Tag Archive for 'Islam'

Does doing yoga make you a Hindu?

William Kremer / BBC World Service

Farida Hamza, a Muslim woman living in the US (pictured above), had been doing yoga for two or three years when she decided she wanted to teach it.

“When I told my family and a few friends, they did not react positively,” she recalls. “They were very confused as to why I wanted to do it – that it might be going against Islam.”

Their suspicions about yoga are shared by many Muslims, Christians and Jews around the world and relate to yoga’s history as an ancient spiritual practice with connections to Hinduism and Buddhism.

Last year, a yoga class was banned from a church hall in the UK. “Yoga is a Hindu spiritual exercise,” said the priest, Father John Chandler. “Being a Catholic church we have to promote the gospel, and that’s what we use our premises for.” Anglican churches in the UK have taken similar decisions at one time or another. In the US, prominent pastors have called yoga “demonic”.

One answer to the question of whether yoga really is a religious activity will soon be given by the Supreme Court in the country of its birth, India.

More:

Ignorant goodwill

Afiya Shehrbano responds to Jemima Khan’s piece on polygamy in Muslim communities, in South Asia Citizens Web:

Jemima Khan, enamoured by all that she has learnt about Muslim women’s exceptional rights during her time as Imran Khan’s wife, has recently ‘investigated’ British Muslim women’s partiality towards polygamous marriages as a socio-cultural refuge.

Mrs Khan herself renounced the traditional right of Muslim women to keep their maiden names after marriage but interestingly, chooses to retain her ex-husband’s identity even post-divorce. Social-celebrity affectation or not, that’s her personal choice. However, when she masquerades as a social scientist, then Mrs Khan may be well advised to read some of the prolific international scholarship by (Muslim) women on the historical intersections of polygamy with culture, religion and class and their assessment of its doubtful ‘benefits’.

Not to privilege science too much, even an anecdotal survey of some working class communities of Lahore, where Mrs Khan lived for several years, would have confirmed her thesis – albeit not with the same optimistic conclusions. Often, polygamous marriages have indeed provided some women a sanctuary…but not from poverty or abandonment, instead, from domestic violence. Once displaced, primary wives of polygamous arrangements sometimes (though not always) become lesser targets of spousal and in-law violence/discrimination. Technically, this could qualify polygamous arrangements as safer havens, I suppose. More:

What kind of woman is willing to share her husband?

Jemima Khan in New Statesman:

Aisha (not her real name), a divorced single mother with two children, recently chose to become a second wife. She was introduced to her husband by a friend. She says that at first she was hesitant. “I was like, ‘No, I can’t do it. I’m too jealous as a person. I wouldn’t be able to do it.’ But the more that time went on and I started thinking about it, especially more maturely, I saw the beauty of it.”

They agreed on the terms of the marriage by email, covering details such as “how many days he’d spend with me and how many days he’d spend with his other wife, and money and living arrangements”. They then met twice, liked each other, set a date and were married. Her husband now spends three days with Aisha and her two children from her previous marriage and then three days with his other family, unless one of them is ill, in which case he stays to help but has to make up the missed time to his other wife.

She confesses that “if he was to stay all the time I’d love it”, but says that having time off “is definitely beneficial in some ways as well”. She has “more freedom” to see her friends and her family, and it is a relief “not having a man in your face half the time, when you are cranky, and he can go somewhere else and you can manage the kids on your own”. More:

The stories of our fathers

Aman Ali’s moving piece in New York Times

IN the heart of Berlin this summer I walked on stage at the Babylon Theater and began telling stories.

I was nervous. I’m a practicing Muslim, and I didn’t know how a German audience would react to an awkward, hairy brown kid.

I talked. I talked about my life, and how as a child I’d bring home a report card with a 95 percent on it, and my father would say, “Why isn’t this 100 percent? If you weren’t slacking off, you’d have 100 percent.”

An old story, perhaps, but one that gets laughs.

It still drives me nuts because he still does it. more

The Departed: By Salman Rushdie

In Ihe New Yorker:

1989

Afterward, when the world was exploding around him, he felt annoyed with himself for having forgotten the name of the BBC reporter who told him that his old life was over and a new, darker existence was about to begin. She called him at home, on his private line, without explaining how she got the number. “How does it feel,” she asked him, “to know that you have just been sentenced to death by Ayatollah Khomeini?” It was a sunny Tuesday in London, but the question shut out the light. This is what he said, without really knowing what he was saying: “It doesn’t feel good.” This is what he thought: I’m a dead man. He wondered how many days he had left, and guessed that the answer was probably a single-digit number. He hung up the telephone and ran down the stairs from his workroom, at the top of the narrow Islington row house where he lived. The living-room windows had wooden shutters and, absurdly, he closed and barred them. Then he locked the front door.

It was Valentine’s Day, but he hadn’t been getting along with his wife, the American novelist Marianne Wiggins. Five days earlier, she had told him that she was unhappy in the marriage, that she “didn’t feel good around him anymore.” Although they had been married for only a year, he, too, already knew that it had been a mistake. Now she was staring at him as he moved nervously around the house, drawing curtains, checking window bolts, his body galvanized by the news, as if an electric current were passing through it, and he had to explain to her what was happening. She reacted well and began to discuss what they should do. She used the word “we.” That was courageous.

A car arrived at the house, sent by CBS Television. He had an appointment at the American network’s studios, in Bowater House, Knightsbridge, to appear live, by satellite link, on its morning show. “I should go,” he said. “It’s live television. I can’t just not show up.” More:

India and Pakistan: the great wall of silence

“India and Pakistan are divided by a great wall of silence, which liberals are anxious to breach, which ideologues are determined to strengthen, and which people are condemned to suffer,” writes M.J. Akbar in India Today

What is the difference between Indians and Pakistanis? The answer is uncomplicated: There is no difference. We are the same people, with similar personality strengths, and parallel collective weaknesses. Why then have the two nations moved along such dramatically different arcs in the six decades of their existence?

India and Pakistan are not separated by a mere boundary. They are defined by radically opposed ideas. India believes in a secular state where all faiths are equal; Pakistan in the notion that a state can be founded on the basis of religion.

The two-nation theory, which was the basis of Pakistan, did not separate all Muslims of the subcontinent from Hindus; nearly as many Muslims live in India at this moment, without any hindrance to the exercise of their faith, as live in Pakistan. Pakistan was created on an assumption, which had no basis in either the political or social history of Indian Muslims, that they could not live as equals in a united, Hindu majority India. It was a concept that flourished in the wasteland of an inferiority complex. more

The poetry of Al Qaeda and the Taliban

Faisal Devji in the NYT Sunday Review. [Devji is a fellow of St. Antony’s College, Oxford, and the author of the preface for the forthcoming anthology “Poetry of the Taliban.”]

In fact, poetry has long been a part of Muslim radicalism; the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran, for example, was the author of a large collection of verse. Today, the Taliban’s Web site features poems written by the group’s members and sympathizers, both men and women. Recitations are frequently recorded and stored on cellphones and transferred from one person to another by way of Bluetooth technology.

Many Afghan and Al Qaeda poems — which come from distinct but hybrid literary traditions — are, as might be expected, political. In a statement broadcast on Al Jazeera in December 2001, Osama bin Laden quoted the following verses from one of his favorite contemporary poets, Yusuf Abu Hilala, changing the last line and replacing the word “castles” in the original with “towers,” as a reference to the destruction of the World Trade Center:

 Though the clothes of darkness enveloped us and the poisoned tooth bit us,

 Though our homes overflowed with blood and the assailant desecrated our land,

 Though from the squares the shining of swords and horses vanished,

 And sound of drums was growing

 The fighters’ winds blew, striking their towers and telling them:

 We will not cease our raids until you leave our fields.

More

Pakistan blocks Twitter over “blasphemous content”

[Update: Twitter access was restored after eight hours]

Reuters:

Pakistan on Sunday blocked access to Twitter in response to “blasphemous” material posted by users on the microblogging and social networking website, a senior government official said.

“This has been done under the directions of the Ministry of Information Technology. It’s because of blasphemous content,” said Mohammed Yaseen, chairman of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA).

“They (the ministry) have been discussing with them (Twitter) for some time now, requesting them to remove some particular content,” he said.

Pakistan blocked access to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and about 1,000 other websites for nearly two weeks in May 2010 over blasphemous content.

Any representation of the Prophet Mohammad is deemed un-Islamic and blasphemous by many Muslims, who constitute the overwhelming majority in Pakistan. More:

Purifying Kashmir

Tariq Mir in Boston Review:

A squat and priggish man of 46, Abdul Lateef Al Kindi has a thick salt-and-pepper beard and a reputation for causing controversy. During a sermon last August at his mosque in Srinagar—one of the capitals of Kashmir, and its largest city—he evoked the spirit of Islam as observed fourteen centuries ago, in the Prophet’s time, and demanded a total break from local traditions. He railed against the veneration of the tombs and relics of saints—common practice in Kashmir—as vestiges of ancient Greek and Hindu mythologies with no place in Islam.

Historically, Kashmir has been dominated by Sufi Islam, a mystical branch of the faith that the puritanically minded abhor. But Al Kindi plans to change all that. In a region already wracked by internal division and foreign pressure, he represents yet another potentially destabilizing force: orthodox Salafism, aggressively expansionist and imported from Saudi Arabia.

After the sermon, we drove to Al Kindi’s rented apartment. He lived in a prosperous area with large houses and fenced-in compounds stretching along the barbed wire–topped wall of a sprawling Indian army camp. The ragged three-room flat was a temporary accommodation for his family; he was putting the finishing touches on a house in a new suburb. Constructing even a modest house in Srinagar is out of reach for most, but Al Kindi, an alumnus of the Saudi-backed Islamic University of Medina, managed thanks to a hefty monthly stipend from his alma mater. More:

Muslim women in India seek gender equality in marriage

Nilanjana S. Roy in NYT:

For more than a decade, Muslim women’s organizations in India have been fighting for changes in the body of Islamic law that governs marriage, divorce and the property rights of women. But as the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board held its annual convention in Mumbai last week, the battle lines had never been so starkly drawn. Although the Indian Constitution guarantees equal rights to all citizens irrespective of their religion, Muslims are governed by the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act of 1937. Attempts to apply a common civil code have often been viewed as interference in the practices of India’s largest religious minority.

The Personal Law Board is one of the country’s more influential Muslim groups. Its chiefly male membership of clerics and scholars has rejected proposals to change Muslim personal law, and is opposing a demand by women’s groups that marriages be legally registered, as is mandatory for non-Muslims.

Zeenat Shaukat Ali, a professor of Islamic Studies at St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai and the author of “Marriage and Divorce in Islam,” is blunt in her assessment of the current situation.

“We are asking for codification of the legal system within the framework of Koranic law,” she said. “The Koran does not support a system that is controlled by the patriarchy, and the government has to treat this matter on a war footing if they truly mean to bring about gender justice.” More:

New wave of well-off Pakistani women drawn to conservative Islam

Jason Burke from Lahore in The Guardian:

All the women working in the information technology division of the Bank of Punjab’s headquarters in the western Pakistani city of Lahore wear headscarves tightly wound around their cheeks and chin, framing their faces as they tap at their keyboards. A year or so ago not one covered their heads with the hijab.

“I was the first,” says 28-year-old Shumaila, as she waited with some impatience in the city’s iStore for her new £800 Apple MacBook to be loaded with the software she had ordered.

“I started reading the Qur’an properly and praying five times a day. No one made me wear the hijab. That would be impossible,” she laughs brightly. “I showed the way to the other girls at work.”

They are not alone. Though there are no statistics and most evidence is anecdotal, a new wave of interest in more conservative strands of Islam among wealthier and better educated women in Pakistan appears clear.

It is part of a broader cultural and religious shift seen in the country over decades but which observers say has accelerated in the past 10 years. More:

Reclaiming Islam

Wealthy, educated women are increasingly embracing the trend for religious inquiry and observance, writes Jason Burke in The Guardian

All the women working in the information technology division of the Bank of Punjab’s headquarters in the western Pakistani city of Lahore wear headscarves tightly wound around their cheeks and chin, framing their faces as they tap at their keyboards. A year or so ago not one covered their heads with the hijab.

“I was the first,” says 28-year-old Shumaila, as she waited with some impatience in the city’s iStore for her new £800 Apple MacBook to be loaded with the software she had ordered.

“I started reading the Qur’an properly and praying five times a day. No one made me wear the hijab. That would be impossible,” she laughs brightly. “I showed the way to the other girls at work.” more

Craving Middleness

This came to us from Anjum Altaf of The South Asian Idea. He says the author, Maryam Sakeenah, is a school teacher in Lahore, “with the unique experience of teaching in both a secular and a religious school”:

I travel across two worlds in my 20-minute commuting distance between both my workplaces: a modern religious school and a private grammar school where scions of Pakistan’s moneyed elite are privileged with quality education in tune with modern needs. The mindsets I deal with, the attitudes I encounter make for interesting comparison. At the religious school, the concepts of the sacred and the profane as defined by absolute religious morality are the framework for all thought-patterns and behaviour. Fidelity to the sacred is the highest value promoted and readily accepted – at least ostensibly – in an environment designed to actively encourage it. At the grammar school, the central value is free thinking and critical inquiry rigorously promoted by the administration. The curriculum is built around and disseminates post Enlightenment Western perspectives and metanarratives, with the fundamental premise being that of morality being relative, and of individual liberty being the highest value to be protected and safeguarded. Students are taught to invariably seek answers and explanations through logic, and question where the logical basis for an assumption seems unsatisfactory. While the tendency is generally positive, its universal and indiscriminate application may in fact be reminiscent of the cold, rock-hard post-Enlightenment Rationalism that post-Modernist thought struggles to throw overboard for some of the infamous disasters attributed to it.

It strikes me each time in my Religious Studies class I raise a point from within the Islamic tradition that requires acceptance through faithful submission. While the classes are delightfully interactive and invigorating with questions, debate and discussion, the same may also at times afford a glimpse into a stark, gaping abyss that lurks at the heart of this kind of education that carries the baggage of post Enlightenment thought. More:

Vandalism at Maldives Museum stirs fears of extremism

Vikas Bajaj from Male in NYT:

The broken glass from an attack by vandals on the National Museum here has been swept away, and the remnants of the Buddhist statues they destroyed — nearly 30 of them, some dating to the sixth century — have been locked away. But officials say the loss to this island nation’s archaeological legacy can never be recouped.

In the midst of the political turmoil racking this tiny Indian Ocean nation of 1,200 islands, a half-dozen men stormed into the museum last Tuesday and ransacked a collection of coral and lime figures, including a six-faced coral statue and a 1 1/2-foot-wide representation of the Buddha’s head. Officials said the men attacked the figures because they believed they were idols and therefore illegal under Islamic and national laws.

The vandalism was reminiscent of the Taliban’s demolition of the great carved Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan in early 2001, and it has raised fears here that extremists are gaining ground in the Maldives, a Sunni Muslim country that historians say converted from Buddhism to Islam in the 12th century. More:

In Pakistan, Hindus say woman’s conversion to Islam was coerced

Declan Walsh in NYT:

Ghotki, Pakistan — Banditry is an old scourge in this impoverished district of southern Pakistan, on the plains between the mighty river Indus and a sprawling desert, where roving gangs rob and kidnap with abandon. Lately, though, local passions have stirred with allegations of an unusual theft: that of a young woman’s heart.

In the predawn darkness on Feb. 24, Rinkel Kumari, a 19-year-old student from a Hindu family, disappeared from her home in Mirpur Mathelo, a small village off a busy highway in Sindh Province. Hours later, she resurfaced 12 miles away, at the home of a prominent Muslim cleric who phoned her parents with news that distressed them: Their daughter wished to convert to Islam, he said.

Their protests were futile. By sunset, Ms. Kumari had become a Muslim, married a young Muslim man, and changed her name to Faryal Bibi.

Over the past month, this conversion has generated an acrid controversy that has reverberated far beyond its origins in small-town Pakistan, whipping up a news media frenzy that has traced ugly sectarian divisions and renewed a wider debate about the protection of vulnerable minorities in a country that has so often failed them.

At its heart, though, it is a head-on clash of narratives and motives. More:

No Quick End to Islam Conversion Case

NYT report:

Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry ruled that Rinkel Kumari, a 19-year-old Hindu student who converted under disputed circumstances last month, should spend the next three weeks pondering her fate in protective custody, along with another Hindu woman in a similar situation.

During an emotional and sometimes rowdy hearing in a packed courtroom in Islamabad, the capital, Chief Justice Chaudhry noted that there had been “serious allegations of abduction and forced conversion” in both cases.

“Both ladies must have an atmosphere without any pressure to make a decision about their future,” he said.

Moments earlier, the police dragged Ms. Kumari’s father from the courtroom after he had begun shouting. Such scenes have been typical of a case that has received intense media attention and has highlighted the sense of siege among a prominent religious minority. More:

AP report: Forced religious conversions hike Pakistan minorities’ fears

Pakistan — its trials, tribulations = and its beauty

Anwar Akhtar, an expert in south Asian politics and culture, looks at everyday life in the tumultous country – and picks his top ten observations. At Channel 4 news:

1 – Pakistan is not poor, despite the best efforts of some of the people running this country to make it so. It takes five hours to drive from Multan to Lahore, another four to then go to Islamabad, as far as the eye can see are the lush fields of the fertile Punjab agriculture belt, full of wheat, cotton, sugar cane, mangoes, and more citrus fruit then I can list.

There are massive opportunities for wider agricultural diversity and investment – Pakistan could be self-sufficient in food production but instead millions live in poverty, whilst feudal landlords export food on a mass scale to the Arab Gulf States.

2 – Travelling to visit relatives in Multan, Bahawlphur and remote villages near Ahmed Pur East, life is very different from Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad. Some places seem unaffected by the 21st century power struggles of oil, gas pipelines and conflicts between rival clerical conglomerates – some USA backed, some not.

Villages I last visited over a decade ago have not changed since.

3 - The military, religious, feudal and political elites that run this country are either in denial or apathy regarding the severity of the multiple crises Pakistan faces. They display a shocking lack of regard for the welfare of the people. Pakistan’s problems are vast and well documented, but there is also an extraordinary resilience of the people here, both in the cities and the villages. More:

On neutrinos and angels

Pervez Hoodbhoy in The Express Tribune:

Speed of light issues have often moved sections of religious people in rather strange ways. Way back in 1973, as a young physics lecturer at Quaid-i-Azam University, I had been fascinated by the calculation done by the head of our department. Seeking the grand synthesis of science and faith, this pious gentleman — who left on his final journey last month — had published calculations that proved Heaven (jannat) was running away from Earth at one centimeter per second less than the speed of light. His reasoning centred around a particular verse of the Holy Quran that states worship on the night of Lailat-ul-Qadr(Night of Revelation) is equivalent to a thousand nights of ordinary worship. Indeed, if you input the factor of 1,000 into Einstein’s famous formula for time dilatation, this yields a number: one centimeter per second less than the speed of light!

These days the internet groans under the weight of claims that the Holy Quran had specified the speed of light 1400 years ago. Dr Mansour Hassab El Naby, said to be a physicist from Egypt, announces that according to his Quranic calculations, this speed is 299,792.5 kilometres per second. He even gives error bars! Another video gives a still more precise figure of 299792.458 km/sec. Given the unrestrained leaps of logic made by the authors, it is not surprising that they all arrive at more or less the same numbers. More:

Salman Rushdie is not afraid

He thinks ‘Game of Thrones’ is dumb, bemoans the lack of good modern novels and believes terrorism is dying out; over 20 years after fleeing for his life from an Iranian-issued fatwa, novelist Salman Rushdie is still unafraid to speak his mind. Interviewed by Gidi Weitz in Haaretz.com:

Why is it always Muslims? Why didn’t Martin Scorsese have to run for his life after making “The Last Temptation of Christ”? Why does no one want to murder Woody Allen for making fun of Jews?

“There is a widespread difficulty in the Muslim world, which has to do with how the people are taught about examining their own history. A whole range of stuff has been placed off limits. The meaning of that material is dictated by religious people, not historians and scholars. If you believe that the [Quran] is the uncreated word of God, then sociology, politics and economics have nothing to do with it; but if you believe it is a text that arose in a certain place as a result of particular social, economic and political pressures, then you explicate it in a different way.

“The problem was that I learned to look at it like that from my father, and that was crossing a boundary into heavily defended territory. The question is who has power over the story. The response of anybody interested in liberty is that we all have a say and the ability to have an argument is exactly what liberty is, even though it may never be resolved. In any authoritarian society the possessor of power dictates, and if you try and step outside he will come after you. This is equally true of Sovietism, of China and of Iran, and in our time it has happened a lot in Islam. The point is that it’s worse when the authoritarianism is supported by something supernatural. More:

India and Bangladesh

Mahfuz Anam, editor and publisher of Daily Star, the largest circulated English daily in Bangladesh, in conversation with The Indian Express journalists:

Mahfuz Anam, editor and publisher of Daily Star, the largest circulated English daily in Bangladesh.

Shubhajit Roy: We have been watching the progress towards secularism in Bangladesh in the last two years. Is this making lasting changes in society?

Mahfuz Anam: Bangladesh is a Muslim majority country. So there is an overwhelming presence of the majority Muslim culture. But in our social interaction, religious tolerance among communities living together have been a historic phenomenon. The birth of Bangladesh has been based on the principles of democracy, secularism, nationalism. In Bangladesh, the entry of religion into politics, in my view, can be directly linked to the involvement of army in politics. This is the phenomenon in Pakistan too. When you have a coterie that has no base amongst people, they look for possible pockets of support and in Muslim-majority countries, unfortunately, Islam becomes a very easy tool for them to play with. We are practising Muslims as we were before and as tolerant of other religions as before. Form the 70s onwards, you had a global rise of Islam and Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East and other countries. This has had an impact in all Muslim-majority countries, from Indonesia to Malaysia, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. But throughout it all, whenever the people of Bangladesh have had a chance for free expression through elections, they have overwhelmingly voted for secular parties. So the religious party, the Jamafat-e-Islami, never got more than 3 to 8 per cent of the votes. This is not to say that religion hasnft had a rise or a growing impact on politics, but it was not a determining impact. Bangladesh today is veering closer to secular roots through the election of this government led by Sheikh Hasina. Mainstream politics is once again based on nationalism. .

Shekhar Gupta: This dramatic turnaround in Bangladesh is a story that has largely been ignored and unappreciated.

Mahfuz Anam: That provokes me to say what is really a very strong emotion in my heart. I wish the Indian media would give Bangladesh a little more attention. I strongly appeal to the Indian media to take more interest in Bangladesh. We are your neighbour, a very important neighbour and we can also become a troublesome neighbour. You encompass us, except for a little bit of Myanmar. We are almost in your belly; if we are an unstable society, it tells on your security. If the Bangladesh state is unable to respond to the peoplefs needs, the burden will be on this side of the border too. On the positive side, Bangladesh is roughly a six-billion-dollar market for India–formal or informal. Now if with a per capita income of close to four hundred dollars, Bangladesh can be a market to you of close to six billion dollars, then if our per capita income goes up to six hundred dollars, whose market is it going to be? So look at Bangladesh as your prospective market and give us the respect of a market that buys six billion worth of your goods. You are not even looking at it as an issue of self interest. Then there is the issue of security in the North East, and other insurgency issues. With a prosperous Bangladesh, with a secure Bangladesh, your whole security situation changes. India-Bangladesh becomes a model bilateral relationship which you can then flaunt with Nepal, even all over the world. More:

Does Islam stand against science?

Steve Paulson in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Water-pump system, Seljuk dynasty, 1206. A group of Muslim scholars says there is no inherent conflict between Islam and science.

We may think the charged relationship between science and religion is mainly a problem for Christian fundamentalists, but modern science is also under fire in the Muslim world. Islamic creationist movements are gaining momentum, and growing numbers of Muslims now look to the Quran itself for revelations about science.

Science in Muslim societies already lags far behind the scientific achievements of the West, but what adds a fair amount of contemporary angst is that Islamic civilization was once the unrivaled center of science and philosophy. What’s more, Islam’s “golden age” flourished while Europe was mired in the Dark Ages.

This history raises a troubling question: What caused the decline of science in the Muslim world?

Now, a small but emerging group of scholars is taking a new look at the relationship between Islam and science. Many have personal roots in Muslim or Arab cultures. While some are observant Muslims and others are nonbelievers, they share a commitment to speak out—in books, blogs, and public lectures—in defense of science. If they have a common message, it’s the conviction that there’s no inherent conflict between Islam and science.

Last month, nearly a dozen scholars gathered at a symposium on Islam and science at the University of Cambridge, sponsored by the Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Programme in Science & Religion. They discussed a wide range of topics: the science-religion dialogue in the Muslim world, the golden age of Islam, comparisons between Islamic and Christian theology, and current threats to science. The Muslim scholars there also spoke of a personal responsibility to foster a culture of science.

One was Rana Dajani, a molecular biologist at Hashemite University, in Jordan. She received her undergraduate and master’s degrees in Jordan, then took time off to raise four children before going to the University of Iowa on a Fulbright grant to earn her Ph.D. Now back in Jordan, she is an outspoken advocate of evolution and modern science. She has also set up a network for mentoring women, and she recently started a read-aloud program for young children at mosques around Jordan. More:

Inside Bangladesh’s madrasas

The Guardian’s Tahmima Anam entered their secretive world:

I’ve navigated a series of dark lanes and tiny roads to get to the Rehmat Ali madrasa in the Tejgaon neighbourhood of Dhaka, passing shops selling car batteries, ceramic tiles, thread, water pipes, exotic birds, mutton and mosquito nets. The school is at the end of a narrow alley where the stench of open drains and rotten food is overpowering. I am here because I want to see for myself what madrasa education is all about, and because there is an inherent contradiction, it seems to me, in the existence of a girls’ madrasa. If madrasas are really the orthodox institutions they are portrayed as being, what kind of students does a women’s madrasa hope to produce?

More than any other institution, the madrasa has come to stand for the possible radicalisation of a country such as Bangladesh. Ever since independence from Pakistan in 1971, Bangladesh has struggled with its religious identity. While Islam has prevailed in this region for many centuries, its role in public life has always been contested. Over the years, debates have raged, in parliament and on the streets, about the role Islam should play in political and daily life. In a rapidly changing geopolitical landscape, Bangladesh has remained safe in western eyes, a “moderate” Muslim nation, though there are regular forecasts of the scales being tipped. The suicide bombs that rocked Bangladesh in late 2005, and the grassroots power of the organisation responsible, the Jamaatul Mujahideen, stirred up a palpable sense of anxiety within the country. In 2009, the discovery of a stash of arms at the Green Crescent Madrasa in Bhola, funded by British Bangladeshis, reignited fears of Bangladesh’s role in the global rise of militant Islam. At the centre of this debate are the 6 million Bangladeshi students who attend madrasas.

Bangladesh has two kinds: private Quomi madrasas and state-sponsored Alia madrasas. There are an estimated 6,500 Quomi madrasas in the country, with almost 1.5 million students. More:

Bin Laden’s body’s journey

From The Washington Post:

After he was killed at his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, Osama bin Laden’s body was flown by helicopter to Afghanistan for identification, then airlifted to the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson in an undisclosed location on the Arabian Sea.

Burial at sea

Bin Laden’s preparation for burial included some traditional Muslim practices, according to an unnamed senior Defense Department official. Muslim scholars disagree about whether the burial was, in fact, done according to Islam’s mandates. What we know about the 50-minute rites:

1. Washing

Bin Laden’s body was washed while on the aircraft carrier. Islam dictates that male relatives or a surviving spouse wash the body with soap and water in very specific ways, three, five or seven times. The official did not give details as to who washed the body or how it was done.

2. Covering

The body was wrapped in a white sheet. Islam requires three clean, preferably white sheets, tied around the body with rope. The body is to be placed in a specific position with the hands on the chest. More:

Pakistani actress defies mullah accusing her of immoral behavior on an Indian reality TV show

Al-Qaeda’s beauty tips

Julius Cavendish from Kabul in The Independent:

The cover of Al-Shamikha magazine

Not content with launching an English-language magazine that debuted with a feature called “How to make a bomb in the kitchen of your Mom”, al Qa’ida’s media wing has followed up with a magazine for women, mixing beauty tips with lessons in jihad.

The 31-page glossy, Al-Shamikha, which translates loosely as “The Majestic Woman”, features a niqab-clad woman posing with a sub-machine gun on its cover.

Much like Elle or Cosmopolitan, it includes advice on finding the right man (“marrying a mujahideen”), how to achieve a perfect complexion (stay inside with your face covered), and provides tips on first aid and etiquette.

Alongside sisterly advice such as “not [to] go out except when necessary” and to always wear a niqab for protection from the sun, the magazine runs interviews with martyr’s wives and praises those who give their lives in the name of the editors’ interpretation of Islam. “From martyrdom, the believer will gain security, safety and happiness,” it says.

For those readers not quite ready for such a drastic step, it argues the pros and cons of honey facemasks and lobbies against “towelling too forcibly”. More:

Sherry Rehman next on Pakistan militants’ hitlist, friends fear

With the killing of Shahbaz Bhatti, the liberal parliamentarian has lost her second ally in opposing Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Declan Walsh from Islamabad in The Guardian:

And then there was one. Of the three brave Pakistani politicians who stood up for Aasia Bibi, an embattled Christian woman flung on to death row last year, just one is still alive: Sherry Rehman. The liberal parliamentarian from Karachi, known for her glamorous style and outspoken views, spearheaded efforts to reform the much-abused blasphemy law after Bibi, a mother of four, was sentenced to death for allegedly insulting the prophet Muhammad.

Rehman, 50, was joined in her lonely struggle by two men – the Punjab governor, Salmaan Taseer, and the minorities minister, Shahbaz Bhatti. Now both of them are dead and worries are growing that Rehman is next. “Make no mistake: she is in grave danger, like nobody else,” one friend said.

Rehman, is currently in New Delhi, visiting the Indian capital for a conference, in a rare public appearance. Since Taseer was gunned down by his guard outside an Islamabad cafe on 4 January she has lived in near hiding. She spent most of January holed up inside her Karachi home, surrounded by police and advised by senior government ministers to flee Pakistan lest she be assassinated.

“I get two types of advice about leaving,” she said then. “One from concerned friends, the other from those who want me out so I’ll stop making trouble. But I’m going nowhere.” More:

Why do they pick on us Pakistanis?

Pervez Hoodbhoy in The Express Tribune. The writer teaches physics at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad. These remarks are excerpted from a recent talk he gave in Washington DC to Pakistani professionals settled in America:

My green passport requires standing in a separate immigration line once my plane lands at Boston’s Logan airport. The ‘special attention’ from Homeland Security, although polite, adds an extra two to three hours. I belong to the fortunate few who can get a visa, but I am still annoyed. Having travelled to the US frequently for forty years, I now find a country that once warmly welcomed Pakistanis to be strangely cold. The reason is clear.

Foreigners carrying strong negative feelings — or perhaps harmful intentions — are unlikely to find enthusiastic hosts. I know that the man who tried to bomb Times Square, Faisal Shahzad, a graduate of the University of Bridgeport, is my compatriot. So is Aafia Siddiqui, our new-found dukhtur-e-millat (daughter of the nation). Another Pakistani, Farooque Ahmed, with a degree from the College of Staten Island, made headline news in November 2010 after his abortive attempt to blow up DC Metro trains.

If such violent individuals were rarities, their nationality would matter little. But their actions receive little or no criticism in a country consumed by bitter anti-Americanism, which now exceeds its anti-Indianism.

Example: after the Faisal Shahzad news broke in early May 2010, TV channels in Pakistan switched to denial mode. Popular anchors freely alleged conspiracies against Islam and Pakistan. None revisited their claims after Shahzad proudly pleaded guilty in June. Calling himself a “Muslim soldier”, he read a prepared statement: “It’s a war … I’m going to plead guilty a hundred times over”. More:

Arifa Akbar: Unveiling Eastern vices and some Western fixations

From The Independent:

Last week, a report revealed how female students at Kabul University lived in fear of predatory male lecturers demanding sexual favours for good grades. This week, an evolutionary psychologist published his “discoveries” into, among other things, the dangerous sexual desires that motivate Muslim men to become suicide bombers.

Next week, a provocatively titled book, Behind the Veil of Vice: The Business and Culture of Sex in the Middle-East, by John R Bradley intends to take us on a “riveting journey” (his publisher’s words) through the “underbelly of the region to expose its sexual mores”. Much of this coverage seeks to highlight the degree of sexual perversion arising from the practice, or malpractice of Islam and while such sexual abuses endemic to various cultures should be brought to attention, it is worth admitting to our own unhealthy cultural obsessions too. The plethora of reports on murky sexual customs in the Arab worlds are shocking, but also reflect our fixation with the Muslim male libido, which appears to be feared, loathed and fetishised, and which, it is intimated, must be urgently civilised by the liberal West. Zena Al Khalil, author of the memoir, Beirut, I Love You, feels it should not be assumed that Muslim women always end up as victims. Just as in the West, it is the rich who are the all-powerful consumers of the sex trade, be they women or men. “There are Saudi princesses who come to Lebanon to buy sex, as well as Saudi princes,” she says. More:

VS Naipaul withdraws from Turkish event after row over Islam comments

From The Guardian:

The Nobel laureate VS Naipaul has pulled out of a literary event opening in Istanbul tomorrow, after Turkish writers threatened a boycott because of deeply critical comments he has made on Islam.

The row erupted after Naipaul was invited to give the opening speech at the European Writers’ Parliament (EWP), the brainchild of novelists Orhan Pamuk and José Saramago, which aims to bring together authors from across Europe to debate key issues of the contemporary literary scene and opens today. But several Turkish writers expressed outrage at the invitation, citing hostile comments Naipaul made about Islam nearly a decade ago. More:

Kerala’s fundamentalist turn

In Tehelka, V.K. Shashikumar sounds an early warning on a new kind of Muslim fundamentalism taking root in a once secular state:

Engineering student Rayana Khasi returned home to north Kerala from Chennai four months ago, charmed and unaware that she was carrying deadly arsenal in her baggage. She had just finished with a course in aeronautical engineering, and was considering a career in the civil services. From Chennai she brought a few of her favourite things. Dreams. Knickknacks. Jeans. In Kasargod, northern Kerala, where she lived, Rayana got the shock of her life. They hated her jeans. They called her at odd times, men she didn’t know, and told her what they would do with her if she didn’t dump the jeans and put on purdah. Each time Rayana stepped out, they stared and said horrible things.

Then, four months later, she wrote to the Women’s Commission asking that she be allowed to wear what she likes. The state posted constables to protect Rayana so she could sport denim. Now, they stalked her. One day Rayana was returning after meeting her lawyer in Ernakulam, a town near the middle of Kerala. The constable got off midway. A group tried to block the car Rayana was in. She drove off. They chased the car and attacked her with stones. She had to drive to a town nearby, where the locals lent a touch of security. All this, because they didn’t like what she wore. Because they thought she was impious.

They said they were from the Popular Front of India. Initially it was teasing and harassment. But harassment is worse than a threat to life. The comments and staring each time I ventured out, as if I was a criminal, was intolerable. They wrote to me saying they want me to wear purdah. They said what I did was blasphemy. But I don’t think it is a problem of Islam. This is an issue of the right over one’s body. It is sad that everybody is making it out as a religious problem, even those who support me,” says Rayana. Soon after the stone attack, she met Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan and the DGP. “They promised me they would do their best.” More:

Insaniyat over insanity

In The Asian Age, Suneel Sinha has a different take on the Ayodhya dispute:

It is a strong logic. The answer to a dispute from mediaeval India might eventually lie in a mediaeval practice. Simultaneum mixtum first came to be used in the Europe of the Reformation less than five years before the conqueror Babar, or his general Mir Baqi, raised the Babri Masjid in 1528 AD over an area where Hindus believe a temple to Lord Ram stood. The Latin phrase was used in Germany to denote a church premises used by more than one type of Christian for prayer after Martin Luther decided in 1517 that the Vatican’s sale of indulgences was really a chit fund scam, something we in India are familiar with, and nailed his objections, the Ninety-Five Theses, to a church door.

As a principle, simultaneum was used with effect down the ages when no other alternative presented itself. It has involved the peoples of three faiths — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — in Europe and West Asia. Much later, even if they didn’t know the word simultaneum, Hindus and Muslims worshipped at Ayodhya at the same time. In 1859, the British put up a fence to separate the places of worships after communal violence. It was a separation; it was also a forced sharing.

Simultaneum, or forms of it, is still the practice at disputed sites in the Levant, at sites considered among the holiest by the Abrahamic religions. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is today administered by no less than six denominations of Christians and the guardians of the main door of the church are still the descendants of the same two 12th century Muslim families appointed by the conquering Kurdish general Saladin, Sultan of Egypt and Syria, in 1192 AD. Christians were permitted by a treaty between Saladin and Richard I (the Lionheart) to visit the holy site after the Third Crusade failed to wrest back Jerusalem from Saladin. The region of the eastern Mediterranean is filled with historical examples of the absence of tension, and even collaboration, between religious groups, without, of course, the intervention of later politics. There are examples of Christian, Jewish and Muslim voluntary pilgrimages (Ziyara) to pray where saints and prophets were born or died. Just like Ayodhya. Right here in India we have the tomb of the Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti at Ajmer Sharief, venerated by all faiths. More: