In mainstream narrative, minority discourse is equal to Muslim discourse — it assumes the Muslim society to be a homogeneous one. But is it true? Fact is, the Muslim society has never been a singular unit. There has always been a clear and visible distinction between the ‘foreigners’ who came from distant lands and the native ones.
The classification of groupings like Ashraaf, Ajlaaf and Arzaal can also be found in Islamic fiqh (Islamic law) and in books associated with Islamic history. Ashraaf, which is the plural for Sharif (elite), also known as shorfa, constitutes the Arabs, Iranians, Turkish, Sayyids, Shaikhs, Mughals, Mirzas, and Pathans, among others. These have traditionally been castes who were rulers and/or elites.
The plural for jilf (uncivilised) is Ajlaaf—this community mostly constitutes the artisan castes that are included in the Other Backward Classes (OBC). Similarly, Arzaal is plural for rajeel (lowborn) — castes that are involved in cleaning jobs, the Muslim equivalent of Hindu Dalit castes. The Ajlaaf and Arzaal are collectively referred to as the Pasmandas (those who are left behind) and it consists of the tribal Islamic followers (Ban-Gujar, Tadvi, Bhil, Sepia, Bakarwal), Dalits (Mehtar, Bhakko, Nat, Dhobi, Halalkhor, Gorkan) and Backward (Dhunia, Dafali, Teli, Weaver, Kori) castes.
A pan-Islamic discrimination
Such divisions in the Muslim society are not limited to India and prevail across the globe in some form or the other — be it on the basis of race or caste.
In Turkey, only Sayyids can wear a black turban, at times, also seen in India. In Yemen, it is a common practice to treat Akhdams (those involved in cleaning jobs) as untouchables. The three ruling classes in three largest Muslim countries, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran, are dominated by the Turkic tribes, the Arabs Bedouin and the Sayyid caste, respectively. The current rulers of Afghanistan, the Taliban, are also a grouping dominated by the Pashtun Pathans.
In Hadith and Islamic fiqh (law) — two widely accepted sources in Islam — barring one or two exceptions, allegiance to Quraysh tribe (Sayyid, Shaykh) has been described as major pre-condition for being a Caliph. In case of niquah (marriage), discrimination based on race, caste, occupation and region (Arabic/Ajmi) is also clearly described. The Majmuye Kawanine Islami, which is published by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board and which the Board recognises as a statutory document vis a vis personal laws of Muslim society, also supports the above-mentioned rules.
The denial in India
From the First Backward Classes Commission (the Kaka Kalelkar Commission), to the Mandal Commission, to the Ranganath Mishra Commission and the Sachar Committee, all have acknowledged caste discrimination within the Muslim society. As per the concept of social justice, indigenous Pasmanda Muslims are included in the reservation quota for OBCs and Scheduled Tribes.
Despite such clear identification of the prevailing discrimination, the Ashraaf remain in denial and refuse to accept this harsh reality of the Muslim society. Even if a small number comes out to acknowledge, they are discouraged from doing so and told ‘now is not the right time to talk about these things; right now the whole community is in danger, Islam itself is in danger’.
Thus, by projecting the entire Muslim society as a homogenous entity and in the name of minority welfare, the rightful share of the Pasmandas (who constitute over 90 per cent of the Muslim population) is handed over to the Ashraaf community who deny the former any real power — be it judiciary, executive or legislature, or organisations, institutions and NGOs running in the name of the community. Institutions such as the Muslim Personal Law Board, Jamaat-e-Islami, Jamiatul Ulema, Milli Council, Majlis-e-Mashwarat, Waqf Board, Imarate Shariah, and influential madrassas among others that claim to represent the entire Muslim society have negligible participation of Tribals, Dalits and Backward Muslims of Indian origin.
In the name of minority politics, the Ashraaf have been serving their own interest by using the numerical strength of the Pasmandas. The communal politics is strictly practised by this ruling Muslim class. It is Ashraaf who always root for the cause of Muslim unity. They know that if Muslim unity is formed, then they will be its natural leader. This is the reason why Pasmanda activists are often accused by Ashraaf of shattering the so-called unity of the Muslims. In reality, the Pasmanda movement is not an act of division, instead it is a struggle for social justice, a means for connecting the entire society.
Interestingly, the Ashraaf remain hyperactive for the cause of social justice among the Hindus, but when it comes to the Muslims, they either go mute or reject it outrightly, terming the Pasmanda demands as nonsensical. Even more surprising is the acceptance of their hypocritical narrative by India’s secular-cum-liberal intellectuals. This neglect being meted out to the indigenous Pasmanda society, which has a population of about 130 to 150 million, is not in the interest of the country.
Therefore, it is of utmost necessity for the intellectuals and social activists to understand that the Muslim society also suffers from the scourge of caste discrimination. Hence, the discourse should not only be about the Muslim representation; it is equally important to be vocal for greater participation of the suppressed tribal, backward, Dalit and Pasmanda sections.
Governments, both in Delhi and in states, should also pay attention to this reality and reconsider the policies framed so far that have considered the Muslim community as a homogeneous society.
Fayaz Ahmad Fyzie @FayazAhmadFyzie is a columnist and social worker, and physician by profession. Views are personal.
(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)
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