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

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

Bishruddin Sharqi on Islam, Peace and Dialogue

Bishruddin Sharqi is the President of the Students' Islamic Organization (SIO) of India, the students' wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind. The SIO is the single largest Islamic students' organization in India. In this interview with Yoginder Sikand, he talks about the issue of terrorism and the urgent need for improving inter-community relations in India.

Q: In the wake of a chain of deadly bomb blasts across India in recent months, the media is awash with stories of Muslim youths whom it accuses of being behind these attacks. How do you look at how the media has reported this issue?

A: It is clear that in many cases perfectly innocent Muslim youths have been picked up by the police and wrongly accused by them of being behind various blasts. I am not saying that not a single Muslim has been involved in any terrorist activities. It might be possible that, due to denied justice, a few Muslims might have engaged in some such acts. All terror attacks, no matter who their perpetrators may be, must be sternly condemned and those behind them must be punished according to the law. But my point is that in a vast number of cases, totally innocent Muslims have been wrongly accused of complicity. On the other hand, as is increasingly being shown, at least some of these blasts have been the handiwork of fiercely anti-Muslim Hindutva groups. In a large number of cases of arrests of Muslims accused of being 'terrorists,' all we have are confessions given by the accused before the police, rather than statements given before magistrates, and this cannot be accepted as evidence in the courts because we know that very often such 'confessions' are forced after torture. But the media simply parrots the police version, without any proper investigation, to create the absolutely false spectre of Muslim youths being allegedly all set to detonate deadly bombs across the country. Things have become so bad that one can now even talk of 'media terrorism', with Islam and Muslims as the chosen target. The SIO has also been a victim of this sort of vicious media propaganda, along with several other Muslim organizations that have nothing whatsoever to do with any sort of terrorism. To cite one instance, some months ago a leading TV channel claimed that an advertisement had appeared in an Urdu paper published from Malegaon appealing to Muslim youths to shift their allegiance from the banned SIMI to the SIO. Actually, that advertisement was a public appeal to register for a Quranic recitation programme. We've taken this TV channel to court and the noted lawyer and human rights activist N.D Pancholi is handling our case. This is just one instance of how very influential sections of the media are making a very concerted effort to manufacture the image of Indian Muslims as 'terrorists' and demonizing them without adducing any evidence.

Q: Why do you think this is happening?

A: Some sections of the media seem to be doing this knowingly and deliberately, and this has to do with a host of factors, including deep-rooted communal biases and prejudices. This probably also has to do with their desperate drive for profit, which they think they can hike by broadcasting sensational stories, even if these lack any veracity.

Q: How do you think this sort of what you call 'media terrorism' can be countered?

A: This is not an easy task, given the communal and economic interests that are involved. Perhaps we now need to think of evolving new and alternate media that are not driven by the lust for maximizing profit and that represent the interests, voices and concerns of the marginalized—not just Muslims alone but other such communities, such as Dalits and Adivasis, as well as peoples' struggles for justice and justice-based peace that are emerging across the country today. Obviously, in this regard, the Muslim media is far behind. The Urdu media is now almost wholly a Muslim concern, and so it cannot reach out to other people to counter the demonization of Islam and Muslims. The very limited English-language media owned by Muslims also has very few non-Muslims among its readers or listeners. Muslim leaders and organizations need to give much more attention than they hitherto have to the issue of developing and using the media to voice their views and to get them across to a broader, including non-Muslim, audience. Only then can the sort of 'media terrorism' that I referred to be countered. Fortunately, this is increasingly being realised by some Muslims today.

Q: The now-banned SIMI had adopted a very hardliner position, claiming that Muslims in India and elsewhere must struggle for the establishment of what it called a Caliphate (Khilafah). How do you view this approach?

A: Raising the slogan for Khilafah is not itself a crime. Any ideological movement will naturally raise slogans closely related to its creed. Ramarajya of Gandhiji and the Marxist dream of a classless society are examples of this. But how you will articulate them is the important question. Resorting to violence or preaching hatred of other communities for this purpose cannot be allowed, and Islam also forbids this. As far as Islam is concerned, I think the approach always should be productive and positive. Theoretically itself, Islam admits pluralism. In a multi-religious and multi-ethnic society like India, groups working to create religious awareness have to recognize and respect the existing religious and cultural pluralism. But this concept of pluralism does means that you should abandon your cultural identity and ideological stance. I think the major task before Muslim groups should be to seek to communicate the message of their faith to people of other faiths peacefully. Rather than enter into controversies with them, we should seek to work together with them on issues of common concern. This is what the Qur'an instructs us to do. You have to work along with other communities, gaining their cooperation and goodwill, rather than antagonizing them. I feel that globally Islamic movements are realizing this. They are now understanding that the confrontational and violent path is futile and, indeed, counter-productive. They are now appreciating how crucial it is to work with and for people of other faiths, in the process reflecting, through their deeds, rather than just through their words or through their literature, the social message of Islam. So, now in Egypt, for instance, the leading Islamist movement Ikhwan ul-Muslimoon even has Coptic Christian Members of Parliament, and in Lebanon, Hizbullah works closely with some important Christian groups.

Q: Is that sort of thing happening with Islamic movements in India, too?

A: In India we have some twenty-five thousand non-Muslim associates and sympathisers who participate in and cooperate with our programs. In Kerala, where I belong, the SIO now has many non-Muslim sympathisers. The Solidarity Youth Movement, the vibrant youth wing of Jamaat in Kerala, has more than 500 non-Muslim members. In several colleges under the MG University, Kottayam, the Kerala University, Trivandrum, and the Calicut and Kannur universities, all in Kerala, the SIO has near about 20 Christian and Hindu members in students' union posts. We see ourselves not as a Muslim organization, but, rather, as an Islamic students' movement, and we regard Islam as being for the whole of humankind, not just for those who call themselves Muslim. This is why our work is not restricted to Muslims alone. I think we need to broaden our focus further so that we can associate more effectively with non-Muslim students as well. In recent years our policy and programs concentrates more on taking up issues of concern to all students, not confining ourselves to just Muslims. In this regard, Kerala is well in advance of other states, where not just the SIO but several other important Muslim organizations have for quite a while now been devoting their attention to build relations and working together with people of other faiths for common social causes, particularly for peace and communal harmony.

Q: So, do you see Kerala as an exception?

A: I think Muslim organizations in other parts of India have much to learn from the Kerala example. Unlike in much of the rest of the country, the Kerala Muslims are an integral part of the 'mainstream'. They know the art of peaceful coexistence. They have been influenced not just by various Islamic reformist movements but also by the climate created by various reformist movements in other communities as well as by progressive social and political movements. In Kerala, unlike in much of the rest of India, Muslims play an active and important part in the decision-making process. What is most striking about Kerala, as I suggested, is its legacy of close relations and interaction between the different religious communities in the state, though, unfortunately, things are beginning to change there, too. The key question is of learning how to interact in a peaceful and friendly manner while still keeping one's identity intact. I think one very effective and meaningful way of doing this is for people of different faiths to work together for common social causes—be it against immorality or against imperialism or struggling together for social justice. Let me cite a small but very meaningful example. Two years ago, the Kerala unit of the SIO organized a conference for medical college students in Trichur on the theme 'Not Medical Ethics but Life Ethics Itself'. Some 40% of the girls and boys who participated in the program were Christians and Hindus. All the boys, Muslims as well as others, stayed in the mosque, and while the Muslim boys prayed in the mosque we had arranged rooms for the Hindu and Christian boys to say their prayers also. This program was very successful, and for many of the participants it was their first experience of staying together with people of other faiths. If such experiments and efforts could be made at a larger level, they could have a significant impact in terms of promoting inter-community understanding and solidarity.

Q: So, what advice would you give Muslims to seek to counter the increasing demonization of the Muslims that is being encouraged by influential sections of the media?

A: My opinion is that rather than simply constantly repeating that they are not engaged in any sort of terrorism, Muslims must seek to give a social answer to this wrong allegation, and that is by engaging in constructive, peaceful and positive social work that benefits others as well. We need to develop and use positive energy rather than be forced to be constantly on the defensive. For that, we need to have a positive agenda as an Ummah. The concept of "Ummah" stands for a society with a clear vision and strong and imaginative leadership that can lead according to this vision. In this way, by our actions, by making a positive contribution to society, we can show and make people feel what Islam, properly interpreted and really is. This would help counter the concerted efforts that are being made to portray Islam as allegedly synonymous with terrorism. Ignorance of other communities is a major cause of communal prejudice, and so I am all for healthy and close interaction between Muslims and others. We need to communicate with each other, and religion is a grand discourse for such communication. Muslims need to come out of their ghetto complex. We must become more pro-active in promoting bridges between the different communities. We should abstain from emotionalism. Unfortunately, sometimes I feel that we react emotionally to issues when we should respond intellectually. Thus, for instance, as regards Tasleema Nasreen, I feel that the best way for us to respond is by answering her by writing, not by holding violent demonstrations. The same holds true for several other such challenges before us. That's how the Prophet spread his message— by using his wisdom and intellect, not by charging up his companions emotionally. Take, for instance, the case of the Treaty of Hudaibiyah between the Prophet and his Meccan opponents of the Qureish clan. When the treaty was being signed, the Qureish insisted that the Prophet write his name simply as 'Muhammad, son of Abdullah', instead of 'Muhammad, Prophet of Allah'. The Prophet agreed to this demand. He also agreed that if any Muslim from Medina, where the Prophet had his base, came to Mecca, which was then controlled by his opponents, the Meccans need not return him to Medina, and at the same time also agreed that any Meccan Qureish in Medina would be returned to Mecca. Several of the Prophet's close companions were upset by the terms of the treaty, thinking that they was an insult to the Muslims. Yet, the Prophet agreed to these terms. The Quran described the treaty as a 'Great Victory', for the next year the Prophet entered Mecca along with his followers peacefully. I think this single instance provides valuable lessons about how Muslims should respond to the challenges that they are faced with today.

Q: To come back to the issue of SIMI, what do you feel about the approach of radical Islamist groups, including SIMI, that condemn secularism and democracy outright as 'anti-Islamic'? In this connection, what do you feel about the views of Syed Abul Ala Maududi, the founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami, who had similar views?

A: The point is that Maududi Sahib, or any writer for that matter, needs to be studied and understood in his own social and temporal location and context. The sort of secularism that Maududi Sahib was confronted with when he fiercely opposed it was one that was vehemently opposed to religion, the sort that we can see in Turkey even now, but today there are other forms of secularism that are not so, that respect religion and religious freedom. Obviously, the way we view these forms of secularism must be different. The same is true for nationalism, which, in Maududi Sahib's time, was often equated with national chauvinism or even the deification of the nation. But today, in the age of so-called 'globalisation', the very notion and meaning of the nation-state have changed and are vastly different, so obviously the fiercely antagonistic posture adopted with regard to it by certain radical groups is not appropriate or realistic. Most of these so-called Maududian views and comments were formed when India was still under the British. Maulana Maududi himself revisited and changed some of his own ideas after that. His advice to the Indian Jamaat after Partition was also to work peacefully and lawfully in a multi-religious and multi-ethnic society. As I said, today, at the global level, Islamic movements are increasingly coming to realize that they need to revise the ways they have traditionally looked at issues such as secularism, democracy, religious pluralism and politics. The Jamaat-e-Islami of India is no exception to this trend. No movement, if it wants to stay alive, can remain obsessed with its founding individual and refuse to change. That's why, for instance, there are forms of neo-Marxism that have sought to move beyond Marx. Likewise, we need to re-define our approach. This the Jamaat-e Islami has itself been practically doing. So, while Maulana Maududi forbade voting for or participating in elections held under a secular Constitution, the Indian Jamaat shifted its position on this decade ago. It first allowed for its members to vote, and then for them to support certain parties. And now, in this age of neo-liberal economics, which is playing such havoc with the lives of the poor, we are taking an active role in working with non-Muslim human rights groups and popular movements. All of this naturally constitutes a major shift from the earlier approach of the Jamaat and Maududi himself.

Q: Has this global shift in the policies of various Islamic movements that you mentioned also impacted on the ways in which these movements conceive of what they call 'Islamic politics', particularly the notion of the 'Islamic state'?

A: Actually, the concept of Islamic State is highly misunderstood. It does not indicate a dictatorship where no other opinions and expressions will be allowed. The focal point of Maulana Maududi's views is the Qur'anic concept of Inil Hukmu illa lillah, that the real and ultimate source of power belongs to God, rather than to the state. When nation-states were the centres of power he talked about the state in connection with power. The need of the hour is to recognize the new non-state power centers of today and to realize Islamic ideas accordingly. There is a growing feeling among various Islamic movements that what is of central importance now is to work at the social, economic and cultural planes, to provide services and solutions to people in these spheres, and that this sort of work might later help strengthen them politically. Because today no longer is the state as an institution that powerful, for power is increasingly shifting to other spheres—to the economy, the media, knowledge and so on. And so it is in these arenas that constructive work needs to be done. In this regard I would like to cite the leading Tunisian 'Islamist' ideologue, Rashid Ghanouchi, who now argues that Islamic groups must desist from militant confrontation with the state, and, instead, must seek to cultivate or acquire social acceptance by providing concrete services to people. If people then accept them and themselves choose to be governed by an Islamic state then can such a state come into being. So, in other words, I see that, increasingly, several Islamic movements are beginning to become more attuned to social realities and possibilities, and are also now increasingly realizing the importance of promoting inter-community solidarity, which I consider as a major issue today the world over. ========================================

Bishruddin Sharqi can be contacted on

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Zafarul Islam Khan on Indian Muslims, Media and Terrorism

Dr. Zafarul Islam Khan is the President of the All-India Muslim Majlis-e Mushawarat, a platform of several influential Indian Muslim organizations. He is also the editor of the New Delhi-based fortnightly Milli Gazette, one of the few English-language Muslim news magazines in India. In this interview with Yoginder Sikand he talks about terrorism in India, about how the media projects Muslims and what he feels Muslims should do in the current context.

Q: Increasingly, Muslims and Muslim organizations have been singled out by the media, wrongly or rightly, for being behind the escalating incidence of terrorist acts across the country. This has led to Muslim organizations focusing much of their energies simply on countering the charges against them. How do you think this has impacted on their work for the development of the Muslim community?

A: Despite these massive provocations these organisations’ work for reform and development still continues. I think the current phase is an aberration, and I hope it will clear soon, especially now since the media has started waking up to the undeniable reality of Hindutva terrorism, pointing out what I think is just the tip of a hydra-headed monster which, in my view, is behind many of the terrorist activities and bomb blasts that have occurred across the country in recent years. The media is now slowly coming out with details of the precise role of these Hindutva terror groups in setting off deadly blasts, providing armed training to their cadre, indoctrinating them in the ideology of terror and running bomb-making factories.
What for me is a matter of equally grave concern is that this current government simply does not have the guts to fight this sort of Hindutva terrorism, for fear of losing Hindu votes or of what is termed a Hindu backlash, even though all sorts of terror, even if engaged in by some Hindus, is a menace to all Indians, including Hindus as well. This government does not bother how Muslims feel about how many innocent Muslims and Muslim organizations are being wrongly targeted as allegedly engaged in terrorism because for them we are like orphans, whose liberties the government thinks it can play with any way it wants.
But I must say that the general public, including many right-thinking Hindus, is now increasingly realizing that the actual situation is something quite different from what the media and the intelligence agencies have all along been claiming. They are gradually realizing the nefarious, yet little talked-of, role of Hindutva terror groups.
Q: But surely one cannot deny that at least some of these deadly blasts might have been the handiwork of some Muslims or some fringe extremist Muslim outfit?

A: I do accept that there is a possibility that some Muslims may have taken to this path. If so, this might have happened as a result of the grave threats and challenges that have been forced on the community, such as the destruction of the Babri Masjid and the Gujarat genocide and the continuing denial of justice to Muslims. But, at the same time, I must say that even though I have been actively involved in Muslim community issues for the last two decades I, at least, do not know of almost any conclusively proven case of a Muslim being involved in terror activity. Almost every single case of Muslims apprehended on charges of being involved in terrorism has been backed simply by ‘confessions’ made before the police, and of course I do not believe in the methods of investigation of the police that are often based on administering third-degree torture. Take the case of Abdul Nasser Madani, who was kept incarcerated for some nine years till he was let off because the charges against him did not stand. Or the almost 50 cases of former SIMI activists whom the courts have let off for lack of evidence, or the recent report of the tribunal that recommended the lifting of the ban on SIMI because of lack of evidence against it. The same thing happened in the case of the deadly POTA and TADA laws that targeted mainly innocent Muslims. Hardly two per cent of those charged under these draconian laws were proven guilty and convicted.
Today, arrests and targeting of Muslim youths continues in the name of crushing alleged new ‘Muslim extremist’ outfits, such as what I believe to be the fictitious Indian Mujahideen. I, for one, would not at all be surprised if the so-called Indian Mujahideen is actually a creation of the Bajrang Dal or the intelligence agencies. And in propagating what I think might well be a total fiction the media is also playing a nefarious role. They all seem hand-in-glove. After all, how can it be that within half an hour of a blast happening the media claims to have all the information of alleged Indian Mujahideen members who it says were behind it? In my view these sections of the media are great story-tellers. They should be earning Booker prizes for the yarns that they weave.
Q: But now some sections of the media are also talking about the role of Hindutva groups in terrorist activities.

A: True, and this is a welcome development, and I think that because of this the general public will increasingly realize and see through the stories that the media has been all along propagating.
Q: What do you feel about the charges against the SIMI leveled by the Government, the intelligence agencies and the media? Surely, its approach was aggressive and un-called for, as was its denunciation of the Indian Constitution and its call for armed jihad. What do you feel about the concept of Khilafah or Caliphate that it claimed it wanted to establish in India, with force, if need be? Don’t you agree that this was bizarre, to say the least?
A: I agree with you entirely that the SIMI’s rhetoric was extremist. But the charges against it and its activists of actually being involved in terror acts must first be conclusively proved by the courts, which has not happened. In almost all the cases involving such people all we have are statements made before the police, and we know how often these statements are false and forced out after administering the most brutal forms of torture. On the other hand, while there is ample evidence to prove the role of Hindutva groups and activists in murdering people on a massive scale, no effective action at all is taken against them. This is absolutely unfair. My point is clear: if anyone, including any former SIMI member or any other Muslim, is proven by law to be engaged in any terror act, he or she must be punished according to the law. Give him or her the sternest possible punishment, but do not target innocent people in the name of countering terrorism, but unfortunately this is happening on an increasingly worrying scale today.

Now, as far as the issue of Khilafah or the Caliphate is concerned, surely everyone is within his rights to democratically argue for what he or she believes as an ideal system, whether or not this is derived from religion. Thus, Marxists have their own version of the state, and Gandhiji called for ‘Ram Rajya’. Interestingly, Gandhiji is on record as having said that in his view an ideal state would be one that would be like that which was ruled by the Caliph Umar, which Sunni Muslims believe to have been an ideal-sort of Caliphate or Khilafah. An ideal Khilafah is a system where the ruler is accountable to the people and rules in accordance with justice. What is wrong with that? The Caliph Umar is reported to have said that even if a goat dies of thirst on the banks of the Euphrates—a difficult proposition to imagine—he would be held responsible for this. Once, when he saw an old Jewish man begging, the Caliph Umar ordered that the man be given a stipend from the public treasury, saying that the man had served the society when he was young and that now, in his old age, society must serve him. So, this was the ideal sort of Caliphate, which Gandhiji also praised. What a contrast, you will agree, to our present-day politicians, who seem to care nothing at all for the poor and the marginalized.

But then, in this regard, I must also say that seeking to establish any political system, be it the Khilafah or any other, through force and by resorting to violence is wrong and not permissible. If anyone seeks to do that he should be sternly punished according to the law. So, the SIMI’s rhetoric of establishing Khilafah by means other than democratic was wrong. It was extremist. We are a political democracy, and the only way to put one’s views and agenda forward is through seeking public support, through elections. This is why even before the SIMI was banned, most Muslim leaders shunned the organization, finding its approach extremist. But you must also remember that the SIMI emerged and became more radical at precisely the same time as when the American- and Saudi-backed jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan was at its peak. At that time, even the slogan of ‘jihad’ was being mouthed and propagated even by American leaders, although now the case is precisely the opposite. This fact needs to be taken into consideration while talking about and seeking to understand the SIMI’s radical rhetoric.

Q: Do you think that, increasingly, Islamist movements across the world are beginning to realize the folly of armed confrontation with established states? Is this a general sort of trend?

A: I think so. You cannot seek to establish or impose ‘Islamic government’ or an ‘Islamic state’ or any other sort of political system by force. It can only happen through democratic means, through participating in elections. Islamists cannot hope or expect to rule people against their will. Such an approach will be entirely counter-productive for them, as they have today realized. I think Islamist movements across the world have come to realise this, with a few fringe exceptions such as outfits like the Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is a very marginalized group but has a safe haven in the West.

Q: Why do you think that extremist groups such as the Hizb ut-Tahrir have been allowed to freely function in the West?

A: There are some who hold to a conspiracy theory in this regard, but my view is that groups like the Hizb ut-Tahrir have found a safe haven in the West by escaping from their home countries where they would probably have been killed or imprisoned. So, in the West they benefit from the freedoms that Western countries give to all, to Neo-Nazis, Muslims, Jews, radicals and liberals and so on. The authorities in these countries generally leave them alone until and unless they become a real menace.

Q: How do you see a lasting solution emerging to the widening communal chasm in this country?

A: I think that for this it is essential for the majority to realize that minorities, too, have rights, under the Constitution, in law and morality, rights as human beings that must be respected and observed. But see where Muslims stand today. You only have to skim through the Sachar Committee report to realize the utter falsity of the myth of ‘Muslim appeasement’.

Muslims have been pushed or kept down ever since 1947. And things are becoming worse today. On the one hand you claim that Muslims are ‘backward’, that they refuse to take to modern education, and when they do take to such education then you brand them as ‘terrorists’. Earlier, Muslims were given very few jobs in the public sector, and now, due to this media hype about ‘Muslim terrorism’ and about even highly educated Muslim youths allegedly taking to terrorism, do you think the private sector would like to employ Muslims? Obviously not.

I think that all this—this sort of anti-Muslim hatred that is being consciously stirred up—is part of a larger design. Some forces within and without the country want to marginalize the Muslims. They want that the only jobs that can be available to Muslims are as rickshaw-pullers or washermen. They want them to become the new Dalits. But this will not happen. Muslims are citizens of this country, and we must continue to struggle for our rights, using Constitutional and legal means, and also by working with people of goodwill among the Hindus and other communities.

Q: To come back to the question of the media, how do you think Muslim organizations could more effectively engage with the ‘mainstream’ media in presenting Muslim views and concerns?

A: I think there is a lot that we need to do in order to interact more closely with the media. I don’t think that large sections of the media are against Muslims or Islam as such, contrary to what some people might think. But the point is that many people in the media are also influenced by the general social climate, and so, like everyone else, they are not free of anti-Muslim biases. In this regard, I would advise Muslim organizations not to shun the media, but, rather, to seek to engage more closely and effectively with it, in a spirit of dialogue.

We also need to consider developing alternate media of our own, as well as working with the alternate media run by non-Muslims, who are sometimes more willing than the ‘mainstream’ media to seriously take up Muslim issues and concerns. But, the world over, the alternate media has always been at the fringes, and so we also need to work to get our views heard in the ‘mainstream’ media. Unfortunately, Muslim organizations are doing little, if at all, in this regard. They are often content simply to release a statement in Urdu and when they see it published in some Urdu paper the next day they feel that they have done their duty. Obviously, this does not at all serve to bring Muslim views or concerns before non-Muslims because today hardly any non-Muslims read Urdu papers.

Q: How do you think your paper Milli Gazette has been able to address the lacunae that you have pointed out in the existing Muslim media?

A: We have been able, to an extent, to fill the vacuum in the field of the Muslim English-language media. It gives me some satisfaction to say that our paper is read also by government officials and MPs. We are among the very few Muslim periodicals that focus not on religious or ideological issues and debates but, instead, on community affairs and current national and international developments. If you see any ‘mainstream’ newspaper on any day you would imagine that the day before that all the 160 million Indian Muslims must have been asleep or doing nothing, or, if at all, allegedly bursting bombs, because this media does not report on the positive happenings within the community. This is something that Milli Gazette tries to highlight—news about Muslim social work organizations doing productive work, Muslim groups organizing seminars, Muslims writing books or getting awards for various achievements, although our coverage of this is, admittedly, limited and not exhaustive.

I recognize that at present our paper doesn’t fully satisfy the needs of the community. We need to have a weekly, but ours is still a fortnightly. We need better quality reports, stories from the field, but we lack the finances needed for this. Presently, we do not have even a single full-time staff reporter, because of shortage of funds.

Q: Why is it that the ‘mainstream’ media focuses almost inevitably on only negative or sensational real or fictive events or developments when it comes to Muslims?

A: I don’t think this is a phenomenon specific only to Muslim issues. The media thrives on negative or sensational news about almost anything. Underlying this is the quest for hiking circulation or viewership, and, therefore, profits.

Q: Perhaps one reason for the inability of many Muslim organizations to relate to the ‘mainstream’ media effectively is that they are run and headed by madrasa-educated ulema, whose cultural background is of a different sort from that of most persons in this sector of the media. Do you agree? In this regard, might not modern educated middle class Muslims be more effective in interacting with the media to try to get Muslim views across to them?

A: That is true. We do need more middle-class Muslims to take an active role in community organizations, including in highlighting their views before the media. Unfortunately, they seem to be more interested in their own careerist aspirations. What typically happens is that many middle-class Muslims begin to take an interest in community issues only after retirement. Then they grow their beards and go to Mecca for the Haj and want to do some sort of work for the community. But of course by the time they reach that stage in life there is little that they can possibly do.

As I said, I would like more middle-class Muslim youth to take part in community-based organizations, which are now mostly run by the ulema. But many of these organizations simply do not have the money to employ them. Muslim organizations have to make effective media relations as one of their top priorities, but, unfortunately, many of the maulvis who control these organizations do not recognize this as an important priority. They simply want to satisfy their own limited circles.

Q: Why is it that, particularly in north India, the leadership of Muslim organizations is mainly in the hands of traditional madrasa-educated maulvis?

A: This is by default. Before the Partition, the ulema played a supporting, not the leading, role in providing leadership to the community, whether in the Congress or in the Muslim League. But then, with the Partition and the massive migration of north Indian Muslim elites to Pakistan, a great leadership vacuum was created, which had to be filled, and the maulvis stepped in to fill that vacuum. Now that they have occupied that place they won’t leave it voluntarily. I am not suggesting that we don’t need them. We certainly do, but they should not dominate or be considered the sole leaders, because their views on national and international developments is limited. Often, their views on these are limited simply to what they learn from the one or two Urdu newspapers that they read, and these papers are often based on sensationalism, spiced-up and one-sided news and views and so do not give a correct picture of things.

Q: Do you see the emergence of an alternate sort of leadership emerging among Muslims, particularly in north India, today?

A: Yes, gradually this is happening, and it is a welcome development. We need a joint effort of maulvis and modern-educated intellectuals and leaders, neither of which should dominate the other. If this sort of leadership comes into being, it can play a much more effective role in re-orienting our community’s priorities and in working to build better relations with people of other communities.

Unfortunately, there is one major psychological barrier that operates that seems to be inhibiting modern-educated, middle-class Muslims from taking an active role in Muslim community affairs. They have been made to believe and fear that if they do so they might be branded by their non-Muslim peers and colleagues, among whom they often live and work, as being allegedly ‘communal’ or even ‘fundamentalist’, although , of course, this is not at all the case. In recent years a vicious sort of climate has been created because of which many such Muslims seem fearful to openly say that they are committed to Islam and to Muslim causes. If they do say so, they are automatically accused, or at least suspected, of being ‘communal’.

We have to come out of this complex. We all have our religious, regional and national interests and identities, and there is no necessary contradiction between these. A religious Muslim who works for his community is not a threat to India. In fact, such a Muslim is actually serving his country by working for the welfare of one of its most marginalized communities. In fact, if someone is working for the education of Muslims the Government should reward him for this because he is doing the work that the Government should actually be doing but which it is not.

Q: To go back to the question of the media, Muslim organizations repeatedly stress the need for a more effective media policy, and some of them claim to have established ‘media cells’ for this purpose. How effective have these efforts been?

A: Many of these organizations that claim to have established ‘media cells’ or that keep talking about the need for a proper media policy simply have no idea of what precisely these mean. They think that it simply means having a separate room with a board hung at its entrance proclaiming ‘Media Cell’, and employing one or two unqualified people to cut out Muslim-related articles from newspapers and issue a statement in badly-written English once in a while, which almost no ‘mainstream’ paper publishes. This sort of effort will not have any major impact. We need a thoroughly professional approach, which is distinctly lacking in almost all the existing Muslim organizations.

Q: Across the country literally hundreds of Islamic magazines, dealing with religious issues, are published, but there are hardly any Muslim-owned papers that deal mainly with community-related affairs. Besides your Mili Gazette and, to some extent, the Bangalore-based monthly Islamic Voice, there are no other Muslim-run English language periodicals in India that focus on community, as distinct from religious, affairs. Why is this?

A: The root of the problem is that the community still has not understood or properly estimated the role of the media. We should have our TV channels, radio stations, daily newspapers in English, Hindi and regional languages and so on, but this, sadly, is not the case. There are several Urdu newspapers in the country, but then they are read almost entirely by Muslims, and so cannot play an effective role in getting Muslim views across to non-Muslims and to the state. I think it is only in the Malayalam media where Muslims have been able to make a real and substantial difference. There are four Malayalam daily newspapers brought out by Muslims in Kerala, and they exercise a considerable influence on the local scene. So, other newspapers in Kerala generally abstain from publishing concocted stories about Muslims in the state, because the very next day these Muslim newspapers can reply back by exposing the false claims that they might make. But in north India we have only Urdu newspapers, and even if some false claims are made about Muslims in the English and Hindi press, the only way that Muslim organizations respond is by publishing counter-claims in the Urdu press, which no one but a limited number of Muslims read, and so these responses do not have any impact. And so you have this bizarre phenomenon of people writing ‘open letters’ to Sonia Gandhi in the Urdu press dealing with matters related to Muslims, which, of course, Sonia Gandhi cannot herself read, and thus these serve no positive purpose at all.
Even as regards the many Islamic magazines that are published in the country, mainly in Urdu, there is much left to be desired. There are hardly any original religious Urdu journals. Much of what they publish is taken from elsewhere or consists of reprinted articles. Many of these articles have nothing to do with contemporary developments or are on irrelevant issues. Reading many of them, one can’t help wondering if those who write and publish them are truly living in this age! And then, most of them simply represent the jamaats or organizations or madrasas that bring them out. For many of them, their basic aim is not to serve as a good Islamic journal or to provide good information, but, rather, to operate as the mouthpiece of a particular jamaat or sect, so as to seek to prove that the particular organization or school of thought or ulema that they represent are supposedly great heroes of Islam and have rendered great services, as they see it, to the cause of the faith. This holds true for all the different Muslim jamaats—the Deobandis, the Ahl-e Hadith, the Barelvis, the Shias, the Jamaat-e Islami, the Nadwis and so on.
Q: In view of the coming Parliamentary elections in India, what advice would you give Muslims?

A: The old formula: to vote for secular candidates, and, preferably, for Muslim candidates in case they are in a strong position. I don’t think Muslims are any longer tied to any particular political party. And as regards the Congress and the BJP, as far as Muslims are concerned I see them as two sides of the same coin, the only difference being that sometimes the former raises some seemingly good, but misleading, slogans. But, practically, as far as economic policies and attitudes towards Muslims are concerned, there is no difference at all between these two dominant parties.

Q: There is now some talk about a separate Muslim political party. Imam Bukhari of Delhi’s Jamia Masjid has sought to float his own party. How do you see these developments?
A: Bukhari’s recent attempt should be seen in the context of similar attempts made by himself, and, before him, by his father, in the last three decades. Just before elections, he and his father have issued announcements about floating a Muslim political party and have organized such meetings as the one he recently called, to project the wrong claim of being the leader of the Indian Muslims. This is absolutely wrong, and I feel that, as in the past, this time, too, this trick will not work. After all, all major Muslim organizations boycotted the meeting that Bukhari had called. Nothing came out of it, and even the resolutions that the meeting passed were weak.

On the other hand, the Jamaat-e Islami has also been talking of possibly entering the field of electoral politics and the political process, whether directly or indirectly. I think this might be a good development, but I am not very optimistic because Muslims are scattered all across the country and there are so many political parties vying for their votes. Frankly, it is really an uphill task to put together an effective Muslim political party.
Q: But if such a party does come into being, would the All-India Muslim Majlis-e Mushawarat, of which you are the President, also be a part of it?
A: No. The Majlis is not a political platform or organization. We do not want to get involved in such issues. This is why we have not supported any political party, and have limited ourselves to appealing to Muslims to work with genuinely secular and democratic forces.

Dr. Zafarul Islam Khan can be contacted on
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