Indian Muslim News - OPINION

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

A Vision for Muslim Empowerment By Yoginder Sikand Having served for several years as the amir of the Jamaat-e Islami’s Kerala wing, Siddiq Hasan was appointed as the head of the Social Service Department at the Jamat’s national office in New Delhi. He comes across as a mild-mannered, soft-spoken man, but he bubbles with ideas, and his enthusiasm is infectious. From what he tells me and from the literature that he provides, it appears that the Jamaat-e-Islami, one of India’s most influential Islamic organizations, is increasingly seeking to seriously engage with the myriad economic and social concerns of India’s Muslims. Although working for the social, educational and economic progress of the community has been part of the Jamaat’s mandate ever since it was established in 1941, Hasan admits that, particularly in north India, this was not given the attention it deserved till recently. “Frequent communal riots and bouts of anti-Muslim violence”, he says, “forced the Jamaat to focus particularly on relief and rehabilitation, instead of the social, economic and economic empowerment of the community.” This was reflected in the fact that it was only recently, in 2006, that the Jamaat decided to set up a national-level Social Service Department, whose head Hasan has been since it was established. This Department was the brain-child of the former amir of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, the well-known scholar Abdul Haq Ansari. Aware and appreciative of the role of the Kerala branch of the Jamaat in setting up welfare-oriented educational, health and vocational training institutions in the state, he decided that the Jamaat needed to replicate these efforts at the national-level as well in an organized manner. Hasan was the obvious choice for heading this project. To begin with, Hasan traveled extensively to gain an understanding of the social conditions and problems of Muslims in different parts of the country. On the basis of this, he devised a ten-year plan, encapsulated in a document titled ‘Vision 2016’. A major focus of ‘Vision 2016’ is on promoting modern education for Muslims. “One of our basic problems is the lack of modern education,” says Hasan. “That is why we want to work particularly in this area, especially in promoting quality primary and secondary education for Muslims. We need to start from the lower levels, rather than building grand, higher-level institutions that cater to the few and that involved great expense.” ‘Vision 2016’ seeks to improve Muslim children’s school enrolment rations, prevent drop-outs, promote the capacity of existing schools, start new schools where they do not exist, and provide career counseling and guidance services and scholarships. Work in this regard has begun. The Jamaat has identified some 100 sites across the country for constructing schools. Construction work has already commenced in some of these places. A major reason for the considerable economic and educational progress of Kerala’s Muslims, Hasan points out, is that they have invested heavily in creating community-based non-governmental institutions. ‘Vision 2016’ seeks to extend this pattern to the whole of India, an ambitious scheme that is being coordinated by the Delhi-based NGO Human Welfare Trust. Separate, smaller organizations that have been established to put ‘Vision 2016’ into action include the Human Welfare Foundation (working in the field of education), the Society for Bright Future (focusing on relief, rehabilitation and disaster management), the Medical Service Society of India (for medial aid), and the Association for the Protection of Civil Rights (dealing with human rights’ issues). Separate organizations for microfinance, Muslim women’s empowerment and promotion of Muslim entrepreneurship will also be set up soon, as also a research centre that will focus on Muslim social issues. “A major problem we face is that many Muslims, particularly in north India, are simply unaware of the importance of education,” Hasan laments. He cites the case of a Muslim-run engineering college in Kerala, which, at his request, set apart ten free seats for north Indian Muslim students and agreed even to provide them with freed boarding and lodging facilities. With considerable difficulty, Hasan managed to get six students — from West Bengal, Bihar and Assam — to agree to enroll in the college. Finally, of these only two finally joined. But it is not simply ignorance or apathy that are behind Muslim educational backwardness, especially in northern India, where the bulk of the country’s Muslims live. Hasan cites other factors in this regard, such as pervasive anti-Muslim discrimination, including at the hands of the authorities, who often refuse to recognize Muslim-run educational institutions or provide them facilities. Likewise, several private institutions refuse to admit Muslim students. For its part, the Hindutva lobby, Hasan says, has a vested interest in keeping Muslims forever bogged down in controversies and conflicts, forcing them to remain ever on the defensive. Consequently, he explains, “north Indian Muslims have largely been unable to set their own agenda, to focus on the work of internal reform and development, or even to think positively.” In addition, Muslim (and other) politicians, Hasan says, are “by and large selfish, corrupt and exploitative, and, with some exceptions, are simply not interested in addressing or solving the many problems of the community on which they actually thrive.” Yet another factor is what Hasan sees as the lingering feudal mentality of large sections of the north Indian Muslim social, religious and political elites. “Many of them suffer from what can be called a Mughal hangover,” he argues. One reflection of this, he says, is the continued presence of caste-based discrimination against so-called ‘low-caste’ Muslims (who form the majority of the Muslim community) by many so-called ashraf Muslims, who claim foreign descent. “These caste-conscious elites want to do simply nothing at all for the poor of the community”, he rues. Hasan sees a distinct difference in the socio-cultural ethos of north and south Indian Muslims, which, he says, is one of the major reasons for the relatively better economic and educational status of the latter, particularly in Kerala. Kerala’s Muslims, who form around a quarter of the state’s population, are India’s most educationally advanced Muslim group. Hasan attributes their success to a relatively egalitarian social ethics, their historical role as traders, the role of successive Rajas (all Hindus) in the past, and various recent reform movements, not just Islamic but also anti-caste struggles and the strong communist presence in Kerala, all of which made for a general social awakening in Kerala Muslim society. Furthermore, unlike in many other parts of India, Kerala Muslims have a sizeable middle-class that has worked together with the ulema for Muslim social, educational and economic empowerment. “The rigid dualism between the ulema and modern-educated Muslims, so characteristic of most of north India, is much less prominent in Kerala”, he explains, which accounts for the ability and willingness of large sections of the Kerala ulema to play a leading role in community reform and development efforts there, including in promoting modern education. Although appreciative of the role of madrasas, which number in the tens of thousands across India, in providing religious education to Muslim children, Hasan suggests that they should also provide at least a basic modern education to their students. As long as they do not, he says, a major section of the community will continue to remain backward. He insists that there is no strict division between ‘religious’ and ‘secular’ education in Islam. He critiques conservative religious leaders who argue to the contrary, regarding them as not seriously concerned about the overall development of the Muslims. “I do not agree with their contention that mere religious education is enough, and that through it all our worldly problems will, or can, be automatically solved”, he says. “Islam teaches us that this world is the field of the life after death, and so we need to develop a socially-engaged understanding of our faith,” Hasan tells me. That, he stresses, is the key to Muslim empowerment. [Yoginder Sikand works with the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy at the National Law School, Bangalore. He can be contacted on ysikand@yahoo.com]

Fareed Zakaria on 'Mumbai' style terrorism: It's time to encourage 'religious revulsion'

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in

HBO is airing a really scary movie tonight at 8. It isn't "District 9" or "Paranormal Activity." It's a documentary called "Terror in Mumbai," about the infamous 2008 terrorist attack that killed 170 people, wounded another 300 and, in the eyes of many anti-terrorist experts, may have served as a dress rehearsal for future terrorist actions in other parts of the world -- including here in the good old USA. Having watched the film, I can assure you that it's far more than another dutiful re-creation of a tragic incident of modern-day bloodshed.
In fact, the film (directed by Dan Reed and narrated by Newsweek and CNN's Fareed Zakaria) is truly chilling, often more reminiscent of a creepy sci-fi thriller than a documentary. The reason? In addition to all the usual footage of violence and chaos, we get to eavesdrop on the conversations between the 10 young Pakistani men and their handler as they lay siege to Mumbai, leaving bombs in taxis, using guns and grenades to butcher innocent civilians in train stations, cafes and two of the city's most famous hotels.

Although the Indian police were, as Zakaria told me yesterday, "hapless, cowardly and utterly disorganized," the Indian secret service had managed to infiltrate the Pakistani terrorist group and give them a host of cellphone SIM cards, some of which were in use by the terrorists during the attack. So we get to be voyeurs of a sort, listening in on their conversations as they roam up and down hotel corridors and take over one of the city's Jewish centers, deciding who they will take hostage and when they will kill them. (At one point, you can even hear the gunshots over the phone.)

The terrorists are programmed, you might even say hypnotized, by their controller. He encourages and cajoles them over the phone from Pakistan, then when they have done as much damage as possible, orders them to kill themselves. But one terrorist survives, superficially wounded, and we are allowed to watch a video of his police interrogation as well. For me, the scariest part of the movie was realizing that these were not battle-hardened jihadists. In fact, they are uneducated, largely clueless kids who have such an utterly bleak outlook on life that they see indiscriminate killing as their ticket to heaven.

Zakaria believes that the roots of terrorism lie in poverty and a culture of hate. His prescription for change often sounds like do-goodism, so much so that Robert Lloyd, who reviewed the film in my paper today, gently mocked Zakaria, saying his introduction to the film "reminded me of the kind of prologues once appended to films about juvenile delinquency."

So when I got on the phone with Zakaria, who is a leading expert on global politics, I asked him the obvious question: How do we possibly defend ourselves against a bunch of deluded religious extremists who essentially act like an army of George Romero-style zombies? Here's what he had to say: "We all would agree that where there are bad guys, you have to go after them and, frankly, kill them," he says. "But you can't have an anti-terrorist policy that is just based on killing these people, because there is an inexhaustible supply of them. Of course, we can't just throw up our hands either. What we need to do is find ways to create fewer cesspools of despair, so you don't have a situation like you do in this film, where we learn from the one surviving terrorist that his family was so poor that his father basically sold him into terrorism. We need to create a sense of hope and a belief in personal advancement, so these men might have a sense of mastery and control over their own lives."

But, I asked, isn't their devotion to radical Islam – the terrorist group is known as the Army of the Righteous – far more powerful than a few good civic projects? A fair point, says Zakaria. But he pointed to the example of largely Muslim countries such as Jordan, Turkey and Indonesia as examples of places where extremism isn't all-powerful.

"If you look at Jordan, it used to be very anti-American and very radicalized," he says. "But over the last decade, it's really modernized its economy and, as a result, it's not a society that is generating new generations of suicide bombers. You also see that in Turkey and Indonesia, where you're not seeing large new generations of jihadists. And that's because those countries have made huge strides in their economic development. I think what we have to do is encourage support for religious revulsion. We have to tread carefully, maybe even covertly, but we need to support internal religious forces that are built around discouraging jihad, that can argue that it is an offense against universal human rights."

So what does Zakaria hope that viewers here will take away from the film? "I hope, for Americans, that this film will open people's eyes. It shows us that when it comes to terrorists like these, that we are not up against a hardened, well-schooled jihadist army. These are boys – rural, uneducated young men with no hopes or prospects – who were taken advantage of by their controllers. So I hope this film demystifies our notion of terrorism. I know that ending poverty isn't a magic bullet. But it would be a powerful weapon to change the circumstances of these kind of kids. If they had any education at all, they wouldn't believe the fantasies that their controllers gave them. They might actually believe that they aren't victims but they are people who can transform their lives."
The belief in transforming our lives, in catapulting ourselves out of poverty and despair, is certainly deeply ingrained in America, the land of opportunity. The big, unanswerable question is whether that belief can be transplanted to other cultures, especially ones that nurture the kind of vicious thuggery we see in the horrifying "Terror in Mumbai."
(Courtesy: Los Angeles Times)

An emerging generation of socially-engaged Ulema

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in

By Yoginder Sikand

Reforms in India’s madrasas are a much talked-about subject today. In discussing the issue, the media tends to give inordinate attention to the views of the older generation of ulema, particularly those who are associated with certain large madrasas or Jamias, especially those that are known to be particularly conservative. Consequently, the voices of younger-generation ulema, particularly those who have also had a university education, tend to be completely silenced.

But, given that these men will, in due course, form a significant section of the Muslim religious leadership, it is crucial to listen to what they, too, have to say. Their views can be quite surprising for those who imagine that the ulema are wholly opposed to reform or ‘modernisation’ of madrasa education and to reviewing some deeply-entrenched and controversial understandings on certain religious matters. In fact, these young ulema are among the most passionate advocates for madrasa reform and for more relevant and socially-engaged understandings of Islam in the contemporary Indian context.

Recently, I had the good fortune to meet one such young Islamic scholar, the Lucknow-based Maulana Yahya Nomani. I had been in touch with him for almost a year through email after I had translated a fascinating book that he had penned in Urdu on the subject of jihad. Although I had read numerous books on jihad before, I had not come across such a penetrating and deeply-satisfying analysis. Maulana Yahya was kind enough to let me translate the book for the benefit of those who cannot read Urdu.

The book, simply titled al-Jihad, provides an incisive critique of the arguments about the Islamic concept of jihad put forward by both hardened Islamophobes and radical Islamists alike. ‘Jihad is often seen by non-Muslims as anti-human, as akin to terrorism, and as a cover-up for imperialist conquest. I wanted to critique that impression’, Maulana Yahya explains. ‘At the same time’, he adds, ‘many Muslims are opposed to ijtihad, to reviewing some of the rules of classical fiqh that were developed in a totally different historical context, including in matters related to jihad, some of which are not in accordance with the Quran. Consequently, Muslim youth in many countries, inflamed by the oppression suffered by Muslims, have taken to indiscriminate violence, wrongly claiming it to be jihad. I wanted to counter their arguments, too’. ‘I wanted the book to appeal to both Muslims and non-Muslims alike’, he explains.

Some of the salient arguments that the book makes is that terrorism, proxy war and the targeting of non-combatants is un-Islamic, as is launching war by any entity other than by an established state or government. Likewise, war for the sake of worldly conquest and power cannot be termed a jihad. That is to say, a war does not become a jihad simply because those who engage in it claim it to be so. Furthermore, the book argues while denouncing the claims of some extremists, Muslims can, indeed must, befriend people of goodwill belonging to other faiths and deal kindly with them.

‘Some radical ideologues claim that armed jihad is a struggle to end rule of kufr or infidelity, and insist that Muslims must always engage in such a struggle if they are in a position to do so. By this they also mean that even if a non-Muslim government allows Muslims religious freedom they still must engage in violent jihad against it. What they believe is that non-Muslims have no right to rule any bit of God’s earth’, Maulana Yahya explains. But he does not agree with this formulation at all, which he terms ‘bizarre’, ‘extremist’, and as not warranted by his reading of the Quran. ‘The real purpose of jihad’, he points out, ‘is defence or establishing justice, and not to end non-Muslim rule in any country. If a non-Muslim government is just and does not oppress Muslims or suppress Islam, there is no justification to launch armed jihad against it.’

Maulana Yahya is also critical of some aspects of the received juridical or fiqh tradition with regard to rules governing jihad that were formulated by the medieval jurists or fuqaha. ‘For instance, there is no concept of permanent peace with non-Muslims in the corpus of medieval fiqh’, he notes. Since that position corresponded to the then-prevailing historical conditions, he says, there is an urgent need to revise and change this understanding in today’s context, where permanent peace is something that is not just a widely-accepted concept but is something that Muslims, along with others, should actively strive for.

In his early 40s, Maulana Yahya is the grandson of the well-known (and, for some, controversial) scholar Maulana Manzoor Nomani. His father, Maulana Muhammad Zakariya, was a teacher of Hadith at Lucknow’s renowned Nadwat ul-Ulema madrasa. Having completed the fazil course at Nadwa in 1993, Maulana Yahya did a Bachelor’s course in Islamic History at Madinah University, after which he joined the monthly al-Furqan, an Urdu religious magazine based in Lucknow founded by his grand-father. Besides working as associate editor of this magazine, he holds regular Quranic classes in mosques and dawah camps for youth. Recently, he set up al-Mahad al-Ali lil Dirasat al-Islamiya (‘Institute for Higher Islamic Studies’) in Lucknow, which provides a two-year course to madrasa graduates to, as he puts it, ‘make them aware of modern issues, concerns and challenges'.

The Institute seeks to familiarize madrasa graduates with subjects that they have had little or no exposure to in the course of spending several years studying in madrasas. These include research methodology, English, computer applications, and basic sociology, political science, law and economics. Till date, almost fifty students have completed the course. Some of these have gone back to teaching in madrasas, where they are expected to impart their new knowledge and thereby promote change in the madrasas from within. Others have enrolled in universities for higher education.

Maulana Yahya argues that the ulema must have a good grasp of contemporary issues and conditions in order to express Islam in a relevant manner, to provide the community with a socially-engaged leadership, and to come up with contextually-appropriate Islamic responses to various questions and challenges. This is why his Institute places particular focus on developing its students’ research skills, something that is left ignored in most madrasas. Students are expected to do research not just on theological or legal or fiqhi matters but also on issues related to Muslims’ social, economic and educational conditions and problems.

The Institute, Maulana Yahya tells me, has set for itself an ambitious publishing programme. It plans to assign particular topics of contemporary concern on which there is paucity or complete lack of well-grounded published works to its students to work on as projects, which would later be brought out in the form of books. So far, the Institute has published two books, one Maulana Yahya’s book on jihad, and the other a classic historical treatise by the late Maulana Abdul Majid Dariyabadi. A third book is due to be out soon—on women and Islam, critiquing the views of both some ultra-conservatives, who completely rule out any public role for women outside their homes, as well as ultra-liberals, who argue for complete sameness between men and women.
Like Maulana Yahya, I have met scores of other young ulema over the years who are engaged, in their own ways, in promoting inter-communal harmony, in articulating more relevant understandings of Islam (including on a host of controversial issues such as jihad and women’s rights), and in facilitating reforms in the madrasas. Their voices cry out to be heard. They can no longer continue to be ignored.

[Yoginder Sikand works with the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Social Policy at the National Law School, Bangalore. He can be contacted at ysikand@yahoo.com]

Indian Muslim News - ISSUES

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

Muslims have to fight misconceptions about Islam: Saudi envoy By Sarwar Kashani The "anti-Islam" remarks by former law minister Ram Jethmalani who linked Wahhabis, a conservative Muslim sect, with terrorism, is a closed chapter for him, but Saudi envoy to India Faisal Hassan Trad says Muslims have a long way to go and work hard to rid their faith of the Islamic terror stigma. "Despite all the humanistic teachings of the religion, Islam is still linked with terrorism. It is an irony. It has turned out to be a global phenomenon and is a dilemma for the Muslim world," Trad told IANS in an interview. "I believe it is a long way and we have to work hard to rid our faith of this stigma. I agree terrorists have hijacked Islam, but Islam is not what they propagate and what they are killing for. In fact, it is all un-Islamic," he said, days after he staged a walkout following Jethmalani's comments that "India had friendly relations with a country that supported Wahhabi terrorism". Wahhabism is a sect attributed to Mohammad ibne Abdul Wahhab, an 18th century Arab scholar, who believed in puritanic Islam and launched a movement against what he considered innovations in Islam. Jethmalani angered the Saudi envoy with his remarks at an international conference on terrorism here Saturday. "I found his utterances bad as he was directly blaming Islam and my country (Saudi Arabia) for terrorism. I did what I should have done as a Muslim and also as a Saudi ambassador. I walked out in protest but offered my apologies to President Pratibha Patil who was on the panel in the conference. I didnCt want to create an impression that I was protesting against her," Trad said. "And can you believe he was speaking in his own country which has some 140 million Muslim population? "He was targeting the centre of Islam. We Saudis are proud to be from the birthplace of Islam. We have a huge responsibility of serving the Muslim world, and accusing Saudi Arabia or the Muslim world of breeding terror is just unacceptable, I repeat just unacceptable." He said his country – itself "a victim of terrorism" – has always expressed a will to wage a fight against the menace. "Saudi Arabia has even volunteered to host a centre for global fight against terror – an idea which was mooted in an international conference on counter terrorism in 2005, in which India also participated," he said. "It (the Jethmalani controversy) is a closed chapter now. I have nothing against Ram (Jethmalani) personally. I don't want to drag this issue on and on," Trad said, adding the lawyer was speaking for himself and not representing India. "King Abdullah (of Saudi Arabia) has initiated a movement to start a dialogue between different faiths and civilisations. That is what Islam teaches us," he said. "Islam is the religion of humanity. You see any great human value and belief ends up to be a part of Islamic teachings. Islam stresses on justice, transparency, love, respect and freedom for each other, love for family and women's rights," he said, while expressing concern that people "misread and misinterpret Islam". Quoting the Quran, Trad said: "The holy book says he who kills a person without a legal trial is like he killed the whole humanity. What more do you need to prove Islam is for brotherhood, peace and love? It is a religion that doesn't even allow suicide. Killing your own self is a big sin in Islam. "Prophet Mohammed's wife Khadija is the first business woman in Islamic history. The Prophet used to work for her. And even continued to work for her after getting married to her. This is an example to explain how Islam respects and ensures women's rights and freedom." "Islam," the envoy told IANS, "has no justification for terrorism". "What is not human is forbidden in Islam. Allah says we have created mankind and given it dignity. Islam cannot accept anybody in its fold who trashes human dignity," he said, adding terrorists have "no identity, no religion and no border. You cannot attribute it to Islam in any case". [Sarwar Kashani can be contacted at s.kashani@ians.in] (Courtesy: IANS) ----------------------------------------------------------------- [Present here is the email sent by Shahid Raza Burney, a renowned journalist associated with Saudi Arabia's leading English daily 'Arab News', to Sarwar Kashani in which he has questioned the existence of Wahabbism as a Sect, which Mr. Kashani has alluded to in his interview with Saudi Arabian Ambassador to India HE Faisal Hassan Trad] Dear Mr. Sarwar, Greetings, I read the interview about the Saudi Ambassdor Mr. Faisal Trad and it made interesting reading. However, I am astonished of your referring Wahabbism as a Sect, which in fact is not. I do not know from where you had obtained the info that Wahhabism is a sect. I would be grateful if you could let me know the authentic version on this. As far as to the best of my knowledge there is no such sect. Sheikh Abdul Wahab did not form an sect. He was a reformer and had urged Muslims who had deviated from the path of Islam to return to the original roots. As a senior journalist associated with Saudi Arabia's leading English daily 'Arab News' for the past 27 years and having worked in the paper in the Kingdom for more than 12 years, I had not come across any such terms as Wahabbism sect during my interactions with the citizens there or with the Islamic scholars. In my view this is a complete misnomer. Thanks, Regards, Shahid Raza Burney Pune Cell: 09422012831 Email: whistleblower786@gmail.com

Government of India should set up Central Madrasah Board: Justice M.S.A. Siddiqui

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 24 November 2009 | Posted in

Justice M.S.A. Siddiqui is the Chairman of the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions. In this interview with Yoginder Sikand he discusses his proposal, sent to the Government of India for its consideration, for the setting up of a national-level Central Madrasah Board and the vociferous opposition that the proposal has met with from some Muslim quarters.

Q: Recently, you created a storm when you suggested to the Government of India that it set up a Central Madrasah Board. A large number of ulema and heads of Muslim organizations and movements vehemently denounced this proposal. Why do you feel the need for such a Board?

A: I proposed the Board simply to assist Muslims to enter the national mainstream. I think the Board is an important step in that direction. Until Muslims join the mainstream of Indian life it will not be possible for them to have an equal share in the country’s progress and prosperity. Muslims must accept that the only way for this is through modern education. Muslims must learn the art of prospering in the face of adversity. Lamentably, however, they tend to rely on emotions and rhetoric, not intelligence, in the face of anything new. They should learn from the Jews, who were badly oppressed for several thousand years but yet never gave up their love for learning, so much so that today a tiny country like Israel has such a powerful control on global affairs. This was only because of the Jews’ love for knowledge.

Q: Why do you feel so many ulema are so vehemently opposed to your proposed Board?

A: If you read Muslim history you will discover that many good new things and useful inventions and innovations were vociferously opposed by the maulvis. Even when, in the early period of Muslim history, it was proposed that the Quran be compiled as a book this proposal was opposed by some people! When the Caliph Umar proposed to expand the Prophet’s mosque in Medina, even that was opposed! The mullahs vehemently opposed Syed Ahmad Khan, founder of the Aligarh movement, and even called him a kafir!

What I mean to say is that among Muslims, in general, there is a marked tendency to adopt a very negative, critical approach to new things. Every new thing they readily denounce as a ‘conspiracy’, as ‘interference in Islam’, or as kufr or infidelity. So, it is hardly surprising that some of them see the Board as a ‘conspiracy’ against Islam and Muslim identity. I wish to assure them that this is not at all the case. The Government has no intention to grab or control the madrasas. If the Government actually wanted to, nothing could have stopped it from doing so.

In any community it is the role of intellectuals to help mould the minds of people on constructive lines. Unfortunately, this is almost totally lacking among Muslims. We have very few modern-educated intellectuals who take an active interest in community affairs. As for the traditionally educated maulvis, community reform is also one of their roles but few actually take this seriously at all. Most of them are interested simply in self-projection, while the few really committed religious scholars prefer to remain in the background. I don’t want to generalize here, but I have a feeling that a large section of the elites of the Indian Muslim community, along with many maulvis who run madrasas, actually do not want the common Muslims to gain modern education because they feel that this would enable them to escape from their clutches, because of which they would no longer be able to play politics or make money in their name. Many of those who oppose any substantial reform of the madrasas do so simply because this would hurt their interests, power and influence, although they are careful to camouflage this by claiming that such reforms are supposedly ‘anti-Islam’ and so on.

It is an undeniable fact that a large number of maulvis have today become politicized, and are associated with some or the other political party in order to extract gain for themselves. Some of these people, as well as some other self-styled leaders of the Muslims, are crying out hoarse against the proposed Board, wrongly branding it as an anti-Islamic ‘conspiracy’ simply in order to make political mileage for themselves, to project themselves as saviours of Islam and the Muslims. But, who has allowed these mullahs to assume a monopoly over Islam? Allah suffices to protect Islam. It is He, not any mortal being, who will preserve Islam till the Day of Judgment.

Because of the nuisance value of these mullahs, the real ulema or religious scholars have chosen to remain in the background. As an Urdu poet so wonderfully expressed it:

Kisko yeh fikr hai ki qabile ka kya hua
Sab is pe lad rahe hain ki sardar kaun hai

(Who is bothered about what happens to the people?
People are fighting among themselves over who the leader is)

If the common Muslims were to become educated, naturally these maulvis, as well as the entrenched Muslim political elites, would no longer be in a position to take advantage of their poverty to feather their own nests. That is why many of them are furiously opposed to the inclusion of modern subjects in the madrasa curriculum, which is one of the things that the proposed Board seeks to do. Their opposition to the Board is also a reflection of the feudal mentality of our political and religious elites, which, lamentably, is still very deeply-rooted.

That said, let me also state that the proposed Board has been welcomed by a large number of Muslims, including many ulema, especially younger-generation madrasa graduates and students. I have received numerous letters from across India from such people supporting the set up of the Board, and they belong to various maslaks or sects. There is a silent revolution underway among the Muslim youth of this country. They want quality education for the community, and the opposition of some maulvis to this will not make any difference. If they continue their opposition it will, needless to say, be counter-productive for them. People will simply stop listening to or following them.

Our madarsahs should no longer continue to be like a fixed stone in the midst of the flowing river of life. Change is the only constant in temporal life. Islam developed its magnificent civilization because this civilization went on changing from age to age absorbing new discoveries and creations in every aspect of human endeavour. It never shied away in throwing away old, outmoded conventions and doctrines. We have to adjust the educational needs of the Muslim community to suit the compulsions of the global village.

In this regard let me also state that it is perhaps understandable that some very large madrasas, such as Deoband and Nadwa, may not want to join the proposed Board or to seek the Board’s assistance in teaching modern subjects to their students. They have enough resources to manage on their own, some of them being richly funded from Arab sources. Further, they might wish to continue functioning as specialized institutes for higher Islamic learning. The bigger madrasas—the real Jamias that are like universities—can be left out of the purview of the Board, which can focus on the smaller madrasas, particularly those that face chronic shortages of funds.

Q: One of the aims of the proposed Board is to facilitate the teaching of modern subjects in the madrasahs. Why do the opponents of the Board have problems with this?

A: One factor is what I regard as the un-Islamic dualism that has crept into the Muslim educational system. Islam does not countenance any rigid division between ‘religious’ and ‘secular’ knowledge, which is why even Science, Mathematics, Geography and so on were taught in the early madrasas, in addition to the Quran and Hadith. This is what enabled the early Muslims who studied in these madrasas to become great scientists, mathematicians, explorers and so on, in addition to great commentators on the Quran and experts on Muslim jurisprudence. It was only in the wake of the enormous devastation of West and Central Asia caused by the Tatars in the thirteenth century that the notion of a division between ‘religious’ and ‘secular’ knowledge began to emerge among the ulema. Soon, these two were seen as not just different from each other but also as fundamentally opposed to each other. This led, in turn, to a tendency towards a world-renouncing monasticism, or rahbaniyyat, which is something that the Quran sternly forbids. Muslims pray for God to provide them with success in this world and in the next, and Islam regards this world as the field for the next. Obviously, therefore, Islam, properly understood, has no room for this sort of asceticism and indifference to the world and knowledge of it. The Quran speaks numerous times about the need for humans to reflect on God’s creation, which it terms as His ‘signs’ (ayat). That is, in a sense, a call for us to engage in research. How can one engage in this sort of research and, thereby, fulfill a basic Quranic mandate, without knowledge of modern disciplines?

Our proposed Board, far from being a deviation, is a small step to reviving the lost Muslim tradition of a holistic concept of knowledge. By making sharp and untenable distinction between ‘religious’ and ‘secular’ knowledge, and using this as an argument to oppose the introduction of modern subjects in the madrasa curriculum, the conservative maulvis are adopting an un-Islamic stance, which can only further reinforce Muslim backwardness and marginalization.

Q: How do you think the proposed Board would help modernize the madrasahs?

A: One crucial step that the Board would take, if it comes into being, is to introduce the teaching of English in those madrasas that choose to affiliate with it. In the past, many of our traditionalist ulema, who were rightly opposed to the British colonial rule, made the grave mistake of opposing the learning of the English language as well. They forgot that a nation might have a language, but a language does not have a nation. Today, you cannot develop without knowledge of English, most scientific and technical literature and even a lot of Islamic literature being in that language. By facilitating the teaching of English and other modern subjects in the madrasahs the Board will also enable madrasah graduates to enroll in regular universities and for a wide range of subjects. In this way, the Board will help these graduates widen their future prospects, which are very restricted at present. As of now, only a couple of universities in India recognise madrasa degrees, and that too for a very limited range of courses. Ideally, I would like to see all the universities in India recognizing madrasa degrees, but for that it is imperative that madrasahs also teach modern subjects, which is one of the major objectives of the proposed Board.

Through the Board we propose to provide affiliated madrasahs with teachers for modern subjects with decent salaries. Presently, most madrasah teachers earn a pathetic salary, between five hundred to two thousand rupees a month, and often go for months without pay. Naturally, then, madrasahs do not attract the best teachers. Often, it is those who have no other option who take to teaching in madrasahs and agree to survive on the pittance that they receive. One cannot expect many such teachers to take their work seriously. It is because these maulvis are paid such a miserable salary that it has now become so easy to literally buy a favourable fatwa from a mufti simply by paying a small sum of money.

I have proposed that the Board will provide affiliated madrasahs with trained teachers for modern subjects whose salaries would be equal to that of government servants. It is but to be expected that, because of this, those who are teaching these subjects in non-affiliated madrasahs for a pittance, being heavily exploited by their managers, will seek employment in the affiliated madrasahs. And, since the teachers of religious subjects will find that those who teach modern subjects in the same madrasahs get a better salary, they will begin to demand better salaries and service conditions for themselves as well. Obviously, some madrasah managers will be upset about this, but this will help erode the heavy exploitation of the madrasah teachers. I feel that this challenge to the authoritarian ways of many madrasah managers and their exploitation of their teachers is one reason why some maulvis who run madrasahs are so opposed to the Board since it so directly threatens to undermine their vested interests.

Q: An oft-heard argument put forward by many of those opposed to the proposed Board is that the teachers who would be appointed to teach modern subjects in the affiliated madrasahs might be non-Muslims, who might lead their students ‘astray’ or cause a ‘dilution’ of their commitment to Islam. How do you respond to this charge?

A: I am aware that some people do argue on these lines, but this is a ridiculous charge. In the wake of the Battle of Badr, the Prophet Muhammad arranged for Meccan prisoners of war to educate Muslims as a way to win their freedom. These Meccans were not just non-Muslims, they were also inveterate foes of the Prophet and had taken up arms against him, but yet he wanted them to teach his followers. In this regard, let me also cite a saying, according to which the Prophet is said to have exhorted his followers to go even to China for knowledge. Now, in those days there were no Muslims in China, so, obviously, what the Prophet meant was that his followers should go to China to study non-religious knowledge from the non-Muslim Chinese. Given all this, how can it be said that for a non-Muslim to teach modern subjects in a madrasa is impermissible or, as some argue, a ‘conspiracy’ against Islam?

We should be working for a more inclusive and democratic society, and non-Muslim teachers teaching Muslim students would, in fact, be a very welcome step in that direction. I will go even further and say that we should be moving towards creating an environment wherein even non-Muslim students can study in madrasahs if they want. This can prove a very useful means to promote inter-faith and inter-community understanding and interaction through education.

But to come back to your question, it will be for the Board to choose the teachers to be appointed in the affiliated madrasahs for teaching modern subjects. Naturally, this will be done taking into consideration the sectarian affiliation of each madrasa. The Board will consist of people from different sects or maslaks and so they will ensure that the selected teachers are suitable for the madrasahs they are sent to depending on their own sectarian affiliation.

Talking of the problem of sectarianism, which is so rife in the madrasa system, the proposed Board will, I feel, go a long way in bridging maslaki differences because it will have representatives from the different maslaks. It will thus provide a much-needed forum for ulema from different maslaks to work together.

Q: Some critics of your proposed Board argue that it might enable the Government to interfere in the functioning of the madrasahs and to dilute their religious identity. In fact, they regard the Board as part of a ‘conspiracy’ hatched by the Government precisely with this purpose in mind. What are your comments on this?

A: Let me clarify that the proposal of the Board was suggested and initiated by the National Commission for Minorities’ Educational Institutions and forwarded to the Government. It was not done on the directions of the Government. This is something that many critics of the proposed Board do not realize. This is the major source of confusion that underlies the opposition of some people to the Board. Further, my proposal very clearly specifies that the Board will not interfere in the religious or dini talim component of the madrasa curriculum. The proposal also specifies that affiliation with the Board will be purely voluntary and not compulsory. The madrasahs will be free to affiliate with the Board if they want, or refuse to do so, if they choose to. Moreover, affiliated madrasahs can always disaffiliate themselves whenever they want to.

Nine states in India presently have state-level madrasah boards, to which several hundred madrasahs have been affiliated, some for decades. These boards are controlled by state governments. How come there has been no such vociferous opposition to these boards? Why is it that some maulvis are opposing the national-level Board that I proposed, even though this Board would be autonomous and free from government control?

The fear that the proposed Board might interfere with or investigate the accounts and budgets of affiliated madrasahs is a major reason for the opposition to the Board on the part of some maulvis. It is an undeniable fact that there is considerable and very serious financial misconduct and misappropriation of funds by many madrasah authorities. In one particular state, which I do not want to name, I was told that there are some 250 madrasas that exist on paper alone, and which receive funds from the Government’s 15-point programme for employing teachers for modern subjects. One of these so-called madrasahs was actually run by a Pandit, who had turned it into a pathshala! These corrupt people are scared that the Board might put an end to their malpractices.

Some critics of the proposed Board argue that the Government has no business to bother about the madrasahs. But, my point is, the Indian Muslims, who number some 200 million, are also citizens of this country, and so obviously the Government ought to be concerned about the educational profile of such a large community. When I say this my critics at once pounce and declare that, according to the Sachar Committee Report, just 4 per cent of Muslim children study in full-time madrasas and so, they argue, the Government should be more concerned with the 96 per cent who don’t. My reply is that, firstly, that the figure of 4 per cent that the Sachar Committee report came up with is a considerable under-estimate, a figment of a fertile imagination. It is clear that those who had cited this figure did not do any rigorous survey. But, even if one assumes that the figure is indeed 4 per cent, does it mean that the Government should not be bothered about them? In my view, the Government should be concerned about the education of every single child in this country. If one part of the body is spoilt, obviously it will soon lead to the whole body falling sick. If the Muslims, or a major section of the Muslims, remain educationally and economically backward, obviously it will bode ill for the peace and prosperity of the country as a whole. Moreover, our democracy is an inclusive democracy and therefore, the Government is responsible for the welfare and development of its citizens. Education is the potent tool for human development and empowerment of the people. If the Government thinks that introduction of modern education in madarsas is in the interest of the Muslim community, the same cannot be brushed aside claiming some kind of immunity or exclusive right. That apart, Article 51-A of our Constitution obligates every citizen to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and to strive towards excellence in all spheres of individual and collective activity so that nation rises to higher levels of endevour and achievement.

Sadly, some maulvis want to isolate the Muslims from the rest of Indian society. This is one reason for their vehement opposition to any meaningful reform of the madrasahs. I am totally against this isolationist mentality. Muslims here can’t live on their own little island. We should break down the walls that some people want to build around us, and convert them into bridges so that all communities of our country can benefit from increased interaction with each other. As an Urdu poet so aptly put it:

Sahara lena hi padta hai mujh ko dariya ka
Mai ek katra hun, tanha to bah nahi sakta

(A drop has to take the help of the river
For it is just a drop, and cannot flow alone)

Q: Some critics of the proposed Board claim that the intention behind the ‘modernisation’ that the Board will usher in is to subvert the madrasahs and destroy their specifically religious identity and character by gradually converting them into secular schools. How do you react to this charge?

A: This is a ridiculous allegation. As the person who suggested to the Government to set up this Board, let me say that I believe that we do need the madrasahs. They are vital for the preservation of Muslim culture and religious tradition. Madrasahs also focus on character-building, which is something sorely lacking in general schools. I myself studied in a madrasah as a child, and I am proud of this. My teachers there were heavily involved in, and committed to, moulding and improving my knowledge, character and personality. I am not advocating that madrasahs be secularized out of existence and turned into general schools. Far from it. All I am appealing for is for madrasas to introduce some basic modern education so that their graduates can function properly in the outside world and so that some of them can go on to enroll in colleges and universities and thereby widen their career options which, at present, are extremely limited.

Q: Some maulvis who oppose the introduction of modern subjects and English in the madrasah curriculum argue that if these subjects were taught to madrasah students, their commitment to the faith would weaken, and that they would become more ‘worldly’ and would refuse to take up low-paid jobs such as that of imams in mosques and teachers in madrasahs. This, in turn, they say, would result in a veritable crisis for the whole Muslim community, which would be left bereft of madrasah teachers and mosque imams, leading to a serious dilution of their Islamic faith and identity. Hence, they argue, such subjects must not be taught in the madrasahs. How do you respond to this allegation?

A: This is a completely bizarre argument. If maulvis who argue like this want the 20 crore Muslims of India to become beggars and faqirs and wallow in poverty, I certainly cannot agree with them. If the maulvis want to make the 20 crore Muslims of India pious Muslims, well, that is a good thing, but, for heaven’s sake, don’t stop them from acquiring modern education as well.

Some critics use another argument to oppose the reform of the madrasah curriculum. They claim that if modern subjects were included in the syllabus, the burden would become so great for the students that they would excel neither in the traditional religious subjects nor in the new ones. This argument is also fallacious. It is certainly not an Islamic approach. Leaving our madrasah students ignorant of the modern world, of languages such as Hindi and English, has such a deleterious impact on their self-confidence. They suffer a terrible complex when they come into the outside world and find that they are forced to take the help of others even to read a sign in a railway station or to fill up a form in a post office.

Q: The USA, other Western governments, as well as the governments of scores of other countries, including Pakistan and India, began talking about what they termed as ‘reforming’ the madrasahs only after the emergence of radical groups, such as the Taliban, which had links to certain madrasahs. Many Muslims believe that the proposed Board has little to do with any sincere concern on the part of the Indian Government for Muslim educational advancement, but, rather, is actually a means to clamp down on madrasahs, and that, in this, it is being pressurised by America. What do you have to say about this?

A: I can state with full confidence that the Taliban have nothing to do with the Indian madrasahs. I can guarantee that not a single madrasah in India provides any sort of terrorist training. Their focus is simply on providing Islamic education. Those who allege that they are ‘factories of terror’ are completely wrong. That said, the situation in Pakistan is different, where, due to locally specific circumstances, certain madrasahs were used by the state and other elements for purposes other than providing Islamic education. The error that some people make is to equate Indian madrasas with these certain madrasahs in Pakistan, which is a totally untenable proposition.

Certain forces in the West as well as the Zionist lobby have been aggressively promoting the absolutely false thesis of Islam being a religion of terror and of madrasas allegedly churning out terrorists. This poisonous propaganda urgently needs to be rebutted. Lamentably, opponents of the proposed Board are playing into the hands of those who claim that madrasahs are dens of terror, who project this opposition as supposed ‘proof’ that the madrasas are not above board, that they have something to hide. In this way, opponents of the Board have only succeeded in further shoving Muslims into a corner.

Q: Given the vehement opposition to the proposed Board from some quarters, do you think the Government will have the political will to go ahead and establish the Board?

A: The ball is now in the Government’s court. I will be retiring from my present post by the end of this November, and it is now for the Government to decide. Some people in the Government have started asserting that the Government will decide about the Board only after a consensus evolves among Muslim leaders on the issue. My answer is that this consensus can never come about. Even at the time of the early Caliphs who came after the Prophet there was no consensus among Muslims, so how can we expect any consensus on this issue now? My personal opinion is that the Government must go ahead and pass a Bill and set up the Board in the larger interests of the Muslims of India and of the country as such. The opposition of a few people must not deter it from doing so because these people do not speak for the Muslims of this country as a whole.

[Yoginder Sikand works with the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Social Policy at the National Law School, Bangalore. He can be contacted at ysikand@yahoo.com. Justice M.S.A. Siddiqui can be contacted at chairman.ncmei@nic.in]

Indian Muslim News - ISSUES

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in ,

Islam encourages study of Sciences

By Arif Mohammad Khan

Does Islam provide for classification of knowledge into religious and secular, favouring the study of religious sciences and discouraging the pursuit of non-religious subjects like social and natural sciences?

It can be argued that after the emergence of the Ashari movement in the 10th century, and the subsequent obliteration of the Rationalist School [Motazila], the classification became increasingly entrenched and since then the academia of the Muslim educational institutions [madrasas] has remained confined to the study of traditional religious books.

Justice Amir Ali, in his book Spirit of Islam has stated that Asharis “by their denunciation of science and philosophy, by their exhortation that besides theology and law no other knowledge was worth acquiring, they did more to stop the progress of Muslims than most other Muslim scholiasts. And up to this day their example is held forth as a reason for ignorance and stagnation”. This assertion is borne out by the impressive list of scientists, philosophers, mathematicians and historians of the pre-Ashari period. Many Western philosophers have paid glowing tributes to these men of letters and gratefully acknowledged their contribution to European Renaissance. Undoubtedly, the academic environment of the preceding centuries was totally different. The teachings of Islam and the prophetic exhortations had created an unquenchable thirst for knowledge of subjects hitherto unknown. Islam made no distinction between religious and natural sciences. On the contrary, it made a distinction between knowledge and ignorance when it asserted, “Are they equal, those who know and those who do not know?” [39.9].

The Islamic concept of knowledge was holistic and Muslims pursued both the religious and natural sciences with equal zeal and vigour. Apart from prescribing the “pursuit of knowledge as obligatory on the part of every Muslim” the Prophet exhorted to “seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave”. He further said to “seek knowledge even though it be in China”. It is significant to note that for an Arab of seventh century China was the most remote part of the world and it was not identified as a destination to seek knowledge of religion. In another important narration the Prophet declared that “an hour’s reflection is better than worshipping God for seventy years”.

The Quran itself has more than 500 verses exhorting believers to reflect and contemplate about the creation of God. The Quran uses the same word — ayat — both for its own sentences and for each and every created being. In several verses worship and contemplation are mentioned in the same verse. At one place it says, “In the creation of the heavens and the earth, and in the alternation of night and day, there are indeed signs for men of understanding. Those who celebrate the praises of Allah standing sitting and lying down on their sides and contemplate the [wonders of] creation in the heavens and the earth [and say] ‘Our Lord! You have not created this without purpose’” [3.190-191]. At another place the Quran calls to apply mind to subjects like zoology, geology and physics. It says: “Do they not look at the Camels how they are made? And at the Sky how it is raised high? And at the Mountains how they are fixed firm? And at the Earth how it is spread out?” [88.17-20]. The study of aeronautics is equally stressed: “Do they not observe the birds above them spreading their wings and folding them in?” [67.19]

The Islamic concept of education found best expression in the words of Maula Ali who said, “In matters of education take care not to make your children like you. Do not superimpose your thoughts on their minds. Help them equip themselves to meet the challenges of their age which will be different from the times in which you are living”

[Arif Mohammed Khan is a former Union Cabinet Minister]

(Courtesy: Covert)

Indian Muslim News - WOMEN

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in

Muslim women are still not taken seriously: Farida Khanam

By Yoginder Sikand

Farida Khanam is Associate Professor at the Department of Islamic Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. Daughter of the well-known Islamic scholar, Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, she has translated more than sixty of her father’s books into English, besides being the author of several books on Islam. In this interview with Yoginder Sikand for TwoCircles.net, she reflects on issues related to Islam, Muslim women and patriarchy.

Q: Almost all well-known Indian Muslim scholars who write on Islamic issues, including on matters related to Islam and women, are men. As one of the very few Indian Muslim women who write on Islamic issues, how do you account for this?

A: You have a valid point here. Very few Muslim women writers have received the attention they deserve. Most of them write fiction. Among them there are hardly any of note who write on Islamic issues, including on matters related to Islam and women. One reason for this is, quite simply, that Muslim women writers do not receive proper encouragement and appreciation from their men, their families and from the wider society. Generally speaking, women continue to be looked upon as commodities, not as life partners of equal worth and capacity. They are still seen, and defined by, what are expected to be their domestic roles, as wives and mothers, and as having no public role. There is still this deep-rooted belief that education for women is simply a means to get a ‘good’, wealthy husband. In fact, many Muslim women continue to be conditioned to believe that being subjugated by their husbands is their fate, that faithfully serving their husbands, no matter how they are treated, is their path to salvation. Given all this, how can you expect our women to be intellectually productive?

Muslim women and their intellectual abilities and development are still not taken seriously. The situation is particularly pathetic in north India, where Muslim elite culture continues to remain steeped in medieval, backward-looking, feudal traditions. In my view, this has to do with culture rather than with Islam per se. The dominant interpretations and understandings of Islam here have been heavily moulded by the deep-rooted patriarchal, feudal culture and mind-set. This has also to do with the heavy influence of traditional, patriarchal Hindu culture on most Indian Muslims. But, while patriarchy has been forcefully challenged by educated Hindu women, Muslim women, on the whole, remain much more backward because, compared to the Hindus, the Muslims in India lag considerably behind in terms of modern education.

Q: You, too, come from a feudal family. How is it, then, that you were able to overcome that barrier?

A: In this my mother had a special role to play. In traditional Muslim families, mothers begin to prepare dowries for their daughters when they are young—a reflection of the belief that marriage is a woman’s ultimate destiny in this world. But, my mother did not do that. She, as well as my father, insisted I should continue my studies. My parents were a constant source of support in my education.

Q: What is your educational background?

A: I did my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Delhi University, and then did a PhD, which I completed in 1990, in Islamic Studies from the Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, where I have been teaching since 1994. For my thesis, I worked on a critique of the theological vision and politics of Maulana Syed Abul Ala Maududi, the founder of the Jamaat-e Islami. My thesis was recently published as a book.

Q: Maulana Maududi’s views on women have influenced Islamist thinking in the sub-continent. How do you look at his approach to gender relations?

A: Maulana Maududi remained trapped within a patriarchal mind-set. For instance, he insisted on women wearing the burqa and the naqab, the face-veil. Interestingly, neither his own daughter nor his daughter in law followed his advice in this regard!

Women are generally more tender, spiritual, sincere and dedicated, and so they can, and should, play a central role in social movements and efforts for social welfare. But the traditional scholars continue to oppose this, even though at the time of the Prophet, women, including the Prophet’s wives and those of his companions, played important social roles and were very active in imparting religious education to Muslim children. At the same time, however, Islam does not allow for permissiveness and uncontrolled intermingling between men and women.

Q: Besides yourself, there are hardly any women teachers in the few Departments of Islamic Studies that exist in universities across India. How has your being a woman affected your experience of working in the Department of Islamic Studies at the Jamia Millia Islamia?

A: In the beginning I did feel somewhat alienated, being the only female member; but gradually, by dint of hard work and the spirit of adjustment, I surmounted the hurdles. God has been very gracious to me. He was always by my side.

Q: A fairly sizeable proportion of students in your Department are girls. In addition, in recent years a number of girls’ madrasas have been established in different parts of India. Do you think this rise in the number of trained Muslim women Islamic scholars might lead to the articulation and popularization of more gender-sensitive interpretations of Islam?

A: I really don’t know. To be honest, most students in our Department, both boys and girls, are graduates of madrasas or of traditional Muslim schools, because of which they have few alternatives other than to study Islamic Studies, History, Political Science, Arabic and Urdu, etc. Frankly, the intellectual output of these students is far from encouraging. The situation in the traditional girls’ madrasas is hardly better. In most of these madrasas, girls are reared on the same outdated syllabus and are not taught to be critical, innovative or to think for themselves. They insist that women cover-up completely and even teach their students that a woman’s voice is aurah or something to be concealed, thus effectively silencing and invisiblising them.

Q: The All-India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), which projects itself as the principal body of the Indian Muslims, has been critiqued for its defense of patriarchy and certain laws that, while militating against gender-justice, have also been condemned as ‘un-Islamic’, most notably the practice of triple talaq in one sitting. What do you feel about the Board and its claims of speaking for the Indian Muslims, including Indian Muslim women?

A: It is not true that the Board represents the Muslims of India. The vast majority of Indian Muslims do not even know who its members are! Muslims in India are so diverse, divided on the basis of fiqh, school of thought, ethnicity and language, that it is impossible for a single body to represent the entire Indian Muslim community.

Most of the leaders of the AIMPLB have received education in traditional seminaries. They have little understanding and appreciation of modern realities. They keep fighting among themselves on sectarian lines over minor details and even non-issues. In the madrasas they learn little or nothing at all about the modern world. How can one expect such people to represent the entire Muslim community?

Q: How do you think modern educated Indian Muslim women respond, or react to, the traditional ulama, many of who continue to uphold a deeply patriarchal understanding of Islam? How does this affect the way such women relate to Islam itself?

A: It is an undeniable fact that a number of educated Muslim women do, indeed, feel distanced from Islam because of the conservative and patriarchal understandings and interpretations of Islam by traditional religious scholars. There is no doubt about that. Unfortunately, a large section of them do not want any change as far as gender relations are concerned. They are also unable to interpret and convey Islam in a modern, contemporary idiom, which also alienates many educated people, including Muslims themselves. They continue to talk simply in terms of halal and haram, do’s and don’t’s, while today’s educated youth are looking for reason-based arguments, which the traditional scholars are unable to supply. Traditional Islamic scholars focus simply on the duties of women, not their rights, and so, obviously, educated women feel completely alienated. No wonder then, that some Muslim women go to the other extreme and advocate radical forms of feminism.

[Yoginder Sikand works with the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Social Policy at the National Law School, Bangalore. He can be contacted at ysikand@yahoo.com. Farida Khanam can be contacted on fkhan1001@yahoo.co.in or info@cpsglobal.org.]

Indian Muslim News - ISSUES

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 11 November 2009 | Posted in ,

Indian Shias seek a voice of their own

By Yoginder Sikand

Lucknow-based Maulana Mirza Mohammad Athar is President of All India Shia Personal Law Board (AISPLB). Born in 1936, he is the son of late Maulana Mirza Mohammad Tahir, a noted Shia Muslim scholar. He received a traditional Islamic education at the Sultan ul-Madaris in Lucknow, and then got a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Persian from Lucknow University. He served as Head of the Department of Persian, and, later as Principal, at the Shia Degree College, Lucknow. Yoginder Sikand met him at the recently-held third annual convention of the AISPLB in New Delhi and interviewed him about the AISPLB and its activities.

Q: The recently-held convention of the AISPLB hardly dealt with personal law issues at all, while the name of your organization suggests that Shia personal law should be its principal concern. Instead, the focus of the convention was on stressing a separate Shia identity, demands for reservation or representation of Shias in government services and legislative bodies and so on. This seems odd, doesn’t it?

A: Actually, our Board’s mandate is not limited only to personal law issues. It also deals with the social, educational, economic and political issues of the Shias of India. We are of the view that the 50 million Indian Shias have been heavily under-represented in all spheres of life, including even in Muslim organizations. We are a marginalized minority within another marginalized minority. Since at present Shia personal law is not a problem and faces no challenges, our convention focused mainly on other community-related issues. One such issue is that of lack of political representation of the Shias. There are hardly any Shias in the Lok Sabha, the Rajya Sabha and the state assemblies, because of which our voice does not receive any attention at all. The same is true for Shia representation in government services.

Q: Some critics argue that your Board is a ploy to divide Muslims. What do you have to say about this?

A: We certainly do not want to divide the Muslims. Those who claim that this is what we are doing do not give any space to the Shias in their own organisations.

I believe Shias and Sunnis (as well as all other Indians—Hindus and others)—must live peacefully together. They must have good social relations and close personal and social interaction. We are all for Muslim unity till this level. At the same time, we cannot deny that the Shias and Sunnis do have certain theological or doctrinal differences. It would be absolutely unrealistic, indeed impossible, to deny these differences or to seek to impose any artificial and unwanted homogenization, which will definitely not work.

Q: You claim that the Indian Shias number 50 million. That sounds an exaggeration to me.

A: Not at all. I believe that the Muslim population of India must be around 250 million, but the figure has possibly been considerably under-estimated in the census reports, perhaps due to political reasons and communal biases. Of these 250 million Indian Muslims, Shias would number around a fifth—or around 50 million. These include the different groups of Shias—mainly the Imami Shias, followers of the twelve Imams, as well as others such as Khojahs and Bohras.

Q: Do you see the AISPLB as a rival to the Sunni-dominated All-India Muslim Personal Law Board, which styles itself as a representative body of all the Muslims of India, and in which there are also some Shia representatives?

A: The AIMPLB certainly does not represent all the Indian Muslims. As far as I know, it was set up with the blessings of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who wanted to use it as a means to maintain her hold on her Muslim vote-bank. One of the leading members of the Board, Asad Madani, the head of the Deoband madrasa, was very close to Indira Gandhi. He was even a Congress Member of Parliament.

One reason why we decided to set up our own Shia Board was because the AIMPLB was heavily dominated by Wahhabis—Deobandis particularly—who are known for their visceral hatred of Shias. Qari Tayyeb, rector of the Deoband madrasa, served as the first President of the AIMPLB. Another Wahhabi, who was known for his anti-Shia views, who served as President of the AIMPLB was Ali Miyan Nadwi. However, it must be said that he also included a few Shia ulema as members of the Board.

All along we kept quiet, but, increasingly, some Shias grew restive about the lack of proper representation of Shias in the AIMLPB. Some years ago, the AIMPLB published a compendium of what it called Islamic personal laws, but; although the AIMPLB was meant to reflect all the schools of Muslim jurisprudence, the compendium was based on the views of the Hanafi Sunni school. Some of these Hanafi laws were plainly against women, and, incidentally, are quite in contrast to the prescriptions of the Shia Jafari school. The AIMPLB sought to present this compendium as reflecting the authoritative Islamic opinion, so, naturally, many Shias were upset. This dissatisfaction gathered further momentum because of the hue and cry about triple talaq on one sitting, which the Hanafis believe in but which the Shias oppose. According to Sunni law, a man can divorce his wife without any witnesses, but in our Shia law you need two witnesses for each time the word talaq is uttered, over a course of three iddat periods.

The AIMPLB continued to defend the patently anti-women practice of triple talaq in one sitting, presenting it as an ‘Islamic’ law, and the mass media gave this considerable publicity. Consequently, the general public began imagining that if Islam allowed such a practice it must be anti-women. We Shias do not support this practice at all, which we believe is un-Islamic, and so we wanted a forum from where we could stress that this practice had no sanction at all in our own school of Jafari Shia jurisprudence. In that way, others would know that the Shia position on this matter, as on several other issues, was quite different from that of other Muslims, and that, therefore, they should not confuse us with them.

Dissatisfaction with the AIMPLB mounted further after it began taking up issues that were strictly outside its purview, such as the Babri Masjid controversy, in which, I regret to say, it did not provide Muslims with proper leadership.

It was not us who first thought of setting up a separate personal law board. Rather, it was a section of the Barelvis, who are Sunni Hanafis, led by Maulana Tauqir Raza Khan, who decided to set up their own board as they rightly felt that the AIMPLB was heavily Deobandi-dominated. Like the Shias, they regard the Deobandis as Wahhabis. The Wahhabis treat the Barelvis, like the Shias, as virtual heretics.

It was only after that that some young Shia ulema from Lucknow contacted me and demanded that we, too, should have our own body. Thereafter, Shias from various parts of India began contacting me, insisting that we have our own organization to voice Shia demands and concerns. This body came into being in 2005, and I was nominated as its President. I suggested that we call it the All-India Shia Personal Law and Welfare Board, to stress that Shia community issues, in addition to personal law affairs, were its concern, but many others opposed this, and insisted we call it simply as the All-India Shia Personal Law Board. Perhaps this was because they wanted to stress their distinct identity, as separate from the AIMPLB, which was wrongly projecting itself as the representative of all the Muslims of India.

Q: What practical efforts has your Board undertaken to protect the rights of Shia women in accordance with Shia law?

A: I travel a lot, addressing Shia gatherings or majalis in different parts of India and abroad. During my travels people come to me to discuss their personal matters, particularly related to marriage and divorce. These interactions with people from a wide cross-section of Shia society made me realize that, very often, patriarchal culture and social influences, rather than religion as such, are responsible for much of the oppression that women are subjected to. Hence, to safeguards the rights of Shia women, in 2007 our Board came up with a model marriage-contract or nikahnamah, drafted by a seven-member committee of Shia ulema, which was approved of by Ayatollah Seistani, renowned the Iraq-based Shia scholar who commands a large following among the Indian Shias.

This nikahnamah specifically provides for numerous rights for wives. According to this nikahnamah, women have the right to delegated divorce or talaq-e tafwiz, and, if they use this right, they will not lose their mehr or dower. The spouses can also include in the nikahnamah any conditions that do not violate Quranic teachings. The nikahnamah specifies that in case of divorce the former husband has the duty to maintain his divorced wife even after the three-month iddat period has passed until she manages to secure a sustainable source of survival. The nikahnamah also provides for a system of arbitration before the divorce can be put into effect. Already, several marriages have been conducted using this nikahnamah.

Q: A major issue stressed by numerous speakers at the recently-held convention of your Board was the Shias’ opposition to terrorism, to terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and the Lashkar-e Tayyeba. Numerous speakers also repeatedly stressed the Shias’ loyalty to, and love for, India. Why this need to prove one’s patriotism?

A: We Shias love India and are patriotic Indians. When Imam Husain, the grandson of the Prophet, whom the Shias deeply revere, was at the battlefield in Karbala, he addressed the army of the tyrant Yazid saying that if they permitted him he wanted to leave for India. We are sons of this soil and are devoted to our country. However, as long as Hindu communal and fascist forces in India continue to claim that Muslims are anti-national we are forced to counter their poisonous propaganda by insisting that this is completely false. Sadly, Muslims in India will continue to feel forced to prove their patriotism till Hindu communalism remains.

As for the repeated denunciation at our convention of the terrorism of groups such as al-Qaeda, the Taliban, the Lashkar-e Tayyeba and so on, is concerned, it is our Islamic duty to speak out against them. We Shias believe that what they call ‘Islam’ is not Islam at all. Nor are their actions that of true Muslims. They are giving Islam a bad name. They are enemies of Islam. They are also viscerally opposed to Shias—they have been responsible for the deaths of thousands of Shias in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Those who were behind the terror attack on Bombay last year claimed to be Muslims, as did those who were responsible for so many other such attacks elsewhere. By denouncing their acts and their ideology we Shias want to stress that we are different, that we and our understanding of Islam, the Islam of the Prophet and the Imams, have nothing to do with such evil people. We want to tell the world that we Shias, who denounce terrorism as anti-Islamic, are Muslims, but are the opposite of those who claim to be Muslims but yet engage in such evil deeds, ironically in the name of Islam.

[Yoginder Sikand works with the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Social Policy at the National Law School, Bangalore. He can be contacted at ysikand@yahoo.com]

Donate to Sustain IMO

IMO Search

IMO Visitors