Still behind the purdah

Other Side

Aijaz Ilmi | New Delhi | 26 October 2009 |

Indian Muslims continue to be inward looking even though the Islamic world is looking to reform. Trapped as they are in the hands of the clergy, it is time to look outward.

Instead of inspiring to lead the 165 million Indian Muslims to be the first amongst equals, the motto of a few Ulemas seems more akin to further pushing the faithful to be the last amongst the least. The fatalistic medieval response of some Indian maulvi’s to Al Azhar University’s ban on burkha that too in all women colleges is ignorance personified.  Unable to fathom the mind boggling scientific progress and terrified about the future, these few Ulemas are accusing Egypt and the 1000 year old Al Azhar of pandering to European influence and diluting their version of puritanical Shariah.

Maulana Jalaluddin Umri, president of Jamaat e Islami Hind castigated the world renowned Cairo University for interfering in the personal law of the community. His blinkered vision reflects his ignorance of the reach and contribution of the Al Azhar philosophy.

Over 50 Muslim majority countries have over the last 50 years managed to modernise and alter personal laws in tune with changing societal norms and feminine sentiments. Egypt has announced 12 per cent reservation for women in Parliament; Saudi Arabia is opening coeducation universities; most if not all Islamic countries have banned the triple talaq at one go and women are being educated and incentivised to work in all sectors. Every madarsa or school outside the subcontinent follows a government approved curriculum which includes modern life sciences. All these reforms have come from within the religious systems as they have a larger chance of success. But our religious clergy will not change.

One of the first madarsa turned university Al Azhar has over 10000 schools where scientific pursuit is promoted and over 60 disciplines – including four medical, 11 engineering colleges – are taught without gender discrimination besides Islamic studies. Students from over 40 countries of the world seek enlightenment there.

Being the second most important seat of Sunni Islamic thought it is not surprising that President Obama chose to address the Muslim world with his message of peace and harmony from its campus.

Various reports including the Sachar Commission enumerated  that over 50 per cent of Indian Muslims are below the poverty line and desperate for proper affordable education as their only passport to life of dignity in the future. This politics of isolation may take us back into Stone Age. In the last 60 years the community has consistently slipped to the lowest rung of the knowledge ladder, caught in a vicious trap laid out by a self serving political and religious leadership.

Celebration of the presumed victimhood syndrome, no community deliberations in personal law, steadfast refusal to seek modern scientific knowledge, criticizing different sects within Islam itself has become the calling card of certain religious clergymen. This ostrich like attitude with their heads buried deep in the sand is equally responsible for the plight of the community. These so called leaders of the Muslim community must answer the following questions-Why do we have the highest levels of illiteracy – both male and female – in the country? Why do we have highest number of school dropouts? Why do we have the lowest representation in both public and private sector? What steps are we taking to stop pernicious recruiters who ensnare young impressionable minds towards the terror ideology?

Unfortunately the original message in the Holy Quran that ‘it is mandatory for every Muslim man and woman to seek knowledge’ seems to have been jettisoned by a few Ulemas who are obsessed with the purdah/hijab/naqaab debate and only emerge from their self made cocoons when present day modernity threatens their relevance.

Amazingly, these cowards do not have the courage to criticize the Saudi initiative to open one of the largest co-educational institutes for science and technology. Probably their funding pipeline would be sealed immediately if they spoke against the Saudis hence they spew venom at weaker targets. As is apparent the Saudi religious clergy doesn’t think much of the subcontinent clergy who are forever seeking funds. A certain kind of revulsion against such leaders is apparent in the present generation of young educated Muslims whose sole aim is to be competitive and employed gainfully.

‘Ignorance is always afraid of change.’ Jawaharlal Nehru had said. You decide!