Towards a New Cosmopolitan Muslim Mindset

During one of my recent summer trips to India, an incident in the Mewat region…

During one of my recent summer trips to India, an incident in the Mewat region of Haryana reported in a local newspaper caught my attention. A road accident had escalated into a communal riot between Muslims and Hindus. Media reports quoted local observers, including police officials, who expressed surprise at the amount of firing that had emanated from a specific Muslim neighborhood and the quantity of weapons and arsenal that had been stockpiled in the households. What was disturbing to me, from a very neutral sociological standpoint, was that a road accident had degenerated into a communal riot and had created so much social chaos.

Among other things, this incident was, for me, symptomatic of a lack of what may be called “communal integration” in Indian society. In a diverse society like India, where the national motto itself is Unity in Diversity, the lack of integration in terms of an inter-religious social cohesion is fraught with great risk.

Loss of empathy stemming from a lack of proper socialization of individuals in free societies always risks engendering group violence –the worst kind of chaos, as we have been witnessing only too often. When we use the word chaos we are not just using a Greek word, we are decontextualizing a term that had deeper cosmogonic and ontological associations for the ancient Greeks. As Suzanne Strauss Art explains, “In ancient Greece, cosmos meant order and harmony, the opposite of chaos. Today, cosmos refers to the universe (which the Greeks considered to be orderly), and cosmopolitan means ‘citizen of the world’ (someone not restricted by local prejudices).”

While ancient Greeks defined chaos through its opposite, its binary counterpart cosmos, a new societal cosmopolitanism seems to be the need of the hour today. If India wants to foster harmony and the kind of social discipline and public order that it deserves,the question of authentic inter-religious integration especially will have to be addressed.

 Recognizing Ideology as the Source of the Divide

 The trauma of the Islamic invasions, the destruction of thousands of Hindu, Jain and Buddhist places of worship all across the Subcontinent, and the ethnic cleansing of Hindus and Sikhs from Muslim majority regions during and after partition all have much less to do with the Hindu-Muslim divide in in India’s body politic today than the ideological gulf separating political Islam from cultural Hinduism.

Historically, certain fundamental ideological differences have compounded the relationship of Islam, an Abrahamic religion, with the native dharma based indigenous religions of India. One core difference between Islam and the native religions of the east is that the latter are more individualistic in their social mechanics in that they place primary emphasis on the personal aspect of an inner, individual self-actualization.

Self-discovery and liberty to choose from a diversity of paths for the existential unfoldment of one’s layered being to its full potential vis à vis a universal transcendent divine are central to their philosophies, while Middle Eastern faiths traditionally have not been configured to brook or even recognize this concept of the validity of a diversity of pathways to a universal transcendent divine.

 The dharmic systems are thus first and foremost malleable philosophical streams more than anything else,while the Middle Eastern religions, as organized monoliths, have historically functioned to emphasize unquestioning faith, belief in a one and only “correct” book, proselytization, conversion, and the “saving” of the other’s soul, often with no qualms about projecting their respective satans onto the gods of others.

The latter have thus historically emphasized control of behaviours, through centralized external power structures as well as internalized fears of sin and inducements of their respective non-negotiable conceptions of “heaven”and “truth.”


Efforts to resolve the Hindu Muslim divide will not be fruitful without taking cognizance of its genesis in ideology and without duly recognizing the space/spaces of “tolerance” conceded by each thought system.

Within the context of their ideological différence, one cultural practice that has historically caused friction between Islam and the native eastern religions such as Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism is the annual ritual mass slaughter of animals for the Id ul Zuha festival.

This is the biggest Eid or celebration of the Muslim calendar. It is also known as Eid ulAzha, Eid al Azha, Id ulAdha, QurbaniEid, Eid al Kabir, Bakr Eid or Bakri Eid.

It was observed on September 25 in South Asia this year.

Islam enjoins upon its adherents the obligation to sacrifice animals by slaughtering them in the prescribed halal manner.

Media reports on the internet indicate the scale of the slaughter and the zeal with which this religious duty is carried out by the faithful across the world. Hundreds of millions of animals are ritually killed. More than 1.2 million cattle are sacrificed in Dhaka city alone on Eid day. In Karachi, the number is estimated at 1.5 million.

Decoding the Politics of Beef

Traditionally, in South Asia, goats and sheep have been popular as the sacrificial animals of choice. For this reason this Id is commonly known as BakraId in India. In India especially, goats and sheep have been the most common animals for this purpose.

Several reasons probably contributed to this. This may not just have been due to the ban on cow slaughter imposed by the Mughal Emperor Akbar or because goats cost less than cows. The word bakra in Hindi and Urdu means goat.

In Arabic however, which is the source language of Islamic teachings and the language of the Koran, the word baqra/baqarah signifies cow, not goat.

This linguistic ambivalence stemming from bakra/baqrain the context of BakraId may possibly be the reason why most Muslims in India have historically celebrated the festival of “cow”sacrifice by slaughtering goats.

Interestingly, in the original Biblical story of Abraham/Ibrahim however,which the Muslim sacrifice festival of Id ulAzha celebrates/replicates, the animal sacrificed by Abraham as a substitute for his son at the last minute was neither a cow nor a goat but a ram.

In fact, the Koran itself mentions nowhere that Muslims must eat beef (“The eating of the flesh of duly slaughtered cows is a permission in Shariah, not a Command”).

However, in recent times, in Muslim communities all across South Asia, as many Muslims reorient themselves culturally through a more Arabized identity – the spread of hijabs and abayas being just one example of this reorientation – the sacrifice of bigger animals such as cows, buffaloes and camels has gained greater currency and desirability, partly due to the prestige attached to the cultural practices of the rich Arab countries but also in part, in all fairness, due to greater material prosperity in South Asia itself.

In the Indian context, this is a very tricky proposition, for if Islam enjoins the slaughter of animals, and if Arabization renders the cow the de rigueur sacrificial animal, the dharma based religions of the East (Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism) ideologically hold all life sacred and recognize the emotional intelligence of animals.

Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism in particular see the cow as among the most sacred or venerable forms of life as symbols of unconditional giving and of motherhood and consequently value its protection.The current controversies and clamour regarding cow slaughter rights and cow slaughter bans are thus a symptom of a growing schism.

Today, even if more people in India have “turned non-veg” and eat more meat including beef pursuant to the so called “pink revolution” foisted upon the country by the previous UPA government, the ritual mass sacrifice of bigger animals in already dense public spaces like neighborhood colonies and streets or closed spaces like mosques or Muslim community centers is unlikely to sit well with the rest of the population that is, in its paradoxical modernity, increasingly getting interested in animal rights even as it embraces personal “freedom of diet” as a sacrosanct personal freedom just like it espouses personal freedom of speech as an inviolable personal right.

This may be seen as yet another paradox of modern India. Western style animal rights awareness and movements have grown despite the seemingly declining numbers of vegetarians in the middle class population. Compasssion and concern for animals are now increasingly center stage even in the meat eating milieu.

If these trends continue to amplify in India, it will have two implications.

First, it will signify greater Arabization (and possibly radicalization) amongst the Muslims of India and second, the secularists’ crafty (mis)appropriation of beef as a favored cause to flagellate Modi with notwithstanding, it will ultimately accentuate the divide between people following Islam and people following the Eastern religions.

Three Models of Integration

Most Indians believe that India’s efforts after partition to integrate Muslims have always hinged on policies excessively and unduly unfair to Hindus by extracting from India’s Hindu majority extraordinary concessions and accommodation which would be absolutely unacceptable in any other part of the world.

These efforts have always pivoted on the construct of the Muslim as a special citizen.This can been seen in every policy matter ranging from the double standards propping the unconscionably discriminatory Article 370 in Kashmir to the government funding of madrassas and the stipends given to imams and mullahs (as opposed to government appropriation of temple revenues and control of Hindu shrines), from the Muslim Personal Law which enables Muslim men the right to practice polygamy (and deprives Muslim women of basic universal human rights revolving around inheritance and alimony) to the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s assertion that Muslims have the first rights to all of India’s resources, and to everything else in between.

The absence of any effort to bring down the explosive Muslim population growth rate to bring it on par with the growth rate of rest of the population and the abatement of large scale illegal Muslim immigration from neighbouring Bangladesh for vote bank politics are yet other manifestations of fake and counter-productive attempts at Muslim integration which have not helped India or its social fabric at all.

Nehruvian Secularism, which basically exploited Muslim identity and perpetuated a dangerous mythology of Muslim exceptionalism for political gain, has failed miserably in bringing about positive inter-religious unity.

China, on the other hand, presents an altogether different model of Muslim integration.

In 2014, China banned Muslim state employees in Xinjiang from fasting during the Islamic fasting month of Ramzan/Ramadan, ostensibly to enable state workers to discharge their duties effectively and professionally.

This workplace related rule is however inscribed within the framework of China’s some-carrot-and-mostly-stick approach to quell Uighur/Muslim separatism.

The banning of Islamic garments in public transport in the province is another manifestation of this approach to integration.

Swift execution of Uighur perpetrators of street violence and terrorist attacks is yet one more component of China’s toolkit of measures to integrate its Uighur Muslim population.

China bans fasting during Ramadan

Curiously, the widely reported news concerning the ban on Ramadan fasting did not elicit much reaction or criticism from the “secular” brigade in India or even from the so-called Muslim countries for that matter.

However, had something similar even been proposed in India or a Western country, one can be sure reactions would have been tempestuous. The fact of the matter is that few societies can afford to foster integration à la Chine, i.e. through brute force.

So what can India do?

The answer may lie in a futuristic third model which involves the fostering of a new spirit of cosmopolitanism.

A recent communiqué entitled “Peace must prevail inside and outside” issued by global humanitarian Sri Sri Ravi Shankar to mark the International Day of Peace articulates certain critical aspects of the Indic point of viewwhich ought to be a starting point for all future conversations about the kind of cosmopolitanism India should foster for its future generations. These ideas are all the more significantin as much as that the Indic point of view is a minority point of view vis-à-vis various other mono-dimensional ideologies of the world. I have extracted seven points that I see as eminently germane to the formation of not just a new Indian cosmopolitanism, but also a new global cosmopolitanism:

  1. With the right understanding and right education, peace can prevail.
  2. It is the lack of belongingness and ignorance of other traditions that gives rise to conflict and fanaticism.
  3. Truth is so vast that one perspective alone cannot contain it.
  4. We can end fanaticism through education.
  5. What children need is a multicultural and multi-religious education in order to have a broader vision about life.
  6. If children know a little bit about all other religions, and they grow up seeing all these as part of one divinity, they will not be easily indoctrinated.
  7. If children are made to realize from a young age that divinity is within each and every one of us, they will not become fanatics.

A new cosmopolitan spirit brought about through such education is imperative if India wishes to usher in and sustain a new era of authentic ‘Unity in Diversity’ and rapid economic development in which human values will supersede ideology.

India’s ancient spiritual wisdom already provides the inspiration and the metalanguage for this, and this civilizational strength can play a big part in fostering a new consciousness of cosmopolitanism in every child, of every community.

This is a very practical, wise and desirable approach for realising true societal integration and can usher in a new spirit of universal cosmopolitan brotherhood not just in the country but the whole world, but it will require a courageous overhaul of the education system.

The cultivation of a cosmopolitan worldview has to be made an explicit objective of every education program, but especially of a madrassa curriculum, if India wants a future free of chaos for itself.

Officially, Muslims make up about 14 per cent of India’s population today. In 1947, the Muslim community was merely 7-8 per cent of India’s population. In many parts of the country like Western UP, Bengal, Kerala and Assam, Muslims currently make up more than 25 per cent of the population.

The Modi Government’s first budget announced in 2014 included 100 crore rupees for the modernisation of madrassas, religious schools where millions of Muslim childrenare schooled.

The initial media reports have been very sketchy about what the “modernization of madrassas” will involve. While science and technology have been invoked, no mention has been made with regard to fostering a consciousness of cosmopolitanism, something indispensable to non-violence and stability in multicultural societies.

A critical ancillary to this model of integration is a Uniform Civil Code.

Having separate legal codes and separate personal laws for people of different religions and communities is an outrageous anachronism which has only served to keep India backward and divided.

It is time for India to scrap the Muslim Personal Law and bring both its Muslim and its non-Muslim population within the ambit of a common set of civil laws. This structural change will be especially empowering for Muslim women who make up 7 percent of India’s population.

A Uniform Civil Code will serve the cause of a new Indian cosmopolitanism in very positive ways.

Shonu Nangia is an academic, linguist, and translator-interpreter by training and works as an Associate Professor of Foreign Languages at LSU-Alexandria (USA) where he teaches French and Spanish. His scholarly work has appeared in Electronic Journal of Foreign Language Teaching, Michigan Academician, Folia Linguistica et Literaria, The Journal of College Writing, Louisiana Communication Journal, and a host of other places. He is also the author of the book Male-Female Relations in the Literary Maghreb: Poetics and Politics of Violence and Liberation in Francophone North African Literature by Tahar Ben Jelloun. He also enjoys organizing film festivals and yoga and meditation workshops.
  • _chAyA_

    to put it politely the author has shown his ignorance of how a monotheism infested mind works. suggestion tht a “cosmopolitan” education will cure monotheism is laughable. were 9/11 attackers illiterate? as soon as UCC talks are initiated, it will be hindus on ground who will bear the brunt of monotheist attacks. while people like him will be far away from harm.

  • Brabantian

    Shonu Nangia is right about the Uniform Civil Code … But it’s naive to think that themes of ‘cosmopolitanism’ etc can be directly marketed to Muslims being swayed by massive media & Saudi-funded schools, in this hour when Muslims feel they are ‘winning’ a conquest of Europe thanks to Germany’s Merkel … It’s also odd to cite animal sacrifice horrors when so many Hindus themselves still do such things to non-cows in various parts of the Hindu world.

    And it’s a huge error for Hindus to fall into the trap of ‘all religions are similar – equal’ etc. The fight against Muslim & Abrahamic extremism can indeed be won but in a different way. Abrahamic religions are always in the end undermined as people realise they are brutal & oppressive (cf modern Europe abandoning Christianity), as they see the better life & mentality of non-Abrahamics

    Some difficult truths:

    (1) All Abrahamic religions are intrinsically extreme given their violent holy books of Talmud-Bible-Qur’an with their themes of slavery, conquest, child mutilation, ‘God-ordered’ genocides, ‘eternal hell’ terrorism & many other barbarities … extremism which needs legal push-back from governments

    (2) Even Islam itself, like Christianity & Judaism, was developing into more modernised, less harmful forms ‘forgetting’ the barbaric holy books, before Western oligarch powers began sponsoring renewal of extremist versions of all 3 of the ‘desert bloc’ faiths

    (3) Western oligarchs essentially created extremist Islam, starting with the British installing of brutal fanatic Wahhabis to rule Saudi Arabia in early 1900s … who have led and financed the transformation of Islam back into something more barbaric

    (4) Western oligarchs also sponsored extremist Jewish Zionism as the partner of extremist Islam, and a new phase of extremist Christians centred in the USA, now continually attacking & harassing Hindu India … going along with the always corrupt & extreme Vatican Christianity from Rome

    (5) A huge mistake of India is thinking Israel is a ‘friend’ to Hindus, when they are actually secret allies of Saudi Arabia, & Zionists sponsor Islamic extremism in order to prop up their own status … with India falling heavily into this trap … whilst other Indians fall into another Jewish-founded extremist creation, atheistic anti-spiritual Marxism

    (6) Long-term undermining of Islamic extremism, can come from Hindus being resolute & strong in Enlightenment values arising from the ancient dharmic traditions, even when this means annoying the non-dharmic aggressive religious minorities … ‘preference’ & legal bias & indulgence towards non-dharmic operations, terrorising conversionists, etc, needs to be entirely scrapped

    (7) Hindus need to be strong, self-confident warriors like Arjuna, not looking for external ‘fans’, such as USA or Israel, who will abuse & not benefit India … plus Hindus need to clean their own house of non-dharmic horrors (death penalty, caste abuse & abuse of women)

    By Hindus showing a better, more enlightened life, and being legally firm, then Muslim aggressiveness in India will itself fade once geo-politics brings to an end the Saudi influence & the support of Abrahamic extremism by the Western oligarch powers (led by US-UK-Israel).

  • Balakrishnan Hariharan

    Sir, The ‘Intellectual Kshatriya’ (late) Shri Ram Swarup [Nehruvian secular India will never know of this intellectual for obvious reasons !!], in his seminal work, ” Understanding Islam through the Hadis ” (1984), wrote : ” Islam is by nature fundamentalist; and this Fundamentalism in turn is aggressive in character. Islam claims to have defined human thought and behaviour for all time to come; it resists any change, and it feels justified in imposing its beliefs and behavious patterns on others “.

    Shri Ram Swarup, in his other classic – ” Hindu View of Christianity and Islam ” (1992),wrote :

    ” The spiritual equipage of Islam and Christianity is similar, their spiritual contents, both in quality and quantum, are about the same. The central piece of the two creeds is ‘ONE TRUE GOD’, of masculine gender who makes himself known to his believers through an equally single favoured individual. – – The whole prophetic spirituality, whether found in the Bible or the Koran, is mediumistic in essence. Here everything takes place through a proxy, through an intermediary. Here man knows God through a
    proxy; and probably God too knows man through the same proxy. The proxy is the favoured individual, a privileged mediator. – – . There are other similarities of the same fundamental kind into which we need not go here. But none of them are calculated to promote peace. The seeds of conflict, not only amongst the ‘believers’ but also with the rest of the world, lie at the very heart of these two ideologies. Each of the two is presided over by a ‘bellicose God’, each chief of his own hosts; each claims sole sovereignty. A larger charity and mutual respect and even tolerance, and co-existence cannot be strong points of such theologies ”
    Samuel Huntington in his ‘Clash of Civilizations’ thesis wrote :

    ” Islam’s borders are bloody and so are its innards ”

    Says it all. Happy Deepavali

  • disenfranchisement of muslims.

  • Maharashtra constable stabbed because government enforced beef ban law’, hunt on for maulana

    Maharashtra constable stabbed to ‘avenge beef ban’, hunt on for maulanaWhile stabbing him, an angry Malik allegedly shouted, “Tumhari government beef ban karti hai, toh yeh lo

    Guess what: No media outrage

  • Dr. MS

    Here is one more reason why we need “Universal Civil Code” without any other alternative laws for special groups. Even with Shariah law there are those who go above the law because they think Shariah law does not go far enough in punishing women who digress from male authority, rules and patriarchal commands. Such is the mentality. Read On…

    Afghan Mullah Leading Stoning Inquiry Condones Practice
    NOV. 7, 2015

    After men believed to be Taliban fighters forced a 19-year-old named Rukhshana into a freshly dug pit and methodically stoned her to death for adultery, a video of the killing surfaced on the Internetand incited outrage.

    Western embassies and human-rights groups denounced the attack as another example of abusive treatment of women by the Taliban. President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan called it a “heinous act” and ordered an investigation, sending a delegation to the central province of Ghor, where the attack took place.

    One of the leaders of that presidential delegation, however, is a prominent, pro-government mullah who believes the stoning and flogging of adulterers is perfectly justified — as he made clear both in a sermon on the Ghor killing at Friday Prayer and in a subsequent interview on Friday.

    “If you’re married and you commit adultery, you have to be stoned,” said the mullah, Maulavi Inayatullah Baleegh, during his sermon at Pul-e Khishti mosque, Kabul’s biggest, on Friday. “The only question was whether this was done according to Shariah law, with witnesses or confessions as required,” he said. “It is necessary to protect and safeguardIn the interview later, Maulavi Baleegh also declined to criticize the Taliban over the Ghor stoning or to give an opinion on whether aShariah trial held by the insurgents would be considered religiously valid. “Do you want me to have a fight with the Taliban?” he said, when a reporter asked about the Taliban role in the killing, and he declined to say anything further about the insurgents’ actions.

    Maulavi Baleegh, who is a prominent member of the National Ulema Council, the country’s highest religious authority, and is an adviser to Mr. Ghani on religious affairs, said he was told he would lead the presidential investigating commission when it goes to Ghor this week.

    His theological support for the sort of stoning he is being sent to investigate is emblematic of the national conundrum over the role of Shariah law, particularly when it comes to punishment for so-called moral crimes. The Afghan Constitution recognizes Shariah as well as civil law, but a presidential decree known as the Elimination of Violence Against Women Act, issued in 2009 but never ratified by Parliament, outlawed the stoning and flogging of adulterers.

    The anti-violence law is simply ignored in many parts of the country, and by some of its highest authorities — including Maulavi Baleegh, who considers it invalid. The act also outlaws polygamy, for instance, but many Afghan men have more than one wife, and new plural marriages are still legally recognized.

    The stoning in Ghor took place on Oct. 25, in a Taliban-controlled area in Chaghcharan District, where the provincial capital is, according to Abdul Hadi Chelghori, head of the provincial police department’s criminal investigation division. He said the stoning of Rukhshana, as well as the flogging of a young man named Mohammad Gul, 22, whom she had tried to run away with, were ordered by three well-known Taliban mullahs from the area, two of whom are also insurgent military commanders, Afghan officials said.

    “There was no court to decide this,” said a member of Parliament from Ghor, Sayed Nader Shah Bahr. “They simply brutally stoned the girl to death and lashed the boy.”

    The governor of Ghor Province, Seema Joyenda, one of only two female governors in Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, said that Rukhshana had left her husband, but only because she had been illegally forced to marry him.

    As a child, she had been engaged to a different, much older man. But when she reached marriageable age, she refused the union and ran away with Mr. Gul instead.

    “Rukhshana was a pretty girl and had studied until Grade 6,” Governor Joyenda said. “She was literate and pretty, that was why everyone wanted to marry her, but she would not allow herself to be married to anyone against her will.”

    Caught and brought back to her village, she still refused the first arranged marriage, so as punishment her family forced her instead to become the third wife of a 55-year-old man. Again, she ran away with Mr. Gul, and again they were caught.

    Since Mr. Gul was not himself married, he was given the lesser punishment of 100 lashes and sent home, where a relative said he was still recovering from his wounds. (The relative, reached by telephone, asked not to be named because of fear of Taliban reprisals.) Because Rukhshana, who goes by just one name, was married, the Taliban condemned her to death by stoning.

    Rukhshana was put in a deep but narrow circular pit, so that just her head protruded. On the video she could be heard crying, over and over again, “Dear God,” as rock after rock was thrown at her head from close range, mostly by men wearing Taliban-style black turbans. During the ordeal, she could also be heard reciting the Shahada,

    Two child brides in a government-held part of Ghor, ages 13 and 14, fled their husbands in 2010 and were forcibly returned by the police, then flogged in public. In 2012 in Ghazni Province’s Jaghori District, a government-held area that claims a progressive attitude toward girls’ education and women’s rights, a 15-year-old girl was lashed 101 times after she was accused of having sex with a local tailor, because she was seen alone with him in his shop for a few minutes. After the flogging, she was examined by a doctor and found to still be a virgin. She was left permanently disabled from hip injuries caused by the lashes. The men who flogged her were never punished.

  • Dr. MS

    In the 21st century, in a so called modern secular democracy, who would oppose a “Uniform Civil Code”? This should have been pursued more than 50 years ago. It is as if many Indians are saying, “Ah yes…we understand your culture allows you to beat women who you think are not behaving obediently, subserviently and cooperatively to your male authority. Hence we will give you your own law.” Or, “Yes…we understand your religion or sect or culture does not permit girls to be educated, girls to remain single way past 21 or 25, and you feel you have the right to attack single women, divorced women or widowed women as a form of punishment or entertainment…so we will give you your own law to protect these extremist views”. Only stupid Hindu men stood around for decades nibbling their thumbs on such matters.

    “A Universal Civil Code”, rooted in facts, research, science, modernity, women’s rights, human rights, should have been brought to law, implementation and enforcement decades ago.

    It is unfortunate we have waited this long…Maybe our Hindu feudal idiots craved for bigamy or polygamy secretively, or wanted to see their wives and sisters in purdha, or to keep their women as “servants and slaves” so they did not bother to fight for a Universal Civil Code that would have improved the status of women decades ago.

    This is a no-brainer. Anyone who opposes A Universal Civil Code, rooted in research, facts, science, modernity and a sensible definition of culture (that is fair, humane and caring), is an idiot or a traitor.


    A very narrow minded fascist article. Any prrrrooooof? Don’t abuse.

  • subodh1945

    brilliant article , goes into great detail