Tag Archive for 'Muslim'

A Pakistani mayor in Texas

Anand Giridharadas in NYT:

Paris, Texas — This charming, droopy city needed new fire trucks not long ago, but, like many American municipalities today, couldn’t necessarily afford them. The mayor, a small-government Republican, dithered: to buy or not to buy? He turned to the natural choice for advice on running a Texan city: Pervez Musharraf, the exiled ex-president of Pakistan.

Mr. Musharraf may seem an unlikely adviser to the mayor of a Southern town where crickets chirp shrilly and the leafy streets are dominated by places pledging to fix your truck. But even more unlikely is the man he advised: Mayor Arjumand Hashmi, a Pakistani-born cardiologist who has become one of the United States’ most improbable politicians.

 He is like the opening line of a joke: “So a Texan, a Muslim, a Republican, a doctor and the mayor of Paris are sitting at a bar …” Except that he is, by himself, all of the people in the joke.

 America seems to be an ever more divided, bitter country. Lost amid those divisions is the story of how a down-on-its-luck town in Texas struck its own little blow for unity. A little more than a year ago, this city of 25,000 — overwhelmingly white and Christian — made a Muslim outsider their mayor. (Dr. Hashmi had campaigned to be one of seven city councilors and, having won, was voted mayor by the council.) More:

Lesson from Mumbra

Samar Halarnkar in Hindustan Times:

On June 15, 2004, the school and the suburb awoke to the depressing news that Ishrat Jahan Shamim Raza, 19, a pretty, round-faced alumna of the school was one of four people dead in a shootout with the police across the state line in Ahmedabad. The bodies of Ishrat and three men, two of them supposedly Pakistanis, were laid out for the media beside the alleged getaway car, a Blue Indica. AK-47s lay by their side. Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) DG Vanzara, head of the 21-man police squad, said Jahan and her associates were operatives of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, and they were planning to assassinate Narendra Modi, Gujarat’s chief minister.

In the seven years since, much of that story collapsed.

In 2009, an Ahmedabad Metropolitan magistrate ruled the “encounter” a staged, extra-judicial killing. When the Gujarat government appealed against the verdict, the Gujarat High Court set up a special investigation team (SIT), which on Monday — after four chiefs, detailed ballistic examinations (including one that showed the officer who supposedly shot the “terrorists” never once fired his weapon) and interrogation of the police officers involved — agreed there was never a shootout. As for Vanzara, feted once as a hero, he was arrested in the extra-judicial killing of a suspect in another case. He is presently in jail.

Mumbra was seething and sorrowful when Ishrat’s body came home. She was, after all, a local role model. The eldest daughter of a lower-middle-class migrant family from Bihar, Ishrat studied science at Mumbai’s Guru Nanak Khalsa College. Her father dead, she ran tuition classes and undertook embroidery jobs in Mumbra to supplement the family income. When the SIT verdict came this week, Ishrat’s family and Mumbra rejoiced, saying they knew all along she was never a terrorist.

Was Ishrat, then, an innocent teen shot by brazen officers in search of reward and promotion? 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:

Ten thoughts on Afridi’s remarks about Indians

Anjum Altaf at The South Asian Idea:


Afridi is not an aberration by any means. These views are heard often from a segment of the population whose precise size, spatial location and personal attributes remains to be mapped. While frequently encountered such views elicit little concern because they remain confined within overlapping supportive and self-reinforcing circles that include institutions of state and civil society like education and the media. Coming out of the mouth of Afridi, who sells everything from shampoo to soft-drinks, the views spilled over into a wider world causing mild embarrassment to some while providing hard ammunition to others.


Like everyone else, Pakistanis are subject to multiple inputs. At one level is the lived reality that can be seen and felt, the one dominated by a fondness for what are considered Indian cultural influences. At another is the reiteration of the relentless message that forms the ideological underpinning of the Pakistani public school curriculum reinforced by the ideological bent of the Pakistani media. This has to be taken on faith since no can see the size of hearts or assess their state of purity. When the two push in opposite directions, cognitive dissonance is a natural outcome – as Groucho Marx famously said: “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?” It is understandable that Afridi’s immediate favorable impressions were overwhelmed on reflection as the entrenched messages flooded back.


Afridi is not to blame for holding the views he does. He is repeating verbatim what is included in the public school curriculum. It was not Afridi who put in place the curriculum that ‘educates’ succeeding generations. Nor is Afridi in a position to influence the freedom with which the free media ‘informs’ the citizens of the country. Afridi is among the many helpless citizens at the receiving end of education and information that remain unchallenged by those who represent him politically or are otherwise responsible for protecting his interests. More here

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:

Babri Masjid: A fight to the end

The court will soon decide who owns the Babri Masjid site. Whichever way the verdict goes, the politics of religion will make a comeback. Hartosh Singh Bal in Open:

This is not lost on anyone. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently noted, “I am told in a few days’ time, you will [see the] judgment of the Babri Masjid [title suit]. Now the way the country handles this—the aftermath—will have a profound impact on the evolution of our country.”

An appeal in the Supreme Court is likely to follow the judgment, but the decision itself, whatever it is, will become fodder for new arguments. An Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) report of 2003 on the excavations at the site is likely to be one of the key pieces of evidence contributing to the court’s judgment—but it will not settle the dispute, it will only become another element of the debate. Amidst the political rhetoric that will spill out onto the streets, historians will fight the same fight with equal vehemence in TV studios. Such arguments will matter little, because the battle in Ayodhya is not about history, but popular perception.

At my hotel in Faizabad, I ask for the number of a guide in Ayodhya. I want to hear the narrative a guide selected at random would provide. My guide turns out to be Rama Pragat Mishra, a Pandit with his caste mark visible on his forehead. Born in Sultanpur district of Uttar Pradesh (UP), he had studied in Ayodhya before going to work in Gujarat at a polyester firm. He returned in 1999 to become a guide, catering mainly to the Gujarati and Maharashtrian pilgrims who make up the bulk of visitors to Ayodhya.

His Ayodhya tour takes me to the banks of the Sarayu river, the walls of Valmik Bhawan where the Sanskrit text of The Ramayan has been inscribed in full, a nearby gaushala where a cow has just taken birth, the datun kund where Rama is believed to have taken care of his dental hygiene every morning, Dashrath’s palace, Kanak Bhavan gifted to Sita by Kaikeyi, the karyashala, and the site where the Babri Masjid stood. More:

Also read: Uncorking the Babri genie: Jawed Naqvi in Dawn

Terror in Pakistan’s Punjab heartland

Ahmed Rashid in the New York Review of Books:

The Ahmaddiya movement is a sect that follows the teachings of a nineteenth-century religious reformer and promotes the peaceful propagation of a variant of Islam. But in the 1970s, the Pakistani government—under pressure from conservative Muslim clerics—declared the Ahmadis a non-Muslim minority and many Pakistanis today view them as heretics to Islam—something considered far worse than being non-Muslim. Although some two million Ahmadis still live in Pakistan, millions more have fled abroad. Many of the victims at the two mosques—including a retired army Lieutenant General and several retired senior judges and civil servants—were over 70 years old, showing the extent to which the younger generation of Ahmadis have largely left Pakistan.

Ahmadis are by far the most persecuted minority in Pakistan by Islamist parties and right wing media, and they are widely portrayed as subversive and cultish in school text books. Prominent journalists and politicians think nothing of publicly reviling the Ahmadis or Christians, describing them as agents of foreign powers or anti-Pakistan, while the state has again and again demonstrated its unwillingness or inability to protect them and other religious minorities.

Moreover, while Christians have prominent bishops and community leaders who are outspoken about their tribulations, and the Shia priestly hierarchy is influential and is supported outside Pakistan by Iran, nobody is willing to speak up for the Ahmadis. On Friday some of the local TV channels even refused to name their sect, calling them instead “a religious minority.” Senior government officials declined to meet with Ahmadi representatives or visit hospitals where the wounded were being treated.

Pakistan has taken an awfully long time to understand that it faces an unprecedented terrorist threat that is not a result of conspiracies hatched in Washington, New Delhi or Tel-Aviv, as many in the public believe, but that is the result of the Pakistani state’s nurturing of extremist groups since the 1970s. More:

Pandits begin to return home to Kashmir

Twenty years ago, nearly 400,000 Hindus fled the Kashmir Valley, fearful of a separatist insurgency. Now they are trickling back. Lydia Polgreen in The New York Times:

Srinagar: The ceremony is simple and common. A Hindu priest lights a fire, places some herbs, clarified butter and other offerings atop it and through its peculiar alchemy the smoke purifies everything it touches.

But nothing about this Maha Yaghya ritual performed in the once-abandoned Vichar Nag shrine here on a recent Saturday night was simple. A week of downpours left the shrine’s grounds waterlogged and putrid. The wood was wet and the fire would not start.

But most peculiar was the ceremony’s location, astride one of the world’s most fractious religious fault lines, between two nuclear-armed neighbors who have fought three wars, two of them over the land on which the shrine sits.

Twenty years ago, nearly 400,000 Hindus fled the Kashmir Valley, fearful of a separatist insurgency by the area’s Muslim majority. Now they are trickling back, a sign to many here that the Kashmir Valley, after years of violence and turmoil, is settling in to an uneasy but hopeful peace.

The valley’s upper-caste Hindus, Pandits as they are known, are reconnecting with their ancestral home, a few to stay and even larger numbers to visit. More than a dozen shrines have reopened in recent years, said Sanjay Tickoo, a Kashmiri Pandit who never left the valley and is now trying to entice those who left to return. More:

Why Pakistan is not a nation

Pervez Hoodbhoy at Himal Southasian:

Illustration by Saira Wasim

The lack of nationhood can be traced to the genesis of Pakistan and the single factor that drove it – religious identity. Carved out of Hindu-majority India, Pakistan was the culmination of the competition and conflict between natives who had converted to Islam and those who had not. Converts often identified with Arab invaders of the last millennium. Shah Waliullah (1703-62), a ‘purifier’ of Islam on the Subcontinent who despised local traditions, famously declared ‘We [Hindustanis] are an Arab people whose fathers have fallen in exile in the country of Hindustan, and Arabic genealogy and the Arabic language are our pride.’

The founder of Pakistan, Mohamed Ali Jinnah, also echoed the separateness of Muslims and Hindus, basing the struggle for Pakistan on the premise that the two peoples could never live together peacefully within one nation state. But Jinnah was unrecognisably different from Waliullah, a bearded religious scholar. An impeccably dressed Westernised man with Victorian manners, a secular outlook and an appreciation of fine foods and wines, Jinnah nevertheless eloquently articulated the fears and aspirations of an influential section of his co-religionists. Interestingly, he was opposed by a large section of the conservative ulema, such as Maulana Maudoodi of the Jamaat-e-Islami, who said that Islam must not be confined to national borders. But Jinnah and his Muslim League won the day by insisting that Muslims constituted a distinct nation that would be overwhelmed in post-British India by a larger and better-educated Hindu majority.

Thus Pakistan, in essence, was created as the negative of India: it was not India. But what was it, then, beyond being a homeland for Muslims? Decades after the horrific bloodbath of Partition, the idea of Pakistan remains hotly debated. It did not help that Jinnah died in 1948, just a year after Pakistan was born, with his plans still ambiguously stated. He authored no books and wrote no policy paper. He did make many speeches, of which several were driven by political expediency and are frankly contradictory. These are freely cherry-picked today, with some finding in them a liberal and secular voice; others, an embodiment of Islamic values. The confusion is irresolvable. More:

How should Western intellectuals respond to Muslim scholars?

Pankaj Mishra in The New Yorker:

Was the prophet Muhammad a pervert and a tyrant? Does Islam promote terrorism and enslave women? Does Islam oblige its followers to wage jihad on Westerners whose roots lie in the secular Enlightenment? Should Muslims consider converting to Christianity? For the Somali-born writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the answer to all these questions is a resounding “Yes!” Hirsi Ali, who renounced Islam in her thirties, speaks from experience of bigotry and intolerance among her former co-religionists: she was genitally mutilated as a child in Somalia, briefly radicalized by a preacher of jihad in Kenya, nearly forced into a marriage, threatened with death in the Netherlands by the Muslim assassin of her collaborator, the filmmaker Theo van Gogh, and is still hounded by murderous fanatics in her new home, America. In her latest book, “Nomad: From Islam to America” (Free Press; $27), she reminds her readers of the West’s tradition of intellectual revolt against clerical tyranny and warns of the insidious, intransigent enemies in their midst. “The Muslim mind today seems to be in the grip of jihad,” she writes.

She is not hopeful that Americans will heed her warning. Her initial job interviews in the United States were discouraging: the Brookings Institution, she writes, worried that she might offend Arab Muslims. (The conservative American Enterprise Institute, however, immediately appointed her as a fellow.) On college campuses, Muslim students accuse her of wanting to “trash” Islam, while Western feminists, convinced that white men are “the ultimate and only oppressors,” lack the “courage or clarity of vision” to help her knock down the mental “hovels” of the East. Pointing to Major Nidal Malik Hasan’s murderous rampage in Texas, last November, she deplores the “conspiracy to ignore the religious motivation for these killings” in America. More:

Thinly veiled threat

Mehdi Hasan at New Statesman:

It has been condemned as sinister, frightening, misogynistic and oppressive. Indeed, nothing seems to provoke more suspicion of Europe’s 15 million Muslims than the face veil worn by a tiny minority of women. Even many followers of Islam are keen to disown and denounce it. In heated discussions with my own father over the past few weeks, I discovered that he is one of those who take a sterner line, describing the face veil as “un-Islamic and unnecessary”.

“If not for anything else,” he told me, “it should be banned for security reasons.” I am no fan of the face veil, but I disagree with Dad. Moves to ban it will surely backfire.

In recent months, several European governments have begun to legislate restrictions on both the niqab, a face veil that leaves the area around the eyes clear and is usually combined with a full body covering, and the burqa, which covers the entire face and body, leaving just a mesh screen to see through. On 29 April, Belgium became the first European country to impose a nationwide ban on wearing a full face veil in public. Just three days earlier, the five-month-old government of the Belgian prime minister Yves Leterme had collapsed amid bitter feuding between the political parties, but legislators in the House of Representatives found time to push through the bill with almost unanimous support. Hostility towards the veil has united a divided nation.

Anyone found flouting the new law, which will come into force after Belgium’s general election on 13 June, will face a fine of up to €25 (£21) and possibly seven days in jail. For Fouad Lahssaini, a Green MP in Belgium who emigrated there from Morocco as a youth, passing a ban on the face veil is like “taking out a bazooka to kill a fly”. More:

The Muslim businessmen of India

Aakar Patel in The News, Pakistan:

Bombay’s Mid Day newspaper group was sold by the Ansari family this week. The Ansaris had owned it for 72 years, and they were the only Muslims to own a major English newspaper. Ansaris are converts from the Vankar caste of weavers. Many are from Uttar Pradesh, which they are thought to have fled after the 1857 mutiny. The British chopped off the thumbs, the story goes, of these rebellious weavers, and so making them useless in their profession. The Ansaris moved to Bhiwandi outside Bombay, making it one of the largest weaving centres of the world.

The Ansaris of Mid Day did not make their money from weaving, but from newspapers. The founder was Abdul Hamid Ansari, who wrote and published the Urdu weekly Inquilab. Its website refers to him as “mujahid-e-azadi” or freedom-fighter. Ansari was a Congressman who joined the Muslim League as did most of Bombay’s Muslims. But he did not accept Jinnah’s invitation to move to Pakistan.

His cause, he wrote Jinnah in a letter of which the Ansaris are proud, was India’s Muslims, and he and his press would remain here.

Jinnah turned to Mian Iftakhar-ud-Din instead, and he founded Progressive Papers which published the Pakistan Times and Imroze.

Inquilab is still popular today in Bombay, and it has about 300,000 readers. Abdul Hamid Ansari’s son Khalid founded Sportsweek, India’s largest sports weekly, and then the afternoon newspaper Mid Day, in 1979. The Ansaris are now an upper-class, South Bombay family, and Khalid Ansari studied at Stanford and his son Tariq at Notre Dame. I worked for them for six years, when Tariq was managing director of the firm. His father was still chairman and a very active man, playing squash at Bombay’s exclusive Willingdon Club, where I would be summoned for early morning meetings. More:

I never met Ayesha. Sania will be my first wife: Shoaib Malik

Shoaib Malik, 28, the former Pakistani cricket captain, and Sania Mirza, 23, the first Indian woman to win a Grand Slam tournament, are getting married on April 15. Another Hyderabad based woman, Ayesha Siddiqui’s family has accused the cricketer of conducting a telephonic nikah with her and later abandoning her. Shoaib tells his story in an interview to The Times of India:

When did you meet Ayesha Siddiqui for the first time?

This relationship started on the telephone, in the year 2001. I was in Sharjah at that time, with the Pakistan cricket team. She telephoned me, introduced herself as Ayesha, and told me that she was a fan of mine, who lived in Saudi Arabia. That’s how we got talking.

When then did you meet Ayesha Siddiqui?

As we started talking more and more, Ayesha sent me some photographs, which she said were of herself. I haven’t met the girl in the photographs, not to this day.

Can you explain that?

When I returned to Pakistan after the Sharjah tournament, I showed my parents the photographs Ayesha had sent me. I told them that I liked this girl. We spoke every single day. I kept pushing her to meet me, but she resisted it. She said we’ll meet at our shaadi.

Who is the girl in the photographs?

I thought it was Ayesha Siddiqui, the girl I was talking to. But now I honestly don’t know. More:

Also read: Shoaib at Sania home

Reinventing Pakistan

Pervez Hoodbhoy at Chowk:

The determination to emphasize a singular Muslim national identity, and maintain a centralized state structure run by the colonial-era ruling elite, became the basis for governance. It proved to be Pakistan’s greatest burden. This became evident as the Baloch, Pashtuns, Sindhis, and most dramatically the Bengalis in East Pakistanis, launched struggles to be respected and pursue their own dreams. The independence of East Pakistan thirty years ago should have ended the illusion that religion and force can hold people together in the face of injustice and a lack of democracy.

Yet, religion still remains the strongest bonding factor. A recent survey of 2000 young Pakistanis in the 18-27 age group found that three-quarters identify themselves first as Muslims and only secondly as Pakistanis. Just 14% defined themselves as citizens of Pakistan first. Dejected and adrift, most see religion as their anchor. The common refrain of the post-Zia generation is that “every issue will be solved if we go back to the fundamentals of Islam.”

But these “fundamentals” have multiple interpretations that fuel divisive and violent political forces, each convinced that they alone understand God’s will. Murderous wars between Sunni and Shia militias started in the late 1980′s. Today, even those favoring the utopian vision of an ideal Islamic state are frightened by the Pakistani Taliban who seek to impose their version of sharia through the Kalashnikov and suicide bombings. More:

The rise of Islamo-erotica

Betwa Sharma in The Daily Beast:

One of Hanan Tabbara’s most provocative sketches is a charcoal and pastel drawing of blood pouring out of a woman’s vagina. She made it after a close friend was raped, and later uploaded it as her Facebook profile picture. For two years now, the 20-year-old, political science student from Brooklyn has been drawing nudes. “I’m aware that it is prohibited but it doesn’t bother me,” Tabbara says.

While the Koran does not specifically ban nude art, the almost universal opinion of religious leaders is that Islam forbids it. However, a handful of Muslim artists have been daring to depict nudity. “This leads to moral consequences that are against Islam,” says Imam Shamsi Ali, the leader of the Islamic Cultural Center of New York. “There is no justification to say it is allowed in the name of art.”

The prohibition principally stems from the taboo against entertaining sexual thoughts that a naked figure might provoke. In this light, Imam Ali also explains that it is “not desirable” for Muslims to view nude paintings, even if they are considered masterpieces. “Islam sees the harms of such exposure outweighing its benefits,” he says. “An artist can have an important message in his work without drawing nudes.” More:

Is the Bible more violent than the Quran?

Barbara Bradley Hagerty at National Public Radio: [via 3quarksdaily]:

When Osama bin Laden declared war on the West in 1996, he cited the Quran’s command to “strike off” the heads of unbelievers. More recently, U.S. Army Maj. Nidal Hasan lectured his colleagues about jihad, or “holy war,” and the Quran’s exhortation to fight unbelievers and bring them low. Hasan is accused of killing 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, last year.

Given this violent legacy, religion historian Philip Jenkins decided to compare the brutality quotient of the Quran and the Bible.

“Much to my surprise, the Islamic scriptures in the Quran were actually far less bloody and less violent than those in the Bible,” Jenkins says.

Jenkins is a professor at Penn State University and author of two books dealing with the issue: the recently published Jesus Wars, and Dark Passages , which has not been published but is already drawing controversy.

Violence in the Quran, he and others say, is largely a defense against attack.

“By the standards of the time, which is the 7th century A.D., the laws of war that are laid down by the Quran are actually reasonably humane,” he says. “Then we turn to the Bible, and we actually find something that is for many people a real surprise. There is a specific kind of warfare laid down in the Bible which we can only call genocide.” More:

Fiction for a change

The son of a Muslim father and a Sikh mother, Aatish Taseer is well-placed to explore Indian identity. David Mattin in The National:

In fact, Taseer’s novel is the more fully realised of the two. We follow our narrator, also called Aatish, and also returning to Delhi after years abroad, as he befriends a brash, ambitious personal trainer called Aakash, and charts a course through the new social highs and lows of his home city.

Plot comes by way of a murder, in which Aakash is implicated; but Taseer is quick to point out that this novel’s real significance resides in what lies around the murder – that is, Delhi, in all its beauty and brutality – rather than in the murder tself.

There’s no doubt, says Taseer, that his own return to Delhi, and the shocks it gave rise to, were the fuel that powered his writing.

“Coming back to Delhi was arresting for me,” he says. “First, I realised that growing up in the city I had been blind to certain aspects of it, which I now saw: the dirt, the poverty, the casual violence built into relationships between privileged people and servants.

“But there was also shock at what was changing. It was a social change that was creating kinds of people who simply didn’t exist before. I grew up in India amid a class sealed away by the English language, by certain ideas of dress, and culture, and westernisation. And outside of that class were people who had very little. Now economic activity was changing that; you see all sorts of people developing their own ideas of vocation, and aspiration, and what should be theirs. More:

The terror of Bollywood

While American blockbusters shy away from Islamist villains, Indian films give them a showing. Arun Venugopal in the Wall Street Journal:

In Indian movies, the terrorist isn’t some veiled abstraction: He’s your brother (“Fiza,” 2000) or house guest (“Black and White,” 2008) or the woman you couldn’t live without (“Dil Se,” 1998). Their torment—over Kashmir, or U.S. foreign policy, or killings at the hands of Hindus in Gujarat—is writ large. When it cannot be expressed through dialogue, it’s expressed through song.

Over the top? Yes, some of these films definitely are. They’re movies with big, bold emotions, featuring characters who care openly about their cause, whether they’re extremists trying to destroy the country or vigilantes trying to save it (“A Wednesday!” 2008). Indian films tackle the big questions: What motivates someone to commit mass murder? Can a terrorist be reformed? And can even a suicide bomber love, or be loved? By contrast, even Hollywood’s most engaging efforts on the subject, like the TV show “24,” are more about plot and pacing and getting to the bomb in time.

Bollywood has the enormous advantage of cultural proximity. India contains a large Muslim community, people who are not just watching movies but quite often scripting them, composing their soundtracks and starring in them as well. Some stereotyping aside, to a far greater extent than Western filmmakers, Indian filmmakers know how to capture the Muslim experience and critique it. More:

My name is Khan. This movie isn’t for me

Ayesha Khan in The Indian Express:

So, I debate: should I now watch My Name is Khan, with its catchy tagline: “My name is Khan and I am not a Terrorist”. The tagline hurts. It insults.

Incidentally, my surname is Khan. And I know that a name like that needs lots of explaining. While I managed to rent a flat in the so-called cosmopolitan neighbourhood of Ahmedabad that is barred for Muslims, by paying more — about 50 per cent more — than the rest because I am a Khan. It was fine for a year till I renewed the rent lease recently. The building president, two days ago, asked me to pay up a month’s rent as “brokerage” for renewing the lease for the flat that she has nothing to do with — an absolutely unheard practice, which I refused. Otherwise, she said she would tell all that I am a Muslim and get me thrown out. Incidentally, the flat owner is decent and asked me to stay put, the neighbours are sweet. They are least concerned about my surname and more interested in my profession — that of a journalist.

But the building president thinks that a public revelation of my surname — Khan, which speaks of my religion — is leverage enough to get the flat vacated. I am curious to find out what happens next, and am ready for another bout of silent fights. More:

King of Bollywood dreams of global hit — in Hindi

S. Mitra Kalita in the Wall Street Journal:

Since this film is about a Muslim man married to a Hindu woman, something you might know about, can we talk about the role of religion in your life?

I’m a Muslim. I’ve been brought up by an amazing set of parents who taught me all that I know. I’m married to a Hindu girl. I’ve never tried to explain my religion to her and she’s never tried to explain her religion to me. We don’t make a big deal of it. I go celebrate Eid or might give her a gift on Diwali. Our kids know the prayers of both religions. The bottom line is that they’re thinking of God.

The modern Indian should be moving toward nonradicalism. It’s okay to be idealistic but one should be realistically idealistic. I’ve led my life that like. I am God-fearing. I am a proud Indian. I am a capitalist. More:

The greatest scientific advances from the Muslim world

Jim Al-Khalili, professor of physics and of the public engagement in science at the University of Surrey, in The Guardian:

There is no such thing as Islamic science – for science is the most universal of human activities. But the means to facilitating scientific advances have always been dictated by culture, political will and economic wealth. What is only now becoming clear (to many in the west) is that during the dark ages of medieval Europe, incredible scientific advances were made in the Muslim world. Geniuses in Baghdad, Cairo, Damascus and Cordoba took on the scholarly works of ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia, Greece, India and China, developing what we would call “modern” science. New disciplines emerged – algebra, trigonometry and chemistry as well as major advances in medicine, astronomy, engineering and agriculture. Arabic texts replaced Greek as the fonts of wisdom, helping to shape the scientific revolution of the Renaissance. More:

Understanding Afghan tribes

From The New York Times:

India’s groupthink on Islam

Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s talk at the Jaipur Literature Festival shows how globalization is changing the debate. Sadanand Dhume, the author of “My Friend the Fanatic: Travels with a Radical Islamist” (Skyhorse Publishing, 2009), in the Wall Street Journal. Dhume is writing a nonfiction book on the impact of globalization on India.

Speaking to a packed hall, with her burly bodyguard unobtrusively off-stage, Ms. Hirsi Ali spoke about Islam—and its problems with individualism, women’s rights and sexuality—with a frankness unfamiliar to most Indians. She described the faith she was born into as “a dangerous, totalitarian ideology masquerading as a religion.” She argued against the moral relativism that has prevented Western intellectuals from scrutinizing Islam as they do Christianity and Judaism. She asked why it seemed impossible to have a sober discussion about the Koran and the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad without riling Muslim sentiment, and made the case for bringing the Enlightenment to the blighted lands of the Middle East and Muslim South Asia. Ms. Hirsi Ali touched upon India only briefly, to contrast the country’s success with the dismal state of neighboring Muslim-majority Pakistan. More:

Muslims have no monopoly over ‘Allah’

Anwar Ibrahim, a former deputy prime minister of Malaysia, a member of parliament for the Justice Party and leader of the opposition, in the Wall Street Journal:

Malaysia has once again resurfaced in international headlines for the wrong reasons. Over the last two weeks, arsonists and vandals attacked 10 places of worship, including Christian churches and Sikh temples. Though there were no injuries and the material damage is reparable, the same cannot be said about the emotional and psychological scars left behind. After numerous conflicting statements from government officials, the underlying causes of the violence are still unaddressed. Malaysia’s reputation as a nation at peace with its ethnic and religious diversity is at stake.

Malaysia’s poor handling of religious and sectarian issues is not unique. The ill treatment of minority groups in Muslim countries is often worse than the actions Muslims decry in the West. I have called attention to the broader need in the Muslim world for leadership that demonstrates consistency and credibility in our call for justice, fairness and pluralism. These values are embedded in the Islamic tradition as the higher objectives of Shariah expounded by the 12th-century jurist al-Shatibi.

We have seen Muslims around the world protest against discriminatory laws passed in supposedly liberal and progressive countries in the West. Yet just as France and Germany have their issues with the burqa and Switzerland with its minarets, so too does Malaysia frequently fail to offer a safe and secure environment that accommodates its minority communities. More:

The dupatta: More than a covering

Aamna Haider Isani in Dawn:

Interestingly, in the early years after Partition, the dupatta’s symbolism was more national than religious. For example, the uniform of the Pakistan Women’s National Guard that was formed during the Kashmir War included a dupatta. ‘Since Pakistan was a Muslim state, the dupatta was naturally part of the uniform. However, it was just a sash across the torso…a starched V-shaped dupatta,’ recalls former Sergeant Abeeda Abidi in an interview with the Citizens Archive of Pakistan. Clearly, this sash was meant to be more of a comment than a covering.

The years that followed saw leaders such as Fatima Jinnah and Begum Rana Liaquat Ali Khan enter politics. Unlike their female predecessors in the armed forces, these women made public appearances with their heads covered with a dupatta, which was deciphered as a symbol of modesty. Since they had set the trend, women who stepped into politics in subsequent decades were expected to follow suit.

In 1966, the uniform for the PIA airhostesses, designed by Paris-based fashion sensation Pierre Cardin, also included scarf-like dupattas over graceful tunics. In this incarnation, the dupatta was viewed more as an attractive accessory than a symbol of Muslim womanhood.

Although a dupatta has always been part of the attire of female politicians of this predominantly Muslim state since the beginning, trends among the masses have been slightly different. It was only in the late 1950s that the dupatta became an integral part of the urban-middle-class woman’s outfit. Before then, some women wore burqas and chadors. But younger women who were looking for some form of covering increasingly opted for dupattas as they proved to be a less stringent alternative. More:

[Image: Dawn]

Taliban may be descended from Jews


Click here to watch part 2 and here for part 3

The ethnic group at the heart of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan may descended from their Jewish enemy, according to researchers in India. Dean Nelson in the London Telegraph:

Experts at Mumbai’s National Institute of Immunohaematology believe Pashtuns could be one of the ten “Lost Tribes of Israel”.

The Israeli government is funding a genetic study to establish if there is any proof of the link.

An Indian geneticist has taken blood samples from the Pashtun Afridi tribe in Lucknow, Northern India, to Israel where she will spend the next 12 months comparing DNA with samples with those of Israeli Jews.

The samples were taken in Lucknow’s Malihabad area because it was regarded as the only place safe enough to conduct such a controversial project for Muslims.

Shanaz Ali a senior research fellow, will lead the study at the Technion Israel Institute of Technology in Tel Aviv. More:

Babri Masjid demolition was meticulously planned

Maneesh Chhibber in the Indian Express:

babri The Justice Manmohan Singh Liberhan Commission of Inquiry has indicted former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee along with current Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha L K Advani and former BJP president Murli Manohar Joshi, among others, for the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992.

Citing the evidence it gathered, which includes witness statements and official records, one of the key conclusions of the Commission is said to be that the entire build-up to the demolition was meticulously planned. And there was nothing to show that these leaders were either unaware of what was going on or innocent of any wrongdoing.

The one-man Commission probed the “sequence of events leading, and all facts and circumstances relating, to the occurrences at Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid complex on December 6, 1992” — the day the Babri Masjid was brought down by kar sevaks. More:

Read the followup stories in the Indian Express here and here.

Previously in AWWho demolished the Babri Masjid?

Survey of Pakistan’s young predicts ‘disaster’ if their needs aren’t addressed


From the New York Times:

Pakistan will face a “demographic disaster” if it does not address the needs of its young generation, the largest in the country’s history, whose views reflect a deep disillusionment with government and democracy, according to a report released in Lahore on Saturday.

The report, commissioned by the British Council and conducted by the Nielsen research company, drew a picture of a deeply frustrated young generation that feels abandoned by its government and despondent about its future.

An overwhelming majority of young Pakistanis say their country is headed in the wrong direction, the report said, and only 1 in 10 has confidence in the government. Most see themselves as Muslim first and Pakistani second, and they are now entering a work force in which the lion’s share cannot find jobs, a potentially volatile situation if the government cannot address its concerns. More:

Click here to read the full survey.