In Secularism’s Brexit moment’ (IE, January 6), Ramesh Venkataraman urges secularists to engage in a self critical debate. The RSS/BJP’s drive of the past six months has led to a shift in the national discourse, which has gone against Muslims. The community is passing through a difficult phase, especially in Kashmir and Uttar Pradesh. Have Muslim secularists failed in presenting their viewpoint? Have they blundered in understanding the RSS psyche? A critical analysis of secularism is necessary to stop the widening and dangerous communal divide .
Prophet Muhammad would often remark on the fragrant breeze that blew into the Arab world from Hind. Kerala and the Arab peninsula had trade links. The first mosque in India was built about the time the Prophet passed away. Of course, there were basic differences between Islam and Hinduism. But the Quran was revealed to the Prophet in a period of over 20 years. Similarly, Hinduism is a religion based on revelations to many rishis over centuries. The core of both faiths stress peace, compassion and brotherhood.
To Muslims, the revelations to the Prophet served as a bond. But interpretations of that message led to the birth of various sects. Hinduism, in contrast, was a spiritual pyramid, with the Brahmins at the top and Dailts at the bottom. The division of labour and intellectual work divided Hindu society into caste and subcastes.
Gandhi sought to make Muslims an active component of the national movement against the British colonialists. The Sultan of Turkey, regarded as the Caliph by Muslims, was overthrown after World War 1 and the title of Caliph was taken away from him. Orthodox Muslims of India wanted that the title be returned to the Sultan. Gandhiji made this one of the demands of the national movement. In hindsight, this sounds absurd. The move strengthened the orthodoxy among Muslims. The ulema’s role increased, which had disastrous consequences leading to the country’s Partition. Jinnah, a liberal, was isolated in national politics and became bitter. In the late 1930s, he joined hands with the ulema and other ultra conservatives among the Muslims and took over the leadership of the community. His demand for Partition inaugurated a tragedy for the Muslim that continues to this day.
The heaviest price was paid by the Muslims who remained in India. The rich and educated Muslims shifted to Pakistan. The poor and illiterate remained in India, where they faced the anger of the Hindus.
Islam is by nature a universal faith. It is incompatible with nationalism. A faith based on one god, one prophet and one holy book can never be bound by territorial boundaries. Show me two Muslim countries that share a common border and yet live as brothers. Religion and nationalism are fundamental aspects of modern life. But for Muslims these are often clashing concepts that make peoples’ lives miserable. Pakistan has been embroiled in a longstanding conflict with Afghanistan. In contrast, Bangladesh is a success story because all its neighbours are predominantly non-Muslim.
The sensible way out for Indian Muslims is to turn their energies inward, provide young Muslims with the best possible education in good schools and colleges. The poor students of the community should be provided scholarships and poor Muslims who attend municipal and panchayat schools should receive special coaching. This can be accomplished with a wise use of Zakat funds. In Gujarat, we established the Zidni Ilma Charitable Trust, which caters to the poor and lower middle class children. The funds come mostly from ordinary Muslims, though a few rich patrons help us a lot. That may be the only salve to the pain caused by the Partition or a way to calm the anxieties caused by the CAA/NRC.
Fortunately, the Muslims are coming out of the clutches of religious fanaticism. They have begun to focus on education, participate in business and criticise religious strictures that discriminate on the basis of gender. Most Muslims accept that triple talaq is against Quranic injunctions. The sharp rise in Muslim women professionals is a vital sign of change. Much more needs to be done. We have been urging richer Muslims to avoid repeated Haj and Umra visits and use the money to support poor students .
It is also vital that educated Muslims establish links with the RSS. This is not to say that they should join the outfit. But it would benefit everyone, if RSS members see for themselves how ordinary Muslims live. Healthy social relations between ordinary Muslims and Hindus will go a long way in establishing peace and stability in our cities, towns and villages. Indian Muslims are the lost children of Partition. Let us reclaim them and see how rapidly India rises in the eyes of the world. That would be the best tribute to Mahatma Gandhi on his 150 anniversary.
This article first appeared in the print edition of January 8, 2020, under the title “Let’s Reclaim The Muslims”. The writer, a human rights activist based in Vadodara, taught physics at M S University.