Change the Language

Change the Language

The one who controls the language, controls the debate. Today Indian Muslims are in a peculiar situation where they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. and interestingly it is all a product of language. ‘Secularism’, which was the refuge, not only of Muslims but all those who believe in our Constitution and in the freedom and dignity of all Indians, is a term that has now lost all credibility. It has come to mean “Muslim lover = Paki lover = Anti-national.” Muslims have been so effectively ‘othered’ that anyone who even attempts to stand by them, automatically commits political suicide. Being Muslim is a crime, it is treason, it is the reason to be suspected, demonized and hated. Consequently, secular parties and candidates are saying explicitly or implicitly, “Even if you vote for us, please do it quietly and clandestinely and don’t talk about it. This is for your own good. Your company is the ‘kiss of death’.”

Leaders from Muslim intelligentsia also believe this and have been advising whoever listens to them to do the same. They have been advising politicians who propose schemes for the economic or educational upliftment of Muslims to implement these schemes without talking about them too loudly. That this is anathema to all politicians who get their breath of life from talking about whatever they do, is countered by the warning that if they talk in this case, they will be sealing their own fate. That Muslims are an integral part of the population of India and citizens of our country and not beholden to anyone for this, is simply ignored in the face of present day reality where Muslims are not only being murdered but their murderers are being protected, applauded and rewarded publicly and shamelessly. This behavior not only doesn’t result in unpopularity for the politicians engaging in it, but results in political gains. Polarization seems to be the order of the day for every politician.

The traditional flag bearer of secularism used to be the Congress party at one time; at least according to their own trumpeting. But what was always the case and which has become blatantly clear today is that it is really only a shade less saffron than BJP/RSS. Rahul Gandhi’s latest drama in Parliament where after tabling the no confidence motion, he hugged PM Modi and then said that he was demonstrating that he is a ‘good Hindu’, goes to show that as far as the public discourse is concerned, it is centered around religion and that anyone who wants to be taken seriously must first prove that he is a ‘good Hindu’. That this is far removed from the idea of India, is irrelevant today.

To illustrate with an example, apartheid and racial segregation ended in South Africa in 1995 when they gained independence and Nelson Mandela became the first President. However, read any South African newspaper, website or blog, listen to any TV discussion or debate, speak to anyone in the street and all you will ever hear is the language of race. People talk about Blacks and Whites and Indians and Coloureds. This is reflected in South African politics and is becoming more and more clear, aggressive and potentially destructive. When an White South African looks at a Black South African, he sees a Black, not a South African and vice versa. And this happens while the Constitution of South Africa says clearly that no race has superiority over any other race and that all South Africans are equal citizens entitled to the same privileges, protections and dignity. That is on paper. But it appears that the change has not happened in the hearts of people.

This is what has happened in India over the past 70 years since our independence. The formation of Pakistan based on religion landed us with a legacy of divisiveness which Indian Muslims have borne the brunt of, for no fault of theirs. Vote bank politics became the norm and is openly practiced. ‘Appeasement of minorities’ is the slogan used for what is essentially vote bank politics which every party has always used. Today it has reached the stage where you are told to vote for this or that party because they are of your religion, not because of their performance in government or outside it. All this is not the creation of the NDA or BJP but the legacy which they inherited and continue to use. Their fault is not in its creation but in its continued use. Compromise is the name of the game and frankly I think this is a characteristic of being Indian; that we compromise on everything. That is why we live with atrocious things which in any other country would have resulted in a revolution but in India life continues because we compromise.

I think the time has come to take a stand. This is my stand.

Secularism is the other side of the coin from Hindutva or any other religious extremist ideology for that matter. This is how the language is being controlled by calling it ‘Sikularism’ for example and all its other permutations. In this way the discussion is kept in the ambit of religion instead of taking it into the ambit of governance. A government is elected to govern. That is the only basis on which it should be judged. Its religious ideology is immaterial. Its performance as a government is not. We have a nation with a robust constitution and legal system. But we have huge problems of poverty, unemployment, safety & security, total breakdown of law enforcement, legalized corruption and blatant oppression. We have reached a breaking point where if these issues are not addressed we will implode and disintegrate as a nation. None of these things have to do with Muslims. Just ask three simple questions.

  1. What is the religion of the farmers who have been committing suicide; till date, over 400,000?
  2. What is the religion of the perhaps more than 300 million youth who are not only unemployed but are unemployable thanks to our failed education system?
  3. How will killing or disenfranchising or whatever else is planned for Muslims, help those who are committing suicide or who are unemployable?

My proposal is that our language must change. We must abandon the terms ‘secular & secularism’. Focus instead on issues that really matter and hold the government accountable for their performance on those issues. Promises not met as well as gross failures in four main areas: Safety & Security of life and property, Breakdown of law and order, Economic collapse of the small scale and unorganized sector and the failure of the Education system creating unemployability. I don’t care which government is in power. If it addresses these issues; if it can guarantee safety and security of all citizens, enforce the law, create entrepreneurship to uplift the poor and create jobs, and focus on health care, I will vote for that party. So should you. As I have said earlier, a government is elected to govern. And it must be held accountable for governance. Nothing else matters.

I propose that we change the language of the debate. Let so-called “Secularists’ call themselves “Principalists” and speak only and only about Principles of Governance. That is all that matters. Religion is immaterial. It is personal and must remain that way. What matters is governance. Let all those who are interested in the welfare of our nation ask what has happened to governance today. Let us stand together and demand accountability. If anyone brings religion into the debate, discard them outright. Talk about governance, rule of law and upliftment of our people. It is only then that everyone will be able to stand together on the same platform without fear or shame. It is only then that we will have One India.

That is what I want. What do you want?

Change the language

Change the language

 The one who controls the language, controls the debate. Today Indian Muslims are in a peculiar situation where they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. and interestingly it is all a product of language. ‘Secularism’, which was the refuge, not only of Muslims but all those who believe in our Constitution and in the freedom and dignity of all Indians, is a term that has now lost all credibility. It has come to mean “Muslim lover = Paki lover = Anti-national.” Muslims have been so effectively ‘othered’ that anyone who even attempts to stand by them, automatically commits political suicide. Being Muslim is a crime, it is treason, it is the reason to be suspected, demonized and hated. Consequently, secular parties and candidates are saying explicitly or implicitly, “Even if you vote for us, please do it quietly and clandestinely and don’t talk about it. This is for your own good. Your company is the ‘kiss of death’.”

Leaders from Muslim intelligentsia also believe this and have been advising whoever listens to them to do the same. They have been advising politicians who propose schemes for the economic or educational upliftment of Muslims to implement these schemes without talking about them too loudly. That this is anathema to all politicians who get their breath of life from talking about whatever they do, is countered by the warning that if they talk in this case, they will be sealing their own fate. That Muslims are an integral part of the population of India and citizens of our country and not beholden to anyone for this, is simply ignored in the face of present day reality where Muslims are not only being murdered but their murderers are being protected, applauded and rewarded publicly and shamelessly. This behavior not only doesn’t result in unpopularity for the politicians engaging in it, but results in political gains. Polarization seems to be the order of the day for every politician.

The traditional flag bearer of secularism used to be the Congress party at one time; at least according to their own trumpeting. But what was always the case and which has become blatantly clear today is that it is really only a shade less saffron than BJP/RSS. Rahul Gandhi’s latest drama in Parliament where after tabling the no confidence motion, he hugged PM Modi and then said that he was demonstrating that he is a ‘good Hindu’, goes to show that as far as the public discourse is concerned, it is centered around religion and that anyone who wants to be taken seriously must first prove that he is a ‘good Hindu’. That this is far removed from the idea of India, is irrelevant today.

To illustrate with an example, apartheid and racial segregation ended in South Africa in 1995 when they gained independence and Nelson Mandela became the first President. However, read any South African newspaper, website or blog, listen to any TV discussion or debate, speak to anyone in the street and all you will ever hear is the language of race. People talk about Blacks and Whites and Indians and Coloureds. This is reflected in South African politics and is becoming more and more clear, aggressive and potentially destructive. When a White South African looks at a Black South African, he sees a Black, not a South African and vice versa. And this happens while the Constitution of South Africa says clearly that no race has superiority over any other race and that all South Africans are equal citizens entitled to the same privileges, protections and dignity. That is on paper. But it appears that the change has not happened in the hearts of people.

This is what has happened in India over the past 70 years since our independence. The formation of Pakistan based on religion landed us with a legacy of divisiveness which Indian Muslims have borne the brunt of, for no fault of theirs. Vote bank politics became the norm and is openly practiced. ‘Appeasement of minorities’ is the slogan used for what is essentially vote bank politics which every party has always used. Today it has reached the stage where you are told to vote for this or that party because they are of your religion, not because of their performance in government or outside it. All this is not the creation of the NDA or BJP but the legacy which they inherited and continue to use. Their fault is not in its creation but in its continued use. Compromise is the name of the game and frankly I think this is a characteristic of being Indian; that we compromise on everything. That is why we live with atrocious things which in any other country would have resulted in a revolution but in India life continues because we compromise.

I think the time has come to take a stand. This is my stand.

Secularism is the other side of the coin from Hindutva or any other religious extremist ideology for that matter. This is how the language is being controlled by calling it ‘Sikularism’ for example and all its other permutations. In this way the discussion is kept in the ambit of religion instead of taking it into the ambit of governance. A government is elected to govern. That is the only basis on which it should be judged. Its religious ideology is immaterial. Its performance as a government is not. We have a nation with a robust constitution and legal system. But we have huge problems of poverty, unemployment, safety & security, total breakdown of law enforcement, legalized corruption and blatant oppression. We have reached a breaking point where if these issues are not addressed we will implode and disintegrate as a nation. None of these things have to do with Muslims. Just ask three simple questions.

  1. What is the religion of the farmers who have been committing suicide; till date, over 400,000?
  2. What is the religion of the perhaps more than 300 million youth who are not only unemployed but are unemployable thanks to our failed education system?
  3. How will killing or disenfranchising or whatever else is planned for Muslims, help those who are committing suicide or who are unemployable?

My proposal is that our language must change. We must abandon the terms ‘secular & secularism’. Focus instead on issues that really matter and hold the government accountable for their performance on those issues. Promises not met as well as gross failures in four main areas: Safety & Security of life and property, Breakdown of law and order, Economic collapse of the small scale and unorganized sector and the failure of the Education system creating unemployability. I don’t care which government is in power. If it addresses these issues; if it can guarantee safety and security of all citizens, enforce the law, create entrepreneurship to uplift the poor and create jobs, and focus on health care, I will vote for that party. So should you. As I have said earlier, a government is elected to govern. And it must be held accountable for governance. Nothing else matters.

I propose that we change the language of the debate. Let so-called “Secularists’ call themselves “Principalists” and speak only and only about Principles of Governance. That is all that matters. Religion is immaterial. It is personal and must remain that way. What matters is governance. Let all those who are interested in the welfare of our nation ask what has happened to governance today. Let us stand together and demand accountability. If anyone brings religion into the debate, discard them outright. Talk about governance, rule of law and upliftment of our people. It is only then that everyone will be able to stand together on the same platform without fear or shame. It is only then that we will have One India. That is what I want. What do you want?

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:

http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/1990-L.K.+Advanis+rath+yatra:+Chariot+of+fire/1/76389.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ram_Rath_Yatra

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?