By Aijaz Ilmi
May 07, 2009
Instead of convulsing purposelessly, as it has done on numerous occasions in the past, the Indian Muslim community is slowly but surely undergoing a subtle transformation. Sensing the mood of the community, even the religious leaders — the Ulema — are speaking the language of constitutionalism.
Dar-ul Ifta, the fatwa-giving arm of Deoband’s Dar-ul Uloom spoke of the value of “neutral” voting in the elections. The spokesperson said that Indian Muslims must vote not on religious lines but as citizens of a secular democracy. No directive to influence the voter towards any particular party could be seen in their statement: “Please vote for an individual or party that has interests of India and the Muslims too.” Indeed, clearly linking the interest of Indian Muslims with the interests of India as a whole is a welcome signal, signifying inclusive secular guidance for India’s minorities.
Steeped in a volatile mix of anger and destitution, subject to being “suspect” for far too long, Indian Muslim communities are finally showing signs of fighting back against preconceived prejudices. When respected Ulema start to speak out about secular traditions and democratic structures, a strategic shift based on community feedback is apparent. Whether this wave of positivity will turn into a tsunami of inter-cultural bonding is yet to be assessed.
The unceremonious dumping of Ajmal Kasab’s lawyer Abbas Kazmi by many community institutions — such as the Islam Gymkhana in Bombay — is best be read as another signal from the community to distance itself from terror. The earlier statement denouncing him from the local Shi’a council (“Defending a terrorist is also against the essence and teaching of Islam”) should be seen as a precursor to the avalanche of protest that will continue to follow Kazmi.
Those of liberal views might justifiably baulk: the Constitution of our country, and its time-tested judicial system, insist on presenting a fair defence for all accused; but it nevertheless is the case that the community is making a sincere effort to de-link itself from the misguided brand of Islam that the Taliban and the Indian Mujahideen propagate.
These are signals that need to be read, especially by the young, the liberal, opinion-makers and the educated among Indian Muslims. They must internalise what these signals mean and assert themselves further in the country’s fight against all forces of terror and deprivation.
Since the shilanyas and Babri Masjid issue culminated in large-scale riots post-demolition, India’s Muslims have languished in a cocoon of insecurity. Afraid of being targeted repeatedly, of having their patriotism questioned, they sulked in silence, feeling let down by their own political and religious leadership. In the last five years, post-NDA, concerns have shifted; the spotlight now is on their own status, both economic and educational. Higher school enrolment in the last five years, by almost six to eight per cent, both at primary and secondary levels, is suggestive. It means there’s a crying need to reach out by establishing a large number of schools and vocational institutes — and, indeed, the provision of credit facilities to bring them out of their self-made cocoon.
A young graduate from AMU said recently: “Do not look at the Muslims as a religious minority but as a component of the deprived majority.” After 60 years, the debate is at last changing: security, development and education is the new mantra. Political rabble-rousers might end up as political rubble unless they address these basic concerns. The successful Kerala model of education, which consists of a large number of institutes of higher learning open to all sections of society, must be replicated in North India. Such institutions will ensure both greater intermingling and the provision of quality education to the needier sections of society. In fact, in Kerala, both the Nair education society and Indian Union Muslim League-supported minority trusts compete to endow the greater number of schools.
Given that Indian Muslims are employed in disproportionately large numbers as artisans and in running small establishments, the global recession has added a greater sense of urgency to their future. The desire to be educated and be counted should be complemented by the haves in the community. Recent ads in the media — apparently from the BSP in East Delhi — exhorting Muslims to vote for “revenge” over the Gujarat riots are seen as likely to backfire, and indeed as being in bad taste. A party that swears by the empowerment of the deprived sections of society would do well to set up centres of learning rather than promise revenge.
The Muslims of the country are mature enough to understand that it is only in an inclusive, secular country like India that a Yusuf Khan can succeed as Dilip Kumar and a Dileep Kumar can succeed as Allah Rakha Rahman.
Are India’s political parties listening to the new voices within the community?
The writer is chairman of the editorial board at the Kanpur-based Urdu newspaper ‘Daily Siyasat Jadid’
Source: Indian Express, New Delhi