Indian Muslim leadership : Points to ponder

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By  Javeed Mirza

The confluence of Education Day and Thanksgiving Day has motivated me to write this article on the conditions facing the Indian Muslim community and, on the need, to prioritize Education.  The day of the demolition of Babri Masjid, December 6, is observed as a Black day. This period preceding the Black day is an opportune time to reflect and deliberate on the issues confronting the community… what is the true state of the community and what brought it here? It is an opportune time to reflect and deliberate on the issues confronting the community.  Please spare some time to read and express your opinion.

“Education day”, November 11, is observed on the birth anniversary of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the first Education Minister of independent India. Besides being an indomitable fighter for India’s freedom and Unity, he was also an architect of Modern India. His initiatives in developing the IIT’s, IIM’s, the University Grants commission etc. put India on a trajectory of educational prominence. He drew his strength from a deep study of Persian, Arabic and Urdu literature and Islamic history.  He imbibed the best of Eastern and Western philosophy and showed it in practice through a love for all of India’s diverse communities. He constantly strove to bridge the gap between the Hindu and Muslim and became a symbol of Hindu-Muslim unity, earning its respect and enjoying its confidence.

India of today is very different from the time of Maulana Azad. The challenges of disunity that he faced, as stalwarts from the Congress and Muslim league chose to divide India instead of keeping it united, are likewise being faced today.  The Hindu consciousness/awakening has been a movement many generations in the making. It has many facets including the one to oppose the excesses of the Muslim rule of past and the attempted coercive conversion of the Hindus to Islam and Christianity. Its protagonist is the RSS and the VHP and finds strong support among the educated middle class, the new rich/corporate. A culture of separatism by these organizations, as well as the Muslim League prior to Independence, has fostered and nourished the schism between the Hindu and the Muslim.  The Sangh Parivars’ rise to power for the last 5 years has exacerbated the divisions. India’s secular values and its cherished concept of “unity in diversity” faces a huge threat. Sanity demands that all secular minded people think and grope with the deepening divide between the majority Hindu and Minority communities and mutually struggle against its manifestations in the form of Lynching, Incarceration, NRC bill etc.

The role of Muslim leadership

Leadership plays a vital role in all societies. Unfortunately, the Muslim leadership’s record is blemished with deep flaws. This is seen from its inability to stop the free fall and deterioration of the Indian Muslim’s socio-economic- educational conditions since Independence. It is not able to prevent the incarceration of the Muslim youth nor prevent discrimination and threat to life and property.  The leadership is rooted in conservative thinking. It has little exposure to Western thought and is unable to understand and grasp global movements, dynamics and trends. After Indian Independence, the Leadership has mostly secluded itself to working as a protector of Muslim identity and religion and has been absorbed in a struggle for the preservation of Muslim Wakf property (with partial success).

 The AIMPLB (All India Muslim Personal Law Board

This body is meant to be a custodian for the safeguard of Muslim Personal laws. Some of the policies that it has pursued, have earned it the wrath of the mainstream media… The Shah Bano case, the Triple talaq and now the decision to review the Supreme Court judgement on Babri Masjid.  These stances have strained the relationship between the Muslims and the Hindus and cast it an organization of conservative diehards who are out of step with the social movements. The Muslim world has seen big changes in the last one hundred years. The struggle against Colonialism in the Arab World and the more recent launch of the Arab Spring, has brought new thinking and new dynamics in the Muslim majority countries. Old ideas are giving way and progressive laws are being enacted (example Tunisia). In a country like India, where the Muslim is in a minority, the situation is different and demands creative application of the Muslim law in consonance with national laws.

 Suggestions for the AIMPLB and the Muslim leadership

Closure of Babri Masjid case:

Building of Hindu- Muslim unity is extremely important. The place of Babri Masjid as the janmasthan of Lord Ram has become ingrained in the Hindu mind. The emotional attachment needs to be recognized and respected. The Supreme court judgement may not be conducive, but it paves the way for its settlement. As promised to the nation, Muslim leadership should willingly work to abide by the judgment and happily shake hands with the Hindu fraternity.  A focus on Review of the judgement can reignite tension and make the issue a festering sore.

Removal of unsavory elements from within.

There are elements embedded in the AIMPLB who feed on communalism. They will always earn a bad name for the Muslim and pose a danger, just like the BJP and its cohorts. Bring in educated youth who have shown themselves to be socially committed and have a national vision and good rapport with non-Muslim communities. Adequate representation in leadership role of women, of youth, of Muslims from lower social strata, of different Muslim sects/creeds (Bohra, Shia, Ismaili etc.) and from underrepresented regional areas. This will strengthen the Muslim viewpoint.

The new leadership must understand that the India of today is not be viewed from the lens of yesteryear. Change is constant and adaptation to change is required. The majoritarian tendency with its majoritarian viewpoint has been in the making for many decades and it is here to stay. There is a historical basis for this (with the excesses committed by Muslim and other rulers of the past). What needs to be emphasized and supported is the progressive view that seeks progress of all humanity, irrespective of caste, religion, gender, or region.

Bring Reforms within the community

Many social problems abound within the Muslim community like Dowry, abuse of domestic spouse, excessive expenditure on marriage and other functions entailing high debt and misery etc. Unhygienic living in bastis and extremely high unemployment pose serious dangers to the community and society.

Preparation to meet upcoming BJP agenda

The BJP is working with a planned blueprint and the Muslim community is unprepared and dazed when they are confronted with the BJP agenda. Planning is extremely necessary.  Do discussion with all Muslim fraternity groups, opposition political parties and non-Muslim individuals of repute who have stood up for Muslims. Initiate pro-active work on all relevant issues rather than wait and react after the onslaught.

The NRC bill: This poses huge problems. Its identification of 19 lakhs people as illegals in Assam, has let loose mayhem in Assam and Bengal and its revision is being sought. The Implementation in all states (subject to the many non-BJP ruled states willing to do the implementation) will cause mass upheaval and pose a danger to the security and stability of the country. This is because of the possibility of millions of people being found without proper/missing documents and they may face internment in detention camps. The problem must be faced in consultation with local state govts and with the national opposition parties.

The UCC (Uniform Civil Code): This bill will be met with huge opposition from various groups that would like to safeguard their unique identity, like the Tribals of the NorthEast and other parts of India; from Sikh, Christian, Jain, Budhist and Parsi minorities who will not be happy to be subject to a uniform code. A preparation to meet UCC is NOT a blind opposition against it. The Muslim sharia law in the Muslim countries is not uniform. Its application differs widely, suiting the country’s social evolution. India is not a Muslim majority country. The Hindu majority is intent on having majoritarian laws. Flexibility and adaptation are required from the Muslim side.

Conversion bill: Anti-conversion laws exist in several states and the Constitution guarantees Right to propagation. The anti-conversion bill would stipulate punishment against forced conversion and against induced means of conversion. There can be no objection for such provisions as no religion advocates forced conversion. The bill must be discussed with all affected groups and a coherent and cogent response developed. Again, blind opposition is not the answer.

Deflect from being the Target of Hindutva agenda

The BJP and its Parivar group will always seek to make the Muslim as its target. The Muslim is their ideological nemesis and their means of rallying electoral votes of diverse Hindu constituents.  However, there are many non-Muslim forces opposing the BJP like the Dalits, Christians, Sikhs and Tribal. This non-Muslim opposition is numerically much bigger than the Muslim population and they have serious issues with the BJP agenda. The Muslim should deftly handle and deflect the attack, rather than be its visible and prominent target.  It could have averted the Babri Masjid assault by proactively striking a mutually beneficial quid pro quo deal with the Sangh Parivar. In place of allowing the construction of the temple, the Muslim leadership should have asked for massive Educational funding for the Muslim underprivileged. The BJP has the construction of the prominent Mathura and Kashi Vishwanath temple up its sleeve and will hark to them whenever it needs to flex its muscle and seek popular vote. Flexible and creative thinking in these cases will deflect the attack.

Rallying of Muslim Youth

The impending NRC, UCC, Conversion bill coming on top of other attacks on Muslims, can serve as a great rallying of Muslim youth. Motivated youth needs to be involved in documentation work for NRC and in the many other issues confronting the community. This period of activity should be used to collect data of all Muslim organizations working across the country. The data can be utilized for educational development as well as for economic and political empowerment.

Build global representation

Establish rapport and offices at the UN, at the European Headquarters and at the OIC (organization of Islamic countries) to give weight to your voice.

Some of the progressive Muslim organizations and individuals who oppose the Supreme court judgement, must not view the judgement purely as an impairment of Justice but view it in the totality of the Indian context. The change in Indian social dynamics should be noted and respected. The organizations should instead seek goodwill and repose trust, especially from the majority populace who are not infected with the communal virus.  Leading Muslim and Hindu legal luminaries and social and political leaders have boldly expressed their opposition to the Supreme court’s judgement and called it unfair. It can be discerned that the Hindu secular voice is strong in India and there is still a huge space available for the Muslim to participate and grow in India. The Indian constitution does not limit the Muslim. The Muslim needs to avail this space and work with all opposition groups to build a consensus of opposition. The dominating nature of the BJP has brought divisions within its parivar and its unity is cracking. Erstwhile partners (Shiv Sena) in Maharashtra and the Hindi belt are becoming adversaries of the BJP. Strong opposition is emerging in the non-Hindi belt of South and East India.  It is in the interests of all opposition to work together to safeguard Indian Constitutional rights. The Muslim leadership must be prepared, be flexible and take a progressive stand. It must cast itself as a secular, patriotic and forward-looking community. It must work with other marginalized communities …… the SC, ST, BC and OBC and other Minorities. A sustained effort must be launched to building relationship and unity with these communities.

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Views are personal .The author can be reached at Email : javeed.mirza@gmail.com

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