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Still banking on hope

December 24, 2002

If Rediff's vast web reach is any indication, there's hope still, Inshallah, for communal amity to prevail in the land where, not very long ago, hundreds of thousands Hindus and Muslims exclaimed "Vande Mataram!" with unabashed ardour. That is the essence of the thumping, warm response to Dr Rafiq Zakaria's plea to Muslims briefly enumerated in this column last week.

Barring just a couple, the readers accepted Zakaria's views, albeit for varying reasons. And there were some who felt that Hindus too needed to reform in several directions -- a point well taken, probably. Particularly heartening was that several readers with Muslim names in their emails supported the Muslim scholar's need for an introspection. Here below are excerpts from some of them:

  • "I respect Dr Zakaria for saying what he did and agree with him 100%". Abbasi Najmi
  • "As a Muslim who has experienced the real world and knows what Islam really teaches, I fully comply with Mr Zakaria's thought." Zafar Shaikh
  • "All Muslims should read and adopt the mind-set as envisaged by Dr Zakaria... Vande Mataram. Jai Hind." Mohammad Afzal
  • "The media need to promote and respect the views of Dr Zakaria. Unfortunately, the media is giving more attention to Bukharis and Owaisis. As a Muslim, I keep on advocating a negotiated settlement with government and prominent Hindus to hand over the Ayodhya site. Muslims will not loose their paradise for handing over the site. Who is there to support people like Zakaria and us?" Akbar Batcha
  • "Certainly a million thanks to Dr Zakaria -- his recommendations are certainly a bombshell." Munaz Haider
  • "This is a very important information. If I get the same in Hindi, it will help lots of people who don't understand English." Aslam Attar
  • "I 100% agree with the ideas and thoughts put forward by Dr Zakaria. I am of the opinion that Muslims should come forward and join the mainstream and should work together with all their non-Muslim brothers and sisters to strengthen our great nation." Shahid Mubeen
  • "Heartiest congratulations to Dr Zakaria for coming up with the issue which each sensible Muslim in this country would support... how long will one of the largest Muslim community in this world keep behaving irresponsibly under the sham of being called the minority community. The first step towards the normalisation would be that the Indian Muslims start thinking of the nation." Fahad Khan
  • I am personally happy that Dr Rafiq Zakaria has taken the issue head on and advised the Muslim community of the changes that should take place to bring integration with the mainstream. Let me remind the author that a lot of introspection is going on within the community and things have taken a more constructive path." Maj Khan.

In fact, one Mujtaba Syed, while endorsing everything that Zakaria has advocated, adds the following additional to-dos for Muslims:

  • "We should amicably agree to the construction of the Ram temple at Ayodhya. The Ram temple to Hindus is like the Kaaba for Muslims. We have to respect the sentiments of our Hindu brothers and sisters to get respected in turn.
  • We should rise vociferously against Pakistan's proxy war and jihadi terrorism in other parts of our country to send a clear message that Indian Muslims have nothing to do with Pakistan.
  • We should stop using words like Kafir -- which have been used to describe anyone who doesn't follow Islam. A fundamental tenet of Islam is equality of mankind.
  • We should not seclude ourselves in the backlash of Hindutva inspired terror. We will suffer more if we go in a shell. The only way to kill the hatred that is growing in Hindu hearts is to get closer to them, make more friends with them, do more business with them, give them a better share then we give ourselves, celebrate their festival with more fervor than we do ours, and love them like brothers. Hinduism is one of the most fantastic religions of this world and we should tell this to our Hindu brothers.
  • We should unequivocally say and prove our Indian-ness. India is our country and we should be prepared to lay down our lives for it."

A common streak of the very fulsome feedback was that it was the Indian media which was the villain in driving the wedge between the two major communities. Thus the expressed hope that the newspapers and television will give the widest possible exposure to Zakaria's views.

A change, however faint and fleeting, is discernible in that direction. The Indian Express, in its Mumbai edition of December 19, 2002, carried an article by J K Bandukwala who teaches nuclear physics at a Vadodara university. In that article, the professor makes the following points:

  • "Muslims will have to change their way of life to adjust to the emerging crisis. No words are too strong to condemn the fatwa on the eve of the (Gujarat) elections. Ulema have no business to dabble in politics. They must go back to their mosques and only preach the Koran and the Shariat.
  • "Socio-economic transformation is a must if the community is to avoid becoming the new untouchables of India. Each and every Muslim boy and girl must get the best and highest education possible.
  • "Our future lies as a business community. The ideal example is that of the Jews in America.
  • "We must know that women have to be treated with maximum respect and dignity. Triple talaq must be treated as un-Islamic."

Having thus essentially reiterated what Zakaria believes is necessary for communal harmony and national advancement, Bandukwala spoils it all by stating that "Muslims will always treat the BJP as poison." This, alas, is the old imp raising its ugly head that must be severed once and for all.

The professor was obviously unaware of the comparative Muslim Women's Survey of 9,541 women (20 per cent Hindus) administered in 2000-2001 by ORG. According to a report published in same The Indian Express issue that carried Bandukwala's views, the survey revealed that "Muslims, 50 years after independence, on the whole have an average standard of living less than even the OBCs and well below upper caste Hindus. On the whole they are, they are just slightly better off than the scheduled caste population." The BJP surely can't be blamed for that shocker, Professor Bandukwala. Nor can Hindutva be blamed for the fact that, according to the survey, 60 per cent Muslim women reported themselves being illiterate, 17 per cent Muslim women completed eight years of schooling, 10 per cent Muslim women completed higher secondary schooling and just 3.56 per cent Muslim women are in higher education.

The villain may well be the mullahs and the moulvis whose views are sent down to ordinary Muslims from prayer pulpits and through the Urdu newspapers that have a very very large readership.

This brings one to fatwas and back to Zakaria. In his book, he writes, 'It must be admitted that in recent times some of the clerics have been misusing the grant of fatwas more for earning some money than performing a religious duty. In the process they have exploited the poor and illiterate Muslims.'

Who, then, is to uplift the poor, illiterate Muslims? Who is to ensure the massive uplift of Muslim women invisible behind the veil? Who is to enhance the economic status of Muslims? Only the well-placed Muslims -- the MPs, the MLAs, the artistes, the few entrepreneurs, and the professionals -- can do the job with the help of the activists in the community as facilitators and catalysts. And, of course, the Hindus will help ungrudgingly and bountifully as indicated by several Rediff readers who responded to Zakaria's prescription by recalling their happy emotional relations with Muslim friends and families, old and new. But, as Rediff's readership has shown, there will be a caveat to that help and many Muslims are as conscious of that as Dr Zakaria.

Yes, there is hope still for communal amity if only the 'secularists' will desist spreading their patented poison of 50 years and instead provide the antidote. All of us must realise that the superpower potential of our nation will be realised only with great teamwork from one hundred-odd billion players. If only the current President of India's belief that the nation is above the individual can become this team's slogan, then, Inshallah, India will surely become a superpower, sooner rather than later.

Arvind Lavakare

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