By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam
10 August 2016
A Muslim managed school in Uttar Pradesh recently realised that singing the national anthem was anti-Islamic. Muslim students who would sing the national anthem were in danger of losing their religion. Not surprisingly, the school decreed that there would be no national anthem which would be sung on 15th of August in the school. To make matters worse, the manager came on national television and defended his arguments which simply baffled many. On the one hand, this seeming confidence to say and defend what one likes might be an instance of the strength of our democracy, but the whole episode had the effect of painting Muslims as the other: a community which lived in its own time zone, with no regard for whatever was happening around it.
The argument of the school management was that since a particular stanza in the national anthem has words which would mean that we proscribe before the land (India), it was tantamount to worshiping the country thus comprising the basic concept of Tawheed which is translated as an uncompromising monotheism. For the manager, the fate and the future of Muslims was in the hands of God and not in the hands of Bharat, as the national anthem seems to be suggesting. In the hierarchy of commands, God always has to be the commander in chief; countries should come much later.
This manager of the school, who was running it illegally (as so many other schools across the country), had his own fate hanging through a chain of corrupt government officials, yet he failed to recognise that such an arrangement can only take place in India. Rather than being grateful to the world of men which made his illegality possible, this Muslim man sought refuge in the world of God. Or perhaps he thought that God himself was part of this illegality.
There is no point in calling this person a fool. What is more important is that he made millions of Indian Muslims look like fools. Indian Muslims are faced with more pressing issues like lack of quality education, unemployment and access to civic infrastructure. More recently, they have been unfairly targeted over beef by right wing Hindu organizations.
For this man who is in the business of transmitting knowledge, a little bit of prudence and sagacity would have been better. At least he should have been sensitive to the political context of the Uttar Pradesh, where everything is being blown out of proportion due to the coming elections.
But perhaps, it is too much to ask for from the Muslim community. This community is known to get its political priorities wrong most of the time or should we say all the time. After all it is the same community which rallied to demand more madrasas instead of schools; it is the same community which insists on Urdu as a medium of education when the whole world around it has already and rightly embraced English because it is a language of power.
But perhaps the problem is much deeper and it has to be so with the way Islam itself is seen by its followers. For the adherents of this religion, Islamic supremacy is the norm since it believes that Islam is the most perfect and true of all religions. There is nothing wrong if some of the tenets of this religion is outmoded and completely foreign to modern sensibilities. Islam exists as an artefact, frozen in time. It is considered so fragile that it will break with new interpretations of the most basic of the verses. It is to be followed as a command and not something which is a living tradition having the capability to adapt and adopt to newer realities. The manager of that school in Uttar Pradesh very much sees Islam in such a light.
The problem is that he is not alone in having such beliefs about his religion. Such thinking is perhaps the staple of mainstream Islam in India. The result of all this has been ominous for the Muslim community. They do not have a larger narrative which they share with other communities of India. The process of Islamisation has only meant that they have been led away from the common concerns of the nation as a whole. More importantly such a rigid and textual reading of the religion has made a gulf between Muslims and Hindus which now seems to be very difficult to bridge.
Things can be rectified. But for that Muslims have to understand that theirs is not the only religion in the world which is divinely revealed. Moreover, they have to think anew their relationship with the nation state where they are in a minority. Islam has to take a back seat because thereis nothing here which can tell them how to interact when they are in a minority situation. The only way forward is to accept the new challenges and altered realities which have come in the wake of modernity. Sadly, such an introspection and an engagement with this world is missing.
Arshad Alam is a Delhi based writer and a NewAgeIslam.com columnist.
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