Have Muslims and Hindus lived together

Muslims in India"The militancy is not particularly high"

Andreas Main: The time has come in a few weeks: Then it will be the first anniversary of the inauguration of Indian Prime Minister Modi. When he took office, many observers feared the worst. A Hindu nationalist at the head of this giant multi-religious democracy - that cannot be good for minorities, especially for Muslims and Christians. And minority in India, that means that we are talking about gigantic numbers. Around 13 percent of Indians, i.e. around 180 million, are Muslims. If they were flammable to Islamist terror, India would have a problem.

Jan Ross is a correspondent for the weekly newspaper "Die Zeit" in New Delhi, and he regularly deals with religion. He has written a book about what he thinks is rampant religious hostility and religious illiteracy. And now let's talk to him about the religious landscape of India.
Hello Mr. Ross.

Jan Ross: Good day.

Main: In one of your articles you described India's Muslims, i.e. citizens of a pluralistic, non-Western democracy, as a test case for the future of Islam. How is the militancy of Muslim Indians doing?

Horse: So, the militancy isn't particularly high. That is the first thing to be determined. Of course, the numbers are never reliable, for example when it comes to the question of how many Indians are in ISIS and are fighting. But one already has the impression that there are fewer than come from Europe. So if you consider that this is a huge number of Muslims, we are talking about 180 million, some of whom do not live in the best living conditions either, because the situation of Muslims in India is economically, socio-economically worse than that the Hindu majority. Then it is actually reassuring and gratifying so far how little radicalization one sees.

"A kind of xenophobic defense against monotheistic religions"

Main: With regard to the Indian Muslims - what do Hindus, 80 percent of the population, have the biggest problems with?

Horse: It's hard to say that the Hindus as a whole would have problems. There are very many who have no problems at all. I think that's the first thing you have to send in advance. There are some within the majority population who perceive Islam as a kind of alien religion.
One has to bear in mind: India is a country with a tremendous religious pluralism. In addition to the Muslims, there are also Sikhs, there are Parsees, there are Jains. Many of these religions, although not strictly part of the Hindu family, are indigenous. It is different with Christianity and Islam. These are religions that come from a foreign country, so to speak. And so there is sometimes a kind of xenophobic defense against these monotheistic religions among Indian nationalists. That plays a role, to varying degrees, in the political world from which Modi, the current, relatively new Prime Minister, comes. It plays a big role in that.

Main: Modi, you speak to him, he belongs to an openly Islamophobic movement. To what extent has this been implemented in government action so far?

Horse: It has not been implemented in government action. He is very careful not to make any religious policy as prime minister. What there are, however, are partly Islamophobic, partly really inflammatory voices from his own party. These voices are not encouraged, they are even rebuked, but they are rebuked in a very peculiar way. They are told: Please do not divert attention from our political agenda, which is focused on economic development. So it is not said directly: What you are saying is wrong and reprehensible. And this lack of directness in the confrontation with the Islamophobic forces in his own political movement, that is something that has to be held against him.

Main: Conversely: the fact that a Hindu nationalist rules the country has that in turn incited Muslims?

Horse: What I feel is a kind of political alienation from the mainstream among Muslims. You have to imagine, the Muslim community in India voted almost unanimously against Modi. Now, collectively, everyone has found that their vote has in a way counted nothing. Of course, this leads to the fact that you get used to the political system in which you live, in which you have actually lived quite well and peacefully so far, that there is a kind of crisis of identification. The question of whether more violence could emerge from this identification crisis cannot really be answered yet. All these developments are simply too young for that. But of course that is something an observer and the Indian security forces are concerned about.

Main: It is often the case that extreme voices are heard. How loud are the voices of moderate Indians, whether Muslims or Hindus, i.e. those who openly profess diversity in India, a kind of constitutional patriotism?

Horse: That is actually the Indian normal temperature, I would say. The rule is that of a functioning multi-religious society. Functioning in the not exactly perfectionist framework in which things work in India. Well, it's not Switzerland. But the basic tenor is that of peaceful coexistence. What I observe, or think I am observing, is that many Hindus have a stronger desire to return to their roots or to orientate themselves about their own identity.

Main: Where does it come from?

Horse: Yes, I think that's because the Indian state ideology, if you can put it that way, after the country's independence in 1947, was almost religious if not anti-religious. It is not a matter of course that the religious texts of one's own tradition are read in schools. One tries now to tap into that again. Basically a wholesome and sensible process, which can, however, partly take on this aggressive Islamophobic form. It's an ambivalent story. It is to be hoped that this can essentially happen within the framework of peaceful cultural self-reassurance. But you also see these aggressive outliers.

"Hinduism is a spiritually and cultically different world"

Main: There are always reports of attacks against Christians. The perpetrators are always extreme Hindus, it is said. What role does that play in the Indian public?

Horse: That is noticed, especially since here in Delhi, where I live, it is very much noticed. It does not have the quantitative dimensions that the problem of Muslims does. Simply because there are a lot less. There are just a few million Christians living here in India. It's just a lot less. There is no such thing as a terrorism problem. The matter is a lot less explosive. But this mistrust that I outlined at the beginning of a foreign religion, a religion that comes from another part of the world, is also present in Christianity, possibly exacerbated by the fact that it was the religion of the former British colonial rulers. So, the religion of foreign rule. One encounters these reservations sometimes.

Main: Certain Christian circles, such as religious, especially Jesuits, who show strong solidarity with Muslims in India. Does this also apply to other Christian denominations - and what does that result from?

Horse: I cannot describe it quantitatively. But what it results from is relatively clear: You are in a comparable situation in which you are suspected and harassed by these Hindu nationalist forces. That is a commonality. But there is also something else: If you live as a Christian in India, for example - you will of course recognize how close Christianity and Islam are in terms of religious practice when they are faced with completely different religious ideas and the completely different ritual world of Hinduism. What is often just talk here, the three Abrahamic religions, so to speak, as it is always boasted on all possible podiums, is experienced here as a very concrete reality. And in relation to this, Hinduism is a spiritually and cultically different world.

Main: In conclusion: Prime Minister Modi for one year - with a view to religious policy - are you surprised in a positive or negative way?

Horse: I am not suprised. It's just as worrying, but not catastrophic, as I expected. The tendencies are rather unpleasant; but they are not so unpleasant that one should now say that religious freedom in India is about to collapse. You can feel that you are dealing with people for whom it is not easy to commit to religious freedom.

Main: Jan Ross, correspondent for the weekly newspaper "Die Zeit" in New Delhi, on the religious diversity in India almost a year after the Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Modi took office. Thank you very much for these impressions.