Hasan Suroor in his book ‘Who Killed Liberal Islam’ keeps reiterating that Muslim liberals or those who are not practising Muslims or summarily reject Sharia laws are outsiders and do not hold much clout among the Muslim masses.
This is rich coming from someone who resides abroad, publishes book after book, describing the intolerance of Muslim masses for dissent from within and is basically dismissing the journeys of those who came to this point in their lives where they reject regressiveness in their faith, taking risks of ostracism and harm to self too. These outsiders can see the illiberalism in their faith, their community, and their culture and cannot be silent about this incompatibility of Muslims with humanistic values and rights.
Hasan Suroor should have explored why the ‘self-declared’ atheists/agnostics have been labelled ‘outsiders’ and don’t wield much influence among their own. By quoting Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s book “Heretic – Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now?” and describing her as ‘someone who carries a baggage of alleged anti-Islamic prejudice and is hated by many Muslims’ (his words) is doing token service to her journey from faith, cultural conditioning and tribal affiliations to reason. Shouldn’t a person suffering female genital mutilation (FGM) be prejudiced against the culture that justifies the practice by quoting, misquoting, interpreting, misinterpreting the Quran, Hadith, Sunnah, etc? Isn’t she well within her right to be phobic of a practice that female community members keep upholding, ignoring the screams, blood, pain and terror of a girl child whose genitals are being cut by a primitive blade?
Moreover, it isn’t just about one horrific practice that those self-declared atheists/agnostics demanding reforms in Muslim law and culture are speaking about. Country after country, region after region, book after book, memoir upon memoir, talk upon talk, shows the increasing number of voices of Muslim heritage speaking about their journeys from the suppression of their personalities because of the hijab, triple talaq, polygamy, halal, mutah marriages or the repression due to domestic violence justified by an “interpreted or misinterpreted” Quranic verse/Hadith, misogynistic Sharia laws and the entire culture of intolerance of independent, critical thinking. This accumulated literature points out the need for everyone including “outsiders” of Islam to speak out and dedicate their lives to a Muslim Reformation or Renaissance, a Muslim Enlightenment.
Why these ‘outsiders’ dare to do what most within the Muslim community do not is precisely because they are world citizens in their outlook and have recognised the incompatibility of the “insular-inward-looking community” (Suroor’s words) with other diverse cultures, perspectives and religions. The ‘outsiders’ understand how the ‘bunker mentality’ (his words) of Muslims is a huge obstacle to progress, and modernisation, irrespective of whether the Hindu right or conservative parties across the globe talk down to them or not.
Considering he has an entire appendix dedicated to Irshad Manji, a Ugandan-born Canadian educator, whose books are banned in Muslim countries and who is an LGBT rights supporter, Hasan is well-advised to remember that only a handful among the 170 million Indian Muslims will accept her. Something ironic too, considering the berating tone he uses for the ‘outsiders’ taking it upon themselves to reform the community despite not having much say within. In my opinion, he lays too much importance on those practising Muslims who are accepted within the community and have no problems keeping religion and modernity together. Hasan forgets that it is moderates who though, not being fanatics, are the first ones to cry ‘Islamophobia” and shut down anyone speaking about the ‘complacency in Islam’ (Manji’s words) and contribute to the ‘deficiency in the dissent department’ (again, her words).
True, those practising Muslims are not seen as threats and are capable of bringing in change by Hasan Suroor’s favourite roadmap – ‘not try to impose from above’, ‘in consultation with the community’, and ‘to do it slowly’ (his terms). Usually, I would agree with this roadmap as history has shown progress happens in its own due time and with major geopolitical upheavals like war, invasions, clashes, genocides, regime changes, assassinations, etc. But 9/11, the Kashmir Jihad, the resurgence of the Taliban, medieval Sharia practices of stoning for adultery, FGM cases in Western cities like London in 2022, honour killings, etc do put an urgency to Suroor’s roadmap for change/reform.
Waiting for moderates to reach a tipping point where change is inevitable is kind of lame considering lives are at risk every single day in the entire Muslim world due to terror groups, Wahhabi Islam, the Muslim Brotherhood, Boko Haram in Africa and the PFI in India. Waiting for the insider moderate Indian Muslims who are change agents, to recall “their forgotten history of moderation” (Suroor’s words) and its revival, that too, on the precondition of Left-liberal Muslims and right-wing Hindu nationalists ‘keeping their hands off’ (his words) rolls into the appeasement policies and practices by the State for seven decades that brought the 170 million Indian Muslims to this point, in the first place.
Now, the Hindu has had enough, the common lapsed or practising Muslim has had enough, and even the other minorities – Sikhs, Jains, Christians, Parsis, Buddhists have had enough. Hasan Suroor’s “outsiders” will have to be listened to; they were ostracised, character assassinated, and defamed by those very ‘complacent moderates’ he is batting for (he should know). They figuratively turned the outspoken critics or heretics outside the folds of Muslim heritage and are keeping the Indian Muslims from getting free of the chokehold of the mullah-politician alliance, (cooperation which produced Sharia-ism since the Abbasid times).
Reform for Indian Muslims will have to be top-down, the debates surrounding triple talaq, blasphemy, etc, on national TV have shown what the mullahs, Muslim intellectuals and scholars think and how much they have not been able to ‘engage’ with the modern Indian Muslims already working to free themselves from this ‘chokehold’ and usher the ‘third largest Muslim community’ (Suroor’s data) into the 21st century.
(Arshia Malik is a Delhi-based writer, blogger and social commentator)
(Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author’s own)