Special Reports

IOS holds two-day international conference on India and Muslim World in the 21st Century

New Delhi: Institute of Objective Studies (IOS), a Delhi-based research centre, organised here a two-day international conference at the Constitution Club during 15-16 February on "India and the Muslim World in the 21st Century" with a galaxy of speakers and participants from across the country and abroad, especially the Arab World.  

The conference was formally inaugurated by Union Minister of Minority Affairs, K Rahman Khan, who hoped that India and the Muslim World would unite to prevent the mistakes of the 20th century, which was marked by colonial exploitation and monumental violence. He said India, "the largest and highly successful democracy", had a long history of relationship with the Muslim world and Islam, which preaches peace and unity of humanity.

The guest speaker Union Minister of Water Resources Harish Chandra Rawat, said: "Indian Muslims are an integral and most shining part of our composite culture." He regretted that Sachar Report notwithstanding, challenges facing the Muslim community were yet to be addressed coherently. In many cases, direct Central intervention was required to set things right. He said divisive issues like temple-mosque controversy were the creation of people who thrived on such division. "The time for such politics is over," he reiterated adding that people from all segments, including minorities and SCs-STs, had an equal right to the country's resources. He said that the same law that applied to Muslim terrorists had to be applied to the perpetuators of Jaipur, Malegaon and Samjhauta Express blasts, who were not Muslims. "The law of the land should be the same for everyone. We cannot have two sets of laws; one for Col. Purohit, another for Muslim youth," he concluded.
Dr Aftab Kamal Pasha, Director Gulf Studies Programme, Centre for West Asian and African Studies, JNU, observed that for centuries the Indian Ocean was called a "Muslim Lake." Even before Islam, people from Yemen, Oman and other Arab lands had close trade and cultural ties with India.

Maulana Saeedur Rahman Nadwi

With the advent of Europeans in the Indian Ocean, a divide and rule policy began which set one group of people against another. The Portuguese landed in Kerala in 1498 and began a campaign against Muslims, creating divisions between them and other faith communities.

The guest of honour, Abdur Rahman Ghannam M. al-Ghannam, Under Secretary of the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs, said India and Saudi Arabia had a long history of friendly relations. In India, Arabic language and literature flourished over centuries. Dr Ghannam was educated in in India. He said, Saudi Arabia saw scope for co-operation in science and technology with India, including medical education. He also talked about the coming together of all faiths for a peaceful, prosperous world. He mentioned King Abdullah's tireless efforts at global interfaith dialogue.

Syed Shahid Mahdi Prof. B. Sheik Ali

Principal of Darul Uloom Nadwatul Ulama, Chancellor of Integral University and editor of the Arabic monthly al-Ba'th al-Islami, Maulana Dr Sayeedur Rahman Nadwi, received the IOS Lifetime Achievement Award. He chose to speak in Arabic on trade and cultural relations between India and the Arab world.

The first session of the conference was "Islam in India: Historical Perspective and Cultural Heritage." In his opening remarks, noted historian Prof. Sheik Ali said that the early Muslim rulers of India had known only the Abrahamic faiths -Judaism and Christianity - besides their own faith, Islam. In India they came face to face with eastern faiths like Hinduism and Buddhism, which gave them a different understanding of the Shari'ah. In the new, non-Abrahamic environment, they set their religious perspective afresh, giving 'adl (justice) a primacy over other things. 'Adl is a major goal of the Shari'ah. Ghyasuddin Balban, the Delhi Sultanate ruler, said famously that "he would not be able to implement the entire Shari'ah, but he would be happy to ensure justice for everyone". As usual, he had a tense relationship with the ulama. Prof. Ali said that conversions to Islam did not take place because of Muslim force of arms, but because a lot of lower-caste Hindus felt oppressed by an iniquitous caste system and wanted to get away from it. In the deep south, Islam was brought in by traders who came by sea as this region had maritime contacts with the Arab world since long before the advent of Islam. India then had a rich intellectual tradition and a richer civilisation than most other lands.

Prof. Shahid Mahdi said that the coming of Muslims to India led to the establishment of Bhakti-Sufi movement, which later culminated into the birth of a new faith, Sikhism. He quoted Maulana Rumi's couplet: "Tu brai wasl kardan amdi / na brai fasl kardan amdi" (you have come to unite people / not to sow divisions among them) as a mission statement of Islam.

The second business session had two themes: (a) "Economic and Financial Relations" and (b) "Islamic Banking and Finance: Global Trends and India." Rudy Yakscik from Massachusetts, US, spoke on disruptive technologies and business strategies as per Islamic finance and business rules.

The second day's programme began with the third business session. Prof. S.R. Mondal, professor of anthropology at Jadhavpur University, Kolkata, said India had both civilisational and genetic relationship with the Arab world. India, with its growing knowledge society had a lot to offer the Muslim world in a co-operative arrangement. The IITs and IIMs were a valuable resource to be shared. Of advantage for the Muslim world in establishing co-operation with India in education, he said, was that education in India was low-cost, compared to Western countries. Its high quality was attracting a lot of students from Europe and America where it was unaffordable for many, he said.

Dr Mohammad Imran, assistant professor, department of Microbiology, Integral University, Lucknow, said "Arabs and Turks are the natural allies of India in terms of culture and history. Twenty three percent of India's business is with the Muslim world, out of which the GCC's share is 90 percent."

Prof. Manzoor Ahmad, vice-chancellor, Vivekanand Subharti University, Meerut, said a country's foreign relations reflected domestic policies and priorities. For years, India had been receiving a sizeable number of foreign students in its universities. However, of late the number of foreign students had declined and foreign guest houses of several universities were lying vacant. Pune University and Lucknow University were famous for accommodating a good number of foreign students, but both are now almost devoid of them. He pleaded for raising the teaching standards of Indian universities. He regretted that in the rating of 500 universities by the Shanghai Group not even one Indian university was there. He pleaded that three foreign universities - Al-Azhar of Egypt, International Islamic University of Malaysia, and King Abdul Aziz University of Saudi Arabia - should open branches in India. He thought several Indian universities, IITs and IIMs would fulfill most of the needs of Muslim countries.

Prof. Allauddin, former vice-chancellor of Jamia Hamdard, advocated placing of knowledge in Islamic perspective. He said upto 10th century Hijrah Muslims took knowledge seriously. Over the last 400 years pursuit of knowledge had declined in Muslim societies as a dichotomy between deeni (religious) and 'asri (contemporary) knowledge evolved. He pleaded for restoration of unity of knowledge.

The theme of the fourth session was "Foreign Policy and Diplomatic Issues." In his opening remarks Dr Pasha observed that even before freedom, Indian leaders had close relations with the Muslim world. Under Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations was established after independence. The first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, had close interaction with Syria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. During his 1956 visit to Saudi Arabia, the Saudis called him the "prophet of peace." The largest number of ministerial visits and delegations come annually from the Muslim world", Dr Pasha said. When sanctions were imposed on Iraq and Libya, India worked hard to provide enough room for reducing hardship. India regularly used its diplomatic clout to reduce suffering of people in the Muslim world. India's relations with the entire Muslim world are robust, he remarked.

Dr Sani al-Faraj, President, Kuwait Centre for Strategic Affairs, Kuwait, sought a broad based relationship with India in economic, political and military affairs. He compared Kuwait to a mouse surrounded by three elephants-Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Only amicable relations with the three, and among the three, elephants would ensure the safety and security of the mouse. "India as a naval power should help secure the maritime routes from piracy and other threats for oil and other trade. India's interests in GCC-oil and other economic interests should also be secured. The Gulf as a business hub, should be of particular interest to India."

Dr Arshi Khan, associate professor, deptt. of political science, Aligarh Muslim University, said that America and Europe were in steady decline as India, China and some others were steadily rising. It was time for greater mutual co-operation between non-Western countries for a better future.

In the fifth session, the valedictory address was delivered by Dr Jasir Auda, deputy director, Centre for Islamic Legislation and Ethics, Qatar. He said that the Muslim world had always had a close relationship with India. Now was the time to expand the contacts further on government to government and people to people level.   

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 March 2013 on page no. 13

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