Book Review: Crisis of liberalism in Indian Muslims

We, Indians, always prefer to talk politically correct. It needs courage to speak rationally, objectively. Generally everyone including political leaders says no religion teaches violence, hatred.

Allama Iqbal, an iconic Urdu poet, has said, “Mazhab Nahi Sikhata Aapas Mein Bair Rakhna, Hindi Hai Hum Watan Hain Hindustan Hamara.” There are people who differ with such kind simplistic analysis. In a democracy one need to respect different opinion and treat all religion equally.

We have been witnessing rise of religiosity in India and across the world. Mazhab (religion) has come into the center stage and politicians, clergies are exploiting the religious sentiments of the common people for various reasons. This phenomenon is not confined to any particular religion. It is across all religion.

Hasan Suroor’s book Who Killed Liberal Islam is an important addition in understanding liberalism as well as Islam and also who killed liberal Islam. Islam means peace. Historically tolerant and youngest monotheistic religion is, as we see, hijacked by fundamentalist and extremist elements. There are liberal voices among Muslims who challenges the narratives of fundamentalists.

These voices are weak and do not carry much impact. The author says, “The reality is that liberal Islam lost out to extremists very early in the history and though it has had sporadic comebacks, notably under the Ottomans, it has mostly struggled in the face of challenges from its right-wing dissidents though the sort of violent extremism we are seeing now is new.”

The book is provocative and attempts to bring some perspective to an increasingly polarised debate on the crisis of liberalism among Indian Muslims. It raises some important issues like growing influence of Wahhabism in India.

The book takes head-on the fundamental question: Are liberalism and Islam compatible or mutually exclusive? The author argues that the crisis of liberalism in Indian Islam cannot be looked at isolation from what is happening in the wider global ‘umma.’  

Liberals talk of necessity of secular and liberal Islam. The author differentiates and says ‘while Islam is open to liberalisation, a secular Islam is a fantasy.’

He gave examples of Turkey and Iran to prove his point. Turkey’s Kemal Ataturk and the Shah of Iran opted path of secularisation to modernize Islam by literally banishing it from public life. And the result, according to author, is Islam is back with a bang.

It is too simplistic to say that Islam is back with a bang in Turkey and Iran because of strong reactions against the policies of Ataturk and Pahlavi of secularising their nations.

The global scenario and influence of umma also played a role in changing Turkey and Iran. Erdogan regime changed many secular laws of Ataturk but still liberal and secular values prevail among the citizens. The scenario in Iran is not different. People are resisting draconian anti-women laws in their own way.

Every religion needs to be reformed in a way that it can strengthen peaceful co-existence and respect to everyone. It should also give opportunity for the followers to fulfill their aspirations.