The Marginal Utility of Sharjeel Imam

A version of this essay was also published on Newslaundry

Sharjeel Imam is a computer scientist and a scholar of modern history speaking and writing about the most pressing issues of our times—the place of minorities in majoritarian democracies, the monopoly of the leftist narrative on the sensitisation of the masses, the silencing of oppositional voices in history writing, the integrity of nation-states which hold on to their claimed territories using brutal military force, the role of Islam in particular and traditional communal solidarities in general in anti-imperial and anti-colonial struggles today, etc. Sharjeel was instrumental in setting up the protests at Shaheen Bagh, before the protest site became cool and a favourite hangout spot for all ‘concerned’ citizens. He has a plan and a direction for the burgeoning youth of this country, something that very very few other people have. He has written articles that don’t just give high-sounding views but construct an alternative viewpoint from which the fight against oppressive corporate-statism can be waged. Sharjeel Imam is immensely useful to struggles of minorities all over the world and, if he is allowed to live, he will contribute to these struggles in a lasting manner.

Among many things he has being doing, Sharjeel Imam gave a speech in AMU, (you can read the transcript here) during the NRC/CAA protests, which was uploaded on a YouTube channel called ‘Youth Neeti’ on 17 January 2020. On 25 January, he was charged with sedition for the speech and a few days later, he was arrested in Bihar’s Jehanabad. Since then, many articles and posts have been written about Sharjeel Imam that have overshadowed everything the man has written himself. Now, a Google search about Sharjeel does not return his own articles but articles of those who have written against him.

We already know how Sharjeel is an anti-national according to the BJP. BJP’s position is clear—Sharjeel is an enemy combatant and must be treated as such. It is the position of the left-liberals that needs to be unpacked for its inherent ignorance and hypocrisy. Sharjeel clearly states that anybody who believes in the so-called integrity of the extant Indian state and constitution is an enemy. The BJP acts like an enemy and calls itself an enemy. The left-liberals worship at the altar of the Indian nation but refuse to have the decency to accept themselves as enemies. There is a map of India at Shaheen Bagh which includes all of Kashmir, even the AJK bits, and yet they do not accept that they are enemies of Kashmiris who have completely rejected this extremely jingoistic version of the Indian map.

The position that the left-liberals have adopted in regard to Sharjeel is this—we don’t agree with Sharjeel but he should not be charged with sedition. In place of sedition, these are the charges that the left-liberals level against him:

    1. Sharjeel asks non-Muslims to stand with Muslims on their terms—communalism
    2. Sharjeel’s speech helps the BJP because ‘the time is not right’—political stupidity

The left-liberals, who seem to have either not heard the speech or not understood it, miss the lip-smacking irony that these were the exact charges laid against the Barelvi Ulema by the Congress and their supporters, the Deobandi Ulema. Sharjeel reminds us in his speech that the unpardonable sin of the Barelvis was to oppose the Congress. Today, the unpardonable sin of Sharjeel Imam is the same, opposing the left-liberal combine. Only if he supports the left-liberal combine against the BJP will they recognize the validity of his position. Otherwise, he will be silenced and side-lined in favour of those Muslims who are more favourable to left-liberal Hindu nationalism. As Sharjeel said in his speech, the Deobandi-Barelvi debate in Indian Islam still rages on. Even after the best efforts of the Congress and the left parties, Indian Muslims have not accepted the Deobandis as their sole and only forefathers, but have kept the Barelvi tradition alive by opposing Hindu left-liberal appropriation of Islam.

We will use two articles and a Facebook post, written in the week after Sharjeel’s arrest, which form a pretty representative sample of the shallowness and intellectual dishonesty of the left-liberal position on Sharjeel Imam. One of the authors is a Brahmin social-justice warrior. One is a Muslim Indian journalist who believes in the secular and socialist idea of India. The last is a Brahmin contemporary artist. One Gandhian, one leftist and one liberal.

The first article we will discuss is by Shri Doctor Professor Apoorvanand Jha (he has dropped the Jha), a professor at the Hindi Department, Faculty of Arts, University of Delhi and a prolific meddler in the day-to-day affairs of the nation. Published on The Wire, the article is titled: Sharjeel Imam’s Speech Was Wild and Irresponsible, But Was It ‘Sedition’? Jha ji, who calls himself a tireless champion of minority rights, has this to say in his radical article defending Sharjeel’s right to freedom of expression:

He (Sharjeel) is wrong when he says that non-Muslims should join the struggle against the law only if they “agree to our terms”. There is a simple principle which unites people, Muslim or non Muslim, and that is the right of equal citizenship. On the fight for equal citizenship there cannot be any other condition. To say otherwise is to deny the possibility of solidarity. And one knows the battle of the oppressed cannot be won if it is only they who fight it.

To begin with the most glaring factual error which betrays Jha ji’s lack of interest in the actual contents of Sharjeel’s speech, Sharjeel never suggests that the battle of the oppressed has to be fought only by them. In fact, he says just the opposite:

As scholars, we can at least get one non-Muslim with us. That’s the responsibility of the scholars in Delhi. We make a team of 500 Muslim scholars in Delhi and make sure that 500 Hindus will come to their support when there is an urgent requirement. We have spent our lives there, we have at least worked enough to do this much. Our attempt should be to get 500 Muslims and 500 non-Muslims to the street on our own terms, for our cause. All of us can get one Hindu on our terms, right? We don’t need anybody else’s help. If all we want is to save ourselves from being tagged communal, and it is not really the tag that matters, what matters is brutality, what matters is being alone and getting badly beaten up by the police. I am saying this because this communal tag thing was being talked about a lot in Delhi. In Delhi, our attempt has been to get a crowd together in which non-Muslims chant Nara-e-Takbeer with us and stand there on our terms. If they are not willing to accept our terms, then they are using us and our crowd, which is what they have done for the past 70 years. The time has come when we make clear to non-Muslims that, if they sympathize with us, they should stand with us on our terms. If they can’t do that, they are not our sympathizers.

Sharjeel clearly asks non-Muslims to stand with Muslims. Now, to talk about Apoorvanand’s argument. He says that there cannot be any condition on the fight for equal citizenship. Why can there not be any conditions? Jha ji does not find it necessary to elucidate that. He states this particular Gandhian interpretation of equal citizenship like it is a fact established by nature. Let’s look at another interpretation of equal citizenship, that of Jinnah’s. ‘Political rights emanate from political might.’ As Sharjeel Imam says in his article on Jinnah, ‘if the two communities do not learn to respect and fear each other, then no agreement is worth more than just a piece of paper.’ Equal citizenship can thus be conditioned on a guarantee of political power, a guarantee that the kind of support being asked for will be the kind of support given. Reservations in the military, in the police, in the administration and in the judiciary are just some of the things that the minorities ask for as pre-conditions in the fight for equal citizenship. Jha ji thinks that by dropping Jha from his last name he guarantees equal citizenship, it will come to him as a rude surprise that equal citizenship takes more than token gestures. Speaking of, the upper caste in India should be banned from assuming castelessness till socio-economic conditions actually make them casteless.

Jha ji wants to support Sharjeel Imam but on his own terms and he does not see the problem there. Even after Sharjeel has clearly stated that he wants support from non-Muslims only if they agree with his terms, a non-Muslim has the audacity and indecency to force support upon Sharjeel without agreeing to his terms. It is an age-old fact that communities showing solidarity with each other celebrate each other’s festivals. A Hindu does not stop celebrating Diwali to show solidarity with Muslims. He celebrates Eid with the Muslims. This basic nature of solidarity is missed by the minority-rights champion, which shows just how cut off he is from showing solidarity himself. A better version of solidarity is given to us by Sharjeel Imam himself, in an article he co-authored with Saquib Salim, in which they argue that Muslims and Hindus should celebrate each other’s festivals, like they used to before partition:

This Janmashtami, we hope that Indians stop branding each other’s icons as Hindus or Muslims. We need to adopt good teachings from our ancestors while also developing modern thought in the process. To look at philosophies through communal prism has harmed this country more than anything else. Here’s a couplet from Muhammad Iqbal with a wish that religious bigotry ends from our society this Janmashtami.

Ye Aaya-e-Nau, Jail Se Nazil Huwi Mujh Par

Gita Mein Hai Quran To Quran Mein Geeta

This new ‘verse’ was revealed to me from the jail that the Quran is in the Gita and the Gita is in the Quran

The second article, also on The Wire, is by Mohd Asim, a Delhi based journalist. Let’s again begin from the glaring factual inaccuracies and wilful misrepresentations. Mohd Asim says that all of Sharjeel’s chosen targets are those ‘united today against the fascist assault on citizens.’ He conveniently elides the fact that Sharjeel is calling out precisely these self-appointed defenders for their fascism. Mohd Asim never addresses the accusation made against the defenders and ignores it completely.

Next, Mohd Asim says, ‘for him (Sharjeel Imam) this is a fight exclusive to Muslims. He laughs at the idea of an inclusive citizens’ protest.’ As we have already shown above, that is plain untrue. ‘Sharjeel’s problem with the Jamia Coordination Committee is that it’s not a Muslim-exclusive club.’ This is such a shameful lie that one has to question the intentions of Mohd Asim and his ability to assume the mantle of a journalist. Sharjeel’s problem with the JCC, Mohd Asim would have known if he had heard the speech, is not that it’s not a Muslim-exclusive club. His problem is that the JCC is a club that specifically excludes those who insist on shouting Allahu Akbar. His problem with the JCC is that they are not inclusive enough, not that they are not exclusive enough. In his own words:

This JCC that they have made, they say they are very inclusive, they say there is everyone in their group except those who chant Allahu Akbar. That’s their inclusive nature. Except for Allahu Akbar, which is a group there with some four–five hundred students, everyone is included in their JCC. What kind of inclusivity is that? It would have been inclusive if they had included the Allahu Akbar group. They hate the Allahu Akbar group and call themselves inclusive.

Mohd Asim further says, ‘Obviously he (Sharjeel) doesn’t relate with the protests resonating with “Jai Bhim” and “Jai samvidhan”’. Another lie. Sharjeel does oppose the protests resonating with Jai Samvidhan but he never once suggests that he is against the Jai Bhim protestors. By joining the two, Mohd Asim is guilty of obfuscation and putting words into Sharjeel’s mouth that misrepresent Sharjeel’s case.

Mohd Asim ends the article titled What Sharjeel Imam’s “Seditious” Speech Has in Common with the BJP with ‘who benefits from his rant? Your guess is as good as mine’. We can only assume that Mohd Asim wants us to believe that Sharjeel’s speech benefits the BJP. How does it benefit the BJP? ‘It serves the regime’s purpose to pick and choose out of many outlandish bits from his speech.’ Is Mohd Asim suggesting that one should not say things if they can be taken out of context and used by enemies with a malicious intent? As if the BJP needs Sharjeel Imam to say what he said to push their agenda. And even if his arguments do help the BJP, does that in itself make his arguments wrong? And even if his arguments are wrong, should they not be made because of that? Mohd Asim seems to suggest so much and more. According to Mohd Asim, arguments that can help the BJP are not only wrong but should not be made at all. Their being made is in itself wrong. Mohd Asim thinks that debates should only have right arguments that cannot be used by the right to push a right-wing agenda against the left.

To Mohd Asim’s rhetorical question, let’s give a real answer. Sharjeel’s speech benefits all those who are fed up with the lies and betrayals inherent in the system of the Indian state and its constitution. It helps all those who recognize the vacuity of the promises that have been made to minorities in this country after partition. It helps those who want to separate and recognize their allies and foes. Those who support Sharjeel now, not just against sedition but his arguments in entirety, are friends. Those who are against him are the enemies. Sharjeel’s speech thus marks the final litmus test for the left-liberals of India, who are finally losing their hegemony over the hearts and minds of the masses. Sharjeel’s speech helps the politically weak minorities in this majoritarian democracy to break free of the debilitating discourse of the left-liberals. It helps minorities realize how they can snatch back their agency from the left-liberals and start speaking and acting for themselves. On the other hand, whom does Mohd Asim’s article against Sharjeel Imam help? Your guess is as good as mine.

Finally, let’s get to the Facebook post written by Shuddhabrata Sengupta, artist, curator and writer. He begins the post by saying he doesn’t want to patronize Sharjeel but then goes on to accuse Sharjeel of idiocy, stupidity and complete mindlessness six times in his post. Not to patronize Shuddhabrata but the infinite numbness of his skull is made painfully apparent by his completely mindless suggestion that chanting Allahu Akbar will make him a Muslim.

What Sharjeel Imam is saying is actually this – he will accept my presence by his side, only, and only if, I too articulate the Muslim confession of faith – ‘naara-e-taqbir, allaho-akbar’ – that is what he is calling his precondition for acknowledging solidarity. That means he will accept me by his side, if I choose to become Muslim . . .

That Shuddhabrata did not even find it necessary to do a simple Google search before suggesting something so blatantly false and preposterous makes us question the state of the Brahmins in the arts today. For the uninitiated this is how you actually convert to Islam.

Becoming a Muslim is a simple and easy process. All that a person has to do is to say a sentence called the Testimony of Faith (Shahada), which is pronounced as:

I testify “La ilaha illa Allah, Muhammad rasoolu Allah.”

These Arabic words mean, “There is no true god (deity) but God (Allah), and Muhammad is the Messenger (Prophet) of God.” Once a person says the Testimony of Faith (Shahada) with conviction and understanding its meaning, then he/she has become a Muslim.

The first part, “There is no true deity but God,” means that none has the right to be worshipped but God alone, and that God has neither partner nor son. The second part means that Muhammad was a true Prophet sent by God to humankind.

To be a Muslim, one should also:

– Believe that the Holy Quran is the literal word of God, revealed by Him.

– Believe that the Judgment Day (Resurrection Day) is true and will come.

– Believe in the prophets that God sent and the books He revealed, and in His angels.

– Accept Islam as his/her religion.

– Not worship anything nor anyone except God.

The Muslim confession of faith is not ‘naara-e-taqbir, allaho-akbar’. Even if it were, one does not become a Muslim by simply saying the Shahada. A Jain and a Dalit can say the Shahada till kingdom come but without accepting Islam as our religion, we don’t become Muslims. Bhadralok Bengalis don’t become abhadra by chanting Jai Bhim with Dalits, Mr Sengupta doesn’t have to worry. Sharjeel Imam never asks the non-Muslims to convert to Islam. What he actually says is already cited above.

Shuddhabrata also says that Sharjeel Imam’s speech helps the BJP with a statement which I am sure he imagines is very clever, ‘if Sharjeel Imam didn’t exist, the BJP would have to invent him’. Mr Sengupta seems to be a fan of Voltaire without having imbibed any of the man’s intellectual integrity. To his quip, we say this: Since Sharjeel Imam does exist, it is necessary for people like Shuddhabrata to silence him by fear mongering about the ‘fascists’. Don’t say anything, lest it help the fascists—Shuddhabrata’s argument in a nutshell. Shuddhabrata is snatching Sharjeel’s agency away when he says that Sharjeel is only allowed to give those speeches that can’t be twisted to help the BJP.

That is not the only way in which Sharjeel is made bereft of his own agency. Sharjeel clearly says in his speech that anyone standing with him has to chant nara-e-takbeer. Anyone not willing to do that is not with him. Shuddhabrata is not willing to chant nara-e-takbeer but he also wants to force his support onto Sharjeel, like he wants to force his support on the Kashmiris. You cannot decide how to stand up for somebody else without taking into account how they want you to stand up for them. If someone asks you for food, you don’t just give them a chair and say that’s all you can do. They didn’t ask for the chair. Your chair is of no use to them. And yet, by giving the chair, you go home with a good conscience. Nobody is helped and your conscience is assuaged. That’s what Shuddhabrata’s ‘support’ for Sharjeel Imam amounts to.

According to the pure vision of Mr Sengupta, Sharjeel’s ‘personality type is hyper-masculine in a nerdy sort of way, and sees in its self image of the erudite scholar-rebel, a cerebral-ascetic mode of being that brings with it a “natural entitlement to leadership”’. This he has given as an objective judgment after himself stating he will not engage in any ad hominem attacks on Sharjeel and will evaluate Sharjeel’s argument. He has, in fact, paid such little attention to Sharjeel’s argument that he clubs Sharjeel with the left at one point.

According to the pure analysis of Mr. Sengupta, ‘in this situation the only principled and ethical position is that which insists on criticism of a regressive politics and at the same time insists on opposing the sedition law, especially when it is applied on someone that one chooses to be critical of’. He calls Sharjeel’s politics regressive and says that is the only principled and ethical position. The godhead speaking through Mr Sengupta knows the only principled and ethical position. All hail the wisest man in the whole wide universe, Shuddha. Wherefore is Sharjeel’s politics regressive? Because, the godhead says it is communal and stokes the fires of identity politics. To this, Sharjeel has already given a befitting reply:

Communal is something that relates to community, and this was the sense in which this term was used by many thinkers and politicians in the colonial times. It is only because of Congress’s usage of the word that we understand communal as a negative feature. ‘Communal’ need not mean harbouring hate and prejudice against the other, it means identifying with one’s community. Next, the Leftist phrase ‘identity politics’ is added in, ignoring the fact that Muslims are a besieged minority, and like Dalits, it is their right to use their identity to mobilise. When Dalits rally around their caste identity, our liberals become ‘casteless’; similarly, when Muslims seek redistribution, liberals become ‘secular’ and accuse us of ‘identity politics’.

The question arises, what do these people get from misquoting, misrepresenting and basically maligning Sharjeel Imam without having listened to his speech and without reading any of his publicly available articles? The answer is already given to us by him. ‘Maybe to gain some political traction or get favours from the Congress’ when they are in power. Further, their overt support for the nation of India, which is clearly the biggest fascist project in history, forces them to argumentative corners where they have no other choice but to engage in such low attacks and such wilful ignorance.

To engage in some objective personality analysis ourselves, their blatant lying betrays a personality type that is hypocritical and insincere in an insecure sort of way and sees in its self image of the humanist moral-rebel, an anti-all evils mode of being that brings with it a ‘natural entitlement to sit in judgment’ over all and sundry.

The left-liberals have as a group maintained that Sharjeel’s arguments are wrong but he should not be charged with sedition. Because they are against sedition, it seems like they are writing in Sharjeel’s support but they aren’t actually. They are against him. By taking a position against Sharjeel, they have shown themselves in exactly the colours that Sharjeel paints them in. One could say that Sharjeel perfectly predicts their response to himself. They call him communal and an agent of the BJP (albeit unconsciously). This is what he said they will call him because that is what they have always called people like him. He traces their genealogy to the extremist Hindu Congress and he is correct about them, because they still hold the same basic positions today that the extremist Hindu Congress held then. They heap false accusations and derision upon all Muslim scholars and leaders who have dared question the validity of their position, who have dared suggest that the Muslim community needs to think like a community, and who have refused to accept their promises of good behaviour made without any concrete steps to share actual political power. Like Jinnah, like Sharjeel. They hound thinking Muslims into a corner where they are forced to ask for partition and then blame the demand on the Muslims themselves.

The Dalits, Adivasis, Kashmiris, Assamese, Naga, Manipuris, all of them can make exactly the same argument that Sharjeel Imam made, replacing Muslim with their own identities, and all of them will get the same treatment from the liberal-left. Sharjeel Imam is a minority rights scholar from the Muslim community, rather than a Muslim scholar. He shows us that all minorities in India must behave exactly as the nation worshipping liberal-left wants them to or face derision, scorn, charges of extremism and stupidity, and an unwillingness to listen to their narratives about themselves. Liberal-leftists claim to represent and sympathize with all these groups while none of these groups agree with the liberal-leftist characterization of themselves. The question arises: who do the liberal leftists actually sympathize with and represent? Except for appropriating and silencing voices of minorities in the name of the syphilitic integrity of India, what do they actually do?

To get a better idea of who Sharjeel Imam is and what he represents and stands for, we urge you to read the full transcript of his speech and read the articles he has written or co-written about the idea of India in early 20th century Urdu poetry, about the actual role of Jinnah which has been distorted by the Congress, about the high prevalence of cow related hate crimes for the last 100 years, about the hypocrisies of Kanhaiya Kumar and Indian liberals in the Begusarai parliamentary elections, about the reverence for Krishna in works of Urdu poets, about the 1980 Moradabad Muslim massacre which is an indictment of left and secular politics, about how the left parties in Bengal have done nothing for the Muslims, about the dominance of men in left wing groups which pay lip-service to women empowerment, about anti-Muslim left-wing students in JNU, and about how Aleppo’s coverage in Western media is indicative of the fundamentalism-imperialism nexus.

We, a Jain, a Dalit, and a Muslim, support what Sharjeel Imam has said and written, and agree to stand with him on his own terms.

Nara-e-takbeer. Allahu Akbar.

A version of this essay was also published on Newslaundry


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We, a Jain, a Dalit, and a Muslim, support what Sharjeel Imam has said and written, and agree to stand with him on his own terms.

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