23 March, 2010

Nai Subh - Fallacies

In the present issue of this introspective series the author identifies beliefs he believes to have worn out of wisdom and indicates their impact for the Muslim community. He also touches upon the dichotomy in the claims and the actual conduct of the community.

Based largely on the author’s Urdu audio presentation KHITAB – available from SPRAT – this column discusses rational means of heralding a new dawn of empowerment and dignity.
Continuing with our discussion on questionable precepts and practices we present some more examples below.
Action vs. Prayers
In the devastating earthquake and its after-shocks in Gujarat in 2001 when a social activists were screaming to people in a multi-storied building to run out to open places or take shelter beneath beams they ran against the local influential Moulvi who urged men to gather in the local mosque for special prayers, leaving women-folk in-doors. That several mosques perished in earthquakes has left him untouched. Preferring prayer to prudent action is fatal error Muslim history is replete with.

Sheikh Abdul Rehman Al Jabrooti laments that when Napoleon’s forces attacked Egypt the Al-Azhar organized Khatm-e-Saheeh Bukhari rather than fighting the enemy. Any wonder then, that, the Muslims were vanquished? In Ghubar-e-Khatir Maulana Azad relates how the Muslims in Bukhara organized Khatm-e-Khwajgan in mosques and madarsas when the Russians attacked in early 19th c. He goes on to ridicule that the result was what the result should be in the battle of explosives and prayers: explosives won! We witnessed similar substitution of prayer for action in the 2002 Gujarat genocide.

How often do so many of our ulema hand out “prescriptions” for a plethora of ailments: this “wazeefa” [holy chanting] this many times for such need and this prayer that many times for such other ailment. A vast multitude of Muslims opts for Wazaif for everything from food to employment to marriage. Lest we should think this was confined to the rural simpleton, please note that a popular programme on an international Islamic channel doles out Wazaif on-line! Passionate Duas [prayers] have become the most compelling ingredient of the namaz. The simple wisdom that even a lottery is not won unless a ticket is bought, much less a job secured without applying for it, preparing and passing the recruitment test, passes us by. What may have started as a complement to action has ended up being a complete substitute.
A leading dargahs of Rajasthan vulgarizes commercialization of this belief. They have perfected a variety of offerings [called “degh bharna”, effectually, filling the coffers!] for every conceivable need. Try buying a book on the revered saint’s teachings and you would scarcely get one. Considering that bus-loads of Muslims inundate from all over everyday in search of panacea testifies to the success of this industry. For good measure they also run a mail-order service offering to pray on your behalf and to send you the “tabarruk” [holy offerings] in return, of course, for your money orders. A former Postmaster General of Rajasthan meaningfully revealed how the postman of that area is a much sought-after employee!

Lack of Self Esteem

I may sound pompous but I often feel that Muslims lack self-esteem and pride in their being Muslims. Cheap bravado and violent reactions for TV camera at the slightest provocation is altogether different from genuine pride in one’s heritage. Some examples:

* When at the Eid-gah a politically correct Chief Minister drops in to greet, thousands of heads turn away from the Imam cheaply to catch a glimpse of the dignitary, completely oblivious to the decorum of the mosque.
* At the official iftar parties the behaviour of most Muslims becomes outright demeaning and smacks of sycophancy. Indeed, a summons from a powerful office has saliva rolling off many a mouth.
* For some “happening” Muslims “secularism” lies in denouncing the community in the presence of the Hindus. That they also placate the local Mullah unreasonably is pragmatism.
* Sometimes they behave plain silly to flaunt their patriotism: Not long ago some Muslims offered special prayers for Indian victory in an Indo-Pak cricket match. One wonders if this was cricket, patriotism, Islam or none. Assuming that Pakistan played better but India won through their prayers, was this their idea of God’s justice, and of sports? I am sure Togadia ridiculed: “Dekho Miyan ki Durgat!” Wish they invoked God’s intervention for better cause – and more justly!
* Some bearded gentlemen are ever ready to lend a helping hand – or, rather, a helpful beard! – for politically motivated display of communal harmony. Ditto for some Burqua-clad women. This becomes truly disgusting when such shows are organized for the likes of Narendra Modi. When will Muslims realize that our secularism has to be genuine; that their patriotism doesn’t need the approval of Togadias, Thackerays, Modis? Do we love our mother to beget other’s approval?

Muddled Secularism

The same confusion appears in our application of secularism. Indeed, even our leadership betrays duplicity on this vital issue. Let us invert the situation to illustrate the point:

The families of three friendly neighbours, Victor, Vinod and Vaseem, lived harmoniously in fictionabad. Once when Vinod fell ill, his wife asked Vaseem to fetch her groceries on his way to the bazaar. Vaseem, of course, readily obliged. Then again, when Victor took ill, Vaseem happily obliged Mrs. Victor, dropping their children to school along with his. But on a certain Saturday when Vinod, who never missed a Hanuman pooja, took to bed again, Mrs. Vinod requested Vaseem to offer a pooja to the Bajrangbali at the street temple, in lieu of her husband. Vaseem, the devout Muslim that he was, politely declined saying idol worship violated his faith.

The moral? In the secular domain mutual cooperation is easier; in religious domain it rarely is, as it often clashes with one’s own faith. And yet we every so often mix the two up in a pluralistic society like India. Consider the following:
* Setting up a school for secular education and restricting it to Muslim students / teachers, or where “deeniyat” [religious curriculum] is made obligatory. Some years ago I was invited to the governing board of a proposed ”university” that was to run medical and engineering colleges. I was bemused to find no non-Muslim. No wonder the idea remained on paper. Even if it materialized, would it attract good faculty and serious students?
* Promoting a recreational club with a mosque in it. Surely there is no better way of keeping non-Muslims away and validating temple construction in Hindu promoted culture centres. Polarization, indeed.
* Building cooperative housing societies / commercial complexes and barring non-Muslims from them.

For secular causes we are need and are entitled to society’s and government help. But by introducing the religious angle we preempt the cooperation of Vinods, Victors and of the Government.

Dubious Heroes

While the “secular” Muslim shies away from owning up even Aurangzeb – despite his tremendous administrative reforms and puritanical self-discipline – most others flaunt the “heroism” of Mehmood of Ghazni, Nadir Shah, and even of “Chengiz Khan”. That the Pakistanis named their deadly missile after Ghaznawi was obviously not lost on the Hindu extremists.

A number of our so-called heroes were cruel humans, what with skinning or blinding of their brothers alive, exiling, imprisoning and murdering their parents and siblings and waging needless wars, all for power.

Ulema Devoid of Ilm

Just as by hanging a stethoscope around the neck one doesn’t become a doctor, one doesn’t become an Alim-e-Islam by sporting a beard, either. Can such aalim guide any better than such doctor can cure? Our ulema-e-deen must return to their original status, viz, alim-e-deen and alim-e-duniya. And until the latter happens ought they not to keep off the temporal domain?

In 2004 SPRAT conducted a structured survey of 76 Imams – typically huffaz from Bihar and UP – leading taraweeh prayers in various Ahmedabad mosques. The findings that should have a responsible leadership sit up in introspection are approximated below:

* No more than ten had had a secular education at all, with barely half having passed the Xth. Hardly anyone completed graduate studies.
* Not one came from an economically well-off background; the father of none was even a class-III employee or a land-owning farmer. Most were petty artisans, landless farmers, menial workers or imams or mudarris themselves
* Barely five knew any alternate skills that could fetch them a sustainable income.
* Undoubtedly most, if not everyone, was doing what he was, for the sake of the money and the offering it earned. Just the way our young go to the Middle East or the US, to these revered souls Ahmedabad was the El Dorado.
* Most were frightfully afraid of – or under the control of – the local mosque trust. And often these trusts were adorned by the local builders, traders, petty politicians and even “respectable goons”. The sight of these imams playing courtesans to these moneyed trustees bears witness to the fall of the institution of imamat.
* Most had more children than they could honourably take care of, and some had two wives. None could reasonably assure a secular education for his ward. Some gave a disturbing feeling barely better than that of the restrained beggars.

Any wonder that a Muslim SPRATian doubted if he could sincerely recite “tabe is imam ke” [following this imam] in his next namaz! Iqbal lamented this thus: jis ne momin ko banaya meh wo parveen ka ameer, isi quraan me hai ab tarke jahan ki taleem. [the path that once empowered the momin now leads to isolation].



? Look how Israel was made to lick and vacate Lebanon! £ Oh! Sure, yes. Sadly, however, it is not Israel that lies in ruins but Lebanon. And no one is even claiming reparation from the naked aggressor.

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