The euphoria in the historic town of Jerusalem on 14 May during celebrations of the transfer of the US embassy to Jerusalem and the massacre of the Palestinians entwined with waves of resentment and anger across the world. This was another sign of the unbroken Israel-US partnership but for the Palestinians it was a grave reminder of the Nakba (Catastrophe) of 1948.
The protests and demonstrations were not confined to the streets of the Arab world but similar anger was felt in India where the protests were not only on the roads but on social media.
Indian Muslims never concealed their bond with Palestine – the whole of India is aspired by the dictum of Mahatma Gandhi that Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English and France to the French and it serves as an eternal principle of India-Arab bonds.
India-Palestine bonds in the past and the present
The land of Palestine or the cause of Palestine has never been an alien entity to Indian Muslims and Jerusalem is deemed the legacy of the Islamic glorious past and its capture in 1917 by Britain created a new sympathy for the Ottoman Empire among Indian Muslims. The city of Jerusalem in India has always been imagined through the Islamic prism and M.A. Ansari, a leading voice of Indian Muslims, once blatantly said that non-Muslims should not rule over Jerusalem because of its religiosity and revered Muslim figure Hasrat Mohani had said that Palestine along with Hejaz should be free from non-Muslim influence. The land was so close to the heart of Indian Muslims that one of the leading figures of his time, Mohammad Ali Johar, was buried in the courtyard of Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem in 1931 in the fulfillment of his last will. The transfer of Palestine under British rule in 1922 infuriated the Indian Muslims and the Ulema issued a series of Fatwas in this regard. The issue of Palestinian rights and the religiosity of Jerusalem dominated the political discourse during the Khilafat movement (1919-24) in the country. The Islamic-centric construct of Jerusalem and Palestine sealed the fate of any sympathy for Zionism in India.
India’s support for Palestine remained unabated and India was among the few nations in the world which opposed the UN partition plan of November 1947. It was amongst the first few to recognise the PLO in 1975 and accorded it diplomatic status later in 2014. India is also a votary to the 1975 UN resolution determining Zionism as a racist entity. Much has changed after India established diplomatic ties with Israel in 1992 but even today India remained stuck to its old principles and it was its adherent policy which made it vote in the UN in 2017 against the US unilateral decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Ceremony in Jerusalem and anguish among Indian Muslims
Despite changing global political and strategic scenarios, Indian Muslims never concealed their affection for the lands and have always raised their voices against the brutality of Israel. The visit of late Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to India in 2003 had been opposed by large numbers of Muslims from across the spectrum because they held him responsible for the killing of thousands of innocent Palestinians in Lebanon in 1982.
Once again Muslims, in stunning show of solidarity with the people of Palestine, swarmed the streets from north to south India. They carried banners, poster and flags calling Israel and the US joint perpetuators of genocide. The story of killing at will innocents in Gaza was trending on Twitter and Facebook and blogs were swamped with the condemnation of US and Israelis together. The majority blamed the US while some blamed the current Arab politicians for the plight of the Palestinians.
The representatives and members of different Muslims organisations were seen in the long march in the capital Delhi. The Jamiat Ulema Hind, a pre-independence nationalist Muslim body, organised simultaneous protests in small and big towns and one of its prominent members, Mr. Niyaz Farooqui, termed the US move an act of terrorism and said that by shifting the embassy to Jerusalem the US has destroyed all prospects for a solution to the vexed issue.
There were other organisations like Jamat Islami Hind (Indian Islamic Group), All Indian Muslims Personal Law Board, Muslim Majlis Mushawrat, Student Islamic Origination, Ahl-e-Hdith, All India Milli Council, Student Islamic Organisation and the Muslim Student Organisation which expressed their anger in different ways by giving official statements and organising programmes to protest the move. One of the strongest reactions came from the Muslim-dominated state of Kashmir in northern India where people joined the demonstrations and the participants accused the US President of hurting the sentiment of the Muslim Ummah. The veteran of state politics Mr. Farooque Abdullah said that the move has hurt Muslims across the world. On his part the president of Muslim Majlis Mushawrat, a Muslim advocacy group, Mr. Navid Hamid in a personal interview said that the latest move of the US has endorsed the views of many that the US was the main hindrance to the peace and the US is the real culprit in the region.
Deep anguish and anger were felt in Urdu media outlets, supposedly the voice of Muslims. One of the prominent Urdu daily newspapers, Siasat (Politics), in its editorial said that Israel has scripted another bloody history today by hosting the US embassy in Jerusalem and the world community can no longer be an onlooker to the slaughter of the Muslims in Gaza and termed the US decision an obituary of the peace process.
The editorial of another Urdu Daily, Salar, was reflective of the feeling of defeat among the Muslims when it remarked that the history of the Arab world, 14 May, will be mourned as another day of catastrophe and it further indicated that the region is waiting for new bloodshed. It blamed the complicity of the Arab leaders with the US and Israel for the present state of affairs. One of the most widely circulated Urdu newspapers Munsif of south India, observed that the present act of the US is reflective of its unrevealed contempt for the UN and moreover the UN has once again proved that it was merely a show piece.
The vanguard of political Islam in the country, Jamat Islami Hind (Indian Islamic Group) which never retreated from raising voices for global Muslims condemned the move both at official and individual levels. One of its senior members and office bearer, Mr. Saleem Engineer, said that Indian Muslims were well convinced that whatever is happening in Palestine is the agenda of the US. He expressed his pity that the Arab nations are still Western pawns and have not been able to achieve their autonomy and have no power to alter the political equation.
The issue of Palestine is never impacted by differences in theological persuasion and sectarian orientations among the Indian Muslims. In a public address, one of the prominent Shia scholars, Mr. Kalb-e-Jawwad, directly blamed the GCC leaders for the present disaster in Palestine and said that the Muslim Ummah cannot succumb to the US-Israel dictate to accept Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Mr. Mahmud Madani, former Member of Parliament and alumnae of the oldest religious seminary in India, Darul-Uloom, called the US move a humiliation of world sentiment and said that the act of US has justified the occupation of Jerusalem and has proved that it was never interested in the Middle East Peace Process. Syed Javed Ali Nashbandi of Ahle- Sunnah said that the Indian Muslims cannot allow Israel to commit crimes against Palestinians and Islam. Several Muslim women organisations came out openly against the move and activist Ms. Eeman Usmani named it a new conspiracy against the Muslim world and said that no power on earth can deprive Muslims of Jerusalem.
To sum up, Indian Muslims have always shown their commitment to preserve the religious sanctity of Jerusalem. What is more commendable is that Indian Muslims have never compromised the religiosity of Jerusalem despite shrinking space for Islam in the global arena and moreover their own growing political and economic plight have not deterred them from sympathising with the cause of Palestine.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.