For Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackery, Salim Khan, the celebrated scriptwriter of
and countless other Bollywood potboilers, is the ideal Indian Muslim. Khan, who starts his day with the morning namaz and quotes Quranic verses and hadiths (sayings of Prophet Muhammad) on almost everything, has two wives — Salma, a Maharashtrian Hindu, and Helen, the popular ‘item’ girl of yore, who is a Christian. Further, he has a Hindu son-in-law, Atul Agnihotri, and a Christian daughter-in-law, Malaika Arora Khan.
Ask him how he deals with the multiple religious identities of his family, and Khan says it doesn’t bother him. “Every time our driver brakes hard, I say ‘Allah khair’, my wife says ‘Arre Deva’, and my children say ‘Oh shit’,” he says with a grin.
At 70, Khan exudes such a captivating simplicity that I’m charmed within minutes of our meeting. As we sit talking on the balcony of his Bandra home, he seems like the rare celebrity with absolutely no airs about him. The recent terrorist attacks in the city have deeply disturbed him, and the conversation naturally veers to Islam. As he warms up to the issue, Khan comes across as someone who is as religious as he is secular.
The fatwas against him and his son, popular actor Salman Khan, don’t move him. “Islam does not give anyone the right to comment on anyone’s faith. They may debar me from being a Muslim but they cannot stop me from offering Namaz or giving zakat (charity) or fasting during Ramadan. I have a one to one relation with my god,” adds Khan who has often been accused of being harsh on Muslims. “These are not just accusations; I have been harsh on them as it hurts me to see a few go astray in the name of Islam, which is such a humane religion. And if these terrorists do all this in the name of Islam, let us punish them under Islamic law which orders stoning until death for those who kill innocents.”
The man who, along with Javed Akhtar once created the ‘angry young man’ Bollywood persona, says those Muslims who cite anger as a reason to turn towards terrorism are not Muslims. “Revenge is non-Islamic. The Prophet forgave the person who killed his uncle.”
The Muslim leadership in India today, he feels, faces a catch-22 situation. “If a Muslim were to lead Indian Muslims, he will further isolate the community. Moreover, in these changing times, a cleric is not acceptable to those Muslims who are moving ahead with the world; and a modern Muslim will not suit the conservative sections of the society.”
For him there is only one way for Muslims to deal with the crisis. “It’s time for them to become a part of the mainstream. I understand that this is not possible without the cooperation of the majority community. But, on their part, Muslims must try their best to mingle with their countrymen — irrespective of religion.”
On a lighter note, I ask him how religious his three actor sons — Salman, Sohail and Arbaaz — are. “Well, they do pray as and when they have a flop, or their girlfriends or wives refuse to talk to them,” he says, tongue firmly in cheek.