At the request of the General Secretary of the Jamiat ul Ulama, South Africa, I am writing this note with the following objectives:
1 . To present my assessment (SWOT Analysis) of the Muslims in Gauteng
2 . To present some solutions and courses of action
I would like to state that whatever I say is only from what I was able to observe and does not purport to be a global statement of fact. I did not have an opportunity to interact very much with Muslims in the Cape Province or with black African Muslims. So this assessment is restricted to the Muslims of Indian origin who were my hosts and who I had the privilege to meet and speak to. I tried to see as much as I could and to get as many different opinions and thoughts as I could, but in the end, this is the impression of one man working on his own.
I ask Allah to put Khair in what I have to say and to protect me and the readers from the evil of that which I don’t know.
SWOT Analysis of South African Muslim society in Gauteng Province
1. Muslims in Gauteng are today in an enviable position that is perhaps unique in the world in terms of Muslim populations living in non-Muslim countries. Muslims totally comprise 1.5% of the population with Muslims of Indian origin being a section of this. Thanks to the fact that many of their elders (some are still alive) took an active and prominent part in the freedom struggle, they enjoy high prestige and position. Their representation in parliament, government and their say in public opinion are far in excess of their number. They are prominent in business, also for the most part a historic legacy and are arguably one of the most affluent population segments of South Africa.
2. Thanks also to the fact that the majority of the Muslims in Gauteng came originally from Gujarat, there is homogeneity in the population that combined with the segregation enforced by apartheid, led to a strong social structure founded on the ‘family’ and reinforced by ties of marriage. This led to the power of the elders and the teaching of Islamic values of respect for age, knowledge (Islamic) and the power of the Imaam, A’alim and Khateeb.
3. English language is a very major asset both in terms of it making the South African Muslims global citizens as well as for the doors to knowledge and information it opens.
4. There is a strong orientation towards helping other Muslims in South Africa as well as in other parts of the world and in supporting religious institutions and so Gauteng Muslims have a strong presence in these areas and are highly respected around the world. This has also led to the establishment of Darul Ulooms which attract many students from around the world. Since the Muslim community has the resources as well as a love for Islam, the Darul Ulooms are for the most part well funded and have good infrastructure. These Darul Ulooms have ensured that there is a much larger percentage of Huffaz and Ulama in the South African Muslim society than in comparative populations in the world. Naturally this adds to the influence of Ulama in this society.
5. Thanks also to the influence of the Ulama and to the orientation of the South African Muslim towards practicing Islam, South Africa is probably the only nation with such a small percentage of Muslims (1.5%) to have not one but two Halaal certification bodies. India for example, with more than 300 million Muslims (15% of the population) does not have any body of this nature.
6. The Jamiat ul Ulama South Africa is also a genuinely representative body unlike its counterpart in India which is a one-family enterprise. This gives the Jamiat a level of prestige and acceptability that is unique and enviable.
7. Thanks to their presence in the world of business, wide travel and the
English language the level of awareness about the world, its politics, its business opportunities and its leadership among South African Muslims is far higher than in Muslims in other parts of the world.
1. The homogeneity of the population creates an inward looking mentality that treats most things from outside with suspicion. This inhibits information, cultural and social exchange.
2. The Jamiat ul Ulama does not control the Darul Uloom education and neither are the heads of the Darul Ulooms, its council members. The other Ulama organizations in the country, mainly the Jamiat, Kwazulu and the MJC also owe no formal allegiance to the Jamiat South Africa (formerly Jamiat Transvaal). As a result, two parallel power structures are created which have the potential for polarizing on important issues. The United Ulama Council of South Africa does exist but has no executive authority over any of the others. It has members from each of the other bodies and can actually be used as the central governing council or Majlis of a federated structure which would make it more powerful and effective. However that is not the case at present.
3. Since the Darul Ulooms in South Africa were initiated by Ulama from India or those who trained in India/Pakistan, they are overly focused on teaching exactly what is taught in their parent institutions irrespective of the different world that they exist in. A good example is that Arabic books are taught in Urdu which the students who are primarily English speaking have to try to understand in English, doing their best to mentally translate what their teacher is saying, even though many understand little Urdu.
What happens to the sprinkling of students from Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia who also study in these Darul Ulooms, is anybody’s guess.
As it stands, since many teachers themselves have little or no knowledge of English or Arabic, they can do no better. Also any suggestion to the contrary raises insecurities as many rightly fear for their own jobs. Many come from India and earn salaries that are unheard of in India and fight to defend anything that threatens their position. That students suffer as a result seems to be of little or no consequence.
There is almost no networking between Darul Ulooms and other Islamic or secular institutions either in the country or worldwide. There are no student or teacher exchanges, no presenting of papers or symposia or seminars given or received. No cross institutional training. External influences are restricted to the periodic visits of Ulama from Indiawhich are mostly ceremonial in nature with almost no real or worthwhile direct contact between them and students/teachers/public. Visits of Ulama from the Middle East, Far East or other parts of the world are fewer and even less useful in any real sense.
4. As is the case in India, no formal teacher’s training qualification is needed to teach in a Darul Uloom. Nor is there any way of measuring performance of teachers. So quality of teaching is haphazard and person dependent and inconsistent. It is a strange and sad reality that both in Indiaand South Africato teach in the meanest of government schools, a teacher needs a degree in education. But to teach in the most prestigious of Darul Ulooms, he needs nothing. Once again, it is students who suffer, but they have no voice.
5. The Darul Ulooms and their curricula and qualification are not recognized by the South African university education system. I understand that the Darul Ulooms refused recognition when it was offered; in my view, a big mistake. This puts the students at a serious disadvantage where they find themselves not on par with their fellows qualifying from universities and colleges. They are essentially in a position where after qualifying from the Darul Uloom they are unable to pursue further study in the university system and have no qualification to be able to earn a decent living in society. Their only alternative is to become Imaams in masajid or teachers in Islamic schools or Darul Ulooms. Some of those who come from wealthy families are supported by the family.
Others whose families own businesses are absorbed in the business without any training in business on account only of their lineage. Neither is a satisfactory nor self respecting situation. Still others who have neither of these support systems are left to the mercy of the administrators of whichever masjid or school they join, with no bargaining or influencing power of their own.
It is a sad commentary on the lack of thought in blindly following a system which created exactly the same problems in its parent society in India with disastrous effects to the prestige of the Ulama. A simple look at the situation of Muslims in UP, India which has major Islamic institutions like Darul Uloom, Deoband, Nadwatul Ulama, Mazahirul-Uloom, Sahranpur; Madrassa Da’awatul Haq, Hardoi; still has one of the highest rates of illiteracy, backwardness, unemployment and crime in the country should tell us that something is seriously wrong with the way Muslims are educating themselves. Instead of learning from this experience, the same system is replicated in South Africa with predictable results.
The Darul Ulooms follow a curriculum that is mostly outdated and irrelevant today. There are parts in it relating to Islamic theology that are useful and must be retained. However there are other major parts which need to be discontinued and replaced with subjects and focus that is current and application oriented. This is a desperate need without which we will continue to produce Ulama who find it increasingly difficult to influence others or to bring about change in a society that needs changing very badly.
Strangely like India, there is no scope for post graduate education in theology in the Darul Ulooms. If a student wants to do a PhD, he has to go to a regular university to do it. I have never understood the logic of not creating a complete system of education even in our chosen field. The result is that we create people who are not expert in anything.
6. The Muslim business community is Gauteng consists mostly of small to medium sized enterprises. (I am using here the universal size classification for industries: Upto $250M = Small; Upto $500M = Medium; $ 1 B+ = Large). There are no Muslim multi-national businesses to the best of my knowledge. There is no Muslim Chamber of Commerce. There is no formal forum for businessmen to network, strategize, influence or bargain. Businessmen as a body have no formal relationship with the universities. They don’t sponsor research or teaching (Chairs) in areas of strategic importance. There are no business sponsored training programs at the universities. Muslim business leaders don’t speak at university sponsored seminars on matters of interest to industry. Muslim businesses don’t sponsor case studies, best practice studies or industry analysis. There seems by and large to be a lack of awareness of the power of higher education in growing businesses and not much emphasis seems to be placed on university degrees or on IT and training as core developmental and investment areas. Consequently there is a general lack of awareness about global business and strategy and a lack of a global perspective.
This dangerously extends to a lack of awareness of the threats that global businesses can pose to the niche areas that Muslim businessmen operate in, in South Africa. Finally a lack of awareness that policy changes are brought about by global corporations, not by mom & pop shops, no matter how profitable they may be in themselves. (Test Questions: What was the last business study/book you read and what did you do after reading it? Which financial, business, corporate publication do you subscribe to and read?)
7. The culture in business families seems to be of a structure consisting of first or second generation business founders who run a very close shop. The third generation youth are mainly big spenders with little or no visible focus on wealth creation. (Test Question: How many new businesses were started in the last 5 years?) Western pop culture of brand-snob ostentation, and claim to position without earning the ‘respect’ of subordinates, all point to a future that is far from rosy. Predictably this behavior does not inspire trust and so the older generation is reluctant to hand over the reins of business. The older generation tends to rule with an iron fist and businesses are individual driven instead of being process driven.
There is no formal system of people development or of succession planning in most Muslim businesses and there seems to be a lack of awareness of even the danger of this situation. This leads to frustration in the youth and the vicious cycle is complete. (Test Question: How many MBA’s are there per unit population of business families?)
8. In many ways the political scene is much the same as the business scene. Laurels were earned by the elders who fought for freedom alongside other African leaders and consequently earned for the Muslim community its present status of high respect and visibility in parliament, government and industry. However the next generation seems content to enjoy that benefit with no apparent effort to maintain, much less to take forward the position of influence that the elders earned. They don’t seem to realize that once power is lost and the vacuum is filled, it is almost never regained. The example of India and the short-sighted role that Muslim leadership played in the formation of Pakistan as well as in post-independent India seems either to be unknown, un-reflected on or lesson not learnt. I believe this is a very critical mistake. Social groups that are wealthy but have no power have their wealth taken away from them by force. History is replete with examples. And nations which don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it. I sincerely hope the Gauteng Muslims are not among those who have to repeat the history of their own people in India.
1. South Africais the land of dreams. The cap that apartheid placed on the aspirations of people and on their potential for power and influence has been lifted. The political leadership demonstrated to the world grit and determination to free itself from slavery followed by the magnanimity to forgive those who had oppressed them. It is not an exaggeration to say that a parallel does not exist in recent history. The only parallel to this is 1400 years old when the Prophet (SAS) entered his own native land of Makkah as a victorious ruler and forgave those who had wronged him.
The land is wide open, to be taken and used for the power of good. In almost every area of social interaction there are virtually unlimited opportunities.
There is a growing buying power in the population as well as a growing awareness of quality, customer rights and the willingness to make choices that will make business fly or sink.
The first and biggest opportunity in this context is to showcase Islam in this new world as the best way to address all social, political and developmental needs of the new nation and make it a leader among nations of the world. A good starting point would be to draw the parallel that I mentioned above. Subsequently working models of the Islamic Way of Life need to be created to demonstrate the power of Islam it solve the real problems of people in this world. Simply lecturing about Islam giving examples that are centuries old does not cut any ice even with today’s young Muslims, let alone with non-Muslims. That is the real challenge and the opportunity. The window to take advantage of it is now open.
South African Muslims have the goodwill where others will listen to them if they speak about Islam. To this end, every means at their disposal should be used. It would be shortsighted in the extreme if they were to shun some of the most powerful means to influence minds and steer thought, like television and other visual media. We must remember that all technology and tools are value neutral. A knife is a knife. It is neither good nor bad. It can be used for either purpose. So controlling its use is important. Not banning its use totally. If we ban the use of the knife, what would we use to perform life critical surgery? So also the television, internet and other visual media.
The single biggest responsibility of the South African Muslims in my opinion is to use every means at their disposal and ensure that the true picture of Islam is communicated to all humanity in general and to all South Africans in particular.
2. There is a huge opportunity to take Islam into every home in South Africa, especially into the homes of the hitherto deprived people who were forsaken by everyone including their own religion.
After all it was in the name of Christianity that they were oppressed and segregated for more than 50 years. Now is the opportunity to take them from the restriction of man-made laws into the expanse of the law of Islam. But there is one proviso: this will have to be done by action. Not be talk and lecture. If South African Muslims are willing to make the effort the black African population is ready to accept Islam. But the route to their hearts is through their bellies and the bellies of their children. Social, educational, developmental and spiritual work in the black communities, by people who live with them, is the key. Simply visiting Muslims will never have the same impact.
3. There is a huge business opportunity in the mass buyer and a fortune to be made at the bottom of the pyramid. However coupled with this must come development of people and preparing them to become buyers. 65% of the GDP of South Africa in 2005 came from the Service industry.
There are huge areas that are unexploited. There are opportunities in education, social and economic development, creating small entrepreneurs, introducing micro-credit and strengthening the middle class, the mainstay of any healthy economy. Simply selling boxes will not be successful any more.
4. Gauteng Muslims are poised with their education, affluence, historical significance and religious ideology to be at the forefront of political leadership. However here also there are some provisos: Muslims of Indian and other origins need to accept that they are ‘black’ and stop using excluding language and include themselves in affirmative action programs. I realize that some water has already flown under the bridge in this aspect and so the task is more of re-including but it is a task that needs to be done with the utmost urgency. The route to that is through aggressively pursuing the development of the black people using all the resources at their disposal. If Muslims make themselves indispensable they will be impossible to ignore. Otherwise it is very easy to ignore 1.5% of the population. India is a classic example where 20% of the population is ignored with impunity because they lack strategically wise leadership. The Muslim population of India is 10 times the entire populationof South Africa. Still they have no voice.
1. The biggest threat that South African Muslims face is that the window of opportunity that opened for them 10 years ago is not going to remain open for too much longer. If they don’t take advantage of it, then they too will face the same fate as their counterparts in Uganda and India and be relegated to the garbage pile of history. Speed is of the essence however. Speed and significant action. Not tokenism. Enough effort and investment to make a huge difference that is visible and appreciated all around. The time to do this is fast running out. Once the time runs out it will be a case of too little too late as in the case of Jamiat-ul-Ulama Hind’s efforts to get close to Dalits. Dalits don’t care any more.
2. Lack of succession planning at all levels of Muslim society; be it in Businesses, Muslim organizations, Jamiat ul Ulama and similar organizations, on the political front and in the Darul Ulooms combined with a marked absence of developmental planning activity. This is a very major threat with an impact that will span at least two generations.
3. Excluding the Darul Ulooms from the national mainstream educational system is a very serious mistake and will make them redundant in a very short time. Even today the number of local students is dwindling. This is a major danger signal. The Darul Ulooms must and do exist primarily for South African society, not for foreign students who may come there. If local students don’t come then it means that the products of Darul Ulooms are seen as losing relevance in local society. Another major danger sign is the miniscule presence of black African students in the Darul Ulooms and Muslim Schools.
4. Sticking to a curriculum and teaching methods that are of little relevance in South African society in terms of the ability to create change and make Ulama influential will result in Ulama becoming sidelined from all collective decision making in due course. The fact that they are unable to earn a living on their own will also negatively impact their image as has already happened in India.
India is a classic example of what may well be the face of South Africain 2 decades if corrective action is not taken today. Lessons of history though unpleasant, must be learnt and can only be ignored at great peril.
5. There is a hardening of stances by Ulama (demonstrated in the Muslim Personal Law issue) where the larger interest of the South African Muslims is being sacrificed at the alter of personal differences of opinion. It is essential not to lose perspective that Muslims are 1.5% of the population of a secular, democratic republic. If necessary ijtihad must be made to find solutions that satisfy the demands of the constitution while maintaining the Muslim position on various issues. For this, it is essential to be inclusive in interpretation and rulings of the Shari’ah and use the rulings of any of the A’aimmah Arba’a or other jurists of the Salaf and not stick to the ruling of any one of them.
The danger of not accepting the ruling of an Imaam of Islam different from the one we follow is that we may be forced to accept the ruling of a non-Muslim judge of the Supreme Court. Once again India is a good example to see what not to do.
6. Lack of interest among Muslims for higher education will mean that over the years the opinion and decision makers of society (university professors, writers, journalists, judges, administrators, military officers, scientists, doctors, global business leaders and engineers) will be non-Muslims. It is essential that young Muslims aggressively pursue university degrees in science, technology, politics, business and other areas and ensure that the percentage of Muslims in these areas increases. Currently young Muslims who do get business degrees don’t want to join their family businesses due to the restrictive atmosphere of traditional person driven management.
They prefer to work with multinationals or local companies which are more professionally managed. As a temporary post-graduate training exercise this is acceptable, even beneficial but if it is a longer term trend, then it is very debilitating for the community.
7. The biggest danger that Muslim businesses face is their unwillingness to move from being person driven to becoming process driven. Without this critical change, they are destined to shrivel and die. Lack of awareness of the need to grow, professionalize management, introduce IT, formalize people development and career paths, measure performance and productivity, introduce quality standards and plan succession are all major threats to the future of business in the country.
There is a false sense of comfort basking in the glory of past success and current affluence. Unfortunately these people are either unwilling or unable to understand how the nature of business has changed globally and what threats loom over the future of their businesses unless they take some significant action, fast.
An attendant threat is that since the entire gamut of social work of the Muslims, be it educational institutions, zakat disbursement or help to calamity affected people around the world, is dependent on the health of the Muslim business, its preservation and growth is absolutely essential. If Muslim businesses fail it is not only the owner families who will suffer but a great many more people and institutions which are dependant on them will also be badly affected. Therefore the health and prosperity of the Muslim business is of great importance. But are their owners willing to change their ways?? That is the big question.
8. Finally a major threat is the sparse population of Muslims in the military, judiciary and police. Especially in the military and police force. This is a very major danger as it gives the impression that Muslims are not patriotic and nationalistic. In the future this can be used to build opinion against the community. Also in times of threat, it is very unsafe to have a force that is commanded and populated exclusively by non-Muslims in whose hands lies the safety of the Muslims. It is very critical to have a strong presence in the forces of overt power. Once again this is an area which needs major action very fast otherwise it will create a self limiting cycle. Remember that it is Generals who make the decisions and a General is not created overnight.
Recommendations: A 4 pronged strategy to become indispensable
Strategy # 1: Jamiat ul Ummah
1. The first and most important strategic move will be to create a genuine partnership between all the leaders of the Muslim community. I propose that a body is created which is called the Jamiat ul Ummah. This body must work on the following tasks:
a. Task Force on Strategic Planning to Project future scenarios that may arise for the Muslims and suggest courses of action.
b. Task Force on Education which will examine the current curricula in the Darul Ulooms and Muslim Schools and suggest changes in both curriculum and methods of teaching to make them relevant and current. This Task Force will also make sure that the Darul Ulooms are included in the mainstream of education.
c. Muslim Chamber of Commerce which will be the apex body for all trade and industry related work and which will aggressively follow a course of international networking to promote trade between Muslims worldwide.
d. Task Force on Thought Steering which will monitor ‘Muslims in the News’ and make sure that the correct picture is projected about Islam and Muslims of both South Africaand the world. This Task Force will also deal with emerging propaganda threats and take preventive action for damage control and retaliation. This task force will also be in charge of publication, research related to it and media management.
e. Legal Task Force which will take action through the courts on all legal matters relating to legislation and judgments concerning Muslims of South Africa.
f. Task Force on Social Development which will work actively on projects in the deprived areas concentrating on all issues of health, education and entrepreneurial development.
g. Task Force of Theologians who will be responsible for interpreting the Shari’ah and guiding all the above bodies in matters relating to Islam.
h. Task Force for Nurturing Leadership with the responsibility to create a second line of leadership in all aspects of society. This Task Force will run a national talent search among Muslim students and select a small group each year which will be earmarked for various strategically important positions. These students will be personally mentored and nurtured through specially created educational and experiential opportunities to eventually take the leadership positions earmarked for them. (Case in Point: RhodesScholarships)
Structure of the Jamiat ul Ummah
Key objectives of the Matrix Structure
1. The policy making body will also be responsible for policy implementation.
2. All decision making will be collaborative in nature practicing the Islamic principle of shura.
3. There will be no possibility of power politics and electoral lobbying and position seeking.
4. A second line of leadership will automatically be created with no chance of a cult being created around the personality of any particular leader.
5. The central Majlis Ash Shura will be comprised of the Heads of the Task Forces. They will decide policy and then will be responsible for implementing it in their own areas.
Each Task Force will have its own Majlis
1. The Head of the Majlis Ash Sura, called the Faisal will assume office by rotation. Each Faisal will be in that position for a period not exceeding one year. Every Majlis member will have the opportunity to be the Faisal when his / her chance comes.
2. In the Majaalis Ash Shura of the Task Forces, the Head of the Task Force will be the permanent head, but for operational purposes the Faisal will also rotate to give each member a chance to learn leadership.
Strategy # 2: Education: (Muslim Schools & Teachers Training Colleges)
Education is the single most powerful role to achieve the goals of the Jamiat ul Ummah. I propose that one black African child is educated with every one of our own children, at our cost if required. Two routes may be adopted simultaneously for this. Admit one black African child with every Muslim child in all our Muslim Schools.
This will have the dual benefit of not only educating the child but of creating an ‘Old Boy Network’ in the South Africa of the future between Black and Indian South Africans. There are numerous examples of the power of this strategy in the world. Harrow and Eaton in the UKand Doon Schoolin Indiaare classic examples of how the destinies of nations are shaped by shaping the minds of their young.
Simultaneously with this the current Maktab network in the black African townships must be expanded to include regular syllabus subjects. The quality of the Maktab education must be enhanced to create a situation where non-Muslims become interested in sending their children to these Makatib. That will be the route to the winning of their hearts to Islam. Scholarships must be set up to pay for the education of deprived children. A special fund must be created to pay for all this. The current situation of some Muslim schools being starved of funds and being unable to meet their needs is highly dangerous to the community.
An ancillary to this is to start Teacher’s Training Colleges. I propose that Muslims take over the teaching profession in the same way that Christian women from Kerala have taken over the nursing profession in India and many other countries. Muslim men and women must take over the teaching profession. Every teacher of every subject must be a Muslim. The way to do this is to train teachers and to help them to become role models for others. Design the Teacher Training course in such a way that there is an element of the Islamic way of teaching in it. That way the teacher also becomes a dayee. The focus as in everything else must be on quality. These colleges must become role models in teacher training for all others in the field.
Strategy # 3: Health: (Primary Health Care Centers & Specialty Hospitals)
South Africa has a population of 44 million out of which 5 million are HIV positive and are living with aids. This is a catastrophic situation. That the Muslims are not a major part of it is a matter of some consolation but not a matter to become complacent about. Primary Health Care Centers must be set up in all the deprived areas to provide free medical aid to those who need it. These must be linked to major hospitals, which must be set up where they may not already exist. Funding will be available for such activity from global organizations provided the South African Muslims are willing to take on the implementation. Major medical facilities are also a source of good business, as Indiahas shown. Hyderabadhas become a center of what is beginning to be called, Medical Tourism. However the focus of this strategy must not be lost…to win the hearts of the deprived people. That people who set up such high quality hospitals will also make money is an incidental matter.
Strategy # 4: Entrepreneurial Development: (Training & Micro-credit)
In the words of George Bernard Shaw, “Lack of money is the source of all evil.” Whereas we may have a different view of this as Muslims, the axiom is certainly true of all non-Muslim, Western societies. Poverty leads to crime and sin.
Alleviating poverty is not simply a matter of doing good but a matter of survival of those who have more. Also people with more buying power means that the economy will grow stronger for the benefit of all.
Finally nobody is dearer than the one who makes you rich. Once we are seen as such, people will be willing to follow our lead in other matters.
Running entrepreneurial development programs, staring an Entrepreneurship Development Academy (maybe the government will fund that), financing small businesses, creating ancillaries to larger businesses and micro-credit on Islamic financial principles are all ways that can be explored.
It is my belief that if these recommendations are followed we will not only be able to address and positively influence the future of the South African Muslims but we would have put in place a system to ensure enduring leadership.
In my view the Jamiat ul Ulama must take the lead to spearhead this effort. Some of what I am suggesting may come across as a dilution of the position and power of the Jamiat. But let me assure you that India is a classic example of what isolation of the Ulama can do to the Ummah at large and to the Ulama themselves. South Africais in grave danger of replicating the mistakes that Indian Muslims made over more than a century and for which we today are still paying the price, literally in blood and lives.
What I am proposing is a system that will actually strengthen the hands of the Ulama and make them the true leaders of the community while leveraging the considerable strengths and talents of other Muslims in different leadership positions.
Just a no captain can sail any ship alone no matter how knowledgeable he may personally be, neither can the Ulama guide the ship of this Ummah by themselves. It is only with the active cooperation of all the Muslim leadership working together that the ship of this Ummah can remain on course and sail to its final destination of making South African Muslims, Standard Bearers of Islam and role models for the world.
I ask Allah to help us in this matter and to use the Muslims of South Africa who He has blessed in so many ways to be the leaders for the Muslims of the world, and create a society that will truly reflect the beauty of the Islamic Way of Life from which all those who live in it, can benefit equally.
“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact.
Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.” -Marcus Aurelius
Marcus Aurelius was a stoic and a man of great wisdom; very unusual in a ruler. So, I present my musings to you as something from my perspective and not “The Truth”.
As I reflect on our world, someone sent me a speech made by a 13-year-old young lady, Severn Suzuki at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, in 3-14 June, 1992, now 25 years ago. The speech that silenced the audience (they say ‘world’ but let’s get real) for 5 minutes. Today, 25 years later, when the situation of the world is far worse than what Severn Suzuki described so eloquently, Americans elected Trump who walked out of the Paris Conference in 2017. I wonder where Severn Suzuki is today and what she feels about it. So, what does it tell us about those we have chosen to hand over our future to?
I sometimes wonder what future archaeologists will say when they dig up the mound under which our ‘civilization’ (for want of another word) will lie buried. Will they not wonder how we, who prided ourselves on our scientific knowledge, technological advancement, material resources and high-class education, still managed to elect leaders who ensured that we and all that we hold dear was destroyed? We did this while knowing full well what we needed to do to stop this destruction and save ourselves. We chose not to save ourselves but committed suicide. Ask why?
Today we need drastic and urgent change. For this we need strong leadership with the ability to enforce compliance. Initially enforcement will be necessary. Then and only then can we expect change. The big problem with such leaders however, is that they tend to become dictatorial, don’t allow a second line of command to develop and so when they die or are removed, they leave a vacuum which brings with it chaos. Malaysia after Mahathir is a good example. Singapore is a good example of how the strong leadership continued because the second line developed was Lee’s son. Mercifully he didn’t go the way of the sons of other leaders and seems to be a conscientious and prudent ruler. The Middle East has many examples of the opposite some of whom are causing havoc as we speak, threatening to land us all into some very hot water.
Bottom line is that democracy as it is supposed to be in theory, seems to be unrealistic and doesn’t work and degenerates into a self-serving oligarchy without any sense of responsibility to the common people. That’s what’s happened in every single situation today, globally. I doubt that democracy was an experiment at all. Either it was always a way for oligarchy to get legitimacy or an idealistic dream of theorists which was hijacked
Social media is a tool of subjugation designed to take the steam out of resistance by giving people a way to express their angst in a way that doesn’t disturb the establishment and doesn’t inconvenience them at all. It has two additional advantages: identifies potential rebel leadership early to be dealt with quietly and gives the world the message that you’re liberal and confident
Take the case of India and the ongoing social strife, brought to the forefront with the many lynchings of Muslims and Dalits for allegedly eating beef. The fact that they didn’t eat it, is neither here nor there. Neither does it matter that even if they did, death is not the penalty for this “crime” in Indian Law.
My question here is not about Hindu sentiment at all but about the very visible failure of governance. And the fact that even those who have sworn to uphold the Constitution of India and the Law of the Land seem to have bought into the discourse of Hindu sentiment. What does Hindu sentiment or Muslim sentiment or any sentiment have to do with the laws that govern this country and those who have sworn to uphold them? That is why I don’t hold the government responsible for the lynchings but for what happened (or fails to happen) thereafter. We have a law and those who are sworn to uphold, implement and if necessary enforce it. The law is for the safety of the nation and all its citizens and what anyone’s sentiments are about it, is immaterial.
We are told that Hinduism is a peaceful religion (aren’t they all?) and that Hindus have always lived peacefully with mutual respect and tolerance with all other religions. I would love to believe that, but I am faced rather inconveniently, with history. History tells us about the fate of Buddhism which predated Islam and Christianity by many centuries. Its rooting out from the land of its birth is testimony to Hindu (more correctly Brahmanical) tolerance for other faiths.
Islam came much later and when Muslim kings ruled, Hindus didn’t live with Muslims but under Muslim rule. Indeed, they lived peacefully. Did they have a choice? Muslim rulers were rulers first and Muslim much later, so they didn’t disturb the status quo and casteism continued and conversions happened more by those who saw a political advantage than anything else. That is why after 700 years of Muslim rule Hindus are 80% of the population. No Muslim ruler in all those centuries can be accused of trying to spread Islam. Islam spread with the Sufis, not rulers. That is why in 700 years, there are only two major Masaajid built by Muslim rulers (both by the same man) and not a single religious school or seminary. Muslim rulers were in it for the money, land and power and they were aided and abetted by Hindu rulers and upper castes (both Brahmins and Kshatriyas) who prayed for the success of Muslim armies commanded by Rajput and Maratha generals and populated by Rajput and Maratha troops provided by Rajput and Maratha Mansabdars. This is a part of history that is inconvenient and embarrassing to recall, but history it is.
Christianity came in force with the British and once again Hindus lived under Christian rule, not with Christians. Muslims at least integrated with Hindus to some extent (Muslim kings had Hindu queens etc.) but the British treated all Indians, Hindu and Muslim with equal disdain. 1857 was the watershed (‘bloodshed’ would be a better, more descriptive term to use) a popular rebellion against a century of brutal British rule by one commercial company (Robert Clive was Country Manager, in today’s MNC terms). The rebellion however, was sabotaged and the British were able to defeat the rebel forces thanks to the excellent intelligence and material support of the Baniyas of Delhi and the military support of the Sikh rajas of Punjab. As a result, over a million Hindu and Muslim rebels were murdered and India was handed over to the British to rule and despoil for another century. The 80-year-old king of Delhi, Bahadur Shah Zafar’s sons and grandsons slaughtered and left to rot in the street for 3 days and himself exiled to Burma, never to return to his homeland. Again, a very embarrassing period of history. Bahadur Shah Zafar asked the only pertinent question when he was hauled up before the British kangaroo court accused of treason. He asked, “How can I commit treason against myself? This is my country. Not the country of the Company Sahib.” But of course, the Company Sahib (respectful form of address for the British East India Company) was not interested in any soul searching. (William Dalrymple’s excellent book, The Last Moghul is salutary reading).
In all these centuries two facts are clear:
- India was never one nation until 1947
- Indians never saw themselves as ‘Indian’ until the years leading to Independence
Up until then, India was a conglomeration of nation states living in fear of one another and willing to side with any outsider against their own brethren. This is what enabled the very first invasions by Pathans and later by Moghuls (the First Battle of Panipat was fought between Babur and Sher Shah Suri – Pathan versus Moghul helped by Hindus on both sides). Rani of Jhansi, Razia Sultana, Tipu Sultan, Shuja ud Dowla, the Mopla Rebellion and many others were all defeated by Indian troops commanded by British officers. Jalianwala Bagh massacre was done by Indian soldiers firing into an unarmed Indian gathering on the command of General Dyer. This sentiment was also exploited by the British, most significantly in 1857 when they were able to pit Indian against Indian for the simple reason that neither saw himself as ‘Indian’.
It was this sentiment which kept us subjugated for centuries and which once again threatens to subjugate us today. I think we need to ask why. As they say, ‘Nations that don’t learn from their history are condemned to repeat it.’ We have many problems today as a nation, but the most volatile and lethal of them is narrow-mindedness masquerading as nationalism that is threatening to disenfranchise everyone except those who subscribe to it. I want to stand up and say that I don’t subscribe to it and that I am a proud Indian who loves my country and am willing to do what it takes to save it from self-destruction. I don’t need anyone’s certificate to confirm my Indian-ness and neither do you.
The reality is that India as one nation, is a phenomenon since 1947 when for the first time this country has been truly independent and a unified territory governed by its Constitution. It is a tribute to the creators of the Constitution, the vast majority of whom were Hindu and could have created a Hindu Rashtra in 1947 (the main grudge of the RSS) that they didn’t fall into the jingoistic ideology on which Pakistan was created and instead wrote a Constitution which is a mark of pride for us Indians, as a document that treats all citizens equally. If you ask me, I don’t care one way or another whether India becomes a Hindu Rashtra or not, as long as people’s freedom and safety is assured and equal opportunity to live and prosper is not compromised. Nobody can stop me from worshiping who I want to or from practicing my religion. And so, whether the country is Hindu or Christian or Sikh or Muslim or nothing makes no difference to me as long as I am able to live peacefully and comfortably, with dignity and equality in every way.
The Constituent Assembly wrote the Indian Constitution which made us a Constitutional Democracy (not a Parliamentary Democracy) and declared India to be a “sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic, assuring its citizens of justice, equality, and liberty, and endeavours to promote fraternity among them.”This is what we accepted, this is what we stand for, this is our identity, because it is written in our name, ‘We the People of India.’
The Indian Constitution is the real savior of this nation because of its interpretation of the term ‘secular’. Unlike in Europe, ‘secular’ in India, doesn’t mean ‘absence of religion’ but ‘equal respect for all religions’ and by inference and even more specifically later, the wiping out of caste discrimination. It is this that makes us one nation. It is a wonder for many ethnologists, sociologists and political scientists, how India can be one nation, given our huge diversity of language, religion, ethnicity and culture. Yet we are and our concept of secularism is the secret. Without it, we will fracture once again into groups and subgroups as we have always been in our long history.
The big cause for alarm today is that this seems to have been forgotten by those who swore to uphold the Constitution and they are also speaking the language of Hindu sentiment etc. Whether we should have a Hindu Rashtra or not is a moot point. Whether we should respect our Constitution or not and uphold it, is not.
If you want to be successful, you must respect one rule: never lie to yourself.
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.
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.
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 Allahﷻ 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.”
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:
· 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
· 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
· 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
· 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.
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 Allahﷻ 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.
· 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 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.
· 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.
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.
This is truly one of the saddest pictures that I have ever seen. You can see how she is holding back her tears. What have we adults done to our children?
I defend Islam. Not those who call themselves Muslim but go against Islam.
ISIS is a political problem. Not a religious one.
So trying to explain ISIS and its actions through the Qur’an and Sunnah – the theological basis of Islam is futile and misleading. ISIS is a narrative started by those who created ISIS and to answer them is to play into their hands.
It is like someone who asks, ‘Have you stopped beating your wife?’ You can’t answer that question in the normal way by saying yes or no. You are damned if you say yes and you are damned if you say no. The only way to answer that question is to say, ‘I never beat my wife.’ Or even better, say, ‘I am not married.’
This is the raising of a voice in the hope that I will be joined by other voices – not only Muslim voices – but Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, Atheist, Anyone voices – of people who believe in compassion, morality, ethical behavior, justice and accountability. People who live by principles that reflect integrity and honesty and a sense of responsibility for our lives and actions. People who are not racist and who don’t put a differential value on the lives of other people; who consider murder to be equally heinous no matter who is killed. People of courage who are not afraid to stand for justice, especially when they stand alone. People who don’t do it because they think it will change the world. But who do it because they don’t want the world to change them. People who one day will then discover that the world did change. Change for the better to leave behind a legacy of honor. It is to such people that I speak. And it is they who I wish will respond by raising their own voices for justice, ethics, integrity and compassion.
The people of ISIS will never be able to justify their actions by the Qur’an and Sunnah. This corrupt and malicious group will continue to appear and be cut off until the Dajjal himself will emerge from among them.
Abdullah ibn Amrtreported: Rasoolullahﷺ said: ‘There will emerge from the east some people from my nation who recite the Qur’an but it will not go beyond their throats. Every time a faction of them emerges it will be cut off. The Prophet repeated this and on the tenth time he said:
كُلَّمَا خَرَجَ مِنْهُمْ قَرْنٌ قُطِعَ حَتَّى يَخْرُجَ الدَّجَّالُ فِي بَقِيَّتِهِمْ
Every time a faction of them emerges it will be cut off until the Dajjal emerges from their remnants. Source: Musnad Ahmad 27767, Grade: Sahih
Rasoolullahﷺ warned of the coming of a people like ISIS and described their rigidity, rudeness and lack of mercy as signs of their distance from Islam and its true teaching and understanding.
Ali ibn Abi Talib (R) narrated from Rasoolullahﷺ: When you see the black flags, remain where you are and do not move your hands or your feet. Thereafter there shall appear a feeble insignificant folk. Their hearts will be like fragments of iron (no mercy). They will have the state. They will fulfil neither covenant nor agreement. They will call to the truth, but they will not be people of the truth. Their names will be parental attributions, and their aliases will be derived from towns. Their hair will be free-flowing like that of women. This situation will remain until they differ among themselves. Thereafter, Allahﷻ will bring forth the Truth through whomever He wills.
Those involved in the ISIS, have, by their own actions, removed themselves from the fold of Islam. They have left Islam and those who join them will also be among them. Those Muslims who kill innocent people, Muslim or not, have committed murder. They are liable for capital punishment and if they die before they are punished in this world, then their destination is the Hellfire. This is the consensus decision of all the Muslim scholars of the world. I can give a list of Fatwas for anyone who is interested. We are thankful to our media for publishing them. Every leader of Muslims has condemned the ISIS and their actions. People join the ISIS do so for two reasons: to fulfill their own perverted fantasies or giving in to despair and hitting out those who they imagine are the reason for their frustration. Both reasons have nothing to do with Islam.
When crimes against humanity are committed, it is the duty of Muslims to stand with the oppressed whether they are Muslims or not. If such crimes are committed in the name of Islam, we have a further obligation to clarify for people the truth about our religion.
I live by the motto: I will not allow what is not in my control to prevent me from doing what is in my control. I invite you to do the same. Do what you can. For you will not be asked, “What happened?” You will be asked, “What did you do?” Do something worthwhile. For to live, is not merely to draw breath.
The best and easiest way to deal with political phenomena like the ISIS is to ask one simple question: WHO GAINS and WHO LOSES?
In this case the answer is staring us in the face: Who gains?
Weapons manufacturing countries and weapons dealers gain. Money launderers gain. Human trafficking gangs gain. Leaders with political agendas gain. And power hungry criminals gain.
They say that numbers don’t lie. So here are some numbers. Please take a look and tell me what you think we are really promoting. We get what we pay for; so here goes.
How logical is it to ask for peace when our economy and financial well-being is based on war. Wars happen because they are profitable. ISIS is a highly profitable enterprise and it makes a lot of financial sense to those who benefit from it. Loss of life is called ‘collateral damage’. Not murder, genocide, crime, desolation and degradation of human life.
I graduated in history and political science and post graduated in management and applied behavioral science. Over the past 33 years I consult globally with government, public and private companies, major business families, clergy, police and administration professionals, journalists, teachers and educationists. So I am speaking from my knowledge base.
In any dynamic system – politics is a dynamic system – a vacuum can’t exist. ISIS got created when the United States decided to wage war based on a pile of lies, in Iraq. That created a power vacuum which the ISIS has filled. Mercifully you don’t have to believe me. The Iraq Enquiry Report, called the Chilcot Report says it all though it stops short of naming the perpetrators as war criminals. But named or not, every man, woman or child with even a rudimentary idea of politics is saying, ‘Tell me something I don’t know.’ I am sure the report is not a surprise for anyone in this theatre.
But we the people of the world, are grateful to the Sir John Chilcot for having voiced all our opinions and backing them with clear data. What remains to be seen is what happens. I don’t know about you, but in my estimation, saying, ‘I am sorry’, after killing a million people, is not enough. Not enough in any criminal justice system in the world. Not enough in any religion. Not enough for any logical, moral human being in any part of the world.
Muslims don’t gain. Muslims are the victims; the largest victims of the ISIS. Directly because they are the largest number killed by ISIS. Directly because their lands have been devastated, homes destroyed and millions have become refugees, wandering from door to door seeking charity and dying on the beaches and in the waters of the ocean. Directly because they have become the victims of knee jerk reactions of governments and people who, infuriated at the actions of ISIS, attack their local masjid, Muslim home, Muslim women who have the confidence and courage to wear their religious symbol – the Hijab. Governments are passing oppressive legislation denying Muslims their fundamental rights and using racial and religious profiling as a tool to victimize a Muslim for being Muslim. Governments are treating Muslim educational establishments as if they are dens of evil, seeking to restrict and disrupt their activities to educate their children. It has become literally dangerous for a Muslim in the West to go to school, travel to work or for pleasure or even to go to the masjid.
Truly today it is the Muslim woman who is the symbol of Islam. She is the champion of Islam. Allahﷻis he witness and on the day when she meets Him she will stand with the Prophets. For like them she chose to face the world with courage, unsupported, except by the One who created her and whom alone she worships. I salute our sisters, mothers and daughters. You are our greatest and most inspiring leaders.
So ask, ‘Who gains and who loses?
Today the creators of ISIS are guilty of gross underestimation of its capability. People, even those who are expected to, don’t seem to realize that criminals are the best organized group in any society. ISIS are criminals. They are very well organized.
This underestimation is the result of hubris, arrogance and complacency. We don’t seem to realize that authoritarianism is the most efficient form of administration and volunteerism brings the greatest energy. Quick results that you can instantly enjoy are the highest form of motivation. Such an outfit, especially if it takes refuge in some religious chicanery and deception, attracts people who have passion but no perspective or wisdom. Wisdom and perspective come from introspection, reflection, learning with understanding and studying under a capable mentor. Such people can see through the deception of ISIS and will never join. So it is the former that we have to address, convince and wean away from a course that can only lead to destruction in this world and the next.
We can’t fight that by force or by our own version of oppression. We have to fight it by understanding, wisdom, a huge amount of patience and believe it or not, love. It is the battle of hearts that we have to win. You can’t do that by force. Nobody can do that by force. Add to this the fact that there are clear vested interests in this whole tragic scene, merchants of death who benefit from arms sale, buying stolen oil at cheap rates, human trafficking, using mercenaries to settle old scores and occupation of land. It is a very complex scenario which needs to be tackled on all fronts at once. It is a war of the heart. However, we seem to be bent on helping them to win it.
How does Radicalization happen?
The cycle of radicalization is: Discrimination (poverty, denial of opportunity, fear), fueled by Demonization (of Islam, community), leads to Alienation (feeling discarded, hated). Radicalization (start hating the ‘other’) develops and eventually can result in Violence (hit back). Hit back anyone who is seen as the ‘other’. Radicalization is the reaction to helplessness and despair; which results in desperation and a feeling of having ‘nothing to lose’. This is aided by internet preachers who preach false doctrines of violence in the name of taking ‘revenge’ which the recruits accept because they don’t have the knowledge to see through the farce.
Radicalization doesn’t happen in the Masaajid. It doesn’t happen in the home. Parents are often the last one to come to know that their children have become radicalized. Radicalization doesn’t happen in Muslim schools. The more you attack Masaajid, Madaaris, schools, Muslim homes and Muslims and Islam, the more you help radicalization. Mocking Islam and its symbols is as infuriating to Muslims as mocking the symbols of any religion would be to the followers of that religion. Calling that freedom of expression, is at best delusional and at worst premeditated mischief and evil. Insulting people and what they hold holy and dear is not freedom. Pope Francis, responded when asked about the cartoons seeking to mock the Prophet Muhammadﷺ, ‘If my secretary mocked my mother, I would punch him in the nose.’ When asked about so-called ‘Islamic Militancy’ and the demand that he should condemn it, he responded, “If I speak of Islamic violence, I should speak of Catholic violence.” He was referring to the despicable, brutal and barbaric killing of the French priest Jacques Hamel last week. The Pope is a man of rare integrity and courage in the world today. He is a man of god and I pray for him. The priest who was killed recognized his killers as they were about to kill him and said, ‘Go away Satan.’ That is what they are. Satan, Shaytaan. Asking Muslims to answer for them is insulting, misguided and completely unwarranted. The Pope spoke for Muslims and all sane, logical and fair minded people when he made his statement.
To quote a journalist friend of mine wrote to me, “In my understanding, there are two scenarios playing out almost all over the globe, in general, and in the ‘Muslim’ world, in particular. One is the very clear and present injustice being perpetrated through the physical invasion, occupation and devastation of ‘Muslim’ countries for the greater interests of the power-and-arms lobbies within certain governments, thus leading to extremism and calls for blind vengeance among the thousands so traumatized.
The other possible scenario is the devilish execution of an insidious strategy of setting up bogeymen organizations and individuals projected as Islamic forces but which do everything – spectacularly and horrifyingly – against the spirit of Islam, so that, ultimately, the negative tarnishing of Islam and ‘Muslims’ happen effectively, with little blame on the real plotters and script-writers behind the scenes. In both these scenarios – whether the open, or the hidden, one – the loser is the ‘Muslim’ nation.”
This is why education is important. You need education to gain perspective and understand the games people play and how to counter those games.
Radicalization happens on the internet and it happens in prisons. And it is helped and supported by deprivation, discrimination, demonization of Islam and the whole community of Muslims. It is helped and supported by the knee jerk reactions of governments, law enforcement and security agencies and the biased reporting of the press and media. It is helped and supported by media trial of suspects, their torture by police and by their disappearance in extra judicial killings. It is helped when legal means for redressal of wrong are denied. Frustration, desperation, a feeling of being cornered fills the heart. All these are gifts from heaven for recruiters and those selling the doctrine of radicalization.
Let me give you some examples from the recent past:
Confessions of a Killer policeman: Thounaojam Herojit
Then the article quotes: “Herojit went with them as far as the front gate before his parents caught up, begging the men to let him go. He was too young, he didn’t know what he was saying. They would find the money. The insurgents gave in but said, “But first he needs to be taught a lesson.” They made him lie face-down on the ground. One of them brought over a bamboo rod, which the family used to bar the gate. Herojit does not remember how long they beat him, but afterwards the family sat around him and they all cried. And after that, he told us, “I was ready to kill.”
How many times do we need proof that it is heavy handed action that is the best way to recruit for extremism? In this case it was what we can call a reverse process but our actions at law enforcement produce plenty of such cases. Randomly picking up youth on suspicion, holding them incognito, torturing them to extract confessions and then ‘encountering’ them are all gifts for ISIS type recruiters. The law can’t be upheld by those who break it.
Another headline: Campus magazine ‘critical’ of government: After BJP protest, HRD ministry, L-G Bedi ask varsity to explain.
You can stop the open expression of dissent. But can you stop dissent itself? What happens when you try to enforce that? You drive the dissent underground and your problem gets compounded. Dissent is the most reliable sign of a democracy. Dissent is the border between democracy and dictatorship. Dissent is an early warning system for the Government to take corrective action failure to do which can result in them losing power. Dissent is the pulse of the people which indicates health or sickness. When governments shut down legitimate dissent, it goes underground and metamorphoses as extremism. The same thing happens in industry when short sighted managements try to prevent union activity or to play one union against the other. In the end it is the management which loses. I speak from over 16 years of hands on experience with highly militant communist unions in Guyana and Kerala.
In a now famous interview on December 5, 1996 on 60 Minutes, Lesley Stahl asked the then Secretary of State of the United States about U.S. sanctions against Iraq: We have heard that half a million children have died. That’s more children than died in Hiroshima. Do you think the price is worth it?
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright 60 Minutes (5/12/96)
“I think this is a very hard choice, but the price – we think the price is worth it.”
I submit to you that differential pricing of human life doesn’t work. Human life is sacred. All human life is sacred. The value of a person’s life is not based on his race, color, culture, religion, belief or wealth. We are all human and all equally valuable in the eyes of the One who created us all. Islam doesn’t distinguish between the life of a Muslim and a non-Muslim. Both are sacred in Islam. Both are inviolable.
The punishment in the Shari’ah for murder is death – irrespective of who killed whom. And that is how it should be. Justice is portrayed as blindfolded because justice is when punishment depends on the crime, not the criminal. Differential punishment doesn’t work; just as differential value of human life doesn’t work.
Allahﷻ said in the Qur’an about this:
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
Maeda 5: 32: Because of that We ordained for the Children of Israel that if anyone killed a person not in retaliation of murder, or (and) to spread 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.
I want to draw your attention to the obvious, that the Qur’an clearly doesn’t differentiate between the life of a Muslim and a non-Muslim. Killing any person is like killing of all humanity. And saving the life of any person is like saving the life of all humanity. I am proud to say that history is witness to Muslims who practiced this and saved the lives of countless non-Muslims in various conflicts. One of the most famous is the story of Imam Sidi Kaddour Benghrabit, the Founder and Imam of the Grand Mosque of Paris who at great danger to his own life, saved the lives of many Jews who would otherwise have gone to Hitler’s gas chambers. But the memory of the world is short.
Is this a crime or not? What would happen if anyone other than Israel did this? Ask why the same law is not applied in this case. What is the logical effect of such discrimination? Does it need an Einstein to figure this out?
And if this is not enough, here is yet another headline: Israel passes law allowing imprisonment of Palestinians aged 14 and under:
Is this justice? How does this compare with laws related to crime by juveniles? What do you think will happen to those youngsters in prison? Who is ready to ask all this?
Incidentally all so-called mainstream media don’t publish this news. But remember it gets published anyway and so by hiding it, nothing is achieved apart from even more anger. I am not going to waste your time discussing the reasons here. Just want to highlight what is happening in the world which fuels anger and helps radicalization. If we are serious about fighting radicalization, we have to get serious about dealing with injustice no matter who does it or where. If you want to put out a fire, you can’t be adding fuel to it which trying to beat it down. You have to cut off its fuel. Then it will die on its own, even if you do nothing. That is what I mean.
We don’t simply achieve democracy by wanting it. We have to fight for it every single day. The same goes for human dignity, justice, morality and global peace. We have to fight for peace by establishing justice. Peace is the effect of justice. Those who like to talk about peace must ensure that justice is established. Until that is done, any apparent peace is only a recess between wars.
Justice is the enemy of ISIS and all extremist ideologies. Justice gives the lie to the recruiter’s tale. The extremist’s action is the scream of pain of someone who has lost hope. He feels he has no choice. All legal doors are closed to him. So he hits out as his last action to get attention in a world which has forgotten him and doesn’t care. He seeks negative attention which he sees as better than being ignored. Being ignored denies his existence. Negative attention helps him to assert himself once more, even if it is only once. It takes a very big heart to understand all this and to treat people who are hateful, with love. It has to come from within. It is not an act. Acting can’t be sustained. Despair is at the root of all violence and hope is its cure. Our choice.Hope will only come when we return hatred with love. Love those who are difficult to love. But love them because they need love. Love them because that is the cure for hatred. It is not easy. Neither is the product of hatred. We are the people of Mahatma Gandhi. We are people whose forbearers proved to the world that non-violence works. We are the people who proved to the world that it is possible to return evil with good. What has happened to us today? Gandhiji has gone out of fashion. Our rhetoric is characterized by hatred and extremism. Our reactions mirror the actions of our erstwhile colonial rulers, not the actions of our own parents and grandparents who fought back with love. We need to learn our own history.
As I mentioned, I am social scientist by preference and training. So let me talk to you about mental models and systems theory. That is how I believe the ISIS and all radicalization problems need to be addressed and solved. Through holistic thinking and holistic solutions. Not by fragmentation.
“We cannot solve our problems at the same mental level at which we created them.” Albert Einstein
“Although people do not always behave congruently with their espoused theories (what they say) they do behave congruently with their theories-in-use (mental models).” Chris Argyris, Harvard
We all have various mental models and for most of us they are unquestioned and unexamined objectively. We tend to have a lot of emotional baggage associated with them and strong links to our egos and so feel very vulnerable when invited to question them. Mental models we are aware of and question are beneficial to us. Mental models we are not aware of, enslave us.
What to do about Mental Models – 4 Steps
- Identify and articulate existing mental models
- Map them with desirable mental models
- Define behaviors which reflect the new mental models
- Put metrics on them to monitor performance
Mental models lead to formation of Stereotypes. What is a stereotype?
Something happens to me involving another individual
- I like or dislike what happened
- I form an opinion about that individual
- I then apply that opinion to all individuals who belong to that group.
We don’t ask ourselves the critical questions: How representative of the group was that individual? Is it fair to that group to take an experience in isolation and form an opinion about the whole group, the majority of whom I have never met or interacted with?
The problem with this is that our behavior with others is based on our mental models about them. We then get responses from them which by means of selective perception, we use to ‘confirm’ our original opinion of them. I am sure with a little bit of reflection on how we think of people we can identify our own stereotypes. Stereotypes are almost all negative and must be dealt with urgently.
So what do we need to do? I don’t want to go into detail here. There is detail which involves working with Systems Theory and if someone is interested we can work on this. But in one line, we have to counter the vicious cycle of ISIS with our own virtuous cycle. Systems Theory tells us that if you want to reverse a Causal Loop you have to start a Compensating Loop. The Causal Loop that ISIS has started is well on its way helped and supported by global actions which can only be called insane. We can’t counter that loop by doing more of the same. So we have to do the opposite.
- Vocational training
- Entrepreneurial development
- Imam Development Program
- Transparency in law enforcement
- Responsible journalism
- Start a Vocational Training Centre in every school
- Every child must learn a skill
- Products can be sold and income used for the Centre
- Employment opportunity for artisans/professionals
- Writing a Business Plan to pitch for investment
- Budgeting and P & L Accounting
- Hiring and Team building
- Selling and Service Orientation
Teach them how to turn the skill into a business
- Interest free loans based on Business Plan
- Easy installment payment options
- MNC/Public/Private firms CSR to provide capital
- CEO’s on the Management Board
No government involvement after setting up
- Involve Ulama (with contemporary knowledge)
- Use Minorities Commission or NGO to run it
- Teach leadership skills to Imams
- Pay a stipend and travel costs (if necessary)
Give the Imam prominence and respect. Work through the Imams and Muslim scholars. Respect them, collaborate them and help them. They are your allies.
3 – 6 month course, covering the following topics:
- Understanding current events (no propaganda – just honest appraisal)
- How to make the masjid a window into the Muslim life & culture
- Cross cultural sensitivity, interfaith dialogue, community service
- Refute the message of the extremist from the Islamic ideological angle
- Answering questions about current challenges in an Islamic context
- Counseling skills
- Public speaking skills
Transparency in law enforcement
1. Sensitivity training for police officers and men. One of the best courses I taught was at the NPA in 1991 on Sensitivity Training which was mandated by the Home Ministry in Rajiv Gandhi’s government. Sadly, it was discontinued later, falling prey to change in politics. I suggest this is revived and replicated in all our states.
2. Basic course on ‘What is Islam’, for police officers, to remove prejudice. Knowledge is essential to build cross-cultural understanding. It is a strange thing that we live together but know nothing about one another. Must change
3. Police Public Partnership for Crime Prevention. Take people into confidence in Law Enforcement. Involve elders of the community, lawyers, Imams. Let them see the evidence on the basis of which the suspect has been arrested. Treat the suspect as a suspect, not as a sentenced criminal. Strictly follow due process to build credibility. Credibility and trust in government and police has been seriously eroded to the extent that the default reaction is to distrust and disbelieve anything that comes from either. So even when the police are speaking the truth, people won’t believe them. This sets off its own vicious cycle where policemen feel that there is no point in communicating with people who won’t believe them anyway. There are many cases however, to the contrary in the police, where police public participation and communication has worked wonders. Where highly toxic and volatile situations were defused because people trusted one officer. These cases must be documented and publicized and become case studies in the NPA and Police Training Colleges all over the country.
- Media is the shield of the citizen
- Media is the conscience of the nation
- Journalists are the champions of civil society
- Media is not a PR company & media trial is injustice
मंझधार में नैय्या डोले तो मांझी पर लगाये
मांझी जो नाव डुबोये उसे कौन बचाये
In conclusion I would like to say that I hope this thought-share will help to put things in perspective and enable us to do what it takes to work for peace and harmony in our communities. The success of a democracy is not only dependent on the integrity of its leaders but even more on the activism of the public. It is the public which needs to remind leaders that they hold their positions at the pleasure of their electorate.
It is when the electorate forgets its power and becomes subservient to leaders that democracies metamorphose into dictatorships in all but name. The alternative to justice is injustice, pain and suffering. In our interconnected world, the much touted Global Village, nobody will escape.
I know that when all is said and done and when we stand before our Creator – all of us without exception – we will not be asked, ‘What happened?’ We will be asked, ‘What did you do?’ At that time, I want to be able to say, ‘I didn’t let what I couldn’t do prevent me from doing what I could.’ I wish the same for you all. I want to end with an excerpt from an excellent article that I read some time ago.
Its last paragraph beautifully sums up the issue: “All of this puts Muslims in a double bind: If they just go about their lives, they stand condemned by those who demand that Muslims “speak out.” But if they do speak out, they can expect to be told that short of declaring their sacred texts invalid, they are fooling themselves or deceiving the rest of us. Muslims are presented with a brutal logic in which the only way to truly disassociate from ISIS and escape suspicion is to renounce Islam altogether.”