Who Is A Progressive Muslim?

In the AMAN (Asian Muslim Action Network) assembly which took place in Pattani, Thailand in the last week of February 2011 a discussion took place as to who is a progressive Muslim and what are its characteristics. I was asked to throw light on this subject. I am presenting here what I spoke there. I had the following to say.

A progressive Muslim is one who is firmly grounded in the Qur’anic values of truth (haq), justice (‘adl), compassion (rahmah), wisdom (hikmah) and does service to others rather than being served by others. A progressive Muslim does not believe in sectarian Islam (sunni or shi’ah or Isma’ili or Deobandi or Barelvi or ahl-e-hadith or salafi Islam but rises above all these sects and gives importance to Qur’an above everything else.

A progressive Islam not only does not adopt sectarian approach but is respectful of entire humanity and human dignity as per Qur’an (17:70). He leaves mutual differences, ideological and theological to Allah alone and does not condemn anyone who differences from him/her as kafirs as often sectarian Muslims do. It only widens differences and intensifies conflict. A progressive Muslim uses, as per Qur’an, wisdom (hikmah) and goodly words (maw’izat al-Hasanah) in discussion and leaves rest to Allah. He does not try to be judgemental.

A progressive Muslim is least influenced by personal prejudices and always gives more importance to knowledge than his opinion. Qur’an condemns prejudiced opinion (zan) and promotes knowledge (‘ilm). Also, openness of mind is a seminal quality and avoids arrogance born more out of ignorance than knowledge. Those who have little knowledge are more arrogant and those who have greater degree of knowledge know limitations of their own knowledge and hence tend to be humble.

A progressive Muslim first of all studies his/her own religion in depth and tries to understand, as objectively as possible, the causes of differences between different religions and shows full respect for others beliefs. It is those who do not know their own religion, much less those of others, who condemn religion of others. The Qur’an says, “And abuse not those whom they call upon besides Allah lest, exceeding the limits they abuse Allah through ignorance.” (6:109). Further in this verse Allah says, “Thus to everyone people have We made their deeds fair-seeming; then to their Lord is their return so He will inform them of what they did.” Thus ultimately it is Allah who will judge. We human beings when we judge, we judge more out of ignorance and arrogance of our ego than knowledge and selflessness.

The key words in this verse are that for every people We made their deeds fair-seeming to them. Then who are we human beings to condemn others beliefs and deeds. Let then Allah alone to judge who is right and who is wrong.

Also a progressive Muslim celebrates diversity as diversity is creation of Allah and if Allah desired He could have made entire humanity one community. (5:48). The Qur’an also says, “And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your tongues and colours. Surely there are signs in this for the learned.” Thus a progressive Muslim will never have any prejudice against any language or colour of skin or any colour for that matter as these are all creations of Allah.

Also, both men and women are creation of Allah and both need to be treated with same degree of dignity. Allah has created all species in couples and it is necessary for survival of all species. No species will survive unless it is created in couples. Thus feminine of the couple is as important as masculine and in human beings both gender must be treated equally. Moreover gender is social and cultural construct. Whereas sex is natural gender is social and cultural.

A progressive Muslim knows this very well and treats both men and women with equal dignity and believes in giving equal rights to both. And in today’s context gender equality becomes a crucial test for a progressive Muslim. Female servitude was purely feudal cultural creation and Islam opposed it and pronounced the doctrine of gender equality in clear terms (2:228) A progressive Muslim knows that certain Shari’ah provisions establishing male superiority were in response to cultural needs of a patriarchal society than based on Qur’an and hadith.

Thus a progressive Muslim will give more importance to Qur’anic pronouncements of gender equality than feudal female servitude and would not consider these [provisions of Shari’ah laws as eternal and unalterable. A progressive Muslim, therefore, would reconstruct Shari’ah laws in this respect and accord equal rights to women who are also believers. One believer cannot be superior to another believer. Male superiority is a human construct and human construct cannot override divine injunction. Also, functional differences i.e. bearing children should not result in distinction of superior and inferior.

A progressive Muslim would accord seeking knowledge highest priority as knowledge has been equated with light (nor) and ignorance to darkness (zulmat) and Allah brings out believers from darkness to light. And the Prophet (PBUH) has said that a moment’s reflection is more important than whole nights worship (‘ibadat). Thus knowledge has priority over worship.

Thus these are the characteristics of a progressive Muslim and those who imbibe these characteristics would survive all the challenges of all the times and would not face any difficulty in keeping pace with the changing times.

Am Not An Expert On Minority Affairs, Al-hamdu lillah

By Dr Wasim Ahmad,

Thanks to God Almighty, I don’t have the latest data on Indian Muslims. I don’t have the statistics about each constituency and the population of Muslims in it. I do not have the data about the Muslim MPs and MLAs who have fought and won or lost elections so far. I don’t know which constituencies witnessed the splitting or non-splitting of their votes and how and why. Continue reading Am Not An Expert On Minority Affairs, Al-hamdu lillah

No Head-I-win-tail-you-lose Situation For Muslims

By Soroor Ahmed,

On April 25 every year thousands of men and women from Australia, New Zealand and other western countries would converge to Gallipoli to commemorate the failed expedition to Turkey during the World War-I. In the year 2000 the then Australian Prime Minister, John Howard and his New Zealand counterpart Helen Clark landed with 15,000 strong pilgrims from English-speaking world. Continue reading No Head-I-win-tail-you-lose Situation For Muslims

Muslim History Of Gujarat


Talk about Muslims of Gujarat and pictures of genocide of 2002 come to mind. How is that Muslims, who have lived and shaped Gujarati identity for over a millennium, are now living on the fringe of Gujarati society? TwoCircles.net series on Gujarat will trace Muslim presence and contributions to Gujarat and reveal their present condition. Continue reading Muslim History Of Gujarat

Selective Justice For Muslim Religious Places In Delhi

By Sohail Ahmed Siddiqui,

Early morning on January 12th , Delhi govt. officials accompanied by 500 armed police personnel and DDA demolition squad and equipments reached a Hindu dominated locality Jangpura-B, adjacent to Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia’s Mazar and tombs of Mughal ruler Humayun and Abdul Raheem Khankhana, to demolish a small Mosque in this area known as Masjid Noor. The entire operation was so secretive and planned that demolishers had within half an hour levelled the masjid structure and armed police had cordoned the vicinity of the mosque. Today two days later the force has swelled to 3000 CRPF personnel guarding the demolished masjid from Muslims who wanted to offer Juma Prayers at the masjid site.

Rule of law has been implemented and “illegal structure” (Noor Mosque) on Delhi Govt. land has been done away with. Congress MLA Sardar Talvinder Singh has played dirty in this episode. The president of Jangpura Residents Association is Sardar Monu Chadda, a school dropout and close associate of Sardar Talvinder Singh, the Congress MLA on whose complaint the masjid has been demolished.

People offering prayer at the site of demolished Noor masjid

I, till four years back, was a resident of Jangpura-B from 1975 and this one room small Masjid Noor was ten houses away from my house. As a disabled person after my car accident in January I992 this mosque was a relief for persons like me as I had difficulty in going to Bhogal or Nizamuddin Mosque. Sardar Talvinder Singh, a known land-grabber and former president of PGDAV College, Srinivaspuri, New Delhi, now a Congress MLA and Congress leader Tajdar Babbar never cooperated with the Muslims of the area. I can say with proof and confidence about their involvement in this demolition. The SHO of Nizamuddin is also part of the loot.

The Delhi High Court four years back ordered the Delhi state govt to stop illegal cutting of Dargah Panch Peer trees behind the Prime Ministers of India’s residence. What happened? Despite running from pillar to post the Dargah land was captured by Association of Retired Civil Servants for constructing Civil Servants Club. Today the dargah has been wired within 250 yards by area SHO. The green belt has been reduced to stones. On 9 acres of Dargah land worth at least 20,000 Crores the three storied Club building has almost finished its construction. This writer approached everyone from PM to Sonia to Urdu Media, Muslim leaders, Muslim ministers and MPs but till date nothing has happened despite the High Court orders in favour of the Dargah. Muslims would be grateful if the principle of Wakf alal Aulaad is restored. Dargah land behind PM House in the police lines area should be restored to the Dargah. Now coming to the implementation of the Delhi High Court order in the Jangpura Masjid Noor matter. It was not possible without the will of the Delhi state government and Central government’s complicity. Why a false order/No order is implemented by Delhi state govt. while genuine Delhi Court order in favour of Dargah is not implemented? This selective use of court orders by successive Indian governments and instances of the demolition of Babri Masjid, Batla House fake encounter, Mecca Masjid blasts by Brahmin terrorists or protecting RSS and Shiv Sena, are only radicalising the educated Muslim youth.

The Delhi High Court had not ordered demolition of the Jangpura Masjid as the Delhi Waqf Board had informed the DDA that the mosque was on its registered graveyard land. But Delhi Lt. Governor approved an unknown Religious Committee’s 16th June 2009 recommendation to demolish the mosque which was ultimately demolished on 12th January 2011. Months before the demolition, Zakat Foundation of India approached the office of Lt Governor, DDA and Delhi Government’s Home Dept seeking details about the Religious Committee and the members who attended its 16th June 2009 meeting, a copy of the minutes of the meeting and a copy of the paper on which Lt. Governor approved these minutes. But these offices haven’t yet provided the sought information to ZFI.

(The writer is Chief Editor of www.bismillahnews.in, can be reached at siddiquiahmedsohail@mail.com.)

What Makes the Muslims Angry: Analysing the Causes that Foster Fundamentalism

Throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.”
—Barack Obama, 44th President of USA

THE year 1979 holds special importance. It was the year that saw two significant happenings in the Muslim world. The events occurred in two states holding contrasting views on Islam but triggered by a common enemy, the US. One was the hostage crisis in the Shiite ruled Iran, which was covered quite extensively by the press, the other being the lesser known and reported uprising at Islam’s holiest shrine in Mecca, the city under the control of Sunni Muslims.

There was a fundamental difference though between the two events. The embassy takeover in Tehran was a student initiative against the US for its meddling in the country’s politics. The siege of Mecca was the rebellion of a Muslim group against the policies of the ruling family in Saudi Arabia which were influenced by the US.

The rebellion in Mecca combined with the events in neighboring Iran forever changed the equation of Muslims with the US, and the west in general.

Act I, Tehran

On November 4, 1979, some 400 Iranian students decided to stage a sit-in at the American embassy in Tehran. It was a demonstration both against the Iranian Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan’s meeting in Algiers with Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s National Security advisor, to discuss common security issues and the Shah’s admission to America for his cancer treatment.

The protest soon turned into a takeover of the embassy and its staff as more radical elements took over. The captives were paraded blindfolded before the world’s media.

Ayatollah Khomeni at first wanted the students to be taken out by force, but later changed his mind riding on the popular mood and supported their cause. He even denounced the embassy as a ‘nest of spies’. Con Coughlin writes how it influenced the Islamic revolution in Iran, “The American embassy siege proved to be a defining moment both for Khomeini and the Islamic revolution. Whereas previously he had sought to control the wilder excesses of the revolution, such as limiting the number of executions, now he fully embraced the concept of revolutionary action, and gave the student revolutionaries free rein to confront the negative influences of imperialism, liberalism and democracy.”[1]

The move was also initially opposed by two prominent student activists – one of them (surprisingly) was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from Tarbiat Modarres University. Both eventually joined ranks with the majority.

Although the hostage crisis was a student initiative, it found mass support in Iran because of the role US played in the past politics of the country. America helped depose the elected and popular government of Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953. Iranians never really forgave the US for it.

The embassy staff of 52 Americans was held hostage for a total of 444 days. It damaged relations between Washington and Tehran permanently.

Act II, Mecca

The Mecca uprising was the revolt of a group of Muslim extremists against their own rulers.

Juhayman ibn Saif al Uteybi, a retired corporal in the Saudi National Guard, was the chief architect of the events that unfolded in Mecca on November 20, 1979.

His role in the uprising was an outcome of the anger that has been building inside him for some time. Perhaps it’s not surprising then that his name itself means ‘Angry Face’ in Arabic.

During the mid 1970s Juhayman lived in Medina trying to model his life on the ways of the Prophet 14 centuries earlier. He was not alone.

Robert Lacey sheds light on such individuals, “Those who opted for back-to-basics called themselves Salafi, because they sought to behave as salaf, literally the pious ancestors of one of those three early generations that were mentioned with such approval by the Prophet. A group calling itself Al-Jamaa Al-Salafiya Al-Muhtasiba, “the Salafi Group That Commands Right and Forbids Wrong,” had been active in Medina for some time, and Juhayman joined it when he came to town, plugging himself into some of the Kingdom’s strongest and most ancient traditions of piety.”[2]

Medina’s Salafi Group was created around 1965.

For Juhayman, wherever he looked he could detect bida’h (any Islamic innovation). By now his rejectionist thinking found a few takers. They started referring to themselves as Al-Ikhwan (the Brothers). The word itself had a dangerous resonance with the Saudi past. It was also Juhayman’s legacy.

A confrontation with Sheikhs though resulted in the security forces running after the Ikhwan for interrogation. Juhayman was on the run.

Unable to meet his followers, Juhayman turned to the written and spoken words. His printed words (“The Letters of Juhayman”) survived and have long influenced Muslim extremists over the years.

His grievance was that al-Saud had exploited Islam to guarantee their worldly interests, and have brought evil and corruption upon the Muslims by paying allegiance to the Americans.

It was in late 1978 that Juhayman started having dreams about the Islamic Messiah – the Mahdi or rightly-guided one – who would come down to earth to correct the problems of mankind. His dreams even revealed the identity of the Mahdi as one of his own followers, Muhammad Abdullah Al-Qahtani. Juhayman soon married his sister.

This was also the time when Juhayman was ready to confront the rulers by violent means. His armed men took control of the Grand Mosque on the First day of Muharram (first Islamic month) in the Islamic year 1400, which translates to November 20, 1979.

The siege finally ended on December 4 as the last of the remaining rebels were captured by the government forces.

The bitter struggle saw 127 government soldiers perish and 450 injured. Some 117 rebels including Muhammad Abdullah were killed. Twenty six worshippers also lost their lives.

The outcome surprised even Juhayman. Yaroslav Trofimov in his definitive account of the events says, “As Juhayman was led away, one of the officers asked him again why he had desecrated the holiest shrine. The reality of utter defeat began to sink in. “If I had known it would turn out this way, I wouldn’t have done it,” Juhayman muttered in response.”[3]

It would take several months to undo the physical damage to the Grand Mosque.

The Brothers in Islam

The founder of modern Saudi Arabia Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud was ably supported by warriors from the Bedouin tribes who called themselves Al-Ikhwan. For them to support the Saudi cause was to engage in Jihad and that made them ferocious warriors.

As the empire got established the Ikhwan were told to settle down peacefully. But being the Bedouin warriors, they continued their raids suspecting their former leader to have made peace with the British.

Abdul Aziz spent more than a year in vain to strike a deal with the Ikhwan. The showdown finally came in March 1929 in the open plain of Sibillah, north of Riyadh. The Ikhwan were given one last chance to surrender but they ignored and attacked. In response Aziz’s men opened fire. Hundreds of men and their camels perished that day.

Among those who survived the onslaught was Muhammad ibn Saif al-Uteybi, father to Juhayman.

Birth of Political Islam

The siege of Mecca was the first major challenge to the ruling group in Saudi Arabia since the Ikhwan rebellion. It brought into open the rising tension between the state and its own religion.

Madawi Al-Rasheed explains, “It was vital to devise a formula for reconciling the state’s immense wealth with the austerity of Wahhabi* Islam. The incompatibility between religious dogma and royal pomp and the vulnerability of the royal family to attacks from within the ranks of the most loyal supporters (the religious establishment) shocked inside and outside observers who considered Saudi Arabia one of the most stable states in the Middle East. The constant search of the Saudi state for ways to accommodate the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ crumbled with the siege of the mosque.”[5]

It also forced the rulers to grant more powers to the ulama (Islamic scholars) and Islamic activities more political space in the early 1980s. The ulama seized the opportunity to reinforce the strict Wahhabi rules on ritual observance and moral behaviour.

It was also the beginning of a new era where the banner of Islam was unfurled for political means. Thomas Hegghammer talks about its ramifications, “However, the ‘Wahhabism’ and the ‘pan-Islamisation’ of 1980 Saudi Arabia represented two distinct processes with different causes and results. While the first was a purely domestic process promoted by the Najdi Wahhabi ulama and resulting in social conservatism, the latter had international ramifications, was promoted by the Hijaz-based organisations such as the Muslim World League (MWL) and produced political radicalism. Nevertheless, both processes left more political space for Islamist activism of all kinds. The political opportunity structure for Islamist activists – especially those seeking to mobilise people for the jihad in Afghanistan – thus became highly beneficial.”[6]

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 prompted several Islamic organisations to issue calls for jihad against the occupiers. This gave the conflict a whole new religious dimension.

Saudi involvement in Afghanistan was unprecedented and it exceeded even the assistance for the Palestinians. It also saw the Kingdom graduate from a passive and financial to an active and military approach to pan-Islamism. This was made possible by US approval, the access to Pakistani territory, and the willingness of the Afghans.

Iran, sharing its border with Afghanistan, saw this as an opportunity to increase its influence in the area. It backed the Afghan Northern Alliance, which included the Shiite Hizb-l Vahdat representing the Hazaras (a local minority Shia tribe).

The invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein forces gave another opportunity to the fundamentalists. Fearing a possible Iraqi attack on its own soil, Saudi Arabia welcomed foreign forces in 1990 to help defend the country. This was also the time when some sahwa** members began to speak out against the monarchy. Under pressure the government looked out for ways to compensate the lost credibility.

The opportunity came in the form of the Bosnian war of 1992.

Saudi was not alone in making the most of it. Iran and Sudan, too, tried to exploit the Bosnian crisis to gain regional control.

In fact Iran made good use of its long-standing links with Bosnian political leaders to provide substantial material support for the war ravaged country.

The roots of Political Islam were firmly established by now.

The Role of Wahhabism

The rigid views of Wahhabism and the patronising it received from the Saudi rulers in the past, fostered Muslim fundamentalism. The doctrine considers Muslim sects like the Shiites and the Sufis as heretics. It even inspired people like Juhayman to take up arms against the royal family.

Although Juhayman was beheaded soon after the uprising, his ideals and vision survived long after. The baton was passed on to another misguided flag-bearer of Islam, Osama Bin Laden. Like Juhayman, Osama too, had issues with Saudi ties to the US.

It came as no surprise to many that 15 of the 19 al-Qaida jihadists involved in the 9/11 attacks were from Saudi Arabia. The sad news was followed by a discovery of a huge arms cache in Riyadh and subsequent attacks on residential compounds in 2003. The terror continued in the country so much that by the December of 2004, some 176 policemen and civilians (mostly foreigners) had lost their lives.

The events showed a scary trend. The home-grown fundamentalists were turning into terrorists. The rulers of the state had to take swift and strict measures.

Dr. Sherifa Zuhur gets the point across, “Saudi Arabian officials decried al-Qa’ida’s actions in the United States, and have captured and killed operatives, arrested more than 600 suspects, forced key clerical figures to recant their radical views on television, recalled more than 1400 imams who were counselled on their divergent opinions, and took a variety of measures to diminish the financial support of terrorist organisations. The government also announced modest political reforms that began with voter registration from 2004-05, and municipal elections in 2005 which will enhance political participation.” [7]

The tentacles of the Osama factory are now reaching Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Indonesia, among others. It misses no opportunity to unleash terror on countries and people in the name of God.

The Israeli Angle

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been the stumbling block in the stability of Middle-East and a cause for Arabs to take up arms. For years now it has been the driving force behind Muslim fundamentalism across the globe.

The difficulty in resolving the issue has only frustrated the parties involved.

The sad part is those who were once the land owners are now refugees in their own land. More than 300,000 Jews immigrated to the then British Mandated Palestine between 1923 and 1938. Now compare this with the 3.5 million Palestinians displaced because of the 1948 and 1967 upheavals (500,000 alone during the Six-Day War in 1967).

Millions of Palestinians refugees are today dispersed throughout the Middle-East, many in camps in neighboring countries. They are still searching for a way to coexist with the nation that is responsible for the mess.

According to Amnesty International 2011 Report, in 2010, Israeli authorities demolished 431 structures in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, a 59 per cent increase over 2009. At least 594 Palestinians – half of them children – were displaced, while more than 14,000 Palestinians were affected by demolitions of water cisterns, wells and structures relating to their livelihoods.

The Israeli military killed 1,510 Palestinians in 2006-09. Of these, 617, including 104 children aged under 18, were not taking part in any hostilities when they were killed.[16]

The Arab and Muslim worlds remain split between rejectionist forces and those willing to recognise Israel in the name of peace.

As for Israel it continues to enjoy strong support from both the Democrats and Republicans in the US. No US president ever questions the country’s so-called security needs.

Both Clinton and Bush failed to strongly take up the case of settlement expansion and certain occupation practices, which have nothing to do with security, with Israel.

Barack Obama generated so much hope in the Muslim world with his landmark speeches, but, he too couldn’t do much to help resolve the Israeli-Palestine conflict.

Flawed US policies in the past gave ample opportunities to other state actors with their own agendas. Both Syria and Saudi Arabia attempted to broker a Palestinian unity government without Washington’s help. Iran responded by strengthening its ties to Syria and Hamas, thereby increasing its influence in the region.

The Gaza blockade and the Israeli West Bank barrier have only added to the woes of Palestine. Indirectly it has fuelled the strong sentiments of the Arabs and Muslims elsewhere against the state of Israel.

Engaging the Extremists

The West over the years has followed a flawed policy of “engaging the moderates and shunning the extremists.” You ignore a person and you ignore his cause. By ignoring such individuals we harden their stand. It makes them look out for alternate ways to make their voices heard. Unfortunately, violence is one such means which makes maximum impact.

We need to condemn violence in any form. No second thoughts there! We also have to understand that killing one Osama Bin Laden would not help. Osama has become more of a symbol of resistance to the so called jihadists. You kill Osama and there are hundreds ready to take his place and promote the cause.

Occupying lands in the name of security threats will offer only temporary solutions and would strengthen the resolve of the jihadists. Incidentally it is also this angle which extremists, like Osama, relish.

In an interview given to CNN in 1997 Osama said, “If there is a message that I may send through you, then it is a message I address to the mothers of the American troops who came here with their military uniform walking proudly up and down our land while the scholars of our country are thrown in prisons. I say that this represents a blatant provocation to 1250 million Muslims. To these mothers I say if they are concerned for their sons, then let them object to the American government’s policy and to the American president. Do not let themselves be cheated by his standing before the bodies of the killed soldiers describing the freedom fighters in Saudi Arabia as terrorists. It is he who is a terrorist who pushed their sons into this for the sake of the Israeli interest.”[9]

The best way to approach them is to find their ideological mentors and engage them. A dialogue on any given day is a much better start.

This in itself is no mean task and a definite policy shift has to be exercised in the name of peace by the West.

Bridging Divides

The Muslims today are angry more than ever. But we need to separate anger from madness (of a few). Wherever the anger is justified it needs corrective measures.

1979 is history, but it could very well repeat itself. And with the power of the electronic media today the situation could be worse.

The West for its part needs to engage the Muslims more than ever before. Most importantly dialogues should be insulated from any act of violence. As we have seen in the past, the rise of Islamophobia only helps the extremists!

The US needs to rethink its policy of dictating other countries’ affairs in the name of national security. Afghanistan and Iraq are in a mess but the terror threat continues, not to mention the millions who lost their lives and the million others rendered homeless.

Sheikh Salman al-Oadah echoes the sentiments of fellow Muslims in the region, “And if the West considers September 11 as an affront to civil security in the West, then we can share with it that feeling and even the stance of rejecting attacks against civil security throughout the world. But it is important for the West to realize that civil security in the Islamic World has not seen stability for decades and a lot of the impediments to civil security have come about under the umbrella of Western policy and quite possibly due the direct actions of the West.” [10]

The once mighty British Empire also collapsed under the pressure of putting foot at too many places. You can’t win people over by occupying their lands!

The Palestine-Israel conflict is one issue that will influence any peace initiative between the Muslims and the West. For long it has been a stumbling block in the stability of the Middle East. You resolve that and half the work is done.

The US handling of this crisis also is faulty and needs serious rework. Daniel Kurtzer and Scott Lasensky stress this point, “The United States also has tried mistakenly to cherry-pick Palestinian negotiating partners, sometimes seeking to bypass more senior figures whom Washington perceives as intransigent. This approach tends to backfire; when we try to pick our winners, our diplomacy often loses.”[11]

Israel has also to be pressured into an inspection of its nuclear arsenal.

The two main players in the Middle-East, Iran and Saudi Arabia, influence most of the Muslim world today. The tension between them is a direct outcome of the desire to control the region and their different religious beliefs. This is also a sad reflection of the divide between the Muslims in general.

Saudi Arabia needs to promote more tolerance in its society. An outright rejection of beliefs not conforming to the majority is the first step in promoting hatred. Qur’an itself speaks against it. In verse 118, chapter 11, the books says, “If thy Lord had so willed, He could have made mankind one People: but they will not cease to dispute.”

There is also no denying the fact that the Saudi society is gradually changing and the new rulers must be credited for it.

The difficulty the rulers face is in striking a healthy balance between admonishing the violent opposition and co-opting those with similar views. Religious sensibilities have to be taken into due consideration before making any policy shift.

This is not an easy task as Madawi Al-Rasheed explains, “Saudi Arabia’s specific Islamic tradition, namely Wahhabi teachings, did not encourage an easy immersion in modernity in the twentieth century. From the very beginning, the ruling group stumbled across several obstacles when they introduced the most simple of technologies (for example cars, the telegraph and television among other innovations). Objections from conservative religious circles were overcome as a result of a combination of force and negotiations. Social and political change proved more problematic and could not be easily implemented without generating debates that threatened the internal stability of the country and alienated important and influential sections of society.”[5]

How successful would they be in the long run only time will tell!

The Saudis need the US support to guard themselves against a powerful neighbour in the form of Iran, something that has not gone down well with many in the Kingdom.

Iran needs to engage in dialogues rather than raising tempers with the now familiar diatribe of Ahmadinejad.

There are unsubstantiated claims by certain countries in the Middle East of Iran’s role in their internal affairs. The country needs to put more confidence building measures in the wake of its nuclear program.

Iran is also facing some problems internally. Post election, as the events at home show, there is a growing dissatisfaction of the young population with the power the clergy enjoys. The Shah’s toppling was not possible without the student uprising. Those in charge should never forget this simple fact.

The US needs to respect the regime in Iran (whosoever) and sit with it. Surely the lessons of the past have not been learned. Stephen Kinzer endorses the view, “Today, as anti-Iran rhetoric in Washington becomes steadily more strident, it is urgent that Americans understand how disastrous the last US attack on Iran turned out to be. They might also ponder the question of what moral responsibility the United States has to Iran in the wake of this painful history.”[12]

The answer to that has the potential to change US-Iranian relations.

Barack Obama talked about a new beginning in his landmark speech given at the Cairo University in 2009, “We have a responsibility to join together on behalf of the world that we seek — a world where extremists no longer threaten our people, and American troops have come home; a world where Israelis and Palestinians are each secure in a state of their own, and nuclear energy is used for peaceful purposes; a world where governments serve their citizens, and the rights of all God’s children are respected. Those are mutual interests. That is the world we seek. But we can only achieve it together.”

The average Muslim, too, is sick and tired of seeing his faith questioned every time some extremist blow himself to pieces in the name of Allah. They also seek a new start where they are free in their lands and are judged by their own actions.

The world has seen enough violence in the name of religion and security. Let’s give peace a chance!

(Revised and updated: Oct 29, 2011)


*Members of the Wahhabi movement prefer to call themselves Muslims, or muwahhidun (those who insist on the unification of the worship of Allah) or Ahl (community of) At-Tawhid (Monotheism). The teachings of the reformer Abd Al-Wahhab are more often referred to by adherents as Salafi (“following the forefathers of Islam.”)

**Sahwa movement emerged in Saudi Arabia during the late 1960s. It was a well organised political movement that pride itself on religious orthodoxy.

1. Con Coughlin, Khomeini’s Ghost (London: Pan Macmillan, 2010), 177.

2. Robert Lacey, Inside the Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Terrorists, Modernists, and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia (New York: Viking Penguin, 2009), 18.

3. The Siege of Mecca: The 1979 Uprising at Islam’s Holiest Shrine by Yaroslav Trofimov (New York: Anchor Books, 2008), 214.

4. As’ad AbuKhalil, The Battle for Saudi Arabia: Royalty, Fundamentalism, and Global Power (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2004).

5. Madawi Al-Rasheed, A History of Saudi Arabia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 11.

6. Thomas Hegghammer, Jihad in Saudi Arabia: Violence and Pan-Islamism Since 1979 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 24.

7. Sherifa Zuhur, “Saudi Arabia: Islamic Threat, Political reform, and the Global War on Terror,” Strategic Studies Institute (2005), 13, accessed October 28, 2011, http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pubs/display.cfm?PubID=598.

8. Noam Chomsky, Fateful Triangle: the United States, Israel, and the Palestinians (London: Pluto Press, Updated Edition, 1999).

9. “Osama bin Laden Interview – CNN,” FindLaw, accessed October 28, 2011, news.findlaw.com/cnn/docs/binladen/binladenintvw-cnn.pdf.

10. Sheikh Salman al-Oadah, “How We Can Coexist”, Islam Today, Jan 01, 2002  , accessed October 28, 2011, http://en.islamtoday.net/artshow-417-2952.htm.

11. Daniel Kurtzer and Scott Lasensky, Negotiating Arab-Israeli Peace: American Leadership in the Middle East, (Washington: United States Institue of Peace, 2008), 38.

12. Stephen Kinzer, All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror, (New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons), xxiii.

13. “A History of Conflict”, BBC,  accessed October 28, 2011, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/spl/hi/middle_east/03/v3_ip_timeline/html.

14. Roland Jacquard, In the Name of Osama Bin Laden: Global Terrorism and the Bin Laden Brotherhood (USA: Duke University Press, 2002, Revised and Updated).

15. Mark Bowden, Guests of the Ayatollah: The Iran Hostage Crisis: The First Battle in America’s War with Militant Islam (New York: Grove Press, 2006).

16. “Amnesty International Annual Report 2011: The state of the world’s human rights,” Amnesty International, accessed October 28, 2011, http://www.amnesty.org/en/region/israel-occupied-palestinian-territories/report-2011#section-67-5.

Book Review: A Guide To Uplift Minorities

By Mahtab Alam,

Name of the book: A Guide to Uplift Minorities

Compiled by: Abdur Rasheed Agwan and Edited by M. Gauhar Iqbal

Published by: Social Service Wing, Jamaat-e Islami, Hind
D-317, Dawat Nagar, Abul Fazl Enc, Jamia Nagar, New

Pages: 319, revised edition- June 2010

Price: 150/- rupees

The empowerment of Muslim community in India has become a major issue of debate ever since the famous Sachar Committee submitted its report, within both the circles: Government as well as Community. The main reasons of backwardness of Muslim community in India are also two fold: first and foremost is government’s apathy towards the empowerment of the community and second, the lack of proper community initiatives itself.

Much can be said about the government’s apathy towards the upliftment of the Muslim community. However, it would not be unfair to say that even the community has failed to tap the resources available for its development. The reason can be attributed to lack of information about the schemes, organisational setup and trained human resource, etc.

In its fully revised edition, the book, A Guide to Uplift Minorities is a modest effort to fulfil that gap. As the very name suggests, it is a guide, aimed at providing information to the change-makers and other development professionals to enhance their skills and to work in a more focused, structured and systematic manner. The book is essentially divided into three major sections on establishing an NGO, its management and its funding. It starts with a gist of socio-economic and educational status of Muslims in India as the introduction.

Following the introduction are chapters detailed with information about how to make or register an NGO, how to run it and how monetary aids can be obtained for it. Besides, it contains information about NGO’s formation, minorities’ schemes, general schemes and the schemes which are offered by international agencies. One of the chapters of this book has the details about a range of schemes of the government granted for minorities and some other general schemes which minorities can avail benefits of. A list of national and international funding agencies and the priorities they have while sanctioning funds is also included, which makes it a complete guide in itself.

As the chapters of this book comprehensively cover various aspects required for the upliftment of Minorities from Formation of an NGO, Management of an NGO, Capacity building of its staff members, General Norms of Government Schemes to Exclusive Schemes for Minorities, it is able to fulfil one of its prime ideas of making the populace aware of the targeted beneficiaries of the various schemes and grants issued by the government. Information about Muslim funding agencies likes of Islamic Development Bank (IDB) and Muslim Aid, etc along with the procedure of obtaining grant or aid have also been explained in detail.

This book can be used not only as a guide but also a reference material and is a must for libraries, social activists and community leaders as well as heads of Muslim institutions. Grass-root activists can hardly afford to miss it, especially those who are working for the empowerment of minorities in general and the Muslims in particular. In a nutshell, it is an essential guide for empowerment of the Community.

(Reviewer is a Civil Rights Activist and freelance Journalist. He can be reached at mdmahtabalam@gmail.com)

Indian Republic At 60- Am I Indian First Or Muslim First?

On the 60th anniversary of Indian Republic someone asked me a question; are you a Indian first or a Muslim first? The first thing I did was to thank him for asking this. Answer to this is sought by many “prominent” Indian Muslims and I am indeed honored to inadvertently sneak into this category. The latest ones in the list before me were APJ Abdul Kalam and Sharukh Khan!

I know it’s a very philosophical question ‘who am I’? However, without going any further, let me try to handle this. It’s like seeking answer to; are you child of your father first or your mother first? The answer is both. I am born in India and I am an Indian and it’s a geographical term. I am born in Islamic faith and so I am a Muslim, and it’s a religious term. I am an “Indian Muslim” is the short answer. Now let me elaborate my point.

Khan Abdul Wali Khan, the Pukhtoon leader was asked similar question; are you Pukhtun first or Muslim first? He replied; “I have been a Pukhtun for six thousand years, a Muslim for thirteen hundred years, and a Pakistani for twenty-five years. I am the one who is contained with all of these features.”

Now let me take you back to the history of this question that reverberated in the entire debate during the run up of India’s Independence and Partition. Many Indian Muslims were asked to clarify their position. They took pains to explain that religious and national identity is like two wheels of a cycle and both are essential for a ride. Multiple identities are inevitable and the individual, the society, and the polity have to adjust to such realities.

As per my knowledge this question was first asked to Maulana Mohmmmad Ali, one of the siblings of “Ali brothers” fame, who spearheaded the Khilfat movement in 1920 and credited to have imported Gandhiji to India from South Africa. Later, on when he fell out of the Congress, he was asked the same question; are you Indian first or Muslim first? What a sad commentary on one of the illustrious sons of India.

After independence this debate was suppose to have settled down with the creation of Pakistan and Bharat, that’s India. However, this has not. It continues to be tossed up to embarrass ordinary Indian Muslims and to create unnecessary tension in the society.

This question continues to be one of the smartest arrows in the quiver of the RSS establishment. They equate religion with national identity and by that token being a Hindu alone is an Indian and the people adhering to other religious faith are not second class Indian citizens and should not enjoy equal rights as those of the Hindu brethren.

My take on this is, to retort back; are you a Hindu first, or a Brahmin first, or an Indian first? If you move to Australial will you be a Hindu first, a Brahmin first, an Indian first or an Australian first?” How does a Hindu and an Indian reconcile to one’s religious and national identity if he or she is not living in the geographical boundary of India?

Religion is very personal thing to an individual. I am a Muslim and so also my other country men. They are Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Zorashtrians, and many others in our plural society. I owe loyalty to my country India and its constitution and yet I practice my religion very freely and without prejudice to others’ views or faiths.

If we look at India’s canvass, Hinduism welcomed all religions with equal zeal when they knocked our shores and because of its openness, one finds a beautiful spread in terms of art, culture, architecture and music. The southern shores of India welcomed Judaism, Christianity, and Islam with open arms. We have a first synagogue, first church and first mosque in Kerala, a synthesis that is difficult to see in any other country. India therefore stands tall among the communities of nations where pluralism has come to stay. Even the most evolved societies of Europe are still grappling with the plural values.

I have always maintained, we could discuss any thing particularly religion with open mind and with sobering affect. But when we mix other agenda, a conflicting situation arises. Look at the passion that India- Pakistan cricket matches generated some time back. It was an unfortunate Muslim who had the audacity to clap when Pakistanis scored, and a quick label was fixed on him that he was anti India and a Pakistani. At the same time when a Indian who is settled abroad backs India in sports certainly, the people of those countries do not even pause or think this as an aberration to their citizenship or loyalty.

When Pakistan President Parvez Musharaff clapped and appreciated Indian Cricketers victory in Pakistan, no one raised any hue and cry. In fact he went a step further to quip that the Indian Captain MS Dhoni looked cute in his long hair. His comments did not made him pro Indian and anti – Pakistani but it did made a difference to mellow down the debate; Indian first or Muslim first?
So folks at the end, it’s all in our heads. how we look at the glass of water, whether it’s half empty or half full. The only way for a decent survival in a plural society like India is to steer the path of secularism and democracy and strive for peaceful coexistence.

—Syed Ali Mujtaba is a working journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@yahoo.com

Tackling Terrorism: A Call To Hindu And Muslim Religious Leaders

Maulana Waris Mazhari
(Translated by Yoginder Sikand)

Inter-faith DialogueThe recent assault on Mumbai is the most deadly terrorist attack that India has witnessed so far, and it has shaken every Indian. Every one of us is asking how it is that we have become so vulnerable and what it is that we must do to confront this situation. It has become a sort of fad to blame politicians for all our ills and problems. Continue reading Tackling Terrorism: A Call To Hindu And Muslim Religious Leaders

Whither India: Qualitative Change In Polity

Varanasi, IndiaLast six months have been most disturbing on the Indian political scene. As far as the values of integration are concerned they are being attacked very severely by terrorist-communal forces. First, we saw the series of bomb blasts, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Delhi and Malegaon. It was projected by the authorities that all these acts are due to Jehadi Muslim groups that police have succeeded in cracking the network. One outcome of this was the Batla house encounter in which police, bravely killed the terrorists. Continue reading Whither India: Qualitative Change In Polity