:: ISSUES :: The Tablighi Jamaat’s Contested Claims to Islamicity

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

The Tablighi Jamaat’s Contested Claims to Islamicity

By Yoginder Sikand

In most existing studies Islamic movements tend to be seen in isolation from other, competing Islamic groups. The intra-Muslim debate over the 'Islamicity' of a given Islamic movement has not been given the attention that it deserves. Competing Islamic movements engage both in internal debate, contesting each other's interpretations of Islam, as well as in external contestation, reformulating relations and boundaries between Muslims and non-Muslims. It seems that by ignoring this very crucial issue of the competing claims to 'Islamicity' among various Islamic groups, scholars of Islam have tended to help perpetuate the myth of a Muslim monolith and of Islam as a fixed, well-defined body of beliefs, principles and practices and not something that is constantly in the process of construction, negotiation, debate, development and redefinition.

:: ISSUES :: In open letter, Muslim advocate sees 'religious bigotry' in opposition to Midland Beach mosque plan

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In open letter, Muslim advocate sees 'religious bigotry' in opposition to Midland Beach mosque plan

Citing what he sees as "religious bigotry" and "hatred," Ibrahim Ramey, the human and civil rights director for MAS Freedom National -- the advocacy arm of the Muslim American Society -- penned an open letter today (June 22, 2010) regarding opposition to a plan to build a mosque at the former St. Margaret Mary's R.C. Church convent in Midland Beach.

Here's the text of Ramey's letter:

In Staten Island, New York, there is a ferocious attack, by some members of the community against Muslims who are seeking to purchase a property that would be used as a mosque and an Islamic center. The prospective seller, a local Catholic church, is now under intense pressure to back out of the original plan to sell the property, while anti-Muslim agitators have converged on the Staten Island neighborhood, claiming that the Muslim organization that is seeking to buy the property is a front group for terrorists, criminals, and other assorted "Anti-American" agents of mayhem and destruction.

Saudi Arabia remains most business confident in GCC

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Saudi Arabia remains most business confident in GCC

Saudi Arabia remains the most business confident country in the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Counci) - up to a level not seen since 2007, according to the latest Gulf Business Confidence Index released by HSBC, SABB's global banking partner. The survey, which tracks business sentiment in all six countries of the GCC, characterizes the mood of business people as "realistically optimistic." Predictions of revenue, maintenance of profits, budgets and meeting the targets all remain positive. And the index across all six countries remains at its highest for two years.

The survey also reflects that the mood of business people has been trending upward over the last seven quarters, after a low in late 2008, widely seen as the height of the financial crisis. While many of the markets surveyed have shown only a slight increase against Q1, 2010, the upward trend is more marked when viewed over the past year. From Q1, 2009 to date, the overall index has risen by over 15 points to 86. The survey is calculated using the results from Q1, 2007 as a base, with a score of 100.

Although the overall index remains below the heights of 2007 and early 2008, specific indicators show a positive outlook in key operational areas. Forecast growth for 2010 shows that 43 percent see an increase in business turnover in the Middle East, 40 percent see an increase in profit, and 33 percent are planning to increase investment.

"The index is an excellent indicator of perceived confidence around the region, but I believe the most illuminating details lie in the underlying data," said Simon Vaughan Johnson, regional head of commercial banking, HSBC Group, MENA.

"For instance, between the October 2008 and January 2009 surveys, the number of people who were pessimistic about meeting their targets almost doubled to 24 percent. That number has now returned to October 2008 levels of 13 percent, its lowest since the outset of the financial crisis. This mirrors what our customers are telling our teams around the region - companies are actively looking for new opportunities, whilst continuing to rationalize unnecessary spend, and streamline their operations to maximize revenue potential."

Over half of respondents were optimistic that the next three months would see increasing revenue for their companies, and 35 percent are anticipating revenue growth from international trade opportunities.

While the overall mood continues to improve, intra-regional differences show some marked differences between countries in the region's corporate sector: Saudi Arabia is most confident, with an index of 97, and UAE remains the least confident, with an index of 78.4, although the UAE index also showed one of the highest rises quarter-on-quarter. Sentiment in Kuwait and Oman has fallen quarter-on-quarter, while sentiment in Bahrain showed the highest quarterly rise.

"These results show a mood of realistic optimism in the GCC," added Johnson. "Many companies are doing better than they were 12 months ago, but they do not see another boom on the horizon. This realistic perspective is predicting steady and sustainable growth, which is good news for our customers and for the region."

(Courtesy: Arab News)

:: FOREIGN :: Indonesia remains only Muslim country where US is popular: Survey

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Indonesia remains only Muslim country where US is popular: Survey

By Brian Padden

A recent Pew survey shows that a majority of people in most Muslim countries hold overwhelmingly negative views of the United States. The one exception is Indonesia, where President Barack Obama lived as a boy. Despite the fact that President Obama has twice canceled state visits there, he and the U.S. remain popular.

A new movie entitled Obama Anak Mentang, about President Barack Obama's teen years living in Indonesia, will soon debut in Jakarta.

:: GENERAL :: Islam would have saved Jackson, says brother

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Islam would have saved Jackson, says brother 

Embracing Islam would have saved the life of pop legend Michael Jackson, his brother Jermaine said in an interview last night.

Speaking ahead of the first anniversary tomorrow of the death of the "King of Pop" at the age of 50 from a prescription drug overdose, he told the BBC that his brother should have left the US.

"I felt that if Michael would have embraced Islam, he would still be here today and I say that for many reasons," Jermaine Jackson, who is a Muslim, told BBC World Service radio.

:: GENERAL :: Converts to Islam are often diligent followers

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Converts to Islam are often diligent followers

By Elizabeth Llorente

Conversion to Islam officially begins with this simple step: a declaration that there is just one God, and that Muhammad is his prophet.

The declaration of faith, known as the Shahadah, is recited before witnesses, often congregants in a mosque, said Mohammed Qatanani, the spiritual leader of the Islamic Center of Passaic County in Paterson, N.J.

"If someone tells me they're willing to convert to Islam, I will try to make sure it is a voluntary act," said Qatanani, adding that the mosque gets about three or four converts a month. "I try to make sure that the person is not doing it for any gain but because the person believes in it. Then the person makes the declaration, and they become a Muslim."

:: FOREIGN :: Saudi's Shia Muslims mount campaign to win over suspicious Sunni

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Saudi's Shia Muslims mount campaign to win over suspicious Sunni

By Abeer Allam

Aziza Abdullah had always regarded Saudi Arabia's Shia minority with suspicion and curiosity.

Like many Saudis, she considered the Shia, primarily present in the oil-rich Eastern province, as potential traitors, loyal to their brethren in Iran and busy plotting against Sunni Muslims. Many question whether the Shia, who comprise between 1.5m and 2m of Saudi Arabia's 25m people, are even Muslims at all.

So for Ms Abdullah, a visit to the largely Shia coastal region of Qatif was an eye-opening experience. She was surprised to learn that Saudi Shia speak Arabic not Farsi and revere the Koran, rather than "texts sent from Iran".

:: ISSUES :: Moderate Islam must find its voice

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Moderate Islam must find its voice

Religion is here to stay. Dawkins can rant till the sacred cows come home, but people have always yearned for the transcendent, and always will.

By Christina Patterson

"If I have to die," says the man with lots of eyeliner, "let it be on the way to Mecca." The man is Ibn Battuta, a 14th-century Moroccan who in 1325 set out on a journey three times as long as Marco Polo's. Battling with thirst, deserts where every oasis proves a mirage, bandits who rob him but later repent, and a vast array of swarthy men with a distracting range of accents, he struggles on until he reaches Mecca. Battuta's journey covers 75,000 miles and takes a year and a half. For the audience, it takes 45 minutes. Which is, alas, too long.

Co-funded by the Saudi King Faisal Centre for Research and Islamic Studies, and endorsed by the Dalai Lama and a former Archbishop of Canterbury, Journey to Mecca is, according to its producers, an attempt "to promote a better understanding of Islam in the West". The scenery, on the 20m high IMAX screen, is spectacular. The plot is minimal. The acting is embarrassing. But if the sight of millions milling like ants around the cube-shaped Ka'bah (the 14th-century re-enactment is interspersed with real footage of the Hajj today) tends to inspire feelings of faint repulsion in the Western breast, one can certainly admire the challenge. "It is almost impossible" said one of its producers, Dominic Cunningham-Reid, "to communicate how hard it is to get something like this done in Saudi Arabia, because you have to remember we're trying to make a film in the land that has no movie theatres and no art galleries". No art, in other words. Just art as propaganda.

:: GENERAL :: IDB approves projects worth nearly SR1bn

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IDB approves projects worth nearly SR1bn

By Shaheen Nazar

The Islamic Development Bank (IDB) will be spending nearly SR1 billion on new projects in member countries and Muslim communities in non-member countries.

The was announced on Monday (June 21, 2010) during the IDB board of executive directors' meeting which began under the chairmanship of IDB President Ahmad Mohamed Ali in Baku, Azerbaijan, on Sunday (June 20, 2010).

“Interreligious Theological University” to be established in US next year

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“Interreligious Theological University” to be established in US next year

IMO News Service

Andover Newton Theological School, founded outside Boston in 1807, and the Unitarian Universalist Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago announced June 22, 2010 that they're uniting to form a university to educate people of all religions. Andover Newton Theological School is the oldest Christian graduate seminary in the US.

The unity of the two theological schools will finally lead to the establishment of an "interreligious theological university" by next year. The schools will keep their specific faith identities as separate institutions operating under the broad umbrella of the new university, AP report quoted Andover Newton president Nick Carter as saying.

“The difference is that students in each school will have opportunities to take classes together and interact with students from other schools that are expected to join the university. That experience is crucial in working in a multi-faith world, where "interfaith border-crossing skills" are needed,” Carter said.

"You can't open the paper today and not find a story that is grounded in religious difference. The real question that it begs is, 'So where do you turn for hope? ... Where are people learning how to be true to their own faith, but have skills that enable them to positively and constructively engage others?"' Carter said.

The new university is yet to be given a name and its governing structure is being devised. Meadville Lombard would be selling its four-building campus in Chicago, so that the new school would be based at the Andover Newton campus in Newton.

Meadville Lombard has decided to keep a presence in Chicago for students who take classes from home, but must travel to the city periodically as part of their coursework.

So far, only Andover Newton and Meadville Lombard are part of the new university. However, Carter said that search for other schools are already underway so that collaborations with them could be done on this aspect.

Various theological schools have incorporated other religions, including California's Claremont School of Theology, a Methodist seminary that later this year will begin cross-training future Muslim and Jewish religious leaders.

It may be noted that the present economic downturn has seriously hampered the functioning and existence of the theological schools which mostly depend on charities. The coming together of the two theological schools is also been seen in this perspective. Last year, the Association of Theological Schools, which represents graduate schools in North America, reported that at least 80 members of have seen their endowments drop by 20 percent or more.

The Rev. Lee Barker, president of Meadville Lombard, which has about 125 students, said the new university will not only expand the educational opportunities for his students, but "gives us an opportunity to achieve financial stability."

Carter said, “Strengthening finances was part of the formula in the move. Is it the driving factor? If we didn't feel like we had an exciting vision to offer to the world, we would not do it. We're not in the business to make money."

Rabbi Justus Baird, of Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City, who has studied interfaith offerings of theological schools, said questions remain about training students of different religions in the same place.

Mixing faiths can make a theological mush if schools don't strike a balance between strongly instilling the richness of their particular faith, while at the same time infusing an openness to other religions students will encounter, he said.

:: GENERAL :: Ramadan to begin August 11, says UAE astronomer

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Ramadan to begin August 11, says UAE astronomer  

IMO News Service

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan will begin from August 11 and Eid-ul-Fitr will be celebrated on September 10 this year (2010), a UAE astronomer has said.

Ibrahim Al Jarwan, astronomer and supervisor of the Sharjah Planetarium, said, “The crescent moon of the fasting month will be sighted Tuesday, August 10, and Wednesday (August 11) will be the first day of Ramadan.”

:: ISSUES :: Heretic, communist and Muslim Leaguer

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 17 June 2010 | Posted in

Heretic, communist and Muslim Leaguer 

By Yasser Latif Hamdani

The blatant use of Islam had been very much a part of Indian politics since Mahatma Gandhi encouraged Muslim divines to come into politics during the Khilafat Movement. At the time, Jinnah was the lone voice of dissent in Congress

I have been receiving a plethora of e-mails in response to my article ‘Two Nation Theory’ (Daily Times, June 7, 2010), which has now necessitated that I further develop my thoughts on the complex political scenario that 1940s’ British India presented and which ultimately led to two distinct events that are often interlinked: the partition of India and the creation of Pakistan. That these were two distinct events is amply demonstrated when one considers the menu of choices that were open before the leaders of British India.

:: WOMEN :: Muslim women explore opportunity in non-traditional fields

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Muslim women explore opportunity in non-traditional fields

By Ranjita Biswas

In a small, dingy and humid room in Metiabruz, a poor Muslim-dominated locality in Kolkata in eastern India, at least 20 Muslim women are talking with excitement about their aspirations and why they decided to study information technology (IT), a short-term course offered for a minimal fee by a non- government organisation operating in their locality.

"These days computer knowledge is extremely important," says Neha Parveen. "Plus, if I know nothing about (it), people will think I am ignorant," adds the 19-year-old, who is reading for her a bachelor’s (honours) degree in English.

:: ISSUES :: India's Muslims, Christians fight for burial rights

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India's Muslims, Christians fight for burial rights

By Rupam Jain Nair

India's teeming cities, where even the living jostle for space, are running out of room for the dead.

India's Hindus cremate their loved ones, but the country's Muslim and Christian minorities usually choose burial -- and they fear the practice is under threat.

About 185 million Indians belong to the two faiths, with census figures recording 13 percent of the population as Muslim and two percent as Christian.

:: ISSUES :: Caste in Census: Hypocrites all!

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Caste in Census: Hypocrites all!

By PNV Nair

We can tell a person’s caste from his name. Upper caste Hindus mostly use the caste as their surname. As long as this practice continues, people will be known by their caste name and not their first name.

This writer, for example, is known as Mr Nair among friends and colleagues, though my first name is Viswanathan. Years ago when I was with the Indian Express, someone from my village came to Bombay and called up the office asking for Viswanathan. The telephone operator told him that there was no one in the office by that name. This applies to most Indians, they go by the surname Reddy, Rao, Iyer, Iyengar, Mehta, Shah, Desai, Sardesai, Chakravarty, Choudhary, Chaturvedi, Goswami, Nair, Menon, Pillai and so on. It gives them an identity and they are proud of their caste, too.

:: ISSUES :: Muslim League wants PM to streamline Haj pilgrimage

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Muslim League wants PM to streamline Haj pilgrimage
Upset over the delay in organising this year's Haj pilgrimage, which saw 160,000 pilgrims from India visiting the holy city of Mecca last year, the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) is seeking the intervention of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

IUML leader ET Mohammed Basheer, MP, said: "The time for organising the Haj pilgrimage is running out," and added that it should have begun a month ago.

:: ISSUES :: Jugglery of the Communists and the Indian Muslims

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 14 June 2010 | Posted in

Jugglery of the Communists and the Indian Muslims

By Navaid Hamid

The recently concluded municipal bodies elections in West Bengal seems to have brought firebrand Mamata Banerjee, whose Trinamool Congress is the second largest group in India’s ruling UPA alliance and is also Union Railway Minister, one step more closer to the chair of the Chief Minister of West Bengal at Writer’s Building in Kolkata. If it had been any other State than that of West Bengal, which is being ruled by Left Front since last more than three decades, one would have agreed that local bodies elections rarely reflects the trend for the future battle for the highest office in State but the massive loss of the base of Left parties in West Bengal is not an ordinary political event and can not be dismissed in lighter vein.

Islamism and Democracy in India

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Name of Book: Islamism and Democracy in India: The Transformation of Jamaat-e-Islami
Author: Irfan Ahmad
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Year: 2009
ISBN: 9780691139203

Reviewed By Kashif-ul-Huda

Jamaat-e-Islami Hind of today is not the same organization that Abu Ala Maudidi launched in 1941. Starting with the aim of establishing Islamic governance, its purpose and role in India has slowly changed to the Jamaat becoming a champion of secularism and democracy. Its detractors will say that this apparent change in Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH) is just tactical, but researcher Irfan Ahmad’s extensive ethnographic fieldwork, archival research, and data analysis, published as “Islamism and Democracy in India: The Transformation of Jamaat-e-Islami,” proves that the JIH belief in secularism and democracy is “deeply ideological.”

The Jamaat began its life as an isolationist organization, it was an idea chosen by journalist-turned-Islamist-ideologue Maududi who made attainment of an “Islamic state”-the main goal of this organization. Striving for the Islamic state meant that Jamaat members could not participate in democracy, seek government employment, or even study in universities as these were considered helping a non-Islamic system. “Any institution that did not confirm to the Jamaat’s definition of Islam was idolatrous, whether it was run by Muslims or non-Muslims.” [p.73]

To provide alternative to its members and supporters, JIH started a number of primary schools and institutions for higher education. Jamiatul Falah in Azamgarh was founded in 1962 towards the end. Talking about the Green School, established in Aligarh to prepare future members and leaders, Irfan Ahmad, through his painstaking research, shows that “instead of transforming the society, the school was transformed by the society.” Establishment of schools brought the Jamaat closer to common Muslims. The goal of the school and parents were not aligned but it was the pressure from the masses with aspirations for their children to move ahead in a materialistic world that slowly forced school administration to seek government recognition for their school.

The Jamaat’s position on Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) depicts the process of change in this organization. AMU was originally considered a “slaughterhouse” by Maududi since in his views modern universities take away the spirit of Islam from the students. So strong was this feeling that Jamaat members and sympathizers were banned from studying or teaching at AMU. Ban on sympathizers was lifted in 1957 but members had to wait till 1960s to get admission in AMU. In 1965, the Jamaat, in a total departure from its founder’s position, defended the “Muslim character” of the AMU.

Irfan Ahmad
Similarly, the Jamaat had slowly come to accept the electoral democracy. It was only in 1980s that members were allowed to vote in the elections which Ahmad informs us was “a culmination of a long drawn out internal process- from 1961 to 1985- within the Jamaat” [Author's emphasis]. This happened because “Islamism,” or Islam as understood by the Jamaat, “is not frozen in discourse but is dynamic,” argues Ahmad. For Maududi, Islam was synonymous with the Islamic state but Jamaate Islami Hind came to the realization that “an Islamic state is just one among several aspects of Islam, not the foundation.” This was possible because “in the changed context of postcolonial India, the Jamaat (re)interpreted Maududi’s ideology and came to a new interpretation of Islam.” [p.190] This thinking came about because the myth that an Islamic state was just around the corner was broken, and according to Ahmad, this happened because the Muslim public rejected the Jamaat ideology by not joining in its boycott of elections, government jobs, or modern education.

Now a defender of secularism and democracy, the Jamaat refused to go along with the Republic Day boycott call issued by the Babri Masjid Coordination Committee in December 1986. In fact, a year after Babri Masjid’s demolition, it helped form the Forum for Democracy and Communal Amity (FDCA). This was the first instance of the Jamaat building an alliance with non-Muslim activists. A decade later, it invited Shankracharya to one of its meetings where the Hindu religious leader blew a conch and chanted “Om.”

Spread over 300 pages, this book fills an important gap in the research of Indian Muslims. Discourse about Islam and Muslims in India is laced with either ignorance or deliberate attempt at obfuscation. There is a lack of original research among various aspects of Indian Muslim life and history. Irfan Ahmad did a wonderful job of gathering information from original sources, interspersed with field visits and data analysis. It is social science research at its best.

This book is also a wonderful source of information on the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and how it became radicalized in response to a growing Hindutva mobilization against Muslims. Banned since 2001, SIMI has been blamed for terrorism in India but there is very little in public domain about this organization. Ahmad, with original literature, traces the radicalization of SIMI, but there is nothing there to suggest that SIMI ever went beyond rhetoric. Even the government, though continuing the ban on SIMI has not been able to show any evidence of its involvement in terrorism. JIH broke ties with SIMI in early 1980s.

Students Islamic Organization (SIO) was launched in 1982 and continue to function under the guidance of JIH. During the 1990s when SIMI was getting increasingly political, SIO remained apolitical and focused on its work for the welfare of Muslim students. Even after the 2002 anti-Muslim genocide in Gujarat, SIO remained responsible in its reaction. The book chronicles many showdowns that SIMI and SIO had in Jamiatul Falah. The approach taken by activists of the organizations responding to various incidents showed the much different temperament of the two organizations that share the same ideological roots.

Even outside the Indian context, this book is important in understanding why Islamists become radicalized. The Indian version of Jamaat-e-Islami evolved to become a defender of secularism and democracy, whereas the same organization in Pakistan and Bangladesh charted a different path. Ahmad gives examples of Egypt and Algeria where Islamists have become radicalized as a result of brutal state repression. In Pakistan and Bangladesh, the Jamaat took advantage of electoral democracy and participated in elections but they have been only marginally successful. While JIH contemplates participating in electoral democracy as a political party it should keep in mind the failed experiments of its fraternal organizations in neighboring countries. JIH has served Muslims of India well as a social and welfare organization and it should remain so.

[Kashif-ul-Huda is Executive Editor of TwoCircles.net. He can be contacted at kashif@urdustan.net. Irfan Ahmad joined the School of Political and Social Inquiry at Monash University as a Lecturer in Politics in March 2009, and is closely associated with the Centre for Islam and the Modern World (CIMOW). Prior to this, he taught anthropology and Muslim sociocultural formations at University of Amsterdam and Utrecht University, The Netherlands. Having earned his doctorate cum laude (from University of Amsterdam) in Anthropology in 2005 November, Irfan won the prestigious Rubicon Grant from Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) to work as a postdoctoral fellow at International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World (ISIM), Leiden University. He can be contacted at Irfan.Ahmad@arts.monash.edu.au]

The Unrealized Economic Potential of the Muslim World

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The Unrealized Economic Potential of the Muslim World

By Rizwan A. Rahmani

The meteoric rise of China as an economic powerhouse may have its roots in a society that has a rich cultural history of innovation and exchange. But when China cut itself off from the world, it lay dormant for a long time, mired in feudalism and illiteracy. The Cultural Revolution brought a constrained societal structure of state-planned families, rigid education, and compulsory participation of both sexes in the workforce. This may have laid the early blueprint for its current industrial dominance, which accelerated to a frenzied pace once China loosened its grip on economic policies and encouraged trade. The biggest key to its success may lie in its workforce, which is literate (about 90 percent or better for women over fifteen years and older), abundant, skilled, cheap, and nearly half female. Women make about forty five percent of the Chinese workforces, and they are represented at many levels. They garner thirty eight percent of leadership positions, and increasingly they are filling seats in higher offices. So what does Chinese economic demography have to with the Muslim world?

To put it bluntly, Muslim nations offer dismal demographic data regarding women in the workforce, and it is this data that will decide whether these countries are going to be economically or technologically significant in the future. As it stands now, none of these modern economically nascent Muslim nations are consequential in the areas I mentioned, some of which can be attributed to cultural and religious idiosyncrasies. Malaysia, a country with a high literacy rate for women, is a progressive yardstick by which other Muslim countries should be measured: it has 36 percent female representation in its overall workforce and in over 50 percent of technology jobs -- a figure even higher than some industrialized western countries.

Women account for 38 percent of all tertiary enrollments in Malaysia. Although even with these exemplary statistics, it is by no means an economic powerhouse, it is still better off than most other Muslim countries. Malaysia has some high-tech fabrication plants and a middle scale multi-sector manufacturing base, both of which women feature in significantly. Setting aside the issue of human rights and appealing solely to economic motivation for the sake of argument, the other countries should take note of this fact and start educating more women to join their workforce.

Lebanon -- which is quite modernized despite being battered by nearly four decades of civil war, foreign encroachments, and losses of livelihood and infrastructure -- manages a 27 percent female presence in it workforce, and 45 percent in academic enrollment. The literacy rate among women is high in Jordan, Libya, Tunisia, Palestine, Syria, and Algeria at better than 50 percent for women over fifteen years of age, but they lack industries and a manufacturing base. There are some former soviet block Muslim countries that should, theoretically, have high literacy rates (free education for all being a promised fruit of communism) and should consequently have a good percentage of women in the workforce, but these countries are still quite arcane industrially and accurate data is not forthcoming. While they have industries, their manufacturing plants are in state of disrepair.

Turkey, which is also very modernized and progressive, manages just a 22 percent representation of women in its labor force. This was a bit of a surprise for me because I expected it to be higher -- forgetting its sheer size and predominance of rural areas over metropolises! Curiously, Iran fares better than Turkey at 25 percent women in the workforce. But there are other statistics about Iran that are quite revealing. For example, Iran has improved its percentage of women in the workforce since the fall of its Shah. And of all the Muslim countries, Iran has the highest rate of enrollment of women in its academic institutions, even surpassing men, at 60 percent: a fact that may astonish the American audience whose news diet is entirely based on anemic but ubiquitous cable news.

So why do these Muslim nations have such poor representation of women in the workforce? Most of the other Muslim nations, other than the ones I mentioned, have far worse literacy rates. Pakistan, which touts itself as the only Islamic nuclear power, has one of the worst literacy rates for women, faring worse than the Muslim women of India. The treatment of women in these countries is deplorable, especially in the rural areas where local land owners reign supreme with little or no legal reach of the central government. Countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and sub-Saharan Africa are the worst offenders. Saudi Arabia is notorious for treating its women as second class citizens by wrenching away many rights; the women are mostly literate, but hardly factor in the workforce. Iran, despite its veiling laws for women and a code conduct between the sexes, leaves the citizenry alone when it comes to education. The Arabian Gulf countries treat their women only marginally better: they do not have compulsory veiling laws and there is a good literacy rate among women--however, women are not represented well in the workforce or in leadership positions. Yet even this good literacy rate statistic is spurious: a very high percentage (nearly 85 percent) of their population is foreign, and most of them immigrate there after being educated in their native countries.

This ignoble treatment of women in Muslim countries is quite inscrutable when you consider the fact that the prophet Mohammad honed his interpersonal and negotiating skills working for a business woman from a well known family in Mecca. She hired him to manage her trade caravans to Syria and Yemen: he later became known for his deft and ethical business style, stemming from these trade dealings. He married his employer (who was older than him) at her own request, and she was his first wife. The pre-Islamic women of Arabia were pretty much treated like commodities. They had very poor civil rights and no legal representation. With the advent of Islam, they did acquire some important rights. They were given a form of binding financial nuptial agreement (haq mehr) that is bestowed upon the bride by the groom, and the bride has the right to collect this amount in the event of a divorce. They were given inheritance rights, the right to consent to a marriage, and divorce rights (Catholicism still doesn't allow divorce legally: a difficult-to-win annulment is not exactly a divorce). Any asset that was brought into the marriage by the bride became the sole domain of the bride alone. Women could keep their lineage name (albeit coming from their father's side)...and more.

The bourgeoisie of the Indian subcontinent and of some of the other poor Muslim countries do educate and treat women better than other societal strata, and they do have better literacy rates than the national average. But these educated women tend to 'marry up', and tend not to practice their métier once married. They are either expected to or on their own volition, often fall into the traditional housewife role even after the children are reared or well looked after. In the subcontinent where I grew up (and in the Middle East), these educated women became the consummate socialites after marriage, entertaining friends, family, and extended family incessantly, and spending much of their time honing the art of gossiping to quell their ennui. Seldom did the socialites I saw around me volunteer their time towards community organizations or become part of an association or organization to further the economic or social cause of less fortunate Muslim women. Tragically some of these women happen to be, by training, doctors and teachers. There is an old African saying, "If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate the community"--something that, sadly, is true unless these women apply themselves towards the noble professions they chose in the first place.

If the Muslim world wants to succeed and become part of the modern economic fabric with a twenty-first century economy, it must not only educate its women far better but also incorporate them into their workforce without any social stigma. Perhaps an eighteenth century industrial economy with the help of colonization can promulgate a country into prosperity, innovation, and a high standard of living, but this is 2010. In the last fifty years of worldwide economic changes and growth, there hasn't been a single country which had had rousing success without the help of both halves of the populous. With these lugubrious statistics the Islamic world faces, it's quite unlikely we'll see any dominant economic phoenix rising from the current pile of socio-economic ashes, which has been lying dormant for centuries now.

[Rizwan A. Rahmani is small business owner in the San Francisco Bay Area with a 14 year old computer consulting firm. Born in the town of Khansama Tola, India in 1959, during the 1970s he moved back and forth from India to the Middle East where his father worked as a physician. He studied at Aligarh Muslim University and came to the U.S. in 1979 to study engineering at Iowa State and then UC Berkeley. Raised Muslim and currently agnostic, Rizwan is a political junkie and occasional columnist in the Berkeley Daily Planet. He lives in Oakland, California with his wife and son.]

Methodists, Muslims and Jews: Learning together to lead together

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Methodists, Muslims and Jews: Learning together to lead together

By Jerry D. Campbell

Almost a decade now after the fateful events of Sept. 11, 2001, the story is a familiar one: a young man, inspired by 9/11, seeking direction and meaning in life, enlists in the United States Armed Forces. Some join up out of patriotism, some out of anger, and some out of a sense of adventure.

Asif Balbale did it because he is Muslim, and he wanted to prove that all Muslims aren't terrorists.

Lt. Balbale is only the fifth Muslim chaplain to serve in the U.S. Navy, and he recently graduated with a masters degree from Claremont School of Theology, where I am president. By the time of our commencement, he was already stationed at Camp Pendleton, so I wasn't able personally to hand him his diploma or the award he received as the top graduate in the field of spiritual care and counseling.

Some might say that Asif - a Kuwaiti-born American Muslim of Indian descent - is the future of America, but he is very much a part of this nation's present. For decades, global migration and communication have brought adherents of the world's great religions to the United States, and many leaders within those traditions are now developing distinctly American expressions of their religions that reflect our shared values of democracy, equality, and freedom of expression.

The days of religious segregation in the United States are quickly fading. Nearly gone is the era when one could go a day without seeing a woman in hijab walking down the street, or glimpsing a small Buddhist shrine in the kitchen of a local restaurant. And as our children go to school together, play together, and start families together and become members of each others' families, the hard boundaries of religious identities begin to diminish.

The old nostalgic ways of religious life that perpetuate competitive denominationalism no longer meet the realities of our new religiously plural America. And neither does the old segregated model of theological education that will produce the next generation of religious leaders and scholars.

My own institution, a United Methodist-related theological school in Southern California, is taking the lead in light of these new realities. Claremont School of Theology announced today a new interreligious collaboration with the Academy for Jewish Religion, California, and the Islamic Center of Southern California, both located in Los Angeles. While each group will continue to teach its own tradition, together, we are working toward the establishment of an interreligious university, where students, faculty and practitioners from these and other traditions will have the opportunity to experience a multi-religious curriculum designed to teach understanding, cooperation, and collaboration among religions.

The idea is simple: Students from different religions will learn together today so they can lead together tomorrow.

The Academy for Jewish Religion, California, is an institution in which future rabbis, cantors, and chaplains from across the Jewish tradition come to study and prepare for leadership together. They are learning from and among each other, across the religious boundaries of their own tradition.

Likewise, the Islamic Center of Southern California is a religious and cultural hub in Los Angeles for Muslims from many different nations and traditions. Sunnis and Shiites pray side by side (and in some services, men and women do too). The center has as its mission the development of a Muslim identity that is distinctly American, reflecting the best of this nation's history and freedoms.

We call our joint effort "The University Project," and it is getting underway in coming months. This fall, Christians and Jews will be able to take classes together, and the first Muslim professor of the University Project will begin teaching in the area of interreligious education and leadership. Students from any tradition, multiple traditions, and no tradition at all are also welcome in fields both scholastic and practical, such as spiritual counseling for chaplaincy, interreligious education, and urban ministries.

Take Asif, for example. He wanted desperately to be a chaplain in the U.S. Navy, which requires a degree from an accredited theological school. Since there are no accredited Islamic theological schools in Southern California - or anywhere in North America - he came to Claremont to study spiritual care and counseling in preparation for his career as a Navy chaplain.

Asif was not our first Muslim student, and I am happy to say he will not be our last. But necessity is the mother of invention and, by the grace of God, this new educational alliance in Southern California will result in a unique university to better prepare religious leaders, across lines of difference, for service in a multi-religious nation.

[Rev. Jerry D. Campbell, Ph.D., is an ordained Elder in The United Methodist Church and president of Claremont School of Theology in Southern California. He can be contacted at president@cst.edu]

Curious minds at work

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in

By Rachna Bisht-Rawat

Pesantren Darunnajah is a madrasah in Jakarta where children study Islam, watch Leonardo de Caprio on free weekends, and make friends on Facebook, says RACHNA BISHT-RAWAT

''Are you from India, Miss?'' I turn to find two smiling girls with hijabs covering their heads. ''Yes!'' I grin back, not sure which of the two, the question comes from.“Have you seen My Name is Khan?” the taller of them, Alifa, enquires further. I haven’t, but the girls excuse me for not having watched Shahrukh Khan’s latest release. They think he is great, and post animated discussion on his various charms we cement a cross-cultural friendship by exchanging visiting card for pencil scrawl on a bit of paper. A week from the visit, I am pleasantly surprised to get a Facebook friend request from my Indonesian pal.

It is my first visit to a madrasah and when I’m told to wear long sleeves and a skirt that covers the legs, I confess, what I have in mind is certainly not a school with students who surf the net, chat about film stars and study music, dance and international religion. By definition, Darunnajah is a specialised Islamic boarding school. So does that evoke images of Quran reciting boys in skull caps, radical Islam, brewing religious hatred and weapon training? If you blinked, you’re caught.

Many of us non-Muslims would be too embarrassed to admit in public (unless we are in similarly minded company) how we feel about madrasahs and pesantrens. You will be surprised to know that they actually mean school and specialised boarding. Training suicide bombers is, actually, not on the syllabus.

A visit to Pesantren Darunnajah, in Jakarta, breaks many stereotyped opinions about madrasahs. And thankfully, the young children there are forgiving adults greater faults than not having watched their favourite film. They are forgiving the world, only as children can, for harbouring prejudiced religious views. And they are trying to grow up with dignity in an environment that eyes Islam with mistrust.

While Alifa and her friend with the beautiful smile (too shy to share her name) are refreshing for their schoolgirl naivity, a more exposed Iman Khairul Annas, 16, training to be a religious leader, impresses by his maturity. “I know there are some people who perceive Muslims as terrorists. In my view, terrorists are not Muslims because they do not obey Islamic laws,” he says. Iman follows a grueling 4 am to 10 pm schedule, that includes prayers and Quran readings five times a day. But despite this, he smiles and confesses, he finds time for soccer, volleyball, martial arts and even for catching up with a Harry Potter film. “I like Daniel Radcliffe. Yes, I do,” he says.

Regular school boy things happen in a madrasah too. A bunch of boys who first shyly and then boldly gather around me chat about bad roads, cricket and stories of Rama and Shinta (as Sita is known in those parts). Just as curious about me as I am about them, they want to know if I worship Ram and Shinta. They want to know if increasing traffic in India is leading to pollution and causing other environmental problems. And they want to know what I think of their city Jakarta and their country. Indonesia traditionally has religious schools and citizens have to choose a religion. It surprises them that most Indian schools are non-religious.

Keeping the faith

Eighteen-year-old Ardini Fitri, senior student, assures me that a religious school is just like any other school. “Maybe we learn a bit more about religion,” she says. “We learn to be good Muslims. And, that’s not easy.” So what would make a good Muslim? “A good Muslim is a Muslim who follows certain rules. We should pray five times a day, read the Al-Qur’an properly, understand it, be kind to people, smile and be happy to share our knowledge,” she explains, and to me she is a perfect example.

Next, we come to the issue of hijab — the scarf that Muslim girls wear. Ardini wears it. “No one can force every Muslim woman to wear that. It depends on their own faith. I wear it and I find no difficulties in my life because of it.” The biggest challenge Islam faces in the modern world, Ardini feels, is that it needs to protect women’s rights so that they can do the same things as men. World peace is important too, she feels. “A Muslim would never take an innocent life.”

This is a view publicly reinforced by their principal Dr H Sofwan Manaf as well. “There are good people and bad people in this world. We don’t believe pesantrens produce terrorists. They only produce good graduates. And we hope that people from different backgrounds can live happily with each other,” he says.

For that it is important that students from different religious schools interact with each other. Adds founder-director Dr KH Mahrus Amin, “In Indonesia, there are many religions and ethnic groups, and students need to know about those. We send students to participate in inter-school competitions like debating, public speaking, science, math olympics etc. Study tours to historical places are also undertaken and students watch art and culture performances, including plays about Ram and Sita.”

The school is expecting a visit from President Barack Obama — the latest ambassador of world peace — later this year. “We don’t want bombs, we want peace. We hope that President Obama will gradually bring peace to the world,” says Dr Manaf. If I were a believer I would have said “Insha Allah” to that!

Footnote: Pesantren Darunnajah is a 36-year-old Islamic Boarding School in Jakarta. It provides education at play group, kindergarten, elementary/primary school, secondary school and university levels. Students have gone on to become teachers, scientists, doctors, diplomats and lawyers.

(Courtesy: Deccan Herald)

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