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Mullahs and Muslim Backwardness

November 12, 2008


Sir Syed Ahmed Khan  was one of the foremost Muslim leaders and reformers of pre-independence India. I had previously read about him in history books and in articles about the “two-nation” theory and even though I did not agree with a lot of his views, I developed an admiration for him as a visionary and a rational voice against the intolerances of Islam. 

In a recent article , in the Indian Express (October 18, 2008) entitled ‘Reform happens through discord, not unity’, BJP leader Arif Muhammad Khan wrote about Sir Syed’s tireless efforts towards upliftment of the Muslim population through western education, and the impediments he faced due to the conservative attitudes of the Muslim clergy. Long before the present communal problems in “secular” India brought to light the influence of the fanatic mullahs on the Muslim population in general and Muslim youth in particular, Sir Syed had warned about the retrogressive beliefs of the Muslim clergy and their suspicions about modern westernized education. Even though his efforts earned him a fatwa from the Muslim clergy who called him a disbeliever and apostate – an allegation which could have taken his life since Islam mandates the death penalty as a punishment for apostasy – Sir Syed continued to work towards social reform in the Indian Muslim society.


As a rebuttal to the article’s claim, two research scholars from Jamia Millia Islamia University in a post entitled ‘Mullahs, Indian State and Muslim Backwardness’  asserted that the mullahs are not an influencing factor in the choices made by Muslims in India and is not a factor in the backwardness of the community. But,  instead they go on to blame the Indian Government for the despicable condition of the Muslims and squarely puts the onus of lifting the Muslim community up from its wretched condition on the Indian Government .

“….The fight against conservative elements can only be won if Muslims are educated and employed with the state playing a major role. Abusing mullahs without the state’s intervention for development would be counterproductive…….”

……[Mr. Khan puts] “all the blame on conservative, obscurantist mullahs while completely ignoring the negligence of the Indian state since independence resulting in gross poverty and alienation among the minority.”


First of all, I think this is a totally erroneous assumption. As the recent spate of home-grown Islamic terrorist activities have shown, employment and education are not deterrence against radical conservative influence. Most of the alleged  terrorists, apprehended for being involved in the bombings were well-educated (in western style education) and had well paying jobs. So, the only way the fight against radical Islam (or any radical elements in any religion) can be won is by challenging the very basic tenets and teachings of Islam (or any religion) and abrogating parts of it that conflict with modern thinking. Unless, the root of the problem is not addressed, jobs and education won’t change anything. Then again, isn’t it easier and less threatening to blame “misguided” Muslims for something, than be critical and introspective about Islam ? Since Muslims consider the Quran, as direct words of Allah, denying parts of it will be as good as denying the concept of God itself. Since most Muslim-born aethists keep their atheism and apostasy closeted for fear of the death sentence, I doubt if the fight against radical Islam can be won anytime in the future. 

Also, the authors’ allegation in their article is utterly moronic and baseless.  This allegation of muslim interest being neglected by the government is a very common accusation made by some sections of the Indian Muslim community. I wonder why is it that some sections (not all) of the Muslim population in India are always playing the “victim” and “religion” card – as if the entire world is conspiring against them to keep them subjugated. Instead of being introspective and finding reasons from within, I find these Muslims always pointing fingers and blaming something or someone for their predicament. It’s either the Jews, the Government, the Islamophobes, or the communists etc etc. who are to blame for the condition of the Muslims.

I think it is time to ask the question – why is it, that we seldom hear such allegations from other minority communities like the Sikh community or the Christian community or the Jain community? Is the Indian government deliberately trying to subjugate the Muslim population ? If so, how is it that Muslims can be found in almost all professions and at all levels of the public and private sector, even that of the President of India. If some Muslims can make it to the top, what is preventing the rest of the Muslim community from fulfilling their dreams and aspirations? Doesn’t it also disprove the claim of the Muslims that the government is not doing enough, or somehow the Muslims are being subjugated ? Can the authors please explain, what is it so special about the Muslim minority in India that makes them worthy of such special privileges? Are Muslim men and women mentally and physically challenged or do they lack perseverance and determination? If not, why can’t they compete with everyone for jobs and higher education ? There are millions of Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and members of other sects in India who live below the poverty line and who fight everyday to make ends meet. Do the authors of the article claim, that somehow the Muslims in India are more worthy of government jobs and educational facilities than others? I  would have understood if these scholars were asking governmental aid for the poor/backward communities, irrespective of race, caste or religion. But instead their skewed arguments cannot disentangle themselves from the narrow-mindedness of the premise.

Fortunately, there are Muslims who do have a different opinon and are not enslaved by such narrow minded attitudes as can be seen in this article here written by an Indian Muslim

“……Despite continuous provocations, first from the Muslim League and since then from Pakistan, the Hindu majority in India has not thrown us or members of other minorities out of Civil Services, Armed Forces, the judiciary, trade, commerce, business and industry. There are Muslim Ministers in the Union and State cabinets, Muslim Governors, Muslim Ambassadors, representing India in foreign countries, fully enjoying the confidence of the Indian nation, Muslim members in Parliament and state legislatures, Muslim judges serving on the Supreme Court and High Courts, high-ranking officers in the Armed Forces and the Civil services, including the police. Muslims have large landed estates, run big business and commercial houses in various parts of the country, notably in Bombay and Calcutta, have their shares in industrial production and enterprise in export and import trade. Our famous sacred shrines and places of cultural interest are mostly in India.”


The authors then go on to say

“…there is no doubt that a section of Muslims, mostly poor and uneducated, is under their [mullahs] firm control. However, the majority of Muslims, like in any other community, are forward looking and they want modern education for their children….”

This is utterly ridiculous and fallacious logic, since the authors themselves go on to prove the point they were so vehemently trying to refute. Now, before we look at the logical fallacy of this statement, it is important to understand, what sort of “backwardness” are they trying to imply. From both the original article written by Mr. Khan and this rebuttal, it seems to me, that in both cases the authors are talking about economic and educational backwardness (since the mullahs are against western education) and not mental backwardness.  If that is the case, then aren’t these “poor and uneducated” section of the muslims exactly the type of backward people Mr. Khan is talking about. Doesn’t the authors then prove precisely Mr. Khan’s assertions. If these sections which are really backward are under the despotic influence of the mullahs, doesn’t it prove Mr. Khan’s point – i.e mullahs are responsible for their backwardness. What chance then do these Muslims have of coming out of this condition ?

To further see how fallacious this argument is, let us assume for a minute that there are no poor and educated or rich and uneducated Muslims in India. Then, from the sentences above,  it seems that the authors are trying to argue that majority of Muslims are not poor or uneducated and hence not under the influence of the clergy and cannot be called backward. If that is the case, we do not have any problems at all and then the grounds used by the authors to claim special privileges for the Muslims from the govt, are non-existent?  If that is not the case, then we are back to the the original assertion that Mullahs are an influencing factor.  

Even though Mr. Khan in his original article never claims “all” Muslims to be under the mullahs control but only those sections who are in dire need of education and jobs, the authors somehow seem to assume that to be the case. The authors also seem to have an educated, affluent and very urban view of the Muslim population. It’s true that a lot of the urban Muslims are educated and progressive in their views about modern education. However there’s a sizeable portion of the Muslim population in India living both in rural and urban India, who are either illiterate or semi-literate, either unemployed or work in low paying jobs who undeniably are influenced by the mullahs’ worldview and follow their fatwas. It is exactly these sections of the Muslim community that  give everyone the impression of backwardness of the community.

The authors then go on to imply that since there is no agreement over the question of ” who is a Muslim?” that somehow Mr. Khan, who is himself a Muslim, is not in touch with the masses and is making too broad a claim.  This is nothing but a red herring and is loopy logic to divert attention from the problem. How does influence of the mullahs on Muslims have anything to do with Muslims from different backgrounds and sects and the customs each sect of Muslims follow ? Are the authors somehow trying to suggest that Muslims from different sects of Islam do not unanimously believe in Allah, the Quran and the words of Prophet Mohammad ? Aren’t the fatwas by the imams based on the world view inspired by the Quran and the Hadiths?

The readers can save themselves the trouble of reading the rest of the article because the rest is nothing but a repetition of the previous statements with the additional warning of the minorities getting more and more disillusioned by the govt’s lack of bias and favor. It’s appalling to see such shallow logic and prejudiced articles from scholars of such esteemed institutes. But hey, isn’t is easier to point fingers at others for all your troubles rather than spend some time on introspection. I sincerely hope that next time someone tries to blame the Indian government for their problems, they spend some time exploring other angles and analyzing contrary data to reach a conclusion than perpetuating widely-held ideas to reinforce their “victim” status.



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