THE CALL by Jama Masjid’s Imam Bukhari asking Muslims not to join Anna Hazare’s campaign is symptomatic of a much larger malaise afflicting the community since Independence. It has nothing to do with the merits or demerits of the anti-corruption movement. One may have reasons to join or stay away from Hazare’s campaign irrespective of what community one belongs to.
Bukhari’s call signifies the essential character of what is referred to as leadership of India’s largest minority. It is no less significant that this minority is increasingly becoming marginalised, poor, educationally and economically backward, alienated and brutalised, forced to live in ghettos, cut off from the rest of society with hardly any political representation or voice. While the blame lies foremost at the doorstep of the government, the so-called leaders of the community must take their share of the blame too in equal measure.
Bukhari has opposed the anti-corruption campaign on the grounds that slogans like ‘Vande Mataram’ and ‘Bharat mata ki jai’ are not permitted by Islam. Islam doesn’t permit worship of motherland or even mother, he says. It is obvious that this is just a pretext. He is plain scared by visuals of Muslims offering namaz or doing iftar at the Ramlila Maidan. Self-appointed leaders feel threatened by demonstration of any initiative on the part of those they are supposedly leading. His ilk is threatened by any spontaneous move or democratic gesture by the community they claim to represent. These leaders have never initiated any democratic movement around issues faced by Muslims. But they always veto anyone else’s effort as un-Islamic. They have no recognition of a citizen’s democratic rights.
Since 1947, they have manufactured a long list of un-Islamic acts, going by the various fatwas. Women being divorced instantly and unilaterally, women going out of homes to work, girls without heads covered, divorced wife getting maintenance, divorced wife getting custody of her own children, raped woman asking for justice — a long open-ended list to be expanded at will and as per convenience.`
We have seen these leaders raise only emotional or identity- related issues. They don’t take positions on substantive issues facing the community and the larger society. We all remember the Shah Bano case but never heard of any campaign demanding education or jobs or condemnation when Dalits get burnt alive. The poverty and marginalisation of Muslims have not developed overnight. There has been a failure in genuine representation and political participation. And those who claim to be leaders must take the blame.
Genuine solidarity and support to other poor and marginalised groups is also not forthcoming. If only concerns such as education, jobs, women’s empowerment were given attention, the situation would be different today. No doubt, there is a sustained onslaught of communal forces in all spheres of life and discrimination and demonisation that every Muslim faces today. But s/he has to face it alone with no help from the leaders. The fight against communalism has also been very piecemeal and fragmented. The competence and commitment of the leadership is far from satisfactory. The utterances and actions of the leaders only alienate ordinary non-Muslim citizens, pushing them to believe the canards of the communalists.
At a time when masses are rising up across the Arab world making secular demands such as freedom, human rights, price control, employment, the leaders in India are preoccupied with what is un-Islamic or Islamic. It speaks volumes that the Muslim leadership made no public pronouncement supporting the mass movements in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Syria and other Arab countries. It raises questions about fundamental belief in democracy and faith in people. How can recognition of people’s aspirations happen without recognition of people’s rights?
Corruption is an issue for every Indian as are poverty or rising prices or jobs or education. Whether corruption will be curbed with Jan Lokpal or any other mechanism can be discussed and debated. Today we are witnessing an anti-corruption stir, tomorrow it can be a people’s movement on any other issue. And Muslims too have a right to join any democratic agitation. It is a right given by the Constitution of India. The Muslim leadership cannot take away this democratic right in the name of religion.
Zakia Soman is a Founder member, Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan.