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Muslims: Smell the coffee

Muslims: Smell the coffee

Author: Khwaja Ekhram
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: August 19, 2006

The community is stigmatised by jihad. It's time educated Muslims come forward to replace the traditional leaders

India, home to the world's second highest Muslim population, may not have produced any Al Qaeda operative yet, but the rank-and-file of the minority community is slowly finding itself sucked into the vortex of pan-Islamic movements sponsored from beyond India's borders. The secular character of the Constitution has ensured equal treatment for members of all communities - majority or minority - and India's progress has been shared by Hindus and Muslims alike. But today, the spectre of political Islam is haunting Indian Muslims, which is not helped by certain sections of them joining pan-Islamic groups, terror outfits and espousing the cause of Muslims in distant parts of the globe.

India's political system, based on democratic pluralism, provides space for all ethnic groups and sub-nationalities. There has been no discrimination by the State against any member of this community which has produced three Presidents, Chief Justices, Foreign Secretaries, apart from a galaxy of top diplomats and Government functionaries. None of the factors that provide a breeding ground to pan-Islamism, whether social or economic, perceived closeness with the US and takes sides with Israel, are present here.

Historically, Indian Muslims have not been impervious to the happenings in the Islamic world. The Khilafat movement of the early 20th century (in support of the Ottoman ruler, who was also the Caliph) was supported by Indian Muslims. Their sentiments have assumed a "pan-Islamic" character following the US "invasions" of Afghanistan and Iraq. The poverty and low literacy that increasingly marks the general profile of Indian Muslims have also contributed to this. But it must be pointed out that the condition of a large section of India's Hindu population is not better either.

Today, more than 50 per cent of those involved in Islamist terrorism in India outside Jammu and Kashmir are Indian Muslims. The remaining are Pakistani and Bangladeshi nationals. The Pakistani military intelligence establishment has been clandestinely helping to spread terrorism to other parts of the country to create pockets of political and economic instability, thus trying to prevent the emergence of India as a major economic and military power at par with China. They have a much larger agenda of bringing Islam in India under the influence of Wahabi school of thought by weaning Muslims away from their cultural roots.

In this age of globalisation, countries and communities are fast moving towards political and cultural renaissance. Keeping with the overall trend of globalisation, countries are witnessing the blurring of their political, social and cultural frontiers. But a large section of Muslims are caught in a "time warp" more reminiscent of the medieval age.

India's Muslims have not moved ahead, and the blame for this does not lie with the Constitution or structural impediments of the Indian state. Had it been so, the community would not have provided a scientist like APJ Abdul Kalam who pioneered, developed and structured India's missile programme.

The distinguished members of the Muslim community rose into prominence not because of any system of political reservations or political favours but because the country provides equal opportunities to all its citizens. A vast majority of Muslims wishes to move forward and share India's emerging economic prosperity but are being held back by traditional forces that lack vision and instead guide the people to espouse causes that are relevant beyond India's borders.

Muslims seem to be at the crossroads as they are unable to decide either to reject modernity espoused by their political and religious leadership or move forward. They must consciously cease to remain as vote-banks.

The political leadership of Muslims presents a mix of traditional conservatives and religious leaders, who are anti-West (read the US) and anti-Israel and loses no time to protest any move by them in West Asia. In the process, it ignores the socio-economic conditions of Muslims at home, as this suits their politics.

Muslims in India face the strongest challenge in deciding whether to be or not to be Indians in its most integrate form. Among them, there are several highly educated and modern professionals who should have emerged as natural leaders of Muslims. But they are beaten back by the domination of the present leadership.

Every time a challenge seems likely to emerge to the established leadership, the name of religion is invoked to neutralise them. The current leadership has medieval overtones, which is more akin to the "fundamentalist fringe" of Pakistani politics.

Between 1999 and 2005, the ISI-supported Pakistani jihadi organisations have spread out to other parts of India beyond Jammu and Kashmir in order to motivate Muslims and intensity their jihad against the state and society. They gave a pan-Islamic orientation to jihad, and started guiding organisations such as the Students' Islamic Movement of India. Under such circumstances, Indian Muslims have to find visionary and bold leaders who could thwart attempts by pan-Islamic organisations and have more integrative approaches to the nation.

The mosque needs to be separated from politics. It should remain only as a shining symbol of the religion and spiritualism.

India's Muslims cannot be Arabs or acquire Arab identities, nor can they live on any other borrowed identities. The identity of Muslim in the country is purely Indian. It is unfortunate that movements launched by various organisations in the name of championing the cause of Muslims have not only kept them in a closed society but also caused harm to them. They need to educate themselves and reject all their hackneyed political forms, attitudes and approaches. Muslim women and the younger generation need to free themselves out of their bindings.

Muslims should demand modernity of thought, action and deed. They should break out of their self-imposed ghettos. India would be richer and stronger when Muslims are successful in shedding the shackles of their leadership and join the national mainstream. Only that would facilitate the full harnessing of their talent and potential. Muslims have to move forward from the crossroads of identity crisis to a prosperous future as stakeholder-citizens of India, as the country is their home and it is here that their future and prosperity lie.

- (The writer is assistant professor, Centre for Indian Languages, School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, JNU)

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