Indian Muslims are beginning to realise that they need to stand up on their own feet. The dependence and reliance on others is a liability for them, says Syed Sadatullah Husaini, the newly elected leader of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind in an exclusive interview with Caravan Daily’s Waquar Hasan
NEW DELHI – Syed Sadatullah Husaini has been elected as the new chief of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind for a tenure of 4 years (2019-2023). A 1973 born, Husaini pursued Electronics and Telecommunication Engineering. He has authored 12 books and written more than 200 articles in Urdu and English. He was National President of Jamaat’s students wing the Students Islamic Organization (SIO) of India for two consecutive terms (1999 till 2003).
In an interview with Caravan Daily’s Waquar Hasan, he talks about various issues and challenges facing Muslims in India as well as all over the world and his organization’s plans to deal with them. He sheds light on the marginalization of Indian Muslims and the rise of Islamophobia all over the world. He speaks of his dream about India.
You have been elected as the Jamaat chief at a time when not only the country but also the Indian Muslims are undergoing a difficult and testing time? How do you plan to take on this responsibility at this crucial juncture?
This is definitely a very huge responsibility. Jamaat-e-Islami Hind is a very big movement with thousands of cadres, affiliated organisations, societies, and institutions. I pray Allah SWT to enable me to fulfill this responsibility.
As far as challenges and testing time is concerned, I believe that every big challenge is always associated with an equally big opportunity. We could either look at the challenges that we are having or look at the angle of opportunities. I believe that the present situation is creating many opportunities also and our focus should be to make use of them.
I believe that every big challenge is always associated with an equally big opportunity
Indian Muslims are realizing that they need to stand up on their own feet. The dependence and reliance on others is a liability for them. They can’t rely just on the government. Education is the fundamental requirement to get socially and politically empowered.
Secondly, this situation is motivating Muslims particularly its youth to build relations with the non-Muslim majority community. I think this is also very important, long-felt and long-neglected need. We need to engage with the majority. Perhaps the rising hate mongering is forcing us to engage with non-Muslims and to make them understand what Islam stands for. Such engagement should be accelerated and strengthened.
You have been elected for a tenure of four years. What would you like to do during your tenure that has not happened earlier?
In Jamaat, no Jamaat chief or single leader formulates the entire plan, policy, and priorities. We follow the model of collective leadership. We have a central shoora (committee). We have an established tradition of having a four-year policy and program. Every four years, when a new amir (head) is elected, central shoora sits and analyses the situation and then formulates the policies and programs. By early June, probably we will come out with our policies and priorities, following which I will be able to talk about our four-year-plan.
Muslims should be motivated, trained and guided to take up this task of communicating the message of Islam
But I have already mentioned a few points about our main concerns in the current situation; that our engagement with our majority community should be a priority, not just for the jamaat but for the entire community. Muslims should be motivated, trained and guided to take up this task of communicating the message of Islam.
A second important need is the empowerment of Muslims educationally, socially and politically.
The third being the youth; India is considered as a young nation. It has the highest youth population. Jamaat has always focused on youth and has established many organisations. SIO is an important organization. I think in this term we will be having a special focus on youth.
The country is witnessing hate politics, communal divisions and violence. What role can the Jamaat play in dealing with these circumstances?
The main deficiency while dealing with these communal issues is that we have been dealing with it only at the political front. Whenever communal forces pose a serious threat, we try our best to cope with them at the political front by defeating them in the elections. Of late, this limited-to-election-time and politics-focused activism is proved to be counterproductive.
Communalism is a social problem and its roots lie in the social front. Politics is the output of social dynamics. So, whatever goes in society comes out in the political arena. Communal hatred is being spread in society through sustained social efforts. It can be countered through equally sustained efforts in society. Our main priority should be to focus on addressing this problem at the social front by building an atmosphere of dialogue, discussion, and communication.
Communalism is a social problem and its roots lie in the social front
Inter-community communication should be strengthened. Muslims, by the grace of Allah SWT, are not concentrated in any particular region of the country. That may be a disadvantage in some regards but it has its own share of advantages. It enables us to ensure sustained human-to-human interaction with different communities all across India. So, if we start engaging with our non-Muslim brothers and start communicating with them and clear their misconceptions about Islam and Muslims, it will definitely have an impact. Such human-to-human interaction will always supersede the misrepresentation in media and other hate-mongering agencies. Dawah is our responsibility and today it has become an important and desperate need of Indian Muslims.
Last term, we tried to have some institutional arrangements for this task. At the national level, we have strengthened the FDCA (Forum for Democracy and Communal Amity). Through that, we have brought together many intellectuals from different communities. Similarly, through Dharmik Jan Morcha we have brought together religious leaders. Through them, the message of peace and the message of harmony is being spread. At grass root level forums were established under the title of Sadhbhavna Manch, where people from different communities could sit and discuss their issues at the colony and village level.
Such efforts are to be strengthened. Polarization and mistrust between communities are the main fuel for the engine of hate politics. Unless we address this issue at the societal level, we cannot curb the communal politics.
Indian Muslims have been facing social, economic and political marginalization for decades. How do you look at this marginalization? Who is responsible for this?
It is a very complex problem. Not a single but many factors – internal as well as external are responsible. Both are to be equally blamed. Communal riots that we faced soon after the partition particularly in northern India, followed by the migration of the entire elite class and a huge sense of insecurity had a profound impact on community’s zeal to grow and develop in the early post-independence era. Governments and bureaucracy were also not favorable in many states.
However, I think internal problems are also responsible. Our priorities and focus should be right. And we should be more focused on our own development and empowerment. We should not rely on external factors and agencies. We must have strong faith in Quranic principle that Allah doesn’t change the condition of any group of people unless it changes itself. We should take full charge of our affairs.
We must have strong faith in Quranic principle that Allah doesn’t change the condition of any group of people unless it changes itself
At the government level, we should demand institutional arrangements for equal opportunities. Many recommendations by the Sachar and other committees have already established the need of such arrangements. But lack of such arrangements should not be a hindrance in our growth and development. We should build our own institutions. We should build our own systems whereby we can even without the support of the government and external forces fulfill our social, political and educational needs.
Such a development-oriented and independent mindset is to be developed in our youth.
Do you think that it’s the failure of the Muslim leaders as they haven’t been able to rescue Muslims from this marginalized state?
Obviously, for every downfall and failure, the leadership is also responsible. So, if Muslims are marginalized and have been unable to get their due share then definitely leadership has its share of responsibility for this situation. But we will also have to look at the situations, in which our leadership had to work. Conditions were not so favorable after partition. When your life is at stake, you can’t focus on educational development and economic empowerment. Your main concern becomes safety and security. The main challenge before leadership for many decades was to inculcate the confidence and sense of security. But now we must move forward with confidence and should develop our selves and more importantly play our role as torch bearer of certain universal principles and values.
Within the Muslim community, women are marginalised and have got equal opportunity to grow and take part in collective affairs. Why did Muslim leaders fail to tackle this issue?
This is a subjective statement that women are marginalized. Data also doesn’t fully support it. Our observation is that Muslim women are also getting educated. In fact, we have observed that Muslim girls are far ahead of Muslim boys. If there are four Muslim rank holders, at least three are girls. That’s the average going on. So, in education and in many areas, Muslim women are also progressing.
Islam has given rights to Muslim women and the society snatches away those rights
As far as employment and commercial activities are concerned, Islam has definitely its own viewpoint. Islam believes in gender roles. I think our main yardstick for measuring the condition of women; whether they are progressing or not, whether they are getting opportunities or not; should be education. With this yardstick, if you measure, I feel that in the last 2-3 decades Muslim women and girls have progressed a lot. In some areas, definitely, problems are there. I
slam has given rights to Muslim women and the society snatches away those rights. It is mainly because of local influence and unIslamic customs. So that problem is there. For example, Islam gives the right to inheritance to women but in Muslim families, women rarely get their due shares. Such problems are definitely there. But these problems are mainly associated with ignorance, lack of knowledge and lack of understanding of Islam. Society has to be educated. It is related to the overall problem of illiteracy and ignorance in Muslim society. It has to be tackled by education, awareness and spreading the true understanding of Islam.
There are so many sectarian conflicts within the Muslim community. Why does it not go away?
There are many reasons. One reason is the whole traditional clergy system and the legacy of clergies that we have. It was based on sectarian differences earlier. Secondly, external factors are also responsible. Those who considered Islam and Muslims a threat, for them, the easiest policy was to divide and rule. They have also created such differences through conspiracy and plots. They have fueled such differences.
Today, the global geopolitics has taken such a turn that big powers feel it necessary for their interests that Muslims remain divided. They also systematically fuel these differences.
the global geopolitics has taken such a turn that big powers feel it necessary for their interests that Muslims remain divided
But again, I’m optimistic about this also. If you compare the past and today’s youth, there is a huge difference. These differences are diminishing. People are coming together. They are realizing that we should get together at least for common causes, at least in the area of common interest. We should work together. And Indian Muslims are far better in these terms and they can show the way to the whole Islamic world.
We have come out with many institutions, many organizations, and umbrella bodies whereby we work on common interest and in common areas. People from different sects and affiliations, different ideologies and different groups sit together and resolve their problems. All India Muslim Personal Law Board is there, All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawrat is there. Many other organisations are also working at the state level. Forums and Common federations are working even at local levels.
Differences are natural. The community of 1.5 billion people all over the world and 200 million people in India cannot be united on every single issue. There may be differences of opinion and there may be differences in approach and there may be theological differences. So, those differences are natural. But despite the differences, we should be united on common grounds. The bottom line is that the youth of today is more inclined towards such unity. So, we should work towards achieving it.
How do you view the rise of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim crimes across the world? What are their roots and reasons?
I think there are two-three factors. One factor is the rise of Islam as a potent ideological force after the fall of communism and the decline of capitalism. Islam has become a very important ideological force. Islam’s family values, Islam’s belief system, Islam’s cultural values, Islamic economy, and financial system all these things have attracted the attention of the world. So, Islam has emerged as a very strong ideological force. And this has created fear in those elements who don’t like Islam.
Islam has emerged as a very strong ideological force. And this has created fear in those elements who don’t like Islam.
Secondly, Islam became the talk of the town and everywhere Islam was being discussed but we Muslims couldn’t communicate with equal force and efficiency the real message of Islam. I think this was a golden opportunity when Islam was emerging as an alternative big ideological power, and that lost opportunity created misunderstandings, which spread easily.
The third important factor is the geopolitics. The war against terrorism, the entire landscape that was created particularly after 9/11. Some of the big world powers believed that creating mistrust about Islam and Muslims should be their main priority. That should be their main geopolitical strategy. So, they are doing this. That also has created a lot of misunderstanding. I think all these factors have led to the present situation. But in today’s communication age, if we start communicating the real message of Islam, then it can be again turned into the opportunity.
What’s your dream about India?
My number one dream is to communicate Islam and make my fellow Indians understand what Islam is, and this is because I love my countrymen and I believe they have right over me that the truth that I have discovered is communicated to them.
My number one dream is to communicate Islam and make my fellow Indians understand what Islam is
Islam is for everyone. It is the creator’s message. It is not related to those born in a Muslim family. It is the message for every human being. It is the way to salvation and success. So, our people should understand, should know what Islam stands for, what its message is. I think everyone who believes in Islam should work for it.
Secondly, peace should prevail in India. The relationship between different communities should be based on mutual co-existence, understanding, dialogue, sincere search for truth. Such kind of relationship should be established. So an India characterized by excellent inter-community relations and mutual trust and fraternity is what I dream.
The third element is justice. That is also the core value of Islam. Everyone should get justice particularly those who are downtrodden, Dalits, Adivasis, minorities, women, poor, rural dwellers so on and so forth. Economic equality should be established. It is very unfortunate that even after 70 years of Independence we have reached a situation where India is considered as one of the most unequal countries in the world. A few reports even indicate that it is the second most unequal country in the world where economic disparity is huge. So, this is against the values that the constitution has envisaged. Economic justice, social justice, and political justice should be established. Everybody should have equal opportunities.