Suhail Ahmad Banglori

Pseudo-Secularism and Dhimmitude

The dhimmitude of the dhimmis prevents introspection within the Muslim community. It frustrates the attempts of those who attempt to create a genuinely secular society.

Secularism in India is a much abused word. The most vocal champions
of secularism turn out to be cowards on closer examination, shouting
down the weak and kowtowing to the strong. There is a general
uneasiness about the state of secularism in India, and people
sometimes voice their misgivings in a muted way. The Bharatiya Janata
Party (BJP), which is what the Hindus of India have finally put
together as their party after a great deal of hesitation, diffidence
and fumbling, has coined a word to express this state of affairs. The
magic word is 'pseudo-secularism'.

In a way, this word does express the deplorable state of affairs. But
the word is somewhat puerile. One would have hoped that more telling
and precise terminology could be added to the language of discourse,
to restore sanity to the debate. 'Pseudo-secularism' is just one of
the many aspects of a social condition which has endured in history
for thirteen hundred years. That condition is called 'dhimmitude'.
The after-effects of that condition persist in the minds of people
subjected to it (or their descendants) long after it has come to an
end in their surroundings.

To recapitulate the subject briefly, 'dhimmitude' is the social and
psychological state of non-Muslims living under Islam. Technically,
the only non-believers who can live under Islam are fellow
monotheists practising other Abrahamic faiths, namely Christianity
and Judaism. But even Hindus (who are outright kafirs, and should be
killed immediately in jihad) have been granted dhimmitude, for the
simple reason that they could not be exterminated.

Dhimmis live under a variety of discriminatory laws that are morally
degrading and materially harmful. Dhimmi lands are delivered to the
Islamic Umma by means of war, that is, dhimmitude is inaugurated by
jihad. The dhimmis cease to be masters of their own destiny, and
become subject peoples. The dhimmis are 'tolerated' in their own
homelands. An elaborate scheme of oppression and extortion is set up
in the name of toleration. The model behaviour expected from the
dhimmis is one of submission, and acceptance of all the disabilities
imposed upon them. As a reaction to the terror, Hindus, as dhimmis,
feel with respect to Islam, they have practised being inoffensive to
Muslims over the centuries, and seek the Umma's approval or avoid the
Umma's displeasure. If they organise themselves at all, it is on
platforms, which the Umma certifies as permissible. Hindus thus
cannot form parties on a Hindu platform, whereas the Muslim League
lives on in India, after partition, without even a cosmetic change of

This is why communist parties in India are strong in places like
Punjab, Bengal and Kerala -- all of them regions that have a high
population of Muslims. The Indian Parliament is witness to the
curious spectacle of bearded, observant Sikhs claiming to be members
of the Communist party, and the allegedly anti-religion Marxist party
in Kerala forming electoral alliances with the Muslim League.

In his insightful little book Muslim Politics in India, an Indian
Muslim, Hamid Dalwai describes one of the symptoms of dhimmitude in
plain English. He describes an instance of Indian Muslims demanding a
ban on a book, and launching an agitation to enforce the ban. He also
describes the uproar created by the alleged disappearance of a sacred
hair from the beard of the Prophet Muhammad, enshrined in Hazratbal,
in Kashmir.

Dalwai points out that not a single Muslim intellectual came forward
to denounce this agitation. He wrote his own forthright views on the
subject, and approached an editor of a journal. However the editor,
who was a Hindu, refused to publish the article. Dalwai sums up his
experience in the following words:

A Hindu is used to playing several roles and he is an expert in
assuming different forms on different occasions. I have already
referred to Hindu intellectuals and given the due praise. But I must
frankly state that there is a kind of Hindu who is always terrified
when he thinks of Muslims. This is no doubt a shameful state of
affairs. At every critical moment this particular type of Hindu
pretends to be more of a Muslim than a Muslim himself, and thwarts
the attempts of those who are trying to make the average Muslim less
of a fanatic.
(Dalwai, 1968, pp. 44-45)

The dhimmitude of the dhimmi thus prevents introspection within the
Muslim community. It frustrates the attempts of those who attempt to
create a genuinely secular society.

The Umma's world view dominates the dhimmis' lives even outside
politics. In fact, the political symptoms of dhimmitude are merely
corollaries to the pervasive influence of the Umma on the
civilization of the dhimmis. The dhimmi peoples even begin to view
their own civilization in a manner imposed by the Umma. In India,
this has given rise to the conception of a 'composite culture' to
which both Hindu and Muslim are supposed to have contributed. The
Umma considers the history of a land prior to its conquest by Islam
as jahiliyya (ignorance).

The dominant school of historians (who are now on the retreat) has
tried to earn the Umma's good graces by emphasizing the Umma's real
and imaginary contributions, and denying the damage Islam has wrought
over thirteen centuries. The idea of 'composite culture' does not
however burden the people of Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The members of the Umma in these countries do not make any efforts to
promote the native culture of the land. Even the nationalist Ulama
who opposed the partition of India, make no effort to reunite the
country once they are in Pakistan. Thus Maulana Maududi who was
vehemently opposed to the partition of India, devoted himself to the
Islamization of Pakistan after 1947, and not to the reunification of

In a previous article I have quoted extracts from a Presidential
address by Bashir Gemayel, in which he finally declares his
intentions (and that of his electorate) to "be able to assume and
testify to their Christianity in the Middle East." He was obviously
militating against a situation similar to that in India, where simply
to be Hindu has in recent times become a dirty word. The similarity
does not stop at the psychological level: there is a perfect analogy
in all matters of detail, down to the facts on the ground. In some
parts of India, for example Kashmir, to be Hindu is as risky as being
Christian in the Christian homeland Lebanon.

Gemayel points out that his people are not Bedouins; they have no
camels, and they have a history of 6000 years. Yet they are usually
considered 'Arabs' (along with Copts, Palestinian Christians, and
Assyrians). The story of how these autochthonous peoples of the
Middle East came to become 'Arabs' in the eyes of the outside world
is an interesting one.

It began with the rise of an ideology called 'Arabism', largely
developed by Christians living in the Middle East. It obscured the
realities of the Arab world and drew a curtain on the very real
animosities that simmer within the societies that form the 'Arab
world'. The Christians of the Middle East had acquired a lease of
life with the advent of colonialism, which had brought some temporary
though unreliable security. The association with the Christian
colonists however caused the native Christians of the Middle East to
be viewed with suspicion. The Christians hoped that an appeal to the
shared 'Arab culture' would earn them the goodwill of the Umma.
Christians were required to cherish the Prophet as a great national
Arab leader.

In its essence it meant that neither Islam nor Christianity should
serve as the elements of the personal definition but a new thing--
Arabism. Arabism could not be so accurately and legally defined as
Islam, but it was the only way to enable everybody to take part in
the new political activity and, most important, free the Christians
from their inferior status. (Sharon, 1994)

But having once admitted the importance of an Arab movement, it was
impossible to deny the Prophet and his faith. After all, the Middle
East was Islamized and Arabized at the same time.

Wherever the theoreticians of Arab nationalism turned, they found
Islam, and they had to conclude that what they tried to run away from
returned to assert itself through the widest gates). There is nothing
in this idea of Arab nationalism that is not Islamic. Constantine
Zurayk, one of the most important Christian theoreticians of Arab
nationalism, could not but admit this fact in the clearest terms. He

"What is the connection between the prophet Muhammad and Arab
nationalism, and what is his message for it? The prophet Muhammad is
in the first place, the prophet of Islam....this religion has
influenced every aspect of our Arab culture. For we cannot today
understand our ancient Arab heritage...except after a deep study of
the tenets and laws of the Muslim religion, and after reaching a
correct understanding of its spirit and organization....this is why
every Arab, no matter what his sect or community...should attempt to
study Islam and to understand its reality; he should also sanctify
the memory of the great prophet to whom Islam was revealed."

Christian leaders like Michel Aflaq (who founded the famous Ba'ath
party) converted to Islam. Arab nationalism thus ended up with a
reassertion of Islam after the colonial powers withdrew. The
strongest supporters of a composite 'Arab nationalism' were
themselves disinherited by the 'composite' civilization.

The dhimmis can be great agents of change and modernization. They may
be generations ahead of their time, and yet they have to confine
themselves to channels, which the Umma permits. Such was the
experience of Mirza Malkom Khan, an Iranian of Armenian (Christian)
descent, who is one of the founders of modern Persian prose writing,
and an influential leader of the Constitutional Movement in Iran. To
quote Manochehr Dorraj:

"Malkum Khan (1833-1908) was an Armenian by birth who converted to
Islam. Although a secularist by intellectual training, he was a
pragmatic politician with close ties to the court who avoided the
fiery method of....intellectual confrontation with Islam. Instead, he
favored Islamization of the concept of constitutionalism in order to
gain the critical support of the Ulama for a mashruteh
(constitution). Through his long stay in Europe, first as a student
and later as ambassador to various European nations, Malkum developed
an appreciation for Western civilization, becoming a convinced
modernist and a committed constitutionalist. As a part of an effort
to familiarize Iranians with Western democratic thought, he
translated parts of John Stuart Mill's On Liberty into Persian.

As Malkum lost hope in royal-initiated reform, he published a paper
in London called Qanun (The Law) that was critical of the tyranny and
despotism of the Qajar court. He was a pioneer in introducing Western
ideas of law and constitutionalism to Iran on a systematic basis.
Malkum was an advocate of science and secular education. He
proclaimed: 'The present age is the age of fast traveling, of science
and technology, and no longer of Arabic expressions and Arabic
poetry." He refuted the romantic idea of political isolationism, and
warned that Iran must either go forward with the advanced nations of
the West, or perish in the darkness of ignorance and backwardness.'"

(Dorraj, 1968, p. 96)

The reader may wonder why a committed secularist with no particular
love for Arabic culture, and who is not a Muslim by birth, should
convert to the faith of the peoples who have oppressed his own
ancestors. Avenues for advancement and self-expression in Islam-
dominated societies are available to dhimmis only if they remain
subservient to Islam and its policemen, the Ulama.

Not facing the issue of dhimmitude squarely in the face has been a
problem that has plagued dhimmi societies the world over. The problem
of dhimmitude continues to reappear in a more serious form. The way
out is the way suggested by President Bashir Gemayel of Lebanon on
the day of his assassination:

Henceforth, we refuse to live in any "dhimmitude"!
We no longer wish to be under any protection!
Only the truth will redeem us now.
Only the truth will allow us to abide in dignity.
Because we have mocked the world for forty years, the world has
mocked us.
Because we have deceived the world for forty years, the world in turn
has deceived us.
Because we deemed ourselves totally insignificant, the world has
disregarded us.
And just as we vanquished through our resistance, so we must today
conquer all Lebanon, all its 10,452 square kilometers! We must
conquer the whole country and this land must be free unto all its
sons, without distinction of religions, beliefs, and opinions.


Muslim Politics In India, Hamid Dalwai, 1968, Nachiketa Publications,

From Zarathustra to Khomeini: Populism and Dissent in Iran, Manochehr
Dorraj, Lynne Rienner Publishers, Boulder and London, 1990.

The Islamic Factor in Middle East Politics, Moshe Sharon, Midstream,
January 1994.




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