But it can happen only when they themselves are convinced. Mere lip service or fear would not help. Otherwise, neither Islamic terrorism nor this 'conflict of civilizations' will end peacefully. Chanting the mantra of peace does not guarantee peace, neither wishful thinking is any strategy to solve any issue. At the end of the day, people will get what they deserve. It doesn't matter much if they like the outcome or not.

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