Muslim Community in India
Introduction to Islam
The word Islam means submission to the will of Allah. The followers of Islam called Muslims believe that Quran is the true word of Allah. They believe the Quran was revealed to mankind through the medium of his Prophet and messenger, Muhammed, Islam came into being in the early seventh century in Arabia but its systematic development took place in 622 A.D. when Muhammed emigrated from the city of Mecca to Medina.
Prior to the emergence of Islam in Central Arabia, there were only clusters of warring tribes. Prophet Muhammed brought in a number of social reforms and established a set of beliefs and practices. Islam as a religion became established in this region and began to spread as a political community with its own laws and socio-political institutions. Today Muslims form about one seventh of the world’s population. They are highly concentrated in Asia and Africa.
With regard to the emergence of Islam in India it was introduced into India by Arab traders who gradually established settlements on western and eastern coasts of south India. They obtained permission to practice their religion. Sind was conquered by the Arabs early in the eighth century and north-west Punjab by the Turks in the 11th century. The Delhi Sultanate was established by 1206 A.D. It was about the sixteenth century that Mughals built upon extensive empire. The establishment of Muslim government was usually followed by the construction of mosque and other related socio-religious activities. As the Muslim rule strengthened in India, their numbers also increased. The large numbers of Muslims in India are mainly due to conversion.
Today numerically the Muslims comprise the largest minority community in India. In 2001, Muslims population in India was around 138 million. It constituted around 13.4% of the total population in India.
Tenets of Islam
Islam means submission to the will of God. It’s perfect form is found in the teachings, of the Quran and Sunnah. Islam is a monotheistic religion i.e., it believes in one God who is considered the creator of the universe, of time and space whose law governs everything that exists. The Quran is the word of God, revealed to his messenger Muhammed, in order to lead mankind on a righteous path. The Muslims believe that there will be a ‘Last Day’ when God will judge all mankind. Those who have led a good life will be rewarded and those who have led a bad life will be punished.
The important commands of Islam are prayer, fasting, pilgrimage to Mecca and abstinence from what is forbidden and Jihad or striving in the way set by God with all the resources at one’s disposal. The social rules of behaviour include among other things the observation of the principles of equality and brotherhood among Muslims and of earning one’s livelihood through personal labor.
Islam is claimed by its believers to be a religion of equality. Muslims insist that the principle of equality be upheld in day to day living.
The most popularly known division among the Muslims all over the world is the division between Shias and Sunnis. In India, the vast majority of Muslims are Sunnis.
Muslims in India are divided into two major sections: (i) those who claim to be the descendants of early Muslim immigrants and (ii) those of indigenous origin whose ancestors were converted to Islam.
In the Muslim social hierarchy, the descendants of immigrants from Persia, Afghanistan, Arabia and Turkistan are recognized as the highest category of Muslims in India. The Indian Muslim Castes known as Sayyed, Shaikh, Mughal and Pathan comprise this category.
Sayyed are considered to be descended from Fatima’s line. She was the daughter of the Prophet Muhammed. As direct descendants of the Prophet, Sayyed are accorded highest social status among the Muslims.
The Shaikh are considered to be the descendants of early Muslims of Mecca and Medina.
The Mughal and Pathan also enjoy high status. Both are almost equal in social status.
The Muslim converts of Indian origin are generally called by their caste names. In this group are placed three distinct groups,- converts from high caste of the Hindus, converts from clean occupational castes and converts from unclean occupational castes. Converts still follow some of the Hindu practices, e.g., they do not marry first cousins. Islamic law allows the marriage of near-kin.
Family, Marriage and Inheritance
Muslims live in small and large households. Both types of families joint and nuclear – are found among the Muslims. Majority of joint families are located in the rural areas and more nuclear families are located in urban areas.
In Islam, celibacy is discouraged and Muslims are enjoined to marry and multiply. Although divorce is a common phenomenon among Muslims, Islam does not permit divorce to be taken lightly. Divorce is allowed where family life is not possible for marital maladjustments.
Among the Muslims, it is the duty of the husband to provide for the maintenance of the family. In Islam, the wife has a legal right to be maintained by the husband. The social life of the majority of the Muslim women is confined within the family. One notable practice among Muslim families is ‘purdah’ or seclusion of woman but education and social change has made a dent in this customs.
Marriage among Muslims is known by the Arabic word `nikah’. It takes place in the form of a contract and is not considered as sacrosanct. It is obligatory in character. Muslim law maintains that the main objective of Nikah is procreation and legalization of children. The ceremony of Muslim marriage–Nikah–is conducted by Kazi. It is customary to recite verses from Quran to seek Allah’s blessings for the couple.
A notable practice associated with Muslim marriage is polygamy or plurality of wives. In Islam, a Muslim male may have four wives at a time. But these days this practice is becoming less prevalent because of the movement for monogamy among educated Muslim girls. A Muslim woman cannot marry a Non-Muslim but a male can marry a Non-muslim.
Under Muslim Personal Law, husband enjoys unlimited freedom in matters of divorce. He is permitted to divorce his wife according to his own pleasure or without assigning any cause. On the other hand, a woman does not enjoy such a freedom. This custom has resulted in man’s domination over women. There are two types of divorce, i.e. `talak’ and `khol’. Talak is exjudicial divorce and in khol, divorce takes place by mutual consent.
Women in Islam enjoy the right to property. Muslims have two main festivals. Id-ul-Fitr and Id-ul-Azha. On the last day of Ramzan we have Id-ul-Fitr. Many Muslims celebrate several Hindu festivals. For example, the Moghul converts gave official status to celebration of Diwali and Holi.