Tuesday, November 29, 2005

kerala muslim: Liberal Islam in Indonesia

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Liberal Islam in Indonesia

Lily zag Munir is a leading Indonesian Muslim human rights activist. She is the director of the Jakarta-based Centre for Pesantren and Democracy Studies that works with the ‘ulama and students of Indonesian Islamic boarding schoolsor pesantrens. In this interview speaks about her work andher vision of an Indonesian Islamic liberation theology.

Q: In recent years, particularly after the events of 11 September, 2001 and therise of numerous anti-American Islamist groups in Indonesia, there is much talkabout ‘liberal Islam’ flourishing in Indonesia. Some institutions seeking topromote ‘liberal Islam’ are now being liberally funded by certain conservativeWestern organizations, some of which are known for their close links with theAmerican administration. How do you look at the ‘liberal Islam’ project thatthese groups seek to promote?

A: I share many liberal values myself, and of course I am opposed to extremism and narrow understandings of religion. My answer to your question would be that the liberal Islam project as it is developing in Indonesia today is not a homogenous one. It is characterized by considerable diversity and hence it isdifficult to make generalizations about it.

My point is simple. If liberal Islam aims at protecting the rights of the poorand the marginalized then I welcome it. But if, as in the case of some foreignagencies that are now funding certain ‘liberal’ Islamic programmes in Indonesia,the underlying agenda is to create space for liberal free-market economics andthe exploitation of our country by multinational corporations and dampen anycritique of imperialism and neocolonialism, then I cannot agree with it. If itremains silent on the corruption of local and global elites and, instead, trainsits ire only on the Islamist extremists, as is sometimes the case, I think thisis a very one-sided approach. We have to be balanced in our critique. You cannotcriticize and oppose only the radical Islamists while ignoring the oppression ofthe elites, Western imperialism and neocolonialism and the global system ofcapitalist exploitation.

Q: So would you say that the ‘liberal Islam’ project is largely an elitistventure?

A: In some ways, yes. Funding for such projects generally comes from Westernagencies, and goes to Indonesian NGOs, which are mostly led by middle-classactivists. This is not emerging as a spontaneous movement from among themarginalized. This elitism is also reflected in many of the causes that several‘liberal Islam’ groups take up and the issues that they ignore. So, they usuallyfocus on countering extremist Islamist groups and also take up issues such asgender, pluralism and democracy. I don’t say these issues are not important. Ofcourse they are, but what is equally significant is that in the process othervital issues are, deliberately or otherwise, often left out, issues such asimperialism, unbridled capitalist exploitation, the World Bank-IMF-led form of‘development’ that is only further widening inequalities and increasing povertyin Indonesia, and the growing influence of Christian fundamentalism globally andso on. And to add to this we have this terrible cultural invasion coming in fromthe West, spreading crass consumerism and hedonism and mindlessly mimickingAmerican pop culture, in the process destroying our rich local cultures. Theseare equally major challenges as is radical Islamism, but I find few advocates of‘liberal Islam’ taking up these issues as well. When they talk of democracy, itis limited generally to procedural or formal democracy—the one person one votesystem of bourgeoise democracy—which, as we know, is not sufficient to bringabout genuine economic and social democracy and social justice. This sort offormal democracy does not really challenge the established elites and theWestern-dominated global system of exploitation. So, we need to talk aboutsubstantive democracy, democratic values such as social justice and protectionof human rights from violation not only by radical Islamists but also by thestate and by the dominant Western countries.

Another issue that I would like to draw your attention to is that some ‘liberalIslam’ groups that get funds from certain Western agencies seem to have boughtinto an elitist free-market discourse. For instance, the support given by someof them to the recent scrapping of the oil subsidy in Indonesia under WorldBank-IMF pressure that has hit the poor the most.

So, this sort of ‘liberal Islamic’ discourse that is today being very vigorouslypromoted by certain conservative, even right-wing Western agencies in Indonesia,and perhaps elsewhere, too, is carefully tailored to suit the interests of theWest and of local elites, because the poor hardly fit into their scheme ofthings. My own position is that yes, we need to be critical of Islamistextremists but we also need to simultaneously critique and oppose Westernimperialism, Christian extremism and so on.

Q: So, what you are saying is that the basic agenda behind many Western agencieswho are today sponsoring ‘liberal Islam’ projects in Indonesia is to stave offthe challenge of anti-Western Islamist groups, and not to really bring about anystructural changes?

A: Exactly. They certainly won’t sponsor any projects that might challengefree-market capitalism, multinational corporations that have such a strangleholdover the Indonesian economy or American hegemony! You won’t find them fundingprojects to critique hedonism and consumerism! Now, since it is unfortunatelydifficult for most Indonesian NGOs to get local funds, they generally rely onWestern agencies that have their own agendas. I think we really need to becareful that when taking foreign funds we don’t serve an anti-people agenda. Itreally is up to our own conscience how we use the money. There is always thedanger that idealistic youth who really want to change the system and dosomething concrete for the poor might get co-opted, with access to foreignfunds, trips abroad and foreign jaunts organized by NGOs funded by Westernagencies. And once that happens it is rare for them to speak out against thestructures that generate poverty and exploitation and the domination of localand global elites.

Q: In the writings and activities of certain Western-funded ‘liberal Islamic’groups in Indonesia Islamist radicalism is seen simply as an ideological‘deviation’ whose genesis is located in ‘deviant’ interpretations of Islam,rather than in concrete social structures. Do you agree?

A: Yes, I agree with you to a large extent. The issue of Islamist radicalism isoften seen in a sociological vacuum, as if it comes out of nowhere. The fact,however, is that Islamist radicalism cannot be understood without situating itin the context of the broader political economy, and as resulting from certainlocal and global social, economic, cultural and political structures andprocesses of domination and exclusion. There can be no smoke without fire. So,unless these structures and processes are tackled, how can you expect radicalismto disappear? Focusing only on the phenomenon of radicalism and ignoring itsunderlying structural causes will only exacerbate the problem and delay andfurther complicate its solution. Of course, dominant elites, both in Indonesiaand in the West, do not want to recognize this as they themselves are deeplyimplicated in these structures that give rise to the phenomenon of radicalism asa reaction or response, and that is why you will find that many among them wouldinsist that Islamist radicalism is a result simply a deviant understanding ofIslam and that it has nothing to do with exploitation, predatory capitalism,western consumerist culture, or imperialism and so on. And then one must alsoremember that extremism and terrorism are not easily defined, and it all dependson who does the defining and why. So, one must ask, how and why does SaddamHussain come to be defined as a ‘terrorist’, while America’s brutal invasion ofIraq and Afghanistan (where I just spent six months), which has resulted in thedeaths of tens of thousands of innocent people, does not qualify to be called anact of terror?

Q: Being associated with several socially engaged Muslim groups in Indonesia howdo you look at the question of interfaith relations?

A: My own understanding of Islam leads me to believe in the necessity ofpromoting interfaith dialogue and harmony. Several moderate Islamic groups inthe country are actively involved in trying to promote better relations betweenMuslims and people of other faiths. Often, interfaith dialogue work takes theform of religious leaders meeting with each other and discussing theirrespective faiths and trying to discover their commonalities. Now, while that isimportant, I think the interfaith agenda needs to be broadened, so that peopleof different faiths, inspired by their own religions, can work together forcommon social goals, such as for social justice for all, or critiquing all formsof religious extremism or struggling together against the exploitation of localand global elites.

Unfortunately, for some Muslims—and the same can be said in the case of othercommunities as well—religious identity is sought to be constructed in oppositionto or even on the basis of hatred for the religious ‘other’. I think this is avery wrong and un-Islamic approach. In this regard I would like to mention thevery different position adopted by a leading Indonesian scholar, the late Kiai‘Abdullah Siddiq, who used to talk of three levels of ‘brotherhood’ or ukhuwwah:ukhuwwah islamiya or Islamic brotherhood, ukhuwwah wataniya, brotherhood basedon common nation, and ukhuwwa bashariya or brotherhood based on the fact ofbeing creatures of God, which includes both Muslims as well as all others. So,what he stressed was a consciousness of being fellow creatures of God despiteour different religions. This is related to the Qur’anic statement that God hascreated us into different nations so that we can know each other and that thebest among us is he or she who does good and devotes himself or herself to God.And what happens when, as the Qur’an exhorts, we begin to know each other? Webegin to shed our hatreds, which then turn into mutual appreciation and love.And if you don’t get to know each other, then you go the Taliban or the Zionistway and begin to hate each other, which is against God’s Will.

This understanding of interfaith relations requires a fundamental transformationin the way in which we understand our own religions. Unfortunately, many of usunderstand them simply as a bundle of rituals and doctrines and make anunwarranted rigid distinction between the ‘religious’ and the ‘mundane’, as ifthe two were opposed to each other. While rituals and doctrines are undoubtedlyimportant, equally so is the ethical imperative that the different religionscontain of struggling for social justice, and eliminating poverty and suffering.These are important not only in themselves, but also for a proper religiouslife. If you are materially secure you can be at peace with God and with otherhuman beings. So that is why I think religious activists must also work forsatisfying people’s basic needs. This is why Muslims generally pray to Godasking Him to bless them in this world as well as in the Hereafter.

Q: In contrast to my own country, India, I find Indonesian Islamic scholars farmore willing to relate Islam to modern concerns. I think the Indonesian case hasno parallels elsewhere in the Muslim world. What do you feel?

A: Yes, I would agree, albeit with some qualifications. Today, we have a growingnumber of Islamic intellectuals as well as traditionally-trained ‘ulama who areseriously discussing a range of contemporary issues, from gender justice andreligious pluralism to democracy and extremism. You also have some scholars whoare talking about ‘social fiqh’, offering new perspectives on a range of socialissues, such as education, women’s rights politics and economics that go beyondthe understanding of Islam as being limited simply to rituals. However, I mustadmit that only a few of them have any awareness of political economy, of issuessuch as global capitalism and imperialism or the politics of culture orconsumerism. Also missing is a sufficiently grounded critique of the state andthe international system. Many of our scholars continue in the sametraditionalist mould. So, for instance, they would answer that the solution toour economic woes is simply by instituting the zakat levy or by banninginterest, although obviously that is hardly sufficient to mend the ills of theglobal economy.

Another problem is that in recent years many ‘ulama, including from theorganization with which I am associated, the Nahdlatul ‘Ulama, the largestIslamic organization in the world, have taken to politics. I am not saying thatthis is bad per se, because with political power you can influence politicaldecisions, but there is always the danger of getting cut off from the concernsof the masses. Instead of caring for the poor or doing serious intellectual workthey are looking out for political positions. And, to make matters worse, youhave ‘ulama who have been co-opted by the system, who love their big cars andhouses, who buy into the logic of consumerist capitalism, and have no criticalperspective on it. So all that also severely impacts on the level ofcontemporary Islamic discourse in Indonesia.

Q: Some Indonesian scholars have also made interesting contributions to theongoing debates on the status of Muslim women. What are your views on this?

A: Yes, a number of our ‘ulama have taken up this issue and have made someinteresting developments in the direction of gender justice, although manyremain wedded to the patriarchal notions. My own position, as an advocate ofgender justice, is that what we should be seeking is substantive, as opposed tosimply formal, equality. So, let men lead the prayers in the mosques, but letwomen’s role in shaping the family be recognized. I am not concerned with theform of family leadership but its substance. So, today, we have a number offamilies whose principal bread-earner is the woman, and so, some argue thatlogically she should be regarded as the head or at least the co-head of thefamily, because, they say, male leadership is conditional on providing for thefamily and is not categorical. I support this stance, and this demand was putforward to the Ministry of Religious Affairs, which, however, struck it down.

While we are today witnessing the emergence of new and more progressiveunderstandings of Islam on the gender question we still have to contend with thechallenge of patriarchal notions that are sought to be given an ‘Islamic’ guisein the name of revival of tradition, as exemplified, for instance, in the agendaof the radical Islamist groups. For them, the hijab becomes a symbol of Islam,not men’s beards, so they demand that women don the hijab while they remainsilent on men wearing jeans and T-shirts, not seeing this as threatening Islam.I myself wear the hijab, but I resent the way in which some Muslim groups reduceit simply into a meaningless symbol. For instance, there was this governmentofficial who issued an ordinance that women in his town had to wear hijab andlater organized a ‘Muslimah Fashion Show’, with hijab-clad women parading on theramp. Or, for instance, this other government official who imposed hijab on allMuslim women in his area, and whose wife, who usually wore fancy Western clotheswhen traveling outside, went around distributing hijabs to poor women. This manwas later arrested for massive corruption! And you also have the development ofa fashion industry centred on the hijab that caters to the elites, with fancyand exorbitantly priced hijabs on sale in special boutiques, which really robsthe hijab of its essence as a social leveler. I think this tendency to reduceshari’ah to the hijab is really pathetic. This obsession with the form, asdistinct from the spirit, of the shari’ah often ends up missing out on basicissues of economic and social justice.

A contemporary understanding of the Qur’an and the shari’ah would entailfocusing on their underlying spirit rather than simply going by their letteralone. Using this approach one could argue for changes in certain laws relatedto what is called the mu’amilat or social transactions, though, of course, therecan be no change in religious rituals (‘ibadat). So, for instance, someIndonesian feminist Islamic scholars believe that women and men should haveequal inheritance rights. They recognize that the Qur’an prescribes fordaughters half the share of sons, but they argue that this law has to be seen inthe context of seventh century Arabia, when not many women engaged in economicactivities outside the home and when men were the principal bread-earners. Bygiving them a share of the inheritance the Qur’an sought to provide women withjustice. That means the underlying intention of the inheritance rules must bejustice, and today, if we are to do justice to women they should get the sameshare as men, because many women now work outside the home and contribute to thehousehold expenses. This means that by sticking to the letter of the Qur’an andignoring its underlying spirit we may not be able to fulfill the intention ofthe Qur’an, which is justice. This calls for

Another startling difference between Indonesia and many other Muslim countriesis that here you will find women working in almost every sector of the economy,including even hijab –clad women. The majority of the Indonesian ‘ulama allowfor this, even in cases where unrelated women and men work together, providedthey maintain their modesty. This is not a problem at all for most of them,unlike in some other Muslim countries.

Q: How do you see the demand being made by radical Islamist groups in Indonesiatoday that Indonesia should be declared a formal Islamic state and be ruledaccording to the shari’ah?

A: It really depends on what one means by the shari’ah. Many people think ofshari’ah as cutting off the hands of thieves or forcing women to veil and men togrow their beards. Now, that is a mechanical, literalist and textual approach toshari’ah, which does not take into account local context. How can you cut offthe hands of people who steal because of poverty when you have not fulfilled theIslamic mandate of eradicating poverty and establishing social justice? Thissort of approach will only alienate people from Islam. I have seen this inAfghanistan, from where I have just returned, where the Taliban, in theirmisplaced zeal, banned girls from school, killed scores of Shi’as, outlawedchess and kite-flying, all because of their rigid approach to traditional fiqh,with little or no appreciation for the underlying spirit of the Qur’an, whichteaches love, compassion and social justice. By focusing only on the externalsymbols of the shari’ah, the extremists miss out on its spirit, including one ofits basic concerns, social justice.

I think when many people say they want shari’ah rule what they mean is that theywant an alternative to the present corrupt and sternly hierarchical andiniquitous order. They may not necessarily also support all the laws that areassociated with the historical shari’ah. This is why I think we need to make adistinction between shari’ah, as divine path, and the historical shari’ah orfiqh, including laws developed by the ‘ulama over time, many of which are humanproducts and amenable to change according to changing contexts. For this wereally need a contextual understanding of the Qur’an, so that we can developmore appropriate ways of implementing its underlying value system, which maydepart in some significant respects from traditional notions, such as on women’srights or inter-community relations.

That said, I must also say that I understand some of the reasons that lead somepeople to radicalism, although that does not mean I condone it. They rightly seegrowing social inequalities, unemployment, Western cultural invasion and so onas menacing threats, but they resort to violent means to end these, while Ibelieve these should be countered through generating mass awareness, throughdemonstrations or through the media. It is, however, important not to exaggeratethe strength of radical Islamist groups in Indonesia, as some Western reportersdo. In actual fact, as the election results show, they do not command thesupport of more than a very small minority of Indonesians.

Q: The literalist and traditionalist understandings of fiqh that you talk aboutwere developed in the Middle East, in a very different cultural context. Do youthink it is possible to develop new ways of understanding fiqh suited to theIndonesian cultural context?

A: Certainly. Islam is a universal religion and is not an Arab religion, andhence its appeal transcends a particular culture. Unfortunately, some ‘ulamatend to conflate Islam with Arab culture, which is wrong. We need to distinguishIslam, as a religion of surrender to God and social justice with a universalappeal and message, from Arab culture. To be a Muslim one does not have toblindly adopt every aspect of Arab culture. I see no harm in adopting oradapting to local cultures provided they do not go against any Islamic beliefs.And this is precisely what the first Sufis who came to Indonesia sought to do.

I think it is important for progressive Muslims to enter the shari’ah debate andnot allow extremists to monopolise it. We need to expand our understanding ofthe shari’ah from mere symbol to substance, from the letter of the law to itsunderlying aims or what is called in Arabic the maqasid-i shari’ah, whichinclude such fundamental issues as equality and social justice and strugglingagainst oppression and injustice. We need to think of ways of incorporating thequestion of social and economic justice into contemporary shari’ah-baseddiscourses. This draws inspiration from the central notion of Islam of tauhid orthe oneness of God, which suggests that only Allah is the Master, and that noone else can be your master. This calls for a tauhidi society, a society wherethere is social and economic equality. Islamic equality is meant not just in themosque, but in the economic, social and political realms as well, which means aburning concern for the rights of all of God’s creatures, men and women, Muslimsand non-Muslims. This understanding of Islam then helps lead you on to immerseyourself in the struggle for social justice, and you begin to question theritualistic understandings of Islam that many of us have. You now begin to askhow is it that Indonesia, which is the largest Muslim country in the world, isalso among the most corrupt, when corruption is definitely un-Islamic? Or, then,you begin to ask, how is it that economic inequalities in Indonesia are one ofthe most extreme in the world, when Islam preaches social equality? In otherwords, what we need today is an Islamic theology of liberation that is sensitiveto the context of contemporary Indonesia.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

communal politics climax and down fall

By Asghar Ali Engineer
Communal politics, being highly emotional, is heady and creates strong illusion of success. Those who indulge in communal politics create emotional hysteria among their followers. However, every observer of such politics knows that such hysteria does not last long and disappears as quickly as it creates such hysteria. It is like strong heady wine. We in India have had many experiences such emotional politics.
The best example is that of partition hysteria. The Muslim League had no concrete programme of action. It had one point programme: creation of Pakistan. The direct action day resulted in massacre of thousands of people. Well, Pakistan did come into existence at the cost of one million lives and it could never become a democracy, let alone a stable democracy. And soon Muslim League disappeared from the scene, a Party which created a country did not survive longer than a decade. Even when it was revived later during Zia-ul-Haq's time it could not capture the imagination of the people. It remained almost a dead horse. It was Pakistan People's Party (PPP) which became very popular in late sixties and early seventies.
Pakistan was also a heady wine for a section of Muslims in pre-independence India. But it did not bring any concrete benefit to Muslim masses. Only the elite benifted. It is important to note that though communal hysteria is created in the masses but it benefits politically and economically only the elite of the community. The masses are ultimately left high and dry. Masses are made to believe that the movement is for them and they often sacrifice their lives under that illusion. After the hysteria they realise that they were used as an instrument.
When I was investigating the Ahmedabad riots of 1981, which deeply affected the dalits too, some dalit leaders told me that now we have understood the game of the BJP and they use us as instruments for their politics. Now we will refuse to become their hatha (instrument) and kill Muslims. But communal politics is quite heady and these poor dalits again became their instrument in 1992 and 2002.
The late eighties saw communal politics at its height in India. The BJP which had adopted sober programme in 1980 (of secularism and Gandhian socialism) lost 1984 elections very badly and could get as less as two seats in Parliament. Then the BJP began to play communal game with a vengeance and by 1990 created a hysteria among the Hindu masses (especially the OBCs and Dalits) on the issue of Ram temple. The slogan mandir wahin banaenge (we will construct Ram temple there only i.e. at the site of Babri Masjid) successfully created mass hysteria along the Hindus and a sense of great insecurity among Muslims.
The BJP began to touch new heights, especially in the Hindi heartland in 1990 when L.K.Advani took out Rath Yatra for arousing mass hysteria among the Hindus. Many secularists had then pointed out that the Rath Yatra was undertaken to counter the promulgation of the implementation of Mandal Commission as its implementation had created great enthusiasm among the lower caste Hindus and they were going to lend massive support to Mr. V.P. Singh, the then Prime Minister and the BJP wanted to win over these low caste Hindus. The BJP had no economic or welfare programme for them which V.P. Singh had so it played the mandir card to create mass hysteria among them.
You need an 'other' and particularly a 'religious other' against whom such a hysteria can be created. For Muslim League it was the Hindu and for the BJP the Muslim. Muslims were transformed into an enemy, which need to be attacked. Muslims were projected as descendents of Babar who was an invader and so the slogan babar ki aulad jao Pakistan aur Qabrastan (O! children of Babar go to Pakistan or to qabrastan). Muslims could be easily targeted as there is long history behind that and so it was easy to create a mass hysteria against them.
Mr. L.K. Advani became an instant hero and wherever he went during his rath yatra he attracted large number of people. And not only Advani but also other leaders like Sadhvi Rithambara and Uma Bharti who became star attraction as they spewed poison against Muslims and Rithambara did in even sexually suggestive language. Also, there was back ground to it. The people of India were tired of long Congress role and the Congress leaders became synonymous with corruption and Mr. Advani and others projected the Congress as a "party with a difference", a clean party which could provide alternative to the Congress misrule. And Muslims were projected as the "pampered minority and responsible for keeping the Congress in power.
Thus Muslims could be doubly targeted in creating a mass hysteria. They were children of those who demolished their temples, particularly the Ram temple at Ayodhya and those who were responsible for keeping the corrupt Congress in power. The BJP thus came to power though with the help of other 'secular' allies. And now mass hysteria began to recede as it happened in the case of Muslim League in Pakistan.
Now the BJP had to face hard realities of ruling over the country. Neither it could do anything for constructing the temple nor it could maintain its party with a difference" which it had so assiduously projected. The mass hysteria was over and hard realities were staring in its face. Also being in coalition it had to follow the coalition dharma (coalition religion) and it could not afford to antagonise its 'secular' partners. Thus it could neither satisfy its extremist friends among Hindutvawadis, nor could it satisfy its secular friends and supporters. It could not deliver on any front.
Sometimes it had to boost up its extremist image and some times its moderate one. The extremists became more extremists creating un-resolvable dilemmas. The VHP wanted temple to be constructed and BJP would not only loose its other allies but would also defy constitutional provisions by defying law courts, if it at all tried to construct the Ram Temple. Caught in this dilemma the BJP fast lost its image even as a Hindutva party, let alone a party with clean image. The media exposed several scandals of corruption.
The communal forces succeed in raising such mass hysteria but soon get thoroughly discredited and no amount of efforts can revive them. The people feel cheated by them and they loose all support and even begun to disintegrate. The BJP is facing similar dilemma today. Mr. Advani, who was the main architect of BJP's image building is being asked to quit his job as the President of that party. His exit is really disgraceful for him. The RSS and VHP hotheads are extracting their pound of flesh. Advani's remarks about Jinnah's secularism can hardly be swallowed by extremists. They do not think; they only believe in some dogmas and for them Jinnah is a villain in toto and cannot be thought of otherwise. But that is not the only reason for Advani's exit. But the Jinnah controversy provided an excuse which the Sangh Parivar was looking for.
Mr. Narendra Modi's fate is no different either. He also used the technique of mass hysteria to win the Gujarat assembly elections with two-third majority. The whole Sangh Parivar celebrated his victory and Modi began to be projected as a role model for entire Parivar. The young leaders of Sangh Parivar even said that we have found a model for winning elections (i.e. massacre minorities, create hysteria and win elections) and we will use this model to win elections in other states.
But soon they were in for a shock. Let alone others Narendra Modi began to loose his following among his own Party members. The mass hysteria soon evaporated and Narendra Modi's dictatorial ways alienated his followers. The dissidents from his party are now demanding his resignation or removal from the chief ministership of Gujarat. His communal oratorical skills are of no help to him. So far he has been protected by Shri L.K.Advani but now Mr. Advani himself is in serious trouble.
Thus from great hero Modi is fast sliding towards political oblivion. People like Advani or Narendra Modi have nothing to be proud of nor will they ever be remembered for any positive contribution towards greatness of India. If anything they will be remembered for causing deaths of hundreds of innocent people through their provocative speeches. Even Shri A.B. Vajpayee is not likely to go down in history as a sober statesman though he aspires to be one. He failed to show courage of conviction to take action against Narendra Modi when he was provoking carnage against minorities.
The fate of Shiv Sena, another communal outfit from Maharashtra is no different. It once proudly claimed to be the only genuine Hindutvawadi party and Bal Thackeray even claimed publicly that his boys struck first blow at Babri Masjid. Today Shiv Sena is in deep trouble. It also came to power by trashing minorities and was responsible for Mumbai riots of 1992-93 which had, like the Gujarat riots of 2002, had shaken the conscience of the whole nation.
Bal Thackeray's hold on the Marathi people has been seriously weakened. His followers whom he took great pride in, are deserting him. It is a sinking ship now. Its vote base is being fast eroded. It may soon find itself on the margins of Maharashtra politics. Its strong holds are crumbling.
Thus it will be seen that no political party can survive on communal fare for long. Like a heady wine it goes up fast but then declines even faster. Such parties do not have any base or even ideals to claim people's support. Hate politics has serious limitations.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The religious leaders in Kerala in the latter part of 19th century and early in this century were different from those of the previous periods. The emphasis in the ritualistic aspect of the religion and hatred of all that was western which was common during the 19th century made the Muslims an inward looking community. The effort to make the community outward looking came from the leadership of Sannaullah Makti Thangal (1847 1912) and Vakkom Abdul Khadir Moulavi (1873-1932). Makti Thangal was born in 1847. His father was a disciple of Umar Qazi. Makti Thangal joined the British administration as an excise inspector but resigned in 1882 to devote full time and energy for the uplift of the community. His main effort was to resist the Christian offensive for conversion. At the same time he wanted to make the community aware of the problems in a changing world situation. He advocated education of girls, and deplored the reluctance of the community to learn Malayalam and English. He wanted the socioeconomic problems of the community to be looked at in the modern way without minimizing the religious aspects.
Vakkom Abdul Khadir Moulavi followed the same trend from the beginning of this century. He emphasized the religious and socioeconomic aspects much more than the ritualistic aspects of religion. He also emphasized the need for modern education, education of women and drawing upon the western sources. He campaigned for modern education. Moulavi Sahib was very much influenced by Mohammed Abdu of Egypt and his reform movement Following the footsteps of Mohammed Abdu, Moulavi Sahib started journals in Arabi Malayalam and in Malayalam. In 1905 Mohammed Abdu' s paper was prevented from publication. At about the same time Vakkom Abdul Khadir Moulavi started a paper, 'Swadesabhimani ( Patriot) in Malayalam. He declared that `the paper will not hesitate to expose injustices to the people in any form'. Moulavi Sahib could find K. Ramakrishna Pillai as editor of the paper to champion the cause and together they fought the battle. Vakkom Moulavi tried on one side to modernize the community and to forge a link with the radical elements of Hindu community to fight against injustices and social evils of the time. The paper was banned, the press and property of Moulavi Sahib were confiscated and Ramakrishna Pillai banished from the state. The attempt was to build a joint front of Hindus and Muslims to fight social evils. The importance of a muslim starting a newspaper at the beginning of this century and naming it 'Swadesabhimani', appointing a Nair reformist as its editor and jointly struggling for social justice is not being fully understood. Our thinking even today seems to be colored by communal considerations. While Ramakrishna Pillai is honored, Vakkom Abdul Khadir Moulavi has been consigned to oblivion.

Prof. K.M. Bahauddin (From the book `Kerala Muslims' - the long struggle)

Sunday, September 18, 2005

islam in a pluralistic society

islam in apluralistic society-prominent scholor john l esposito speaks with mujeeburrahman kinalur
1.could you elaborate about the role of centre for cristian muslim understanding in making dialogue between both relegious?
The Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (CMCU) at Georgetown University was created in 1993. CMCU is dedicated to fostering a better understanding of Islam and Muslim-Christian relations. The Center’s mission is to improve relations between the Muslim world AND the West and enhance understanding of Muslim IN the West, addressing: stereotypes of Islam; warnings of a clash of civilizations; questions regarding the compatibility of Islam and modern life from democratization and pluralism, to the status of women, minorities and human rights.

The mission of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, both national and international in scope, is achieved through teaching, symposia, international conferences and briefings. Center faculty and visiting faculty offer courses on Islam and the history of Muslim-Christian Relations for undergraduate and graduate students. In addition, Center faculty members serve as consultants to government leaders, diplomats, policy makers, corporate executives and members of the media.

2.what is the result of works of the centre since it established?

CMCU realizes its mission by training the next generation of leaders from the United States, the Arab and broader Muslim World, Europe, Latin America, and Asia. CMCU faculty members also serve as consultants to government leaders, diplomats, policymakers, corporate executives and members of the media. In addition, the Center is a think-tank for the international exchange of scholars and ideas. Its four full-time faculty have published over 100 books and authored more than 500 articles. The Center’s Director, John Esposito, also edited The Oxford History of Islam and The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World. CMCU Faculty publications have been translated into major languages in Europe (Italian, German, French, Spanish), the Middle East (Arabic, Persian, and Turkish), and Asia (Japanese, Chinese, Urdu, bahasa Indonesia). In addition, CMCU co-publishes The Journal of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations.

CMCU has sponsored and participated in conferences and symposia in over 50 countries and 40 states in the United States. A sample of programs the Center has co-sponsored globally include -- The Future of Jerusalem (Jerusalem), Southeast Asian Islam (Malaysia), Reconciliation and Conflict Resolution (Lebanon), Muslim Perceptions of the West; Western Perceptions of Islam (Pakistan), Asian Islam in the 21st Century (Thailand), Power-Sharing Islam (United Kingdom) and Religion and Global Order (Wales). In addition, CMCU has established linkages with centers and institutions across the world from England and Italy to Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, and China.

Center faculty are regularly interviewed or quoted in major newspapers and magazines such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, Times Literary Supplement, Le Monde, Al-Ahram, Al-Hayat, Al Mejelle, Al- Sharq Al-Awsat, Respublika, New Straits Times, Java Post, Ummat, Asia Week, as well as TV networks including CBS, ABC, NBC, CNN, and the BBC.

3.how can define the duty of an islamic organisation in a pluralistic society?
This depends on the nature and mission of the specific organization. There are many different kinds of organizations: religious, cultural, political, social service. However, what they all share in common is the role of representing the message of Islam, its principles and values, in improving their own society and that of the ummah. Because today we all function in pluralistic societies, it becomes important for organizations, whatever their primary mission, to also foster values of pluralism and tolerance based upon mutual understanding and respect.

4.what should be methodology of islamic dawa work in a pluralistic society? what is the basic priciple of inter religious dialogue?
A basic principle is belief in an ultimate, transcendent reality, what we monotheists call God or Allah. Related principles are that God had chosen to create and to reveal or send his prophets and revelations to a world of diverse peoples, nations and faiths.
6.what is your opinion on islamic politics in a country where is muslims living as minorities,like india?

This depends on the country. But, if we were to focus on India, it could mean that Muslims are concerned about, work to promote and protect their political and social interests. But, at the same time, living in a multireligious pluralistic society and a democracy, they should also be concerned about the political life and stability of the country for all its citizens, non-Muslim and Muslim.
7.in modern global scenario,muslim extremist groups emerging for last few decades.could you agree with this statement?
I agree. Muslim extremist groups have increased and grown significantly in recent decades.
8.if you agree,what are the reasons?

The growth of religious extremism and terrorism has been due to the political, economic, and social realities and failures of many Muslim societies which have fed the growth of radical religious leaders, ideologies and organizations. Although they are a minority, they are a dangerous and deadly minority that have threatened Muslim societies from North Africa to Southeast Asia as well as the West. In recent years, this extremism has not only been a response to specific national situations but also to international situations. Thus, while some extremist groups remain confined to one country, global jihadis have also emerged like Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda but others as well
.9.there are some climes by muslim outfits that islam is fastest growing religion in states. do you agree with this statement?

Islam is one of the fastest growing religions in the world today. Whether it is first or second really depends on what country or part of the world we are talking about. In some areas it is the fastest growing and in others forms of Christianity such as Evangelical Christianity is predominant.

-- John L Esposito,University Professor & Founding DirectorCenter for Muslim-Christian Understanding

my book

Date:17/09/2002 URL: http://www.thehindu.com/thehindu/br/2002/09/17/stories/2002091700050303.htm
Biography and essays
NANDIKESASMRUTHI: Upendran; Pub. by author, Achyutanandam, Sreenivasapuram P.O. 695145. Rs. 30.
CHEKANURE — AKAVUM PURAVUM — Collection of Essays: Mujeebur Rahman Kinalur — Editor; Poonthoppee Publications, Kozhikode. Rs. 55.
INNUMERABLE ARE the papers presented and published on Sri Narayana Guru. Still researchers and connoisseurs study the Guru, his philosophy and works.
This biography on the Guru contains information that has been hitherto overlooked. Opining that his work could serve as an appendix to all the earlier studies on the saint, the author deals in depth with the life of this savant who advocated the oneness of caste, religion and God.
Containing 18 chapters, the first nine depict Sri Narayana Guru as a philosopher. The rest deal with the reminiscences of the disciples of the Guru, some of them being Dr. Pulpu, Kumaran Aasan, Swami Dharmatirtha, Swami Ernest Kirk. Copious footnotes add to the value of this book serving as a handbook for those getting a fresh insight of the Guru who was a philosopher, social reformer and educationist par excellence.
The second book contains the views on the life and death of Chekanur Moulavi as aired by several critics like Sukumar Azhicode, Zackaria, Thoppil Mohammed Meeran. Several articles and news items published in dailies and monthlies also find a place here.
The book also reflects the painstaking efforts of the editor in compiling the material for this book.

interview with m j akbar

Q: How can the OIC make itself relevant against the backdrop of what is happening in the Muslim world today?
A: The very fact that you should ask this question indicates the seriousness of the problems. There are, broadly, three major problems. First is the demonization and the misrepresentation of Islam and Muslims that is going on. It is being conducted like a choir through the media, and it must be answered — not by harangue or screaming but by rational statements and facts. It must be patiently explained until the perpetrators see the mischief for what it is. If Muslims are denigrated with what seems to be an increasingly common voice, then they must answer with a common voice.
The second problem is the political, social and economic apathy that is afflicting so much of the Muslim world. There is no common answer to this problem. Each Muslim country must find answers that emerge from its stage of development. The third problem is to understand why so many young Muslims are being tempted to acts of individual violence and terrorism. How much of it is because of wars of occupation that have been thrust upon them? How much of it is because Muslim establishments and elites have not voiced the anger that is so palpable on the Muslim street? And how much of it is because of unacceptable provocation by the likes of the Osama Bin Ladens who are consumed by an individual commitment to violence?
Before we are honest about others, we have to be honest about ourselves. The OIC must find that much-needed common voice and it must be one which is reasonable and factual. I will make some specific suggestions that can be used in debate, whether on television or across a table, because I believe that we can and must win the argument at every level since we coexist with the rest of the world. My point is: The alternative voice is not a hostile voice. The dialectic, framed largely by American neocons, has been established around a set of maxims with which anyone invited to a seminar or a TV show will be familiar.
This is as good a moment as any to note that Huntington’s basket-thesis (throw everyone into the same basket in order to paint them in a single color) did not emerge as a consequence of 9/11. It was first published as an essay in “Foreign Affairs” in the spring of 1994 - seven years before 9/11. There was no war being fought against Americans then. The only war we knew then was the First Gulf War, in which every Muslim nation of any consequence lined up beside America in order to end Saddam Hussein’s occupation of Kuwait and did so because they wanted to end the injustices perpetrated by Saddam.
Let us examine the nodal points of this dialectic. Take a favorite subject of discussion and debate, some of it well-meaning: “Islam and the West.” I was invited to one such seminar in Germany in August. The subject is utter nonsense: Islam is a faith and the West is geography. How can you compare the two? You can have a discussion on the West and West Asia, or the West and South Asia or wherever. But the text has been framed in that manner because of the subtext, in which the West represents, implicitly, all that is progressive, rational, scientific, modern and Islam signifies everything that is backward, regressive, etc., etc. The subject has thus condemned Muslims even before the discussion begins.
Similarly, Islam and Democracy. Islam is 1,400 years old, democracy only came into its own in the 20th century. Does anyone blame Christianity for the dictatorships in non-Muslim Africa? Was Pinochet a Sunni or a Shia? China has never seen a single day of democracy since Adam and Eve — is it because of Confucius? Similarly, any violence perpetrated by Muslims is quickly labeled “Islamic” but no one talks of “Christians” massacring innocents in Bosnia or Chechnya, or the “Jewish” massacres in Shatila refugee camp. But this fits with the attempt to repaint Islam as an inherently violent religion, spread by the sword — as I have pointed out in my columns, if Islam had been spread by the sword, there would be no Christians in Spain today nor would Jews have flourished during 800 years of Muslim rule on the Iberian Peninsula.
Faith is easily trivialized. Every suicide mission is sneered at as a journey to the virgins of Paradise rather than seen for what if often (though not always) is: a cry of despair. You will hear, very often: Islam has had no Renaissance. But you need a renaissance only if you have been through the dark ages. When there were no schools in England and France, there were a hundred bookshops in Baghdad. When the Mongols put Baghdad to the sword, it was said that half the Tigris was red from the blood of citizens and the other half black from the ink of books. What intellectual treasures were destroyed in that madness? But to tell the truth, we Muslims are passing through something akin to a dark age, and we need, very quickly, some renaissance out of our present despair.
Q: Where should the OIC go from here?
A: It must first accurately assess where Muslims are. All Muslims don’t live in the 21st century. Many are still in the 19th and through no fault of their own, for they have been betrayed by their leaderships. Once we know where we are, we can chalk out and estimate the distance to the first horizon.
Q: Mahathir Mohamed used to tersely exclaim “Oh, I See,” while referring to the OIC. What steps should the OIC take in order to be taken seriously by the world at large and by Muslims in particular?
A: The OIC needs to use its influence to enforce an agenda. The reason why we are in an age of despair, in my view, is because we have lost the Knowledge Edge. When Frederick I (1123-1190) came on what was called the bloodless crusade, the Ayyubid Sultan of Egypt, presented him with an astronomical clock, which opened a gate of knowledge for Europe. By the 18th century, we could not compete against the cuckoo clock. Empires were preserved, and today nations are built on the basis of technology and the sciences, including the social sciences. Why can we in Muslim nations not have great universities with the finest libraries and the best teachers from around the world paid the best salaries? Why should young men and women have to go to England or America or France for a good education? It is not a question of resources. Many Muslim nations have more than enough money needed for a fine, genuinely first-rate university. The OIC needs to make a stand against the silly sectarianism that divides Muslims — we often behave as if the interpreters of law were more important than the faith! The Prophet (peace be upon him) gave us one Islam. Muslims then divided it into sects.
Q: What does the presence of a high-profile Indian Muslim scholar, writer and prominent editor at such a prestigious world conference in the holiest of Muslim places indicate?
A: I am grateful to King Abdullah for the honor he has bestowed by inviting me. I think this is an important gesture to the second-largest bloc of Muslims in the world, after doors were shut in 1974 at Rabat. I hope I can do justice to this honor by suggesting ideas for the common good. I believe that the Makkah discussion is an opportunity for rebirth and has the potential to become a historic milestone — and this has been possible only because of King Abdullah. I have read about him, most notably the piece written by Khaled (Almaeena); and it would be no exaggeration to say that the Muslim world has suddenly begun to feel excited about new possibilities. He has been offering political leadership — you will recall his peace proposal for Israel. I believe he realizes that as Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques he has a larger domain than the Middle East, that the concerns of the Ummah have to be addressed during his leadership. The resurrection of the OIC fits into that emerging pattern.
Q: Where does India fit in?
A: The experience of Indian Muslims is very interesting, not least because they have become adept democrats and make effective use of the ballot box to redress their grievances. The answer to the evil riots in Gujarat lay not in counter violence, but in something far more powerful — the defeat of a government that had exonerated that violence.
Q: As the author of the celebrated book on jihad, “The Shade of Swords,” what steps do you think the OIC should take to stop extremists and deviants from hijacking the peaceful religion of Islam?
A: There is no short answer to this question, and newspapers always have a shortage of space. But one of the problems of Muslim intellectuals and interlocutors is that they are so often defensive about basic tenets of their faith. In other words, they have become victims of what Edward Said called “orientalism.” Jihad is a war against injustice. It is not a permanent state of war. The call for jihad has to be given by a responsible leader of a state; it cannot be given from the fringes. The Prophet never took up arms, even during years of oppression and tyranny in Makkah; it was only when he was persecuted and became responsible for the protection of believers as well as the first, and perhaps only truly Islamic state, that he took recourse to arms.
As I wrote in my book, every jihad is a war fought by Muslims, but every war fought by Muslims is not a jihad. There are specific rules for jihad, and among them is a rule that is stressed and repeated: that innocents such as women and children cannot be killed in a jihad. You cannot even destroy palm trees — in other words, no scorched-earth warfare. How do we stop deviants? The governments of Muslim states must look into their hearts and ask whether they have done enough to prevent injustice in states where war has been thrust upon Muslims. Why do Muslims dream of a Saladin? Precisely because they cannot see a leader who will stand up for them and their beliefs. Putting thousands in jail can only be a temporary answer. And yes, even that may be required. But that is not the complete answer.
Original Source: Arab News