Kashipur (Prof KM Baharul Islam): Sri Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, has famously said way back in 2018 that Muslims must have Quran in one hand and a computer in the other. At the same time, he highlighted the strength of plural heritage and diversity of Indian society against extremism. Unfortunately, in an age of vicious viral contents that spread around the social media such a vision has not reached well enough with the community for whom it is said.
However, Modi’s government has launched several initiatives aimed at increasing digital literacy and access to technology for all citizens, including Muslims. In 2015, the government launched the Digital India initiative to transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy. The program aims to provide high-speed internet connectivity to rural areas and increase the use of technology in education, healthcare, and other sectors.
Additionally, the government has launched various schemes and initiatives to promote digital literacy among all communities, including the minority Muslim community. One may not agree with his political agenda, but as a development policy, Prime Minister Modi’s statement has far-reaching guidance for the Muslim community in India if it is taken in its right perspective. The government has made various efforts to promote digital literacy and access to technology for all citizens, regardless of their religion and Muslims must focus on taking the advantage of those initiative. Cosmetic or token lip service offered by successive governments since independence to the Muslims has not improve their condition much as indicated by the Sachar Committee Report. On the contrary, the community has been the constant target of ‘appeasement’ politics.
Modern education is important for Muslims in India, as it is for all citizens, to ensure they have the necessary skills and knowledge to succeed in the modern world. While traditional Islamic education is still important for many Muslims, it is also necessary to supplement it with modern education to meet the demands of contemporary society.
One of the key areas where modern education is needed is in science and technology. India is rapidly developing in these fields, and Muslims need to be prepared to take advantage of the opportunities that are arising. This includes learning skills such as coding, artificial intelligence, and robotics, as well as more traditional science and engineering fields.
Another important area is business and entrepreneurship. Muslims in India face many challenges in terms of economic and social marginalization, and modern education can help equip them with the skills they need to start and grow successful businesses. This includes learning about finance, marketing, and management, as well as developing an entrepreneurial mindset.
English language proficiency is also essential in today’s globalized world, and Muslims in India should focus on improving their English language skills to be able to communicate effectively and take advantage of opportunities in education and employment.
It is also important to note that modern education should not come at the expense of traditional Islamic education. Both are important and should be integrated to provide a well-rounded education for Muslims in India. This will enable them to succeed not only in the modern world but also to preserve their cultural heritage and values.
It will be worthwhile here to remember the words of free India’s first Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. His vision for Indian Muslims in post-independence India was centred on the principles of unity, education, and empowerment. He believed that Indian Muslims had a crucial role to play in the development of the newly independent nation, and that education was the key to their progress. One of Maulana Azad’s primary goals was to promote communal harmony and national integration. He believed that India’s diversity was its strength and that all communities must work together to build a strong and united nation. He emphasized that Indian Muslims should be proud of their Indian identity and contribute to the nation’s progress.
Another key aspect of Maulana Azad’s vision was the importance of education. He believed that education was the key to breaking the cycle of poverty and deprivation that many Indian Muslims faced. He stressed the need for Muslims to focus on modern education and acquire skills that would enable them to compete in the modern world. He also believed that education was crucial for creating a sense of empowerment and self-reliance among Indian Muslims. Maulana Azad also emphasized the need for Indian Muslims to be politically active and participate in the democratic process. He encouraged them to be actively involved in politics and work towards their rights and interests. He believed that the political empowerment of Indian Muslims was necessary for their progress and the progress of the nation as a whole.
In tandem with Maulana Azad’s vision for Indian Muslims in post-independence India was that was focused on promoting communal harmony, encouraging education and empowerment, and fostering political participation, Prime Minister Modi also believe that these factors are still crucial for the progress of Indian Muslims and the development of a strong and united India. It is regrettable that due to a sustained anti-social and anti-India communal hatred propelled by a handful hatemongers, the relationship between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Muslim community in India often becomes a topic of discussion and debate. However, since becoming the Prime Minister of India in 2014, Modi has made efforts to reach out to the Muslim community and address their concerns. He has emphasized the need for communal harmony and has spoken out against discrimination based on religion.
Prime Minister Modi has also initiated several programs aimed at the development and empowerment of the Muslim community. For example, the “Sadbhavana Mission” aimed to promote social harmony and communal peace, while the “Pradhan Mantri Jan Vikas Karyakram” was launched to address the socio-economic backwardness of minorities, including Muslims. However, despite these efforts, many fail to recognise the importance of a motivated ‘education mission’ that should be initiated from within the community. Ignoring petty political tactics, the community should be well advised to focus on its educational upliftment.
It will be relevant to remember an example given by Condoleezza Rice, an American diplomat, political scientist, former professor and the 66th United States Secretary of State. In her autobiography “A Memoir of My Extraordinary, Ordinary Parents” (2010), she talked about her childhood days when grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, during the time of segregation, and as a black child, she faced significant challenges in accessing education. Rice’s parents instilled in her a love of learning from a young age. Despite segregation laws that prohibited black students from attending white schools, Rice’s parents enrolled her in the local white school as part of a program called “second-generation integration.” However, attending an all-white school did not mean that Rice was immune to racism and discrimination. She has spoken about the ways in which she was made to feel like an outsider and how she was often excluded from school activities and events.
Despite these challenges, Rice excelled academically and went on to attend the University of Denver, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in political science. She then went on to earn a master’s degree from the University of Notre Dame and a Ph.D. from the Graduate School of International Studies at the University of Denver. Rice’s educational journey is a testament to her perseverance and the importance of access to education for all students, regardless of their race or background. She has spoken out about the need to address systemic inequality in education and to provide opportunities for all students to reach their full potential.
Perhaps Indian Muslims must embark on a journey like Rice, and while doing so, Prime Minister Modi’s emphatic voice to have both Quran and Computers should be taken as a guiding thought. The leader of the nation has made sincere efforts to reach out to the Muslim community, help them in uplifting themselves and promote an inclusive India. The ball is now in community’s court whether to follow that arduous but promising path of education and development or languish in disdain by retelling the tales of victimhood.
Prof KM Baharul Islam is the Chairperson, Centre of Excellence in Public Policy, and Government at the Indian Institute of Management Kashipur and a Visiting Professor at London School of Economics.