Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Oldest and Youngest

Oldest/Youngest V

I just love that bald head, MashaALLAH.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

The Importance of Shia-Sunni Dialogue

By Maulana Waris Mazhari

(Translated by Yoginder Sikand)

Historically, there have been few efforts among Muslims to address and reform the ways in which the different Muslim sects, particularly Shias and Sunnis, consider and relate to each other. In part, this is because the tradition of ijtihad has been largely lost and Islamic thought has fallen prey to stagnation and rigid taqlid or blind conformity to past precedent. Had Muslim scholars cared to revisit much of their inherited intellectual tradition, we would have been spared some of the horrors of intra-Muslim, particularly Shia-Sunni, rivalries and conflicts that have, over the centuries, taken a terrible toll.

In its origins, the Shia-Sunni split was a product of a particular political context and a particular political conflict, which should have been addressed and solved. However, this did not happen, and these differences were magnified by taking on a religious colour. No serious efforts were made to reduce or to put an end to these differences. Instead, they were allowed to further widen over the centuries. Today, in many places, Shia-Sunni conflicts have become acute, taking a heavy toll of precious human lives. Lamentably, some extremist forces among both groups are fired by a fierce hatred for each other, and see each other as veritable infidels.

Certain misunderstandings on both sides have helped build a massive wall between Shias and Sunnis. So, for instance, many Shias wrongly believe that Sunnis are enemies of the Ahl-e Bayt, the family of the Prophet, and that they respect the murderers of Imam Hussain, the grandson of the Prophet. Likewise, many Sunnis erroneously believe that Shias regard the existing Quran as having been tampered with, that they abuse the companions of the Prophet and that they engage in sexual license in the name of muta or ‘temporary marriage’.

In actual fact, these views are baseless, exaggerated or else taken completely out of their contexts. Shia scholars have repeatedly stressed that they do not believe that the Quran was modified or tampered with. The number of Shias who openly abuse (tabarra) the companions of the Prophet is relatively very small. And muta or temporary marriage is regarded by the Shias as permissible only under certain conditions. It must not be forgotten that according to Sunni scholars permission for muta was given in the early period of Islam. Ignoring all this, many Sunni scholars wrongly use arguments that applied to some ancient extreme (ghali) Shia groups in the past that upheld some extreme and clearly un-Islamic views and attribute these views to the present-day Ithna Ashari or Jafari Shias, who form the majority of the Shia population. This is very unfortunate. Likewise, it is also lamentable that some Shias accuse Sunnis of hating the Ahl-e Bayt or Imam Hussain. This is completely wrong. The way the Sunnis express their love for these personages may be different from that of the Shias but certainly no one can accuse the Sunnis of hating them.

It is not easy to remove negative stereotypes that different social and religious groups have of each other. Generally, most people are unwilling to come out of the narrow grooves into which they are stuck and seek to understand others dispassionately. In this regard, one also has to take into account certain political factors responsible for further widening mistrust between Shias and Sunnis. The Islamic Revolution in Iran gave a major boost to anti-Shia sentiments in Sunni quarters as many Sunni Arab rulers feared that it might inspire similar revolutionary anti-regime and anti-imperialist movements in their own countries. Lamentably, they and influential organizations allied to them played a major role in fanning hatred and promoting propaganda against the Shias. They produced a massive amount of anti-Shia literature which they widely disseminated, and in this some of our Indian Sunni ulema were also involved.

Today, a fairly large number of socially conscious Shias and Sunnis are seriously interested in promoting Shia-Sunni dialogue and understanding. It must be admitted that Shia leaders are taking much more interest in this regard than their Sunni counterparts. The Iranian Government has even set up a special organization, called Al-Majma al-Alami Li’t Taqrib Bayn al-Mazahib al-Islamiya, for precisely this purpose, something that no government of any Sunni country has done.


The only sensible and proper way to approach the question of Shia-Sunni relations and to seek to improve them is through dialogue. Such dialogue must be predicated on both groups working with each other on issues on which both of them are agreed, and on searching for points for discussion and exchange with regard to issues on which they differ. Shia-Sunni dialogue, it must be recognized, is indispensable for the project of wider Muslim unity, solidarity and ecumenism. Through this sort of dialogue both groups can benefit and learn from each other. And yet, throughout the centuries, this work of dialogue has been almost wholly neglected. It is necessary, therefore, to take up Shia-Sunni dialogue not just as a political necessity but also as a religious imperative. Both Shias and Sunnis believe in the same Quran, which exhorts believers to hold fast to the rope of God and not to split into sects. It is precisely because the issue of Shia-Sunni dialogue has not been seriously taken up by the Shia and Sunni religious leadership that imperialist forces inimical to Muslims and Islam have taken, and continue to take, advantage of these sectarian differences to weaken both of them. It is intriguing in this regard to note that while today various Islamic groups are talking so much about inter-religious dialogue—something that, of course, is very welcome—they continue to completely ignore the pressing need for intra-Muslim sectarian dialogue, such as between Sunnis and Shias and between the different sect-like groups among the Sunnis.

It is urgent that socially conscious Shia and Sunni ulema seriously take up the issue of Shia-Sunni dialogue. In this they must be inspired by a genuine concern for the other. They must seek to understand each other. They must desist from heated polemics. They must also stop thinking that dialogue can only happen when the supposedly rival party gives up the views that the other party does not agree with. Obviously, no dialogue can at all happen if this is the case. It is also imperative that Shias and Sunnis refrain from promoting hate-driven propaganda against each other. Instead of seeking to discuss their differences in a serious and academic manner, often these are brought out into the streets by rabble-rousers who have a vested interest in stirring Shia-Sunni strife. This is precisely what has transformed Pakistan into a living hell of sectarian hatred and war. Such elements must be sought to be socially ostracized and marginalized.

This year, on the occasion of Eid, Sunnis and Shia jointly offered prayers in Lucknow . This was a very welcome development. It was a result of the initiative taken by two leading Islamic scholars of the city, the Shia leader Maulana Kalbe Sadiq and the Sunni scholar Maulana Khalid Rashid Firangi Mahali. Steps towards dialogue and unity like this are a very encouraging portent and must be promoted.

While talking about Shia-Sunni ecumenism, one must also raise the question about the possibility of Sunnis accepting the Shia Jafari school of Islamic jurisprudence or fiqh as a legitimate one, a fifth school in addition to the existing four schools followed by most Sunnis. The Jamia Al-Azhar, one of the largest and most influential madrasas in the Sunni world, recognizes the Jafari school, in addition to the Ibadi and Zaidi schools, as legitimately Islamic. Half a century or so ago, Shaikh Mahmud Shaltut, rector of Al-Azhar, had even advocated the inclusion of the Jafari school in the madrasa’s curriculum. Unfortunately, no such efforts have been made in the madrasas of South Asia . The chances of this happening in Pakistan are very slim, but if some notable madrasa in India does this it can have a wide-reaching impact. A prominent feature of the Ithna Ashari Jafari school of fiqh is that it has kept the doors of ijtihad open, in contrast to most Sunni schools. This is why it has more flexibility and capacity for change than its Sunni counterparts, and this aspect can be made use of by other schools of fiqh. Likewise, if Shia scholars accept the logic, as the Sunnis do, that the basis of accepting or rejecting a Hadith report should be the truthfulness or otherwise of its narrators, and not that the narrator must necessarily be from the family of the Prophet, they can, at least to some extent, benefit from the more well-preserved corpus of Hadith traditions of the Sunnis. In this way, too, the yawning gulf that separates Sunnis and Shias can be addressed to a considerable extent.

‘Ordinary’ Shias and Sunnis must also seek to work together on common issued at the social level. They, as well as their religious leaders, can participate in each others’ religious and social gatherings and even admit them into their organizations. This can serve be a means for them to share their views and for their views to come closer. As of now, unfortunately, in India there is just one notable Muslim organization that has a mixed Shia-Sunni membership. This is the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board, whose Vice-President is the noted Shia scholar Maulana Kalbe Sadiq. The Board needs to further increase the number of its Shia members. Other Muslim organizations in the country that claim to speak for all Muslims should do the same. At the social level, too, consistent efforts must be made to seek to reduce the Shia-Sunni divide. In this regard, I would like to cite the instance of Iraq , where mixed Shia-Sunni unions account for almost a third of all marriages. In India , in contrast, such marriages are very rare. According to some broad-minded Sunni scholars, such as Shaikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, such marital alliances between Shias and Sunnis are indeed permissible.

In other words, Shia-Sunni dialogue needs to proceed on two broad fronts: at the level of socially conscious and broad-minded ulema of both groups, as well as the level of ‘ordinary’ Shias and Sunnis. This sort of effort at promoting intra-Muslim dialogue must also go along with moves to promote dialogue between Muslims and people of other faiths. As I mentioned earlier, this is not simply a political or social necessity, but, more importantly, it is something that Islam directs its followers to do.

A graduate of the Dar ul-Uloom Deoband, Maulana Waris Mazhari is the editor of the Tarjuman Dar ul-Ulum, the official organ of the Delhi-based Deoband Madrasa’s Graduates’ Association. He has written extensively on issues related to contemporary debates about Islam, including on inter-faith relations, women’s issues, peace and terrorism, from a distinctly progressive perspective. Some of his articles can be accessed on the Internet. He may be contacted on mazhariwaris@gmail.com


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Going Home Photos

We came home yesterday and it is taking some time to get used to being immobile. We are still doing little bits of school here and there - nothing major, I'm too full of medication for that. Just alphabet things with the younger two and keeping up with abacus homework for the oldest.

Here are some more (blurry) pics of the baby and one of the staples that they removed, can you tell that I was bored? It's funny because I used the point and shoot camera for these so they shouldn't be blurry but they are.

I started off with Demerol, then the epidural, morphine, Percocet, and now Oxycodone. Medication perhaps? LOL. I only have a limited amount and so far, I seem to be naturally weaning myself, Masha'ALLAH. I was so scared during the cesarean all I could do was make du'a. I could feel every pull and tug and cut but without the pain of course. I was freezing cold and shaking and felt like I had so much pressure on my chest. My shoulders and neck hurt afterward and I needed a massage and a heat pack. My last birth was natural so this was certainly a test and SubhanALLAH what a test it was!

Some of my staples


Napping

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Free Book Log for Girls

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Khadijah is here, Masha'ALLAH

8lb 2oz Saturday at 4AM. She was a c-section! I dilated all the way to 8cm but her little head would not drop down into the birth canal. I'm tired and sore so I'll post more later, InshaALLAH.

Trying to eat her sleeves

Monday, December 15, 2008

Maulana Khalid Saifullah Rahmani on Madrasa Reforms

Based in Hyderabad, Maulana Khalid Saifullah Rehmani is one of the leading present-day Indian ulema. Author of some 50 books, mainly on Islamic jurisprudence, he is a senior member of numerous important Islamic organizations, including the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board, the Islamic Fiqh Academy, the Bahrain-based Association of Islamic Banks and the Council for Inter-Sectarian Dialogue, Tehran, Iran. In this interview with Yoginder Sikand he talks about various issues related to madrasa education in India, particularly the question of madrasa reforms.

Q: Could you tell us something about your academic background?
A: I was born in Darbhanga in Bihar in 1957. I received my basic Islamic education at the renowned Jamia Rahmaniya in Munger, after which I went to the Dar ul-Ulum at Deoband for higher Islamic learning. Thereafter, I went to Phulwari Sharif where I completed the ifta course to become a qualified mufti under the well-known Islamic scholar Qazi Mujahidul Islam Qasmi. I was greatly influenced by Qazi Sahib's approach and thinking. He was among the few enlightened and broadminded Indian ulema of his times, seriously committed to dialogue between the different Islamic sects and also open to adopting the benefits of modern knowledge for expressing and interpreting Islam.
From Phulwari Sharif I came to Hyderabad and taught Quran, Hadith, Islamic Jurisprudence (fiqh) and Quranic commentary (tafsir) at the Dar ul-Ulum Hyderabad and the Dar ul-Ulum Sabil us-Salaam, two leading Deobandi madrasas in the city,. This I did for more than twenty years. Then, in 2000 I established the al-Mahad al-Ali al-Islami, a centre for higher Islamic learning in Hyderabad, which I still manage.
Q: What exactly are you trying to do through this centre?
A: The centre was conceived of as a means for promoting certain much-needed reforms in madrasas. As of now, it offers a two year course for senior graduates (fazils) of madrasas, where they study a host of disciplines that they might not ever have had to in their madrasas, such as English, Current Affairs, Comparative Religions and Computer Applications. Students are also made to engage in research work, something that is missing in almost all madrasas. Till now, over a hundred theses have been submitted by our students, many of them seeking to develop Islamically appropriate responses to various modern issues and concerns. The students are also taught the importance of working for communal harmony and how to properly relate to people of other faiths and to explain to them what Islam is actually about.
Q: Almost every madrasa is associated with a particular Islamic sect, and sectarian strife is rife among the ulema. What do you think is the way out?
A: I think the ulema have to realize, as indeed many already do, that these sectarian differences cannot be wished away. Each sect offers its own arguments and proofs for its position. God has given humans the capacity to think differently, and so obviously such differences will always exist. The point is to accept these differences and, despite them, to cooperate with them on common issues. This applies as much to intra-Muslim sectarian relations as it does to relations between Muslims and Hindus. We must learn to respect people of other sects and religions and to work together jointly with them on issues of common concern.
Q: What do you feel about the on-going debates on the question of madrasa reforms?
A: To properly understand the question, one has to keep the basic aim of the madrasas in mind: to produce good, learned, pious and committed Islamic scholars. It is not to produce graduates for the market whose main aim in life is to make money. So, naturally, moral training and Islamic subjects should remain the centre of the madrasa curriculum.
At the same time, we live in this world and so cannot afford to be ignorant of its issues, problems and concerns. This is why I strongly believe that madrasas need to familiarize their students with at least the basics of various forms of modern knowledge, such as English, Computer Applications, Indian History, the Indian Constitution, and natural and social sciences. Madrasas must conceive of ways to incorporate a basic modicum of these disciplines in their curriculum without this being allowed to harm its basic religious core.
Q: And how do you think this should happen? Perhaps through the Madrasa Boards?
A: I am opposed to the government interfering in the madrasas through government-appointed madrasa boards, which exist in some states. But I do admit the need for some sort of mechanism to bring about greater cooperation between the madrasas as well as to facilitate reforms. In this regard, some private madrasa boards, set up by the ulema themselves and totally independent of the government, have come up in some states. For instance, the Tahhafuz-e Madaris Committee in Gujarat and the Wafaq ul-Madaris in Bihar. In 2001 we set up the Andhra Pradesh Dini Madaris Board, of which Maulana Hamiduddin Aqil Husami of the Dar ul-Ulum Hyderabad is the President and I the General-Secretary. Through this board we are trying to bring about some changes in the madrasas in the state.
Q: What exactly are the activities of this Board?
A: The Board has basically two aims. Firstly, to preserve the autonomy of the madrasas. And secondly, to promote reforms and the moral and intellectual environment of madrasas. Around 150 madrasas in Andhra Pradesh are now affiliated with the Board. We organize teachers' training workshops and also regular meetings where we impress upon the ulema to introduce a basic modicum of modern subjects in the curricula of their madrasas, to properly register themselves and maintain proper accounts and so on.
Q: A major part of the existing curriculum in almost all madrasas consists of the teaching of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh). Many of these detailed rules and laws were devised centuries ago and may have lost their relevance in today's context. As someone who has written extensively on modern fiqh issues (jadid fiqhi masail) what do you have to say about reforms in this sphere?
A: I feel madrasas must give much more attention than they presently do to the principles of jurisprudence (usul-e fiqh), because while several minor fiqh details (juzuvi masail) can and do change over time, and hence require new interpretations, these basic principles are unchanging. Knowledge of these principles is essential for engaging in ijtihad or creative reflection with regard to a host of contemporary issues that were obviously unknown to the early Islamic scholars.
In addition to this, our students, as would-be ulema, also need to have a basic knowledge of modern subjects in order to provide adequate and appropriate fiqhi perspectives on them. For instance, we don't want to make them doctors, but surely for them to engage in ijtihad in modern medical matters they must have at least some knowledge of the human anatomy and physiology. Or, to respond to modern economic developments, they must have a basic understanding of the way modern economies function.
Another way to promote awareness of the need for ijtihad and for reflection on new jurisprudential issues within the madrasas is by promoting cooperation between the ulema of the madrasas and 'modern', university-educated intellectuals who are experts in particular fields. Thus, in the conferences of the Islamic Fiqh Academy, with which I am associated, we invite modern experts and professionals to provide their views and share their knowledge with the ulema, and both learn from each other. This is a way for promoting 'collective ijtihad' that benefits from the different forms of knowledge that these two classes of scholars possess. A large number of books on new and more contextually-relevant fiqh issues and perspectives have been printed by the Islamic Fiqh Academy as a result of this sort of joint effort.
Q: Madrasas have been given a bad press in recent years, being branded as 'dens of terrorism'. How do you respond to this charge?
A: I would say that almost all this propaganda about the Indian madrasas at least is completely false, and has not been proved in the courts. But if you look at parts of the world where terrorism is rife, no matter what the religion of its perpetrators, you will notice that very often it is denial of justice to vulnerable and victimized groups, often by the state itself, that breeds terrorism. Obviously, then, terrorism cannot be stamped out without also working to ensure justice to people who are pushed to the wall, who are oppressed by the police and agencies of the state and who do not get any justice from the courts. Of course, I do not at all mean to condone terrorism, even as a reaction to injustice, for the Quran itself says that the enmity of any community should not lead one to swerve from the path of justice. It also says that to kill a single innocent being—and here it does not specify the religion of that person—is such a heinous crime as to be akin to slaying the whole of humankind.
I think the time has come for people of all faiths—Muslims, Hindus, Dalits, Christians, Sikhs and others—who sincerely believe in peace and justice to join hands in a joint struggle against terrorism, which threatens to destroy our beloved country. I am glad that leading Indian ulema have realized the need for this, and are, accordingly, organizing huge public rallies to condemn all forms of terror, including that engaged in by self-styled 'Islamic' groups that are misusing and misinterpreting Islam for their sinister purposes.
Muslims in India face numerous challenges, including mounting Islamophobia. My advice is that we should not respond to hatred with counter-hatred, but, rather, with love and concern and through sincere efforts to reach out to people of other faiths.

Maulana Khalid Saifullah Rehmani can be contacted on ksrahmani@yahoo.com

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

EID/'ID Mubarak!

Baby is still not coming so I get to enjoy a little of this:

'Id Mubarak

Take care!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Maulana Waris Mazhari: Tackling Terrorism

(Translated by Yoginder Sikand)

The recent assault on Mumbai is the most deadly terrorist attack that India has witnessed so far, and it has shaken every Indian. Every one of us is asking how it is that we have become so vulnerable and what it is that we must do to confront this situation. It has become a sort of fad to blame politicians for all our ills and problems. This is a very superficial and limited approach to understanding and tackling the menace of terrorism. Obviously, the problem cannot be solved simply by blaming politicians and ignoring various other causes that lie behind it.

The media has characterized 26/11 as India’s 9/11, and it is true that in its seriousness this deadly assault is very similar to the dastardly events of 9/11 that struck America. It clearly appears to be the handiwork of some Pakistan-based outfit. Given the sort of evidence that is emerging, this appears to be undeniable. However, I think that we should also explore the possibility that some other forces, such as the Pakistani, American or Israeli secret services, might have used some self-styled Islamist jihadist elements, which are notorious for their extremism and anti-India hatred, for this purpose. The very psyche of these self-proclaimed jihadist groups has been fashioned in such a way by their extreme emotionalism and simplistic approach to the world that they can easily be manipulated by such agencies to promote their interests. This is precisely what one version of the story of 9/11 seeks to argue—that the role of powerful intelligence outfit using certain elements within ultra-jihadist outfits in the Arab world to perpetrate the attacks cannot be ruled out. In this regard it is crucial to note that these self-styled jihadists are now not restricted to just jihadist outfits. Because of very strict controls on and actions against these groups them throughout the world, many self-styled jihadists have been scattered all over and are floating around, and so can easily be trapped and used by others as well for their own nefarious purposes.

The threat posed by self-styled jihadist outfits to Pakistan itself is very real. Influential sections of the Pakistani state as well as many ordinary Pakistanis are simply sick and tired of these groups and the deadly gun culture that they have fomented. Many Pakistanis feel very insecure in the face of these groups and their activities. There is thus no doubt that there is an element of truth in the Pakistani Government’s admission that terrorism has become a major problem for both India as well as Pakistan. But for the Pakistani Government to put an end to terrorism in the country or for Pakistani secular civil society groups and serious-minded Islamic clerics or ulema to marginalize them is as difficult as it is for the Indian state to clamp down effectively on Indian Hindu extremist groups or for secular-minded Hindus to galvanise public opinion to marginalize, politically and socially, Hindu extremists. In both Pakistan and India, despite the vocal or tacit opposition of the vast majority of people, extremists who have adopted the guise of religion have been able to strike very deep roots. Just as ardent supporters of Narendra Modi and his likes have millions of supporters in India, self-styled jihadist groups have a large number of backers in Pakistan. This fact alone should suffice to make us realize that both Islamist and Hindu extremists feed on each other and collectively pose the gravest danger to the people of South Asia as a whole.

Terrorism and religious extremism have assumed the form of deep-rooted social phenomenon in our part of the world, and so obviously cannot be countered simply through a law-and-order approach alone. Merely banning terrorist groups, sealing their bank accounts and arresting their activists is not enough. Such steps can only work in the short-term and that too not very effectively. Wee must realise that terrorism in South Asia is not an issue that concerns just one country or community, and that all forms of terrorism are inter-related. It is a common problem that concerns all the countries of the region and all the different religious communities that reside therein. We must also seek to understand the factors other than just political that are also responsible for generating terrorism, such as illiteracy, poverty, social inequality, unemployment and violation of human rights and moral values. Hence, and obviously, to seriously tackle terrorism from its roots a mere political approach would be inadequate. We also need to address these other underlying causes as well. This points to the need for civil society groups, in both India and Pakistan, to take a leading role in social activism against the menace of terrorism. Terrorism must be viewed as a social phenomenon, and, accordingly, must be sought to be countered through a strong and effective social movement, besides at the level of the state.

For this purpose, we need to chalk out a non-political programme that would bring together civil society groups as well as serious-minded religious leaders from the different communities in the region in a joint struggle against all forms of terrorism that are causing such havoc all across South Asia today. Perhaps this could take the form of a ‘South Asian Forum Against Terrorism’. Through such a forum it would be easier for us to appeal to Hindus and Muslims throughout our region with our message against terrorism. The most important role in this forum, I feel, should be that of responsible and right-minded Muslim ulema and Hindu religious personages such as dharmacharyas.

Some months ago, the Dar ul-Uloom Deband organized a massive rally, bringing together clerics from different Muslim sects to jointly issue a declaration or fatwa condemning all forms of terrorism and declaring these to be anti-Islamic. This was a very welcome step. Such mass rallies can be organized throughout South Asia by the Forum that I have suggested, wherein Hindu and Muslim religious leaders can jointly denounce terrorism and call upon Hindu, Muslims and others to join them in the struggle against it. If the leading responsible Muslim ulema and muftis of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh can jointly directly address jihadist Muslims and explain to them the errors of their views, it can have a very big impact on their thinking. They can thereby underline the gross misuse of the concept of jihad, which is now causing such pain, destruction and strife not just for non-Muslims but for Muslims themselves. Likewise, if the Hindu religious leaders of the countries of South Asia get together and declare that the fiercely anti-Muslim activities of extremists in a Hindu garb constitute a grave violation of the Hindu religion, it can certainly impress many Hindus. This sort of effort can play a major role in bringing Hindus and Muslims closer and solving many of their problems and conflicts. It can help build confidence and trust between Hindus and Muslims and between Pakistanis and Indians and in marginalizing the religious extremists on both sides.

Two weeks ago more than 60 Pakistani Muslim ulema from different sects issued a joint fatwa, through the United Ulema Council, condemning the spread of terror and strife in the name of jihad. They denounced the wave of suicide bombings that are now occurring with such frightening regularity in that country. They also declared that it was not permissible for non-state actors to declare jihad. From this, one can gauge how major a menace and threat to their country and to Islam many serious-minded Pakistani Islamic scholars and leaders regard the ‘New Taliban’ and other such crazed fanatics as. If such serious Pakistani religious leaders can be made part of a joint Indian-Pakistani civil society mass movement against terrorism it can make a very great impact.

I have another suggestion to make. In recent years, Saudi Arabia and several other Arab countries have imposed a very strict ban on jihadist literature. Just last week, the Saudi government banned the keeping of some books by Syed Qutb, a key Egyptian Islamist ideologue, and some other such writers in schools. Can we not, with the help of some governments, seek to exercise pressure on the Pakistani Government to ban completely the massive amount of jihadist literature that is freely available in that country? But, of course, for this we would also need to look within, at our own selves, to the freely available and equally venomous sort of literature that is being produced by some fascist Hindutva outfits in India.

I wish to cite the example of two notable Indian religious leaders—one an Arya Samajist, the other a Muslim—who have been playing a leading role in promoting communal harmony and inter-community dialogue as well as struggling against all forms of terrorism. The first of these is Swami Agnivesh, whom I had the good fortune to meet some days ago at his office in New Delhi. He passionately spoke about how he was working together with some Muslim ulema for communal harmony and had participated in their mass rallies to condemn terrorism unleashed by both Hindu and Muslim fanatic groups. He sharply berated fascist Hindutva forces for unleashing a reign of terror in India, and condemned this as anti-Hindu. The other Indian religious leader whose efforts I would like to cite here is the noted Delhi-based Islamic scholar Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, with whom I had the honour of working for some time. He has been consistently denouncing so-called jihadist tendencies, branding this form of terrorism as wholly anti-Islamic. I am sure there must be many other such Hindu and Muslim religious leaders in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. An effective, well-organised anti-terrorism forum bringing together such people can make a major breakthrough in our joint struggle against the terrorist menace.

Maulana Waris Mazhari, a graduate of the Dar ul-Ulum Deoband and the Nadwat ul-Ulema madrasa, Lucknow, is the editor of the Delhi-based Urdu magazine Tarjuman Dar ul-Ulum, the official organ of the Deoband madrasa’s Graduates Association. He can be contacted on ws_mazhari@gmail.com

Thursday, December 4, 2008

India’s First-Ever Training Centre for Madrasa Teachers

By Yoginder Sikand

No reliable estimates are available of the number of madrasas in India and of their teachers and students. India probably has the largest number of traditional madrasas in the world, employing literally tens of thousands of teachers and with many times that number of students on their rolls. Despite this, no modern facilities exist anywhere in the country for training madrasa teachers. Most madrasa teachers simply enter madrasas after finishing a lengthy course in a madrasa that takes several years. Bereft of any sort of skilled training, many madrasa teachers, so the complaint is often heard, are not will equipped to deal with students or to introduce badly needed reforms in the curriculum and pedagogy of traditional madrasa education. This is one of the major reasons for what, besides others, even many clerics or ulema who run the madrasas themselves readily admit is the overall stagnation of India ’s traditional madrasa system.

It is in this context that the work of the Centre for the Professional Development of Urdu-Medium Teachers at the Hyderabad-based Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU) assumes particular importance. Established two years ago, and funded the University Grants Commission, the Centre has been working with heads and teachers of Urdu-medium madrasas in southern India to seek to promote reforms in teaching methods in madrasas as well as to help broaden the scope of traditional madrasa education.

Says Dr. Mazheruddin Farooqui, noted educationist and Urdu scholar who heads the Centre, ‘We don’t want to impose anything on the ulema of the madrasas from without. Change has to come from within. For this, it is crucial that we dialogue with them, and this is what we are trying to do. Madrasas must reform, but only with the consent of the ulema and in such a way as to enable madrasas to better fulfill their basic purpose of promoting good and effective religious and community leaders.’

Working with the ulema of the madrasas has not been easy. ‘Initially, many of the ulema we approached to come to our programmes were reluctant and suspicious,’ relates Farooqui. ‘They felt that the government wants to interfere in the madrasas in the name of reforming them. It was with considerable difficulty that we managed to convince them that our Centre has no such intentions and that we only want to help improve their teachers’ skills.’ ‘And now’, he adds, ‘the response is quite enthusiastic.’

So far, the Centre has organized eight madrasa teachers’ orientation workshops, in addition to eight others for heads and teachers of Urdu-medium schools. More than 400 teachers from madrasas in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Kerala have participated in these workshops, where they have been exposed to such issues as modern teaching methods and teaching aids, inter-personal skills, students’ psychology, institutional organization and management and the need for expanding the scope of madrasa education to take into account contemporary needs and challenges.

Farooqui and his team of four have major plans for the Centre with regard to the madrasas. These include preparing, with the help of madrasa authorities, textbooks on new teaching methods for madrasa teachers, commissioning in-depth studies about madrasas and their problems, and conducting long-term orientation programmes, up to a month’s duration, for madrasa teachers. The University Grants Commission has provided a generous grant to the Centre to build a hostel which will be used by madrasa teachers attending these programmes.

Farooqui tells me excitedly about the proposal that his Centre has just submitted to launch a one-year diploma course in teaching especially for madrasa teachers. This would be the first such initiative in the country. In order to make it easily accessible to madrasa students, most of whom come from poor family backgrounds, the fees have been kept nominal—a mere three hundred rupees for the entire programme.

‘We have structured the course in such a way as to provide students with an basic understanding of crucial issues subjects that they would need as would-be teachers, but which they get little exposure to in the madrasas’, Farooqui says. These subjects include the history of the development of madrasas in India , their role in promoting knowledge of Urdu, the interface between madrasas and the wider society and important facets of Indian society, besides more technical aspects of modern pedagogy and relations between students and teachers.

Unbeknown to and unappreciated by many, reforms are gradually underway in numerous madrasas across the country. If approached with sensitivity and in a spirit of genuine dialogue, many of them are indeed willing to work together with other, well-meaning institutions active in the field of education, as the example of this Centre shows.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

False Start?

Still here. Just running here and there, getting ultrasounds and walking in the mall..... I spent the afternoon counting regular contractions that aren't getting stronger and figuring out what the children need/want for Eid, InshaALLAH. I'm almost finished with the quilt (AlhamduLILLAH), the binding is taking all the fun out of it, lol.

I fell asleep in the homeschool while the kids were working on various things, (AlhamduLILLAH they weren't painting, lol). I was really snoring and everything. I guess that means it's time to take a break. I feel like things are getting close and now, we'll have to wait and see. Make du'a that everything goes well - I will try to keep you posted. Take care and Eid Mubarak if I don't post anything before then. Read More...

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Tying up Loose Ends

This whole week has been long and tiring for me. I am playing the waiting game with the baby and trying to keep the other kids entertained. I am especially impatient because the last two were born between 38 and 39 weeks and now I feel entitled to give birth before the 40 week mark, lol. Not that I'm ready. Well, the clothes are washed and the house is clean (sort of) but I'm not in the mood to go through labor! LOL that sounds funny but my labors are always long.

To keep busy (we're taking another homeschool break except for her math homework for the abacus class), I am making my first quilt and it's not so bad. It's the "Tied Scrap Crib Quilt" from a book called Quilting for the First Time by Donna Kooler.

Patchwork Baby Quilt Top

I am further along than the picture shows, really all that is left is a few ties and to finish the binding.

It's not perfect but I like it. It's made from cotton napkins, a curtain, and an apron. I bought them on clearance from the Sears Outlet for about $1-2 each so the quilt is costing about $12, including the batting. Of course, now the other kids want one too, lol. Read More...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Islamophobia In the West: How Muslims Should Respond

By Maulana Waris Mazhari
(Translated by Yoginder Sikand)

Islamophobia is by no means a new phenomenon. Rather, it goes back to the earliest period of Islamic history. A massive storm of anti-Muslim hatred emerged and spread across large parts of the then Christian world with the expansion of Muslim political rule, from the early eighth century onwards. It was this that, in large measure, propelled the Crusades, which played a major role in propagating and perpetuating deeply-held negative stereotypes about Islam and Muslims in the West. A major role in this regard was played by the Church and Christian polemicists. They spread such erroneous propaganda about Islam which today many Christians themselves feel embarrassed about.

The legacy of this medieval Christian Islamophobic propaganda lives on even today. Thus, according to a recent survey conducted by an American Muslim organization, Council for American Islamic Relations, a fourth of Americans hold extremely negative views about Islam, and half of all Americans see Islam in a negative light. Only two per cent of Americans have a good knowledge of Islam. It can thus be said that despite the centuries of Muslim-Christian relations, most Westerners have no proper idea of what Islam actually is.

From the late eighteenth century, an increasing number of Western scholars and travellers began taking an interest in studying Islam and Muslim societies. This soon took the form of a veritable movement or a specialized discipline, known as Orientalism. From its inception, Orientalism was deeply influenced by the Christian missionary agenda as well as by Western imperialism, both of which it served. Although, in this way, Orientalism had a very stark negative dimension, it played a crucial role in seeking to bridge the divide between the West and the East. Orientalists produced a massive amount of literature on ‘Oriental’ societies, including on Muslim societies and Islam. According to Edward Said, in the period between 1800 and 1950 alone, Orientalist scholars penned some 60,000 books, mainly in different European languages, on West Asia.

Following the Second World War, Western and Muslim scholars began moving in the direction of seeking to understand each other in a more balanced and serious fashion. A major cause for this was the migration of a sizeable number of Muslim scholars to the West. Another reason was the emergence of serious initiatives to promote Muslim-Christian dialogue and harmony. However, the outbreak of the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979 led to the rapid upsurge of Islamophobic sentiments in the West. And, after that, it appears that carefully-organised attempts are being made on a menacing scale in the West to further fan these hatreds by seeking to project, through very poisonous propaganda, the image of Muslims as allegedly bloody monsters. The attacks of 9/11 gave a tremendous boost to this Islamophobic discourse, the ideological groundwork for which was done by self-styled Islamic ‘experts’ such as Samuel Huntington and Bernard Lewis.

The Present Context

The present context, following the events of 9/11, has proven to be horrific as far as Muslims are concerned. Islamophobia has now taken the place once occupied in the Western imagination by Anti-Semitism, and aggressive efforts are underway in the West directed against Islam and Muslims. Earlier, this was the handiwork mainly of certain extremist Christian evangelical groups, but now key political and social groups and forces in the West are also engaged in it. In fact, these groups and forces are, in a sense, even more virulent, and their propaganda and actions more hard-hitting, than that of fiercely anti-Muslim Christian organizations because, particularly in Europe, the latter do not enjoy overwhelming public support. It is clear that these forces are directly opposed to Islam as such, acting on the advice of the likes of Samuel Huntington, who argues that the underlying problem of relations between the West and Muslims is not ‘Islamic fundamentalism’, but, rather, Islam itself.

The anti-Islamic project and propaganda in the West can be attributed, then, to two basic forces: ‘secular fundamentalists’ and ‘religious fundamentalists’. The former have a huge influence in Western governments, bureaucracies, multinational corporations, the media, universities, strategic think-tanks, charitable foundations and branches of the United Nations. These forces can, as I have suggested earlier, be regarded as a greater challenge and threat to Islam and Muslims than Western Christian and Jewish religious fundamentalists, because they have a much greater influence and say in their own societies as well as globally. They have a decisive role in moulding the opinions of governments and peoples. Unfortunately, Muslims focus all their attention and ire not on these forces but on Western religious fundamentalists instead.

Christian evangelicals and Christian Zionists in the West, Jewish Zionists in the West and Israel and Hindutva ideologues in India have worked to create a climate of Islamophobia throughout the world. There are now a vast number of fiercely anti-Islamic Christian preachers who receive the open support of American imperialists. They call themselves ‘Doctors’, ‘Professors’ and ‘Reverends’, and this gives them and their stridently anti-Islamic propaganda greater legitimacy among their flock.

Causes of Contemporary Islamophobia

Islamophobia can be traced to multiple causes. One of the most salient of these is the fact that Islam represents a particular ideology and way of life which is fundamentally opposed, in several crucial ways, to Western liberalism, consumerism and capitalism. Of course, and lamentably so, the Islamic ideology and system have nowhere been in existence in their full or proper form for centuries. Yet, the West regards these as a threat and challenge to the dominant Western world-view. To add to this, the West needs an enemy to seek to justify its global hegemony and its imperialist designs, particularly in poorer countries of the global South. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, it has conjured up Islam as its new opponent to serve this role. This has been facilitated by the obvious fact that today, with the decline of Communism, the only potent challenge that Western Imperialism and Capitalism face is from Islam.

Yet another factor fuelling the Islamophobic rage in the West is the alternative posed to the West by the Islamic moral code and its growing popularity and revival among Muslims in many countries. Unfortunately, the emotionally-driven methods that were sought to be used to enforce this code in Iran and Afghanistan by Islamic groups have further antagonized the West. To add to this is the issue of the strong relations between the West, particularly America, and Israel. In these countries, especially America, Jewish Zionist forces enjoy considerable economic and political clout, and Israel itself, which is at the forefront of global Islamophobia, serves as a major tool for American imperialism and for keeping the Arab world under American control.

What the Muslim Response Should Be

In this context, the crucial question to ask ourselves is how Islamophobia, being so aggressively pursued and promoted by powerful forces in the West today, can be effectively responded to. Unfortunately, Muslim scholars and activists have not given this question much serious consideration, being guided mainly by feelings of revenge and reaction, mainly at the political level. They have not worked out any effective intellectual, instead of simply physical, response. Many of our intellectuals live in their own secluded ivory towers, doing nothing at all practical. To make matters worse, they are generally divided among themselves on narrow sectarian lines and seek to promote sectarian interests. Many of these people are actually working with, or being used by, Western anti-Muslim forces for their own ends.

Muslim scholars from South Asia have a particularly important role to play today in countering Islamophobia, because, unlike in several countries in the Arab world, there is much greater intellectual freedom in this region. South Asian Muslim scholars must devote adequate attention to studying and understanding the psyche, worldview and ideologies of various Islamophobic forces, their methods of working and the consequences of their activities and propaganda.

South Asian madrasas could have taken up this task more effectively than other Muslim institutions. Unfortunately, however, much of their syllabus is badly outdated and they have as yet developed neither the consciousness of the need to study the challenge of contemporary Islamophobia in a serious, scholarly fashion, nor the necessary intellectual tools needed for this purpose. For this to happen, madrasas must include such subjects in their curriculum as would enable their students to gain a proper understanding of modern social, political, economic and cultural conditions and challenges. This is indispensable for them to be able to provide effective and appropriate guidance to Muslims and to others as well in response to the phenomenon of mounting Islamophobia worldwide.


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Waris Mazhari: Islamic Politics, Muslim Militancy and ‘Jihadist’ Movements

(Translated from Urdu by Yoginder Sikand)

Islam is not simply a collection of some beliefs and ritual practices. Islam, if understood properly, is a complete code of life, covering all aspects of personal as well as collective existence. The basic premise of Islamic Politics, then, is that Islam is not merely a personal affair between the individual believer and God. If this were the case, it would have been susceptible to being manipulated to suit people’s whims and fancies, as has happened with religion in the West, where excessive individualism has led to a great crisis of human and religious values.

Islam does not ask its believers to seek to forcibly impose a particular system all over the world, contrary to what many people believe. The laws of Islam relate to the followers of Islam, and Muslims cannot seek to impose them on others against their will. Islam respects religious pluralism and peaceful coexistence, and the best evidence of this is the polity that the Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) established in Medina , where non-Muslims were granted their religious and civic rights along with Muslims. This is the true model and criterion for us to follow, and other models that depart from this practice cannot be considered to be traditions that we must emulate.

Unfortunately, the history of Islamic or Muslim culture has been written in such a way as to make it appear synonymous with Muslim political history. So deeply-ingrained is this approach that even biographers of the Prophet sought to present him mainly in the form of a warrior for the faith (ghazi), so much so that in the initial stages the biographies (sirat) of the Prophet were referred to as maghazis or records of wars. In the books of Hadith, too, this one aspect of the Prophet’s life is given particular focus, although nowhere does the Quran refer to the Prophet as a ghazi or mujahid.

The Prophet’s approach was based on the development of individuals’ personalities and character, awakening their hearts and souls, and for this he used only patience, determination, preaching and inviting others to the faith. That is why the Quran repeatedly reminds the Prophet that he is not the ruler of people, that he cannot coerce them, that their faith is a matter that they have to choose themselves, and that God alone can punish or reward them.

The Islamic movements that emerged in the modern period were deeply influenced by the fact of brutal colonial oppression which much of the Muslim world had experienced. They thus developed a reactionary approach, which made them susceptible to extremism. Because they were, in large measure, impelled by a desire for revenge against the West for the brutalities of colonialism, some of them considered even such actions as Islam forbids as permissible for them in order to attain their supposed ends, although such acts gave Islam a bad name.

In 1943, the Jamaat-e Islami was founded in India by Syed Abul Ala Maududi, who is regarded as one of the chief ideologues of modern-day Islamism. He was an enormously prolific writer, and his books had a seminal influence on Islamist ideologues elsewhere in the world. Islamist groups such as the Jamaat-e Islami presently face a tremendous intellectual crisis. Their approach to and understanding of Islam is one-sided, neglecting spiritualism and humanity and making Islam almost synonymous with politics. The Jamaat in Pakistan , Kashmir and Bangladesh keeps raising the slogan of jihad, and claims that it is an inevitable means for the Islamisation of society. I seriously believe that such sloganeering is simply a product of a defeatist mentality, which, in turn, is a result of Muslims having suffered continuous defeat at the hands of the West over the past two hundred years.

Islamists, such as Maududi and others, gave the understanding of the supremacy of Islam a political meaning, arguing that the struggle in the political realm was the principal task of Muslims. This added further fuel to the fire, worsening the already dismal situation of the community. This politicized notion of Islam’s supremacy over other faiths was further reinforced by scores of Muslim writers, poets and preachers. But since in this period of Muslim decline, this dream of political supremacy showed no sign of coming true, disappointment was inevitable. To this feeling of despair were added the new imperialist strategies and plans of seeking to further enslave Muslims, as evidenced in Iraq , Afghanistan , Palestine and various other Muslim countries. All this added up to produce a very volatile mixture.

It is an undeniable fact that numerous self-styled Islamist jihadist movements have not hesitated to engage in clearly un-Islamic acts despite speaking in the name of Islam. These actions of theirs have given Islam a bad name the world over, and this has further exacerbated Muslim marginalization. In fact, even in Muslim countries the space for such movements is rapidly contracting. For instance, in Saudi Arabia , Egypt , Morocco , Tunisia and Algeria several thousand Muslim activists have been imprisoned on charges of being involved with terror groups. It is true that many of these people are probably innocent and have been wrongly targeted by dictatorial regimes that do not tolerate any dissent. Yet, it cannot be denied that among these people are many who would be willing to engage in violence and armed conflict to seek to overthrow ruling regimes, although this is allowed for by Islam only if the rulers exemplify open or explicit opposition to Islam.

In many Arab countries today, several former radical Islamists have changed their ways and are now engaged in peaceful Islamic and social activism. Many of these people have even written books about their experiences and explaining why and how they changed their approach. An interesting instance in this regard is Rashid Ghanouchi, who was once considered to be a leading Tunisian Islamist. Some months ago, the Jamaat-e Islami Hind invited him to a programme in Delhi . I attended the programme and heard Ghanouchi speak. I was surprised to note that there was not a single aspect of the Jamaat-e Islami’s political ideology which he did not severely critique, although in a very scholarly manner. He argued that groups like the Taliban as well as other radical or militant self-styled Islamist outfits and movements were among the greatest threats to Islam in the present-day. Another staunch critic of these movements is the hugely influential Qatar-based Islamic scholar, Yusuf al-Qaradawi.

In the last two decades the term jihad has been craftily manipulated so as to promote a violent mind-set and culture. To combat this, efforts need to be made at three levels. Firstly, at the level of Muslim political thought, the notion of ‘united nationalism’ (mutahhida qaumiyat), embracing people of different religions living in the same nation-state, must be accepted on Islamic grounds and the entire world should be considered to be dar ul-ahad, or ‘abode of agreement’. The ulema must collectively make an announcement to this effect. This position has been accepted by such traditional ulema as Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi and Maulana Anwar Shah Kashmiri. Further, there must no longer be any hesitation in accepting religious pluralism and peaceful coexistence of people of different faiths. After all, in the Quran God says that people have the freedom to choose to adopt or reject Islam. It is not in God’s plan of things that everyone should become a Muslim, for, if He had wanted, He could easily have done so. This point is thus the basis of pluralism from the Islamic perspective.

In this regard, it is also important for the crucial distinction between jihad and qital, in the sense of defensive violence, to be made clear to people and for Islamic activities to be pursued through peaceful means. The fact that Islam does not allow for offensive war must also be impressed upon people. It gives no sanction for the sort of so-called ‘pre-emptive war’ that an aggressive imperialist power like America seeks to wrongly justify.

Muslim scholars must also come forward to be more actively involved in inter-faith and inter-community dialogue, based on certain minimum common beliefs, interests or issues, preferring dialogue to conflict as a means to resolve differences. There is also need for the ulema to expand and broaden their understanding of the question of relations between Muslims and others. In this regard, some prescriptions contained in the traditional books of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) need to be re-examined, being too extreme, as also understandings and interpretations based on a selective and erroneous reading of certain verses of the Quran and Prophetic Traditions that relate to people of other faiths. Unfortunately, the reconstruction of Islamic thought in the modern context in this and other regards has not gone very far. In the Indian subcontinent, after Muhammad Iqbal, no one other person has been able to effectively take up this urgent task. Likewise, the movement towards a suitable reconstruction of Islamic thought that was pioneered by Muhammad Abduh and his disciple Rashid Riza in the Arab world was unable to make much progress.

The second level at which urgent action is needed is for Western imperialist powers, most notably America , to cease from their oppressive and inhuman policies. An immediate task in this regard is for American control of Iraq and Afghanistan to be ended and for foreign troops to be withdrawn from these countries. The continuing killing of Palestinians by the Israelis must cease and a just settlement of the Palestine issue must be found. America must stop its blind support to Israel and exercise full pressure on it to stop its crimes against humanity. Without all this, I believe it will not be possible to stop the radicalization of Muslims, for despair leading to radicalization often becomes the only weapon of the weak.

The third front on which energies should be focused is on creating a truly democratic climate in Muslim countries. In these countries, ruling pro-Western cliques mindlessly use their powers to promote their personal and sectional interests and brutally deny their populace their basic rights. These rulers must be held accountable for their actions. They must not be allowed to misuse their countries’ wealth, as in oil-rich states, to serve their own and their Western masters’ vested interests.

In other words, we cannot change the present situation simply by talking of the need to ‘reform’ radical and self-styled jihadist movements. There has to be adequate and far-ranging change with regard to the policies of Western powers as well as of ruling regimes in Muslim countries as well.


Friday, November 14, 2008

Maulana Waris Mazhari: Muslims and the West

(Translated from Urdu by Yoginder Sikand)

The issue of strained relations between Muslims and the West is a long-standing one, and it has taken a new turn following the attacks of 9/11. In recent years, much has been written on the subject by both Muslim as well as Western scholars. Following the publication of Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilisations in the late 1990s, a large number of Western scholars have concluded that reconciliation between Muslims and the West is impossible and that a clash between them is inevitable. Influential Western think-tanks have aggressively pursued this line of thinking, as have extremist religious and political forces, particularly Christian evangelicals and Zionist organisations, all across Europe and America. In this context, the crucial question arises as to how the situation can be changed, as indeed it must. Do Muslims have any proper strategy or programme in this regard? My answer is firmly in the negative.
Despite the massive anti-Western movements and sentiments that have characterised much of the Muslim world since the last one hundred and fifty years, the fact remains that Muslim intellectuals, particularly the ulema, have only a very superficial understanding and knowledge of the West. In actual fact, there has been no serious attempt on the part of Muslim scholars to properly study and evaluate Western thought, civilization and history. Today, our religious scholars’ views about the West are about the same as the West had about Muslims and Islam several centuries ago in the wake of the Crusades. Many Muslim scholars have the same sort of stereotypical understandings of the West as the West had about Muslims at the time of the Crusades. Our religious scholars believe, and this is what they tell their followers, that the West simply stands for drunkenness, sexual license, immorality and all other sorts of wanton desires and pleasures. Because of this approach we have not been able to learn from the good things that the West has to offer, not even about aspects of the Muslim scientific heritage that the West had taken from us and had then built on. Instead, in many Muslim circles hatred of the West is considered to be the biggest sign of religiousness. This mentality was formed in the colonial period, and it should have been done away with the end of the European colonial empires. However, instead of that happening, it has been greatly reinforced and strengthened, and has now become so deep-rooted that Muslim reformers find it virtually impossible to combat.
Scores of institutions for the study of Islam and Muslim culture and history have been established in the West, and several Western universities have special departments concerned with these fields. They have produced a massive amount of literature. In contrast, there are probably not even two or three scholarly institutions in the Muslim world devoted to the study of the West using modern scholarly methods. Universities in Muslim countries should have set up departments of Western studies, and there should have been private- and government-funded institutions for the study of the West, but, unfortunately, these do not exist. We desperately need such institutions, to study Western history and culture in a critical yet dispassionate way, so that Muslims can understand what the limitations or drawbacks of contemporary Western civilisation are and also its virtues, which they could adopt.
Today, most Muslims have a double-standard approach to the West. On the one hand, many of them are vociferously opposed to the West and insist that Muslims should stay away from Western culture as far as possible. At the same time, many of them fervently desire to migrate to the West! I have been twice to America, where I met several Muslims who brand America as ‘the Great Satan’ but still continue to live there for the economic benefits and opportunities that America provides them. They show-off their American passports or, if they do not as yet have them, are impatiently awaiting the day when they would receive American citizenship. Why, one must ask, these double-standards? If these Muslims are so anti-America, why don’t they leave that country and return to what they consider as dar ul-Islam, ‘the abode of Islam’, where many of them came from?
I believe that there are numerous aspects of Western culture and society that reflect the virtues that characterised the early history of Islam. In contrast, look at many Muslim countries, where groups that want to serve the cause of Islam are under severe restrictions. It is unfortunate that almost the whole focus of Muslim groups in the West is on seeking to get recognition for Muslim cultural identity, often to the point of excess. Take, for instance, the case of women’s dress. Hijab or modest dress, is adequate, but some Muslims in the West make a big hue and cry demanding that the face-veil (naqab) be allowed, and some even go beyond that, unmindful of the fact that this might lead to further escalation of anti-Muslim sentiments in society. Some extremist self-styled Islamic groups in the West, such as the Hizb ut-Tahrir, even raise the simplistic slogan of establishing an Islamic Caliphate in the West, completely forgetting that the liberty to do all this is not available even in the so-called dar ul-Islam.
The real conflict between Muslims and the West today is in the realm of ideas. Militarily, Muslims were defeated by the West two centuries ago, and, far from seriously hoping to militarily overwhelming the West, Muslim countries are thoroughly dependent on them for military aid. To effectively defend themselves, Muslims must first intellectually understand the West, and for this we need a group of Occidentalists, counterparts of the West’s Orientalists. But, unlike the classical Orientalists’ approach to the Orient, these scholars should not be blindly critical of the West, but should, in an objective fashion, examine both the drawbacks and the virtues of the West. Most Orientalists, as Edward Said so brilliantly brought out in his magnum opus Orientalism, did not adopt such a balanced approach, and actually served as tools of Western imperialism, but the sort of Occidentalists that we require must seek to objectively evaluate the West.

Some time ago, I met a Muslim professor who teaches in an American university, and I asked him about the future of Muslims in America. He seemed very pessimistic about this, and even said that Western powers might one day ask their Muslim citizens to leave. Personally, I do not think that this would be an easy task. Muslim and Western countries are too inter-dependent for this to happen. This is why it is imperative for them to seriously work to counter the present climate of hatred and mistrust between Muslims and the West. Unfortunately, the simplistic approach and egotism of some Muslim groups in the West and the propaganda of some Christian and Jewish religious and semi-religious forces are giving a tremendous boost to Islamophobic sentiments across the West. The practice of the Prophet Muhammad was to seek to create normal or settled conditions and for this to accept the terms and conditions set by his opponents so that the climate of hatred and conflict could be done away with. This is also what Muslims must seek to do, without compromising on the necessities of their faith. Muslims must also desist from viewing the West and Western culture in stark, Manichaean terms. They must seek to learn from the good things that the West has to offer while abstaining from its draw-backs, for everything that is good, no matter what its source, is of value to the whole human community.

Maulana Waris Mazhari, a graduate of the Dar ul-Ulum Deoband, is the editor of the New Delhi-based Tarjuman Dar ul-Ulum, the official organ of the Old Boys’ Association of the Deoband madrasa. He can be contacted on mazhariwaris@gmail.com

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Putting the Leaves on the Tree

Today, the children and I finally put up the Big Realistic Tree.

Indoor Tree II

It took a little while to punch out all the pieces - there are 69 leaves in there! Eventually, I would like to laminate the tree, but in the meantime, I will have to do the leaves and cut them out (yikes).

Putting the Leaves Back on the Tree

What I would like to do is study the Prophet's (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam)family tree and use it to study the prophets of Islam. First, I think we might discuss in general what a family tree is and use our immediate family so that they get the idea behind it.

I also put the green felt on the wall so that the kids can use it any time they want instead of waiting for me to get out that heavy board.

Felt board three bears

I think I might make a felt set of Arabic letters soon InshaALLAH so that they can play around with those. There is a template here that can be used.

My older daughter is anxious for the arrival of the new baby and has been extensively studying her calendar and counting how many days are left for the due date. I told her that only ALLAH knows the sure date but she's still calculating, lol.

Yesterday was Monday

She's been working hard on her Arabic with her dad in the evenings and her abacus work is getting tougher so they've been putting in some extra time on that as well.

Arabic Learning

Then, they did a little coloring

Scribbling the Sky

and a little pillow-fort building

Pillow Fort

and I did a mountain of laundry (including the soon to be newborn's, InshaALLAH) and I've finished knitting a few more things including the Sheepy sack

Sheepy Sack I

the Perfect Baby Bib

Perfect Baby Bib

and another Ottobre Soaker

Another Ottobre.

Now that I am tired, I have to go finish cleaning because my midwife scheduled my home visit for the morning. Read More...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Learning to Read/1st Grade Kit

Before We Read

This is the kit for my son's phonics/reading lessons.

This takes an approach similar to that of the Calvert School Kindergarten by giving the child pictures and allowing them to "read pictures" and to cut, paste and color.

Let's Read Pictures II

Before We Read II

Let's Read Pictures III.

One thing I do to build strength in their hands is let them color, draw and use clay or Playdoh. This will help when the time comes to use scissors and pencils, InshaALLAH.

InshaALLAH, I plan to supplement this with alphabet flashcards (leftover from the Calvert program) and the 100 Easy Lessons book (about $5 used) and supplements from Donna Young's website.

Right now, we are using various alphabet books to recognize the letters (by sound, not name). Read More...

Grade 2 Language Arts Kit

Okay, so this is the grade 2 kit for my daughter:

Most of the Second Grade Pathway Readers

More Pathway Reader Books.

So far, I like the way it looks because there is plenty for her to read on her own, the phonics rules are still emphasized as are morals and etiquette.

Wilma Waits for Help

We haven't started yet but she is very eager. I am editing our school schedule because I am the only one here during the day with the children now and each has their separate needs that need to be addressed throughout the day. It's hard and tiring but we still manage to do our fair share of work, AlhamduLILLAH. Read More...

Goods 4 Girls

This is my practice run of reusable cloth menstrual pads.

Look Away Guys

There is a program called Goods 4 Girls that provides these types of pads for girls in areas that cannot afford disposables and where the only way to dispose of the plastic pads is by burning - therefore polluting their environment.

I made seven of these (don't laugh - the fabric was on sale) with a waterproof layer. My sewing is not great but it's improving!

If you sew and are looking for ways to give charity, maybe this is for you. There are plenty of free patterns online, like this one.


Monday, November 10, 2008

Waris Mazhari: The Indian Muslim Dilemma--Need for Introspection

(Translated by Yoginder Sikand)

It appears that instead of being resolved, the many problems that the Indian Muslims face are mounting by the day. Undoubtedly, Muslims have also gained from the development that India has witnessed since 1947 because they are also a part of this country. However, overall, there can be no doubt that Muslims now stand much behind most other communities in the country, as numerous surveys, including the recently-released Sachar Committee Report, clearly show.

Various arguments are given to explain this predicament. Many Muslims claim that this is a result of an alleged ‘conspiracy’ hatched by others. A large number of Muslim religious leaders, not just in India alone but elsewhere too, seek to explain many of the serious problems of the Muslims in this manner. They claim to locate the ‘hidden hand’ of others behind all their manifold problems. Some of our ulema or religious leaders also seek to provide what they claim is religious justification for this sort of explanation, before which people, even those who are not satisfied with the narrow-mindedness of the approach of these ulema, are forced to keep shut.

In my opinion it is not true to say that the Indian Muslims have no problems at all simply on account of being Muslims and that, in practice, they enjoy equal opportunities in every field with others and that all fields are equally open to them. Nor, however, is it true to say that all, or even most, of these doors have been closed to them and that oppression has now come to be a matter decreed by Fate for them. It is unfortunate that many of our religious leaders believe that the only way out is for a messiah-like figure to appear to deliver them from the situation in which they find themselves. It is equally unfortunate that the Muslim political leadership considers heated rhetoric, empty sloganeering and angry demonstrations as the solution.

On the internal front, the single major problem afflicting the Indian Muslims is their woeful state of education. If, after independence, we had focussed simply on promoting education as our agenda, I believe that half the problems that we appear to be confronted with today would not have existed. It is in the field of education and knowledge that we should be focussing our energies, not in engaging in endless controversies with others.

For the Indian Muslims, and Muslims all over the world in general, an intellectual renaissance has now become indispensable. This includes a renaissance in their political, social as well as religious thought. There must be a re-thinking of certain strongly-held notions that have come to be seen an essential part of traditional Islamic thought, although these may not actually be so. In this regard, ijtihad or critical reflection on issues is of immense importance and we can no longer avoid it. Unfortunately, however, many of our ulema continue to ignore, and even deny, the need for ijtihad. Many Indian ulema have simply no idea of the needs and conditions of today’s age. They simply lack the capacity to understand the demands of the times and the need for appropriately addressing these issues. This is a matter of very grave concern.

One issue of considerable importance in this regard is that of relations between Hindus and Muslims. There is an urgent need to revise certain traditional negative understandings upheld by some of our ulema about Hindu-Muslim relations, and to articulate alternate understandings that can help promote, rather than hinder, cooperation and friendly relations between these two communities. Some of our ulema, based on an incorrect understanding of certain verses of the Quran and Hadith reports attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, erroneously argue that true friendship is impossible between Hindus and Muslims. Some of them seek to equate the polytheists of Arabia with the Hindus, and, on this basis, claim that Hindus are the biggest enemies of the Muslims. This, in my view, is not at all correct because the polytheists that the Quran refers to as enemies of Muslims are those who fiercely opposed the Prophet and waged war against him. The laws related to them, I believe, cannot be applied to other people who are not open and avowed enemies of Muslims. This is why when Muhammad bin Qasim established his rule in Sindh, he considered the Hindus to be similar to the ‘People of the Book’, and provided them the same status that the Quran provides to Jews and Christians and granted them religious freedom. He did not consider them to be in the same category as the polytheists of Arabia who waged war against the Prophet. The same stance was continued by subsequent Muslim rulers of India, although, unfortunately, some ulema opposed this position and some even continue to do so today. Some Muslims wrongly believe that Muslims must be in a perpetual state of war with Hindus, and for this they adduce a statement contained in a book compiled by Imam Nisai, wherein it is claimed that the Prophet Muhammad had prophesied an armed jihad against India. It is instructive to note that this statement is not contained in any reliable and important book of Hadith, and it can be interpreted as an incident that has already taken place centuries ago, and not something that is yet to come, as some radical self-styled Islamists claim. In this regard a crucial issue is that of the shariah position on the status of India.

Numerous leading ulema have declared India to be a dar ul-ahad or ‘abode of agreement’, wherein Muslims must live like loyal citizens. This was the position taken by such leading ulema as Allama Ashraf Ali Thanwi and Allama Anwar Shah Kashmiri of the Deoband school. However, and unfortunately, some ulema continue to claim that India is a dar ul-harb or ‘abode of war’. I believe that this debate must be ended at once and we have to accept India as dar ul-ahad. However, the fact remains that this debate that was gradually dying out and moving in the direction of a sensible solution has been sought to be revived by the warped writings of some traditional ulema as well as by the wrong interpretations of some Quranic verses and Hadith reports deliberately propagated by some radical self-styled Islamist groups based in Pakistan in order to serve their own vested interests.

In this regard I must also mention that many Arab ulema are unaware of contemporary global political developments. They have no understanding of the particular conditions and contexts of Muslims living in largely non-Muslim countries, which some of them wrongly brand as dar ul-harb. This is completely wrong. Further, their thought is moulded by the tradition of jurisprudence that developed in the context of Muslim political supremacy. Their writings often leave an indelible impact on simple minds. They rant and rave against secularism by branding it as ‘anti-Islamic’, and have produced huge amounts of literature to make this point. And because the madrasas do not teach their students to relate the tradition of Islamic jurisprudence to changing social and political conditions and contexts, they are unable to understand these vital issues properly and so become wholly conditioned by the contents of this sort of literature. This is an issue that urgently needs to be addressed.

In every country, minorities do face additional problems and issues, and it is unlikely that these can ever be fully resolved. The correct approach in this regard is to accept these conditions as facts and then to work for realistic solutions, instead of stirring unnecessary controversies. Unfortunately, we Muslims focus all our attention on seeking to highlight the causes of our problems instead of working to solve them in a practical, pragmatic and sensible manner.

Maulana Waris Mazhari, a graduate of the Dar ul-Ulum Deoband and the Nadwat ul-Ulema, Lucknow, two leading Indian madrasas, is the editor of the Delhi-based Tarjuman Dar-ul Ulum, the official organ of the Old Boys’ Association of the Deoband madrasa. He can be contacted on mazhariwaris@gmail.com