If not as Muslims then as what?

A student holds up a “Muslim Lives Matter” placard as students march in Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi to protest against India’s recent ‘anti-Muslim’ Citizenship Act.  Photo: Shakeeb KPA

I am writing this in response to an article written by Hayaat Fatemah, one of my juniors from Aligarh Muslim University for Indian Express on 13.01.2020:

Initially I have had confusions on where to place myself in the whole debate of which slogans are appropriate for anti-CAA protests and which are not but later with the successive events my position got clearer that I need to tell out since these questions are posed to me quite often.

People seeking out solidarity on the basis and understanding of secularism call the slogans like “Assalam”, “Allahu Akbar” and “La ilha illAllah” anti-secular since they conveniently follow the set narratives by the state of a public and private divide of state and religion. Indian secularism was not simply about principled distance of the state but historically also had been about people’s mutual respect for all religions. Hence distinctively telling that no one else would want to say “LA ilaha IllAllah” which literally means there is no God but one God as Muslims would not want to say “Jai shree Ram” or “Jesus” is a blatant attack on the idea of secularism. It has to be put out across that saying all these statements or words is no wrong but forcing someone to say that certainly is. The protests are spaces where everyone subjectively respond to the happenings around including the slogans and is not forced to do or say anything.

The author mentions in the article that the question is of Muslim’s citizenship and not of her religiosity so fighting as a Muslim (the Hannah Arendt’s statement) is irrelevant in this case. Its a clear mistake to say that. Seeing the pattern of attacks on households, Madarasas, clerics and children studying in Madarasas, their religion was a point of contention and not only citizenship. The religious slurs that were raised at the students of AMU and JMI and profiling of Muslim and Kashmiri students in JNU must be kept in mind while reading this.

So exactly what these slogans do is that it reiterates the fact that is also agreed with in the article that these are the Muslim led protests that I think should be rightly called as Muslim women led protests. A very personal example that I can give you is from my institute where in the protest in solidarity with JNU, AMU and JMI all the students sloganeering “Aligarh/Jamia teri azmat ko Assalam Assalam” literally meaning “To the greatness of Aligarh/Jamia may there be peace” and that day to me and to the likes of me that space just felt home. If the concerns of BJP and RSS are raised over using these slogans to widen the communal gap one thing is clear anything we do or say can be used by the said organisations to do the same so we need not worry about their work since they master it already.

Also Muslim identity claimants who are leading the protests need to be differentiated from Islamic extremist at the outset of any discussions taking place within these contexts. The basic difference between the two is that the former are the advocates of minority and rights of the marginalised and to assert the rights of all oppressed alike. Where since their identity is at the core of the issue in protests they start asserting the same. Unlike Islamic extremists who hunt down on their own minorities like Ahmedis in Pakistan and Kurds in Turkey.

I agree that the concerns over solidarity are genuine and need to be addressed but in an attempt to reach at it we all must try to break misconceptions instead of building up new.

Areesha Khan is a student of Masters in Development Studies at Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati

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