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In Search of A Leader

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There is no denying the fact that the Muslims in India are witnessing a downslide in the socio-political milieu. The attacks on their identity, culture, history, religious practices together with Muslim bashing by the social media and in TV debates have the danger of alienating them from the mainstream. In this pathetic situation, the common response of the Muslims is a statement which is repeated often: “we do not have a leader’. This is a common grouse we have been hearing for decades. Many blame the politicians. Many blame the Ulema. But very few blame themselves. Finding scapegoats is not a solution for the problems being faced by the community.

It may appear odd, but it is a fact that at no time in the history of post-independence India that Muslims were at the centre of so much importance as we are witnessing now; albeit for all the wrong reasons. Anti-Muslim politics have become pivotal for the polarisation of communities and garnering the support of the majority community. Not a day passes without some person saying spiteful things about the community, to the extent of even calling for their genocide. Triple Talaq, hijab, azan, common civil code, love jihad, rising Muslim population and the bulldozer politics are dominating the visual media with the TV anchors adding fuel to the fire. Efforts to convert the mosques into temples with the claim that the mosques were built after demolishing temples by the Muslim rulers is another ploy to browbeat the Muslims.

Facing these multi-pronged attacks, Muslims are clueless as to how to deal with the situation. But it should be recognised that they have not become emotional and have been facing the situation with equanimity. They should continue to do so. The majority community, by and large believes in religious harmony and peaceful co-existence since hatred and malice is against our national ethos.

Waiting For A Leader
Among the Muslims, waiting for a leader has become, what can be best described as, waiting for Godot. From where should leaders emerge? The common belief that ‘leaders are born, not made’ has been proved wrong. A person born with charisma, confidence, intelligence and social skills does not become a natural-born leader. Leadership researchers White and Hodgson suggest that truly effective leadership is not just about the qualities of the leader, it is about striking the right balance between behaviours, needs, and context. Good leaders are able to assess the needs of their followers, take stock of the situation, and then adjust their behaviour accordingly.

Political Leadership
With the diminishing clout of Muslim politicians, they are themselves battling for their survival. It has become increasingly difficult to win elections and when they are victorious, they find themselves in a political party that is not in power. Even if they are elected from a ruling party, either they are denied a ministerial berth or are allotted the Ministerial portfolio of Minority affairs like Waqf and Haj. Deprived of a powerful portfolio or a ministerial berth itself, their influence takes a nosedive and in consequence, many of their followers abandon them. Followers hang around politicians with vested interests and with no personal benefit in sight, they look elsewhere for greener pastures. In this scenario, hoping that a Muslim leader will emerge and lead the entire Muslim community as a pied piper is wishful thinking. Muslim politicians have only pockets of influence and expecting them to become the voice of the divided Muslim community is un-realistic.

Religious Leadership
It is very common to hear people say that the Ulema have failed in providing leadership to the Muslim community. No doubt, the Ulema with their fiery speeches wield a lot of influence over the Muslim masses. But it has to be admitted that they have their own limitations. Almost all our Ulemas are products of Madrasas and their education is by and large restricted to religious subjects. They are specialists in religious matters and their services in teaching the Qur’an and Ahadees are laudable and deserve to be appreciated. Their knowledge of English and even the regional languages (in some States) is very limited. Many Ulemas cannot fathom the intricacies of current affairs and the political and legal ramifications of certain actions. Most of the Ulemas have financial constraints and face difficulties in raising funds for campaigns. Moreover, they are themselves divided over Maslak issues. Ulemas in India with their religious learning acquired in a lifetime are doing a tremendous service for deen and deserve to be respected. But it is unfair to expect the Ulema to don the leadership of the community in temporal matters.

Having said that, it has to be acknowledged that the Ulema are the rare voices who are now speaking on behalf of the community and even appealing to them that they should not get provoked. The Jamiath e Ulema e Hind has been moving the Courts, organizing conferences, and so on. A team of Ulema under the banner of Sabeelur Rishad, Bangalore has been proactive and is responding to every adverse situation with a balanced approach in Karnataka. During the Covid times and in the subsequent Islamophobic times, the Ulemas headed by Ameer e shariat Moulana Sagheer Ahmed saheb, Mufti Ifteqar Ahmed saheb, Moulana Maqsood Imran saheb, and others have been educating the masses to adhere to Government instructions. The Ulema in Bangalore is in the vanguard of the efforts to promote religious harmony and peace.

Leadership from Retired Government Officers
Of late we hear voices in the community asking why officers who have retired from high positions in the Government are not taking up the cudgels on behalf of the community and why they are not leading the Muslims from the front. If you peek into the concerns of the Government officers while they were in service, you will find that their primary concerns were their postings, transfers, promotions, increments, etc. The sole objective of a few of them is to make hay while the sun shines (you know what it means). Many of them do not have much contact with the Muslim masses, except those who come to them for personal favours. After retirement, they are free from their hectic schedules and start enjoying their free time. Picnics, outings, foreign trips, and spending time with their grandchildren become their main engagements. Some devote themselves to prayers and in fact -to be fair- many of them involve themselves wholeheartedly in community service. But hoping for a leader to emerge from a retired IAS/IPS or any other senior officer is far-fetched.

Collective Leadership
Mr. Gulam e Ghouse, founder of Vision Karnataka organization in Karnataka is mooting the concept of collective leadership. He proposes that organizations, irrespective of their political party affiliations or the Maslak and jamaath to which they belong should hold common meetings while still maintaining their individual identity. In such meetings, the problems faced by the community should be discussed across the table, and decisions are taken on what steps are required to be taken for promoting religious tolerance, peaceful co-existence, communal harmony, and services to the nation. This Federation or group of Muslim organizations should select a team of 15 persons representing the Ulema, heads of organizations, and intellectuals to lead the community as leaders. Guiding this 15-member committee will be a team of six members called Facilitators consisting of a politician, an Aalim, a retired senior Government officer, an advocate, a social worker, and a businessman. Mr. Gulam e Ghouse is promoting the idea that such a set-up should be formed in every city and town. In the future, if this project succeeds, there is a possibility of interlinking such groups from every town and city to form a national-level organization.

Representative Associations
We can build up on the structure proposed by Mr. Gulam e Ghouse. Muslims in every town and city should form different Associations representing their professions like the Association of advocates, doctors, engineers, government officers, students, journalists, school teachers, college teachers, wholesale businessmen, retail businessmen, women, etc. Two office bearers from all such Associations should be represented in the Central Committee in every town and city. The Central Committee having representatives from different walks of life will be better equipped to understand various issues and offer solutions to vexatious issues. Each Representative Association will be able to practically take up the implementation of decisions of the Central Committee pertaining to their profession and serve humanity. If this succeeds, the Central Committee could stake its claim before the Deputy Commissioner to be invited for Peace committee meetings and 15 points programme meetings as representatives of a cross-section of the Muslim community.

This could be a Road map to create a Collective Leadership in every town and city. This will enable the Muslim community to ventilate its considered views on various issues after deliberations with well-informed persons representing different professions. The Collective Leadership concept can fill the void of lack of leaders and can prevent every Tom, Dick, and Harry from airing their ignorant views in different forums and misleading the community by claiming to be representatives of the community.