Islamic industry body consolidation?

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 17 August 2013 | Posted in , , ,

By Rushdi Siddiqui

Hussein Al Qemzi, CEO of Noor Islamic Bank and Noor Investment group, recently made extremely important comments concerning the need for a definitive industry body to promote and regulate Islamic finance.

He said: “... it is a real concern that there is no authoritative global body to regulate and promote Islamic finance… Disagreement and different interpretations, over what is Shariah-compliant and what is not, continue to make it difficult to establish the necessary regulations for the industry to develop globally accepted products… Some people argue that standardisation is an unrealistic goal, given the fragmented nature of Islamic finance. I do not agree. There is a need for balanced, globally accepted, regulation that does not impede growth, or allow for abuse.”

Outside box thinking

Sometimes solutions require (way) outside the box thinking. For example, what if we take a chapter form the merger and acquisition arena and apply to Islamic finance industry bodies, hence, to achieve the ‘definitive, authoritative industry’ body requires consolidation.

The industry bodies include Accounting and Auditing Organisation of Islamic Financial Institutions (AAOIFI), International Islamic Rating Agency (IIRA), International Islamic Financial Market (IIFM), and General Council for Islamic Banks & Financial Institutions (Cibafi).

Consolidation makes sense when and where there are cost savings synergies. It makes sense when there is an overlap of founding shareholders, when same scholars sit on boards of various bodies, when there are resource constraints resulting in operational challenges and hiring qualified human asset, and so on.

Finally, consolidation may make sense when the need of the hour is an industry body that sees the bigger picture and where it fits in as an important stakeholder in Islamic finance versus the present “silo” approach.

Founding stakeholders

If we look at the sampling of the founding shareholders of the above-mentioned industry bodies, there is an overlap with heavy weights of Islamic finance including Islamic Development Bank, Al Rajhi, Albaraka, and Kuwait Finance House.

The vision for Islamic finance at conception time these alphabet organisations were launched — 1991 (AAOIFI) to 2005 (IIRA) — to now has changed dramatically. The times have moved on and the bodies need to also stay relevant.

The IIFM website, meanwhile, states its mission as: “... the global standardisation body for the Islamic Capital & Money Market segment of the IFSI. Its primary focus lies in the standardisation of Islamic financial products, documentation and related processes.”

But, the question is wouldn’t it make more sense and be more efficient for IIFM to work under the umbrella of an industry-setting body that produces standards requiring standardisation?

Cibafi chairman in its message on its website states that Cibafi was established for two major roles — support and protect the industry. Support the industry through awareness and training, holding conferences, seminars and forums and providing the necessary information. Protect the industry so as to avoid, as much as possible, the obstacles and deviations in the course of the Islamic finance industry.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to bring Cibafi under the umbrella of an industry body that produces standards that are followed by training, seminars, and work-shops on them?

Finally, the most prominent Islamic finance industry body is the Bahrain-based AAOIFI.

Its website states: “AAOIFI is an Islamic international autonomous non-for-profit corporate body that prepares accounting, auditing, governance, ethics and Shariah standards for Islamic financial institutions and the industry. Professional qualification programmes (notably CIPA, the Shariah adviser and auditor “CSAA”, and the corporate compliance programme) are presented now by AAOIFI in its efforts to enhance the industry’s human resources base and governance structures.”

AAOIFI is best positioned to be the umbrella Islamic finance industry body in the Gulf Cooperation Council as its standards become standardised documents (IIFM) with process review (IIRA), and are promoted and protected with the understanding (Cibafi).

One window shopping

For example, consolidation results in one Islamic finance conference event with all the four bodies under one roof, and taking place in various Islamic finance hubs to educate, make aware and demystify.

The combination then results in a four-by-four Olympic relay race, where the baton is internally coordinated from each of the bodies.

Looking ahead, after AAOIFI “acquires and integrates”, there needs to be discussions for a merger of equals with Malaysia-based Islamic Financial Services Board (IFSB), with a “one stop shop” for standards and prudential regulations.

The chairmen of these industry bodies need to put aside their egos for a bigger cause — to promote and protect Islamic finance under one industry body.

[Rushdi Siddiqui is co-founder and MD of Azka Capital, private equity advisory firm focused on halal industry initiatives. He is also an advisor to Thomson Reuters on Islamic finance and halal industry.]

(Courtesy: Khaleej Times)

Communalism gaining ground in North India

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 12 August 2013 | Posted in , , , , ,

By Syed Ali Mujtaba

There is a series of communal riots of low intensity happening in north India. The latest was in Tonk, Rajasthan, where one person died due to police firing. In Merrut some mischievous elements tried to tease Muslims at evening prayers of Ramazan, playing loud music in front of the mosque leading to communal tension. In Allahabad, event like kite flying by kids vitiated communal atmosphere. In Lucknow communal tension is smearing for long. So are some other cities in north that’s on boil.

All this is a matter of concern of any Indian citizen but the so called national media is soft paddling such news? Even the social media that’s free from any one’s control is too ignoring such news. Even the champions of secularism are maintaining stoking silence on these developments and that’s something really worrisome.

The macro-picture in Uttar Pradesh regarding communal polarization is alarming. The Samajwadi Party's pro-minority politics versus the Bharatiya Janata Party's pro-Hindutva politics versus the Bahujan Samaj Party's pro caste based politics is pulling the state in three directions.

The overt desperation of the Samajwadi Party to keep the Muslims in good humour is evoking sharp reaction from the saffron party. They are evident signs of staging small communal riots for a sharper religious polarization at the grassroots level.
The cow slaughter issue is again being raked up, with slogan like "Na perh katenge, na gaye kategi (neither trees will be cut nor will cows be slaughtered)" being visible at several places. Is it not Hindu communalism at its very best?

The cow slaughter issue was raised up by Hindu right wing elements there during the freedom struggle. It was raised in the 1930’s that pushed some disgruntled Muslims at that time to demand for Pakistan.

The situation has changed now but the issue has not. With such calls being given the helpless puppies are sure to incur the wrath of Hindutva juggernaut and likely to come underneath, with some shedding crocodile tears of feeling hurt.

What is seen is the saffron party’s protests have become louder with Narender Modi’s fortune on an upswing. His henchman Amit Shah, who is in charge of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh is orchestrating the communal polarization. It appears that the new guard has instructed the cadres to maintain a hard line against the Muslims in UP. This is to vitiate the UP politics once again on communal lines so that the BJP gains mileage out of it.

Uttar Pradesh is a communal tinder box that can be blow any time with slightest spark. With 80 Lok Sabha seats at stake, the communal polarization taking place in India’s most populous state is indeed an alarming trend and no one is making a note of it.
In developing communal polarization the way the suspension of Noida SDM Durga Shakti Nagpal by the UP government is projected is again a disturbing development.

While the so called national media projected Ms Nagpal as an upright IAS officer who was trying to take on the powerful sand mafia that incurred the wrath of the political bosses who suspended her to protect the wrong doers, the contrary facts that has come out about this is really startling.

The new facts suggest acts of communalism by the IAS officer that has totally changed the perspective of her suspension. According to UP government, Ms Nagpal went out of the way and presided over the demolition of the boundary wall of a mosque in her administrative area in Noida. The wall of the mosque was reportedly being built on government land that was allegedly demolished by the villagers. The villagers were emboldened as they received protection from Ms Nagpal who was present with a large pose of police force there. It’s only the restrained attitude of the aggrieved Muslims that prevented communal riots.

UP Chief Minister Akilesh Yadav has come out in defence of his suspension orders; "The officers have equal responsibility in maintaining harmony in the state. How could the officers demolish the wall of a mosque during the month of Ramzan?" he asked.

This development has sparked off a big debate in the country and the issue of communalism is once again being brought on the centre stage. While some view that Samajwadi Party wants to send the political message that it has saved another mosque from being demolished, others feels that an upright IAS officer is being haunted and her suspension is arbitrarily.

In building this opinion the role of media is very significant. The media has all along projected Ms Nagpal an upright officer, who is up in arms against corrupt political leaders, without even mentioning the actual cause of suspension. The one sided reporting has left the readers with little choice to make the judgement based on the given facts. However this is contrary to the official reasons of her suspension.

The true colours of so called national media are exposed in the reportage of Ms Nagpal suspension. The media by doing so has not done any service to journalism. It’s sad commentary on our country.

It’s high time that such issues should be put on national radar and the concern raised should be nipped in the bud. Brushing them under that carpet could be convenient way out, but when we relate it with the statement of a political leader that some political parties are planning Hindu- Muslim communal riots in north India before 2014 general elections then alarm bells must ring.

The conspiracy of silence about the communal developments in north India is the most worrisome thing that’s happening at the moment.

[Syed Ali Mujtaba is a Journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@yahoo.com]

United halal-Islamic finance sector to build USD4trn empire

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 10 August 2013 | Posted in , , ,

Rushdi Siddiqui's passion for Islamic finance radiates through his columns, his conference speeches and his relentless pursuit to take the industry to its next level.

Having worked for two of the world's most well-known financial media giants Thomson Reuters and Dow Jones as their chief Islamic finance go-to guy, Rushdi Siddiqui has earned the stripes and experience to forge his own path.

As early as 1998, he introduced the concept of Islamic indices at Dow Jones, and has since pushed the idea of Islamic investing at the governmental level and with many stock exchanges across the Muslim world.

As global head of Islamic Finance and Organization of Islamic Countries at Thomson Reuters , he led the team that established the world's first Islamic equity index, first sukuk index, first Islamic sustainability index, first halal food index, and first Islamic interbank benchmark rate (IIBR).

He also participated in the world's first Islamic Exchange Traded Fund (ETF) in Turkey and France, Malaysia and the US, led the index provider to be the first to have licensed Islamic assets under management of USD 7 billion, and led the team to establish the world's first comprehensive pre-trade, multi-asset Islamic finance platform.

But there is much more work to be done, and Siddiqui has ventured out on his own to launch Azka Capital.

As co-founder and managing director of the private equity advisory firm, he is focused on halal industry initiatives with Islamic financing, which he believes are industries that have much in common, but hardly communicate with each other.

He remains an advisor to Thomson Reuters on Islamic finance, the halal industry and OIC countries.

In an interview with alifarabia.com, Siddiqui outlines his hopes and frustrations for the industry he has helped to nurture.

Q. What was your primary motive to start your own PE advisory firm, Azka Capital, and what are your key areas of focus?

A. In travelling to over 35 Muslim and non-Muslim countries over the span of last 15 years, one sees many challenges on financial inclusion, youth unemployment, access to capital, and so on, i.e., the Arab Spring moment in waiting. The challenges are really disguised opportunities in waiting, so it's really about being able to see it, grab it, and run with it.

I wanted to do something global and impactful with like-minded people for Muslims, but it had to be something 'compliant.' Once in the Islamic finance space for a period a time, like 15 years, the default thinking is 'compliance,' hence, employment in the conventional space was neither an option nor welcomed in that space.

I've worked for great companies like Dow Jones and Thomson Reuters and have learned so much, so it was time to put it all together and possibly start the process of building the next 'Dow or Thomson' with the right people - as chemistry is key to success.
I've always been interested in private equity, but there are not many pure-play compliant PE firms with the dedicated focus for the triple bottom line: returns to investors, society and man on the street. Furthermore, the area of focus had to be about building and growing something linked to the real economy and less financial engineering play.

What's interesting about the Islamic private equity space is the financial ratios we started in with Dow Jones Islamic Market Index (DJIM) in 1999 are used here, hence, come full circle!

In 2011, working with Idealratings, I led a team to launch the world's first Halal Food index, Socially Acceptable Market Investments (SAMI), with the former prime minister of Malaysia, Tun Abduallah Badawi, a people's prime minister! We expanded the conversation about halal, a USD 2.3 trillion industry, into an asset class from just about ingredients, certification, etc.

Halal is not just about meats/foods, but also about pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, logistics, etc., all linked to the real economy, yet very unstructured and fragmented. Combine it with food security, [it becomes] a national security issue in, say, GCC, this is what I will (Insha'allah) return to with my colleagues.

Q. Who is your target market?

A. It comes down to creating risk-adjusted portfolio value for, say, GCC investors who have traditionally invested in real estate, oil/gas, and healthcare. The halal sector is: (1) easy to explain (one has to eat); (2) it's a consumer non-cyclical, hence, its bandwidth of volatility is less than real estate; (3) it's about intra-OIC and inward OIC investing (mandate of the Islamic Development Bank); (4) it's about making consumer investors of halal products into stock investors (eventually), and (5) it's about creating a Muslim 'Fortune 50' company inorganically.

Thus, strategic investors include family offices, high-net-worth individuals, sovereign wealth funds, food companies, Western investors looking for the next BRICS story in the emerging markets, etc.

Q. How different is it to venture out on your own, compared to working with one of the most recognized media companies in the world?

A. There are many lessons learned from Dow Jones and Thomson Reuters , and probably the most important ones are about leadership/vision, motivating, budgeting, brand building/protecting, business development, etc.

Obviously, managing costs is paramount to survival, I have seen first-hand [over the years] 'Islamic start-ups' that have burned their investor money on large salaries, first- class travel, five-star hotel, client entertainment, etc. You must manage investor money as if it's your own, and have to think three times before spending.

Q. Do you think the industry is living up to its potential? What more would you like to see for the industry to flourish?

A. The simple answer is 'no, not yet.' The industry captains have been dropping the 1.8 billion Muslims, but how many are bankable? How many has Islamic finance touched? Today, it seems Islamic finance is only about the bankable. But, the Islamic bank has a fiduciary duty to maximize shareholder value, and does zakat and purification address their CSR [corporate social responsibility] obligations beyond the deposit taking community?

Furthermore, the industry is relying too much on the debt capital market and structured products (less now) for providing solutions and addressing growth. For example, look at the business model or Islamic leverage used by ArCapita, Gulf Finance House, Gulf Investment House, Investment Dar, etc., where are these companies now?

Where is (Islamic) venture capital? Micro-finance? SME financing? These areas (small companies) employ the largest amount of people, contribute the largest percentage of GDP, and are the foundation of knowledge-based economies yet access to risk capital is minimal. For example, I'm involved in an Islamic crowd funding initiative in Egypt called www.shekra.com, and it's a good beginning. Where is the Islamic development bank on crowd funding?

Sukuk and syndicated Murabaha loans are not entrepreneurial capital, the pre-requisite for knowledge-based economy, hence, the equity part of the Islamic capital market is the developmental need of the hour. For example, how has sukuk directly benefitted the man on the street, I have yet to see/hear conversation [about] agricultural sukuk for farmers in, say, the post-Arab Spring North African countries.

The first order of business for the IDB and countries that are true Islamic finance hubs, like Malaysia, is to establish an industry body for the Islamic equity capital market as there is minimal coverage from AAOIFI (Accounting and Auditing Organization for Islamic Financial Institutions) and IFSB (Islamic Finance Services Board).

This would actually establish the foundation for Shariah-based investing, hence, a blue print for the compliant financing side.

Q. You have discussed halal as a key area of focus in many of your columns and work, do you think that is a way for the Islamic finance industry to enter the mainstream, as in business to consumer segment?

A. Yes, period. Prohibition against interest and encouragement of lawful or 'halal' food are mentioned in the same chapter of the Holy Koran, yet, these two' inter-related industries,' amounting to about USD 4 trillion, do not speak to each other.

Halal is about the real economy, much like real estate, hence, it is the heart of Islamic banking: collateral based financing as there are hard assets (factories, warehouses, etc), consumable products (repeat business), and customers (demographics or Muslims). Furthermore, Muslims do not control the halal food supply chain, hence, integrity risks are slowly cropping up in Europe, where pork DNA found in halal food.

Thus, Islamic finance can reduce concentration risk associated with real estate by expanding into a less volatile real economy linked sector: halal.

Q. Do you think Islamic finance has managed to capitalize on the conventional financial sector's weaknesses in the aftermath of the global financial crisis?

A. At one level, the answer is no, as Islamic finance institutions are not cropping up in Europe or US since 2008. However, no new initiatives will be launched during damage control period.

The question that comes to mind is: What is the message the industry needs to convey to Western jurisdictions about Islamic finance?

1. It's beyond prohibition against interest and pork;
2. Its focus should not be about USD 1.3 trillion or USD 1.6 trillion or 15-20% growth per annum or sukuk issuance reached more the USD 100 billion in 2012;
3. It's not about religion (though accountability to a higher authority), but business and financing based upon transparent rules;
4. It's about collateral-based financing within manageable levels of debt;
5. It's about investment returns linked to asset-backed financing with resorting to derivatives to [generate] returns
6. It's about another level of (Shariah) compliance, where the product offering is as advertised/promoted, i.e. no hidden surprises.

The credit crisis, l and ll, flushed an important point: investors had more risk than they thought as the credit rating agencies and regulators were not seeing or refused to see the telltale signs of a bubble about to burst, producing global systemic risk to the financial system.

Q. Dubai has unveiled plans to become a Islamic hub? Bahrain and Malaysia tried to do the same, but both have had mixed results. Do you think Dubai can succeed and what does it need to do to ensure success?

A. Sheikh Mohammad's announcement about positioning Dubai as an Islamic economy, led by Islamic finance and halal, is now taken very seriously because his grand vision and sheer will (plus some leverage) made Dubai a global brand in a short period of time.

For Dubai to become an Islamic hub for, say, sukuk, it needs to establish an enabling infrastructure with the appropriate stakeholders to offer a 'Euro-bond' platform of the 1960s/70s. So, it's not just about benchmark-size sukuk, contract modalities, league tables, etc., but a platform for issuers to bring compliant paper into market efficiently and expeditiously to take advantage of credit pricing.

For the halal industry, Dubai should not attempt to focus on research, academic papers, ingredients, stunning debate, and even certification as these issues are being raised in Malaysia, Brunei, and elsewhere. There is minimal value added in repeating and recycling on Dubai brand, instead focus should be on: Halal as an asset class to address food (cum national) security. The food, agriculture and land bank funds that have been launched have yet to meet expectations for a number of reasons, from political sensitivities to not understanding food supply chain and entry wedge with appropriate investment vehicle.

[Also,] building a global 'go-to' information platform on USD 2.3 trillion halal industry, much like what we did at Thomson Reuters with the Islamic Finance Gateway (IFG). Today, as the world is hyper-connected and quality information starved, access to credible and continuously updated information is key to surviving (including against fraud in halal sector) and eventually thriving. This actually builds the foundation for a transaction portal, B2B2C2G, for halal, much like Alibaba.com.

Today, Dubai does not house an industry body for Islamic finance, as AAOIFI, IIFM, IIRA and CIBAFI are in Bahrain and IFSB is in Malaysia. The time is ripe and right for Dubai to house the world's first industry body for the USD 2.3 trillion halal industry and modeled after Islamic finance bodies but with the Dubai flair! This is something we, at Azka, have started to map out.

I believe enough time has been spent on thinking about Islamic economy (in the ivory tower by academics), it's now time to bring it to the ground level and execute by stakeholders of practitioners.

Q. There is still skepticism about IF even in Islamic countries. What can the industry do to change it?

A. Islamic finance must address the 'what's the difference (to conventional finance)' question. For example, many Muslims do not understand why there has to be sale/purchase of, say, copper to buy a house/car in a compliant-manner. Thus, if they don't understand it, they will not participate.

Second, Islamic finance needs to have the courage to deploy the mountain of liquidity we hear about towards risk capital in selected Muslim countries. Thus, as a trial balloon it will 'win over' the hearts and minds and lead conventional finance.

Finally, Islamic finance must fit in, but, more importantly, stand out as a value-added proposition to challenges of Muslims and those with aligned values. It's not just about compliant-financing for financing sake, but development finance, holistic consumer approach, CSR (beyond zakat), etc.

Q. Which area (sub-sector or country) of Islamic finance do you think is most promising?

A. The most promising area is the most undeveloped area: Islamic equity capital market (iECM). Today, Islamic finance is heavily debt bias, led by the sukuk poster child, and as one can be conventionally over-leveraged, one can be Islamically over-leveraged. There is no 'divine put,' hence, defaults and bankruptcies exist in Islamic finance.

The development of the iECM will bring balance to today's Shariah-complaint (debt bias) Islamic finance. It will move the industry towards Shariah-based finance, and financial inclusion of the under-banked and non-bankable. It's the equity capital markets that develop countries and diversify economies, and raise the standard of living.

For example, look at the assets under management (AUM) to bank deposit ratio or stock market capitalization to GDP ratio, and one will see G20 non-Muslim countries having higher ratios (for both) than Muslim countries. Thus, Islamic finance, at one level, captures the depositor money play, but it does not get circulated beyond real estate.

(Courtesy: AlifArabia.com)

GUEST EDITORIAL: Batla House Verdict a Slap on the Face of Patriotic Muslims

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 02 August 2013 | Posted in , , , , , , ,

By Kaleem Kawaja

The judgement of a New Delhi court convicting Mohammad Shahzad as a terrorist and branding him and his two friends who were killed in the police-staged false encounter, is one more travesty of injustice. The court judgement totally disregarded the evidence and the facts and instead pasted the pre-conceived police allegation that the few Muslim young men living in the alaprtment were planning a terrorist attack.

How could Shahzad have escaped from an apartment on the sixth floor of a building which had no exit other than the front door that was guarded by several heavily armed policemen? Was Shazad a bird who flew out of the apartment at such a height in the building that had no escape route? The false allegations of the police, prosecutor and their acceptance by the the judge boggles common sense.

By its bizarre judgement the said New Delhi court seem to confirm the slandering and stereotyping of the North Indian Muslim youth, especially the youth of Azamgarh. The U.P. police unable to solve a string of terrorist attacks in the last few years have found it convenient to paste the terrorist label on the Muslim youth from Azamgarh.

The harassing of Muslim youth from UP, Maharashtra and Hyderabad under the label of being sympathetic to terrorists is a flagrant violation of the fundamental rights of these patriotic citizens of the nation. Police brutality against Muslim youth has taken a much more viscous turn in the last five years. In fact today it is the number one issue in the democratic and secular Indian nation that many Indian human rights organizations are focusing on.

The Muslim citizens of the nation should launch a campaign against this awful and unjust harassment of the youth by the brutal police.
Citizens' lobbies should appeal against the New Delhi court judgement and fight all the way to the Supreme Court to get this judgement overturned and Shahzad freed from jail and the good name of Muslim youth reinstated.

[Kaleem Kawaja is a community activist based at Washington DC. He can be contacted at kaleemkawaja@gmail.com]

Is it feasible for Indian Muslims to have a separate political identity?

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 28 July 2013 | Posted in , , , , , ,

By Kaleem Kawaja

Recently, Asad Owaisi and Majlis Ittihad Muslimeen (MIM) gave a call to Indian Muslims to develop their separate political identity. Let us examine if this is feasible. Indeed Asad Owaisi and MIM seem to be trying the same strategy as the erstwhile Muslim League did in the Pakistan movement in the 1940s.

We know that in 1947 when the rulers were British (not Hindus) this policy ran into very rough weather. At that time Muslims were one-third of India and had definite population majorities in the West and East (what became Pakistan) and the British were keen to leave India in the aftermath of WWII. Also Muslims' strength in the economy and military was very substantial.

Still, with the threat of sectarian civil war, which if it happened, Muslims could hurt Hindus some, the land that Pakistan received was, "a moth eaten Pakistan". Both Punjab and Bengal that should have gone entirely to Pakistan, using the British criteria for partition based on population majority, did not. Both states were partitioned and India was given about a quarter of the land from both states. Kashmir that should have gone to Pakistan using the same criteria, was simply denied to Pakistan in violation of the criteria.

So today with Muslims spread thinly in the country and only a few pockets of concentration, where is the feasibility of Muslims forming a religion based political identity? Such identity is immidiately perceived as separatist. In socio-economic and educational terms Muslims are at the very bottom of Indian society. Even the erstwhile Dalits are moving ahead of them.

And remember that today BJP and its influence in Hindu society (including in Congress party and other secular parties) is loud and clear and is there to stay. Scratch the surface and it comes out. If Indian Muslims build a religion based political identity that will give instantaneous prominence to BJP's Hindu Rashtra claim, with a lot of Congress Hindus embracing it quickly. In that environment it will not take much for the constitution of India to be revised to drop the creed of secularism. And the game will be over before half time. BJP had already attempted this during their sojourn as the government at the Center, ten years ago.

In contrast the two significant Muslim controlled paries (AIUDF and IUML) have downplayed Muslim political identity per se and have instead embraced all minorities and depressed segments of society including Dalits, and are able to gain some justice and opportunities for Muslims in the name of the hallowed secular constitution of India. IUML despite its name is distinctly non-religious.

There are a significant number of Muslims in India who support the Owaisi/MIM type unrealistic thinking. In my opinion these are remnants of the etstwhile Muslim League supporters in North India and Razakar supporters in Andhra Pradesh, who could not migrate to Pakistan in 1947. But the Muslim League flame and dream is still there in their consciousness and comes to surface from time to time.

But today the facts of India are very different. Babri Mosque was demolished 20 years ago with much oppression of the Muslims; have we gotten any justice? Gujarat genocide of Muslims occurred 10 years ago; have we gotten any justice? The horrendous Bombay communal riots happened 20 years ago; have we received any justice? Batla House false encounter and oppression of many Muslim youth from Azamgarh occurred five years ago and is continuing; have we received any justice? Sachar Committee report on gross Muslim deprivations was released six years ago; have we received any justice? All we have received in 65 years is a few bread crumbs thrown at us and we have been told to keep quiet.

Ignoring the facts of the many deep weaknesses of the Muslim community in India in terms of the thinly spread population demographics, economy, education, armed services etc, a some Muslims fantacise that Muslim India can show its muscle to Hindu India. Or that Indian Muslims can separate their community's image from a composite Indian image into a separate Muslim supremacist image. This is a dangerous and damaging fantasy for 150 million Muslims of India who live surrounded by 750 million Hindus.

That is what we saw in Akbar Owaisi's inflammatory speech in Nirmal, Andhra Pradesh in 2012. That is what we saw in the manmoth Muslim rally in Azad Maidan, Mumbai laced with vilence for Rohingya Muslims in 2012. That is what we see often in rallies in Kashmir. It is time for the Indian Muslims to be realistic about the situation in the country, form alliances with the many secular Hindus and use our vote power in tactical voting, and there is a possibility that we can receive justice and with hard work improve our socio-economic situation and live in dignity.

[Kaleem Kawaja is a community activist based at Washington DC. He can be contacted at kaleemkawaja@gmail.com]

Modi remarks: Dr. Sen has spoken like a true statesman

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

By Mike Ghouse

It was exciting to read a part of the interview of Dr. Sen about 10:30 PM tonight, Friday the 26th of July 2013. The rest of the interview will be published by Times of India on Sunday.

Most people appreciate when some one speaks out against the atrocities of the majorities, powerful dictators, monarchs and bullies. The politically motivated Hindu, Muslim and Christian men and women in particular appreciate it, if it favors them.

My Hindus friends have rejoiced every time I have routinely stood up for them, but won't appreciate if a Hindu Dr. Amartya Sen does the same.

Let me assure you this, the good people outnumber all others 95:5, eventually some one or the other from the majority, be it in India, America, Bolivia or South Africa, and even from Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Christians and Buddhist speaks up for the rights of the deprived, disadvantaged, women, minorities and the weak. God of all creation makes sure his creation has boundaries and has enough peace makers to prevent the world from total annihilation. Bhagvad Gita is clear, "Whenever there is adharma, God will bring about some one to restore Dharma" and Quran beefs it up, "To every tribe, every community and every nation God sends his peace makers to keep peace."

Indeed the work of all religious masters and great statesmen was to build cohesive societies, where no one has to live in apprehension or fear of the other. India is going through big controversy now about the kind of leadership it wants. Nobel Laureate Dr. Amratya Sen is under attack. Narendra Modi is the contentious Chief Minister (Like Governor) of Gujarat in India.

Dr. Sen has spoken like a true statesman, an India that belongs to all Indians, I found the expressions of a similar language in my writings. Indeed whether it was Zarthustra, Moses, Krishna, Buddha and the others - the message was same - how to live without fear of the other.

The more people speak up, the better the world would be. So, please do your part.

This morning I defended Dr. Sen’s action with a few friends (appended below) and now, when I read the partial interview, it caused me to go searching on my blog of the similar thoughts I have struggled with.

Dr. Amartya Sen with Mike Ghouse
I have consistently advocated that the peace is the responsibility of the majority; indeed, the civility of a nation is determined by how it treats its women, children, disadvantage, the weak and the minorities. It is in the interest of the nation, particularly the responsible men and women from the political, civic or religious majorities to speak up. It is in everyone's interest for every one to walk well together and not limp.Two of the statements, I wrote resonate with Dr. Amartya Sen’s words

On March 15, 2013, a press release was sent and was published in Bangladeshi News papers and at www.WorldMuslimCongress.com, this was also a part of my speech at Bangladesh Human rights organization in Dallas.

“The success of a nation depends when her citizens feel secure; in this case, it is the duty of the state to ensure the safety of Hindus, Buddhist, Shia, Ahmadiyya, Christian and other minorities.

It is also the obligation of the Bangladeshi majority to continue to speak up against the brutal treatment of fellow Bangladeshis who are Hindu. Indeed, the safety of a community is the responsibility of the majority.”

The Daily Times of Pakistan published my piece on Imran Khan, and I wrote, “Humanity in general and Muslims in particular are guided to stand up for justice. Only the civility of majority can change things. Minorities do not have a voice in Pakistan and they live on with apprehensions. The Hindu parents worry when their daughter will be abducted and forced to convert or when the Ahmadiyya girl student will be kicked out of school or their graves are desecrated, Shias ordered out of the bus and shot point blank and Christians will be framed with blasphemy charges. Societies are judged by how they treat their minorities, women and children. Good Pakistanis are letting bad things happen in their names.”

A note came from a friend, “What irked me was his (Dr. Sen) comment on Modi not doing enough for the minorities.” And, “Sen does not address those issue but more interested in bad mouthing Modi on minority issues because it is a very popular and sophisticated issue.”

My response was, “I must add that collectively different Indians have to speak on different topics - including far and against to bring different angles to the fore - Dr. Sen has picked one that he probably feels has not been given enough attention. Each one of us has to focus on many strands of democracy.”

Glad to see a positive response about democracy from my friend later.

If there were to be an apology, the apology is owed to the families of people who were burnt alive in the train, families of the people who were raped, families of children who were burnt alive on every street corner, family of the MP who was tortured to death, and all the families who were uprooted for improper management of the law and order in the state. And that apology must come from the Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

[Mike Ghouse is a frequent guest at the TV, radio and print media offering pluralistic solutions on issues of the day. He is associated with IndianMuslimObserver.com as Foreign Editor. He can be contacted at MikeGhouse@aol.com]

Ramblings on Batla House Fake Encounter Judgement

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

By Syed Ali Mujtaba

The judgement on the controversial Batla House encounter in New Delhi in 2008 raises some fundamental questions. The judge has convicted one person who is claimed to have fled from the L-18 flat in Batla House area. If the hon'ble judge had visited the building he could have found that the building has only one exit which was manned by police and there was no possibility to escape by jumping. In such case the accused either had to be caught or had to be shot. The escape theory put up by the police does not hold any ground.

The judge should have taken the cops and may have asked them to escape before believing them. Unfortunately, it did not happen, and the judgement was based on what was told by the police. It’s really a travesty of justice.

The second point in this case that requires consideration is that the input to do the Batla House encounter came from the same infamous IB special director Ravider Kumar who has provided the fake inputs that were used for 17 fake encounters in Gujarat and that are now being probed.

If the judge could have considered probing the source of the encounter and had related them to the on-going probe the judgement may have been different.

Interestingly Mr Chidambram who was the home minister at that time has found the encounter as genuine. He says that he has gone through the sequence of events and has probed into the matter and those killed were terrorists and the one who “fled” their accomplice.

The popular theory is that those believed to be the terrorists were actually students who had come for admission in Jamia College. It was wrong information on which police swooped on them and killed them in clod blooded manner. They had no weapons to retaliate and it was fabricated by the police after the encounter. The police officer killed in the encounter may have been due to cross firing by the police weapons or he may have been shot by his colleague to settle some old rivalry.

In the aftermath of the Batla house judgement, I am reminded of the words of the death convict Dhananjoy Chatterjee who was hanged on August 14, 2004 at Alipore Jail in Calcutta for rape and murder of the 14-year-old, while working as security guard in that building. While being taken to the gallows Dhananjoy told the hangman that he has not committed the crime. This was the biggest travesty of justice in recent times.

The most recent one was hanging of Afzal Guru that’s still fresh in our memories. Afzal in an interview had said that he has not committed the crime and the entire charges against him are fabricated. He was a fruit seller who was picked up from Srinagar for hatching conspiracy to attack Indian parliament. He was convicted to death but his hanging was differed for some reasons. The Congress in order to save its skin from the BJP’s attack to punish the perpetrators of Parliament attackers finally decided to execute Afzal Guru.

It’s a very sad commentary on the developments in India and the only way a common man can express his feeling is to take recourse to some poetic lines and in this case it could be very aptly summed up as ; banna ke bhes faqiron kab, tamasha e alhe kram dekte hain….

[Syed Ali Mujtaba is a Journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@yahoo.com]

‘Aman Chaupal’ forges Friendship between India and Pakistan

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 27 July 2013 | Posted in , , ,

By Syed Ali Mujtaba

In a rare gesture towards mending India Pakistan ties, a new peace initiative called Aman Chaupal was organized in New Delhi with the aim to enhance people-to-people contact between the two countries.

Imitating the traditional South Asian village life style, where folks sit together in a common place called Chaupal and discuss issues facing them, in Aman Chaupal, people from India or Pakistan share their experiences with common citizens.

'Aman Chaupal' is an initiative by India-based organization Mission Bhartiyam that works to create unwavering bonds of peace and friendship between India and Pakistan and call it of Aaghaz-e-Dosti or beginning of friendship.

The first Aman Chaupal was organized in July 2013 at Columbia Foundation Sr Sec School, Vikaspuri, New Delhi and was attended by 6th to 12th class students.

It was addressed by Ms Saeeda Diep, a renowned Peace activist and Chairperson of Institute of Peace & Secular Studies (IPSS), Lahore, Pakistan.

Like in our traditional Chaupals, this too had an interactive session meant to address the concerns of the Indian students about Pakistan and clear their misperceptions and arouses curiosity among them about the much hated neighbouring country.

The interaction was entirely in Hindiustani as according to Ms Saeeda, speaking in English would be very "artificial" and the essence of communication will be lost in the process. She gave the example of words such as ‘Beta’ which in Hindustani means my loving child, could best be described as ‘my dear’ in English, that tweaks of its affection.

In her address Ms Saeeda Diep talked about the general stereotypes and misconceptions that the people in India have about Pakistan and Pakistanis. In fact, she listed them out and said that a few more can be added to such hyperbole.

The peace activist tried to describe about the other side of Pakistan that the common Indians do not know because of lack of communication. She blamed the "hawkish" media that’s biased towards Pakistan and is one of the reasons behind Indians having the negative image of Pakistan.

The session was entirely devoted to a question-answer format wherein Ms Saeeda answered students' questions with great affection and aplomb.

Question -Ma'm, Do Hindus live in Pakistan? Asked a student

Answer - Yes Beta, there are Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and people of other religions living in Pakistan.

Question - What do people from Pakistan think about us, was another question.

Answer - Pakistanis know about your country and culture much better then you know about Pakistan because they have access to Indian TV channels. Unfortunately, no Pakistani channels are permitted in India, so Indians only know what the Indian media portray to them about Pakistan. Indian newspapers and TV channels do not truly portray Pakistan, she felt.

During the interaction, several other questions were posed to Ms Saeeda, some of them related to political issues and controversies surrounding Pakistan and she gave a very candid reply to all of them.

The Principal of Columbia Foundation Sr Sec School, Ms. Deepshika Dandu shared her personal experiences with Pakistanis during her stay in a foreign country.

She remarked that, "In a foreign nation, Indians and Pakistanis often form a transnational community bounded by a shared culture, language and experience."

The students had quite a learning experience through Aman Chaupal initiative and many of them were pleased about the knowledge they acquired about Pakistan from this interactive session.

‘My entire perception has changed after this interaction; I only had negative perception about Pakistan, now I feel there is more in common then simply hating Pakistan’, said Sandeep Singh Pramar, a class eight student of the Columbia Foundation Sr Sec School, New Delhi.

This programme was co-ordinated by Mission Bhartiyam’s initiative Aaghaz-e-Dosti team that consists of Ravi Nitesh, Devika Mittal and V Arun Kumar. Ms. Meenu, the coordinator from the Columbia Foundation Sr Sec School, helped organizing this program.

The organizers of Aman Chaupal plan to have similar programes organized in several other schools in India as well as in Pakistan.

At a time when political agenda is ruling the roost and the so called national media is poisoning the social relationship, it’s high time the hate mongers free run should be checked by initiatives such as Aman Chaupal.

This is more so because recently events such as the killing of Srabajit Singh in Pakistan and Sanaullah in India, has soured the Indian- Pakistan relationship to all time low.

The event such as Aman Chaupal tries to build bridges of peace and friendship between the two countries. It essentially tries to preach that India and Pakistan has more things in common than the much hyped incorrigible differences.

In such initiatives like this and others effort is made to highlight the similarities between the two countries. These similarities are based on common language values, mores and norms that have longer history then the differences that are essentially of recent origin and politically motivated.

In such context it is important that common Indians should know what the people from the other side of the border think about them.

Similarly, the messengers of peace from India should go to Pakistan to dispel their misconceptions and spread the message of peace and friendship. The message should be that India and Pakistan are not two nations but essentially one country.

Aman Chaupal is one such initiative to mend the disturbed relationship and the need is to have many more events such as these being organized in the two countries at regular intervals.

Peace and harmony in South Asia can only be built when India and Pakistan, shun their differences and embark on the process of cooperation for the betterment of the people living in this part of the world.

Sooner this wisdom downs upon the leadership of these two countries, the place where we live now would be much better habitat for dwelling.

[Syed Ali Mujtaba is a Journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@yahoo.com]

It’s Ramadan: Do not disturb the faster?

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

By Rushdi Siddiqui

“Don’t let this Ramadan be just a holiday of rituals. Don’t finish reading the Quran without it transforming you. Don’t feed your body at Suhoor, but starve your heart of Qiyam.

“Don’t reduce this downpour of mercy to just a month of sweets and lavish Ifthars. Seek him, you will find. Take a sincere step towards change, transformation, redemption.

“If you do, you will find Him in front of you. Find Him this month. He’s been there all along. Closer than your jugular vein. Look and you will find. Walk and you will arrive.”—Y. Mogahed.

There are many tell-tale signs Ramadan is approaching; from Ramadan sales, Ramadan tents (Ifthar), Ramadan deferment of consumer payment (on say, mortgage) and so on. But one sign stands out for me, it has to do with a “code of conduct” for non-Muslims residing in a Muslim country.

The code for non-Muslims includes abstaining from eating or displays of affection in public, playing loud music, etc. during the fasting hours. Is this cultural (Muslims), religious (Islam) or a combination?

This “do not disturb” sign seems to work even though it leaves a “strange” taste (of entitlement) in one’s mouth (no pun intended).

Muslims in West

I, like tens of millions of Muslims, live in a non-Muslim secular country, the USA, and, during Ramadan, the dynamics are different in a Western country. There is no additional “code of conduct”, beyond obeying the laws of the land.

For example, in the US, the media, usually local stations, will show a programme/documentary about fasting and interview local Muslims/Imams about the holy month, what it means, and the rituals associated with it.

It will be rare for the same media to suggest a code of conduct for their non-Muslim viewers towards Muslims during Ramadan, as the backlash would be immense. Furthermore, we, Muslims in the West, would not raise the issue of expected behaviour from our non-Muslim friends/colleagues, unless they ask, and, even then with hesitation.

White House, work & commute

The US President, Barack Hussain Obama, like his predecessors generally issues a Ramadan greeting message, and there is an Ifthar with (selected) invited members of the community (usually donors) at the White House. The President also sends similar messages of congratulations, hope, and peace during Christmas, Easter, Jewish holidays, etc.

Our employer may acknowledge Ramadan, and may even accommodate work hours, allow for leaving early (for breaking fast) but offsetting by arriving early.

But, at work, colleagues will still eat food, including ham sandwiches, at their desks, the smell from the microwave in the pantry will still waft through nearby, the usual wise cracks and colourful language will still be used, etc. In other words, it is business as usual. Is this offending our sensibilities? No, not all!

(It’s not a respect or disrespect issue towards the Muslims or any other faiths, as many of these people are God-fearing Sunday church goers. Thus, as a whole, religion is an individual matter in the US. But, as a country, reference to God is inscribed into the dollar bill with the following motto, “In God, We Trust.”)

The commute to work, as many of us take the train and subways, means interacting with many non-Muslims.

(The television advertisement, in Malaysia, for train passengers shows proper etiquette during Ramadan. Query:Why not the rest of the year?)

The non-Muslim commuters will carry out their business as usual, hence, there will be some “rude” people using colourful language, people eating on the run (includes drinking beer), music playing, and so on. Again, does this offend our sensibilities? No, of course not.

Thus, such an environment tests a Muslim’s willpower and forces us to focus on both the “Deen” (spirituality) and “Donia” (secular) during the fasting month. It’s about addressing a test and overcoming an inner struggle, which strengthens our resolve.

This has played itself out for decades for Muslims residing in the West, and, it is now actually easier as Muslim “holidays” have been officially recognised due to the increasing numbers (votes) and donations.

Stronger Muslims?

Does this mean Muslims residing in the West are “stronger or more resilient” in their faith or less prone to distraction than Muslims living in a Muslim country with the “do not disturb” environment backed by possible official admonishment or fines for a violator?

It has more do with managing expectations in the place we grow up and where we reside. It may also be a psychological issue, where some Muslims in a Muslim majority country feel a sense of entitlement, hence, non-Muslims must “shadow fast” by also abstaining from certain behaviour in public.

(I’ve walked the malls, including the restaurants and food courts, be it KLCC or Pavilion or Mid-Valley, during fasting hours, and the non-Muslims are going about their business and intentions as they would any other month.)

I have been coming to Malaysia for 15 years, and this year I was fortunate enough to start fasting in this beautiful Muslim country. The embrace and ambience is different from New York, as the spirit of Ramadan is everywhere and, for me, the fast is easier and more spiritual in Malaysia, especially with the hospitality of a colleague’s home and family.

Thus, non-Muslims eating, drinking, etc., in front of me are not a distraction to my fast. In fact, it’s a great opportunity to discuss Islam to eradicate myths they have. It’s an opportunity to show peace and tolerance of Islam.

I would hope the Malaysian Tourism Minister, working with the re-vamped Malaysia Airlines, will embark on a campaign for Ramadan 2014, as part of faith-based or family tourism, in Malaysia for Muslims living in the US. It will be in the summer holidays in the US.

Code of conduct

A proposed code of conduct during Ramadan may include:

1. The price of food goes up during Ramadan so the government has to remind or take stern action against those who violate the law, especially if the establishments are Muslim owned.

2. There are many announcements made in Islamic finance during Ramadan for obvious reasons. For example, some Islamic banks offering Islamic mortgages offer the opportunity to defer payment during the fasting month and add it to the end of the mortgage period. Is this smoke and mirrors or easing the financial burden during Ramadan? Why not, as part of CSR, write off Ramadan months and ask the government for a tax break?

3. The hotels that offer Ifthar, while welcomed, should tier price the Ifthar, much like air-travel with coach, business class and first class. Thus, those families that cannot afford RM120 per person, may be able to afford, say, RM20 per person.

4. Many of us who are fortunate enough to have Ifthar at hotels, see first-hand how much food is wasted by the paying customer, including ourselves. The hunger pang, cotton dry mouth fasting person loads up his/her dish at the buffet as if it’s his/her last meal, but cannot finish the meal as the stomach has shrunk. There should be a financial penalty for such waste; maybe weigh the unfinished food and charge a few ringgit per ounce and give all proceeds to charities fighting hunger.

5. There should be a healthy Ifthar campaign, hence the government should encourage, at subsidized prices, co-operating and enlightened hotels/restaurants. It could possibly start a habit of eating healthy, which could slowly solve the problem with obesity related health issues in Malaysia.


During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims observe the third pillar of Islam, fasting, and non-Muslims should not be compelled to “shadow fast.”

Ramadan Kareem Malaysia.

(Courtesy: TheMalayMailOnline.com)

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