There is a stereotype of what a Muslim looks like, dresses, behaves and thinks. Hence every conversation/discussion or debate with any perceived Muslim starts with certain prejudices or certain assumptions of the boundaries of the discourse and taboo topics which are best left out.
Time to catch up!
Behold the millennial or new cultural Muslims. They are bold, they are smart, they delve into areas of theology which their parents and grandparents considered off limits or best left to the mullahs. They are techno-savvy and have no qualms about picking up blasphemous issues with risks to their lives and that of their families. They do it out of a fierce sense of social justice and political equality and they do it out of immense love for all communities so that civilisations and cultures progress towards more pluralistic and tolerant societies.
The stereotype about Muslims needs to be broken – on one end the picture perfect ”jihadi” terrorist brandishing an AK-47 or the (niqaab posh) veiled ”jihadi” brides luring youngsters and on the other end of the spectrum the bumbling, ignorant, squawking, verse spouting, offensive-in-a-jiffy, bearded Muslim with equally ignorant and caged / indoctrinated hijab- wearing, brash, confident women/wives/sisters/mothers/daughters.
The new cultural Muslims are not afraid to find the essence of the original ”message” from the deserts of Arabia even if it means digging up contradictory verses, or antique manuscripts which point to a human intervention while copying verses onto parchment, sheepskin, cattle bones, rocks, palm leaves, or leather skins.
They don’t mind questioning, being critical or skeptical about stories handed down since centuries in the folklore, myth, legends, stories, metaphors, proverbs or sayings – the prevalent medium in those times of preserving literature. They keep going to the core intentions of those narratives and subverting the images of fierce and brutal Muslim invaders singed into the psyche of many populations who bore the brunt of pillaging with those of philosophical, scientific-minded astronomers, alchemists, medical practitioners, botanists, mathematicians, and theological dissenters.
The new cultural Muslims are fiercely secular who believe that religion is a private matter and any open display of beliefs borders on bigotry, domination or a sense of superiority and should not be not be encouraged or appeased. Rather the secularism of the constitutions of their respective countries should be upheld in every phase of daily life. This will create a paradigm shift in regions where religion is a political tool and a mass indoctrination campaign.
The new cultural Muslims are action oriented who explore new ways of upholding the message of humanism in all religions through charity or volunteer work across communities irrespective of caste, creed, gender or belief system. They are bringing new meanings and new interpretations to animal rights, women’s rights, child rights and gay rights in Islam. They don’t mind exploring assisted suicides or pledging their bodies to medical science after death thus upending the notion that there is an afterlife and everything that we do in this life is actually reward for the next.
They have pledged to get their communities out of the medieval mindset and take them on par with other belief systems which evolved with modern times and contributed greatly to the advancement of humankind instead of staying wrapped in regressive philosophies and regressive cultural practices. Those evolved belief systems went onto to develop medical research and chance upon life-saving discoveries and technological inventions. The cultural Muslims have sworn to get their communities out of the choke hold of the mullah/politician alliance and develop community leaders who will not hesitate to pull up families, mosques, ideologues which resort to extremism and fanaticism and end up plunging entire generations into bloody gore and mayhem scarring the collective psyche of peaceful communities by giving them the legacy of historical wounds, one of which is my hometown.
The new cultural Muslims are exactly what is needed in the world right now. They follow the Mutazalli traditions of the great medieval scholars Ibn Rushd (Averroes) and the formidable Ibn Khuldun who gave preference to primacy of reason rather than advocating the backward theological policy of primacy of the text. They are the new game changers and they are growing in numbers. They can bring back the tradition of ”ijtihad” which was very crucial to early Islamic era and without which it has ossified and frozen in time, completely out of sync with the needs of the ”ummah” in modern times.
The state needs to listen to these cultural Muslims who are paving the way forward for a new leadership among Indian Muslims and Muslims everywhere. There is an existential war between regressive Islamists who are not averse to using nuclear, chemical and biological warfare against populations whether Muslim or not and in this battle for secularism, freedom of speech and pluralism, it is these cultural Muslims who are in the front line and bearing the brunt of vicious smear campaigns, vitriolic online trolling and even machete attacks and beheading/stabbings.
It is the responsibility of every nation state who wants the secular fabric of their country to be preserved and the responsibility of every rational, logical, democratic citizen to listen, protect, defend and promote these cultural Muslims. This is the only way for a more peaceful world, a more tolerant Islam, a more understanding Western civilisation and a more pluralistic approach to belief systems.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author's own.