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Islam and Pluralism

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

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 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)

 

Urdu columnist Zafar Anwar Shakarpuri regards the trend of Inter-Religious Marriages as an epidemic that has already enveloped metro cities and small towns in India and is now spreading towards villages, as village Muslim girls too are eloping with their Hindu boyfriends. He is extremely alarmed at the trend and seeks God’s blessings in warding off this "evil." New Age Islam is publishing his article in original Urdu along with a translation in English by Arman Neyazi.

The state does not interfere with the beliefs of its citizens and each individual is free to practise his/her faith. What the state has done, instead, is to ensure that no religious community is involved in politics. Politicisation of religion is considered the major threat to the Singapore model of religious pluralism. The state monitors and regulates religious freedom on the realistic assumption that religious harmony cannot be taken for granted. It has to be maintained through a diverse range of government inputs including pre-emptive measures to see to it that social cohesion and harmony are not jeopardised. -- Ishtiaq Ahmed

The thrust of Tariq Ramadan’s presentation was a plea for rethinking fundamental categories in both secular as well as Muslim/Islamic thought. Dwelling on the latter, he argued that ‘reform’ (for which he used the terms islah and ihya) in Muslim/Islamic thought on the question of the religious ‘other’ is an indispensable necessity, although many might balk at this. While the Islamic texts could not be changed or ‘reformed’, what could, he said, were our understandings of them on certain matters. This is because religious understandings are a human product and so can change in response to changing social and historical contexts. Religious traditions, he noted, are a ‘moving reality’ and one’s understanding of one’s tradition is—or should be—also dynamic and open to being transformed with shifts in time and context. -- Yoginder Sikand

Kashmir: Kashmiriyat vs. Islamic Fanaticism
Sultan Shahin, Editor, New Age Islam
Kashmir: Kashmiriyat vs. Islamic Fanaticism
Sultan Shahin, Editor, New Age Islam

… Hailing from this background, as Jammu and Kashmiris do, it seems strange that Pakistan thinks it will succeed in foisting on them leaders like Syed Ali Shah Geelani of Jamaat-e-Islami through the terrorist instrument of Hizbul Mujaheden who says that all Muslims must strive for and live in an Islamic state alone. The octogenarian leader of Kashmir’s separatist movement says: Our goal is azadi baraa-e-Islam (freedom for Islam).  Indeed in Geelani's perverse mind, Muslims can only live in an Islamic state. "It's as difficult for a Muslim to live in a non-Muslim society as it is for a fish to live in a desert," he wrote some time ago in his prison memoir Rudad-e-Qaf, thus stirring up a debate on Islam’s compatibility with other faiths.

There are hundreds of millions of Muslims living in non-Muslim majority countries, in peace and prosperity. But Kashmiri leader’s words can only give solace to those in many of these countries who are seeking to foment Islamophobia.  Clearly if Muslims cannot co-exist with people of other faiths, then they would want to convert others to their faith or create trouble in some other way. This is clearly absurd and Muslims have no problem co-existing in multi-religious, plural societies. But Pakistan is prepared to go to any extent to extend its borders on either side. It is prepared to have and indeed succeeded for a time in having a Talibani state in its west to give itself what it called strategic depth. It also sees no harm in seeking to create another Talibani society on its east, and hope to control it in some way.

Of course, it doesn’t matter to the strategists in Rawalpindi’s military headquarters what the impact of its support to Talibanism will be on the Muslim world at large or on Kashmiris. It says it supports self-determination for Kashmir. But what about self determination for the Kashmiris under its own occupation ? Or the Baluchis or Pashtoons or Sindhis, for that matter, who all deserve self-determination?

Obviously Pakistan is hardly interested in self-determination for Kashmiris or any other people. This morally bankrupt state is playing another and a very dangerous game. …

Let us hope that at least now the international community comes to realise that rather than helping it in the war on terror, Pakistan’s real agenda is to create Islamist radical states on both its eastern and western flanks. Let us beware that this policy of encouraging Islamic radicalism and exclusivism is also fuelling Islamophobia around the world.  As for Kashmiris, it wold be best for them to focus again on their Kashmiriyat, the gift of Sufis and Rishis, the mystics of the land. Kashmir is too diverse, too multicultural, a land, to imagine turning into a Talibanised state. Clearly Kashmiri people on the Indian side of the Line of control have by and large realised this already and turned away from Pakistan-inspired secessionism and Islamic fanaticism. In the last several elections at both state and central level, they participated enthusiastically and have had their own freely elected governments in the state ad representatives in the central cabinet as well. It is this trend that has probably unnerved Pakistani military strategists into restarting support for cross border terrorism after a brief lull. But hey are apparently finding it very difficult now that Kashmiris have had a taste of what lies on the other side of the border. -- Sultan Shahin, editor, New Age Islam, speaking in Geneva at a seminar on self-determination issues in South Asia, in side-event organized by Inter-Faith International during UN Human Rights Council’s June 2010 session.

Examples of the misused Qur'anic verses include, for example: "Let not the Believers take for allies or helpers Unbelievers rather than Believers" (3:28) and "O ye who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians for your allies. They are but allies to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them [for alliance] is of them" (5:51).These verses should be seen as providing the necessary support for the survival and cohesion of an early vulnerable community of Muslims–the Prophet Muhammad and his followers who arrived as refugees in Medina–in a potentially hostile environment. In other words, the Qur'an was advising a particular community of Muslims in 7th century Arabia to be wary of entering blindly into political alliances. And indeed they were betrayed at that time by some of their Jewish allies. In fact, these verses were revealed in particular because some Muslims, for personal gain, were keen to establish or keep alliances with non-Muslims at the expense of their co-religionists and the newly formed state. These verses therefore were instructing these early Muslims to be self-reliant and to not depend upon others' protection in order to establish a strong, lasting community. -- Maher Y. Abu-Munshar

He added, “It symbolises communal harmony and brotherhood which are the hallmark of the glorious pluralistic ethos of Kashmir.” The chief minister, while reiterating Kashmir was incomplete without pandits, said a multifaceted programme for their return is already in place and that the government has introduced new initiatives to facilitate their return which include earmarking of posts in the government departments and construction of transit accommodation in the towns of Budgam, Mattan and other places. -- Yusuf Jameel

Had Islam not been central to the creation of Pakistan, Zaid Hamid and Hamid Gul would not have been able to invoke it for garnering support for a Muslim caliphate and they would not have been the darlings of our middle and upper class educated youth, we would not have had the Objectives Resolution as a guiding principle of our constitutions, Ziaul Haq would never have been able to pass retrogressive laws against women and minorities, our intelligence agencies and army would not have been suspected of links with the various jaishes and lashkars — not to speak of their well-documented grooming of the Taliban, our public schools would not have been a tool of retrogressive propaganda and we would not have had tens of thousands of religious seminaries, many of which produce violent jihadists. -- Ilyas Akbar Khan

 

As against power, the Sufis for ages carried on a dialogue with the people of other religious groups, with Jews, Christians, and Hindus in India. While kings and sultans grabbed power causing so much bloodshed, the Sufis followed the Islamic civilisation’s values and pursued the unity of people — Muslims as well as non-Muslims. Ibn Arabi even went to the extent of saying “My Sharia and din is love”.

The Quran also lays emphasis on pluralism. According to the Quran, Allah could have created one people but He created diversity and plurality so that He can test us and it is better to cooperate with each other in good deeds (5:48). Thus, rather than fighting, one should cooperate for good deeds the basis on which all civilisations are built. -- Asghar Ali Engineer

 

On the front page of Syed Shahabuddin’s weekly The Milli Gazette there was a news item written by its editor Zafarul Islam Khan which I felt should have made headline news of every national daily in all our languages and the top news item of our TV channels. I did not see it appear in any other journal and felt saddened that our media had failed to perform its duty. The article was headlined ‘Sikhs rebuild mosque demolished in 1947’. I give a short summary of its contents. There is a village called Sarwarpur around ten kilometres from Samrala town in Punjab. It had a sizeable Muslim population and a mosque with a dome and minarets. In the communal civil strife which accompanied the partition of Punjab in August 1947 most of the Muslim population fled to Pakistan and the mosque was demolished by rampaging mobs of Hindus and Sikhs. -- Khushwant Singh

The earliest usage of the term dhimma is in the Constitution of Medina. Dating from around 622 CE, it regulates the status of the Jewish clans of Medina (in modern Saudi Arabia) after its conquest by the Prophet Muhammad and states that “The dhimma [the pact guaranteeing security and protection] of God is one”. This implies that all the people of Medina - Jews and Muslims alike - were protected by the new Muslim rulers of the city. The document also acknowledges that Jews and Muslims each have their own religion.

On the whole, the document regulates the status of non-Muslims quite vaguely but in a spirit of equality. As such, it echoes the sura (chapters) in the Qur’an in which reference is made to the status of non-Muslims. These sura are also imprecise and general in formulation, though there is one sura which later became the basis for the legal regulation of the status of non-Muslims. According to sura 9:29, Muslims should fight the People of the Book until they willingly pay a special tax (jizya). -- Nushin Arbabzadah

 
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