Never in my life had it occurred that as I sit down to write, all my years of meditation do not furnish me with one good thought or happy expression. Never before had I felt myself frozen at the bottom of an ocean of shame. Never did I expect that one day, a non-Muslim would say with masterly good sense precisely what Muslims should have thought and felt long ago. Today, I am forced to take with shame the substance of my own religion from a non-Muslim.
The brainstorm occurred when I received a copy of Dalit Voice – a fortnightly magazine of Dalits (untouchables) from India – simultaneously with an E-mail message from a Muslim brother asking about my views on Mr. Muhammad Ali Siddiqui’s article in Dawn. Coincidently, Dalit Voice ran an article which summarised its philosophy and approaches over the last twenty years. On the other hand, Mr. Siddiqui’s article shed light on Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohammad’s lecture in which he questioned the Muslim world’s priorities, asserting that its focus was on form and not on fundamentals.
Mr. Siddiqui is so impressed with Mahathir Muhammed’s argument that Muslims missed not only the industrial revolution but also the “developments which followed with suspicion”. According to Mahathir, Muslims are so obsessed with “dress codes” that they “neglect those injunctions of Islam which are so important for their safety and security.”
Making this a basis, Mr. Siddiqui tries to make a circuitous argument that we have turned Islam into a political doctrine. He praises the Imams, who “dwell on simple matters, like asking people to pray regularly, to keep Ramadan’s fasts, to give charity, and marry off their children early, and quite often they go into details of rituals, but one thing they do not do is indulge in politics.”
Unlike the shallow analysis of our secular analysts, Dalit Voice brings one to tears with its argument that Muslims have “refused to follow the ‘Spirit of Islam’.” What Mr. Siddiqui and his secular friends regard as “simple matters” that do not “spill mischief across borders” is our sticking to “dry bones of Islam” in the eyes of a Dalit. (1)
We must be afflicted with shame for regarding the spirit of Islam as an unacceptable “ideology” simply because it “needs enforcement with the use of the state’s coercive apparatus.” Of course, we need to emphasise the importance of brotherhood, economic and technological development, and perhaps a little insensitivity to purdah. The fact of the matter, however, is that our being secular and insensitive to purdah, etc. is not the answer to what the oppressed expect from us. The problem is not because we are too sensitive to non-issues. The problem is exactly because we have ignored the substance of Islam.
It becomes a matter of shame when a non-Muslim reminds us: “The Qur’an directs the Muslims to fight and die to liberate the Mustadafeen (oppressed) which in the case of India were none other than the country’s untouchables (Dalits).” The shame for us touches its peak when a Dalit says: “The Muslims did not do it and that is why the Muslims themselves became Dalits. Or worse than Dalits.” Do we, the secular bulwarks, have any place to hide?
I wish there could be anything worse than shame for us to feel when the Dalits – for whose liberation from Brahminism, our forefathers came from Middle East and Afghanistan – take up the cause of oppressed Muslims. Many Muslim readers consider Dalit Voice a “better Muslim journal than the best of Muslims papers publishing nothing but religious stuff”, because limiting Islam to rituals and the personal sphere can never help us achieve what is expected of us as Muslims. Prayers, fasting, Hajj and other rituals cannot protect Muslim life that is under threat in many places around the world.
The self-proclaimed secular Muslims toe the Western line of thinking and believe that reasons for Muslims backwardness and humiliation are “deficit of freedom, women’s empowerment and modern education”.(2) We forget that women empowerment will not throw Israel out of the occupied areas. It will not remove US bases from Saudi Arabia. It will not end US sanctions on Iraq. It will not bring an end to the US double standards for justice and democracy. It will simply neutralise us to foreign domination. It will make us further insensitive to occupations and repression.
At a recent seminar in Doha on relations between America and Islam, the Jordanian columnist Rami Khouri rightly pointed out that it takes years of “political, social, economic and human degradation to create a terrorist”. So “fighting terror can only succeed by rehumanising degraded societies, by undoing, one by one, the many individual acts of repression, obstruction, denial, marginalisation and autocracy.”
Undoing injustice is impossible through embracing secularism and liberalism. The aforementioned repression has spread to the international level. Obstruction of justice, denial of basic human rights and marginalisation in every sphere of life has become a global phenomenon for Muslims. Local dictatorship has paled before the tyranny of global dictatorship. And thus needs a global solution, starting with local revolutions against tyranny and injustice.
Unfortunately, time has changed. Muslims have touched the same depth of degradation and humiliation from which they liberated the untouchables not long ago. We must be ashamed to notice the courage and resolve of Mohammad bin Qasim in the voice of persecuted Dalits for the liberation of Muslims. It’s probably the time to take a lesson about fundamentals of Islam from Dalits.
October 27, 2002
(1) Dalit Voice, November 1-15, 2002, Volume 21, page-8.
(2) Thomas L. Friedman, “Under the Arab Street,” New York Times, October 23, 2002.
Abid Ullah Jan is a columnist for The Statesman, The Nation, and the Pakistan Observer (Pakistan). He is also sub-editor for the Tribune International (Sydney, Australia), and is the Executive Director of the Integrated Regional Support Programme (IRSP). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org