Saturday, January 28, 2006

A south Indian Muslim's rant and perhaps a lesson for Pakistani Madrasas

When I lived in Delhi, I used to eagerly look forward to reading the Biblio. One day, I was heartened to read an observation made by Mahmood Farooqui (Rhodes scholar, writer, actor, Dastangi-performer...) in a book review in the Biblio(I am quoting from memory) that in popular discourse Indian Islam has come to mean a certain kind of Islam practised in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, ignoring the particularities of Islam as practised elsewhere in the country. I was especially happy that someone with a distinctly Bihari/UP surname had written that.

When my sister was introduced to a elderly Muslim gentleman in Delhi, the first thing he said was .."Aap Mussulman he, tho ham Urdu mein bath karenge.." (=Oh you are Muslim, then we should talk in Urdu). Now, don't get me wrong, I do think Urdu is a beautiful language (a Pakistani friend was talking on his phone and I later told him that to me it sounded like poetry, a bit like what Eqbal Ahmed says of the time Edward Said listened to Faiz Ahmed Faiz recite his poetry-note this-without translation in war ravaged Beirut) . But, don't expect me to know Urdu simply because I am an Indian Muslim.

I thought of all this when I read the following here

"Another reason why many Muslims outside Kerala are not familiar with the Kerala experience in modernizing madrasas is the deeply rooted, yet misplaced, belief that north Indian Muslims represent, in a sense, normative Islam. Hence, many north Indians feel that they have little, if anything, to learn from the south Indian example. There is this feeling that real Islam is to be found in the north, and that south Indian Muslims do not fully measure up to that standard. When I came to Delhi I was amazed to find some north Indian Muslim students at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, which is considered to be one of the premier universities in the country, also appear to share this opinion. When they learnt that I was from Kerala, they asked me, in all seriousness, if I knew how to pray in the proper Islamic fashion! One of them even asked that if we were Muslims how is it that we cannot speak Urdu properly! When I answered them and told them about Kerala’s unique madrasa system and pointed out the fact that Kerala is among the few states in India where Arabic is taught in government schools and in all our universities, they were really surprised and embarrassed."

I think the purpose of the interview was to demonstrate that there are different kinds of Madrasas (when I say this, I am including the mosque based schools that we Kerala Muslims call Madrasa and the seminary-type Madrasas that have been in the news, under the same category) and it is possible to be a "modern" educated Madrasa graduate. The interview remined me of William Dalrymple's article in the New Statesman about Madrasas in Pakistan. Perhaps the Pakistani Madrasas can learn (pl. no turf battles - I don't say this in a patronising way, but in a genuinely curious way in the spirit of dialogue) from this approach?


koonj said...

Very good point.

It's true the North Indian Muslim perspective can be described as culturally hegemonic over the South Indian. This is true also outside India, in the diaspora.

Isha' said...

Right you are that the idea of a UP Muslim is generalized into Indian Muslim.

But the fact that most of the Muslims do speak Urdu helps them and others too. A recent experience of mine made me think that.

Khalil Sawant said...

Very Important point made. :)
The absolute oblivious-ness of north indian muslims to non-urdu-ness of the muslims of the rest of country is something comparable to forcing of hindi on tamilians few decades ago.