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Separating religion from the state

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Majority community should appreciate commitment of Indian Muslims to peace and secularism

By: Mohammad Asgar Khan

Religion combined with power has the potential to corrupt even the best of minds. History can provide numerous testimonies to it. However, when it comes to Muslims, the scenario worsens. The Abbasids, the Umayyads, the Ottomans etc all present a classic example of deterioration of religious/moral values of Muslims with rise in power hierarchy. Muslims in non-Muslim majority countries are comparatively enjoying a much peaceful serene life than those with a Muslim ruler. It is said that mistakes can be rectified by learning from the past mistakes. A case study of Ottoman empire would throw light on it.

When Europe was moving towards industrialization during the 1700s and 1800s, Ottoman economy stayed subordinate and remained excessively agrarian. The Ottomans lagged far behind its European competitors in literacy. By 1914, it is estimated that only 5 to 10 percent of its inhabitants could read. The empire had a shortage of engineers, clerks, doctors and other professionals. Corruption and favouritism were the trademark of the Ottomans as it gave chances to less qualified, disabled, and fewer intellectuals to look after the empire due to the system of hierarchy & nepotism. Moreover, corruption spread to the provinces where an official would buy his office, then squeeze more taxes from the populace to have lavish life with huge Harems.

The Osmania caliphate proved to be incompetent and unable to save its existence and later was replaced by the modern regime of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk who transformed Turkey and made it compatible with the modern day globalised world. Here it is to be noted that Caliphate Osmania which was governed by a purely Islamic and radical regime was full of evils and not flexible for new transformations caused by the renaissance. Backwardness embedded in the caliphate proved to be anathema and responsible for the downfall of an empire.

Muslims must learn with the decline of the Osmania Caliphate that a State governed by religious law could never succeed as the purely religious laws barely accept the transformation and changes like the caliphate of Osmania ignored industrialization and even the modern scientific education.

Osmania state governed by so called Islamic law, it displayed several evils including nepotism and corruption as there was a lack of a democratic system. Religion in combination with power made the rulers invincible leaving little space for public to redress their grievances. This ultimately backfired resulting in the downfall of the empire. Hence, learning from the mistakes, Muslims must not fall for the Khilafah propaganda and reaffirm their faith in the democratic values.

It may be recalled here that while fighting against British M K Gandhi supported the Khilaf movement, the founder of Pakistan Mohammad Ali Jinnah vehemently opposed the concept. History bears witness that Christian world remained in dark unless they decided to separate church from the state.

In today’s world those who talk about utopian Khilafat are indirectly encouraging and empowering terror groups. However, it is heartening to note that Muslims in India have never taken any interest in the Khilafat narrative and it is because of this fact that while Al-Qaeda was successful in attracting hundreds of Muslims from across the globe in the 1990s, it failed to attract Indian Muslims. In the 1980s, thousands of Muslims joined Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan in the name of ‘Jihad’ against non-believers, however, Indian Muslims didn’t show any interest in the same. When there was a global call for Caliphate by ISIS, only about 200 out of millions of Indian Muslims responded to the call. However, it was reported that less than 25 of them actually went to Syria to fight, while another group of 25 migrated to Khorasan with the intention to live in an Islamic State and rest were engaged in online activity only. An important question rises as to why there was insignificant response from Indian Muslims for Al-Qaeda or ISIS?

Indian Muslims have always rejected violence in the name of ‘Jihad’ even under a perceived sense of marginalisation from the mainstream of the nation’s political and economic life, which is a direct result of India’s unique history that have fostered an extraordinary pluralistic culture having been enforced by the Indian constitution and secular democracy. The pluralistic culture of India is highlighted by the veneration of graves of Sufi saints like  that of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti and Nizamuddin Aulia. In fact, Sufism imbibed knowledge of Hindu mysticism with some Sufis even seeing similarities between Islamic and Hindu beliefs.

Indian Muslims always believed in democratic state like India rather than theocratic state like Pakistan. The majority of Muslims opine that they want nothing more than the liberty to work out their own destiny within the Indian secular society. Indian Muslims have contended with occasional challenges to the secular order and attempts at communal polarisation and marginalisation of Muslims in some parts of the country by rejecting the idea that in national politics they function as a monolithic community and rejected communal organisations and showed preference for secular parties.

Most of the Muslims have expressed faith in public institutions and refused mass, collective confrontation against the majority community in case of atrocity (if any) which affirms the political maturity of the Muslim community and their deep entrenched nationalistic sentiments. The recent trends as well as the history have showed that extremist groups have failed miserably in provoking Indian Muslims. It is now the responsibility of the majority to appreciate the sentiments and collectively put a unified front to check the growth of extremism and radicalisation.

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