Saturday, March 28, 2009

Kid's Indoor Playground List

This is a list of indoor playgrounds in the Greater Toronto Area. Although it is getting warmer, InshaALLAH these are still a great alternative for little ones, especially for parties. I will add it to the sidebar, InshaALLAH. Read More...

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Really Cool Science

You've got to see these time-lapse videos.

The Hajj Goes High Tech

Here's a photo news story.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Coming to a City Near You?

There is enough for everyone's need, but not for everyone's greed.

We dropped by the REALLY REALLY FREE MARKET on Saturday and picked up a few playthings. Nice people. Read More...

Women and the Tablighi Jama‘at

By Yoginder Sikand


From its origins in early twentieth-century north India, the Tablighi Jama‘at (TJ) has now grown into what is probably the single largest Islamic movement of contemporary times. Writing in 1992, one scholar observed that the movement had a presence in around 165 countries (Faruqi 1992, 43). It would not be wrong, then, to say that the TJ is today active in almost every country in the world where Muslims live. Despite the obviously great influence that the TJ has on the lives of millions of Muslims throughout the world, scholars have hitherto devoted little attention to it.1 Even within the existing limited corpus of writings on the TJ, almost no mention has been made of the participation of women in the movement. This paper is an attempt to address this serious lacuna in our understanding of the role of women in the TJ. It does not claim to be a complete account, though, for given the nature of the movement, the subject of women in the TJ can only be properly studied by a female researcher, preferably a Muslim, with access to female Tablighi respondents who rarely appear before ‘strange’ (ghayr) men.

In exploring the question of the role of women in the TJ, this paper begins by tracing the historical context within which the movement emerged. It then moves to a discussion of the portrayal of the ideal Islamic woman in Tablighi tracts. The Tablighi agenda for women follows from this. In the concluding section of the paper we turn our attention to what implications Tablighi work might actually have for Muslim women, both activists in the movement as well as others.

The Historical Context

The decline of Muslim political power in South Asia towards the end of the eighteenth century witnessed the emergence of several reformist ‘ulama, crusading against the widespread observance of local customs, often seen as ‘Hinduistic’, and calling for Muslims to abide strictly by the shari‘a instead. For these reformists, the decline of the fortunes of the Mughals was a result of Muslims’ straying from the path of the shari‘a. Hence, they stressed, Muslim power could only be salvaged if Muslims were to begin to govern their own lives according to the dictates of Islamic law (Ikram 1963, 14). In pursuit of this aim, they began increasingly devoting their attention to ordinary Muslims who were seen as the bastion of ‘un-Islamic’ customs and practices. This represented a noticeable shift from past precedent, for at the height of Muslim power in the subcontinent the ‘ulama seem to have been primarily concerned with the ruling elite, remaining distinctly aloof from common Muslims.

The growing power of the British, culminating in the overthrow of the Mughal dynasty after the aborted revolt of 1857, saw the Indian ‘ulama making new efforts to cultivate links with the Muslim masses who, with the Mughals now gone, increasingly began to be viewed as the new repositories of Islam. With the eclipse of Muslim political authority, from now on it was to be ordinary Muslims who came increasingly to be seen as the ‘protectors of Islam’. Purged of local customs, beliefs and practices, the reformed Muslim man, and later, woman as well, was to be the new defender of the faith. This concern was best exemplified by the movement spawned by the Dar ul-‘Ulum, a seminary established at the town of Deoband, near Delhi, in 1867.

By training ‘ulama, by issuing opinions in matters of religious law (fatawa) and, most of all, by taking advantage of new printing technology by publishing popular books and tracts in the vernaculars, the Deobandi ‘ulama sought to disseminate the message and teachings of reformist Islam among ordinary Muslims. Of particular concern to them was the religious instruction of ordinary believers in the fundamentals of the faith, including basic rituals practices and beliefs (‘aqa‘id). Marketing a distinct departure from the past, they began paying increasing attention to Muslim women, who they saw as bastions of ‘Hinduistic’ customs and traditions. The reformed Muslim woman was now seen as playing a central role in the project of reforming the Muslim family and, in the process, the Muslim community as a whole. This concern for women on the part of the Deobandi reformists was most strikingly illustrated with the writing of a voluminous text specially for women, the Bahishti Zewar, by the leading Deobandi ‘alim, Maulana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanawi (d. 1943) in the early years of the twentieth century.2 This book, more than any other, grew into the most popular reformist tract for the proper religious instructions of Muslim women in India, a distinction that it enjoys till this very day.

As a product of the Deoband madrasa and a student of Maulana Thanawi, Maulana Muhammad Ilyas (d. 1994), the founder of the TJ, was particularly concerned to popularize the teachings of the new Islamic reformists among ordinary Muslims, including both men and women. The first target of Ilyas’ early tablighi (missionary) efforts, starting in the mid-1920s, were the tribe of nominal Muslim converts known as the Meos who lived in the region of Mewat, to the immediate south of Delhi. In the course of his work in Mewat, he strove to encourage the Meos to cultivate faith (iman), to improve their knowledge of the basic beliefs of their region, and to abide strictly by the rituals of Islam. From its humble origins in Mewat, the TJ gradually grew into the vast international movement that it is today.

In the early years of the TJ, the movement was directed almost entirely at men. Once his movement had established a significant presence in Mewat, Ilyas seems to have realized that his mission would remain incomplete if he did not bring women into active involvement in it. Accordingly, he approached some leading Deobandi ‘ulama with a proposal to start Tablighi work among women. The ‘ulama, however, initially recoiled at the prospect, arguing that this was ‘an age of great disorder’ (fitna ka zamana), with women going out of their homes without covering themselves ‘properly’, and that Tabligh tours might actually be used by women as an ‘excuse’ for ‘turning towards freedom’.

Despite the ‘ulama’s initial hostility to his proposal, Ilyas kept up his pleas for women to be allowed to participate in Tabligh work, until the noted Deobandi ‘alim, Mufti Kifayatullah, finally relented and gave him his consent. Thereafter, Ilyas approached a close disciple of his, one Maulana ‘Abdus Subhan, who was persuaded to let his wife begin missionary work among Muslim women in Delhi, where Ilyas lived and where the TJ currently has its global headquarters. This woman is said to have, under Ilyas’ instructions, formed a small group of women who went off for a few days to Mewat in the company of their husbands and, under the supervision of one Maulana Daud, started preaching among the Meo women of that region. After that, we are told, women’s participation in the work of the TJ gradually picked up in many other parts of the world as the movement began to expand outside the confines of South Asia (Ferozepuri n.d., 105-7).

This is one of the only references we have in the available literature to the actual work of women in the TJ, and even here they remain faceless, nameless people about whom we are told but little. We do know, however, what they and other TJ women activists were, and still are, taught and learnt as participants in the movement, and to that we may now turn.

Principles, Beliefs and the Ideal Muslim Woman

As in the case of Muslim men, the TJ sees every Muslim woman as playing a central and active part in the effort for the revival of Islam. The method in which this is to be done – the tariqa-i tabligh – is, for the most part, common to both men and women. Ordinary Muslim women are encouraged to take time off and form a women’s group or masturati jama‘at that travels to various places to do Tabligh work, preaching the message of reformist Islam among the Muslim womenfolk in the areas they visit. To begin with, ideally, they should spend three days at a stretch every two months in this way. After they have gained enough experience they should start to go on fifteen–day jama‘ats. Thereafter, this should be increased to a chillah, or forty days at a stretch, or even longer, during the course of which they should be encouraged to visit other countries to carry on Tabligh work there.3

Only married women may go out on a jama‘at, and they always be accompanied by a male relative. This should preferably be the husband. If, for some reason, the husband is unable to accompany a woman, she must have her son, brother, father grandfather or some such mehram relative with her.4 The male mehram should, if possible, be one who has already spent a chillah doing Tabligh work. In addition, he must have a beard, testifying to his commitment to Islam (Wali ul- Islam 1996, 17).

Ideally, the jama‘at should consist of ten women and ten male mehram relatives (Ibid., 16). While on a Tabligh tour, all decisions regarding the working of the jama‘at are to be taken by the men folk accompanying the women. The head (amir) of the jama‘at must in all cases be a man. In consultation (mashwara) with the other men he is to oversee the working of the group. Decisions taken by him are relayed to the women through the medium of a woman whom the women choose among themselves. This woman is told of the amir’s decisions by her own husband or mehram relative who is accompanying her, and she, in turn, conveys this information to the other women in her group (Ferozepuri n.d., 108).

When the group reaches its destination the women are taken to the house of a local Tablighi activist, where arrangements have been made to keep them in strict pardah (seclusion). Such a house must have toilet facilities for women inside; women are not to step out of the house to relieve themselves in the fields, as is the practice in much of rural South Asia. If the house does not have a toilet, one must be built, says a Tablighi elder, before the women arrive (Ibid., 107, 109). The men folk accompanying them are put up in separate quarters nearby or may stay in the local mosque. For a few days the women live together like a small community.

The daily schedule for the women is formulated by their husbands or mehram men folk in consultation with each other. After they have chalked out the women’s programme for the day, it is written down on a sheet of paper and slipped under the pardah to the women’s quarter (Wali ul-Islam 1996, 15). Much of the day is to be devoted to improving the women’s own knowledge and practice of basic Islamic ritual observances. In the course of their stay the women activists are expected to learn, among other things, the principles of Tablighi work, which they are to popularize among the women of their own families once they return to their homes. Of central importance is the learning of what is called in Tablighi parlance the chhe baten or the ‘six points’. The first of these is the kalima shahada or the Islamic creed. The second is namaz, Islamic prayer. ‘Ilm, or knowledge about the basic Islamic ritual practices, and zikr, litanies in remembrance of God, come next. Here women are expected to memorize a number of Arabic supplications that are to be used for various different occasions. This is followed by ikhlas-i niyyat or ‘the purification of intension’. Here, the women are expected to learn that every thought and action of their must be motivated solely by the desire to gain the pleasure of God and to acquire sawab or religious merit. Sixthly, and last, is ikram-i muslimin, the importance of respect for other Muslims, particularly the ‘ulama.

Besides the chhe baten, while on jama‘at the women must busy themselves in reading in a group from the books of faza’il or heavenly rewards for pious deeds. This genre of Tablighi literature consists largely of books containing short episodes from the lives of the early Muslims recounting their piety, and highlighting, in particular, the great rewards that are to be expected in the Hereafter if one follows in their footsteps.

The daily recitation from the books of faza‘il is to be accompanied by bayans, or lectures, that are delivered to the women by a learned and experienced male Tablighi activist, who may either be one of the husbands or mehram relatives of the women or a local Muslim. The bayan is to be delivered from behind a curtain so that although the women may hear the speaker, they may not see him and nor can he see them. The lecture should focus on the need for all Muslims to engage in Tabligh work, to strengthen their faith, improve their practice of the Islamic ritual observances, and to bring Islam into their own personal lives.

Women activists who are experienced in Tabligh work and well versed in its principles may also address the other womenfolk. However, here extreme care should be taken that a woman does not speak in an authoritative tone as if she is delivering a lecture. The reasons for this, says a Tablighi elder, that this is the age of fitna (disorder), of great corruption and degeneration, and ‘much evil’, he warns, can come out of this (Ferozepuri n.d., 109). Just as women should ‘always keep their bodies completely concealed’, he says, so too ‘must their voices be kept in complete pardah’ (Ibid., 111). Unlike a man, who can give a lecture from the pulpit (mimbar) or while sitting on a chair, if a woman is to address her sisters she must, like them, sit on the floor and speak to them. In no case should she stand up to speak to the others, as that goes against what are seen as notions of feminine modesty (Wali ul-Islam 1996, 16). She must speak as she would in an ordinary conversation and not try to imitate the forceful, emotive style of male Tablighi speakers.

As well as serving as a learning forum for the women muballighin or Tablighi volunteers, the jama‘at also functions as a means for communicating the Tablighi message to other Muslim women in the places that the jama‘at visits. Local women are to be invited to join the muballighin in the house in which they are put up. This is done by the husbands or male mehram relatives accompanying the women muballighin. They first approach local male Tablighi activists, and along with them go from house to house exhorting the men to send their wives to join their women in ta‘lim or learning sessions. When going to the venue of the ta‘lim local women should be accompanied by their husbands or a male mehram relative and must be covered in full pardah. Like the female muballighin, they must be very simply dressed. There must be no ostentatious display of jewellery or fine clothes, and every effort should be made to conform to a standard of radical equality.

Besides attending the ta‘lim sessions organized by visiting women’s jama‘ats, local Tablighi activists are expected to arrange for weekly meetings (‘ijtima) where local women get together to learn about the chhe baten, listen to narrations from the books of faza‘il and imbibe the teaching of the TJ. Such ‘ijtimas must, however, be started only after getting permission from the local Tablighi headquarters (markaz).

Women’s jama‘ats, as well as the periodic local-level ‘ijtimas, also serve as occasions where women can gather together, an opportunity rarely afforded to them in families where strict pardah is observed. Although they are expected to spend all their time in meditation, prayer and learning, as well as teaching other women about Islam, women can find in these occasions spaces where they can share their own stories, their own joys and sorrows, with each other. Thus, Rukaiyya Begum, a woman who works in a non-governmental development agency in Barisal, Bangladesh, speaks of how some male Tablighi activists in her town are critical of the women’s jama‘ats and ‘ijtimas because, according to them, ‘women who attend them spend much of their simply gossiping with each other rather than talking and thinking only about the din (religion)’. ‘ They might talk about their children or their problems with their mothers-in-law or even about the risking price of rice and fish,’ she says, and this irks the men because they see these as worldly (duniyavi) matters that completely distract one from the single-minded pursuit of the din.5

Women’s jama‘ats can also prove to be occasions for women to get away from domestic chores and family responsibilities for a while. They are not allowed to take their children with them on jama‘at, as otherwise their attention might be diverted from the mission of Tabligh. Thus, for a few days, women can leave their household tasks and their children in the care of other women and gain a respite from the drudgery of domestic work. Gulshan Siddiqui, a housewife from Dhaka, who once traveled on jama‘at, but is now no longer involved in the TJ, describes her experience thus:

"I had been married for seven years and every day, day in and day out, it was the same old routine – cooking, washing, cleaning, making endless cups of tea for my father-in-law, scrubbing the floors. I badly needed a break. My husband was deeply involved in Tabligh work in those days. One day, he came home from the Tablighi markaz and told me that we both should go for a few days on jama‘at. At first, I was apprehensive. I did not know what I would have to do. But later I found that I had really enjoyed myself. I learnt so much, and, besides that, visited some places that I had never been to before. And those few days provided me some respite from the monotony of housework." 6

Notions of Femininity and the Ideal Muslim Woman

The pedagogical function of the women’s jama‘ats and local ‘ijtimas is not simply limited to imbibing the teachings of the chhe baten and the stories from the books of faza‘il. Women’s groups in the TJ serve as crucial arenas where women’s identities are sought to be crucially re-defined in line with Tablighi understandings of the ideal Muslim woman. Indeed, this can be seen, in some sense, as the central function of Tablighi work among women. Through the lectures of the muballighin and Tablighi elders and through numerous Tablighi-type texts an attempt is made constantly to communicate and reinforce the image of what is regarded as model Islamic womanhood.

Tablighi notions of ideal Islamic femininity echo, for the most part, the Deobandi understanding of the role of women as wives and mothers. To reinforce the image of the submissive wife Tablighi texts freely draw on weak (za‘if) and concocted (mauzu) traditions (ahadith) attributed to the Prophet, which critics argue are completely violative of the actual Qur’anic mandate of gender equality and which were later fabricated in order to lend support to extreme patriarchal notions. As a wife, a Tablighi ideologue writes, a Muslim woman must constantly remember that God has appointed her husband as her master (sardar). To obey him (uski ita‘at karna) is a duty (farz) that is binding on her (Ferozepuri n.d., 104). Participation in jihad not being a farz (religious duty) for a woman, she can gain the same divine reward simply by being obedient to her husband (‘Azmi 1993, 1-2). If her husband should, for any reason, get angry with her, a woman should bear his wrath cheerfully and not complain (‘Alam 1995 11-12). One Tablighi writer approvingly quotes a story attributed to the Prophet, according to which Muhammad is said to have declared: ‘O Woman! Your heaven and tell is your husband’ (‘Azmi 1993, 2). This, he says, implies that a woman ‘will enter heaven if the husband is pleased with her and hell if he is displeased with her’. He goes on to adduce a long list of forty more such stories attributed to the Prophet to prove his point that, in order to gain bliss in this world and the hereafter, a woman must follow every command of her husband, should bear his anger cheerfully, and should not protest when he does wrong.7

This view is repeated in several other tracts written by other writers associated with the TJ. Some of these texts are specifically targeted at a female readership. A good illustration of this is an Urdu book titled Muslim Khawatin ke Liye Bees Sabaq (‘Twenty Lessons for Muslim Women’), written by a leading Indian Tablighi scholar, Maulana ‘Ashiq Elahi Bulandshahri. This book, suggests the author, ‘should reach every single house’ in order to ‘put an end to the increasing deviance (ghaflat) on the part of women’. In addition, he strongly recommends that it be included in the school curriculum for Muslim girls (Bulandshahri n.d., 4).

A central concern of this book is the portrayal of the ideal Muslim wife. Quoting numerous reports attributed to the Prophet, the author argues that only that wife who willingly obeys the commands (hukm) of her husband and does not answer him back shall gain entry into heaven. According to one report that he cites, the prayers of three people shall not be accepted by God: a runaway slave until he returns to his master; a person in an intoxicated state; and a wife whose husband is angry with her. The Prophet, he claims, had himself declared that the majority of the inhabitants to hell would be women who were ungrateful to their husbands and used foul language (Ibid., 56-57).

The ideal Muslim woman is seen in Tablighi discourse as bound within the four walls of her home. The moment she steps out of the house, says Bulandshahri, the devil (shaytan) himself begins to accompany her (Ibid., 78). ‘God has told men that he has made women for them’ and ‘she is the ornamentation (zinat) of your home’, another Tablighi activist tells his (presumably all-male) readers. She must be hidden ‘even more carefully than silver, gold and precious stones’. Allowing her to go out of the home will result in all manner of fitna, he warns. Just as if costly things are left outside the home, robbers and dacoits and even otherwise honest people will be tempted to steal them, so also if a woman ‘is paraded outside without pardah’, the ‘lascivious eyes’ of men will fall on her. This will ‘open the doors of adultery (zina)’ and the woman will lose her shame and modesty’ (Ferozepuri n.d., 103).

Furthermore, Tablighi scholars advise that care should be taken that women do not adorn (banao singhar) themselves, for they might otherwise become ‘a great source of temptation’ for men and, consequently, a perennial source of fitna. Such women are assured that they shall ‘neither gain admittance into heaven and nor even get to smell its fragrance’ (Khan n.d., 5). Likewise, and for the same reason, women should wear only very simple clothes and should not use any make-up, for the Prophet is said to have declared that God cursed the Children of Israel for having let their women dress in such a manner (Ibid., 10).
Since woman is a thing that must be ‘hidden’ (chhippana) from ghayr males, if, under dire necessity, she has to step out of the house, she should do so only in the company of a male mehram relative, and that too in strict pardah. On such occasions she must cover herself, says a Tablighi ‘alim, with a burqa (veil) that stretches from heat to foot, covering the entire face as well. So as not to attract any male attention, the burqa must be as simple as possible. It should not be decorated or embroidered.8 Even in the house, she must not appear before any non-mehram male. She should never even see any such man, even though the man may be blind. This is because just as it is forbidden (haram) for a man to see a non-mehram woman, so, too, must a woman never see a non-mehram man (Khan n.d., 3). She must not be present at any place where she can see a non-mihram man.9 She must not even open a window to look out if her face is not covered. If she goes to the market she must not, under any circumstances, lift the veil from off her face, not even to see what she is buying (Bulandshahri n.d., 75). Indeed, says this writer, pardah is so important that is must be observed with the same degree of strictness as with non-mehram males with certain classes of non-Muslim (kafir) women. Interestingly, under this category he mentions only women from the ‘low’ Hindu Dhobi (washermen), Bhangi (sweeper) and Chamar (cobbler) castes, though he does not specify why he singles these out among all others (Ibid., 76-77).

Since the ideal Muslim woman must be confined to the house, her sphere of work is the myriad household tasks that she must perform. These tasks must not be seen as drudgery, however, for great heavenly rewards are said to await the woman who performs them cheerfully as religious duties. Thus, a leading Tablighi elder writes that the woman who massages the tired body of her husband without having been asked to do so acquires the merit equivalent to giving seven tolas of gold in charity (sadaqa). However, if she were to do this only on being requested by her husband, she still gets a reward, but this time only that for giving away seven tolas of silver (Khan n.d., 5). Elsewhere, this source puts the reward for the former as equal to half of that a martyr (shahid) (Hadiser Aloke). Great divine blessings also await that woman who does all her domestic chores properly and tends to her children (Khan n.d., 2-5). Thus, the woman who feeds her child with her own milk gets the reward of one good deed (neki) for each drop that is drunk. The woman who sweeps her house while engrossed in zikr will receive with the reward for sweeping the Ka‘aba itself (Hadiser Aloke).

Domestic work alone is the proper sphere for women. While performing all these tasks, a woman should constantly be engrossed in zikr, the remembrance and praise of God. Her spare time she should spend in zikr and namaz and in counting her rosary (tasbih). She must say her prayers five times a day in a space kept apart in the house itself, for that is her mosque. She should recite (tilawat) portions of the Qur’an every day as well as a number of Arabic supplications. She should also make adequate arrangements for the religious training (tarbiyat) of her children. In this regard, she should strive to follow the example of Khamsa, a Muslim woman who, during the rule of the second Sunni caliph ‘Umar, cheerfully sent her four sons on jihad against the unbelievers where they all lost their lives on the battlefield (Akhtar ul-‘Alam 1995, 3-14).
Besides properly carrying out the various domestic tasks that have been assigned to her, a woman is promised great heavenly rewards if she takes care of her own appearance to please her husband and to conform to the demands of proper Islamic hygiene. Thus, according to one leading Tablighi elder, if a woman lowers her head in humility, properly combs her hair with a central parting (chir), uses a tooth-stick (miswak) to clean her teeth, cuts her nails regularly, shaves her pubic hair and arm-pits, uses a cloth during her menses and properly cleans herself after excretion , she will receive the enormous reward equal to that of a hundred martyrs (shuhada), and shall be blessed with the intercession (shafa‘at) of Muhammad on the Day of Judgment (hashr), because that is the blessing that God has announced for every sunna or practice of the Prophet, both great and small, that has gone into disuse and is revived in this age (Hadiser Aloke).

Muslim Women and the TJ's 'Islamization' Project

The active involvement of women in public Tabligh activity, an arena hitherto completely closed to them, coupled with the traditional images of Muslim womanhood that the TJ seeks to project and constantly reinforce, provides what seems, at best, an ambiguous and confused portrayal of the role and status of the ideal woman Tablighi volunteer. Is the Tablighi agenda for Muslim women to be seen simply as bringing them to participate actively in their own subordination and confinement within the iron cage of patriarchal tradition? Much evidence suggests that the concern of the TJ with the question of women can, in fact, be seen as a reaction on the part of male defenders of tradition to the threat of increasing female independence. Thus, in his introduction to a pamphlet directed specifically at women written by a leading Tablighi elder, a Tablighi activist writes that the need for Tabligh work among women is today ‘particularly urgent’, as increasing numbers of female are ‘going in for co-education, have started reading novels and stories, are watching television and going to the cinema, are strolling freely in parks, and are increasingly going out of the house without a mehram male to accompany them’. This, he says, is making women lose ‘all sense of shame’. He castigates Western feminism as having only ‘further bound’ women in heavy chains. As a way out of what he sees as this growing ‘irreligiousness’ on the part of women, he suggests that girls and women must ‘always remain in strict pardah, mix only with pious Muslim women and should read only those books that strengthen their faith’, particularly those that contain stories about the wives of the Companions of Muhammad and brave Muslim women.10 In a similar vein, another Tablighi activist puts the entire burden of women’s low status on the fact that they are ‘abandoning the pardah’, all in the name of ‘female liberation’ (Palanpuri 1995 35-36).

However, to see Muslim women in the TJ as simply passive collaborators in a project designed to curb all assertion and agency on their part would, perhaps, not be doing justice to the great complexity of the situation. For, although the movement aims at reinforcing the traditional gender division of labour, it affords, in the process, new role models for women to emulate which can be seen as providing, at one level, significant departures from traditional gender norms. What is particularly interesting here is the central role that women come to be seen as playing in the spread of normative Islam, a role that in South Asia at least, had hardly been envisaged for them before.

In some Tablighi accounts women are portrayed as, in some sense, capable of making greater sacrifices for Islam than men. God, says the late Enam ul-Hasan (d. 1995), the third amir of the TJ, has made women ‘weak’ and ‘emotional’, as opposed to men, whom He has made ‘strong’, ‘brave’ and ‘relatively hard-hearted’. (Nizami 1993, 21). Because of their ‘tenderness’, many Muslim women have displayed a greater receptivity to Islam than have many men. Thus, Abu Lahab, an uncle of the Prophet, stiffly opposed Muhammad, and another uncle of his, Abu Talib, refused to recite the Islamic creed of confession even on his death-bed despite being convinced of Muhammad’s divine mission, while all of Muhammad’s aunts had accepted Islam in his lifetime (Ibid., 23). Likewise, the first martyr in the cause of Islam was a woman, Samiya, and it was a woman, ‘Umar’s sister, who was instrumental in bringing ‘Umar, later the second Sunni Caliph, into the Muslim fold. In the same manner, Akramah, who later went on to sacrifice his life in a battle for Islam, was brought to Islam by his wife (Ibid., 25-27). Muslim women are exhorted to take these women as role models to emulate, as also the Prophet’s wives – Khadija, the first convert to Islam, who helped Muhammad by consoling him when he was the target of oppression by his enemies in Mecca and assisted in his mission with her wealth, and ‘Aisha, a renowned narrator of many ahadith herself, who taught the Qur’an and the Prophetic traditions to the Muslim women of Medina (Ibid., 33-35, cf. Qasmi 1995, 25-26).

As active agents in the project of Islamization, Muslim women need first to enhance their own knowledge and strengthen their own practice of Islam through participation in the work of the TJ. They are then to share this knowledge with others, although keeping strictly within the confines of pardah. Most importantly, they must now see themselves as playing a crucial role in transmitting Islam to their children, bringing them up to be pious, committed Muslims. They are, a Tablighi elder writes, to consider themselves as the first madrasa or school of their children (Khan n.d., 12). Women must also make every effort to encourage their husbands to spend as much time as they can on Tabligh work. A woman who sends her husband ‘on the path of Allah’ for Tabligh work and maintains her modesty while he is away will, or so promises a Tablighi elder, ‘enter heaven 500 years before her husband, where she will be crowned as the sardar of 70 thousand angels and heavenly houris’. She will, he says, ‘be bathed in the waters of heaven and, seated on a horse made of yaqut, will await the arrival of her family’ (Ibid., 2-3). The rewards for encouraging their men folk to go regularly on Tabligh work may actually be received by women in this world itself for, according to a Bangladeshi Tablighi activist, ‘It is possible that husbands doing Tableeg would be comparatively more religious and be loyal to their wives’ because, by being fully engrossed in Tabligh work, ‘they might have less time to run after other women’ (Shamsul ‘Alam 1993, 727).
Within the family setting, Tabligh work may open up new spaces for women, who may now appear to exercise greater say in religious affairs than has hitherto been allowed for. At least half an hour must be set apart every day when the family should get together for what is called the ghar ki ta‘lim session (Qasmi n.d.). In the course of this, the Fazail-i‘Amal (Zakariyya 1990), the main book of faza‘il used in the TJ, and the chhe baten should be read out by the husband, wife or children. According to one Tablighi source, women should actually take the responsibility of organizing the ghar ki ta‘lim because their men folk have usually to go out of their homes to work (Akhtar ul-‘Alam 1995, 5). Another part of the day should be fixed for the husband and wife to discuss how best they can improve the Islamic milieu of their home. From here they can progress to planning Tabligh work for their locality, city, country and, eventually, the whole world. Women must also make every effort to spread the message of the TJ to all their female relatives, guests, and neighbours who come to their homes, as well as even to female beggars who knock on their doors, soliciting alms (Nadwi 1983, 40), Women, thus, are provided with a new instrumentality that they hitherto have lacked.

One can also observe in Tablighi discourse on women a hidden critique of certain traditional notions of femininity and domesticity. Exhorting women to follow the example of the wives of the Prophet, Enam ul-Hasan writes that whereas today women find themselves in the kitchen almost the whole day, in the homes of the wives of Muhammad the stoves were lit only very occasionally. They spent but little time cooking, for their habits were simple, and they and the Prophet subsisted largely on dates and water for months, while sometimes an Ansar of Medina would send some milk to them as a gift. Even this milk, he notes, was drunk without having to be boiled. Likewise, marriages in the days of the Prophet were conducted with almost no expense, unlike today when the bride’s family must spend a great deal of money, often having to land in deep debt as a result (Ibid., 29-31). In line with this great stress on simplicity and austere frugality, at large Tablighi gatherings it is common for mass marriages to be arranged at little cost to either side, and sometimes dispensing with the customary dowry which, in South Asia, can been seen as a crucial symbol of the devaluation of female worth.


Probably the most widespread Islamic movement in the world today, the TJ has its roots in the reformist tradition that emerged is South Asia in the wake of Muslim political decline and the rise of British power in the region. In the absence of Muslim political authority, for the reformist ‘ulama who emerged in this period, every Muslim, man as well as woman, now had the onerous responsibility of ‘preserving’ and ‘protecting’ Islam. Growing out of the Deobandi concern for the ‘proper’ Islamization of Muslim women, who were seen as the bastion of ‘superstition’ and ‘un-Islamic’, ‘Hinduistic’ traditions, the TJ made women’s active involvement an integral part of the reformist Islamization agenda.

The implications for Muslim women of the efforts of the TJ seem to send different signals for patriarchy. On the one hand, the TJ seeks to impose on Muslim society an extremely restricted and narrow gender regime as a response to the challenges of modernity. In this process, not only are the traditional sources of women’s subordination sought to be reinforced, but even the limited spaces afforded to women within traditional custom-laden South Asian Islam, such as attendance at Sufi shrines, are fiercely attached as ‘un-Islamic’ aberrations. Because of the importance that is placed on the regular reading of specific texts in Tablighi circles one might expect involvement in the TJ to help promote literacy among women active in the movement. No firm statistical evidence can be cited in this regard, however. That Tabligh activity may not necessarily lead to greater female literacy is evident from the fact that in Mewat, which is held by Tablighi activists to be their most successful experimental ground, the female literacy rate is said to be no more than an abysmal 2 per cent. On the other hand, the TJ provides women with new sources of mobility and a significant instrumentality within the family and the neighborhood as active agents in the Islamization process. Furthermore, within the sternly patriarchal discourse of the TJ, one can discern a faint critique of certain traditional structures of male supremacy.

NOTES1. For a detailed study of the Tablighi Jama‘at, see Sikand, 2001. See also Nadwi, 1983 and Anwar ul- Haq 1972. For a good summary of the basic principles of the TJ, see Metcalf 1994.
2. For selected portions of the book translated into English, see Metcalf 1990. 3. Wali ul-Islam 1996,15. The length and frequency of Tabligh tours for men differs in certain respects from this, however. 4. A mehram relative is one, such as a son or father, whom a woman is forbidden to marry under Islamic law.
5. Interview with Rukaiyya Begum, Barisal, 11 November 1996. 6. Interview with Gulshan Siddiqui, Dhaka, 15 November 1996. 7. ‘Azmi 1993, 1-10. Several of these reports are mauzu (fabricated) or za‘if (weak) and not sahih (authentic). Several critics of the TJ have pointed out that the books of faza’il used in the TJ can be faulted on the grounds of containing stories attributed to the Prophet that are actually concocted. Further, even in the case of authenticated Hadith reports, there is the possibility of their being interpreted in ways different from how they are seen in Tablighi circles.
8. Bulandshahri, 70. A Bangladeshi Tablighi activist writes that the burqa covering the entire body, including the face, is compulsory for all Muslim women because, he says, this it the ‘age of fitna (disorder)’ (At-Turag, No.80, 1 January 1993, 12-13). 9. Bulandshahri, 74-75. Thus Khan (n.d., 10) quotes a story, according to which the Prophet once asked his Companions to tell him which woman was the most superior (‘ala) in terms of qualities (sifat). ‘Ali, on hearing this, went to his house. His wife, and the Prophet’s daughter, Fatima, told him that woman was superior to all who ‘neither sees a ghair mard (‘strange man’) nor is seen by such a man’. 10. ‘Abdul Matin’s introduction to Palanpuri n.d., 8-9 Cf. Ferozepuri n.d. 104.
REFERENCES:AKHTAR UL ‘ALAM, Muhammad (1995) Ma-Bonder Athti Kaj (Dhaka, Al-Amin Academy).ANWAR UL-HAQ. M (1972) The Faith Movement of Mawlana Muhammad Ilyas (London, George Allen & Unwin). AZMI, Majaz (1993) Guidance for a Muslim Wife (New Delhi, Idara-i Isha‘at-i Diniyat). BULANDSHAHRI, Muhammad ‘Ashiq Elahi (n.d.) Muslim Khawatin Ke Liye Bees Sabaq (New Delhi, Idara-i Isha‘at-i Diniyat). FARUQI, Zia ur-Rahman (1992) ‘Ulama-i-Deoband: Kaun Hain, Kya Hain? (Deoband, Dar ul-Kitab). FEROZEPURI, Muhammad ‘Isa (n.d.) Tabligh Ka Muqami Kam (Delhi, Rabbani Book Depot.)Hadiser Aloke – Mahilader Jonno Hazrat Maulana Sa‘eed Ahmad Khan Sahiber (Bengali leaflet, no publication details). IKRAM, Shaikh Muhammad (1963) Mauj-i Kausar, Vol.3 (Karachi, Feroze Sons). KHAN, Sa’eed Ahmad (n.d.) Khawatin Ke Liye Rah-i Nijat (New Delhi, Mushtaq Ahmad). METCALF, Barbara D. (1990) Perfecting Women: Maulana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanawi’s Bihishti Zewar (Los Angeles & Oxford, University of California Press). METCALF, Barbara D. (1994) ‘Islamic Self-fashioning in a Global Movement of Spiritual Revival’, in: M.E. Marty & R.S. Appleby (eds.), Accounting for Fundamentalisms: The Dynamic Character of Movements (Chicago & London, University of Chicago Press), 706-725. NADWI, Sayyed Abul Hasan ‘Ali (1983) The Life and Mission of Maulana Muhammad Ilyas (Lucknow, Nadwat ul-‘Ulama). NIZAMI, Muhammad Khalid (Ed.) (1993) Paygham-i Falah (Dhanbad, Dini Ta‘limi Board). PALANPURI, Muhammad ‘Umar (n.d.) Ma-Behen-Beti-Bivi Ki Nijat Ke Liye Rah-i Nijat (New Delhi, Taj Book Depot). PALANPURI, ‘Umar Bin Muhammad ‘Umar (1995) ‘Auroton Ne Apna Maqam Ko Kho Diya’, Husn-i Ikhlaq, February. QASMI, Muhammad Azfar Jamal (Ed.) (1995) London Ki Khawatin Se Maulana Ahmad Lat Sahib Ka Tablighi Khitab (Jalalpur, Paygham Book Depot). QASMI, Muhammad Rashid (n.d.) Ghar Ki Ta‘lim (Kamalpur, Daftar-i Jami‘a Arabia Imdad ul-Islam). SHAMSUL ‘ALAM, A.Z.M. (1993) The Message of Tableeg and Da‘wah (Dhaka, Islamic Foundation, Bangladesh). SIKAND, Yoginder (2001) The Origins and Development of the Tablighi Jama‘at (1920s-2000): A Cross-Country Comparative Study ( New Delhi, Orient Longman).WALIUL ISLAM (1996) Tablighi Jama‘ater Unpanchash Koti Shawab, Mashturater Mehnat o Shadi Poda Namajer Poriniti (Dhaka, Sultanuddin Ahmad, Tat Turg Prokashini, Madrasa Dar ul-Akram). ZAKARIYYA, Muhammad (1990) Faza‘il-i ‘Amal (New Delhi, Idara-i Isha‘at-i Diniyat).

When The Ummah Grows

What to say to a new mother:

Hadith - An-Nawawi, Kitabul-Adhkar, p. 349.

Baarakallahu laka fil mauhoobi laka, wa shakartal waahiba, wa balagha ashaddahu, wa ruziqta birrahu. ["May Allah bless you with His gift to you, and may the receiver give thanks and reach the maturity of years and be granted piety."]

The reply is: Barakallahu laka wa baraka 'alaika, wa jaza kallahu khairan, wa raza-qakallahu mithalhu, wa ajzala thawabaka. ["May Allah bless you, and shower His blessings upon you, and may Allah reward you well and bestow upon you its like and reward you with open hands."] Read More...

If You Can Help

Go to sketchedsoul and help make the lives of a few children more comfortable, InshaALLAH. Read More...

Homeschool Field Trips are Fun!

We have had a busy couple of weeks around here. First, the baby went to a pediatric surgeon to have a skin tag removed. It was over in about ten minutes and then she had a tiny little bandage on her head for a few days. She was given some type of local anesthetic but she still cried and oh how it hurt to hear that. She has two tiny stitches that need to dissolve and then she'll be fine, InshaALLAH.

Comfort Zone

Here she is in her baby hammock. My husband got this for $8 CDN last summer at a yard sale from a lady who used it maybe a couple of times. They cost a lot more brand new.

Ontario Science Centre

When we got to the science centre, the outside was empty but there was a significant lineup inside for the film. Of course, we couldn't get tickets at that point (it's separate from the free pass, apparently) so we ate lunch and proceeded to explore the areas designated for play.

Mix and Match

It was nice to let them run free and explore without worry. My son really liked to run from station to station and he could be as rough and inquisitive as he wanted.

Weird Voices in the Machine


That'll be, $5.00

Hot Air Balloon

My middle daughter seemed to enjoy herself as well, although I think she spent most her time trying to follow the others.


It's hard to catch her smile. She tends to frown a lot.
Can I Get A Price Check?!

They managed to pull their dad into the fun in the bubble center
Making Bubbles

and then they were literally off and running.

My Bubbles, My Bubbles!

I will stop here for now but there are more pictures to come, InshaALLAH. We've been so busy around here that I barely had time to upload the pictures (I took 191 photos that day).

Oh, and if you plan to go to the Ontario Science Centre and you're a nursing mom, there are designated rooms for nursing your little ones. There was also an area for salat in the Sultans of Science area and a cafeteria on the lower level for bag lunches. Read More...

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Book Review: Islamisation of Pakistani Social Studies Textbooks

Author: Yvette Claire Roser
Publisher: Rupa & Co
Price Rs. 195
Pages: 109
ISBN: 81-291-0221-8
Reviewed by: Yoginder Sikand
Contrary to what professional historians might claim, there is really nothing as an objective, unbiased and completely accurate writing of history. After all, not everything, even of significance, of what happened in the past can possibly be included in a text, and history book writers have to pick and choose from past events that they deem fit be recorded. The very process of picking and choosing from the past is determined, among other factors, by the subjective biases of the history writer as well as his or her own social and institutional location. Then, history writing is not simply about narrating the past but also involves a certain element of evaluating it. Here, again, this is strongly determined by the personal biases and preference of the individual historian.

The element of bias is greatly exacerbated when history textbooks are—as they are in almost every country today—commissioned by the state. The state wishes to mould its citizens in a particular way, to make them what it considers as ‘good’ and ‘law-abiding’ citizens, who have completely internalized the underlying logic and ideology of the state. The state, in its capacity of representative of a country’s ruling class, seeks to impose through state-sponsored history texts the hegemonic ideas of this class upon its citizenry. It is thus not surprising that such texts generally parrot the state-centric view of history that seeks to bestow legitimacy on the state and the country’s ruling class and ‘normalise’ their logic and world-view.
This incisive critique of state-sponsored social science textbooks in Pakistan highlights the convoluted politics of historiography and what this means for the production of a ‘social commonsense’ for a state’s citizenry. Although Roser does not say it in so many words, the current turbulent political scenario in Pakistan, in particular the rise of radical Islamist forces in the country, cannot be seen as inseparable from the narrow political agenda that the Pakistani state, ever since its formation, has consistently sought to pursue as is reflected in the social science textbooks that it has commissioned, and through which it has sought to impose its own ideology on its people.
Ross’s study focuses on the textbooks used in Pakistani school for the compulsory subject called ‘Pakistan Studies’, which was introduced in the reign of the American-backed military dictator General Zia ul-Haq in the mid-1970s. Pakistan Studies replaced the teaching of History and Geography, and was moulded in such a fashion as to instill in students an undying and unquestioning loyalty to the official ‘Ideology of Pakistan’ (called the nazariya-e Pakistan, in Urdu). This ideology, questioning which is considered a punishable crime in the country, is based on the far-fetched and completely bankrupt notion of the Muslims and Hindus of the pre-Partition Indian subcontinent as constituting two homogeneous and wholly irreconcilable ‘nations’. (Incidentally, this is the same perverse logic that underlies radical Hindutva in India). It claims that Muslims and Hindus have never been able to live amicably together, that they have always been opposed to each other, that they share nothing in common, and that, hence, it was but natural that Pakistan should come into being for the sake of the Muslims of South Asia.
There are several defining and characteristic features of the Pakistani social science textbooks that Rosser examines. Firstly, as she notes, their extreme anti-Indianism. This is a reflection of the fact that the ‘Ideology of Pakistan’, indeed the very rationale for the creation and continued existence of the state of Pakistan, is premised on the notion of undying and perpetual hatred of and opposition to India. India thus comes to be presented as viscerally opposed to Pakistan and as constituting a mortal threat to its very existence. In this way, a form of Pakistani nationalism is sought to be fostered through the texts that is hyper-chauvinistic, and one that is based on a constant reinforcement of an almost crippling sense of being besieged by what is projected as an ‘evil’ neighbor.
Secondly, and linked to the anti-Indianism that pervades these texts, are the repeated negative and hostile references to the Hindus and their faith. Hinduism is portrayed and projected in wholly negative terms, as if lacking any appreciable elements at all. Its followers are presented in a similarly unflattering way: as allegedly mean and cruel, and constantly scheming against Muslims and their faith. Hindus, like Muslims, thus come to be presented in strikingly stereotypical terms: the former as virulently hostile enemies, and the latter as brave soldiers in the path of God. They are portrayed as two solid, monolithic blocs, and as being without any internal differences whatsoever, of class, class, gender, region, language, political orientation and ethnicity. The only identity that they are projected as possessing is that of religion, which is presented in starkly reified terms that often have little resonance with empirical reality. In the process, the diverse, often contradictory, interpretations, expressions and the lived realities of Islam and Hinduism in South Asia are completely ignored in favour of extreme literalist, ‘orthodox’ and textual understandings. ‘Popular’ religious traditions, such as certain forms of Sufism and Bhakti, that bring people of diverse communal backgrounds together, are totally ignored, because they obviously stridently contradict the claims of the ‘two-nation’ theory.
Thirdly, the textbooks present Pakistani history as synonymous with the history of political conquests by successive Muslim rulers, starting with the Arab commander Muhammad bin Qasim in the mid seventh century. All these invaders and rulers, so the books piously claim, were goaded by a powerful sense of religious mission to establish ‘Islamic’ rule in the region. This alleged religious aspiration of theirs is presented as having finally culminated in the creation of Pakistan in 1947. Contrary to what is popularly known about him, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the ideological founder of Pakistan, is presented as an ‘orthodox’ Muslim, allegedly inspired by the vision of establishing an ‘Islamic’ state run by Muslim clerics—something which was not the case at all. The fact that most of the Muslim rulers and conquerors that these texts lionise might actually have been inspired by less noble motives—to plunder or rule—is, of course, conveniently ignored. Religion—in this case Islam—thus comes to be seen and projected as the sole motor of history, with other factors, such as power and economics, having, at best, only a minor role to play. The history of South Asia before Muhammad bin Qasim is hardly mentioned at all, although it was in what is Pakistan today that the Indus Valley Civilisation flourished, that the invading Aryans composed the Vedas and that Buddhism led to a great flourishing of various arts and sciences.
In other words, every effort is made in the textbooks to present Pakistan as an extension of ‘Muslim’ West Asia, instead of a part of the Indic-dominated South Asia. Not surprisingly, as Rosser observes, the texts single out particular historical figures who are known for their battles against Hindu rulers as heroes, among these the most important being Muhammad bin Qasim, Mamhud Ghaznavi and Aurangzeb. Other Muslim rulers, most notably Akbar, who sought to reconcile Hindus and Muslims and promote a generous ecumenism, are either totally ignored or else reviled as alleged ‘enemies of Islam’. Furthermore, these figures, of both ‘heroes’ and ‘villains’, are isolated from their historical contexts, leading to biography turning into hagiography or demonology, as the case might be, in order to serve the agenda of the advocates of the ‘two nation’ theory.
The same holds true in the texts’ depictions of certain key Muslim religious figures. Thus, ‘orthodox’ ulema or Islamic clerics who stressed the claim of the inferiority of the Hindus and advised Muslim rulers to take harsh measures against them are hailed as heroes of Islam, while others, including many Sufis, who sought to preach love and tolerance between Muslims and others and preached an ethical monotheism transcending narrowly-inscribed boundaries of community, are conveniently left out or else branded as ‘un-Islamic’.
A fourth characteristic feature of these textbooks is their distinctly anti-democratic character. They purport to tell the story of the Muslims of South Asia from the point of view of Pakistan’s ruling elites. In the process, history comes to be presented as simply a long list of battles and other ‘achievements’ (whether real or imaginary) of a long chain of Muslim rulers. ‘Ordinary’ people have no voice, being completely invisiblised in these texts. It is as if history is made only by rulers, and that the histories of ‘ordinary’ people are not worth recording or commemorating. It would seem as if the writers of these books are wholly ignorant of new developments in writing ‘peoples’ or ‘subaltern’ histories.
The starkly elitist bias of the texts is also reflected in the fact that they almost completely ignore perspectives of ethnic groups other than Pakistan’s dominant Punjabi and Muhajir communities. This is hardly surprising, since, as Rosser notes, most of these texts have been penned by authors who belong to these two communities. She writes that the absence of the perspectives and historical experiences of the numerically smaller ethnic and regional communities of Pakistan, such as the Baluchis and Sindhis, also has serious implications for policy making, for the demand of smaller provinces for regional peace in South Asia and equitable local development is not sufficiently appreciated and incorporated in national policies. This, Rosser comments, is reflected in the great ‘tension between official history manufactured in Islamabad and the historical perspectives of regional ethnic groups’ (p.4).
The anti-democratic thrust of these texts is also reflected in what Rosser describes as ‘a radically restrictive brand of Islamic exclusivism’ that they project and propagate. The sort of Islam that these texts seek to promote is premised on the notion and dream of Muslim political hegemony and a deep-rooted sense of the innate inferiority of people of other faiths. This is—and this is important to note—just one version of Islam among many, and one which Muslims who believe in an inclusive version of their faith would vehemently oppose. However, the texts present this, what Rosser calls ‘authoritarian’, ‘legalistic’ and ‘ritualistic’, brand of Islam as normative and defining, and completely reject alternate, competing, more democratic and humanistic interpretations of the faith (p.9).
Rosser’s findings are of critical importance, particularly in the context of present developments in Pakistan, which is witnessing the alarming growth of radical Islamist groups, impelled by a version of Islam very similar to the one these texts uphold. Obviously, explanations of the growing threat of radical Islamism in Pakistan cannot ignore the crucial role of these texts, which are compulsory reading for all Pakistani students, thus playing a central role in moulding their minds and worldviews. The texts are also a reflection of, as well as a cause for, the pathetic state of social science research and discourse in present-day Pakistan.
Rosser’s Indian readers need not have much cause to be self-congratulatory, however. Although historiography in India is certainly more sophisticated in many senses than in Pakistan, a significant section of Indian history writers, particularly of the Hindutva brand, are no different from those Pakistani writers whose texts Rosser examines. Indeed, they speak the same language of hatred and communal supremacy, propelling the same tired, debunked myth of Hindus and Muslims being perpetually at odds with each other. Likewise, they are both profoundly anti-democratic, having no space for the voices and aspirations of socially, culturally and economically oppressed groups, upon whose enforced silence is premised the artifice of the ‘nation’ (‘Islamic’ or ‘Hindu’, as the case might be), whose sole representative ruling elites claim to be.

Reduce Your Rent/I Wonder If This Works

Lifehacker: Saving money in tough times.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Community Initiative for Educational Empowerment: The Muslim Educational Society, Kerala

By Yoginder Sikand

One of the major factors for the high literacy rate among Kerala’s Muslims—who are among the most educated Muslim communities in India—is the vast network of educational institutions that Muslim community leaders have established across the state. Of these, the largest and one of the most influential is the Calicut-based Muslim Educational Society. Today, it runs 72 English-medium schools, most of which are affiliated to the Indian Council of Secondary Education, the rest to the Central Board for Secondary Education. It also has 24 colleges, including 14 Arts and Science Colleges, two B.Ed. colleges, two Business management colleges, two engineering colleges, and a nursing and a dental college. Most of these are located in the Muslim-dominated parts of Calicut and Mallapuram districts. The assets of the MES, says its President, Dr. Fazal Ghafoor, a well-known neurologist, amount to some 8000 crore rupees. The total number of students enrolled in MES-owned institutions, he says, is almost 60,000. More than a third of them are non-Muslims.

Set up in 1964, the MES was the brainchild of Fazal Ghafoor’s father, PK Abdul Ghafoor, a medical doctor. ‘He felt that Kerala Muslims were seriously lagging behind others in almost all fields, including education. He believed that building educational institutions was crucial for empowering the community’, says Fazal Ghafoor. ‘That is why he began buying land in the heart of various towns across northern Kerala, where he set up schools and colleges.’ Abdul Ghafoor, he adds,wanted the MES to be a community-based mass organization, not a personal fiefdom of a small clique of people. That is why, he says, the MES has a decentralized system of functioning, with regular elections and committees at the local, district and state levels. All assets belong to the Society, and not to any individuals. Membership is open to any adult Muslim, and presently the number of members stands at almost 13,000.

Fazal Ghafoor hands me a booklet containing details of various institutions that the MES runs. Glossy pictures of vast buildings set in neatly-manicured lawns accompany the text. I ask him the secret of the Kerala Muslims’ remarkable success in the field of education. Why is it, I want to know, that north Indian Muslims continue to lag behind educationally? What can they learn from the Kerala example?

‘Unlike in the north, we Kerala Muslims have had a long series of reformers, starting from the late nineteenth century. They focused particularly on educational progress’ he explains. One of these reformist groups, with whom Fazal Ghafoor himself, as well as many MES leaders are associated, was the Kerala Nadwathul Mujahidin, which stressed the need for Muslims to take to both Islamic as well asmodern education, including for girls.
Fazal Ghafoor contrasts the situation in north India with that of Kerala. ‘North Indian Muslim elites, many who claim foreign descent, have little or no organic links with the Muslim masses, the bulk of whom are of indigenous origin from the so-called lower castes. Many of them tend to look down on them. That is one reason why they have done precious little for mass Muslim education. In Kerala, most Muslims belong to a single ethnic community—the Mapillas—whose culture is characterized by a high degree of egalitarianism, because Muslims never ruled Kerala and they had only a very small feudal class. That is why our leaders have had strong links with the masses and were able to take them along with them.’

Another reason for the stark difference in the educational conditions of Muslims in Kerala and in much of north India, Fazal Ghafoor continues, is what he calls the misplaced superiority complex of many north Indian Muslim elites. ‘They pride themselves on their supposed foreign origins. They wallow in the nostalgic past of the Mughal Raj. Some of them feel that they have nothing to learn from non-Muslims and even Muslims who are of indigenous origin, and have very limited relations with them. Their leaders have only a very narrow set of issues: the minority character of Aligarh Muslim University, the status of the Urdu language, Muslim Personal Law, and so on. They don’t want to do anything for the community, but, instead, expect thateverything should be done or given by the state. The attitude of the Kerala Muslims is very different.’

Harsh words, but they ring true and loud as I hear them.

I ask Fazal Ghafoor if the MES has tried to expand to north India, to help Muslims in the same way as it has worked for the community in Kerala. ‘We tried, but we failed’, he replies bluntly. ‘Many north Indian leaders do not want to share leadership with Muslims from other states, probably fearing that their own claims to leading the Muslims of India would be thereby threatened. They look down on non-Urduspeakers.’

‘Happily, however’, he continues, ‘South Indian Muslims and Muslims of so-called low caste origin in north India are beginning to mobilize and speak out, just as Dalits are now protesting against Brahminism.’ This might mean, he concludes, ‘the emergence of a new leadership among Muslims in the Urdu-Hindi belt, which would make education and social and economic empowerment among its major priorities, ratherthan raking up emotive and controversial matters that inevitably heighten communal conflict.’ Such a leadership, he believes, ‘would be more willing to learn from the Kerala Muslim example.’

Ontario Science Centre (Sultans of Science) Part I

Ontario Science Centre

We visited the Ontario Science Centre on Wednesday and everyone had such a good time. There are lots of interactive displays for children of all ages and plenty of wide open spaces. I feel like I am still recovering from all the fun, lol.

We tried to get tickets for the IMAX film but it was sold out. It will still be running next week if anyone is interested. It runs about 40 minutes. There was a sea of homeschool children and lots of little hijabs everywhere, masha'ALLAH.

It's nice to see the contributions of Muslims to the sciences and show our children that we are an integral part of this world. Here are a few of the things that we saw. Enjoy!

Sultans Of Science

Islamic Medicine

Before the Wright Bros.

Watering an Empire

Al-Jazari's Elephant Water Clock



Islamic Astrolabe

The Arts

Global

Friday, March 13, 2009

Chinese Muslim Association

Masha'ALLAH. ALLAH reaches every nation.

Islamic Institute of Toronto & Chinese Muslim Association of Canada invite you and your family to the knowledge and entertainment packed Evening of Islam in China & Chinese Muslim Community in Toronto, History and Perspective, learn with fun and enjoyment. Read More...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Membership Has It's Privileges

Tickets To Culture

One of the benefits of teaching kids at home is choosing when and where to go on a field trip. We can go as often and as far as we like. We can go to places that interest us and visit places that are relevant to our lives.

We recently learned of the Sun Life Financial Museum and Arts Pass through the Toronto Public Library. Each family can receive one free pass every three weeks to either of the following: Ontario Science Centre; Gardiner Museum; Royal Ontario Museum; The Bata Shoe Museum; Art Gallery of Ontario; Textile Museum of Canada or the City of Toronto Historic Museums.

We obtained a pass to the Ontario Science Centre and InshaALLAH, we will see the Sultans of Science (1000 Years of Knowledge Rediscovered)exhibit. There is also the IMAX film "Journey to Mecca: In the Footsteps of Ibn Battuta" (watch the trailer here). Read More...

Youth Conference @ Khalid Bin Al-Walid


Sunday, March 8, 2009

Potty Training. What Worked. What Didn't.

Chamber Pot

I was asked by Ukhti about toilet training (in the comments) but my response was so long that I decided to just post it here.

First, I stopped using the potty. I hate those little nasty things. I put him on the toilet because we have a three floor home and there is no bathroom on the middle/main floor. He needed to learn to use the real toilet and how to get there in time. Besides, my middle kids are too big for it anyway.

Honestly, I was just about to give up when my husband began to offer my son incentives. My husband offered him little chocolates (and sometimes way too big chocolates) if he used the toilet. This encouraged him to go a little more regularly. And we would all make a really big deal out of it by telling him that he was a good boy and that he made us happy.

He was still refusing to poo in the toilet and would wait until we gave him a pull-up. So, I took the pull ups away and I couldn't believe it! He did it in his underwear. This happened about three or four times. Finally, I got so frustrated that I made him get in the bathtub and wash his own bum. He cried. A lot. But it worked. To me, it seems that a child has to make the transition from being okay with soiling themselves to feeling repulsed.

Also, I started to take note of his behavior and note the time of day that he was needing to go. He liked to "disappear" when it was time to go. He would go behind the sofa or into the kitchen for a few minutes and then come back. Or he would get really quiet. That's when I could hear him pushing or grunting. Those were all cues that he needed to go.

Another thing is frequency. We got to the point that we were making him go every half hour to forty-five minutes.

My daughter never went this far, but I had to take away her pull-ups and give her underwear in order to move forward. She didn't want to get her underwear wet so she would cry when I made her wear it. She soon learned that going to the toilet would keep it dry. :)

It's funny. My two year old just turned two last month and she goes to the toilet on her own sometimes already. Kids are unpredictable and AlhamduLILLAH, sometimes in a good way. This time, I think we will skip the pull-ups altogether.

Take care, wa salaam.

My Email Link is Fixed

If you've tried to email me and it didn't work, try again! It was brought to my attention that it wasn't working and it looks okay now. I'm Read More...

Saturday, March 7, 2009

'Traditional' Ulema and 'Modern' Islamic Education in Kerala

Yoginder Sikand

The Muslims of Kerala, who form roughly a fourth of the state’s population, are divided into three broad groups, each being what could be called a separate Islamic interpretative community based on differences in the understanding and interpretation of Islam. The largest, in terms of numbers, are what are locally called ‘Sunnis’—that is, Muslims who adhere to the Shafi school of Sunni jurisprudence and who also follow various forms of Sufism. The ‘Sunnis’ are further divided into smaller groupings, shaped by regional differences as well as association with different leading personalities. The other two broad groups among the Kerala Muslims are the Jamaat-e Islami and the Kerala Nadwat ul-Mujahidin, both of which, in contrast to the ‘Sunnis’, are characterised by hostility to popular Sufism as well as opposition to taqlid or strict adherence to traditional Shafi jurisprudence.

In contrast to the Jamaat-e Islami and the Kerala Nadwat ul-Mujahidin, the ‘Sunni’ ulema of Kerala, like their counterparts in north India, were slow in taking to modern education, sometimes even castigating it as ‘un-Islamic’. Numerous ‘Sunni’ ulema in fact issued fatwas against Jamaat and Nadwat leaders who encouraged Muslims to take to modern, in addition to religious, education. However, in recent years, the situation has been drastically transformed. Today, leading Kerala ‘Sunni’ ulema are actively involved in promoting modern education, including the modernization of traditional madrasa education.

The most bold initiative undertaken by Kerala’s ‘Sunni’ ulema to promote reforms in their madrasa system is the Dar ul-Huda, located at the village of Chemmad in Mallapuram district, the heartland of the Mapilla Muslims of Malabar. Established in 1986, it is part of a vast chain of educational institutions under the Samastha Kerala Sunni Jamiat ul-Ulema (‘The All-Kerala Union of Sunni Ulema’), the representative body of the Kerala Sunni ulema, which also runs some 8000 madrasas or part-time Arabic and Islamic schools across Kerala. More than a dozen Arabic Colleges for higher Islamic education are affiliated to the Dar ul-Huda. At present, the Dar ul-Huda has more than 1000 students and almost 60 teachers on its rolls.

Zubair Kottalil, a graduate of the Dar ul-Huda, presently doing his Ph.D. in Arabic at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, takes me around the sprawling campus of the Dar ul-Huda, which is spread over 13 acres. We first visit the office of the Principal, Shaikh Zainuddin Musaliyar. As his title of ‘Musaliyar’ indicates, he is from an established family of learned Islamic scholars. He also serves as the General Secretary of the Samastha Kerala Sunni Jamiat ul-Ulema. He talks enthusiastically about the uniqueness of the institution he heads. ‘We want to prepare scholars who have a good understanding of both Islam and modern society so that they can serve community better and more effectively. The ulema need knowledge of modern subjects in addition to Islamic subjects. After all, they have to provide guidance to the community not just in ritual matters but in all other spheres of personal and collective life. Here, we combine both religious and modern subjects.’

I point out to the Musaliyar that many traditionalist Sunni ulema I have met in north India, while not opposed in principle to modern education, continue to object to the inclusion of modern subjects in the madrasa curriculum on the grounds that it would be too heavy a burden for students, who already have to study many religious subjects, to bear. They would, consequently, be good neither for this world (duniya), nor for the next (akhirat), they argue. ‘I don’t agree’, the Musaliyar replies softly. ‘We have a very strict selection process and admit only bright students, after a rigorous interview. So, they can easily cope with the syllabus.’ He contrasts this with the case of most north Indian students, where, he says, ‘generally, the dullest children in families are sent to study in madrasas.’ ‘In north India’, he continues, ‘most students in madrasas come from poor families, many of whom join madrasas simply because they cannot afford to go to regular schools. In contrast, most students in Dar ul-Huda come from quite well-off families. They come here out of choice and interest in becoming religious scholars, and not out of economic compulsion. Because we teach both Islamic and modern subjects, parents from middle-class families are enthusiastic to send their children here. In other parts of India, on the other hand, because few madrasas have proper arrangements for teaching modern subjects, middle-class parents hesitate to send their children there to study.’

So far, Shaikh Zainuddin says, twelve batches of students—a total of more than four hundred—have graduated from the Dar ul-Huda. They have taken up a range of careers, including as imams in mosque, teachers in government schools, madrasas and Arabic Colleges, as well as employees in the Gulf in companies and in various religious and government institutions. Some now work as journalists in leading Malayalam magazines and newspapers. Several have gone in for higher education at regular universities—not just in Islamic Studies or Arabic, but also in such disciplines as English Literature, Journalism, Sociology, Anthropology and Economics. A number of them are now enrolled at the Jamia Millia Islamia, Jamia Hamdard and Jawaharlal Nehru University, in New Delhi, and also at the Aligarh Muslim University.

I point out that several traditionalist ulema are opposed to madrasa graduates joining universities, fearing that this might cause them to turn irreligious. ‘We do not want, and nor do we expect, all our students to become professional ulema,’ Shaikh Zainuddin answers. ‘Even if they go to universities and then take up other careers, they can use their religious knowledge in a positive way and make an impact on others.’

I then meet with Bahauddin Nadwi, senior teacher at Dar ul-Huda, who explains the structure of courses that the institution offers. Admission is provided to students who have passed the fifth grade of regular school and who have also received an Islamic education till the same grade at a part-time madrasa. Junior students undergo a five-year Initial or Ibtidai course, and then a four-year Secondary course, where they study Islamic disciplines plus the various subjects taught in regular schools, including compulsory English. This enables them to sit, as private candidates, for the high school examination for government schools. After this stage, they can choose to join regular universities or else continue at the Dar ul-Huda for a four-year course in Islamic Studies, equivalent to a Bachelor’s Degree, and then a two-year MA-level course.

Graduate-level students at the Dar ul-Huda must also simultaneously enroll in a degree programme at Calicut University as private candidates or in any Open University. ‘They generally choose to join the English, Arabic or Sociology Departments. We provide them with teachers for these subjects’, Nadwi says. ‘Unlike many ulema in the north’, he adds, ‘the Kerala ulema encourage their students to join regular universities. They do not see this as a threat to the religious identity and faith commitment of their students.’

Haji Muhammad Shafi, a businessman, is the Secretary of the Dar ul-Huda. He is the son of one of the Dar ul-Huda’s founders, Dr. U. Baputty Haji, an Ayurvedic doctor, who played a key role in collecting funds for setting up the institution. He explains that among the reasons for the success of educational experiments in Kerala like the Dar ul-Huda is what he describes as ‘the close association between the ulema and the umara—local Muslim social, economic and political elites’. ‘Unlike in many other parts of India, the ulema and the umara in Kerala work together, the latter also providing the funds for educational projects of the ulema. In Kerala, the umara play an important role in the day-to-day functioning of Islamic educational institutions. It is not like in the north, where most madrasas are controlled entirely by ulema, and that too by a particular person or family of founders. Here, madrasas are generally registered trusts, and the umara are also their members. This allows for much greater popular participation in the functioning of our educational institutions and for greater accountability as well,’ he says. He cites the case of the Dar ul-Huda itself. Of the 40 members of its executive body, only 6 are ulema, the rest being what he calls umara. ‘In many other parts of India’, he elaborates, ‘madrasas are often owned, for all practical terms, by the founder alim or his family, who regard it as their personal property. But here in Kerala it is different. All the assets of the Dar ul-Huda are owned by the trust that runs the institution and decisions about them are made collectively.’

The Dar ul-Huda’s expenses amount to around 10 lakh rupees a month. Generating funds is also a collective enterprise, Haji Muhammad Shafi explains. According to the Shafi school of Islamic jurisprudence, to which most Kerala Muslims adhere, zakat money cannot be given to madrasas, because, Shafis believe, it must be given directly to needy individuals and not to institutions. This is in contrast to the Hanafi school, followed by most north Indian Muslims, which allows for zakat funds to be diverted to madrasas. Hence, Haji Muhammad says, the Dar ul-Huda has to rely on public donations, which are generated through local or Mahal committees associated with the Samastha Kerala Sunni Jamiat ul-Ulema and located across Kerala. This provision of Shafi fiqh, he says, makes for greater peoples’ participation in the running of madrasas in Kerala.

Equally importantly, he adds, is the fact that, historically, the ulema in Kerala enjoyed close, organic links with the Muslim masses. He contrasts this with the case in the north, which, unlike Kerala, experienced centuries of rule by various Muslim dynasties, to which leading urban ulema were often linked. This led them to have little or no contact with common Muslims, especially in the countryside. This, in turn, resulted, he says, in a sort of alienation between them. In Kerala, where Hindu, rather than Muslim, kings ruled, the ulema took the position of community leaders that was occupied by Muslim rulers in north India. This made, he argues, for stronger bonds between the ulema and ordinary Muslims.

To add to this is the fact that, unlike in north India, where Muslim elite culture, a product of Muslim rule, was, and continues to be sternly feudal and hierarchical, Kerala Muslim culture is somewhat egalitarian, because almost all the Muslims of the state are from the same ethnic stock and also because they historically lacked a feudal class. ‘This, in a very important sense, was actually a blessing for us, because it was conducive to community solidarity and for the ulema and ordinary Muslims to work together for the sake of the community,’ Haji Muhammad Shafi opines. ‘All these factors were crucial for the remarkable educational successes of the Kerala Muslims, in contrast to much of the rest of India.’

‘Dar ul-Huda is seeking to inspire Muslim groups in other parts of India with its model’, Zubair Hudawi tells me as we step out of the administrative offices of the institution and interact with the students, who are all neatly turned out in crisp white lungis and shirts, white turbans tied loosely round their heads. He informs me that the Dar ul-Huda offers a separate, ten-year course for Urdu-speaking students from other parts of India, who now number more than 200. Most of these are from Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, but a fair number are also from Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal and the Andaman Islands. Since most of them are from Hanafi families, they are also taught the rules of Hanafi school. Plans are afoot to start a similar institution near Chittoor, in Andhra Pradesh.

‘Coming here has really been a mind-opening experience for us’, says Muhammad Siddique, a student from Bahraich in eastern Uttar Pradesh. ‘Unlike in the madrasa where I studied back home, here we also learn all the regular subjects taught in general schools. The ulema here are much more open-minded, and do not hesitate to learn from, and benefit from the good things of, other communities. They don’t restrict themselves just within the four walls of their madrasas but take an active part in all social affairs. Unlike our north Indian ulema, the ulema here know English and encourage us to learn it. Our maulvis back home say that we should restrict ourselves only to religious education, but here they are broad-minded. They want us to learn about the world also so that we can more effectively serve and guide society. They are more united here, while in our area they keep fighting among themselves.’

Siddique insists that I speak with the students after lunch. ‘On any topic you like’, he suggests. After a hearty meal at the madrasa—rice, dal, two types of vegetable and a pot of buttermilk—I sit with more than a hundred students in the hall of the enormous mosque. They range from nine to nineteen years of age. They speak flawless English and strike me as brilliant and bubbling with excitement and enthusiasm. Some of them want to become journalists, others dream of becoming professors. Yet others want to set up institutions patterned on the Dar ul-Huda. All of them want to serve their faith and their community, although in different ways.

I am not sure what to speak to the students about. I have not prepared anything. I decide to tell them about my own impressions of their institute, comparing it with several other madrasas elsewhere that I have visited. ‘Yours is certainly one of the most interesting and innovative experiments in madrasa education that I’ve ever seen’, I say, and I see rows of innocent, child-like, turbanned faces lighting up with joy.