23 March, 2010

Nai Subh - Pluralism and Tolerance

In the two previous issues the importance of learning, specially of science, and of hard and smart work were outlined. Taking this segment of Recognition – the precondition to corrective strategy – further the author contrasts our individual compromises with our collective intolerance.

Some material for this issue is derived from the author’s Urdu audio presentation, KHITAB, available from SPRAT .
n this issue we will try to appreciate the importance of speaking up for truth and justice. And equally of tolerance and understanding. Though they appear so, they are not self contradictory.

Whither Jihad?

This much maligned term has come to mean “killing the infidel”, virtually a war-cry. Jihad in Arabic means "struggle" and not "holy war" (a term not found anywhere in the Qur'an). Jihad, as an Islamic concept can be, at a personal level, a struggle against evil within oneself; a struggle for decency and goodness on the social level; and struggle on the battlefield, if and when necessary. JehdJehd-e-musalsil should ring familiar bells to the Urdu speakers. Injustice will triumph in the world if the just were not prepared to take risks in a righteous cause.
Robert Francis Kennedy reminds us: Every time we turn our heads the other way when we see the law flouted – when we tolerate what we know to be wrong – when we close our eyes and ears to the corrupt because we are too busy, or too frightened – when we fail to speak up and speak out – we strike a blow against freedom and decency and justice.
Do we look the other way? Do we settle for uneasy, unjust and self-negating peace in our localities? Do we avoid taking risks for righteous causes? Do we barter collective decay for personal comfort? Yes, we do. For, if we didn’t why would there be in our localities, so much filth, goondagiri, eve-teasing, illegal activities, insecurity? How do bhais and petty criminals thrive amongst us, compelling the gentlemen amongst us to live timidly? How come the “real authority” of most of our institutions manages to pass into sullied hands? Why are integrity, accountability, transparency and accessibility not the characteristics of our local managements?

Check the occupations that some of us engage in: begging, stealing from the railway yards, bus depots, godowns, bazars; bootlegging, or doing the dirty work for national industry: transporting excise-evaded goods or recovering their “number two” dues for supari. We seem to have chosen the legacy only of sea-pirates.

I am yet to visit a large Indian Muslim habitation that doesn’t have video parlours [showing stuff you wouldn’t see publicly], brothels, gambling dens and its softer version, the stag carom clubs. The author invites readers to name any one-lakh plus Muslim habitation free of these ills.

Could this state of affairs have settled in our midst had we – or even a significant number of us – stuck our neck out whenever we saw a wrong? Prolonged amnesia, selfishness and neglect of social consciousness have made our localities uninhabitable. Really? Well, ask how many of our achievers would want to live in “our” localities but for security considerations? If today our leading lights have returned to “Muslim localities” it is entirely thanks to Hindu fundamentalism.

This “why should I interfere?” attitude emerges from sheer helplessness in the face of a gigantic problem, utter apathy and acute selfishness. Here are some situations where we could and must poke our nose:

* Throwing litter, discharging water irresponsibly, dirtying surroundings
* Creating too much noise and playing loud music, whether religious or secular
* Encroachments of roads, gardens, shopping complexes and waqf properties by automobile parkers, builders, shop keepers, wedding parties, urs revelers, time-wasters, whatever.
* Eve-teasing, harassment of women for pleasure, sarcasm, innuendo.
* In normal everyday argument using abusive or threatening language, muscle flexing, uncivil conduct
* Unreasonably dominating the weak, whether on the road-side, across the shopping counter – or in our board and committee rooms
* Any act manifestly contrary to the laws of the land

An orderly, civil and reasonable social setup will undoubtedly help pursue and nurture excellence. Moreover it will result in economies [saving on litigation, for instance], produce synergies [through cooperation, networking], attract external resources and generally empower the community. Assess what a nation does to grow and to attract foreign investment: good governance, effective law and order and fair labour practices.


While individually we fail to speak up and stand out, collectively we make too much noise. Arguably today we are amongst the most intolerant. No, we are not citing the reaction to the Danish cartoonist, Salman Rushdie or Tasleema Nasreen. We are talking of murders – and of Muslims:

* Who killed Masood in Afghanistan?
* Nasser and Sadat in Egypt?
* Shaikh Mujib and thousands of Bangladeshi “freedom fighters”, or “reformists” of Indonesia?
* Muhajirs in Pakistan?
* Sunnis and Shias inside their mosques in Lahore and Karachi?
* Who was behind the mass murders in Quetta – and Karbala, earlier or now?
* Who defiled Bangladeshi sisters in the name of “purifying their blood”?
* Have we heard of Sipah-e-sahaba and Sipah-e-Mohammed in the context of compassion for mankind?

Iraq is on the brink of a barbaric civil war between Shias and Sunnis. When Lucknow Muslims are not facing the challenge of Hindutva, their Shias and Sunnis are entangled, and perhaps the local BJP MP is mediating! [Pray we don’t invite Uncle Sam to mediate between Al Qaeda and Ayatollah!]
We create enemies when there is none. Our strife with the Jews [for illegal occupation of Palestine] and Christians [for politico-religious causes and against imperialism and colonialism] is understandable. Let us also attribute our conflict with Hindus to political history. But there was no recent history of strife with the Budhists, at least in Central Asia. Here we managed to create one by destroying the Bamia Buddha!

Couldn’t Kuwait and Iraq, or Iraq and Iran, or Hamas and PLO or Hizbollah and the Lebanese government resolve their differences through dialogue? Contrast the active cooperation of EU members – virtually unifying them into a single federated nation – with the squabbling and the lip-service of the OIC members!

Part of our intolerance stems from lack of culture, some from ignorance and the rest from arrogance. Shocked? How do we rate an individual who shouts, screams, flexes his muscle in daily life? Isn’t this how we behave as a community?

Humankind has travelled far since the times when muscle was the sole arbiter [jiski lathi uski bhains]. Today transactions are negotiated, business is conducted and disputes are resolved following globally honoured norms. Even powerful nations have “surrendered” their sovereignty by signing treaties and conventions – all in quest of a just and peaceful international order. The truly cultured abhor violence, abuse and exploitation – whether of the domestic maid, of the customer, of weaker neighborhoods or nations.

Our ignorance of the implications of our emotive conduct, of norms of good conduct, of alternative modes of behaviour and, above all, of the vast advantages that flow from tolerance and accommodation often breed in us intolerance and violent reactions. Our bad method hurts our good cause – and paints us in bad light.

Arrogance may be born of having too much, of illusion of having, as well as from recognition of not having enough! A “sore grapes” mindset can lead to defiance and pretence of “care two hoots”. A whole community can settle down into a denial mode.

Arrogance also results from ignorance. Our arrogance is a direct reflection of our ignorance, of our own cultural heritage and of other cultures and their states. Either we do not understand the Islamic injunctions on this count or we don’t respect them. Here is what the Qur'an says :

* "There is no compulsion in religion." (2:256)
* Elsewhere "..let there be no hostility except against wrongdoers." (2:193).
* "..God loves those who are just." (60:8)
* The common thread connecting the diverse humanity is simple, basic science. Qur'an proclaims: "O mankind! We created you from a single soul, male and female, and made you into peoples and tribes, so that you may come to know one another." (49:13)

We were not so always. Non-Muslim societies and religious places of worship flourished all over the Islamic world once. For instance, prior to the Spanish Inquisition, Jews and Christians lived and prosperred in Andalus (Spain) for centuries under Muslim rule.

Brain Drain

Our intolerance towards our own liberal achievers compels them to leave our localities. Though the community invested in their grooming – but as they achieve some status and, understandably, acquire new lifestyles – we criticize them mercilessly, driving them out of our neighbourhood. This brain drain deprives the mohalla of their beneficial influence on the society, wasting our social investment.

Tolerance is distinct from cowardice and unprincipled compromise. In fact by sparing the energies from the peripheral it lends the strength to fight for the core causes. Tolerance is prelude to developing an understanding of the “other” and usually results in resolving disputes and promoting cooperation.

Let us recognize the distinction between tolerance for “the other” and timid coexistence with “our own” bully.


Author Request: SPRAT wishes to document model Muslim localities in India and will thank readers for their references.

Acknowledgement: Credit is acknowledged to “The Aalim” for Qur'anic quotes


? I agree with some of what you write but differ with the rest..

£ Well, let’s begin with the agreed part: how about doing something in that area? Please share with us your ideas on what to do and how.

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