11/09/2009, 00.00
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An ode to India divides Muslims and Hindus

by CT Nilesh
The song "Vande Mataram", invites citizens to bow before the motherland, as if before a goddess. For some Muslims, this is idolatry. Aghar Ali Engineer, an experienced moderate Muslim, points out that Muslim tradition is not monolithic, and they too have been patriotic in India.
Mumbai (AsiaNews) - Vande Mataram  a song written in 1870 by a Bengali poet, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, has been, and still is, a source of division between Muslims and Hindus.

The latest chapter of a century long controversy was written last week by a resolution passed during an anti-terrorism meeting of Dar Ul Uloom Deoband which dubbed the singing of Vande Mataram as “un-Islamic”. The reason is that Hindus consider the Mother-land as a goddess and the song says: “I bow down to the Mother-land” and this is considered as an act of idolatry by certain Muslims.

But not all the Muslims think like this. The Muslim reformist, Asghar Ali Engineer said: “With each one vying to promote himself as a better Muslim, they have forgotten the Jamiat’s glorious tradition of participation in the freedom movement, of which Vande Mataram  was an inseparable part. This resolution has eclipsed the very purpose of the meeting to condemn terrorism” In fact of the 15 resolutions passed by the Jamiat-e-Ulema-I-Hind at his anti-terrorism conference at Dar Ul Uloom Deoband, only one was highlighted by the media.

The singing of Vande Mataram  had always been associated  with the independence movement starting from 1906 when it was used  as song and slogan against the partition of Bengal by the British, but in 1908 the Muslim Leage criticized it.

In 1939 Mahatma Gandhi wrote in his paper Harijan: “If at any mixed gathering any person objects to the singing of Vande Mataram, the singing should be dropped.” But the ultranationalist Hindu, like the Shiv Sena and the Sangh Parivar had made it an issue of confrontation with the Muslims. Members of the Bajrang Dal and of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad protested immediately against the resolution with slogans like: “If you want to live in this country you must sing Vande Mataram”.

Vande Mataram is not the official national anthem but in 1950 the then president of India Rajendra Prasad declared Jana Gana Mana as national anthem and Vande Mataram as national song.

Asghar Ali Engineer points out examples from the Muslim tradition when the Mughal emperors made courtiers bow to them as sign of respect: “So why should we not bow to our Mother-land?” The poet Allama Iqbal wrote: “Each speck of the motherland is God to me”. There is a variety of Islamic beliefs in India: “The Deobandis consider even singing salaams to Prophet Mohammed’s glory as haraam (sinful) but most Indian Muslims do not” says Engineer “The Deobandis cannot impose their Islam on all Indian Muslims”.

From time to time we read in the newspapers that students in some schools are compelled to sing Vande Materam and some parents object to it. Some years ago in cinema halls the audience was compelled to stand and listen to the national anthem, but the rule was later removed.

“Under compulsion - says Engineer - I won’t sing it to prove my patriotism. And if ordered not to sing by any fatwa, I will sing it to assert my freedom of choice”.

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