Tuesday, February 08, 2011

V for Veena and Vastanvi

An abbreviated edit of this post appeared in this week's Tehelka mag. Here's the online version. Print also available, I believe. [Can someone hold a copy for me, please? :) I'll collect it when back.]
So here it is.

What a fascinating start to the new year. As a young, relatively serious Muslim, I am naturally interested in news stories and opinions pertaining to Islam. More so in today's climate where Islam is, shall we say, not exactly subject to much praise, or even authentic, objective appraisal.
Which is why it is more than a little disheartening to see two recent big news stories doing the rounds in the subcontinent in this regard, that are so inane and yet reflect so well what is wrong with:
  1. the Islamic ummah [community] itself, and
  2. the perception of Islam as bandied about by mainstream media and lapped up by everyone.
I speak of the chart-topping story centred around Pakistan's Veena Malik, her Bigg Boss stint and the subsequent outrage it unleashed. [But of course we all know this already.] The second case I refer to is that of Maulana Ghulam Mohammad Vastanvi and the controversy surrounding his statements. Exactly. A lot of you are probably thinking, “Who? What?”, and to save you the trouble of Googling said gentleman, let me introduce Vastanvi saheb as the recently appointed 'Mohtamim' or Rector of the Darul Uloom, Deoband, who has now resigned after a fair bit of noise by 'the good Muslims of India'.
[What is ironic here, from a Muslim P.O.V. is that most regular Muslims don't know and certainly don't care who the rector of the Darul Uloom is – it does not affect our daily lives. On the other hand, all of us are pretty much up to speed on Veena Malik and the sordid details of her private life; she would have been the subject of much discussion in most Muslim households. And therein lies the problem.]

Vaaii? Just because I'm a womaan!!?
Let us take the curious case of Veena Malik first. We all know of the 'slut-shaming' hue and cry Pakistan's media and masses are directing at Veena. We also know of bright, sane voices in Pakistan speaking out against this [MUST READ: Sana Saleem, Shyema Sajjad, Raza Rumi, Urooj Zia etc.] but that's unfortunately not too many in comparison. Here's the thing. The outrage is not limited only to Pakistan. Muslims across the region are taking Veena's behaviour as a personal affront. I can cite examples from my own moderate, well-educated Muslim family and community.
How does Veena Malik's private participation in an entertainment show make her a representative of either her country or her religion? Why are people going hysterical over her actions when it has nothing to do with them? Where does this intrusive, and frankly, very ridiculous Islamic moral policing get off? One's faith is a very personal thing and in the context of Islam specifically, you will never be held responsible for something someone else did, so please back off. 'Nafsi-nafsi' as the saying goes. [Or, to use the vernacular: 'Whose father what goes?'] Veena, in a teary-fiery confrontation with a Mufti Abdul on a recent news show in Pakistan, was spot on when she said what she did is between her God and her. [The same channel called her back for more public bashing the next day, with Pak veteran actor/director Syed Noor and Atiqa Odho - and again Veena stood tall. w00t!] Who is anyone else to butt in and stand on judgement? There are far bigger problems with Islam as practised today than what a starlet/cricketer/actor/politician/academic did in his or her personal life. Unfortunately the point is, that for some reason, Muslims mostly tend to get rubbed the wrong way on all inanities. [This happens with other communities and groups as well, but I am speaking of the Muslim ummah.] First things first. Veena Malik is not an aberration or a shocker, hence need not be made a loud example of. I may not approve of Veena Malik personally but that's my opinion and I cannot foist my judgement on her – more so using the tag of Islam to browbeat her with. I will say this: I now respect her for her courage, for facing up to a most vicious and unfair attack by an unthinking people and for standing up for herself publicly. I thumb my nose at mullahs and all other self-righteous thekedaars of Islam and really, more people need to do so. My simple request to today's Muslim everywhere: look to yourself, mind your own business and do jihad the best way – that is, struggle against your own self. [Before everyone starts panicking, please note: jihad simply means 'struggle' not 'holy war', in the same way that fatwa simply means 'opinion' and not 'death sentence'.]

Abeyaar, WTF did I do?
And now, on to the next segment: Maulana Vastanvi's predicament. In short, all the Maulana really said was that yes, Guajarat 2002 happened, it is now 2011 and since the state as a whole is doing so bloody well economically, it stands to reason that Muslims in the state are also doing okay, there is development and we should take this positive and move ahead. Nothing wrong as far as I can see. No particular eulogy or praises for Narendra Modi or any reference to his being faultless in the riots and general horror of the time. But no! Offence must be taken, outrage must be had. Hot-headed loonies decided that the Gujarat card was being undermined. “Muslims are the victims! Always the victims!” and how dare this forward-thinking, sensible educationist talk about anything else?
Now. Frankly speaking, the Darul Uloom and its administration or opinions don't really figure in a common Muslim's day-to-day life. One does not look to the Darul Uloom for daily guidance or direction. It may be India's most historic and renowned seat of Islamic learning - but is more popularly only known as 'that Muslim joint where they hand out unsavoury fatwas from time to time' [a whole different kettle of fish we can leave for later] by the general populace. Which is to say, that unless Vastanvi's tepid remarks in some interview with, who else, the TOI *insert applause* was not played up and given its current tabloidy-political-communal-controversial tint, none of us could have cared less. There is so much outrage because fragmented and choppy edits and reporting can cause such things. Again, the outrage is only on the part of a few people, and possible has some shady political angle to it which I do not care to go into. That's my point. I don't care what some administrator of some religious body said – especially since it was so neutral and non-news- worthy. Somewhere I see ridiculous media shenanigans in raking up another controversy surrounding Islam-Gujarat-mullahs-Modi. Sure the Deobandis are now screaming bloody murder [not really, but you know], Vastanvi has had to step down as Mohtamim and the issue is still getting acreage in publications when it is all such a big yawn. Here's the thing: was all this necessary? Does it affect the common Muslim in any way if Vastanvi says Gujarat HAS developed under Modi? [Well, hasn't it?] Can we all please stop feeling that Mulsims are still being crushed underfoot when in fact they may be not, and that the events of 2002 were a terribly unique occurrence and not the norm? Muslims – please stop playing the victims when not needed, media- stop your silly news-byte worthy shenanigans. The resulting noise is a bit much.

A closing thought. I am sure there is a significant number of Muslims today who think along reasonable lines, do not fall for every old provocation in the book, know their religion for what it is and do not need to nod along to everything certain clerics and scholars say just because they appear to know better. It is time to stop being a 'silent majority' [as I hope you are] and come out of your shells.

All I can say is, the outrage is outrageous.
Bas, khallaas.

On a seriously light note, please turn up the volume and watch this hilarious remix tribute video to Veena Malik, created bye DJ Shahrukh. Phrases that we can take away from Veena's epic interview and laugh forever over: Agar-magar?!, jazbaati, bos-o-kinaar, husn-o-jamaal, fohosh, and the epic cultness of “Mufti Sahab! Yeh kya baat hui?!!” 
Which phrase I and many others have already started using with relish in appropriate situations.