Muslims in Assam: Challenges and Opportunities
A two-Day National Symposium


JANUARY 16-17, 2011, GUWAHATI

a report

 

  Sanjay Wadvani, British Deputy High Commissioner to Eastern India, addressing the Symposium
 

The Centre for Development and Peace Studies organised a two-day national symposium on the subject ‘Muslims in Assam: Challenges and Opportunities' at Guwahati on January 16 and 17, 2011. The Symposium was supported by the British Deputy High Commission, Kolkata. Here is a report of the Symposium which was inaugurated by the Chief Minister of Assam Shri Tarun Gogoi, and the British Deputy High Commissioner to Eastern India, Mr Sanjay Wadvani, and attended by a cross section of dignitaries including academics, scholars, writers, cultural personalities, social workers, senior police officers and bureaucrats.

  DAY-I: JANUARY 16
  INAUGURAL SESSION
 
  Dr Syeda Hameed, Scholar and Member, Planning Commission, delivering the Key Note address
  Welcome and Introduction: WASBIR HUSSAIN, Director, CDPS

In his welcome address, Mr Wasbir Hussain, Director, CDPS, said that Muslims comprise about 30 per cent of Assam’s population. A sizeable chunk of this consists of Muslim settlers (those who had migrated from erstwhile East Bengal, now Bangladesh) while the rest are local or indigenous Assamese-speaking Muslims. He, however, said calling all Muslim settlers Bangladeshis would be a travesty of truth.

Mr Hussain said that if we talk about Muslims in Assam practicing moderate Islam or call them moderates, it is perhaps because the balm of amity and humanism that was preached by spiritual leaders like Azan Pir and Srimanta Sankardeva has got into the psyche of the Muslims in the State. So, when we had riots across India after the demolition of the Babri mosque, Assam was relatively calm.

“We believe that just because Muslims in Assam are practicing moderate Islam, and have adapted well with the broad Assamese culture and way of life, the society cannot afford to remain complacent. The State shares a nearly 300 kilometer long border with Bangladesh and illegal migration from across the border is a live issue in Assam. There has definitely been a harmonious co-existence between Muslims and other communities in Assam, and we all need to be conscious of the need to strengthen this bond and way of life. This, we believe, can be achieved if we deliberate on issues, however delicate, in an objective manner and sensitize ourselves and those around us. This is what we seek to do in the sessions that will follow in course of our seminar”, said Mr Hussain.

  Address by Mr Sanjay Wadvani, British Deputy High Commissioner to Eastern India

In his address, Mr Sanjay Wadvani, British Deputy High Commissioner to Eastern India, said that Assam is famous for its rich diversity in religion, language, ethnicity and culture, and has as distinct and interesting an identity in the history and heritage of India as any other state. Indeed, if a place is to be judged by the history and cultural heritage of each and every community, then Assam must surely be one of the richest states in the union.

Muslims have been enriching this region of India since the 13th century, when Muslims of Turk, Afghan, Arabic, Persian and other backgrounds, began mixing with newly converted Muslims and other faiths, paving the way for enhancement of language, polity, economy and society in this great state.

“There are strong links between the UK and India as vibrant, pluralist societies. Our people-to-people links are often at their strongest between religious communities – there is a large, and growing, Muslim population in the UK, and of course India has the third highest population of Muslims worldwide. Whilst celebrating the richness of our diversity, and our range of faiths, both countries have also had to continually work hard to promote peace and harmony between religious communities, including when this has come under challenge”, said Mr Wadvani.

“This seminar is one in a series of events that we have been involved in over the course of several years with the Muslim community in India to promote and share experiences of religious harmony and encourage moderate Islam. We undertake this activity because a priority for the government in the UK is providing a supportive environment where everyone can practice their faith with freedom”, he expressed.

Mr Wadvani said that British Muslims make an immense contribution to national life in the UK, in the same way that Muslims in India contribute hugely. There are two and a half million Muslims in the UK, where they make up the largest non-Christian group in the armed services, and in police force; as well as significant numbers who contribute to business and cultural life of Britain.

“The law is central to our values, the ultimate guarantor of the rights of individuals in the UK, while international law is the standard against which we look at the rights of people in other countries – and against which we ourselves are judged. Yet our values cannot be defined in purely legal terms. They include our belief in political freedom and economic liberalism, our commitment to helping the poor, to granting protection to refugees and to mitigating the impact of climate change on the most vulnerable. Our attachment to the qualities of tolerance, compassion, generosity, respect for others and the rights of families and communities – no matter their ethnicity, religion or cultural background – to choose how they live within the law, are also part of our values”, said the British Deputy High Commissioner.

Concluding, Mr Wadvani said, “And that is what we bring to the development of our activities in the northeast of India, how we wish to see relations between the British Government, business and civil society, and their counterparts in Assam and the northeast develop. Whether it be about our growing educational ties, business development that benefits the people of the region, or our government-to-government links, we want to see a relationship that grows based on our shared values, and for the common good of the people of the region”.

  Key Note Address: Dr Syeda Hameed, Scholar and Member, Planning Commission

The key-note address at the seminar was delivered by Syeda Hameed, Member, Planning Commission, and a noted scholar on Islam. Dr Hameed said that co-existence and harmony among the Muslims and the other communities that prevails in the state of Assam is a great example which must be known and emulated by the rest of India. The history of Srimanta Sankardeva and Azan Pir and their teachings are invaluable and must reach out to people across India to promote communal harmony and tolerance. She said that little is heard about the Hindu-Muslim unity in Assam in the rest of India. She, however, said that Assam should not be content with the existing communal harmony but should keep in mind that the state has a 300 km long porous border with Bangladesh, and illegal influx is a serious threat.

Concerning the fear psychosis among the minorities, she said that any subaltern culture settled in a different locale always faces crisis and the feeling of being under siege. Quoting the Holy Quran Dr Hameed said that syncretic dialogue has been among the essential teachings of Islam. “Sitting in Guwahati we cannot rightly estimate the problems faced by people living in char areas. Before chalking out developmental schemes, it is therefore important to do an on-field study and survey,” she said and added, “Muslims should never consider themselves as a minority. They should consider themselves as the second largest majority.” She also appealed the civil society to make out plans and schemes for the welfare of the Muslims for the coming XIIth Five Year Plan.

 

Address by Chief Minister of Assam Mr Tarun Gogoi

In his inaugural address, Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said that the State has a history of cultural co-existence and moderate mindset among the Muslims, Hindus, and all other communities who are living here. Mr Gogoi talked about the diversity in Assam and further added that all these diversities have a unifying effect on the State’s social fabric. He admitted that Muslims in Assam are one of the most backward communities and stressed on connectivity as the key factor for progress and development. “Involvement of all communities is a must for the development process. There is no doubt a feeling of neglect among several communities in Assam. We need better connectivity and communication. People should speak out their heart and engage in a dialoguing process to try resolve their problems”, he said.

Delivering the vote of thanks, CDPS President Arun Sarma said co-existence and diversity has been a key element for a harmonious inter-community relationship in Assam, the state with the largest population in the region. “We have therefore decided this time to have a deliberation on the theme, ‘Muslims in Assam: Challenges and Opportunities’. I am sure we are going to have some meaningful discussions in the sessions that will follow”, he said.

  SESSION II
  CHORD OF HARMONY: CO-EXISTENCE IN ASSAM
 

The second session was chaired by Dr AC Bhagabati, former Vice Chancellor of Arunachal University and a noted anthropologist.

Addressing the symposium, Dr G B Panda, Adviser (Social Justice), Planning Commission, said that Muslims in India are neither urban nor agrarian. He said 15 per cent of the funds of the Five Year Plan should go to the minorities in the country.

Noted academician Dr Mohammad Taher in his speech said that Muslims in Assam have never been religiously visible and its womenfolk have no Burqa tradition. He said that settlements of Muslims have never been opposed by any one and they quickly got assimilated in Assam as a result of this. Many Hindu religious sites in Assam had Muslim caretakers which included the historic Nabagraha Temple and Madan Kamdev Devalay.

In his paper “Muslims in Assam: Co-existence in Harmony”, Dr Sarharuddin Ahmed, Director of Museums, Assam, said that historically Muslims first came to Assam in the 12th century AD. The Muslims coming from different places to Assam in different times under different circumstances have adopted local customs and traditions, and merged with the local inhabitants. The co-existence in harmony can be realized from examples like:
1) The influence of Islamic architectural design is reflected in certain Hindu temples such as Ghanashyam Daul on the bank of Jaysagar tank in Sivasagar district, Faquwa Dauls in Hajo and Barpeta with their high plinths depicting both Hindu and Islamic architectures.
2) The adjacent location of Poa Mocca and Hayagriva Madhava Temple at Hajo, about 30 km to the north-west of Guwahati is evidently speaking of religious co-existence and catholicity of outlook in respect of both the religion in Assam.
3) The dargahs of Muslims located in different places of Assam are being paid homage by people irrespective of caste, creed and religion with the same degree of reverence.
4) Popular devotional song “Zikir” composed by Azan Pir is an admixture of the teachings of Islam and the ethics of Hinduism.
5) Muslims in Assam also celebrate the cultural festival of Assam, Bihu. Muslim women like wearing Assamese traditional dress, mekhela chadar, and above all, Muslims living in Assam have Assamese as their mother tongue.

Dr Ahmed noted that Muslims in Assam are living peacefully with the other communities of the State. They are enriching Assam’s economy, language, literature and culture. He stated that the modes of expression ‘Na-Asamiya’, ‘Asomiya Musalman’ are not correct at all, just as ‘Asamiya Hindu’ or ‘Asamiya’ Buddhist’ are never in practice. The term ‘Islam dharmavalambi Asamiya’ (the Assamese professing Islam) may be more appropriate, according to him.

Noted scholar, Mr Ismail Hossain, who is a researcher on Vaishnavism, in his presentation said that Muslims first came to Assam during the 12th century. Since then, the flow continued either in political or religious context. While the Muslims settled in the Brahmaputra valley embraced Assamese as their mother tongue and got educated in Assamese, the Muslims settled in the Barak valley had Bengali as their mother tongue and are generally educated in the Bengali language. Moreover, there are Meitei Muslims (from Manipur) and other Hindi speaking Muslims too who came from states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh for the purpose of business.

The Muslims in Assam have assimilated themselves with the local as well as the tribal people and also tied in marriages with them. The 600 year Ahom rule in Assam could be termed the golden period of co-existence of Muslims in Assam with other communities. Srimanta Sankardeva and Azan Pir have great roles in building up harmony between the Muslims and non-Muslims in Assam. The Muslims in Assam are an integral part of the social and cultural life of Assam. Such an instance of co-existence and harmony is hard to find in any other part of the country.

 

SESSION- III

NATIVES AND ALIENS: MUSLIMS AND THE POLITICS OF MIGRATION IN ASSAM

 

In the third session, noted social scientist Dr Anuradha Dutta analysed the causes and impact of illegal migration in Assam. She said that Nehru’s refusal to accommodate 25 lakh refugees from East Pakistan in other parts of India in the wake of the Partition was the genesis of the problem of immigrants in Assam.

Expressing his views on the topic, Mr Wasbir Hussain said that Assam has long been in the grip of a murky politics of citizenship over the issue of unabated illegal migration from adjoining Bangladesh, with which it shares a 262 kilometre long border. The particular significance of the available Census data is the fact that the rates of growth of Muslim populations are the highest precisely in the districts that share a border with, or lie close to the border with, Bangladesh - particularly Dhubri, Barpeta, Karimganj and Hailakandi - giving credence to the widely held belief that illegal migration from Bangladesh was the source of these demographic trends. Such migration clearly continues unhindered, despite the barbed-wire fence being erected in stretches and the presence of the Border Security Force (BSF) along the border.
He said that a look at the census figures of 1971 and 1991 (there was no census in Assam in 1981 due to unrest in the State) shows that there has been a steady to rapid rise in the Muslim population in districts proximate to the border, confirming apprehensions of a continuing illegal influx. This, perhaps, goes a long way to explain the rather high Muslim growth rate in Assam, estimated at 77.42 per cent between 1971 and 1991.

There is need to make a clear distinction between indigenous Assamese-speaking Muslims and Bangladeshi migrants before analyzing the demographic and security implications of such population growth. Aside from Guwahati, Assam's capital (that is part of the Kamrup Metro district), the heartland of the indigenous Assamese Muslims - whose origins can be traced to the forays of the pre-Mughals in the 13th century - is located around the tea growing eastern districts of Jorhat, Golaghat, Sivasagar and Dibrugarh. In Jorhat district the Muslims comprised just 3.89 per cent of the total population in 1971, rising to 4.32 per cent in 1991. The growth rate was 48.04 per cent between 1971 and 1991. In Sivasagar, Muslims accounted for 6.65 per cent of the population in 1971, climbing to 7.63 per cent in 1991; in Dibrugarh from 3.66 per cent of the total population in 1971 to 4.49 per cent in 1991; and in Golaghat, Muslims comprised 5.17 per cent of the population in 1971, rising to 7.11 per cent in 1991. It is useful to note, in this context, that the growth rate of the Hindu population in Jorhat, Sivasagar, Dibrugarh and Golaghat was between 32 and 49 per cent over the 1971-1991 period, closely comparable to the rates of growth for the indigenous Muslim populations.

Evidently, the Muslim growth rate in areas dominated by indigenous Assamese-speaking Muslims, located far from the Bangladesh border, have been registering marginal increases, as compared to areas located close to the border.

The issue is tricky though, according to Mr Hussain. An estimated 3,00,000 Muslims from western Assam fled to East Pakistan in 1950 in the wake of a communal riot. Following the Nehru-Liaquat Pact later that year, these people returned to Assam. They were returning in batches till about 1952, by which time the exercise of preparing the NRC of 1951 as well as the voter list of 1952 got over. The names of this category, the absentee Muslims, therefore, did not figure in the two documents. There is another category whose names apparently do not figure in the NRC of 1951: the Bengali Hindu refugees from East Pakistan. Large scale influx of this group began only in 1950 and continued thereafter. These are the displaced persons and the Assam Act XV1 of 1951 made elaborate provisions for granting rehabilitation loans, thereby formally welcoming them back.

Mr Hussain said that illegal infiltration as a problem in Assam cannot be denied. The last thing Assam needs at this juncture is a fresh bout of politics over the citizenship issue. It is easy to define who is a citizen and who is not. But, it is extremely difficult to define who the indigenous people of a particular place are and who the aliens are. Caution, therefore, must be the catchword of the Government before it tries to fish in the Brahmaputra's troubled waters.

Eminent economist Dr Jayanta Madhab said that there has been no systematic survey to count the number of illegal immigrants in Assam and no proper assessment has been done so far in this regard. He also said that birth rate among the immigrant Muslims is very high and their literacy rate is terribly low.

  DAY-II: JANUARY 17
 
  A view of the participants during a session
 

SESSION-I

POLITICAL PERSPECTIVE

 

The first session of the second day was chaired by Mr Wasbir Hussain, Director, CDPS.

The session began with an address by Maulana Badruddin Ajmal, MP and president of the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) on the broad topic, ‘Political Perspective’. In his presentation Maulana Ajmal said that Muslims in Assam that comprises 30.9 per cent of the total population are facing challenges in education, leadership, security and flood, and discriminatory attitude on the part of bureaucracy. He said that it has been an irony in the post-1947 India that majority of the Muslim politicians have been proven ineffective in uplifting the community which has voted them to the power.

Regarding lack of security, he referred to elections in 1983. In early 1983, Mrs Indira Gandhi’s government at the Centre was determined to conduct elections in Assam, by all means, against the boycott called by All Assam Students Union (AASU). The Congress governments in the State and the Centre requested all Assamese citizens – Muslim and non-Muslim, Bengalese and non-Bengalese to participate in the election to preserve India’s democratic system. The Centre itself had promised adequate security for the common men and women who wished to vote. Both Muslim and non-Muslim Bengalis had positively responded to the Government’s call – ‘save democracy’-- and they came out to vote in large numbers which antagonized the agitating AASU and All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad (AAGSP). But unfortunately Bengali-speaking Muslims alone had to pay the cost of ‘saving democracy’ during infamous Nellie massacre. Despite their support for the government, Muslims bore the brunt of the attacks by the agitators and the government miserably failed to protect around 2000 innocent Muslims on February 18th, 1983 from extremists at Nellie in Nagaon district of Assam. Even after 28 years, a proper enquiry has not been constituted to find out and punish the real culprits, let alone compensation to the victims. He also referred to the indiscriminate police firing that killed 8 youths (4 at Barpeta and 4 at Rangia) that took place in 2010. No enquiries were instituted to bring the culprit to book and give justice to the victims.

Mr Ajmal noted that the most painful problem of Muslims in India is the discriminatory attitude of the bureaucracy and law enforcement agencies towards them. They have been denied their collective right to distinct religious, cultural and linguistic identity. He presented a statistical account of unequal representation of Muslims in the various government services of Assam. He also said that Muslims suffer most during the annual flood of Brahmaputra and most of them were forced to move to neighbouring Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh where they are suspected as Bangladeshis.

“The Bengalis or for that matter Muslim social and political groups in Assam – Jamiat Ulama-e Hind, United Minority Front (UMF) and now All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) have repeatedly made it clear that they have no objection in finding foreign nationals and deporting them out of Assam going by the Assam Accord of 1985. But the crux of the problem has been whether an alleged foreigner is to be determined by a judicial process or by extra-judicial process”, he stated.

Mr Ajmal said that India has the second largest Muslim population in the world, next only to Indonesia. Terming himself to be an Assamese first, Ajmal said that Muslims in Assam have been silently demanding to be called Assamese and they are not demanding any political secession, autonomous councils etc. He called for a united effort for the educational, social and economical uplift of Muslims in Assam and to promote tolerance among all. He also reiterated his firm stands on expulsion of Bangladeshis from Assam and said Indian nationals should not be harassed while identifying illegal immigrants in Assam.

Dr Monirul Hussain, Head of the Department of Political Science, Gauhati University, in his presentation said that Muslims in Assam, like the rest of India, are not a homogeneous entity. He identified four distinctive types of Muslims in Assam, namely Assamese Muslims, Immigrant Muslims, Muslims of Barak Valley and Hindi-Urdu speaking Muslims.

A typical mindset about Muslims in Assam had been developed with events like forced deportation of Muslims from Kamrup district to East Pakistan after Partition, preventive detention of Muslims during the 1965 Indo-Pak war and debates on that issue in the State Assembly till 1960s. Though the emergence of a secular Bangladesh ended that mindset, the Assam agitation from 1979 revived the same mindset once again.

He said there is a need to rethink the issue of citizenship. There should be immediate registration of citizens in order to find out the foreign nationals. Dr Hussain also said that Muslims in Assam were insecure and political parties had been taking advantage of that. He said that anti-Muslim politics of certain organizations had been contributing to the creation of a Muslim vote banks in Assam for the Congress party. He also importantly noted that the Muslims do not have a middleclass in Assam.

OPEN DISCUSSION

An interaction followed after presentation of the two papers. Replying to a question Mr Badruddin Ajmal agreed that there could be illegal migrants in Assam and he said that he is dead against the idea of “work permit” for the illegal migrants. He said work permits will encourage migration. Several questions and statements were made by the participants present in the symposium on issues like migration, register of citizenship, vote bank politics, feasibility of the barbed-wire fence, and so on.

 

SESSION - II

MADRASSA EDUCATION IN ASSAM: NEED FOR NEW CURRICULUM?

 

The second session of the second day was on “Madrassa Education in Assam: Need for New Curriculum?”. The session was chaired by Mr Mahbubul Haque, Coordinator, National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions, Assam.

Well known social scientist, Dr Abu Nasar Sayed Ahmed of IIT Guwahati presented a paper titled ‘What Ails Madrassas in Assam’. Giving a backgrounder to the concept of madrassa and a brief history of it, he mainly focused on the status of the private madrassas in Assam. He said that though there is no accurate statistics on the private madrassas, it is said that there are a total of 810 registered and 656 unregistered madrassas affiliated to the All Assam Tanjim Madaris Quamia. He said that at present there are 1,963 madrassas under SEBA (Secondary Board of Education Assam), 419 MEBA madrassas and 542 recorded private madrassas in Assam.

Giving the example of Bhaskandi Madrassa in Cachar district (a private madrassa set up in 1897), Dr Ahmed said that the objective of the establishment of the private madrassas is to keep alive the Islamic tradition, promote and spread Islamic education based on the Qur’an, Hadith, Tafsir (interpretation) and Fiqh (jurisprudence) and to teach and enlighten the community about the religious practices from ablution to offering regular five time namaz to performing Hajj, from memorizing the six Kalmas to leading namaz in a congregation at a mosque or an open place. In the pursuit of this, the madrassas have remained puritan institutions and most of them are averse to any reform warranted by the changing situation. Most of the madrassas admit boys only, though there are girls’ madrassas too, but rarely there is a co-ed madrassa.

Absence of the basic statistics regarding the number of private madrassas due to non-registration, absence of uniform curriculum in the private madrassas, absence of transparency, absence of accountability for the students, resistance to reform are some of the major drawbacks being suffered by the private madrassas in Assam. The current state of affairs in madrassas in Assam is a matter of general concern among the Muslims as well as others. Dr Ahmed suggested a seven-point steps to be taken for the development of the private madrassas in Assam. 1) Registration of all the private madrassas under a central authority, 2) a controlling organization to enforce uniform curricula and syllabi and to conduct examinations and award certificates and degrees, 3) subjects like science, mathematics, social sciences, computer education must be included in the curricula, 4) madrassas must subscribe newspapers, magazines, etc., 5) transperancy in the appointment of staff, 6) co-education should be introduced, 7) madrassas should be encouraged for Govt. funds.

Mr Abdul Quayyum Al-Aman, Deputy Director, Madrassa Education and Scretary, State Madrassa Education Borad, Assam in his presentation gave statistical accounts of various categories of madrassas in Assam and their curriculum and results. He stated that there are 707 madrassas under the Board/Directorate of Madrassa Education, where about 8500 employees are working. Among them, about 2000 are women teachers. There are more than 1.4 lakh students enrolled in the 707 madrassas and Arabic colleges in the state which are scattered in 18 districts of the State.

He said that though in the initial stage the Board followed Nizamia courses and curriculum followed by the Calcutta Aliah Madrassa, later in 1967, it introduced general subjects like English, MIL, Hindi, Mathematics, Social Science and General Science in the reorganised madrassa courses and curriculum. Now, after completing Fazil Degree, the students can get themselves admitted into the Higher Secondary level under the Council in any stream as per their interest. The Board is contemplating to include Higher Secondary courses up to Fazil stage with a slight modification to get the students admitted into Degree classes directly after passing Fazil Examination.

Mr Quayyum said that apart from madrassas run under State Madrassa Education Board, there are reportedly 606 Qaumi Madrassas under a private board named All Assam Tanzim Madaris-e-Qaumia Board. Like State Madrassa Education Board, the Qaumi Madrassa Board follows all theological subjects except the general subjects.

Emphasising on the point of need of new curriculum for madrassas, he said that stress may be given on the need for introduction of some new subjects, for example, introduction of modern Arabic language and literature instead of century old books taught in the madrassas. Stress on improvement of teaching techniques, linguistic abilities, introduction of the subject of Comparative Religion, research on Islamic studies, etc. are important. He mentioned about inclusion of vocational education, category-wise language based medium of instruction, replacement of old subjects by modern equivalents, introduction of information technology and journalism, a training college for teachers.

 

SESSION - III

ISLAM AND MODERNITY: A PERSPECTIVE FROM ASSAM

 

The concluding session on ‘Islam and Modernity: A Perspective from Assam’ was chaired by Mr Arun Sharma, writer and playwright and President, CDPS. Referring to history, Mr Sarma said that the first Muslim settlers in Assam formed a significant component of the Assamese populace. A process of assimilation started when the new settlers gradually merged with the mainstream Assamese community. It became a happy augur that this process of assimilation helped to a great extent in enriching and developing Assam’s cultural heritage and ethos. “It may be hard to believe that in course of a time there had been import of 35 hundred Pharsi and Arabic words in the body of the Assamese language. This process of enrichment of the Assamese vocabulary could be attributed to the Muslim settlers in Assam”, he said.

Dr Mahfuza Rahman of Cotton College, Guwahati presented a paper on ‘Empowerment of Minority Women Through Education with Special Relation To Assam’. Her paper threw light on the synthesizing approach of Islam and modernism among the Assamese Muslims and the ideas, its values, such as rituals, life styles, women’s rights and many followed synthesizing society with the non-Muslim systems and adapting to the massive social, economic and technological transformations now underway because of globalization.

She stated that Muslim women were a minority within a larger minority. She said that spaces had to be earned and not gifted and integration is very important for the development of Muslim women. Visibility and non-ghettoisation of Muslims were very essential for the empowerment of women belonging to the community, she said. She suggested geographic targeting to improve education of minority women and called for the inclusion of women in the state and central Waqf boards and as teachers of madrassas.

Justice IA Ansari of Gauhati High Court in his presentation expressed that a careful study of Islam would show that it believes in democracy. It believes in secularism. It insists on transparency in governance and accountability on the part of those, who govern the State. There is no room for the Kingship in Islam and the role of chosen few over the rest of the people. No one can behave as a King in Islam, even in a modified manner. Islam is a religion, which is participatory in nature and that used to be, and still is, its strength. The Muslims believe, as a faith, in the unity of the Allah and Mohammed as His last Prophet. Keeping this faith alive and intact, one can still march ahead keeping pace with the developments in the society. Whether such a course of action and conduct is possible and permissible in Islam is a matter of examination. =

“Fortunately for us, those, who inhabit in Assam and believe in Islam, have been able to keep pace with the modernisation of the society. Though believing firmly in Islam as a faith, we have been able to grow with the language, culture and ethos of this region. Such a course of conduct does not weaken Islam as a religion, but strengthens it and that is, what the rest of the country and, perhaps, the world need to learn from this region”, he said.
Justice Ansari also said that every religion has two significant parts—faith and norms. He said that norms of Islam can be changed. According to him, if norms became inflexible, modernity could not exist in Islam. Norms like Nikah in Islam should be flexible, he suggested and said that the two attributes of a modern state—democracy and secularism originated from Islam. Caliph was the embodiment elected and participatory democracy with right to dissent and freedom of speech, he quoted.

Noted journalist and Special Correspondent of The Indian Express, Guwahati, Samudra Gupta Kashyap in his presentation gave statistical details of socio-economic condition of Muslims in Assam. He showed that districts with Muslim majority in Assam were the worst in the field of human development index, education, health, poverty, infant mortality rates, access to pure drinking water, electricity and other most basic and essential standards of living.

In his title paper on the Symposium, Mr Sazzad Hussain of Lakhimpur Commerce College said that compared to the state of Muslims in the so called Islamic world it will be found that conditions of Muslims in India are far better than the rest. At least Indian Muslims are enjoying the rights of a democratic country with equal opportunities and exercises. In Assam the case is much better. Because of the traditional co-existence of Hindus and Muslims in Assam in the last eight hundred years, Muslims have a fair and better life and status here.

The moderate Islam practiced by Assamese Muslims has been a catalyst for the inclusive nature of Assamese identity. The immigrant Muslims too brought the most diverse form of Islam from the Bengali heartland to Assam. Both of them overcome the evils of Partition. As historically proven, the Muslims of India or Assam were descendants of some central Asian ethnic groups like the Turks, Uzbeks, Patahns and local converts. There was no link to Arabia.