The Indian Muslim Dilemma: Need for Introspection
By Maulana Waris Mazhari
(Translated by Yoginder Sikand)
It appears that instead of being resolved, the many problems that the Indian Muslims face are mounting by the day. Undoubtedly, Muslims have also gained from the development that India has witnessed since 1947 because they are also a part of this country. However, overall, there can be no doubt that Muslims now stand much behind most other communities in the country, as numerous surveys, including the recently-released Sachar Committee Report, clearly show.
Various arguments are given to explain this predicament. Many Muslims claim that this is a result of an alleged “conspiracy” hatched by others. A large number of Muslim religious leaders, not just in India alone but elsewhere too, seek to explain many of the serious problems of the Muslims in this manner. They claim to locate the “hidden hand” of others behind all their manifold problems. Some of our ulema or religious leaders also seek to provide what they claim is religious justification for this sort of explanation, before which people, even those who are not satisfied with the narrow-mindedness of the approach of these ulema, are forced to keep shut.
In my opinion it is not true to say that the Indian Muslims have no problems at all simply on account of being Muslims and that, in practice, they enjoy equal opportunities in every field with others and that all fields are equally open to them. Nor, however, is it true to say that all, or even most, of these doors have been closed to them and that oppression has now come to be a matter decreed by Fate for them. It is unfortunate that many of our religious leaders believe that the only way out is for a messiah-like figure to appear to deliver them from the situation in which they find themselves. It is equally unfortunate that the Muslim political leadership considers heated rhetoric, empty sloganeering and angry demonstrations as the solution.
On the internal front, the single major problem afflicting the Indian Muslims is their woeful state of education. If, after independence, we had focussed simply on promoting education as our agenda, I believe that half the problems that we appear to be confronted with today would not have existed. It is in the field of education and knowledge that we should be focussing our energies, not in engaging in endless controversies with others.
For the Indian Muslims, and Muslims all over the world in general, an intellectual renaissance has now become indispensable. This includes a renaissance in their political, social as well as religious thought. There must be a re-thinking of certain strongly-held notions that have come to be seen an essential part of traditional Islamic thought, although these may not actually be so. In this regard, ijtihad or critical reflection on issues is of immense importance and we can no longer avoid it. Unfortunately, however, many of our ulema continue to ignore, and even deny, the need for ijtihad. Many Indian ulema have simply no idea of the needs and conditions of today¢s age. They simply lack the capacity to understand the demands of the times and the need for appropriately addressing these issues. This is a matter of very grave concern.
One issue of considerable importance in this regard is that of relations between Hindus and Muslims. There is an urgent need to revise certain traditional negative understandings upheld by some of our ulema about Hindu-Muslim relations, and to articulate alternate understandings that can help promote, rather than hinder, cooperation and friendly relations between these two communities. Some of our ulema, based on an incorrect understanding of certain verses of the Quran and Hadith reports attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, erroneously argue that true friendship is impossible between Hindus and Muslims. Some of them seek to equate the polytheists of Arabia with the Hindus, and, on this basis, claim that Hindus are the biggest enemies of the Muslims. This, in my view, is not at all correct because the polytheists that the Quran refers to as enemies of Muslims are those who fiercely opposed the Prophet and waged war against him. The laws related to them, I believe, cannot be applied to other people who are not open and avowed enemies of Muslims.
This is why when Muhammad bin Qasim established his rule in Sindh, he considered the Hindus to be similar to the “People of the Book”, and provided them the same status that the Quran provides to Jews and Christians and granted them religious freedom. He did not consider them to be in the same category as the polytheists of Arabia who waged war against the Prophet. The same stance was continued by subsequent Muslim rulers of India, although, unfortunately, some ulema opposed this position and some even continue to do so today. Some Muslims wrongly believe that Muslims must be in a perpetual state of war with Hindus, and for this they adduce a statement contained in a book compiled by Imam Nisai, wherein it is claimed that the Prophet Muhammad had prophesied an armed jihad against India. It is instructive to note that this statement is not contained in any reliable and important book of Hadith, and it can be interpreted as an incident that has already taken place centuries ago, and not something that is yet to come, as some radical self-styled Islamists claim.
In this regard a crucial issue is that of the shariah position on the status of India. Numerous leading ulema have declared India to be a dar ul-ahad or ¡abode of agreement¢, wherein Muslims must live like loyal citizens. This was the position taken by such leading ulema as Allama Ashraf Ali Thanwi and Allama Anwar Shah Kashmiri of the Deoband school. However, and unfortunately, some ulema continue to claim that India is a dar ul-harb or “abode of war”. I believe that this debate must be ended at once and we have to accept India as dar ul-ahad. However, the fact remains that this debate that was gradually dying out and moving in the direction of a sensible solution has been sought to be revived by the warped writings of some traditional ulema as well as by the wrong interpretations of some Quranic verses and Hadith reports deliberately propagated by some radical self-styled Islamist groups based in Pakistan in order to serve their own vested interests.
In this regard I must also mention that many Arab ulema are unaware of contemporary global political developments. They have no understanding of the particular conditions and contexts of Muslims living in largely non-Muslim countries, which some of them wrongly brand as dar ul-harb. This is completely wrong. Further, their thought is moulded by the tradition of jurisprudence that developed in the context of Muslim political supremacy. Their writings often leave an indelible impact on simple minds. They rant and rave against secularism by branding it as ¡anti-Islamic¢, and have produced huge amounts of literature to make this point. And because the madrasas do not teach their students to relate the tradition of Islamic jurisprudence to changing social and political conditions and contexts, they are unable to understand these vital issues properly and so become wholly conditioned by the contents of this sort of literature. This is an issue that urgently needs to be addressed.
In every country, minorities do face additional problems and issues, and it is unlikely that these can ever be fully resolved. The correct approach in this regard is to accept these conditions as facts and then to work for realistic solutions, instead of stirring unnecessary controversies. Unfortunately, we Muslims focus all our attention on seeking to highlight the causes of our problems instead of working to solve them in a practical, pragmatic and sensible manner.