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Islam and Politics ( 1 Sept 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Myth of Muslim growth: Once again, the debate on census population data on religion misses the point: New Age Islam’s Selection from Indian Press, 02 September 2015

New Age Islam Edit Bureau

02 September

 No Monuments Men: Syria’s Ancient Monuments, Like Its People, Are Being Purged By Islamic State

 Times Of India Editorial

 Myth Of Muslim Growth: Once Again, The Debate On Census Population Data On Religion Misses The Point

By Abusaleh Shariff

 Jama’at-E-Islami: What Next?

By Iymon Majid

 Go On, Break The Cycle: Things Can Change Between India And Pakistan If One Side Simply Refuses To Play The Well-Worn Game

By Husain Haqqani



No monuments men: Syria’s ancient monuments, like its people, are being purged by Islamic State


Times of India Editorial


September 2, 2015

According to the UN, the ongoing civil war in Syria has claimed more than 2,20,000 lives. Additionally, almost half of Syria’s population of 22 million has either fled the country or been internally displaced. The damage to Syria’s infrastructure will take decades to reverse, while an entire generation of Syrian children has been psychologically scarred for life. Plus, with the Islamic State (IS) terror group holding sway in large swathes of Syrian territory, Syria might never be whole again.

The most brutal blow to the Syrian identity has been the deliberate destruction of Syrian cultural heritage. IS militants, with a view to reinforcing their radical interpretation of Islam, are demolishing ancient artefacts of incalculable cultural value. In areas under the caliphate straddling Iraq and Syria the militants have vandalised museums, burnt pre-Islamic scriptures and bludgeoned thousands of years of Mesopotamian/Assyrian architecture. While the destruction of larger monuments are video-taped for propaganda — the recent demolition of the temples of Bel and Baal Shamin in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra exemplifies this — smaller artefacts are sold in the black market to fund the jihadi group’s activities.

It’s clear that IS wants to erase all signs of the Middle East’s diverse, pre-Islamic past by carrying out systematic cultural cleansing. Unless this is stopped, future generations will never be acquainted with the great civilisational heritage from this part of the world. In the 2014 Hollywood film The Monuments Men, based on actual events, a group of people come together to save Europe’s cultural heritage from theft and destruction by the Nazis during World War II. Today Syria needs its own Monuments Men to save its historic artefacts. Alas, with the international community still unable to formulate a coherent strategy to fight IS, Syria’s ancient treasures are in grave peril.


Myth of Muslim growth: Once again, the debate on census population data on religion misses the point

By Abusaleh Shariff


September 2, 2015

With the release of the Census 2011 data on religion and misleading reports in the media, the growth of the Muslim population has become the focus of the debate once again. Almost 10 years ago, in 2004, a similar but sharper controversy had erupted when the government released the Census 2001 data on religion.

There were strong but misguided media debates on the differentials in population growth by religion in reference to Census 2001. The debate was so intense, and often so malicious, that the Union government established a committee to find out the “social, economic and educational status of the Muslims”; it published a report, popularly known as the Sachar report, which has dispelled misunderstandings about Muslim population growth, as well as the status of social, economic and educational conditions according to major socio-religious categories. Now, over a decade later, it is appropriate to ask what has changed that pertains to the Muslims of India.

Many often wonder whether the release of census data coincides with some political activity, like elections. The answer seems to be in the affirmative. Further, the data is released in a context where, for over a year, the sadhvis and sadhus occupying a “place of pride” within Parliament have been yelling urgency in containing the growth of Muslims. It is time to find out if such rhetoric — “paanch beevian aur un sabke 25 bachche” — has finally yielded results.

India is projected to have 311 million Muslims in 2050 (11 per cent of the global total), making it the country with the largest Muslim population in the world.

In the nearly 70 years since Independence, religious violence has claimed thousands of lives, including those of modern India’s founder, Mahatma Gandhi, and former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. A recent Pew Research Centre report on religious restrictions found India to have one of the highest levels of social hostilities involving religion in the world.

With this background, let us get into the specific highlights of the Census 2011 population by religion data.

First, the total population growth rate declined from 21.5 per cent to 17.7 per cent, which is a continuation of the decline of the population of all religions since 1981. The decline has been somewhat faster than what many experts expected, which is reassuring since population stabilisation will occur earlier than projected estimates.

Second, the Muslim population has increased from 13.4 per cent of the population to 14.2 per cent, which is 0.8 percentage points higher. But the rate of growth is considerably lower than in previous decades. Muslims are expected to grow faster than Hindus for a couple of more decades because they have the youngest median age and relatively high fertility among the major religious groups in India. In 2010, the median age of Indian Muslims was 22, compared with 26 for Hindus and 28 for Christians. Muslim women bear an average 3.1 children per head, compared with 2.7 for Hindus and 2.3 for Christians.

Third, in 2011, Hindus constituted 79.8 per cent of the population, compared to 80.5 per cent in 2001. This is the result of a rate of decline over the decade of 3.5 percentage points. It is the difference between the decadal growth rate of Hindus in 2001, which was 20.3 per cent and their growth rate between 2001 and 2011, which is 16.8 per cent. Compare these with the ratios for Muslims, who had a decadal growth rate of 29.5 per cent in 2001. This growth rate, between 2001 and 2011, has declined steeply to 24.6 per cent. This decline works out to be a high 4.9 percentage points.

Fourth, when these percentage point declines are compared between Hindus and Muslims, Muslims have shown a 50 per cent higher decline in growth rate than Hindus. This positive higher decline of Muslims compared with Hindus has been occurring since 1981, and is expected to continue in a manner such that the Muslim growth rate will soon be similar to that of the Hindus. The fast pace of decline in Muslim women’s fertility rate is occurring while they have a much lower mean child-bearing age, which in itself is evidence that falling Muslim fertility is choice-based and irreversible in the near future.

Fifth, overall, there is considerable improvement in the sex ratio in 2011 — 943. This improvement has been phenomenal among Hindus. This is a very positive story of Census 2011. Yet, Muslims have better sex ratios compared to Hindus, which is also a contributing factor in the relatively higher number of births.

Sixth, it has been pointed out since the mid-1980s that the prevalence rate of contraceptives among Muslims has been increasing faster than among Hindus and is likely to catch up with the national average earlier than expected. The rate of increase in contraception among the Muslim community, even in states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal, has been high.

In conclusion, it would be most appropriate to ask why the census of India has not yet published data according to religion for essential social any, work participation rates according to occupation, and the distribution of public employment in national and state governments. Such data highlight the participation of various religious communities in public spaces and also provide a better yardstick to measure equal opportunities in India.

The sadhvis and sadhus in Parliament would be better-off shouting slogans that favour the establishment of national- and state-level equal opportunity commissions in India. Also, it is time the Union government established a committee to review the improvement in the social, economic and educational situation of the 175-million strong Indian Muslim community since the Sachar Committee turned in its report.

Abusaleh Shariff, executive director of the US-India Policy Institute in Washington DC, was also member-secretary of the Sachar Committee


Jama’at-e-Islami: What Next?

By Iymon Majid


August 31st, 2015

 Amir Jama’at-e-Islami J&K, Muhammad Abdullah Wani, after unfurling party flag at annual Ijtima in North Kashmir’s Baramullah district on June 07, 2015.

Jama’at-e-Islami in J&K needs to be understood in the discourse of ‘political Islam’ (the closest one can define its politics). Political Islam is an ideology that uses a political system while employing modern means and institutions to shape a society according to Islam. It comments on both the public and private spheres of individuals to form a state (Dawla) ruled by laws and the model code of conduct derived from Qur’an, and Sunnah.

Jama’at literature and its ideology as theoreticized by its founder Syed Abul Al’a Maududi is a clear reflection of this point. In J&K, this ideology is at work. In his first open letter to the people Saad ud din Tarabali, Jama’at founder in Kashmir, reiterated categorically that the sole aim of the organization was to create such a system where the sovereignty lies with Allah and Islam as the ‘way of life’ guides mankind to the ‘straight path.’ Party’s constitution explains this character further.

When Jama’at is referred to as a socio-politico-religious organization, this specific categorization limits its role and reach. Theoretically, it is an impediment towards comprehending the comprehensive nature of the organization. The social, political, and religious compartmentalisations are inadequate in their individual definitions and in a collective adjective to characterize Jama’at. These are just slivers in the overall structure of how Islamists work and this largely speaks of their Islamization process which they undertake in order to equip societies to capture power.

It becomes essential to delineate Jama’at from its misplaced, partially analysed identity and start viewing it as a comprehensive Islamist organization. Besides, it becomes equally essential to see how Jama’at has worked towards the main goal of gaining power. Generally capturing state power is perceived as a benchmark of success or failure. But failure is an extremity, to articulate such a view is an academic sham and certain voices would endorse it too. Had capturing state power been a yardstick of accomplishment, then political Islam in general is a failure and in a specific context J&K Jama’at has also failed.

Rashid Ghannouchi, the Tunisian Islamist, writing after Egyptian Army coup that toppled Muslim Brotherhood government argued that setbacks like these are essentially ‘dips in an upward curve’. Persecution of Islamists in the name of terror, he notes, has not demoralized them as Islamists always return in a more nuanced manner than ever.

Jama’at has certainly faced repression particularly during last 26 years. How much Jama’at has learned from these setbacks and what necessary changes they have brought to their organizational structure is a major work that should interest academia.

After losing 10-20 percent of its base to planned state violence, rebuilding of the organization reminds one of the spirits of the mythical phoenix rising from the ashes to live another life. Jama’at is frequently criticized for shunning the separatist movement and focusing on other social activities instead. There are two important things that are absent in this narrative.

Firstly, engaging in social activities is actually part of the Islamization process that is deeply connected to its politics on theoretical level and rooted in a pragmatic application of its programs.

Secondly, the politics of Syed Ali Geelani and his Tehreek-e-Hurriyat (TeH) should not be seen as alien to the Jama’at politics. Forming a party very similar to Jama’at in beliefs and ethos is a ‘blessing in disguise’ for the party. It delinks them from the pressures put on it by the State and TeH works as a shield. TeH should be seen as an ideological party complimenting Jama’at and should not be studied separately which would only be possible had TeH shunned Maududian worldview.

Another related aspect is the influence of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen on the separatist movement. Though both organizations, Jama’at and HM, officially deny having any links but it is only Islamists, clearly motivated by Jama’at ideology, who over the years have militarily engaged India. Even the next generation of militants in Tral have Islamist tendencies rather than nationalistic.

One of the most significant features of Jama’at is its cadre base. Some critic’s feel that Jama’at should have been a mass based party. But that requires charismatic leaders. If an organization does not find charismatic leaders from time to time, it develops tendencies towards dynastic rule, a characteristic of South Asian politics. Cadre based politics induces discipline and a democratic nature which is why Jama’at, though formed by Pirs, the dominant social group of Kashmir, have defied their traditional role unlike every other organization. Defying dominancy of a group exhibits the true egalitarian character of Islam.

Jama’at-e-Islami is undergoing an election process to elect its new leadership. As the members would be voting one hopes they elect a leader who calls for a Muslim assertion and reassertion and unites them to challenge any dominancy. Jama’at is not in a state of decline nor is it facing any existential crisis but it is in a state of a self-correcting mode putting in the very remnants of its ideology, politics, and more importantly, modus operandi in order. Jama’at should embrace the challenges that this society is throwing up at them and march forward.

Iymon Majid is a PhD student at Jamia Millia Islami, New Delhi and his research focus is on Jama’at-e-Islami of J&K


Go on, break the cycle: Things can change between India and Pakistan if one side simply refuses to play the well-worn game

By Husain Haqqani


August 29, 2015

The cancellation of scheduled talks between the national security advisors (NSAs) of India and Pakistan reflects the weak fundamentals of the relationship between the two countries. The talks had been scheduled because both wanted to show the rest of the world that they are willing to talk. But neither government had anything substantive to offer the other, beyond well-worn platitudes.

Although Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif had agreed to talks focused on terrorism, Nawaz could not afford to be willing completely to ignore Kashmir. The written statement issued after the meeting on the sidelines of an international summit in Ufa, Russia was not enough to overcome the dictates of domestic politics in either country.

Pakistan’s decision to announce NSA Sartaj Aziz’s plans to meet leaders of the Hurriyat Conference was likely predicated on the knowledge that India would react adversely to that move. The Indians reacted, as expected, prompting Pakistan to call off the talks on grounds of India’s “preconditions”. The talks’ cancellation saved Pakistan from a public discussion of its support for terrorism and gave Islamabad a face-saver. But even if the talks had gone ahead, Aziz would have only returned home to declare that he responded to India’s dossier on terrorism with one of his own about India’s alleged role in ethnic insurgencies in Balochistan and Karachi.

From India’s perspective, the main issue hindering bilateral relations between the two nuclear-armed neighbours is Pakistan’s support for terrorism. Pakistan blandly denies sponsoring Islamist terrorists, though the denial is hardly taken seriously by the international community. As if to create equivalence, Pakistan also blames India for fomenting trouble across their shared border.

The terrorism issue is now almost three decades old and Indians might be justified if they finally conclude that talks might not be the way to bring it to an end. Given that war is not an option, New Delhi may have to think of creative ways to coerce Islamabad, possibly with international reprimand. But Indian efforts to secure condemnation of Pakistan’s support for jihadis at the UN are likely to be blocked by China, which has a veto at the UN Security Council that India does not.

Pakistan continues to insist on the primacy of the Kashmir dispute — the “core issue” — in its ties with India. For the country’s all-powerful military and its religious conservative elements, this is an ideological question, a crucial part of nation-building and the consolidation of a Pakistani identity. But even the most ardent Pakistani hyper-nationalists know that they failed to wrest Kashmir from India in four wars and through the jihadi insurgency that has been waged from Pakistan since 1989.

Thus, India and Pakistan go through the motion of talks periodically, knowing they will get nowhere until the other budges from its position. For years, Pakistan has sought to internationalise the Kashmir dispute, which  India does not see any reason to even discuss. Kashmir is an emotive issue in Pakistan because of the failure of its leaders to inform their people that Pakistan no longer enjoys international support on the matter. The average Pakistani is only told that Kashmir should have been part of Pakistan because of its Muslim majority and that India has reneged on its commitment to resolve the dispute through a plebiscite in the disputed territory.

What most Pakistanis do not know is that the last UN resolution on Kashmir was passed in 1957 and Pakistan could not win support for a plebiscite in Kashmir today if it asked for a new vote at the UN. Instead of accepting that it might be better for India and Pakistan to normalise relations by expanding trade and cross-border travel, Pakistani hardliners have stuck to a “Kashmir first” mantra, which they know is unrealistic.

On the other side, hardliners in an increasingly self-confident India play on Indians’ frustration with Pakistani support for jihadis, such as those responsible for the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in November 2008. There is empty talk of “teaching Pakistan a lesson”, without acknowledging that teaching military lessons to nations armed with nuclear weapons is never easy. Indians could learn something from the US’s frustrations with North Korea.

Posturing on Kashmir gets Pakistan nowhere, but its leaders pursue it to maintain support at home. Pakistan has serious internal issues. It is the sixth-largest country in the world by population, but only 26th by GDP on purchasing power parity and 42nd in nominal terms. Forty-two per cent of its schoolgoing-age children are out of school.

Pakistani leaders could open trade, education exchanges and travel with India, which is set to emerge as the third-largest economy in the world within 15 years, instead of insisting on the resolution of a dispute that hasn’t yet been resolved and can wait a bit longer.

India, on the other hand, could choose to engage (or even just disengage) with Pakistan without appearing to be petty and bent on rubbing its neighbour’s nose in the ground. Instead, India should wait patiently for public opinion in Pakistan to realise Pakistan’s increasing internal weakness. At the moment, weak civilian governments seeking to engage with India are not in a position to confront the hyper-nationalist sentiment that totally ignores harsh realities about Pakistan being unable to indefinitely compete with India.

The two countries need to break a familiar cycle: Pakistan tries to seek international attention for Kashmir, sometimes with terrorist attacks in India; both sides fire on each other along the Line of Control in Kashmir; public recrimination and sabre-rattling follows; both sides mobilise troops; both sides stand down under international pressure or through multilateral diplomacy; talks are scheduled; talks result in nothing or are cancelled. The cycle repeats itself.

But things could change if either side simply refuses to play that game. If Pakistan won’t change, perhaps India can.

Haqqani, director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute in Washington DC, was Pakistan’s ambassador to the US, 2008-11. He is author, most recently, of ‘Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States and an Epic History of Misunderstanding’