PUCL Bulletin, August 1997

Agenda for Muslims in 21st Century

- by: Dr. Syeda Saiyidain Hameed
(Member, National Commission for Women)


The trends for the 21st century have been evident for the last decade or so. As I see it, there are two parallel trends which will gather strength and momentum in the near future. On the one hand science has catapulted man to dizzying heights. From storming the frontiers of knowledge by means of computer technology such as internet and world wide web (WWW), to cloning of the humans species, to cybermatics, to arresting of aging process and even arresting death perhaps - - the list is endless. The speed at which we are being thrust in this time capsule has befogged, befuddled and even unhinged the human mind. On the other hand, to escape from this onslaught there is an instinctive trend to turn inwards and evoke the old, forgotten, lost values that we hope would somehow take man out of the vortex from which there seems no imminent escape.

In drawing such a stark contrast, I am perhaps simplifying the situation. But the point is that at this juncture we are caught between the devil and the deep sea. Choices have to be made now, and made cautiously and consciously. These I see as the underpinnings for the new century's agenda.

Let me add at once that the agenda for the 21st century for the Muslims of India is not much different from that for all the Indians, regardless of what faith they profess. The reason is that problems that besetting us today which will be multiplied manifold during our lifetime are common human problems.

The threat to this planet of ours caused by environmental degradation, chemical and nuclear warfare, poverty and hunger, is real. Therefore each one of us must accept as our personal responsibility to counter the menace. We must not feel helpless, must not always rely upon the government to come to our rescue; we can on our own, help improve the situation. There are so many factors that have emasculated governments - - and we must always remember that the least government is the best government.

Awareness of our responsibility as citizens and our rights as individuals who vote in and vote out governments is the crux of the agenda. As Muslims we are fortunate that we derive our democratic awareness from the Quran itself. Islam believes in IIm i.e., consensus or the will of the people. When the prophet passed away no one inherited his mantle. The Khulaf-e-Rashidin were elected by the people. To cope with the demands of modernity, the general injunction is Islam is that one should indulge in research and use his intellectual capacity. "Go and see the world", enjoins the Quran. "Learn from how the night turns into day and the day turns into night. How an ear of corn grows out of the earth". The general attitude of the Quranic teaching is that you have to find your way depending on what your present circumstances are. This means that Islam justifies and sanctions change. Change is a continuous process. It could not have stopped 1500 years ago. Islam directs its followers to understand what surrounds from today and to adjust and change their codes of conduct.

Therefore, as followers of Islam and as citizens of India we should treat the end of the 20th century as a watershed and not only be aware of our rights and responsibilities but put our shoulder to the wheel and become agents of change. Whenever we hear and witness incidents of injustice, be it oppression of the down trodden, gender injustice, instances of child labour, police brutality and custodial deaths, in short any human rights violation and infringement of civil rights violation and infringement of civil liberties, we should give Shahadat (witness) and speak up and stand up for our sisters and brothers, regardless of what religion, caste or class they belong to.

We must not stop merely at that. There is a greater constituency than our own nation. There is the entire south Asia and we must be able to resolve its mutual differences and stand together as a formidable force before the increasing might of the developed world.

In this 21st century we, Muslims, must stop viewing ourselves through western prisms. A few days ago I saw a cartoon, on the front page of one of the leading dailies, of a woman in burqa standing before a blackened window with the caption "Windows 97". The headline read, "Taliban Fiats Bombard Kabul". The article stated, "once bombarded by deadly rockets the 7,50,000 residents of the Afghan capital are now bombarded by Islamic edicts".

We should no longer remain silent and feel embarrassed and ashamed at such travesty that the western dominated media makes of Islam. By remaining silent we become accomplices in such transgressions.

As we step into the 21st century let us not look very far for examples which we can emulate. Let us take a leaf from the book of life of our own Mahavesta Devi, the writer who won this year's Jnanapith award. "Every responsible writer", she said, "has to take up the cause of the oppressed and the downtrodden. Otherwise history will not forgive him or her".

This simple statement should become the underlying philosophy of the agenda of all Indians including Muslim Indians for the 21st century.

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