By A Staff Writer
Sprawling over three acres of greenery , the Ghousia Polytechnic for Women must be the only institution meant for imparting technical skills to Muslim girls together with offering a secure and Islamic atmosphere in southern Karnataka. But looking at the small representation of Muslim girls, only 20 per cent, it appeared that the community had been unable to make optimum use of the excellent facilities.
Ever since the Ghousia Polytechnic came up in 1986, it had made progress in all spheres, except for the fact that it could not attract Muslim girls in adequate numbers, the prime objective of its founding. Even today, when the institution has nearly 800 students in five different technical trades, merely 20 per cent students belong to the Muslim community. This is despite the best efforts by the Polytechnic to encourage the Muslim girls to take up technical education which has a readymade scope in an expanding metropolis.
The Ghousia Polytechnic carved out a name for itself in a short span of time. Several of its alumni today occupy responsible position in Bangalore industries. For instance, Umme Sadiqa is an analyst in the multinational computer firm, Novell and is now receiving a salary of five digits. Saira, another diploma holder from here is an engineer in Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). Naveen, who completed a diploma in Cad-cam (computer aided designing and computer aided manufacturing) is a known name in a public sector industry. Salma Yasmeen from here teaches at the Ghousia College of Engineering in Ramanagaram, 45 kms from Bangalore.
The Polytechnic came up on a plot of land on Hosur Road gifted by late Nabi Sheriff Sahib, a renowned hotelier in 1962. He had similarly been instrumental in setting up the Ghousia Engineering College in Ramanagram and the Ghousia Industrial Technical Institute which is situated in the polytechnic campus. The then barren piece of land today hums with activity and girls in salwar-kameez uniform can be seen leaning over drawing boards or electrical circuits.
It offers diploma courses in five trades namely computer science, electronics and communication, commercial practices, fashion technology and interior designing and decoration. The fashion designing and interior decoration courses are highly popular, aesthetics being the prime things in the cities now-ad-days. The annual intake in the Polytechnic is 240. According to Mr. S. S. A. Azeem, the Officer on Special Duty, the man who has contributed the most in bringing the institution to the present level, the newly inaugurated swanky hostel can accommodate 60 girls and heretofore, the portals of the polytechnic would be open for Muslim girls from outside Bangalore too. It offers the facility for Juma prayers and weekly Deeniyath classes.
Says Mr. Azeem, the Ghousia Polytechnic would soon be introducing courses on travel and tourism, journalism (audio-visual) and jewellery design by next year. According to him, a number of Muslim charitable endowments and foundations sponsor scholarships for Muslim girl-students. But going by the poor performance of Muslim schools in the 10th standard Board examinations in Bangalore, Ghousia Polytechnic’s grievance against Muslims and inadequate users of the excellent facility seems to be justified. The malady lies somewhere much below. Perhaps the Muslims of Bangalore would need to set up much better boys and girls schools in order to have more feeder institutions for professional institutions like the Ghousia group of colleges and polytechnics. Similarly, Muslim girls would need to shed the tendency of avoiding technical courses.
By Maqbool Ahmed Siraj
Individuals depart, but institutions survive and continue to translate their ideals into practice long after their exit. There sprang many a great individual among Indian Muslims who were silently devoured by history as they left no institutional legacy. To the contrary there have been people who shunned positions, founded institutions and are growing in stature in the public eye long after their departure.
Institutions are the carriers of legacies and visions of individuals to posterity. Institutions are our hope for the future. They are the instruments of realisation of the community’s collective aspirations. In a democratic set up the majority’s aspirations are itself taken care of by the Government while a minority has to reflect its sentiments, worries and concerns through its institutions. They serve to protect its cultural identity, promote its interests, channelise the potential of the community creatively and ensure judicious distributions of its resources.
Unfortunately, few Muslims in India realise the importance of institutions. Accent seems to be on individual achievements. Power, position, pelf and prestige for the self take precedence over community service. The result is; a community dotted with great individuals but none is able to contribute anything to the community’s collective betterment. This tendency should change. We require people who could share their experience and vision with the community.
In recent history two personalities among Muslims stand out distinctly in this regard. First among them is the great educationist Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. Sir Syed was a deputy collector under the British dispensation. He left the position to devote his life for promotion of education among Muslims. He set up the Muslim Anglo-Arabic College which is today the Aligarh Muslim University. But for the AMU, the Muslim community in North India would have been without half of its intellectuals today. Had Sir Syed chosen not to set up the college he did, how many Indians beyond his circle of descendants could have known him. Perhaps none Sir Syed grows in stature in the community’s eyes as are the beneficiaries from his institutions.
Equally mention worthy is the personality of Justice Basheer Ahmed Sayeed of Madras. Justice Sayeed devoted his post retirement life from Madras High Court to set up a string of educational institutions in Madras including the prestigious Justice Basheer Ahmed Sayeed Women’s College. In the course of his mission, Justice Sayeed spurned two lucrative offers from Delhi, once to accept the post of governor in Jammu and Kashmir and another vice-chancellorship of a prestigious central university. He would have indeed enhanced personal stature, had he accepted either of the offers. But certainly it would have been a poor substitute for the service he rendered to the community. The community would have been minus a college, several schools and academies. He would have had no legitimate claim to the affection, blessings and reputation which he enjoys today.
Umpteen names could be mentioned of those who served the community. But they are not in question. This is a reference to those who cared for the community, rejecting position for themselves; those who opted for a humbler life but set up institutions for the betterment of his fellow human beings.
There have also been great individuals a Muslim president, governors, ministers whose personal accomplishments are no less. But there is hardly any reason for them to be remembered by the community, for their record of community service is nil.
Fortunes of a community will not change if a few persons climb up the ladder of glory, position or power. But it will certainly be indebted to those who enhanced the weight of the community, and contributed to its assertiveness through various institutions.
Such institutions hold a guarantee to the community’s future. They inject a sense of purpose in the community and engage its talents in useful activity. They deepen the community’s roots in the society and win for it the goodwill of one and all. Communities wield their collective strength through them. To a great extent the deprivation of North Indian Muslims could be explained by the absence of institutions of their own, whereas their Southern counterparts with a relatively sufficient institutional base fare better in the race of progress.
Institutions vested with vision and fuelled by dedication could be a remedy for the Muslim woes in India. Let us promote institutions, not individuals, however small they may be. Be they a primary school, a library, a children’s magazine, a rural interest-free credit society, a charitable fund, an orphanage or a cooperative society, an adult education centre. A little rise in social consciousness and collective weight of the community is worth more than the sacrifice of thousands of worthy intellectuals tied down by an illiterate community.
By M. Hanif Lakdawala
With the birth of the millennium at our doorstep, it is high time for the Muslim community to perform an evaluation, appraisal and self introspection. The contours of the social under current of the economically poor, socially alienated and politically marginalised Muslim community are already discernible. Although caught in a web of mundane and specific issues, the community appears to be in the grip of languor due to the lack of cohesive leadership at the national level.
The issue of leadership commenced with the partition. The Partition took place too soon, too suddenly, and on a scale beyond anybody’s imagination. The peaceful world of Muslims came crashing. Their lives stood shattered and fermented as the partition robbed them of leadership. Not the political leadership, for surely Maulana A.K. Azad or Rafi Ahmed Kidwai represented Muslims more than either Jinnah or Liaquat Ali Khan. But the leadership at the grass roots level, at the local community level, in schools and universities, in villages, chaupatis and in bazaars. A disproportionate number of the Muslim elite abandoned their less well-endowed brethren to make their own private fortune in Pakistan.
The Muslim middle class of pre-partition India virtually vanished. Those whose personal wealth and income, level of education and health, social mobility and economic ascension would together have ensured political clout, economic strength, social cohesion and moral authority for the Muslim community as a whole migrated to Pakistan.
The suddenness of the change rendered Muslims psychologically unprepared to confront it. All the privileges of the pre-partition days were snatched away. Their reservations in services were abolished, adult franchise and common electorate replaced separate and limited electorate. The zamindari system was done away with. At the same time a number of measures adopted by the Government reflected anti-Muslim bias.
C. Durga Das in “India from curzon to Nehru and After’, writes, “In some states recruitment of the Muslims in police was stopped under ministerial order. The evacuee property law was used to deprive Muslims of their property on a wide scale. Whatever the provisions of the law might be, anyone could be described as an intending evacuee and the entire property of his family taken over by the custodian. There was a concerted attempt to compel the Muslims to leave this country. This was an undeclared official policy to drive them out of the land.”
IPSO facto, the majority of Muslims in India after partition belonged to the backward sections of the society, who tend to be more emotional and lacking leadership qualities. Even the Muslim leaders gave more importance to frivolous and emotional issues. Every time they raised the issue pertaining to religion or community rights, it led to coalescing of the majority community against Muslims.
The climax of raising religious and identity issues were raised during the personal law movement against the supreme court judgement in Shahbanu case. The direct consequence was the unlocking of Babri Masjid and Ultimately the demolition of the Mosque.
In the process the more burning and genuine issues got the least priority. The issues such as education, poverty, reforms in the social and traditional customs which run contrary to the teaching of Islam, plight of Muslim women, clarification of misunderstanding about Islam amongst majority community and conveying the quintessential message of Islam to the non-Muslims were totally neglected.
This attitude of the Muslim leadership was the direct consequence of the biased congress leadership, anti-Muslim actions and attitude. Nehru himself had accepted this. In a letter to Mohanlal Saxena (union cabinet minister), he writes, “All of us seem to be getting infected with the RSS mentality. If the present Hindu outlook does not change radically, I am quite sure that India is doomed.”
Nehru in his letter also mentioned the anti-Muslim action taken by the ministry of relief and rehabilitation. Rejendra Prasad was upset when permits were issued to those Muslims who wished to return from Pakistan to India. Shyama Prasad Mukerjee’s lack of interest in rehabilitation of Muslims uprooted from their homes, Mohanlal Saxena’s ordering the sealing of Muslim shops in Delhi and UP - all these instances were mentioned by Nehru in his letter.
Then UP Chief Minister G.B.Pant, B.G Kher, Acharya Kripalani, Sardar Patel and P.Das Tandon fanned the fires of communal positions. This attitude of senior congress leaders hurt Muslim sensitivities. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad in ‘India wins Freedom’ writes, “I must also admit that Sardar Patel had developed such strong prejudices against Muslim league that he would not have been sorry if the Muslims who followed the league suffered.”
After the post partition amnesia and with the departure of Maulana Azad, R.A. Kidwai and others, Muslims were more or less rudderless. The young leadership of post-partition generation failed to realise that the agenda in the independent India had to be different, so also the prioprities. Fifty one years after Independence. Muslims lack a leadership of any stature.
The single most important reason for the virtual absence of effective leadership amongst the Muslims is the elite nature of its educated and socially important section of the community. These elites, who could have played an important role in leading the Muslims in various fields, instead kept themselves aloof from the mainstream of the community. They kept themselves on the fringe and acted as mere observers, but never took active interest in the various issues confronting the community. The result is the wide gulf between the elite and the masses.
Besides, the other factors for the lack of leadership among the Muslims are : (1) Muslim Ulema concentrating on Putative religious issues and totally neglecting the social, political, and economic problems. (2) Muslims are not the members of a monolithic community but divided into different and diverse groups. (3) The Muslims have been spread into vast geographical areas in different states, virtually making their votes ineffective. (4) Riots and infringement on their rights to practise religion, through various routes, forced the entire community into their shell and concentrated on preserving their religious identity. (5) Branding as communalist by the national media any leader or organisation taking up the cause of Muslim community. (6) Most of the Muslim organisations have left electoral politics out of their agenda, leaving the field to politicians.
The existing Muslim leadership must shed its clannish and intransigent attitude, and instead correlate the interest of the community with the nations issues and agenda. The Muslims must enlist themselves in the national issues and seek redressal of their grievances as part of this effort.
The policy of pull, pressure and demands through the route of mass agitation has only alienated Muslim community from the other communities. The majority community is considering Muslims as a competitor rather than a partner in growth and development. The need is to come out of this self-imposed shell.
The Hindu psyche still sees Jinnah in every Muslim leader. The need is to reduce the widening divide between Hindus and Muslims through dialogues and contributing to the efforts of N.G.O.s working in various fields throughout the country.
The Muslim politicians and leaders who through sincere efforts win the nation’s attention for principled stand on issues of social, political, economical and other issues, will be best qualified to alert the nation to the need to redress the communities’ grievances.
There is no separation between religion and politics in Islam. Then what are the guidelines or principles in Islam for organizing a political order? The political system of Islam is based on three principles: Tawhid (Unity of God), Risalat (prophethood), and Khilafat (vicegerency). Tawhid means that only God is the Creator, Sustainer, and Master of the universe and all that exists in it, organic and inorganic. The sovereignty of this kingdom is vested in Him. He also has the right to command or forbid, and His commandments are the law.
The medium through which we receive the law of God is known as Risalat. We have received two things from this source: The Qur’an, and the authoritative interpretation and exemplification of the Qur’an by the Prophet in his capacity as the representative of God. The Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) has also, in accordance with the intention of Qur’an, given a model for the Islamic way of life by himself implementing the law and providing necessary details wherever required. The combination of these two elements is called the Shariah.
Khilafat means “representation”. Man [i.e. human-being], according to Islam, is the representative of God on earth, His vicegerent. That is to say, by virtue of the powers delegated to him by God, he is required to exercise his God-given authority in this world within the limits prescribed by God.
Every person in an Islamic political order enjoys the rights and powers of the caliphate of God, and in this respect all individuals are equal. No one can deprive anyone of his rights and powers. The agency for running the affairs of the state will be established in accordance with the will of individuals, and the authority of the state will only be an extension of the powers of the individuals delegated to it. Their opinion will be decisive in the formation of the government, which will be run with their advice and in accordance with their wishes. Whoever gains their confidence will carry out the duties of the caliphate on their behalf, and when he loses that confidence he will have to relinquish his office. In this respect, the political system in Islam is as perfect a democracy as ever can be.
Western democracy is based on the concept of popular sovereignty, an Islamic political order rests on the principle of Popular Khilafat. In western democracy the people are sovereign, but in Islam sovereignty is vested in God and the people are his caliphs or representatives. In the former the people make their own laws; in the latter they have to follow and obey the laws (Shariah) given by God through His Prophet (Pbuh). In one the government undertakes to fulfill the will of the people; in the other the government and the people alike have to do according to the will of God. Western democracy is a kind of absolute authority which exercises its powers in a free and uncontrolled manner, whereas Islamic democracy is subservient to the Divine Law and exercises its authority in accordance with the Injunctions of God and within the limits prescribed by him [for the benefit and welfare of the entire society].
Purpose of the Islamic State
The Holy Qur’an clearly states that the aim and purpose of the Islamic state, built on the foundations of Tawhid, Risalat, and Khilafat is the establishment, maintenance and development of those virtues by which the Creator of the universe wishes human life to be enriched, and the prevention and eradication of those evils which are abhorrent to God. The State in Islam is neither intended only for political administration nor for the fulfilment through it of the collective will of any particular set of people. Rather, Islam places a high ideal before the state for the achievement of which it must use all the means at its disposal. The aim is to encourage the qualities of purity, beauty, goodness, virtue, success and prosperity which God wants to flourish in the lives of His people, and to suppress all kinds of exploitation and injustice, as well as placing before us this high ideal. Islam clearly distinguishes the desired virtues and the undesirable evils. The Islamic state can thus plan its welfare programmes in every age and in any environment.
The constant demand made by Islam is that the principles of morality must be observed at all costs and in all walks of life. Hence, it lays down an unalterable requirement for the state to base its politics on justice, truth, and honesty. It is not prepared, under any circumstances, to tolerate fraud, falsehood and injustice for the sake of political, administrative or national expediency. Whether it be the relations between the rulers and the ruled within the state, or relations of the state with other states, precedence must always be given to truth, honesty and justice. It imposes obligations on the state similar to those it imposes on the individual: to fulfill all contracts and obligations; to have consistent standards in all dealings; to remember obligations as well as rights and not to forget the rights of others when expecting them to fulfill their obligations; to use power and authority for the establishment of justice and not for perpetration of injustice; to look on duty as a sacred obligation; and to regard power as a trust from God to be used in the belief that one has to render an account of one’s actions to Him in the Hereafter.
Fundamental Rights in Islam
Islam has laid down universal fundamental rights for humanity as a whole, which are to be observed and respected in all circumstances, irrespective of whether a person lives in or outside the territory of the Islamic state and whether he is at peace or war with the state. For example, human blood is sacred and may not be spilled without justification; it is not permissible to oppress women, children, old people, the sick or the wounded; a woman’s honour and chastity must be respected in all circumstances, the naked clothed, the wounded or diseased treated medically, and the hungry must be fed.
These, and a few other provisions, have been laid down by Islam as fundamental rights for every man by virtue of his status as a human being, to be enjoyed under the constitution of the Islamic State.
Executive and Legislature
The responsibility for the administration of the government in an Islamic state is entrusted to an Amir (leader), who may be like to the President or Prime Minister of a western democratic state.
The basic qualifications for the election of an Amir are that he should command the confidence of the largest number of people in respect of knowledge and grasp of the spirit of Islam; he should possess the Islamic attribute of the fear of God and he should be endowed with the quality of statesmanship. In short, he should be both able and virtuous.
A SHURA (consultative council), elected by the people, will assist and guide the Amir. It is obligatory for the Amir to administer the country on the advice of his Shura. The Amir may retain office only as long as he enjoys the confidence of the people, and must resign when he loses their confidence. Every citizen has the right to criticize the Amir and his government, and all reasonable means for the expression of public opinion should be available.
Legislation in an Islamic state should be within the limits prescribed by the Shariah. The injunctions of God and His Prophet are to be accepted and obeyed and no legislative body can alter or modify them or make any new laws which are contrary to their spirit. Great scope would still be available for legislation on questions not covered by any specific injunctions of Shariah, and the legislature is free to legislate in regard to these matters.
In Islam the Judiciary is not placed under the control of the Executive. It derives its authority directly from the Shariah and is answerable to God. The judges will obviously be appointed by the Government but, once appointed will have to administer justice impartially according to the law of God. All the organs and the functionaries of the Government should come within their jurisdictions: even the highest executive authority of the government is liable to be called upon to appear in a court of law as a plaintiff or defendant. Rulers and Ruled are subject to the same law and there can be no discrimination on the basis of position, power, or PRIVILEGE. Islam stands for equality and scrupulously adheres to this principle in the social, economic and political realms alike.
(The Author is a visiting Scholar, Columbia University)
Prof : Dr. Mumtaz Ali Khan
Leh in Ladakh district of the state of Jammu and Kashmir is generally cut off from the rest of the Indian society because of distance, traffic hazard and high altitude. It is virtually open to the rest of the world only for a few months July to September. The result is that the beauty of this place and the wonderful cultural behaviour of the people remain unknown to the external world. When only this area is visited, people start showering petals of roses on these people.
Leh has a mixed population. Buddhists outnumber all other religious groups with 80% population. Next come Muslims, followed by Hindus, Christians and Sikhs. But barring Muslims, the population of the rest is just marginal. In the other important town, Kargil, Muslims account for 80% population and the Buddhists are second to them. Muslim population consists of Shias and Sunnis, almost equal in number.
How are the Muslims placed in such an environment where the vast majority of the people in the state consists of Muslims, whereas in Leh, they are minorities? How is their socio-cultural life reflected? In a sense, Leh Muslims are unique. They follow Islamic principles as meticulously as possible while not being considered as conservatives. They are liberal, but not uncontrolled radicals. They are traditional but not opposed to the entry of modernism. In other words, they are so socialized that they tend to believe and practise relative adjustments to suit the requirement of a changing society, while not discarding the basics of Islamic way of life.
Education is given priority in the blue prints of Islamic development. Girls education is encouraged in Islam. But in practice lot of discrimination is made between the males and the females. Leh presents a harmonious scenario. Both boys and girls are encouraged by the parents and the community leaders to have successful educational career. While it is generally conceded that education will secure jobs for boys in government service, girls can also become teachers and more than this, they can be successful managers of home affairs. There is no social taboo or restriction on girls.
While women do maintain modesty in public life. But women are encouraged to work hard and earn money to supplement family income. Both husband and wife share the responsibility. Muslim women also become members of the Mahila Mandals (Women’s organizations) and sometimes hold important positions. There is no opposition to this from the male members. Women do strongly believe and assert that plural marriages permitted in Islam are not unconditional. They favour ‘one man one wife’.
Generally parents arrange the marriages of their daughters and sons. But girls in particular are not allowed to marry boys of their own choice even if they are Muslims. However, very difficult but sensitive situation would arise when the girls remain firm in getting married to boy’s of their own choice.
‘Dowry is virtually ruled out. It is considered to be a shame on the part of the boys to expect and accept dowry. On the other hand, boy’s people spend a lot on conducting the marriage. When the dowry menace was narrated to some of the females, they were shocked and condemned the practice as total violation of Islamic mandate.
Religious considerations shape the socio-cultural behaviour. The Shias and Sunnis who are generally at war are different here. They live a peaceful life, helping each other. During Muharram period, Sunnis take part in the procession on the last day and display their solidarity with the Shias, though they do not observe the practice of ‘Matam’ (chest beating). Similarly, Shias participate in all the socio-religious celebrations of the Sunnis, particularly Meelad-un-Nabi. Thus, their determination to shake hands with each other avoids the generally conceived theory of mutual hatred.
The Shias’ Mosque ‘Immabara’ is nearly 450 years old, reflecting the beauty and of random of the civilization of those days. People of all religions visit this place and enjoy its serene beauty. This Mosque is renovated out of the contributions made by the people themselves, not depending upon Arab dollars. The local people feel proud of this achievement. Women enter Mosque on Sundays for separate prayers. Sunnis do visit. The Chief Priest is an educated person, a retired teacher.
The Sunnis have an equally beautiful Mosque, ‘Jama Masjid’ in the heart of the town. The Chief Priest is educated both in Arabic and English and then he plays a vital role in spreading the Message of Islam to the foreign tourists. The priest believes strongly in religious harmony.
It is learnt that religion is losing ground among the youngsters. It could be due to the influence of modernism. A large number of foreigners keep visiting Leh and this has natural influence on the socio-cultural behaviour of the youngsters. But elderly are preparing themselves to minimize such influences and keep the spirit of Islam alive to enable them to lead a healthy social life.
Social evils like immoral traffic in women are under control. Infact, prostitution is very much hated and condemned by women. Gambling is absent. But though, drinks are not generally consumed.
The relationship between Muslims and Hindus is cordial. Muslim condemn terrorism and militancy. They strongly believe in communal harmony and patriotism. They have absolutely no flavour for Pakistani designs. They feel happy, comfortable and secured in India.
The role played by Bikhu Sangasenaji of Mahabodhi international Meditation centre is commendable. He is a towering personality. He is the chief architect of religious harmony and combined progress of all religious groups. He commands respect from all religious leaders. The inter religious peace and harmony procession arranged in Leh recently is a living example to promote the cause of inter-faith. The International Association of Religious Freedom has made a tremendous impact on the people of Leh. Religious leaders from Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism and Christianity besides Buddhism led the procession. Infact, it was a spontaneous movement. Thousands of school and college students and teachers lent valuable support. Muslim of Leh have proved that inter-religious harmony is the only solution to many man made maladjustments and conflicts.
By Yoginder Sikand
Last article appeared in August issue.
In the wake of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in America in 1492, numerous European explorers made their way to the newly ‘discovered’ continent. Some of these left behind accounts of their travels that furnish us with considerable evidence of the presence of Muslims in the region before the European conquest. In 1920, after painstaking research of these scattered accounts, the renowned American historian and linguist, Leo Weiner of Harvard University, wrote a controversial book entitled’ “Africa and the Discovery of America.” In it he tried to prove that Columbus was well aware of the African Muslim presence in the Americas well before his own arrival there. He based his arguments on the notes of early European explorers as well as on linguistic and cultural findings. He noted that in his, ‘The Narrative of the Third Voyage’, Columbus himself had mentioned that the inhabitants of the Carribean island of Santiago had extensive trade links with the Muslim lands on the Guinea coast in west Africa. The African traders, he wrote, brought with them large quantities of gold as well as textiles which they exchanged with the native Indians. This point is further corroborated by Harold Lawrence in his ‘Mandinka Voyages Across the Atlantic’, where he quotes from the memoirs of the Spanish explorer Vasco Nunez de Balboa that when he arrived in Panama in 1513 he met with a large group of African people of the Mandinka Muslim tribe. Ferdinand Columbus, son of Christopher Columbus, noted in his Life of the Admiral Christopher Columbus, that these Mandinkas are said to have spread as far as the Honduras. Here they were called as Al-mamys, a corrupt form of the Arabic term al-Imam. Besides, the black Mandinka Muslims, Columbus may also have come into contact with Muslims of mixed Arab, black and Indian race, known as the Black Caribs who today live in the region of Belize, the former British Honduras. Thus, Douglas Taylor, in his The Black Carib of the British Honduras quotes a report in a Belize newspaper as saying that:‘When Columbus discovered the West Indies about the year 1493 A.D., he found a race of white people with whooly hair whom he called Caribs. They were seafaring hunters and tillers of the soil, peaceful and united. They hated aggression. Their religion was Mohammedanism [Islam] and their language presumably Arabic’.
Over centuries of European rule the Black Caribs, who today call themselves the Garifuna, appeared to have lost much of their Islamic heritage, though they still retained the taboo on the eating of pork and a vague belief in one God. In recent years, a number of Garifunas have turned Muslim and there are today numerous mosques in territories inhabited by them in Belize and Honduras.
With the European colonisation of the Americas began a four-century long wave of slave imports into the region. The first Spanish slave shipment from Africa arrived in 1518. Over the years, vast numbers of blacks from the Islamised west coast of Africa were brought to America as slaves. Many, if not most, of the slaves from the Mandinka, Fula, Susu, Ashanti and Hausa tribes were themselves Muslims. Among the many harsh laws that the European slave owners laid down for the slaves one was that they were to be baptised as Christians. Yet, despite this, there are reports from this period of numerous Muslim slaves maintaining secretly their faith. Writing in 1833, Gertrude Carmichael, a wealthy English resident of Trinidad, mentioned in her The Domestic Manners and the Social Condition of the White, Coloured and Negro Populations of the West Indies, that among the blacks of the region ‘there is not a trace of idol worship’ and that ‘there is not a Negro, old or young, who could not tell that the one God made the world, and created mankind and that He is all- powerful and all- seeing’. She went on to add that these beliefs were probably the result of the lingering impact of Islam among the slaves who had been brought from Muslim parts of Africa.
Many of these early African slaves continued to preserve memories of the religious heritage of their Muslim ancestors. Thus, Bryan Edwards, a noted eighteenth century writer living in the West Indies, wrote about his ‘old and faithful Mandingo [Mandinka] servant’, who related to him as to how his people in Africa used to practise circumcision, observe Friday as a holiday and chant ‘the al-Koran’. He wrote about another Mandinka servant of his ‘who could write, with great beauty and exactness the Arabic alphabet and some passages from al-Koran’. Sometimes, despite outwardly professing Christianity, the slaves retained their allegiance to Islam. Robert Madden, a special magistrate sent by the British Government in 1833 to investigate the conditions of the blacks of Jamaica, mentioned in a letter to a friend that he had met a group of Mandinkas who, while claiming to be Christians, were actually crypto-Muslims. Madden wrote that after his lengthy encounter with them he had to ‘take advantage of the opportunity to reprove them for pretending to be what they are not’. In his “A Twelve Months’ Residence in the West Indies During the Transition From Slavery to Apprenticeship,” published in 1835, Madden wrote that in the course of his stay in Jamaica, he met with scores more of such African slaves who had been forced to adopt Christian names but secretly remained true to Islam. He also discovered an Arabic document [wathiqa] circulating among the slaves ‘exhorting the followers of Mohammed to be true to their faith’.
Although over the centuries, this Islamic legacy of the Africans of the Americas was gradually forgotten, in recent years a renewed Islamic revival is clearly visible not just in the USA but, increasingly, too, in Central and South America, especially among the descendants of former black slaves. In the early twentieth century Islamic work in the Carribean area focused largely on the Muslims of South Asian descent, who live in large numbers in Belize, Guyana and the West Indies. Today, however, some Muslim groups have become increasingly active among the region’s blacks. These include the Islamic Missionaries Guild of the Carribean and South America, based in Trinidad, the Islamic Trust of Trinidad and Tobago, and the Dar-ul Islam Tabligh group of university students in the Carribean. The last-mentioned group formed in 1977 the Federation of Islamic Organisations of the Carribean, to which several Islamic groups in the Bahamas, Barbados, Curacao, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, St. Kitts, Trinidad and Jamaica are affiliated. In 1982 another, broad umbrella-group, the Association of Islamic Communities of the Carribean and Latin America [AICCLA} was formed to coordinate Muslim activities in the region. High on the agenda of these groups is missionary work among the numerous blacks of the region, reclaiming the lost and almost forgotten legacy of their ancestors.
By Hasan Mansur
The political situation in India is growing more complex and murkier than ever before. The mindset of the political parties of the Right and Centrist seems to find consensus on the single issue of grabbing power or holding on to it, giving the go-by to political morality. That the communists who are truly secular but not wise should frantically seek an alliance with the discredited Congress speaks of the desperate situation into which they are driven. The Congress is unable to shed its image which has grown so besmirched with corruption, criminalisation, abetting promotion of communalism and casteism; it has successfully rendered the polity forswear any semblance of democracy and secularism. No wonder the BJP rode high on this wave of anti-secular ethos, gathered the ragtag political outfits whose sole intent was to grab power by hook or crook.
These few months the BJP and its axis have been in power were used to cause irreparable damage to the democratic fabric. They have successfully packed educational and cultural bodies with their hatchet men and women rewriting history, the latest being the “Liberation” of Hyderabad state from the Nizam and the Razakars during which time the RSS was too pusillanimous to raise its voice against the oppressors, its Goebbelsian strategy of turning lies into truth, raising the tempo in Kashmir and the sabre-rattling against Pakistan and targeting the minorities in states they rule. All these nefarious actions are fast reaching a point of no return and nemesis is catching up with them in the form of serious fissures within the BJP as seen in Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Delhi, not to mention the unwholesome sight of the allies, like thieves falling out among themselves. This ragtag ban of George Fernandes, Jayalalitha, Mamata, Badal et al is the governance the BJP promised the Indians...
Advani’s nightmare of finding Pakistan’s ISI under every bed, the daily bread of threat of dismissal held out to Governments non-saffron in shade, prices of necessities soaring, rising inflation and rising crime graph point to worse things to come. Gujarat where the BJP rules with an absolute majority witnessed a bandh protesting against price rise and growing criminalisation that would have left Sangh Parivar flabbergasted.
Dalits and Tribals have been at the receiving end, their colonies burnt down, people displaced, upper castes emboldened to attack lives and properties of the marginalised, backed by the power of a casteist state which long ceased to be democratic. What holds the slow disintegration of the saffron band is the RSS with its rigid Manu theology that passes for Hindutva whose sole objective is to bring the entire sub-continent into the strangle hold of Manu’s pernicious philosophy that seeks to restore the “pristine glory” of the Middle Ages with the Chaturvarna put back in place.
The opposition groups are in a state of disarray and the leadership is yet to evolve from the grassroots. People living in cities have to venture into the villages, the heart land of India to see the poverty and exploitation. The Dalits are in their ghettos shut out from the upper castes, living like cattle, denied bare needs of living. The philosophy of modern development has overtaken the tribal communities who are finding themselves displaced by huge dams as in the case of the Sardar Sarovar project. Added to it is the State’s policy of preservation of flora and fauna and the tribals whose natural habitat is the forest, are finding themselves evicted, denied the subsistence the forests provided. One is witness to whole colonies of Dalits and tribals vandalised, driven to cities to end up in ghettos of their own.
All these victims of the failure of governance, Dalits, tribals, minorities, backward classes and all the poor and exploited become natural allies in the struggle against a state that is pledged to the wellbeing of the elite of the land. It’s time all these castes and classes are mobilised to wage the real and genuine struggle for freedom from the oppressive rule of the elite whose past-time is to play with nuclear toys, flex their military muscle against the poor and marginalised and hold to power.
There is hope that people will stand up and be counted. There will be new leaders rising from the grassroots, not ‘leaders’ imposed from above who shall challenge the tyranny of the privileged. Muslim youth must be in the vanguard of this struggle making common cause with the poor of the land. Muslims should cease to plough their lone furrow, get out of the ghettoisation of the mind and join hands with the marginalised to usher in a new India that could symbolise a secular egalitarian polity wedded to social justice. This vision of a country truly secular, pluralistic and rich in cultural resources where humans live with dignity holding their head high must become a living reality.
Out-station relatives are all right, but only as long as they keep well away from you. But come vacation time for their children, they swoop down on you without warning. I am one of those unfortunates with too many outstation relatives for my own good. These days when such a contingent is headed in my direction I dive for a bomb-proof shelter and lie low till somebody blows the All-Clear. But my two little grandchildren, Zohra and Zubair, on the contrary, are rather tickled at the prospect. Their simple creed seems to be, It’s the children that make the world go round.’
The fellows who invented summer vacation probably have no relatives to come and dig into the woodwork. Just imagine, but for this vacation the two outstation families that invaded my privacy at the very commencement of the last summer vacation would otherwise be occupied in their own home towns, minding their own business instead of making drastic changes in our daily menu to suit their own individual tastes, and the kids accompanying them would be bleaching other peoples’ hair rather than mine. When two such families are in your midst at the same time the upshot is bound to become rather lively. Stiff competition ensues between the kids of the rival camps, each trying to out-eat the other and eliminate as many of their opponents as possible, to make life more comfortable for themselves. With one more month to run for the summer vacation to end imagination boggled at the frightening prospect before me. Tact and diplomacy might carry the day, I fondly hoped. I began a publicity campaign intended to boost the pleasures of travelling by the Brindavan Express, the Shatabdi and so on, laying particular stress on the many mouth-watering eatables provided on them by a benevolent railway. But the relatives, especially the kids, opted for the same pleasures more easily available if they stayed put.
The very next day an old crony from another quarter of the city, working in a newspaper office, blew in on me. He took one look at the army of kids raising hell all over the place and asked, “I say, has not your family grown much larger than when I saw it last?” Then, as I refused to be drawn into a discussion on the size of my family, he continued, in a loud and clear voice, like someone calling the cattle home across the sands of the Cauvery, “Don’t you know that there has been an outbreak of cholera in Bangalore? More than two dozen cases reported in the last couple of days. Why, I myself have packed off my family to Madras till this epidemic blows over.”
Early next morning the two families, with their respective complement of kids, were preparing to depart to their respective home towns. My grandchildren, who had grown rather attached to those outstation kids, were in tears. And so were those other kids at being torn away from their playmates, Zohra and Zubair. Who was I rob these kids of their simple pleasures? Though pestilential to us elders those kids had touched a responsive chord in my grandchildren.
“I do not think there is any cholera about,” I told those two families. “Stay for another couple of weeks.” The happy smiles of all the kids as they helped unpack seemed just the balm my soul needed.