New Age Islam Edit Bureau
26 September 2015
• Majid Majidi’s Biopic On Prophet: A Turning Point In Islam?
• Silver Linings For Muslim Women In India
By Moin Qazi
• The Unmaking Of India
By Shamsul Islam
• Make Haj Safer With Better Crowd Control
Asian Age Editorial
• Portents of radicalisation
The Hindu Editorial
Majid Majidi’s biopic on Prophet: A turning point in Islam?
Sep 26, 2015
If I told you the première of Iranian film-maker Majid Majidi’s biopic Muhammad: The Messenger of God in Montreal late last month was a turning point in Islam, would you think it preposterous?
Note that what could have been an explosive occasion pretty much passed off without an incident in the so-called Muslim and western worlds. Just months ago, the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris served to remind us that the Prophet’s portrayal, albeit in a provocative manner, had done its incendiary job again. The film should have brought Muslims from the Parisian suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis or British Muslims in Sheffield on to the streets. Nothing of that sort happened. We did hear murmurs of protests. Understandable. The Mumbai-based Raza Academy issued a fatwa, or a religious edict, calling for both Majidi and AR Rahman, who has written the film’s score, to re-embrace Islam.
Cairo’s Al-Azhar University — a more noteworthy institution and an important seat of Sunni Islam — has asked what if the character playing Mohammed were to play a negative role in a future film and defile the Prophet’s status? Not in the least a summary call for collective Muslim action to block the film, such a position sounds almost rational reasoning from a viewpoint of internal religious logic.
Prophet Mohammed did caution against graphic representation of living beings. Islam’s problematic relationship with visual representation — film, sculpture and photography — has to do with its inviolable tenet of monotheism, or worship of one God alone. The Prophet repeatedly stressed his human status, and feared his own portrayal through art could lead to his future worship.
Majidi’s film is screening across Iran’s theatres and has evoked interest in Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia. How do we explain all this? Is Majidi a Muslim Voltaire who has won over his people? Or, to paraphrase Salman Rushdie, have Muslims turned godless men thinking a great deal about God?
For an answer, we can’t be looking at Majidi’s film in isolation but connect the dots: The current Muslim exodus to Europe’s shores, the Islamic State (Isis) and Iran’s own changing political values.
Majidi’s own diligence in dealing with his subject helped. The film creatively avoids facial depiction of the Prophet. If a discussion on Islam appears credible, then Muslims will participate in it.
The film is also being seen as an answer to the constant western narrative about Islam and at the same time an opportunity to help explain Islam.
Simultaneously, the flood of refugees from the Muslim world to Europe has demonstrated that there is no deeply ingrained hatred of the West among Muslims. More Muslims are fleeing the Isis than are joining it. The refugees could have chosen Asia or Africa. Their preference for western Europe is a rational choice. It shows that Europe is viewed as a desirable land of rights, law and positive opportunities. It is equally for the Isis and Western governments to understand the message.
Silver Linings for Muslim Women in India
By Moin Qazi
15 September, 2015
A mother is a school. Empower her and you empower a great nation.
Hafez Ibrahim, Egyptian poet (1872-1932)
The last few weeks in India have seen several development that augur well for the Muslim women. In India, many of the rules governing women are governed by antiquated customs and are actually not sanctioned by scriptures. Many women disagree and say that these laws are outdated and harmful and antithetical to the precepts of the Qur’an .They feel corrupted cultural practices dominated by male chauvinists have distorted the true spirit of the Qur’an which accords a very dignified position to women. One such rule is the talaq law, which allows a Muslim man to divorce his wife immediately after pronouncing the word “talaq” three times. Instant divorce is currently allowed under Islamic law. In India, Muslim men have sent triple talaq by text, email, Facebook, Skype and Whats App. While it has always been somewhat easy for Muslim men to divorce their wives, the use of digital medium makes it almost instantaneous.
Talaq, talaq, talaq — the three dreaded words — if uttered by a husband in quick succession could, in less than a blink of an eye, unilaterally bring to an end the marital life of a Muslim woman. However, in what may come as a shock to numerous Muslims and others, the Qur’an does not prescribe this form of divorce at all.
Women working against the talaq law received good news: a government committee set up in 2013 to look into women’s status recommended that the government should outlaw it.In a similar development a woman won a major law suit for provision of maintenance after divorce. In a landmark ruling, the Kerala High Court, the highest provincial court in India, ordered a man to pay his former wife Rs 3.6 lakh compensation for her medical expenses, despite divorcing her 12 years ago. Similarly the court held she was entitled to maintenance expenses for 10 years.
The court said the medical expenditure of Abbas's ex-wife, Sauda, is still his responsibility irrespective of the divorce. Sauda was divorced in 2004 after 13 years in marriage with Abbas, who is now married for the second time. Sauda, with no source of income for herself, has three children from her marriage with Abbas.
The court invoked the provisions of the Muslim Women Protection of Rights on Divorce Act, 1986Sub section (2) of Section 3 of the Act , says that 'if the amount equal to the sum of mehr or dowry has not been paid, make an order within one month of the date of filing of the application, directing her former husband to pay such reasonable and fair provision and maintenance to the divorced woman, as he may determine as fit and proper having regard to the needs of the divorced woman'," .
The Act was enacted in 1986 in the wake of the Supreme Court's judgment in the Shah Bano case, whereby the apex court ruled that even a Muslim woman was entitled to receive alimony under the general provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), like anybody else. While the judgment was not the first granting a divorced Muslim woman maintenance under the CrPC, it was the first in which the Supreme Court referred to Muslim personal laws in detail. Many Muslim clerics saw the judgment as an encroachment on the right of Muslims to be governed by their personal laws. Following severe protests from various Muslim community leaders, the Rajiv Gandhi government got the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act passed in Parliament, with absolute majority. Rajiv drew much criticism over the move, with the Opposition calling it another act of "appeasement" towards the minority community by the Congress.
What are the salient features of the Act?
The Act entitles a divorced Muslim woman to four rights under its specific provisions:
(i) Right to maintenance during the period of iddat (the stipulated waiting period after the divorce in which a woman cannot remarry); (ii) Right to fair and reasonable provisions for her entire life; (iii) Right to receive alimony for the child till two years from divorce; (iv) Right to receive maintenance from the State Wakf Board in some exceptional circumstances.
How was the Act perceived?
Diluting the Supreme Court judgment, the most controversial provision of the Act was that it allowed maintenance to a divorced woman only during the period of iddat, or till 90 days after the divorce, according to the provisions of Islamic law. This was in stark contrast to Section 125 of the CrPC — the general provision for maintenance of wives, children and parents — that applies to everyone irrespective of religion.
How has the Act been interpreted by the Supreme Court?
The apex court has interpreted the provisions of the Act more liberally. In Daniel Latifi vs Union of India, 2001, the Supreme Court upheld the Act in so far as it confined the time period of maintenance to the iddat period. But it also held that the quantum of maintenance must be "reasonable and fair" and therefore last her a lifetime. In effect, the judgment does a balancing act between the effect of the Shah Bano judgment and the words of the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act.
Why is the Act not frequently used?
Despite its unique feature of no ceiling on quantum of maintenance, the statute is sparingly used because of the lack of its knowledge even among lawyers. The legal fraternity generally uses the CrP C provision while moving maintenance petitions, considering it handy.
Muslim women have successfully networked and engaged in dialogue and cooperation with other Muslim women globally; however, the ultimate success of joining women’s voices to the interpretation of Islam requires their acceptance as equally capable interpreters alongside their male colleagues. Many Muslim men support and encourage this dialogue within Islam, as critical to the development of Islam in the twenty-first century.
It is clear that Muslim women’s empowerment, like many things, cannot be imposed on a country or a culture from the outside. Men and women within these conservative communities must first find their own reasons and their own justifications to allow women a fuller role in society. Increasingly, they are finding those reasons within Islam. Like men, women deserve to be free. It is only a matter of time until the day comes when they [women] test their chains and break free. As Rumi says in the Mathnawi, “This woman, who is your beloved, is in fact a ray of His light. She is not a mere creature. She is like a creator.”
Moin Qazi is a well known banker, author and Islamic researcher .He holds doctorates in Economics and English. He was Visiting Fellow at the University of Manchester. He has contributed articles to Indian and foreign publications including The Times of India, Statesman, Indian Express, The Hindu, Third World Features (Malaysia), SIDA Rapport (Sweden), Depth News (Philippines), Far Eastern Economic Review and Asiaweek (Hong Kong).He has authored several books on religion, rural finance, culture and handicrafts. He is also a recipient of UNESCO World Politics Essay Gold Medal and Rotary International’s Vocational Excellence Award. He is based in Nagpur and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The unmaking of India
By Shamsul Islam
September 26, 2015
RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat (centre) greets Home Minister and BJP leader Rajnath Singh during a function in Delhi. (PTI Photo, File)
RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat (centre) greets Home Minister and BJP leader Rajnath Singh during a function in Delhi. (PTI file photo)
While defending interactions between the RSS and the BJP in these columns (‘A family gets together’, September 15), Ram Madhav makes two important points. First, that such interactions are normal. According to him, several organisations interact with government in a democracy, “then why an objection in this case?” But the issue is not that simple.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ministers have taken oaths to safeguard a democratic, secular Indian polity. But the “big and popular” RSS is not committed to this ideal. Documents from the RSS archives tell a shocking story with which Madhav must be familiar.
When the Constituent Assembly finalised the Constitution in November 1949, the RSS’s Organiser (November 30, 1949) in an editorial demanded that the Manusmriti be made the Constitution of India. It read: “But in our Constitution there is no mention of the unique constitutional development in ancient Bharat… To this day… [Manu’s] laws, as enunciated in the Manusmriti, excite the admiration of the world and elicit spontaneous obedience and conformity. But to our constitutional pundits that means nothing”.
The RSS is allergic to democracy. M.S. Golwalkar, the most prominent ideologue of the organisation, while delivering a speech at the RSS Resham Bagh headquarters in Nagpur in 1940, demanded that India be governed by “one flag, one leader and one ideology of Hindutva”.
We need to know from Madhav, who is learning from whom. If the RSS is the “ideological fountainhead” of the parivar’s 40-plus organisations, which includes the BJP, then surely the days of a democratic, secular India are numbered.
Madhav’s second point is that “the RSS neither controls nor commands” these 40-plus organisations. According to him, “in a very Indian familial way, they come together occasionally to discuss and exchange notes”. We need to go back to Guruji Golwalkar to understand how the RSS manipulates politics. Addressing a gathering of top RSS cadres on March 16, 1954, at Sindi, Wardha, he said: “If we say that we are part of the organisation and accept its discipline, then selectiveness has no place in life. Do what is told. If told to play kabaddi, play kabaddi; told to hold meeting then meeting… For instance, some of our friends were told to go and work for politics, that does not mean that they
have great interest or inspiration for it. They don’t die for politics like fish without water. If they are told to withdraw from politics, then also there is no objection. Their discretion is just not required.”
Long after the establishment of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh, he reiterated this “familial way” while addressing state/ regional-level RSS pracharaks at Indore on March 5, 1960, in the following words: “We know this also that some of our swayamsevaks work in politics. There, they have to organise according to the needs of work public meetings, processions etc, have to raise slogans. All these things have no place in our work. However, like the character in a play, whatever role has been assigned should be portrayed with best of capability. But sometimes, swayam sevaks go beyond the role assigned to a performer (nat) as they develop overzealousness in their hearts, to the extent that they become useless for this work. This is not good.”
Madhav’s comment that after the recent RSS-BJP conclave, the “ideological family went home content with the general direction of the country under the new government” is cause for concern. It means that the Modi government, committed to a democratic, secular India, is being influenced by forces that are inimical to India as we know it.
The writer taught political science at the University of Delhi
Make Haj safer with better crowd control
Asian Age Editorial
Sep 25, 2015
Infrastructure has been greatly enhanced in Mecca to accommodate the rising numbers of pilgrims. And yet, crowd management-related disasters appear to be regular.
The tragedy at Mina, near Mecca, on Thursday, in which more than 700 Haj pilgrims gathered from around the world perished on the eve of the Islamic festival of Id-ul-Adha, and more than 800 were injured, should open our eyes to the desperate need for better crowd management everywhere. People in sizeable numbers die at football games, music festivals, and political rallies, besides pilgrim centres.
In India too many lives are lost on account of crowd crushes at religious centres which are indifferently managed and where even poorly-run systems break down in the rush season.It seems 14 Indians have died at Mina, but this should be treated as provisional. The data is still coming in. Our embassy and the Indian doctors attached to our Haj contingent are rendering medical assistance at the disaster site.
To the credit of the Saudi authorities, infrastructure has been greatly enhanced in Mecca over the years to accommodate the rising numbers of international pilgrims. And yet, crowd management-related disasters appear to be regular at one of the world’s most famous pilgrim centres.
Possibly the worst crisis was in 1990 when upward of 1,400 people died in Mecca. In 2006, more than 300 were killed. And now the figure of 700 has been crossed. A fortnight ago, at the start of the Haj season, a crane crashed at the pilgrim site, killing 100 persons.
Clearly, management and security need to be refined. Creating infrastructure is evidently not enough. Two million Muslim devotees are in Mecca this Haj season. Sometimes the figures are higher. Rising incomes and air travel have brought the Haj pilgrimage, one of the five pillars of Islam, within reach of many more people now.
The Saudi monarch is the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. This gives him a special standing in the eyes of Sunnis, by far the majority Muslim sect in the world. While no system can be judged based on a single accident, a disaster too many can pose political challenges.
King Salman, who ascended the throne in January, reportedly caused upset within Saudi ruling circles through some of his actions, and his early decision to bomb the Shia Houthi rebels in Yemen has sharpened antagonisms with Iran, with which Saudi Arabia’s relations have worsened of late, not least on account of Iran’s recent nuclear agreement with the West.
Iran, deemed the leader of the world’s Shia Muslims, lost a large number of its citizens at Mina and has publicly asked for accountability from the Saudis. It proposes to call in the Saudi ambassador in Tehran. Both sides should eschew escalating the matter. The issue in question is better administration of leading pilgrimage sites, not thorny politics.
Portents of radicalisation
The Hindu Editorial
September 26, 2015
What runs common between a middle class Indian mother of three and a Delhi college student, as also an obscure religious group based in a Goan village and a militant group in the northeast? They are all manifestations of a renewed radicalisation that is gripping major religions, as old divides come to life and new gashes open. Afsha Jabeen, who was deported to India for her evangelisation efforts, and some youngsters from Kerala who were sent back by the UAE for sharing radical posts on social media, do not represent isolated instances of a new acceptance that Islamist fundamentalism has found among many Indians. There have been reports of several Indian youth joining Islamic State, and more wanting to do so. The latest is the case of a young woman from the national capital, a Delhi University graduate and daughter of a retired Army officer, who wanted to join the ranks of the regressive, violent movement in Syria that is behind one of the biggest humanitarian catastrophes of our times. These could still be cited as isolated instances for now, but they could well turn into a tide. India’s experience with radical religious tendencies is still far better than that of many other countries that have seen hundreds of youngsters leaving modern comforts and heading for the ‘battle-front’. What Indian society at large should worry about is also that the fundamentalism is not limited to Islam. Obscure groups such as Sanatan Sanstha are trying to impose their irrational arguments, often through violent means, infringing upon the fundamental rights and seeking to subdue India’s celebrated diversity. In the northeast and in Kashmir too fanaticism is finding new life and vigour, its ripples felt beyond immediate geographical boundaries.
The signals are clear: religious radicalisation is not a distant threat anymore but a reality closer home. Forces of obscurantism are feeding on global and local discontent to create narratives that appeal to even those brought up on a liberal education. Religious fanaticism has found new vigour not just in the clash of civilisations being played out across continents, but also in the dangerous political atmosphere created by some mainstream parties domestically. The vigour of movements in one religion feeds similar ones in others. Their misleading messages find roaring life on the information highway. As governments, political leaders, and society at large reap the benefits of globalisation, they cannot ignore its dark underbelly where obscurantist ideas flourish. One of the fallouts of the information revolution propelled by the Internet is that messages of fanaticism could also spread like wildfire, and governments could be overwhelmed by their power. India needs to wake up to this threat.