At its launch in 2003, Muslims for Secular Democracy (MSD) had noted it was taking birth “at a critical juncture when India’s Constitution and democracy are in serious danger of being subverted from within and replaced by a fascist regime”. As we re-launch the organisation now as Indian Muslims for Secular Democracy (IMSD), the signals are even more ominous. No less worrisome is the apparent drastic rightward shift of the political centre across the globe, with racism and religious extremism on the rise.
Sustained hate propaganda, systematic communalisation of India’s history, complemented through the ‘saffronisation of education’, instigation of communal violence and terror to polarise Indian society and painstaking organisation building, have been the sangh parivar’s preoccupation for nearly a century now. Today, having made deep inroads into the mass psyche, having infiltrated and captured State institutions, sangh parivar outfits including its parliamentary wing (BJP) are cynically misusing and manipulating the instruments and institutions of democracy to subvert them from within.
The suppression of the country’s minorities, Dalits, OBCs, tribals, peasants and the working class, are part of Hindutva’s agenda to subvert the Indian Constitution. Intense, unchecked hate propaganda has succeeded to the point that anti-Muslim prejudice, and worse, is now the prevailing “common sense”.
As an organisation of Muslims, for IMSD it is a matter of greater concern that in recent decades, within India and internationally a section of Muslims who claim to speak or act in the name of Islam and Muslims, reinforce the image of the community as one of ‘fundamentalists’, ‘fanatics’, ‘extremists’, ‘anti-nationals’; a community ‘unprepared for, or incapable of, peaceful coexistence with others’. Extremist and terrorist organisations such as those mushrooming in our immediate neighbourhood, as also the Al Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram, are adding fuel to the growing ‘Islamophobia’, in India and globally.
The big challenge before Muslims today is to rediscover the compassionate, pluralistic and tolerant traditions within Islam, the Islam which the bigots and the extremists seek to destroy. MSD is being re-launched as IMSD to promote the values of equality, justice, freedom, compassion, human rights and the rule of law.
IMSD is a forum of Indian Muslims committed to the values of democracy, secularism, equality and justice as enshrined in the UN’s ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ and the Constitution of India. It believes that these values are fully in consonance with the core teachings of Islam.
It seeks to rejuvenate the tolerant traditions within Islam and to generate a progressive and liberal voice within the Indian Muslim community so that Muslims in India are able to live in dignity, at peace with self and with all fellow Indians.
IMSD is an independent national movement of progressive Muslims. It is a non-party, socio-political organisation seeking to create an alternative progressive discourse within the community, firmly committed to the cause of modern secular values and gender justice. It is opposed to the forces of conservatism, patriarchy, the domination of the clergy, dogmatism, extremism and violence.
For IMSD, anyone who calls or identifies herself/himself as a Muslim is a Muslim. It has an open arms policy towards people of all communities who share the values IMSD upholds.
IMSD stands committed to protecting and promoting the values and principles which constitute the bedrock of our Constitution, as also that of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), 1948. (See ANNEX 1)
IMSD’s commitment to the values enshrined in the Indian constitution is both a matter of principle and prudence. For minorities targeted by majoritarian, neo-fascist forces the only guarantee of life with dignity lies not in gaining the ‘goodwill of the majority’, as the RSS demands, but in defense of India’s Constitution that guarantees secular politics, democracy, pluralism, non-discrimination and equal citizenship rights. (See ANNEX 2).
To endorse the Indian Constitution is to defend the secular-democratic values enshrined in it; not only against Hindutva but against all sectarian, divisive, communal worldviews and forces. Communalists of different hues feed on each other. It is not possible to fight Hindu communalism without simultaneously fighting against Muslim communalism, or communal politics in any other garb. IMSD’s prime responsibility lies within the community. The history of all religions shows that any and every religion can be, and is, interpreted in many different ways. IMSD supports that strand within Islam which is in consonance with the values enshrined in the UDHR and Indian Constitution: justice, equality, free choice, wisdom and compassion. (See ANNEX 3)
Secular state: Secularism rejects the notion of a theocratic state – Islamic State, Hindu Rashtra or any other – since a theocratic state is by definition militates against the ideal of equal citizenship rights. For example, only those owing allegiance to the official state religion are eligible to the posts of President, Prime Minister, Chief Justice etc. The barring of women from occupying such posts on grounds of gender is another example.
A secular state is a state which has no religion. Such a religion-neutral (‘dharmnirpeksh’) state makes a clear separation between religion and politics, between matters of faith and affairs of the state. While all citizens are guaranteed the freedom of conscience, the state does not favour one religion or another.
Secular society: In our popular consciousness secularism means equal respect for all religions (Sarva dharma samabhava). This is the legacy of the Sufi and the Bhakti movements, our syncretic culture.
As IMSD understands it, the word ‘secular’ is not synonymous with ‘atheist’. Nor is being ‘religious’ the same as being ‘communal’.
To be secular is to affirm the inalienable basic rights and freedoms of all human beings, to respect all religions and cultures, even as we reserve the right to critique and reform them for the betterment of our societies. To be communal is to subscribe to the view that all followers of a particular faith have identical social-economic and political interests which are opposed to the interests of those of other faiths.
Democracy is not only about elections, however free and fair. Given the logic of numbers an electoral process could well install governments with a majoritarian worldview. Herein lies the critical importance of the UDHR and the Indian Constitution, both of which guarantee certain rights and freedoms of all citizens; as also the rights of minorities, women, Dalits, OBCs, tribals and other vulnerable sections of society. Without these rights and liberties, democracy will be meaningless, in India or elsewhere in the world.
While standing by the rights and freedoms of individual citizens, minorities, women and other vulnerable sections, IMSD simultaneously endorses the fundamental duties of every citizen of India as spelt out in Article 51A of the Constitution. (ANNEX 4)
As members of IMSD, our prime responsibility lies within the community:
Come, Join us.
We are Indian Muslims. We fully endorse the values enshrined in the United Nation's universal declaration of human rights and in the Indian constitution. We believe that they are fully in consonance with the core teachings of Islam. Like every other religion, lived Islam was never a monolith. We affirm our allegiance to the centuries-old tolerant traditions within Islam that protected, by law and in practice, minorities within its rule. We affirm that anyone who considers himself/herself a Muslim is a Muslim. We reject the right of others to decide who is a Muslim and who is not.