Spreading the message of Islam in India

Updated 30 December 2012
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Spreading the message of Islam in India

India is the largest Muslim country in the world with more than 200 million followers of Islamic faith. Muslims in general and Islamic propagators in particular face a lot of challenges because of the lingering wounds created by the partition of the Indian subcontinent, misunderstandings about Islam and lack of efforts to reach out to the country’s huge non-Muslim population.
Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, a leading Islamic movement in India has been trying its best to fill this gap and remove the misunderstandings of Hindus, Christians and other non-Muslims in the country by publishing Qur’an translations and Islamic books in different Indian languages, conducting friendly dialogues with people of other faiths and implementing welfare programs for the benefit of all people.
Sheikh Muhammad Karakkunnu, vice president of Jamaat in the south Indian state of Kerala, has been in the forefront of this noble endeavor. Author of more than 70 books in Malayalam, some of which have been translated into English, he has been actively involved in the campaign to spread the message of Islam in the state by establishing good contacts with non-Muslim politicians, intellectuals, academics and religious and youth leaders, giving public lectures and organizing dialogue forums and table talks.
He believes that Indian Muslims should represent Islam through their lives, rather than talk. “Our welfare programs should be designed to benefit all people in the country, not only the Muslim community,” he said, citing examples from Islamic history. When Caliph Omar came to know that the son of then Egyptian Governor Amr bin Aas had done injustice to a Coptic Christian, he ordered Amr and his son to come to Madinah, and asked the Copt to lash the governor’s son. Once the Caliph saw an elderly and poor Jew sitting along the street and he immediately instructed treasury officials to provide that man with necessary assistance.
“If we can make India’s non-Muslims enjoy the benefits of Islam through our lives and services it would be the best way to propagate Islam in the country,” said Muhammad. “Non-Muslims are not looking at how we pray and do our religious rituals. They are watching how we engage in public life and we should represent Islam properly while dealing with others, inspired by the teachings of Islam and the Prophet.”
Muslims in India and elsewhere in the world are facing an image problem as most of them are educationally and economically backward, giving the impression that Islam is the religion of a backward community.
“Actually, Muslims are destined by God to be the best among nations. Our Prophets had hailed from reputable families. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), for example, was from Quraish while Prophet Moses (peace be upon him) was brought up in the palace of Pharaoh. The most saddening fact is that Muslims are backward not only in education and economy but also in moral and spiritual areas,” Muhammad said.
Although Kerala is known as God’s own country famous for its communal harmony, the Jamaat leader expressed his fears about the growing communal polarization in the state that boasts of cent percent literacy rate. The general public in Kerala has been brainwashed to have an anti Muslim mindset and the media has played a big role in creating such an unhealthy atmosphere. As a result, most Keralites are not ready to stand up against the injustice being committed against Abdunnaser Maadani, chairman of People’s Democratic Party, who has been jailed in Bangalore for more than two years as a remand prisoner without any charges.
“The media exaggerates a small mistake committed by Muslims and ignores big crimes committed by Hindus,” he said citing various examples including the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Gujarat and arrests of Muslim youths without any genuine reasons. Jamaat has been supporting victims of natural and man-made calamities across the country.
“For Endosulfan victims we gave Rs 10 million and for people hit by the Tsunami more than Rs 20 million. The beneficiaries of our relief activities included people from all faiths. We have also constructed more than 1,000 housing units for the poor across the state. Non-Muslim social activists have praised Jamaat’s relief and welfare programs for the poor and needy, inspired by the humane teachings of the Prophet.
Misunderstanding of Islam and Muslims is a major problem facing Islamic propagators. According to Muhammad, even non-Muslim teachers, politicians and intellectuals do not know the basic teachings of Islam. One Hindu teacher had thought Muslims exchanged the greetings of “Assalamu Alaikum” to insist that Islam is the only religion and it reflected Muslims’ intolerance. Some Hindu religious leaders think that Muslims consider Prophet Muhammad as their god.
“We cannot accuse non-Muslims alone for these misunderstandings because they did not get a chance to learn about Islam. Until 1960 there was no translation of the Qur’an in Malayalam. “The most important thing the Jamaat did in the country was the publication of Qur’an translation in all Indian languages including the national language of Hindi,” Muhammad said. Jamaat began its activities in Kerala in 1945 by establishing the Islamic Publishing House, which has to its credit more than 600 Islamic books.
“When Jamaat published Prabodhanam, it was the only Islamic weekly in Malayalam at that time. It gave an opportunity for non-Muslims to understand Islam. We attended non-Muslim celebrations of like Onam and we invited them to our special occasions like Eid. This way we were able to change the impression that Muslims are a closed society. In 1969 Jamaat held a big state conference in Malappuram where Hindu and Christian leaders were invited to address the gathering for the first time in the history of an Islamic organization.” He described the funeral of Kamala Suraya, the famous novelist and story writer who had embraced Islam, at Palayam Mosque in Thiruvananthapuram as historic. The mosque authorities allowed Suraya’s Hindu sons and relatives as well as Hindu and Christian politicians and religious leaders to join the funeral prayer. “When Muslim League leader Panakkad Muhammad Ali Shihab Thangal died, Chief Minister Oomen Chandy, who is a Christian, and several non-Muslim leaders took part in the funeral prayer,” he pointed out. The Jamaat leader also spoke about his organization’s efforts to enlighten the Muslim community about Islam and protect them from superstitious beliefs and un-Islamic ideologies like Communism. “When some Muslim youngsters drifted to extremism, we tried to convince them about the danger of following such a destructive path. Instead of isolating them from the community we tried to dialogue with them to change their attitude.”
According to Muhammad, Jamaat-e-Islami has played an important role in the empowerment of Muslim women, the main victims of the community’s backwardness. “We published the first Muslim women’s magazine in Malayalam, which is now run by a group of women. Women leaders were allowed to address our state conference in 1969. Our women’s wing organized a big state conference in Kuttippuram attended by more than 100,000 women,” he added.
Jamaat also tried its best to promote an Islamic culture in society. There are now thousands of young Muslim men and women in the state who are proud of upholding the values of Islam. Muslim girls at colleges and universities wear the Islamic dress. Jamaat also succeeded in providing Islamic and material knowledge through its educational institutions. “We also engage in politics to establish social justice and promote moral values,” he added.
The Jamaat leader spoke highly about the Arab Spring, saying it was instrumental in changing many wrong perceptions about Islam and Muslims. It changed the view that Islamic organizations are against democracy and women’s rights. “Out of 91 candidates of the Islamic organizations in Tunisia, 42 were women while 42 of 49 women in the country’s Parliament were from Islamic groups. It encouraged Muslim youths to use modern social media to demand their rights and change governments. They are using this media to spread the message of Islam. Speaking about the opposition against Egyptian President Muhammad Mursi, he said there is nothing unusual. “People are allowed to express their views in a democratic setup. What happens in the Indian Parliament is sometimes worse than what is happening now in Egypt. Arab countries do not know such things because they were not having democracy,” he said.