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Return To The Silk Road

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 28 June 2011 | Posted in , , , ,

By Dan Levin

China is reclaiming its place as the world's megabazaar, with the city of Yiwu as its one-stop shop for traders from the Muslim world.

The megamall is bustling with shoppers at noon when two Pakistani men -- dark-skinned with black beards, wearing white skullcaps and the traditional salwar kameez of the subcontinent -- drop their bags near a third-floor sporting-goods shop. They remove their leather sandals, place their safari vests on the floor, and prostrate themselves toward Mecca, thousands of miles away.

"Allahu Akbar," they murmur. "Ashadu an la ilaha ill Allah ..."

The devout Pakistanis are facing west, not east. In fact, they're in the Far East -- in Yiwu, a boomtown of 2.2 million in China's Zhejiang Province, 200 miles southwest of Shanghai.

Hanging from skylights above them are two banners emblazoned with propaganda meant to inspire the masses: FACE THE WORLD, SERVE THE COUNTRY AND ASSEMBLE COMMODITIES FAR AND NEAR, MAKE FRIENDS AT HOME AND ABROAD.

Their ad-hoc prayer hall is Yiwu's International Trade Mart. In the summer of 1982, just as China was opening to capitalism, the local government allocated land on the rural town's outskirts for an open-air market. What began as a cluster of street vendors has transmogrified into the Trade Mart, the world's largest small-commodities market: a chain of warehouses that opened in 2002 and now spans more than 988 acres -- large enough to fit 10 Malls of America.

If China is the world's factory, then Yiwu is its showroom. Balloons made in Guangzhou, teacups fired in Jingdezhen, and slippers sewn in Pinghu -- they're all on display in Yiwu, so traders can browse and haggle without having to schlep across the country to scope out different factories. Yiwu has made commerce convenient, particularly for Muslim buyers from the Middle East and beyond.

The entrance of the vast Trade Mart is designed to impress. Near the main doors, set amid a glass cube, a towering sign gives a vague sense of what lies within. District No. 1 sells fake flowers, jewelry, and crafts. Luggage, clocks, small appliances, and rain gear are in district No. 2. Need stationery, sports equipment, or zippers? Head to No. 3. District No. 4 holds bras, knitted belts, and yarn. But that's not nearly all.

Imagine a fortress converted into a convention center turned into a bazaar, with fewer windows. Inside, past a fleet of ATMs and up the escalator, are 62,000 stalls selling some 410,000 products. The buzz of fluorescent lights is drowned out by the noise of thousands of conversations in Mandarin, Arabic, Swahili, Spanish, Hindi, Russian, Farsi, English, and the local Yiwu dialect. Tweezers, sink faucets, power strips, coffee mugs, and hammers fill row after row of booths, each about the size of a prison cell. Suits of armor are on the top floor, next to patio furniture and artificial fireplaces. Toys are below. In the footbridges that link the districts, entrepreneurs have set up banks of pleather massage chairs. Vending machines spit out shrink-wrapped dress shirts for those needing a quick wardrobe change.

Upstairs, night-lights glow in the form of gingerbread houses. There are clown wigs, solar panels, vases, and razors. Trademark infringement abounds: Display cases are lined with fake iPhones, racks of knockoff Gucci purses, and piles of Polo suitcases. SpongeBob dolls droop beside enough Toy Story cowboys to make Disney executives cry. Glow sticks are tucked near a stairwell that leads up to a hall filled with religious kitsch: Jesus bobblehead dolls, paintings of the Dalai Lama, crucifixes, and Santa Claus lamps. The array of products aimed at Muslim consumers appeals to the pious and the heretic. Stalls sell hijabs, prayer rugs, electronic Korans, Mecca devotional paintings, and fake virginity kits, which leak red liquid when ripped.

Traders place wholesale orders after viewing these goods on display at the Trade Mart. Most of the merchandise is destined for shelves in developing countries where quality standards are lower than in more sophisticated North American and European markets. But while traders come in search of bargains, their bulk business has made Yiwu rich: In 2010, the developing world accounted for more than half of the city's $2.86 billion in exports, an increase of 34% from 2009. Last year, China surpassed the U.S. as the No. 1 exporter to the Middle East and was the region's biggest buyer of oil, importing more than one-tenth of the Gulf states' crude, as well as 23% of Iran's.

As both seller and buyer to the Middle East, China's influence is being felt by everyone from sheiks to bakers. "China has made it affordable for the average Arab household to buy once-expensive consumer goods," says Ben Simpfendorfer, author of The New Silk Road: How a Rising Arab World Is Turning Away From the West and Rediscovering China. The impact of this trade is not on policy makers' radar, but it should be, he says. "The global economy isn't driven only by big-ticket deals, such as billion-dollar Boeing sales negotiated between a handful of senior executives. The individual traders and small-time entrepreneurs in the emerging economies are equally important."

According to local lore, Yemeni merchants discovered Yiwu a decade ago and returned to the Gulf laden with cheap goods and tales of quick deals, which soon spread across the Arab world and beyond. Today, 200,000 Middle Eastern traders make the trek to Yiwu every year, along with Pakistanis, Indonesians, and Malaysians. Chinese Muslims have, in turn, settled in this city to work as translators and middlemen, sharing prayer rugs and profits in a modern reenactment of the Silk Road, but with cell phones instead of camels.

Yiwu is a city of no historical significance and even less glamour. Lonely Planet ignores it entirely. The millions of people from across the globe who descend here each year are not tourists looking for ancient palaces. Since its opening, the Trade Mart has expanded three times, and the influx of Middle Eastern traders has been a major factor in the city's growth. After China was admitted to the World Trade Organization, in 2001, droves of Arabs, Iranians, and Pakistanis descended on Yiwu in the years that followed, drawn to the one-stop shop established by the local government. Hundreds of Middle Eastern trading companies put down stakes, and Chinese factories flocked to the megamall where they could rent space to showcase their wares. "Even as the Mideast's demand started to surge, especially after the post-2004 surge in oil prices, Arabs found it very difficult to visit the West. It helped that China both relaxed visa restrictions and started selling goods at a much cheaper price than either Europe or the U.S.," says Simpfendorfer.

Yiwu's success in many ways symbolizes China's rise from a centrally planned economy to the capitalist superpower that replaced the United States this year as the world's top manufacturer. The Chinese government, intimately involved in every aspect of the city's commercial landscape, is so proud of Yiwu's lucrative plan that it is even exporting the Trade Mart model. In January, construction began in Bangkok on a replica of the Yiwu market, called the China City Complex, to house 70,000 Chinese tenants selling China-made goods.

Yiwu's megamall does have its detractors. In March, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative included the Trade Mart on its list of "notorious markets" for rampant copyright infringement. A USTR official noted that it is known "in industry circles for counterfeits of all types."

Despite the fakes, the city has become a magnet for merchants like Mohammad Mahmoud, a toy salesman who fled Baghdad for Dubai in 2005, when he could no longer escape the chaos of the Iraq war. First his brother was kidnapped. His wife's cousins were next. Mahmoud paid a hefty ransom, but their corpses were found in the street, shot in the head execution-style.

Iraq is not as violent these days, so Mahmoud makes trips back a few times a year to sell toys. He used to order his China-made goods from Dubai, but Yiwu now is his preferred source because he gets better deals there. "Iraqis just want cheap, not quality, and I need to make a profit," he says one afternoon at the Trade Market, his orange sacks stuffed with dolls, knockoff Lego sets, and water guns. "Every year Yiwu is getting bigger, and the Chinese understand what we do. Arabs can do business here, no problem."

The influx of Yiwu-bound traders from the Arab world has lured thousands of non-Muslim-Chinese entrepreneurs, hungry to cash in on this growing niche market, to work as translators, middlemen, and suppliers of the traditional goods which make up Muslim daily life.

Jiang Feng, a 25-year-old from Huzhou, a city three hours north, went his whole childhood without meeting a Middle Easterner; now the faraway region is a cornerstone of his business. When Jiang was a teenager, Middle Eastern traders began coming to his city with samples of kaffiyehs, looking for locals to manufacture the traditional scarves, so his family started a kaffiyeh factory in their home. Last October, Jiang opened a store in Yiwu, hoping to be closer to the action. The shop is a veritable Arab haberdashery. Delicate cotton kaffiyehs are draped neatly in rows along the walls. Flowing white thawb robes, ubiquitous in the Persian Gulf, hang from racks next to khaki jallabiyas preferred by the men of North Africa. Religion is not something he has in common with his buyers, but Jiang understands the need to get the designs right. "Our customers' faith and what they wear are very connected, so we can't make mistakes," he says.

The impact of the Middle East trade registers across Yiwu; you can see it all over the streets of this New Silk Road outpost. In the Maida neighborhood, down the street from the Trade Mart, a Muslim enclave has taken root. Hookah cafés line the sidewalks, where Uighurs -- a Turkic race of Muslims from China's Xinjiang region in the far northwest -- fire up mutton kebabs and vats of golden pilaf. The Arab Street is here in the flesh: Egyptians, Algerians, Iraqis, Saudis, Yemenis, and Syrians. They cut hair, replace shisha coals, and run Arabic language schools.

One night, the Taj Mahal restaurant is overflowing with boisterous Pakistanis in salwar kameez watching the Cricket World Cup. Next door, tables of mustachioed Arabs sit quietly, intent on their backgammon boards. Al Jazeera blares. The air is fragrant with the smoke of mutton and apple-shisha tobacco.

Hesham Wahdain, a 26-year-old Yemenite, mans the counter at an electronics shop across the street. IPhones (fake and real), Muslim prayer clocks, and audio Korans fill the shelves. Last year, Wahdain left his hometown of Hadramut after he was laid off by a cement company. With Yemen's unemployment at 35%, he had no reason to stay. "I went to university for computer science and now I sell phones," he says. For now, Wahdain is content to stay in China. But it pains him that his homeland is unwilling or incapable of copying the China miracle. "We don't even make pens in Yemen. How can we make Koran alarm clocks?"

No place in the city embodies the growth and influence of the Muslim populace in Yiwu more than the local mosque. "We've had to move three times because we keep running out of room," says the imam, Ma Chunzhen, a 36-year-old from Xinjiang who speaks fluent Arabic. When Ma became the local imam 10 years ago, around 60 Pakistani and Arab traders would gather on Fridays in a hotel conference room to pray. Since then, the number of weekly worshippers has grown to 7,000 -- 60% of them foreigners -- filling a massive, new structure graced by marble columns. A two-story building with ablution fountains looms in back. The complex's funds, Ma says, came entirely from private donors.

Ma is tall with thick hair that he covers with a black fez during the week and a white head scarf on Fridays. He tells foreigners to call him Mohammed. As both an official appointed by the Chinese government and the community's spiritual leader, Ma has duties that go beyond the religious. Over the years, he has explained the intricacies of Chinese tax laws to panicked importers and gained wide respect as a mediator in disputes between traders and suppliers. "People are here to make money, and money makes things complicated," he says.

Ma takes his role as moral compass seriously. On this day, Ma begins the service with an exhortation for the faithful to do business the halal way. It's a common theme for him. As he says later: "Islam has ethical standards that are beneficial for doing business in Yiwu, like honesty and trustworthiness. Poor-quality goods and cheating are prohibited."

Those concerns are paramount for Mohamed Khattab, an Egyptian-American who owns an Islamic-goods store in Falls Church, Virginia. As he tugs on his sneakers after midday prayers, Khattab reflects on the perils of making deals in a business culture that is so identified with corruption.

Yiwu's trade is virtually all wholesale, so the foreign exporters who come to place orders are dependent on those large shipments for their livelihood. When problems with the supply chain in Yiwu arise for people like Khattab, their whole world can collapse. Since first coming in 2009, he has returned to Yiwu seven times, mostly to track down Chinese business partners who have broken their word. This time, Khattab's problem is a $60,000 shipment of hookah parts, tea glasses, and jewelry that he says is being held hostage by a shady network including trading associates who are demanding 110,000 yuan, or $16,800, in bribes. At first, he thought it was an official fee, until his trading agent told him it would be under the table. "How big is the table that you need that much money?" Khattab wonders.

Khattab is no amateur; he has built his store into one of the largest Islamic-product wholesale businesses in the U.S. The shameless lack of ethics of his Chinese partners has come as a shock. To fix the matter of the missing goods, Khattab has teamed up with a fellow Egyptian and the man's Chinese wife, a vital resource for a foreigner. He's been in Yiwu for weeks, renewing his tourist visa and spending thousands of dollars on hotel rooms while his associates plot and delay. All he can do now is wait and pray. "Yiwu is like Vegas," he says with a chuckle. "Businessmen come with dreams of getting rich, but it's a gamble, and to win you have to know how to play the game."

(Courtesy: Fast Company)

How Islamic is “Islamic”?

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

Islam cannot be of service to all humanity if Muslims confine discussions about Islam to issues related to identity only. Instead of being separate but equal, Muslims should integrate without assimilating. How can we know each other if we use identity to seclude us?

By Parvez Ahmed

Jacksonville, FL: A Malaysian political leader has asked political parties in his country to stop using the word “Islam” in their names so that, “nobody can make use of the religion for their political gains.” This progressive thought is ironically closer to the classical understanding of Islam’s sacred texts. For in the early century of Islam, use of the word “Islamic” (Islamiyyah in Arabic) was limited in its scope. When opining on the permissible (halal) and the impermissible (haram) the classical scholars eschewed the blanket usage of “Islamic” or “un-Islamic” often opting instead to using terms such as “valid”, “accepted”, and “allowable” or their antonyms.

Attaching Islam or Islamic to otherwise secular activities such as politics or art is a newer innovation whose proliferation is traceable to the identity movements that sprang up in the Muslim world in the 1960s and 70s. Even if one were to provide convincing raison d'être for the fields of Islamic Art or Finance, how does one explain Islamic Olympic Games, Islamic Music, Islamic Quizzes, etc.? In their quest to preserve identity, Muslims may have lost sight of the big picture.

The proponents of “Islamic-anything” perform a difficult juggling act. In his book “Islamic Finance”, Mahmoud El-Gamal outlines the dilemma faced by the Islamic finance industry, for example. On one hand the Islamic finance industry tries to be similar to conventional finance so as not to be in any jeopardy of national or international laws. On the other hand, the industry portrays itself to be different by using Arabic words to describe mundane secular contracts and attempting to conform to the sacred texts of Islam, even when such conformity is no more than form over function. This dilemma of being same and yet different is also faced by other Islamized disciplines.

Continuing with the example of Islamic finance, it is common knowledge that Islam prohibits riba (usury), gharar (excessively risky) and maysir (gambling) in financial transactions. But creating a separate industry called “Islamic Finance,” has not eliminated riba, gharar and maysir even in financial transactions branded “Islamic” or “Sharia-compliant.” Moreover, Islamic finance has not led to more equitable distributions of wealth or the elimination of the many vices that plague the finance industry. Thus, even in Muslim majority countries, the success of Islamic finance is limited, because users find little to differentiate it from conventional finance.

Since Islam makes no distinction between the sacred and the secular (defined in Webster as “of or relating to the worldly or temporal”), the rebranding of otherwise secular ideas in religious terms, is a contradiction. A cobbler once asked the Protestant reformer Martin Luther how he could serve God within his trade of shoe making. Luther did not ask the cobbler to make “Christian” shoes. He asked the cobbler to make the best shoe possible and sell it at a fair price. Thus affirming a theme consistently present in the sacred texts of almost all religions, namely that being fair and striving for excellence is part of being religiously righteous.
Islam cannot be of service to all humanity if Muslims confine discussions about Islam to issues related to identity only. Instead of being separate but equal, Muslims should integrate without assimilating. A Muslim women weightlifter is trying to do exactly that. Instead of competing in Islamic Games, she is competing in regular weightlifting competition but petitioning the respective sports bodies to allow her to compete wearing modest clothing including a headscarf.

Islamic games or Islamic political parties limit their participation to Muslims. It is natural for people of other faiths to feel excluded even when the limits are not explicit, much the same way Muslims will feel excluded if someone tried to organize “Christian Games.” The Quran in Chapter 49, verse 13, “We have created you from a male and female and made you into nations and tribes that you may know each other,” celebrates the plurality of people having a singularity of purpose - getting to know each. How can we know each other if we use identity to seclude us?

Our global struggles today are not between Islam and the rest but between the forces of divisiveness and the champions of inclusiveness, between general welfare for all and the preservation of privileged status for a handful. In such a struggle, Islam can be a force of moderation as long as Muslims treat Islam more as a system of values that can benefit all humanity and less as a “club” where people with certain cultural habits congregate. It is not coincidental that Turkey’s AKP party has grown in popularity despite practicing Muslims governing a secular state, while the identity-driven Islamists in the rest of the Muslim world struggle to find their voices in democratic politics.

Creating an apartheid system of Islamic versus un-Islamic will not address the bigger issues at stake. Subjecting secular endeavors of politics or finance to parochial tests of religiosity will neither benefit Muslims nor the rest of humanity. Rather Muslims should follow Luther’s advice of honestly making the best possible shoe and selling it at the fairest price possible. Actions that benefit the broadest cross section of people, best fulfills the Prophetic mission of being “rahmatul lil alamim” – a mercy to all humanity (creations to be exact).

[Parvez Ahmed, a regular contributor to altmuslim.com, is a Fulbright Scholar and Associate Professor of Finance at the University of North Florida.]

(Courtesy: AltMuslim)

SPECIAL REPORT: ‘Rich Muslims trying to strike deal with Narendra Modi to run businesses unhindered’

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 26 June 2011 | Posted in ,

By Abdul Hafiz Lakhani

Ahmedabad: In recent past there were many so-called Muslim leaders who met Chief Minister Narendra Modi personally. Most of the leaders are very rich. Some ulemas also had a meeting with the CM. The response of the richer Muslims, who also have nowhere else to turn, has been to try and strike up a deal with the state government. Those belonging to the Bohra and Khoja communities, for example, are trying to see if they cannot run their businesses unhindered in return for offering their political support to Modi.

After last week's reception of chief minister Narendra Modi at Wankaner by the earstwhile princes, many of them have shown interest in joining his party. Modi's image-makeover efforts initiated a few years ago seem to be paying off. Muslims who were disillusioned with the CM after the infamous 2002 riots now seem to change their attitude towards the chief minister and his political party.

Crown prince Nawabzada Salauddinkhan Babi of Balasinor is keen to join the BJP and serve the people of his region, mainly because he is "impressed" by Modi's work.

Babi belongs to the erstwhile princely state of Babi dynasty in Balasinor in Kheda district.

He, along with the entire Babi family, was present at a function held at the royal palace in Wankaner where Wankaner prince Keshridevshinh Zala officially became a member of the BJP on Sunday in the presence of Modi.

Nawab Jahangir Khan, the scion of the erstwhile princely state of Dasada in Surendranagar district, was also present at the function. Salauddinkhan is all praise for Modi and the development work done in the state by the CM. He wants to begin his political career by joining the BJP.

"For the past four years, I am settled here. Earlier, I was doing my business in Delhi and Mumbai. The local youth keep telling me that something should be done for the region," 32-year-old Salauddinkhan told here

Salauddinkhan, along with his father Nawab Salabatkhan Babi and mother Begum Farhat Sultana Babi, met Modi in Wankaner and discussed various issues with him.

Talking about Modi, Babi said: “Modi has done great development work for the state, which was never done earlier by anyone. Neither he invited me to join the BJP nor had I requested him for the same. So it will be great to join the development work and serve the people.”

Salauddinkhan’s mother Sultana Babi was once president of the Balasinor municipality.
Though she was an independent candidate, she had the backing of the BJP.
Salauddinkhan said, “Modi is really a CM - ‘Common Man’ — as he is very humble and down-to-earth.’’

Salauddinkhan now takes care of the heritage hotel and agricultural business of his family. He has also asked Modi to promote Balasinor as a tourist site by bringing in development and growth there. Balasinor is well-known for its dinosaur hatcheries excavation site.

Princess Aaliya of the erstwhile state is working on the dinosaur tourism project there.
A Muslim corporator from Saurashtra Babi sama is very much happy with CM Modi's development spree in thestate. Sama, 43, is the wife of Habib Sama, a two-term general secretary of the BJP minority cell of Rajkot city. They have four children – three sons and a daughter.

"The people will vote overwhelmingly for Chief Minister Narendra Modi, in coming election" she said, crediting him with the state's economic and infrastructure development. "A stage has now been reached where the development oriented initiatives of Narendra Modi are drawing the Muslim community towards the party." she said.

According to Sama, both Hindus and Muslims desire development. When they see it happening, people are likely to be drawn towards the party behind it. "Chief Minister Modi is a magnet in this regard who has mesmerized people with his hard work and people oriented governance," she said.

Noted human rights activist J S Bandukwala, who is also the president of the Gujarat unit of Peoples Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), points out that Modi is using the his guts to divert the focus so that Muslims forget his complicity in 2002 riots and he gets acceptability among BJP allies in NDA so that he can fulfill his dream of playing a role in BJP at national level. However, Bandukwala, who himself suffered a lot in 2002 riots, painfully says that there were a group of Muslims like former IPS and IAS officers and industrialists and also `Maulanas' who were working at the behest of Modi to forget 2002 in exchange for material benefits.

According to Bandukwala, pro-BJP results in Muslim dominated pockets are also due to reorganisation of wards and seats by BJP government to divide the Muslim areas in such a way so that Muslims politically become ineffective. He gives the examples of Mughalwada in Vadodara which had been split into three pieces and each part clubbed separately with three other wards with Hindu majority so as to make Muslims politically meaningless. He said that the Congress was also collaborating with the BJP in this endeavour.

If Bandukwala is to be believed, then there is another reason as well. According to him, it is the Congress stalwart Ahmed Patel not allowing any other Muslim leader to grow. The young Muslims with ambition and feeling frustrated with the Congress due to Patel's tactics are therefore drifting to BJP that has provided a space to them to realise their political aims.

But Mehboob Ali, Gujarat BJP (Minority Cell) president opines that Muslims are joining BJP and support it because of the Congress party's indifferent attitude towards the community. While the Congress did practically nothing except raising slogans of extending benefits to the community, it resulted in secular Hindus as well turning against Muslims being projected as pampered class. According to Ali, it only led to more suffering for the community and members of it have now seem to have realised the Congress tactics and slowly moving towards BJP because there is no third political option available in Gujarat.

[Abdul Hafiz Lakhani is a senior Journalist based at Ahmedabad, Gujarat. He is associated with IndianMuslimObserver.com as Bureau Chief (Gujarat). He can be reached at lakhani63@yahoo.com or on his cell 09228746770]

Majlis Bachao Tahreek holds public meeting at Dabeerpura Darwaza in Hyderabad

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , ,

IMO News Service

Hyderabad: Majlis Bachao Tahreek (MBT) rejected the threats given by Asaduddin Owaisi (MP) & President of All India Majlise Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) and warned the AIMIM leadership against its vicious campaign of false and provocative propaganda against its political rivals.

MBT leader & Corporator Azampura Division Amjed Ullah Khan while addressing a public meeting “Jalse Milli Bedari”at Debeerpura Darwaza in Hyderabad said that the AIMIM leadership is trying to distort the fact over the Barkas clash in which one Ibrahim Bin Younus Yafai was brutally killed and two others were seriously injured by the gunman of Ahmed Balala (MLA) while Akber Owaisi was injured on 30 April 2011..The grand public meeting “Jalse Milli bedari” was attended by thousands of people here in the old city recently.

Asaduddin Owaisi is claiming that his brother Akberuddin Owaisi was attacked while defending and protecting government lands in Chandrayangutta Assembly Constituency. On the contrary the FIR 135/2011 registered by the CCS police in this case clearly mentioned that according to AP High Court orders it is a Patta Land. Amjed Ullah Khan alleged and said that in the same FIR, that “on the day of incident Akberuddin Owaisi while passing through the Barkas area, sarcastically made gestures sending signals and warning to Mohammed Pehalwan’s family to finish them.

Akber Owaisi and his henchmen were harassing Mohammed Pehalwan and his family members since last five years only for this land, Amjed Ullah Khan alleged and said there are many instances that Akber Owaisi was directly involved by using his influence and leader of AIMIM and legislator he pressurized the police, municipal and revenue officials.

Mr Khan said that the complainant Mansoor Awalgi mentioned the names of five accused in this case. Ironically, the police arrested 15 persons including Mohammed Pehalwan and his family members, while no case was booked or arrests have been made till today on the complaint of Mohammed Pahelwan family. Moreover, Akber’s pistol was seized 35 days after the incident for investigation.

Mr Khan questioned the AIMIM leadership saying why they were silent when 18,900 acres of Wakf land worth Rs. 200,000 crore was distributed among MNCs from Hi-Tech city to Shamshabad International Airport without any compensation to Wakf Board.He asked why the AIMIM is not objecting to the construction going on at Manikonda Jagir Wakf by Lagadapadi Rajgopal (MP) of Cong (I) at LANCO Hills.

Mr Khan also asked Asaduddin Owaisi why he being a Member of Defense Parliamentary Committee was silent when the Indian Government is buying highest weapons from the Israeli government, which is constantly at war with Muslim countries.

Mr Khan sought to know from the AIMIM leadership about the promise made to Asaduddin Owaisi by Sonia Gandhi, President of AICC, regarding Rs. 3,000 crore package for Minorities, when he voted in favor for UPA during the 123 Agreement. He asked what happened to various projects launched at an estimated Rs. 2,000 crore by deceased CM Rajashekar Reddy along with Asaduddin Owaisi during the Karim Nagar elections for garnering Muslim votes..

Mr.Khan criticized and warned that MBT will not keep quite if the Hyderabad Police under pressure from AIMIM leadership does not allow permission for MBT public meetings. Mr Khan said that the present AIMIM under the leadership of Asaduddin Owaisi has been turned into a Minority Cell of Congress (I).

The public meeting was addressed by Adam Mallik (Adv), Working President of MBT. Majeed Ullah Khan, Farhat Khan and other MBT leaders also spoke on the occasion.

Islamic finance market faces ‘expectations’ challenge ‘No easy answers’

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

By Usman Hayat & Raghu Mandagolathur

With the increased profile of Islamic banking globally, the GCC Islamic banking community is well positioned to build on a leadership role versus other potential competing centers such as Malaysia, Iran or even the UK. GCC countries collectively now account for more Shariah-compliant financial assets globally than any other region or country. GCC Islamic banks have also demonstrated their ability to be more innovative in terms of product development and provision of services as they compete for business with conventional banks. However competition in the GCC has also resulted in a fragmented Islamic finance industry with most local institutions remaining relatively minor players on a global scale. With their relatively lower asset bases they have also seen stiff competition in their own backyard from some of the largest international banks looking to tap the market.

When labels like “Islamic,” “responsible,” and “sustainable” are associated with finance, they trigger expectations of ethical differences from the mainstream. Meeting expectations of customers is a tough task for any business, but when it comes to Islamic finance and socially responsible investing (SRI), the gap between expectations and practice presents a significant challenge.

Theme

Anecdotal evidence suggests that, rightly or wrongly, some of the expectations triggered by “Islamic” finance are no lending money on interest, no financing of “sin” industries (e.g., gambling), profit and loss sharing, asset and enterprise, microfinance, small and medium sized enterprise (SME) finance, poverty alleviation, and environmental sustainability. Perhaps the underlying theme is profit sharing, doing good, and avoiding harm to society and the environment.

In practice, other than refusing to finance “sin” industries, these expectations are hard to meet. Despite the expectation of profit sharing, most of the financing in the Islamic financial sector is debt based, where the form of financing is changed to that of a sale or a lease without necessarily changing its economic substance. For example, payment schedule and terms and conditions in home financing in the Islamic financial sector may look very similar to, if not the same as, those in a conventional mortgage.

Customers are usually told that the difference between Islamic finance and conventional finance lies in fulfilling certain technical conditions of classic Islamic commercial jurisprudence, which give financing the contractual form of a trade or a lease. Some customers scale down their expectations and take what is available; others turn away in disappointment.

This gap between expectations and practice produces sarcastic media coverage-for example, “Don’t Call It Interest” (Richard C. Morais, Forbes, 2007) and “How Sharia-Compliant Is Islamic Banking?” (John Foster, BBC News, 2009). Such academic research papers as “Incoherence of Contract-Based Islamic Financial Jurisprudence in the Age of Financial Engineering” (Mahmoud A. El-Gamal, 2007) also raise similar issues. Unfortunately, form versus substance is a persistent debate in Islamic finance, with no closure in sight.

Regarding doing good and avoiding harm to society and environment, some argue that the job of financial institutions is to maximise profit for their shareholders and that profitable business leads to prosperous society. If shareholders want to do something charitable, they can do so in their private lives.

A counterargument is that to use the “Islamic” label, financial institutions need to go beyond changing the form of financing and earn their profits while actively doing something positive. For example, Islamic banking should focus on SMEs rather than high-net-worth individuals; Islamic financing for cars should finance fuel-efficient vehicles, such as hybrids, instead of fancy gas guzzlers; and Islamic project financing should push for fair treatment of construction workers and efficiencies in energy, waste, water, and carbon emissions.

Portfolio

In 2004, in a research paper titled “Socially Responsible Investing,” Paul Hawken found that “the cumulative investment portfolio of the combined SRI mutual funds is virtually no different than the combined portfolio of conventional mutual funds.” In other words, the expected ethical difference was blurred.

In its 2007 “Guide to Climate Change Investment,” Holden & Partners provided a similar finding: “SRI and ethical funds perform just as well (if not slightly better) than their mainstream counterparts because in most cases they are in fact mainstream.”

Perhaps the titles of these two biting articles published in 2010 summarize their content: “100 Best Corporate Citizens? What a CROck!” (Marc Gunther) and “When Pigs Fly: Halliburton Makes the Dow Jones Sustainability Index” (R.P. Siegel). Paul Hawken also noted in 2004 that “Muslim investors may be puzzled to find Halliburton on the Dow Jones Islamic Index fund.”

How to deal with this gap between expectations and practice? Do financial institutions mislead customers with labels like “Islamic,” “responsible,” and “sustainable”? Or do customers have unrealistic expectations? Is it possible to bring the practice and expectations closer?

There is no easy answer to these questions. Having said that, one thing that could help in narrowing the gap between expectations and practice is honest communication of what exactly is the ethical proposition so that when someone takes “a small step” toward ethical ideals, it is not criticised for not being “a giant leap” but appreciated for what it is.

[Usman Hayat is CFA, Director of Islamic Finance and ESG & Raghu Mandagolathur is President of CFA Kuwait]

(Courtesy: Arab Times)

Shabir Ahmad Shah blames ‘invisible hands’ for Hurriyat reunification failure

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , ,

By Bashir Assad

Srinagar: Blaming some ‘invisible hands’ within and outside separatist camp behind failure of Hurriyat Conference re-unification, senior Hurriyat (M) leader and chairman Democratic Freedom Party, Shabir Ahmad Shah, Sunday said that reunification was his dream.

Talking to this correspondent Shah said, “On June 19, 2008 when we had a meeting at the residence of hard-line separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, unification process had almost been finalized and only modalities were left. But then most of us were arrested and the process got derailed.”

Shah blamed some invisible hands within and outside the separatist camp for derailing the process. “Some people didn’t want unification and were not in favor of it,” he said without elaborating.

Asked to identify those elements, he said, “Time will expose them.”

However, when insisted he blamed Indian agencies for derailing the process. “I was detained under Public Safety Act eight times in the last three years. And the reasons of my detention in the PSA dossiers were that I was making efforts for Hurriyat unification. Re-unification of Hurriyat wasn’t in the interests of Indian agencies as it would have made Hurriyat a vibrant forum,” he claimed.

On Hurriyat (M) restructuring process, Shah said, “We had started the process and all the parties had been asked to suspend there activities and carry forward activities in the name of Hurriyat only. But then I was in jail and the process was stopped.”

Asked who was responsible for stopping the process, he said, “There were some internal and external hands to stop the process. Some people didn’t like restructuring process which I had started in 2008.”

“We won’t succeed till we will not take people at grass roots level into confidence and there is no better way than,” hesaid

Asked why he has restricted his activities in Hurriyat after being released last year, Shah said, “After my release I had again made an attempt for restructuring. I attended one or two meetings of the Hurriyat. Hurriyat isn’t anybody’s personal property. Hurriyat is asset of the nation.”

Asked whether some people within Hurriyat (M) didn’t want to see restructuring and unification, Shah said, “I can’t rule out it?

The DFP chairman said that anything can be changed in Hurriyat, ‘but for right to self-determination.’

“Within the frame work of possibilities anything can be changed in Hurriyat, but right to self-determination condition can’t be changed,” he asserted.

Asked whether Hurriyat will contest election to prove its representative character, he said, “There is no question of contesting elections under Indian constitution. Why George Bush (senior) and Robin Cook met me? It was because I represented sentiment of Kashmiris. When 11 lakh people came on streets on the call of Hurriyat in 2008, it was referendum.”

However, he said that if elections were held under UN or under the supervision of civil society members from India and Pakistan, ‘we are ready to participate.’

“If India claims that people of Jammu and Kashmir aren’t with freedom movement let them hold referendum and see what people want,” he added. Supporting Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s strike politics, Shah said, “To achieve something, you have to sacrifice something. When you don’t have any other option what will you do. I agree people suffer. But to achieve freedom, you have to make sacrifices.”

On allegations that separatist leaders made lot of money in the name of freedom movement, he said, “Money is important to run any movement. Everybody is a human first. But if isn’t true that we have done something wrong. We are accountable before Allah.”

Asked if New Delhi invites Hurriyat leaders for talks, he said, “We are always ready for talks. We aren’t against talks between India and Pakistan, but it should be meaningful and purposeful.”

[Bashir Assad is a senior Journalist based in Srinagar, Jammu & Kashmir. He is now Bureau Chief (J&K) of IndianMuslimObserver.com. He can be contacted at bashirassad@rediffmail.com]

What if the IMF head was a Muslim?

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

The shortlist for the new head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has been announced, which includes French finance minister Christine Lagarde and Mexico's Agustin Carstens. But in a globalized world in which Islamic finance is playing a larger role, there certainly could have been a suitable Muslim candidate considered (if politics were not a factor)

By Rushdi Siddiqui

Dr El-Erian
New York, NY: The inflation adjusted billion dollar question has become, ‘what nationality should lead the International Monetary Fund (IMF)?’ It used to be the $64,000 question, and then became the million dollar question. This says something about the ‘naked’ dollar or US influence or both.

The tradition has been the Managing Director of the IMF was European. The tradition and traditional thinking has gotten us to where we are in today’s inter-connected, borderless, flat-wired world in real time, resulting in credit crisis induced systemic risks, corporate and government bailouts at the expense of hard working tax payers.

The established emerging markets like the BRICS countries, Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa have raised valid points, and a recent FT article correctly mentioned, ‘… the IMF executive directors for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa said the “obsolete unwritten convention” of appointing a European as managing director undermined “the legitimacy” of the fund and called for a “truly transparent, merit-based and competitive process.” Announced on Monday, the shortlist for the post include French finance minister Christine Lagarde and Central Bank of Mexico Governor Agustin Carstens, though Israel's Stanley Fischer had also thrown his hat into the ring.

Now, what if the suggestion had been for a Muslim to head the IMF? Imagine the uproar, with ‘Shariah creep Trojan horse’ at the IMF resulting in dejure financing of terrorism with international lending agency’s funds. Taken one step further, some may even say a benchmark sized, above investment grade ‘terrorist sukuk’ [with a Takaful put] offering led by syndicate of Islamic banks that is oversubscribed by family offices of narco-extremists and traded in the grey market in Afghanistan.

What if the new head of the IMF is Legarde, a non-Muslim woman who has embarked on making her country an Islamic finance hub since 2008? How would the world react? The point is, a Muslim in a very high profile position will probably result in a knee-jerk, sustained reaction of ‘gloom and doom’ by a vocal segment of society. Yet, a non-Muslim lobbying for Islamic finance, as part of financial inclusion, may not receive the same reaction and it will eventually die down as people will tire of Shariah takeover of capital markets, financial instruments, mass conversions of non-Muslims and non-Muslim countries.

As for how the real world works, the new Managing Director should be a moderate mind with thoughts of modernization of the institution to play catch up in today’s contagion connected turbo-charged capital markets. The person would be someone who is a globally recognized brand by the western capital markets and media based upon merit and history of insights.

It would be someone who manages and speaks in hundreds of billions of dollars and tactical allocations in his nine to five job. Someone that can talk off the cuff about technical capital issues in the G-20 countries, which includes three Muslim countries, and switch gears to talk about geo-political issues in rapidly developing economies (RDEs). Someone who knows the difference between CDS (credit default swap) and CDs (certificate of deposits), between bonds and Sukuk, between leading and lagging indicators, between thinking outside the box and being boxed inside.

Someone who would easily be a keynote speaker at the prestigious and star studded Davos forum, but also empathetically connect with the financially disenfranchised.

One person who would have fit this bill is Dr Mohamed A El-Erian. He bears double nationality, French and Egyptian according to Wikipedia (i.e., European citizen issues addressed) and previously worked for the IMF as an economist and was on the Committee of Eminent Persons. Presently, Dr. El Erian is the CEO and co-CIO of Newport Beach, California, based PIMCO (Pacific Investment Management Company), which manages about $1.2 trillion. Putting that number into context; it’s much bigger than Islamic finance, larger than almost all Sovereign Wealth Funds, and about 10% of the US economy.

People like Dr El-Erian could move markets with comments via op-ed, books, media interviews, etc., hence, he commands the attention of markets, investors, regulators, policy makers and asset managers. He has written about the European debt crisis, hence, has a good grasp of the crisis unfolding in real time.

Together with PIMCO’s co-founder, Mr Bill Gross, he coined the phrase the “New Normal” in the post casino capital market crisis. The ‘New Normal’ is a reset of the different landscape in the post crisis world economy, and the ensuing of new opportunities for institutions and their clients.

Therefore, there needs to be a ‘new normal’ thinking for the head of the IMF. Dr El-Erian’s candidacy would have hit a large number of important touch points in the ‘post crisis new order world’ (PCNOW), including an economist’s understanding of boom/bust cycles, strategist’s thinking of tactical asset class allocations, and trader’s mindset of quickly absorbing information, actively managing risks and transforming it all into knowledge for execution. This is the essence of merit for such an important position.

Oh, by the way he happens to be a Muslim. But did that really matter? Not really, but, unfortunately, it depends upon which camp one is speaking to.

[Rushdi Siddiqui is the Global Head of Islamic Finance at Thomson Reuters. Recognised as a thought-leader in Islamic Finance, Rushdi was a key force in the creation of the Dow Jones Islamic Index, and is now a leading advocate of the convergence between Islamic Finance and the Halal industry.]

(Courtesy: AltMuslim)

Media’s obsession with Celebrities, ignores Common People

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

By Shahidur Rashid Talukdar

For the Indian media, only the celebrities are important. If you are not famous enough, your say, your cause and even your life has little news-value for the mainstream media. In India, when a celebrity sneezes, whole media weeps in sympathy whereas when ordinary people die, in protest, atrocities, calamities, or even in state sponsored massacres, it’s hardly a news.

Although there have been many such cases in the past of the mainstream media’s obsession with an issue involving a celebrity, while being completely tame about serious issues involving ordinary citizens, I will focus on some recent or rather ongoing cases.

Corruption is long-standing menace in India, but media’s role in highlighting the issue was limited. Only after the famous activists like Anna Hazare sat on an indefinite hunger strike, the media jumped into the scene. Seeing the overwhelming success of the anti-corruption movement, Yoga-Guru Baba Ramdev launched the second phase of the protest on June 4. The ultra-famous Baba managed to pool over sixty thousand supporters in the Ramlila Ground in Delhi to his movement, which has been upheld by some, while severely criticized by others as noise-creating and impractical.

Irrespective of the relevance of his agitation, which was redundant at best and politically motivated at its worst, the electronic and print media gave him their fullest publicity, until people were literally fed up with the issue. The media did not spare even a moment of the whole protest-Yoga drama, right from its planning through the forceful dispersion by the Delhi police, from publicizing. The post-affair analyses and commentaries kept media engaged for another couple of weeks. But why not the same is true for other protesters in the country?

Just a day before Ramdev’s protest, on June 3, in Forbesganj, Bihar - an eastern Indian state, a group of villagers went to protest against illegal blocking of a road connecting the village to the outside by Auro Sunaram International - a privately owned company, their protest, far from creating the desired impact, had an adverse effect on the villagers. When the state (Bihar) police was expected to help them fight against the company, the police played party to the land-grabbing company authorities.

The Bihar police not only acted against the public interest, they cold bloodedly fired bullets on the un-armed villagers and killed five people including one woman and a six-month-old infant and an unborn baby and injured many others. In their killing spree, the police chased the villagers inside their homes and fired at them. But the mainstream media was strangely silent on the whole issue. None of the leading regional or daily newspapers reported the incidence. Only a few online blogs like www.TwoCircles.net, www.Ummid.com, www.indianmuslimobserver.com and Youtube videos conveyed the news to the world. It was only after the sixth day of the incidence, when it became a political issue, the media took interest.

It is being widely suspected that the state government allowed the police to act against people’s interest and favor the company’s land-grabbing and road blocking operation, although the exact nature of the government’s complicity is yet to be revealed. But who is there to raise this issue to the wider world? The mainstream media hardly gave any time or space to such an outrageous incidence of the police’s betrayal against its own people. Where is the media ethics? Doesn’t such a heinous act deserve a wide publicity, sincere condemnation and a serious media investigation?

This is not the only case of media’s apathy towards common people. Unless you are famous enough before the media, your cause - however noble it maybe, will go unnoticed before the media’s blind eyes. Our not-so-famous iron lady from Manipur, Irom Sharmila has been fighting against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), a draconian law which bestows unlimited powers to the armed forces, for last 10 years. What is the media’s take on this? A decade of Irom’s hunger is not enough to awake the mainstream media, which has largely been quiet on the issue. Why is this apathy? Is it because she is not as famous as Anna Hazare or because the effect of the AFSPA, which has taken away hundreds of innocent lives, is not dangerous enough?

Another such victim of media’s indifference is Swami Nigamanand, who died on June 6 after a prolonged protest of over four months for saving the river Ganga – the holy river for the Hindus. His death was a national news but his cause, while he was alive, drew little media coverage. Otherwise, he would not have to die such a tragic death.

Be it the poor victims of Forbesganj, Irom Sharmila of Manipur, or Swami Nigamanada – the bleak face of Media apathy is same. The only reason, it seems, is these people are not famous enough for the media to take interest. Hence, their death or their suffering is not news-worthy.

These faceless people are the real heroes of genuine concerns. India salutes them even though the media may not care.

[Shahidur Rashid Talukdar is a PhD student at Texas Tech University, USA. He can be contacted at contact@srtalukdar.com]

SDPI terms fuel price hike as savage, urges UPA government to rollback

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in ,

By Pervez Bari

Bhopal: The Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) has demanded rollback of fuel prices hike with immediate effect to give relief to the common man who is already groaning under the soaring prices of essential commodities while the inflation has crossed 9 per cent.

SDPI national President E. Aboobacker in a Press statement while condemning the savage hike in the prices of petroleum products such as diesel, kerosene and domestic liquid petroleum gas (LPG) said the move has dealt a cruel blow to the common people. The additional burden on the household budgets of housewives with the increase in the price of kerosene by Rs. 2 per litre and LPG price hike of Rs. 50 per cylinder will be a difficult task for them to make both ends meet. The diesel price hike will raise the cost of transportation and adversely affect the farmers as well, he added.

Mr. Aboobacker accused the Union UPA Government of being totally apathetic to the woes of the poor man and indulging in price hike of fuel with impunity. It is barely a month back that petrol prices were increased by Rs. 5 and now another bombshell, he pointed out.

He urged the government to re-think the steep hike in fuel prices and roll it back at the earliest to give the poor masses the much needed relief from the all round soaring prices. He ridiculed the reported stand of the Union Petroleum Minister S. Jaipal Reddy that the price hike is “moderate and very minimal”.

It may be mentioned here that Jaipal Reddy on Friday announced that the price of diesel will be increased by Rs.3 per litre, kerosene by Rs.2 per litre and domestic liquid petroleum gas (LPG) by Rs.50 per cylinder, excluding state levies such as VAT. The hike came a day after the government announced that food inflation had soared to nearly a 10-week high of 9.13 per cent for the week ended June 11.

[Pervez Bari is a Journalist based at Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. He can be contacted at pervezbari@eth.net]

Israel’s Dilemma!

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

By Dr. Abdul Ruff

Israel continues to attempt to divide the Palestinians along Fatah-Hamas lines just as the NATO rogues divide Islamic world along Sunni-Shii’a lines. CIA-Mossad agents in West Bank and Gaza Strip are now extra active to derail any possible peace momentum inside Palestine and Mideast. Israel benefited as the Mideast region was trapped in political designations of CIA-Mossad gang of “friends” and “enemies”. Now post-Mubarak scenario when Egypt is seen moving closer to Palestinians, , Israelis trying for marginalizing Egypt as a powerful Arab party from virtually all Arab affairs of concern to Israel so as to further its colonization and destruction of the occupied territories.

USA plays a chief mediator’s role in Mideast without sincerity, making the Palestinians more vulnerable to Zionist crimes. Israel now howls like a bottomless animal as a reemerging Egypt successfully sponsored the unity agreement between Hamas and Fatah, without Israeli or US permission. Egypt’s seriousness to come back into Arab fold to define a new Mideast policy for Palestine is against Zionist fascist goals.

Mideast now is spearheaded by a powerful Arab country like Egypt in freeing Palestinians from Zionist criminal clutches by reaching out to other Arab countries, as well as Iran, Turkey and other Muslim nations. Israel and also USA is keen to stall the ongoing the Hamas-Fatah peace process and unity government deal and hence they are trying to undercut their trusted Mahmoud Abbas. Turkey has emerged as one of the main sponsors of the Palestinian rapprochement- another reason for Tel-Aviv to sensibly go for peace with the Palestinians directly.

However, notwithstanding all its rhetoric, Israel is visibly shaky now! More importantly, because, unlike the previous US regimes, the Obama regime, in spite of all meetings with Israeli leaders like fanatic Netanyahu inside his White compound, is somehow reluctant to openly promote Zionist misadventures in Palestine. This unpredictable trust deficit between USA and Israel makes Zionist position somewhat weakened.

Turkey's open confrontation with its strong weapon ally Israel, followed by Ankara's efforts for promoting aid-ships for Gaza has badly disillusioned the Zionist expansionist dreams.

Maybe, Israel would sooner than later realize the crude fact that Mideast peace through the establishment of much delayed Palestine state is the only way forward.

[Dr. Abdul Ruff is Specialist on State Terrorism. He is Chancellor-Founder of Center for International Affairs (CIA). He is former university Teacher, Analyst in International Affairs and an Expert on Middle East. He can be contacted at abdulruff@gmail.com or on his Mobile # +91-9961868309]

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