Working to eradicate Islamophobia
By Trividesh Singh Maini
As the whole world grapples with the epidemic of Islamophobia (an anti-Islamic feeling) policy makers, academics and arm chair intellectuals are not helping the cause of those trying to eradicate or even control the spread of this epidemic .
A recent example of a responsible personality making an irresponsible remark which was not an intentional attack on Islam, but did reflect ignorance towards the faith was a speech made by the current Governor of the North Indian state of Rajasthan and the future President of India, Pratibha Patil, who expressed the following views at an official function:
Women started using veils in India to save themselves from Mughal invaders in the 16th century, a newspaper reported. She asked women to stop wearing veils.
Apart from the factual inaccuracy of the remark which I shall discuss later, this sort of remark was surprising for two reasons. Firstly, because Pratibha Patil will be the President of the world’s largest secular democracy and secondly Mrs. Patil will be the first woman president.
While women are not religious or ethnic minorities they do face the same roadblocks/impediments in politics which other minorities face.
Thirdly Mrs. Patil, who is non-Muslim covers her own head, which many think is a Muslim habit .
Three issues need to be put in perspective. Firstly was Mrs. Patil’s remark factually correct? Top historians like BP Sahu of Delhi University and Kamal Mitra Chenoy were quick to clarify that purdah or the “veil” which Pratibha Patil was talking about existed before the Mughal Rule. The fallacy of Mughals introducing the purdah system has got embedded and ensconced as a result of the history written during the British period.
So the answer is that her assertion about the veil being a purely Muslim concept is wrong.
Secondly, can all customs be associated with a particular faith? Such remarks also obfuscate an important point that certain practices arise out of the cultural milieu of the times and have nothing to do with any specific faith.
In the sub-continent many Non-Muslim women cover their head as a mark of respect to elders. Similarly, the purdah or veil is used by Hindu women in certain areas.
Thirdly, what sort of impact do such remarks have? While there were no immediate consequences of Pratibha Patil’s remark, when a person does make such remarks, it does have an impact on the public at large and some times unintentionally hurts the sentiments of a community and also furthers the schisms between communities.
I would like to conclude my article by saying that all of us should contribute towards eradicating Islamophobia and some times even “veiled ignorance” unintentionally leads to spreading the virus of Islamophobia further.
The author recently published a book titled, South Asian Cooperation and the Role of the Punjabs. Click here for a review.
Originally published in the World Peace Herald