In March, at a lecture in Delhi, I challenged India’s Muslims to stand up and reject the Islamic State and instead start living in a state of Islam; the pursuit of truth above everything else.
And to start that journey I suggested they should demand that the Indian and Delhi governments change the name of the city’s Aurangzeb Road, named after the murderous Mughal Emperor to the pious and poet prince Dara Shikoh who was beheaded by Aurangzeb.
As an Indian Muslim born in Pakistan, I first visited India in 2013 and was shocked to see the name Aurangzeb adorn one of the most majestic streets of India’s capital.
Here was a man who had killed his elder brother to stage a palace coup, who had his own father imprisoned for life and had several Islamic leaders of India hanged to death, among them the spiritual head of the Dawoodi Bohra Muslims of Gujarat. As emperor, Aurangzeb banned music, dance and the consumption of alcohol in the Mughal Empire. In Sindh and Punjab where many Muslims attended discourses by Hindu Brahmins, he ordered the demolition of all schools and the temples where such interaction took place, making it punishable for Muslims who dressed like non-Muslims.
But nothing is more of a testimony to the cruelty and bigotry of Aurangzeb than the executions of the Muslim Sufi mystic Sarmad Kashani and the ninth Sikh Guru, Tegh Bahadur. He considered the majority Hindus of his realm as ‘Kufaar’ and placed them as second class to Muslims, waged jihad against Shia Muslim rulers and wiped out all traces of the liberal, pluralistic and tolerant Islam introduced by his great-grandfather Emperor Akbar.
Aurangzeb today would be the equivalent of Caliph El-Baghdadi of the Islamic State (ISIS), if not Osama Bin Laden or Mullah Omar of the Taliban.
Yet, most Indian Muslims are either not aware of Aurangzeb’s crimes or choose to relish the thought that he was the one true king who ruled India in the name of Islam with an iron fist and put Hindus and Sikhs in their rightful place—at the bottom of the heap.
So I told the Muslims in my audience that if they truly wanted to fight ISIS, they should take the lead in demanding the erasing of a murderer’s name and replace it with his brother who is loved by all as the epitome of Hindu-Muslim brotherhood.
Then came news of the death of India’s most loved president, the Muslim from the country’s deep south who lived in a state of Islam, not the Islamic State, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam.
On 29 June, I took to Twitter and urged Indians to ask their governments to change the name from Aurangzeb to APJ Abdul Kalam Road.
The idea caught on like wildfire on social media and soon Lok Sabha member from Delhi, Maheish Girri, wrote to Prime Minister Modi to help change the name.
Yesterday, I was woken by phone calls from friends in India with the news that the Delhi government had decided to change the name of Aurangzeb Road to APJ Abdul Kalam Road. It was 3 am in Toronto and I for a moment thought I must be dreaming, but I was awake so I woke up my wife to share the news.
She shrugged me off, “Buddah pagal ho gaya hai kyaa?’’
But as best as I could do, I did a mix of the lungi dance and bhangra. I couldn’t believe we had pulled it off. (I am now hoping unashamedly that someone in his kindness will invite me to be in Delhi when the formal change in name takes place.)
The change of name, be it a human being or a place carries huge significance. At times such a change is a sign of subservience and servitude to a new master, while at other times it is one of overthrowing the bondage of a former dictator.
Thus Malcolm X dropped his last name and took on X to reject the family name given to him by some past White slave-owner. In the same vein, Stalingrad was renamed Volgograd as a rebuke to the horrors inflicted on the Russian people by Stalin.
In the country of my birth, Pakistan, many names that reminded us of the British Raj were changed. Thus ‘Victoria Road’ and ‘Elphinstone Street’ in Karachi took on names to reflect the new reality of a supposedly independent country. But not all name changes are an act of correcting wrong.
I was born on a quiet street in Karachi, Pakistan, in 1949 on what was once known as ‘Lala Lajpat Rai Road’, named after the Punjabi author, politician and one of the leaders of the Indian Independence movement.
Lalaji, who died in 1928 after suffering blows to his head in a clash with the police in Lahore, needs no introduction in India. But in the land where he gave his life, hardly anyone knows him, let alone honours him for his service and sacrifice. His crime? He was Hindu. Therefore, his name needed to be erased from the newly created Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the so-called ‘Land of the Pure.’
Even as a child I could not understand why ‘Guru Mandir’ the neighbourhood where I was born had to undergo a name change and become ‘Sabeel Wali Masjid’.
Already some Islamists inside India are condemning the change in name. They will argue that if changing the name of Lala Lajpat Rai Road in Pakistan is wrong then the same principle should be applied to Aurangzeb Road. Wrong.
Lala Lajpat Rai was a symbol of India’s fight for freedom while Aurangzeb is a symbol of India’s subjugation and the imposition of an Arabized culture of radical Islam on a land that savours pluralism and secularism. Jai Hind!