Interviews of Indian Muslims or issues related to IMs.
Zubair Kottalil is a graduate of a Sunni madrasa in Kerala. He is presently doing his M.Phil. at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. In this interview he talks about various facets of madrasa education in contemporary Kerala.
Q: Could you tell us something about your educational background?
A: I studied till the fifth grade in a regular school and then enrolled at the Dar ul-Huda Islamic Academy, in Chemmad, in the Mallapuram district of northern Kerala. This madrasa is run by the Samastha Kerala JamiÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“at ul-ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“Ulama, which is a Sunni Muslim organization. I spent thirteen years there, and along with my religious studies I did a BachelorÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s course from the Osmania University, Hyderabad, as an external candidate. I then came to the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Here I did my MA in Arabic and am now in the first year of the M.Phil. programme.
Q: What are known as ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“SunnisÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ in Kerala, that is Muslims other than those affiliated to the JamaÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“at-i Islami and the Nadwat ul-Mujahidin, are often thought to be less enthusiastic about modern education. Do you agree with this view?
A: A few traditional Sunni ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“ulama and organizations might feel this way, but I do not think it is true for the Kerala Sunnis in general. Things are rapidly changing today, and Sunni groups are as involved in promoting Islamic as well as modern education as other Muslim groups in the state.
The Dar ul-Huda Islamic Academy, where I studied, is a Sunni organization, and is a good example of how traditional Sunni ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“ulama in Kerala are now increasingly willing to incorporate modern education in the madrasa system. It is a unique institution of its kind, and is a sort of model that other Sunni groups are trying to emulate today. At the Academy we studied the general Islamic subjects, along with subjects like English, Mathematics, Science and History till the twelfth grade level. This allowed us to appear as external candidates in the government secondary school examination. In addition, we also learnt Urdu, Malayalam and Comparative Religions. Besides, we had to learn computers and take part in a range of extra-curricular activities, such as games and literary and public discussion groups.
In the eighth year of the course at the Academy students enroll for a BachelorÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s degree correspondence course in a regular university, so that by the time they finish the twelve year course at the Academy they also have a regular BA degree. Students can select from a range of subjects what they want to major in. Earlier, the students enrolled for a degree course conducted through correspondence by the Indira Gandhi National Open University, Delhi, and the Osmania University, but now many of them are doing it from Calicut University in Kerala.
By combining traditional Islamic and modern education in this way, the Academy trains ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“ulama who choose from a range of careers, and thus need not only work as imams or preachers in mosques. Some of the AcademyÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s graduates are abroad, working in the Gulf. Some have joined various Malayali newspapers. Several of them are now studying at regular universities, many of them in higher Arabic and Islamic studies, but a few in other fields which madrasa graduates earlier rarely entered. Thus, for instance, a graduate of the Academy is presently doing his M.Phil at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, where he is working on ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“The Crisis of Tradition and Modernity Among MuslimsÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ for his thesis. Several of the AcademyÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s graduates do become religious specialists, but they are quite distinct from the traditional ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“ulama in that they are able to relate to the world around them in a far more relevant manner as they have a reasonably good grounding in modern disciplines as well.
Q: Do you know of similar experiments in combining modern and Islamic education for girls as well?
A: There are scores of such institutes catering to Muslim girls as well in Kerala, but, unfortunately, few people seem to have heard about them outside Kerala. Our Academy now has a girlsÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ wing, the Fatima Zehra Islamic WomenÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s College, which offers a seven- year course. The course combines Islamic and modern subjects, after which students appear for the secondary school examinations. As in the Academy, no fees are charged, and students get free food as well.
Q: How do you account for the fact that Muslim organizations in Kerala have been far more successful in combining modern and Islamic education than their north Indian counterparts?
A: In much of the rest of India there is a sharp dualism between Islamic and modern education. As a result, students who study in madrasas have little or no knowledge of modern subjects. Likewise, those who study in regular school have little or no knowledge of Islam. This dualism is reinforced by the stance of some traditional ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“ulama, who seem to regard the two forms of knowledge as distinct from, if not opposed to, each other, although, as I see it, any form of beneficial knowledge is legitimate in Islam.
In Kerala, this dualism has, to a large extent, been overcome. We have a unique system of Islamic education in Kerala, which is not found in any other part of India. Every local Muslim community has its own madrasa, which is affiliated to a state-level madrasa board run by one or the other Muslim organization, such as the JamaÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“at-i Islami, the Samsatha Kerala Sunni Jamiat ul-ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“Ulama and the Nadwat ul-Mujahidin. The madrasa boards prepare the syllabus and textbooks that are used by all the madrasas affiliated to them. The boards also conduct the annual examinations and send out regular inspection teams. The costs of running the madrasas are met by the local community council, which collects donations from each Muslim family in the locality. Often the office of the council and the madrasa itself are located in the local mosque, which functions as a sort of community centre.
The timings of the madrasas are adjusted in such a way that allows the children to attend regular school as well. In this way, by the time they finish their school education most Muslim children in Kerala have a fairly good grounding in Islamic studies as well. I donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t think there is any similar system in any other Indian state, where, generally, if you want to study Islam you have to go without modern education. In Kerala, fortunately, we do not have to make a choice between Islamic or modern education. Our children can study Islam while at the same time carrying on with their regular studies as well. After they graduate from regular school, if they want to specialize in Islamic studies they can join an Arabic College, and if they want to go in for modern education they can enroll in a university.
Q: How did this transformation in the madrasa system of education in Kerala come about? Was there no resistance to this?
A: I suppose before 1947, we, too, followed the traditional system. But Kerala is quite distinct from the rest of India, and the state has witnessed a wave of reform movements, which Muslims have also benefited from. We have also developed along with the other communities. I think the fairly harmonious relations between the different communities in Kerala is a major factor in explaining why Muslims there been willing to modernize their system of madrasa education. In contrast to many other parts of India, in Kerala, Muslims, Hindus and Christians all live in mixed localities, so there is a lot more give and take between the communities and a willingness to learn from and share with each other. In many parts of the north, Muslims have been forced to live in their own ghettos, and this trend is becoming even more pronounced with the alarming rise of Hindutva in recent years, because of which Muslims feel safer if they live in separate localities. This further reinforces a deeply rooted insular mentality, which dampens any enthusiasm for change and reform.
Another important reason why madrasas in Kerala have been more open to change is that the state has a fairly sizeable Muslim middle class, which has taken an active interest in working along with the ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“ulama and community organizations in the field of education. In contrast, in much of the north, the Muslim middle class is almost non-existent or else evinced little interest in intervening in the field of traditional religious education.
Q: Some ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“ulama oppose madrasa graduates joining regular universities, claiming that this would result in them straying from religion. How do you look at this argument?
A: I do not agree with this argument at all. True, there may be some madrasa graduates who are now in universities who are not very particular in their observance of religion, but these must be just a minority. Most madrasa students whom I know who are now studying in universities are regular in prayers and other Islamic rituals. I donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t believe it is difficult to preserve your faith in a university environment. Moreover, I think that studying in a regular university can provide madrasa students with new opportunities for interacting with, learning from and influencing others, including those who may be deeply prejudiced against Islam or Muslims.
I think the belief that joining universities would cause madrasa students to lose their faith in or commitment to Islam stems from a distorted understanding of religion that sees Islam and modernity as incompatible. Such a perception is more widely prevalent in north India, in contrast to Kerala. I firmly believe that most modern scientific and technological developments, including in the realm of knowledge, are not, in principle, opposed to Islam and can be embraced. So, there is no reason why Muslims, including madrasa graduates, cannot go in for modern education while taking care that this does not impact on their religious identity and commitment.
Q: What is the reason that the Kerala model of Islamic education is so little known in the rest of India, particularly in north India?
A: The main reason for this is that Kerala is the only state in India where Urdu is not used as the medium of instruction. In fact, very few Muslims in Kerala understand Urdu at all. Because of this, there has been little interaction between ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“ulama and ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“ulama-related organizations in Kerala and elsewhere. This also explains why the writings of Kerala Muslim scholars, which are almost all in Malayalam, are almost wholly unknown in the rest of India. Another reason why many Muslims outside Kerala are not familiar with the Kerala experience in modernizing madrasas is the deeply rooted, yet misplaced, belief that north Indian Muslims represent, in a sense, normative Islam. Hence, many north Indians feel that they have little, if anything, to learn from the south Indian example. There is this feeling that real Islam is to be found in the north, and that south Indian Muslims do not fully measure up to that standard. When I came to Delhi I was amazed to find some north Indian Muslim students at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, which is considered to be one of the premier universities in the country, also appear to share this opinion. When they learnt that I was from Kerala, they asked me, in all seriousness, if I knew how to pray in the proper Islamic fashion! One of them even asked that if we were Muslims how is it that we cannot speak Urdu properly! When I answered them and told them about KeralaÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s unique madrasa system and pointed out the fact that Kerala is among the few states in India where Arabic is taught in government schools and in all our universities, they were really surprised and embarrassed.
But things are changing gradually now. In recent years there has been growing interaction between Muslim educational groups in Kerala and other parts of India, through visits and conferences, and this has helped others to learn about the Kerala system of madrasa education. The Academy where I studied has taken a significant step in this regard by setting up a separate unit, where education is imparted in the Urdu medium. This unit caters to children from other states, and it is hoped that once they finish their education they would return to their homes and set up similar modernized madrasas there as well. In addition, the Academy is now working with the authorities of the Quwwat al-Islam madrasa in Mumbai to help it modernize and impart both Islamic as well as modern education. Of course, a lot more needs to be done in this regard. I think one really productive way of doing this is to organize groups of younger ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“ulama and community activists from other parts of India to visit madrasas and Muslim educational institutions in Kerala, so that they can go back to their states and start similar experiments.
Q: Traditional madrasas have been heavily criticized for promoting inter-sectarian rivalry. How do you react to this charge?
A: It is an undeniable fact that many madrasas have been actively involved in promoting sectarian strife. Some of them go so far as to brand other Muslim groups or maslaks as infidels or at least as aberrant. I think this approach is completely misplaced. Even if you believe that your own maslak represents the truth it does not mean that you should violently denounce other maslaks. The way forward is through dialogue, not through heated polemics. I think everybody has the right to believe what he or she wants, and no one has the right to forcibly impose his or her views on others. This applies to both intra-Muslim relations as well as to relations between Muslims and other communities. After all, the QurÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢an very clearly teaches us that everyone is free to believe whatever he or she wants and that there can be no compulsion in religion.
Zubair Kottalil can be contacted on email@example.com
Education Is the Main Challenge of Indian Muslims
Siraj Wahab, Arab News
JEDDAH, 22 February 2006 ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Â? Saiyid Hamid, like many men of letters, is tall, thin and spare. He speaks clearly and softly but with an air of firmness that comes from his having held various public offices. He is a paragon of humbleness. Despite his stature as a towering intellectual, he makes everybody around him feel at ease. He listens to all questions with the seriousness of an enthralled student and then measures his every word in the answer.
Saiyid Hamid has been working with missionary zeal for the last five decades to inculcate the values of modern education into the Muslims of India, especially north India. A retired officer of the prestigious Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and a former vice chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), he is currently the chancellor of Hamdard University in New Delhi.
During a visit to Saudi Arabia over the weekend, Saiyid Hamid spoke at length about modern education, the need for reservation for Muslims in government jobs and institutions, the challenges facing the Muslim community, their representation in the mainstream English media and the introduction of modern subjects into madrasas. Following are excerpts from the interview:
Q: At one time, you floated the idea of launching a modern university for Muslims. It never took off. What happened?
A: The intention in launching the university was to fill glaring deficiencies in the disciplines that we sought to emphasize at the university ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Â? science and technology. In both these areas, Muslims continue to be backward. Unfortunately, the response that we had hoped for did not materialize and we had to give up when resources were not available.
Q: What kind of monetary resources did you need and could the project still be carried out?
A: Let me put it this way: I was not a very good salesman. I couldnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t sell the idea. If I had persisted, perhaps things would have been different. At the time, the total project cost was put at 150 crore Indian rupees (SR125 million). If anybody still wants to try, I think he should go ahead.
Q: It is rather strange that in a country where hundreds of madrasas are being run without any government aid and which are generating enough revenue to sustain themselves, there was so little interest in a scientific university.
A: When the community helps a madrasa, the general impression is that it is doing a charitable and pious work. Also let me tell you that the impression that madrasas get very considerable assistance is not borne out by facts. Usually they are run on a shoestring budget. They depend largely on zakah money. During Eid Al-Adha, they collect the skins of slaughtered animals and sell them, with the proceeds being a kind of charity. The madrasas send some of their teachers on skin-collecting missions from city to city. This is not the best way to finance an academic institution.
Q: You have been, and still are, an advocate of introducing modern subjects into the curriculum of madrasas. How far have you succeeded?
A: For the last 30 years, I have been in my own humble way trying to persuade madrasas to introduce modern subjects into their curriculums. There was resistance initially but it seems to have been resolved at the middle level. Not, however, at the top. The bigger madrasas or seminaries such as the Nadwatul Ulema and Deoband are still resisting. They are resisting because they think the character of their students will be adversely altered. They think that rather than adhering to the basic purpose of education, the students would be dazzled by the glamour of a modern university. Science and mathematics have been mentioned as important but, to my mind, social sciences are equally important. Sociology, psychology and economics are even more important. The resistance is gradually being eroded. I do feel that within 15 to 20 years, this will happen and it will be for the good of both the madrasas and the community.
Q: The federal government once produced a scheme to modernize madrasas but the Muslim community was alarmed because it thought this was an indirect way of government interference in madrasas.
A: Yes, the central government devised a scheme for the modernization of madrasas. But the label itself was not very happy. They could have said supplementing some subjects in madrasas. It would have been more acceptable. At the Hamdard Education Society, with which I am associated, we are conducting programs for madrasa teachers. The program is sponsored by the Human Resources and Development Ministry. The aim is twofold: To strengthen the values of education and to introduce modern pedagogy. Nobody can object to these aims. We are saying that rather than insisting on memorizing ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Â? learning by rote ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Â? it would be better if we stress comprehension and understanding of the subject. I have reason to believe that this part of the program is making a dent. The message is gradually spreading.
Q: You edit the fortnightly newsmagazine ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œNation and The WorldÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â?. The project was started with great fanfare. It was supposed to be a daily newspaper initially, wasnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t it?
A: Our intention was to take the middle road. We thought let us be accommodating, let us be tolerant of the other point of view also. An English daily would have served that purpose very well. Unfortunately, here again it was a failure in resource mobilization. People didnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t realize in the late 1980s that having their own newspaper was vitally important for a community. We then thought we would do the next best thing. We started first a weekly magazine. Subsequently we converted it into a fortnightly magazine. For the last 12 years ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œNation and The WorldÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â? has been brought out regularly.
Q: Do you see enough representation of Muslims in the mainstream media?
A: I have not made a very perceptive assessment. But I do feel that their presence is being noticed. Even in the Hindi press, I find that there are Muslim reporters and correspondents. They are coming up but a greater organized effort is needed to get our share of the media. What Mr. Anwar Jamal Kidwai did in respect of Jamia Millia Islamia Mass Communication Research Center has had a very good effect on the electronic media. In the print media, however, our journalists have not attained a status where people would wait for their columns or writings. I do hope ultimately they will. I do not know about Hindi but in English newspapers, we do not often find very good pieces by Muslim journalists.
Q: You were against reservation for Muslims at one point. You thought it was against the self-respect of a community and then you changed your opinion.
A: Yes, I was against reservation. I had more valor than discretion at that time. I failed to realize that in the situation we were in if we wanted to break the shackles and compete with others who had had the advantage of education for generations that it was simply not possible. I have been trying in various capacities to organize coaching for the competitive examinations and there I discovered that the quality of candidates from Muslim communities doesnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t compare with the general quality of candidates from other communities. The simple reason for this is that the environment in which our children live is not at all conducive to serious study. Not only not conducive to serious study but also there is no atmosphere of awareness at home and that is extremely important for building up the personality and the fund of knowledge of any child. I have come to the conclusion that we have to have reservation for one generation and that will do the trick. Without reservation, no substantial change in the status of Muslims will be possible.
Q: But there is this argument that why should we chase something (government jobs) whose numbers are decreasing?
A: Yes, the intake of candidates, for example, through the Uttar Pradesh Public Service Commission (UPSC) used to be about 800 or 900 every year; now it has shrunk to 300. So the argument is why chase something which is shrinking? The proponents of this argument do not realize that although the number of bureaucrats is growing smaller by the year, the influence and power of the government is increasing. It is a fact that governments now have control over all almost all spheres of life ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Â? either very explicitly or very subtly. And to be in government, therefore, not only gives a boost to the morale of a community but also constitutes a step toward that communityÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s empowerment.
Q: What about the controversy surrounding the minority character of Aligarh Muslim University?
A: Let me confine myself to the recent episode about the high court turning down the reservation made by the universityÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s bodies. In case the judgment of the Supreme Court is against us, then I have reason to believe that the government may intervene by introducing legislation. We recently had a meeting of the university board; and it was almost unanimously resolved that we must first exhaust all legal channels. In case that fails, then we have to approach the government.
Q: What is the most important challenge facing Indian Muslims?
A: Without a doubt, education. Muslims in the south have established very important professional institutions but they have not been able to achieve quality in them. The world is so competitive and educationally our country is so advanced that unless we Muslims attain a similar standard by dint of organized hard work, we have no future. We have proved ourselves incapable of running our educational institutions and maintaining a high standard. That is the biggest challenge. Our dilemma is that people who call themselves intellectuals or who are known as intellectuals cut themselves off from the masses so they have no influence on the masses. And those who have influence on the masses are our ulema, our religious scholars. Unfortunately they have not given any support to modern education. They should have told the people in their Friday sermons how important modern education is. They have not done that.
Q: You mean both the ulema and the intellectuals are responsible for this sad state of affairs?
A: The two groups have kept themselves apart ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Â? those who have had the benefit of mainstream education and those who have been educated in seminaries. They should meet. Some feeble attempts have been made from time to time but no significant endeavor has so far been made. People who are considered intellectuals and people who are ulema are both at fault. The ulema fail to guide the people because they are unaware of modern issues and those who are aware of modern issues have no impact on the masses. This is the dilemma on which our educational ambitions are being wrecked.
Meera and Rafi Shaikh run the Centre for Development in Ahmedabad. In this interview with Yoginder Sikand they reflect on the communal situation in Gujarat and talk about their own work.
Q: In the aftermath of the devastating violence in 2002 how do you look at inter-communal relations in Gujarat today?
A: The situation is still very tense. The victims of the carnage are yet to get justice and most Muslims are still living in tremendous fear. Fascist forces are so deeply-entrenched now that no one can rule out a repeat of the gory events of 2002. The problem is not just of communalism or communal tension, however. There are so many other structural problems that are connected to communal conflict, such as mounting poverty and unemployment as a result of privatisation and ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“globalisationÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢, unchecked plunder by multinational corporations, growing caste contradictions and the lack of educational opportunities for the poor, problems that are increasing by the day. This situation is easily exploited by Hindutva groups to engineer clashes and riots between different communities, particularly between Dalits and Muslims.
The situation is being made even more grave with the enforced ghettoisation of the Muslims all over Gujarat. So, in the Walled City of Ahmedabad, where we work, Hindus and Muslims used to live together, but now most Hindus have moved out and the area is now mainly Muslim, with some Dalits living there as well. Likewise, Muslims have been forced to move from other areas to the Walled City and to the sprawling Juhapura ghetto. This reduces the chances of interaction between people of different communities. Earlier, they used to live close to each other and so shared in each othersÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ festivities, but now this is not possible.
Q: It is said that many Dalits have been co-opted by Hindutva forces, and were used by them to attack Muslims in 2002. How do you account for this?
A: The Hindutva groups have been hard at work to co-opt the Dalits all over Gujarat while simultaneously working to preserve ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“upperÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ caste hegemony. So, they select local Dalit ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“leadersÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢, pay them a small salary and offer them some small post. This gives these ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“leadersÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ a sense of importance and recognition which the wider Hindu society denies their people. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) organises religious functions in Dalit slums, using these occasions to Hinduise the Dalits and to spread anti-Muslim propaganda.
While Hindutva is a major factor for the decline of the radical Dalit movement, which, in turn, has allowed Dalits to be used to attack Muslims, there are other factors at work as well. NGOs, too, have played a role in this, in the name of ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“professionalismÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢, by pumping in massive amounts of money in the name of ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“Dalit welfareÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢. It is not that NGOs are all doing nothing at all, but there is a definite negative impact on the sort of work they are able to do once they get enormous amounts of funds and start operating from fancy offices in posh areas, no longer being rooted in the slums and villages. This has led to a ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“professionalÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢, rather than personal, response to issues. This has also led to a steady de-politicisation of many Dalit youth so that now they donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t speak about confronting the system but, instead, seek upward social mobility within the system. The NGO-isation process has led to Dalit issues becoming simply funded projects sponsored by well-heeled agencies. So, now few people are willing to take the plunge and commit themselves for Dalit liberation or say against fascism or communalism unless it is a funded project. Dissent today is being consciously tamed and domesticated, taken out from the streets and moved into seminar halls and workshops and conferences. To add to this process is the decline of the trade union movement, with mills closing down and trade union leaders becoming part of the system.
Q: What sort of work have you been engaged in in the aftermath of the Gujarat carnage?
A: While the state-sponsored genocidal attacks on Muslims in Gujarat were underway, we, along with other friends, helped out with relief work in the Shah Alam refugee camp in Ahmedabad, where thousands of Muslims, who were forced out of their homes, had taken shelter. Because in the Old City of Ahmedabad, where we have been working for several years, Dalits were used by Hindutva forces to attack Muslims, we felt it urgent to bring Dalit and Muslim youth together. So, one of the first things we did was to organise a meeting of Dalits and Muslims, some of whom had taken part in the violence. After this, we took a group of Dalit and Muslim youth, many of whom had participated in the violence, to Panchmadi for a week, where they trekked in the mountains and slept and ate together and washed each otherÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s plates and drank from the same glass, all this for the very first time. They bonded so well. It broke down the negative stereotypes that they had of each other. One of the youth in the group, Abbas, had seen his house being looted by a Dalit who was also in the group. After spending a week together with Abbas and other Muslims, this Dalit boy felt so bad about what he had done that when the group returned to Ahmedabad he returned all that he had looted from AbbasÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ house to him.
This sort of exposure trip, bringing Dalit and Muslim youth together, really worked very well in helping to bridge the divide. We organised a similar trip to Mount Abu in early 2003. As in our previous trip, we used this occasion to discuss issues related to communalism, poverty, ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“globalisationÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢, unemployment, caste oppression and gender injustice. In order to sustain the contacts that these youth had established during these trips we set up a small library in Dani Limbda, in the Walled City of Ahmedabad, which serves also as a discussion and study centre.
So, the point is that while it is necessary to work with the victims of violence, as most NGOs do, it is also important to work with those who participate in it, as is the case of several of those whom we took along for these trips. It is not that all those who participate in riots are unredeemable. There are definitely some among them who can be won over to the secular cause. For instance, now we have a Dalit youth in our team, who was earlier with the VHP and who had burnt down a house belonging to a Muslim during the carnage. And he is now committed to the cause of communalism and Dalit-Muslim solidarity. Just the other day he helped out a Muslim woman with money to get admission for her children in a school. Some other Dalits who are part of our group were earlier with the VHP but now stridently oppose the efforts of the VHP-walas to enter their localities.
Q: Speaking about Dalit-Muslim solidarity, the importance of which you stress, what do you think has been the attitude of Muslim organisations in Gujarat to this issue?
A: Muslim organisations in Gujarat have done little, if at all, to seriously consider this issue. They work almost only for Muslims, and do little if at all, for other communities, particularly Dalits. Dominant Muslim elites appear to prefer to relate to ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“upperÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ caste Hindu elites rather than to Dalits. So, Muslim organisations might welcome a Rath Yatra if it passes through their area, but they would never give money to impoverished Dalits to go to school. Just the other day an Islamic organisation opened a hospital in Ahmedabad and it called a Brahmin priest to inaugurate it. The Jamaat-i Islami invites ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“upperÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ caste religious leaders to address inter-faith dialogue meetings, but it has rarely, if ever, invited Dalits or Tribals. The point is that such Muslim organisations refuse to recognise is that Dalit-Muslim solidarity is really an urgent necessity, particularly because Hindutva forces have a clear-cut strategy of using Dalits and Muslims, equally impoverished communities, to attack and kill each other. Dalits and Muslims live in the same localities, and so such violence can easily be instigated. Maybe the reason that these Muslim organisations do not talk about the Dalit issue is that if they do, then the common Muslims, most of who share the same living conditions as the Dalits, many of them being of Dalit background, would start asserting themselves, and this would seriously challenge the hegemony that Muslim elites want to maintain within the broader Muslim community.
Q: What significant changes do you notice in the attitude of Muslim organisations in Gujarat in the wake of the carnage?
A: Before 2002, elite Muslims showed little concern about the issue of communalism. There have been several massive communal riots and engineered anti-Muslim pogroms in Gujarat before, but these did not really affect the elites. The victims were almost entirely Muslims living in the slums or in the narrow lanes of the Walled City of Ahmedabad. But, for the first time, in 2002 all Muslims, including the elites, were attacked. The posh homes and shops of rich Muslims were looted and many of them were also killed. And the perpetrators were not just Dalits or slum-dwellers but even middle-class people. So, now, even Muslim elites are being forced to think beyond their own class interests. There is now a definite enthusiasm for modern education, for Muslims realise that they cannot rely on the government and the wider civil society, which treat them with contempt and hostility, to defend their interests and even their lives. Some Muslim groups are also now talking about communal harmony and peace. This is, of course, a good thing but it isnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t enough. We have to also talk about economic issues, poverty, the continued social boycott of Muslims in many parts of Gujarat, mounting unemployment and so on, issues that affect Muslims and Dalits particularly. Only on that basis can real solidarity between different marginalised and oppressed communities develop.
You canÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t continue to imagine, as Islamic groups and the maulvis of the madrasas insist, that simply by mouthing religious slogans you can satisfy people or that simply by organising joint prayer meetings the problem of communalism will be solved. The problem cannot be resolved through conferences either. Our dialogue work has to move into the slums ands the streets, bringing together marginalised communities or marginalised sections of different communities on a common secular plank, mobilising them on the basis of common social, economic and political issues. Organising joint programmes and activities, say cultural work or the sort of trips that we undertook with Dalit and Muslim youth, are also very useful. It gives people the chance to see the ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“otherÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ as really human, breaking down deeply-rooted stereotypes.
Then, also, we also need to work with ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“upperÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ caste Hindus, many of whom remain staunch backers of Hindutva politics. Some of them, too, can be won over to the cause of communal harmony and social justice. Ignoring them can only play into the hands of the Hindutva forces. It is, of course, easier and safer for most people to work among the victims of violence, rather than perpetrators, because the former are a sort of ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“captive audienceÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ for them and are seen as ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“passiveÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ and ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“non-threateningÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢. That is what some NGOs do. They say, ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“If you want the relief we are giving, you will have to listen to usÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢. We must guard ourselves against this tendency. The struggle against fascism thus has to operate at different fronts, and must not remain limited only to working among its victims.
History of journalism in India can not begin without mentioning the names of some of the big names of Indian Muslim leadership. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, Maulana Mohammad Ali, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Hasrat Mohani etc were all one time or another been editor of a magazine. Even after Independence trend continued with a large number of Urdu newspapers and magazines published all across India. Unfortunately, most of the Muslim representation in media is limited to the Urdu language.
There have been some attempts to have Muslim ownership of the media in regional languages. This experiment has been successful in the south. In the north, there are almost no serious attempts to establish an independent Muslim voice in ever growing Hindi media.
Dr. Zafarul Islam Khan who was the first person to start a newspaper in English to give news with Muslim perspective, may also become the first person to make Muslim voice heard in Hindi print media.
IndianMuslims.info asks him about his plans:
How far along you are in launching of this Hindi newspaper?
At present this is only an intention in view of the dire need of such an initiative from the Muslim community on two counts:
1. The majority of our working and lower class in North India now reads only Hindi though it may still be speaking Urdu. The majority of Indian Muslims live in this Hindi region.
2. Hindi media has been most venomous when it comes to Islam and Muslims and therefore we should have something of our own as this will allow us to offer the other side of the story, refute lies and offer an alternative to the readers including non-Muslims, many of whom are also at the receiving end of this arrogant media dominated by upper caste people whose interests do not lie with the common man.
Will it be a Muslim newspaper targeting Muslims who can read Hindi or Hindi newspaper presenting news from a Muslim perspective?
It will be a newspaper run by Muslims for all Indians who read Hindi. There will be some Islamic content but the focus will be Indian issues from the point of view of the ordinary man, the weaker sections, and the oppressed who are a majority. In short, it will not be another Milli Gazette which was born out of a different need: to publish Muslim news and views for the Muslim and non-Muslim elite.
How will this newspaper be different than other Hindi newspapers?
Hindi media is either very secular or very communal and all are run by the elite and higher castes. We want to focus on the issues of the ordinary Indians, on consumer, human rights, communal harmony issues that affect everyone. In general, we will try to offer a positive and motivative journalism, not a negative, sensational and emotional one.
Do you know of any other attempt by Muslims to enter into Hindi media scene?
Our presence in Hindi media is very weak. With difficulty one may say that we have Kanti (weekly and monthly magazines) published by the Jamaate Islami and Shah Times a regional newspaper limited to some Western UP areas. I think the only thing "Muslim" about Shah Times is its owners just like Mid-Day of Bombay or Asian Age.
What is the commercial viability of this endeavor?
The commercial viability is very good as Hindi newspapers and magazines are very successful and are printed in hundreds of thousands. Unlike the Urdu and even Muslim readers, the ordinary Hindi reader likes to buy his paper and the market is very big.
What support you need for this project and what help you have got so far?
I have received some support but it is not enough to start such a project. Our budget estimate for the weekly tabloid Hindi newspaper (around 24 pages per issue if not more) is Rs ten million (one crore - US$ 227,200) over a period of three years but the promises we have received have not crossed even ten percent of this estimated budget. Those who pledge to buy shares will pay over three years once the final go-ahead is given. At this stage no one is asked to pay anything.
If you want to be part of Muslim owned media in Hindi please contact:
Dr. Zafarul Islam Khan
D-84 Abul Fazl Enclave-I,
New Delhi 110 025 INDIA
Tel.: (+91-11) 2682 2883, 2692 7483, 2632 2825
Fax: (+91-11) 2683 5825
By Yoginder Sikand
Maulana Saeed ur-Rahman is the principal of the renowned Nadwat ul-'Ulama madrasa in Lucknow. In this interview with Yoginder Sikand he talks about allegations madrasas as well as the question of madrasa reforms
YS: What do you have to say about the current propaganda against madrasas as allegedly being 'dens of terror''?
SR. This propaganda is completely baseless. The gates of the madrasas are open to all, and anyone can come at any time to see for himself what we are engaged in. Even if the most hardcore Hindutva leaders, who have been demanding that all madrasas in the country be forcibly closed down, were to visit us, our doors would be open for them. Let them come and see exactly what we are doing, instead of issuing baseless statements against us.
The madrasas are an open book, and we do not have any hidden activities whatsoever. All that we do is to teach religion to our children. But today powerful groups in the West, in order to promote global American hegemony, have started a vicious propaganda against Islam, Muslims and the madrasas, and unfortunately some people in India, too, are toeing this line.
YS: But what would you say about certain madrasas in Pakistan, especially along the Afghan border, that are said to be involved in terrorist activities?
SR: The social, historical and political context in Pakistan is very different from that in India, and hence one cannot compare the functioning of madrasas in the two countries. In any case, not all, or even most, Pakistani madrasas have been involved in militant activities. Then, one must see the involvement of some Pakistani madrasas in militancy as also a reaction to American aggression in neighbouring Afghanistan. As I see it, the people of Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province and adjacent parts of Afghanistan have a long historical tradition of internecine tribal warfare, and so it is not the madrasa system as such, but, rather, the historical and cultural traditions of the people of that area and a complex set of specific political factors, that are responsible for militancy taking root in some madrasas there.
YS: How do you feel the propaganda against madrasas should be combated?
SR: All this has to be done within the confines of the law, using constructive, not destructive, means. The best way to do this is by our own practical example, by producing students of high caliber who can contribute to the community as well as the country as a whole. Madrasas should regularly invite non-Muslims to visit them and freely interact with their teachers and students. In that way, by seeing things for themselves, others can learn what are our activities really are. We would even welcome suggestions from them as to how to improve our functioning. We have organised a few such meetings, but I agree we need to do more. Madrasas can also reach out to people of other faiths through literature. For instance, the Nadwa brings out a journal called Saccha Rabiin Hindi and Fragrance of the East in English, and sends free copies of these to several non-Muslims, including government officials, journalists and social activists, so that they are kept aware of what madrasas are actually all about and of their activities. In this way we are also trying to present before them a balanced perspective on Islam.
YS: Many critics of the madrasa system feel that today's conditions demand a radical overhaul of their syllabus. What do you feel about this?
SR: One of the principal aims of the founders of the Nadwa was to reform the traditional madrasa syllabus. They envisaged a new curriculum that would combine the best of the traditional and modern systems of education. The madrasa syllabus, you must remember, has never been static, and has always evolved according to changing conditions. Today, when the world is changing so rapidly, we feel that change in the syllabus and structure of the madrasa system, too, is imperative. But the sort of change that we want is such that the basic aim of the madrasa training students who are well versed in the Qur'an and the Islamic sciences is preserved and is not diluted in any way.
As we at the Nadwa see it, in order for madrasa students to play an effective role in society they must be well aware of the changing world around them, and that is why we also teach a range of modern subjects as well, including English, Hindi, science, history, geography and so on. This is also necessary for the students as future ulema in order for them to be able to express Islam in terms intelligible to people today. We encourage our students to keep abreast with the developments in the wider world, for which we arrange for several newspapers, in Urdu, Hindi, Arabic and English, to be kept in our library. We organise weekly meetings for students, where they discuss contemporary world affairs and other such topics. We have recently started two new departments of computers and journalism, so that our graduates can play a more socially engaged and enlightened role as community and religious leaders. We have also introduced a one-year course in comparative religions for graduates of our madrasa. Since we live in a plural society we all should know at least something about the religious beliefs and practices of our fellow countrymen. This is also important in order to promote inter-faith dialogue and to correct misunderstandings that others might have about Islam. We would encourage other madrasas to follow our example in this regard and revise their curriculum on similar lines.
Harsh Mander came into prominence after Gujarat genocide of 2002, he left his IAS job to work full time for peace and justice. He is the head of "Aman Biradari" which work for the communal harmony in India. In an exclusive interview with IndianMuslims.info he encouraged people of faith to use religion for the benefit it can bring to humanity and not let it be hijacked for hatred.
IndianMuslims.info: How did the Gujarat of Gandhi ji become the Hindutva lab of Sangh Parivar in such a short amount of time?
Harsh Mander: It is one question that everyone asks, and it's a natural question to ask, and it's a very hard question to answer. Some people look at it in terms of Gujarati culture, some people look at it in terms of Economics, and it is also one of the most developed states, a state that benefited from Globalization. It had a very strong social and reform movement. People are vegetarian, alcohol is banned, and other things.
I have heard many generalization and explanation but somehow I am not convinced by these. The reality of Gujarat is also the untold stories of Gujarat, there are enormous numbers of people who have helped each other, both Hindus and Muslims; which far outnumbers the people who were involved in violence. This also makes it more complicated.
It was a very systematic process of manufacture of hatred that was undertaken in Gujarat. They had the longest period of uninterrupted BJP rule. It is a cliche to say that it was 'Hindutva Labaratory' but I think it really was a laboratory. In less than two decades, it has been able to manufacture hatred and create levels of hate and distrust. They have created myths about how Muslims are.
Of the Muslim communities in different parts of India, probably the most culturally integrated are also the Gujaratis. I found that most Gujarati Muslims prefer communicating in Gujarati language, calling each other "bhai" and "ben."
We can't say its wealth because by and large Muslims are down and out, so it's not jealousy. No explanation seems to work except that it was a systematic manufacture of hatred.
IMI: The interim report by the PM High level committee says that there is a separation between Hindu and Muslim localities. How widespread is this situation?
HM: It's almost total. The most commonly used English word in Gujarat today is 'border'. People refer to the 'border' as the divider between Hindu and Muslim parts of the village. Where violence took place the ghettoization is extreme but even those areas that escaped the violence are affected by this. This is their biggest success, since the two communities will grow up never meeting each other.
I think Ehsan Jafri was a hero to secularism, because he continued to live in the Hindu majority area. I have been told that he was repeatedly advised to move, but he refused on the grounds that it will be against whatever he stood for, and he paid the ultimate price for that. Now how many people are willing to take his place?
So I think the ghettoization is very far advanced and is almost reaching completion. Even in villages, people have either not returned to their homes, are still living in camps or have moved in with their relatives. Where they have returned, one of the conditions has always been that they have to live separately.
IMI: Recently Indian Express reported that there is a system wide discrimination not just against Muslims, but also against the Dalits of Gujarat. What is the condition of the Dalits in the present day Gujarat?
HM: The level of untouchability is very high in Gujarat. They have separate eating facilities in schools, and different water source for the Dalits and other castes. These restrictions are quite wide spread in Gujarat and I think it is part of the same communal ideology that is expressed in different ways.
IMI: Do you think this Hindutva ideology is also being exported out to different parts of India?
HM: Wherever BJP has come to power on its own (without any coalition partner), there is a clear evidence that they are trying to advance the lessons of Gujarat, which is fear as a way of life for the minority communities. A part of me believes that a big massacre, like what happened in 2002, is not going to be repeated because they think that invites un-necessary international attention. They know that they can achieve the same goal by low intensity activities that no one pays much attention to.
There are villages in both Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh that are documented, where an entire Muslim population has been driven out by fear. They are facing desecration of their places of worship, or restriction in practicing their religion; social boycotts are achieving the same result as they have in Gujarat.
IMI: What should be the process of reconciliation?
HM: We desire genuine reconciliation, which means a restoration of trust and relationship of affection. We believe that it can never happen in an environment of fear and surrender. You can't surrender into reconciliation; you need to have a space for forgiveness. People can forgive, only if they have the power to not forgive. That is why I believe the fight for justice has to proceed with the effort of reconciliation.
We need to find a large number of people from all communities who do not believe in the politics of hate. If there is a shakha of Bajrang Dal or RSS, then we need to have 'Aman Shakha' (Peace Group). Let young people gather, let's have some games, a place to meet, celebrate festivals together, and do some work in the schools. There needs to be alternative institutions which provide these services.
IMI: What is the India of the future that you envision?
HM: I want an India where people can follow what they believe, without any fear in their heart and their head held high, an India which starts caring about poverty, hunger and children on the street. I am told that every culture and every religion has a tradition which has made us care about the less privileged people.
I was told about a South Indian Hindu community, even till their grand father and grand mother's time, they would not eat until some hungry person shared in that food. Sometimes they remained hungry if they couldn't find any one share their food. This is one of the ways created by society to help people in need. Now all these have been institutionalized and reduced to rituals and are bereft of reaching out to the communities.
Tulsidas, who wrote 'Ram Charits Manas', was persecuted a gread deal by the Brahmins. In one of his dohas (couplets) he says to the Brahmins "do what you like to me, I will beg for my food and I will sleep in the Mosque." Since he spent lot of time in Ayodhya I would like to believe that he used to sleep in the Babri Masjid. Are there any Mosques today that are open to homeless people?
If people are using religion for hate, why don't people of faith use it for what it was meant to be?
Mahjabeen Sarwar is a lady with a difference. She was born and brought up and now lives with her husband and family in Patna, the capital of Bihar, a state typically associated with lawlessness and a general apathy towards the plight of the poor. The daughter of Abdul Hameed, a head clerk at Patna's G.P.O., Mahjabeen studied at the Madrasa Sulaimania in Patna city, and eventually acquired a Fazil degree, equivalent to a conventional master of arts.
In November 2006, she was conferred the Rani Laxmi Bai of Jhansi, Stree Shakti Puraskar for her outstanding work in the area of woman empowerment in the year 2002. She was actually singled out for fighting for justice for exploited women. Mahjabeen thus made a record by becoming the first Muslim woman receive this award. Read on for more on how she feels about this recognition, why she was given the award and whether she has faced any difficulties along the way.
Interview for IndianMuslims.info was conducted by Aftab Abedin and Charu Bahri.
IMI: Tell us about Safeenah, the organization you established to formally do social work?
Mahjabeen: I conduct various social endeavors under the banner of an organization I founded with my husband, Ghulam Sarwar Azad's assistance; Safeenah, an acronym for Society for Awareness, Family welfare, Education, Economic upliftment, Nationality and Health. While my social endeavors started in 1984-5, well before Safeenah was established in 2002, we realized the need for a formal organization to ease the process of obtaining contributions for our work and hence, partnered seven other core committee members to establish this platform.
IMI: Does the name Safeenah mean anything special?
Mahjabeen: It certainly does. I do social work because it gives me happiness, and a feeling of fulfillment. I aim to deliver what people need, for instance, if a woman is hungry, employment to continuously satisfy her hunger, or if a child desires an education, the means to study. Safeenah is an Urdu word denoting a boat. You could say my slogan is "besaharon ko manzil tak pahunchana" reach the helpless to their desired destination. I achieve this via Safeenah - my platform, my boat.
IMI: That is a very beautiful thought, but how did you start out on this path?
Mahjabeen: Around 1984, when I was newly wed and had no children, I used to feel quite lonely as my husband kept very busy. In those days, he was associated with the Communist Party of India, although he has since discontinued his membership. Sometimes, when he returned from work, I would complain about his long working hours. On one such occasion, when I said I had nothing to do, he looked at me and said he'd think over it and tell me what to do in the morning.
The next morning, he pointed to some children playing on the street and asked me to teach them. I then spoke to the children, and asked them if they would like to study. They were ever so keen, but they said "if we study, how will we earn a living?" All these children worked in a nearby factory. Apparently, it wasn't going to be so easy.
I visited the factory, spoke to the owner, and requested him to give the children two hours free to study. He agreed, but I realized I also needed their parents' consent. The parents took some convincing. I emphasized the need for education, to ensure that their children would never be taken for a ride by unscrupulous persons. Eventually, they agreed, and I started something new!
Mehjabeen Sarwar with her husband Ghulam Sarwar Azad.
IMI: The Shah Bano case occurred soon after you had started social work, how did that affect you?
Mahjabeen: I was immensely affected by the Shah Bano case. [To recapitulate for those who do not know the intricacies of the case, in 1978, 62-year old Shah Bano, a Muslim woman from Indore, was divorced by her husband. Subsequently, she approached the court for assistance to secure maintenance from her husband, as she had no means to maintain herself or her children. After seven years, in 1985, her case had reached the Supreme Court, which upheld that a certain amount would be paid to her as maintenance by her estranged husband. Soon after this judgment, many Muslims protested the judgment, saying the apex court could not intervene in matters that should rightly be determined by the Muslim Personal Law. The then ruling party, the Congress Party, pacified these sentiments and agreed to back off. Needless to say Shah Bano was forgotten amid the uproar and political games that were played out. ]
I spoke out at the time, saying that no religion awards a woman as much respect as Islam. Hence, to treat a woman and a wife as a toy, and divorce her merely because she is aged, is absolutely wrong. I emphasized that women must be valued, just as our religion advocates. The backlash of my words was terrific. I cannot describe how much flak I faced and what difficulties we went through. You could say our home was almost bombed. We eventually had to relocate to a new locality - Sultanganj.
IMI: Tell us more about your current activities.
Mahjabeen: I can describe some of our activities as follows:
Ghareloo Dai Sangh is an association that brings maid servants, servants and street children on one platform. It advocates their legal rights and tries to improve their working conditions and wages. We organize seminars, symposiums, corner meetings and rallies to spread awareness of constitutional rights.
We work as a link between government authorities and poor people, and aim to increase their awareness of the number of government plans available for their benefit - such as the family welfare scheme, maternity scheme, janashree bima yojna (insurance scheme) and anna purna yojna (food distribution at subsidized cost scheme for poor people). Many underprivileged people do not know that they can buy rice and wheat at subsidized costs and also avail of some free distribution. Our aim is to help them improve their lot by availing of government schemes intended for their benefit.
We refer family problems or disputes to the Islami Shariat or/and civil court.
We also organize medical camps for the poor, vaccination and check-up camps for children and pregnant women and AIDS awareness camps.
Besides, Safeenah runs 32 basic educational centres.
IMI: Why do you have a special interest in helping handicapped people?
Mahjabeen: I perceive the handicapped as the "really" underprivileged people. I strive to organize the payment of "handicapped pensions" to these persons under government schemes. We run a Madrasa for disabled Muslim girls called Safeenatul-Banat at Khajakhad in Patna. Moreover, we have a special door to door educational program for mentally retarded children. Titled "Teacher at the door", this program recognizes that such children need special attention.
IMI: Are the people you help mostly underprivileged Muslims?
Mahjabeen: I serve all the poor, all the destitute, all the handicapped, irrespective of their religion or caste. My nature does not allow me to segregate people on such bases. My father and my husband have both been very good influences on me - they have never advocated narrow, communal thinking. In fact, we have children of various religions studying at our Madrasas.
IMI: What are your thoughts about educating women?
Mahjabeen: This subject is very dear to me. Women need some formal education or vocational training to be able to stand on their own feet. I feel very sad when I see women maltreated by their husbands or suffering due to their family's economic circumstances. Our training centre offers women and girls courses in fashion design, tailoring, applique work, zari work, embroidery, typing, etc. We teach women simple banking procedures and explain how to go about availing bank loans.
I was once approached by a Dalit woman named Savita. Her husband had a hand-cart but earned very little. She was close to committing suicide. I explained to her that suicide was not the way out and, that as she had to live for her children and herself, she needed to learn a skill to earn a living.
Savita learnt a trade and eventually got settled. I encourage women to learn a skill and set up home businesses. So often, they employ other women to assist them and end up as proprietors of small scale industries. This makes me very happy.
IMI: What, according to you, are the main problems of Indian Muslims?
Mahjabeen: The main problem of Indian Muslims is education. For me, no education translates as, no progress. I believe education is the means for economic equality and is especially a savior for women, enabling them to be financially independent and contribute to their family' welfare. However, when it comes to education, it must be modern. Just as we emphasize the study of all subjects, not only religious studies, but English, Hindi, mathematics, science, geography, history etc in our Madrasas, so Muslim parents must ensure that their children get a modern education wherever they study.
IMI: What are the biggest challenges you have faced, in the course of your work?
The more we do, the more I realize there is so much more to be done. We are always short of funds. I reach very few wards in Patna's municipality. I would like to reach more people. Our activities are currently entirely funded by donations we collect ourselves. We would definitely expand our program if more funds were available.
Dealing with government authorities is also difficult. Being seen as Muslim and poor sometimes works as a hindrance in getting things done. I have also faced red tapism in some government offices.
On the home front, convincing my children that I was doing something right was always difficult. They used to be very skeptical of my work, perhaps because they felt I was sharing my energy with other children. However, ever since I received the award last November, they have not stopped praising my efforts!
For the time being, neither are we! If you would like to help Mahjabeen Sarwar and her husband expand their work, do give them a ring on +91 93343 09626.
[Photos by IndianMuslims.info]
Spurning the Stereotype: India's Largest English Islamic Magazine's Woman Editor
She isn't the stereotypical "Muslim woman", draped in a burqa or kept confined to her home, that the "mainstream" media portrays Muslim women as and as traditionalist Muslim clerics would like them to be. Nigar Ataulla is the editor of India's largest-selling English-language Islamic magazine, Islamic Voice, based in Bangalore. She enjoys the enviable distinction of being one of the few women editors of any major religious periodical in the country.
"Both my parents were academics", the soft-spoken Ataualla tells me, "and they insisted that all their children-we three sisters- should be well-educated and stand on our own feet". After taking a degree in journalism, Ataulla worked for several years with an advertising agency, till she decided that making commercial advertisements was not really what she wanted to do for the rest of her life. "I had an irrepressible urge within to communicate to a wider audience and that is how I entered the field of journalism", she explains. She began by publishing letters in various newspapers, and then did a short stint with "Meantime", a Muslim-owned monthly, till three years ago when she was appointed as editor of Islamic Voice.
A woman heading an Islamic magazine, Ataulla says, may not raise many eyebrows in many other countries, but in India it certainly is a major challenge. Although her appointment as the editor of Islamic Voice did not stir any controversy, she says that some people might have balked at the idea of a woman editor when other, and what they thought of as equally capable, men were available for the job. Managing an Islamic magazine, Attaulla says, is no easy task. "We have to be constantly cautious of how even a minor remark or statement would be received, because some people might get affronted as raise a hue and cry". Since Islamic Voice aims at a broad Muslim audience, unlike many other Islamic magazines that cater to particular Muslim sects, an innocuous article on any issue might be construed as an attack on a particular sect or its beliefs and practices. Attaulla cites an example. "I wanted to write a lead article on the popular practices associated with the celebration of the Prophet's birthday, the processions that are taken out in the streets, the bursting of crackers, feasting and so on. I wanted to say that all this is unnecessary and is not taught in the Quran, but I was not able to do so for fear that it would anger a particular Muslim sect that believes these practices are all allowed for in Islam.
Another major problem that bedevils the Muslim media in India, Attaulla says, is the paucity of people who can write on social issues. "Very few of our contributors are willing to do any field-work or investigative stories that entail travelling to the field. They would prefer to sit in the comfort of their homes or libraries and simply quote from the Qur'an or the sayings of the Prophet on this or that issue, thinking that in this way all our problems will be solved". This simplistic approach, she says, informs Muslim publishing in general in India. "Muslim publishing houses specialise in producing books on Islamic theology and law, and very few of them have published anything on actually existing Muslim communities and their real-world social problems and concerns. They seem to imagine that preaching about Islam is a substitute for actually engaging in understanding and working to change society". Likewise, she says, in the madrasas, where the ulama or Muslim clerics, are trained, students are, in general, kept ignorant of contemporary social reality, because of which they are unable to write on anything other than strictly religious issues. Similarly, few Muslim bookshops stock anything other than religious books. Even fewer sell books by liberal Muslim thinkers." For these sorts of books", Attaulla tells me, "I inevitably have to go to non-Muslim bookshops. I think this really tells a lot about the level of intellectual discourse in our community".
Attaulla pleads for Muslim journalists and publishing houses to think beyond simply religious issues narrowly defined. "It's as if they believe that confronting the real world, which is far from the ideal world that they aspire to, might weaken their own faith. This has to change if Muslim journalism is to be responsive to people's lived realities", she insists. An "obsessive concern" for religious issues, and ignoring other aspects of life, she says, is a dominant feature of much of the Muslim press. "Muslims, as a rule, respond only to religious issues or issues that concern them alone", she says. "We need to think also of the wider society, and of issues other than those strictly religious as well. How else can we expect others to take an interest in our issues and problems?", she asks.
"Most Muslim publishing houses and organisations are ideologically driven", Attaulla explains. "They are associated with one or the other Muslim sect and see their mission as promoting that particular sectarian view in the name of Islam". Consequently, alternate views are frowned upon and are often sought to be suppressed. She cites the instance of a function organised recently in Bangalore by a certain Islamic organisation that included a book exhibition. "The organisers sent out a list to the different groups setting up bookstalls at the event mentioning the titles of the books that could be advertised or sold. Many of the groups protested at this attempt at moral policing and refused to participate in the function. Unless we are able to openly express diverse views and engage in dialogue, rather than branding each other as enemies how can we progress?", she asks, explaining that Islamic Voice seeks to rise above sectarian differences and thereby help promote a climate conducive to dialogue within the community as also between Muslims and Hindus.
Our conversation turns to the issue of Muslim women and their portrayal in the media. Attaulla admits that the "mainstream" Indian media does have a tendency to sensationalise the marginalisation of Muslim women and thereby portray Islam as "obscurantist". "Mainstream" papers rarely publish any positive stories about Muslim women, thereby reinforcing the stereotypical image of Muslim women as oppressed and pathetic creatures. At the same time, Ataulla argues, deeply-entrenched patriarchal structures and prejudices within the community cannot be ignored and must also be challenged. Yet, she adds, patriarchy and women's oppression, she says, is a universal phenomenon and one that is by no means specific to Muslims alone. Hence, she says, Muslim women must also work with their sisters in other communities to critique patriarchy and struggle for their rights. Ataulla believes many secular women's groups are seriously committed to Muslim women's issues, and she herself has worked with them on numerous occasions. She tells me, with approval, of the Muslim women who regularly approach a secular women's group in Bangalore for counselling or who visit the family court located in the Police commissioner's office for help. "If the ulema or Muslim organisations are unable to provide them the support and comfort they need, it is but right that these women should look for other sources of help. After all, these other groups are not engaged in any anti-Islamic conspiracy, as is sometimes alleged by some Muslims", she says.
Attaulla describes herself as a believing and practising Muslim. She does not see Islam, as she understands it, as sanctioning gender inequality. "I believe that every woman must be educated and must also be economically independent, even after marriage", she insists. She sees nothing "un-Islamic" about this, and argues that the opinion of the conservative ulema that women must remained confined to their homes is not strictly Quranic. "The argument that women must always be accompanied by men every time they step out of their homes is completely wrong", she says. "Why should women be controlled in this way? Islam preaches freedom, so it is not Islamically legitimate to oppose a woman's basic freedom, provided she abides by basic moral virtues. The same holds true in the case of a man, although, unfortunately, this issue is hardly ever raised.
Rethinking traditional rulings on a range of issues, including women, Ataulla argues, is imperative in order to develop a relevant understanding of Islam for today. The conservative ulema who insist on women being kept cloistered in their homes have mistaken medieval Muslim jurisprudence or fiqh for the divine law or shariah, she explains, and says that this has led to the growing irrelevance of many of their pronouncements on women which few educated Muslim women would willingly assent to. Medieval fiqh texts, she says, continues to be taught in the madrasas unmodified and are presented as the normative shariah, valid for all time. Since the corpus of medieval fiqh developed in a hierarchal and patriarchal society, it naturally reflects patriarchal biases. "The task before Muslim intellectuals today", Attaulla insists, "is to go back to the Quran for inspiration, instead of blindly following what the medieval scholars said and wrote". The distinction between the letter and the spirit of the shariah must also be kept in mind, she argues, in order to interpret the shariah in consonance with modern concerns and sensibilities. In Attaulla's Quran-centric vision of Islam, women and men have equal rights to education and work outside the home, although, she adds, they must both observe proper decorum and modesty.
Getting across this message of Quranically-mandated gender equality is no easy task, Ataulla admits. The conservative ulema, particularly of the older generation, she says, have been trained in a patriarchal tradition. She places her hopes in the younger generation of ulema coming out of somewhat more progressive madrasas like the Nadwat ul-Ulema in Lucknow, who recognise the importance of women's education and empowerment. She cites an instance of a madrasa near Mysore she recently visited, many of whose students are from the Nadwat ul-Ulema. She was the first woman to speak at the madrasa, and the students, she says, were "very open" to the idea of being lectured to for the first time in their lives by a woman.
The press is a crucial means for promoting gender justice, Ataulla says, but laments that the Muslim press has not seriously taken up this issue. More often than not, she says, Muslim papers uncritically uphold and defend the views on women of the traditionalist ulema. If more Muslim women were to take to writing, she says, they might offer different, more progressive, understandings of Islam, including on the issue of women. As of now, few women are doing that. This owes to several factors, including low female literacy among Muslims, the small middle class among the community that can spearhead reforms and articulate new, more gender-positive understandings of Islam, and the fact that many people believe that women are not qualified enough to speak authoritatively about their religion. "We would love to carry more stories written by women in Islamic Voice", Attaulla says, "but we receive so few of them. Most of them are from abroad, and the stuff we get from most women in India are either poems or else quotations from the Quran and sayings of the Prophet. We get very few articles from our women contributors, and indeed from men as well, on the actual living conditions of Muslim women or on modernist understandings of Islam and gender justice that are being articulated today in some Arab and Western Muslim scholars and activists.
Attaulla has mixed feelings on the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board, that imagines itself as the sole spokesman of all the Muslims of India. She says, "The Board cannot be wished away, but it certainly must be reformed". She sees it as dominated by older generation ulema, many of whom are out of touch with the times, and argues for the inclusion of younger, more open-minded ulema, particularly from south India, as well as community activists. She also stresses the need to include many more women in the Board, complaining that the few women who are presently members of the Board are not taken seriously. Having more educated and socially involved women members might force the Board to take women's issues more seriously than it has so far. Partly because of the silence of Muslim women's voices within the Board, she says, the Board has been unable or unwilling to listen to their demands for reforming Muslim Personal Law. In this regard she terms the Board's recently released "model" nikahnamah or marriage contract as failing to meet women's demands. "It does not outlaw the un-Quranic practice of triple talaq in one sitting, and nor does it insist on the need for absolute equality and justice between the wives in the case of a polygamous marriage", she complains. The exclusion of tafweez-e talaq or delegated divorce that allows for the dissolution of a marriage if the husband fails to meet certain specified conditions is equally "unfortunate", she says, although she adds that the inclusion of a clause in the nikahnamah specifying the mehr or dower received by or promised to the wife is a welcome step.
On the Board's controversial appeal to Muslims to have their marital disputes solved in dar ul-qazas or shariah courts manned by traditionalist ulema, instead of the state courts Attaulla is clearly not enthusiastic. It is likely that women may not be able to get justice from these parallel courts, she says, because the ulema who man them generally uphold the rules of medieval fiqh that militate against women's equality, and also because in their decisions the state courts would be more likely to be governed by the facts of the case than by a dogged commitment to medieval fiqh prescriptions, in contrast to the ulema. She disagrees with the argument, put forward by some members of the Board, that the state courts are not competent to try cases under Muslim Personal Law or that they might be engaged in a "conspiracy" to "destroy" Islam and Muslim identity by interpreting the shariah in a manner that, while granting women more rights, departs from traditional notions of fiqh. "Muslims do feel that their identity is threatened, especially from Hindutva chauvinists, but I think we Muslims also overdo this conspiracy theory sometimes. It is ridiculous to claim that just about everything that the government wants to do for Muslims is actually a so-called anti-Islamic conspiracy", she exclaims.
It is now prayer-time and the call of the muezzin from the mosque nearby rings out. I take my leave and, walking down the street in the scorching sun, I muse about the fallacy of stereotypes and of how the woman I have just met hardly fits the mould of the stereotypical Muslim woman that the "mainstream" media, the conservative ulema and die-hard Islamists have so sedulously colluded in constructing.
'Islamic Voice', the magazine that Nigar Ataulla edits, can be accessed online on www.islamicvoice.com
72-year old Maulana Jalaluddin Umri was recently elected the Amir or President of the Jamaat-e Islami Hind. In this interview with Nigar Ataulla and Yoginder Sikand he talks about his vision for the Jamaat in the coming years.
Q: Could you tell us something about yourself and your background?
A: I was born in a village in North Arcot district in Tamil Nadu in 1935. I studied in an Urdu school in my village and then went to a well-known madrasa in Oomerabad, the Jamia Dar us-Salaam, where I completed a nine-year fazil course. After that, I spent a little more than two years at the Jamaat-e Islami Hindâ€™s headquarters, then in Rampur, in Uttar Pradesh. There, I studied informally from various scholars. In 1956 I joined the Jamaat-e Islami as a member and began working with the Idara-e Tasneef, the Jamaatâ€™s research and publications department and continued there for around 15 years. Thereafter, I shifted to Aligarh, where I edited Jamaatâ€™s monthly Zindagi for some years and then took to editing the quarterly Islamic research journal Tahqiqat-e Islami, which I have carried on for the last twenty-five years.
Q: What particular areas would you like to focus on as the new Amir of the Jamaat-e Islami?
A: I think we should carry on in the same broad direction as before, although giving particular attention to some issues that have not perhaps received the sort of focus that they should have. One of these is inter-faith or inter-community dialogue. The Quran stresses this and says that Muslims should seek to dialogue with others, no matter what their religion. This is also a means to tell others about Islam. The Jamaat has been doing this sort of work for many years, such as through publishing translations of the Quran in various languages and bringing out a Hindi magazine, Kanti, since 1958, which has a large number of non-Muslim readers. But I feel that we must give more focus to dialogue work than we have in the past. Islam has been present in India for more than a thousand years, but yet a large section of non-Muslim Indians remain ignorant about it. They wrongly think that it is the religion of a particular community of people known as Muslims, while actually Islam addresses itself to the entire humankind. And so they mistakenly think that if some people among such a numerically large community as the Indian Muslims commit a wrong act, in doing so they are dictated by their religion, which is not true. After all, there are people who do bad deeds in all communities. So, dialogue is also essential to tell others about Islam and to remove the misconceptions they might have about Islam and Muslims.
Inter-faith dialogue is necessary to preserve and protect the democratic set-up of the country, so that each community is given its rights, including the right to freely practice and propagate its religion. If thereâ€™s no dialogue there will be conflict and that augurs ill for the progress of the country as a whole. Through dialogue we can tell others about the Islamic perspective on various social and ethical issues. We want democracy to get strengthened. A vibrant democratic environment guarantees such processes of dialogue and reaching out, leading to a cultural fusion which can pave the way for the peaceful co-existence of different cultural streams in this country. We, of course, do not want to force anything on anyone. You can listen to what we have to say if you want, or else you can refuse, but that democratic space for articulating different views must be preserved.
Q: So, what you are saying is that dialogue is also a means to address issues of common social concern. Is that right?
A: Yes, of course. The Jamaatâ€™s efforts to reach out to non-Muslims have so far been quite limited, restricted mainly to a particular class. The question is of how to make this effort more mass-based. Islam has not become an issue for India, except in a negative sense, as reflected in the negative stereotypical images of Islam and Muslims in the media. We need to make efforts to see that Islam is focused on in this country, but in the positive senseâ€”in terms of providing solutions for the countryâ€™s problems, through which people of different communities can work together for common purposes. Unfortunately, we have not made use of the media as we should have for this sort of work, for which there is much scope and potential.
Q: Given this, do you feel the need for any shift in the Jamaatâ€™s media policy?
A: Certainly. We need to use the mass media to clear peopleâ€™s misconceptions about Islam and Muslims and to show them the positive role that Islam and its adherents can play in addressing problems facing the country. The Jamaat brings out magazines and periodicals in various languages, but these have not been very effective in influencing public opinion, because they are read mainly by Muslims themselves. If a story or a report is published in one of our magazines, it does not receive attention outside a limited, mainly Muslim, circle. But if the same story is published in a â€˜mainstreamâ€™ newspaper it does. It becomes an issue. This reflects the fact that our media is not very effective in reaching out to a wider, particularly non-Muslim, readership or audience. One exception to this is the Malayalam periodical that we publish from Kerala, Madhyamam, which has a large readership, including among non-Muslims, and which also plays a role in shaping or influencing Kerala politics.
Q: Some years ago the Jamaat set up what it called its Media Cell. How has that been functioning?
A: I donâ€™t think it has been very effective. The Media Cell limited itself to documenting articles or reports in the media that concern Muslims and providing information on such issues to Jamaat leaders. I think we need to move much beyond this and build up a proper media team. This holds true for other Muslim organizations as well, so that their voices are heard beyond the confines of the community, too. Now, for this, I think it is crucial to reach out to non-Muslims in the media. There are many Hindus and others in the media who strongly believe that different views should be allowed to flourish. We need to approach them to put forward our views and the concerns of Muslims.
Q: But do you see a tendency on the part of the non-Muslim Indian media to present Muslims and Islam in a particular negative light?
A: Such tendencies are there, but we must not generalise. Yes, some forces have a vested interest in propagating such stereotypically negative views about Islam and Muslims. Once, a non-Muslim told me, â€˜Muslims did this and that in India when they ruled the countryâ€™. I simply answered, â€˜I am not a historian. I can only talk of Islam. I can only say if a deed done by a certain person calling himself a Muslimâ€”be it the Mughal Emperor Babur or Akbar or Aurangzebâ€”was in accordance with Islam or not. I cannot defend any ruler simply because he claimed to be Muslim, if his actions were not in accordance with Islamâ€™. I told him, â€˜You should not equate Islam with Muslims or with Muslim rulersâ€™. Unfortunately, that is what a large section of the media actually does.
But, that said, one has to say that there are many fair-minded Hindus and others in the Indian media. They want to present the facts about Muslims and Islam in an objective manner, because they believe that Muslims, as fellow Indians and as human beings, ought to have their rights as well as lives protected. In fact, some of these people were far more vocal in highlighting and protesting against the recent massacre of Muslims in Gujarat than Muslim media persons. We need to reach out to such people. This we can do through organizing seminars, conferences, etc. The Jamaat has tried doing this, but we really must expand our work in this regard. Further, we should encourage Muslims, including those associated with the Jamaat, to enter the media, including the non-Muslim-owned media, where they can present Islam and Muslims in an objective and fair manner and highlight the problems of the community.
Q: The Jamaat has been accused of seeking to dialogue with anti-Muslim Hindutva forces, including the RSS. This, for instance, happened in the 1970s, during the state of Emergency declared by Indira Gandhi. Is this a fair assessment? And is there any point of dialoguing with such groups whose ideology is itself based on a violently anti-Muslim agenda?
A: See, during the Emergency, RSS and Jamaat people were together in prison. Just because the RSS was banned, the Government banned us as well, in order to present itself as â€˜balancedâ€™. So, in jail we lived together from morning to evening. We had the opportunity to dialogue only with them, not because we felt that they were the only people we should dialogue with, but because there were few other people with us in jail. So, that was just a question of chance. However, you can say that after Jamaat activists were released from jail they did not make full use of the opportunities they had to engage in dialogue work at a broader level. Maybe they were too caught up in trying to revive the Jamaat after being in prison for almost two years.
Now, as for your question as to whether or not there is any use dialoguing with Hindutva groups, I say that let anyone be anything, that should not stop us from our task of telling others about our faith. After all, there were many people who were very opposed to Islam at the time of the Prophet, but the Prophet did not stop his preaching, and, ultimately, they were impressed by what he preached and by his example and so they accepted Islam. So, human beings can change their views over time. But, of course, if you feel that after consistently trying to convince someone of your stand he refuses to listen then you should turn your attention to others.
Q: Some Muslim leaders and organizations argue that Muslims must dialogue particularly with other similarly marginalized communities in the country, such as Dalits, Adivasis and other so-called â€˜lowâ€™ castes, instead of seeking to dialogue with â€˜upperâ€™ caste Hindus. What are your views on this?
A: See, Islam is for all people, not just for a particular community. So, we have to reach out to all. However, it is true that historically, in India and in many other places, Islam appealed particularly to the poor and the oppressed. But this it did not by instigating the poor against the rich but by stressing the rights that the poor have on the rich and the fact that we are all fellow creatures of God. In Godâ€™s eyes, it is piety, not poverty or riches that count.
That said, yes, I agree that we also need to address other marginalized communities living in India. This should be based on the conviction that all peoples must get the rights that the Constitution of India promises them as citizens of the country. We must support every group, irrespective of religion or caste, to get these rights if they are denied them, because the state itself says that these rights belong to all. If anyone commits aggression or oppresses someone else, we, as Muslims, have the duty to denounce this.
Dialogue between Muslims and Dalits and other such marginalized communities has not really taken any systematic form. Sometimes such groups seek to cooperate with the Jamaat or with Muslims at the political level, on political issues and for political purposes. They really do not have any concern with what Islam has to say. Their point is simply that we are marginalized and so too are you, and so we should join hands. But I feel that this should not be the only issue for unity. We must also be able to tell them about how Islam can address their problems and concerns.
Q: There is talk now of the Jamaat considering joining the field of electoral politics. Is this true?
A: Yes. Earlier we had decided to participate in local level elections in some states, and in some places we have actually done so. This is in order to provide an opportunity for us to serve people. But because we are not very influential now, we have decided that at the state or national level we should support those parties who champion rights for all as against parties, such as those based on the Hindutva ideology, that seek to impose a particular culture on all Indians.
Q: The Congress-led Government-appointed Sachar Commission has just come out with its Report, which clearly shows the levels of marginalisation that Muslims suffer in India. Do you think the Government will act on the recommendations of the Report?
A: I donâ€™t know if the Government is at all serious about doing anything about these recommendations or if it is simply using the Report as a vote-grabbing gimmick by pleasing Muslims by making promises that it will not keep. The Report does not tell us anything new. Previous Government-appointed commissions, such as the Gopal Singh Committee, made the same point about Muslim marginalisation. But at least the Sachar Commission has prepared a detailed document, with figures and statistics to back it, which can be used to counter the Hindutva claim about alleged â€˜Muslim appeasementâ€™ and to show the level of Muslim marginalisation. Suppose a Muslim organization had prepared a report like the Sachar Commission Report, making the same arguments and presenting the same statistics and facts, many non-Muslims, as well as the Government, may not have accepted it. They might have accused it of being unreliable and biased simply because a Muslim organization had commissioned it. But now a Government-appointed Commission has highlighted the deplorable conditions of the Muslims, so no one can deny this.
So, as I said, I do not know if the Government will act on any or some or all of the recommendations of the Sachar Commission. All I can say is that, besides making some announcements, so far nothing practical has been done by the Government in this regard.
Q: Thatâ€™s about the role of the state in addressing the fact of Muslim economic and educational marginalisation. What role do you see for Muslim organizations like the Jamaat?
A: The Jamaat has been involved in setting up educational and health institutions in a modest way. This is particularly the case in South India, where individuals associated with the Jamaat, along with local people, have set up schools, colleges and hospitals, several of which also cater to non-Muslims, too. I think we need to increase our focus on social and educational development-related issues, to benefit Muslims as well as non-Muslims. We need to work out means to promote both modern as well as religious education among the Muslim youth especially, because, particularly in the north, Muslims lag behind in education and the school drop-out rate is very high. Without modern education the community cannot progress and so this should be one of our major priorities. Of course, we have limited resources for all this, because, after all, we are not a state!
Q: In South India the Jamaat seems better organized and more socially engaged than in the North, although the majority of the Indian Muslims reside in North India. Perhaps this is also true for other Muslim organizations. How do you account for this?
A: Yes, this is true. Before the Partition, North India was leading. Most Muslim leaders, religious and political, came from there, especially from Delhi and what is now Uttar Pradesh. But the Partition hit North Indian Muslims particularly badly. Many middle-class and modern educated Muslims of the area migrated to Pakistan. Then came the Zamindari abolition, which hit the Muslim landlord class in the north. This, and the sub-division of small holdings, reduced large numbers of Muslims to penury. In contrast, the Partition did not affect South India much, except for small pockets like Hyderabad. Few South Indian Muslims migrated to Pakistan. Economically, too, they were saved the drastic decline that the North Indian Muslims faced, because there were and still are strong Muslim trading groups in the south. Then, unlike in South India, in large parts of the north, Muslims, in their opposition to British rule, also opposed English education, which made them lag behind. Also, historically, relations between Hindus and Muslims in South India have been much better than in the north, which, for centuries, has witnessed so many battles and conflicts. Because of this, Muslims in the south have been able to organize themselves and establish institutions for the community in a much more effective way than in the north. In Tamil Nadu, where I come from, Muslims form just around five per cent of the population, but there is a substantial well-educated and prosperous class among them. In contrast to the north, Muslims are more respected in Tamil Nadu. So, for instance, you wonâ€™t find anyone deliberately annoying Muslims by playing music before mosques there and so on. Although communal forces are getting strong in the south now, I think this difference with the north still remains, by and large.
Q: Given the fact that various Islamist groups are engaged in the Kashmir conflict, what role do you think an Islamic organization such as the Jamaat-e Islami can play in finding a solution to the problem?
A: There is no alternative to better relations between India and Pakistan. The Kashmir conflict can only be solved through peaceful dialogue. We have had three wars over Kashmir already and we are not any closer to a solution for this. Both India and Pakistan are atomic powers and if they decide to fight each other, not just Kashmir, but the whole of the subcontinent can go into flames. The best way out is to recognize that Kashmir is an issue and then arrive at a solution that satisfies India, Pakistan and the peoples of Jammu and Kashmir.
Q: Some Islamist groups in Pakistan and Kashmir claim that the Kashmir conflict is essentially a war between Islam and â€˜infidelityâ€™. How do you see this argument?
A: No, no, the issue is entirely political. It has nothing to do with religion. It is not, as some might say, a conflict between Islam and infidelity. What the Kashmiris are asking for is the right to political self-determination. I donâ€™t know of any Kashmiri militant group which claims that its struggle is aimed at establishing an Islamic system of governance in Kashmir.
Q: But groups like the Lashkar-e Tayyeba and the Hizb ul-Mujahidin, for instance, make that sort of claim.
A: No, this is wrong. They might say that they want to establish Nizam-e Mustafa or an Islamic state, but, in actual fact, the conflict does not relate to religion as such but to the fact that in 1947 Kashmir was an independent state and that its inhabitants had the right to decide their own political future. I donâ€™t think the conflict is about establishing an Islamic state, in contrast to what some groups might claim. Actually, one does not even know what the Kashmiris actually want. Some might want independence. Others might want to join Pakistan or India. But, as I said, the only way out is through peaceful dialogue, not violence, and the sooner the parties to the conflict realize this, the better.
By Yoginder Sikand
Maulana Kalbe Sadiq, a leading Shia Muslim scholar, is the Vice-President of the All-India Muslim Personal law Board (AIMPLB). He has a Ph.D. in Arabic from Lucknow University and runs a chain of schools and colleges in Uttar Pradesh. In this interview with Yoginder Sikand, he talks about his vision for the Muslims of India and reflects on crucial international developments.
Q: While being a religious scholar (alim), you are also engaged in promoting modern education among Muslims. What role do you feel the ulema should play in the field of education? A: I think one of the most crucial challenges facing the Muslims of India is that of education. We must make that one of our foremost priorities. There may be some ulema who do not recognize the importance of modern education, but, increasingly, the ulema, both Shia as well as Sunni, are realizing it. Imam Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet, said that he who doesn't know about something, he becomes its enemy. Likewise, there may be some maulvis who know nothing about modern education or science and, therefore, oppose it. However, these are increasingly becoming a smaller minority.
But on the other hand, this saying of Imam Ali also applies to those who have 'modern' knowledge but know nothing about religion, and so they also begin to oppose it or neglect it, thinking that it is a sign of 'backwardness'.
Personally, I see myself as in between these two extremes. I feel that our survival depends critically on excellence in modern education. But I also stress the importance of religious knowledge. Through science and technology you can control the world, but true religion means control over oneself, one's soul. And so you find big scientists spending their lives inventing machines to destroy human beings because they have no faith in God. So, I keep stressing, what we need is both 'modern' as well as religious education.
The Sachar Commission report has brought out the fact that Muslims are behind even Dalits in terms of education and in many other fields. Hence, my appeal to Muslims is, for God's sake, open your eyes. This time is not for building palatial mosques, but, instead, for using our resources for setting up schools, colleges, polytechnics and research institutes. I also say that much of what is being taught in the name of religion has nothing top do with true religion or spirituality. True religion inheres in values, not just rituals. But, unfortunately, much of what is imparted in the name of religious education is ritualism, without the foundational values of true religion.
Q: What do you feel about the government's proposals for intervening in the madrasas in the name of 'reform'? A: Muslim opinion on this is divided. Some Muslims favour this and others oppose it. So, I can't really give any opinion on the matter. But the point is that merely installing two or three computers in a madrasa and teaching basic English and mathematics will not lead to any substantial change. Madrasas need to change their basic approach. They need to adopt modern ways of approaching a host of issues. We urgently need to exercise creative reflection (ijtihad) in order to meet contemporary challenges.
Q: In the Jafari Shia school of jurisprudence, which you represent, ijtihad is allowed for, while many Sunni ulema argue to the contrary. What do you have to say about this? A: Yes, in our school ijtihad has always been open, so our leading clerics or mujtahids are able to creatively respond to contemporary issues through ijtihad. But even among Sunni scholars today many are calling for the 'gates of ijtihad' to be re-opened. This will probably happen soon, if not today, then tomorrow, because it is not possible to have a stagnant jurisprudence (fiqh) for a constantly and rapidly changing world.
Q: In India today, a growing number of ulema are setting up 'modern' schools, which provide both 'modern' as well as Islamic education. How do you see this? A: I think it is a very positive development. However, many of these schools are of mediocre standard. A person should do what he or she is trained for or capable of. But many of the ulema who run these schools seek to tightly control them even though they do not have any 'modern' education themselves. This, I think, is wrong, and only results in poor standards. In my own case, I have been associated with the setting up of numerous schools and colleges, and even a medical college in Lucknow, but I have left the management of these institutions to a professional team and do not interfere in their day-to-day functioning. Unfortunately, many top-ranking mullahs who control institutions are victims of enormous egoism and that is why they want to treat their institutions like their own private properties.
Q: Muslim education, in India and elsewhere, is characterized by an extreme dualism, between the ulema of the madrasas, on the one hand, and the 'modern' educated middle class, on the other hand. How can this dualism be bridged? A: Rather than term it as dualism, I would prefer to see this as representing two channels of education. Only if and when these two channels meet can our woeful educational conditions really change. At present, there is hardly any communication between the two groups, as a result of which there are great apprehensions, misgivings and misunderstandings on both sides. We must appreciate the good points in both systems of education and seek to bring them together.
For this, too, we need to take recourse to ijtihad so that our approach, in the field of education, as elsewhere, is based on the ethical values of Islam, rather than on empty ritualism. Imam Ali told his son, Hazrat Muhammad bin Hanafiya, that when one goes to some other land one should not isolate oneself. He advised that one should abide by one's values and yet adopt the good things that one finds among the people one lives with. So, in the field of education, as in other fields, Muslims should take good things from others and there is nothing wrong with that.
Q: What do you think the state should do for Muslim education? A: Muslims expect a lot from the government, but the government is so corrupt. We don't have real democracy in India. Real democracy means the protection of the rights of the minorities, not brute majoritarian rule. But, sadly, in India minorities are not given their due. But then, expecting that the government alone should shoulder the responsibility of solving Muslims' educational problems is asking for something that even God does not allow for. In the Holy Quran God says that He does not change the conditions of a people unless they make efforts to change these themselves. So, those Muslims who demand that the government should change its policies but are themselves unwilling to change or to do anything positive and constructive for the community are living in a fool's paradise. In other words, Muslims have to take the initiative themselves, while, of course, the government also has to abide by its duties. Unless Muslims themselves make efforts to promote education in the community nothing is going to change.
Q: What role do you feel the ulema could or should play in promoting inter-sectarian and inter-communal harmony in India? A: I think that in this regard their first responsibility is to refrain from inciting Muslims to take to violence under any condition. They must also seek to promote dialogue and unity between the different Muslim sects. In this they must focus on the things that the different Muslim sects share in common—which, if I have to quantify it, would be over 97%--and refrain from using the 3% things on which they differ in order to divide them.
As for inter-religious dialogue, I think the Muslim ulema and religious scholars from other religious traditions need to take it up with great seriousness and urgency. This is the only way to solve inter-community disputes. I have read about other religions and have come to the conclusion that while they differ in matters of ritual, if one goes to their core and studies them in-depth, one finds that many of them share the same spiritual basis. We need to build on that shared spirituality.
Q: What efforts are being made to promote inter-sectarian dialogue, especially between Shias and Sunnis? A: Although this is very important, in India there are no organized efforts to promote inter-sectarian dialogue between the ulema of different sects. I think this is really very unfortunate. However, despite this, the demand for dialogue and unity is being voiced from various quarters, although some extremist, false mullahs might oppose this. In India, groups like the Jamaat-e Islami, the All-India Muslim Personal law Board and the Milli Council have repeatedly stressed the need for unity between the different Muslim sects.
Q: What about efforts to promote Shia-Sunni dialogue in other countries? A: In Pakistan, a Deobandi scholar, Maulana Ishad Madani, recently challenged anyone who can justify the denial of the need for Sunni-Shia dialogue. A leading Indian Deobandi scholar, Maulana Khalid Saifullah Rahmani, recently wrote a wonderful article stressing the need for Shia-Sunni unity and dialogue. In Iran several efforts are being made in this regard. For instance, every year the Iranian government celebrates the 'Unity Week' (hafta-e wahdat), and invites Sunni and Shia ulema and activists from different countries to participate together and to stress Muslim unity.
Q: But some hardliner Sunnis would argue that this is not a sincere effort and would claim that this is a 'pretence', referring to the Shia notion of taqiyya or dissimulation. A: Let these critics say what they want. But I know that the government of Iran is indeed serious about this. After all, in Iran, where Shias are an overwhelming majority and Sunnis a small minority, there is no Shia-Sunni problem. Likewise, in Iraq, where Shias account for 65% of the population, although fringe groups like Al-Qaeda are targeting Shias and their holy sites, the Iraqi Shia religious leadership has constantly warned the Shias against falling into the American trap by retaliating against the Sunnis. They have stressed the need for Iraqi Shias and Sunnis to be united and stand up against the American occupying forces. This is surely a sign of a very great and mature leadership. America is trying to set Sunnis and Shias against each other in Iraq and elsewhere, and Muslims should see through this sinister game.
Q: What role has the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board, of which you are the Vice-President, played in promoting Shia-Sunni dialogue? A: The issue of Shia-Sunni dialogue is not within the purview of the Board, whose focus is only the 1937 Shariat Application Act. However, the fact that Shias and Sunnis have representatives on the Board is itself of considerable significance. But, still, I do feel the need for an organized forum here in India, as well as elsewhere, to bring the ulema of the different Muslim sects together. We should move away from the past and think of our common future. It is pointless talking about what happened between Shias and Sunis in the past. What's happened has happened, and that we cannot change. But we can build a better common future if we work together. Instead of thinking of the welfare of just our own sects, we should think in terms of general Muslim welfare and interests.
Q: In Lucknow, where you live and work, there have been cases of conflict between Shias and Sunnis. What role have local Shia and Sunni ulema played in defusing this tension? Do they visit each other's institutions and madrasas to exchange views? A: There is a tremendous communication gap between the ulema of the different Muslim sects here. I think I must be one of the only ulema in Lucknow who visit the institutions of other sects. I have visited the Nadwat ul-Ulema, a leading Sunni madrasa in Lucknow, several times and have interacted with students and teachers there in a very friendly atmosphere. I have visited another major Sunni madrasa in Uttar Pradesh, the Madrasat ul-Islah in Sarai Mir, in Azamgarh, a couple of times. I was also invited to the Ahl-e Hadith mosque in Malerkotla, Punjab, where I delivered three lectures, which were well received. I have good contacts with leading Sunni ulema.
Q: Some extreme anti-Shia groups, such as some official Saudi Wahhabi ulema, have gone to the extent of claiming that Shias are non-Muslims. How do statements like these impact on efforts to promote Shia-Sunni dialogue and unity? A: The Saudi government is a slave of the United States. It instigates these mullahs to issue such fatwas against the Shias in order to protect its own interests as well as that of America. Some Saudi mullahs have declared that Muslim holy shrines in Iran and Iraq, which the Shias particularly revere, should be bombed. Likewise, Tom Tancredo, the US Republican Party's presidential hopeful, recently announced that America should, if need be, bomb the Muslim shrines in Makkah and Madinah, which all Muslims hold in great regard. You can see how the perverted logic of both is the same. I would appeal to all Muslims, Sunnis as well as Shias, to see through this game and not fall into efforts to divide them.
Q: In your speeches, you constantly refer to the need for the ulema to be more socially engaged. You yourself are engaged in a number of community projects, especially in the field of education. What role do you envisage for the ulema in this regard? A: The Holy Quran tells us to leave aside those things that don't give any benefit to people. So, we need to develop a socially engaged understanding of Islam that enables us to help people in concrete ways. Otherwise, the youth will ask us why we are building fancy mosques but doing nothing for the poor, when the essence of Islam is to help those in need.
This means that the ulema must be more socially engaged than they presently are.. They must come out of their mosques, madrasas and khanqahs and move among the masses, understand their economic and social problems and seek to solve them in practical terms. They must raise their voice against oppression, no matter what the religion of the oppressor is. However, unfortunately, most ulema have forgotten this responsibility and restrict themselves to leading prayers and giving fatwas.
Q: You, along with some associates, have recently taken over the management of the Urdu daily Aag. What do you have to say about the Indian Muslim media, particularly in the light of your own experiences in this field? A: The Indian Muslim media is not very effective. There is no electronic Muslim media, besides one or two religious channels. The Urdu print media leaves much to be desired. Urdu papers tend to focus on emotional issues, ignoring positive news and developments. If many of our Urdu editors are ignorant and not well-educated, what else can you expect? Now this sort of emotional rhetoric can, of course, boost their sales but it will have a very negative impact on the future Muslim generations. After all, our problems can be solved only through dialogue and wisdom, not through emotional sloganeering. Further, much of the Muslim media is obsessed with the past, wallowing in the past Muslim glory.
Through Aag, we want to steer a new course in Urdu journalism, focusing more on positive and constructive issues, and staying clearly away from empty emotionalism. In a few months' time since we took over Aag, it has become the single largest circulated Urdu paper in Lucknow and we hope to launch a Delhi edition soon, too.
Q: You yourself have studied in leading madrasas in Lucknow, the Madrasat ul-Waizin and the Madrasa Nazmiya. How do you see the increasing attacks on madrasas in the media today? A: I can say with full confidence that no madrasa in India, whether Shia or Sunni, is engaged in providing any sort of terrorist training. There are indeed some in Pakistan that are doing this, but this does not apply to India at all. I think this talk of Indian madrasas being allegedly engaged in promoting terrorism has been deliberately engineered by communal parties and outfits. These groups do not want to see the truth, so even if we try to explain the reality of the madrasas to them, they will not listen or cease their anti-madrasa propaganda. I think they are deliberately doing this so that Muslims devote all their attention to defending madrasas, thus leaving them no breathing space to focus on modern education. It is a means, actually, to perpetuate Muslim educational marginalisation.
Our madrasas are open for all to see. They impart the message of humanity, not terrorism. Anyone can come to the madrasas and see this for oneself. And in the case of the Shia madrasas, I can confidently say that we give equal stress on worship of God and the service of God's creatures. Shias believe that you cannot, under any condition, give up your own life unless it is to save the life of an innocent person, irrespective of her or his religion.
Q: What do you have to say about the demonisation of madrasas in the Western media? A: This is part of the larger Western design to demonise Islam. The West needs an enemy to survive, to seek an excuse for its imperialistic offensives. And if such an enemy does not really exist, it has to conjure up a ghost and use it to scare people. So, following the collapse of communism, the West and Zionist forces, desperately searching for an enemy, decided to project Muslims as the new foe. They began claiming that Islam presents a danger to the world and in this way sought to create hatred against Islam and its adherents. And while their are terrorists among Christians, Jews and Hindus as well, the media only refers to Muslims when it talks of terrorism. This is part of a well-planned strategy.
We must be dispassionate when discussing the issue of violence in many Muslim countries. The West needs to look at the causes of this unrest. Address and remove the basic causes if you are seriously interested in solving the problem. In fact, it is primarily the West, and its client state, Israel, that have created conditions for this unrest. The oppression and denial of the rights of the Palestinians, the invasion of Iraq and so on—all these have naturally created conditions of unrest among Muslims, who wish to retaliate. After all, even if you pinch a little ant, it seeks to defend itself by biting back.
Q: Since you refer to Iraq, what are your views about sectarian conflicts raging there, between Shias and Sunnis? A: This sort of thing never existed in Iraq before the American invasion. There was never any sort of terrorism there before the Americans invaded. My mother was from Iraq and I know the country and its people well. There was never any Shia-Sunni problem in Iraq, and even though Shias are in a majority there relations between Shia and Sunni Iraqis were cordial. It is true that Saddam persecuted Shia leaders and arranged for many of them to be killed, but he also persecuted many Sunnis and caused their deaths, too. Before the Americans invaded, Iraqis rarely thought of themselves as Shias and Sunnis or as rivals on the basis of sect. There was never any communal riot there. All this started and flared up after the Americans invaded Iraq in the name of bringing 'peace' and 'democracy' to that country. And I think the Americans are deliberately trying to stoke sectarian rivalry in Iraq and prolong the civil war so that they can divide and rule.
Q: Some Muslims argue that America is anti-Islam or anti-Muslim, and see its invasion of Iraq, among other developments, as proof of this. Do you agree? A: One has to distinguish between the American people and the current American government. I am not saying that all Americans are anti-Islam. This is not true. However, the Bush administration certainly is anti-Islam. This owes, in large measure, to the power of the Zionist lobby in America. Pro-Zionist Jews control large banks, many industries and much of the media in America, and if they leave America, the country will collapse. And it is this lobby, in addition to the extreme right-wing Christian lobby, that is behind the clearly anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim policies of the Bush government.
On the other hand, I must also say that many Americans are indeed open-minded. However, they are easily swayed by the media, and the dominant Western media, as I mentioned earlier, has a vested interest in whipping up anti-Muslim hatred. I strongly believe that if we are able to reach out to the American people with the truth, many of them will indeed listen to us and will also agree with us.
Q: There is much talk now of America allegedly planning to attack Iran. What do you think the Iranian, or general Shia, response would be if this happens? A: I don't think the Americans will be so foolish. Hizbullah taught the Americans and the American-backed Israeli army a fitting lesson in the defeat it inflicted on the Israelis in Lebanon. The Shias are a different people. We are not terrorists but we will not run away if challenged. The Americans managed to get some traitors in Iraq to collaborate with them. The history of Iraq is full of tales of such betrayal and intrigue. But in Iran things are very different. All Iranians, even those who have differences with the regime, will solidly unite to oppose any American aggression. And the price of an American attack will be borne not just by America but also by its client regime, Israel.
Editor of TwoCircles.net spoke to Shammi Abidi, ranked 16th this year for Civil Service Examination.
Download the audio from the here.
Muhammad Arif Iqbal is the editor of Urdu Book Review magazine. Through this magazine he has given a new platform to Urdu books and helped raise the quality of book reviews in Urdu. This is an exclusive interview to IndianMuslims.info by Asif Anwar Alig.
IMI: [tell us] something about yourself. Where were you born and brought up?
A: I was born on March 26, 1962 in the Muzaffarpur district of Bihar. I did my matriculation in 1978 and my I. Com in 1980. After completing B.Com in 1982, from Bihar University with distinction, I joined Mithila University in Darbhanga to pursue my M.Com. While getting my Masters, I joined a public school in Muzaffarpur as a teacher. Later I was promoted to Principal of that same school. My association with the student organization, Students Islamic Organization of India (SIO), gave me the chance to serve in its headquarters at Delhi as Secretary of Official Activities. I moved to Delhi in 1985. Unnecessary delays in the session delayed my Masters examinations till 1986. Unfortunately it was delayed further due to my fulltime involvement with SIO.
I retired from SIO by the end of 1989 and joined Markazi Maktaba Islami as Production Manager. During my stay here I got enough chance to contact publishers from different languages including English. I keenly observed and learnt the working style of Urdu publishers. My relationship with the Delhi Publishers Association developed, and I participated in most of its seminars, symposia and workshops. Most major amongst them was the ten-day international publishing workshop of the internally acclaimed institute, Institute of Book Publishing, Delhi (founder S.K Ghai).
IMI: How did you form your bond with Urdu literature?
A: My association with Urdu began during my childhood. I studied Urdu and Persian in school and was fortunate that I got the best teachers in both the subjects. I read books by eminent authors and Islamic scholars in 8th class, and read some chapters of Gulistan & Boostan. I studied books by Allama Iqbal, Maulana Hali, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Maulana Abdus Salam Bastawi, Sir Syed, Maulana Abul Ala Maudoodi, Ibn Safi and Prem Chand as well. Besides Alif Laila I studied some volumes of Tilism-e-Hosh Ruba.
By matriculation I had studied hundreds of books by dozens of authors. From the very beginning I had an interest in suspense novels and read Ibne Safi who was my favorite novelist. After matriculation, I studied English suspense fictions of two prominent authors, Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle. But I found less realism in their books compared to Ibn-e-Safi. Reading and writing in Urdu was my interest thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s why I chose it as one of the subjects in intermediate. I studied the famous book Tarz-e-Nigarish and was made aware of the methodology and technique of translation from English into Urdu. Till graduation I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have any problem in choosing streams of study but afterwards I looked for a specialized subject of study. I studied literature, history, sociology, Islam, biographies and books on religions. Later I also studied books of science and information technology.
IMI: How did you come to launch Urdu Book Review, and how is it different from other journals?
A: My association with the publishing industry and chances to read books of that nature, particularly a book by Marshal Lee Bookmaking and other books How to break into publishing by Margan, gave me ample chances to understand the real picture of modern book publishing. The materialistic mindset of Urdu publishers & vested interest towards Urdu brought the picture in the forefront that their hollow claim of Ã¢â‚¬Å“love for UrduÃ¢â‚¬Â? is nothing but an empty rhetoric. In style, technique and commerciality, Urdu publishers were lagging behind the publishers of English and other languages.
On the other hand so called custodians of Urdu literature --- publishers, intellectuals, authors and poets didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t see the gloomy picture of the Urdu language. Their motive was earning big bucks. In conclusion, their association with Urdu was customary. Still, they were making the utmost efforts to help Urdu survive. A few years before I planned to launch Urdu Book Review, I had studied Islamic Book Review published from England. When I was associated with the publishing industry I studied an English journal Book Review. These journals inspired me to launch Urdu Book Review.
Urdu has an abundance of litterateurs, poets, intelligentsias, Ulemas, teachers, research scholars and students at each and every age. But in independent India nobody thought to publish a journal on the Urdu book industry for the Urdu readers. Seeing this dilapidated situation and negative approach of Urdu book publishers, I felt an ardent need to publish a journal. Though this work was not easy, the first issue of Urdu Book Review came into existence on November 1995 with the help of some of my friends. This thirty-two paged issue got tremendous accolades, and Dr. Aquil Hashmi, the then chairman of Department of Urdu at Osmania University in Hyderabad, wrote a detailed review on it in the Urdu daily Siasat. That initiative placated many magazines/newspapers in India and abroad to publish reviews on Urdu Book Review. Due to its content, presentation and objective approach, Urdu Book Review was recognized in the Urdu world and became famous as a unique journal.
IMI: You have been publishing Urdu Book Review for eleven years now, what kind of difficulties you have faced in this endeavor?
A: Because Urdu Book Review was neither inaugurated by any organization nor did it have any individual support, it faced monetary difficulties from the very inception. Its life members made all efforts to help it run, though. In the beginning, some Urdu littÃƒÂ©rateurs created an environment of non-cooperation, but the Almighty fortified their efforts. Teachers of Urdu didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t give any support to Urdu Book Review either. A large number of them are not cooperating even today.
In contrast to them, teachers and students from other areas of study not only appreciated Urdu Book Review but also supported it morally and financially. These were life members belonging to science and engineering faculties. This journal has not only become a necessity for the Urdu world but also fulfills its requirements with firm determination. There is a lot to be done in order to make it more efficient and beneficial for the masses. Due to lack of funds and associated problems, we donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have a proper office nor do we have staff. But for the past eleven years, Urdu Book Review has been published bimonthly without any interruption.
IMI: What changes you have seen in the last eleven years for Urdu books?
A: In the production of Urdu books, it has of course improved in quality of presentation and publication aspect. There is now a variety in the selection of subjects. The abundance of books on Urdu poetry is not enough though. Other issues are almost untouched or less preferred. There is a dearth of books on comic literature. It is unfortunate that in the 20th century, even after imitating Europe and America, there has been no drastic change amongst the Urdu publishers. There is an increase in the piracy activities.
Development in science and technology has helped make Urdu publishers more ambitious. But Urdu textbooks for curriculum are still in dearth, in science and technology topics Urdu is almost bleak. Also there is not one good Urdu dictionary. If our literati had had a positive approach for Urdu, it would have grown to some extent.
IMI: Why arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t there any Urdu books on the Sciences & Information Technology?
A: When your mood is upset it isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t even possible to eat the best foods that are being served. Likewise, if a language is deprived of the practical life, its creative importance dies down. Creative knowledge is creative literature. Once upon a time Urdu had books in abundance on each and every field of learning. French scholars used to translate contents from Urdu into their own languages for gathering knowledge on different sciences. When Urdu was deprived from practical lives, it lost charm. People began to realize that this language was defunct and so they cut their relations with it instantly.
I myself have studied Chemistry and Physics in Urdu. Hyderabad has seen its golden age where science was taught in Urdu. For the last sixty years Urdu has lost credence due to biasness. Its identity was lost because it didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have any relation to practical life. If Urdu can be associated with practical life then, I hope, there will not be any scarcity of Urdu books for all areas of sciences and other subjects too. This work has already started in Pakistan. In India NCPUL has attempted in this regard and has published books of science in Urdu.
IMI: Why do you think it is that professors of Urdu donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t purchase Urdu magazines and newspapers?
A: When they are provided free then why should one purchase. But it is a truth that if the mental level were changed the output would be likewise. Unfortunately the post independent educational system was designed in such a way that scholars and talents found the scope of their educational achievements in a few scores of bread. University and College professors come into the same group discussed above. They secure degrees, get jobs and have no worries --- their future is secure. They become part of this Ã¢â‚¬Å“political paradox of knowledge.Ã¢â‚¬Â? If they donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t get jobs in universities/colleges they simply join some office.
Reading habits develop through parental inheritance, the environment and from where one belongs. These not only educate generations but also prepare them to learn morality. This is not confined to professors/teachers but applies to all who get an education and have the goal to get a career. Their drawing rooms are full of precious items but they donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have a single shelf where an Urdu book can find a place.
IMI: Why is it that Urdu does not have a magazine like Competition Master?
A: If the custodians of Urdu look into this area there is no reason why such magazines cannot come out before us. Attempts have been made in Maharashtra recently, to achieve this.
IMI: What can you tell us about the future of Urdu Book Review?
A: I am anxious about the future of Urdu instead. The future of Urdu Book Review is conditional. If Urdu stays alive then, of course, this journal would also remain alive. If determination continues and there is a will to do something, even a lack of funds could be overcome. But without funds and determination this canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be continued for long. If this condition doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t change, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s possible that this journal would have to be shut down. But I am hopeful that the next generation would look into its progress. They would have to have concrete plans and employ the best of efforts to make it better than me.
Urdu writer, Musharraf Alam Zauqui, is based in the city of Delhi, India. For decades he has been writing on the condition of Muslims in India, their identity issues and their status in the social and political canvas of India. Zauqi has also been successful in writing about the ever-changing modern society, brought about by phenomenal scientific and technological advances.
Zauqi spoke to our sister publication Urdustan.com on the topic of the backdrop of fake encounter revelations and the Hyderabad bomb blasts. Writers mirror the society they live in and they have unique insight into the society's psyche. They can see the trends long before they are visible to the general public. Musharraf Alam Zauqui, who has a deep sense of history, can also provide a historical perspective on issues affecting the Muslims of India. Therefore, we decided to call him up and we talked to him about his novels and saw whether his characters and their conditions mirror the reality of Indian Muslims.
You can listen to the complete interview in Urdu on the player below this article. Zauqui started out by what he termed a 'grave mistake' by Indian Muslim leadership to start calling Muslims a minority. He
argued that for such a large population, which is greater than in many other countries of the world, cannot be called a minority.
Mr. Zauqui agreed that it is possible that some parties may try to exploit this statement. But if Muslims stopped calling themselves Minorities, it can be a medicinal 'capsule' that will give Muslims who live in small towns and villages of India confidence that he or she is
part of a substantial group. It will give them courage and strength, this concept unfortunately is still not understood by Muslim leaders.
Muslims who have been part of the landscape of India for hundreds of years, have been forced to live on the margin and have been systematically removed from the mainstream. In 1857, soldiers of Meerut chose an old Muslim king as their leader, but now after 150 years Muslims have no
leadership to offer.
Talking about the political process in India, Zauqi pointed to the fact that if there are only 40% of people voting in the election, then MPs and MLAs who get elected cannot claim to be representing the majority of the people. "Common Indians who are Muslims, Hindus, and Christians have
been reduced to become a mute spectator. People, who get elected, organize fake encounters, play political games and in the process create tensions between communities."
Appreciating the roles played by the print and electronic media, he said there are people who are fighting for just cause on behalf of the Muslims. He says that the courts are also part of this struggle. But Muslims need to come forward in this struggle and be visible.
"It seems that Urdu writers have written least on the topic of Indian Muslims." Lamenting this fact, Zauqi appreciats what has been written about Muslims in different Indian languages. He called Kamleshwar's 'kitne pakistan' as one of the finest pieces of literature written in India. "It should be a recommended read for every Indian person", Zauqui added.
You can read his novel musalman here: http://urdustan.com/kitaab/musalman
Listen to his interview:
Internet has touched life in many ways and it is impossible to imagine life without internet in the developed world. Under-developed world has also seen a rapid growth in diffusion of internet technologies.
A group of Muslim men and women from Bihar and Jharkhand have found each other in this internet village. They are utilizing internet and technology to improve the life in some of the poorest districts in India.
We interview a leading member of this Group, Shakeel Ahmad to find out more about their activities. Shakeel graduated from Institute of Technology, Banaras Hindu University and has an MBA from XLRI, Jamshedpur. He lives in Dubai with his family and works for Emirates Telecommunication Corporation (Etisalat). He has 2 daughters and a son.
Interview was conducted in August 2006 through email by IndianMuslims.info
When was Bihar Anjuman established?
Bihar Anjuman started as Anjuman Islamia, Bihar on 11th March 1999 in Dubai, as an extension of Anjuman Islamia, Abu Dhabi, operational since 1986. When we went online in 2004, we named the online group as Bihar Anjuman.
The driving motto was to urge the people to come together and pool their resources for maximizing the benefits to the Muslim society in general and to the society of Bihar and Jharkhand in particular.
You have a significant online presence, with an active mailing list and a comprehensive website. What was the reason for going online although you started out as a local chapter for an already established organization?
We have to make the best use of available technology for our communityÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s development. I was publishing papers on technological competitiveness and found that the Muslim world was far behind the "others" in technology (and of course, education, as a whole). Unless we made the best use of all available technology, we would go further down.
How has technology helped in Bihar Anjuman's mission?
Active people have a chance to cooperate with each other in carrying out their missions - of developing Bihar/ Jharkhand without physically being in one place.
For example in our scholarship program, we connect sponsors and the students even though they are in different parts of the world. Similarly, members of Jeddah chapter were able to raise money for a coaching center in Delhi in matter of days, after they heard from us about the need. Without use of internet, this was not possible for people of Jeddah to heed to the advice of someone they didn't know or had never met.
Moderators and most of the active people of Bihar Anjuman have never met each other but are able to work collectively using the technology available to us.
What are the Objectives of Bihar Anjuman?
Bringing together Muslims from all walks of life to interact and act jointly with an objective to educate, motivate, inspire and instill confidence in our young generation. We join hands to eradicate miseries and evil practices from our society. Our objective is to see that the community puts its unspent energy to constructive use.
How are these objectives achieved?
Bihar Anjuman promotes welfare activities and offers aid and assistance to the muslim-dominated areas badly affected by natural calamities and other disastrous incidents, in close association with other government and non-government organizations. It is mobilizing the youth to eradicate the curse of dowry and other social evils from the society. It provides financial support for marriage of economically weak Muslim girls from Bihar or Jharkhand. It pursues establishment of model institutions that blend Islamic education with technical and job-oriented education for Muslims. In order to motivate talented students and prevent early drop-outs, we award scholarship to Muslim students of Bihar and Jharkhand pursuing higher education. We are setting up career-counselling and guidance centres in every district headquarter of Bihar and Jharkhand.
What are some of the projects that you are involved in?
Bihar Anjuman has undertaken projects in the area of educational empowerment like scholarships on means-cum-merit basis, BANEE Career Centre (BCC) - providing career-counselling and guidance to students and working professionals with centres in each district of Bihar and Jharkhand and in each college/ university campus.
Bihar AnjumanÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s Sources of Infinite Learning (BASIL) - an Islamic library (we consider that all types of knowledge acquisition and learning fall under Islamic category).
Under BASERA (Bihar Anjuman's Schemes for Empowerment of Rural Areas), as Phase-1, we target providing safe drinking water to all the people, in the two target states. As a precursor to regular medical camps, Eye Camps are being successfully organized in many places.
In order to assist community members get decently employed, vacancies from India and abroad are circulated regularly in the email list.
Two schools, one Islamic and another conventional, have been adopted to be model schools for Bihar Anjuman, where we will experiment the blending Islamic education with technical and job-oriented education for Muslims.
Bihar Anjuman is also helping in construction of mosques in minority institutions and localities.
BAJEE (Bihar AnjumanÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s Jewels for Educational & Economic Empowerment) is involved in planning and implementing projects that generate employment for women.
Where is BA headquartered and does it have any chapters?
No headquarter currently, as internet remains the means of all communications, decisions and record keeping.
We have local chapters in (1) Dubai, (2) Abu Dhabi, (3) Chennai, (4) Bangalore, (5) Delhi, (6) Jeddah, (7) Riyadh, (8) Chicago, (9) California, (10) Patna, (11) Aligarh Muslim University, (12) Jubail, (13) Hufoof/ Dammam/ Khobar, (14) Qatar, (15) Kolkata, (16) Makkah Mukarrama, (17) Hyderabad, (18) Toronto.
These local chapters act as medium of coordination and information sharing between the local residents and those in other chapters as well as with the international community. The local city or the country representatives facilitate this interaction at the city or country level as the case may be. They focus on facilitating interaction among teachers & students and help current students get professional advice in advancing their careers by interacting with the members, especially NRI alumni of various universities who are well-placed and would wish to help others in whatever ways they can. Further, to tap the talents that can be useful for the long term activities vis-ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â -vis Bihar Anjuman Educational Empowerment (BANEE) Scheme info dissemination, selection of beneficiaries for scholarship, BANEE Model school launch, anti-dowry movement and many more.
What is your source of funding?
Funds come from contribution from group members and well-wishers. Bihar Anjuman attempts to bring the community out of the charity mindset and motivates them to indulge in self-help activities.
Bihar Anjuman is a network of organizations and individuals whose hearts beat for Bihar and fellow Muslims worldwide. All the chapters (BA Chapters) work like individual organizations and all individual members are free to initiate projects according to their interest, talent and capabilities with the condition that their interest do not clash with the objectives of Bihar Anjuman. Thus individuals and organization in the network act independently, but get resources from what is pooled by those interested in supporting particular projects.
Are you collaborating with other organizations?
We are currently affiliated with organizations like Imarat-e-Sharia (www.imaratshariah.org), Institute of Objective Studies (IOS, www.iosworld.org), Kainat Foundation (www.kainatfoundation.com), BiharBrains (www.biharbrains.org), institutions like Hazrat Umar Farooque Academy, Ranipur and Madarsa Jamia Madania, Sabalpur and IndianMuslims.info for specific purposes.
Local chapters collaborate similarly with organizations in different capacities and for different purposes. Like in Dubai, we collaborate with all the muslim organizations in their programs that could benefit our members, like arranging career and personality development programs, Islamic awareness programs and fund-raising programs to support people affected by natural calamities.
What are some of the problems faced by Bihari Muslims?
Lack of educational facilities, unemployment, dwindling resources, like shrinking of cultivable land despite constantly increasing population, natural calamities like earthquake and floods, lack of able leadership are some of the major problems.
What are your recommendations for the progress of Bihari Muslims?
Recommendations for the progress of Bihari Muslims are not different from recommendations for the progress of all Muslims in the world. Some of these are:
1. Educating them to achieve technological and professional advancement
2. Generating employment opportunities by participating in activities that foster economic growth
3. Helping them understand the true meaning of Islam, i.e., to make them understand that Islam means ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œpeaceÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â?, calling for jihad-an-nafs.
4. Instilling confidence in them that progress is possible without compromising with any of the Islamic values. Thus, making them believe that striving (doing jihad) towards enhancing the knowledge and capabilities, striving (doing jihad) towards applying the acquired knowledge and capabilities without getting desperate (that is, never weakening the link with patience despite challenges encountered in the way),
5. Involving them in community work as guided by Islam. This is important because Muslims are the khalifa (ambassadors) for the whole society, not just for their own community.
6. Reducing the gap in education, employment and economic prosperity with respect to the majority community, thus reducing alienation so that they may to be able to join the mainstream society and be equal partners in progress and governance.
[Photo : Bihar Anjuman; BA sponsored coaching in Delhi and Eye camp in Patna]
S Ubaidur Rahman is the editor of the book "Understanding the Muslim leadership in India" which is a collection of interviews with social, political and religious Muslims leaders of India. Global Media Publications publishes books of interest to South Asian Muslims.
In this interview IndianMuslims.info asks him about the Muslim leadership of India.
Q-1. Do you see a Muslim leadership in India?
A.There is certainly a Muslim leadership in India. But it is grossly ineffective, is to say the least. Muslim leaders over the years have done little to enjoy the respect and trust of the community. They come on the scene only when election comes and disappear as soon as it is over. Mostly the Muslim leadership does not represent the Muslim community, but the political parties on whose symbol they fight elections.
Mostly the leadership has exploited the Muslim masses to bring them on the streets on emotive issues, but has rarely taken any interest in issues that may benefit the community in the long run. You would never come across a Muslim leader who talks of issues like education, economic development, employment for unemployed Muslim youth and establishment of institutions of higher learning and professional institutions for the youth of the community.
Another major problem for the Muslim community in India is the overwhelming influence of the clergy on the Muslim society here. It is not to degrade the clergy, but with utter lack of comprehension of social, political and economic issues, they fail to understand the demands of the time. It is because the clergy comes from institutions that do not teach their students the modern issues that confront them in their daily lives. They are the ones who are least capable of guiding the community in this modern age.
Had their been an effective Muslim leadership, it would have certainly taken up issue of police harassment of Muslims in states like Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh besides, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh where police and anti-terrorist squads have been given a free hand to pick any Muslim youth or activist on whimsical charges. It is a very tough time for Muslims in those states, especially for young Muslims.
But rarely you see Muslim politicians coming out openly against such victimization of the community at the hands of law enforcement agencies.
Q-2. In recent years Communists have tried to come closer to the Muslims. Considering the condition of Muslims in West Bengal is not any better than other states, how should Muslims see this move?
A. Communist parties are wooing Muslims like never before. With their share in national politics shrinking fast, they are almost confined to three, four states like West Bengal, Kerala, Tripura. In this age of vote bank politics they are in desperate need of support from the Muslim community on the plank of their ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“knownÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ secular credentials. This time in Kerala, they cornered most of Muslim votes with the help of Muslim parties like Jamat-e-Islami Hind, and Naser MadaniÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s PDP.
There is no doubt that communists are the ones who have never really cared for the upliftment of Muslims in states where they have ruled. The pitiable condition of the community in West Bengal where communists are in power for three decades speaks volumes of their apathy towards Muslims. But Muslims will continue supporting them because they are the ones who are known opponent of the ideology of hate being propagated by the RSS and the BJP.
Q-3. There are efforts being made in UP to bring all Muslim parties under one umbrella, what are your opinion about it and how it should be done so that coalition can survive even after the elections?
A. The recent experiment in Assam by Assam United Democratic Front (AUDF) led by Badruddin Ajmal was a good example. It also gave a new hope to Muslims who had given up the thought of having successful regional Muslim pressure groups. With coalition politics taking roots in India, even small parties with two, three MLAs and MPs are able to negotiate better deals for their supporters. In this respect the idea is no doubt a hope for millions of Muslims across the country including for the Muslims in UP.
But the community must see as to whether the people who have initiated the move have any influence in the community. Have they done anything on grassroots level? Do they have sound financial backing to manage their expenses? Or they aim to merely cut into the votes of Muslims to enable a particular party win more seats. Ahmad Bukhari, the imam of Jama Masjid, Delhi who is in the forefront of such move in UP has made unprecedented compromises in the past.
Q-4. Why do we see conditions of Muslims in South India is much better than North Indian Muslims?
A. There are quite a few historical reasons as well as good work done by Muslims in South Indian states. Historically the South Indian Muslims have not faced the sort of upheavals faced by their fellow community members in the north. The partition affected almost the whole of north India severely.
But other than this reason, the South Indian Muslims invested heavily in education. This is the reason that they are almost equal in socio-economic terms with their Hindu and Christian neighbors. Muslims in north India due to some historical factors and partly due to the lack of initiative failed to do much in the field of education. This is the reason that when you find dozens of Muslim managed engineering colleges, dental colleges and IT institutes in Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chennai, Pune, Aurangabad and even in small cities like Mysore you would hardly find similar institutions of higher learning in major north Indian cities. If we leave Jamia Hamdard aside, even Delhi does not have a single professional college managed by Muslims.
The other important factor was the lack of government bias against Muslims in most South Indian states. Muslims have reservation in jobs in Karnataka and Kerala, whereas despite their known backward status they do not have reservation in any north Indian state.
Q-5. Can you identify people or organizations that you think are capable of giving a constructive leadership to Muslims of India?
A. This is a rather tough question. There are certain Muslim leaders who despite being in mainstream political parties have gathered courage to speak up their minds, like Abdur Rahman Antulay. But people like him are not known as community leaders. Rather they are taken as leaders of their respective parties.
Muslims still have some hope from religious parties like Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, Jamiat Ulama, but only if they reorient themselves and do something meaningful on a regular basis. Then there are organizations like Anjuman Islam, Khaire Ummat trusts and similar organizations in south Indian states that are spearheading the movement for education among Muslims.
Mufti Shakeel Ahmed Sitapuri is a graduate of Dar-ul-uloom Deoband. He has taught Quran tafseer and the science of Hadith, for more than ten years. Presently he is a professor of hadith and tafseer at Dar-ul-Aslamia, Basti, UP.
He has many publications in his name and has traveled widely and internationally including to Pakistan, Britain, and Canada.
Shadab Hussan of IndianMuslims.org interviewed him in Bangalore. Original interview was in Urdu, translation by Shadab Hussain.
Q. What is the standing of worldly education in Islam and near ALLAH?
The Quran has not ignored the world and has given due attention to worldly things. That humans have a role to play in this world is implicit in the Quran. However, as the religion was in danger, the Quran talks mostly about religion and belief only. However, the Quran does highlight the importance of worldly things to its readers in an Ayat of Surah Qasas Allah says:
"And seek by means of what Allah has given you the future abode, and do not neglect your portion of this world, and do good (to others) as Allah has done good to you, and do not seek to make mischief in the land, surely Allah does not love the mischief-makers." (Surah Qasas, 20:77)
There is a hadith which states "Prepare for the hereafter as if you have to leave today and prepare for the world as if you are to stay forever." (Meaning of hadith)
shadab: And there is one hadith about the aftermath of the war of Badr, prophet (saw) ordered that whomever of the non-believers can teach muslims will be freed ...
Yes, it was after the war of Badar, many of prisoners of war were freed after taking compensation, but many literate prisoners of war were given an offer that if they teach Muslims how to read, then they would be freed. So prophet (saw) actually laid the foundation of education and literacy in 2nd Hijrah itself.
shadab: And there is another popular hadith narration, but it is called Mawdu (fabricated). That hadith states "Learn, even if you have to go to China for it". But I have learnt that this hadith is fabricated...
Yes, the words of this hadith are not authentically traced back to prophet (saw), but similar intent is found in other hadith. The words are different but the intent is similar to the mentioned narration. We are interested in mangoes and not in counting trees. We need a pearl and not its shell. This meaning is found in hadith which says "Wisdom and knowledge is a lost property of Muslims. Wherever you find it, you should reclaim it".
2. Will it be a source of reward to promote and support modern education or will it be a worldly deed which will remain in the world?
Certainly it will be a source of reward to promote and support modern education, because poverty can lead to disbelief and wellness instills self-esteem. One who is not poor defends his esteem as well as protects his religion. Secondly, a great form of worship is to fill a Muslim's heart with happiness and has been included by Allah as one form of worship and it is reward bearing. If one becomes well to do, then one will get happiness, and if he learns worldly knowledge then he would have stronger character. It has often been observed that people return to religion after achieving worldly things, when they see other followers defending and preaching their own religion. So even through worldly gains, one can return to religion.
3. What do the Ulema expect us professionals to do for the Ummah?
Professionals well versed in modern education are expected to help the Ulema by your intellect & speech wherever required, and money wherever required. But those Ulema are different who are not working to achieve worldly gains. ItÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s important to remember here that there are innumerable organizations, just like there are innumerable insects that crawl on the earth after the rains, and itÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s important to use one's wisdom in choosing such an organization. We should work for and help only those organizations whose patrons do not take gains from the organization and have devoted their life and property to the organization. And what they take, it is only for their obvious living requirements, and other people are witness to their righteousness. Help only such true Ulema otherwise there are many ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œUlemaÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â? in every corner of the street.
4. How can we and the Ulema complement each other in improving the state of the Ummah?
One way is that the people of secular education need to provide their intellect and means while Ulema provide guidance towards right Islamic path. To work in a population of non-Muslims of this country, you are more exposed to the mentality of people and the non-Muslims. So they will provide the means, but the leadership will be provided by the Ulema. This way, inshaallah, the organization will be on the right path. It is important for it to succeed so that the Ulema and the professionals complement each other. The Ulema consider one thing very distasteful; some people trained in secular education consider themselves as having more money as well as more education. They see Ulema as poverty stricken and ignorant; this is detrimental to the organization. It should be that religion and religious knowledge is better and held at a higher grade than possessions, and so the Ulema possess a better thing. If there is no spirituality and religion then however huge a worldly thing one may possess, it is of no use. Consider Christian missionaries who have many worldly possession, but since they lack spirituality, they are not as successful.
5. Does 'Kuntum Khairum minannaas' cover worldly problems removed as well through education and literacy?
Invitation to good and prevention from bad will be possible only when one has influence over people enough to stop them from bad. Influence would be possible only when you are helping people with their poverty or other problems. So opening an organization which imparts education, teaching skills to Muslims children and helping them to attain jobs, would bring influence over common masses. If the common mass is influenced then they would follow you, otherwise nobody obeys an unrelated person. The best example of it is the 'Muslim Brotherhood' of Egypt which helped the masses with employment by opening up many industries and thus they commanded a huge influence over people. However, that group has been banned and I am not inviting you to join that group, I am only citing as an example.
6. There is one controversial topic about Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. He laid the foundation of AMU and contributed immensely to Muslims in modern education. However, he had some differences with the Ulema, and I understand that of course the differences were not regarding education but about something else. So what was that we should not repeat or get into? What should be our limits?
Let me tell you first of all that Sir Syed Ahmed Khan marhoom (late) was a very concerned and caring person, he benefited Muslims a lot, otherwise Muslims would have been more downtrodden. However, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan made a mistake in understanding that the Muslim mass will not come to English education until they are free from religious tightness and influence of Islamic scholars. So when he attacked the domain of Islam, it was like disturbing a sleeping lion, I feel it was against his intellect to do that. No intelligent man who wants to improve the common mass would do so. He denied Angels and Houris as well as ridiculed Paradise and Hell. That is the reason why the Ulemas got angry with and turned against him, otherwise as far his worry and love for Muslims was concerned, the Ulema have a great regard for that.
Even in his lifetime, people used to commend him. Akbar Allahabadi, who was a renowned poet as well as a scholar, and who had attacked English education, said "We only talk but Syed used to work". Na bhulo farq jo hai kahne wale karne wale mein. (DonÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t forget the difference between the one who only talks and the one who takes action).
So we are not against Sir Syed, but my message is that please donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t step into Aqeedah by saying 'There is no miracle', 'Angels do not exist', 'Satan has no existence and if it does why cant we see' or 'Paradise and Hell are not a reality' etc. If you ridicule religious beliefs then religious people will not be by your side, as Muslims strictly believe in their religion.
Your deeds and character should be good. Keep away from greed and be punctual with prayers. If you pray five times a day, keep away from any greed and stand right next to each other in community if any incident occurs, then people will listen to you and it would bring results InshaALLAH.
7. What should be our hudood in promoting and encouraging worldly education?
You should focus more on making this work deeper rather than wider. If you make it deeper then it will automatically and gradually take a wider coverage. As it happens gradually, you will be able to tackle the growth and manage the work. If you make the work widen too quickly, then you will not be able to manage the work properly.
Sayeed Khan is the founder president of MY India (Muslim Youth of India). He is leading a campaign against extremism after getting disillusioned with Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). Charu Bahri of TwoCircles.net spoke to him about SIMI, extremism, and future plans for MY India.Â
In September 2001, soon after 9/11, twenty-four years after being founded by Mohammad Ahmadullah Siddiqi, now Professor of Journalism and Public Relations at the Western Illinois University, the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) was banned. While a connection between 9/11 and the banning was never actually proclaimed, it is believed in some circles that in the aftermath of 9/11, countries across the world turned their focus on extremist Muslim organizations. Perhaps banning the SIMI was one of many global reactions to 9/11? Since then, many of its senior members have been arrested and charged for conspiring and executing various anti-lawful activities in UP, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and other states.
More recently, in early 2006, vide a notification issued by the Registrar, Unlawful Activities (prevention) Tribunal under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, the Union Government declared the SIMI an unlawful association. Further, it constituted a Tribunal, including Justice B N Chaturvedi of the Delhi High Court, to adjudicate whether or not there was sufficient cause to declare the organization an unlawful association.
In August 2006, the Tribunal upheld the Centreâ€™s judgment and contention that inspite of supposedly having been disbanded, the SIMI still organized clandestine activities, and was planning to regroup, possibly under a new name.
It would perhaps not be wrong to say that sections of the Indian Muslim community doubt the court case and judgment.
In this scenario, www.TwoCircles.net spoke to Sayeed Khan, a Mumbai-based formerÂ president of the SIMI, and founder leader of MY India, an acronym for Muslim Youth of India, to determine his experience with the SIMI. More importantly, we present MY India as a legitimate option for Muslim youth seeking the support of other members of their community, to form networks to make a difference to the quality of life of Muslims across the country.
Â TCN: Sayeed, why and when did you join the SIMI?
Sayeed: I joined SIMI in 1982. At the time, its members were well-educated Muslim youth, who were very religious but moderate in their thinking and outlook. In fact, they would intensely study other â€˜ismsâ€™ like capitalisms, socialism and communalism. For them, the answer to all these divisive â€˜ismsâ€™ lay in Islam. This main ideology of the SIMI impressed me a lot and I decided to join the association.
TCN: Why did you decide to leave the SIMI in 1992?
Â Sayeed: Until 1986, the going was smooth. Building the character of Muslim youth, based on Islamic principles remained the SIMIâ€™s main objective. However, the rising of Hindutva forces in 1986 during Rajiv Gandhiâ€™s government led to the opening of the lock of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya. As a result, the atmosphere across India was charged and communal.
Â These events left Muslim youth in a somewhat helpless situation. The future looked bleak, and even senior members of SIMI [the upper age limit was 30] were very confused about what line they should advocate, in defense of their community and the Babri mosque.
Â Now, countering Hindutva forces became the SIMIâ€™s main focus, as the SIMI leadership believed that it was the only organized Muslim force that could tackle the aggressive game plan of promoters of Hindutva.
Â Consequently, the leadership delivered very aggressive speeches during programs, urging Muslims to save the life of common Muslims targeted by the Hindutva forces, and to stop the demolition plan of the Babri mosque. The mood within SIMI was one of strategizing, the central leadership was on a high, their tone was sharp, and it was obvious to us junior members that some kind of a defense plan was being hatched.
Â Along with some friends, I opposed this route, saying that the SIMI constitution does not provide for such activities. We also suggested that the constitution be amended to include new lawful activities. Sadly, the central leadership cornered us, labeling us cowards and anti jehadis. Â We tried our best to stop the organization propagate extremist Islamic ideology, but failed.
Â I believe we failed because at the time, several attempts to demolish the Babri mosque had taken place, and many innocent Muslims had been killed. Hence, many members of the SIMI were influenced by and attracted to the extremist ideology propounded by the central leadership, which continued to maintain the SIMI was the only force that could counter the RSS and the VHP. Â
Â Very few SIMI members supported our stand, and spoke out against the unconstitutional activities that had been planned. We realized that there was no way out and that we could not continue being a part of the SIMI. We left the organization on June 26, 1992. We placed an advertisement on the front page of two of Mumbaiâ€™s leading Urdu dailies - Inqualab and Urdu TimesÂ - declaring that the central leadership had steered the organization towards extremism, that we had tried our best to bring the focus back to activities provided for in its constitution, but that we had failed and were thereforeÂ quitting the SIMI.Â Â
TCN: Do you believe the banning ofÂ SIMI was justified?
Â Sayeed: The activities of an open (functional) organization can be checked â€“ its programs and speeches can be heard and stopped if these are inflammatory. More importantly, its leadersâ€™ movements may be tracked.
Â By banning an organization, you force it to work underground. We all know that ideological organizations do not die easily. In the case of the SIMI too, its cadres were devoted to their cause. By banning the SIMI, the government has completely lost the chance of overseeing the SIMI cadres, of intervening in their activities and perhaps, even causing some at least to introspect into their ways in the last few years.
Â In general, Iâ€™d say a banned organization is much more dangerous then one which functions openly.
Â At the time I left the organization, many of its ex all India Presidents were working to make the SIMI an ideological extremist organization. Truly speaking, at the time, they were not involved in any kind of extremist activities. We opposed the trend, sensing the mood, as we believed that an extremist ideologyÂ can precede action. It is possible that after the ban, the leaders who possessed an extremist mentality influenced the cadres.
TCN: What are your views on extremism - why do you think people (not necessarily Muslims) turn into extremists?
Â Sayeed: To react is a natural human tendency. Extremism comes alive when a person is denied his right to live peacefully, irrespective of his/her caste or religion, and/or does not gain from a prevailing environment of economic growth, and/or is unable to improve his living conditions and fulfill his familyâ€™s basic needs.
Â I believe that if you take a random sample of a hundred persons of any caste or religion, fifteen percent will adhere to an â€˜extreme mentality.â€™ These fifteen percent are extremely prone to be influenced by the extremist ideology of any â€˜ismâ€™ or religion.
TCN: What, according to you, are the main problems of IndianÂ Muslims?
Â Sayeed: The main problems of Indian Muslims are educational and economical backwardness and a threat to their right to live, as whenever communal riots break out and for years thereafter, the communityâ€™s constitutionally guaranteedÂ right to live becomes a question mark. According to me, the governmentâ€™s intervention in these matters has been negligible.
Â I would favor a strong anti-communal riot bill/law to ensure the security of the life and property of the Muslims. I believe that what happened in Gujarat has left Muslim youth with a sense of insecurity and helplessness. This mental state is seen as an ideal condition to influence a personÂ towards an extremist ideology. I strongly believe this extremist ideology is anti Islamic as well as anti national. But the seed of this ideology is communal riots. Riots must be prevented at any cost. Otherwise the majority of secular Hindus and the Islam loving, national loving Muslim will be silent spectators of the destruction of the nation.
Â In addition, on the economic front, I am for job reservation and better loan facilities to the Muslim middle class and the poor so that these families can start some business and settle down. Â
Â Iâ€™d like to point out how members of a Muslim family who accept government support, start a business and settle down can find their net worth eroded during the course of a single riot. It then takes years, even a decade to establish the same position.
Â In the field of education, I would like to see more minority institutes â€“ by which I mean institutes started by MuslimsÂ that cater to a majority of Muslims, say 80 percent. I think Muslims need more quotas in higher education. At the end of the day, I believe better education willÂ automatically solve our economical problems.
At present, there are too many dropouts after the primary level. Too few Muslims make it to secondary school. The government should encourage the community to keep their children in school by opening more schools in Muslim-dominated pockets.
TCN: What was your focus when you established MY India â€“ social work or an educational endeavor or politics?Â Â
Â Sayeed: MY India aims at encouraging Muslim youth to get a good education in different fields. Our focus is socio-political, economical and education. We would like to foster good relations with people believing in and practicing other religions â€“ Hinduism, Budhism, Christianity and Sikhism. We encourage Muslim youth to be both good practicing Muslims, as well as good Indians.
Â We would like to offer youth a platform to work for positive goals, and not be influenced by anti-Muslim propaganda. We particularly discourage behavior that is reactionary.
Â We believe social work helps bridge the gap between the two main communities â€“ Hindus and Muslims. Making youth politically mature also helps ensure that communal forces do not win elections so as to wield power at the centre or state.
TCN: Would you ever consider entering the political system in order to guide your community, especially Muslim youth? Why?
Â Sayeed: Yes, I would because justice and a fair share in all fields for Muslims will only happen when we have active political representation. Otherwise, you may lead an agitation for months and years, but fail even after all your efforts. A single well-meaning legislation can achieve the same, more conclusively, in one day. At the same time, a single wrong legislation has the power to destroy decades of constructive work.
Â Earlier, the community was not interested in the political system. I trace this to a lack of understanding, born of prevailing illiteracy. In contrast, now educated Muslims who are middle aged and our youth understand the need to be a part of the system. However, sufficient representation will take time because politics is today still based on money power and muscle power.
How strong is the MY India membership? Are your members mostly from Mumbai? Are they mostly students, educated well-to-do Muslims or less privileged Muslims?
Â Sayeed: My Indiaâ€™s members are mostly from Mumbai and all over Maharashtra. We have around 450 members â€“ they are all Muslim. About half are students and the majority is from an under-privileged backgrounds.
Â We conduct gatherings between Hindus and Muslims on Eid, organize seminars â€“ our latest was on Islam Against Terrorism, and especially conduct medical camps in Muslim dominated areas. Our activities currently span Mumbai, Nagpur and Malegaon, to name a few places.
Â We want to do more work. If youâ€™d like to help or join My India activities, please contact Sayeed Khan at firstname.lastname@example.org Â
Â TCN: In a Rediff interview, you said "MY India will never discard the fundamental values of Islam, but there is scope for modernization in Islam" â€“ what is your perspective on the modernization of Islam?
Â Sayeed: Let me say at the outset that the fundamentals never change. But by obeying the Quran and the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammed, Muslims are really the most moderate people, as compared to any other religion. Why do I say this? Islam is the only religion that allows you to change by doing ijtehadÂ â€“ which means solving any modern problem using the spirit of the Quran and the SunnahÂ of Prophet MuhammedÂ as a basis.
Â For instance, I believe the Muslim community needs to seriously look into clubbing education in Madrasas with modern education in all major streams. They should openly discuss the issue and find answers using the Quran and the SunnahÂ of Prophet MuhammedÂ as a basis.
TCN: What are the future plans of MY India?
Â Sayeed: Iâ€™d like to call a national level conventionÂ to propagate the aim andÂ objects of MY India.Â I feel the current atmosphere is not very conducive for Muslim youth to call a convention. In fact, when we say Islam is the best religion, that we are good Muslims and we want to be a good Indians â€“ basically synchronize all these three things â€“ it becomes very difficult to make the population at large understand that this combination spells the only way forward for us, and for our entire community. Hopefully, MY India will help change this perception.
Â [Photo: L to R, Mr. Sayeed Iftikar, editor of a Marathi newspaper, Maulana Riyaz Ahmed Khan, Vice President of All India Ulema Council, and Sayeed Khan, President of MY India.]
Maulana Kalbe Sadiq is perhaps India's best-known Shi'a Muslim scholar. He is also the Vice-President of the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board. In this interview with Yoginder Sikand he discusses a range of issues related to Islam, Muslims and inter-community relations.
Q: How, as an Islamic scholar, do you look at the issue of inter-faith relations?
A: There are, broadly, two ways of approaching this question. The first is to see it in terms of a so-called 'clash of civilisations'. Another way is to look at it as an opportunity and a challenge, to work for inter-faith dialogue, and that is what I personally believe in and have tried to follow. I have had numerous dialogues and discussions with Hindu religious leaders in India, and with several Sunni Muslim leaders in India, Pakistan and elsewhere. Dialogue through personal communication and contact, I believe, is the only way to clear misunderstandings and bring the different communities closer. There is really no other way out.
Q: How do you view the phenomenon of Islamism , that is so much talked about today?
A: See, the Islamic law or shari'ah rests on certain basic fundamentals:
intellectual development, spiritual development and production of life, and production of wealth. Now, a society which rests on these principles is a balanced one. If that is what people are struggling for, I support it. But this sort of thing cannot be imposed, because this is an age of dialogue. You cannot force something down people's throats. Instead, you need to convince them of your claims by the force of your personality and character. The Qur'an very clearly states that there can be no compulsion in religion. One also must understand how religion has been misused for narrow political ends, so not every state that claims to be 'Islamic' really is so. Is Pakistan really an 'Islamic' state? Are Saudi Arabia, Morocco or Iran? No, in my opinion, there is no state today which can claim to be truly 'Islamic' in the true sense of the term.
A truly Islamic society, as the Prophet Mohammad defined it, is one where there is complete social justice, which is not to be found in any of the so-called Islamic states in the world today. In my view, the basic purpose of God's sending to earth a succession of prophets and scriptures was to end oppression and establish social justice. So, as I see it, an ideal state would be one in which nobody, irrespective of religion, is oppressed. Any other sort of rule is not really 'Islamic'.
Q: To come back to the question inter-faith dialogue, how have the Indian 'ulama typically viewed Hinduism? I think this has been often in very negative terms, but do you see the possibility of a different way of looking at the issue?
A: I think the 'ulama must discuss this question. The Qur'an talks about the ahl-i kitab, or 'people of the book', whom it considers as 'protected people', such as Jews and Christians. It recognises that they have been recipients of holy scriptures. Now, in traditional Islamic jurisprudence there is another group of people who are seen as similar to the 'people of the book', such as the Zoroastrians, who also claim to have received divine scriptures. So, perhaps the Hindus can also be considered, from this juridical point of view, as similar to the Zoroastrians. I've read the Gita myself, and I can say that it preaches pure monotheism and is opposed to idolatry. Those who have read the Vedas also make the same point. And then, the Qur'an itself clearly says that God has sent messengers to every community, so it might well be that the Vedas were divinely revealed texts.
Q: What do you feel should be the role of the 'ulama in Muslim society? What are your own feelings about how the 'ulama function today?
A: A true 'alim, as Imam 'Ali once mentioned in a sermon, is one who struggles for the end of oppression and for the establishment of social justice. I do respect the present-day 'ulama, but I must say that, on the whole, they have cut themselves off from the public, from issues of contemporary social concern. Most of them do not have any interest in working to alleviate the sufferings of the people, as the Prophet did. I think that you cannot call yourself an 'alim if you do not help the distressed and the needy. Now, this sort of service is not to be limited simply to preaching the virtues of religion, but must also include providing people concrete services, setting up welfare organisations and so on. The mission of the 'ulama should be to help people, not to create more problems for them.
Q: What are your views about the ongoing debates on madrasa reforms? Critics argue that much that the madrasas teach is irrelevant in today's context and leaves their students ignorant of issues of pressing contemporary concern.
A: There is an immense stagnation of thought (jamud-i-fikri) in most of the madrasas, and this is a major problem. The major focus in the madrasas is on the nitty-gritty of ritual actions, and there is really no effort to provide the students with an awareness of the major issues in the wider world.
Q: Increasingly, in places such as Pakistan, there has been an alarming rise in Shi'a-Sunni clashes. How do you account for this and what can be done to stop the spread of sectarian conflict?
A: I do not believe that there is any inherent conflict between Shi'as and Sunnis. After all, there are no Shi'a-Sunni clashes in India. Even in Pakistan it is not really a Shi'a-Sunni conflict. Ordinary Shi'as and Sunnis in Pakistan live together in peace. The real cause of these incidents of violence is political, and politicians and some mullahs who claim to be religious leaders have a vested interest in instigating sectarian violence. It is the work of ignorant mullahs, who provoke their equally ignorant followers. I think President Musharraf is doing a good job in courageously trying to tackle this problem, for which he is facing considerable opposition and even threats to his life.
Q: At the theological level, how do you think Shi'a-Sunni differences can be resolved?
A: We cannot do away with all our differences, but we can narrow them down and learn to live with those that remain. These different sects (mazhab, maslak) are human creations, while true religion (din) is from God. That is why the Qur'an uses the word 'deen' and not 'mazhab' and 'maslak'. So, you can remain associated with whatever sect you want, but you must also remember that all the different sects are made by human beings. Since the 'deen' is divine, it must be primary, and only after that need one identify himself with one of the many sects if you wish. The problem arises when you reverse the order, and you place something that is a human product over and above that which is divine.
When I point this out in my lectures people realise the futility of sectarian violence and conflicts. You also have to appeal to people by your own character and through peaceful dialogue. Let me give you an example. It is said that some Ahl-i Hadith scholars consider the Shi'as as infidels. Once, I was travelling with Maulana Abdul Wahhab Khilji, a senior Indian Ahl-i Hadith leader, and I overheard him say to another maulvi that many of his friends were opposed to his friendship with me on account of my being a Shi'a. He, however, told his friends that he would be happy if I were to accept him like my own son!
The point I am trying to make is that people change their views not through polemical wars but by being influenced by the character and behaviour of others. If you show that you love them, they will express their love for you, too. Hatred only produces further hatred, making the problem even more intractable. And this principle is as valid in the case of intra-Muslim differences as it is, say, in the case of Hindu-Muslim relations.
Ghulam Hasan Majrooh is the Press Secretary of the All-Parties' Hurriyat Conference (Mirwaiz), a conglomerate of various political parties in Jammu and Kashmir supporting the right to Kashmir self-determination. He is also the General Secretary of the Ittihadul Muslimeen, a largely Shia political party, whose Chief Patron is the senior Kashmiri leader, Maulana Abbas Ansari. In this interview with Yoginder Sikand, he talks about his work and about media perceptions and depictions of the Kashmir conflict.
Q: What exactly is the work that your media cell does?
A: We report human rights violations as well as activities related to our movement for self-determination and react to statements issued by political parties and leaders related to the issue of Jammu and Kashmir. We send these reports to various newspapers and news agencies as well as carry them on our newly set-up website www.hurriyat.net.
Q: What do you feel about media reporting about the Kashmir issue?
A: With a few exceptions, neither the Indian nor the Western media depicts the issue in a proper light or represents the voices of the majority of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. The dominant Western media, for instance, has its own interests. They do not have sympathy for the subjugated Kashmiris. America is interested principally in expanding its markets and promoting its commercial and strategic interests, and since India is such a huge potential market for the West, the Western media would not like to oppose the Indian stance on Kashmir. So, increasingly, our legitimate struggle for self-determination is being wrongly branded as 'terrorism', in the Indian and Western media.
Q: You mention that your media cell reports instances of human rights violations in Kashmir by agencies of the state. But what about similar violations by militants?
A: The Hurriyat Conference is very clear that all forms of terrorism, no matter who perpetrates it, is thoroughly condemnable. The killing of innocents, no matter what their religion, is a heinous crime, something that Islam roundly denounces. In the past, when some innocent Hindus in our state have been killed we have issued statements condemning this.
Q: In the independent Jammu and Kashmir that you seek, what status would the religious minorities, such as Sikhs, Buddhists, Dalits and Hindus, enjoy?
A: Religious minorities would have equal rights. They are also part and parcel of our land, our culture and our history. We are not against the Hindus, unlike what the media portrays. To cite a recent instance, just three weeks ago, senior Hurriyat leaders went to Kheer Bhavani, the most important Pandit shrine in Kashmir, where they met with Pandits who had come to celebrate a festival and wished them on the occasion. I have some Pandit neighbours and we go to each others' homes and enjoy very cordial relations. The Kashmiri Pandits are part of our Kashmiri culture, they are our brethren. They must live here, because Kashmir is also their homeland. So, we want them to return and they have also the right to. The issue of Kashmir is not simply a Muslim one. It is an issue of the people of Jammu and Kashmir as a whole.
Q: But do you think that as long as violence continues the Pandits will return?
A: We certainly want them back. However, we cannot give them any guarantee of safety, just as we Kahsmiri Muslims have no such guarantee in the presence of some seven hundred thousand Indian troops in our state.
Q: Do you think a peaceful solution of the Kashmir dispute is indeed possible?
A: This is precisely what we want. The head of the Hurriyat Conference, Mirwaiz Umar
Farooq, has said that in the changed global context, particularly after 9/11, dialogue, not war, is the only way out. War cannot be a solution as that will lead to total destruction, now that both India and Pakistan are nuclear powers. India must recognize that Kashmir is a disputed issue. If the Indian and Pakistani leadership want to save the region from destruction they must solve the Kashmir dispute in accordance with the aspirations of the people of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, because otherwise nuclear war is a real possibility. Unfortunately, however, although we have had three rounds of talks with Indian leaders, there has been no real positive response from their side.
I think Musharraf's four-point formula is worth considering as a starting point for a gradual and peaceful solution of the conflict. The Hurriyat Conference supports this. President Musharraf has talked about demilitarization and joint management of Jammu and Kashmir and soft borders.
Q: But the other faction of the Hurriyat Conference, headed by Sayyed Ali Shah Gilani, has a different perception, isn't it?
A: Gilani Sahib is an elder, a leader, and we respect him. Although he argues that dialogue cannot provide a solution, we say otherwise. But we ultimately have the same goal in mind. Gilani says that Indian forces should first leave Kashmir and then talks can be arranged. The Mirwaiz puts it somewhat differently. He says that we'll dialogue with India, have talks with them, and convince them to leave Kashmir.
Q: But what sort of solution do you envisage?
A: The solution has to satisfy all three parties to the Jammu and Kashmir dispute—Pakistan, India and the peoples of Jammu and Kashmir. India must live up to its promise of allowing the people of Jammu and Kashmir to determine their own political future. India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, made such a public promise and even took the Kashmir issue to the United Nations, where again he vowed that India would live up to this promise.
Q: But how does one satisfy the aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, given the tremendous diversity in the state, in terms of religion, caste, sect and ethnicity?
A: True, this is a very difficult task. But such a solution must necessarily be arrived at through dialogue. This is very much possible if all parties are sincere. Any solution of the issue must be acceptable to all the people of the state—not just the Kashmiris, but also to people living in Jammu, Ladakh, Gilgit, Baltistan and other parts of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Q: The Hurriyat Conference projects itself as the principal representative of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. But is that really true? For instance, are the Ladakhi Buddhists or the Hindus of Jammu with you?
A: We don't say that all the people of Jammu or Ladakh are with us. What we do say, however, is that the issue of the political status of the state is of concern to them as well. Their future is linked to the larger problem of Jammu and Kashmir and so we must take them along with us.
Q: You advocate an independent Jammu and Kashmir, but what if the people of Jammu or Ladakh do not wish to join such an entity?
A: That is an issue that will be tackled when it comes up. We must take the opinions of people in Jammu and Ladakh and if they do not want to be in Kashmir we can see what to do. But our point is that the whole of Jammu and Kashmir is disputed territory, not just the Kashmir valley. We would like an arrangement that all peoples of Jammu and Kashmir can agree on and which would ensure the unity of the state.
Q: But do you seriously feel that the people of Jammu and Ladakh would like to live in what may be a Kashmiri-dominated state?
A: If so many different communities can live together in India, then why not in an independent Jammu and Kashmir? But, in future, if some groups want to be separate, that is an issue that can be decided then.
Q: Some militant groups involved in the armed conflict in Kashmir characterize the conflict as essentially religious, rather than political. They see it as a war between Islam and 'disbelief' (kufr). What do you say about this way of understanding the conflict?
A: This characterization of the conflict is wrong. The roots of the conflict go back to 1947, when the Hindu majority parts of India became the Indian Dominion and the Muslim-majority areas became Pakistan. So, it is a political issue. Or, should I say, going beyond that, it is a human issue, a humanitarian issue, one related to the basic human right of the people of Jammu and Kashmir to determine their own political future.
Q: Do you think religious extremists in both India and Pakistan, Muslim as well as Hindu, would ever allow for a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir issue?
A: Some such extremist elements in both countries, of course, do not want such a solution, but then many ordinary political leaders, too, feel the same way. There are also some agencies in both countries that are very active in Kashmir and who want to see the continuation of the conflict, because their own vested interests are linked to this.
Q: The Indian media generally projects political groups such as yours as 'anti-Indian' and 'anti-Hindu'. How do you respond to this charge?
A: This is wholly wrong. We have no hatred for Hindus or Indians. We love the Indian people. We have no quarrel with them. Many Hindus come to Kashmir, to work or for travel, and they are treated with respect by ordinary Kashmiris. We are only opposed to the Indian state for denying us our inherent right to political self-determination. We are all for peace, but with freedom and justice. We want India to prosper, but it must act on its promise to let the people of Jammu and Kashmir to determine their own political future.
Q: How do you respond to charges in the media that seek to link Islam with terrorism? In particular, what do you feel about the way in which the Kashmir conflict is increasingly being presented in the media as what is labeled as 'Islamic terrorism', rather than as a national liberation struggle?
A: Islam is being wrongly interpreted as being synonymous with terrorism, while actually it teaches quite the opposite. It stands for peace and justice for all. The unrest in much of the Muslim world owes principally to widespread oppressive conditions that prevail there. The media is making things immensely worse through negative portrayals of Islam and Muslims. Any Muslim who sports a beard is immediately dubbed as a ‘fundamentalist'. And in our case, our struggle for freedom is wrongly branded as 'Islamic extremism' in order to delegitimise it. When people rise up in revolt against oppression, they are branded as 'terrorists'. Indian Army sources claim that there are only 1500 militants in Kashmir, but if that is the case then why are there more than seven hundred thousand Indian armed forces stationed here? Why have these forces been given draconian powers? What about the thousands of our people, who have been killed, maimed, locked up in jails or have disappeared? They are victims of state terrorism.
At the global level, media portrayals of Muslims must also be seen in the context of the interests of the Zionist and right-wing Christian lobbies, which are so influential today in America. They will not spare any opportunity to defame Islam, and this is reflected in the media, too. They have their own missionary agenda. They want to weaken Islam and Muslims, so that they can enjoy untrammeled global hegemony.
In Kashmir, too, these forces are playing themselves out. The Indian media wrongly projects our struggle as an instance of 'religious extremism'. It has sought to present it as a communal conflict, which is not the case. In order to thus brand it and delegitimise it in the eyes of the Indian people, and globally as well, the first thing that India did was to drive the Pandits out of Kashmir, in order to project the view that our demand was anti-Hindu, which was not the case. If you want to destroy a people, you need to destroy their culture, and this is precisely what has happened in Kashmir. The forced migration of the Pandits, engineered by the then governor Jagmohan, was a major effort to destroy our Kashmiri culture and ethos which binds the Muslims and Pandits of Kashmir together.
Ghulam Hasan Majrooh can be contacted on email@example.com