Books and Documents

Islamic Society

Killing somebody, it seems, is like taking a walk in the park in Pakistan. The casual execution of Sarfaraz Shah by the paramilitary Rangers in Karachi last week has shaken a nation used to the daily drill of drone strikes and suicide bombings. The 19-year old was nervously walking up and down trying to assure the Rangers of his innocence when he was shot point blank – without a warning and without batting an eyelid. Just like that. Coldblooded, mater-of-fact and absolutely chilling, the Rangers’ action, captured by an unobtrusive television camera, has set the cyberspace on fire. It probably needs an Arab spring to clean out the dirt, cobwebs and skeletons accumulated over the past six decades. -- Aijaz Zaka Syed

Crises are to Pakistan as holes are to a net; it is sometimes difficult to see where the crises end and the country begin. But we putter along. The government has not yet fallen, India has not yet declared war, nuclear weapons have not fallen into the hands of terrorists, our food and power sources have not yet petered out. But we face another crisis, which will slowly but surely wear us down. A crisis of disengagement. What do these people want? What do they think? What drives them? What angers them? What inspires them? Who knows? Who cares? Nobody’s asking. -- Zaair Hussain

Violence is a male issue. That males are more likely than females to perpetrate violence is a well-documented fact. What is far less noted is that males are also more likely to be the victims of violence. While women and children are most at risk in the home, males are more at risk in the workplace and in public. Males are more likely to experience physical bullying at school; work in a job that maims and kills; get involved in fights or be shot on the street; be in a mosque when it goes up in flames. And yet, how often do you hear this? Take the reporting of deaths in blasts in Pakistan — “12 people killed in blast, including 2 women and a child”. Can I assume then that nine men died? And why not say so? Violence begets violence. On the whole, we leave our males to deal with violence from a young age with little support or acknowledgment of that burden, relying almost entirely on the quality of parenting. -- Caitlin Malik


If women's liberation in Britain is brazenly expressed by marching the SlutWalk, the rage in Malaysia is to sign up for the Obedient Wives Club. Established this month, the club already has 800 members. The founders of Malaysia's latest Islamic grassroots movement would surely chastise the SlutWalk on a rationale that goes something like this: had western societies acknowledged that man is hardwired for sex and endorsed polygamy, there could have been happy endings galore. Bill Clinton's term as US president would not have been scandalous had Hillary allowed her husband to take Monica Lewinsky as his second wife. -- Nazry Bahrawi

The Urduwallahs
Supriya Nair

..Muslims realized that a lack of education robbed them of identity, equality, opportunity,”….  A bond to its people does not express itself so freely in every language. To the Urdu community, the fight to bring “identity, equality and opportunity” to Muslims is still on. The spirit is preserved in a famous sher by satirist Allama Akbar Allahabadi: “Kheechon na kamaan ko, talwar nikaalo/Agar top mukaabil ho, toh akhbaar nikaalo.” (Don’t draw the bow, bring out a sword; When faced with the gun, bring out a newspaper). It is a verse many of Mumbai’s readers know well. It has appeared, for the last 50 years, on the masthead of Bal Thackeray’s Marathi weekly Marmik. -- Supriya Nair


The custodians of false idols arrested him and sentenced him to death. Socrates drank the cup of poison smilingly. But his ideas are still alive and flourishing. Mansur Hallaj, a great Persian mystic and writer of Kitab-al-Tawasin, created a storm of criticism by uttering Anâ l-haqq (I am the Truth). The custodians of religion and the ruling class rose against him. He was publicly executed. They cut him into pieces and then they burnt his remains. But his ideas could not be burnt. They are still alive in the form of Wahdat-al-Wajood in Islamic mysticism. Spinoza, a great philosopher of the 17th century, was excommunicated by the Jews due to his rationalism and anti-Jewish ideas. He lived alone with his philosophical ideas like a saint and died in solitude like a convicted felon. Today, he is considered one of the greatest rationalists of the 17th century who laid the ground for the enlightenment movement. -- Faheem Amir

Clearly people aren't ready to accept that Muslim children can also be sincere. I think it's commendable that Hassan doesn't spend all his time in front of the television, but that he concerns himself with life's big questions. The book portrays members of a functioning family who talk to each other and who are also affectionate with one another now and again. It's not my aim to publish books that appear to be a dry attempt to be informative. For me it's about children approaching questions in a playful manner. -- Ahmad Milad Karimi in an interview with Caludia Mende

Yes, Yemen is corrupt, just like all of its neighbouring countries. And the corruption ends up hindering every independent initiative and attempts at renewal. There is always someone with an outstretched hand claiming to be responsible. It is also true that Yeminis, at least those employed by the state apparatus, which nonetheless make up about half the population, are paranoid. They hold their positions, not because they are particularly qualified for the office, but rather because they have connections or bribed their superiors. Yemen's patriarchal society has hampered social and political development for centuries,… - Michael Roes


Narang is severe when asked about the great language paradox Urdu couplets are quoted by everyone,including politicians,but almost no one is prepared to champion it otherwise.Is Urdu being punished for its apparent association with the Muslim community Narang says,If Urdu is the language of the Muslims,then how come non-Muslim writer-poets like Gulzar,Pavan K Varma,Sheen Kaaf Nizam (Shiv Kumar ),Chandrabhan Khayal and Jayant Parmar are thriving. -- Mohammed Wajihuddin

Photo: Professor Gopi Chand Narang

History is, in essence, the story of the ascent of man. In this vast empire of ideas and advancement, the Islamic world has been left far behind. It has only itself to blame. In the Middle Ages, Europe persecuted men of science and learning but later made amends. On May 9, 1983, Pope John Paul II regretted the persecution of men such as Galileo, stating “It is through research that men attain to truth.” There has been no such realisation among Muslim countries, as is evident from the way they have treated some of their Nobel laureates. -- S Iftikhar Murshed

How long will terrorists and rapists be released simply because the prosecution system is weak? The provinces with the reversal of devolution have undone the prosecution reform started in 2002. We also need judicial reforms in lower and superior courts of Pakistan — way beyond the goals of the national judicial policy of 2009. Let Mukhtaran Mai’s defeat become an opportunity for mobilising for reform. Mai: We are ashamed, but will not give up. -- Raza Rumi  

Photo: Mukhtaran Mai

I think it is crucial to read into the silence of the ‘Muslim' community on this issue in the period 1988 (the constitution of the Jamia Act) to 1997 (when the aforementioned resolution was adopted). What was the discursive rupture that necessitated the emergence of this concern around the ‘minority character' in 1997? One tentative suggestion could be that this discourse was in 1997 a response to the Indra Sawney (Mandal Judgment) by the Supreme Court in 1993 which made it mandatory for the Central Government institutions to reserve 27% seats in public sector jobs for the OBCs (incidentally, in addition to Hindu lower castes, about 80 Muslim lower caste groups, constituting more than 80% of total Muslim population in India, are also included in the Central OBC list).-- Khalid Anis Ansari

Face-Veil Ban: Mixed Muslim Reactions
Yoginder Sikand, NewAgeIslam.com

Complicating the Muslim response to the face veil ban are multiple voices, each claiming to authoritatively speak for Islam, revealing that there simply is no consensus on what precisely is the single ‘authentic’ Islamic position on the matter. It is true that some Muslims insist that the face veil is mandatory when Muslim women step out into public space. That, for instance, would be the position of conservative and viscerally patriarchal mullahs, such as those affiliated to the Wahhabi, Ahl-e Hadith, and Deobandi schools of Sunni ‘Islamic’ thought. -- Yoginder Sikand, NewAgeIslam.com

Although the Muslims’ direction of prayers is the Kabah in Mecca, it is hard to take the holy land as an example of democracy and human rights. By contrast, whereas other Muslim countries, such as Turkey and Indonesia, have advanced in blending democracy, secularization, and local Islamic characters, the kingdom remains kingdom.

An ongoing wave of democratic protests in the Middle East has hit Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and Libya. The sacred land remains sacred. -- Al Makin


Aijaz Ilmi on Indian Muslim 'Leadership' and role of ulema in ghettoisation of Muslims
Q: To return to the question of the maulvis, it is argued that they are an impediment to the spread of modern education among Muslims. Do you agree?

 A: Yes, almost entirely. Many ulema, explicitly or otherwise, oppose the spread of modern ideas. They act as an impediment to the emergence of a progressive social consciousness.  They fear this will undermine their hegemony. They have never taken any interest in wider social, economic or governance issues, or in helping Muslims be part of the mainstream. Nor have they encouraged Muslims in that direction. On the contrary, they have only further contributed to the ghettoisation of the Muslims. So, I would say, the ulema are equally, if not more, responsible for Muslim backwardness as government apathy. The ulema have never mobilised the community for modern education or for economic empowerment. They take to the streets and whip up Muslim sentiments only on narrowly-conceived identity related issues. ...

A related issue is the mindset of the ulema class, which is definitely not conducive to coming to terms with the realities of modernity. By and large, theirs is a very ritualised understanding of, and approach to, Islam. What was a very simple religion has been projected as an enormously ritualised and complex one under the watchful eyes of the ulema. I refuse to buy the argument that we need a certificate of righteousness from the maulvis to be considered to be proper Muslims. For the maulvis to claim that they have the right to issue such certificates is to arrogate to themselves some of the authority of God, which is tantamount to the crime of shirk or associationism, a blatant violation of Islamic teachings. As a Muslim, I am answerable for my faith, beliefs and actions to God alone, and not to any maulvi. I do not need his approval at all. I refuse to pander to the maulvis, who self-righteously regard all others but followers of their own sect as kafirs. This narrow-mindedness of the maulvis is really troubling. It is also responsible for the backwardness of Muslims. When the maulvis of the different Muslim sects simply cannot dialogue, and when they brand each other as kafirs and apostates, how on earth are they going to be able to dialogue with non-Muslims? If the maulvi's intolerance rules out intra-Muslim dialogue, how can we have meaningful inter-faith dialogue? -- Aijaz Ilmi, Chairman, Board of Siyasat Jadid, Lucknow, talking to Yoginder Sikand for NewAgeIslam.com

Sixty-three years old and suffering from grave identity crisis. Sixty-three years old and still requiring hoards of people to continue knee-jerking their way across a number of hyperbolic patriotic clichés and chants. This is Pakistan...

This is a generation that was born and raised in the post-Cold War world. A world where Communism had been defeated and in which a mixture of consumerism and the resurgence of faith collaborated to turn everything, from entertainment to information to faith itself into an industry. An industry squarely catering to a highly depoliticised market of young people in a scenario where the state was eroding, where politicians had delegated much of their roles to multi-national corporations, to the NGOs and to a new set of preachers who had turned religion into a media-savvy enterprise. -- NADEEM F PARACHA

The New Arab Low
Muhammad Ali Siddiqui

As the Algerian war of independence gained momentum, there were military coups in a number of Arab countries, the bloodiest being in Baghdad where the Hashemite dynasty came to an end, King Feisal II and Crown Prince Abd al-Ilah being killed and Prime Minister Nuri Said lynched. Learning from the Iraqi trauma, most Arab countries either nationalised the oil industry or secured better terms. Nasser’s Cairo then became the headquarters for no less than a dozen African liberation movements, and then by aligning himself with such neutral greats as Soekarno, Nehru, Tito and Nkrumah, the Egyptian leader became an icon for the entire Afro-Asian world, and this won him categorical support from communists from China to Cuba. The 1967 war was a disaster from which Nasser never recovered, but that made no difference to the Arab world’s continued leadership of what would later be called the Third World. -- Muhammad Ali Siddiqui


When expelled Samajwadi Party leader Naseem Usmani argued that modern education had no place in Darul Uloom, he was roundly rebuffed by the rest: “Do you even know that ilm [knowledge] is the third most recurring word in the Koran? Find us the passage in the holy book that tells Muslims not to broaden their horizon.” I raised the Modi issue and was instantly put down: “We are not saying that Muslims should forgive Modi or forget 2002. But all of you in the secular media want the Gujarati Muslim never to get out of his grieving. Hindu or Muslim, the Gujarati is a businessperson, and that is what Vastanvi was trying to say.”The words stung but they were true. The Congress and the secular media wanted the Gujarati Muslim forever to fight Mr. Modi but neither was there to protect him. In any case, unbeknown to most of us, the debate seemed to have progressed beyond the rights and wrongs of supporting Mr. Modi. There are some student firebrands who make a lot of noise, but “most of us have tired of the jalsa-jaloos [procession-protest] politics of the Muslim leadership,” Mr. Shahnawaz said. He was awfully proud of his cousin Saba Karim, who was training to be a pilot in Patna — the first to do so in two decades. “There is no disputing that deeni taleem [religious education] is the foundation of Darul Uloom. But being computer illiterate or not knowing English is not the solution. Right now we cannot even fill up a form,” said the young man, who made a stunning parting remark: “Do you know the Islamic revelation started with the word, Iqra, which means to read?”Muslims have long given up on government. On the plus side, the terrorism label has started to come off, and the sense of siege over identity and security has given way to aspiration hopes and dreams. Naturally there is anger with the old Muslim leadership and its crass opportunistic politics. Time will tell whether Mr. Vastanvi is just another political player or a reformer. For now, an unlikely Mohtamim seems to have become a metaphor for change. -- Vidya Subrahmaniam


With a population of just over a million, the Dawoodi Bohras are ethnic Gujaratis, mostly small traders. Last month, when 3,000 Dawoodi Bohras gathered at Udaipur for their 14th world conference, the thrust was on galvanising the ongoing movement against what the organisers described as the draconian rule of their spiritual head or dai-e-mutlaq, Syedna Burhanuddin. The Dawoodis are one of the many branches of the Ismaili Shia sect. Throughout their history, the Ismailis have faced dissensions over succession to the post of Imam, whom they believe to be appointed by God as the Prophet’s deputy. The Dawoodis believe that their 21st Imam, Tayyeb, who resided in Yemen, went into seclusion, and that in his absence he had appointed a dai-e-mutlaq, a deputy with absolute powers over his followers, to control the community.-- Yoginder Sikand

The political survival of Muammar Qadhafi, Libya's strongman for 42 years, is under serious threat. Much of this has to do with the transformation of the opposition, now closing in on the capital Tripoli. It had started an unarmed campaign for change but, in the face of excessive State violence, has transformed itself dramatically into an armed revolutionary movement.

With the uprising raging, and eastern Libya already under opposition control, the regime's survival is now almost out of the equation. Mr. Qadhafi no longer has influential friends within and outside Libya who can bail him out. The question now is how will he go, and what will replace him? Will the regime collapse suddenly, the end brought about by a coup, or will it disappear after a brief civil war, when the debilitating ranks of Mr. Qadhafi's loyal forces, make their last stand to defend Tripoli? Alternatively, could there be an unlikely sting in the tail, which might reveal itself in a war of attrition, between Qadhafi-loyalists, whose numbers and commitment the world has underestimated, and the opposition forces, now rapidly advancing along Libya's eastern Mediterranean coastline towards Tripoli? -- Atul Aneja

In 1989 the collapse of the old order started in the ‘satellite’ countries, not in the Russian heart of the Soviet Empire, just as the current revolt against the Arab status quo began in Tunisia and is now inching towards the centre

It was the Egyptian Army’s statement that brought it all back: “To the great people of Egypt, your armed forces, acknowledging the legitimate rights of the people... have not and will not use force against the Egyptian people.” In other words, go ahead and overthrow President Hosni Mubarak. It’s all right with us.

The risks for the Arab world are comparable: Short-term economic decline, civil war, and the rise of new authoritarian regimes, probably fuelled by Islamist ideas. Nothing’s perfect. But what we are now witnessing in Tunisia and Egypt, and may also see elsewhere, is a great liberation not just from dictatorship, but from decades of corruption and despair. That’s worth a lot. -- Gwynne Dyer

The Future Of The Arab World
Asghar Ali Engineer

The developments in Tunisia and Egypt are indeed breath taking. No one expected such explosive developments in these countries so all of a sudden. But those who keep an eye on the ground situation may not be surprised. There are scholars and analysts who always debunked Islam as anti-democratic and supportive of dictatorial regimes whereas fact is that it is western regimes who supported dictators in the Islamic world for their own interests.

Nothing can hold back the surge of people in Middle East. Also time has come for Palestinians to liberate themselves. Israel is also shaking. Two events the Turkish Flotila which went to supply essential commodities to Gaza and on which Israel made crucial mistake to fire, and the Egyptian revolution have done for Palestinian cause what their fight could not do for decades. This also shows that peaceful methods of fighting can do in short time what violence cannot achieve even after decades. Bravo for peaceful and non-violent agitation. -- Asghar Ali Engineer

Pune Imam: Preaching to Papa
Mohammed Wajihuddin

A Unique project in Pune imparts secular English education to the children of Muslim religious leaders in the hope of changing the rigid mindsets of the imams

 "I carefully heard their Friday sermons. Invariably every imam spoke of real and imaginary injustices done to Muslims globally. The root of most of their anger and despair was their own deprivation," explains Inamdar whom many of the imams today understandably see as a messiah. Imams needed to be purged of this sense of persecution, he felt, and one way was to give them hope of a better future for their children. The project paid off. Today, even the ambience of the homes of the Pune imams, including the lives of their better halves, has changed remarkably. -- Mohammed Wajihuddin

The extent and the intensity of the protests in Egypt have surprised many people both in Egypt and abroad. Were the Egyptians not a peaceable, almost phlegmatic people, whose last great rebellion took place against the British in 1919? Considering the events of recent years and their consequences, the question must be as to why the powder keg did not ignite much earlier. Historic events are subject to contingency. The direct catalyst was certainly the Tunisian coup. Foundations were laid via online networks, primarily via Face book. Events then took on a momentum of their own – a momentum that was significantly boosted by media dissemination.

Considering the events of recent years and their consequences, the question must be as to why the powder keg did not ignite much earlier. -- Stefan Winkler


For some reason, which I cannot fathom, sections of Urdu Press seem to be sensationalising the ongoing student protest and succession dispute in the Dar-ul-Uloom, Deoband, and are fervently backing what appears to be a mounting wave of opposition to the newly-appointed rector of the institution, Ghulam Mohammad Vastanvi. Hamara Samaj and Daily Sahafat (published simultaneously from Lucknow, Mumbai and Delhi), in particular, continue to publish sensationalist and even possibly baseless allegations against Vastanvi, and continuously repeat with banner headlines on the front pages the claim, which Vastanvi has refuted, that he has praised Narendra Modi. The paper goes so far as to even suggest that Vastanvi is an ‘RSS agent’, without providing any substantial proof at all. Below I have summarized and translated some of the latest news about the ongoing tussle in Deoband, as reported in the 25th January issue of the Delhi edition of the Daily Sahafat. -- Yoginder Sikand, NewAgeIslam.com

Photo:  Ghulam Mohammad Vastanvi, newly-appointed rector of Dar-ul-Uloom, Deoband.

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