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Wanted: Leaders for the Muslim community

The Muslim community is in its biggest internal churning since independence, with a crisis making it worse: no leaders to guide it in tough times. A report by Sunita Aron.Special

india Updated: Oct 02, 2008 01:28 IST
Sunita Aron
Sunita Aron
Hindustan Times

CVs are awaited for vacancies not filled for years: the Muslim community is looking for leaders.

India’s 15 crore Muslims, the country’s second largest religious community, are in the midst of its worst social churning since independence. Muslims are repeatedly being blamed for terror attacks and fingers being pointed at the larger community for acts blamed on a few Muslims.

But there is no one to lead it, and the aspirants are squabbling among themselves. The community is frustrated — and angry.

“There won’t be Muslim leadership in the country for another 50 years. Don’t we have the Muslim League? It struggles to win one MP seat in Kerala,” said Arshad Siddiqui, founder president of Mumbai’s Crescent Society of India.

Many Muslims are frustrated and angst-ridden, feeling the vacuum of a strong leadership that could defend the community against stereotyping and urge introspection and dialogue within.

A question posted on the website of Darul Uloom Deoband, a leading institution of Islamic learning, reflects the predicament of the community.

“What does the holy Quran say regarding the terrorists who in the name of Islam are spreading terror and killing innocent people and also waging a war against our own country?” the questioner asked.

“How should they be treated? What should the general Muslims do if they have any information of such kind of people?” the query said.

Institutions like the Darul Uloom frequently issue fatwas on various issues, and although they are respected as centres of learning, the edicts are almost never followed by Muslims at large.

So, it was left to students of the Jamia Millia University last week, for example, to protest the vilification of the university and the neighbourhood after the September 13 blasts in Delhi.

When politicians have tried in the past to lead the community, they have failed.

In Uttar Pradesh, with the influence of one-time Muslim favourite Mulayam Singh Yadav weakening, several clerics tried to form a political party. They were propelled into action by the success of the similarly organised Assam United Democratic Front, which won 10 of the 126 seats in state elections two years ago.

But the UDF formed by Maulana Ahmad Bukhari, the chief priest of the Jama Masjid in Delhi, and Shia cleric Maulana Kalbe Jawad collapsed much before it could test political waters in Uttar Pradesh.

Earlier the Momin conference, the Muslim League in Kerala and All-India Muslim Forum have also tried, but failed, to garner political support for the community.

Bukhari has made a new effort: on October 14, representatives from 100-odd Muslim organisations will discuss “Terrorism and Islam”.

“As of now we are hunting for a Muslim leader who could keep the interest of the community above his personal or political interests," Bukhari told the Hindustan Times.

“It’s a vicious circle. Till we remain a fragmented community, political empowerment will remain a distant dream. And until we grab political power, the silent minority will continue to suffer,” said Bukhari.

But many others leaders of Islamic opinion — like the Darul Uloom in Deoband — refuse to discuss the link between Islam and terror.

“Instead of diagnosing the disease and treating it, the government has wrongly given it a name of Islamic terrorism,” said Adil Siddiqui, the spokesman for the Deoband seminary.

Where politicians and social activists have failed, social groups are stepping in.

The World Islamic Network of Mumbai has since the 2006 Mumbai blasts conducted large-scale public campaigns to fight stereotypes on Islam and terrorism. The Crescent Society, which has 40,000 members, has planned similar meetings with other communities in November.

The Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Aandolan, a women’s group with 10,000 members, is campaigning extensively to bring together Dalits and Muslim women across the country.

The group says it has politically groomed women to contest various levels of polls in Karnataka, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Orissa.