Author: Saadut
•4:39 PM

Squeezing through the narrow staircase that led to this restaurant at Khan Market, I was with a journalist friend of mine. While the autumn back home in Kashmir was spreading an exquisite panoramic gold with a nimble touch of steadily invading cold, autumn in Delhi did not exist. They say Delhi has only two seasons; an extended summer tossed with odd monsoon sprinklings of dessert servings over furnace hot summer days, and a brief winter. And this was that kind of a day when Delhi heat for a Kashmiri was like a dripping sweat shower. 

The seemingly smudged wall paintings, cased in plastic frames that were cloned like wood, carried on walls like misfit clothes. Splurged fragrances of the coffee shop patrons that spread in mixtures over A/C vent air, and provided a strangely suffocating Delhi up- market smell, was trying to shout about the exclusiveness of this coffee shop, a crossbreed between a ‘south Delhi’ and ‘Lutyens Delhi’ identity. Identity less in fact. 

In one corner, by the wide glazed window glass, that overlooked lines of odd handing signboards over outlines of an overflowing parking lot, a middle aged woman in georgette whites was blowing smoke rings bigger than her shot hair head. For company, a young man was speaking animatedly with her, raising hands, drawing imaginary mid air, pulling theatrical facial expressions on long face with a dropping jaw, as if trying to convince the unconvincing. My affinity to smokers pushed me to the other far end, where the wall ended abruptly blind over another paining in another wood pretending plastic frame.

Half an hour into our coffee table talk, we had discussed and dissected Delhi and Kashmir weather and the pretending Khan market crowds (in no particular order), my friend dropped our coordinates over a phone call to one of his acquaintances. “You don’t mind if we are joined by this person I know?” he asks. “I have issues with it”. And about 20 minutes after the call, a past 30’ish man walks towards us, with dark goggles in a sunless restaurant, bow mustaches like those Harley Davidson gangs on TV, long hair thrown back like ends of a drooping willow and holes in pierced ear lobes that looked like extension sockets where more sound boxes could be connected. I was introduced to Mr. Zee. 

Over more coffee happened introductions, soon he was offering subtle questionnaires veiled in discussions about Kashmir and politics. His idea of terrorism in Kashmir against (his) greater India was anatomised and resold by me, to him, as Kashmiri resistance against political and economic deceit by India. While our talk charted courses, soon he started to dwell in length on how the Kashmiri society had slipped to some ‘separatist Islam’ by foreign influence. His ‘separatist Islam’ was a sort of revelation for me. I had always known that the Indian education system followed a convenient history syllabus, but was not this ‘Indian nationalistic history curriculum’ limited to basic school only? And here was this educated and socially privileged man with all information tools available, but still illiterate when it came to history of a region only 1 hour air travel distance from this place.  Did he not know that the struggle in Kashmir preceded even the mass conversions in Kashmir towards Islam, the struggle between the deprived majority and the feudal minority? While the majority had converted to Islam, the feudal stake holders had continued to be in aristocratic power in various forms over centuries. Had the masses not converted to Islam in Kashmir, they would still be resisting this oppression in present times. Where did his ‘separatist Islam’ theory fit in then?

As he was flogging Kashmir, I pointed to the exclusiveness and the discrimination Indian Muslims were facing in a country that was their home. While the destiny of Kashmir had still to be decided by Kashmiri’s, as per promises made by India and Pakistan before UN, the Indian Muslims had chosen their destiny with India in 1947, so why were they being treated as 3rd class citizens here? His reply included both an acceptance and denial; acceptance that some (just some?) Muslims were in exclusiveness and denial that the state was doing this to them. “Many of them still live under the influence of the Arabic Islam, hence they are not able to be a part of the secular Indian state” he said. “And what is the solution?” I asked. “Indian Islam” he was quick. I had never heard of the “Indian Islam” till then. What kind of an Islam was this? 

“Religious identities should not override secularism” he continued “When they see themselves as Indians first and Muslims later, they will be treated as equals in India”. “But were nationalism and religious identity not two different things?” I asked “would nationalism mean giving up on your right to faith, religious freedom and citizen equality in India?” 

“This is exactly what the Islamist nonsense that lower middle class, half-literate Muslims here are clinging to” came Mr. Zee. “Arab invasion of Islam has to be confronted by Indian Islam” he prodded, “in my family we respect all religions. My mother has paintings of Hindu deities adoring her walls, a Saraswati statue in our drawing room that she offers flowers daily morning to” (Saraswati is the Hindu goddess of learning) “we believe in a more inclusive Islam”.  “But does that not go against the very fundamental of Islam ‘there is no deity worthy of worship except the One True Almighty God’?” I asked. “That is just our respect for all religions” he came back. “But Quran is already specific about respecting other religions “(Al Quran 109:006) You have your faith, and I have mine!”

My journalist friend who till now had only made guest appearances in this discussion, interrupted “They also used to celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi when they lived briefly in Bombay” “Yes we used to have a Ganesh Puja at our home, still do attend such Pujas whenever I am in Bombay” Mr. Zee added.  “But respect did not mean transgression of faith” I said ‘[Al Quran 109:004] I shall never worship that which you serve so devotedly.’ And "Say: He is Allah,The One and Only. "Allah, the Eternal, Absolute."He begets not, nor is He begotten.And there is none like unto Him." [Al-Qur’an 112:1-4]  

“Was this ‘Indian Islam’ not a mix of Hinduism with Islamic claims by Muslim sounding names”? I wondered. He sat quiet for a brief while I noticed his unease. 

Found that Mr. Zee’s father has been a noted social figure, who has often been raising his voice for persecuted minorities, especially the minorities of Pakistan (was that because Pakistan bashing was the easy medal for Indian nationalists?) But never heard he had raised voice against the oppression of Muslims by the Indian state in Kashmir or elsewhere; nationalism eluded such cause. “What about the human sufferings in Kashmir at the hands of Indian forces?” I asked “I don’t believe that the Indian forces could have killed any innocents. Whosoever there killed must be deemed a terrorist. I would believe my army than a bunch of terrorists there” he firmed. I tried to imagine the 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 14 year old kids killed by Indian forces here as ‘armed terrorists’. I tried to visualize the women of Kunan and Poshpora who had been gang raped by the Indian army one winter night as suicide bombers, the more than 8,000 innocents who disappeared in the custody of Indian forces as having never existed here. Tried as much, I could conjure no such images.

This reminded of a Hadith “(Sahi Bukhari 9.83) Narrated `Abdullah bin `Umar: Allah's Apostle (SAW) said, "A Muslim is a brother of another Muslim. So he should neither oppress him nor hand him over to an oppressor. And whoever fulfilled the needs of his brother, Allah will fulfill his needs."

I asked Mr. Zee what he thought of the persecution of Muslims world over. He pointed to the ‘Wahhabi’ influence that was responsible for all this. Asked him if ‘Wahhabi influence’ was responsible for people’s wars in Syria too, he evaded to Taliban in Afghanistan (which again was a sub nationalism conflict rather than anything to do with Islam). Clearly he was camouflaging regional sectarian divides with the universality of Islam; while Iran supporting sectarian killings in Syria were not bad for him, Saudi influence elsewhere was. Before blaming Islam for sectarianism, my learned friend should have studied this “As for those who divide their religion and break up into sects, thou hast no part in them in the least: Their affair is with Allah: He will in the end tell them the truth of all that they did.” [Al Qur’an 6:159]

Sundown had already handed the baton to evening lights outside, my third coffee was getting stale cold and as I realized it was already Magrib prayer time, he ordered a chilled beer for self, while I looked at his ‘Indian Islam’ in bewilderment. “This is my freedom of consumption” he pointed to the precipitating, as if in infamy, green bottle that I tried to ignore.

While it was time to retire the evening I realized that the three ‘filter coffees’ that I had ordered, and gulped, had been more of a coffee colored water than any filter coffee in this up-market odor smelling place. Where pretensions were carried like masks, where careers were promoted with nationalistic badges, where religion was a commodity that could be bartered for personal progression. And I thought even the coffee served in such hyped places was pretentious at best.

Like Akbar had attempted ‘Deen-e-Illahi’ to justify his multi religious, multi cultural kingdom (and harem), same way some namesake Muslims were trying to promote a designer Islam, ‘Indian Islam’, aimed at personal adaptability and progression in a Hindu Bharat, which exists for us  as an academic India. 

Often regional or social customs are mistaken for Islamic rituals or beliefs; like the tribal jirgas of Afghanistan, the social-cultural conflicts of Arabs v/s Persians or the social-political oppression in Kashmir, Dagestan, Chechnya or the Central Asian republics. But this illusion occurs to people who have not studied real Islam; having instead followed the leads of disinformation.  Islam is universal and cannot be parameterized regionally, unlike the flavor of your regional cuisines. 

‘Indian Islam’ was just an oxymoron, I told him, as I shook his cold as stone, shivering hand.


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