The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Iqbal had once rightly said, “The aura of Ram is a matter of pride for India/ Connoisseurs of harmony call him the Imam of India”. As an Indian Muslim who has followed the Ayodhya impasse closely, I am of the opinion that Muslims should offer the disputed land for the construction of the Ram temple. The community should make this sacrifice in the interests of the nation and the government should, in turn, assure them of the rebuilding of the mosque. This would heal the wound that has consumed so much of the nation’s time and resources. In Punjab, Sikhs have returned a mosque they had occupied for long to Muslims. Such gestures only improve relations between communities.

If we continue to follow the dictates of fundamentalists on either side, we might have to ban Amjad Ali Khan from playing the sarod or Bismillah Khan his shehnai. Is that possible' Will India be able to forget Begum Akhtar’s thumris or Meena Kumari’s sensuality' Or the teachings of Sufis'

India is a country of bewildering diversity. No single community can claim the entire credit for the richness of its cultural heritage and traditions. What is praiseworthy is that India has tried to maintain a semblance of unity. History, particularly, the years-long freedom movement against the British, has helped the process in no small measure.

Bad leadership

However, this unity is on the verge of being destroyed by the clamours of people like Praveen Togadia and the Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid who recently called on Muslims to form their own party. But Muslims already have a party of their own, the Muslim League, which might be in a sorry plight today because Muslims in India are not bothered of such religious badges. Their secular credentials have been proved over the years in various elections when they have voted for mostly non-Muslim candidates. An exclusive party of Muslims will further marginalize them in India’s politics as they will be both distanced and distrusted.

If there is anything that is going against the interests of the minority community it is the lack of requisite knowledge and a modernistic outlook on the part of the Muslim leadership. The rhetoric of the fundamentalists in the community will not win it parliamentary seats, but will further damage its position. They are already responsible for the image of Islam as a backward-looking religion. Irresponsible statements will send wrong signals to the rest of the Indian population.

The community also suffers from the opportunism of its leadership, both in and out of Parliament, which keeps crying at each step that the minority community is being denied of its rights. A section of people which keeps complaining of discrimination without working for its own uplift can never improve and will continue to be regarded as second rate citizenry.

Mend ways

The Muslim leadership today has lost both its voice and utility. Battered by populist rhetoric and the militancy of its myopic and ill-educated clerics, the community stands at the crossroads of progress. Muslims have to broaden their educational horizon. Being well-educated in the tenets of daily living as prescribed by the Islamic scriptures will hardly allow the young Indian Muslim to compete with his counterparts in other religious communities. The argument that religious education as propounded by the madrasahs will provide the daily bread sounds perfidious when the Quran propounds otherwise.

The way the rudderless Muslim leadership hoodwinked the community during the Babri Masjid impasse, should serve as a lesson to Muslims. But its incapacity has also acted as a catalyst in bringing people in cities and regions together. A Hindu in Calcutta has more in common with a Muslim in the city than a Hindu in Delhi. A positive gesture from the minority community will only further help in the normalization of relations with members of the majority community.

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