The reasons why Indian Muslims lag behind

The dictionary describes conservative as conventional, unprogressive, unchanging, inflexible, cautious, constant, etc and progressive as advancing, rising, methodical, open-minded, reformist, revisionist and the like. An honest, unbiased look at Muslims in India today show that they are closer to the former than the latter.

It is an established truth that human beings are programmed to evolve, to grow, to develop and progress. Life by its very definition nurtures and fosters growth; indeed life is synonymous with spirit and vitality. Where you find these positive, intrinsic qualities, you find growth and evolution. An absence of these on the other hand entails regressive, recessive conditions.

History is replete with stories of civilisations that have either risen to the pinnacle of glory or withered away unsung and unheard of or, at best, stagnated in a plebeian existence. History too has another attribute — it points to the future unwaveringly. A case of the past revealing the future. The lives and history of men, communities and nations provide a clear indication of where they are headed.

To come back to Muslims, and specifically to Indian Muslims, if truth be told their life in independent India so far has been largely devoid of any significant qualities that can be termed truly progressive.

What ails Indian Muslims? Fundamentally, an obscurantist outlook that is so firmly entrenched in the psyche that even the brilliant light of the 21st century has been unable to unhitch. Why? If you were to look at the whys and whereof of this phenomenon, a number of factors comes to light, the most significant of which is a failure to forge an identity with the nation and all it stands for. This identification with something larger than us is a vital requirement for it provides the necessary anchor to our lives. Muslims in India by and large identify themselves more with Islam and its tenets.

Like everything else, religion too has its place in our lives. It is a means to an end; namely, a spiritual awakening, moral integrity and by inference, progress into a civilised human being. How far that has succeeded is a different issue and is out of context here. However, the fact is, it is a vehicle for growth in one particular area of our life.

Priority

Problem arises when religion is allowed to displace other factors that are vitally essential for growth, emancipation and progress. Like education, a career, goals and ambitions that don’t just provide us livelihood but truly test our potential that enrich our lives and help us advance frontiers. The question is, will the present mindset of Muslims allow all this to happen or more importantly, make it seem necessary even? An honest answer would be — not likely.

Adopting a wrong perspective of religion also tends to generate a fatalistic attitude that undermines individual enterprise beyond a certain level. Everything can be attributed to divine ordinance, and provides a convenient excuse for lack of personal achievement. Additionally, the promise of a favourable afterlife provides the necessary opiate to the masses.

The all pervading effects of religious doctrines are starkly visible in other areas of Muslim social life too, such as an overly restrictive attitude towards women, in effect swamping the individuality of one half of the population; failure to recognise the true power of education and consequently a dearth of true achievers in any field; a paucity of intellectuals and eclectic, cosmopolitan leaders; a failure to truly integrate with the mainstream, thus creating an insular identity and losing out on prime opportunities at the national level.

Take for instance the matter of disproportionately poor representation of Muslims in national polity and governance. While it is easy to blame political parties for this state of affairs, the fact remains that Indian Muslims have failed to produce enough leaders of calibre.

Identification with appropriate images, icons and values of the contemporary world, connecting with worthy and inspiring models from various fields, turning to the empowering ethos of the modern society, coming into the mainstream of the nation — all this might sound like a lot of rhetoric, but to see real changes Indian Muslims need to bring about a shift in their mindset and be prepared to take such seemingly radical steps.

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