By Roushinul Alom
May 04, 2020
In recent times, especially after the Nizamuddin Markaz incident which led to a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases in India, a lot of people have begun training their guns at educated liberal Muslims. Many are of the opinion that these members of the Muslim community have a duty to educate, reform and modernise the orthodox ones in their community, and it is in this aspect that they have failed terribly. A few isolated incidents of violence against health professionals in some Muslim localities have further emboldened their claims. The assertion that many people make is that unless the educated liberal Muslims reform the superstitious, ignorant, and illiterate ones in their community, the entire community may have to bear the brunt of hatred.
The argument stated above is flawed from multiple dimensions. Firstly, it tries to justify Islamophobia, thereby giving a free run to the hate mongers in other religious communities. Secondly, the argument is based on a fallacious assumption that educated liberal Muslims are not doing enough to reform their community. Thirdly, it denies any role to other communities in bringing reforms among the Muslims. The hollowness of such arguments is further exposed when we look into the history of socio-religious reforms in India.
Socio-religious reforms began in India in the early 19th Century. Raja Ram Mohan Roy's Brahmo Samaj was a pioneer in this regard. It launched a war against the evils prevailing in the Hindu society, the most prominent of which was the practice of Sati. The practice of Sati was abolished in the year 1829, and the British administration led by the then Governor-General of India Lord William Bentinck actively supported the abolition. Inspired by Roy, several others like Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and Keshub Chandra Sen started advocating for more reforms. They picked up a wide variety of issues like widow remarriage, female education, property rights to women, etc. They all had support from the administration. In fact, the British government itself attacked certain ill practices of the Indian society like casteism through their employment and educational policies which denied the 'higher castes' any special privilege.
These reforms, however, did not go well with the majority of the Indian population. In the 19th Century, several organisations with large support bases like Dharma Sabha, Bharat Dharma Mahamandala, etc., came up with an anti-reform agenda. It is interesting to note that the Revolt of 1857 was also directed against the socio-religious reforms being undertaken by the British government and it was successful in this regard. The Act of 1858 stated that the British government will not interfere in the socio-cultural practices of the Indians.
Among the Muslims, reforms started much later in the second half of the 19th century with the establishment of the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan in 1875. The objective was to promote modern education among Muslims. He, too, had to face a backlash from the orthodox sections of the Muslim population. Ulemas from Deoband issued several fatwas against him.
Thus, it is evident from history that reforms take time to be accepted by society. There is no doubt that educated liberal Muslims have a duty to reform their community, but we cannot overlook their limitations. This section of the Muslim population is not an organised group with a central leadership that can give commands and directions. Besides, there's a lot of subjectivity involved in our ideas of reforms, which leads to differences among the educated liberal Muslims.
Radical reforms may not be welcomed by all. If we look back at history, we have examples to show how differences affect the reformation process. Debendranath Tagore, who was leading the Brahmo Samaj in the late 1860s, did not welcome the radical reforms proposed by Keshub Chandra Sen. This led to a split in the organisation thus undermining the reform agenda.
Last but not the least, it becomes extremely difficult for the educated liberal Muslims to reach out to the illiterate and superstitious ones in a communally charged environment. In today's India, when there's constant vilification of Muslims by the mainstream media, when fake videos and pictures are circulated to demonise Muslims, when ministers make provocative statements against Muslims on record, when isolated incidents are connected to build grand conspiracy theories like "Corona Jihad", it becomes easier for the vested interest groups to radicalise the less enlightened Muslims. Hatred and violence only push them towards orthodoxy, making them more aggressive in protecting their religion.
Reforms within the Muslim community are necessary and as stated above, educated Muslim youths need to take the leadership role. However, they cannot do that all alone. This process must be supplemented by efforts and initiatives from the administration. The government needs to consider the recommendations made by the Sachar Committee of creating more social infrastructure related to health and education in Muslim-majority localities. At the same time, it needs to control ministers who indulge in rabble-rousing. However, most importantly, the majority community has a responsibility to create a suitable environment where reforms can be undertaken. Instead of ridiculing the educated liberal Muslims for their failures, they need to support them in reaching out to the orthodox section.
Nobody lives in isolation. So it is our collective responsibility to educate and modernise our people. We need to practice and not merely preach the philosophy of VasudhaivaKutumbakam — we are all a family and there's no 'other' in it.
Original Headline: Yes, educated Muslims should reform the community at large, but this will only come to pass when Islamophobia ceases in India
Source: The First Post