Imbued in ‘Sarva Dharma Sambhav’, India adheres to the principle of secularism both in spirit and law

India has been a melting pot of culture, religion, faith, caste and creed. This is the reason that when India got independence from British on August 15, 1947, the country’s leaders chose to stay away from making it a theological state or having religion as the basis of its day-to-day conduct. Imbued in the ethos of ‘Sarva Dharma Sambhav’ (all religions are one), India has stayed the course with the principle of secularism both in spirit and in law.

And this has never been compromised, no matter what the ideology has been of the leaders and parties that have ruled the country since independence. There is no state-enacted law that discriminates against people on the basis of faith and religion. There are constitutional provisions for equality of opportunities for all. The government has often expressed its commitment toward maintaining communal harmony in the country, and has taken steps - from statutory to legal to administrative to economic - to build an atmosphere of camaraderie and friendship among people of all faith.

It is disconcerting to see how misleading news and narratives marked by communal overtones are getting a currency of credibility in certain sections. Without verifying the facts, many people are nowadays tossing around words like Islamophobia, genocide and pogrom in the social media.

Tablighi Jamaat not the face of Islam in India

The trigger in the latest instance is to do with the Tablighi Jamaat, an Islamic movement. Members of the community held a large congregation in Delhi’s Nizamuddin beginning March 13. The meet was attended by over 3,000, including a large number of foreign nationals.

A larger number of people, Indians as well as foreign nationals, have since been identified as confirmed cases of coronavirus. To make matters worse, many of those who eventually tested positive for Covid-19 had already come in contact with a large number of other people, causing the infection to spread wider than it would possibly have in the normal course.

It is for this reason alone, that the Tablighi Jamaat has drawn widespread criticism from health authorities and state governments in India.

Respected Islamic clerics in India have repeatedly argued that the ‘Tablighi Jamaat,’ which has been held responsible for over 30 per cent rise in coronavirus cases in India, is not the face of Islam in the country. Those presenting a narrative which ends up creating disharmony in the Indian society appear to be missing the fact that Muslim leaders have themselves come forward to condemn members of the Tablighi Jamaat for not adhering to the healthcare reporting and quarantine guidelines put in place for India to slow the spread of Coronavirus.

Kamal Farooqui, who is a member of All India Muslim Personal Law Board, has gone on to ask Jamaat chief Maulana Sa’ad to “apologize to the community and the nation” for what he did by organizing the conclave. “He should take responsibility, come forward and own up to what has happened. This is the time we should have been fighting this together. Not making it difficult for others,” the AIMPB member said.

On the other hand, Imam of Lucknow-based Eidgah, Khalid Rashid Firangi Mahali has challenged Jamaat to come out clean on what happened at the Markaz, the global headquarters of Tablighi Jamaat, which is based in South Delhi. “It (Jamaat) has to be told very clearly that the Quran encourages you to research. The prophet himself has asked to take precautions, follow community guidelines at the time of crisis. It is non-Islamic to dishonor the efforts of doctors,” Firangi Mahali said.

In all, a message was passed around India that Tablighi Jamaat should have behaved responsibly during a time when the country and the world were fighting with deadly invisible enemy, coronavirus. Some people still say Jamaat is criticized because it is a Muslim outfit. Those who base their arguments along such communal lines, refuse to see that a highly contagious disease like coronavirus doesn't infect people on the basis of religion and faith. Rather it takes in its octopus grip those who refuse to maintain social distancing or personal hygiene.

Islamophobia is a misleading term

The talk about Islamophobia is only creating an exaggerated fear around members of the Muslim community at a time when India is trying to come together as one to minimize the further impact of Covid-19.

Isolated but repugnant incidents of mob lynching, the most recent being in Maharashtra’s Palghar where two persons later described as ‘sadhus’ (ascetics) lost their lives, are being used as examples of the rising intolerance in India. The fact that the two who lost their lives were not Muslims should drive home the point that what is being described in some quarters as Islamophobia is actually borne out of fear among the people that the disease will create havoc if guidelines of social distancing and quarantine where needed are not followed strictly.

Going back in time, we can take another look at how the Delhi violence of February was woven into the narrative of a government that was anti-Muslim in its approach.

Let's revisit the facts all over again

Of the 52 people killed in the riots, more than 20 belonged to the Hindu community. Unfortunately, the Delhi conflagration ended up being as anti-Muslim. This was despite Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s March 11 statement in the Lok Sabha in which he termed the Delhi riots, taking place between February 23-24, as conspiracy. The Delhi Police registered 254 FIRs and arrested 903 persons in connection with the violence in the national capital.