springWhen individuals and communities are pushed to the wall, they often show a tendency to bounce back, either in right or wrong direction. Severely jolted by the demolition of Babri mosque, carnage in Gujarat and in the global atmosphere of Islamophobea after 9/11, Indian Muslims also showed the same. But only hooded faces and deafening sound of blasts grabbed the headlines. Nobody noticed the silent revolution that was simultaneously taking place in the community. Noted journalist Hasan Suroor tries to read the undercurrents among Indian Muslims in his book, ‘India’s Muslim Spring: Why Nobody Talking About It?’

“There is a seismic shift taking place in Muslim thinking which  needs to be taken note of and supported if India really wants a confident, forward-looking and well-adjusted Muslim community in tune with the rest of the society,” he writes. While describing the changes in the community, he rightly argues that failing to read the shift will be detrimental not for the community alone, but for the very existence of India as a pluralistic society. An educationally and economically strong minority is good for the whole country. It’s nobody’s interest to have more than 170 million citizens stuck in illiteracy, poverty and a cultural time-warp, he writes.

While demystifying the stereotyped Muslim community, he notices two major changes in the outlook of the community, especially among the young generation, during the last two decades.

Firstly, the focus of Muslim agenda has shifted from emotional issues to more secular bread and butter issues such as education, poverty and housing. Secondly, they no longer see any contradiction in their religious identity, modern outlook and secular citizenship.

He also argues that the protagonists of change is not the usual ‘progressive intellectuals’ but “the gold plated practicing Muslims deeply conscious of their Muslim identity and unapologetic about flaunting it.”  The new generation also exposes the fallacy that you cannot be religious and modern at the same time; that religiosity is incompatible with quest for progress.

While accusing the Left-leaning progressives who are generally considered the moderate, secular voice of the community, the author says, they should have taken the lead in mobilizing the community around a platform of social justice and freedom. But they were so wrapped up in their own notions of secularism and so disdainful of anything that smacked of religion, that they happily abandoned it. As he rightly said, “They had a reputation of being out of touch with the community”. Rather than reaching out to ordinary Muslims they have ended up alienating them by constantly talking them down to them and taking an uncompromisingly hard line on most issues.

“They must start with trying to win the confidence of the wider community by rethinking their deeply-ingrained antipathy to religion. The notion that ‘faith equals fundamentalism’ or atheism is a precondition for secularism has no basis,” Suroor writes.

Despite documenting the positive change that largely went unnoticed in the clamour of fighting Muslim terror, the book has a few misses and lapses. Though the author admits that his research was confined to major cities, none of the cities in south with considerable number of Muslim population find place in the book. Infact, in the absence of the baggage of partition, Muslims in south India had shown the way  in many fields, especially in education and political empowerment of the community.

For example, Muslims in Kerala often have been cited as a role model due to their considerable improvement in their socio-economic status. While questioning the sectarian politics of the Muslim leadership, the author fails to take note of major political experiment by the Muslims in Kerala and most recently in Assam. However, he describes Muslim’s support for Modi in 2010 civic elections in Gujarat as an example of pragmatic politics.  While discussing the vote bank politics of parties, the author completely exonerates the Left saying, “Barring the Left, political parties of all hues have shamelessly exploited Hindu-Muslim differences to build their respective vote banks.”

In reality, the 30-years of Left rule in West Bengal and the partisan politics of CPI (M) in Kerala have already exposed the faultlines of Left politics.

The book also does not mention anything about the neo socio-political movements emerging from the community, though it is very early to predict their future.

The author also brackets the community in binaries-the fundamentalist mullah class and forward looking moderates. While squarely blaming the mullah class as the main culprit for the insularity and lack of progressiveness, he conveniently forgets the various contributions of Muslim religious organizations in the development of the community in various parts of the country keeping their tradition and faith alive through the network of mosques, madrassas and other charitable institutions.

Again, the case of Kerala Muslims is a classic example for how the mullah class can work well for the community. It was the ‘fundamentalist’ Salafi mullah class that took major initiatives in Muslim education and especially in the field of women education. When the educated Muslims looked down upon their religious identity and flouted their progressiveness in the grab of communism, it was the religious organizations like the Kerala Nadvathul Mujahideen (KNM) and Jamat-e-Islami and Sunni groups who started their own educational institutions to give confidence to the community without sacrificing their religious identity. If it worked in south, it can be replicated in other parts of the country as well. What needed is a well thought out policy of empowerment considering the various needs of the society with the participation of various streams within the community who are sincerely working for the community.

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