Secularism has different meanings in today'sworld. In France, secularists want followers of Islam not to wear scarves covering their heads, so also in Britain where even the display of a cross is being questioned by some organisations. In the USA while theoretically a dress like the burqa is allowed in practice it draws penalties. On the other hand George Bush was quite quick in meeting the Pope before his last election and also last year held an iftar party to placate Muslims. The present Pope has publicly in the past derided both Buddhism and Islam, though in the latter case it was said to be a misinterpretation of a statement. Hindu religious leaders have come out against Islam, while most of the statements from Islamic leaders are against the nations?Israel and USA?not against the religions. One emerging fact is that whether in Asia, Europe, the Americas, Australia or Africa, religious forces are gaining strength. However, the role of Islam is unique inasmuch as over a period of time, once it exceeds a critical mass, it appears to wipe out other religious faiths.
So an understanding of some key operators within Islam is important to identify approaches to transact with it. A brief history in the interpretation of the Koran? it is specifically enjoined that Christians, Jews and followers of Zarathusthra, (Parsis) all of whom are termed ?dhimmis? need not be converted to Islam. They only need to pay certain taxes and are allowed to continue in their faith, this explains why there are such few anti-Christian or anti-Jew statements from them. However, for those not belonging to these religions it has been ?Islam by the sword? if necessary. Large parts of North-Africa, Central Asia, and further East till China were brought under Islam by forced conversions. So was it also with the people who lived east of the Sindh river ? the Hindus, a term that was initially geographic and only much later, during the time of the Muslim invasions, acquired a religious connotation.
The Muslim rulers and chieftains married daughters of local kings as part of extending their domination, this resulted in a lineage of foreign blood mainly from Central Asia. On the other hand, during Aurangzeb'srule in particular people converted to Islam to escape taxes levied on non-Muslims. Much later many castes converted to escape social differentiation. Islam like the Roman empire considered itself to be a religious state, right from the start. Islam spread because of its technological superiority and there are three circles of Muslims.
Within Islamists there is a hierarchy, the highest?the innermost, those in the Arabian peninsula who speak Arabic, the second those who through conquest were forced to accept Arabic, i.e. Morocco. The third who speak a language other than Arabic, i.e. Iran, Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh and India. A turning point in Arab history can be taken to be 1798, when Egypt fell to the French. Suddenly the Arabs, who were dominant so far, found themselves at a loss against European powers. Since then they faced defeat at every turn and only recovered some face in 1973 when Egypt shocked Israel in the Yom Kippur war. Consequently the Arabs (actually OPEC) gathered courage to hike oil prices the very next year which sent tremors through the first world'spolitical establishments. In terms of religion, after the World War-I with the dismantling of the Ottoman empire, control of Islam moved from Istanbul to Jeddah in stages, with the King of Saudi Arabia being declared the custodian of Mecca as the Jordanians relinquished their stake.
The Wahabis, a more extreme form of Islam, took over the religion and it acquired greater rigidity in interpretation. Around 1918 Muslims in India started identifying themselves with the world of Islam, which resulted in the Khilafat movement. The next stage was the formation of Pakistan, when Muslims left in ?Hindustan? identified themselves not just with a pan-Islamic state but with Pakistan! Post-Partition the Indian Muslim was in a sense left marooned. The poor are provided taleem by the maulvi during their prayers which should be social injunctions, but in many cases known to be seditious. For a long time, the Muslim poors have listened to BBC for ?authentic? news on the country.
The young are being educated in madrasas where often their education has a bias that is not reflected in the written literature, even while a few madrasas produce students with a national viewpoint. More detailed information from interviews with the pass-outs should be gathered. Only can then specific action be planned and the future insured. By changing the mindset of the young it will impact Muslim society as a whole. One statement by Sania Mirza on attire was enough to evoke extreme reactions. The case for education is vital.
In the Middle East and North Africa, after 9/11, for moderate Islam regimes, terrorism is a real worry as it is here. One fact that has emerged from comprehensive surveys is that early life experiences are vital in shaping attitudes. A project named BMINA is envisaged to cover primary education across a swathe of countries where Islam is predominant. It is in this context that the content of what is taught in the madrasas is very important for the future of the country, not just for those studying in them. To take an example from Pakistani school texts (I saw translations in the late 80s) India was often referred to as an ?enemy?, resulting in a certain mindset, which could remain in the subconscious for life.
An incident reported in the Times of India a few years ago should illustrate this point further. A Muslim boy near Gorakhpur was reportedly killed by his friends for daring to hoist the tri-colour on Republic Day. The Muslims have created ghettos in their own minds out of which they are not able to escape and the Indian state and people have allowed it to continue. To uplift Muslims economically is obviously important, just as it is to do so for any other community. But economic uplift alone is not going to result in a cultural transformation.
To educate Muslims is important and more so girls and women within the community. In the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Jordan where women have been allowed to educate themselves, they have started bringing about social change. First and foremost they are no longer easily willing to become the second or later wife. Further since they are educated and have started earning a living many of them want educated men, even if they marry outside their community, religion or race. This should be a cue to right-minded organisations in India?offer scholarships on a gender basis to infiltrate the mindset of Muslims.
Organisations aspiring for a greater Bharat should take a leaf out of the way Christians operate. Firstly they all spend a lot on educating people specially the poor, and also try and make them employable. Building a temple is fine, but a person goes to a temple only once or twice a day, whereas school is a daily drill. In this respect the Christians are far ahead of the Hindus, given their initial advantage they possess in terms of institutions and continue to quietly build them.
Crash courses in English could be run and the content could also include reading simple spiritual stories. Further the rank and file of the RSS and other organisations needs to educate themselves not only in Sanskrit but also foreign languages. Christian missionaries (even Indians) often know more than five languages. Today'stechnological prowess in space, missiles and computer software is built on the bedrock of knowing the English language. This should not be ignored. A major reason for the BJP not succeeding in Tamil Nadu is this continuous harangue on Hindi by some elders. Instead the BJP should ferret out the statements and actions of Subramania Bharati, a legendary figure of Tamil poetry, and use his statements to appeal to the Tamil mind and more important his action of starting a Hindi teaching school.
Ironically in Tamil Nadu where Tamil is the first language, English is the second language and the third may be the mother tongue, Hindi can be learned from private institutes. The BJP and the RSS can at least offer subsidies or free learning of Hindi and propagate it.
An aspect that is not debated at all is the interpretation of the Sharia. It is clearly allowed for a Muslim to take on four wives. But the Koran also enjoins that ten per cent of income should be set aside for zakat, i.e. charity. In Saudi Arabia even foreign entities operating there are required to pay this. Why is it that the Muslim community in India is exempted?
A minister in Uttar Pradesh offered Rs 51 crore for killing the creator of the Danish cartoons, which indicates the sort of income they can generate. One Siraj T. Lokhandwala, a builder from Mumbai who is probably a billionarie (business magazines don'tfeature his name since he operates through a clutch of companies) could subsidise a huge number of Muslim poor. Zakat money can be managed by the Muslim community and maulvis will love such a provision being mooted. If a debate can be instigated amongst Muslims it will create waves in that community. Also the poor Muslims and the women may see a way out of their predicament.
The need is to engage with the moderates and poor amongst the Muslims. The present monotonous confrontations do not take advantage of the fact that the Muslims are not only divided along class lines, but also caste and ethnicity.
The BJP should acquire some finesse in its approach eg. CDs of the fatwa expose should be given free to the Muslim poor who possibly never watched those channels. Also by adopting special schemes directed towards target groups the BJP in Gujarat at least could split Islamic solidarity. In Tamil Nadu the government has refused to provide financial aid to those minority institutions created after 1992 that do not have Tamil as the first language. This has created shock waves amongst the Muslims who feel that Urdu will be wiped out, but are dependent on the government to run institutions.
While the fate of the Kashmiri Pandits is saddening, the efforts of the BJP in this direction serve no purpose. Instead of identifying properties owned by Pundits taken over by Muslims there and trying to reclaim each one individually through courts, and sympathetic government officials, it should raise the issue of individuals in the media and launch direct action. It is important to do what is necessary and not what is easy. Also Musharraf has even taken on the Islamists and ordered demolitions of two mosques. The Pakistan government has identified a large number of mosques built illegally. Instead of replaying this to Indian Muslims we remain silent.
The BJP needs to find social issues which ignite the minds of the people and excite the media. After all the media and judiciary have become proactive. To take an example children are still employed in the firework factories of Sivakasi. Taking up not the entire industry but closing down one unit (not just stopping child labour) would be hard for any other party to counter. And since the Right hardly has any presence in Tamil Nadu it makes little difference about getting bad press. Similarly the so called sati cases in Rajasthan which are galling to women. Taking action against whole communities may result in local losses but will make these parties seem a little more gender conscious and this if publicised suitably is addressing almost fifty per cent of the population. In the same vein it must be mentioned that the Hindu organisations are unable to see social reality or realise that the direction of time is one direction. Divorce for example is well established today, even within most traditional families. The Hindu marriage allows for marriage but no divorce (as a ceremony at least) unlike Christanity and Islam. Further in the civil divorce process it is the woman who in most cases suffers humiliation. Also the maintainance allowance awarded by courts are set at ridiculously low amounts. Unless the Hindu Mahasabha and others initiate proceedings to create a process for this civil law will continue to hold sway. These civil laws have been codified by the British along their understanding and have modified it in their own countries to reflect new social realities. To say that this is not possible is going against history, the Arya Samaj wedding rites were introduced to simplify marriage ceremonies. In Kerala there is marriage by ?self respect? where two people garland each other and are considered married. Even the Indian judiciary has accepted the case of common law marriages. Why is there a lack of action on the front of divorce? Starting a conciliatory/ arbitration process in society will help in reducing the burden on the judiciary, reduce the humiliation to which women are often subjected to in courts and be seen by educated people as a process which is capable of producing social change through civil action and not just waiting in the wings to occupy the corridors of power.
(The writer is an educational consultant.)