PEOPLE: Obaid Siddiqi, a bio-scientist par excellence

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

Bangalore: Obaid Siddiqi, who passed away here late Friday (July 26, 2013) was a leading research scientist and founding director of the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) here.

"Siddiqi was one of India's finest biologists whose contribution to the growth of molecular biology was profound. Demonstrating that scientific research was creative, he pioneered behaviourial genetics by conducting research on the genetics of olfactory sensation in drosophila (fruit fly)," NCBS director Satyaji Mayor said here Saturday.

Born in 1932 in Uttar Pradesh, the young Siddiqi graduated from Aligarh Muslim University, and did his doctorate (PhD) on microbial genetics from University of Glasgow in Britain.

"Siddiqi was instrumental in setting up the NCBS here over two decades ago (1992) to explore new frontiers in biological research and motivate a generation of fellow bio-scientists to excel in the fascinating field," Mayor recalled.

Siddiqi, 80, leaves behind wife Asiya, two sons Imran and Kalim and two daughters Yumna and Diba.

Armed with a Ph.D, Siddiqi sailed to the US to do post-doctoral research at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York and at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, which led to the discovery of stop codons in the genetic code and mechanism of chain termination during protein synthesis.

"Siddiqi was among a daring few who defined a new intellectual quest and whose leadership created a culture of research. His foresight, determination and courage have transformed research in molecular biology in the country," said Biotechnology department secretary and former NCBS director K.Vijay Raghavan.

At the invitation of India's famous nuclear physicist Homi Bhabha in 1962, Siddiqi had set up the molecular biology unit at the TIFR in Mumbai (then Bombay), where foundation for modern biology research in the country was laid.

Siddiqi's pioneering work at the unit in the 1980s on the genetic basis of taste and smell of fruit fly paved way for the understanding of how senses detect taste and smell and encode in the brain.

Working with Seymour Benzer at Caltech (California Institute of Technology) in the US in the early seventies (1970s), he discovered a set of temperature sensitive paralytic mutants that exhibited defects in the electrical activity of nerves and muscles.

"The discovery led to an understanding of the mechanistic basis of neuronal function and heralded the dawn of the field of Behavioral Genetics," Mayor pointed out.

The Indian government honoured Siddiqi with several awards and medals, including the prestigious Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan, Bhatnagar Prize, Aryabhatta Medal by INSA (Indian National Science Academy) and BC Roy award for biomedical research.

During his six-decade long illustrious academic career, Siddiqi's contributions were widely recognised national and internationally.

He was also an elected member of the Royal Society, London (FRS), the US National Academy of Sciences, the World Academy of Sciences, Trieste, the Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangalore, National Academy of Sciences (India), Allahabad, and Maharashtra Academy of Sciences.

As a distinguished scholar, Siddiqi was a visiting professor at Yale University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and twice at Caltech and a life member of Clare Hall at Cambridge in Britain.

Aligarh Muslim University, Banaras Hindu University, Jamia Hamdard, Kalyani University, IIT Bombay, Jamia Millia Islamia and Central University of Hyderabad conferred upon him the honorary degree of Doctor of Science (D.Sc).

Siddiqi's last rites were performed here Saturday in the presence of hundreds of his colleagues, students, family members and friends.

(Courtesy: IANS, July 27, 2013)

‘Aman Chaupal’ forges Friendship between India and Pakistan

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

By Syed Ali Mujtaba

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SARS-Like Virus a threat to Muslim Pilgrims

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

By John Butler

In the movie “World War Z,” Brad Pitt travels the globe trying to determine how to stop the spread of a virus that is turning people into zombies. We aren’t facing a zombie epidemic, thankfully, but a new virus from the same family as SARS has been described by the director general of the World Health Organization as a threat to the entire world.

The Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) may not have the catchiest name, but with 90 cases to date and 45 deaths in eight countries, public health experts, including WHO Director General Margaret Chan, are worried. Saudi Arabia is the epicenter of the disease with 70 cases and 38 deaths recorded.

Transmission of the virus isn’t fully understood, but it is known to spread between humans. Wary of the threat, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Health has issued a warning ahead of the annual hajj pilgrimage in October, when millions of Muslims travel to Mecca.

The ministry says people with chronic diseases, the elderly, pregnant women and children under 12 should postpone their hajj this year. Last year, a record 3.16 million people took part in the pilgrimage, according to the Saudi Arabian government. It is a journey that every able-bodied Muslim is encouraged to make at least once in their lifetime.

Ataur Rahman, chief executive of the Haj Committee of India, says around 125,000 people from India will travel to Mecca for the hajj this year, down from 170,000 last year. The quota has been cut because of ongoing construction work on the Haram Mosque in Mecca.

A challenge for the Indian government is to ensure that pilgrims are aware of the virus and its symptoms without creating a panic. The symptoms of MERS-CoV include fever, severe pneumonia and kidney failure.

A recent study in the Lancet found that for every person infected, the ongoing transmission is between 0.6 and 0.69. With infection below one, MERS-CoV isn’t in a position to become a global health pandemic, however authors of the Lancet study have said the disease could still change due to factors like season change or events like the hajj.

There is no vaccine for MERS-CoV, which is a coronavirus. Coronaviruses are common in both animal and humans. Most humans will, at some point in their life, get a coronavirus that causes mild to moderate illness.

“Vaccines for coronaviruses in general are very difficult. There’s no vaccine against the common cold, which is caused by a coronavirus,” said Gregory Hartl, a spokesperson for the WHO. There is still no vaccine for SARS, 10 years after an outbreak of the virus infected over 8,000 people and led to 774 deaths, predominantly in Southeast Asia. SARS was ultimately phased out by keeping patients isolated and quarantining all suspected contacts.

The mortality rate for MERS-CoV is 50%, whereas for SARS it was approximately 8%. Only in acute cases did SARS cause all systems to collapse; for most people it was a pulmonary problem. MERS-CoV is also a respiratory disease but the virus goes on to attack the dialysis centers, causing kidney failure and full system collapse. This is the reason for the high mortality rate in the recorded cases.

“It’s very important that India not only think about being on alert to watch for returning pilgrims with pneumonia but more importantly that they get information now to the Muslim community across the nation,” said Laurie Garrett, a senior fellow for Global Health at the U.S.-based Council on Foreign Relations.

This will give pilgrims going to Saudi Arabia for the hajj, or for umrah – another pilgrimage that happens throughout the year – a sense of being prepared. They should know who to call if they develop symptoms, rather than sitting in public clinics and infecting others, Ms. Garrett said.

The Indian government has issued an advisory, said Sujeet Kumar Singh, deputy director general at the Ministry of Health. “We sensitized all health institutes about the epidemiology and the transmission of the MERS coronavirus, particularly with regard to the pilgrims who are traveling to the hajj,” he said.

“Lab facilities available for detection and diagnosis of these illnesses at various levels have also been made aware,” he added.

Saudi Arabia’s experience highlights how hospitals can stop the spread of the virus, said Allison McGeer, head of infection control at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital. Ms. McGeer visited Saudi Arabia and analyzed an MERS-CoV outbreak in Al-Hasa, where a cluster of 25 cases led to the deaths of 19 patients. The cluster was stopped by isolating suspected MERS-CoV patients and health workers taking precautions such as wearing gloves and facial masks.

“Saudi Arabia did this very nicely, it had an ugly outbreak, it’s not what anyone wanted but they stopped it at the first hospital,” Ms. McGeer said. “I don’t think that’s an impossible ask for many health care systems in India,” she added.

Important information about the virus remains unknown. “We know that the virus can spread from human to human, but critically we do not know the host of the virus or how it is transmitted to humans,” Ms. McGeer said.

Bats, horses, and camels have been considered as hosts or bridges linking the disease to humans. But there’s no certainty yet.

A new killer virus with unknown hosts and means of transmission presents a threat. It’s not zombies, but it is worrying.

(Courtesy: The Wall Street Journal)

Pakistani Christians angered by ‘Sweeper’ comment

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in

Pakistani Christians have been angered by a statement by the chief minister of the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa that only “non-Muslims will be recruited as sweepers.”

The province, known for short as KPK, borders Afghanistan. Its chief minister, Pervez Khattak, who is in former international cricketer Imran Khan’s party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), says that he was quoted out of context and misinterpreted.

Khattak denied that he intended anything derogatory. He said he was only responding to minorities’ concerns over access to jobs they have traditionally taken now being denied by applicants who claim that as Muslims they cannot do “unclean” jobs anyway.

Nevertheless, the Christians’ anger (sparked when a local Urdu channel, Capital TV, reported the statement) went viral and has hit national headlines because it highlights long-entrenched discriminatory practices rooted in the Indian subcontinent’s history and still faced by Pakistan’s Christians and low-caste Hindus.

Christians took Khattak’s remark to be deeply offensive, with many saying that it showed the “true” stance of PTI, whose election slogan in May was “Justice, Humanity and Self-Esteem.”

Khattak is PTI’s first-ever provincial chief minister. In May, PTI surprisingly won the militancy-hit northwestern KPK and now runs its first coalition government there.

Christians are the main minority in Pakistan, although a small number of Hindus and Sikhs also live there. Hence, Christians took the chief minister’s statement as a direct reference to them, although others add that non-Pashtun ethnic groups, such as Persian-speaking Hazaras, might also have been implicated.

As the Christian community took offense, the opposition Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader Napoleon Qayyum on July 11 filed a petition for an apology in the Lahore high court. The petitioner made Khattak and the two Capital TV talk-show hosts parties to the “offensive statement.”

Albert David, chairman of the Pakistan United Christian Movement, asks how Khattak could say that Muslims are not eligible for sweepers’ jobs and that only members of the minority communities could perform this task.

“Whatever the context, it is very insensitive to say that the jobs of sweeping would only be given to minorities,” he says.

Article 27 (1) of the Constitution of Pakistan says, “No citizen otherwise qualified for appointment in the service of Pakistan shall be discriminated against in respect of any such appointment on the ground only of race, religion, caste, sex, residence or place of birth.”

(Courtesy: Charisma News)

Oldest mosque in UK: The Shah Jahan

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

The Shah Jahan Mosque is the first mosque that was built in the United Kingdom in 1889 by a Hungarian.

The Shah Jahan Mosque, the first mosque that was built in the United Kingdom in 1889 by a Hungarian-/Jewish-born linguist Gottleib Wilhelm Leitner, is a very popular mosque visited by non-Muslims as well and suppresses Islamophobia in UK.

The mosque, built in 1889 by a Hungarian-/Jewish-born linguist Leitner and situated on Oriental Road in Woking, was the first mosque to be built in the UK.

Muslim Indian prince who covered the expenses and financed the mosque gave his name to the mosque.

The secretary of the mosque, Asad Jamil told AA that Muslim Indian prince who named the mosque could not visit or see the mosque during his lifetime.

During Ramadan, the holy month for Muslims, 1,800 Muslims pray in the mosque at Friday prayer, Jumma.

Over three million Muslims in the UK, especially, Pakistani and Indian Muslims pray in the mosque.

Jamil added that, Muslims and non-Muslims who live in Woking, admire the mosque owing to its history.

The mosque is a very popular one that has been visited by non-Muslims as well and has suppressed Islamophobia in UK.

(Courtesy: World Bulletin)

Aussie Muslims Denounce Anti-Halal Stickers

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

Muslims accused rightist groups of spreading baseless misconceptions about a peaceful Muslim community.

Brisbane: A new sticker campaign linking halal food to terrorism has angered Australian Muslims, accusing rightist groups of spreading baseless misconceptions about a peaceful Muslim community.

"We are speechless, what do we say about this," Islamic Council of Queensland president Mohammed Yusuf told 7News on Wednesday, July 24.

“There is so much misconception about Halal... it is a simple question of us meeting our religious rights, just like the Jewish community.”

Concept of Halal Meat

The Muslim uproar has been sparked by the discovery of a jar of coffee with its seal broken at a Woolworths supermarket at Underwood, south of Brisbane, earlier this month.

The jar had a sticker saying ‘‘Beware! Halal food funds terrorists’’.

After search, the stickers were found to be sold by Restore Australia, Restore Australia whose CEO is Mike Holt, the One Nation Party’s candidate for the federal seat of Fairfax.

Holt, who co-founded the organization, says on the company website that Restore Australia is a non-political organization wanting to restore power to the people.

He added that he stood by his website and that Muslims were “forcing a Halal tax on us” through certification which raised money for terrorism.

“The Australian people should be able to vote in a referendum on whether we want to pay a Halal tax or not,” according to the Restore Australia website.

“Plaster the anti-Halal stickers everywhere and help educate Aussies about the creeping attack on our food supply.”

The police investigation ended up in the arrest of a 27-year-old Kingston woman who will front the Beenleigh Magistrates Court on Friday charged with one count of product contamination.

After her arrest, Restore Australia posted an appeal on Facebook asking for the name of lawyers who might help her for free.

"Nestle has decided to fight back against our anti-halal sticker campaign by having a 19-year-old girl in Brisbane arrested for 'product tampering'. Alleging that she put an anti-Halal sticker on one of their jars of coffee and then opened it," Restore Australia said.

"Nestle has just... shot themselves in the foot. Instead of doing the right thing and stop selling us out to Islam, they have decided to pick on a young woman and take her to court."

Hate Mongering

Rejecting claims that sales from Halal food funded terrorism as baseless, the Islamic Council of Queensland announced they will look to see what action they will take.

"We are doing our best to make people understand this process... however people are trying to get political mileage out of this and are trying to inflame the issue at election time," Yusuf said.

"(I) absolutely condemn it in the sense it is highly inappropriate to make these sort of statements when they are not true... the money raised from Halal is funding terrorism is a totally baseless statement," he added.

The concept of halal, -- meaning permissible in Arabic -- has traditionally been applied to food.

Muslims do not eat pork and consider pigs and their meat filthy and unhealthy to eat.

Muslims should only eat meat from livestock slaughtered by a sharp knife from their necks, and the name of Allah, the Arabic word for God, must be mentioned.

Muslims, who have been in Australia for more than 200 years, make up 1.7 percent of its 20-million population.

Islam is the country's second largest religion after Christianity.

(Courtesy: OnIslam.net)

Islam shaped US Character: Obama

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , ,

Obama, who has hosted five Iftar dinners, said that these events celebrate diversity that defines the country

Cairo: US President Barack Obama has hosted a White House iftar to celebrate the holy month of Ramadan, praising American Muslims for their contributions in helping build the country and saying Islam has contributed to the character of America.

"As the Qur’an teaches, whoever does an atom's weight of good will see its results," Obama said in remarks before the iftar and cited by The Hill congressional newspaper.

"Muslim Americans and their good works have helped to build our nation, and we've seen the results," he added.

White House Iftar, Muslim Leaders Absent

Obama, who has hosted five Iftar dinners, said that these events celebrate diversity that defines the country.

Ramadan is “a time of reflection, a chance to demonstrate ones devotion to God through prayer and through fasting, but it’s also a time for family and friends to come together”, he said addressing the gathering.

The US president added that Islam has contributed to the character of America.

“Throughout our history, Islam has contributed to the character of our country, and Muslim-Americans, and their good works, have helped to build our nation – and we’ve seen the results,” he said according to a White House pool report.

“We’ve seen those results in generations of Muslim immigrants – farmers and factory workers, helping to lay the railroads and build our cities,” he said.

The White House iftar is a tradition that began annually under President Clinton and was continued by President George W. Bush.

The invited guests include elected officials, religious and grassroots leaders in the Muslim American community, and leaders of diverse faiths and members of the diplomatic corps.

Ramadan is the holiest month in Islamic calendar.

In Ramadan, adult Muslims, save the sick and those traveling, abstain from food, drink, smoking and sex between dawn and sunset.

Most dedicate their time during the holy month to become closer to Allah through self-restraint, good deeds and prayer.

Building Future

Obama has urged American Muslims to contribute in building better economic ties with the Middle East, focused on entrepreneurship during much of his speech.

“Every day, Muslim Americans are helping to shape the way that we think and the way that we work and the way that we do business," he said.

"And that’s the spirit that we celebrate tonight -- the dreamers, the creators whose ideas are pioneering new industries, creating new jobs and unleashing new opportunities for all of us.”

Obama recognized three entrepreneurs, including Shazi Visram, the founder and chief executive of Happy Family Organic Superfoods, Aunim Hossain, chief executive of Tista Games, and Iya Khalil, who co-founded GNS Healthcare, a biotech research company.

“So Shazi, Aunim, Iya, and so many of you who have traveled here tonight -- each of you have traveled your own path, but each of you have also lived out an American story.

“And of course, this isn’t just the American Dream; it’s the aspiration of people around the world. It’s the basic human desire for progress, to find dignity that comes from work, to give our children something better.”

The United States is home to from 6-7 million Muslims.

(Courtesy: OnIslam.net)

If a housewife can figure it out, why can’t the Municipality?

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in ,

By Tariq A. Al-Maeena

Jeddah Municipality has come to be known by the residents of the city as a lot of things. Unfortunately most of them are not very flattering. That is not to say that the reputation earned has been unjust. Residents have had a long list of woes that have now stretched over four decades with no reprieve in sight.

In the early days of Ramadan as motorists had barely begun to adjust to the demands of fasting, the Municipality sprung a surprise that caught most of the city dwellers unawares. They closed down several main intersections on one of Jeddah’s main thoroughfares, Al-Malek Road, forcing motorists to navigate their way helter-skelter across to the other side. Since the other side happens to lead west to the Corniche where many people go during Ramadan to break their fast, it was a nightmare in the works.

It seems that some bureaucratic genius in that public disservice institution decided that the solution to Jeddah’s traffic problems lay in closing down intersections. Instead, he devised a scheme where motorists who had to get to the other side of the blocked main road had to turn right, and then merge rapidly to the extreme left where a single lane U-turn exit was created. The danger lay in the driver having to risk all and merge quickly across several lanes as speeding cars on the main road whizzed by without letup. I have heard that there have already been several traffic accidents as a result.

In no country of the civilized world have I seen such a traffic arrangement and I have driven in quite a few. Is it rocket science to plan and manage traffic flows? Is competency not an inherent requirement of any public service official? Or should residents continue to suffer in silence as more and more acts of incompetence are heaped upon them?

A British reader, who is also not amused by the creative value of this public service institution, sent me her observations on another annoying issue that fails to be resolved even though it is out there for all to see. She writes:

“This week I went to the big strip mall on Tahlia where Magrabi and Lacoste are located. We got there exactly at 10 A.M. and the parking in front of the mall was already completely full, not only full but with vehicles double parked on both sides, leaving a small single lane to drive through.

We thought there must have been a big sale on. We had to park in the back of the mall on a side street. As we walked to the shop, we noticed there were hardly any customers in any shop, literally just us.

“The next day we had to return at the same time and the same thing – the parking was full, cars double and triple parked but no shoppers. I asked the salesman why that was so, and he replied that the parking lot was usually full from 8 A.M. onwards from the people working in the offices above the mall.

“So businesses have rented a shop with four parking spaces each in front of it for their customers, but the employees of the offices upstairs are taking up their parking. There is office parking in the back, but only two spaces per office are allocated. Each office only has two employees presumably?

“Another new office building is going up on Sultan Street, at the lights of the junction with Kayal Street. There are four parking spaces in front of the building. Are they only expecting four visitors at a time? Where will their employees park? Will they just jam up the lights, or will they park in the residential streets behind the building and thus end up blocking all those small streets and inconveniencing everyone who lives there?

“Zara, a popular store on Tahlia Street and one of the busiest shops in Jeddah, has only six spaces allocated in front of it. Are they only expecting six customers at a time? I don’t understand why in this day and age buildings are still being constructed without adequate parking slots. How are they getting the permission to build like that?

“My other observation is that in driving from the north into Jeddah, the traffic flow around Rehaily district is an accident waiting to happen.

There are slow moving trucks coming from the north, and they need to move across all the fast lanes to get to the expressway which is on the far left lane. Then slow moving trucks leaving the expressway again feed into the fast lane of Madinah Road.

“In the other direction a U-turn feeds into the fast lane of Madinah Road. This junction needs a bridge to take the trucks on, off and over Madinah Road to the expressway so that the trucks can enter into the slow lane. As a housewife, if I can work this out, why can’t the ‘experts’ that plan Jeddah’s roads do it? S.N.”

Perhaps the Municipality would like to answer her and enlighten the rest of us as well who fail to comprehend the competency of our city officials.

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

(Courtesy: Saudi Gazette)

It’s Ramadan: Do not disturb the faster?

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

By Rushdi Siddiqui

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

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

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

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

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

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

Muslims in West

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

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

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

White House, work & commute

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stronger Muslims?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Code of conduct

A proposed code of conduct during Ramadan may include:

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

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

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

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

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


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

Ramadan Kareem Malaysia.

(Courtesy: TheMalayMailOnline.com)

Interview with Shamim Akhtar, CEO, Delhi Waqf Board: "India for all practical purpose is a Brahmin state. Muslims are the new untouchables in the Governance of India"

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 23 July 2013 | Posted in , , , , ,

Every year many Muslim candidates sit in civil service examination but once they become successful in their endeavor of becoming an IAS officer they get disappeared, whereas some of them remain in touch with community, and there are very few who are concerned and sincerely work for the betterment of the community. Shamim Akhtar is one such IAS allied officer who has over the years done lot of good things as far as community is concerned. Shamim Akhtar is ADM north as well as CEO of Delhi Waqf Board. Those who know him or met him are well aware of the fact that he is a very down to earth officer, a passionate photographer, extremely good human being and extraordinary genius. Shahabuddin Yaqub, Managing Editor of IndianMuslimObserver.com, recently talked to Mr. Akthar and explored various facets of his enterprising personality. Here are the excerpts of his interview.

Shahabuddin Yaqub: I would like to ask first about your childhood memories. Have you ever thought that you were a different boy as compared to the rest of boys of your time?

Shamim Akhtar: I was born in an average Muslim family of Bihar. My honest father could not afford the tuition fee of any private school so most of my education was through Government Schools. Early childhood memories are filled with lots of love from father and a sense of responsibility as the eldest son in a family of eleven kids.

I never thought of being any different from my peer group, but I was born with a sense of responsibility as the eldest son.

Shahabuddin Yaqub: Your father was a highly regarded man and an honest officer? What are the qualities you have imbibed from your father?

Shamim Akhtar: Yes. My father was a practicing Muslim and hence a very honest officer with Govt. of Bihar as PCS (Allied) service. His memory was extraordinary and I think I have inherited from him somewhat sharp memory besides being an upright man in my own right.

Shahabuddin Yaqub: Where have you done your schooling from? Whom you remember when you reminisce of your school time?

Shamim Akhtar: I did my primary schooling from Chapra and then came to Danapur Cantt as my father was transferred and continued my education in Baldeva School (a Government School) and passed my 10th in 1985. I was almost friendless during my school days. The only friend other than School books were comics (I was very fond of comic books and I almost had a library of my own).

Shahabuddin Yaqub: Who inspired you to come to Delhi and get yourself admitted in JNU?

Shamim Akhtar: I was doing my B.A (Hons.) in Sociology from B.N College (Patna University) and almost everybody was filling the form of JNU. I was not interested in pursuing M.A (my idea was to go for civil services exam as my father wanted). A friend in college, Sanjay Nagpatni, asked me to fill the form of JNU and when I said that I was not interested in M.A, he challenged that I was not intelligent enough to qualify the entrance and if I qualified he would give me five hundred rupees.

It was he who paid for the forms and fees for me too. Incidentally I qualified the test and he could not.

Shahabuddin Yaqub: What was your first experience at the time of admission in JNU?

Shamim Akhtar: My result of B.A (Hons.) was delayed and with great difficulty I managed to get the provisional result from Patna University and in that confidential result it was mentioned that I had failed in Urdu (a qualifying subject only). I rushed to Patna, and got that rectified (it's another story).

So finally on the last day of admission I was formally admitted to JNU.

Needless to say that the campus has left a very strong impression on me.

Shahabuddin Yaqub: Has JNU played a great role in your life? Or is it your hard work and dedication that has opened the doors of success in your life?

Shamim Akhtar: I spent only two years in JNU (After M.A., I did not write the test for M.Phil, but went ahead with my preparation for the civil service exam). But, yes to a great extent JNU not only influenced my thought process but almost reshaped my life. Nothing comes without hard work, but without JNU my path could not be as easy.

Moreover, I met Sasmita (my classmate and now my life partner) in JNU . Without Sasmita I probably could not have achieved much in life, so my sincere thanks to JNU.

Shahabuddin Yaqub: Today you are known as one of the great and most admired photographers of India. Some of your works have been regarded as world`s best photographs. How did you get this success as you have not done any course in photography?

Shamim Akhtar: By the grace of Allah, now my work in the field of photography is being recognized a bit. I am a self taught photographer since the tender age of ten. At 15 years of age I used to do commercial photography in Patna for pocket money. It's a very long journey of passion. I do not consider myself to be a successful photographer yet , but Insha Allah someday I will claim my rightful position in Paris.

Shahabuddin Yaqub: You have done few coffee table books. Please let us know about these books and where did you get idea to write these books?

Shamim Akhtar: I was posted in Lakshadweep, the beautiful coral island of India, (my first posting) and there was not even a single good book on Lakshadweep. The photographer in me could not resist the idea of doing a coffee table book. Sasmita wanted to write a monograph on Lakshadweep, so we decided to do the fusion. She wrote the text and I did the photography. This book was completed in two years without any help from government or any other organization. At one point of time Publication Division "considered" our book and after two years returned saying that it was not up to the mark.

Then Sasmita decided to publish the book on her own, and by the grace of Allah, our first book "Floating Pearls in the Arabian Sea - Lakshadweep" was published by Nishcam Publication (Sasmita's firm) in 2007.

The second book "Rode to Heaven - Ladakh" is my biker's diary which did much better in open market and boosted our confidence. This was published in 2009.

The third book "Forgotten Dilli - Portrait of an immortal city" is actually a body of work on mediaeval Delhi which took 16 long years of research and passionate photography. This book has won international applause. This was published in 2010.

My latest coffee table book is "Kailasa - a journey within". This is one of a kind book on the abode of Lord Shiva and has been liked by scholars like Dr. Karan Singh. This was published in 2011.

All our books are self funded without any support from any organization.

Shahabuddin Yaqub: Apart from photography what are your other hobbies? I have heard that you are a passionate biker too? Please tell us about this.

Shamim Akhtar: Since the age of 18, I have been riding solo (mostly in the Himalayas). I can't say that I used to ride to take pictures or vice versa! I am still a solo rider and I have ridden almost all over the Himalayas on my Bullet. In fact My Ladakh book is a testimony of my ride. I have ridden to Ladakh four times now.

Shahabuddin Yaqub: As a civil servant, an allied IAS officer, how is your experience?

Shamim Akhtar: Though there are 27 services in the list of Civil Services conducted by UPSC, in reality there are only two civil services -- IAS and non- IAS. Allied services are second grade and I can't say that my experience is very positive.

Shahabuddin Yaqub: We heard about corruption. Do you agree that there is corruption in bureaucracy?

Shamim Akhtar: Without corruption bureaucracy is unthinkable. There is absolute corruption at every level.

Shahabuddin Yaqub: If so, then what is the way to eradicate the corruption from bureaucracy?

Shamim Akhtar: It's a long debate, but from my point of view to eradicate corruption, we will have to eradicate bureaucracy itself. In fact I absolutely agree with the point of view of Sardar Patel that free India should not have permanent bureaucracy which British used for the drain of wealth. It was the mistake of Pundit Jawahar Lal Nehru that he retained the same pseudo son of the British. There is no difference in the then ICS or the IAS of today. Bureaucracy works for itself and not for the nation.

Shahabuddin Yaqub: Many efforts are being done to increase the number of Muslims aspirants In IAS but the percentage of success is not growing. Why is it so? Is there any way to maximize the numbers in civil service examination?

Shamim Akhtar: What I feel of Civil Services, I have already mentioned in my previous answer. Though, what cannot be cured must be endured. Since India is still governed by IAS officers, there is a need of more Muslim representation in the service. Why there are very few Muslims in Civil Services, reasons are many, I would make an attempt to pen down few...

(1.) This exam requires mental confidence starting from class ten. Most of the Muslims do not take their school education very seriously. Neither there are many English medium Muslim schools in the country.

(2.) This is an expensive exam (books , coaching etc). Needless to say that the Muslim community is not very well placed financially.

(3.) This exam requires full time preparation of at least two years, which not many Muslim parents are willing to afford...

As such the reasons could be many, but the fact remains that our community is not a very well educated one. To maximize the numbers of Muslims in IAS, a long term strategy is required.

Emphasizing the need for good English medium schooling could be a good starting point.

Shahabuddin Yaqub: Have you ever felt that you are being discriminated because you belong to a particular community?

Shamim Akhtar: If I say that there is no discrimination in Governance, I would be a hypocrite and an insult to my father's teachings. India for all practical purpose is a Brahmin state. Specially in Civil Services, the hierarchy is as follows...


Other Upper Caste Hindus

Lower Caste Hindus

Scheduled Caste Hindus

Scheduled Tribes






and at the bottom Muslims.

Muslims are nothing but the new untouchables in the Governance of India. Of course, I have been discriminated despite my hard work because I am a Muslim.

Shahabuddin Yaqub: Why is communalism growing in India? What are the reasons according to your understanding?

Shamim Akhtar: Let's look back in history, why there was not a single Muslim reform through legislation in the time of Pundit Jawahar Lal Nehru? He enacted several legislations for Hindu reforms. Communalism is not a two way process in India. It has been imposed on Muslims. and the system branded Muslims as communal and terrorists. It's a conspiracy of the Government. Look at the Babri Masjid verdict, it is very clear that how Brahmins perceive Muslim and their culture and identity.

To my understanding, if the governance of India does not change its perception about Muslims, we can expect much worse condition in times to come.

Shahabuddin Yaqub: You are ADM north as well as CEO of Delhi Waqf Board. Is there any reason to be given additional responsibility to you, while other Muslim officer could be appointed as CEO of DWB?

Shamim Akhtar: As per the Waqf Act, only a Muslim can be appointed as CEO. So there is no choice. There are very few Muslim officers, hence this additional charge is routine. Moreover, ADM is much too junior a position for my seniority ( I am 1996 Batch of DANICS and in JAG grade since 2010. Despite repeated request to services, the Govt. is not posting me to my deserving position.)

Shahabuddin Yaqub: As a CEO what are the challenges before you? How you are going to solve it?

Shamim Akhtar: The biggest challenge is the financial health of Waqf Board. I alone as CEO can't do much.

There is support from the Chairman and all the members. So, through rationalizing the property management, we are soon going to be financially independent... Insha Allah.

Shahabuddin Yaqub: DWB has ample resources to generate money but these resources are not being managed properly, do you agree?

Shamim Akhtar: Yes, the properties are not managed properly. We are trying to do so slowly but surely.

Shahabuddin Yaqub: Muslims are far behind in education, health and employment. How can Delhi Waqf Board play a role to bring community forward in these areas? Community does not have good schools and hospitals in Delhi, as CEO have you given any thought to it?

Shamim Akhtar: Education, Health, and Employment is the domain of Governance and my previous few answers clarifies the attitude of Governments towards Muslims. Not much should be expected from Waqf Board which is not even able to manage its day to day affairs.

But, soon, we are going to develop our properties and even opening good schools and hospitals for the community is on our agenda.

Shahabuddin Yaqub: We perceive that DWB is not well connected with the community. As far as youths are concerned they are not very much aware about DWB? Do you want youths to be part of DWB? What initiatives are you going to take in this regard?

Shamim Akhtar: It is correct that Muslim youth are not aware of the good work being carried out by DWB, but we have to work hard to involve youth so that they understand our work and be a part in conserving Waqf properties.

Shahabuddin Yaqub: Please put some light on the activities and responsibilities which are being carried out by DWB towards community?

Shamim Akhtar: There are twin fold responsibility of the Waqf Board. All the mosques, Muslim graveyards, madarsas, dargah ...etc is to be managed by Delhi Waqf Board in Delhi. Social welfare measures like widow pension, financial support to students, etc is also to be taken care of by DWB for Muslims in Delhi.

Shahabuddin Yaqub: On the occasion of thanksgiving program which was held at IICC recently you have presented dozens of your precious photographs to IICC, what prompted you to present them to IICC?

Shamim Akhtar: I have done the book " Forgotten Dilli - portrait of an immortal city" with a purpose of making the citizens aware of the fact that Delhi was not built in a day. These mediaeval monuments are witness to our composite culture and pride. The pictures from the book was displayed recently at IICC, New Delhi and I gifted them my work so that they can understand the relevance of these pictures and preserve them for future generations.

Shahabuddin Yaqub: Do you have any message for the Muslim community?

Shamim Akhtar: First of all, every Muslim in India should ask a question to himself. Who partitioned this country in 1947, and if at all it was the will of the Muslim community in India, why majority of Muslims decided to stay back in India?

We the Muslims of India must remember that our ancestors decided to stay back here for the sake of love of their motherland and that makes all of us patriots. Muslims should restrain from all kind of violence and through education and right politicization, must reclaim their rightful palace in India.

Moreover, the responsibility to unite India once again lies on the shoulder of the Indian Muslims.

We must raise voice for unification of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to make India once again the glorious nation that it is.

Shahabuddin Yaqub: What are priorities in your life? In next ten year what you are going to plan?

Shamim Akhtar: My priorities are very simple, to be a good son to my family and to be good father to my kids besides being a good and responsible citizen of INDIA.

I have always pursued my passions and would continue to do so till I die. So, in the next ten years I see myself very much on the same road, few miles ahead of being the upright man that I am. Rest is the will of Allah, that always prevails.

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