They, in fact, would have preferred non-Muslims to join them in their condemnation of the cartoons. Historian Irfan Habib says he's surprised the government hasn't yet registered its protest against the cartoons. "This doesn't concern the Muslims alone. The cartoons represent a superior racist attitude of the West which should not be ignored. I hope the discontent is not confined to Muslims alone."
Social scientist Imtiaz Ahmed thinks the common man in India has yet to come to grips with the politics behind the cartoons, hence the muted reaction. "It's possible that clerics are too busy mobilising people against President Bush's visit (early March). They wouldn't want the attention to be diverted," says Ahmed.
Ahmed, like Habib, is a votary of freedom of expression, but says the cartoons were meant to provoke. There's an injunction against personifying the Prophet, and it's for everyone to honour it. "But I won't be offended if someone chooses to violate it," he notes. This isn't what Jama Masjid's Imam thinks. As we go to press, he had fixed a protest event on February 10 in Delhi, where the faithful will trample upon the Danish flag.
Also offended is Yusuf Hatim Muchhala, lawyer of the Indian Muslim Personal Law Board. He says the believer is guilty of hypocrisy should he ignore the mocking of the Prophet. "I'm secular, but what one is witnessing now is an attempt at defaming secularism. I can't understand the argument of those who say God can be made fun of. Laugh in the confines of your home," says Muchhala.
He says the freedom of conscience and the freedom to express are entwined. "If you have the right to express, I have a right to protest. I think Indian Muslims are mature in not adding fuel to the fire, so also our press."
This isn't to say Muchhala isn't hurt. "But is it necessary to show the intensity of our hurt by burning flags and killing people," he asks. Similarly, Anis Ul Rehaman Qasmi, of the Imarat-e-Sharia, Bihar, says the protests haven't become strident because "we have taken a conscious decision not to complicate matters. What's important to remember is that the press cannot pass off the unreal as the real. There's no picture of the Prophet. Nothing should be done to prove the contrary, even as a joke. The Danish newspaper has apologised. We must leave it at that."
The Quran prohibits the faithful from reviling the gods of others, points out Muchhala, citing this injunction to stress upon the Islamic principle of coexistence of religions. The views of others should consequently be respected by all.
Habib and Ahmed feel the cartoons are a function of rising Islamophobia in the West. "In this atmosphere, what may have gone unnoticed in the past has become an extremely touchy issue. By lampooning the Prophet, the cartoons have acquired communal overtones," says Ahmed. Habib sees the protests as a manifestation of US action in Iraq and Afghanistan, and its stand on Iran. "Europe has laws against anti-semitism. But these are confined to the Jewish faith, and doesn't extend to other semitic religions. It smacks of racism," says Habib.