9-11 and other challenges: a call for introspection

Book: Dawat-e Fikr-o Amal (Urdu)
Author: Waris Mazhari
Publisher: Foundation for Islamic Studies, Jamia Nagar, New Delhi
Year of Publication: 2009
Price:  Not Mentioned
Pages: 176   Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad Sikander

9/11 proved to be a watershed in the Muslim-West relations. West became offensive and hostile towards the Muslim World and the Clash of Civilizations theory became a reality. The aftermath of 9/11 was a period of hostility of West towards Muslims and anything Islamic. Every notion, connotation, ideology and relation with the Muslim World was challenged, probed and delved into by the West in order to discover what went wrong with the Muslims and why they ‘hate us’? These radical changes and different atmosphere led some conscious Muslims to introspect about their shortcomings and identify the loopholes so as to plug the same.

One of the oldest institutions of Muslim learning which helped Muslims to preserve their distinct identity, culture and religion even during the dark days of colonialism and alien rule, i.e., Madrasa, became a bone of contention between the Muslims and West, as the latter alleged them to be bastions of terrorists.

The direct target of this ridicule were the Madrasas of the Subcontinent as they were alleged to train and depute the terrorists to become Angels of Death. These Madrasas became a target because thousands of their cadres had fought and became cannon fodder in the US-led war in Afghanistan against USSR which ultimately led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. The West was correct in describing these “madrasas” as terrorist factories but it forgot that these madrasas were on the Pakistan-Afghan borders built and funded by Uncle Sam to fight its war and its textbooks were formulated and published by the University of Nebraska which consisted of a heavy diet of a violent interpretation of Islam teaching Jamaat, Jihad, Jannat and Shahadat. After the demise of the Soviet Union a new enemy was needed, hence Islam came in handy and madrasas became the butt of ridicule and a cause to initiate an unjust, pre-emptive war killing millions of innocents.

The argument of Uncle Sam lapped up all enemies of Islam, fascists and right- wingers to settle old scores and put down every genuine Muslim demand as appeasement leading to terrorism. In India too, where Muslims were already marginalized, driven to the wall with frequent riots, and treated as second class citizens whose loyalties are  suspect, under a BJP government, these arguments were welcomed with open arms.

The present book is a collection of articles and papers written to address the above burning issues as well as debates that are taking place at the global level regarding Muslims. The author is the known scholar Waris Mazhari. In his preface, Waris Mazhari calls for self-introspection among Muslims, radical reformation in the fields of education and social life. This theme of introspection and reformation runs through the whole book. Less than half of the articles deal with the madrasas, changes which are desperately in need and how they can be more contributive. Mazhari regards the cause of Muslim Ulama’s present crises is their uninspiring leadership and non-seriousness of masses towards them due to: 1. Unshaken faith in exaggerated glorification of the past; 2. Insecurity or a sense of danger looming over their heads. (p. 19). These two serious flaws make them suspicious of any new move towards reform, making them happy and content with the status quo.

Mazhari is against a division like that of Church and State in the field of education where knowledge is divided between religious and worldly, i.e., secular (p. 23). He states that madrasas are in dire need to introduce English language in their curriculum, and if it is not done, further marginalization will take place for Muslims.

Mazhari dedicates a chapter to the progressive views of Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi regarding the changes in madrasa education. Thanwi is held in reverence by all but his views and opinions are in oblivion as he was for a change in curriculum, introduction of new disciplines and believed in complete functional specialization of different madrasa students according to their abilities.

Mazhari decries the inadequacy of teaching skills among the madrasa teachers which hampers the whole process of madrasas education as well as the state of research in madrasas which is in doldrums and ill-equipped to deal with the present-day scholarly challenges. Though Mazhari is for the end of exploitation and nepotism which is a norm in madrasas, he is not in full favour for the proposed Central Madrasa Board to oversee and regulate madrasas.

Mazhari calls the Ulama for a positive role and wants them to be socially engaged but he is also aware of the fact that South Asia is emerging as a new field of Muslim studies and Muslim ulama must be prepared scholarly to meet these challenges as well as to react to the adverse media image of Muslims and to build an alternative Muslim media to face the challenges of Islamphobia and Muslim bashing. He is aware of the fact that when it comes to the Muslims, all have double-standards and strands of hypocrisy lay bare.

The positive effect of 9/11 has been the promotion of a culture of dialogue instead of clash, though dialogue hasn’t percolated to the common masses and is only prevalent as inter-faith while Mazhari calls for an inter-maslaki dialogue too between Shia-Sunni and various other sects in Islam.

A number of articles deal with the challenges baffling Indian Muslims and how the majority of Muslim organizations which boast about their work for the empowerment and upliftment of Muslim masses and community work are confined to paper with no or little real grassroot work done.

This collection is an invitation towards introspection as it identifies the flaws and inspires to contribute something positive. Mazhari deserves our appreciation and encouragement to carry out such efforts in future too so that Muslims become a contributing and progressive, inclusive and introspective force.
The reviewer is a writer-activist based in Srinagar, J&K