Archive for the ‘God’ Category

Phew! There’s simply sooo much happening that I might just run out of blog space but not out of stuff to write. Sounds like a hyperbole? Well of course it is! But still, that still leaves me loads to key about. However, deadlines loom ominously as the end of the academic term nears and there are still piles and piles of answer papers to evaluate. Sigh. That means all I can possibly squeeze in here are a few random lines. Nevertheless, here they are:

What I did want to blog about was my birthday πŸ˜€ (Woohoo!) Actually more than that, about this amazing restaurant that hubby took me out for. It’s called ‘Sigree’ and it’s got some scrumptious barbecues! Unlimited juicy kebabs and an in-built ‘Sigree’ (or barbecue fire) on each table! Sounds hot? Well it sure was! Your kebabs can never get cold as you dig into one charcoaled delight to another! Umm yummm! More on this later if I can find the time.

But that’s not the crux of this blog entry, really. What is even more interesting than drippy chicken delicacies is attending Dr. zakir Naik‘s lecture LIVE at the Azam Campus grounds. For the uninitiated, Dr. Naik is a world renowned scholar on comparitive religion and can quote verbatim from the religious texts of almost all major religions of the world. And not just quote, he will give you, on the spot, without a sneak into any notes, the book number, chapter number and even verse number of the quotation he is discussing! Mashalah! It’s amazing to watch him give word to word references from the Bible, the Vedas, the Old Testament and so many more scriptures! You should have seen the crowds! Tens of thousands of people of all faiths have been thronging the Azam Campus grounds since yesterday to come listen to him and even more are expected tomorrow as he speaks on a topic the entire world would want some insights into: ‘Is terrorism the inheritance of Muslims?’ (Kya aatankwaad Musalmanon ki virasat hai?) Three people from the audience actually stood up and proclaimed Shahada (bearing witness to the oneness of Allah and to the Prophethood of Mohammed PBUH)! Mashallah!

You can watch tomorrow’s lecture LIVE on his Peace TV channel if you get it on your satellite connection. With affiliations to world famous Islamic scholars like Bilal Philips, Yusuf Estes and several more, his discussions on religion are something no intellectual would want to miss. Well, how can you refuse such engaging dialogs, even if you do not concur with the ideology of Islam? The process of inquiry is invigorating in itself.

Well, I for one will try to leave a little earlier for tomorrow’s lecture. I want the front seats and I know they aren’t easy to get. πŸ™‚


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Teaching as a profession has some definite perks. Meeting new people being one of them. Last week, a group of young German tourists visited the our Azam Campus. They were unique tourists; they didn’t just want the Taj and all. They wanted to see the real India as much. Grassroot level. With the poor and the rural. And of course to study other spheres of the Indian experience: the education system, the status of women and the status of Muslim women. It was a group of around fifteen, mostly women, one Irish lady amongst them. They struck me as bright, well informed, articulate and affable. They wanted to meet some educated Muslim women I presume, and that is why Azam Campus for perhaps chosen.

A meeting was thus scheduled. And over tea and snacks we talked for about an hour and an a half on a million and a half issues. Here is a rough excerpt of what went between. The ‘questions’ were mostly from our guests and the answers from our group- lecturers of Abeda Inamdar Senior College.Β  I am not quoting anything verbatim of course, just an impressionistic account of what my memory delivers:

Question: How is it like being a Muslim woman in India?

Answer: Nothing particularly different. I wear the head scarf, I interact with non Muslims and they interact with us in just the way two normal human beings would perhaps interact! In short, it’s pretty nice and cordial, at least in urban India (and particularly in Azam Campus πŸ™‚ )

Question: Why do some of you don the Hijab and some of you don’t? Do you represent different ‘sects’?

Answer: Not really. The headscarf is more like a choice, no one forces you to wear it, you don it as and when you are ready for it, and we have Muslim women wearing all sorts of dresses and still being very much Muslim. (Personally, I differ on this issue a bit. Of course, there is no “compulsion in religion”. i.e. no one should really forcibly ‘impose’ a hijab, but that still does not mean that it is optional per se. The Quran states that women need to be modestly covered up, in something very much like the modern hijab)

Question: I see some women with even their faces covered up. I am sorry, but isn’t it insulting to the women’s body- to ask her to cover up only because there maybe some vulgar, hungry male passions evoked somewhere?

Answer: Islam has firm principles of modesty and chastity. The covering of the face is mostly viewed as optional by many jurists, meaning, you can decide if you want that to be covered or not, but if some one wants to willingly adopt that lifestyle, we cannot and should not come in their way. It’s difficult to understand this way of life, yes; it may even sound severely austere to you, but this is not your culture and it is understandable if you are baffled by it. However, you need to understand that we are comfortable in this culture, this is what we identify with. You may be offended if someone asks you to cover up, I would be deeply offended if someone asked me to ‘uncover’ up! You need to appreciate the other person’s perspective too.

Question: In Germany, the headscarf would be viewed with suspicion. Maybe not in India, but there it almost represents a fanatic attitude and there is a lot of debate whether it should be allowed in universities there.

Answer: My headscarf is like second skin to me. Telling me to take it off before going to college is akin to asking you to take off your clothes in the same situation! (Of course there might always be a human failing in each of us when we are lax or negligent at times about the covering of the head and all, but that’s another matter altogether!)

Question: What does the Quran say about the Hijab? Is it not compulsory? And do all girls take it voluntarily?

Answer: The Quran clearly states that the Hijab is compulsory. Not necessarily in the traditional Arab abaya form. It can be any loose outer covering. A Muslim woman in the West perhaps would wear just a loose shirt, or a coat; it can also be of varied subtle hues, not just black. And no, not all girls take it voluntarily. In some families it is highly recommended, in some there is emotional pressure and some are downright firm on it being worn by the women of the house. Sometimes there is a backfire. Girls leave their homes wearing the hijab and take it off when they come to college. But you have to remember-these parents who take such an autocratic attitude, would do so in just about any other matter as well-whether it is on the choice of career chosen by their children, the choice of person that marry, etc. It’s not simply religious enforcement.

Question: In Germany, women are paid far lesser than their male counterparts for the same job/career. It’s worse for women with young children and they have to make a choice between career or kids. How is it in India?

Answer: (Kind of surprised) We always thought you guys are way ahead of us in women’s liberation. In India, thankfully, no such discrimination exists. Not on paper at least! πŸ™‚ As for that choice, it’s quite similar even here. However, the easy availability of domestic help takes off an immense pressure off working moms’ shoulders.

Question: How do the male students respond to having a female Muslim teacher? (How do they react to this hierarchy of roles?)

Answer: Quite positively in fact. There are scores of male lectures working under our female vice principal and the equation has been nothing short of respect. Additionally, there are often instances of male students choosing a Muslim woman Professor as their research guide. The criteria is seldom of gender or religion but of the quality of work produced by the individual.

Question: Why aren’t Muslim women allowed to visit mosques?

Answer: That’s a misnomer actually. It’s basically only in India and Pakistan that such a sad reality exists. Even in the US (or in the Arab world) there is generally a separate provision made for female prayer areas. Maybe it is because of the large population and limited space allotted to mosques that the preference has been given to building male prayer areas. (Muslims have segregated praying areas) However, that is changing with mosques around the nation trying to make accommodation for women too. Besides, in the Holy mosques of Makkah and Madinah, both males and females pray in congregation.

Hmmmmm. The discussion went on and on and on and no one was really tiring of it. It was interesting,Β  intellectually stimulating and was a wonderful instance of culture exchange. Our guests were very sensitive (to the point of being even a little embarassed in asking their questions sometimes :)) Obviosly, the head scarf issue is quite a taboo subject there. They were glad there were people to talk things out and we on part were glad there were so many willing ears who would listen. (A sign of building inter-religious tolerance?)

They talked of a range of other issues too. Like gender equations in general, the way the education system worked and University procedures amongst others.Β  It all ended on a very satisfying (not to mention jovial note) and a little exchange of gifts. One of our guests was kind enough to give us picturesque hand made calendars withΒ  pictures of the German town Wursberg that he had clicked himself. And of course, the quintessential German motif- a CD of Beethoven. On our part, we gifted them hampers of copies of three Islamic books- ‘Understanding Islam’, ‘Fundamentals of Islam’ and the ‘Sweetness of Hijab’- all of which were recieved with enthusiasm. Alhamdulilah. I thank Allah for such an enriching experience. I hope to hear from our German guests again soon, Inshalah. πŸ™‚

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Why do bad things happen to good people?

Why DO bad things happen to good people, really now? I mean it all seems pretty illogical sometimes, no? There are these folks who are so righteous and pious and generous and all, and they still don’t seem to have all they should. And then again, we have another type of folks-the bad and the ugly. Think corrupt politicians, terrorizing mafia dons and most of the rest of the world. They all seem to be very cosily set in life. Mirth, moolah, muck- they’ve got it all. So has God been unfair after all? For some people, that seems like a valid question. For others, there seems to be a valid answer-somewhere.

The above mentioned question had been playing on my mind for sometime now. God couldn’t possibly unfair, that much I knew, Alhamdulilah. But I still wanted an answer. It’s such a universally ubiquitous question. ‘Why does God behave the way he does?’ I recalled Milton with some sympathy. The scene must’ve been pretty bleak even back then. The poor chap wrote 9 books of Paradise Lost only to “justify the ways of God to men.” Man, the skeptic. Sigh.

So why do bad things happen to good people then? I pondered again. How do you define ‘bad’? Accidents? Penury? Sickness? Loss? Of loved ones, prized possessions, oppurtunities? Life’s tough, some say. And tougher for the ‘goody-goody’ folks. Hmmm. Perhaps.

May I be allowed to draw a little analogy here? Every nation requires a well maintained army. It’s crucial to national security, even when you are not in war. It’s a matter of being prepared. Being a soldier for the nation’s defense is a challenging job, but also one with great amount of honor and prestige attached. Yet, all the soldiers, especially the ones in training, have to lead an arduous lifestyle. I am not sure what kind of regimen they follow exactly, but I am sure of one thing-it’s tough. Tough as hell. In fact, quite a few army regimens across the globe have been categorized as “brutal”. Why? These young soldiers are apparently all good people; law abiding, patriotic citizens who are ready to give up their lives for the cause of the country. And yet bad things happen to them too. At least tough ones do. ‘That’s because the army heads want to test their endurance and toughen them up’, you may reason. Well, I take the same reason when it comes to God’s role in our hardships. Easier said than done, you say; and I agree with you wholly. There never comes a calamity in which we don’t exhibit at least some amount of despair. And that includes me. Objectivity is always the first casualty then. The bigger picture doesn’t matter, it’s just my overwhelmingly big problem that does. Oh well, that’s what makes us humans, doesn’t it?

I came across this verse in the Quran, in chapter 3, The Family of Imran (Surah Al-Imran, Verse 26):

Say: “O Allah. Lord of Power (And Rule), Thou givest power to whom Thou pleasest, and Thou strippest off power from whom Thou pleasest: Thou enduest with honour whom Thou pleasest, and Thou bringest low whom Thou pleasest: In Thy hand is all good. Verily, over all things Thou hast power.”

As one established commentator says, prosperity alone is not the criterion of honor. Allah has supreme authority over all things, and that includes wealth, wisdom, etc. The dispensation of these are his prerogative. The believer shouldn’t get flustered by the apparent disparity in their distribution.

The Hadeeth (traditions/sayings of the Prophet Muhammed PBUH) has much to console the striving soul too. Narrated ‘Aisha: (the wife of the Prophet) Allah’s Apostle said, “No calamity befalls a Muslim but that Allah expiates some of his sins because of it, even though it were the prick he receives from a thorn.” – Sahih Bukhari: Volume 7, Book 70, Number 544

Abu Yahya Suhaib bin Sinan (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “How wonderful is the case of a believer; there is good for him in everything and this applies only to a believer. If prosperity attends him, he expresses gratitude to Allah and that is good for him; and if adversity befalls him, he endures it patiently and that is good for him” (Sahih Muslim).

Seriously now, do I need to say anymore?

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I came across a blog, ‘Maverick’s Domain’, with a particular post on the ‘need’ to be ‘a-religious’. There was a sense of disillusionment that I found hard to miss. When Karl Marx said that religion was the opium of the masses, I am sure he was voicing similar sentiments. I, however, would like to respectfully disagree.
We humans are an exigent race. When religion seems imposing, it becomes cumbersome. But when need arises, we all turn to God in despair. We all do. And unfortunately we cannot have religion custom made to our individual needs and situations. We may damn religion for whatever it stands for. But when our car dangles precariously over a cliff after an accident, we pray fervently for a safe return. Oh well. Man has always been a confused species.
The problem perhaps then, is not with religion per se but with our interpretation of religion. Maverick talks disdainfully of the unfortunate Graham Stein’s murder, the Gujarat riots , the divide-and-rule policy of the Imperialists and the terror wreaking Arabs. I totally agree with her here. (I assume it’s a ‘she’, there was no profile info to check with!)
But what makes us think that these tragic events happened BECAUSE of religion alone and what guarantee that they would NOT have occurred had there been no religion at all?
Yes, religious texts do teach us the cliched concepts like tolerance and benevolence, etc., etc. But cliched as they are, they are also sorely lacking in us. But for these texts, we would probably not even know that these are concepts worth valuing, the uncouth race that we are.
If there had not been any standards set in the first place, we would have cared little for any deviations.
Why blame religion when it is the misguided practitioners who cause all the mischief? And who can tell, they would have thirsted for blood even if they were atheists. Maverick exhorts us to ‘shed the pretense’ of religion as it leads to no growth whatsoever. Now ‘growth’ can be a very tricky term. And sometimes it comes in very inconspicuous packages as well.
A brilliant young boy I know was told that cheating in exams was deplorable as it was theft and that God hated thieves. It was this belief that kept him going. He was assigned an exam center for HSC where cheating was rampant. He was even offered a few answer books. He refused, despite the temptation. For him topping this exam was of utmost importance, but he resisted. Why? Because his religion taught him to. Everyday he would come back; sad, disheartened and frustrated. He knew his friends were gaining an edge over him. But he trudged on. When the results were to be out, he didn’t even bother to dress up for the occassion. It was only when the college sent the professors and peons to fetch him did he realize that he had topped the entire division (and the state in one of the subjects) that year. He was an overnight celebrity.
Even if he hadn’t it would not have been such a bad thing. Because now when he is employed in a reputed MNC, his employers know that they have an honest, God-fearing employee. He is worth a lot of trust, a trust on which they base the ‘growth’ of their company.
A little learning, they say, is a dangerous thing. The fault usually does not lie in religion but on how we take religion. It is the half baked ideas about God that lead to all grief. As for the ‘murderous Islamic countries’ that Maverick talks about, I have always maintained that if Muslims only read the Quran with understanding (and followed it), there would be little to complain against them; it’s so simple. Alas, we have made the simple things complicated with our own additions.

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“The distance between us and Allah is the length of our desires; the shorter this length, the closer we are to Allah”

I quote my cousin here. Sometimes youngsters can amaze you with the wisdom they exhibit. My young cousin deeply impressed me with his ideas when we interacted last week. He told me to read some Quran-said that we soon realize then that if we have our Eeman with us, it is not the end of the world yet.
“Maybe some good will come of this.” That was the refrain in the story he narrated to me. An old farmer keeps telling that to himself every morning as his only sheep, only goat and only dog are devoured by a hungry wolf in three consecutive nights. The fourth night the entire village is raided by dacoits who rob all the villagers of all their possessions but spare the old farmer’s house thinking that since he had no live stock, he would be too poor to have anything worth robbing. There was some good in an apparent evil. But it requires immense amount of faith to believe in that till the good actually begins to show. Sub-hanallah. May Allah always give us enough patience to believe in His wisdom and power till the difficult times tide over. Ameen

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