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Satanic Doodles

Sikandar, a 35-year-old St Stephen?s alumnus who prides himself on his secular views, carefully times his weekly Friday visit to the Jama Masjid to miss the Shahi Imam?s speech.

india Updated: Feb 12, 2006 02:07 IST
Zia Haq and Mayank Tewari
Zia Haq and Mayank Tewari

Sikandar, a 35-year-old St Stephen’s alumnus who prides himself on his secular views, carefully times his weekly Friday visit to the Jama Masjid to miss the Shahi Imam’s speech. But last week, stirred by an “attack on Islam”, he not only listened to the speech, but also kicked and spat on the Danish flag that had been made to be defaced on the Shahi Imam’s orders.

“I am completely aghast! How can someone insult a religion and get away with it on account of freedom of speech?” he cries. “Every time the image of a Hindu god is negatively projected in the Western world, there is an immediate outcry in India. Muslims support it because we respect all religions. More often than not, an apology is extracted. But in this case, instead of an apology, the European papers have reprinted the cartoons over and over again,” he laments.

That the Indian Muslim is seething with rage couldn’t have been more evident than on last Friday at the Jama Masjid. An effigy of Denmark filled with fireworks was ignited. Various signs strung to the gates screamed “Denmark Down Down.” And in what symbolised an ultimate clash of civilisations, children urinated upon on the flag while the elders spat upon it and pelted it with stones.

Voices converged in the vociferous condemnation of what was seen not just as a ‘sin’ on the part of the Danish newspaper, the Jyllands-Posten that published the cartoons, but also the whole of Denmark. Says 25-year-old Mohammed Imti Yazkhan, a school teacher, “The people of Denmark are supporting the paper by reading it, so they are anti-Muslim too.”

Speaking to Sunday HT, the Shahi Imam Maulana Syed Ahmed Bukhari emphasised that Muslims won’t take the insults lying low. “How can someone depict the Prophet? Incidentally, a second cartoon was published showing the Prophet disturbed by the protests against the first cartoon. What is the meaning of all this?” he asks.

Though he is opposed to violent protests, Shahi Imam Bukhari says he doesn’t condemn attacks on the embassies. “People will obviously get angry if their deepest and most pious sentiments are repeatedly hurt,” he says.

The caricatures, the Muslims believe, could not have come at a worse time. Feeling increasingly alienated in the global order, they refer to the Quranic couplet La Illaha Illalla Mahammadur Rasullulah, which means: Allah is the one and only God and Mohammed is his messenger. There can be no photographic representation of the Prophet, according to his own instructions. There cannot be any symbolic representation either. He is to be looked upon as the invisible friend, guide and philosopher by his followers.

Dr Anwar Alam Pasha, a lecturer at the the Urdu Centre, says considering the situation in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries, it is only “obvious that the cartoons were meant to provoke a reaction.”

Though Shahi Imam Bukhari didn’t refer to America in his Friday sermon, the Indian Muslim hasn’t entirely absolved President George W. Bush.

Dr. Laique Ahmed, 34, who participated in the Jama Masjid protests, says, “I am protesting against the American government for not condemning the cartoons.” He adds, “Bush supports Denmark and says it’s about freedom of speech, but he is in favour of the cartoons only because he is anti-Muslim. He is actually the head of the anti-Islam lobby in the world.”

While Bukhari plans to trigger peaceful protests all over the country, the imam of a northwestern Delhi mosque believes that the time is right for jehad. “If Muslims are bothered about their religion, they should call for a jehad when Islam is abused,” he says.

The outrage of the Indian Muslim however, remains muted compared to Muslims worldwide, and doesn’t show signs of escalating into a jehad as of now. Despite the heartburn, there have only been sporadic protests and they were certainly not as violent as those in West Asia.

An imam opines, “Religion does matter as much to an Indian Muslim. But we have been tamed by hostility.” Asked what he meant by “hostility”, he leaves for his parapet inside the mosque with an open-ended line: “An atmosphere not conducive for the good of Muslims and Islam.”

Says a senior bureaucrat, “Indian Muslims don’t have a voice. They are subdued and not united on religious and political issues. This is why you will never see orchestrated protests.”

But though the moderates may not take to the streets and cry murder, they aren’t convinced with the ‘freedom of expression’ argument. “Muslims need to protest but not in an extreme manner,” says another bureaucrat, citing Saudi Arabia’s appeal to Muslims not to turn violent.

Moderate or extreme, the Indian Muslim asserts that he won’t allow his sentiments to be trampled upon. For Yazkhan, there was only one way the people of Denmark could prove to him that they are not anti-Muslim — “They should be with us and protest against the cartoons.”

Ahmed has a more severe retribution in mind: “If they arrest the leaders of the newspaper and the cartoonists responsible and hang them, then the problem will be solved.”

(With inputs from Meenal Dubey and Matthew Weir)

First Published: Feb 12, 2006 02:07 IST