The emergence of radical Muslim organisations like the Popular Front in Kerala has been a cause of worry for several progressive members of the minority community.
In an interview with Arun Lakshman, scholar, writer, teacher and social activist Professor Hameed Chendamangalur says that the people of the state have given a befitting reply to such organisations in the recently held local body polls.
What do you think is the most important issue for Indian Muslims?
A majority of Indian Muslims are still poor and downtrodden, especially in north India. My issue with the so-called Islamic organisations and political parties is that they are not catering to the basic problems faced by Indian Muslims. They are vociferously working for certain non-issues which are in no way connected to the day-to-day life of Indian Muslims.
According to you, which major issues have been taken up by Muslim organisations and political parties and which issues have been ignored?
Muslim organisations like the Jamiat Ulema and political parties like the Muslim League are taking up certain non issues and giving it a communal colour.
The major issues taken up by Muslim organisations are about the Muslim personal law, the status of Urudu, the Aligarh Muslim University and the Babri Masjid issue.
How can you claim that these are non issues while the majority of Muslims believe these are the core issues they face in India?
I can clearly state that these are non-issues. Take the case of Muslim personal law. There were clarion calls for the reform of Muslim personal law. You can see that almost 98 per cent of the law is the same for everyone except for issues like marriage and succession theory.
In 1961, Karim Chagla called for the reform of Muslim personal law and the Muslim organisations opposed this. This is a major issue for the Muslim elite. In 1985, Justice Y V Chandrachud of the Supreme Court called for a common civil code for Muslims in the Shah Banu case and this created a major hue and cry among Muslim organisations and political parties.
(Former Kerala chief minister) E M S Namboodiripad and the Communist Party of India-Marxist also called for reforms in the Muslim community, but they were opposed staunchly by Muslim organisations. The CPI-M took the issue further and noted historian Professor Irfan Habib in the 1984 state conference of the Democratic Youth Federation of India, the youth wing of the CPI-M, called for reforms in Muslim law. But the Muslim organisations tried to convince the people that the law or the Shariat is divine. They claimed that the law was the cultural identity of the Muslims.
In north Indian states, the majority of Muslims are downtrodden and they do not have any social status. Muslim organisations are not doing anything to improve their day-to-day living conditions and are concentrating on non-issues like these, which are only for the benefit of the elite.
Why are you opposing issues like the reconstruction of Babri Masjid and status of Urdu language?
As I said earlier, these are non-issues .Take the case of the Aligarh Muslim University. It is only an issue for the Muslim elite. There are two categories of Muslims in North India -- the Ashraf Muslims and the Ajilaf Muslims. The former are an elite and rich community while the latter are poverty ridden Muslims who are doing menial jobs for their survival. The Ajilaf Muslims are least bothered about the AMU while the Ashraf Muslims think of it as their cultural symbol, which it is not.
In the Babri Masjid issue, just like the local Hindus are not bothered about it, the ordinary Muslims are least bothered about it. This is also another non-issue which has been blown out of proportion by the so-called Muslim organisations. Same is the case with the status of Urdu language. It is being used by a miniscule minority among the Muslims and the Muslim organisations take this up as a major issue, while it's not.
Several Muslim organisations like the Popular Front and the Jamiat Islami are now active in Kerala and other parts of the country. What is your opinion about the growth of these organisations, which are considered to be aggressive?
These organisations are trying to create a divide in the state and in the country. However, they were exposed when after contesting the recent local body polls in Kerala, they only won a few seats. Both these organisations were routed by the people. Even in Malappuram district, which has a majority of Muslims, their performance was dismal. This shows that the majority of Muslims in the state reject the ideology propagated by these organisations.
What is the situation of the Muslim community in Kerala?
The Muslims of Kerala are not at all backward .The Muslims of the state are now receiving good education and they are economically independent. I belong to a remote village in Kozhikode district in north Kerala and there, the Muslim homes have latest computers and Muslim women drive the latest cars. This is not the situation of Hindus in the area. This is almost true for all other districts of the state The Muslims are receiving quality education and are becoming educationally and economically independent, which is a good sign.
It may be recalled that Jamat Islami had earlier propagated the idea that Muslims should not even take up employment under a secular government and they should not receive any education other than madrasa education or religious education .They even propagated that English education was taboo and that Muslims should not learn English. Will this theory work any more among Muslims now? Muslims are now taking up English education in large numbers and this is another welcome sign.
What, according to you, is the future of the Muslim community in India?
The Muslim community is culturally getting increasingly integrated into mainstream Indian society and this is a good sign .The education that they receive is giving them this impetus and this is good for the community and the country.