Indian Muslims – Looking Ahead
The time has come for Indian Muslims to rethink their very existence in this country. We are Indians by choice. We love our country and want to contribute to its development. Therefore, it is time to stop living in isolation and start participating in every aspect of life in our country as contributors. Not merely whine and complain about negative things that happen to us but do nothing positive to help others, writes MIRZA YAWAR BAIG, in the following article which was composed some time immediately after the recent elections in Uttar Pradesh.
The UP elections are over and the results are out. They are surprising for some of us who have become used to living our lives in slumber. But for those who had their eyes open, the result in UP was neither unexpected nor sudden. It is the result of 90 years of dedicated effort by countless people who will remain unknown but whose effort bore fruit beyond their dreams. We Muslims on the other hand, remained content with complaining and begging. The world changed but we remained stuck in a world that no longer exists. UP election result was (or should be) enough to wake us from the deepest slumber so that we learn to deal with the new world in which we find ourselves. Unless we do that, the results will be far worse than what we may imagine.
So, what must be done now that we are faced with this fait accompli?
The principles of resilience are three:
- Face the brutal facts without mincing words or looking through rose-tinted glasses.
- Identify critical areas of impact and work on them. Not everything is equally important.
- Make necessary changes no matter how painful.
This is the framework which I am going to try to follow.
The Brutal Facts
BJP won a landslide victory. All the analysts were wrong. More than being divided, the Muslim presence in politics and the way it was portrayed to others, resulted in the Hindu vote getting consolidated behind the BJP. Muslims have become the bogeyman of Indian politics and it appears that the mere presence of a Muslim candidate is enough to bring out the worst fantasies in the minds of others.
That none of this is based on fact is not important. Rumors don’t need facts to thrive. I am not going to make a long list of all that is wrong with the situation of Muslims today. I think we have the intelligence to see that. It will suffice for me to say that if we don’t wake up and do what needs to be done, no matter how painful, we are going to enter an era of darkness that none of us has faced in living memory. Our fate is quite literally in our own hands.
Muslims must understand that their development and future in the country is not restricted to government largesse or elections. It is in our hands and depends on the overall sentiment about us as people, as neighbors, as fellow citizens. Today all this is at an all-time low. I don’t say that this is entirely our fault. A lot of it is the result of systematic propaganda against Islam and Muslims which our neighbors believed. However, our inward looking and exclusionist stances have facilitated the misunderstandings and stereotypes. When people don’t know you personally it is easy to believe the worst about you. This has happened to us and this must change.
Elections apart, we simply have to win the hearts of the person on the street, the person next door and the person sitting next to us at work. If we do that well, then the sentiment will protect us from those who seek to harm us. We need to be seen as beneficial for all people. Incidentally, this is what Allah (swt) described us and our mission – selected for the benefit of people. We need to, therefore, redefine how we look at ourselves vis-à-vis others and decide what we need to do to change the negative image into a positive one.
All change is painful. Drastic change is even more painful. But the most painful is annihilation. That is what must be remembered when we want to complain about what I am about to propose. Annihilation, not literally, but in every other way as productive, influential and important citizens of the country. We are facing a future where when the words of the Constitution are spoken, “We, the people of India,” 200 million citizens will not be included in the term, ‘We, the people.’ Once again, if that comes to pass, it will be with our active or tacit agreement. Nobody to blame but ourselves.
I believe that there are three areas we must address urgently.
- Societal impact
- Approach to religion
- Political presence
I. Changes for Societal Impact
Become beneficial and be seen as beneficial. The way to the heart is through the belly as they say. This means that people need to feel and taste the goodness of anything to believe it. Words are cheap and today we are looking at a society that has become intensely cynical and has no trust in anyone’s words. Action speaks; not just louder than words but it is the only thing that speaks. People don’t care what you say until they see what you do. The change must come within our community. We must shed our exclusivist image and communicate with others (non-Muslims). Talk to your neighbors, colleagues, customers. Just talk. Not talk theology but just normal everyday talk. Help them even if they don’t help you. Be good to them even if they are not. Greet them in their terms and thank them for any service; for example, thank the taxi driver, the bus driver, check-in and check-out person, the waiter, the doorman, anyone. Thanking increases blessing and changes hearts. This must be done such that people change their perception about us.
I know this is difficult, especially in a society that has become very polarized and Muslims are denied housing and jobs. It is difficult, but that is why it is even more critical to do it. As for polarizing society, it is good to remind ourselves that we are equally responsible for it with less justification because polarization is suicide for a minority, yet we did it and allowed it to happen. That is the reason we must change this perception by being genuine and approaching our fellow countrymen and women with love, respect, openness and acceptance.
It is critically important to give this message to our children who mirror what they hear at home. Listening to the young ones of all communities tells you a sorry tale about the kind of psychological conditioning that is taking place in our homes. All of us, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Esai (Christian) – remember the song?? Today, these are empty words. I weep when I recall my own childhood when a friend was simply a friend. His name wasn’t a flag to his caste. We lived in each other’s homes, ate each other’s food, called each other’s parents, Amma, Mataji, Dadaji, Papa, Baba. Where did we lose it all?
We must set up a fund to create the following institutions open to everyone:
Legal Aid Cell
- Establish Legal Aid Cells in every city and take up cases of all those who need legal aid – not only Muslims.
- Make a list of cases that need to be tackled in order of priority and ease of winning.
- Make Law a primary study focus for students.
- Ensure that no attack on anyone goes unchallenged.
- Because injustice to one is injustice to all.
Focus on Education
- Set up high quality English medium schools which teach vocational skills.
- Open them to everyone – not only Muslims.
- Make it compulsory for every child to go to these schools until the high school level.
- Make Madrassas only for higher education – graduation and above. Not for primary and secondary education.
- Make every child a potential entrepreneur.
- Set up a Zero Interest Venture Capital Fund and an Advisory Council to help startups.
- Open both to everyone – not only Muslims.
- Send our youth into the army and police, both at officer and serviceman levels. This will inculcate discipline and a sense of belonging to the nation, both of which are missing today.
- Teaching, judiciary, journalism & media are professions of choice.
- Zero unemployment is possible with entrepreneurship.
Social Development Fund
- Set up a Social Development Fund to help anyone in need – not only Muslims.
- Focus on prisoners who need bail, hospital expenses, clean water, sewage, housing, vocational education, entrepreneurial development, orphans, widows.
- Focus on women’s economic and educational development to ensure empowerment of women.
- Demonstrate the real face of Islam to the world of helping everyone to be well.
Funding for all the Above
- Central collection of Zakat
- Capitalizing of Awqaf (Religious endowments).
- Voluntary contribution of Rs. 100 per person per month.
- Additional charitable donations.
II Approach to Religion
Change our ways: The change must begin within us, individually, within our families and within our community. We need to clean up our lives of all forms of disobedience of Allah (swt) and ensure that we spread goodness all around us. Islam doesn’t distinguish between Muslim and non-Muslim when it comes to justice or welfare. Neither must we. Our presence must be seen as a blessing in the community we live in, our cities and villages. This message must be spread by all of us in our different capacities. The major share of this lies on the Ulama who have access to the Friday congregations. Their message must be about distinguishing ourselves through service, bringing hearts together and against every form of divisive thought, ideology and message.
We need to root out the social evils that our society is plagued with, chief among them being alcoholism, gambling and ostentation. Our ostentatious weddings are a case in point. To celebrate weddings the way we do when our own people are as poor and deprived as they are is immoral and criminal. To participate in such functions is to aid and abet the crime. These are destroying us at all levels and must be forcibly stopped if persuasion doesn’t work.
We must not only, consciously, not propagate differences and divisiveness, but we must forcefully do the opposite. Preach and promote, by word and action, inclusiveness, acceptance and brotherhood – universal brotherhood, because that is the way of Islam. Universal brotherhood is a message that is unique to Islam. That and mercy and forgiveness from one person to another. These two must be revived urgently because our lives are currently desolated and deprived of both. Today, let alone preaching divisiveness with respect to non-Muslims, we preach it with respect to Muslims who don’t belong to our particular cult, juristic order (Madhab), culture or region. This is completely Haraam. It is not in the scope of this article to quote from the Qur’an and Sunnah to prove my statement but there are plenty of lectures of mine with all references that you can listen to.
Secondly, on the national front, the following actions must be taken with respect to our Madrassas and the AIMPLB. Our Madrassas are a symbol of great dedication, but very poor quality. The result is that graduates are maladjusted and incapable of being productive members of society and are looked down upon and treated with disdain. To change this, we need to change what we teach and how we do it.
Set up a Central Madrassa Board to ensure the following:
i. All Madrassa teachers must be qualified to teach and have a teaching degree. Our Madrassas are, perhaps, the only schools where teachers need not be trained to teach. This is so incredibly insane that I feel ashamed to write it.
ii. Corporal punishment to be banned and punishable if practiced.
iii. Madrassas only for higher (college) education. Not earlier.
iv. Centralized curriculum, syllabus and examination system. Present curriculum and syllabi to be redesigned to make them current, relevant and effective. Please see my paper on this.
v. Centralized management of funds by the Madrassa Board so that funds can be allotted to those who need them and not be squandered by those who happen to have the ability to raise them.
vi. Transparency in all matters and merit being the only consideration.
vii. Establish the Maktab system to educate children in Islam. This is very successfully practiced in South Africa, the UK and elsewhere and can be replicated in India.
2. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB)
i. AIMPLB to abolish triple Talaq and not oppose UCC. Let the government introduce the UCC which will be debated nationally in which we can also participate. No need to say anything until then. The image of being regressive must be changed.
ii. AIMPLB membership must be democratized and operations made much more efficient and relevant.
iii. AIMPLB to be the sole dispenser of Fatwas on any matter. All random Fatwa-dispensers to be stopped.
iv. No knee-jerk reactions and no working in slow motion.
3. Subsidies & Reservations
i. Demand that the Hajj Subsidy be abolished. It is a subsidy to Air India, not to Muslims. Refuse to take it.
ii. Hajj is not Fardh on anyone who can’t afford it. We don’t need to give our detractors another stick to beat us with.
iii. Any travel agent can get us better fares than Air India.
iv. Demand that Hajj Committee be abolished. It gives little benefit and with the removal of the Hajj Subsidy its purpose will vanish.
v. Ditto for all Reservations. We don’t need them. Nobody respects beggars. We need to become self-sufficient. Reservations have never solved anyone’s problems and they won’t solve ours. They are yet one more stick for our detractors to beat with.
III. Political Presence
Leave Politics as Contestants
UP elections have proved that, as things stand, Muslim presence in politics as contestants only serves to drive everyone into the arms of the Hindutva brigade. Their absence will enable those who stand for principles, instead of caste, to have a voice to try to steer Indian politics away from a purely caste-based contest. This may sound drastic, but I believe our situation today has reached such a desperate state that we need to consider drastic changes. Like invasive surgery and chemotherapy, despite the pain and evil after-effects, become acceptable when life is at stake, I believe we have reached a stage today where our survival as viable, functioning members of society as Citizens of India seems to be at stake.
As I mentioned earlier, it appears that in the future, when the words of the Constitution are spoken, ‘We, the people of India,’ somehow 200 million citizens will not be included in this definition. So, we should not stand for election any more, at least for a five-year period. If you are not there, you can’t become the bogey-man. Muslims must break out of it. We must reject all extremist talk and ideas. Polarization may help some individuals, but it is suicide for the community. We must partner and cooperate with all those who stand for justice, human rights, dignity and solidarity of the nation.
I believe the time has come for Indian Muslims to rethink their very existence in this country. We are Indians by choice. We love our country and want to contribute to its development. Therefore, it is time to stop living in isolation and start participating in every aspect of life in our country as CONTRIBUTORS. Not merely whine and complain about negative things that happen to us but do nothing positive to help others. Nobody can harm us – unless we allow it. All this will take time and effort. All this will be painful, at least to some. All this needs serious investment of funds. But without it, we will cease to exist as relevant and significant members of this society.
The writing is on the wall. The choice is ours.
Mirza Yawar Baig is President, Yawar Baig & Associates, and lives in Hyderabad and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.