Harassment of Zafarul Islam Khan damaging India’s reputation abroad

Instead, his services should be used to bridge gap with Arab world

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Tuesday, May 12, 2020 - 21:08
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zafrul Rehman

Police raid on Dr. Zafarul Islam Khan’s residence in Delhi the other day is shocking news. It has grabbed international headlines, reinforcing global concern about Muslims of India. By harassing Khan, who is chairman of Delhi Minorities Commission, a constitutional body, the government is doing further damage to India’s image internationally, especially with the Arab and Muslim world. He represents India in Arab media. Name any Arabic TV channel, be it Al Jazeera or Al Arabia, when it comes to India one person they think of is Khan. And they do it not just because he can speak Arabic like an Arab, but also because he holds an independent view on contemporary world and is capable of articulating it.

After the demise of luminaries like Abul Hasan Ali Nadvi and Qazi Mujahidul Islam Qasmi, Khan is perhaps among very few individuals left in India who is personally known to Arab intelligentsia. He holds a constitutional position and, in the past, has held another significant position. He has headed thrice All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat, a federation of various Muslim organisations in India.

So, instead of belittling and vilifying him for holding a different viewpoint the government should co-opt him to mend ties with the Arab world which is at all time low. He is against the Hindutva bigots and not Hindus per se. He is critical of certain policies of the government and not the country. In fact he has been defending India in the Arabic media. He loves and cares for his country as anyone else.

One may agree or disagree with Khan’s decision to welcome Kuwait for its expression of concern about Muslims of India, but he cannot be denied his right to hold a particular view and express it publicly. A scholar has spoken out of his conviction. He may be criticised or challenged with a counter-view. But to target him and call him names is not the way a civilised and democratic society should run.

Display of hysteria by TV anchors and certain class of journalists is understandable – that they are guided by hatred for Muslims is a well-established fact – but slapping him with sedition charge and now sending police to his residence, that too when he was going to break his Ramzan fast, is over-reaction on the part of a government. It would further alienate the Muslim community. That the Special Cell of Delhi Police had to retreat without arresting Khan in the face of strong resistance shown by people of Okhla is reflective of the mood of the community.

I have spent full two decades in the Arab Gulf region. During this period of my stay Babri Masjid happened; Gujarat happened; and Kashmir has been happening. On all these occasions, and several such other occasions, the Gulf rulers, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the Arabic media as well as the Arab public rarely reacted. The people in the Arab world generally bought ‘India’s internal affair’ and ‘all is well with Muslims in India’ stance of the Indian government. Despite Pakistan having ‘brotherly’ ties with the Gulf rulers, it could not damage our pre-Islamic relations with the Arab and Muslim world.

As late as August last year when Narendra Modi government revoked Article 370 and converted Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state, into a virtual jail sending every notable Kashmiri behind bars, the Arab world maintained usual silence. As if to rub salt to the wounds of Kashmiris, UAE honoured Prime Minister Narendra Modi with country’s highest civilian award and Saudi Arabia hosted him for two days and let him go without enquiring from him about the well-being of its Kashmiri Muslim brethren. That was not all. The Saudis entered into the biggest investment deal with India that would see the setting up of an oil refinery in Rajasthan with Saudi money.

Why this sudden change in Arab world’s attitude? Instead of targeting one individual the policy-makers in the government and in the ruling party should do some soul-searching. Khan is not responsible for this. Blame it on Modi’s bakhts who can go to any extent when it comes to maligning Islam, Muslims and Arabs. What action the government has taken against BJP MP Tejasvi Surya; against the idiots who are abusing the hospitality of the UAE and other Gulf countries and causing damage to India’s interest; against the known individuals who master-minded anti-Muslim riot in Delhi this February that changed world view about India for ever; against Modi’s own ministers whose hate speeches make headlines globally?

Again, Khan is not responsible for the rare statement that has come from the OIC in which it urged India to take “urgent steps” to protect the rights of its minority Muslim community and stop the incidents of “Islamophobia” in the country. And a report, issued this past week by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) advising the State Department to put India on a religious freedom blacklist over a “drastic” downturn under Prime Minister Modi, is also not of Khan’s making.

Khan is an independent person. Unlike other Muslim leaders, he does not hold a particular ideology or belong to a political party. He may be used to bridge gap with the Arab and Islamic world and reach out to the OIC. The government has rejected the OIC statement. It’s a routine that all governments follow. This apart, we cannot afford to ignore OIC. Besides being an organisation of 57 countries, 53 of them Muslim majority, OIC also is a block of one-third of the UN members. We are part of a global family. We cannot live like North Korea or Cuba.

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