Books and Documents

The War Within Islam

While actors like the 7/7 bombers and Faisal Shahzad are an obvious embarrassment to Pakistan and to the Pakistani communities in the West, so are the growing number of rabid, tech-savvy young people floating around various interactive websites to mouth the most obnoxious ideas about Islam and politics. There are websites out there glorifying utter mad men and the most twisted conspiracy theories, and many of these are owned, run and frequented by Pakistanis who work and are comfortably settled in Western countries. --Nadeem F Paracha

TWO separate news items of interest to Muslims appeared in English newspapers on Wednesday, and were reproduced on NewAgeIslam.com as well. ‘Educate Muslim girls, urges latest fatwa’ was one, followed by

‘Two held for attack on Sunni cleric in Lucknow’. It turns out that the Sunni cleric who was attacked, Khalid Rasheed Firangi Mahali, is the same who issued the fatwa to educate Muslim girls. ...

One can only hope that this incident does not portend a larger trend. We have seen Muslims killing Muslims inside mosques in the name of Islam, in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq.  India has thankfully been spared—until now. It is up to us Indian Muslims to learn from the mistakes of our brethren elsewhere and make sure these horror stories don’t start haunting us now. -- New Age Islam News Bureau

Extremist clerics have misled Muslims by promoting bias against Muslim women with a consistency that is the prerogative of a closed mind. They have done their best to separate Muslims from modernity; now they want to divorce Muslims from the modern economy. This is a heinous travesty, since Islam rescued its first communities from the grip of jahiliya, or obscurantism.

Dramatic displays of silliness will, but naturally, provoke headlines, but they will not travel. No Muslim is going to resign from an insurance company, or surrender his or her LIC policy because of a marginal fatwa from Deoband. The faithful have more resilience than some of their self-appointed preachers believe. -- M J Akbar

Die Zeit: Where does this disease come from?

Abdelwahab Meddeb: If fanaticism was the disease of Catholicism and Nazism was the German disease, then fundamentalism is the disease of Islam. On the one hand, it is a way of fleeing the centuries-old inferiority to the West, but it is also a reaction to the failure of the West to acknowledge Islam as representing an inner otherness. But we should no longer react to these provocations by purely military means as in the failed war in Iraq. The real danger is not warlike Islam but authoritarian Islam which subjects day-to-day life in its entirety to religious practice.

Die Zeit: What was more provocative about the speech given by Pope Benedict XVI. – his criticism of the basis of the Islamic faith because it stands above all reason, or his raising of the question of violence? ...

Abdelwahab Meddeb: The Pope is right to suggest that in principle, all belief systems built on ultimate truths will produce fanaticism. But what the Pope says about the role of reason in Islam is totally at odds with historical reality. One only has to study the theologians who convincingly founded Islam on reason following debates on Christianity and Hellenism. Seeing as he is German, it's a mystery to me why the Pope is not familiar with the rich intellectual resources devoted to these very issues by Islamic studies in Germany. That said, the protesting Muslims don’t have the slightest interest in subtleties like the question of reason. They take to the street because of the Pope’s mention of the issue of violence, and they don’t even realise that these violent manifestations confirm what the Pope is saying. Well into the nineteenth century and in many cases until the end of the colonial period, the great Islamic reformers repeatedly managed to neutralise jihad. But after World War I, the Islamists rediscovered jihad as a driving force to restore the hegemony and sovereignty of Islam.

I sometimes wonder how religious scholars from other communities, such as Hindus Christians, Buddhists, and Sikhs, interact with the common folk among their co-religionists. Frankly, sometimes I really envy them. Non-Muslim women can freely ask questions to their priests, gurus and so on and discuss religious matters with them. I simply cannot, for the life of me, fathom why Muslim women cannot have a healthy and positive dialogue with the ulema. Is it because of some deep-rooted fear on both sides? Is it because of a totally unwarranted hierarchy that seems to prevail between the ulema and the common folk, paralleling that between medieval kings and their subjects? I don’t need to explain who the ‘kings’ and the ‘subjects’ here are, for surely you will understand.

 During my travels, if I do happen to visit an Islamic seminary I would be delighted to meet you and discuss all these issues. I promise to come properly dressed, and along with my mahram (my husband) Inshallah. But, for heaven’s sake, don’t whisk me off into the women’s quarters or banish me to a corner. And please do not claim that my voice, too, must be ‘veiled’—which is what some of you insist in the fatwas you have issued. I have experienced that enough, and, quite frankly, am not willing to take it any longer. My dialogue is with you. I am your sister after all, and when I die I know that for my maghfirat duas will be held in your madrasas for the peace of my soul. Till I live, please allow me to let my soul to talk freely with yours. -- Nigar Ataulla

For the first time in the six-decade-long resistance to Israeli occupation, the Palestinians are no longer sure who the enemy is. Adding to the confusion are the Jihadi Salafis.

The Hamas has brutally put down attempts by the Jihadi Salafi groups in Gaza to challenge its rule and lead the resistance into unchartered territory. But the larger implications of a possible descent into al-Qaeda style, uncontrollable violence does not bode well for the resistance. The fight against Israel and the demand for an independent Palestinian nation have supporters around the world. If the resistance falls into the hands of groups deriving inspiration from al-Qaeda, this support is likely to evaporate. And with that, the isolation of the Palestinians will be complete. -- K.S. Dakshina Murthy

In its beginnings, the Pakistan of Faisal Shahzad’s parents was animated by the modern ideals of its founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. In that vision, Pakistan was to be a state for the Muslims of the subcontinent, but not an Islamic state in the way it ordered its political and cultural life. The bureaucratic and military elites who dominated the state, and defined its culture, were a worldly breed. The British Raj had been their formative culture. But the world of Pakistan was recast in the 1980s under a zealous and stern military leader, Zia ul-Haq. Zia offered Pakistan Islamization and despotism. He had ridden the jihad in Afghanistan next door to supreme power; he brought the mullahs into the political world, and they, in turn, brought the militants with them.

This was the Pakistan in which young Faisal Shahzad was formed; the world of his parents was irretrievable. The maxim that Pakistan is governed by a trinity—Allah, Army, America—gives away this confusion: The young man who would do his best to secure an American education before succumbing to the call of the jihad is a man in the grip of a deep schizophrenia. The overcrowded cities of Islam—from Karachi and Casablanca to Cairo—and those cities in Europe and North America where the Islamic diaspora is now present in force have untold multitudes of men like Faisal Shahzad.

This is a long twilight war, the struggle against radical Islamism. We can’t wish it away. No strategy of winning “hearts and minds,” no great outreach, will bring this struggle to an end. America can’t conciliate these furies. These men of nowhere—Faisal Shahzad, Nidal Malik Hasan, the American-born renegade cleric Anwar Awlaki now holed up in Yemen and their likes—are a deadly breed of combatants in this new kind of war. Modernity both attracts and unsettles them. America is at once the object of their dreams and the scapegoat onto which they project their deepest malignancies. -- Fouad Ajami

Turkish officials have been reticent about the revision of the Hadith until now, aware of the controversy it is likely to cause among traditionalist Muslims, but they have spoken to the BBC about the project, and their ambitious aims for it.

The forensic examination of the Hadiths has taken place in Ankara University's School of Theology. An adviser to the project, Felix Koerner, says some of the sayings - also known individually as "hadiths" - can be shown to have been invented hundreds of years after the Prophet Muhammad died, to serve the purposes of contemporary society.

"Unfortunately you can even justify through alleged hadiths, the Muslim - or pseudo-Muslim - practice of female genital mutilation," he says. -- Amberin Zaman


The communal flare up that hit Bareilly – a sleepy city of Uttar Pradesh – on March 2, 2010 when Juloos-e-Muhammadi procession (a procession taken out to mark the birthday of Prophet Muhammad) turned violent after insisting on marching through a communally sensitive locality, which was followed by riots between Hindus and Muslims. Soon, the trouble escalated to other parts of the city due to which curfew was clamped. On March 8, Tauqir Raza Khan, son-in-law of Subhani Miyan and national president of a Muslim organization, Itihad-e-Millat Council (IMC), who was leading the Juloos-e-Muhammadi procession, was arrested from his office by police in connection with the rioting. The police booked Tauqeer Raza, who had been booked in the past under various sections of the IPC, including anti-national activities for his fiery speeches, for inciting people and plotting riots. -- M Shamsur Rabb Khan

Old Eskimos had a clever technique for hunting wolves. They would plant a bloody knife in the snow. Lured by the smell of blood, the wolves would approach the knife and lick the blade, cutting their tongues. Without realizing that they were drinkng their own blood, wolves would continue licking until they had bled to death.

Back in 1980s, Pakistan military adopted a doctrine of strategic depth. This doctrine is proving Eskimos' knife for Pakistan. The doctrine implies that Pakistan needs Afghanistan as backyard beyond India's reach. The Afghan-India nexus dominating military's mind is evident from a recent interaction General Kayani had with media recently. On February 1, he told foreign correspondents: ''“We want Afghanistan to be our strategic depth''. In two days time, he was telling Pakistani journalists:'' I am India-centric.''

It is in search of strategic depth that Pakistan military, post-September 11, has been hunting with the American-hound and running with Taliban-hare. Definitely not an easy position. That country's military establishment has not given up Jihadi assets is evident from media reports. -- Farooq Sulehria

Leading Islamophobes and Zionists have naturally welcomed Dr. Qadri’s one-dimensional fatwa, condemning suicide bombing and terrorism. There was hardly any reference to the context; the ongoing Anglo-US-Israeli terrorism over the last three decades that has resulted in occupation, theft of land and natural resources, and numerous massacres of innocent Muslims (Sabra and Shatila, Qana, Jenin, Lebanon, Gaza, Fallujah, Highway of Death going towards Basra, etc). Far from a fatwa, it looks like the typical spin of a nasty neo-conservative. If the subject of the fatwa is terrorism, then he should at least define this elusive term; according to Dr. Qadri, terrorism is targeting non-combatants, whereas ‘legitimate’ war mean targeting combatants. It is strange for man claiming to have scholarly credential, to come up with such a simplistic view of war and terrorism, which bears no relation to the real world. The methods of warfare have ‘evolved’ from the days of spears and swords, and with the use of explosives over populated cities, substantial ‘collateral’ damage is guaranteed; war means the mass killing of civilians. -- Yamin Zakaria

India’s Composite Culture: Emerging Threats
Sultan Shahin, Editor New Age Islam
India’s Composite Culture: Emerging Threats
Sultan Shahin, Editor New Age Islam

What Muslims Need To Do To Neutralise Them

... Mainstream Islam is still mainstream. These exclusivist and warring sections are still small, though with the infusion of massive money power they have grown quite aggressive lately.

But if we want to contribute to the safeguarding of India’s composite culture, we will have to take the bull by its horns. Time for dilly-dallying is long past. We will have to go back to our roots, our Quranic roots, our philosophical roots, our greatest saints and their teachings.

WE will have to once again inculcate the broadmindedness of our saints, the generosity and forgiveness, the attitude of gratitude that was the hallmark of our prophet. It has now become a question of safeguarding not only our religion and our composite culture but also our children, our youth from being whisked away to Jihadi camps and active and sleeper cells. The very least we can do to safeguard our own youth as much as India’s composite culture is to explain the following to our community loudly and repeatedly:

1. That we are not a chosen people; Islam-supremacism is nonsense and that the ummah of all prophets are equal in the eyes of God who will judge them according to their own faith, not ours. It is nonsense to believe that only Muslims will go to Heaven.

2. That the Holy Quran is not a book that was revealed in one sitting. The war verses in the Quran were meant for wars being fought then and do not apply to situations today. These verses were revealed to the prophet as guidance for the situations he found himself in. As those situations cannot be replicated today, that particular course of action is no longer applicable to us. This is important to defeat the Jihadis who are using these verses as weapons of war to brainwash our youth and turn them into human bombs.

3. That Islam is not the exclusivist religion that the Petrodollar Islam is preaching. It is a religion of co-existence encapsulated in the verse lakum deenakum waleya deen (For you be your religion and for me mine). It is also the religion of La Ikraha fid Deen (There can be no compulsion in religion.)

4. That the Sufi saints who brought Islam to this sub-continent and to the entire South-East Asia are not, God forbid, religious deviants as Petrodollar Islam proclaims them to be. It is because of them that we are Muslim today. It is they who gave us access to the teachings of Islam. It is not wrong for Muslims to show reverence to them along with people belonging to other communities.

5. That Islam itself teaches us Ijtihad, rethinking, so that we can adjust to the newer realities of changing times. We have to rethink every postulate of Islam in the light of today’s realities.

6. That religious freedom is indivisible. If we as a minority community need freedom, it becomes our duty to also fight for the religious freedom of minorities in Muslim lands, particularly in the Indian sub-continent. It is shameful that when two Sikhs were recently beheaded in Peshawar, reportedly for refusing to convert to Islam under compulsion, our ulema remained completely silent. We have been completely unmindful of the plight of religious minorities in both Pakistan and Bangladesh while enjoying full citizenship rights in our country. This must change.

Let us pray that Maulana Abul Kalam Azad’s doctrine of Wahdat-e-Deen once again gains converts. Let us try to flesh out and translate into reality Swami Vivekamad’s vision quoted before: “I see in my mind’s eye the future perfect India rising out of this chaos and strife, glorious and invincible, with Vedanta brain and Islam body.” In order to be ready to become a part of the Vivekanad project, however, the Islam body will have to rid itself of the many viruses it is harbouring in its system today. -- Sultan Shahin

Why Should Any Muslim Object To Pranab Mukherjee Attending An Ahmadiya Convention?
Sultan Shahin, Editor, New Age Islam
Why Should Any Muslim Object To Pranab Mukherjee Attending An Ahmadiya Convention?
Sultan Shahin, Editor, New Age Islam

New Age Islam has received a press release from some organisation called Shariath Protection Council based in Chennai that says, inter alia: ... “But if the Hon’ble Minister (the Union Finance Minister, Shri Pranab Mukherjee) intends to interact with Qadianis, taking them to be Muslims, then it is incumbent on the Council to correct his wrong assumption and to make known that, his participation in the said Convention, despite their protests, will wound the sentiments of Muslims, as a result of which Muslims will cease to take his Party as their ally.”

I would have thought that we Indian Muslims are not Pakistanis and that we have not declared Ahmadis non-Muslim. In our view anyone is a Muslim who says la ilaha illallah Muhammadur rasoolullah (There is no god other than the one God and Muhammad is his prophet) and Ahmadis do that. Indeed, I had the personal experience of seeing their love for Prophet Mohammad and belief in his finality as a law-bearing prophet when I spent a few years in Suriname, South America where the majority of Muslims are Ahmadis. They differentiate between law-bearing prophets and people who are renewers of Islam (mujaddedeen) coming every new century or so and who are inspired by God to say things that they didn’t know they had in themselves.

Yes, some Ahmadis do call Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani Saheb a prophet, albeit a non-law-bearing prophet below the status of law-bearing prophets like Muhammad, Jesus, Moses, Buddha, Ram or Krishna, etc. We have our differences with them and of course, the majority of mainstream Muslims do not agree with them. Indeed many Ahmadis, the so-called Lahori group of Ahmadis, led by as great a scholar of Islam as Maulana Mohammad Ali, too do not agree with them and merely consider Mirza Saheb a mujaddid (renewer of Islam). Indeed if we go by the logic of Ahmadis we would have to consider not only Mirza Saheb but also people like Ghalib, Iqbal, Shakespeare, Keats, Einstein, etc. as prophets. These people were indubitably inspired to say things that they did not know the source of. They only knew that they did not know the things they said in a clearly altered state of mind – in some cases like that of Ghalib, for instance, an altered state of mind produced by the influence of liquor. Similarly, some of them consider Mirza Saheb a reincarnation of Jesus Christ who is supposed to come back at the end of history. I am sure many Qadianis themselves consider this rather absurd.

Yet, come to think of it, the difference is minor and more terminological. With Lahori group of Ahmadis, of course, there should be no difference at all. There have been several mujaddids in Islam and all of us do not have to go by their interpretations. We can just ignore them. After all, the main source of Islam is the Holy Quran and all Muslim sects abide by that, though there may be differences in interpretations. The difference with Ahmadis has turned into a deep and seemingly unbridgeable chasm. It happened like this. The Mullahs who had opposed the creation of Pakistan wanted a place for themselves in the politics of Pakistan once it got created. They latched on to the issue of a section of Ahmadis considering Mirza Saheb a prophet of sorts for the revival of their own political fortunes. They started riots against Ahmadis. The political leaders of so-called moderate, mainstream Muslims did not have the gumption to oppose their murderous activities. And finally decades later an ‘enlightened’ Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the then Prime Minister, succumbed to fundamentalist pressure and in the hope of gaining some political mileage with the ‘Islamist” marauders, at a very difficult time when he was engaged in a battle for political survival, declared the group non-Muslim. But it is important to remember that before Bhutto, who was executed by Islamists for being a murderer declared them non-Muslim under their pressure, the Ahmadis were a bona fide group of Muslims even in Pakistan, as, of course, they are in other parts of the world.

I have always thought that we Indian Muslims, benefiting as we do from the composite spiritual ambience of multi-religious, multi-cultural India, are a different breed of Muslims than our brothers who have the misfortune to live in ‘Islamist’ Pakistan. But then come along statements like the one quoted above and it becomes clear that there are some among us who would have preferred to live in the spiritual disaster that is called Pakistan. They too would have probably liked to blow themselves up for the sake of bombing other Muslims praying in mosques around the country on account of minor ideological differences.

That a top leader of the Congress party is attending an Ahmadi convention is good news. We mainstream Muslims, both Sunnis and Shias have ideological differences not only with Ahmadis but also with every other Muslim. Every Muslim Mullah considers every Muslims other than his own followers a Kafir. Kafir-manufacturing factories are the most productive in the Muslim world. Indeed Muslims do not have any other manufacture worth the name. No two Mullahs agree on the definition of a Muslim. Ask Justice Munir of Pakistan who investigated the bloody anti-Ahmadia riots in Pakistan of the 1950s:

Backgrounder: The Mullah and the Munir Report




For Deobandis and other Wahhabis even a Muslim who doesn’t show up for a Friday prayer should have his throat slit. Should non-Muslim Indian politicians then stop meeting Muslims who do not go for Friday prayers?

Why should this sickness of the Muslim community stop a non-Muslim political leader interact with Muslims whose views on the issues of the moment are most logical, suited to the times and in harmony with the spirit of Islam, even if we have some theological differences with them? Mirza Saheb interpreted Islam a century ago. Our Mullahs go by the interpretation given several hundred years ago or even a thousand years ago or more. Why should some of us threaten Pranab Mukherjee with the entire Muslim community not taking “his party as an ally” after this? This is totally absurd and irresponsible. What is this Shariath Protection Council that is bent upon the destruction of our syncretic Islam here in India? Or how representative of the Muslim community is Majlis-e-Ahrar-e-Islam of Punjab, that I understand, is also running a campaign against Mr. Mukherjee’s visit? Who are the people behind this? What gives them the right to speak on behalf of the entire Indian Muslim community?

Sultan Shahin, Editor, New Age Islam

Iran poses an existential threat, not because it still projects itself as a revolutionary state but simply by what it is, the assets it can bring to bear and the intrinsic challenge it poses. But equally existential is the fact that Wahhabism is likely to increasingly become a domestic and external liability for the Al Sauds. Their future is clouded in uncertainty, no more so if and when they lose Wahhabism as the basis for the legitimacy of their absolute rule.

Jamiat-ul-Ulema Knows It Cannot Push Muslim Women Back Into Burqas
Sultan Shahin, Editor, New Age Islam
Jamiat-ul-Ulema Knows It Cannot Push Muslim Women Back Into Burqas
Sultan Shahin, Editor, New Age Islam

Cover up operation

It is natural for many to feel that the latest pronouncements from Deoband will push women further inside their dark holes. It will take the community back five centuries. But rather than arousing such fears, the panicky ranting of maulanas gives me hope. It would appear that they have heard the news. Muslim women are on the move. They are revolting even in the tiniest of towns.

Making use of the Islamic provision of choice given to them in the Koran, an increasing number of Muslim girls are refusing to marry boys of their parents' choice. They are even contemplating and a few succeeding, with sometimes fatal consequences, in eloping with boys of their choice. In many cases parents and the society at large has to accept their choices. In some cases the girls are even contemplating elopement with boys of other faiths. ...

I asked one girl who was planning to elope with a Hindu boy, if she was aware that, being a Hindu her friend was ahl-e-Kitab, and she could marry him even under the provisions of Islamic Sharia. This girl of a UP town of just 2 lakh was knowledgeable enough to tell me that was not the case. Only Muslim boys can marry ahl-e-Kitab girls under the Islamic provision.

I told her that this provision had been made at a time when girls couldn't stand on their own; but now you are an earning professional and will be able to fight for your right to follow the religion of your choice, so how would that Islamic provision apply to you today. She said she had never heard such "rational nonsense" and that the only way out for her was to elope and hope that she or her husband doesn't get killed by their relatives. In her view even a loving invitation for reception to celebrate their marriage could prove fatal, so she won't fall for it.

The ulema are clearly rattled. This couldn't be happening. But it is.


-- Sultan Shahin, Editor, New Age Islam

Shameful, shocking, appalling are some of the words Muslims use across the country when faced with bloody fights for the possession of madrasa managements. In what he calls “a frank exposition”, Maulana Nadeemul Wajidee discusses the issue here but limits himself to criticising the greed and avarice of those who are fighting for control of madrasa managements. He seems to gloss over the ideological component of the clash.

The fact is, to put it rather crudely and simplistically, the small minority of Wahhabi members in a madrasa management are gradually becoming very vocal and even aggressive in their bid to take over madrasas, come what may. So far the mainstream Muslims, passive as ever like any other mainstream, used to take this in their stride and allow the change of Imams, for instance, to take place, without a fight. Now they too, taken aback by the aggression and violence inherent in the Wahhabi actions, are responding, though they are still confused about the why and wherefore of these clashes. Hence the overt clash.

The vast majority of Bareilwis, for instance, used to allow their Wahhabi neighbours to get Deobnandi Imams posted, without a murmur, unsuspecting of any foul play involved. India’s mainstream Islam, however, has before it the experience of Pakistan, where this shift took place, silently over decades, without people realising its import. The unsavoury events flowing from this development are making them quite apprehensive of what is in store for them if the Wahhabisation of Indian madrasas, indeed Indian Islam itself, already quite advanced, goes on at the present pace. As a Bareilly-based New Age Islam correspondent pointed out some time ago, this process is quite successful in Bareilly itself, a place which is considered a bastion of Bareilwi Islam, not to speak of other parts of the country.

Maulana Wajidee’s article published below (Translated by Raihan Nezami) is nevertheless a pointer to the disquiet that growing clashes for takeover of madrasa managements is causing across the board.

Sultan Shahin, editor, New Age Islam

Khuda Hafiz, Pakistan?
Sudheendra Kulkarni

The “magnificent Muslim culture” that Hoodbhoy and others like him in Pakistan and Bangladesh feel so nostalgic about was the outcome of Islam’s long, creative and mutually enriching interaction with undivided India. There were no doubt dark periods in this thousand-year-old history, when religious bigotry and tyranny sought to destroy India’s non-Muslim social and cultural fabric. But India survived, unlike ancient pre-Islamic civilisations in several Muslim countries. India and Islam influenced and changed each other in positive ways, which can be clearly seen in the distinctive “Indian” identity of Muslims in our subcontinent. Sadly, a renewed, petrodollar-driven attempt is now being made by the extremist interpreters of Islam in Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries to bring the entire Muslim world under their exclusive control. Which is why, Pakistan is today fighting for its survival. If fears of “Khuda Hafiz, Pakistan” are to be allayed, Muslims in Pakistan must re-embrace Civilisational India. -- Sudheendra Kulkarni


The modern aspect of Islamic thought in Pakistan has its roots in the ‘Aligarh Movement’ – a nineteenth century effort launched by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan.

His analysis convinced him that the Muslims of India had failed to come to grips with the new zeitgeist emerging from the rise of western colonialism – a power driven by breakthroughs in modern scientific thought and economics, and pragmatic politics based on rational and dispassionate self-interest, all of which stemmed from the many doctrines and socio-political upheavals witnessed in the West during the ‘Age of Reason/Enlightenment.’

Ahmed strived to reinterpret the teachings of Islam so they could be brought in harmony with modern science and philosophy, helping the educated Muslims to continue holding on to their religion but through a rational and enlightened view of life. -- Nadeem F. Paracha


In India, a strain of Islamic orthodoxy was sometimes in open conflict with Hinduism. But in Indonesia, the new faith sat comfortably atop a Hindu-Buddhist past. Like most Indians, and unlike the Arabs, most Indonesians continued to believe that there are many paths to God. Indeed, until recently, Indonesian Islam - steeped in a culture of music and mysticism - was synonymous with tolerance. By and large, the one-in-eight Indonesians who are Christian, Buddhist, Hindu or Animist, rarely faced discrimination, much less religious violence....

For Indians the drama unfolding in Indonesia is especially urgent because the conflict there is as much cultural as political, a battle between a native, deeply Indicized Islam and a strident Arab import. Over the past 30 years, Arab names have gradually edged out Sanskrit ones in kindergartens. Headscarves have mushroomed on college campuses. In offices, the greeting assalamu alaikum has become an alternative to the religiously neutral selamat pagi, or good morning. The traditional tiered-roof Javanese mosque has given way to the ubiquitous onion dome. For the first time, a generation of Javanese children is growing up unfamiliar with Arjuna and Bhima from the Mahabharata....

In universities throughout the archipelago, students congregate in mosques to study the writings of the Egyptian radical Sayyid Qutb, or to enrol in Hizbut Tahrir, another group banned in many countries for its call to unite all Muslims in a single superstate that recalls the Ottoman Caliphate. To be sure, only a fraction of orthodox Indonesian Muslims espouse violence, but that has been enough to make the past decade the bloodiest in the country's history since the anti-communist pogroms of the 1960s. Sadanand Dhume

“There is no compulsion in religion” (“La ikraaha fiddeen”), says the Quran. “Diversity of opinion in my ummah is a blessing from Allah,” said the Prophet. For the despots of Islam, however, not only is Islam the only true religion, “their Islam” is the only “true Islam”. No space for doubt, no question of choice.... It may seem like an ugly utopia for you and me. But to the hopelessly indoctrinated, a school in Mumbai, a village of bruised and battered Muslims in Gujarat, the Swat valley in Pakistan, a country named Afghanistan, or any social space big or small will do as a laboratory for the pursuit of their totalitarian fantasy. -- Javed Anand

Murky goings-on within the Jamiat-ul-ulema

‘You won’t spot a single modern-educated Muslim in this huge carnival’, said Faisal, the owner of a bookshop located adjacent to the Darul Uloom. ‘The maulvis shun them, not just because they don’t find them religious enough but also because they fear that they will challenge their hegemony’. He indicated the crowd surging past his shop. Their features, dress and mannerisms all revealed, he said, that they were all poor peasants, madrasa teachers or maulvis. ‘The maulvis have little or no understanding of the modern world, so how can they provide us Muslims with proper leadership?’, he continued. ‘But because the Muslim middle class remains indifferent to community issues, engrossed in their pursuit of material acquisition or simply too scared to speak out against the mullahs’ obscurantist views, the mullahs’ hold on the community continues unchallenged’. ‘That’s why lakhs of Muslims have so easily been mobilized by the Jamiat for this mela’. -- Yoginder Sikand, Islamic affairs analyst

Over 50 Muslim-majority countries have over the last fifty years managed to modernise and alter personal laws in tune with changing societal norms. Egypt has announced 12 per cent reservation for women in Parliament, Saudi Arabia is opening coeducation universities for science and technology, many Islamic countries have banned the “triple talaq” at one go and women are being educated — and incentivised to work in all sectors. Every madrasa or school outside the subcontinent follows a government-approved curriculum which includes modern life sciences. All these reforms have come from within the religious systems, as they have a larger chance of success. But our religious clergy is reluctant to move on such contemporary issues.

This politics of isolation is ill-fated in a multi-plural democracy like India. In the last sixty years the community has consistently slipped to the lowest rung of the knowledge and economic ladder, caught in a vicious trap the helps nobody but self-serving political and religious leaderships. A growing revulsion against such leadership is beginning to be apparent — especially in the present generation of young, educated Muslims whose sole aim is to be competitive and employed gainfully. -- Aijaz Ilmi

It is not right for any Muslim to advertise and propagate anything without scrutiny and exact knowledge of facts. This is what the Holy Quran and the Sunna preach and is only the demand of the faith. So far as the kalam (poetry) being sung in the Mahfil Samma` is concerned, there is a message of Oneness of Allah (monotheism) in the poetry; based on mysticism and spiritualism. We have so far clarified that Shaykh-ul-Islam neither liked the act of kissing his hands and feet nor ever encouraged it, leave alone falling in prostration before him. In his speeches and books, he has always dubbed the act of prostration for worship (sajda ibada) as polytheism (shirk) and prostration out of veneration (sajda tazim) for someone other than Allah as forbidden (haram). Two of his books namely Kitab at-Tawhid and Tazim and Ibada could be consulted in this regard along with his numerous lectures and speeches. But a question arises here whether the act of kissing feet could be taken to mean prostration? Is kissing of feet an act of polytheism (shirk)? What are Islamic teachings about it? It is important to note as what would be the view of Islamic law if someone kissed the feet in peculiar circumstances? -- Islamic Revival

What of the immediate regional pressures--how do the nearby countries' interests feed into the equation? One hears the usual talk that a military strike against Iran's nukes would cause a severe anti-U.S.-and-Israel backlash in the Muslim world. But in reality the Sunni states such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt would welcome such a move, perhaps even abet the proceedings. Nothing scares the Sunni world more than a powerful Iran, not even Israel, because Tehran has the ability to undermine other nations from within wherever substantial Shiite populations exist or even where they don't--simply by appealing to Islamist, anti-Crusader and anti-Zionist sentiment on the street. An allied attack on Iran's nukes would spontaneously ignite just such instability with Islamic street sentiment running high in favor of Iran. But for the Sunni states, the price may be worth paying in the short term to weaken Iran over the long run. -- Melik Kaylan


Rapid fire with UK far-right party chief

The BNP’s support arises then from an anti-Muslim stance. The party has succeeded in channelling the anti-terrorist, anti-Islamist sentiment of the working class into an anti-Muslim political base. The main political parties, whose MPs are elected from several of these constituencies with significant Muslim populations, have taken very little heed of this particular development. Apart from these MPs, the British Muslim population ought to take serious note of it. The counter argument to the BNP’s poison has to encompass an absolute distinction between the positions and plans of Islamists and those of the Muslim communities of Britain. Such a distinction can only emerge dynamically from within the Muslim community itself and is long overdue. -- Farrukh Dhondy

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