MUMBAI, India — Throngs of Indian Muslims, ranging from Bollywood actors to skullcap-wearing seminary students, marched through the heart of Mumbai and several other cities on Sunday, holding up banners proclaiming their condemnation of terrorism and loyalty to the Indian state.
The protests, though relatively small, were the latest in a series of striking public gestures by Muslims — who have often come under suspicion after past attacks — to defensively dissociate their own grievances as a minority here from any sort of sympathy for terrorism or radical politics in the wake of the deadly assault here that ended Nov. 29.
Muslim leaders have refused to allow the bodies of the nine militants killed in the attacks to be buried in Islamic cemeteries, saying the men were not true Muslims. They also suspended the annual Dec. 6 commemoration of a 1992 riot in which Hindus destroyed a mosque, in an effort to avert communal tension. Muslim religious scholars and public figures have issued strongly worded condemnations of the attacks.
So far, their approach appears to have worked: the response has been remarkably unified, with little of the suspicion and fear that followed some previous attacks.
Hindu right-wing groups have been noticeably absent from the streets. Although leaders of the opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party have criticized the government’s handling of the crisis, they have not stirred anti-Muslim sentiment. The fact that some 40 Muslims were among the victims of the attackers may well have helped dispel any strife.
Still, many Muslims seem anxious, fearing that some of the anger unleashed by the attacks may be directed into the Hindu-Muslim violence that has often marred India’s modern history.
“It’s a pity we have to prove ourselves as Indians,” said Mohammed Siddique, a young accountant who was marching in the protest here on Sunday afternoon with his wife and mother. “But the fact is, we need to speak louder than others, to make clear that those people do not speak for our religion — and that we are not Pakistanis.”
The cluster of banners all around him, held aloft by marchers, seemed to bear out his point. Some read “Our Country’s Enemies are Our Enemies,” others, “Killers of Innocents are Enemies of Islam.” A few declared, in uncertain grammar, “Pakistan Be Declared Terrorist State.”
There were also slogans defending against the charge often made by right-wing Hindus that Muslims constitute a fifth column, easily exploited by terrorists. “Communalist and Terrorist are Cousins,” one sign read. Some of the marchers held up a sign with lines drawn through the names of various terrorist or extremist groups, including, notably, the acronym S.I.M.I.
That stands for the Students’ Islamic Movement of India, a radical group, now banned, that has come under suspicion after recent attacks. One of the men arrested earlier this year in what appears to have been a similar plot against Mumbai landmarks used to belong to the group. Unlike the most recent attackers, who are all believed to be Pakistani, four of six members of the earlier plot were Indian.
There is little doubt that jihadists — including Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistani militant group believed to be responsible for the Nov. 26-29 attacks — are seeking Indian recruits. Although such groups are rooted in the ideology of global jihad, many people fear that the Indians who join them may be motivated in part by essentially Indian grievances, like the 2002 mass killings of Muslims in the state of Gujarat that left 1,100 dead.
One of the gunmen in last month’s attacks referred to the Gujarat riots before he shot and killed a hostage at the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower hotel, apparently in an effort to identify his own cause with that of Indian Muslims.
He seems to have failed. The brutality of the attacks and the fact that many Muslims died have strengthened a sense of outrage among ordinary Muslims here, and even some sense of communal harmony, however precarious.
“After this attack, everything has changed; people now see the realities,” said Saeed Ahmed, 45, as he stood outside his stationery shop on Muhammad Ali Road, a working-class Muslim area. “This is something different from what we had before, it’s like your American 9/11. It is not about Hindus and Muslims; it is about the nation being attacked.”
Certainly, the violence has prompted many Muslims, including religious scholars, Bollywood figures and politicians, to speak out more urgently than they had in the past.
“Indian Muslims have often suffered twice: first from the terror, and then from the accusations afterward,” said Javed Akhtar, a Muslim poet and lyricist. “Perhaps because of that, they have been much more articulate and more unconditionally clear about condemning this attack.”
But many remain anxious that foreign jihadists could take advantage of the divisions in Indian society to wreak more havoc here. India’s 140 million Muslims are generally much poorer and less educated than Hindus. Although some of the very rich and many Bollywood stars are Muslim, the faith is far less well represented in the professions and the middle class. Many have bitter memories of communal riots and violence, from the 2002 killings in Gujarat all the way back to the bloodletting that accompanied the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947.
“There is a very deep divide,” said Mahesh Bhatt, a well-known film producer and director who is half Muslim, half Hindu, as he sat on a plastic chair on the set of his latest film on Sunday morning, with actors strolling nearby. “And if the foreign element is using the indigenous clay, how can justice be done?”
Mr. Bhatt, who has the baroque manner of an old-fashioned Hollywood eminence, added that he saw in the crisis a chance for India to heal the religious and social fractures that make it vulnerable.
“In every danger there is an opportunity, a chance to look at the evil within,” he said. “If you’re going to do this fight against terror, you’d better start by fortifying your own house.”