Of humanity, not airlines

I travel all the time, but never on United. I agree with all that has been said in this article. However, my question is not about airlines though I support #neverflyunited. It is about humanity and decency. It is about justice. It is about the maxim, ‘Injustice to one is injustice to all.’ That is why I am not even talking about the race of the passenger whose exit was facilitated. I am not speculating if United would treat a WASP in the same manner. It doesn’t matter. We are all human. Believe me, WASP or not. And injustice to one is injustice to all. Until we understand that, injustice will prevail.
There was a time when people stood up to support one another. What happened to that? Why did all the other passengers simply sit there and watch this horrific thing happen? I am not saying that they should have fought the security guards. They could have simply stood up and walked off the plane in solidarityall including the First Class passengers. But not a single one did that. Why? If they had, United would have had the privilege of flying its own staff and giving them the choice of any seat on the plane.
Try it people. As long as you are willing to take shit, shit shall be dished out to you. That is a law of nature. United didn’t invent it, it’s there, like gravity. United doesn’t enforce it. We do. By our silence in the face of injustice, we permit and support injustice.
Remember the man who said, ‘When the truth must be spoken, silence is culpable’? He too was American. You want to make America great again? Great idea. But then you have to get up and do something. You can’t simply sit on your situpon with your fingers crossed and mumble, ‘Thank God that didn’t happen to me.’ If you do that, one day it will. 
It surely will as the sun rises from the East.

Indian Muslims, Looking ahead

If you want to be successful, you must respect one rule: never lie to yourself.           
~ Paulo Coelho
UP elections are over and the results are out. They are surprising for some of us who have become used to living our lives in slumber. But for those who had their eyes open, the result in UP was neither unexpected nor sudden. It is the result of 90 years of dedicated effort by countless people who will remain unknown but whose effort bore fruit beyond their dreams. We Muslims on the other hand, remained content with complaining and begging. The world changed but we remained stuck in a world that no longer exists. UP election result was (or should be) enough to wake us from the deepest slumber so that we learn to deal with the new world in which we find ourselves. Unless we do that, the results will be far worse than what we may imagine.


So, what must be done now that we are faced with this fait accompli?


The principles of resilience are three:

1. Face the brutal facts without mincing words or looking through rose tinted glasses
2. Identify critical aread of impact and work on them. Not everything is equally important
3. Make necessary changes, no matter how painful

This is the framework which I am going to try to follow.

The Brutal Facts

BJP won a landslide victory. All the analysts were wrong. More than being divided, the Muslim presence in politics and the way it was portrayed to others, resulted in the Hindu vote getting consolidated behind the BJP. Muslims have become the bogeyman of Indian politics and it appears that the mere presence of a Muslim candidate is enough to bring out the worst fantasies in the minds of others. That none of this is based on fact is not important. Rumors don’t need facts to thrive. I am not going to make a long list of all that is wrong with the situation of Muslims today. I think we have the intelligence to see that. I will suffice to say that if we don’t wake up and do what needs to be done, no matter how painful, we are going to enter an era of darkness that none of us has faced in living memory. Our fate is quite literally in our own hands.

The truth is not difficult to see but difficult to swallow.
~ Mirza Yawar Baig
Muslims must understand that their development and future in the country is not restricted to government largesse or elections. It is in our hands and depends on the overall sentiment about us as people, as neighbors, as fellow citizens. Today all this is at an all-time low. I don’t say that this is entirely our fault. A lot of it is the result of systematic propaganda against Islam and Muslims which our neighbors believed. However, our inward looking and exclusionist stances have facilitated the misunderstandings and stereotypes. When people don’t know you personally it is easy to believe the worst about you. This has happened to us and this must change.
Elections apart, we simply have to win the hearts of the person on the street, the person next door and the person sitting next to us at work. If we do that well, then the sentiment will protect us from those who seek to harm us. We need to be seen as beneficial for all people. Incidentally this is what Allah described us and our mission – selected for the benefit of people. We need to therefore redefine how we look at ourselves vis-à-vis others and decide what we need to do to change the negative image into a positive one.  

“In order to change an existing paradigm, you do not struggle to try and change the problematic model. You create a new model and make the old one obsolete.”      
~ R. Buckminster Fuller
All change is painful. Drastic change is even more painful. But the most painful is annihilation. That is what must be remembered when we want to complain about what I am about to propose. Annihilation, not literally but in every other way as productive, influential and important citizens of the country. We are facing a future where when the words of the Constitution are spoken, “We the people of India”, 200 million citizens will not be included in the term, ‘We the people.’ Once again, if that comes to pass, it will be with our active or tacit agreement. Nobody to blame but ourselves.
I believe that there are three areas we must address urgently.

1. Societal impact
2. Approach to religion
3. Politial presence

1.     Changes for Societal Impact
Become beneficial and be seen as beneficial. The way to the heart is through the belly as they say. This means that people need to feel and taste the goodness of anything to believe it. Words are cheap and today we are looking at a society that has become intensely cynical and has no trust in anyone’s words. Action speaks; not just louder than words but it is the only thing that speaks. People don’t care what you say until they see what you do. The change must come within our community. We must shed our exclusivist image and communicate with others (non-Muslims). Talk to your neighbors, colleagues, customers. Just talk. Not talk theology but just normal everyday talk. Help them even if they don’t help you. Be good to them even if they are not. Greet them in their terms and thank them for any service; for example, thank the taxi driver, the bus driver, check-in and check-out person, the waiter, the doorman, anyone. Thanking increases blessing and changes hearts. This must be done such that people change their perception about us.
I know this is difficult especially in a society that has become very polarized and Muslims are denied housing and jobs. It is difficult but that is why it is even more critical to do it. As for polarizing society, it is good to remind ourselves that we are equally responsible for it with less justification because polarization is suicide for a minority, yet we did it and allowed it to happen. That is the reason we must change this perception by being genuine and approaching our fellow countrymen and women with love, respect, openness and acceptance. It is critically important to give this message to our children who mirror what they hear at home. Listening to the young ones of all communities tells you a sorry tale about the kind of psychological conditioning that is taking place in our homes. All of us, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Esai (Christian) – remember the song?? Today these are empty words. I weep when I recall my own childhood when a friend was simply a friend. His name wasn’t a flag to his caste. We lived in each other’s homes, ate each other’s food, called each other’s parents, Amma, Mataji, Dadji, Papa, Baba. Where did we lose it all?  
When the truth must be spoken, silence is culpable.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
 We must set up a fund to create the following institutions open to everyone:
Legal Aid Cell
·        Establish Legal Aid Cells in every city and take up cases of all those who need legal aid – not only Muslims
·        Make a list of cases that need to be tackled in order of priority and ease of winning
·        Make Law a primary study focus for students
·        Ensure that no attack on anyone goes unchallenged
·        Because injustice to one is injustice to all
Focus on education
·        Set up high quality English medium schools which teach vocational skills
·        Open them to everyone – not only Muslims
·        Make it compulsory for every child to go to these schools until the high school level
·        Make Madrassas only for higher education – graduation and above. Not for primary and secondary education
·        Make every child a potential entrepreneur
Employment
·        Set up a Zero Interest Venture Capital Fund and an Advisory Council to help startups
·        Open both to everyone – not only Muslims
·        Send our youth into the army and police both at officer and serviceman levels. This will inculcate discipline and a sense of belonging to the nation, both of which are missing today
·        Teaching, judiciary, journalism & media are professions of choice
·        Zero unemployment is possible with entrepreneurship
Social Development Fund
·        Set up a Social Development Fund to help anyone in need – not only Muslims
·   Focus on prisoners who need bail, hospital expenses, clean water, sewage, housing, vocational education, entrepreneurial development, orphans, widows
·    Focus on women’s economic and educational development to ensure empowerment of women
·        Demonstrate the real face of Islam to the world of helping everyone to be well
Funding for all the above
·        Central collection of Zakat Funds.
·        Capitalizing of Awqaf (Religious endowments).
·        Voluntary contribution of Rs. 100 per person per month.
·        Additional charitable donations.
2.  Approach to religion
Change our ways
The change must begin within us, individually, within our families and within our community. We need to clean up our lives of all forms of disobedience of Allah and ensure that we spread goodness all around us. Islam doesn’t distinguish between Muslim and non-Muslim when it comes to justice or welfare. Neither must we. Our presence must be seen as a blessing in the community we live in, our cities and villages. This message must be spread by all of us in our different capacities. The major share of this lies on the Ulama who have access to the Friday congregations. Their message must be about distinguishing ourselves through service, bringing hearts together and against every form of divisive thought, ideology and message. We need to root out the social evils that our society is plagued with, chief among them being alcoholism, gambling and ostentation. Our ostentatious weddings are a case in point. To celebrate weddings the way we do when our own people are as poor and deprived as they are is immoral and criminal. To participate in such functions is to aid and abet the crime. These are destroying us at all levels and must be forcibly stopped if persuasion doesn’t work.
We must not only consciously not propagate differences and divisiveness but we must forcefully do the opposite. Preach and promote by word and action, inclusiveness, acceptance and brotherhood. Universal brotherhood, because that is the way of Islam. Universal brotherhood is a message that is unique to Islam. That and mercy and forgiveness from one person to another. These two must be revived urgently because our lives are currently desolated and deprived of both. Today, let alone preaching divisiveness with respect to non-Muslims, we preach it with respect to Muslims who don’t belong to our particular cult, juristic order (Madhab), culture or region. This is completely Haraam. It is not in the scope of this article to quote from the Qur’an and Sunnah to prove my statement but there are plenty of lectures of mine with all references that you can listen to.
Secondly on the national front the following actions must be taken with respect to our Madrassas and the AIMPLB. Our Madrassas are a symbol of great dedication but very poor quality. The result is that graduates are maladjusted and incapable of being productive members of society and are looked down upon and treated with disdain. To change this, we need to change what we teach and how we do it.
Madrassa Education
·    Set up a Central Madrassa Board to ensure the following:
·    All Madrassa teachers must be qualified to teach & have a teaching degree. Our Madrassas are perhaps the only schools where teachers need not be trained to teach. This is so incredibly insane that I feel ashamed to write it.
·        Corporal punishment to be banned and punishable if practiced.
·        Madrassas only for higher (college) education. Not earlier.
·      Centralized curriculum, syllabus and examination system. Present curriculum and syllabi to be redesigned to make them current, relevant and effective. Please see my paper on this.
·        Centralized management of funds by the Madrassa Board so that funds can be allotted to those who need them and not be squandered by those who happen to have the ability to raise them.
·        Transparency in all matters and merit being the only consideration.
·   Establish the Maktab system to educate children in Islam. This is very successfully practiced in South Africa, the UK and elsewhere and can be replicated in India.
AIMPLB
·        AIMPLB to abolish triple Talaq and not oppose UCC. Let the government introduce the UCC which will be debated nationally in which we can also participate. No need to say anything until then. The image of being regressive must be changed.
·        AIMPLB membership must be democratized and operations made much more efficient and relevant.
·        AIMPLB to be the sole dispenser of Fatwas on any matter. All random Fatwa dispensers to be stopped.
·        No knee jerk reactions and no working in slow motion.
Subsidies & Reservations
·        Demand that the Hajj Subsidy be abolished. It is a subsidy to Air India, not to Muslims. Refuse to take it.
·     Hajj is not Fardh on anyone who can’t afford it. We don’t need to give our detractors another stick to beat us with.
·        Any travel agent can get us better fares than Air India.
·        Demand that Hajj Committee be abolished. It gives little benefit and with the removal of the Hajj Subsidy its purpose will vanish.
·    Ditto for all Reservations. We don’t need them. Nobody respects beggars. We need to become self-sufficient. Reservations have never solved anyone’s problems and they won’t solve ours. They are yet one more stick for our detractors to beat with.
3.    Political presence
Leave politics as contestants
UP elections have proved that as things stand Muslim presence in politics as contestants only serves to drive everyone into the arms of the Hindutva brigade. Their absence will enable those who stand for principles instead of caste to have a voice to try to steer Indian politics away from a purely caste-based contest. This may sound drastic but I believe our situation today has reached such a desperate state that we need to consider drastic changes. Like invasive surgery and chemotherapy despite the pain and evil after effects become acceptable when life is at stake, I believe we have reached a stage today where our survival as viable, functioning members of society as Citizens of India seems to be at stake.
As I mentioned earlier, it appears that in the future, when the words of the Constitution are spoken, ‘We the people of India’, somehow 200 million citizens will not be included in this definition. So, we should not stand for election any more at least for a five-year period. If you are not there, you can’t become the bogey man. Muslims must break out of it. We must reject all extremist talk and ideas. Polarization may help some individuals but it is suicide for the community. We must partner and cooperate with all those who stand for justice, human rights, dignity and solidarity of the nation.
Conclusion

I believe the time has come for Indian Muslims to rethink their very existence in this country. We are Indians by choice. We love our country and want to contribute to its development. Therefore, it is time to stop living in isolation and start participating in every aspect of life in our country as CONTRIBUTORS. Not merely whine and complain about negative things that happen to us but do nothing positive to help others. Nobody can harm us – unless we allow it. All this will take time and effort. All this will be painful at least to some. All this needs serious investment of funds. But without it, we will cease to exist as relevant and significant members of this society.

The writing is on the wall. The choice is ours.

Madrassa education in India – what needs to change

“In order to change an existing paradigm, you do not struggle to try and change the problematic model. You create a new model and make the old one obsolete.” ~ R. Buckminster Fuller

Scope

The purpose of this article is to help the graduates of Madaaris (Ulama) to become relevant in modern society and to be able to provide positive leadership to their congregations. 

 I have tried to define the situation with Madrassa Education in India as I understand it and to propose a solution to the deficiencies and problems that it faces. That these deficiencies and problems are not necessarily recognized or likely to be accepted by those who run Madaaris is to be expected because the first reaction of the patient who is diagnosed with a terminal illness is denial. However, this ‘illness’ though terminal, if left unattended, is curable if addressed. The question is whether those who have the authority – Madrassa administrators and even more importantly, sponsors – are willing to address it and implement the cure. It is my job to share my thoughts. With that, I rest my case before Allah. For I will not be asked, ‘What did you know?’ I will be asked, ‘What did you do?’ That is what you, my dear reader, will also be asked.

About the issues with the quality of education in our Madrassas in  India, I believe we need to look at the syllabus which is based on the Dars-eNizami. Dars-e-Nizami or its derivatives are taught in thousands of Madaaris worldwide which draw inspiration, instruction or follow the principles and values of Darul Uloom Deoband, arguably the most respected Madrassa in the subcontinent.  I have quoted from Darul Uloom Deoband’s site because Deoband is the bastion of this syllabus and methodology. You can see what they themselves say about what the student gains after eight years of full-time residential ‘education’. (bold type below is mine).

Its founder was Mulla Nizamuddin Sahalvi (d. 1748), who was contemporary of Hazrat Shah Waliullah. The curriculum known as “Dars-e Nizami”, which is current today in all the Arabic schools, is a relic from him. Adding something more to the syllabi of the third period, Mulla Nizamuddin prepared a new syllabus. The great peculiarity of this syllabus is that more attention has been paid in it to the creation of depth of insight and power of reading in the student, and although immediately after the completion of this course proficiency is not acquired in any particular subject, this much ability is surely created that, through one’s own independent reading and labor, one may acquire proficiency in any subject of one’s liking. The standard of Hadith and Tafsir in this course too is not much high, and of literature there is included no book at all.

http://www.darululoomdeoband.com/english/sys_of_edu/index.htm

Mulla Nizamuddin created what came to be called Dars-e-Nizami in the 1730’s, more than a century before 1857 and the establishment of British rule in India. He created the syllabus to enable Madrassa graduates to get government jobs in the Moghul administration. Since he was from Lucknow where the influence of Iran was very strong, his course gave far more importance to Ilm Kalam, Greek philosophy, logic (Mantiq), Farsi and not to the Qur’an, Hadith and Seerah. What is amazing is the sincerity with which our Madrassa authorities still cling to this totally outdated syllabus ignoring all the changes in time, space, political situation and realities of the modern world that have happened since the 1730’s. The result is that they are still producing graduates ideally suited to enter the service of a government that ceased to exist a century and a half ago.

I don’t think there is any doubt in the minds of anyone including those who graduate from Madaaris with at least some residual ability to think still intact, that there is a crying need for change. Not merely cosmetic or incremental change but a total transformation of the curriculum, syllabus and teaching methodology to ensure that those who graduate from there can enter society with confidence.

The reason this is even more important is because according to the Justice Sachar Committee Report (2005) http://bit.ly/2fmNJoY there are two million students in Madaaris in India. That is less than 2% of the population of Indian Muslims but it is significant because of the amount of money that is spent voluntarily on it by the community which the same Report defines as being economically speaking, the weakest in the nation. Yet the Indian Muslim community spends a colossal INR 24 billion (2400 crores) annually on sponsoring Madrassa education. I doubt if there is any other community of Indians who can match this contribution to national development.

I arrived at this figure by assuming a cost/student of INR 1000 per month per student. The actual cost is most likely to be double that or more as most Madaaris provide boarding, lodging and education, totally free. However, for our discussion the amount of INR 24 billion (2400 crores) is sufficient. It is my contention that anyone (person or group) that spends so much money must be concerned about the quality of the output for which the money is being spent. I believe that is where the problem starts because to the best of my knowledge there is no particular purpose or clear objective of Madrassa education.

No Madrassa teacher or director has ever been able to answer me clearly when I asked them to describe what their final product, the graduate of the Madrassa, was supposed to be. Educators teach what they have been mandated to teach according to the syllabus. Sponsors sponsor the education considering it to be a ‘good deed’ for which Allahﷻ will reward them. Students who come mostly from the poorest strata of Muslim society and their parents, have no voice at all in deciding what is taught, how it is taught or what the result is. The fact that the graduate is called A’alim is a bonus and he exists with a sense of position though without any skills to lead his life in society.

In brief this is what happens in Dars-e-Nizami. This is not a criticism of this work and may Allahﷻ grant the best reward to the its author. I am mentioning this to you so that you, who live in today’s world, can decide if it is enough as the fundamental education for young people and relevant in our 21st century world. I want you to see this also in the light of Islamic religious education and ask yourself if this is sufficient for someone who is going to emerge at the other end and be called A’alim.

Under Dars-e-Nizami curriculum:

  1. Students only touch the Qur’an as the method is a ‘Dawrah’ (reading, not teaching). Tafsir-i-Jalalayn (which has fewer words than the Qur’an!) is followed and that is done for Barakah only. Usool-ul-Tafsir are not taught. Arabic, the language of the Qur’an and Sunnah, is not taught which means that students never get to touch the original revelation but must be content with the translation. Instead Arabic books are taught in Urdu (translations) and this is not considered either strange or wrong. The teachers themselves don’t know Arabic, so if one wanted to bring about a change, it would not be so easy as to simply tell teachers to teach in the original language of the book, which is Arabic. They can’t because they don’t know it themselves. Yet they are recruited, paid and teach.
  2. Interestingly in every Western university where there is a Faulty of Islamic Studies, fluency in Arabic is a pre-requisite for being recruited as a teacher. Consequently, they have non-Muslim teachers who know Arabic and can quote the Qur’an and Hadith which our graduates from our Darul Ulooms and even their teachers, can’t. It is a matter of shame for us that Islam is the only religion which is taught by non-Muslims in many Western universities because all the Darul Ulooms of the Indian Subcontinent together, can’t produce enough graduates who are fit to be hired into a system that demands the knowledge of the language of the Qur’an to teach the Qur’an. The fact that they don’t know English either doesn’t help and non-Muslims teach Islam to Muslim students, understandably with their biases and prejudices.
  3. The six books on Hadith are also taught in a similar fashion – as a ‘dawrah’ during the last year. Students gain neither knowledge nor understanding. The teacher simply reads, gives a short explanation and goes on to the next Hadith. There is no discussion, no question and answer, no reflection on the Asbaab (circumstances) of the Hadith, no comparison with what Rasoolullahﷺ taught in a given situation and how it compares and contrasts with what we are taught or what we do in our own lives. There is no time to contemplate on any Hadith and think about how to apply the teachings in current times.
  4. History and Seerah are neither taught in detail nor to extract lessons. This is the strangest and most crippling deficiency because Allahﷻ ordered us to learn about the life of His Prophet, Muhammadﷺ and to emulate him and follow his way. If this is not even done in a religious school (Deeni Madrassa) then where will it be done?
  5. There is a total lack of critical thinking for fear of raising questions or disagreeing with the established position of the ‘school’. In our Madaris we teach Madhab, not Islam. For example, in Hanafi Madaris like Deoband and others, a whole course is taught about the ‘mistakes’ of Imam Shafi in his extraction of rulings but no course on the Principles of Fiqh (Usool-ul-Fiqh), Manners of Disagreement (Adaab-ul-Ikhtilaaf) or Principles of Extraction of Rulings (Istambaad-ul-Ahkaam). The result is that instead of appreciating the different approaches of the Fiqhi scholars and Imams, students come out with the impression that one of them was ‘right’ and the others were ‘wrong’. And since they follow the ‘right’ one, they are superior to the other classical scholars who were ‘wrong’. This arrogance creates rigidity and is the root cause behind the inter-denominational hatred, divisiveness and violence. Acceptance of a point of view different from one’s own; accepting that someone else can also be correct, is not something that our Madaaris believe in, teach or practice.
  6. Even this would have been acceptable if they had been open about it. They would still be wrong but at least honest. But instead, they publicly proclaim that all the four (Sunni) Imams of Fiqh are correct, but clandestinely and privately they condemn everyone other than Imam Abu Hanifa. They try to enforce Hanafiyat (‘Hanafeeism’ – my coinage) rather than Islam. This is hypocrisy at its worst.
  7. One of the reasons why critical thinking and questioning is discouraged is that people consider the human understanding and interpretation of the revelation by their predecessors as ‘divine’. The opinions of their own scholars (called Akabireen; The Great Ones) are considered sacrosanct, unquestionable, irrefutable and good for all time. The reality is that only Qur’an and authentic Sunnah is divine. Rest of the sciences of religion are human understanding of the revelation and as such are bound to have differences. An interesting corollary is that there is no evidence that anyone who has been raised to this ‘divine’ status today, ever wanted this to be done or told anyone that he was infallible and must be obeyed without question. Yet this is done in their name today.
  8. It’s noteworthy to mention that Imam Abu Hanifa’s main students (Imam Abu Yusuf and Imam Muhammad) differ from him in one-third of his madhab. It shows that he trained his students to think rather than copy him and if they differed from his opinion he didn’t throw them out of his class. But his way has been lost today.
  9. Students in Madaris succeed because they focus on memory. Madrassas deliberately discourage, even punish, critical thinking. The most powerful way to do this is to make everything sacred and therefore unquestionable. There is no difference in approach to the Word of Allahﷻ, the teachings of His Messengerﷺ and the teachings of (especially and almost exclusively) the scholars of a particular Madhab. The word ‘Akabireen’ (Great Ones), is used exclusively for scholars of the Madhab only. No Deobandi – Hanafi means Iman Shafi, Imam Ahmad or Imam Malik when he says, ‘Akabireen’ with the appropriate intonation of respectful reference. He means not only Imam Abu Hanifa exclusively, but he means the Ustaadhs of Darul Uloom Deoband only. So, where is the question of questioning anything that was ruled by any of them when to do so would be to literally put your life and reputation on the line. “To question is not to deny” – is not something that our traditionalists believe in. Our way is to hear and obey, even though that is something that applies only to the Word and Orders of Allahﷻ Raising humans to a semi-divine status is always injurious to reason.
  10. Since students don’t learn Arabic, which is the language of both Qur’an and Sunnah, they are not able to reach the source books and study them directly. They rely on translations which are bound to have their limitations. But this situation is not remedied. Instead it is accepted as inevitable, unchangeable and correct.
  11. The teachings and rulings of Rasoolullahﷺ are treated as if coming from a ‘Mufti’ rather than from the Messenger of Allahﷺ. People don’t take guidance from the Qur’an and Sunnah. Instead they impose their own understanding from their culture, ideas, philosophy on the Qur’an and Sunnah. Instead of taking from the Qur’an & Sunnah, people start to give to Qur’an.
  12. Finally, in what is, in reality, a basic primary to secondary or at the most, high school level course, nothing is taught of math or science, history (mentioned earlier) or geography. How someone who never learnt math can even be called ‘educated’ is beyond me, but that is what happens in our Madaris. Yet the student graduates from high school with the title, ‘A’alim’ and its attendant attitude.
  13. Teaching methodology in Madaaris is totally defunct and completely free from all the latest developments in teaching technology and methods. Madrassa education in the Indian subcontinent is the only system in which teacher training is unheard of. So is understanding of child psychology, class plans, teacher assessment, standardized exams or any of the teaching aids that are commonplace in every other school. Just ask a normal Madrassa teacher about any of these things and you will see what I mean. Corporal punishment is normal and brutal.

Yet there seems to be no concern in our community and no anguish except in my heart. No effort to change anything because of our innate laziness and blind following of the ‘Ulama’. This elevation of status of ‘Ulama’ (Madrassa graduates) to a level of semi-divinity, is the masterstroke which the ‘Ulama’ have played which shuts down all legitimate criticism which could have resulted in improvement.  Instead, anyone who dares to criticize with sincerity and concern is deemed a rebel with his status liable to be promoted to ‘apostate’, if he doesn’t cease and desist and refuses to toe the line.

For those sponsors of Madaaris reading this I would like to respectfully ask, ‘How many of you have taken the trouble to go and see what is taught and how, in the institutions you support? If you haven’t, then ask yourself, ‘Why not?’ How and why are you so disinterested in what you are sponsoring that you don’t take any trouble to ask what is taught, why it is taught, how it is taught and what is sought to be achieved because of the teaching. Do you have any idea what you want to achieve apart from getting Thawaab?  I don’t think that anyone will differ about the need to have a clear focus on the purpose of Islamic education and to bring Islamic education on par with secular education in terms of teaching curricula and methods. Then why don’t you do it?

The present syllabus is totally inadequate both theologically and in a worldly sense. Add to that the fact that graduates come out with the title of A’alim and an inflated sense of their own importance combined with an inferiority complex. This happens when their Madrassa inflated egos meet the real world and realize their inadequacy. So, they go into a shell because they’re helpless and don’t know how to handle it. In short at the end of eight years of fulltime study the students of our Madaaris graduate with the title of A’alim but without proficiency in anything. You may ask how this is different in the case of a Matric student who also graduates without proficiency in anything. The answer is that he is not called an A’alim and passing Matric is not his final goal.  He passed Matric as a step to enter a pre-university course from where he will enter university and go on to post graduate studies and so on. His self-concept and attitude are completely different, and society treats him accordingly.

The vast majority of those who graduate with the degree of A’alim however, go nowhere. They become Imams and spend the rest of their lives leading Salah in a masjid and start their own Madrassa or teach in another Madrassa albeit without any qualification to teach. That this is the result of 8 – 12 years of so-called education on which a colossal amount is spent by the community which can least afford this luxury, shows how little we care about our own community and its most critical asset; the youth and education.

Quality is the outcome of measurement

How can you have quality in a system where there are neither standards nor metrics? In India, you don’t need any accreditation or certification to start a Madrassa. There are no minimum standards for anything at all; infrastructure, teacher quality, teaching material or any of the normal standards that you would have to satisfy to be certified and permitted to start a basic elementary school. There are no metrics to measure anything in the Madrassa system, so how can you have quality which is the outcome of measurement? Teachers need no qualification to teach nor do they or you feel the need for this. Students come from the poorest and therefore the least powerful or vocal section of society. Students and their parents have low or no aspirations and no voice at all to implement any change, even if they knew what they wanted to be changed. The curriculum has no benchmark to compare with any curriculum today, is not comparable to any other educational system and to top it all is given the patina and glow of the sacred and holy which is meant to throttle any change initiative in the cradle.

To close the loop from where I started, the biggest hurdle to change in the existing Madrassa education system is the fear that any mention of change inspires in those who own and run it. That is entirely understandable because for one thing; the Madaaris are the means of their own livelihood. For another, change in the way that is needed is not merely incremental, evolutionary or cosmetic but revolutionary, transformative and metamorphic. What is needed is a completely new system. Resistance arises from the real fear in the teachers and Madrassa owners of becoming redundant and thereby losing their livelihood. This is a real fear because expecting current teachers to learn a completely new body of knowledge and teaching methodology is unrealistic. Add to it the fact that included in the re-learning is to learn two new languages, Arabic and English, and the water gets even murkier. That is why I began with Buckminster Fuller’s quote. What is needed is to create a new model which will be proof of concept to inspire change and give people the reassurance that success always does. I remind myself of two things: people with limited resources must be very clear and selective about where to spend them to get the maximum benefit. And one day we will be questioned about what we did or failed to do by the One who knows and sees all.

All change must begin with clarifying the goal. Madrassa educators must arrive at a consensus on what they and their Madaris really are; basic primary and secondary schools or higher institutions of specialized theology? As it stands they are neither. Once that is settled, the rest can all be tailored, and standards defined accordingly. We must therefore begin with defining the goal; the end result that we would like to achieve. Once that is clear and agreed upon, one can work on the curriculum, syllabus, course material (books etc.), testing, teaching methodology, teaching tools and technology, infrastructure and teacher training.

Madrassa sponsors must articulate their vision for the training of Ulama. What do we expect them to achieve once they graduate? The goal of learning is something that is not even questioned in any other branch of education because it is clear from the beginning. You don’t need to ask someone running a medical college or a flying school or a Judo dojo or a dance academy, what they expect from the students who graduate. But with respect to our Madaaris and those who graduate from them and those who teach them, their purpose, their life goal, what they are aspiring to become and achieve are all enigmatic and mysterious. That is why there is low motivation which is sought to be countered by rote learning and brutal corporal punishment.

One final matter which all aspiring instigators of change need to keep in mind is that all this needs serious capital investment. Less than what we spend for ostentatious weddings but still significant. Without that we can’t hope to create the infrastructure, teacher training, curriculum development, courseware and myriad other things that are necessary to ensure that the new institutions can deliver the results we hope to achieve. This is also necessary to make Madaaris aspirational. To test if our Madaaris are aspirational (in case you have any doubts) ask one of your children if they would like to leave their school and join any Madrassa in India and you will have the answer. This must change. The image problem that Madaaris have reflects also on their graduates and explains the lack of respect that Madrassa graduates have in Muslim society.

The big question is, ‘How much longer do we want to continue with this?’ This question must be answered first and most importantly by those who fund Madrassas. It is they who must drive the change. It is they who will be questioned by Allahﷻ and recorded in history for what they did or failed to do. Change is the result of the actions of those who pay for it. It is time that we focused on what happens to our donations and seek to make that most beneficial for the community because it is only quality that pleases Allahﷻ.

What must be done?

I have tried to list some broad changes that need to be introduced urgently if we are interested in ensuring that our money is spent in a beneficial manner to achieve our aims of serving the needs of Islam and Muslims.

A Central Madrassa Board must be created to ensure the following:

  1. All Madrassa teachers must be qualified to teach and have a degree in education
  2. Infrastructure must conform to a standard and must be inspected periodically
  3. Corporal punishment must be banned and severely punishable if practiced
  4. Centralized curriculum, syllabus and examination system
  5. Centralized management of funds by the Madrassa Board
  6. Transparency in all matters and merit, the only consideration

I have not attempted to suggest a complete curriculum and syllabus for Madaaris because before anything can be suggested it is essential for the institutions to feel the need and to define their goal. Currently they don’t have any goal apart from getting donations. The fact that their graduates emerge in society, unfit and incapable of dealing with it, much less provide leadership, leaves them unmoved. Until that changes and until they feel the need to change, no change is possible.

Despite all of the above, if donors decide that it is time to question what happens to their donations and if they are getting value for them; and if they are willing to take the pain to bring about change, it can be done.

I believe it is essential to change ourselves before change is forced upon us from outside.

To train or to entertain

The dilemma of the modern corporate enter-trainer

One of my friends who is a corporate trainer/teacher/facilitator, wrote to me on Teacher’s Day and talked about how the nature of training/teaching has changed.

  1. Observation: attitudes of students have changed…
  2. Guru is not necessarily a brahmo or devo. As a service provider, there is no leeway or tolerance for a teacher,
  3. Teacher has to enable the student to reach their goals, without the student willing to learn.
  4. Entire paradigm or process of education is based assumption that the student wants to learn or shares some of the responsibility for their own learning. Looking at today’s folks, I get an attitude like similar to them in a theatre… “ I am here and now let us see how you entertain us, even if I don’t want to be entertained” like saying make something go into my head, inspite of me.
  5. Am finding schools that are doing everything like photocopying or emailing notes. So kids don’t write. They just have to listen/read/vomit. Where is the synthesis part, the part of education that makes students go through certain actions, rituals that have a certain impact on the mind somehow… or is there a need to rethink the ritual from the goal a bit like rethinking business because of the eBusiness paradigm?

Having been a trainer/teacher/facilitator/consultant for the past 35 years I have had the opportunity to observe the change in the environment, especially in the Indian corporate world. There was a time when the teacher was someone who was right by default. Teacher’s tolerance levels were low. Students had to accept what was told to them. Questioning the teacher was tantamount to being impertinent and disrespectful and was not acceptable. Arguing or disagreeing with the teacher was not even heard of. The archetypical model of the ‘rebellious’ student was that of Eklavya in the Mahabharat who had to pay the Gurudakshana of his right thumb to Dronacharya for daring to learn what his teacher did not intend to teach him.
Today we see a total change with the proverbial boot on the foot of the student. Trainers eat or starve depending on the fickle likes and dislikes of students. Teachers are judged not on the basis of what the students learned, realized or felt able to practice in their lives, but on the basis of whether or not they ‘liked’ the teacher. Giving critical feedback to the student (many of whom incidentally as my friend says do not even consider themselves in need of learning nor are they even called ‘student’) is an activity fraught with danger. The danger that the fragile ego of the student may get bruised in the process and his lovely self-image of being God’s gift to mankind may be shaken and he may be displeased. Being ‘liked’ by students seems to be the single most important consideration.

This means that the price of giving some well deserved adverse feedback or of challenging some pet position of a student can mean that on the Trainer Dashboard the trainer’s rating may go down by one or two sub-points from 9.8 to 9.3 which translates very simply to kissing that client goodbye. In some cases of course the HR professional who handles training is also a trainer and understands the complexity of the job. They sit in the training class and know the style of the trainer. They also know the profile of the students well enough to know what must have led to the feedback. They are focused on what is good for the organization which is why the training was being done in the first place. So they simply ignore the feedback and a trainer who has the commitment to say what the students need to hear and not what they like to hear, retains his job. 

On rare occasions s/he is even appreciated and thanked for saying to the student what everyone else was dying to say but dared not. On the other hand when the HR professional either has no training experience themselves or if their personal anxiety is so high that they are totally focused on the training being ‘liked’ and the students having ‘fun’, then you have the scenario that I presented above. In such situations ‘intelligent’ trainers become ‘entertainers’ to ensure that they continue to eat and leave the fate of the student to himself. One can hardly blame them for focusing on being liked, when being liked is more important and gets rewarded more than being useful.
Truly it has been said that we get what we pay for. When we focus on fun, we get ‘funny’ trainers. People have fun and may learn something in the same way that if you throw seeds on the ground some will germinate irrespective of all conditions. But if you had taken the trouble to prepare the ground first by ploughing, harrowing, irrigating and manuring and then you carefully planted the seeds, a far higher percentage would germinate and more importantly, grow and bear fruit. So also if an atmosphere of serious learning (which can still be great fun) is created, with students wanting to learn, believing that they can benefit, be willing to invest their time and thought in learning and be willing to listen to feedback, then the benefits of learning would be far higher. Naturally in such a case what the organization would need to measure is the size of the harvest – what did the students learn and what are they able to apply. Not whether or not they liked the trainer per se.
Now having said that, and being aware that what I have described above is not what happens in most organizations and probably is not likely to happen, what is it that the trainer can still do both to ensure that he continues to eat as well as not compromise his own integrity as a teacher by withholding knowledge, feedback or experience in order to ensure that he continues to have work? In my own life I have always held my own integrity as a teacher above all other considerations, including future business. I have said what students needed to hear even if it was what they did not want to hear. In two cases I lost business on that account, but I have no regrets about that. In every other case in 35 years, people have come back to me time and again and thanked me for putting them back on track when they had gone off and nobody else had the courage to ‘tell it like it is’. In this process of doing what is essentially a very challenging and complex job I developed some techniques which I will try to share with my fellow professionals in the hope that they will find them useful. I call them my 7-Point Formula.
1.  Today I will teach like I’ve never taught before
I have said this before and I will say it again: NEVER compromise your own integrity as a teacher. When you enter that room, the only responsibility that you have is to your students. Not to their company. Not to the HR or Business Manager who hired you. Not to your own family or yourself. Your first and only responsibility is to the students and that is to ensure that they get the best that you can possibly give them without any compromise. So as a trainer/teacher I tell myself: TODAY I WILL TEACH LIKE I’VE NEVER TAUGHT BEFORE. I am a religious person and so before I go to my class, I pray for the class. I ask Allah to enable me to do my best and to give them the very best of what I know and to enable them to benefit from it.

2.  Own your responsibility: Don’t blame the student if he does not like what you tell him. I ask myself, “How could I have put it differently so that he would have accepted it more easily, even if he still did not ‘like’ it?” After all, my effort in this direction can only do me good by helping me develop my own skill. Blaming the student will achieve no purpose at all, either for myself or for the student. Now how can you do that?

The first requirement is to ask yourself why you want to say what you plan to say. Is it to ‘get back at’ or to ‘retaliate’? Or is it because you are genuinely concerned for the student? Granted that it is very difficult to be ‘genuinely concerned’ about some obnoxious stranger but if you are not, it shows. Just as it does when you are. I am always amazed at how much I can get away with if I have ‘passed’ my own test of genuinely caring for the student, first.

One of the ways to help people swallow bitter pills is to ask good questions that lead the student to the only possible option. Let them conclude. Don’t tell. But in the end, even if you lose the contract, say what you need to say without fear. Because your integrity is worth more than the fee.

3.  The third thing that I remind myself is to be patient. Ideally I would like the student who has just received some ‘straight talk’ from me to become transformed and fall at my feet in gratitude for having changed his life. But that is as likely to happen as it is for the cow to jump over the moon. So we need to be patient. I remind myself that an egg needs 21 days to hatch into a chick. Jacking up the temperature will cook the egg and put paid to all hopes of the egg ever transforming into a chicken. “Hang on!! Old egg,” I tell myself.

4.  I ask myself, “How can I become more ‘liked’ without compromising my integrity as a teacher by withholding knowledge, feedback or insights? After all what is wrong with being liked?” It helps me to remember this especially when I have to give anyone critical feedback. What I do if it is feedback concerning one individual is to give it privately and not in the class. I do it with seriousness, concern for his/her feelings, but I do it directly without beating about the bush. I never give that critical feedback concerning one person as a general comment before the whole class. For example if there is someone who is vitiating the learning of other people by too much of misplaced humor, I don’t say, “I think it is a good idea to be serious,” or some such thing. I NEVER USE SARCASM. I wait for a break and then take the individual aside and say to her/him, “You know, I love your humor but I find it seems to be giving others an escape route not to look at uncomfortable things about themselves. I know that is not your intention in laughing, so do you think you could watch for that and ensure that people get to look at insights seriously?” I say this with a smile because it is my experience that if you say it with a smile you can say almost anything and get away with it.

5.  I remind myself that the student who can instigate people and distract them while I am teaching has just demonstrated amazing leadership qualities. My challenge is not to put them down but to ensure that those leadership qualities are channeled in the right direction. So I treat such people as potential allies and ‘co-trainers’. I have never had an instance of this confidence being misplaced.

6.  People pay attention to things that they think will benefit them. So how can I show ‘What’s in it for them’ to my students by giving them a glimpse of what I can do for them, if they allow me to? How can I give them a sampling of my knowledge and experience in the context of their needs? How can I show them that I know enough about them, their lives, their culture, organization, circumstances, challenges and aspirations to be able to give them implementable solutions that will help them to succeed? How can I demonstrate to them that they are the most important people for me and that there is nothing within reason that I will not do to ensure that they have a beneficial, enjoyable and memorable experience? Especially since that is the truth.

7.  When I start my class I ensure that I greet each individual personally and then I do my best to remember their names. This is easier than you may think and has a huge effect on people and shows respect for the individual and is the best way that I know to build a rapport very quickly. Show me someone who does not want to be respected.

I also try to speak to students in their language. Since I speak 5 languages, that’s fairly easy to do. It is not necessary to speak at great length in their language. A few words do very well to break the ice and to establish a connection and a level of comfort.

I then draw attention to the fact that the student needs to invest time, energy and effort in their own learning. And I do that humorously. 

For example I say to them:

“There are three kinds of people who come to a training class:
Prisoners:      Who have been sent (sentenced) to the training.
Tourists:        Who come because the location is reputed to be good.
Learners:       Who come because they genuinely believe that they need to learn.

My submission to you is that whatever be the reason you came, it is a good idea to become a learner as quickly as possible. Believe me that will not spoil the location or the taste of the food and it will release you from your ‘prison’.”

Listen is not equal to obey: It is very curious that in most languages (certainly true for the ones that I know) listen means ‘to obey’. For example parents are heard to lament about their children: ‘My children don’t listen to me.’ But the truth is that if you gave all the kids hearing aids, it would still not solve the parent’s problem because it has nothing to do with listening but everything to do with obeying. So I say to my class, “There is no compulsion on anyone to accept or obey anything that I say.

Or anything that any of your colleagues say. In this class, listen means to listen only. Do you think you can listen to whatever someone says, consider it, hold it in your mind, play with it, ask questions to clarify any doubts, before deciding if it is applicable, useful or interesting for you? God gave us two ears so that we can take in all inputs from one and let them out from the other. But he placed them on either side of the head so that the input goes through the brain before it is allowed to leave through the other ear. Do you think you can practice this for the duration of this program?”
The benefit of this approach is that it lowers barriers and breaks the ice. When you draw attention of people to the fact that many of us react defensively because we are conditioned to believe that listen = obey and so fear that unless we interrupt the speaker or react defensively it will be assumed that we have accepted what he/she has said. When you clarify this behavioral process and show people the alternative of making the communication a ‘batch’ process instead of being the default ‘real time on-line’ process that it usually is, then resistance to new ideas becomes significantly lower.

I give people the example of the motor mechanic (or any mechanic for that matter) and his toolbox. I ask them, “Who is a better equipped mechanic? One who has many tools or one who has only one?” Then I say to them, “If you asked a mechanic about the tools in his toolbox it is entirely likely that he would have one or more tools which he would not have used in a long time. Imagine that you said to him, ‘Since you haven’t used this wrench for such a long time, why don’t you just throw it away?’ What do you think the mechanic would say? In the same way, consider all learning as tools and keep it in your toolbox. You never know when you might need it. Variety gives you flexibility and options. On the other hand as the saying goes – If the only thing you have is a hammer then everything looks like a nail.”

Finally I draw attention of my students to the issue of applying their learnings. For me that is the most important consideration and I do everything in my power to ensure that whatever I teach is applicable in real life. I do my best to help my students to find practical solutions to their problems and do all I can to encourage them to feel comfortable to apply whatever they learn from me. This is where my own 16 years hands-on experience as a line manager helps enormously. I am able to give work-life related examples of challenging situations that I have been in and how what they just learned can be applied.

I use this diagram to alert them to the fact that most learning means changing behavior and that is not easy or painless. Depending on how drastic the change is, the pain of trying the new method is proportionate. Most people don’t anticipate this difficulty and when they encounter suspicion, resistance or disbelief from those who have become used to the old behavior, they tend to give up the new way after a while. So the potential benefit of the change is never realized.
It is a very good idea therefore to be prepared for two things:

1.  Practicing the new behavior is not likely to be easy and may cramp your style for a while and make you slower and less efficient in the short term.

2.  Others are likely to see your new behavior as being ‘put on’ and to view it with a mixture of suspicion, distrust and amusement. Especially if the new way is a drastic departure from the old way.
However what is equally true is that if the new way is practiced consistently and sincerely, then people start to trust the new ‘You’ and to enjoy the change. Then you will start getting some positive strokes which will reinforce the new methods. Behavioral change is possible and enjoyable, but it takes a little time.
In conclusion I would like to wish all my colleagues the very best in their efforts to make this world a better place. Believe me; the results justify the effort and energy that it sometimes takes. I teach not because I have no choice but because I do and I would rather not be doing anything else including fishing or golfing. Because in the end, if you have worked sincerely, with professional integrity, sensitivity and awareness and have tried to do the best that you could have done; then you will be the biggest beneficiary. Now why would I want to do anything else?
Finally it is good for all concerned, teacher and pupils to remember these words of ancient wisdom from the Smruthies:
Achaaryaath paadam aadatthe; 
paadam sishya swamedhayaa; 
paadam sa brahmachaaribhya; 
sesham kaala kramena cha
A person can get only one quarter of knowledge from the Achaarya – the teacher, another quarter by analyzing himself, one quarter by discussing with others and the last quarter during the process of living by method: addition, deletion, correction, and modification of already known aachaaraas.  

Is Islam a religion of peace?

Question:    How can we say that Islam is a religion of peace when it advocates all kinds of violence and its believers engage in violence in many places in the world?

Answer:       This type of question is very common in the present day and very easy to answer provided the questioner is willing to do three things:
  1. Some research into Islam on his own
  2. Willingness to separate facts from propaganda
  3. Willingness to separate what Islam advocates as a religion from what people professing to be Muslims may do at any given point in time.

Before we look at each in some detail a word about people who selectively quote Ayahs of the Qur’an in an effort to ‘prove’ that Islam advocates violence we need to remember some facts about the revelation of the Qur’an.


The Qur’an was revealed over a period of 23 years and has several different kinds of Ayahs (verses):

1.      Ayaat relating to the doctrine of belief in One God, types of worship (Salah, fasting, zakat, hajj and so on), relationship with God, fear and love of God and so on.
2.  Ayaat relating to social and political issues and orders regarding them (charity, inheritance, people’s rights and duties, virtue, sexual relations, gender relations, marriage, obedience to Rasoolullah and so on).
3.     Ayaat relating to the history of past people and their Prophets (Moses, Jesus, Noah etc.) as a way of learning lessons from their lives and times.
4.     Ayaat relating to things of the unknown (some of which have become known now due to scientific development and confirm what the Qur’an said 14 centuries ago): how the universe was created, development of the human fetus, roots of mountains, movement of tectonic plates, separation of oceans, life after death, Day of Judgment, Heaven (Jannah) and Hell (Jahannam), nature of the soul and so on.
5.     Ayaat that were revealed at the time of particular incidents such as battle orders, instructions to deal with some peculiar situation of the time, interpretations of happenings or glad tidings as a result of the actions of Rasoolullah and His Companions or answers to the questions that people used to ask Rasoolullah for which Allah would send him the answers.

It is a critical part of the study of the Qur’an to study the circumstances of the particular revelation (Al Asbaab-un-nuzool) without which it is entirely possible to misunderstand the meaning of the Ayah as one does not understand its contextuality. This is particularly true of the Ayahs revealed at the time of particular happenings or events which applied only to that time and those people and are not universal in application in the normal sense. What remains however that is if such situations happen again then the orders of those Ayaat would be applicable in that case. A good case in point are the orders concerning the treatment of slaves (prisoners of war who used to become slaves). In today’s world these instructions are not applicable since we don’t have slaves and prisoners of war are lodged in prisons and are not given to individuals to keep as servants. However if ever a situation emerged where a Muslim had control of another person in the role of a slave, the Qur’an advocates that he should either free him or treat him well and look after his welfare if he retained him in that role. More about this in relation to the Ayaat about warfare later in this article.
Without the knowledge of the context of revelation it is therefore clear that one cannot understand the meaning or scope of application of the Ayah.
This is basic, foundational (primary school level) theory in Islamic theology in the study of the Qur’an. Very basic and foundational and so very important.
To give an example of this scope for misunderstanding when the context is ignored let me take an example from another source, The Bhagavad Gita. If one were to read the conversation of Krishna with Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita without understanding the context of the whole story of Mahabharata, it is entirely possible to come to the conclusion that the Gita advocates the killing of one brother by another, killing of the father by the sons, the destruction of family, and even the attacking of teachers by their students in order to gain land and kingdom. But it one reads the whole Mahabharata and then interprets the above Ayahs, it is perfectly clear that Krishna’s comments related to the dilemma of Arjuna and to his moral crisis when he faced the army of the ‘enemy’ which actually comprised of his own family; his grandfather, cousins, nephews and even his teacher Dronacharya.
To give another example if one were to read the battle orders of the US Army in Vietnam and come to the conclusion that it is the duty of every American citizen to kill every Vietnamese citizen wherever he finds him, then one could rightfully be accused of stupidity of a marked degree or of deliberately distorting facts and quoting them out of context to cause mischief.
This is the most common mistake that all criticizers of Islam and Muslims make when in their hurry and desperation to find something negative they try to ‘cherry-pick’ and quote Ayahs from the Qur’an with either no knowledge of the context of the revelation or by deliberately hiding it hoping that their readers are too stupid or lazy to do their own research to find the truth. But even a rudimentary level of research will show-up the falsehood they speak.
What makes absolute sense and is most reasonable when studied in context appears unreasonable when seen out of context. Another very major mistake that such people make, which leads one to suspect their very intention, is that they conveniently ignore all the Ayaat (Ayahs) that say the opposite of the meaning that they are trying to impute falsely to the ones they have picked. Any serious researcher can quickly see through this lame strategy and come to the correct conclusion about the mischief that they intend.
Finally, it is important to remember that in any pluralistic society, there will be many faiths and belief systems, each naturally professing to be the best one. This is perfectly natural in that if this were not the case then that system would not have any uniqueness about it. For example the Communists believe their system is the best and the Capitalists believe the opposite. Even within the same faith, be it Christianity or Hinduism different sects have different beliefs and formulae for success in this life and the Hereafter. Coke may accept that the world has the freedom to drink Pepsi but it will never say that Pepsi is as good as Coke or that it doesn’t matter what you drink. Such is life.
In any free society we have no quarrel with the beliefs of anyone, even if according to that particular belief, we are considered unsuccessful in the Hereafter. People of all faiths are welcome to live with their beliefs and it is this freedom that we cherish in a free society. We don’t demand that they change their belief or their theology as it relates to metaphysical matters. It is acceptable in a free society to hold different beliefs and to disagree without rancor and bad blood on that account. Strange how this is forgotten by some people nowadays in their anxiety to criticize others without even taking the trouble to see if there is anything to be critical about.
However what is a matter of concern is how people of any faith are ordered to act, (especially with respect to those who don’t share their belief) in this life and world. In the context of Islam, to understand this it is necessary to see orders and instructions in the Qur’an that are not specific to a particular situation and the people who were facing it at the time of Rasoolullah, but at those orders that are for all Muslims, for all time. This list is too long and exhaustive to include here but I have included a couple of things to show that there is nothing in Islam, the Qur’an, the Shari’ah or the Hadith to advocate violence, killing of innocent people, ill treatment of anyone irrespective of their religion or the spread of terror in the land.
On the contrary, there is the most severe castigation and the promise of punishment in the Hereafter for anyone who does such things even if he is a Muslim.
For those who want to study and find out and are genuinely curious, there is plenty of proof. For those who want to spread mischief however, proof is the last thing they want. Such people will always be there and will always fail as they have always failed. For the truth always prevails over falsehood. This is the promise of the Qur’an and its writer, Allah the One and Only Creator of all that exists and the One and Only worthy of worship.

To look at the three things that I have advocated:

  1. Some research into Islam on their own
  2. Willingness to separate facts from propaganda
  3. Willingness to separate what Islam advocates as a religion from what people professing to be Muslims may do at any given point in time.
Some research into Islam on their own

The first thing to understand is that Islam is a religion based on a Book (Qur’an) and the interpretation of that book by its Prophet. So everything is documented and available for scrutiny. The book is the Qur’an and the interpretation is the Hadith or Sunnah. These are the only two sources of theological doctrine in Islam. Anyone who takes the trouble to read these in any detail will see the clear emphasis on a constructive developmental perspective for the world. Everything in Islam is based on the good it does for society and people. There is nothing at all which is destructive. Even punishments are prescribed in relation to the harm to society that the crime causes. So punishments for crimes which are likely to cause disruption to society or a breakdown in its moral values have the most serious punishments prescribed for them.
I will suffice to quote only one Ayah of the Qur’an in this context and leave the rest to the questioner himself to discover. That way he will believe his own eyes rather more than believing me. I doubt if there is anything in any other religious book that equates the killing of one innocent person (Muslim or not) with the killing of all humanity. If this proof is not sufficient for anyone, then I rest my case.
مِنْ أَجْلِ ذَلِكَ كَتَبْنَا عَلَى بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ أَنَّهُ مَن قَتَلَ نَفْسًا بِغَيْرِ نَفْسٍ أَوْ فَسَادٍ فِي الأَرْضِ فَكَأَنَّمَا قَتَلَ النَّاسَ جَمِيعًا وَمَنْ أَحْيَاهَا فَكَأَنَّمَا أَحْيَا النَّاسَ جَمِيعًا وَلَقَدْ جَاء تْهُمْ رُسُلُنَا بِالبَيِّنَاتِ ثُمَّ إِنَّ كَثِيرًا مِّنْهُم بَعْدَ ذَلِكَ فِي الأَرْضِ لَمُسْرِفُونَ
Al Ma’aidah 5:32             Because of that We ordained for the Children of Israel (and all mankind) that if anyone killed a person, not in retaliation of murder, or (and) for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he killed all mankind; and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind. And indeed there came to them (all mankind) Our Messengers with clear proofs, evidences and signs; even then after that many of them continued to exceed the limits (e.g. by doing oppression) in the land.
The Qur’an clearly states its own position while allowing everyone the freedom to accept that or not.
وَقُلِ الْحَقُّ مِن رَّبِّكُمْ فَمَن شَاء فَلْيُؤْمِن وَمَن شَاء فَلْيَكْفُرْ
Kahf 18:29  And say: “The truth is from your Lord.” Then whosoever wills let him believe: and whosoever wills, let him disbelieve.
لاَ إِكْرَاهَ فِي الدِّينِ قَد تَّبَيَّنَ الرُّشْدُ مِنَ الْغَيِّ فَمَنْ يَكْفُرْ بِالطَّاغُوتِ وَيُؤْمِن بِاللّهِ فَقَدِ اسْتَمْسَكَ بِالْعُرْوَةِ الْوُثْقَىَ لاَ انفِصَامَ لَهَا وَاللّهُ سَمِيعٌ عَلِيمٌ 
Baqara 2: 256   There is no compulsion in religion. Verily the Right Path has become distinct from the wrong path. And whoever disbelieves in the Taghut (false things) and believes in Allah then he has grasped the most trustworthy handhold that will never break. And Allâh is the All-Hearer, All-Knower.
There are more but I believe this will suffice for anyone who is interested in facts.
Hadith: Narrated Abdullah ibn Mas’ud: A man asked Rasoolullah, “How can I know when I do well and when I do ill?” He replied, “When you hear your neighbors say you have done well, you have done well and when you hear them say you have done ill, you have done ill.” [Al-Tirmidhi]
Note: He didn’t say, ‘Your Muslim neighbors. He said, ‘Your neighbors.’ Both Makkah and Madina were multi-religious communities. Neighbors could be anyone. Islam doesn’t distinguish in terms of rights and privileges between Muslim and non-Muslim. Justice in Islam is uniform and doesn’t change with the religion of the individual.
Hadith: Narrated Abdullah ibn Umar: Rasoolullah said, “The best friend in the sight of Allah is the well-wisher of his companions and the best neighbor is one who behaves the best towards his neighbors.” [Al Tirmidhi]
Once again, he didn’t distinguish between Muslim and non-Muslim.
Hadith: Narrated Anas bin Malik (R): Rasoolullah said, “The biggest of Al Kaba’air (the great sins) are;

1.         To join others as partners in worship with Allah
2.         To murder a human being (He didn’t say, ‘Muslim’; but human being)
3.         To be undutiful to one’s parents.
4.         To make a false statement or ‘to give false witness’.
(Sahih Al Bukhari, Vol. 9, Hadith 10.)
As I said, for a Muslim and for anyone who is a serious enquirer or scholar of Islam, these Ayahs and these Ahadith and their import are clear enough. These are the orders of Allah and Rasoolullah and in Islamic theological doctrine there’s nothing that has higher weight in importance. Any Muslim who deliberately disobeys an order of Allah or Rasoolullah places himself outside the fold of Islam.
There is not a single instance in the Qur’an or the Sunnah where Islam has advocated, permitted or even remotely suggested the killing of innocent people or terrorist activity in any form whatsoever. This is a challenge to anyone to try to find any Ayah of the Qur’an or an authentic teaching of Rasoolullah which advocates killing innocent people irrespective of their religion. Islamic Law (the much maligned Shari’ah) prescribes total equality between people in all respects on points of law with Muslims getting no preference at all. The rights of neighbors for example are irrespective of the religion of the neighbor. However, some people choose to believe false propaganda rather than investigating the truth.

Willingness to separate facts from propaganda
To quote an eminent (Christian) writer on this subject, John Esposito, who is an advisor to the US Government on Islamic affairs, in his book, ‘The Islamic Threat’: “Much of the reassertion of religion in politics and society has been subsumed under the term ‘Islamic fundamentalism’. Although ‘fundamentalism’ is a common designation, in the press and increasingly among academics it is used in a variety of ways. For a number of reasons, it tells us everything and yet nothing. First, all those who call for a return to foundational beliefs or the ‘fundamentals’ of a religion may be called fundamentalist. In a strict sense this could include all practicing Muslims, who accept the Qur’an as the literal word of God and the Sunnah (example) of the Prophet Muhammad as a normative model for living. Second, our understanding and perceptions of fundamentalism are heavily influenced by American Protestantism. Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary defines the term fundamentalism – as a “movement in the 20th century Protestantism emphasizing the literally interpreted Bible as fundamental to Christian life and teaching.” For many liberal or mainline Christians, “fundamentalist” is pejorative and derogatory, being applied rather indiscriminately to all those who advocate a literalist biblical position and thus are regarded as static, retrogressive and extremist. As a result, fundamentalism often has been regarded popularly as referring to those who are literalists and wish to return to and replicate the past. In fact, few individuals or organizations in the Middle East fit such a stereotype. Indeed, many fundamentalist leaders have had the best education, enjoy responsible positions in society and create viable modern institutions such as schools, hospitals, and social service agencies”.
Esposito goes on to say, “I regard ‘fundamentalism as too laden with Christian presuppositions and Western stereotypes, as well as implying a monolithic threat that does not exist; more fitting general terms are “Islamic Revivalism” or “Islamic Activism”, which are less value-laden and have roots within the Islamic tradition. Islam possesses a long tradition of revival (tajdid) and reform (islah) which includes notions of political and social activism dating from early Islamic centuries to the present day.”
To quote Esposito again, “Focus on “Islamic fundamentalism” as a global threat has reinforced a tendency to equate violence with Islam, to fail to distinguish between illegitimate use of religion by individuals and the faith and practice of the majority of the world’s Muslims who, like believers in other religious traditions, wish to live in peace. To uncritically equate Islam and Islamic fundamentalism with extremism is to judge Islam only by those who wreak havoc, a standard not applied to Judaism and Christianity.
Fear of fundamentalism creates a climate in which Muslims and Islamic organizations are guilty until proven innocent. Actions, however heinous, are attributed to Islam rather than to a twisted or distorted interpretation of Islam. Thus, for example, despite the historic track record of Christianity and Western countries in conducting warfare, developing weapons of mass destruction, and imposing their imperialist designs, Islam and Muslim culture are portrayed as somehow peculiarly and inherently expansionist and prone to violence and warfare (jihad). The risk today is that exaggerated fears will lead to double standards in promotion of democracy and human rights in the Muslim world. Witness the volume of Western democratic concern and action for the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe but muted or ineffective response with regard to the promotion of democracy in the Middle East or the defense of Muslims in Bosnia-Herzegovinia and Chechnya”.
Mohammed The Prophet; By Prof. K. S. Ramakrishna Rao, Head of the Department of Philosophy, Government College for Women University of Mysore, Mandya-571401 (Karnataka). Re-printed from “Islam and Modern age”, Hyderabad, March 1978.
n  “The theory of Islam and Sword for instance is not heard now frequently in any quarter worth the name. The principle of Islam that there is no compulsion in religion is well known. Gibbon, a historian of world repute says, “A pernicious tenet has been imputed to Mohammadans, the duty of extirpating all the religions by sword. This charge based on ignorance and bigotry, is refuted by Qur’an, by history of Musalman conquerors and by their public and legal toleration of Christian worship. The great success of Mohammad’s life had been effected by sheer moral force, without a stroke of sword.”
n  Mahatma Gandhi: “Someone has said that Europeans in South Africa dread the advent of Islam — Islam that civilized Spain, Islam that took the torch light to Morocco and preached to the world the gospel of brotherhood. The Europeans of South Africa dread the Advent of Islam. They may claim equality with the white races. They may well dread it, if brotherhood is a sin. If it is equality of colored races then their dread is well founded.”
Today we live in a world that is so colored by anti-Muslim propaganda that anyone who is willing to criticize Muslims and Islam (especially if that person is himself a Muslim) is given a public platform and is published. In all such cases neither the writer, publisher nor even the readers care if the writing is factual or simply hate literature masquerading as fiction, humor or something else. But it is interesting to see what non-Muslim writers, who are recognized as serious scholars and teachers have to say on the same subject. We have a choice about who we want to believe.
There are many examples of oppression of Muslims in the world, without any cause other than that they believe in Allah and then crying foul when they fight back with whatever means they have. The list is endless and it is added to every day. It is good to remember that peace is very desirable and worth working for. But that means having the courage to accept facts and to condemn oppression. Until the world is willing to do that and continues to support oppression when it is done by the powerful, true peace will only be a mirage on the horizon and any truce, only a recess between wars.
Willingness to separate what Islam advocates as a religion from what people professing to be Muslims may do at any point in time
This should be easy for people who are used to doing this for everyone else. But somehow for some of us applying double standards is easier.
1.    Haven’t we seen Sinn Fein and IRA violence for decades? Where have we called it Catholic or Christian terrorism?
2.     Haven’t we seen Israeli action in Palestine for the last 70 years? Where have we called it Jewish or Zionist terrorism?
3.     Haven’t we seen South African, apartheid with countless atrocities visited on the heads of the black African freedom fighters (Nelson Mandela being their leader) called terrorists by the White South African regime. Where have we seen it called Christian Calvinist Protestant terrorism?
4.     Haven’t we seen the oppression of the Dalits in India by the Upper Castes for centuries? Where have we called it Hindu or Brahmin terrorism?
5.     Haven’t we seen the slaughter of Muslims by Greek Orthodox Christians in Bosnia and Kosovo? Where have we called it Serbian, Christian terrorism?
6.  Haven’t we seen Muslims slaughtered by Russians and Americans in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Iraq? Where have we called it American or Russian terrorism?
As I said, if we want facts, and want to be fair; that is a choice we have. If on the other hand we want to believe propaganda, close our eyes to reality and ascribe blame falsely, that too is our choice. And like all choices, this also has a price.
In the words of Albert Einstein, ‘The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.’

To beard or not to beard

It is very interesting to note the judgement regarding the Muslim IAF officer who claimed that keeping a beard is his religious obligation. The Indian Express reported that the ruling given was, Emphasising the need to “maintain discipline” in the Indian Air Force (IAF), the Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that Muslim personnel cannot keep beards by citing religious grounds.

Being a Sadharan Manush (not Aam Aadmi), I am overawed by the logic. In my understanding the above statement can be interpreted in four ways:

1.  A Muslim in the IAF can’t keep a beard citing ‘religious grounds’.

2.  A Muslim in the IAF can keep a beard as long as it is not on religious grounds.

3.  If a Muslim in the IAF keeps a beard citing religious grounds it will negatively impact        the discipline of the Air Force. 

4.  But if a Muslim keeps a beard on any other grounds, as long as they are not religious,         then it will not negatively impact the discipline of the Air Force.

The fact that Sikhs keep beards clearly citing religious grounds and that it doesn’t negatively impact discipline is not something that the judgement seems to have considered.

My own question therefore is, is the judgment about discipline and how it allegedly gets compromised only if a Muslim keeps a beard citing religious grounds, or is it about the rights of Muslims to exercise their freedom of religion while serving their country which they love enough to put their lives on the line in its defence?

I will not mention the fact that the Constitution of India guarantees (not just gives) every citizen the right and freedom to practice his religion in safety, dignity and without harassment from anyone on that basis.  

What I must and will do is to put the record straight about whether the Muslim man is obligated (not a typo), obligated to keep his beard. I am thrilled that the judgment seems to be adjudicating according to the Shari’ah. I never thought I would see that day when a judgment would state the importance of obeying Divine Commands according to Islam. But life is full of surprises.

The statement as reported in the article above is:

“The touchstone for being allowed to grow one’s hair or to retain a beard is where there is a religious command which prohibits either the hair being cut or a beard being shaved,” noted the bench.

I must applaud the statement stating that the touchstone for doing something or not doing it must be a clear religious command. The statement of the judge is a clear indication of his and (by inference) the respect that judicial thinking has for the commands of Allah and His Prophet Muhammad. As a Muslim citizen of India, what more can one ask? I wish our Muslim brothers would pay heed to this.

So, what is the religious command with respect to the beard for the Muslim man?

A word in explanation first. The Shari’ah of Islam (Islamic Law) has four bases, in order of priority.

1. Kitabullah: The Book of Allah (Qur’an)

2. Sunnatun Nabi: The commands and teachings of His Prophet Muhammad(Hadith)

3. Ijma: Consensus opinion of jurists subject to the Qur’an and Sunnah

4. Qiyas: Personal judgment of the jurist subject to the Qur’an and Sunnah

In this order, the first two not only have priority but supercede the other two. The other two are required and allowed because there may be (and are) matters that emerge as the world changes and new situations arise for which a direct command may not exist in the Qur’an and Sunnah. Islamic Law gives jurists of all time, the freedom to interpret the law and make it applicable to the times but with the caveat that it doesn’t violate the basic principles as laid down in the Qur’an and Sunnah. This is what makes Islamic Law (Shari’ah) the most dynamic of all religious laws.

To illustrate with an example of how it works in practice, let us take the case of the use of IVF for a woman who is unable to bear a child. Is this permissible in Islam? Obviously, there is no mention of IVF in the Qur’an or Sunnah. So, how can jurists decide whether it is permissible or not? The ruling is that it is permissible but the sperm used must be of her husband and not of anyone else or from a sperm bank. This is because using someone else’s sperm would amount to adultery. This is the way a modern ruling can still be in line with the orders mentioned in the Qur’an and Sunnah which have overriding authority in the Shari’ah and are not changeable.

In the case of the beard, here is what the religious command’ states.

Narrated Abdullah Ibn ‘Umar: that the Messenger of Allah () said: “Trim the mustache and leave the beard to grow.”

حَدَّثَنَا الْحَسَنُ بْنُ عَلِيٍّ الْخَلاَّلُ، حَدَّثَنَا عَبْدُ اللَّهِ بْنُ نُمَيْرٍ، عَنْ عُبَيْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ عُمَرَ، عَنْ نَافِعٍ، عَنِ ابْنِ عُمَرَ، قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏ “‏ أَحْفُوا الشَّوَارِبَ وَأَعْفُوا اللِّحَى ‏”‏ ‏.‏ قَالَ أَبُو عِيسَى هَذَا حَدِيثٌ صَحِيحٌ ‏.‏
Grade: Sahih (Darussalam) English reference : Vol. 5, Book 41, Hadith 2763  Arabic reference : Book 43, Hadith 2990
Allah says about obeying whatever is commanded by His Prophet Muhammad:
Qur’an, Sura Al-Hashr: 59: 7    And whatsoever the Messenger (Muhammad) gives you, take it, and whatsoever he forbids you, abstain (from it), and fear Allah. Verily, Allah is Severe in punishment.
And Allah also said:
Qur’an, Sura An-Nisa: 4: 80    He who obeys the Messenger (Muhammad), has indeed obeyed Allah, but he who turns away, then we have not sent you (O Muhammad) as a watcher over them.
What becomes abundantly clear from the above is:

1.  It is a clear religious command and requirement for every Muslim man to grow his beard and trim his mustache as a mark of his religious identity; just like every Sikh is required to grow his beard and for the same reason.

2.  This command was given clearly in so many words, by the Prophet Muhammad so it comes as a command from the Sunnah and is supported by these two Ayaat (verses) of the Qur’an where Allah commanded people to obey every order of His Messenger and stated that to do so would be considered as obeying Allah Himself.

3.  All the Imams of all the Madhhabs (Jurists of all Schools of Jurisprudence) are united on the opinion that for a Muslim man to shave his beard is a major sin and makes him liable for punishment ranging from corporal punishment to being declared unfit to bear witness in a court of law and unfit to lead prayer on account of his deliberate disobedience of the command of Allah and His Messenger.

I don’t think anything can be clearer than this. Which proves that to have a beard is obligatory on the Muslim man as it is a Divine Command. The requirement of the basis of judgment therefore is satisfied.

In Islamic Law, as in any law (including Indian Law) the law stands on its own. Whether people like it, agree with it or follow it or not doesn’t change the law. Citing that many Muslims don’t keep a beard, and therefore ruling on that basis that it is not a clear religious obligation is incorrect. Just as it would be incorrect to rule that since many Sikhs shave their beards and cut their hair and don’t wear turbans, growing beards and wearing turbans is not obligatory for Sikhs. Even if every Sikh shaved his beard and cut his hair, the law about beards and hair would still be valid and have sanctity because the law doesn’t depend on people following it for its validity. Same logic; i.e. people’s following a law or not, doesn’t change the law. 

The one who disobeys the law is at fault and is liable to be held accountable for it and to be punished. But his or her action of disobedience doesn’t detract from the sanctity, applicability or validity of the law itself. What anyone who wishes to  investigate must do, is to go to the source of the law to see if it exists and to seek its validity. Not look at what people in their ignorance do. I believe I have clarified the law to the best of my ability. It is for the Court to do whatever it considers just. 

After all that is why the title of the judge is ‘Justice’.

The matter is very clear and it is not a matter of facial hair. The question is: Is a Muslim allowed to follow his religion freely with dignity, which the Constitution of India allows him to do; while serving his nation as a soldier?

Or is the law different for Muslims?