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Published in the 1-15 Mar 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Muslim clerics on the path of reform?
By Firoz Bakht Ahmed

The fatwa on the ban on cow slaughter on the eve of Eid-ul-Adha this year by the Darul Uloom Deoband, the largest, most conservative and revered Islamic seminary, has left a positive impact on the minds of all the Indians. In the present situation, the Deoband fatwa is bound to have a long lasting impact amongst the Indians especially Hindus that a renowned madrasa took a stand on an issue religiously significant to them. The edict proves that the segregated Muslim community is coming out of its ghettoized mindset challenging the orthodox obscurantism. Such appeals on the part of Deoband will help Indian Muslims challenge their own social ills on a mass scale.

Wrote Edmund Brooke, "The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." I believe that something needs to be added to the "literary debate" about Islam, Hinduism and the problem of religious intolerance — precisely, insight into the human mind’s attachment to identity and the scare of its being lost. But the pious acts aiming at the conglomeration of communities and cultures are always welcome by one and all. In a communally charged atmosphere against the madrasas being accused of functioning as breeding grounds for fundamentalism, it’s a welcome step and reminds one of Allama Iqbal who saw the need for Muslim culture to reform itself from within.

The Qur'an states that one should not be motivated by hatred. That would only lead to discrepancy and injustice according to Islam, "O you who believe, be upright for Allah/ bearers of witness with justice/ and not hate of others/ To you make you fickle and swerve." Sufis like Shah Abdul Latif, Baba Farid and Jalaluddin Rumi — with a harmonious and secularist vision — could bring about the synthesis of various religions and schools of thought. Rightly Kabir quoted, "At death Hindus chant the name of Lord Rama / Muslims chant Khuda’s name / In their lifetime neither of them / Does ever chant the same!"
Maulana Marghoob-ur-Rehman, 90, the Vice Chancellor of Darul Uloom Deoband, stated that the media has written and talked so much against Islam, madrasas and Muslims that anything more might sound like flogging a dead horse. Muslims have usually been looked at from dark-tinted glasses in a black portrait — intolerant, traitors, terrorists besides other derogatory generalizations. Islam has umpteen malicious versions — conservative, literalist, medieval, orthodox, fascist, barbaric and call it numerous names! There’s been a lot of misinterpretation of Islam and competitive blame game. When some dialogues took place between the Muslims and non-Muslims for parity, better understanding and harmony, they ended up more as point-scoring slanging bouts than rational debate.

It cannot be denied that for far too long Islam has been allowed to be a visa for any Muslim to do whatever he pleases in its name and the influential imams, mullahs and ayatollas have hijacked Islam for reasons thoroughly irreligious often taking the entire community to ransom. Right since the advent of Islam more than 1400 years ago, the religion has suffered at the hands of extremist individuals or groups who made its teachings topsy-turvy, and simultaneously claimed to be its unflinching followers and staunchest heralders.

Laments Maulana Qari Mohammed Usman, the pro-Vice Chancellor of Deoband that the proposal of modernism as envisioned by the 19th century reformers like Sheikh-ul-Hind Maulana Mehmood-ul-Hasan, Maulana Qasim Nanautvi, Maulana Obaidullah Sindhi etc has been engulfed in darkness by the acts of fanatics so much so that every effort at the correct Islamic interpretation and rejuvenation, is seen with suspicion. A man in Islamic attire or just in the skull cap is viewed by Hindus as suspect. The Talibanised approach added fuel to the conflagrations. Human life is so easily annihilated as if the Qur’an had never proclaimed it sacred and equated the murder of a single person with that of the butchering of the entire humanity.

Immediately after issuing the appeal for ban on cow slaughter, Maulana Habib-ur-Rehman, the Mufti-e-Azam (Grand Mufti), declared that Islam’s syncretic and electic spirit of recognizing all religions, the revealed books and men of God preceding it found a fertile ground in India which too had a tradition of assimilation and accommodation in its religious pursuits since time immemorial. Claims to counter the anti-Islamic propaganda of which there’s no dearth, a Muslim starts eulogizing the piety of Islam not knowing that inadvertently, he is advocating that these virtues belong only to his faith as though other religions profess violence and abhorrence. This makes the saffron regiment and provokes the likes of Togadiya, Salman Rushdie and VS Naipaul reel off example of Islamists’ violence and as a result more of venom is spouted in the media against Islam.

A good sign is that efforts are on to modernize the madrasa curriculum from being book-centred to child-centred though no radical change has been effected. What is good is that Muslims today think constructively about their socio-economic problems that they also share with their poor Hindu brethren.

The time is ripe for the Hindu brethren especially the ones nurturing vitriolic hatred for Muslims to open up and have a dialogue with the Muslims so that their grudges and prejudices are heard and removed into a clear understanding and is readied for a vision for living in perfect harmony taken care of. The political hawks aiming at creating a wedge between the two major communities of India can be sidelined after there is a frank dialogue on all matters openly and without hypocrisy. The Hindu community has to act as the elder brother to the younger community — Muslims. The need of the hour (for Hindus) is to thwart all the myths against Muslims. Muslims too should emerge clear out of the quagmire they have stuck themselves into. The global Muslim community that in the words of G B Shaw, "has an assimilating capacity to the changing phase of existence," has been weighed down by an image that it will find really tough to live with unless serious efforts by the liberal Muslims are comprehensively made. It is the right time for an enlightened progressive, leadership to emerge to rejuvenate a spirit of reformation and reconstruction.

Let both Hindus and Muslims together do away with the atrocious divisive ways. Under pretext of secularism, they introduced on the one hand Hindu Personal Law based on Dharmashastra and on the other hand Muslim Personal Law based on Shariat. They created a legal cleavage between otherwise harmoniously blended Hindus and Muslims of India and set in motion a malicious process, which rang the death knell of the common fabric that for centuries had bound different streams of Indian society together. It is imperative that there's a need for reforms not only in Muslim education but even the thought process. 

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