Moderate Muslims must stand up and speak

Following the horrific events in France and Austria, Muslim communities around the world have engaged in debates surrounding freedom of speech and the challenges minorities face in multicultural societies, writes Dr. MJ Khan.
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By Dr. MJ Khan

Dr. MJ Khan is President of Indian Muslims for Progress and Reforms (IMPAR).

18 Nov 2020

This week, the Indian Muslims for Progress and Reforms (IMPAR) - a body of more than 10,000 prominent Muslims from India and of Indian origin - launched the Movement Against Extremism, a signature campaign with the ambition of collecting one million signatures from the Indian Muslim community to unequivocally condemn extremism in all its forms. Once we have reached this milestone, the petition will be submitted to the United Nations as evidence of our community’s solidarity with the global fight against extremism.

Following the horrific events of recent weeks in both France and Austria, Muslim communities around the world have been engaged in debates surrounding freedom of speech and the challenges and priorities of Muslim populations in multicultural societies, particularly in Europe.

The message of IMPAR is clear - the terrorist attacks we witnessed in European cities have no place in a civilised society. All Muslims should unequivocally condemn in the strongest possible terms the murder of Samuel Paty in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine on 16 October, the attacks on innocent civilians in Nice on 29 October and again in Vienna on 2 November.

We also condemn the remarks subsequently made by Malaysia’s former Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, and any other leaders unwilling to condemn the attacks in the strongest possible terms and express solidarity with the people of France. Such a divisive approach risks promoting the intolerant face of Islam.

"The message of IMPAR is clear - the terrorist attacks we witnessed in European cities have no place in a civilised society"

We stand with European leaders in condemning the radicalisation of the Islamic faith. In doing so we also urge them to uphold their liberal and multicultural values by ensuring the safety and security of Muslims, whose only desire is to live peacefully and contribute constructively to the life of these proud, democratic nations.

In times like this, the most important message is to highlight the dangers of extremist ideology, and to condemn it unconditionally. On top of this, it is additionally important to draw attention to the work being done by progressive and reformist Muslims, and the challenges they face in gaining greater representation in their societies.

Countering extremism goes hand in hand with respecting and empowering minority Muslim populations. This is not to say that the former should be conditional on the latter, but rather that improving economic opportunities and representation of reformist and progressive Muslims in society will help create stronger partners in the fight against extremism.

Like any religion, Islam is also seen to be what its followers make of it.

IMPAR was officially launched in April 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the ultimate goal of addressing the negative perception of Muslims in India, and the socioeconomic challenges faced by the community.

The organisation was founded by 1,000 prominent Indian Muslims who each share the belief that the plight of Indian Muslims has too easily been neglected as a result of negative perceptions in wider society. At the same time, IMPAR recognises that Indian Muslims are at a significant crossroads, where it must be a priority to increase the community’s contribution to Indian society and the economy.

In India, Muslims number approximately 200 million, representing roughly 15 percent of the population, but their share of social, economic and political opportunity is disproportionately low - estimated to be in the region of three percent, in terms of jobs occupied across the board.

Earlier this year, the Council on Foreign Relations conducted research, finding that Muslims in India have experienced discrimination in areas including employment, education, and housing. Most worryingly for the future of our community, 31 percent of Muslim youths between the ages of 15 and 24 do not have access to education or employment.

Many encounter barriers to achieving political power and wealth and lack access to health care and basic services. Moreover, they often struggle to secure justice after suffering discrimination, despite constitutional protections.

"Improving economic opportunities and representation of reformist and progressive Muslims in society will help create stronger partners in the fight against extremism"

A 2019 report by nongovernmental organisation Common Cause found that half of police surveyed showed anti-Muslim bias, making them less likely to intervene to stop crimes against Muslims. Analysts also highlighted widespread impunity for those who attack Muslims - stating that “in recent years, courts and government bodies have sometimes overturned convictions or withdrawn cases that accused Hindus of involvement in violence against Muslims.”

Many such inequities were identified in a significant study of India’s Muslim society commissioned by the previous Congress-led government back in 2006, called the Sachar Committee Report. Unfortunately, most of its recommendations have not been implemented to this day.

In recent years, a number of foreign governments and international bodies have expressed concerns about such evidence of discrimination against Indian Muslims. However, actions speak louder than words. Governments in Europe and across the world should take the initiative to help build moderate Muslim networks and link these efforts to overall global strategy and programs. Working together, we should be targeting key groups through which to build potential networks of support.

The Muslims of India are not alone in facing discrimination as a minority group in their home country, and neither are they alone in wanting progress and reform. Without the requisite international recognition and support however, our voices will not be heard, and the global conversation will only suffer as a result.

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