"Islamists", "Secularists", and the Divide

''Islamists'', ''Secularists'', and the Divide

In Kashmir this division narrowed our chances of putting up a real political fight against New Delhi

What is the difference between an ‘Islamist’ and a ‘Secularist’!? Growing up in a Muslim society, I wonder are their any real equivalents in our human world who fit the descriptions in this binary. My reason for putting Islamists and Secularists in quotes, is my mundane experience that those we describe by the two terms are much the same, when we look at them as ordinary humans. So not only the binary, but each one of the two terms is false, and deceptive. What is real in all this is the consequent Divide that weekend our society, and politics. In Kashmir this division had a terrible fall out as it narrowed our chances to put up a real political battle against New Delhi before 1989, and afterwards it devastated the politics of the Freedom Movement.  Remember the days when we cut throats in the  name of this binary. Not to turn it academic, just an unburdened look at our society to spot the error. 


Here is  as story of  a ‘secularist’ who I always thought was an other. It was before 1989. As a student of a school run by Jamat-e-Islami, and a son of a father who resolutely  subscribed to Jam’at ideology, I could only look at the world through Jam’at prism. This man, a next door neighbour, was a Congress voter. Actually a loyal supporter of Late Mufti M Sayeed. So just next to an ‘Islamist’ door lived a ‘secularist’. But this man would rise up early in the morning, rush to the Mohalla mosque, call all of us to prayers. He was probably the first one to enter mosque. Then for five times a day, I would see him in the front row. After decades when I look back and try to find out the difference between my father and my neighbour, I find them more alike than different. My father consciously  opted for Jama’t politics, and thus an Islamist, and my neighbour compulsively voted for Congress, because he had some real life needs that he thought only Mufti M Sayeed could fulfil. All his life he must not have known what this creature secular was. If only Jam’at led politics could be more alert to societal realities!


Here is another story. This one is post 1989. A man I met recently, is still an active member of an organisation we branded as secular, and thought that before dealing with India this party deserves to be “ nipped into the bud”.  An ordinary Muslim like me and you, he devoted all his life to the Freedom struggle. One day a thought crosses his mind. “We had a  member of our party who was martyred some years back. He left a widow and two children. One day I decided to marry the widow, and own that family. But how to break this in my family was a challenge. Finally I decided to talk to my father.” As this man tells me, his father was an unsophisticated villager. “ When I shared the thought with him, there was a pause. I thought now he will burst. But it was a complete shocker to found it otherwise.” His  father in a raised pitch said to him: “ So you have decided to reserve a berth in jannah. My only request would be not forget taking me along.” Just because this man belongs to a different political stream, he is a ‘secular’, and hence an other. I can wait fighting against my external  adversary, India, but not him! 


This is not a debate on what secularism is, and how Muslim thinkers have viewed it. If put in a nutshell, Secularism, as a philosophical and intellectual tradition, concerns the societies where faith went into deep crisis, or a particular idea of religion thwarted the development of   physical and social sciences. Quran is a living book, and Islam faces no crisis. Muslim societies even in their decadent forms have lived this faith, and a construct like secularism can never flourish in a Muslim society. It’s about the division caused by this secular-Islamist binary. This binary is actually an outcome of a combat between two political currents that streamed  into the Muslim societies as a result of a particular historic condition. We now need to revisit that historic moment, and do a rethink.


When the Muslim lands were battling against the territorial domination of the Western colonial powers, two political currents informed the struggle against this alien domination. One, broadly put, mass based political struggles reclaiming the independence of Muslim nationalities, seeking to establish their own states. Since the rise of West brought in its wake new ideas and processes, these struggles could not remain immune to the western political discourses. At certain places these struggles excessively gravitated towards the western political discourses, to an extent that there was a savage rupture with the traditional Muslim politics. As an example one can cite Ataturk’s Turkey. At certain other places the struggle remained closer to the traditional Muslim sentiment, and invoked the languages, the history, and the idiom that was patently Muslim. As an example one can cite Pakistan Movement led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah. However, there was another awakening that saw the modern western political discourses as inimical to the Muslim political power.  As an example one can cite the two major movements by the name of Jamat-e-Islami, and Ikhwan-ul-Muslimoon. These were comprehensive movements that not only worked for the intellectual rejuvenation of the Muslim mind, but also worked on the Muslim society, its ethical side and the matters related to the purity of faith. Since both these movements had a larger political frame than any of the country-specific, or region-bound, political parties, they unleashed a politics that interfered with the Muslim societies in a more fundamental way.  Islamic Movements created their own patterns of loyalty, and hence divisions.


This binary was an unintended outcome of the pitched battle that the two Islamic movements had to fight, in their respective territories, against the ideological onslaught of communism and the torrent of western political ideas streamed into the Muslim societies. But over a period of time, this binary led to its own societal splitting. These division became bitter when each one of the sections, on either side of the binary, became part of a political struggle for power in the Muslim lands. It harmed Muslims in three ways. One, the Islamic Movement became a stranger for a vast Muslim population, taking the advantage of which its leadership and the cadres became an easy target for the governments, and the militaries, in many Muslim countries. Two, the genuine political formations, either in infancy or matured to a good degree, got weekend;, hence an easy prey to the outside powers. Third, the underlying coherence of the Muslim society, and the essential unity of the body-politic, was blown apart. 

To recover this loss, it is the responsibility of the Islamic Movement to do a serious re-think, and save our Muslim society from such false divisions. In Kashmir, it has an added urgency. We are  facing an external challenge that we know is huge, and existential.