There are nine bodies—all of them young men—that have been lying in a Mumbai hospital morgue since 29 November. They may be stranded there for a while, because no local Muslim charity is willing to bury them in its cemetery. This is good news.
The nine are the Pakistani Muslim terrorists who went on an utterly senseless killing rampage in Mumbai on 26/11, gunning down at least 170 people, including 33 Muslims, scores of Hindus, as well as Christians and Jews. It was killing for killing’s sake. They didn’t even bother to leave a note.
All nine are still in the morgue because the leadership of India’s Muslim community has called them by their real name—murderers, not martyrs—and is refusing to allow them to be buried in the main Muslim cemetery of Mumbai, the 7.5-acre Bada Kabrastan graveyard, run by the Muslim Jama Masjid Trust.
“People who committed this heinous crime cannot be called Muslim,” Hanif Nalkhande, a spokesman for the trust, told The Times of London. Eventually, one assumes, they will have to be buried, but the Mumbai Muslims remain defiant.
“Indian Muslims are proud of being both Indian and Muslim, and the Mumbai terrorism was a war against both India and Islam,” explained M.J. Akbar, the Indian-Muslim editor of Covert, an Indian investigative journal. “Terrorism has no place in Islamic doctrine. The Quranic term for the killing of innocents is fasad. Terrorists are fasadis, not jihadis. In a beautiful verse, the Quran says that the killing of an innocent is akin to slaying the whole community. Since the...terrorists were neither Indian nor true Muslims, they had no right to an Islamic burial in an Indian Muslim cemetery.”
To be sure, Mumbai’s Muslims are a vulnerable minority in a predominantly Hindu country. Nevertheless, their in-your-face defiance of the Islamist terrorists stands out. It stands out against a dismal landscape of predominantly Sunni Muslim suicide murderers who have attacked civilians in mosques and markets— from Iraq to Pakistan to Afghanistan—but who have been treated by mainstream Arab media, such as Al Jazeera, or by extremist Islamist spiritual leaders and websites, as martyrs whose actions deserve praise. Extolling or excusing suicide militants as martyrs has only led to this awful phenomenon—where young Muslim men and women are recruited to kill themselves and others—spreading wider and wider. What began in a targeted way in Lebanon and Israel has now proliferated to become an almost weekly occurrence in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
It is a threat to any open society because when people turn themselves into bombs, they can’t be deterred, and the measures needed to interdict them require suspecting and searching everyone at any public event. And they are a particular threat to Muslim communities. You can’t build a healthy society on the back of suicide bombers, whose sole objective is to wreak havoc by exclusively and indiscriminately killing as many civilians as possible.
If suicide murder is deemed legitimate by a community when attacking its enemies abroad, it will eventually be used as a tactic against enemies at home, and that is exactly what has happened in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The only effective way to stop this trend is for the village—the Muslim community itself—to say “no more”. When a culture and a faith community delegitimizes this kind of behaviour, openly, loudly and consistently, it is more important than metal detectors or extra police. Religion and culture are the most important sources of restraint in a society. That’s why India’s Muslims, who are the second largest Muslim community in the world, after Indonesia’s, and the one with the deepest democratic tradition, do a great service to Islam by delegitimizing suicide-murderers by refusing to bury their bodies. It won’t stop this trend overnight, but it can help over time.
“The Muslims of Bombay deserve to be congratulated in taking this important decision,” Raashid Alvi, a Muslim member of Parliament from the Congress party, said. “Islam says that if you commit suicide, then even after death you will be punished.”
The fact that Indian Muslims have stood up in this way is surely due, in part, to the fact that they live in, are the product of and feel empowered by a democratic and pluralistic society. They are not intimidated by extremist religious leaders and are not afraid to speak out against religious extremism in their midst.
It is why so few, if any, Indian Muslims are known to have joined the Al Qaeda. And it is why, as outrageously expensive and as uncertain the outcome, trying to build decent, pluralistic societies in places such as Iraq is not as crazy as it seems. It takes a village, and without Arab-Muslim societies where the villagers feel ownership over their lives and empowered to take on their own extremists—militarily and ideologically—this trend will not go away.
©2009/THE NEW YORK TIMES