Saturday, March 31, 2012


Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Hijab and the Truth behind it

Sadia Dehlvi

Over a year ago, an Afghan woman carrying a baby in her arms and wearing a headscarf was shot in the head by an American Latino while walking on the street in Freemont, California. She died leaving six small children behind. There was a march in her memory where the women of Freemont irrespective of religious faith walked in protest wearing headscarves. The incident illustrates what the hijab has come to mean today. In a world where Muslims are associated with terrorism and are the victims of hate crimes, more and more young Muslim women are adopting the hijab as an expression of defiance and an assertion of Islamic identity.

Hijab is usually discussed in the context of women. However the Quran clearly states in Surah Noor: “Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that we will make for greater purity for them: and Allah is well acquainted with all that they do.” Quran 24:30

The next verse says “and say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what appear therof; that they should draw their viels over their bosoms and not disply their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands fathers, their sons…” Quran 24:31

The Quran also clearly states “Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from error” Quran 2:256.

There is a tradition of the prophet where he asked the men to tell their women to cover their heads. Islam is based on the love of God and the Prophet Mohammad. Clearly, there can be no compulsion in love. Everything in Islam is based on intent. If one starves all day and does not intend to fast, the starvation does not give you the reward of a fast observed in the name of God. Similarly if a woman is forced into hijab or one who wears a designer turban and coat to make a fashion statement does not translate into hijab. The Prophet was gentle, polite, and never used force with any man or woman. Probhet Mohammad was often asked by his companions to define a perfect Muslim and each time he replied,” He amongst you who has the best moral character”. The essence of the Prophets teachings are a constant strive for inner perfection.

A woman must have the right to choose her dress code. The banning of headscarves for students in France is as oppressive as the Taliban forcing women into purdah. Last year seven states in Germany banned the hijab for teachers. In an attempt to be part of the European Union, Turkey has banned hijab for women in public institutions who are on the government payroll. In each case, it is the woman who is being used and has become the symbol of those who want to want to purify Islam or demonise it. Some European states have openly called the hijab a symbol of fundamentalism and extremism. Muslims around the world see the attack on hijab as a continuation of the onslaught against the Muslim World.

In Muslim societies from Egypt to Iran to Indonesia, many skilled professional women women wear the hijab as a matter of choice and should not be necessarily viewed as repressive. The hijab is often a matter of culture and tradition. In rural and traditional India women irrespective of their religions cover their heads. In the Muslim ghettos of India, they have little or no access to education or jobs, their faith is all they have and they cling to its symbols. The metro mindset now used to seeing almost obscene levels of fashion on film and television known confuses modernity with westernization. My grandmothers wore the burqa and yet they were very progressive. I have many cousins who are work as architects, doctors and lawyers while donning the headscarf and none of them are remotely oppressed.

What I find rather appalling is Indians accepting the Western notions of modernity while forgetting our own cultural legacy and notions of morality. Skimpily clad women on the ramp seem to prove that India has arrived on the world map. We have begun to view women who wish to cover their bodies as signs of obscurantism.

Sadly, Indian media is importing Western vocabulary, expressions and biases towards the Muslims. It is following the western media pattern of keeping the Muslims engaged in irrelevant issues. Soundbyte hungry journos rush to procure sensational statements from self proclaimed heads of the community which present opportunities for dialogues on the primitiveness of Muslim women. This deflects attention from the educational, structural, economic discriminations that millions of Indian Muslims face as a whole. The debate that should be taking up media space is where India has failed its Muslims and why is there gross under representation of the community in every field. The only place where Muslims are over represented are the jails. We need to focus our energies on corrective measures.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Ideology of Intolerance

[By Sadia Dehlvi]

Muslims must not succumb to the rhetoric of rage and discourse of anger

Yes, the Muslim world is facing oppression and injustice but Muslims can no longer escape the fact that we have enemies within the community. The Glasgow attack and the Lal Masjid horror are recent examples of extremism and terror. Clearly there is a crisis of ignorance, leadership and faith. Muslims must acknowledge that there is a radical fringe which needs to be identified and rejected. We cannot allow the pulpits of our mosques or the institutions of learning to be seized for the discourse of anger and the rhetoric of rage. It has become imperative to understand the root of militancy which is hijacking the glorious tradition of spiritual quest and scholarship in Islam to one of terror.

Prophet Mohammad said, ”Beware of extremism in your religion”. This ideology of extremism stems form relegeous outfits like Tablighi Jamaat whose recruits are operative world over. Tablighi Jamaat was founded by Deobandi cleric Maulana Mohammad Ilyas Kandhalawi in 1920. The Jamaat e Islami, Ahle Hadis and Salafis share similar views.

Islam in the subcontinent is the legacy of the Sufis and Wahabism is an import from Saudia Arabia which seek inspiration from Ibne Wahab who died in 1786ad. Unfortunately its followers are unaware of the political and religious activities of its founder and become victims of the mission rhetoric “purify and spread Islam” which allows emotion to rule over knowledge.

The Wahabis reject the historical traditional Islamic belief that spiritual chains of Sufi orders (silsilas) are linkages to Prophet Mohammad. Ibn Taymiyya a fourteenth century scholar remains the primary source for Wahabi ideology who was barred from teaching and jailed several times in Damascus for issuing heretical fatwas . Taymmiya’s life was spared because he publicly repented amidst seven hundred scholars. He slandered the Caliphs Ali and Osman, discredited Sufi scholars like Ibn Arabi and Imam Ghazali preaching that visiting the prophets shrine was sin. Inspired by Taymiyyas forgotten teachings Abd al Wahab of Nejd in East Arabia saw himself as a reformer and preached that Muslims who sought intercession to God through Prophet Mohammad and the Sufis are polytheists who practice shirk (innovation).

Ibn Wahabs initial devotees were largely Bedouins and he declared those who did not believe in his teachings as unbelievers. He told them “ It is halal (permissible)to kill and plunder Muslims who make mediators of the prophet and auliyas( Sufis) with a view to attain closeness to Allah.” The Bedouins used the verdict to justify the loot the of Haj pilgrims. Ibn Wahab taught it was sinful to build tombs over graves and said ”If I could I would demolish the Prophets shrine.” He did not believe that waqf foundations were Islamic and pronounced that salaries to Qazis were unlawful bribes. Ibn Wahab burnt original Sufi manuscripts including copies of the world famous Muslim prayer manual “Dalail ul Khairaat” by the 15th century Moroccan Sufi scholar Jazuli because along with salutations and blessings to Prophet its narrative included an eloquent portrait of the Prophets shrine. His followers plundered and desecrated the tomb of Prophets grandson Imam Hussain in Karbala.
Wahabi orthodoxy was a minor current in the Muslim world till promoted by the Al Saud dynasty that came into power in 1924. The house of Saud established matrimonial alliances with Ibn Wahabs family furthering his strident teachings to justify their take over of the holy cities and establish the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The royals ran bulldozers over the remnants of all meditation cells and the early Sufis tombs along with the adjoining mosques. The historical tombs of the Prophets family and his companions at Jannat ul Maali and Jannat ul Baqi, the sacred graveyards of Mecca and Madina were razed to the ground.
Mecca and Medina are now managed by Wahabis and their control has robbed pilgrims of the right to express devotion in a manner of their choice. Constant patrol of the Mutawwas (religious police) ensures that pilgrims don’t caress the exteriors of the prophets shrine or offer salutations and blessing on him. At Medina turning towards the Prophets tomb for supplication (dua) is met with harsh reactions and pilgrims are forcibly turned around to face the direction of the Kaaba. Women are allowed in the compound but are subject to severe restrictions of time and space.

Through well funded outreach organizations the Wahabis spread their version of Islam where listening to music, celebrating annual birth anniversary of the Prophet (milad e nabi) and death anniversaries of the Sufis (urs) are unlawful in Islam.

Be it for Muslims or non Muslim, the Wahabi ideology is rooted in the politics of extremism and terror negating the Quranic message of peace and brotherhood. “Islam is a religion of peace” is reduced to a mere cliché. Muslims have to become good communicators of that Quranic and prophetic message by reclaiming their lost intellectual heritage and reviving academic discourse on the rightful traditions of Islam.

…….and who saves the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of mankind..
The Quran 5:32

BJP: The Politics of Intolerance

Can we Indian allow ourselves to become victims of communalism?

[By Sadia Dehlvi]

Each time the Hindutva genie threatens to emerge from the bottle, tormenting images of hatred, persecution and violence come to the fore. The controversial BJP election CD contains narrative and visuals of terrorism, cow slaughter, of Muslim men delighting over deceiving innocent Hindu girls into marriage and producing a litter (pillas) of thirty five from five marriages. Along with chants of Jai Sri Ram, the mission statement is to save the Hindu Dharma from the Islamisation of India with a resolve to rid the country of traitors. The kind of nationalism it perpetuates is rooted in resentment against Muslim rule and Muslims whom they view as settler colonisers. The evident goal of Hindutva is to institutionalize the notion of the Hindu Rashtra. The toxic content of the CD simultaneously seeks to induce a paranoia of insecurity amongst the majority and appeals to the most banal emotive instincts of an illiterate electorate.

In a 1961 address to the AICC, Nehru held that communalism of the majority is far more dangerous than the communalism of the minority. Not condoning the latter he stated, “ When minority communities are communal you can see that and understand it. But the communalism of a majority is apt to be taken for nationalism”. In portraying themselves as the sole nationalists, the strength of Hindutva has been effectual in sidelining the nationalism of Nehru, Gandhi and Ambedkar.

If Muslim appeasement myths were true, the social and political realities of the minority would speak differently. The painful truth is that the story of Indian Muslims has been scripted by the broader Hindutva agenda. With minority rights remaining on the outside of integrated development policies, Muslims today are sitting on the edge of the Indian frame. If communal agendas continue unchecked and secular tempers not developed, India’s largest single minority will fall out of the picture completely.

The spiritual tenets of Hinduism are peaceful and celebrate diversity and inclusion whereas Hindutva is a warped nationalist ideology rooted in the politics of intolerance. One would like to believe that brand Hindutva of the BJP has exhausted itself and the electorate has learned to choose development over the politics of intolerance. The sheer knowledge that parties flaunting divisive agendas remain a vital force striving for Central authority is terrifying.

It is equally disheartening and worrisome that instead of a renewed pledge to secularism, Rahul Gandhi testifies that his family was responsible for the break up of Pakistan. When young leaders whom you would have thought had their heart in the right place need to address jingoistic national chauvinism one must acknowledge the deep rot in our political system and raise serious questions. Whatever the political necessity of the moment we can not allow space for the creation of Muslim demons or Hindu triumphs. Hindu Muslim unity, the defining factor of Indian secularism is under grave threat. Constant vigilance is required if we are genuine about putting brakes on the acceleration of religious divides.

Does the Congress need the malice of the BJP to hand out its own ideas of secularism? Is the prescription of banning political parties good enough or will they emerge stronger with new identities? Narsimha Rao dismissed four state governments after the Babri Masjid tragedy that eventually led the perpetuators of the crime to victory at the Centre.
The privileged positions of power were exploited in the frenzied and psychopathic violence of the Gujrat riots of 2002. The savagery left intense scars on the Muslim psyche and India’s largest religious minority negotiated its existence among society and state with a wounded spirit.

When the BJP was in power, a camouflaged Hindutva furthered its agenda through various cultural and educational organizations. Strident Hinduism gained respectability in media, academia and the film world with sworn secularists discovering concealed virtues in the party. The damage is not irreparable but the internecine conflict between secular forces makes the restoration process messy and complex.

Can we, the people of India allow ourselves to be continuously bitten by the lurking venomous snake or can we collectively strive to crush its head forever. The change can be brought only through judicial, bureaucratic and parliamentary resolves. The question is that does any political party have the genuine will, integrity or the strategy to mobilize the masses against such rapturous forces? Secularism is not just about giving a fair deal to the Muslims but a democracatic idealology for an empowerment for all backward classes. If constitutional ideals are to succeed, someone has to take the lead in organizing secular forces and allowing for cherished values to become immune to the clashes of power. Ideologically, culturally and intellectually, the resistance to communalism has to be fought on a war footing or else we will succumb to its malignancy. History will then see India as a failed secular state.