South Asia
     Apr 9, 2005
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The road to amity
Indian Muslims: Where Have They Gone Wrong? by Rafiq Zakaria

Reviewed by Sreeram Chaulia

Few have steadfastly walked the thankless road to Hindu-Muslim harmony like Dr Rafiq Zakaria, one of India's most ardent liberal thinkers. The theme of Zakaria's 17th book is the nefarious role  played by Muslim political leaders in impeding communal harmony before and after Indian independence.

M J Akbar, another rare specimen from the community of the enlightened, writes in the foreword that the flaw in Indian Muslim politics after 1857 was the minority complex based on the specious number game, the belief that Muslims, being only a quarter of the population, would always be subservient to Hindus. "Where have Indian Muslims gone wrong? Whenever they have forgotten their Indian roots."

Zakaria takes the bull by the horns by dilating on how the present generation of Indian Muslims is suffering the consequences of erroneous steps taken by its leadership of yore and now. In the 1940s, Muslim elites "gave Muhammad Ali Jinnah all the support he needed" for partition of the South Asian subcontinent. After 1947, "they resorted to the same manner of confrontation with the dominant Hindus, widened the divide and intensified the hatred" (p xxviii). Ordinary Muslims were indoctrinated with a "ghetto mentality" and divorced from the national mainstream owing to "obstinate adherence to outmoded traditions" and fear of the ulama (clerical class).

Despite differences in the character of Islam and Hinduism, there was no move for partition in medieval times. Muslim rulers who persecuted Hindu subjects made no effort to divide territories on communal lines. Common Muslims and Hindus had largely cordial relations, celebrating each other's festivals. Despite conflicts between ruling classes of the two communities, Indo-Saracenic art, music, literature and architecture flourished. Muslim poets, writers and philosophers "went into ecstasy over the secrets of human emancipation in the Bhagavad Gita" (p 38). Muslim musicians composed raagas in praise of the Hindu deities Krishna and Shiva. Urdu literature, from Amir Khusrau to Hasrat Mohani, bristled with respect for Hindu saints and spiritual precursors.

The real threat to India's unity came from Jinnah's "aggressive separatist stand". His pernicious "two-nation theory" poisoned communal ties as never before. His campaign to frighten Muslims that Hindus would subjugate them to "abject slavery" or "complete annihilation" inflamed misunderstanding and passions. Thousands of Indian Muslims combated the communal virus. Badruddin Tyabjee, Rehmatulla Sayani, Shibli Nomani, M A Ansari, Hakim Ajmal Khan, Maulana Azad, Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Hussain Ahmad Madni, Rafi Ahmad Kidwai, Syed Abdullah Barelvi, Humayun Kabir et al risked the ire of their co-religionists to uphold oneness of all faiths. However, the British "kept Jinnah in the forefront in any negotiation and did not allow him to be isolated" (p 100). Lord Mountbatten, the last viceroy of British India, convinced Congress leaders that "the only way to get rid of Jinnah was a divided India. Any form of a united India would start a civil war" (p 115).

In the aftermath of partition, prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru rushed to the rescue of innocent Muslim victims. His "anti-communalism was not one-sided. He fought Muslim communalism no less valiantly" (p 125). He opposed separate electorates and reservation of seats for minorities. His daughter, Indira Gandhi, was ever concerned about the psychosis through which Indian Muslims were passing. In her opinion, "Unless Muslims are made to feel that they are as much an integral part of India as Hindus, their attachment to secularism would remain hypocritical" (p 199).

The creation of Pakistan fueled Hindu-Muslim bitterness instead of easing it. Indian Muslims were more besieged than before 1947. Pakistan is "a constant threat to their safety and security in India". Persecuted Bengali Muslims "had to be eventually rescued by Indian armed forces, consisting mostly of Hindus". Average Muslims in Pakistan and Bangladesh still "groan under the iron heels of feudal cliques backed by the army" (p 162).

Zakaria strongly asserts that any solution of the Kashmir dispute on the lines desired by Pakistan will reopen the floodgates of vehement communalism. "The best way of silencing the Pakistanis and preserving Kashmir's integration with India is to strengthen the link between Kashmiri Muslims and Indian Muslims" (p 405). Terrorism perpetrated in the name of jihad in Indian Kashmir is a major cause of Hindu-Muslim hostility. Zakaria cites Imam Ghazali, popular as the "Rejuvenator of Islam": "If Muslims did not destroy terrorism, terrorism would destroy them" (p 203). To gloat over acts of terrorism and hold jashn (celebrations) depicts "utter crassness and lunacy".

The economic condition of Indian Muslims is worse than that of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes. Muslims have as much to blame as the government for their own backwardness in education. They fail to capitalize on common facilities for educational uplift. Purdah (veiling women) and fear of coeducation deter female children's progress in the secular world. Zakaria urges Indian Muslims to cooperate with Hindus through intensive contact on a daily basis. The former have "their place only in India and they have to get emotionally involved in her affairs, trends, ethos, conventions and traditions" (p 450).

Hatred can be overcome only by love. Since a generalized scare exists among Hindus that Muslims will demographically overtake them, Zakaria calls upon Muslims to eschew polygamy and adopt family planning vigorously. Triple talaaq (arbitrary divorce) and the hajj subsidy have to be abolished. The ostrich-like behavior of such leaders as Syed Shahabuddin and Imam Bukhari harms Muslims by keeping communal rancor alive. Hindus in turn have to live with 150 million Muslims, who cannot be wished away. Threats from the champions of Hindutva to eliminate Muslims have to cease.

Highlighting the more liberal facets of the lives of historical figures can clean mental cobwebs. Shivaji, the Maratha warrior king, had one-third Muslim soldiers in his army. The supreme commander of his navy was a Muslim. The first thing Shivaji did after a conquest was to promulgate protection of mosques and Muslim tombs. "He was more liberal and tolerant than the best of European potentates" (p 315). Swami Vivekananda, the apostle of humanism, saw the real unity of India in Hindu-Muslim goodwill in the villages and averred, "A junction of the two great systems - Vedanta brain and Islam body - is the only hope" (p 327).

The politics of hate is eating into the vitals of India, last demonstrated in the communal horrors of Gujarat. Zakaria takes the electronic media to task for its deep-rooted neglect of progressive Muslim viewpoints. It gives undue publicity to mullahs and fanatics. "If a Muslim demonstrates backwardness, it is news. If he exhibits progressiveness, it is not news" (p 356). The most evident barriers against improvement of Hindu-Muslim relations are riots. Governments and political parties treat them as law-and-order problems, without tying them to economic problems of livelihood among all religious communities.

Indian Muslims live in depressed conditions as hewers of wood and drawers of water, lacking a cogent middle class. Zakaria asks them to harness inner strengths and be self-reliant. "Give up asking for doles ... never seek patronage" (p 427). The mindset of the community has to be transformed by "disarming terrorists and disowning bigotry" (p 464). Indian Muslim perception warrants sea changes. Religious prejudices and narrowness of spirit have to be won over by compassion of the likes of the greatest Sufi, Jalaluddin Rumi:

Then listen! I am lover of love
My love transcends all creeds

Suffused with Urdu, Persian and Hindi poetry, Zakaria's erudite publication will rate as yet another milestone in the peregrinations of the Indian Muslim caravan.

Indian Muslims: Where Have They Gone Wrong? by Rafiq Zakaria. Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai, October 2004. ISBN: 81-7276-352-2. Price: US$11; 565 pages.

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Jinnah's unfulfilled vision
(Mar 19, '05)

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