Problems And Prospects Of Islamic Banking In India – Road Map Ahead

By H Abdur Raqeeb,

Banking institutions have emerged as very necessary for everyone, poor as well as rich. It is needed to deposit and protect the saving however meagre it may be. Poor labourers, construction workers and others migrating to the urban centres of the country from remote corners must have access to banking to transfer their earning to the families in far off places. Also several social initiatives, welfare programmes and schemes of the government both state and central do require bank accounts of those targeted – below poverty line segments – to receive money safely in their account. Also credit is provided to people through banks. All these requirements have made banking an inevitable part of life of today’s men and women.

Even after forty years, since nationalisation of the banks about 60% population do not have access to formal banking and only 5.2 % of villages have bank branches. Marginal farmers, land less labours, oral lessees, self employed and unorganised sector enterprise, ethnic minority and women, Aam Aadmi of our great country continue to form the financially excluded class. The financial exclusion of a large segment of the population has far-reaching implications for the socio-economic and educational uplift of the masses. These financially excluded classes would not hesitate in sharing a “return” on their investment but they often find it difficult to meet the demand of a pre determined return unrelated to the yield. If finance is available without the burden caused by pre-determined interest rates, it will be a welcome development for the marginalized and also especially for SME’s. Interest-free Islamic Banking can fill up this gap.

For Muslims, as per the Sachar Committee report based on census 2001 data, the percentage of household availing themselves of banking facilities is much lower in towns and villages where the Muslim population is high. This is due to a certain mindset prevailing in the banking sector which has categorized Muslims and Muslims dominated areas as ‘Negative Zones’ as documented in Sachar report. Prohibition of interest and thus for reasons of faith Muslims are away from the conventional banks as referred to in the report of the Committee on Financial Sector Reforms –CFSR of the Planning Commission headed by Dr. Raghuram Rajan

Interest Free Banking

In the absence of an alternative to the convention based on interest, in the state of Kerala where Muslims make up around 25% of the population of Kerala, which was 31.8 million according to the 2001 Census, it is reported that thousands of crores earned in interest is kept in suspended accounts, as believers do not claim it. Muslims both rich as well as those employed in the Gulf invest their money on gold and real estate which are not productive investments. They also indulge in lavish spending in marriages and other rituals and many of them fall into trap of bogus financial institutions lose their hard earned money.

Therefore there is a strong case to have an alternative system based on equity instead of the debt based banking system catering and caring to the unbanked segments more specially of the marginalized and minorities -particularly Muslims in the country

Government Initiative

RBI Working Group

In 2005, Government of India asked Reserve Bank of India to examine Islamic banking instruments and constituted a Working Group headed by Mr. Anand Sinha, Chief Manager, Department of Banking and Operation and Development along with senior Bankers from SBI, ICICI and Oman International Bank that came up with its report in 2006 which said: In the current statutory and regulatory framework it would not be possible for banks in India to undertake Islamic Banking activities and concluded that if the banks are allowed to do Islamic banking appropriate amendments are required in Banking regulations Act 1949.

National Workshop

After the GOI announcement that Islamic banking is not feasible in India, several interactive sessions were held by ICIF, one of them was a National Workshop on “Road Map on Islamic banking” in Sept 2006, which was participated by prominent National and International Islamic experts and bankers. It passed resolution that Islamic Banking is relevant in the 21st century and India may implement the same by obtaining inputs from the global example in UK, Malaysia and Singapore. It also chalked out a plan of action as well.

CFSR-Planning Commission Recommendation

In August 2007, Govt. of India under the Planning Commission constituted a high level committee on Financial Sector reforms (CFSR) under the chairmanship of Dr. Raghuram Rajan, former chief economist, IMF along with other eleven members who are the finest financial and legal minds in the country.

CFSR submitted its final report in Sept. 2008 to Prime Minister with the specific recommendation of interest free banking in the country:

“Another area that falls broadly in the ambit of financial infrastructure for inclusion is the provision of interest-free banking. Certain faiths prohibit the use of financial instruments that pay interest. The non-availability of interest-free banking products (where the return to the investor is tied to the bearing of risk, in accordance with the principles of that faith) results in some Indians, including those in the economically disadvantaged strata of society, not being able to access banking products and services due to reasons of faith. This non-availability also denies India access to substantial sources of savings from other countries in the region.

While interest-free banking is provided in a limited manner through NBFCs and cooperatives, the Committee recommends that measures be taken to permit the delivery of interest-free finance on a larger scale, including through the banking system. This is in consonance with the objectives of inclusion and growth through innovation. The Committee believes that it would be possible, through appropriate measures, to create a framework for such products without any adverse systemic risk impact.” (Chapter 3: Broadening Access to Finance, Page: 72)

Why Islamic Banking?

The collapse of leading Wall Street institutions, notably Lehman Brothers, and the subsequent global financial tsunami and economic recession, Islamic banking is seriously being considered and has emerged as a possible alternative to the conventional banking because of the followings:
• It is based on Ethical and Socially Responsible Investments (SRI)
• It aims at Equity and Justice and leads to poverty alleviation and
• It acts to new dimension to assets and actual projects aiming to support real economic growth instead of financial engineering.
• It provides services to under banked populations ignored by conventional banks

Efforts Undertaken – Meeting RBI & FM

When it was learnt that RBI is considering implementing a few recommendations of Dr. Raghuram Rajan Committee on Financial Sector Reforms (CFSR), ICIF contacted the Governor RBI and sought an appointment to plead for the case of the recommendation of CFSR regarding Interest-free banking. Accordingly a delegation of ICIF met the Deputy Governor Dr. K.C Chakrabarty on September 11, 2009 and presented a memorandum along with the important documents. RBI conveyed that it has no reservation regarding interest free banking but for that an amendment in the Banking regulations has to be passed in the Parliament which can be done by the Central government.

A memorandum was submitted to FM, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee to accept the recommendation of CFSR committee on interest free banking and suitable legislative amendment. Several meetings and interactions have taken place with the officials of the Finance Ministry and RBI in this regard till now.

In order to amend the Ranking Regulations Act 1949 and accommodate a level playing field for Islamic banking, a bill has to be passed in Parliament. For this, Banking Amendment Bill has been prepared and vetted by Dar Al Shariah, Dubai Islamic Bank and submitted to Parliament secretariat by an MP to be undertaken as a Private Member’s Bill in the next session of Parliament.

Kerala & Islamic Banking

Another significant development has taken place in the state of Kerala. Govt. of Kerala under KSIDC (Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation) has taken a courageous and commendable step to form an Islamic Investment company named Al Barakah Financial Services Company, an NBFC after an exhaustive feasible report undertaken by a reputed international consulting firm Ernst & Young. This NBFC will be turned into a global Islamic bank as soon as the RBI accommodates it after an amendment in the Banking regulations. Dr. Subramaniam Swamy has submitted a petition in the High court to stop the participation of the Kerala Government. Admission of his petition has put a hold on the proceedings for the time being.


To bring Interest free Islamic Banking, misunderstanding and misinformation among the Muslim masses as well as non-Muslims have to be removed. The need and necessity of interest free Islamic finance and banking has to be spread among the Muslims, common people, religious scholars, business men, bankers, politicians, and other stakeholders.

• Among Muslims, criticism has been raised against the banking approach itself. Some allege that it is nothing but the changes of nomenclature only. Some other questions its capability to meet all the financial requirements of modern day economy. Some go further to say that the whole exercise is futile, with the macro level money creation process remaining the same, what is attempted through so called innovative products is nothing but a cosmetic touch and even in international arena, Islamic banks have to price their investments on Global standards like London Inter-bank Offered Rate (LIBOR) which are essentially interest based. These issues have to be addressed properly by the Islamic scholars, finance experts and those who campaign for Islamic Finance and Banking.

• Justice Mufti Muhammed Taqi Usmani, Chairman, AAOIFI (Accounting and Auditing Organisationfor Islamic Financial Institutions) mentions in his famous book titled ‘An introduction to Islamic Finance’:
“Islam, being a practical way of life, has two sets of rules: one is based on the ideal objectives of Shariah which is applicable in normal conditions, and the second is based on some relaxations given in abnormal situations. The real Islamic order is based on the former set of principles, while the latter is a concession which can be availed at times of need, but it does not reflect the true picture of the real economic order.

Living under constraints, the Islamic banks are mostly relying on the second set of rules; therefore, their activities could not bring a visible change even in the limited circle of their operations. However, if the whole financing system is based on the ideal Islamic principles, it will certainly bring a discernible impact on the economy”. (Page 24)

• In the plural and secular country like ours, misunderstanding among majority community has to be addressed; Islamic banking is not just for Muslims. It is only a mechanism for financing business without providing debt. It is also to be focused that it is based on ethics and Socially Responsible Investment (SRI). It has to be show cased that 40% customers in Islamic banks in Malaysia are Chinese of other communities and also in UK, 20% customers are Non Muslims.

Ms. Perrine Fiorina of CELENT, Strategy consulting for financial institutions, talks of ‘Promising Future of Islamic Banking’ thus:

“In addition to the large and untapped Muslim population, Islamic Banking is currently beginning to attract Non-Muslim customers, who are interested in alternative way of banking. Indeed, a growing number of Non-Muslims are turning to Islamic Banking as customers spooked by turmoil in the western banking system increasingly see the sector as a safe and more connected to the real economy. In my opinion, Islamic banking will benefit from this new customers interest and grow even more quickly than it recently did”.

Even Vatican has offered Islamic Finance principles to Western banks as a solution for worldwide economic crisis. “The ethical principles on which Islamic Finance is based may bring banks closer to their clients and to the true spirit which should mark every financial service” the Vatican’s official newspaper, L’ Osservatore Romano said.

Recently, France has amended its laws to issue SUKUK –Islamic Bonds based on assets-of one Billion Euro.

• Post 9/11, oil money has stopped being invested in U.S and is looking for a safe investment destination, and India could well be that destination given its safe economic scenario, huge market, skill and educated labour and good growth rate.

• Among the intellectuals, scholars and politicians, a doubt is lurking in the mind whether banking operations are feasible without the base of interest.

• As Dr. Hussein Hamid Hassan, Chairman, Shariah Board, Dubai Islamic Bank has said “Conventional banks have since inception, had only one product, that is loan with interest, Shariah has unlimited products to suit every customer and every project under any circumstances”.

Various products with Arabic words have to be suitably presented in the prevailing banking terms and the reasons why they are preferable to the conventional banking products and practices provided as they are based on real economy rather than financial engineering in conventional banking has to be suitably highlighted.

Modern, secular and industrialized countries like Britain, Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan have become hub of Islamic finance and banking. If London, Tokyo, Singapore and Hong Kong can become hub and house of Interest free Islamic finance and banking Why not Mumbai and Cochin?

10-Point Programme of Action

A 10-point programme of action is suggested to this august house for consideration and serious follow up to make the dream of Islamic Finance and Banking become a reality which will change the face and fortune of the community as well as the country, if Almighty wills.

1. Interest free Islamic banking is emerging as a possible alternative to conventional Finance and Banking – Know why?

2. Start discussion in our circle & make it an integral part of our all programmes.

3. Bring out special issues and supplements in the print media, create space for discussion in electronic media, usage of internet to share the latest development & progress

4. To remove Misconception among Non-Muslims that interest-free banking is not only for Muslims, a group of strong supporters among them- Abu Talibs has to be included in our efforts to spearhead this great cause.

5. Create awareness among Muslim Scholars, Students and the General Public by using Jum’a Sermons, Conferences, seminars, etc.

6. Human Resource Development – Skills & Spirits, Competence & Character specific to Islamic Shariah – Fiqh ul Muamilat and modern finance and banking has to be produced.

7. General awareness in Media – lobbying for Islamic Banking, Takaful – Islamic Insurance, Sukuk – Islamic Bonds.

8. Conduct seminars & symposium – Contact B-Schools, Professional associations, etc.

9. Create political will – contact & convince MPs of all parties to enable amending Banking Regulation act, 1949 in Parliament.

10. Planning for Islamic Micro finance & Mega Private Islamic Banks when permission granted.

(H Abdur Raqeeb is Convener, National Committee on Islamic Banking & General Secretary, Indian Centre for Islamic Finance (ICIF). The paper was presented at Islamic Investment and Finance conference on March 28, 2010 at India Islamic Cultural Centre in New Delhi)

Muslims And Their Contribution To The Formation Of Congress And Freedom Struggle

This year hundred twenty fifth anniversary of its founding is being celebrated. All people of India, irrespective of their religious persuasion richly contributed to the freedom movement through the Indian National Congress. However, due to majoritarian attitude of our leaders and narrow outlook of those who devise our educational curriculum, minorities’ contribution has been totally forgotten.

India has never been a nation in the classical sense of the word as used in the west. Their nations have been formed on the basis of one language and one culture. But India was never mono-religious, mono-cultural and lingual. Pluralism of all kinds, – religious, linguistic and cultural, apart from ethnic, has been its hall mark. When we began to challenge the might of the British Raj, our leaders had realized the importance of unity of Indian people, especially of Hindus and Muslims. One of the slogans of freedom fighters was “Deen Dharam Hamara Hazhab, Yeh Isai (meaning the British) kahan se aye (Islam and Hinduism are our religions, where these British came from)?

When the Indian National Congress was formed the Muslims too responded enthusiastically. This has never been emphasized by our historians. If at all they focus on Sir Syed’s attitude towards Congress and his advice to Muslims not to join it. But this was a minority opinion of a section of Muslim elite who had intensely suffered during the 1857 war of independence and wanted to make up with the British rulers. There were such elements among Hindus too, especially Zamindars, Rajas and Maharajas.

Moreover Sir Syed’s attitude towards Congress was not of hostility but of caution as he wanted Muslims to concentrate on modern education and social change. Sir Syed’s role was much more complex than has been projected, especially by majority communal elements. Another important thing to note is that Sir Syed had worked tireless for Hindu-Muslim unity and had described Hindus and Muslims two eyes of bride of India.

It should also be noted that Sir Syed was not a mass leader. He was trying to influence the North Indian Muslim elite as the leader of social and educational change. Also, the Muslim elite too was not united behind Sir Syed. Others like retired High Justice of Bombay Court Badruddin Tyabjee enthusiastically joined Congress along with 300 Muslim delegates in its Mumbai session. He was elected president of the Indian National Congress.

The Muslim masses, on the other hand, enthusiastically welcomed formation of the Congress and supported all its efforts throughout freedom struggle until India became free. We wish to throw some light on this question in this article. First thing I would like to emphasize is that no community should be judged by what few of its people do. Even priorities and programme differ from people to people.

It should surprise many that most enthusiastic support for the Indian National Congress from amongst Muslims came from the Orthodox Ulama of Deoband School. I must state here that the Ulama had participated in the 1857 war of independence and had thrown everything into it. They made great sacrifices and hundreds of them were given what was then known as kalapani i.e. exiled to Andaman-Nicobar and also many to Malta, an island to the south of Italy. I have visited the Malta cemetery and saw graves of hundreds of Ulama who died there and could never return to their dear country. Some of the Ulama exiled were very prominent like Maulana Fazal Kahirabadi (though there is some confusion with person of similar name, who had no parallel of his in North India then).

Once the Indian National Congress was formed the founder of Darul Ulum Deoband, Maulana Qasim Ahmed Nanotvi, a prominent alim himself, issued a fatwa urging Muslims to join Indian National congress and throw the British out of the country. He not only issued a fatwa but also collected hundred such fatwas and published them in the form of a book and named it Nusrat al-Ahrar i.e. for the help of freedom fighters. These Ulama were mass leaders and were determined to throw out foreign rulers.

Another very eminent Alim Maulana Mahmudul Hasan took part in what came to be known as Reshmi Rumal conspiracy (i.e. silken kerchief conspiracy) in which Hindus and Muslims had hatched to defeat Britishers through passing on messages to others in India for uprising. Besides Maulana Mahmudul Hasan several other Ulama and ordinary Muslims took part in this ‘conspiracy’.

Another great intellectual and poet who made great sacrifices for complete freedom of India was Maulana Hasrat Mohani, an eminent Urdu poet and great revolutionary. Maulana was great admirer of Bal Gangadhar Tilak who gave slogan that ‘freedom is my birth right’. He was used to address him as Tilak Maharaj. Though a Maulana, he was also one of the founders of the Communist party of India in 1925.

Maulana was repeatedly jailed was often given harsh punishments like grinding one maund (40 kilo) of raw grains in the month of May. But the Maulana never gave in. His attitude towards complete freedom of India was non-negotiable. Even Gandhiji, in the long term interest wanted to accept Home Rule for a transit period. When this resolution for Home Rule was moved in the Ahmedabad in 1922, Maulana had to be kept away for arranging a mushaira (poetic gathering) so that he does not oppose the resolution for Home Rule. Such was Maulana’s commitment to complete freedom.

The Khilafat movement also has been grossly misunderstood. In fact it was very intelligent move on the part of Mahatma Gandhi to draw Muslim masses in the freedom movement. Unfortunately the elite look at it from their own perspective. But the fact is that due to this movement millions of Muslims took part in freedom struggle. It is another thing that the Khilafat movement collapsed due to Kamal Ata Turk’s revolution overthrowing the Uthmani khilafat.

Ali Brothers i.e. Maulana Mohammad Ali and Shaukat Ali were product of this Khilafat movement. Both of them played very crucial part in realizing freedom of India. Their mother was equally committed to freedom movement. When their mother heard the rumour that her sons Muhammad and Shaukat Ali are thinking of tendering apology to come out of jail (it was only a rumor) she, a lady observing purdah (veil) came on the public stage and said if they ever do that mein unka doodh mu’af nahin karungi) i.e. I will never pardon them till I die. Maulana Muhammad Ali had developed sharp differences with Gandhiji towards end of his life but while dying he said burry me in Jerusalem as I do not want to die in slave India.

During Khilafat movement some Muslims declared India to be Darul Harb (abode of war) under the British and began migrating to Afghanistan to form an interim government to fight British for freedom. One Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi was the main inspiration behind this migration and he formed interim govt. under the leadership of Raja Mahindra Pratap as President of the Republic of free India, with himself as Prime Minister. Thousands perished when the King of Afghanistan threw them out under the British pressure. Such was the enthusiasm of Muslim masses for India’s independence.

Another charismatic figure for freedom movement was Maulana Husain Ahmed Madani who opposed partition tooth and nail and in this respect took on mighty Iqbal, a great poet-philosopher and challenged him on the issue of nationalism and wrote a book Muttahida Qaumiyyat aur Islam i.e. Composite Nationalism and Islam. He challenged two nation theory of Jinnah too and proved from Qur’an and hadith that two nation theory has no Islamic sanction. This book has recently been translated into English also by Jami’at al-Ulama-e-Hind and many more people can benefit from it. Maulana Husain Ahmed was abused and greeted with garlands of shoes by Muslim league activists.

And of course who can forget the yeoman services of Maulana Azad and Sarhadi Gandhi Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan to the cause of freedom of India. Both remained committed to India’s freedom till they breathed their last. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan was the only leader who never reconciled with the partition of the country and consistently opposed it in the CWC even when leaders like Nehru and Sardar Patel accepted it as fait accompli. Maulana Azad’s statement why he is against partition is one of the finest one I have come across.

These Muslim leaders deserved better attention in our freedom movement’s history. But thanks to communal attitude of many of our academicians, historians, text book writers and above all politicians these rich contributions to the cause of freedom movement by Muslim minority has been forgotten or very cursorily mentioned in the text books. When I visited Gandhi Museum in Madurai which is considered the best (or one of the best) Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan was represented by only one photograph. It was so sad and I pointed out to the director of the Museum the serious flaw. He promised me to rectify it.

Today an average Hindu thinks that Muslims divided our country and looks upon them with suspicion. The Congress has made no efforts to correct this situation. I urge upon their leaders to properly project Muslim minority’s contribution at least in this 125th year of foundation of Indian National Congress. It would greatly serve the cause of national unity and integration.

Syud Hossain: India’s Voice For Freedom Abroad

Syud Hossain was born on June 23, 1888 in Calcutta (according to his passport application to the British Government) in an illustrious and aristocratic family. His father Syud Mohammed was a well-known scholar and the Registrar General of Bengal. His maternal grandfather was Nawab Abdul Latif Khan Bahadur who did pioneering work in the field of education in Bengal.

In 1909, Syud Hossain attended Lincoln’s Inn to study law. While in England, Hossain took part in debates and discussions and became popular among the Indian students in London. In 1916, he joined Bombay Chronicle to assist B G Horniman, its legendary editor. He became involved in the Home Rule Movement in Bombay and in 1918 was selected to go to England as secretary of the Home Rule deputation.

Syud Hossain

In 1919, he joined Independent and made his mark with catchy headlines and fiery editorials. At Independent Syud Hossain carried forward the style and panache of Bombay Chronicle, which was known for its constant run-in with the British Goverment. Hossain did not care about antagonising the moderates or British officers in his stint at Independent.

Asaf Ali wrote an article on the British government’s elation at suppressing people’s uprising in North India in 1919 for the Independent. Syud Hossain titled it ‘Devils dance while Angels weep’. This ruffled feathers not just in the official circles but also among the moderate elements in the Congress who thought it was objectionable.

Another famous tagline coined by Syud Hossain was C M G which meant Chelmsford Must Go. It became quite popular and gave voice to several Indian nationalists who were opposed to the Montagu-Chlemsford reforms.

While in Allahabad, Hossain and Vijayalakshmi Pandit fell in love but faced stiff opposition for their marriage. The affair attracted national as well as the international press for several years. The April 27, 1949 issue of the Miami Daily News mentions about their affair and noted ‘just a few weeks before her Washington appointment was announced, Syed Hussain was found dead in his corner suite at the famous Shepherd Hotel…His intimates there swear he died of a broken heart’.

Syud Hossain’s affair with Vijayalakshmi Pandit should not overshadow his contribution to India’s independence. Hossain’s intellect and personality made him one of the prominent voices for India’s cause across the world.

In 1920, Hossain went to England as part of the Khilafat delegation and stayed there to fight for India’s independence. In London, he became the editor of the official publication of the Congress. From the UK he went to USA where he stayed till 1946 except for a brief period in 1937 when he came back to India.

While in America he became a darling of the press and the intelligentsia. His oratory skills and knowledge left the Americans in awe. The Los Angeles Times described him as ‘the most distinguished Indian visitor in America since Tagore’ while the New York-based Foreign Policy Association said: ‘Of the hundreds of speakers who have addressed our conferences during the past five years, none were more brilliant or authoritative than Mr Hossain’.

He became a headache for the Britishers who tried as much as they could to contain him. He addressed hundreds of lectures and took part in debates at Universities, social clubs, international organisations on the need for India’s independence. Worried about his influence, the Britishers managed to block Hossain from speaking at the Town Hall of New York. However, Hossain’s passion and flair for language ensured he always remained a sought after speaker.

A letter dated May 15, 1930 by Julian Arnold (working for the British govt) in Chicago to the then British consulate general Godfrey Haggard describes Hossain as ‘richly endowed with the two essentials of a good speaker, viz his grace in diction and fire in expression’. Describing the debate ‘Is British rule in India a failure?’ Arnold notes that Hossain’s opponent, George Young,went down like a ‘house built of cards’. The Britishers were always on the lookout for a ‘strong speaker to oppose him’ (Hossain).

Hossain also had a deep knowledge of the major religions of the world and his interest in philosophy gave him the power to captivate the cream of the American society. His impeccable manners, aristocratic background and charm made an enormous impact on women. His secretary Mrs Kamla V Nimbkar (who was an American married to an Indian engineer) noted that the American ladies would exclaim that ‘if India could produce a man like Syud Hossain it could not be a very backward country’.

Asaf Ali, another freedom fighter who went on to become the Governor of Orissa was Hossain’s friend and classmate at Lincoln’s Inn. In the book Dr Syud Hossain, A glimpse of his life, speeches and writings, Asaf Ali notes: “He was handsome in appearance and even more handsome in his relationship with his friends and adversaries. His command over English was of outstanding distinction and his general love of literature, Persian and Urdu particularly, was of the nature of a deep passion.”

Hossain was a special lecturer on World Affairs at University of Southern California and he was also the editor of the New Orient magazine in New York. In September 1945, Hossain suggested to Jawaharlal Nehru if he could come back to India and work towards Hindu-Muslim harmony and stand for elections. Nehru consulted Asaf Ali and Gandhiji. He then cabled Hossain, ‘…Gandhiji thinks you can do more important work in America’.

According to M O Mathai, Nehru’s personal secretary, in 1945 Hossain and Vijayalakshmi were seen together several times in the US. Gandhiji received letters from Indians in America that Hossain was following Vijayalakshmi everywhere. Mathai believes ‘Gandhi’s shrewd advice was to prevent the gossip mill from running overtime impairing Pandit’s usefulness’.

Hossain had the highest love and respect for Gandhiji. In his several lectures he emphasised on the crucial role played by Gandhiji in India. He even wrote a book, Gandhi: The saint as statesman. After independence he was made India’s first ambassador to Egypt where he died on February 25, 1949. He was given a state funeral and a road was named after him in Cairo.

Syud Hossain’s contribution has gone largely unnoticed because he was not a mass leader and fought battles for India in intellectual circles abroad. Sadly, even the intellectuals in India seem to have forgotten him.

Danish Khan blogs at

Mr. Modi And The Ghosts Of Gujarat 2002

By Dr. Shah Alam Khan,

I don’t believe in ghosts. I think they are the folly of a fearful mind. But yet I find ghosts to be funny characters. They hound you at the most awkward of hours and at the most awkward of places. Having said this, some ghosts are not funny, they can make life miserable. Ask Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of the Indian state of Gujarat. Mr. Modi is alleged to have mastermind or rather orchestrated the genocide of Muslims in Gujarat during the 2002 communal riots. It was this orchestration of communal massacre which earned him the title of modern day Nero by the Supreme Court of India. The ghosts of Gujarat 2002 keep returning to him. The more he tries to ostracize these nefarious characters, the more they return with new force and vigor. Ghosts of young men & women, small children, pregnant mothers and even the little Caspers, the fetuses who were torn out of the cozy comfort of their mothers’ bellies and thrown into soaring infernos. All are back. Some ghosts are obstinate, pigheaded to get justice for getting them into this indiscernible state by Mr. Modi and his riot manufacturing machine which runs on human blood.

I am sure these ghosts will accompany Mr. Modi on March 27th 2010, when we are made to believe,

that he presents himself to be questioned by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court of India to probe the Gujarat carnage. It is important to note that Mr. Modi will be testifying only in the case of Mr. Ehsan Jafri who was murdered, sorry, dismembered, in the Gulbarg society carnage in Feb 2002. I am amused to imagine that as Mr. Modi will sit in the big leather chair in front of a tight lipped committee of polished bureaucrats, there would be a thousand eyes popping over his shoulder, jostling to get space, pushing and elbowing each other to make their presence felt. The SIT interrogation room will be full of ghosts. Frail elderly ghosts, who will be pushed further back in the chaos, the naughty little ones who will dodge their mothers to go and pee on Modi’s white starched kurta and the pregnant ghosts, the most difficult to control; they start cursing and bellowing at the top of their voices whenever they see Mr. Modi. Probably they were too much in love with their babies-to-be the day they were raped and cut opened. Then there would be those who are unnamed, unidentified – the faceless ghosts. These are the ones who resided in bodies which were charred beyond recognition in the spring of 2002 across different locations of Gujarat. Bodies scorched so badly that even their spirits are now faceless.

It will be interesting to note how these ghosts will react as Mr. Modi is put through what I feel will be scratchy questions. Well surely uncomfortable for people with a heart and soul! I had always felt that Mr. Modi should be invited to an episode of Sach ka Samna, the popular Hindi version of a more suave Moment of Truth. Seeing him answer moral (and immoral) questions in a true or false pattern would be fun. In fact it might be much easier for him as well; at least he will not have to give bizarre and whacky explanations which make us judgmental on his intelligence and astuteness. So, if the host asks, “Mr. Modi you ordered the best bakery carnage – True or False?” he, with all the straightness of face (resembling the election face mask he distributed in 2007) will answer, “False”. The not so always accurate lie detector machine says: False. No more explanations, no more shame. Well, no more shame particularly for Mr. Modi and no more shame for us, Indians, in general.

History has a peculiar knack of catching up with its characters. On March 27th India’s history will catch up with its most pernicious of politicians. In the company of three thousand invisible yet tangible ghosts, Narendra Modi will undergo a scrutiny of his deeds. His acts of commission and importantly his impotence of omission, everything will go under the scanner. And all this in the presence of those to whom he owes an explanation. He owes an explanation to all of us. To me, to you, to those who love our freedom and our country. To those who bow before the god a bit differently and also to those who bow in the same way as he does. He owes an explanation to the nameless ghosts who wander through the land of Gandhi awaiting their moksha and to those who were left alive and mourn the dead.

I am sure Mr. Modi will perspire as the SIT questions get difficult and will sigh as the easier ones follow. Watching him quietly in the room with three thousand ghosts will be a smiling Ehsan Jafri in white kurta-pyjama; still soaked in blood. His body was dismembered, but his spirit is cohesive. He has identified his killers. He has recognized the perpetrators. His death has not gone waste. His wailing from that fateful day in Gulbarg society haven’t gone unanswered. The Day of Judgment is closing in. He does not want to blink. He wants to capture each and every second of this hearing into his fluid state. The pain of getting dismembered by a crowd of assassins must surely be not greater than the pleasure of seeing Narendra Modi in the spot light. The spot light of shame and ignominy.

Narendra bhai Modi, as he is popularly called, has a task cut out. Either he faces the SIT to answer questions he has been evading since February 2002 or he continues to live in the shadow of ghosts. His party feels that he is a popular chief minister who always respects law. It makes me laugh – law and Modi in the same voice? A sarcastic oxymoron for those who saw law raped in Gujarat in the 2002 carnage. An ironic antithesis for those who saw their children thrown in fire in the February of 2002. An iron-cold apathy for those who saw policemen betray their trust.

Mr. Modi, it’s not easy to live with ghosts. They create ruckus, they can be hysterical. They don’t let you sleep peacefully and above all they do not forget or forgive.

Associate Professor of Orthopaedics

All India Institute of Medical Sciences

New Delhi, India


The Jewish-Islamic Heritage And Its Contemporary Significance

By Rabbi Naftali Rothenberg,

The link between Judaism and Islam is profound and is at the root of both religious cultures. Islam sanctified and interpreted sacred Jewish texts and incorporated principles from Jewish law (Halakha) and Rabbinical sources into Islamic law (Sharia). Judaism owes Islam a huge debt for the emergence of the Jewish philosophical oeuvre of the Middle Ages. This literature, which emerged from a profound dialogue with Islam and was influenced by Islamic thinkers, includes amongst others, the writings of Rabbi Saadia Gaon, Maimonides, Rabbi Bachaya Ibn Pakuda and Rabbi Yehuda Halevy and has been a foundation stone of Jewish culture to the present day.

One can talk about a common Jewish-Islamic heritage that existed since the beginning of Islam to modern times. In the last 100 years, however, Jewish-Muslim heritage has been silenced. This is not, as some may be inclined to assume, primarily due to the Arab-Jewish conflict, but to the rise and supremacy of the hegemonic European discourse and the emphasis on the “Jewish-Christian” heritage within it.

What is the significance of the Jewish-Islamic heritage in our times? Is it possible to renew an intercultural dialogue on the basis of this heritage?

The Jewish-Islamic tradition emerged from the fertile ground of a political and cultural reality that does not exist today and we, as Jews, have no reason to miss it. The Jews are no longer a minority in an Islamic empire and therefore attempts to revive this tradition are not practical. That said, it is sensible and significant to acknowledge its existence. It is important to internalise, for example, the extent to which theological and philosophical Muslim texts like the Mu’tazila specifically, and the Kalam, were significant to Rabbi Saadia Gaon and other Jewish thinkers who followed. It is important to note how Maimonides praises the writings of al-Farabi, Ibn Baja and Ibn Roshd; how Rabbi Yehuda Halevy adopted the principle of the “mystical taste” from the ideas of al-Ghazali and how the Sufi Muslim doctrine of the “objectives of the organs and the hearts” became the basis for the book “Guide to the Duties of the Heart” by our Rabbi Bachaya Ibn Pakuda.

These writings of the rabbis and many others like them are studied all the time in various Jewish frameworks. Here we have an excellent didactic opportunity to use existing educational frameworks-both in the formal and informal education systems-to reach a wide Jewish public including many young people. It is the obligation of every teacher and educator to emphasise the Arabic sources, particularly when the writers themselves, like Maimonides, emphasised this fact. Many people are under the misperception that there are great gaps or even a clash between Judaism and Islam. Underlining the importance of Islamic sources in the works of great Jewish thinkers and entrenching an awareness of the profound dialogue that has taken place between the two religions can help correct this erroneous assumption.

This educational process would be an internal Jewish endeavour and could carry important implications. First and foremost, it could ensconce the view that the political war between Arabs and Jews is not a faith war and that the two religions must encourage and prepare both sides to think positively about peace. It could promote an understanding that Islam and Judaism can co-exist and that any generalisation distorts the picture.

Despite being primarily an internal Jewish endeavour, this process could have a tangible effect on Muslim-Jewish relations. The act of representing Islamic culture not as the culture of the enemy could empower the groups within Islam who believe in the necessity and possibility of cultural coexistence between Judaism and Islam and between the bearers of both cultures.

It is possible to renew intercultural dialogue between Jews and Muslims on the basis of Jewish-Islamic heritage. The more both Jews and Muslims are confident in themselves and at peace with their own heritage the more we can hope to attain a high level of dialogue. In this way we can hope to build a broad public infrastructure that could one day become a basis for a sustainable peace.


* Rabbi Professor Naftali Rothenberg is a senior research fellow at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute and the town Rabbi of Har Adar, Israel.. This article is part of a special series on Jews and Muslims in each other’s narratives and was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Haroon Rashid: The Man Who Brought An ‘Inquilab’

When Haroon Rashid, editor of Mumbai-based Urdu newspaper Inquilab, passed away on March 4, 2000, there were condolence messages from people from all walks of life. Right from Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the then prime minister, to the not so well-known social workers in the interiors of Maharashtra.

However, there was a letter in Urdu written by a veteran Bollywood actor that really got me interested. And mind you it was not a mere two line condolence, but a proper letter in chaste Urdu. I am not sitting in moral judgment, but I had never thought that the actor in question would prefer or would be comfortable to write a condolence in Urdu.

It was perhaps the charisma of Haroon Rashid, that the actor thought it would be apt to share his thoughts with the family in Urdu. It was the same charisma through which Haroon Rashid had managed to bring about a great awakening among Muslims by making them realise the importance of education. An editor would any day prefer to rub shoulders with the high and mighty, and concentrate on networking rather than focusing his energies on making education popular among his brethren.

His mission: Education

However, Haroon Rashid was a man with a mission. A firm believer in Sir Syed Ahmed’s policy of getting Muslims educated, he used to travel the length and breadth of Maharashtra exhorting the virtues of books and pens. He used to place special emphasis on the education of girls and delivered several lectures stressing its importance. He used to give prominent display to news items pertaining to educational achievements of Muslims. His columns and writings were very popular among the masses and he never used to miss a chance to laud the achievements of Indian Muslims in any field.

It is to the credit of Inquilab and Haroon Rashid that Muslims in Maharashtra got drawn to education in a big way. Students from Urdu-medium schools now regularly feature in the merit list and are going for higher education. He used to be in regular touch with school principals, activists and educationists and discuss ways and measures to get more Muslim children into schools.

During SSC (class X) and HSC (class XII) results he used to take the seat numbers of students in the small locality at Charni Road, Mumbai where he stayed. As newspaper offices used to get board results in the morning, he would know how the boys and girls had fared. Later, he used to come with boxes of sweets and personally give them to those who were successful. That was the only time when most of the youngsters would like to come in touch with him, for it was much better to stay away than to answer his queries on school and studies.

The boys, including this blogger, used to be careful to ensure that he doesn’t catch them playing or just hanging around indulging in plain teen speak. I remember getting caught once. While I was busy trying to locate the rubber ball (a gully cricket match was on) all my friends had disappeared seeing him entering the compound and I found myself coming face-to-face with him. “Kya Ho raha hain?” (What’s happening). “Ji, kuch nahin, padhai ki aaj maine,” (Nothing. But I studied today), I answered. “To sab bhaag kyun gaye?” (Why have they all disappeared), he asked before he went away.

As a young boy, I enjoyed reading the columns of M V Kamath and Lajpat Rai in Mid Day, a tabloid based in Mumbai. I used to religiously cut the clippings, as both these writers would try to cut each other through their writings. Once, when I had an opportunity to meet Haroon naana (as I used to addressed him) I asked him why would M V Kamath and Lajpat Rai write the way they did. He gave a small smile, and after that I was witness to a barrage of opinions and reflections from him over the next few years, as I started meeting him almost every day at his house.

His personality: stylish, smart, sophisticated

Haroon Rashid had a towering personality and did not suffer fools gladly. Widely travelled and well read, he had a passion for collecting watches. He had hundreds of books in his personal library. As a child, I remember trying to locate books through their titles stacked on the bookshelves. They were so many that after every few days I used to forget which part of the bookshelves they were kept on. Sadly, he lost his collection when his house was burned down in the 1993 Mumbai riots.

Haroon Rashid also became immensely popular due to his oratory skills as much as his writings. He was stylish, smart, sophisticated and knew how to keep his reader and audience engaged. Whether you understood Urdu or not, if you listened to him he would leave you spellbound. He was a much sought after speaker and would get the audiences enthralled by his fiery speeches.

He did his schooling from Anjuman Islam High School, Bombay and went to Aligarh Muslim University for further studies. When he came back to Bombay, he preferred to be called Haroon Rashid instead of Haroon Ismail Khan, his birth name. He was inspired by the famous Caliph and also thought Haroon Rashid was more trendy. His major break was Urdu Blitz where he used to write on sports and later rose to become its editor. After Blitz, he joined Inquilab, where with his passion for journalism he took it to greater heights.

During the Kargil war, there were all kinds of patriotic songs played everywhere. I had accompanied him to Pune for a family event, and suddenly he decided to fax an editorial to Bombay. “This is not the time to play just any plain patriotic songs. Instead, there are several songs that talk about our strength and military might, which would raise the confidence of our forces and the common man,” he announced. He explained to me that it was a time to take on the enemy and hence the songs on the radio should be in sync with the quest for victory. He was a workaholic, and would rush back to office after coming home in the event of major news.

As a young boy his advice was invaluable to me. He told me each person should make his own destiny and there are no shortcuts in life. Just as he had made for himself.

Haroon Rashid was born in district Ghazipur of Uttar Pradesh. At a function to honour him after his death in Mumbai a prominent politician remarked: “Ghazipur is famous for its opium factory. After meeting Haroon Rashid one has the same nasha (intoxication) as opium.”

Ten years after he passed away, I am still in a trance.

Danish Khan is a journalist by profession and historian by heart. He blogs at

Logic Of Women’s Reservation

By M. Burhanuddin Qasmi,

It is an unfortunate fact that in a democracy nothing is achievable without united agitations. This time again the Muslim social and political leadership in India is failing to unite strongly against a very genuine demand and clear hypocrisy against them in guise of women empowerment.

Electronic media too seems part of the mockery being on play by the UPA chief Sonia Gandhi to overthrow her parties weaknesses in the parliament. One wonders, why the 24 hours by seven media houses not genuinely debating on the theme argued by SP, RJD, BSP, TCM, AIUDF, MIM in the parliament?

If religion based reservation is unacceptable for the majority when it comes to political empowerment of minorities which is overdue for last 63 years, then how a gender based case become rational? Reservation be offered to the weaker sections of the society to genuinely empower them and Muslims are the weakest community by all arguments and statistics. Thus logically reservation bill for Muslim empowerment must come first.

If reservation can not go over 50 per cent of total as in the case of 5 per cent Muslim reservation in Andra Pradesh then how 33 per cent more can be ensured in India where already seats are reserved for SCs and STs? Majority of assembly and parliamentary constituencies where a Muslim could easily win from any party if they were general are presently under ST or SC reserved categories. Take the case of Karimganj in Assam, for instance, where around 60 per cent voters are Muslim with only 20 per cent STs and SCs is a reserved seat since independent.

Who knows the remaining Muslim majority voters seats will not be reserved for women only – making way for strong Hindu woman to defeat her weak counter part in the election while enjoying ‘women empowerment’?

If we can and we have to go through a major constitutional amendment to legalize gender based reservation then why we cannot make the same constitutional amendment for a religion based reservation for Muslims – say Muslim women in this case?

Do not forget! Contrary to the recent gender based women reservation bill, passed undemocratically by the upper House of Indian parliament on 9th March 2010, a religion based political reservation Bill was passed by the parliament in the very early days of our republican and democratic India. It was 28th August 1947, just after 12 days following independence a bill was passed to ensure political reservation for scheduled castes (SCs) and the Muslims.

Reservation, actually, began on the basis of religion in the first place. An individual enjoys schedule caste (SC) status if he is a Hindu or Buddhist – that is his religion is the deciding factor. Muslims and Christians SC peoples do not get this benefit because of their religion. Even conversion of an SC or ST individual to other religion deprives him of the caste benefit!

Sachar Committee in its analysis of reservation in the three states of Bihar, UP and West Bengal has shown that how constituencies with 3-32 per cent Muslim population and 47-67 per cent SC population were kept general while constituencies with 32-60 per cent Muslim population and 10-26 per cent SC population were reserved for SCs. Thus the majority of the constituencies where Muslims can win have already been reserved for SCs and STs and Muslims can never fight in these constituencies come what may.

In West Bengal, Sagardghi Assembly constituency with 62 per cent Muslim population and 18 per cent SC population is an SC reserved seat while Sitai Assembly constituency with 67 per cent SC population and 27 per cent Muslim population is kept unreserved.

In Uttar Pradesh, Jansath Assembly constituency with 16 SC and 37 per cent Muslim population is a reserved seat while Marihan with 49 SC and 3 per cent Muslim has been kept open.

In Bihar, Dhuraiya with 10 SC and 30 Muslim per cent population is kept reserved while Dumaria with 39 SC and 13 per cent respectively have been kept unreserved.

These are the hard facts largely goes unnoticed while talking about appeasement of Muslims or while initiating ‘affirmative actions’ by a ‘secular’ Government since independence. I think it would be another historic blunder repeated by this country if the bill went through to become a law.

Writer is the editor of English monthly Eastern Crescent.


Minority Ministry Ad Misinforms Public, Hoodwinks Muslims

By Syed Shahabuddin,

The full page Advertisement by the Ministry of Minority Affairs on 18 February, 2010 on its achievements under Prime Minister’s 15 Point Programme for the Welfare of the Minorities has been designed to misinform the public and to bluff the minorities and particularly hoodwink the Muslims. Indeed, the Advertisement conceals more than it reveals.

Religious minorities constitute clearly 20% of the national population, of which nearly 15% are Muslims. The Advertisement speaks repeatedly of ‘minority concentration districts ( MCD) but to cover up poor performance in Muslims concentration districts or their proportionate under-coverage the Advertisement gives no information about Muslim concentration districts. This deliberate omission is evident from the following item-wise analysis.

I. Bank Branches

1562 public sector bank branches are claimed to have been opened since 2007-08, but neither their location nor the community-wise break-up of the number of accounts and credit flow are revealed.

2. New Schools

8764 new schools are said to have been opened upto 30.09.09. But whether they are primary/ middle / secondary schools is not mentioned nor their number in Muslims areas nor the extent to which they cover school deficit compared to national norms.

3. Institutional Allocation

Increase in the Share capital of NMDFC and the corpus of Maulana Azad Education Foundation are given. But actual disbursement year-wise are not.

4. Multi-sectorial Devolvement Programmme

807.01 Crores are said to have been released to States/ UTs up to 01.01.2010 for 90 MCDs but readers are not informed of how much has been actually utilized and the programme taken up, district-wise.

5. Increase in Plan Provision for Ministry

It is well known that every year the Ministry has failed to utilize the allocation fully.

6. Earmarking of 15 % of Outlay for Muslims, Scheme-wise allocation and the number of total & Muslim beneficiaries are not provided

7. Awards of 22, 23,841Scholarships to Minority students

The status of awards to Muslim community, state-wise, is not given nor the number of scholarships & amounts which have been actually disbursed.

8. Indira Awas Yojana

9,29,141 Minority BPL families are said have benefited but district-wise or community-wise break-up is not given.

9. Swarn Jayanti Shahari Rojgar Yojana

1,46,090 beneficiaries form minorities are claimed but the number of Muslims is not given.

10. Swarn Jayanti Garam Swarojgar Yojna

4,75,253 persons form minorities are said to beneficiaries but the number of Muslims is not given.

11. Free Coaching

14,966 students have been coached at the cost of RS 20.75 crore but the break-up, course-wise, state-wise or community-wise are not given.

12. Recruitment of Minorities Government

The advertisement claims advance to 9.18 % share in recruitment in 2008-09 over one year but does not give the numbers total & of total & Muslim actually recruited in government or public sector, level-wise, Moreover, the cumulative representation of Muslims in any department or paramilitary force is not revealed nor their current % in the total.


The net impact of the advertisement confirms the doubts in the mind of the Muslims that they have made no real progress nor received their due share of development benefit or place in governance.

To remove the credibility gap, the AIMMM urges the Government that the statistics should be transparent and give both the overall picture of total & Muslim share representation, as well as the increase recorded in given year over the last year.

It is also suggested that to establish its credibility, the Ministry should publish brochure on progress made by community in 2009-10, under UPA II.

As it is, this advertisement only serves to provide material for anti-Muslim propaganda by the communal forces. That Muslims are being appeased.

(The writer is ex-MP and currently President of AIMMM has issued the following statement)

Nawab Sikandar Begum’s Hajj Memoir

Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and for over fourteen hundred years a journey of a lifetime for millions of Muslims living in different corners of the world. These hajis returned to their homelands to tell a tale of physical and spiritual journey of extraordinary proportions. Hajj is obligatory for every Muslim man and woman who are able to undertake this journey. A large number of Muslim women from India made this pious trip but one of the first to write an account of her hajj journey was Nawab Sikandar Begum of Bhopal.

Nawab Sikandar Begum (1816-1868) ruled Bhopal from 1844 to 1868. She went on Hajj in 1284 Hijri (1863-4 CE). The account of her travel was first published in 1870. It was a translation by the wife of a British officer. The original Urdu manuscript is perhaps lost so we will never know what kind of language the Begum used in her writing but her confidence and views of the Hijaz and its inhabitants come across just fine.

Sikandar Begum has the unique distinction of being the first Indian ruler to make the hajj journey. Even with their proclamation of love for Islam none of the Muslim rulers of India went for hajj because it was a long and dangerous travel. Nawab Sikandar Begum went for hajj with a party of about 1000 people of which were mostly women.

Book cover

Her memoir, written after her return from Hajj was translated, edited, and published after her death. First thing one notices about this memoir is how little is mentioned about the Hajj itself. Nawab Begum gives a detailed account of her problem with Turkish customs who insisted on charging duties on every item that she brought with her. She also talks at length about her dealings with the Pasha and the Shariff of Hijaz. When she mentions hajj it is when she talks about her writing letters to Pasha and Shariff for making arrangements for her rented houses and camps that she was going to set up in Arafat and Mina.

As an able administrator who impressed the British with her skills, she had a keen eye on the cities that she stayed in during her visit to the holy land. She finds Jeddah and Makkah dirty and Arabs and Turkish there uncivilized in their behaviour. She is also not impressed by their religious knowledge. Lack of knowledge about Islam among the Turks and Arabs prompted her to commission a Turkish translation of the Quran.

Though this piece of travel writing provides no insight in the spiritual status of the Begum but this provides a rare glimpse into the confidence of this woman ruler from India. She talks on an equal terms to both Turkish administrator (Pasha) and local Arab Emir (Shariff). In fact, she does not hesitate in giving them advise on how best they can administer the city. She is also aware and fond of new technology and thinks it is essential for better government.

Overall, the Begum was frustrated by the apalling condition of the cities, strange customs, and her inability to communicate properly. At one time she instructed the guards to let in only those women who can speak “Hindustani.” She felt alienated from the customs of this land and though she was Muslim just like these Arabs and Turks yet she could find no way to connect.

Soon after her arrival in Makkah, she managed to anger the Sharif because she failed to let him properly honor her. She wrote a letter explaining and excusing herself and she give reference to an Indian custom to explain why her mother is living in a different house but later in the same letter she does not hesitate to say that as an Afghan she pays great respect to Syeds and therefore she has utmost respect for the Sharif.

Sikandar Begum flanked by her Minister, Maulvi Jamaluddin (left) and Army Chief, Mattu Khan. [Photo from the book “The Begums of Bhopal” by Shaharyar M. Khan]

Begum during her stay in Hijaz sensed that some people were not happy with her there because she had sided with the British during the war of 1857. The State of Bhopal remained a loyal friend to the British since entering into a treaty with the British East India in 1818. Begum was rewarded handsomely for her loyalty. She was honored with the title of Knight Grand Commander making her only the second female to be made a knight after Queen Victoria herself. Begum was also to successfully argue her case to be declared the ruler of Bhopal and won that case. Her power of persuasion also ensured that Bhopal continued to be ruled by her daughter and after that by her grand daughter.

Sikandar Begum was a religious lady. She offered her five-time daily prayers and performig hajj was yet another symbol of her piety. She is also credited with getting Delhi’s Jama Masjid which was closed since the fall of Delhi in 1857. During her visit to Delhi in 1862, she got the British to get it opened and she is reported to have cleaned it by her own hands and the first person to pray there.

Nawab Sikandar Begum was the first ruler but not the first prominent Muslim women from India to go for Hajj. Before her, we have examples of Bega Begum, a wife of Humayun’s officer who later married Humayun and was famously known as Haji Begum.

Gulbadan Begum was the most prominent Mughal princess to go for Hajj. She was a daughter of Babur and she along with a number of ladies were sent by Hajj by Emperor Akbar. Similarly, ladies of Golconda and Bijapur also have been recorded as making this trip.

A Princess’s Pilgrimage: Nawab Sikandar Begum’s A Pilgrimage to Mecca
Edited by Siobhan Lambert-Hurley
Indiana University Press 2008.

Women’s Reservation Bill And Politics Of OBCs And Minorities

After fourteen years of women’s struggle, Rajya Sabha passed a women’s Reservation Bill last week with two-third majority for constitutional amendment. The OBC satraps did their best to forestall the Bill but did not succeed. Their argument that the bill will benefit only upper caste Hindu women at the cost of OBCs and minority women is only superficial and would hardly bears scrutiny. Truth is more complex and has to be examined with all its complexity.

In fact Dalits and OBCs have already been given reservation and that reservation is fully justified. But by giving them reservation within reservation can make them even more dependants on reservation. Also, when OBC men can fight elections and all of them are not highly educated, in fact many men are not literate beyond reading or writing their names why can’t women, even if not highly literate, can go to state assembly or parliament. And this is also not true that all OBC women are illiterate and all upper caste women are highly literate. Many upper caste women are also not highly literate.

Today female education is spreading fast and let alone OBC women even dalit women are also getting better educated than their mothers. Truth is much more complex. OBC men are not willing to allow their women folk to go to state assemblies or parliament. They do not want to part with their share of power. If women start representing in assemblies and parliament they will become dominant and assertive of their power. It hurts their male ego.

Also, if they are really concerned about their women getting reservation why can’t they give 33% reservation to their women in party nomination. Why do they want quota within quota? They want extra reservation so that they do not want to cut down their own representation in parliament or assembly. And again who can say that the benefit will not go only to creamy layer among OBC. So far all the benefits of reservation have gone to creamy layers among OBCs and dalits. There is no reason to believe that political reservation will benefit at all. The dalits and OBCs as a whole have remained extremely poor and illiterate.

But the OBC satraps due to their numbers in Parliament are able to dictate terms and especially for passing the Finance Bill and without their cooperation Finance Bill can be stalled. That is the Government changed its strategy and postponed presenting Women’s Reservation Bill in Lok Sabha until May so that it can seek cooperation of OBC satraps in passing the Finance Bill.

But even in May these OBC leaders in Lok Sabha can succeed in stalling the Women’s Reservation Bill and Mulayam Singh Yadav is talking of compromising by conceding twenty per cent seats for women in parliament and state assemblies. And government also may compromise to ensure smooth passage of Bill. This would certainly be at the cost of justice to women. But in politics of vote bank who cares for justice. And it seems Government may accept 20% reservation for women. The Bill could have been passed 14 years ago with these amendments. Why then Government waited for 14 long years if it had to accept such a compromise. I wish the government does not give in to such pressures. It will be gross injustice to cause of women. And that too those OBC leaders who are crying foul for non representation of OBC women did not hesitate to make their wives even chief minister of the state. Laloo Prasad’s wife Rabri Devi was made Chief Minister of Bihar who did not have any experience in politics, much less administering a huge state like Bihar. Similarly, BJP’s Uma Bharti, another OBC woman, Chief Minister of another big state like Madhya Pradesh. She too had hardly any experience except being mass agitator and a demagogue.

Reservation for Muslim Women

Mulayam Singh Yadav and Laloo Prasad Yadav also are saying, to strengthen their position that a sub-quota be given to Muslim women. This has no iota of sincerity. Had they been sincere, they would have given tickets to Muslim women of their respective parties either for parliamentary elections or to say the least, assembly elections. As far as we know, these leaders did not give tickets even to Muslim men, in proportion to their population, let alone to Muslim women. Now to demand sub-quota for Muslim women is nothing more than politicking for winning support of Muslims. It is nothing more than mere politicking. It is this kind of politicking which denies justice to minorities and others. And as pointed out above, this is not even doing justice to OBC but only to creamy layer.

Much greater irony is Muslim community does not speak in one voice even for its own benefit. While political minded Muslims are demanding sub-quota for Muslims the conservative Ulema are banning Muslim women from the arena of representational politics. Few years ago when women were given 33% and in some states even 50% representation in panchayats, zilla parishad and municipal elections, a Muslim woman from Deoband filed her nomination for Municipal board election. A fatwa was issued by muftis of Deoband that it is haram for Muslim women to fight elections and campaign among men. However, the Muslim woman showed determination and refused to withdraw her nomination. The muftis then relaxed and asked her to wear hijab for campaigning among men. The woman again refused to bow down to wishes of muftis and campaigned and even won the election. Now we have news from Nadwatul Ulema, Lucknow that women should sit at home and perform her domestic chores rather than enter into public arena.

Our Ulema from India do not even know that Pakistan, the so called Islamic State has already given 22% reservation to women in National Assembly. Either this news has not reached Indian Ulema or they consider reservation for women in Pakistan “un Islamic”. The Indian Ulema unfortunately are totally cut off from the modern world. They are still living the medieval Islam which they study in the books written by Islamic jurists and scholars of medieval era. It appears they consider medieval Islam as the only Islam they know. For them women have been created to serve their husbands and any other role for women as “un-Islamic”. They even refuse to take cognizance of what is going on in other Islamic countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Indonesia and Malaysia. In Saudi Arabia, which is considered strictest regime for women, King Abdullah has nominated a woman as a cabinet minister. In Iran women freely contest parliamentary elections and have become achievers in various fields of life. In Kuwait women fought their case up to Supreme Court to go to parliament without wearing hijab. In Malaysia, women have been appointed to naval ships and in Indonesia a Muslim woman Megawati Sukarnoputri became president of the country. And of course in Pakistan Benazir Bhutto was elected as Prime Minister. In Bangladesh power rotates between Khaleda Zia and Haseena Wajed.

In our opinion it is government’s duty to ensure justice to women of all castes and communities and to refuse to slash 33% quota under pressure and there should not be sub-quotas for castes and communities. The democratic ideal requires that justice be done to women as a whole and all women to whatever castes and communities they belong to should have fair representation without taking resort to quota and suppose quota is agreed to how long will it last? Will it not become a permanent feature of Indian politics? Justice requires that only creamy layers and close relatives of regional satraps like Mulayam Singh Yadav and Laloo Prasad Yadav and other OBC leaders could not be the only beneficiaries of reservations.