Voices for reform within any community are most effective when they come from with the community itself.
It is easier for community members to accept, or at least listen to such voices because there is no fear of an ‘outsider’ trying to impose a cultural or religious hegemonisation.
It is in this light that former Parliamentarian Arif Mohammad Khan’s voice assumes great importance.
“Religion is just a medium that brings about a relationship between the creator and his creation, and there should not be any mediator between these two,” said Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan.
He was addressing the gathering during a session titled “Islam in India: The Road Ahead” organised on the final day of “Lit Fest” at the TMA Pai International Convention Centre on Saturday, November 30.
He said, “I don’t believe in those who project themselves as the arbitrator of God or claim that they are the ‘God’. One can find God in every creature and God cannot be confined to only one set of believers, community or religion. The purpose of religion is not to separate people but unite them.”
“Opposing the beliefs of one is not religious, but accepting and respecting the views of others is the essence of religion. The followers of Islam and those who are prejudiced against Islam should change their mindset. One should not misinterpret the Islamic religion, and every religion focuses on non-violence and peace,” Khan stressed.
When responding to a query on the recently-delivered Ayodhya temple verdict and how some Muslim leaders are still not pleased, Khan said that everyone was aware of the facts now. “As there is a stiff competition amongst such leaders for the leadership position, some people might have opposed the verdict. Hence, I don’t want to say much about that,” he said.
He is telling members of the Muslim community to look within, shun a victim syndrome and assert themselves as equal — and modern — citizens of India.
Arif Mohammad Khan uses his modern thought and visionary skills to initiate far-reaching reforms within the community on issues such as Triple Talaq and Nikah Halala. Connecting madrasas to mainstream education and providing five crore scholarships to students from the minority community are some such steps that the centre has already taken. Khan is perfectly in sync with these.
Arif Mohammad Khan also speaks a secular language — and the finest thing is that he has been speaking the same language since 1986.
Khan had quit the Rajiv Gandhi cabinet as Minister of State after the government decided to overturn the Supreme Court judgment in the Shah Bano case by bringing a legislation in Parliament.
Gandhi had first asked Khan to defend the Supreme Court decision in Parliament — but when pressure from Muslim fundamentalists grew, Gandhi chose to overturn the decision. Khan, whose speech defending the SC order was unanimously hailed, refused to remain part of a government that he saw opting for a communal — and deeply misogynistic — politics, pandering to the egos of male maulanas and maulvis.
He stepped down. He left power, its privileges and perks, for a principle he believed in — and he stands by that decision many years later.
Khan has repeatedly said he only believes in the Constitution of India and that religion has been selectively used and abused for politics by many.
But Khan has also questioned why only a Muslim should represent Muslims. He believes this is akin to falling for the colonial trap of separate electorates.
Khan has been a known critic of Islamic fundamentalism spearheaded by various clerics in the country and has been a staunch advocate for reforms within the Muslim community, especially women’s rights. He was one of the biggest supporters of Modi government’s law criminalising Triple Talaq.
He has also dismissed fear-mongering from a section of Indian intellectual circle over rising intolerance and threats to minority rights in the country.
Dr. Sindhu Prashanth