Tyranny of the Few
by Mirza Yawar Baig
June 7, 2007
[Mirza Yawar Baig is founder of Yawar Baig & Associates and Leadtrain based
in Hyderabad, India.]
Headlines scream out at you: "Lal Masjid threatens to give the call for jihad."
"Clash with security forces leaves 16 students dead." And all this accompanied
by pictures of women in burqas wielding lathis longer than themselves. Talk of
Another one: "Flaming jeep drives into Glasgow airport." (No, it was not Lucifer
trying to catch a flight either). "Doctor from Bangalore was the driver."
"Bangalore doctor arrested in Australia."
What's the common thread in these and many other such headlines? The names of
the actors are all Muslim. And the pressure mounts on all of us - normal,
harmless, garden-variety Muslims - to explain what is going on in the name of
I remember a conversation with a friend, a senior police officer in India to
whom I complained about the way the media and all who report such incidents
malign Islam in their reporting. She said something that was rather shocking.
"Isn't it the organizations and people who perpetrate these things who claim to
be doing them in the name of Islam, first? So what else do you expect anyone
else to do? They are only repeating what the originators have said in the first
I know I am treading on very unsafe ground when I am writing this. I have no
illusions about the possible threat to my own popularity and esteem, in which I
am held for no fault of mine. However, I believe that the time has come for me
and people like myself to take a stand and speak out. The question we have to
ask is, "Are we going to allow people like the head of Lal Masjid and others
like him to define what Islam and the Muslims are? Or are we, as people who are
practicing Muslims, proud of our great religion and culture, obedient to Allah,
conscious of our accountability to him, with no intention of changing Islam or
its Shari'ah in any way whatsoever; prepared to stand up and say, "Do what you
want but leave Islam out of it."
The usual standard answer that we get when we mention the different acts of
violence apparently perpetrated by Muslims is that actually these have been done
by or orchestrated by agencies of the enemies of Islam and the Muslims. We have
become used to blaming the West, so-called 'International Agencies' or
who-have-you for whatever happens that involves Muslims. What helps the
proponents of this stance is the fact that there have been incidents in the past
where it has been proved that one or more of these agencies have had a hand in
either staging an act of violence and laying it at the door of Muslims who had
nothing to do with it; or of aiding and abetting Muslims in committing hara-kiri
of one kind or other. However the uncomfortable fact remains that there are many
incidents that have happened and continue to happen that are entirely the effort
of Muslims themselves. Call them misguided. Call them ignorant. Call them
extremist. Call them what you will.
The fact remains that what they did was of their own volition, with no
encouragement from anyone else. The Lal Masjid fiasco is a classic case in
point. So are the Shia-Sunni killings in Iraq. So are the Shia-Sunni killings in
Pakistan. So are the various fatawa that are given for all kinds of things by
obscure clerics with limited knowledge of the religion and even less of the
issue of public image. Yet they have no hesitation in making the most outrageous
statements, all in the name of Allah and His Messenger . And the media goes to
town on them.
Ask Muslims why all this is happening and the standard answer you get is that it
is not happening. Now that is amazing because it denies blatantly visible facts.
But that seems to be the major issue. Like the US, the Muslim Ummah seems to be
in a stage of massive denial. We don't seem to want to admit that we have some
serious problems within ourselves, which are the cause of our global suffering.
We don't seem to want to admit that we need to bring about some major changes in
our education system, our cultural moorings, our behavior with others, our
social fabric and our very thinking and mindset if we want our image to change.
For example, it is true that the US intervention in Iraq has caused some major
upheavals in the social order in that wretched land and that the Americans are
killing Iraqis like flies, but it is equally true that it is not the Americans
who are killing anyone in the Shia-Sunni murders in Iraq. These are of the
Iraqis, by the Iraqis, for the Iraqis, thank you very much. The Iraqis seem
quite self sufficient in terms of sending each other off to the happy hunting
grounds in large numbers. Yet, Muslims blame anyone except themselves for what
We hear long stories of the Western policy of divide and rule and how it is
being applied once again. We don't however hear reasons why after more than 300
years of colonial domination of one kind or another, we still have not learnt
that unless a group is willing to be divided, nobody can divide them. What does
that say about the intelligence of our leadership and so-called intelligentsia?
The British divided and ruled India because that is what Indians wanted them to
do. That is why many Indians (Sikhs, Maratha and Rajput Rajas, Baniyas of Delhi
and Afghans) supported the British with information, money and soldiers while
their own compatriots died before British cannon on the walls of Delhi in 1857.
And when the War of Independence was lost, they stood in line for Knighthoods,
Rai Bahadur-hoods and other sundry 'honors' from their colonial masters, for
having been good collaborators. And to this day, these worthies are not roundly
cursed for being the traitors that they were. Instead we blame the British. My
question is that when we know that it is the job of the enemy to divide and
rule, why blame him for doing it? It was our job on the other hand, to remain
united and not allow anyone to divide us, which we have not done. So whose fault
is it if we are divided and then finished off piecemeal? But try telling that to
our dear ones!!!
So what is the reason for this terrible situation that we find ourselves in? I
believe that this sad situation that we find ourselves in, is the result of the
effective division of Muslim society into discrete, mutually exclusive groups
who have little or nothing in common with one another.
What I am writing below is with specific reference to the Indian sub-continent,
home to more than 500 million Muslims in 4 countries. However I have no doubt
that many issues herein will be common to Muslims in other places as well.
Mutually exclusive groups
1. The Ulama by and large are a group unto themselves with a distinct education
system that at least in the Indian subcontinent (including Pakistan &
Bangladesh) has remained almost unchanged for more than 500 years. This is
something that they are actually proud of and are successful in raising funds on
this basis from those who have no idea about what is actually taught. The fact
that the syllabus they teach (Dars-e-Nizami) has its roots in medieval Lucknow
(created by Mulla Nizamuddin, who was more a philosopher than an Islamic
scholar, a bias that is reflected in his syllabus) and really has lost all touch
with current reality is known only to them. The most symbolic fact is that the
two languages that are totally neglected and hardly taught are Arabic (the
language of Islam) and English (the language of the world today).
This leads to the fact that those who graduate from these schools are not only
out of touch with and incapable of influencing present society, but are weak
even in the Islamic sciences, which is supposed to be the core of their study.
Very few of them can stand with confidence beside Ulama from international
Islamic universities in the Arab world, much less with confidence before a
non-Muslim audience anywhere in the world. Since they are not taught anything at
all of modern subjects of education, their knowledge of the world and the
ability to understand current events is almost non-existent. Test: Go to any
major Muslim Madrassa and ask any of the staff (let's leave the poor students
out of it) the main elements of the WTO and how it affects developing countries
and their people. Or ask to see the latest papers and books published and see
how many have to do with a study of modern government, society, economics,
environment or politics and provide Islam's solution to these issues. This
absence of touch with the world would be fine if we were talking about some
monastery with monks who have secluded themselves from regular life. But when we
say in the same breath that Islam is a way of life for all humanity and good for
mankind until the end of time and that the Ulama are the ones who are supposed
to teach it, then it makes no sense at all.
Add to this their ideological belief of running their establishments on
donations (chanda) which is really reminiscent of Hindu Brahmin thinking (the
way of life for a Brahmin priest is to live by begging) and not of the
confidence to rule the world that the Companions of the Prophet showed. This
results in a natural loss of self esteem for the Ulama and the inability to
speak the truth especially when it is likely to hurt their own financing.
2. Then there is the group of so-called Danishwaraan-e-millat (the Wise People
of the Community). Let us not ask about the nature of this wisdom or of what it
has yielded in the last 200 years. These are the business people, professionals,
scholars of secular subjects in universities and general well-to-do Muslims.
This group, by and large speaks a different language from the Ulama, does not
understand the language the Ulama speak, sees them as necessary only for leading
the salah, delivering the Juma Khutba and performing the funeral prayer. All
things that the normal Muslim male is supposed to be able to do, but is never
taught how to. A 'priestly class' has therefore come into being in a religion
that expressly bans all priests. This person alleviates his own guilt by
throwing some money from time to time at the local Madrassa or masjid. He has no
idea what is taught in the Madarassa, has probably never seen the inside of the
Madrassa even in his own town and generally treats the Ulama with a mixture of
wary respect, suspicion and disdain. Seems rather complex, but believe me, we
manage to do this quite well.
3. Then there are our political leaders. By and large they are corrupt, prey on
Muslim society directly and indirectly through their henchmen, win elections by
fanning the flames of hatred or fear of the Other and showing themselves as the
saviors. Thankfully for them, we have the periodic communal riots and the
mentally retarded rantings of the likes of Bal Thackaray, Narender Modi, Ashok
Singhal, Uma Bharati, L.K.Advani and other leading lights of the Sangh Parivar,
which are an undisguised blessing to keep the flames alive. Also they have
enough deaf, blind and dumb constituents to ensure that they are repeatedly
elected to office. In short these political leaders are for sale and will do
anything that is required to remain in power and have the minimum possible
interest in their constituents.
4. Then there is the vast multitude of the so-called ordinary Muslims. People
who live their daily lives, go to the masjid on Fridays, observe Ramadan,
celebrate the festivals - the wear sherwani and eat biryani variety. These have
no voice of any kind and their only time in the limelight is when they get
killed in police firing somewhere (notice that the political leaders who incite
them never do the dying) or when they are seen in processions, shouting slogans
for one obscure cause or another.
All these groups have almost no contact with each other, no way to influence
each other, no shared knowledge or experience and no mutual understanding.
Instead there is a very high degree of mutual suspicion, aided and abetted by
clever propaganda and lies manufactured by one group against another which
widens the divide. The result is that there is no common authority or voice,
either at a country level or at a global level.
The Jamiat-ul-Ulama-e-Hind is owned and run by one single family. The Muslim
Personal Law Board has been divided and re-divided until it has lost almost all
significance. The Tablighi Jamat and Jamat-e-Islami are both non-inclusive of
others and have a voice only among their own membership. The various Mashayakh
(so-called Sufis) associated with the different Dargahs (shrines) are only
interested in business. They encourage people to worship the graves of their
long dead ancestors and donate money in the hope of a miracle. No matter that
this is against Islam.
They have created a whole new Muslim Mythology based on unverifiable claims of
miracles allegedly perpetrated by some so-called saint (there are no saints in
Islam) who conveniently died several centuries ago. As long as their followers
render their deposits regularly these successors of the saint are not concerned
with anything else in their disciple's lives. And this seems to be the only
verifiable miracle that keeps a steady flow of ill-gotten gains into their
coffers which serves to keep them in the style to which they have grown
Every Muslim is a 'Khalifa' and there's no central authority
Consequently no Muslim is answerable to anyone else. And so does what he or she
feels like doing or what makes sense to them in their frame of reference. No
matter that this frame of reference may be neither logical nor reasonable, much
less theologically correct.
It is true that Muslims worldwide have genuine grievances about the way they are
treated, especially by the West. They have grievances about the slavery they
find themselves in, enforced in most cases by the puppet regimes that have been
placed on their heads by Western powers, making them prisoners in their own
lands. They have on the one hand to live under totalitarian regimes who are
vicious and brutal and who will not hesitate to commit mayhem on a massive scale
to put down any popular uprising. On the other hand they have to suffer the
reputation of being non-democratic, unwilling to rise up against their rulers
and dictators and generally apathetic. The fact that these very rulers have been
put in place and are supported and kept in place by Western military strength is
not mentioned in the breath that it takes to condemn those who are suffering
under such rule. Be that as it may, the fact remains that bursting bombs in
airports, night clubs and malls is not going to change any of this. Instead,
what it will do is to strengthen the hands of the oppressors and give them even
more power to arm themselves and their allies, create a more closed society,
bring in more draconian laws and generally perpetrate more crimes in the name of
The case of Palestine is one in point where 60 years of armed struggle only
seems to have resulted in a stronger, more heavily armed, richer and more
barbaric Israel which has all the more support of the rest of the world. And it
is not only the support of America that I am talking about. One can well ask,
'So what has been achieved?'
So what is the solution? In my view the solution lies in the amazingly fortunate
situation the Muslim Ummah finds itself of being in the eye of the world,
provided that we can get our act together and act proactively in a coherent,
sensible, creative and positive manner. Potentially Muslims today have access to
the world media, any channel, and any country, free of cost. Anything that has
an Islamic bent attracts the cameras and the world watches. Whose fault is it
that almost all of it is negative? If our people drive flaming jeeps into
airports, that is what will be shown. If they hole up inside a masjid or
madrassa keeping women and children hostage, that is what will be shown. If they
claim responsibility for some act of violence perpetrated on innocent people,
that is what will be reported. Propaganda is created and propagandists thrive in
a situation where their victims readily provide them with real data and events
to twist and report. And that is what we continue to do.
Key: Non-violent struggle for truth: Satyagrah
The key is to do what Gandhiji did during the Indian Freedom Struggle; create
media events that show you in a good light and are interesting enough to draw
attention. The Gandhian method of Satyagrah (non-violent civil disobedience) is
a wonderful method that works very well in a situation where the establishment
is law abiding. Apart from Israel, this is more or less true of all the places
where Muslims live. So if we have issues that we want the world to see and take
action on, then we need to create the equivalent of a Salt Satyagrah which very
simply, challenged the authority of the British Government to make laws in its
Empire. And all that Gandhiji did was to walk to the beach and make some salt.
Today, the real battle is for mindshare. And it is on the television screen.
That is where governments of the developed world are made or unmade. Popularity
is the god that the West worships. Because popularity translates into money and
power. That is what we have to do; become popular. Setting off fireworks is not
the way to do this. No matter what the provocation.
Think Tanks & Team work
I believe that the first step in this direction is to get the minds of the Ummah
together. I propose that Think Tanks be created at a local level in every place
where Muslims live. These must comprise of a cross-section of all the segments
that I mentioned above. People who participate in them must learn how to
collaborate, dialogue, differ and deal with conflict. They must learn to focus
on issues of common concern while agreeing to live with the differences. They
must learn to put the interest of Islam and the Muslim Ummah above their own
narrow partisan concerns. And they must learn to obey an Ameer. These individual
local groups must network and come together at a country level and in time at a
global level. There are many secular and other religious organizations today who
follow this model, very successfully. All it needs is sincerity and dedication.
The methods are all known, Islamic in origin and easy to follow, but only for
those who genuinely want to follow them.
These Think Tanks must identify important emerging issues, deliberate on them,
take expert advice and then create solutions for them from an Islamic
perspective. These solutions must be innovative, attractive and powerful and
with great media savvy, must be made public. Believe me, if we do the right
thing, world media will be only too glad to give us air time free of cost. After
all the Nobel Peace Prize went to Mohammad Younus of Grameen Bank fame with a
battery of appearances on all the major media channels, with his Islamic
identity clearly visible in every appearance.
A Dundee Salt March with a Gandhi leading it will make all the headlines and
primetime shows in the world, even today. And it will be free for the Gandhi and
his followers. That is what we need. If you become news worthy, you become news.
I believe that it is time for the thinking ones to wake up and start thinking so
that they don't allow the mindless to hijack their image and thereby draw
suffering on their heads for no fault of their own. Lethargy in today's world is
a crime. Especially lethargy in a situation where our very existence is
threatened. Let us remember that as long as we are seen as people who are
addicted to violence neither we nor our religion are likely to be seen in a
Nobody likes to be with or to support murderers of innocent people. We don't
either. But it is now time to come out of our drawing rooms and not only say so
loudly and clearly but to create systems where an alternate voice is heard at
least equally clearly.
A time will come, insha'Allah if we do this, that the world will turn to us for
solutions to its problems. For it will see Muslim society free from such evils.
That is the differentiator which will set us up clearly as the leaders of the
But when the world sees Muslim society also like itself, in the clutches of
ignorance, violence, barbaric customs and mindless traditions of social
exploitation, do you blame it, if it sees no difference?
After all sheep are never seen as shepherds.
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