Exuding a palpable energy and trapped in a haze of invincibility, a power-drunk person is capable of shedding inhibitions to do the weirdest things
Economic development is one of the core themes of Islam. Contrary to the common perception regarding any religion, Islam vigorously guides on several mundane affairs including the economic sphere of human activities. This particularity of Islam could have never been understood well in any era than now.
With the growing realization of inadequacy of vogue theories and practices in dealing with complex economic matters in a globalized world and proven sustainability of some Islamic institutions during critical times, such as the present recession, a variety of Islamic tenets are being revisited by academics, policymakers and executives engaged in economic development of human society for exploring their relevance today. The context of economic principles of Islam also arises in the contemporary world due to rampant impoverishment of Muslims in various parts of the world.
India is no exception. Here too, a paradoxical reference to the ‘Islamic economics’ is being currently made to the Islamic banking and finance on the one hand and on the other to the glaring economic backwardness of Indian Muslims even after six decades of Independence and democratic governance. Some impart blame on Islam that it comes in the way of economic advancement of Muslims whereas others think that the faith could be used as a motivating force for this purpose. Votaries of both the views do exist and they pursue their respective cause in a mutually unconvincing manner. This calls for underscoring a number of issues for a better grasp of the situation and suggesting policy implications on them. There is a cumbersome list of such issues which demands sincere intervention on the apart of both the state and the community. They comprise inter alia, equitable growth, lack of motivation for ‘worldly’ things, lack of information and facilitation structure, training and capacity building, improper management of Islamic institutions such as Zakat and Waqf, Islamic banking and finance, thrift and investment, Muslim participation in various sectors such as agriculture, industries and services, poverty alleviation of Indian Muslims whose majority is drifting around the poverty line, and the like.
The foremost issue of Indian economy is the promotion of ‘inclusive growth’. In the absence of adequate institutional back up for ensuring this, a variety of disparities are not only visible on the economic scene of the country but they are also becoming more and more unreasonable with the passage of time. These disparities do exist between the forward and backward states, between some districts of a state and other districts of the same state, between stronger and weaker communities, between urban and rural people and between the gender counterparts. There can be no denial the fact that India is yet far from having realized economic democratization and equitable distribution of resources. The most affected segment of this untoward situation remains to be both the Dalits and Muslims in all states, in all districts and in all parts of the country. Their persistent economic backwardness during the last six decades has been substantiated beyond doubt by none less than the committee appointed by the Prime Minister of India himself, commonly called as the Sachar Committee, which submitted its eye-opening report in November 2006. Evidently, the promise of inclusive growth seems nowhere near achieving. So, there could hardly be any blame on the conclusion that economically the most insecure class of the Indian nation is its 150 million Muslims; Dalits at least have several constitutional provisions and reservation of government jobs in proportion to their population. And, the irony is that, presumably, the Muslims believe in some of those unblemished tenets, which could guarantee an equitable economic growth anywhere in the world.
The Islamic concept of economic well being was discussed by the speakers of the inaugural session and several others. One of the resolutions of the seminar convened by Islamic Fiqh Academy India two years back reads, “To earn wealth through fair means and to spend it on the welfare of the poor and needy as has been enjoined upon by Allah, is not only permissible but appreciable in Islam”. In his inaugural address of the said seminar the renowned Islamic thinker Dr Mohd. Nijatullah Siddiqui quoted Maulana Sayed Manazir Ahsan Gilani asserting that “endeavor towards the economic development also is a sort of Jihad fi Sabilil Allah” and remarked that if the economic activities are “undertaken with a pious intent, it will demonstrate the noble Islamic values and character with no shades of indolence and insufficient preparations often noticeable in the economic efforts the Muslims take”. These notable views remind us of the campaign Jihad sa Zindagani (struggle for reconstruction) launched by the Iranian people just after the end of eight year long war imposed on their country by Iraq, on the instigation and support of the USA; which enabled the Islamic republic instill a spirit of overall development in its citizens and an urge to come out from the ill effects of this unwished war. Maulana Khalid Saifullah Rahmani a well known scholar of thye country categorizes economic issues under Fiqh Al Hayat, i.e. as the Jurisprudence of Life. This denotes what importance is accorded by Islam to the economic activities of man. From a verse of the holy Qurān (4:5), Dr Khalid Shuaib, a scholar from Kuwait, deduced that wealth and property is meant for ‘support’ (Qayam) to human life and therefore Islam recognizes several economic rights in society. He also mentioned that some companions of the Prophet (Pbuh) have narrated that “if money increases it is a ‘treasure’, provided that its Zakat has been paid”. Maulana Badrul Hasan Qasmi, one of the leading NRI Ulama, quoted an interesting assertion of reverend Ali bin Abdul Muttalib against demeaning ‘this-worldly things’ in these words, “This world is a place of rectitude for one who goes in pursuit of its nature, it will lead to salvation to one who wants to one’s share from this world with dignity and propriety.” The foregoing references make it evident that in the scheme of Islam, economic endeavor is one of the obligatory functions of both individuals and society and enhancement of wealth and material resources, anywhere, would be welcomed provided they fulfill certain basic prerequisites prescribed by Islam; which are actually in the interest of healthy and sound economic growth of a nation.
Then the question arises, if Islam is so much motivating its adherents for economic endeavor, then why Indian Muslims are lagging behind others in this field? There are many factors to blame to; some internal and some external. Internally, Muslims have long been fed on the idea that economic activities are ‘worldly’ things and, therefore, they should be carried out only nominally. Their aversion to economic progress led them ignore modern advancements in technology and economic system and in seeking excellence and ascendance in the economic field. They even failed to modernize their traditional arts and crafts. The toughening competition in employment, trade and industry did hardly made members of the community prepare themselves for new challenges. Dearth of pertinent information regarding emerging fields, government schemes, credit and training facilities, etc and lack of facilitation structure for harnessing the same has further snatched opportunities from their weakening hands. The work culture does not exist within the community, which is very much essential for economic rise of any nation or community. While referring the sudden rise of China as an economic superpower, Dr M.Y Khan, a Mumbai-based management consultant, has rightly concluded that “Nations and communities have progressed faster on their own efforts, hard work and sense of accountability towards their goals and deeds”. The community should be awakened to take economic progress seriously lest it will not be able to come out from the vicious circle of economic backwardness and deprivation.
So long as external factors are concerned, Muslims have to struggle hard for their very survival in the country since independence, amidst hostile and prejudicial atmosphere in both the political and economic spheres. In spite of democracy, Indian Muslims have been discriminated against and caused to languish in economic progress. The vast store of data complied and collated in Sachar Committee Report make it explicitly substantiated that they are sailing through an unfavorable sea. They could hardly receive benefits of government schemes, bank credits, private sector growth and other channels of economic progress. Their business has been targeted upon by communal rioters. How much a communal situation falls on the economic well being of any community could be understood well by the example of Gujarat. In the light of National Sample Survey of India it has been pointed out, “It is shocking that in five years between NSS55 (1999-2000) and NSS61 (2004-2005) unemployment rate of urban Muslims has increased from 18 to 52. A reverse has happened with the unemployment rate of rural Muslims where it has come down to 10 from a high of 51. What explains this anomaly? Can this be because number of small farmers shows a significant decrease in the same period? Is it possible that Muslims barely eking out a living in rural Gujarat have moved to urban areas and now living as unemployed? To understand why these Muslims may have left villages we have to go back to the representations that was made to Sachar Committee and see that security is one of the highest concerns of Muslims of Gujarat”. The traditional wealth of Indian Muslims in the form of rich Awqaf has been encroached upon in several parts of the country, even by the government establishments. When they tried to mobilize investment through interest free institutions they were denied to do so. The combined apathy of the government and the community towards educating Muslim children further reduced their chances in those sectors where education and professional skills were crucial. Many a time the government sincerely tried to alleviate conditions of the community, but the administrative mechanism laden with communal elements hardly permitted the planned benefits percolate down. Although Dr Masud Ali Khan of Hyderabad University favors financial support on viable projects for training, capacity building and material input but he also guards, “There are many financial institutions which offer financial assistance to such economically weak people. But the ailing mentality of the Muslim community consumes this assistance with utmost incuriousness”.
It has been argued by some of the contributors to the above-said seminar that the community leadership should not overplay on external factors like the role of government and other institutions and it should rather focus on generating internal strength of the community. Salman Khurshid, the Minister of Company Minority Affairs, who joined the event on its last day as the chief guest of the valedictory session, advises in this regards that “…We have been suffering from inferiority complex. If we have pushed ourselves back in this dreary complex due to apathy of a government or administration, we cannot absolve ourselves from this state of affairs”. K. Rehman Khan, the deputy chairman of Rajya Sabha also warned in his message a Muslim fellow regarding this ‘haunting’ complex that he is being “discriminated against because of his religion”. Other voices in the seminar have also joined the two representative opinions. However, several speakers felt that, since the state is the largest player in a country for the development of its people, it should be made responsible for a fair and impartial treatment with all its citizens.
The internal weaknesses and external pressures have drastically affected employment situation of a common Muslim. It has been estimated that only 51% of Muslims in the working age (14-60) are really working whereas this figure for all Indians is 85%. Out of those who are working, only 12% are in organized sector including those 4.7% who could join the bus of government jobs. The rest of them are said to be ‘self-employed’, the majority of whom are engaged in low income petty jobs such as in transport, street vending and household technical work. The unemployment rate among Muslims is 14% per annum. The popular demand of Muslim reservation in government jobs has been taken with derision in spite of the fact that Justice Rangnath Mishra Commission, set up the central government at its own without any public demand, has concluded this in bold letters that there is no legal or constitutional hurdle which comes in the way of according Muslims the benefits of reservation. One simplistic argument for denying reservation to Muslims is that there are no jobs in the public sector now and Muslim employment has better prospects in the private sector. It should be noted here that 18.6 million jobs in the public sector comprise over 70% of the overall 27 million jobs in the organized sector. Perhaps, more concerted lobbying is required to ensure reservation for Muslims in educational institutions and government jobs, which is their justified claim. Any provision for Muslim reservation will help the community in a great way in consolidating its economic position. There is no doubt that employment situation is becoming more and more competitive and the candidates are required to have skill and ability to do jobs with increased technical and professional input. This calls for opening of a network of modern coaching and training institutions especially in all Muslim concentration districts. Placement back up may also be established in various parts of the country so that aspirants could find government and private jobs and avail overseas openings without much difficulty.
It is widely understood that Muslims comprise a strong artisan class. Moreover, they prefer to be ‘self-employed’. These two facts could be used in planning for regenerating a new vigor among members of the community to participate in industries and manufacturing. For a long time, even after Independence, Muslims were dominating in some traditional industries and manufacturing works such as in garment, leather, brassware, glassware, automobile, etc. However, with the technological advancement and want of upgrading knowledge, skill and machinery, they generally fell behind time and suffered a serious setback in due course of time. The government’s apathy and the community’s weakness in mustering pressure on it, has led to immense decline in the existence of the famous Muslim artisan class and studies have established that the one-time artisans are now transforming into a labor class. Well, it is a time to bring this known artisan community from its present morass and make it contribute in the nation building. In this regard proper arrangement for micro-finance and use of the technique of self-help groups could be highly beneficial. For this purpose, the Muslim funds and NBCs could be encouraged to take the onus in a big way. Dr A.A.A Faizi refers a number of government schemes such as RUDSETI, SJSRY, SGSY, STEP, etc as important for reviving the economic vigor of the community at the grassroots and stresses that their benefits could be transferred to the community only in the presence of a strong and dynamic back up of NGOs. Moreover, interested persons must be made acquainted with the support of a number of government bodies providing know-how, training, credit and market outlets to entrepreneurs such as NABARD, SEDBI, KVIC, NMDFC and the like. Entrepreneur development institutes should be opened in large numbers for bringing Muslim talents in the mainstream business and industries.
Muslims are generally considered to be less conspicuous in the field of agriculture being comparatively an urban community, still 64% Muslims live in villages and most of them are engaged in agriculture or agriculture-based work. So it is highly risky to ignore their participation in agriculture and agri-based work in the country. There is a need to study, suggest and implement things which could strengthen their productive role in the rural India. It has been pointed out that Muslims have lesser agricultural land per head than other communities, so their rural opportunities could be explored more conveniently in agri-based work and trade.
All sorts of economic activities require a constant flow of fund and investment. Comparatively a high incidence of poverty among Muslims and unfavorable circumstances certainly cut a smaller monetary cake for them as compared to others. The seminarians have delved into this question very seriously and suggested a number of prospective avenues of funds which could be harnessed for the economic progress of the community. Based on the estimates of household income of Indian families, Dr Rahmatullah, chairman of a Mumbai-based outfit, All India Council of Muslim Economic Upliftment, deduces in that it could be regarded one of the possible guesstimates that Muslims pay an amount of Rs 4500 crore as Zakat every year. While discussing the imbalance between the total deposits of Muslims in Scheduled Banks and overall credited amount to them from them, Dr Sayed Zahid Ahmad of the same organization, calculated a huge credit loss in his write up ‘Islamic Banking and Poverty Alleviation among Indian Muslims’, who says, “It is not wise to keep loosing annual credits worth over Rs 63,770 crore and distributing Zakat worth Rs 3139 crore” on its income. It has been argued in Sachar Committee Report that if the income from the rent of Awqaf could be increased above the book value and made at par with current market trends than an annual income from this sanctified property would be in the order of whooping Rs 12000 crore. It has also been argued to divert Muslim expenditure from non-priority to priority heads and reduce profligacy in social and religious practices; then a huge amount could be made available for poverty alleviation and economic empowerment of the community from this ‘saving is earning’ concept without any external assistance. One interesting instance cited by Abdul Rashid Agwan in his introductory note to the seminar is that around 150,000 rich Muslims go on a non-obligatory Umarh during Ramadan almost every year and spend on tour expenses an aggregate amount of around Rs 2100 crore and, according to him, this huge amount should be diverted to some productive use for the progress and development of the community at large.
See all these huge figures in comparison to the annual allocation of central government in the union budget for the development and welfare of minorities to be 1700 crore, of which only 85% is meant specifically for Muslims in proportion to their population among the five minorities. So, if the community is provided with some appropriate legal framework and active community and state support for harnessing and utilizing the above-referred community-based funds of the value of over Rs 20,000 crore per annum or so then perhaps they will need no special patronage of any government for their normal development and progress; rather they will contribute in their own humble way in the nation building.
Another means of community empowerment is seen in the form of Islamic banking and finance. The bulk of papers presented in the seminar of IFA focus on this theme only. Former executive director of Reserve Bank of India Dr A. Hasib highlights importance of interest free economy in the context of global crisis, whereas former secretary, Ministry of Finance, Bangladesh and the Deputy Executive President of Islami Bank Bangladesh shared the experiences of Islamic banking in their country. Ehsanul Haq points out changes required for permitting interest free banking in India whereas Dr Waqar Anwar and Dr M.I Bagisiraj explores possibilities of Islamic banking in India in the light of experiences of non-Muslim countries in the West and elsewhere. Dr Amin and Dr Qureshi of Aligarh Muslim University discuss problems and prospects of Islamic banking in the country mainly in the light of experience of Muslim funds in Uttar Pradesh and in other parts of the country. H. Abdur Raqib of Indian Centre for Islamic Finance presented a detailed note on the position of Reserve Bank of India in the context of permitting Islamic banking in the country and explored possibilities for the same on an early time. M.H Khatkhatey and Dr Shariq Nisar, both from TASIS, have constantly arguing for the Shariah complaint investment in shares and commodities. All these aspirants stress on Islamic banking and finance as a powerful means of mobilizing huge sums existing as an unproductive and idle wealth into the mainstream economy for diverting its benefits to the community and the country alike.
Two interesting discussions were raised in the aforementioned seminar by Arshad Ajmal and Mahtab Alam on grassroots’ struggle for empowering common people including Muslims. The first one deals with the definition of poverty and its scaling and its application in the context of Muslims. Accordingly, he argues that there are many more members of the community below poverty line than what is currently estimated by the government. He also raises the point regarding direction of Muslim efforts for the economic empowerment of the community since mostly emphasis is given on generation of wealth rather than alleviating poverty and helping those languishing at the lower rung of society. If his argument is taken in the right earnest then it would mean that, for example, a cooperative society should stress more on maximizing coverage and assistance to poor and needy rather than on increasing its revenue. The latter discussant placed an agenda of generating awareness and information base in villages and small towns as tools of empowering the community.
As a responsible leader of All India Muslim Personal Law Board, Abdur Rahim Qureshi has pointed out in his valuable contribution to the seminar the history of constant changes in the Waqf Act and observed that persistently it could not be amended as per the aspirations of the community and consequently failed to preserve the valuable treasurer of Muslims in each nook and cranny of the country. Since Waqf properties are considered to be an important instrument of economic development, they should be preserved and made productive to the maximum extent. Salman Khursheed, the minister of minority affairs, who happened to be on the dais at the time of presentation of this critical note, assured the government’s cooperation in incorporating the points raised by the learned contributor.
There is no doubt that the holding of this seminar on “Economic Advancement of Indian Muslims: The Situation and Scope” was timely and the seminarians covered a variety of concerning issues and reached to some pragmatic suggestions for alleviating the obtained situation. The major achievements of the seminar include advocacy of a strong viewpoint regarding material progress within the framework of Islam and the underlining of a concrete action plan for making opening of Islamic banking in the country possible and on an early date. The seminar upholds more hopes than bewilderment amidst an arising promise of time.