Books and Documents

Islam and Pluralism

The discourse on religious pluralism and its political ramifications has roots in Islamic political and intellectual history and continues to be interpreted and re-evaluated today. For some, the core of this discourse lies in the definition of the "People of the Book", a Qur'anic term that refers to those to whom Muslims must extend full religious tolerance. Many Muslims assume it covers Christians and Jews only, as those were the People of the Book during the Prophet Muhammad's life in 7th century Arabia. However, as well-known South African Muslim scholar, Farid Esack, points out in his article, "Muslims Engaging the Other and the Humanum", throughout Islamic history the term was not defined in terms of who was considered a Person of the Book; rather, it defined how religious groups treated those in need. -- Asma T. Uddin

In a plural society, where people of different religions, ethnicities, language groups and cultures live together, every group must be given equal rights and the same opportunities to progress. This can only be ensured and sustained through continuous inter-community dialogue. In my view, the only way to prevent inter-cultural or inter-religious conflict, as well as to promote harmonious inter-community relations in a plural society and at the global level, is serious dialogue that aims at improving relations between different communities so that they jointly work for establishing peace. I believe that the first stage in inter-cultural dialogue is for members of different cultural communities to identify issues of common concern as well as common interest, particularly those problems that are a hurdle to better relations between various communities. The second step is to evolve means to address these issues through peaceful and sustained dialogue. But this must be carried out in a spirit of mutual respect, for no dialogue can succeed if it involves abusing or debasing the religious feelings and beliefs of other communities. -- Maulvi Syed Nikhat Husain Nadwi (Translated by Yoginder Sikand)

For the first time in 95 years, Armenians were permitted to celebrate a religious ceremony in the region – and they were not received by the Turks of Van with hostility, but rather with open arms. This event, however, does not mean that complete freedom of religion has been established over night in this country seeking membership in the EU. Yet, many are of the opinion that the religious service marks a break with the past and that there is no going back for Turkey. -- Susanne Güsten


Early on cracks developed between Black America and Muslim America, because of the attitudes of some people among us.  This has now become a gap, which is widening. Soon it will be unbridgeable. This is now being followed by the disillusionment of Muslims, who happen to be black. This is the biggest tragedy of our time. We are leaving a terrible legacy for the future generations. They will read the verse that we discussed before, then look out and see the reality in stark contrast to the fiction in their hands. For non-Muslims it will be a bonanza. With clear proof they will be able to point out the “the Grand Islamic Hypocrisy” which is unveiling in America. If we want to avoid this catastrophe, we have to act now. If we are able to stop this slide into ignominy and build the only real multiracial Islamic community in the world, we will have perfected the practice of the Message. We are standing at a crossroads. One road leads to disaster and the other to glory. Now, which one do we take? -- Waheeduddin Ahmed

This distrust of contemporary learning on the part of the madrasa community was sustained in the post1947 period when the predominant destination for Afghan students of religion switched from India to Pakistan. Travel to India became too complicated, with visa requirements and two borders to be negotiated. It was also comparatively expensive for Afghan religious students to travel to far-flung centres of Islamic learning in Deoband, Delhi and Lucknow. As relations between India and Pakistan deteriorated, travel to Deoband from Afghanistan became a distant dream. Religious students from Afghanistan had to do with the centres of learning in Pakistan: Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar, Akora Khattak, Multan.

But the politicisation of religion implicit in the establishment of a State in the name of Islam turned to radicalisation in the 80s when it suited various governments to promote jihadist ideologies among the border Pashtun tribes -aimed as this jihad was against the Soviet Union. Religious madrasas were not able to remain immune from this politicisation, followed by radicalisation. The world is still living with the consequences of this promotion of militancy and radicalism. -- John Butt

Photo: Beyond the scriptures: A madrasa in Jammu

Let us Focus on the Future
The Liberhan report may explain certain things but in the end it would not serve any purpose, as the wounds that have been healed, would freshen up. It is therefore advisable for the Muslim community not to make a big issue of it and disturb the hard earned unity and solidarity of the country.
There is no point in revisiting the past. The demolition of Babri Masjid, carnage of Gujarat, bomb blasts and other extremists activities are the things of the past. Muslims have to put all these events behind to look forward for future. The people of India have given a fresh mandate to the UPA govt rejecting altogether the communal elements, as they valued secularism as a cherished goal of the country.
Let all of us, belonging to Muslim community, join the rest of the population in extending our support for the govt to concentrate on development activities that would lead to economic recovery which is of greater importance in the life of our country men than holding who is guilty or not of the already demolished Babri Masjid. It would not help Muslims to resurrect the past. Let us bury it deep into history.
Let us all remember that we may not be saintly enough to forgive and forget our enemies, but for the sake of our own health, the betterment of our own lives, let us forgive and forget them. Muslims better remember this and march forward. -- A.M. Jamsheed Basha

Montreal: Buddhism and Islam are two religions we do not hear mentioned in one breath very often. So it was with great excitement that I went to attend the conference, Buddhism & Islam – Encounters, Histories, Dialogue and Representation held at McGill University, May 29 and 30, 2009. The conference indeed turned out to be eye-opening. …

This conference gave a much needed comparative religious perspective. More such efforts are needed to bring out the fact that most religious people when left to themselves are able to live together in a collaborative and cooperative way, enriching all the cultures and religions involved. This ‘cultural translation’ is an ongoing process, in spite of the hoopla surrounding fundamentalisms of all sorts today. - Juhi Shahin

There will always be theological differences between various faiths; differences that external players will always attempt to manipulate for broader purposes. However, in a politically volatile region such as the Middle East, it is essential to build better relations between two of the world's largest religious groups. It is also important that Muslim-Christian unity should not be at the expense of alienating other faith communities; their collective relations as people of faith should transcend the minutiae of theological differences.

Pope Benedict's symbolic gesture of visiting the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the positive reception he received there from the imam of the site must be reinforced with a specific renunciation of negative narratives on both sides. Both faith traditions share the blame for abusing historical incidents as a means of propagating a sense of alienation from each other. In an increasingly globalized world, we must strive to learn from history but not let the past hamper our progress toward mutually advantageous human relations. -- Saleem H. Ali and Hiba Zeino


Steeped in a volatile mix of anger and destitution, subject to being “suspect” for far too long, Indian Muslim communities are finally showing signs of fighting back against preconceived prejudices. When respected Ulema start to speak out about secular traditions and democratic structures, a strategic shift based on community feedback is apparent. Whether this wave of positivity will turn into a tsunami of inter-cultural bonding is yet to be assessed. - Aijaz Ilmi

Who is responsible for this growing ghettoisation of the Muslim population? Undoubtedly civil society is to blame. The Bhagalpur riots of 1989 were responsible for the migration of rural Muslims in north India and the demolition of the Babri masjid on December 6, 1992 and the resultant backlash all over the country were the last nail in the coffin of Hindu-Muslim neighbourhoods. In contrast, there are fewer incidents of non-Muslims, particularly Hindu families, living in Muslim-dominated areas that have faced a similar situation during communal riots.

The question to ask is: Does this represent the death of our hitherto composite culture, with its liberal, tolerant and understanding outlook? Or can we still do something to save it? What can be done to set the clock back and foster secularism? It will take a lot of courage and will to figure out the answers but that is the only way Indian democracy can survive. -- Ather Farouqui

…Jesus had a beard. The iconic prophets of the Old Testament certainly wore beards, … Not all prophets had beards; Solomon had one, but David seems to have shaved regularly.

There is nothing specifically religious about a beard in Judaism, Christianity or Islam. A beard is not a Quranic injunction, or a fundamental commandment of the faith. But some Muslims wear it out of admiration for, and in imitation of, their prophet, whom they adore as the true exemplar of humanity. There are those who keep it as a mark of identity, or even an assertion. ….

…the Virgin Mary, Jesus’ mother, would never have got admission in France’s state schools. There is no image, statue or painting, in which she does not have her head covered.

The judgement opens up an interesting can of minority rights. A large number of madarsas in West Bengal have Hindu students. Would the maulvis in the madarsas be within their rights to demand that every girl come in a veil and every boy wear a beard? Should they make it compulsory for non-Muslim students to fast during Ramadan? I would hope not. Hindu children in Muslim-run institutions come for an education in the three R’s, reading, writing and arithmetic, not in the fourth R, religion. Does the Supreme Court verdict mean that a Sikh child can be forced to shave if he joins a Catholic school?

--- MJ Akbar

I do think that autonomous schools should be allowed to set their own rules without the pressure of religious diktat. But I didn’t think the court should have equated the desire for a beard with the vile fundamentalism of the Taliban. That observation clearly stretched the point. Yet, scratch the surface of the subject and there are no easy answers. -- Barkha Dutt

Religious Freedom Is Indivisible: Muslims Should Seek it in Islamic Societies Too
Sultan Shahin, Editor, New Age Islam
Religious Freedom Is Indivisible: Muslims Should Seek it in Islamic Societies Too
Sultan Shahin, Editor, New Age Islam

The Swiss ban on minarets is having an echo in India. Abdul Sami Bubere of the Mumbai- based Sahyog Cultural Society is reported to have said: “The extremely provocative decision undermines the freedom of religion and principle of co- existence. The referendum is akin to tyranny of the majority. It will only encourage fundamentalism. The ban should be immediately lifted as it would serve the purpose of jihadis who misinterpret Islam.”

Though I won’t use such strong words, I fully agree with the sentiments and thoughts expressed in the above sentiment. The analysis that “it will only encourage fundamentalism” is also correct. It is actually happening. The fundamentalists are taking advantage of the situation created by the Swiss ban on minarets and the French ban on burqas (veils).  But then the question arises in my mind, how come we get agitated only when our own religious freedom is at stake in non-Muslim societies. We do not worry when Muslims themselves, not to speak of non-Muslims, are not allowed religious freedom in Islamic societies.

We were permitted to defend ourselves with arms (a form of Jihad, albeit a lesser form) because if we had not done so, people may not have been able to worship in temples, monasteries, churches, synagogues, etc., all those places of worship were God is remembered and God’s praises are sung.

Renowned Pakistani scholar Javed Ahmad Ghamidi writes: “The Qur’ān asserts that if the use of force would not have been allowed in such cases, the disruption and disorder caused by insurgent nations could have reached the extent that the places of worship – where the Almighty is kept in constant remembrance – would have become deserted and forsaken, not to mention the disruption of the society itself:

وَلَوْلَا دَفْعُ اللَّهِ النَّاسَ بَعْضَهُمْ بِبَعْضٍ لَهُدِّمَتْ صَوَامِعُ وَبِيَعٌ وَصَلَوَاتٌ وَمَسَاجِدُ يُذْكَرُ فِيهَا اسْمُ اللَّهِ كَثِيرًا (٤٠:٢٢)

And had it not been that Allah checks one set of people with another, the monasteries and churches, the synagogues and the mosques, in which His praise is abundantly celebrated would have been utterly destroyed. (22:40) ...

Not only that. We have scholars who claim that while non-Muslims have perfect freedom to practice their religion in an Islamic state, (though in practice they are not mostly allowed that freedom), Muslims do not have that freedom. Once born to a Muslim parent, you are doomed for ever to be a Muslim or else. Well, your throat will be slit, no less. Indeed, there are “revered” ulema (scholars of Islam) in various schools of thought who say that if someone is seen so much as not attending Friday prayers, his throat should be slit.

Sample the following:

Those who do not attend Friday prayers “should simply be killed. Slit their throats!”: Deoband  

“A person greatly admires Hazrat Maulana Rashid Gangohi, the outstanding scholar who was one of the founders of the Deoband madrasa. The gentleman to whom I refer is a kindly soul, who can be depended upon for help by others. However, when in the course of conversation I chanced to remark that the most basic virtue lay in kindness towards others, he contradicted me. Kindness, he contended, was reserved for “pious, practicing Muslims”. As for others, they should be given a chance to mend their ways, after which “they would be Wajibul Qatal (liable to be killed)”. Another person I chanced to meet — a finance man, no less — feels that people who do not attend Friday prayers “should simply be killed. Slit their throats!”

“Now, this kind of sanguinary verbal ferocity is very different from the traditions of quiet piety and gentle acceptance in which most Muslims were brought up.” -- Salman Tarik Kureshi


also, sample the following from a supposedly enlightened scholar of Islam:

“Freedom is a neutral word. Accordingly, affixing it with religion would mean a liberty of a  person either to have or not to have a religion, either to practice or not to practise, either to propagate or not to propagate, either to embrace or not to embrace, either to change or not change one’s own religion. If he decides to do so he has the freedom to do it without any interference of others. This is the meaning of freedom as it appeared in the above examples.

“Is a Muslim allowed to enjoy such freedom? As a matter of fact, under Shariah law, a Muslim is not free to do so, no matter whether he is under Muslim rule or non-Muslim rule except with dire necessity. In fact the meaning of Islam itself, that is submission and surrender to the will of Almighty Allah (swt), is inimical to the vague meaning of freedom (cf.hurriah) in its absolute sense. Thus, a Muslim cannot enjoy freedom in respect of articles of belief (Iman) and practicing of pillars of Islam, (arkan al Islam) and observance of codes of life, because, these are essential of keep him a believer and a Muslim. He may enjoy a guided freedom with regards to those matters that do not fall under the basic and obligatory tenets and pillars of region.” – Freedom Of Religion in Shariah by Dr. ABM Mahboobul Islam of the International Islamic University of Malaysia....

I hope Mr. Abdul Sami Bubere of the Mumbai- based Sahyog Cultural Society and other people who are bothered about the Swiss ban on minarets or the French ban on burqa or India’s Hindu Right demanding the abolition of Muslim Personal Law will also express their disgust, if they feel it, over the lack of religious freedoms to non-Muslims and more so Muslims in so-called Islamic societies. So-called Islamic scholars go to great lengths to prove that Quranic dictates like “La Ikraha fid Deen” (There can be no compulsion in religion) or Lakum Deenakum waleya Deen (For you your religion and for me mine) have no meaning and relevance for the Muslims today and should be banished from our consciousness. Shame on such scholars!!!

Until we start fighting for religious freedom in our own societies (of both Muslims and non-Muslims), our struggle for religious freedom in non-Muslim societies will be rightly treated as just an instance of Muslim hypocrisy. -- Sultan Shahin, Editor, New Age Islam

The terms Darul Amn and Darul Harb are neither found in the Quran nor are they authentic sayings of the Prophet. This artificial division was introduced by Muslim jurists decades after the death of the Prophet to identify nations that were hostile to Islam. Darul Harb thus refers to a “nation at war” with an Islamic state, and Darul Amn is that nation which, even while not being an Islamic state, allows Muslims the freedom to profess and practice their religion as a matter of right. This makes India Darul Amn without any doubt.

Unfortunately, some extremist theologians have exploited the concept of Darul Harb to refer to all states and countries that are not under Islamic rule though they may enjoy peaceful relations with the Muslims. This position, which has been one of the major causes of disunity between Muslims and non-Muslims, is not in consonance with the egalitarian ideology of the Quran and must rejected as a supremacist interpretation of Islam. ...

But in the case of the VHP it is its own guilt that makes it suspect the loyalty of the Muslims as a reaction to the communal hatred perpetrated by some Hindu extremist outfits. The truth is that Muslims have always considered themselves as equal citizens of India and therefore the question of designating their own country as hostile to them does not arise. On the contrary, it is the Hindutva groups who must prove their loyalty to our constitution by issuing a ‘fatwa’ that India is not for the Hindus alone.

The idea of Hindu Rashtra must be given up and Hindu institutions should condemn the anti-social activities of organisations such as the MNS, the Sri Ram Sene, the Abhinav Bharati and a host of others. -- A. Faizur Rahman

Islam teaches respect for all previous religions

A number of Indian Deobandi ulema (religious scholars) are determined to scale new heights of stupidity this week. They are baying for Maulana Mahmood Madani’s blood, prepared to pounce upon him as soon as he comes in their view and lynch him. They are encouraging a protest demonstration by the brainwashed students of Darul Uloom-e-Deoband against Maulana Madani. And all this because the learned scholar committed to fight Islamic terror said at the recent India Today Conclave 2009: “The Dalai Lama made some valuable suggestions in the first session. If we follow them, it will mean a solution to 90 per cent of our current problems.” 

This is being interpreted to mean that Maulana Madani has given primacy to Dalai Lama over our beloved Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), even though the Prophet was not at all in the picture and no comparison was being made. The Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader was saying essentially the same things that the Prophet would have been saying had he been alive today to provide us guidance in person. His Holiness the Dalai Lama was saying the same thing that our Holy Book the Quran teaches us. In any case our belief is, or should be; at least, that his religion, Budhism, is a previous version of Islam, so there should be no surprise in that either. It is being said that this leader of the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind has accepted the spiritual leadership of the Tibetan Buddhist leader and forsaken Islam. So the great sons and daughters of Indian Islam are asking him through banner headlines in Urdu newspapers that he should renew his Islamic vows, probably get a shuddhi done in the Islamic way, whatever that is, and become a Muslim again. Apparently he stands expelled from Islamic religion for praising a spiritual leader of another religious community.

Madrasas in Kerala do not churn out fatwa-hurling mullahs holding bone-chilling views on politics, women and non-Muslims -- Yoginder Sikand

While western-style secularism calls for a strict separation of state and church Indian secularism, some of whose features are anticipated in Akbar's liberal principle of Din-i-Ilahi, recognises the coexistence of many faiths and spiritualities.  -- A Times Of India editorial comment

We have room for all faiths at the Dargah in Ajmer Sharif, in Darbar Sahib (whose foundation stone was laid by Mian Mir) or San Thome. Fewer Pakistanis understand that it is easy or natural for an Indian to listen to Jafar Hussain Badayuni's rendering of Amir Khusro's `Bahut kathin hai dagar' or `Ek pita ekas ke hum baarek' by Bhai Maninder Singh and Bhai Jitender Singh or `Jai Madhav Madan Murari' by Jagjit Singh on any morning. In Pakistan today, we see images of mullahs leading a march to medievalism. In India, we see the young and exuberant marching into the 21st century. We are still behind the rest of the advanced world but are determined to catch up. Across the border, they wallow in a sense of victimhood, and blame everyone else for their plight. -- Vikram Sood

POINT: The Miserable End of Jews – the Followers of Falsehood will suffer humiliating Torment and Perish. Jews are an accursed community and Muslims have to fight them till the end - An essay by A’bdullah U’smani in the light of Qur’an and Sunnah in the Urdu Daily Sahafat, Delhi

Translated from Urdu by Syed Raihan Ahmad Nezami

(Can one really fault the world, with these kinds of views expressed in mainstream Muslim Press and no protests against them, for thinking that the entire Muslim community is potentially a community of terrorists? -- Editor.) 

Counterpoint: Why Muslims Are Powerless? A compilation of statistics showing the brilliant success Jews have acquired in almost every field of human endeavour (apparently by the grace of God, Editor) -- Dr Shabbir Ahmed

Muslims forbidden from participating in Valentine’s Day celebration

No love lost: Religious police see red _ or not _ as Valentine's ban

takes over Saudi Arabia by DONNA ABU

On Valentine’s Day by Fouzia Khan

Presented here is an evolving proposal/plan to amicably resolve the Ram Mandir/Babri mosque issue that has continued to ignite communal passions in India for so long. Currently, a bulk of this plan is from the point of view of the Indian Muslims, though it may not be agreeable to all Muslims. Our basic proposal is that the Indian Muslims should withdraw their claim on the Babri Masjid land on certain conditions that ensure safety of further monuments, and peace in this country.

The broader roots of the eruption of protest in China's far-west region of Xinjiang lie in the experience of the Uighur people under Beijing’s rule, says Yitzhak Shichor.


New Delhi must not view the elections as signalling a return to “business-as-usual” in the politics of the State. -- Amitabh Mattoo

Time to give J&K its promised autonomy -- Govind Talwalkar


This book (Ms. Saral Jhingran’s systematic study of madrasas system in a historical perspective) will greatly help in dispelling many misunderstandings prevalent among non-Muslims and to an extent among Muslims themselves. The critique developed by her invites orthodox Muslims to reflect seriously as to what modern madrasas should be like. Many Muslim modernists have also developed such critique. This book on the whole will be quite useful for scholars as well as for lay people.

 Her fear about madrasa system seems to be that it creates sense of separate identity among Muslim children. While this criticism may be valid from her point of view question is in a diverse and now polarized society like India can we avoid such separate sense of identity? Our whole political system is thriving on religious, caste, ethnic and linguistic identities and sub-identities. Though there is nothing wrong with separate identities what is wrong is its politicization. -- Asghar Ali Engineer

When clerics in Malaysia banned Muslims from practising yoga, they started a heated debate in the Islamic world. But Islamic scholars in India, including those at the Darul Uloom Deoband, say they do not find anything objectionable in Muslims practising yoga. Chanting mantras like Om that have religious connotation, they add, is not necessary for yoga and Muslims can replace them with verses from the Quran or references to Allah.

“Yoga is a good form of exercise. If some words, which are supposed to be chanted while performing it, have religious connotations, then Muslims need not utter those. They can instead recite verses from the Quran or praise Allah or remain silent,” Maulana Abdul Khaliq Madrasi, deputy vice-chancellor of the Darul Uloom, told The Indian Express.

Ever since I read about some Mullahs asking Muslims in India and Malaysia to stay away from yoga camps, I was wondering what could be so threatening about Yoga. Is our faith so brittle that we would cease to remain Muslim if we just learn to do yogic exercises, now recommended by doctors, particularly cardiologists and surgeons after heart by-pass surgery or to those with high blood pressure? In fact Yoga is useful to patients of an assortment of illnesses, and also as a preventive health-care technique. If practised regularly yogic meditational techniques can lead to beautiful and extremely rewarding spiritual experiences too.

Now the cat is out of the bag. Maulana Nadeem-ul-Wajidee tells us: “Muslims must abstain from Yoga Camps as the Faith cannot be endangered for the sake of physical fitness. After all, the protection of Faith is more important than the health and physical beauty.”

Now how does our faith get endangered by Yoga? Well, the yoga teacher makes us occasionally chant “Om” and at least one teacher sometimes recites verses from Islam’s earliest scriptures, the Vedas.

I have no cure, at least in the short run for our Mullah’s cave mentality, their deep-seated prejudices, amounting to hatred of Islam’s earlier scriptures. If Allah and the Holy Quran cannot make them respect His earlier prophets and their revealed books, despites repeatedly, scores of time, instructing them to do so, who am I to presume these people can be cured of their cave mentality. But learning Yoga may be an urgent requirement for some Muslims. So some of us could learn it from Nastik Hindu teachers and then ourselves teach it to our people. Having leant Yoga after my surgeon’s advice following a heart by-pass surgery, I can assure you that chanting Om is not at all necessary. You may do yoga without a chant altogether or you may supplant it with the word Allah or Allahu or whatever and it would work equally well. Reading from religious scriptures is not at all necessary, but if you wish you can very well read verses from the Holy Quran while teaching Yoga. Islamise Yoga, if you have to, but learn it, practise it and teach it to fellow Muslims, and of course, to fellow human beings. -- Sultan Shahin, Editor, NewAgeIslam.com

2 Bengal madrasas turn a chapter, more Hindus than Muslims on rolls
Arshad Alam, New Age Islam
2 Bengal madrasas turn a chapter, more Hindus than Muslims on rolls
Arshad Alam, New Age Islam

Kolkata: Madrasas across the country may be under the scanner for imparting Islamic fundamentalist teachings and accused of being factories of narrow orthodoxy, but in West Bengal, there are at least two where Hindu students outnumber Muslims. Located about 110 km from Kolkata, the Orgram Chatuspalli High Madrasa in Burdwan district and Kasba MM High Madrasa in Uttar Dinajpur district are known for their academic excellence and secular credentials. While at Orgram, 64 per cent — 555 of the 883 students — are Hindus, at Kasba, 647 of 1,069 students, or 60 per cent, are Hindus. -- Shiv Sahay Singh


There are some pre-requisites for the policy of equivalence to succeed. First of all there has to be an all India madrasa Board. All madrasas, including the independent ones, have to be compulsorily part of this board. This Board should adopt a common curriculum for all madrasas, which would include modern subjects and English. Sufficient numbers of trained teachers for this purpose should be provided for the Board. -- Arshad Alam

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