Muslims may be portrayed world over as religious and devout but they are widely detached from the teachings of their own faith. The first word of the Holy Quran was not
, and certainly not
, which is bringing unwanted infamy to them. But, it was
, which means Read.
The number of Muslims in India rank second highest in the world, only next to Indonesia, and almost equal to the population of the United States , if their population is tallied properly (Muslim leaders allege that Indian Muslims are deliberately undercounted). Dozens of countries have less population than Muslims in India, including next door neighbors Pakistan and Bangladesh. But what do Muslims feel about themselves – a rudderless boat or critical mass - a drop in the Ganges or violin notes in one of AR Rahman's thrilling musicals?
At the beginning of the 21st Century, India is becoming the cynosure of nanotechnology development. The stories of India's success are reported as wildly as the celebration of New Year's Eve in the Madison Garden in New York. But Muslims of India seem to be nearer to the mosque and farther to the heaven. Paraphrasing Charles Dickens, I can state that it is the best of the time for India, but it is the worst of the time for Indian Muslims. They are suffering from the hellishly helpless syndrome, which is leading them to the current state of colossal intellectual inertia and nudging them to radicalism and extremism.
Who is to blame? State and central governments, Hindus, creation of Pakistan syndrome, discrimination, Islamophobia, Sangh Parivar? The litany of negative excuses will go on as they are recounted at most of the uninspiring sermons of Muslims' Friday prayers.
In my view, nobody should be blamed but Muslims themselves. If Muslims had any respect for the first word of the Quran, they would have had sent their children to study at the nearest government schools, pathshalas, madarsas, colleges, or universities, where almost free education was available, whether they were giving in Urdu or Hindi, Kannada or Bangla, Tamil or Telugu. Although these schools might not have had good chairs to sit on or clean sheets on the floor to squat on, the graduating students would have had the ability to move on further and mentor their next generations as the parents of Dalits and Backward groups have been doing.
My parents did the same thing. They sent me to several schools that did not have proper desks. In some schools, we were sitting on the jute mats, under a thatched roof. When I was in high school, I learned Hindi and Urdu with the same passion. Due to the lack of the tutoring privilege, I was very poor in English. In fact, I failed in English in my secondary examination, and had to reappear in one subject. A humiliating experience? No. This failure could not humiliate me, because I believed in Iqra. I proceeded to college, where I met a mentor named Dr Kritya Nand Singh, who taught me how to write good essays; of course in Hindi because I was growing up in Bihar. I still loved Urdu Ghazals but I immersed myself in Hindi by reading Dinman and Hindustan Samachar like my Islamic books. By the time I earned my bachelor's degree, I was as fluent in Hindi as a kavi. In fact, my Hindu friends used to inquire about my gotra, because they were thinking that I was a Brahmin. In Bihar, Khan is one of the titles of Brahmins.
My addiction to the Iqragiri led me to appear at the Bihar Public Service Commission's deputy collector's examination. I aced it on my first attempt, but got thrown out because, that year, the state government implemented a huge quota reservation for backward castes with retrospective effect. Although I was one of the most economically backward persons who passed the test, the system bypassed me. Did it make me bitter and prompt me to hate all the backward castes, or all the Hindus, or the Bihar government or India? Not at all. Yes, I got depressed, felt helpless for a while. Then I realized prayers and curses would not bring prosperity; it's the hard work that counts.
Excellence is the best peaceful revenge. I took a detour, went to Saudi Arabia, saved some money and did not waste it on building a big house back home, but started preparing for the Test of English as a Second Language (TOEFL) and Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) and finally landed in the United States. Here again, I went for another master's degree, and more certifications, and more education - Iqragiri.
What I did can be imitated by millions of Muslims in one way or another. After all, did not Azim Premji, APJ Abdul Kalam, Shahrukh Khan, AR Rahman, Irfan Pathan, Sania Mirza do the same thing in their own way? In addition, are not members of the upper caste Hindus going through the same crucible? Did Ambani brothers excel in their endeavors by simply offering pujas and waiting for quotas?
Instead of campaigning for Urdu to be the second language, fighting to retain the word "Muslim" in the Aligarh Muslim University, and waging agitation to save Muslim Personal Law, Muslims should spend their entire energy in imparting education to their kids, in all humanly possible ways and languages. If it is Sanskrit, so be it. In the sprit of the Iqragiri, they should adopt all languages as Islamic and all academic institutions as AMU and take advantage of the wave of renaissance India is witnessing. If a set of common laws based on equality and justice is good for 700 million Hindus, how can it be unethical for 250 million to 300 million Muslims? Indeed, the laws related to a religion should be different and unique to the respective religion.
Indian Muslims need to understand the expectations of being close to the cutting and bleeding edge of success. They are not children of lesser god, but they simply missed the train of the 20th century. They have to hop on the next train as fast as possible. They have become the new Dalits of India, or maybe Harijans. But nobody is going to help them. There will not be any universal reservation for them.
The time has come that Indian Muslims should wake up to the clarion call: Muslims need to help themselves. All the religious teachings indicate that God helps those who help themselves. In my view, God expects us to pay for the down payment; he will then arrange a flexible monthly premium. However, he won't pay the installment.
To turn the tide from the perception of the children of violence and failure to the reality of angels of peace and prosperity, Muslims need to adopt professional education as, maybe, one of the sixth pillars of Islam as I am still practicing it on myself and on my son, Shaan, who is only 13 years old, and learning French in addition to English – the lingua franca of the world; my mother tongue Urdu; and our religious language Arabic. I wish I could teach him Hindi too to connect him with the soul of India.
Iqra does not mean teaching only Arabic and Urdu, or Quran and Hadith or producing only Hafiz and Maulana, who may know all the bylaws of the Jannat (heaven) and hereafter, but ignorant of the constitution of the country where they are currently breathing in. All world languages are God given. Iqra also means to educate your kids to become a good wage earner, a nice human being, an exemplary role model for the society, a scientist who could develop medicines for dreadful diseases, The current world is also God created, and it has been in existence for millions of years, and most likely it will prosper for another millions of years, Insha Allah. Are Muslims going to be simply a visitor to an ongoing worldly circus or will they also contribute and improve it?
Once when I pushed my son for good grades, Shaan quipped, "Daddy, it looks like your religion is education." Why not, after all Iqra was the first word of my religion. Being educated and rich should be fashionable among Muslims too.