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

SPECIAL REPORT
Muslim Renaissance in India
By N. Jamal Ansari

Muslims are scattered all over India yet they have much in common. They pray to one and same Allah, follow more or less the same Shariat laws, observe same rituals and share same cultural traits. But it is equally true that they are underdeveloped, non-industrialised and particularly backward. The result is ignorance and poverty. They lag behind other communities in every field.

Though Islam emphasised upon social equality but Indian Muslims slowly moved towards social gradations. Broadly, they are divided into two so-called groups: Ashraf ("noble" or upper caste) and Ajlaf ("rough" or lower caste) Muslims. Though not as rigid as among Hindus, Muslims do maintain a caste-like feature. In fact, Muslims are passing through a crisis. To arrest this trend they need a renaissance.

Among Hindus, awakening began in the early 19th century, much before Muslims. The renaissance movements among Hindus and other non-Muslims may include Brahmo Samaj founded by Raja Ram Mohan Roy in 1828 in Bengal, the Prarthana Samaj founded by Keshab Chandra Sen in 1867 which was carried on by Justice M.G. Ranade and Bhandarkar in Maharastra, the Arya Samaj founded by Swami Dayanand Saraswati in 1875, Ramakrishna Mission founded by Swami Vivekananda in 1897, the Theosophical Society established by Colonel Cleott and subsequently developed by Annie Besant, the Rehnumai Mazdayasan Sabha by Dadabhai Navroji in 1851 and Sri Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam founded by Shri Narayan Dharma, Paripalana Yogam founded by Shri Narayan Guru in 1903 in Travancore. All these movemetns were essentially geared at reform and sought the abolition of the caste-system, encourage gender equality and social commitments.

But we, Muslims, never tried to mobilise our masses for social causes. There were some half-hearted attempts but most of them developed into religious movements leaving aside their original goals.

The Tariqah-e Muhammadiya (Muhammadan Way) Movement was founded by Syed Ahmad Barelwi Shahid (1789-1831). He was deeply concerned about the religious and political degradation of Muslims. It was not a simple revivalist movement. It was directed against superstitions and ignorance. The Tariqah-e Muhammadiya was based on nationalism and was directed against the British rule. Although they opposed modern education but this was primarily due to hatred towards the British. Shariatullah launched the Faraizi Movement in Bengal. Peasants were organised under Faraizi banner to oppose the oppression of Zamindars.
The Deoband Movement was also an offshoot of the Tariqah-e Muhammadiya. It attaracted youths not only from India but also from other countries. Unfortunately all these movements kept Muslims preoccupied with religion and failed to address their social and political aspirations.

Tablighi Movement was started by Maulana Ilyas (1886-1994) in 1927 among the Meos of Mewat region south of Delhi. This movement was a response to the Arya Samaj’s drive of Shuddhi which was aimed at converting Muslims to bring them “back” to the Hindu fold. Maulana Ilyas gave the slogan: "Aye Musalmano, Musalman bano" (Muslims, become Muslims). He began reforming them through six basic articles: recitation of the first Kalimah (there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is His messenger), Namaz (offering five-times daily prayers) Ilm (acquiring knowledge), Dhikr (remembrance of Allah), Ikram-e-Muslim (respect for Muslim), Ikhlas-e-Niyat (faithful intention) and Tabligh (spreading the message of Allah). Tablighi Jamat holds large gatherings of Muslims but there is hardly any other issue discussed except religion. Unfortunately, the movement keeps distance from politics leading to a negative attitude among its followers towards major issues confronting the Muslim community.

The Aligarh Movement was the modernistic movement launched by Syed Ahmad Khan which resulted in social change among Indian Muslims. Syed Ahmad Khan started a journal called Tahzib-ul-Akhlaq for popularising his ideas and message. In due course of time he founded the M.A.O. College in 1875 which is now Aligarh Muslims University where western thoughts and European learning were disseminated along with Islamic heritage. This movement was directed towards educational upliftment of Indian Muslims.
Most of these movements were inspired by the degradation seen in the Muslim community. 

Another movement, called Tulu-e-Islam, should also get attention. This movement was started by Ghulam Ahmad Pervez of Punjab. In 1938, he started publishing a journal, Tulu-e-Islam. Parvez got discredited because of his rejection of Hadith as a major source of legislation in Islam. Its main object was to unite Muslims as a whole leaving aside geographical boundaries. Some other organisations like Jamiat-ul Ulama, Jamaat-e Islami and Ahrar-e-Islam too engaged themselves in reforming the Muslim community.

In post-independence India some movements were launched like Muslim Satyashodhak Mandal by radical reformer Hamid Dalwai which failed to influence Muslims because Hamid Dalwai was influenced by Hindu communalists. A very important movement, called "Awaz-e-Niswan", was launched by Hasina Khan in 1985. Its main aim was to awaken Muslim women. Side by side these movements, some Muslims OBC movements also took roots. But they were confined to themselves.
Presently, we have a grim future in respect of Muslim renaissance. Despite laudable attempts as Syed Shahabuddin’s AIMMM, All India Muslim Personal Law Board and some other small organisations, Muslim awakening is very slow. Publication of The Milli Gazette by Dr. Zafarul-Islam Khan also aims at this direction.

Though quite late in comparison to Hindu brothers, there is now some awakening after the demolition of Babri Masjid and genocide of Muslims in Gujarat. Only religious awakening will not do. Educational and economic issues should also be dealt with. The Muslim elite should come foreword in this connection as they did at the time of Syed Ahmad Khan. Every small or big issue related directly or indirectly to any group or caste should arouse the minds of Muslims as a whole.

Muslims cannot remain aloof. They must act fast. Hence, a powerful socio-politico movement should be launched to unite and awaken them. If the present trend of living in dreams is not checkmated, the days of falling into the era of Jahalat (ignorance) will not be too far. This would be the tragedy of our times.
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