Muslim education in North-East India: issues, challenges and strategies

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 09 November 2013 | Posted in , , , ,

By Maqbool Ahmed Siraj

Educating a backward minority is a Herculean task. Muslims began thinking of modern education only around 1970. Today when the Information Technology, liberalization and globalization have begun to change the shape of the world, we are rubbing our eyes in disbelief over the strides made by erstwhile backward communities who have marched much ahead of Muslims, the rulers of yore. All this while Muslims had meticulously kept the mythical refrain of education having nothing to do with economy. But the world has asserted in totally unambiguous terms that affluence and influence are both inevitably linked to knowledge and people refusing to see this reality will have to pay a price in terms of economic well being as well as their rating in the powerful nations.

As a writer on Muslim development issue, I feel the Muslim educational planners should look at the following points:

An Overview of Muslim Situation in West Bengal and Assam

Muslims in West Bengal & Assam are least urbanized i.e., only 16.8% in West Bengal and 6.4% in Assam live in urban areas.

Literacy level: Muslims had 57% literacy against general 68.6% in WB. In Assam, Muslims were 48% literate against 63.3% among general population.

Mean Years of Schooling (MYS): Sachar Committee Reports had put West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh as states where MYS (for how many years a Muslim child of 7-16 years attended a school) as the least i.e., 2.84 years in West Bengal and 2.64 years. Muslim children were among those whose average years of attendance in schools was the least.

General Enrolment Ratio (GER)}: The report mentions GER among Muslims children of 6-14 years group in West Bengal being 82% as against 85.7% among the general populace. This is a heartening feature. Even in Assam it was 87% against 90 in general population.

Percentage of Matriculates: In the general population there were 38% people in West Bengal had completed matriculation in 2001. But among Muslims this figure stood at 11.9%. Among SCs and STs this percentage was 13%. The Reports has not mentioned these figures regarding Assam.

Percentage of Graduates: Among the general population 13% people were graduates while this figure for Muslims in West Bengal was around 2%.

Share of Muslim in State Employees: Muslims constitute 25.2% of state’s population while there were only 134,972 Muslim employees in the Government who represent only 2.1%. In Assam, Muslims constitute 30% of the state’s population while their share among government employees was 11.2%.

Put First things First Muslims should go for Mass enrolment of kids and checking dropouts

Muslims should not opt for top-down approach but rather should begin from the first baby step of setting up quality schools. A Muslim university here and an IAS coaching academy there may be fanciful idea, quite pleasing to the ear. But the work should start from basic institutions.

Care should be taken to enroll all children in whatever schools are available, and retaining them there for maximum period. This may entail organizing scholarships, transport facilities, midday meals or hostels. Charities should be channeled for these purposes. Pressure should be brought upon authorities to set up govt schools in Muslim habitations.

Schools run by Muslims should get affiliated to existing state education/examination boards and universities and follow their syllabus. Universities or boards flaunting word ‘Muslim’ are likely to serve as a stigma in the current atmosphere of bias and discrimination. Mega ventures are still not the Muslims’ cup of tea. While deficient resources are just one factor, the community clearly lacks serious academic approach essential for laying down strict norms for recruitment, evaluation and designing curriculum. While the ones already established by Muslims should continue, the new universities being set up by Muslims should adopt secular names. Apprenticeship in running colleges is essential before the community opts for setting up universities.

Education must not be Islamized

‘Islamization’ should neither be attempted nor demanded. It is simply suicidal. When we Islamize education, we also lend legitimacy to those who are out to saffronise the curriculum. They can very well ask, “when a minority is free to Islamize their schools, why not the majority saffronise their schools?” A better way to express the need for culturally sensitive curriculum is to say that ‘Privately managed Muslim schools should also provide for Islamic education up to a certain standard’. It should not be demanded in the state-run schools. And a curriculum on Islam should be informed and inspired with rationale and reasoning. Sometimes, the Islamisation takes very awful form. In a Muslim school the children were taught that Prophet Muhammad was the first man in space. Obviously, the teacher was trying to explain the Holy Prophet’s Meraj to heavens in contemporary scientific terms. They were dissuaded from doing so when a parent pointed out that Prophet Adam and his wife Eve (Hawwa) came down from heaven and Prophet Jesus was lifted to heavens and should thus be considered men (or woman) in space prior to the Holy Prophet.

Yes, Mother tongue is the best medium
But, kids are rapid learners of any language

Mother tongue is universally acknowledged as the best medium of education in early stages. If there is a sizeable section of Urdu speaking people in a ward or area, it is better to have Urdu medium schools upto 7th standard. But beyond this the community should enable the students to switch over to regional language medium or English.

Unavailability of Urdu medium schools should not be an excuse to keep away kids from schools. They must be sent to schools in whatever medium is available. Kids must be sent to school rather than be taught at home. Schools inculcate societal norms in them and kids are rapid learners of all languages.

Often Urdu medium is demanded for three principal reasons:

1-Culturally sensitive education,
2-To ensure that all teachers are Muslims and job opportunities get exclusivised for Muslims at least in Urdu medium schools, and
3-Urdu speaking parents could possibly guide the kids in their home coaching.

But at the same time, Muslims must be wary of its repercussions in matters of higher education. A child who has grown up learning zoo azaf aqal for LCM, mustateel for rectangle, murabba for square, darja e hararat for temperature, majlis e qanoon saz for Legislative Assembly, is all likely to develop disinterest for natural as well as human sciences after school primarily he would be learning a language other than his own. It is therefore necessary for Muslims to envision a future of a kid-turning-into-a-man. It is therefore necessary that kids are made to develop a vocabulary in vernacular language as well as in English. It is inevitable for a Muslim to be bilingual (or even trilingual) in an emergent India in order to realize his or her full potential.

Secondly, the Urdu linguistic skills are largely inapplicable in the market, courts, offices, banks, post office, railways, et al. Be it railway reservation forms or flight booking on Internet, or the water, phone or power bill, or operating the ATMs, or accessing the documents in municipal or government offices, it is the skills in local (or English) languages that rule the roost.

In a rapidly globalizing world, a lot many native languages are bound to lose their day-to-day relevance. It is not alone the question of survival of Urdu. The question haunts hundred of languages and dialects. UNESCO projections say only seven or eight principal languages would survive internationally. These are English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Russian and Hindi. It is better for Muslims to develop felicity in at least two of these languages and integrate themselves with international media, job opportunities and communication.

Right to education through mother tongue is guaranteed in the Constitution, but not the right to job

We need to be practical. Yes the Constitution of India does guarantee right to education through mother tongue in schools. But it does not necessarily guarantee jobs for all such students. Jobs and employment are decided by the market forces. English is not one among the languages in the 8th schedule of the Constitution but most high-paying jobs in private sector are available to English-knowing people. This is owing to the fact that most technical, professional and higher educational institutions teach through English medium and national and international businesses operate through English. So the practical wisdom should urge us to set our priorities right. Language formula should be decided at state level. If those who speak Urdu can opt for Urdu as the first language, it is sufficient. Often Urdu medium schools fare poorly in comparison to other medium schools because most teachers are Muslims, there is stress on rote learning, laxity in teaching, liberal evaluation (in order to see that every Muslim child passes) and relaxed monitoring by Urdu inspectors. There cannot be better way to commit collective suicide than having low quality education.

Quality springs from quantity

A lot of Muslims think in terms of setting up community run medical, engineering and management colleges. These are less likely to serve the community if there are no sufficient number of feeder institutions such as high schools and colleges imparting Pre-University education. Muslims in four south Indian states run at least 110 engineering, a dozen medical, 15 dental, and hundreds of other professional colleges. Barring a few, most of them do not have majority of Muslim students. So resource-short Muslims in UP, Bihar, West Bengal and Assam, should rather concentrate on improving academic performance of Muslim high schools and sending more of them into Government-run institutions where education is state funded. Investment on private coaching institutes for entrance exams or even providing scholarships and free board and lodging facilities in the Cities, is a viable alternative than investing hugely on mega ventures. Aligarh Muslim University could think of such initiatives. Its Constitution empowers it to initiate measures to ameliorate educational and social conditions of Muslims all over the country under article 5(2)c.

Gradually, the higher education is becoming a commercial proposition with less of social objectives. Thousands of BE seats in engineering colleges in South India go begging for students. Muslims must periodically review the changing higher education scene, financial dynamics of professional courses, court interpretations of Article 29 and 30, market needs and state as well as central Government policies. In short, a central think tank on Muslim education is the need of the hour.

There are enough of madrassas: Charities must now be directed towards modern education

There are simply too many madrassas in India. Nobody ever gives a thought if a madrassa is a prime need before setting up one. They are set up indiscriminately anywhere and everywhere if charities could be carved up. Several madrassas in Karnataka are now being run by moulvis from UP and Bihar just because religious charities come aplenty there. They often bring the students from those states and insist on teaching a syllabus that is out of sync with times. The graduates from madrassas suffer from low self-esteem as they are totally out of tune with the surrounding realities. Some of them even serve as cover for real estate, Hajj e badal and Umrah or qurbani businesses or take up matrimonial servicing. They are governed by no central affiliating, registering, auditing, certification, curriculum-setting or examining authority. The students graduating from their portals are fit for no job and therefore start new madrassas in smaller towns or remote locations and thereby perpetuate the backwardness of the community. The district of Basti in Uttar Pradesh has 371 large madrassas but only six primary schools run by Muslims.

Muslims must now think of investing their charities in modern education. Modern education creates self-reliance and nurtures self-esteem. It encourages creativity and innovation, the very essence of modern civilization. A community which has a vast army of muftis (opinion-givers) but no musleh (reformers) is bound to remain mired in the past.

Orphanages must be modernized

Most Muslim orphanages in India are run on traditional lines where the objective is to provide shelter to the destitute and the orphans. The focus is on physical well-being of the orphans rather than nurturing them into full human beings, self-confident, skilled and articulate. Kids are herded like flocks of goats and sheep, their heads tonsured regularly and are made to sit on the ground. Chowkidars keep them indoors within fortress like structures. They are object of abusive calls and everything is done to make them look like miserable creature. No effort is made to look at their innards, their psychological well being. No one sings them lullabies when they go to sleep, no one tells them the tales of chivalry of the legendary rulers of yore, no one relates them traditions of the holy Prophet, peace be upon him. Nor are they ever taken out on excursion or visits to parks, museums, botanical gardens and zoos. In Bangalore, we attempted two new institutions, ‘Rifaah Home for the Girl Child’ and ‘Ashiyana’ for the boys and introduced these reforms. Results are tremendous. In contrast, I questioned the traditional approach of herding the children like sheep in the century old orphanage here. The reply from the orphanage manager was: “If they cease to look like miserable kids, donations too would stop”.

Diversify professional profile

Muslims should take measures to diversify the professional profile of the community. Most bright students head for medicine, engineering and management courses. The community lacks able men and women in the field of law, journalism, fine arts, chartered accountancy, agricultural sciences, scientific research, designing, vernacular languages etc. Science and technology bring wealth and create disparities. People trained in journalism, law, sociology, economics should step into the field to even out the imbalances thus created. Not many thinkers, researchers, social and political scientists and economists, advocates have emerged out from the younger Muslims in India in recent years.

Pay Equal attention to Women’s education

Muslims must strive to include facilities for women’s education at all levels. Women’s role in the society is changing very fast. Women cannot be confined to cooking, washing and household chores any more. These functions are being taken up by machines. Muslims must think of inducting women into roles whereby their talents and faculties, which are on par with men, could be put to optimum use. Studies suggest that new kitchen aids, instant mixes and processed foods have reduced the actual cooking hours to merely one hour and 45 minutes. Studies also suggest that entry of one new home gadget (such as washing machines, remotes, mixers, vacuum cleaners) adds eight pounds to the weight of household women. Similarly, online facilities are expanding opportunities for women being employed (or used for income generation) in multiple ways.

Removing the disconnect between education and economy

Muslim artisanship is in decline. Modernisation and automation in the industry is sounding death knell for them. Several crafts have lost their relevance while others practically employ Muslims as daily wagers. Their finance, export and management is in the hands of persons who do not belong to the traditional occupational groups. Writing on the wall is clear: Modernise or perish. It will be unviable to carry on the crafts in the traditional way. Means and methods of production are changing every moment and they require new techniques, skills, calculations and methodologies. If education does not equip the younger generation, they will be misfits in the future society. Knowledge is doubling every five years and the community must keep pace with it. Unless it is done, the threat of irrelevance will loom overhead. It is where Muslims need to remove the disconnect between the education and economy.

During the last decades several occupations have been phased out. Sample these:

• Remember you would have kalaigars who would varnish your grandma’s copper and brass utensils once in a year. Aluminum and Stainless steel have replaced them. Kalaigars have vanished now.
• You would have your stone grinders (sil and okli) chipped once in a year. We used to call these people Takaras in Karnataka. They have become irrelevant due to modern blenders, mixers and juicers.
• STD booths have become irrelevant with cell-phone in every pocket. Thousands of such booths have vanished in oblivion within the last decade.
• Cyber centres are also on the way out as every cell phone would have Internet browsing facilities.
• Newspapers no longer have linotype typesetters. These machines are out. Even proof-readers job has been clubbed with sub-editors.
• Hoarding painters lost their jobs during 1990. Digital printing replaced them.
• Zari workers are losing their jobs as embroidery machines are coming in.
• Calligraphers were replaced by Urdu DTP operators.
• Silk reelers have been replaced by modern reeling machines.
• Photo studios have disappeared from our cities in thousands as digital cameras have eliminated the need for bromide photos.
• Banking has seen a big change from cheques to ATMs to Credit cards to mobile banking.
• Within next 20 years the printed newspapers will disappear. Various Browsing and reading devices will replace them.
• Credit cards and cheques too will vanish as money will be transferred through internet between businesses and banks by an individual who will merely press computer buttons and beeps and blips will signal transfer the cash from individual’s accounts to store’s accounts.
• There will be phenomenal changes in occupations like accounting, auditing, and dissemination of news, pharmacology, electioneering and voting, education, and training due to new online devices that will enter our lives.

As we advance deeper into the 21st century, the transformation in our lives would be much more drastic. We need to pattern our educational system for the future needs. Thomas Friedman in his book “That Used to be US” (2011) laments that US is falling behind in education as US school system is not one among the 10 best school systems in the world. PISA rating ranks Finland’s as the best education system. Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, Japan, Hong Kong, and parts of China have overtaken the United States. We need to assess as to where do we stand?

[Maqbool Ahmed Siraj is an eminent journalist and former Editor of Islamic Voice, Bangalore. He has also worked in the BBC World Service and writes regularly for the English daily Deccan Herald, Bangalore and several other magazines and journals. He also participates in various TV and radio programmes. He can be contacted at maqsiraj@gmail.com]

Note: This paper was presented at `The East & North East Educational Conference’ held on 26th October at Bhasha Bhavana Auditorium, National Library, Alipore, Kolkata, West Bengal, organized by M M Foundation of Kolkata and Al Falah Mission of Berhampur, Murshidabad.

Allama Iqbal - Poet of Islamic Renaissance

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

[Sir Muhammad Iqbal was a true Indian Nationalist who later played an instrumental role in demanding a separate homeland and the formation of Pakistan. In India, Allama Iqbal still continues to be revered by most, for he was the one who gave India its famous National Song "Sare Jahan Se Achcha Hindustan Hamara..." The Indian government should consider honoring Allama Iqbal with Bharat Ratna posthumously. This would also acknowledge Iqbal's love for India. If former Prime Minister Morarji Desai is honored with Pakistan's top civilian award Nishan-e-Imtiyaz, then why not Allama Iqbal be honored with India's top civilian award Bharat Ratna. If the Indian government fails in doing so then i should also strip "Sare Jahan Se Achcha Hindustan Hamara..." the status of National Song and forbid its singing. -- Danish Ahmad Khan, Founder-Editor, IndianMuslimObserver.com]

By Rohail Khan

Sir Muhammad Iqbal (9th November 1877 - 21st April 1938), also known as Allama (Scholar Highest Rank) Iqbal was a philosopher, poet, politician, and a social reformist. He is widely acclaimed to have inspired millions of Muslims to demand a separate homeland from the British Empire in India.

Religious scholar and Sufi Master, Iqbal’s literary works in Urdu and Persian are largely based on teachings of the Holy Quran. He propagated self-respect and self-realization and reiterated the need to revert to Islamic values.

Allama Iqbal is officially regarded as National Poet of Pakistan, Shayir-e-Mashriq (Poet of the East), and Hakeem-ul-Ummat (Sage of Ummah).

A Barrister from Lincoln’s Inn, England and a Ph.D in Philosophy from Munich University, Allama Iqbal was a strong proponent of the political and spiritual revival of Islamic civilization across the world, for which he travelled and delivered lectures at length across the continents. His famous speeches have been collected and published under the title: “The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam”, a collection of esoteric lectures delivered between 1928-1930.

Allama Iqbal encouraged the younger generation for fresh interpretation of Quran and the Sunnah and discover mutual harmonies that would enable Muslims to learn modern science and use science and technology to improve their material existence.

Allama Iqbal started writing poetry from his school days and was in full swing at the time of freedom movement in India. His fame started with his poetry which was written in the classical style for public recitation. Through ‘poetic symposia’, his poetry became widely known, even among the illiterate masses. Almost all the cultured Muslims of his own and later generations came under the spell of his poetry, one way or the other.

His first book of poetry Asrar e Khudi (Secrets of Self) appeared in Persian in 1915 and received instant popularity amongst the down-trodden Muslims of British India. Other great works of poetry are: Rumuz e Bekhudi (Secrets of Selflessness), Baal e Jibrael (Wings of Jibrael), Payam e Mashriq (Message of the East), Zabur e Ajam (Persian Psalms), Baang e Dera (Call of the Marching Bell), Zarb e Kaleem (Blow of Moses), and Javed Nama (Book of Eternity).

In 1922, he was knighted by His Majesty King George V, giving him the illustrious title of “Sir”.

Allama Iqbal passed away on 21st April 1938, but to date millions of fact-finders are mesmerised with the beauty and depth of his poetry. He simplified the philosophy of life, de-mystified the purpose of our human existence, and turned the teachings of Islam remain into an eternal message ready to be interpreted by the masses. English Translation of Allama Iqbal’s Poetry:

For those unable to comprehend Urdu and Persian languages, a simple translation into English will certainly facilitate the understanding of Allama Iqbal’s message. Let us focus on selective topics where the Great Maestro exposed his inner self.

Like everyone, Iqbal dearly loved his mother. On her untimely death in 1914, he became restless and expressed grief in the form of Eulogy.

Who would wait for me anxiously in my native place,

Who would display restlessness when my letter fails to arrive,

I will visit thy grave with this complaint,

Who will now think of me in midnight prayers,

All thy life thy love served me with devotion,

When I became fit to serve thee, thou hast departed !

Muslim Youth’s spiritual deterioration and distancing from Islamic teachings was of utmost concern to Allama Iqbal. Youth being the architects of our future, Allama Iqbal addressed the Youth of Islam as follows:

O Muslim youth ! have you ever used your prudence,

What was that sky of which you are a fallen star,

That nation has nurtured you on its lap of love,

Whose feet had trampled the crown of Darius’s head,

Civilization’s formulator, creator of rules of world government

Your ancestors from the deserts of Arabia ruled the Universe,

Even in poverty those men of God were so high-minded,

That the rich could not avoid charity for beggar’s fear,

What should I tell you what those wanderers in wilderness were,

They were world conquerors, world rulers, world administrators,

If I wish to present their picture in words I sure can,

But that scene is beyond the comprehension of your imagination,

It’s such a pity you have no correlation with your ancestors,

You are talk, they were action, you are stars, they were planets,

Alas we have wasted the heritage obtained from our ancestors,

The sky has thrown us down from the Thurayyah to the Earth,

The aftermath of World War I brought down the Ottomon Caliphate and placed the Muslim Ummah in stark adversity. Allama Iqbal vehemently protested against the subjugation of Arabia by the Western Christian authorities. He encouraged the Muslim Ummah to wake up from deep sombre and have faith in their strengths. He spread the message of hope and courage to stand-up and struggle collectively for “The Renaissance of Islam” :

Life-blood has started flowing through the dead arteries of the East

This secret is in-comprehensible to likes of Sani and Farabi,

The storm of the West has made the Muslim into a real Muslim,

Only the upheavals of the sea bring the pearl’s beauty to its perfection,

The Muslim is to be endowed again from the God’s Court with,

Turkoman’s dignity, Indian’s intellect, Arab’s eloquence,

If some slumber is lurking still in the flower buds,

“Strike the beat harder if the taste for music is lacking”,

Jump restlessly in the garden, in the nest, in bowers,

It is impossible to deprive mercury of its restlessness,

Why should the eye used to chaste things see coat of arms,

When it is able to see the valour of the Gaza’s soul,

O God, light the candle of Longing in the tulip’s heart,

Make every speck of garden’s dust a martyr searching for the Truth,

The Book of the Muslim nation is being organized again,

This Hashemite Branch is surely going to blossom again !

The avalanche of calamity over Uthmani’s is not to be bereaved’

As the dawn is produced after destruction of myriad’s of stars !

Allama Iqbal was of the firm belief that “self-respect and self-realization” can mobilise our inner energies and provide us the real dynamics of success. His poetic calls can still warm up blood in the dead. His mesmerising poems can still light up the spark into the lives of the gloomy and the depressed.

Sing O Nightingale so that with your modulations,

The falcon’s heart in the pigeon’s frail body be produced,

Concealed within your heart is the secret of life,

Relate to the Muslim the traditions of pathos of life,

You are the potent hand and the word of the Eternal God,

O imprudent one! Develop Faith as you have been overcome with doubts,

The Muslim’s destination is beyond the azure coloured sky,

You are the caravan the dust of whose trail are stars,

You are the Final Message of God and you are eternal,

Your origin is from Ibrahim, you are the world’s architect,

Your nature is the custodian of all life’s possibilities,

So you are the touchstone for world’s hidden jewels,

From the material world to the Eternal world,

You are the gift which the Holy Prophet took,

The history of the Muslim nation reveals the secret,

That you are the protector of the nations of Asia,

Learn again the lesson of Truth, Justice, and Bravery,

You are to be entrusted with the world’s leadership,

This alone is the creation’s objective, this alone is Islam’s secret,

That there should be universal brotherhood and abundant love,

According to Allama Iqbal, Faith in Allah SWT is divine enough to energise our conscious abilities and sub-conscious capacities. Through inner faith we can achieve the impossible.

Sainthood, sovereignty, the universality of material knowledge,

What are all these except unravelling of the secrets of Faith,

When Faith is created in this earthly ember,

It itself creates wings and plumage of Jibrael,

Neither swords nor plans are of any avail in slavery,

Chains are cast away when taste for Faith is created,

Can anyone assess the strength of his arms ?

Destinies are changed by the Believer’s mere glance !

Mysteries of life and the purpose of human existence is Allama Iqbal’s specific area of interest. He solves this philosophy through impeccable simplicity. Human life is no more than a breath. It is alive only as long as it is flowing. In the same way human life, which this wave sustains, is worth its existence only as long as it is active. Man is the only secret in the universe. This secret is that though Man apparently has humble origins, being created from soil, he has the potential of being Allah Almighty’s Vice Regent on earth.

The life of Man is no more than a breath,

Breath is a wave of air, it is no more than a flow,

The flower was depicting life as a smile but,

The candle said it is no more than a cry of grief,

The secret of life is a secret till there is a confidante’,

When it is open, it is nothing more than the confidante’,

Somebody should ask the pilgrims of Ka'bah, O Iqbal,

Is the gift of the Haram nothing more than Zamzam ?

The last verse is sarcastic and carries the lesson that the real gift of the Pilgrimage to Ka’bah is that the pilgrim should return from there after sacrificing his arrogance, greed and jealousy, after stoning the Satan and controlling the evil in himself, and hence gaining the purity and innocence of a newborn child.

Allama Iqbal was a Sufi Master. Let us look at how he studied the relationship between intellect and the heart and described the controversy of “Aql o Dil”.

One day Intellect said to the heart,

A guide to the misguided ones I am,

Being on the earth I reach up to the sky,

Look, how deep in comprehension I am,

Guidance on earth is my sole occupation,

Like the auspicious in character I am,

Interpreter of the book of life I am,

The Manifestation of God's Glory I am,

You are only a drop of blood, but,

The invaluable ruby's envy I am,

Hearing this the heart said, All this is true,

But look at me as well, what I am,

You understand the secrets of life,

But seeing them with my own eyes I am,

Concerned with the manifest order you are,

And acquainted with the inward I am,

Learning is from you, but Divine Knowledge is from me,

You only seek Divinity, but showing Divinity I am,

Restlessness is the end of Knowledge,

But the remedy for that malady I am,

You are the candle of the assembly of Truth,

Lamp of the Divine Beauty's assemblage I am,

You are related to time and space,

The bird recognizing the Sidrah I am,

Look at the grandeur of my station,

The throne of the God of Majesty I am !

We all realise the need for Islamic Renaissance in this Millenium. In this respect, Iqbal’s poetry is more relevant now-a-days than ever. Let us re-evaluate the message of Allama Iqbal and learn to cure our short comings.

“Given character and healthy imagination, it is possible to reconstruct this world of sin and misery into a veritable paradise” – (Stray Reflections; Private Diary of Sir Muhammad Iqbal).

[Rohail Khan, senior banker and social worker, is actively developing communities through literature, culture, and philanthropy. He can be reached at rohailkhan00@gmail.com]

A time to recall the stalwarts

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

By Hasan Suroor

Does anyone remember Maulana Azad and Rafi Ahmed Kidwai anymore?

The frenzied debate over the comparative legacies of Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, sparked by Narendra Modi’s foray into counter-factual history, provides an occasion to remember two tall Congress leaders whose contribution to the idea of a modern, united and secular India has gone by default because there are no votes to be had by invoking their names.

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Rafi Ahmed Kidwai — along with Zakir Hussain — were the last of a formidable generation of truly nationalistic Muslim leaders. Unlike Nehru, their belief in pluralism and tolerance did not derive from exposure to the western values of Enlightenment but from their own experience of Hindu-Muslim cultural fusion — the so-called Ganga-Jamunitehzeeb.

Given the nature of India’s current Muslim leadership, characterised mostly by intolerance and a narrow self-serving view of Muslim interests, it is hardly surprising that it does not want to be reminded of those who had a very different vision for their community, and who did not see politics as a zero-sum game between majority and minority groups.

The result is that at least three generations of Indians have grown up with no knowledge of Muslim contribution to nation-building. This has been exploited by the Hindu Right to portray Muslims as being outside the “national mainstream”; and as scroungers living off the labour of Hindu nation-builders.

Role models

Worse, young Muslims have been deprived of role models in politics to look up to. When they look around, they see Muslim “leaders’’ whose grasp of the community’s priorities is so slight and politics so opportunistic that they can’t be blamed for feeling cheated and facing a leadership vacuum.

Both Azad and Kidwai were practising Muslims, but their religious sensitivities were not so fragile as to be offended by a pedestrian novel irreverent of the Prophet, or a crass Islamophobic film. Moreover, they were a living refutation of the idea that religiosity equals fundamentalism — a notion fuelled by the antics of a new breed of self-styled Muslim leaders claiming to act in the name of Islam.

Azad, complete with a beard and what these days is referred to, in slightly derogatory tone, as a “Muslim cap,” was an Islamic scholar who compiled highly regarded commentaries interpreting the Koran and the Hadith. He also trained in science, mathematics and philosophy.

Setting up the IITs

Few know that it was Azad — the bearded, topi-wearing namazi — who laid the foundations of world-class technological education in India by setting up the Indian Institutes of Technology, whose graduates are making waves around the world.

As independent India’s first education minister, he was also the architect of many of the modern higher education institutions, such as the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) of which the country is justly proud. He introduced the system of universal free national education, making it possible for millions of poor young Indians to go to university.

A unifier

Kidwai, or “Rafi sahib” as he was popularly known, was independent India’s first communications minister. Nehru had such confidence in him that later he entrusted him with the food and agriculture portfolio when the country faced a serious food crisis. He proved so successful that the Indian Council of Agricultural Research instituted an award in his memory to honour scientists for outstanding contributions to research in agriculture.

Dubbed an “Islamic socialist” for his broadly leftist views, he played a big role in mobilising Muslims of eastern and central Uttar Pradesh around the idea of a united and inclusive India when the State’s Muslim elite was drifting towards the Muslim League’s campaign for a separate Muslim homeland. Thanks to his popularity and influence in what was then the United Provinces, his followers came to be known as “Raffians.”

Although he barely stepped out of India, in many ways Kidwai was a more modern man — and understood universal values of tolerance and inclusion better — than many of the globe-trotting present crop of Muslim leaders.

Delhi’s Rafi Marg is named after him, but how many people know who that Rafi was? A random poll many years ago revealed that many thought it referred to the singer Mohammed Rafi.

Questions for the community

It is a pity that today men like Azad and Kidwai are regarded as no more than ghosts from the past who have no relevance in the modern world. Conspiracy theorists accuse the government of deliberately neglecting Muslim leaders, but what about Muslims themselves? What has the Muslim community done to carry forward their legacy?

The duo represented the finest traditions of Indian Islam, and there could be no better time to “exhume’’ them than now when its core values of co-existence and cultural integration are under attack. They would be turning in their graves as Islam becomes shorthand for intolerance, backwardness and, worse, terrorism.

Narendra Modi on Patel

Mr. Modi’s intervention on behalf of Patel may be a crude electoral ploy, but it would have served a purpose if it opens up a wider debate on the need for us to revisit our liberation heroes and nation-builders less selectively (and more frequently) — not just by building their statues and naming projects after them but by disseminating their ideas and acting on them.

Indians are unique in lacking a sense of history just as, in contrast, the British are obsessed with it. Which is why it has become so easy for the Indian Right to distort history to suit its objectives. It is time the story of modern India was told through many different voices. Nehru and Patel were, no doubt, the “big beasts,” but there were others who had more than walk-on parts in this great story. And their legacy, too, must be kept alive.

[Hasan Suroor is an independent columnist. His forthcoming book, India’s Muslim Spring: Why is Nobody Talking About It? is being published by Rupa & Co. E-mail: hasan.suroor@gmail.com]

(Courtesy: The Hindu)

Urdu Editors Conference: Innovation key to keeping more girls in school and learning

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

IMO News Service

New Delhi: To mark the second International Day of the Girl Child, UNICEF organized a meeting with top Urdu editors in the capital today. The conference which was supported by Shikhar, highlighted the power of innovation in education. The focus was on the crucial role that media can play to create a sustained discourse and highlight innovations that get more girls to school, keep them in school and improve the quality of learning for all children.

Evidence shows that even a single year of secondary school for a girl correlates with as much as a 25 per cent increase in her future earnings. Despite the decreasing number of girls out of school, many around the world are still denied a quality education and a chance to reach their full potential. In India, the number of out-of-school children stands at 8.1million, of which 4.5 million are girls. For every 100 boys enrolled 88 girls are enrolled in secondary school. The main causes of school dropout among girls are child marriage and child labour.

“Investing in the education of girls, especially the most marginalised, is needed to make progress on most social indicators in India” said Urmila Sarkar, Chief of Education UNICEF. Giving examples of how communities have arranged for safe school transport for girls in hard-to-reach areas from Udaipur, Rajasthan, she said, “Innovation in girls’ education will be instrumental to female empowerment and breaking the cycle of poverty and deprivation.”

Ms. Sarkar also highlighted the importance of gender sensitisation. Teachers who have undergone gender sensitisation training have made a significant difference for adolescent girls in schools. The participation of Muslim girls has improved in Madrasas of Malda district of West Bengal where adolescent groups have been set up and trained. The girls now take up issues with the Panchayat to ensure entitlements reach the people.

The conference was chaired by top representatives of academia and media, Prof. Mohd Miyan, Vice Chancellor, Maulana Azad National Urdu University and Director General, Doordarshan News, Mr. S.M. Khan. They shared examples of how technology coupled with media outreach, has increased access to education for out-of-school girls and improved the quality of learning for every child. They urged Urdu media to dedicate media space and build capacities of reporters to highlight issues and innovations in education, especially of girls. Civil society representatives from Shikhar, Prof Rihan Khan Suri and Sh. Ambarish Rai of the RTE Forum spoke on how civil society efforts can build on the momentum created by a conducive educational policy framework and ensure that girls have access to quality learning environments.

Highlighting the crucial role of media, Caroline den Dulk, Chief of Communication & Advocacy, said, “Innovation can mean embracing new ways to overcome other barriers that keep girls out of school. Media, especially Urdu media which has the third largest readership after Hindi and English, can create a sustained dialogue on the diverse avenues available for girls to remain in school.”

Innovation in other parts of the world, is also helping to reach the hardest to reach children who are at the greatest risk of being out- of- school. In Uganda, EduTrack is using SMS text messaging to connect students and schools with UNICEF, enabling them to report on learning, teacher quality, and violence in schools. In India, the Meena radio programme implemented in 5 states has developed a cadre of aware and empowered girls and boys in remote rural areas.

Elementary education in India has made significant progress over the past few decades.

The landmark passing of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act 2009 marks a historic moment for the children of India. For the first time in India’s history, children are guaranteed their right to quality elementary education by the state with the help of families and communities.

The conference highlighted the need to strengthen collective action that civil society and private sector organizations can take to ensure that the education goals of India can be met.

In election season, Muslim factions unite, meet Sonia Gandhi

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , ,

By Seema Chishti

New Delhi: With elections season in full swing and positioning for 'representation' of minority groups gaining focus, an important development took place on Sunday. The two warring factions of the Majlis-e-Mushawarat, India's oldest Muslim body set up in 1964 to address problems faced by Muslims and articulate their views to governments, reunited after 13 years.

According to president Zafar ul Islam, the coming together of the Syed Shahabuddin and the rival Maulana Salim Qasmi factions has "breathed new life into the idea and expectation with which the Mushawarat was set up fifty years ago".

After they buried their differences, members of the Mushawarat met UPA chairperson and Congress president Sonia Gandhion Monday evening to push for more central assistance for the Muzaffarnagar riot victims. They also made a case for the anti-communal violence Bill which, according to Islam, "fixes accountability" on erring administrators and political representatives when they are unable to control group violence.

A delegation of 16 Mushawarat representatives who met Gandhi for about 45 minutes said: "She heard us out patiently and seriously on the detailed status of riot victims in western UP, and assured us of best efforts to mobilise help for victims as the onset of winter is creating difficulty in the camps. She also assured us of trying to bring the anti-communal violence Bill in this session of Parliament."

The Majlis-e-Mushawarat has its origins in communal riots that took place in Jabalpur, Sagar, Rourkela and Ranchi in the early 1960s and shook the Muslim community. Following this, leading freedom fighter and Congressman from Bihar, Dr Syed Mahmood, initiated a drive to establish a Muslim convention to instill confidence in the community. Since then, even though the Mushawarat steered clear of an overtly political role, it remained a vital barometer and influencer of the crucial Muslim vote.

Over the years, its influence declined as the All India Muslim Personal Law Board became the point of touchdown for all those who wanted to get a sense of Muslim legal issues, especially as the Ayodhya issue took centre stage.

Despite prominent Muslim figure, MP and former IFS officer Syed Shahabuddin, associating himself with the Mushawarat, it has been involved in controversy since an internal election in 2000.

"It was ironic that the Mushawarat was calling for a common platform and preaching unity when we ourselves were split, minimising our own strength. Hence, unity among ourselves was a priority," Maulana Ataur Rehman Qasmi, one of the key figures who brought the two factions together, said.

While the UK-educated Islam, who also edits The Milli Gazette and is the son of respected cleric Maulana Wahiduddin, has been named president, the older member of the former breakaway faction, Maulana Salim Qasmi, has been named chairman of the Supreme Guidance Council of the organisation.

Sources said leaders within this once influential platform are concerned about the "situations facing the community now". Efforts to target groups "within the community" are being seen as deliberate and a way to distract attention from the key issue of backwardness and discrimination facing the entire community.

The Mushawarat, it is believed, gave a tacit call to oppose the Congress after the riots in the '60s, which created a divide between the two groups — one sympathetic to the Congress and the other hostile. This, say analysts, contributed majorly to the 1967 debacle for the Congress. But before 1971, the Mushawarat decided to tacitly support the Indira Gandhi-led Congress.

Despite the timing of the merging of the two factions, Shahabuddin said the Mushawarat is politically neutral. "Mushawarat is not a political party and does not support a political party. We want a secular government in the country and advise Muslim voters to vote for secular candidates," he said.

(Courtesy: The Indian Express)

India’s Foreign Policy Rhetorical Shift

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

By Syed Ali Mujtaba

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has outlined five priorities of Indian foreign policy that his government has evolved during its nine years of rule to firm up India's place in changing world order.

The Indian Prime Minister claimed that his government has reset the fundamentals of India’s foreign policy based on national priorities and concerns in concert with its capabilities and role and destiny in the world affairs.

First, international relations are increasingly shaped by our developmental priorities and the single most important objective of Indian foreign policy is to create a global environment conducive to the well-being of our country.

Second, India should integrate more closely with the global economy because it has benefited from globalization.

Third, India seeks stable, long term and mutually beneficial relations with all countries and is prepared to work with the international community to create a global economic and security environment beneficial to all nations.

Fourth, "Indian subcontinent's shared destiny requires greater regional cooperation and connectivity."

Fifth, "Our foreign policy is not defined merely by our interests, but also by the values which are very dear to our people.”

There is sub text in all the five points enumerated by the Prime Minister as his fundamentals of India’s foreign policy.

As far as his first point on creating global environment conducive for India, Prime Minister meant, he wants to create a global economic and security environment as India's relations with the world were increasingly shaped by its developmental priorities.

His second point is on globalization and likes India to integrate with global economy as our country would benefit a lot by greater integration with the world economy.

His third point maintaining long term relationship with all nations so that international community can freely invest in India and help in country's developmental activities.

His fourth point is lays emphasis on regionalism in recognition that the sub-continent's common destiny requires greater regional cooperation and connectivity. He likes India to strengthen regional institutional capability and capacity and invest in connectivity.

His fifth point on vales meant India's experiment of pursuing economic development should not be mercantilist but based on values. He defined India's core values as plural, secular and liberal democracy. He opinioned these values have inspired people around the world and would continue to do so. He would like India to align with such countries that espouse these values.

When we apply these five point objectives in the context of what India wish to achieve and where does it see itself in the changing world order, then the stark realities glares at our face.

The first foreign policy objective of creating global environment for developmental activities in the country does not sink with the domestic conditions prevailing for development in our country. The government policy of creating economic zones has run into trouble and many foreign investors have backed out due to lack of conductive global environment for investors. There is need to sort out India’s domestic developmental priorities before we promise to create friendly global conditions.

Second, pushing the cart of globalization is a mountain to climb. If globalization is the panacea of the mankind, then why there are nation states? Today, if a referendum is held on globalization, Manmohan government can only survive with the tricks it adopted to pass Indo-US civil nuclear deal, bribing the Parliamentarians.

Even though globalization can bring significant improvement but it has to answer some traditional nationalist questions like 'self-sufficiency' and 'self-reliance.' This has a huge challenge India has to tackle on the issue of globalization.

Third, point on seeking mutually beneficial relations and create a global economic and security environment beneficial to all nations seems to be rhetoric. When Indian economy was buoyed by 8-9 per cent growth and aiming higher growth, such words may sound music, but now when we are slipping to the Hindu rate of growth, such statement is mere hyperbole. The global economic slowdown and India’s economic mismanagement cast a shadow on this foreign policy objective.

On regionalism, Manmohan Singh’s idea of having "breakfast in Amritsar, lunch in Lahore and dinner in Kabul," may remain a dream. SAARC, the organization that’s pushing this agenda, is closing 40 years now and still taking baby steps. There is total disconnect between the talk and the realities on ground. There is no peace in India’s periphery and there is tension with all its neighbors, barring Bhutan. Terrorism poses a bigger challenge, not only to India but also to its neighbors. There is no sign of its containment. Besides, there are host of issues that vitiate peace in the subcontinent. So how this foreign policy objective of India could be achieve?

The last point on values is like saying; “I once had a girlfriend called America, she went on and on about freedom, while spying on me all the time!”

As Manmohan Singh talked about core values of India’s foreign policy objective, India’s Army Chief was delivering War games softwares and other deadly consignment to the Military Junta of Myanmar. In the war against the ethnic minorities in Myanmar, Indian weapons are freely used and against the rebels, who were fighting for the same values that India cherish. Those rebels had flashed to the media, ‘made in India bullets’ meant to kill them. So Papyji don’t preach! Is this the moral values you are talking about?

Manmohan Singh instead of making India’s foreign policy as another ‘Pachsheel’ if had stuck to his articulations made in 2004 as three point objectives, it would have been more modest summary of his international relations.

He had then said, the strategy was based on three pillars: "First, strengthen ourselves economically and technologically; Second, acquire adequate defence capability, and third, to seek partnerships to widen our policy and developmental options." He may have added this time that these are policies are at work has to be continued in future.

[Syed Ali Mujtaba is a Journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@yahoo.com]

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