Indian Muslim leadership: Why the blinders need to be removed

Source : SIFY
By : Syed Ubaidur Rahman
Last Updated: Tue, Sep 26, 2017 18:20 hrs

Indian Muslim leadership doesn’t have a long-term agenda for the development of the community in the country. Most of them continue to hog limelight thanks to a plethora of emotive issues that continue to arise every now and then.

At the time when the community seems to be at the crossroads of history, faced with umpteen challenges, the Muslim leaders continue to parrot the decades old issues that threw them into the limelight.

They seem to be living in a time warp with blinders put on their eyes. Both of them don’t allow them to see the world with reality. One forces them to think as they did in the past, while the other didn’t allow them to see anything realistically.

What we recently saw during the instant triple talaq discussion seems to be a symptomatic sign of loss of vision for the community leadership in the country. As the Muslim leadership – not just clergy- tried to defend the practice of instant triple talaq, despite it being completely opposed to the detailed Qur’anic guidelines on divorce, it clearly exposed itself to its lack of vision and strategic thinking.

Religious leadership

Muslim leadership in India, especially North India is dominated by religious organization. Even the political moves by the community are dominated by multiple religious organizations. While these organizations have long histories behind them, their leadership is not trained to tackle contemporary issues.

If you analyse either the madrasa education –from where almost the entire Muslim religious leadership originates – or the teaching pattern there, you will be shocked that they continue to teach almost the entire syllabus that was prepared several centuries ago. While the books of jurisprudence have remained the same, the issues they are taught there have remained the same that were taught two hundred or three hundred years ago.

Amazingly, there is no also change when it comes to even books of Arabic literature. You will be surprised that in almost every madrasa throughout the country with a few exceptions, the only book of poetry that is part of syllabus is Diwan al-Hamasa, a collection of poems by renowned Arabic poets of pre-Islamic period to seventh century put together by Al-Tabrizi. While there may be a few exceptions, but Al-Tabrizi’s collection is part of syllabus in madrasa across the country.

I wouldn’t have any issue with teaching of this collection, had there been any effort to include contemporary Arabic poets in the syllabus. What is true of the poetry is also true about prose being taught in madrasas. Our madrasas continue to teach books of literature that were written several hundred years ago.

One of the books of literature that is part of almost every madrasa is Kalīlah wa Dimnah, a translation of Panchtantra. The Sanskrit book, translated by renowned Arabic author Abdullah bin Muqaffa in early eighth century is still taught in madrasas across the country.

What is true of literature is equally true about almost every other subject including logic, jurisprudence, fiqh and other subjects. They continue to teach a book on logic (mantiq) that was written several hundred years ago. And the interesting part is that this book is the only one that is taught on logic in madrasas.

It is not surprising that as they are trained in literature that was prepared hundreds of years ago, when the madrasa graduates come out of the seminaries, they are not able to speak Arabic or even understand Arabic literature in vogue in Arab world. Nonetheless, as they are taught the best of grammar books, the ones among them who, out of their own personal interest study current literature, they are able to do well in literature. But the number of such people is few and far between.

Contemporary ulama vs Islamic scholars of the past

Comparing the contemporary ulama in India in general and in South Asia in particular with the renowned Islamic scholars of past, what baffles an ordinary reader, is the lack and depth of knowledge of contemporary ulama. The contemporary ulama that our madrasas produce are taught by half educated moulvis who are mostly the products of the same madrasas without any training in teaching or any specialization.

Comparing them with Islamic scholars of the past is comparing darkness with light. Ghazali, Farabi, Razi, Ibn Rushd, Ibn Khaldun, Ibn Sina, Zamakhshari and numerous other scholars of the past were equally at ease with jurisprudence, exegesis, metaphysics, chemistry, physics, mathematics, medicine and linguistics. All of these and many others contributed substantially on almost every subject under the sun and enriched the knowledge immensely. Compare them with the ulama that the community has its disposal to guide the faithful in the matters of faith and the worldly affairs, and you will be stumped how the things have come to this level.

The people who have taken over the mantle of guiding the community in this part of the world are not equipped to undertake this mammoth responsibility. They abhor science, mathematics and philosophy that their predecessors enriched and don’t want their pupils to learn these ‘worldly’ subjects. To be true, somehow, they just about tolerate the teaching of these subjects in primary classes

Arashad Alam in one of his papers says, “…contemporary debates about introduction of modern subjects in madrasas do not appreciate the epistemological dichotomy of ilm and fann, which the madrasas practice. Science in madrasas is primarily understood as a ‘skill’ to earn one’s livelihood. There is a fundamental religious core, the dissemination of which is their primary role. Science and other modern subjects are all welcome to the extent that they do not disturb this fundamental core which is considered to be true for all times to come. Far from being a critical methodology, science here becomes a tool for the further refinement of religion”.

Muslim religious leadership lacks comprehension and understanding

Muslim religious leadership, the product of these very same madrasas, is not really adept at comprehending issues that the community faces. They haven’t studied science or mathematics and so haven’t been trained in scientifically analyzing issues or analyzing the causes and effects of their actions or problem solving. These people are least expected to prepare long term planning for the madrasas they are running, or the community institutions that they lead. They live in time warp and want to remain in their shells and don’t want the community to question their actions, decisions and the demand for change in their strategies.

More columns by Syed Ubaidur Rahman:

Instant talaq: Supreme Court majority judgment not enough

Jamiat Ulama's meet with Modi a welcome beginning

Both cow vigilantism and the Lal Masjid protests threaten the State

Beef ban in Uttar Pradesh - Why it cannot be enforced permanently

BJP victory in Uttar Pradesh is not a defeat for Muslims

Has startup culture left Indian Muslims untouched?

BJP victory in Uttar Pradesh is not a defeat for Muslims

Syed Ubaidur Rahman is a New Delhi based writer and commentator. He has written several books on Muslims and Islam in India including Understanding Muslim Leadership in India.