The Muslim educated class is a mostly unnoticed section of the Muslim society. The role of the educated class and intelligentsia in protecting the interests of and providing dynamic guidance for any community cannot be over-estimated. In any meaningful discussion on the progress and revival of the languishing Indian Muslim community, the role to be played by its educated class deserves prime attention.
Even though today the Muslim leadership is invariably associated with the clergy for some reason, the realities – including the account of whatever progress the Muslim community has made in modern times – do not warrant this. It is not hard to see that any headway made so far by the community in the fields of Social, educational and economic fields, and even its religious awakening, owes most to the modern education as well as the movements initiated by the educated class. For example, had it not been for the role played by the Aligarh movement and other similar movements, the profile of the Muslim community in India could not have been worse.
The role of the intellectually empowered section of the community in sustaining a community is so pivotal that it would not be grossly wrong to say that the intelligentsia deserves whatever blame or credit for the state of the community. Unfortunately in the case of Indian Muslims, the intelligentsia is simply not there in the picture even to take some blame. No wonder that the community is in practically leaderless, with no one to take any accountability on its behalf, and the community simply being unable to put to use its vast human and material resources for any collective advantage.
If we look at the Muslim community in India we cannot ignore its stark contrast with the other backward communities. It is the glittering of talent in the maze of utter backwardness and retardation. It is not possible to see another community which is so backward and still has so many individual achievers. That a community which has produced such stalwarts from APJ Abdul Kalam, Azim Premji, Muhammad Azharuddin and Muhammad Rafi to Sania Mirza and Shah Rukh Khan has been relegated to a state comparable to the Dalits is indeed disgraceful. And it certainly does point to one fact – the utter inaction, indifference and unconcern of its intelligentsia.
At the same time, I am not over-looking the significance of the religious leadership, considering their clout with the masses. Nor do I commit the blunder of advocating the damned “separation of religion and the state”. But one is left to wonder if it is the religious leaders who should deal with even affairs over which they have little command or can offer no solution, again aren’t we facing the difficulty associated with the separation of religion and the mundane here?
Moreover there is no point in turning a blind eye to the many inherent drawbacks of the hierarchy assuming the religious leaders as the sole leaders of the community. For example consider the issue of the Muslim unity. Everybody is concerned about the lack of unity in the community and is so vocal about it. No one has any doubt that Muslim unity is a must and that it should be brought about as soon as possible. Still why no one is pointing out the reason why it is so eluding us?
The religious groups surely do a great job of keeping together the community and protecting its identity. They keep alive our tradition and legacy, and sustain the basic institutions like mosques, madrasas and orphanages despite the absence of any central leadership, organized structure or profit motives. However we should not overlook the fact that the interests which sustain each such group– which are essentially faith-based – also prevent any conciliation between them. This is a general social psychology applicable for any community, and not just the Muslim community. In other words, on a functional plane the religious groups do not represent the community, rather the divisions in the community.
However unity would be possible if we can find and energize a section of the community which can act as a common representative platform and can also effectively shoulder its responsibilities. Consider the case of Hindus. No community in the world is so heterogeneous than the Hindu community. Even the so-called high castes have sub-castes which have further sub-castes, even to the exclusion of intermarriages between them. Still Hindus have been able to achieve political unity, thanks to their intelligentsia who fare well to represent and protect their common interests, keeping the seditions under the carpet. There are lessons to learn for Muslim community from this, which is far more homogenous than Hindus but still are unable to find unity within itself.
There is little doubt that no particular religious group in the community can provide this common platform for the reason I mentioned above. Nor can the atheists or communists or any such group who do not conform to the theistic aspirations of the Muslim community. Only the religious-minded educated class can take up this challenge, with their equi-distant approach to all religious groups, and at the same time being never anti-Islamic either. Moreover they can also serve to provide the core intelligentsia to take care of the community affairs.
These are some of the factors I think why should move more towards in this direction:
As already said, only the educated class can bring unity for the community, as they are the only group that has the potential to gain the common acceptance of the entire community. Surprisingly, we can see that even in overtly religious Muslim countries like Pakistan the secular parties are making hay in elections while the religious parties are side-lined.
As it is the educated class who dominate all the practical fields like governance, economy, health care, law and order, technology and so on, they can naturally assume leadership and provide functional support in every field. In any case it is the educated class who handles affairs in all these fields even in Muslim countries.
The educated class can gain more acceptance with the government as well as other communities as they do not project a overly religious or fundamentalist profile, and can help mitigate the negative stereo-typing of Muslims as displaying a too communal character by always being represented by the Mullas (despite the so little gains usually made out of it). Hopefully this will also lead to better understanding between Muslims and other communities, besides imparting the Muslim community a progressive outlook.
Speaking further on the inter-community relations, terrorism is a contentious issue which the Indian Muslims have to deal with. No one can deny the roles of some narrow-minded and short-sighted Mullas and Mulla ideologies in their followers undertaking dangerous or retrogressive stances and acts. The intelligentsia should come forward to give mature guidance to the Muslim youth and utilize their energy creatively for the benefit of the community and the nation.
Next comes the role of the Muslim women. It goes without saying that without the active contribution of this half of the community the progress of the community will remain a distant dream. Certainly women have a lot to contribute, especially in the fields of government representation and education. Only the educated class can provide a viable platform to facilitate the same.
The importance of the political representation of Muslims as the largest minority in the country cannot be emphasized enough (especially looking at the leverage which the Left parties have gained with their few seats in the parliament, for example). If ever there is any chance for the political unity of Muslims, the educated class has to take the lead and representation. Similarly only educated class can protect and put to use effectively the Waqaf properties for the benefit of the community.
It is worthwhile to re-iterate that any such common platform represented by the educated class should be equi-distant (or rather equi-proximal) to all the religious groups within the community in general, and at the same time it is imperative that they be loyal to the Islamic ideology too. Moreover the Muslim intelligentsia should, much like their counterparts in other religions, take the onus of providing the necessary ideological support and defense for the community. Hope that more discussions, guide lines and practical steps to improve the participation and contribution of the educated class and the intelligentsia in the affairs of the community will take place.