Dangers of religious superiority complex
by Prakash Nanda on 14 Aug 2009 6 Comments

Two seemingly separate but actually connected developments in India have, perhaps, not got serious attention from political analysts. One was the complaint of actor Emraan Hashmi that he was being denied suitable accommodation in a Mumbai locality because he was a Muslim. And the second was the hostile reaction of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) to the reported suggestion of the Law Commission that bigamy conflicts with “the Islamic Law in letter and spirit.”

Hashmi claimed that his attempts to buy an apartment in the upscale Pali Hill in the country’s financial and cultural capital were frustrated by the housing society concerned, “because I am a Muslim.” His remarks evoked mixed reactions from fellow Muslim artists in Bollywood. While the likes of Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar sided with Hashmi, others like Salman Khan and Shahrukh Khan disapproved of his behaviour. Salman slammed Emraan’s claim, saying if religious discrimination had been at work in Mumbai, Emraan wouldn’t be the big star he is today. Shah Rukh, reigning emperor of the world’s biggest movie industry, thought Emraan’s case to be a “one-off incident” and said, “We are a fast growing nation and we should not allow such little incidents to affect us.”

It subsequently turned out Hashmi had not done his paperwork properly, and the seller of the impugned flat had not given any commitment to that effect. Hashmi was guided by the broker and those dealing with real estate business know how brokers operate. But Hashmi succeeded in getting the headlines and prime-time televison discussions; he activated the so-called secularists and gave India much adverse publicity. And all this despite the fact that Muslim film makers, actors, singers, musicians and writers have always dominated the Indian film industry that makes movies twice the number Hollywood produces each year.

If anything, Hashmi’s example suggests that many among India’s Muslim elites (not to be equated with ordinary Muslims) continue to maintain a superiority complex that they are different and superior to the rest and cannot be bound by rules, regulations and customs that guide the lives of the overwhelming majority. If Hashmi wants something, he should or must get that thing. Otherwise, he will feel that as a Muslim he has been discriminated against.

In reality, this amounts to reverse discrimination. Instead of being discriminated against, the likes of Hashmi are discriminating the majority. And this also amounts to the fact that even after the Partition of India, many Indian Muslim elites think they are a separate entity from the rest and have some special rights unlike the rest.

That is precisely why the AIMPLB reacted the way it did to the Law Commission suggestion against polygamy. Incidentally, polygamy has been banned or put under severe controls in many Muslim countries. In many Western countries with substantial Muslim populations, the Muslims abide by the country’s uniform civil code that prohibits polygamy.

But here in India, the Muslim elites will have none of it. AIMPLB Assistant General Secretary Mohammed Abdul Rahim Quraishi, asserting that the practice of the companions of the Prophet (PBUH) and the Muslims prove that Islamic law permits polygamy up to four wives, makes it clear that, “The Indian Muslims follow the Islamic law as is propounded in the Quran and the Hadith and they are not bound in any way to follow the examples of any Muslim country.” 

Quraishi advised the Indian government “to consult the Muslims of the country and particularly Islamic scholars and the Board which represent Muslims of all schools of Islamic jurisprudence before formulating any policy” with regard to Muslims. In other words, none other than the AIMPLB and those it considers “Islamic scholars” can interpret Quran. And since they want to have this sole power to interpret, they can justify things and practices which, strictly speaking, are not in accordance with the tenets and practices of the Quran in the rest of the world.

Take for instance, the subsidy that a “secular country” like India gives to Indian Muslims for undertaking Haj to Saudi Arabia. In 2008, Indian taxpayers paid around Rs 700 crores for Muslims to travel to Saudi Arabia. No Islamic State anywhere provides Muslims Haj subsidy, but the AIMPLB has no problem with it. In a secular country, religion is a purely private affair and the government has no business promoting any religion. Subsidizing Haj is discriminatory and tantamount to endorsement of Islam. No wonder the AIMPLB is happy with it. 

All this leads to one important aspect concerning Indian Muslims - the “secular” distinction of “moderate” Muslims from “hardliner” jihadis. How many “moderate Muslims” are raising their voices in favour of the authentic and peaceful teachings of Islam? The “secularists” ascribe the rise of jihadis not to “Islamic imperatives,” but to poverty exacerbated by ignorance and other factors. This approach is no dobut faulty. As the Mumbai-terror accused Kasab has now admitted, he was trained to be a suicide-attacker because of factors mainly Islamic. “They told us that they (India) is against Islam, against the Quran. They said wage jihad against them; we are waging jihad for the Quran.”

If discussions on Al-Jazeera television, which provides a forum to jihadist elements, are any indication, their view of jihad differs sharply from the “jihad is a spiritual struggle or at best a war of self-defense” line upon which Islamic apologists in India and Western countries insist.

Salah Al-Din of Adhadhda of Hizb Al-Tahrir recently declared: “We have come here to talk about the pinnacle of Islam – Jihad for the sake of Allah.” He said jihad, “like other precepts of the Shari’a,” had been “subjected to distortion and perversion, due to the ideological and cultural invasion (like free speech, democracy, women rights)”. He declared that Muslims must work toward “the conquest of the capitals of the world by the message of Islam, in order to save and liberate humanity, by pulling the people out of the darkness and tyranny of capitalism into the light and justice of Islam.”

The essential point that these extremists make is that they and Islam are different from the rest and they cannot coexist with others until and unless others accept their supremacy. How is such a version of Islam different in substance from the likes of Hashmi and AIMPLB who also suffer from a similar superiority complex?

It is high time genuinely moderate voices in the Muslim community in India effectively counter these dangerous trends. The longer they dismiss this as insignificant or deny it is happening, the longer it will continue; once Islamic jihadists have had a few more years to advance their agenda, it will be harder to take the steps needed to defend free people. We need many more Salman Khans and Shahruk Khans. 

The author is a senior journalist; he can be contacted at

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