The Battle Lies Within

Neo-Islam, like neo-Hinduism, is injurious to India’s pluralism

Written by Abdul Shaban | Updated: May 20, 2017 11:38 am
muslim community, up vidhan sabha elections, neo-islamists, neo-hinduism, indian pluralism, mehr, modernism, india news The neo-Islamists also emphasise religious and educational practices that undermine male-female equality in the public sphere. (Representational Image.)

Muslims, one of the most deprived communities in 21st century India, have been the most adversely impacted by communal politics in recent years. The result of the UP Vidhan Sabha elections and subsequent developments in the state have shaken the foundation of “inclusive politics”; the state government has criminalised some traditional occupations of the community.

Frustrated with such developments, many Muslims advocate that the community take a sabbatical from electoral politics for some time, make its identity in politics invisible, and concentrate on rebuilding its progressive and developmental institutions.

A deeper look into the problems reveals that traditionalists among Muslims and neo-Islamists are also responsible for the community’s social, economic and educational backwardness, and its adverse reputation. Triple talaq, halala, an avoidance of appropriate mehr, the usurpation of women’s property rights and the practice of female circumcision among certain sections of the community are justified as “belief”, though they run contrary to the concept of insaaf, justice in Islam, and modernity.

The neo-Islamists have discovered a new form of Islam as a result of contact with West Asia. Religio-cultural imports from West Asian countries have considerably changed the cultural behaviour of Muslims. Dresses like the naqab, hijab and afiah, alien to Indian Muslims till a few decades ago, have become prevalent in the community in many parts of the country. Some of these cause divisions between religious communities and are inimical to the effective participation of women in everyday social, political and economic activities.

The neo-Islamists also emphasise religious and educational practices that undermine male-female equality in the
public sphere. These also undermine progressive relationships between religion, politics and economy, and between
communities. The cultural imports have slowed — even scuttled — reforms on women’s rights (including triple talaq) and the modernisation of the traditions of the Muslim community. Neo-Islam, like neo-Hinduism, is injurious to India’s pluralism.

Although economic compulsions and availability, not choice, shape the engagement of Muslims with educational institutions, the traditionalists’ emphasis on Urdu and Urdu medium schools have led them to ignore modern languages like English. A large share of Muslim students get educated in Urdu or vernacular medium schools, which have poor infrastructure and teachers of poor quality.

Urdu is neither the first language of the state, nor the market, so children educated in Urdu medium schools and madrasas add to unskilled, casual and menial workers. Maharashtra, where about 46 per cent of Muslim students are enrolled in such schools, is an example of such backwardness.

The drop-out rate among Muslims across states, after middle-level education, is high. Only a very small proportion of students from the community complete higher education, mainly from low-grade universities and colleges. Most of these graduates are not able to relate to modern economic sectors or to find gainful employment.

The community’s elites have acted strategically to maintain their class position by reinforcing obscurantism and encouraging neo-Islamic practices. The community lacks modern schools and higher educational institutions, especially in the social sciences, that can promote new research and precipitate reforms.

Significantly, the progressive elements from the community have been at the receiving end of right-wing elements, both from within and outside the community. Reformists and critics within have distanced themselves from the community, which prefers sycophants who eulogise obscurantist practices. The lack of space within the community for reformists has forced some to join the parties and groups they had, for a long time, blamed for being antithetical to communal harmony and national unity.

Interesting class divisions have emerged in so far as the expression of religiosity in the community is concerned. The neo-rich perform Haj multiple times and overspend on sacrificing animals, festivals and marriages — all this, while the poor and lower classes struggle to survive and face the brunt of Hindutva. The profligacies of the neo-rich have immense social and economic opportunity costs for the Muslim community, especially when it is in an adverse relationship with prevailing political powers, and is being asked to respond to its own problems.


The writer is deputy director, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Tuljapur Campus. Views expressed are personal  

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  1. H
    Jul 7, 2017 at 10:36 am
    Badly written article by a typical Barelvi. Hijab and Niqab are clothing choices women make themselves. Women in hijab have won the Olympics medals and the Nobel Peace Prize. Urdu medium schools are in decline because most muslims send their children to Hindi and English medium schools anyway. The author is ignorant of the fact that those who graduate from Urdu schools have options at Maulana Azad University and Deoband. Infact traditionalists are the most well off in terms of education. Abdul Kaleem Siddiqui, Salman Nadwi, Faiz Syed and Mubarak Kabdi are prominent examples. The author has completely ignored the fact that crime rates and illiteracy are infact highest among Barelvis, who follow the most distorted version of Islam. True reform will only come when muslims follow Islam the way it should be and eliminate backwardness of taazias and grave worship. I only agree with the author on his opinions regarding the new rich muslims who are more concerned with showing off than Zakat
    1. S
      May 21, 2017 at 8:18 pm
      Shaban Sahib, well written but one sided view, may be because you are a Muslim. When you are pointing a finger at someone don't forget three fingers are pointing towards you. Introspect your self and your religious teaching, how Islam cuted non believers of Islam in the world Histry . Islam spread not because it's teaching are true but out of fear, out of lust, out of marrying and raping more women whom the riders conquered, if Allah is true God, how come it validates the kil of other human being, his own children's, think twice the crux of the teachings of Islam is very contradictory, it's a barbaric cult, if you don't agree openly , let your consciousness evaluate
      1. Mr. Stark
        May 27, 2017 at 8:18 am
        The only barbaric cult in India is brahmanism. Will be destro .
      2. H
        May 21, 2017 at 7:55 pm
        "Dresses like the naqab, hijab and afiah, alien to Indian Muslims till a few decades ago, have become prevalent in the community in many parts of the country" This says all. Frontline soldiers Sufi sell Islam as tolerant faith, not much different from local faith. Then fis take over. So Hindus have to careful and avoid Sufis, as they are only mask. fis are the REAL.
        1. Kapil Sutra
          May 21, 2017 at 6:21 pm
          Taslima Nasrin of Bangladesh who is living on exile in India has the answers.
          1. RK singh
            May 21, 2017 at 11:28 am
            "Muslims-one of the most deprived communities of the 21 century" . Really? I feel they are so pampered like spoilt betas. They have best of treatment world wide, with no justification. They swarm all over Europe like parasites and take part of their welfare. Their religion preaches hatred, but we are forced to call it peaceful.
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