By Najib Shah
Bengaluru, October 21 (Deccan Herald): Jumah or Friday is the day of the sabbath for followers of Islam. The Qur’an highlights the importance of Friday as a sacred day of worship. The Jumah prayers replace the usual noon ritual prayer. The faithful make it a point to go to the Friday prayers in a mosque. Mosques overflow – only to become largely deserted again till the next Friday noon.
The Jumah prayer is preceded by a khutbah – a sermon. The Imam ( priest) gets an opportunity to address the faithful. Typically, the sermon highlights vignettes from the life of the Prophet, the Hadith, explaining Qur’anic precepts and the need to follow them and how hellfire awaits those who do not. The mosques are packed and the Imam at the sight of this many numbers does get most enthusiastic. The sermons these last few months have begun taking a more somber tone. There is concern about the state of Muslims in the country. No solutions are offered apart from conveying deep angst. The sermons reflect the feeling of Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (FUD) that has enveloped the community. Fear about the present, Uncertainty about the future, and Doubts about identity.
What should the Muslim community do? Largely uneducated, with consequent high levels of unemployment, living in ghettos in cities and towns across the country, leaderless and restless, they are vulnerable. They feed on each other’s anxiety. This is a perfect recipe for entering the slippery slope of crime.FUD also makes them easy targets for radical elements to mislead them to anti-national and anti-social activities.
And this is unfortunate. Islam as it was conceived, was a religion focused on the pursuit of knowledge. The Quran urges man to think, ponder, reflect and acquire knowledge. It stresses the need and obligation on everybody to pass on knowledge, to teach and spread awareness.
Indian Muslims have fared poorly. While Muslims constitute nearly 15 percent of the population they are educationally amongst the most backward.. The path-breaking 2006 Sachar Committee Report had starkly brought out the dire educational, employment, and social status of Indian Muslims. The Report speaks of employment levels in Government being the lowest among all socio-religious categories (SRCs). The poverty, consumption, and standard of living levels among Muslims is also abysmal. Prof. Amitabh Kundu’s Report which steered the post-Sachar Evaluation committee suggests that nothing much has changed.
A constant debate is whether madrasas have contributed to the sorry state of Muslims. This notwithstanding the Sachar Report pointing out that only about 3 % of school-going children go to madrasas, which thrive in the economically weaker parts of the country. And therein lies a tale. They thrive not necessarily because the populace there is more religious, but because they offer an opportunity to the poor to get a possible livelihood in the future in mosques. So madrasas provide an essential outlet for a section of the population. Having said that, madrasa education needs to become broad-based. If the students can recite about 600 pages of religious text in a foreign language in about 3 years, they surely are smart. Open school education is so easily available – these students should also simultaneously pass the 12th standard schooling and get degrees. With proper teachers and guidance, they can master anything else. The students emerging from madrasas go on to man mosques across the country and play an influential role.They should be equipped to handle a modern multicultural society. Many madrasas are making the transition- and the students have emerged to play roles in secular environments.
But the larger Muslim community is not in madrasas. The tragedy is that this large section of Muslims- perfunctorily religious, at best observing the Friday prayers and festivals,is also falling into the FUD pit hole. The relentless focus of this large group should be on education- education leading to becoming employable. Education uplifts, it empowers. Education enables you to compete and participate in society. More educational institutions to cater to this large group need to be established. The obligatory Zakath-2.5% of savings towards charity which most Muslims render needs to, instead of being used for individual causes, be pooled and used for collective community causes with a focus on education.
Self-introspection is required but the community can ill afford to wallow in self-pity. The community mosques have a critical role to play. Unused except for regular prayers which are but for Fridays sparsely attended, they are located in dense Muslim mohallas. With imaginative leadership, the mosques can act as magnets to get the faithful back- if not for prayers, at least for debate and discussions. The mosques can be used to impart educational and vocational skills. The small percentage of educated, better-off Muslims should step forward to work closely with the Imams and render assistance and lift the rest of the community.
The community should not fall into the trap of a self-fulfilling prophesy-a prophesy that the whole world is against them, of victimhood. And should stop working hard to fulfill that prophecy. It is not going to be easy. There is a huge trust deficit-that is a bridge that is going to be challenging to cross. The fact that the Muslims of India are not a homogenous group and lack a pan-India acceptable leadership does not help matters. Small pockets of enlightened local leadership have to emerge and carry on their shoulders the rest of the community.
Around 204 million people living in a state of FUD is not good for the country. Everybody needs to work closely to uplift the community. Only then will there be light at the end of the dark FUD tunnel.
(Najib Shah is a Retired Chairman of the Indian Central Board of Indirect Taxes & Customs)