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Recognising those differences

In several essays, Tabish Khair tries to address the distorted perceptions of the Muslim world., writes Zia Haq.
Hindustan Times | By Zia Haq, New Delhi
UPDATED ON APR 01, 2008 05:30 PM IST

Muslim Modernities

Tabish Khair


RS 295* PP302

What do you think is the most impressive streak in post 9/11 Muslim history? Sometimes, questions complex as this one - are their own answers.

The answer to the above existential question is that Muslims are monotheists but the Prophet Mohammad's men are not, and never were, a monolithic community. This, despite the dogma of the ummah.

Muslims are monotheists and, some would have us believe, that is where the similarities between Mohammad's men and Muslims begin. But that is also where the similitude abruptly ends. All of this essentially relates to identity. Who is a Muslim? What does he or she do? Do all Muslims pray? Does he or she feel about the modern world the same way as non-Muslims do? And in all of this, where does the Indian Muslim stand?

Tabish Khair attempts to answer questions like these through his essays put together like mechanical parts on an assembly line. However, here's the bottomline: if you are a Muslim in today's world, your opinion will depend on where you live. Khair is associate professor at the University of Aarhus, Denmark. He seems to be sucked into the same dilemma that many Muslim 'Modernites' today find themselves in.

Educated and advantaged, Muslims like him run the risk of being disowned by the ummah as an unbelieving, half-hearted follower. On the flipside, such Muslims are often looked upon suspiciously by non-Muslims as being unfairly sympathetic to the ummah. Indeed, for most Muslims, such a balancing act has become central to their existence. In several essays, Khair tries to address the distorted perceptions of the Muslim world. "Islamic terrorism" or "Muslim terrorists" are now generic terms.

One wonders if these would appear as entries in the expanding pages of Oxford English dictionaries. A very painful example is mentioned by the author early on in the book. In the essay, '9/11: Coffee and Conscience', for instance, Khair writes on how as news of two hijacked planes ploughing into the World Trade Centre broke out, speculation came riding on brandings like 'Muslims', 'Islamists' or 'Arabs'.

Few fingers pointed to specific terror organisations like al-Qaeda. Contrast this to the reaction of an educated Muslim doctor (the author's father) in Bihar: "How could anyone do it?" 'Anyone' stood for just about anybody When the world used terms like 'Muslims', the author could feel his father being "put in the dock".

All Muslims felt that way. If misleading terms like Islamic terrorism abound in today's world, then coinages like 'Mulsim Modernities' also deserve be part of the post-9/11 lexicon. That is Khair's principal thesis. The truth is, it is difficult to guess who the winner will be in the endgame between the West and so-called 'Islamic terror'.

The battle is not even half way through. However, it's abundantly clear who the loser will be: Muslims, like Khair and his father, who think this is definitely not their war.

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