Monday, April 28, 2008

Baraka Allahu laka, wa baraka 'alaika, wa jama'a baynakumaa fi khayrin. Ameen.

Inside Madinah Masjid

Today my brother-in-law married a very sweet girl, masha'ALLAH. My daughter has wholeheartedly welcomed her into the family and has taken to calling her "Aunty" already. I hope she feels just as comfortable with us as we do with her, InshaALLAH. Read More...

Friday, April 25, 2008

Pakistani Madrasas: Interview with a Pakistani Deobandi Scholar

Maulana Zahid ul-Rashidi is a leading Pakistani Deobandi scholar. In this interview with Yoginder Sikand he talks about madrasas in Pakistan today.

Q: Could you tell us something about yourself and your background?
A: I was born in a village in Gujranwala, Punjab, in 1948. My father, Maulana Muhammad Sarfaraz Khan, was a graduate of the Dar ul-Ulum, Deoband, where he had studied under the renowned scholar Maulana Husain Ahmad Madni. He taught at various madrasas in Pakistan for nearly 60 years, and wrote around 50 books. He is, by God’s grace, still alive and is considered to be a leading representative of the Deobandi school of thought in Pakistan.

I began my education by memorizing the Quran and learning basic Arabic grammar under the instruction of my father and other teachers, and then went on to study the dars-i nizami, the curriculum in most South Asian madrasas, at the Madrasa Nusrat ul-‘Ulum in Gujranwala, completing the final year, which was devoted to the study of Hadith, the traditions of the Prophet, in 1970. Since then I have been serving as a khatib (preacher) at the Markazi Jamia Masjid in Gujranwala. I am also engaged in teaching and writing. I teach at the Madrasa Anwar ul-Ulum at the central mosque in Gujranwala and am the principal of the Madrasa Nusrat ul-Ulum as well.

Q: You are also associated with a number of Pakistani religious and political organizations. What has been your own role in these groups?

A: At the political level, I am associated with the Jamiat-i Ulama-i Islam Pakistan, a leading largely Deobandi political party, and for around 25 years I have occupied various positions in the organization at both the provincial as well as central levels. I served for many years as assistant to Maulana Mufti Mahmud, leader of this party, but now my association with the party is simply that of an ordinary worker. I have distanced myself from electoral politics and now am devoted to scholarly and intellectual pursuits about Islam, including the many problems facing the Muslim community.

For this purpose we have set up an educational centre in Gujranwala called the Al-Sharia Academy, where we are trying to experiment with combining religious and modern education. Besides this, I write a daily column for the ‘Pakistan’ (Lahore) and a weekly column for the ‘Nawa-i Haq’ (Islamabad) which deal basically with current affairs. We also bring out a journal called Al-Sharia, of which I am the editor. It has a web edition, which can be accessed on

Q: What are your views about the ongoing debates about madrasa reforms in Pakistan?
A: I have myself been trying to promote reforms in the Pakistani madrasas for quite a while now. I have written several articles on this subject in numerous magazines and newspapers. My own stand is that the present structure of the madrasas should be preserved, and their autonomy and independence should not be tampered with. However, for their part, the madrasas should, based on a proper understanding of contemporary demands, make such changes in their syllabus and teaching methods that would enable them to understand the needs and challenges of the times at a global level and represent Islam in today’s terms.

Q: How do you look at the present madrasa syllabus, its strengths and weaknesses?
A: I think the biggest strength of the present syllabus is that it enables the student to connect solidly to the past and to preserve the Islamic tradition. Its biggest weakness, however, is that it does not provide the student with an adequate understanding of today’s conditions and demands. In this regard I would like to refer to the work of the Nadwat ul-Ulama in Lucknow, India, where modern subjects have, to an extent, been integrated into the madrasa syllabus. Such institutions need to be set up in Pakistan as well. We tried to do this in Gujranwala a few years ago. We started working on the Shah Waliullah University, which was planned on the model of the Nadwat ul-Ulama, but we failed to proceed because of a lack of understanding among those who were behind the project.

Q: Madrasas, particularly in Pakistan, are said to actively promote sectarianism and sectarian conflict. How do you react to this charge?
A: I think that as far as the question of sectarianism is concerned, the situation with the madrasas is not at all encouraging. Students are trained to rebut other sects through fierce polemics, but this is really destructive. I feel that instead of this, each madrasa should familiarize its students with the beliefs and proofs of the sect that it is associated with, as well as the basic beliefs of other sects, and train them to dialogue, rather than violently denounce, the other sects. Sectarian differences cannot be eliminated. However, if a culture of tolerance is created, and if dialogue and understanding take the place of polemics, the destructiveness of sectarianism can be considerably reduced.

Q: How has Saudi and other Arab financial assistance impacted on inter-sectarian relations in Pakistan?
A: The financial aid that is given by Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries has increasingly been influenced by sectarian concerns, and the harm that has come out of this is obvious. It has led to stirring up sectarian hatred and has also led to reservations about the Saudi Arabian government.

Q: Some Pakistani Sunni groups, including the radical Deobandi Sipah-i Sahaba, consider the Shias as kafirs, branding them as what they call ‘enemies of Islam’. How do you, as a leading Deobandi scholar yourself, look at this?
A: I have always differed with the extremist stance of the Sipah-i Sahaba, and have also written about this in several of my articles. I tried to explain my position on the issue in my meetings with several Sipah-i Sahaba leaders, including Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, Maulana Zia ur-Rahman Faruqi and Maulana Azam Tariq. For my part, I do agree with the consensus of the Sunni ‘ulama about some what are called ghali or ‘extreme’ Shias. However, I do not support, on this basis, the launching of a movement denouncing all Shias as kafirs, forcibly suppressing them and creating an environment of conflict. My own position is that, considering the question of beliefs and history, and preserving our differences and distance, we can still tolerate our differences and try to present our case through logical proofs.

Q: Several radical Islamists consider all non-Muslims as, somehow, ‘enemies of Islam’, and this is reflected in the teaching in some madrasas as well. How do you react to this?
A: To consider all non-Muslims as enemies and to seek to mobilize against them in that way is wrong and is also not pragmatic. Many non-Muslims all over the world are willing to listen to what Islam is all about, but we have not bothered to do anything in this regard. Many non-Muslims share similar concerns with Muslims, including opposition to imperialist forces, but we have failed to reach out to them. The number of non-Muslims who are seriously anti-Islam is relatively much less, but because they control, in large measure, the leverages of power, the economy, culture and the mass media, they appear to us to be everywhere, while this is not actually the case. Muslim intellectuals must seriously look into this and revise their understandings. For this it is essential to promote intellectual awakening and serious research.


Thursday, April 24, 2008

Md. Saleem Hayat On Arabic in Indian Madrasas (Interview)

30 year-old Muhammad Saleem Hayat is a Ph.D. student at the Department of Arabic, School of Languages, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. His doctoral research project is on the teaching of Arabic in Indian madrasas and universities. He is presently the Associate Editor of the Urdu ‘Sunday Indian’ magazine.

In this interview with Yoginder Sikand he talks about his own experiences as a madrasa student, focusing in particular on the teaching of the Arabic language in the madrasas.

Q: Could you tell us briefly about your personal and academic background?
A: I hail from a village in the Basti district of Eastern Uttar Pradesh. I completed the alim course from al-Jamiat ul-Islamia in Siddharthnagar, which is a branch of the Jamiat ul-Falah in Azamgarh, a renowned madrasa affiliated to the Jamaat-e Islami. After my twelfth grade examinations, which I passed as a private candidate, I joined the Arabic Department of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, and got my Bachelor’s, Master’s and M.Phil. degrees from there. At present I am enrolled for a Ph.D. in the same Department.

Q: What is your Ph.D. thesis all about?
A: I am trying to focus essentially on the syllabus and methods of teaching used for Arabic in the Indian madrasas, in addition to universities. One question that I seek to address is why, after spending so many years at madrasas, generally madrasa students do not acquire adequate competence in Arabic. The problems are multiple: they have to do with the sort of texts that are used, the fact that the students are made to study simply too many subjects, the archaic teaching methods, the lack of good teachers and, in many senses, an outdated syllabus. In the course of my fieldwork I have found that few madrasas teach conversational Arabic, and, instead, generally focus on the strict memorization of the contents of particular books, which are then reproduced word-for-word by the students during their examinations.

Obviously, this is a very uncreative way of teaching. Often, students are made to memorise examples exemplifying rules of Arabic grammar written two or three centuries ago. They do not study Arabic as a living language. Nor, except in very few cases, is modern Arabic, which in many ways is quite different from classical Arabic, taught in the Indian madrasas.

Q: Why do you feel it is important that modern Arabic also be taught?
A: Students need to know modern Arabic for communicating with the Arab world and for benefiting from the works of modern Arab, including Islamic, scholars. In the last two centuries, particularly following Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt, there has been a sea-change in Arabic literature in the Arab world, spearheaded mainly by literary figures in Egypt, Syria and Lebanon. New idioms and ideas have emerged. Modern Arab scholars, both Muslim and Christian, have sought to respond to modern challenges and have produced an enormous corpus of literature in this regard. They departed from the beaten track of literature that was focused simply on jurisprudence or theology, seeking to relate literature to life and contemporary concerns, to nature, to society and to humanity at large. They brought about many innovations in style and structure. Many of the more religious-minded among them sought to provide answers from within a broad Islamic framework to contemporary questions. Others sought to promote nationalist feelings, stirring anti-colonial and anti-imperialist sentiments, championing various types of socialism and denouncing all sorts of oppression. Some of them critiqued foreign and indigenous rulers and corrupt clergy, arguing for the right for ordinary individuals to interpret religion. In this way they sought to make literature more socially relevant. They challenged the feudal and aristocratic literature that was a hallmark of the medieval Arab period. No longer was literature to be a preserve of the elites. Rather, it was to become the voice of the masses, the cry of the oppressed.

But since our madrasa students do not read their books and are not taught modern Arabic, they do not have access to these literary treasures. Nor are they aware of these new understandings of society, humanity and religion that these progressive Arab writers have been articulating. They are thus still stuck in the medieval groove, reading texts that were written centuries ago.

Q: So, would you advocate the introduction of these modern Arabic texts in the madrasas?
A: Certainly. This would also play a key role in changing and shaping the mindsets of the students, which is really very crucial. Only then can they understand modern Arabic journals and newspapers which reflect this new Arabic idiom and concepts. Even for the purpose of Islamic communication or dawah they ought to know modern Arabic as well. They can do this properly only if they are aware of contemporary issues, which modern Arabic literature, both secular and religious, deals with. Only then can they properly relate Islam to contemporary questions. Only then can they explain Islam in today’s context.

But the task is not as simple as just introducing modern Arabic texts in the curriculum. There are, sad to say, few teachers in the madrasas who are actually competent enough to teach modern Arabic, because most of them haven’t learnt it themselves. And then many of them have this understanding, which I of course do not agree with at all, that since many of the acclaimed modern Arabic writers, people such as Taha Husain or Naghuib Mahfouz, were not very religious, as they understand the term, themselves or else did not write particularly about religion, there is no need to read and study them! But there are also scores of modernist Arab Islamic writers, such as in Egypt, but I suppose most of our ulema have never heard about them as well.

Since the focus in the madrasas is on the teaching of fiqh, Hadith and so on, little attention in any case is paid to the teaching of Arabic literature or Adab, most of the few texts that are used for this purpose being centuries old, that do not deal with many of the issues that we are confronted with today.

Q: But in the Nadwat ul-Ulama, Lucknow, so I am given to understand, they do teach modern Arabic literature, don’t they? And perhaps in some other madrasas as well?
A: Nadwa is somewhat unique in this respect, but even there the teaching of modern Arabic literature is very restricted, consisting mainly of books penned by the Nadwi scholar Sayyed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi and collections of writings edited by him of early and modern Islamic scholars, not of other modern Arab writers. So, obviously, here, too, the range in terms of issues, themes and ideas is restricted.

In Deoband, where modern Arabic literature is not really taught, students study pre-Islamic Arabic literature, which, again, leaves them bereft of knowledge of modern literary developments that deal with contemporary social issues.

Q; You earlier mentioned that conversational Arabic is not seriously taught in most madrasas. What, then, is their basic method of teaching Arabic as a language?
A: Their basic approach, which is outdated completely and does not really provide students adequate competence in the language, is teaching Arabic through the rules of grammar. Consequently, students are over-burdened by simply too many grammar books. For instance, for this purpose in Deoband students study two books in Urdu, Kitab ul-Nahw and Kitab ul-Sarf, then one in Persian, Nahw Mir, one in Arabic itself, Hidayat ul-Nahw, and then two or three more books, all in the alimiyat course. All of these are very archaic texts, the most recent of these, the Kitab ul-Nahw, being some two hundred years old! To make matters worse, most of these books are repetitious, so the entire exercise consists of teaching the same thing first in Urdu, then in Persian and finally in Arabic!

I can’t help likening this to the case of a quack doctor who does not know how to diagnose a disease properly and so provides his patient four or five different medicines in the hope that at least one will work! And, in this regard, I should mention a statement by the noted Muslim scholar Ibn Khaldun, also hailed as the father of modern Sociology, who wrote that ‘Too many books is the biggest hurdle in acquiring knowledge’.

Q: What reforms would you suggest in this regard?
A: We need new books, of course. We also need to shift from the rote method to comprehension and conversational competence. For this we should use new audio-visual methods, language laboratories and so on. Unfortunately, not many teachers in the madrasas are aware of these new tools and methods, and, even if they are, often their madrasas cannot afford the cost of the equipment required for introducing these methods. Also, there is this problem that some conservative ulema think that to introduce new methods would be tantamount to deviating from the path of their predecessors. They believe that the latter were particularly pious and great, and hence should be imitated as closely as possible.

I may be wrong, but I sometimes feel that the reluctance to modernize the Arabic teaching methods, including by teaching modern Arabic, might also have to do with a fear on the part of some ulema that this might cause the students to shift their interest to the question of their own personal careers, say as translators or as employees in firms in the Gulf, and that they might therefore be reluctant to become traditional ulema. They might possibly feel that if the madrasas are ‘modernised’ too much their graduates might then go on to join universities, which would, in turn, result in a decline of the traditional ulema network and institutions.

Q: The teaching of fiqh forms the core of the madrasa syllabus. What changes do you feel are needed in this regard?
A: Many of the fiqh issues that continue to be taught in most madrasas are quite irrelevant. Conversely, many issues of contemporary concern are not taught in the fiqh syllabus in the madrasas simply because the texts used for this, written centuries ago, obviously could not conceive of these problems. So, for instance, fiqh texts studied in many madrasas discuss, in considerable detail, the number of buckets of water one needs to empty out of a well in case a lizard falls inside in order to purify the water for performing ablutions before prayer. One scholar cites a certain number, and another cites a different figure and a third says that the entire well must be drained of water. And different figures are cited in the case of another animal falling into a well, say a cat or a pigeon! And all this is still taught although today people hardly use wells for drawing water!

Q: Some ulema argue that it is necessary to teach these old fiqh texts, even if they deal with many issues that are not of contemporary relevance, in order that students can deduce from them the rules to address new issues? How do you respond to this logic?

A: I think this is a lame excuse, a sort of escapism, a means to deny the very real need to reform the teaching of fiqh and introducing the teaching of fiqh rules for new issues. Perhaps some teachers simply do not want to take the trouble of learning new things, being content with whatever they had learnt when they themselves were madrasa students. This logic is flawed on another score, because, in any case, the principles of fiqh (usul-e fiqh) are taught as a separate subject in the madrasas, which is meant to equip students with skills to deal with contemporary fiqh issues.

Of course, while the teaching of new fiqh issues is crucial, it will not be so simple. With notable exceptions, madrasa teachers and students do not have the sort of interaction with the wider civil society that would impress upon them the need for this. Consequently, they are not aware of many modern developments and of the complexities of the issues that the new generation is facing. But, in the absence of such awareness, and if they know little or nothing about issues related to economics, society, politics and history and so on, how can the ulema interpret Islam to address contemporary concerns, or even to carry on their work of tabligh? If they are kept ignorant of these issues, they will become, as the Urdu saying goes, Laqir Ke Faqir or stuck in a narrow groove, limited only to preaching to their Friday flock.

Q: Might there also not be a fear that if madrasas ‘modernise’ beyond a limit, their students would enter universities, where their religious commitment might suffer?
A: Yes, I think that, in some cases at least, that fear is there, although one also has to recognize that today a number of madrasa graduates are indeed joining universities. But if some ulema feel that if their students go to universities their religious commitment will decline it is, at least to some extent, the fault of the madrasas for not providing the students proper training to withstand the temptations of the world once they step out of the portals of the madrasas.

Q: Of late, some organizations in India have launched short-term madrasa teachers’ training courses, and there is also talk of establishing an institution for this purpose. What are your views in this regard?
A: I think this is important. Today the system is such that fresh madrasa graduates automatically become teachers without undergoing any training and then remain in that position till they become old or pass away. And the older they get they are given more respect and reverence. Obviously, training will not help such teachers. They may not even accept to undergo any training. Many of them might even think it is useless or even below their dignity to have to be taught by someone else at their age! It can be useful only for new madrasa teachers or those madrasa graduates who want to go on to teach.

We could start with establishing a sort of central madrasa teachers’ training institute, which could offer short-term courses, covering such issues as child psychology, pedagogy, and basic ‘modern’ subjects such as Economics, Sociology, Political Science, Geography, International Relations, Elementary Science and so on. Alternately, lectures on these subjects can be held within the madrasas to graduating students. University lecturers can be hired for this purpose. Who will do it—the government or NGOs or Muslim community organizations—is another matter, but obviously this can happen only if the ulema themselves realize the importance of this and take the initiative. I feel the younger generation ulema, especially those who have also studied in madrasas, might be more amenable to the idea.

Q: But are there many such younger ulema, who have also had a university education, who have gone back to teaching in madrasas?
A; Unfortunately, not. Very few of them, indeed none that I know of, have done so. Once they join universities, they have their own new expectations about their careers, about earning a better salary than they would get in madrasas, where teachers’ salaries are generally quite modest. They want a materially more comfortable life than they would if they went back to the madrasas to teach. Many of them come from relatively poor or lower-middle class families, and their families expect that now that they have a university degree they would take up well-paying jobs, rather than teaching in a madrasa. I don’t think a single of the several madrasa graduates who have done their M.Phil.s or Ph.D.s from the Jawaharlal Nehru University, for instance, is now teaching in a madrasa. Rather, most are working as translators in Arab embassies, teachers in schools and universities in India and the Gulf and as employees in firms and Islamic institutions abroad.

To add to this, many madrasas will not welcome these students back because they might feel that they have become ‘misled’ ,or influenced by what they see as the ‘un-Islamic’ environment of the universities, and thus fear might negatively impact on the madrasa students. They might think that after having joined universities these students do not remain maulvis any more and, therefore, are not qualified to teach in madrasas.

And then there is also the question of whether university-trained madrasa graduates can adjust to the regimen in the madrasas again. Take my case, although this was before I joined the university. In 1997 I enrolled in a well-known madrasa but I decided to leave soon after as I was told that I could no longer stay in the hostel because I used to listen to the radio. In reply, I said that I used the radio to listen to the Arabic and English news, to improve my Arabic and English and also to learn about what was happening in the world. But the managers of the madrasa refused to listen. They alleged that I might secretly start using the radio to listen to songs! I could, of course, not stand that sort of suffocation and so I decide to leave that madrasa.

The point I am making by citing my own case is that I don’t think many madrasa graduates, who see a different world on joining universities, could adjust to the ways in which most traditionalist madrasas function.

Q: What are your future academic plans?
A: I would like to work on a book dealing with my own perception about the madrasas, focusing, in particular, on the issue of madrasa reforms. I want to write the book in Urdu, so that the ulema and madrasa students themselves can benefit from it. I also plan to do a book on how to improve the teaching of Arabic as a subject in both universities and in madrasas.
Muhammad Saleem Hayat can be contacted on

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Islam's Women Scholars

Yoginder Sikand

One indicator of the development of a society is its female literacy rate and, related to this, the number of its female scholars. On both these fronts, India’s Muslims are among the lowest of all the communities in the country. This unfortunate fact provides a basis for negative stereotyping of the community, particularly in matters related to inter-gender relations. This, however, is ironical, given that Islam is one of the few religions to have declared education to be a duty binding on all its followers, men as well as women. The irony is further heightened by the fact that early Islamic history provides examples of numerous Muslim women scholars who made valuable contributions to the intellectual life of their communities.

That little known story is precisely what an Urdu book I recently read with avid interest is all about. Penned by a Pakistani alim, Maulana Syeed Ghulam Mustafa Bukhari Aqeel, the book, titled ‘Muslim Khawatin Ki Ilmi Khidmat’ (‘The Intellectual Contributions of Muslim Women’) contains vignettes about scores of early Muslim women scholars, who could serve as major sources of inspiration to Muslims, including Muslim women, today if only they were more widely known, a task that the Maulana takes upon himself.

Many of these early Muslim women scholars were experts in various Islamic sciences, in contrast to today’s case where we have few, if any, such female scholars. The book refers to Ibn Hajar Asqalani as writing that the early centuries of Islam record more than 1500 female scholars of Hadith, including several wives of the Prophet and his companions as well as women in succeeding generations. Many of these were also narrators of Hadith reports. Fatima bint Qais is said to have had long debates with the caliph Umar on an issue related to fiqh, and, so the book says, the majority of the ulema gave preference to her view. Similarly, the noted historian Khateeb Baghdadi mentions 32 famous female scholars of his times, and one of them, Karina Bint Ahmad Maruzia, taught him the collection of Hadith by Imam Bukhari. Likewise, the noted Muhaddith Imam Zahri described Umra Bint Abdur Rahman, a woman brought up by Hazrat Ayesha, as ‘an unending sea of knowledge’.

Several of these women scholars had male students, something quite inconceivable for many Muslims today. Thus, Ayesha Bint Sad bin Al-Waqas, a scholar of Hadith, had a large number of students, including the great Imam Malik. Imam Shafi, so the book tells us, would attend the lectures of Hazrat Nafisa, grand-daughter of Imam Husain. The Abbasid Caliph Malik Marwan would sometimes attend the lectures of a woman scholar Sahima Bint Yahya al-Osabia.

Other women wrote books on religious and other subjects, many of which, unfortunately, have been now lost. Fatima Nishapuri wrote a tafsir or commentary on the Quran; Zainab Bint Usman bin Muhammad authored several books on fiqh; Razia, sister of al-Hakim of Andalusia, wrote extensively on History and Geography; Aisha Khas, a noted calligrapher and musician, translated several books from Sanskrit and Greek and so on. The book also mentions several Indian Muslim families from royal families who were accomplished authors, mainly in the fields of Sufism, history and royal biography.

In this early period of Islamic history, numerous women founded madrasas, including some specifically for Muslim women. Thus, says the book, the first madrasa, as separate from a mosque as a centre for education, was founded by a woman, Fatima Bint Muhammad al-Fahari, in Morocco in the mid-ninth century. The enormous structure of the madrasa could accommodate some thirty thousand worshippers praying together.

Other notable women founders of madrasas in this period included Maryam Bint Yaqub, who established a girls’ madrasa in Seville, where besides the Islamic sciences, subjects like Philosophy, History, Geography, Mathematics, Astronomy and various crafts were taught; Bint Qazi Shihabuddin al-Tabari, whose madrasa catered to orphans; Tazkira Rabai Khatun’s madrasa in Egypt for poor girls; a school for training women in martial arts set up by Geti Ada Begum, daughter of Murad Khan, ruler of Zabulistan; and the Dar ul-Zubaida, a madrasa built on the spot of the Dar ul-Arqam, the place outside Mecca where the Prophet would himself teach his followers, built by Talib ul-Zaman Habshia, a female slave of the Abbasid Caliph Nasirbillah.

With such illustrious role models from their past, Muslim women today searching for their rights need not look elsewhere for inspiration. These early Muslim women show how Islam, as they and the men who supported their endeavours understood it, positively facilitated women’s scholarship and intellectual pursuit. In a context as in India today, where the number of female Islamic scholars is negligible and even books on Islam and women are still written almost wholly by men and are often shaped by patriarchal prejudices, these women provide numerous lessons that we could well profit from.

Prof. Akhtarul Wasey on Teaching Islamic Studies in India

Profesor Akhtar ul-Wasey is the head of the Department of Islamic Studies and the Director of the Zakir Husain Institute of Islamic Studies at the Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. In this interview with Yoginder Sikand, he reflects on the functioning of the various Islamic Studies Departments in universities across India and on madrasa education in the country.

Q: How do you see the role of the Departments of Islamic Studies in those universities in India that have such departments?

A: Very few Indian universities have such departments. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that those universities that do have different names for departments that teach broadly the same subject. So, Lucknow University has a department of Arab Culture, in Calcutta University it is called the Department of Islamic Culture, while in Aligarh, Jamia Millia, Jamia Hamdard and Kashmir University it is called the Department of Islamic Studies. Then, in Aligarh they also have the two Departments of Sunni and Shia Theology. I think there should be some clarity in this issue of nomenclature.

While departments of Islamic Theology are meant to be more concerned with the study of Islamic texts, departments of Islamic Studies are supposed to focus particularly on the study of the historical interface between Islamic texts and changing social contexts. The point is that no text can be properly understood without understanding the broader historical context. I feel that the intellectual crisis and chaos of the Muslim world today owes largely to the lack of a proper appreciation of the need for contextual understanding of the textual tradition and of the changing social, political, economic and cultural realities.

Now, to come to your question, yes, our Departments of Islamic Studies in various universities in India have been trying to do what was expected of them, but I cannot deny that there are still many weaknesses that need to be addressed. To be honest, we have tended to become ritualistic in our approach to our curriculum, not reflecting the necessary dynamism and paying less than sufficient attention to promoting inquisitiveness and the culture of questioning among our students.

Q: Does this also have to do, at least in part, with the sort of students who typically opt for Islamic Studies as a course of study in universities?

A: I think that most students who join Departments of Islamic Studies do so just for the sake of the degrees they get. But in this they are not exceptional, of course, this being the case with other departments, too. Also, it is clear that many students who opt for Islamic Studies do so because they do not possess enough marks to enter other streams. Since the attitude is that they have to do some course or the other, they choose Islamic Studies, which they feel is easier to get admission in. But, then, at least some of our students, say a fifth or so, join our Department out of real interest.

Q: Are these students mainly from madrasas or schools?

A: Both. A good many of our students, perhaps half, come from madrasas, because the Jamia Millia Islamia is one of the few universities in India to recognise the degrees of selected madrasas. In this regard, I must, however, mention that the doors to the universities have not been opened to madrasa students so that they can join to study Islamic Studies, Urdu, Arabic and Persian, as is, unfortunately, generally the case. The fact of the matter is that they tend to join these departments because it is easy for them to score well there because of their madrasa training. But I don't suppose they learn much, because, if they have received a proper training in their madrasas, they would already have learnt much more there than they would in these Departments.

Enabling madrasa students to join universities is, of course, a good thing, but this must be so that they can join other social science and humanities departments, so that they can improve and widen their vision. Combining their religious training and the social science orientation that they receive from the universities, they can go on to become effective leaders of the community and country. But, sadly, that is not happening on a significant enough scale.

Q: What would you recommend to address this issue?

A: I think that Islamic Studies and Arabic should be allowed only as optional or subsidiary papers for madrasa graduates who join universities, so that they are encouraged to join other social science departments instead. They should study subjects like Political Science, Sociology, Economics, History, or English, Hindi and other languages. I think this would also prove to be crucial in helping develop more context-sensitive understandings of religion and would enable madrasa students to play a more effective social role than at present. I am sure that madrasa graduates can do well in these other departments because in the madrasas they are taught to work very hard.

Q: How would you consider the research output of your Department?

A: The quality of the theses submitted to our Department is, of course, mixed. The Islamic Studies Department in Jamia was established in 1975, and some thirty doctoral theses have been submitted to it so far. More than half of them have been published.

Q: There is a distinct lack of a tradition of empirical research in the Departments of Islamic Studies in India. The focus is almost wholly on texts and Muslim history. Very little attention is actually paid to the study of the lived realities, including religious, of Indian Muslims in their contemporary context, which, as you said at the outset, should also be a focus of the Departments of Islamic Studies. What do you feel about this?

A: That is, unfortunately, true, although I must say here that several of our students have, in their theses, focused on issues of contemporary concern, such as women's rights, inter-faith dialogue, the West and Islam and so on. One student of ours recently did a field-based study on empowerment of Muslim women, based on her experiences in Kashmir and Delhi. That. However, was an exception.

Needless to say, we need much more research of this sort too, but this is hampered by the lack of funds for field research. Most of our students come from lower-middle class families and cannot afford this themselves, and there is little or no funding from the University Grants Commission for this sort of research for our students. The Department also does not have resources for this. Nor has the community thought of doing anything about this.

Q: In this regard, what do you feel about the fact that while there are literally thousands of institutes for Islamic Studies, including madrasas and maktabs, in India, there is not a single Muslim social science research institute in the entire country that does serious research on the empirical conditions of India's Muslims?

A: Sadly, that is true. I think this has to do, in part, with the very low level of social consciousness in the Muslim community. Almost all our organizations and jamaats are concerned with promoting sectional, sectarian and personal interests. Indeed, in many cases, jamaati and personal interests are one and the same, since jamaats often act as personal properties and are controlled by particular families.

I think that the Aligarh Muslim University and the Jamia Millia Islamia should have taken the lead in promoting serious social science research on the Indian Muslims, because this is part of their mandate. Sadly, they have done little in this regard, although of course in the past they did produce some brilliant scholars of Indian Muslim history and politics. Their various social science departments could have taken up Muslim social issues in the form of research projects, both at the micro and the macro level. I think one reason for the reluctance to do so is the fear of being wrongly accused by communal forces of pursuing a particular 'agenda'. It also has to do with indifference and lack of vision. And sheer laziness, too. So, you have the situation, and I think in some ways it is also heartening, that better social science as well as journalistic writing has been done on the conditions of the Indian Muslims by non-Muslims than by Muslims themselves. Yet another reason is the widespread view that giving money for madrasas and mosques is a means to acquire a place in heaven, while donating to a school or a hospital or a social science research centre is not so! That also explains the lack of such efforts on the part of the community

I think one needs to understand all this in terms of the anxieties about threats to their religious identity, real as well as imaginary, that many Indian Muslims perceive, which, in turn, means that institutions such as madrasas and mosques receive more importance than social science research or community development as priorities for the community. And, then, the so-called Muslim Ashraf or self-styled 'upper' caste elite have generally cared but little for the woeful social and economic conditions of the Muslim masses, whose issues are not on their agenda but only get lip-sympathy.

For the sort of serious social science research you are talking about one needs social awareness and true organic intellectuals. But, sadly, the Indian Muslims suffer from a lack of this on all fronts. We have made polemicists, not real thinkers, our leaders. And, generally, our leaders do not realize that there is often a fine line between bravery and stupidity. In the name of bravery they often lead Muslims to perdition.

Q: Could you elaborate on this a little more?

A: At the risk of generalization, one can say that the Muslim political leadership has fed Muslims only half-truths, which are more dangerous than blatant lies. So, they tell them that iron can be broken with iron, which is true, but only partly so, because they do not tell them what sort of iron needs to be used for this. Hot iron can only be broken with cold iron, not with hot iron, but they conveniently leave this unmentioned or else tell them to combat hot iron with another piece of hot iron! What I want to say is that they have unnecessarily got Muslims involved in heated controversies in response to the attacks of adversaries.

For its part, the Muslim religious leadership explains that all that befalls us comes from God. This is, of course, true, but they do not also say that, as the Quran explains, God does not grant us anything without our having to strive for it, and that one has to strive and work hard and leave the rest to God.

So, as a result, what Muslims have been doing is that they have been trying to do whatever is actually God's work themselves, while the work that they should have been doing they have left to God! Naturally, that has caused chaos and has put us in the unenviable position that we are in today.

Q: Let's come back to the question of serious social science research on the Indian Muslims.

A: Yes. I want to add that government-funded academic institutions such as the University Grants Commission, the Indian Council for Historical Research and the Indian Council for Social Science Research should seriously consider special academic programmes and research on these issues. They must remember that this is vital not just for the Muslims alone but also for the future of the country's peace, development, social justice and communal harmony as a whole.

The community also has to come forward to set up institutions to sponsor this sort of research. These must be independent, free of political strings and economic bondage. The future of the community is not going to be determined by the beauty of the Taj Mahal or the grandeur of the Red Fort or the height of the Qutb Minar that the Muslims of the past built, and which we never tire of glorifying, but its intellectual capital.

Now, this is in line with the work of God. According to the Quran, when God created Adam, the angels protested. God asked the angels to tell Him the names of things, but they could not whereas Adam could, and so the angels bowed before Adam, as God commanded them to. This means that God has decided that those who do not know must accept that those who truly know are above them. This is Allah's sunnat and Muslims should understand this. So, if Muslims are to be spared bowing before others, there is no other way than seeking knowledge, and, of course, the sort of social science research and knowledge that we are discussing about is part of this.

Muslims must also remember that the future of Islam is joined with that of the future of Muslims, and that the future of Muslims is not separated from that of the future of others. Questions that confront Muslims, such as poverty, illiteracy, inequality and injustice, are problems that afflict other communities too, as these do not recognise barriers of religion. So, in addition to the important social science research that you have mentioned, I would also say that it is crucial for Islamic scholars to seek to reflect on what answers Islam can provide to these common social problems and issues that afflict all communities. This will also provide a firm basis for good inter-community relations.

Indian Islamic scholars must play a more pro-active role in promoting inter-community dialogue, not because Muslims are a minority in India, but because Islam demands so. We should remember that this is, or, at least, should be, the age of dialogue, not conflict and polemics. The Prophet came to communicate, and communication is the solution. So, one thing that are students of Islamic Studies in our universities must do, although this has not really happened on a significant scale at all in India, is to get involved in seeking to communicate, through words and deeds, with people of other faiths, to work together with them for the common good based on their religious commitment. Minorities need to compensate for their numerical weakness by working extra hard, including even in this regard, but I regret to say that instead of being hard workers, most of our scholars and so-called 'experts' are 'hardly-workers'.

Q: How do you look at the vilification of madrasas as ‘dens of terror’? What do you feel about the recent spate of conferences organized by various Indian ulama organizations seeking to denounce terrorism and stressing that Indian madrasas have nothing to do with it?
A: I think the anti-madrasa campaign is a carefully orchestrated exercise on the part of influential sections of the media, in which sections of the state apparatus and intelligence agencies that provide false reports are also closely involved. And at the global level, one has to understand this in the context of the offensives of the neo-imperialist forces.

Undoubtedly, we do have some unwanted elements, but the media has created a mountain of a molehill. But we must, at the same time, also recognize that the molehill does actually exist, instead of seeking to deny it. However, that molehill is certainly not the madrasas. The former Indian Prime Minister I.K.Gujral, and the present Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, have acknowledged that Indian madrasas have nothing to do with terrorism. Even the senior BJP leader L.K.Advani, while serving as India’s Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister, went on record as saying that his government had not been able to identify any madrasa in the country serving as a training ground for terrorists.

Now, as far as the response of the ulema to these charges of terrorism in the form of the series of conferences that they have been organizing is concerned, I feel that there is no need to defend anything beyond what is necessary. Why should the ulema be forced to become so defensive? I don’t quite agree with this approach. Fine, they have made the point that madrasas have nothing to do with terrorism. Let them state it and leave it at that instead of repeatedly stressing it. Let the government now prove or disprove its claims or let the media do this, instead of madrasas trying to explain themselves. But today the situation is such that madrasas are being branded as guilty and are themselves being forced to prove their innocence, while actually it should be for those who accuse them to prove their charges against them.

Another issue about these anti-terrorism conferences that various ulema groups are organizing is that they are being held in Muslim localities and are being attended almost wholly by Muslims. What use does that serve? Instead, the ulema should be organizing such meetings and dialogues with non-Muslim opinion makers, such as social and political activists, journalists, lawyers, etc.. Let them not invite only secular non-Muslims, but even right-wing non-Muslims and dialogue with them, too. And they must also seek the help of Muslim professionals in this regard and include them in their dialogue efforts. This sort of intra-Muslim dialogue must go hand-in-hand with dialogue with people of other communities. Sadly, neither of these two is happening on any significant scale.

While some ulema groups have started some sort of dialogue work with non-Muslims, this has been limited only to those who are already convinced of the cause of the Muslims. Let them not be content with that. To think that the mindset of everyone who is anti-Muslim to some extent or the other cannot change is wrong, as very often such prejudice stems simply from ignorance and lack of interaction. So, there should be more interaction with people of other faiths, irrespective of their political stances, and then automatically the stranglehold of stereotypes will begin to weaken.

Q: What about the role of certain state governments in harassing young Muslims, including madrasa teachers and students, and arresting them on charges of terrorism, which have generally later proven to be false?
A: The worst state governments in this regard, I feel, are the Congress governments in states like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra, where numerous such cases have occurred. Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra are becoming hunting grounds for Muslim youth even for states like Gujarat. The National Human Rights Commission must enquire as to how many Muslim youth have been arrested on charges of terrorism, how many have been then charged, and how many have then been freed because the charges against them have been trumped-up. The number of such fake cases is now enormous. These innocent youth must be compensated and the Government of India must apologise for demeaning an entire community in this way.

Q: In recent years there has been talk in some circles about the need for setting up a Government-sponsored Central Madrasa Board. How do you look at this proposal?
A: Some ulema have rejected this proposal outright, but I feel that it isn’t wise to reject something without first having investigated it properly. In the last sixty years, Indian Muslims have become so used to losing things, including their rights, their properties, their dignity and even their lives, that they do not realize the value of something when they get it because that has become so rare. That principle might operate behind the outright rejection of the Board proposal on the part of some. Further, large sections of the ulema are justifiably concerned as to why the Government, which appears to have no interest at all in the welfare of the Muslims, is suddenly so concerned about madrasas. As the Urdu saying goes:

Unki Mahfil Main Kab Ata Thha Mujh Tak Daur-e Jam
Saqi Ne Kuch Mila Na Diya Ho Sharab Mai!

(When would the cup of wine ever reach me in his parties?
And now that it has, perhaps the cupbearer has mixed something in the wine!)

So, obviously, there is some reason for the ulema to react to the proposal in the way that many of them have. After all, the Government has done little, if at all, for Muslim education right from 1947 onwards, and, instead of opening schools in Muslim areas, it is setting up more and more police stations there. And if there is some literacy among the Muslim masses, it owes much to the efforts of the ulema, who, despite facing numerous hardships, provide free education to literally millions of poor children through the madrasas. Despite the efforts of the Government to wipe off Urdu, it is the madrasas that have kept the language alive. So, the point is that it is quite understandable that the proposal of the Board has not been greeted with much enthusiasm on the part of many ulema.

That said, I would advise that before rejecting the proposal outright, let the ulema carefully study what it is all about. If they don’t agree with any part or the whole of it, let them tell them government so and explain why. If the government listens to what they have to say and, accordingly, modifies the structure of the Board, good enough. And then, affiliation with the Board will not be compulsory. Madrasas will not be compelled to join it against their will. Those madrasas who don’t want to join the Board can remain independent as they now are.

Q: But what do you see as the possible advantages of having a Board like this?
A: Muslim families who send their children to the madrasas are also tax-paying citizens of India, and have as much right to government programmes as others do. Why should they be left out? If the Government’s Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan for primary education is joined with maktabs and junior madrasas, it will help provide madrasa students basic knowledge of important subjects such as Hindi, local languages, Mathematics, Science and so on, which is really very important today. All this while we have been complaining that the Government ignores Muslims, but now that it might be offering us something we want to run away from it! This isn’t quite the right attitude.

The proposed Board might also lead to greater accountability on the part of the managers of the madrasas, who, at present, for the most part, are only accountable to themselves. I feel that the opposition of at least some of the madrasa managers to the proposed Board stems from the fear that it might undermine their hegemony and control.

Q: Some critics of the proposed Board cite the instance of madrasas affiliated to the state madrasa board in Bihar, where such madrasas are said to have been rendered dysfunctional because their teachers, now being paid government servants assured of a regular salary, don’t take their teaching work seriously. They use this as an argument to oppose the proposed Board. How do you look at this argument?
A: I don’t agree with this logic at all. Look at the Jawaharlal Nehru University or the IITs. They are Government-funded educational institutions and still their academic standards remain high. The quality of education and the work of the teachers in any educational institution do not depend on whether it is in the private or public sector but on the personal commitment of the teachers. But, if there is this fear that the teachers of madrasas affiliated to the proposed Board might not take their work seriously, surely there are means to get around the problem, instead of using this as an excuse to reject the Board outright. For instance, the teachers’ contracts could be time-bound, and renewable depending on their performance. Or, they could be provided performance-based promotion and other benefits, so that the problem associated with the Bihar Board madrasas does not arise.

Q: How do you look at on-going debates about madrasa curricular reform?
A: These debates, and most of the issues that form part of the debates, are not new. They are more than a century-old. Shibli Nomani raised precisely the same issues in the 1880s. Maulana Azad did so half a century later. And today we are talking about many of the same questions! This itself shows that the pace of reform has been slow. This has to do with many issues, a major one being a certain reluctance on the part of many madrasa managers and teachers to come up to new standards of excellence, to learn new ways of teaching and new subjects, fearing that if the importance of all these is conceded others might take over. Many of them are scared of reform and think that this might dilute the particular identity that they have come to assume. So, while many fancy buildings are being constructed by many madrasas across the country, fundamental questions as to curricular reform are still not getting the importance they deserve. If I may add, it always happens that when buildings associated with any institution become more grandiose the passion and commitment of those who manage it decline. Sometimes, such grand structures come to serve as graves of knowledge and wisdom. I wish we had the same passion for knowledge and wisdom as we have for setting up such buildings!

Q: Some ulema would argue that non-ulema really do not have the right to advise them on matters related to their institutions. How do you respond?
A: I believe that it is for the ulema themselves to choose and decide. We cannot bring about any change from without. In contrast to what some ulema claim, however, people like myself are not calling for the secularization of madrasas. We are not saying anything new to the ulema. We are only pointing out that the sort of reform that we are talking about is not an unprecedented innovation, and that, in fact, if accepted, it would take the madrasas back to their glorious past, where, in addition to religious subjects, other subjects were also taught. In an age when there was no Harvard or Cambridge or Oxford University, it was the madrasas that provided the best architects to the world, people who designed the Taj Mahal and the Qutb Minar. Great scholars like Avicenna, mathematicians like Omar Khayyam, philosophers like Al-Kindi and Al-Farabi and the father of modern Sociology, Ibn Khaldun, all studied in madrasas. Why cannot we revive that tradition today?

That said, I wish to reiterate that the reform of the madrasa curriculum is a task for the ulema of the madrasas to undertake themselves. We do not have the right to decide for them, but, surely, we have the right to ask questions of them, and this we shall continue to do. Outsiders like us can only help them, but that is only if they ask us to. It is for them to take the initiative. It is crucial that they should bridge the artificial divide between religious and worldly knowledge, which is not an Islamic way of conceiving knowledge.

Q: Perhaps several madrasas do wish to include a basic of ‘modern’ subjects, but maybe they simply cannot get the teachers to do so.
A: I recognize the problem, particularly that of limited resources of the smaller madrasas, but here is where community effort and assistance has to come into play. Of course, teachers cannot be procured all at once. Take the case of the Prophet Muhammad, whose life provides us with two models of education. The first model is represented by the Suffa, the platform outside the mosque in Medina where the Prophet used to teach those of his companions who would gather there, the Ashab-e Suffa. The second model is represented by those Meccan prisoners of war who fought the Muslims in the Battle of Badr whom the Prophet released provided they taught a certain number of Muslims. Now, these were all not just non-Muslims but also people who were dead against Islam. Obviously they did not teach the Muslims the Quran. They taught them, possibly, literacy or numerical skills. Just think of it! The Prophet of God instructed his enemies to teach his companions on this occasion!

So, how can one forbid this thing that the Prophet of God has allowed for? Does it not mean that Muslim children can also study from non-Muslims, particularly since these non-Muslims, unlike the Quraish captured in Badr, are not enemies of Islam? Why can’t we have qualified non-Muslims to teach our children in the madrasas subjects such as English and Mathematics and so on if getting Muslim teachers for these subjects is difficult? After all, the Prophet is reported to have said that wisdom is the lost property of the believer, and wherever he finds it he should acquire it.

Q: Presumably, some ulema would argue that non-Muslim teachers or Muslim teachers who are not ulema themselves might negatively impact on the faith or culture of the students.
A: I don’t agree with this argument. If one’s belief is firm, nothing can weaken it. Did the non-Muslims who became prisoners of war and then taught Muslims cause the faith of those Muslims to weaken? Obviously not. The case of the prisoners of Badr clearly suggests the principle that one should consider a teacher’s skill and capability, not his or her religion.

Q: You earlier spoke about the need for intra-Muslim dialogue. In this regard, what do you have to say about the fact that numerous madrasas are, in fact, the backbone of sectarianism and intra-Muslim rivalry based on sectarian differences?
A: Here I think the example of Shah Waliullah, whom all the various Sunni groups in India respect, is crucial. He sought to bring about reconciliation or tatbiq of the different Sunni schools of jurisprudence, between proponents of the two main Sufistic schools—advocates of Wahdat al-Wujud (‘Unity of Being’) and Wahdat al-Shuhud (‘Unity of Witnessing’), between those who stressed the shariah and those who gave more importance to the tariqa or Sufi path. His magnum opus, Hujjatulla ul-Balagha, has near consensus among the Sunni ulema in South Asia. Unfortunately, we all take Shah Waliullah’s name but do not follow his approach.

Another example I can cite in this regard is that of Imam Shafi, who, when he visited the grave of Imam Abu Hanifa, prayed in the Hanafi fashion, much to the surprise of his own students. When asked to explain his behaviour, he replied that he did this out of respect for the deceased Imam. The noted scholar, the late Dr. Hamidullah, remarks in this connection that Allah so loved the ways of the Prophet that He made them all immortal in some or the other school of Muslim jurisprudence. So, some Muslim schools believe that the word ameen be recited aloud in prayers while others recite it silently. Some hold their hands around their chests while praying and others around their waists. Instead of squabbling about which group is right in this regard, as often happens today, Dr. Hamidullah’s advice was that all these practices are proven from the Prophet’s life and thus are equally acceptable. I think if this sort of approach is adopted, many of the minor issues that some sectarian leaders rake up in order to garner support for themselves, some even using these to brand other Muslim groups as outside the pale of Islam, can easily be solved.

That said, I must also add that sectarian or maslaki differences, if kept within decent limits, are not wholly objectionable and are, in fact, to some extent, understandable as they reflect differences of interpretation of the Islamic textual tradition. In a sense, this is also a reflection of the democratic character and structure of Islam. Differences of opinion are or can be a blessing for the community, as the saying goes.

After all, what is democracy? Basically, it is a product of scientific empiricism where an element of doubt is always working. So, the majority might have a certain view, but the person in a minority of one might well be correct, but all have the same right to hold their own views. Islamic scholars, who issue fatwas or write Quranic commentaries, always end their works by adding the line that while what they have written is their own considered opinion, God knows better what is correct (Wallahu Alam Bis Sawab). This reflects what I referred to as the scientific empiricism that demands an element of doubt, which is also present here. Hence, no scholar can regard himself as the final authority. This is a very big thing, a reflection of intellectual democracy.

So, I would say, one should not see differences of opinion between the different sects as necessarily a bad thing, but at the same time one realizes that the ways in which these differences are often expressed are not proper.

Q: To come back to an issue that you had briefly referred to earlier, what role do you see the ulema as playing with regard to inter-community dialogue in India today?
A: Dialogue must move beyond discussions about religious beliefs and practices to centre on issues of common concern that afflict us all, questions such as poverty, social injustice, the ecological crisis, war and peace and so on. Our own religious approach to people of other faiths should be as the Quran lays down—that each of us is entitled to follow our own religion and that there can be no compulsion in religious affairs. This is not because we are a minority in India or because of local compulsions, but precisely because Islam mandates this approach for us.

The ulema must take the leadership to promote genuine inter-community dialogue and harmony. In this regard, a classic instance is that of Maulana Azad. His commentary on the opening verse of the Quran, the Surah al-Fatiha, can well be considered a manifesto for inter-faith understanding. If we are the ‘’best of the communities’, the Khair ul-Ummah, as we often refer to Muslims as, we should take the initiative in promoting inter-community dialogue and not wait for others to do it. It is our Quranic mandate to work for solving the manifold problems that not just Muslims alone but the whole of humanity is faced with. Of course we cannot do this alone, and we need an inter-faith alliance with a common minimum programme.

In this respect, as in every other, we have a guide in the Prophet Muhammad. Even before he declared his prophethood, he was associated with a group of fellow Meccans, all of them non-Muslims, in the form of the Hilful Fudhool, which provided help and succour to the distressed. Later, when in Medina, at a time when he and his followers were faced with relentless threats from the Meccans, he announced that if the Meccans invited him to join an alliance like the Hilful Fudhool he would do so.

So, if the Prophet could be willing to enter into an alliance with those opposed to Islam for the sake of human welfare, why should not we enter into similar alliances with people of other faiths, particularly those who are well-meaning and are in no way inimical to us and our religion? Honestly, I don’t see Muslims getting anyway ahead unless they take up this task seriously and in a major way.

I don’t mean to sound pessimistic, but the fact remains that till we could produce grand edifices for the world like the Taj Mahal and the Qutb Minar we mistakenly thought of ourselves as ‘shadows of God’ (zill-e ilahi), but today the situation is so dismal that far from contributing anything for others, we only take from them, and that too we do not even know the proper way of taking.

As Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar once poetically remarked:

Hadd Hai Pasti Ki Ke Pasti Ko Bulandi Jana
Ab Bhi Ahsas Ho Iska To Ubharna Hai Yehi

(The height of degradation is to think of degradation as exaltation
But if one is even aware of this, it is a sign of a possible reawakening).

Prof. Akhtar ul-Wasey can be contacted on

Prof. Wasey can be contacted on

My Tiny Scientists

Cotton Sky

This is ideal weather for a woman who wears niqab. It's not cold, so my glasses don't fog up. I'm not stifled by the humidity, so my glasses don't fog up, lol. Now that the trees are blooming and the insects are crawling out from their hiding places, my little scientists are spending time in the field as well as the lab.


My son is much too young for most of the lessons that we cover in science but he's very hands on so being outdoors is great for him. They get very excited when they find interesting goodies:

Nobody Home.

It looks like we need some magnifying glasses.

I think a big challenge for us is fitting in some extracurricular activities that don't interfere with the main bulk of our instruction time. Math and phonics take up the bulk of the day - especially with all of the coding in phonics:

This is How It's Done

and the math worksheets/homework sheets:

Math Homework

Qur'an is first and then each of these subjects is forty-five minutes to an hour. We go through them both one right after the other and then slow way down. Depending on the mood of my youngest (she alternates between myself and my mother-in-law), we either alternate the rest of the subjects throughout the week, or we combine lessons where we can. For example, when we studied trees, I used as many Arabic words as I could in a mini lesson so that my daughter is exposed to the language.

We are currently studying communities in social studies and the jobs that people in the neighborhood hold. The most visible of course, is the postal worker who comes by every day.


And the superintendent/maintenance workers of our neighborhood. We've also had a chance to see firefighters in the neighborhood.

150 Metres

In other news,my son is still resisting his potty training, even though I got him a shiny red potty from Ikea.

Chamber Pot

I thought he would like it since he is fond of bright colors but he hates it worse than the other one! I even have the potty rings that go on the toilet seat but he protests every time. He does his pee but won't do poo. Oh well, we have to stick with it or we will have three kids in diapers at the end of the year - yikes! My daughter was much easier to potty train, perhaps because we used cloth diapers with her. I went from cloth to pull ups for a short time and then put her in underwear. She didn't want to get it wet so she learned quickly. This did not work with him.

I hope to fit in some more interesting activities over the few weeks. Since we are studying the sky, I hope to get a telescope for the children. Or perhaps a really strong pair of binoculars. I need to research this more, InshaALLAH. Also, I thought this was cute:

They use a night light in their room so this would be a good alternative. Read More...

The Purpose of Sports Part II

The Long Path Home

As Muslim women, it's important to get off our bums and stay active. I have given birth to three children since 2003. That's a lot of up and down weight gain for one body and now I am doing it again.

The last pregnancy was tough because I developed gestational diabetes. I had just begun to lose the weight from the previous pregnancy so I had a lot of extra weight. It was a tough time for me because I had to be on a special diet that consisted of three meals and three snacks. Try doing this in a home where no one else wants to embark on your health kick with you, lol. No Coke, no Pepsi, fries and pizza will shoot your levels through the roof.

I had to monitor my blood sugar about four times a day (needles in the fingertip are not for the squeamish and you can get a nice callous).

Tools for Sweet People

At the end, my condition worsened and I had to inject insulin straight into my belly at bedtime, which surprisingly did not hurt but itched like crazy.

This time, InshaALLAH I will do my best to avoid it. With my wonderful midwife, we are taking all the necessary precautions and I am spending time around this:

Ride to Nowhere

So, sports is also for fitness and well-being. It's important that we as busy moms remember to take care of ourselves. Caring for a husband and children can fill one's day, but if we don't make the time to care for ourselves, who will? Read More...

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Indian Ulema Against Terrorism

Yoginder Sikand

Recent months have witnessed a spate of seminars, public meetings, rallies and press conferences organized by various ulema groups across India denouncing terrorism and insisting that it has no relation whatsoever with Islam. These have been widely reported in the Muslim press, but, barring the recently-held Anti-Terrorism convention held by the Dar ul-Ulum Deoband, they have not received any attention by the so-called 'mainstream' Indian press. The reason is simple: The 'mainstream' press rarely, if ever, highlights any positive stories or news about Muslims. It is as if only 'bad' news about Muslims is 'good' news for the 'mainstream' press.

These anti-terrorism meetings are of considerable significance in several respects. They clearly indicate the unfortunate predicament of the Muslim community, which has been unfairly singled out, both in India and elsewhere, as being allegedly inherently associated with terrorism. It is a sign of the massive, and still mounting, wave of Islamophobia, propelled by Western, Zionist, and, within India, Hindutva, forces, which is increasingly compelling Muslims and their organizations to be put on the defensive. No other community is being forced to explain itself and absolve itself of charges of 'terrorism' in even remotely the same way, although 'terrorism' is, needless to say, not specifically a 'Muslim' issue.

The anti-terrorism meetings show that the Indian ulema are fast waking up to the need to reach out to an audience beyond that of their own followers, in particular to non-Muslims and to explain their stance to them. This follows mounting arrests and even killings of Muslims, many of them innocent, on charges of 'terrorism'. Although on the whole unfortunate, this move to reach out to non-Muslims might have a welcome fall-out: they might help build important bridges of communication between Muslims and non-Muslims, promote much-needed inter-community solidarity and counter deeply-rooted communal prejudices. This effort is, however, hampered by the fact that the Muslim religious leaders who have organized these meetings have few, if any, relations with non-Muslim organizations, activists and media professionals who could have helped relay their message to a broader non-Muslim audience. Hence, most of their meetings have been both addressed and attended by Muslims themselves, reducing them largely to exercises in preaching to those who are already convinced of the argument that Islam has no relation with terrorism.

These meetings clearly suggest the growing willingness on the part of influential sections of the Muslim religious leadership to bring internal contestations about Islamic authenticity into the public domain and to openly deny the claims to such authenticity on the part of such fringe elements that target innocents in the name of Islam. By explicitly condemning acts of terrorism as anti-Islamic, even if these are carried out by groups that claim to be 'Islamic', they clearly indicate the possibilities of developing alternate forms of religious expression that condemn terrorism in all its forms and stress the need for inter-community solidarity for social justice.

Significantly, these meetings have sought to widen the scope of public debate about 'terrorism' by also raising the issue of forms of terrorism engaged in by a range of non-Muslim actors, something that the dominant Western and Indian media have been reluctant to discuss, name or even acknowledge. They have, accordingly, talked of the need to also condemn state terrorism, particularly American and Israeli, that has caused the deaths of literally hundreds of thousands of people. They have condemned with equal passion the terrorism of the Hindutva brigade, often abetted by elements in the Indian state apparatus. Surely, as these meetings appeal to us to acknowledge, the debate on terrorism must move beyond its misplaced obsession only with Muslims to cover all forms of terrorism if we are at all serious about combating the problem.

These meetings have also forcefully called for more terminological clarity and balance about the very concept of 'terrorism'. They have pointed out that in the case of several Muslim groups and movements in certain countries, anti-imperialist resistance forces that have taken to violence in self-defence cannot be branded as 'terrorists', as the dominant media generally does. This is most striking in the case of the Palestinian and Iraqi resistance movements, that may use an 'Islamic' vocabulary for their anti-imperialist agenda.

It is significant to note that while denouncing terrorism done by Muslim groups (and simultaneously condemning terrorism engaged in by states and by non-Muslim forces), these meetings have not explicitly critiqued any Muslim group engaged in terrorism by name. Nor have these meetings sought to critique the interpretations of Islam articulated by these groups in any detailed manner, beyond simply announcing that Islam has no relation with terrorism. This perhaps emanates from a fear of being attacked, even physically, if such groups were to be named. It could also indicate a reluctance to admit that some Muslims, like some others, too might actually engage in terrorism. Whatever the reason, this silence surely reduces the impact that these meetings might have otherwise had in countering terrorism in the name of Islam engaged in by some fringe groups.

The debate about 'terrorism' needs to move beyond the parallel sets of monologues engaged in by Muslim groups and their detractors. The series of anti-terrorism meetings organized recently by various Muslim groups across India has sought to do this in a limited way, although this effort has been marred by a lack of sufficient internal critique. That said, these meetings are undoubtedly a very welcome and significant development.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Post Number 40, Week Number 7

Well, we've been really busy around here lately. It has been a long week already. We are expecting our fourth child, InshaALLAH and I have been super tired lately. AlhamduLILLAH the "morning sickness" is usually a nighttime, after dinner situation so it hasn't affected me during school time. People are surprised and seem to be giving me unwanted sympathy, lol. Really, I love having my children and find that they are not the handful that most people imagine them to be. Children thrive if they have safety, nourishment, encouragement and routine. I cannot stress routine enough. They are only out of sorts when the extraordinary occurs, like a visitor dropping by (at bedtime) or when they are out of their comfort zones (shots at the doctor, lol). Otherwise, it's business as usual. They are really excited about the baby and my oldest is already trying to feel for kicks although it should be some time before that is possible, InshaALLAH, (I'm about 7 weeks along).

AlhamduLILLAH we have finished the unit on trees! I never thought it would end. As a final unit, we learned about things made from trees. We discussed how dependent we are upon trees as a natural resource and talked about what the world would be like without trees. I think the best part for my daughter was playing with a new toy that comes from Ikea trees.

Choo Choo

We finally put our science journal together with pipe cleaners and manila drawing paper.

Grade 1 Science Journal

We will fill the pages with goodies from outside, drawings and projects from the science book, InshaALLAH. This is our tree menu. It shows the kinds of foods that animals can find in trees. I stenciled the words at the top and my daughter practiced her handwriting at the bottom and she set the prices too.

Tree Restaurant Menu

We paid a friendly visit to Costco recently and found a set of Bob Books that I really like.

 Bob Books

They are level 3 and so far she is getting a good workout from the new words and she is able to use the phonics rules that she has learned from the Saxon program as she goes along. I am very happy about that. Read More...

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Still around

Wow! It's been almost one week since my last post. We have been getting out a lot and enjoying the warm weather. I feel like I haven't seen green grass in ages.

The Last of the Leaves

I've also begun seriously potty training my son and trying to (unsuccessfully) wean my youngest. She does not want that to happen. Sabr, InshaALLAH.

It's also report card time since we just finished up our first six weeks. This bit of record keeping is certainly more for my sake than my daughter. I must print off a certificate of achievement for her because she has done so well. This site has a nice award maker

I have to reevaluate and try to challenge her more in this next six weeks, InshaALLAH. She does her work almost effortlessly and this is after introducing a more formal and technical program like Saxon. And, it's first grade work and she's four. I don't want to overwhelm her but I will not have done my job if everything is a piece of cake.

Not that everything is so easy. Teaching Qur'an is frustrating. It is hard. Her recall is excellent though, Masha'ALLAH. Once she gets into a rhythm it comes easy. The real test is for me. Just when I think that she is not memorizing it, the shaiateen start whispering. It would be so easy to say "Alright, that's good enough for today" and leave it alone but I know that we won't get anywhere like that. So on we go.

Onwards and Upwards

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Enjoying ALLAH's Creations

Stick em Up

Yesterday, we went outside on our anticipated nature walk. AlhamduLILLAH, the weather was excellent. It was warm and bright but extremely windy! The wind was so fierce, it blew my youngest daughter's stroller all by itself!

The snow has almost completely melted and the days are getting sunnier. The melting snow has collected into a rush of mini waterfalls in the once-tame creek behind our house.

Beware of Melting Snow

There were a couple of ducks that weren't successful at swimming against the current so they floated alongside us as we walked.


The kids were very excited by the huge fallen branches and puddles of water and I had the hardest time keeping them dry!

Get Out of There!

We also managed to collect a few pine cones here and there to assist us as we study trees and the different types of seeds.


By the time we got home, everyone was tired and happy. I am glad that we chose to go yesterday because the weather changed drastically once again and we are back to the snow suits and hats. Read More...

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Suratul Falaq

We have been going along steadily and making real progress lately, alhamduLILLAH. We started the Saxon Math program and so far everything is great. The phonics program is really excellent; I love the way my daughter has picked up the vocabulary rules without any problems. She also loves the readers that we assemble and color:

The ant is lost

She even has the necessary logic to spell words on her own now. For instance, she knows how to decide if a word should start with the letter c or k. She knows how to code vowels. She has also learned some sight words as well.

For the past two weeks, we have been going over Suratul Falaq. It has been the most difficult for her to learn but masha'ALLAH she is doing well. I think, InshaALLAH in a few more sessions, she will be able to say it smoothly with no hesitation. Judge for yourself:

Social studies is focusing on the choices and changes that families make, such as how to spend finances (yes, they learn that money doesn't grow on trees!) and how a family may change due to the birth of a baby or moving, etc. Science is about to get fun, I think, mostly because the weather is changing. We are assembling a science journal to record various concepts throughout the year, InshaALLAH. I've simply taken some thick manila paper and added a few sheets of notebook paper in between. We are scheduled to go on a nature walk this week, InshaALLAH so we will see the trees and how they are starting to awaken after this harsh winter.

Trunk Bokeh