Thursday, May 28, 2009

What She Does As I Check Her Work

What She Does

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Our Flower Lapbook

The children are really into exploring outside and discovering all that ALLAH has given us, so I decided to at least do something productive as they get their hands dirty. For a while, the weather has been sunny and warm one day, cloudy and cool the next. AlhamduLILLAH we were able to get out and enjoy it.

I was inspired by LapbooksbyCarisa, but since I don't have a membership to Enchanted Learning anymore I had to find free worksheets elsewhere.

We started off with a PowerPoint presentation of the parts of a flower.

As we went through it, the children studied their flowers (and weeds, lol).


This is the front of our lapbook - it's nothing fancy and I'm sure some of you creative sisters out there can make it much better.

Parts of the Flower Lapbook I

You can see the Parts of a Flower worksheet (pdf)which is a basic version for younger children so they don't have to stumble over the vocabulary and a word search that she hasn't completed yet.

The inside cover has vs 20-21 of Surah 9. At-Taubah with a pretty picture. Sorry it looks so small here. If you click it, you can enlarge it on my flickr page.

Surah 9. At Taubah vs 20-21

Next are several little booklets.
Open Me

The one at the top left is a picture that my daughter drew. Just a basic picture to take up space.

Black and White Garden

Next, is another color page for labeling the parts of a flower (pdf).

Introducing the Parts of a Flower

The small matchbook in the lower left-hand corner can be labeled on the inside.

Parts of a Plan

Flowers, stem, leaves, roots

We also did a little origami (pdf). The pink tulip (above)is hers and the purple one is mine. They are very easy to make and now of course, she wants ME to make a whole garden for her!

There is also a comprehensive/reading section (pdf),she hasn't done it yet, we ran out of time and a coloring grid (pdf),and color by number pictures.

We made a flower (sort of) on the back with the answers for the comprehensive/reading section.

Reading Comprehension I

Reading Comprehension

Coloring Grid

Color By Number

Also there is a bee/flower jigsaw that you can try - you have to download and save it.

Whew! That's it, I need to go lie down now, lol. Read More...

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Getting Out into the Sunlight

One Of My Favorites

We're still carrying on in our homeschool as usual but we are enjoying the sunlight much more this year. We are getting more adjusted to the changes in our household as the days pass AlhamduLILLAH, (new baby and mother-in-law lives a bit farther away).

It has been a busy time around here without her daily help but my husband has filled in the gaps brilliantly, Masha'ALLAH. He is gently pushing us to learn more du'a and Qur'an (myself included) by turning it into a bit of a competition. My daughter has an incredible memory, MashaALLAH and she's trying to surpass me! LOL I need to step up my game, InshaALLAH.

Overhead Foliage

I'm also being more physically active with the kids so we have a bit of an improvised recess session every day. Right now, we're working on a lapbook about the parts/functions of plants and flowers and I should have some pictures of our activities in a day or so, InshaALLAH.


The kids adore flowers and would rather go picking them and pretending to plant gardens than play sometimes, lol.

One of My First Decent Flower Pics

Of course, this is never good for me and my poor little tulips have suffered.

They've come back!

This was just from a couple of weeks ago - aren't they nice? My two-year-old pulled them up the next morning so they aren't there anymore. :( Oh well, InshaALLAH they will be back next year. Read More...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Just Because We Can

Just Because We Can

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Working Out Again

I've been working out (for the past two days, AlhamduLILLAH) and stumbled across SparkPeople. If you're interested, there are a few groups on there for Muslimahs trying to lose some weight/get fit. My page is here. Read More...

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Brought to You By the Letter S

Brought To You By the Letter S

I bought this preschool curriculum from Its Only Kid Stuff so long ago and I am just now getting around to it. It's basically a curriculum built around monthly themes and craft ideas - lots of craft ideas but it's nothing any resourceful homeschooling parent couldn't find on their own. My kids love any hands-on activities so I think they will like it. Read More...

Monday, May 11, 2009

Questions To Those Who Moved To/Live In Saudi

Keep on Moving

We are feeling better and now that Spring is here, we can get outside more and do some exploring and get our hands dirty. I like this time of year - especially for science experiments.

Gifts for Mom

Lately, my daughter and husband have kicked it up a notch in the Arabic department so I am working hard to keep up. We are now delving into arithmetic in Arabic. I think I may develop some kind of lapbook for this.

In other news, we are thinking/talking about the possibility of making the move to Saudi Arabia (husband may be working there). It's nothing definite, just talk for now, but I was wondering what it's like to live there as an expat.

There are many pros and so far the only real cons are being away from my family and some negatives about goings on in the kingdom (I've heard that you can't go there with naive eyes - I'll say no further because I don't know.) If we did go, I would still continue the blog from there but a move like that wouldn't take place until about a year from now anyway. I just want to get an idea of what we would be getting ourselves into. Read More...

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Waris Mazhari: Enforcing or Mocking the Shariah in Swat?

(Translated by Yoginder Sikand)

Broadly speaking, there have been two opposite reactions to the recent announcement about the purported enforcement of the Islamic shariah in the troubled region of Swat in northwestern Pakistan. Some Muslims celebrate it as a major ‘victory’ for Islam and for the group spearheading the agitation, the Tehrik-e Nifaz-e Shariah-e Muhammadi (TNSM). They hail it as nothing short of a great historical development. In contrast, many other Muslims see the development very differently. They consider the movement that supposedly aims at the enforcement of the shariah to be nothing of the sort actually. Instead, they argue, it is a movement led by some tribal leaders who want to capture power and resources by cynically manipulating the emotions and religious sentiments of gullible people. Frankly, this is what I myself believe.

It may be that the head of the TNSM, Sufi Muhammad, is himself not a worldly man and that he is sincerely committed to what he thinks is the cause of Islam. God knows best. However, as far as such radical, self-styled jihadist movements today are concerned, it cannot be denied that the vast majority of their leaders use them as a means for advancing their own personal interests. Stirring up religious emotions, they are able to attract a following among socially marginalized Muslims, who are led to believe that supporting these leaders is the way for them to attain a place in heaven. And then, very often, these people are led on to engage in acts that have absolutely no sanction in the shariah, despite the fact that, ironically, their leaders claim that the enforcement of the shariah is their sole purpose. So, in the case of the Taliban in Swat, we first heard that some of them were forcibly marrying local women against their will. And now news is coming in of these self-styled mujahids compelling the local Sikhs to cough up millions of rupees in the name of jizya. From these two heinous developments one can get a clear idea of what these so-called ‘lovers of Islam’ are really like.
In today’s world, the imposition of jizya on non-Muslims is absolutely wrong and indefensible. In today’s world in every country, people, no matter what their religion, pay the same sets of necessary taxes to the state. As citizens of their respective states they are expected to abide by the same sets of duties. Hence, it is absolutely absurd to impose jizya on any community. Today, the whole world can be said to be an ‘abode of agreement’, or, in Arabic, dar ul-ahad. All the nations of the world are bound together by this agreement. Leading Deobandi scholars such as Maulana Anwar Shah Kashmiri and Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi had made this declaration decades ago. The majority of the ulema today also uphold this view. This is why jizya is not imposed on non-Muslims in any Muslim-majority country in the world. No Muslim country today enforces jizya as a law.

Jizya is not a sort of Islamic law in which changes cannot be made. This is illustrated by the report that on the death of his son Ibrahim the Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him) said that if Ibrahim had stayed alive he would have lifted, once and for all, the jizya on the Coptic Christians. Similarly, on the request of some Christians the Caliph Umar dropped the term jizya to refer to the levy that was made on them.

In the early Islamic period jizya was levied on those non-Muslim peoples who were defeated in battle by Muslim armies in what was considered to be dar ul-harb or ‘abode of war’. But today’s context is vastly different. Today no country can be called dar ul-harb or even dar ul-islam (‘abode of Islam’). Nor does the notion of, or even the need for, religious war still exist. And so, just as leading ulema now oppose slavery and do not want it to be reinstituted, they also consider that jizya has no relevance at all in today’s age.

The aims of the Islamic shariah include the establishment of social justice, freedom for all social groups, equality, prosperity and peace. In the early Islamic period, the shariah, when it was properly upheld by sincere rulers, served as a refuge for both Muslims and others. Sadly, in our times, the issue of the shariah has been so horrendously exploited that it has led to torment and strife not just for non-Muslims but also for many Muslims themselves. Inhuman, immoral and patently anti-Islamic acts have been sought to be given sanction in the name of the shariah, causing the Islamic spirit to be almost totally submerged and lost. Not surprisingly, this has caused even many Muslims to be opposed to any moves in the name of the enforcement of the shariah. The example of Pakistan well exemplifies this. Despite the fact that Pakistan has been in existence for the last sixty years, the majority of Pakistanis do not consider the self-styled advocates of the shariah as their political leaders. In actual fact, they are scared of what passes for shariah. They might verbally support the shariah, but deep in their hearts they hope that this sort of shariah will never come to be enforced in the country. It would not be wrong, therefore, to say that the biggest challenge to the shariah comes from those who claim to be its most ardent defenders.

Terrible confusion exists about what exactly the shariah is. In actual fact, what is conventionally understood as shariah is largely fiqh or the product of the interpretations and works of medieval Muslim jurists, a product of their ijtihad or reasoning. This portion of what passes for shariah is, therefore, a human product. That is why the corpus of fiqh needs to be critically reviewed today, so that those aspects of fiqh that go against the needs and demands of today’s age can be excised from it.
Traditional Islamic political thought, which has developed within the frame of medieval fiqh is, not surprisingly, characterized by considerable conflict and stagnation. This is readily exploited by various Muslim political and religious groups, of which the Taliban in Swat are just one example.

It is crucial to understand the cause of this conflict and stagnation, for without this the lacunae of traditional Islamic political thought cannot be addressed. Every form of thought, be it related to religion, politics or any other sphere of life, is influenced by its geographical, social and political context and also responds to it. The biographies of leading classical ulema such as Imam Malik, Imam Shatibi, Imam Shafi, Imam Ghazali, al-Mawardi, Ibn Taimiya etc. clearly indicate the influence of the existing socio-political conditions on their political thought. In order to combat sectarian divisions and conflicts raging in their times they gave particular stress to the need for strengthening the central state authority. Muslim states at that time were faced with numerous threats, such as wars, insurrections and other such challenges, from non-Muslim forces and rival Muslim sects. This had a major impact on the minds of the ulema, creating a strongly defensive and combative mentality. This fear of being attacked or overwhelmed by others probably explains why, for instance, Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal is said to have commented, ‘Do you not know that if you did not engage in war Islam would have been wiped out, and then what would the Romans have done?’.
These ulema, mainly fuqaha or scholars of fiqh, who were particularly concerned with maintaining and defending the political domination of Muslims, accordingly viewed the Quran and the practice of the Prophet in a particular way that would lend further strength to their particular perspective and mentality. That is why they gave little attention to the ‘Meccan ideal’, the pattern of life and the ways of the Prophet during the thirteen years he preached in Mecca despite facing great opposition before he shifted to Medina and established a polity. This period was considerably longer than the Medinan phase of the Prophet’s life. Likewise, the fuqaha did not keep before them the model of the Prophet’s early political life in Medina, which was based on tolerance and broad-mindedness. Instead, their views about Islamic politics were heavily influenced by their perception of the last stage of the Prophet’s life in Medina, when he had become the unchallenged ruler of the state. This, to a large extent, explains the general drift of traditional Muslim political thought.
A very pertinent saying is attributed to Imam Ali. He is reported to have said, ‘The Quran is such a book that speaks through the human tongue’. This clearly indicates the role of individuals’ own mentalities in moulding their perceptions or interpretations of texts. This factor is also one of the major causes for the striking differences among the fuqaha as regards their interpretation of the Quran and their understanding of the shariah.
In other words, the corpus of fiqh, which represented human effort to understand the shariah, was heavily influenced by, among other things, the personal outlook of the medieval fuqaha. This inevitably had a seriously deleterious impact on Islamic thought generally, including Muslim political thought. This also played no small role in undermining Islam’s moral and spiritual message and universal appeal.

This negative development was further reinforced by the theory of naskh or abrogation, according to which some verses in the Quran allegedly abrogated certain other verses that had been revealed before them. This theory was so badly misused that key tenets of the Quran, such as patience, tolerance, freedom of faith and conscience and cultivating good relations with people of other faiths, were declared by some ulema to have been abrogated! The allegedly abrogated parts of the Quran included verses that stressed religious freedom, such as one that lays down that there is no compulsion in religion, or another one, according to which people are free to choose or reject Islam. Some fuqaha went to the absurd length of declaring around 140 Quranic verses as abrogated in order to interpret a single verse, known as ‘The Verse of the Sword’), in the Surah At-Tauba, a chapter in the Quran, in a particular way.

The stern authoritarianism and exclusivism of traditional Muslim political thought also arises from a sternly literalist interpretation of the Quran and a slanted and extremely subjective understanding of Muslim history. This has created a certain exaggerated and unrealistic utopianism that has indelibly influenced Islamic thought in a negative way. This utopianism is further reinforced by the widespread despair and strife generated in reaction to dictatorial regimes in Muslim countries. The marginalized and oppressed classes are thus easily attracted to utopian movements that promise to recreate the ‘Golden Age’ of early Islam where all their problems, so they are told, would be put an end to. It is this utopianism that dominates the thinking of those who call themselves Islamic revivalists.
Because Muslim political thought developed in an authoritarian mode, it was unable to properly reflect the Quranic spirit of universalism, especially with regard to people of other faiths. Furthermore, because the ulema were so obsessed with the nitty-gritty of fiqh rules, in many cases the actual intent or aim of the shariah (maqasid-e shariah) was lost, particularly that of justice. This is readily apparent in the fiercely negative and demeaning approach to non-Muslims in much of the corpus of traditional fiqh.
There is no doubt that traditional Muslim political thought, as reflected, for instance, in the case of the Taliban in Swat, urgently needs to be re-examined and reformulated. Muslims must realize that the present system of states being based on nations rather than religion is a great blessing from God. Muslims should respect and honor this blessing. This blessing provides Muslims, no matter in which country they live, the right and the opportunity to live up to their duty of calling people to God’s path.
Obviously, what the Taliban are doing in Swat with regard to the Sikhs is a deviation from God’s way. It can in no way be termed Islamically legitimate. Imagine if the same sort of treatment began being meted out to Muslims living in lands where they are in a minority. The Taliban would obviously be gravely agitated. It behoves them, then, to do unto others what they would have others do unto them.
In this regard, it is imperative for the ulema and other Muslim leaders in South Asia, particularly Pakistan, to stand up and fiercely denounce all moves, such as those recently made by the Taliban, that are based on wrong and subjective interpretations of the shariah and that only give Islam a bad name. Failing to do so can only further reinforce anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim feelings among people of other faiths, with deleterious consequences for Muslims themselves.
A graduate of the Deoband madrasa, Delhi-based Maulana Waris Mazhari is the editor of the monthly Tarjuman Dar ul-Ulum, the official organ of the Deoband Madrasa’s Old Boys’ Association. He can be contacted on

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Feeling Better

Take heed, remember your salat.


Monday, May 4, 2009

The March of the Taliban: Lessons from Muslim History

By Yoginder Sikand

The fall of large swathes of territory in Pakistan’s lawless north-west to the marauding Taliban, who, through an agreement reached with the Pakistani authorities, are now forcibly imposing what they regard as shariah laws in the region, has added a new dimension to the convoluted politics of Pakistan, making that country’s problems even more intractable. At the same time, this worrisome development also highlights the continued and unresolved crisis of traditional Muslim political thought and its fundamental inability to come to terms with the demands of the modern age.

Classical Sunni Muslim political thought, which continues to inspire the bulk of the traditional clerics or ulema, is based on the notion of a pious ruler or amir who rules according to the rules of the shariah. He is to be assisted by a council or shura, consisting of pious men learned in the shariah. However, he is not bound by their advice, for, because of his presumed superiority in terms of piety and knowledge of Islam, he is assumed to know best. It is this fatal assumption that is the Achilles heel of traditional Muslim political theory, for, more often than not, the amir does not turn out to be the saintly personage that he is expected to be. There being no effective check on his powers, by the general public or even by the shura--in contrast to what the Quran would appear to demand--he very often turns into a dictator, who, as Muslim history amply illustrates, can easily twist Islamic injunctions suitably to legitimize acts of tyranny directed at Muslims as well as others. This is precisely why when self-styled champions of Islam like Pakistani Taliban chief and head of the Tehrik-e Nifaz-e Shariah-e Muhammadi, Maulana Sufi Muhammad, set about ruling in the name of the shariah, they inevitably turn into bloodthirsty tyrants. Sunni Muslim tradition, as it developed after the Prophet and began to deviate from his practice, generally acquiesced in tyranny, and leading Sunni ulema even went to the extent of forbidding revolt against a tyrannical Muslim ruler as long as he appeared to respect the shariah. This is one reason why Muslims and others who dare to oppose tyrants like Sufi Muhammad are so easily branded by the mullahs as ‘enemies’ of Islam.

Another major flaw of traditional Sunni political theory, and one amply reflected in the case of Sufi Muhammad and his band of followers, is the ardent conviction that people can be compelled to be ‘religious’ by a pious ruler, through the imposition of law and the threat of fierce punishment. This is reflected in the very name of Sufi Muhammad’s outfit, the Tehrik-e Nifaz-e Shariah-e Muhammadi or the ‘Movement for the Imposition of the Muhammadan Shariah’. True to its name, activists of the movement are now going about forcing people to abide by what they regard as the rules of the shariah, not hesitating to even kill them if they resist this imposition. Obviously, that is no way at all to endear even fellow Muslims to their cause, and is also a sure recipe for generating nifaq or hypocrisy—considered a major sin in the Quran—on a massive scale. In the long run, no regime that is based on forcing people to be ‘good’ can survive, as an experiment similar to Sufi Muhammad’s, the Tehrik-e Mujahidin, launched in the same unruly region bordering Afghanistan in the early nineteenth century by Syed Ahmad Barelvi and his deputy Shah Ismail, lionized as ‘Islamic heroes’ by almost all South Asian Sunni ulema, so tragically illustrates. Like Sufi Muhammad, Syed Ahmad, who styled himself as the amir of the Muslims, claimed to be establishing an Islamic system in the Pathan borderlands. Forcibly imposing his brand of the shariah on the unwilling Pathans, his experiment in Islamic utopianism ended in predictable disaster. The restive Pathan tribesmen joined hands with the Sikh rulers of the Punjab and rose up in revolt against Syed Ahmad and his followers, who were massacred in the ill-famed battle of Balakot, a town not far from where Sufi Muhammad today has set up the headquarters of his self-styled Islamic polity.

A third flaw of traditional Sunni political thought, and one strikingly illustrated in the case of Sufi Muhammad’s Tehrik-e Nifaz-e Shariah-e Muhammadi, is the equation of shariah or the divine path with traditional fiqh or jurisprudence as developed by medieval Sunni fuqaha or legal scholars in the centuries after the demise of the Prophet Muhammad. In the name of the shariah it is the rules of medieval fiqh of the Hanafi that Sufi Muhammad and his tribe of devoted followers are seeking to enforce. Of the values of justice, kindness, compassion and beauty, which numerous Sufis and other Islamic scholars regard as the essence of the divine shariah, there is not even the slightest trace in Sufi Muhammad’s frightening vision of the world. Betraying a tendency so marked in authoritarian Islamist thought, Sufi Muhammad’s brand of shariah has been reduced, in effect, to simply a set of harsh punitive laws.

Ironically, some of these laws that Sufi Muhammad and his Taliban followers are now imposing, derived from traditional Hanafi fiqh, actually have no sanction in the Islamic shariah. One such instance concerns the so-called jizya tax that has been imposed on the hapless Sikhs of the territories that have now fallen into Taliban control. In a recent statement denouncing the levying of this tax, a group of prominent Indian Muslim leaders, including numerous notable Sunni ulema, pointed out that ‘The imposition of the so-called jizya is nothing more than extortion by an armed and lawless gang, which does not constitute a sovereign government or state or even an organ thereof.’ Taking note of the fact that the Taliban had demanded that the Sikhs cough up millions of rupees as jizya, the statement added, ‘As regards the huge amounts in millions reported to be demanded, these are arbitrary and exorbitant as the amount of annual jizya paid by non-Muslims in early Islam was merely one to one and a half dinar, which is 4.24 gram to 6.36 grams of gold. Moreover, this tax was payable only at the end of the year and not in advance.’ Hence, the statement concluded, ‘We regard this as an act of injustice incompatible with the letter and spirit of Islam and the international covenants accepted by all Muslim states.’

As this timely statement by important Indian Islamic scholars denouncing the atrocities of the Taliban committed on the Sikhs in the name of the shariah suggests, the shariah, which forms the basis of the vision of an Islamic society and polity, is itself subjected to diverse, indeed often mutually-opposed, interpretations. If for Sufi Muhammad and his tribe it is a harsh penal code that is to be forced down unwilling throats, to drag people to heaven against their will, as it were, to their Muslim critics, such as these Indian scholars, it is quite the contrary. Being open to multiple interpretations, the shariah is thus the object of heated contestation among Muslims themselves, and has been so ever since the demise of the Prophet. The task before socially engaged Muslims is to craft a contextually relevant understanding of this ambiguous concept so as to wrest it from cynical manipulation by the likes of the Taliban. This internal debate has been going on for centuries, but Muslims who wish to rescue their faith from peddlers of terror like Sufi Muhammad need to make their voices heard even louder today.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Madrasa Education: Subtle Changes in the Bastions of Tradition

By Yoginder Sikand

Located a hundred-odd miles east of Delhi, Moradabad is known principally as India’s leading centre for brass products. But this squalid industrial town, named after its founder, Prince Murad, son of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, has yet another claim to fame: the Jamia Qasmia Dar ul-Ulum Shahi, more popularly known as the Madrasa Shahi, located in the heart of the town’s busy commercial district. Established around 135 years ago by Maulana Qasim Nanotawi, one of the founders of the Dar ul-Ulum at Deoband, the Madrasa Shahi is one of the largest madrasas affiliated to the Deobandi tradition in Uttar Pradesh.
The madrasa has four branches, all located in Moradabad. Some 400 children, mostly from poor families, are enrolled in its primary section, where they do a five-year initial or ibtidai course, which combines basic religious and modern subjects. Fees are nominal—between ten to fifteen rupees a month. The ibtidai course is followed by a one-year course in Persian, after which students who wish to train as ulema enter the Arabic programme, which is based on the traditional dars-e nizami, that lasts up to eight years. Several hundred students, from various parts of India, are enrolled at this level, most of who live in the madrasa’s sprawling hostel. No fees are charged at this level.
After completing the fazilat level, graduates can enroll for a one-year specialized or takhassus course in Arabic literature or for a six-month tadrib ul-mualim or madrasa teachers’ training programme. Recently, the madrasa launched a short-term course in computer applications. Madrasa Shahi’s Dar ul-Ifta or department for issuing fatwas is one of the largest in the country. Till date, it has issued several thousand fatwas.
Winds of change and the urge for reform have not left the Madrasa Shahi untouched. Explains Maulana Abdul Nasir, the deputy rector of the madrasa, ‘We want Muslim children to get good education. We want them to become doctors, lawyers, engineers, social workers, journalists and so on, so that they can work for the community. We don’t oppose modern education. All that we say is that secular education must go along with religious education.’ Stressing the point that he and his fellow ulema are not at all averse to modern education, contrary to what is often alleged by detractors of the madrasas, he tells me that, following the example of the Dar ul-Ulum at Deoband, the Madrasa Shahi is all set to launch an English department for its senior students. Moreover, he adds, the Madrasa plans to establish a modern school in Moradabad where students would learn both secular and religious subjects. ‘In this we have the support of the ulema of the Deoband madrasa,’ adds Maulana Ashhad Rasheedi, the rector of the Madrasa Shahi. ‘We want it to be a high quality English medium school with a proper Islamic environment. We are not opposed to the English language, unlike what is commonly alleged. What we are opposed to is the blind imitation of Western culture’.
The ulema of Madrasa Shahi are ardent champions of the Deobandi tradition, which is considered to represent a conservative version of Islam. Yet, this does not mean that they are wholly opposed to modernity. Rather, they advocate a distinctly Deobandi Muslim approach to modernity. They are, predictably, not well-disposed to any structural or basic reforms in the madrasas. The very notion of ‘reform’ needs to be defined first, they insist, for the term can mean different things to different people. The basic aim of the madrasas is to spread knowledge of the faith, they tell me, and so no measures in the name of reform that detract from that aim is acceptable to them—a point that I readily accept. What I don’t, however, is their insistence that the present madrasa syllabus, based on the antiquated dars-e nizami, is ‘complete and without any flaws at all’.
‘Instead of madrasas, what should be reformed is the secular, irreligious system of education’, they press on. I murmur a note of dissent, although I concede the merit in their point about the need and ample scope for reforms in the ‘modern’ educational system. But even as they continue to insist that their system and curriculum are above reproach, the changes that are being slowly wrought within, and in which they take evident pride—the English department, the teaching of computer applications and plans for an English-medium ‘Islamic’ school—all point to the fact that this does not necessarily mean that these bastions of tradition are actually wholly averse to reform.

Interview: Maulana Waris Mazhari on Muslims and Media

Based in New Delhi, Maulana Waris Mazhari is a leading Indian Muslim scholar. A graduate of the Dar ul-Uloom at Deoband, he edits the Tarjuman Dar ul-Uloom, the official organ of the Deoband Madrasa Graduates’ Association. In this interview with Yoginder Sikand, he reflects on Muslims and the media in India.

Q: How do you see the Indian Muslim press in terms of its coverage of social issues related to the community and the country as a whole?

A: I think what is called the Muslim press in India, at least the largest chunk of it—the Urdu press of northern India—leaves much to be desired. Most Urdu papers are characterized by a heavy dose of theology, narrowly understood, and their approach is religious and sectarian and insular. One reason for this is that most of those who read Urdu newspapers are madrasa-educated or associated in some way or the other with religious organizations. Most of them are from the lower middle-classes. This is an issue that concerns Urdu as a language in India today, which, for all practical purposes, has been forced into the ghettos as the language of the madrasas. That is why the vast majority of books published in Urdu these days are about religion alone.
So, as I was saying, the north Indian Urdu press reflects the narrow worldview of the madrasa-educated class, highlighting those issues that appeal to such people—issues to do with religion and community identity and so on. If such papers were instead to publish, say, serious articles on science or economics, they would hardly find any readers! That is why, for instance, while Urdu papers have no economics page they inevitably have a movies page! Even a small press release of some obscure Muslim group becomes front page news in such papers because this is precisely the sort of stuff that their readers want.
This tendency is made worse by the competition between rival Urdu newspapers for the same readership, each seeking to beat the others in reporting or even creating sensational stories, mainly about real or alleged anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic incidents and developments or the real or imaginary victories of Muslims or Islam in some place or the other. This is the stuff that many Urdu newspaper readers love to read. Take the weekly tabloid Nai Duniya, for instance, which excels in whipping up stories about anti-Muslim prejudice. In this way, by fanning Muslim emotions, it seeks to promote its circulation and, thereby, its revenues. And there are more than enough Muslims around who just want to read this sort of stuff, who are just not interested in serious issues. They suffer from a peculiar sort of complex or syndrome, exhibiting the mentality of a defeated community that is beleaguered at the hands of others, suffering tremendous and mounting insecurities and that can be appeased by such stories.

I am not saying that this is somehow inherent in the Muslim psyche. Rather, my point is that recent developments in India and globally directed against Muslims have created or reinforced such a mentality that tends to see the whole world in stark terms, and that can easily fall prey to the theory that the rest of the world is engaged in some sort of anti-Islamic conspiracy.
Because of this, the Muslim press tends to focus only on the real and imaginary problems of Muslims, but ignores the many opportunities that are available to them. The huge population of Muslims in India is itself a big force that can create numerous opportunities. And then the Indian Muslims have so many institutions, many of them that were set up even before the Partition. These could have been expanded and vastly improved, but, sadly, our leadership, including our media that thrives on playing up our problems and neglecting the opportunities that we have, do not pay much attention to this.
And so the situation of the Muslims continues to steadily worsen. It cannot change unless we realize that the solution lies not in agitation and communal controversy, which our media continues to promote, but through serious and positive efforts at social reconstruction. Sadly, the Muslim media has done little to promote this agenda, thriving, instead, on reinforcing the ghettoized and paranoid mentality. It generally ignores issues related or of interest to modern-educated, middle-class Muslims. It is thus hardly surprising that such Muslims prefer not to read Urdu or other Muslim-owned papers at all. In general, one could also say that those Muslims who want news about the community read Urdu papers, while those who want to know about national and international developments would prefer English papers, not finding much of interest in Urdu papers. In other words, I would say that the Urdu press does not represent all Muslims, in terms of readership as well as coverage of issues, despite the tendency of some Urdu editors to claim to the contrary.

Q: The media tends to project the ulema as leaders of the community. Particularly in north India, most community organizations are headed by ulema. Why is it that middle-class, modern educated Muslims tend to play only a minor role, if at all, in such efforts? How can they be made to be more involved in the social issues of the community, including through the media?
A: Middle-class, modern educated Muslims simply do not enjoy anything even remotely resembling the sort of trust and popularity of the traditional ulema. I think there are problems on both sides in the relationship between the ulema and the small, modern-educated Muslim middle-class. Many traditional ulema simply do not consider it useful or necessary to work with middle class Muslims, thinking them to be somehow not religious or Islamic enough. Many of our ulema give such undue importance to relatively minor issues, which they consider as major issues of religion, that they just cannot tolerate working with other Muslims who do not come up to their standards of what they conventionally take to be true religiosity. They are simply not broad-minded enough to tolerate this. That is why they rarely invite middle-class, modern educated Muslims to their programmes or involve them in their work, although there are many such people who could make valuable contributions if allowed to.
But the problem is also on the other side. Many middle-class Muslims consider the ulema to be wholly obscurantist and medieval in their outlook and hopelessly out of touch with the realities of the times. Hence, they prefer to stay away from them. This, too, is not the right approach, for there are among the ulema many enlightened scholars who are aware of contemporary developments and demands.
There is yet another problem. Like the middle classes in other communities, the Indian Muslim middle-class, by and large, is simply too concerned with its own materialistic aspirations to take any serious interest in Muslim social issues or to use the media to highlight the concerns of the Muslim masses. That is one major reason why there are so few such Muslims who work for the relatively low-paying Urdu press. Further, many middle-class Muslims desist from identifying too closely with Muslim issues for fear of being arbitrarily branded as ‘communal’ or even ‘fundamentalist’ by their non-Muslim colleagues.

Q: Since a large proportion of Urdu journalists come from madrasa backgrounds, and, as you said, many readers of the Urdu press are also from madrasas, what do you think about the proposal that several people have made that madrasas should launch journalism courses for their students?
A: No madrasa has launched a programme of this sort as yet, although there is growing realization among many ulema of the madrasas of the importance of the media, given the role of the media in demonizing the madrasas. There has been some talk, though little practical effort, with regard to engaging with the media in order to counter this propaganda. Some madrasas and Islamic organizations claim to have established media cells, but basically these are restricted simply to cutting and filing Muslim-related news reports and occasionally sending out a press release. They are not really very effective, and the general public knows nothing at all about their work. On the whole, I would say that the ulema still do not fully realize or comprehend the immensity of the media challenge and the need and the means to respond to it creatively and positively.
I feel some of the larger madrasas can, indeed should, launch journalism courses for their graduates, especially those madrasas where English is also taught. This, of course, requires proper planning and organized effort. The sort of shoddy, haphazard and half-hearted work that we are now so inured to in the case of the madrasas simply cannot do. Madrasas that want to start such courses would need to have properly trained and qualified teachers. Obviously, they cannot insist that all these be madrasa-educated ulema or even Muslims of a particular brand, the dadhi-topi wala Muslims who conform to the ulema’s vary narrow understanding of piety. They should even be open to the idea of employing non-Muslim experts to handle the courses. They also have to invite non-Muslim journalists and interact with them to get their views across and to seek to understand the many serious questions and concerns that these journalists have about Islam and Muslims. I wonder if they will be open-minded enough to do this. Honestly, I have my doubts as to whether our traditional ulema will allow this sort of interaction. But one thing is sure. Without at least this minimum tolerance and broad-mindedness, nothing can change.

Q: How do you think Muslim community organizations could interact in a more meaningful way with the ‘mainstream’ media in order to get Muslim views across to the non-Muslim public and the state?

A: I think that for this there is no alternative to personal interaction. One way to do this is to form a sort of platform for Muslim journalists, including those who work with non-Muslim media, so that Muslim organizations can work with and through them and seek their advice on media-related matters. There are many Muslim journalists, including in the ‘mainstream’ media, who would like to do their bit for the community in this way but cannot for lack of any organized platform. So, setting up such a platform is an important step.
Then, of course, there should also be some mechanism—perhaps a platform of some sort—through which Muslim organizations can interact and dialogue with non-Muslim media persons, particularly those who are genuinely concerned about Muslim problems. The initiative for this has to come from the Muslim organizations. I have written about this several times in the magazine that I edit in the context of anti-madrasa propaganda in the ‘mainstream’ media. My point is that since the madrasas complain about Islam and madrasas being targeted in the media, they should organize programmes to which they should invite non-Muslim media persons and interact and dialogue with them.
Q: But, the question is, do the ulema of the madrasas have the financial as well as cultural capital to do this sort of thing, to launch journalism courses and so on?
A: I firmly believe that it is not money or the difference in cultural capital or lifestyle that is the major barrier in this regard. Rather, the most formidable barrier is the peculiar mentality of the traditional ulema. It is not a problem of the mentality of the general Muslims. Ordinary Muslims are not going to begin boycotting ulema if they interact with non-Muslim journalists in the precincts of the madrasas. It is some very narrow ulema who will oppose this, not Muslims on the street. Some of these mullahs are so narrow minded that they believe that, by definition, all non-Muslims—and particularly all non-Muslim media persons—are ‘anti-Islam’. Naturally, such people cannot tolerate any sort of dialogue with the media. And as for financial resources, let me tell you that some madrasas have annual budgets that run into several crores of rupees. They have sponsors who could, if asked, donate more than enough money needed for the sort of work that I have spoken about. So, money is not the problem.
Q: How do you see the way in which Muslim social issues, as distinct from religious concerns, are reflected in the Muslim-owned press?
A: The coverage that these issues receive in the Urdu press very clearly reflects a siege mentality characteristic of a minority complex that has been exacerbated by ghettoistic tendencies among Muslims, anti-Muslim discrimination and the hate politics of Hindutva. So, the issues that are covered in the Urdu press generally relate to controversial ‘communal’ issues involving anti-Muslim discrimination and attacks on Muslims and their identity, while other crucial social issues of the community, as well as internal factors for Muslim marginalization get much less attention. And there is also a marked tendency, particularly in magazines brought out by different Muslim religious groups or jamaats, to adopt a sectarian position or approach not just to religious issues but also to social issues relating to the community. This makes their perspective even more narrow and restricted.
The Indian Muslim press in general is not wide enough to accommodate a variety of Muslim views, be it theological, social or political. This is particularly so in the case of papers and magazines brought out by particular Muslim religious jamaats that have their own regular sources of funding and so do not have to cater to a wide variety of tastes and opinion in order to generate funds for their survival. Because these papers are funded by the jamaats that they represent, they do not feel the pressure to compete with other papers for readership and revenues, and so there is nothing to goad them to become more broad-based in their reporting or coverage or to give more focus to social issues than at present, remaining content with a heavy dosage of religious news.
Q: How far do you think the Muslim-owned press has been able to communicate Muslim views and concerns to non-Muslims and to the state authorities?
A: I think that in this regard the Muslim-owned media has been singularly unsuccessful. Despite their massive population, the Indian Muslims still lack a single English daily newspaper that could have served as a vehicle for transmitting Muslim views to others. The vast majority of Muslim-owned magazines and newspapers in north India, where the bulk of the Indian Muslims live, are in Urdu. Most of them are also religious and ideologically driven, catering only to a Muslim readership. This being the case, how can they play any role at all in reaching out to non-Muslims or government authorities?
Obviously, for this to happen we need to have many more English publications and periodicals. If we want Hindus and others to hear our views and voices, our papers must also be of interest to them. This means that we need to change our style and approach of our media. We must also be willing to listen to the points of view of others, rather than persistently harping only on our own. But in this regard the Muslim-owned press performs miserably. It only speaks, or claims to do so, on behalf of the Muslims, but does not listen to what non-Muslims have to say. Naturally, unless we learn how to listen to others and this is reflected in our media, others are not going to listen to us.

Q: There have been repeated attempts by Muslim organizations to set up English-language news magazines focusing on Muslim social issues. Yet, almost all such efforts have flopped. The few such magazines that do remain have hardly any non-Muslim readers, and so do not serve the purpose of communicating Muslim aspirations and concerns to others. What do you have to say about this?

A: I think one major problem has been to generate adequate funds to launch such magazines. Muslims are willing to open their purse-strings and liberally support all sorts of emotion-driven causes in the name of Islam and the ummah but not for this sort of serious work. They think that giving money to a mosque or madrasa is a means for acquiring religious merit in the hereafter, while supporting a serious community-based magazine is a ‘worldly’ affair that would bring them no such blessings! Overnight, lakhs of rupees can be collected to build a mosque on a street that already has three or four mosques, but hardly any Muslims would be willing to shell out a few rupees to support a Muslim social science research centre or a magazine that wants to work for the sake of the community. This is a reflection of a very warped, ritualistic understanding of Islam that is divorced from issues of social concern, and one which the traditional ulema have had a vested interest in promoting and reinforcing.
Despite the failures of most attempts by Indian Muslims to launch English-language magazines, I still feel that this is something very important that Muslim organizations need to seriously work towards. Particularly in the last two or three decades, and owing, in no small measure, to the acts of certain self-styled Islamists, Muslims and Islam have suffered from a bad, indeed hostile, media image, including in the enormously influential English media. A strong and vibrant English-language Muslim media can play a key role in responding and seeking to counter this image and to promote dialogue between Muslims and others. As of now, at least in north India, Muslims respond to allegations leveled against them and their faith by others through the Urdu press, which they alone read. Naturally, this does not at all help in countering deeply held anti-Muslim prejudices among many non-Muslims.
It is, however, not enough simply to start a bunch of English-language magazines or papers if they continue to reflect the same narrow-mindedness and the obsession with Muslims and a narrow vision of Islam that is so characteristic of a major section of the Urdu press. Such papers will definitely attract no non-Muslim readers and so can play no role at all in bridging the gulf between Muslims and others. They cannot be Muslim-centric if they want to count non-Muslims among their readers. They cannot be mouthpieces or apologists for the community. After all, non-Muslim don’t want to read only about Chechenya or Palestine or the academic works of some ulema or about Islamic laws. So, the media that we want to devise to reach out to people of other faiths with our message has to be broad-based. It has to also focus on issues that concern others, that relate to the whole of humankind. They cannot be one-sided, ideologically-driven, insular and communal. They cannot defend the indefensible. They have to condemn Muslims when they go wrong, just as they should with regard to other communities—unlike in the Urdu press where even the faults of Muslims are often projected as virtues. They must serve as bridges to promote genuine and mutual dialogue between Muslims and others.
Q: In recent years some Indian Muslim TV channels have emerged. How do you see their performance?
A: Before I answer that let me say that, sadly, there is really no serious thinking on the part of the Muslim leadership, especially the ulema, on the importance of the electronic media. Many of our ulema continue to insist that photography is haram or prohibited, and so rule out not just television but even publishing pictures of human beings in newspapers. Thankfully, the Arab ulema resolved this dilemma quite some time ago, legitimizing both, and at least in the Arab world there is no controversy about this. But there is in India, where, recently, some mullahs declared that using television even to broadcast Islamic programmes is allegedly ‘un-Islamic’. Another set of mullahs allowed for television, provided no images were broadcast! Can you imagine this? So, my point is, before we think of launching television channels, let there be a consensus on the legitimacy of the electronic media and a recognition of its importance.
At the same time, we also need to realize that the electronic media can survive only on the basis of advertisement revenues. Now, the traditional ulema are bound to raise questions and objections here too, but I would argue that in this regard we need to decide how to adjust to the demands of the time while keeping intact our basic Islamic identity. Surely, some middle way can be devised. Then, television channels must also have space for entertainment. Dry, preachy religious stuff alone will not suffice. This again would appear to contradict the traditional religious approach, which, sadly, frowns upon laughter and enjoyment, but we will have to tolerate and accept this. Traditional mullahs might rant and rave against women newsreaders or even to women, no matter how modestly clad, appearing on television, but we have to rise above this, as they have in the Arab world. We need to raise and discuss the issue of what is or can be an Islamically-acceptable form of entertainment.
If we fail to do all this, no number of television channels launched by Muslims will serve much purpose. They will all have a very restricted, entirely Muslim, clientele, like Zakir Naik’s Peace TV channel, which I find stultifying and boring and unnecessarily polemical. They will prove singularly unsuccessful in attracting non-Muslim viewers and conveying the Islamic or Muslim opinion to them.
Existing Muslim television channels tend to be almost wholly concerned with religion, often a very narrow, ritualistic version of it that is divorced from social concerns and problems. This reflects a fundamental crisis in and stagnation of Muslim thought that makes an unwarranted distinction between ‘religious’ and ‘worldly’ affairs. I think Muslim TV channels—and the Muslim media in general—need to broaden their focus to also deal with social issues, such as economic and educational problems and opportunities for Muslims, political questions, inter-community relations, women’s issues, the problems of madrasas and so on. They need to be much more holistic and socially engaged in their approach to and coverage of issues than they presently are.

Book Review: Wanted--Equality in the Muslim Family

Name of the Book: Wanted—Equality and Justice in the Muslim Family
Edited by: Zainah Anwar
Publisher: Musawah/Sisters in Islam, Kuala Lumpur (
Pages: 261
Price: 28 Malaysian Ringgit
ISBN: 978-983-2622-26-0
Reviewed by: Yoginder Sikand

Muslim family laws have for long been—and continue to be—a hugely controversial subject. Critics contend that these laws seriously militate against basic human rights, especially of women. On the other hand, conservative ulema and Islamist ideologues hail these laws as the epitome of divine justice and refuse to consider any changes therein.

This book—a collection by leading international Islamic scholars and women’s rights activists—advocates a middle-of-the-road position. The contributors to the book claim that while Islam can be interpreted as upholding women’s rights, dignity and equality, Muslim family laws, as they exist in most countries, simply do not. Hence, they argue, the need for urgent changes in these laws—in order not just to provide women the rights that these laws deny but also for these laws to conform to what they regard as the underlying spirit of Quranic teachings, particularly concerning justice and equality.

The papers included in this volume emerged from an international conference on Islam and Gender Justice recently held in 2006 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, at the initiative of Sisters in Islam, a well-known Muslim women’s group that has been in the forefront of articulating Muslim women’s rights and equality within an Islamic framework. The conference led to the formation of a group which was named Musawah (‘Equality’ in Arabic). Its mandate is to coordinate international efforts to promote legal reforms in Muslim countries in family matters in consonance with what it believes to be the basic Islamic principles of justice, equality and dignity for all human beings, including Muslim women and people of other faiths.

The book, the first of a series of publications that Musawah plans to bring out, begins with a detailed statement of the organisation’s basic principles and charter of demands. It sets out the claim that the Quran, if understood in an expansive, and what it regards as an ‘authentic’ manner, is not incompatible with contemporary international human rights standards. Hence, it demands, relations between Muslim women and men, in both the private and public spheres, must be governed by principles and practices that uphold equality, fairness and justice. All Muslims, including women, it stresses, have ‘an equal right and duty to read the religious texts, engage in understanding God’s message, and act for justice, equality and the betterment of humankind within their families, communities and countries.’ In other words, it asserts, the study and interpretation of Islam cannot be considered the sole preserve of the male ulema or Islamic clerics.

The statement notes that many laws related to personal status and family codes in Muslim contexts are patently unjust to women. Human affairs, it stresses, constantly change and evolve, and so must laws and social practices that shape relations within the Muslim family. This is necessary, so it argues, in order that the laws reflect Islam’s stress on equality, justice, love, compassion and mutual respect between all human beings. Such legal reform, it contends, is by no means a new innovation, for changes in rules for the public interest (maslahah) have always been part of the Muslim legal tradition.

Seeking to preempt critics who might argue that reforms in Muslim family laws would be tantamount to interference in what they regard as the divinely-ordained shariah, the statement observes that family laws in today’s Muslim countries and communities are actually ‘based mainly on theories and concepts developed by classical jurists (fuqaha) in vastly different historical, social and economic contexts.’ In interpreting the Qur’an and the Sunnah, the practice of the Prophet (Pbuh), the classical jurists were ‘guided by the social and political realities of their age and a set of assumptions about law, society and gender that reflected the state of knowledge, normative values and patriarchal institutions of their time.’

The idea of gender equality had no place in, and little relevance to, the conceptions of justice of the classical fuqaha, the statement contends. This, it continues, was reflected in the fact that the concept of marriage upheld by the fuqaha was ‘one of domination by the husband and submission by the wife.’ But today, it remarks, social conditions have vastly changed and ‘the world inhabited by the authors of classical jurisprudential texts (fiqh) ha[s] begun to disappear.’ Yet, family laws that militate against equality and dignity for women continue to linger on despite the fact that they are now ‘irrelevant to the needs, experiences and values of Muslims today.’ Furthermore, these laws are also at the root of marital disharmony and the breakdown of the family.

The statement argues the need for a critical re-reading of these laws, not from a secular point of view, but, instead, through the prism of Qur’anic teachings, based on justice (adl), equality (musawah), equity (insaf), human dignity (karamah), love and compassion (mawaddah wa rahmah). These principles, it says, ‘reflect universal norms’ and are ‘consistent with contemporary human rights standards.’ Formulating new laws based on these principles would not, it argues, constitute a deviation from the shariah, the ‘revealed way’, contrary to what is often alleged. It would certainly be a departure from classical fiqh, though, but fiqh, it notes, is distinct from the shariah, being the result of human effort in seeking to interpret and draw rules from the shariah. Hence, being human and fallible, fiqh, unlike the shariah, is also changeable, through resort to ijtihad or independent reasoning. Hence, reforming existing gender-just laws that form a part of the corpus of fiqh, many of which are still enforced, is, the statement claims, fully in accordance with the aims of the shariah rather than constituting a violation of it, as might be alleged. The statement backs this assertion with this approproate quotation from Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, the noted fourteenth century Islamic jurist:

‘The fundamentals of the shariah are rooted in wisdom and promotion of the welfare of human beings in this life and the Hereafter. Shariah embraces justice, kindness, the common good and wisdom. Any rule that departs from justice to injustice, from kindness to harshness, from the common good to harm, or from rationality to absurdity cannot be part of shariah, even if it is arrived at through individual interpretation.’

The opening essay of the book, authored by the Malaysian scholar-activist Zainah Anwar, head of Sisters-in-Islam and convenor of Musawah, is a trenchant critique of patriarchy in the name of Islam and a passionate advocacy of gender equality as an Islamic mandate. The essay elaborates on the themes contained in the Musawah statement, and calls upon women’s rights activists to seriously engage with the Islamic religious tradition instead of leaving it to die-hard clerics and misogynist Islamists to monopolise. Anwar makes it clear the Musawah seeks to raise the issue of equality for Muslim women within and through an Islamic paradigm. Rather than constituting a betrayal of Islam, as its detractors certainly would allege, demanding full legal equality for Muslim women (and non-Muslims in Muslim countries) would, she insists, be entirely in accordance with the Quran’s ‘revolutionary’ spirit and its stress on the fundamental equality and dignity of all human beings.

The second paper, by the noted Iranian scholar Ziba Mir-Hosseini, examines conceptions of gender in Islamic legal thought and the challenges they present to the construction of an egalitarian Muslim family law. She argues that ‘there is neither a unitary nor a coherent concept of gender rights in Islamic legal thought.’ Rather, there is a welter of conflicting concepts that reflect both Islam’s ‘ethical egalitarianism’ and the patriarchal contexts in which classical fiqh emerged and developed. This she relates to the distinction—often ignored by Islamists and conservative ulema—between shariah and fiqh, the former being God-given and eternal, and the latter being a product of human reasoning and thus fallible and amenable to change. She insists that patriarchal fiqh does not represent the shariah and violates its stress on human equality and dignity. Hence, she insists, it is in urgent need of reform.

Mir-Hosseini’s point is well-taken and fully in accordance with Islamic teachings. But where she is on less firm grounds is her claim that legal rulings (ahkamat) in the Quran that relate to transactional or contractual acts (muamilat) can be changed, in contrast to those rulings that relate to relations between the individual believer and God (ibadat). She contends that rules governing muamilat, which include those relating to women and gender relations, ‘remain open to rational considerations and social forces’ in order to adjust to changing social conditions. Controversially, she writes that it is indeed possible for ijtihad to extend to this realm as well, based on a re-reading of the scriptures. In making this claim, she does not engage with the ulema’s claim that ijtihad on matters that have clearly been specified in the divine texts (nass) is not permissible. This clearly limits her case for an Islamically-grounded argument for legal reforms.

Mir-Hosseini subjects the rules laid down by numerous classical fuqaha concerning marriage to a critical evaluation, judging them by the criterion of justice that she identifies as a key Quranic principle. Many of these rules, she argues, reflect deeply-rooted patriarchal prejudices. For instance, they define marriage basically as ‘a contract of exchange […] whose main purpose is to make sexual relations between a man and woman licit.’ In discussing marriage and its legal structure, some classical jurists, she notes, even used the analogy of the contract of sale, in which the wife sells a part of herself and the husband buys her sexual organ, owing to which the wife is needed to completely submit, as a slave would, to him. The notion of a husband’s ‘ownership’ of his wife also defined how many classical jurists viewed divorce. Some of them drew an analogy between talaq and the manumission of a slave. In this regard, Mir-Hosseini quotes the noted Sunni scholar Imam Ghazali as writing, ‘The man is the owner and he has, as it were, enslaved the woman through the dowry and […] she has no discernment in her affairs’ This logic of ‘ownership’ of the woman, Mir-Hosseini submits, is a complete inversion of the Quranic insistence on equality.

When compared to the numerous reforms wrought by the Prophet in the conditions of women in his time, the fiqh tradition, Mir-Hosseini argues, reflects a process of the increasing marginalization and silencing of women. There are, she writes, ‘[m]any verses in the Qur’an condemn women’s subjugation, affirm the principle of equality between genders and aim to reform existing practices in that direction. Yet […] subjugation is reproduced in fiqh […]’.

Numerous assumptions underlying fiqh rulings concerning women, Mir-Hosseini argues, do not have any basis whatsoever in the Quran. These include the claims, repeatedly stressed by numerous fuqaha, that women were allegedly created from and for men; that God allegedly made men superior to women; and that women were allegedly defective in reason and faith. Notions such as these worked to remove women from public life and confine them to the seclusion of their homes—again a departure from the practice of the Prophet. Inspired by the Prophetic practice, Mir-Hosseini concludes, socially-engaged Islamic scholars, men and women, need to critically engage with the fiqh tradition and to formulate new laws that reflect the Quranic insistence on human equality for both men and women.

Unlike Catholicism, for instance, which has a Church hierarchy that lays down orthodox doctrine and laws, Islam allows for a diversity of views, or ikhtilaf as it is called in the terminology of the fuqaha or Islamic clerics. In his essay, Muhammad Khalid Masud, noted Pakistani Islamic scholar and, till recently, Chairman of his country’s Islamic Ideology Council, points to the possibilities afforded by the doctrine of ikhtilaf as a means for articulating an alternate, gender-sensitive understanding of Islam and Islamic laws.

According to a saying of the Prophet Muhammad, writes Masud, diversity among the Muslim people is a blessing (ikhtilafu ummati rahma). In line with this, the fuqaha not just tolerated, but also respected, differences in understanding and interpreting the Quran and in matters of fiqh, within certain broad boundaries laid down by the clear texts of the Quran and Hadith. This suggests, Masud opines, the need for fiqh to remain ‘a continuous process that allows legal norms to remain relevant to social norms’. This would entail ‘going behind the text to find universal legal principles that can accommodate social changes.’ One of these ‘universal principles’ is gender justice, which, Masud notes, is not reflected in the corpus of classical fiqh, and which, he insists, is in urgent need of ijtihad in this respect.

Needless to say, what Masud here advocates is in sharp contrast to the stance of the conservative ulema, who stress the need for taqlid, or rigid adherence to the rules laid down by the classical fuqaha as a means to strictly limit ikhtilaf. Aware that his suggestion would leave him open to the charge of advocating changes in the shariah, Masud explains:

‘We cannot appreciate the reforms introduced in the Quran and the Sunnah without relating them to the social context when they were introduced. The jurists also interpreted the shariah with reference to their social contexts. Today, when the social context has again changed, we need to reinterpret the shariah in these new social contexts.’

‘Islam Beyond Patriarchy Through Gender Inclusive Quranic Analysis’ is the title of a provocative paper by the well-known American Islamic scholar Amina Wadud. Reiterating a point made by the other contributors to this volume, she stresses the distinction between shariah and fiqh, highlights numerous instances of patriarchal prejudice in the corpus of fiqh and pleads for reforms in the fiqh rules so as to make them consonant with what she argues is the insistence on the ontological equality of men and women as envisaged in the Islamic shariah. This would mean, she suggests, equal access to the public space and decision-making processes for both women and men, for both, she says, have the potential to fulfill their common human destiny as upholders of moral agency or khilafah, as potential khalifas or trustees of God, entrusted with the task of fulfilling God’s will on earth.

In this regard, Wadud persuasively argues that patriarchy or any other force that compels abject submission of one human being to another is akin to shirk or associating partners with God, the only sin that God would never forgive. ‘The foundational idea of gender equality, she stresses, ‘is derived from the Qur’anic worldview.’ Hence, she insists, ‘[E]qual human rights for women have their confirmation in this Qur’anic worldview.’

Khaled Abou El Fadl’s paper, titled ‘Human Rights Commitment in Modern Islam’ critiques contemporary Islamist thought for its obvious indifference to basic human rights of women and non-Muslims, discusses major points of tension between the Islamic tradition and modern conceptions of human rights and explores the possibility of reconciliation between the two.

El Fadl rightly points out the failure of both the apologetic and what he calls the ‘defiant’ or ‘exceptionalist’ Islamic responses to modern or Western critiques of Islam, that took the form of assertions that Islam had itself invented modern human rights norms or else that its norms were, in fact, far superior to modern conceptions. These, however, he points out, failed to provide an adequate defence of human rights, primarily because, they sought to defend the inherited fiqh tradition, which he regards as indefensible. Rather than representing a serious commitment to human rights, these responses were meant simply to counter Western criticism, and, as El Fadl puts it, ‘affirming self-worth, and attaining a measure of emotional empowerment’. This led, he says, to ‘an artificial sense of confidence, and an intellectual lethargy that neither took the Islamic tradition nor the human rights tradition very seriously.’ These responses were thus ‘far more anti-Western than […] pro-Islamic.’

El Fadl stresses the need for a reconstruction of contemporary Islamic discourse, grounded in human-rights commitments and based on what he terms as ‘a rethinking of the meaning and implications of divinity, and a reimagining of the nature of the relationship between God and creation.’ Such a reconceptualisation should be based, he suggests, on the notion of God, not as a brutal and vengeful dictator, as Islamists conceive Him to be, but as the epitome of beauty, love, mercy, justice and goodness. This would be reflected in an understanding of the divine will being manifested in human acts based on these values. This would represent, El Fadl says, nothing less than a ‘serious paradigm shift in Islamic thinking.’

Obviously, seen from this perspective, numerous rules contained in the corpus of traditional fiqh that relate to women and non-Muslims and that rob them of basic fundamental rights, would be regarded as negating God’s will. This new paradigm could then possibly help usher in a reconciliation between Islamic discourse and contemporary human rights standards.

In her paper, Amira El-Azhary Sonbol traces the overlapping of fiqh-based laws, customary laws and colonial laws in shaping personal status codes in a range of Muslim countries and communities. Her basic point is that, contrary to what is commonly asserted, many of the personal laws today applied in Muslim contexts are not based simply on the Islamic shariah. As such, they should not be regarded as immutable and as beyond reform.

Pre-colonial shariah courts, Sombol writes, were considerably more flexible than their counterparts that developed in period of European colonial rule over most of the Muslim world and that have continued thereafter. Judges were not bound, unlike today, by codified rules, and had considerable discretion to make decisions, including resorting to customary laws (urf or adat) and other schools of fiqh and considering the specific conditions of specific cases to reduce hardship to litigants. This often worked to the advantage of women.

In several respects, Sombol claims, the Muslim personal laws that came to be constructed in the colonial period worked against the interests of women by doing away with the flexibility and maneuverability of the pre-colonial shariah courts and imposing a single, centralized code on the entire Muslim populace. This was exacerbated by the ‘Victorian’ patriarchal worldviews of the colonial administrators. In several Muslim countries under European rule, this was reflected in the new standardized marriage contracts which defined the husband as the head of the family, and did not provide—in contrast to pre-colonial marriage contracts—for brides to specify conditions to the marriage in order to protect their rights.

Sombol perhaps risks making a untenably broad generalization when she argues that under the colonial state ‘the very act of codification [of ‘Islamic’ family laws] entrenched discriminatory gender relations’, but her point that, while these patriarchal laws could be found in the corpus of fiqh, they could, in the past, be contested on the basis of maqasid-e shariah (‘aims of the shariah’) or maslahah (public interest), principles familiar to scholars of fiqh, is well taken.

In other words, Sombol stresses, the codified Muslim Personal Laws that operate in many Muslim contexts today cannot be seen as identical to the shariah, contrary to what conservative ulema and others might believe. This recognition opens the way for reforms in these laws or their replacement by others that can better serve the core Quranic principles of justice (including gender justice) and public interest (al-masalah al-mursalah).

One of the most active groups at the international level today working for gender justice in Muslim contexts is the London-based Women Living Under Muslim Laws Network. In her piece, Cassandra Belchin, the coordinator of the Network, makes a broad survey of the strategies that have been used by women’s groups in different countries to bring about legal reforms in Muslim personal laws to ensure justice and equality for Muslim women. Increasingly, she points out, secular feminist groups working with Muslim women are now joining hands with newly-emerging Muslim women’s groups that articulate their demands for gender justice from within an Islamic framework and as precisely an Islamic mandate. The latter represents, she points out, an emerging generation of Muslim women confident in their ability to study, reflect on and contextually interpret the Islamic scriptural tradition on their own, challenging the monopoly over religious exegesis of the patriarchal male ulema. These women see themselves not as radical feminists, but, rather, as believing Muslims who are struggling to revive a long-lost tradition of women Islamic scholars that they trace back to the time of the Prophet and immediately after.

In articulating a gender-just vision of Islam and in critiquing the patriarchal prejudices of the fiqh tradition, these women seek to reclaim the right to ijtihad, and also resort to takhayyur and talfiq, selecting context-appropriate interpretations from across the various schools of law as a basis for positive family law reform, a practice frowned upon by many conservative ulema who insist on taqlid or the rigid following of just one school of fiqh.

Some of these efforts by these women scholar-activists have met with success in instituting legal reforms, as in Morocco and Iran, but, Balchin writes, in the face of the continuing influence of conservative ulema and the menacing clout of fiercely patriarchal Islamist groups, much more needs to be done.

The concluding essay of the book, by Kamala Chandrakirana, Chairperson of the Indonesian National Commission on Violence Against Women, provides a broad summary of the lived realities of Muslim women today, in the context of which, she argues, strategies for reform, including legal change, have to be considered. She argues that these realities ‘compel us to acknowledge that gender equality and justice in the Muslim family have become undeniable necessities’.

Millions of Muslim women, Chandrakirana points out, now work out of their homes and in public spaces; educated Muslim women, although still a minority, are now increasingly vocal about their rights and unwilling to accept the subjugation to which the traditional ulema seek to confine them; many Muslim women are now the sole breadwinners of their families; a large proportion of internally displaced people and refugees are Muslims, many of them women. These realities demand, Chandrakirana persuasively argues, that fiqh-based laws that continue to deny women physical mobility, higher education, employment opportunities, access to decision-making processes and institutions and equality within the family are no longer tenable. So, too, are laws that allow Muslim men unrestrained rights to enter into polygamous marriages and to divorce their wives at will.

Given the new realities of Muslim women’s lives today, she warns, ‘a stubbornly unchanged vision of Islam that regards women as inferior to men and therefore undeserving of a life of equal worth and dignity, could lead to the religion losing its relevance for men and women of the future.’ Hence, she stresses the need for ‘a new vision of Islam which affirms women’s humanity and articulates itself in the form of gender-sensitive laws.’

Taken together, the essays contained in the book make a passionate and persuasive case for urgent reforms in existing Muslim personal status laws. The crucial point that the contributors make is that their advocacy for legal reforms is itself an Islamically-legitimate demand, rather than, as their traducers would allege, a deviation from or subversion of Islam. Turning the tables on their detractors, they go so far as to suggest that it is the patriarchal fiqh-based laws that militate against gender justice (which many conservative ulema and Islamists uphold as authentically ‘Islamic’) that actually represent a cruel betrayal of the basic principles of the Islamic faith and tradition.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Taliban's Jizya on Pakistani Sikhs; Appeal to Deobandi Ulema to Issue Fatwa

Taliban’s Jizya on Pakistani Sikhs: Urgent Appeal to Deobandi Ulema to Issue Fatwa

News is emerging about self-styled Islamist Taliban forcing hapless Sikhs in remote villages of northern Pakistan, which the Taliban have recently captured, to pay them a hefty amount of money as jizya, on account of their being non-Muslims. The Taliban have resorted even to kidnapping in order to force the helpless Sikhs to cough up the huge ransom that the Taliban have demanded in the name of imposing what they regard as an Islamic tax on them. According to a report published in the Lahore-based newspaper Daily Times (1st May, 2009):
‘Taliban in Orakzai Agency have banished 50 Sikh families from the agency for not paying Jizia, a tax levied on non-Muslims living under Islamic law, a private TV channel reported on Thursday. According to the channel, Taliban occupied houses and shops of the Sikhs and auctioned their valuables for Rs 0.8 million in Qasim Khel and Feroz Khel areas. Taliban had demanded Rs 12 million from the Sikh community but they had only paid Rs 6.7 million to the Taliban, the channel said.’

According to another news report (Times of India, 1st May, 2009), titled
Taliban seize Sikh houses, shops in Fata
1 M 2009, 0118 hrs IST, ANI
The Taliban has forcibly captured three houses and ten shops belonging to people of the Sikh community in the Orakzai Agency of the
Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) after they failed to fulfil their demands of huge protection money. According to the sources, Taliban gunmen forced all the 24 family members of one Kalyan Singh out of their houses and shops. Singh, a cloth merchant, was kidnapped by extremists a fortnight ago, and was released when he paid 3.5 million rupees out of the 13 million rupees which was demanded as protection money. After Singh failed to arrange the rest of the amount, the Taliban occupied the properties.

This horrendous development deserves to be condemned in the strongest terms, as inhuman, barbaric and against all authentic religious values. The Taliban claim to follow the Deobandi school of Sunni Islam, whose ideological headquarters are at the Dar ul-Uloom in Deoband, India. In recent years, the ulema of the Dar ul-Uloom Deoband have been at the forefront of anti-terror campaigns and continue to insist that Islam has no room for terrorism and that oppressing non-Muslims cannot be sanction by Islam. This being the case, it is now incumbent on the ulema of Deoband to issue a fatwa branding the imposition of the jizya on the Sikhs by the Taliban and other forms of oppression directed against the Sikh minority in Pakistan by the Taliban as un-Islamic or anti-Islamic.
In this regard, perhaps a group of concerned people can approach the muftis of the Dar ul-Uloom at Deoband immediately to issue such a fatwa at the earliest. Given the fact that the ulema of the Dar ul-Uloom at Deoband are widely respected by their fellow Deobandis even outside India, including by the Taliban, it is possible that a fatwa condemning the Taliban’s atrocities against the Pakistani Sikhs might have a salutary effect.

-Yoginder Sikand

Interview: Maulana Waris Mazhari on Re-Writing Muslim Political History

Based in New Delhi, Maulana Waris Mazhari is a leading Indian Deobandi scholar. He is a graduate of the Dar ul-Uloom at Deoband, and is the editor of Tarjuman Dar ul-Uloom, the official organ of the Deoband Madrasa’s Graduates’ Association. In this interview with Yoginder Sikand, Maulana Mazhari talks about his views on Islam, historiography and politics.

Q: Muslim history has generally been written in the form of a series of battles and a succession of rulers and military generals. This, in turn, has had a deep impact on the way Muslims imagine their past and their identity and on the way they relate to people of other faiths. What do you feel about this way of presenting Muslim history?

A: I have major problems with the traditional approach, including the traditional way of presenting the sirat, the history of the Prophet Muhammad, who Muslims consider as the model for all humankind. Typically, sirat-writing has taken the form of a narration of events that focus mainly on the maghazis or military confrontations and victories of the Prophet. This tradition goes back to early times. In fact, one of the first available sirat texts that we have, by Ibn Ishaq, is also known as Maghazi Ibn Ishaq. This is a reflection of how Ibn Ishaq portrayed the Prophet’s life. Ibn Ishaq was by no means an isolated case. In fact, many other sirat writers followed in that mode, and still continue to do so.

By focusing so much on the battles of the Prophet, most sirat-writers gave much less attention to other crucial aspects of the Prophet’s life, in particular his efforts, both in Mecca and then in Medina, to communicate, through peaceful persuasion and dialogue, the message of the Quran to people of other faiths. Since these aspects have been given little attention in the corpus of sirat literature, it is made to appear as if battling was the major occupation of the Prophet, which was not really the case at all, because this was just a minor part of the Prophet’s life. His major focus was actually the peaceful propagation of God’s message and moulding the beliefs and morals of his followers.

I think there is an urgent need for reappraising our approach to writing Islamic history. Many aspects of the Prophet’s life, which numerous sirat-writers, in their obsession with war and conquest, ignored or else gave little attention to, must be highlighted as these are particularly relevant for Muslims living in a plural society today. For instance, the Mithaq-e Medina, the pact between the Prophet and the non-Muslims of Medina, which set out the rights and duties of the different communities residing in the town. And, of course, the thirteen years of the Prophet’s peaceful preaching in Mecca. These things need to be highlighted in sirat writings, for they are particularly relevant to Muslims in India today, living as a minority in a very diverse country.
Q: Some radical Islamists might counter that by arguing that the Medina model of the Prophet—of establishing political power and supremacy—is the one that Muslims should follow, because it came after the Meccan period of the Prophet’s life.
A: Those who argue in this way give a political interpretation of Islam, but they have no solid basis for their claims. The whole life of the Prophet is a model for Muslims to follow, not just one phase of it. If the absurd argument that the Medinan phase of the Prophet’s life eclipses or abrogates the Meccan phase is accepted, it would lead to the bizarre conclusion that only some aspects of the Prophet’s life are worth following and that the others must be rejected. This is a conclusion that no real Muslim would ever accept. It would be tantamount to claiming that the verses of the Quran that were revealed in Mecca, that have to do with tolerance, patience in the face of adversity, peaceful persuasion and so on, have no validity. Needless to say, almost all the ulema would vehemently denounce this argument.

Q: Radical Islamists might argue that in Medina the Prophet succeeded in establishing a state or polity, and that, hence, struggling for such a state is a duty incumbent upon Muslims for all time.
A: God bestowed upon the Prophet the opportunity to establish and lead a polity in Medina, but this was a result of a long process of peaceful persuasion or dawat which the Prophet began in Mecca many years before that. It can be said to have been a stage in the path of the Prophet’s dawat. But this does not mean that winning political power must be the ultimate aim or the natural result of the peaceful missionary work of dawat. God gives political power to whomsoever He wills. But that should not be the main aim of the Islamic dawat, whose major focus is to communicate God’s message and to shape human beings’ minds and character in line with that message. If, in the course of the work of Islamic dawat, God provides political power, it is to be accepted as a gift, but it is not, and should not be, the real aim of the dawat. And if political power, to establish a polity that would enforce God’s laws, does not come into being, it is not a sin, contrary to what radical Islamists claim.
Q: But radical Islamists, such as Maududi, the founder of the Jamaat-e Islami, argue that what they call an ‘Islamic state’ is indispensable in order to ‘enforce’ God’s laws, in the form of the shariah, in their entirety. How do you look at this argument?
A: Maududi and others like him, ideologues like Hasan al-Banna and Syed Qutb, have indeed argued in this way, but their arguments have been heavily critiqued by many well-known ulema. If we accept Maududi’s insistence that struggling for establishing what he calls an ‘Islamic polity’ is the central aspect of Islamic dawat, many serious questions arise. It would, God forbid, mean that many prophets of God had failed in their mission because they did not establish any religion-based polity. Muslims accept the Prophet Muhammad as being of the same stature as the other prophets, and the Quran warns against making any distinctions between the prophets. All the prophets, the Quran says, taught the same primal religion or deen, which, in Arabic, is called al-Islam or ‘The Submission’, although their methods may have been different in some respects. Now, from the Quran it appears that only a few of them were also political rulers. Most were not, and focused only on peaceful persuasion or dawat. God gave the Prophet Muhammad the opportunity to establish a polity, but Jesus did not, so, would this mean that Jesus should be regarded as having failed in his mission? Obviously no. No Muslim would ever say or think so.
So, I would repeat, contrary to what people like Maududi have claimed, the final culmination of Islamic dawat does not have to necessarily be the establishment of a religious polity. The establishment of Islam does not depend on such a state.

Q: Some have argued that the notion of Islam as a total system of life (nizam-e hayat), including the concept of an ‘Islamic state’, is a modern invention, the product of people like Maududi, Qutb and the like, and not an integral part of Islamic tradition. What is your own view?
A: The notion of an Islamic system or order is definitely part of Islamic tradition, although not in the same stark, radical way as it is presented by people like Maududi who have a totalitarian understanding of Islam and who believe that Islam is incomplete without a state to enforce the shariah. Maududi made the Islamic state as the real basis of his version of Islam, but this is something quite different from the traditional approach. It is absent in traditional Islamic thought, which does not countenance the notion that Islam and what Maududi termed as the nizam-e islam are virtually synonymous. Traditional thinkers saw Islam as a religion, a basis for morality, a relationship between the individual believer and God, and as a means for success in the hereafter. They also believed that Islamic teachings must influence and shape society and governance, but they did not equate this with the notion of an Islamic state in the way Maududi developed it. In contrast to the ulema, Maududi based his entire understanding of Islam on the notion of the state as the pivot, and he sought to interpret Islam solely in a political framework.

Q: Maududi argued that Islam calls upon Muslims to work for establishing its supremacy (ghalba) over other religions and political systems. This, he claimed, was an exhortation to struggle for the establishment of an ‘Islamic state’. How do you relate to this argument?
A: The Quran refers to the ghalba of Islam, but many traditional ulema understand this to mean the establishment of the ideological supremacy of Islam through offering proofs (dala‘il). People like Maududi have, however, taken it to mean the political supremacy of Islam. Naturally, this has created major problems, as evidenced by the violence that numerous radical Islamist groups have unleashed in the name of struggling for establishing the ghalba of Islam.

I think Maududi and others who saw Islam in this fashion were a product of their times, and were reacting to the fact of Western colonialism, which had reduced almost the whole of the Muslim world to European control. What they wanted to argue was that it was not enough if Muslims were allowed to pray or fast or build mosques by the colonial rulers. If they had said that Muslims, not Europeans, should rule their lands, it would have been understandable. However, they instead made the contentious claim that Islam should rule. They saw the state as an end in itself, rather than as a means. This was in contrast to the ulema’s position. Hence, it is not surprising that, for instance, the majority of the Indian ulema opposed Maududi and his understanding of Islam. Even now the Jamaat-e Islami, the outfit established by Maududi, does not have much support among the traditional ulema of South Asia. In the years leading up to the Partition of India, the Deobandi ulema, who are commonly thought of as the most ultra-conservative, consistently opposed Maududi’s ‘Islamic state’ demand, as well as the Pakistan scheme of the Muslim League, and demanded a united India where Hindus and Muslims, who it considered to be members of the same qaum or nation, would have equal rights. This, it based on the model of the Mithaq-e Medina, the Treaty of Medina between the Prophet and the various Muslim and non-Muslim tribes of the town. So, it is important to note the opposition of numerous traditional ulema to the political project of radical Islamists, something that is unfortunately not widely known or recognized.
Another point that many traditional ulema have made with regard to radical Islamists is that the latter have, by seeking to reduce Islam to a political ideology, ironically sought to secularise it, in the sense of making it an instrument of worldly power. The Islamist vision of Islam, they claim, is drained of true spirituality, and appears like any worldly ideology, an alternative to, say, capitalism or socialism or nationalism or whatever.

Q: Do you see any shifts emerging within Islamist movements in their approach to capture of state power, their attitudes to democracy and secularism and to relations with people of other faiths?
A: I think religious worldviews of people are often shaped by social and political contexts and conditions. So, as I said, colonialism provided the context and conditions for radical Islamism to emerge as a means to seek to challenge it. Likewise, today the demands of living as a marginalised minority in religiously plural India has forced the Jamaat-e Islami to make a major departure from Maududi’s rigidly doctrinaire thinking. Maududi was vehemently opposed to democracy and secularism, branding them as wholly un-Islamic. But now in India the Jamaat is planning to launch its own political party, which would function under the Indian Constitution, and which would naturally have to accept the Constitution’s secular and democratic character. The Jamaat has realized that, given the context in India, there is no feasible alternative to this. So, it is the force of circumstance and the feasibility or otherwise of something that forces such changes, which then get translated into modifications in ideology, and then all sort of arguments are sought to be marshaled to seek to ‘prove’ the new position as ‘Islamic’, and the previous position as ‘mistaken’. The same thing happened with Maududi himself. To begin with, he denounced the Pakistan plan as ‘un-Islamic’, but no sooner was Pakistan created than he migrated there. He consistently opposed the notion of women in politics, but, when he felt he had no alternative, he openly supported Jinnah’s sister, Fatima, as presidential candidate.

So, yes, I would say, force of circumstances is making several radical Islamists reconsider their approach to politics. In many countries, including in the Arab world, Islamist groups have witnessed fierce repression, and, despite decades of struggle, are no closer to achieving their dream of an ‘Islamic state’. In fact, they find that the ground is slipping further from under their feet in many places. Many of them are now realizing that violence does not pay, and, from their point of view, is even counter-productive. As a result, many are now convinced that the Islamic state that they aspire to create cannot come about by force—that it cannot be imposed, and that to attempt to do this is totally unrealistic. Rather, they are now realizing, it can only happen through democratic means, through peaceful persuasion which leads to the people themselves wanting it.
This sort of change in approach has taken place in some Islamist circles as a result of the experience of Islamist groups in the last few years. It has to do with the realization that holding on to a certain ideology is one thing, but that if it is too utopian its implementation is quite another matter, and then this leads to ideological modification. And so you see moves in some Islamist circles that suggest a reappraisal of standard Islamist approaches to crucial political issues.
For instance, the head of the Egyptian Ikhwan ul-Muslimun recently went on record as saying that Christian Copts must have the same political rights as Muslims. Some Islamists are now willing to consider a woman as head of state. Rashid Ghanouchi, the Tunisian Islamist leader, now talks about the pressing need for Islamists to dialogue with people of other faiths, to work with them for issues of common concern, to value pluralism and to adopt a secular, democratic, humane approach, insisting that this is not at all un-Islamic. Of late a number of books have appeared in the Arab world dealing with what is called Marajat, or turning away by former radical Islamists from what they now consider to have been a deviant, terror-driven interpretation of Islam.
Q: In today’s context, when the nation-state itself is being questioned, and when the centre of power has shifted from the nation-state to international bodies, multinational corporations, the media, etc. how do you think Islamic political thought, which has hitherto been obsessed with the state and the capture of state power, should respond?
A: I think Muslim groups should give much more focus to issues such as the economy, education, media and interaction with civil society. These are major centres of power and influence. No community can progress if it is weak in terms of economics, education and media presence. Because Muslims, not just in India, but globally as well, lag behind others in these spheres, their marginalization is hardly surprising. And, being marginalized, it is not likely that others will bother to listen to them. Even from the point of view of Islamic dawat, Muslim empowerment in these sectors is crucial. This must get much more attention from Muslim community organizations than it has so far. One often hears Muslims lament about how backward we are in these spheres, and all sorts of conspiracy theories purporting to explain this do the rounds, but, sadly, few Muslim leaders are willing to do anything practical to address these issues in a positive and constructive way.
This, of course, is related to revisiting our understanding of what ‘Islamic awakening’ means. There is this very warped understanding, especially in Islamist circles, that it is synonymous with political activism for establishing an ‘Islamic state’ or simply greater commitment to Islamic rituals and laws. I disagree. I think Islamic awakening must also be thought of in terms of working to strengthen Muslims in such spheres as the media, education and economics, because only thereby can they have greater voice and influence and be able to put across their message and views more effectively and also be able to engage in Islamic dawat. After all, is not that the secret of the success of the Jews, who, despite being such a numerically small community, are so powerful at the international level because of their strong presence in the Western media, economy and educational institutions?
Sadly, though, I do not see Islamist movements making any major shift in their approach to the capture of state power, although, as I said, some of them are now advocating democratic, as opposed to violent, means for the purpose. I do not see them giving more stress to strengthening their presence in the non-political spheres, the new nodes of power. They have not realised that this can also be a major means for Islamic dawat. They still tend to cling to the notion of the capture of political power as the solution, and obviously here it is not simply loyalty to traditional thought that is involved but also, in many cases, a host of vested interests.
One must also add that working to strengthen the Muslim presence in the media, economy and education requires serious planning, organization and rational thinking, but, sadly, we Muslims are easily swayed by emotionalism, by emotional slogans about Islam, and are just not prepared to do any serious thinking and work. Many Muslims simply don’t want to learn from others, because of a misplaced sense of superiority and also intellectual lethargy, although the Prophet clearly said that wisdom should be accepted no matter where it is found.
There is another issue that I want to touch upon here. Experiments by radicals to impose an Islamic state by force have failed throughout the world, and these efforts have often been opposed by the people in whose names these states were set up, because they soon turned totalitarian and even fascistic. This shows the failure of the top-down approach to Islamisation and the Islamic state, through capture of state power. As I suggested earlier, this approach reflects a deep-rooted notion in traditional Muslim political thought and modern Islamism. This belief in the primacy of the state and of its capture needs to be urgently reconsidered, because the sort of change that Islam demands is possible not only through political power, but through other means, such as peaceful dawat, working together in solidarity with non-Muslims for common aims and empowering Muslims in the fields of economics, education and the media. The failed experiments at seeking to impose Islamic states by force, as in Iran and Afghanistan, should makes us realise that the nurturing of truly moral and Islamic individuals, rather than the state, should be the principal focus of Islamic movements. And in this the activists of these movements should not be like militia men, as radical Islamists conceive themselves to be, but guides, social reformers and missionaries of love and mercy, inviting people to God’s path through peaceful means. This is precisely what the Prophet Muhammad himself did.
Sadly, radical Islamists do precisely the opposite of this. So, for instance, Maududi, the founder of the Jamaat-e Islami, once proudly declared that his movement was like a train, whose passengers were forced to go to the destination decided by the driver, although many of them might have wanted to go elsewhere. This forcing of people to agree to live under what is proclaimed as an Islamic state, which is so characteristic of the attitude of radical Islamists, is not at all in accordance with Islam. It breeds hypocrisy and violates the Quranic dictum that there should be no compulsion in religion. It is also totally counter-productive. Seeking to force Muslims and others to accept and live under the state that the radical Islamists want to impose on them just cannot work for too long if the people themselves do not want it. That is why many Iranians are now vehemently opposed to the mullah regime in their country and many Afghans to the Taliban.
Q: To come back to the issue of Muslim historiography, the history of Muslims after the Prophet also tends to take the form of political history, being a narration of the military exploits and successes of various Muslim kings. What do you have to say about this?
A: I suppose this is a universal phenomenon, and not one peculiar to Muslims alone. Although Islam is a democratic religion, and hence Muslim historiography ought to have been much more egalitarian, it has not generally been the case. One factor for this is the influence of pre-Islamic Iranian monarchical traditions, which the Arab conquerors soon absorbed. Muslim rulers employed historians to pen treatises to sing and exaggerate their praises, and in that stern feudal age the masses naturally got little or no attention in history-writing.
Today’s context is vastly different, and so we need a new way of understanding and presenting Muslim history. If traditional Muslim historiography was triumphalist, chauvinist and stressed Muslim supremacy over others, this was a result of the general social climate of those times. The same was true in the case of other communities in those days. Things have changed now, and we need to understand and present our religion, tradition and history in the context of the demands of the plural society in which we live. We need to shed the communal approach to writing our history. We also need to move away from the obsession with the history of Muslim political and religious elites and retrieve and highlight the histories of ‘ordinary’ Muslim people, whom our historians have cruelly ignored. Work in this direction has begun in some Arab countries. Unfortunately, this has not been attempted in ulema circles in India, one reason being that our ulema do not have access to new forms of history writing coming out from elsewhere because their English and Arabic language skills continue to be very limited.

Q: What sort of mind-set do you think develops as a result of the way Islamic or Muslim history is presented, as mainly a series of military conquests directed by Muslim rulers against non-Muslims?
A: I think it has seriously negative consequences for how people imagine what Islam is, what Islam demands of its followers and how Muslims should relate to people of other faiths. It makes Muslims think that non-Muslims are enemies who should be opposed, through military means if need be. It rules out the possibility for good and harmonious relations with non-Muslims, which is really indispensable in our day and age. It also tends to overlook the Islamic imperative of dawat or peacefully inviting others to God’s path, which is the fundamental duty of a true Muslim.
Since the history of Islam or of Muslims comes to be seen essentially as the story of a series of wars between Muslims and others, the misleading impression is definitely created that Islam demands constant physical confrontation with non-Muslims, that the principal aim of Muslims must be to capture political power and so on, which, in my view, represents a gross distortion of what Islam really stands for. And because of the way our history is written, the stress that Islam gives to peaceful relations with people of other faiths, to the fundamental duty of Muslims to peacefully dialogue and communicate with others and to think and work for the welfare of the whole of humankind, and not just Muslims alone, is completely shut aside.
Unfortunately, there is also a stifling defensiveness about many of the negative aspects of Muslim history, which most Muslims are still unwilling to admit, leave alone confront. They see the whole of Muslim history as somehow something to be ardently defended, ignoring the fact that, after the short period of the Prophet and a few decades thereafter, there was no truly Islamic polity and society in existence, with the onset of monarchy and despotism, which gave rise to all sorts of distorted interpretations and versions of Islam. It is wrong to consider this latter part of our history as sacrosanct, as something to be defended as ‘Islamic’. We have to admit that many of our rulers, for instance, including several of those who claimed to be champions of Islam, were bloody tyrants. We have to critique them if they strayed from Islamic teachings—for instance if they oppressed non-Muslims or destroyed their places of worship, which Islam does not allow for, even though in taking some of these actions they were instigated by worldly-minded ulema in order to please them. We have to look at our historical heritage critically, and critique un-Islamic actions that may also have been done by Muslims in the name of Islam. Unfortunately, we shy away from all this that is indefensible from the Islamic point of view. Moreover, we tend to glorify and romanticize everything about the Muslim past—warts and all—as if Muslims are the epitome of virtue and non-Muslims have a monopoly of vice. We have to make a crucial distinction between Islam and Muslims, Islamic history and Muslim history, and this should be reflected in the way we approach and write our history.
Q: The only noticeable radical Islamist group in post-Partition India, the now-banned Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), is reported to have exhorted the Indian Muslims to struggle to establish an Islamic Caliphate (Khilafah) in India, and to resort to what it called armed jihad. What do you feel about this approach?
A: The SIMI’s ideological roots lie in the Jamaat-e Islami, of which it was, till some years ago, an official part. Its vision of Islam is the same as that of Maududi, whom it regards as its ideological mentor. I believe the SIMI’s approach was stupid. It was totally wrong and un-called for. Muslim political and religious leaders ought to have nipped the SIMI in the bud when it began mouthing its radical rhetoric in response to Hindu fascism. They should have discouraged it and not let it spread. But, sadly, for whatever reason, they took no action against it. And the whole thing backfired on the Muslims, making their position even more vulnerable.
However, one thing is clear. If the ban on the SIMI is lifted, I am sure that the new avatar of SIMI will not be extremist or radical. They would have learnt the hard way that their misplaced utopianism and sloganeering was not at all feasible or practicable, that it was as foolish as trying to drill a tunnel into the face of a mountain by banging one’s head against it.

I also want to say something about the concept of the Khilafah, which groups like the SIMI insist are integral to Islamic politics. They lament the abolition of the Ottoman Caliphate in 1924 by Kemal Attaturk, but little do they realize that it was hardly an Islamic form of governance. It was horribly corroded from within and so its demise was not unexpected. It was like a terminally ill patient who had suddenly been removed from his artificial supply of oxygen. These ardent advocates of the Caliphate stupidly imagine that if Attaturk had not abolished the Caliphate, it would still be there, and that, because of it, Islam would have been triumphant. This is foolish thinking.
There has been a lot of debate on whether the Caliphate, as the Sunnis traditionally understand it, is really necessary or not. Personally, I don’t think it is an article of faith for a Muslim to believe or desire that all the Muslims of the world should be governed by a single Caliph, as some radical Islamists insist. In fact, almost the whole of Muslim history is against this fallacious notion. It is not possible or realistic, nor, in my view, necessarily desirable. It is not at all feasible in today’s world of nation-states. Were this something that Islam demanded, it would go against the Quran’s assurance that God does not put any burden on us more than we can bear. So, I would say that the concept of Khilafah is not an indispensable or integral feature of Islam.
Q: Radical Islamists consider lands not under Islamic rule to be abodes of war (dar ul-harb) that must be conquered and brought under what they regard as Islamic rule. What do you feel about the notion of dar ul-harb?
A: The term dar ul-harb is not mentioned in the Quran. It was developed after the demise of the Prophet. I think this concept has lost its validity today, if ever it had any validity at all. I would like to refer here to the noted Deobandi scholar Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanavi who once remarked that the whole world should now be considered as dar ul-ahad or dar ul-mu‘ahida, the ‘abode of treaty’, because, following the setting up of the United Nations, all the countries of the world are bound together by common treaties. One could also consider the whole world to be dar ud-dawa, or an abode where Muslims must continue with their mission of peacefully communicating God’s message to everyone, Muslims and others.
Q: A final question. From an Islamic point of view, what do you think the Muslim political approach and agenda in India should be?
A: I think the Muslims of India must seek inspiration from the life of the Prophet in Mecca, where he spent the first thirteen years of his prophethood, when Muslims were a relatively small minority lacking political power—a situation analogous to that of the Indian Muslims today. We need to learn from the tolerance and patience exhibited by the Prophet at this time, despite the painful opposition that he faced, and his determination to carry on with the work of inviting people to God’s path. Despite the odds that he was confronted with, the Prophet did not resort to violence. He did not demand Muslim communal rights. His only concern was to communicate God’s message and win people’s hearts through peaceful persuasion and concern for their welfare. And that, I think, is what we Indian Muslims should also be doing. He accepted the conditions set by his foes, as at Hudaibiyah, as long as they let him carry on with the work of inviting humankind to God’s path, and did not get involved in communal controversies with them. We have a valuable lesson to learn from his noble example in this regard.