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Indian Muslims’ much ado about Palestine

In her thesis titledMuslim-Jewish Relations inSidiJanjira(2012),Anurad ha Bhattacharjeehas elaborated on theinteresting symbiosis between Jews and Muslims in India.The Jewish and Muslim communities in India have had more cheerful ties thananywhere else in the world. Bothcommunitiesuse the same religious terms –namazfor prayers,rozafor fasts,masjid/mashidfor a place of worship, andkabristanfor the cemetery. They even share burial grounds in some places.

We canevenshowcase an exciting episode of Muslim-Jewish amity from India’s history – that of a Jewish prime minister who served an African Muslim Nawab.

From 1891 to 1896, Shalom Bapuji Israel Wargharkar, a Jew, served as prime minister of the tiny Sidi state of Janjira off the Konkan coast of Maharashtra. The ruler of Janjira was Nawab Sidi Ahmed Khan, of Abyssinian origin. Records reveal that the state saw a renaissance during Israel’sstewardship. Communal tensions were firmly reined in and all communities – Hindus, Muslims, and Jews – coexisted peacefullyduring his premiership. The Nawab and Shalom Bapuji Israel enjoyed averycordial relationship.

The Muslim Sidis ruled the kingdoms of Janjira and Sachin, near Surat, till they merged with the Indian Union in 1948. These two places are the only examples where a small number of Sub-Saharan Africans ruled over a composite non-African population that included Hindus, Muslims, and Jews.Indian Muslims, including the Sidi Nawabs, treated the Jews in their kingdom with respect and tolerance despite their small numbers. The example of the friendship and trust between Shalom Bapuji Israel and Nawab Sidi Ahmed Khan is the highest point of the relationship between Muslims and Jews.

India’s soul is broad enough to make an African Muslim a king and accommodate a Jew as his prime minister. Despite this congenial past, why do Indian Muslims become hysterically anti-Jewishand take the side of Arab Muslimsin the Israel-Palestine conflict?It is their religious hallucinations that turn them paranoid against Jews in a conflict that happens in a far-flung corner of theworld.

Several religious doctrines pertinent to Islam dictate the role of religion as the main factor in theIsrael-Palestineconflict, notably including the sanctity of holy sitesin Jerusalemand the apocalyptic narratives ofIslamthat proclaim the advent of Imam Mahdi and the second coming of Jesus. Islam assures a final victory for Muslims over Jewryat the end of days.Dajjalor Anti-Christ is described as the leader of Jews in the Islamicapocalyptic narrative. Islamist groups in Palestine and elsewhere in the Islamic world advocate the necessity of liberating the “holy” territories and sites for religious reasons, and preach violence and hatred against Israel and the Jewish people.

“Religion-based rumours propagated by extremists in the media and social media about the hidden religious agendas of the other side exacerbate these tensions. Examples include rumours about a “Jewish Plan” to destroy al Aqsa mosque and build the Jewish third temple on its remnants, and, on the other side, rumours that Muslims hold the annihilation of Jews at the core of their belief”,writes Mohamed Galal Mostafa, a former Egyptian diplomat.

In Islamic history, the city of Jerusalem was the first MuslimQiblah(the direction that Muslims face during prayers). It is also the place where Prophet Muhammad’sIsraandMi’raj(bringing forward and ascension to heaven, also called the ‘night journey’) ensues according to the Quran. The liberation of Jerusalem is the paramount aim of the Islamist jihadis.Theterrorist Brotherhood offshoots like Hamas call for using violence against Israel in the name of Islam, without distinction between civilian and military targets.Theyuse religion to gain supporters in Gaza and elsewhere by propagating theirapocalyptic narrative.

Myth of Islamic fraternity

The saying of the Prophet that “a Muslim is a brother of another Muslim, he neither wrongs him nor does hand him over to one who does him wrong” is cited by Islamists to highlight the so-called Islamic fraternity. But ever since the battle of Siffin in CE 657,foughtbetween the forces of Caliph Ali ibn Abi Talib and the forces of Muawiyah, theMuslim community has been engagingin manyfratricidalwars.

The movement of Kurds for a homeland and the world Muslim community’s apathy towards their ordeal exposes the hypocrisy of the so-called Muslim fraternity. These two nations,namely Palestine and Kurdistan,orphaned by the demise of the Ottoman Empire, are fighting for Statehood. However, the response of the global Muslim community to each is quite different. Kurdistan, a nationwithout sovereignty,isstretched across many states in West Asia. The Kurdish people, around 40 million in number, inhabit eastern Turkey, northern Iraq, north-western Iran, north-eastern Syria, and some territories of Armenia. They are the third-largest ethnic group in West Asia and the largest nation without a State in the world, says Davan Yahya Khalil in his bookKurdistan: Genocide and Rebirth.

TheAnfal(spoils of war) wasthebloodiest episode of the Kurd genocideexecutedin Iraqunder Saddam Hussein.It was the 1987-88 campaign by the Iraqi military aimed at the extermination of Kurds, mostly in rural areas of Kurdistan. It featured the extensive use of chemical weapons, mainly at Halabja, but also the systematic destruction of villages and imprisonment or murder of all Kurds found. At the start of 1987-88, there were more than 4,600 villages in Kurdistan. Of these, 4,000 were razed. Around 100,000 Kurds were massacredby Saddam’s Iraq, estimated Human Rights Watch in its reportGenocide in Iraq: The Anfal Campaign Against the Kurds.The Muslim World did not pay any attention to the genocide of Kurds and their struggle for a homeland of their own.When Muslims butcher their co-religionists, theglobal Muslim community keeps a studied silence. When it is a Muslim versus non-Muslim conflict, they ignore its geopolitical aspects and turnhysterically religious!

Pan-Islamism and religious fanaticism inspired by Apocalypticismare the moving spirits behindthe hysteric hue and cry for the Palestinian cause by Indian Muslims.“What made pan-Islam more intelligible to Indian Muslims was the growing consciousness among them that they were the members of a worldwide ecumenical community stretching from the shores of the Atlantic to the Straits of Malacca in one unbroken chain,’’ observes Naeem Qureshi in hisPan-Islam in British India: The Politics of the Khilafat Movement 1918–1924.

This quixotic ideology of Pan-Islamism backed by Apocalypticism undermines nation-building in India and the integration of Indian Muslims into the national mainstream. They must internalise that their well-being depends on the well-being and goodwill of their co-patriots here in India, not on their co-religionists in far-flung nooks and corners of the world. And Indian Muslims must be reminded of the legacy of Shalom Bapuji Israel and Nawab Sidi Ahmed Khan.

(The writer is Deputy Law Secretary to the Government of Kerala. Views are personal) 

(Published 27 October 2023, 19:31 IST)

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