Hyderabad: Indian Muslims should integrate but not assimilate. They should contribute in nation building, national security and economy, but conserve Islamic traditions, culture and ethos, feels Aligarh Muslim University Vice Chancellor Lieutenant General Zameer Uddin Shah (retd).
The former Indian Army deputy chief believes that it is only through modern scientific education that the Muslim community can overcome the challenges it faces.
"If we are educated nobody can afford to ignore us. Look at the Sikh community. They are three percent of the population but they are all over basically because they gave stress to education and nobody could ignore them. In the same way if Muslims, who are 15 percent of the population, get educated and get ready to face the future nobody can keep us behind," Shah told IANS in an interview.
"If government gives us reservation okay but we should not try too hard. What we should try is equal opportunity. We should try for government help in founding minority institutions," added Shah, the elder brother of renowned actor Naseeruddin Shah.
Shah, who began his education in a madarsa, joined the Indian Army when he was just fifteen-and-half, rose to the third highest position in the force and since 2012 heads Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), the highest school of modern learning for Muslims.
Shah, who believes Indian Army is the most secular organisation of the country, is making efforts to send young Muslim boys to the armed forces. He is training class 11 and 12 students to encourage them to join National Defence Academy.
"My vision is that if we want to strengthen our community, we have to contribute towards security of our country. If our boys can join the armed forces so much the better. They will not only get security for themselves, they will get well paid job, they will get security for entire community," said Shah, who was here for a series of academic events.
The vice chanceller plans to train many youngsters this year to attempt the civil services examination conducted by the Union Public Service Commission.
Shah, admitted that did not know a single English word when he joined the St. Josep's College (school) in Nainital, has opened the gates of AMU for madarsa students. He introduced a bridge course for 50 madarsa students and 40 of them passed open competitive examinations to get admissions in Jamia Hamdard, Jamia Millia Islamia and AMU.
"We are harnessing the power of the madarsas. It is my belief that any madarsa student, who is Hafiz-e-Quran (well-versed with the Quran) has got immense potential. If he can memorize the Quran, he can learn a lot. He will be ahead of other students."
"I know madarsas have been long demonized. They are called breeding ground of terrorists. Whatever the western world says I don't believe. Madarasa are the foundation of good education to people who can't afford education. Let us give them an opportunity prove that they are capable students," Shah contended.
He pointed out that when AMU presented the bridge course proposal to ministry of minority affairs, the government made it an all India policy and asked institutions in Muslim majority areas to follow it.
Shah does not agree that there is discrimination against Muslim youths because they belong to a particular religion. "They lack self-confidence. It is the uneducated who are discriminated against," he said.
The former army officer said not once in his career he felt he was being discriminated against.
"I and my buddy Azeez Baig were together in 1971 war. We could have been shot in the back nobody would have known a thing but we were not. Our troops gave us all respect. They carried us on their shoulders guarded us with their lives," he added.