The Muslim ‘Problem’

Over the course of human history, one lesson that continually resonates is societies & nations that grew stagnant were the first to fall. A bickering Rome crumbled under the might of Visigoths & Huns (How ironic, these were the same people often ostracized as savages across the stretches of a ‘civilized’ & superior Roman Empire). Having concocted rocketry back in 13th century, the Chinese could barely operate artillery without a European hand in the Opium wars of 19th century.

Fast forward, we arrive here in 21st century, the characters have surely changed but, the story still holds. Muslim society is the new victim of this self inflicted complacency. In context of India, Muslims are faced with a far more daunting task of keeping up in a liberal- democratic society & continue preserve their separate identity. “How do you reconcile the beard with modernity?” turns out to be the biggest conundrum of our times. Yes, there are an increasing number of Muslim IT professionals thronging Bangalore & yet again there’s no paucity of unskilled & semi-skilled Muslim workers inundating the markets of Gulf countries, for they are a misfit here in India. These two stories speak volumes on the growing cleavage within the Muslim community. Although reminiscent of Indian society at large however, there’s an underlying difference:
After nearly seven decades of an onerous struggle in providing basic amenities of life, India as a nation knows, you pay dearly for being a perennial laggard where as the incentives of integrating in to a globalized world is unprecedented; the rise of Asian tigers ( S. Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong & Taiwan) bears witness to this undeniable fact. The Muslims of India are stuck with an anachronistic world view still unable to overcome the stranglehold orthodoxy. Post the debacles of Sepoy Mutiny (1857) Sir Syed Ahmed Khan attempted to modernize the state of education among Muslims this would give birth to one of the finest institution of higher learning in India, Aligarh Muslim University. In hindsight, it continues to elicit heated debates on how much of this has trickled down on to the economically vulnerable sections of Muslim community.

At this juncture, one could easily delineate using a plethora of statistical data that the condition of Muslims in India is steadily improving. There are far more Muslim children going to schools than ever before, women are increasingly becoming more assertive & above all the hold of clergy is waning; a welcome change indeed.

But, if you were to ask me, things as such are more of a euphemism than some concrete empirical finding. In fact Muslims continue to be at the nether end of almost every social parameter. Yes, certainly things are ‘improving’ but, the larger truth is changes are slow & superficial.  It isn’t as if Muslims have suddenly risen out of their collective slumber & are ready to toil assiduously. The bitter truth still persists; Muslim society at large continues to be impervious to change. The relative prosperity of the past two decades (a product of liberalization of economy) has trickled down on the wider populace & hence, the result. To put it this up the other way; it is as if the mainstream is pulling the Muslim society towards these inevitable changes.  Muslims would’ve benefitted tremendously had they realized the incentives of being receptive to an incredibly dynamic world.

“Changes must come from within”.  At the end none can help, it is the Muslim society which must realize the benefits of assimilating in to the mainstream. They ought to realize that the Muslims orthodoxy has already hamstrung their growth & continues to do the same till this day. Their greatest strength lies in impeding reformation of the Muslim society & maintain their influence on a community that’s eternally doomed to be ignorant.

Actually, it isn’t a Muslim problem; in fact this is something which is ubiquitous across the developing world. Changes threaten existing order & hence, are always despised. The Muslim community (globally & in India) in particular chose the easier option of retiring with in a cocoon every time they were faced with onerous issues; every attempt to reform & assimilate turned a disaster pushing the community more towards radical philosophy be it the colonization of Muslim lands, the world wars, Israel- Palestinian issue, Iranian Revolution or the Bosnian civil war (globally) & partition, Kashmir conflict or the razing of Babri Mosque & its aftermath here in India.

Sitting here lazily using a barrage of statistics & graphs of all hues (thanks to Google!); it turns out to be quite a simple task to propound measures that the state or community must adhere, for development & prosperity. However, life isn’t so simple; a commission here & another there set up to propose antediluvian recommendations have already done more harm than good. Actually, the Muslim community requires course correction (something akin Ataturk’s Kemalism in Turkey) & nothing less. It may sound too big a term but, Muslims in India do need their own version of Kemalism incorporating Islamic consciousness with secularism & progressiveness. This alone can help the Indian Muslim community leapfrog years of failings & slumber.

(This post also appeared on Huffpost India)

(Photo Source: Indian Express)

©Haris Ahmed


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