Muslim Minority: Today and tomorrow and Change

Book: Muslim Minority Continuity and Change
Author: Asghar Ali Engineer
Publisher: Gyan Publishing House, New Delhi.
Year of Publication: 2009
Price: Rs 540
Pages: 206


Since the partition of the subcontinent and the creation of Pakistan the Muslims who were left behind in India had to face hardships on every front, and over the years their condition has grown pathetic. the contribution of Muslims to the freedom struggle as well as to the Ganga- Jammuni civilization has been sidelined and is dying in oblivion on the one hand while on the other Indian Muslims are being held accountable for terrorism, communalism and spreading mischief thus threatening National integrity, unity and sovereignty of Indian State. the loyalty of Muslims is always held under suspicion by the State. In these hostile circumstances to stand and speak for Muslims indeed requires Iron Will which the famed scholar, activist and Islamic theologian Asghar Ali Engineer surely possesses as he has been speaking for the Muslim cause since decades.

The book under review is a collection of his thought-provoking articles which he wrote from time to time for his bi-monthly newsletter The Secular Perspective. As a secular and democracy loving scholar Engineer in his Preface to the collection writes “Fundamental, religious and linguistic rights are most important for smooth functioning of democracy. But to guarantee rights in the Constitution is one thing and to implement them in a country with bewildering diversity and clashing communal and linguistic interests is something else. In all the countries religious and linguistic minorities establish their hegemony and deny these basic rights to minorities. One has to constantly struggle for realization of these rights in the interest of unity and national integrity”.

This view runs threadbare in all the twenty six articles that are present in the compilation, and Engineer is mostly critical of the State and police when it comes to the implementation of the enshrined constitutional rights of the minorities because in most cases the State is hand in glove with police. Other State agencies perpetuate atrocities against the minorities as well as supports the majority (read Hindu) during the communal riots against the minorities. Engineer finds no exceptions to this norm “Congress regime never tried to curb communal violence seriously. Not because the Congress party severed from secular ideology but because most of the individual Congressmen were either of communal bent of mind or truly secular individuals in the party felt helpless and isolated.”

For all the politicians be they of the Congress or any other secular parties, power was the ultimate aim, not constitutional principles nor secularism. If power is prioritized over principles, country would witness such calamities repeatedly. State machinery was always grossly misused in all the major communal riots. The politicians used police to promote their own interests and seriously compromised integrity and professionalism of the police” (p. 55).

Engineer is also critical of the ruling cliques for betraying the spirit of Indian Constitution “The Constitutional philosophy is all inclusive. Even the Scheduled Castes and Tribes were given reservations, but the constitutional spirit was never translated into practice. In practice there was not only non fulfillment of constitutional promise but downright neglect of minorities, especially the Muslims” (pp. 80-81).

Engineer is also equally vocal about the status and the positive role of women which has been accorded to them by the Qur’an and Islam but denied to them by the patriarchal theologians and Engineer time and again deconstructs such myths and cultural norms. “The ulama consider formulations of medieval ages sacred and even divine. For them the Qur’anic concept of justice is secondary to men’s authority over women. Men’s right to divorce is considered as absolute whereas women’s right is constrained by men’s consent. Thus, it is men who has the authority to divorce although there is no such authority given by the Qur’an to men.”

The ulama consider women as weak and emotional and incapable of taking proper decision and hence only men should take crucial decisions though women could be consulted. By the same reason they also think that a woman should not become head of state as it would be disaster for the state. This view is supposedly based on one hadith authenticity of which has been questioned.

Today there is greater need for re-codification of Islamic laws and if Qur’anic spirit is followed in re-codification of Islamic laws in the areas of marriage, divorce and inheritance, these laws will be as good as modern laws based on the concept of gender equality and also much of the differences between various madhabib (schools of laws) can be minimized” (p. 157).

The articles contained in this collection deal with numerous issues like Communalism, Terrorism, Role of Police and Politicians in Communal riots, Politics of various states, contemporary Muslim issues, Women, Role of Ulama, West, Dialogue among Civilizations and much more. It is a must read for every individual with a conscience and who is committed to end the stalemate in which Indian Muslims are mired. The book is a welcome read and could have been much better if grammatical and typing errors were removed by a language editor and the price of the book made affordable for a layman.

Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad Sikander is writer-activist based in Srinagar (J&K)