What should Muslims do?

Last Updated: Thu, Jan 22, 2009 05:48 hrs

Arvind Lavakare may be 71, but the fire in his belly burns stronger than in many people half his age. The economics post-graduate worked with the Reserve Bank of India and several private and public sector companies before retiring in 1997. His first love, however, remains sports. An accredited cricket umpire in Mumbai, he has reported and commented on cricket matches for newspapers, Doordarshan and AIR. Lavakare has also been regularly writing on politics since 1997, and published a monograph, The Truth About Article 370, in 2005.

Some answers to the question asked by the title of this column were given at a seminar organised by Abu Asim Azmi, the fiery Samajwadi MP, in Mumbai held this month. The answers provided at the seminar by Muslim leaders, former SIMI activists and relatives of bomb blasts accused are frightening and cause for great worry to those who genuinely care for the nation. 

The seminar’s theme was What Muslims Should Do and, according to The Times of India report on it, thespeakers present “asked the community to boycott elections” “Are we being tortured because we are Muslims?” they asked. “We are born Mujahid (one who fights the jihad) and will bring on a jihad at the appropriate time.” Again, “When it comes to swords, we have to answer with swords” they said. A final response was “We have to go back to the holy Qumran for a solution to riots.” 

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The above thinking is proof that the largest minority community in our country is just not satisfied by the bounties that the UPA government has given them in the last four years.

A separate financial budget for the Muslims, a ministry for the Minorities, the Sachar Committee report to identify the Muslims as the lowest in the economic and social rungs of society and quick action on its remedial recommendations, reservation of jobs in Andhra, increase in the Haj subsidy and all the rest of tea and sympathy from our “secular” community has apparently not been enough for the likes of Azmi. Their grievances seem unending despite all the mollycoddle treatment given them by successive Congress governments right from the time of Partition in 1947. For more than half a century, it would appear, the Muslim community has only had demands without even thinking of obligations in return. It would seem that the community just does not think that it needs to do some introspection into its attitudes towards the rest of the country. Its persecution complex seems chronic. 

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How different it all is from the thought process of the late Dr Rafiq Zakaria, the eminent Muslim politician and scholar of Islam. In his book “Communal Rage In Secular India” (Popular Prakashan, September 2002) Dr Zakaria devoted the entire last chapter to “What Muslims Should Do?”, and accepting that there is a great deal of anxiety among Indian Muslims who believed there is little they can do to save themselves, he recommended the following. 

  1. Confrontation has done no good to the Muslims. The only alternative is for them is to change their outlook. Muslims must try and become an integral part of the mainstream. They must wholeheartedly collaborate in enriching composite nationalism. For this, they must get out of their ghetto mentality, break the barriers of alienation and generate a harmonious environment.
  2. They must discard their worn-out prejudices and outmoded habits and adjust themselves to the requirements of the changing times. They must stop asking for doles which will only cripple them, and instead learn to stand on their own feet because the fact is that they have no true friends; many who show them sympathy are not sincere and do so only for electoral gain. Even Muslims from other countries have never come to their rescue. This has been proved time and again, and the wise must now take the hint and correct themselves.
  3. Muslims continue to live in a make-believe world of their own. Their leaders waste their energies in whipping up emotions and bringing more trouble to the ordinary Muslims. There are also the other “warriors” --- priests, academicians, journalists --- who add fuel to the fire by taking up cudgels on behalf of the community. Indian Muslims have to come out of this quagmire; they must show such self-appointed champions of their cause in their place; they must do their best to change the hostile attitude of the Hindus against them and take their proper share in the nation’s development.
  4. Indian Muslims must join hands with liberal Hindus to work zealously for harmony between the two communities. To succeed in this task, they must change their own behaviour, indeed their entire perception.
  5. Indian Muslims must boldly come forward to undergo all-round transformation in their style of functioning. The younger generation in particular will have to arm themselves both educationally and socially. They will succeed if parents shed their old habits, give up their outdated notions, and help encourage and help their sons and daughters to get the best education. Merit alone will give them reward; they must never seek patronage.
  6. Indian Muslims must disarm the jihadis and disown the bigotism which has made Muslims pariahs everywhere. They must give assurance to the non-Muslims that their religion stands for “live and let live”. This reformation will rejuvenate Islam itself.
  7. Without compromising the Quranic injunctions, Indian Muslims must agree to the introduction of certain much-needed, essential changes in the Personal, particularly the enactment of monogamy. There is, in fact, enough scope under the Shariah to amend the laws relating to marriage, divorce, dower and even maintenance.
  8. The controversy on the singing of Vande Mataram is meaningless. It was sung by all Muslim leaders of the Congress during the freedom struggle. Those Muslims who do not want to sing it, may not, but they must stand up when it is sung as a mark of respect to an anthem which has a hoary past and is declared as a national song. Why add hurt to an already worsening communal relationship?
  9. There is the question of family planning on which much of our country’s progress depends. It cannot be denied that Muslims have not taken to it as seriously as Hindus. This has to be corrected. There must be a vigorous campaign for its implementation among Muslims and their leaders in every sector must engage themselves to persuade them to adopt it so that they do not lag behind Hindus in fulfilling this most urgent task, without which India cannot succeed in eradicating poverty.
  10. Muslims must make a sustained effort to convince Hindus that they should have no fear of them and assure them that they harbour no enmity towards them, nor are in a secret conspiracy with Muslims elsewhere to harm them. They must give assurance that Muslims are as much the sons of the soil as Hindus and as committed to the country’s glory and prosperity as Hindus are.
  11. Finally, the punch line. “What Indian Muslims have to understand is that eventually it is not their leaders but they themselves who will have to make their destiny.”

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Readers need to be assured that the above is not the fiction of some Hindutva mind, but the actual printed thoughts written by one who was a Ph.D. from London University, was called to the Bar from Lincoln’s Inn, and was active in India’s freedom struggle. He had a distinguished career in law, education and journalism and politics and was a scholar of international repute.

Even more significantly, Dr.Zakaria was a Congressman, first and last. Yes, a Congressman who was deputy leader of the party in Parliament after he had spent 15 years as cabinet minister in the Maharashtra government. 

His manifesto for what Muslims should do in the present times is the one that, alas, is totally lost on all Congressmen of all hues, on all the Abu Azmis of our political world, on all the pseudo-secularists from Javed Akhtar and Shabana Azmi to Teesta Setalvad and Arundhati Roy, and, of course, on all our ivory tower elites of English journalism.

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