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Issue No.: 572 | February 2015

Being Muslim and Working for Peace

Raphael Susewind
BEING MUSLIM AND WORKING FOR PEACE - Ambivalence and Ambiguity in Gujarat by Raphael Susewind, published by Sage Publications, New Delhi.  2013  pp. 180  Price Rs. 550

Reviewed by Dr. Ali Khwaja, Chairman, Banjara Academy, Bangalore.
In an era when everyone is pointing fingers at others, and there is so much interest in violence, aggression, terrorists etc, it was a pleasant surprise to read a book entirely dedicated to the peace workers who helped bring Gujarat back to normalcy after the unfortunate riots of 2002. The author, a German, has apparently put in intensive effort and time to go to the grassroots, overcome expected suspicion of his intentions, and to delve deep into the psyche of various ordinary individuals who worked towards development or peace, each with their own agenda or goals.

Equally heartening is that the author has exhibited absolutely no bias against Indians, no judgement on Hindus or Muslims, and no caustic remarks on the perpetrators of the riots. It is an absolutely refreshing treatise on the positive aspects of human behaviour, the people who are pro-active and believe in moving forward without malice or anger. A word of caution: the book can be heavy reading for the casual reader, as the author has taken pains to structure, rationalize, justify and present objectively his extensive surveys in different parts of Gujarat. On the other hand, it is an eye-opener for those who look for the silver lining in an atmosphere of thunder clouds of hatred and violence.

Similarly, it is appreciable that the book reproduces verbatim (with translation of course) the comments and thoughts of different people who opened out so candidly to the author. This enables the reader to form individual objective opinions without being influenced by the author.

If you are wondering why this young European scholar of political science took up such an unusual pursuit, you can read the answer in his own words:

"With my study, I wanted to understand the various ways in which spiritual beliefs, religious practices and dynamics of belonging, influence Muslims who work for peace – and to see how their activism in turn shapes these dimensions of their religious identities. I wanted to take religion more seriously at the micro-level of individual experience – without losing track of its deep ambivalences.”

The author has not only done his own surveys and interviews, but has quoted other researchers extensively, from Harsh Mander to Asgar Ali Engineer, and many international scholars. He goes on to recount the heated debates he was witness to, as to which kind of activity should count as legitimate peace activism. He has explained the hurdles he overcame due to language and its interpretation: the diverse usage of words such as shanti, sukuun, aman etc. These can be challenging to even us Indians who use them, since diversity of our people results in completely different explanations and connotations, hence the author’s ability to interpret them is commendable.

The book identifies two different categories of peace workers, those working with secular NGOs, and those working with Faith Based Organizations (FBOs). It was heartening to see that though the purpose and intent of these categories of workers was quite diverse, they did manage to weave a fabric of rehabilitation and peace into society, and particularly into the otherwise reticent Muslim community.

For example, the Gujarat Harmony Project with NGO Sanchetana had acquired credibility and trust of Muslims due to their extensive work when earthquake had struck parts of the state earlier. He has also brought out the irony of religionists by his comment, "many of those who campaigned for the secular democratic idea of India, such as Gandhi and Maulana Azad, were devout practitioners of their respective religious faiths. On the other hand, foremost among those who fought for States constructed along religious line, Jinnah was not a practicing Muslim for most of his life, and Savarkar, founder of militant Hindu nationalism which he called Hindutva, was an avowed atheist” (quoted from Mander 2009).

Through his extensive interviews the author has brought out how many women emancipated themselves after the riots from victimhood, and later from religious patriarchy. This characteristic set them apart from both the seasoned faith-based workers and secular social workers. Many emancipated women spoke about success through their own personal transformation, moving into unexplored areas such a micro-credit. Many who organized such schemes themselves became beneficiaries and could uplift their families. In this way many found emancipation even from exploitation by men.

Muslim women shared candidly about their strong faith, which was unshaken by the violent events, but the pressure they faced from their community. One lady said, "I would never question the community. But the community says until today that I should do this or that as a widow, and whoever turned an activist was accused ‘but you are a Muslim!’ ”

The future and the hopes can perhaps be summed up by an interviewee Mariam, who told the author, "We still have friends working with us, they are Hindus – so then the important division is good and bad people. It is not Hindu or Muslim for us. That way I still have lot of hope, and I look at all that very positively, and I have the feeling that we all will coexist. And there are problems, but there is not a failed State or something like that.”

It is absolutely essential that such surveys and investigations are carried out by liberal and neutral researchers who can present the common public with a detailed and unbiased picture of places that are disturbed or are going through transition, as the TV or daily newspapers only give us instant and scandalizing news, rarely bothering to look into the long-term changes, effect and outcome.





Other Articles in this Issue

Between Ourselves



The Legacy of Gopal Krishna Gokhale


A. B. Shah

Laying the Foundation for a Modern India

S. P. Aiyar

His Relevance Today

Aroon Tikekar

His Achievements

Sunil Gokhale

Gokhale And Gandhi – Their Second Meeting

Prabha Ravi Shankar

Sir Pherozeshah Mehta’s Tribute

Godrej N. Dotivala

Some Contemporaries of Gokhale in Poona

R. Srinivasan

The Symposium held on 15th November 2014 – Report

Chauhan, Devanshu, Khan, Jarupati and Sunilkumar

Great Indian Liberals: Rt.Hon.– Srinivasa Sastri


Prime Minister Modi and Governance

Will the Real BJP Please Stand Up?

Firoze Hirjikaka

Budget 2015 – Will it Ensure Make in India?

M. R. Venkatesh

Right-Wing Zealots Are Derailing Modi's Push for a Development Agenda

Bapu Satyanarayana

Foreign Relations in the 21st Century

Global Power Structure in Transition: A New Bipolar World Underway?

B. Ramesh Babu

Point - Counter Point : Every issue has at least two sides

The Jihadi Mind

Ashok Karnik

Unspeakable Cruelty

Ashok Karnik

Loose Cannons

Ashok Karnik

National Security Vs Politics

Ashok Karnik


The Peshawar Attack on School Kids: Implications for NATO’s Strategy in South Asia

Ashish Punthambekar

Why No Department of History of Science?


What Kind of Religiosity is this?

Suresh Shirodkar.

One of India’s greatest ironies


Book Review

Being Muslim and Working for Peace

Raphael Susewind
The journal of the Indian Committee for Cultural Freedom
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