Response to an Open Letter: What India’s Muslims Really Want

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 17 August 2013 | Posted in , , , , , ,

[After Chetan Bhagat, here is another 'sympathiser' of Indian Muslims who has followed the footsteps of Mr. Bhagat and wrote an Open Letter in North America's largest circulated weekly newspaper India Abroad. The 'sympathiser' gentleman couldn't muster courage ala Mr. Bhagat and preferred to conceal his identity. The gentleman has written under a Muslim pseudonym 'Zafar Shah Alam' (And, who knows he is a Muslim or not feeling the pains of the beleagured community!). The Indian Muslim Observer is reproducing the reply written by prominent U.S.-based community activist Kaleem Kawaja. The response by Mr. Kawaja is appropriate and eye-opener. -- Danish Ahmad Khan, Founder-Editor, IndianMuslimObserver.com]

About two weeks ago an article entitled "What India's Muslims Really Want" written by someone who used the pseudonym (assumed name) 'Zafar Shah Alam', appeared in 'India Abroad', the largest circulation weekly newspaper of the Indian community in North America. The article made many mischievous/ negative comments about India's Muslims and was similar to a similar recent article by Chetan Bhagat published recently in newspapers in India.

I wrote a response to that which has been published by India Abroad this week. Herebelow I am reproducing that article.

Thanks for your attention.

Kaleem Kawaja


Letter to the Editor, India Abroad:

What India’s Muslims Really Want

The column with the above title in IA of August 2 by an individual who used the pseudonym ‘Zafar Shah Alam’ surprised me. First, I wonder why the person who wrote on such a sensitive issue has concealed his identity? Second, in contrast to the title of the essay, the writer said almost nothing about what India’s Muslims want.

The writer has completely ignored the numerous positive actions that many Muslim organizations in India have taken over the last four decades to bring the community in the national mainstream, to improve communal harmony, to improve education and skills in the youth, and has instead spent a lot of words to vent his negative view of Muslims, and to rehash several decades old derogatory allegations that have already been proved false. Today Muslims definitely do not want to go back into acrimonious public disputes of the past decades.

What India’s Muslims want foremost is help to develop the currently very poor infrastructure in their communities in various cities, namely roads, sanitation, schools, medical clinics, parks and opportunities for education and employment. The OBC Muslims and Dalit Muslims want that they should be given the same affirmative action help, like reservation in education and jobs, that their counterparts in the Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist communities have been given since 1950, but which they have been denied unfairly.

Muslims want that the government implement the recommendations of the Government’s Sachar Committee report which highlights specific areas of socioeconomic uplift that the community acutely needs. They want security from the violence of anti-Muslim forces and police brutality, and just treatment from the government institutions in their daily lives. Muslims want to enthusiastically participate in the nation’s political processes at all levels. Muslims have full faith in the nation’s secular and democratic structure and its secular citizens who are no less than at least three-fourth of the majority Hindu community.

The writer has alleged that honor killings are not uncommon in the Muslim community, but there has not been even a single instance of honor killing in the Indian Muslim community at least since 1947. The writer makes the mischievous allegation that Muslims hold themselves apart from the rest of the country, but ignores the fact that everywhere in India Muslims mingle freely with others in schools, colleges, places of work, sporting and entertainment events, government events etc.

Browse the Indian newspapers, electronic media etc. and you will find adequate number of Muslim faces in every mix of Indians in proportion to their population. In higher level positions there is a shortage of Muslims based on the fact that Muslims do not have as much access to higher education as others.

The writer makes the derogatory remark that Muslim ghettoes exist in every nook and cranny. Go to any city and see for yourself that of the poor Indians who are more than a quarter of the population, there are people of all religions. Go to the slums in Mumbai or Delhi or Calcutta or Chennai or other cities and see for yourself that no more than one-third of the population there are Muslims. Yes there are more poor Muslims in comparison to their population, but that is because of the community’s lack of access to higher education and denial of affirmative action programs to the deserving among them. It is offensive that the writer has tried to put a religious label on the face of India’s poor.

On the issue of Babri mosque the writer is again repeating the false allegation of the anti-Muslim forces that the Babri mosque was not a place of worship for Muslims; it was so until government stopped Muslims from praying there in 1949. As to the demolition of Babri mosque, the Liberhan Enquiry Commission report of 2009 has clearly indicted several senior leaders of anti-Muslim political parties for this crime and has recommended that they be tried in a court of law.

The writer again repeats the provocative allegation that during the 600 year long Muslim rule, Muslim rulers demolished Hindu temples and built mosques on them. Research by several reputed non-Muslim historians, including Prof Richard Burton and Prof Paul Brass has proved conclusively that barring a couple of such incidents by a couple of rogue rulers in six centuries, as a rule Muslim kings did not desecrate Hindu temples. In fact the same research shows that in the era before the Muslim rule some victorious Hindu kings demolished temples of the favorite deities of the other Hindu kings whom they defeated.

The writer’s calumny against the Muslim Personal Law Board is galling indeed. This Board established in 1973 with the assistance of the Indian government simply conducts advocacy that Muslims be allowed to live their lives according to the precepts of their religious scripture. Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians have their own religious panels to oversee the implementation of their respective personal laws. Why does the writer want to force the Muslims alone to abrogate the guidance to them from their scriptures?

The allegation that the Board supports child marriage and opposes the right of children for free and compulsory education is patently false. Why should the Board endorse Salman Rushdie who has identified the wives of Prophet Mohammad with whores in a brothel in a desert in Arabia? Have any Hindu or Buddhist or Christian organizations in India ever applauded any authors who insulted their deities in such an obscene manner?

It is strange that in applauding Narendra Modi of Gujarat, and questioning Muslims as to why they do not support him, the writer does not even mention the killing of 2000 Muslims in central Gujarat towns in 2002 abetted by the Modi administration, including several key ministers in Modi’s cabinet and his top police officials from that period, who have been convicted in Indian courts- of- law by Hindu judges and have been jailed.

Additionally, since 2002 Modi administration has systematically cut off most municipal services like sanitation, transportation, repair of roads etc. in various Muslim majority areas in various cities in Gujarat, and has throttled the previously thriving economy of the Muslim community by imposing sanctions. Does any community anywhere vote for its oppressor? So why should Muslims be an exception?

Indeed today the biggest political opponents of Modi’s attempt to revive the sectarian and divisive politics in India are secular Hindus, many senior Hindu politicians including top political leaders in more than a dozen major states in India and even senior BJP leaders like LK Advani, Yashwant Sinha etal.

Today, India’s Muslims are focusing on resolving their core issues of backwardness in education and socioeconomic status by working closely with the majority Hindus and with the government. Today, Muslims are cooperating with Hindus and others and are contributing to the building of a modern and prosperous India. They have no desire to get entangled in the relegion based politics of the past.

Kaleem Kawaja

Association of Indian Muslims of America

Washington DC

August 2, 2013


An open letter: What Muslims really want

If you are more than your rhetoric about a strong and united country, give us our due -- treat us as countrymen, says an ordinary Muslim in this open letter.

Dear Epistolarians,

I thank you for your concern about my community, and felt it would be rude not to reply Now to be clear, I do not claim to speak for India's 150 million Muslims but of them. No doubt, my own socio-cultural and economic biases will seep in frequently, but I do hope you are not still under the illusion of perfect objectivity.

To explain the lay of the land, you must first understand that Islam is not a centralised religion -- we have no Pope, even if we do have a fixed text like the other Abrahamic faiths. Islamic law, therefore, varies widely from region to region, and there are four schools of legal thought. Decrees from our clergy are only as binding as the acceptance of the particular qadi pronouncing judgment. In personal matters, that faith is high, but in matters of geopolitics, that trust runs much shallower.

Secondly, Muslims, like every other community, come in all hues -- some are conservative, while others are orthodox; some are liberal, while yet others are indifferent; some are spiritual, while a fringe are, admittedly, radical. If this spread is not repeated in every community whether you divide people based on religion, ethnicity, or something else, I will eat your taqiyah! So when you write "Dear Muslims," rest assured, most of us are looking around wondering, "Who, me?"

Now, let us start with the question on most of your minds: terrorism. I am sure most of you will agree that there has been a spurt in Islamic militancy, particularly in the last 15 years. Now, I am not sure if you noticed, but that violence carried out in the name of religion has less to do with its stated reason and more to do with power. Most terrorists have been dismal failures in expressing their cause, but US support of totalitarian regimes in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, etc, overthrow of democracy in Iran, Israeli treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories, and other such political reasons have fuelled the upsurge in terrorism; tragically, its leaders use the ambiguous category of religion as a means of luring followers.

My explanation is not a defence of terrorist methods; in fact, the version of Islamic society these monsters envision -- beheading, capital punishment, stoning, extreme gender discrimination -- is abhorrent to many Muslims and goes against the most basic Islamic tenet of social justice (remember zakaat?). All but the radicals would agree that terrorists, whatever religion they claim to fight for, are enemies of society that should be resisted and defeated. just be wary of primitive social profiling based on ungrounded suppositions.

Muslims have fought Muslims from the earliest days of Islam just as much as they have fought non-Muslims. To this day, you see inter-sect as well as inter-faith conflict involving Islam, clearly indicating that religion is not necessarily the motivating factor in everything we do. To some, religion is important and to others, less so; yet to assume it is our only identity, even our prime identity, is about as sensible as assuming that someone buying a Tata Nano is expressing his or her solidarity with Narendra Modi because the factory is in Gujarat.

To turn this around a bit, let us ask you -- are you Hindu, Tamil, or Indian? Can you be all? Can you be motivated by just one of those in certain tasks, two of those in others, and all three in yet others? I suspect you can, so why do I have to choose between being Muslim, Tamilian, and Indian?

Then comes the issue of the crude stereotypes -- if you see all Muslims as Osama bin Laden or Hafiz Saeed, then by the same logic, are all Catholics like Tomás de Torquemada, Protestants like Anders Breivik, Jews like the first-century Kanaim or Yigal Amir, and Sikhs like Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale? Are all Hindus traitors like B K Sinha or Madhuri Gupta and assassins like Madan Lal Dhingra or Nathuram Godse? Or perhaps you think A P J Kalam, Altamas Kabir, Idris Hasan Latif, Shahabuddin Yaqoob Quraishi, and Asif Ibrahim are also terrorists? You can harbour such essentialist thoughts, but do not be surprised if we treat you as quacks.

Please don't misunderstand me -- there are indeed many problems with the Muslim community, and you are absolutely right that no one is taking on the fanatics out of fear. Yet to see this as a purely Muslim problem again misses the texture of the issue. For example, honour killings are not uncommon in Islam; yet they are not unheard of among Hindus either, particularly in the case of inter-caste or inter-faith relations.

While the anti-religious lobby brigade like to find fault with religion itself, the fact is that it is a cultural problem, and there have been cases of honour killings even among atheistic families due to their cultural influence. Similarly, with female genital mutilation, it is an abhorrent custom that has tried to creep into religion but remains largely restricted to Africa more than to all Muslim lands and communities.

Some of you wonder why we hold ourselves apart from the rest of India like partially immiscible liquids; Muslim ghettoes exist in every nook and cranny of India. Yes, it is true that we have our own communities. It is also true that many of us have mingled quite freely with our Hindu and other neighbours during festivals and other occasions for celebrations such as marriages and births. Again, the reasons for this need not be religious -- people segregate themselves based on caste, class, dietary habits, ethnicity, and various other criteria. You might not know this, but some Muslims refuse to live in certain Muslim areas for class reasons!

Personally, I have enjoyed the fruits of a liberal education in England, France, and the United States. I love my Faiz and Ghalib as much as I adore Balzac and Petrarch. However, very few people in the world -- of any religion -- have that sort of fortune. Imagine an Indian family of four earning Rs 69,000 per annum -- they would probably have to rely on state welfare and poor government schools to make ends meet.

In this intellectually stultifying environment, there is the added burden of quotidian life in India -- electricity and water shortages, corruption, poor infrastructure, and all those other problems successive governments have promised to solve since 1947. In the midst of these pressures, what do you think would be the impact of being asked repeatedly to prove one's patriotism? Of being asked to officially accept that one's ancestors were Hindu? Of being put in the spotlight for refusing to sing the Vande Mataram despite an explicit religious injunction on iconography? Of having to fight to eat whatever one wants? Of all those snide, covert and not-so-covert comments about one's ancestors having voted for the formation of Pakistan in 1947 and the suggestion that perhaps one ought to go there? Does a free citizen of a democratic country have to put up with such haranguing?

Before you all collectively jump down my throat, it ought to also be conceded that the recent walkout by the Bahujan Samaj Party MP Shafiqur Rahman Barq during the playing of Vande Mataram in Parliament was deplorable -- as a country of multiple communities, the respectful thing to do would have been to stay but not sing. I am glad to see that Barq's action has been criticised by voices from most segments of the political spectrum, the BJP, Congress, as well as the Communists. Such pandering to the radical votebank must have strong negative consequences.

Another issue that pops us when the "M" word is mentioned is the Babri Masjid. Hindus are right that the mosque was not of particular importance to Muslims, and that it was rarely used. However, any building that is over 450 years old is a part of Indian history and it ought to be of value for at least that reason. The merits of the case can be decided by the courts, but what is hurtful is the venomous Rath yatra led by L K Advani and the crowd mobilisation for the destruction of the structure. As if that were not enough, a year later, the Bombay riots orchestrated by Bal Thackeray in celebration only added salt to the wound.

While Advani has since said that his role was unintentional in the demolition and expressed regret for 6/12 his loss of control over the crowd, the Shiv Sena was allowed to disband the Srikrishna Commission. Reconvened with a skewed mandate that included the Bombay blasts of 1993, the report it produced was nevertheless rejected and no action has been taken to punish the guilty.

Muslims might eventually come to terms with Advani's and the Babri Masjid incident, but the unabashed revelry and criminal inaction of the BJP's ally in Maharashtra casts doubt on the sincerity of their outreach to the Muslim community.

The destruction of Indic religious structures and the erection of mosques upon those very sites is, no doubt, a grievous offence Muslim rulers of yore gave local populations, and a human tragedy. Yet is there no statute of limitations on these sorts of civilisational crimes? Should we exterminate the Israelis for killing and chasing out the Philistines from Judea some 3,500 years ago, or perhaps the Europeans and Americans for their intrusion into the New World?

Even among Muslims who are not particularly attached to the Babri Masjid issue, the question arises up to what point one can go back to settle old scores. Furthermore, what does it mean to be an Indian? In a multi-cultural society like India, short of genocide, these questions will continue to haunt unless a commonsensical approach is taken.

The greatest irony in all this Hindu-Muslim acrimony is importance you give to the All India Muslim Personal Law Board. The body is a private non-governmental organisation whose views are taken as largely representing all Indian Muslims. They threatened political action against the high court ruling on Babri Masjid, objected to Salman Rushdie at the Jaipur Literature Festival, disagreed with the Right of Children for Free and Compulsory Education Act, opposed gay marriage, supported child marriage, and resisted change in divorce law for Muslim women.

Interestingly, while the government accepts this non-elected organisation's claim to represent all Indian Muslims, it is Muslims who have problems with the board -- there have already been two splinters, the All India Shia Personal Law Board and the All India Muslim Women's Personal Law Board.

For all the talk of Shariah, how many Indian Muslim men actually have more than one wife? Most Muslims, in India or elsewhere, do not apply each and every facet of of Islamic law to their lives. By focussing on the AIMPLB, in essence, the Indian government has made, as Prayaag Akbar pointed out, a more regressive faction of the Muslim community the voice of all Muslims.

For all the hungama you raise about Muslims, how many politicians have challenged the AIMPLB's position as the sole voice of Indian Muslims? Would you allow, say, the Art of Living Foundation to represent all Hindus in religious matters? More importantly, why has my personal relationship with God become a matter of national policy?

No conversation on Muslims in India, particularly around elections, ends without mentioning the other "M" word -- Modi. Many of you would like to know why we do not support Narendra Modi as a prime ministerial candidate. I am not sure if you noticed, but many did vote for him in the Gujarat assembly elections last year, and there are some Muslims in his party. So make up your minds -- did he win from Muslim-majority districts or do Muslims not vote for him? It cannot be both. As Zafar Sareshwala points out in an interesting article, (external link) most of Modi's critics are actually Hindu.

Non-support has many reasons -- disagreement with economics, distaste for others in the party, and yes, the unease many feel over the whole Godhra issue. You can score political points with the Congress about 1984 and whatever else, but as far as many Muslims are concerned, even those who acknowledge his governance record, there is a black mark against his name that will take time to fade away.

All this started with Chetan Bhagat's letter. There were issues with his letter, as many have pointed out, but the letter was really not as bad as people have made it out to be. Bhagat appealed to our better instincts, did not play up fault lines, and talked of Muslims as part of the Indian whole. Despite whatever analytical weaknesses exist in his letter, his intentions were, in all probability, noble. What we need is more reassuring Chetan Bhagats and fewer fear-mongering and hate-spouting Praveen Togadias or Subramaniam Swamys.

If you genuinely want to work towards a congruence of visions between India's two largest religious communities, learn about us with an open mind: historical flexibility and half-baked notions about civilisational friction are best left to demagogues. If you are more than your rhetoric about a strong and united country, give us our due -- treat us as countrymen.

Yours sincerely,

Zafar Shah Alam

[Zafar Shah Alam is the pseudonym of an education industry professional in the United States.]

(Published in Rediff.com, July 22, 2013 14:18 IST)

GUEST EDITORIAL: Batla House Verdict a Slap on the Face of Patriotic Muslims

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 02 August 2013 | Posted in , , , , , , ,

By Kaleem Kawaja

The judgement of a New Delhi court convicting Mohammad Shahzad as a terrorist and branding him and his two friends who were killed in the police-staged false encounter, is one more travesty of injustice. The court judgement totally disregarded the evidence and the facts and instead pasted the pre-conceived police allegation that the few Muslim young men living in the alaprtment were planning a terrorist attack.

How could Shahzad have escaped from an apartment on the sixth floor of a building which had no exit other than the front door that was guarded by several heavily armed policemen? Was Shazad a bird who flew out of the apartment at such a height in the building that had no escape route? The false allegations of the police, prosecutor and their acceptance by the the judge boggles common sense.

By its bizarre judgement the said New Delhi court seem to confirm the slandering and stereotyping of the North Indian Muslim youth, especially the youth of Azamgarh. The U.P. police unable to solve a string of terrorist attacks in the last few years have found it convenient to paste the terrorist label on the Muslim youth from Azamgarh.

The harassing of Muslim youth from UP, Maharashtra and Hyderabad under the label of being sympathetic to terrorists is a flagrant violation of the fundamental rights of these patriotic citizens of the nation. Police brutality against Muslim youth has taken a much more viscous turn in the last five years. In fact today it is the number one issue in the democratic and secular Indian nation that many Indian human rights organizations are focusing on.

The Muslim citizens of the nation should launch a campaign against this awful and unjust harassment of the youth by the brutal police.
Citizens' lobbies should appeal against the New Delhi court judgement and fight all the way to the Supreme Court to get this judgement overturned and Shahzad freed from jail and the good name of Muslim youth reinstated.

[Kaleem Kawaja is a community activist based at Washington DC. He can be contacted at kaleemkawaja@gmail.com]

Is it feasible for Indian Muslims to have a separate political identity?

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 28 July 2013 | Posted in , , , , , ,

By Kaleem Kawaja

Recently, Asad Owaisi and Majlis Ittihad Muslimeen (MIM) gave a call to Indian Muslims to develop their separate political identity. Let us examine if this is feasible. Indeed Asad Owaisi and MIM seem to be trying the same strategy as the erstwhile Muslim League did in the Pakistan movement in the 1940s.

We know that in 1947 when the rulers were British (not Hindus) this policy ran into very rough weather. At that time Muslims were one-third of India and had definite population majorities in the West and East (what became Pakistan) and the British were keen to leave India in the aftermath of WWII. Also Muslims' strength in the economy and military was very substantial.

Still, with the threat of sectarian civil war, which if it happened, Muslims could hurt Hindus some, the land that Pakistan received was, "a moth eaten Pakistan". Both Punjab and Bengal that should have gone entirely to Pakistan, using the British criteria for partition based on population majority, did not. Both states were partitioned and India was given about a quarter of the land from both states. Kashmir that should have gone to Pakistan using the same criteria, was simply denied to Pakistan in violation of the criteria.

So today with Muslims spread thinly in the country and only a few pockets of concentration, where is the feasibility of Muslims forming a religion based political identity? Such identity is immidiately perceived as separatist. In socio-economic and educational terms Muslims are at the very bottom of Indian society. Even the erstwhile Dalits are moving ahead of them.

And remember that today BJP and its influence in Hindu society (including in Congress party and other secular parties) is loud and clear and is there to stay. Scratch the surface and it comes out. If Indian Muslims build a religion based political identity that will give instantaneous prominence to BJP's Hindu Rashtra claim, with a lot of Congress Hindus embracing it quickly. In that environment it will not take much for the constitution of India to be revised to drop the creed of secularism. And the game will be over before half time. BJP had already attempted this during their sojourn as the government at the Center, ten years ago.

In contrast the two significant Muslim controlled paries (AIUDF and IUML) have downplayed Muslim political identity per se and have instead embraced all minorities and depressed segments of society including Dalits, and are able to gain some justice and opportunities for Muslims in the name of the hallowed secular constitution of India. IUML despite its name is distinctly non-religious.

There are a significant number of Muslims in India who support the Owaisi/MIM type unrealistic thinking. In my opinion these are remnants of the etstwhile Muslim League supporters in North India and Razakar supporters in Andhra Pradesh, who could not migrate to Pakistan in 1947. But the Muslim League flame and dream is still there in their consciousness and comes to surface from time to time.

But today the facts of India are very different. Babri Mosque was demolished 20 years ago with much oppression of the Muslims; have we gotten any justice? Gujarat genocide of Muslims occurred 10 years ago; have we gotten any justice? The horrendous Bombay communal riots happened 20 years ago; have we received any justice? Batla House false encounter and oppression of many Muslim youth from Azamgarh occurred five years ago and is continuing; have we received any justice? Sachar Committee report on gross Muslim deprivations was released six years ago; have we received any justice? All we have received in 65 years is a few bread crumbs thrown at us and we have been told to keep quiet.

Ignoring the facts of the many deep weaknesses of the Muslim community in India in terms of the thinly spread population demographics, economy, education, armed services etc, a some Muslims fantacise that Muslim India can show its muscle to Hindu India. Or that Indian Muslims can separate their community's image from a composite Indian image into a separate Muslim supremacist image. This is a dangerous and damaging fantasy for 150 million Muslims of India who live surrounded by 750 million Hindus.

That is what we saw in Akbar Owaisi's inflammatory speech in Nirmal, Andhra Pradesh in 2012. That is what we saw in the manmoth Muslim rally in Azad Maidan, Mumbai laced with vilence for Rohingya Muslims in 2012. That is what we see often in rallies in Kashmir. It is time for the Indian Muslims to be realistic about the situation in the country, form alliances with the many secular Hindus and use our vote power in tactical voting, and there is a possibility that we can receive justice and with hard work improve our socio-economic situation and live in dignity.

[Kaleem Kawaja is a community activist based at Washington DC. He can be contacted at kaleemkawaja@gmail.com]

IMO EXCLUSIVE: Prof. Juzar S. Bandukwala speaks on India's Hindus and their secularism

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 23 July 2013 | Posted in , , , , , , , , ,

Prof. J.S. Bandukwala has been a fearless crusader against communalism in Gujarat. On several occasions he had to pay a heavy price for his outspoken activism. His modest home faced mob frenzy thrice. His house was attacked by mob when he sided with Dalits during the anti-reservation stir of 1981. He had to again bear the brunt a year later when he complained against police ill-treatment of Muslims. Again, for the third time his house was attacked by Hindu mobs during the post-Godhra communal riots of 2002. All the while, Prof. Bandukwala has chosen to fight for secularism in India and remains unfazed. Prof. Bandukwala did his doctorate in Physics from the US, and returned to India in the '70s to teach at Baroda's MS University because he did not want to join the flight of scientific talent from the country.

Prof. Bandukwala in an interview recently spoke to Kaleem Kawaja and talked extensively about India's Hindus and how they see and relate themselves with fight for secularism in India. Kaleem Kawaja is a prominent social activist living in Washington D.C. area in United States. Kaleem Kawaja works as an Engineering Manager in the Space Science program of NASA. Mr Kawaja is originally from Kanpur, India. He obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, and a Master of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, New York. Kawaja is one of the founders and current Treasurer of Association of Indian Muslims of America (AIM), an organization based in Washington DC. He is a well known activist in the Indian- Muslim, American- Muslim and Indian-American communities in the U.S. He is a trustee and past President of the Muslim Community Center, one of the largest Islamic Centers in metro Washington DC. Kawaja frequently writes articles in Indian, Muslim and American newspapers and blogs on diverse issues of the community. He also often speaks as a panelist in seminars and conferences.

Here are the excerpts of the Interview.

Kaleem Kawaja: Prof Bandukwala, you are a very learned and distinguished social activist and fighter for secularism in India. Many of us wonder as to what extent the Hindu society in India and Gujarat is secular.

Prof. J.S. Bandukwala: Janab Kaleem Kawaja, you are a distinguished writer. I read your articles. Statistical figures on grave sociological issues are never possible. It is like drawing lines on water. People change their thinking, their views and even their prejudices from time to time. But one angle about India can be stated clearly: Gujarat is more communalised than other states in India. This confuses scholars from abroad because Gujarat was supposed to be the land of Gandhi and Narsinh Mehta. But Gandhi had little impact on Gujaratis. Oddly the man who reflected the Gujarati mind best was Kanhaiyalal Munshi, popularly known as K.M.Munshi . His work on Somnath ,its destruction by Mehmud Ghazni and his dream of rebuilding the same, touched Gujarat deeply. Today, Gujarati communalism is rooted in what happened at Somnath about one thousand years ago.

Kaleem Kawaja: In the aftermath of the partition of India and the awful Hindu-Muslim violence what helped secularism survive in India?

Prof. J.S. Banukwala: Yet we can never ignore that India is a secular democracy with equal rights for all citizens, including Muslims. Note that this was inspite of the horror of partition. This was possible because of Gandhi and the nature of the freedom struggle. More important Gandhi's assassination left a deep impact on Hindus all over the country. The Indian constitution was drafted at that time. Further, Nehru lived long enough to make secularism a reality.

Kaleem Kawaja: So what caused setback in India's secular society?

Prof. J.S. Bandukwala: But over time old prejudices returned. Kashmir and the wars with Pakistan revived communalism. The RSS and L.K.Advani realised the potency of Babri Masjid and used it to the hilt to turn the clock back.

Using religious symbolism, such as worshipping of Ram's slippers, and sending bricks from every village to Ayodaya, tempers were raised high against Muslims. Yet the impact was maximum in Gujarat. The RSS used this Ayodaya movement to rope all castes firmly within the saffron brigade. It is no wonder the tragedy of Godhra occured, and again used to the hilt by Modi for political supremacy.

The flip side is equally noteworthy. The male female ratio is frightening. News report daily about women committing suicide because they could not beget a son. The treatment of Dalits within Hindu society is still very poor. Dalits cannot enter most temples. Yet using the communal card, the RSS succeeded in turning them into foot soldiers. Most of the violence in 2002 was caused by Patels, Tribals, OBC, and Dalits. Though the maximum hatred against Muslims come from Gujaratis settled in the US. That is a painful . It is strange that those who abandoned India accuse me of being anti national, little realsing that I gave away my green card way back in 1972 to return and help my country and my community.

Kaleem Kawaja: Why in your opinion Muslims are near the bottom of the socio-economic and educational ladder in India?

Prof. J.S. Bandukwala: One last point concerns Muslims within India. Our leadership should have used the post partition period to reform and
transform our community. Instead the focus was on religious rights, as defined by the ulema. The vision was to protect poor Muslims from being lured into Hinduism. To give you an example, the region between Vadodara and Surat had 23 Darul Ulooms, which are the equivalent of a University. Huge funds flowed to raise posh centres that produced more and more ulemas, who sadly lacked the skills to operate in a modern India. All they could do was to lead prayers. Otherwise most had to be supported by an already poor community.

As against this fact, there was not a single engineering or medical or even science college in this region. Bohras and Khojas had financial, managereial and educational resources, but were tragically cut off from the Muslim mainstream . Even so eminent a man as Ahsan Jafri was not acceptable to the community as long as he lived, because his views were not palatable to the ulema. Note that after 2002 Muslim society has changed sharply and for the better.

Kaleem Kawaja: Will Muslim youth of today be able to break the stereotype and emancipate the community?

Prof. J.S. Bandukwala: There is a sharp rise in boys and girls wanting to go for higher education. There is a greater trend towards business, influenced by the fact that it is difficult for Muslims to get jobs outside. Most important, Muslims have become politically more mature.

Hopefully future generations will play the political game in a way that we may have an Obama like figure becoming the Chief Minister of Gujarat. Inshallah.

[Kaleem Kawaja is a community activist based at Washington DC. He can be contacted at kaleemkawaja@gmail.com]

Turmoil in Egypt: Muslim Brotherhood's Islamization-in-a-Hurry Backfires

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 08 July 2013 | Posted in , , , ,

By Kaleem Kawaja

In some Muslim coumtries in the Middle-East, the spread of education and enlightenment and the tradition of learning is widrspread, whereas in other Muslim coumntries it is not so. Thus in the former type countries the general public understands Islam better, knows how to interpret it in today's modern environment, and knows that today we live in a complex and composite world, where there is much diversity of thought and where government has to be democratic.

But in the later type of Muslim contries where education is not widespread, that are not diverse, and that have not yet fully emancipated, people make a literal interpretation of Islam and try to make their society like it was in the past.

That has led to very few Muslim countries being able to practice democracy and yet be Islamic. In the middleeast Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia, Iraq and Iran are the Muslim countries that have long tradition of learning and where education is widespread. In these countries it is not possible to suffuse Islamic ideology in all walks of life in a hurry and it is not possible to muscle out the liberal Muslims and non-Muslims and put them in a corner.

In Egypt just about one year ago the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammad Morsi became President in a democratic election through the support of a majority of the population. He promised to take all segments of society with him. But in prctice he instead tried to put in a corner the liberal Muslims, the minorities and the modernists. And he put in the front and mainstream segments of government mostly the orthodox Muslims who follow the practices of the Muslim Brotherhood.

In developing a new constitution for Egypt, President Morsi manipulated the political process. He packed the body that developed the constitution with ideologues from the Muslim Brotherhood with no place or voice for the liberal Muslims, the minority Christians and the modernists. And he made the body that developed the constitution, a rather lopsided constitution that favoured the Brotherhood's ideology in a hurry.

When he ran into well established laws and procedural requirements, he bypassed them in his hurry to put the Brotherhood's version of an Islamic democracy into the new constituion and in making rules that governed the election to the Egyptian parliament. That resulted in a parliament whose members were elected in violation of the laws and norms of Egypt and thus the abrogation of the elected parliament by Egypt's top judiciary

Indeed, President Morsi was so fully occupied with this Islamization-in-a-hurry process that his governance of the country suffered badly. He paid very little attention to the very bad law -and- order situation and the very depressed economic situation in the country. Crime, poverty and despair soared across the country and the ordinary people's sufferings multiplied hugely. The result of that was a very widespread despair among the ordinary Egyptians. When his opponents asked him to include them more in the political process he stonewalled them. That finally resulted in the military and his political opponents joining hands to remove him from office.

What has happened in Egypt is a setback for Muslims who maintain that Islam is a modern and democratic creed that can adjust itself with changing circumstsnces. If instead Morsi had first paid more attention to governing the country, to reducing the pressing hardships of ordinary Egyptians, to improving law and order, and had made sure that he did not violate or over-rule the laws of the land, and was more in the middle, he would have had a better chance to Islamize Egypt's governmental apparatus. The pace of Islamization would have been slower but it would have been more stable.

The successful last decade under Premier Recip Erdogan in Turkey on the other hand is a contrast to Morsi's failed Presidency in Egypt. In his first five years Erdogan paid maximum attention to improving economy and law and order situation. It is only when he was able to bring significant improvement in the lives of the ordinary people including the minorities, that in his second term he started bringing gradual Islamization in Turkey. The result is a stable Turkey that is also gradually moving towards Islamization.

If Egypt was a Muslim country with lower levels of education, a less modern society, and better economic situation there was a possibility that Morsi's methods may have succeded. But his and the Muslim Brotherhood's methods in a diverse country like Egypt had little chance of success.

We Muslims have much lesson to learn from the contrast in Erdogan's successful governance in Turkey and Morsi's failed governance in Egypt. It is a tragedy that in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood aspired and prepared to rule the country for more than fifty years, but when they got the opportunity, they chose a deficient governance strategy that was not fully thought of. The bottom line is that to make Islamic idelogy and methods successful in Muslim countries, Muslims have to do much homework, be open to some adjustment with others and have a pragmatic strategy.

[Kaleem Kawaja is a community activist based at Washington DC. He can be contacted at kaleemkawaja@gmail.com]

GUEST EDITORIAL: Muslims and secular Hindus will not give safe exit to Narendra Modi

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 04 July 2013 | Posted in , , , , , , ,

By Kaleem Kawaja

In recent weeks some Muslim activists have made statements requesting Narendra Modi to consider the plight and backwardness of Indian Muslims and do something about it. That is very insulting to the 150 million Indian Muslims who have faced continual brutalities for 30 plus years at the hands of BJP. It is insulting for the entire Muslim community of Gujarat that has faced brutal deaths of 2000 Muslims, police and govt brutalities for 11 years in various aspects of life.

Some other Muslim activists are saying that if Modi apologizes to Muslims and retires from public life Muslims will pardon him and let him rehabilitate himself in society.

Why are these Muslim activists making such statements and on whose behalf are they speaking?

Modi has committed horrible crimes against humanity; he must be brought to trial before a court in India and given appropriate punishment according to the laws of India. Why should Modi not be tried and punished like his henchmen Maya Kodani and Babu Bajrangi? His crimes are more severe than those of these two criminals.

All over the world many oppressor rulers when they fell out of power have been tried and punished. Hitler, Mussolini, top Nazi generals and leaders were tried in Nuremberg at the end of WW II and punished. Saddam Hussain was tried and punished. President Gen Pinochet of Chile was tried and punished.

Why should Modi be given a safe exit and pardon, why not tried and punished like other murderers like him.

The people of India did not give safe exit to Afzal Guru or Dawood Ibrahim or Tiger Memon. Sikhs did not give safe exit to those who masterminded the murderers of the 1984 genocide of Sikhs. Why should we give safe exit to Modi?

The answer is that Indian Muslims and the large number of secular Hindus and Indians will not give safe exit to Modi. We will wait and keep on banging on the doors of India's justice system until Modi is tried in an Indian court and punished appropriately.

[Kaleem Kawaja is a community activist based at Washington DC. He can be contacted at kaleemkawaja@gmail.com]

Muslims should not Negotiate Deals with communal BJP

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 30 June 2013 | Posted in , , , ,

By Kaleem Kawaja

As the 2014 parliamentary election approaches I notice that a few Muslim activists are starting to ask BJP to spell out what is their program for the Muslims. They are saying that if BJP makes corrections for the demolition of the Babri mosque and the 2002 Gujarat genocide and agrees to give space to Muslims in their reign, Muslims may negotiate an arrangement with them. This is a potentially very harmful and disturbing strategy.

Muslim community activists should not make the mistake of negotiating deals with BJP people. Muslims must understand that from the beginning and uptil now BJP is continuing to be controlled by RSS which is an 80 year old right wing extremist Hindu supremacist organization. The games that Vajpayee played with Muslims and that Advani is playing with them now are tactical deceptive traps. The core objective of RSS and BJP is to discard the nation's secular fabric, polity and government and replace it with a theocratic, Hindu-dominant one and make India a Hindu theocratic nation. In that non-secular Hindu nation they may give a limited place on their terms to some Muslims; but the nation and all of its institutions will be Hindu, not secular.

Then India may become a mirror image of some non-secular and theocratic countries in the Middle East. The Indian nation and society may then become like Israel or Afghanistan and may become ghettoized. In that India a few namesake Muslims like BJP's Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Shahnawaz Hussain, late Sikandar Bakht or the other lesser known opportunist Muslims from BJP's Minority Morcha may be given places of honor, on the condition of them accepting the basic BJP/RSS philosophy of India being a Hindu Rastra - the century old dream of RSS stalwarts like Guru Golwalkar. BJP has never accepted that India is a composite nation.

BJP's concept of religious & ethnic minorities in the nation is like the Nazi concept of minorities in the Germany of 1930s-1940s, where they did have a limited space for some from the minority communities like Jews, Slovaks, Gypsies at the cost of equal citizenship for all belonging to the minority communities. As we saw during the six year BJP rule (1998-2004) in New Delhi, once they are in power it is not difficult for them to find collaborator Muslims who are willing to accept and applaud that being a Hindu Rashtra and discarding secularism is good both for India and Indian Muslims.

In those years of BJP rule in New Delhi, the then Education/ Human Resources minister Murli Manohar Joshi launched a massive nationwide campaign to change the very nature of universities, colleges, schools, national television,radio and a whole lot of cultural and educational organizations into theocratic Hindu-centric bodies. The culture and traditions of Muslims and Christians was systematically replaced with Hindu religious elements. In fact BJP degraded the secular practices in the country by labelling them pseudo-secular.

In its last six year rule BJP did not succeed in removing the secular structure of the nation because of the resistance that they received from about two-thirds of the Hindus. These secular (not irreligious) Hindus do not want India to become a theocratic nation like Israel or Afghanistan, and believe in giving minority Muslims and Christians equal space in the nation. They believe in a composite India and not a one-track India.

In India, Muslims with 15% of the population and Christians with 3% of the population total no more than 180 million Indians. This combined figure has very limited weight in the Indian polity. It is only when they are supported by two-thirds of the Hindus- about 500 million Indians, that their collective number approaches about 700 million. And that is too big an opposition for BJP to surmount.

But if Muslims start negotiating a separate deal for themselves with BJP, not only the total strength of the non-theocratic, secular forces in the country will dimnish significantly but it may cause many of the secular 500 million Hindus to get swayed to support the Hindu Rashtra lobby. And that may actually result in India becoming a theocratic Hindu Rashtra.

Once BJP is successful in making India a Hindu Rashtra, they can easily discard all those guarantees of protected rights that some Muslims had earlier negotiated with them. And then Muslims in India will become like Arabs in Israel - a helpless community with no way to resolve their isolation and helplessnes, despite promises of equal citizenship.

Indian Muslims should never negotiate like the pre-independence Muslim League and Jinnah, who were duped by the British into accepting a non-viable and truncated Pakistan comprising of two halves 1,000 miles apart. Jinnah himself said that he had received a moth eaten Pakistan. That kind of country with all the guarantees of sovreignty from India had basic fatal flaws and was bound to fail as it did in just 24 years.

Muslims should understand that half a dozen major regional secular political parties ruling half a dozen major states (Samajwadi Party or Bahujan Samaj Party in UP; Nitish Kumar's JD- United in Bihar; Mamta Bannerji's Trinamool Congress in Bengal; Navin Patnaik's Janata Dal in Orrisa; Jayalalitha's AIADMK in Tamil Nadu and the Forward Block coalition in Kerala) who have no love lost for BJP are a very formidable bulwark against the emergence of a BJP led government in New Delhi. These parties have come to power with substantial Muslim votes and thus they simply cannot act against the best interests of Muslims.

Muslims should monitor and manage these parties with tactical voting to ensure that communal forces do not gain power either in the states or at the Center. Muslim Community's' welfare lies in forming coalitions with these secular (not ireligious) forces and working with them, not negotiating deals with either sectarian Hindus or sectarian Muslims.

[Kaleem Kawaja, a community activist based at Washington D.C., can be reached on kaleemkawaja@gmail.com]

AMU is again leading the educational development of Muslims throughout India

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , , , ,

A tribute on the occasion of the Federation of Aligarh Alumni Association's XII Annual Convention in Houston, USA (June 28-30)

By Kaleem Kawaja

The XII Annual Convention of the Federation of Aligarh Alumni Associations (FAAA) in USA is being held at the Crowne Plaza - Houston River Oaks hotel in Houston, on June 28-30, 2013. The convention seeks to bring together a diverse cross-section of Aligarh Muslim University Alumni, various alumni associations and well-wishers of AMU to discuss issues related to educational, literary and social needs of the Indian Muslim and AMU community.

The theme of the 2013 convention is "New Generation Alumni & Aligarh Movement" and will be addressed by eminent personalities. Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Zameer Uddin Shah (Vice Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University) will be the Chief Guest and Hon. P. Harish, Consul General of India (Houston) will be the Guest of Honor on this occasion.

On this occasion it is pertinent to reminisce AMU’s growth over more than a century from the small Mohammadan Anglo Oriental School to one of India’s premier universities. The modern history of the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent after the end of the 600-year-long Muslim ruling era in 1857, and their emancipation by acquiring modern education starting in late 19th Century represents a very courageous turning point for the Indian nation.

The widespread British suppression and degrading of Muslims of all classes following the failure of the 1857 revolution was savage and impacted all classes of Muslims. However, in the late 19th Century a few Muslim leaders across the country embarked on a path to emancipate the Muslim community through modern education by building modern Muslim educational institutions. One of them who succeeded brilliantly is Sir Syed Ahmad Khan of Aligarh Muslim University.

Sir Syed Ahmad Khan built the Mohammadan Anglo Oriental School and College in Aligarh in 1874, where he introduced curriculum from the prominent universities of Britain like Oxford and Cambridge and employed British teachers to teach at the school. Today over a hundred years later the initiative in Aligarh has blossomed into the large and internationally renowned Aligarh Muslim University (AMU).

After 1947 AMU suffered grievous discrimination for about a quarter century. Thus in post-independence India AMU became much more than a Muslim university; it became a symbol of the middleclass Muslims and a beacon of hope for the emancipation of the community.

Gradually over the years as the political parties and forces have realized the importance of Muslims as an integral part of India, AMU is again being looked upon by successive governments and parties in power as one of the major avenues through whom the Muslim community should be approached.

In the last several decades the educational backwardness of Indian Muslims and its contribution to the overall socioeconomic backwardness of the community has become an open gnawing wound. The 2007 Justice Sachar Committee report on this subject has put the government's responsibility to bring educational empowerment of the Muslim community on the front burner. It is this realization that led the government to plan the building of several higher educational colleges for Muslims in various Muslim concentration districts in the country that could grow in due course of time into Muslim universities, as recommended by the Sachar Committee.

However, the government faced a major problem that the Indian constitution prohibits building such facilities for only one religious community. That is when they thought of expanding an existing Muslim university by building its remote centers across the country. They had only two universities to choose from; AMU and Jamia Milia Islamia. AMU being far more well established with a well established system of instruction, curriculum, research, academic management, residential facilities for students, large colleges of Medicine, Engineering, Law, Business Management, Science etc. became the natural choice.

With the planned establishment of five AMU centers of higher education in places far away from Aligarh, two of which are now operating in Murshidabad (West Bengal) and Mallapuram (Kerala), and the third Center is in development in Kishanganj (Bihar), AMU is being transformed from being a single university for Muslims into a university system for Indian Muslims.

While AMU does not have a reservation for Muslim students it does have a reservation for "internal students". That means preferential admission of AMU's own students to its professional and higher science colleges. Since the dominant culture and ethos of AMU is Muslim-centric most students at higher secondary level where students are relatively young tend to be Muslims. That makes the internal student reservation an indirect reservation for Muslims.

This system of "internal student’s quota" has been upheld by the Courts as being legal, as under Article 30 of the Indian Constitution minorities are allowed to set up their own systems of management. Also this is not a reservation for Muslims as anyone is allowed to become an internal student at AMU. By virtue of being centers of AMU, the internal student reservation system can be easily extended to its remote Centers without infringing any laws of the nation. Thus the government is able to directly fund the establishment of the AMU remote centers.

The plan includes for the five AMU Centers to grow under the administration at AMU, Aligarh, transferring academic management knowhow, management of teaching and student bodies, curriculum etc from AMU to its remote centers. The plan at this time is to make the remote AMU centers soon become their own Muslim universities with assistance from the Government’s Minorities Ministry. Since all AMU remote centers are being built in heavy Muslim concentration districts it is natural that it will spread higher education in the educationally backward Muslim community. That will bring empowerment and socio-economic growth to the backward Muslim community all over the country in due course of time.

Just as in the pre-1947 era AMU was a leader of higher education for Muslims in the Indian subcontinent and Muslims came from all over the country to study there, today AMU is again becoming the leader, leading the resurgence of higher education in the backward Muslim community all over the country, from West Bengal to Kerala. In the process AMU is also on the path to lead the socio-economic emancipation of the depressed Muslim community on an all-India basis.

Indian Muslims and alumnus of AMU have enthusiastically welcomed this initiative. More than anything AMU is responding to the challenge that the extraordinary educational backwardness of the Indian Muslim community represents, and is leading the path forward to the uplift of the entire Indian Muslim community.

The expansion of the AMU umbrella over the entire country also represents the fulfillment of the vision of the century old Aligarh Movement and of the founders of AMU who saw AMU's future not just as one college but as a catalyst for the establishment of clones of AMU in Muslim communities throughout the country that will emancipate the entire community. Just as the AMU anthem says, “The cloud that emanates from AMU; that cloud will shower its blessings over the entire community”.

[Kaleem Kawaja, a community activist based at Washington D.C., can be reached on kaleemkawaja@gmail.com]

PEOPLE: Have we forgotten Shibli Nomani?

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 27 June 2013 | Posted in , , , ,

A Rememberance on Shibli Nomani's 156th birth anniversary
(June 4, 1857 - November 18, 1914)

By Kaleem Kawaja

“Yeh maana tum ko talwaron ki tezi aazmani haiy,
Humari gurdanon pur ho gaa is ka imtihaan kub tuk”
( We know you want to display your military might,
But for how long will it be at our cost.)
………..Shibli Nomnai in “Shahar-e- Aaashob-e-Islam” (The ruined city of Islam” )

In recent years whenever I have enquired from well educated north-Indian Muslims about Allama Shibli Nomani, they have told me that I should talk to someone from Azamgarh, because that is where he was from, and that is where the Shibli Academy and Shibli National College are located. So four years ago I traveled to Azamgarh, visited both institutions and Shibli’s grave there and talked to a few of Shibli’s descendents. What I discovered is that despite his awesome services and contribution in furthering the causes of the Indian nation, the culture and heritage of the Musalmans of South Asia and his yeoman services in spreading education in the community, the Qaum has relegated him as a remote figure in the pages of history. Further some people do grave injustice when they say that Shibli was a personality largely from Azamgarh and easten U.P.

The fact is that from the young age of 25 Shibli lived away from Azamgarh, serving in institutions all over the country and abroad and returned to live in Azamgarh only a couple of years before his untimely death at age 57 in 1914. It is injustice to Shibli that the Aligarh Muslim University, Nadvat ul Uloom and Osmania University where Shibli spent thirty-one years of his life have done little to retain his memory. Next only to Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Shibli was a crusading pioneer in the Aligarh movement to spread modern education in the Muslim qaum that was badly ravaged by the 1957 war of independence. Indeed Shibli, who was a child of India’s first war of independence, was born on June 3, 1857 in Azamgarh.

Shibli completed his education in fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), Usul (Islamic principles), Hadith (traditions of prophet Mohammad), Munazra (comparative religious debate), Maqulat (rational science) and astronomy under illustrious scholars like Maulana Farooq Chiryakoti, Hakim Abdullah Jairajpuri and Maulana Irshad Hussain of Rampur. Shibli began his career by first working as a lawyer in Azamgarh and Jaunpur. But starting in 1878 Shibli was increasingly drawn to scholarship, comprising of learning and teaching. Thus he started writing discourses in ‘Awadh Panch’ and ‘Payam-e-yaar’, two contemporary newspapers of U.P. that talked of retaining the established values of the Muslim society.

At Aligarh College

In 1881 Shibli visited Aligarh to meet Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. Subsequently as the then Anglo-Mohammedan Oriental College , then also known as ‘Madrasat al uloom Musalman’ needed a teacher for Eastern languages, Shibli applied for the position. Shibli’s interview for that position by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan is an interesting anecdote. On the day of his interview Shibli was asked to seat himself in the college’s library. In the library Shibli found that the book-shelves were unlocked and a few chairs were placed; he proceeded to browse through the books. The whole day passed but Sir Syed never came. Instead he sent word to Shibli to come to the library the next day.

Again on the next day Shibli waited, browsing through books the entire day but again Sir Syed never came. Instead he again sent word to Shibli to come the next day. The same occurred on the third day. At the end of the third day, Sir Syed came to the library and told Shibli, “ Maulvi Shibli, the interview is over, go and start your teaching work”.

On February 1, 1883, at the young age of twentyfive Shibli was appointed Assistant professor of Arabic and Persian at a monthly salary of forty rupees. Two years later he was promoted as professor and his monthly salary increased to seventy rupees.

Thus began the father-son like partnership of Shibli Nomani with Sir Syed Ahmad Khan who was forty years older than Shibli, to develop the Anglo Mohammedan college to impart modern education to the Mussalmans of India. Shibli was immensely popular among the students at Aligarh; some of them being Maulana Zafar Ali Khan, Mohammad Nazir, Sajjad Haider Yaldram, Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar.

Soon Shibli became the first editor of the Urdu version of Aligarh Institute Gazette. He brought in distinguished writers of the period like Altaf Hussain Hali and Munshi Mohammad Zakaullah. In the events at the college, Shibli often spoke eloquently about the crestfallen position of Muslims and the importance of the Aligarh movement. To raise funds for the nascent college he will often participate in events along with Thomas Arnold, Kennedy, Smith, Anthony and Yusuf Vakil. At Aligarh he also established students’ societies like ‘Akhwan ul safa’ and ‘Lajinatul Adab’.

Shibli Steps Out

In 1892 Shibli took leave from the Aligarh College and left for a six month travel through various countries in the middleeast. In this travel Shibli visited Aden, Syria, Cyprus, Turkey, Istanbul, Jerusalem, Beirut and Cairo. He met luminaries like Saiyad Tahir, Maulana Ali Pasha, Sheikh Abduh, Sheikh Hamza Fathullah, Syed Raza Misri among others. In these countries he studied the system of education in a variety of madrasas and colleges and became familiar with the literature of those countries.

Upon his return from this travel Shibli introduced common boarding houses, common dining halls and uniform dress for students at the Aligarh school.

Also upon his return the British Indian government awarded Shibli with the honorific title of ‘Shams ul Ulema’. Shibli was also appointed a fellow of the then illustrious Allahabad University, member of the Bombay branch of Royal Asiatic Society, and he attended the Government Oriental conference in Shimla (1910), and the Coronation Durbar (1911) where he was introduced to King George V. In 1912 the Indian Government accepted many of Shibli’s recommendations for the reform of the syllabus in schools.

In Hyderabad and Turkey

In 1901 the Nizam of Hyderabad invited Shibli to Hyderabad to help set up the syllabus and systems at the new Oriental university that in time grew into the Osmania University. Shibli wrote the plan for the university entitled ‘Hyderabad ki mashraqi universirty’. In Hyderabad Shibli was appointed the secretary of Education and Arts at a monthly salary of five hundred rupees. In this position in Hyderabad, Shibli completed many works such as Al Ghazali (1902), Ibn al Kalam (1903), Sawaneh Maulana Rumi (1904). Also during his stay in Hyderabad he composed ‘Sher al Ajam’ and ‘Muwaznah Anis o Dabir’. In 1913 Shibli was invited by the Ottoman Sultan of Turkey to develop the text books for the proposed university at Madina.

Shbli departs Aligarh for Nadvat ul Uloom, Lucknow

Despite his long and dedicated service to the Aligarh College, in the late 1890s Shibli started getting uncomfortable with uncontrolled modernity at the college. In fact Sir Syed himself was uncomfortable with the growth of over-anglicized trends at the Aligarh College. It is said that Sir Syed’s appointment of his son Syed Mahmood, a highly anglicized person as his successor as the secretary of the Aligarh Education Society, in preference to several of his staunch colleagues like Maulvi Samiullah, Karamat Hussain, Shibli Nomani etal led to a situation where several of these luminaries left the Aligarh college ultimately. It is said that a fortnight before his death in 1898 a major quarrel occurred between Sir Syed and his son Syed Mahmood due to the later’s very anglicized lifestyle, that caused Sir Syed to move out of the house and start living with his friend Haji Ismail Khan, where he soon breathed his last.

In 1896 Shibli first expressed a desire to leave the Aligarh college but was persuaded by the principal of the college, Theodore Beck to stay. Finally after the death of Sir Syed Shibli Nomani resigned from the Aligarh college in 1899. It was in 1905 after return from Hyderabad that Shibli Nomani joined Nadvat ul Uloom at Lucknow as the secretary of the institution. As at other institutions, Shibli threw himself with all his zeal to build Nadva into a quality institution and introduced new subjects and curriculum. He also started the journal Al Nadva that revolutionized the thinking of Ulema and broadened their outlook. At Nadva some of Shibli’s distinguished students were: Saiyed Sulaiman Nadvi, Maulana Abdul Majid Daryabadi, Maulana Masud Nadvi – the same people who later gave concrete shape to Shibli’s dream of Dar ul Muannifin at Azamgarh.

It was during his decade long sojourn at Nadva that Shibli visited Bombay and the nearby princely state of Janjirah in 1907. That is where he wrote the classic ‘Sher al ajam’, the history of the Persian poetry, and his treatise on ‘Islam and tolerance’.

However some of his critics at Nadva opposed Shibli for the modern syllabus that he institutionalized there as too modern. In fact for some of his compositions in ‘al Kalam’ some of his opponents charged him even with apostasy, just as Sir Syed Ahmad Khan was similarly charged for his Aligarh College movement. It is an irony that at the Aligarh college some of Shibli’s critics considered him as too conservative, while at Nadva some of his critics considered him a radical. Finally in 1913 Shibli Nomani resigned and left from Nadva after a decade of dedicated service to the institution.

Shibli and Maulana Azad

It was during his stay in Bombay that Shibli Nomani met the then youthful Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, who was then the editor of the Urdu journal ‘Lisan-ul-sidq’. Soon Shibli and Azad became close friends and colleagues and Azad spent some time at Nadva. Shibli invited Azad to join him in writing the magnum opus ‘Sirat ul Nabi’, considered Shibli Nomani’s landmark achievement, even though he did not live long enough to complete it. Such was Azad’s devotion to Shibli that after Shibli’s death when Syed Sulaiman Nadvi asked Azad if he will like to serve as a honorary fellow at the Dar ul Musannifin, Azad is reported to have said: “ I will willingly serve even as a porter”.

Shibli returns home to Dar ul Musannifin, Azamgarh

In 1913 at the age of fiftysix, after being away from his hometown of Azamgarh for thirtyone years, and having lived and worked all over India and having travelled abroad extensively, Shibli Nomani returned to settle down in Azamgarh. In Azamgarh he soon established Dar ul Musannifin (abode of writers) - that is today also known as Shibli Academy. In the short time before his death in November 1914, despite poor health Shibli did much to give a concrete shape to the new institution. It is a tribute to Shibli’s illustrious life and work that his students built his dream institution into a major center of learning and research related to Islam, Islamic civilization, Indo-Islamic culture and the Indian culture itself.

Shibli’s legacy

Shibli Nomani was a visionary and a restless soul who like Ibn-e-Batuta, travelled widely and lived in places remote from his home in pursuit of learning, spreading knowledge, building institutions and bringing about a revolution in the thinking of Ulema, learened scholars and ordinary Muslims. Shibli was one of the most ardent nationalists devoted to his nation and to freeing it from the yoke of colonialism. At the Aligarh college he dedicated himself to providing modern education to Muslims. His letters to Sir Syed Ahmad Khan from Istanbul, Cairo and other places show his deep concern that Muslims study sciences. He admitted the importance of Western learning but was not prepared to ignore oriental subjects or belittle the merit of Islamic sciences. He disagreed with those who wanted to emulate the western ethos so much that it could destroy the identity of Muslims.

Shibli’s spirit of national integration is demonstrated by the manner in which he established a school in 1883 in his hometown of Aligarh, and named it ‘National School’; it is now a large post-graduate college with an enrollment of about 9,000 students. He instructed that the students in this school speak English language by the time they reach Standard V. A century ago Shibli was of the opinion that much of the Muslim antipathy to Western learning arose because of their ignorance of European languages. He was not satisfied with mere writing, learning and attending conferences, but also believed in action. For example when in 1912 Burn, the chief secretary of United Provinces government initiated a move to introduce Urdu in Devnagri script, Shibli opposed it stoutly and fought for the preservation of Urdu in Nastaliq script. Also in 1912 he introduced a resolution in Delhi demanding withdrawl of books that created discord among Indians of diverse faiths from schools and colleges.

Shibli praised the Congress party for raising the demand of self-government. While Shibli believed that the Congress party may not best represent the interests of the Muslim community, at the same time he dismissed the claims of Muslim League as the exclusive representative of Muslims. He did not subscribe to the fears expressed by Muslim League that by virtue of their numerical superiority Hindus would overwhelm Muslims. Indeed men like Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar and Maulana Azad who were Shibli’s close younger colleagues and who were considerably influenced by Shibli may be viewed as his political successors.

Have we forgotten Shibli?

In the aftermath of Shibli Nomani’s death his favourite pupil including the renowned Syed Sulaiman Nadvi, dedicated themselves to nurturing and building on his legacy. Syed Sulaiman Nadvi completed Shibli’s unfinished ‘Seerat un Nabi’ and together with others built Dar ul Musannifin in Azamgarh into a most illustrious institution of learning, research and publications in the area of Islamic thought and civilization that it became in the next few decades.

However, after 1947 Shibli Nomani’s name has suffered neglect by people outside his close circle and outside the Muslim community of Eastern U.P. For instance the Muslim qaum has not given Shibli the all-India stature that others like Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar, Maulana Azad with whom he cam be easily ranked among the Muslim luminaries of the last 150 years. Aligarh Muslim University and Nadvat ul Uloom, Lucknow, the two institutions that he served for so long with so much untiring zeal and devotion and where he made so much contribution have not done much to perpetuate his memory.

It was only recently that Aligarh Muslim University built a students hostel in his name; but they did not name any of their better institutes, eg the library or one of the colleges after Shibli. Similarly Nadvat ul Uloom did not name any of its significant organs after him. Hardly any Muslim community university has named any major awards in Shibli’s name.

And hardly any alumni of AMU memorialize Shibli by organizing annual lectures in his memory. The unkindest cut is that when you enquire about Shibli from north Indian Muslims they indicate that he is a historical figure from eastern UP and Azamgarh. This despite the fact that Shibli spent 31 of his 57 years serving educational institutions of the Muslims all over India, away from his home base. Today we need to make up for lost time and take steps to give Shibli a place of pride among the all-India luminaries of the Muslim qaum of the last two centuries.

[Kaleem Kawaja is a community activist based at Washington DC. He can be contacted at kaleemkawaja@gmail.com]

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