Following is the text of a speech delivered by Tufail Ahmad, director of MEMRI’s South Asia Studies Project, at the India Ideas Conclave, Goa. The event, which took place November 15-17, 2015, was organized by the India Foundation, a New Delhi-based think tank.
In his speech, Ahmad emphasized the need for Islamic reformation among Indian Muslims; India, the world’s largest democracy, is expected to have the world’s largest Muslim population by 2050. Ahmad spoke as part of a panel on “Semitic Ideas – Orthodoxy, Modernity and Reform” on November 17.
It should be noted that in India, the word “secularism” is equivalent to what is called in the U.S. “political correctness.” In particular, “secularism” has come to be seen as “Muslim” and is being increasingly viewed as a form of sectarianism against the country’s Hindu majority.
The following is the speech:
“I am thankful to the India Foundation for inviting me to this conference. In Champaran, in Bihar [the northern Indian state], where Valmiki wrote the Sanskrit epicRamayana, I went to study at a madrassa. This afternoon, I am humbled to be in the company of some of the finest minds fighting for the defense of Indian civilization.
“Two questions emerge in my mind. We are being told that peaceful conversions to Islam are fine: for example, the Hindu girl who converted to Islam to marry Imam Bukhari’s son – peacefully. [Imam Bukhari is the Imam of Delhi’s Jama Masjid] So, the first question is: Is peaceful Islam compatible with the 21st century’s ideas of liberty?
“The second question is: since the Koran and the Hadiths are not going to change, is there a way to introduce change among Indian Muslims? Let me take the second point first. By 2050, India will have the [world’s] largest Muslim population, about 311 million. The modern democratic Indian state must undertake some concrete steps now.
“1. Under the Right to Education Act [of the Indian Constitution which provides for free and compulsory education for children], all children between the ages of 6 and 14 must be in proper schools, not in madrassas, during the school hours of the day. A proper school means this: Students must achieve the same educational outcomes in mathematics and other material sciences which students from mainstream schools achieve. If a specific madrassa does not deliver these educational metrics, it must be banned as unconstitutional, in violation of the Right to Education Act.
“2. Madrassas are a threat to liberty; madrassas are counter-liberty movements, [and] are incompatible with the 21st century’s ideas of rights. Secular [i.e. politically correct] Hindu leaders and Islamic scholars defend madrassas in the name of religious freedom. But under the Indian Constitution, among all the fundamental rights, the Right to Religion is the most inferior right, the weakest right. Article 25 on Right to Religion carries two sub-clauses that make this right an inferior right:
“’25 (1): Subject to public order, morality and health and to the other provisions of this Part [of the Constitution containing fundamental rights]…’
“’25 (2) Nothing in this article shall affect the operation of any existing law or prevent the State from making any law…’
“I am not saying that the Right to Religion does not exist. My argument is that the Right to Religion is superseded by all other fundamental rights. Let me explain: I have a fundamental right to eat, I have a fundamental right to drink and I have a fundamental right to breathe. But my fundamental right to breathe overrides my fundamental rights to eat and drink. Also, the Right to Religion cannot be a fundamental right before 18 years. If you can’t have sex before 18 years of age, if you can’t vote before 18, you cannot have a fundamental right to religion before 18.
“3. Madrassas capture the Muslim child’s mind during the critical 6-14 years of age, an age when children are required to be protected by the Right to Education Act [which provides for compulsory and free education]. For this age group, madrassas should be allowed to teach the Koran and Hadiths outside the school hours of the day, or after 14 years of age. If we follow this constitutional measure, we can hope that at least 20% of Indian Muslims will emerge as agents of social change in the next half century.
“Since many of you here in the audience are going to be chief ministers and federal ministers in coming years, please understand that my biggest worry is this: The Indian state has abdicated its role regarding our children in this [age] group of 6-14 years. The Indian state has not only abdicated its role, it has also allowed its role regarding the future of our children to be substituted by religious institutions like madrassas.
“4. Regarding the Uniform Civil Code [a proposal to replace the religious personal laws with a code governing all citizens, thereby guaranteeing equal rights to Muslim women]: The spirit of the Constitution is clear but judges need clarity. As per the Constitution, the Indian state is not empowered to see Muslims, Christians or Hindus as communities, but as individuals. It means this: if a Muslim woman, any Muslim woman, went to the court to claim that her Right to Equality is undermined by the Muslim personal laws, her right will prevail over the Muslim personal laws. Under the Indian Constitution, a community cannot have, doesn’t have, right over the individual.
“5. The Muslim siege mentality and minority syndrome reside in Hindu-Muslim riots and quota politics. Secular [i.e. politically correct] Hindu leaders promote this mentality because it sustains their ideas of secularism [i.e. political correctness]. To remove siege mentality, India must ensure radical zero-tolerance police reforms and we must make quota politics redundant by developing a national policy of free books, free clothes and free schooling for children of all BPL card holders, i.e. the Below-Poverty-Level families, irrespective of their religion and caste. This is doable.
“6. To return to the first question: is peaceful Islam compatible with liberty? Secular [politically correct] Hindus tell Muslims: We will give you ‘secularism’ and 5% quota in jobs and colleges. Instead, as a Muslim I want ‘secular’ Hindu leaders to tell Muslims: We do not promise 5% quota but we will guarantee your daughter mathematics, economics and sciences from Grade 1. My argument for Muslim parents is this: If you can teach the Koran from LKG [lower kindergarten, two years below Grade 1], why cannot you teach mathematics from Grade 1? The argument must stay within the ambit of the Right to Education Act.
“7. The Arab Spring failed because there was no infrastructure of liberal democratic ideas in Muslim societies. The Islamic State, or ISIS, gains support globally because conducive ideas already exist in our societies. The ideas due to which jihadists attacked Charlie Hebdo in Paris are widely propagated by Barelvi clerics across India, especially with regard to blasphemy and apostasy.
“As a long-term strategy: The Indian government must introduce three textbooks from Grade 1 through 12: One on Indian classics such as Upanishads, Mahabharata, Gita and classical Indian thinkers; a second primer on the Constitution’s ideals; and a third primer containing good points from all religions.
“8. Four Mumbai youths went to Iraq and joined ISIS went about two months before Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi declared himself as caliph. Later, some Muslims went from Kerala and Azamgarh. Others were stopped in Hyderabad and Kolkata from leaving India. One youth was preparing for a suicide attack at the American School in Mumbai. Indians based in Australia, Singapore, Af-Pak region, UAE, Qatar and elsewhere went to Syria. Currently, pro-ISIS activity is being noticed in a dozen Indian states, from Assam to Uttar Pradesh, from Maharashtra to Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. At present, the number of Indians in Syria [with ISIS] could be about 50, up to 300.
“9. Regarding Islamic Reformation, a vital question is: Is it possible that an entire generation of Muslim youths can abandon ideas inherited from their parents and Islamic clerics? Fortunately, history gives us hopeful lessons: In Italy and Germany, a generation of youths abandoned their parents’ beliefs in Nazism and Fascism. In India itself, Hindu youths abandoned castes and Sati. Christianity and Judaism went through their internal conflicts; the Bible and the Torah are removed from public life. In India itself, the Manusmriti has been abandoned. Since Islam is the youngest of the Middle Eastern religions, there is hope. The role of the Koran must be limited to mosques. We must study peaceful Islam, and the cause of Islamic Reformation in India must begin in the age group of 6-14 years.”
“10. [During the question-and-answer session:] The argument that change must come from within, from among Muslims, is not a valid argument because throughout history, social change has come from interaction with foreign ideas, through globalization, wars and technologies. A moderate Muslim is one who is mostly sleeping on burning issues. But if a truly liberal Muslim gets into an argument with a militant Islamic cleric, the moderate Muslim wakes up just in time to attack both.
“In India, secularism has three meanings: One, as a movement of ideas it removes the role of religion from social life and empowers individuals to live their daily life in a meaningful and rational way. Two, a constitutional meaning of secularism means this: the Indian state has to maintain distance from religion in policymaking. Three, the behavioral and practical meaning of secularism is troubling Indians, has come to mean ‘Muslim’ and support for ‘burqa’ and other Islamic orthodoxies, and as a form of sectarianism is tearing apart the country’s social fabric.”
* Tufail Ahmad is Director of the MEMRI South Asia Studies Project.