23 March, 2010

Nai Subh - Society

In its march towards a new dawn of glory, this introspective series has presented the current situation of ummah and a detailed analysis of its causes. To initiate remedial action – the subject of the remaining few issues – it listed some preconditions. In this concluding discussion on Recognition the author presents the last few preconditions for an effective, cohesive corrective strategy to work.

Some material for this issue is taken from the author’s Urdu audio presentation, KHITAB, available from SPRAT .

We have discussed the importance of education, science, professionalism, secularism, acceptance of change, distinguishing the core from the peripheral aspects of religion, role of clergy and of liberal Muslims, of checking population and legitimizing normal interest etc in formulating an action plan that has a good chance to succeed.

In the passing we may clarify that from education we do not necessarily mean formal, degree-oriented education, although that is no less necessary. But at the mass level we actually mean knowledge in the sense of awareness. That formal literacy is necessary for such awareness is obvious.
Political Management

Another potent tool available to Muslims, particularly in secular polities such as India, where they constitute significant minorities, is the political tool. Both at national and global level, politics – in the meaning of the art of managing people’s perception – plays a critical part in winning friends and eliminating enmity. No surprise, then, that nations like China and India get professional lobbying firms to promote their case with the American senators. Jews have nearly perfected this art. Fewer than Muslims they have yet created a perception of being politically far more critical in a one-person-one-vote land that US is supposed to be.

Our relations with one country can directly affect our standing with others. For instance, though we may be hard put to prove it, we may hazard this opinion that had 9/11 not happened Modi might not have dared to allow the pogrom he did in Gujarat. With the central government in his pocket and Uncle Sam apt to look the other way he had little to fear. Indeed, it may be said that even Chechnyans paid for 9/11 in some way.

Constitutionally Muslims enjoy significant political rights in India. If we can strike strategic political alliances, say, with the “majority of minorities” [borrowing Mr Madani’s term], we may actually command political power in several provinces.

What does this require? Unfortunately our demands usually revolve around the petty personal needs of our power-brokers: fixing up so and so, allotment of contracts or plots, etc. How about collective bargaining, for instance, for allocation of MLA and MP-LAD grant to set up schools, libraries, hospitals, parks, laboratories.. even laying of roads? We have for 50 years frittered away this potential weapon. How else do we explain that several of our mohallas remain deprived of basic municipal amenities like roads, water and street lighting despite being sizeable vote-banks?

Public Perception

But political management need not be restricted to legislatures. The larger goal should be to build appropriate public perception using every legitimate tool. One such tool is the media.

Today, despite the blatant, naked and proven brutalities of Gujarat establishment, more than 50% Hindus believe Muslims deserved this treatment. Over 25% actually have no idea of the extent of brutalities. When organizations like Prashant, Anhad or SPRAT organize film shows or public lectures invariably we have Hindus drawing up to say they are shocked such a thing happened. Why is it that as a community we failed to educate the average Hindu? But, then, which Muslim organization has truly addressed this issue? Or, worse, is capable of doing so? Ditto on Babri masjid at the national level. Even a Patwardhan film like Ram Ke Naam or Rakesh’s Final Solution was not distributed by Muslim organizations en masse. Our vernacular papers are not read by Hindus and our version rarely gets highlighted in the mainstream press.

This author firmly believes that if only Muslims managed to educate the common Hindus the menace of communalism would be significantly reduced. Yes there shall remain a section of hardcore Muslim-baiters but they will not remain too dangerous.

Right to Information

The current national tool to empower the citizenry is the Right to Information Act. Here again we see little nation-wide community campaign to enable Muslims to use this potent weapon to tackle communalism, corruption and other forms of bureaucratic injustice. Isn’t it painful that such a powerful tool coming so cheaply is being wasted by and large? One would have expected a community complaining of discrimination to grab it en masse.

Power of Organization

We may extend the logic of political consciousness to organization per se. Consider, for example, the impact of Muslim holding in manpower-hungry joint stock companies. If isolated Muslim investments could be consolidated and channelized to a group of select companies, we might acquire a critical, effective say in its affairs, thereby ensuring that it employs and does business with Muslims without discrimination. No, this is not as improbable as it might seem. However, such strategies work in sync, not in isolation. That’s how Jews control a number of US companies.

Imagine a thriving Muslim political network, widely recognized Muslim press and a group of respected, sane advisors. The community’s economic analysts would carefully analyze and recommend appropriate investment strategy. Individual Muslims will invest as it still remains sound economics. Individual Hindus can scarcely be expected to jump in with their dear money merely to counter such a move. Doesn’t money reign over communalism? Even VHP’s cars are tended by Muslim mechanics. Gujarat’s kite industry is virtually run by Muslims even today.

Slavery Still?

Organization generally is a democratic practice. 41% Muslim nations are authoritarian regimes, 14% traditional monarchies, 18% restricted democracies, 27% democracies fulfilling basic criteria laid down by Freedom House. In other words just one in four Muslims enjoys basic democracy. 73% are not democratic even by basic criteria and 55% are outright dictatorial governments, stifling our freedom and liberties.

Thus worldwide nearly 93% Muslims do not enjoy full democratic freedoms. And of these, say, 50% are women. Given the condition of women may we say we are a community that still tolerates slavery?

Women’s empowerment

A significant precondition for the amelioration of Muslims is the upliftment of the Muslim woman. A not-too-old survey of Indian Muslim women by ORG-Marg placed their mean age of marriage at 15.6 years with nearly 60% married off by the age of 17. That 70% of such married women disapproved of their marriage [as “too early”] indicates their consent was not free. Considering the legal age at 18, 60% of Muslim marriages are patently “illegal”. With about 86% of Muslim girls already married, only about 14% remain unmarried. That early marriage means more – and perhaps sick – children has already been discussed.

It is noteworthy that the less educated the girl the earlier was her marriage. Also, the younger women denounced early marriages. Marrying young girls appears a community priority higher than empowering her. We witnessed, painfully, several mass marriages organized at the riot relief camps of Gujarat in 2002-03.

Women’s Education

While it may be said that in several pockets, specially in this decade, this recognition is gaining currency, the situation is far from satisfactory. That survey determined that most Muslim women were completely unaware of welfare schemes, grants and facilities available to them. No wonder, given that less than 20% read newspapers, though over 42% watched some television. [Illiteracy, not poverty appears the bane.] While co-education is abhorred, girl-specific schools and colleges are far fewer. A hostel for Muslim women is a rarity.


If our women must prosper in today’s competitive world the traditional purdah [the letter-box type burqua that Pickthall called a moving coffin] must give way to its essence, viz, haya. If purdah was meant to prevent unfair gaze or contacts with male members, surely we must ban the TV, Internet, mobile phone [and most certainly camera phones!].

At a park SPRAT built in a Muslim locality the clergy objected to a section being reserved for women. Reason? Shamelessness [behaya’i] would rise. How? Because men will ogle at them! So why not ban men? Indeed, how come Muslim men can’t restrain their intimidating gaze, at least from Muslim women?


I am glad I was not born a Muslim girl, for then, I would not be entitled to the benefits of masjid, khutba, idgah. Nor would there be for me any games or sports in public, no qahwa-khane, nor camel race, no gyms or swimming pools, no victory celebrations or public adulation, no driving license and public offices in some countries, no equal witness weight; not being able to travel alone.. as if I did not need independence, recognition and self-esteem. My husband’s power of divorce [even in intoxication] and the right to marry another woman would hold me on sword’s edge forever. And if my father-in-law raped me, I would lose my loving husband too.

Consider these: Polygamy is permitted but not polyandry. Male Muslims can have sexual relations with concubines but females can’t with slaves. Two women witnesses count equal to one man’s. In NWFP an edict was issued asking women not to vote [despite that Muslims enfranchised women earlier than the Europeans did!]

Adaptation / Reinterpretation

As we close this segment of Recognition, heading towards the last segment, an Action Plan, let’s sum up in one word the precondition to correction: Rethink.

We need to review and think for ourselves what is good for Muslims. If this calls for reinterpretation of Shariah and adaptation I believe Ijtihad permits it. And Muslims have done this in the past. Consider this example: The Qur'an permits slavery [e.g. 4-92] and concubinage. Indeed a free man can have sex with concubines beyond his four wives. You can even have a believer as a slave. So do we go out and buy slaves? By the 19th century most Muslim nations abolished slavery by law as being inconsistent with Islamic spirit of equality. Today barring countries like Chad, Somalia and Sudan slavery is practically extinct in the Muslim world. So is concubinage. Isn’t reform thus possible?

The corrective strategy will be based on rational thinking and common sense – not inconsistent with the spirit of Islam, to the best of the author’s understanding.


? You wrote that Muslims shun democracy. Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey, Egypt.. are these not democratic nations?
£ We said – and we stand by this – that a vast majority of Muslim nations do not allow democratic rights to their citizens. Indeed, barely about a tenth offer the basic democratic rights that we – despite our minority status – enjoy here in India.

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