Saturday, September 10, 2005

So far from where we started

- By Ahmad Suhaib Siddiqui

Division is another name of decline and disintegration. People divided, especially on material lines, pose insurmountable threat to their own existence and cause untold miseries to the disadvantaged among them. Indian society is one of the best example where divisive forces pushed a major section of people into perpetual slavery. Let us see what are the divisive forces in muslim society and what is the true Islamic teaching in this context.
“You all are children of Adam and Adam was made of clay” was the most glorious and fascinating statement for equality, fraternity and brotherhood, upon which a Muslim society is supposed to be based. The last prophet declared in no-confusing tone, “Your reality is clay that is trodden under feet, so you are supposed to be humble and down to earth”. So the resultant society should be classless, casteless, with no place for discrimination, division or inequality.
But, in reality, Muslim society in India is divided into an unending series of classes and castes.
Muslims at the dawn of their civilization were much less divided and class divisions were not very sharp. In later periods, with expansion came prosperity, accompanied with varied factors that compelled people to become organized into various formations both under coercion and voluntarily.
When Muslims first came to India in considerable numbers, with the invasions from the north west, they were generally divided into two classes, Ashraf or nobility and commoners.
Economic and commercial activities expanded and varied skills and processes were required to fulfill diverse needs. People indulged in these activities and came to be recognized with their specific social or economic activity performed in society, like Teli, Gujjar, Kasai etc.
Conversion took place and most hindus entered Islam with their castes and customs. More significantly they were accorded generally the same positions or status in society that they earlier held, with a few exceptions, where caste elimination was itself a goal, as in the case of Sayyid Ahmad Sarhind.
In a matter of a few Centuries, Muslims lost their much cherished equality and were divided into different castes and classes but never in so rigid a manner as was the case in Hinduism. Today, we have more or less one hundred castes and subcastes like Quraishi, Teli, Dhumia, Siddiqui, Khan etc.

[Ahmad Suhaib Siddiqui is pursuing his MA in Centre for Arabic and African Studies, JNU]

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