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Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 30 June 2009 | Posted in

Call for Papers & Book Reviews for new Tehran-based Islamic Journal Journal of Islamic Perspective provides a venue for scholars engaged in critical research on significant issues within the context of humanities, cultural studies, social sciences and Islamic Studies. This peer-reviewed journal invites submissions of articles from scholars across all academic disciplines. Works can use a wide range of methodologies, including quantitative, qualitative, and historical or otherwise. While encouraging works to be theoretical driven by a critical perspective, it is also interested in empirical research which is theoretically guided. Authors are cordially invited to submit papers and book reviews to the journal's editor, Seyed Javad Miri at Center for International Studies, No. 89, Hassan Azodi St. Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran Postcode 1598773117 or simply email your essays, articles and papers at seyedjavad@hotmail.com. Islamic Perspective Journal's Guideline - The opinions expressed in this Journal are those of individual authors, and the Journal is not responsible about them. - The Journal welcomes original and innovative research and analytical articles in Journal's area. - Articles sent to the Journal must not be, or have been published in any of Journals or sent to other journals at the same time. - The journal is completely free to accept, reject, edit or brief the articles. - A request for publication is to accompany each article in the form of the letter bearing the title of the article, the name of its author, her/his academic rank and field, her/his postal address, telephone number and email address. - Articles must have an abstract (maximum 150 words), and a list of keywords. - The maximum length of an article is 4000 words. Article should be written in Word XP or Word 2000, and a line spacing of 1.5, printed in A4 papers. They should be sent in hardcopies accompanied by diskettes, or in email attachment. - Referencing follows the APA system: a. To quote, give the author's surname, date of publication and page number in parenthesis, right after the quotation, e.g. (mohammadi 2003, p 215). b. The list of references at the end of articles should appear in alphabetical order, by author and then by date, e.g.: Books: Author's surname, author's name, (Date of publication), Title of the book in italics, Translator's name, place of publication, publisher. Articles: Author's surname, author's name, (date of publication), "Title of the article", The journal's name in italics, issue number, page(s). Internet sources: Author's surname, author's name, (date retrieved), "Title of the article", the name of website in italics, (or the name of the electronic journal), issue number, (year), page/paragraph, internet address. For past issues of the journal, see our website http://www.journal.islamicperspective.net

Indian Muslim News - ISSUES

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 29 June 2009 | Posted in

Clarifications About the Concept of Jihad in Islam

By Maulvi Yahya Nomani

(Translated from Urdu by Yoginder Sikand)

Critics of Islam allege that the notion of jihad, as contained in the Quran and Hadith, is a license for cold-blooded murder and indiscriminate killing. Ironically, among the most bitter opponents of Islam who are today in the forefront of a concerted campaign to depict Islam as a bloody religion are influential intellectuals and leaders in the West, the very same West that, for the last three centuries and more has drowned the rest of the world in seas of blood. The West, which has such a bloody record, has today chosen to portray Muslims, who have suffered the greatest loss of innocent lives at its hands, as purveyors of terror.

Had the brutal Western imperialists not been able to craftily manipulate world opinion through their control over the media, the world would have demanded to know how they could arrogate to themselves the right to talk about peace before giving a full record of the brutal crimes that they have been responsible for over the last three centuries. The Westerners killed off almost all the aborigines of Australia and North America, and dealt with the Africans in a manner even worse than wild animals. And now the West has the gumption to ask the rest of the world to uphold human rights! As if the rest of the world has forgotten the history of Western barbarities! The world will not let the West continue trumpeting its rhetoric about human rights, which it is craftily using as a cover to hide its own blood-stained record.

There is a limit to the oppression that people can endure. If unceasing oppression and killing provokes feelings of revenge among some members of an oppressed community and instigates them to exceed the limits and to take wrong steps, it is an indication of the intolerable suffering that the community faces. In the face of enormous and sustained oppression heaped on their community, some Muslims have reacted in an unwise fashion, based on a completely wrong interpretation of ‘struggle in the path of God’ (jihad fi sabil Allah), one that is totally contradictory to the shariah and that violates the limits for jihad that the shariah sets down. Deviating from the opinion of the ulema, they have adopted the path of extremism. This has given Islam and Muslims a bad name. They have given their opponents an excuse to heap even more oppression on the Muslims.

It is true that the number of Muslims who have taken to extremism is relatively small, but that they do exist is an undeniable fact. We must admit that they have engaged in wrong and immoral activities. At the same time, we cannot deny that in several countries, including in the West, ruling establishments and their secret service agencies have been behind some acts of terror which they have wrongly attributed to Muslims.

The situation facing us today is extremely complex. On the one hand is the mounting wave of Islamophobia, based on a false projection of Islamic jihad, which aims to create hatred in the minds of people, Muslims as well as others, for the Quran and Islamic teachings. On the other hand, faced with unenviable conditions and driven by a desire for revenge or having fallen prey to an extremist ideology, are those ignorant Muslims who are either being used by global agencies or are acting on their own, and who, by their actions, are defaming the concept of jihad and creating major problems for the Muslims themselves. It is these people who have provided the pretext to America and their own governments, whom they brand as agents of the West, to clamp down on Islamic movements and institutions.

And there is a third category of people, who, under the pressure of present circumstances and cowed down by the torrent of allegations against Muslims are now altogether denying jihad, a very important part of Islam, or else interpreting it in such a way as to please the West and its client regimes. All this, then, has created an absurd confusion.

The situation thus demands that the Islamic teachings about jihad be properly explained. Islamic teachings are based on wisdom and justice, and this includes jihad as well. In actual fact, jihad, if construed correctly, can be a source of mercy for all humankind, Muslims as well as others.Reacting to anti-Islamic propaganda by adopting an apologetic stance with regard to the doctrine of jihad is not the right approach. The Quran teaches us that the upholders of the truth are not concerned about fame or insult, their mission being to sincerely communicate God’s message. As the Quran says:

Who delivered the messages of Allah and feared Him, and feared none save Allah. Allah keepeth good account. (Quran 33: 39).

While studying the doctrine, laws and ethics of jihad it is important to bear in mind the process of evolution of civilizations and the international context. This suggests that the conditions in different ages demand that with changing contexts the regulations of jihad be reformulated (az sar-e nau tadveen) accordingly. The Quran, and, then, after it, the practice of the Prophet Muhammad, have given us certain permanent and unchangeable principles with regard to jihad. God has blessed them as sources of justice and welfare. Islamic jurisprudents developed detailed regulations on the basis of these principles, keeping in mind the social conditions and international contexts of their own times. The rules that they produced, as detailed in the books of fiqh or Muslim jurisprudence, can provide us insights, but, as in the matter of other rules of fiqh, it is possible that with the change of customs (urf), the social environment and the international context, the detailed regulations concerning jihad that are a result of the ijtihad or personal interpretation of the earlier jurists can be changed and replaced with new regulations to accord with the demands of wisdom and justice in the light of the Quran and the Prophet’s practice. God has placed this miraculous ability in the Quran and the Prophet’s practice that those who carefully study them can gain appropriate guidance in accordance with the demands of their own times so that they can deduce new regulations that are based on truth and justice. This is precisely what this book seeks to highlight.

In developing detailed regulations for every new age and on every issue it must be kept in mind that Islam champions the best and most balanced system of ethics and morality. Especially in today’s age, the twin issues of jihad and legitimate violence demand that such detailed regulations be derived in the light of the Quran and the Prophet’s practice in such a manner as to prove and reinforce our claim that the Islamic shariah is the best upholder of truth and justice, and that on other ideology and system can represent truth and justice in a better way.

The Truth About Jihad

Respect for Human Life

It must be noted that, according to the Quran and the Prophet’s practice, the doctrine of jihad is meant to promote peace, protection of human life and freedom. The Quran places great value on the life of a single human being, as indicated in the following verse:

On that account: We ordained for the Children of Israel that if anyone slew a person―unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land― it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if anyone saved a life it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people. (Quran 5:32)

All the legal systems of the world consider the killing of innocent people as a grievous crime. Islam not only provides legal protection of human life, seeking to prevent killing of innocent through instilling the fear of the law, but also seeks to develop in people’s hearts a deep respect for the sanctity of human life. In a hadith mentioned in the Sahih of al-Bukhari (6871), the Prophet is said to have declared killing, along with associating partners with God (shirk) as the greatest sin. According to a report in the Sahih of Muslim (1678), the Prophet reportedly said that on the Day of Judgment, God will first settle cases of murder.

This respect for human life applies to every person, Muslim as well as non-Muslim. The Prophet very explicitly stated that if someone slays a non-Muslim who he is not engaged in an openly declared war with or who had the protection of a peace agreement with a Muslim government, that person would never even get to smell the fragrance of paradise (Sahih Bukhari 3166).

Permission to Fight

War wreaks destruction. Bloodshed is inevitable in any war. But, Islam, as has been indicated above, lays great stress on respect for human life. That is why Islam has provided for war only in certain unavoidable and exceptional circumstances. The Quran describes war as something bad or destructive, but, like other religions, it does not ignore the fact that at times groups, communities or governments do resort to such terror and oppression so that the only way to stop them is through defensive war. Such brutal oppression of innocent people is a true fact of life, and Islam is a religion of truth and is not blind to reality. It is not like the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ that insists that if someone hits you on one cheek, you must willingly offer your other cheek for him to slap. Instead, it calls for the hands of oppressors to be restrained, and considers this is a way to serve humankind and to gain God’s favour. Islam permits the oppressed whose very lives are under severe threat to take to arms to protect their lives, property and honour. Likewise, it considers it a duty for any country to react in like manner if it is invaded by any other country.

All legal systems in the world agree that it is the right, and even the duty, of every oppressed country or group to reply if it attacked. Reason and human conscience also agree to this. As the Quran lays down:

To those against whom war is made, permission is given (to fight) because they are wronged― and verily, Allah is Most powerful for their aid (Quran 22:39)

Further, the Quran instructs the believers thus:

Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you but do not transgress limits; for Allah loveth not transgressors. (Quran 2:190)

These teachings are basic to the preservation of the life, respect and freedom of a community, the denial of which would spell death for it, causing it to fall prey to strife and degradation. Islam aims at character-building and shaping of morals so that people become models of virtue. How, then, can it allow them to sink into degradation by denying them the right to struggle against oppression and persecution? But, it must be remembered, mere fighting in defence against oppression does not constitute a legitimate jihad. Rather, jihad is governed by a host of spiritual and moral principles and laws, observing which alone can qualify it to be truly called ‘struggle in God’s path’ (jihad fi sabil Allah).

The biggest misunderstanding about jihad is that it is a communal struggle or war of Muslims, a war that Muslims launch against other communities to capture power or territory. In actual fact, this has nothing whatsoever to do with jihad, and the Quran condemns such violence as ‘strife on earth’ (fasad fi ‘l ardh). In other words, not every war in which Muslims are involved can be called a jihad. In order for a war to be qualified as a legitimate jihad the Quran lays down that it must be for only certain purposes and conducted according to specified principles and rules. Any war engaged in by Muslims other than for the purposes laid down in the Quran or that violates the rules governing jihad, as specified in the Quran, is not jihad. Rather, it is strife and chaos (fasad), which will earn God’s wrath.

Aims of Jihad

Jihad for the Sake of Freedom of Religion

The Quran declared war against the Meccans in order to end their religious oppression. The Meccans had imprisoned Muslims and subjected them to extreme torture and oppression simply because, heeding the voice of their conscience, they had accepted Islam. News of their persecution reached the Prophet in Medina. The Quran then commanded the Muslims thus:

And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression and there prevail justice and faith in Allah altogether and everywhere (Quran 8:39)

The Arabic word fitna is used in the above-mentioned verse with regard to oppression. The verse lays down that the aim of war is to end fitna. The word actually means ‘test’ or ‘examination’, and, according to some noted Arabic scholars, where the word is used in the Quran it mostly means, or is related to, this sense. The word fitna has consistently been used throughout Islamic history to describe efforts by the enemies of Islam to use force and oppression in an effort to cause Muslims to stray from their faith or to make to difficult for them to stay on the path of Islam. For instance, the Quran uses a derivate of the word fitna in the context of Pharoah’s use of force and oppression to seek to cause those who had accepted the teachings of the Prophet Moses to abandon their faith and return to infidelity:

But none believed in Moses except some children of his People, because of the fear of Pharaoh and his chiefs, lest they should persecute them (Quran 10: 83).

Elsewhere, the Quran says:

Those who persecute (or draw into temptation) the Believers, men and women and do not turn in repentance, will have the Penalty of Hell: they will have the Penalty of the Burning Fire. (Quran 85:10)

Some Islamic scholars, including in the past, have interpreted the term fitna or its derivatives that are mentioned in such verses to mean shirk or associating partners with God. However, in Arabic fitna does not mean just shirk or shirk without force, oppression and testing. In today’s context, fitna can be described as ‘religious persecution’. Today, the sort of religious persecution that could be called fitna, such as was the torment and testing that the early Muslims faced in Mecca or that those who believed in the Prophet Moses had to contend with, is extremely rare.

The duty of Muslims to continue fighting till religious persecution is no more, as laid down in the above-mentioned Quranic verse, is echoed in another verse of the Quran, in the Surah Baqara. With any doubt, both these verses relate to the polytheists of Mecca. But, yet, who can deny that seeking to forbid people to follow the religion of their choice by oppression or even killing them is such a heinous crime that demands that the defenders of the truth rise up against this, if they have the capacity to do so?

Jihad for the Sake of Freedom of the Oppressed

The Quran repeatedly refers to the people who engaged in fitna in Mecca, seeking to force Muslims to renounce their faith, as enemies of God who were persecuting God’s weak servants and threatening their lives. The cruelly oppressed Muslims had been crying out for help, appealing for assistance to relieve them of their torment. Finally, God permitted the Muslims of Medina to fight in defence in the face of the war that had been unleashed on them and to protect their lives, their faith and the citadel of Islam. They were informed that the conditions had so drastically changed that God’s earlier instruction to them to restrain themselves and patiently and steadfastly endure the tortures inflicted on them was no longer necessary. God now told them to fight against those Meccan opponents of theirs who had declared war on them. As indicated earlier, one of the aims of this war was to put an end to fitna, understood here as religious persecution aimed at preventing Muslims from following their faith. As the Quran says:

And why should ye not fight in the cause of Allah and of those who, being weak, are ill-treated (and oppressed)?―men, women, and children, whose cry is: "Our Lord! rescue us from this town, whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from Thee one who will protect; and raise for us from Thee one who will help!?" (Quran 4:75)

With regard to the above-mentioned verse, it can be asked if, in the face of the desperate cries for help of the oppressed, a community does not rise up to repel oppression or is indifferent to the plight of those who are suffering immense persecution, can it not be said to be totally bereft of human feelings? No divine scripture allows for its followers to sit back and relax in comfort while innocent people are being persecuted in this brutal way.

It is true that the oppressed people referred to in the above-mentioned text, whom Muslims were exhorted to help, were themselves Muslims. Because of the bond of Islamic brotherhood that they shared with the other Muslims they had an even greater claim on their help. Yet, this Quranic verse, as well as statements attributed to the Prophet, clearly indicate that it is the duty of a Muslim state to respond to the cries of any wrongfully oppressed community, no matter what its religion, if it has the power to do so and, for this purpose, to fight against the oppressors of those people. People with a proper appreciation of, and commitment to, Islam need not be reminded that Islam desires that its true followers must rush to the rescue of every wrongfully oppressed person or community, irrespective of religion, without having any other motive. As a hadith contained in the collection of Abu Daud relates, the Prophet is said to have declared:

Beware! By God! Keep calling people to the good and preventing them from evil. Catch the hand of the oppressor and force him to ensure justice and keep striving to bring him to the true path. (In this lies your welfare) otherwise God will cause your hearts to clash with each other’s and will curse you, just as He cursed those communities in the past who did not abide by this duty’.

With regard to this sort of jihad to end oppression, the Prophet very clearly stated, as is evidenced in numerous hadith reports, that to make any distinction between the oppressed on grounds of religion, between Muslims and others, is against the spirit of Islam. Thus, according to a hadith report contained in the Sunan of al-Tirmidhi, the Prophet is said to have instructed his followers to help their ‘brothers’, whether they were oppressed or oppressors. His followers responded, ‘We understood [the need to] help the oppressed, but how should the oppressor be helped?’ The Prophet answered, ‘Stop him from oppression. This is the help that you should give him.’

Not War, but Struggle in the Path of God (jihad fi sabil Allah)

War fought in defence and to overcome oppression is a basic human right and duty, but here one point is of extreme significance. In Medina, when the Prophet was receiving revelations and was guiding his followers, the town was attacked by the enemies of Islam. That is why God finally sent down revelations ordering the Prophet and his companions to make preparations to defend themselves in the face of these brutal assaults. Yet, at the same time, these verses made it very clear that this defensive war that the Muslims must fight was not just for their political defence or for protecting their honour or for their political freedom. Rather, the Quran repeatedly stresses that they were not like any ordinary human group that fights for worldly goods and pleasures. Instead, it describes them as a group that had turned its face from the trappings of the world and gathered round God’s Prophet in order to worship God and strive for the welfare of the whole of humankind. It depicts them as a group that had vowed to live in poverty, if needed, and to make major sacrifices so that others could be also guided to the straight path. That is why the sort of war that they were ordered to engage in was not like any war fought for worldly ends. Rather, it was termed as jihad fi sabil Allah or ‘struggle in the path of God’, a war fought for God’s sake.

Every community in the world has the right to defend itself by fighting, in accordance with accepted norms and within acceptable limits. But, the fighting that the Prophet and his followers resorted to was not for freedom or for the communal rights of Muslims. The early Muslims had become, as it were, the salt of the earth at a time when (and this remains so even today) there was no community in the world that was wholly and completely based on devotion to and service of God. Through not just their words, but their actions as well, the Prophet and his followers proved that they had no lust for the luxuries of the world. They adopted poverty for themselves, and took up as their mission the guidance of humankind and the establishment of justice. Caring nothing for worldly comforts, they led a life in service to God and in accordance with His will. So, when they were ordered to fight in defence against those who had launched a reign of terror and oppression against them, they were told by God that this was not simply to defend themselves, but, rather, to defend God’s faith on earth. This is why these wars were termed as jihad fi sabil Allah and were deemed a source of great reward.

The cold hearth of the Prophet’s house and the fact that sometimes the Prophet went to sleep without food, with a stone tied round his stomach, are testified to in the history books. Even when wealth began coming into Medina, the Prophet’s house remained empty. The Prophet passed away from this world in a state of poverty. His daughter Fatima once approached him and spoke of how her hands had become knotted due to constant use of the grinding stone and how her body was weak. She spoke about how her husband, Ali, was suffering from asthma. She asked the Prophet for financial help. His reply to her was that there were still orphans left in Medina, who had to be helped. So, instead of giving her money, he told her to recite Subhan Allah, Alhamdullillah and Allahu Akbar thirty-three times each every day, adding that this was greater than all the wealth of the world put together.

As I mentioned earlier, the sort of fighting that is regarded as legitimate in Islam has been described in the Quran as ‘struggle in the path of God’. To repeat a point I made earlier, such fighting cannot be for the communal or worldly interests or defence of Muslims or for advancing their power and glory. Rather, for a war fought by Muslims to be regarded as a jihad it must be fought, not for communal defence or the defence of Muslims’ lives and properties, but, rather to gain God’s acceptance, protect His faith, guide humanity, promote its welfare and save it from oppression and strife. This is why the Prophet explicitly announced that those who fight for their communal interests are not mujahids.

According to a narration by Hazrat Abu Musa al-Ashari, as recorded in the Sahih of al-Bukhari, once a man appeared before the Prophet and asked him to explain what fighting in the name of God was. The Prophet replied that that fighting carried out for the sake of God alone could be said to be a struggle in God’s path.

The aims of jihad that I have outlined above relate to defence in the face of extreme oppression. All legal systems in the world, as well as common sense, regard this as a reasonable justification for taking up arms. But for such a struggle to be called a jihad it is a must that the vast majority of those who participate in it should be so trained, and their hearts should be so purified by following in the path of the prophets of God, that they should not be motivated in any way by the desire to capture political power for their own community or to enslave another community. Nor should they be driven by lust for booty or for communal supremacy or by the feeling of revenge. Rather, their motive must be to win the pleasure of God, uphold His faith, communicate His guidance to humankind, and help the oppressed.

Unfortunately, in today’s age Muslims have forgotten the real aims of jihad. Their general condition does not at all indicate that in God’s eyes Muslims have anything to do with the goals of jihad that I have mentioned and elaborated upon above. Our condition is now a major cause for our own degradation, and for oppression and misfortune for the rest of humanity. Today, there is no community that genuinely follows truth and champions justice and that has made service of God its mission, for which it is willing to sacrifice its life and worldly luxuries.

The Relation Between Jihad and Faith-based Character

The Quran further specifies that those oppressed people who are given permission to fight back must be so committed to God and the welfare of humanity that if the world were given to them to rule, they would do so in a manner completely different from ordinary rulers. They would use their power and resources for promoting the good and establishing worship of God. Their system of governance would be based on belief in God and on a just distribution of wealth. They would spend on the poor, and make the promotion of virtue and the stopping of vice their guiding principle.

The chapter of the Quran that for the first time gives permission to the companions of the Prophet to engage in physical jihad also mentions:

To those against whom war is made, permission is given (to fight) because they are wronged― and verily, Allah is Most powerful for their aid (39) (They are) those who have been expelled from their homes in defiance of right― (for no cause) except that they say "Our Lord is Allah." [ …] (They are) those who, if We establish them in the land, establish regular prayer and give regular charity, enjoin the right and forbid wrong: with Allah rests the end (and decision) of (all) affairs. (Quran 22: 39-41)

Besides purity of the aims of fighting, proper intention, and strict obedience to Islamic rules and shariah limits in the conduct of war, this verse of the Quran also indicates that those Muslims who take to the path of jihad must be so pure in their service of and commitment to God and so morally upright that, if as a result of their struggle they gain control of any territory, they would use their powers not to satisfy their lusts and base, worldly desires, but, instead, to spread goodness and the service of God and to rid the world of wickedness. Their power would be pressed into the service of God and the reform and welfare of humankind. As the Quran clearly says:

Allah hath purchased of the Believers their persons and their goods; for theirs (in return) is the Garden (of Paradise): they fight in His cause, and slay and are slain: a promise binding on Him in Truth, through the Law, the Gospel and the Qur'an: and who is more faithful to his covenant than Allah? Then rejoice in the bargain which ye have concluded: that is the achievement supreme. (111) Those that turn (to Allah) in repentance: that serve Him and praise Him; that wander in devotion to the Cause of Allah;― that bow down and prostrate themselves in prayer; that enjoin good and forbid evil; and observe the limits set by Allah; (these do rejoice). So proclaim the glad tidings to the Believers. (Quran 111-112)

Undoubtedly, jihad undertaken by such a group would be a blessing for humanity, and that is why God rewards such a struggle with great merit. To qualify as a legitimate jihad, it must be a struggle for noble aims and engaged in by a group of pure souls, to protect humanity from oppression, as a step to be taken when all other means have failed.

Offensive Jihad?

I have explained the logic and rationale of jihad undertaken in defence and for ending oppression, but the question now arises if offensive jihad is also permissible. Can jihad be declared against a non-Muslim government that does not in any way oppress Muslims? Can such a government be told either to accept Islam or else hand over power to Muslims?

This is a very crucial question. It is necessary to study it in the light of the basic teachings of the shariah. Some Islamic scholars believe that jihad is permissible in self-defence and for ending fitna and oppression, as well as against forces of falsehood that are a hurdle to the spreading of the message and the accomplishment of the mission of the prophets. According to these scholars, after the demise of the Prophet, many of his companions spread out of Arabia into other lands and fought wars for this purpose.

With regard to this issue, it should be kept in mind that in those days all states were identified with one religion or the other. Every state was strictly identified with a particular religion, and so it was simply inconceivable that any non-Muslim government would allow Muslims to invite its subjects to God’s path. This is why the issue was never even discussed then of how Muslims should relate to a non-Muslim state that explicitly allowed Islam to be practiced in its territory or that permitted its subjects to accept Islam and follow it.

In the view of some scholars, in such a situation Muslims must adopt the path of peacefully inviting others to the faith, making use of it to the utmost extent possible so much as to that all the adequate proofs (hujjat) of God be made known. After this, God will decide, in accordance with His practice, which He invariably does after all His proofs have been clearly established, and which can take any form. My own limited understanding leads me to believe that this opinion is in closer accordance with reason, the spirit of the shariah, and the aims and wisdom of God’s revelation. This position can be backed by Hadith reports that insist on the need for peaceful propagation of Islam before fighting can at all be envisaged. And, it must be remembered, today it is no longer forbidden for Muslims to communicate their faith to non-Muslim rulers or non-Muslims in general.

Several Muslims opine that a non-Muslim government would necessarily spread faithlessness, and so God-fearing believers must provide it with just two options: to accept Islam or else to hand over power to them. These Muslims argue that the wars that took place in the early period of Islam against states outside the Arabian peninsula were fought on the basis of this principle.

Many of those who hold this view ignore some of the basic and essential conditions of jihad, and so their warped interpretation of jihad becomes unacceptable to non-Muslims as well as many faithful and pious Muslims themselves. I believe that a careful study of the Quran and the Prophet’s practice can supply an adequate answer to this issue.

It must be kept in mind that Islam’s teachings about jihad have not been revealed for any community named as ‘Muslims’. The basic cause of misunderstanding about jihad stems from conceiving of Muslims as a community, like any other, whose main purpose in life is to lead a life of luxury and grandeur. Unfortunately, like others, many of us, too, define the Muslim ummah in this narrow, communal sense, so much so that it is even reflected in the writings of many Islamic scholars. In contrast, as the Quran conceives it, the Muslim ummah is a group of people who are motivated by success in the life after death, by the desire to serve God and humankind, and by a concern to guide others to God’s path, being ready to exert themselves to the utmost for this purpose.

When this ummah came into being under the leadership of the Prophet Muhammad, it was founded with the following declaration:

Ye are the best of peoples, evolved for mankind, enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong, and believing in Allah [Quran 3:110]

The Muslim ummah referred to here was that group that came into being, not on the basis of colour or race or region or land, but, rather for the purpose of promoting the welfare of the whole of humankind and service of God. This ummah was described as ‘the best ummah’ (khair-e ummat) not just because it had the Quran in its hands, but also because, as the above-quoted verse indicates, their character was noble and they led the life of those who had truly submitted to God, as expressed in their words and deeds. It was through this nobility of character and purity of faith that they were able to communicate to others the necessary proofs of God. In other words, this ummah of Muslims, who had truly submitted fully to God, rose to the position of a group charged with the mission of establishing God’s proofs before humankind and upholding the truth. This is indicated in the following Quranic verse:

Thus have We made of you an ummah justly balanced That ye might be witnesses over the nations and the Messenger a witness over yourselves (Quran 2:142)

In other words, the status of the ummah of Muslims, understood here as a group that has sincerely and wholly submitted to God, is that of being witness to the truth and herald of welfare and beneficence. By bearing such witness with regard to God’s path they leave no room for differences or doubts. The Quran explains that this witness of theirs is like the witness established before the Muslims with the advent of the Prophet such that he cleared all their doubts.

Elsewhere, the Quran repeats the same point:

It is He Who has named you Muslims, both before and in this (Revelation); that the Messenger may be a witness for you, and ye be witnesses for mankind! (Quran 22:78)

It is the fulfilling of this mission of bearing witness that is the real aim of true jihad. This is why the companions of the Prophet addressed the Iranians, saying that they had been sent by God in order to deliver humanity from servitude to other beings and guide them to serve God instead.

The crux of this argument is that this ummah of Muslims that had been formed as the deputy of the Prophet to guide and reform humankind and work for its welfare was willing to make every sacrifice for this purpose. If such a group were told that, if they had the capacity, they should demand from the governments of the world to accept their invitation and thereby be allowed to remain in power, or else, if they opposed them, they should forcibly remove them from power so that God’s creatures could be served in accordance with God’s will, would there by anything wrong with this?

The trouble, however, arises from the fact that the Muslims of today are not the same as that pure ummah of true believers of the time of the Prophet. Hence, it is wrong for Muslims today, despite not living up to the high standards of faith and piety of the early Muslims, to interpret jihad in such a way as to demand that if a non-Muslim state does not accept Islam they should declare war against it and replace it with a government of their own. No one can at all doubt that the Muslims of today do not at all measure up to the standard of being witnesses unto humankind, unlike the companions of the Prophet. On the other hand, their condition is so pathetic as to make other people develop negative feelings for Islam. They are almost wholly bereft of faith in God. In contrast to Islamic teachings, they give greater stress to this world than the world to come after death. In fact, the vast majority of those who call themselves Muslims today lead lives that represent revolt against God and open disobedience of Him. In fact, as far as efforts to establish justice and serve humanity are concerned, which are the basic aims of jihad, many non-Muslim communities are far better than them. It cannot be denied that in causing this sorry decline from what should have been their status the biggest culprits have been Muslims themselves. Like other people, we have become slaves of the glitter and glamour of this world. Our general state is not that of a community driven by service to God and the desire for success in the Hereafter. In fact, in terms of morals, we are much worse off than many other communities.

In such a situation, who can at all accept the claim that if the reigns of power be taken away from others and given to the Muslims, the latter would put an end to oppression and conflict, and replace them with genuine human welfare? In fact, if others think that all our talk about disinterested service of humanity and sincere obedience to God is nothing but verbal falsehood, we must accept that our collective hypocritical character alone is responsible for this. Glance at the communal character of Muslims today, at their countries and societies, and think if anyone will at all believe that Muslims actually want to fight other communities in order to end strife on earth and replace it with welfare!

In such a situation, this sort of interpretation of jihad and Islam clearly reflects a very superficial understanding of Islam, a very dangerous violation of the limits set by the shariah. Lamentably, in the recent past several Muslim thinkers and leaders of Muslim movements widely propagated this wrong interpretation of jihad.

Those who have studied the Quran and the Prophet’s practice well know that whenever Muslims betray their role of being witnesses to the truth, stray from the path of Islam and earn God’s anger, they can never get the sort of power or honor needed to launch any offensive struggle. Today, the Muslims are unable to defend even their own freedoms, let alone being able to win God’s pleasure. In other words, according to the shariah, in this period, when the present-day Muslims have strayed away from God, a period characterized by much tumult and destruction, they are not qualified to engage in this sort of offensive jihad. The Quran very clearly and explicitly explains this.

[This is a translation of excerpts from Yahya Nomani's Urdu book, al-Jihad (Lucknow: Al-Mahad al-Ali Lil Darasat al-Islamiya, 2009) done by the well-known Islamic scholar Yoginder Sikand. He can be reached at ysikand@yahoo.com. Yahya Nomani works with the Lucknow-based Urdu Islamic monthly, al-Furqan]

Indian Muslim News - INTERFAITH RELATIONS

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in

Islamic Perspectives of Inter-Community Relations

By Maulvi Yahya Nomani

(Translated from Urdu by Yoginder Sikand)

The issue of what Islam has to say about inter-community relations is one about which much misunderstanding exists. Anti-Muslim propagandists claim that Islam preaches hatred for non-Muslims, and that the Quran is a menace to world peace. They go so far as to argue that world peace is simply impossible as long as the Quran exists. In order to back their propaganda, they have deliberately twisted and misinterpreted certain verses of the Quran. Many people with little knowledge have fallen prey to this poisonous propaganda, which has been aggressively spread on an enormous scale through the media.

At the same time, we must also admit that some Muslims themselves entertain misunderstandings and extremist views about the issue of relations between Muslims and others that are based on a completely wrong interpretation of the Quran and the Sunnah, the practice of the Prophet. This calls for a detailed study, so that misunderstandings, wrong interpretations and extremist views about Islamic teachings regarding relations between Muslims and others can be countered.

It is true that Islam stresses that Muslims, here understood in the sense of true submitters to God, are distinct from others in terms of their religious views and ethical virtues. It cautions them from imitating others, especially their religious symbols and rituals, which Islam does not accept. It is also true that Islam strictly forbids befriending enemies of the faith and those who conspire against Muslims. At the same time, however, Islam exhorts Muslims to relate to other non-Muslims with softness, good manners, gentleness and love.

Respect for the Human Race

Islam teaches that all human beings, irrespective of community or race, are children of the same set of primal parents, and, so, are bound together by their common humanity. As the Quran states:

O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. (Quran 49:13).

This basic Islamic teaching about the whole of humankind being children of the same parents stresses the need for consciousness of our common humanity and of us being brothers unto each other. This is why, according to a hadith report, the Prophet would, after finishing his prayers, supplicate with God, saying, O Allah! Sustainer of myself and of everything! I bear witness that all human beings are brothers of each other.

According to the Quran, human beings are creatures worthy of respect:

We have honoured the sons of Adam []and conferred on them special favours, above a great part of Our Creation. (Quran 17:70)

This clearly indicates that Islam regards human beings as deserving respect, love and concern on the basis of their humanity. A hadith report well illustrates this teaching. Once, the Prophet was present along with some of his disciples when a funeral procession passed by. The Prophet stood up. Seeing the Prophet stand out of respect for the dead man, some of his companions informed him that the man had been a Jew. But, the Prophet responded, Was he not a human being? After the Prophet, some of his companions, too, followed this example of his, as is related in the books of Hadith compiled by Bukhari and Muslim.

In another hadith report, the Prophet exhorted his followers to relate with kindness to all creatures thus:

God is merciful to those who are merciful. Deal with mercy towards creatures on earth and He in the heavens will be merciful towards you. (Sunan Tirmidhi, 1924; Sunan Abu Daud, 4941).

This hadith report very clearly expresses a basic Quranic teaching. The Quran states that the true path to salvation is through showing mercy and love to others:

And what will explain to thee, the path that is steep? (It is:) freeing the bondman; Or the giving of food in a day of privation to the orphan with claims of relationship, or to the indigent (down) in the dust. Then will he be of those who believe, and enjoin patience, (constancy, and self-restraint), and enjoin deeds of kindness and compassion. Such are the Companions of the Right Hand. (Quran 90: 12-18)

This is the path of salvationnot simply to be kind-hearted, but also to participate in the mission to promote, in practical terms, kind-heartedness and compassion for others. Such are the steps on the path to salvation. Islam does not restrict good behaviour simply to other human beings. Rather, it insists that Muslims should behave in this way with all living creatures. Thus, according to a hadith recorded in the Sahih of al-Bukhari, the Prophet said, There is merit (sawab) in behaving well towards all living creatures.

The Bond of Nation/Community (Qaum)

Islam recognizes a certain sort of brotherhood and feeling of oneness among members of the same community/nation as an established fact. This is expressed in the Quran in the form of various prophets, such as Hud, Saleh, Shoeb and so on, addressing the non-Muslim members of their communities as brothers, and, in this way, accepting a relationship of nation- or community-based brotherhood between Muslims and non-Muslims belonging to the same nation or community. When these prophets of God preached His message to their own people (who were not Muslims, or submitters to God), they addressed them as ya qaum or O my people, appealing to their hearts and reminding them of the common bond of community that they shared with them. This clearly indicates the sort of concern and love that Muslims should adopt when addressing their non-Muslim compatriots and in seeking to cement bonds with them.

The importance of how concern and love should infuse relations between people belonging to a common race or nationality, despite their religious differences, is evident from the fact that the Prophet Muhammad cared for the (the then non-Muslim) Egyptians just because the mother of the Prophet Ismail (Ishmael), son of the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham), was from Egypt. The Prophet instructed the Arabs to remember this ancient racial tie, saying that they would soon conquer Egypt and that he wanted them to deal with the Egyptians kindly because they had the right to protection (haq-e zimma) and because their racial ties with the Arabs demanded this.

Kind Behaviour Towards Non-Muslims: Some Examples

Various Islamic teachings and Sunnah or practice of the Prophet indicate the kindness and concern that non-Muslims deserve from Muslims. The Quran mentions that needy non-Muslims are deserving of the financial assistance of Muslims, and that, therefore, they should be helped. In the Surah Al-Baqara of the Quran, God says that guiding others to the faith is not the work of human beings, and that God guides whom He wills. The Quran adds that we must not refuse to help a needy person simply because he or she refuses to accept Islam. It says that we shall be rewarded for whatever we spend in Gods way:

It is not required of thee (O Messenger) to set them on the right path but Allah guides to the right path whom He pleaseth. Whatever of good ye give benefits your own souls and ye shall only do so seeking the "Face" of Allah. Whatever good ye give, shall be rendered back to you and ye shall not be dealt with unjustly. (Quran 2:272)

This verse indicates that while providing financial help to others it is not necessary to distinguish between those who accept Islam and those who do not. In other words, all needy people are deserving of such help.

Elaborating on this verse, the noted scholar Imam Ibn Jareer Tabari wrote in his Tafsir-e Tabari that the verse commands Muslims not to deprive non-Muslims of charity. He was of the view that this was how numerous companions of the Prophet and those who came after them in the next generation understood this verse.

This was also the practice of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs. Thus, as mentioned in the Kitab al-Kharraj by Abu Yusuf, the Caliph Umar sent a letter to his governor, instructing him to provide for his poor and needy non-Muslim subjects from the wealth of the Muslims.

Reconciliation and Kindheartedness

Islam stresses kindness towards relatives, especially close relations, so much so that it says that God declares war against he who does not fulfill his responsibilities towards his relatives (Masnad Ahmad 1684; Sahih al-Bukhari 5987-5989). It also declares that those who sunder their relations with their relatives will have no place in heaven (Sahih Muslim, 2556).

Kindness towards and reconciliation with relatives applies to all relatives, Muslim as well as non-Muslim. It is their right. Islam seeks to cement relations, not to destroy them. Thus, non-Muslim relatives have all the rights over a Muslim, so much so that the Quran lays down that if a Muslims parents are not Muslim themselves, and even if they seek to pressurize their Muslim son or daughter to abandon Islam, they must be treated well under all conditions, although one should not yield to their pressure. As the Quran puts it:

And We have enjoined on man (to be good) to his parents: in travail upon travail did his mother bear him, and in years twain was his weaning: (hear the command) "Show gratitude to Me and to thy parents: to Me is (thy final) Goal. "But if they strive to make the join in worship with Me things of which thou hast no knowledge obey them not; Yet bear them company in this life with justice (and consideration) and follow the way of those who turn to Me (in love): in the End the return of you all is to Me, and I will tell you the truth (and meaning) of all that ye did.(Quran 31:14-15).

The mother of Abu Hurairah, a companion of the Prophet, used to say bad things about the Prophet, but Abu Hurairah tolerated this. When he complained about her behavior to the Prophet, the latter prayed for her, rather than expressing hatred for her. Because of this, she was guided (Sahih al-Muslim, 2491).

The mother of Hazrat Asma bint Abu Bakr was a polytheist. In the wake of the Treaty of Hudaibiyah between the Muslims, led by the Prophet, and the Meccan pagans, relatives from both sides were able to meet each other. At this time, Hazrat Asmas mother came to Medina to meet her, bringing along with her some gifts. Hazrat Asma thought of reciprocating this gesture by giving her mother some presents when she was returning. However, she hesitated for a bit, not sure if Islam allowed for Muslims to present gifts to their non-Muslim relatives. Accordingly, she approached the Prophet and asked him if she should seek to strengthen her ties (silah rahmi) with her mother. In reply, the Prophet said she must, and instructed her to give her gifts. (Sahih al-Bukhari 2602; Fath al-Bari).

Some commentators have claimed that Hazrat Asmas mother had come to Medina because she was in need of help. But, the fact is that she was a well-off woman, and Hafiz Ibn Hajar and other scholars have written that she herself had brought gifts for her daughter. Thus, it could be that she wanted to restore her bonds with her daughter that had been earlier sundered. In other words, Hazrat Asmas giving of gifts to her mother appears not to have been an ex-pression of help to a needy mother, but rather, a way of expressing and fulfilling her duty of familial love.

Other Social Relations Between Muslims and Others

While Muslims have been forbidden to engage in such relations with non-Muslims that might undermine or destroy their religious distinctiveness, Islam stresses that Muslims must relate with concern, and a high standard of morality with non-Muslims in order to create a better society. Treating neighbours kindly is such an important Islamic teaching that in the corpus of Hadith, narrations relating to the Prophet, it has been said that not abiding by this teaching can sometimes even lead to the danger of ones own faith being taken away. The Prophet thrice proclaimed that he who is a source of discomfort to his neighbour is not a true believer (momin) (Sahih al-Bukhari, 6016).

Ones neighbour, who deserves exemplary treatment, can be a Muslim or a non-Muslim, and the above-mentioned principle applies in both cases. This is well-illustrated in the following story. One day, a goat was slaughtered in the home of Hazrat Abdullah Ibn Umar. When he returned home, the first thing he did was to ask if some of the meat had been sent to the house of his Jewish neighbour. I have heard the Prophet stressing the importance of kindness towards neighbours, he said (Abu Daud, 5152).

One aspect of the life of the Prophet, which serves as a model for Muslims to emulate, is that even if an enemy is in great trouble one should supplicate for him with God. On the one hand, the Prophet would beseech God to punish bloody oppressors, but, on the other hand, we see the Prophet helping the Qureish of Mecca, who stiffly opposed him, when they were faced with a severe famine. In that critical situation, Abu Sufiyan, the Qureish leader who had stridently opposed the Prophet, came to him. Invoking their relationship, he said that the Quraish, the tribe that the Prophet himself belonged to, were dying, and requested him to beseech God. The Prophet prayed to God, and because of his prayer the situation was cured (Sahih Bukhari, 4824).

It is said that if a Jew present in the Prophets congregation would sneeze, the Prophet would do the same dua, May God give you guidance and improve your condition, for him as he would for a Muslim (Sunan Abu Daud 5040). Because they were so fond of this dua, some Jews would pretend to sneeze, but the Prophet still do this dua for them. In the Masannaf Ibn Abi Shiba, the Masannaf Abdur Razzak and the Sahih of al-Bukhari, there are numerous narrations about the Prophet making dua for non-Muslims. This clearly shows that Islam exhorts its followers to deal kindly with people of other faiths.

Commensality or eating together has great importance in building relationships. The Prophet used to invite non-Muslims for meals. Expressing concern for the oppressed and distressed, irrespective of religion, is something basic for good social ties, and the Prophet Muhammad also abided by this. He would visit the homes of non-Muslims when they were sick, to enquire about their health (Sahih al-Bukhari 5657). The Prophet also gave gifts to non-Muslims, and courteously accepted the gifts that they presented him with, as has been recorded in the books of Hadith. It is said that a non-Muslim ruler sent the Prophet a beautiful silken cloak, which the Prophet accepted (Sahih al-Bukhari 2616). He gave it to Jaafar bin Abi Talib, saying that he should send it to his brother, Najashi, the Christian ruler of Abyssinia, who had helped the Muslims (Masnad Ahmad 13214). The Caliph Umar sent a valuable cloth as a gift to a polytheist brother of his, and the Prophet knew about this (Muslim 2068). The ruler of Aila sent the Prophet cloth and a mount, which were put to use (Sahih Bukhari 3161). At the time, when the Prophet was departing from this world, he instructed Muslims, especially their leaders, that delegations of guests (who were generally non-Muslims) that would come to them should be given presents while departing, as he himself had done (Sahih al-Bukhari 3053, Sahih al-Muslim 1637).

From these references to the shariah and the Sunnah, the practice of the Prophet Muhammad, it is clear that Islam stands for humanitarianism, love, concern, compassion, large-heartedness and good behaviour with people of other faiths, in general. That is to say, if a person who follows another faith is not an oppressor or an enemy of Islam or a conspirator or is not waging war against Muslims, Islam considers him or her worthy of help and solidarity and stresses respect for his or her humanity.

[This is a translation of excerpts from Yahya Nomani's Urdu book, al-Jihad (Lucknow: Al-Mahad al-Ali Lil Darasat al-Islamiya, 2009) done by the well-known Islamic scholar Yoginder Sikand. He can be reached at ysikand@yahoo.com. Yahya Nomani works with the Lucknow-based Urdu Islamic monthly, al-Furqan]

PIL lodged in Supreme Court seeking SC/ST status to Dalit Muslims

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in

IMO News Service

Akhil Maharastra Khatik Samaj has lodged a PIL in the Supreme Court seeking “parity based constitutional relief for the Muslim counterparts of the Hindu Scheduled Castes”. The PIL has challenged the vires and constitutionalism of the para 3 of the Constitution (Scheduled caste) Order, 1950, which denies the recognition of Muslim castes under Scheduled Castes but however issues the said status to their Hindu counterparts.

The PIL has demanded that the Supreme Court issue a writ of certiorari and declare clause 3 of the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950 as ultra vires the Constitution of India or to identify and include the Muslim Arzals or Muslim Dalits like khatiks, mehters/ Bhangi/Lal- Begi/ Halakkhor, Mochi, Mukri and Garudi etc. in the category of other Scheduled Castes mentioned in the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950.

Haji Shamsuddin Shaikh, Chairman of Akhil Maharashtra Muslim Khatik Samaj (AMMKS), said that in the meeting held at Pune on 10th June 2009, the petitioners of Dalit Muslim case decided to meet the Prime Minister, UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Congress MP Rahul Gandhi and Social Justice Minister Mukul Wasnik, to demand justice, and to request to file the answer in Supreme Court on the basis of Rangnath Mishra Commission report as they had promised before election. AMMKS office bearers are also planning to meet all Dalit/OBCs leaders.

According to the PIL, basically the Dalit Muslims are deprived of the status of Scheduled Castes on the ground that “there is no caste system in egalitarian Islam whereas the uncomfortable reality is that the Indian Muslim social milieu is caste based not scripturally but practically.”

Ironically, the issue of the Scheduled Tribes is delinked from religion, but the issue of Scheduled Castes is specifically linked with religion. Here also, the order discriminates with Islam and Cristianity by providing Scheduled Castes convert to Sikhism reservation when Sikhism too does not allow caste system and no proof is adduced till date that even after conversion to Sikhism the same caste disability and the former customs and traditions continues. Same is the case with Buddhists.
The mentioned Constitution (Schedules Castes) order 1950 itself, by nature, is discriminatory on grounds of religion and is hit by Article 15 (1),(2) and 16 (1), (2) of the Constitution of India), Article 14, Article 341 and Caste Disabilities Removal Act, 1850 where all prohibit discrimination based on religion, among similar groups, forfeiture of rights in case of conversion and practice of reasonableness in a broader sense. The PIL outlines that the said order is also anti-secular by quoting Article 25, 26, and 29 (2).

The PIL categorises Muslims into three groups – (1) those without any social disabilities, “the Ashraf”; (2) those equivalent to Hindu OBCs, “the Ajlafs”; and (3) those equivalent to Hindu Scs, “the Arzals”. The PIL further concludes that Arzals (Muslim Dalits), Hindu Dalits and Christian Dalits are one and the same. “Because though the religions of Islam and Christianity do not recognise caste system like Hindus but reality is that it prevails amongst them also with a difference in degree.”

The humiliation, discrimination and backwardness socially, economically and educationally continue to exist even after conversion to Islam and Christianity. Considering this the PIL calls the exclusion of Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians as unconstitutional when all three carry on the same so called Dirty Jobs.

The PIL states the example of Khatiks, Hindu butchers who have been declared as Scheduled Castes but Muslim Khatiks , Kasai, butchers and Bakar Kasab, differentiated only by names and titles, are denied of the same right in spite of carrying on the same profession and being at par socially, economically, educationally with Hindu Khatiks. Even National Commission for Minorities and the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities are in support of recognizing Dalit Muslims at par with Dalit Christians.

Indian Muslim News - INTERFAITH RELATIONS

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 26 June 2009 | Posted in

Hindu-Muslim relations in Pakistan

Eroding Religious Harmony

By Salam Dharejo

Umarkot, the birthplace of Moghul Emperor Akbar and a city of large Hindu population, is one of the few towns in Pakistan where religious festivals such as Holi and Diwali are celebrated by both Hindus and Muslims. Holi and Diwali are considered to be a particularly Hindi festival. However both Hindu and Muslim residents of Umarkot unite to celebrate these festivals to express communal solidarity and their particular village identity in spite of religious differences. No matter whether they are Hindus or Muslims, residents of Umarkot primarly identify with each other as members of the same village. Thus during such festivals, they dance in the streets and exchange sweets. A desert town splashes colors and celebrates with each other.

But this year the celebration turned into a bloody day. While earlier Muslims and Hindus would dance jubilantly together, this year Muslims were roaming the streets to find Hindus and punish them.

For instance on 11 March, riots erupted in Udhepuri Muhala as a mob attacked Hindus and their property. They reasoned that a blasphemy was committed by unknown persons who wrote the name of the Prophet on a road near Dr. Rab Nawaz Kunbher Chowck, Umarkot. The incident took place at about 2 pm and news spread in the area through mobile phones and slides on television channels. Consequently, within a short span of time, hundreds of people gathered and started violent acts against Hindus. In this incident several Hindus were injured and a petrol pump and some shops were set on fire. I was on my way towards Temple for pooja when a group of angry young men blocked the way and attacked on me with iron rods and danda with shouting tum kafir ho, mot tumhara mukadar hay (You are infidel, death is your destiny) spoke sixteen years old Sunny Kumar, one of the victims of this riot.

To investigate the blasphemy case, a delegation of Human Rights Commission (HRCP) of Pakistan comprising of Professor Badar Soomro, the Council Member of HRCP, Pir Abdul Rehamn Sarhandi, Punhal Sario, Jam Saqi and others visited Umarkot. The fact-finding mission of HRCP interviewed journalists, local administration, religious leaders, and eye witness accounts of the people. They concluded that it was a conspiracy carried out to destabilize the religious harmony among Hindus and Muslims in Umarkot. According to them, it was a planned incident against the Hindu community. Consequently it was no surprise that a similar incident also happened at Mir Wah Gorchani around the same time. The report argues that the people who actively took part in the violent protest were frequent visitors of the offices of agencies. Professor Soomro told Newsline that two eyewitnesses gave contrasting statements. One of the eyewitness stated that he saw the name written in green color while the other was of the view that the name was written in blue color.

One of the eyewitnesses, Rizwan Kunbhar, told Newsline that when he reached the spot he found the name written on road but it was not clear that whether it is Manoj or Mohammad? On the other hand, Rehan Shah, the reporter of Daily Ummat who was actively involved in protest, stated that he saw the name and tried to take photograph. However, due to problems with the camera, the name does not appear clearly.

To investigate the incidence, a peace committee comprising of 28 members including with religious leaders, police officials, and personnel of district administration, local political leaders and social activists has been formed. In the first meeting of the committee held on March 18, eyewitnesses were interrogated. The SSP investigation leader of Umarkot named Imdad Ali Solangi told Newsline that Abdul Malik Kunbhar, Ibrahim Gishkori, Gulab Udhepuri and Tariq Udhepuri claimed they had seen the name of prophet written on road but could not detect the person who write the name on that spot. He added that with the help of the confession of these eyewitnesses, police would investigate the case to capture the culprits. He also however added that other members of the peace committee would also trace out the culprits through their own sources of information. Regardless of these investigations, the Hindu-Muslim relations in Sindh have severely worsened.

Sindhi Hindus: then and now

Out of total of 2.5 million Hindus in Pakistan 95 percent lives in Sindh. In Sindh, 51 % of Hindus live in Tharparkar and 43 percent in Umarkot district. It has been observed that religious riots erupted in Umarkot have made Hindu residents all over Umarkot and Tharparkar districts insecure. On the lack of security, a local scholar and social reformed named Mir Hassan Areeser comments, Security agencies have been failed in providing protection to the Hindus businessmen, consequently, in the state of insecurity rich Hindus are forced to migrate to India. These riots do not reflect how Hindus and Muslims previously used to interact in past.

For centuries Thar Desert of Sindh has been a symbol of religious harmony and peace. Hindu and Muslims share the same culture, language and tradition. They have lived together in peace and harmony. But in recent history, Thar is witnessing a drastic change where religious extremism is eroding centuries old social harmony and religious tolerance.

Hindus under attack in precious Thar region

Thar, comprising of Tharparkar and Umarkot districts and sharing a long border with India is become a strategically important location for political and administrative reasons. With the changing dynamics of international geo-politics and economy, Thar becomes an even more critical region. Commenting on the importance of Thar to current day geo-politics, a veteran politician named Jam Saqi notes, Opening of Khokhrapar border for railway connection with India would boost the trade and commerce between both neighboring countries. Similarly, exploration of huge stock of coal in Nangarparkar would attract various business stakeholders to come to the dry dunes of the Thar. Keeping in view the golden sand of the area, political and business actors would have to strengthen their power and establish their bases in the area. On one hand, there are such hopes. On the other hand, the Hindu community is facing multidimensional threats to their property, social status and religious identity. Majority of Hindu living in Mithi, Umarkot and Islamkot run their own businesses. Such self-employed Hindu businessmen are however frequently kidnapped.

For instance in the month of June 2008, a prominent businessman and head of Maheshwari community was kidnapped by professional gangsters. The Hindu community launched a campaign for his recovery. They went for series of strikes all over the Thar region. Similarly, Khushal Malhi and Amlakh Malhi were also kidnapped and were recovered after paying huge amount as ransom to kidnapers. The Hindu community felt most insecure after the brutal killing of Ram Maheshwari in October 2005. In addition to physical harm, many Hindu women have been forcibly converted.

Conversion of religion in Hindu Women

Most of the women who have been converted to Islam belong to scheduled or low caste such as Bheel, Kolhi and Shikari. Conversion of Hindu women has exposed the community to the most extreme level of social humiliation and cultural stigma. Hundreds of Hindu women have been converted to Islam. I recognize that in many cases Hindu women have converted by will. However it is also evident that in most of the cases women have been converted forcibly.For instance thirteen years old Mashu was abducted from Jhaluree, a village near Mirpur Khas in December 2005. She was forcibly married to Akbar, one of the four kidnappers. Before marrying, she was converted to Islam and had to change her name from Mashu to Mariam. One culprit behind such forced conversions in Pir Ayub Jan Sarhandi.

Pir Ayub Jan Sarhandi claims that he has converted about ten thousand Hindus. However, he argues that most of them converted willingly. He told Newsline that he has never tried to forcibly convert Hindu women. All of the women came to the court to fulfill the legal requirements and confess in front of the magistrate that they had willingly converted. The Hindu community and Human Rights organizations have however rejected claims that these women willingly converted. They have instead consistently condemned the practice of abduction and conversion. In spite of their condemnation, the peril is becoming stronger with the passage of time. A local poet and writer named Haleem Bhaghi informs us about the threat to conversion, whether forced or unforced. He argues, What ever the reason of conversion may be, conversion results to a threat to identity and social disgrace for the Hindu community. Conversion of Hinuds is necessitated by hard-line religious groups who come to these regions and provide services.

Outsiders enforce Islam in Umarkot

A growing numbers of religious groups are consolidating their position in Thar through providing services like digging wells in remote areas and education facilities in Madrassas. On their growing power, Mir Hassan Areesar observes Social harmony and religious tolerance of the area is on stake due to intervention of outsiders. Tracing the numbers and activities of religious institutions, a local writer and intellectual named Arbab Naik Mohammd told Newsline that more than three thousand Madrasas exist in Thar. He recalls that recently in 2005, Dawat-e Islami has established a huge Madrasa in Umarkot town. Moreover, he reveals that Al Khidmat Welfare Society, Al- Mustafa Welfare Trust, Al Akhtar Trust, Al- Rashid Trust and Alamgeer Welfare Trust have several welfare institutions and outlets of service in Thar.

Migration of aliens in the area is also a potential threat to the stability of religious harmony. In recent years hundreds of Pushto speaking brick kiln workers have migrated to fill the gap of local worker who have been freed from the bondage of brick kiln owners through interventions made by NGOs with the support of administration. On these increasing numbers of outsiders who have taken positions in Umarkot, a local correspondent of ARY channel named Mumtaz Areesar notes, More than 40 brick kilns are located in the surroundings of Umarkot, most of the brick kiln owners are Pakhtoon. They have lost almost all local workers due to operation against bondage, so they are reluctant to keep local workers. Therefore, fearing the loss of workers and to protect the business, Pakhtoon Brick Kiln owners have brought workers from northern areas of the country. Due to the large presence of outsiders who want to reject the past religious harmony and establish a purely Islamic ethos in Umarkot, religious extremism has taken over. A journalist who was reporting during these recent riots said, Increasing religious extremism in Thar is evident from the recent riots in which the workers of Dawat-e- Islami were found actively involved. Dawat-e-Isami is one such outsider religious faction that is trying to erase the long history of Hindu presence in Umarkot. Moulana Abdul Rehman Jamali, the divisional head of another religious faction called Jamiatul ulma-e- Islam acts apologetic. He told Newsline that he had tried his best to peacefully resolve the issue. The youngsters belonging to his religious group however were very aggressive and did not oblige his request.

Rhetoric of Protection

It has been observed that religious groups have their own school of thought. Thus, to consolidate their position, each group is trying to establish its own footings through various tactics. For instance the Devebani and Brelvi do not conform to one anothers ideologies. Their differences have been exposed during the riots in Umarkot. Interestingly, all religious groups unite on the need to provide protection to Hindus. After the riots a peace committee has been formed comprised of 28 members. While Pir Ayub Jan Sarhandi has announced that he does not accept the mandate of recently formed peace committee, he is however still determined to protect Hindus. He told Newsline that in order to express solidarity with Hindus he is going to convene a huge religious gathering in Umarkot in near future. Similarly Abdul Rehman Jamali is of the view that his party will make people feel more secure by organizing procession that advocate peace. Such rhetoric however does not reflect every bodys opinion.

Different opinions

A businessman and local leader of Pakistan People Party argues that the riot was in fact a planned incidence rather than an accident. As a person who was himself targeted, he says, It was a planned incident, the main purpose was to target the Hindus particularly the Malhi community. If you look into the detail of the incident you will find many instances of personal amenity. The protesters who were mainly Urdu speaking attacked on my house and targeted the petrol pump, which is situated more than two kilometers away from the Udhepuri Muhala. The mayor of the district, Shaukat Udhepuri, expresses an intentionally ambiguous assessment of these riots. While he does not directly criticize the Hindus, he neither vows to support or protect the Hindu community. On the nature of the riots, he comments, We do not have personal grievances against any Hindu, though we had quarrel with Malhi community when they attacked on Udhepuri youngsters some month back. But the issue was resolved through negotiation. As for as the incident of blasphemy is concerned, it is fact that some on is involved in this incident. We do not blame any Hindu for such act, but it is clear that no Muslim can dare to do the act of blasphemy. Since a Muslim could not perform such a blasphemous act, the mayor indirectly points the blame on Hindus. Since different people are expressing different opinions on the nature of this incident, many have started to conclude that there is some conspiracy involved.

Conspiracy

Conspiracy is a phrase frequently coined in Umarkot after the incident. To me the recent incident in Umarkot seems a planned conspiracy against the Hindu and Muslim communities who have been living peacefully since centuries. I agree with this assessment. I argue that the culprits want to create insecurity among Hindus and exploit Islam to do so. The riots in Umarkot are not solitary. They represent a larger wave of religious extremism that is weakening historic social bonds among people in neighborhoods all across Pakistan. Jam Saqi also points to the rise in recent religious extremism. Ayub Jan Sarhandi still calls himself a supporter of Hindu Muslim harmony. He has been busy in establishing peaceful coexistence between the two communities . On the riots, he argues, I firmly believe that Hindu community of Umarkot is not involved in the incident. The act of blasphemy in Umarkot is carried out by the culprits belonging to either RAW or Ahmadies. Similarly, the Mayor of Umarjot named Manghan Mangrio argues, We know that culprits have political agenda to destroy religious coexistence of Umarkot. Hindus and Muslims have been living in peaceful environment and always celebrate their religious festivals jointly. Vested interests groups who want to compel Hindus to migrate have planned the recent issue. Since no one is taking blame for thee attacks and no authority is actively trying to stop it, many Hindus have no trust and feel heavily terrified. Saroop Chand Malhi personifies the hundreds of Hindus who continue to feel threatened about their place in this new environment.

The microcosm of Hindu insecurity

Saroop Chand Malhi who is now 32 years old is as scared today as he was 21 years ago when his father Panjo Mal was killed along with three other Hindus at an old temple situated seven kilometers away from Umarkot named Shiv jo Madir (Temple of Shiv). He recalls, My father was not a fanatic and not a rich person, he had a same sweet shop which I am running today. I was a child at the time when I heard that some people have slaughtered my father while he was doing the Pooja. I exactly remember that my mother was saying that no Muslim could do this act because we have no quarrel with any person. Today I am as insecure as I was in back then. How long will we live in a state of perpetual uncertainty and fear?

[The writer Salam Dharejo is a resident of Sindh in Pakistan. He can be contacted at secularsalam@yahoo.com]

Indian Muslim News - INTERFAITH RELATIONS

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 25 June 2009 | Posted in

Sundered Hindu-Muslim Indo-Pak-Kashmiri family cries for reunion By Tanveer Ahmed Before 2005, my Nana [maternal grandfather] was the main obstacle between my Nani [maternal grandmother] (in Pakistan) and her family (in India). Now it’s the relationship between India and Pakistan. I am a 37-year-old British Mirpuri Kashmiri. Four years ago, I came to Pakistan with the sole intention of taking my Nani, my maternal grandmother, across the Line of Control to meet her family on the other side of Kashmir. She was born into a Hindu-Brahman-Saasan family in the early 1930s, on the Pakistani-administered side of Kashmir, not far from what is described as the Line of Control (LoC). The communal frenzy and folly that was August 1947 in the Punjab was replicated in Kashmir by October 1947. My Nani’s life changed for ever. Misplaced from her fleeing family, destitution was quickly evident, dishonour imminent and death almost certain. What transpired as a rescue mission by my Nana, maternal grandfather, led to her having to convert from the faith of her forefathers, marry a stranger in a strange environment, bear children, rear grand-children, even great-grand-children and engage in almost 61 years of constant extemporisation to combat the persistent estrangement she endured. Her background was literally a closed chapter, sealed and suppressed. Not too unlike the border that has un-naturally divided Kashmir. My Nani had probably accepted her predicament as fate as soon as she had entered my Nanas house, way back in October 1947. I, however, have increasingly felt otherwise. Ive always considered this to be part of a perverse political drama. Lack of imagination by the rulers accompanied denial of creative expression for the ruled. Improvising a constructive alternative has been my self-imposed mission for the past four years. I had learnt of her story in 1988, while I was visiting my grandparents in Mirpur, in Pakistani-administered Kashmir. News had filtered through the 70 kilometres or so of mountainous terrain that her mother had passed away. We listened to a cassette recording of her kid brother’s forlorn attempt at getting a Pakistani visa a few years earlier. A year later, after my GCSEs, I took a year off to explore my origins. I visited my Nani’s family in Rajouri, in Indian-administered Kashmir in December 1989. Three days was all I got with them my father had accompanied me to India, and, being a staunch, orthodox Muslim, could not prolong the prospect of spending too much time with non-Muslims. The emotions of my Nani’s siblings and their offspring etched a permanent impression on my mind. I promised them that I would reunite them with their sister. Travelling from India to Pakistan and relaying my adventure to all and sundry had a mildly sensational effect on the local population. Forty-two years of jingoism was momentarily set aside and human emotion was purposefully reflected on. This cut little ice with my Nana though. He remained rigid and paranoid over the idea of my Nani visiting her siblings, fearing she may never return. The 1990s raced past, conflict in the region easily overshadowing all else. Nevertheless, I made an attempt in 1993 when I tried to insist on my Nani accompanying me to India. Eventually, after a month of unsuccessful insistence, I crossed the Wagah-Attari border by myself. The lonesome figure that I was, instead of venturing north to visit her family I decided to ride my sorrow and angst by proceeding south to Bombay and Goa. The mere idea of meeting them without Nani was unbearable. Life carried on but the emotional baggage increased. Nani’s kid brother’s death in February 2004 proved to be the final shock that I was willing to passively endure. It wasn’t until March 2005 that we were informed of this tragedy. A subsequent emotional verbal exchange between me and my Nana secured his long-sought acquiescence for my Nani to visit her family. I arrived again in Pakistan in April 2005. The three of us applied together for an Indian visa in Islamabad. That was the advice the Indian visa officer in London gave me after getting over his disbelief that I could be related to both a Muslim and a Hindu family. We waited in vain. The Indian High Commission told us they were waiting for a No Objection Certificate to my visa application from the High Commission in London. The Indian visa delay prompted my Nana to revert back to his original stance of not allowing my Nani to travel. In effect, the Indian government had inadvertently done him a favour as he was not overly keen in the first place. In October 2005, in the wake of the deadly earthquake that struck Kashmir, I applied for a cross-LoC permit, under the impression that people would be allowed to travel in a matter of weeks if not days. Finally, in February 2008, my cross-LoC permit came me through. I visited my Nani’s family in Mendhar, in the Poonch district of Indian-administered Kashmir. There was mutual elation. I witnessed the fourth death anniversary of my Nanis younger brother, Sita Ram Sharma. He, along with his parents, had lived in constant anxiety over their sister and daughter respectively. They all died in vain. Anyway, meeting my Nani’s remaining two siblings after 19 years evoked a sense of mutual revival of hope. I explained my Nanas intransigence and they eventually managed to convince him to apply for a cross-LoC permit so that he and my Nani could visit them. My Nanis heart condition had become such that travelling via Wagah-Attari or Lahore-Delhi would be almost impossible. In March 2008, I returned to the Pakistani-administered part of Kashmir and promptly made applications for cross-LoC permits for myself and my Nani and Nana. It took many months of haggling with the local authorities and the ISI to get them to send the forms across the LOC, but not before October. It is understood that the authorities on the Indian side cleared our applications in March this year. However, their counterparts on the Pakistani side maintain that they have not received our applications to date. Although I have received email confirmation from the sorting centre in Srinagar, Muzaffarabad is adamant on a dispatch date in order to locate the files. My Nani, in Pakistani-administered Kashmir, and her 2 siblings, on the Indian-administered side, are ailing, and 63 years of separation will not withstand the test of time for much longer, I fear. This thought has been etched on my mind for the past several years. Not a day passes without it continuing to haunt me. Before 2005, my Nana was the main obstacle between my Nani and her family. Now it’s the relationship between India and Pakistan. My Nani is now 79 years old. Please help me reunite her with her family, separated for over 60 years by a distance not much more than 60 kilometres. I desperately hope this story doesn't culminate in that most antagonising of cliches: "So near yet so far." [Tanveer Ahmed is a freelance journalist. Visit his blog on http://tanveerandkashmir.blogspot.com. He can be reached at sahaafi@gmail.com]

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