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Muslim backwardness

Are government of India policies the cause of Muslim backwardness?

Vinod Kumar

Nov 10, 2000


No sooner did Imam Ahmad Bukhari took the mantle of Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid of Delhi, he raised the Muslim bogey -- "Muslims (in India) have been reduced to a pitiable condition". Muslims feel their economic and educational backwardness is due to alleged discriminatory policies of the Indian government. Imam Bukhari is not alone -- it is a general perception among the Muslims and the charge has been leveled by many prominent Muslims from time to time.

To address this issue of Muslim backwardness, let me go back to the days of Aurangzeb when the India has been ruled exclusively by the Muslims for almost five centuries -- 479 years to be more exact. In the year 1671, Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb issued orders for the dismissal of all Hindu head clerks and accountants and replacing them by Muslims. Sadly, only to find out that there were not enough qualified Muslims. The emperor, later on, allowed half of these posts to be held by the Hindus.

Lance Brennan, in his Research paper "The Illusion of security: The background to Muslim separatism in the United Provinces" (Indiaís Partition edited by Mushirul Hasan, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1998), on the educational achievements of Muslims during the British Raj observed "Muslims had achieved an almost fixed share in recruitment to the ICS because although most Muslim candidates could not score grades equivalent to their Hindu competitions, they were nominated up to a fixed proportion of the vacancies." Even before partition Muslims could not compete with the Hindus in academics.

Much is made of the Islamic/Arabic literature and sciences during the eighth and the ninth centuries. Edward Sachau, an Arabic scholar and translator of Alberuniís India demolishes this myth. "The foundation of Arabic literature was laid between A.D. 750 and 850. It is only the tradition relating to their religion and prophet and poetry that is peculiar to the Arabs; everything else is of foreign descent. The development of a large literature, with numerous ramifications, is chiefly the work of foreigners, carried out with foreign materials, as in Rome the origines of national literature mostly point to Greek sources. Greece, Persia and India were taxed to help the sterility of the Arab mind." (Alberuniís India, Edward Sachau, Delhi, 1993, pp. xxviii, First published 1910) Commenting on study of astronomy, Sachau wrote "they learned from Brahamgupta earlier than from Ptolemy." (ibid, pp. xxxi) Indian sciences were pedalled by the Arabs to the later generations as of Arabic origin as Sachau notes: "Many Arab authors took up the subjects communicated to them by the Hindus and worked them in original compositions, commentaries, and extracts. A favorite subject of theirs was Indian mathematics, the knowledge of which became far spread by the publications of Alkindi and many others." (ibid, pp. xxxiv)

Let us now jump to present times to countries where Hindu public or politicians play no role.

Morocco is an Islamic country whose rulers claim direct descent from Prophet Muhammad. According to a recent New York Times report Morocco has over 50% population unemployed and the majority is uneducated, poor and backward.

The conditions in Afghanistan, another Islamic country for over a millennium and currently being ruled by Talibans who profess true Islam where any departure from its Holy tenets is severely punished, are well known to the world. It would be good education for the Shahi Imam and other well-meaning Muslims to find out what progress the Muslims in this truly Islamic country have made and where do they stand as compared to the Muslims In India where as they allege the Muslims have been reduced to "pitiable condition" by the Hindus?

Since Imam Bukhari has not complained of the condition of Muslims in either Morocco or Afghanistan but only in India (read Hindus), let us see how the Muslim fare where they are in competition with the Hindus in non-Hindu majority countries.

Let me go to the United Kingdom where there is a sizable Muslim -- from independent Muslim countries of Pakistan and Bangladesh -- and Indian, mostly Hindu, populations. The contrast between the economic and educational levels of Muslims vis-a-vis Indian, mostly Hindus, is interesting also because both came to the UK at the same time and from the same geographical and economical backgrounds with similar cultural values other than religion.

The report of a study by the independent Policy Studies Institute published in Daily Telegraph (May 22, 1997), found "Pakistanis and Bangladeshis live in serious poverty". The study went on to observe they are "easily the poorest group in Britain with more than 80 per cent living in households with income below half the national average. The men are more than 2 1/2 times as likely to be unemployed as whites,.. few women have a job and most live in crowded homes containing twice as many people as white households."

Of Indians it observed: "Well represented in professional and managerial occupations and among prosperous small business. Average earnings have not yet caught up with white population but the gap is narrowing."

A recent (August 2000) statistics published by the Department for Education and Employment (UK) reveal that pupils from the Indian community are much more likely to continue in education at the age of 16 and are more likely to aspire to enter higher education than other pupils. At the age of 18, 80% of Indian pupils are studying for qualifications, compared to only 50% of white pupils. The study went on to note "children from the Indian community were higher achievers than their white counterparts, with 51% getting five or more good GCSEs.

" The minister noted that Pakistani and Bangladeshi pupils were the most likely not to hold any qualifications" - the report went on to say.

Another report by The Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted)-- October 2000 -- noted "that all ethnic groups have shared in the national rise in standards...but their rise has not been equal. African-Caribbean and Pakistani pupils have drawn least benefit from the rising levels of attainment: the gap between them and their white peers is larger now than a decade ago. However, pupils of Indian origin performed better than their white counterparts."

Let me now turn to the USA. In the USA today, there are about 7 million Muslims -- more than the Jews --and Muslim community is very proud of it. At a conservative estimate there are about 1.2 million Hindus. Let me not compare the performance of the Muslims with Jews -- the Jews have been in the US for a long time. Let me compare the performance of the Muslims with the Hindus, where the former have an almost six to one population advantage.

In an excellent article "Education and the American family" (The News International, May 29, 2000), Dr. Manzur Ejaz while giving details and information about the education system in the USA, points out glaring discrepancies in educational achievements between the people from Pakistan and India. He rightly questions "why Pakistani immigrant youth are not compatible with their Indian counterparts despite having the same educational setting in the US".

In the recently published list of recent 400 richest Americans, I found six Indian Americans and not a single Muslim. Even though a fairly large percentage of the Muslims in the USA are indigenous and have been there for a much longer period than the Indians.

I then conducted a limited and random survey of the faculties of Graduate Schools of Business of four US Universities. I found on the faculty of the four Business schools there were 37 Hindu members and only 7 Muslims -- including Muslims from all the countries of the world like north Africa, Turkey, Arabia etc. I have a fairly good knowledge of Muslim names from those countries. I doubt if I missed any Muslim name. But even if I missed a few, still the discrepancy is enormous.

The above reports and other figures speak for themselves. The backwardness or lack of education of Muslims in India have nothing to do with the Hindus or the alleged and perceived discriminatory policies of the government of India. Shahi Imam, if he is really concerned, should look for it elsewhere, for it is nothing new or limited to India.

Now, what can be the reasons for the poor performance of Muslims? May be what a reformist Muslim wrote has something to do with it: "The explanation of Muslim backwardness is to be found in the very make-up of the Muslim mind. Indian Muslims believe that they are a perfect society and are superior to all other communities in India. One of the grounds for this belief is the assumption that the Islamic faith embodies the vision of a perfect society and, therefore, being a perfect Muslim implies not having to make any further progress."

What is true of the Muslims in India is probably true of the Muslims anywhere else. Muslims do sincerely believe that all what is worth knowing is contained in the Koran as Caliph Omar wrote to Amru, the commander of Islamic forces in Egypt when asked what should he do with the books in the library of Alexandria. "The contents of those books," wrote Caliph Omar, "are in conformity with the Koran, or they are not. If they are, the Koran is sufficient without them; if they are not, they are pernicious. Let them be destroyed." (Mahomet and his successors, Washington Irving, Renaissance Publishing House, Delhi, 1993, pp. 328)

Many Muslims still believe "Talab il ilm ba'di wosule ma'loom madmoom" -- meaning "the search of knowledge after gaining it is foolish", and after having gained the knowledge of the Koran what else is there to learn? "The rest is pernicious."