Maulana Wahiduddin Khan
Maulana Wahiduddin Khan I Times of India I September 15, 1997

Over the last forty years, in the context of a predominantly Hindu sub-continent, the Indian Muslims, second in number only to Indonesian Muslims (over 100 million), have nevertheless failed to benefit from their being the largest minority group. Although, at the time of partition, they opted to stay on in India, they failed to make necessary mental adjustments to the new Indian situation. They should have tried to gain a position for themselves in the country by becoming a creative minority, but, sad to say, they failed to prove their worth. They may be the largest minority community, but they have become the most deprived of all groups in the country.

In view of their creed, tradition, history and numbers, the Muslims were certainly in a position to make a major contribution to the life of new India: the saying "in giving we receive" could well have come true for them. But, in order to do so, they needed a period of tranquility; and this could have been possible only if they had unilaterally withdrawn all their grudges and complaints against the majority and risen above the reactionary psychology of the times. But unfortunately, the Muslim leadership failed to give the necessary guidance. As a result, the Muslims were reduced to being a group "with demands"; as such they could not become a giver group.

Moral Stature

The religion of the Muslims gives them enough moral stature to play a real and effective part in tackling the grave problems that India is facing these days. But, to be able to play this role, a "superior solution" (a phrase of Toynbee's) was required. It is thanks to intellectual bankruptcy on the part of the Muslim leadership that no such solution has been found.

A thorough and pertinent analysis of the problem of the Indian Muslims has been made by an American orientalist, Dr. Theodore Paul Wright, Jr., who has been writing exhaustively on the subject for the last 25 years in the most prestigious journals of the world. Dr. Wright's advice to the Indian Muslims is "to be as inconspicuous as possible so as not to draw Hindu backlash." He concedes, though, that "this is very hard advice to follow for a proud people living in the midst of their monuments of glory.

He divides the Indian Muslims into two broad categories- the "coastal" Muslims and the "inland" Muslims. The latter he calls "monument-conscious, living in the midst of their Taj Mahals and Red Fort and Char Minars" - those who have not forgotten that they once constituted the ruling elite minority. It is significant, he feels, that the "Hindus pay little or no attention to coastal Muslim trading communities," whereas "the price they (the inland Muslims) pay is very heavy in terms of the riots that occur."

If the Muslims fail to relate to their present situation, it is in large measure due to their emotional development having atrophied in memories of their glorious past: they had, after all, been rulers of South Asia for almost a millennium. This, indeed, is the principal underlying factor in the lack of realism which marks a great deal of their own planning for the future. Adverse circumstances having led them to the point where the only feasible course is to take "a back seat", they are still unwilling to face up to the reality of the situation. Worse, they are misled by their leaders, who keep harking back to the heyday of the Mughal reign and who insist on dwelling upon slights (imagined or otherwise) to the Islamic psyche. In the present context, the paths along which the Muslims are directed by popular leaders can only lead to destruction.

The realisation has not yet come to them that from the position of the "back seat" they are free to devote their time and energy to exploiting their own considerable potential. By putting aside notions of privilege and precedence, they can better educate and develop themselves in consonance with the modern and fast-changing setting in which they now find themselves. It is simply a question of their getting their priorities straight.


A prominent businessman, when asked about his secret of success, said "starve the problems, feed the opportunities." And my advice to the Muslims would be the same. History, after all, abounds in examples of peoples who have successfully risen from the ashes of their dead selves. A case in point is modern Japan. Its denizens, by their own account "children of the sun", genuinely believed themselves superior to all other races, and, as such, within their rights in attempting to dominate other nations. Their slogan was: "East Asia for Japan". This way of thinking on the part of the Japanese was responsible for their being belligerent and aggressive as a nation from 1937 to 1945, during which period they captured Manila, Singapore and Rangoon. But they finally met with the most crushing defeat when their rival, America, dropped two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, thus militarily crippling Japan.

They then had no alternative but to accept a "humiliating surrender". They now had to come to terms with a reality which was given expression to in a message broadcast by Emperor Hirohito on August 14, 1945: "We have resolved to pave the way for a grand peace for all the generations to come by enduring the unendurable and suffering what is insufferable." On September 2, Japan signed a document which ratified the supremacy of America over Japan.

Reverse Course

Of course, there had been attempts by military extremists to prevent the emperor from making this broadcast. When these failed, "there were a number of suicides among the military officers and nationalists who felt themselves dishonoured," (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 10/86). But, by and large, the people accepted the position- the Japanese called it the "reverse course"- of a vanquished nation. They took the view rather that they now had an opportunity to enter upon a period of national reconstruction.

By temporarily accepting the political and economic superiority of America, Japan was able to give its undivided attention to the fields of science and technology, thereby effecting its own national rehabilitation. In a matter of 30 years, Japan was able to raise itself from a position of economic inferiority to one of acknowledged superiority throughout the world. Their success in the field of electronics alone has been phenomenal. Even the Americans have started showing a marked preference for Japanese goods because of their superior quality and competitive prices. Inevitably, this state of affairs has proved extremely disquieting for American economic analysts. Mr. Pete Wilson, an expert on American affairs, comments: "The Japanese semi-conductor Godzilla is now destroying everything but Tokyo.

"After the Second World War, Japan had been very much in debt to America. But it was not long before the situation was entirely reversed. In 1986, $26 billion worth of American goods were exported to Japan, as opposed to Japan's exports to America, which exceeded $85 billion. Today, America has, in effect, become the world's biggest foreign debtor, with debts totaling more than $200 billion, while Japan is the world's biggest creditor. A whole spate of books have come out on this issue, one of the most interesting, Japan Number One, having become a best-seller in America.

Strategic Retreat

In this world, it is only those who stop railing against defeat and accept it with a view to doing something positive about the situation who can ultimately succeed. We should never lose sight of the fact that a strategic retreat makes it possible to return to the fray. Such tactics were very well understood by the Muslims 1,400 years ago when they drew up the peace treaty of Hudaibiya which, although apparently over-conciliatory towards the opponent, ultimately permitted the Islamic mission to go forward unhindered.

We must concede that ours is a highly competitive world, one in which success, and sometimes our very survival, is a question of outdistancing others. But, looked at positively, this spirit of competition is the ladder to human progress: few advances have been made in history without this spirit having been predominant. The atomic age would have been ushered in much later had it not been for America's urge to attain world leadership. The electronic age might not have seen such exponential development without the Japanese urge to climb to the top rung of the economic ladder. Conversely, if those who had been left behind had resorted only to complaints and protests, instead of taking constructive action, they would just have been frittering away valuable time and energy, and would ultimately have come face to face with annihilation.

The first step towards taking positive action is to admit defeat and face the realities of the situation. Once that psychological hurdle has been cleared, there is nothing to stop an individual, community or nation from working towards regaining, or even bettering, its lost position. What must be avoided at all costs is sinking irrevocably into a morass of paranoid stagnation. While there is nothing to be gained from pessimism, there is everything to be gained from a positive approach.
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