Masood Alam Falahi
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Frank admission of caste among Muslims in North India
It is hazardous to review a book which has the ingredients and potentials of opening a pandora’s box. The book by Masood Alam Falahi falls under this category. To consider caste or social stratification in Muslim society is almost a taboo let alone study and follow its ramifications and impacts on society. The credit goes to Falahi to break this taboo and present this malady in all its crude nakedness. Although studies into the reasons for the persistence of Hindu caste structure, particularly among the middle and low caste converts to Islam were, studied in depth with uncertain results for the reason that the Muslim respondents refused to either admit such stratification or took defensive shelter behind Quranic injunctions. The concept of caste among the Indian Muslims with its attending disabilities and social stratification outside the Hindu fold is enigmatic and requires deeper studies. The book is very comprehensive and deals with the subject thoroughly which includes existence of this malady in the semitic religions in its rudiments.
TIPU’S GLORIOUS EXAMPLE
With the advent of Delhi Sultanate, the Muslim society as a state policy adopted the varna cult and thus evolved its own hierarchical caste system in terms of Ashraf, Ajlaf and Arzal which later consolidated into Syed, Sheikh, Mogul and Pathans.
Although in the beginning it was a pure artificial stratification conjured up in the courts of Sultanate for purposes of legitimisation which with the passage of time took roots and established itself as a reality. While the former two castes carry with it a pretentious claim the latter two connotes only their ethnic origin. Their respective ashrafiat ends there. The others were rubble and scum. What was most intriguing was the attitude of the historians of the time like Baruni to the present-day revered personalities like Sir Syed, ulemas of the stature of Moulana Ashraf Ali Thanavi and many others who not only condoned such practices but also practiced it.
It was the immigrants from Islamic lands who had monopolised and constituted the superstructure of power with the pretentious claims of Ashraf and the sultanate retained and patronised this social hierarchy for reasons of state craft. The natural fall-out was the formation of a rubble class outside this group. This artificial grouping was a contingency of state craft.
Since then Muslims live in two worlds. One an egalitarian where all are equal, the other the substratum which transcends the egalitarian sphere —an ideal Islam and a compromised Islam.
But the redeeming feature was the South wherein by and large these practices failed to get the required patronisation from the courts of Sultans. As a matter of fact it fell to the lot of the great saint-king Tipu Sultan to break up this conjured up caste hierarchy. His Ahmadi Risala consisting of converts were given the honorific prefix and affix of Syed and Khan to their names and were settled in his garrison towns all over his domain. In his administration the locals were given precedence over the migrants and for which he had to pay for by his life itself.
The one disappointing feature of the book happen to be its concluding chapter which failed to look beyond the Muslim conglomerate. It failed to provide any blueprint of action to break the barriers of religious borders and join hands with identically placed parallel section of the downtrodden and havenots in other societies on a revolutionary platform. The book deserves to be translated in other Indian languages preferably in English.
With the coming into print of the Basic Problem of OBC & Dalit Muslims, a well-guarded secret is out. That their exists large section within the fold of ummah who leads a subhuman status and who in the eyes of their ulemas do not deserve to be counted as Muslims at all. This in spite of projecting Islam as an egalitarian religion with its lofty quranic injunctions. The book has been scholarly edited by A.H. Ansari [Dr. Fazlur Rahman Farooqi Faridi, editor of Zindagi-E-Nau,New Delhi] and the articles have been contributed to this volume by persons of eminence in their respective field ranging from academics to social scientists and political activists. Each of the article contributed is a treat in itself.
The principal role of class and caste in a religious conglomerate is the principal variable in a social structure of the community.
The Indian Muslim society is divided both vertically and horizontally and these divisions determine the society’s interaction between various groups.
It is to be noted that the caste structure obtaining among Muslims, especially in the cow belt, is by and large analogus to the hierarchical principle or a replica of Hindu caste system with all the attending disabilities. This in spite of the egalitarian and lofty Islamic principles of equality. The social structure formalised with an Ashraf caste on the top during the Sultanate period continued unabashedly post-mutiny as well. Its greatest protagonists range from Sir Syed Ahmed to plethora of ulemas including figures like Moulana Ashraf Ali Thanavi.
With India attaining “independence” and in its wake migration of a predominant section of Ashraf to Pakistan leaving behind the less fortunate to tend their own future there appeared a mobility not seen at any earlier time.
The political and social convulsions in Pakistan can be attributed to these Ashraf migrants coupled with the ulema combine are sufficient enough to bring its end sooner than later.
There is a subtle shift in this intercaste and intra-caste mobility as it is providing an impetus for interaction with the parallel categories of caste and class in other religious groups. This happen to be a welcome sign in a pluralistic society. Now the term OBC and Dalit which was earlier being used exclusively in respect of “Hindu caste” is now transformed into a class distinction for the Muslim sections of parallel caste or class. This progressive attitude transcending religious barrier is a welcome sign.
The most welcome feature of the book being its progressive outlook and a blueprint of action in a pluralistic society. The bold and rebellious exposures of the dark niche, the recesses and the cobwebs crowding the minds of the leadership of the community coupled with exposing the hypocrisy of assertion of equality but practicing an attitude of almost untouchability is the welcome feature.
Perhaps it may go a long way in jolting out the political and religious leadership from their smug attitude. Both books are a welcome addition on a subject very rarely traversed.
1. HINDUSTHAN MEIN ZATPATH AUR MUSSALMAN
(In India, caste & Muslims)
Masood Alam Falahi
Al-QaziAbdul Fazl Enclave, New Delhi – 110 025
2. BASIC PROBLEMS OF OBC & DALIT MUSLIMS
Ashfaq Hussain Ansari
Serial Publications, New Delhi