Javed Anand - Ms Wadud, we are ashamed

Amina Wadud is an American scholar of Islam with a progressive focus on Qur'an exegesis. As an Islamic feminist, she has addressed mixed-sex congregations. All it took for her programme in Chennai to be cancelled were a few phone calls to the police and the event’s organisers, and the mere threat of a protest. “I received a text message that said we have to suspend or cancel the lecture, as many groups were contemplating a protest. When I called number I received the text from, it was answered by someone who said he was at the Triplicane police station,” said P.K. Abdul Rahiman, head of the Centre for Islamic Studies, University of Madras, where one of Dr. Wadud’s lectures was to be held. “He said the university did not have permission to conduct the lecture. When I told him we didn’t need permission as the event was on university premises, he said there were threats of violence and we should be ready to face the consequences if we went ahead with the programme,” said Prof. Rahiman. The decision to call off the lecture was taken after consulting the university’s vice-chancellor and the administration, he said. Dr. Wadud’s lecture had been planned almost a month ago, and over 200 people were set to attend the event.“She was supposed to speak on ‘The question of authority in Islam’. I have studied her texts, and we teach our students a lot from them. Her views are by no means provocative to a rational mind. The groups could have engaged with her by asking questions, instead of preventing the talk,” Prof. Rahiman said. City police officers however, said they were not even aware of the incident. “It was an internal university matter – there was no need to get permission from us,” said a senior police officer. Moosa Raza, chairman, South Indian Educational Trust, which runs JBAS College, where Dr. Wadud was also due to speak, said he had received no orders from the police to cancel the event. "We received a call from a sub-inspector who insisted that we give him details about the speaker as some groups had opposed her talk. Later, we were informed that Dr. Wadud could not join us because her flight had been delayed,” he said.  S.M. Syed Iqbal, state secretary of Indiya Towheed Jamad, said he had called two police officers in the intelligence division to inform them that his outfit would protest in front of the venues if Dr. Wadud was allowed to talk. “She comes with the backing of the US government and offers so-called progressive views that are against the basic tenets of Islam,” he said..

NB: The crucial point here is that both police and the academic authorities took the easy way out, the police by citing the 'threat' of violence, the head of the centre by saying it was an administrative problem. In the same way some fanatics obtained the cancellation of a talk by Tarek Fateh in Jamia Millia recently. Why didn't the responsible people call the fanatics' bluff and insist on holding the meeting anyway? This is what we did years ago in DU in 1988; and what the organisers of an art exhibition did in Delhi some months ago, when Hindutva fanatics tried to sabotage it on account of M.F. Husain's paintings being included. Why not challenge the police to do their job, instead of backing out? If moderate people are always to surrender before extremists, how can we ever hope to resist fascism? - DS

Cancelled lecture: objections raised weeks agoAUGUST 2, 2013

'Re-invite Amina Wadud to speak at the University of Madras'AUGUST 1, 2013

Islamic scholar claims voice through social media JULY 31, 2013

Javed Anand issues a public apology to Ms Wadud

Ms Wadud, we are ashamedAUGUST 3, 2013

Salaam, peace be upon you, Ms Amina Wadud! Coming as you do from the land of the First Amendment, the capitulation of the Tamil Nadu police and government, academics and intellectuals including the head of an institution of higher learning in the face of a threat from “factions of the ignorant” (your words) to disrupt your scheduled lecture at Madras University cannot but have caused you deep anguish.

The unsavoury experience has upset you enough to say goodbye forever to our country with a message: “People of India, you have a chance to redeem yourselves for your own best interest. Do not be silent when the ignorant speak, claim your voice.” The sad truth is that too many of us have learnt to find safety and security in silence while the intolerant do all the speaking and the custodians of the Constitution stand as mute witness at best.

“I am no longer willing to give to India,” you have now announced. You of course have the option of returning to your own country and the freedoms it guarantees. For us, India means country, country means India; going away is no option. We painfully acknowledge that if we do not give whatever it takes to “redeem ourselves,” there will soon be nothing worthwhile left for our country to give back to us.

So even as we nurse our shame and lick our self-inflicted wound, khuda hafiz and bon voyage to you, Ms Wadud. Permit me to add that while I fully understand your anger, your “no longer willing to give to India” suggests certain arrogance. This seems to me discordant with your many words and deeds with which I am somewhat familiar.

Let me assure you there’s enough within India’s past and present if we only knew what to take. For example, if America and South Africa could benefit from what Mahatma Gandhi had to give, so can we. If anyone is in desperate need for what you, “Sister in Islam,” especially have to give, it is Indian Muslims, one-sixth of the entire global ummah. Even if they do not know it, the biggest losers from your decision to withdraw are 150 million Indian Muslims, women in particular.

You have rightly been harsh in your criticism of the Tamil Nadu government and police,  Madras University and intellectuals in general. But I strongly suspect that you grossly underestimate the menace of what you call “fringe groups” and “factions of the ignorant” in your indirect references to Chennai-based Muslim outfits that started this ugly episode. I believe what we are dealing with here are in fact the city’s “mainstream Muslims” who are increasingly behaving as an “army of the intolerant.”

In September 2012, a coalition of some 20 different Muslim organisations from Chennai triggered an attack on the supposedly tightly-guarded U.S. consulate in Chennai, damaged property and forced it to suspend visa processing activity for days. What was the provocation for this violence? A film called “Innocence of Muslims.” Produced by some nut in the U.S., it was immediately trashed by Muslims and non-Muslims across the globe.
I asked a good Muslim friend from Chennai at the time why people like him did not protest against such mindlessness.

This is what he told me in response: “I fully agree that such misconduct deserves to be strongly condemned. But what can we do considering we are small in numbers? If the police could not prevent an attack on a consulate under their protection, who will protect us when we are targeted by the same goons?” I had no answer to offer to my friend. You cannot but be aware, Ms Wadud, how such wanton violence, or the threat of it, fuels Islamophobia in India and around the world. Perhaps, in your interest and ours, you should consider tweeting a message now addressed to Indian Muslims.

Khuda hafiz and bon voyage one more time.

(Javed Anand is general secretary, Muslims for Secular Democracy and co-editor, Communalism Combat.)

NB: For an account of a similar event in Delhi University many years ago (where the police tried their best to use threats of intimidation to call off an event) see:

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