Archive for the ‘Muslim Community’ Category

Dear Hubby asked me to read this article on Time.com about a new revolution that seems to be sweeping the Muslim world. I think modern Muslims should definitely give the article a go-through at least. Personally, I found it quite encouraging that Muslims are turning back to the Islam to find the answers to the questions that have recently beleaguered the community.

The Muslim youth it seems, is finally waking up, Alhamdulilah. And by waking up I do not mean the dumping of one’s roots, as has so often been associated with the term ‘moderate Muslim’. The new Muslim is proud to be a Muslim, not ashamed of his beard or embarrassed by her head scarf. And yes, the new Muslim does not care two hoots for the wanton killing that has recently been (inappropriatedly) awarded the title of ‘Jehad’.

The new Muslim asks hard questions- to his leaders, to the blind practice of social customs not authenticated by Islam, to the apathy of his own community and to himself; no one is spared. 

The new Muslim apparently also values knowledge. And that is why both he and she are taking their education seriously- and are returning to the scriptures- The Quran and subsequently the Hadeeth- to understand the demands of their faith. And having thus satisfied themselves of the truth, are feeling even more inclined towards God. 

What is Islam, they ask themselves. They begin their quest and realize that the meaning of Islam lies in the total submission to Allah- an exclusive God with no partners what so ever. Incidentally, they realize that it is also in peace. It is in the feeding of the beggar, in the supporting of the orphan, in the holding on to the truth, in the obedience to parents, in chastity, in the care for the neighbor and in the saving of an innocent life. I would like to emphasize this last object. For the Quran says:

 “Say: ‘Come, I will rehearse what Allah hath (really) prohibited you from”: Join not anything as equal with Him; be good to your parents; kill not your children on a plea of want;- We provide sustenance for you and for them;- come not nigh to shameful deeds. Whether open or secret; take not life, which Allah hath made sacred, except by way of justice and law: thus doth He command you, that ye may learn wisdom.’ ” (Chapter 6 (Al-Anaam): Verse 151)

And elsewhere:

Nor take life – which Allah has made sacred – except for just cause. And if anyone is slain wrongfully, we have given his heir authority (to demand qisas or to forgive): but let him not exceed bounds in the matter of taking life; for he is helped (by the Law). (Chapter 17(Al-Isra): Verse 33)

And also:

“On that account: We ordained for the Children of Israel that if any one slew a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people. Then although there came to them Our messengers with clear signs, yet, even after that, many of them continued to commit excesses in the land.” (Chapter 5 (Al – Maida): Verse 32)

The last verse should clarify all doubts on the value placed on human life by Allah. The analogy ensures that it is not taken lightly. One life = The whole of humanity. The math is simple.

My conclusion? Don’t judge Islam just by the individual performance of some wayward Muslims. The best way to understand Islam is to read about Islam itself (look for authentic sources, please!) and if you must judge it by its followers, kindly look for ‘followers’ who are actually ‘following’ Islam. A Muslim name alone does not qualify you as a Muslim. 

So there. Here’s to the gen-next of Muslims.


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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.  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 🙂 )

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! 🙂 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,  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.  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 with  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. 🙂

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And hold fast, all together, by the rope which Allah (stretches out for you), and be not divided among yourselves; and remember with gratitude Allah’s favor on you; for ye were enemies and He joined your hearts in love, so that by His Grace, ye became brethren; and ye were on the brink of the pit of Fire, and He saved you from it. Thus doth Allah make His Signs clear to you: That ye may be guided. [Surah Al-Imran (The Family/House of Imran);Chapter 3:103]

I just happened to come across a few verses from Surah Muminun (The Believers); Chapter 23 in the Holy Quran. Considering the regrettably divided state of affairs in the Muslim community, I think it is time we spent a few moments reflecting on the words of Allah. I say this to you, not as a Sunni or Shia or Ismaili or Tableeghi or whatever-other-label-have-you. Most people would call me a Sunni. However, someone very pointedly brought my attention to something: the Prophet called himself a ‘Muslim’ and Muslim alone. No tags or parenthetical additions, sorry. That settles it for me. Me a Muslim. Me follow the Sunnat (or at least make an attempt to) so that’s perhaps why you call me a ‘Sunni’; but that’s just about it. For the rest, the name ‘Muslim’ more than suffices, thank you.

Muslims all over will perhaps affirm their belief in the impending encounter with two angels after death, Al-Munkeer and An-Nakeer, who will ask the primeval questions: ‘ Who is your Lord?’ ‘ What is your religion?’ ‘ Who is the Messenger?’ I however have never come across any Hadeeth stating that we would be asked what sect we belonged to.

The verses in question are:

And verily this Ummah (brotherhood) of yours is a single Ummah. And I am your Lord and Cherisher: therefore fear me (and no other).

But people have cut of their affair (of unity), between them, into sects: each party rejoices in that which is with itself.

But leave them in their confused ignorance for a time.

Do they think that because We have granted them abundance of wealth and sons,

We would hasten them on in every good? Nay, they do not understand.

[Surah Al-Muminun (The Believers): Chapter 23:52-56]


“Verily, this brotherhood of yours is a single brotherhood, and I am your Lord and Cherisher: therefore serve Me (and no other).”

[Surah Al-Anbiya (The Prophets); Chapter 21: 92]

And if that was not convincing (?) enough, here’s a verse that should seal the controversy once and for all:

As for those who divide their religion and break up into sects, thou hast no part in them in the least: their affair is with Allah. He will in the end tell them the truth of all that they did.

[Surah Al-An’am (The Cattle, Livestock); Chapter 6:159]

And of course, the verse quoted at the beginning of this post. The ‘rope’ here referring to the Quran. Worth noting is the last line: “Thus doth Allah make His Signs clear to you: That ye may be guided.”

Would we still rather be divided then? Should we still cling on to the secondary identities’ of Sunni, Shia, Bori, etc, etc? Even after all that we know from the Quran? Personally I don’t think defying the Quran like that is a very good idea. May Allah protect us from obstinate stubbornness; for wasn’t it this very quality that made Satan proclaim war against the Almighty?

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) foresaw this nearly 1400 years ago; and made a very pointed remark about that when he predicted that the Ummah would be divided into no less than 73 sects and said that, “and all of them will be in Hell fire except one sect.” When asked which sect would that be, he replied, “It is the one to which I and my companions belong.” [Tirmidhi Hadith No. 171]

Time and again we are told in the Quran to hold fast on to the word of Allah and to the path shown by the Prophet (PBUH). Yet we hanker after what Allah has clearly warned us against. And the consequence is there for all of us to embarrassedly witness: We disagree on when to celebrate our Eids, we argue on how we must our break our fasts and fight over so many things that it is impossible to recount them all here. And these are only the ‘minor’ repercussions. If you would only look Iraq-wards (or wherever-wards these days) and you would see Muslim killing Muslim, brother feasting on his own brother’s ruin. Was this the day that all the martyrs of Islam died for? To have the Ummah bruised, cut and fragmented for ever?

Why, I ask, dear brothers and sisters in faith; Why? When it is so plain and simply explained in the Quran and the Hadeeth? Allah tells us why He sent down the Quran: And We sent down the Book to thee for the express purpose, that thou shouldst make clear to them those things in which they differ, and that it should be a guide and a mercy to those who believe. [Surah Nahl (The Bee); Chapter 16:64]

Why cannot we just take the little trouble to read it then? We would know what the right path is, we would know that the differences are only so superficial, that when we agree on things that Allah and the Prophet want us to agree on, everything else is just powder-puff.

Alas, ethnocentrism runs deep in our now tarnished blood. Islam did away with racism and class snobbery centuries ago, when the Prophet exhorted that marrying a slave man of faith was far better than marrying a nobleman of little Belief; when no monarch could claim any right to stand in the front row of worshippers in a congregation; when the annual pilgrimage of Hajj necessitated that each put on the humble ‘ehram’ so that none should be distinguished from the other on the basis of his fineries and clothes. And yet, sadly, we have people claiming superiority because of their ‘noble’ surnames, ‘genteel’ lineage and ‘ well-intentioned’ sectarianism. Ah, these people of ‘ high birth’! If they only knew what ‘ high-ness’ was in Allah’s eyes! For didn’t the Prophet say that even an Arab would have no superiority over a non-Arab except perhaps through the good deeds he sent forth? But when we leave the Quran behind, it becomes a tad bit difficult to comprehend finer things as these, doesn’t it?

If you are still not convinced (oh please don’t be so!), you could have a look at this page by the Islamic Research Foundation Nothing but authentic texts quoted here, Alhamdulilah.

Finally, on a very, very severe note; we must know that there is a near equation between creating sects (‘splitting up religion’ against the one divine standard set by Allah) and the gravest sin imaginable: that of joining partners with Allah, ‘Shirk’:

Turn ye back in repentance to Him, and fear Him: establish regular prayers, and be not ye among those who join gods with Allah,-

Those who split up their Religion, and become (mere) Sects,- each party rejoicing in that which is with itself!

[Surah Room (The Romans, Byzantines); Chapter 30:31, 32]

Here is a call for unity, a call to the path chosen by the Prophet (PBUH)-please don’t turn away!

May Allah save us from abominations and may Allah unite this Ummah once again and lead us all into paradise. Ameen.

(A more detailed analysis on how to dissolve sectarianism is here.)

(Note: I have tried to be as true to the meaning of the Holy Quran with the help of Yusuf Ali’s translation; however, not being an Islamic scholar myself, I am liable to fallible interpretations. May Allah forgive me if that is so, and please do point out my mistakes if any. And Allah knows best.)

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