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Religion


Forced worship stinks in God's nostrils

-Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island, to Maj. John Mason and Gov. Thomas Prence, 22 June 1670

There can be no compulsions in matters of religion

Karl E. Meyer and Shareen Brysac: Islam's Seductive Weapon?

This article was originally published by Untold Stories: Dispatches from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Kozhikode (Calicut)—A specter is haunting India’s state of Kerala, a supposedly new and secret Islamic weapon known as “love jihad.” Namely, the idea that young Muslim men court impressionable Hindu and Christian women to capture their souls as well as their bodies. In the Malabar region, where the majority of Kerala’s most venerable Muslim community lives, it is whispered that as many as 4,000 women have already succumbed. Can it be? Will seduction threaten the communal peace in this tolerant multicultural state? By chance, we arrived in Kozikode on the day riot police dispersed hundreds of demonstrators belonging to the activist group Hindu Aika Vedi (HAV) as they marched within a hundred meters of an Islamic social center. It was actually a “conversion center,” the protestors insisted. In reponse, a large crowd led by the Sunni Students Federation (SKSSF) gathered to protect the threatened social center. In the end, it all ended peacefully, if not amicably. City authorities invoked a law banning provocative assemblies, a riot was averted, and the crowd dispersed. A newspaper account was careful to state that during the agitation, Hindu leaders of HAV escorted a pregnant Muslim woman in a jeep to the local women’s hospital. It also happened that we were that day meeting two highly respected Muslim leaders: a Congress Party veteran, T. Sadarikkoya, who as a youngster took part in Gandhi’s “Quit India” campaign in 1943; and Prof. M. N. Karassery of Calicut University, a leading authority on Kerala’s Malayalam language and a widely read columnist. Both agreed that yes, there were communal problems. Fundamentalists have been proselytizing, and its effects are evident in the prevalence of hijabs worn by a growing minority of Muslim women. But Malabar had its distinct civil culture. Whereas Muslims in India’s northern provinces arrived as conquerors, their brothers arrived in Malabar some 450 years ago as traders. With rare exceptions, they have lived in peace alongside Hindus and Christians. Another unifying factor, Professor Karassery stressed, is that while a common language, Urdu, unites northern Indian and Pakistani Muslims, the Malabar Muslims share the same language, Malayalam, with Hindus and Christians. Thus during the bloody exchange of populations that occurred when India and Pakistan gained independence in 1947 there were no riots in Kerala, and few Muslims migrated northward.

Michael Deibert: A Note on Violence at Jawaharlal Nehru University

In early 2007, while reporting on the conflict in India-controlled Kashmir, I sat at a small tea shop in Srinagar discussing the political trajectory of this troubled region with two friends—a Kashmiri attorney named Malik Aijaz Ahmad and a student named Idrees Kanth. I saw in Kashmir, as I have in other countries such as Haiti and Côte d'Ivoire, how the majority of the populace was caught in a vicious war of attrition between opposing sides with very little recourse or protection. Witnessing the situation in Kashmir led me to write my first long-form feature for World Policy Journal, the flagship publication of the New York-based World Policy Institute, where I have recently been named a senior fellow. During my time in India, I also became aware of the country’s complicated religious and ethnic dynamic. On one hand, this saw frequent and repeated episodes of discrimination and violence against the country's Muslim minority, including the murder of some 2,000 people—the vast majority of them Muslims—in a bout of ethnic cleansing in the state of Gujarat in early 2002. On the other hand, representatives of the Muslim community in India could also often behave in ways that reeked of intolerance, such as when members of the Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) political party, including Indian lawmakers, attacked the Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen as she attempted to speak at a book release event in the city of Hyderabad in 2007. A recent email from Idrees, studying at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, demonstrates vividly to me that these tensions evident in Indian society as a whole do not shy away from rearing their heads even in a university setting. If communal violence, such as that which India witnessed in Gujarat in 2002, is also allowed to flourish in places of higher learning such as Jawaharlal Nehru University, it is a worrisome sign for a country that this month undertook another exercise in its vast experiment with democracy.

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