A two-hour-long speech by Prime Minister Modi, from the ramparts of Red Fort was received and discussed by media, commented on by political opponents, and the people, in different ways. Some called it a report card of ten years and a vision document for the next decade while some called it an election bugle attempting to expand his support base covering all sections of society, particularly the youth, poor, and the middle class. The hard truth that we fail to realize is that India is like an elephant that carves its own path. Its intrinsic virtues, like the world’s highest and the youngest population, the demographic dividend that it derives from its own merits, the size, and the momentum due to its own mass, make its economic growth unstoppable. It has grown for the past 70 years and continues to grow, by virtue of its strong democracy, sound educational, and technological foundation laid down after independence. The volume of educated people in the country is so large, that, even if a small percentage of them reaches excellence globally, this number is large enough to make an impact globally. Indians occupy the top positions in multinational business houses in US and UK and even own several of these industries. I meet a lot of Pakistani Muslims in the Mosque in San Jose, most of whom though have praise for India’s growth and its impact globally, their curiosity about the status of Muslims in India and their future in emerging India was compellingly thought-provoking. This in fact prompted me to write this article in the Islamic voice again after a gap of one year.
The disturbing question that came to my mind always was, are the Indian Muslims ready to be a part of the country’s growth, educationally and socially?
Will Muslims walk shoulder to shoulder in nation-building with pride and confidence, and reap the benefits as equals?
Have the ulema and our Imams, the community, and the political leadership listened to the PMs’ report card or vision or whatever “name” they call it with a serious concern for their own future generation?
Did they ever realize their responsibility to shape the future of their children and grandchildren?
If we were indifferent and if we remained secluded and insulated from the surroundings and happenings in the country, trust me, the future of the community without education, is darker than what it is today. Even God does not help those who do not help themselves and strategize their long-term vision for the future of their community in changing times. The Muslim community must recognize that democracy also brings with it the rule of the majority and majoritarianism. When there is competition for survival, the majority behaves like a big brother, and the minority faces the consequences. The post-independence growth of the country did not penetrate the Muslim population as much as it should have been, thus, keeping Muslims the most backward educationally, economically, and of course socially as per the Sachar committee report. A visionary, unified religious and political leadership has been largely absent, and Muslim ulema always stayed divided into their schools of thought and divided the community too into Maslaks and Firks. Modernization, building educational institutions, promoting higher education, education of women, opening the doors of masjids to women, and building strong relationships with other communities was not their priority. The Muslim religious leadership was often emotionally charged and overly indulged in promoting their own beliefs of maslaks and sects, building their own masjids that also divided the community. A majority of the charity goes into building Masjids and Madrasas and little goes into supporting the education of the poor, the education of women, and building educational Institutions.
Thus the divided community, indifferent to the changing times, and industrial and technological growth of the country, staying secluded from the main population, created a conducive situation for a section of majoritarianism supremacists to carry forward their dual agenda to not only keep Muslims distracted but keep them backward educationally and socially, pushing them into more seclusion, and promoting hatred and polarization by the majority communities.
Controversies that distracted and kept the entire Muslim community wastefully occupied for decades were related to the claims on some mosques and Eidgah lands by Hindu extremist groups and the legal battles related to such claims starting with the “lost” Babri mosque battle. The recent distraction to Muslims has been the Lynching by a cow vigilante group, a call for genocide of Muslims by a group of extremist religious groups, and most recently the government legislating of laws such as anti-conversion love Jehad law, or lawless selective bulldozing of so-called illegal constructions, or the uncalled-for Headscarf or Hijab controversy in schools and some colleges. Now the newly launched tool of distraction is the common civil code or uniform civil code. No one holds any of these justifiable from any standards and all well-meaning and progressive Hindus have also condemned them and continue to condemn them. I for one stood against all the tricks played to distract Muslims, keep them away from farsightedness, education, and thinking of the future of their children twenty years hence when India emerges as a developed country. When the entire world will be impacted by Indian technocrats, CEOs., scientists’ doctors, and managers, don’t we Indian Muslims would walk shoulder to shoulder and equally benefit from the growth of the nation that the PM has predicted?
How do we keep pace with the nation’s growth and benefit from its gains?
It is with nothing but through education and education alone. Muslims have waited for seventy long years for both religious and political leaders to lead the community to the path of education, rationality, and progress. Our political leaders and religious leaders have both failed us on this front. Today when the number of students in every community is flooding the colleges and universities, Muslims are dwindling in their population in educational Institutions. I am a witness to their dwindling number in universities, colleges, and professional programs, as vice chancellor of three universities. I have been writing about the indifference of the ulema and the Imams to the importance of worldly education and their reluctance to give space in their Friday sermons to modern higher education and women’s education. The reason for banking on Imams to change the community is justified as they are the ones who are blessed to have access to address the community every Friday. The entire Muslim population silently listens to them during their sermons at Friday prayers. The tragedy is that they have neither been informed nor are they trained to speak on the contemporary issues of the community, give a vision, speak on education, the alarming need for professional education to women, the responsibility of the rich to educate the poor, role of Masjid managements to use masjid as an active community center, and so on. Unless the Amirs of all jamaats and maslaks come to a common platform and make it their mission to chalk out a comprehensive strategy to make Muslims a highly educated progressive community in the new India, well connected with the nation’s growth, not secluded from the mainstream, and above all as true practicing Muslim. So, I urge the community to take my frank writing in the right spirit and wake the community up from the deep slumber now. (The writer is Former Vice-chancellor of Kashmir University, Pondicherry University, and BSA University Chennai and member UGC)