What Indian Muslims have learnt: Education is empowerment

Uttar Pradesh

Rashid Nehaal is a harried man. As the director of the Aligarh Muslim University’s Kishanganj campus, he is running an academic centre starved of funds, with non existent infrastructure, in one of the poorest corners of India with little linkages with industry and the market for students to leverage.

And Nehaal, 48, senses prejudice from the central government.

Yet, Nehaal’s advice to younger Muslims and the community at larger is to ‘stop complaining’.

“Muslims need to understand that every community in India has struggled. You cannot keep blaming the government and parties 24 hours a day. They must stop expecting pampering, reservations. They must understand that they have to compete in the marketplace. All that we should do is create an enabling environment and give them educational facilities.”

At a time when Indian Muslims are disturbed at what they see around them, at a time when they are introspecting about political choices, there is a third simultaneous trend visible in the community – a desire to convert the crisis into an opportunity by focusing on internal reform. The unanimous refrain, across North India, among older and younger Muslims, among men and women, among middle class and poor, and among urban and rural Muslims, is that the only way to do this is through a single-minded focus on education.

Increase capabilities

Mohammed Adil Faridi is in his thirties, and works at the Imarat-e-Sharia, an influential Muslim organisation in Patna’s Phulwari Sharif. He is working on a computer, shuffling between checking his email and editing an Urdu newspaper.

When asked if Muslims are feeling like a ‘defeated community’, a refrain one had heard elsewhere, he replies, “No. Muslims know that education is the only route to mobility. And anyone who wants to study can study. Yes, if someone can succeed with 30% work, a Muslim may have to put in 50% work because of certain prejudices. But no one is stopping us from doing that.”