A language, any language, is not simply sounds and script characters which represent thoughts. A language is the soul of the people. It is the vehicle which connects their past to their present, their present to their dreams. It is the means by which one generation leaves its legacy for the next. In my view the single most significant event in human development is the evolution of languages. It was this process that enabled human beings to preserve their thoughts, teach others, learn from history and talk to generations yet unborn. Language is the elixir of eternal life. Or as close to it as we are likely to come.
Among the many strange developments in our country is a resurgence of hostility against poor Urdu, which is wrongfully alleged to be the language of Muslims. And since Muslims are people non-grata their language is language non-grata. No matter that it has nothing to do with Muslims in the first place. It is seen as that and so it must become unseen. There is a long history to all this and for those who are interested in it, please read this excellent article:
While I lament the completely undeserved hostility to Urdu, which is in the nature of cutting your nose to spite your face; I must say that nobody and no government can kill a language that people want to use. The very birth and rise of Urdu is testimony to that. Farsi was the official language of the time. Yet Urdu eventually supplanted it without any official support, simply because the people wanted to speak it, wrote in it, transacted business in it and so on. When you read the history of the development of Urdu literature and poetry you can’t help being struck by the enormous vitality of the language, its ease of expression, it beauty of turn of phrase, which thanks mainly to the fact that it was understood by the masses, gradually and then rapidly supplanted Farsi. English was repressed in South Africa during the rule of Afrikaners and Afrikaans was strongly propagated to the extent that even today most South African people speak Afrikaans. Yet we know that Afrikaans is dying and will die, and English is alive and well and growing.
The same is true of English in this country which has seen its share of hostility yet all the Hindutva and other chauvinists, send their children to English medium schools for one reason only; because without it they will not have access to the global culture. Languages must cater to the aspirations of people. What happened with Urdu as well as with almost every other Indian language, is that they didn’t keep up with scientific development. Indeed, Urdu has some of the most beautiful poetry, especially love poetry in existence. As an Urdu speaker, I can’t tell you how it has the power to move me to tears. English poetry on the other hand leaves me cold. There is no other word to describe that. However, when I need to work, think, write my thoughts to an audience that spans borders, it is English that enables me to do so. When I am explaining any concept in science, psychology, sociology or politics, it is English that has the words to describe precisely what I need to say. With Urdu (or Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam and Telugu) I find myself translating the English to create cumbersome and ungainly expressions that make little sense.
Call it my lack of expertise in the Indian languages compared to my mastery of English, the fact remains that this is my experience. Talk to a million others like me and you will find that there are rather a lot of us around. Take that forward and ask how many like me are likely to teach Urdu to our children and you have the perfect diagnosis of the fatal ailment that besets Urdu. I was teaching a leadership course to a group of senior Muslim scholars in Urdu, simultaneously translating my material from English to Urdu when I realized, very painfully, this fact, that Urdu simply doesn’t have the words to translate the concepts I was talking about. I did my best and by explaining where I would have used a single word, I managed to do my job, but the fact was clear; Urdu no longer speaks to the modern person. It is like Arabic in a way that has more than twenty words for horse and camel, but not a single one for DNA, corpuscle, neuron or clavicle. Ask yourself, which is more important?
There are many Indian languages which have died over the years, not because someone actively prohibited them, punished those who spoke them and burnt all their literature and poetry, but simply because the people who spoke them, chose not to do so any more. Not a single one of them was spoken by Muslims. Not a single one of them was the target of any Governmental hostility. Yet they all died. Languages die because they no longer have words to express what people want to say. This doesn’t happen overnight but is a gradual process, where they fall into disuse. This is what is happening to Urdu. It simply doesn’t have the words to cater to our modern world or way of life. The world today has little value for the arts, for sublime thoughts or lofty ideals. It speaks in the language of the present, material, prosaic but real.
Gul o Bulbul kay fasanay hain bahut khoob magar
(Stories of the flower and Bulbul are beautiful but)
Roti tho kamana hi paday ga is mehfil kay baad
(I still have to earn my bread after this gathering)
This is the harsh reality of our life today. No matter how brutal or crass that sounds, language must be utilitarian first. Urdu seems to have lost that race. Incidentally I wrote that couplet just now to illustrate the dilemma of Urdu.
Today Urdu is dying in India, mainly because traditionally Urdu speaking people, Muslims and Hindus, have stopped speaking it. This is the inconvenient truth that those who complain about the impending death of Urdu choose not to face. Ask how many of those who talk of the need to protect Urdu, subscribe to Urdu newspapers? Ask how many children in their homes can read or write Urdu? Ask how many can quote, or even read or memorize Urdu poetry? I am not talking about Islam at all. The language of Islam is Arabic. Not Urdu. I am talking about Urdu literature and poetry; how many can read it, understand it or quote it? The answer is clear and visible before our eyes. But we like to blame the Government when we must look at ourselves first. The fact that Urdu is not the medium of instruction in schools or that it is not an ‘official’ language, is neither here nor there. Urdu’s history is witness that it was not the medium of instruction in schools nor was it the official language yet it supplanted Farsi which was both. It did that without governmental support and despite governmental neglect. It did that for one reason only; because people decided they wanted to use Urdu and not Farsi.
Languages die, not because of the aggression of enemies but the neglect of friends. Aggression may actually help a language which will go underground and remain alive and gain strength thanks to the dangers it faces above ground. This is how Arabic remained alive and well and was taught in secret to Muslim children to enable them to read the Qur’an during the more than eighty years of brutal repression of Islam and all its symbols in erstwhile Soviet Russia. Soviet Russia then became erstwhile. Not Islam or Arabic or the Qur’an.
The situation is not hopeless. Far from it. But the solution doesn’t lie in the hands of the Government. It lies in the hands of people. Our hands. The hands of those who claim to love Urdu. Start speaking it yourself. Subscribe to Urdu newspapers. Teach Urdu to your children at home, if schools don’t teach it. Listen to Urdu poetry and support Urdu poets. Read Urdu books and write in Urdu. No power on earth can stop you from doing any of this. You don’t need any money or time or resources to do any of these. Just the will to get up and do something instead of complaining and blaming the Government. This Government has much it must be held accountable for. But neglect of Urdu is the responsibility of Urdu speaking people. Not the Government.
Yes, the Government of India must support Urdu because it is a truly Indian language. It was born in India, is spoken my millions in India and is a part of the history of India. But before that, Urdu speaking people must support it. If people do it, what the Government does or doesn’t do, will not matter. If people don’t support it, no Government can keep any language alive. Sanskrit is the example to illustrate that. Politicians taking oaths of office in Sanskrit proves nothing. Ask how many speak Sanskrit at home or read Sanskrit papers. Much like Usha Utup singing Hindi songs.
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.
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.
Money problems are not money problems, even when they are money problems.
Dire Straits’ famous song has some very politically incorrect lyrics but the refrain, ‘Money for nothing and the chicks for free’ sums up the situation of black marketeers and owners before the demonetization and the name of the songsters – Dire Straits – sums up their situation in India today.
But what are the implications of demonetization? We have seen many theories; conspiracy and otherwise. One of the best articles that I have read is by former Finance and Economic Affairs Secretary, Arvind Mayaram, which is here:
Let’s see what the real, on-the-street effects of demonetization are and what their implications can be.
We are a cash economy and that is not because we have a huge number of people with black money but because we have a huge number of poor people who don’t have bank accounts and don’t deal with anything other than cash. For anyone who has lived or travelled in rural India this needs no explaining. So, I will not waste your time trying to describe what we have seen and experienced all our lives in our country without any problem or complaint. Those who need convincing can try to buy vegetables, fish, eggs, meat or chicken and pay for them with a credit card or cheque. Both buyers and sellers are not evil hoarders and black marketeers but ordinary, garden variety men and women trying to live their lives. This money that is earned by the sellers in never enough to be deposited in a bank. It is used to buy food and necessities for their families, goods to sell the next day and a little bit to set aside for a rainy day. This may accumulate over the years to some thousands. Do these people have documentary evidence about where they got this money from? Can they show that they paid tax on it? Can they show accounts of what they earn daily? Does the vegetable seller, the meat, fish or egg seller have a P&L account and a Balance Sheet? Does she have a PAN card? Does that therefore make them criminals?
Another situation is that of the middle-class housewife. Her husband gives her money to run the home, every month. She may only have completed primary school (in many cases she may not even be literate) but is a master economist. She manages to run a very good home, cook great meals, ensure that everyone has what they need and still she is able to save some money which she keeps hidden in the house. She doesn’t have a bank account. She doesn’t even want a bank account because it involves documentation that she can’t manage on her own and if she asks anyone in the family to help, her secret will be revealed. She doesn’t tell her husband or anyone about this but some day when one of her family needs something urgently she digs into her stock and surprises everyone by saving their skins. Is she a criminal because she does all this secretly? She is not an evil schemer. She is my and your mother.
I can give you many more examples but will let this suffice for the present.
Now comes demonetization and whatever it did to the illegal funds of political parties and black-market wizards, it also wiped out the savings of these people. That is what I am trying to interpret and find the bright side of.
The demonetization did wipe out the value of cash sitting in warehouses and suitcases of political parties and businessmen. And it did and will bring in cash into the vaults of banks who seem to have emptied those vaults lending to the same (or similar) businessmen who reneged on those loans. Those loans are still outstanding, post demonetization. The one who didn’t repay the loan continues to enjoy his ill-gotten gains. But the middle class and poor of the country paid the bank on his behalf. That is a very neat arrangement, if you ask me.
How and why does black money get generated? The main driver is the fact that political parties are not compelled to show their sources of funds. This is the strangest of phenomena where every individual is compelled to show where he earned his money from and must pay tax on it. Even charities in this country must apply for and get tax exemption failing which they have to pay tax on donations which they collect and disburse in charity. But a political party which gets a million times more, need not show how it got that money or from whom. I am sure I don’t need to explain the implications of that on the black-market economy, corruption and hoarding. That situation remains as it is. So though the funds of those political parties and politicians who were not in the know reverted to their original value or less (Rs. 1000 = Rs. 5; in this case Rs. 0) the doors to accumulate such funds once again, no questions asked, remain open. As for those in the know; the originators of this idea, their associates, families and friends, mint employees and managers, drivers, secretaries, servants and others of power brokers and of course the usual suspects (friends in need); all had ample time to save their hoards.
As for all the talk about reducing fiscal expense and so on, Arvind Mayaram has spoken about that in the article above, so I won’t repeat it. It must be obvious to anyone who knows what the word ‘fiscal’ means. What I want to repeat however is what Arvind Mayaram said which goes to the core of the issue in terms of the future and that is the issue of faith. Not faith in god but faith in paper.
People save money and keep those savings in paper currency because they believe that the value of their savings will not be nullified. They have faith in the currency though they know that the actual paper has no intrinsic value. Even though inflation erodes the value of their savings people don’t convert their savings to gold or immovable property because liquidity is more important for them than whatever loss of value that may take place over time. This is what ensures that money remains in circulation and is not taken out of the market and parked in gold. Paper money exists because people have faith.
That is the reason also why in Islam, Zakat (@2.5%) is liable every year on gold and silver even if you have to sell some of the gold and silver to pay what you are liable to pay in that year. Obviously, this reduces your stock of gold and hypothetically speaking it can reduce over time to a level where you are no longer liable to pay Zakat. Despite that Islam decreed that you must sell a part of the gold and give that money in charity because Islam recognized the importance of keeping money in circulation.
It doesn’t take great imagination to see what will happen if people lose faith in the currency. That is the reason, as Mayaram says and we all know, the US dollar has never been demonetized though it is the most counterfeited currency and the most trusted currency in all black-market deals. Faith in the currency must be balanced against whatever negative effects that may happen because of unaccounted currency. Those negative effects must be neutralized in other ways; for example by making political parties account for their cash inflows, state funding for elections and eliminating Income Tax.
Demonetizing currency destroys faith in the currency, discourages people from keeping their savings in paper money, encourages them to take their savings out of circulation because it pits importance of liquidity against saving the capital amount. It places huge hardship on the weakest and least influential people in society. It further disempowers those who are already the weakest; women (housewives, mothers), illiterate daily wage earners (headload workers, porters, construction workers, beggars), small business owners (you must understand this in the Indian context to know what I mean by ‘small’), small service providers (rickshaw pullers, thela walas etc.).
It is easy for the powers that be to talk about accepting the inconvenience because they don’t have to face it themselves and can easily turn a blind eye to the fact that a daily wage earner standing in a queue at a bank to exchange his life savings for the snazzy new currency is also losing his wage for that day. For many that is a very significant loss. For some it may mean that when they return the next day to their job, they find that the job has gone because someone else has been employed in their place. I won’t list the kinds of suffering that housewives, the old and sick and so on are undergoing standing for hours in serpentine queues. Those who are interested can go and talk to people standing in those queues. Or even better, go and stand in such a queue yourself to see how it feels to stand for six hours without food or water or shade or anywhere to rest your tired legs. People are doing more than that.
It is clear that the move to demonetize currency was taken without sufficient thought about all its intended and unintended consequences and without adequate preparation for its seamless and painless implementation. If that had been done, there would have been no reason for the tearful histrionics and theatrics that we are witnessing which are probably good for TRP ratings but not for anything else.
Whatever the effects of demonetization may prove to be on black money, what is clear is that faith in paper currency has taken a very big hit. I am not sure if this loss of faith can ever be restored. The thought that is uppermost in the minds of people is that if the government can do this once, it can do it again. And if one government can do it, then so can another government. Try to think of what conclusion the average man and woman standing in long queues to exchange old notes for new; who may even lose a part of his savings in this process, will come to.
Sadly, our media won’t show us the truth as it is not viable for them. But ignoring the truth won’t change it. Reality, unrecognized has a nasty way of biting very hard when you are not looking. That is perhaps something that those who demonetized currency didn’t think of. That is also something that may show its effect in the elections; the only place where politicians and political parties are held to account. Jai Hind.
If there’s one overwhelming sign that numbers mean nothing and organization means everything, it is the plight of Dalits and Muslims in India. Dalits and Muslims are officially 17% and 13% of the population. That means that together one in three Indians is a ‘Dalim’ – Dalit Indian Muslim (my coinage today – in case it ever makes it to the Oxford Dictionary like Ayya and Ayyo have done). Yet these two are the most powerless and oppressed communities in the largest democracy in the world. That sounds like an oxymoron because in a democracy where one man may not have food, clothing or shelter, but he has one vote (and so does every woman); how can it be that the most populous segments of citizenry are the weakest? But so it is. Like snake charming and the Indian Rope Trick, this is also the essence of being Indian.
To know what the meaning (linguistic) of Dalit is, please see the website of the NCDHR http://bit.ly/2e5Kcso
Do notice the ticker tape at the top which gives you an idea of what being Dalit means in real life terms, not merely linguistic. But to understand what it means, there is only one way; be reborn as one. I believe that it is literally impossible to understand what it means to be Dalit (untouchable) unless you are born as one. I have had the privilege of living off and on with my Gond friend, Shivaiyya (his photo graces this article and I have written about that in my book, ‘It’s my Life’ (it’s on Amazon and Kindle). I would spend every waking hour with him all my summer and winter holidays which I spent with my dear mentor and friend Venkat Rama Reddy. Shivaiyya belongs to the Gond tribe (forest tribals are also Dalits) and was my hunting partner. He and I would walk about the forests of the Aravalli hills in search of game. In that process we would share food, time and stories. Especially on cold nights sitting by a small fire trying to keep warm and alive. When you are in that situation what you have a lot of, is time.
Once we became friends, Shivaiyya talked freely about his life and circumstances to the 17-year-old boy from another planet who was his friend. This story doesn’t have a happy ending; quite common in Dalit stories. The last I saw of Shiviyya was in the 70’s when I went off to Guyana. Then in 2012 more than 40 years later I visited Sethpally village in Adilabad District where Shivaiyya lives and went looking for him. I found two things; one changed and one the same. Shivaiyya now had cataract in both eyes and no money to have it operated. And Shivaiyya still had the smile that I remembered so well.
All the rest was the same. Same mud and grass huts, emaciated cattle walking into the forest to graze every morning and little Gond children (3rd generation from the ones I walked with) still following them collecting dung because that was the main produce of those cattle, not milk. Too many more details to go into here. Read my book. That’s my tribute to Shivaiyya and his people and all those who walked into my life. The purpose of this story is to tell you that despite having lived so closely with Shivaiyya (and with many more over the years) can I say that I ‘understand’ what it means to be Dalit? The answer is, ‘NO!’ It is not possible to understand that unless you are born one. And that it is because until then you don’t understand what it means to be born into a cage. There is a difference between visiting prisoners and being a life convict where only death can set you free. That is what it means to be a Dalit in India.
I am a Muslim from one of the so-called Ashraf castes of Indian Muslims. Then there are the Ajlaf and the Ardhal (which consists basically of Hindus of lower castes who converted to Islam thinking that they would now be treated as human). How sadly they were disappointed to find out that what the Prophet of Islam declared (absolute equality of all people irrespective of race or origin) and what Indian Muslims practice are two opposite things. Please see these two articles which explain the situation very well. Same situation in Christianity with even graveyards segregated.
Masood Alam Falahi’s excellent book, Zaat-Paat aur Musalman deals with the caste system among Indian Muslims in detail but to the best of my knowledge it has had as much effect on the Indian Muslim caste system as the many anti-untouchability laws have had on the situation of the Dalits in Hindu society. The caste system among Muslims in India goes back to the time of Qutubuddin Aibak, the founder of the Delhi Sultanate in the 13th century and the politics of convenience. Like all kings he was interested in ease of administration and so did nothing to change the social order amongst his subjects. He realized that if he tried to abolish caste, it would raise all kinds of conflicts with the powerful Brahmins and Kshatriyas which he could neither afford nor was he interested in. Islam came a far second as it does to this day with all manner of politicians and political groups all over the world. Sultanate scholars (Ulama) declared that the invaders were superior to the locals (not surprisingly) but they went on to declare that they were also superior to local Muslims (Hindus who converted to Islam). It didn’t end there. They also declared that among local Hindu converts, those upper caste Hindus who converted to Islam would retain their class superiority over lower caste Hindus who also converted to Islam. The Prophet of Islam declared that all human beings are equal. Indian Ulama starting with Qutubuddin Aibak’s Court Muftis declared that some human beings are more equal than others.
Muslim kings, and the Muslim ruling elites more generally, in collaboration with so-called upper caste Hindus, supported the caste system and the oppression of the so-called ‘low’ castes, both Hindus and Muslims. As Mullah Abdul Qadir Badayuni’s “Muntakhab Al- Tawarikh”, Maulvi Sayyed Ziauddin Barni’s “Tarikh-e-Firoz Shahi” and Kunwar Mohammad Ashraf’s “Hindustani Maashra Ahd-e-Usta Main” make amply clear, they refused to allow so-called low or razil castes, both Hindus and Muslims, to be educated or even to enter their courts, which was preserved as a monopoly of the ‘high’ caste Hindus and Muslims.
In fact, Muslims’ caste-consciousness runs so deep Allama Iqbal reprimanded them in a couplet: “Yun to Syed bhi ho, Mirza bhi ho Afghan bhi ho/Tum sabhi kuchch ho batao ke Musalman bhi ho? (You are Syed, Mirza and Afghan/You are everything but tell me are you Muslim?)”.
What is tragic is that this caste system didn’t end with the Delhi Sultanate but continued to be supported by the Ulama of India all through the history of Muslim rule in India, into the period of British rule and to this day into post-independence free India. Free from the British, but still chained by caste. Falahi has quoted from the published works of Indian Ulama and I was shocked to see some of the names. May Allahﷻ have mercy on those who tried to change the religion that He sent and who denied to the people what Allahﷻ had promised and who contradicted His Messenger Muhammadﷺ. Truly these people have some serious answering to do before Allahﷻ who many have met and all the rest will meet. The greatest disservice to Islam and Indian Muslims was that it took away from Islam one of its cardinal benefits, equality and non-discrimination; all for the benefit of ruling elites. Everyone else be damned.
This is my own history of how I came to be interested in Dalit affairs. The result was that when I returned home from America in 2000 and was invited by Chindu, a newly formed organization to promote Dalit art and Dalit human rights to help them in leadership development, I gladly agreed. It is a matter of honor for me to be listed among their teachers http://www.chindu.org/teachers.html I was also honored to be invited to be on their Board of Directors, on which I served for five years before I left due to other engagements.
So what is this article about? Rather late in the day to ask this but it is neither about Dalit history nor my own. It is about what I believe needs to be done today and done at the level of a national emergency to bring about measurable change in the situation of Dalits (and Muslims for that matter) so that 33% of the population comes into the mainstream of productive employment. It is suicidal for any nation to have one third of its population living in and subject to conditions which won’t stand the light of day. They can only be a drain on the economy and add little value while breeding all kinds of extremism as anger grows at the situation they find themselves in for no fault of theirs. So what is necessary to bring this about?
There are two things which are required to remove caste discrimination:
1. Changing religious sanction for discrimination and bringing up a new generation which believes in and lives by the new ideology of equality.
2. Create a level playing field where irrespective of caste the historically oppressed can compete on equal footing with the historically preferred.
I am an idealist. But I am also a realist. So while advocating the first with all my heart and soul, I admit that it is beyond my capability to bring this about except in my own life. That I have always done but to try to change people’s beliefs is at best a long term matter and can’t be done by force. Laws must be passed and have been passed. Equality must be and is a guaranteed right in our Constitution. But as everyone knows, there is a huge gulf between what the law dictates and what happens in practice.
It is not in the scope of this article to go into how the anti-discrimination laws actually work when it comes to implementation especially where cases of discrimination are sought to be redressed. I will leave you to lose some sleep over this research if you are interested with the guarantee that the amount of sleep you will lose searching, will be far less than what you will lose once you find what you are looking for. I hope then you will join the ranks of those who are trying to bring about this change and together we can hope to achieve something in our lifetimes.
It appears that to discriminate, to look down upon others is such a powerful need of the human being that even where religion decrees the opposite as in the case of Islam and Christianity, people who claim to follow those religions seem to find ways to discriminate and legitimize it by creating convenient self-serving arguments in the disguise of theology. The fact remains that Allahﷻ made people equal and no argument or Fatwa of any so-called A’alim can change that Hukm (Order or Ruling) of Allahﷻ and His Messengerﷺ. Class inequalities have always been prevalent in all societies but what is particularly heinous about caste inequalities is that there is no escape. Class inequalities also have this element to various degrees in different societies. But when caste comes into the picture, religion sanctions it and so the force is much more powerful. Mobility out of your caste is practically non-existent and when such people are faced with the same situation even when they try to escape the oppression by changing their religion then the situation appears truly hopeless.
For the record Islam doesn’t recognize any caste or class inequality at all.
Allahﷻ says: Hujuraat 49: 13. O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may recognize (honor, appreciate) one another. Verily, the most honorable of you with Allah is the one who is the most pious. Verily, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware.
Rasoolullahﷺ said in his last sermon of Hajj, popularly known as Khutbatul Wada (Farewell Sermon):
All mankind is from Adam and Hawwa (Eve). An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab. A white has no superiority over black nor does black have any superiority over white except by piety (Taqwa) and good action.
Let nobody blame Islam or its Prophetﷺ for what people do in its name.
Discrimination comes out of a lack of self-confidence and self-hate where a person feels confident and good about himself only when he compares himself to someone else and feels superior. You can’t talk about equality of Dalits until you remove all inequality of all the Varnas. For it to work, you have to dismantle the entire system, which is not easy to do when it is sanctioned by religion. The reality is that you either have caste or you don’t. Like pregnancy you can’t have it partially. In 1933 Dr. Ambedkar said, “There will be outcastes as long as there are castes, and nothing can emancipate the outcaste except the destruction of the caste system.” So either there is no inequality between Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vysyas and Sudras or you can’t say that Dalits are equal to…to whom?? Gandhiji made this mistake when he was unwilling to talk about dismantling the Varna system but wanted the Dalits to be included into it as the 5th Varna. For this he invented the term Harijan (Children of God). However, that was not a solution because even if it had come about, it would have meant that the Dalits would still be the lowest and have to be beholden to those who deigned to recognize that they were at least human.
The second matter has also sought to be addressed firstly by creating ‘Reservations’ in education and jobs for Dalits by lowering the standards of entry (not Muslims who are equally discriminated against but since they are not part of the Hindu caste system, they don’t qualify. I consider this poetic justice for their having joined the discriminators when they had the upper hand and so I say, ‘Jolly good.’). The purpose was to try to help those who had been discriminated against for centuries and so didn’t have the advantage that wealth and education brings by making it easier for them to enter institutions of higher learning and to get jobs.
This action, irrespective of the good intentions behind it, created more problems than it solved. It had a reverse effect by retaining discrimination in another form and actually increasing hatred against the historically deprived people who are seen as ‘stealing’ the rights of others. That others stole their rights in broad daylight for centuries is neither here nor there because logic, historical data and reason have no place in emotion based hate mongering which is standard political strategy in our country. Xenophobia ennobled by affiliation to a higher cause (religion) supported by gross, deliberate ignorance always works wonders.
American politics today is a classic example of the efficacy of this time-tested method. Historical data from the Affirmative Action movement in the United States of America where after its official beginning in 1961 http://bit.ly/1U1f509 decades in time and billions of dollars in Federal funding notwithstanding, has not resulted in achieving even a fraction of what it was supposed to do. To this day there are more African American young men in prison than at university or in the higher echelons of the corporate world and Donald Trump is the Republican nominee for President in 2016. Truly fact is stranger than fiction.
So what works and how can we bring that about?
What works is quality. So create quality. Focus on creating quality and the rest will follow.
Here is what I believe we should do.
1. Create world class primary and secondary schools in Dalit areas but open to everyone. Let anyone who wants a world class education send their children to these schools. However, what happens to this day even in government schools our villages, segregation of children based on caste, will not happen here. All children will be treated as children should be treated, equally with love and compassion. They will sit together, study together, eat together, rest together, play together and be trained to the highest standards in education.
There are numerous instances where upper caste children will not sit with Dalit children in government schools and Dalit children are relegated to a separate seating area. When the government insists that this kind of discrimination will not be allowed, upper caste Hindus don’t send their children to these schools. However, it is interesting to note that everyone goes to the Christian schools in the area and sits in the same room without demanding segregation. The reason is that the quality of education which those Christian schools provide is incentive enough to put caste considerations on hold.
Of course if the anganwadi cook is Dalit, upper caste children won’t eat the food he or she cooks and teachers may discriminate against Dalit children, but at least there is no ‘official’ discrimination against a child because he or she was born in a particular family.
2. Create a Vocational Training Center in each school with vocational training as a part of the curriculum. To learn a trade and work with your hands must be a compulsory part of education. This will teach children dignity of labor and give them the joy that you only get from creating things with your own hands. It will give them also training in systems, quality, time management, leadership and teamwork; all of which are excellent life skills that one needs and which are not part of our standard school curricula. The centers will also provide employment for artisans and experts in different arts and crafts who are scrounging for jobs today and in the process many are even losing their skills.
3. Create a Center for Entrepreneurial Development where students of these Vocational Training Centers (and others) are trained in setting up small businesses. All kinds of training in hiring, organizational development, selling, raw material procurement, product development and organizational leadership can be provided so that new businesses have a good chance to succeed. The Center will also run a mentorship program where new entrepreneurs will be mentored by experienced entrepreneurs and will have access to consultant services through the Center.
4. Create a Venture Capital Fund which will offer interest free loans to entrepreneurs. These will be given after a rigorous annual selection process where hopefuls will have to present their business plans and pilot projects to a team of experts who will decide on the viability of the project. This is to ensure that businesses funded actually succeed and the process can continue ad infinitum.
http://bit.ly/2dHP5YZ is a very interesting TV show about venture capitalist/entrepreneur interaction. I know that reality is not exactly so neat and neither do decisions to fund always get taken so fast but it is a very good example of participation of haves and want-to-haves which can lead to everyone-has-more.
In short what I am suggesting is that while we need to continue to work to change our beliefs and ideology to promote justice, we need to do something that is more easily doable and can show results and will hopefully also result in a change of heart which must eventually come. The world wants quality products and services. If we prepare people well by enhancing the standard of education, then they will be respected when they gain entry beating others over the same high entry standards. More importantly it will enhance their own confidence and self-respect which is more critical than anything else. That will be real service. That will truly add value and will take away discrimination over time because when people can stand on their own feet, they don’t need others to affirm their humanity. Those who provide quality will automatically get clients, customers and friends and will not be beholden to anyone.
In time, it is my hope that we can completely dismantle the caste system in all religions. Any religion which considers one human being superior to another because he was born into a certain caste is not a religion that I recognize as coming from the Creator.
Caste prejudice is a shame on our honor as human beings, which we must remove.