New Age Islam
Fri Oct 07 2022, 06:38 AM

Islamic Society ( 15 Nov 2010, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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'South Indian Muslims are not too keen on issues related to identity’

By Maqbool A Siraj

THE AYODHYA tangle that kept the communal pot on the boil is not going to unravel anytime soon. But the conspicuous absence of triumphalism on the part of the majority community and restraint on the part of Muslims signifies the changed mood of the nation. The verdict may have gift-wrapped the major slice of the booty to the litigants responsible for the historic mayhem, but it has also emphasised that solutions could still be worked out if pragmatism is not discarded from the lexicon of the disputants.

Notwithstanding the dismay over the verdict, the dominant view among the Muslims in south India is that it serves no purpose to mortgage their existence to identity-related issues. Much unlike their northern counterparts, the 20 million Muslims in the south see their future tethered to how the majority thinks, aspires, acts and behaves. It stems from the view that a minority has to work with and within the majority society and traditional religious institutions such as mosques and madrassas are unlikely to work in a modern world in which success and social mobility are tied to the mastery of scientific and technical skills.

Much of India’s Muslim leadership comes from states where Muslims are more numerous but not necessarily more enlightened. So in any national Muslim conclave, the pragmatic voices, especially from the south, get suppressed under the rhetoric-laced Urdu poetry from conservative leaders who do nothing other than sing paeans of past glory. Pleas to modernise madrassa curriculum, divert charities to more productive uses like schools, hospitals, for building centres for small artisans and convention halls and scholarship for students, are pooh-poohed. Blame for deficiency in terms of development is conveniently laid at the doors of the government. Emotive issues such as the Shah Bano controversy over alimony, Satanic Verses, Taslima Nasreen, three talaqs, Arab marriages and Babri Masjid, therefore, come handy to keep the millat’s emotional pot boiling. This orthodox leadership from the north feels something seriously amiss if some such issue is not there at hand.

True, the migration of the middle class and professionals in the wake of Partition emptied the north of leadership material. Also true that identity became an obsession in the wake of India opting for a secular dispensation. But is it not worth considering that secularism was the most civilised response from Nehruvian India to the subcontinent’s traumatic partition on communal lines? Was India not being charitable to its residual Muslim minority by opting out of Hindu Rashtra? Institutional biases against Muslims were natural in the wake of Partition. But the Muslim leadership walked into the trap laid by Hindutva forces at every turn. Not able to identify its priorities in an India of 20th century, it has hopped from crisis to crisis, all based on issues that relate to it religious identity.

Looking forward The Muslim leadership in the north believes that madrassas are good enough for the boys

This obsession with keeping religion in the forefront has resulted in reinforcing conservatism in the community, spawning resistance against reform and change. But the situation of Muslims, more so where they are in a minority (nearly 30 percent of the 1.65 billion Muslims around the world), is vociferously urging change. An individual Muslim feels the heat of change at every step. But those who have assumed the mantle of leadership stand resolutely against it, dubbing all changes to stem from enemies of Islam. There is this plea for avoiding so much of controversy over sighting of the moon for Eid-ul-Fitr every year by taking the help of astronomers who can fix the lunar calendar for the next 3,000 years. But the clergy has nothing but contempt for such ‘extraneous’ help. Consequently, Muslims in India celebrate Eid on two or three days. In British India, they celebrated it on a single day from Karachi to Rangoon.

TWO MUSLIM-MANAGED colleges, one each in Chennai and Bengaluru, closed down their hotel management and catering institutes five years ago. Reason: Deoband-trained clerics opined that Muslim institutions should not teach how to serve wine and handle pork, even though these were included among hundreds of other skills such institutions impart. Muslim culinary traditions and skills make others drool over fares served by Muslim hotels all over the country, yet the Muslim students cannot be taught how to blend culinary and hospitality skills in institutions managed by the community. Would it stop them from learning it elsewhere? Perhaps not. It would have been instructive if they would have looked into how Jews and Jains run their hotel management institutes. These communities follow much stricter kosher and vegetarian diets.

Hell broke loose in the town of Vaniyambadi in Tamil Nadu where a mosque opened its portals for women and reserved the upper chamber for them. The mosque committee was forced to withdraw the facility by the Deobandi clique. They had not committed any sin. All mosques in the Middle East allow women to pray inside. Even the mosques affiliated to Ahle-e-Hadith and Shafii sects all over south India have this facility.

Pragmatic voices from the south get suppressed under the rhetoric-laced conservative talk

As a social worker, I have guided nearly 10,000 students since 1987 through career counselling, providing scholarships, orientation on life skills and textbooks. I see a distinct dislike among Muslim boys for veterinary courses and among girls opting for nursing. There is a fear that veterinary course would have piggery and nursing would entail attending to male patients. Islamic traditions point out that the Holy Prophet’s foster mother Umme Ayman and one of the holy companions, Khaula bint Zarar, used to serve as nurses in the battlefield.

But in 20th century India, to err on the conservative side is considered a merit in matters of interpreting Islam among the clergy. What a pity! These clerics outstoop each other to produce a more conservative interpretation, no matter how out of sync it sounds with the time and society they are living in. When cameras came, photography was declared illegitimate by the clergy. Over the century, this interpretation was extended to television, cinema, videography, X-ray, animation and cartoons.

This regression among Muslims is directly related to the repulsion bred against the innovative spirit in the Muslim psyche through an outmoded theological education. Reformists within Muslims live in fear of being declared heretics. It happened with 19th century reformer Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, the founder of the Muslim Anglo Oriental College, Aligarh. Poet Sir Mohammed Iqbal missed this embarrassment by a hair’s breadth. Dividends are petering off and the immiserisation of the community is leading to its complete downfall.

Muslims must understand that building an identity and politics around emotive issues simply will not work. Trumpeting victimhood in no way takes the community forward. But those who feel the pulse of the changing world and attune themselves to it, survive, thrive and even rise from the ashes of wars.