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Debating Islam

The credibility of the ‘renowned terror expert’ of The Hindu, Praveen Swami, has now come down to near-zero, risking the credibility of the paper itself. Trusting the fake stories Swami files, both the editorial section of the news paper and the readers are getting misled. One example is the Mecca Masjid bombing at Hyderabad. It pays to read The Hindu editorial of October 15, 2007. Titled “Challenge of Islamic terror”, the editorial begins as follows: -- Dr Yaseen Ashraf

New Age Islam Editor’s note: The real issue here is not so much journalists like Praveen Swami but what information they are fed by the authorities. There is a reason for that too. Hindutva terror was completely unheard of and understandably unimaginable for authorities too for quite some time. Muslims do keep attacking mosques and shrines in different parts of the world, particularly in our neighbourhood and there has been a radicalisation of a section of our Indian Muslim society too that we are doing nothing to counter, so it was not difficult for authorities to suspect Muslims first. It is this that we should be explaining to our people rather than spreading more disaffection towards authorities and media. We should also be taking note of the fact that after all Hindutva terrorists are being caught from everywhere, though clearly reluctantly and not with as much alacrity as they should be. But they are, and as the arrests after recent Delhi Jama Masjid episodes have shown, are being arrested quite readily now. But if we merely keep pointing fingers at authorities and media and not at all looking within, as we are prone to do, we will merely create more difficulties for ourselves as Muslims are doing around the world. If Muslims can attack Daata Darbar and myriad other Sufi shrines and Shia and Sunni mosques, that too during prayer, why they can't be suspected of attacking Ajmer Sharif or Jama Masjid or Mecca Masjid? This inevitably leads to unnecessary suffering on the part of innocent Muslims and disaffection among the victims that the police authorities too should learn to avoid. In any case, the police ham-handedness is not exclusively directed against Muslims. But we cannot absolve ourselves of the blame for creating an atmosphere where for Muslims in India too all these terrorists attacks in Pakistan on mosques, shrines, temples, churches, and religious and sectarian minorities in general appear to be acceptable.

I would rather say that instead of protesting at Praveen Swami's reports or the authorities suspecting Muslim hand in every blast, we were protesting Islamist terror directed at not only non-Muslims, but also at Muslims and our mosques and shrines in Pakistan. If, for instance, we Muslims in India vociferously protested the beheading of two Sikhs in Pakistan recently on their refusal to convert to Islam under pressure, and similar such horrible incidents, we would have gradually created an atmosphere in which it would become difficult for the police authorities to suspect a Muslim terrorist hand in every terrorist episode.

Let us try and create an atmosphere in which Indian Islam is considered different from the militant Islam that is destroying lives in rest of the world. We should at least distinguish ourselves from the militant practices of Muslims in Pakistan. Instead of being a constant grievance-monger and finger-pointer, we should help the community understand what is happening and why so that it develops a positive attitude and is able to integrate better in the society at large. Let us be clear in our own minds: what is our goal? Do we want us Muslims to be constantly pitted against the authorities and the media, etc. completely oblivious of our own faults, living in denial, or do we want us to be a well-integrated part of the Indian mainstream which does protest injustices in a democratic manner but also looks within, accepts its own shortcomings and tries to appreciate other points of view?  Islam has taught us balance and moderation. Let us follow that.

The article below is completely one-sided, doesn’t try to appreciate the problems of the authorities or the media at all. We are posting it as an illustration of the dangerous direction in which our intelligentsia and leaders are seeking to take us, the road we should totally avoid. – Sultan Shahin

There were media reports that Zakir Naik had spoken in praise of the perpetrators of the 9/11 attack and is said to have justified violence on those who committed violence! What happens to a citizen of Maldives who renounces Islam? He cannot be deprived of citizenship and yet he cannot continue as a "citizen" either. This is a constitutional problem for which there is no ready answer and such a piquant happened very recently during the lecture of Dr. Zakir Naik.

In a question and answer session of Dr. Naik, one Mohamed Nazim from the audience publicly declared that he is not a believer of Islam. This response would not have risen if Dr. Naik had not asked personal and intrusive questions. The media reported that Nazim was attacked by some of the people in the audience and the Police had to intervene and take him into custody. The opposition DRP called upon the government to take strong action against Nazim for apostasy. The local Islamic NGO went further and asked for death sentence for Nazim if he did not repent. There is no law in the constitution by which action could be taken against Nazim nor could the citizenship be taken away as per article 9 b of the Constitution. The only way will be to apply Shariah under article 142 of the Constitution and death sentence under Shariah is the only remedy!. -- Dr. S. Chandrasekharan, SAAG

Spiritual malaria?
Nadeem F. Paracha

A recent fatwa from a ‘Saudi Council of Muftis’ has this advice for fellow Muslims: Do not say [or write] ‘mosque.’ Always say ‘masjid’ because mosque may mean mosquito. Another myopic case of Saudi malaria perhaps? Certainly.  But that’s not all. The grand fatwa goes on to suggest that Muslims should not write ‘Mecca’ but Makkah, because Mecca may mean ‘house of wines.’  I am serious. But then so are the Muftis. They certainly need to get a life. But I’m not all that surprised by such fatwas that usually emanate from Saudi Arabia. While vicious reactionary literature originating in totalitarian puritanical Muslim states impact and mutate the political bearings of various religious parties and groups in Pakistan, ‘social fatwas’  like the one mentioned above also began appearing in the early 1980s to influence the more apolitical sections of Muslim societies.--Nadeem F. Paracha

What is Saudi Arabia's primary export? Most will assume it be oil. Wrong. The answer is ideology; radical Islamic ideology. According to one authority, the Saudi Arabian government spends more every three days on Islamic missions than the Southern Baptist Convention (the world's largest protestant missions organization) spends every year. Saudi Arabia is the womb that gave birth to Islam 1,400 years ago, and today, Saudi Arabia continues to give birth to radical Islam throughout the nations. ...

And while nearly everyone has acknowledged the convincing nature of this perspective, nearly everyone asks, "But why would the radical nations that make up the Islamic beast empire turn on Saudi Arabia to destroy her?" For anyone who understands the geopolitical climate of the Middle East, the answer is actually quite simple. While the Saudis pour open their treasuries to fund the radical jihadis globally, as well as to bribe and influence various world leaders and major universities, this cannot compare to the amount of money they spend to fund their own defense. The Saudis greatest enemy has always been the radical monster they created. Throughout the Middle East, the Saudi royals are viewed as a filthy rich, corrupt and compromised monarchy and an affront to true Islam. -- Joel Richardson

It is a general view among Muslims in India that the English-Language media does not project a true and positive picture of the community. They also believe that there is a bias in the international media against the Muslims in general. This, of course, is an over-simplified analysis of an otherwise complicated situation- portraying the image of Muslims as the largest religious minority in India, as well as that of a stereotyped monolithic community living in a Hindu-majority country. The reality is that the variation of the image of Indian Muslims projected by the Indian media varies vastly but the expectations are unfair in the given circumstances. My point of reference is the English language media–for the simple reason that, being an insider, I am closely aware of the reality and more of limitations. Though I do not fully agree with the perception of Indian Muslims as far as their media image is concerned but I will not directly contest their perception, I would rather go into detail of the features of this psyche along with the problems of the media. For only this reason, I shall also speak from the stand-point of the Urdu press in India as it is only the Urdu press run by Muslims that has done more damage to the Muslim image in India than any other language media. -- Chandan Mitra


If you look at the state of the Indian news media today, it is hard to describe it as operating as a part of the public sphere or belonging to the realm of rational discourse in society. This is true not only of media coverage of religious or communal matters but of a variety of issues, political, economic, and social. Since we are focusing on the question of minorities in relation to communalism, I would like to draw on a study that I did a couple of years ago[1] and look a little bit at the history of the Indian print media, and how, unlike what Ben Anderson and others have analysed as the role of ‘print capitalism’ in the creation of a public sphere (or an ‘imagined community’ such as the nation), our history has been a little different. -- Siddharth Varadarajan  

In many seminars that I have attended since September 11 on the dangers of an act of mass casualty terrorism using a chemical weapon, there were references to the Bhopal disaster as a forewarning of what could happen if the terrorists manage to get hold of a deadly chemical weapon and use it. Many of those who made the reference, at the same time, expressed their surprise and disappointment over the fact that the Indian authorities had not documented the details of what happened in Bhopal in 1984, how the situation was dealt with by the authorities, what kind of difficulties they faced and how they got over them. -- B Raman

Religious extremism, especially killing and persecution of Ahmadi-Muslims in Pakistan is as old as the country itself. An army doctor, Major Mahmood was murdered by a mob of mullas in Quetta in 1948. A martial-law was imposed in Lahore to curb anti-Ahmadi riot in 1953. Muslim League made an alliance with ‘Ahrar’, the Ahmadi-haters, in the elections of 1951 and the religious zealots celebrated ‘Yom-e-Tashakkur’ (thanksgiving) because no Ahmadi made it into the parliament. Mian Daulatana, the Muslim-League Chief Minister, was sacked by the Governor General after the 1953 riot.

A prominent TV journalist was recently caught on tape talking to Punjabi Taliban against the Ahmadis. Attempt to show strength against Facebook by religious sections did not gain much support among Muslims in Pakistan and abroad. This brutality against unarmed, innocent worshipers could have been another show-off by Islamic extremists who fear extinction. -- Malik Rashid

One such fatwa, which was in the lime light recently (May 2010) related to women working outside, there income being haram (immoral) and it being obligatory on them to wear burqa. All major commentators wrote on this, all papers carried banner headlines on this and the chat show anchors had a gala time mediating between warring guests on their interpretation of this retrograde fatwa. To begin with one must point out that this fatwa was issued in response to a question, “Can Muslim women in India do Government or private jobs? Shall their salary be Halal or Haram or Prohibited?” Answer published on April 4th, 2010 simply put it as: “It is unlawful for Muslim women to do job in government or private institutions where men and women work together and women have to talk with [to] men frankly and without veil.”

Interestingly this fatwa got very sensational headlines, picking on one or the other aspect of the opinion of the Mufti. The headlines ran like, “Women’s earning haram”, “It is illegal to work for women to support the family, “Fatwa against working women”, Fatwa to Working women, don’t talk to male colleagues” etc. There are two important points here. One is that this fatwa which shows the height of conservatism was flashed powerfully and second the headlines picked up the part of the whole and sensationalized it further. The outcome of media projection was uniform, it reinforced the stereotypes about Muslims. The associated points about fatwas did not get prominent projection. -- Ram Puniyani

Islam itself has taught its true followers to reverse any such provocation with an exemplary head-on approach befitting that time. It is actually quite the holy sin to turn a blind eye and a much larger, more damnable offence to make the whole community grope the alleyways of darkness with you. And in times such as these, intelligent, thought provoking and enlightened manoeuvres aimed at academically amplifying the Muslim intention ought to have taken the front row in this deliberate farce. Provocation has endured and we, the sullied Muslims catered to by the mullahs who are forever appeased, have just given the entire world another reason to scoff at our intolerance for just about anything. -- Reem Wasay

Who Are Moderate Muslims?
Ghulam Mohiyuddin, Writer, commentator
Who Are Moderate Muslims?
Ghulam Mohiyuddin, New Age Islam

Moderate Muslims generally support major reforms in Sharia laws, reforms which conform to basic Quranic principles of fairness, justice, equality, compassion, common sense and human dignity, but which are also consonant with contemporaneous mores and realities. They would like to see polygamy and triple-talaq abolished, women enjoy equal status and equal rights in matters of marriage, divorce and inheritance, have full rights and opportunities to pursue their educational and career goals and be able to compete and work in professions, business, politics, arts, and crafts etc just as their male counterparts. Moderate Muslims are not likely to be supporters of burqa or niqab. Regarding some strange fatwas issued recently by some seminarians, part of the problem, in the eyes of some moderates, lies with the fact that the system puts a vast range of issues under the purview of religion, which is defined not just as a "mazhab" or religion, but as a "deen" or way of life. The focus of religion should be on spiritual and moral matters. Issues of daily living and societal affairs such as dress, appearance, diet, personal laws, working conditions, banking, political systems etc should be governed by secular or laic norms even though they will be influenced by one's traditions.

The LIE of the Kaaba Bar is no different from the LIE that every Muslim suffers repression at the hands of Christians, Jews and Hindus, that the whole non-Muslim world is out to destroy Islam, and that Muslims must ‘decontaminate’ Islam and adopt a fanatical, belligerent interpretation of its tenets if they are to


Muslims will do just fine if they start sanitising the community of these rumour-mongers and liars. My friend’s second email added: “Actually, we all should refrain from forwarding such mails, until and unless we verify their authenticity. I sent that mail in good faith, but now I realise my folly. JazakAllah.” Like him, I hope all Muslims who fall into the trap of liars realise their folly. -- Athar Azimabadi

Photo: Kaaba Bar - artistic impression

Mr. Manzurul Haque blames the “intransigence of the Western imperial forces” for the failure of “the project of Islam to bring peace and tranquillity in human life”. This is not a proposition New Age Islam agrees with. But the fact that he at least admits a failure is in itself valuable in the process of introspection that we promote. We don’t think cursing enemies or external circumstances, in short, the Other, serves any purpose either in our individual lives or as a community. If we have to improve our situation, we will have to look within and correct our own conduct and beliefs first.

The process of the failure of the Islamic project – the nature of this project too needs to be debated -- itself started early on, with the demise of the Prophet itself, to be precise. We don’t think any imperialist, Zionist or Hindutva conspiracy was involved in preventing Muslims from giving their prophet a decent and timely burial. His dead body lay in the heat of the Arabian Desert – without any air-conditioning, of course, - for seven to eight hours as his closest companions we hold in such high esteem kept squabbling over who should succeed him as the spiritual and political heir. Then within half a century Muslims allowed the inveterate enemies of Islam to kill almost the entire family of the Prophet and embark on their pre-Islamic hereditary “monarchical” system in the name of Islamic Khilafat. These sworn enemies of Islam had joined Islam only after having failed to destroy the religion from outside and with a clear intention to beat it from within. Having succeeded in doing that, they embarked on an imperialist expansion with the help of new scriptures promoted as sayings of the prophet and a new institution of priesthood which had no place in Islam. Even those who opposed the Yazidi Islam embarked on their own misguided project of declaring the Prophet himself as a monarch who wanted his family members and their descendants to rule for ever.

From then till today we have committed horrendous mistakes. Even now Arab Islam is dominated by despots and monarchs. Hardly any Muslim society reminds us of the Islamic vision. Indeed, if there are any societies that appear somewhat close to Islamic ideals of human rights, these are invariably non-Muslim majority societies. However, Mr. Manzurul Haque presents here a viewpoint that is widely prevalent among Muslims the world over and thus needs to be discussed and debated. His plea for ijtehad to bring about ideological reform in Islam also needs to be seriously engaged with. He considers defending the ideology of Islam as his prime duty, but perhaps there needs to be more clarity on what this ideology actually is that need to be defended and from whom. Does the danger to Islamic ideology come more from within or without? -- Sultan Shahin, Editor, New Age Islam

It is common knowledge that during the last two decades, Muslim families have faced enormous difficulties in renting houses and flats in developed residential areas, which are obviously Hindu-dominated areas, as Hindu landlords tend to shun Muslim tenants even if they belong to the same social class and enjoy equal or better footing in society. In Bombay, for instance, a large majority of housing societies openly refuse membership to Muslims. In other cities, too, it is difficult for a Muslim to get an apartment in a housing society. Landlords and housing societies may not openly say no to Muslims but adopt various subterfuges. If a well-known Muslim cine artist in Bombay finds it difficult to rent a house from a Hindu landlord, the plight of the common Muslim as well as the gravity of the situation can be estimated. -- Ather Farouqui

A very intriguing riddle of recent history is, how, after dropping from air, two atomic bombs on heavily populated cities of a surrendering Japan, the United States, was able to usurp the moral high ground in international relations, in the subsequent period of history? This question must be answered to conjure a correct picture of the world as it exists today. ...

 But the pacific ideas of Hindu philosophers including Buddha, and of the Chinese philosophers and the various pro-human messages of universal applications of Islam, certainly had their roles to play in the shaping of the world. The conduct of war and the management of its after-effects had improved appreciably over years through the laws of war.  Some fault lines did lie within the Europeans, despite the chastening messages of the Prophet Jesus Christ, which they have followed somewhat by the name of Christianity, and so those fault lines visited upon them in the form of the two meaningless Great Wars that totally enfeebled the stream of world history as it existed then.  -- Manzurul Haque

Though religion is what makes a human being essentially different from animals and other living beings, it is, unfortunately, religion only, that has the maximum potential for exciting humans into such ferocious violent behaviour as would impale even the most brutal of animal behaviour into insignificance. The reason is that most human beings' 'self-identity', in their respective unconscious minds, gets quite firmly defined by, and inseparably associated with their religion. Mostly, we get our respective religions automatically from the religion of the family in which we take birth. Our religion is therefore not a matter of rational choice on our part, just as our sex, our looks, our parentage, are not a matter of choice for us. We are, so to say, a given delivered 'package' of body-mind and a religion. Our ego is made up of this package. -- Virendra Nath Bali

"The first accused" in the crime of partitioning India was the British government itself. The "second accused", of course, is Jinnah who had returned from London in 1934 to take up the leadership of the Muslim League which was then in a state of steady decline. Jinnah was no longer the liberal-minded secularist whom most people in India had admired during the early phase of his political career. In the second phase of his leadership, he deliberately adopted the policy of using "hatred" as a political weapon in his fight against the majority community in India. He systematically and vigorously promoted sentiments of hatred against the Hindus among the Muslims and made them believe that their social and economic backwardness was the result of deliberate attempts by the Hindus to keep them as their subordinates. -- P.C. Alexander

A national survey conducted by the Centre for Developing Societies, New Delhi, testifies to the growing influence of religion in Indian society. According to this survey, four out of 10 people are very religious and five out of 10 are religious. That is to say that 90 per cent of the respondents claimed to be religious — performing rituals, visiting places of worship and undertaking pilgrimages. Among them, 30 per cent claimed to have become more religious during the last five years. An increase in the number of religious institutions is also an indication of the greater hold of religion on society. Enlightenment and modernity in India have not led to the decline of the influence of religiosity. If anything, it has only increased. -- K.N. Panikkar


Some people who claim that Muslims must never befriend non-Muslims and that such friendship is banned in Islam are completely wrong and absurd. These people have not understood the relevant Quranic verses in their totality. It is obvious that this argument is absurd and erroneous. It represents a gross misinterpretation or misunderstanding of Islamic teachings. There is no basis for such a claim in the Quran. Rather, there are enough references in the Quran to challenge and rebut this argument. It is necessary to urgently critique and to do away with these wrong interpretations, which pose a major barrier in promoting better relations between Muslims and other peoples. -- Maulvi Yahya Nomani (Translated from Urdu by Yoginder Sikand)

Mr. Sultan Shahin has made an excellent suggestion to the Indian Muslims on the late Babri Masjid. While I support his suggestion of taking the spiritual path of forgiveness, I must express some reservations that I have.  Mr. Shahin is apparently a very highly spiritually evolved Muslim. But he doesn’t seem to have his feet firmly on the ground.

Sultan Shahin on Babri mosque dispute: A spiritual response



Babri Masjid: Opportunity for Muslims  by Sultan Shahin



We adopted the practice of outsourcing of religion 14 centuries ago, something that all other religions used to follow before us and Islam had come to finish off. 

The one defence of this inhuman practice of the Burqa, making Muslim women one-eyed creatures, is the Aya 53 of Surah Al-Ahzab. Obviously, the Maulana doesn’t seem to understand or is probably being mischievous when he ignores the fact that this Aya only came to teach good manners to the uncouth and illiterate Bedouins among whom Islam came to begin with and addressed them directly in the first instance.

… but to stretch it to justify the inhuman practice of putting women under the leash of the burqa is truly a travesty of Islam. It amounts to demeaning and belittling the great religion of Islam which came in the world to liberate and not to enslave humanity.

But the Maulana is so grateful to Allah for making him an ‘Islamic scholar’ that he doesn’t want to leave anything to Him. He makes his own lexicon of what is good and what is bad and in his own imaginary world keeps manufacturing a ‘unanimous’ opinion of ‘Islamic scholars’. -- Asad Farooqui

As we debate the pros and cons of the two, it is useful to remember that both are mechanisms of preferential treatment to facilitate inclusion of disadvantaged groups. The policy emphasis of those in favour of affirmative action is on infrastructure for ‘genuine development’ — such as good education for all — rather than on measures like quotas to promote representation. Both measures recognise that certain patterns of disadvantage and exclusion might require special remedies. While affirmative action does not mean reserved quotas, it does mean considering particular identities a factor in educational admissions and employment.

The critical question is whether we should continue to identify groups on the basis of their historically depressed status with reference to the specific ritual and social exclusion that occurs with the caste system, or more broadly, by taking into account the multiple dimensions of disadvantage. -- ZOYA HASAN, Historian

It is an age old debate that religion is a source of conflict or resource for peace? Also can religion play any positive role in bringing about 1) stability in South Asia and 2) consolidating friendship between India and Pakistan? To debate these questions about 20 scholars and activists from India and Pakistan met at Dhulikhel, a mountain resort near Kathmandu, Nepal….

From Pakistan Prof. Mubarak Ali threw detailed light on the kind of history text books which are taught there and hence education has become part of the problem. Hindus and India are portrayed in very poor light and in fact Hindus are blamed for many ills in medieval and modern history of Indian sub-continent. Prof, Mubarak Ali is an eminent historian from Pakistan.

Fahmida Riyaz, said in her paper, Religion is perhaps the earliest human quest about the mystery of existence as well as the striving for order and collective living. It gave people laws to live by and whetted their wonderment and curiosity, leading to deep contemplation of the self and the universe. She also stressed that over thousands of years, religions have come to be an important part of collective and individual identities. She also dealt with phenomenon of fundamentalism. -- Asghar Ali Engineer


If you say that Islam is a violent faith, you are accused of being anti-Islam and you are propagating “Islamophobia.”  There are more than one billion Muslims around the world, and I’m one of them. We are told that the Koran is the “word of God.” When you read the Koran, however – which over 90% of all Muslims have never read, according to a survey by Bielefeld University in Germany, and if they ever do, either they do not understand its archaic language or they do not ponder on what it says – you find out that it is full of passages that incite hatred, killing, and discrimination against women. --Dr. Sami Alrabaa, author of “Karin in Saudi Arabia”

You have been elected by the first anti-war constituency since 1952, when Eisenhower was elected after promising to end the Korean War. But ending a war isn't the same as bringing peace. America has been on a war footing since the day after Pearl Harbour, sixty-seven years ago. We spend more on our military than the next sixteen countries combined. If you have a vision of change that goes to the heart of this country's deep problems, ending our dependence on war is far more important than ending our dependency on foreign oil. -- Deepak Chopra

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