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Published in the 16-31 Aug 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

How to empower Muslims 

By M H Lakdawala

Mumbai: “Empowerment” in contemporary society has become a volatile term. It has led to riots, suicides, and self-immolation bids on the one hand and on the other it has launched in the orbit of power individuals and parties.

Amongst Muslims, empowerment is the most confusing and misunderstood term. Muslim social scientists, politicians and even Islamic organisations attribute different meanings to empowerment. The community as a whole is directionless and lacks leadership to debate the issues of empowerment.

Social scientist AR Momin raises the issue in his book Empowerment of Muslims in India, published recently by the Delhi-based Institute of Objective Studies. Speaking on the occasion of the launch of the book in Mumbai, Momin elaborated on the reasons why Muslims are backward in India. Riots, discrimination, disunity amongst the Muslim, rise of communalism, Ulama’s orthodoxy and their concentration on putative issues, indifference and aloofness of the Muslim elite were a few of the issues Momin highlighted.

Unity among different sects, modern education, a revamp of madrasas, reservation, emphasising on security are the solutions he offered. Ironically Momin failed to go beyond stereotypes and generalities. All these issues have been extensively debated and discussed by Muslims in the past. What is the use of raising issues which were relevant two decades back? 

What Momin failed to discuss are the contemporary issues regarding Muslim empowerment. The world and society have dramatically changed. Issues relevant a couple of years back are no longer relevant. 
Let us do a "What if analysis," of the issues discussed by the Momin.

Riots
No doubt riots have played havoc with the community psyche. Did riots in any way act as a hurdle to the empowerment? In fact, after every riot the community got more determined and more organized to face the demon of communal riots. 

Discrimination
In every plural society discrimination exists. In India discrimination is a universal feature and not Muslim-specific. Instead of crying over it, what is needed is striving for excellence after which discrimination does not remain relevant. If Zaheer, Pathan and Kaif can force their way into the Indian cricket team on the basis of merit. others too can do it. Discrimination could not halt their progress.

Eighty-eight percent of the respondents in a survey conducted by Milli Gazette in four Muslim-managed colleges in Mumbai, said that discrimination is not an issue for them. Asif Siddique, a management student, said "I am sure that if I have the qualifications and requisite competence nobody can stop me achieving success in life."

Disunity amongst Muslims
It is perhaps the most widely discussed myth propagated by various vested interests in the community. Disunity, if any, only exists amongst the intellengtsia and different section of the ulama. As far as the common man is concerned, the real issue is illiteracy not disunity. It is because of the lack of education, the sentiments of the masses are exploited by the vested interest.
Sixty-three percent of the respondents in our survey said that they didn’t consider theological differences of any significance and it did not influence their behavior towards other students of different schools of thought.

Rise of communalism
Although Gujarat riots still stare us in the face but no one can deny the fact that a majority of non-Muslims of this country are non-communal and peace-loving. Communalism is the product of divisive policies of political parties and communal groups. The majority of Hindus live, work, and interact with Muslims without discrimination. In rural India dress, language, food habits, culture and occupations of both Muslims and non-Muslims are the same.

Ulama’s orthodoxy and their concentration on putative issues
Muslim elite and intellengtsia always blame Ulama for the community’s problems. Though criticism in some regards is justified but to put the entire blame on Ulama for the ills of the community is not justified. Ulama are a part and parcel of the community and reflect its moral and intellectual stagnation. The issues related to Ulama are more to do with the socio-economic conditions rather than ideological or theological differences.

A fresh approach is needed while debating the issue of Muslim empowerment.

Discard the emotional baggage of the past
The first step on the road to empowering Muslim is to discard the emotional baggage of the past, howsoever painful it may be. Today’s Muslim youth are not interested in knowing about the trauma of the decades gone by. They are future-oriented. They want to know what the future prospect is and how to overcome the current shortcomings and weaknesses.

Our survey revealed that a majority of students are not interested in the issues raised by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, Muslim and Islamic organizations and politicians.

Out of the 81 respondents 76 per cent said that they do not consider AIMPLB was an effective organisation. Ninety-one per cent of the respondents said AIMPLB is only of symbolic use. Today’s youth are eager to discuss future rather than the past.

Change the mindset 
The second step needed is to inculcate a mindset of the community through various efforts. They must be taught that the community’s future is in their own hands rather than any external agencies such as government or political parties. Psychologists have confirmed that empowerment is a "state of the mind". So what is needed is to change the mindset? The change in mindset is a painfully slow and prolonged process which can be initiated by bringing in relevant changes in the educational system and the syllabus taught in madrasas and adding new subjects in the Muslim- managed schools and colleges.

Building a positive, vibrant, and evolving community culture
The third step is to strive for building a positive, vibrant, and evolving community culture replacing the current stagnating culture which is nothing but an imitation of the past societies which are no longer in sync or relevant to our country.

Above all what is required is the will to change. Unless and until the festering past is discarded in favour of the future, empowerment cannot be visualized let alone attained. A planned and sustained effort at the grassroots is needed to start the process of empowerment of Muslims in India.
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