A Case Study of the Indian Muslims

Dr Mohammad Nejatullah Siddiqi

Published in the Encounters magazine, Leicester, UK, Vol. 3, No. 2 (September 1997), pp. 119-37

This paper focuses on the Muslim minorities, some 400 million people, little less than one third of whom live in India. But before we turn to Muslim minorities, a few words about the world in general. It is going to be very different from what it has been in the twentieth century. In the first half of that century we had two world wars taking the lives of scores of millions of people. The second half of the twentieth century was dominated by the cold war creating a bipolar world and diverting huge resources towards the military establishments.

We hope there will be no more world wars. The impossibility of making permanent gains through war will make it possible for countries to reduce the waste of their precious resources on armament and weapons development, especially on nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. This will be especially significant for the poor countries of Africa and Asia, including India, which could then devote the resources to poverty alleviation.

Despite regional tensions the world in the coming decades may be safer and quitter than it has been till recently, affording increased scope for cultural and spiritual progress.

Another much heralded change is towards a globalized world community in which the power hitherto weilded by national governments will significantly decline. Some of this power will pass on to supra national agencies like the UN and its subsidiaries. Some will go to subnational ethnic, linguistic and religious groups as the weakening of the national bond is compensated by the strengthening of more intimately felt local affiliations. These changes would provide new opportunities to minorities the world over. But the Muslim minorities may be doubly benefited; locally in their deal with the national authorities, and because of the greater legitimacy accorded to cross border transactions by globilization.

The dawn of the new century would find a world no longer torn between two super powers. Instead of a bipolar word it would increasingly become a world without poles. There will be no super power; only half a dozen or more major players on the world scene e.g. The United States, The European Union, Japan, China, Russia and, may be, India.

The Muslim Minorities

Most of the Muslim minorities, about 90 percent of them, live in Asia and Africa. Even though the Muslim minorities in Europe and North America are increasingly becoming more important for the destiny of Islam, we do not propose to deal with them in this paper. Their environment is so different that they are better discussed separately. For the same reason we leave out the Muslims livings in Australia and South America. For the purposes of this paper Muslim minorities refer to Muslims living in Asia and Africa as minorities.

Asia is changing fast and Africa may not be far behind. Two outstanding features of these changes are economic betterment and increasing self reliance in the management of social, economic and political affairs. The days of proxy rule seem to be over with the fading away of leaders born and trained in colonial times. All this augers well for the Muslim minorities in Asia and Africa as their fate will be increasingly determined by what they themselves do and on what they are able to contribute to their environment rather than depending on some conspiracy hatched in some western capital.

The Issues

We deal with three issues relevant for all Muslim minorities despite the diversity in their conditions. These issues are poverty, threat from majority chauvinism and their role amongst their people, the larger society to which they belong. After a few words in justification of selecting these issues we make some general observations applicable to particular groups of Muslim minorities before taking up the case of Indian Muslims.

There is not a single Muslim minority which is richer than the majority among whom it lives. On the contrary, it has been claimed that "in most of the countries where Muslims live in substantial numbers they are generally poorer than the non-Muslims", and that "the African, South Asian, and East Asian countries with large Muslim minorities tend to be poorer than the mostly Middle Eastern countries with Muslim majorities." (Kuran, 1997, p. 3). Poverty, therefore, is definitely one of the issues for Muslims in minority, we think the most important one just now.

Not every where the Muslims in minority are afraid of the majority, perceiving a threat to their identity. The Muslims in South Africa are such an exception (Simone, pp. 205-44). But those in India and China are definitely worried, perceiving a threat to their identity, as are those in many more countries. What can be done about it? That is the second item on our agenda.

The role a Muslim minority should aspire to play in its own country is dealt with in brief, but this in no way diminishes the importance of this issue. Questions we shall address include: What prevents them from playing the desired role at the present? How far Muslims themselves are responsible for their current state of insignificance. (once again, Muslims of South Africa are a notable exception). This item finds a place on our agenda for normative reasons. It is difficult to envision a group of Muslims living in forgetfulness of their duty towards their neighbors. Something must be remiss with a Muslim minority lost in isolation unmindful of what is going on around it. The Quran envisages Muslims as people with a mission

"And thus we willed you to be a community of the middle way, so that (with your lives) you might bear witness to the truth before all mankind and that the Apostle might bear witness to it before you. (2:143)

"You are the best Community that has ever been brought forth for (the good of) mankind. You enjoin the doing of what is right and forbid the doing of what is wrong, and you believe in God . . (3:110)

However, this mission can not be contemporaneously translated in identical terms for Muslims in minority and Muslims in majority situations. Implementation of Sharia at home and forging Islamic ties abroad with a view to defending Islam and promoting it in the word at large, both constitute the dominant definition of the Muslim mission (and the cherished objective of the Islamic Movements in this century). But they do not apply to Muslims in minority environments. Such objectives require control of the state and this a minority does not enjoy. Yet there are alternative formulations to the Islamic mission conceptually prior to the one noted above. Strengthening Muslims’ commitment to the moral and spiritual values of Islam so that they govern all their social relationships, including those with their non-Muslim compatriots, has top priority in this formulation. Next comes endearment to non-Muslims through caring about them and sharing their concerns. T! his should include morality and spirituality as well as proverty and deprivation. Muslims in minority situations should outperform those in majority in their ability to bond with fellow human beings, and this on the sole basis of being created by the same God, sharing His bounties and destined to return to Him in the end.

The Condition of Muslim Minorities

Muslim minorities in Asia are very diverse. Some of the Asian countries have very small Muslim minorities e.g. less than 2 percent of the total population (1). They share the poverty or richness of their country and, generally speaking, do not perceive any great threat from their majority. Their boamong themselves may not be strong enough to provide the basis of a role vis a vis their compatriots. But the situation is entirely different in case of countries with sipercentage of Muslim peoples (2). The perceived threat from the majority in these cases appears to be a direct function of poverty: the poorer the country the more its Muslim population feels repressed. The community of Islam is however self-conscious and shows the influence of Islamic movement ! elsewhere in various degrees. China is a special case. Even though Muslims constitute only 2 percent of the total population, that translates into more than 20 million people! Their concentration in Sinkiang, the fact that most of them are much poorer than the other Chinese and a strong perception of majority chauvinism makes it a difficult case. What we observe in case of Indian Muslims, and what we recommend them to do, may not be easily applicable to Chinese Muslims, but the direction of what needs being done should not be very different. The need for supplementing the recommendations made in this paper by other ones based on a study focused on the particular case of Chinese Muslims would, however, remain.

Africa has several countries with large Muslim minorities (3), along with a host of others where Muslim presence is insignificantly low. Every where tribal loyalties overwhelm other affiliations. Poverty, some times extreme poverty, and poor law and order makes the situation worse. Unlike the Asian countries, it would be too risky to generalise on the basis of our case study of the Indian Muslim. Africa needs special attention which is not attempted in this paper. But the primacy of the three issues noted above and the general direction of the programme of action that emerges from the Indian case, should hold. In the world of tomorrow nothing moves without education and economic strength.

Anticipating some of our conclusions from the study of the Indian Muslim situation, economic betterment and raising educational levels (begining with a literacy drive) seems to be a necessary condition for any role to be played by a Muslim minority vis a vis its country men. This applies to Africa as it applies to Asia. In fact it has become a precondition for survival. To make any further achievements in the increasingly competitive world of the future we need much more than that. The twenty first century will be more competitive not only in commerce and industry but also in the realm of ideas and culture. Being distinct is not enough. The criteria will be value added, felicity, balance and harmony. Tired of poverty amongst riches, and some tired of a richness that lacks felicity, peace of mind and harmony in neighborhood, the mass of mankind will, in the coming decades, flock to calls which promise decent living standard with peace and balance (in p! ersonality as well as environment) within a framework of cultural diversity, religious tolerance and political freedom.

The Indian Muslims: Their Poverty

Poverty amidst increasing prosperity will be the most visible problem for India in the early twenty first century. GDP rising at present at 6 percent p.a. may rise at an annual rate approaching 8 to 10 percent. Unemployment, with no reliable current figures to quote, may remain around ten percent, but disparities in the distribution of income and wealth will increase with no adequate safety net for the poor in place. Life for the poor is always miserable, but it will be that much more miserable with the rest of the population becoming more prosperous and more comfortable than had earlier been the case.

Approximately one fifth (4) of Indians are extremely poor, and about half of them are Muslims. That we think is the first point to note. What does poverty mean in modern times? We beseech you to pay some attention to this because most people forget that poverty today is much worse than it was in pre industrial agrarian society. A few centuries ago poverty did not mean that you did not have clean water to drink. Almost every body, rich as well as poor, got his or her drinking water from the same rivers or wells. Today it is different as you know. With all the rivers and wells polluted and in any case inaccessable to modern urban poor, this one feature of modern poverty means a life-long struggle against diarrhea, dysentery and other diseases for those condemned to be very poor. Poverty always brings hunger and malnutrition. The body weakens, its capacity to work decreases, product! ivity declines. The longer a person remains poor the less the chances of his finding gainful employment or earning normal wages. Children raised in a poor family share the same fate.

"When basic needs are not met our moral powers remain only potential, they are not attained". (Dasgupta, 1993, p. 44) The very poor are free only in name. They can hardly be expected to stand up to tyrannical rule or to contribute meaningfully to civil society. No wonder children born to perpetual poverty soon develop a grudge towards society, the first step down the road to criminality.

Poverty today may often mean illiteracy. Again, illiteracy in twenty first century means so many disadvantages which did not attend upon illiteracy a couple of centuries ago. There have been near illiterates who have ruled vast countries, led armies, launched useful movements. But it will be very difficult for an illiterate to find his way through the new streets of the fast developing global village. Modern life is a life based on information and communication. Most of the information and communication is still in a form to be seen and read. Even the one to be heard and spoken would not be fully intelligible to the illiterate. Also much of what one can usefully listen to may not be in an Indian language. To know the latest, one has to know a foreign language, preferably English. Slightly over fifty percent of adult Indians are illiterate (Human Development Report 1995, p. 157). No separate count of Muslim illiteracy is available. But it will be reasonable t! o assume that it is higher, maybe around sixty percent. This is the average assumed for the adult Muslim population, men as well as women. What about female literacy so crucial for the destiny of our next generation? Again no reliable count is available, but the figure is likely to be quite depressing (Ahmed, 1993-96; Khan, 1994).

Society in the twenty first century is going to be more competitive. The role of the state in taking care of its people will decrease and those who need care will have to do more and more for themselves, both individually and collectively. For countries like India which have a variety of ethnic, linguistic and religious groups this will mean that every group will have to mobilise its own resources to preserve its identity and promote its culture, etc. This will need resources, resources which the state no longer has to dole out. So only those with enough to spare will have the ability to establish and run educational institutions of their choice, etc. People in a group may have all the resources but may not have commitment to their identity and culture, no vision of what they would like to become and how. Such a group will surely disintegrate. That is to say it will not survive as a community. What about a community which has commitment and vision but no res! ources? How can it protect its interests without educational institutions, political orgainizations, social clubs and other paraphernalia of modern community life? This has to be done at every level, from the village level councils, to the city with its corporation, the state with its legislative assembly and so to the national level with its parliament. All this requires resources which come from individual wealth owners and income earners. The Muslim community needs individuals with money to spare so that the community can do all that is needed to preserve its identity, promote its culture and safeguard its interests.

Mobilizing the necessary resources in money and manpower to face the challenges of a largely liberal privatised and globalised Indian economy and society in the twenty first century will test the ingenuity of Indian Muslim intellectuals in the coming days. The important thing is to realise that the only way to success is through competition. The more productive you are the mcompetitive advantage you have. Productivity in our post-capitalist, post- modern society depends on, above all things, knowledge. It is no longer ownership of land or capital which can raise productivity. Increasingly it is knowledge and the skill of applying it which is the source of productivity and wealth creation (Drucker, 1993, p. 167 see also Chapters one and ten). The lesson is clear. The community must attend to the twin ills of poverty and illiteracy in order to be strong enough to face the forth-coming challenges. The question is: How do we do that? Before we can attempt an ans! wer, we have to note some other dimensions of our situation.


As the twentieth century comes to an end the greatest threat to Muslim identity and culture in India comes from the recent rise of Hindutva symbolized by the Bhartiya Janata Party’s (BJP) brief stint with power in New Delhi (5). Hindutva does not recognize cultural diversity. For it there is only one identity in Hindustan, the Hindu. Those living in India must cherish this identity and subsume other affiliations and aspirations underneath it. This stance, explicitly rejected by the framers of the Constitution of India, is anathema to Muslims. But what can they do about it? That is the big question they carry over to the next century.

Can they convince the protagonists of Hindutva that it is bad for its sponsors and bad for India just as it is bad for Muslims? If this is a possible agenda, how are they going to do it?

Do they resign themselves to the inevitability of Hindutva prevailing over secularism and over left and centrist forces and adjust their own stance to Hindutva rule? If so, what does it imply?

Do they think the battle is political, Hindutva being only a handy slogan for mobilising people and making a bid for power? In that case, the challenge can be faced by forging an alliance with secular forces including the centrists as well as the leftists.

With prognosis goes a strategy. But one must take a long view. The issue is not related to a general election or two. It is India’s destiny that is at stake.

As to ourself , we think Hindutva has no future, howsoever great its nuisance value. It is not unusual in human history, however, for a failed vision to consume half a century or more before people get rid of it. Albania and Burma as countries and communism as a whole movement encompassing a third of the globe are the most recent examples. But ultimately Hindutva must fail as it has little to offer. Its social philosophy which still justifies caste, does not appeal to people whom economic forces are making equal anyway. Its narrow focus on a single geographical area is out of tune with the all encompassing globalization which, disregarding national boundaries, offers men and women a real promise of regarding the entire planet earth as their theatre of activity.

Hindutva has no future because it is in violation of one of the basic tenets of humanity in twenty first century - social equality. A philosophy of life that discriminates between men on the basis of characteristics beyond an individual’s control and thus violates essential human dignity can no longer be acceptable to men and women. Hindutva is incapable of discarding the superiority of the Brahmin and all that goes with it, in a world in which knowledge alone is regarded as the acceptable basis for superiority.

The Muslim Response to Hindutva

Muslims will be ill advised to wait it out till the wave of aggressive Hindutva passes over. They must act to prevent its rise as the devastation it would otherwise effect may be too much for them to bear.

Whatever the prognosis, Muslims in India can not and should not go it alone insofar as facing and preventing Hindutva is concerned. They can adopt a three pronged approach in which two of the actions involved have to be shared with other Indians.

The first programme, to be launched by Muslims alone, especially by the religious organisations like Jamaat Islami, should focus on introducing Islam and removing the misunderstandings about Islam and Muslims. The second should be a political strategy directed at defeating the Hindutva party, the BJP, at the polls and preventing them from reaching the seats of power at local, state and national level. The third is a socioeconomic campaign serving the masses through literacy drives, cleanliness drives, economic uplift and self employment programmes, etc. This, to be effected in cooperation with other Indians especially Hindus, should be so designed as to wean away those sections of the Hindu society (e.g. the youth) who have been attracted by the social services and fitness oriented programmes of the Rashtriya suwyyam sewak sang (RSS).

Despite all such efforts if BJP was to assume power in Delhi on the basis of its own absolute majority in the Lok Sahba and stay in power for a full term, it will not be the end of the world for Muslims in India. For one thing, the above programme itself will have prepared them to face that situation far better than now. And the above is certainly not going to happen in the next few years so they have time to start working on the three pronged approach now.

Suppose it does happen. In that eventuality Muslims will have to mobilize all their strength to focus on education and cultural orientation of their youth and the very young. Since most of their activities already belong to the private sector it should not be difficult for them to shield their children from the cultural onslaught of Hindutva. As regards political confrontation I think we should avoid it even if invited to do it by our secular allies. Once a party comes to power through fair democratic elections it must be allowed to rule. Trying to pull it down by street action or horse trading is antidemocratic as well as immoral. Such an extra-democratic campaign invites its own variety of responses, plunging the society into chaos. It also provides an opportunity for foreign powers to meddle in the country’s affairs.

Do we envisage the BJP ruling India for a full term, on its own or in coalition with like minded groups, during the next two or three decades? We are not sure. But it is not impossible. Prudence requires us to be prepared with a strategy and to spell out a Muslim agenda under Hindutva dominated India.

We have already opined against confrontation on the political level. We do not think we are contradicting ourselves if after having advised on a compaign for preventing BJP ascendance to power, we then preach non-confrontation if they do gain power. We think that is what the rules of the game in a democracy demand. We sincerely think that Muslims should be the foremost in playing politics by these rules. Opportunism, be it moral or political, belongs to Hypocrisy. It does not behove believers.

As we noted above, the narrow chauvinism of Hindutva runs counter to the current wave of globalization and knowledge based competition. That is the fresh air which will kill the germs which breed only in murky stagnant waters. All we have to do is accelerate that process. Let Muslims of India spearhead the process of adopting universal humanistic stances on all issues, rejecting narrow nationalistic stances. Let the choice be forced on every Indian, whether he or she would rather belong to a cosmopolitan community of nations sharing all but what is naturally tied to geography, or would they insist on an identity that is fully defined in local terms.

Playing by the rules of the game in a democracy does not occur automatically. Muslims have to plan and work for it. One needs to have a whole range of legal, political, social watchdog organisations, lobbying outfits, public relations outposts, etc. in order to survive and, to the extent possible, promote the Muslim cause. This is currently missing from the Muslim situation in India. Maybe it has to do with poverty and the fact that democracy has just dawned. But it is time we mend the fences. We would like to suggest thatsome study groups examine the history of minorities in other democracies especially in the United States. Vigilance on part of minorities is necessary to prevent encroachment on their and secure for them a fair treatment from the authorities as well as from other communities.

In the years to come more power will shift away from the state at the centre to the various social groups and minorities as well as to the supra national agencies (or international organisations). This is to the advantage of Indian Muslims, provided they are prepared to utilise the same. Being a distinct group present in every Indian state, they are in a better position than ethnic or linguistic minorities confined to only one region. The trick is not to fight with other groups in seeking government funding but to go all out to create resources for themselves on their own. Increasingly the State will have little to offer, so there will not be much to fight for. Better to ignore that source and, with spirit of entrepreneurship, exploit the vast resources - land, labour and capital, lying under your feet. Above all there is that infinite resource, knowledge, flowing all round you. Utilise all these to create additional wealth rather than wait for some to be do! led out.

But where is the spirit of entrepreneurship among Muslims in India, what does it mean and from where can it emanate?

Economic Uplift

Entrepreneurship means innovation, leadership, taking bold and courageous initiatives. It presumes hope, self confidence and trust. Pessimism, fatalism, seige mentality, a pervading sense of being persecuted, are its arch enemies. Only a small number of scattered groups among Muslims in India bear these entrepreneurial qualities which are either set or originate in family or community traditions. Neither the madrasa nor the college and schools have anything to offer in this connection. There is a need to project the role models we have, so the younger generation of Indian Muslims emulate them. We must wean away our youth from the ghetto and the street and show them the way to gainful self employment and how to acquire skills that make them employable by others. The energies of social workers should be focused more and more on making the future generation of Muslims less dependent on publicly funded educational a! nd health facilities or on the public sector for a job. They should be able to earn enough to be able to buy the educational and health services they need. They should be equipped with the knowledge and skill which is going to have a wide market in the largely private but booming economy of India in the years to come.

Is it the old egg and chicken question? How can one earn without education and good health, and where from to pay for the health-care and education one need? Let the Muslim activists, philanthropic institutions and social service groups break the vicious circle by stepping in now. There are various ways of helping the needy without increasing his dependence or making him dole addict. Once again there is a need to learn from the successful anti poverty and self help programmes in South East Asia as well as in our own country in the south.

Will the Muslim activists in India, especially those with religious inspiration e.g. Jamaat Islami, Tableeghi Jamaat, Ahl Hadeeth and Barelvi group ever learn the primacy of economic strength for the survival and progress of Muslims and Islam in India? Will they readjust their focus from exhortations and warnings and ordainments to helping people on to their feet and putting them on the road to self respect and hope?

We do not have sure answers, but we must try. It is very difficult to imagine an uplifted Muslim community in India without change in the approach of their religious mentors. The more crucial thing is to make them realise that modern society after the industrial revolution superimposed by the communication and information revolution is so different from the one reflected in most of their intellectual heritage that they must think afresh.

Time and again we have found that the religiously oriented do not accept the priority of poverty eradication, removal of illiteracy or of any economic programme as they think that priority must attach to moral and spiritual matters. More sophisticated Islamists would include the intellectual dimension, that related to thought (fikr). But economics is about doing things more efficiently. That, they seem to imply, comes to human beings naturally, hence it should not concern them. In our view they are wrong. We also think this way of looking at our mission has no support in the Quran and Sunnah. We should be ready to do whatever is needed to lift this ummah of ours from the morass of weakness and indignity, protect it from the dangers looming on the horizon and equip it with what would enable it to compete with others and succeed in its mission. Eradication of poverty, removal of illiteracy and inculcation of entrepreneurial qualities are necessar! y to secure these results. This is not to deny the need for moral and spiritual reorientation. There is no contradiction between the two drives, the one for educational and economic uplift and the other for moral, spiritual and intellectual regeneration. Some economic means are necessary for sheer survival, for Muslims coming together, warding off aggressive designs towards them and, broadly, for adherence to Islamic teachings. Islamic scholars as well as activists should call upon Muslims to work hard for economic betterment for the sake of their religion. They should tell Muslims they have to make enough money to have something to spare for jihad in its broad sense of moblising all energies for the cause of Allah. Spirituality in Islam is not to suppress material quest but to give it the right direction. Having recognised the need for economic betterment, religious leaders and activists have to lo! ok back at their educational institutions and see what can they contribute towards this policy objective. Their sermons also need include this theme.

Economics in recent days has been overtaken by a revolution in the science of management -- the discovery that it is not only material resources, land, labour and capital that matter, but also the way you manage their use. The way people deal with people has more to do with productivity than the way they deal with things, machines and the like. These recent lessons need to be learnt by us not only in managing business but also in managing the madrasa and the waqf.

What Kind of Education?

Education now seems to be on top of the agenda of every activist and every group working for the uplift of Indian Muslims. The important question, however, is what kind of education and what are the priorities for allocating the scarce resources of the millat for education of its children.

Two facts should determine the answer of the above. Firstly, the overwhelming majority of Muslim in India are illiterate and very poor. Secondly, in future most jobs will be in the private sector where skill and potential productivity will decide who gets which job. Our educational priorities must reflect these realities. Most of our efforts and resources should be directed towards educating the poorest of the poor and the illiterate. Next comes skill generating programmes which can enable people to get a job or launch their own small business. The primary school and the vocational and technical institutes must come before universities, colleges and other costly affairs. People should be made to pay for higher education and social subsidies should be reserved for the institutions serving people without means. Recent studies have demonstrated the primacy of primary education over secondary and higher education for social and economic uplift. The "social rate ! of return" on investment in primary education is double that in higher education and one and a half times that in secondary education (Dasgupta, 1993, p. 90). The same should apply to health care insofar as it is organised by social and religious organizations.

More important than the form, however, is the content. Instead of producing authority driven kids trained to learn by the rote and regarding passing the examination or excelling at it as the highest possible achievement, our kinder-garten and primary education should encourage free enqui, explorations, experiments, and creativity.

The process should in fact begin from home. Instead of relying exclusively on do and do not and giving the impression that all knowledge is accumulated knowledge and all truth is transmitted by elders from repositories in the past, children must be oriented to seek knowledge yet to be discovered and truths yet untold. Truth and knowledge are unbounded and the potentialities of a child far exceed what an old man or woman can imagine.

Muslims have nothing to fear from free enquiry or seeking after knowledge. What is true is by definition compatible with our religion, what is false can not stand for long given free enquiry and experimentation.

Testing shariah compatibility is an aid, no doubt. But past experience shows it is not as simple a job as it appears, and many who dare do so may not be really qualified for the job. There is always the danger of a particular interpretation of sharia being treated as the sharia itself ignoring the obvious fact that particular interpretations reflect their particular time and place.

Patience, perseverance and an open mind are, in the long run, better guarantees of accumulating new shariah compatible truths and of protecting ourselves from falsehood. It is not going to help if we reject every thing new at the very first impression of its incongruence with what we understand to be the shariah. This latter strategy, far from succeeding in protecting the faithful from falsehood, ends up missing out on new knowledge and discrediting shariah itself. This mistake must not be repeated.

Admittedly an open minded approach to knowledge and arriving at new truths would open the door for differences of opinion and diversity in policies. Eventually sounder opinions will weed out the rootless ones and efficacy will select the policy that stays. Meanwhile we shall need tolerance and respect for the dissenting ---- qualities in very short supply in the recent past.

The Quest for Balance

I do not think economic uplift, hundred percent literacy and knowledge imparting education -- targets possible to achieve in a couple of decades --are all that we need. These we need to enter the race, not to win it. The race in the twenty first century is for a balanced approach to life. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries have raised standards of living to levels that could not be imagined at the beginning of this period. But mankind, in the quest for this unprecedented material prosperity, missed out on some thing without which it feels neither content nor secure. It was not without reason that family values and morality were the most discussed subjects during the 1996 presidential election of the most prosperous nation on earth, the United States of America. Ethical issues have been at the centre of political developments, including change of governments, in many countries during the last ten years. In the field! of economics, the increasing disparity in the distribution of income and wealth within nations and between nations, which is in essence a moral issue, is attracting more and more attention.

To some extent, the same applies to concern for environment. The Green parties may not be destined to capture power in any European country but their message has reached the masses: Something is wrong with the way planet earth is being managed, and time is running out. Mankind has lost its balance, and the quest for balance between the material and spiritual-moral is going to dominate the coming century, both at the intellectual as well as at the policy level.

India will be no exception. Have we Indian Muslims something to contribute? Yes, but not before we have solved the problems discussed above. The poor and the illiterate can not teach balanced living to Indians. A prosperous, educated, well behaved Muslim Community can be a force working for sanity, stability and balanced living in the India of the future.

Globalisation and all that

In the international arena, this quest for balance may lead, instead of ‘clash of civilizations’ (6) to dialogue, compromises, and cooperation between civilisations. Trade has generally, if not always, brought diverse people into peaceful productive contact. With falling barriers to international trade and satellite channels bringing cultures and images from four corners of the globe into common man’s living rooms, there is no reason why familiarity should breed animosity. It could well be the other way round. A ‘clash’ if it does take place would more likely be provoked by the hegemonistic attitude of erstwhile super powers who fail to reconcile themselves to the new rules of the game.

Anyway, India is not visualised as the theatre for such a clash between civilizations even by those who envision it. Rather, India is seen as a likely partisan against the Judaeo-Christian Western civilisation. Indian Muslims should have no problem in handling such a situation (which we consider to be farfetched). Nehru extolled the Indian genius for compromise and accommodation. Though not strong enough to avert the partitioning of India, it does have enough resilience to boost secular trends in the face of the rising tide of Hindutva. The same resilience is likely to serve India as a force against any potential clash of civilisations. Should this role be thrust upon it, standing as it does between a rising China and a not so strong West, Muslims of India can make significant contributions to its success. They belong to the East, but they have enough contacts with the West to feel its pulse and respond to its impulses.

One useful lesson an uplifted and regenerated Indian Muslim community can teach is that it is possible to live a free and culturally satisfying life without dominating anybody (provided you too are not being dominated by anybody). To be able to do so they will first have to build an India where no community desires to subjugate any other community as all agree to coexist in a secular, plural democracy that affords maximum cultural autonomy to its ethnic, linguistic and religious constituents. That presumably is the dream the framers of the Constitution of India had. Let it be. Muslims of India should have no problem endorsing that dream as it alone, among possible alternatives, affords the maximum leeway to Islam i.e. freedom to live Islamically and preach Islam to a people who fear no persecution -- the fitnah referred to in the Quranic verse many wrongly construe to be an order to fight for domination everywhere all the time. (7)

Also, it is only in a democracy that Indian Muslims have the best chance of promoting their economic model, including interest free finance. Secularism with its special meaning in India (which can not and should not be equated with the meaning it acquired a couple of centuries ago in Europe), democracy as enshrined in the Constitution of India, and globalisation which is inevitably being adopted by entire humanity in the wake of the revolution in information and communcation, vastly improve the chances of Indian Muslims performing as inidicated above: a model of Islamic living amongst what for the time being is an overwhelmingly non Muslim majority. Such also is the situation of Muslims in the world at large. We invite Muslim intellectuals, especially those outside India, to pay to this parallel the attention it deserves. They may be missing out on something important by not doing so.

Look East Too

The last point I would like to make is the need to get rid of our obsession with the West and find time to look East also. We have heard enough about what the West has done to us - colonisation, cultural destruction, religious aggression, economic exploitation etc. We have also been filled with sermons on what we must do to the West -- shun it, condemn it, unlearn its ways and gang up against it, etc. Time is taking care of what is exaggerated or outdated in this approach. We can hardly improve on it. Bu, we do feel that unlike early Islam when the Muslim awareness of China and later on of South East Asia was second to none, the last couple of centuries has drawn a blank. We do not know much about what is happening east of India, what we cget out of it and whether there is some possibility of our contributing something to the felicity of eastern humanity. The East is already reaching out. If we fail to wake up, respond! , act and interact, it will be to our own disadvantage. But it is coming. We find increasing interaction between India and the East and, in its wake, greater attention of Muslims to the East. The softer, lighter, religiousity of the East (not necessarily less genuine in its spirituality or morality) would serve as a needed antidote to some of the harsher overtones of the recent Islamic Movements (which mostly drew inspiration from an entirely different environment). That would be better suited to India if and when sanity is restored as the Hindutva wave ebbs out and the friendly climate of the Gangetic plain once again reasserts its eternal impulse of tolerance and accommodation.


We wish to conclude on what we started with. Indian Muslims in the twenty first century will be to a large extent what they work for i.e., what they really want to be. They have a right to high aspirations. They can even be optimistic. But they need take concrete steps for eradication of poverty, removal of illiteracy, moral orientation and economic uplift. The road may be long and difficult but one step at a time, which every Muslim in India takes and not only a few activists, can one day make a difference. Work, earn, learn, save, invest in your future by raising healthier, more educated and better behaved children and help your brothers and sisters do the same. This is the agenda for the individual, every individual. For social organisations the message is to focus, for the time being, on the poorest and the weakest. Attend more to primary education, adult literacy, cleaner neighborhoods, teaching basic hygiene ! to every one and providing all with the means for elementary health care. Religious movements should please note that doing all this is not materialism, it is not dunya. Rather it is building the necessary infrastructure for deen. The physical requirements for morally good life are no less important than morality itself. This is where we start, saying: "Our Lord bestow upon us in the world that which is good and good in the life hereafter and guard us from punishment with Fire." (2:201)

As we argued in the opening paragraph the conditions of other Muslim minorities are different but their agenda for the coming century need not be very different. This conclusion is based on the similarity of their normatively prescribed role and the fact that, everywhere, that role calls for educational and economic uplift (preceded by eradication of poverty and illiteracy). This also seems to be the last defence against majority chauvinism in its different hues.

* Inputs from Ausaf Ahmad and a number of intellectuals at Jeddah are gratefully acknowledged.


1. Nepal, Bhutan, Mangolia, Combodia, Laos, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan, etc.

Besides India with a 12%, Muslim population, these are Mauritius, Singapore, Mynamar and Sri Lanka with Muslims consistuting 18, 16, 10 and 8 percent of the total population respectively. One should add the Philippines and Thailand to this list, Muslims constituting 5 and 4 percent of the total population respectively, but their concentration in certain areas adds extra significances to their presence. [Tashkandi, 1992]

3. Keynea, Liberia, Tanzania, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Ghana and the Democratic Republic of Congo have Muslim minorities ranging from 35 to 10 percent, followed by Uganda, 6% of its population being Muslim [Tashqandi, 1992]

4. This cautious guess should be acceptable. A recent survey by the National Council for Applied Economic Research "reveals that 39 percent of the rural population in the country is living under the poverty line or earning less than Rs. 2,444 per capita a year. It may be recalled that the Planning Commission about a year ago had claimed that the population living below the poverty line was only 19 percent and not 36 percent. However it had to retract subsequently" Saudi Gazette (Jeddah) December 5, 1996, page 8.

5. 16 May 1996 to 28 Feb 1996.

6. Samul P. Huntington’s thesis (in Foreign Affairs, 72, Summer 1993, pp. 22-49) under the title "The Clash of Civilizations" later elaborated into a book. The Clash of Civilisations and the Remaking of World Order Simon and Schuster, 1996, is surprisingly touching a responsive chord in a fairly wide circle of intellectuals.

7. Verse 193 of Sura 2 meaning "And fight them until persecution is no more and religion is for Allah. But if they desist then let there be no hostility except against the wrong doers" (The glorious Quran, M.M. Pickthall) The word fitnah, translated as "persecution" by Pickthall, has been rendered as ‘oppression’ by Mohammad Asad and "Tumult and oppression" by Abdullah Yusuf Ali. It is clear that no hostility or fight is called for whereever and whenever it is possible for anyone to embrace Islam and live by it without fear of being subjected to persecution or oppression. Muslims can coexist with others indefinitely in such an environment, living Islamically, calling others to the religion of Allah.


Abdullah Yusuf Ali, The Glorious Quran, Translation and Commentary (Leicester, The Islamic Foundation, 1978).

Ahmed, Aijazuddin, Muslims in India. Their Educational, Demographic and Socio economic Status with Comparative indications for Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and other Communities Based on a singular and Systematic Field Survey 1990-1993, Vol. 1. Bihar 1993, Vol. 2, Rajasthan 1994, Vol. 3, Delhi, 1995 and Vol. 4, U.P., 1996, International Publications, Raja Gardens.

Asad, Muhammad, The Message of the Quran, (Leiden, E.J. Brill, 1980).

Bung, Frederica M., Thailand: A Country Study. US Govt. Printing office, Washington, 1981.

Dangor, Suleman, "The Muslim Community in South Africa" in al ilm, Vol. 11, Jan., 1991, pp. 65-74.

Dasgupta, Partha, An Enquiry into Well being and Destitution, New York, Oxford University Press, 1993.

Drucker, Peter F., Post Capitalist Society, Buttersworth, Heinamann, Oxford, U.K., 1993.

Huntington, Samuel P., "The Clash of Civilizations" Foreign Affairs, 72, 1993, pp. 22-49.

____________, The Clash of Civilizations and the Ramaking of World Order, Simon and Schuster, 1996.

Khan, K. Rahman: Report of High Power Committee on Socio economic and Educational Survey, 1994 of Religious Minorities in Karnataka, Bangelore, State Minorities Commission, Karnataka.

Kuran, Timor (1997), Islam and Under Development: An Old Puzzle Revisited, Working Paper 640, Economic Research Forum for the Arab Countries, Iran and Turkey, Chicago, 1997, forthcoming in Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics, Vol. 153, No. 1, March 1997.

Pickthall, M.M. The Glorious Quran, Makkah, The Muslim World League, 1977.

Simone, T. Abdou Maliqalim, In Whose Image? Political Islam and Urban Practices in Sudan, Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 1994 Chicago & London.

Tashkandi, Abdul Jaleel et al (editors), The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Support extended to the Muslim Monorities the World Over, Jeddah, Okaz Publishers, 1992.

____________, Human Development Report 1995, New York, UNDP, page 157.

___________, Human Development Report 1996, United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Newyork, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1996.

____________, Saudi Gazette (Jeddah), December 5, 1996, page 8.


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