To invoke Allah or to not: Secular Islamophobia and the protesting Indian Muslim

31 December 2019
A protest rally against the CAA and NRC in Kolkata.
Debajyoti Chakraborty / NurPhoto / Getty Images
A protest rally against the CAA and NRC in Kolkata.
Debajyoti Chakraborty / NurPhoto / Getty Images

At around noon on 14 December, a middle-aged  man was painting on a wall of Jamia Millia Islamia’s Chemistry Department that faces the varsity’s Central Canteen. That day, many students were painting colourful messages on every other wall in Jamia, expressing their opposition to the recently enacted Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019.  

But the man’s brush strokes were an attempt to efface an Islamic proclamation of faith written in Arabic on the wall: “La ilaha illallah”—There is no god but Allah. A group of about fifteen students and security guards were standing next to him. The group started cheering on the guards for paying heed to their complaint against the “communal slogan,” and asking someone to repaint it. At that moment, another group of about ten–fifteen students walked into scene, visibly upset at the attempt of effacement. One of them said, “How dare you attempt to remove this? Isn’t this the whole reason why Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens are being used to target us?” 

The man holding the brush sensed the tension and quickly walked away. One of the students from the second group rewrote the two words that had been painted over by then. Students from the second group began telling those gathered there that the CAA needed to be seen as an attack on Islam and Muslims, and that it must be an entry point for Muslim assertion. The first group retorted by calling the slogan “communal” in an otherwise secular movement—“Non-Muslims are also joining in, after all,” one of them said. 

Perhaps to tone down the Muslimness that the wall reflected, by the evening, other graffiti had been painted next to the proclamation—“Secular India” and “Be United” in English; “Civil Naafarmaani,” or “civil disobedience,” and “Sab ek hain,” or “all are equal,” in Devanagari script. Later that day, students gathered at Gate 7 of the campus amid slogans of the communist greeting, “Lal salaam”—or red salute—and “Inquilaab Zindabaad”—Long live the revolution.

One by one, they took up the microphone to speak about the CAA-NRC issue. The left-liberal student leaders, who were controlling the speakers’ order, shouted down anyone who tried to make a point about CAA and NRC primarily being about anti-Islam politics. They accused those who raised slogans like Allahu Akbar—God is great—of communal sloganeering. The left-liberal students made statements such as, “Let us be united. Don’t give a communal colour to the movement,” and “We will not allow ‘La ilaha’ to be shouted here.”

Mudasir Amin is a Kashmiri researcher based in Delhi.

Samreen Mushtaq is a Kashmiri researcher based in Delhi.

Keywords: Citizenship (Amendment) Act Islamophobia Muslims in India