Book Discussion: Born a Muslim

Centre for Studies of Plural Societies (CSPS) organised a book discussion on Born a Muslim: Some Truths About Islam in India on 3rd July 2022 at 4.00 PM (IST), authored by Ghazala Wahab.

About the author: 

Ghazala Wahab is the executive editor of FORCE, where she writes on homeland security, terrorism, Jammu and Kashmir, left-wing extremism, and religious extremism. She is the writer of the column “First Person.”

About the chair: 

Prof. Mohammad Sajjad is a Professor at the Centre of Advanced Study in History, Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). He is the author of Muslim Politics in Bihar: Changing Contours (Routledge, 2014) and Contesting Colonialism and Separatism: Muslims of Muzaffarpur since 1857 (Primus, 2014).

Prof. Mohammad Sajjad commenced the session by thanking CSPS for organising the book discussion. He further stated that this book had raised many pertinent questions. It has engaged itself with the issues confronting Muslim communities in India today and going beyond the mere diagnosis of the situation. It has also attempted to propose some prescriptions, particularly at the end of almost every chapter. The diagnosis and the prescriptions are debatable across the cross sections of commentators and opinion-makers. Prof. Sajjad then invited Ghazala Wahab to shed light on her book and commented that it needs to be rendered in at least some of the major Indian languages to reach the broader public.

Ghazala Wahab started the discussion by addressing Prof. Sajjad’s comment, she informed that the Urdu version of the book would be released by the Centre for Development Policy and Practice (CDPP) by the end of this year after having released the first four chapters of the book. Wahab then talked about her book, where she explores the present status of Muslims in India by drawing upon how Islam came into India and the role it played in how Muslims are received differently by the people who preceded them in India. She talks about the various sects within Islam in India and how this phenomenon grew in India. “Islam has been the most feminist of religions”, she asserted and dedicated a chapter to expound on the status of women in Islam. The most significant chapter of the book tries to find the origin of the marginalisation that Muslims have faced in India, which Wahab believes started even before the partition.

Further in the discussion, Wahab highlighted the lack of participation in establishing institutions either of modern education or charitable organisations, working on modern transparent, trustworthy principles by the modern, educated, upwardly mobile Muslims. She believes that the opinions of modern people are inclusive in their outlook and conscious of the deliberate marginalisation of Muslims. However, they are discarded because the people within the community believe that modern, educated, upwardly mobile Muslims do not have any locus standi, which proved detrimental to the community. Regarding qualitative Muslim-minority educational institutions, Wahab related it to her experience living in Western Uttar Pradesh. The drive for education amongst the business families or the landed gentry is much less than families with a background or history of education, who are third or fourth-generation educated people in their homes because the former do not expect the children to seek employment outside the family businesses.

Commenting on the Nupur Sharma case, Wahab explained the problem humans are riddled with in confirming the veracity of the records of a historical figure, such as Prophet Muhammad. While one needs to take the possibility of the issue with a pinch of salt, Muslims should not get up in arms because Prophet Muhammad does not need it. Moreover, she stated that Muslims are just as Indian as Hindus. Although the majority have been Hindus who support the government and the Hindutva ideology, they have sought permanent residency abroad. At the same time, Muslims continue to stay back, despite the diminishing economic opportunities in India, hoping their condition will improve. “The notion of Hindu hurt is in the realm of fantasy”, Wahab iterated. She declared that it was the job of Muslim leaders, politicians as well as Muslim intelligentsia to clarify and communicate at every opportunity that the responsibility or the blame of the partition was not theirs alone to bear. Other than the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits, Hindus have nothing to account for their imaginary hurt.

Answering a participant’s question about Muslim leadership in India, she said, “The Muslim leadership in India has been the most pathetic leadership ever”. She expounded on her statement, stating that the leaders’ reach or sway over the people has been very geographically limited and their inefficiency in raising issues of Muslim welfare. There have been Muslim politicians and many national-level politicians, but they have not been the leader of Muslims. There are seldom Muslim politicians mobilising Muslim people for the sake of more educational institutions in Muslim-dominated areas or making a representation to the government on fake cases against Muslims. In the percentage of prisoners in any Indian jail, the ratio of Muslim prisoners is the highest who are under trial in various prisons. Most of them are under trial, even without the charge sheets. No Muslim politician is talking about this. She believed these are Muslim issues, and if a leader is not taking up these issues, then that leader is not a leader. The discussion ended with her thanking CSPS for the opportunity, adding that she hoped she did not ruffle any feathers or hurt anybody’s sentiments by being candid.

The report is prepared by Anandha Lekshmi Nair, a Research Intern at CSPS