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Problem- and area-specific strategy essential for solution
By Syed Shahabuddin

During the last two decades that I have been in public life, I have noticed a remarkable propensity on the part of the Muslim Indians to seek an all- comprehensive solution of the problems they face in their own country but also the problems Islam faces in the present day the world.

To me, as a student of science, this is an unscientific approach. One must begin with an objective analysis of a complex situation to discover and separate the various strands, which together create the problem and the situation of suffocation and helplessness. One must then categorise the problems and place them in various baskets and then decide the strategy and the line of action for each, and their relative priority, depending on their gravity, their persistence, their nature and extent, the available constitutional remedy and legal space and the possible political approach and the need for democratic, peaceful agitation, if politics fails.

Obviously, the battle begins with a statement of the grievance. But if the statement covers all the grievances under the sun that the community nurses but which are the concern of various Ministers, Departments, public and private authorities, if it addresses everyone of them, and, therefore, no one in particular, no grievance is likely to be effectively addressed or redressed.



Let the Muslim Indians develop their strategy for survival and to pursue equality, justice and dignity and determine the line of action for each distinct problem they face. After all, India is home to roughly 10% of the Muslims of the world and the Muslim Indians are already 50 years too late in working out durable and satisfactory equations with the State and the religious majority as well as the other marginalized social groups in the country.



The confused perspective which destroys or at least minimizes the possibility of ever reaching the goal arises, because the Muslims per se, and Muslim Indians in particular, have developed a mindset which tries to trace everything to one source, one reason, one cause, and demands a one-shot solution out of one-time action!

Because the Muslims believe in the one-ness of Allah, this concept of ‘unity’ is unconsciously stretched to cover all things, situations and phenomena and permeates all their thinking and planning. Thus one cause of Muslim failure is the pan-Islamic, universal dimension, which is inbuilt in his thinking. Small problems are added up to form a big problem and then the problems faced by the Ummah – the world Muslim community – are added up to make them look as invincible as the Himalayas (except by the grace of Allah) which then justifies their initial failure and their lack of determination and persistence and provides an alibi for their inaction, mental lassitude and physical fatigue.

And relating all their problems or their entire situation to the question of Islamic renaissance and revival in the 21st Century will lead them nowhere. The question of how Islam should come to terms with the contemporary world and thus prove its universality in time and space is a major question, which extends to a reinterpretation of Islamic scriptures and doctrines and, above all, of the Islamic law as we know it. Muslims need a different forum and different expertise for this worldwide question.

Even when one shuts out the pan-Islamic dimension, the Muslim Indians always think in the pan-Indian context. They fail to realize that all problems do not exist everywhere at all times and at least do not have the same intensity in all parts of the country at the same time. Sometimes it may be communal tension, resulting in communal violence and even genocide in one place; it may be exclusion from power structure in another; it may be economic conflict of interest in a third; it may be educational deprivation in a fourth; it may be vilification of Islam or demonisation of the Muslims or the degradation of their institutions in a fifth and so on. The problems of a pan-Indian community are area-specific and time-specific and must be tackled individually for success, of course, by pooling the experience and expertise from all over the country.

The battle of Muslim Indians is the battle of all religious, racial and ethnic minorities anywhere for recognition of their identity as distinct communities. Politically, the essence of the problem is to find a stable balance between change and conservation, between rejection and assimilation, between alienation and participation. A Muslim, wherever he is, should not be treated as an alien in the nation-state of which he is a part but become a creative contributor to its productivity as well as its welfare. If the other national communities accept him, trust and respect him, in the country as a whole he will not carry the image of belonging to a group of fanatical subversives or terrorists, ever anxious to restore Muslim rule or establish Islamic power! Even if the anti-Islamic forces in India project a negative and false image for their own reasons, why should the Muslim Indian community become a candidate for this dubious honour? 

Let us take the example of the place of Urdu in education, administration and information. This is a major problem faced by the majority of the Muslim community (55%) whose mother tongue and household language is Urdu. And yet it has been virtually exiled from schools and, therefore, from administration and economy, so much so that the younger generation cannot even communicate with its parents!



Let us leave it for the Ummah, as a whole, which includes both Muslim majorities, exercising political power in Muslim States, and Muslim minorities which have to accommodate themselves to the political system in their countries to find its own modus vivendi, to work out a theologically acceptable reinterpretation of Islam, compatible with the spirit of the time.



Now it comes naturally to the Muslim Indians to relate it to all other political, religious and economic and even physical problems faced by the community. But that is a guarantee of failure.

I have taken Urdu as an example, of our well-meaning confusion, which is reflected, to a large extent in omitting to administer the right medicine at the right time to the right patient and the formulation and prescription of one common medicine to all patients, at the same time, in the entire hospital!

Even worse would be to relate it to the general question of the Muslim situation in the world at the beginning of the 21st Century, as if the whole non-Muslim world was conspiring to put Urdu down.

Urdu population is concentrated in UP, Bihar, AP, Karnataka and Maharashtra with minor concentrations in Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, MP and Gujarat. It is not a serious problem for half the Muslim Indians. It is important but not a major issue of concern in the totality of political, economic and social injustice and educational hardships faced by the Muslim community as a whole. The Muslims of the world obviously do not share the concern of the Urdu-speaking community of India, not even in Pakistan, the only state which has Urdu as its official language.

In a democratic and federal state of ours, Urdu situation can be tackled separately, not as another religious problem but as a linguistic and educational problem - the case of deprivation of a linguistic minority of its legitimate rights, nationally and internally recognized. In my view, this would be the best strategy for the Urdu-speaking community.

Similarly, other problems have their own orientation and dimension and the Muslims can develop a strategy for each, if they think analytically and objectively.

Modernization of Islam, the overall situation of the Muslim Indians and the status of Urdu are interrelated but distinct questions. Intellectually one would find it easier to analyse the problems of the Urdu-speaking minority in India, without bringing in the existential dilemmas faced by Muslims in India or by Islam as a world religion around the globe in the 21st Century. Instead of treating Urdu as a part of the unfulfilled aspirations and manifold grievances of the Muslim Indian community (which is twice as big as the Urdu-speaking community) as citizens of a professedly secular, democratic republic, my basic plea would be: let us focus on the survival and progress of Urdu in the land of its birth, both as a spoken and as a written language.

Firstly, let us leave it for the Ummah, as a whole, which includes both Muslim majorities, exercising political power in Muslim States, and Muslim minorities which have to accommodate themselves to the political system in their countries to find its own modus vivendi, to work out a theologically acceptable reinterpretation of Islam, compatible with the spirit of the time. Its response to the world forces, unleashed by science and technology and explosion of knowledge and information, the industrial revolution and economic globalization, democracy, secularism and human rights, emergence of the new international political order and the dynamics of social and cultural changes across the planet. The Muslim Indians are crying for equality and justice, for progress and development. Why should they carry the Islamic burden on their backs, which are already bent double?

Secondly, let the Muslim Indians develop their strategy for survival and to pursue equality, justice and dignity and determine the line of action for each distinct problem they face. After all, India is home to roughly 10% of the Muslims of the world and the Muslim Indians are already 50 years too late in working out durable and satisfactory equations with the State and the religious majority as well as the other marginalized social groups in the country.

Then we come to Urdu in the Indian environment. Let me say, without hesitation that what has hurt the cause of Urdu most is the projection of its problems as a Muslim question rather than as a national question in a multi-lingual country in which there are many other minority languages and where even the major languages, including Hindi and others listed in 8 Schedule of the Constitution and which are the principal languages of one or more states, numerically constitute linguistic minorities in other States of the Union. 

The proper strategy, therefore, is to find a national solution to the national problem of providing equitable space in education, information and administration to the minority languages in the country as a whole as well as the State level. Of course, Urdu faces a real handicap in that it is the only major language, which is a minority language in every State. But India is a federation and, therefore, the Central Government has to lay down common policies for recognition and development and utilization of all minority languages in every State. Urdu is bound to benefit from such a pan-Indian dispensation. In this the Union Government is the main player and it has to take into account the internationally recognised rights of linguistic minorities. A recent International Urdu Conference organized by Zakir Husain Circle in Delhi set out to do, and did indeed reach a consensus on how to secure for Urdu the legitimate rights as a minority language and for its speakers due facilities, particularly at the grassroot level, primarily in school education.

By force of habit, we tend to relate Urdu to the Madrasas. Yes, the Madrasas in Urdu-speaking areas have helped in keeping Urdu alive in adversity but the Madrasas have their own purpose and their limitations. Religious instruction is being imparted to non-Urdu-speaking children of Muslim Indians in regional languages. Indeed, if Urdu goes on shrinking in Urdu-speaking areas, the Madrasas can only switch over to other languages of the State and jump out of the sinking ship of Urdu. So the perspective of Urdu and Madrasa education do not coincide. The larger objective is to save Urdu as the pan-Indian language par excellence and as the language of our composite culture. This must be kept in view.

Hence, Muslim Indians must establish their own priorities. Their first priority must be to find peace and dignity in their own motherland rather than undertake a ‘national’ project for the reconstruction of religious thought in Islam for the sake of the Ummah. This task can be left to Muslim States and to the global players and institutions. In any case, they can do no more than organize ‘a new set of lectures’ to update Iqbal of the 20’s, as proposed by Mr. Salman Khurshid, in a recent article

In brief, let us not waste our energies, let us analyse the situation: take the problems one-by-one, measure its intensity and dimensions, work out the long-term strategy and the line of action. Each success will give us heart. Over a period of time, we shall succeed in solving the problems of Muslim Indians as a religious minority because its rights have been safeguarded by the Constitution. Let us detach ourselves, for the present, from our pan-Islamic pretensions of the yesteryear, when we felt that our donations would make a material difference to the fortress of the Caliphate from our ego-trips based on the ethos of religious superiority and from our memories of historic glory! Let other Muslim communities more resourceful and more powerful, wear the mantle and strive to reconstruct Islam for the 21st Century.
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