New Age Islam
Tue Jul 16 2024, 02:22 PM

Indian Press ( 20 March 2021, NewAgeIslam.Com)

Comment | Comment

Indian Press On Quranic Verses, Muslim Parties, Navroz And Bajwa’s Change Of Heart On India: New Age Islam's Selection, 20 March 2021

By New Age Islam Edit Desk

20 March 2021

• PIL to Remove 26 Quranic Verses Is a Cynical Strategy and Political Manoeuvre

By Ali Khan Mahmudabad

• Muslim Parties Contesting a Large Chunk Of Seats As Part Of A Larger Secular Alliance

By Asim Ali 

• Pakistan’s Changing Idea Of National Security

By Tara Kartha

• Bajwa’s Change Of Heart on IndiaIsn’t Enough. All of Pakistani Military Must Be On Board

By Husain Haqqani

• Celebrate the Spring Equinox as Navroz

By Sheriar Nooreyezdan

• Unpleasant Truth: Britain's Deep-Seated Racism

By Amit Roy 


PIL to Remove 26 Quranic Verses Is a Cynical Strategy and Political Manoeuvre

By Ali Khan Mahmudabad

March 20, 2021

Recently, a PIL was filed in the Supreme Court by the former chairman of the Shia Waqf Board, Waseem Rizvi, calling for the removal of 26 verses from the Quran. The petition tries to argue that these verses were interpolated into the Quran by the first three Caliphs of Islam and encourage violence and terror. The reality is that since the compilation of the Quran by the third Caliph Usman ibn Affan, Muslims of all sects have unanimously agreed that the Usmanic codex is the correct version of the Quran. Importantly, neither the first Imam of the Shia, Ali ibn Abi Talib, nor his 11 descendants questioned the veracity of the Quran. Ali was a contemporary of Usman’s and after him became the fourth rightly-guided Caliph, according to the Sunnis. The attempt to blame the Caliphs for the so-called “violent” verses and, thus, linking this to the genesis of modern-day terrorism is a brazen attempt at provoking sectarianism.

Muslims believe that the Quran is God’s unalterable word. For centuries, Muslim scholars have used various hermeneutical and exegetical methods to explain verses that are not immediately easy to understand. Like the Bible, Gita, Talmud and other sacred texts, the Quran too deals with questions of just war, violence and ideas of the “other”. All of these can only be understood once someone has a grip on the language, the history of revelation, context and even grammar of the concerned language. Of course, much before we come to these tools of understanding, the question of intention arises. Our intention, when we approach a text, particularly a holy or sacred text, will determine to a large part what we find in it. These books are not manuals. Instead, they use metaphor, allegory, stories and other devices to convey messages about ethics and morality. These cannot always be viewed through a black and white prism and nor are they always fixed in stone, apart from certain foundational principles. What is forbidden in a certain situation can become morally obligatory in another. For instance, some substances are absolutely forbidden but if, and only if, using such products is the only way of saving someone’s life then the Shari’ah insists that primacy must be given to the sacrality and preservation of life.

In the case of this petition, there is no need to get into a debate about the transcendence and inalterability of the Quran. We must begin with intentions. Rizvi has previously issued comments about madrassas being factories of terror, Muslims reproducing like animals and has made derogatory and provocative films about Sunni beliefs and practices.

The reasons for doubting his intentions are twofold. Firstly, the Shia Waqf Board is being investigated by the CBI and apart from wanting a clean chit, Rizvi may want to be renominated by the government as its chairman. There is no better way than trying to provoke sectarian discontent amongst Shias and Sunnis. For the past few years, the BJP has time and again sought to project an image of who or what they think is a “good” or “acceptable” Muslim. Some Sufi and certain Shia leaders have been cultivated for this image and exacerbate intra-faith divisions within the Muslim community. As I have argued elsewhere, this search for “the acceptable Muslim” must be seen in the wider context of the global war on terror. For some years, international conferences and conventions, such as the World Sufi Forum, have been held and regular outreach is conducted with Shia and Sufi Sunni leaders which is then projected in the media and on social media. This is done by the BJP as well as by the unofficial Muslim outreach arm of the RSS — the Muslim Rashtriya Manch.

The brazen sectarianism of this petition sits at odds with the position of the greatest Shia scholars who have time and again spoken of the need to desist from speaking ill of figures, especially some of the wives and companions of the Prophet, that are venerated by the Sunnis. Ayatollah Sistani, who was recently visited by the Pope in Najaf (Iraq), has consistently and constantly spoken of the need for unity amongst Shias and Sunnis. In a public statement, he spoke of the need for all Muslims to be united by the belief in God, the Prophet, the Hereafter and the Quran as God’s unalterable word, as well as the importance of prayer, fasting, pilgrimage and charity which bind all the sects together. Once someone from the Popular Mobilisation Forces of Iraq, while speaking to Sistani, referred to the Sunnis as ikhwanuna al-sunna — our brothers the Sunnis. Sistani replied that he should say “anfusuna al-sunna” — the Sunnis, who are us/a part of our own self.

It is important to remember, as a young lawyer Asif Zaidi said to me, that the writ petition is not just a religious attack but is also a political manoeuvre. Many Muslims across the sectarian divide have come out to express their outrage against the writ petition. Senior Muslim leaders of the BJP, including Shahnawaz Husain, have condemned the petition. Even the most unobservant Muslims have felt anger at his statements but I would urge all Muslims to see this entire charade for what it is. It is important to remember the wider political context in which this petition has been filed. Much depends on what the courts do but we must remember that this is a strategy to divide people and divert attention. Don’t let this strategy succeed.


Muslim Parties Contesting a Large Chunk of Seats as Part of A Larger Secular Alliance

By Asim Ali 


In three of the five states going for polls in the latest round of elections, a Muslim party would be contesting a large chunk of seats as part of a larger secular alliance. In Assam (the Congress-Left-AIUDF alliance) and West Bengal (the Congress-Left-ISF alliance), this represents an entirely new pattern of political configuration, while in Kerala (the Congress-IUML alliance) this is part of the long-established political norm. We are witnessing an interesting paradox of an unprecedented acceptance of autonomous Muslim political parties at the height of the Hindutva dominance of India.

What are the driving forces of the diverse Muslim political parties of India? At the outset, we can point to three fundamental political developments that have structured Muslim party politics over the last two decades.

One, the publication of the Sachar Committee report, which provided the political vocabulary for Muslim parties to launch an attack on their secular competitors. The damning picture of the social and economic backwardness of Muslims under secular regimes constructed the legitimating framework for the organizing of Muslims as a political bloc. It laid the rationale for a separate political identity that could be formed in the modern terms of social justice and derived itself from the constitutional promise of social and economic equality.

Two, the rise of Hindutva as the dominant political force in the country, and the concurrent decline in the political representation of Muslims. While Muslims are rarely, if ever, fielded by the Bharatiya Janata Party, even secular parties have cut down on their tickets to Muslims out of fear of Hindu consolidation. In the most recent instance, the Trinamul Congress has cut down its Muslim candidates by a third from 2016. Hindutva dominance has also created a shared consciousness of oppression among Muslims cutting across regional, caste, class and gender divides. This shared consciousness not just animated the nationwide anti-CAA movement but has also helped a party like the AIMIM expand its national footprint, as was witnessed in Bihar and Gujarat. However, as the cold-blooded out-turfing of the AIMIM from the electoral arena of Bengal by the ISF has demonstrated, Muslim politics is still largely conducted through a regional idiom by state-based parties.

Three, the weakness of former dominant secular parties has pushed them into a more accommodationist stance with regard to autonomous political parties of the states. It would have been unthinkable a decade back to imagine the staunchly secular Left Front in alliance with a Muslim party in Bengal, or the Congress in Assam allying with the same AIUDF it ruthlessly attacked under Tarun Gogoi.

Within this analytically sprawling category of ‘Muslim parties’, we can draw out three distinct strands of Muslim politics, which can help us understand both the driving force of contemporary Muslim politics as well as gauge its possible future courses.

The first strand of Muslim politics is represented by the mainstream communitarian party which mobilizes on the provision of public goods by being part of the governing regime, exemplified by the Indian Union Muslim League. This form of Muslim politics has been facilitated by the consociationalism of the politics of Kerala, which integrates communitarian parties into two broad coalitions. The IUML has played a critical role in state politics since the formation of the state in 1956, being part of coalition governments of both the Left parties and the Congress. It has, in recent times, consistently won around twenty seats of the state legislature with the help of some additional support base of its allies. The resolute pragmatism of the IUML can be gauged from its stand on continuing with the Congress alliance in the heated post-Babri Masjid phase, despite facing an open rebellion by a faction which blamed the Congress for the demolition of the mosque. The appeal of the IUML thus depends on its bargaining powe with the ruling alliance in providing Muslims with representation in all spheres of public life.

The second strand of Muslim politics is represented by the isolationist identity-based party wich mobilizes in opposition to the existing political system. The All India United Democratic Front led by Badruddin Ajmal is a good example. The party arose in the aftermath of the Supreme Court order in 2005 overturning the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act, 1983. The reversal of this instrument — which lent a layer of legal protection to Bengali Muslims — fuelled the anxieties of this community that the Congress could no longer protect them, either from the violence of Assamese ethno-nationalists or from the harassment of state officials. This type of party builds its popular base by attacking its secular competitor and weaning away their support base. In its first election in 2006, the AIUDF wrested ten Muslim-dominated assembly seats from the Congress.

However, there are limits to this exclusive identity-based mobilization. One, in the absence of coalition partners, the party is susceptible to reverse communal polarization of Hindu votes. The performance of the AIUDF in the 2016 assembly elections and the 2019 Lok Sabha elections showed a marked downward trajectory as the BJP ascended to pole position on the back of Hindu consolidation. Second, the AIUDF is unable to present itself as a viable party of government that can effectively bargain for public goods on behalf of its constituents. This is particularly important for Muslim-dominated areas of lower Assam which are marred by poverty, lack of educational facilities and under-development. The coalition with the Congress indicates that the AIUDF is attempting a transition from an isolationist identity-based mobilization to an IUML-like political bargaining-based mobilization.

The third strand of Muslim politics is represented by a new class of political parties which have emerged against the backdrop of the Sachar Committee report. These parties’ articulate Muslim identity in terms of socio-economic backwardness, allying with other backward groups, and moving beyond the issues of security and cultural recognition that formed the core of an earlier generation of Muslim parties. The Uttar Pradesh-based Peace Party of India is a quintessential exemplar of this politics, taking birth in 2008 just in the aftermath of the release of the Sachar report. It quickly established a base among the backward Ansari weavers of eastern UP, bagging four seats in the 2012 elections. Its surgeon founder, Mohammad Ayub, blasted secular parties for ignoring the material needs of Muslims since Independence, claiming that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance “avoids even discussing the Justice Sachar Committee report”. Meanwhile, he accused the Samajwadi Party leader, Mulayam Singh, of mobilizing uslims by giving “inflammatory speeches in favour of the Muslims” and provoking them into conflict. However, the eclipse of the Peace Party post 2014 exposes the vulnerability of such parties to extreme communal polarization. Recently, its leadership and support base in UP has been appropriated by the more strident AIMIM.

The newly formed Indian Secular Front can also be broadly seen as the lagged outcome of this post-Sachar mobilization. The publication of the Sachar Committee report had perhaps the greatest political ramifications in Bengal as it contributed to the decisive shift of the Muslim vote away from the Left Front to the TMC. Despit the careful nurturing of this Muslim vote by Mamata Banerjee, Bengali Muslims continue to lag behind in social and economic indicators compared to Muslims of other states. It is this opening that has been exploited by Pirzada Abbas Siddiqui, whose focal point of attack on the TMC government remains the socio-economic backwardness of Muslims. In order to underline its inclusive credentials of social justice, the ISF has given ten out of its 21 seats to backward-caste Hindus and adivasis.

The All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, which generates the most headlines of any Muslim party, is a hybrid of all these three types of Muslim parties. In its home state of Telangana, it enters a bargaining alliance with the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi; in Parliament and other national forums, it predominantly employs a Sachar Committee-derived vocabulary of social justice; while in its election rallies in greenfield states it often falls back on hot-button identity-based issues to outflank competing secular parties. Being the only Muslim party to nurture national ambitions, it is extremely fleet-footed and aware of different political contexts.

The argument between secular and Muslim parties on the matter of who constitutes the true representatives of Muslim citizens has been encoded in the very foundation of our Republic. After all, the genesis of the Partition lay in the unrelenting refusal of the Congress to legitimize an increasingly separatist Muslim League as the voice and protector of the Muslims of British India. The Congress, notwithstanding its overwhelmingly Hindu leadership, never conceded on its cherished ideological principle of representing Indians of all religions and ethnicities. The newly-found acceptance of autonomous Muslim parties within an enlarged (and more nuanced) secular framework is thus a welcome signal of the maturing of our secular imagination. It couldn’t have come at a more urgent time.


Pakistan’s Changing Idea of National Security

By Tara Kartha

Mar 20, 2021

These are stirring times in Islamabad, where the rich and the powerful gathered for the first-ever Islamabad Security Dialogue (ISD) on March 17-18. In Pakistan, the rich and the powerful are either politicians, businessmen or those in khaki, or even all three. And since it is they who run the country, what they say usually matters. The Dialogue was inaugurated by Prime Minister Imran Khan, while the keynote address was delivered by army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa. Of the two, it’s obvious who one would listen to. And it was quite something.

The ISD was organised by the National Security Division, a body originally set up under Nawaz Sharif to serve as the secretariat of the Cabinet Committee on National Security which replaced the Defence Committee of the Cabinet. Later called the National Security Committee, it was notified as the ‘principal decision-making body on national security’ in a move quite unlike the advisory role such bodies have in most countries. That it included the service chiefs hardly needs to be said.

At present, the division is headed by a secretary-level officer. An added post in national security bureaucracy is in the form of a special adviser to the PM, Moeed Yusuf, an academic from the US, who has been in the news for possible backchannel talks with India.

It is this division which seems to have initiated the ISD, together with five leading think-tanks of the country, the Centre for Aerospace and Security Studies, Islamabad Policy Research Institute, Institute of Strategic Studies, Institute of Regional Studies and National Defence University's Institute of Strategic Studies, Research and Analysis.

The idea is aimed at bringing think-tanks and policy-makers together, in a praiseworthy effort to benefit both. Bureaucracies the world over are not very different from each other, particularly in South Asia, where there is usually a solid brick wall between the two. The first move to break that wall is the first ever advisory portal, an integrated platform to exchange ideas with universities, think-tanks and the bureaucracies. The second was obviously to get the army chief to lay down the proposals.

For decades, Pakistan’s idea of national security was simply India, and anything at all to do with what Delhi did anywhere. This permeated from top to bottom in the bureaucracy, leading to a somewhat lazy and hazy thinking about what Pakistan’s actual security constituted, even while outside experts pointed to a seriously water-stressed country, disease, lack of access to health, apart from the obviously unstable politics of extremism and intolerance.

This now seems to be changing, just a little. It started at the beginning of this year. In February, there was talk of Pakistan prioritising geo-economics over other issues. That was echoed by Foreign Minister Qureshi soon after Khan’s visit to Colombo where he rather surprisingly talked about Sri Lanka being part of CPEC. Now at the ISD, PM Khan is talking of comprehensive security astonishingly, saying that security is not just about defence. Unsurprisingly, he praised China’s model, as he does at every forum available. Equally unsurprisingly, Kashmir and self-determination went together, which doesn’t say very much of his understanding of his country’s national security priorities.

But the speech that has been uploaded in full is that of the army chief. And General Bajwa has much to say. First, he says national security is not the preserve of the armed forces alone. Then he places national security within ‘South Asia’, as the least integrated of regions. Someone in the audience could ask, whose fault that is, and the chief would have been hard put to answer. On Kashmir, he simply says, “It is time to bury the past and move forward. But for the resumption of the peace process or meaningful dialogue, our neighbour will have to create a conducive environment, particularly in Indian-Occupied Kashmir.” Nothing on UN resolutions, self-determination or the standard phrases!

If that’s not astonishing enough, there is the offer of regional connectivity. That’s not just about China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), though that is offered up as an ‘inclusive, transparent’ project for global and regional participation, particularly Afghanistan. What follows is best quoted in full. The General says, “Let me also emphasise that while CPEC remains central to our vision, only seeing Pakistan through the CPEC prism is also misleading. Our immensely vital geostrategic location and a transformed vision make us a country of immense and diverse potential which can very positively contribute to regional development and prosperity.”

In simple words, he’s offering up Pakistan as a node for regional connectivity. That’s something for a country that has stonewalled the SAARC regional connectivity proposals for years, refusing even the Motor Vehicles Pact that would have allowed passenger and cargo movement across the region. This means that Pakistan is ready for roads, railways and shipping to cross its territory into the rest of the world, including India. That’s turning South Asian politics on its head.

New Delhi’s hardened security experts will pooh-pooh a proposal from an army chief who is on extension, and will probably retire finally in November 2023, three years after he actually ended his tenure. Others will say with more truth that Pakistan is in a jam, given its crumbling economy, CPEC delays and a political milieu that is challenging to say the least. But the army chief is still the ‘go-to’ person for all foreign officials, distinguished or otherwise. What he says matters since he sits on top of the political food chain. It is as simple as that. Delhi had better consider this connectivity push and its pros and cons rather than dither about Bajwa’s hostile antecedents. Here is an opportunity. Take it up. It might mean money, and a lot of it.


Bajwa’s Change Of Heart On India Isn’t Enough. All of Pakistani Military Must Be On Board

By Husain Haqqani

19 March, 2021

The call by Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa on India and Pakistan to “bury the past and move forward” is music to the ears of his country’s citizens who have often been described as ‘traitors’ by the establishment for saying similar things.

That General Bajwa tied normalisation of India-Pakistan relations to “the resolution of Kashmir dispute through peaceful means” and made no mention of jihadi terrorism, makes it easy for Indian officials and commentators to shrug their shoulders and say, “What else is new?” After all, negotiations must always be preceded by trust between the parties and that is in short supply between India and Pakistan.

The overall tone of General Bajwa’s speech at the first-ever Islamabad Security Dialogue represented a subtle change of priorities in Rawalpindi. The army chief made no mention of Pakistan’s ideology, recognised the role of “politically motivated bellicosity” in derailing rapprochement between India and Pakistan, and acknowledged the primacy of “demography, economy, and technology.”

By refusing to identify India as a permanent enemy or an ideological rival, General Bajwa is trying to signal that he is the all-powerful military leader some in New Delhi have been looking for, who could settle matters with India’s elected leadership without fear of backtracking.

India’s past experience with Pakistan’s military leaders has made the leadership in Delhi particularly sensitive to intransigence in General Headquarters (GHQ), Rawalpindi. Most Indian experts on Pakistan list past attempts to cut deals with Pakistani generals, as well as civilians, to suggest that it might be a futile exercise.

General Bajwa is definitely different from his predecessors but that alone might not convince sceptical Indians, given the history of the two countries’ relationship. He is not an Islamist ideologue like Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, nor does he have Pervez Musharraf’s arrogance or risk-taking instinct. The current army chief is more in the mould of Field Marshal Ayub Khan, a military man who feels that he must do something for his country, which is unlucky in terms of the quality of its political leaders. But General Bajwa seems aware of Pakistan’s limitations in a way Ayub Khan was not.

Ayub and Zia, the lost years

The Cold War had given Ayub Khan overconfidence in Pakistan’s potential. He thought that the United States and Britain were behind him, that he knew how to assemble a team of Pakistan’s ablest, that he alone could unite the nation, and that he had the formula to put Pakistan on the right track.

Ayub Khan became army chief within four years of Pakistan’s creation. He influenced governments from behind the scene between 1951 and 1958, and wielded dictatorial powers from 1958 to 1969.

Ayub Khan was invited to India’s Republic Day in January 1965. He sent his agriculture minister instead because he was busy preparing for the war, which broke out a few months later. His successor General Yahya Khan was in power at the time of the 1971 war over Bangladesh.

After the Simla Accord of 1972, there was some respite in India-Pakistan tensions during the civilian rule of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. But once Bhutto was overthrown, his successor, General Zia-ul-Haq insisted that the Simla Accord had been signed under duress.

Zia regularly entertained Indian journalists and Bollywood stars, speaking of his desire for durable peace. But he planned and initiated the jihad in Kashmir after receiving US support for anti-Soviet Afghan Mujahideen.

During the decade of quasi-civilian rule after Zia, several rounds of talks yielded no settlement. Pakistani politicians took turns in blaming each other for ‘being soft on India’ and for not trying to secure Kashmir. Jihad in Kashmir intensified.

General Pervez Musharraf undermined Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s understanding with Atal Bihari Vajpayee through his 1999 misadventure in Kargil. Once he assumed total power, Musharraf pursued a two-pronged policy. He retained the jihadi groups while engaging in back-channel diplomacy. Indian Ambassador Satinder K. Lambah, who conducted the back-channel talks, believes that he had almost concluded a comprehensive India-Pakistan peace agreement with Musharraf’s negotiator, Tariq Aziz.

Musharraf’s removal from office made that agreement void well before it could be signed or made public. But the episode only added to Indian scepticism about back-channel negotiations.

Bajwa’s desires

For his part, General Bajwa joined the army several years after Ayub Khan had gone but seems to have fond memories of that era from his childhood. Pakistan functioned relatively efficiently then, at least for its elites. Foreign leaders and tourists could be seen visiting and respecting the country. International media did not always mention Pakistan negatively. The country did not need to borrow to pay off debts.

Much has changed in Pakistan since General Bajwa’s childhood. The country lost half its territory in 1971 but has quadrupled in population since then. Jihadi extremism and Pakistan’s approach to securing advantage in Afghanistan and against India, coupled with political uncertainty and economic mismanagement, has made the country poorer and weaker.

General Bajwa’s latest public comments only reaffirm what he has been saying in private, including to Pakistan’s opposition leaders. He says he wants Pakistan to become a normal country and understands that it would involve changing many things. But he needs the cooperation and support of several internal and external actors to succeed, which may not always be easy to get.

The army chief has privately conveyed the desire for talks with India about “non-interference in each other’s affairs and revival of bilateral dialogue.” His proposal envisages a step-by-step process. The first step, a ceasefire along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir, has already been taken.

If India restores statehood to Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan could declare it a confidence-building measure and discuss a 20-year or so moratorium. That would give Pakistan time to become normal and for India to continue to grow economically.

In General Bajwa’s narrative, he supported PM Sharif’s engagement with PM Narendra Modi and the opening of Kartarpur Corridor, and can be trusted to negotiate with the Modi government in good faith. He would like India and the world to look for alternative explanations for the terrorist attack in Pulwama while giving him credit for not escalating matters after India’s air strike at Balakot. But sceptics would still ask how he might succeed in ending pervasive hostility, built through decades of propaganda, where his predecessors failed.

After all, there are only 19 months remaining in General Bajwa’s extended tenure. He could always ask for another extension, which the law now allows as long as he does not reach the age of 64. That could see him in office until November 2024. Alternatively, he could ensure that his successor shares his views.

A cautious hope

Could the complex India-Pakistan relationship be settled in that timeframe even if everyone trusted each other and there were no spoilers? In the past, Pakistani leaders (including those who combined the positions of president and army chief) found themselves out of office before their relatively late overtures to India could reach fruition.

Moreover, only a handful of Indian commentators buy the argument that better India-Pakistan relations might wean Islamabad away from deeper alliance with China or that India should re-engage with Pakistan just to test waters because nuclear neighbours cannot afford to ignore each other.

From India’s perspective, Pakistan has not dismantled its jihadi infrastructure and has not punished groups and individuals responsible for terrorist attacks targeting India. At a time when Pakistan’s economy is a mess and the country is under international pressure on more than one count, there might be a temptation to let Pakistan’s weaknesses run their course.

Many Pakistani civilians, including this columnist, have written and spoken of the need for normalisation of ties with India and ending support to jihadism as the pre-requisites for Pakistan’s political stability and economic progress.

We have paid a price for our stance and past military leaders have rushed to call us names and accuse us of being foreign agents for deeply held convictions. It is, therefore, encouraging to see that the army chief is articulating views similar to ours for a change.

Outsiders looking for signs of whether there will be a real change in the stance of the Pakistan military, as an institution, should see if there is any diminution in the tendency to look with suspicion upon advocates of fundamental change in the country, especially normalisation of India-Pakistan relations.


Celebrate the Spring Equinox as Navroz

By Sheriar Nooreyezdan

March 19, 2021

New Year celebrations are a universal festival and a medium of spreading goodwill. Nature celebrates New Year, too!  The spring equinox – March 21– is the harbinger of a new season of sunshine and warmth, bringing down the curtain on cold winters. Warm sunshine and fresh spring air breathe new life into nature. Trees are garbed with delicate green foliage; dormant plants spring forth and blossom into colourful and fragrant flowers. Hibernating creatures emerge from their burrows to forage for food and birds chirp gleefully welcoming the sun. As nature ushers in a new season of sunshine and warmth, so do Baha’is and Zoroastrians celebrate the spring equinox as their Navroz.

seasonal or solar cycle in nature, so also the ‘soular’ cycle in the spiritual realm. As spring renews life in nature, so does a divine springtime rejuvenate mankind. As natural seasons follow in planned succession, so do spiritual seasons. Whenever man is lost in the mire of materialism, a spiritual Sun rises in the garb of a new manifestation of God to generate a new spirit in man and guide him back to the path of spirituality.

History records that during man’s darkest hours a Krishna, a Buddha, a Zoroaster, Moses, Christ or Muhammad, appeared to lead him out of his gloom and depravity, and instill in him noble and sublime attributes. As long as man has followed the fresh guidance and obeyed divine laws of successive manifestations, he has progressed, and his life has been fruitful. These periods in history have been the summer seasons of unprecedented advancement, enrichment, and the establishment of glorious civilisations. And when man has veered from righteousness, he has brought on the spiritual autumn, followed by the cold lifelessness of winter. These spiritual seasons conform to our Yugs. God’s manifestation ushers in the Sat Yug of flowering faith, followed by declining fervour through Dwapar, Treta and Kali Yugs. Having suffered the woes of Kali Yug, the travails of purgation and cleansing, mankind prayerfully awaits the dawn of Sat Yug. God has not forsaken His creation. The winter season of materialism will assuredly be dispelled by the rising of the promised spiritual Sun of a divine spring. The differently named avatar of all holy scriptures – Kalki, Amitabha, Shahbahram, Messiah, Christ-returned, Qaim – is destined to appear at the preordained time and place.

The Baha’i community believes the promised manifestation has appeared and all scriptural prophecies are fulfilled. Born in Persia, Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith, declared his mission in 1863.Today the rapidly globalising world is gradually veering towards Baha’u’llah’s teachings on human rights, gender equality, disarmament, universal peace, and a world government. His followers, from every background of race, religion and nationality, claim they have not converted to the Baha’i faith having abandoned ancestral beliefs. They state they have investigated and recognised in Baha’u’llah the fulfilment of prophecies of their respective scriptures. Is the Baha’i community a semblance of the destined Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam of our sages? Has a New Age dawned in the ‘soular’ system?  The affirmative answer is in the Holy Scriptures.


Unpleasant Truth: Britain's Deep-Seated Racism

By Amit Roy 


My favourite hymn is “Jerusalem” because of its evocation of “Englands green & pleasant Land”. It is based on William Blake’s poem set to music by Hubert Parry and orchestration by Edward Elgar. But now a scholarly new book, Green Unpleasant Land: Creative Responses to Rural England’s Colonial Connections by Corinne Fowler, professor of postcolonial literature at Leicester University, argues that behind the beauty of rural Britain lies deep-seated racism.

“I could have called it Green Unpleasant Land with a question mark,” she tells me. “But I wanted to signal... disrupting our more traditional views of the countryside. ‘Green & pleasant Land’ is something which gives us a feeling of nostalgia, of love for the countryside... I wanted to slightly trouble that feeling. Hence, the provocative title. I’m looking afresh at the English countryside. I’m trying to open up its histories of connection to the British Empire, to the East India Company and to transatlantic slavery in particular.”

She points out: “Despite Blake’s call to ‘love the human form/ in heathen, Turks or Jew’, “Jerusalem” has been enlisted to support racially exclusive visions of rural England as a space of whiteness. Historically, the countryside is a terrain of inequalities, so it should not surprise us that it should be seen as a place of particular hostility to those who are seen not to belong, principally Black and Asian Britons.”

Fowler is among the academics who brought out a National Trust report revealing that 93 of its properties were financed by the slave trade or colonial loot, mostly from India. “It’s really important to correct that fallacy about the colonisation of India in any way benefiting the Indian economy... it quite clearly fleeced that economy in a way that was devastating,” she says. Fowler has been denounced by right-wing tabloids and commentators for allegedly denigrating Britain: “I get horrible threatening emails. I think I’ve just got dragged into this culture war.”

Beauty business

Listening to Reita Faria last week on the BBC’s Witness History spot made me wonder whether I shouldn’t return to university to do a PhD on the Indian beauty business. It is worth recalling that Aishwarya Rai won the Miss World title in 1994, followed by Diana Hayden (1997), Yukta Mookhey (1999), Priyanka Chopra (2000) and Manushi Chhillar (2017). Sushmita Sen won Miss Universe in 1994. But the first Indian to win Miss World was Faria, a Goan girl from Bombay, in 1966. Now 77, Faria, a retired doctor, and her husband and endocrinologist, David Powell, live in Ireland. They have two daughters and five grandchildren.

She travelled the world for a year as Miss World, including going to Vietnam with Bob Hope to entertain the American troops. She was afraid that the Indian government, which “didn’t support the American war in Vietnam”, might impound her passport. Faria says about her unexpected 66-1 victory in London: “I was proud for India — I wore the Indian sari for the entire year because I wanted the image of India to be established at that point.” However, she was resolved not to go into Bollywood but become a doctor, which she did by qualifying from King’s College Hospital in London.

Does she think there is a place for beauty contests in today’s world? Her reply: “I don’t to be quite honest — it really has passed its sell by date in the sense that the world has matured and there really is no fairy tale to anything anymore.”

Scottish at heart

It is worth recording that Sirdar Iqbal Singh, who passed away, aged 91, on March 6, was someone whom the Scottish people took to their hearts. He was born in Lahore in 1930, came to London in 1959, worked in a factory before making his money in property, and moved to Scotland in the 1980s. He bought the deserted 100-acre island of Vacsay in the Outer Hebrides, which he named after Robert Burns, Scotland’s national poet. He had poems by Burns, including “Auld Lang Syne”, translated into Punjabi, and wore blazers in the invented Singh tartan.

He was nicknamed “Laird of Lesmahagow” by the Scottish media — laird refers to a person who owns a large estate. I stayed one night in “Little Castle”, his 20-bedroom turreted mansion in Lanarkshire. Iqbal’s turban was always white, a reflection of his deep faith. From his younger brother in London, Inder Singh Uppal, I learn: “He used to spread a white sheet downstairs. When we asked why, he said, ‘Don’t you know? Guruji comes at night.’”

Balanced image

Bite-Sized Books is an innovative publishing house which churns out short books on contemporary issues. I contributed something to a book on Brexit once. Now my good friend, Mihir Bose, has done a characteristically balanced biography, Narendra Modi: The Yogi of Populism. It suggests that Modi’s populist policies may have inspired Donald Trump and Boris Johnson to emulate him. Bose quotes Ajit Gulabchand as saying Modi is “a very sincere man” who is “not corrupt”. But a journalist from a leading paper, who tells the author, “There is hardly any journalism happening now” and that “Modi’s government has cowed the media”, asks not to be named: “No, no please do not.”


A new set of stamps from Royal Mail commemorating the legend of King Arthur takes me back to learning Tennyson’s “Morte d’Arthur” at St Xavier’s in Patna. It depicts the young Arthur being handed the Excalibur by the Lady of the Lake. Later, the dying Arthur has the sword returned to the lake by a reluctant Sir Belvedere: “But ere he dipt the surface, rose an arm/ Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful,/ And caught him by the hilt, and brandish’d him/ Three times, and drew him under in the mere.”



New Age IslamIslam OnlineIslamic WebsiteAfrican Muslim NewsArab World NewsSouth Asia NewsIndian Muslim NewsWorld Muslim NewsWomen in IslamIslamic FeminismArab WomenWomen In ArabIslamophobia in AmericaMuslim Women in WestIslam Women and Feminism