By M Ghazali Khan
On 8 January actress-turned-politician and Minority Affairs Minister, Smriti Irani shared several photographs on X (formerly Twitter) with the message, ‘[I] undertook a historic journey to Madinah today; one of Islam’s holiest cities, including a visit to [the] periphery of the revered Prophet’s Mosque, the mountain of Uhud, and [the] periphery of the Quba Mosque.’
Supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are portraying Irani’s Madinah visit as a triumph of Hindutva over Islam. Commenting on her message, a fan wrote, ‘You have shown true strength by not wearing [a] hijab in a staunch Muslim country. Kudos to you for that.’
Ms Irani was leading a delegation consisting of junior minister V Muraleedharan and officials from the ministries of Minority Affairs and External Affairs and is described by the Indian media as, ‘the first ever non-Muslim Indian delegation’ to the holy city.
The visit sparked a heated debate on social media. ‘The progeny of Al-Saud can do what they please to do in their Kingdom. But are the holy cities also part of their private wealth and property? In that case, as followers of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), are all Muslims also their subjects? Let them make it clear if the Harmain [the two sanctuaries] are site-seeing places,’ asked Dr Tasleem Rehmani, President of the Muslim Political Council of India, in his angry Facebook post written in Urdu.
Several other young social media activists have expressed their anger at the Indian Muslim leadership for not condemning the saga, the basis of which, they say, was Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman’s Vision 2023, under which the Kingdom is being drastically Westernised.
Some users even reposted an article from the Middle East Monitor (December 3, 2023) reporting that ‘a wave of apparent Saudi social media accounts have been promoting and calling for the return of ancient Arabian deities as part of the kingdom’s national heritage, amid the country’s push to replace its religious identity with a more nationalist one.’
The angry social media users said that the extraordinary treatment given to the BJP-led Indian government’s delegation would be used by the agents of the unabashedly anti-Muslim party in power as yet another example of its conquest of Islam.
The Saudi Government removed restrictions on non-Muslims visiting Madinah Munawwarah in May 2021. Many commentators expressed extreme disapproval of the delegation’s visit, as the majority of them, if not all, were non-Muslims. Many commentators were upset at the delegation being taken to Madinah, and Irani’s brazen disregard towards the Holy City, where she did not even bother to cover her head.
BJP leaders may be trying to show the tolerant face of Hindutva ideology [Hindu supremacist ideology] outside India by visiting Madinah, for example, however, with the general election approaching in the summer, anti-Muslim venom is being spewed more vehemently by its supporters. Islamophobic speeches by Hindutva leaders, many of them BJP members, are regularly posted on social media without any action against the perpetrators.
In contrast, Muslims are immediately punished without legal formality. In one such incident, following the example set by Hindutva’s Zionist friends in Israel, on 11 January, the house of a Muslim was demolished in Shajapur town in the BJP-ruled state of Madhya Pradesh, for an alleged incident of stone pelting at a Hindu religious procession passing through a Muslim area on 8 January. The procession’s participants chanted Islamophobic slogans that led to an argument and resulted in stone-pelting. Immediately, cases were registered against 25 Muslim youths, and the house of Rahim Patel, allegedly the ringleader, was bulldozed only four days after the incident of the alleged crime.
In another incident, a more than three-decade-old madrasa and mosque, Madrasa Gulshan Ahmed Raza, and Masjid Tahira, on Andheri Link Road in the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, was razed on January 14 as part of an effort to widen the road.
This month, the 150-year-old Sunehri Masjid, in Delhi, was facing a similar threat from the New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) and was saved after an intense campaign by Muslims and a petition filed by the Imam of the mosque, Abdul Aziz, in the New Delhi High Court.
Despite the Places of Worship Act 1991 in place, prohibiting any change in the status quo of a religious place as it was on 15 August 1947, cases filed by Hindutva campaigners were encouraged by the central and state governments. The Allahabad High Court admitted and is hearing cases filed by Hindutva campaigners to take possession from Muslims of the Gyanvapi Mosque in Varanasi and the Shahi Idgah Mosque in Mathura in Uttar Pradesh to construct Hindu temples on their sites. Meanwhile, Hindutva campaigners have made claims over the Jama Masjids of Budaun, Aligarh, Meerut, and other places in the state. Allahabad High Court set 17 January for the hearing of the Shahi Idgah Mosque.
Several cities with Muslim-sounding names have already been renamed and given Hindu names, while proposals have been passed by local bodies to rename other cities, including Aligarh and Ghaziabad, in Uttar Pradesh.
In December last year Home Minister Amit Shah, a convict in the Sohrabuddin murder case, who was also Gujarat’s Home Minister during the anti-Muslim riots in 2002, announced in a public meeting in West Bengal that the controversial and divisive Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), ‘is the law of the land and no one can stop it.’
Muslim women, particularly in Shaheen Bagh, Delhi, had staged massive sit-in protest against the CAA in December 2019.
On the other hand, a case against the minority (Muslim) character of the historic Aligarh Muslim University is already being heard by the Supreme Court. The Muslim community fears judgment that may deprive them of the famous institution founded on 7 January 1877, by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan (17 October 1817– 27 March 1898).
Amidst these developments, massive preparations are being made for the inauguration on 22 January of the so-called Rama Temple, built on the site of the demolished Babri Mosque in Ayodhya and being projected around the clock by shamelessly pro-BJP TV channels. The Babri Mosque was pulled down by frenzied Hindutva mobs on 6 December 1992, in the presence of heavy police and paramilitary forces and a full media glare.
In seven states public holiday has been declared for schools and government offices for this occasion. The day is being celebrated like Diwali, one of the main festivals in Hinduism. There are reports that saffron flags have been put up on Muslim shops by Hindutva terrorists who are looking for excuses to launch attacks on them in case any of them dares remove the flag.
Displaying his ever-increasing arrogance, Indresh Kumar, RSS leader and an accused of the Samjhauta Express blast in which 43 Pakistani citizens and 10 Indians were killed in 2007, has asked the Muslims to chant, ‘Shri Ram, Jai Ram, Jai Jai Ram’ to show their participation in the celebration.
Opposition politicians, including the General Secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge, have turned down the invitation to attend the ceremony and have accused Narendra Modi of using the ceremony to exploit Hindu sentiments and gain electoral mileage. According to the leader of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) Shivanand Tiwari, Modi is ‘more visible in Ayodhya than Lord Sri Ram.’
However, unmindful of how the Muslim community feels and what the sane voices in the country say, Modi proudly cites the anti-Muslim measures taken by his government as his achievements before his voters. So widespread are the Islamophobic feelings in the country that BJP supporters openly admit the failures of the Modi government but are content because ‘Modi ji ne Musalmano ko un ki auqat dikhadi.’ (Modi ji has shown the Muslims their right place.) Observers feel that, given the polarised situation in the country, Modi is set to win the third term.
How did Modi show Muslims their ‘right place?’ He launched this ‘mission’ with the savage anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat in 2002. He was then the Chief Minister of the state. Reporting the intensity of this violence, BBC’s Delhi correspondent Jill McGivering said: ‘British officials in India say the recent widespread violence in the Indian state of Gujarat was pre-planned and carried out with the support of the state government.’
She went on: ‘This leaked report is the result of an investigation into the Gujarat violence by British officials in India.
‘It is a damning indictment of the state government.
‘It says the violence, far from being spontaneous, was planned, possibly months in advance, carried out by an extremist Hindu organisation with the support of the state government.
‘The aim, it says, was to purge Muslims from Hindu areas, and it says at least 2,000 people died.
‘Reconciliation between Hindus and Muslims will be impossible, it concludes, while Gujarat’s chief minister remains in power.’
Like the Palestinians and the Uyghur Muslims, Indian Muslims feel abandoned by the Muslim world. They cite Saudi Arabia’s granting of the highest civilian award to Narendra Modi in 2016, followed by a reception for him by Iran in 2016 and then 2018, and being honoured by UAE in 2019 as examples of it. As for European countries, with an eye on India’s huge market, they had started courting Narendra Modi as far back as 2013 when he was Gujarat’s Chief Minister and the anti-Muslim and anti-Christian hatred spread by him had almost made it certain that he was going to be the next prime minister.
Smriti Irani’s Madinah visit with her head uncovered has added one more achievement to Narendra Modi’s list of triumphs against Muslims.