The results of the Uttar Pradesh (UP) elections, 2017, are finally out. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has been portrayed as people’s nemesis on so many occasions, has overwhelmingly defeated its rivals. The saffron brigade, riding on the popularity of the Prime Minister (PM), has come to power with a majority that was unthinkable for many.
In fact, many of us Muslims think the election results to be a major problem. Well, I beg to differ. In my opinion, the problems are much larger than we imagine them to be. More importantly, the problems lie within us and our Muslim community.
Growing up in the Agra of the 1990s, my siblings and I were among the very few Muslim students (maybe two or three) in a class of 50 in a prominent Christian school in the city. I believe that this is where the problem begins.
Agra has a sizeable population of Muslims. Most of them make their fortunes in shoe-making businesses but are hardly educated. Every Eid, they buy fancy motorcycles, goats (worth lakhs) for Qurbani and spend lavishly on weddings.
However, if you ask them about education, the standard answer is: “Padhai kar ke kya hoga? Joota hi to banana hai. Kaunsa IAS, PCS ban jayega? Aur is mushkil daur mein zaroori hai ki Musalman apne pairon pe khade hon. Aajka mahaul bahut tassubi hai! (What will be achieved by studying? You are destined to only make shoes anyway. Also, do you think you will become IAS and PCS officers by studying? In these difficult times, it is important for Muslims to stand on their own feet. After all, the environment these days is very communal.)”
Islam has existed for 1400 years now. The Islamic empire once stretched across half of the world. Through the centuries, we have produced outstanding mathematicians, scientists, explorers and artists, and still continue to do so even today.
Despite all this, we Muslims have had to continuously ‘prove’ ourselves to the world for the past 150 or 200 years. This problem also exists in India. We are asked to prove our patriotism daily. We have to prove that we aren’t terrorists or supporters of terrorism. We are judged on the bases of the food we eat, the clothes we wear and the looks we carry around. We are also asked questions regarding whether we support India or Pakistan in cricket matches. And the list goes on.
Have we ever wondered why we are asked to prove our loyalties, time and again, in spite of well-recorded contributions by Muslims in India’s freedom struggle? Moreover, why aren’t other minorities persecuted, day in and day out, to this extent? The Sikh community in the country has revived since 1984 and are has been doing well in various fields. The Jains and Parsis are well-off and well-respected. Christians have helped shape the country’s modern education system. Amidst all this, it is the Muslims who have to play the ‘minority’ card most vocally and visibly.
Despite forming 20-25% of India’s population (a number that would be bigger than the total population of several other countries), our contribution to India’s society is negligible in this era. Yes, the Mughals did construct buildings, gardens and monuments. The Awadhi Muslims did have a delicious cuisine which has continued to this day. And Sher Shah Suri did build what is now known as the Grand Trunk (GT) road. But what after that?
Can we grow out of the triples talaqs, the Shah Banos and the Uniform Civil Code? Can we start making visible, efficient and relevant contributions to India starting now? Answering these would solve the second problem.
In my opinion, there are enough opportunities for change if we are willing to try. I agree that there exists a certain bias against the Muslim community. However, this is not reason enough for not trying at all. After all, we can’t keep stuffing ourselves with privileges while ignoring the duties that come with the privileges, and then criticise the Indian authorities for their biased and prejudiced perceptions.
The third problem that Muslims around the world, and in India, are facing is the constant conflict between Islamic faith and the Islamic society of today. While our mosques remain empty and copies of the Quran remain unread, issues such as the difference between halaal (permissible) and haram (forbidden) meat are what define Muslim society today. Now, isn’t that just shallow?
Islam is supposed to be one of the biggest and most progressive religions in the world. However the reality is very different. We are barely surviving with the help of the ulemas (body of Muslim scholars). Even then, we are becoming increasingly regressive, to the extent that we are now isolating ourselves from the mainstream society.
Abul Kalam Azad, who was a Maulana and India’s first education minister, had initially refused to fight elections from a Muslim-majority constituency (Rampur) because he thought that he did not represent only the Muslims of the country. The reverse can now be observed. We think that our leaders necessarily need to be Muslims, as only then can the welfare of the Muslim community be achieved.
We are constantly being ghettoed in. Hence, we are also living with the constant fear of being persecuted. But why? Why have we made ourselves so different? Why are we being left out by the society? Why do we let ‘them’ persecute us? This is because we refuse to change or adjust.
Indeed, there have been fake encounters and gruesome riots. On the other hand, Islamic radicalism is also on the rise. Wahhabism, a very strict form of Islam followed mainly in Saudi Arabia, is taking over the relatively liberal schools of Barelvi and Deobandi. Sufism is also on the decline. The great saints responsible for the spread of Islam in India are now being shunned. A liberal Muslim is often equated with a non-Muslim. There is no room for discussion. Why are we letting our faith be perverted and become a hindrance to our development? Why is it also preventing us from joining mainstream society?
The last problem which I can think of, and one which is unique to Indian Muslims, concerns our leaders and role models. In my opinion, the Azam Khans and Owaisis of the world are as harmful to us as the Togadias and the Sakshi Maharajs. Our faith shouldn’t be defined by the Zakir Naiks, but by ourselves. People shouldn’t necessarily consider the Tarek Fatahs and the Tasleema Nasreens as ‘ideal’ Muslims. Are we any less ‘ideal’ than these people?
Moreover, we shouldn’t have a problem with what Mohammed Shami’s wife wears. After all, we should look up to personalities like Mohammed Shami, Zaheer Khan and Shahrukh Khan. Neither should we depend on the Yadavs, the Behenjis and the Gandhis for our survival and success. There will always be a Modi or a Amit Shah to politically oppose the Yadavs and the Behenjis.
Finally, let’s talk about the 2017 UP elections. We constitute 18% of the UP population and nearly 20% of the voter base here. Still, a party that fielded no Muslim candidates and gave no importance or consideration to our support, managed to win 312 seats out of 403.
What we need to realise here is that this cannot be undone, at least for the next five years. However, can’t we try to make a new beginning? Can’t we try to ‘work’ more closely with the government that will soon be at the helm of affairs? However, by no means am I implying that we should ‘depend’ on the new government. If they are intolerant towards us, we won’t tolerate them either. If they want to build the Ram mandir, we will wholeheartedly and legally fight against such an action.
After all, these decisions involving the Muslim community hardly affect the mainstream Indian society. In fact, populist decisions taken by the political parties only serve to increase their popularity. On the other hand, as we are already in shambles, we can either collaborate or perish.
I do not believe that there is any other alternative at the moment. We may be moving towards an inevitable doom. However, let’s make an effort to fight against this fate. Let’s move on from being mere vote-banks and instead become socially and politically relevant at all times.
The people whom we try to portray as our enemies (in a political sense) aren’t aliens. They are also the people who greet us and visit our homes during festivals. Let us therefore do our part in openly accepting them and giving them a fair chance at least.