Jamiat: One step forward, two steps backward
Cheap thrills come at a price and it must have run into crores. How else can you get half a million clerics to oppose India’s sanitized national song, Vande Mataram?
The Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind (literally association of Indian Muslim clerics), at its November 2-3 conclave, passed a resolution endorsing a 2006 fatwa (decree) against singing Vande Mataram by influential seminary Darul Uloom in western Uttar Pradesh’s Deoband. I know the Jamiat rather well to know that this was done purely for publicity’s sake.
Had he not been the heir-apparent of the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, Rajya Sabha MP Mahmood Madni would have been a very good journalist. He ensured the conclave passed the resolution because he instinctively knows what gullible editors would play up.
I am no stranger to Darul Uloom either, having first broken the news of the seminary’s commendable fatwa against terrorism, whose architect was Mahmood Madni.
However, editors — as they always do — missed the woods for the trees by focusing on Vande Mataram. They looked at one passing resolution at expense of several others that needed a closer, critical look to get a sense of where the Jamiat was seeking to take Muslims.
The gains made by the Jamiat in having a decree issued against terror in February 2008 are now being lost to its overall regressive social agenda.
The rejection of a madrassa board, opposition to women’s reservation and real education, focus on a predominantly religious identity overriding every other and a general lack of fresh, progressive ideas have exposed the lack of vision the Jamiat suffers from.
Honestly, I do not think singing of Vande Mataram can be the ultimate test of any Indian’s patriotism. And from an Islamic perspective, there were some legitimate issues regarding the song.
Why did clerics — the same ones who fought tirelessly for our freedom from British rule and against Muslim League’s idea of Pakistan — oppose the national song in the first place? They did so because, according to them, in its original form, Vande Mataram had the tenor, tone and imagery of a Hindu devotional song rather than a patriotic song.
A committee led by Jawaharlal Nehru expunged parts that appeared to clash with Islamic principles.
The original song posed a technical problem for Muslims. The most significant and immutable principle of Islam is that Allah alone is worthy of worship. The song seemed to contradict this first pillar of Islam called the Shahada.
The first of the five pillars of Islam is the Muslim profession of faith. Shahada is the nominal form of the verb sahida, which means “to testify”. It embodies two simple core beliefs. The first is: “There is no god but Allah” (La illahah illa’lla). The second is: “And Mohammed is his Prophet” (Wah Mohammadan rasulu ‘llah).
Simply saying the Shahada with the intent of becoming a Muslim immediately makes you one. The operative word here is ‘intent’. If you say the Shahada without the intention of becoming a Muslim, you do not become one.
Intent is a sacred, crucial concept in Islam, frequently referred to as ‘niyat’. Any cleric will tell you that. You need to make intent or niyat before offering every namaaz and fasting, without which the prayers are not valid, no matter how correctly you observe or perform them.
There is a lesson to be learnt from this, as we confront the issue of Vande Mataram. Since intent is so critical to our faith, my view is, if a Muslim sings our national song without the intent of worship but simply with the zeal of patriotism, it will not constitute a breach of the Islamic creed.
That is why I have had no second thoughts on singing Vande Mataram. So the way forward, as I have always suggested, lies in re-reading the Texts and re-opening the gates of Ijtihad or Islamic reasoning.
However, the Jamiat resolution on Vande Mataram is not the reason why I am worried. It is hardly the most pressing of issues involving Indian Muslims today.
It is the Jamiat’s strategy to posit itself as the unelected Muslim authority with a dated social agenda that is worrying. The assumption that the clerics represent all Indian Muslims is itself erroneous. However, the Jamiat, with its countrywide cadre of clerics, has hypothesized itself as the Muslim leadership.
The Jamiat’s commitment to a unified, democratic national Indian polity cannot be questioned. That is why it is a centrist organization, unlike rightist organizations like Bangladesh’s Jamaat-i-Islami.
But the Jamiat’s social agenda is based on an utterly conservative platform. Interestingly, it has shot down the plan for a madrassa board with a rather ‘modernist’ argument.
A madrassa is meant to produce only clerics, just like a medical college is intended to produce doctors, the Jamiat has argued. So, those who choose to be cleric naturally enroll in a madrassa, it says. On the face of it, this may seem to be a sound argument.
However, the choice being talked about here is, in reality, no choice at all. This is evident when you juxtapose the Christian clergy with Muslim clerics. A Christian priest knows his science and geography. And despite this, he chooses religion as his vocation. A madrassa student, on the other hand, never has the opportunity to choose between geography, science, maths and theology. So what choice is the Jamiat talking about?
As Muslims, it is important for us to produce enough clerics to keep our religion alive and lead our prayers. But that is no reason to exile them from basic modern education.
The Quran itself repeatedly emphasizes the need for knowledge and scholarship. Chapter 39 of the Quran, verse 09, revealed in Mecca states:
“Say (unto them, O Muhammad): Are those who know equal with those who know not? But only men of understanding will pay heed.”
The very first verse of the Quran revealed to the Prophet on the night of 27th of Ramadan in 611 AD reads: “Recite: In the name of thy Lord who created man from a clot. Recite: And thy Lord is the Most Generous Who taught by the pen, taught man that which he knew not.” (Quran, 96:1-5)
Then, chapter 20, verse 114, states: “Say My Lord! Increase me in knowledge.”
Yet, the Jamiat repeatedly chooses to shut the doors of knowledge on its clerics.
Raising symbolic, non-substantive issues has indeed become the hallmark of not only the Muslim clergy, but also the Muslim political leadership. There is no larger debate on how these will materially benefit Muslims.
The Jamiat has again demanded Muslim reservation, implementation of the Sachar Committee recommendations in full, tabling of the Liberhan Commission report and also opposed the women’s reservation bill, apart from calling for freeing Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan from foreign occupation.
These are largely symbolic issues that can instantly mobilize masses. The Deobandis have played an important role in freedom movement but they did so from a conservative platform and that is simply not the way forward.
Historically, the Indian State has always pandered to such conservative religious platforms because it is economical to do so. Tabling of Liberhan report, for example, requires no huge investment. On the other hand, demands from progressive Muslims would be much more expensive, who are more likely to demand high-cost welfare programmes, like scholarships for example.
For the Jamiat, Islam and Muslim identity have always been the legitimizing political discourse. Their call to freedom was based on the Islamic principle of defending one’s motherland. Fair enough.
Now, why not apply Islam to achieve other social milestones? It is time for the Jamiat to come out of the identity cauldron.
There is a simple truth behind why the Jamiat bosses oppose modern education in madrassas. They would never want to be out of business. Precisely what will happen if millions of poor, impoverished Muslims acquire the three R’s of education — Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic.