Babari Masjid dispute – or is it?

Babari Masjid dispute – or is it?

In the drama called India we are about to open a new scene. Actually, a new episode of an old story – the so-called Babari Masjid dispute. The attempt by the spin doctors is to make it sound like the usual, ‘We Hindus are being reasonable, peaceful, non-violent and accommodative as usual. You Muslims really must get your act together and stop being a hindrance to development, fulfillment of Hindu aspirations and general goodness all around. You need to accept that you guys in 2017 are responsible for what your ancestors did in 1600.’

‘But they were not our ancestors.’

‘Ah! Who cares? A mere matter of detail, which spoils the story line.’

‘But how can I be responsible for something that allegedly happened (no evidence that it did – temple destruction and masjid construction on top of it) 400 years ago, when by the Law of the Land, I am not even held responsible for a crime committed by my biological, genetically verified father?’

‘There you go again. Facts, evidence, proof. We are talking mythology, belief, faith. Agh! Can never have a rational conversation with a Muslim. In any case this is one of the several things wrong with the Law of our Land. Anyway, why don’t you be reasonable and see it our way. We want the land. We helped you by removing the mosque. All that remains is for you to be reasonable and let go. What’s so difficult about that?’

Indeed, what is so difficult? Being Muslim and addicted to facts, let me state what I know about the so-called Babari Masjid dispute. I am not going to write about its history. Those who want to know can ask Google. Here are some links which make interesting reading:

Our story begins in September and ends in October, 1990. The famous Rath Yatra of L. K. Advani, which was intended to make him the Prime Minister of India, but which gave us someone much more powerful, N. D. Modi. Not quite what Mr. Advani would have wished, but it is all about the plans of men and mice etc. Advaniji’s Rath with a Toyota soul, made a Yatra culminating at Ayodhya at the Babari Masjid accompanied by the freed souls of uncounted innocents. It was also accompanied by souls still chained to their mortal existence in bodies of Kar Sevaks, infused with boiling emotion, boundless enthusiasm, enormous energy and murder in the heart. A very powerful combination that is guaranteed to propel any politician to the top. You may object to the fact that it did the job but on the wrong person. Advaniji will no doubt agree with you. But I say to you that reality is what counts, not what you intended to do. Masjid came down, BJP went up and the rest is history.

Then stepped in the spin doctors who have been doing their best to cast a fog over the facts and put Indian Muslims again in a spot, not of their own making. But those who define the language, own the debate. In the language of the spin doctors of the BJP, Muslims are always cast as the villain and, so it shall remain until Muslims decide to break out of the cycle and write their own definitions. Let me therefore define what the problem is:

  1. It is not a dispute between Hindus and Muslims.
  1. It is a case where a protected property belonging to Muslims which the State was responsible to protect was destroyed and the State failed in its duty to protect it.
  1. The Supreme Court is now supposed to examine what happened and pass judgement based on the Law of the Land.
  1. Public opinion has no place in the equation and can’t affect the ruling of the Supreme Court, one way or another because Court rulings are according to the Law of the Land and not according to whatever may be popular or acceptable to the public.
  1. There’s no question of mediation by anyone (SS Ravi Shankar is trying to get into the act) as there’s no dispute to mediate. But that is why they say, ‘You can never keep a godman down.’ ‘Not godman but good man’, you remind me. I say to you, ‘All godmen are good men in our modern mythology.’ Same difference.
  1. The Court is expected to interpret the Law and the Executive is expected to implement and if necessary, enforce it.
  1. QED, as we were taught to say in school and were told that it meant, Quite Easily Done. I am not sure if that is the right meaning, but in this case, it may not prove to be quite so easy.

I am all in favor of standing by a decision of the Supreme Court which is made on the basis of the Law of the Land. After all, that is what Rule of Law is supposed to mean, right? That is what differentiates civilization from barbarism.

We should know. After all we have been civilized for the past 5000 years. Or so we claim.


Which way to go?

Which way to go?

There is a beautiful teaching story from Korea of a Zen master and his disciple. The master took him to the bank of a stream that flowed between rocks. There he made a small paper boat and floated it on the water. He told his disciple to follow the boat and report back to him about its journey. The disciple trotted along the bank of the stream and watched the little boat riding the current, dodging between the rocks until it finally vanished around a bend. When he returned, the master asked him, ‘What did you see?’

‘I saw the boat as it raced on the current, riding the waves. It was so exciting.’

‘What else did you see?’

‘Nothing else,’ said the disciple, perplexed about what he may have missed seeing.

‘What did the boat do when it came to a rock in the stream?’

‘It went around the rock,’ said the disciple.

‘What would have happened if it had tried to break the rock?’

‘It would have failed.’

‘And its journey would have ended. But the rock would still have been there. Think, what was the purpose of the boat? To ride the current and see the world or get involved with a rock that is going nowhere?’

Today, we Muslims, worldwide are like the boat, trying to break the rocks which seem to block our passage instead of seeking a way around them. The way around the rock is always there, but sometimes needs a little seeking.

In another article I have described what I believe is happening with Islam and Muslims, globally. I would suggest you take a break here and read that article.

We must remember that the history of nations is like the wave of the ocean. It rises and falls and rises again, only to fall again. Permanence is not a phenomenon of this world, though mankind has eternally wasted its time in trying to find it. Be that freedom from death personally or a legacy that will be everlasting. What we Muslims are going through now is neither new nor the last time we will see this. This happened before and it will happen again. What happened before and what will happen again is also the height of civilization, power, influence and the opportunity to benefit the world. How we use that will dictate how long we will have that opportunity. History taught me two lessons:

1.      Only those who benefit others remain while those who take for themselves from others, will be removed.

2.     When we don’t learn from history we are condemned to repeat it.

I am mentioning this more as a caveat about what we must do, going forward, to get our boat out of the trough in the ocean and back on the peak of the wave. In the trough, all that you can see are the massive deep blue seas around you, each enough to swamp and sink you a thousand times. Terrifying, depressing, despair.

On the peak you ride the massive blue and see the horizon, the shoreline and safety, while racing towards it with the wind in your hair and the ocean foam flecking your brow. Exhilarating, exciting, hope. In one situation, the power of the ocean seems to be your enemy, bent on destroying you. In the other it is taking you to your goal, supporting you and using its massive force to drive you forward.

In reality, nothing changed in the ocean. It is the same ocean, the same waves with the same power. What changed is the position of your boat. In one situation, the power of the waves is a lethal danger. In another it is an asset, support and your motive power. We don’t control the ocean. But the boat is ours. The one who tries to control the ocean and despairs at his own insignificance is bound to perish. While the one who focuses on his boat and tries to use the force of the ocean to his advantage always succeeds. That is why they say, ‘There are no favorable winds; only good sailors.’ The choice is ours, for the boat is ours and we are in it. So, let us learn how to sail and enjoy the ride.

This article is in the nature of a heart to heart – Ghar ki baat, apno say. We are the boat and are in the boat. It is for us to chart our own course and use the challenges that face us to become stronger, more positive and more beneficial for all those around us.

I base my contention about the possibility of success of what I am going to propose also on some research based data which we know as the ‘Butterfly Effect in Chaos Theory’. The Butterfly Effect of Chaos Theory is not restricted to weather. It affects us in all aspects of life. It talks about the significance of the smallest action and its ability to have a profound global impact, though this may not be apparent at first.  It is the flapping of the wings of the butterfly in New Mexico which creates the tornado in China; both figuratively and actually. 

You can read more about that here:  

Islam is the name of a practice. Not a philosophy or theology. Like Judo only the one who practices it can benefit from it. Islam is not related to any particular race, nationality or country; anyone who practices Islam will benefit from it. I begin with this statement to define what being Muslim means. It means you practice what you profess to believe and face the music that goes with it. Some of that music is very pleasant, especially from those you touch and interact with. Those who know you by name and face. But from the rest who don’t know you and for whom the words ‘Muslim’ and ‘Islam’ have been demonized, the music you face is not very nice, to put it politely. There is an old adage, ‘Give a dog a bad name and hang him.’ It means that the poor dog didn’t do anything to be hanged but was the victim of a media campaign against him. Dogophobia got him and he was hanged. That is what those who spend their time and money behind demonizing Islam seem to want to do. Islamophobia is a multibillion dollar industry which like the pre-World War II, anti-Semitism of Germany and Europe is run by those who are trying to make hay while the sun shines.   

The good thing about bad times is that they strengthen you. The blow that doesn’t break your back only makes you stronger. In that context, I thought it would perhaps be useful to share some thoughts. None of this is easy. But nothing worth having is easy. Today we are fast reaching a stage where our choices are sought to be limited more and more. All the more reason to act with wisdom and after serious thought to ensure that we remain safe and effective. Here’s what I believe we Muslims need to do.

1.      Never react. Always respond. Reacting means that you are the puppet and your strings are in someone else’s hand. They have your remote control and press the buttons and you dance to their tune. A puppet can never be his own master unless he cuts the strings. So, never react.

2.     Always respond. But respond after serious thought to the consequences of responding. Ask, ‘Does this need a response? If so, how?’ Remaining silent is also a response and many times, the most powerful one. There are many examples of Gandhiji’s responses in the face of great provocation. Once someone wrote a very long and very abusive letter to him. When the letter was delivered to him, Gandhiji read it and removed the paper clip that held the pages together and threw the pages into the garbage bin. The person who gave him the letter asked, ‘Aren’t you going to reply?’ Gandhiji showed him the paper clip that he was holding and said, ‘I have taken what was valuable in the letter. Thank you.’

3.     Remember that restraint takes more strength of character to exercise than reacting. The strongest person is one who can remain calm in the face of provocation. However, this won’t happen automatically and must be cultivated. Like body building, it is very painful at first, but once you get the hang of it, you realize that there are few pleasures more enjoyable than to see the frustration of your opponent when you refuse to rise to his bait.

4.     Restraint comes from confidence. Confidence in yourself and what you believe in. Confidence that you don’t need anyone’s approval to believe what you do and to live by that belief. Confidence comes from knowledge, so it is essential for Muslims to learn about their religion. As I said, Islam is the name of a practice. Practice without understanding can also give you some benefit, but if you practice with understanding, the benefits are multiplied, one of which is gaining confidence. The other is the ability to respond appropriately when the need arises. Apologetic Muslims are no good to man or beast. They live in fear and contaminate others with it. As Jesus is reported to have said, ‘The truth shall set you free.’ (John 8:32). Learn the truth about Islam so that you can practice it with confidence.

5.     Understand that strangeness enables stereotyping and having a face to a name is the best defence against it. It is not possible to hate or malign someone you know personally and have had good experiences with. I learnt this lesson very early in life and used it with great success in some of the most hostile and adversarial situations in management union agitations in Guyana and India. I was in the middle of several very tense situations, surrounded by armed union members, but was never in the slightest danger personally because for me, every one of them had a name and a history with me. They knew it and I knew it. I was not a stranger.

6.     This is not a tactic. It is something you do out of your own belief and value system. You are good to people because that is who you are and how you have been raised. Not to get something out of them. It is not a manipulative technique. Let me warn you in advance that if you try to manipulate, you will fail. People see through it and the reaction is much worse. Values, not PR strategies, must drive behavior. Be good to people because that is what Islam teaches us. Help people because that is what Islam teaches us. Stand up for the oppressed because that is what Islam teaches us. Give more than what is due and focus on excellence in everything you do, because that is what Islam teaches us. You do it because Islam teaches you to do it. Others will react to it because you did it. Eliminate strangers by eliminating strangeness; make friends. It takes very little, a smile, remembering a name, listening with empathy, walking a little way with them to help them in their time of need. The results are profound. The best compliment I received from one of my many Hindu friends when talking about the effects of Islamophobia was when she said to me, ‘Yawar bhai, when anyone says the word ‘Muslim’, I see your face.’

7.     Sad to say that despite all this, Islamophobia has taken its toll and there are some relationships which seem to have gone sour for no reason other than that people chose to believe false propaganda instead of asking themselves a simple question, ‘Which Muslim do I know, who is like this?’ Strangely people who have lived with us, literally in our homes, who have eaten and traveled with us, whose children are like our own, shared good and bad times with us and have never had a single negative experience have still chosen to turn a cold shoulder to decades old friendship. Why they did that is a mystery to me but one that I have chosen to leave in its place. There is too much to do, to spend time and energy wondering why someone chose to walk away, when I know with total certainty that there is nothing that I did to instigate that reaction. Sadly, the political propaganda that seems to have engulfed us globally has taken its toll. To accept loss is a part of growing up.

So, here’s my solution.

If I was asked to define in one word, the problem of Muslims and Islam, I would say it is ‘image’. It is because of this that the ‘Opposition’ has been able to project us into the space of the ‘Other’, to be hated, maligned, demonized and destroyed. Not that they can do it, but they can try and that is painful enough. This is possible because we are relatively unknown, not understood and a mystery to most people. Add to this the selective and often distorted projection of negative things from the culture of some Muslim countries as being aspects of Islam and we end up with the mess that we are in. The reaction of many of us, thanks to our own ignorance about Islam as well as about different cultures and societies, is to feel ‘guilty’ and ‘ashamed’ of our own religion and to try to answer the accusations either by becoming apologetic or by reacting aggressively. 

Both, especially the latter, are detrimental to our own cause and play into the hands of those whose aim is to bait us into saying or doing things to ‘hang’ ourselves. The fact that we don’t read, have no understanding about critical thinking and analysis, have no tolerance for the opposite view and have no effective media or means of communication, makes the job easy for those who target us.

Therefore, our principle challenge is really quite simple; change the image.

It is a common cop-out strategy to ‘globalize’ issues which apparently legitimizes our inaction in trying to solve them. ‘How can I solve such a massive problem? After all I am one person.’ But as Mother Teresa said, ‘If you can’t feed a hundred people, feed one.’ Localizing the problem suddenly makes it possible for each one of us to contribute and by that contribution, we can have a global impact. Action and only action produces results. So, we need to act.

My philosophy in consulting as well as life is to try to seek solutions that are simple, easy to understand and teach, doable by everyone and needing little or no external resources or training. These are the best solutions for they have the ability to proliferate fastest. 

Another thing that encourages me endlessly is the ‘Lily pad problem’; A lily pad grows so that each day it doubles its size (area). On the 20th day of its life, it completely covers the pond. On what day of its life was the pond half covered? I am sure you can guess the answer. There is a complicated way to solve this problem but the simplest is to note the phrase – doubles in size each day. We are talking about small changes that together can change the world. On the 19th day, the pond is only half covered with lily pads and that doesn’t look like much. But on the 20th day you wake up to the fact that the pond is completely covered and all you can see are the lily pads.

To change our image, which is necessary for us to get out of the position of the ‘Global Other’ we must use the old adage: ‘Think global, act local.’

I think I have explained the global issue in enough detail. Let us see what the local action must be.

Muslims are supposed to be 20% of the global population. This means that for every Muslim, there are four people who are not Muslim. This means that the global image problem, at a local level, can be defined as the opinions of four people. That means that all that I need to do is to convince four people, that I am the best thing that happened in their lives. Win the hearts of four people. Just four people. Not more. Just four. Convince by my behavior, because people listen with their eyes. They don’t care what you say, until they see what you do. It is our personal experience of each other that we use to form our opinions, including our stereotypes and prejudices. When these stereotypes and prejudices come face to face with personal concrete experience, they melt away in the light of experienced truth.

A lamp doesn’t light up a room by doing anything to the room. It lights it up simply by living its purpose and lighting itself up. If the room needs more light, the lamp just burns brighter until all darkness is driven from the room. Darkness has no existence of its own. It is the name given to the absence of light. Lamenting about darkness won’t drive it away. Lighting a single lamp will.

That is my contention and that is my solution.

As you read this, I am sure there will be many who will say, ‘This is not simple. It is simplistic. It is too simple to work. How can the solution to such a massive problem be so simple? How is it possible that we can solve our problem of being in the position of the ‘Global Other’, without a Muslim UN, owning global media channels, bringing all Muslims of every type together on one platform, creating a powerful global leadership which every Muslim will obey…I can list all the so-called grand strategies that we hear all the time but won’t waste your time here. All I have to say is, ‘How many of those grand strategies worked?’ That needs no answer. That is the problem with grand strategies; in their conception is their demise. They are all still born because they are too complex, need too many resources and are too open to opposition.

A simple strategy like what I have suggested has the following strengths:

1.      Needs no resources
2.     Can be done by anyone
3.     Needs no training or specialized knowledge or special time out of your day
4.     Will show immediate results – instant feedback
5.     Nobody can object to it because nobody will object to good coming their way

So, what are you waiting for? At worst, even if the strategy fails to bring about global change, you will still have four people who believe that you are the best thing that happened to them in their lives. Now what’s so bad about that?

I want to end with the beautiful word of Barbara Winters who said, ‘When you come to the end of the light of all that you know and are about to step off into the darkness of the unknown, faith is to know that one of two things will happen; there will be something firm to stand on or you will be taught how to fly.’

Now that you have come to the end of this article, go and be nice to someone. Go on! What are you waiting for? Just do it.

There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who try to succeed and those who tell you why they never tried. It is our choice who we want to be.

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?
Muhammadﷺ, example for all times

Muhammadﷺ, example for all times

They say that reading biographies is perhaps the best way to learn real life lessons. That is because a biography is a record of practice. Of what worked and what didn’t. The life of Muhammad  is perhaps one of the most well documented in human history.

Having said that one may ask why his life and all the detail is important at all? I am not speaking from the perspective of a Muslim for whom to study the life of Muhammad and to live his life in accordance with it, is a religious requirement. I am asking this from the perspective of a neutral reader, Muslim or not, who is looking for biographies to read.
The answer lies in the facts related to his life which are public knowledge. Here was someone who in a period of 23 years, took his people from being the weakest, most despised and oppressed in their community to being the leaders and role models in the same community. And he did all that without lies, cheating, corruption, violence or bloodshed. My question is, ‘Would you like to know how to do that? Would you like to know how to bring about not incremental but transformational change in your society? Then read the life of Muhammad.’
In the words of J. Krishnamurty, ‘It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.’ 
I don’t think there is anyone, including the 1% who appear to have it all who will disagree that we are very sick. Humanity is sick. The earth is sick. We are all very sick. This is no longer an academic issue for people to write scholarly papers about. It is something that we, the people of the world, need to address recognizing it as the dire emergency that it is. If we don’t, the clock is ticking backwards for us and fast. And the time is very close where we will make our own position as the inhabitants of this earth; not its owners as we like to believe; completely untenable. We need action. And we need it now.
Call it a strange coincidence but 5thCentury Makkah was a microcosm of our global capitalist, pluralist, multicultural, multiracial society. Let me describe the Makkah that Muhammad  was born, grew up and lived in, until the age of 50. That is a long time for someone to spend in one town but that is what Muhammad  did.
Makkah was a town with one single claim to fame – the Ka’aba. This is the House of Allah  built by Ibrahim (Prophet Abraham) and was a place of pilgrimage from times immemorial. Access to the Ka’aba was open to anyone who wanted to come. The environs of the Ka’aba were declared a sanctuary with all killing, hunting and fighting banned within that sanctuary. This was the main reason why Makkah developed as a town, because it was a safe haven for everyone from any of the many frequently warring tribes.
Another similarity that 5th century Makkah had with our modern society is that it was a world of business. Businessmen were its leaders and they ran the town. Acquisition of wealth was the primary concern. Makkan society was materialistic based on a free market economy. Markets were not regulated by any central authority. Traders charged the best price they could get, hoarded in times of scarcity and sold at great profit and bought goods from as far afield as Syria and Yemen to sell in Makkah.  Makkah being as sort of aggregator of people from all of Arabia, was a great seller’s market where high prices could be commanded as goods sold in Makkah were simply not available in any other part of Arabia. That is how Makkan traders became its nobility and created a sort of oligarchy. You can draw similarities with our capitalist society today and see how close 5th century Arabia was to most of our 21st century world.
Makkah was also a multicultural and pluralistic place as all centers of trade tend to be. That is because if you want to promote trade you must make it easy and safe for people from multiple origins, belief systems and cultures to coexist peacefully. All that is good for business. And so it was. In Makkah, the local people mostly worshipped idols. But Jews, Christians, Magians all came and went from Makkah, each practicing his religion without any interference from anyone else. Very much like what happens in most Western countries today. And for the same reason; it is good for business.
The reason I’ve spent so much time on drawing a picture of Makkan society of the 5th century showing its similarities to our 21st century society is because I want to hypothesize that because Muhammad despite being a person with almost no resources, support or political power, could bring about a complete transformation of his society, then we have reason to hope that the methods he used can work today for us as well.
To quote Alphonse de Lamartine, in his book, ‘History of Turkey’ who said, “If greatness of purpose, smallness of means and astonishing results are the three criteria of a human genius, who could dare compare any great man in history with Muhammad?”
Muhammad  didn’t focus on bringing about any materialistic changes in the lives of people. The changes he brought about ideological, ethical and moral, changed not only their lives but also changed the structure, laws, freedom and behavior of Arab society. Muhammad  brought about changes in the way people thought, in their ideals and benchmarks which led to a change in what they considered important, which in turn led to a change in their behavior which brought about a change in society. As they say, it all begins at the top; in the mind. Once we change our attitude, our behavior changes which leads to perceptible results in and around us. All change must begin with us internally, with how we view the world, what we want from it, what we find satisfaction in and what we are prepared to do (and not do) to get it. We need to define the meaning of a ‘good life’, and be clear about what investment we are prepared to make, to get it.
I mention this here because in our race today, to garner all resources for oneself without a thought about others, we have created a society that is crying out in pain and grief. It is inconceivable to imagine that the resources of the world can possibly be concentrated in the hands of so few, but as they say, ‘fact is stranger than fiction’. I can imagine the derision if any author dared to suggest that 62 people would own 50% of global assets and the rest of the world would watch silently. But that is not fiction. That is fact. For perspective, let me state that a bus has 65 seats excluding the driver’s seat.
What was the change that Muhammad wrought in his society?
In my view, there are three major principles that he promoted:

1.      Accountability to Allah from whom nothing is hidden
2.     Truthfulness  
3.     Spreading goodness all around

This is the essence of the religion he brought, Islam. That is why he said, ‘The best of you is the one who is the most beneficial to all people.’

Let us look at each of these principles in the life of Muhammadbriefly.

1.     Accountability to Allah from whom nothing is hidden

What makes a mistake a crime is that the criminal knows that what he is doing is illegal, immoral and wrong. People don’t commit sins, oppress others, commit violence or evil because they don’t know the difference between right and wrong. They do it because they think they can get away with it. Muhammad taught that this belief is a fallacy because no matter what we think, speak or do is known and seen by our Creator to whom we will return and to whom we must give an account of what we did.

Muhammad taught that good and evil are absolute values. They don’t depend on who does them or who these are done to. He taught that human values apply to all humans, not only to Muslims. On the contrary Muslims have an additional responsibility to act according to the values of their religion because they believe in Muhammad and in Islam.

He said to his daughter Fatima, ‘O! Fatima, don’t think that you will be favored by Allah because you are the daughter of His Messenger. You will stand before your Creator on the basis of your own deeds.’

2.    Truthfulness 

Muhammad was known among his people even before he started preaching Islam as As-Sadiq ul Ameen – The Truthful and Trustworthy. And that is what he taught his followers; to be truthful in every aspect of life. Someone asked him, ‘Is it possible that a Muslim may be a coward?’ He replied, ‘Yes.’ They asked, ‘Is it possible that a Muslim may commit adultery?’ He replied, ‘Yes.’ They asked him, ‘What is it that a Muslim cannot possibly do?’ He replied, ‘A Muslim cannot tell a lie.’

He taught that virtue and vice are absolute values. They are not relative to your personal worth, religion, race or anything else. Right and wrong don’t depend on who does them. That is why truthfulness is the basis of all goodness. He held himself to this value of truthfulness to such an extent that when he was migrating to Madina from Makkah and his life was threatened, he still had valuables that his enemies had entrusted him with. Before he left, he gave them to his cousin Ali bin Abi Talib and instructed to return them to their owners. What can you say about the truthfulness of someone who was trusted by his own enemies?

3.    Spreading goodness all around
Muhammad said to his people, ‘The best of you is the one who is best to his neighbor.’ He didn’t say, ‘Muslim neighbor’. He said, ‘Neighbor.’ In Islam, there is no distinction between Muslims and non-Muslims in respect of the rights of citizenship.
He said, ‘A Muslim is responsible for the welfare of his neighbors, up to seventy houses on either side of his house.’ Imagine a society that is based on this value of responsibility to one’s neighbors.
On another occasion, someone asked him how he could determine if he was a good man. Muhammad said to him, ‘If you neighbor says that you are good, then you are good. If your wife says that you are good, then you are good.’
Finally, on the issue of women’s rights which everyone today accuses Islam of denying. Women in Muhammad’s time were treated as property owned and inherited by men, to be used and abused at will. Women had no rights at all. Many Makkan people buried their newborn daughters to escape the cost of raising a girl child. Sounds familiar in today’s context? Let us see what Muhammadgave women in the 5th century.
1.  Right to own property and income and to keep whatever she earns without sharing anything of it.
2.     Right to be paid to bring up her own children including nursing them.
3.     Right to marry anyone of their choice.
4.  Right to divorce the husband even without his consent and to have this written in the marriage contract.
5.     Wife need not serve his parents or family at all.
6.     Right to receive the Mehr (bridal gift) and not to pay any dowry at all.
7.    Right to retain the Meher if she gets divorced. It remains her property to do with as she likes.
8.     Right to inherit from her parents, children and husband.
9.   Wife has a right in the husband’s property and income. It is the duty of the husband to support the wife unconditionally. He has no right in her income or property, even if it was purchased with his money.
The reality is that to this day many of these rights are denied to women in so-called advanced countries which don’t operate under Islamic law.
In conclusion, I would like to reiterate that Muhammad left for us all, Muslim or not alike, a way of life, a code of conduct and behavior that is as applicable today as it was in his time. It is my contention that if people followed his way, then we would be able to cure the sickness of selfishness, cruelty and indifference that we are plagued with and create a society based on compassion, mutual responsibility and accountability to Allah from whom nothing is hidden.
Now, how’s that for a new world order?

This article was published in the Daily Mirror, Colombo on December 12, 2016. 

Entrepreneurship Development is the key to economic upliftment

Entrepreneurship Development is the key to economic upliftment

This picture which I took in Pune on my way to the airport after teaching a leadership course at SKF, is my all-time favorite. It is a picture of a man who decided to take his future into his own hands and become an entrepreneur. He gives the lie to all those who complain about lack of resources, education, government support, fate or whatever. He has less resources, education, government support than anyone who will read this post. Yet he is better than almost every one of us because he decided to do something instead of complaining. This is a picture of courage, enterprise, creativity and confidence. It is an inspiration for me and for anyone who is seriously interested in development. And a kick in the pants for all those who make excuses.

One thing that the Sachar Committee Report showed clearly to anyone who has eyes is that discrimination is a part of life for the Muslim in India. While we keep fighting for reservations and whatnot, I am one who believes that if one wants to succeed in life, he can’t rely on the mercy of others. One has to rely on oneself and one’s own effort for the simple reason that it is the only thing which is in our direct control. With that in mind I am writing what I have advocated all over the world. I have tried to devise a strategy that is self-sustaining and requires very little start-up funding. This strategy is not for Muslims alone. It is for anyone who wants to do something about poverty and economic deprivation. Discrimination is not a Muslim copyright. It is what every poor person faces. For poverty is the religion of the poor. And that is the conversion we need to make – from job seeker to job provider.
Action Plan
  1. Vocational training
  2. Entrepreneurial development
  3. Venture Capital Fund
Vocational Training
  1. Start a Vocational Training Centre in every school. This must be done in every Government and private school and Madrassa. Every child must learn a skill. Products can be sold and the income can be used for the Center. This will also provide employment opportunity for artisans/professionals who are presently unemployed. Parents and community members can be encouraged to participate in this venture by lending their time and skills.
  2. Funding can come from CSR of companies who will be happy to fund such ventures.
  3. The building infrastructure already exists. If the timetable is an issue (usually there is enough time in the normal day itself) then the Vocational Training can be done after school.
Entrepreneurial Development
Simultaneously an Entrepreneurial Development Training plan must be established teaching students of the Center how to turn the skill into a business. This will ensure interest in the Vocational Training Course itself as people will be interested if they see how they can make this into a viable business and career option.
I suggest opening both the Vocational Training and Entrepreneurial Development Training to local communities also to help everyone and gain popular support. The Entrepreneurial Development Training course must consist of the following skills to be taught in a completely practical mode. NO LECTURES except as initial explanations. All teaching by practitioners (preferably voluntary) and all practical only.
  1. Writing a Business Plan to pitch for investment
  2. Budgeting and P & L Accounting
  3. Hiring and Team building
  4. Selling and Service Orientation
Venture Capital Fund
Final strategy in this is to start a Venture Capital Fund in each District/city managed by an independent Board of Directors of five members who are all reputed and highly trust worthy business people (include at least two women) with active businesses. CEOs may also be taken on the board but NO RETIRED OFFICIALS. One very important consideration which must be written in, is that Board Members MUST attend all meetings and inability to do so for two meetings will eject them from the Board.  This is critical.
This VC Fund will give interest free loans based on Business Plan with easy installment payment options to graduates of the different Vocational Skills Training Centers in the District/city. The funding to set up the VC Fund can come from MNC/Public/Private firms CSR or philanthropists. Later it can be increased when beneficiaries donate to the fund which helped them to set up. A cap can be set on the amount of each loan so that the Fund is not over extended in any one loan. I recommend Rs. 2 laks as a cap. But the Board can decide.
I believe that this plan to create entrepreneurship will free us from our malaise of looking to government to solve our problems and the problem of discrimination which our children face when they try to apply for jobs. Help them to stand on their own feet and instead of asking for jobs, they will provide jobs to others. Economic development is at the root of self-respect. It is the biggest need today for the poor in every country. It is the most powerful bulwark against extremism. People who have something to lose, don’t become extremists. So give them something to lose.