As we have explained earlier, this monthly column is in the nature of an intimate family discussion within the Muslim community, especially with youth.
The raging conflict within the Muslim community worldwide as well as in India is a matter of serious concern for the community’s elders. Most of this unfortunate conflict is baseless and has no substance, even though it is highly dangerous.
Within India itself the conflict between the masaalik has deepened in recent months. Bitter mutual recriminations have grown even though the All India Milli Council has consistently tried to bridge the gap by bringing all masaalik on a single platform.
The gulf between Islam’s two main sects has grown with considerable outside support from within and outside the country. Again, as usual, the Milli Council, of which I happen to be the General Secretary, has provided a joint platform for leaders not only from both the sects, but also from sub-sects. The conflict is not visible on the Milli Council platform although outside it the intensity of the conflict between the sub-sects has also grown.
The same discord marks the Muslim castes, zaat and biradri. Here, too, we have tried to bring people together and heal the rift. On this score, some anti-Muslim groups are already celebrating the division between Muslims. This has several political dimensions which we can discuss at a later stage as this piece is limited to points of principle only. The anti-Muslim groups think they do not need to organise communal riots as Muslims themselves are enough to kill each other.
At the base of the zaat-biradri conflict lie old issues of identity as well as the relatively new allure of job quotas and reservation in educational institutions. All these issues require careful, sensitive handling and full assurance to the so-called lower Muslim castes that the upper castes would not try to take what is due to the pasmaanda sections. Even otherwise, non-pasmandas have no way of taking the pie reserved for the backward castes.
There are even larger issues confronting the global Muslim Ummah that threaten to break it from inside. The internal violence in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, Libya and Egypt is most distressing. In all those places ethnic and sectarian violence has brought life to a standstill. In Egypt, the Brotherhood is at loggerheads with its former ally the Salafis.
Even in Turkey, two major segments of Islam-lovers are looking at each other with suspicion. Somalia is already a failed state. The Arab Spring has failed to bring in peace or democracy anywhere. People in those countries have not become better Muslims than they were before the Arab Spring. The great promise of Arab Spring has turned out to be an illusion.
Indian Muslims have their own old and new set of problems, the most worrisome of them being recurrence of organised violence against them periodically. To cap it all, we now have the prospect of internal conflict within the community.
The internal conflicts in Muslim countries are attributed by sociologist Akbar S. Ahmad to a general disregard in these countries for what he calls the “post-colonial paradigm” –pluralism, peaceful transfer of power through periodic elections. In the Middle East tyrannical “presidents” have presided over governments for three or even four decades. They capture power with violence and can be replaced only with more violence.
The Muslim world must learn these, not as some sinister Western dogma, but as a symbol of respect for the opinion of each and every citizen and to ensure their participation in governance, law-making and policy formulation affecting the entire population of those countries. Tolerance of dissent is yet another democratic principle to be learned by all Muslims everywhere. This is also a good way of engaging with the diversity of masaalikpeacefully and constructively.
Earlier generations of Muslims, too, had their differences and violent expression of disagreement or, even civil war, has not been unknown in the Muslim world. Despite all that, over the centuries Muslims evolved a discipline of dealing with difference of opinion fruitfully. Islam took the position that difference of opinion among Muslims is a boon, or God’s blessing. Because of difference of opinion we are able to look at issues from different perspectives which help us understand all dimensions of those issues, making a solution easier to find.
This is why for centuries Muslim lands were far more peaceful than Europe, which was always at war with itself. The Muslims called it Adab-e-Ikhtalaf (norms of expressing difference of opinion). In 2012, the Institute of Objective Studies organised an important seminar on the topic at Deoband in which major ulema and Muslim intellectuals participated.
We published proceedings and books on the issue in the following days which can be accessed today for finding clues to creative solutions. Meanwhile, let us all try to heal the rift as best as we can.
Let us sit together, think together and plan for the process of working together.
(Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam Chairman Institute of Objective Studies and General Secretary of All India Milli Council.)