Sunday, April 04, 2004


Times of India, Apr 03, 2004

Many of my friends have stopped writing letters ever since the mobile phone came into their lives, but Asgar is not one of them. He continues to write long, elegant letters from Pune, and last week he sent me the following quote from Maulana Azad: ‘‘I am a Muslim and profoundly conscious of the fact that I have inherited Islam’s glorious tradition of the last fourteen hundred years. I am not prepared to lose even a small part of that legacy.

The history of and teachings of Islam, its arts and letters, its culture and civilisation are part of my wealth and it is my duty to cherish and guard them. But with all these feelings, I have another equally deep realisation born out of my life’s experience, which is strengthened and not hindered by the Islamic spirit. I am equally proud of the fact that I am an Indian, an essential part of the indivisible unity of the Indian nationhood, a vital factor in its total makeup, without which this noble edifice will remain incomplete.’’

Asgar is willing to lay a wager that most Indian Muslims feel these sentiments in their hearts. I won’t take the wager because Asgar is probably right. But the question is that if most Muslims feel this way why don’t we hear their sensible voices? Why do we only hear the strident rhetoric of the extremists in our press? It is the same with Hindus — we mainly hear the voices of the VHP and the Shiv Sena these days and not the moderate talk of the believers of Hinduism, the kind of talk we used to hear from Mahatma Gandhi during the freedom movement.

The Maulana’s message is that an Indian can be both a Muslim and an Indian at the same time, and being one does not exclude the other. The fundamentalist, on the other hand, believes that an

Islamic person can only have one Islamic identity, and everything flows from it. In India , over the past 50 years, our open Constitution has fostered the modern idea that we can have multiple identities. One can be an engineer, a mother, a cricket enthusiast, and an extremely religious person, all at the same time. This is what, in fact, it means to be modern. In contrast, the extremist, whether Muslim or Hindu, privileges his religious identity.

Asgar writes that one of the best kept secrets in India is the rise of a sizeable Muslim middle class. This has happened, he feels, because of the rapid growth of the Indian economy and rising literacy, particularly of girls. Hence, Indian Muslims are increasingly concerned with jobs and schools rather than fanatical ideologies, which also explains why terrorism has little appeal in our open society. The impact of cable television also contributes to their relaxed attitude.

Members of the new Muslim middle class, not unlike their Hindu counterparts, were living on the margin earlier, and are now seeking, desperately, an identity. They are overwhelmingly religious, and this is why it is so important for them to hear the message of Maulana Azad. No amount of ranting by Westernised secularists will be as effective as a secular message given by a true believer. The timing is also right, for we are in the midst of another election. The discourse of political candidates is inevitably on the

India of their dreams. Can we dare to hope for another Maulana Azad to come forward and tell us about his idea of India , and neutralise the poison that is continuously spread by extremists of both sides?


Medical Blog said...

This has happened, he feels, because of the rapid growth of the Indian economy and rising literacy, particularly of girls.

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