By JASON KEITH FERNANDES
Full English text of the presentation at the session: Representações do Islão e dos Muçulmanos nos Media (Representations of Islam and Muslims in the media), part of the Ciclo Islão em Debate (Islam in Debate series), 20 April 2017, at ISCTE –IUL, Lisbon. Download the PDF here.
I would like to begin by indicating that my area of expertise is not the study of Islam, or Muslims. Nonetheless I have quite an intimate experience of Muslims. Islam, and Muslims have also been critical to my own formation, both as an intellectual and the deepening of my own faith practice. This is perhaps not surprising given that questions of Islam have been debated substantially in the past couple of decades and produced a rich literature in a number of fields. My core area of intellectual work has been the operation of citizenship in India and the regime of secularism that apparently structures the experience of Indian citizenship. Given that Hindu nationalism has been on the rise for decades now, I realised that Christians in India faced the same challenges as did the Muslims in India; they were both seen as undesirable elements in the Indian republic. As such alliances between these various groups made eminent sense andthe belief that the best alliances are built on solid understanding gave me reason to the study various texts that I have referred to above.
There is also a personal aspect to this encounter. About a decade ago, a couple of friends and I began the Patna Collective. Among other things the Collective was interested in probing the issue of secularism in India. Was it possible that persons of faith rather than being barriers to secularism could in fact contribute to a secular society? Was religion necessarily an obstacle to the realisation of secularism? I was the lone Indian Christian among a number of Muslims in this group, and the conversations with them were critical to my experiences about Islam and Muslims. In the course of these interactions I realised that my learnings from Muslims allowed me to deepen my own faith practice as a Catholic allowing for a peculiar identification and affection for Muslims and Islam.
Finally, for some years now I have been interested in exploring the idea of the Islamicate. A neologism coined by Marshall Hodgson (1974), the term refers not to Islam or the religion itself, but to the socio-cultural complex where Muslims are dominant, or subjects of emulation. Exploring the Islamicate, I believe allows us to create a space where conversations between non-Muslims and Muslims can fruitfully take place. Where Islamophobia is replaced not by Islamophilia (just as problematic a stance) but where we can establish the contributions of Muslims, and see ourselves as partners with Muslims in the building of our futures.
To move on to the subject on which I have been asked to reflect; a mind that operates primarily in English reads the term ““Representações… dos Muçulmanos” in two ways. The first, is to read it as the intended representations of Muslims, and the second is representations by Muslims. I think it is important to deal with both these aspects for at least two reasons. We need to avoid a focus on Muslims from developing into a paternalist attitude, and from creatingspace for white saviours.What we need to do is deepen a rights discourse and as such the agency of Muslims too needs to be taken into account when we discuss representations.