Monday, September 15, 2008

The Telegraph - Calcutta - The blindness of bigots

The Telegraph - Calcutta (Kolkata) | Opinion | The blindness of bigots

Politics and play
THE BLINDNESS OF BIGOTS - Education is no bar against a dangerously selective view of facts
Ramachandra Guha
The Telegraph
Politics and play

Honouring humanity
The internet is, among other things, a vehicle for egotism and bad taste. In blogs and emails, some people tend to express themselves more freely, that is to say more crudely, than they would in letters sent by post or in signed articles in the press.

In June this year, I received an email from a young man objecting to a passage in an essay I had recently published. This argued that while Muslim and Christian bigotry were visibly on the rise in India, because of the fact that Hindus constituted four-fifths of the country’s population, Hindu bigots were more dangerous. To this argument the young man replied: “Diversity is all fine but a country needs to have something to unify it... Moslems [sic] can continue to breed and swell, and that is all OK. They can kill us without reason because we are a secular country, and after all they are not as fanatic, you see. I have to keep silent when the mullah across the street uses vitriolic language against the Hindus. But then, you would never have heard sermons at the mosque, would you? Have you ever heard of such language in a temple? Considering that you visit one?”

The young man then went on: “Sir, the world is not around your armchair, or what you read in the news. Get out and go around the people you are so sympathetic about. They consider themselves Moslems first, Indians next. I know of friends who openly sided with the Pakistani army during the Kargil war. But you wouldn’t want to talk of that. You would rather talk of having a Moslem general, right?”

In his mail, the young man also claimed that “except for a few violent spells, and very few, the Hindus have largely remained non-violent except when provoked by the Muslim community. Why is that everyone talks of post-Godhra, but nothing of those who were burnt alive in the train by the Muslim mob? You will realize the reason why people stand by [Narendra] Modi. He may not be the most ideal person, but it is better to support a person who will protect us than side with someone who doles out benefits to those so ill-deserving of them.”

In replying to this mail, I suggested that it was “a shame that a well educated man like you has not just swallowed the innuendos, half-truths, and prejudices of the RSS types, but also that you speak in the same hectoring, intolerant voice….[P]lease do rid yourself of such bigotry. I am sure you are more human than that.”

I then explained my own political philosophy in these words: “I am a liberal for whom decency and democracy comes first, even before patriotism (which is why I abhor what we are doing in [promoting a military dictatorship in] Burma). I have no party affiliation — within India, my only allegiance is to the Indian Constitution.... Since you ask, the reason why, in India, Hindu bigotry is more dangerous than Islamic bigotry is simple — we are 85 per cent of the population.”

I then urged the young man to “get out of this black and white, conspiratorial way of thinking (as in imputing motives to those who disagree with you).” I also asked him to “think carefully” about the larger argument of my original article — which was that “the Sangh Parivar’s unacknowledged model is mullahdom. Do we want to make India a Hindu Pakistan?”

I received no answer. Then, six weeks later, another mail from the same man landed in my inbox. A series of bombs had been planted in crowded places in Bangalore and Ahmedabad. “Now that the nation is under attack from the very people you were defending [sic],” wrote my correspondent, “what do you have to say now? After all you place humanitarian values over patriotism, right? You said that Hindu fundamentalism was more dangerous. Unfortunately, Hindus are taking a lot of crap while the Government sleeps on POTA and other anti-terror laws.”

The young man continued: “No, but it is only the few Mozzies who are a problem. Don’t consider the rest who stand around watching the whole show without protesting, who don’t care a damn for internal reforms within their community, who don’t see anything wrong in bombing innocent people in the name of Jihad.”

He then concluded: “Mr Guha, if the recent events have not woken you up out of your slumber, nothing else will. God save this country from intellectuals, self-professed and otherwise. Meanwhile, you can write another article in your sympathezing [sic] magazines about how Hindu fundamentalism is the cause for all that you see around you.”

I should be inured to such mails by now, but truth be told, it is still unnerving to be at the receiving end of such personal hostility. How can a man have such hatred and animosity for someone he has never met or seen? That said, the anger against me paled in comparison with the anger against the one hundred million and more citizens of India who happen to be born into the Muslim faith. These one hundred million and more sovereign individuals, each with their own distinct lives, careers, hopes and fears, were here portrayed as a single, aggregate, unpatriotic, and ever-threatening mass. The language was in shockingly poor taste; as in the use of that derogatory phrase, “Mozzies”.

When the first mail arrived, what struck me was the abusive tone; when the second one came, what came to mind instead was how utterly irrelevant it was. Many Indians, and most of them Hindus, had just fallen victim to a terrorist attack. Rather than express concern for the dead, or their grieving families, my correspondent’s first thought was to get even with a writer with whom he had previously had a contentious exchange. The deaths and injuries of his fellow Indians, his fellow Hindus, were of no concern to him. All he could think of was his own vindication. Had not the bombs proved once again that the Muslims, all Muslims, were rascals after all?

In his first mail, the correspondent had introduced himself as having a postgraduate degree, and a job (as I recall) in a pharmaceutical company. Clearly, a little learning is a very dangerous thing. His education notwithstanding, his mails marked the young man out as a bigot. A bigot is one who selects, from the world around him, only those facts or half-facts which confirm and strengthen him in his bigotry. Thus, when an Israeli air-strike kills civilians in the Gaza Strip, the partisan of Hamas thinks not of the dead or the injured, but of how he can use the incident to convince himself (and his people) that the only way to treat the Zionists is to collectively exterminate them. In the same manner, al Qaida would have welcomed the pogrom against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, as a confirmation of their belief that Hindus — all Hindus—were never to be trusted.

As it happens, I live in Bangalore, and was in the city when the bombs here exploded. And, quite by accident, I visited Ahmedabad the week after the blasts there (to attend a meeting scheduled much earlier). Fortunately, in both cities the citizens held their nerve. I was heartened by the response of the Amdavadis in particular. Heeding the lessons of 2002, they treated this latest incident not as an ‘attack’ but as a tragedy. The talk was not of retribution or revenge, but of attending to the injured and of keeping the peace. The Gujarati press, which had incited the mobs in 2002, was now very restrained. This time, at least, the citizens of Gujarat had honourably placed humanity above bigotry. Would that all Indians, all the time, act on the same principle and in the same way.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Friday, September 05, 2008

The good that madrasas do goes unnoticed - Joginder Sikand

The good that madrasas do goes unnoticed
The good that madrasas do goes unnoticed

September 05, 2008

Madrasas are a central feature of Muslim societies the world over, although the forms they have taken vary considerably. The word madrasa is derived from the Arabic word dars, which means 'class' or 'lesson', and, as such, refers to any institution for learning, whether strictly secular, wholly religious or a mix of both. That, indeed, is how the term is still understood in the Arabic-speaking world.

In contemporary South Asia, however, madrasas have come to be understood as institutions geared specifically to the provision of Islamic religious learning, and which aim at producing religious specialists, such as imams and preachers in mosques and teachers for madrasas and maktabs or mosque schools. Even the roughest estimates for the number of madrasas in India vary considerably, but a figure of over 30,000, including the larger dar ul-ulums and jamias and the smaller madrasas, does not seem quite off the mark.

They play an important role in Muslim education, but yet their importance must not be exaggerated. Contrary to what is often alleged, not all or even most Muslim children study in madrasas. According to the recently-released report of the Sachar Commission, hardly three per cent of Muslim children of school-going age study in full-time madrasas. The rest 97 per cent study in regular schools and/or attend part-time madrasas or else do not study in any institutions, whether schools or madrasas, at all.

In pre-colonial India, madrasas served as major centres for learning, and India's madrasas, some of them richly patronised by ruling elites, were recognised as among the best in the world. True to the strictly Quranic understanding of knowledge ('ilm) as an integrated whole, not recognising any strict division between the 'religious' and the 'secular', a wide range of subjects were taught in these madrasas. These included what are now conventionally understood as 'religious' subjects, such as the Quran, the Hadith (narrations about or attributed to the Prophet Muhammad), Tafsir or Quranic commentary, Fiqh or Muslim jurisprudence, and Arabic grammar, but also what were called 'rational' ('aqli) subjects such as mathematics, science, philosophy, engineering, astronomy, history, medicine and so on.

The medium of instruction in these early Indian madrasas, particularly in north India, was mainly Persian, which was also generally the court language. Because of the structure of the curriculum, madrasa graduates, not just in India but elsewhere, too, made impressive contributions to the development of various sciences in the era before the advent of European colonialism. In much of pre-colonial north India India, larger madrasas often catered to the elites, including Muslims as well as many 'upper' caste Hindus, who then went on to man the administrative apparatus of various local rulers.

With the overthrow of the Mughals and the establishment of the British Raj, a sea-change overcame the madrasas of India. Since English was now the court language and Muslim law was replaced by Anglo-Saxon law, the products of the madrasas could no longer aspire for careers in the government services, unlike earlier. The new economy demanded new skills, such as fluency in the English language and in new disciplines introduced by the British. This gave rise to a sharp dualism in Muslim education, and one that continues to persist till this day. Muslim elites began sending their sons to English-medium schools run by Christian missionaries and the government, for this was the major avenue for career advancement in the new system.

Once mainly the preserve of Muslim elites, madrasas now became the bastion of mainly poorer class Muslims who could not afford to send their children to other schools. Today, the vast majority of madrasas cater to the poor Muslims, providing their children free boarding and lodging and charging them no fees. At the same time, the education they provide ensures them of a job, although most often low-paying, as a religious functionary as well as respect and esteem in a society that greatly values religious learning.

The establishment of colonial rule thus brought along with a radical transformation of the class-character of the madrasa students, and this was accompanied by an equally significant change in the focus and curriculum of the madrasas. Since 'worldly' subjects were now taught in regular schools and universities, madrasas no longer felt the need to pay much attention to these, unlike before, and so they restricted themselves essentially to disciplines that came to be seen as strictly 'religious'.

It was not that the ulema or Islamic scholars associated with the madrasas, were opposed to these subjects, as is sometimes alleged, for, as mentioned earlier, in pre-colonial times madrasas had indeed taught these disciplines. They did not insist, as is sometimes alleged, that all Muslims must send their children only to madrasas and train them as maulvis. Rather, what the ulema stressed was that those Muslims who wanted their children to learn these subjects could send them to regular schools instead of to madrasas, while madrasas would focus mainly on 'religious' subjects for those who wanted to become religious specialists. In a sense, therefore, this was a pragmatic division of labour.

There was another reason why madrasas came to specialise almost wholly in disciplines narrowly conceived as 'religious' at this historical juncture, which largely continues even today. As the ulema saw it, British rule and the social, cultural and religious changes that it brought in its wake posed an immense challenge and threat to traditional Muslim culture, beliefs and institutions and to the tradition of Islamic learning. Hence, they argued, in order to protect, preserve and promote these it was essential for a class of religious specialists to be produced through the madrasas whose major task would be to maintain Islamic learning and commitment in their capacity of madrasa teachers and mosque imams and preachers.

Were the students of madrasas to be also taught 'modern' secular subjects along with the traditional 'religious' subjects, it was felt that the burden would be simply too much to bear and that, therefore, they would be good in neither. It was also felt that teaching English and other such 'modern' subjects might cause their students to choose not to become madrasas teachers or mosque preachers but, instead, to seek better-paid employment in the new economy, and this would severely undermine the very purpose of the madrasas.

Related to this was the understanding that religious education was to be pursued solely for the sake of winning God's pleasure, of communicating His message to others and of hope for comfort in the eternal life to come after death. It was not for the sake of training students for worldly success. Hence, a general consensus seemed to prevail that 'modern', 'secular' subjects should be kept out of the madrasa system wholly or else be accommodated only to a strict minimum. This constituted a radical break from past precedent, where, as has been noted, pre-colonial madrasas did include such disciplines in their curriculum.

Today, many madrasas continue to remain focussed almost wholly on subjects thus narrowly inscribed as 'religious', and their rationale remains the same as in the colonial period. At the same time, though, there are signs of considerable change in ulema circles, a fact that is often not noticed or appreciated by critics. The ulema continue to stress that the primary purpose of the madrasas is to train religious specialists and that, hence, the focus of their curriculum should remain what are described as 'religious' subjects. This argument has considerable merit and is an adequate reply to those who question why madrasas do not fully secularise their syllabus. Since, the ulema rightly argue, the madrasas aim at preparing Islamic scholars, not, say, doctors or engineers, there is no reason why they should teach their students science or other such 'secular' or 'modern' disciplines beyond a point.

Yet, and this is evident in the writings of numerous ulema, they are also recognising the need for their students to have at least a modicum of knowledge of and familiarity with 'secular' subjects, such as English, Hindi, various regional languages, science, mathematics, history, geography and so on. This, they argue, would enable their students to adjust to the wider world and not feel as aliens therein at the same time as it would make them more efficient and effective in their future role of religious specialists.

Accordingly, a number of madrasas have started making arrangements for teaching such subjects to their students at the junior level, without this being allowed to negatively impact on the 'religious' component of the syllabus. Other madrasas have introduced a rule allowing admission to only those students who have completed a basic 'secular' education, and yet others allow for their senior students to simultaneously pursue degrees in regular universities.

In Kerala [Images], the madrasa system has been adjusted in such a way as to allow Muslim children to attend them early in the mornings or late in the evenings and regular school for the rest of the day. A small number of madrasas are working with NGOs, including non-Muslim organisations, to incorporate some 'secular' education in their curriculum, while some others have also introduced some sorts of technical education as well.

For vast numbers of Muslim children from desperately poor families madrasas thus serve as the only available avenue of education and of upward social mobility, and an increasing number of them are also providing them some sort of 'secular' education as well. As the ulema often point out, the voluntary services of the madrasas, generally provided completely free of cost, saves the public exchequer a huge amount of money, but yet their services in this regard, far from being appreciated, are generally reviled by those who have little or no understanding of the madrasa system.

This, is of course, not to argue that all is well with the madrasas and that there is no room for introspection or reform. Indeed, among the most vocal advocates of madrasa reform (defined variously) today are leading ulema themselves.

Today, through a concerted propaganda campaign certain forces are desperately seeking to run down the madrasas, brand them as centres of 'obscurantism' and even as 'dens of terror'. Indeed, so pervasive has this logic become that public discussions of the madrasas are now largely located within the discursive framework of alleged security implications of the madrasas. Madrasas, in the non-Muslim mass media, are now viewed mainly through 'security' lens, and, in this way, their positive contributions -- their role in providing free mass education, particularly to the poor, their central role of preserving, protecting and transmitting the Islamic religious and cultural tradition and even the key role of numerous madrasas and their ulema in India's anti-colonial struggle -- are being deliberately sought to be denied and invisiblised.

Hounded in this way by the media, anti-Muslim political forces and even by powerful elements within the State apparatus, the madrasas, like other Muslim institutions, are being increasingly forced on the defensive. This is further driving them into the ghettos into which they have been confined, making hopes of and prospects for reform even more remote and the voices of progressive ulema, many of whom, contrary to media depictions, do exist, even less appealing to their colleagues than they otherwise would have been.

Instead of deliberately targeting and alienating the ulema of the madrasas, who continue to exercise an important role in influencing Muslim public opinion, wisdom demands that concerted efforts be made, by the State, NGOs and the media, to dialogue with them on a host of issues of common concern. This is hardly impossible, contrary to what might be imagined, as the major role of numerous ulema of the madrasas (even of such 'conservative' ones like the Dar ul-Ulum at Deoband, India's largest Islamic seminary) in the anti-colonial struggle and the struggle for a united India clearly illustrates.

Dr Yoginder Sikand is the editor of Qalandar, an electronic magazine on Islam-related issues, and also an author of several books on the subject

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Identity by Shabana Azmi

Guest Essay in Hindustan Times
Identity by Shabana Azmi
August 24, 2008

Things very rarely catch me by surprise any more. Yet I am taken completely unawares by the viciousness of the attack against me for a remark I made in a recent television interview that I was denied a house in Mumbai because I am a Muslim. I am being called ungrateful, wretched and even a liar. But these are the same people who applauded me and called me a hero when I took on Imam Bukhari.

A few years ago, Imam Bukhari had given a fatwa to Indian Muslims to go to Afghanistan and wage jehad. In an outraged response, I had said on a TV programme that I would request the Prime Minister (at that time Atal Bihari Vajpayee) to air-drop Imam Bukhari into Khandahar so he could be the first to wage his jehad — this would solve his problem and ours too.

So infuriated was the Imam that he called me unprintable names as well as a kafir and a blot on the Muslim community.

It remains for me a matter of the highest honour that both Houses of Parliament issued a statement condemning the Imam's utterance.

I was moved to tears and my heart burst with pride. It gave me the much required ammunition and strengthened my resolve to never keep quiet in the face of outbursts by fundamentalist elements.

Each time I take on the Muslim fundamentalist, I am applauded and hailed as a moderate liberal Muslim. But I am more than just that. I am a moderate liberal Indian and am very proud of being so.

India has one of the finest Constitutions in the world.

The Constitution provides for all her citizens, irrespective of class, caste or gender to demand their rights within its framework without fear and with authority.

In the same interview that has become the subject of such mud-slinging, I have also stated that the Indian Muslim feels safer in India than elsewhere because he has a stake and a space in the country's democracy. An ordinary Muslim can aspire to become the President of India, a Shah Rukh Khan or an Irfan Pathan. That the time has come for Muslims to stop looking at themselves, only as victims and do some soul-searching on the need for reform within the community.
Why then does only one remark get pulled out of the interview and become the subject of such acrimony?

Would it not be fair to assume that implicit in this hue and cry is the desire to shut up the liberal voice and demand of Muslims who are successful, to be good Uncle Toms? Have I ever been asked to apologise to men when I've talked about discrimination against women? Have I been asked to apologise to the rich because I've talked about the need to alleviate poverty?

Of course discrimination exists in some sections of our society — against all kinds of minorities; religious (look at what routinely happens with the Dalits), against women (for God's sake we are killing our girl child even before she is born), against homosexuals (Section 377 of the penal code treats them like criminals).

What is the point in denying it? We need to bring these issues in the open and draw courage from the fact that there are also very robust resistance groups in all sections of our society that are opposing this tooth and nail so there is absolutely no cause for despair.

India is a country of contradictions. It is equally true that a Dalit can aspire to be a Mayawati (perhaps the most formidable politician today), a woman can aspire to be the Prime Minister or President, and that the Hindi film industry is being virtually ruled by the Khans.

Alas, it is also true that I was denied a flat in cosmopolitan Mumbai because Javed and I are Muslims - it was not because we are film people - a very famous film star lives in the same society. It was not because we are non-vegetarians - the family we were to buy it from were
themselves non-vegetarians. It was, we were told, by a shame-faced broker because we were Muslim! It happened not once but twice. It didn't come as a big surprise either because we knew of several people who had had similar experiences.

This is why I find it so curious that so many people are reacting now as if this is some earth-shattering revelation. A TV channel, not so long ago, had carried an entire sting operation where a young couple posing as house-hunters were clearly told that they could not be given a house in the locality of their choice because they were Muslim. I personally know of at least a dozen such cases.

Wake up guys. Get a reality check. Why shoot the messenger? Don't try to throttle the voice of the moderate liberal and brand her or him a communalist when she or he brings to light the fact that there are some genuine grievances that must be addressed. It can prove to be very dangerous.

If the liberal moderate voice is silenced through canard, through innuendo, through intimidation, then the space will be left wide open only for the extremist and the hardliners. And they need to be defeated, whoever they may be.

The fight today is not between the Hindu and the Muslim; the fight is between the moderate and the extremist. We need to have Hindu and Muslim moderates on the same side against the extremist Hindu and Muslim on the other.

Article- Leaving Islam - Jamie Glazov(interviewing Md. Asgar)


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Arise Awake Stop not till the goal is reached. - Swami Vivekananda Swami ji is my inspiration, not as a monk but as a social reformer and for his universal-ism.