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Even as the controversy saw these groups grapple with wrenching First-Amendment questions of religious freedom, the man at the centre of the controversy, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, persisted with his decades-long efforts to promote a multi-faith dialogue for better understanding across faith traditions. He ultimately won the approval of not only the Manhattan community board where Park51 is located but also NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and even U.S. President Barack Obama.

What does this mean? It means a number of things. It [raises the question,] how do we express our values? Every religious tradition has a perennial challenge, which is, what are the eternal values of our faith and how do we express them in a different time and in a different place? So we now have a task to do [and that is to ask,] how do we express ourselves as British Muslims, French Muslims, German Muslims and American Muslims? This is the task I am working on and one of the key aspects of this Cordoba House project [is that it] has been my vision and it will be built, whether it is on that site or this site.

-- Imam Abdul Rauf spoke to Narayan Lakshman (Photo: Narayan Lakshman)

Islamic Studies used to happen under the rubric of “Orientalist Studies” which was mainly philological and text-based, and was carefully sealed off from wider currents of cultural criticism. But in the 1980s, scholars began to take Islamic Studies out of this narrow field and merge it more with Religious Studies, connected to wider intellectual trends like feminism, interfaith dialogue, and progressive political analysis.  In the 1990s, this yielded a new intellectual climate. Mature scholars trained in Islamic Studies and textual traditions began to make bolder inquiries, and homosexuality was no longer considered a taboo subject; so for instance we see the books and articles of Everett Rowson (such as “The Effeminates of Medina” which you published in Que(e)rying Religion) who is a scholar of Arabic literature and Middle Eastern Studies. What was missing was a more intimate engagement with the religious tradition of Islam. This came with feminist Muslim scholars. They provided the techniques of skeptically critical yet faithfully engaged scholarship that nurtured a next generation of scholars. There was the cautiously secular approach of Leila Ahmed and the audaciously zealous approach of Amina Wadud; both styles of feminism provided tools and perspectives for sexuality-sensitive scholars to appraise the religious tradition of Islam from within. -- Scott Kugle in an interview with Susan Henking (Photo: Scott Kugle)

 

The revolution is completely unfulfilled. The situation is very frustrating for the youth that led the protests, came together and were there on Tahrir Square pushing for change. The youth are unorganized and have been pushed out, co-opted and fragmented into different groups. So we are disenfranchised and disappointed – maybe even more disenfranchised then before. I blame the US for not taking a strong stance on the Military Council – but I cannot just blame them completely. The revolutionary forces have not organized their demands or brought together their activities. There are over 70 political parties being created, there are over 210 coalitions of which only 5 or 6 are efficient. The scene is very fragmented and all over the place. The winners are the Muslim Brotherhood – but I am not scared of them. Why should I be? The liberals are using rhetoric like that of the previous government against them to try and keep the Muslim Brotherhood out of politics. They are trying to scare the West.-- Egyptian Activist Ahmed Naguib in an interview with Ben Judah

 

It is much easier to deal with so-called terrorists from beyond your borders and from beyond your frontiers. It is much more difficult when it is someone raised in your country that is supposed to uphold Christian values. The man is a Christian they reported. Why someone in a country like Norway carried such an attack? No government seems to be taking a swing at it; actually it is giving a pass, by constant attacks and dehumanization of Islam and constant attack on migrants coming to their countries. Currently we see both of them coming together ironically as Britain and France fight a war in Libya. There is a growing refugee crisis from North Africa and they welcomed these people. Strangely, we see growing hysteria about Islamic refugees coming into Western Europe. I think these governments find it difficult because they themselves created the atmosphere in which something like this can be created. -- Chris Bambery, Author and Journalist

There’s no one-size-fits-all. Something that’s a tradition for me may be very different from your family norm. I grew up in Massachusetts and was the only Muslim student in my school. I grew up very integrated; the Western values and Islam [were] handled side-by-side. I saw no difference between being Muslim and being Western. There’s a way to find a balance in your identity that makes sense for you and the way you were brought up. So I don’t have the right to comment on how anybody should live. Because Islam is made up of more than eighty different ethnicities in America, there is not one monolith approach that all Muslims must use. One of the things that troubles me greatly, not just for women but for youth as well, is that they don’t have the kind of alternative narratives available to them online that offer them that a diversity of thought on particular issues. I’m not talking about the typical conversations of hijab versus non-hijab, do you drink, do you not drink, do you date, do you not date - that happens all the time – but to talk about the choices you make and why you make them and how you live them. -- Farah Pandith, Special Representative to Muslim Communities by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in an interview with Asma T. Uddin and Sarah Jawaid

In Jinnah's Pakistan, religious minorities were protected while in today's Pakistan, even moderate Muslims who want to peacefully co-exist with people of other religions are insecure now. Jinnah's word was betrayed immediately after his death but the real change came in the '70s when General Zia-ul-Haq gave a long rope to radical Islamists taking advantage of the Afghan war. He also created separate electorates for Hindus thus virtually making them second-class citizens. -- MLA Ram Singh Lodha in an interview with Uday Mahurkar, Sr. Editor India Today

… from economic issues to matters of national security, women's issues are neither "soft" nor exclusively "women's." Women and their children are still 70 percent of all civilians killed in war and 80 percent of all refugees. Only 8 percent of all peace talks have included women at any level. and only 3% of peace agreements are signed by women. Women are still underpaid for doing the same work as men—they do 2/3 the world's work, grow 50% of the world's food and are yet earning 10% of the income and own less than 2% of the property. One out of 4 women worldwide still face violence. -- Zainab Salbi in an interview with Eva Fernández Ortiz

 

Up till now, certain Gulf states have tended to provide a kind of link between Iran and the other Gulf states: Kuwait, Qatar and Oman in particular. Oman, however, is currently going through an internal crisis of its own; Qatar, which has recently emerged as a new regional power in the Arab world, has been distancing itself to an ever greater degree from Tehran, while Kuwait's relations with Tehran have slumped to an all time low. All of this means that the overall situation has clearly become more critical. -- Tarek Anegay in an interview with Lebanese political scientist Khattar Abou Diab

 

Dialogue with Pakistan is in India’s benefit. The talks between the two countries need to produce greater investment and economic interdependence. Pakistan can benefit from this economic growth and this is the factor that will bring the two countries together. The best way to combat terrorism is to attach Pakistan’s economy to India’s. But India does have legitimate concerns and has been unnerved by Pakistan’s delivery on terrorism. There has been no attack after 26/11, but another one is possible. India is an easy target, through the Kashmir border and the sea border. That’s, of course, a worry. India has every right to be disappointed with the Pakistan government’s response to terror, to 26/11 and with Pakistan for what they have allowed to develop on their soil. The solution has two directions. The first is to isolate Pakistan, punish the ISI and the army, and the other is to make Pakistan a part of India’s success story. -- Steve Coll in an interview with Alia Allana 

 

The possibility of another 9/11 are very low. But that does not mean the threat does not exist, and this needs to be understood through its current philosophy: one man, one bomb. And there are examples to validate this — last year there were two attempted attacks, one in Times Square in New York and the other in a New York subway. So the threat is random suicide bombings in Europe and the US. In fact, my fear would be attacks on Western military targets. -- Alia Allana

 

Gujarati Dalits have produced scores of saints and heroes who challenged Brahminism in their own ways and struggled for the rights of our people. But their memory has either been lost or else their traditions have been totally Brahminised. The Dalit priest (mahant) of the shrine was roped in by the BJP and his brother was given a BJP ticket to fight the elections. This was done deliberately to promote Dalit-Muslim conflict because that area has a sizeable Muslim population. -- Rajesh Solanki  in an interview with Yoginder Sikand, NewAgeIslam.com  

Iqbal’s been a sacred cow. But not anymore. He was a cultural icon who is wrongly hailed in this country as being some kind of a political hero as well. Iqbal’s audience was exclusive. He was talking to Muslim elite whom he wanted to emerge as a vanguard and rid the Muslim masses from what he considered were illiterate and distorted ideas about Islam. His understanding of ‘folk Islam’ that the Muslim masses still follow in the region was condescending and riddled with elitist biases.-- Nadeem Farooq Paracha

A major turn came in my life when my parents divorced. It was a pretty messy affair. My mother was highly educated, with a double MA. However, because she was not aware of all the many rights that the Muslim women have in the Quran, but which the mullahs have largely subverted in the name of Islam, she had a rough deal. Her lack of knowledge about women’s rights in Islam, as properly understood, disadvantaged her immensely. Had she been aware of her rights, she could have asserted her demands and might not had to resort to divorce. -- Sheeba Aslam Fehmi in an interview with Yoginder Sikand, NewAgeIslam.com

Demand for separate Muslim quotas is intrinsically discriminatory, and so is the entire politics around minority institutions. Granting minority status might give some people or institutions a temporary financial reprieve, but in the long run it saps their confidence, self esteem and dignity and undermines the quest for building a cohesive society. The very fabric of secularism is torn asunder when a nation starts viewing people or institutions in terms compartments based on ascriptive identities such as religion. The fundamental principles of equality are murdered in broad day light, and it only leads to the balkanization of society. All quotas are like begging bowls that will never be filled and that will make the ‘beneficiary’ community rust and perish rather than perform. When there’s a begging bowl in your hand, you never tend to seek to excel on merit or to be a go-getter. -- Firoz Bakht Ahmed in an interview with Yoginder Sikand for NewAgeIslam.com

I think that the average Muslim knows that suicide is forbidden by Islam. But there are still people who kill either themselves or an entire group of people. These people have to have a watertight argument based on Islamic law for carrying out these acts. To date, the legally watertight arguments used by these people have not been discussed or declared to be wrong. Moreover, no moderate legal scholar or anybody who advocates taking a middle course and doesn't believe in these acts of violence has yet gone on television and publicly opposed people like Bin Laden or al-Zawahiri, declared their ideas and actions to be wrong, and openly stated that such acts and ideas are forbidden by Islam. I don't think that this has happened as yet. And I don't think that these people are even in a position to do so, because the sources that are taught at Al-Azhar and in Saudi Arabia are the same as those used by Bin Laden and Aiman al-Zawahiri. But one person picks, another chooses, and yet another selects from these sources the things that suit them. We cannot go on without a radical religious reform in the Arab world, like the one initiated by Martin Luther. We have reached a dead end; we are stuck in a dark tunnel.  We must completely rethink the fundamental principles. It is said that the independent interpretation of sources is allowed, and I agree with that. -- Muhammad Shahrur in an interview with Ahmad Hissou

Since I am a believing Muslim, I looking at the issue from an Islamic perspective. Many Muslims wrongly blame Hindus alone for communal hatred and conflict Muslims are no less responsible and we must acknowledge that. Islam, as I see it, exhorts me to establish good relations with people of other faiths, and that is what Muslims should also try to do. Yes, we must promote secularism, but secularism, as I understand it, does not mean that you abandon your religion, culture and identity…

Muslims have generally not engaged in any sort of planning for the community’s future, but, yes, now there is definitely some sort of soul-searching happening. There is an increasing realisation that we have to be self-dependent in all fields, because, given the fascist anti-Muslim character of the state government and the enormous influence and power of Hindutva groups in Gujarat, we cannot hope for the state and the wider civil society to help us. Earlier, some Muslims thought that religious education was enough and that worldly education would lead their children astray. However, that is largely a thing of the past and now people, including the ulema, believe that both sorts of education are essential and both go together. Islam says it is impermissible to abandon the world for the sake of the faith. Some Muslims say, “What is the use of higher education? Why should we waste money on this because we know our children won’t get good government service jobs because there is so much discrimination against Muslims in Gujarat?” -- Afzal Memon in an Interview with Yoginder Sikand for NewAgeIslam.com

 

What you say is correct, to an extent, but this should not be exaggerated. It is not that all Dalits were complicit in the attacks or that they have been entirely co-opted by the Hindutva forces or that they have been completely Hinduised. This is not true. In fact, most of the attacks on Muslims in 2002 were engineered by ‘upper’ caste groups and elements and in relatively few areas were Dalit involved. In many places in Ahmedabad, the violence was led by migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Because Gujarat is relatively more prosperous, in recent years all sorts of babas, sadhus and mullahs and even criminals have been making their way from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to Gujarat and are known to be the backbone of reactionary and obscurantist groups here, Hindu and Muslim, including those that spread communalism and violence. So that is another source of conflict. Dalits are being wrongly blamed for the attacks, in order to give them a bad name and to perpetuate conflict between Dalits and Muslims. Some NGOs have also made this claim, either deliberately, to defame the Dalits, or in ignorance, since many of them have little or no grassroots experience. In rural areas Dalits played little or no role in the attacks, which were mainly done by the ‘upper’ castes. This is because, in contrast to urban areas, in villages Dalits have no civic rights, and their oppression at the hands of the ‘upper’ caste Hindus is direct and stark. -- Valjibhai Patel in an interview with Yoginder Sikand for NewAgeIslam.com

“The attack on Libya, led by a French President whose policies towards North Africans have been openly racist, is the West's response to the uprising in the Arab world. Where is the proof that Gaddafi was about to slaughter civilians? -- Bedouin hyperbole is no proof. As Diana Johnstone has asked, why was no United Nations fact-finding mission sent to Libya to establish the truth before Sarkozy recognised a group led by Gaddafi's former right-hand man? If you support such a naked act of colonial intervention as the attack on Libya, you are not "progressive"; you are regressive”. -- John Pilger in an Interview to Farooq Sulehria

The destruction of the Babri Masjid and the violence that followed led to a thorough disillusionment of the Muslims with the Congress for conspiring to have the mosque destroyed, for letting Muslims be killed in vast numbers, and for continuing to deny them justice. This led to a realization that injustice and anti-Muslim discrimination was not something sporadic and exceptional, but, rather, that it was systemic. That realization was further reinforced, first in 2001, with the destruction of the twin towers in New York, which led to a heightening of anti-Muslim prejudice in India, and then in 2002, with the massacre of more than 2500 hapless Muslims in Gujarat. All this further exacerbated Muslim insecurities—not just in Gujarat but all over India—in the face of a very aggressive BJP and a hopelessly plaint Congress. I think this is when some Muslims began talking about the need for a separate Muslim political party at the national level, seeing how even the Congress had betrayed them. Groups like the Jamaat tap into this mounting sense of insecurity, which is now, not limited just to working class Muslims living in the ghettos but crosses all classes. Even rich Muslims are not spared this fear that they, too, could be targeted in the name of countering ‘terrorism’. -- Seema Mustafa in an Interview with Yoginder Sikand For NewAgeIslam.com

In the last few years, especially since 1992, when the Babri Masjid was destroyed and Gujarat witnessed considerable violence, Muslims have been giving particular attention to education. In fact, today Muslims in Gujarat have a higher overall literacy rate than Hindus, although their relative representation at the higher levels of education is much less. There are a number of new Muslim schools coming up today in Gujarat today. I see this with mixed feelings. On the one hand, setting up modern schools is, of course, a good thing. It shows that Muslims are awakening to the importance of education. But, on the other hand, often because Muslims often are denied admission in Hindu-managed schools, they are setting up their own schools which may not be of very high standard and which are culturally exclusive. There is, in addition, the fact that some groups who claim to speak for all Muslims or for Islam also don’t want Muslim children to study with others. Now, the problem is that this might further increase cultural ghettoisation and that students will grow up without ever having had the chance to make friends with people of their age from other communities. In such community-specific schools, Hindu as well as Muslim, there is also the danger that this would further entrench communal stereotypes and all sorts of obscurantism and feelings of insularity. For instance, some people associated with the Tablighi Jamaat are now setting up Muslim schools in different parts of Gujarat. No Hindus are going to send their children there. -- Hanif Lakdawala in an Interview with Yoginder Sikand for NewAgeIslam.com

Noted Islamic scholar and social activist Asghar Ali Engineer heads the Mumbai-based Institute of Islamic Studies and the Centre for the Study of Secularism and Society. In this interview with Yoginder Sikand, for NewAgeIslam.com he reflects on various aspects of the Indian Muslim leadership.

Q: How can this process of shifting the agenda of Muslim organisations, from mere identity related issues to substantive issues of economic and educational empowerment, be facilitated?

A: For this to happen, the Muslim middle-class will certainly have to play a more important role in community affairs, which can happen only if the maulvis are sidelined. But this is an uphill task, given the small size of the Muslim middle-class and the powerful influence of the maulvis. Things have been made even more difficult than they might otherwise have been with Gulf petrodollars financing a considerable number of madrasas all over India. These Arab patrons have no interest whatsoever in promoting modern education and the economic advancement of the Muslim poor. Many rich Arab sheikhs are so neck-deep in corruption that they think that by patronising madrasas in poor countries like India they can have some of their sins washed away! They think that in this way they can overcome their guilt and compensate for their sins. And so you have this huge amount of money coming into India to fund splendid, palace-like madrasa buildings, even in small villages, and these are centres for promoting very conservative interpretations of Islam. Naturally, they work to strengthn the influence of th conservative maulvis. Poor Muslims might want to send their children to modern, English-medium schools, but because they are simply unable to afford their high fees, they are forced, often out of economic compulsion, to educate them in these conservative madrasas. And so the influence of the conservative maulvis continues to mount. -- --Asghar Ali Engineer in an Interview with Yoginder Sikand for NewAgeIslam.com

Each time Muslims try to escape from their ghettoes there is either a riot that forces them back or else the media takes up some sensational issue, such as Imrana or Guriya or terrorism, which further demonises Muslims and forces them to become over-protective of their identity and seek safety in their ghettoes. The media, as well as certain Muslim organisations, just do not want to talk of the other many problems of the Muslims, such as poverty, illiteracy and unemployment, in order to present the picture that Muslims themselves are responsible for their plight. This, of course, suits the politics of certain Muslim ‘leaders’, but only further contributes to the marginalisation of the Muslim community as a whole. Take, for instance, the debate on Muslim Personal Law. Many Muslims are aware of the need for reforms in Muslim Personal Law, as, for instance, on the issue of triple talaq in one sitting. The Hanafi position that this is legal is not strictly in conformity with the position of many Muslim reformists, who point out that this practice was unknown at the time of the Prophet Muhammad. Muslims may have readily acquiesced in this and accepted the reformists’ position, but the sensationalised media reporting about this issue made Muslims so defensive of their identity, which they thought as being under threat, that they refused to consider any reforms at all. -- Shakeel Ahmad in an Interview with Yoginder Sikand for NewAgeIslam.com

Using all the documentation that we could lay our hands on, our team investigated the sources of funding for the US-based RSS-front organisation, the India Development and Relief Front (IDRF). This organization had filed for tax exemption status, claiming to be working for relief and development. However, as we showed in our report, most of the money that it collected in America, from Non-Resident Indians and others, and even from American companies, was going to RSS-front organisations in India, who are actively involved in promoting hatred against Muslims, Christians and other marginalised communities. We showed how, from the late 1980s, the RSS had expanded its so-called ‘Seva’ or service wing, heavily dependent on funds from America and Europe, to spread its network in India. Much of this money was being channelled through the IDRF in America and Seva International in Britain. Besides, money is also being funnelled through the illegal Hawala network, which, of course, we couldn’t investigate. -- Biju Mathew to Yoginder Sikand for NewAgeIslam.com

All too often Iranians leave their country in search of material comforts in the West - in Los Angeles, in Sydney, for example. Many have a lavish lifestyle but because of the idealistic mindset Iranians when they get older find the materialism superficial and not satisfying their spiritual needs that cannot be satisfied through consumer goods - and alcohol and other drugs can only block out this spiritual need. It is a problem in the west because the secular nature of the consumer society conflicts with Islam because this religion is a comprehensive religion offering a realistic and factual worldview that satisfies basic and spiritual needs.

Politically this expresses itself in the west being controlled by Jewish thinkers who offer atheism to the non-Jews but then they themselves claim to belong to that long Jewish religious tradition. I noted this in my presentation at the 2nd Bioethics conference when I stated that two prominent Bioethicists, Jeremy Rifkin and Peter Singer both claim to be atheists and Jewish who are both set on establishing a materialistic-hedonistic mindset for the non-Jews, basing the premise of their argument on the Holocaust. This makes their whole argument suspect and superficial - and purely subjective where hatred of the German people is the driving force, not any fundamental ethical consideration based on sound philosophical, universal, considerations as made for example by philosopher Immanuel Kant. -- Dr. Fredrick Toben, speaking to Iranian journalist Kourosh Ziabari in an exclusive interview for NewAgeIslam.com

 

The Dawoodi Bohras, ethnic Gujaratis, are a roughly million strong group of the Mustalian branch of the Ismaili Shia Muslims. They are controlled by an elaborate hierarchy of priests, headed by the dai-e mutlaq, who claims to be the representative of the 21st imam of the community, who is believed to have gone into seclusion or ghayba in the eleventh century. Faced with stern Sunni opposition, the 24th dai of the community shifted to Gujarat in the twelfth century. The present dai, Syedna Burhanuddin, is the 52nd dai of the community, and this year he will celebrate his 100th birthday.

For several years, a number of Bohras have been speaking out against the corruption and oppressive practices of Burhanuddin, also accusing him of levying a number of taxes on the community and various other un-Islamic practices. The Bohra reformist struggle was launched in Udaipur in the 1970s, and today has spread to different parts of the world where Bohras live. Last week, some three thousand Bohras gathered at Udaipur to participate in the 14th World Dawoodi Bohra Conference in order to galvanise the movement against the Syedna's oppression.

In this interview given to Yoginder Sikand for NewAgeIslam.com, the chief organiser of the conference, Abid Adeeb, President of the Dawoodi Bohra Jamaat of Udaipur, and Vice-President of the Central Board of the Dawoodi Bohra Community, the international federation of reformist Bohras, speaks about the ongoing movement against the Syedna's oppression that, lamentably, has received little media attention.

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