"They knock on my door aggressively but I don't open it, I stay very quiet." The caller pauses briefly before continuing. "But I am fine." These were the words of UAE national Rashid al Owais, a 40-year-old marble trader whose business took him to Mumbai last week.
Rashid, a Muslim and an Arab, was among the hostages of the co-ordinated terrorist attacks by a cowardly crew of criminal gangsters. He was speaking to Dubai TV on Thursday night from his hotel room in the Oberoi Trident, where he had been holed up since the beginning of the siege. Naturally, the UAE was one of the first countries to condemn this "reprehensible crime".
The situation of the UAE is unique: its ties with India go back hundreds of years, and it is a country where the peaceful Indian community constitutes a majority of the foreign residents. The Organisation of the Islamic Conference, an association of 56 Islamic states, also condemned the terror attacks stating that "these acts of violence contradict all human values and can be justified by nothing". Nothing is the key word here.
Since the evil attacks of September 11, moderate Muslims dread the news of yet another "holy attack" in which the name of their religion – which means peace – is used as an excuse for bloodthirsty savagery. In fact there is an unannounced air of relief among Muslims whenever perpetrators of violent attacks turn out to be from non-Islamic fundamentalist backgrounds. Such was the case during the Virginia Tech university massacre in April 2007 in which 32 mostly students were killed by a South Korean.
We like to remind others that like Rashid al Owais, Muslims are victims of terror, too. We also are mindful of other notorious non-Islamic groups that perpetuate violence, including Eta in Spain and the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. The latter are responsible for up to 60,000 deaths and more than 200 suicide attacks, one of which took the life of Rajiv Gandhi, the then prime minister of India.
The perpetrators of last week's Mumbai attacks could not have chosen a more powerful symbol of humanity than India, with its beautiful mosaic of ethnicities – a mosaic that will undoubtedly continue to shine despite the crimes of an unrepresentative minority who hijack Islam whenever the state of their miserable existence dawns upon them.
India is a proud nation in which the Hindu majority embraces many minorities such as Muslims and Christians, and where they are able to dream and flourish. This is the country of Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam, who as a poor boy in the mid 20th century was forced to sell newspapers to pay for his studies, but who grew up to be elected as the 11th president of over a billion people earlier this decade.
This is the country, too, of Azim Premji, a young Stanford graduate who had the opportunity to turn a fledgling family business called Western Indian Vegetable Products Limited, into a global software giant now called Wipro, making him until recently it's richest citizen.
This is the country of Shah Rukh Khan, an orphaned Muslim boy who rocketed into movie stardom and yet respects the religion of his wife and continues to place the Holy Quran next to Hindu gods in his house. This is the country of the Taj Mahal, the most magnificent Islamic structure in the world, built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal.
But most importantly, this is the country of the everyday man and woman, Hindu, Christian and Muslim, who wake up each morning and often embark on a journey that could last several hours, leaving their loved ones behind in order to build better lives for their families. This vision of humanity is at odds with the beliefs of terrorists, brainwashed thugs who also leave their homes and embark on a journey – but in their case to commit murder.
It is not enough for moderate Muslims to be revolted by the attacks in Mumbai as we have been revolted by the attacks on the New York office towers, Amman wedding, London transport system, Madrid trains, Beslan school, Jerusalem pizzeria, Baghdad markets and numerous other places. It is time to take a serious stand against these perpetrators and reclaim our religion.
Muslims must be more vocal in their sentiments regarding such criminals, and Islamic states must counter this behaviour proactively. To borrow from an unpopular phrase, the Islamic states must launch a psychological pre-emptive strike against these terrorists and more importantly those who encourage them. Muslim preachers who fail to condemn terror must either be re-educated or discredited completely, and those who excuse terror using certain conflicts as a pretext must be silenced because the poison that they spread today will come back to haunt us all tomorrow.
Some media outlets can also act as a conduit for the terrorists' propaganda. The stories of reformed radicals such as Sayed Imam, also known as Dr Fadl, must be highlighted to the ignorant minority. Our message must be clear: "These acts of violence contradict all human values and can be justified by nothing."
This article was published in The National on Sunday 30-11-2008