I condemn Charlie Hebdo attack: I am an Indian, I am a Muslim

  • Mirza Mohammed Ali Khan, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Jan 12, 2015 19:07 IST

After the brutal attack on Charlie Hebdo weekly in Paris last week, I took to social media to express my shock and in my rather long post, I began by saying that as a Muslim I condemn these attacks.

This elicited an interesting response from a friend. He felt that there is no need to for me to add "As a Muslim" disclaimer in my condemnation of gunmen slaughtering 12 people. He said that any sensible human being will know that no religion, including Islam, preaches terror. This gave me a lot of food for thought.

While this was still fresh in my mind, I came across T M Krishna's open letter to 'Muslims in India'. The letter called for Muslims to raise their voice against atrocities by their "co-religionists." Mr Krishna says he never liked the phrase "Indian Muslims", as it splits the person's identity into two parts.

While I understand where Mr Krishna is coming from, he should notice that people referring to themselves as Indian Muslims put the 'Indian' before the 'Muslim.' That is the primary identity. The Indian identity. Every other identity is secondary.

When Mr Krishna questions why 'Indian Muslims' do not condemn attacks perpetrated by co-religionists, he seems to be categorising 'Indian Muslims' himself. Why single out Muslims in asking for condemnation? By doing this, Mr Krishna does what he has a problem with: in the first place singling out Muslims based on their religious identity by asking them to condemn these atrocities, not because the atrocities are condemnable, but because he says Muslims ought to be condemning them.

A man holds a placard reading "freedom of expression" during a rally in support of the victims of terrorist attack on French satyrical newspaper Charlie Hebdo at the Place de la Republique in Paris, on January 7, 2015. AFP Photo

It is when I asked these questions of myself and Mr Krishna that what my friend said began to make sense.

Religious identity is not something every individual can easily let go off, as religion shapes a number of personal thoughts, beliefs and actions. However, religious identity is not an individual's only identity, either. In a plural society, everyone has plural identities and in a diverse, multicultural, secular country like India, it is our Indian identity that is foremost and binds us all together under the tricolour.

Asking individuals to completely forget their religious identity is asking them to forget the reason behind many of their core beliefs and may not be the best approach. The key, rather, lies in making the individual understand that there are other identities that are as important, especially in today's context.

The first step towards this would be to stop referring to an individual by their religious identity, first, like my friend advised me. He pointed out that I ought to be condemning the attack as a human being first and not as a Muslim. As in the case with the Charlie Hebdo incident, I condemn the attack as a human being and yes, also as a Muslim, because Islam taught me tolerance and non-violence. But at the same time, as a Muslim, I would never read Charlie Hebdo or support the magazine as I believe it pokes fun at one of my core identities.

It is time we stopped treating our multiple identities as ones that clash with each other inside us and rather see them for what they really are: a confluence that makes us what we are as individuals.


The views expressed are personal.


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