Priya Prakash Varrier's viral song is not blasphemous, say a majority of Kerala's Muslim community leaders
When community leaders in Kerala were asked if the song offended the religious sentiments of Muslims, it evoked mixed reactions but a majority disagreed.
In July 2010, Muslim fanatics in Kerala interpreted a college exam question containing the name of a character called Mohammed as blasphemous and chopped off the right hand of the professor who set the question.
A lot of water has flown under the bridge since then. The fanatics did not make even a murmur of protest against a film song showing the love between Prophet Mohammed and Khadeeja set in a modern romantic setting where a teenage girl is winking at a boy seven years later. On the contrary, several scholars and Muslim activists have come forward to defend the visualisation in the film Oru Adaar Love, after a few fundamentalists in Hyderabad lodged a police complaint against the video that went viral in the YouTube and social media.
Is this a sign of tolerance taking shape of late in the Muslim community that account for 26 percent of the state’s population? The question evoked mixed reactions from a cross section of the community leaders interviewed by Firstpost.
While majority of them opined there was nothing blasphemous in the film, a small section felt that the placing of the song in a teenage romantic scene may offend the religious sentiments of Muslims. However, they did not demand the song's removal from the film. Clerics like PV Suhaib Moulavi termed the action of the group based in Hyderabad 'unwarranted'. Moulavi, who is the Imam of Palayam Juma Masjid in the state capital of Thiruvananthapuram, said that it was not a matter to be settled in the court. “People are educated enough to distinguish between religion and a work of art. If the educated public find anything objectionable in the film, they will ignore the film,” he said adding that there was no need for dragging the issue to the court.
Kamarunnisa Anwar, state president of the women’s wing of Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), a constituent of Kerala’s opposition Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF), viewed the stand taken by the clerics as a welcome sign. She said it was a definite deviation from the past when people used to react violently to such issues. She said that the fundamentalists who thrived by whipping up communal passion on issues related to religion were forced to change their behaviour as they have realised that the wings of change had started blowing in the community. She pointed out the recent IUML decision to include three women in the state secretariat of the party for the first time in its history as the biggest indication of the change taking place in the community. “Women were kept off public spaces citing religious reasons. The male-dominated party leadership has changed their stand due to pressure from the new generation of educated women. The party has realised that they cannot survive without taking the new breed of assertive women along,” she added.
VP Zuhara, the first Muslim woman in Kerala to challenge triple talaq and contract marriage, has viewed the positive stand many have taken on the song as a sign of tolerance slowly taking root in the community. She accounts this change to the growing realisation of the powers that be, as the new generation cannot be tied down in false beliefs and superstitions any longer. “The new generation of educated Muslims will not approve this. They know cinema is an art and they are ready to view it as such. Any attempt to misguide them by raising religious sentiment will no more succeed, at least, in Kerala, where women have started asserting their rights,” Zuhra said.
Jamida, who challenged a 1400-year-old male bastion by leading the Friday jumma prayers in Malappuram district last month, said the song portraying the Prophet’s love with Khadeeja, under whom he worked as a manager, itself was an example of the importance he gave to women. “By marrying Khadeeja, who was 15 years older to him, the Prophet had sent a strong message that women are not to be subjugated. The song that has been in the hearts of the people for more than 30 years is a celebration of women power,” Jamida said. Interestingly, the clerics and the most radical organisations in the community had also kept their silence on her path-breaking action. The threats she faced came from some lumpen elements and mostly on social media. She did not take them seriously.
Writer and social critic Prof MN Karaserry, however, feels the silence on the part of the clergy and the fundamentalist outfits need not be a sign of tolerance. This could be part of their strategy to play down the event, he said adding that the radical sections cannot be expected to change their stance overnight. “They may be ignoring Jamida as they know joining issue with her may make her a hero. It doesn’t mean they will remain silent always. Chekannur Moulavi, Jamida’s guru, was murdered 22 years after he started propagating his progressive ideals and gender equality. The fundamentalist forces may be waiting for the right moment to strike against Jamida,” Karaserry said.
Advocate C Shukoor, Kasargod district president of Kerala Lawyers’ Forum (a body of lawyers loyal to IUML), said that the campaign against the film song may not have found chord in Kerala because it was a remake of a popular ‘Mappila Paattu’ sung in most family and social functions of Muslims in the state since 1978. “No one had found anything insulting in the song in the past 30 years. How anybody can term it blasphemous now? Those who are making the allegation do not appreciate the fact that the song is rendered as a stage show. It does not involve any characters. It is merely being played in the background on stage,” he pointed out.
“The children who are shown sharing personal moments are not acting or singing in the film. The criticism against the song is born out of intolerance. Muslims in Kerala have seldom shown such intolerance to a work of art. They have upheld their tradition by rejecting the call of the fundamentalists from outside,” he said.
Film buffs in the state have lauded the decision of the film director Omar Lulu not to yield to the fundamentalists and his resolve to face the case legally. The film caught the attention after a 10-second clip of Priya Prakash Varrier showing her winks with a boy went viral on social media. Priya, a first year under graduate student at Vimala Arts College at Thrissur, became an overnight sensation as the song crossed 10 million hits on the internet and the actress got more than three million followers on Instagram on the first day of the song’s release. She was also the most searched person on Google for a period. The Financial Express reported that Priya had defeated Bollywood sensations like Alia Bhatt, Katrina Kaif, Deepika Padukone and even Sunny Leone in Google Search result over a period of 24 hours.
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