23 March, 2010

Nai Subh - Two Major Handicaps

[May 1-15, 07]

In an effort to recognize how the world has changed and how others who are ahead of us do, this issue initiates a discussion on the importance of accepting change, being open to progress, alternative approaches.

After all if human problems have changed, the knowledge available about the world has increased, the means available to tackle human problems have vastly improved, should the ways of solving our problems not change as well? Also discussed here is how our resistance to change is seriously damaging us.

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

We shall today discuss our position regarding two critical factors affecting the community: population and interest. As we enter issues that may seem to touch the domain of the ulema, we may restate our position: the author claims no expertise in Shariah, nor is this column about Islam. It is about Muslims as people of this earth, and solutions that common sense [Aql-e-saleem] offers. If the logic of the column tempts the progressive clergy to reinterpret Isalmic teachings for community’s empowerment it will be a boon. Our arguments, therefore, rest solely on rationality and plain common sense. If we still quote religious injunctions it is merely to indicate that Islam does offer a window of opportunity to the believer.
We must clarify that while deficiencies that we have are also present in several other communities, unfortunately we seem to have too many of them together. And, in any case, we understand that MG focuses Muslim reform. Rather than being happy about how so-and-so is also lacking, shouldn’t we be concentrating on how we can improve our lot?

The “Strength” of Numbers

Sure? Is large population surely strength? Let’s count the powerful communities of the world. Jews in US, Jains and Parsis in India, Hindus in US and UK.. all happen to be fewer than their Muslim counterparts. Yet they – and not the Muslims – are relatively more powerful. Indeed, bohras and khojas – minorities – within Muslims!

I am not asserting stereotypically that large population is inevitably a curse – China and India are emerging as powerful economies globally despite their billion bellies – but, to infer that population is a blessing is surely a curse.

Since no one disputes that our population is rising rapidly, let’s address the general question of why this happens, and whether this is hurting, and, if so, how seriously.

Causes of High Population

Historically people tended to produce more children because at those times this was needed, land, water and other natural resources were plenty, army [physical power] was important, children used to die in infancy [“infant mortality”], epidemics like plague, cholera etc consumed large populations, women used to produce fewer children in a lifetime as, on the whole, lifespan [life expectancy] was shorter.

Also, in general, children of the poor worked [“child labour”] and so the poor saw them –erroneously though – as a source of income. With new stringent laws against Child Labour even this is drying out. Besides misunderstood religious enjoinments, early girl marriage and desire for male child also contributed to population explosion.

Lack of urbanization also meant lesser integration and interdependence. Therefore, self-sustainability may also have justified larger families.

Less for More

With better disease control and improving health – raising life expectancy – and rising fertility rates, birth rates have risen, zooming our numbers. Obviously, more people per family, per acre of land, per tractor, per city or country should mean lesser income per family member – and lesser food, land, water, electricity, books, toys, gadgets, jobs.. and other opportunities per person. Net fall in standards of living – and usually also of life. No wonder the people that once ruled and built mansions [when they were so few, and pro-rata smaller] are now amongst the most backward voters [despite pro-rata higher population]. Since Muslims are more urbanized they live in jhopad-patties unworthy of human habitation. Ditto for Bangladesh, Sudan, Nigeria, Afghanistan and at least twenty more countries [refer Nai Subh, Part –II].

As I pen this, the painful story published today, of a young Muslim lady dying immediately after delivering her 10th baby, sums up this tragedy. Her husband had to return to work without the customary mourning, as he has bellies to feed. And, worse, his oldest daughter, a mere 13-yr old girl, has to nurse the baby. What dignity of life are we talking about? Ten children between one and 13 packed in a small room: what if not infanticide?

Or when Bangladeshi girls from Dhaka and Chittagong engage in prostitution in Mumbai does population symbolize strength? Notice, too, that while poverty leads them to prostitution, customer’s poor paying capacity brings them to Mumbai!

Or is our dignity reflected in the vast relief camps dotting the Pak-Afghan border or the Sudanese wastelands – or back home in our rapidly congesting Mumbras of Mumbai or Juhapuras of Ahmedabad? The pictures of long queues for doll in Gujarat’s relief camps still haunt the sensitive Muslim.

Muslims as a community receive global doll more than any other community of the world. So we are rapidly becoming beggars of the earth. This is where our neglect of population control has brought us to.

This simple example illustrates why the future will be even bleaker. Assume that Ahmed and Aakash, both peons in a private company earning Rs 3,000 each, produce five and two children respectively. While Ahmed’s children get Rs 429/- per head per month, Aakash can spend 75% more, viz, Rs 750/- each. Whose children are likely to get better nutrition, health, toys, education, jobs and income? Any wonder, then, that a generation later Ahmed’s children will be serving under Aaakash’s? That Muslims will become the new Dalits is not idle deprecation. Indeed, the bold reforms amongst our Dalit brethren will hoist them better on several scales.

Quality, not quantity; brains, not legs; keyboards not handlooms.. determine power today. Let’s recognize, therefore, that if there is one problem Muslims need to address – and do so on war footing – it is to check our population.

Interest in Interest

In a survey we discovered some Muslim pockets in Gujarat – such as Modasa, Sidhpur, Himmatnagar – where despite the historic Gujarati Muslim-baiting, much greater prosperity prevails. We then extended our search wider. And we found that as a rule in most of these places there had come up a successful cooperative credit society a long time ago, with people shedding their inhibitions about interest. This had contributed to the growth of many other institutions: schools and colleges, dispensaries, business associations [like transport and dairy unions] offering even greater synergies.

Moreover, as the Muslim education and prosperity rose they acquired larger clout, patronized many Hindus institutionally, and also earned their slice of political cake. Not surprisingly in the 2002 genocide either such towns did not suffer much or, thanks to popular support, returned to normalcy and regained their status fast. Also fewer of their women were raped, fewer of their shrines desecrated, fewer of their children done to death. Contrast this with places where such institution building was neglected – say, Ahmedabad, Kadi, Dhanduka, Godhra – and you see the connection.

What connection? Yes, interest paying and receiving in the normal contemporary business of living is not the curse it is supposed to be. Quite the contrary.

Hypocrisy of the Rich

Wish we asked who controls our trusts of mosques and madarsas? Arguably people with money. And where do they get it from? From their businesses thriving on bank’s cash credits, overdrafts or term borrowings from IDBI, SIDBI, SFCs. As a banker of some standing I am witness to this hypocrisy of the Muslim rich. The burden of “No Interest” doctrine is borne far more severely by the poor Muslim. Sadly – thanks to our communal hypocrisy – they are forced to borrow at exorbitant rates from the bania, the mahajan – who in turn borrows from the banks on cheaper terms. Sinners and losers, both!

The International banker, Mohammed Saleem [MG, Mar 1-15,07] poignantly highlighted the tragedy of 30-Yr Islamic banking whose $ 300Bn assets are yet to add value or generate employment. How the change of nomenclature, giving it a vain Islamic garb [murabaha, sukuks etc], failed to convert the myth to reality. Saleem’s questioning the lack of Muslim interest in the perfectly Islamic venture funding also exposes our hypocrisy.

By the way, when a whole nation lives by money borrowed on interest, how “halal” are the incomes of its citizens? Consider these Muslim nations owing over $1Bn [Rs 5000 cr] each to multilateral funding agencies: Algeria, Indonesia, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tunisia, Turkey.. Payment of interest constitutes a significant part of their national budget. So, what interest-free economies are we talking about?

Yes, there are some rich Muslims truly shunning interest. 95% of them, however, have inherited riches. Not for self-made, turn-around generation the luxury of this “piety”!

Economic Growth

In simplistic terms, will you deposit your money in my non-interest giving Islamic-bank? Resounding No! So what do I give loans from? So, how does he or she set up small enterprises – some of which might grow big enough to generate employment – and, hopefully, sizeable profits for charity?

When will we recognize that we are no more living in tiny, independent nation states isolating – nor insulating – our markets, banks, businesses from the effect of global economic policies? Today’s economy is so close-circuited that a one per cent rise in the interest rate of Federal Reserve [US central bank] affects the price of onion in the rural markets of India – and nearly everything else, everywhere else, including in Saudi Arabia. Indeed, the movement of Arab money is influenced by this interest rate far more than we imagine.

So, what is the damage? 15 crore people couldn’t produce or gain managerial control of one commercial bank in India, barring DCB that is effectively not a “Muslim bank”. Even in the cooperative sector the only worthwhile presence has been that of the BMC Bank. Incidentally both these are promoted by non-Sunnis: Khojas and Bohras!

However much we may deny, here is the plain, rational connection between interest and empowerment: No interest -> no savings -> no investments -> no credits -> no businesses and industries -> lesser employment -> lesser education -> greater crime or begging -> more severe impoverishment. Would a dirty, small hut in a crime-infested busti befit a Muslim better than a small flat bought with a SBI housing loan?

The reverse is also generally true: Fair interest -> faster economic growth -> better employment, education and income -> lesser crime or begging and greater empowerment.

It beats me, though, why Muslims who have swapped their swords [and no history chapter is devoid of its shamsheer!] for modern timer bombs, guns and missiles, cannot embrace this modern economic weapon?

Isn’t it time we recognized the futility, nay damaging consequence, of this retrograde policy? Isn't it time to distinguish between interest and usury, sanctioning normal bank interest as “rent for money-capital used” – quite like any other asset?

Personally I like the ideal of interest free banking, but practically if I have to choose between an interest-free but impoverished society engaged in crime and a prosperous community reducing crime and beggary through economic activity propelled by fair interest, I would unhesitatingly settle for the lesser evil. What will you do?



? Conservative Americans organize Purity Balls – gala functions – where young daughters solemnize their promise to remain virgin until married. Doesn’t this prove Christian return to Islamic morality?

£ Probably. But, if so, also that the West is not all evil!

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