Saturday, 30 August 2008

Progressive Scottish Muslims will not be hijacked and caged by the Scottish Islamic Foundation!

I read with interest the views of the Scottish Islamic Foundation in the Sunday Herald (31st August) on how they hope to ‘modernise’ Islam in Scotland by establishing a mosque run by under 35s and giving women more voice in the Mosque by allowing them to set up committees to help their own affairs. In what way is this progressive? Mosques have always been male dominated with little to no voice for women and I don’t see that changing any time soon. By instating a committee with women on it for their own affairs may seem a modern idea in the world of the Scottish Islamic Foundation but it is not progressive. I call for something much more radical. Spirituality, submission and subservience to God is beyond gender and Mosques need to realise this and allow women to take the highest office in Mosques. I welcome the news that SIF will distribute sacrificial meat commemorating Ramadhan to the needy in Scotland this year, well done on this.

Talking about Mosques, I saw a list of Muslims and Muslim organisations that support the work of the Scottish Islamic Foundation and laughed. Is this truly a unanimous endorsement of SIF that gives them the right to speak in the name of the ‘Muslim community’ in Scotland? Absolutely NOT! There is only ONE Mosque which has endorsed SIF and let us be clear that there are around 13-14 Mosques in Glasgow alone. I’m sorry to say that ‘one of the most respected Imams in Scotland’ really means one of the most respected Imams by SIF! I have nothing against Imam Mustaqeem but please don’t patronise my faith and identity by parading your own stock as mine. Does the Scottish Islamic Foundation represent the Ismaillis, Ahmediyyas and the Shi’ias too? Why is it that all of these ‘supporters’ are strongly inclined to views and understandings of the ‘Muslim Brotherhood’? Where are the diverse voices which are a true indication of the reality of the Muslim communities, yes, communities! There are too many voices that are overlooked in this debate and this is the true travesty of justice that the Scottish Government is committing. Muslims cannot be accepted as a monolith. I call for Progressive Scottish Muslims to raise their voices but not to the detriment of all the other voices that say they are ‘Muslim’ voices too for who gives anyone the right to endorse or dismiss Muslim voices?

And finally, an ill-informed statement by a Scottish Government spokesperson,

“The Scottish government is so firmly behind the SIF's work, particularly the expo idea, that it has donated £200,000 towards it. A spokeswoman said: "We believe that it is right to celebrate the diversity that exists in Scotland through events like this. In supporting it we will also be able to build links between communities and dispel the myths which undermine community cohesion."

What diversity does SIF show Mr Spokesperson? In what way do they endorse a cross section of the Muslim communities? In what way do they show the bare bones of a political Islam that is both presentable and palatable by our Scottish Government?

The crux of the matter is that SIF may do an excellent job in providing moderate (or modern) views to the Scottish Government and those wanting to hear the usual ‘Islam is a religion of peace and tollerance’ but what we must accept is that change and the rise in progressive Scottish Islam will be far from the hands of political Islamists. I smell worry in the words and actions of the political Islamists who want to cage and control the sentiments of the true progressive Scottish Muslims but this new wave will emerge in full force, slowly but surely by the grace of God. I read a delightful letter in the Scotsman the other day which hit the note perfectly, she wrote,

End the silence over Islam

Am I alone in my disquiet about our government's courtship of the Scottish Islamic Foundation?
In the 1970s, young women like me embraced multiculturalism; we were engaging with our oppressed sisters everywhere around the world. Or so it seemed at the time.

Where are we now? And why are we so effectively silenced? Why do we have nothing to say about a sharia credit card? Have we really forgotten what sharia law means for women? While English clerics debate the pros and cons of introducing an element of sharia law into their legal system, where are our voices in this debate? Do we seriously think it won't happen in Scotland? Look at their website. It's happening already.

What do we think about the headline "Muslim sprinter wins Olympic sprint dressed head to toe in hijab" (from the Scottish Islamic Foundation website)? Or of Al Jazeera talking to Nicola Sturgeon, the deputy first minister, about a " Scottish division" of their TV station. Why on earth would they want a Scottish division? I need to know. I am not opposed, in principle, to any of these, but I am opposed to the suffocating, politically correct silence that now surrounds any criticism of organisations such as the Scottish Islamic Foundation.

We need to bring this debate into the open. I don't fear the debate; I fear the silence.

Anne Marie Keenan
Lochailort, Inverness-shire

Here is my response:

You are not alone Anne, thank the Lord that there are many many Muslims and non-Muslims in Scotland who are not quiet about this courtship. SIF are not representative of Muslims in Scotland yet seem to be creating their own mandate through $£ of doing as such which time will show is ill-informed and a disaster waiting to unravel. However, SIF have a right to voice their opinions and say what they have to say in the same way that I feel the progressive Scottish Muslim voices also need to be given a platform. Silence is unacceptable from all. The picture of Shar’ia law has been tarnished into some big bogey man which is against the fundamental tenets of why it was established. Sadly, Shar’ia has become a means of social control and muzzling voices, hence it is an excellent tool for political Islamists.

The progressive Scottish Muslim voices will emerge and hopefully then we will begin to accept that there really is that diversity of voices in the ‘Muslim community’ which our dearly beloved Scottish Government spokesperson stated in the Sunday Herald till then we must continue with our questions and criticism of the status-quo over and over again!

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

The Etiquette of Dissent and Dialogue: Interview with Professor Khalid Masud

By Farish A. Noor

Professor Khalid Masud is perhaps one of the most universally-acclaimed Islamic scholars of Pakistan. Himself a product of both traditional madrasa and modern university education, he has researched and written extensively about the development of Islamic law and Muslim political-legal thought. As the former Academic Director of the International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World, Prof. Khalid is seen by many Muslim intellectuals as both an icon and model of contemporary Islamic scholarship. During his recent visit to Pakistan, Dr. Farish A. Noor met up with Prof. Khalid and discussed the problems and obstacles that stand in the way of genuine inter-religious dialogue during these troubled times.

MWU!: 'It seems odd, even sad, that many Muslim activists still get trapped in this dichotomy between so-called 'progressive Islam' and 'traditional Islam'. Why is this still the case and is this distinction even real in the first place? Can we hope to overcome it one day?'

Prof Khalid: The distinction between 'progressive Islam' and 'traditional' or 'conversative' Islam is really a nominal one. Most often it has to do with the personalities of the individual actors involved and their own specific educational, professional and even political affiliations and commitments. But I really think this division between 'moderate/progressive' and 'traditional/conservative' Islam is illusory and we should think beyond that.

Firstly the actors and agents involved need to ask themselves if they really differ in their objectives. The moderate and progressive Muslim activists tend to be those who are concerned about serious worldly matters like political injustice, economic domination, neo-imperialism, neo-colonisation, democratic reform, gender equality, dialogue with other faith communities, anti-war activism, sustainable development and so on. These are genuine and important concerns that directly affect the Muslim world and humanity as a whole, and these are legitimate objectives to struggle for.

But the progressives should not forget that they are not alone in this. Even the traditional and conservative Muslims are concerned with these issues, though they may use a different language - sometimes more scriptural and religious - and sometimes they do not have the appropriate intellectual tools to deal with them. However we should not look down upon them due to these deficiencies, nor should we underrate their achievements.

The traditionalist and conservative Ulama, on the other hand, should not readily dismiss the modernist and progressive Muslims on the spurious grounds that they are all too 'western' or 'secular', for they should realise that their reformist concerns are genuine and they affect them too.

The ulama have done a great service to the Muslim world because they helped to conserve the body of Islamic knowledge and law, but they are fundamentally conservative because this is what they do. But even in their conservative outlook they were, in the past, standing up for the rights of Muslims and their concerns in the past are actually similar to the concerns of the modernists and progressives of today. So for that reason these two camps should not be opposing each other. If they were honest about it and looked closely enough, they would see that they share much more in common than they think.'

MWU!: In our previous discussions you have discussed the adab of dialogue and disagreement in Islam, and how vital it is for Muslims to respect diversity among themselves and come to terms with alterity and diversity outside the Muslim community. Why has it been so hard for us to develop an ethics or adab of recognising difference within and without the Muslim community today?

Prof. Khalid: An essential element in the adab dialogue is to recognize the sincerity of the other party and to appreciate the value of dissent believing that only by recognizing differences can we come to an effective consensus. A forced consensus is short lived and pushes dissent further into animosity. We should not forget that Islamic history is marked for dissent and difference of opinions. These differences arose soon after the death of the Prophet, and they reflected the dynamism of the community and the times. However, since these differences were connected with the struggle of power, they ended in wars and bloodshed to the extent that historians call them Fitna, chaos and anarchy. In fact, it was also the political ideal of the Unity of community that termed dissent as anarchy. Whenever dissent and dialogue operate in a political context and the struggle for power it loses the element of adab.

Still, we find in this period, that the political opponents respected each other. It was later political ideologies like that of the Khawarij and the Shi'a that tried to describe dissent in terms of the 'Islam and Kufr' dichotomy. Mainstream Muslim thinking did not allow this division of the Muslim community into 'Islam and Kufr', although the majority regarded Ali as the rightful caliph against Mu'awiya. We may also recall that difference of opinion in law (fiqh) was honoured and legitimized on the principle of ijtihad, and although the difference in legal interpretations produced schools and madhahib, they did not develop into sects, nor did they cast each other beyond the pale of Islam.

It was theology that divided Muslims into sects. Why? Because during the Abbasid period theology was made an instrument of political power. The Abbasids had come to power with a religious ideology which condemned its opponents as enemies of Islam. If Mamun tried to impose the Mu'tazili thought, the later Abbasid caliphs from Qadir Bi'llah onwards tried to impose Ash'ari theology. Associated with power, dialogue divided the community into enemy camps. Thus dialogue took the form of a battle for power, a Da'wa, or a dialogue to convert, rather than to negotiate for consensus.

Gradually Da'wa lost its position of a dialogue. It became a monologue within one's own camp, convincing the people who already believed. It called for the unity of the community by suppressing dissent.

Subsequently a major decline in Islamic thought took place. By not listening sincerely to the dissenting voices, you never know the weaknesses of your own thought, or you miss the opportunity of alternative thinking. The fear that dissent will divide us has been so strong that our ethics of dialogue became very authoritarian and conservative. Ironically, it has not prevented schism, but has rather fostered a kind of mutual mistrust which is more dangerous than even anarchy. Muslims have lost their sense of adab as well as the urge and ability to speak to others. Instead political concerns have come to dominate our interaction with each others and those outside our faith community.

MWU!: Talk of developing an ethics of dialogue and negotiation with the Other today seems very fragile and precarious considering the real facts of geopolitics and the emergence of the USA as a global hegemonic power with its grand global ambitions. While Muslims are trying to develop an ethics of dialogue with the other, we are confronted with the brute realities of neo-colonisation and neo-imperialism. How does the Muslim of today confront the realities of brute force and violence?

Prof. Khalid: To answer this question, I would like to refer to the corpus of eighteenth century Muslim thought which I have been studying. In most of the Muslim world, it was a period in which Muslim political power had either declined or was weakening. During this period, I find, especially in South Asia which is my main area of interest, a shift in Muslim thought. Freed from the obsession for power, Muslim thinkers in this period start looking toward their neighbors in Islam as well as in their geographic environment.

In India there was an effort to understand the differences not only between Shi'a and Sunnis, but also between Hanafis and Shafi'is and Malikis, and between various sufi orders. There was a general trend to go back to early Islam to understand and appreciate the differences.

Similarly, there was an attempt to understand Hindus and the Christians. Shah Waliullah and Shah Abdul Aziz are good examples of this period. Even the Europeans who came to India at that time were more inclined to understand local cultures and religions. There were more than two hundred Europeans who wrote poetry in Urdu. Shah Abdul Aziz was very friendly with the British and the British also respected him for his learning and sagacity.

The whole universe turns upside down after 1857. Following the Indian revolt of 1857 British policy changed from that of the Company's (East India Company) mode of government to that of an Empire. Muslims were seen as barbarian Jihadis, not prepared to accept the values of civil society. William Hunter's book on Indian Muslims reads like a modern report on al-Qaeda: Every Madrasa, every Fatwa, and every Muslim was seen as a potential danger for the British.

Centuries of Islamic universal scholarship was thrown aside and Muslims were presented instead as fanatics and terrorists, even in 1857.How the British colonial government handled legitimate dissent echoes today in the neo-conservatism of the American administration. It is an ethics of colonization that restores the principle of might against right. Modernists like Sayyid Ahmad Khan stood for the universal values of reform, rationality and rational dialogue but these voices were drowned in the cries of 'traitors for the colonial powers', raised by the Muslim conservatives. Unfortunately, the conservatives were responding to the atrocities of the colonial powers and they did not support any compromise with the British. The Muslim modernists were pleading for universal values and were asking for compromises in the immediate present for the future.

In my view, the same holds true today. We have to understand that Muslims are divided only with regard to the immediate concerns, but for the future objectives, I believe they do not differ with each other. If American globalization was not associated with American political hegemony, Muslim modernists would have not been discredited. It is the highjacking of the universal principles of enlightenment, democracy, human rights, etc., by the US to steer their own national objectives that has weakened Muslim dialogue with the Other.

This item is located at:

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Love, Longing and Leaving

One of my favorite ghazals sung by Farida Khanum is aaj jaane ki zid na karo, 'tonight, don't insist on leaving'. I first heard this a few years ago and the lyrics fascinated me just as much then as they do now. The Pakistani Queen of Ghazal, Farida Khanum, sang this in a very classical ghazal form which has recently been copied by another Queen of Music, Asha Bhosle of India. I am presenting both singers as I think they both offer something different. I quite like the story that is being told in the Asha video clip :)

So, enjoy and just remember the poetry of this ghazal when your loved one tells you stay a little longer...

By Faiyyaz Hashmi
Translated by Ayesha Kaljuvee

Sung by Farida Khanum
Play: Aaj Jaane Ki Zid

Aaj jaane ki zid na karo
Tonight, don’t insist on leaving

Yunhi pehlu mein bethey raho
Sit here close to me

Haaye mar jaayein ge
I will die

Hum to lutt jaayein ge
I will be lost

Aisi baatein kiya na karo
Don't say such things

Aaj jaane ki zid na karo
Tonight, don’t insist on leaving

Tumhi socho zara
Just ponder for a second

kyu'n na rokein tumhey
Why shouldn't I stop you?

jaan jaati hai jab uth ke jaatey ho tum
When my life leaves every time you go

tum ko apni qasam jaan-e-jaa'n
I swear to you, my love

baat itni meri maan lo
Listen to my one request

Aaj jaane ki zid na karo
Tonight, don’t insist on leaving

Waqt ki qaed mein zindagi hai magar
Life is trapped in time's prison but

chand gharriya'n yahi hain jo aazaad hain
These are the few moments that are free

inko khho kar kaheen jaan-e-jaa\'n
By losing them, my love

umr bhar na tarastey raho
Don't start a life of regret

Aaj jaane ki zid na karo
Tonight, don’t insist on leaving

Kitna masoom aur rangeen hai yeh sama
How innocent and colorful is the weather

husn aur ishq ki aaj me'raj hai
It is the reign of beauty and love

kal ki kis ko khabar jaan-e-jaa\'n
Who knows what tomorrow will bring

rok lo aaj ki raat ko
Let's stop this night right here

Aaj jaane ki zid na karo
Tonight, don’t insist on leaving