Aaghaz-e-Dosti raises voice for Peace and Friendship between India and Pakistan

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

IMO News Service

New Delhi: At a time when the border clash has spurted fresh waves of jingoism on both sides of the border, with people challenging the peace activists and advocating a stronger or more inhuman reaction, a people’s initiative, Aaghaz-e-Dosti, re-iterated the hopes for peace and friendship between India and Pakistan on 27th January 2013, at Gandhi Peace Foundation, New Delhi.

An initiative of Mission Bhartiyam, Aaghaz-e-Dosti, targets to create unwavering bonds of peace and friendship between India and Pakistan. The bonds that will survive the vagaries of such troubles times. But these bonds are not artificial ones, they rest on the belief and claim that people of India and Pakistan not only share the same language, culture, values and challenges but also the desire for peace and friendship. It rests on the belief that if there are people on both sides of the border who cannot and do not want to forget the past and do not want others to forget it, there are also people who want to forget the past and not just move on but move along to create a new chapter in history…of friendship and brotherhood.

The programme began with the launch of Aaghaz-e-Dosti’s “Calendar for Peace and Love” with paintings of hope collected from youths of both sides of the border.

Devika Mittal, Convener of Aaghaz-e-Dosti remarked, “the Calendar would remind us every day about these people. The Calendar with the paintings of an innocent and apolitical mind will remind us that mindsets have been constructed. The six paintings narrate the restriction of ‘freedom’, the ‘desire’ with the birds flying across borders and peace and friendship for a better future. Together with the beautiful dreams of the young and innocent, the Calendar also has messages from people who have been actively working to nurture these dreams.”

Prashant Nautiyal, a core member of Mission Bhartiyam, added “This calendar is a collection of shared dreams of peace and friendship. It serves as a hope shared by people who are just like us, in habit and struggle. With the turn of the pages to start a new month, the hope shall be renewed.”

For this calendar, Mission Bhartiyam had collaborated with two Pakistan-based organisations, Center for Youth development activities(CYDA) and Imov Humans.

The Calendar launch was followed by a discussion or a sharing of hopes for a peaceful and friendly co-existence. Ravi Nitesh, founder of Mission Bhartiyam, emphasised on its importance in this hour when peace is being challenged and being considered as one-sided. He remarked, “We condemn the border clash. It was an unfortunate incident but the way things have worked, it has also led to jingoistic sentiments on both sides. People, especially in India, are debating if we are a soft state and remembering and are even talking about repeating the shameful past. It also has to be condemned. Conflict has not given us anything but loss of innocent lives and hatred. Through this discussion, we tried to raise the voices of peace and friendship that have been overshadowed. We wanted to tell people that peace is not one-sided. It is the constructive approach and cannot and should never be replaced with forces of war and hatred.

The panelists for the discussion were people who have been working to strengthen the relations through different methods – through journalism, moulding young minds through teaching, working for the issues of the divided families and through emphasising cultural similarity and winning hearts with poetry.

Pankaj Chaturvedi, a noted columnist in several newspapers and the co-editor at National Book Trust, remarked that the “relations between India and Pakistan have unfortunately always fluctuated but this should not make us forget that the interests and the desires of the common people across borders is the same.”

Prof. Dhananjay Tripathi, a faculty member at South Asian University, talked about the repercussions of conflict. “Conflict is never the solution to anything”, he remarked.
Sirish Agarwal, the founder of India Pakistan Families Solidarity Association, shared the issues faced by divided families on both sides of the border. He had also shared his experiences in Pakistan.

Pankaj Singh, an eminent Hindi poet and part of the Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature, remarked “The partition was a tragic and unfortunate reality. Poets and Writers across the borders had moaned the tragic reality that we received at the cost of innocent lives. It is not possible to undo history but we must forget the wounds shared by people on both sides and work to create a new chapter in history of peace and friendship.”

Shivendra Singh , a sports journalist who has visited pakistan many times to cover news and writer of the book "Ye jo hai Pakistan" shared his experiences and talked about changing the mindsets.

The discussion also had some students from Pakistan who has been studying in Delhi. They had shared their experiences.

Kulsum Khan, a student of South Asian University, talked about the welcoming attitude of the people she met in India. She remarked that, “I have realised that not only out language, culture, values are same, our interests and challenges are also similar”.

Sumbal Islam Chowdhury had also shared her experiences in India and emphasised on establishing people-to-people communication to change mindsets.

To this, Zaigham Abbas, another student, talked about changing mindsets at a young age, at school level and proposed changes in the school curriculum. He also talked about the problems with getting a visa.

Sohaildera Khan said that the problem is with lack of information and misunderstandings. There is a need to air news channels of both countries across the borders and these channels should not be stopped in any situation.

Some Indian students also spoke about the need for peace and friendship between India and Pakistan.

V Arun Kumar had shed light on the repercussions of war on those who actually experience it. He talked about the people in the bordered areas and the impact of war on them.
There was also an open session wherein the audience had shared their thoughts about the issue and had also asked questions to the speakers. Another student from Pakistan, Kishore Patel, talked about a more peculiar suspicion that he has faced, being a Pakistani Hindu in India.

The programme was not meant to convince or “pacify” another, it was only to raise these voices and also bring out what the common people from Pakistan have to say. War is not only disastrous, impractical and sown with seeds of misunderstanding but also unaffordable. We need to move together on the path of progress.

Is India turning into a Hindu rashtra?

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

By Javed Anand

The Conclusions chapter of the book opens on an alarming, ominous note: “It is easy to think of the prospects of the Indian Muslims in gloomy terms. Long ago denied the sceptre, which many thought essential to their existence, and now suspected by many for their religion and regarded as second-class citizens, is there any future for them other than eventual absorption in the Hindu mass?

It’s a quote from the highly regarded scholar of Indian history, Percival Spear, from one of his writings in 1967.

That was nearly half-a-century ago. Before the communal riots in Meerut (1968), Ahmedabad (1969), Bhiwandi (1970) and elsewhere; years before communal violence entered the era of state-condoned, state-complicit, even state-sponsored pogroms and genocidal killings: Nellie (1983), Hashimpura (1987), Bhagalpur (1989), Ayodhya, Surat and Mumbai (1992-’93), Gujarat (2002).

What’s the ground reality today? In hindsight, was Spear being alarmist or prophetic? The editors of Muslims in Indian Cities: Trajectories of Marginalisation tell us that the empirical research findings encapsulated in the case studies brought together in the book offer “some elements of response” to Spear’s question. Read together, we do not get a simple yes or no answer. Read separately, the answer comes close to a disturbing “yes” in case of some cities. In others, hope survives.

The case studies cover an interesting mix of 11 cities categorised into three ideal types. One: the former Muslim capitals where the sharp post-Partition decline of the community is marked by identity politics — Delhi, Lucknow, Hyderabad, Bhopal. Two: cities that are “over-determined by communal violence and political (sometimes cultural) obliteration” — Mumbai, Ahmedabad. Three, cities where resilient cosmopolitanism is still in evidence — Bengaluru, Kozhikode and Cuttack. Aligarh and Jaipur fall outside these three categories. The reality of each city, the editors agree, is far more complex than the ideal types would indicate.

As the sub-title of the book itself suggests, and this is not the first time we are hearing of it, the marginalisation of Muslims is an undisputable fact. There’s ghettoisation too. (We are cautioned, however, to distinguish, analytically at least, between the enforced Muslim ghettos or “neighbourhoods of exile” of some cities from the self-selected “ethnic enclaves” in others). And there’s worse: “The extreme cases of riot prone areas suggest that the ‘absorption in the Hindu mass’, to use Spear’s words, may be the fate awaiting Muslims in (some) Indian cities.”

Not surprisingly, the most ominous signals emanate from Gujarat, the state under Narendra Modi’s rule. The sprawling Juhapura area in Ahmedabad where Muslims cutting across caste and class divides have been compelled to inhabit fully meets the definition of a ghetto. In trying circumstances, the community is doing its best to forge ahead. “Education” is its new mantra. But here is a worrisome observation from Christophe Jaffrelot and Charlotte Thomas, the contributors to the chapter on Ahmedabad: “The Muslim promoters of modern education in Juhapura are definitely playing down their religious identity, as if that’s the price to pay for being recognised as a full-fledged Indian citizen. Taken to its logical conclusion the process of cultural occultation will seal the fate of India’s multiculturalism”.

Thankfully, all has not been lost even in the saddest of cities. The researchers cite one happy example: “Since 1969 (when the city was consumed by a vicious communal conflagration), Ramrahim Nagar has not been affected by any of the Gujarat riots, including the 2002 pogrom”.
Read together, the case studies uncover three distinct “trajectories of marginalisation” of Muslims in Indian cities. As you move from city to city you realise that, one, the decline is more pronounced in some regions than others, two, Muslims are not evenly marginalised and, three, in the country’s social geography that affects Muslims, the Hindi belt and the West are one end of the spectrum, while the rest of India lies at the other end.

Who is to blame for the marginalisation of the Indian Muslims? The answer, the editors say, lies partly in history. The only ancestral skill the Muslim elite from north India and the princely states possessed was “a certain kind governing”, something they lost with the arrival of the British sarkar. The decline of Muslim artisans is another story. And unlike the Marwaris, not many from the Muslim business class progressed from trade to industry.

Interestingly, the study debunks the idea that Muslim lack of interest in modern education is among the major causes of their backwardness. “For the whole period 1891-1931, Muslims were well ahead of Hindus in terms of literacy in English and it is therefore doubtful that ‘Muslims found the process of adjustment to Western education particularly hard’.” Instead, the explanation lies in the caste-system among Muslims. Only a small section among them (ashraf) had access to education and even this thin layer got seriously depleted with Partition.

If that’s the social backdrop, “the deliberate marginalisation of the Muslims by the state” post-Independence and the intensified communal onslaught of the Sangh Parivar in recent decades are identified as factors behind the backward slide of the community.

Overall the book paints a grim picture of the reality of urban Muslims. But there are glimmers of hope in a new middle class emerging across cities, straining to forge ahead, turning to education with great enthusiasm. Sadly, as the editors point out, “education is one thing, employment another”.

The short message of the book is that a solution must be found soon to end both institutionalised discrimination and the recurring communal targeting of the community. As to the fears of “absorption (of Indian Muslims) in the Hindu mass”, the editors are not unaware of the counter-veiling pull of resurgent Islam.

(Courtesy: The Asian Age)

Hypocrisy of a myopic social order

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

Going by the latest ruling by a court on Twitter comments, it seems Jews are the only bona fide recipients of fair play when it comes to French laws

By Tariq A. Al Maeena

I don’t know about the rest of you, but every now and then a news item flashes by that causes me to sit up and take note. Perhaps it is the audacity of the subject or the underlying hypocrisy — whatever be the reason, it does indeed raise questions and a few eyebrows.

For instance, take a news item that appeared last week involving Twitter, the social networking site. A French court has judged that Twitter must disclose all data regarding anti-Semitic users or those who post comments deemed offensive by Jews. The ruling was a result of the country’s main Jewish students’ union which petitioned a Paris court to demand that Twitter divulge information and details about users who post anti-Semitic comments.

Last October, the Union of French Jewish students demanded from Twitter that they remove tweets from some popular hash tag sites which they deemed offensive. The posts concerned a barrage of tweets that appeared on the site and were seen as culturally insensitive messages about people of the Jewish faith. The students’ union threatened it would sue Twitter if it did not comply with their demands to remove the tweets and to disclose the identities of users who had posted them.

Photo Courtesy: Luis Vazquez/Gulf News
Twitter’s response at the time was that it “does not mediate content. If we are alerted to content that may be in violation of our terms of service, we will investigate each report and respond according to the policies and procedures outlined in our support pages”. Twitter also made it clear that as it was an America-based company and operated under US law, it would not hand over information relating to the identities of users unless forced to do so by a judge. The company then affirmed its stance by declaring that it would only accept a judgement from a US court. According to its operating standards, Twitter does not delete tweets, but “does allow for content generated in breach of rules to be suspended”.

Later on, Twitter did remove some of those tweets.

However, the Jewish union wanted more. Enlisting the assistance of other groups such as International Action for Justice, SOS Racism, the International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism and the Movement Against Racism and for Friendship Between People, they demanded that the company go further by revealing the identities of the authors so that they could be prosecuted under France’s tough laws on racism and anti-Semitism.

And now, the French court’s ruling commands that Twitter disclose the identities of those who composed the tweets on top of having removed all tweets deemed offensive by the group. The intent, according to a spokesman for the group, is “to prosecute those who tweet any anti-Semitic messages”.

A French attorney and internet law expert, Merav Griguer, commented that European laws regarding freedom of speech fall under stricter government regulation than the speech laws in the US. Speaking to an Israeli paper he said: “In France, one’s freedom ends where another person’s freedom begins. French law does not promote censorship, but instead bars abuses of free speech to protect other fundamental rights.”

The French court also demanded from Twitter that they establish an “easily accessible and visible” system on the French Twitter site that would permit users to bring to attention to the site administrators any posts which “apologise for crimes against humanity or incite racial hatred”. The court has given Twitter 15 days from the time of the ruling to comply or it will be fined 1,000 euros (Dh4,944) daily.

Government spokesperson Najat Vallaud-Belkacem also demanded that Twitter monitor its content to comply with French law. She said: “Twitter should find solutions so that messages sent from our country, in our language and destined for our citizens do not violate the principles we have set.”

This brings me back to the feelings I disclosed at the beginning of this column. How are the French so passionate about upholding laws that protect their people against racial hatred? And yet, where were the courts or government spokesmen when cartoons depicting the beloved Prophet (PBUH) were released earlier this month in a weekly on Paris’s streets — caricatures that offended the religious sensitivities of all Muslims and not just those living in France?

And where was their sense of indignation when they allowed an offensive video clip of the Prophet (PBUH) that caused so much global upheaval last year to be shown, citing “freedom of expression”. French courts rejected efforts by Muslim groups to ban such offensive depictions citing freedom of speech. Their impotency to enforce their so-called anti-racism and anti-hatred laws following the furore over the video clip which insulted Muslims was magnified when the French government stepped in and assured the British royalty that Kate Middleton’s revealing photos would not appear in the press. Anti-racism laws and violations of principles indeed!
The doctrine of collective guilt so craftily perpetuated by international Jewry against western nations for past crimes appears to make Jews as the only applicable recipients of fair play when it comes to French laws. The recent rulings by the French court are so steeped in hypocrisy that walking away without a comment is difficult. And that is why I have written this column in the first place.

[Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Follow him at Twitter.Com/@talmaeena]

(Courtesy: Gulf News)

Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the new face of al-Qa'ida (and why he's nothing like Osama bin Laden)

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

Robert Fisk on what he really means in the 'war on terror'

By Robert Fisk

“Had he his hurts before?” Siward asks of his slain son in Macbeth. He wants to know if his son’s wounds proved he was fighting Macbeth’s goons when he died, or whether – if stabbed in the back – he had been running away. Macbeth would have made a pretty good Middle Eastern dictator, obsessed with power, murdering his rivals, oppressing his people under the fatal influence of a spoiled, ruthless wife. And al-Qa’ida, in its battles with its infidel enemies – the Russians, the Americans, Israel, the West and the Arab potentates who do, or did, our bidding – does not run away. Their battle wounds are part of their personalities.

Osama bin Laden boasted to me of the Russian bullet scars burnt into his body in Afghanistan – three in all – and the Taliban leader Mullah Omar, who wore the Prophet’s cloak in Kandahar, has always rejoiced in the eye he lost to his enemies. And now we have Mokhtar Belmokhtar with another eye lost to God’s enemies.

This Cyclops wears no patch to hide his wound. Was it shot out by the pro-Western “mujahedin” in Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal? Or blown from his face when he was “mishandling” explosives during the war, when Belmokhtar and his cronies were still heroes, our equivalent – once, in Ronald Reagan’s eyes – of the Founding Fathers?

Now he hides in – or bestrides, if you believe what you are told – Mali. Al-Qa’ida is back in action, but this Algerian war veteran is an intriguing symbol of the path down which Osama bin Laden’s damaged creation now slouches. For Belmokhtar’s Afghan war record is clouded by his cruel participation in the vicious 1990s conflict with the military regime in his own country – he was born in the Algerian city of Ghardaia 40 years ago – and by the corruption which has embraced so many North African Islamist militias.

When he travelled to Afghanistan, he was only 19; when he fought the equally ruthless pro-government paramilitaries in Algeria, he had learnt that wars do not necessarily end, that victory is achieved through the humiliation of your enemies, rather than military conquest.

But Belmokhtar was a child of his country’s history. Born almost exactly a year after the French colonial power retreated from Algeria, he grew up speaking the language of his country’s former oppressors. His French was perfect, and those few Westerners who met him – usually as his captives – were to recall his fluency. Kalashnikov at his feet, Belmokhtar would ostentatiously read the Koran – the mirror image of Bin Laden – as a leader of al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb and then, having left its ranks long after its apparent defeat in Algeria, as the chef of al-Muwaqqiun bil Dima, uncomfortably but chillingly translated as “Those Who Sign With Blood”. Those who were to survive the atrocities at the In Amenas gas field last week – and, I suppose, those who did not – were to discover what this meant.

In a video, Belmokhtar has spoken of the struggle against disbelief – in other words, us, the West – the importance of Islamic law and the Islamic project in northern Mali. He is too canny a man not to have realised that Mali’s torment springs from the decades-long northern Tuareg-Berber-Arabophone refusal to be governed by a black administration in the south, but he was drawn – like Bin Laden in Afghanistan – into a land where centralised power was weak or non-existent. While human rights groups recorded ferocious Islamist punishments – executions, amputations, the oppression of women; the list is familiar – he spoke of a sharia which fed the poor, created justice between Muslims, and equal rights.

Andrew Lebovich, an Africa analyst in Dakar, has drawn attention to the fact that Belmokhtar’s jihadism may be very real, despite his involvement in smuggling and trafficking, and that his public statements should be studied and taken seriously. Northern Mali was threatened by “the Crusader Western nations, especially France”, Belmokhtar announced, and aggressors would be would be fought “in their homes”, and “experience the heat of wounds” in their own countries, and their interests attacked. Here, indeed, was a warning about In Amenas. Prophetic, should we say?

Belmokhtar greeted Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, and Bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the “persevering emir”. In other words, he was re-asserting his loyalty to original al-Qa’ida principles. But the problem – which we in the West refuse to comprehend – is that al-Qa’ida itself has changed. The days when this dangerous institution demanded a world-wide Islamic caliphate are long gone. The Arab Awakening – the mass Arab revolts against dictatorship – turned Bin Laden into yesterday’s man. His television viewing at Abbottabad in the days before his execution by the Americans proved to Bin Laden that not a single protester – from Cairo to Damascus to Yemen – waved an al-Qa’ida flag or carried his photograph.
Indeed, among Bin Laden’s last communications with followers in Yemen was a demand for a translation of an article I wrote in The Independent, in which I described al-Qa’ida – following its involvement with Sunni suicide killers of Shias in Iraq – as the most sectarian organisation in the world. Bin Laden had long protested against the outfit’s role in the sectarian bloodbath in Iraq. And so a re-positioned al-Qa’ida has emerged.

Abdel Bari Atwan of the newspaper Al-Quds al-Arabi – who understands the dark soul of al-Qa’ida better than anyone else – has spoken of how Bin Laden always spoke “longingly” of the Atlas mountains of the Maghreb – the Tora Bora of north Africa – and of America’s interests in Africa itself. Many of Bin Laden’s legionnaires decamped from Afghanistan to Algeria, Mali, Mauritania, Chad and Niger, even Nigeria. The US now imports as much oil from Nigeria as it does from Saudi Arabia, the country of Bin Laden’s own citizenship. Like Gaddafi – whom Bin Laden loathed – al-Qa’ida appreciated the economic importance of Africa. Had Bin Laden himself not spent five years in dangerous exile in Sudan?

In a weird but very clear way, the results of the fearful Algerian civil war were in Belmokhtar’s favour. President Bouteflika, France’s dearest friend in the new North Africa, called a successful referendum which effectively pardoned Islamist fighters while excusing the government’s mass torturers and execution squads. Thus the weaker brethren of the Islamist revolt went home while the hard, unforgiving men emigrated into the deserts and across the Algerian border. Belmokhtar inherited a “cleansed” al-Qa’ida katiba – and a new version of Bin Laden’s battle.

Henceforth al-Qa’ida’s “purity of arms” – and this was never admitted – would be directed not towards the hopeless aspiration of a world caliphate, but at struggles which could humble Islam’s kafir enemies. Bin Laden’s battle tactics remained unchanged; only his philosophy would be gently abandoned. Now his fighters – in the hands of Belmokhtar or his latest rival, the supposedly ascetic Abdulhamid Abu Zeid – must humble the Western armies they can persuade to intervene in the Muslim world. Just as every Western soldier that could be induced into Afghanistan and Iraq was a target, so every French soldier arriving in Mali must be a target.
Humble the West’s mighty armies and draw them into perfidy with their bloody allies. That is now al-Qa’ida’s order of battle. The more France – and America and Britain – can be provoked to ally themselves with the ferocious Algerian government or the killers in the Malian army, the greater al-Qa’ida’s victory. Already, French and British horror at the Algerian slaughter of hostages and insurgents alike at In Amenas has been deleted from the record. David Cameron naively – and with a script that might have been written by Belmokhtar – has proclaimed that “our determination is stronger than ever to work with allies right around the world to root out and defeat this terrorist scourge”. Quite apart from Cameron’s appalling clichés (“root out”, “scourge”) – which oddly parallel al-Qa’ida’s boring rhetoric – this effectively allies the United Kingdom with the killer regime in Algeria. Plenty of Macbeths there.

Now human rights groups are reporting the revenge murder of Tuareg civilians in newly “liberated” towns by the Malian army. “Western diplomats”, that all-purpose bunch of mountebanks so beloved of us journos, are now said to “have long warned that the [Malian] army would become involved in revenge killings. Pity they didn’t tell us that a month ago. And then we have the French Defence Minister, Jean-Yves le Drian, divulging to us that Belmokhtar’s insurgents have “diversified their tactics. They can leave a town at any time, or mingle with the population… It’s urban guerrilla warfare, as well as a war, so it’s very complicated to manage.” And he didn’t tell us that a month ago, did he?

The Associated Press – not, I must admit, my favourite agency of world truth – published a remarkable, brilliant report by Rukmini Callimachi this week, an account of how Belmokhtar’s fellow jihadist Abdulhamid Abu Zeid arrived in the Malian town of Diabaly, took over civilian homes with the help of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, hid to avoid French air strikes, gave gifts to children, offered to pay rent and money for water and, guarded by five armed men, ate boxes of food imported from Algeria. “He ate spaghetti and powdered milk, read the Koran and planned a war,”

And there you have it. Ignore them, and you have lost the “war on terror”. Fight them, and you face humiliation. The Algerian Belmokhtar understands this. We do not. Diversified tactics, the French minister tells us. Mingling with the population. Camouflage. Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane.

(Courtesy: The Independent)

Unsung heroes of Islamic finance industry

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

By Rushdi Siddiqui

For the first column in 2013, I did not want a me-too article about sukuk issuance for year ahead, central bank authorisation of a mega Islamic bank, or new IFSB or AAOIFI standards, but shine a spotlight on ‘unsung heroes’ of an Islamic financial institution.

At an Islamic award ceremony and ensuing Press release, the CEO of an Islamic financial institution usually thanks his staff and employees, and typically says, “... without our hard working employees none of these achievements is possible...” These are not hallow words, as he ‘flies or falls’ based upon staff meeting their KPIs down the chain of command to the clerk in the mailroom and the janitor.


The beating heart of an Islamic bank is actually the treasury and its uniquely qualified people. Treasury, at one time, was about liquidity management, and now has become a profit centre for banks. The challenge for Islamic finance treasury is there are not many options, vis-a-vis, conventional treasury on liquidity management, hence, their important contribution adds to not only the bottom line, but also the bonus!

In launching the pricing benchmark for Islamic Interbank Benchmark Rate (IIBOR), compliant alternative to Libor, Thomson Reuters showed the implicit importance of treasury and credit pricing reference rate to the banking and financing world.

Front liners

These folks are really the unsung heroes, as they cannot hide behind an office, cubicle or desk when things like compliant credit cards not working, delays in personal loan or customer service leads to hang-ups.

The ultimate front liner is the bank teller. He/she needs to be a combination of an accountant and fireman(woman). They have to keep the line moving, make sure slips are properly filled out and signed, explain financial statements (including to the expatriate low income with linguistic challenges), including discrepancies while smiling.

Then there are the sales people meeting targets in selling, say, various third party funds, often white labelled as banks own. The issue of Islamic banks raising money locally (as have community confidence) and exporting to managers (value add) in other countries is a topic for another day.

The challenge arises when the fund loses money, and having to explain the loss to irate investors who believed, because it was Islamic, there would not be losses. It should not be assumed that such investors read or understand the fine print disclaimer (requiring a comprehension of a professional) buried in the prospectus.

The people working in Islamic private banking, some call it Royal Banking, must have the toughest jobs, as high net worth people are more demanding and less tolerant on mistakes and negative market movements. The escape goat is usually the relationship manager when things do not follow the game plan.

There must be a super-honourable mention of human resource, as they provide the ‘fit for purpose’ staffing and continuous updating. This is the team surrounding the CEO: from senior leadership team (SLT) to sales people to administrative staff, including the very important personal and executive assistants. Finally, choosing the right vendors for IT platforms for measuring and monitoring staff KPIs.

Finally, the collections department, if it’s not outsourced. The collection call and chase on defaulting party on financing, say, an Islamic mortgage. It must be extremely challenging (PR nightmare) for an Islamic bank to start foreclosure proceedings against a local/national (Muslim) for defaulted Islamic mortgage. This was one of the challenges in Saudi Arabia with the delay in the mortgage laws.

Collateral heroes

Islamic banks operate in a data eco-system, hence, require much content, whether its news, pricing of instrument and commodities, indexes, sukuk or fund prospectus, etc, and not many know that it requires army of dedicated people to make it look seamless and keep it updated.
Companies like Thomson Reuters, Bloomberg, Zawya, etc, are the data backbones for Islamic finance. For example, we, at Thomson Reuters, are extremely proud of the content build out by our dedicated Islamic finance team in Bahrain. These dedicated young people are working hard and smart to make Islamic finance conventionally efficient for information intermediation in the cross sell of this niche market (led by eco-data).

Finally, the journalists covering Islamic finance, they deserve a round of applause for their stories, as getting access to senior executives to answer tough questions is not easy.

[The writer is Global Head of Islamic Finance & OIC Countries for Thomson Reuters.]

(Courtesy: Khaleej Times)

Fifth of women in India and Egypt think internet use is 'inappropriate'

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

One in five women in India and Egypt believe that the internet is not appropriate for them to use, according to a new study looking at female web use in the developing world.

By Emma Barnett

These women, polled by technology company Intel, believe that engaging online would not be useful for them and that if they did, their families would disapprove.

In some communities, societal norms restrict women from walking on the street and certainly from visiting cybercafés – which may be the only means of accessing a computer and therefore the web.

The report, entitled ‘Women and the Web’, found that the women in these countries who did use the internet were almost three times as likely as non-users to report that their families were ‘very supportive’ of their web usage – while non-users were six times more likely to report family opposition.

Intel commissioned the report to collate hard data to illustrate the large internet gender gap in the developing world – with a view to understanding the reasons for the divide in order to help more women get online in these countries through scholarships and community learning programs.

It also found that on average, across the developing world, nearly 25 per cent fewer women than men have access to the web, and the gap soars to nearly 45 per cent in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa.

"With the powerful capabilities the internet enables - to connect, to learn, to engage, to increase productivity, and to find opportunities - women's lack of access is giving rise to a second digital divide, one where women and girls risk being left further and further behind, "said Melanne Verveer, ambassador-at-large for Global Women's Issues at the U.S. Department of State, which helped compile the report. "My hope is that this report will catalyze action to close the internet gender gap. This will require knowledge, leadership, determination and collaboration among governments, public institutions, corporations, and civil society to tackle the wide range of gender-specific barriers to internet access."

"There is wide acknowledgement around the globe that women's empowerment is a basic issue of social and economic justice and also essential to wider social progress and sustainable development," added Michelle Bachelet, under-secretary-general and executive director of UN Women, which also worked with Intel to collate the findings.

"This report demonstrates that expanding access to the internet and technology for women and girls is critical to their improved education, increased opportunity and ability to foster entrepreneurship in countries around the world."

Those behind the report are now calling for governments, companies and communities to work together to help double the number of women and girls online in developing countries from 600 million today to 1.2 billion in three years.

It is estimated that getting another 600 million women online in this part of the world could potentially contribute an estimated $13bn to $18bn to annual GDP across 144 developing countries – because of the transformative power of the web on business and education opportunities.

The study’s findings are based on interviews and surveys of 2,200 women and girls living in urban areas of four focus countries in the developing world; Egypt, India, Mexico and Uganda.

Currently in the UK 16 million people do not have basic digital skills – despite many of them having an internet connection in their homes. Additionally 7.9 million Britons have never been online – a figure which has come down from 11.5 million in the last four years. Martha Lane Fox, the Government’s digital champion tasked with getting more people online around the UK, and the chair of Go On UK, a charity which helps people get online, says that even in Britain more of the non-web users are women – especially older women.

“It is such an important issue – and when the UN called the internet a ‘basic human right’ a few years ago, I couldn’t have agreed more,” Lane Fox told The Telegraph.

“No country can afford to be complacent about such matters – even in Africa when we keep hearing stories of smartphone usage having shot through the roof. We cannot assume that the market will sort this sort of gender divide out. It needs a coalition of governments – to set the tone and lead, the private sector and citizens to offer peer support to step in.”

Lane Fox believes the most effective way of getting people online for the first time is through peer to peer support. “Most people who haven’t been online always say ‘what’s the point?’. But they cannot know what they are missing out on until someone they trust recommends a particular service – whether it’s ordering food online or speaking to a member of the family over Skype – and shows them. Only then does the naysaying stop,” she said.

(Courtesy: The Telegraph)

Women in the combat frontline

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

By Rushdi Siddiqui

If your country is attacked by an army of women combatants, how would the Commander-in-Chief respond?

A. Send out the military which is dominated by males;
B. Enrol more females, hence, a mix of soldiers to respond;
C. Send out an all-female military response; or
D. Assume no response is necessary as the attack will not be successful.

News flash: US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta announced that the Pentagon will end the long-standing prohibition on women serving in direct combat.

What exactly is a frontline war zone?

The news flash has created a flashpoint of debate on women in combat; however, the issue is actually deeper. It is about the roles of women in society, especially during war time.
Much research and many articles have been published on the relative strength of women and the associated issues and effects of women operating in an all-male unit combat zone. Even calorific intake is said to be strictly controlled in battle zones: 3,950 calories a day for men, 2,700 for women. But perhaps there has been less focus on the exact conditions that frontline combatants live under in the gruelling war zones especially in today’s global landscape.

A former marine, Ryan Smith, wrote in the Wall Street Journal on January 23, 2013: “Most people seem to believe that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have merely involved driving out of a forward operating base, patrolling the streets, maybe getting in a quick firefight, and then returning to the forward operating base and its separate shower facilities and chow hall … I served in the 2003 invasion of Iraq as a marine infantry squad leader. We rode into war crammed in the back of amphibious assault vehicles. They are designed to hold roughly 15 marines snugly; due to maintenance issues, by the end of the invasion we had as many as 25 men stuffed into the back. Marines were forced to sit, in full gear, on each other’s laps and in contorted positions for hours on end. That was the least of our problems … Sometimes we spent over 48 hours on the move without exiting the vehicles. We were forced to urinate in empty water bottles inches from our comrades.”

Is it a sign of progress?

History has recorded many women who participated in the battlefront. There was Queen Boudica, who led the Britons against Rome; Joan of Arc of France. Women fought in the First World War and in the Second World War, British and German women served in combat roles in anti-aircraft units. They were in the hundreds of thousands and said to have shot down thousands of enemy fliers. This was then widely accepted as they were not at risk of capture. But can we guarantee this today?

It’s well acknowledged the important role women play in society. Women are deemed less susceptible to temptation (corruption), they are also seen as better leaders in organisations, better at raising children, and, often, are the glue that keeps a family together, be it in a least, less, or developed world. The adage, educate a woman you educate a community was not said for no reason.

But will increasing the number of women in the military result in a more effective and efficient military? Follow-up question: is it a sign of “progress” for a country (or society or, even, civilisation) if women are given same option responsibility as men in protecting the country from the frontline? Will it in any way increase the fortunes of a society or a country?

Two schools of thought

Although women are built differently, the first school of thought on this debate is about “separate but equal” treatment and their talking points include:

● It is about objective standards, and if a soldier passes the various tests, physical, emotional, mental, etc., then they have earned the right to represent their country on the frontlines. However, it is rare to have the same people talk about the actual frontline experience of women under sustained fire and its impact over time.

● It is an opportunity to move up (fast track) the chain of command, and with women in higher places, women issues are better represented for informed solutions, hence, advancing career opportunities. This is the same argument put forth of need to have affirmative action quotas, be it the Bumiputera favourable treatment, a minimum set aside for board positions for women, and so on. Have such arguments prevailed in having Bumiputeras gain the targeted levels of economic parity? Or have boards recruited women based on competence or quota incentives?

The second and competing school of thought includes many former/present frontline combatants, and they have aired arguments against ending the prohibition, including:

● The physical demands of carrying 22kg of body-wear may be fine during training exercise, but under duress of conflict in hostile weather may result in lagging soldiers.

● Being able to carry injured colleagues (or retrieving killed soldier), weighing more than the carrier, to safer places for treatment. This actually places her directly in harm’s way.

● Stress and “distractions” of being in a fox-hole for extended period of time with male soldiers.

● The rate of suicide among men in combat, from Iraq to Afghanistan, has increased significantly, what of single mothers returning home?

● That time of month for women and the conditions in frontline battle fields.

● Being caught by enemy and torture includes rape and sexual assaults.

● Being bought back home in body bags.

Finally, it is well known that countries, like Israel, known to be on heightened alert of conflict, have banned women in combat as result of this experience.

History of women in conflicts

In Islam, according to narrations from the various historic accounts, Muslim women are exempted but are not prohibited to fight to defend their communities.

Muslim women can participate in battle zones with the Muslim army if the latter is a strong and powerful army and if there is no fear that Muslim women would be taken prisoners. Ibn Abdel Bar, an Islamic scholar, said: “They (the women) can go with the army if the army is strong enough to take hold of the enemy’s army.”

This is the opinion of all scholars and it is an imitation of a Sunnah that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did and his companions followed.

The Prophet took his wives and some of the wives of the Muslims in several holy battles in the company of the Prophet (pbuh) as narrated in a sound hadith. But it was also narrated that the role of women was mostly limited to looking after the wounded and providing food and drink to the men. Where she is required to travel, it is narrated that she should only do so within the limits of her nature. During the Prophet Muhammad’s lifetime, Aisha (RA) participated in the early battles. During the Battle of Uhud, for example, Aishah distributed water bags to the Muslim combatants on the battlefield.

Amazon’s ancient warriors?

The Amazon warriors were said to be a group of warrior women who belonged to an all-female culture and society in Greek mythology. They were reputed for their fearsome battle and fighting skills. These women are said to be as strong as any man, and tall and powerful. The Amazon warriors’ exact location is unknown, although recent evidence has found some Amazon remains are located in Cumbria, England. Most sources do concur that the Amazonians were around in Roman times from around 27 BC to 1400 AD. Whether the Amazon women warriors were a myth or a reality, what was prevalent in their tradition and said existence is that they were warriors who lived in all-female communities.

My daughter

In the final analysis, we ask ourselves if we will let our daughters, sisters, wives draft for frontline battle.

Would I encourage my daughter to become a combatant in the frontlines? I wonder if the defence secretary’s boss, President Barak Obama, would also encourage his two daughters to participate in direct combat. Or, put differently, if they wanted to serve their country as frontliners, would the president or the first lady discourage them?

There are cases recorded even in the US military where women in frontline combat have been kidnapped by enemy soldiers and sexually assaulted. This, despite the training they received in how to avoid these things. When women take on frontline combat roles, their male colleagues may put themselves in harm’s way to protect the honour of their female colleagues in a way they never would for fellow male officers.

Obviously, one is patriotic to the country that has given them life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. But surely there other ways to demonstrate patriotism. Must we place women in the most dangerous lines of fire to demonstrate this in the name of equality? Can there not be better roles for women in light of their genetic predispositions and special talents?

My views cannot be better represented than by a 2007 article which John Piper wrote in World magazine:

“If I were the last man on the planet to think so, I would want the honour of saying no woman should go before me into combat to defend my country. A man who endorses women in combat is not pro-woman; he’s a wimp. He should be ashamed. For most of history, in most cultures, he would have been utterly scorned as a coward to promote such an idea. Part of the meaning of manhood as God created us is the sense of responsibility for the safety and welfare of our women.”

How would you react to the following comment?

“It ain’t combat until the lead is coming at you!”

(Courtesy: The Malaysia Insider)

Altering perceptions of women in Muslim countries

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

By Kiran Khalid

When Malala Yousufzai was shot for demanding that Pakistani girls receive an education, the world took notice. But the din from the 15 year-old's assassination attempt by the Taliban resonated perhaps most loudly for people like Nadia Malik, the co-founder of the Global Partnership for Women and Girls.

"After the reality of what happened settled in, it only emphasized how important our mission is," Malik said.

In January 2012, the Global Partnership for Women and Girls was formed to promote the educational and economic advancement of Muslim women and girls. The fund is a special project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors and has funded pilot projects in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Senegal and the Palestinian territories.

Malik's mission with the Global Partnership for Women and Girls is a simple concept with complex realities. The philanthropy supports Muslim women and girls and their communities by investing in strategic and innovative nongovernmental organizations. The fund tries to accomplish this goal in societies where there is no level playing field for women.

"According to data from the Pew Research Center, Muslims represent 22% of the world's population," Malik said. "Yet Muslim-majority countries only contribute 11.2% to global GDP. There are more than 800 million Muslim women and girls in the world who represent an eighth of the world's population, but gender disparities contribute to the gap in global GDP."

But Malik says the Global Partnership for Women and Girls knows that the approach in Muslim societies needs to be sensitive to the local culture in order to work. In Afghanistan, the group partners with the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organization to train 100 imams and 25 active female leaders to address women's rights across madrassas, or religious schools, in the war-ravaged country.

The program is changing the way women are perceived. Malik describes an incident after one of the Friday sermons when an elderly man spoke out, clearly moved by the experience.

"He said, 'I have committed all sorts of violence against my daughters. I have received walwar (bride price) for them. I stopped them from getting an education. I forced their marriages. They are suffering every day because of my wrongs. Why were these imams not talking on these issues before?' "

Malik says that reaction is evidence that the program is working.

"Men are very much a part of the solution. Without engaging men and boys in some aspect of our work, the sustainability of the varied projects could be adversely impacted," she said. "This training effort is an important step in dispelling the myths of human rights in Islam and combating domestic violence."

The project, in partnership with he Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organization, is also a Clinton Global Initiative Commitment. Director Jamila Afghani says the program is its own kind of revolution because religious leaders once known for oppressing women now use the words of the Quran to promote fairness for them.

"These imams then have to work with other imams and preach the issue of women rights during the Jumma Khutbas (Friday sermons) to the public attending the prayers, so by this way we could reach thousands of people both male and female," Afghani wrote in an e-mail.

A similar project in neighboring Pakistan is also under way. Teacher training in female madrassas in Pakistan was broadened to include subjects such as math, science, history, gender equality, non-violence and human rights. Malik said this project was particularly successful because the local tribal leaders believed in its importance.

"We know how important it is to work within the local communities to address these challenges and opportunities in a way that is non-threatening to their environment. GPWG believes that these challenges are global but the solutions are indeed local," Malik said.

The fact that these programs are occurring in regions plagued by conflict is not lost on organizers who say the prospect of gender equality promotes peace.

"Peace and prosperity abroad means peace and prosperity for all of us in America," Malik said.

"It's in our national interest to invest in women and girls."

(Courtesy: CNN)

Indonesian Ulema in favour of female circumcision: a "human right"

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

The practice is "recommended" and according to "tradition", although it can not be made compulsory. For the head of the MUI it is within the "human rights" and is "guaranteed by the Constitution." Judge who "joked" about rape of women risks expulsion from judiciary.

By Mathias Hariyadi

Jakarta: The Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) is in favour of female circumcision (and men) that, although it can not be considered mandatory, it is still "morally recommended." This is shown by the words of the leader of the largest Islamic organization in the most populous Muslim country in the world. He warns, however, to avoid "excesses", coming to the removal or cutting of the clitoris. In the meantime, has come under investigation and will be prosecuted by a court "ethical" the judge who, in recent days, he "joked" about sexual violence to women, causing a veritable wave of outrage (see AsiaNews 15/01 / 2013 Ordinary Indonesians against judges and politicians who "justify" sexual violence).

The reference point for Islamic issues (such as the legality of a food and a drink), a "consultor" to the government in matters of faith, the body responsible for issuing fatwas - the answers on Muslim questions of faith and morals - the MUI has taken a position on female circumcision. And by the mouth of his head, Kiai Hajj Amin Ma'ruf, pointed out that it is an"advisable practise on moral grounds", at the same time, he rejects any attempt to declare this practice illegal or contrary to the principles. It comes under the sphere of "human rights," said the Islamist leader, and is "guaranteed by the Constitution."

"Female circumcision - said Amin - is commonly practiced by cutting out parts that cover the clitoris" and, at the same time, he invites believers to refrain from "excessive circumcision" that ends up becoming a real mutilation genital. He recalled that the Mui can not make this practice "mandatory", but "strongly rejects" the possible cancellation of this "tradition" which is performed in a "ritualistic ceremony" and also applies to men.

Meanwhile, a committee has called for trial before an "ethical" court for the judge Daming Sunusi. During a question and answer session - in the context of a competition for a few places in the Supreme Court, headed by a parliamentary committee - responding to a question regarding a rape, the judge had stated that "both the rapist because the victim 'enjoyed' sexual intercourse . For this reason the death penalty should not be applied to rapists".

Colleagues have branded the words of the judge Sunusi as "reprehensible", which have outraged the country's civil society and women's rights groups, rape and abuse victims. The proposed sanctions include expulsion from the judiciary. Following his statement he has tried to tone down the controversy by saying that it was a "joke" in order to ease the tension of the exam.

(Courtesy: AsiaNews.it)

The Nail Polish That’s Suitable for Muslim Women

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

By Kat Stoeffel

Polish cosmetics company Inglot claims to have manufactured the world’s first-known nail polish that's suitable for daily prayer, the "halal certified" 02M Breathable. Some Muslim women avoid nail polish because it creates a waterproof barrier over nails, making it impossible to sufficiently perform the pre-prayer washing ritual without repainting five times a day.

As a result, many women restrict manicures to period days when they don’t need to pray, according to Muslim blogger and scholar Mustafa Umar. “Yet many sisters will admit that they wish it would be somehow possible to wear nail polish at any time of the month,” he writes. “First, it is highly fashionable nowadays. Second, wearing nail polish usually indicates to another person that a sister is undergoing her period, which can be very embarrassing for others to know.”

The sheikh's delightfully rigorous coffee-filter test suggests Inglot’s claims of water permeability are sound, making the 02M breathable line no more haram than body lotion or henna. Whether a manicure meets the Muslim standards for modesty — or is worth the risk of being chased through a shopping mall by religious police — remains to be seen.

(Courtesy: The Cut)

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