Sunday, January 23, 2011

Progressive Muslims in Pakistan and India

As we approach the Republic day, the long article of Ramnath Guha in the new issue of Outlook makes for sombre reading about threats to "Idea of India" and the state of India's nationhood. Guha always makes for very interesting reading, and though he seems to end on an optimistic note, I don't know how India can find a solution before the damage to its social and enviornmental fibre won't be irriversible.

However, it was something in the two articles related to Muslims in India and Pakistan that caught my attention, and is the focus of this post's question.

Mariana Baabar, in her article "The Flickering Flame" on the fear in liberal Pakistani society following the assassination of Salman Taseer, has written:
This question has again become a subject of fervent debate from the time Punjab governor Salman Taseer was gunned down and the shocking feting of his assassin, Malik Mumtaz Qadri, who was outraged by his victim’s support for amending the blasphemy law. For someone to be killed for an opinion, an idea, has jolted Pakistanis into reflecting over their journey backward—from liberating progressivism to stifling conservatism. Recalls journalist Adnan Rehmat, “In the ’60s and ’70s, you could even eat at restaurants during Ramadan and see women in saris and bell-bottoms in the bazaars. Burqas and beards were a rare sight.” The socio-cultural transformation has prompted many Pakistanis to think of emigrating. This sentiment was articulated last week in the Dairy of a Social Butterfly, a popular satirical column of the Friday Times. The Butterfly’s husband, Janoo, tells her why they should quit the country, “Tomorrow, someone could pass a fatwa against you for not covering your head. And when a grinning bearded murderer guns you down, lawyers will come and shower him with rose petals.”
In another opinion article on the website of Outlook, Yoginder Sikand writes in "Beyond Sachar" about the role of Muslim religious and civil-political leaders in the state of Muslims in India, a role that he feels was not sufficiently explored in the Sachar report, and writes:
In the wake of Partition of India, a large section of the then Indian Muslim leadership, consisting mainly of the landed aristocracy as well as the middle class intelligentsia, particularly in north India, where the bulk of the Muslim population was concentrated, migrated to Pakistan. The Muslims who remained behind were largely poor and illiterate, the vast majority of who belonged to the so-called ajlaf, descendants of ‘low’ caste converts, whose economic, social and educational conditions had not changed appreciably despite their conversion to Islam. With their political influence, financial resources and access to new forms of knowledge, the landed aristocracy and, especially, the modern-educated intelligentsia could otherwise have been expected to play a key role in promoting internal social reform among the Muslims, as some of them indeed had in the years before Partition. But with their migration to Pakistan, this was rendered impossible. The leadership vacuum created by their departure was soon filled by a different class of men—mullahs, representing a variety of rival Muslim sects, educated in traditionalist madrasas. Many of them, particularly of the Deobandi variety, had been close allies of the Congress party. Today, the vast majority of Muslim organizations that claim to speak for Islam and for the entire Muslim community are led and dominated by mullahs belonging to various sectarian groups—the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board, the All-India Milli Council, the two or more factions of the Jamiat ul-Ulema-e Hind, the Jamaat-e Islami, the Jamiat-e Ahl-e Hadith and so on.
Thus Sikand identifies, one of the reasons of the backwardness of Muslim leadership in India and its lack of sufficient social reforms, in the migration of more educated and liberals Muslims to Pakistan. Yet as Baabar's article points out, this did not help Pakistan to create a more reformed and progressive society. Why and how did that happen?

I feel that the problem could have been also in the decisions of the progressive and liberal Muslims to leave for Pakistan, because it underlined that their progressiveness and liberalism were less stronger than the idea that religion is more important in a society.

Once you choose religion over other human values, you lay the foundations of a society that is unable to rise above religion? What do you think?

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