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Moderate Muslims Under Fire

Mumbai daily tries to incite religious hatred and instigate violence against the renowned lyricist Javed Akhtar, President of MSD in particular and other office bearers and members of MSD in general.

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Moderate Muslims Under Fire

July 19, 2004

The Police Commissioner
Police Commissioner’s OfficeMumbai

Dear Sir,

We are writing to draw your urgent attention at the Mumbai daily, Urdu Times’ insidious attempts in the last two weeks to incite religious hatred and instigate violence against the renowned lyricist Mr. Javed Akhtar, President of ‘Muslims for Secular Democracy’ (MSD) in particular and other office bearers and members of MSD in general. The Urdu Times’ repeated incitement to communal violence must be taken with all seriousness and urgency and we urge that the police launch a criminal prosecution against the editors, publisher, proprietors and columnists of the above mentioned newspaper under Section 153 A and other relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code.

Muslims for Secular Democracy (MSD), a new all-India organisation committed to the promotion and protection of secular democratic values was launched in Mumbai on Gandhi Jayanti, October 2, 2003. The over 50 founding members of MSD included progressive-minded Muslim men and women from Mumbai, Pune, Kolhapur, Jalgaon, Delhi, Bhopal, Hyderabad, Allahabad, Kolkota.

The office bearers of MSD are:

President: Javed Akhtar (Mumbai): Urdu poet and lyricist;
Convenor: Gulam Mohd. Peshimam, (Mumbai): Businessman, educationist;
Vice-President: Hasan Kamal, (Mumbai): Former editor, Urdu Blitz, columnist and lyricist,
Vice-President: Sajid Rashid, (Mumbai): editor, Hindi eveninger, Hamara Mahanagar and chairman, Maharashtra State Urdu Academy.
Organising Secretary: Advocate SMA Kazmi (Allahabad): chief standing council, Government of UP.
General Secretary: Javed Anand (Mumbai); co-editor, Communalism Combat.

MSD’s launch received very favourable coverage in the national media. In December 2003 and January 2004, MSD’s office bearers were invited to Delhi, Aligarh, Kanpur, Allahabad and Lucknow. In each of these places they addressed large public meetings attended by Muslims with different socio-economic and educational backgrounds.

At the request of MSD’s office-bearers, special efforts were made by the organisers of the meetings to invite Muslim religious leaders and others who may differ with some of the principles and perspectives that MSD stood for. This was done with a view to promote a genuine culture of dialogue, discussion and debate among people with differing points of view. In each of the city’s visited, talks by MSD office-bearers were followed by question answer sessions.

MSD’s office-bearers were gratified with the enthusiasm with which they and their perspectives were received by the overwhelming majority of Muslims in every city they visited. MSD is currently in the process of opening chapters in the cities visited and finalising dates for visiting other cities in Maharashtra, UP and elsewhere in India from where they have received invitations.

Needless to say, not all Muslims agree with MSD’s secular-democratic perspective, progressive outlook, aims and objects. Urdu Times, published from Mumbai has been highly critical of MSD since its inception. Committed as it is to fundamental rights, freedom of conscience and a free press, members of MSD had no problems with criticism per se. But MSD is now compelled to demand the launching of a criminal prosecution against the daily since in the last week or so, in blatant disregard of all norms of journalistic ethics and responsible journalism, it has intensified its campaign of character assassination and slander, in its highly irresponsible attempt to spread hatred and incite violence against the MSD, its members and office-bearers by projecting them as part of an "international conspiracy against Muslims by the enemies of Islam".
To illustrate our point, we reproduce below, translated in English, excerpts from some of the ‘news reports’ and signed articles published in Urdu Times in the last week or so:

Urdu Times, July 5, 2004, Page 5:

Headline: ‘Javed Akhtar should become a Muslim first’

Strapline: ‘Communists have no right to give their opinions on Muslim Personal Law, say the Ulema’

MUMBAI: "Top Ulema and muftis who assembled at a meeting specially convened in the city have strongly condemned poet and lyricist, Javed Akhtar for his statements against the Muslim Personal Law Board and triple talaq (Talaq Salasa)… The assembled ulema were of the unanimous view that if a husband gives talaq to his view three times at one go, the wife stands divorced….

"From the statements of Javed Akhtar at the programme organised by MSD on the issue of triple talaq (MSD had organised a press conference in Mumbai on July 2, on the eve of the Muslim Personal Law Board’s scheduled meeting on July 4 to reiterate its demand to end the inhuman and anti-women practice of triple talaq), it is clear that each word uttered by him is an insult to the shariah. From this it is also clear how alien such a person is from faith and the shariah. We request Javed Saheb to stay within the limits and confine himself to his profession. Do not ridicule the shariah with false statements. Javed Saheb, the day is not far when you too will be counted amongst infamous blasphemers such as Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen… "Its better for you that you follow the shariah. This is not the first time, earlier too you have made statements that are against the shariah. The entire community is keeping a watch on you. Stay in your senses. Once the community decides to muakhezah (dictionary meaning: retaliating, calling to severe account, impeachment, amends) you will find it difficult to hide yourself. At the same time, we appeal to all Muslims to totally ignore all such statements and writings that are against the shariah. Besides, you should retort and retaliate against those who make such statements and impose a complete boycott against them. Further, we appeal to the respected muftis and institutions of Islamic jurisprudence in the country to declare what the shariah demands against people who openly ridicule the dictates of shariah who describe a practice in accordance with shariah as "inhuman" and ‘anti-Quran’ and who changes and reforms in the shariah".

Urdu Times, July 11, 2004, Page 3:

Headline: ‘Every new construction demands a complete destruction of the existing’
By: Alam Naqvi

"However much the munafiqeen (dictionary meaning: hypocrites, infidels, atheists, despoilers) try, supporters of Zionism, the Sangh Parivar and America, be it journalists like Muzaffar Hussain and Sultan Shaheen, or organisations like the MSD, that are to be found in every part of the globe inhabited by Muslims, can do harm to Islam, a religion that accords with human nature. Muslims for Secular Democracy was born after 9/11. As such, be it India or the Islamic world, you will find innumerable Muslim jamaats, organisations, institutions and personalities who pretend to be Muslims but are in fact under the influence of western (that is, Zionist), modern, secular, democratic thought. As for the above named organisation (MSD, Muslims for Secular Democracy), its basic aim itself is to provide a platform for secular democracy, meaning an irreligious democracy.

"The majority of MSD’s members are communists. But also to be found in its ranks are traditionalists, modernists and secularists. Also included in it are a large number of opportunists who never miss an opportunity to be seen in the company of genuine and true believers. Also in this organisation are individuals who are as popular among the intellectuals (ulema) as among the illiterates. The sangh parivar likes them as much as America does. On the one hand, these people try to win Muslim hearts by speaking out against atrocities on Muslims, on the other they conspire to take Muslims closer to America.

"In my earlier columns, I have already named some of them, so it is not necessary to identify them yet again. However, if there is one word to aptly categorise this motley lot, that word is: ‘munafiqeen’ ((dictionary meaning: hypocrites, infidels, atheists, despoilers). From the reference that I had made of two American reporters in my last column (July 4, 2004), it should not be difficult to guess the objective behind the birth of MSD and who its real benefactors are.

"Recently there was some good news, along with the bad, in the newspapers that, as usual, was ignored. The good news was that in the Ontario province of Canada, the government has initiated a move for the formation of Islamic Courts (Darul Qaza). The only reason why the Canadian authorities have granted this concession to Muslims is because Jews there have the right to deal with their family affairs according to the prescriptions of the Talmud. But, just as in India, the initiative in opposing the move to form Shariah courts has been taken by the munafiqeen among Muslims, similarly in Canada too, the battle cry against the formation of Islamic courts has been launched not by Christians or Jews or heretics, but by the munafiqeen among Muslims like the MSD".

Urdu Times, July 14, 2004, Page 3:

Heading: Allah save us from these munifiqeen
By Basarat Shikoh

"By publishing a false news report, The Times of India has, as usual, provided an opportunity to enemies of Islam to ridicule its tenets. So-called progressive Muslims who in their own personal lives do not even consider it necessary to perform a nikah, who consider a nikah as unnecessary and who are happy marrying non-Muslim women in a Registrar’s Court, how would they understand the importance of nikah. Why are they so concerned about Muslim women? Only to create divisions in Muslim homes… Those who ridicule namaz, roza, haj and zakat, those who do not pray even on Fridays, how can they interfere in the personal laws of Muslims? MSD is one such enemy of Islam."

In the above articles, the word munafiqeen has been deliberately and repeatedly used since in the mind of the ordinary Muslim, this word alone conjures up images of "traitors", "enemies of Islam". The Sunday, July 11, 2004 issue of Urdu Times has four separate articles tarnishing the MSD and/or its president, Javed Akhtar. We are including photocopies of all these articles along with this letter.

The less said about the ‘enemies of Islam’ canard against the MSD the better. Suffice it to draw your attention to just a few points:

One, MSD has no intention, or pretension, of being a religious organisation. It is a forum committed to promoting secular democratic values and to fighting religious intolerance from any quarter. All those who agree with its aims and objects are welcome to join it. The fact is that a large number of MSD’s founder members and some of its office bearers are devout Muslims and they in particular are deeply offended being labelled as munafiq.

Two, several of the office bearers and founder members of MSD contribute regular columns for mass circulation newspapers including those in the Urdu language. Even in recent weeks, articles on the same triple talaq issue, written by some of them, have been published in Urdu papers with a circulation far greater than that of the Urdu Times. Evidently, MSD’s views are unpalatable only to those who subscribe to narrow-minded, sectarian and intolerant version of Islam that the Urdu Times and its correspondents subscribe to.

Three, three of the office bearers of Muslims for Secular Democracy are on the Board of Directors of the Citizens for Justice and Peace, an organisation whose legal battle to bring justice to the victims of the Genocide in Gujarat (transfer of Best Bakery case to Maharashtra, etc) is a matter of public knowledge.

Four, Urdu Times and its columnists have been castigating the MSD for demanding changes in Muslim Personal Law. Ironically, an edit page article written by Syed Ali and published on the edit page of the same Urdu Times on July 17, 2004, under the heading, "‘Kanpur Declaration’ of the Muslim Personal Law Board" reports: "It was resolved at the Kanpur meeting that: (1) The Muslim community must be made aware about the need for reform in the wrongful practice of triple talaq and must be educated and prepared for the proper way of talaq!"

Sir, to reiterate, Muslims for Secular Democracy (MSD) upholds the principle of democratic dissent and press freedom. But as a senior police officer, you will know more than anyone else that the Constitution of India does not permit anyone to preach hatred and incite violence against any group of citizens. It is apparent from even a cursory reading of the news reports and articles published in the Urdu Times and portions of which have been translated and quoted above, that they are nothing but an incitement to hatred and instigation of violence against Javed Akhtar in particular and other office bearers and members of MSD in general.

For the Urdu Times to resort to such objectionable writing is not surprising. In the year, 1996, this paper had received strong censure from the Press Council of India for some of its editorial content following the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Here, for example, was what an editorial in the January 22, 1994 edition of the Urdu Times wrote about the devastating earthquake that claimed the lives and property of thousands of people from Latur and Osmanabad districts in the previous year under the heading, ‘Donors of silver bricks for the Ram temple rendered homeless’:

"Delays there may be, but Allah’s ways are always just… We Muslims are of the firm conviction that Allah’s curse is sure to fall on those who have made life miserable for Indian Muslims. Latur and Osmanabad are districts from where many villagers had sent a number of kar sevaks to Ayodhya. They participated in the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6. And the ones who gave them financial support were living in luxury in Los Angeles… When the VHP conducted its Ram Shilanyas movement, the traders from Los Angeles donated silver bricks for the temple construction… Praise be to Allah Almighty who has reduced to dust those who committed sacrilege on the sacred soil of the Babri Masjid".

Given its highly communal track record, we are not in the least surprised at the Urdu Times’ and many of its columnists’ deep-rooted hostility to the very idea of an organisation like the MSD which is uncompromisingly committed to, among other things, Rule of Law and Gender Justice.

Sir, the issues at stake here concern not just Muslims for Secular Democracy and its office bearers and members. The self-appointed thought police have imposed silent compliance on the part of peace loving citizens with increasing frequency in our country in recent years. Which is why representatives of organisations other than the MSD have decided to add their signatures to this complaint in support of MSD’s demand for the criminal prosecution of the editors, publisher, proprietors and the columnists concerned of the Urdu Times.

In anticipation of urgent action on your part.

Yours sincerely,

Javed Anand
General Secretary, Muslims for Secular Democracy

Teesta Setalvad
Secretary, Citizens for Justice and Peace.

Shakeel Ahmed
General Secretary, Nirbhay Bano Andolan

Nikhil Wagle
Editor, Apla Mahanagar and trustee, Media for People

Dr. Kumar Saptarshi
President, Yuva Kranti Dal, Pune

Vijay Tendulkar, Playwright

Mahesh Bhatt, Film maker

Encl: 1. Photocopies of the articles in the Urdu Times.
2. Declaration of Muslims for Secular Democracy.

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