Islam is a religion of “faith and peace”, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Thursday, stressing the fight against terrorism is not a confrontation against any religion.
Modi’s remarks came at a time his right-wing government is facing criticism over alleged religious and political intolerance.
“Of the 99 names of Allah, none stand for force and violence and the first two names denote compassionate and merciful,” Modi said at World Sufi Forum, in apparent bid to reach out to Muslims.
The Opposition and a section of the intelligentsia are critical of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and Congress president Sonia Gandhi has accused the “ruling establishment” of abetting an “atmosphere of fear, intolerance”.
The PM has been criticised for not speaking out on attacks on minority communities, and irresponsible comments by some BJP lawmakers have drawn flak.
“We must reject any link between terrorism and religion. Those who spread terror in the name of religion are anti-religious,” Modi said at the Sufism meet.
Modi said when the spiritual love of Sufism, not the violent force of terrorism, flows across the border, this region “will be the paradise on earth”.
Here are five other instances when Modi reached out to minorities.
Hate speeches by Sangh leaders and the ghar-wapsi (religious conversion) campaign sparked a debate within months of Modi taking charge in May 2014.
A series of attacks on Christian properties in Delhi made matters worse.
Modi faced criticism for his silence, and the New York Times asked : “What will it take for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to speak out about the mounting violence against India’s religious minorities.”
In February 2015, Modi broke his silence, pledging to uphold the freedom of faith and crack down on inciters of sectarian tensions.
“My government will ensure that…everyone has the undeniable right to retain or adopt the religion of his or her choice without coercion or undue influence,” Modi said at a gathering of the Christian community in Delhi.
A 71-year-old nun was gangraped at a missionary-run school in Nadia district of West Bengal in March 2015, an incident that sent shock waves across the country. Around the same time, an under-construction church was vandalised in Haryana.
“PM is deeply concerned about the incidents in Hisar, Haryana (the church attack) and Nadia, West Bengal,” the Prime Minister’s Office tweeted amid outrage.
“PMO has asked for immediate report on facts & action taken regarding the incidents in Haryana & West Bengal.”
In May, Modi said in an interview with Time magazine that the focus of his government is inclusive growth.
“Take everybody together and move toward inclusive growth. Wherever a [negative] view might have been expressed [about] a minority religion, we have immediately negated that.
“So far as the government is concerned, there is only one holy book, which is the constitution of India. The unity and the integrity of the country are the topmost priorities. All religions and all communities have the same rights,” Modi said.
In an interview with UNI, Modi stressed his agenda of ‘Sab ka saath, sab ka vikas (Together with all, progress for all)’, and said his government stood for every one of the 1.25 billion Indians regardless of caste or creed.
The PM described anti-minority comments by some leaders “unfortunate” and “uncalled for”.
“Our Constitution guarantees religious freedom to every citizen and that is not negotiable. I have said this before and I say it again: any discrimination or violence against any community will not be tolerated,” he said.
Modi told a delegation of Muslim leaders that he will be available even at midnight to address their concerns.
Modi discussed social, economic and educational issues related to Muslims with a 30-member delegation led by Umer Ahmed Ilyasi, chief imam of the All India Imam Organisation.
“The Prime Minister told me that his doors would be open to us even at 12 in the night to discuss any issues and concerns of the Muslims. He said, ‘I give you my word, I will respond if you knock on my door at midnight’,” Ilyasi told HT.
Modi said he “neither believes in politics which seeks to divide people on communal lines, nor will he ever speak communal language”, a statement from his office said.