Muslims in India - Bohraization

Omar Khalidi is an architectural historian at MIT, with a special interest in the political future of muslims in India. He was recently interviewed by the Times of India while on a lecture tour, and had some interesting comments about my community as a role model.

You have studied the Indian Muslim situation for years. How does the community fit into the larger picture of India?

For the present, they do not fit into the tech-savvy, high income, self-confident India of the 21st century. Despite the famous Khans of the Bollywood, Infotech czar Premji, and the famed musicians, most Muslims are far poorer than their compa triots. Their stock in the political decision making is empty. Thin dispersal of the Muslims across the country prevents their numbers from being shown in legislative seats. Many constituencies with large Muslim voting population have been reserved for the SCs. Without some political leverage, public policies cannot be changed The biggest Muslim concern today is physical security of life and property Followed by economic and educational opportunities. For this one cannot blame the govern ment alone. Mus lims need a huge amount of self-in trospection to find the lacunae.

Have the Indian Muslims benefited from the socio-eco nomic development of India in the post Independence era?

No, they have not but not because they are Muslims, but because the economic policies pursued by successive governments have benefited only the upper middle classes and the rich and leave out the rural poor, the urban slum dwellers, SCs and women. The Muslims be come worse off because there is a political culture of indifference towards them. I say indifference � not discrimination � be cause Muslims do not have the political clout, which was lost in the wake of Pak istan�s creation. They inherited the stigma for Pakistan�s birth. So when public funds are distributed, there is a tendency to ignore them. The same policy would have been pur sued in the case of the SCs, but they are pro tected by the policy of reservation at all lev els. A new middle class emerged out of the ranks of the deprived SCs, far outpacing Muslims.

You once called for the �Bohraisation of Muslims.

By that I mean that Muslims ought to take more interest in trade, small businesses and self-employment. The era of flabby civil service is over. The path of upward social mobility is by entrepreneurship. In this venture, they have their own Prophet Mohammad as the role model. Don�t forget that he and his wife were both merchants And Bohras � whatever their sectarian beliefs are � have followed the example of the Prophet almost to the letter. The vast majority of the Bohras are small and medium businessmen and industrialists Only a tiny number of Bohras are independent professionals. I have not heard of a Bohra in government employment exceptions apart. The Aga Khani Khojas Memons, Nawaits of Bhatkal in Karnataka Tamil Labbais, Saudagaran of Delhi Kolkata and UP and elsewhere can be good role models for other Muslims.

Part of the economic success of the Bohras is also due to the liberal yet pious approach to theological interpretation - particularly with respect to womens' rights and embrace of technology and modernism. But the lion's share of credit for the Bohra community's success lies with the leadership of the office of Dai u-Mutlaq, who have promoted entrepeneurship and trade explicitly by explicitly invoking the Prophet Mohammed's teachings - and rejecting the vocabulary of hatred and intolerance that has steadily crept into the Muslim mainstream.

The relative independence, if not affluence, of my community, even in the smallest villages, is why I sometimes seem ignorant of the broader social status of muslims in India in general - it's just been as light-years beyond my experience as Bangladeshi poverty has been to Razib.


Nitin said...


I think the Bohra case is an excellent example of what is possible for the Muslim community. Another case is that of Malaysia.

Instead of seeking entitlement, or living in constant sorrow of dispossession and victimisation, a positive approach under enlightened leadership has proven successful. Unfortunately, for many of the world's Muslims, enlightened religious or political leadership is a pipe dream.

Razib said...

the key is that reform, and upward movement, will happen on the level of the individual and community, not the world-wide ummah....


Aziz Poonawalla said...

That's exactly the point, Razib, of the teaching of the Prophet SAW. Islam is intensely personal - especially when it comes to responsibility for your own life.

Zachary said...

To be a Muslim is to have a relationship with God in an intensely private fashion but to be Islamic is to be a citizen of a civilisation that stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific. I think that is the essential caveat that people must realise before assessing the Muslim community, because none exists there is only the Islamic world.

Islam is not a ritualised or a standardised religion, the diversity is too immense to allow for one however there are civilisational charateristics which countries from Paistan to Morroco share. Hence any rejuvenation of the Ummah has to occur on a national and pan-Islamic scale so that we can recognise our common secular (or rather "tempoaral") heritage . The word Ummah has been obsfucated by the religion that people forget that to be Islamic is a heritage much in the same way it is to be European, Indian or Chinese.

If we recognise this key distinction (which is what Mohammed Ali Jinnah based the idea of Pakistan on) we'll come to realise that the contradictions in our state of the world doesn't really exist. A good Muslim can be an excellent European or an Indian because they accept their status as a member of that civilisation. In the same one doesn't necessarily have to accept the faith to consider themselves a member of the civilisation (Mohammed Ali Jinnah and Allama Iqbal are key examples).