We should not wait for them
By Salim Ahamed
I come from a place called Mattannur in northern Kerala. It has a fish-market, in which people sell all sorts of things, in addition to fish. Even it acts as an auto-rickshaw stand. My friends there quite often tell me that if today one organization organizes one religious speech, then tomorrow another faction will come up with a counter-speech. In this market, there are sermons by these religious organizations every day, as Malabar has many of those. The spokespersons or representatives of each organization always denounce the other party, accusing others of wrong-doing. In my new film, I was planning to work out such a market-place, which is a constant stage for religious debates. Unfortunately, I could not make it, as we did not get an appropriate place. However, every organization and their representatives think that they are right and they have the ultimate truth with them. No one is ready to accept the other, or even to listen to the others. In Keralite Islam, there are too many organizations, too many mosques for each group. Do we need all these organizations to spread a simple message of Islam?
At least, even if we agree with their debating culture, let us look into what they discuss. They are debating the same trivial issues that they have been doing for ages. Also, they absurdly think that the whole world will change with these debates! They are never concerned about the social problems which the common Muslims face. If we look into other groups from other religions, this is not the case. For example, if you look at the Christians and a Father in a parish, he knows almost all the details of the people in his parish. He knows exactly how many families there are, who live there, what they do, and if they are doing well. But if we look at a qadhi in a Muslim village (mahallu), does he know any of these things? Does he know how many people there are, what they do, and whether the youth in his mahallu has got a job, if they are able to earn their livelihood daily. He knows nothing about these things. None of these issues are his concern. They are concerned mostly about giving religious speeches. For them, these speeches are their profession, and they are not concerned about what they speak, which itself is against the foundations of Islam. In the olden days, everyone was interested in sending their children to have a better religious education and everyone proudly wanted to make at least one child an alim or religious scholar. But, today no one is interested in it. Why has this happened?
The clerics are not at all concerned with what is happening in the society. Quite often many critics say that the films and television represent Muslims as criminals, terrorists, etc. Though I do not underestimate the gravity of what they say, I really think that at the core, these films and television serials contain some layers of truth. If we look at the Keralite newspapers and television-channels, we will always find Muslims behind crimes like rape, murder or robbery. If there are five people held in one case, then three of them will be Muslims. Where do these criminal Muslims come from? They are not from the cities, or not born and brought up there. Instead, they come from the rural areas, predominantly from the villages, which have a majority Muslim population and where qadhis and moulanas have a strong hold. Those qadhis or usthads, who boast about their profession and their organization, are never concerned about the exact situations right under their nose. Even if we look at the teachers (ustads) in the religious educational centres (madrasas) of Kerala, we will quickly realize that most of them do not have a good secular education. Most of them haven’t studied beyond their primary schooling, and thus they don’t have the minimum qualification to teach. Thus, they try to drag back the community into unthinkable conservatism. They still teach their students in madrasas the same age-old stories without any timely modifications. They still teach the students such outdated maxims: ‘If you tell lie, you will become blind!’
As a filmmaker, I would like to tell one thing. A majority of traditional Mappila Muslims still believe that cinema is haram (religiously prohibited), though they do not know who gave them such a fatwa. They still think that cinema is all about sex and crimes. Once I had an interesting experience, when I went to a public gathering organized to honour me after I got the national award for Adaminte Makan Abu. In the function, a man, who runs a furniture shop in his town called, Iritty, gave an introductory speech. He usually buys the raw-materials for his shop from the nearby city, Talipparambu. So, one day while he went there, the shopkeeper in the city told him that he has stopped doing forgeries in the woods and materials; that he doesn’t sell such stuffs anymore, and he has decided to sell only the pure and original materials. He asked that man why this sudden change of mind. The man answered that he had watched this movie, Adaminte Makan Abu, and he wants to go for hajj next year. That is why he has stopped doing all such wrong things now! This man came back home in the evening and told the incident to his mother. His mother’s quick response was: ‘Son, is it possible for someone to be a good man after watching a movie?!’
The Mappila community has a strong feeling against films and they do not realize how powerful this media is. The same religious organizations and its leaders always have tried to instil such thoughts into the minds of common people. With a hesitation to adapt to the new developments in technology, they dragged back the community as much as they could. Once they even forbade people from listening to the radio, and then watching television. They once told their followers that sending girls to schools is forbidden in Islam; they ordered them not to educate their girl-children. They had to backtrack from these positions later on. Hopefully, they will change their attitudes to films, too. Now the same religious scholars and organizations that prohibited watching television in the name of Islam are running their own television-channels across Kerala, that, too, in the name of Islam! So, most of the laws and regulations of all religions, whether it is Islam, Hinduism or Christianity, are made by the clerics for their own comforts and enjoyments, and not for the benefits of their communities.
The main problem with the Muslim community in Kerala is that there is not a single leader who is commonly acceptable to all members. Even though there are too many organizations functioning in Kerala, not a single organization has managed to create a charismatic leader or a satisfactory religious leader. All organizations have their own leaders, but no one is acceptable beyond their organizational setups. This continues to be a major drawback of Keralite Islam. Also, everything has been significantly commercialized. The religious organizations are at the forefront of such commercialization-process with such business initiatives as real-estate, ‘hajj-tour’ etc. Probably it would be true to say that there is not a single leader or organization that selflessly dreams and acts for a better condition and a healthy future of the community.
So, if we want a change, then we should start it from our own families; the change must start from each family and from each young man and woman. The religious clerics, who have a strong hold over the community, should be ready to invest their energy for the betterment of the community. At least, if a qadhi decides to be concerned about the families and its members in his dominion, that itself would bring about a drastic change in Keralite Islam. But I do not know whether they will ever do it in a near future, especially in a context where there are factional killings happening among the supports of different religious organizations in Kerala. Very recently, too, there was a murder in a clash between the Sunni groups of A.P. and E.K. Therefore, we should not wait for them to bring changes. We can do many things on our own, starting from the grassroots. There should be attempts to provide proper education. It should start from each family, and, then, it should extend to a village and so on. There should be attempts to find appropriate jobs for everyone, befitting their education.
[Salim Ahamed is a film director, screen-writer and producer. His debut film Adaminte Makan Abu won numerous awards both nationally and internationally, including four Indian National Film Awards by the Indian Government and it was chosen as India’s official submission to the Best Foreign Film category for the 84th Academy Awards. He recently made his second film Kunjananthante Kada.]
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