23 March, 2010

Nai Subh Delusions

his series is about how the community can transform its night of darkness into a morning of promise and hope, through self help. Heralding a new dawn of dignity involves a realistic understanding of our current situation, questioning core assumptions, evaluating conduct, rectifying flaws, planning a course of action and actually executing it. Tall order? That, sadly, remains the shortest way to the dawn!

Having presented the fact sheet the author now discusses assumptions, precepts and hypocrisies that in his views lead to cloudy thinking, faulty planning and ineffective action. Also presented are issues that our truly learned ulema need to resolve in the context of our contemporary complexities.

This is largely based on the author’s Urdu audio presentation KHITAB available from SPRAT .
If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence. The origin of myths is explained in this way.“ observed the famous philosopher, Bertrand Russell.

Nothing could be more true of the myths Muslims nurture. There is dichotomy in our beliefs and actions, in our affairs personal and political. This issues presents a sample:

Muslims Shun Worldly Pleasures

Do they? (“Must they?” will be addressed later). But do they, indeed, shun pleasures or merely go about pursuing them haphazardly, with an enormous guilt? Who doesn’t want to move from the huts to tenements, from flats to bungalows; from cycle to scooter to car; from municipal schools to public schools, from hand-carts to show-rooms; from civil hospital to private nursing home, from street-side play to a recreational club, from small-time retailer to big-time distributor, from clerk to officer, from a Rs. 2,000/- job to a Rs. 3,000/- job? And why not? Isn't that the substantive story of human civilization, to free mankind from hunger, pain, suffering? To substitute more for less, comfort for discomfort, happiness for sadness?

Aren’t the Hajj rituals including the sheep-slaughter, the safa-and-marwah, the journey to and from Mecca being made more comforting? Baitullah now boasts of a world-class underground air-conditioning conquering the desert heat, an excellent drainage system resolving repeated downstream flooding.
All our religious festivals, [ironically including muharram] and the typical “urs” [the annual pilgrimages to holy shrines] are veritable, usually cheap, fares. That we often don’t get to have decent fun leads us to call sour grapes. Except in the involuntary instances of Afghanistan and Iraq the journey of Muslim nations, not unlike that of other communities, has been one of rags to riches, ruins to runways.

The Hereafter Weighs over the Here:

That obviously is not seen in practice. Consider what education most of us want our children to pursue? Not hifz, fiqh, hadith, quirat, but medicine, engineering, polytechnic, ITI? Indeed, our least endowed child is the one parked in the madarsas, while the brighter ones pursue secular agenda. Between a govt clerk and our “revered” moulvi who do we choose for a son-in-law? A survey of Muslim matrimonial columns revealed that out of 300 advertisements only one obliquely sought religious expertise as a wanted trait.

When Muslims fall sick – on way to “hereafter” – are they any less concerned than the non-believers to get healthy and prolong life “here”? What, except the primitive, primeval desire for living, could have caused the recurring stampedes at Hajj? Were these any different from those at the Kumbh Mela or the European football stadium crash?

If the middle-east Arabs genuinely believed in “hereafter”, would not their investments in European casinos, hotels and malls be diverted to remove abysmal poverty of the Muslim world?

“Iman” and “Aamaal”

Momin Ke Liye Jannat [paradise for the believer]. And, therefore, non-Momin to hell! A certain Mr Lateef must, according to the popular Muslim belief, be one day ushered in the paradise whereas a certain Mr Mohan would never – regardless of the fact that the former has been a notorious boot-legger, land-grabber and supari-killer while the latter laid his life for truth and humanism, better known as Mahatma Gandhi. Considering that few of us “chose” to be Muslims, the stroke of fate is deemed sufficient to make all the difference, blessed as we are – and accursed as the others are. Classifying by proclamation [belief], not by conduct, has cost us dearly.

According to scholars little else has devastated Muslims more than the supremacy they popularly attach to “Iman” (faith) over “aamaal” (conduct). While we find that an average Muslim professes complete iman his conduct is far removed from ideal Muslim character in temporal matters.

Had greater focus been laid on “aamaal” an average Muslim should have been a respected world citizen. Consider the following: Equality [Musawat], Truth [Haq-goi], Honesty [imandari], Generosity [Sakhawat], Humility [ijz-o-inkesari], Compassion [humdardi], Sacrifice [Isaar], Knowledge [ilm], Contentment [Tawakkul], Commitment [Wada-wafai], Simplicity [sadgi], Cleanliness [Taharat], Industry [Jihad], Consultation [Mushawarat]. Are these virtues not also the core of other religions and backbone of human instruments like India’s constitution, various international treaties and the soul of UN charters?

Somewhere down the line this strict momin-o-kafir demarcation also sub-consciously leads us to see all black or all white, allowing little room for the more plausible gray in between. We must seek complete angels; humans with some goodness will not do. No wonder, we get neither. If only we made do with the goodness that we saw in our fellow-humans to whatever measure available and made use of it!


The popular belief that everything is pre-ordained leads Muslims to act fatalistically. Taqdeer [fate] wins over Tadbeer [action] hands down, leaving inadequate incentive to plan and execute our advancement in the “here”. The promised paradise enables us to bear a veritable hell here. We even succeed in giving some to others. Our pathetic neglect of institution building is a direct result of this fatalism.


We have little evidence to support the dictum: Achcha deendar hi accha duniyadar ban sakta hai [religious virtue alone leads to temporal virtue]. The distinction between an individual’s personal piety and his desirable social conduct often glares in our eyes but we look the other way. Who do we choose, say, between a religious George Bush and a sexist Bill Clinton or between a pious Jana Sanghi and an agnostic Nehru?

This clouds our thinking in many ways: We are more likely to elect a religious person, regardless of his professional competence, to head our co-op housing society over an experienced town planner. Equally we would trade off an efficient Hindu Physics teacher for a Muslim whose namaz weighs over his physics.

Muslim Who?

This leads us to revisit the issue of who truly Muslim is? Going by the ferocity (read piety) with which the Sunnis and Shias are killing each other in Iraq today, or – until Musharraf reined them in – were killing in Pakistan, even while offering prayers, one of them had to be lesser Muslim, if not outright non-Muslim. Then, of course, there are the Bohras, Khojas, Ahmadiyas and so on. Our history is replete with Muslim killings. Some of our revered saints and scholars have pursued this hate agenda against the “enemy within”. Historically, when Muslims were not at war with non-Muslims they were, within.

Most Muslim political leaders including Jinnah, Maulana Azad, Musharraf, Saddam Hussein, Col. Gadaffi and even Yasser Arafat have been thrown out of Islam at various times. My generation grew up knowing more about how a Muslim becomes “non-Muslim” rather than the other way round. By this process of mutual elimination “Muslims” have been reduced to a tiny minority of earth.

So who is a Muslim? You might say: “A Muslim is one who claims to be one”. And who serves the community better? Again you might say, equally fairly, that “everyone who enriches humanity and claims to be a Muslim in some way serves the community”. Would you say, Ghulam Ali, Shabana Azmi, Dilip Kumar, Shah Rukh, Salman, Saif, and Aamir, Muhammad Ali, Sania Mirza, Zakir Hussain, Amjad Hussein, Abida Parveen are Muslims? Was the shehnai maestro Bismillah Khan a Muslim? They claim – and you may agree – they are Muslims. But the doctrinaire Muslims have excluded these women and men at one or the other time. The exclusions included the Nobel Laureate Dr Abdus Salaam and, once the richest Indian, Azim Premji.



? Oh! Muslims are now “capturing” the Nobel Prizes, one last year, two this year! £ Yes, congratulations. However, please note that these winners are also rebels and reformists. Literature Laureate Orhan Pamuk publicly condemned the fatwa against Salman Rushdie and acknowledged, angering the entire country, the killing of 30,000 Kurds and one million Armenians in Turkey. The Peace Laureates – Mohammed Yunus and his Grameen Bank of Bangladesh – stoutly receive and pay interest. In any case, we hope, that the lament that the West ignores Muslims may now be diluted a wee bit. It is noteworthy that eradication of poverty has been taken akin to spreading peace. Going by the leaked findings of Sachar Committee the abysmal poverty of Indian Muslims requires a giant of an Indian Yunus. Indeed, several of him and his banks!

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