Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam, or as the world fondly knew him, APJ Abdul Kalam was the 11th President of India and a scientist par excellence. The man who was instrumental in not only crafting India’s space program but also, in the Pokhran tests which put India on the map as far as nuclear capabilities were concerned, born on 15th October 1931 was by any measure one of the greatest sons the soil had ever produced, however, he was just not Muslim enough for intellectuals.
Right after Dr APJ Abdul Kalam became the 11th President of India, there were several opinion pieces that derided him for not being Muslim enough, most of these op-eds, written by Muslim intellectuals and some, by their sympathisers.
One such article was written by Dr Rafiq Zakaria, an Indian politician and Islamic cleric who passed away in 2005. Known for his propagation and advocacy of conservative Islam, Zakaria was closely associated with Indian National Congress (INC) during the freedom struggle as well.
In his article, Zakaria essentially says that APJ Abdul Kalam, while a great asset to India is just not Muslim enough.
Zakaria, while praising Dr Kalam for being a great patriot, writes, “He was born a Muslim and bears a Muslim name, he should not be put in the same category as the two former Muslim Presidents, Dr Zakir Husain and Mr Fakruddin Ali Ahmed. Both of them were as great a patriot and Indian to the core as Dr Kalam. But they were also Muslims in the real sense of the word; they believed in the tenets of the Quran and faithfully followed the traditions of the Prophet”.
Essentially, Zakaria takes a strong exception to the respect being accorded to Dr Kalam because per the Islamic intellectual, Kalam was a mere ‘Muslim in name’. Despite the honey-dripping that Zakaria tries to further by calling Kalam a great patriot and scientist, his disdain for someone who doesn’t follow the strict tenets of Islam as outlined in the Quran is rather evident.
Zakaria points out how Dr APJ Kalam had refused to attend an event to speak on Prophet Muhammad’s birthday and separately, had also turned down the invitation to deliver the Seerut lecture that aims to pay homage to Prophet Muhammad.
While Zakaria tried to whitewash his bigotry by inserting a random ‘Hindu-Muslim unity’ phrase, he goes on to deride Dr Kalam for ‘feeling more at home with the Hindus’.
“Dr Kalam feels much more at home with the Hindus. His Hindu friends, with whom he has spent a good deal of his life, have testified to the fact that he is far more attracted to Hinduism than Islam; I find nothing wrong with it. But for God’s sake, don’t describe him as a Muslim President and take credit for having obliged the Muslims for giving them this great honour… Dr Kalam never reads the Quran but every morning he goes through the Gita and is enchanted by it. He is sincerely devoted to Krishna. He recites the Hindu mantras on every occasion. Namaz does not appeal him nor has he ever fasted in the month of Ramzan. He is a strict vegetarian and a life-long Brahmachari. His roots are really in Hinduism and he enjoys all the sacred Hindu scriptures. Hence the credit for his elevation, in communal terms, should go to the Hindus; to give it to the Muslims would be wrong. In fact, Dr Kalam himself would be happy if he is not described as a Muslim President and his name is not linked with Dr Zakir Husain and Mr Fakruddin Ali Ahmad”.
While Zakaria tries to wax eloquent about how this does not mean that Dr Kalam was anything less than other Muslim Presidents who were Quranic Muslims and adhered to the strict tenets of the religion, the disdain that he and his likes felt for Dr Kalam is rather evident.
In an interesting article by veteran writer Varsha Bhogale, she points out that on June 21st 2002, an article was published that spoke about how Dr Kalam was a devotee of Moinuddin Chisti and had visited the Dargah regularly.
In a pertinent observation, Bhogale wrote, “Needless to say, visiting the dargah does not make Dr Kalam any more Muslim than your favourite psycho, who, too, has done her share of chaadar and dhaaga at Ajmer Shareef. But, the “secular” climate of this country is such that the character of a public figure is held to be questionable until his religious binding remains ambiguous… A corollary to which is, while a Muslim luminary must be as evidently-Muslim as possible, his Hindu counterpart should never espouse the gamut of orthodox Hinduism and, in fact, must accept Semitic gods and embrace “secular” values, as represented by Iftari and like piffle”.
Interestingly, the Zakaria article that has been written about earlier, was a counter to this PTI story that painted Dr Kalam as a devout Muslim who was a follower of Chisti.
Interestingly, what Bhogale observes and what is also evident from Zakaria’s writing is that a Muslim can be considered only a devout Muslim if he rejects the pantheons of Hinduism and denounces his Hindu brethren in a country that has a Hindu majority, otherwise, like Dr Kalam, one is to be derided as being someone who is not ‘Muslim enough’.
Interestingly, Dr Kalam himself was averse to recognising himself by religion. He had said, “When I was asked by a young girl whether I was a scientist, technologist, or a Muslim, or an Indian, my reply was, ‘First and foremost you should be a good human being and then all these elements are inside you’.”
Dr APJ Abdul Kalam was derided by many, on several occasions, for not being a devout Muslim, in the strict sense of the term as Islamic intellectuals would define it.
Sagarika Ghose had called Dr Kalam ‘Bomb Daddy’ in derision and hate-filled article that she had written in 2002. In the article, Sagarika Ghose proceeds to give Dr. Kalam a real scolding about the supposedly VIP treatment that she thinks atomic scientists receive. In doing so, she also makes some truly puzzling allegations against Indians in general for loving science! Apparently, it has something to do with all of the following : (1) Casteism (2) Sexism (3) Hindu fundamentalism.
Of course, while talking about a revered scientist like Dr Kalam, Hindu Fundamentalism had to be an issue that would be brought up by the ‘secularists’ since Kalam was not a strict adherent of Islam. In fact, as per the article by Zakaria, Islamic fundamentalists often considered him closer to Hinduism than to Islam itself and hence, it was obvious that Hindu Fundamentalism would be a point of contention.
Recently, Arfa Khanum Sherwani, the journalist at The Wire often known for her Islamist stance and fear-mongering, had asked on social media why Dr APJ Abdul Kalam is eulogised and Hamid Ansari is ‘demonised’. She even trivialised her comment stating that what kind of Muslim will be ‘acceptable’ to the right-wing. Sherwani had earlier stated that Dr Kalam is eulogised because, according to her, he had embraced the Hindu way of life, and insinuated that Hamid Ansari is ‘demonised’ because he did not do that.
When a statue of Dr Kalam with a Veena and the Gita, Quran and Bible was unveiled, Muslim groups had come out and protested. They had said that Dr Kalam was not a Muslim as he prayed to idols and respected gurus.
As is evident, Dr Kalam faced the brunt of Muslim fundamentalists not only when he was alive, but even after he passed away.
The habit of Muslim fundamentalists to typecast non-fundamental Muslim achievers who dare to talk sense is not unique to the onslaught faced by Dr Kalam. The Maulanas and Intellectual Ayatollahs have been perplexed by Arif Mohammad Khan as well, who had hailed the decision to criminalise Triple Talaq and rejects the notion of ‘dara hua Musalman’.
Essentially, anybody who does not toe the line of the Muslim fundamentalists and doesn’t harbour venomous hate for the Hindu community has often been branded as someone who is not Muslim enough. The concept of ‘being sufficiently Muslim’ demands that those who don’t adhere to the strictest and the fundamental tenets of Islam be demonised, and Dr APJ Abdul Kalam was no different.