Uyghurs, Rohingyas, Indian Muslims and the Ummah

Uyghurs, Rohingyas, Indian Muslims and the Ummah

Islam is calling for the Ummah, the unity of Muslims. However that this is more theoretcial idea and that geopolitical state interests and class interests prevent this, is obvious as you can see how majority Muslims states support or not support their alleged Muslim brothers and sisters. Starting with Sunni schism between the UAE-Saudiarabia versus Qatar-Turkey, Sunni versus Shiites like Iran – Saudiarabia, , Salih Hudayar, chief of the exile-goverment of the Uyghurs and leader of the East Turkestan National Awakening Movement (EATNAM) which was founded 2017 in Washington, complains that the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) doesn´t act against China´s alleged „genocide“ against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang/ East Turkestan. Saudiarabia and some Gulf states were even supporting China because of the secular nature of ETNAM, the alleged existence of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) which was just taken by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo from the US terrorist list and economic and geopolitical interests and they even be the beneficiaries of Chinese organ harvesting from the Uyghurs. According to Hudayar there was no Ummah, if she ever existed and therefore ETNAM like the World Uyghurs Congress prefer a secular, moderate Muslim independent East Turkestan. Erdogan and Pakistan alike would not support the Muslim/Turkic minority as they want to be part of the New Silkroad, do business with Beijing and maybe even part of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. (Pakistan already is).

The Rohingyas are another example.Muslim Bangladesh which perceives itself as a secular, moderate Muslim state deports them on islands and perceive them as foreigners and underdogs.

Beyond political and economic reasons, geopolitical state and class interests, the unity of Muslims in India till now is also victim of the caste interests. An article in the Hindustan Times makes it clear:

Caste System prevalent amongst Indian Muslims

Why is Dalit-Muslim unity a farce?

In the Indian context, social hierarchies are based on the caste, class, and religious distinctions which act as primary indicators for recognition and reservation. Though Constitutional provisions foster social equality by denouncing segregation and pervasive elements like caste-based discriminations, it continues to prevail and shows resilience. Caste is the most significant derivate of the Indian society, as well as of the Muslims community in India. The disproportionate hierarchical collation makes visible the absorption and concentration of social authority and political power with the incentivised Muslim caste groups.

Muslims from an institutional position deprecate the existence of caste and tend to define Muslims as socially homogenous and a monolithic entity. Nevertheless, the caste divisions in the Indian Muslim community are an unavoidable social reality. The Indian Muslim community in contradiction to homogeneity and monolithic claims is sharply categorised into three exclusivist hierarchical sections- Ashraf, Ajlaf and Arzal. In political context, Ashrafs belong to forward caste group, the Ajlafs and Arzals are the backwards and dalits. The Ajlaf and Arzal together are known as Pasmanda Muslims. However, separately, every one of these categories has further subdivisions like that of ‘occupational’ and ‘biradaris’, which are mainly endogamous. The caste equation among Muslims is still in a stagnant position as the process of transition has not yet started; however, once it starts the power equation would also change.

The caste among Muslims first came to light in the 1901 census which listed 133 social categories. In this census, social stratifications amongst Muslims were also recognised. However, the Sachar Committee report of 2006, established the caste as reality among Muslims. Out of the three, the ‘Ashrafs’ (an Arabic word, plural of “Shareef” meaning the ‘nobleman’) consists of four upper strata Muslims, i.e., Syeds, Sheikhs, Mughals, and Pathans. They trace their descendance from Arab, Turkey, Central Asia, and Afghanistan. The second caste groups are known as ‘Ajlaf’ consists of occupational castes, frequently considered as the OBC Muslims. The third caste group is known as ‘Arzal’ and are made up of ‘lower strata’ that comprises of Ati- ‘Shudra castes’ or ‘unclean occupational castes’ or ‘Dalits converts from other religion’. Those advocating a Dalit-Muslim unified front must highlight this aspect. Dalits which form the lowest strata in the Hindu Caste system are also at the lowest ladder in the Muslim caste system and in many cases are treated as untouchables. If a Dalit decides to convert to Islam, he is most likely to be accommodated in this lowest stratum only.

The first Backward Caste Commission- Kaka Kalekar Commission 1955, identified some 2399 caste groups including Muslims and categorised them as Other Backward Castes. However, its recommendations were not implemented. The Mandal Commission for the first time identified some 82 caste groups among Muslims alone and recommended their inclusion in the OBC list. It was in 1990 that for the first time Backward Caste Muslims aired their grievances regarding political recognition and due reservation. The All India Muslim Morcha 1994 and Pasmanda Muslim Mahaj 1998 were organisations stressing for the recognition of caste stratification amongst Muslims and demanded that these lower castes be included in the SC list.

However, the failure of those in power in recognising the larger caste stratification amongst Muslims and the minority status has left a significant chunk of the population out of the developmental fold. About 90 per cent Pasmanda Muslims remain out of the fold of reservation putting forth an immediate need to recognise them under the reservation system. However, a parallel debate occurs that the Islam doesn’t contain caste system and all the Muslims are a single entity minority. Thus, the question of Muslim identity continues to remain a debatable topic in the Indian context.

Islam teaches equality, but the notion is almost non-existent amongst Indian Muslims. The whole system follows caste-based hierarchies in which Dalits would be accommodated only in the lowest ladder. The existing system is so robust that an “Ansari” boy cannot dare to marry a “Syed” girl (barring some exceptions). All those talking about assimilating the Dalits into Islamic fold fail to recognise the fact that there cannot be mutual relation of “Roti-Beti” with those Dalits who would like to come to the Islamic fold. They will still be an outcaste in a society deeply divided on caste lines.“

However, Islamists and jihadists will try to use this lack of Ummah to portray themselves as the real holder of the Muslim unity grail and all the other Muslim groups, moderate Muslims, Muslim states and their rulers as traitors and heretics.

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