Serial Bus

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I Do Not Worship Thee, O Motherland!

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Should Muslims in India refrain from singing Vande Mataram?

To answer the question fairly, one must consider some other questions such as:

Should the state government of Maharashtra make it compulsory for cinema halls to play Jana Gana Mana before every show and exhort the audience to stand up for it?

Should Turkey make it unlawful for women to wear scarfs as a symbol of their piety?

Should China continue to ban the practice of Falun Gong?

Several chauvinistic politicians and commentators have reacted strongly to the resolution adopted by Jamait-e-Ulema-al-Hind endorsing Darul-Uloom’s fatwa asking Muslims to not sing Vande Mataram.  I believe willingness to sing the national song or anthem can not be a test of one’s loyalty to the nation. Patriotism and piety are not mutually exclusive; they can co-exist. Singing a set of lyrics will neither a patriot make nor will abstaining make a traitor.

The more serious question is whether an institution (a body of clerics or a government) should be allowed to dictate how an individual ought to behave in personal matters. The thought policing that is inherent in such a fatwa is what makes it abominable. There is no difference between such an injunction and the forced observance of patriotism across cinema halls in Maharashtra or the draconian establishment of secularism in Turkey or the repression of followers of Falun Gong by the communist state in China.

Patriotism and piety have long masqueraded as an individual’s obligation to the collective – as a result, under the pretense of defending these on behalf of the people, governments often clamp down on freedom and justice. It needs to be understood that the absoluteness of an individual preceded the constructs of a nation and a religion. An individual should have the freedom to determine the right levels of patriotism and piety just as each individual should determine for himself or herself the right level of sugar in the tea or salt in the curry.

So, while a body of clerics has no natural right to dictate what constitutes a true believer, the believer in question should also have a right to abstain from singing Vande Mataram or Jana Gana Mana.

That said, one also pauses to wonder why Darul-Uloom would seek to enforce something like this. Their assertion is that the national song seeks worship of the motherland and contradicts Islam’s holiest tenet of monotheism. While that is a fair argument, it is worthy of consideration only when you believe in what you are singing. Words do not carry any weight of their own – just by singing Vande Mataram, a Muslim does not transform into a polytheistic pagan. Heresy is a function of thoughts, not words. If a Muslim infers ‘Vande’ to mean ‘praise’ instead of ‘worship’, clearly there is no conflict with Allah. Scores of devout Muslims in the past 60 years would have sung Vande Mataram in India – there is no evidence that any of them slowly degenerated into a bhajan-spewing idolatrous Hindu. I believe several famous classical Hindustani singers like Allauddin Khan sang thumris and paeans in the praise of Lord Krishna for their musical finesse – none of them turned into a pillar of salt. In recent times, A R Rahman popularised Vande Mataram by re-tuning it – he gave it full effect by using his own voice. I do not believe Rahman’s faith in ‘One God’ took any beating because of the millions of times Vande Mataram reverberated in his voice across the country.  Now, suddenly, Muslims across the country would fear singing the song so that they are not charged with apostasy.

Respected organizations like Jamait-e-ulema-al-Hind and Darul Uloom will be spending their capital more wisely if they sought to reform people’s thoughts by spreading awareness and education, instead of trying to micro-manage and mandate what words Muslims should utter. The latter almost sounds childish and fitful.

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Written by serialbus

November 7, 2009 at 11:26 pm

One Response

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  1. Muslim in India and elsewhere in the world are suffering due to their attitude molded by Mullas on several non-issues .Muslims has to get rid of these Mullas .

    Dr.A.K.Tewari

    January 17, 2010 at 11:05 am


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