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Dalit Muslims And Caste System Among Indian Muslims

The Holy Quran says,
"O mankind! We (God) created you from a single pair of male and a female; and made you into peoples and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honoured in the sight of God is (he who is) the most righteous among you… (Holy Quran, Surah al-Hujuraat, verse 13)

Despite this teaching of Islam, the Muslims in India are divided into "noble", or "ashraf" Muslims whose roots go back to Arabia, Irani and other parts of Central Asia and the 'arzal' muslims who comprise of the Dalit and other low caste Muslims.

Muslim Dalits make up 80-85% of the Muslim population in India. Part of this population embraced Islam to escape taxes levied on non-Muslims by erstwhile Muslim rulers. This included 'high caste' Hindu converts.

Some others became Muslims through coercive campaigns by Muslim Kings.

A majority of the Muslim population, however, comprises of Dalit and Sudra low caste converts to the faith. They embraced Muslims to escape oppression under the Hindu caste system.

They were impressed by the brotherhood of the early Muslims, particularly the Sufis, whom they saw eating together from the same plate and praying together in the same mosques.

They also saw that there was spiritual equality as demonstrated by the fact that anyone could become the Imam to lead prayers.

The descendants of these converts today form the overwhelming majority of the present Muslim population in India.

These are the Dalit Muslims.

Indian Muslims who claim foreign descent assert a superior status for themselves as ashraf or 'noble'. These Muslims are the ones who are accused of meteing out discrimination to Dalit untouchables and other low caste Muslims.

The ill treatment of the Dalit and low caste Muslims has resulted in a movement for their recognition as Scheduled Castes, as is the case with the lower castes in the Hindu society.

A survey by the National Council for Applied Economic Research (NCAER) said that three out of every 10 Muslims were below poverty line and lived on less than Rs 550 a month in the year 2004-05.

Even among the poor, urban Muslims were better off compared to those in villages, who survived on Rs 338 a month during the year under review.

It is a matter of conjecture that a over-whelming majority of these poor Muslims are the Dalt Muslims.

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