Edit/Op-Ed

Priorities Missing?

Meraj Ahmad for BeyondHeadlines

Let me begin by sharing an anecdote.  Last week, though accidently, I happened to be at an Iftar party in old Lucknow area where several Urdu poets, some quite known, were invited to speak on the subject “Aam aur Ghalib” (mango and Ghalib) before Iftar. Of course the veteran invitee arranged hundreds of kilos of mangoes worth thousands of rupees. He is entitled to do so as many times murmuring went on: “unhe Allah ne nawaza hai to karte hain saal me kai baar” (Allah blessed him so much therefore he holds such occasions many times in a year). The meeting, as it was, attended by many Muslims who are/were well placed persons, and supposedly are the leaders of the Muslim community. The moment Mushaira ended, after Iftar and offering namaz, the common theme of the discussion was halaat of Ummah (the state of affairs of Muslim community). Responsible elders appear to be saddened over the present state of affairs. Data were presented, popular commissions and its much debated reports were discussed, and obviously the political class was criticized for perceived apathy (as if political parties are very clear about “our priorities”)! At the end, the common mood was not as joyful as it was during Mushaira session. The peculiar feature of the later part of the discussion was absence of any concrete solution put forward, that is, from where to pick the thread. Better not to forget, tehzeeb and its gradual “decline” saddened many who appeared grim and somber. And rightly so!

During the month of Ramzan (or Ramadan?), it has become common practice to organize Iftar party by political parties or by those who are somehow bearing political affiliations. Last week many newspapers reported that Chief Minister of Telangana announced Rs. 26 crore sops that in the words of C.M. meant to strengthen “culture of communal harmony”. However, how spending public money in such a way will strengthen “ganga-jamni tehzeeb” is beyond logic.

This fund supposed to be spent for grand Iftar party, honorarium for Imams and clothes for significant number of poor Muslim families. However, the Congress, opposition party, attacked the C.M. for “failing to provide real benefits”.

So what are those real benefits? But before, what are the real problems? Let’s take example of Telangana. In the state, there are around 12.5% Muslims (2001 census), significant enough to manipulate electoral mathematics. Ajay Gudavarthy (EPW: 2014) noted that around 70% Muslims are living mostly in small towns and are non-manual, semi skilled workers like artisans, drivers, plumbers etc. Of course, the very low level of basic education or no education at all is the real cause behind such low level of life. But why such sorry state of affairs is not electorally saleable?

Several theories could be propounded in this regard, and one such is that those who are setting the priorities are failing to do so. Analyzing from this perspective, the issue hinges on the question of leadership. Now from here, we may find two different paths: firstly, arguing on the basis of beneficiary in the above case, it should be clearer that religious class, the most visible symbol of the community (stereotype?), is appearing to be setting the priorities. The idea here is: You do it, you get it.  In the process, the non-clergy class i.e. common poor masses completely left out either as assuming leadership role or ending up being beneficiary. Secondly, the role of the state leads to another set of inquiry. Over the years, as the data suggest, it fails to provide even basic amenities to the poor masses, though, at the same time, political parties continuously claiming to be the championing the “cause” of the minorities and downtrodden.  It appears that still the “cause of the community” is not clear.

The recent decision of Maharashtra Government not to recognize Madarsa as school (definition of school within the meaning of RTE) if they don’t teach subjects like math, social science etc. attracted serious attention and criticism by many Muslims organizations, personalities and “secular” parties alike. Agreeing with such decisions carries real danger, the danger of being painted saffron by green brush!  Obviously, it met with severe resistance, especially from those who still look at “education” from very narrow perspective i.e. self-styled Islamic education, and that has no basis in Islamic learning system as Islamic history suggests.

It is being argued that recent proposal is attack on fundamental rights guaranteed under various provisions of the Constitution of India (educational and cultural rights under Article 29-30), though proposal did not ban theological aspects of the education. The “primary purpose” of the Madarsas remained focal point of discussion. Most of the panelists in various news channel debates agreed that the basic aim of madarsa education is to produce and nourish Islamic scholars (only!). They are essentially, but subtly and probably unintentionally saying that excessive focus on Madarsa education is not going to help to provide basic secular education that is needed for guaranteeing jobs in the modern economic sectors, participation in modern politico-administrative set up of the country and mainstreaming the ghetto-infested society. The logical corollary would be that modern education should be the priority if the complain about marginalization is serious one. But why this priority is missing?

The recent attempt by the Maharashtra Government is not new. In the year 2009, UPA brought a Bill titled “The Central Madarsa Board Bill, 2009”. The idea was dropped since no consensus among the community could be devised. To achieve such “consensus”, the Bill, though, officially recognized some major sects within the community viz. Deobandi, Barelvi, Ahl-i-Hadith, Shafaee Sect, Shia sect and Dawoodi Bohra Sect etc. for the purpose of Board (Section 4: Composition of the Board). The Bill, under Section 18 (1) made a powerful case for “standardization of the non-theological aspects of Madarsa system education and its comprehensive, systematic and integrated development”. The idea remained controversial as to what constitutes “non-theological aspects”. A simple and plain answer would be that science, math, computer, arts, cultural, literary and linguistic study etc. is non-theological aspects of the education. It is no denying fact that these so called non-theological aspects is game changer in the long run, and therefore, significant attention should be focused on it by not only by the state but also by the leadership emerging from the community.

Let’s pose another interrelated question: Did Muslim leaders failed to identify real problems, and thereby failed to settle priorities? Did they reduce the real issues to rubble like security, victimization or even religious-cultural rights? Whether religious leaders could go beyond finding out nuances of religious dynamics and its interpretation? Following the above discussion, it’s not only important to rediscover what our priorities is but the bigger question is to see priorities for what end. Present state of affairs is well tabulated but the irony is that proper balm applied somewhere else.

The question of education is the most serious question concerning any community. It’s most essential for the development of the overall society including the marginalized societies, and thereby strengthening and deepening the democracy. The Idea should be to broaden the educational diversity in terms of ideas and disciplines. And to this effect, the pertinent need is to diversify the leadership that must come from all sections of the homogenous looking community. So, next time Prime Minister should invite, if he ever does so, Muslim delegation that is not overwhelmingly consisted of religious class only.

A very happy Eid to all in advance. We all will celebrate and hug each other like brothers despite prevalence of differences in terms of culture, life style, theological bent and class divide prevailing deep down within Ummah.

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