|Troubled by the involvement of Muslims in suicide bombings in primarily Muslim countries like Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan, helped by the availability of alternative interpretations of Islam on the internet, and driven by a questioning mind, Muslim youths in India are gradually leaving Islam.
By TUFAIL AHMAD
SHEDDING TRADITIONAL ISLAM FOR SCIENCE
India is witnessing the emergence of a movement of ‘ex-Muslims’. Troubled by the involvement of Muslims in suicide bombings in primarily Muslim countries like Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan, helped by the availability of alternative interpretations of Islam on the internet, and driven by a questioning mind, Muslim youths in India are gradually leaving Islam. Such youths — both men and women, and well educated — are typically in their twenties and thirties and describe themselves as ex-Muslims, atheists or cultural Muslims. They network through social media, Facebook and WhatsApp, often use anonymous Ids, and are based in towns across India.
Sultan Shahin, editor of the reformist website NewageIslam.com, says that there is no organised movement of ex-Muslims in India like it is in Western countries such as Britain, but some Muslims called him to inquire about real Islam. "I have spoken to 3-4 Muslims who have left five-time prayers. A lawyer in Delhi even convinced his father to leave Islam," Shahin says, adding that many such youths browse anti-Islam websites and accept the jihadi discourse as real Islam.
"I see individuals coming up [on social media] and we know each other. I can say that I am one of them," says Nadia Nongzai, speaking of ex-Muslims. Nadia, who is based in Shillong and holds a B Tech in computer science and a Master's degree in economics, comes from a practicing Muslim family. "In school, I could not believe that the god [Allah] who is so great will not have a sense of fair play and will send all non-Muslim kids of my school to hell," she says, questioning the Islamic teachings that non-Muslims will not enter heaven. She does not hesitate in describing herself an ex-Muslim. Asked if this could pose a security threat to her, she says she doesn't hide her identity and adds: "I am trained in martial arts."
Sazi Suber (name changed) was born in Saudi Arabia and raised there by his parents till 10. His mother, who converted from Christianity to Islam and returned to Christianity later, brought him back to Mangalore, where he was sent to a madrassa. Sazi now holds a BE in computer science and is working on an app for comic books. "When I came to India, I found dogs cute and lovable. My mother told me that playing with dogs is haram [forbidden by Islam]," he says about the first clash of viewpoint he had regarding Islam. In Islam, dogs are seen as unpious and Muslims are forbidden to keep them as pets.
They network through social media, Facebook and WhatsApp, often use anonymous IDs, and are based in towns across India.
- ILLUSTRATIONS: SATWIK GADE
Two years after coming to India, Sazi was attending a congregation in Mangalore where an Islamic cleric was telling Muslims on a loudspeaker to not accept water and food from non-Muslim homes. This came as a shock to him and he couldn't reconcile with this idea. "It was like telling me to hate my mom who was a Christian. No child can accept this," he says about the cleric's announcement. It fuelled his questioning of Islam. "I started reading science. Islam appeared as a shock. The logical conclusion led me to think: this was not right," Sazi, now an atheist and 27 years old, says, adding that he also began questioning as to why only Muslims were involved in suicide bombings.
Ashiq (nickname) is an electronics engineer based in Thiruvananthapuram. "I used to go to a madrassa. I read books from the library about science. I used to ask my teachers: Who created god? But the teachers wouldn’t respond to my questions," he says, adding that they would instead say: "You are guided by Satan. They would call me Satan's shadow." Ashiq's most piercing question to his madrassa teachers was: since a day can last six months in countries near the North Pole, when should Muslims break their day-long fast? The madrassa teachers did not have knowledge of geography. "The clerics beat me up for asking this," he says.
"My friends would call me son of Satan. They wouldn't play cricket with me. I was isolated. Only my mother was there to talk to me," Ashiq says. He was also taught not to accept food from non-Muslims. "The clerics threw me out of class when I questioned them why they teach: Do not accept food from Hindus," he says. Later, his mother advised him to somehow complete his studies and not ask questions because they will declare you a kafir (infidel). "For the next year, I did not ask any question," he says. Now, he is 29 years old and has joined Facebook and WhatsApp groups to encourage scientific temper among Muslim youths. "We ask basic questions: Where did we come from? How was the earth born?"
Ali Muntazar, 27 years old and based in Kolkata, comes from a family of clerics. His grandfather and father were Islamic scholars. He does not practice Islam and uses terms like "revolutionist" and baghawti (treasonous) to describe himself. He doesn't offer prayers on Eid or any other day and eats openly during Ramzan. Asked if he has run into trouble over this, he says: "I was nearly beaten up. But in India there is democracy; that is why I was saved." He says he had a questioning mind since childhood, but his father's friends, who were clerics, could not answer his queries satisfactorily. Ali Muntazar was troubled by the fact that the life of his khala (mother's sister) was destroyed by triple talaq, the practice whereby a husband divorces his wife by uttering talaq (divorce) three times. He is bitter: "The first victims of Islam's atank [terror] are Muslims themselves."
ILLUSTRATIONS: SATWIK GADE
My friends would call me son of Satan. They wouldn't play cricket with me. I was isolated. Only my mother was there to talk to me
Bohra Muslims are a sect of Shia Islam. A number of Bohra Muslim youths are leaving Islam at the level of ideas, though it is not easy for them to not be part of the strongly-mandated practices. A Bengaluru-based Bohra Muslim, who wishes to remain anonymous, says: "The Bohra community has a strong policy of ex-communication, which can have a strong negative bearing on their daily life and business. But within the community, there is a growing disquiet about the role of Syedna [the leader]." He adds, "Culturally, I am more of a Bohra rather than a Muslim. But I wouldn't describe myself as ex-Muslim. I am not bothered personally, but I am afraid of repercussions for my parents, my business partner and our business."
D Zafar, who is doing a PhD on religious fanaticism in English literature and lives in Moradabad, has performed Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. In his quest for knowledge, he read three translations of the Quran and has now left Islam. Local Islamic clerics could not answer his questions, and instead would threaten him: awam mein hamara ek byan tum ko murtad qarar kardega aur tum ko shahr chhorna padega (Our one statement declaring you apostate will force you to leave the city). Once the local mosque imam was about to publish his photograph declaring him murtad (apostate), which had to be resolved through political influence.
"We stopped talking about it [Islam]. We used to get messages that you could not teach Islam, but if you want to teach English, it is fine," Zafar says, adding he was told by Islamic clerics: kafiron se door raha karo (maintain distance from kafirs). Later, he joined some three-night camps of the Tablighi Jamaat, a revivalist group, but some rival doctrinal groups persuaded him against this. Zafar's basic point of difference was this: "The entire Quran does not mandate five-times namaz [prayer]. Some Muslims even offer only 3-time