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Indian Muslim News - ISSUES

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 30 October 2009 | Posted in ,

Why the East sticks to Religion By Imran Khan My generation grew up at a time when colonial hang up was at its peak. Our older generation had been slaves and had a huge inferiority complex of the British. The school I went to was similar to all elite schools in Pakistan. Despite gaining independent, they were, and still are, producing replicas of public schoolboys rather than Pakistanis. I read Shakespeare, which was fine, but no Allama Iqbal – the national poet of Pakistan. The class on Islamic studies was not taken seriously, and when I left school I was considered among the elite of the country because I could speak English and wore Western clothes. Despite periodically shouting ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ in school functions, I considered my own culture backward and religion outdated. Among our group if any one talked about religion, prayed or kept a beard he was immediately branded a Mullah. Because of the power of the Western media, our heroes were Western movie stars or pop stars. When I went to Oxford already burdened with this hang up, things didn’t get any easier. At Oxford, not just Islam, but all religions were considered anachronism. Science had replaced religion and if something couldn’t be logically proved it did not exist. All supernatural stuff was confined to the movies. Philosophers like Darwin, who with his half-baked theory of evolution had supposedly disproved the creation of men and hence religion, were read and revered. Moreover, European history reflected its awful experience with religion. The horrors committed by the Christian clergy during the Inquisition era had left a powerful impact on the Western mind. To understand why the West is so keen on secularism, one should go to places like Cordoba in Spain and see the torture apparatus used during the Spanish Inquisition. Also the persecution of scientists as heretics by the clergy had convinced the Europeans that all religions are regressive. However, the biggest factor that drove people like me away from religion was the selective Islam practiced by most of its preachers. In short, there was a huge difference between what they practiced and what they preached. Also, rather than explaining the philosophy behind the religion, there was an overemphasis on rituals. I feel that humans are different to animals. While, the latter can be drilled, humans need to be intellectually convinced. That is why the Qur’an constantly appeals to reason. The worst, of course, was the exploitation of Islam for political gains by various individuals or groups. Hence, it was a miracle I did not become an atheist. The only reason why I did not was the powerful religious influence my mother wielded on me since my childhood. It was not so much out of conviction but love for her that I stayed a Muslim. However, my Islam was selective. I accepted only parts of the religion that suited me. Prayers were restricted to Eid days and occasionally on Fridays, when my father insisted on taking me to the mosque with him. All in all I was smoothly moving to becoming a Pukka Brown Sahib. After all I had the right credentials in terms of school, university and, above all, acceptability in the English aristocracy, something that our brown sahibs would give their lives for. So what led me to do a ‘lota’ on the Brown Sahib culture and instead become a ‘desi’? Well it did not just happen overnight. Firstly, the inferiority complex that my generation had inherited gradually went as I developed into a world-class athlete. Secondly, I was in the unique position of living between two cultures. I began to see the advantages and the disadvantages of both societies. In Western societies, institutions were strong while they were collapsing in our country. However, there was an area where we were and still are superior, and that is our family life. I began to realize that this was the Western society’s biggest loss. In trying to free itself from the oppression of the clergy, they had removed both God and religion from their lives. While science, no matter how much it progresses, can answer a lot of questions – two questions it will never be able to answer: One, what is the purpose of our existence and two, what happens to us when we die? It is this vacuum that I felt created the materialistic and the hedonistic culture. If this is the only life then one must make hay while the sun shines – and in order to do so one needs money. Such a culture is bound to cause psychological problems in a human being, as there was going to be an imbalance between the body and the soul. Consequently, in the US, which has shown the greatest materialistic progress while giving its citizens numerous rights, almost 60 percent of the population consult psychiatrists. Yet, amazingly in modern psychology, there is no study of the human soul. Sweden and Switzerland, who provide the most welfare to their citizens, also have the highest suicide rates. Hence, man is not necessarily content with material well being and needs something more. Since all morality has it roots in religion, once religion was removed, immorality has progressively grown since the 70s. Its direct impact has been on family life. In the UK, the divorce rate is 60 percent, while it is estimated that there are over 35 percent single mothers. The crime rate is rising in almost all Western societies, but the most disturbing fact is the alarming increase in racism. While science always tries to prove the inequality of man (recent survey showing the American Black to be genetically less intelligent than whites) it is only religion that preaches the equality of man. Between 1991 and 1997, it was estimated that total immigration into Europe was around 520,000, and there were racially motivated attacks all over, especially in Britain, France and Germany. In Pakistan during the Afghan war, we had over four million refugees, and despite the people being so much poorer, there was no racial tension. There was a sequence of events in the 80s that moved me toward God as the Qur’an says: “There are signs for people of understanding.” One of them was cricket. As I was a student of the game, the more I understood the game, the more I began to realize that what I considered to be chance was, in fact, the will of Allah. A pattern which became clearer with time. But it was not until Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses” that my understanding of Islam began to develop. People like me who were living in the Western world bore the brunt of anti-Islam prejudice that followed the Muslim reaction to the book. We were left with two choices: fight or flight. Since I felt strongly that the attacks on Islam were unfair, I decided to fight. It was then I realized that I was not equipped to do so as my knowledge of Islam was inadequate. Hence I started my research and for me a period of my greatest enlightenment. I read scholars like Ali Shariati, Muhammad Asad, Iqbal, Gai Eaton, plus of course, a study of Qur’an. I will try to explain as concisely as is possible, what “discovering the truth” meant for me. When the believers are addressed in the Qur’an, it always says, “Those who believe and do good deeds.” In other words, a Muslim has dual function, one toward God and the other toward fellow human beings. The greatest impact of believing in God for me, meant that I lost all fear of human beings. The Qur’an liberates man from man when it says that life and death and respect and humiliation are God’s jurisdiction, so we do not have to bow before other human beings. Moreover, since this is a transitory world where we prepare for the eternal one, I broke out of the self-imposed prisons, such as growing old (such a curse in the Western world, as a result of which, plastic surgeons are having a field day), materialism, ego, what people say and so on. It is important to note that one does not eliminate earthly desires. But instead of being controlled by them, one controls them. By following the second part of believing in Islam, I have become a better human being. Rather than being self-centered and living for the self, I feel that because the Almighty gave so much to me, in turn I must use that blessing to help the less privileged. This I did by following the fundamentals of Islam rather than becoming a Kalashnikov-wielding fanatic. I have become a tolerant and a giving human being who feels compassion for the underprivileged. Instead of attributing success to myself, I know it is because of God’s will, hence I learned humility instead of arrogance. Also, instead of the snobbish Brown Sahib attitude toward our masses, I believe in egalitarianism and strongly feel against the injustice done to the weak in our society. According to the Qur’an, “Oppression is worse than killing.” In fact only now do I understand the true meaning of Islam, if you submit to the will of Allah, you have inner peace. Through my faith, I have discovered strength within me that I never knew existed and that has released my potential in life. I feel that in Pakistan we have selective Islam. Just believing in God and going through the rituals is not enough. One also has to be a good human being. I feel there are certain Western countries with far more Islamic traits than us in Pakistan, especially in the way they protect the rights of their citizens, or for that matter their justice system. In fact some of the finest individuals I know live there. What I dislike about them is their double standards in the way they protect the rights of their citizens but consider citizens of other countries as being somehow inferior to them as human being, e.g. dumping toxic waste in the Third World, advertising cigarettes that are not allowed in the West and selling drugs that are banned in the West. One of the problems facing Pakistan is the polarization of two reactionary groups. On the one side is the Westernized group that looks upon Islam through Western eyes and has inadequate knowledge about the subject. It reacts strongly to anyone trying to impose Islam in society and wants only a selective part of the religion. On the other extreme is the group that reacts to this Westernized elite and in trying to become a defender of the faith, takes up such intolerant and self-righteous attitudes that are repugnant to the spirit of Islam. What needs to be done is to somehow start a dialogue between the two extreme. In order for this to happen, the group on whom the greatest proportion of our educational resources are spent in this country must study Islam properly. Whether they become practicing Muslims or believe in God is entirely a personal choice. As the Qur’an tells us there is “no compulsion in religion.” However, they must arm themselves with knowledge as a weapon to fight extremism. Just by turning up their noses at extremism the problem is not going to be solved. The Qur’an calls Muslims “the middle nation”, not of extremes. The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) was told to simply give the message and not worry whether people converted or not, therefore, there is no question in Islam of forcing your opinions on anyone else. Moreover, we are told to respect other religions, their places of worship and their prophets. It should be noted that no Muslim missionaries or armies ever went to Malaysia or Indonesia. The people converted to Islam due to the high principles and impeccable character of the Muslim traders. At the moment, the worst advertisements for Islam are the countries with their selective Islam, especially where religion is used to deprive people of their rights. In fact, a society that obeys fundamentals of Islam has to be a liberal one. If Pakistan’s Westernized class starts to study Islam, not only will it be able to help society fight sectarianism and extremism, but it will also make them realize what a progressive religion Islam is. They will also be able to help the Western world by articulating Islamic concepts. Recently, Prince Charles accepted that the Western world can learn from Islam. But how can this happen if the group that is in the best position to project Islam gets its attitudes from the West and considers Islam backward? Islam is a universal religion and that is why our Prophet (peace be upon him) was called a Mercy for all mankind. [Imran Khan is the Chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf] (Courtesy: Arab News)

Indian Muslim News - SHARIAH

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 28 October 2009 | Posted in , , ,

IN THE NAME OF ALLAH THE BENEFICENT AND THE MERCIFUL

nikah nama

(Sanad-e-Nikah)

Presented by: All India Shia Personal Law Board

PREFACE

All over the world marriage is regarded as the sacred social obligation. But Islam has not confined it to social values only but has explained its religious importance also.

Nikah is not only a tool to increase generation but it also helps in character-building, protection from acts forbidden by Quran and formation of a family. The problem is that on the occasion of marriage people talk of religion, but the fact is that society has upper hand in every aspect. And when any issue takes a bad turn, then religion is always blamed for it.

In the Holy Qoran importance and virtues of Nikah have been described in many occasions in very clear terms. In the Hadith (hadees) of Rasool-ul-lah and in the sermons of Imams importance and virtues of Nikah have repeatedly been told.

Both Qoran and Sunnat have ordained better and kind behavior with wife and children.

The Qoran has very explicitly explained the rights of husband and wife. In case of differences, the Qoran has also suggested ways and means to solve the problem. When all the efforts of unity and reconciliation are exhausted, the Qoran has advised talaq but still has condemned it.

The society has made marriage so difficult that today father of every daughter is perturbed.

Frivolous customs and rituals, manjha, mehndi and chauthi are nothing but wastage of lot of money. Demand of big sums of money as Mehr and huge dowry have devastated families. It is necessary that we should seek remedy of our problems in the light of Qoran and Hadith. Emphasizing on the importance and need of the Nikah Qoran says :-

(And this is one of the signs of his command that he created women for you of your own creed so that you live with them happily and developed love and compassion between you.)

(Sura-e-Rome At. 21)

At another place the Qoran says :-

(Perform Nikah of women who have no husband and your obedient slaves (male and female). If they would be hauper, the God by his mercy would made them rich. And the God is very knowledgeable and accommodating).

(Sura-e-Noor At. 32)

Rasool-e-Islam has said :

(Nikah is my sunnat and anybody who goes against it is not from me.)

Islam has given rights to husband against wife and to wife against husband and has declared them life partners, compliment to each other, source of prestige, secrecy and pride.

So in another Ayat the Quran says :

Hun Libas Lakum Wa Antum Libas Lahan.

(Sura Baqar, Ayat 187)

(Aurtein Goya Tumhari Choli Hain aur Tum Goya Unka Daman Ho).

(Man is incomplete without woman and woman is incomplete without man).

Prophet Mohammad has said that it is obligatory on wife to obey her husband. Never disobey him, keep watch on his house and not to give even 'Sadqa' from husband's money without his permission. Likewise Hadith also ordains that it is imperative on husband to provide good food and clothes to wife and to forgive her if she commits any mistake unknowingly.

On another occasion the Prophet has strongly admonished those who ignore the rights of their wives and children.

(Discarded is the person who ignores the rights of his children).

(Wives should be kept with dignity, so the Prophet said).

(Wasail al Shia)

Wives should be kept with dignity, so the Prophet said.

(Anybody who brings wife, he should give her due respect).

(Wasail al Shia)

As far as religion is concerned, it has ordered to keep women with dignity, provide them with basic necessities of life and protection of their rights.

Another evil of the society is that to show their superiority people fix big amounts as Mahr which in the eyes of religion is unpleasant. The Prophet said:

(The best women in my 'Ummat' are those who are beautiful and their Mahr is very less).

(Wasail-ul-Shia)

The quran says:

(Behave properly with your wives.)

(Sura-e-Nisa, Verse 19)

Where on one hand against the teachings of Islam, huge amounts are fixed as Mahr on the other not to pay Mahr through the life, is an unpleasant act in the eyes of religion. So Imam Jaffer Sadiq A.S. says :-

There are three types of thieves, those who don't pay zakat, those who don't pay Maher of his wife and those to take debt with the intentin not to repay it.

(Behar-ul-Anwar)

In this connection the biggest social evil is that people demand big amounts and huge dowry from bride's family. One cannot expect more un-Islamic, uncultured and inhuman thing than this evil. Though this ailment has nothing to do with the religion, this is an economic malody. But the sale of bridegroom for dowry is an inhuman act which has no parallel. It is the duty of every member of Muslim society to raise voice against this evil practice.

Since Islam is a practical religion, it has principles to solve issues even in difficult times. If all efforts of reconciliation have failed and there is no possibility of agreement and the mutual trust has finished, the divorce is the last resort. Talaq in Islam is valid but it has been condemned and has been permitted only as a last resort. Imam Jaffer Sadiq says, "Solemnize marriage but don't give divorce because Arsh-e-Khuda shakes when a talaq takes place."

On another occasion it is said God loves that house where marriage takes place and dislikes that house where divorce is given. In the presence of these specific instructions it is the duty of every pious Muslim to make utmost effort to cleanse the society from the scrouge of divorce.

CONDITIONS BY THE BRIDE

1. Within the bounds of the Shariah, the bridegroom will not impose unwarranted restrictions upon me.

2. Without any proper reason, he will not refuse me to meet my parents, my siblings and my near relatives.

3. He will not force me to do anything in violation of the Shariah or which may cause me embarrassment in the society.

4. Without authentic evidence he will never make any allegation against me.

5. In case of domestic dispute, I too will have full freedom to present my cause.

6. To fulfill domestic obligations, within the bounds of the Shariah and to improve the economic situation if I wish to work anywhere, he shall not stop me.

7. In matters of upbringing of children and in domestic affairs my opinion shall carry weight too.

8. After the marriage, the groom shall never demand from my parents or me or members of my family any more gifts or cash.

9. The groom shall provide me all essential and lively needs.

10. The groom shall be responsible for the maintenance of the children.

11. If the groom disappears for two consecutive years and does not provide essentials to me, I shall have the right to refer to Hakim-e-Shar'a for divorce the groom should delegate power to divorce to me in this regard.

12. (a) If the groom constantly disappears and does not inquire about me for months together and does not provide for the essential needs and if this state continues for four consecutive years.

(b) Or, if the husband uses physical force and if his action causes danger to my life or limbs, or if he forces me to have sexual relations with other men, under these circumstances the husband will delegate to me the right to divorce him so as to be relieved of physical and mental torture.

13. After consummation takes place, in case of divorce, I shall retain full rights over my mahr. Besides, it being obligatory upon him to return to me all my belongings.

14. If any of the groom's relatives excessively troubles me, I shall have the right to ask my husband for a separate living arrangement. If this demand is not fulfilled, I shall have the right to refer to the Hakim-e-Sahr'a and his decision shall be binding upon both of us.

15. The groom shall have no right to ask for anything in cash or kind. He will also make no demands as far as reception of barat is concerned.

16. These days the demand for bridal gifts exceeds those given to the daughter of The Prophet SAWW, hence, the mahr should also be more than that of Hazrat Fatima AS and there shall be no insistence upon limiting the amount of mahr equivalent to the mahr of Hazrat Fatima AS.

17. If the groom divorces me at his own will and at that time if I have no other means of maintaining myself and to provide for my necessities, till the time the means of livelihood are acquired by me, the groom shall, as an unrelated helper, provide for my essential needs. Let it be made clear that with this condition I do not intend to interfere with the provisions of the Shariah, rather, this condition is based on humanitarian grounds that a helpless woman instead of having to beg from strangers, why she should not impose this condition binding the person to whom for a long time she had served as spouse.

18. If the groom has any complaints against me, he shall first present them before the arbitrators mentioned in this Nikahnama and shall not directly approach the court.

19. If he agrees to the conditions mentioned above, I consent to marry him.

I hereby declare that I shall not act upon conditions 11 and 12 until I procure five witnesses and have consulted a religious scholar to whose erudite opinion I shall give due weight age.

Signature of the Groom …………………. Signature of the Bride…….……………..

Date …………………..

Witnesses:

1-

2-

3-

4-

CONDITIONS BY THE GROOM

1. The bride shall support me in all matters according to Shariah and social norms.

2. After fulfilling the lawful needs of the bride if I expend my money on my parents or relatives, the bride shall have no right to object.

3. The bride shall not by wasteful expenditure which is beyond my means, land me in debt.

4. The bride shall not have the right to do any thing that would cause a disgrace to me or my relatives in the society.

5. The bride shall not have the right to make any allegations against me without investigation and authentic evidence.

6. If my financial position deteriorates and the bride's financial condition improves then until such time my economic situation improves, she shall by way of qarz-e-hasana (soft loan) support me, which shall include the maintenance of children also.

7. If the bride has any complaint against me, she will first refer the matter to the arbitrators mentioned in this Nikahnama and shall not directly approach the court.

If the bride accepts the above conditions, I consent to marry her.

Signature of the Groom …………………. Signature of the Bride…….……………..

Date …………………..

Witnesses:

1-

2-

3-

4-

5-

It is not mandatory for both parties to accept the conditions laid down for the bride and the groom in this Nikahnama. However, any condition(s) can be deleted, cancelled or narrowed and on a separate sheet of paper, shall be described in detail and signatures of all concerned affixed.

Similarly, if any conditions are to be added, for example, if the bride works to support her aging parents and minor siblings and she wishes to continue working even after the marriage so that they are not remained unsupported, or the groom immediately wishes to take his bride outside the country or the city or any other conditions can also be included, provided two religious scholars scrutinize them and approve that the conditions do not go against the shariah.

DECLARATION

I, …………………………………… son of ……………………………, residing at ………………………………………………………………………… on this date ……………………….. Corresponding to ………………………….. declare that there does not exist a wife by any previous temporary or permanent marriage/ there exists a wife by previous temporary or permanent marriage.

I have/do not have/child(ren) ……………………………………………………...

My monthly income is ……….…………………………………. and the maintenance of ……………………………………… family members is my responsibility.

My educational qualifications are …………………………………………………

My means of income are (with designation) ……………………………………...

Signature

Signatures of witnesses:

I, ……………………………………………….., daughter of …………………… …………………………….., residing at …………………………….…, on this date ……………………………………. corresponding to ……………………, after reading the above declaration, am consenting to accept Mr………………. son of ……………………………as my husband. However, if any of the provisions of the declaration are proven false, I shall have the delegated authority to divorce, and if I do not want to live with him, I shall exercise my delegated authority to divorce. However, I will not exercise this right without consulting a religious scholar and my witnesses.

Signature……………………………

Signature of witnesses: ……………………………..

If any of the provisions of this declaration are proven false, then Mrs. . .……… ............................................................... daughter of …………………………... will have the delegated authority to divorce me.

Signature ……………………….

ARBITRATION

Proceedings:

Resolving conflicts through mutual negotiations and to determine through arbitration is a desirable deed in Al-Islam (Surat-u-Nisaa, verse 35). Marital disputes that arise after marriage assume grave proportions because there are no wise counselors involved.

At the time of marriage, five witnesses from the bride's side will be named. From the groom's side, five witnesses will be named and the representatives of both parties, usually religious scholars, will also be named. In this way, when an arbitration committee is formed, it can attempt to resolve any dispute that may arise.

If during the dispute, some of the named persons are no longer alive, each party can nominate their own persons and if among the representatives one or both no longer remain alive, each party shall nominate its own religious scholar.

If the bride or the groom have complaints, the arbitrators shall assemble and according to the conditions laid down in the Nikahnama, they shall try for reconciliation between husband and wife.

If the arbitrators of one party do not attend two consecutive times after being called, then at the third time the arbitrators from the other party shall deliberate and determine the issue which shall be binding upon both parties. If despite efforts made by the arbitrators, the case ends in divorce, representatives of both parties or only the woman's representative or the area's religious scholar shall go with the woman to the religious scholar who has been appointed representative by Hakim-e-Shar'a and that scholar shall in his presence get the divorce affected.

After the divorce, it shall be upon the arbitrators to get the return of the bridal belongings and remittance of mahr from the groom. If the arbitrators fail in their efforts, the representatives of Hakim-e-Shar'a shall use his influence to get the bride's belongings.

When all efforts of the arbitrators fail, the matter shall be referred to the court.

Note :

(1) It is preferable that the pronouncement of divorce is affected after the return of belongings and if any item has been deliberately damaged then its cost shall be paid.

(2) The gifts given to the bride and the groom at the time of marriage shall not be returned in case of divorce.

(3) If only one religious scholar represented both parties at the time of the marriage, then in case of dispute, the arbitrators shall nominate another religious scholar so that the proceedings may take place in the presence of two religious scholars.

Indian Muslim News - ISSUES

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , ,

Waking Up The Dead

Centuries-old graveyards demolished by the State

Now, anti-Muslim prejudice in polarised Gujarat extends six feet under, reports SANJANA

ON OCTOBER 3, Ajaz Khan Pathan, a resident of Dahod – a quiet town located 200 km from Gujarat’s commercial capital Ahmedabad – decided to pray at his ancestors’ graves. The 250-year-old graveyard at Idgah Chaab Talav had always filled him with calm. Pathan also wanted to clean the graves and lay flowers on them. Nothing could have prepared him for what he saw when he came to his destination, which lies a few metres off Dahod’s main road. A frenzied mass of labourers, bulldozers and excavators had been set loose on Pathan’s oasis of tranquility. The work crew was busy digging up graves and levelling the land. Bricks, rubble and even bones that had lain undisturbed for hundreds of years lay scattered across the raw earth.

Several hours later, Pathan and his friends learnt that the Dahod Municipal Corporation (DMC) authorities had decided that the town needed a new road – a road, as it turned out, that would cut right through a section of the graveyard. There had been no prior notice given to anyone. Dahod is easily one of Gujarat’s most backward districts and over the years, its backwardness has become an easy answer for a range of questions, be they on funds for education or relief for riot victims. When Khan and other Muslims asked why the graves of their forefathers had been desecrated, DMC President Gulshan Bachani (of the BJP) claimed that the road was necessary to develop Dahod – and lift it out of its backwardness.

Says Khan, “We waited for five days before being granted a meeting with Bachani. We would go every day, see him in his office, but return without a meeting. Meanwhile, the graveyard continued to be levelled. When we were finally granted an audience on October 8, the president was firm in his claim that the road was necessary for Dahod’s development.” Khan and others say that Bachani refused to discuss details of the project with them but only told them repeatedly that it would increase traffic into the town and hence bring development to the region – an explanation they reject. “We are convinced this is another way to inflict violence on Muslims. They knew the graveyard is an ancient one and that it would be sacrilege to dig up graves and disturb the bones of our ancestors. But none of this matters to them at all,” says an emotional Farooq Bhai Patel. “They tried to kill us all in 2002. The ones who survived are being killed in a different way now,” he adds bitterly.

Patel is a fruit merchant in Dahod and, along with Pathan and others, is a member of the Dahod Muslim Panch – an organisation that has been working to uphold the rights of the Muslim community after the 2002 riots.

UNFORTUNATELY, THE facts appear to substantiate the Panch’s charge of anti-Muslim prejudice. In an extensive interview with TEHELKA, DMC President Bachani admitted that the road project was a scheme approved in 1977 and could give no conclusive answer to why a 32-year-old plan was being revived. He also failed to explain just how the Rs 50 lakh road project sanctioned under the Tribal Sub-Plan (a government scheme for tribal development projects) would benefit the tribal community. Bachani would only repeat throughout that, “The road will improve connectivity.” And just how much of the graveyard will the road project take up? Shockingly, Bachani admits that he has no idea, because the project construction — and graveyard desecration — started without a proper survey being completed.

When this reporter raised the issue of discrimination against Muslims and asked if the road project would have gone ahead if a temple had stood there, Bachani retorted, “How can you compare temples and graveyards? Temples are filled with living people. Graveyards are full of the dead. Who cares about them?”

But this is not an isolated case. Last year, in Tilakvada, 150 km from Dahod, a section of the Muslim graveyard was cleared for an office of the district’s Agricultural Produce Marketing Corporation (APMC). As news spread of the Tilakvada gram panchayat being pressurised to hand over the land, local Muslims filed a case in the district court. In October 2008, a month after the court awarded them a stay order, the district collector, despite being served a copy of the order, signed papers handing over the land to the APMC. The graves began to be dug up the very next day. The locals approached the high court, but by the time it granted a stay order, the APMC office complex was nearly complete.

Local Muslims are being punished for opposing the demolition. Musabhai Mahmadbhai Ghanchi, 60, was slapped with an eviction notice for a house he built on his own agricultural land – and has lived in for the past 25 years. And when Allarakha Masidkhan Malik went all alone to place flowers at the spot where his ancestors’ graves had been, he — and he alone — was slapped with a police case for being part of an unlawful assembly. Soon after Malik was bailed, AJ Chanpura, a taluk official, cancelled Malik’s hotel license. Both APMC District President Umang Patel and Chanpura refused to speak to TEHELKA.

‘How can you compare temples and graveyards? Temples are full of the living; graveyards are full of the dead. Who cares about them?’ says the DMC president

The story of Chandvada, about 60 km from Tilakvada, is even worse. The local Muslims have had their graveyard turned into a cattle pasture, with dung and haystacks scattered across it. Attempts by Muslims to explain that the graveyard was a sacred place have been completely disregarded by local Hindus. In conversations with TEHELKA, both communities held the other responsible for the situation as it existed currently.

Activists like Harsh Mander and Shabnam Hashmi who have been working in Gujarat for several years believe that the destruction of graveyards is yet another manifestation of rampant communalisation in the state. Explains Mander, whose recent book Fear and Forgiveness: The Aftermath of Massacre tracks the ongoing discrimination in Gujarat after the 2002 riots, “These are decentralised efforts, really; methods devised at local levels to constantly remind Muslims of their second class citizenship.” For Hashmi, the issue was even more distressing since it highlighted the utter disregard for the judiciary. Said Hashmi, “With police and government officials batting on the same side against Muslims, the situation is bleak. People like us who constantly attempt to highlight the continuing violence are now looked at askance or threatened with violence ourselves.”

[The writer can be contacted at sanjana@tehelka.com]

(Courtesy: Tehelka.com)

Indian Muslim News - ISSUES

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

Family planning & the Quran By Dr. Riffat Hassan The Quran is the highest and most authoritative source of normative Islam. A clear Quranic statement on any subject is regarded by Muslims as decisive and beyond questioning. However, as Allama Iqbal has pointed out, the Quran is not “a legal code”. It does not address every subject specifically or directly. Rather, it is a book of divine wisdom meant to guide human beings who have been made “in the best of moulds” (Surah 95:4) to realise their potential to the fullest and become God’s vicegerents on Earth. The Quran thus gives us a value system upon which to base our informed judgment while tackling contemporary issues. Take family planning, for instance. Even though there is no Quranic text on this specific issue, the Quran does establish the ethical framework in which this issue — like other contemporary issues — can be resolved. Often Muslims who support family planning say that the Quran is silent on this issue, and they take the silence to be a sign of affirmation rather than negation. For instance, Dr Fazlur Rahman has pointed out that “in the verses of the Holy Quran one finds nothing which gainsays the view that we should control our population, for a time, to remedy our present situation”. On the other hand, Muslims like Maulana Abul Ala Maududi, insist that “the Quran is not silent”, on the subject. They point to the Quranic condemnation of the practice of burying female children alive which was prevalent in pre-Islamic Arabia (Surah 81: 8-9; Surah 16: 57-59); and also to the Quranic verses in which the “killing” of children is prohibited or censured (Surah 6: 137,140,151; Surah 17:31; Surah 60:12). Addressing, first, the arguments used to contend that the Quran is opposed to family planning, I would like to state the following. The Quranic references to the killing of children (who — according to the testimony of both “sacred” and historical texts — were female, not male, offspring) are to children already born and not to unborn children. Hence they are not relevant in a discussion of whether the Quran permits or prohibits family planning. Secondly, Quranic references to the “killing” of children, may not, in all instances, point to actual slaying of offspring, but could be symbolic of ill-treatment of children as has also been pointed out by a number of notable Muslim scholars. Thirdly, though the Quran repeatedly refers to God’s omnipotence, it does not absolve either individuals or communities of responsibility for their survival and wellbeing. Rather, it constantly reminds human beings who have been given the gift of reason (aql) that “for itself lies every soul in pledge” (Surah 52: 21, Surah 74:38). Addressing, next, the argument used in support of family planning, namely, that the Quran’s silence on the subject implies that — at the very least — it is not opposed to family planning, I would like to respond as follows. The absence of war does not necessarily imply peace nor does the absence of sickness necessarily imply good health. The fact that the Quran does not say anything against the idea of family planning, likewise, does not necessarily imply that it supports family planning. Many present-day Muslims, having heard all their lives that the Quran is a complete code of life expect to find in it specific statements pertaining to all subjects. When they do not find such statements they assume that the Quran has nothing to say on those subjects. This claim of perceived “silence” of the Quran regarding a number of significant, modern issues like family planning creates a theological and ethical vacuum which different persons and groups fill in different ways. Here, it is important to remember that the Quran is not an encyclopaedia which may be consulted to obtain specific information about every possible subject. By regarding the Quran as a Book in which they will find readymade laws, regulations, prescriptions or assessments relating to everything in life, many Muslims have lost sight of the main purpose of the Quran which, as stated by Iqbal, is “to awaken in man the higher consciousness of his relation with God and the universe.... The important thing in this connection is the dynamic outlook of the Quran”. The answer to the question of how the Quran views family planning, and other contemporary issues, should not be sought in specific verses but within the overall ethical framework of normative Islam. The Quran strongly affirms and upholds fundamental human rights. It follows, therefore, that these rights must be acknowledged and protected in all Muslim societies and communities. Given the unhappy socio-cultural, economic and political conditions of much of the present-day Muslim world where increase in birthrate is amongst the highest, the need for family planning may be regarded as self-evident. The right to use contraceptives, especially by disadvantaged masses whose lives are scarred by grinding poverty and massive illiteracy, should be seen in the light of the Quranic vision of what an Islamic society should be like — and as such as a fundamental human right. [Dr. Riffat Hassan is a professor emerita at the University of Louisville, US, and a scholar of Islam and Iqbal. He can be contacted at rshass01@gwise.louisville.edu]

Indian Muslim News - PEOPLE

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in

Story of an Indian Muslim and his business in Portugal As chairman of a Portuguese bank that has been raising finances for Indian companies, Lisbon-based Abdul Magid Abdul Karim Vakil combines love for the land of his ancestors with perfect business sense. In many ways, the journey that started with Vakil's father migrating from a village in Gujarat to the then Portuguese colony of Mozambique in the late 19th century has come full circle. “We are now probably the only Portuguese bank that raises finances for Indian companies...most of them in the IT sector,” said Vakil, 68. He has served in the Portuguese finance ministry, Bank of Portugal, Manufactures Hanover and Banco Nacional Ultramarino. Vakil, who says he was the first Indian Muslim migrant in Portugal, was in 2007 awarded the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman by the Indian president. Sitting in the sybaritic environs of Taj Mahal Hotel, surrounded by the sound of cutlery and conversation, Vakil, who visited India in July 2008 as part of a delegation accompanying the Portuguese foreign minister told IANS the story of his life's journey from Mozambique to the boardrooms of top Portuguese public sector companies. It all started in the 1890s when his father joined his elder brother to travel from Gujarat to Mozambique. “I am not sure why they went there. Maybe because Diu (a Portuguese colony) was close (to Gujarat) and somebody told them they could get a good living in Africa,” he mused. The Vakil brothers prospered, moving from a small shop on the outskirts of the capital city, Lorenco Marques, (renamed Maputo) to a bigger one in the city centre and then constructing one of the first high rise buildings with a lift in 1940. Then in 1945, his father became concerned that his three sons spoke only Portuguese. “So he took us back to India, to our house in Vanthali. It was a grand journey in a motorcar and with a generator,” he said. Vakil was enrolled at the local school where he learned Gujarati, Hindi and Arabic. But his stay was interrupted within two years, when in September 1947 the Nawab of Junagadh declared his state to be part of Pakistan. (Junagadh indeed remains part of Gujarat in India.) “Suddenly, things started happening. The balance that existed before went unbalanced,” he said referring to simmering communal tensions in Gujarat. The family decided to leave Gujarat - “we just left in a hurry”, travelled in a train to Bombay and then flew to Karachi. “We stayed for a year in Karachi, so it was interesting to see both sides of the border.” The family returned to Mozambique, restarting their old routine and business, before life was disrupted again when his father died in 1953. It took Vakil 60 years to return to Vanthali, when he brought his daughter and son to his ancestral village last year. “Our house was still standing when I took my daughter and son to visit Vanthali last year. In fact, my daughter notices that the building still had my father's name - A.Y. Vakil. The present owners were very nice, told us to 'ayo, baso'. I even met a schoolmate during the visit.” In Mozambique, life went on. “For a business family, my mother, like my father, stressed a lot on education. So in 1956, I went to Portugal for higher studies as a 17-year-old, even though my mother was really worried about me living alone,” he said, adding that the two main qualms were about his food habits and the possibility of his taking up with a woman there. The prophecy was partially fulfilled when he married a Portuguese college mate in 1961. He brought his mother to Portugal and set up the first Indian Muslim household. After getting a degree in finance from the technical university in 1964, he worked as a lecturer for three years and then plunged into the corporate world. In 1988, he co-founded a private investment bank, Banco Efisa, which was eventually taken over by Banco Portugues de Negocious in 2001, but Vakil remained the chairman. His connection with India was renewed when he was persuaded by the Indian ambassador to take part in the first Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in 2003. Since then, Vakil, who also heads Portugal's Islamic community, has not missed a single pravasi gathering, except when he fell ill. “I was very happy to become more and more conscious of my roots, that we are all originally from here... I have been saying to my friends. Go there (PBD) and you should meet each other,” said a visibly enthused Vakil. Since then he has combined his emotional interest in India with sound business sense. Banco Efisa floated an India-specific private equity fund along with the Bahrain-based Taib Bank, called The Leverage India Fund (LIF), which raised over $154 million. Vakil has now found a new passion - leveraging Portugal's links with other countries for India. “I tried a merger between a firm here and in Brazil. It was in the metallic industry, but it did not workout." Now he is trying for his pet project of bringing Portugal on the India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) platform. “I had been very much interested in the concept of IBSA. In fact, I had even suggested the IBSA plus P idea, as I believe that we in Portugal have a role to play. To this, we can also add Portuguese-speaking Africa'. 'I never give up, I am rather stubborn,” he said. (Courtesy: IANS)

Indian Muslim News - WOMEN

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Leading Malaysian social activist and founding member of ‘Sisters in Islam’ Zainah Anwar on Islam and Muslim Feminism Based in Kuala Lumpur, Zainah Anwar, a leading Malaysian social activist and intellectual, is one of the founding members of ‘Sisters in Islam’, an activist group struggling for the rights of Muslim women. She is also one of the pioneers of Musawah, a recently launched initiative to build a global movement for equality and justice in the Muslim family. In this interview with Yoginder Sikand, she talks about her vision for an understanding of gender justice in Islam and the place of Islam within a democratic nation-state. Q: You may not like being labeled, but how would you describe yourself? As a Muslim feminist? A feminist who is also a Muslim? An Islamic feminist? A: I am a feminist. That is my foremost identity. But I am also a Muslim, and so I have no problems calling myself a ‘Muslim feminist’. I am very proud of my Muslim identity. I don’t see any contradiction in being Muslim and feminist at the same time, because I have been brought up with an understanding of Islam that is just and God that is absolutely just, including in matters related to women and gender relations. At the same time, I would hesitate to call myself an ‘Islamic feminist’. I find that term ‘Islamic’ too ideological. I prefer to call myself a ‘Muslim feminist’, because the term ‘Muslim’ signifies human agency and how I, as a human being, understand God and religion. Because of political Islam, there is a tendency to believe that anything labeled ‘Islamic’ is the divine word of God, unmediated by human agency and interpretation, which is not the case, if course. Islam does not speak on its own, without human intervention. So, at Sisters in Islam, we are trying to start using the term ‘Muslim’ more, rather than ‘Islamic’, to emphasise the human role in defining what is seen as Islam and what is not. For example, we prefer to use the term ‘Muslim Family Law’, rather than ‘Islamic Family Law’, to help Muslims better understand that the call for reform is not a call to change God’s words, but, rather, to change Muslim understandings of God’s message. Q: Many Muslim feminists seek to articulate a gender-just understanding of Islam based almost wholly on their reading of the Quran, without taking recourse to the corpus of Hadith and fiqh, possibly because the latter two sources contain prescriptions and rules that seem to greatly militate against gender justice. How do you relate to these latter two sources of Muslim tradition? A: For me, as a Muslim, the Quran is the ultimate authority. Anything that contradicts it, including in the corpus of Hadith and fiqh, cannot be considered to be Islamic. Furthermore, I also believe that the Quran is open to multiple interpretations, as a result of human agency in seeking to understand the text. There is no final, authoritative human interpretation of the text. Thus, the history of Quranic exegesis is a story of a constant, and continuing, endeavour of Muslims seeking to understand the word of God, a wondrous exercise that can result in new meanings and perspectives evolving over time. If you read a particular verse of the Quran you might derive a certain meaning today, but, five years later, the same verse might suggest something quite different or deeper. There is nothing as a static, frozen interpretation of the text. Interpretations of the same text can vary due to temporal and spatial differences, differences in the class and educational background or the gender of the reader or the sort of experiences the reader has been through and which informs her when she reads the Quran. Thus, every understanding of the Quran by us mortals is really simply an effort to understand it, rather than being the absolute understanding, which God alone knows. To claim that a certain understanding of the Quran—even if it be that of the most well-known ulema—represents the absolute, final understanding is simply fallacious. It is tantamount to the sin of shirk or associating partners with God, because only God knows absolutely what God intends to say and mean. In other words, Muslim feminists argue against any monopolistic claims on the part of anyone, including the ulema, of knowing fully the mind of God, as revealed in the Quran. Every understanding of the Quran is necessarily a partial, limited, and humble one, which cannot be considered to be perfect or free from error. The great ulema of the classical period were always conscious of this. They never said, ‘Islam says this or that’. It is ‘I’ who is saying or interpreting, and ‘I’ could be wrong or ‘I’ could be right. Only God knows best, they always ended. But, today, such acknowledgment of the humble, fallible self no longer exists. The ideologues who claim to speak for Islam always claim that ‘Islam says this’ or ‘God says that’, and anyone who challenges this is at once accused of being against Islam and God. This is tantamount to claiming to be the embodiment of God, and is, in fact, a form of shirk. Q: Muslim feminists are routinely accused of seeking to undermine, if not defy, the authority of the ulema as authoritative spokesmen of Islam, and of allegedly serving as fifth-columnists or ‘agents’ of the West or of what are described as the ‘enemies of Islam’. How do you respond to this charge? A: We are not questioning the authority of the ulema because we want to. What we are saying is that if someone’s interpretation of Islam violates the norms of justice, which are so integral to the Quran, and if this interpretation is then imposed on us as a source of laws and public policies that are oppressive and discriminatory towards women, then we, as citizens of a democratic country, must speak out against this. If there are ulema who subscribe to a gender-just vision of Islam, there would be no reason for us to disagree with them. We would, in fact, have lent them our whole-hearted support. But, sadly, there are very few such ulema on the scene. If you want to take Islam into the public sphere, you can only expect people to challenge you if they disagree with your views, especially when your views are made into laws that govern the lives of citizens. You cannot prevent others challenging you by using the argument that only you know what Islam is, and that no one else has the right to speak of, or for, it. This would, in effect, be tantamount to equating your own views with that of God, a grave sin in Islam. Sadly, however, that is precisely the tendency of conservative ulema and Islamist radicals alike. We are not claiming that ours is the sole, authentic, authoritative interpretation or understanding of the Quran, which must replace the interpretation of the conservative ulema or Islamist ideologues. As I mentioned earlier, all interpretations are necessarily limited and partial, at best. But what we are arguing for is the need to respect everyone’s right—the Muslim feminists’, the ulema’s, the Islamists’ and everyone else’s—to seek to understand and interpret God’s word. We are all on a journey of discovery of the intent of God’s word, and this journey will never be complete. We are arguing for recognition of this fact. We are arguing against the authoritarian tendency, sadly so marked among many conservative ulema and Islamist ideologues, to imagine that one’s own understanding of God’s word is absolute and binding on everyone else and that this must be a source, if not the only source, of law and public policy. In this way, they are, in fact, limiting God to their own limited experience, understanding and intellect. That said, I do not deny that the ulema and other religious scholars do have their own roles to play. And I do believe that there are principles within the rich heritage of Islamic jurisprudence that render open the possibilities for re-interpretation to bring about justice and equality in the modern world. What I am against are the monopolistic claims and the insistence that law and public policy must be based only on their misogynist and unjust interpretations, and that those who disagree with them are to be labeled as anti-Islam, as against God or as opposed to the shariah. This is what is turning people against the Islamist demand for an ‘Islamic state’ and Islamic law. It turns their project into a totalitarian scheme where there is no democratic space for anyone else to differ and disagree. Q: Does this mean that you are opposed to the notion of the ‘Islamic state’, which is such a central pillar of the agenda of Islamist groups? A: If Islam is to be a source of law and public policy-making, this has to come about as a result of democratic engagement, and cannot be imposed on the people, as the Islamists demand. The modern nation-state, with all its coercive powers, did not exist at the time of the Prophet Muhammad. For self-styled Islamist groups to seek to use the modern nation-state, with its massive coercive powers, to force people to lead a life that they see as consonant with Islam—that is to say, their own interpretation and understanding of Islam—completely negates the Muslim heritage, which was characterized by a tolerance of diverse schools of jurisprudence and theology that themselves emerged from diverse understandings of Islam. Another reason for my opposition to the notion of a so-called ‘Islamic state’ is that this is used by many of its advocates simply as a tool for acquiring political power. It is also a regressive ideology, in the sense that, in the face, first of European colonialism, and, now, continuing Western hegemony, it is a reflection of a hankering for the times when Muslim political power was at its height. It is the yearning of a defeated people, a dream of a people who know, but perhaps refuse to recognize, that they are defeated by others. But going back in time is not really the way to overcome the predicament of loss, failure and defeat. It is not the way to acquire power and ascendancy, because the world has so dramatically changed today. Issues like human rights, justice, democracy, women’s rights are the major ethical demands globally today. In the face of all this, the sort of ‘Islam’ that conservative ulema and Islamists alike want to impose, stridently totalitarian and vehemently against democracy, human rights, minority rights and gender justice, is simply not the answer. It is, obviously, and needless to say, unsustainable. In Malaysia, even within the Islamist party PAS, there is now a debate on which direction it should take—to stay firm on its demand for an ‘Islamic state’ ruled by the ulema or to democratize and modernize, along the lines of the AKP model in Turkey. Hardliner ‘Islamic’ rule will in the end miserably fail in providing the credible alternative to the present global system that its advocates believe they are able to offer. Q: Muslim ‘progressives’ like yourself seem to argue that the right to engage in creative, independent interpretation of Islam, or ijtihad, is not, or should not be, the sole preserve of the ulema, but that it should be democratized. On the other hand, the ulema argue that those outside their circle do not have the right to engage in ijtihad as they lack the necessary scholarly credentials in the Islamic tradition. How do you view this conflict, which is really about competing visions of religious authority? A: I am most happy to be silent about religion if Islam is just in the private sphere, between me and God. But we live in a country where Islam is a source of law and public policy. Unfortunately, those in religious authority who construct these laws do not recognize equality and justice. They seriously believe God made men superior to women and therefore men’s authority over women is eternal and divine. Never mind the realities before their very eyes. There are some men who are superior to some women and there are some women who are superior to some men. But this belief in the inherent superiority and the authority of all men over all women has led to laws and practices that continue to discriminate and oppress women. I recognize the authority of the ulema to use their scholarship to help draft laws made in the name of Islam. But what I am opposed to is the belief that only the ulama and the Islamists have the sole authority to do this and that we as citizens of a democratic state have no right to question and challenge the injustice of these laws, in substance and implementation. What I am questioning is the use of one’s authority of the authoritative text for authoritarian purposes. Now, if no one among those who consider themselves ulema or mujtahids is going to challenge this hegemonic agenda, then civil society will have to stand up and speak out and protest. We are not engaged in protesting against this simply to challenge the ulema. We are doing this because their understanding of Islam impacts so deleteriously on us, and so grossly violates our vision of Islam as a religion based on justice. I, as a citizen of a democratic state, who has not gone through a traditionalist education in Islam and do not speak Arabic, still have the right to speak out, and seek to understand and interpret my religion, because the conservative, misogynist ulema have miserably failed to make Islam relevant to women in the 21st century, to human rights, to social justice, to democracy. They have failed to address the social aspirations for justice and equality of the people. It is because of our experience of injustice, discrimination, oppression justified in the name of Islam that we seek to claim our right to understand our religion in ways that makes sense to our realities. I believe in a God that is kind, just and compassionate. So anything done in the name of Islam must be just and compassionate. It is as simple as that. We are doing this because as Muslims, we do not want to have to abandon our faith in order to be a democrat, a feminist, a human rights defender. We believe that equality, fundamental liberties, freedom of religion, gender justice and so on, do not contradict the teachings of Islam. The problem is our understandings contradict the understandings of Islam of the conservative ulema and Islamists, which they want to impose on the rest of society. Why should they have the right to deprive me of my right to love my God and love my religion? If the ulema can provide me the answers that I am looking for, to enable me to be a Muslim and a feminist, a democrat, a human rights defender, then I’d rather they do that job. But, the sad fact is that they simply are not doing the job. This is the challenge before them. The answer is not to silence the dissenting and questioning ummah, and to declare them as apostates, but to rise up and engage in dialogue in the face of the huge challenges before us. Let me come back to your point about the argument that is sometimes put forward that ‘modernist’ Muslim scholars, including Muslim feminists, do not have the necessary qualifications to engage in ijtihad, and, therefore, do not have the right to interpret the Islamic sources on their own. Let me say it again: if you want to use Islam as a source of law and public policy, then every citizen has the right to question and speak out. Public law and policy must pass the test of public reason. If you don’t want any public debate, then you must remove religion from the public sphere. Also, consider the various Islamist groups here in Malaysia, and around the world generally. Most of them are led not by traditional, madrasa-trained ulema but by graduates of secular universities, mainly doctors, engineers, science graduates. They have similar a secular educational background as us. They are not experts in Arabic or in Quran, Hadith and fiqh. They have not spent twenty years studying in madrasas or at Al-Azhar. Yet, why is it that their claims to speak for and of Islam and to engage in ijtihad are not similarly dismissed, as ours are? As far as I can see, the only reason for this is that they say the ‘right’ things, the things the conservative ulema want to hear, unlike us who dissent on a host of issues from the conservatives. Q: How do you see the link or relation between secular feminism and Muslim or even Islamic feminism? Can there be a synergy between them for common goals and purposes, or are they mutually opposed? A: I think the sort of feminism that will work in a given context depends on contextual factors, and so there is indeed a possibility, and even a need, for different forms of feminism to collaborate on common issues. Given the rise of political Islam in most Muslim countries, secular feminism today faces a brick wall. Perhaps it can work in some contexts where women are up against an authoritarian state that claims Islamic credentials and uses its own version of Islam to marginalize, even oppress, women. But in Malaysia, many Muslims still fantasise about this utopian Islamic state. Given the socio-political context, our struggle for equality and justice has to be justified in ‘Islamic’ terms for the Malay Muslims. But we believe that any understanding of Islam as a source of law and public policy must also be grounded as well in human rights principles, our constitutional guarantees of equality and non-discrimination and our lived realities today. We do not live in a vacuum where Islam can be exercised in a vacuum. We pose a challenge to the Islamic state agenda of the Islamists because we speak for gender justice in the name of Islam itself, which is something that resonates with every Muslim woman who has suffered some form of oppression or discrimination in the name of her religion. In such a context, for us to provide an understanding of Islam that is gender-just is a great source of empowerment for Muslim women because, all along, they have been taught that a good Muslim woman is one who meekly obeys her male guardians and suffers in silence because this is what Islam is supposed to be. To return to your point about possibilities of dialoguing with other streams of feminism, let me say that Sisters in Islam is at the forefront of a global initiative to bring Muslim women activists together to build a movement for equality and justice in the Muslim family. We are generating hope among many Muslim feminists, those who work with religion and those who work just within human rights principles. What we bring to the women’s and human rights movement is the possibility of Islam as a source of liberation and empowerment, not a source of oppression. We believe it is important to ground our demands for reform of the discriminatory Islamic family law and practices within a holistic framework that include Islamic arguments, Constitutional guarantees of equality and non-discrimination, international treaties that our governments have ratified and the lived realities of women and men today. Q: Numerous Muslim feminist groups across the world, including Sisters-in-Islam, are dependent on foreign, especially Western, institutional funding. Why is this so? I ask this question particularly since their source of funding opens them to the charge of serving as ‘agents’ of non-Muslim forces that are portrayed as engaged in a ‘conspiracy’ to undermine Islam. A: It is strange that although Islamist groups, too, get funding from overseas, no one levels the same sort of criticism against them. If we Muslim feminist groups are ‘tools’ of the West, the same could also be said of Muslim governments across the world that are so dependent on Western countries and Western-dominated institutions for aid. If our Muslim critics are so concerned that we should not have to take recourse to Western organizations for funding, why don’t rich Muslims, like the Gulf Arabs drowning in petrodollars, ever assist groups like us? We would be happy to accept their aid as long as they do not interfere with our work. But, of course, they will not aid groups like ours. The reason is simple: they do not believe in equality for women. I would like to make it clear here that our donors do not interfere at all with our functioning. We draw up proposals, set the agenda, and set it before potential funders, who, if they provide us with money, do not at all meddle with the way we go about doing the things we do. We just have to be accountable for the money we spent. That said, I must also add that we are now beginning to approach more local donors so that Malaysians have a greater stake in our work, with which they have become increasingly familiar in recent years. In fact, every attack against us is an opportunity for us to open up the space for us to be heard. Because of this, the support for our work has grown, as there is greater awareness of the significance of our work to Malaysia’s survival as a democratic multi-ethnic country. Q: A major problem that ‘progressives’ face is that they seem to be dialoguing among each other, preaching to the already ‘converted’, without being able to reach out to others, particularly the ‘traditionalists’ and ‘conservatives’. Do you at Sisters in Islam face the same sort of problem? A: I think the situation varies in different countries. In Indonesia, for instance, some of the most progressive Islamic thinkers are based within traditional Islamic institutions. Several Indonesian scholars associated with pesantrens or traditional Islamic schools have worked on issues such as human rights, religious pluralism, and gender justice, and are in the forefront of the movement for greater democratization. In their case, it appears that the deeper their understanding of Islam, the greater is their commitment to genuine democracy. One reason for the Indonesian case is that Islam has remained largely outside the purview of state authority and control. Some of the largest Islamic movements in the world are based in Indonesia, such as the Nahdlatul Ulama and the Muhammadiyah, and, because they have developed independent of state authority, they are among the leading voices for democracy and social justice in the country. Interestingly, they are also opposed to the setting up of a so-called ‘Islamic state’ in Indonesia. Perhaps this is because they have a long history of struggle against dictatorship. This must have forced them to re-examine their own understandings of the relationship between Islam and politics, being wary, from experience, of any form of dictatorship. They seem very aware that an Islamic state would only impose one understanding of Islam on every citizen and this would lead to totalitarian rule and totally undermine the pluralism of Indonesian society. I am amazed to have met so many democracy activists in Indonesia from the pesantrens and Islamic universities who openly declare their opposition to the idea of an Islamic state and shariah rule. “Islam social” yes, “Islam politics”, no, they declare. The situation is very different in Malaysia, where the state has much greater control over the Islamic discourse, and Islamic education and scholarship have evolved to serve state power. And over the past few decades with the rise of political Islam, what is being taught and propagated is an ideological Islam to serve the interests of those who demand for an Islamic state and shariah rule. Q: Despite Muslim, particularly Malay, groups being actively patronized by the Malaysian state, and despite the rhetoric of Malaysia being a ‘model Muslim state’, why is it that the level of Islamic intellectual discourse in Malaysia remains so limited? A: It is sad, but undeniable, that Malaysia lacks a vibrant intellectual tradition. The contrast with neighbouring Indonesia, for instance, is really stark. I think one reason for this is the sudden and enormous economic growth in Malaysia, which has made us a very materialistic people. Everyone here seems so busy with pursuing material accumulation that the intellectual scene appears so stultifying. One good indicator of this is the fact that there is no faculty of philosophy in a single Malaysian university! No one sees the usefulness of philosophy in life. The focus of our universities is not to encourage critical or innovative thinking, but, rather, to churn out people with degrees who can fit the so-called ‘development’ agenda, which is based entirely on material acquisition and consumerism, which has come to be regarded as the key measure of one’s worth. Consequently, intellectual activity or social activism has come to be regarded as something unrewarding, subversive even. Questioning the state can invite its wrath. Not surprising, then, our intellectual scene, particularly among the Malay Muslims, is pathetic. Since the Malay middle-class is so dependent on the state for its economic fortunes, it is hardly surprising that few of them would be willing to risk challenging the state, including the state’s discourse about Islam, which is largely very conservative. State patronage of the Malays has led the community to become very complacent. When life for them is ‘good’, they believe, why rock the boat, or push away the hand that feeds them? The government has also instilled in them the need to feel grateful to it for the material prosperity that they enjoy and that, therefore, they should desist from anything that might even remotely seem critical of the state and its ideology. This tendency is buttressed by aspects of traditional Malay culture, which is feudal and hierarchical, which teaches that those in authority are always right and must not be challenged. It stresses conformity and frowns on questioning and dissent. But this is now slowly changing, after the March 8th elections which saw the ruling party lose five state governments to the opposition. People are far more critical and questioning now. Thus the ever more open contestations on all issues, including Islam. We cannot be silenced anymore. Q: You, along with colleagues from various countries, recently set up a platform, called Musawah, to galvanise the struggle for gender justice in Muslim communities world-wide. What sort of work does Musawah envisage for itself in the coming years? A: Musawah was launched last February to a roaring welcome from Muslim women activists and scholars from 50 countries. Over the next few years, we are focused on knowledge-building and movement building. We are about to start a research project on the Qur’anic concept of qawwamah or men’s authority over women, which lies at the core of the unequal construction of gender rights in Islam. It is through this concept of qawwamah that women’s subjugation is rationalised, sustained and operationalised. The legal rights that emanate from this concept not only put women under male authority, they give men the right to terminate the marriage contract at will, to control their wives’ movements, to polygamy, and to other inequalities in the family. Given the changing realities of women’s lives today, the fact that women are also providers and protectors of their families, how can we re-understand and re-construct this concept so that equality and justice between genders and in the family are ensured? This is what we want to focus on. At the international level, we plan to intervene with international organisations with regard to laws in place in many of our countries that restrict or contravene the international treaties that our governments are party to, especially on the issue of women’s rights and CEDAW. Musawah as a knowledge-building movement will concentrate on developing a body of knowledge on different issues related to Islam, women’s rights and human rights, that can help inform activism and legal and social change in Muslim communities worldwide. (For more details about Sisters in Islam, see www.sistersinislam.org.my) [Yoginder Sikand works with the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Social Policy at the National Law School, Bangalore. He may be contacted at ysikand@yahoo.com]

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