‘Muslims must speak, raise own issues and learn to solve them, no one else will do it for us’
Shams Ur Rehman Alavi
Mohammad Mahir is one of the most respected social activists in central India. For long an active politician, he took to social activism a few years ago and now runs Madhya Pradesh Muslim Vikas Parishad (MPMVP), a social organization that is now working in most of the districts of the state & takes up issues concerning Muslims.
It is not just about raising issues at the right forums but also finding solutions apart from spreading awareness within the community, with special focus on socio-economic development and reforms. In this interview, we ask him about his experiences, his vision and his plans.
Q. What drove you towards social activism and made you float a statewide organization that works among Muslims?
MM: I quit politics on my own because I felt it was important to engage more with community through activism and social work. The moment was when I was on my way back from Haj, and I felt that enough was enough and I must devote myself to the cause that was close to my heart. By then I had realized that a neta or a political representative was more of a service provider to people in terms of civic issues, not a change-maker.
Q. You have been an active social worker & head one of the biggest such organization among Muslims in central India, what do you feel have been the weak points when it comes to Muslim community?
MM: First is the failure to develop a strong social and political understanding among the members of the community. People, parties know it well. Secondly, there is too much of factionalism, mostly, centering around your sect or school of thought. When we started our work, I was so often told, ‘Aap to Bhopal ke hain, Wahabi honge...” (You are from Bhopal, you must be Wahabi). Today, we have people from all sects, with us on this platform. Of course, those with allegiance to different parties, are also with us, as this is a platform for all Muslims.
Q. What do you think should be the role of Muslim youngsters in the current scenario?
MM: The foremost thing is that Muslims must realize that they need to speak up for themselves. They have to come forward, raise their issues, act and get them solved. No one is going to come to us, ask us about our problems and then take up steps to redress them. And, no intellectual or liberal or secular individual will speak for you, the onus is on you, first your have to learn to speak for yourself.
Q. The MP Muslim Vikas Parishad has been working to create awareness and has also focused on eradicating social evils including dowry. What are your experiences during these drives?
MM: One of the sad aspects is that on one hand Muslim community has almost complete trust in our religious leaders—the Ulema, the latter don’t take firm stand. There is so much pomp and show, lakhs spent on marriages, but there is no strong stance. Almost every Muslim has full faith in Ulema, respects them, follows them in matters of religion—ranging from moon sighting to stand on any issue, but Ulema don’t take a stand. If even in the locality there is a man who runs a gambling racket, the cleric doesn’t try to stop it. The reply is ‘Allah taufiq ya hidayat dega to woh theek ho jayega’ (God willing, the person would change for good someday). The clergy, particularly, the influential Ulema, shun their social responsibility.
Q. What are your views about Muslim leadership and the decline in Muslim representation in politics in central India?
MM: In politics, what we observed was that the leaders were not leaders of the community, served own interests or to some extent the interests of the party. It was a mistake to consider them as Muslim leaders. There was a huge disconnect.
They never told their parties about real issues concerning Muslims and kept them in the dark. They didn't even put up the genuine demands of the community at the party fora. They used the community to strengthen their own position but had little interest in raising the issues of Muslims. They kept parties under false impression that you just need to do particular things and the community would remain with you but the reality was different. In fact, they misled the parties, and the community too suffered as a result.
Q. You have been associated with social groups in the past too. Did your previous experience help you when the Madhya Pradesh Muslim Vikas Parishad was launched?
MM: Of course, these experiences teach us a lot. I had seen that when a society or group was formed and members would start with high hopes. But it often happened that when the meeting or event was called, suddenly there would be a politician as chief guest and he would be garlanded by a select few, followed by a long speech and all focus would turn on the politician and the ability of establishing connection with him, even all attention during the event getting focused on the leader’s arrival, presence and his leaving the scene. All the agenda and issues would be forgotten.
Such forums would just hold events with a particular purpose. The person(s) behind the forum would take charter of demands for community to the politician later on, but the politician would instead ask him about what he personally needed and putting this charter aside, the personal demands (works) of one or two particular persons floating the forum, were taken care of. So it was also a personal benefit exercise and many such groups would come into existence before elections.
Q. You spent a long time in politics. Do you think in political parties, there is a pressure on Muslims to be less vocal and compromise or dilute their religious identity?
MM: In politics and personal life, we need to be fair and there is no need to make such compromises. One has to raise his voice, stake claim as equal citizen, exercise our rights and must not compromise on religious identity.
In my political career, I never lit lamps in front of idols or garlanded statues. When people came to me seeking donation for a religious event, I categorically denied and said that instead if they want any service or welfare work, I would happily do. I did better than my predecessors when I was a councillor. Today nobody harbours ill-will, rather they respected my position and appreciate it.
Q. In light of these experiences, how do you deal with politicians to get things done?
MM: We keep an eye on issues pertaining to Muslim community—raise our voice when there are excesses or when our rights are infringed upon. We spread awareness about schemes about Muslims and the budget meant for the community.
The community must know that there are funds earmarked for them and they must not be allowed to lapse, and for this officials have to be met. When it comes to issues pertaining to Muslims, we go to everyone, make an effort to reach a solution--raise issue of rights of Muslims, atrocities, false cases, wrongful confinement, demands, education and social issues. We meet everyone, we don't invite politicians, rather invite bureaucrats and officials. We speak for 'insaf', justice for everyone, not for Muslims alone, but every community. Also, we focus on socio-economic issues and reforms, and we are now active in over three dozen districts.