By Asad Mirza
Indian Muslims since 1947 have faced a continuous onslaught on the community, which have increased in recent times, but the way forward has to be found by the community itself.
It seems as if the Indian Muslims are under a collective siege from the external as well as internal forces and pressures. External pressure is being applied from the outside to weaken it psychologically, lessen the morale of its followers and instead of allowing them to focus their energies on the community’s and country’s progress, they are thrown challenges, to counter which a lot of energy and resources of the community are ill spent.
However, it would be better if the Muslim community instead of turning the issue into an existential one, introspects and analyse the factors, which are responsible for the community’s current fate and dilemmas faced by it. The strategy to tackle the issues should be a multi-pronged one, with clear and identifiable inputs, ensuring maximum tangible outcomes. The problems faced by Indian Muslims are social, political, economic and religious, thus the strategy to handle them should be a multi-pronged one.
The political developments during the last five years, and in particular since last May ‘19 in India, have forced almost all Muslims, community’s intellectuals, sympathisers, leaders and well-wishers to turn into a pessimist. They brood on many recent political developments and reaction of the Muslim religious and community leaders to the issues. However, this brooding is not accompanied by any affirmative action by them. This pessimist attitude and a feeling of despondency do not bode well for the community. Instead, what is needed at the moment is neither self-pity nor brooding, but to self-introspect sincerely. Identify and analyse the issues, which afflict the community, and seek out pragmatic solutions, which may bode well for the community and the country, both.
The answer to most of the ills faced by the community lies in introspection and analysing the issues, which have held the community despondent and backward so far, in depth and with sincerity. The first step should be to prioritise the issues. Altruistically speaking, first, the community should try to present a unified image, not fraught by sectional differences.
Issues faced by Muslims
A movement should be started within the community to eschew its sectional and denominational divide, by its religious leaders. Others see the Muslims as a monolith community, not a faction ridden one. So if we are seen as one, then we should acts as one. This is easier said than done and would require a lot of efforts and tolerance amongst our clerics and their blind followers, so let’s hope for the best.
Secondly, the community should adopt a proactive approach not a reactionary one to handle issues at hand. At the political level, people who do not represent the community sincerely should not be promoted and tolerated as representing the community instead they should be excommunicated. Only sincere, committed and result-oriented individuals should be allowed to be part of the decision-making and delivery mechanism process on behalf of 14 million Muslims.
Thirdly, it should try to forge sustainable links with other minorities in the country like Parsis, Sikhs and Christians. It should try to learn from these minorities, as to how they have fared well in educational, social and economic sectors, utilising their community’s resources and guidance by their leaders. This collaboration will also help further the principles of tolerance and coexistence.
Fourthly, Muslims should engage in sincere self-introspection and try to reform the community of customs and practices, which are detrimental to the growth of the community as a whole, besides being un-Islamic, such as curbing wasteful expenditure on marriages and other religious functions. They’ll have to focus more on image building of the community by promoting cleanliness and education, two issues that have been stressed again and again in the Holy Quran.
And lastly, the message to change the community’s psyche and approach on issues facing it should be conveyed in a logical and easily understandable format to all, by a committee of elders representing all the factions and schools of thought of the community besides the political and social activists.
At the political front, Muslims should adopt a multi-dimensional strategy, strengthening the secular and democratic forces of the country, assured of the support of 63% secular and right thinking population of India.
Key to emancipation
As far as being an active player in the county’s political process is concerned, we should nurture and motivate our youngsters to involve themselves in the political activities, shoulder to shoulder with the secular forces. We seldom engage with our political representatives constructively. We should try to form a proactive relationship with the politicians, to ensure that besides raising our grievances with our representatives we are seen as part of the team, which delivers the results on their behalf in their constituency. We’ll have to build a committed cohort of leaders, who reflect the true aspirations of the community besides striving to empower it both educationally and politically.
A key factor identified for the plight of the community is the lack of education amongst Muslims. In reality during the last 25 years or so the educational consciousness amongst Muslims has increased and the community is much more educated than previously. However, we still have to focus our energies on and plan for educating the children at the lowest rung of the social and economic ladder. We need to strengthen our schools and colleges at village and district level, ensure delivery of quality education to all sections of the community, besides a zero dropout rate. This will need coordinated efforts and counselling, both. For this to be achieved, instead of looking up to the government, we should initiate our own efforts.
It’s a fact that Muslims have a school and college in every city and town of India. But most of them are not equipped to the modern standards or don’t have the faculty which could ensure delivery of quality education. The need is to chart out a comprehensive plan for making these institutes functional and productive. This could be achieved through an all-India umbrella body, which should be tasked to ensure how to impart quality education to all at the lowest cost through available infrastructure.
During the last 25 years or so a number of educational and social organisations managed by Muslims have sprung-up in every nook and corner of the country. But in reality, most of these initiatives are confined to individual self-promotion and lack enough professional attitude and commitment to perform and deliver. The task should be to bring all such organisations at a common platform, and pooling their human and financial resources, hammer out a deliverable strategy which is in tune with the current demands and aspirations of the people and which fulfil the community’s and society’s needs pragmatically.
Besides education, the proposed all-India body should also represent the Muslims at every conceivable charity work, whether be it a natural calamity or supporting the government’s various social drives or feeding the poor or providing care to the ailing. We need to emerge as a community, which should be seen at the forefront of every welfare event, helping out shoulder to shoulder with our brethren.
For their community’s benefit Muslim leaders will have to adopt a pragmatic approach and identify path-breaking alternatives for community’s progress.
Fostering a Community psyche
The Indian Muslims, as a community, do not possess a common community psyche. They are divided in many factions and no faction is ready to tolerate the other. Unity in community, in spite of factionalism is found in abundance in other minorities of the country like Sikhs and Parsis. We have to learn a lot from other minorities on how to develop a community psyche, so that each and every one considers them to be part of a larger whole, and the guiding spirit should be collectivism instead of individualism, every Muslim should be seen as contributing both physically and financially, for enhancing the community’s and lives of our brethren.
All the above is easier said than done, and the big question remains, who is going to deliver it and how? The answer lies in our religious leaders. It is a fact that a vast percentage of the Muslims, still listens to and act upon the messages conveyed to them by our clergy. But most of the time the messages conveyed are not relevant in any manner to the development and progress of the community in the light of the Islamic teachings, but on mundane issues. Instead our clerics will have to work to contextualise the message of the Holy Quran and Ahaadith to the present era, only then they’ll be effective and remembered. For this purpose the speech before the Juma Khutba can be a very important tool.
The Muslim clergy should first try to modernise it. It would be good if it could start on a path of critical and scientific thinking or Ijtihad, on issues of importance to the community. Instead of harping back to old and irrelevant texts, it would be better if it could consider each and every issue in a pragmatic fresh perspective based on the correct interpretation of the Holy Quran and Ahaadith. As the Holy Quran is a dynamic not a static book and it offers new solutions as per the new information and analytic prowess gained by its followers with every passing day.
We also bemoan the issue of lack of funding for establishing new educational institutes. Here we forget that if the Indian Muslims decide to contribute every paisa of the interest accrued in their bank accounts and the yearly Zakat to a single entity, then the fate of the community could be changed completely in the next 5 years. This sum could be utilised to establish and rejuvenate the educational institutes, orphanages, taking care of the needy and providing for medical facilities for the community and everyone else.
In addition we also have to present a modern image of the community to other faiths and countrymen. We sound hollow when we decry the increasing tide of Islamophobia in the country and elsewhere in the world. But how do we tackle the issue? In this age of information technology, many a battles are being fought and won using social media tools. The latest example in this regard is the surge in Islamophobic messages on the social media and response of the Muslim nations. Due to the overwhelming response of the Muslim countries, many social media platforms had to issue guidelines on how to manage the Islamophobic content, besides immediate remorse shown and forgiveness sought by people who engaged in posting Islamophobic content on various social media websites.
Muslims and the media
It would be better if the community should equip itself to counter the fake and biased news, first. A strong rebuttal and countering mechanism would serve the community well, as the cost for this would not be too high. The first step towards this could be to build a monitoring team, which could keep track of all anti-Muslim news, to be fed to a team of fact checkers, who with strong research and messaging capabilities should be able to counter any anti-Muslim narrative promptly and professionally.
A central team of Media Monitors based in Delhi should keep track of state monitors and should be equipped to work out quick and coherent response to every issue, charge or misrepresentation on various social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.
Next, a group of community spokesmen should be trained in the language of the states to which they belong. They should be coached in language nuances, debating skills and how to engage in a coherent and conclusive dialogue with their competitors, viz. every aspect of conducting a successful verbal communication process.
Every state should have a small team of at least five people who could represent the community at every media opportunity. An effort should be made to constitute a panel of erudite and knowledgeable people to represent the community at various media outlets. The views espoused by this panel should be endorsed by leading clerics and social leaders before hand.
All this seems achievable and commendable, but the biggest requisite for this to succeed would be the coming together of different leaders representing various sects, outfits and schools within the Muslim community at one platform. We should have a panel of academics, researchers, ideologues, businessmen and entrepreneurs, activists and ground level workers, who should be seen as the real face of the community.
Moreover, it would be better if the Muslim community instead of turning the current concerns into an existential one, introspects and find the areas and issues, which beleaguers it and where it has floundered, besides trying to be seen as part of the county’s mainstream. Follow it with judicious and committed planning and strategising, so that these detriments could be overcome and after the next 25 years, when we’ll be celebrating the century of our independence, we can proudly say that the community has fulfilled the aspirations of its followers and countrymen, both.
What we need is a clear-cut plan and a will to innovate and implement those programmes, which will take the community out of its slumber and apathy and take it on the path of progress. Until and unless the Muslim community as a whole decides to change its psyche and reform itself, no body can help the community survive the present onslaught.
It becomes incumbent upon our religious leaders to forge unity amongst the Indian Muslims and lead them in their political, social, economic and religious life. And thus they’ll have to devise strategies on how to overcome obstacles in partnership with other religions also. For the current dispensation, religions like Parsis or Jews are considered as guests of India, while Christians and Muslims are considered as invaders, thus they deserve to be driven out or made second class citizens. As an enemy of your enemy could be your friend, Indian Muslims will have to forge amicable partnerships with religions like Christianity for their survival in India, and in this manner they’ll also be able to gain support of other countries, many of whom follow Christianity as state religion. Thus, Indian Muslims have to reform themselves and forge new friendships and accords, besides striving hard to co-exist in the fast changing scenario in the country.
Asad Mirza is a political commentator based in New Delhi.
He was also associated with BBC Urdu Service and Khaleej Times of Dubai.
He writes on Muslims, educational, international affairs, interfaith and current affairs.