At the request of the General Secretary of the Jamiat ul Ulama, South Africa, I am writing this note with the following objectives:
1 . To present my assessment (SWOT Analysis) of the Muslims in Gauteng
2 . To present some solutions and courses of action
I would like to state that whatever I say is only from what I was able to observe and does not purport to be a global statement of fact. I did not have an opportunity to interact very much with Muslims in the Cape Province or with black African Muslims. So this assessment is restricted to the Muslims of Indian origin who were my hosts and who I had the privilege to meet and speak to. I tried to see as much as I could and to get as many different opinions and thoughts as I could, but in the end, this is the impression of one man working on his own.
I ask Allah to put Khair in what I have to say and to protect me and the readers from the evil of that which I don’t know.
SWOT Analysis of South African Muslim society in Gauteng Province
1. Muslims in Gauteng are today in an enviable position that is perhaps unique in the world in terms of Muslim populations living in non-Muslim countries. Muslims totally comprise 1.5% of the population with Muslims of Indian origin being a section of this. Thanks to the fact that many of their elders (some are still alive) took an active and prominent part in the freedom struggle, they enjoy high prestige and position. Their representation in parliament, government and their say in public opinion are far in excess of their number. They are prominent in business, also for the most part a historic legacy and are arguably one of the most affluent population segments of South Africa.
2. Thanks also to the fact that the majority of the Muslims in Gauteng came originally from Gujarat, there is homogeneity in the population that combined with the segregation enforced by apartheid, led to a strong social structure founded on the ‘family’ and reinforced by ties of marriage. This led to the power of the elders and the teaching of Islamic values of respect for age, knowledge (Islamic) and the power of the Imaam, A’alim and Khateeb.
3. English language is a very major asset both in terms of it making the South African Muslims global citizens as well as for the doors to knowledge and information it opens.
4. There is a strong orientation towards helping other Muslims in South Africa as well as in other parts of the world and in supporting religious institutions and so Gauteng Muslims have a strong presence in these areas and are highly respected around the world. This has also led to the establishment of Darul Ulooms which attract many students from around the world. Since the Muslim community has the resources as well as a love for Islam, the Darul Ulooms are for the most part well funded and have good infrastructure. These Darul Ulooms have ensured that there is a much larger percentage of Huffaz and Ulama in the South African Muslim society than in comparative populations in the world. Naturally this adds to the influence of Ulama in this society.
5. Thanks also to the influence of the Ulama and to the orientation of the South African Muslim towards practicing Islam, South Africa is probably the only nation with such a small percentage of Muslims (1.5%) to have not one but two Halaal certification bodies. India for example, with more than 300 million Muslims (15% of the population) does not have any body of this nature.
6. The Jamiat ul Ulama South Africa is also a genuinely representative body unlike its counterpart in India which is a one-family enterprise. This gives the Jamiat a level of prestige and acceptability that is unique and enviable.
7. Thanks to their presence in the world of business, wide travel and the
English language the level of awareness about the world, its politics, its business opportunities and its leadership among South African Muslims is far higher than in Muslims in other parts of the world.
1. The homogeneity of the population creates an inward looking mentality that treats most things from outside with suspicion. This inhibits information, cultural and social exchange.
2. The Jamiat ul Ulama does not control the Darul Uloom education and neither are the heads of the Darul Ulooms, its council members. The other Ulama organizations in the country, mainly the Jamiat, Kwazulu and the MJC also owe no formal allegiance to the Jamiat South Africa (formerly Jamiat Transvaal). As a result, two parallel power structures are created which have the potential for polarizing on important issues. The United Ulama Council of South Africa does exist but has no executive authority over any of the others. It has members from each of the other bodies and can actually be used as the central governing council or Majlis of a federated structure which would make it more powerful and effective. However that is not the case at present.
3. Since the Darul Ulooms in South Africa were initiated by Ulama from India or those who trained in India/Pakistan, they are overly focused on teaching exactly what is taught in their parent institutions irrespective of the different world that they exist in. A good example is that Arabic books are taught in Urdu which the students who are primarily English speaking have to try to understand in English, doing their best to mentally translate what their teacher is saying, even though many understand little Urdu.
What happens to the sprinkling of students from Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia who also study in these Darul Ulooms, is anybody’s guess.
As it stands, since many teachers themselves have little or no knowledge of English or Arabic, they can do no better. Also any suggestion to the contrary raises insecurities as many rightly fear for their own jobs. Many come from India and earn salaries that are unheard of in India and fight to defend anything that threatens their position. That students suffer as a result seems to be of little or no consequence.
There is almost no networking between Darul Ulooms and other Islamic or secular institutions either in the country or worldwide. There are no student or teacher exchanges, no presenting of papers or symposia or seminars given or received. No cross institutional training. External influences are restricted to the periodic visits of Ulama from Indiawhich are mostly ceremonial in nature with almost no real or worthwhile direct contact between them and students/teachers/public. Visits of Ulama from the Middle East, Far East or other parts of the world are fewer and even less useful in any real sense.
4. As is the case in India, no formal teacher’s training qualification is needed to teach in a Darul Uloom. Nor is there any way of measuring performance of teachers. So quality of teaching is haphazard and person dependent and inconsistent. It is a strange and sad reality that both in Indiaand South Africato teach in the meanest of government schools, a teacher needs a degree in education. But to teach in the most prestigious of Darul Ulooms, he needs nothing. Once again, it is students who suffer, but they have no voice.
5. The Darul Ulooms and their curricula and qualification are not recognized by the South African university education system. I understand that the Darul Ulooms refused recognition when it was offered; in my view, a big mistake. This puts the students at a serious disadvantage where they find themselves not on par with their fellows qualifying from universities and colleges. They are essentially in a position where after qualifying from the Darul Uloom they are unable to pursue further study in the university system and have no qualification to be able to earn a decent living in society. Their only alternative is to become Imaams in masajid or teachers in Islamic schools or Darul Ulooms. Some of those who come from wealthy families are supported by the family.
Others whose families own businesses are absorbed in the business without any training in business on account only of their lineage. Neither is a satisfactory nor self respecting situation. Still others who have neither of these support systems are left to the mercy of the administrators of whichever masjid or school they join, with no bargaining or influencing power of their own.
It is a sad commentary on the lack of thought in blindly following a system which created exactly the same problems in its parent society in India with disastrous effects to the prestige of the Ulama. A simple look at the situation of Muslims in UP, India which has major Islamic institutions like Darul Uloom, Deoband, Nadwatul Ulama, Mazahirul-Uloom, Sahranpur; Madrassa Da’awatul Haq, Hardoi; still has one of the highest rates of illiteracy, backwardness, unemployment and crime in the country should tell us that something is seriously wrong with the way Muslims are educating themselves. Instead of learning from this experience, the same system is replicated in South Africa with predictable results.
The Darul Ulooms follow a curriculum that is mostly outdated and irrelevant today. There are parts in it relating to Islamic theology that are useful and must be retained. However there are other major parts which need to be discontinued and replaced with subjects and focus that is current and application oriented. This is a desperate need without which we will continue to produce Ulama who find it increasingly difficult to influence others or to bring about change in a society that needs changing very badly.
Strangely like India, there is no scope for post graduate education in theology in the Darul Ulooms. If a student wants to do a PhD, he has to go to a regular university to do it. I have never understood the logic of not creating a complete system of education even in our chosen field. The result is that we create people who are not expert in anything.
6. The Muslim business community is Gauteng consists mostly of small to medium sized enterprises. (I am using here the universal size classification for industries: Upto $250M = Small; Upto $500M = Medium; $ 1 B+ = Large). There are no Muslim multi-national businesses to the best of my knowledge. There is no Muslim Chamber of Commerce. There is no formal forum for businessmen to network, strategize, influence or bargain. Businessmen as a body have no formal relationship with the universities. They don’t sponsor research or teaching (Chairs) in areas of strategic importance. There are no business sponsored training programs at the universities. Muslim business leaders don’t speak at university sponsored seminars on matters of interest to industry. Muslim businesses don’t sponsor case studies, best practice studies or industry analysis. There seems by and large to be a lack of awareness of the power of higher education in growing businesses and not much emphasis seems to be placed on university degrees or on IT and training as core developmental and investment areas. Consequently there is a general lack of awareness about global business and strategy and a lack of a global perspective.
This dangerously extends to a lack of awareness of the threats that global businesses can pose to the niche areas that Muslim businessmen operate in, in South Africa. Finally a lack of awareness that policy changes are brought about by global corporations, not by mom & pop shops, no matter how profitable they may be in themselves. (Test Questions: What was the last business study/book you read and what did you do after reading it? Which financial, business, corporate publication do you subscribe to and read?)
7. The culture in business families seems to be of a structure consisting of first or second generation business founders who run a very close shop. The third generation youth are mainly big spenders with little or no visible focus on wealth creation. (Test Question: How many new businesses were started in the last 5 years?) Western pop culture of brand-snob ostentation, and claim to position without earning the ‘respect’ of subordinates, all point to a future that is far from rosy. Predictably this behavior does not inspire trust and so the older generation is reluctant to hand over the reins of business. The older generation tends to rule with an iron fist and businesses are individual driven instead of being process driven.
There is no formal system of people development or of succession planning in most Muslim businesses and there seems to be a lack of awareness of even the danger of this situation. This leads to frustration in the youth and the vicious cycle is complete. (Test Question: How many MBA’s are there per unit population of business families?)
8. In many ways the political scene is much the same as the business scene. Laurels were earned by the elders who fought for freedom alongside other African leaders and consequently earned for the Muslim community its present status of high respect and visibility in parliament, government and industry. However the next generation seems content to enjoy that benefit with no apparent effort to maintain, much less to take forward the position of influence that the elders earned. They don’t seem to realize that once power is lost and the vacuum is filled, it is almost never regained. The example of India and the short-sighted role that Muslim leadership played in the formation of Pakistan as well as in post-independent India seems either to be unknown, un-reflected on or lesson not learnt. I believe this is a very critical mistake. Social groups that are wealthy but have no power have their wealth taken away from them by force. History is replete with examples. And nations which don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it. I sincerely hope the Gauteng Muslims are not among those who have to repeat the history of their own people in India.
1. South Africais the land of dreams. The cap that apartheid placed on the aspirations of people and on their potential for power and influence has been lifted. The political leadership demonstrated to the world grit and determination to free itself from slavery followed by the magnanimity to forgive those who had oppressed them. It is not an exaggeration to say that a parallel does not exist in recent history. The only parallel to this is 1400 years old when the Prophet (SAS) entered his own native land of Makkah as a victorious ruler and forgave those who had wronged him.
The land is wide open, to be taken and used for the power of good. In almost every area of social interaction there are virtually unlimited opportunities.
There is a growing buying power in the population as well as a growing awareness of quality, customer rights and the willingness to make choices that will make business fly or sink.
The first and biggest opportunity in this context is to showcase Islam in this new world as the best way to address all social, political and developmental needs of the new nation and make it a leader among nations of the world. A good starting point would be to draw the parallel that I mentioned above. Subsequently working models of the Islamic Way of Life need to be created to demonstrate the power of Islam it solve the real problems of people in this world. Simply lecturing about Islam giving examples that are centuries old does not cut any ice even with today’s young Muslims, let alone with non-Muslims. That is the real challenge and the opportunity. The window to take advantage of it is now open.
South African Muslims have the goodwill where others will listen to them if they speak about Islam. To this end, every means at their disposal should be used. It would be shortsighted in the extreme if they were to shun some of the most powerful means to influence minds and steer thought, like television and other visual media. We must remember that all technology and tools are value neutral. A knife is a knife. It is neither good nor bad. It can be used for either purpose. So controlling its use is important. Not banning its use totally. If we ban the use of the knife, what would we use to perform life critical surgery? So also the television, internet and other visual media.
The single biggest responsibility of the South African Muslims in my opinion is to use every means at their disposal and ensure that the true picture of Islam is communicated to all humanity in general and to all South Africans in particular.
2. There is a huge opportunity to take Islam into every home in South Africa, especially into the homes of the hitherto deprived people who were forsaken by everyone including their own religion.
After all it was in the name of Christianity that they were oppressed and segregated for more than 50 years. Now is the opportunity to take them from the restriction of man-made laws into the expanse of the law of Islam. But there is one proviso: this will have to be done by action. Not be talk and lecture. If South African Muslims are willing to make the effort the black African population is ready to accept Islam. But the route to their hearts is through their bellies and the bellies of their children. Social, educational, developmental and spiritual work in the black communities, by people who live with them, is the key. Simply visiting Muslims will never have the same impact.
3. There is a huge business opportunity in the mass buyer and a fortune to be made at the bottom of the pyramid. However coupled with this must come development of people and preparing them to become buyers. 65% of the GDP of South Africa in 2005 came from the Service industry.
There are huge areas that are unexploited. There are opportunities in education, social and economic development, creating small entrepreneurs, introducing micro-credit and strengthening the middle class, the mainstay of any healthy economy. Simply selling boxes will not be successful any more.
4. Gauteng Muslims are poised with their education, affluence, historical significance and religious ideology to be at the forefront of political leadership. However here also there are some provisos: Muslims of Indian and other origins need to accept that they are ‘black’ and stop using excluding language and include themselves in affirmative action programs. I realize that some water has already flown under the bridge in this aspect and so the task is more of re-including but it is a task that needs to be done with the utmost urgency. The route to that is through aggressively pursuing the development of the black people using all the resources at their disposal. If Muslims make themselves indispensable they will be impossible to ignore. Otherwise it is very easy to ignore 1.5% of the population. India is a classic example where 20% of the population is ignored with impunity because they lack strategically wise leadership. The Muslim population of India is 10 times the entire populationof South Africa. Still they have no voice.
1. The biggest threat that South African Muslims face is that the window of opportunity that opened for them 10 years ago is not going to remain open for too much longer. If they don’t take advantage of it, then they too will face the same fate as their counterparts in Uganda and India and be relegated to the garbage pile of history. Speed is of the essence however. Speed and significant action. Not tokenism. Enough effort and investment to make a huge difference that is visible and appreciated all around. The time to do this is fast running out. Once the time runs out it will be a case of too little too late as in the case of Jamiat-ul-Ulama Hind’s efforts to get close to Dalits. Dalits don’t care any more.
2. Lack of succession planning at all levels of Muslim society; be it in Businesses, Muslim organizations, Jamiat ul Ulama and similar organizations, on the political front and in the Darul Ulooms combined with a marked absence of developmental planning activity. This is a very major threat with an impact that will span at least two generations.
3. Excluding the Darul Ulooms from the national mainstream educational system is a very serious mistake and will make them redundant in a very short time. Even today the number of local students is dwindling. This is a major danger signal. The Darul Ulooms must and do exist primarily for South African society, not for foreign students who may come there. If local students don’t come then it means that the products of Darul Ulooms are seen as losing relevance in local society. Another major danger sign is the miniscule presence of black African students in the Darul Ulooms and Muslim Schools.
4. Sticking to a curriculum and teaching methods that are of little relevance in South African society in terms of the ability to create change and make Ulama influential will result in Ulama becoming sidelined from all collective decision making in due course. The fact that they are unable to earn a living on their own will also negatively impact their image as has already happened in India.
India is a classic example of what may well be the face of South Africain 2 decades if corrective action is not taken today. Lessons of history though unpleasant, must be learnt and can only be ignored at great peril.
5. There is a hardening of stances by Ulama (demonstrated in the Muslim Personal Law issue) where the larger interest of the South African Muslims is being sacrificed at the alter of personal differences of opinion. It is essential not to lose perspective that Muslims are 1.5% of the population of a secular, democratic republic. If necessary ijtihad must be made to find solutions that satisfy the demands of the constitution while maintaining the Muslim position on various issues. For this, it is essential to be inclusive in interpretation and rulings of the Shari’ah and use the rulings of any of the A’aimmah Arba’a or other jurists of the Salaf and not stick to the ruling of any one of them.
The danger of not accepting the ruling of an Imaam of Islam different from the one we follow is that we may be forced to accept the ruling of a non-Muslim judge of the Supreme Court. Once again India is a good example to see what not to do.
6. Lack of interest among Muslims for higher education will mean that over the years the opinion and decision makers of society (university professors, writers, journalists, judges, administrators, military officers, scientists, doctors, global business leaders and engineers) will be non-Muslims. It is essential that young Muslims aggressively pursue university degrees in science, technology, politics, business and other areas and ensure that the percentage of Muslims in these areas increases. Currently young Muslims who do get business degrees don’t want to join their family businesses due to the restrictive atmosphere of traditional person driven management.
They prefer to work with multinationals or local companies which are more professionally managed. As a temporary post-graduate training exercise this is acceptable, even beneficial but if it is a longer term trend, then it is very debilitating for the community.
7. The biggest danger that Muslim businesses face is their unwillingness to move from being person driven to becoming process driven. Without this critical change, they are destined to shrivel and die. Lack of awareness of the need to grow, professionalize management, introduce IT, formalize people development and career paths, measure performance and productivity, introduce quality standards and plan succession are all major threats to the future of business in the country.
There is a false sense of comfort basking in the glory of past success and current affluence. Unfortunately these people are either unwilling or unable to understand how the nature of business has changed globally and what threats loom over the future of their businesses unless they take some significant action, fast.
An attendant threat is that since the entire gamut of social work of the Muslims, be it educational institutions, zakat disbursement or help to calamity affected people around the world, is dependent on the health of the Muslim business, its preservation and growth is absolutely essential. If Muslim businesses fail it is not only the owner families who will suffer but a great many more people and institutions which are dependant on them will also be badly affected. Therefore the health and prosperity of the Muslim business is of great importance. But are their owners willing to change their ways?? That is the big question.
8. Finally a major threat is the sparse population of Muslims in the military, judiciary and police. Especially in the military and police force. This is a very major danger as it gives the impression that Muslims are not patriotic and nationalistic. In the future this can be used to build opinion against the community. Also in times of threat, it is very unsafe to have a force that is commanded and populated exclusively by non-Muslims in whose hands lies the safety of the Muslims. It is very critical to have a strong presence in the forces of overt power. Once again this is an area which needs major action very fast otherwise it will create a self limiting cycle. Remember that it is Generals who make the decisions and a General is not created overnight.
Recommendations: A 4 pronged strategy to become indispensable
Strategy # 1: Jamiat ul Ummah
1. The first and most important strategic move will be to create a genuine partnership between all the leaders of the Muslim community. I propose that a body is created which is called the Jamiat ul Ummah. This body must work on the following tasks:
a. Task Force on Strategic Planning to Project future scenarios that may arise for the Muslims and suggest courses of action.
b. Task Force on Education which will examine the current curricula in the Darul Ulooms and Muslim Schools and suggest changes in both curriculum and methods of teaching to make them relevant and current. This Task Force will also make sure that the Darul Ulooms are included in the mainstream of education.
c. Muslim Chamber of Commerce which will be the apex body for all trade and industry related work and which will aggressively follow a course of international networking to promote trade between Muslims worldwide.
d. Task Force on Thought Steering which will monitor ‘Muslims in the News’ and make sure that the correct picture is projected about Islam and Muslims of both South Africaand the world. This Task Force will also deal with emerging propaganda threats and take preventive action for damage control and retaliation. This task force will also be in charge of publication, research related to it and media management.
e. Legal Task Force which will take action through the courts on all legal matters relating to legislation and judgments concerning Muslims of South Africa.
f. Task Force on Social Development which will work actively on projects in the deprived areas concentrating on all issues of health, education and entrepreneurial development.
g. Task Force of Theologians who will be responsible for interpreting the Shari’ah and guiding all the above bodies in matters relating to Islam.
h. Task Force for Nurturing Leadership with the responsibility to create a second line of leadership in all aspects of society. This Task Force will run a national talent search among Muslim students and select a small group each year which will be earmarked for various strategically important positions. These students will be personally mentored and nurtured through specially created educational and experiential opportunities to eventually take the leadership positions earmarked for them. (Case in Point: RhodesScholarships)
Structure of the Jamiat ul Ummah
Key objectives of the Matrix Structure
1. The policy making body will also be responsible for policy implementation.
2. All decision making will be collaborative in nature practicing the Islamic principle of shura.
3. There will be no possibility of power politics and electoral lobbying and position seeking.
4. A second line of leadership will automatically be created with no chance of a cult being created around the personality of any particular leader.
5. The central Majlis Ash Shura will be comprised of the Heads of the Task Forces. They will decide policy and then will be responsible for implementing it in their own areas.
Each Task Force will have its own Majlis
1. The Head of the Majlis Ash Sura, called the Faisal will assume office by rotation. Each Faisal will be in that position for a period not exceeding one year. Every Majlis member will have the opportunity to be the Faisal when his / her chance comes.
2. In the Majaalis Ash Shura of the Task Forces, the Head of the Task Force will be the permanent head, but for operational purposes the Faisal will also rotate to give each member a chance to learn leadership.
Strategy # 2: Education: (Muslim Schools & Teachers Training Colleges)
Education is the single most powerful role to achieve the goals of the Jamiat ul Ummah. I propose that one black African child is educated with every one of our own children, at our cost if required. Two routes may be adopted simultaneously for this. Admit one black African child with every Muslim child in all our Muslim Schools.
This will have the dual benefit of not only educating the child but of creating an ‘Old Boy Network’ in the South Africa of the future between Black and Indian South Africans. There are numerous examples of the power of this strategy in the world. Harrow and Eaton in the UKand Doon Schoolin Indiaare classic examples of how the destinies of nations are shaped by shaping the minds of their young.
Simultaneously with this the current Maktab network in the black African townships must be expanded to include regular syllabus subjects. The quality of the Maktab education must be enhanced to create a situation where non-Muslims become interested in sending their children to these Makatib. That will be the route to the winning of their hearts to Islam. Scholarships must be set up to pay for the education of deprived children. A special fund must be created to pay for all this. The current situation of some Muslim schools being starved of funds and being unable to meet their needs is highly dangerous to the community.
An ancillary to this is to start Teacher’s Training Colleges. I propose that Muslims take over the teaching profession in the same way that Christian women from Kerala have taken over the nursing profession in India and many other countries. Muslim men and women must take over the teaching profession. Every teacher of every subject must be a Muslim. The way to do this is to train teachers and to help them to become role models for others. Design the Teacher Training course in such a way that there is an element of the Islamic way of teaching in it. That way the teacher also becomes a dayee. The focus as in everything else must be on quality. These colleges must become role models in teacher training for all others in the field.
Strategy # 3: Health: (Primary Health Care Centers & Specialty Hospitals)
South Africa has a population of 44 million out of which 5 million are HIV positive and are living with aids. This is a catastrophic situation. That the Muslims are not a major part of it is a matter of some consolation but not a matter to become complacent about. Primary Health Care Centers must be set up in all the deprived areas to provide free medical aid to those who need it. These must be linked to major hospitals, which must be set up where they may not already exist. Funding will be available for such activity from global organizations provided the South African Muslims are willing to take on the implementation. Major medical facilities are also a source of good business, as Indiahas shown. Hyderabadhas become a center of what is beginning to be called, Medical Tourism. However the focus of this strategy must not be lost…to win the hearts of the deprived people. That people who set up such high quality hospitals will also make money is an incidental matter.
Strategy # 4: Entrepreneurial Development: (Training & Micro-credit)
In the words of George Bernard Shaw, “Lack of money is the source of all evil.” Whereas we may have a different view of this as Muslims, the axiom is certainly true of all non-Muslim, Western societies. Poverty leads to crime and sin.
Alleviating poverty is not simply a matter of doing good but a matter of survival of those who have more. Also people with more buying power means that the economy will grow stronger for the benefit of all.
Finally nobody is dearer than the one who makes you rich. Once we are seen as such, people will be willing to follow our lead in other matters.
Running entrepreneurial development programs, staring an Entrepreneurship Development Academy (maybe the government will fund that), financing small businesses, creating ancillaries to larger businesses and micro-credit on Islamic financial principles are all ways that can be explored.
It is my belief that if these recommendations are followed we will not only be able to address and positively influence the future of the South African Muslims but we would have put in place a system to ensure enduring leadership.
In my view the Jamiat ul Ulama must take the lead to spearhead this effort. Some of what I am suggesting may come across as a dilution of the position and power of the Jamiat. But let me assure you that India is a classic example of what isolation of the Ulama can do to the Ummah at large and to the Ulama themselves. South Africais in grave danger of replicating the mistakes that Indian Muslims made over more than a century and for which we today are still paying the price, literally in blood and lives.
What I am proposing is a system that will actually strengthen the hands of the Ulama and make them the true leaders of the community while leveraging the considerable strengths and talents of other Muslims in different leadership positions.
Just a no captain can sail any ship alone no matter how knowledgeable he may personally be, neither can the Ulama guide the ship of this Ummah by themselves. It is only with the active cooperation of all the Muslim leadership working together that the ship of this Ummah can remain on course and sail to its final destination of making South African Muslims, Standard Bearers of Islam and role models for the world.
I ask Allah to help us in this matter and to use the Muslims of South Africa who He has blessed in so many ways to be the leaders for the Muslims of the world, and create a society that will truly reflect the beauty of the Islamic Way of Life from which all those who live in it, can benefit equally.
“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact.
Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.” -Marcus Aurelius
Marcus Aurelius was a stoic and a man of great wisdom; very unusual in a ruler. So, I present my musings to you as something from my perspective and not “The Truth”.
As I reflect on our world, someone sent me a speech made by a 13-year-old young lady, Severn Suzuki at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, in 3-14 June, 1992, now 25 years ago. The speech that silenced the audience (they say ‘world’ but let’s get real) for 5 minutes. Today, 25 years later, when the situation of the world is far worse than what Severn Suzuki described so eloquently, Americans elected Trump who walked out of the Paris Conference in 2017. I wonder where Severn Suzuki is today and what she feels about it. So, what does it tell us about those we have chosen to hand over our future to?
I sometimes wonder what future archaeologists will say when they dig up the mound under which our ‘civilization’ (for want of another word) will lie buried. Will they not wonder how we, who prided ourselves on our scientific knowledge, technological advancement, material resources and high-class education, still managed to elect leaders who ensured that we and all that we hold dear was destroyed? We did this while knowing full well what we needed to do to stop this destruction and save ourselves. We chose not to save ourselves but committed suicide. Ask why?
Today we need drastic and urgent change. For this we need strong leadership with the ability to enforce compliance. Initially enforcement will be necessary. Then and only then can we expect change. The big problem with such leaders however, is that they tend to become dictatorial, don’t allow a second line of command to develop and so when they die or are removed, they leave a vacuum which brings with it chaos. Malaysia after Mahathir is a good example. Singapore is a good example of how the strong leadership continued because the second line developed was Lee’s son. Mercifully he didn’t go the way of the sons of other leaders and seems to be a conscientious and prudent ruler. The Middle East has many examples of the opposite some of whom are causing havoc as we speak, threatening to land us all into some very hot water.
Bottom line is that democracy as it is supposed to be in theory, seems to be unrealistic and doesn’t work and degenerates into a self-serving oligarchy without any sense of responsibility to the common people. That’s what’s happened in every single situation today, globally. I doubt that democracy was an experiment at all. Either it was always a way for oligarchy to get legitimacy or an idealistic dream of theorists which was hijacked
Social media is a tool of subjugation designed to take the steam out of resistance by giving people a way to express their angst in a way that doesn’t disturb the establishment and doesn’t inconvenience them at all. It has two additional advantages: identifies potential rebel leadership early to be dealt with quietly and gives the world the message that you’re liberal and confident
Take the case of India and the ongoing social strife, brought to the forefront with the many lynchings of Muslims and Dalits for allegedly eating beef. The fact that they didn’t eat it, is neither here nor there. Neither does it matter that even if they did, death is not the penalty for this “crime” in Indian Law.
My question here is not about Hindu sentiment at all but about the very visible failure of governance. And the fact that even those who have sworn to uphold the Constitution of India and the Law of the Land seem to have bought into the discourse of Hindu sentiment. What does Hindu sentiment or Muslim sentiment or any sentiment have to do with the laws that govern this country and those who have sworn to uphold them? That is why I don’t hold the government responsible for the lynchings but for what happened (or fails to happen) thereafter. We have a law and those who are sworn to uphold, implement and if necessary enforce it. The law is for the safety of the nation and all its citizens and what anyone’s sentiments are about it, is immaterial.
We are told that Hinduism is a peaceful religion (aren’t they all?) and that Hindus have always lived peacefully with mutual respect and tolerance with all other religions. I would love to believe that, but I am faced rather inconveniently, with history. History tells us about the fate of Buddhism which predated Islam and Christianity by many centuries. Its rooting out from the land of its birth is testimony to Hindu (more correctly Brahmanical) tolerance for other faiths.
Islam came much later and when Muslim kings ruled, Hindus didn’t live with Muslims but under Muslim rule. Indeed, they lived peacefully. Did they have a choice? Muslim rulers were rulers first and Muslim much later, so they didn’t disturb the status quo and casteism continued and conversions happened more by those who saw a political advantage than anything else. That is why after 700 years of Muslim rule Hindus are 80% of the population. No Muslim ruler in all those centuries can be accused of trying to spread Islam. Islam spread with the Sufis, not rulers. That is why in 700 years, there are only two major Masaajid built by Muslim rulers (both by the same man) and not a single religious school or seminary. Muslim rulers were in it for the money, land and power and they were aided and abetted by Hindu rulers and upper castes (both Brahmins and Kshatriyas) who prayed for the success of Muslim armies commanded by Rajput and Maratha generals and populated by Rajput and Maratha troops provided by Rajput and Maratha Mansabdars. This is a part of history that is inconvenient and embarrassing to recall, but history it is.
Christianity came in force with the British and once again Hindus lived under Christian rule, not with Christians. Muslims at least integrated with Hindus to some extent (Muslim kings had Hindu queens etc.) but the British treated all Indians, Hindu and Muslim with equal disdain. 1857 was the watershed (‘bloodshed’ would be a better, more descriptive term to use) a popular rebellion against a century of brutal British rule by one commercial company (Robert Clive was Country Manager, in today’s MNC terms). The rebellion however, was sabotaged and the British were able to defeat the rebel forces thanks to the excellent intelligence and material support of the Baniyas of Delhi and the military support of the Sikh rajas of Punjab. As a result, over a million Hindu and Muslim rebels were murdered and India was handed over to the British to rule and despoil for another century. The 80-year-old king of Delhi, Bahadur Shah Zafar’s sons and grandsons slaughtered and left to rot in the street for 3 days and himself exiled to Burma, never to return to his homeland. Again, a very embarrassing period of history. Bahadur Shah Zafar asked the only pertinent question when he was hauled up before the British kangaroo court accused of treason. He asked, “How can I commit treason against myself? This is my country. Not the country of the Company Sahib.” But of course, the Company Sahib (respectful form of address for the British East India Company) was not interested in any soul searching. (William Dalrymple’s excellent book, The Last Moghul is salutary reading).
In all these centuries two facts are clear:
- India was never one nation until 1947
- Indians never saw themselves as ‘Indian’ until the years leading to Independence
Up until then, India was a conglomeration of nation states living in fear of one another and willing to side with any outsider against their own brethren. This is what enabled the very first invasions by Pathans and later by Moghuls (the First Battle of Panipat was fought between Babur and Sher Shah Suri – Pathan versus Moghul helped by Hindus on both sides). Rani of Jhansi, Razia Sultana, Tipu Sultan, Shuja ud Dowla, the Mopla Rebellion and many others were all defeated by Indian troops commanded by British officers. Jalianwala Bagh massacre was done by Indian soldiers firing into an unarmed Indian gathering on the command of General Dyer. This sentiment was also exploited by the British, most significantly in 1857 when they were able to pit Indian against Indian for the simple reason that neither saw himself as ‘Indian’.
It was this sentiment which kept us subjugated for centuries and which once again threatens to subjugate us today. I think we need to ask why. As they say, ‘Nations that don’t learn from their history are condemned to repeat it.’ We have many problems today as a nation, but the most volatile and lethal of them is narrow-mindedness masquerading as nationalism that is threatening to disenfranchise everyone except those who subscribe to it. I want to stand up and say that I don’t subscribe to it and that I am a proud Indian who loves my country and am willing to do what it takes to save it from self-destruction. I don’t need anyone’s certificate to confirm my Indian-ness and neither do you.
The reality is that India as one nation, is a phenomenon since 1947 when for the first time this country has been truly independent and a unified territory governed by its Constitution. It is a tribute to the creators of the Constitution, the vast majority of whom were Hindu and could have created a Hindu Rashtra in 1947 (the main grudge of the RSS) that they didn’t fall into the jingoistic ideology on which Pakistan was created and instead wrote a Constitution which is a mark of pride for us Indians, as a document that treats all citizens equally. If you ask me, I don’t care one way or another whether India becomes a Hindu Rashtra or not, as long as people’s freedom and safety is assured and equal opportunity to live and prosper is not compromised. Nobody can stop me from worshiping who I want to or from practicing my religion. And so, whether the country is Hindu or Christian or Sikh or Muslim or nothing makes no difference to me as long as I am able to live peacefully and comfortably, with dignity and equality in every way.
The Constituent Assembly wrote the Indian Constitution which made us a Constitutional Democracy (not a Parliamentary Democracy) and declared India to be a “sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic, assuring its citizens of justice, equality, and liberty, and endeavours to promote fraternity among them.”This is what we accepted, this is what we stand for, this is our identity, because it is written in our name, ‘We the People of India.’
The Indian Constitution is the real savior of this nation because of its interpretation of the term ‘secular’. Unlike in Europe, ‘secular’ in India, doesn’t mean ‘absence of religion’ but ‘equal respect for all religions’ and by inference and even more specifically later, the wiping out of caste discrimination. It is this that makes us one nation. It is a wonder for many ethnologists, sociologists and political scientists, how India can be one nation, given our huge diversity of language, religion, ethnicity and culture. Yet we are and our concept of secularism is the secret. Without it, we will fracture once again into groups and subgroups as we have always been in our long history.
The big cause for alarm today is that this seems to have been forgotten by those who swore to uphold the Constitution and they are also speaking the language of Hindu sentiment etc. Whether we should have a Hindu Rashtra or not is a moot point. Whether we should respect our Constitution or not and uphold it, is not.
We are living in a country that appears to have gone mad. All sane voices are being silenced. All insanity is being given free reign. Since fascists don’t read history it has no lessons for them. For it is too easy to see what happened every single time to those who went down this road of self-annihilation…they were very successful. This road looks very gung-ho to begin with and that is why it draws so many enthusiastic band wagon riders.
To give you an idea, someone sent me a question on Quora: When will India be Muslim free?
What should I answer? I haven’t answered him yet. But I could say, sticking purely to the math: If you kill 100,000 Muslims every year, it will take 2000 years to finish the present population.
Or should I attempt a moral answer? Seems futile for someone who asked such a question.
Believe me, I am not running scared. Not by a long shot. Just very sad about my country whose soul seems to have been hijacked. What is very painful also is that there is nobody among my Hindu friends who I can share my pain with. I say this from experience because when I did share some things with them, I got one of two reactions; Stoic silence or ‘Why are you blaming me?’ Pointless to tell them that I was not blaming them. If our years of friendship are not enough for them to understand that, then I must question the value of that friendship. So, what do I do? I decided not to share. After all, in the end we stand alone.
The fact is that murder for entertainment started the day this government got elected. A Muslim boy was lynched in Pune for no reason other than that he appeared to be Muslim. You may have forgotten that incident but believe me, it happened. Then these lynchings followed one after another, inevitably because success breeds success. To the extent that someone sent me a joke:
Gau Rakshakji ghar par hain?
Nahin, lynch par gay hue hain.
Of course, I laughed very hard.
I am not saying that the government is responsible for the lynching. But it certainly is for what happens thereafter. That is what a government is for, to act against law breakers such that future aspirants are discouraged. So, I ask one simple question. “What happened to the IPC and CrPC?” Does this country still have a CCD (Common Criminal Code) and police and judiciary? If so, then what happened to the people who murdered that boy in Pune? And then to all those who murdered all those thereafter? If murder is allowed, it will happen. From the look of it, it appears that as long it is a Muslim who is killed, nobody cares – not the media, nor the judiciary, nor the police, nor the executive or politician. So, where do we go from here?
This is where we are today. And we are moving fast ahead.
Some good articles are in the English press. However, I remind myself that all these are circulated among a small section of the elite. The vast majority of the non-elites as well as a considerable portion of the elite, subscribe actively or tacitly to the philosophy of making India Muslim free – either directly or indirectly (through disenfranchisement in one way or another). What this will do to the country is not something that they appear to be interested in considering. Soon, it will be too late and all considerations will be moot.
I am among those who bear witness. For he also serves, who only bears witness.