Shahid Raza Burney
MUMBAI, February 05 – Dismissing the claims of many that the veteran Indian Islamic scholar Zakir Naik was a Salafi, Professor. Bernard Haykel of New Eastern Studies at Princeton University and a leading expert on Middle East and Islamic political movements, speaking at the Idea Exchange program hosted by Indian Express newspaper in New Delhi yesterday, said that it was absolutely wrong to claim that the Indian Islamic scholar Zakir Naik was a Salafi, which he is not. The fact that he wears a tie, you see him wearing a silk tie, no Salafi would ever do that, he said.
To a question of about the new kind of Islam being propped up online by Zakir Naik, Heykel replied “You have all these hybrid forms of authority that have emerged because of the new media. With the emergence of people like Zakir Naik and others online, the older, traditional forms of authority have actually declined and lost some of their power. That gives space to these new forms of religious authorities to emerge and to address the public in a message that resonates with them. What the older Maulvi-types say is not in tune with the times, it is not interesting to a newer audience that maybe more educated and more plugged into the Internet.
Shedding light on the dominance of Islam and Muslims in India, Heykel elaborated “India was in the 19th century the dominant Islamic intellectual and financial power in the broader world of Islam. The Muslims of India, even though minorities in the Indian subcontinent were still the richest, the most educated, the most advanced Muslims in the world. And you had this Ahl-e-Hadith movement here, it was very important. The influence of the Ahl-e-Hadith that came to Arabia from India was very influential on them. In the 20th century, that dynamic shifted as Arabia got richer because of oil, and as India got poor.
Heykel continued “there are 180 million Muslims in India which is the second largest population of Muslims in the world after Indonesia. And yet, statistically speaking, you have produced almost no jihadis — I am talking about global jihadis — and that begs an explanation. Maybe one answer is that Indians outside of Kashmir feel that they have a stake in the political system, that even though they are discriminated against and don’t feel that they get enough share of the pie, they nonetheless are engaged in it and, therefore, don’t feel the need to become radical, unlike Muslims maybe in other countries whose frustration can only be addressed through violence. The other interesting thing about the Indian Muslims is that they haven’t joined the fighting in Kashmir.
On the question about Muslims in Kashmir not finding support outside the Valley, Heykel said “The answers are anecdotal. One is that Muslims in India, outside of Kashmir, feel that it is a very local issue and doesn’t concern them. It could also be because they don’t support the idea that some Kashmir’s may want to be a part of Pakistan or be independent. Indian Muslims feel that we are Indian; we don’t want to get involved in the Kashmir debate, or be in any way painted with the same brush, because in the Kashmir situation, your commitment to Indian nationalism is put under question. Indian Muslims already feel nervous about this issue because they are questioned why they are here and not in Pakistan.
And to the last important question before ending the program session, as to what he sees in the Kashmir rebellion, and does he see it as a national liberation struggle or any other manifestation, Heykel said “It is complicated. There are Kashmiris who have been brutalized by tactics of the Indian government that have been extremely aggressive. It is a population that has been taken advantage of by the Pakistani State, specifically the Pakistani military and intelligence service. I think of Kashmiris as victims, as double victims maybe even triple victims. Being victims of both the Pakistani State, the Indian State, and their inability to find a solution that will suit both their national interests and will somehow (help them) get rid of the grip of these two States, in the most intimate and daily affairs of the people of the Valley.