13 July, 2006

Securalists disqualified

When I reacted to the news in Somalia the other day, about a new Islamic law by which people will be killed if they do not pray five times a day, I sparked off many responses across several boards. One question that kept cropping up was that is a non-practicing Muslim qualified to reclaim Islam from fundamentalists.

Secularism has always been suspect in the eyes of people who practice religions in their traditional forms. Criticisms made by secularists are considered irrelevant because they belong to people who are "outside the faith".

But in a true secular state, faith ought to be a private and personal matter. Our constitution claims to be secular, but in practice, of course, it is anything but. Birth registration certificates, school admission forms, college entrance examinations, marriage certificates, ration cards, passport applications, and personal laws all have religion, caste and community identification as
mandatory. We must be grateful that we are not a fundamentalist state, and yet, this contradiction in practice creates a major fault line in the functioning of the country, leaving it vulnerable to communal tensions, and the hijacking of religion by politicians and priests.

In the case of fundamentalists, political priests, become the sole interpreters of religious laws. But when religious issues affect me as a woman, as a mother, as a citizen, affect my daily life, my physical security, my choices in life - from school, locality, work timings, dress codes, love life to marriage partner, then practicing or non-practicing, I think I have a right to question and comment.

A few days ago, I translated Prof. Gunvant Shah's lecture, "Islam means". Please read it. This lecture was addressed to a gathering of Muslim students and priests at a madarassa in Gujarat.


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