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Hindu-Muslim conflict – need for conciliation
By Iqbal A. Ansari

For more than a century Hindu-Muslim relation in India appears to have remained unsettled, one dimension of which may be characterized as conflictual. It led to partition of the country, which brought in its wake even more enlarged and more intensified areas of conflict, including Kashmir, manifested in periodic inter-state wars and inter-community bloodbaths.

The constitution of India and institutions established under it are supposed to provide a mechanism for the resolution of inter-group conflicts in the country. But ideal conditions for the working of the constitution do not obtain, reasons for which may be sought in the culture of power politics, in the judicial system and in the law-enforcement machinery, besides the non-egalitarian traditional cultural ethos that makes us accept unfair and unjust treatment of the ‘other’. Even if conditions on the ground improve enabling constitutional scheme of dispute resolution to become a reality, sources of conflict, some of which are inbuilt in the constitution, will not simply disappear. There are for example grey areas in the constitutional provisions related to freedom of religion and conversion, secularism and cow protection, and minority right to preserve its culture along with directive to secure Uniform Personal Laws, wherein conflicting claims do not appear to have been harmonized either by judiciary or by political consensus. The conflict, therefore, cannot be left to be resolved by law alone.

Following are some of the issues that have the potential to be used in aggravating the communal divide for political mobilization as has been done in the past:
(i)Understanding of and dealing with history, especially that of Medieval India in the context of role of Islam in India. (ii) Ayodhya, Kashi and Mathura as special cases of the legacy of history (iii) characterization of one by the other community as malicha and kafir (iv) religious processions and playing of music before mosques (v) conversions from one religion to another (vi) Bande Matram (vii) cow protection (viii) Hindu culture, national heroes, and Muslims (ix) communal riots (x) the de facto status of Urdu especially in U.P. (xi) conflicting perceptions of discriminatory-exclusionary practices against Muslims and perceptions of their appeasement (xii) Muslim Personal Law and Uniform civil Code (xiii) Muslims loyalty to India (xiv) perception of threat of worldwide Islamic fundamentalist domination by Hindus and of assimilation by Muslims.

One can easily be tempted to characterize the Hindu-Muslim sub-continental mortal conflict situation including that in Kashmir in terms of Samuel Huntington’s theory of clash of civilizations. But those who do not subscribe to any theory that makes us accept the inevitability of long term historical processes and affirm faith in the efficacy of organized human intervention for redirecting the course of history, as has happened in Western Europe, need to undertake the mission of peaceful resolution of this conflict. One can hope that all liberals, humanists and genuinely religious persons and groups belong to the latter category.

The first requisite of the success of any such mission is the acceptance by the disputants that peace dividends will not only be beneficial for all concerned in terms of socio-economic-cultural human development, but also in terms of realization of respective civilizational aspirations.

The second requirement is appropriate structuring of the process of conciliation. Any such conciliation group will be required to take up Ayodhya, cow protection and conversion etc. not one by one as separate issues, but to address the whole range of issues as manifestations of each community’s collective state of mind characterized by distrust and fear engendered by the legacy of history and strengthened by partition and Indo-Pak conflicts.

Any attempt to tackle one single contentious issue like Ayodhya will be frustrated, as has happened in the past, as the possible satisfactory resolution based on compromise will make one community nurse a feeling of defeat and humiliation. But when the entire range of issues are brought under discussion with the spirit of mutual respect, good will and accommodation the resultant Comprehensive Compact will be viewed with satisfaction by all.

It should, for example, be possible for Muslims to voluntarily declare that they will not slaughter cows for any purpose, and also to reassure Hindus that there is no political design to induce conversion of weak and vulnerable groups of Hindus. Banning cow slaughter by a Central legislation may come into conflict with the demands of secularism, but its coming into effect through a compact will not pose any problem. All Muslims know that by giving up their option to slaughter cow for ritual sacrifice or for food will not make them compromise any religious tenet or dietary requirement, so long as other animals are available for sacrifice and food. Several Muslim monarchs, Ulema and leaders including Sir Syed Ahmed Khan adopted such conciliatory attitude in the past.

Given the right perspective, it should not lie beyond the realm of the possible to amicably resolve the issue of Ayodhya – if Muslims can be reasonably assured that compromise will yield permanent peace dividends in terms of impartial enforcement of law to protect their lives and honour, and also in terms of securing their due share in social, economic, and political life of the nation along fully enjoying their right to distinct identity.

Kashmir need not be bracketed with the range of Hindu-Muslim issues. In one sense it is a separate issue. And needs to be tackled separately. But in the broader historical perspective it is part of the history of unresolved Hindu-Muslim conflict leading to partition. Any overall religio-cultural conciliation between Hindus and Muslims in India may be expected to lead to a qualitative change in the attitude of Kashmiris.

Prof. Ansari (iqbalansari@hotmail.com) is secretary general of the Minorities Council.
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