Saturday, January 24, 2009

Indian Muslims - Where Have They Gone Wrong?

I was thrilled when a friend’s father gifted me this book by Dr Rafiq Zakaria. “Indian Muslims – Where have they gone wrong?” The book is an honest attempt by a well respected individual. A congressman to the core Dr Zakaria is a staunch supporter of the principles set by Gandhiji. His dislike of Jinnah and his politics is also something you can’t miss in his work.

But before I talk about the actual book I’ve to mention the absolutely brilliant foreword by another famous Indian writer M.J. Akbar.

For those in a hurry, just the foreword would give you the essence of the book. Akbar hits the nail on the head when he ponders, “At what point in the last thousand years did Indian Muslims become a majority?” They were never in the majority even before the partition. He explains, “A minority is not a function of numbers, but a definition of empowerment. As long as Muslims felt that they were an important, and even decisive, element of the ruling group they did not feel that they were a minority.” To him the portrait of the Indian Muslims is drawn by four great Urdu poets Amir Khusrau, Mirza Ghalib, Akbar Allahabadi and Sir Muhammad Iqbal. He summarises the Indian Muslims in a beautiful couplet from Akbar Allahabadi-

“Paamal hain magar hain sabit qadam wafa main
Hum misle-e-sang-e-dar ke is aastaan par hain’’

[Though crushed, we are firm in our loyalty
We are like a rock at the threshold of our country]

The book as a whole is a scholarly work of immense importance in today’s context. Dr Zakaria raised a very important question, “Where have Indian Muslims gone wrong?” And he provides us the answer: Whenever they forget their Indian roots.

The author has explored the subject in depth. He talks about the role of Muslims in the freedom struggle of the country, Hindu-Muslim relations in pre and post partition India, the Pakistan angle, religious extremism, problems facing the Indian Muslims and the need for a change in the Muslim outlook. The worst thing that happened to Indian Muslims according to him was the partition of India, and he holds Jinnah mostly responsible for not just dividing the country but the Muslim community as well. Looking forward Dr Zakaria advices Indian Muslims to stop asking for doles and instead harness their inner strength to be self-reliant. But first they have to discard their in-built prejudices and outmoded habits.

He also calls upon the non-Muslims and Muslims alike to understand the real message of Islam. Speaking to Muslims the author is quite blunt-“They must know that long beard, short pyjama and flowing veil do not constitute the faith. The Quran clarifies that ammalus salah (good deed) is the only criterion.”

Dr Zakaria brings some interesting facts to the fore-

• The period of effective and comprehensive Muslim rule over India from the seventh to the thirteenth centuries was barely of thirty years duration.
• Shivaji’s treatment of his Muslim subjects was exemplary. He even built a mosque along with a temple in front of his palace in his capital Raigarh.
• The mosque at Ayodhya was built by a Shia Mir Baqui but was later used by the Sunnis.
• Babur’s testament that he left for his son refutes the various allegations against him. It talks about doing justice to each community, avoiding cow-slaughter, taking care of the places of worship, promoting Islam by deeds and not terror, ignoring the differences of Shia and Sunni, and promoting national integration.
• Dara Shikoh (eldest son of Shah Jahan) brought out the common features between Muslim and Hindu mystics in his Majmal-ul-Bahrayn.
• During the Mughal period the saint Mirza Mazhar Jan-i-Janan pronounced that Muslims must accept Rama and Krishna as the prophets of God, something which was highlighted by Syed Sulaiman Nadvi of Lucknow’s famous Nadwat-ul-Ulema in his Seeratun Nabi. [*]
• In 1985 a petition was filed to ban the Quran as a threat to peace and communal harmony before the Calcutta High Court. The petition was rightly dismissed as isolated passages, read out of context, cannot change the true peaceful position of the holy book.
• A sect called Nizari Ismaili pioneered the movement for terrorism. They were given ‘hashish’ from which the word ‘assasin’ was drawn.

I was particularly impressed by a Nehru’s speech delivered on the campus of my alma mater, Aligarh Muslim University. It goes something like this-“You are Muslims and I am a Hindu. We may adhere to different religious faiths or even to none, but that does not take away from that cultural inheritance that is yours as well as mine. The past holds us together, why should the present or the future divide us in spirits?...Whatever confusion the present may contain (referring to communalism), in the future, India will be a land, as in the past, of many faiths equally honoured and respected but of one national outlook – not I hope a narrow nationalism living in its own shell but rather the tolerant creative nationalism, which believing in itself and the genius of its people takes full part in the establishment of an international order.” Strong words that hold true even today!

The book is actually a collection of Dr Zakaria’s articles, written over a period of more than 50 years. Perhaps that explains the repetitions, which are a plenty! Still it could have been better edited. My other issue with Dr Zakaria is the constant mention of his own work for the upliftment of Indian Muslims and his uncalled for defence of some books he has authored. He could have written separately about them. That said the book shows a mirror to the Indian Muslims of their past and what went wrong along the way. Dr Zakaria has also written quite passionately about the ways in which the situation can be turned around.

*Pg 485-

Syed Sulaiman Nadvi says, “According to the teachings of the Prophet, it is necessary to believe that in countries such as China, Iran or India, there appeared prophets before the advent of Muhammad [PBUH]. No Muslim can really deny to the people in these lands the truth of their faiths, ascribed to the mentors venerated by them. On this basis, some ulama have described India’s Rama and Krishna as Prophets.”

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