BY FIROZ BAKHT AHMED
THERE’S a mysterious lull before the declaration of the Ram Mandir-Babri Masjid verdict from the Allahabad High Court, now postponed to September 28. However, the voices of sanity and reason implore that it would be best for Indian Muslims gracefully to offer the disputed patch of land in Ayodhya to their Hindu brethren for Ram Mandir, rather than allowing the issue to be misused by politically ambitious elements in both communities.
For almost 1000 million Hindus the world over, Muslims must understand, Ram Mandir is their Mecca and hence the offer must be gracefully made by Muslims themselves. Hindus must volunteer to help build the Babri Masjid in the same 67 acre area, of course relinquishing their claim over any other mosque in Mathura, Benaras or elsewhere.
This must be followed by a joint effort indeed as Hindus and Muslims should build both a Ram Mandir and a Masjid through a joint kar seva. The supervising body ought not to be any political organisation but an inter-faith ecumenical committee, consisting of people from all walks of life. Let it be called the Ram-Babri Ecumenical Complex for research on ways for leading a life based mutual co-existence.
Chance for Change
The presence of Ram is entrenched deeply in the minds of a vast majority of people of all faiths around the world and especially in the minds of the Muslims of Indonesia where Ramlilas are performed and witnessed with more enthusiasm than even in India. The walled city of Delhi is alive with Muslim kids lined up to witness Ramlila. Ram is maryada purushottam to all, irrespective of cast, creed or faith.
There is little doubt that the Hindu response to the ills of Indian Muslims, if articulated properly, will be positive. It will not only help in the removal of many a prejudice against them, but also create the proper environment for a meaningful and lasting understanding. More than foes in the name of Hindus and Muslims, India needs friends! In all of this, the liberal Muslim intellectual’s role is of paramount importance. He must intervene to thwart the stratagems of politicians and give his community a chance for change.
In 2003, the Prayag Peeth Shankaracharya Swami Madhawananda Saraswati had agreed to the building of a temple and a mosque within the area in question in Ayodhya. Had this suggestion been heeded to seriously the country would be spared strife and a long drawn court case.
Politics not the Answer
Of course, political parties which have made the Ram Mandir a major issue may never want the problem to be resolved, so that they can continue to cash in on it for political gains. Politicians are not part of the solution, they are part of the problem. Because once a problem is solved, they could find themselves without a platform.The so-called Muslim leadership has been responsible for allowing the Babri Masjid to snowball into a national issue and become a symbol of the community’s status in India.
In fact before the RSS kar sevaks, it was these lip-serving good for nothing so-called Muslim leaders who have been responsible for the Babri Masjid destruction. After the mosque’s demolition in 1992, Muslims suffered a collective humiliation. This was in no small measure due to the impotency of their representatives. Most of the Muslim leaders are interlocutors or more truly, brokers who play politics of vote bank to acquire state patronage for themselves and their coteries. Their obscurantism is leading the community backwards–to the dark ages, such as existed in the Arab world before the advent of Islam. They are characterised by petty mindedness and a narrow outlook so out of tune with reality as to be irresponsible.
Muslims in India suffer due to poor education, religious orthodoxy and economic backwardness, but their worst affliction may well be the opportunistic top echelon that cries itself hoarse about minority rights and reservations, without trying to address the community’s real problems. Few of them travel extensively, and only rarely do they meet anybody outside a small section of Muslim society. How many imams, intellectuals or Muslim politicians have commented upon the terrible state of the community’s educational facilities?
These fundamentalists are responsible for the negative image of Islam that is gaining ground. Their obscurantism is leading the community backwards. The same leadership which exploited the Muslim community–with the connivance of the state–at the time of the Babri Masjid demolition, has now re-emerged with some old and some new faces to fill their coffers at the expense of Muslims who already face enough social and economic problems.
New Leadership Needed
Today, the Muslim community in India needs a new leadership, which is imbued with vision, courage and perspective. It needs leaders in the mould of Maulana Azad, APJ Abdul Kalam, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, Dr Zakir Hussain and Saifuddin Kitchlew, to name a few. These men believed that minorities have as much responsibility in a secular democracy as the majority. Their vision led to Muslims being called not a minority, but India’s second majority. Such a leadership may yet arise from the educated lower middle class–a group until now suppressed by the nation’s elite and the traditional Muslim clergy.
Some time ago, the Sikh community in Punjab offered to return an occupied mosque to Muslims. Recently in Malerkotla, again in Punjab, local Muslims restored a church in the aftermath of the insidious Quran burning call. Such acts create a feeling of fraternity amongst the communities. Surely, the Muslims too are capable of such magnanimous gestures? Goodwill is invariably reciprocated. If Muslims relinquish the disputed land to pave the way for a temple, surely their Hindu brethren will have no objection to the construction of a nearby mosque as has also been confided in me by a staunch RSS follower and friend, Mr Vijay Goel recently.
Let us not forget that ours is a composite heritage. Can we ignore Amjad Ali Khan’s sarod, Bismillah Khan’s shehnai, the Dagar brothers’ dhrupad or Begum Akhtar’s thumris? Should we forget the Sufi teachings that enriched our lives, the preaching of Swami Vivekananda, Kabir, Ramakrishna Paramahansa, Amir Khusro, Moinuddin Chishti, Nand Rishi Nooruddin Wali, Dehat Bibi, Lallan Faqir, Guru Nanak, Baba Farid?
Should we ban the bhajans sung by Mohammed Rafi? Should we pretend that Ghalib, Mir, Momin, Zauq, Firaq, Majrooh, Kaifi, Jafri and Sahir never existed or that they belonged allegedly to the “language of partition”– Urdu? What will remain of us? We are privileged to have such a rich, varied cultural heritage. If it is to be safeguarded, then we need both a mandir and a masjid at Ayodhya. (The author is a commentator on cultural, political and social issues and the grandnephew of Maulana Azad)