By Asad Mirza
The Indian Muslim community has borne stoically the political events of the last one-year. It has conscientiously ignored many legal and administrative decisions taken by the ruling establishment, which hurt the sentiments of the community besides long lasting ramifications for the community in the future.
Muslims didn’t start the anti-CAA movement, but when it was started and the Muslims were branded as those spearheading it, the Muslim youth and brave Muslim women throughout India, took on the cudgels and stood against the diktats of the government tolerating adverse weather and media, both.
In the meanwhile Corona struck the country, and the utterly anti-Muslim and Islamophobic bias of the majority of mainstream Indian media forced the matters to come to a precipitating point. What came as succour to the Indian Muslim community was the forced Lockdown, as it provided an opportunity to every Indian Muslim, from top to bottom, to take a pause and to ponder over his and his community’s future and his possible role in the emancipation of the community.
The whole discourse on this was carried-on on various social media platforms, which gave an opportunity to everyone to air their woes or grievances or opinion.
What emerged out of this discourse was that every Muslim wants the community to prosper along with the country and wants to be treated with respect and as per rule of the law and be given due acknowledgement for their efforts and treated on par with all other communities of the country.
It is not as if the Muslim community is not doing enough for its own and country’s progress. But what is happening is that a number of people are engaged in same activities but individually, what we have missed is the efficacy of collectivism, thus reaping sustainable and credible benefits for the community and beneficiaries, both. As most of these initiatives are targeted at self promotion to gain some position in government or quasi-government bodies and as being acknowledged as the representatives of the community. In addition, we’ll also have to copy good practices from other communities, in order to reap sustainable and long-term benefits and eschewing individual-centric activities.
Sectionalism amongst Muslims
The first major point of the discourse was that everyone wanted the denominational and sectional differences amongst the Muslims to be done away with, as the anti-Muslim forces treat you as one community not as Deobandi Muslim or Barelvi Muslim or as Sunni Muslim or Shia Muslim. So it becomes imperative for our religious leaders to sort out and end their denominational differences and start working towards building and presenting the community as one monolithic one, as per the guidelines of the Holy Quran and Ahadeeth.
Education amongst Muslims
The second point, which emerged, was the lack of educational facilities for the children of the community. Everyone bemoans the lack of good educational institutes for the Muslims and harps on the achievements of only a handful of Muslim educational institutions. If we are standing at this point after 70 years of independence, then who is to be blamed? Muslims themselves or people of other communities, which have prospered based on educational advancement in a targeted and cohesive manner?.
In reality, we find that every district in the country, which has a sizeable Muslim population, has at least a dozen of so-called English medium schools catering to the community. But the bane is that these schools do not provide quality education and also do not guide the students towards their long-term educational and career advancement plans. In absence of any holistic and theological education besides any professional acumen these pupils emerge completely unprepared for the competitive world outside and find themselves a misfit and end up doing menial jobs or starting small scale unsustainable businesses.
The third point, which emerged was the lack of good medical facilities for the community, particularly the women patients. The anti-Muslims bias, which emerged at certain hospitals of the country during the Covid treatment, was responsible for creating this view.
The solution to both the issues above is with Muslims themselves and how they strive to constructively and administratively handle the issue. The biggest tool available to the Indian Muslims to ameliorate their conditions is the yearly Zakat contribution.
It has been observed that most of the Zakat goes towards Islamic madrassas and institutes and a very little percentage is spent or directed towards ameliorating the poorer section of the society.
We’ll have to devise a mechanism, through which the Zakat contribution of the whole Indian community is collected at one centre and from there it could be distributed to Islamic madrassas and institutes, orphans, widows and needy, but a larger share should be earmarked for building a good quality school and a hospital at every district of the country with sizeable Muslim population and start working towards establishing a university in every state.
Though this might seem an insurmountable task, yet if we are able to devise a proper strategy and an efficient professional plan with support from our religious leaders, this could be achieved within the next five years. To achieve this we’ll have to copy and learn from the feasible models of other communities like the Sikhs and Christians, which could further help us to strengthen our interfaith relationship, too. And entrust this function to experienced professionals of the community with past experience of delivering such complex and big plans.
Further, at every opportunity the Muslims bemoan the absence of any worthwhile leader with an all-Indian appeal. Now who is to be blamed for this? We ourselves! It can be observed that whosoever is able to rise to the challenge of representing the community, changes tracks as soon as he is recognisable and joins the ranks of different political parties for petty individualistic gains. As soon as such a leader joins a political party, his thoughts and aims take a second priority and the party’s line takes the priority. We’ll have to instil a sense of purpose amongst our young generation and guide, motivate and support them wholeheartedly, if we want them to represent the community honestly and purposefully.
Additionally, the Muslim community could take a conscientious decision of not to splurge on marriages and other religious ceremonies. The Lockdown rules are already establishing new rules for marriages and other functions. What the Muslims could do, is to pledge that all marriages will be organised during the day time only, the Nikah ceremony would be solemnised at the local mosque and only a limited number of guests from both sides would be invited for the Walima ceremony only, as there is no requirement in Islam for a lavish dinner after the Nikah. This could be copied for all other ceremonial functions also. The money thus saved could be utilised to perform the marriage ceremonies of the girls from poor families or those with no father or male relatives to take care of them, besides being used for other community related philanthropic work.
Muslim media house
Lastly, the need of a Muslim media house has also been raised time and again by different well-wishers. In this regard, first we’ll have to evolve a common strategy to represent the community’s point of view and stand on different issues and concerns of the community, and in which it is involved by the political players.
The solution could be for an all-India body like the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), which has representation from all Muslim sects and denominations, to agree to represent the Muslims as a whole.
All answers, clarifications and demands should be raised from this platform only to provide coherence and uniformity of stand. Once this is established, the same outfit could try its hands on establishing a professional Muslim media house, which should portray the community and its demands and aspirations effectively and forcefully.
Besides this, the Muslim professionals from every profession whether be it lawyers, doctors, educationalists, technocrats need to pool-in their resources for the betterment and upliftment of the community in a selfless and committed manner. But for this they need a all-India body to guide and manage them.
Remember, before 1906 there was no Ahle-Hadith, before 1896 there was no Barelvi, before 1867 there was no Deobandi, before 250 Hijri there was no Hanbali, before 200 Hijri there was no Maliki or Shafi’i, before 15 Hijri there was no Hanafi or Jafiri and till the time of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) there was no Sunni, all were just Muslims. So it would be better if we denounce all these sectional differences and instead try to become true Muslims as per the role model provided by our dear prophet (PBUH).
Though all of the above may seem fanciful, yet, if the common Indian Muslim makes up his mind and forces his so-called religious and political leaders to shed their differences and work unitedly for the welfare of the Indian Muslims, then perhaps something positive could be achieved in the long run based on these recommendations. Amen.
Asad Mirza is a senior journalist based in New Delhi. In his career spanning more than 20 years, he was associated with BBC Urdu Service and Khaleej Times of Dubai. He writes on Muslims, educational, international affairs and interfaith issues. Email: [email protected]
Urdu version of this article appeared in Inquilab, 8 June 2020. English version provided by the author.
Views are personal