Saturday, 26 June 2010

Renouncing Power...

"True spirituality is not about power it is about renouncing power - that is where you gain a self renewing power, when you renounce it and not invest in it."

"The divides are not Islam and western society, the divide is between people who have different values. We must promote connections between people who want to contribute to human values. People who share that commitment can collaborate across cultural divides."

Professor Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law, School of Law, Emory University, USA.

Are beards obligatory for devout Muslim men?

Hizbul-Islam militants in Somalia ordered men in Mogadishu this week to grow their beards and trim their moustaches.

"Anyone found violating this law will face the consequences," a Hizbul-Islam militant said, announcing the edict. But, is growing a beard obligatory under Islam?

Professor Muhammad Abdel Haleem, of the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, says it is not.

It is up to the individual whether he lets his facial hair grow or not, Mr Abdel Haleem says, attributing this view to most scholars of Islamic law across a majority of Muslim-dominated countries. Muslims learn about the Prophet's views on facial hair not from the Koran, but through hadith - or sayings - attributed to Muhammad.

One such hadith, related by Muslim scholar Sahih Bukhari centuries ago, stipulates: "Cut the moustaches short and and leave the beard." The Prophet Muhammad is believed to have had a beard and those who insist that devout Muslims grow beards argue that they are doing no more than asking the faithful to emulate the Prophet's actions.

The question that arises is one of enforcement. Mr Abdel Haleem says the body of Islamic law at the core of manuals of Muslim practice puts it as a recommendation - sitting in the middle between an order and absolute free choice. But, he adds, it is "a recommendation nonetheless".

The Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan until they were ousted in 2001, and the Islamists of Somalia, are among a small minority in the Muslim world who demand unconditional observance and threaten penalties for non-compliance, says Mr Abdel Haleem. Every practising Muslim, he argues - adding that he is one of them - should be free to exercise their choice, without fear of retribution.

Imam Abduljalil Sajid, who is based at the Brighton Islamic Mission in the UK, concurs. "In my opinion, this is a bit like the issue of women wearing headscarves. It is not one of the compulsory pillars of Islam, like prayer or fasting." There are, however, schools of Islamic law - Hanafi, Maliki, Hanbali and Shafi - which, among many other things, appear to promote the sporting of prominent beards. By contrast, followers of Shia Islam generally prefer closely cropped beards, which are mostly "like two, or three days' growth".

Most Islamic scholars or other figures of religious authority, whether Shia or Sunni, sport beards in emulation of the Prophet. However Egypt, Jordan and Turkey are an exception, says Imam Abduljalil. In these countries you would find some scholars without beards. "Going without a beard became a sign of modernity," the imam explains. "In the 1960s and 1970s, you saw more Muslims shaving off their beards." But more "fundamentalist Muslims" he says, continue to follow every letter of the Prophet's teachings today. The hadith, he says, offers guidelines on "how to trim your beard and keep it looking beautiful."

(BBC Website)

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Transformation by Integration

Product Description
A growing number of people experience their own spiritual lives as being inspired by more than one religious tradition. Multi-religious identity formation and double-belonging are obvious signs of a process of significant transformation as a result inter-faith encounter - a transformation that had been expected and positively willed by various inter-faith theologians. "Transformation by Integration" looks more deeply at a number of issues involved, including: What does it mean theologically to move beyond tolerance towards a genuine appreciation of other religions? How can multi-religious identity be assessed theologically? And, will we have to reconsider the widespread dismissal of syncretism? Perry Schmidt-Leukel takes the next theological step on the basis of a pluralist paradigm within the theology of religions.

About the Author
Perry Schmidt-Leukel is Professor of Religious Studies and Intercultural Theology at the University of Münster. There he also heads the Department of Religious Studies and Intercultural Theology (Centre for Religious Studies and Inter-Faith Theology).

New ties in the New World

Dr Amanullah De Sondy
The Friday Times
(The Friday Times is a Pakistani English-language independent newsweekly, based in Lahore, Pakistan.)
June 25-July 1, 2010 - Vol. XXII, No. 19

On Saturday, the 29th of May, at their plush residence in Allen, Texas, Sharoot and Ally Adnan, celebrated the Ganda Bandhan of their son Sheheryar with the great Pakistani Tabla maestro Ustad Tari Khan. At the invitation-only event, guests arrived from around the world in the early evening adorned in their finest South Asian attire from traditional Sari s to flowing Gharara s and Sharara s worn by the beautiful ladies and finely embroidered kurta s by dashing men – the scene was set for a night to remember, amongst some of the most beautiful pieces of art collected by Sharoot and Ally Adnan.

It was hard not to feel mesmerized by the ambience created by the hosts. Was it the sweet smell of cedar wood incense, the peaceful gaze of the Buddha statues that greeted guests, or the colors of the event? It would be difficult to pin point what was in the air except the excitement in the eyes of all who gathered. As the temple bells were chimed to alert the beginning of proceedings, Ally Adnan’s words went straight to the point as he reflected on the sadness that he and Ustad Tari Khan shared this year. The death of Tari Khan’s mother followed by that of Ally Adnan’s father resonated with a closeness shared by the two men in sorrow. But here now was a moment of renewal. It was a new beginning, the start of a journey of discovery and joy, amidst bereavement. The charm of many melancholic poems by Urdu poets celebrating just such renewals amidst sorrow, springs to mind.

The Ganda Bandhan is understood to be the most important and auspicious ritual in the Pakistani and North Indian classical music tradition. Ganda is the thread that is used in the ceremony and Bandhan can be understood as an expression of ‘connection’, ‘tie’, ‘relationship’. But this is no ordinary relationship, it is a special bond that has been a part of South Asian culture for centuries, that of the master and his pupil, Ustad and Shagird. As the thread is tied around the wrist of the pupil, a bond of commitment, honesty, love, devotion and education between the two is formed, to be strengthened over time.

Ustad Tari Khan spoke movingly about the special relationship between an Ustad and Shagird but placed emphasis on the primary relationship between parent and child. To prosper, all bonds must have the basic ingredient of love and understanding, said the Ustad. The audience, sitting on the floor in desi style to attend a mehfil, were attentive and thoughtful upon hearing Ally Adnan’s words and those of Ustad Tari Khan. The ceremony began by presenting the Ustad and his students - some of whom had travelled from as far as Europe - with gifts. The Ganda was then presented on a Pooja Thali to the Ustad who blessed the thread which was then circulated amongst the many musicians attending the event for their blessings. After the thread was blessed by the pupil’s mother Sharoot, the Ustad tied the thread around Sheheryar’s wrist. And then the traditional laddoo was placed in the mouth of the new student, at which point the room roared in applause and felicitations. Emotions ran high when Ally Adnan, who was supposed to lead a short prayer at the end of the ceremony, was so overcome with emotion that he passed the baton to his elegant wife, Sharoot. In view of an audience of diverse religious affiliations - and maybe even none - it was apt for her to state that the prayer was an appeal for love and understanding amongst people. The love of music was something every person at the gathering shared, regardless of what any of them believed.

The meal was personally prepared by Sharoot; the quality and variety of food was elaborate enough to put the most well known desi restaurants to shame. After the sumptuous meal and a selection of no less than ten desserts, the audience was treated to tea and saunf as they got ready for what would be an unforgettable night of music.

The musical performance was divided into two parts - a vocal presentation and a tabla solo. In the first half of the presentation, Ustad Tari Khan was accompanied by his student, Jaswinder Ahluwalia, on the tabla and Dallas musicians, Amit Kelkar and Rajiv Chakravarti, on the harmonium. Tari Khan, who is a Ganda Bandh shagird of Mehdi Hassan, regaled the audience with a choice selection of geets and ghazals, making sure that the requests of the audience were catered to. From Ranjish Hi Sahi in Aiman, to Zindagi Mein To Sabhi in Bheemplasi, to Kubaku Pahil Gai Baat in Darbari, Ustad Tari Khan delighted the audience with his mastery over raag and taal. The performance was proof that the Ustad’s greatness encompasses far more than his mastery of the tabla. In the second part of the evening Ustad Tari Khan performed his magic on the tabla. He was accompanied on the harmonium by Javad Butah, himself a tabla player of considerable merit and a student of Pandit Anindo Chatterjee. Ustad Tari played the twelve beat cycle ektala beginning with a grand uthaan, followed by a leisurely peshkara, and some remarkably intricate Punjab qaidas and laris. He delighted the audience with is repertoire of gat s, paran s and tippallis. The highlight of the performance was his playing of teental, deepchandi, roopak and sulphakhta to the ektala lehra in duggan and chaugun as well as in aad and kuaad laya s. His performance left the audience both delighted and exhilarated.

As the night slipped into the small hours, everyone seemed nourished by the splendor of Ustad Tari Khan and the great music they had heard. Guests took their leave of Ally Adnan and his wife Sharoot Malik with much appreciation of their superb hospitality. It was an evening to remember and a moment to cherish, where in the midst of a new world, the ancient culture of the old world had struck new roots.

Dr Amanullah De Sondy teaches World Religions at Ithaca College, New York

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Zakir Naik's incendiary words

Freedom of speech includes freedom to offend – but when a preacher's words incite violence, there has to be some sanction, Tuesday 22 June 2010
by Tehmina Kazi

What do Dr Zakir Naik, Russian skinhead Pavel Skachevsky, far-right US talk show host Michael Savage, former Kahane Chai leader Mike Guzovsky and Kansas Baptist pastor Fred Phelps have in common? They are all on the list of people who have been banned from entering the UK.

Several commentators, like Inayat Bunglawala last week, have asked exactly what Naik has done to deserve such company. A quick internet search of his public statements throws up the following: "You heard the Muslims saying Osama Bin Laden is right or wrong. I reject them ... We don't know. But if you ask my view, if this is the truth, if he is fighting the enemies of Islam, I am for him. I don't know what he's doing. I'm not in touch with him. I don't know him personally. I read the newspaper. If he is terrorising the terrorists, if he is terrorising America the terrorist, the biggest terrorist, I am with him ... The thing is, if he's terrorising a terrorist, he's following Islam." Other incendiary remarks include: "Muslims in India would prefer the Islamic criminal law to be implemented on all Indians since it is the most practical", "The Jews, by nature as a whole, will be against Muslims", (Western Mail, 16 August 2006) plus an assertion that western women make themselves more susceptible to sexual assault by wearing revealing clothing.

While it is evident that most of Naik's views are out of step with the values of any 21st-century liberal democracy, this in itself does not provide sufficient justification to exclude him from the UK. As Lord Justice Sedley stated in the notable high court judgment Redmond-Bate vs Director of Public Prosecutions [1999]: "Free speech includes not only the inoffensive, but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative, providing it does not intend to provoke violence. Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having." Incitement to violence is a crucial caveat of this fundamental principle, and forms the basis of the Home Office's "unacceptable behaviour" policy. Proscribed actions on the list include the glorification of terrorism, provoking others to commit terrorist or criminal acts, and fostering hatred which might lead to inter-community violence within the UK. Therefore, the most problematic of Naik's statements are the ones that appear to condone violence: "If a Muslim becomes a non-Muslim and propagates his/her new religion then, it is as good as treason. There is a 'death penalty' in Islam for such a person." Naik's supporters have cited his freedom of speech as a reason for overturning this exclusion order, but would he take a similar stance if a famous ex-Muslim chose to convene a speaking tour in Pakistan, for example? Further, Najibullah Zazi, who was arrested in September 2009 for planning suicide attacks on the New York subway, is said to have become "enchanted" with Zakir Naik before planning his attack.

My organisation, British Muslims for Secular Democracy, supports rigorous application of the exclusion policy to any international speaker who incites hatred or violence. However, it is also vital that the Home Office is consistent in its application of a tool as powerful – and potentially controversial – as exclusion. To its credit, the Home Office made a statement on Geert Wilders clarifying its position, after the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal overturned the ban on his entry to the UK in October 2009. Contrary to popular opinion, it wasn't the Home Office but the tribunal that allowed Wilders into the country.

Supporters of Naik have jumped to his defence by claiming that his more controversial statements, like "Every Muslim should be a terrorist", should be viewed in their proper context: "Every Muslim should be a terrorist. A terrorist is a person who causes terror. The moment a robber sees a policeman he is terrified. A policeman is a terrorist for the robber. Similarly every Muslim should be a terrorist for the antisocial elements of society, such as thieves, dacoits and rapists. Whenever such an antisocial element sees a Muslim, he should be terrified. It is true that the word 'terrorist' is generally used for a person who causes terror among the common people. But a true Muslim should only be a terrorist to selective people ie antisocial elements, and not to the common innocent people. In fact, a Muslim should be a source of peace for innocent people."

This semi-clarification of "antisocial elements" is all well and good, but what Naik fails to elucidate is exactly who the "common innocent people" are. One would imagine that based on his other pronouncements, they don't include apostates or gay people. In any case, such defences of Naik entirely miss the point. As a medical doctor and speaker whose lectures on Peace TV are broadcast to millions of Muslims across the world, he is in an incredibly powerful position. Therefore, he must bear total responsibility for every single word that leaves his lips (or his keyboard). Not only should Naik and other religious leaders be extremely careful with the terminology they use (as per the Qur'anic injunction, "Invite (all) to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious"), they should be prepared for any criticism that comes their way if certain individuals cite them as "inspirations" and take their more controversial statements too literally. Many of Naik's supporters point to his remarks condemning 9/11 and 7/7, but nothing less than a clear and consistent repudiation of the quotes mentioned in this article will do.

Tehmina Kazi is director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy, an organisation which aims to raise awareness of the benefits of democracy and its contribution to a shared vision of citizenship

Monday, 21 June 2010

Introducing 'Coke Studio'

Ae way allah waliyan di jugni ji
May the spirit and light of all those of God remain bright
Ae way nabbi pak di jugni ji
May the spirit of the Holy Prophet remain bright
Ae way maula ali wali jugni ji
May the spirit of Ali and his followers remain bright
Ae way meray pir di jugni ji
May the spirit of my/the saint(s) remain bright
Ae way saaray sabaz di jugni ji
May the spirit of all his words remain bright
Dum gutkoon
My heart remains in a trance in your love Dear God...

From their website, "Coke Studio embodies a musical fusion of exciting elements and diverse influences, ranging from traditional eastern, modern western and regionally inspired music. Bringing alive the magic of live recordings and performances, Coke Studio prides itself on providing a musical platform, which bridges barriers, celebrates diversity, encourages unity and instills a sense of Pakistani pride. Coke Studio is an inspired step by Coca-Cola for having created a platform where renowned as well as upcoming and less mainstream musicians from various genres can collaborate musically.

Now in its third year running, the venture itself has continued to evolve in its outlook and execution. Where Coke Studio One centered on the philosophy of peace and harmony and the appreciation of live music recording, Coke Studio Two was about the Pakistani identity and unity and celebrating individuality. In the third season, we come full circle but widen the same to encompass all identities as well as be circumspect and retrospect about our own journey — how dreams and goals are created and realized."

Sex and the City 2: Inside the Campy Film Is an Important Message

Nancy Graham Holm
Huffington Post
Posted: June 21, 2010 04:41 PM

It's easy to argue that veiled women are not free, but just how free are women chained to hyper consumerism and a cultural imperative to be "hot"? This is the take-home message of Sex and the City 2, universally trashed by reviewers because they're looking at it through the wrong filter. SATC 2 is satire expressing vulgarity and demonstrating cultural tactlessness. Borat in haute couture. Pure camp. Muslim fundamentalists probably don't have camp in their aesthetic vocabulary, however, and what seems like a celebration of bad taste to us, to them is just more evidence of Western moral decadence.

Consider Samantha's meltdown in the market when flying packages of spilled condoms offend a crowd of Muslim men. We're supposed to see her behavior as a courageous challenge to men who oppress their women, but it doesn't work. Why? Because Samantha lacks moral authority to participate in the centuries-old Western effort to liberate Muslim women from Islam. When we watch Samantha simulating oral sex on a water pipe we know it is parody. And it is self-parody when she calls the Danish hunk she meets in the desert "Lawrence of my labia."

It is arguable that Sex and the City has done more to liberate Anglo-American women from Puritanism than many other influences. Throughout its 94 episodes, Carrie Bradshaw was a trailblazer by being boldly promiscuous. Her best friends were also sexually liberated, although to various degrees. Miranda was cynical about men. Charlotte was refined and idealistic. Samantha was predatory and the personification of every woman's fantasy of treating men like men treat women. Originally, these roles were fresh, honest and phenomenally appealing to millions of women who saw SATC as permission to shake off our Puritan heritage that sexuality is essentially profane.

Muslim culture has never shared this Puritanical attitude. It was Geraldine Brooks in 1995 that called our attention to Ali, the Shiite leader who proclaimed that "God created sexual desire in ten parts, then gave nine parts to women." This mythology undoubtedly contributed to what Edward Said called "orientalism" and the perception of Arab women as erotic mystery. Nevertheless -- unlike in traditional Christianity -- sexual pleasure is encouraged in Islam. Mohammad loathed the kind of sexual repression required by Christianity's monastic traditions. Even today, Shia Islam recognizes nikãh al-mut'ah, (sigheh in Farsi), a catastrophic "temporary marriage" or sanctified form of prostitution that is evoked to exploit women when sexual intercourse needs legitimacy.

There is no doubt that misogynistic Muslim clerics -- especially wahhabinists -- have interpreted the Qur'an to sustain patriarchy and retain power. Now they are on the defensive, however, as a powerful movement of Muslim feminists are using the internet to debate and share ideas. They are making existential decisions and setting an agenda for liberation that includes reinterpretation of controversial verses in the Qur'an. They do not admire the sexual ethic in SATC because they perceive the hyper-sexualization of western women as just a new form of imperialism. It robs women of their humanity, they say, by converting a woman's sexuality into crass, capitalistic, commercialism. Women in burqas infuriate western liberals when they claim their invisibility is comforting. Yet when Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte find sanctuary in a woman's reading club, the veiled women give them visual evidence that they can be just as glamorous in private as the four of them can be in public. These Muslim women seem to feel more confident in their femininity than the neurotic American ladies who need to traipse through desert sands in 4-inch stilettos and risk getting sunburned by wearing designer attire to a tent picnic. Let's admit it. It's perilous, expensive and a lot of work to be "hot."

Sunday, 20 June 2010

The Trouble with Dr. Zakir Naik

Britain's decision to bar an influential Muslim cleric from entering the country underscores the failure of Indian secularism.

Wall Street Journal

If you're looking for a snapshot of India's hapless response to radical Islam, then look no further than Bombay-based cleric Dr. Zakir Naik. In India, the 44-year-old Dr. Naik—a medical doctor by training and a televangelist by vocation—is a widely respected figure, feted by newspapers and gushed over by television anchors. The British, however, want no part of him. On Friday, the newly elected Conservative-led government announced that it would not allow Dr. Naik to enter Britain to deliver a series of lectures. According to Home Secretary Theresa May, the televangelist has made "numerous comments" that are evidence of his "unacceptable behavior."

The good doctor's views run the gamut from nutty to vile, so it's hard to pinpoint which of them has landed him in trouble. For instance, though Dr. Naik has condemned terrorism, at times he also appears to condone it. "If he [Osama bin Laden] is fighting the enemies of Islam, I am for him," he said in a widely watched 2007 YouTube diatribe. "If he is terrorizing the terrorists, if he is terrorizing America the terrorist, the biggest terrorist, I am with him. Every Muslim should be a terrorist."

Dr. Naik recommends the death penalty for homosexuals and for apostasy from the faith, which he likens to wartime treason. He calls for India to be ruled by the medieval tenets of Shariah law. He supports a ban on the construction of non-Muslim places of worship in Muslim lands and the Taliban's bombing of the Bamiyan Buddhas. He says revealing clothes make Western women "more susceptible to rape." Not surprisingly, Dr. Naik believes that Jews "control America" and are the "strongest in enmity to Muslims."

Of course, every faith has its share of cranks; and, arguably, India has more than its share. But it's impossible to relegate Dr. Naik to Indian Islam's fringe. Earlier this year, the Indian Express listed him as the country's 89th most powerful person, ahead of Nobel Laureate economist Amartya Sen, eminent lawyer and former attorney general Soli Sorabjee, and former Indian Premier League cricket commissioner Lalit Modi. Dr. Naik's satellite TV channel, Peace TV, claims a global viewership of up to 50 million people in 125 countries. On YouTube, a search for Dr. Naik turns up more than 36,000 hits.

Nobody accuses Dr. Naik of direct involvement in terrorism, but those reportedly drawn to his message include Najibullah Zazi, the Afghan-American arrested last year for planning suicide attacks on the New York subway; Rahil Sheikh, accused of involvement in a series of train bombings in Bombay in 2006; and Kafeel Ahmed, the Bangalore man fatally injured in a failed suicide attack on Glasgow airport in 2007.

Nonetheless, when the doctor appears on a mainstream Indian news channel, his interviewers tend to be deferential. Senior journalist and presenter Shekhar Gupta breathlessly introduced his guest last year as a "rock star of televangelism" who teaches "modern Islam" and "his own interpretation of all the faiths around the world." A handful of journalists—among them Praveen Swami of the Hindu, and the grand old man of Indian letters, Khushwant Singh—have questioned Dr. Naik's views, but most take his carefully crafted image of moderation at face value.

At first glance, it's easy to understand why. Unlike the foaming mullah of caricature, Dr. Naik eschews traditional clothing for a suit and tie. His background as a doctor and his often gentle demeanor set him apart, as does his preaching in English. Unlike traditional clerics, Dr. Naik quotes freely from non-Muslim scripture, including the Bible and the Vedas. (You have to pay attention to realize that invariably this is either to disparage other faiths, or to interpret them in line with his version of Islam.) The depth of Dr. Naik's learning is easily apparent.

But this doesn't fully explain Dr. Naik's escape from criticism. It helps that Indians appear to have trouble distinguishing between free speech and hate speech. In a Western democracy, demanding the murder of homosexuals and the second-class treatment of non-Muslims would likely attract public censure or a law suit. In India, it goes unchallenged as long as it has a religious imprimatur. However, create a book or a painting that ruffles religious sentiment, as the writer Taslima Nasreen and the painter M. F. Husain both discovered, and either the government or a mob of pious vigilantes will strive to muzzle you.

In general, India accords extra deference to allegedly holy men of all stripes unlike, say, France, which strives to keep religion out of the public square. Taxpayers subsidize the Haj pilgrimage for pious Muslims and a similar, albeit much less expensive, journey for Hindus to a sacred lake in Tibet. This reflexive deference effectively grants the likes of Dr. Naik—along with all manner of Hindu and Christian charlatans—protection against the kind of robust scrutiny he would face in most other democracies.

Finally, unlike Hindu bigots, such as the World Hindu Council's Praveen Togadia, whose fiercest critics tend to be fellow Hindus, radical Muslims go largely unchallenged. The vast majority of Indian Muslims remain moderate, but their leaders are often fundamentalists and the community has done a poor job of policing its own ranks. Moreover, most of India's purportedly secular intelligentsia remains loath to criticize Islam, even in its most radical form, lest this be interpreted as sympathy for Hindu nationalism.

Unless this changes, unless Indians find the ability to criticize a radical Islamic preacher such as Dr. Naik as robustly as they would his Hindu equivalent, the idea of Indian secularism will remain deeply flawed.

Mr. Dhume, a columnist for, is writing a book on the new Indian middle class.