23 March, 2010

Nai Subh - Pursuit of Excellence

This series was launched to address the empowerment of Muslims in a rational, honest way. After taking stock of the reality and analyzing its causes it is now discussing the concrete action plan. For reasons of brevity this may appear a “ToDo List” and sound abrupt and instructive. The author sincerely regrets this but requests readers who joined mid-way to go back and read the series from the beginning. [MG does supply back issues.]

The substantive argument for this series is borrowed from the author’s Urdu audio presentation, KHITAB, available from SPRAT We are often asked by liberal, non-conformist Muslims whether it is possible to serve the community without being a perfect, practicing Muslim? We dare say, it is, [notwithstanding that the clergy doesn’t recognize a being called “non-conformist Muslim”]. Indeed, to hold otherwise is problematic. Very few can then “qualify” to serve. Besides, if Hindus, Christians and Buddhists can serve Muslims why can’t non-practicing Muslims do so? Human rights should be distinguished from religious rights. This way even the approach can become secular. Must we clarify that saying so does not mean disservice to Islam or opposing it? Perhaps the contrary.
We have previously discussed individual and political actions required This entire issue is dedicated to collective, community action. The following strategy seems workable:


* Muslims must actively participate in trade, professional, linguistic and cultural organizations and associations. Ashutosh Varshney in his well-researched work, “The Ethnic Conflict”, points out how communalism declined in cities where Hindu-Muslim interaction is stronger and more frequent.
* Going a step further, in the spirit of good-neighbourliness and goodwill we ought to participate in non-offensive festivities and celebrations like Makarsakranti [kite flying] and Rakhi and extend social courtesies like arranging drinking water for padyatristirth yatris. Kashmiris have earned tremendous goodwill by offering basic courtesy to Vaishnodevi visitors. and
* Cooperation: Let the everyday attitude of the community be that of conciliation and cooperation, not of confrontation, specially with the Hindus. But beware of sycophancy and appeasement. Substitute arbitration for litigation within and without, as far as possible.


* Tableegh: Like the Jamaat does tableegh amongst Muslims it is time to propagate the sensible and moderate image of the community amongst non-Muslims. Let the everyday functional Muslim project a decent image and explain the tenets of Islam, during his normal work life.
* At all times, particularly in the hour of your secular glory, remember to project your Muslimness. A friend of mine habitually offers lift to Hindus waiting for the bus at a difficult stop enroute to his house, in his car. And on the way he invariably lets them know he is a Muslim. Some first-timers simply can’t believe Muslims can be this good. M.R. is his tag – Muslim Representative – whenever he does good to non-Muslims.

A Culture of Learning

* Rather than discouraging and stifling we must encourage questions, inquiry and free debates – in the house, class-rooms, mosques, madarsas, dargahs and committee rooms, for ignorance is bliss only for fools.
* There will always be criticism, character assassination and condemnation. Interpret this as “we expect more” and press ahead. Collectively we ought to promote the culture of isolating the isolators and decrying the irresponsible fatwas.

Community Institutions

Communities thrive on the backbone of well-oiled infrastructures. Of prime importance is the highway of information and communication. Some suggestions appear below.


We should set up a National Research Organization for Muslims [NaROM] to conduct regular studies and to issue advisories on critical issues such as the following:

* Political Analysis: constituency-wise recommendation for politically winning strategy. [wish this was done in UP]. For more on this please refer the previous issue.
* Economic Analysis: to conduct general and specific studies and issue recommendations on
o Regional, seasonal and sectoral economic opportunities [We are deliberately not recommending creating a Muslim Chamber of Commerce, though such linkages will inevitably emerge informally. Incidentally, Jains have recently set up one of their own.]
o Newly emerging economic opportunities and ways to harness them
o Jobs / trades that are likely to wither away and be overtaken by technology or prohibited by law [e.g. polluting industries, child-labour intensive trades, rapidly automating production lines etc.] and identifying alternatives offering synergy.
o Identifying low cost technologies for technological upgradation in the tiny sector
* Social and Educational Research: Identifying sources for the following avenues and also helping establish linkages:
o Providing regular educational counseling indicating avenues for admission, scholarships, hostels, individual and institutional sponsorships etc. [including perhaps what not to study! We painfully recall how poor parents have wasted fortunes on useless computer courses – making bad programmers of potentially good plumbers!]
o Offering regular vocational / career guidance highlighting critically important areas for increasing community influence [e.g. police, administration, media, teaching etc]
o Documenting best managerial practices specially for mosques, dargahs, madarsas, orphanages, Waqf boards and other NGOs
o Educating on how to avail of social support schemes of Govt and NGOs that Muslims may be entitled to, including for the OBCs, handicapped, widows etc. [We know that many Muslims are bypassed, both due to their own ignorance and through some Hindu bias. For instance PM’s NREG scheme simply didn’t reach Gujarati Muslims until the Indian Express exposed this. Ministries of HRD, Social Welfare, Women and Youth Development etc offer several useful schemes that Muslims can immensely benefit from]

Public Relations [Media Management]

* Managing public perception, specially amongst the Hindus, to build a conducive image of the community by issuing public statements and to highlight Muslim perspective, specially on current burning issues
* Running or partnering in the running of a national [not “Muslim”] TV channel just to provide correct and balanced news coverage. Pending this, prime time can be hired for broadcasting news capsules on popular channels.
* Running a national [again, not “Muslim”] English newspaper for the same purpose. And if this is not immediately possible, to hire out column space – or a whole page – in leading national newspapers and to publish stories commissioned from celebrated secular writers. In a sense Syed Shahabuddin’s Muslim India did this. But we are here recommending doing so in the national mainstream newspapers that are read by non-Muslims.
* Having regional and local representatives to regularly feed to their local press human interest stories and issues concerning the community SPRAT will be happy to make its contribution in both these areas, viz, Research and Media management.

Leadership Development

* Secular Muslim Leadership Development Institute: to train Muslim volunteers and activists in the secular management of community institutions such as schools, credit cooperatives, hospitals, orphanages etc. in a professional manner. Perhaps the Institute may award PG Diplomas recognized by the government – and in due course the community may imbibe a culture of ensuring that at least one member of the management committee possesses such qualification.
* Promoting cultural institutions for increased community interaction such as community halls and recreation clubs. Sadly, the absence of such infrastructure compels the creamy layers amongst Muslims to go elsewhere – thus depriving the less advantaged Muslims of their patronage. [Unfortunately, however, our habit of imposing religious symbols in every sphere leads to sectarianism and non-professionalism. We will eventually need to delineate areas where religious outlook must reign supreme – such as mosques, dargahs, madarsas – and where it will be subordinated, such as these cultural institutions.]
* Requirements for Selecting Leaders: Length of voluntary, selfless services, professional competence in the chosen field of activity [and not piety], transparency of dealings and accountability [that is democratic temperament], accessibility to the masses, resourcefulness, capacity and will to mobilize the required resources, clear-headedness about consideration etc. should weigh over perceived image and tall claims.
* We must overcome the unfortunate habit of enrolling religious figures on every institute [for perceived piety] and celebrities and tall names [like former so and so]. A dedicated simple Accountant would run our small credit cooperative far better than the over-burdened ex-collector sahib!

Professionalism, Professionalism

* This might sound too “mercenary” but my experience shows that clear-headed professionalism delivers far better than foggy “selfless service”. The so-called “honorary” services are neither honour-worthy, nor free, really. It is far better to budget for their salary and hire competent professionals to run your institutions. When you do hire them, chart out clearly the policy objectives, your rights, and their rights and obligations. Please confine yourself to monitoring without intimidating. Pray, don’t interfere. Specially watch out against “remote controls” that take the credit but not accountability.
* Most professions can be mastered in a few years. So in the name of “experience” don’t go on reelecting the same persons/panel indefinitely. This also obstructs young talent and fresh thinking. It is best to limit the tenures in the Charter.
* Take the rich people’s money, sure, but don’t barter executive authority for this. Let them be figure-heads but not in active management unless they assume full accountability.

Being No.2:

* It is a big thing to be number two. It gives the satisfaction of being not too far behind – and instills the confidence and hope of becoming No.1. Equally, it humbles the arrogance of being at the top. Moderated by healthy competition, this feeling can do wonders for empowerment, towards becoming No.1
* So, who are we No.2 to? To Christians on the world scene. To the Hindus at the national scene. And so on.

Community Sponsorships:

* Personally I am not for sponsoring the education of doctors and engineers, for that is too costly and builds pro-rata less influence for the community. Instead, focus priority areas critical to the security and image of the community. Catch the bright ones at X+ stage under a bond executed by the ward and the guardian, and invest in their training for administration [IAS, IPS, IRS etc], media [editors, journalists, reporters], teaching etc. The less perseverant ones may be trained for steno-secretary, accountant, driver etc – positions closer to power centres in small enterprises.
* Area Development: Lobby for locating public institutions like government departments, schools, colleges etc. Also pursue with authorities for facilities like roads, flyovers, telephone booths, community TVs, community halls, recreational clubs and parks etc
* Charity in Kind: Zakawt and other charity givers may consider directly setting up tangible public welfare facilities like drinking water, public toilets [Sulabh Sauchalya can do it cheaply for you], sun shelters, slum development [avail of the Govt Ambedkar Yojana] etc. Consider using your Zakawt as a lever, a hand-holding support for the deserving to come up. Never exclude the closely neighbouring non-Muslims. This small gesture is usually returned with large dividends.


? The initiative to unite Muslims on a single political platform seems to have backfired in UP. You seemed against this ab initio..
£ It is our old disease to mess up secular domain with unwarranted interference by clergy and men that don’t know. Formulating political strategy in such fragmented a polity as that of UP demanded a degree of astuteness that we simply did not have. Consequence: not only did we lose badly and made powerful enemies but must also face frightening implications from the new strategic alliance in the ruling dispensation.

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