Imagine this: I am a five-year-old girl, hungry since yesterday, wearing torn clothes, begging for a few coins at a traffic light. Vice-President Hamid Ansari’s motorcade stops; my hands stretch out to him and he asks: Are you a Muslim? I fumble: my religion, I am hungry. He does not respond; he proceeds to the 50th anniversary celebrations of All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat (AIMMM), an Islamist organisation that has opposed reforms among Muslims. “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful,” wrote the Roman philosopher Seneca.
Having served as a diplomat in Muslim countries, Ansari understands Islam’s role in politics. Addressing the AIMMM, he praised Narendra Modi’s slogan of Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikaas (Together with all, Development for all) but argued: “affirmative action” is a “pre-requisite” for Muslims’ progress. In other words, he advocated quota for Muslims. Like Asaduddin Owaisi, Ansari is unhappy that backward castes among Muslims already get reservation.
Before 1947, Muhammad Ali Jinnah was demanding separate territory for those who believed in Islam. Ansari wants quota for those who believe in Islam. For Jinnah and Ansari, Islam must become a criterion of politics and policy-making. Unfortunately for Ansari, when India was engulfed in the Partition’s religious bloodshed, the Indian Republic’s founders rose above religion and authored a Constitution that rejected any role for religion.
Any attempt by Ansari and others to insert Islam as a criterion of politics must be condemned. Keeping with the constitutional ideal, it is time India’s youth spoke outrageously against leaders who advocate quota in the name of religion and caste. Ansari’s concern might be Muslims, but youths’ concern should be the nation’s daughter at the traffic light.
In the 1857 war, Hindus and Muslims fought together. After that, Muslims — noted the late Muslim reformer Hamid Dalwai — missed historical opportunities for progress: Sir Syed’s renaissance movement among Muslims emerged in opposition to Hindus; Muslim leaders failed to align with Hindus during the freedom struggle. After 1947, this Muslim separatism was bolstered through riots-for-vote politics and the practice of secularism to keep Muslims in their cocoon. Instead of ending this vacuum, Ansari is using the quota politics to keep Muslims separated from mainstream.
There are about 40 lakh central government jobs. To Ansari: let’s assume all jobs are given to Muslims. Will that end the Muslim backwardness? Barack Obama became America’s first black president because he led all Americans, not just the blacks. India is yet to produce a Muslim who could present himself as the leader of all Indians.
At the AIMMM event, Ansari spoke as the leader of Muslims, not as the nation’s Vice-President. Indians are in search of a Muslim politician in the mould of APJ Abdul Kalam, not Hamid Ansari.
Some journalists noted that Ansari also urged Muslims to begin reform through ijtihad, consensus by reasoning. Ansari too could do ijtihad in his thinking and come out with a new politics in tune with the Constitution, not compliant with Islam. A numerical definition of ‘minority’ is inadequate to explain the Muslim situation. For example, the blacks were in majority during the Apartheid in South Africa, but practically a minority as they were subjugated.
Qualitatively, Indian Muslims do not qualify as a minority. Only women, Scheduled Castes and Tribes are India’s first sociological minorities because they are subjugated while Muslims conduct themselves as a politically vocal group, not a sign of subjugation. It is our criminal silence that Indian kids are begging at traffic lights while the nation’s debate is conducted in the name of religion.
Media sucks up to the political class, which loves to be sucked. People like Ansari may not understand this: India has tools to measure poverty; it could grant reservation to those holding BPL (below poverty line) cards. There are other ways. Under the Constitution, all children aged between 6-14 years must be in school, not begging at bus stops, but they wouldn’t be brought into television studios before journalists verify their religion. Ansari must keep in mind: the Sachar-like reports were produced to serve official secularism.
To Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind: you agitate for Muslim quota but when did Islam begin serving only Muslims? Why is it that Islam cannot speak for all? How is it that a poor Muslim deserves your voice, not a poor Hindu? A Muslim agenda could be: if Muslims are backward, you could advocate jobs for all. If Muslims are in jails, advocate justice for all. If Muslims lag behind, open a school for Hindus and Muslims alike, as Christians and Hindus do. On July 25, a Muslim girl refused to take a pre-medical examination because it required her to remove burqa: blame the burqa, not the government if she remains backward.
Ansari’s speech is troubling. Teaching Muslims, he said: “modernity has become a tainted expression” and added: “The instrumentality of adaptation to change, ijtihad, is frowned upon... Forgotten is its purpose, defined by the late Sheikh Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi as ‘the ability to cope with the ever-changing pattern of life’s requirements’. Equally relevant is Imam Al-Ghazali’s delineation of the ambit of Maslaha — protection of religion, life, intellect, lineage and property.”
Of all, Al-Ghazali is the 11th century Islamic jurist who single-handedly shut the door of ijtihad by advocating unquestioning faith against reason, ending Islam’s golden age from 8-12th centuries during which Muslims were translating Aristotle and Plato. Hassan Al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, argued: “Muslims needed to rediscover the teachings of Al-Ghazali and proclaim themselves ‘holy warriors’ (jihadists) in the path of Allah.”
Maslaha, singular of Masaleh, looks good when translated as pragmatism but its deeper meaning is: expedience. In
October-December 2011, Aligarh-based journal Tahqeeqat-e-Islami argued: Islam is based on “expedience.” It quoted 14th century jurist Ibn Taymiyyah, the father of jihadists, as saying: “jurists are unanimous on the presence of prudence and expedience in the commandments of Shariah.” It quoted Prophet Muhammad as saying: one who leaves Islam should be killed as expedience to safeguard Islam. Ansari’s mention of Al-Ghazali and Maslaha will gladden the hearts of Islamists and jihadists.
The author is Director of South Asian Studies Project at the Middle East Media Research Institute, Washington D C.