Opinion: A salute to Muslim sisters from Karnataka

The hijab controversy could be a deliberate attempt by the right-wing to attack how Islam is understood and practiced by its followers

Hijab Controversy

Mukul Kesavan recently wrote that ‘a Muslim citizen’s default state is a state of culpability’. He could not be more right than that. What has transpired in recent past, and continues to simmer, in the Indian social and public space, is the hate against its Muslim citizens. The propaganda is not merely limited to speeches, it has led to actions; and not merely for specific situations, but as part of the everyday life of its citizenry.

A cursory glance around, and one can see that almost every facet of a Muslim citizen’s social life has been securitised – food, clothing, family, social interactions, political participation in public spaces; and, now even the individual – the Muslim woman. What could be worse than the pursuit of muscular right-wing liberalism in a secular constitutional democracy like India?

We often construe “faith” and “belief” as synonymous terms. They are indeed synonymous when found coinciding in the psyche of a person. However, there are also chances of a disjunct where they tend to imply things differently.

What is happening in India is a deliberate attempt to create this disjunct between the Muslim belief and the Muslim faith at the behest of the state. The constant attacks on the participation of the Muslim citizenry in the public space is not an attack on the fundamentals of Islam. It cannot be. It is rather an attack on how Islam is understood and practiced by its followers in their lives as citizens of India. This is nothing short of an attempt to keep faith away from its foundational belief – to say that you may believe whatever you want to, but still you have to put your faith in what we ask you to say or do.

The right-wing attack operates at two levels. It prevents the manifestation of the Muslim religious identity in public space. Alongside, it also attempts to co-opt and transform this religious identity into the form of a neo-cultural identity, dictated by its Hindutva ideals.

As part of this plan, the purported social manifestation of the Muslim belief is intended to be replaced by now more robust, Hindutva faith, projecting all the Muslims as forced converts from their imaginary Hindu past. The intended effect is to emphasise that no Muslim can derive confidence to participate in public spaces merely on account of her personal and community level attachment, especially with Allah, the Supreme Being (Allahu Akbar being a controversial slogan). She should instead feel proud about her alleged Hindu past, modelled along the Hindutva lines.

The interpretation given here to the Muslim faith, its belief-system and the practice of its followers, is a deeply flawed one. It is as flawed as the strict liberal understanding of the religion – rooted in individual interpretations of the belief system, and sans the requirements of any collective ideals and/or identity. 

Islam is a religion of praxis. The theory is as important as its practice. It is difficult either to dissociate the Muslim belief from its social context – the Muslim faith, or else to resituate its praxis exclusively in some other collective like nationality, or even the cultural rootedness of any other historical identity.

A Muslim individual must carry the Muslim identity in addition to what other identity she might choose to adopt – an Indian who is a Muslim, a doctor or a teacher who is a Muslim; and, then a female student who is also a Muslim.

The hijab controversy in India truly demonstrates this aspect of the identity debate. When Muslim girls come to college in hijab, they do so believing that they can be all – an Indian, a Muslim and a student – at the same time. However, when certain groups challenge these young women, they do so with the intent to dissociate the Muslim faith from the Muslim belief, and then to replace it with an identity which is completely alien to these women.

While the identity of a secular Indian is acceptable to these Muslim ladies, we have seen that at Shaheen Bagh, the identity of a muscular right-wing liberalism, is not acceptable at all. That’s a lesson we must all take home.

More power to you, sisters.

*Views expressed are the author’s own. He teaches at Crescent School of Law, Chennai. He is also part of Aligarh Muslim University Teachers and Students Collective.


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