Good news about Muslims, Islam makes bad news?

VINUTHA MALLYA writes from Kuala Lumpur: Churumuri, of course, hasn’t carried even a word on the subject, but the “anti-terrorism” call sent out by one of the oldest and most orthodox Islamic seminaries in South Asia, the Dar-ul-Uloom in Deoband (Uttar Pradesh), has received scant square centimetres in our so-called “national newspapers”.

Which is so true to type: we are quick off the block when Dar-ul-Uloom decrees that co-education is “unlawful”. When it says television is sinful and un-Islamic and issues a fatwa against it, we shout from the rooftops.

Even when Muslim enrolment in Karnataka shows a rise, we somehow find a reason to suspect madrassas.

The irony is unmistakeable. Each time, there is a terror attack, every time, talking heads on television and other sage voices in print, believe that time has come for “moderate Muslims” to speak up. But when a major Muslim body—a “radical seminary” at that—states that terror is un-Islamic, silence, deafening silence!

The newspapers were perhaps exhausted after covering the arrests in Karnataka, of suspected ‘terrorists’ and the discovery of several camps in the forests.

Which is not to say there was nothing in the media. There was. On the morning after Dar-ul-Uloom declared that terrorism did not have credence in Islam, most newspapers dutifully reported in 300-500 words what we already knew—that terrorism has no sanction in the religion.

The only ‘news’ found to be worth reporting was that the February 25 conference was the first of its kind, which brought together Islamic scholars from across the country to discuss, define and condemn terrorism. If there was a debate within the august gathering while the landmark declaration was being formulated, it wasn’t considered important enough to be reported.

The editorials appearing over the next few days followed the same cursory tone. One suggested that this was an opportunity for groups of other faiths to start a dialogue with the ulema. Another hailed it for defining terrorism and for being the first Islamic institution of India, not to mention the most orthodox, to give such a declaration.

One said that along with the declaration the religious leadership should look at reforms within and focus on providing liberties to the community, and guide the “misguided youths”. Each leader writer and op-ed writer agreed on one thing: this was a first step and more needs to be done. But this is like motherhood and apple pie, who can disagree with these predictable reactions?

The only detailed reportage, in English, of the conference itself, and who-said-what-and-why, came from scholar Yoginder Sikand.

Almost all the angrezi reporters missed one key aspect: The deliberations at the conference were not intended to send out a message to the ‘terrorists’ to give up fighting in the name of the religion. Instead, it was a message to all those who have fallen in the trap of equating Islam with terrorism. So, while the convent-educated newspersons were euphoric, thinking that a “stand” had been taken by the respected scholars, the truth was that the ulema wanted to dispel perceptions which non-Muslims have about their religion.

In the declaration issued after the conference, titled ‘Concept of Peace And Condemnation of Terrorism in Islam’, the ulema have addressed all the scenarios of terrorist activities such as attacks on innocent people, hijacking of aircraft, and most importantly the concept of ‘Jehad’. Quoting extensively from the Koran to make their point, the scholars have tried to convince the finger-pointing Islamophobes about the peaceful and tolerant nature of Islam.

The document does not fail to bring up the classical conspiracy theory of the West and the Zionists against Islam. It labels the Indian media ‘subservient’ in its role by helping these ‘elements’ link Islam with terrorism, instead of being objective and neutral. Not to be outdone, the US Government sent a delegation to Deoband last week to show support and to make it known that contrary to perception the US is not ‘anti-Islam’.

On the point that the Indian media (by which one refers here to the English-language media) has not been objective and neutral, I agree with the ulema. But it is also reflective of the social milieu we are now part of. For the majority of non-Muslims, including journalists, Islam and its social and religious institutions are totally alien. Despite having co-existed for centuries, the majority of India is at a loss when it comes to figuring out this religion, which is now on the defensive. And the majority has stopped wanting to know. Unfortunately so have the journalists graduating from media schools, leaving it to the Urdu press to discuss these matters.

India is shining and the economy, Bollywood and urban lifestyles make for better copy and ‘breaking news’.

A negative story like arrests of suspected terrorists makes more headlines than examining the details of one of the largest conferences organized by an Islamic seminary. Not only does it take less home work to cover the arrests, but the sensational value of the story is an absolute gold mine!

But the poor coverage and analysis of the Dar-ul-Uloom “Terror is Un-Islamic” conference is not the only exhibit of how the Indian media is feeding the fears and fantasies of the middleclass masses.

Three days earlier to that, a bunch of Muslim MPs, cutting across party lines, proposed an alternative plan to do away with the Haj subsidy. At a time when the Andhra Pradesh government was facing criticism for considering subsidies to Christians similar to the Haj subsidy, this piece of news went unnoticed by everyone else and was reported only in The Telegraph, Calcutta, by Radhika Ramaseshan on February 22.

When the Centre rejects a proposal to hike Haj fares, we go ballistic. We ask why there shouldn’t be similar subsidies for Hindus going to Kailash-Mansarovar or Vaishnodevi, but when there is a proactive attempt by Muslim MPs themselves to do away with Haj subsidies, we go weak in the knees.

Is that because good news on Muslims makes bad news?

Also read: Where has all our compassion and tolerance gone?

Cross-posted on sans serif