20 March, 2010

Is There a Change in Muslim Thinking?

Judging from a spate of articles that have been appearing in recent times, there are signs of major changes in the thinking of the Muslim world that command attention. For the purpose of this article, reference will be made to two articles in The Times of India one by M. Hasan Jowher (25 July), another by Firoz Bakht Ahmed (11 October), to yet another article, this one by M.J. Akbar in Asian Age (27 July) and finally to an important meeting held on 21 September in Delhi attended by over 150 Muslim intellectuals from different parts of the country and from different disciplines, who drew up a memorandum which was later presented to the UN Representative on Jammu & Kashmir, Frank Graham. The meeting, incidentally, was organized by a committee consisting of many people prominent in Muslim religious, philanthropic, educational and cultural institutions, in intellectual discourse and in business, industry, commerce, the judiciary and law, not to speak of social work and the media. It is important to know what the memorandum said, considering that it is almost the first time that the "silent majority" among Muslims has come forward with its views. In the first place the Memorandum denounced the Two-National Theory, describing the concept of Pakistan as "an emotional slogan" devoid of "rational content" and "disastrous for Muslims". It said: "If we are living honourably in India today, it is certainly not due to Pakistan which, if anything, has by her policy and action, weakened our position. The credit goes to the broad-minded leadership of India". The unanimously adopted "Consensus Statement" declared: "Bound by geography, history, cultural intercourse, political experience and religious affinity, we, the Indian Muslims, regard the people of Jammu & Kashmir as an inseparable and valuable component of the larger Indian community. We consider that the destiny of Jammu & Kashmir is indivisible from that of India". And it added: "So completely oblivious (is Pakistan) of our future that it is willing to sell us to slavery, if only it can secure Kashmir (where there is) a democratic movement and a democratic leadership... in sympathy with India. Pakistan’s policy in general and its attitude to Kashmir in particular thus tend to create conditions in India which, in the long run can only bring to us Muslims widespread suffering and destruction."

This is about the first time that Indian Muslim leaders have spoken out so clearly on Jammu & Kashmir. M. Hasan Jowher comes out even more strongly. Noting that from the 7th century through well into the 12 century Muslims produced world-class minds in several fields of knowledge, Jowher quotes Mahathir Mohammad as saying that it is Muslim obscurantism that is responsible for halting Muslim progress. As he put it: "Ahmedabad’s one million Muslims have only one girls’ college and non for boys. Of about 250 IAS and 150 IPS officers in Gujarat, there are just eight Muslims". Jowher’s remedy: "While the privileged (Muslims) cultivate their paradise on earth, the poor have to do with sermons on puritanical religiosity and promises of eternal paradise as if misery on earth is the route to heavenly bliss. Collective myopia, mass hypocrisy and insensitivity to suffering are thus legitimized. To become productive, Muslims must instead focus on Huqooq-al-Ibad (duty to fellow human beings and Muslim empowerment). This should merit temporal, secular practice keeping religion in the personal domain. Otherwise little will change." M.J. Akbar is more forthright. According to him, "it is a myth that Islamic law is not amenable to re-interpretation". As he put it: "Islam has always been a dynamic faith, not a static one and principles have been place din context whenever needed." And to strengthen his argument he quotes Mohamad Iqbal who wrote: "The teaching of the Quran that life is a process of progressive creation, necessitates that each generation is guided, but unhampered, by the work of its predecessors, should be permitted to solve its own problems."

Does this mean that there is a quiet re-awakening among Muslims? One does not know, and it is too early to say. Firoz Bakhat Ahmed laments the fact that education is not a priority for Muslims because (a) most of them are primarily agriculturists, (b) their belief that they are being discriminated against acts as a disincentive to learning, and (c) social taboos prevented Muslim girls from going to school. But is the majority community responsible for Muslim backwardness? Why is there such an insistence that Muslims should learn Urdu? In the first place Urdu is not the exclusive language of Muslims: it is a language common to Muslims and Hindus in those areas in north India ruled by Mughals. It can’t be — and it shouldn’t be — the language of Muslims elsewhere whether in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa or West Bengal. In these states Muslims should read, write and speak in the local language to be quickly accepted. This, apparently, is anathema to the Muslims who are paying a price for their exclusivity. Then there is the question of madrasahs. When Hindu parents send their children to regular schools to make their way through life, Muslim parents sent their children to madrasahs which are meant to impart religious instruction. How do such schools help to place Muslim children in the educational and societal mainstream? It comes as a shock that just in Maharashtra alone there are an estimated 2,637 madrasahs giving religious instruction to 1,98,406 Muslim students. How will knowledge of religion help these poor boys get jobs in an increasingly competitive world? Firoz Bhakt Ahmed has no answer. But he insists that "Muslims must not get left behind". His solution is that "Urdu should be made part of the syllabus of the ISSE Board, Kendriya Vidyalayas and Navodaya Vidyalayas" though, happily he adds: "As a minority community Muslims can’t afford to be mediocre and spiritless. True, they should love Urdu but they must also make sure they are conversant in two other languages, namely English and Hindi or any other regional language. More than anybody else, it is the responsibility of the Muslims to see that the community does not lose out on an enlightened education which is the only route to a secure future".

This is wisdom. To blame Hindus or Hindutva or the Government for Muslim backwardness will take Muslims nowhere. It is only when they forget the Two-National Theory, speak out loudly that they are Indians first and last, realize that Islam can be re-interpreted to suit the demands of modernity, release their womenfolk from thralldom and get into mainstream India through the medium of language that they can finally prosper. Apparently there is a new awakening among Muslims in India, even if it is slow in asserting itself, that progress is not only necessary but eminently possible. Once this is turned into meaningful action, there can be no stopping the Muslims from rising to new heights. And it would then be a welcome development.

SPRAT - Appeal
What happened in Gujarat is mind-boggling in many ways and raises many fundamental questions about its social structures and processes. But that must wait for some other time. There is more immediate task to handle: to rehabilitate those rendered shelterless. As the monsoons set in and as the schools reopen, people must return to secure and familiar environs. Besides rebuilding broken shelters and shops we must also rebuild the broken bridges and reconstruct...
Greetings from Ahmedabad. Some of you will recall my having met you at the Lajpat Bhavan in April end. For some time I have been receiving your mails. I have been wanting to write to you and present gratitude on behalf of the affected people of Gujarat. But busy as I remain for almost 18 hrs a day, doing what is Urgent at the expense of what is Important, I have been unable to tell you how encouraging it is to learn of your concerns for us. What happened in Gujarat is mind-boggling in many ways and raises many fundamental questions about its social structures and processes. But that must wait for some other time. There is more immediate task to handle: to rehabilitate those rendered shelterless. As the monsoons set in and as the schools reopen, people must return to secure and familiar environs. Besides rebuilding broken shelters and shops we must also rebuild the broken bridges and reconstruct hope. A daunting task given the deafening silence of the corporate Gujarat. The bloodshed has been followed with what is widely called the Cheque Violence: the maximum sustenance for the entire household goods lost is Rs. 2,500/- [with most averaging at around Rs. 500/- and some getting as less as Rs. 70/-!] and the maximum for gutted immovable property being Rs. 50,000/-[average = Rs.12,000/-]. At least two persons had heart failure leading to death upon seeing the cheque amount. At Halol camp I met an unfortunate person who has gone insane upon receiving his compensation cheque. Read the complete Article here!


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