Books and Documents

Islam and Pluralism

Isn't it astonishing that those who argue from a certain point of view ascribe such power of definition to the Muslim religion, whilst simultaneously opining that for decades now the societal significance of Christianity has been diminishing? Would it not be more accurate to regard religion as one element among many that shape the identities of both Muslims and Christians? One should not, of course, base one's view of either community on the situation and mentality of those whose religion is also their profession, i.e. theologians, priests, imams, leaders of mosques. For the majority of 'ordinary' Muslims, the influence of religion on their everyday life is decreasing, just as it is for Christians. -- Rainer Oechslen

This is possible if the moment is grabbed by the Valley’s leadership — both intellectual and political — with the support of the central government. Secular Kashmiris must establish direct contact by phone, e-mail and Facebook with their Pandit brothers and sisters. Seminars and conferences must be arranged in Srinagar, Jammu, New Delhi and elsewhere where the Kashmiri Pandits live.House to house visits and invitations must be made for them to return home. We must accept the level of disillusionment suffered by the Pandits that has often forced some of them to adopt a communal stand. Kashmir belongs to all of us, but more to its original inhabitants — the Muslims and  Hindu Pandits of the Valley. It was this singular secularism of Kashmir that motivated Abul Fazl to carve out the following lines on the gate of a Hindu temple in Kashmir: “Heresy to the heretic,/ religion to the orthodox,/ but the dust of the rose petal,/ belongs to the heart of the perfume seller.”-- Najeeb Jung

This was the deadliest attack yet on the sect — which has 200,000 to 500,000 followers in Indonesia — that subscribes to most of the tenets of Islam but recognizes its founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, as a prophet. Sunni Muslims, the great majority of Indonesians, believe that Muhammad is the last prophet, and any claim to the contrary is considered offensive to Islam and thus blasphemous. Under great pressure from Muslim conservative groups, the Indonesian government has been trying to persuade — to no avail — Ahmadis, followers of Ahmadiyah, to cease all “deviant” religious activities and “return to the right path,” or at the very least drop their claim to being Muslims. This is the gist of a 2008 joint decree signed by Indonesia’s Minister of Religious Affairs, Minister of Home Affairs, and Attorney General.  Deriving its legal basis from an anti-blasphemy law originally promulgated in 1965, the joint decree also enjoins that Muslims refrain from attacking Ahmadis. -- Endy M. Bayuni

Religious symbolism became a shield for these Muslims to protect their identities against the threat of rising, rabid Hindutva. Compromise seemed impossible even in the exchange of economic development. So when Congress workers told this writer recently that Muslims were paid by the BJP to support it in the civic elections, it was paradoxical, even if the claim were true. People generally refuse to involve themselves in cost-benefit calculations and reach a self-serving decision on issues of a sacred nature when given material incentives in exchange. Assuming some Muslims did accept money from the BJP in exchange of support, does it mean they are no longer looking at the 2002 post-Godhra violence as an attack on their religious identity? If the Congress is not a favourable alternative and the BJP a lurking ethnic threat, why vote at all?

“The BJP will always be anti-Muslim, that is its identity. But the benefits it has given to Hindus, say in the Sarkhej ward, have indirectly reached Muslims,” says Shahid Ali, a Muslim entrepreneur. A Congress supporter, he is open to the BJP if it continues to welcome Muslim candidates. Speaking of former top cop Al Saiyed, who contested on the BJP ticket, he says, “I would not mind having a Muslim candidate like Saiyed. At least I have someone of my own to hold accountable for any sloppy work.” Mr. Saiyed, who managed to get over 13,000 votes in Sarkhej, himself believes that the recent change in political behaviour is driven by educated Muslims and those who have realised the need to be in the mainstream. “If we do not assimilate with other communities, it's the end of us!” he says. -- Raheel Dhattiwada

A Pluralistic Past
Huma Yusuf
A Pluralistic Past
Huma Yusuf

ONE of the most peaceful places in Pakistan is the Buddhist monastic complex of Takht-i-Bahai near Peshawar. Situated on a hill, the grand cluster of Stupas, courtyards, residential cells, and meditation chambers remains enveloped in mist and mystery. The site’s beauty and sense of timelessness inspires awe, but also melancholy that comes with the realisation that Pakistan’s greatest treasures are undervalued and endangered....

Bihar: Hindus too study in Islamic madrasas
Ekram Siddiquee, NewAgeIslam.com

Madrasas in many rural areas in Bihar have been rendering eduational services to the Hindu community as well because many villages do not have Hindi medium high schools. The students particularly girls have to discontinue their studies due to lack of Hindi medium schools in their villages or towns. Not only that, many Hindu students, after passing out from these madrasas got the job of Urdu teachers in madrasas and Urdu schools. Thus these madrasas are not only promoting communal harmony and a love for the language but also providing bread and butter to the Hindus and the Muslims alike.  In 2010, about 100 Hindu students passed Madrasa Board Examination. Their parents far from being apprehensive of their sons and daughters studying in madrasas appreciated madrasa education saying that the students in madrasas were more disciplined. -- Md Ekram Siddiquee, NewAgeIslam.com

Dr. Zakir’s thinking is extreme on so many levels I cannot list them all.  But to truly evaluate his thinking, we must demand proof that he has incorporated into his argument all the tenets, precepts, values, morals and ethics in Islam, and especially those guidelines in the Qur’an that pertain to the view of Christians.  For example, the Qur’an devotes more than a whole chapter anticipating and describing the birth of Jesus. Muslims believe in all God’s Prophets and Books and are shown how to talk to the People of the Book (Christians and Jews-Surah 29:46). In fact, God has made their food and women lawful to Muslims, which seems to me to scream, beyond any doubt, that we are supposed to form good relations with them in society, even strong kinship bonds.  I wonder what Dr. Zakir would recommend you do at Christmas dinner at the home of your in-laws. -- Mary Lahaj

Photo: Dr. Zakir Naik is the founder and president of the Islamic Research Foundation


Darul Harb versus Darul Aman: Can Pakistan or Saudi Arabia be considered a Land of peace for Muslims?
Sultan Shahin, editor, New Age Islam
Darul Harb versus Darul Aman: Can Pakistan or Saudi Arabia be considered a Land of peace for Muslims?
Sultan Shahin, editor, New Age Islam

Pakistani blogger Mr. Aamir Mughal has raised a very important issue in a comment posted in relation to the article below: Demolish Kafir/ Mushrik/ Munafiq-manufacturing factories, says Sultan Shahin, defending New Age Islam against Talibani onslaught  http://www.newageislam.com/ijtihad,-rethinking-islam/demolish-kafir/-mushrik/-munafiq-manufacturing-factories,-says-sultan-shahin,-defending-new-age-islam-against-talibani-onslaught/d/1143

which needs to be debated threadbare- that of Darul Harb and Darul Aman. I live in India. Suppose I were to consider it a Darul Hrab - which of course, I don’t - on the basis of the mere fact of it being a non-Muslim majority country - though it would appear that only so-called Darul Harbs are Darul Amans, lands of peace, in today's world - which Darul Aman, a Muslim country, would accept me as a full-fledged citizen, that India accepts me as? Pakistan will not even give me a visit visa, perhaps, unless I give it a host of false and forged documents. Saudi Arabia and all other countries, I can live and work there, if I find a job, for hundreds of years, but I would never get any citizenship rights. Only countries that I can think of which can give me full citizenship rights as India does would be countries of the West, like the UK,  USA, Canada, Australia, other European countries. It won't be easy but it is doable. However, according to Mr. Aamir Mughal's definition, these are all Darul-Harbs, so what would be the point of shifting from one Darul Harb to another? What kind of Islam and what kind of Darul Harbs and Darul Amans are you talking about Mr. Aamir Mughal? Do you consider Pakistan a Darul Aman for Muslims, where Muslims are killed routinely during prayers in mosques, and where even the Muslims for whom this country was created do not get even visit visas? --

---- Sultan Shahin, editor, New Age Islam

All Roads lead to this non-descript Gujarat-Maharashtra border town. Everybody wants to meet him — the devout from the interiors of Maharashtra to some from South Africa, journalists seeking to know his views on issues ranging from the Ishrat Jehan encounter to jehad, to even the Gujarat president of the RSS-backed Rashtravadi Muslim Morcha....

Few spare a glance for the Jamia Islamia Ishataul Uloom in Akkalkuwa, started originally as a seminary, that mentors an unusual educational experiment. Melding Islamic teachings with mainstream education, it takes care of the needs of 1.7 lakh students across India and even bordering Nepal. Vastanwi, or Bade Hazrat, as they call him, is central to this initiative.

Many quietly point out that in the scale of operations, it is the Akkalkuwa seminary which is larger, while Deoband’s is important for historical and religious reasons. “There are 3,000-odd students at Deoband, but here we manage 1.7 lakh students. Deoband’s importance lies in its historical influence,” says one of Vastanwi’s confidantes. -- Ayesha Khan

In many Muslim countries, Christians face institutional discrimination regarding marriage and inheritance laws, taxes, government employment, and time, place and manner of permitted worship. Conversion to Christianity is frequently a capital offense, and in Saudi Arabia, Christian worship of any kind is banned. Those carrying Bibles or other religious materials are subjected to police harassment and confiscation of the dangerous devotional items. Dissenters from these Shariah-based violations of religious freedom face charges of blasphemy and stringent punishments. According to an October study by Freedom House, such blasphemy laws reach well beyond their purported purpose of protecting religious dogma and are used to stifle all manner of expression and political dissent. – Editorial in The Washington Times

Consider Britain: only Protestant (not Catholic) Christians can be monarch. The law of blasphemy protects only Christian citizens in the United Kingdom. In Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, minorities (including, in Pakistan, even Muslim Ahmadis) have restricted rights. Unlike burqabanning western democracies such as France and Belgium, Indian secularism does not separate church and state. It allows them to swim together in a common if sometimes chaotic pool.

Fundamentalists dislike the concept of liberal Islam flourishing in the syncretic soil of India. Indian Muslims, however, remain rooted in a Vedic civilisational ethic that has celebrated our religious plurality for over 3,000 years. Despite al-Qaidas and the ISIs concerted recruitment efforts, Indian Muslims except renegades from the Students Islamic Movement of India and the Indian Mujahideen have consistently spurned the call to jihad. -- Minhaz Merchant

Eid Al-Adha is a great gift from God. Because of the common Abrahamic roots of the three faiths, it is a gift that Muslims can share with others. This would change the way mankind interacts. It would become a focus and an expression of a common humanity. It would knock down so many of the barriers that the bigots and militants try to entrench and exploit.

World leaders talk of the importance of interfaith dialogue. In Eid Al-Adha, a tangible foundation stone exists on which the mutual respect that is the objective of that dialogue can be built. We need great bridge between our faiths — a bridge of peace linking different societies, cultures and nations. -- An editorial in the Arab News

Until the seventies, seventy thousand Syrian Orthodox Christians lived in the Tur Abdin area, a plateau between Mardin and Midyat. For hundreds of years, the Mountain of the Servant of God, or Tur Abdin, with its 80 monasteries and 33 wealthy villages, was a centre for the Assyrians or Arameans, as the Syrian Orthodox Christians are also called.

But mass migration to Western Europe began in the second half of the twentieth century, as economic and political pressure increased, including a ban on the use of the Aramean mother-tongue, Turovo. Now, 1,500 to 2,000 Syrian Orthodox Christians live near the border to Syria, with a further 10,000 in Istanbul and between 120,000 and 150,000 in the rest of Europe. -- Harald Brandt


Any praise of the brave stand taken by the Ulema would be faint; any salute offered to them would be inadequate, because they have justified the decision taken by the people of India at the time of partition that India would be a secular polity in which every race, every religion and every sect would be an equal partner. Sixty three years after independence, Darul-Uloom-Deoband has proved that India is truly a country of unity in diversity. I bow my head to these wise men. -- Dr M N Buch


The incendiary and anti-Muslim Saamna isn’t exactly the most credible proponent of a ban on the burqa. However, even within the Muslim community, a group of activists and scholars have been at the forefront of the anti-burqa, especially the anti-hijaab (face veil), campaign, criticising the latter as a regressive device which turns women into objects. “It is a tool of women’s oppression,” declares the feisty Hasina Khan of Awaz-e-Niswan, a Muslim women’s advocacy group. “When you tell women to observe purdah, you are actually segregating them, creating a wall between men and women.” -- Mohammed Wajihuddin

Equipped with this kind of home work alone, the Muslim world can see what is impinging on it from outside and develop necessary symbiosis with the outside world.  If today a Muslim is informed that there is grave danger of the outside forces sinking the ship of Islam, he is likely to say that we should try to destroy the outside world. That shows his lack of understanding of the outside world which also manifests in his inability to see things from outside even in self-defence. In fact if he can step out of his cocoon he would know that the only rational possibility is to strike a symbiosis with the outside world that is, the rest of the world - the non-Islamic world. Any other formulation is doomed to failure.  It is important for the Muslims to understand this. Very, very important!! I have to write this because I know, a very large number of Muslims want to blast the outside world by waving a magical wand from inside their cocoon. Meanwhile the ship is sinking. -- Manzoorul Haque

Peace within our grasp
Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri

This necessitated an alternative strategy for a solution of the Kashmir dispute which would satisfy the people of Kashmir, India and Pakistan. That being the case, it was clear that any solution we found would not be an ideal one from the perspective of all the Kashmiris, Pakistanis and the Indians. It could only be the best under the circumstances. It was precisely to find such a formula that the two leaderships directed their representatives involved in back-channel talks to remain engaged.

Pakistan wishes to have friendly, cooperative and good neighbourly relations with India. We are not destined to live as adversaries forever. The press and particularly the electronic media can play an important role in promoting peace and developing a well thought out approach towards relations with each other, so that we can pursue our legitimate security concerns without denying the economic benefits that regional cooperation can bring to each other. -- Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri

I got an opportunity to visit Calicut of Kerala, Kenduli of West Bengal, Simdega of Jharkhand, Sarisab-Pahi village of Mithila, Bihar and Hajo of Assam. This was an anthropological tour to know the attitude of people towards harmony and living together with other religious groups, communities, Tribes and Castes; to know the trends of conflicts and indigenous manners and measures of conflict resolution; to know the actual manners of unity in diversity in the practical field. Given here are the 15-day field accounts of my visit to Hajo, Assam in January and February 2005….

I have never visited such a great village in my life. Hajo presents an extraordinary picture of parallel existence of multiple religious groups, all according to their own way of life without hurting the sentiments of others.  I remembered the statement of the temple priest of the Hayagriba Madhava: “Hajo is a Triveni-sangam, tri-confluence, of three religions -- Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism.” -- Dr. Kailash Kumar Mishra, NewAgeIslam.com


It is also heartening and we must duly praise the efforts of people of India to reject street violence decisively and stand for peace. Our common people have truly stood by peace and very firmly. They have displayed much more wisdom than our politicians whose lust for power never ends.

Along with this we should also recognize the fact that Muslims of India have shown great initiative for peace and practically every Imam in every mosque appealed for peace consequently for two Fridays preceding the judgment, told Muslims to accept the judgment whatever it is in favour or against. Contrast this with mid eighties and end of eighties when Muslims were greatly agitated for Babri Mosque. -- Asghar Ali Engineer

Kashgar is in China — but along Vegetable Market Road they greet each other as Muslims, with a hand over the heart. "Peace be upon you," mutter voices in a bearded crowd as worshippers briskly trot off to the mosque on a hungry Ramadan evening. They wear box-like, embroidered skullcaps and do not look Chinese. Nor do the giggling children who dart across mud-brick alleys, nor do their mothers in brown knotted burqas. Donkeys tug carts of wool and rickshaw mopeds honk through dirty, crowded thoroughfares. The air smells of roasting meat-sticks and gasoline.

This could be anywhere in Islamic Central Asia — were it not for the blinking cranes in the twilight, the Mandarin script and the bulldozers remorselessly demolishing an antique town. Turn off at any corner of Vegetable Market Road and you'll face mounds of rubble, debris and empty squares of dust flecked by trash. Ultra-modern high-rises loom on placards that show the future. Old Kashgar and its way of life are living on borrowed time.  The Chinese government is destroying the mud-brick maze of traditional Kashgar to cement control over its rebellious Turkic natives. They call themselves the Uighurs and are an 11-million-strong nation, more populous than Sweden or Austria, whose nomadic ancestors wandered from the shores of Lake Baikal 1,000 years ago. Uighur horseman once ruled vast stretches of the steppe and Uighur kings grew fat from the Silk Roads that criss-crossed their deserts.

Beyond Kashgar, motorways as smooth as the M4 have been built over the haunting Gobi desert to tie these distant provinces into the Han heartland. Oil platforms and gigantic wind-farms stretch over the wilderness. Supermarkets, skyscrapers and glistening ultra-sleek airports have sprung up in the major cities. China is marching west. Beijing is determined fully to absorb these traditionally Muslim and restless expanses it has long claimed in Central Asia. ...

China is still running from the agonised hunger of its immediate past. The Chinese people have backed a project that drives breakneck development despite the environment, despite democracy and despite the Tibetans and Uighurs. Without Xinjiang, China cannot become a superpower. Therefore there is as much chance of her letting it go as there is of Russia relinquishing Siberia, or America the states west of the Rockies. Perhaps some day the Chinese will wake up to the issue of ethnic minority rights in the same way the United States rediscovered native Americans in the 1960s — but by then the Uighur will have become the Sioux of Central Asia. -- BEN JUDAH

As neither a Hindu nor a Muslim, but, rather, now a hardened agnostic who suspects there is an invisible force behind the universe but is fully  distrustful of all religions,  I could not be bothered in the least if a temple or a mosque or a profane structure—or, indeed, nothing at all—is now to occupy the disputed spot in Ayodhya. As far as I know, the force that I want to believe exists and pervades the entire universe and beyond is supremely indifferent to who the new owners of the contested spot are to be. This force knows no distinction of religion, caste, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, and so on and so forth. For all I care, you can smear your head with ash and fall flat in front of the toy-like idols that now stand on the disputed spot and mumble mantras in incomprehensible Sanskrit, or you can don a skull-cap and bend and bow while muttering phrases in Arabic of which you understand not a word if the mosque that once stood on the spot is reconstructed. The universal force I sort of suspect exists is, I know, supremely unaffected by what you do on that measly bit of earth. -- Yoginder Sikand

...This is such a fringe intellectual position and so divorced from the larger reality of India, as evident from the relief the judgement has evoked and the genuine desire of people to sort out the issue and move on, that it's a wonder it is still getting such traction. There is an attempt to provoke Muslim leaders into intemperate rhetoric. There is criticism of the judges, even to the extent of the clothes they wear and the food they eat as if this somehow clouds their legal sensibilities. There is an attempt to scare the Congress that the `Muslim street' is upset, that it will lose minority votes and that it should oppose the judgement if not promise to negate it by legislation. Should all this happen -and in their own way Mulayam Singh Yadav, desperate to stay alive in Uttar Pradesh, and Laloo Prasad and Ram Vilas Paswan in Bihar too see this as a dream scenario -there will be a counter-mobilisation of Hindus. The politics of the early 1990s will return. There are two caveats to be entered here. First, the India of 2010 is very different from the India of 1990. -- Ashok Malik

The issue is no longer as inflammable for the Muslim youth who say preventing fresh unrest is more important.

… But 60 years since that suit was filed, and 18 years after the mosque’s demolition, the inflammatory issue seems to have lost some of its fire. Muslims once thought the mosque was a metaphor for Indian secularism and its rebuilding alone could restore their faith in their nation. Today, the debate has little meaning for many among them, or at least the younger generation.

“Me and my Muslim friends may have together discussed this subject once in my entire life,” says Shabbir. “I think it is pointless to shed blood over one mosque when there are so many other mosques around the country. It had anyway been locked for decades before the demolition. What happened was grossly unjust, but we have to move on.”-- Saif Shahin

The winding paths of a temple town
Vidya Subrahmaniam & J. Venkatesan

The political history of the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid conflict is of recent vintage. However, the legal cases go back to 1885.

What are the key issues involved in the consolidated Ayodhya title suits to be decided by the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court on September 24? How are the political movements built around the dispute different from the civil suits, the earliest of which dates back to 1885?

While there is much folklore around centuries-long battles fought over the Ramjanmabhoomi and the Babri Masjid, the dispute's violent political history culminating in the destruction of the Babri Masjid is of very recent vintage. On December 6, 1992, the Masjid was brutally brought down by Ram kar sevaks in the presence of a stellar cast of Bharatiya Janata Party leaders, among whom was Lal Krishna Advani. -- Vidya Subrahmaniam & J. Venkatesan

Respected Pastor Terry Jones, I have read your worldwide call for the burning of the Quran on this coming 11th of September. Your message stated that you are a pastor of one of the churches in Florida in the United States of America. As an Arab Catholic priest from Damascus (Syria), I wondered what would be your objective, as an American pastor, for such a call? I wondered, and I ask you: What are your responsibilities as a pastor? Are you really a Christian pastor serving God in a church in America? Or are you merely a layperson from America who is pretending to be in the service of Christ? Did you give in to your nationalism (Americanism) rather than giving in to your Christianity? What is your aim with that call? -- Father Elias Zahlawi (a Syrian Catholic priest)

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