Tuesday, June 30, 2015

From Yoga to Terrorism, From the Meaning of Muslim to Kafir: An Ummah Deeply Divided

By Aftab Ahmad, New Age Islam

 June 30, 2015

As the International Day of Yoga has passed, there is every possibility that the controversy around Yoga will die down. But it has once again brought to the fore how badly divided Muslim leadership is, how unprepared Muslims are to face the complexities of modern life. Yoga is a part of Indian culture and has been in practice in India, both among Hindus and non-Hindus as a form of physical exercise. Since the Union government wanted most Indians to participate in it on Yoga Day, it sparked a row over whether doing Yoga was in accordance with Islamic ethos or not.

Some had expected that Muslims would be on one platform either declaring Yoga permissible or non-permissible according to Islamic jurisprudence. But as usual, Muslims were divided on the issue of Yoga as we are already divided on the issue of support to terrorist and extremist organizations. All India Muslim Personal Law Board vehemently opposed it, saying it was against Islam’s monotheistic values as Muslims worship only Allah and that chanting Shlokas from Hindu scriptures or worshipping the Sun in Surya Namaskar was against Islamic Shariat.

However, Maulana Mahmood Madani of Jamiat Ulema Hind opined that sans Hindu Shlokas, Yoga was not against Islamic ethos and values. A couple of journalists also opined that there was nothing wrong doing the Yoga sans Hindu Shlokas.

In fact, Yoga has never been an issue with Muslims as they have always seen it only as a mode of physical exercise. During the 80s, the high school Physical Education Urdu text books had illustrations and descriptions of Yogic Asanas which the Muslim students were supposed to perform in order to keep fit. And they enjoyed doing it.

However, there was no mention of any Shlokas or Surya Namaskar. No Muslim organization ever protested the inclusion of Yoga in High School Urdu text books. During the physical exercise class, both Hindu and Muslim students did Yogic exercises in school. No guardian or any Muslim organization raked up the issue then because there were no Shlokas involved.

Muslims overreacted due to the mention of Surya Namaskar.  As a matter of fact, Surya Namaskar is not a part of Yoga which has been developed by Baba Gorakhnath, the founder of Nath Panth.  It was developed around 10th or 11th century.  Nath Panthis are disciples of Shiva with whom Yoga is associated or is believed to have originated. The Nath Panthis do not believe in idol worship or Sun worship. They are ascetics who seek their union with Supreme God through tantric practices, breathing techniques and meditation. Therefore, Surya Namaskar is a latter day innovation. But it's just the name of one of the Asanas. It does not even involve saying good morning to the Sun or any kind of salutation at all. The name of the asana, however, means "Greetings to the Sun."

However, the controversy over Yoga left Muslims again in a confused state as they could not decide whether Yoga was compatible with Islam or not and the confusion of the Ulema and religious leaders over the issue left common Muslims confused.

It has been observed that despite a comprehensive rule book like Quran and their jurisprudential canon which Muslims boast of, we are confused on every issue concerning modern life and society. It seems that we Muslims are not able to decide unanimously over issues arising out of the requirements of the modern day complex society. Already we are divided on the definition of terrorism and caliphate. We Muslims have not been able to decide what can be brought under terrorism and who can be accepted as the Khalifa of the entire Muslim community. We are not even on the same page on the question whether Muslims should have one Khalifa for the Muslims of the entire world or several as was the case earlier in most of history, except the earliest times when there were few Muslims and basically in one area.

Despite being in possession of the Quran and a number of commentaries and exegeses explaining the verses of the holy scripture and volumes of Hadith, we are divided on whether ISIS, Taliban or Al Qaida are terrorist organizations. Many Muslim Ulema overtly or covertly support ISIS as the manifestations of fulfilment of the aspirations of Muslims to establish a caliphate. However, there are other Ulema and organizations who believe that ISIS is not an Islamic organization but a sectarian terrorist organization. Many Muslim Ulema and organizations believe that Taliban is not a terrorist organization while there is a section which thinks otherwise. Many educated Muslims refer to all these terrorists as Mujahedin. We even find admirers of worst terrorist organizations like Boko Haram and Al Shabab who have been opposing modern education and abducting girls and forcing them into prostitution.

Under these circumstances, we Muslims need to reorient ourselves and produce modern interpretation of our religious texts according to the changing times. We should undergo a total overhaul of our religious mentality, orienting ourselves according to the requirements of the fast changing world we live in while keeping our basic faith intact. Should we not come out of our 7th century mindset? This cannot be achieved until we form a unanimous definition of most basic issues concerning Islam and Muslims like who is a Muslim, who is a kafir, should we Islamically co-exist and interact with non-Muslims or should we not as Saudi-supplied madrasa text books tell us. And so on.

Aftab Ahmad is a columnist for New Age Islam.  He has been studying the Holy Quran for some time.

Saving the Cows, Starving the Children

By Sonia Faleiro

June 26, 2015

GANDHI famously denied himself food. And by starving himself to protest British rule, he ultimately made India stronger. But India’s leaders today are using food as a weapon, and they are sacrificing not themselves, but others. Their decisions threaten to make India’s children — already among the most undernourished in the world — weaker still.

Earlier this month, the chief minister of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, struck down a proposed pilot project to introduce eggs in free government nursery schools in districts populated by economically disadvantaged indigenous groups. The proposal came from the state’s own officials, but was dismissed by Mr. Chouhan on the grounds that eggs are a non-vegetarian food. Mr. Chouhan, like many Hindus, is a vegetarian and avoids eggs because they may be fertilized and are seen as a life force. While he has refused to address this incident publicly, his press officer claimed there were “more nutritious options available.” But what, exactly?

In Madhya Pradesh, many of the poor communities survive on government-subsidized grain and foraged plants. According to the last National Family Health Survey, indigenous children were the most malnourished of any community in the state. Even across the state, 52 percent of children under 6 — the age up to which they may attend government nurseries — are underweight, says the National Institute of Nutrition. Indeed Madhya Pradesh, the economist Jean Drèze told me, “is far worse than even the Indian average.” It is in the grip of a “nutritional emergency,” he said.

Child-rights activists had supported the proposal, because eggs — a super food that is about 10 percent fat and extremely high in protein — are the most nutritional way to improve the children’s health, more so than a cup of milk or a banana, which the state claims it will offer in place of eggs. Bananas spoil easily, and milk is often laced in India with paint, detergent or shampoo, so much so that the federal government is considering making milk adulteration punishable with life imprisonment.

Another staple food was taken from the plates of the poor in the neighbouring state of Maharashtra, after it banned the possession and sale of beef. It is enforceable with a prison term of up to five years. Hindus consider cows to be sacred, but Hindu nationalists, emboldened by the election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have lobbied aggressively on the issue, not out of concern for the animals — which are typically bone-thin and live on garbage — but to force their religious beliefs on non-Hindus. The ban, implemented in March, was a body blow to the poor. Beef, unlike mutton and chicken, is cheap. It is an important source of protein for low-caste Dalits, and for minority communities like Muslims and Christians.

The decision by Devendra Fadnavis, chief minister of Maharashtra, is appalling given the widespread poverty in his state. It is also inhumane toward the very animals it claims to protect. The Indian Express newspaper reports that farmers don’t know what to do with dying cattle. Since they can neither sell nor butcher them, they are letting the animals loose to fend for themselves. Surely, there is nothing sacred about starving cows.

These decisions are not the first of their kind. Over the years, at least 20 Indian states out of 29 have banned cow slaughter (although Maharashtra’s laws are the harshest). And eggs are offered in meal plans in only 10 states. But these decisions are startling in the face of new reports reiterating that Indians urgently need more food — not less — and of a higher nutritious standard than what they get now.

India has twice as many malnourished children as sub-Saharan Africa, according to the World Bank, and our children are often shorter than those born in sub-Saharan Africa. According to UNICEF, 51 percent of children under 5 in rural India are stunted. Compare this with neighbouring China, where the stunting rate for rural children is 12 percent. And hunger isn’t just stunting our kids’ growth; it is also affecting their intelligence.

Supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party tried to shift the blame for these poor decisions onto leaders of the Jain faith — who did indeed lobby for the changes, and were involved in drafting the beef ban legislation.

The Jains are strict vegetarians who do not consume food that involves the injury or death of a living being. They won’t eat meat or fish, and they also avoid eggs.

But even the most uncompromising Jain can’t be blamed for the fact that the B.J.P. has denied eggs to children in all but one state it runs.

Since hens will lay eggs even if they are never anywhere near a rooster, it ought to be easy enough for egg farmers in India to keep their...

Similarly, the beef ban has less to do with the demands of one group than the party line. Last month, Amit Shah, the B.J.P. president and a vegetarian, said, “Wherever there is a B.J.P. government, there is a ban on beef.” (This is not quite the case as yet, but it is clearly the direction the party is taking.)

The B.J.P. is determined to deny children eggs even though every nursery currently offering the option also offers a vegetarian alternative — such as a cup of milk or a piece of fruit. No child is forced to eat food that contradicts his or her religious beliefs. But all children will now be denied certain foods in order to adhere to the religion of others.

In India you are what you eat, and devotion to strict vegetarianism is a trait common to many upper-caste Hindus. Some wield their diet like a badge of their status. Others demand that people around them — like children and household staff members — eat as they do to maintain the purity of their kitchens. They will not visit restaurants that also serve non-vegetarian food for fear of being polluted.

Privileged politicians are imposing their will on underprivileged people, who do not share their beliefs and also do not have the luxury of rejecting cheap sources of protein. By injecting religion and caste into politics, the B.J.P. is preventing India from moving forward by reinforcing the prejudices that have kept it back.

In a speech last September, Mr. Modi said, “If the determination is strong, then I believe that youngsters and children of this country have the strength and talent to move forward.” But many of our children are not strong, precisely because politicians are depriving them of basic nutrition. India is suffering a huge loss of human capital in the process, and foolishly turning an enormous asset into a liability.

If Mr. Modi’s goal is to take India forward, he must reassess his party’s priorities and stop allowing religion to dictate policy. It’s a simple choice: The B.J.P. government can either feed our children or undermine the country’s future.

Sonia Faleiro is the author of “Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay’s Dance Bars.”

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/28/opinion/sunday/saving-the-cows-starving-the-children.html?emc=edit_ty_20150629&nl=opinion&nlid=71783194

In The Name Of Religion, They Kill

By Mohamed Chebarro

29 June 2015

In the name of God they kill.

In the name of prophets they kill.

In the name of the holy month they kill.

In the name of their leader they kill.

In the name of a vane idea they kill.

They kill too because they disagree with someone else’s god.

They kill too because they deem other prophets impostures.

They kill too because they reject other people’s beliefs.

They kill too to disrupt other faith’s festivities.

They kill too because the other is different.

In protest to oppression they claim to kill.

In protest to their dispossession they insure that they kill.

In protest to social norms they disagree with they kill.

In protest to their alleged alienation and lack of social skills they kill.

In protest to their lack of fortune they kill.

In protest to their lack of social adaptability they kill.

In protest to their failure they kill.

In thuggery and petty crimes they believed and now they killed innocents.

In lunacy and in the hearing of voices, some of them believed and killed innocents in response to those voices that no one else has heard.

In freedom they never believed.

In freedom of expression they never believed.

In tolerance they never believed.

In multiculturalism they never believed.

In peace on earth they never believed.

In earth and the life on it they never believed, and in their killing innocents they believed that they will win the afterlife.

Against the Satan they claim to stand.

Against imperialism they claim to fight.

Against the American way of life they pretend to have gathered to fight.

Against the oppressive Israelis they said, they scream, that they have rallied.

Against their brothers and sisters mosques and neighbourhoods they fight.

What of it?

And the results? The Palestinians have not been liberated and some sadly recall the days they lived peacefully under occupation.

They claimed to be helping Syrians break the clamp of dictatorship but their attacks seem more engineered to break the revolution of the Syrians’ back, and increase the suffering of civilians of all faith, sects and ethnicity in that country.

The struggle in Iraq is to redress balance between an oppressed Sunni population in post Saddam Iraq and the oppressing Shiites who were installed in power due to Western intervention and later Iranian clout and influence. But it is the Sunni Iraqis that are displaced and Sunni Iraqi cities and heritage that they continue to destroy after looting them.

In Libyan town, Kuwaiti and Saudi mosques the victims are innocent civilians, in Somalia, Egypt and Yemen too.

ISIS, the Brigades of God, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, al-Shabaab, Hezbollah, all of these groups are tools to divide and destroy.

The lone gunmen in Tunisia that killed unarmed holiday makers is simply a criminal. These acts hurt Tunisia and its ten million hardworking citizens who care not for afterlife but for the immediate life of their kid’s fortune and education. Is this not what all Holy books called for, to live and strive to win in the afterlife?

In Kuwait, a mosque was targeted, just as mosques in Saudi Arabia were, and ISIS or others claimed responsibility for attacks that killed and maimed civilians. Attacking a mosque clearly disregards the sanctity of prayer, regardless of whether it is a Shiite or Sunni who is praying. They have claimed they are hitting at Iran and its growing influence and intervention in the region. It is bizarre how a group of villains believe that killing Kuwaitis in Kuwait, or Saudis in Saudi Arabia is likely to hurt Iran or its allies.

The three attacks on three continents is yet another ISIS effort to drive a wedge between states in the Middle East, and a wedge between Sunni and Shiites to divide those states and societies, as well as to further divide communities that have made up those countries for many years and to alienate Muslims living amidst non-Muslims.

Whether the attacks were planned to take place simultaneously or not, one thing is crystal clear - the perpetrators and their heinous crimes were against God, religion, culture and mankind!

Mohamed Chebarro is currently an Al Arabiya TV News program Editor. He is also an award winning journalist, roving war reporter and commentator. He covered most regional conflicts in the 90s for MBC news and later headed Al Arabiya’s bureau in Beirut and London.

Source: https://english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/middle-east/2015/06/29/In-the-name-of-religion-they-kill.html

Ramadan Soap Rediscovers Egypt's Jews

By Khaled Diab

29 Jun 2015

Love triangles, unrequited love and the torment of separation are staples of Egyptian soap operas. This is especially the case during Ramadan, when fasting and piety dominate during daylight hours and feasting and revelry kick off once the sun goes down.

But one Ramadan drama stands out for a love story with an unusual twist. Leila and Ali are the classic boy and girl next door who have been madly in love since childhood, with Ibtihal their jealous neighbour, representing the obtuse angle of this triangle. So far so ordinary.

However, Leila is an Egyptian Jew and Muslim Ali is an Egyptian officer deployed to the Palestine front during the 1948 war. To complicate matters further, her brother is one of the few Egyptian Jews who has gone to Palestine to help the Israeli effort.

The Leila-Ali affair makes up one of the central storylines of Haret el-Yahoud, which is set in Cairo's Jewish Quarter and is the controversial historical drama that is currently airing in Egypt and across the Arab world.

Provocative or Not?

I have watched the first few episodes of this slick production and have generally been impressed by the quality of the acting and the period mood it evokes of 1940s "belle epoque" Cairo. Most of all, I am pleased that a largely forgotten and distorted period of Egypt's recent history, that of the demise of the country's once-vibrant, 80,000-strong Jewish community, has been made accessible to a broader public - and in a humane and sympathetic light.

Egyptian soap opera 'The Jewish Quarter' aims to dispel prejudice towards the country's long-vilified and nearly extinct Jewish community [AFP]

Though many Egyptians have welcomed the series, it has also provoked inevitable anger and allegations of "whitewashing history" in some quarters, especially among those who seem convinced that Jews, Israelis, and Zionists are the same thing.

One example of this is Ahmed Metwali, described as a professor of history at Cairo University, who claimed that Jews in Egypt isolated themselves socially and worked exclusively in trade and business.

Obviously, the good professor's grasp of his own country's history is shaky at best, or ideology has blinded him to reality. Though a small community, Egypt's Jews were prominent in every walk of life, including culture and politics - and many were ordinary, working class folk.

Egypt's Jews

In fact, it might surprise the learned professor to learn that Jews played a central role in awakening Egypt's modern national consciousness. A good example of this was Yaqub Sannu. Though almost totally forgotten today, in the 19th century, Sannu established one of the country's first anti-imperialist and anti-royalist publications, The Man in the Blue Glasses. He was also possibly the creator of the quintessential Ibn el-Balad (Son of the Country) character who stood for native virtue and the anti-imperial and class struggle.

Jews in Egypt felt so apparently comfortable that they not only made films, but some made films about Jews. At a time when German Jewish film-makers were fleeing Hitler, Togo Mizrahi, one of the founding fathers of Egyptian cinema, made numerous films which had Jewish protagonists and main characters - something that was rare if unheard of in 1930s Hollywood.

Even more unbelievably, Metwali claims that there were no love affairs between Muslims and Jews.

Has the history professor really not heard of perhaps the most famous on- and off-screen couple in Egyptian cinematic history, Leila Murad, who was once everyone's favourite silver screen beauty with the golden vocal chords, and the debonair Anwar Wagdi? Out of love, Murad converted from Judaism to Islam to marry Wagdi (three times), who ruined their relationship by insisting on owning her entire career.

The character of Leila is done up in such a way as to pay tribute to her legendary namesake, while Ali, with his Clark Gable moustache, bears more than a passing resemblance to Wagdi.


Some critics have gone even further and taste the ingredients of a conspiracy by the Sisi regime to appease Israel and engineer a rapprochement by "narrowing the psychological gap between the two peoples", according to Hossam Aql of the al-Badeel al-Hadari party.

But again, this strikes me as a case of conflating Jews with Israel. While the series portrays Egyptian Jews in a sympathetic light, the only Israeli I have seen so far was a two-dimensional sadistic army officer who tortures Ali.

For Muslim Brotherhood supporters, it is Haret al-Yahoud's less-than-flattering portrayal of their founding father, Hassan el-Banna, that seems to have provoked the greatest fury.

"Sisi's TV serials are a misrepresentation in favour of the Jews," Anas Hassan, a prominent activist and the founder of Rassd, a pro-Brotherhood grassroots news site, wrote on his Facebook page, eliciting more than 2,000 likes. "Sisi is a complete Zionising project."

The flimsy evidence for this is that the Israeli media has praised Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi repeatedly. But if that is an indicator of being a "Zionist stooge", then the Brotherhood's very own Mohamed Morsi deserves that accolade just as much, given the acclaim he got in Israel and the love letter he sent to former Israeli President Shimon Peres.

In other posts, Hassan accused Sisi of being an "apostate" who was "raised by Jews". Since Sisi's rise to power, many Muslim Brotherhood supporters and activists have subscribed to outlandish ­- and frankly anti-Semitic - conspiracy theories about the Egyptian leader's ancestry, alleging that he is a Jew.

Sisi's Hometown

The damning case against him? According to a popular YouTube video, Sisi was born and raised in el-Gamaliya, in an alleyway which lies on the edge of the Jewish quarter.

"Only Jews resided in the Jewish quarter," the narrator tells us untruthfully, as the area, despite its name, was always a mixed one.

Though not all Muslim Brothers entertain such feverish fantasies, this kind of hate-filled, intolerant, sectarian discourse does little to counteract the image of Banna and his men, who set off a deadly campaign of bombings against Jewish targets in 1948 just because they shared the same religion as the enemy, and are presented in Haret el-Yahoud as violent fanatics.

To my mind, there is no pro-Israel conspiracy behind Haret el-Yahoud, but perhaps an alliance of convenience and some co-option. Many artists in Egypt feel threatened by the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist intolerance in general, and this has, sadly, made many staunch or hesitant supporters of the ruthless military regime.

The series' uncritical veneration of the army is a case in point. Even though Sisi hadn't yet been born at the time of the 1948 war, the makers' decision to set this drama in Sisi's old neighbourhood and to make the main star a handsome, principled and sensitive army officer to whom women are instinctively drawn is a powerful subliminal message to audiences. Of course, any resemblance to real or living presidents may be entirely coincidental and unintentional.

For audiences and programme makers alike, the main draw to Haret al-Yahoud, in these tumultuous times, is nostalgia. Many look back wistfully to an Egypt that was once perched on top of the Arab and developing world. It was the wealthiest and most advanced Arab country, and a place where modernity and progress seemed to be on an unstoppable onward march.

In a contemporary Egypt where intolerance towards Christians, not to mention anyone who is different, is on the rise, many Egyptians feel their country seriously lost its way in the second half of the 20th century, when it was supposed to have been liberated.

Haret al-Yahoud is not a missive to Israel but an ode to pluralism. By coming to terms with the injustice it committed against its Jewish minority, Egypt may be able to save its soul.

Khaled Diab is an award-winning Egyptian-Belgian journalist, writer and blogger. He is the author of Intimate Enemies: Living with Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land.

Source: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2015/06/ramadan-soap-rediscovers-egypt-jews-150625094603247.html

Sectarian Mosque Attacks — Time For Action!

By Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi

30 June 2015

THIS time many years ago, while I was a student in the University of Oregon, US, Ramadan had a unique flavour. Our Muslim community was diverse.

Arabs, especially from the Arabian Gulf region were dominant. Pakistanis, Indians, Indonesians and Africans came next in population size.

Many new American Muslims joined our community. We may not see all of them in daily prayers, but most attended Friday prayer, and almost all came to Iftar and Eid prayers.

In Ramadan, the mode wholly changed. Maybe not much of a change in schools and public space, but it was different in our Islamic Centre with its Ramadan activities.

Families helped in lending colour to the atmosphere. Women made special dishes for Iftar, and they and our children joined the festival.

Around Iftar tables and during evening prayers, Muslims from all backgrounds, following different sects, young and old, religious and liberal, born Muslims and new Muslims sat side by side, prayed shoulder to shoulder, read the one and only sacred book — the Quran — and listened to same sermons.

Women did the same. Our better halves were even more organized, enthusiastic and energized. They ran Arabic, Qur’anic, Hadith and even cooking classes.

And when Eid came, more activities took place in and outside the centre. Kids were given a taste of the happy occasion in mosques, game contests and outdoor playgrounds, with wrapped gifts to all of them.

In Abubaker Asseddiq Islamic Centre of Eugene, Oregon, we were one big, happy family. My Shiite, Sufi and Salafi friends were as welcome as those who only came to mosque for Eid prayers.

Their lifestyle, personal convictions and private affairs were not of others' concern. They could come to the Centre and share our social activities with no question asked about their sexual orientation, line of work or sectarian, political, ideological affiliation.

Intellectual issues and events would be discussed, but often in an academic mode of respect, tolerance and acceptance.

Sermons were carefully worded not to upset anyone. I miss that atmosphere, today, in the lands of Islam. I see mosques assigned to each sect exclusively.

I watch satellite channels promoting sectarian disagreements. I hear highly respected scholars, who have a large following, spreading hate speech.

I find top Arab and Muslim politicians, parliamentarians, and leaders advocating divide and rule policies. And I follow with horror the misuse of social media in interfaith arguments among Muslims.

I was afraid of what that may lead to. In college, I studied the Rwandan problem, when, in 1994, and within few months (April to July), the majority of Hutus killed half a million to a million of their fellow citizens — Tutsis (and moderate Hutus), for no reason other than the differences in heritage and historical allegations.

The international community took too long to recognize what was happening as a genocide, and end it.

The advocates of hate and revenge had been turning the peaceful coexistence among the population into a mad ethnic-cleansing war that benefited none but inhuman leaders thirsty for power at any cost.

What I feared most came true in Iraq first, after the US invasion, in 2003, then in Syria, since 2011, and now in Yemen.

Lately, my beloved country, an oasis of peace and security, and now in peaceful Kuwait, sectarian attacks is becoming more destructive and bloody.

It breaks my heart and frustrates my intelligence to witness the results of trends long in process and progress.

How come our cool heads in every leadership department never saw this coming? Why no one in control rooms seems to expect what should be expected? One country after the other fell in the same trap and went through the same Hell gates, without learning from current experiences in the very close neighbourhoods! If history is too far to learn from, are current affairs hard to grasp, as well?

I'm shocked, confused and disappointed that the law against hate speech and discrimination we have been calling for ages was voted down by a majority of the Shoura Council, after all what has happened and resulted from such criminality.

I could accept the reasons if modifications were suggested, but to totally shoot the proposed law down was inexcusable.

It hints to alarming personal and common convictions and motivations. The Islamic Summit in Makkah, 2012, called for laws forbidding hate speech and approved the establishment of a centre in Riyadh for intersect dialogue.

In line with this vision, we urgently need actions for those strategies to work. Our world is on fire, our enemies are in action, and we all must rise up to the challenge before it's too late.

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah.

Source: http://www.saudigazette.com.sa/index.cfm?method=home.regcon&contentid=20150630248827

Sectarianism Is Bad… Until It Is Your Side That Is Inciting It

By H.A. Hellyer

29 June 2015

It’s Ramadan. Against the backdrop of Muslims observing the obligatory performance of the fast, sheikhs and religious authorities will remind the faithful of the saying of the Prophet: “There has come to you Ramadan, a blessed month which God has enjoined you to fast, during which the gates of heaven are opened and the gates of Hell are closed, and the rebellious devils are chained up.” Sages in the past would comment – and warn believers that if there were sins they persisted in the month; they had to take them seriously. For in this month, the whispers and murmurs, beckoning souls to wretchedness – well, that’s all on them. Because the devils, as the adage go, are locked up.

One would hope, then, that in this month, there would be an absence of truly horrendous actions – if from no one else, than from Muslims themselves, particularly those that claim to raise high the banner of Islam. Alas, the last few days show that while some human beings don’t require the murmurs and whispers of baser beings at all – they can do rather evil things all on their own.

Where Do We Not Look?

Where do we begin to consider the nature of the malevolence, the maliciousness, the malignity, the malice, of these cruel and capricious acts that have occurred in recent days and weeks? Do we look at Kobane? Do we look at Kuwait? Do we look at Tunisia? Where do we look? Where do we not look?

But in truth, it’s not really about where we do look – it is about where we do not look. For when acts like these occur, we often ignore, far more than we pay attention.

When we decry the violence in one place, do we remember the violence that takes place elsewhere – in the region, and elsewhere? Are there really that many among us who see blood as blood – civilian as civilian – or do we pay more attention to certain shades of blood, or certain nationalities or types of civilians? Or worse yet – how many have become utterly desensitized to the extreme violence in their countries – whether that violence is perpetrated by domestic forces, or foreign? When we think on Kobane and ISIS, do we think on Assad? When we think on Kuwait, do we think on Yemen? Or do we think that the effect of violence is felt only when perpetrated by non-state actors? Are we that mistaken in our compasses about humanity? This entire generation of Arabs is progressing in a region where the shedding of blood in such gruesome fashions has become so commonplace; it’s no longer… odd. It’s no longer strange. It’s just another day. The effect of that should not – must not – be underestimated.

As the dust settles, the dead are prayed over, and those who have passed away are placed into the earth, we will continue to hear a litany of condemnations – of censures and of critiques – and they will all miss the point. Because the truth is, the violence does not come out of nowhere.

An Idea Is Enough

All too often, we privilege context and sociological circumstance to explain why people believe what they believe and do what they do. But ideas matter to people. Indeed, the ideas are believed in certain ways – or may be prioritized in certain ways – in ways that are highly dependent on the milieu in which they are spread and developed. That’s entirely true, and very real. Focusing solely on ideas and ideology, to the exclusion of understanding how they are instrumentalised, or may just be excuses, is a mistake of substantial proportions. But it is no less of an error when we deny that ideas, indeed, matter to human beings. Indeed, sometimes, just sometimes, an idea is enough.

There are good ideas and there are bad ideas. Good ideas cause people to rise above themselves, and lead others away from their more base instincts, pointing the way to a better future. Bad ideas, and there are aplenty, do the opposite. When we look at the Arab world today, we see both - most assuredly. I remember all too well the better days, with the better ideas – particularly, while not exclusively, in those heady, but real days in the early times of 2011.

But the bad ideas? The bad ideas are clear – and this is where, unfortunately, far too many are slow to act.

Certainly, most Gulf state leaders have come out publicly against the attacks against Shiites in Kuwait and Saudi. But how many public figures, preachers and otherwise, have been censured from actual supporting the radical sectarianism they promote or control, in the context of conflicts in the region? Have all governments really taken the necessary steps to curb the sectarianism that many in different parts of officialdom do support, often materially, particularly via religious establishments? Many Islamists condemned, by the same token, attacks on Christians – but did that mean that those promoting anti-Christian sectarianism on channels they control – or preachers they support – were censured? How many public figures in the Arabian Gulf are quick to denounce sectarianism against Sunni Muslims, which we have seen time and again being promoted in Syria and Iraq – but who seemingly have little or no such abhorrence with regards to sectarianism against Shiite Muslims? There will be some – but far too few.

Is the principle really ‘sectarianism is bad’ – or is the principle ‘sectarianism is bad… until it is my side doing it?’

Is there anyone who will take seriously within the region that be it Sunni on Shiite sectarianism; or Shiite on Sunni sectarianism; or Sunni on Sunni sectarianism; or Muslim on Christian sectarianism; that these are all just bad ideas? That differences of views can, and should, be expressed – but that the incitement that finds itself in words will, far too often, be eventually conveyed in acts of violence and terrible consequences? Or have too few not reached the point of realizing that rotten discourse does not have rotten consequences?

Are there leaders in these communities who know they must rise, in order to be clear once and for all, not simply in rhetoric but in action, to avert further catastrophe by declaring – if you will seek to promote hate and incitement, you will not be tolerated? Are there leaders who will pursue that path, not as a way to crackdown on legitimate dissent and varying opinions that do not win favor with the palace – but as a way to ensure and develop the health of their communities and societies?

Or are there only figureheads, among both state and non-state actors, who will simply talk the talk… but walking the walk is put off, indefinitely? Or worse yet – is avoided altogether, while promoting hatred in other directions.

Indeed - it is intriguing how sectarianism is bad – until, of course, it is your side that is inciting it.

Dr. H.A. Hellyer, non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution, the Royal United Services Institute, and the Harvard University Kennedy School, previously held senior posts at Gallup and Warwick University. Follow him on Twitter at @hahellyer.

Source: https://english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/middle-east/2015/06/29/Sectarianism-is-bad-until-it-is-your-side-that-is-inciting-it.html

Exposure - Jihad: A British Story

By Deeyah Khan

14 Jun 2015

In Exposure - Jihad: A British Story, I investigate the roots of Islamic extremism in the UK, speaking to many reformed extremists as well as ordinary young Muslims to answer the burning question of why some young British Muslims join fanatical Jihadi cults like ISIS. Why is the message of extremism and Jihadism appealing to young Muslims in the UK and Europe?

Although I come from a family with origins in South Asia, I have always struggled to understand the appeal of religious extremism.

For Exposure, I spent two years travelling the UK, interviewing British citizens, whose lives had been consumed by extremism.

One of these was a pivotal figure: Abu Muntasir. Now a reformed and moderate imam, he is tormented by his violent past. He has been described as one of the founding fathers of the British Jihadi movement. He fought in Afghanistan, Kashmir and Burma, and organised arms shipments.

He told me: “I inspired and recruited. I trained, I raised funds, I sent people for training, I went and fought myself, and it wasn’t just for a one-off - 15 to 20 years.” He worked to radicalise thousands of young Muslims and encouraged many young men to fight abroad.

I learned that Abu Muntasir created a movement of other young extremists, holding meetings and study circles across the UK, and preaching an extreme form of anti-Western Islam, promoting jihad and the idea of martyrdom.

Asked if he should be forgiven, he says: "If I've done those things which have terribly upset people or hurt people I should be forgiven, I should forgive others as well.

"I cannot hate, hate is not what Muhammad taught. I have been forgiven, I will forgive, that's the least I can do. You have the right to punish me if you think that's fair I will take all that."

Asked whether he has forgiven himself? He answered: "How you answer that? I don't know."

I went on to speak to a number of his former disciples, who describe how they were led into extremism - and reveal the inner workings of the jihadi movement.

I gained an in-depth interview with another former fighter, a direct student of Abu Muntasir, now devoted to spreading a peaceful and tolerant version of Islam.

He explained to me how young people can be psychologically vulnerable to the extremist worldview.

One young man gave me a chilling insight into the radicalised state of mind:

"I just had so much hate in me. I wanted to vent that so badly. I wanted to kill or be killed. So my wishes at the time were that I died on the field of battle. And I killed as many non-believers as I could who opposed me on that field".

But this was not the end of his story - in compelling testimony he describes how he slowly confronted his own extremist beliefs and managed to reclaim his life.

I managed to gain an exclusive interview with a young Bradford man, facing a retrial for terrorist offences (the charges were later dropped).

He and his brother pleaded guilty to downloading jihadi manuals from the internet.

He had, he told me, been inspired by videos of Muslim fighters, and had been groomed by his cousin.

I was told about how these vivid propaganda videos prey on impressionable young minds:

"It puts that image inside you that these are the true warriors… watching the Taliban and Al Qaeda, these kinds of videos, you'll think you have sympathy for them, these know how to fight, they are representing Islam, that’s how you feel. But obviously later on you start understanding that this is not how it is supposed to be."

I particularly wanted to understand the appeal of Muslim extremism to women.

One woman told she was drawn into an extremist group in the UK as an abuse survivor looking for a sense of justice.

She described the isolationist mindset that develops within these groups: “it was just like everyone was disgusting, everything was dirty.”

She eventually turned away from the group after she learned that her child was expressing her violent world view in school.

This became a moment of clarity that forced her to re-evaluate and change her whole belief system.

Through talking with former extremists, and hearing them share their innermost emotional conflicts and experiences, I learned about the anger many feel in being caught between extremism and a society which some feel rejects them.

Through these moving testimonies, I started understanding the complex reasons why men and women might turn to extremism.

We have to first truly understand the appeal of this movement in order to find ways to tackle this terrifying phenomenon.

Source: http://www.itv.com/news/2015-06-14/exposure-jihad-a-british-story/

Learning Nothing from Ramadan

By Abdulateef Al-Mulhim

29 June 2015

Before the advent of Ramadan every year, we read various reports doing the rounds in the media showing the number of hours that Muslims around the world would observe fasting in 24 hours.

Muslims are spread all across the world but the majority is concentrated in the region just above the equator. The length or duration of a fasting day in Ramadan changes every year but for most of the Muslims, living in the above-mentioned region, usually doesn’t have to fast for long hours.

However, those living near the polar circle or to be more precise in countries like Sweden, Norway or Canada, the duration of a fasting day are usually long.

In the next 30 years, Ramadan will fall during summer and winter in the northern hemisphere and the fasting hours will greatly vary in the northern latitudes. During such days, Muslims in countries like Sweden will have to brave long hours of fasting. As a matter of fact, they will have very little gap between their Iftar meal and Suhoor, which means that Muslims living in higher latitudes would be fasting for as long as 23 hours and would have to rely on only one meal during the entire day for the entire month of Ramadan.

During this blessed month, Muslims are supposed to fast, which is the fourth pillar of Islam. Fasting is a way of worshipping Allah and not a test of human endurance. Contrary to popular belief, Islam is a very flexible religion. That is why we have the institution of Ijtihad, an Arabic term meaning “independent reasoning.” Of course, authentic Muslim scholars do it. I was wondering if there were a fatwa or edict regarding fasting in regions or countries close to the polar circles.

Islam is a religion, which is not confined to any geographical area or time. Its teachings encompass time and space and that is why Allah has declared Qur’an as His final words. Thanks to the institution of Ijtihad, Muslim scholars have always been able to come up with Islamic solutions to new problems or issues that emerge with the changing times.

Now let us talk about this holy month and what it has in store for us. What is the basic purpose of this month? Are we able to take advantage of this month to the fullest by understanding the basic philosophy behind fasting?

Ramadan is not just about abstaining from food and water during the day. It is a training program for Muslims to help them prepare for the remaining year. It is a program for Muslims to inculcate in them basic Islamic qualities like patience in daily matters, tolerance toward others and kindness. Ramadan also helps us in maintaining our health. We can develop healthy dietary habits and continue with them beyond Ramadan as well. This month teaches us how to eat properly and how to use our time wisely. Unfortunately, we do the exact opposite. We waste huge amounts of food and time preparing just two meals: Iftar and Suhoor. We prepare lots of it and we waste most of it. Above all, we waste lots of water doing the dishes. Perhaps this is the only month of the year during which we waste food without thinking twice, which indicates that we don’t understand the concept of this month and the idea behind fasting.

We don’t just waste food at home; this wastage could also be witnessed at communal Iftars like at mosques or at Iftar dinners or parties.

An Indian expatriate wrote to me the other day about Iftars arranged at big mosques. According to him, most of the food goes to the garbage bins. It is true that the good will and good intention is there but common sense should prevail. There are many things that we can learn from Ramadan but apparently we don’t. One of the most important lessons that we can learn from Ramadan is respecting our fellow humans and the sanctity of their lives.

During this year’s Ramadan, the Muslim world has been jolted by violent incidents. The killings in Kuwait, France and Tunisia are condemnable and deplorable actions. Unfortunately, all these killings are taking place in the name of Islam during the holy month.

There is no letup in the violence across the region, which happens to be Muslim.
Source: http://www.arabnews.com/columns/news/768976

True Secularism, Indonesian Style

By Sreeram Chaulia

Jun 29, 2015

I spent the first half of the Islamic holy month of Ramzan in the world’s largest Muslim country, Indonesia. It was an eye-opening experience, in contrast to more conservative parts of the Muslim world. Traditional piety and devotion was, as expected, evident in homes and mosques. But there was no excessive encroachment of public places for fasting rituals and symbols.

Unlike in theocratic Islamic nations, where the state machinery allies with the mosque and imposes strict restrictions and codes on personal behaviour to make religiosity overwhelming, Indonesia’s secular republic strove to emphasise that Ramzan’s observation must not hamper the syncretic identity of the country. An archipelago where 95 per cent of the population is Muslim was at pains to ensure that the remaining five per cent should not feel elbowed out as second-class citizens.

Two major policy debates were in play during Ramzan, revealing how a model Muslim-majority democracy can promote harmony and national unity.

The first was on whether food stalls should remain shut during day hours when fasting is on. The Indonesian Ulema Council, which is the top clerical body and is government funded, had asked restaurants and catering outlets to cease functioning in daylight “to respect those who are fasting”. It was less a demand and more an appeal. But the pluralistic administrative authorities shot down the request by arguing that “those who were fasting should also respect non-Muslims who were not.”

The capital city Jakarta’s deputy governor came up with an ingenuous idea to accommodate the Ulema Council without jeopardising secularism: “Food stall owners could pay respect to those fasting by placing curtains at their stalls — this way the stalls could remain open and those who were not fasting would not find it hard to get food.” For a country where discretionary spending on eating outside home is rather high, it was an economically and socially sound solution to what can become prickly and politically sensitive in more religiously charged Islamic nations.

The second discussion that made headlines during Ramzan was about calls to prayer and chanting of sermons over loudspeakers from mosques.

The Indonesian Mosque Council campaigned forcefully to “reduce noise pollution” which caused disturbance at unearthly hours to those who were resting or sleeping. Orders went out to mosque managements to minimise microphones and “avoid blaring the sounds of Islamic teachings” as “Muslims should respect followers of other religions”.

In true Indonesian character of persuasion, opinions of enlightened Muslim theologians were cited to spread the message that “Islam doesn’t teach us to disrupt or bother other people but rather to respect the privacy of others.”

As a non-Muslim foreigner waking up in the mornings in the cultural heartland of Java, Yogyakarta, the call to prayer from the local mosque landed on my ears like a lullaby rather than a jarring mechanism to roust me out of bed.

What is more, the hymns at dawn in local Javanese dialect sounded so much like Sanskritic Hindu mantras that I could have been in southern India and not southern Indonesia! One has to see the spectacular Ramayana ballet performed by Javanese Muslim dancers at the majestic Prambanan temple dedicated to Lord Shiva or the ubiquitous statuary depicting scenes from the Mahabharata in densely-populated Muslim cities and towns to appreciate this interreligious fusion.

One of the reasons why Indonesia has fared extraordinarily well as a genuine liberal democracy with relatively low levels of social friction is the concept of “acculturation” between Islamic rituals and local beliefs of Hindus and Buddhists. Nine famous Muslim saints, known as the Wali Songo, who spread Islam in Java in the 15th and 16th centuries accepted pre-existing forms of faith and mixed them with matching Islamic precepts.

Muhammad Faisal of Youth Laboratory Indonesia credits this softer Islamic heritage for laying a basis where “the young Muslim generation today can absorb and practice its religious norms not in the way of the radical groups in West Asia, but as a tolerant Islam that mingles with local traditions.”

All this is not to claim that Indonesia is a paradise that has sorted out contradictions between Islamic notions of politics and social order and secular concepts of government. Since the fall of the military dictatorship of General Suharto in 1998, concern has risen about a “conservative turn” in Indonesian Islam marked by advent of the overtly Islamist Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and Salafist and terrorist outfits such as Hizb ut-Tahrir and Jemaah Islamiyah.

Despite crackdowns by security forces, the shadowy presence of an umbrella organisation for jihadists, Indonesian Mujahideen Council (MMI), and estimates that at least 500 Indonesian youth have travelled to Syria and Iraq to join the Islamic State (ISIS) are ominous signs. The current slowdown in the Indonesian economy to below five per cent of GDP growth may induce more frustrated but digitally well connected youth to embrace violent influences from hard-line Arabic societies. Smith Alhadar of the Institute for Democracy Education (IDe) in Jakarta warns that Indonesia is unprepared in the Internet-saturated era to counter the “creeping power and attractiveness of ISIS ideology.”

In securing Indonesia’s unique legacy of eclectic Islam, much rides upon the shoulders of Indonesia’s charismatic and anti-establishment President, Joko Widodo. His clarion call for a “mental revolution” to “reform the populace’s mindset” is still work in progress. The vices that Jokowi, as the President is popularly known, is seeking to banish include not only corruption, greed, lawlessness, selfishness and opportunism, but also “intolerance of differences.”

Jokowi’s championing of a new law of religious freedom makes it easier for minorities to build their own places of worship and also extends protections to atheists. Yet, in the maelstrom of Indonesian democratic politics at present, Jokowi is viewed as a weak President who lacks the backing of the old military and party elites and is hamstrung by a hostile Parliament packed with his opponents.

Jokowi’s honeymoon after his dream election victory in July 2014 is over, with the economy sliding and concomitant fears of a fresh wave of Islamist radicalisation, Civil society activists who waged sustained struggles to keep Indonesia humane and open to all faiths and ethnicities have not given up on Jokowi. The world should not either, because in his success lies the greatest hope for the unlikely combination of Islam, secularism and democracy.

Sreeram Chaulia is a professor and dean at the Jindal School of International Affairs

Source: http://www.asianage.com/columnists/true-secularism-indonesian-style-220

Protecting Girls: Losing the Trial, Winning the War in Indonesia

By Shela Putri Sundawa

June 30 2015

On June 18, the Constitutional Court finally delivered its judgment publicly on the judicial review of the proposed change to the marriageable age in the 1974 Marriage Law. Under Article 7 (1) of the law, the minimum marriageable age is 16 for girls and 19 for boys.

The plaintiffs, led by the Women’s Health Foundation (Yayasan Kesehatan Perempuan), lobbied to raise it to 18. The court, led by eight men and one woman, comprehensively dismissed the plaintiffs’ arguments with only one dissenting opinion coming (unsurprisingly) from the only female member.

The logic behind the final judgment is weak and vague. It even quoted from the Koran. For a country that is fundamentally acknowledged as secular, it is inconsistent of the court to put forward its arguments based on religious teaching.

It is not by accident that the only dissenting opinion came from a female judge. Maria Farida Indrati pointed out that it was now time to reconsider the marriageable age for women given the inconsistency of the Marriage Law with laws on human rights, child protection, manpower, human trafficking and pornography.

The 2002 Child Protection Law, for instance, defines a child as anyone below 18 years old and states that parents are obliged and responsible to prevent child marriage.

According to this law, marriage at 16 years of age constitutes child marriage and therefore violates the rights of the child. That this flaw was spotted by only one judge and missed, or perhaps ignored, by the rest is very disheartening.

Truthfully speaking, a court is full of subjectivity and thus decisions are made by standards vulnerable to bias. No matter how logically and systematically one may present evidence, judges still have the highest power of decision-making.

Judges are people just like us who base their perspectives on values absorbed from childhood, lessons learned during their studies and perhaps the heartbreaking experiences that they have faced in their lives.

To be chosen as a constitutional judge is not easy. One must showcase an academic record of excellence and pass the selection process. At the end of selection nine judges are chosen to preside over every trial.

In this particular period there is only one woman considered smart enough to be on the team. For such a gender-sensitive issue to be handed to a group consisting of eight men and one woman, it wasn’t difficult to imagine how the court would ultimately rule.

Men are, simply put, more ignorant on gender inequity issues. That is in part the reason behind the launching of HeForShe, a UN Women solidarity campaign for gender equality. Therefore, handing this case to a group led and dominated by men is unfair and gender biased.

Perhaps it is time to stop expecting our judges to act as instruments of social engineering. Trying to end child marriage by appealing to the courts has proved to be ineffective.

Indeed, given Indonesia’s infamously weak law enforcement and its rarely law-abiding citizens, even if we had succeeded in raising the legal marriageable age, many would still break the law and wed minors anyway. It is easy to fake ID cards or birth certificates.

That is why it is better to save our energy on preventing child marriage by strengthening other programs such as entrenching the coverage of 12-year compulsory education. Enrolled at age seven, students would be 18 years or older when they finish this program.

During school they are not allowed to get married, and therefore keeping them longer in school would delay their age of marriage. This program could potentially solve the country’s education deficit while also indirectly changing the marriage age from 16 to 18. One shot, two birds down.

Education has long been known as a determinant factor in delaying marriage. Many studies in Indonesia have shown that an increased level of education for females corresponds to an older age of marriage.

Studies in both urban and rural areas have shown that women tend to delay marriage in order to pursue education. Supporting the government’s new scheme of 12 years formal education is therefore crucial for winning the war on child marriage.

As explained by the court, the main reason for early-age marriage is economic hardship. Children are forced to drop out of school because their parents can no longer afford to pay school fees and the nine-year basic education program only provides free schooling until junior high school.

At this level, most children would be no older than 16. Junior high school graduates of 16 years old in a country where employing underage children is considered illegal forces families to choose an undesirable option, namely, getting married.

Though the law is supreme, it isn’t everything. Let us reconsider our fight against child marriage and move toward another path, which will provide us with more certainty.

The court may have failed miserably to protect our children’s rights but, as the proverb says, many roads lead to Rome. Let’s put aside the tiring and depressing fight in the court and work toward a new goal of preventing child marriage by successfully implementing the 12-year compulsory education program.

Shela Putri Sundawa is a doctor and regional coordinator for the standing committee on public health in the Asia Pacific under the International Federation of Medical Students’ Association.

Source: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2015/06/30/protecting-girls-losing-trial-winning-war.html