A number of webinars, organised between Thursday 18 and Friday 19 January, supported and published online by Hindu Council of Australia , where speakers used hate speech against Islam and Muslims has raised great concern amongst members of the Australian Muslim Community.
Inflammatory statements by Islamophobic speakers using the typical Hindutva hate speech and incitement against Muslims aired from the platform of a mainstream Hindu organisation in this country has the potential of creating a communal divide disturbing the social fabric of Australia.
The inflammatory statements clearly incite the same type of hatred that saw the pogroms by Hindutva advocates against churches and mosques in India. The rise of Hindu extremism in India is also believed to be behind rising Hindu nationalism and isolationism amongst Hindu diasporas.
One of the speakers, Pushpendra Kulshrestha dismissed Islam as a religion while defaming Prophet Mohammad (s) and his companions merely as tent dwelling robbers and rapists concocting a holy book and befooling many in following it over the centuries.
In order to mitigate the damage caused by such statements, the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC) invited senior leaders of the Hindu Council of Australia (HCA) together with a number of Muslims leaders for a dialogue and explanation in moving forward in an attempt to maintain communal harmony.
The CEO of AFIC, Mr Keysar Trad organised a dinner on Saturday 30 January at Harris Park attended by the former President of HCA, Professor Nihal Agar, current Secretary Mr Sai Paravastu and Mr Bhagwat Chauhan together with a number of leaders from various Muslim organisations. It was conveyed that the President of HCA Mr Prakash Mehta could not attend due to a family emergency.
Welcoming all those present Mr Trad said that AFIC, whilst accepting the reason for Hindu Council president Prakash Mehta’s inability to come from Canberra due to a family emergency, was disappointed that the Hindu Council Vice President was unable to make it.
“We are happy that our long-time friend Professor Nihal Agar, former president of the Hindu Council was able to join us to offer his regrets over the inflammatory speech made by the Indian PM’s speech writer during the 19 January 2021 Webinar, ” Mr Trad said.
While putting the meeting into a historical context, Mr Trad said, “Muslims have contributed to India’s growth and development for over 1200 years. Muslims transformed India into one of the most rich and powerful nations on earth.
He further added, “The majority of Indians remained Hindu during Islam’s contribution to India, the temples were protected as were the places of worship of minority religions.”
“Muslims have always been well-wishers for India, however, RSS, BJP and Indian government intolerance towards minorities has transformed India. We’re extremely upset over the forceful annexation and blockade of Kashmir, the racist Citizenship Amendment Act, the pogroms and the rising sectarian intolerance in India,” said Mr Trad.
The secretary of HCA, Mr Paravastu explained that the webinars were held at the time to commemorate the 19 January 1990 “The Kashmiri Pandit Exodus Day” and while accepting the Islamophobic hate speech during the webinar informed that the offensive remarks have now been edited out of the current online version of the webinar videos.
The President of AFIC, Dr Rateb Junaid addressed the gathering on phone said, “The social disharmony in India breaks my heart. Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and minority faiths lived in harmony in the subcontinent for over 1200 years”
“I welcome you all and look forward to continue to work together in harmony so that we can remind our families in India of what we once were, neighbours, friends and brothers, and what we can again be: United in our love for India rather than divided by political opportunists,” he concluded.
AFIC National Sharia Board (ANSB), Imam Abdul Quddoos Al Azhari said, “We all love India and want the best for India, this best only comes when citizens are accorded freedom from hate, freedom from violence, freedom from divisive political opportunism, freedom to learn, to work and to believe and follow the faith of their choosing. I ask you to put your hand in mine to live as brothers and sisters in Australia and to remind the leaders in India that India’s prosperity lies in respecting the religious and cultural freedom of all the people of India.”
Other speakers at the dinner event included Professor Nihal Agar, Dr Haroon Kassem from The Humanism Project (THP), Mr Zia Ahmad from AMUST, Ms Shafaq Jaffery from Pehchan TV, Dr Sarfaraz, Mr Mumtaz Mian, Mr Aijaz Khan and Mr Abraham Zoabi.
In moving forward members of the Muslim Community demanded that a written apology from HCA be tendered assuring the community that such hate speech has no place in Australia and Islamophobic speakers should not be given the opportunity to disturb communal harmony in Australia.
The Secretary of HCA assured that he will convey these sentiments to the Board of HCA for a response.
“Muslims will always strive for social harmony and mutual respect, however, whilst we reach out, we also say that we will take an assertive stand to defend our faith, defend our beloved prophet, peace and blessings upon him, and defend human rights, whether these are the rights of innocent Hindus caught up in the RSS/Hindutva racism or Muslims in Kashmir, Assam or the rest of India. We want to see a fair India, an India that celebrates Multi-cultures and Multi-faiths just like Australia. Australia’s success is vastly enhanced by our celebration of religious and cultural diversity, we wish the same success for India, but it must first eliminate religiophobia and xenophobia,” Mr Trad concluded before ending the meeting.