Global Interfaith WASH Alliance to promote Safe Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 30 September 2013 | Posted in , , ,

IMO News Service

New Delhi: A special alliance was launched at the UNICEF headquarters at the United Nations.

Religious heads from around the world, joined by the Executive Director of UNICEF and representatives of many organizations officially launched the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance (GIWA), an alliance of leaders of faith working together to bring clean water, sanitation and hygiene to people of the world.

The aim of GIWA is to harness the great power and influence of the world’s interfaith leaders of faith in effecting significant and positive change in the areas of water, sanitation and hygiene and helping to achieve these crucial Millennium Development Goals.

The speakers at the launch included Swami Chidanand Saraswati, President of Parmarth Niketan and Founder of Ganga Action Parivar and GIWA co-founder; Imam Umer Ahmed Ilyasi, President, All India Imam Organization; Rabbi Awraham Soetendorp, President & Founder, Jacob Soetendorp Institute for Human Values and GIWA co-founder; Anthony Lake , UNICEF Executive Director; John Agyekum Kufuor, Former President of Ghana and current Chair of Sanitation and Water for All; Sister Karen Schneider, Religious Sister of Mercy and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University; Xihutezcatl Martinez, 12-year-old award-winning environmental champion and “Earth Guardians” founder Alexandra V. Destin Pierre, World Youth Parliament for Water, Regional Coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean; and Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, Ph.D, President of Divine Shakti Foundation and member of Ganga Action Parivar.

The programme was moderated by Alfred Ironside, Ford Foundation, Director of Communications.

Among those who also participated included Lilianne Ploumen, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development, Government of the Netherlands; Christian Holmes, the Global Water Coordinator for USAID, and many other representatives from State Governments and United Nations organizations and other religious bodies.

The launch also included a sacred water ceremony in which the leaders offered water, gathered from 20 rivers across the world, to a beautiful crystal globe, representing the world.

The ceremony was symbolic of the union of the leaders of many of the world’s religions in their commitment to bring clean water, sanitation and hygiene to the world.

In terms of promoting water and sanitation efforts, partners of GIWA can point to significant achievements, among them:

Ganga Action Parivar (GAP), bringing together the faiths of India to protect and restore the Ganga River, which is polluted by some 2 billion litres of sewage and 1 billion litres of toxic chemicals daily. GAP provides and promotes sanitation, potable water, tree plantations, public awareness programmes and more.

The "Islam and Water" education programme supported by the Alliance of Religions and Conservation which is creating water awareness among Muslim communities in several countries.

Imam Ilyasi, President of the All India Imam Organization, announced the development of a WASH training involving over 500,000 imams in India.

The Ecumenical Water Network of the World Council of Churches, which is working with 349 churches and Christian organizations worldwide to facilitate an exchange of information on the world's water crisis.

"Clean water and sanitation should not be a distant dream for children and communities," said Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director. "They should be a reality. And this alliance can help bring their dreams much closer."

Said Rabbi Awraham Soetendorp: "We are called to sanctify time and dedicate the next 7 years, every hour, every second to the provision of clean water and improved sanitation.

Living water will be in reach of the whole community of life and thus hope will propel us to action. When I was a young child, people saved me and took care of me. Now, I have dedicated my life to making sure that every child is cared for, particularly that they have clean, safe water to drink.”

Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswati said, “The borders and boundaries that we think separate us only illusory. We are not separate. We are one. So when our brothers and sisters are suffering due to lack of water, sanitation and hygiene, it is our responsibility to help them. Water is life and everyone has the right to life. We have already lost too many precious lives due to lack of access to clean water and sanitation. It is time for us all to come forward together.”

Imam Ilyasi while speaking on the occasion said, “The All India Imams Organization will spread the message to all of its 550,000 imams across India, the largest Imams Organization in the world, and they will then spread to their followers about the importance of water, sanitation and hygiene. We will train the Imams of India to spread this important message. We need to work also with the women because the women spread the message to the whole family so they are a very important part of our program.”

The leaders of The Global Interfaith WASH Alliance (GIWA) agreed that it is no longer enough for religious leaders to exhort their followers not to bomb, shoot or stab each other. Rather, now, the definition of peace must be expanded to include not only freedom from deaths by bombs, guns and knives but also freedom from deaths by preventable water and sanitation-related illnesses. Permitting our brothers and sisters to die from preventable diarrhea or other illnesses due to unsanitary conditions is also violence and must not be condoned by our religions.

The GIWA envisions a water-secure world in which safe and sustainable drinking water and improved sanitation will be accessible to all by the year 2020. An estimated 5 billion people across the world are members of religious communities, underscoring the critical role religious leaders can play in addressing seemingly intractable problems - such as access to safe water and sanitation.

Each day 1600 children die from diarrhea. One of the best strategies to reduce child deaths is improving access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene. Yet today only 64 per cent of the global population has improved sanitation, and more than 768 million people still lack access to improved drinking water sources.

The seed for the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance was planted earlier this year at "Wings for Water," a multi-stakeholder dialogue held in The Hague in advance of the World Water Day celebrations. Included among GIWA's founding partners are: Institute for Human Values (The Netherlands), Ganga (Ganges) Action Parivar, (India), Elijah Interfaith Institute (Israel), the All India Organization of Imams of Mosques, the Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers, the Ecumenical One World Initiative (Germany), and Inner Sense (The Netherlands).

The event was sponsored by the USA and the Netherlands and hosted by UNICEF.

Religious tolerance re-visited: Pakistanis must identify the “Misguided Muslims”

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , , , , ,

By Rohail A. Khan

Two suicide bombers blew themselves up amid 600 Christian worshippers outside the historic ‘All-Saints Church’ in Pakistan’s north western city of Peshawar this Sunday.

Consequently, 85 innocent Pakistani citizens succumbed to death. A wing of the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the bombings, saying they would continue to target non-Muslims until the U.S stops drone attacks in Pakistan.

Bingo ! If you are an emotional person, then naturally, you would come out to the streets and protest against this terrorism. On the other hand, if you are matured and balanced, you would practise restraint and utilise your wisdom to identify the people and motives behind this untoward incident.

The scenario, ladies and gentlemen, is very simple. The nefarious act was conducted by the “Pakistani Talibans” who are being supported and funded by those anti-Pakistan elements who have been tirelessly conspiring to destabilise the Islamic Republic since 1947.

The “Afghani Talibans”, other side of the border, are struggling to establish an Islamic state in Afghanistan much before the Russians invaded them.

“Pakistani Talibans” are a different species altogether. They are the miscreants inducted from within Pakistan by multinational intelligence agencies. These Pakistani Talibans have cropped up mostly during last ten years and have been engaged in selected terrorist acts in metro cities mostly to harass common citizens, breed hatred against the establishment, and cause inter-faith and inter-community clashes. The Pakistani Talibans , many of them foreign nationals, are the young recruits who have little education and no money to sustain. Hence, it is easy to convert them into “misguided Muslims”.

The average Pakistani citizen was provoked by what happened this week in Peshawar. This is exactly what the anti-Pakistani elements have planted through the “Misguided Muslims - Pakistani Taleban”. The intelligent and more patriotic ones would conclude this incident as yet another move to spread insecurity and dissatisfaction among locals and the international community.

For those extremists who are easily provoked, I request them to “re-visit” the religious tolerance as taught in Islam.

The Quran speaks clearly about the basic dignity of all human beings. The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) spoke about the equality of all human beings, regardless of race, colour, language or ethnic background. Islamic Shariah recognizes the rights of all people to life, property, family, honour and conscience.

Islam emphasizes establishment of equality and justice in the society. Both of these values cannot be achieved without “inter-faith tolerance”. Islam recognized from the very beginning the right of freedom of religion. Islam has instructed very clearly that it is not allowed to have any coercion in the matters of faith and belief.

In this article, I propose to remind both Muslims and Christians about a promise that Prophet Muhammad (SAW) made to the Christians. Recognition of this promise can have enormous impact on Muslims’ conduct towards Christians in particular and other non-Muslims in general.

 In 628 AD, a delegation from St. Catherine’s Monastery came to Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and requested his protection. He responded by granting them a “charter of rights”, which is reproduced below in its entirety. St. Catherine’s Monastery is situated at the foot of Mt. Sinai and is the world’s oldest monastery. It carries a huge collection of Christian manuscripts, second only to the Vatican, and is a world heritage site. It is a treasure house of Christian history that has remained safe for 1400 years under Muslim protection.

“The Promise to St. Catherine Treaty” is re-produced as follows:

This is a message from Muhammad Ibn Abdullah (SAW), as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them.

a) Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah I hold out against anything that displeases them.

b) No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims' houses.

c) Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil Allah's covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate.
d) No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray. Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants.

e) No one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the last day (end of the world).

The first and the final clause of the charter are critical. They make the promise eternal and universal. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) asserts that Muslims are with Christians near and far, eloquently rejecting any future attempts to limit the promise to St. Catherine alone.

By ordering the Muslims to obey it until the Day of Judgment the charter categorically undermines any future attempts to revoke the privileges enjoyed by Christians in a Muslim state. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) declared Christians, all of them, as his allies and he equated ill treatment of Christians with violating Allah’s covenant.

A remarkable aspect of the charter is that it imposes no conditions on Christians for enjoying their rights and privileges. It is simply adequate they are Christians. They are not required to alter their beliefs, they do not have to make any payments and do not have any obligations.

This is a charter of rights without any duties.

Clearly this “charter” consists of clauses covering all important aspects of human rights, including the protection of minorities living under Islamic rule, freedom of worship and movement, freedom to appoint their own judges and to own and maintain their property, exemption from military service, and the right to protection in war.

On another occasion, the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) received a delegation of sixty Christians from the region of Najran, then a part of Yemen, at his mosque. When the time for their prayer came, they faced the direction of east and prayed. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) ordered they be left in their state unharmed.

There are examples set by the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) in which he cooperated with people of other faiths in the political arena as well. He selected a non-Muslim, Amr Bin Umaiyyah Al-Damri, as an ambassador to be sent to Negus, the King of Ethiopia.

Thus the Prophet Muhammad (SAW)’s tolerance of other faiths is eternal. Islam recognizes plurality of religions, and gives the right to individuals to choose the path which they believe to be true. Religion is not to be, and was never, forced upon an individual against their own will, and these examples from the life of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) are an epitome of the verse of the Quran which promotes religious tolerance and sets the guideline for the Muslims’ interaction with people of other faiths.

The Holy Quran says, "There is no compulsion in religion." (Al-Baqarah: 256).

The teachings of Quran and the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) should be applied by the Pakistani nation to all Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, and Sikhs alike.

We must recognise and identify the “Misguided Muslims” who are out to provoke and instigate the average Pakistani.

[Rohail A. Khan, a Canadian-Pakistani with strong parental roots in India as well, is a Senior Banker and CFO based at Jeddah. He is also Chairman, Urdu Academy International (UAI), Washington, D.C. He can be contacted at rohailkhan00@gmail.com]

Saudi National Day Celebrations: People highlight their Saudi identity and nationalism, Jeddah's South Indian community organizes musical evening

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , , ,

By Rohail A. Khan

Jeddah: Saudi Arabia’s National Day “Youm Al-Watani” is celebrated every year on 23rd September to commemorate unification of the Kingdom by its founder, King Abdulaziz Al-Saud.

Growing public exuberance on National Day underscores recent changes in the Saudi society, notably the show of “Saudi Identity and Nationalism” by Kingdom's youth. Another important aspect is the side-by-side participation of expatriates, adding a unique flavour of solidarity and excitement to the festivities.

This week the 83rd Saudi National Day celebrationsstarted off with pompuous joy on the eve of 22nd September, expected to continue the entire week. Notable events include Symposia, Cultural Shows, Public Celebrations, Food Carnivals and Fire-cracker Shows.

Like every year, celebrations across Jeddah, Dammam, Al-Khobar, and Riyadh (Kingdom’s capital) are dominated by the youth. Like every year, I am equally excited.

Malls, corniche, public parks, main streets and broadways are inundated with people from all walk of life. Events usually start at the sunset and gradually pick up “heat and speed” from 9 pm till the wee wee hours.

Saudi green flags of all sizes can be seen every where. Not only the cars but “faces are also painted green”. Cute toddlers and youngsters are wearing special costumes, green T-shirts, wigs, masks, and hats - jumping around waving the flags.

This year, guys wearing traditional white thob are facing tough competition from the guys wearing boot-legged jeans and funky shirts. Gals, clad with black abayas, are participating with equal zest and zeal - waving the flags and giggling with family members.

Let me be straight and honest. This year’s “hot item” is certainly the “Green Bandana” which has gained instant popularity among the youth and the adults. Street hawkers are selling thousands of these bandanas every hour - like hot cakes. I wish I had this novel idea. It would have been so nice to mint tons of money selling these bandanas and fulfil my dream of early retirement !

In Jeddah, this week’s favourite food has turned out to be the handy Al-Baik – broasted chicken.

Favourite drink turned out to be Cade’ – pink and blue coloured fuzzy beverages. Favourite dessert of the week, of course, is the Baskin Robbins.

I invited myself to my Saudi friends’ home for a traditional Hijazi dinner. Together we relished every bite of “Mandi and Kunafa”. The sumptuous treat was diligently followed by apple-flavoured hubbly bubbly and green tea. I really felt like an Arab Prince ready to conquer the world.

Unlike last year, this time we saw frequent shows of ‘’fire crackers’’ along Jeddah’s 40 kilometre long sea stripe - Corniche. Amid city-wide celebrations, driving by the colourful and breezy Corniche is an experience I could never miss. Portions of corniche were packed with families enjoying themselves like one does in a carnival.

Tahlia Street - Jeddah’s heart line - seemed over flowing with flashy cars and expensive four-by-fours. It was an adorable sight to observe Fathers strolling on the pavements with cribs, while the abaya-clad wives were busy taking snaps from their fancy smart phones.

The traffic police was more agile and vigilant. For many lazy drivers, double-parking seemed impossible. Watching a bunch of Saudi machos riding on their Harley Davidsons, reminded me of my macho days back in California.

Like every year, my favourite activity was watching the joyful Saudi youth dancing on the tune of folk songs in the middle of the roads !

If one is in Saudi Arabia during the National Day, I strongly recommend not to miss this enriching experience. Let me wrap up now. I need to rise early morning to go scuba diving and celebrate the Youm Al-Watani under the Red Sea with my Saudi friends.

Musical Evening in honor of Muhammad Rafi

Jeddah’s South Indian community fervently celebrated the Youm Al-Watany on 23rd September at a local banquet hall.

It was a musical evening organized by OSAEMEA as a tribute in honour of sub-continent’s great singer Late Muhammad Rafi. OSAEMEA is a leading social welfare organization working since more than a decade to provide financial assistance to needy students in South India.

The charity-cum-musical event was inaugurated by Chief Guest, Mr. Rohail Khan, financial adviser and social worker. Mr. Khan offered felicitations to the Saudi nation on Kingdom’s 83rd National Day. He highlighted the rich heritage and socio-cultural traditions of Saudi Arabia and the role of expatriates towards Kingdom’s development.

Over 300 multi-cultural guests, attired in colourful traditional dresses, collectively prayed for the health and longevity of the Custodian of Two Holy Mosques His Majesty King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud.

OSAEMEA’s President Mr. Basheer Thottiyan, General Secretary Mr. Nasir and renowned socialite Mr. Mohan Balan addressed the audience and described OSAEMEA’s historic contribution and social welfare activities.

The hall was filled with standing ovation when the two Guests of Honour, leading Saudi businessmen, Mr. Iqbal Al-Ansari and Mr. Qasim Saab awarded scholarships to five needy students. Mr. Rohail Khan stressed that affluent people should come forward and wholeheartedly participate in such noble causes. He warmly thanked the event’s sponsors and particularly the local philanthropists for their generosity.

The five-hour “Muhammad Rafi Night” turned out to be melodious and entertaining. The 300 guest were treated to four hours of quality musical and cultural show. Forty solo and duet songs of Musical Maestro Muhammad Rafi were aptly rendered by local artists.

Jamal Pasha, lead singer, thrilled the audience with his rich voice and musical prowess.

Other male singers Abdul Haq, Mashood, Nohu and Amjad impressed the audience with quality performances. Female artists Rehna and Sangeeta surprised everyone with their versatile talent.

Music aficionados swayed to the mood and tempo of the music as the evening progressed and widely appreciated the quality and content of this unique event.

The sumptuous dinner, consisting of spicy dishes and desserts, made it the “most memorable evening of September 2013”.

[Rohail A. Khan, a Canadian-Pakistani with strong parental roots in India as well, is a Senior Banker and CFO based at Jeddah. He is also Chairman, Urdu Academy International (UAI), Washington, D.C. He can be contacted at rohailkhan00@gmail.com]

Acts of terror have no link to Islam

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , , ,

By Tariq A. Al-Maeena

Two acts of terror this past week demonstrate how the evils of terrorism are often masked by warped religious ideologies. In northwestern Pakistan, a couple of suicide bombers detonated explosives in the vicinity of the All Saints Church in Peshawar’s Kohati Gate district.

The blasts took place just as worshipers were streaming out after church services. More than 60 people died, and another were 120 injured in the powerful blasts which left the city “running out of caskets for the dead and beds for the wounded,” according to Iftikhar Hussain, a former government official who was an eyewitness on the scene. Although no one has claimed credit for this dastardly act, suspicion fell on militant groups that act under the cover of Islam.

In a different continent, another group of terrorists seized and held hostage shoppers at the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya. The Al-Shabab group with known links to Al-Qaeda, killed more than 60 innocent shoppers when they invaded the mall. According to some reports, they claimed to have a multinational attack force in this heinous assault. They boldly put out a list on a social networking site of the names of nine individuals who were among the team of attackers. Three were from the USA, two were Somalis, one was Canadian and one each was from Finland, Kenya and the United Kingdom. In a reported tweet, they claimed that “the attack at Westgate Mall is just a very tiny fraction of what Muslims in Somalia experience at the hands of Kenyan invaders.”

These two acts of terrorism demonstrate how dangerous these fringe elements have become. Both groups are blatantly using religion as a cover for their abhorrent deeds. And this has many Muslims upset, as their acts are the furthest thing from Islam.

It is refreshing to note that public condemnation of such acts by Muslims everywhere is on the rise. Pakistan’s PM Nawaz Sharif stated that “the terrorists have no religion and targeting innocent people is against the teachings of Islam and all religions. Such cruel acts of terrorism reflect the brutality and inhumane mindset of the terrorists.”

In a widely circulated press release, the All India Muslim Majlis-e Mushawarat, the umbrella body of Indian Muslim organizations, condemned the terrorist attacks in Peshawar and Nairobi. Dr. Zafarul-Islam Khan, President of AIMMM, said in a statement “that the terrorist attacks on innocents in a church in Peshawar and a commercial mall in Nairobi are the worst examples of anti-Islamic behavior which deserve to be condemned and resisted by all possible means. These crimes by fringe groups working at the behest of powers in their respective regions and beyond are simple terror which in no way is sanctioned by Islam or has the consent of Muslims anywhere in the world…attacking innocent civilians is a plain and simple criminal act against Islam and humanity.”

Shahid Burney from Pune writes: “This act is barbarian, deplorable and Muslims should protest against such acts. This is not what Islam preaches and what we see today. People have become savages and barbarians, merciless killers having no respect for humanity. Shame on them! And more shame on those Muslims who seal their lips and do not utter a word of protest.”

S.H. Moulana from Riyadh refers to both these incidents as “cowardly acts of heartless brutes,” adding that the terrorist actions “have really sickened the entire humanity except those heartless extremists… the innocent are being killed mercilessly but the victims were not aware of why this is happening to them. The women, children and elderly who were the soft targets for these cowards at the Nairobi shopping mall never knew where Somalia was or what Al-Shabab stood for, yet they were killed for no reason. It was the same situation in Peshawar and Baghdad where unarmed worshipers were hunted down without an ounce of sympathy.

“When a small section of illiterate extremists keeps fueling anti-Islam feelings in the world with senseless killings, the peace-loving majority of Muslims find it very hard to convince the international community what Islam really stands for. We urge all Muslim countries to have zero tolerance on those who preach extremism. Muslims and their places of worships have suffered more at the hands of these brutes than at the hands of anyone else and none has tarnished the image of this noble religion, Islam, like these idiots have done. There is no time to waste and we urge Muslim governments and organizations to act now, before things get totally out of control!”

That is why Muslims everywhere cannot afford to sit back and be passive with this cancer in our midst. We must denounce such barbaric actions loud enough for the sounds to reverberate everywhere. Let these terrorists know that their deeds are certainly not Islamic, and there will be no rewards in the hereafter except the burning fires of hell. It is the least we can do for the victims of terrorism everywhere.

[The author can be reached at talmaeena@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena]

(Courtesy: Saudi Gazette)

Hassan Rouhani’s olive branch too thorny for Israel

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Without a belligerent Tehran, there is no one to hang their message of doom prophecy on and demand increased military and financial aid from the West

By Tariq A. Al Maeena

There was nothing more effective on the world stage to bolster Israel’s argument on the dangers of Iran than the belligerency of former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. A man known for vitriolic outbursts, Ahmadinejad provided the Israelis with the very fodder that was used against him by his occasional confrontational stance.

But there’s a new player on the scene today in Iran in the form of the recently elected President, Hassan Rouhani. And so far he seems to be saying the right things. In his speech at the UN General Assembly, Rouhani took the initiative by offering negotiations with the US and other world powers over Iran’s nuclear programme.

“Our national interests make it imperative that we remove any and all reasonable concerns about Iran’s peaceful nuclear programme,” he emphasised, adding that Iran “is prepared to engage immediately in time-bound and result-oriented talks to build mutual confidence and the removal of mutual uncertainties with full transparency”.

His was not a speech filled with the hateful rhetoric of his predecessor. Instead, it was rational and moderate. Declaring that “the world is tired of war”, Rouhani stated that “peace was within reach”. He also believes that if the US government holds firm against the influence of those promoting wars in the region, then the two countries “can arrive at a framework to manage our differences”.

In a sharp departure from Ahmadinejad, who on several occasions had dismissed the holocaust as a myth, Rouhani condemned the tragedy, calling it a “crime” in reference to the killing of Jews by the Nazis during the Second World War.

During an interview on CNN, Rouhani said: “I’ve said before that I am not a historian, and when it comes to speaking of the dimensions of the Holocaust, it is the historians that should reflect … But, in general, I can tell you that any crime that happens in history against humanity, including the crime the Nazis committed against the Jews as well as non-Jews, is reprehensible and condemnable. Whatever criminality they committed against the Jews, we condemn.”

Rouhani added that the Holocaust did not legitimise the occupation of Palestine by Israel. “On the other hand, this does not mean that you can say Nazis committed crimes against a group, so that group can usurp the land of another group and occupy it. This too is an act that should be condemned”.

Addressing the inaugural meeting of a UN forum on nuclear disarmament on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, an organisation of developing countries, Rouhani said that a worldwide disarmament of nuclear weapons should be “our highest priority”.

He also called on Israel be a signatory to the international treaty banning the spread of nuclear weapons. “The only country in the region which is not a member of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Israel should join it without further delay … Accordingly all nuclear activities in the region should be subject to the comprehensive safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Authority,” Rouhani said.

Israel remains the only Middle Eastern country that has not signed the milestone 1979 treaty.

All these overtures have been met positively by western leaders who sense a change in the air. In direct talks involving the foreign Ministers of the superpowers, the US and European diplomats sensed a ‘significant shift’ in Iran’s stance towards working towards a resolution on its disputed nuclear activities. Iran also added that it was keen to dismiss the belief that it is working on building nuclear weapons and wants to get debilitating international sanctions lifted of its back as soon as possible.

The Israelis however do not like such a dramatic shift. Without a belligerent Iran, there is no one to hang their message of doom prophecy on and demand increased military and financial aid from the West. For them, peaceful overtures are spiteful. So despised that the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the Israeli delegation to walkout of the UN Assembly before Rouhani even had reached the podium to deliver his speech.

And even before Rouhani delivered his talk, Netanyahu was busy in Israel warning all who were willing to listen, “We will not be fooled by half-measures that merely provide a smoke screen for Iran’s continual pursuit of nuclear weapons. And the world should not be fooled, either.”

And even after the primarily conciliatory speech by the Iranian president, the Israelis were not relenting. Israeli Minister for Strategic and Intelligence Affairs Yuval Steinitz insulted the intelligence of the world gathering by calling Rouhani’s talk as a “game of deception”, an art mastered by none other than the Israelis themselves in their game of occupation.

Perhaps, one Israeli politician was right when he said that Netanyahu’s instruction to Israeli delegates to walk out was a “mistake as it would give the impression that Israel was not interested in encouraging a peaceful solution to Iran’s suspect nuclear programme”. It was not a mistake, but a true reflection of the Israeli leadership.

For the government of Netanyahu, nothing could be a worse nightmare today than an Iran committed to peace. In the turbulence of today in the region, Netanyahu is reaping a fine harvest as his government policy of illegal occupation measures against the rightful ownership of lands of the Palestinians continue, and their people become quickly boxed in into scattered pockets of refugee camps. With the world’s attention on a belligerent Iran, he has managed to pursue his vision of a greater Israel unchallenged.

And towards that goal, Rouhani’s offer is not an olive branch, but a thorny one.

[Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@talmaeena]

(Courtesy: Gulf News)

Judaism & Islam: A Reform Rabbi learns from Prophet Muhammad

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By Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Almost all parents love their own children much more than they love the children of their neighbors. This is only natural. Most parents are also able to acknowledge that some of their neighbor’s children exceed in merit their own children in some, even occasionally in many, aspects of character, personality, or talent. Nevertheless, parents still love their own children much more than they love their neighbor’s children. The same preference is also found among religious believers. In every religious community people think that their own prophet, their holy book, their saints, and their religious traditions are the truest and the best. This natural human feeling can sometimes lead to an arrogant pride that results in verbal abuse that can lead to physical conflict between believers in different religions. This arrogant pride in the superiority of one’s own religion should be condemned by all religious leaders. An excellent account of this condemnation is found in the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad, when he was called upon to judge between a Jew and a Muslim in a conflict-laden situation.

Abu Huraira related: Two men, a Muslim and a Jew, abused each other. The Muslim said, “By Him Who gave superiority to Muhammad over all the people.” At that, the Jew said, “By Him Who gave superiority to Moses over all the people.” The Muslim became furious at that and slapped the Jew in the face. The Jew went to God’s Apostle and informed him of what had happened between him and the Muslim. God’s Apostle said, “Don’t give me superiority over Moses, for people will fall unconscious on the Day of Resurrection and I will be the first to gain consciousness, and behold! Moses will be there holding the side of God’s Throne. I will not know whether Moses has been among those people who have become unconscious and then has regained consciousness before me, or has been among those exempted by God from falling unconscious” (Sunan Imam Bukhari, Vol. 8, Book 76, #524).

God’s Messenger is so well known for his sense of justice that a Jew can appeal to him even in a conflict with a Muslim who has attacked a Jew. It is only natural for Jews to think that Moses is the best and for Muslims to think that Muhammad is the best. Muhammad rebukes the Muslim, telling him not to claim that Muhammad is superior to Moses, because even on the day of Resurrection Muhammad himself will not know their relative merit; although Muhammad will be the first of all the comatose to be revived, Moses will already be there holding the side of God's throne. Muhammad teaches us that claims of religious superiority are wrong, for no human in this world, and perhaps even in the world to come, will know who the best prophet is. Such arrogant comparisons do not help anyone to become a better believer in God but only serve to polarize believers by inciting partisan fervor.

As a Reform Rabbi, I can state that all Reform Rabbis would applaud this teaching of Prophet Muhammad because we are all aware that during the Middle Ages all three religions claimed religious superiority over each other. If Jews, Christians, and Muslims had only followed this teaching of Prophet Muhammad, we could have avoided many centuries of bloodshed and massacres, three of the best known examples being the many Christian Crusades in Spain, Poland, and the Middle East; the Roman Catholic Inquisition in Spain and Portugal; and the thirty-year war between Catholics and Protestants in Germany and central Europe.

The Qur’ān is the only book of revelation that includes within itself a theory of prophethood that includes other religions. There have always been people (since the days of Adam) inspired by Allah who urged their society to avoid destruction by turning away from its corrupt and unjust ways and turning to the One God who created all humans. The Qur’ān mentions twenty-five prophets by name (most of them also known to non-Muslims), and Muslims believe there were 124,000 others whose names are now unknown. Of the twenty-five mentioned by name in the Qur’ān only four (Moses, David, Jesus, and Muhammad) revealed books of sacred scripture that are the bases for three religions that still flourish today.

According to the Qur’ān, every nation in the world receives at least one prophet who speaks to it in its own language. However, one nation, the Children of Israel, has received a great many prophets. The Qur’ān doesn’t explicitly tell us why so many prophets arose within the Children of Israel, but a careful reading of the Qur’ān reveals an answer. This was what I learned from a profound and enlightening essay by Irfan Ahmad Kahn in a book I read years ago, Jewish-Muslim Encounters, edited by Charles Selengut (Paragon House, 2001). The book is a collection of eleven papers given at a conference in Cordoba, Spain, sponsored by the Inter-Religious Federation for World Peace.

Almost all prophets, according to Kahn, are like Hud who was sent to Ad or Salih who was sent to Thamud. They come to warn their own people of their impending destruction due to their corrupt and immoral ways—and to call them to repentance. However, the prophets of the Children of Israel are different in two ways. First, Abraham is the only prophet we know of whose two sons, Isma’il (Ishmael) and Ishaq (Isaac), are also prophets. Indeed, Abraham’s grandson Ya’qub (Jacob) and great grandson Yusuf (Joseph) are also prophets. Thus, starting with Abraham, Allah established a family dynasty of prophets. With Joseph and his brothers (the tribes) the extended family became the twelve tribes of Israel or, as they are usually called, the Children of Israel/Ya’qub. The Children of Israel were blessed with many prophets who were the descendants of the Children of Israel/Ya’qub, who generation after generation urged the Jewish people to stay firm in their covenant with God. This prophetic ongoing concern is expressed in the Qur’ān: “When death approached Ya’qub, he said to his sons, ‘Who will (you) worship after I am gone?’ They answered, ‘We will worship your God, the God of our forefathers, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, the One God. Unto Him we will surrender ourselves’” (2:132).

Second, when Musa (Moses) is sent by Allah, he comes not primarily to warn or rebuke the Children of Israel (his own people), but he is sent “to Pharaoh” (20:24, 51:38, 73:15, and 79:17), “to Pharaoh and his chiefs” (al-mala) (7:103, 10:75, 11:97, 23:46, and 43:46), and “to Pharaoh and his people” (27:12). Musa is sent to Pharaoh to warn him of the destruction that will fall on Egypt if he does not stop setting himself up as a God, and does not let the Children of Israel go free. Musa comes to rebuke Pharaoh and to rescue the Children of Israel. Only when the nation is free from Egyptian bondage do they receive the Torah directly from God to Moses without any mediation of an angel. This enlightening essay by Kahn shows that, as opposed to the accusations of some who blame the Qur’ān for being antagonistic toward Jews, many narrations in the Qur’ān present events from Jewish history as archetypal events from which all humanity can draw lessons. The Qur’ān stresses again that one part of the Children of Israel was faithful and another party was not. Perhaps the fact that the spiritual history of the Children of Israel was so well known in Arabia is a simple explanation of this, or, perhaps, the Qur’ān views the Children of Israel as an ongoing illustration of a religious community striving to live up to its covenant with God. The Qur’ān relates this ongoing concern when Prophet Moses speaks to his people as follows: “O my people! Remember God’s favor upon you, for He appointed among you Prophets, and rulers, and He granted to you favors such as He had not granted to anyone else in the worlds” (Maidah 5:20).

The principle that God can make a covenant with a whole people, and not just with those who are faithful believers, also helps me understand a powerful verse wherein the Qur’ān narrates that at Sinai, before giving the Torah to the Children of Israel, Allah makes a covenant with them. Allah raises the mountain above the whole people saying, “Hold firmly to what We have given you (the Torah) and remember what is in it” (2:63). The whole nation’s fate stands under the shadow of Mount Sinai, and this explains the miracle of all Israel’s agreeing to the covenant. This may be the reason why Musa is the only prophet whose book comes not from an angel but directly from Allah. Individuals who hear a prophet may choose to believe or disbelieve, but in this case God Almighty makes “an offer that you can’t refuse,” so, as far as Judaism is concerned, all of the Children of Israel have to struggle for all generations to come with living up to the covenant into which they chose to enter. This concept, can lead—and among many ultra orthodox Jews has led—to exaggerated and self-righteous feelings of pride. Thus, when the Qur’ān (A’raf 7:171) another time mentions the same event, when the Mount was moved above the Children of Israel, this verse is followed by a reminder in 7:172 that “Children of Adam” were all made to bear witness against their own souls: “‘Am I not your Lord?’ . . . They said: ‘Yea! We do testify!’” God Almighty made a covenant with all individuals “lest [they] should say on the Day of Judgment: ‘Of this we were never mindful.'” This reminder by the Qur’ān that no religious community should be self-righteous is similar to that of the prophet Amos, who tells the Children of Israel, “Are you not like the Children of Ethiopia to me, O Children of Israel? says God. Did I not redeem Israel from Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Syrians from Kir?” (Amos 9:7). Indeed, the Rabbis taught that God had made a prior covenant with Noah and all his decedents that applies to all humanity.

Thus, although the covenant was made with the whole community of Israel, this community, like all other nations, also had people among them whose hearts are like rocks that spring forth streams, while others yield water only when split, and others sink for fear of Allah (2:74). It is this last segment of the Children of Israel that Prophet Muhammad refers to when he rebukes the Children of Israel. The Qur’ān, correctly understood, does not attack all of Israel. Every community, including the Muslim ummah, contains groups of faithful believers and a party who disbelieve. This has always been true and sadly will remain true until the end of time when Judgment Day will occur. It is unfair and arrogant for any religious leader to compare the best of the followers of one’s religion with the worst of the followers of another religion. This is why the Qur’ān declares, “Mankind! We created you from a single male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other (and not despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted” (49:13).

Most Americans would be amazed to hear such a liberal and tolerant statement coming from a religion that they think is rigid and fanatical, but the politicized Islam that has captured so much attention in the world today is not true Islam. It is the outgrowth of two recent factors. One is an anti-Western reaction and scapegoating due to the great dislocations and upheavals occuring in Muslim societies as a result of the globalization taking place in all modernizing societies in the twentieth century. The second factor is the result of several previous centuries of socioeconomic decline in the Middle East. Jews and Christians have already had reforming and modernizing movements that have helped them break out of the narrow rigidity of the Middle Ages, but Muslims have not. Prophet Muhammad himself predicted that in future centuries Muslims also would become more rigid and orthodox, just as the Jews and Christians had. In a well-known Hadith, Abu Sa’id al-Khudri reported God’s Messenger as saying: “You will tread the same path as was trodden by those before you, inch by inch and step by step, so much so that if they had entered into the hole of a lizard, you would follow them in this also. We said: Do you mean Jews and Christians? He said: Who else?” (Bukhari, Vol. 4, Book 56, #662). Islam was meant to be an easy religion as this Hadith testifies: Narrated Abu Huraira; The Prophet said, “Religion is very easy and whoever overburdens himself in his religion will not be able to continue in that way. So you should not be extremists, but try to be near to perfection and receive the good tidings that you will be rewarded” (Bukhari,Vol. 1, Book 2, #38).

Unlike Christianity, both Islam and Judaism teach the importance of sacred slaughter of meat and the avoidance of certain animals for food. In Islam the rules are simpler and fewer than those in Orthodox Judaism. Reform Rabbis regard the increasingly restrictive developments in the laws of kosher diet, especially for Passover, as a counterproductive overburdening of the people. The vast expansion of restrictions on Shabbat activities is also seen by Reform Rabbis as a counterproductive overburdening of the joy of Shabbat. Muhammad wisely differentiates between extremism and striving to be near perfect (no one is perfect), which involves a rejection of extremism. Just trying to do well will be rewarded. Religion should not be hard. Making religion easier does not mean making religion soft or impious. This is a very important Hadith, because all religions have believers that think more is better, and harder is still better.

The same restraint from becoming super-pious is evident in the treatment of women during their menses. A Hadith relates: Among the Jews, when a woman menstruated, they did not dine with her, nor did they live with them in their houses (share the same bed); so the Companions of the Apostle asked God’s Messenger, and God revealed this verse to him: “They ask you about menstruation; say it is a pollution, so keep away from woman during menstruation” (Qur’ān, 2:222). The Messenger of God said: Do everything except intercourse. The (Orthodox) Jews heard of that and said: “This man does not want to leave anything we do without opposing us in it” (Sahih Muslim, Book 003, #0592. Both Islam and Judaism have laws about ritual pollution deriving from a woman’s monthly period. Orthodox Judaism had greatly expanded the prohibitions against having sex during a woman’s period. Muhammad opposes this expansion and limits the prohibition for Muslims. Reform Rabbis today are much closer to Islamic practice than they are to Orthodox Jewish practice in this matter. Nevertheless, although Orthodox Jews to this day do require married women to cover their hair, they never urged them to cover their faces with a veil.

In the seventh century when Muhammad was spreading Islam, almost all the Jews of Arabia and the Middle East were Orthodox Jews. Had the Jews of Medina been more open to his teachings Reform Judaism would have started thirteen centuries ago, not just two centuries ago. Of the 13,000,000 Jews in the world today the majority, both in Israel and throughout the world, are no longer Orthodox. The largest denomination of non-Orthodox Jews in the United States and Canada, where 6,000,000 Jews live, is the Reform movement. Reform Judaism began in Germany almost 200 years ago as a “back to the basics” modernizing movement. As a Reform Rabbi, I first became interested in Islam when I studied it at the University of California, Los Angeles, fifty years ago. I have continued my study of Islam off and on since then, and for some time I have considered myself to be a Reform Rabbi and a Muslim Jew. I am a Muslim Jew, that is, a faithful Jew submitting to the will of God, because I am a Reform Rabbi. As a Rabbi I am faithful to the covenant that God made with Abraham—the first Muslim Jew—and I submit to the commandments that God made with the people of Israel at Mount Sinai. As a Reform Rabbi I believe that Jewish spiritual leaders should modify Jewish tradition as social and historical circumstances change and develop. I also believe we should not make religion difficult for people to practice. These are lessons that Prophet Muhammad taught twelve centuries before the rise of Reform Judaism in the early nineteenth century. In many ways statements in the Qur’ān about Orthodox Jewish beliefs and Ahadith relating Muhammad’s comments about Orthodox Judaism and religion in general prefigure the thinking of Reform Rabbis some twelve to thirteen centuries later.

Unlike Orthodox Rabbis, Reform Rabbis accept the doctrine of nullification, which teaches that one verse in scripture can nullify another and that rulings can be changed due to changed circumstances. Muhammad provides an excellent example of this principle in the following account. The Prophet originally told women not to visit graveyards, but toward the end of his life he said to them: “I had told you not to visit graves; now I am telling you to visit them.” The reason was that Arabian women used to wail at graves. The Prophet wanted this practice to be stopped, so he banned women from visiting graves. After some time, when Muslim women were better aware of how Islam wants them to behave in different situations, he allowed such visits. In fact, the Prophet encourages visiting graveyards because such a visit reminds the visitor of his or her own death and the fact that they would have to stand in front of God when their actions are reckoned to determine their reward or punishment. Scholars like Ibn Qudamah, of the Hanbali school of law, make it clear that since this is the purpose of visiting graveyards, both men and women need such visits.

Another important teaching of the Qur’ān for people all over the world today is that God chose not to create human beings as one nation and bestowed upon them free will to believe or not to believe. As it is written in the Qur’ān (5.48) “For every one of you did We appoint a law and a way. If God had pleased He would have made you one people, but (He didn’t) that He might test you in what He gave you. Therefore compete with one another to hasten to virtuous deeds; for all return to God, so He will let you know (after Judgment Day) that in which you differed.” This is a wonderful further development of the teaching of the biblical prophet Micah (Mic. 4:5) that in the end of days—the Messianic Age—“All people will walk, each in the name of their own God, and we shall walk in the name of the Lord our God forever.”

A Muslim is one who submits to the will of God and believes that God has sent Muhammad, Moses, David, Jesus, and many other prophets to the many peoples of the world. As a Reform Rabbi I believe that Muhammad was the Prophet sent to the Arab people. I believe that the Qur’ān is as true for Muslims as the Torah is true for Jews. Indeed, I love the Hadith also narrated by Abu Huraira that says, “The people of the Book used to read the Torah in Hebrew and then explain it in Arabic to the Muslims. God’s Apostle said (to the Muslims). ‘Do not believe the people of the Book, nor disbelieve them, but say, ‘We believe in God, and whatever is revealed to us, and whatever was revealed to you.’” Following Muhammad’s teaching I neither believe nor disbelieve in the Qur’ān. If I believed in the Qur’ān I would be a member of the Muslim community. If I disbelieved in the Qur’ān I would be a member of the atheist community or of those religious communities that think that only their religion is the one true religion.

I do respect the Qur’ān very much as a kindred revelation given in a kindred language, to the descendants of a kindred people, In fact, the people, the language, and the theology are closer to my own people, language, and theology than that of any other on earth. Of course, more than eighty percent of Muslims in the world today are not of Arab descent, but Arabic is the sacred language of Muslims, and the tradition that Arabs and Jews are cousins is widely accepted. This makes the present conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis especially tragic. It is very important to realize that the conflict is a political one, not a religious one. There can be no religious conflict between religions like Judaism and Islam because neither of them declares that their scriptures are the only ones from God. The strong support that the Qur’ān gives to religious pluralism is a lesson that is sorely needed by the religious fundamentalists of all religions in the world today.

Further, followers of all religions should always repeat this teaching of Allah’s Messenger, “Prophets are half-brothers in faith, having different mothers. Their religion is, however, one” (Muslim, book #030, Hadith #5836 . All prophets have the same father, who is the One God whose inspiration gives birth to their prophethood. However, each prophet has a different mother, that is, the nation and people as well as the period and age that he speaks to. Thus, prophets are siblings in faithfulness to the One God, but their message differs because it must be appropriate to their motherland, their mother people, and their mother tongue. The words, the rituals, the customs, and the specific aspects of ethics and morals may differ, but the goal of living and loving according to Allah’s will is the same. As the great poet Jalal al-Din al-Rumi taught, “Ritual prayer can be different in every religion, but belief never changes” (Fihi Mafih).

(Courtesy: RabbiMaller.com)

Interview with Syed A. Asim, COO, Dion Global Solutions: Muslims have the history of being more into business but very few could scale up their business

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 24 September 2013 | Posted in , , , , ,

Syed A. Asim has over 16 years of experience in selling software products in Indian financial industry. In his previous roles, prior to Dion, he has also worked across Middle East and was instrumental in growing the business tremendously.

Asim is Chief Operating Officer at Dion Global Solutions. He is widely known across the industry and has a great reputation across capital market in India. His passion for the industry is what led him to bring new revolutionary concepts in technology and client servicing, winning him several prestigious awards in return. He is veteran in creating awareness and taking the concept of CTCL trading to the masses across India & Middle East.

He is B. Tech. in Mechanical and MBA. His vast experience in sales has enabled him to conduct multiple trainings in sales, soft skills, corporate etiquettes, negotiations, etc. for various organizations and institutes. He also published many white papers on Trading Technology Solutions.

Previously, Asim has worked as Head of Sales for Direct FN Ltd. (Mubasher), Dubai, National Sales Head at Financial Technologies (India) Ltd. and Regional Head (North) for MCX.At Dion, Asim is based in NCR (India) and heads business development activities and operations across South Asia, Middle East & Africa. He reports to global CEO & Managing Director, Ralph J Horne based at London, UK.

Mr. Asim also holds forthright views about Muslims and their entrepreneurship skills. He says, "Muslims have the history of being more into business but very few could scale up their business to the level of a company or beyond. Some of the reasons are that they do not adopt best management practices, latest technological tools and do not know good consultants who can help them in getting sync with modern ways of doing business."

Here are excerpts of interview conducted by Shahabuddin Yaqub, Managing Editor of IndianMuslimObserver.com for the benefit of readers.

Shahabuddin Yaqub: You have associated with global brand, does it give you comfort or make you loaded with lots of responsibilities?

Syed Asim: Association with global brand changes your thought process by making you think multi dimensional and with respect to different frame of reference. One needs to keep in mind various practices, cultures, time zones, climates, etc. while interacting or even addressing on mails with people of different counties.

Feeling of comfort or load of responsibility depends on whether you enjoy your work or just carrying out as a task. I have always enjoyed my work that keeps me energetic even at the end of the day.

Shahabuddin Yaqub: You have been champion of sales. It is said that you can sell anything to anyone. How did you get this mastery, as it does not happen to be so easy?

Syed Asim: I believe sales is an art of first believing very strongly into your own product/service, then understanding the need of the customer very clearly and finally proposing something that can benefit him. I always sold trust; product/services got sold on its own. To become better sales person, one should have thorough knowledge of the product/service and how it can benefit the customer. The key is innovation and out of box thinking. To quote an example, once I was traveling in an inter-state transport bus on a hot summer afternoon. The bus stopped in between for the meal and it was terribly hot. A small boy came selling newspaper and asked me if I want to buy it. In the state I was, I could never imagine reading newspaper so I said, no. He took out a newspaper and said it will help you in waiving air. I immediately bought it. He actually figured out my need and suggested a different application of the same product.

Shahabuddin Yaqub: Today very few people have this rare combination of experience in Information Technology, Capital Markets and Sales. Could you tell us how did you achieve this rare combination of expertise especially when you come from Mechanical Engineering background?

Syed Asim: I always had passion for capital markets and started doing small investments (that I used to earn from tuitions) into stocks since school period. Joined stock broking after Engineering. IT was growing rapidly in India and I realized that technology would become key differentiator for any business in future. Apart from my responsibilities, I started spending time with our IT vendors till late evening or on weekends implementing newer technologies, understanding IT networks, and testing different softwares, which gave me good knowledge of the field. My interest gave me a new opportunity and a software company approached me for helping them in developing their new derivatives trading platform. Later I got an offer to join their sales team. Initially I took it as a challenge but very soon I realized that having practical knowledge of both the domains (IT and Capital Markets) gave me an edge of suggesting various solutions to my prospective customers.

Shahabuddin Yaqub: If anyone wants to achieve a good growth for his company, what steps would you suggest him?

Syed Asim: I would like to share two of my principles for achieving good growth in the company:


2. Leave such legacy that YOU SHOULD BE REPLACED BY MULTIPLE PEOPLE, NOT ONE, in case you part from the company.

Shahabuddin Yaqub: Today youth seems to be more inclined towards job rather than business whereas many of them can turn to be a successful entrepreneur. How do you read this trend?

Syed Asim: Maybe because more workers are required than owners (joking). If you ask majority of the people at any stage, whether at the time of joining any course or even taking up any profession, they do not have clear goals. They would have taken call based on someone’s experience or suggestion. Goal setting exercise involves many steps, which starts from self-realization session. Once you are fully aware about your strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, it becomes much easier to decide the direction and goal.

It is different that for any successful business one should know ground realities and practical scenarios, which comes from working as an employee. Many factors are essential for starting own business like startup capital, required skill, infrastructure and more over risk taking ability, while in job you can learn at someone’s cost and take experience to become more useful. But one of the key reasons for the trend is lack of awareness and guidance for starting their own business.

Shahabuddin Yaqub: Many people start their business and put lots of money in it nevertheless they receive failure at the end. Where do they make mistakes?

Syed Asim: Though there are numbers of reasons, but some very common mistakes that leads to failures are:

1. Insufficient Market Research: Choice of business, market size, target segment, positioning of product, timing, competition, etc. are important factors that need to be thoroughly studied before start of business. In absence of these it is based on certain assumptions, which may fail.

2. Early Give-up: Every business has gestation period in which it requires special attention before it can turnaround into a profitable venture. Most of the time it is seen that people either exhaust their money and energy or lose hope and quit when they may be very close to achieving success.

3. Lack of Sound Distribution Model: I very frequently come across many people who have a very good product but they are not able to sell it well. Sales and Marketing is a very essential part of a successful business. On the contrary there are some people who do not have any product but have very strong distribution setup so they make money by trading (selling others product at profit margin).

Shahabuddin Yaqub: There are many people who are having good business ideas and marketing skill but they need money to start, where they can get finance from and how?

Syed Asim: Every society have two sets of people, one who have money and looking for options to invest, other who have ideas and skills to do good business. The challenge is to connect both into a successful partnership model.

There is need of some experiences people to validate the ideas and business projects of the budding entrepreneurs and connect them to the financiers who are interested in investing into their projects on ownership sharing basis.

Shahabuddin Yaqub: Majority of Muslims do not understand business. Is it because they are not in sync with modern world or some other reasons do you see?

Syed Asim: I would say that Muslims have the history of being more into business but very few could scale up their business to the level of a company or beyond. Some of the reasons are that they do not adopt best management practices, latest technological tools and do not know good consultants who can help them in getting sync with modern ways of doing business.

Shahabuddin Yaqub: Muslim businessmen generally do not prefer to get finance if it is based on interest what are the other ways they can try for?

Syed Asim: Solution to the problem is Islamic Banking. Many organizations claimed interest free business model and then broke the trust of the people. Now its difficult for people to trust anybody unless there is provision in the banking laws for Islamic Banking and either existing banks start separate Islamic Banking window or new banks come up.

In absence of Islamic banking system Muslims willing to get interest free finance will have to find financers who can lend them money against equity in their company or profit / loss sharing agreement by appointing a reliable auditor.

Shahabuddin Yaqub: Some Muslim businessmen are concerned as they have good products but their sale is not increasing despite making every effort. Where do they need to focus?

Syed Asim: They need to focus on the following:

1. Market feedback – get feedback and analyze with unprejudiced mind

2. Sales strategy – ways of attracting target customers

3. Right Positioning – deciding your competitor & customer segment

4. Correct Pricing – pricing according to your positioning

Shahabuddin Yaqub: For any product and company, branding, advertising and marketing how does it help to improve sale? Do small products also need good promotion or they are treated differently?

Syed Asim: For any product or company, branding, advertising and marketing plays very critical role as it forms the image or perception. Need of promotion, more depends on existing demand than the size of the product.

Shahabuddin Yaqub: Non-banking system without depending upon interest can work and survive? What is your opinion about it?

Syed Asim: Banking and non – banking interest free systems have huge potential. In fact it is the need of Muslim populated countries. But in order to build trust on the new system a strong regulatory system is essential.

Shahabuddin Yaqub: There are many businessmen who have inherited business either from their father or family and they are not well equipped with modern business modules. Do you want to help them if they show their interest?

Syed Asim: Yes, I feel pleasure to contribute to all such friends who are blessed with the businesses and looking for the guidance.

Shahabuddin Yaqub: There are ample opportunities and multiple choices available in India but Muslims are still impoverished. They are somewhat far behind to capitalize on these opportunities. How they can be empowered in such a way that they could become able to get benefit out of it?

Syed Asim: First step towards taking benefit from ample opportunities available in the country and outside is to open up for accepting the changes, which is a major change in itself. It is advisable to go through some training programs, which can help in changing the mindset and opening up for new ideas.

Shahabuddin Yaqub: Many personality development workshops are conducted by companies for their employees. Does it help to any extent?

Syed Asim: Yes, it helps a lot but its most effective if it starts from the top most level. Top-bottom approach helps in changing the culture of the organization. Training needs may be assessed and planned accordingly.

Shahabuddin Yaqub: How compulsory it is for professionals to get them equipped with new skills and technology in their respective as well as new field in order to grow faster?

Syed Asim: Quality of people plays the most important role in the success and growth of any organization. Quality has two components: Attitude and Skill (technical & non technical). As we invest on updating and upgrading tools and equipments (infrastructure) of the organization, it is equally important to invest in upgrading attitude and skills of the professionals.

Shahabuddin Yaqub: Do you agree with me that Muslim Community as a whole has a problem as far as attitude is concerned? Some workshops should be conducted for them so as to improve their attitude towards community and towards themselves.

Syed Asim: I wouldn’t say that Muslim Community as a whole has attitude problem as there are always different types of people in every community but I would agree that attitude plays major role in the growth and development of any individual or community. Conducting workshops to improve attitude will help in changing the outlook. Quran gives us a clear principle: ‘Allah does not change the condition of the people (community) until they (first) change that which is in their hearts’ [Ar-Ra’d, 13-11]

Shahabuddin Yaqub: When you think about present Muslim leadership what kind of thoughts come to your mind?

Syed Asim: ‘Whom should I follow?’ is a big question, for which every Muslim is trying to find an answer.

Shahabuddin Yaqub: Without leadership community gets astray and we have been witness to this bitter reality. Now the big challenge in front of community is to develop able leaders who can lead the community as well as nation. Where do you see hope?

Syed Asim: I agree that it’s a big challenge for the whole community but we will not be able to realize and recognize these leaders till we completely change our way of thinking (our thought process) and connect ourselves with the Book of Guidance, The Holy Quran, a common link between every Muslim.

Shahabuddin Yaqub: Do you have any message for youths?

Syed Asim: Youth should keep in mind that it’sresponsibility of every Muslims to excel in education, jobs and businesses without compromising their ethics and Islamic values so as to project a right image of the community both in India and internationally.

Shahabuddin Yaqub: Where do you see yourself in coming ten years?

Syed Asim: In coming ten years I would share my knowledge and expertise with those who require guidanceand further make efforts to create my identity on national and international level.

Shahabuddin Yaqub: As a chief operating officer what are challenges you have ahead?

Syed Asim: As COO I have a challenge of growing my organization, in spite of a prolong economic slow down. I am quite confident that my dynamic and dedicated team of professionals will take any challenge head-on that will come in our way to achieve success.

[Shahabuddin Yaqub is Managing Editor of IndianMuslimObserver.com. He can be contacted at skyaqub@indianmuslimosberver.com]

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