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Aping the Taliban

Aping the Taliban

Author: Editorial
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: April 2, 2009
URL: http://www.dailypioneer.com/166786/Aping-the-Taliban.html

Secular India can do without it

The Supreme Court deserves to be commended for rejecting the absurd demand of a Muslim school student that he should be allowed to sport a beard because it is his 'right' to do so. The petitioner, Mohammed Salim, a student of Nirmala Convent Higher Secondary School in Madhya Pradesh, had earlier gone to the High Court, seeking a judicial order quashing the school regulation which requires all students to be clean-shaven. The High Court had dismissed his plea. In his petition to the Supreme Court, Mr Salim reiterated his contention that every citizen is entitled to follow his 'religious principles' and that no one should restrain him from doing so in a 'secular' country like India. Arguing his case before a Supreme Court bench comprising Justice Raveendran and Justice Markandya Katju, Mr Salim's counsel, Mr BA Khan, insisted that sporting a beard is an 'indispensable part of Islam'. While it is not the intention of this newspaper to interpret Islamic theology and shari'ah-based injunctions, it would be perfectly in order to make two points. In a secular country, secular laws, rules and regulations must prevail over religious practices. Much as Mr Salim may believe to the contrary, his cunning reference to a 'secular country like India' notwithstanding, minority appeasement by politicians who indulge in vote-bank politics has not yet succeeded in subverting secularism in our public life. It is precisely because India is secular that he cannot be allowed to flout the rules of his school in order to crudely flaunt his faith. Second, it is a travesty to claim that sporting a beard is an 'indispensable part of Islam' - it may be so for those who subscribe to the narrowest interpretation of this religion, but not for the vast majority of Muslims who are as, if not more, faithful to Islam as Mr Salim. As Justice Katju pointed out to Mr Khan, "But you don't sport a beard!" That surely does not make Mr Khan any less a Muslim than Mr Salim.

The issue, really, is not one of religious freedom - the reason cited by Mr Salim in his defence is both spurious and misleading. There is an ongoing sinister effort to promote a certain perception of Islam, at the instigation of mullahs who dread their future if Muslims were to break free of orthodoxy that sets apart the community from the rest of our society and embrace modernism without giving up their faith. It is this emphasis on separatism that has fetched this nation much grief in the past; its furtherance can only strengthen the communal fault line that runs through our country. This perception of Islam that Mr Salim and his ilk wish to foist on India is borrowed from Saudi Arabia. It has no place in India, not least because the promotion of this perception is the first step towards Talibanisation of India's Muslim youth. Seen against this backdrop, Justice Katju comment is most apt: "We don't want to have Taliban in the country. Tomorrow a girl student may come and say that she wants to wear a burqa. Can we allow it?" No, it cannot be allowed. Does this mean denying Muslim students the right to sport a beard, wear a kafiyeh or shroud their body in a burqa? Not really. They can do so - and thus perpetuate the stereotype against which, ironically, Muslims complain the most - if they wish to, but then they must keep away from schools and colleges that offer secular education, and attend madarsas where they would be far more comfortable and at ease. So would secular India be.

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