Interview with Maulana Kalbe Sadiq

''Education Is the Most Crucial Challenge for India's Muslims''

Maulana Kalbe Sadiq is one of India's leading Shia Muslim scholars. In this interview with Yoginder Sikand, he talks about educational concepts of Indian Muslim scholars and their widespread reluctance to face Muslims' contemporary challenges

Masjid-i Jahan Numa mosque in New Delhi (photo: AP)
Maulana Kalbe Sadiq: "Madrasas need to change their basic approach. We urgently need to exercise creative reflection in order to meet contemporary challenges"

​​While being a religious scholar, you are also engaged in promoting modern education among Muslims. What role do you feel the ulema should play in the field of education?

Maulana Kalbe Sadiq: I think one of the most crucial challenges facing the Muslims of India is that of education. We must make that one of our foremost priorities. Imam Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet, said that he who doesn't know about something, he becomes its enemy. Likewise, there may be some maulvis who know nothing about modern education or science and, therefore, oppose it. However, these are increasingly becoming a smaller minority.

But on the other hand, this saying of Imam Ali also applies to those who have 'modern' knowledge but know nothing about religion, and so they also begin to oppose it or neglect it, thinking that it is a sign of 'backwardness'.

Personally, I see myself as in between these two extremes. I feel that our survival depends critically on excellence in modern education. But I also stress the importance of religious knowledge. Through science and technology you can control the world, but true religion means control over oneself, one's soul.

The Sachar Commission, appointed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a High Level Committee that produced a report on the social, economic and educational status of Indian Muslims, has brought out the fact that Muslims are behind even Dalits or the ‘lowest’ castes in India in terms of education and in many other fields. Hence, my appeal to Muslims is, for God's sake, open your eyes!

This time is not for building palatial mosques, but, instead, for using our resources for setting up schools, colleges, polytechnics and research institutes. I also say that much of what is being taught in the name of religion has nothing top do with true religion or spirituality. True religion inheres in values, not just rituals.

But, unfortunately, much of what is imparted in the name of religious education is ritualism, without the foundational values of true religion. Madrasas need to change their basic approach. We urgently need to exercise creative reflection (ijtihad) in order to meet contemporary challenges.

In the Jafari Shia school of jurisprudence, which you represent, ijtihad is allowed for, while many Sunni ulema argue to the contrary. What do you have to say about this?

Sadiq: Yes, in our school ijtihad has always been open, so our leading clerics are able to creatively respond to contemporary issues through ijtihad. But even among Sunni scholars today many are calling for the 'gates of ijtihad' to be re-opened. This will probably happen soon, if not today, then tomorrow, because it is not possible to have a stagnant jurisprudence (fiqh) for a constantly and rapidly changing world.

Muslim education, in India and elsewhere, is characterized by an extreme dualism, between the ulema of the madrasas, on the one hand, and the 'modern' educated middle class, on the other hand. How can this dualism be bridged?

Sadiq: At present, there is hardly any communication between the two groups, as a result of which there are great apprehensions, misgivings and misunderstandings on both sides. We must appreciate the good points in both systems of education and seek to bring them together.

Imam Ali told his son, Hazrat Muhammad bin Hanafiya, that when one goes to some other land one should not isolate oneself. He advised that one should abide by one's values and yet adopt the good things that one finds among the people one lives with. So, in the field of education, as in other fields, Muslims should take good things from others and there is nothing wrong with that.

What do you think the state should do for Muslim education?

Sadiq: Muslims expect a lot from the government, but the government is so corrupt. We don't have real democracy in India. Real democracy means the protection of the rights of the minorities, not brute majoritarian rule. But, sadly, in India minorities are not given their due. But then, expecting that the government alone should shoulder the responsibility of solving Muslims' educational problems is asking for something that even God does not allow for.

In the Holy Quran, God says that He does not change the conditions of a people unless they make efforts to change these themselves. So those Muslims who demand that the government should change its policies but are themselves unwilling to change or to do anything positive and constructive for the community are living in a fool's paradise.

What role do you feel the ulema could or should play in promoting inter-sectarian and inter-communal harmony in India?

Sadiq: I think that in this regard their first responsibility is to refrain from inciting Muslims to take to violence under any condition. They must also seek to promote dialogue and unity between the different Muslim sects. In this they must focus on the things that the different Muslim sects share in common—which, if I have to quantify it, would be over 97%—and refrain from using the 3% things on which they differ in order to divide them.

As for inter-religious dialogue, I think the Muslim ulema and religious scholars from other religious traditions need to take it up with great seriousness and urgency.

In Lucknow, where you live and work, there have been cases of conflict between Shias and Sunnis. What role have local Shia and Sunni ulema played in defusing this tension? Do they visit each other's institutions and madrasas to exchange views?

Sadiq: There is a tremendous communication gap between the ulema of the different Muslim sects here. I think I must be one of the only ulema in Lucknow who visit the institutions of other sects. I have visited the Nadwat ul-Ulema, a leading Sunni madrasa in Lucknow, several times and have interacted with students and teachers there in a very friendly atmosphere.

I have visited another major Sunni madrasa in Uttar Pradesh, the Madrasat ul-Islah in Sarai Mir, in Azamgarh, a couple of times. I was also invited to the Ahl-e Hadith mosque in Malerkotla, Punjab, where I delivered three lectures, which were well received. I have good contacts with leading Sunni ulema.

In your speeches, you constantly refer to the need for the ulema to be more socially engaged. You yourself are engaged in a number of community projects, especially in the field of education. What role do you envisage for the ulema in this regard?

Sadiq: The Holy Quran tells us to leave aside those things that don't give any benefit to people. So, we need to develop a socially engaged understanding of Islam that enables us to help people in concrete ways. Otherwise, the youth will ask us why we are building fancy mosques but doing nothing for the poor, when the essence of Islam is to help those in need.

This means that the ulema must be more socially engaged than they presently are. They must come out of their mosques, madrasas and khanqahs and move among the masses, understand their economic and social problems and seek to solve them in practical terms. However, unfortunately, most ulema have forgotten this responsibility and restrict themselves to leading prayers and giving fatwas.

Interview conducted by Yoginder Sikand

© 2007

Maulana Kalbe Sadiq runs a chain of schools and colleges. He is also the Vice-President of the All-India Muslim Personal law Board, the foremost organisation for India's Muslim scholars.

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