India:  Skewed Media Approach to Terrorism

Yoginder Sikand

Posted Jun 20, 2008      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Skewed Media Approach to Terrorism

by Yoginder Sikand

The arrest of some activists associated with the Sanatan Sanstha, a
radical Hindu group, for planting bombs in theatres in two towns in
Maharashtra recently, has barely been given any attention in the
Indian media. Had the men behind these planned attacks been Muslims,
obviously the Indian media would have reacted very
differently—furiously, fervently. This clearly shows the sharply
skewed manner in which the debate on ‘terrorism’ is being conducted.
That the routine killings of Muslims, such as in pogroms orchestrated
by Hindu groups, are never attributed by the media to Hindu
‘terrorists’ but simply to faceless and nameless ‘emotionally charged
mobs’ is yet another illustration of this greatly skewed perspective.

Bomb attacks that have occurred in numerous Indian cities in recent
years are, without proper or full investigation, somehow automatically
assumed to be the handiwork of Muslims. But, as the attacks that the
Sanatan Sanstha volunteers had planned, as also the earlier attack
planned by members of the Bajrang Dal, also in Maharashtra, clearly
show, the range of those who might be behind the wave of bomb attacks
in the country has to be expanded some Muslim ultras to include their
Hindu counterparts as well, who have obviously have a vested
interested in promoting communal clashes and thereby consolidating
Hindu votes. And, in addition, as numerous Urdu papers have been
repeatedly suggesting, the possible role of other forces, such as the
Israeli and American secret services, behind some of these attacks
must also be investigated, for, clearly, these attacks aim at further
dividing Hindus and Muslims and thereby promoting inflaming
anti-Muslim passions in the country, something that Israel and the
neo-conservatives in America would probably warmly welcome as it would
force India to enter more tightly into their deadly embrace.

Yet another clear instance of the completely warped way in which the
Indian media and policy-making circles discuss terrorism is evident
from their reaction to Shiv Sena supreme Bal Thackeray’s recent
pronouncement calling for Hindus to set up killer suicide squads. The
‘mainstream’ media is not branding him a ‘terrorist’ for this,
although he openly advocates terrorism, and nor will the state take
any action against him under the draconian anti-terrorist laws that it
has framed. Imagine if a Muslim leader had issued a similar call. That
would have hit the headlines for well over a week and would have led
to numerous arrests, but Thackeray’s outpourings merit just a corner
in the middle pages of our ‘national’ newspapers.

My point is simple: we need an even-handed approach in discussing (and
dealing with) ‘terrorism’. Turning a blind eye to one form of it, just
because it claims to speak for the majority of Indians, can only make
the situation even more precarious for all of us.  And, although of
late most religious leaders have begun to depress me no end, here I
take inspiration from an essay I recently read by an Indian Muslim
cleric whose passion for the welfare of his country, irrespective of
religion, is something that every Hindu, Muslim or other sort of
Indian could certainly emulate, and whose approach, if seriously
adopted, could go a long way in countering all forms of terrorism, be
it by radical Hindus or Muslims or others or by the state itself..

A recently reprinted Urdu booklet, titled ‘Hamara Hindustan Aur Uske
Fazail’ (‘Our India and Its Glories’), contains a brilliant essay o by
the late Maulana Syed Muhammad Miyan, who served for many years,
before and after 1947, as the general secretary of the Jamiat
ul-Ulema-e Hind, a leading body of Indian maulvis primarily associated
with the Deobandi school of thought (It is the same organization that
vehemently opposed the Partition of India and that, in recent months,
has organized literally dozens of public rallies against terrorism).
The essay was first published sometime in the early 1940s in order to
oppose the Muslim League’s demand for a separate Muslim state and to
counter the claim of many Hindus leaders that Indian nationalism was
necessarily synonymous with Brahminical Hinduism.

Miyan’s essay, titled ‘Sarzamin-i Hindustan Ke Fazail’ (‘The Blessings
of India’), argues that Muslims are bound to ‘love’ and ‘serve’ India
primarily because Islam commands them to do so. Miyan claims that
India has been accorded a special status by God Himself. Hence, he
argues, Muslims are required by their faith to work for India’s unity
and welfare.

Miyan’s's thesis is based on an Arabic text written by the eighteenth
century north Indian Muslim scholar, Ghulam Azad Bilgrami, which puts
together Hadith reports attributed to the Prophet Muhammad and Quranic
verses that are said to refer to the ‘glories’ (fazail) of India.
Quoting Bilgrami, Miyan writes that while undoubtedly Mecca, Medina
and Jerusalem are the ‘most holy’ places in the world, Islamic
tradition has it that India, too, is a ‘blessed land’ (mutabarruk
sarzamin). According to such revered Muslim figures as Imam Ali
(cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet), Hazrat Ayesha (one of the
Prophet’s wives), and leading companions of the Prophet such as Hazrat
Ibn Abbas, Hazrat Anas and Hazrat Abdullah ibn Umar, Adam was sent
down to earth to India, to the island of Serendip or modern-day Sri
Lanka, while Eve was sent to Jeddah.

Adam then travelled to Arabia, where he met Eve at a place near Mecca.
After building the Kaaba at Mecca, Adam took Eve with him and returned
to India, where they settled down and had children. The famous
incident involving the sons of Adam, Cain (Qabil) and Abel (Habil),
occurred, or so Miyan says, in India. After Abel was killed by Cain,
Adam had another son, Sheesh, who, according to some accounts, is
buried in the town of Ayodhya, which is sacred to many Hindus today.
Adam is said to have undertaken forty pilgrimages (haj) from India to
Mecca on foot. He is also said, some ulema claim, so Miyan tells us,
to have died in India and to have been buried here.

This close connection between Adam and India points to what Miyan
claims to be the obvious fact that Islamic tradition accords to India
the status of a ‘blessed land’. This suggests, Miyan writes, that
India had a special place in God’s scheme of things for the world,
which Muslims living in the country need to recognise. The fact that
Adam first appeared in the world in India means that the world’s first
dar ul-khilafa (‘abode of the Caliphate’) was India, because this was
where God’s first khalifa or deputy was sent down. The island of
Serendip or modern-day Sri Lanka, which can be said to be, in some
sense, part of ‘greater India’, was the first place in the world where
God sent his revelation. Adam, the first man and the first prophet,
was made out of ‘Indian soil’. Since Adam is the father of all human
beings, including all the other prophets and the saints, the rest of
humanity was also fashioned out of the ‘mud of India’, or so Miyan

To reinforce his argument of India being accorded the status of a
‘blessed land’ in the Islamic tradition itself, Miyan notes that some
Muslim scholars believe that the oath (ahd) of ‘alast’, which the
Quran refers to, also took place in India. On that occasion, God
gathered all the souls of men who would appear in the world till the
Day of Judgment and addressed them, asking them if He was not their
Lord (alasto bi rabbikum). All the souls answered that He indeed was.
This shows, Miyan writes, that India was the country where the
‘slaves’ (bande) of God first acknowledged Him as Sustainer, from
which started the long chain of spiritual advancement of humanity.
Through this incident the land of India was ‘brightened (munawwar) by
the ‘light of all the prophets’, Miyan contends.

According to the Quran, Miyan adds, at the time of taking the
above-mentioned oath, another oath was taken from all the prophets, in
which each prophet testified to the prophet who would succeed him.
Since the chain of prophets ended with Muhammad, every other prophet
testified on that occasion to Muhammad being a prophet, reposing faith
in him and promising to help him. This second oath, too, was taken in
India, Miyan claims. Hence, Miyan writes, ‘India is that holy
(muqaddas) land where the chain of religious instruction (rashd-o
hidayat), and knowledge of the closeness of God (marif-i qurb-i ilahi)
and salvation in the hereafter (nijat-i akhiravi)’ had their origins.

The claim of God having chosen India to send Adam to has other crucial
implications, Miyan suggests, which reinforce the special place that
India is said to occupy in the Islamic tradition. Miyan writes,
echoing a view held by many Sufis, that the first thing that God
created was the nur-i muhammadi or the ‘light of Muhammad’. This light
was first put into Adam and was then transferred through all the
prophets till it reached the Prophet Muhammad when he appeared in
Mecca. Because Adam lived in India, the first time that the nur-i
muhammadi appeared on earth was in India, and the last time that it
appeared was in Arabia, this establishing a firm spiritual link
between the two lands.

In support of this argument, and to underline his assertion of India
being a particularly ‘blessed land’, Miyan quotes a verse by Kaab bin
Zaheer, a famous poet and a companion of the Prophet: ‘Undoubtedly,
the Prophet is a light (nur) from which light is obtained. [He] is
God’s sword which was made in India’. In this regard, and to further
stress his point, Miyan refers to another story, one related by Abu
Huraira, a companion of the Prophet, according to which the Prophet is
said to have declared that when God sent Gabriel to comfort Adam,
Gabriel mentioned to Adam the name of Muhammad, telling him that
Muhammad would be the last prophet from among Adam’s children. This
shows, Miyan writes, that it was in India that for the first time the
Holy Spirit (ruh-i muqaddas) appeared on earth, that the glory (azmat)
and unity (tauhid) of God was mentioned, and that Muhammad’s
prophethood was announced.

This further stresses the need, Miyan says, for the Indian Muslims to
recognise that ‘it is our good fortune that this India is our beloved
country (watan-i aziz)’. Because India is said to have held a special
place in God’s plan for the world, Miyan argues, God has blessed it
with numerous assets. The source of all good things (nimat) is heaven,
and whatever good things are found on earth are a limited reflection
of their heavenly counterparts. All good things that are found in the
world were first brought by Adam to India, from where they spread to
the rest of the world, so Miyan claims.

This explains, Miyan argues, why India has the ‘largest store of
heavenly blessings in the world’, including ‘sweet-smelling plants,
spices and fruits’. Adam, Miyan tells us, was also taught various
crafts, which is the reason why India has always excelled in these
fields and hence can rightfully claim to be the ‘first teacher’
(ustad-e awwal) of the world in many crafts and industries.

Besides the alleged Adam connection, Miyan marshals other ‘evidence’
to put forward his claim of India’s special status in Islamic terms.
Thus, he writes that some Muslim scholars believe that Noah built his
ark in India, and that India was unaffected by the Great Flood in
Noah’s time. In addition, several companions of the prophet, thousands
of Muslim saints (awliya, abdal), martyrs (shuhada) and pious ulema
made India their home and died and were buried here. All these facts
clearly suggest, Miyan contends, that from the Islamic point of view
the ‘greatness’ of India is ‘undeniable’. Hence, he stresses, it is
the religious duty of the Muslims of India to work for the sake of the
unity and prosperity of the country as a whole. Hence, too, he
suggests, the claim of Hindu chauvinists that only Hindus can be
genuine Indian patriots must be challenged and countered.

I personally do not necessarily agree with all that Miyan writes in
praise of India and nor do I agree with all his interpretations of
Muslim traditions about India, some of which I find quite outlandish.
In some senses, privileging just a small slice of the earth as
particularly ‘blessed’ by God, which Miyan seems to do with regard to
India, strikes me as deeply troubling—either every bit of the world is
equally blessed or not at all, I would believe. But, that said, I find
Miyan’s concern for his country and its people to be genuine,
passionate and deeply moving. It is something that terrorists, Hindu
and Muslim and other, certainly lack, their radical rhetoric