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Published in the 16-31 May 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Need to rethink mega organizations

By M H Lakdawala

The Milli Gazette Online

A series of recent developments seem to be throwing a wrench at the existing model of Islamic organizations and institutions in India. Witness the recent announcements of the formation of new so-called ďMuslim personal Law boardsĒ and the failure of various Muslim institutions to react to the demolition of the slums in Mumbai.

Unfortunately for Indian Muslims the only base for their religious and ideological support are the slew of Islamic organizations and institutions. There are no concrete systems through which the diverse and plural Muslim community consisting of various socio-economic groups can achieve guidance and support.

The mega ďAll IndiaĒ Muslim organizations and institutions have achieved all but limited success. It is practically impossible to manage an ďAll IndiaĒ organization or institution with the singular objective of representating Indian Muslims.

Letís take the case study of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, the largest and most organized Indian organization in the Muslim community. JIH did achieve some splendid success in the field of Islamic literature and establishing a network of cadre with excellent ideological training structure. But because the Indian Muslims are as diverse and plural as India, JIH could not penetrate beyond selected pockets. Even the acceptance of JIH by the Muslim masses is negligible.

Not only Bohras, Khojas, Shias, but even many Sunni Muslims do not accept the approach of JIH. That does not mean that the JIH is not relevant or effective. But the argument here is that in India we cannot have a single organization representing Indian Muslims as a whole.

Same applies to the All India Muslim Personal Law Board which also has a very limited and narrow objective. Hence those who expect it to launch a reform movement will only feel dejected. AIMPLB is not the sole representative body of the Indian Muslims but it does have its own importance and place. 

Indian Muslims need to rethink the strategy of having mega national organizations. Instead, multiple micro independent organizations, having local and region-specific objectives, will be a better alternative. Such micro organizations are in a better position to take into consideration the local culture, tradition and aspirations. 

The most powerful and successful unit of JIH is its Kerala unit. Since its culture, tradition and language are different from the rest of India, itís the most independent unit in JIH by default. Because of this it is today most vibrant and successful. To its credit, JIH Kerala unit is also successfully running a daily newspaper and also a weekly news magazine.

Another disadvantage in having a mega organization is its limitation. Thousands of anonymous supporters donít really care about anything but their own views and their narrow interests and they arenít going to change or allow their organization to change. 

Rather than looking at any one organization, itís interesting looking at the consequences of how we as a society have created a system, and what the implications are of the legal principles that we used to construct it. Our culture and our values are being steered towards a more self-interested individualistic and consumerist kind of model, and the effect of this approach shows on individuals and organizations.

The blame for creating mega organizations with limited vision lies collectively. Ultimately its citizens who are to blame. They elect governments which donít always do what we want them to do. You canít blame it to any one group of people. 

No doubt, many organizations are effective and efficient at producing change by doing constructive work at the grassroots level, but they lack internal checks and balances on the types of things that it will do. This breeds resentment within and without the organization.

Most of the Islamic organizations lose sight of the fact that the organization is a means to an end. That itís the welfare of the people and the benefit of the society that should be the core purpose of the organisation. We now see organizations as an end in themselves and they actually become larger and larger, and more powerful, and more able to dictate what society can do. This approach renders them irrelevant. 

The need is to create a new system thatís ushered in by the people in order to facilitate the pooling of human and financial resources in order to achieve its objective of making this world a better place to live for all of us. The system utilizes the various powers of beauty, aesthetics, knowledge and money, plus the myriad streams of talent ó from engineers, scientists, managers, lawyers, etc. It brings them to close proximity, and encourages various professionals to support each other through their continued informal meetings, through the urge to create the next wave of innovation, through the urge to pursue progress for achieving the ultimate objective as enshrined in the Qurían and Sunnah.

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