DR ASGHAR Ali Engineer is a reformist-writer and activist. He is known for his work on liberation theology in Islam. He is also a leading voice against communalism in India and South Asia. In an exclusive interview with Ali Hasan, Dr Engineer speaks at length about the issues affecting Indian Muslims.
MT: How do you see the progress of Indian Muslims during the last 20 years?
AA: Though there is some progress in last 20 years but it is far from satisfactory. Muslims are 15 per cent of India’s population and yet nothing more than a mass of ignorant and illiterate people. They are bringing in more money from the Gulf countries than the Christians do from western countries. Whereas Christians are successfully running and controlling educational institutions, Muslims have not improved their literacy by even one percent.
Our leaders, too, hardly do anything to address these problems.
MT: Do you feel the state governments can play a big role in getting madrasas equipped so as to teach students about science and technology?
AA: We are still relying on medeival commentaries on Quran when the problems were entirely different. What the situation demands is a new approach to teaching Quran and hadith in the light of new challenges. It’ll at least create a new mindset.
It can greatly help Muslim students if madrasa education is modernised, and science and mathematics or social sciences are taught in madrasas.
Ulema are opposing it as they want to turn out only mullas from madsrasas and not modern educated youth.
MT: Why do inter-faith dialogues mostly end up as a feel good event or one faith overshadowing other?
AA: Inter-faith dialogue has to be gneuine in order to succeed and this can happen only when we are critical of our own community and honestly take stick of our problems rather than praising our religion and glorifying it. We pat on our backs and avoid real problems. Only honest and critical dialogue can help.
MT: How optimist are you about the communal violence bill?
AA: Government should take every measure to stop communal violence which is not done today. SP had made all promises and as soon as it comes to power communal violence takes place.
Actually no government in democracy will play that role unless there is pressure on it. The ulema and Muslim political leaders are not doing much. Muslim Personal Law Board recently organised a huge rally in Mumbai. Some 200,000 Muslims gathered to protest against any change in the Muslim Personal Board. Instead if the same number had gathered to put pressure to get the communal violence bill passsed, it would have been of immense benefit to the community.
Muslim leaders and NGOs too are not serious about it. They will have to struggle had for passage of the Bill in Parliament. Government has forgotten it.
MT: What has been the biggest hindrance to the progress of Muslim community in India, other than external factors? What solutions do you offer?
AA: The biggest hindrance in progress is vested interests of leadership. They indulge in their own power politics at the cost of the community. Even if they do something it is only symbolic and serves their interests.
I’ve been advocating a think tank of Muslims in every state. This should include intellectuals, writers, ulema and activists. They should meet from time to time and prepare a list of priorities. Work should then be done to start implementing them.
MT: What about the role of Urdu media?
AA: Today other than a handicappped Urdu media we’ve got nothing. We could not establish a single Urdu channel.
Very few Urdu newspapers play constructive role for the Muslim society. ‘Islam in danger’ sells well for them.