Exclusion of Muslims
By J. S. Bandukwala
The Prophet of Islam was aware of India, once remarking that there is a fragrant breeze coming from India. Islam reached India almost immediately after his passing away in 632. The long Western coast had trade links with the Arabs, much before the arrival of Islam. The Islamic injunction of fair and honest trading, impressed the local people. Many Arabs settled down in Kerala, marrying local women. Shia Sufis converted many Brahmins and Rajputs in Gujarat. Four hundred years later, invaders came from Central Asia. They were followed by Sufi Syeds from Arab lands, escaping persecution from the Abbasid Caliphs. The most prominent was Khawaja Moinuddin Chisti (1142 – 1236), preaching love of God , combined with equality, brotherhood and concern for the poor. Millions, particularly from the lowest strata of society, responded to his teachings, and that of other Sufis such as Khwaja Bande Nawaz in the South, Nizamuddin Aulia and Baba Farid in the North. The Guru Granth Sahib extensively refers to Baba Farid. The foundation stone of the Golden temple was laid by Mia Mir. Sufism had a tremendous influence on the Bhakti movement, producing such spiritual figures as Guru Nanak, Kabir and Mirabai. Today the Muslim population in South Asia is about 500 million. That is about one third of the world Muslim population. Almost all these Muslims have forefathers of local origin, who converted to Islam. A miniscule are of non South Asian origin. The discrimination against Muslims is rooted primarily in this conversion, mostly from Dalit and backward classes. Six hundred years of Muslim rule widened this gulf. The religious policies of Muslim rulers ranged from the most liberal Akbar to his ultra orthodox great grand son Aurangzeb. Frequently Muslim kings fought Hindu rulers, such as Maharana Pratap and Shivaji. In due course these kingly wars were viewed as religious wars between Muslims and Hindus, widening the communal divide. This historical twist fails to notice that Shivaji’s general was a Muslim, while the Mughal general was a Hindu. But perhaps the most vital factor was the upper caste resentment at the large scale conversion of lower castes into Islam. This is the genesis of the communal hatred we see today.
As the Mughal Empire weakened, Muslims comprised a small elite of Nawabs and zamindars. There was no middle class. Most Muslims were economically and socially backward. Conversion to Islam gave them a sense of equality and identity within a larger Muslim world. But it had no effect on their living standards. Islam was superimposed on the caste structure. The Hindu dhobi became a Muslim dhobi. But he still remained a dhobi. The caste structure of Hinduism became the jamaats of Muslims. Marriage was strictly within the jamaats. Often even burial grounds were on jamaat lines. This was against a basic feature of Islam that all Muslims were brothers, as witnessed in the marriage of the Prophet’s cousin Zainab with Zayd, a former slave.
The rise of the British saw Muslim elite lose political power. In their resentment they turned their back on anything Western, particularly the English language and science. They clung to a shadowy world of Persian language and culture, and to a princely lifestyle, they could no longer afford. A total lack of vision can be gauzed by their refusal to accept a British offer to open an English medium college. They demanded a Persian medium college. Around this time the British offered Hindus a Sanskrit college. They declined asking for an English medium college. Note the sharp contrasts in their responses. The 1857 mutiny ended Muslim rule. The British, replacing the Mughals, were especially harsh on the Muslims, who reacted by withdrawing further into their shell. Any attempt at an English education was strongly opposed and even declared as un-islamic. The great Sir Syed Ahmed, the founder of Aligarh was vilified and offered a garland of shoes. On the other hand Hindus responded most enthusiastically to Western education. Within a few decades there was a marked contrast between widespread Muslim poverty and decay, and a vibrant Hindu middle class. This Hindu awakening found expression in the founding of the Indian National Congress in 1885. But the Muslims largely kept aloof. Sir Syed Ahmed was wary of antagonizing the British. His focus was only on the uplift of the community, and that required building bridges with foreign rulers. The religious divide soon became a political divide, with the partition of Bengal in 1905. Hindus opposed it strongly. Muslims favoured it, reflecting the nature of East Bengal, with Hindu zamindars and Muslim landless. After the First World War, Hindu aspirations for self government were turned down by the British. Resentment, led to harsh measures culminating in the Jalianwala Baug tragedy. This brought Mahatma Gandhi into the national limelight. Sadly this coincided with the British deposing the last Turkish Sultan, who as Khalifa was also the nominal head of the Muslim world. Indian Muslims reacted most strongly to this loss. The khilafat movement was born. Gandhiji sensed an emotional issue that would bring Muslims into the national mainstream. He offered Congress support for Khilafat. The result was a deluge of orthodox maulanas into the Congress, and the exit of its principal liberal figure Jinnah. The later was bitter about his eclipse from national politics. This bitterness contributed years later to the partition of the country. Equally important, Muslim leadership passed into the hands of maulanas, and it has largely remained so ever since. The khilafat movement died within a few years. But the damage had been done. Religion and politics were mixed in a deadly concoction. Moplah riots in Kerala followed, leading to the birth of the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS. Inspite of Gandhiji’s attempts to project Sarva Dharma Sadbhav, the two communities drifted apart. The end result was partition, with frightening brutalities and a migration of millions across the borders.
Gandhiji’s assassination and Nehru’s stress on science and humanism cooled the communal fires. But this social peace lasted barely fifteen years. With Nehru’s death, and the constant irritants of Pakistan and Kashmir, the Hindu Muslim divide widened once again. Electoral politics, vital to a democracy, was also the incentive to inflame communal passions. Caste politics with the coming of Mandal, threatened the BJP hold on its Hindu vote bank. In response the Ayodhaya movement was launched. The last twenty five years have been most difficult for Indian Muslims. They are under a constant physical threat and mental stress.
The situation is particularly grim in a state like Gujarat that has become a laboratory of Hindutva. My own house has been attacked four times, the last time in 2002 it was completely destroyed. My daughter and I just escaped certain death. I have been in prison three times. Post Godhra saw an elected Government sponsor the mass killings of Muslims. This had never happened before in free India. The poison goes beyond Narendra Modi. For years the Gujarati language media, would carry provocative articles against Muslims. Repeated requests to the Press Council to stop this yellow journalism had no effect. Gujarati intellectuals would write long articles on the need to civilize the barbarian trends in the Muslim community. This author made numerous public appeals to persuade top Gujarati religious figures to express remorse for the horrors of 2002, in particular the rape and killing of Muslim women using trishuls, while shouting Jai Shri Ram. There has been no response. Honestly I have often wondered what has happened to this society that once produced a Mahatma.
Politically Muslims have no voice in Gujarat. Although the Muslim population in Gujarat is about 10 %, the communal polarization is so deep that it is impossible for a Muslim to win a significant election. With the rise of Hindutva, Gujarat has not elected any Muslim to the Lok Sabha, nor has there been a Muslim Minister in Gujarat. Since the coming to power of Narendra Modi, most Muslim officers have been sidelined. In national perspective, the hatred shown by the Gujarat BJP towards Muslims has poisoned relations between Muslims and the saffron party. All over the country, Muslims tend to vote strategically such that the BJP loses. This has been exploited by other parties to avoid doing anything substantial for Muslims, other than talk about protecting them from the BJP. The Islamophobia of the BJP has hurt Muslims tremendously. It also puts a brake on BJP winning elections. More important it damages the democratic basis of our
The situation could have been rectified substantially if the lower judiciary in Gujarat had been just and fair. Sadly case and after case against those accused in the post Godhra riots were thrown out, due to a deliberate sloppy police investigation, combined with Public Prosecutors appointed from the VHP. Even so notorious a person as Babu Bajrangi, who in a TV sting operation confessed to having slashed the pregnant Kauserbanu, to kill both the unborn and the mother, was granted bail by a High Court Judge. Later this same Judge was appointed on the Nanavati Commission to examine the causes of the riots. How can we have any faith in such a Judge? On the other hand the draconian POTA law was applied on about 270 people in Gujarat. Of these 269 were Muslims. Those arrested for the Sabarmati train burning, are languishing in jail for the past six years. The Government case is so weak, that it deliberately delays bringing it before a Court of law. Since the expiry of this law, the Gujarat Government has passed another POTA type Bill, which has not so far been signed by the President. It is called GUJCOC. It allows any confession made before the police as admissible before a Court of law. With the strong anti Muslim bias of the police force, one can well imagine the third degree methods that will be used to force any confession desired by the authorities. I just hope the President withholds his consent to this Bill.
The recent Ahmedabad blasts have been tragic. In Islam terrorism is strongly condemned in Surahs 5, 6, 17 and 25 of the Quran. Life is given by the Creator and it is sacred and no individual has a right, to take it away, except in the course of justice. To kill an innocent is a sin that will deserve double punishment from Allah. Tragically many victims of 2002 are filled with burning revenge. I urge these youth to look for justice in the majesty of Allah. But they must never hurt innocents.
History tends to divide. Geography forces us to unite. 150 million Muslims are spread over every state, district and taluka of this country. There is no alternative but to live in communal harmony with our 800 million Hindu brothers. Muslims must play their part in making a success of the idea of India. After all which country in the world can claim a Father of the Nation who laid his life for its minorities? Muslims must realize that all Hindus are not supporters of the RSS. India is secular because of these Hindus. We must do everything possible to win their goodwill. Without diluting our roots in Islam, we must make adjustments in our world view and our own life styles. One sad aspect is the decline in Sufi beliefs among Muslims. Sufism enabled a reconciliation of different philosophical and religious tenets in India. It brought Muslims closer to Hindus. Under increasing threat from Hindutva, Muslims have sought to reassert their distinct identity in appearance. They are also moving away from Sufism. In the process they are distancing themselves from those non RSS Hindus, whose friendship is essential for their own welfare. This may damage secularism in the country, and ultimately hurt the Muslims of India.
Muslims must emulate the gentler, warmer and nobler nature of the Holy Prophet: his integrity, his simplicity, his laughter with children, and his concern for women, the old and the sick. Somehow we have drifted away from the life of the Prophet. A society is judged by how it treats its women. Muslim men have not realized the psychological damage the practice of triple talaq does to women. It is a sword that hangs over every woman. The Quran refers to talaq in (2,226 / 232) and also (65, 1/ 7), with the clear stipulation that the process be spread over a period of about four months. This is to prevent any misuse by anger or pettiness. There is no mention at all of instant triple talaq. The Quran directs the husband to treat his divorced wife with dignity, honour and kindness. Horribly women are divorced on the telephone, or in a drunken state, or for not cooking the right type of meal. Tragically it is considered valid by our Muftis.
This is wrong in religion. It is also against all the tenets of human rights, and we must condemn the same. Similarly polygamy is mentioned in the Quran (4, 3) wherein a man is allowed to marry up to four wives. But it stipulates that they must all be treated just and fair. The very next sentence says that even if you try to be just, you will not be able to do so. This implies monogamy is the rule in Islam. Polygamy is permitted only under extreme conditions. In Islam a child is conceived when an egg meets the sperm. Allah gives it a soul. Hence Islam treats abortion as murder. But coitus interruptus was sanctioned by the Prophet. This method just stops the egg meeting the sperm. Then why do we oppose family planning, when it does the same work?
Hindutva has led to the impossibility of Muslims finding residential accommodation in most Hindu areas. This is very true of Gujarat. Strangely it is also true in cosmopolitan cities like Mumbai. The result is a ghettoisation, with Muslims forced to live in highly congested areas, with poor water supply, drainage disposal, bad roads and equally shabby public transport. I would urge Muslims not to complain. They should plan and develop their own areas such that essential facilities are provided. If necessary use community funds. Trees must be planted and properly watered. Cleanliness must be maintained. They must learn to use their electoral power to secure these rights. As an example the Juhapura locality in Ahmedabad has about 3 lakh Muslims, most of them migrants from riot prone parts of the city. Juhapura had no banks, as it was classified as a ‘negative rating’ by bureaucrats. We fought this issue for years, up to the level of the Prime Minister, the Finance Minister and the RBI. Friendly members of Parliament were persuaded to ask questions on the subject. Finally we succeeded.
Quality education is the highest priority of Muslims. That implies stress on English, Maths and Science. There has been a sharp rise in the number of Muslim students attending schools and college. Our focus must be on professional courses, such as engineering, management and medicine. That is the only way the Muslim community can come out of its present miserable state. I am totally against any form of reservation, which is ultimately a crutch that hurts the sound healthy evolution of a society. I am horrified at the mad rush for ‘backwardness’, and I pray my community avoids that pitfall.
At this stage it is best that Muslims stay away from power politics. The experience of the last sixty years is that Muslim leaders, who join political parties, do gain at a personal level. We have had Muslim Presidents, Vice Presidents, Cabinet Ministers and Governors. Sadly they are so scared of being branded communal that they just completely avoid the community. Muslims must treat the vote as a sacred power, and use it wisely and hopefully for the best candidate. That requires that the BJP come out of its hate Muslim politics. Hopefully that day will dawn. That will be the highest tribute they can pay to Gandhi who laid his life so we can usher in the idea of India.