Taking Muslims backward
Muslims would have rejoiced if the Jamiat had campaigned for establishing first-rate modern schools in Muslim neighbourhoods. Instead, they sought to obstruct even the feeble attempts of the government to modernise thousands of madrasas
Arshad Alam Delhi
There is no compulsion in religion. This is a statement which the Jamiat-Ulama-i-Hind repeats ad nauseam whenever it wants to portray the liberal face of Islam. Why is it then that it is forcing its own co-religionists to follow their version of Islam as the only authentic truth? The controversy over Vande Mataram is another example of the illiberal streak within organisations like the Jamiat and its ideological fountainhead, the Deoband. To justify it would be to endorse the whole gamut of conservative agenda that they together stand for.
Two arguments have been made in defence of the Jamiat. The first is that a fatwa is just an opinion and not a ruling. It is true that a fatwa is just an opinion and not an edict, as has been made out in the popular press. Muslims are completely free to either obey the fatwa or discard it in the dustbin. However, this does not absolve the Jamiat from their responsibility. It should be understood that the Jamiat Ulama is one of the largest religious organisation of Indian Muslims. Organisationally supported by a huge network of Deobandi madrasas, the voice of Jamiat matters to ordinary Muslims who look up to their Ulama for the correct interpretation of scriptures.
Few years ago, I met a person who had pulled out his son from school and put him in a madrasa. When I enquired why he had done so, he said that his son had to recite prayers in the school, which was un-Islamic. This person, of course, knew nothing of the contents of the prayers but he was firmly of the opinion that if the Ulama said it was un-Islamic then it must be true. People like him make no distinction between an opinion and an edict. So, the argument that a fatwa is just an opinion does not hold good for a section of the Muslim community who believes that the Ulama are the spokesperson of Islam. The fatwa, lacking in wisdom, will have the effect of ghettoising the Muslims even further.
The second argument, hardly reported in the English media, was that Vande Mataram had been made into a divisive issue by the RSS-VHP in parts of Uttar Pradesh, where they have been taking out morchas to hammer the point that since Muslims do not sing the Vande Mataram, they are traitors. The latest Deoband fatwa was thus a response to the tirade of the Hindu Right. The problem with this argument is that it lacks chronology. A similar fatwa on Vande Mataram was issued by the Deoband in 2006. It was only after this that the BJP made it into an issue as it suited their designs to paint the Muslims as outsiders. Thus, it was the Deoband which gave fodder and fuelled the nefarious intent of the Hindu Right. But the more important point is that this time around the Jamiat sought to make a local issue into a national one. After all, the resolution on Vande Mataram was adopted in their national conference and thus puts a question mark on the intent of the Jamiat itself. If the intent was political, which no doubt it was, then, too, it was bad politics. For, it again provided a glimmer of life to the nearly dead BJP. The resolution told them that their kind of politics has many takers and even if they are not in a position to work up passions, there are others who are more than willing to do their bidding.
There were 21-odd resolutions passed that day and some, like that opposing the formation of a central madrasa board and separate educational provisions for Muslims girls after 10 years of age merited far serious debate. But there was not even a hint of discussion on these issues in the popular media. The resolutions, lacking in any positive agenda, seek to obstruct even the feeble attempts of the government to modernise thousands of madrasas. In the name of Islam, poor students of the madrasas are used to serve the needs of the Ulama, who themselves are wary of sending their own children to these madrasas. The Muslims would have rejoiced if the Jamiat had campaigned for establishing first-rate modern schools in Muslim neighbourhoods. But, perhaps, that is too much to expect from this class of self-appointed Muslim representatives whose politics do not have any place for the genuine aspirations of ordinary Muslims. It's time, perhaps, that Muslims on the street raise their voice against the increasingly irrelevant politics of their Ulama.
The writer is with the Centre for Jawaharlal Nehru Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia