The Old Generation
Nearly six decades have passed since the arrival of the Bharuchi Vahora Patels in Britain and, in spite of such a long period of our settlement in this country, we, as a community, are still facing quite a few problems. Some of these we have brought with us from India as cultural baggage. These problems have become more serious with the lapse of time.
Most of us could not adjust with the British society. We have continued to live with the Indian mind-set, which has created problems in relation to the mainstream.
There is a generation gap between our elders who were born in India and our young people born here. There is little dialogue and interaction between the two. The problem of communication remains.
To identify the problems, we have had discussions with some elders in our community. A summary of their views and perceptions is outlined below:
1. Firqabandi (Religious factions)
We had religious differences and firqabandi even before we came to Britain. But these differences have increased and become more serious in this country. It has created an atmosphere of mistrust and hatred amongst the believers of the same religion. Some people even avoid greeting each other. We are so hopelessly divided that it has not remained possible to meet, have consultations and resolve our common social problems from the same platform.
Due to such division and narrow mindedness, our social structure is breaking up. People are keeping away from each other. The love, respect and friendship we used to see in the community before is no longer there. The circle of matrimonial alliances is also narrowing down. People now marry, or insist that their sons and daughters marry, within their own firqa (faction)and now, even this has been narrowed down to their own sub-division within the same firqa. In most cases this is done against the will of their sons and daughters. Such narrowing of the circles limits the choice for a suitable partner and the difficulties one faces in finding a suitable match within their own small sub-division will in the long run lead to young people marrying outside the community, that is marrying in to other Muslim or even non-Muslim communities. This is happening already.
2. Masjid and Madrasa Management
We are facing numerous problems related to the management of masjids. There are quarrels over the formation of masjid committees and sometimes the matter goes to the charity commission or ends up in court. To avoid this happening, it is important for everyone to follow the constitution and seek mediation.
It is the prime duty of the local Council of Mosques to play the role of the mediator rather than remain disinterested and detached and help resolve the problem in an Islamic way. Our Ulemas should also come forward and offer their services of mediation and help to establish unity and brotherhood within the community.
Young people must be encouraged to participate in the management of masjids. Masjids and madrasas must be run according to Islamic tenets and within English law. Problems arise due to the ignorance of health and safety rules and child protection laws. Disagreements between the Imam, madrasa teachers and the masjid committee remain unresolved, which frequently leads to bitterness and prolonged disputes, resulting in partisan groups being formed within the masjid, the resignation of the Imam and the teachers or the collapse of the whole masjid administration. This initiates an atmosphere of on-going disputes and turns the masjid into a battle ground, ruining the peace, tranquillity and sanctity of the house of Allah!
Some sensible people we talked with have suggested that every masjid must have a complaint procedure. Any member having a problem must follow the procedures laid down by the committee. There are civilised ways of resolving problems other than shouting at each other, using offensive language or rolling up the sleeves and coming to blows.
3. The opportunists
Mischief makers and opportunist people with selfish motives create divisions within the community to serve their own interest. They form their own groups, become self-appointed leaders and exploit people. Before inviting a guest speaker from India or Pakistan, we need to find out about their background and check their credentials. We need to ask what social and spiritual benefits this visit will bring to us. The visiting Aalims should not be allowed to bring the disputes and problems of India and Pakistan to this country.
Maulana Abdullah Kapodravi has pointed out that if the bayaans (lectures) do not reform and transform the individual or the society, it is merely a zehni-ayyashi meaning an intellectual luxury.
Engagements, weddings and birthday celebrations are becoming occasions to show off in our community. Many expensive and time consuming customs have been introduced. It has become normal practice for people to go to Dubai or India to buy jewellery or clothes and spend a fortune on honeymoons. Allah does not like those who are wasteful and our respected Ulemas should warn people in clear terms against such prodigality and wastefulness.
5. Generation gap
The gap between the old and the new generation is widening and no attempts are made to bridge it. There is no dialogue between elders and the youth. We have not created any platform or forum where they can meet and try to understand each other. The old and the new generation of Bharuchi Vahora Patels are poles apart, with each living in their own insular world. They think they have nothing to do with each other’s problems. They have almost discarded each other to the extent that “dustbin” has become another name for the elderly used by some young people. Somehow we have not been able to bring the new generation into the fold of the Bharuchi Vahora Patel community. We have not helped them to develop a sense of belonging or to feel part of the community. If this continues, we will lose our future generations and our identity as a community will also be lost. In the course of time, the Bharuchi Vahora Patel community may disintegrate and even disappear.
Most people in our community are becoming more and more insular and cocooned. They do not have much interaction with the members of their own community, let alone the other communities.
During the course of our discussions, Iqbal Essa (Justice of Peace) of Bolton, rightly pointed out that:
“Our people have become exclusive and cut off from the mainstream of the British society. This lack of interaction has prevented us from learning about the British values and good practices, such as consultations, negotiations, consensus, respecting the viewpoints of others and the democratic approach.”
This does not mean that we should embrace the vices of other communities and cultures. It only means that we must have healthy interactions with other communities so that we are not marginalised or altogether excluded from the wider society.
The old generation facing the above mentioned problems is passing away. But we should not leave a legacy of these problems for our younger generation.
How the future generations of Bharuchi Vahora Patels will cope with life in Britain depends on how we prepare them for it and what legacy we leave for them.
The New Generation
How do the young Bharuchi Vahora Patels feel about their problems in the UK? What are their perceptions? What are their main concerns? To find the answers to these questions, we prepared a questionnaire and e-mailed or posted it to some of our young people (aged 14-30) in Blackburn, Bolton, Leicester, London and Preston.
We present a summary of the responses, which include both positive and negative viewpoints.
1. Some young people agree that they are living a good life as a result of the sacrifices of their forefathers who migrated from India and faced many hardships in a foreign land.
For instance, we reproduce a comment made by the sons, daughters and daughters-in-law of Abdul Aziz Dawood Manubari of Bolton:
“In our opinion, what our forefathers have achieved is simply remarkable. They came to a strange country 5,000 miles from home. They came alone leaving their families behind. They came empty handed. They were un-skilled and could not speak Yes or No. They did not know where they will eat or sleep. All these incredible sacrifices were given by our elders so that we, the third and fourth generations can have an easy life. Today’s Bharuchi Vahora Patel youth are ever in debt to our grandparents and great grandparents for their sacrifices and achievements.”
2. The old generation preserved their faith and Islamic way of life in spite of living in a European land. They established masjids, madrasas and Darul Ulooms. Though not highly educated themselves, they even founded Muslim schools. We the young Bharuchi Vahora Patels have got “all this ready on our plate.”
3. Our forefathers were hard working. We have heard that during 1970s and 1980s, both men and women went to work in factories. After the mills closed, many of our people started their own businesses. We are proud of their achievements. We, as a community, have come a long way.
4. Ours is a close knit community. We feel assured they are there when we need them.
5. I am proud of my roots. I want to know more about our community.
6. We feel that our people are not united. They are so divided. We have different firqa (factions). There are Surti and Bharuchi differences. We also think in terms of this or that village. Bharuchis are so narrow-minded. We do not accept other Muslims.
7. We do not mix with other communities. We do not participate in welfare activities or social projects with other communities. We do not engage.
8. Our community is static. We are not dynamic enough to adjust to the changing society.
9. We are so disorganised. We do not have a common approach. We have not created social institutions for communal activities.
10. We feel that most people in our community are more concerned with bank balances and properties than with moral values.
The above mentioned 10 points indicate how the young people in our community perceive the older generation. We also asked the respondents about their problems and concerns. We give below a summary of what they have said:
1. There is no discussion of our (young generation’s) problems. No one has ever asked us what our problems are. We find it difficult to speak to anyone about our problems. Who do we share our problems with? Our voice is not heard and no attention is paid to our opinion. We also have language problems when talking with our elders, so we find it difficult to make them understand us.
2. Drug abuse has become a big problem. Many boys and even girls drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes.
3. The young generation is alienated from their families. They are keeping themselves to themselves.
4. The rate of higher education, particularly among the boys, is low. They believe that there is no encouragement and guidance from their elders.
5. Respect for elders is diminishing. Our youngsters born here have no interest in our language and cultural heritage.
6. Since we are born and educated in Britain, English is our first language. We do not understand the bayaans (lectures) in Urdu. Because of the language problem, our understanding of Islam is very little. Friday bayaans (in masjids) should be in English.
7. We perceive the Bharuchi Vahora Patel society as divided. We have too many religious and social controversies and differences.
8. There is no effective leadership in our community. There are no talented people among the so-called leaders who can provide guidance in various fields. There are no role-models to follow for the young Bharuchi Vahora Patels in Britain.
9. The Bharuchi Vahora Patel youth in Britain experiences an identity crisis. They are confused as to who they are!They want to be British Muslims, i.e. retaining the good aspects of the cultural and religious values inherited from their parents and leaving aside the petty differences. The youngsters would like to be identified as Muslims born in Britain.
10. The media portrayal of British Muslims is negative. We do not know how to portray ourselves in a positive way.
11. Some young people in our community get involved in anti-social activities and face police investigation.
12. The unemployment rate among our youngsters is high. There is a complete lack of career guidance.
13. Young people do not receive any leadership training or political grooming. There are no seminars or workshops organised by our community.
14. There are no celebrations, meetings or social events. There is nowhere to go.
15. Family disputes are on the increase. Joint families appear to be causing problems. The divorce rate is rising and, consequently, there is an increase in the number of single parents in the community. Relationships breakdown quite easily. Our family values are fast eroding.
16. There is a craze about football, mobile phones and music.
17. There is a mad rush for easy money, fast cars and posh living.
18. The community does not have the work ethic that would inspire us to work hard and achieve.
19. There is too much mixing of boys and girls, particularly at weddings.
20. The elders take part in religious activities but not in social events. They do not engage in public life at all.
21. The self-esteem among young Bharuchi Vahora Patels is low.
22. Our Bharuchi Vahora Patel culture is totally different from the British culture. We are confused. We do not know how to strike a balance.
23. Under the influence of peer pressure, some young people go astray. There is no agency to guide and support them. There are no efforts to bring them back on the track.
Our purpose in raising the above mentioned issues is to increase the awareness of our community about the situation in which we find ourselves today and plan for the future.
We are living in a fast changing world. Globalization has posed many challenges to the communities and their lifestyles. If a community is not aware and informed, these forces can erase its identity. Mass media are changing peoples’ attitudes, perceptions and thought processes. The free market economy is reducing the individual to a mere consumer or customer. Communities are becoming the victims of disintegration.
We have to remain alert all the time. Doing nothing is not an option. The process of adjustment must go on in order for our community to survive, grow and find our rightful place in the contemporary world.
For the community to preserve its identity, it must be aware of its own state, the changes which are taking place in the wider world and how we are going to cope with these changes.
We must take stock of what we have gained so far and what we have lost; where we stand and where we want to go.
If we fail to look at our problems and make sincere organised efforts to resolve them, our future and that of our present and future generations remains bleak.