The future of Muslims in India

Turn towards education and science. There is hope. The arc of history invariably bends towards justice

The future of Muslims in India

JS Bandukwala

Muslims first came to India within the life time of the Holy Prophet. The first mosque built in India was at Kerala about 632 AD. And it still stands there. The Prophet is reported to have remarked that ‘He feels fragrant winds coming from India.’

This can only be explained in terms of trade links between the Arabian Peninsula and Kerala. The Prophet, prior to the first Quranic revelation in 611, was a successful trader and a highly intelligent man. He was aware of India. Years later this bonding of the Holy Prophet with India, came out in a most tragic manner. At Karbala, around 681, Imam Hussain the beloved grandson of the Prophet made a final appeal to his oppressors, to allow him to leave the Arabian Peninsula and settle down in India. The appeal was turned down, and the Imam and his male members were brutally killed. But the very fact that the Imam desired to settle down in India, at a critical time in his life is an issue that binds The Prophet’s family to India.

No wonder the western coast of the subcontinent, stretching from Sind to Saurashtra, down to Konkan and Malabar, is dotted with ancient mosques. The first footsteps of Islam in India were through trade. But more relevantly it was bound to the great tragedy of Karbala, which left a permanent dividing line on Islamic history.

Succeeding centuries saw migration from the North-West. The fertile lands of Punjab were a great attraction for nomadic people. Yet the greatest pull towards Islam was due to Sufi saints, such as Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti of Ajmer, Khawaza Bande Nawaz of Gulbarga and Khwaja Nizamuddin Aulia of Delhi.

For the first time the lowest strata of Indian society, found a spiritual call. They responded by the millions from across the Gangetic plain right down to Bengal. It literally changed the face of the subcontinent. The story of Muslims in India was not so much that of Sultans and kings, as it was of these sufi babas reaching out to the lowest strata of Indian society.

Almost a thousand years later, this vast teeming land, was home to hundreds and millions of Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Sikhs. One of the paradoxes of history was this huge mass was held together by the might of a British army. But two world wars and a determined nonviolent movement of Gandhiji, made it impossible for the British to rule. To our tragedy British India could not stay one as a United India. The consequences have been most tragic for hundreds of millions of people. What was a Hindu Muslim issue, soon became an India-Pakistan clash at the world level. Stones gave way to missiles and ultimately nuclear weapons. In a literal sense, we live at the edge of disaster. Passions soon led to political parties espousing extremists’ agenda. This pleased their own members, but it wreaked havoc on those outside their charmed circles.

The last four years have witnessed a frightening rise of aggressive majoritarianism. The beautiful Kashmir valley lies ruined. Gujarat, the land of Gandhi, is today substantially under saffron. In the North-East, there are over 4 million people awaiting a cruel axe, but not knowing where they will go.

Have we paused to ask why Dalits and poor Muslims eat beef? In most cases this is the only source of cheap nutrition available to the poor family. In its absence, they will not be able to do the hard-physical work, that provides the family income. Rather my hunch is the RSS has built up the cow to a divine status, knowing very well that it would end up killing Muslims and Dalits through hunger.

There is hope. The arc of history invariably bends towards justice. As mentioned above, hundreds of millions of very poor Dalits, responded to the spiritual call of the Sufis. The neo Muslims were so huge, that by current population, Muslims constitute close to half the total population of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh combined.

There was a downside to the issue. The Sultans of those days did nothing to improve the socio-economic conditions of these Dalit Muslims. Rajput- Muslim alliances were encouraged to counter the impact of Dalit Muslims. At least three of the Mughal emperors had Rajput mothers. This gave essential stability to the Mughal empire.

But nothing was done to raise the earning power of these Dalits Muslims by the last Census, Muslims are about 14 % of the population. But note that Dalit and OBC Muslims constitute about 75 % of the total. So far, they have not gained, either in education or in earnings. It is these Muslims who invariably become cannon fodder during communal riots.

This suggest that the Muslim community must focus heavily on providing good education to these poor Muslims. Fortunately, Islam has an inbuilt mechanism for the same. Almost all Muslims will set aside an amount for zakat for poorer people. Normally these funds are given as handouts. But the new trend is to use these in an organised way to provide scholarships to bright, but economically poor students. In Gujarat we have a number of such bodies. In Vadodara, we run Zidni Ilma Charitable Trust that collect every year about 60 lacs for the above purpose. It supports the education of about 450 bright doctors, para medics, and engineers. In twelve years, we have changed the educational standards of the community.

In the final part, I would like to reflect on the interaction of Muslims with the Jan Sangh / BJP, together with the interaction of Muslims with the Congress, and finally the need for Muslims to seek the inner light.

After Nehru, there was no leader who could reach out to the Muslim mass 

Muslims and the BJP: The relationship as been adversarial from the days of Dr Hegdewar. Rather, the very existence of the RSS was premised on saving India from the Muslims. But by the latest count, Muslims constitute 200 million in population. They are spread over almost all the districts and talukas of India. While 75% are poor and illiterate, the remaining 25% are mostly well educated and belong to the middle to rich class in India. The religious bonding between these well-off Muslims and the poor Muslims is very close. How will the RSS get rid of such a large number? Would it not be better if the RSS re-examined its precepts? They may not treat Muslims like they treated Dr Kalam, who was for all purposes identified very much with the RSS. Can we not learn to just accept each other, and avoid touching issues that may damage Muslim-Hindu relations? Here I would urge Muslims to take a more liberal line on Babri Masjid. Tens of thousands died on the issue of Babri 25 years ago. Enough of bad blood and sorrow. Let us go beyond it. Live and let live attitude should not lead to other demands on the Muslim community. India is large enough for both of us. Let no more blood be spilt due to it.

Muslims and the Congress: Oddly, the only two top figures who understood Muslims were Gandhji and Nehru. Gandhi, with his intense spiritual background, could make a dent in the Muslim mind. In a way, Gandhi was the perfect Muslim who knew the Quranic Ayats, and their meanings far better than most Muslims. Yet he made no impact on Jinnah. That is easy to understand today, for Jinnah was for all practical purposes a non-practising Muslim. But he had a huge impact on many Muslims, which affected the future of our country. Nehru was the secular hero. Muslims loved him. His presence at a critical stage in 1947 made transition a little more bearable. After Nehru, there was no leader who could reach out to the Muslim mass. Muslim leaders could rarely influence policy on issues vital to the community. Oddly, RSS/BJP leaders were successful in projecting Muslim leaders as pampered by the Congress, at a heavy cost to the country.

Issues like Babri Masjid, cows and innumerable clashes between Muslim and Hindu kings centuries ago, could only widen the communal divide. The frequent loss of lives and property created panic within the community. Low education and poverty made the situation worse.

The religious bonding between these well-off Muslims and the poor Muslims is very close. 

Yet we did not lose hope. All over India movements began to educate our boys and girls. The situation today is much better than it was after 1969 and the 2002 riots in Gujarat.

Finally, at my age I have the right to advise my own community. Muslim world is in turbulence almost everywhere. Lives have been lost in internecine clashes between Muslims and Muslims all over the world. The sight of children in Yemen dying of hunger, so close to the rich Saudi Arabia, is a shame on the entire Muslim world.

Allah will not pardon us our silence or our callousness. In the name of our beloved Prophet, let us stop this horrifying killings, and turn toward education and science. Allah will show us the way.

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