The position of Indian Muslims in India is like the picture on this stationery, an auto rickshaw that needs someone in another auto rickshaw to push it forward. It illustrates the collective situation of the Indian Muslims. All of us, who are either like me, living this situation, or like some of you, who are interested and concerned spectators, are aware of the painful realities. The report of the Government of India Survey of Minorities by Justice Rajinder Sachar’s Committee has not been presented formally to the Government of India, but which has been conveniently and strategically leaked to the Press and Media is a classic example of how the fate of the Muslims is held in the hands of others.
The highlights of the Government of India Survey of Minorities have shown that Indian Muslims are in a situation that is worse than that of the Dalits in terms of education, access to jobs, markets and influence. This is not a situation that has suddenly happened overnight. It is the result of 50 years of neglect and slumber. It is a bitter indictment of our own leadership and shows clearly how monumentally our leadership has failed us. It will be interesting for someone to do a survey of Muslims leaders in India to see how their own financial and social position has fared while their constituents were on the slide to the bottom of the pit.
Without going into lengthy descriptions of the pathetic situation with respect to our collective influence and power or about the historical reasons for this highly regrettable state of affairs, I would like to propose a strategy that I believe will change the situation in a period of less than 10 years insha’Allah to a state where Indian Muslims will have control over their destiny as citizens of India who are at par with other citizens.
I believe that the time has come for the ordinary Muslim to stop looking to the leaders to save him from this mess. It is high time we wake up and take charge of our destiny failing which we will condemn our children into a life of slavery. I would like to mention here that the reason I am not talking about the need to correct our Aqa’aid, Ibadaath and Ikhlaas is because I take this as a given that every Muslim already knows. Moreover, there are organizations that are already doing excellent work in this regard and their work must be strengthened. I am mentioning areas in this paper that are not the focus of anyone’s formal and concerted attention, even though all of us are suffering due to these reasons. There seems to be some kind of collective helplessness in dealing with them. Or maybe it is a collective voluntary blindness. This is creating a situation that is getting worse on a daily basis with Muslims and their affairs becoming the laughingstock of anyone who cares to take potshots at them.
I believe that the strategy must achieve 3 goals:
- Give them political power.
- Create employment.
- Create systems & processes so that further progress is not dependent on the mercy of the government of the day.
And ideally it must do this at no cost or at any rate at a very small cost as we are resource starved as it is. I suggest the following strategy for action:
Create a Core Council (Majlis Ash Shura) consisting of:
1. Lawyers (2-3 of different specializations – at least one woman)
2. Journalists (2-3 – at least one woman – who are powerful enough to ensure that affairs of the Muslims are published, aired with fairness and objectivity)
3. Social activists and workers (2-3 – at least one woman – who have an impeccable record and high credibility)
4. Ulama (2-3 – at least one A’alima – who are aware about the realities of our times and society. If they are English speaking and techno-savvy as well, that would be the ideal situation.)
5. Others (2-3 people of high social standing, Civil Servants, Politicians, Businesspeople – diverse representation is essential.
6. Stake Holders: Core members of this should also include the “oppressed” and less privileged people. I think it is valuable for the shura to have those people’s viewpoints, emotions, constraints etc.
One critical factor that must be ensured is that all members of the Majlis Ash Shura are confident, practicing standard bearers of Islam who exemplify the Islamic standard in all they do and are not apologetic about Islam. Diversity of occupation is essential for the Shura. Diversity in confidence and stance about Islam will destroy it. We must avoid at all costs Muslims who talk about changing Islam and its Shari’ah for Muslims to progress. Such people will sabotage this effort even before it begins.
The Central Majlis Ash Shura will have local representative bodies in each state, district, sub-division. Members of the Majlis will be elected and will hold office for not more than 2 years and will undergo a peer evaluation every year. They will be eligible for re-election only two times. After that they must necessarily undergo a cooling-off period of 5 years before they can be re-elected. This is to ensure that a second line of command is developed, which is a major deficiency in all our organizations and movements. The Majlis will be led by an Ameer who will head the Majlis for one year only and must compulsorily hand over to the next member by rotation. This will eliminate all need for internal politics, which is one of the major problems we face today.
The Majlis Ash Shura is not a political party. I want to make this very clear. It is a body that will influence politics. It will guide Muslim political leaders in terms of strategy and decision-making. It will provide them with data, statistics, and analyses and provide a platform from which they can reach a much larger audience than they currently address based on their local and sectoral affiliations. It will advise the general Muslim population about whom they should vote for. But it will not position itself as a political party. Any of its members who stand for election will automatically lose his or her position on the Majlis Ash Shura.
The Majlis Ash Shura will take the following initiatives:
The Information Exchange will be a portal with local offices all networked electronically into a central database, which can be accessed by all members worldwide. All information access will be free but value-added services can be charged for. Additional revenue can be generated from advertisements on the site.
3 – Core Action Strategies
- Identify jobs where Muslims have a quota:
The reality today is that despite all that can be said about government apathy, it is the Muslim community which is the most apathetic. Every year quotas of employment in Government jobs in most departments, reserved for Muslims, go unfilled because Muslims don’t apply. All these jobs are advertised in the papers as the departments concerned are bound by law to do so. But Muslims don’t apply and so the jobs go unfilled. The tragedy is that many Muslims are not even aware of what is available or are not educated enough to read the papers in which these employment opportunities are announced and don’t have the confidence or knowledge to apply. The Information Exchange must have a cell, which alerts Muslims about jobs that have been advertised and then through its local bodies handhold those who need that to enable them to apply for the jobs.
I suggest that we start with 2 primary areas of focus. I believe these are important because they are the easiest to do, will have the fastest effect on the welfare of the community, will have multiple long-term benefits, are free or relatively low cost to accomplish and will change the image of the community in the country. If we are able to make some headway in these three areas we will insha’Allah see the effect of it in less than 10 years.
1. ‘Take over’ the teaching profession
You will see that to all intents and purposes, the nursing profession has been taken over by Christian women from Kerala. This is an all-India phenomenon well on its way to making a major impression in the world. They have done this by creating excellent nursing training institutions in which their women enroll in large numbers. These nurses do an excellent job and earn well deserved credit for themselves, their profession, and their community. I propose that we encourage our youth, both boys and girls but especially girls to go into the teaching profession. There are two major avenues for this. There is the TTC (Teachers Training Course) which can be augmented with Montessori training which will get them immediate jobs. And there is the longer-term course at a graduate and post graduate level in Education. There is some cost involved in this of course but it is minimal. To the best of my knowledge, it costs about Rs.4000 (US$ 80; SAR 300) per annum to do the 2-year B. Ed course. That is less than the cost of a pair of sneakers even if you buy them in India. The course is freely available all over the country and leads to almost immediate employment both in government schools as well as private institutions. Also trained teachers can start their own schools, ore-schools and crèches and are entitled to interest free loans from the Minorities Finance Corporation and several government aided schemes. So, they can be entrepreneurs as well. These teachers can also go into our Madaaris which can’t find Muslim teachers to teach secular subjects and English, which all of them want to do. We can also send our Ulama who graduate from the Madaaris and want to become teachers to these colleges to learn the science of teaching. Today there is no such thing as a qualified trained teacher in our Madaaris. That is why there is a huge variance in the quality of teaching and most of the teachers there are not even aware of the teaching aids and technology or about child psychology and this is reflected in the standard and quality of instruction.
In the long run I also believe that it is essential to start our own Teachers Training Colleges, a very lucrative business deal while also being a further avenue to train teachers especially from poor backgrounds who can be given scholarships in our institutions. This is one of the most powerful ways to change the image of the community as being ignorant and backward. When Indian children in the future think of their Muslim teachers as people who contributed to their lives and changed their way of being, then naturally their respect for the community will rise and they will question propaganda which today is inadvertently supported by our own reality. The best example to illustrate the power of the teacher to positively influence the image of his community is to reflect on the role of the priests and nuns in Christian Convent and Jesuit schools to which most of us went. These people were for the most part kind, knowledgeable and willing to help us to learn. They represented law and order and discipline and were highly respected in society as well as by the students. Consequently, today we have a good impression about Christians because we remember our teachers who were good to us in school. That is the power of the teacher to change the image of Muslims.
2. Enroll in the Administrative and Judicial Services
The third prong of my strategy is to enroll as many Muslims as possible in all the Administrative and Judicial Services, both at the State level as well at the All-India level. By this I mean at the second tier-level. I don’t mean IAS/IPS but the levels below that, in the different departments of Government and Judiciary. If Muslims can establish a reputation for kindness, respectful treatment of all applicants irrespective of their social status, honesty and integrity and problem solving, it creates a hugely positive impact on society. If students secure good marks and are coached properly, they have every chance of getting into these services. The job is for life with all kinds of perquisites that go with it and an enormous opportunity to do good for everyone.
This last prong of my strategy needs more money and work but it is certainly not beyond the scope of the Ummah to provide both. Talent is available in large quantities, especially in the villages. As for funds, it is up to us to spend for the sake of our own Aakhira.
- Identify source of funds – Grants and Loans for Minorities:
Through the Minorities Finance Corporation and other institutions the Government of India allocates huge sums of money amounting to several thousand crores (Billions of rupees) for the welfare of minorities. A major part of these funds is meant for Muslims. These can be used for various purposes, like education, developing small businesses and so on. Once again, however, a large part of the money does not get utilized because there is nobody to apply and take it. That is all that is required. To apply and take the money that the government is giving freely either as grants or as interest free loans.
The Information Exchange must have a cell which will identify these grants and loans and inform Muslim and other NGOs, Trusts, Madaaris, and individuals and guide them about ways to avail these funds. This would be a tremendous service to the community so that at the very least funds and resources which are already available can be used properly.
The Information Exchange must also set up a Central Zakat & Sadaqaat Administration which collects and disburses funds based on assessed need. Over time this will become a self-sufficient fund with enough leverage to directly impact the needs of Muslims to provide aid to all those who need it. This central administration of zakat is not only a very useful system to establish for obvious reasons but a religious requirement in the Shari’ah.
- Political Pressure Group – 2 Goals
1. Schools of Excellence
The most important work of the Political Pressure Group would be to encourage the government to set up high quality schools in the slums (called School of Excellence) where there is a majority of Muslims. These would teach the regular syllabus in English medium. The schools would be open to all the children of the area irrespective of their religion. This will build good inter-faith relations and support for the poor, for poverty has no religion.
Funds must also be provided to private NGOs and individuals who are interested in doing this work. There are two examples of this in the schools that the Telangana Government has set up to educate girls. This initiative is headed by a retired IPS Officer of Director General rank and is a benchmark of what can be achieved with leadership of high integrity and a passion for service. There is another example in Maharashtra where Municipal Schools in Mumbai have been handed over to a private educational trust owned by Muslims which runs those schools. In this case the Muslim trust pays the teacher’s salaries. I am suggesting that for the Schools of Excellence, the government must pay salaries and provide infrastructure and material. The schools can be administered by the private parties who will submit annual reports, audited accounts and be subject to inspections.
Government must also be prevailed upon to give financial and material assistance to Madaaris on condition that they teach English, Math, and Science. The reality today is that most if not all the Madaaris in the country will be more than happy to teach these subjects. But those who criticize them do nothing more than criticizing. It is the lack of resources that prevents Madaaris from hiring teachers to teach these subjects. They don’t have the know-how internally and English, Math, and Science teachers will not teach for the measly sums that Ulama are prepared to work for. Nobody bothers to address this situation but criticizes them and calls them ‘backward’ and so on. The Government of India owes a huge debt of gratitude to the Muslims who run the Madaaris and those Ulama who teach in them for providing basic education to the citizens of this country which is the responsibility of the Government.
Just to give you an idea, assuming that as little as 2% of the Muslim population goes to Madaaris and that Rs. 1000 per month is spent on their education and upkeep (these are all residential schools with completely free education, food, and care) we come up with a staggering figure of Rs. 4800 Crores with which the poorest (Muslim) community is sacrificing to subsidize the Government of India to educate its poorest citizens. It was the duty of the Government of India to provide this education in which it failed miserably. The Indian Muslim community came to its aid and continues to do its best to feed and educate its poorest members on its own, from resources it can ill afford. But does the nation stand up to honor and thank this community? Instead, we Muslims are the only people in the world to be criticized for educating our children at our own expense without taking anything from the State Exchequer. Our Madaaris and Ulama are the target of constant abuse, ridicule, and baseless criticism by an ignorant and biased media. The Indian Muslim Community must be given a National Vote of Thanks for this unparalleled service to the country.
2. Vocational Colleges
The Political Pressure Group must also pressurize the Government of India to set up and/or license Vocational Education Colleges which will give the students a marketable skill. These can be in any area of endeavor which will enable the students to remain out of the ranks of the educated-unemployed and become gainfully employed and stand on their own feet. This will be beneficial also because such small businesses generate employment and so the whole society will benefit in the long run. Such colleges will also be a ray of hope for the reluctant ones who don’t study because they are discouraged at the prospect of trying to find employment. Self employment will solve this problem. These colleges must be supported also by regional Advisory Services which can guide a student in the intricacies of setting up a small business. Interest free loans and grants can also supplement this action.
It is clear even from the initial contacts that I have had with our own community leadership and membership that the path ahead is not going to be easy. We will encounter discouragement, defeatist thinking, cowardice, apathy, illogical opposition, fear that we are going to take away their leadership positions and so on. However, this effort must go on. We must not allow ourselves to be distracted from our goal. I remind myself of the parable of the stream which simply flows around all obstacles and leaves them redundant and immaterial, islands unto themselves while the water flows powerfully all around them. It is my prediction that those who obstruct the way forward will be left in this way by those who have the real interest of the Muslims at heart and are working with the consciousness that on the Day of Judgment they will face Allah and answer to Him alone and will be rewarded by Him alone.
It is our problem, and we must solve it
Let me say this with all the clarity that it requires and with all the persuasive power at my disposal that this is a matter that primarily concerns us. It must therefore be solved by us. Blaming the government, non-Muslims, environment, or fate will not help us in the least. We need to take the initiatives; we need to persevere and we need to work for the pleasure of Allah alone. If we look for praise, support or reward from others not only are we unlikely to receive it but it will discourage us and stop this work and will prevent us from getting the reward from Allah.
National interest and universal benefit
It must be made clear to all concerned that the issue of the development of Muslims is not an issue of Muslims alone. It is an issue of this land of ours. No country can survive, much less grow and prosper where a large part of its population has no access to its prosperity.
We still have that chance. We will not have it much longer.