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Asghar Ali Engineer

(Islam and Modern Age, July 04)


This might appear somewhat odd subject for Islam and Modern Age series but I feel is important as future of the community depends very much on upbringing of our young ones, especially in a country like India. India is a home to more than 140 million Muslims of highly diverse cultural and social origins. For Muslims India is a country of challenges and opportunities. India is a non-Muslim country but certainly not un-Muslim country. We can call it, if I am permitted to do so, as proto-Muslim country.


Also, India has been home to Islam as long as Islam has existed. It has deeply influenced India and has in turn been influenced by Indian society and culture. India thus has composite culture. Right from Kashmir to Kanyakumari Sufis have played very important role in shaping Indian Muslim ethos. Thus Indian Islam has been very liberal and humane and open. This is its real strength.


Many Muslims came from Central Asia, Iran and Turkey but they never hesitated to accept composite identity. Amir Khusro, the celebrated poet and musician and disciple of the great Sufi Saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Awliya was first generation Muslim. His father had migrated from Central Asia. But Khusro completely identified himself with India and Indian culture. He even wrote many verses one line in Persian and another in Brijbhasha. And Khusro was no exception. The Indian Muslim rulers with few exceptions also adopted Indian customs, traditions and cultural ethos and patronised Indian music, painting and literature. Rulers like Ibrahim Adil Shah of Bijapur were even known as ‘Jagat Guru’.


Alberuni studied Indian scriptures and acquired profound knowledge of Indian religions and philosophy and wrote a classical book Kitab al-Hind. Dara Shikoh who was appointed heir apparent by Emperor Shah Jahaan was great scholar of Sanskrit and Hindu philosophy and translated Upanishads into Persian under the title of Sirr-e-Akbar. Many more such examples can be given.


It is to show that Indian Muslims were profoundly influenced by Indian culture and did not hesitate to accept it and make rich contributions to it. Thus Indian Islam has unique character of its own and several generations of Muslims have been brought up under these cultural ethos. The Indian ‘ulama also characterised India as Darul Aman (abode of peace) and when the British established its political hegemony over India fought shoulder to shoulder with Hindu brethren for India’s freedom.




Indian Muslims live under this ethos and value both their Islamic as well Indian identity. They are as much proud of being Indian as being Muslim. All our Islamic festivals also have been influenced by Indian ethos. One has to bring up Muslim children in this atmosphere. It is both a challenge and unique opportunity. Today unfortunately communal and fundamentalist forces are on the rise and are posing great challenge to our humane, open and liberal culture. It is one of the greatest challenges facing us.


On the other hand, onslaught of globalisation and consumerism poses its own challenge. Globalisation and consumerism stress nothing but instant gratification of our instinctual demands reducing our life to mere a project for pleasure seeking. It is modern form of hedonism. We are being invaded all around by pop culture and pop way of life devoid of any meaning or concern for social and transcendental values.


Thus those responsible for bringing of young ones have to face these challenges. Those responsible for upbringing can be divided into three categories: parents, teachers and imams or clergy. All three play an important role in upbringing or ta‘lim-o-trabiyyat of younger generation. But in case of upper class children, perhaps imams or members of clergy hardly have any role. They are educated in western atmosphere and are fluent only in English language and hardly ever attend mosques. They are hardly educated in Islamic tradition. They might even be indifferent to religion and religious values.


These actors i.e. parents, teachers and imams can and should play an important role in proper upbringing of young children. The first most important role is of course played by parents, and specially mothers. It is regrettable that among Indian Muslims the rate of literacy is extremely low among women. Illiterate or less literate mothers cannot really prepare their children for facing acute challenges of life.  Thus there is great urgency for spreading education among Muslim women.


In fact responsible parenting requires equal share of responsibility between father and mother. However, in traditional households it is mother who shares this responsibility and that is why educated mother can discharge this responsibility much better. In urban areas female education among Muslims is, of course, on the rise and this augurs well for coming generations. Like others Muslim girls are far better achievers than boys in various examinations.


Muslim men are also not far ahead in the field of literacy. Most men in urban areas are artisans and in rural areas landless labourers, besides being rural artisans. Others in urban areas do odd jobs and belong to unorganised sectors. There are very few middle class professionals, businessmen and industrialists. For artisans, labourers and workers belonging to unorganised sectors life is a prolonged or unending struggle and their children are deprived even of elementary schooling. What we are discussing here hardly ever applies to them. Their children are brought up in ramshackle homes or even on footpaths. They enjoy no comforts and education is luxury for them.


Some of them may have chance to attend madrasas where maulavis or imams of the mosque play a role in shaping their mindset. Their natural or work environment plays greater role in their upbringing. In rural areas too, either they can avail of madrasa education or elementary school education. They have hardly any chance for going for higher education. Their parents are also generally illiterate and follow age- old customs and traditions. For them Islam is nothing but aggregate of these customs and traditions. They are much more integrated with general rural atmosphere.


Thus what we are going to discuss applies more to a small (though not insignificant) urban middle class Muslims. It should be remembered that India is a secular democratic country and schools impart secular education. Also, middle class children generally do not go to madrasas and also not all of them go to mosques for prayers so as to come under the influence of imams. It is another irony that most of the imams in mosques are semi-literate lot who come from very poor and backward families and are working as imams precisely because they are not educated enough to go for any other secular profession. Thus they tend to be very conservative and can hardly appreciate modern problems and challenges.




It was necessary to throw light on all these aspects of Indian situation so that we can put the question of ta‘lim-o-tarbiyyat in proper perspective and appreciate the kind of challenges facing Muslim children in Indian society today. Our discussion will relate mainly to children of middle class families living in urban or semi-urban areas. It is quite likely that in these families both parents are likely to be educated. Of course there are cases of some upward mobile artisan families who have achieved economic success, are not educated themselves but want their children to be better educated.


Most of the children of these families go to secular institutions for education, private or governmental. There are very few schools and colleges run by Muslims and even in these institutions prescribed syllabus has to be followed and there is very little or no time for religious education. And since these institutions are poor in resources cannot employ more competent teachers and thus standard of education is not very satisfactory. And since most of these institutions are government aided they cannot impart religious education of any kind. Mostly the school going Muslim children have to be tutored at home as far as religious education is concerned.


The mullah who comes home to impart religious instructions to middle class children is semi-literate and is ill equipped to prepare a child for coming challenges of modern, composite and secular society. Ultimately the parents have to discharge this onerous responsibility. It is again very unlikely that both parents would be well educated both in secular as well as religious fields. Only very fortunate children will have such parents.


Muslim middle class families in urban areas have to face communal challenge and question of religious identity becomes more and more important. Of course Muslims, like others in India have plurality of identities, religious identity being one among them. Also, there is great deal of tension between some of these identities thanks to the pressures created by communal forces. Are they Indians first or Muslims? This question haunts them in schools, colleges and work places. Such pressures drive them into conservative fold or even communal fold.


In secular educational institutions teachers too are either conservative or communal. There are very few teachers who are really secular and respectful of all religions and religious identities. The school environment creates unhealthy tensions in child’s mind and confuses him. Though all teachers are not like that but many are, particularly in government schools where students of lower middle class usually study. In these cases the responsibility of the parents increases as they remain the only likely source of healthy input for the child. But the parents of lower middle class households are also not likely to be very educated or enlightened.


Thus what we can say here is likely to apply more to middle and upper-middle class children and parents. In fact if one can look after the upbringing of this section of society it is much more effective also as germs of fundamentalism and communalism are carried by middle classes. If correct understanding of religious and social values is imparted to this section of society, it will be highly productive.


Very first requirement of education is sharpening of intellect and this can be done by encouraging inquisitiveness of the child rather making him/her conform. The best education is one, which cultivates critical attitude towards existing realities. An inquisitive and critical mind alone can bring healthy changes in the world. We normally discourage it in child either to buy temporary peace or to guard our own little interests. That for ever suppresses creativity of the child.


First thing a child should be made to understand is that there is no conflict in having religious and national identities. One should be a good Muslim and also a good Indian at the same time. It is part of Islamic faith to love ones country as Holy Prophet has said that love of country is part of ones faith (hubb al- watan min al-iman). Great Muslim leaders like Maulana Azad, Dr. Zakir Husain and others can be their role model. They were true Muslims and great patriots and served their country with great distinction.  Darul Uloom, Deoband, one of the greatest Islamic seminaries in Asia has produced many great Islamic scholars who were great patriots. One can give example of Maulana Husain Ahmad Madani and Mufti Atiqur Rahman. Maulana Abul Hasan Nadvi of Nadwat-ul-‘Ulama, Lucknow, is another shining example. The Imams in the mosques should emphasise this in their sermons and cite these examples.


Even in the event of a conflict with any Muslim country our loyalty must be with the country of our birth as these conflicts are political in nature, not religious. The concept of ummah is also spiritual, not political, as very well pointed out by Maulana Husain Ahmad Madani in his book Muttahida Qaumiyyat Aur Islam (Composite Nationalism and Islam).


Our cultural values and customs and traditions treat women, as weak and inferior and parents often desire son, in Indian sub-continent. It is contrary to the Qur’anic teachings. Qur’an does not treat women as inferior and gives her equal rights. In hadith literature also the Holy Prophet has repeatedly emphasised the love for mother and her rights. He has also said that those who educate their daughters well, give them proper tarbiyyah and marry them off, Allah will reward them with paradise.


The question of gender equality is very important today and though the Qur'an stressed gender equality 1400 years ago but Muslim society always practiced gender discriminatory laws. Respect for feminine gender should be cultivated by parents, through schools as well as by Imams though it is a tall order. Even if parents and teachers do it, imams are very unlikely to do it. For that madrasa education needs to be re-oriented.


Another important aspect is to stress the Qur’anic ethics, not only rituals. This can best be done through the agency of parents and imams. Usually parents and imams lay much more stress on prayer and fasting which is necessary but not so much on Qur’anic ethics. The important aspects of Qur’anic ethics are justice, benevolence, compassion and wisdom. A Muslim child should be made to cultivate these Islamic virtues. In fact these virtues should be deeply imbibed by Muslim children and they should ideally be known for these virtues.


One of the Qur’anic teachings is sympathy for the weaker sections. It is stated in various forms in the Qur’an whether in the form of sympathy for the poor, for orphans and widows and afflicted. The Qur’an talks of eternal struggle between those who are weak and those who are powerful and Allah always favours the mustad‘ifin (weak) and inflicts defeat on the powerful. This sympathy for the weak and a deep feeling of compassion for those who suffer should become part of children’s character. 


Also, Qur’an teaches us respect for all religions as a matter of principle. A child right from beginning should be taught to respect religious beliefs of non-Muslims. Generally a human being takes pride only in his/her religion and even looks at others’ beliefs and practices as inferior. This negativity towards others and ‘otherisation’ of other results in communal tension and occasionally in eruption of violence. This is very problematic in a modern plural societies.


In all modern societies religious, linguistic and cultural pluralism has become way of life. And to live with plurality one must cultivate respect for other religions, cultures and ways of life. Even every religion has plurality of its own in the form of different sects and one must learn to respect intra-religious plurality as well. We often come across sectarian killings. Thus acceptance of intra-religious pluralism is as necessary as inter-religious or inter-cultural pluralism.


An attempt should also be made to induce in child an urge for seeking for truth. This urge should be made as strong as possible. One cannot truly worship Allah without being uncompromising on the question of truth. Allah is haq and worshipping truth is worshipping Allah. The quest for truth should be very carefully cultivated and it should also be stressed that truth cannot be monopoly of any one community or a person.  One should have open mind as far as truth is concerned. The Holy Prophet also says that wisdom is the lost property of a mu’min (believer) and accept it wherever found. This openness will make us much richer intellectually and spiritually.


Sectarianism is a curse for humanity. It should never be encouraged. Islam discouraged it and stressed unity of religion. Hazrat Shah Waliyullah, Maulana Azad and other eminent Islamic thinkers have stressed wahdat-e-din (unity of all religions). Each religion is unique and different but not false. Thus a positive and respectful attitude towards other religions while being firmly rooted in our own religious tradition will prove to be a great boon for humanity today.


Those who emphasise superiority of ones own religion and breeds contempt for others are really enemies of peace and harmony. They benefit through conflict and bloodshed. No religion can encourage hatred and bloodshed. A child should be made to love all others, besides ones own.


The Sufi Islam is the popular Islam in Indian sub-continent and the most fundamental doctrine of Sufi Islam is sulh-i-kul i.e. total peace and peace with all. This doctrine of Sufism is basically derived from Islamic teaching on peace. Unlike widespread impression that Islam and jihad go together and violence is more fundamental than peace, the truth is that peace is most fundamental to Islam and war is only incidental. Islam means establishment of peace and surrender to the will of Allah and will of Allah is peace (Allah’s name is Salam i.e. Peace).


The imams in the mosques and parents should try to inculcate the value of peace in child’s mind. One should learn to live in peace and harmony with all, whatever their religion or culture. The Sufis always kept away from ruling establishments as they always issued religion for their vested interests and waged wars in the name of religion. Sufis were closer to the people than to the power.


Another important doctrine of Sufi Islam is love. Maulana Rum’s poetry is full of love and so are the teachings of all Sufi saints. For Sufis love of Allah is more central than fear of Allah. The great Sufi saint Muhyuddin Ibn Arabi known as great Sheikh said that my heart is centre of love for Allah and so it is centre of all religions which teach to love Allah. If we can impart this doctrine of love in the minds of children our world will be much better place to live in. Thus love and peace will make this world paradise.


Also the Prophet of Islam (PBUH) has said that real jihad is to fight against ones own lust and control ones desire and greed. Jihad with sword is small jihad and jihad against ones own lust and greed is jihad-i-Akbar i.e. greatest jihad. Today our world values consumption and consumerism has become the only accepted norm and this is root of all evils. The whole capitalist system is based on lust for consumption and one spends whole life in this system to earn to consume and to earn more to consume more. This derives one crazy for possession. Life looses all higher values.


Thus in this world of consumerism one has to teach moderation to the child and virtues of basing life on basic material necessities and spiritual richness. For this one needs to cultivate virtues of patience and truth (in Qur’anic words sabr and haq). These virtues lead to inner peace and sobriety. The life should be, as Iqbal also says jahd-e-musalsal (constant and meaningful struggle) is the law of life. A child should be made aware of this need for jahd-e-musalsal enriching life and making life meaningful. Only one who strives to struggle would die with satisfaction of achievement.


This jahd-e-musalsal should be aimed at transcendence – a constant struggle to transcend what is given and build what is desirable. Life is not to be lived for this moment enjoying all sensory pleasures but to enrich akhirah i.e. what is to come. This tarbiyyah is required for all, not for children alone. To reduce life to momentary pleasure is source of all tensions, conflict and violence. To make our lives more rich we should do enrich others’ lives.


This is essence of Islam and essence of all world religions and essence of all great civlizations in the world.   

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