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A Future Islam Can Be Proud Of


"Slumdog Millionaire" composer, Indian Muslim Allah Rakha Rahman, said in his Oscar acceptance speech, he had in his life "faced a choice between hate and love, and always chose love."

"Slumdog Millionaire" composer, Indian Muslim Allah Rakha Rahman, said in his Oscar acceptance speech, he had in his life "faced a choice between hate and love, and always chose love."

There are by some estimates 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, about 1/10 of whom live in India. Despite being a minority in a Hindu-dominated country, India's Muslims outside of the conflict-ridden Kashmir region, have largely refused to heed the siren's call of the Islamic jihadists.

They have remained peaceful citizens of the world's most populous democracy, boldly using their numbers to ensure that those following agendas perceived as anti-Muslim cannot hope to attain national office.

Even the "Hindu-nationalist" Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has as its partners parties like Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and Janata Dal (United), which staunchly defend the numerous protections given to religious minorities to India since the country gained its independence in 1947.

Alienation Canard

It is small wonder then that India's Muslims have made world-class achievements in areas such as art, cinema, and business. The Muslim Azim Premji is one of India's richest people and has been recognized by "Business Week" as one of "Greatest Entrepreneurs of All Time." Former Indian President Abdul Kalam is also a devout Muslim.

In Bollywood, India's massive movie industry, Muslim heroes and heroines rank among the most popular film stars in a country that is 85 percent Hindu. Last year, "Newsweek" magazine named Muslim film star Shahrukh Khan one of the 50 most powerful people on Earth.

Millions of Muslim youths in India have been trained in sciences such as engineering and medicine since the 1990s, as were hundreds of thousands in the preceding decades. Of course, millions live in poverty -- just like millions of Hindus and Christians and others in this country that has nearly 300 million desperately poor people.
The employment and wealth created by entrepreneurs like Premji. The music created by "Slumdog Millionaire" heroes Rahman and Pookutty. The secure energy promised by Muhammad el-Baradei and the IAEA. These are the future of Islam. These people, and millions like them, are the true Muslims.


In short -- although the hate-mongers would wish otherwise -- the overwhelming majority of India's Muslims feel no sense of alienation from their society or the outside world. They are confident that, together with fellow citizens from all faiths, they can compete anywhere in the world and succeed.

This spirit was amply evident during the recent Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles, when two Indian Muslims -- Allah Rakha Rahman and Resul Pookutty -- won three Oscars between them in competition with the best composers and sound engineers in the world. These men are a universe away from the hatred and intolerance preached by Islamist extremists, who urge Muslims to withdraw from a world in which they claim everything is stacked against them.

True Spirit

A battle is being waged for the hearts and minds of Muslims, a battle between those preaching hate and exclusion and those advocating coexistence and cooperation. As Rahman said in his Oscar acceptance speech, he had in his life "faced a choice between hate and love, and always chose love." Pookutty dedicated his award to his country, India, and "its civilization," which he said "gave the world the word that precedes silence and is followed by more silence," om.

This is a word that originated thousands of years ago, when Sanskrit was born. Unlike Islamist extremists, Khomeinists, and Wahhabis, who refuse to look beyond their own narrowly interpreted traditions, Rahman and Pookutty scour the world for inspiration, demonstrating their capacity to lead the world in creating the riches of the Knowledge Economy.

If not for the intellectual and cultural destruction wrought by the extremists (remember the Buddhas of Bamiyan?), I think dozens of Muslims would have reached the tops of their fields by now, even joining Nobel Prize laureate Muhammad el-Baradei. El-Baradei, the Egyptian director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), shares with Rahman and Pookutty the moderate, knowledge-driven Islam that was responsible for the rapid spread of the religion during the first millennium after it was revealed.

Wahhabis and Khomeinists constantly seek to undermine the confidence of Muslims by promoting a culture of victimhood and urging Muslims to withdraw from the world and retreat into ghettos. But the compassion and tolerance that forms the core of true Islam can drive away such intolerance and hatred.

People like Rahman, Pookutty, and el-Baradei reflect the true spirit of Islam, a spirit that can create treasures in the modern world instead of drowning in the fantasy of returning to some pre-modern Golden Age. The employment and wealth created by entrepreneurs like Premji. The music created by Rahman and Pookutty. The secure energy promised by el-Baradei and the IAEA. These are the future of Islam. These people, and millions like them, are the true Muslims.

M.D. Nalapat holds the UNESCO Peace Chair and is director of the Department of Geopolitics at Manipal University in India. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL

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