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:: ISSUES :: NSSO Survey Report with Muslims’ Most Educational Backwardness Another Reminder to Govt: Dr Manzoor Alam

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 29 May 2010 | Posted in

NSSO Survey Report with Muslims’ Most Educational Backwardness Another Reminder to Govt: Dr Manzoor Alam

By A U Asif

“After the findings of the Sachar Committee and Rangnath Mishra Commission, the NSSO Survey Report for 2007-08 declaring Muslims the most educationally backward community in India, comes as another reminder to the Congress-led UPA Government that has just completed its first year of the second term to act, not just wait and watch, and immediately announce reservation for the Muslims in educational institutions on the basis of the educational backwardness, besides making a provision for a sub-quota for the Muslim and other marginalized women within the quota for the women in legislatures.”

Expressing his above views over the latest findings of the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), the Institute of Objective Studies (IOS) Chairman Dr M Manzoor Alam said here today this was not a new revelation. According to Dr Alam, who is also General Secretary of the All India Milli Council (AIMC), the NSSO has been showing this trend since early 1990s.

:: ISSUES :: “Muslim political and religious leaders and intellectuals are a hopelessly divided lot”

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in

Muslim political and religious leaders and intellectuals are a hopelessly divided lot

K. Rahman Khan, MP from the Congress Party, is the Deputy Chariman of the Rajya Sabha. In this interview with Yoginder Sikand, he speaks about issues related to Muslim leadership in contemporary India.

Q: What do you think should be the priorities of the Indian Muslim leadership?

A: Two issues should be at the top of the agenda of Muslim leaders today: educational and economic empowerment of Muslims. Unfortunately, Muslim leaders or those who style themselves as such have not given these issues the priority they deserve.

A serious look at communal intolerance in India

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in ,

Name of Book: Decoding Intolerance
Author: Prateep K. Lahiri
Publisher: Roli Books
Pages: 276
Price: Rs.395

By M.R. Narayan Swamy

Why do communal riots keep occurring in India? Are they spontaneous? Or do they expose a deeper malaise in society? To what extent are the authorities culpable for the mindless violence? Is the state even-handed vis-à-vis Hindus and Muslims? Which community suffers more in riots? How badly have secular values been eroded because of communalism? Have they sowed the seeds of terrorism in India? Is there a link between religious nationalism and Hindutva? Is Muslim-Hindu violence a clash of civilisations?

Retired IAS officer Prateep K. Lahiri, who has had a distinguished career spanning 36 long years, plunged into the minefield of Hindu-Muslim tensions and has come out with a scholarly book. That he had to personally deal with communal riots in the early years of his service helped him gain the perspective that many lack.

But this is not a memoir; nor is it academic. It is a serious and eminently successful attempt to unravel the complexities of a problem the British Raj sowed with a view to dividing the freedom movement and which has become the biggest black spot on constitutionally secular India.

Although some 10,000 lives have been lost and 30,000 injured in Hindu-Muslim clashes in India since 1951, communal violence is not as widespread in the country as is generally believed. "Most of rural India remains unaffected to this day by the malaise." Even in urban India, this is not a universal phenomenon. The riot prone cities and towns are only 28, accounting for the bulk of the unrest. Even the anti-Muslim bias of police personnel is confined mainly to northern and western India.

Secular to the core, Lahiri rips apart Hindutva propaganda about Muslims. He brandishes statistics to show that it is Muslims who suffer the worst in riots, at the hands of both police and Hindu mobs. He also points out that traditionally orthodox Muslims in India are seriously attempting to distance themselves from jehadi elements.

He urges readers to distinguish between syncretic and exclusivist Islam. Similarly, he draws a line between the capacious view of Hindu religion and its narrow and sectarian variety.

Lahiri answers, convincingly, every question he poses. Like most scholars, he believes that the Ayodhya movement that pushed the Bharatiya Janata Party to the centre-stage of Indian politics damaged the Hindu-Muslim fabric like nothing else before. It gave birth to an atmosphere of mutual suspicion and hostility between the two communities that will take a long time to heal.

His prophecy is frightening: "Till a societal consensus emerges, re-establishment of harmonious relations between Hindus and Muslims will remain a distant dream."

[M.R. Narayan Swamy can be contacted at narayan.swamy@ians.in]

(Courtesy: IANS)

Politics of Fatwa in India

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in

Politics of Fatwa in India

By Navaid Hamid

Indian Muslims are not aloof from the global Muslim community which is feeling the brunt of a crisis from within. They suffer from an identity crisis in spiritual, social and political spheres. Muslim intellectuals today follow western modules in order to pretend that they are secular and liberal. On the other hand, Muslim clergy fails to give weightage to changed times, conditions and social realities while pronouncing edicts - opinion - fatwas - on issues of social importance while Muslim politicians are not only busy safeguarding their petty interests but also feel shy to actively take up the case of the community to which they belong. Most of the time, the only common thread between all of them is a visionsless approach to deal with a crisis.

The recent fatwa issued by the Islamic seminary of Deoband in India on the issue of working Muslim women says “it is unlawful for Muslim women to do any job in government or private institutions that entails men and women working together and women having to talk to men without the veil.” It created a storm not only in the national media but also within the Muslim community and has given another excuse to the detractors of the Muslim community to attack the fundamentals of Islam.

The fatwa came in response to a querry which said, "Can Muslim women in India do government or private jobs? Shall their salary be halal or haram or prohibited?"

Common Muslims are confused and seem to be lost between Islamic luminaries on one side and ultra secularists and media on the other. The national media flashed the news that an Islamic seminary has decreed that "it is ‘haram’ and illegal according to the Sharia for a family to accept a woman’s earnings", inspite of the fact that the seminary had responded only to the first part of the query and kept silent about the other part for reasons best known to the mufti.

Almost all national dailies and major news channels carried the news prominently and it received wide attention and condemnation by every Tom, Dick and Harry of the secular tribe without verifying the contents of the fatwa in its totality.

After verifying the contents, I was confused as others too may have been, as nowhere in the fatwa, the clerics have quoted any Hadith or Quranic injunction to substantiate their ruling. Moreover, the fatwa concludes with a rider: “Allah (subhana wa ta'ala) knows best” which relieved me to some extent because, yes, it is the Almighty alone who knows the best and not men who respond to social issues with a religious brush without clear references from Islamic scriptures.

No practicing Muslim would disagree that in a multi-cultural and multi-religious society like India, every Muslim - man as well as woman, must guard his/her modesty. Do the revered clerics doubt the integrity of the Muslim women? Unfortunately, the fatwa is giving that impression which is contrary to the basic tenets of Islam which do not discriminate between man and woman.

It is not the Indian Islamic seminaries alone which issue such contentious religious edicts. In the recent past, a Malaysian Islamic scholar issued a fatwa prohibiting the use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims in Malaysia. During a recent visit to Malaysia, I tried to understand the views of a highly respectable politician. I was not impressed by his response that “Malaysia is not in the Arab peninsula. We have a different culture and the argument by those who have given and support the fatwa needs to be understood in the right context.” How can one justify the appropriation of of Allah (God) by Muslims? And if this is correct, there should be one answer for this applicable to the whole Muslim world.

The understanding of Islamic jurisprudence in the contemporary world is a matter of great importance. A good number of scholars have argued for the opening of the avenues of "Ijtehad". The renowned Islamic scholar and author of Radical Reform : Islamic ethics and Liberation, Tariq Ramadan, recently proposed "radical reform in the way we deal with the scriptures - rethinking the classical way of reading the scriptural resources and also addressing the contemporary challenges of promoting and applying Islamic ethics of our time". Tariq Ramadan holds the firm view that "Muslims need to go from adaptional reform to transformational reform, which is not to adapt ourselves to the way things are, but to propose applied ethics to change them for the better."

The so-called “liberals” in the Indian Muslim community always try to hijack issues for gaining publicity and shed crocodile’s tears on the plight of Muslim women whenever there is a semblance of conflict between Islamic scholars and common Muslim masses.

These “liberal” Muslims never speak on the general empowerment of Muslim women. They even vigorously opposed the demand of the educated Muslim women to have their due share in the political empowerment through the Women Reservation Bill.

These liberals have also never voiced their concern on the plight of the Muslim women of West Bengal where they have been marginalized the most during the last 33 years of the Left parties’ rule. I have not read a single statement of these so-called “liberals” when the goons of the CPM raped, attacked and killed hapless Muslim women of Nandigram not long ago.

Most of these liberal, ultra-secular Muslims have made personal gains in the shape of cosy posts and rewards from all political parties. Most of them have always been on the right side of the establishment from Shiv Sena to BJP to Congress. And every ruling party paid them handsome rewards for their dissenting and discordant voice.

Lyricist Javed Akhtar deserves congratulations for getting a "good Muslim" certificate by Balasaheb Thackeray in Shiv Sena's mouthpiece Samna for confronting and denouncing the Deoband fatwa. I admired this renowned lyricist not only because of his famous lyrics but also because of his courage to stand out and share dais with the Shiv Sena around 10 years back when the Sena was in its peak demonizing Muslims of Maharashtra and for his "special love" for Vajpayee when he had recited Vajpayee's “poems”.

I was also amused to read a reaction of Shabnam Hashmi, a good friend of mine, who indeed is a secularist at heart and a courageous activist. She was correct when she reiterated that she does not recognise Deoband and I do agree with her because time and again she had reiterated that she is a non-believer. What amused me was the second part of her statement in which she said that this fatwa will not impact educated women like “herself” but that “there was a certain section in the society that would have to bear the brunt of such pronouncements.” I can only assure Shabnam that the fatwa on working Muslim women has little importance in the contemporary lives of the Indian Muslims at large.

Most of the electronic channels have an impression that by attacking and highlighting the conflicts in the Muslim society they would gain more funds by improving their TRP. The same is the case with the print media. Every media house is in a blind race to give prominence to views expressed by muftis of Deoband. The invented story that a fatwa said that it is "haram and illegal according to Sharia for a family to use a woman's earning" found prominence in the media. The irony is that the fatwa is available official website of the Islamic seminary of Deoband. When the seminary denied the fake story published by the media, there were few takers for their denial. The damage was done. From the mufti who pronounced the fatwa to the liberal Muslims to media, everybody played a role in damaging the image of Islam and Muslims and used it to further their politico-economic ambitions.

[Navaid Hamid is Secretary, South Asian Council for Minorities (SACM) and Member, National Integration Council. His contributions can be seen on his blog http://navaidhamid.blogindia.com/. He can be contacted at navaidhamid@gmail.com]

:: MEDIA :: Minority Images in the Indian Print Media

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 25 May 2010 | Posted in

Minority Images in the Indian Print Media

By Siddharth Varadarajan

When we speak of ‘Minority Images in the Indian Print Media’ there are two broad areas to be addressed. The first is the coverage in print -- and images on television and the electronic media – of minorities and how these images have contributed to a process that has strengthened negative stereotypes of Indian Muslims, poisoning relations between religious communities (particularly Hindus and Muslims), acted as a mechanism to downgrade the level of political discourse in India, and helped political parties evade responsibility in a democratic polity. The second area is that of representation, or workplace diversity, that is, the presence of Muslims in the media.

:: FATWA :: These edicts are not exactly helping Indian Muslims

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in

These edicts are not exactly helping Indian Muslims

Darul Uloom Deoband is considered the most influential Islamic seminary in the subcontinent. Right now it’s in the news for its decree advising Muslims against opting for insurance policy saying it went against the tenets of Islam.

The decree or fatwa was issued in response to a query whether it was legal to take an insurance policy in the light of Shariah. The seminary has also issued a fatwa against Muslim women taking up jobs that require free interaction with men.

The two fatwas have stirred a hornets’ nest in India, sparking a furious debate across the country once again about the state of Muslims and the role clerics have played in their backwardness. Salman Khurshid, Federal Minister for Minority Welfare, eminent jurist and an author of several books on the problems of Indian Muslims, discusses the issue in a conversation with RAVI S. JHA, Khaleej Times’ Chief Correspondent in New Delhi:

Muslim women say Deoband edict goes against the Quran

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in ,

Muslim women say Deoband edict goes against the Quran

By Neeta Kolhatkar

The Darul Uloom Deoband’s edict restricting women from working with other men has not gone down well with Muslim women in the city. They say the fatwa, posted on the Deoband’s website, is specific and cannot be a generalisation.

“Today people are living in cities and many are poor. Often women are the only earning members of a family. It becomes a need for her and prophet Mohammed himself has said that women can earn,” says Urma Naheed, director of Iqra Foundation.

Scholars say it is the misinterpretation of the Quran that is the source of confusion. There were instances of the prophet’s first wife being a businesswoman, and his youngest wife even led a battle. Patriarchs in society have misinterpreted the Holy Book by passing such edicts.

Zeenat Shauqat Ali, head of Islamic studies, St Xavier’s College, said, “The prophet changed the face of Arabia by giving rights to women. He has in fact said in verses of the Quran that whatever the woman earns she has the right to keep it for herself. The framework, too, clearly states that she cover herself and her head.”She added, “The problem is that our societies have been largely patriarchal and the men have misinterpreted the words of the Quran. Let me reiterate that these edicts are against the verses of Quran.”

In fact, the Naheed says that even the prophet has not specified the kind of hijab to wear. It is specified in Quran that the woman has to be fully covered, and that code varies according to every country.

“The woman has to work according to the framework of Sharia and cover herself wearing a hijab. It means to cover oneself and hide your beauty. The hijab has varied according to the dress code of each country. In some countries they wear a scarf, while here they cover themselves from head to toe,” says Naheed.

However Gulzar Azmi, general secretary Jammat-E-Ulma Hind, Maharashtra, says a woman is allowed to work only in exceptional cases. Only in the cases where the family is extremely poor and or in a helpless situation can the woman go out and earn.

“The primary responsibility of the woman is to look after the children. The responsibility to earn and look after the family is that of the husband’s. The woman can work only in exceptional situations,” says Azmi. He adds, “It is not a waste of a woman’s education if she grooms her children and educates them.”

(Courtesy: DNA)

Unveiling Deoband’s Fatwas on Women

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in

Unveiling Deoband’s Fatwas on Women

By Yoginder Sikand

Visibly embarrassed by the angry reaction of the media, women’s groups and noted Muslim critics to its fatwa delivered more than a month ago on working Muslim women, the Dar ul-Uloom, Deoband, India’s largest seminary, has hastened to announce that the fatwa in question does not forbid Muslim women working outside their homes, as some have alleged. Rather, Maulvi Adnan Munshi, spokesperson of the Deoband madrasa, has claimed, it only insists that working women be ‘properly covered’.

Maulvi Adnan is not entirely wrong, for the fatwa, issued on 4th April 2010, reads (the clumsy English may please be excused):

‘It is unlawful for Muslim women to do job in government or private institutions where men and women work together and women have to talk with men frankly and without veil.’

In other words, what the fatwa suggests is that Muslim women can work only in such places where they can fully veil themselves and where they cannot ‘frankly’ (whatever that might mean) talk with men. These would, presumably, be women’s-only jobs, which involve entirely women staff and clients and which hermetically seal off women from any contact with males that require ‘frank’ conversation with the latter.

Obviously, though without explicitly stating this, this fatwa effectively debars Muslim women from all jobs in the public sector in India today—where they cannot veil fully and where, in order to fulfil their duties, they would need to ‘frankly’ converse with males, including their male colleagues. It effectively disallows them from working as elected representatives at various levels, from the panchayat to the Lok Sabha. In the context of moves to reserve a third of all electoral bodies in India for women, the disastrous implications of this for the already marginalised and beleaguered Muslim minority can scarcely be imagined. The fatwa also effectively bans Muslim women from a whole range of jobs in the private sector as well. After all, how many jobs in the private sector are there (even in the small Muslim-controlled sector of the Indian economy) which require fully-veiled women who cannot speak ‘frankly’ with males? In practical terms, the fatwa thus reduces the opportunity for jobs for Muslim women to just few girls’ schools and maktabs, tailoring centres and the like, where they can work fully covered-up and where they need not interact with male colleagues or clients. Hence, although Maulvi Adnan is technically right that the fatwa does not explicitly ban women from working outside their homes, in effect it certainly does rule out most jobs, and certainly the most well-paying, to Muslim women.

The disastrous implications of the fatwa for Muslim women from desperately poor families can hardly be imagined. The maulvi sahebs might not require their women to work outside and might easily afford to have them stay cloistered within their homes, for they are usually fairly well-off or else survive on zakat, chanda, sadqa and other forms of donations of the pious. But what about the millions of Muslim families whose economic conditions are so pathetic that their womenfolk are compelled, by sheer economic necessity, to toil outside their homes—as agricultural workers, labourers, petty retailers and so on? Covering-up completely and remaining confined within their homes is no option for them at all. The fatwa-hurling maulvis, it would seem, simply do not know about them and the harsh realities of their economic conditions (such things are, of course, not taught in the madrasas) , or, if they do, they probably could not care less. The fatwa can have brutal implications for the self-esteem of such women (that is, supposing they know about the fatwa and take it seriously), at least some of whom are bound to be constantly haunted by the fear that the work outside the home that they are compelled, by the demands of sheer survival, to engage in might actually be haram or completely forbidden in Islam.

That restricting to the maximum possible extent Muslim women’s access to jobs outside the home is indeed what the Deobandi clerics intend, Maulvi Adnan’s pious posturing to the contrary notwithstanding, comes out clearly if the above-mentioned fatwa is seen in conjunction with a host of other fatwas related to women issued over the years by the Deoband madrasa. Taken together, they effectively reduce women’s access to the public sphere, including jobs, to an absolute minimum. One such fatwa, issued on 25th June 2008, completely belies the claim of Maulvi Adnan. It explicitly states (using rather clumsy English again, which may be pardoned):

‘It is not a good thing for women to do jobs in offices. They will have to face strange men (non-mahram), though in veil. She will have to talk and deal with each other which are the things of fitna (evils). A father is committed to provide maintenance to his daughter and a husband is asked to provide maintenance to his wife. So, there is no need for women to do jobs which always pose harms and mischief.’

This and other fatwas, all hosted on the Deoband madrasa’s fatwa website, insist that Muslim women must fully cover themselves, including even their faces, in front of all non-mahram males (males other than certain close relatives whom they cannot marry); that it is ‘better’ to cover even their eyes, if they can; that they cannot travel alone, other than in the vicinity of their homes, without a mahram accompanying them; that they cannot drive in a vehicle alone driven by a non-mahram male; that they cannot drive cars; that they must observe purdah even with fellow women, Muslim and non-Muslim; that they cannot ‘speak loudly, read out something in melody and talk softly’; that their voices should be considered satr or something that must be concealed from non-mahram males; and that they and their spouses are forbidden from practising family planning on the alleged grounds that it is ‘haram and unlawful in Islam.’ Taken together, these fatwas clearly deny almost every avenue for employment outside the domestic sphere to Muslim women.

Deoband’s recent fatwa, as well as others that I have referred to above, can be critiqued on both Islamic as well as secular grounds. I am a Muslim myself, but although I cannot claim to be an Islamic scholar, I do know for a fact that a fatwa issued by the Deoband madrasa that claims that ‘The Quran and Hadith have commanded women to cover their faces due to fear of mischief’ is quite untenable. The fact of the matter is that nowhere does the Quran command Muslim women to veil their faces. In fact, during the Haj pilgrimage, women are not meant to cover their faces, and they pray together in Mecca with men. In his published collection of fatwas, the world-renowned and widely-respected Egyptian Islamic scholar, Allama Yusuf al-Qaradawi, has adduced numerous instances of women who appeared before the Prophet without covering their faces. Nor does Islam prohibit women from working outside their homes, provided, of course, they can maintain their modesty. At the time of the Prophet, numerous Muslim women did so. Some even participated in battles. Others tended to the wounded, as nurses. The third Sunni Caliph, Umar, appointed a woman, Shifa bint Abdullah, as overseer of the market of Medina. Obviously, her job entailed not just coming out of her home but also interacting in a male-dominated space. As for Deoband’s fatwa declaring a Muslim woman’s voice as satr, or something to be concealed, the less said the better. The Quran discusses in considerable detail the conversation between Moses and a daughter of Shoeb, and that between the Queen of Sheba and the prophet Solomon. How would these women have talked to these unrelated men if their voices were ‘veiled’, as the Deobandi Muftis insist they should be? Much of the corpus of Sunni hadith, reports attributed to, or purportedly about, the Prophet Muhammad, were transmitted by a woman—his youngest wife Ayesha—who is said to have narrated them to a whole host of almost wholly male listeners.

An accepted principle of Islamic jurisprudence (usul al-fiqh) is that rulings might need to change with change in time (zaman) and space (makan). In other words, fatwas must be related, and responsive, to the social and temporal context which they intend to address. Based on this principle, numerous Islamic scholars outside India have unambiguously allowed for women to work outside their homes and to leave their faces uncovered, while also stressing that they must preserve their modesty. It is because the Deobandis, being hardened followers of the Hanafi school of Sunni jurisprudence, insist on blind imitation (taqlid) of past juridical precedent that they seem totally unwilling to understand the need for contextually-relevant fatwas on women’s issues. The training that they receive in their traditional madrasas leaves them simply unaware of the complexities and demands of the outside world, including the changing conditions and concerns of women. As numerous Muslim scholars have pointed out, a basic requirement for one to be considered a Mufti—an Islamic scholar qualified to issue fatwas—is deep knowledge of the social context that his fatwas are meant to apply to. Sadly, this quality seems missing in the authors of Deoband’s many patently patriarchal fatwas.

The fatwas I have referred to above not only greatly restrict Indian Muslim women’s access to employment but also effectively debar them from quality higher education. Almost all good institutions of higher learning in India are co-educational, and they would most certainly balk at admitting fully veiled Muslim women who cannot freely interact on an intellectual level with their male teachers—which is what the fatwas issued by Deoband insist they should be. Higher education and access to jobs thus largely ruled out for them, the ulema of Deoband would, it seems from their fatwas, ideally like Muslim women to remain cloistered within the four walls of their homes. Denied the space to harness and develop their skills and minds and to contribute to the overall development of their community, their potentials totally wasted, these brutally incapacitated women can hardly expect to become mothers of bright, talented Muslim children who can help bring their community out from the terrible morass it finds itself in today.

That said, I must also stress that I do recognise the positive side of the work that sections of the ulema are engaged in. To paint them all as incorrigibly obscurantist and patriarchal is grossly unfair. I must confess that I can perfectly understand some of their serious concerns related to women and gender-relations. The global onslaught of crass Western consumerist culture (based on materialism, selfishness, competition, and self-aggrandisement) parading in the garb of ‘modernity’ and ‘progress’, the breakdown of traditional systems of morality (much of which is of great value and ought to be preserved and cherished) and the pathetic commodification of women that all of this entails should be a cause for grave concern for all of us—and not just for the ulema. It is but right that the ulema should seek to counter this, although I may not agree with some of their methods and most of their prescriptions, which are often as bad as the disease they intend to cure. While sharing their concern for the perceived crisis of values we are today faced with, I strongly believe that shackling women and even denying them some of the rights the Quran grants them in order to prevent them from falling prey to fitnah or ‘strife’, as the ulema term it, will only further compound the problem, rather than solve it. Not only is this not warranted in (my reading of) Islam, it is bound to lead many—Muslims and non-Muslims alike—to imagine Islam as a regressive force, vehemently and irretrievably patriarchal, an image that is completely at odds with the way I understand my faith. It is also likely to lead to increasing numbers of Muslims developing serious doubts about their religion and its ability to provide suitable answers to the complex questions that we are today faced with. Ultimately, it is also bound to lead to the maulvis as a class being increasingly viewed, even by Muslims themselves, as best as wholly irrelevant bulwark of reaction and obscurantism.

Finally, having spent years studying and writing about the ulema and their madrasas, I must also add how distressing it is when self-styled ‘modern’ educated ‘liberals’ and ‘progressives’ (and here I implicate myself, too) blame the ulema of the madrasas for all the many ills of Muslim society, including the patently absurd fatwas that they issue from time to time. It is lamentable how we Muslims have allowed the task of interpreting and defending Islam to be assumed almost solely by the traditionalist ulema (a responsibility that they jealously guard, being the basis of their claims to authority). Given the fact that the vast majority of the traditionalist ulema come from relatively economically modest backgrounds, with little or no access to ‘modern’ or ‘liberal’ education, they can hardly be blamed for the absurdities that they sometimes come up with. If we are seriously concerned about the need for more meaningful, humane, contextually-appropriate and gender-just understandings of Islam—and sensible fatwas as well—it is for middle-class, ‘modern’-educated Muslims with an interest in, and commitment to, their faith to seek to interpret it for themselves and for others as well, instead of leaving this responsibility to the maulvis of the madrasas to undertake and then bamboozling them for doing a bad job of it.

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

:: JOB OPPORTUNITIES :: Various jobs in CBRI; Fresh Engineers vacancy in Engineers India etc

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 24 May 2010 | Posted in


Various jobs in CBRI

Central Building Research Institute (CBRI)
(Council of Scientific & Industrial Research - CSIR)
Roorkee - 247667, Uttarakhand

CBRI invites applications from Indian Nationals, who are young, dynamic, self-motivated, talented and experienced with adequate leadership qualities for under-mentioned posts:

Scientist Gr.IV(2): 52 posts (UR-32, SC-08, ST-03, OBC-09), Pay Scale: Rs.15600-39100 Grade Pay Rs. 6600/-, Age: 35 Years

Scientist Gr.IV(1): 04 posts (UR-03, SC-01), Pay Scale: Rs.15600-39100 Grade Pay Rs. 5400/-, Age: 35 Years

Technical Staff Gr.III(2): 10 posts (UR-07, SC-01, OBC-02), Pay Scale: Rs. 9300-34800 Grade Pay Rs. 4200/-, Age: 28 Years

Technical Staff Gr.III(1): 22 posts (UR-09, SC-04, ST-02, OBC-07), Pay Scale : Rs. 9300-34800 Grade Pay Rs. 4200/-, Age: 28 Years

Research Interns: 17 posts, Fixed Stipend Rs.11500/- p.m., Age: 25 Years

Fee: Rs.100/- (US $25 for candidates applying from abroad) in the form of crossed Demand Draft drawn in favour of Director, CBRI payable at State Bank of India (Code No.10635), CBRI Branch, Roorkee .

How to Apply: Application in the prescribed format is to be sent in an envelope superscribing “Application for the post____________ (name of post applied for with Post code & Post No.)” to the Controller of Administration, Central Building Research Institute, Roorkee – 247667 (Uttarakhand), so as to reach on or before 08/06/2010.

Application can also be submitted Online on CBRI website latest by June 8, 2010.

Please view http://www.cbri.res.in/others/Advt-2-2010.pdf for all the details, application form is available at http://www.cbri.res.in/others/Application-2-2010.pdf

IDB plans to boost India cooperation

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , ,

IDB plans to boost India cooperation

By Ghazanfar Ali Khan

The Islamic Development Bank (IDB) has announced plans to expand cooperation with India and take the bilateral relationship forward in the fields of education, training and coaching. The plans, under which several new projects in India have been named and approved by the IDB to be recipients of the bank's financial grants, come within the framework of the IDB's special assistance program in which Indian Muslim institutions have been major beneficiaries.

"The IDB has pledged to support the educational projects within the framework of the regulatory provisions of the Indian government," said Kamal Faruqui, an IDB representative in India, who made a presentation here on Sunday. The presentation was attended by a large number of Indian expatriates including Salem Zubedi, Hussain Zulkarnain, Arif Shah and Rizwanul Haq.

:: SHARIAH :: Indian-Malaysian woman challenges Islamic court for rejecting her bid to become Shariah lawyer

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , ,

Indian-Malaysian woman challenges Islamic court for rejecting her bid to become Shariah lawyer

An ethnic Indian lawyer is challenging Kuala Lumpur's Islamic court after it rejected her bid to practice Shariah law on grounds that she is not a Muslim.

It is the first such case against the Islamic court in the predominantly Muslim nation, where ethnic minorities have long complained their legal rights are being trampled on.

Victoria Jayaseele Martin, 48, said Friday she decided to bring the matter to the civil court after the Kuala Lumpur Shariah court rejected her application last year, saying only Muslims can become Shariah lawyers.

:: WOMEN :: Saudi women giving it back to moral police

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , ,

Saudi women giving it back to moral police

Saudi Arabian women are reportedly fighting back against the country's 'religious police', with one married woman opening fire and another punching an officer.

According to media reports, the incident involving the woman happened when she was caught in an "illegal seclusion" with a man in Ha'il last week. "She shot at the officers to distract them and allow the man to escape instant detention," the Sydney Morning Herald quoted Mutlak al Nabet, a Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice spokesman, as saying.

Everybody loves a bad fatwa

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , ,

Everybody loves a bad fatwa

By Kashif-ul-Huda

Everybody loves a bad fatwa. And why not? It fills column space for newpapers; It brings in viewers for Television channels; it plays into the image of Muslims as a backward community for communalists; and it gives activists a chance to reinforce their secular credentials. Never mind that this fatwa will not change the lives of millions of Muslims and text of the fatwa could be not what has been reported or maybe the said fatwa doesn't even exist.

Fatwa is nothing but a religious opinion from a religious scholar to a question asked by a Muslim on a particular situation that he or she may be facing at the time or might face in future and doesn't know what should be an appropriate way to act in light of Islamic teachings. A mufti then issues a fatwa or opinion based on his understanding of the question and Islam. Just as different medical doctors will have a difference of opinion regarding a diagnosis and treatment plan, it is common for different muftis to give different opinion for the same question.

Media circus

At least once every year, on a slow news day, some enterprising journalist finds a fatwa that will fit the stereotype about Muslims being backward or Muslim scholars being ignorant or out of touch with the real world or all of the above reasons, and will publish a news story based on this 'prized' fatwa. Let's take the example of the fatwa issued by Darul Uloom Deoband that is making the round in news cycles this week.

The fatwa in question was issued more than a month ago and one can ask the question, why is there a sudden interest by the media in this particular fatwa? A fatwa that is only a sentence long has had numerous newspaper column space and hours of airtime devoted to it. The media bosses have decided that it is an important fatwa because it has all the right keywords to keep the attention of readers & viewers, and therefore will keep a flow of revenue coming in.

One has to question the motive of the major media regarding the publicizing of a fatwa. There is more to this than meets the eye when the Indian media that is obsessed with breaking news and exclusives these days picks up a fatwa that was issued more than a month ago. Within 24 hours of this news being flashed on NDTV on May 11th, 2010, all major media networks of India had reported it. And every new report had added information that was not even there. Let's look at the fatwa first.

Question number 21031 ((http://darulifta-deoband.org/viewfatwa.jsp?ID=21031) to Darul Ifta (house of fatwas) of Darul Uloom Deoband asked by someone in India states: “Asalamu-Alikum: Can muslim women in india do Govt. or Pvt. Jobs? Shall their salary be Halal or Haram or Prohibited?” Answer published on April 4th, 2010 simply answers it as: “It is unlawful for Muslim women to do job in government or private institutions where men and women work together and women have to talk with [to] men frankly and without veil.”

Headlines

Now let's look at some of the headlines of news reports about this fatwa:

Fatwa against working Muslim women: NDTV

Fatwa to working Muslim women: Don't talk to male colleagues: NDTV

Women's earnings haram, says Deoband: The Times of India [Print edition]

Deoband fatwa: It's illegal for women to work, support family: The Times of India [Online]

Don't talk to male colleagues: Darul Uloom's fatwa to all working women: DNA

Muslim women can't work: Deoband: Samay Live

Darul Uloom says Muslim women can't work in public: India Today

Now, fatwa against working women: Indian Express

Women Working with Men Un-Islamic: Deoband: Outlook

Fatwa against men-women proximity at workplace: Zee News

In case you ever wondered why there isnt a successful supermarket tabloid in India, here is your answer. There is no need for one because major media houses in India do that job very well.

Fatwa-checking

Now let's look at the fatwa again. It doesn't talk about a woman's earnings being haram or unlawful, Islamically speaking. It also not talking about whether women can work or not, rather it is a learned scholar giving his opinion that Islamically it will be unlawful for a Muslim women only if she is in a job that will require her to speak to men "frankly and without veil." I am not sure what mufti sahib meant with the "speaking frankly" phrase, but there is no ruling saying women cannot work or that their earning is haram. This did not stop media houses from publishing news report after news report with sensational headlines that had nothing to do the with the original fatwa.

A simple fact-checking, if Indian media had that system, would have clarified the matter and this fatwa would have remained a non-news. However, this was not to be. Why should anyone bother with minor annoyance when there are pages and airtime to be filled without impunity.

Television channels went a step further and dug up old fatwas dating back to 2005 and 2006 to run on the screens when they were talking about this issue. It is anyone's guess what issues those fatwas displayed on-screen would have dealt with. We can't blame readers and viewers when they see a conspiracy in all this.

Tabassum Khan who is an Assistant Professor of Media and Cultural Studies at the University of California, Riverside argues that the media jumps on these issues because "It further tatters the already tarnished image of the Muslims." And when there is not enough facts to go around they simply add fiction to make it sound more interesting.

Fatwas, good or bad, have only limited public appeal and influence. Sadia Khanam, a journalist with The Eastern Post in Kolkata, says, "I don't encounter many situations where I need to seek the guidance of a fatwa." And maybe it will sound strange to journalists with a very low image of Muslim women, Khanam adds, "It depends on my personal understanding to decide which fatwa can be held correct and followed."

And Sadia is not alone in this, Tabassum Khan has done extensive research on the Muslim youth of New Delhi and she says that "The women paid little attention [to fatwas], but among the young men there were a few who gave importance to these fatwas. But they were isolated and few and far in between in numbers."

So, why are major media houses ready to give up prime space and time for a fatwa that the majority of Muslims pay little attention to? "Mainstream media has no stake in the image of Muslims. They are in the business of enforcing and perpetuating stereotypes. So, if a maulvi works to tatter the already tarnished image, they are the first to give him importance and project his view as the view of the entire community," explains Khan.

Measured response

Darul Uloom Deoband did the right thing by issuing a denial but the damage had already been done. So how should Muslims respond in situations like these? First of all, those who are activists, community leaders, and commentators, and first lines of contact for these journalists who are seeking them for opinions, need to pay more attention to the story. They need to realize that they don't need to respond to all media queries. If they do decide to respond, even if it is going to be along predictable lines, they need to see the source of the story. In this case, it would have been to see the original fatwa.

For half an hour, Shazia Ilmi, Sadia Dehlvi, and Kamal Farooqui debated on this topic on Sagarika Ghose's program "Face The Nation" on CNN-IBN on Wednesday. Strangely, none of them had actually even read the original fatwa. Based on other hearsay news reports, this only served the purpose of keeping untainted the image of Muslims as a monolith community out-of-touch-with-the-modern-world, and women who need to be rescued. Of course, interest of Muslim women is the least of the concerns of the Indian media who are competing for all-important ratings.

One thing is clear that Muslims have no say or control over the media's actions, but that doesn't mean that they have to be passive. Polite but firm emails should be sent to reporters and their editors. Muslim community organizations should send a letter on their official letter-heads to the editors and seek meetings with the editorial staff. In these meetings, examples of serious lapses by media when reporting on issues related to Muslims should be brought to their attention.

Media is not a one-way street and they don't exist in vacuum. In this day and age, readers and viewers have much more power than anyone would like to acknowledge. This power should be used to demand correct and factual coverage. At the same time Muslims need to take these kinds of episodes as opportunity to engage with their non-Muslim colleagues and friends to explain Islam and Muslim practices.

Muslim religious leadership is not above criticism but they need to be engaged to develop a new kind of thinking that takes what Islam has to offer and apply it to the modern world. Religious scholars need to offer solutions to the problems associated with modern life without dragging the whole community to a medieval view of the religion and the world. For this to happen both university-educated and madrasa-educated Muslims need to interact and engage each other.

As Prof. Tabassum Khan rightly states, "It is important for middle-class Muslims to become more vocal and not let uninformed and biased opinions be representative of the community."

[Kashif-ul-Huda is the Editor of news website www.TwoCircles.net and can be reached at kashif@urdustan.com]

:: PEOPLE :: Mushirul Hasan appointed DG of National Archives of India

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in

Mushirul Hasan appointed DG of National Archives of India

Mushirul Hasan, a serving professor and former vice-chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia, has been appointed as the director-general of the National Archives of India.

Hasan, educated in Aligarh Muslim University and Cambridge University, has been a professor in Jamia Milia Islamia since 1981. Besides teaching and holding numerous responsibilities at Jamia, he has also served as the vice chairman of Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla and as visiting professor to several universities. Hasan is a Padma Shri recipient and author of many important books on Indian history.

Afghan woman built her businesses from the ground up

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , ,

At 31, Hassina Syed holds an advanced degree in business that few can rival.

It's not one that she received through formal studies at a university.

She earned hers by being a young female entrepreneur who has managed to amass a mini-conglomerate in war-torn Afghanistan and a male-dominated Muslim business world.

"They will let a woman do a small business, which they don't care about," says Syed, who went into business nine years ago. "But once they discover a woman is doing positively and seriously, they really want to stop her by any way. But I never listen, because my father, my husband and my family are always supporting me, saying, 'You can do it.' "

:: GENERAL :: 73 Muslim passengers, among 160 killed, in Air India Express plane crash at Mangalore

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 22 May 2010 | Posted in

73 Muslim passengers, among 160 killed, in Air India Express plane crash at Mangalore

By Danish Ahmad Khan

One hundred and sixty (160) people were killed Saturday, May 22, 2010 when Air India Express flight AIX-812 flying in from Dubai crashed while landing at Mangalore airport, which is surrounded by deep gorges. The plane erupted in fire when it overshot the runway and plunged down a cliff. Though it had been raining for two days, there was six-kilometre visibility with no wind when the Boeing 737, carrying 160 passengers including 19 children and four infants as well as six crew members attempted to land at 6.05 a.m., the civil aviation ministry said.

Separate law needed for Islamic banking in India: RBI

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 21 May 2010 | Posted in ,

Islamic banking in India is not possible now with the current banking principles based on interest payment, but it can be done though a separate legislation, said Reserve Bank of India Governor D. Subbarao at Thiruvananthapuram on May 20, 2010.

"With the present set of Banking Regulation Act, Islamic banking just cannot take place because many of the banking principles in place are based on interest payments. However, Islamic banking is possible through a separate legislation," Subbarao told reporters at the end RBI Board meeting.

IMC-USA seek assurance from PM, Chief Justice on intimidation free CBI inquiry into fake encounter killings

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 20 May 2010 | Posted in ,


Indian Muslim Council-USA, an advocacy group dedicated toward safeguarding India's pluralist and tolerant ethos, in a press release has called on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chief Justice of the Indian Supreme Court S. H. Kapadia to monitor and ensure an intimidation free Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) inquiry into the fake encounter killings of Sohrabuddin, his wife Kausarbi and his associate Prajapati at the hands of the Gujarat Police.

Lawsuits against the Gujarat police related to the fake encounter killings have already landed 15 senior police officials behind bars and the Supreme Court ordered CBI inquiry has the potential to indict several prominent politicians and ministers in the Narendra Modi administration. Home Minister of Gujarat, Mr. Amit Shah, has reportedly gone into hiding fearing arrest by the CBI.

:: MEDIA :: Muslims and Media Images: Where Things Went Wrong

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 19 May 2010 | Posted in

Muslims and Media Images: Where Things Went Wrong

By Vinod Mehta

Before I come to the subject matter of this essay, I must make a disclaimer, namely, that I do not bring to the issue an academic’s or a specialist’s perspective. All I can say is that I have been an English language editor for more than twenty-five years, and in that period I certainly have a working experience and knowledge of some of the problems and some of the complaints of Muslims in this country in terms of their media representation, especially in the English-language section of the press.

We need to spend more time debating from the Muslim point of view the reasons why things have gone wrong for the Muslims with regard to the Indian media, particularly the relationship between the north Indian media and north Indian Muslims. I refer to north India and north Indian Muslims because in the arena of Indian politics this area and this community are thought to be representative of the entire Indian Muslim community.

Without seeking to apportion blame, we will begin by sketching one of the reasons for things having gone wrong. This reason is the lack of understanding among Muslims of the nature of the media in India, and where Muslims stand in the common civic space of India in 2006. This, again, is more important and relevant in the context of north Indian Muslims.

The next question is what the mandate and compulsions—or, rather, the challenges—of the Indian media are and what the role of the media is in society at large. Much of the problem begins because there is a lack of understanding on the part of common Muslims of the compulsions of Indian society. For a number of reasons, there is no forward movement in general amongst Muslims, again especially in north India, towards social transformation and modernization. Most north Indian Muslims, even educated ones, are unable to understand what the Indian media in the twenty first century is, and should be. They are not ready to realize that life goes on and that time cannot be reversed.

Against this backdrop, let us examine the hypothesis that the media has a special responsibility to portray Muslims sensitively, to be balanced and fair, since Muslims are in a minority and are the most backward community of India. Theoretically this may be true, but in the contemporary world, cut-throat competition is the driving force as much for the media as for any other business. However, it is argued that the Indian media should be more sympathetic and objective towards Muslims in comparison to other smaller minorities who are much better off, more educated, and modern in their outlook simply because of their economic condition. The media is, therefore, seen in very idealistic terms. It is also seen as almost having a special responsibility because Muslims are the largest religious minority in the country.

There is a politico-psychological angle to this. The impression and assurance given to Muslims at the time of Partition was that their interests and identity would be safeguarded in a democratic country, irrespective of the fact that India is a Hindu-majority nation. However, the harsh fact is that even for the majority of Hindus there are many constraints in life, and they will have to exert themselves to overcome them. I am not debunking the expectation, but we must also remember that the media is a business. The media would not exist, it would go bankrupt very quickly, if it did not take its business responsibilities seriously. While being a business does not mean it should be exclusively devoted to making money, it is not feasible for any such venture to be purely idealistic.

Another aspect to remember is that most media in this country are run by businessmen and business families who have little understanding of what the media’s role vis-à-vis the Muslim community should be. They are interested only in making profits. When people talk of the commercialization of the media, which is a kind of catchphrase for all evils, what they are getting at is that the media are only interested in making profits and that their social responsibility has been diluted.

This is somewhat of a facile view of the media, and a facile view of our responsibility. It is the job, within these challenges and constraints, of the editors and editorial teams to maintain a balance between editorial integrity and the reasonable assumption of making a profit, so as to ensure that these two things are not necessarily incompatible and inconsistent. It is possible at one and the same time to be a media house interested in making profits (though not solely dedicated to this) yet also fulfilling its social responsibilities. When people talk about commercialization of the media, it is accompanied by the assumption that commercialization necessarily means an erosion and downgrading of media standards.

As a working editor, I submit that there is, in the media, sometimes even more cut-throat competition than there is in other, more honestly commercial, ventures like selling soap and ice cream. The media operate today in one of the most competitive environments as far as the marketplace is concerned. In this country, besides, we have a problem of too much media. In New York or Washington, you will probably find one major English-language daily. Delhi has twelve broadsheets, without even counting the small ones. This is a good thing and I am not deriding it, but we have to understand that in India a great deal of media rivalry and competition exist. This marketplace competition has its own compulsions, and an editor or editorial team that pretends otherwise does so at its own peril.

This must be the basic premise and everything else, including the media’s presumed social responsibility towards Muslims or any other issue, must be seen in this context. If you remove this context and see the media purely in terms of having a social responsibility, of not measuring up to the standards of the press during Gandhi and Nehru’s time and of the National Herald and all those editors, you are looking at only half the picture. I think we had very eminent people and great newspapers in the times of Gandhi and Nehru. They did not, however, live in the current environment, with its competition, nor did they, as most editors do today, have to be constantly worried about the bottom-line. In these competitive times, if you are not worried about how well your paper is doing, you are held in low esteem as an editor, and your editorial policy is circumscribed in some ways by this constraint. There is, however, no fundamental incompatibility between making profits and social responsibility. Of course, standards can be lowered, some papers can sell out—as has indeed happened. But if you have a paper that is commercially successful you cannot assume that it automatically has poor editorial standards, nor does it automatically mean that a paper is going to lose money if a paper has very high editorial standards.

The question of whether the media has been fair to Muslims and where it has gone wrong has to be seen in his context. Keeping this in mind, we can now pose our questions. Has the Indian media been fair to Indian Muslims? Have we portrayed them with sensitivity and objectivity, keeping in view the problems they face? Have the media given undue prominence to the lunatic fringe? Have the media suppressed and ignored liberal or moderate voices? Have they paid too much attention to the maulavis and mullahs? Have they given 200 million Muslims a bad press and painted them as rabid and fundamentalist?

These are very relevant questions, and I do not pretend to have answers to all of them. But from time to time, I have been confronted with some of these questions and complaints, and I must say that some of the criticism of the media in this regard is justified. I will not attempt an apology or defence here but will try to present some of the problems and compulsions of the media as a backdrop against which these complaints should be viewed. One of the things that we should remember is that journalists are fundamentally extremely lazy people. The assumption that we are very industrious and will do a lot of groundwork for stories is an erroneous one. If a sound-byte is readily available from the Imam of the Jama Masjid, for example, why should the TV reporter go looking for the not-so-easily-available moderate voice, which anyway makes for dull copy?

But it is assumed, because of the special responsibility that has been thrust on us (or sought to be thrust on us), that we will go looking for that moderate voice and perhaps ignore the strident one. In a way, much the same charge is made by secular Hindus against the media— that too much space is given to people like Praveen Togadia. The reason we do so brings us to the other part of the criticism—that the rabid and fringe voice is strident and extreme, and is therefore more saleable. It makes for better television if you have two people shouting at and abusing each other than if you have two people having a reasoned and moderate debate. The lazy way out is to look for the strident voice that lends itself to a raucous debate. I think that if there is a defining complaint against the media from progressive and liberal Muslims, it is that we deliberately go out looking for these voices and ignore and suppress the more moderate and enlightened voices.

But in all this there is a problem and I can tell you that I face exactly this problem as an editor: where is this moderate Muslim liberal voice and how are we going to access it? Anyway, liberal Muslims have their own views on the issue. They argue that whenever some foolish person makes a reactionary or extraordinarily stupid statement they are expected to come up with a response. The same is not expected of liberal Hindus; why then should this always be expected of the liberal Muslim? Liberal Muslims feel that it is humiliating for them to be constantly pressurized by the media and other people to state what the alternate voice is. But, as some people have pointed out, do they have a choice? Maybe they do not have the luxury of keeping silent. So what is this image of Muslims that an unfair media has created? According to this view, Indian Muslims are held captive by an extremely powerful but regressive religious leadership and a passive and backward-looking political leadership that is attuned to this religious leadership and therefore determined to resist change and modernity. Whether this image is correct or not, it exists. It is also true that, right or wrong, this image matters decisively in the contemporary world. (One encounters a state of denial here, exemplified by the statement that this is just a perception floated by a rather unfair media concerned with its own interests and profits. In my opinion that is simply not true.)

What has happened in the past is that there has been too much analysis of why this image exists. We have got into long historical debates that are quite irrelevant. Instead of confronting the challenge, we have spent a great deal of time in apportioning blame. A great deal of time has been wasted in examining the problem rather than solving it. Rather than run away from it or over-analyse it, it would be more useful to take up the challenge, accept the problem, and see what can be done to resolve it.

If the Muslim community itself introspects, this is a problem that can be solved. We need to get away from the sterile debate on who is responsible, and begin a new debate on correctives and a new strategy to redress the balance. How do we improve the image? How do we accelerate the process of modernization and social change among Muslims? We can be sure that dwelling on historical glories or the sense of the past will not help Muslims to face up to the challenges of contemporary life.

Who speaks for the Muslims in India? Of course, you can argue that there are at least 160 million Muslims in India, and they are not a monolith, so why should there be one or a few spokespersons?

Let there then be a plurality of voices—the media would be delighted if there were many voices from which they could select different voices to interview on different days of the week. Unfortunately, that situation does not exist. So what does the time-pressed TV reporter or the print journalist with a deadline do when looking for a byte? Much of the problem begins here. The conservative voice, ironically, is the most easily available. For instance, the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board that claims to be ‘the true protector of Indian Muslims’ and various other clerics who perpetuate Muslim stereotypes are the only ones easily available. These people are extremely media-savvy — they have websites, phone numbers, press conferences, press officers, public relations officers, and clout.

In many ways, they understand the media much better than the Muslim middle-class and enlightened Muslims do, and they exploit the media much better and to the greatest possible extent. On the other hand, there are too few liberal Muslims who can be called upon to speak. So whenever there is a problem or debate, the media rounds up the usual suspects amongst the liberals. Sadly, of these some use the Muslim cause only for self-promotion. So you have to be very careful whether they are really interested in the problem or whether they are just interested in seeing their images on the television screen and in newspapers. You thus have a small pool of these voices to begin with, which is made even smaller if you try to discriminate too much between the genuine voices and the rent-a-voice that is available for every cause including that of Muslims.

What has happened as a result of this is that the so-called Muslim debate in this country has become a slanging match, a forum for abuse. You get a television studio, you lay out a few chairs and get a moderator—and then you get extremes, polarized views, and put them one against the other and goad them to call each other names. It is a dialogue of the deaf. But there is a feeling among television producers that this is what improves television ratings. So this is the only kind of ‘debate’ that occurs in India at the moment on these questions. It is completely counterproductive: for 20–5 minutes you are getting TV as a kind of entertainment sport; even in the print media, things are the same. We need more sober, more meaningful debates that can chalk out an agenda for change. And here the liberal moderate voice, which is reticent, which is perhaps not sure whether it should speak out, has at the very least to meet the media halfway. It must come out of its self-imposed restraint. It must be accessible; it must be eager to be heard. The expectation that the media will go searching for it is unrealistic.

Of course the assumption here is that such voices do exist. Some time ago, we spoke to Muslims for a cover story, ‘The Other Face of Indian Muslims’, in Outlook (5 October 2004). We did not go to the modern jeans-clad sort of Muslims, but those from the Jama Masjid like areas, and we got some very interesting voices of Muslim women and men who combined tradition and modernity so effortlessly. We assume that there is some kind of conflict between the two, but in the lives and professions of these ordinary Muslims they coalesce effortlessly. The Muslim question is very much a part of their psyche. The one thing that emerges, however, is that they want is to get on with their lives.

But this is only one part of the story, the pleasant part; it is not the whole truth of Muslim society. Later on we realized from the response of the readers that some of the families cited as examples in the story have no roots in the community and are thus not role models for the community. Besides, the number of such families is negligible. Moreover, there are also professional Muslim socialites who claim to be true representatives of the community simply because they live in the old-city area. They also sell themselves as progressives. No surprise then that, like other communities, there are also Muslim ‘seminarist intellectuals’ of the ‘Walled City’, who give wrong feedback to the media about Muslims. As I have already confessed, journalists are lazy, so the correspondent doing the story chose only those families that are socially prominent and in touch with professional intellectuals.

It seems that these days many a socialite is capitalizing on the exploitation done by the Imam of Jama Masjid and the institution of the Jama Masjid. There is no purpose behind frequent statements and press releases against the Imam by these socialites. I do not mean that I approve any kind of exploitation, religious or political, by the Imam of Jama Masjid; nor do I approve of governments in power or political parties that have been using the Imam’s name or the institution of the Jama Masjid for political gains. But then there is hardly anything constructive in the approach of Muslims and various groups who are against the Imam except a desire for self-publicity. Muslims will have to fight both the socialites and the Imam—or, for that matter, all religious institutions who are exploiting them.

Muslims will have to channelize all their stamina towards social and political empowerment. As an editor, even though I know that the Imam is exploiting the community to the core, I have to be careful not to give publicity to anti-Imam groups among Muslims. It would, in any case, not solve any of the problems faced by the community but only show it in poor light.

This is the age of publicity and propaganda and I want to emphasize once again that there is no point having good ideas and moderate views if you choose not to air them in a public forum. Good ideas need to be promoted, and you have to use all the tricks of modern media promotion. The liberal moderate Muslim voice appears to be somewhat uncomfortable with publicity. But they have to break out of that trap—they have to use the media, and they have to learn how to use it. And if these progressive voices come from Muslim institutions, from Muslim associations and Muslim bodies, then they will carry much greater weight. We therefore need a new partnership between the media and the moderate forward looking Muslim voice. We need to stop calling each other names and criticizing each other. We must forge a partnership, and we must forge an agenda for a partnership. Most of the media would be more than eager and willing to participate in this partnership but the moderate Muslim voice must be prepared to meet the media halfway.

It is also true that the Muslim problem is not the only problem as far as an editor’s basket is concerned; there are hundreds of other national problems. So it must take its place, high up in the priority list, but as one among other issues nevertheless. This must be seen in the wider context, and the wider context is that the media is a huge business today. However, I believe that it is the only business today, and the only institution, through which all your complaints are going to be aired, and in which there is great growth and which enjoys great public credibility. Competition may foster biases and other unethical factors but, by and large, if you ask the common man how he knows something is true, he will say that he read it in the newspaper. And I think that we should cherish this: that the media does have this public credibility despite all its shortcomings. If the media were biased from day one, it would not have this credibility.

Let us take up the case of the English-language media in particular. In liberal and Muslim forums, the English-language media is often accused of being guilty of an anti-Muslim bias; in other forums it is often accused of just the opposite. In my understanding, the English-language media is not biased. We try and understand the problems of the community, but Muslims are not our only concern.

Thus my plea to all concerned and to the Muslim liberal voice to meet us halfway—partly in response to the fact that we are lazy, but also because it is in the interest of all concerned. To wait for us to change, to expect us to operate with heightened social responsibility on the issue and to make greater efforts to find the liberal voice is not in the self-interest of Muslims. The media and Muslims are both engaged in the same project, both on the same side. There is no doubt that not only are media images of Muslims generally projected in a distorted form, but that every debate on the subject is also sought to be derailed. The populists, among Muslims too—those who do not want it to be discussed with sincerity—raise non-issues with reference to the role of English as a language and by corollary the English-language media. Their main argument is that the English-language media has played the biggest role in this distortion of Muslim images simply because it knows virtually nothing about Muslims, most of whom live below the poverty line and are backward in most spheres of life. Besides, hardly 1 per cent of Muslims know English. Both facts may be correct, but the hypothesis rests on wrong assumptions about a populist approach and an oversimplification of a very complex situation.

I would like to examine both hypotheses to the best of my ability as an English-language editor who also belongs to north India. Of course it must be borne in mind that I am not a sociologist. I also do not know Persianized and hybrid Urdu—that is considered as part of the Muslim sensibility for political purposes, mainly after Partition. For that matter I do not even know hybrid Hindi, which has also been used for political purposes in the name of Hindu nationalism.

The problem is that, despite the fact that in the entire country there would not be more than 10 per cent of people who are well versed in English, among the Muslims they are hardly 1 per cent. The English media is therefore only for the English-speaking people of India, and, English being a universal language, the English-language media of India becomes a window on India to the entire English speaking world. Contrary to the wishes of Hindi nationalists, English is expanding its scope in India and, hence, the Indian English language media becomes the showcase of India for the outside world. Hindi propagators underestimate the growing influence of English in every sphere of life even in north India. In the southern states, English has a sound base, yet there still is a real sense of pride for local culture and languages. But in north India, the political elite continue to play politics in the name of Hindi and Urdu-medium education for the masses—while they send their children to institutions in India and abroad where there is hardly any scope even for Hindustani as a spoken language. However, north Indian politics in the name of language—especially Muslim politics, in the name of Urdu—is not the subject of discussion here; I only want to make the point that it has remained very powerful in shaping Muslim sensibilities over the last one hundred years. The same is true for Hindi and Hindu politics.

To conclude my discussion on distorted media images of Muslims and how they can be improved, I would say that only processes of modernization and social transformation within the Muslim society can alter the situation. It is the community that would have to work out a feasible strategy for this in a hostile situation of an indifferent, hypocritical, and mediocre leadership in a Hindu-majority, yet democratic and plural, society. In the context of language, I shall conclude that one should know either Urdu or Hindi to comprehend the problems of the community. What is needed is interaction with the community and an understanding of the issues and the sociopolitical backdrop. For that, any language of communication would suffice, because it is frank interaction that would bring out the hidden reality, the exact problems faced by the community. It is true that a section of the English-language media (which is also not one homogeneous entity, and has many variations) has very little interaction with the members of the Muslim community. Those with whom it interacts are the elite, especially socialites among the community. This section of elite Muslims is itself cut off from the community and are professional ‘contractors’ of Muslims. Hence, they cannot in any way be the real representatives of the Muslim community. A look at the Muslim community as a whole would also serve some purpose here. Lately, the community has awakened from a long slumber, and has started making some progress. The modern generation is going in for education based on a secular curriculum and, on this basis, they are entering the competitive market. But there is one negative aspect here. The educated class among the Muslims at once starts aspiring for a leadership role. The end result is that the transformation process among the Muslims becomes sluggish. The common educated Muslims in the common civic space have gradually disappeared; they do not take part in addressing problems that they face in common with the same socio-economic group among Hindus, or other smaller religious minorities.

It is true that, for various reasons, the government did nothing for the overall uplift and empowerment of Muslims. The Muslim leadership, just after Partition and till the 1980s or so, was mainly responsible for this. It was unable to handle the situation arising out of Partition. But my question is why Muslims remain confined to emotional issues, especially in north India. Apart from establishing the Aligarh Muslim University, they did nothing for the educational empowerment of common Muslims. Surely the process of empowerment starts with education. My question, which fortunately is subscribed to by many, is: why do Muslims only nurture the madrasas—half a million of them with 50 million full-time students—and not think about providing secular education on their own? Definitely, the elite need madrasas for their political survival. What is intriguing is that these very people do not send their children to madrasas. The interesting thing is that Muslims, including educated Muslims, wholeheartedly support the madrasas, perhaps because they are not interested in secular education for common Muslim children. The madrasas serve their ulterior motives of aspiring to leadership, which is only possible if the community remains backward.

[Vinod Mehta, an eminent journalist, is the Chief Editor of popular magazine Outlook.The above article by Vinod Mehta was included in the book edited by Ather Farouqui titled “Muslims and the Media Images: News versus Views” published by Oxford University Press, New Delhi.]

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