Religion Reviews

‘Visible Muslim, Invisible Citizen’ review: Out on a limb

Muslims have long been out on a limb in many countries. Lately, China has put severe restrictions on the practice of Islam, going so far as to ban typical symbols of the faith such as the sporting of beards and the wearing of burqas.

Robert Crews’ book, For Prophet and Tsar, tells us how the imperial Russian state regulated Islam, “aided by a select group of Muslim allies, imperial officials” who “erected a churchlike hierarchy to make this tolerated religion ‘useful’ for the empire.”

India, with the third-largest number of Muslims, has so far been an exception in allowing the community to regulate itself. The passing of The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Act, making triple talaq a criminal offence, has changed all that.

In a corner

Such legislation, however laudable, made by a Parliament in which Muslims are grossly underrepresented — numbering a mere 27 out of 542 MPs in the Lok Sabha — has left the community weaker and more voiceless than ever in the past. Salman Khurshid’s book Visible Muslim, Invisible Citizen, effectively conveys the angst of a community that has endured many indignities over time in a seemingly secular state.

In this book, Khurshid covers everything that worries the Indian Muslims — their economic and social marginalisation and the fact that in every communal conflagration it is they who suffered most. The demolition of the Babri Masjid and its violent aftermath is fully restored to public memory. However, Khurshid is on slippery ground when he questions every encounter in which Muslims have lost their lives, the Batala House killings being a case in point.

Khurshid is at pains to relate how great a contribution Muslims have made to Independent India. He rolls out an impressive list of institution builders, soldiers, scientists as well as men and women in public life who have done India proud over the years. Distressingly, Khurshid is selective on those he chooses to highlight, dismissing in a few lines, the signal achievements of the late President, Abdul Kalam as a scientist, a statesman and an inspiring visionary.

Misunderstood faith

Khurshid’s chapter on ’Matters of Faith,’ is brilliant and targeted at non-Muslims for them to better appreciate an often-misunderstood faith.

However, his refusal to nail the Congress from Indira Gandhi’s time onward, for delivering India to the BJP and its cohorts is glaring, as is his omission of a detailed discussion on Abul Kalam Azad, whose role in safeguarding Muslim interests is now well-forgotten.

The book is an essential read to know the concerns of a community now under unprecedented assault.

However, it is interspersed with pointless and lengthy quotations that ambush and distract the reader ever so often. Other more lucid interpreters of Islam in India — Mushirul Hasan and Asghar Ali Engineer immediately come to mind — would have called him out for that.

Visible Muslim, Invisible Citizen; Salman Khurshid, Rupa, ₹595.

The writer teaches at the Indian Institute of Science Bengaluru.

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Printable version | Jun 16, 2021 10:00:32 AM |

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