‘Muslims in India Have To Begin Again Somewhere’
MOHAMMAD SIRAJ EBRAHIM SAIT is the President of the National Youth League – the youth wing of the Indian National League – and the Chairman of the National Council for Justice, an organization that works for the cause of human rights. The youngest son of the late Parliamentarian and veteran Muslim leader, Ebrahim Sulaiman Sait, he has imbibed much of his father’s concern for the plight of the Muslim community in India. In a candid interview with BIJU ABDUL QADIR, Executive Editor of Young Muslim Digest, he discussed some of his plans for the upliftment of the Muslims in India. Presented hereunder is the text of that interview.
YMD: What is your idea of empowerment for Muslims living in India?
MSE: In short, we are talking here of total Muslim rule as the highest objective. When there is political empowerment all other empowerment will follow. Being 18-22% of the population, Muslims are the single largest community in India. The so-called secular parties have miserably failed so much so that today we have large chunks of the population voting for communal parties like the BJP. These ‘secular’ parties merely pay lip service to secularism and do not care for the plight of minorities in the country. The leftist parties too do not form a powerful block in the country when taken as a whole. Even where the rule of the left is dominant – like in West Bengal – the socio-economic conditions of the Muslims have only degenerated progressively.
YMD: Your comments on the idea that in present times, it is impossible to advocate the cause of pure Islam and that of the current community of Muslims at one and the same time?
MSE: This is a difficult question with difficult answers… But what other choice do we have? Don’t we have to start a process of salvaging Muslim pride in the country from some point? True secularism or even democracy, for that matter, hardly exists, but does that mean people should not try to establish them at all? I think the same is the case with Islam: the Muslim community as a whole has certainly deviated away from Islam, and while I believe the principles of Islam must be fought for and defended at any cost, I am also optimistic that most people belonging to the Muslim community can be brought around to accepting this supremacy of Islam sooner or later. In passing, I think it should also be mentioned that there has been only one Islam: the same pure, unadulterated message that was brought by Muhammad of Arabia in the seventh century. Any thing in the name of Islam that goes beyond, or falls short of, that message is a deviation – an innovation – that cannot be equated with Islam. It has been fourteen centuries since that clarion call was first sounded in the deserts of Arabia – a call that awakened people from the slumber they were in, and which kindled the fire of a new revolution that was destined to change the course of human history.
While the first community of believers in that message, that fervour, bestrode the world like a colossus, the inheritors of their legacy have, today, been sidelined to the margins of history not only in India, but throughout the world. We, the Muslims, the followers of the Holy Qur’an and of Muhammad (pbuh), the benefactor of humanity, have indeed fallen from grace to disgrace, as it were, due to our own follies.
YMD: Do you feel that Muslims living as minorities have actually compromised on the demands of their faith?
MSE: Yes, to be honest, the Muslims living their lives as minorities under a man-made Constitution have, in fact, compromised on the wholesome, complete, practice of their religion. But, of course, aside from the fact of their ignorance of Islam and/or the lack of resolve to strive for a situation wherein they can practice Islam in full, this is because of the circumstances under which they live. Granted such a compromised existence with regard to the practice of their faith, Muslims have to attain to political prominence in the country if they are to effect some positive change in the pathetic state of affairs under which they live at present. This is despite the working of all conspiracies against them within and outside the nation. This is despite the power and influence of all these conspiratorial forces working against their betterment throughout India and the world.
YMD: Do you not think that Muslims must first be made to understand the reality of the Hereafter and the need to conform to the teachings and practices of Islam no matter what the circumstances under which they live?
MSE: While this is a very important consideration as far as the regeneration of the Muslims as a respectable community is concerned, I believe that there are various Muslim organizations that are already doing this job of enlightening the Muslim masses with respect to core principles of Islam. In fact, each of these organizations tends to specialize in a particular area of activity like education, health care, Da’awah, and the training of the Muslim missionary.
Ours is today a century – a period in history – where mass mobilization is not confined to small pockets or territories like in the past. Today, people are controlled through systems of governance aided and abetted by the facilities offered by the technological revolution in the communication and other sectors. As such, our efforts must be directed towards changing the system as well. Blind and total political allegiance might have been commanded by the Ambiyaa (the Prophets of God) in the past, and so the Muslim masses, as a whole, might be expected to give that sort of total allegiance only to the Ambiyaa again, and to none else. We can work today, therefore, only from within our corners, our restrictions, our limitations.
YMD: What are the chances for Muslim empowerment in the future, after almost sixty years of failed attempts in the past in India?
MSE: I don’t suppose we can term all attempts at Muslim empowerment in the past to be complete failures. I would rather like to believe that each attempt was a stepping stone for the next. Following the partition of the country in 1947, the new Muslim state of Pakistan was created. In the ensuing confusion, the Hindus were made to understand that the creation of Pakistan was the handiwork of the Muslims. As a result, the brunt of the terrible carnage in the wake of partition was borne by Muslims living in the northern and north-western regions of the country.
It was also around this time that the standard of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) in India passed from the hands of Qaid-e-Azam, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, to Qaid-e-Millath, Mohammad Ismail. In his years as the General Secretary and later as the President of the IUML, my own father, Ebrahim Sulaiman Sait, undertook extensive tours of northern and eastern parts of the country in order to strengthen the organization. In this, his was an activism that did not cease for nearly 37 years. It is not too much to say today that it was under his celebrated leadership that the IUML became the voice of the Muslim community in India. It was under his leadership and vision that the IUML became a force to be reckoned with. Soon the IUML was so popular that in some states it formed the pivot of the ruling front. In 1967, under the Siddhartha Shankar Ray ministry in West Bengal, the IUML was a constituent body with no less than seven members in the assembly. In Assam and Uttar Pradesh, too, the IUML was soon destined to have its members in the legislative assembly of that state. In the Maharashtra of 1974, the IUML, in alliance with the Shiv Sena, actually ruled the Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC). In Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, too, the IUML had its presence in the legislative assemblies of these states. In Kerala, where it had an undeniable presence in the legislative assembly, the IUML has been an important constituent of the ruling fronts for more than 40 years.
While the IUML thus gained in popularity throughout most parts of the country right into the early 1990s, conspiracies were continuously hatched against it by forces that saw, in the rise of the IUML, a threat to their own political fortunes. Tragically enough, this trend found its presence within the party itself following the destruction of the Babri Masjid in 1992. Since then, most of the good work carried out by the IUML in painstakingly building a future for the Muslims in India have come undone. The seeds of a new revival have now to be sown again. We have to all but start from scratch again, and redo all that was undone.
YMD: What do you see as the main reasons for the failure of past attempts?
MSE: All its best qualities notwithstanding, the IUML did not have the financial clout and political muscle of the Congress at the time. Through the constant efforts of the Congress and other secular outfits at sidelining the IUML, the Congress remained the pre-eminent political movement of the Indian masses right into the mid-seventies when, in 1977, for the first time ever, the party was voted out of power. This deliberate marginalization of the IUML was effected so that Muslim political consolidation should not become a reality in independent India. It is not too far-fetched an assertion that the Congress has been responsible, directly or indirectly, for every communal riot targeting the Muslims in the past. Jawaharlal Nehru himself is on record with his statement that the IUML, as a vehicle for advancing Muslim interests, was defunct, indeed, a ‘dead horse’ as he called it. Of course, it is another matter altogether that he was forced to eat his words when the Congress had to share power with the same IUML to rule in Kerala.
The Shah Bano case and the doubts cast against the effectiveness of the Shariah in Muslim Personal Law were some of the other insidious efforts of the Congress to divide the Muslim community. But, thanks to the resilience of the IUML leadership under Sait Sahib and that of other Muslim organizations, the Congress’s efforts failed when it came to the implementation of a common civil code.
The Babri Masjid demolition, however, proved the ultimate treachery against the Muslims in India. With that event, the hypocrisy of the Congress with regard to the Muslim community came to the fore. Most commentators have since passed the near-unanimous judgement that it was the Congress, under Narasimha Rao, which was responsible for the destruction of the Babri Masjid. Thereafter, at least as far as Ebrahim Sulaiman Sait was concerned, there were to be no more alliances with the Congress. Failing to get the support of his party’s power-hungry Kerala faction on his principled stand, Ebrahim Sulaiman Sait left the IUML and started a new political force – the Indian National League – in 1994. As can be seen from the above, the Congress’s role in the decline of a consolidated Muslim force in India is clearly evident.
YMD: What is your vision for political empowerment of Indian Muslims? What are the strategies that you have in mind towards this end?
MSE: My vision for political empowerment of the Indian Muslims includes steps and methodologies consistent with the following plan of action:
I. To create political awareness among the Muslim masses in India, and to form a party to sincerely work for the interests of the community.
II. To focus attention of the party so formed on working for the community on a state-wise basis.
III. To decentralize the party’s power by working through state headquarters from where the plan of action must percolate down to the district, taluk, panchayat and other grassroot levels. More importantly: to make this act of decentralization happen through the Masjid and/or the Mohalla.
IV. To work for the motivation of Muslim youth from the grassroots level upwards through a 3-6 month programme of dedicated training and instruction.
V. To ensure that the above programme of youth training is done in four stages, during which the following syllabi has to be followed:
Stage 1: Islam, its history and the Seerah and Sunnah of the Prophet.
Stage 2: The history of the Indian subcontinent.
Stage 3: History of native Indian (Muslim) Resistance against the British.
Stage 4: Plight of the Indian Muslims during the last 60 years.
VI. To train the Muslim youth in leadership and public speaking after moulding their character in accordance with the spirit and teachings of the Qur’an and Sunnah. This will enable them to standout in parliamentary as well as Muslim politics. They will also be of a high moral character and will be the very antithesis of the corrupt politicians of the present times.
VII. To work with a plan that has a focus period of 5-10 years in enabling the Muslims to become a significant force in India.
VIII. To focus all efforts at mobilization and training on constituencies (from panchayat to parliamentary level) where Muslims form 35% or more of the populace.
YMD: Do you not see compromises associated with power sharing with other political parties in India? If so, do you have any contingency plan to overcome these compromises, or do you plan to go along with these compromises for the sake of certain long term community goals?
MSE: We will not compromise on the principles of Islam. But otherwise, to share political power on the basis of a common minimum programme, for the long-term benefit of the community in this country, will remain an option which will be explored and utilized as, and when, necessary.
YMD: How closely involved with Islamic organizations are you? Which is the organization to which you feel closely related, and why?
MSE: Both myself and my father, the late Ebrahim Sulaiman Sait, have always maintained close links to all Muslim organizations and Ulama. Each of these organizations and Ulama are doing its/ his bit in the field of Muslim reform and betterment. But if I am to name one organization which I think is organized and connected with the masses to a certain extent, then I think that will be Jamaat-e-Islami. This is while other organizations like the Jamiat-ul-Ulamae-Hind, the Tabligh Jamaat, the Ahl-e-Hadith, the Ahle Sunnat-wal-Jamath and the like, too, have their own important roles to play. Thanks to my father’s inclinations, I have been quite fortunate to be associated with these organizations. My father himself used to say that his having been a Muslim MP in parliament for a record eight times has been a lesser privilege than his association with the best Muslim minds in the country. Like him, and probably because of him, I am always moved by the predicament of Muslims both within and outside India.
YMD: What are your views on the findings and recommendations of the Sachar Commission Report?
MSE: I have not gone through the report – which contains 447 pages – completely. However, as an instrument for Muslim betterment in India, the recommendations of the Sachar commission should be implemented. But tell me, do any of the secular political outfits in the country have the political will to empower the Muslim community? They know, for a fact, that if the recommendations are genuinely implemented, the Muslims would become the most advanced and influential (politically and economically) community in India. This is the last thing the Congress, the BJP and the Samajwadis and its likes would wish to see. The backwardness and alienation of the Muslim community in this country is the direct result of 50 years of Congress rule at the centre, and 30 years of Communist rule in West Bengal. The only answer to all this is political consolidation and empowerment under a single Muslim political entity.
[Mohammed Siraj Ebrahim Sait can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org]