Every time US President Donald Trump calls coronavirus a ‘Chinese virus’, Muslims around the world breathe a sigh of relief that the deadly virus didn’t originate in a Muslim-majority country.
Because it is much easier and indeed fashionable to tarnish the entire Muslim population of the world with just one example. In India, the fool-hardy ignorance of 3,000 members of Tablighi Jamaat, an Islamic reformist group, has come as an excuse for the bigots to put their hatred for 200 million Indian Muslims on full display. The blame must be collectively shared by all Muslims.
It’s not just the Nizamuddin meeting of the Tablighi Jamaat. This is part of a pattern. Heroic acts by Muslims — from Wipro’s Azim Premji to Cipla’s Yusuf Hamied — are always seen as individual acts. But a negative act is ascribed to the whole community. For Muslims in India, and perhaps even across the world, the shame is collective while the glory is always individual.
No oneness in kindness
Prejudiced people armed with an agenda to spread constant hate against the community conveniently ignore the Muslim identity of benevolent individuals and consider them as an outlier, not the norm.
When Azim Premji donates billions of dollars to charity or when his foundation and company contribute Rs 1,125 crore in the fight against coronavirus, he is just a philanthropist, not a Muslim philanthropist. When Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan’s Meer Foundation helps survivors of acid attacks, he is just a kind-hearted actor, not a Muslim actor. Those who perceive Muslims as barbaric simply neglect the compassion of a Muslim man who forgave the murderer of his wife who was killed in Christchurch mosque attack.
But when the act is something negative, Muslims become a collective entity for those who want to exploit every opportunity to blame them. The reminder that Muslims will be seen as a group, bereft of any diversity, keeps coming with every incident.
Women of Shaheen Bagh sat on a peaceful protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 (CAA) and the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC) for nearly 100 days. Their appeals for unity — from Republic Day celebrations to interfaith prayers — failed to make them the face of community. But when Sharjeel Imam purportedly asked for roadblocks to cut off Assam from India, he was projected as the collective voice of the Muslim community, which allegedly wants to “divide” India.
In incidents such as the attack on a gurdwara in Afghanistan or when members of the Tablighi Jamaat are tested positive for Covid-19 — all in the community, regardless of their ethnicity or belief, are made to share the burden of their Muslim identity.
Bigotry over tragedy
The actions of Jamaat were irresponsible and stupid. The gathering cannot be justified by saying that people from other religions were also not self-isolating or that Kanika Kapoor partied after returning from a Covid-19 affected country. But it is hard to ignore that all singers from her community were not ostracised for her actions or made to share the blame for possibly infecting several people. This shows that religious discrimination in India is reserved only for a particular community.
News channels and social media users are both treating the tragedy involving Tablighi Jamaat as a fresh opportunity to vilify Muslims. The alacrity with which certain news channels and hate mongers on social media latched on to the development makes it seem like they were waiting to put the blame for the coronavirus crisis on Muslims. The negligence of Jamaat has provided fodder for TV channels constantly on wait to stoke communal tensions. One anchor even asked if this was a conspiracy to turn Delhi into Italy. This comes almost a month after the anti-Muslim Delhi riots, which polarised the city and left 53 people dead. But bigotry overpowers media responsibility whenever the issue is related to Muslims.
No other identity for Muslims
Social media, as always, is many steps ahead of news channels. Bizarre conspiracy theories about Muslims are being spread on Twitter and Facebook, accusing them of ‘corona jihad’ — implying that Muslims are deliberately infecting people with coronavirus.
The term ‘jihad’ is regularly used and abused by India’s Right-wing to categorise every action of a Muslim it doesn’t like. Bollywood actor Kareena Kapoor was made the face of ‘love jihad’ by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, an outfit of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, when she married actor Saif Ali Khan.
The lifestyle choices of Muslims, which may or may not be connected to their religion, are predominantly seen from the communal lens. The community has been painted as ‘beef-eating fundamentalists’ even though the food choices can vary from person to person. This stereotyping is not limited to hate on social media but has resulted in several incidents of mob lynching.
Stupidity, especially in the name of religion, is a luxury, which Indian Muslims cannot afford — not unless they are seen as individuals with separate identities.
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