Sunday, 20 September 2009

Why the West craves materialism & why the East sticks to religion - by Imran Khan

My generation grew up at a time when colonial hang up was at its peak. Our older generation had been slaves and had a huge inferiority complex of the British. The school I went to was similar to all elite schools in Pakistan. Despite gaining independent, they were, and still are, producing replicas of public schoolboys rather than Pakistanis.

I read Shakespeare, which was fine, but no Allama Iqbal — the national poet of Pakistan. The class on Islamic studies was not taken seriously, and when I left school I was considered among the elite of the country because I could speak English and wore Western clothes.

Despite periodically shouting ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ in school functions, I considered my own culture backward and religion outdated. Among our group if any one talked about religion, prayed or kept a beard he was immediately branded a Mullah.

Because of the power of the Western media, our heroes were Western movie stars or pop stars. When I went to Oxford already burdened with this hang up, things didn’t get any easier. At Oxford, not just Islam, but all religions were considered anachronism.

Science had replaced religion and if something couldn’t be logically proved it did not exist. All supernatural stuff was confined to the movies. Philosophers like Darwin, who with his half-baked theory of evolution had supposedly disproved the creation of men and hence religion, were read and revered.

Moreover, European history reflected its awful experience with religion. The horrors committed by the Christian clergy during the Inquisition era had left a powerful impact on the Western mind.

To understand why the West is so keen on secularism, one should go to places like Cordoba in Spain and see the torture apparatus used during the Spanish Inquisition. Also the persecution of scientists as heretics by the clergy had convinced the Europeans that all religions are regressive.

However, the biggest factor that drove people like me away from religion was the selective Islam practiced by most of its preachers. In short, there was a huge difference between what they practiced and what they preached. Also, rather than explaining the philosophy behind the religion, there was an overemphasis on rituals.

I feel that humans are different to animals. While, the latter can be drilled, humans need to be intellectually convinced. That is why the Qur’an constantly appeals to reason. The worst, of course, was the exploitation of Islam for political gains by various individuals or groups.

Hence, it was a miracle I did not become an atheist. The only reason why I did not was the powerful religious influence my mother wielded on me since my childhood. It was not so much out of conviction but love for her that I stayed a Muslim.

However, my Islam was selective. I accepted only parts of the religion that suited me. Prayers were restricted to Eid days and occasionally on Fridays, when my father insisted on taking me to the mosque with him.

All in all I was smoothly moving to becoming a Pukka Brown Sahib. After all I had the right credentials in terms of school, university and, above all, acceptability in the English aristocracy, something that our brown sahibs would give their lives for. So what led me to do a ‘lota’ on the Brown Sahib culture and instead become a ‘desi’?
Well it did not just happen overnight.

Firstly, the inferiority complex that my generation had inherited gradually went as I developed into a world-class athlete. Secondly, I was in the unique position of living between two cultures. I began to see the advantages and the disadvantages of both societies.

In Western societies, institutions were strong while they were collapsing in our country. However, there was an area where we were and still are superior, and that is our family life. I began to realize that this was the Western society’s biggest loss. In trying to free itself from the oppression of the clergy, they had removed both God and religion from their lives.
While science, no matter how much it progresses, can answer a lot of questions — two questions it will never be able to answer: One, what is the purpose of our existence and two, what happens to us when we die?

It is this vacuum that I felt created the materialistic and the hedonistic culture. If this is the only life then one must make hay while the sun shines — and in order to do so one needs money. Such a culture is bound to cause psychological problems in a human being, as there was going to be an imbalance between the body and the soul.

Consequently, in the US, which has shown the greatest materialistic progress while giving its citizens numerous rights, almost 60 percent of the population consult psychiatrists. Yet,
amazingly in modern psychology, there is no study of the human soul. Sweden and Switzerland, who provide the most welfare to their citizens, also have the highest suicide rates. Hence, man is not necessarily content with material well being and needs something more.

Since all morality has it roots in religion, once religion was removed, immorality has progressively grown since the 70s. Its direct impact has been on family life. In the UK, the divorce rate is 60 percent, while it is estimated that there are over 35 percent single mothers. The crime rate is rising in almost all Western societies, but the most disturbing fact is the alarming increase in racism. While science always tries to prove the inequality of man (recent survey showing the American Black to be genetically less intelligent than whites) it is only religion that preaches the equality of man.

Between 1991 and 1997, it was estimated that total immigration into Europe was around 520,000, and there were racially motivated attacks all over, especially in Britain, France and Germany. In Pakistan during the Afghan war, we had over four million refugees, and despite the people being so much poorer, there was no racial tension.
There was a sequence of events in the 80s that moved me toward God as the Qur’an says: "There are signs for people of understanding." One of them was cricket. As I was a student of the game, the more I understood the game, the more I began to realize that what I considered to be chance was, in fact, the will of Allah. A pattern which became clearer with time.
But it was not until Salman Rushdie’s "Satanic Verses" that my understanding of Islam began to develop.

People like me who were living in the Western world bore the brunt of anti-Islam prejudice that followed the Muslim reaction to the book. We were left with two choices: fight or flight. Since I felt strongly that the attacks on Islam were unfair, I decided to fight. It was then I realized that I was not equipped to do so as my knowledge of Islam was inadequate. Hence I started my research and for me a period of my greatest enlightenment. I read scholars like Ali Shariati, Muhammad Asad, Iqbal, Gai Eaton, plus of course, a study of Qur’an.
I will try to explain as concisely as is possible, what "discovering the truth" meant for me. When the believers are addressed in the Qur’an, it always says, "Those who believe and do good deeds." In other words, a Muslim has dual function, one toward God and the other toward fellow human beings.

The greatest impact of believing in God for me, meant that I lost all fear of human beings. The Qur’an liberates man from man when it says that life and death and respect and humiliation are God’s jurisdiction, so we do not have to bow before other human beings..

Moreover, since this is a transitory world where we prepare for the eternal one, I broke out of the self-imposed prisons, such as growing old (such a curse in the Western world, as a result of which, plastic surgeons are having a field day), materialism, ego, what people say and so on. It is important to note that one does not eliminate earthly desires.. But instead of being controlled by them, one controls them.

By following the second part of believing in Islam, I have become a better human being. Rather than being self-centered and living for the self, I feel that because the Almighty gave so much to me, in turn I must use that blessing to help the less privileged. This I did by following the fundamentals of Islam rather than becoming a Kalashnikov-wielding fanatic.
I have become a tolerant and a giving human being who feels compassion for the underprivileged. Instead of attributing success to myself, I know it is because of God’s will, hence I learned humility instead of arrogance.

Also, instead of the snobbish Brown Sahib attitude toward our masses, I believe in egalitarianism and strongly feel against the injustice done to the weak in our society. According to the Qur’an, "Oppression is worse than killing." In fact only now do I understand the true meaning of Islam, if you submit to the will of Allah, you have inner peace.

Through my faith, I have discovered strength within me that I never knew existed and that has released my potential in life. I feel that in Pakistan we have selective Islam. Just believing in God and going through the rituals is not enough. One also has to be a good human being. I feel there are certain Western countries with far more Islamic traits than us in Pakistan, especially in the way they protect the rights of their citizens, or for that matter their justice system. In fact some of the finest individuals I know live there.

What I dislike about them is their double standards in the way they protect the rights of their citizens but consider citizens of other countries as being somehow inferior to them as human being, e.g. dumping toxic waste in the Third World, advertising cigarettes that are not allowed in the West and selling drugs that are banned in the West.

One of the problems facing Pakistan is the polarization of two reactionary groups. On the one side is the Westernized group that looks upon Islam through Western eyes and has
inadequate knowledge about the subject. It reacts strongly to anyone trying to impose Islam in society and wants only a selective part of the religion. On the other extreme is the group that reacts to this Westernized elite and in trying to become a defender of the faith, takes up such intolerant and self-righteous attitudes that are repugnant to the spirit of Islam.

What needs to be done is to somehow start a dialogue between the two extreme. In order for this to happen, the group on whom the greatest proportion of our educational resources are spent in this country must study Islam properly.

Whether they become practicing Muslims or believe in God is entirely a personal choice. As the Qur’an tells us there is "no compulsion in religion." However, they must arm themselves with knowledge as a weapon to fight extremism. Just by turning up their noses at extremism the problem is not going to be solved.

The Qur’an calls Muslims "the middle nation", not of extremes. The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) was told to simply give the message and not worry whether people converted or not, therefore, there is no question in Islam of forcing your opinions on anyone else.

Moreover, we are told to respect other religions, their places of worship and their prophets. It should be noted that no Muslim missionaries or armies ever went to Malaysia or Indonesia. The people converted to Islam due to the high principles and impeccable character of the Muslim traders. At the moment, the worst advertisements for Islam are the countries with their selective Islam, especially where religion is used to deprive people of their rights. In fact, a society that obeys fundamentals of Islam has to be a liberal one.

If Pakistan’s Westernized class starts to study Islam, not only will it be able to help society fight sectarianism and extremism, but it will also make them realize what a progressive religion Islam is. They will also be able to help the Western world by articulating Islamic concepts. Recently, Prince Charles accepted that the Western world can learn from Islam. But how can this happen if the group that is in the best position to project Islam gets its attitudes from the West and considers Islam backward? Islam is a universal religion and that is why our Prophet (peace be upon him) was called a Mercy for all mankind. (Internews)

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Why can't a Muslim woman marry a Christian or a Jew?

“Lawful to you in marriage are chaste women from the believers and chaste women from those who were given the Scripture (Jews and Christians) before your time when you have given their due Mahr (bridal-money given by the their husband to his wife at the time of marriage), desiring chastity not committing illegal intercourse, nor taking them as girlfriends.”
Verse 5: Sura Ma’idah.

Based on the above verse the wide consensus amongst Muslims is that whilst a Muslim man is permitted to marry a woman of the Book (a kitabiya) which has been expressly permitted by the Quran, the silence with regard to Muslim women indicates that a Muslim woman cannot marry man of the Book. This issue has raised concern amongst Muslim women and non - Muslims point this as being ‘another one of’ Islam’s bias against women.

The marriage between a Muslim and a non-Muslim is a marriage between two people who have two different moral codes. What is permitted and halal to the Muslim is permitted to the non – Muslim but what is forbidden and haram to the Muslim is not so forbidden to the non – Muslim. For example to raise a glass of champagne in toast is not just permitted but required for the non – Muslim whereas it is forbidden for the Muslim. This is only one of many possible clashes between these two moral codes.

However the haram conduct of one spouse may or may not infect the purity of the other spouse. For example if the husband is a drunkard, that does not make the wife a sinner as long as she is not an accomplice to his drunkenness. Thus in the story of Musa (alai) his foster mother Aasia is one of four holiest women in Islam even though her husband Fir’aun was cursed to be drowned in the Red Sea. In the context of modern day marriage there is one instance when the haram of one spouse does tend to pollute the other spouse.

Every Muslim knows the importance that Islam places upon earning and the strict rules it places upon the way we earn our incomes. If we consume haram earnings it pollutes us completely unless we purge the pollutant. Thus, on forbidden earnings even if we give zakat, it is not accepted by Allah (swt). Therefore Islam requires Muslims to exercise the highest degree of diligence and scrupulousness in the matter of how we earn our living. We should therefore not consume what is not ours and ensure that the sources of our income are also halal.

As we know the same rules of halal and haram that apply to the Muslim don’t apply to the non – Muslim. Thus the non – Muslim can invest in a distillery and consume the earnings whereas the Muslim cannot. More importantly in the context of modern financial instruments, the non – Muslim can transact in riba or interest whereas the Muslim cannot. To the non – Muslim it would only be ‘natural’ to invest in financial markets and instruments and earn the interest on the return. If the non – Muslim is need of capital then he obtains a loan where he undertakes to pay an interest. This is ordinary for them but not for us.

Now let’s examine the clash of the halal and the haram in the context of the marriage of the Muslimah to the non – Muslim. How can she ensure herself that her sustenance is halal? One option is for her to impose the strict rules of Islamic etiquette on her husband. She has to tell him he cannot have savings accounts which pay him interest or take that loan to buy that car at low interest. She has to tell that even though a stock is doing well on the market that they can’t buy it because the company is engaged in a haram business. She also has to tell him that he cannot take his clients to ‘drinks’ so that he could clinch the deal. Is this feasible in reality? Is it fair on him, to impose a strict code of conduct which is rooted in something he does not believe in? Preventing him from doing things which in his view are ‘perfectly normal’? Spouses imposing rules on each other and supervising for compliance is the formula for an unhappy marriage especially if the one who is asked to observe the restrictions does not accept the rationale behind those rules.

Rather than imposing rules she has another option. She can provide for herself and her child and leave her husband the discretion and the freedom to earn his money the way he thinks is right but not be responsible for her and their children. Thus she will provide for them 100%. So from the house rent, to the car petrol, to the utility bills, to the school fees to even the vacation, the woman pays! Is this again an acceptable social reality?

Let’s presume for arguments’ sake that she imposes these rules and he obliges but what if unfortunately they divorce? Can she now insist that he maintain her or the kids? What obligation does he have to stick to the rules? Can she accept those payments? Thus as single mother she has to fend and provide for the child.

What we see is that in the marriage between the Muslimah and the non – Muslim, the Muslim either has to provide for herself and her kids or be engrossed in a lifelong debate with her spouse as to what is halal and haram when it comes to their family finances. Is this what Islam wants for a Muslim woman?

The status of a woman is Islam is that of security and dignity. Islam imposes rules on men and women so as to ensure the dignity of the woman. Islam recognises that the dignity and security a women depends largely on her financial independence. Thus at the time of marriage Islam requires the payment of Mahr. That however is not all. No matter how rich the woman is in Islam the woman has the absolute right to be maintained. “They (women) have rights (over their husbands with regard to living expenses)” (Sura 2:228). Therefore any property that belongs to her before, during or after the marriage does not belong to the husband and the husband has no right to demand that such property be utilised to meet family expenses.

This does not mean that a Muslimah has to stay at home. The first woman to enter Islam was the Prophet’s (sal) wife Khadeeja (rali) who was a very rich businesswoman and who in fact employed the Holy Prophet (sal) before their marriage. A Muslimah can insist on her maintenance from her husband without expending a cent from her property or earnings. This is a right every woman, believing or non – believing has and it is a security that a woman is given.

In a marriage between a Muslimah and a non – Muslim, a Muslimah loses this status of dignity and security. She marries a man who does not understand or believe in this and could insist that she contribute to the family expenses. Most non – Muslim marriages go on a 50% - 50% basis. But even for 50% that he contributes; well she has to impose rules on him and tell him to comply with Islamic laws of finance and trade, which after all he does not accept and what more she has to earn a living.

Thus the marriage of a Muslimah to a non – Muslim does not give her the secure framework which Islam gives the woman where she keeps her earnings and the husband provides for all her and their children’s needs through earnings which are halal.

However in the case of a Muslim man and a non – Muslim woman, the woman retains her security because as a Muslim man he is bound to provide for her and to let her enjoy for herself her income and property. This then secures him as well because he does not have to worry about the purity of her earnings nor does he have to impose strict rules on her to secure his purity.

This however is not the end of it. What if this woman from a state of non – hijab, decides to wear the hijab. Is that something that the non – Muslim male would permit? In a rare instance the husband might support it, but will he continue find her attractive? Will that marriage be without friction?

So when a Muslimah marries a non – Muslim she puts herself in a situation where there is a spiritual and emotional contradiction in her life and she loses her security and risks losing her dignity. She has to live life where she continues to defend her way and her rules which are more restrictive than his. That is neither the life of marital bliss nor the status that Islam wants to give her.

Now many women might say, yes, you may be right, but let me take the chance. The choice should be left to me. In other religions they leave choices to the human despite all his failings. They tell him, consume alcohol but with moderation. We know only too well how man can consume it with moderation? Allah (swt) being our Creator knows what we can and we can’t and so in His infinite wisdom saves us from our own ‘choices’ and discretion and prohibits what we simply cannot handle and gives us our security, dignity and peace.

The rules of Islam are what Allah (swt) has imposed in His divine wisdom so that His creations may live in peace in this world and in the hereafter. The logic that lies behind these rules is something we humans can only try to understand but Islam is not a religion the beauty of which is accessible only to a mystic. The beauty and the logic of Islam can be understood by the common person, only if she makes an effort to see it.

I end by praying that Allah (swt) should guide all of us in the correct path.

Allahu Akbar!

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Muslim women in hijab come to the fore

By H. Omer
This article was published in the Daily Mirror - Sri Lanka :-

My eyes popped upon seeing the photos of the winners of the 1st and 2nd places for Oralists at the Jessup International Law Moot Competition for 2008. They were women, they were Muslim and they were in hijab. The ‘Jessup’ is the Olympics for law students and winning the prize for Oralist is like winning the 100 meters. Muslim women are coming to the fore and doing it all in hijab.

Reflecting on this one does wonder whether to say that the Islamic attire of hijab is backward or oppressive is one big, fat, pseudo-intellectual lie. If not how does one explain the hijab clad Shaheed Fatima, the Human Rights Barrister, with a BCL from Oxford and a Kennedy Scholar to Harvard and the winner of the ‘Professions Woman of the Future Award’ at the prestigious Women of the Future Awards in 2007?

The hijab is a head covering worn by a Muslim woman, done as a requirement of her religion. No other female attire has been subject to so much scrutiny and of course criticism. To the critics the hijab is a symbol of patriarchy and oppression. A seeming critic, M. A. Nuhman in an article titled “Ethnic consciousness, Fundamentalism and Muslim Women” identifies the Purdah or the hijab as “a manifestation of the ideology of female segregation and subordination”. Given that the Muslim girl in hijab is now a common sight in schools and shopping malls, it is useful to examine the validity of these criticisms.

There is very little evidence that the hijab has stifled or restrained a Muslim woman from pursuing her goals and aspirations, as a person and as a woman. Well it has restricted her choice of wardrobe but what else has the hijab stopped? The interesting point is that hijab is worn by a Muslim woman when she goes out of her home, not when she’s stuck at home. Thus the hijab is a symbol of emancipation in itself.

Nuhman states that hijab become more prevalent after 1985 but he interestingly cites “[t]he literacy rate of the Muslim women in 1921 was only 6%, but it has been raised to 75.5% at present. It is a fairly satisfactory development in comparison with the 82.5% of the overall female literacy rate in Sri Lanka. In 1942 only one Muslim female student entered the University of Ceylon. However, for the last ten years more than a hundred Muslim girls have been entering from many parts of Sri Lanka to the universities for several fields of study including medicine and engineering.....the Universities Grants Commission Report, [states that] 32% of the total Muslim students who got admission to the universities for the academic year 1990/1991 were female students.”

The point is that despite becoming a phenomenon in 1985 Muslim women in higher education has not declined but increased. This point is buttressed by Nuhman when he states that “[d]ue to this new development, after 1985 Sri Lankan Muslim women were compelled to wear hijab and it has become the school uniform for Muslim girls in all the Muslim schools except in the primary classes. The Muslim girls who attend non-Muslim schools also have to observe this.” Therefore all those Muslim girls who constituted the 32% entering University or a significant portion of them studied and sat for their examination in hijab. The hijab didn’t cover the route to University.

The fact is that the hijab is the passport to freedom to many Muslim girls. Parents are more willing to let their daughters out to pursue higher studies and employment, on the silent satisfaction that their child is conscious of her religion and identity in this challenging world.

Really, is the requirement that a woman should cover her hair, ears and neck and reveal only her face when men don’t have to do that, “a manifestation of an ideology of female subordination”? That contention is premised on an assumption that the ability to wear [or reveal] whatever one wants, is emancipation. To put it graphically, if men can walk around topless, so should women, because otherwise a woman is not equal to a man and any rule against women going topless is a manifestation of an ideology of female subordination. There may be some of you who may subscribe to such a notion of equality but to me it is a fairly shallow way to look at concepts like equality, let alone equality between the sexes.

Another slur cast upon the hijab is that women are being forced to wear it. No doubt there are instances that groups have forced women to wear the hijab. However that does not explain the energy and the vigour that women have shown around the world in fighting for their right to wear the hijab. The fight against the French laws against wearing the hijab was fought not by some ‘fundamentalist’ Muslim male but by intelligent and articulate Muslim women. Shabnam Mughal, the lawyer who asserted her right to wear the nikab in an employment tribunal in the UK was after all, a lawyer. Don’t tell me someone forced her to wear it.

If the hijab is some patriarchal imposition, why are the women in Turkey, still fighting for their right to wear the hijab, twenty eight years after it was banned from schools, universities, public and government buildings? Their fight is not easy, they fight the Kemalist secularists in their own country and the secularists in the EU and in the European Court of Human Rights which continues to side with the secularists rejecting the rights of the women. Human Rights Watch, to its credit has come in support of the Muslim women and asserted their right to wear the hijab, when other women’s rights groups active in Turkey stayed silent.

To describe the hijab as a symbol of backwardness is to insult the intelligent, smart and accomplished women who beautify themselves with it and who tell the world that there is more to them than that meets the eye and their beauty is more than skin deep.

“Wearing traditional Muslim dress has encouraged me. It’s not an obstacle – quite the opposite.” Ruqaya Al Ghasara, Asian Games Gold Medallist.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Why were charges dropped against suspected 9/11 bomber?

Mohamed Al Qahtani spent the last six years as a celebrity at Guantanamo Bay. He was the notorious '20th hijacker' and a star detainee. Whenever Guantanamo or the 'War on Terror' was challenged Qahtani, the 20th hijacker was thrown in as justification.

In 2006 Human Rights Watch reproted that Qahtani was forced to wear women's underwear, stand naked in front of a woman interrogator, and to perform "dog tricks" on a leash, in late 2002 and early 2003. Human Rights groups which got hold of a leaked copy of his interrogation log book which showed he was also subjected to sleep deprivation and forced to maintain "stress" positions; concluded that the treatment "amounted to torture". However the US government maintained that the interrogation did not amount to torture but only "abusive and degrading". The Centre for Constitutional Rights which represents Qahtani described the logs as "a shameful window onto the depravity of [the] administration and the depths to which they have been willing to sink."

In February 11,2008 the US government decided to charge Qahtani and five other equally 'famous' detainees for their involvement for what happened on September 11, 2001. However yesterday on May 13, 2008, the administration decided to drop charges against him without comment and without prejudice.

The mega million question is why were the charges dropped on Qahtani? The US government has not made a statement explaning this. Is it because the US finally realised that the flimsy evidence against Qahtani i.e. confessions signed by him, were obtained under torture and therefore decided to drop charges to preserve the integrity of the process?

The dropping of the charges is a well placed damage control strategy by the administration.

Recently the prominent international lawyer Philippe Sands QC, published Torture Team a book that gives a detailed account of what happened to Qahtani, the scraps of forced confessions that the US administration called 'evidence' and the people behind the torture. The book however is not mere a narrative. It's a strong, cogent and convincing brief for the prosecution of those involved in the torture on Qahtani for crimes against humanity and in fact hints that there is at least one judge and prosecutor in a European country famous for arrest warrants who seriously consider such a prosecution.

Given the publicity to book recieved Sands was requested to give a special testimony before the Congress Judiciary Committee on May 6, 2008 just a week before the dropping of the charges against Qahtani. In fact the Congressmen on the committee made specific queries as to possibilities of indictments and whether there were time limitations for such prosecutions.

The lawyers and the officials including Rumsfeld who were behind the torture of Qahtani had clearly met their Waterloo. Given the material in the book and the hint of possible prosecution, what if Qahtani's trial proceeded, he is found guilty and executed? It would only strengthen the resolve and the case of any prosecutor against the men indicted in Sands' book.

Dropping of the charges? It is another attempt at cover up and run for cover by Rumsfeld and the lawyers.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Over 10,000 rally in London for Palestine

As this week marks the 60th commemoration of the Naqaba, around 15,000 Londoners gathered at Trafalgar Square in London on Saturday May 10, 2008 to stand in solidarity with the Palestinians and to remind their government of its responsibility as the principal author of the Catastrophe. The rally at Trafalgar Square was the culimnation of a long procession that began near the Temple tube station. It was a great show of people power which has been the characteristic of the Palestinian struggle for independence and the message was clear telling the oppressive Zionist regime that the fight is long from over. The rally demonstrates the vibrancy of the British society were despite the distorted media coverage and the altered history books they have the courage and the conviction to call their government to account.

Interestingly despite heavy media presence there was little or nothing of this massive protest in the electronic media or press.