Wednesday, January 04, 2006

India - Center of the Muslim World?

India is the rough geographic center of the Muslim world. It is at the least the 3rd largest Muslim country (after Indonesia and Pakistan(?)) and the 2nd largest Shia country after Iran. We have the the most diverse (Muslim) population of any nation. Our architecture - a grand distillation of all things Indian - inspires awe. Our intellectual sophistication is peerless in the Muslim world. Islam has been in India since the Prophet was alive. So what's my point?

Indian Muslims need to grasp leadership of the Islamic world. They need to show the way. The current leadership in West Asia is visionless and untutored - leaders by default, arising from the serendipities of oil. They are incapable of providing the necessary intellectual underpinnings for the faith - and have amply demonstrated so. The result is confusion: in interpretation of the faith, and in action. Islam currently resembles a rudderless movement rather than a confident faith. It's no accident that many Muslims perceive themselves as under attack.

Why India? The large faith base, a long-standing commitment to intellectual excellence, and perhaps critically, the presence of a secular "frame". The presence within a secular nation-state should not be underestimated. It allows leaders of the faith to focus (almost) exclusively on the faith, and not have to worry about the basics of government. It also allows religious leaders to paper over sectarian or sub-communal differences - and focus on similarities. This criterion precludes other major players viz. Indonesia, Pakistan, and Malaysia - they've shown they are incapable of separating masjid and government.

Most people like order and structure in their lives. We have the intellectual ability to be able to provide that order and structure in a rational (as opposed to ad-hoc) manner. Increasingly, we will have the economic ability as well. It's time for Indian Muslim leaders to seize intellectual leadership from folks who are patently incapable. Opinions, thoughts?


Primary Red said...


Happy new year.

You are exactly right -- Indian Muslims are already leading the way in technology (Dr. Kalam, Mr. Premji) without diluting their faith in any way.

Ironically, only today we learn that King Abdullah has offered (via Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid) funds to restore the Masjid & for furthering education (?!) in India.

Wow!! Stagnant Saudi Arabia thinks it has a contribution to make for Indian education? What now -- Wahabism at IIts?! God save us from such would-be benefactors.

Best regards.

Anonymous said...

With all due respect to the writer. I think that encouraging Indian Muslims to take a leadership role within the Ummah is an idea fraught with danger/s for India.
Let us not forget that Indian Isam gave birth to the Deobandi and Tablighi schools, which boast following amongst some of the most hard line jehadis.
What guarantee do we have that the mingling of Ideas between the Indian Muslims, a vast majority of who are illiterate, and the greater Ummah won't backfire?
first we should strive to pull our Muslim compatriots out of the backwaters of our society. Even if it means afforing them reservations in the IITs and other institutions.

libertarian said...

Primary Red: Happy New year. Yes, we can certainly do without the strings-attached donations from the the Saudis.

anonymous, I cannot share your dim view of Indian muslims ("vast majority of who are illiterate"). While Muslim literacy may lag general literacy, the differences are small when adjusted for region e.g. South Indian Muslims are literate in much higher numbers than North Indians (Muslim or not). Further, "extending a helping hand" on the basis of religion or caste, just does not work (no matter that I personally find it abhorrent). I don't believe Indian Muslims need either my or your "helping hand". I believe they're quite capable of handling their own affairs. I'd really like to find some common ground with you, but I don't see how.

Pankaj said...

Hello Libertarian,

The official international Ummah that goes by the name of Organization of Islamic Conference {OIC} has 56 Islamic nation as its members and India with the second largest population of Muslims in the world {it is not Pakistan as you have stated} after Indonesia is not invited as a member.

I do not see how the Indian Muslim can take the leadership of the Islamic world in this situation. Yes, the possibility of the Indian Muslims taking this role is quite great if we officially proclaim ourselves to be an Islamic Republic of India, go back to being dhimmis again and paying the Jaziya.


history_lover said...

@primary red
I remember reading somewhere that Nehru had asked the then Imam of Jama Masjid not to accept foreign contribution for the upkeep of the Jama Masjid.
BTW one can say that Indian Muslims are making contributions to Saudi Education. How ? Many Indian Muslims have taken up numerous teaching assignments in Saudi Universities like the King Fahad University of Petroleum etc...
Intellectually Indian Muslims have contributed to Muslim thought - Shah Walliullah,Allama Iqbal,Abul Hasan Nadwi
BTW the Tablighi Jamaat is not at all Jihadi .I would say within muslim circles it has always been criticized for being quietist and politically naive

Jaffna said...


Good to hear you. I liked the article. I had blindly assumed it was Primary Red until I read his views in the "comments section".

A few observations. The contributions of Indian Muslims to global Islam are multi-faceted. The All India Muslim Women's Personal Law Board, the All India Shi'iah Personal Law Board, the Barelvi and the Jammia Milliah present intellectual perspectives in the clash of ideas that are useful. I would make reference to the earlier contributions of Obeidullah Sindhi, Jalaludin Afghani and Maulana Mohammed Barkatullah as well. Few countries can boast of this intellectual ferment.

I do not particularly care for Shah Wali'ullah - a Wahhabist, Allama Iqbal who argued the case for Pakistan, the pro-Congress Deoband school which inspired the Taleban and the Tabligh. But each is entitled to his or her views in a free country. And the Sa'udis make me angry.

Muslims in India indeed constitute the third largest body of Muslims in the world i.e. after Indonesia and Pakistan (?). Bangladesh has the fourth largest Muslim population in the world.

I also hope for a reinvigorated cerebral Hinduism that has much to offer the world as well. All in all, plurality is good and no ideology (read Nehruvian secularism) should under estimate the power of religion in the world of ideas.

Here's me wishing you the best for the gregorian new year. May there be joyous success, good will and glad tidings in the months to come.

Jaffna said...

Quick addenda. Indonesia does separate religion and politics despite shortcomings. Leaders such as Soekarno, Soeharto, Megawati Soekarnoputri and now Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono illustrate a genuine commitment to religious pluralism. Former Army Commander, Wiranto (despite his human rights record) also demonstrated this. One can not compare Indonesia with Malaysia or Pakistan despite the anti-Christian attacks and Islamist fundamentalism that have increased in recent years.

history_lover said...

Apart from Jamaluddin Afghani,others are rather marginal figures in Islamic thought.

Jaffna said...


Perhaps I should clarify. I did not mean the realm of thought alone but the impact of the other individuals/institutions on society. The All India Women's Personal Law Board is a significant step. The Jammia Milliah might have been a rival to your Alma Mater but is still relevant to contemporary academia. And the Barelvi is as influential as the Deoband although it opposed the Indian National Congress in the days leading up to partition. I still think it to be more progressive than the Deoband which allied itself to M.K. Gandhi but was otherwise fundamentalist. (The Taleban was a direct offshoot of the Deoband). And lastly, Obeidullah Sindhi's contribution to the national struggle was not insignificant. So we are thinking about society in the broader sense rather than intellectual contribution alone. But do correct me, if I am wrong.

cynical nerd said...

Let me congratulate libertarian for a very bold post.

Some random thoughts:
- If you consider 'Islamic World' as Ummah, India can never become one since it is ruled by kafir laws according to purists.

- Note the enthusiasm of Western leaders to get in Turkey into the European fold thus pretty much diluting its chance of become a leader.

- Iran is Persian, hence will never be accepted by Arabs. With Iraq gone and KSA a puppet, it is only the boor Bakisistanis who keep shouting that they are leader of the Ummah, well Bakis are Bakis.

- I still have hope for Egypt - inheritors of once a great civilization. Al-Azar is still considered the top school for Islamic studies.

- Also lets note that Malaysian leaders attribute its success to it being a Asian country first of all following Asian values, the Islamic chest thumping of Dr.M came just before he quit politics. Indeed their tourist brochure also says "Truly Asia".

history_lover said...

@Jaffna the Barelvi school which follows the same Hanafi fiqh as that of the Deobandi cannot be termed as 'progressive'.The only major difference between Deobandi/Barelvi schools is the importance given to Dargahs/Sufi Saints and some folk practices in the Barelvi school.You need to refer to the writings of Ahmad Raza Khan who was perhaps thier formost scholar.
On JMI -
A substantial section of Jamia Millia staff are from AMU.The present Vice Chancellor Mushirul Hasan has himself studied at AMU.
JNU and JMI have some good scholars who have studied Indian Muslim society.
It is still too early to comment on the Women's Board in terms of scholarship although thier activism
has received substantial attention.
As for Sikh Convert to Islam - Ubaidullah Sindhi's role has somehow not received much attention although I remember reading a translation of his book on Shah Walliullah.

libertarian said...

Pankaj hi. The OIC is a toothless agenda-less organization. I'm not talking about India following the rules - I think we can make the rules.

History_lover, Jaffna - best for the new (Gregorian) year. Great to hear your viewpoints. While both of you may dispute the details, there is no debating the depth of intellectual tradition. I'm no fan of Allama Iqbal, but "Saare Jahan se achcha" still gives me a high like few others.

Cynical nerd, thanks. The 'kafir' concept is certainly something that needs a close hard look. If we establish intellectual leadership, we're golden - we make the rules. I don't see Turkey or Egypt establishing leadership - too small, and not economically powerful. The only contenders are Saudi, Iran, Pakistan, India, Indonesia and Malaysia. Saudi is the current driver - a depressing predicament. But that's going to change. Question is, are we ready to fill the vacuum and take on the mantle?

Jaffna said...


I stand corrected :-). I should have reworded my earlier comments to emphasize "social activism", not "intellectual ferment".

This said, I still prefer the Barelvi school to the Deoband despite the fact that the former is stronger in Pakistan while the latter is influential in India. The Barelvi did not stand in the way of the reform of Muslim personal law in Pakistan.

I respect the All India Muslim Women's Personal Law Board for their social impact. Turning to Jamia Millia - they were visible in Ivy League academia more than the AMU. This in itself does not mean anything except to mention that their works are read overseas. But let me stop here since I need to read more before I "pontificate" any further :-)


BangaloreGuy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
BangaloreGuy said...

I bristle when I read the words "Muslim World".
It not only accepts that there's something called a "Muslim world"(different from the rest of the world) which is bad in itself, but it also gives a "certain" legitimacy to what people like the Al Qaeda, IIF, and Pakistan's ruling elite talk of.. It will also lead an ordinary muslim who probably wouldnt think of it in that sense to actually envision one.

Every such reference to the "Muslim world" gives more people the excuse of referring to some remote incident somewhere and talk of "muslims/islam" being insulted and call for arms or action.

Red said...

Incidentally India has been trying to get into the Organisation of Islamic Countries (conference) since we fulfill the last criteria of having a Muslim head of state. Pakistan is suitably outraged. Bhutto blocked us the last time we tried under Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed

libertarian said...

Bangaloreguy: understand your frustration. But consider that everyone has several identities - national, religious, caste, language, wealth. For some their religious identity is their primary identity - just as for some, their caste identity is. Denying that it exists, or rubbishing it, is to forfeit the ability to engage people in that dimension. That's not pragmatic. Besides, all India asks of Indians is "allegiance to the state". It does not ask for "primary allegiance to the state". It also does not attempt (I hope) to diminish the religious, or cultural, or linguistic identity that an Indian may adopt.

Long story short - IMHO, there is a Muslim world (just as there is a Hindu world and a Christian world). My point was that we need to be the fountainhead of ideas, and the interpreters of theology, rather than the current self-installed unworthies.

reformist_muslim said...

Libertarian this is a brilliant post - link going straight on my blog.

Just one comment. I think it is being a minority in a secular nation-state which gives Indian Muslims a slight edge over Pakistani's, Malaysians or Indonesians.

All those countries, especially the last two are by and large secular. However being a minority leads to efforts to agree to disagree on sectarian differences. I also think that it gives a greater appreciation of the need for a society which is institutionally tolerant.

Anonymous said...

You forget one important point. India may have a secular framework, its religious leaders do not. If leadership of the muslim world is to be usurped by someone from within the country, its will not be done by a Kalam/Shabana-Azmi types, it will be done by one of our 'imams'. Why would they ever prove to be better Muslim leaders, I fail to understand.

For instance, Hinduism is all tolerant and grand and all that is fine, but that may only be true for an average practitioner. I am as wary of our Shankaracharyas as I am of Muslim religious leaders.

libertarian said...

reformist_muslim: thanks for the comments and the plug. Your point of muslims being a minority in India is well-taken. I'm hoping something like this plays out - there'd be some exciting changes.

anonymous: the population is largely moderate with extreme fringes. My bet is that the leadership will mirror that.

BangaloreGuy said...


The "Muslim World" term is being used as a ground for causing terror as a response to unrelated incidents. The more people fan the term, the more likely the polarisation.

I am neither denying that a caste, religion, regional, racial identity exists nor saying its illegitimate. All of it is of course, part of one's identity.

What I am saying is the constant referral to the "Muslim World" is paving the way for an irreversal breach between ordinary people - muslims and non-muslims.

Its immaterial if there exists a Hindu, a Christian, a Buddhist etc., Worlds. None of them is used as a "collective" term, whether defensively or offensively.

Rashid , India said...


The Conditions of Muslims in India is getting from bad to worst.

1) The main reason for this is lack of education.

2)Our ulema are stopping us from education . Well how ?

a) In Couple of Bangalore Mosque , I have heard our Maulvies saying in Friday sermon that our community is getting spoilt because Muslims are sending there children’s to school. So the Impact , my friend removed his children from prestigious convent school and has put them in Madrasa.

b)We are discouraged from joining companies like TCS, Infosys ,IBM , Accenture etc because these companies do US and Europe Projects.

c)When saddam is hanged our Ulemas force us to be on streets protesting because some local politician has asked them to do so. How many processions had Saddam taken out for worst conditions of Indian Muslims ?

d)In my life I have never come across a situation were Ulemas have taken out procession for Better roads, Better education and Better sanitation.

e)Only when elections are near by we see our Ulemas speaking about Government policies. And they go into hibernation till next elections.

f)We don’t have a single Tv channel dedicated for this community . When there was a conference in Bangalore to launch a TV channel for Muslims , Our Ulema said that watching TV is haram .So No Channel for Muslims? Well do other Muslim countries don’t have there own TV channels.

g)When a Hindu is born his parents dream that one day he would be a Doctor , Engineer or IAS officer . When Muslim is born in India his parents dream that one day he would become a Auto driver or Open his own Tea Stall or have a Road side Kabab stall.

h)I have hardly come across Muslim entrepreneurs , Educated Muslim Politicians or Educated Ulemas.

e)When Danish cartoon was published , our leaders gave a bounty of 51 cores , Hello can his money be used to provide better education for Muslims ......

Please remember 83% of muslims are below poverty line in India . Thanks to our Ulema .

Modern Education must start from walls of Darululoom-Deoband or Muslims will face much worst scenarios in days to come.

Richa Jo said...

if you argue that the religious minority position of Muslims in India would force a more secular outlook to their beliefs, then essentially you would have a Muslim-World elite always subdued by the Hindu-World. I am not even sure about its desirability, let alone feasibility.


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