Is it a bird or is it a plane? Homeschooling concerns

Is it a bird or is it a plane? Homeschooling concerns

Of late I, have been reading many articles on ‘Homeschooling’ – which term when written like this seems to have acquired the status of legitimacy instead of being wrong spelling. The need for a hyphen is apparently no longer felt. ‘Home’ and ‘School’ are evidently no longer two different places, either geographically, physically or emotionally.
The latest of these articles is below. A very dear friend who homeschools (verb) sent me this article http://read.bi/2iRMo7E which got me motivated to write my own.
My own education was simultaneously in a Madrassa (Jamia Ilahiyat Nooria) and one of the finest secular schools in India (Hyderabad Public School) and the equivalent of homeschooling with Mohini Rajan and Venkat Rama Reddy (read about it in my book, ‘It’s my Life’, Kindle http://amzn.to/2cAtAJi). Later I graduated in History, Political Science and Urdu and post-graduated in Management (IIMA) and Applied Behavioural Science (ISABS). My father was a medical doctor with a love for literature and poetry which he shared (even imposed) on his children. And a mother who was a poet (among many other things). My childhood and upbringing was not ‘normal’ in any sense of the term. And there I believe lies the trick in making learning effective. It is less to do with the location (home or school) or the child and his or her ability to choose (more on this later) but much more on the quality and variety of input the child receives.
Take this quote from the article: “If Milva McDonald’s girls don’t like the subject, she told Boston Magazine, then they move on to something else. “I wanted them to be in charge of their own education and decide what they were interested in, and not have someone else telling them what to do and what they were good at,” she says.”
To be in charge of making choices one must first be informed about what they are and what they are likely to lead to. Choice can’t be left simply to subjective likes and dislikes. I don’t mean to imply that Milva does or did that. My point is that people can’t make intelligent and productive choices until they understand the consequences of their choice. I am making a point relating to the ‘qualification’ of parents to become homeschool teachers and saying that homeschool teacher education plays a huge role in the quality of homeschooling. For homeschooling to adequately prepare positive and productive citizens of the world, whether or not they go to Harvard, it is essential that the child is exposed to a variety of life experiences, challenges, joys and grief, success and failure, competition and collaboration. It is essential that the child is grounded in his culture, faith and religion and is then exposed to other cultures, faiths and religions which are very different from his own. It is essential that before being exposed to difference and diversity, he has the tools to deal with this experience so that he learns without confusion or anger and is responsive and not reactive.
My specialization as a leadership development expert with a global practice is in helping technical specialists transition into leadership and management roles. What I have noticed with great alarm is the effect of a totally skewed ‘education’ that prepares people with advanced technical knowledge but with an ignorance about the world that would have been alarming at best, were it not for the fact that it is into the hands of such technical experts that we have given over the most dangerous tools and toys that we own. We didn’t stop to ask while training them what the value was of learning about the world that they were going to apply their technology to. 
As a result of this skew in learning at its most benign level we have the inconvenience of bad design. But at its most malignant level we have weapons of mass destruction which as we speak are being used by the most powerful nation in the world in seven theatres of war, killing millions of people and rendering tens of millions homeless; destroying lives and economies and doing all this without any sanction from their own people and without any reference to democratic process. I bet not a single one of those making life and death decisions about others has read ‘War and Peace’. Ask, ‘What if they had?’
I also have an interest in politics which is the greatest soap opera in the world with consequences that should give us sleepless nights. Shows the value of ignorance, that most of us sleep happily having made choices – actively or passively – which can potentially result in the complete destruction of our world. Choices made by people who don’t understand their consequences are not free from consequences. Ignorant people are still capable of wreaking great havoc as we are perhaps liable to discover in the coming years, having handed over our world to people that most homeschooling parents would never have chosen to mentor their children.
All this is not the fault of homeschooling of course but underlines the importance of schooling the ‘teachers’. Hometeachers (my coinage) must be exposed to a holistic experience of life or at the very least an appreciation of the need for holistic experience. Sadly, with many technologists (who all seem to be clamoring for homeschooling) I have seen an arrogance about their own ignorance about the rest of the world apart from their technology which should have been embarrassing. I have been horrified to hear some of them brush aside facts about natural history, literature, poetry, art and biology as being of no consequence. I would love to become a bionic man but I am not. I live, breathe, love, hurt, laugh and cry. I grow strong and weak. I get sick, feel hungry, need clean water and air. My spirit soars when I hear a song written a hundred years ago, or listen to the recitation of a supernatural book that was sent to earth fifteen hundred years ago.
Yet my fate on this earth, opportunities in life, what happens to my money (taxes), what is given preference over what (medical research over military research) is to be decided by someone who doesn’t know the difference between a Constable that hangs on a wall and another who directs traffic. But the benefit of ignorance is that it saves you from embarrassment. Therefore, such a technologist is happily able to create ‘bug splats’ playing computer games and go home at the end of his or her work shift to sleep with a peaceful conscience. High technology with low humanity is a deadly combination. Ask the bug spalts.
If people with such attitudes about what is important and what is not, homeschool their children, then you can imagine the results. I have read Sir Ken Robinson’s book, ‘Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution’ and fully endorse his views. But this as well as all others who I have read, assume that homeschooling parents are somehow adequately prepared to fulfill the hugely complex task that they have chosen to undertake. The importance of education in values, ethics, morals, literature, poetry and humanities has decreased over time and we have learnt to value education on one parameter only. How much money can I make in it? That is why IT engineering is the most popular subject while pure science has no takers. Even though it is pure science that pushes the frontiers of our understanding of the world. But pure science graduates generally have career prospects (high paying jobs wise) going south while IT grads’ careers go north and so everyone and his mouse wants to become a geek and leave seeking knowledge, broaden the horizons of humanity, create uplifters of the spirit and moral alerts to, who?
Human life is too short for one to live it fully, learn from it enough and teach it to others. That is why we have language and books. Books transcend the boundary of death and allow the voice of the author to talk down to generations unborn when the book was written. Generations who have a choice. Read, or painfully learn lessons which had already been learned.
Most homeschooling parents that I have met (granted that may not be a statistically valid sample size) seem to have one overriding concern; to protect their children from the ‘big-bad-world-out-there’, which begins in the state (or private) school. The reality however, and I am sure they realize it even if they don’t want to face it, is that the big-bad-world is not out there but that we are immersed in it. We and our children. So, what must be done is not to simply protect our children from it, but teach them how to cope with it and give them the tools to change it. That is the only way to truly save them and to ensure that the badness ends with them and others don’t have to inherit it and its evil. I submit that to be able to do that, you Mr & Mrs Homeschooling Parent must upgrade your knowledge and skills. You can only give what you have and so the question to ask is, ‘What do I have?’
While you are about it, remember the village. It takes an entire village to bring up a child – as they say. So, what and where is your village? Who live in it? What resources can they bring to the table and why should they? The last part relates to your relationship with them. Why is more important than what because unless the why is answered, the what will remain out of scope. Above all else it comes from holding the absolute and unshakeable belief that everyone in the village is important; critically important. That it is their difference and not their similarity which makes them so valuable and so that diversity must be respected, protected and honored. It is when we learn to accept our own ignorance without blame, accept the diversity of others without judging them according to our own values, hold confidently to our own values (your difference is also equally important and so no need to be apologetic about it); that we will be able to re-create the world into a form that we will not be embarrassed to own as our bequest.

Of Mistakes and Crimes

A mistake is one that is made by mistake (sic) and a crime is one that is done deliberately.

A mistake must obviously be forgiven. A crime is culpable but can also be forgiven. This is the peculiarity of Islamic Law that even a crime as serious as murder can simply be forgiven by the family of the deceased. Mercy is the driving force behind all forgiveness and that is because we all need it. We all need mercy of our fellow humans and we all need the mercy of Allah because we all make mistakes. The best of us makes mistakes and the best of us are those who make mistakes and seek forgiveness.

Anas ibn Malikt reported: Rasoolullah  said, “All of the children of Adam are sinners, and the best of sinners are those who repent.”   [Sunan Ibn Majah 4251]

Abu Hurairaht reported: Rasoolullah said, “By the One in Whose Hand my soul is! If you do not commit sins, Allah would replace you with a people who would commit sins and seek forgiveness from Allah; and Allah will certainly forgive them.” [Muslim].

Allah applauded those who forgive and advised forgiveness and said:

الَّذِينَ يُنفِقُونَ فِي السَّرَّاء وَالضَّرَّاء وَالْكَاظِمِينَ الْغَيْظَ وَالْعَافِينَ عَنِ النَّاسِ وَاللّهُ يُحِبُّ الْمُحْسِنِينَ

A’al Imraan 3: 134.   Those who spend [chairty] in prosperity and in adversity, who suppress anger, and who pardon people; verily, Allah loves Al-Muhsinun (people who seek to please Allahby acting with excellence)

Allahmentioned the Bani Israeel and that they had reneged on the covenant with Him and disobeyed Him, yet He advised Rasoolullahto forgive them and overlook their faults. He said:
فَاعْفُ عَنْهُمْ وَاصْفَحْ إِنَّ اللّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُحْسِنِينَ

Ma’aida 5: 13. ….. But forgive them, and overlook (their misdeeds). Verily, Allah loves Al-Muhsinun.

I decided to write this because recently there have been three cases where a scholar made a mistake in a speech and people attacked him, pronounced Takfeer on him and tried their best to destroy his reputation. All this in my view is a sign of our own ignorance and arrogance and a great loss to all of us. Who gains if one of our scholars is defamed and all his work is destroyed because he made one mistake? So, let us see why this happens and what we should do.

I am very fond of horse riding. Many a time while out riding cross-country over rough terrain, I have had my horse stumble. Once so badly that I was thrown off. However, not once did I shoot the horse because he stumbled. On the contrary I remind myself that the most common causes for a horse to stumble are that it is too exhausted (my fault) or that I was holding the reins too loosely (my fault) or that I was pushing the horse too fast over rough ground (my fault). I therefore pick myself off the ground, thank Allahthat I didn’t break anything, check to see if the horse was alright, then mount up and off we go, now both of us wiser for the stumble.

Scholars, religious or not, are human. They are not infallible and I don’t know of a single one that claimed that he or she was. They make mistakes, like, believe it or not, we Jahiloon (I speak for myself) do. That merely proves the first point, that they are human. The difference is that since they dedicate their lives to studying, digesting, experiencing, understanding and then communicating knowledge to us, they and their mistakes are in the public space. Take the case of an Imam who makes a mistake in recitation or forgets the number of Raka’at. Which one of us has not done the same? 

When a scholar makes a mistake while he or she is teaching, it is in the public space. They are vulnerable. Not because they are evil Shayateen who got caught in a trap. But because they took the trouble to study and teach us, while we were busy chasing dollars. Nothing wrong with chasing Halaal dollars but what about those who consciously give up that opportunity to do our work for us and to help us to learn our religion, connect us to Allah and Rasoolullahand help us to be better human beings? I don’t know a single scholar who is so stupid that he doesn’t know that if he simply stopped teaching, he wouldn’t have to face what he is facing today.

Is that what we want? For all our scholars to retreat into a shell and leave us to learn whatever we can on our own? After all, to study the Deen is our personal responsibility and it is not the scholar’s responsibility to teach any particular group of people. As long as he is communicating his or her knowledge to the people; any people; he is fine before Allah.

What must we do when a scholar makes a mistake?

1.      Remind yourself that the scholar is the horse that is carrying you over rough ground in the wilderness and he stumbled. (All scholars, I beg your forgiveness for giving this example).

2.      Remind yourself that without the horse you will probably perish while the horse can run off and live happily ever after without having to carry you on his back.

3.      Thank Allahthat you are not standing in his place having to face the reactions of the likes of us for having made a mistake (for God’s sake!!)

4.      Remind yourself that one day you and I will have to stand before Allahwith a lot worse than whatever mistake the scholar made and will need, not Allah’s justice, but His Mercy and Forgiveness.

5.    Remind yourself that Rasoolullahtold us that Allahwill show mercy to those who show mercy to the inhabitants of the earth.

6.      Seek forgiveness for the scholar with Allah.

7.      And defend the scholar against those who seek to attack him because he made a mistake because we know that the good from that scholar far and away outweighs whatever mistake that he may have made.

8.    And because we recognize that we need that scholar and all other scholars like him or her.

9.  And finally, remind ourselves, that a mistake is made so that Allahmay test our forgiveness. Otherwise it was in the power of Allahto ensure that the scholar who was speaking about His religion, never made a mistake.

10.   Therefore, when we don’t forgive and instead attack the person, it is we who have failed the test. A test based on which perhaps, Allahwill decide to deal with us accordingly. I ask Allahfor His Mercy and Forgiveness and protection from His anger.

Rasoolullah told us: “Whoever conceals [the faults of] a Muslim, Allah will conceal [his faults] in this life and the Hereafter.”

The matter of concealing the faults of others is mentioned in numerous Ahadith of Rasoolullah, like this one: “O gathering who believe with their tongues but faith has yet to enter into their hearts, do not backbite the Muslims. And do not search into their private matters. Whoever searches for their private matters will have Allah  follow up his private matters. And whose private matters Allah  follows, He will expose him even [if his act were done] in his house.” [Musnad Ahmad and Abu Dawood]

What must a scholar do if he or she makes a mistake?

Sadly, I have seen a lack of maturity and patience on the other side as well. Some scholars forget that they are human and that if they made a mistake that was the natural thing to do. So, instead of simply asking forgiveness, admitting unconditionally that they were wrong and moving on, they insist on finding all kinds of ‘proof’ (Daleel) for their mistakes. They waste time and energy in trying to justify the mistake, claim that it was not a mistake at all and the entire fault of misunderstanding lies with the listeners. Egos come in. Shaytaan has a field day and the vicious cycle begins.

Why does this happen?

1.      Imam An-Nawawi advised us and said, ‘Not everything that is known, needs to be communicated. Not everything that is heard needs to be broadcast.’ One of the major reasons why scholars get into trouble is because they say in public what should be said in private to students who are capable of understanding it.

2.     In the discussion on the Names and Attributes of Allah in Kitab ut Tawheed, Chapter 38 in Sahih Bukhari, Ali bin Abi Talibt’s advice is mentioned where he is reported to have said: “Speak to the people in a way that they can understand. Would you like that Allah and His Messenger be denied?”

Ali Ibn Abi Talibt advised teachers and scholars to guide people by speaking to them in a manner suited to their intellects in order that they may understand, and not to say things to them which may be above their level of comprehension which may confuse them, causing them to deny something from the Qur’an or Sunnah resulting in their falling into spiritual conflict and perhaps even committing Kufr (denying Allah or Rasoolullah) without being aware of it.

3.     By implication, this is good advice to follow with respect to anything that we want to say in public. Speak at LCM; I call it. LCM = Lowest Common Denominator. Speak at a level where a secondary school student can understand you. That is the real mark of the scholar. To be able to simplify complex matters and make them understandable for everyone. Not to speak at such a high level of erudition that nobody understands what you say and many misunderstand it. In any case, trying to show off your knowledge is a serious lapse of Ikhlaas un Niyyah (sincerity of intention).

Remember Sayyidina Omar ibn Al-Khattabt when the woman corrected him in public. He accepted the correction and said openly and clearly, “Omar is wrong and the women is right.”

Okay, enough said. For a quick checklist:

1.      Scholar makes mistake. Say, “Wow! He is human, just like me. Boy! Am I glad, I am not in his place! May Allah forgive him and guide him.”

2.     Defend the scholar. Tell people, ‘Hey man! Lay off. It could be you or me in his place, if we’d had his knowledge and concern for us. Don’t punish the man for taking the trouble to work for all our welfare.”  

On the authority of Abu Hurairat who reported that Rasoolullah said, “Whoever relieves a believer’s distress of the distressful aspects of this world, Allah will rescue him from a difficulty of the difficulties of the Hereafter. Whoever alleviates [the situation of] one in dire straits who cannot repay his debt, Allah will alleviate his lot in both this world and in the Hereafter. Whoever conceals [the faults of] a Muslim, Allah will conceal [his faults] in this life and the Hereafter. Allah helps a slave as long as the slave helps his brother. Whoever follows a path in order to seek knowledge thereby, Allah will make easy for him, due to that, a path to Jannah. No people gather together in a house of the houses of Allah, reciting the Book of Allah and studying it among themselves, except that tranquility descends upon them, mercy covers them, the angels surround them and Allah mentions them to those in His presence. Whoever is slowed by his deeds will not be hastened forward by his lineage.” [Muslim]

I ask Allah for His mercy.
Grass Hills

Grass Hills

The Anamallai Hills are a ridge that is between three thousand five hundred to six thousand feet high and goes like the backbone of an elephant right down the Western side of India to the tip of the subcontinent. Even though it is not called by this name all along this journey and the name changes to High Range in Munnar and then other names, but it is the same range of mountains…all a part of the Western Ghats.

From Valparai Taluk, where the tea plantations of the Anamallais are and where I lived for seven years, there is a clear section of the ridge that goes all the way to Munnar in Kerala. These are the famous Grass Hills.

They are called Grass Hills because the hilltops are covered with tough tussocky grass which looks like a beautiful lawn from a distance but is very tough to walk through. The closest that I have seen to these are the Moors of Northumberland in England and Scottish Highlands. The land is very acidic and unable to grow anything else. The local Forest Department in its usual ham-handed way decided in the early 80’s to plant Eucalyptus trees and convert the Grass Hills into money making machines. Nobody of course thought to ask the most logical question, “Why is it that if this land could grow trees, there is not a single tree to be seen?” But many millions of rupees and many thousands of man-hours later they learnt the lesson the hard way that these hills will grow nothing but the grass that’s on them. In the grass are also some other small shrubs that are resistant to the wind and cold of the hilltops, which once in a year put forth the most beautiful flowers. I am not enough of a botanist to know all the names, but one of these flowers is famous and gives its name to the hills, Nilgiri – Blue Mountains.

I quote from a website dedicated to the flower: http://kurinji.in/kurinji.html
Neelakurinji (Strobilanthes kunthiana) is a shrub that used to grow abundantly in the shola grasslands of Western Ghats in India. The Nilgiris, which literally means the blue mountains, got its name from the purplish-blue flowers of Neelakurinji that blossoms gregariously once in 12 years. Once they used to cover the entire Nilgiris like a carpet during its flowering season. However, now plantations and dwellings occupy much of their habitat. Neelakurinji is the best known of a genus whose members have flowering cycles ranging from one to 16 years. It belongs to the family of Acanthaceae. The genus has more than 500 species, of which at least 56 occur in India. Besides the Western Ghats, Neelakurinji is seen in the Shevroys in the Eastern Ghats. It occurs at an altitude of 1300 to 2400 metres. The plant is usually 30 to 60 centimeters high on the hills. They can, however, grow well beyond 180 cm under congenial conditions at lower elevations. Plants that bloom at long intervals like Kurinji are called Plietesials.

The valleys are thickly forested often with little streams and waterfalls in them. These are called ‘Shola’ forests in Tamil. The Shola vegetation is peculiar to this habitat and is not found lower down. The trees have thick gnarled trunks, leathery leaves and grow densely together. This means that below them there is no undergrowth and creates a microclimate that is very cool, even cold. The streams flowing in the Sholas add moisture and this encourages the growth of moss, lichens and orchids and in the higher reaches, Rhododendrons. Philodendrons of many kinds are found in plenty, using the tree trunks to pull themselves upwards in the never-ending struggle for light.

Walking under the trees in the Shola forests is an experience that is impossible to describe but which once lived is never forgotten. Your footing is very uneven and slippery and so you must walk carefully. The ground is soft and damp and usually inclined, so you have one foot higher than the other as you walk. Not very conducive to long walks. But as you walk, suddenly you hear a rustle and a loud cackle and you see the fast disappearing tail feathers of a Jungle Cock and his harem, who were busily feeding on seeds and insects until you disturbed their breakfast. At this altitude in South India, it is the Grey Jungle Fowl that you will see. The females, as in the case of many birds, are a plain brown, their beauty lying only in the eyes of the beholding roosters. However, the males are flamboyant (takes more to attract a woman, I guess) with literally fluorescent, scintillating colored feathers, especially on the neck, which we call the hackle. These feathers shine and change color depending on the angle of the sunlight. The head is topped by a blood-red comb and the tail is a flowing graceful postscript to the whole story of the Grey Jungle Fowl. Just to see them move is a joy. Having extolled their virtues, let me add that they are very good eating, though a lot more gamey than the farmed free range chickens. The hackle makes extremely good flies for fly fishing and a couple of hackle feathers in a hat look very attractive indeed. However, farm chickens are easier to get and the hackle looks far nicer on the neck of the rooster, so leave them alone and shoot only with your camera.

Another delightful inhabitant of the Shola forests is the Malabar Whistling Thrush – also called the Whistling Schoolboy bird. It is a gorgeous blue-black bird, slightly larger than a Myna (the size of a Starling) and whistles just like we do. It is most vocal in the early mornings and late evenings and is an absolute delight to listen to. There was a pair that used to nest in a thick vine of Golden Showers which overhung the veranda roof of my bungalow on Lower Sheikalmudi Estate, and it was wonderful to open your eyes every morning to the whistling of the beautiful bird. Grass Hill Shola forests have more than their fair share of these birds and you can hear them as you walk along the side of the Sholas, picking your way through the tussocks of grass.

Snakes are around, especially at lower elevations, so keeping an eye open and wearing leather walking shoes is a good idea. In the stream of light that is let in because of the death of one of the trees in the Shola, you will find lush growth of grass, other vegetation, and sometimes an explosion of flowers. These sunny patches are also ideal places to look for the Muntjac antelope, also called Barking Deer. Its alarm call sounds like the bark of a dog, thus the name. When a Barking Deer is calling, almost always it means that he is looking at a leopard or tiger on the prowl and is warning all those who can understand the call to be on their guard. The Sambar is a more reliable sentinel for this warning, but the Muntjac is not too bad either. It’s only that the Muntjac is skittish and sometimes calls even when he is imagining one of the major predators.

The Shola forests of Grass Hills are ideal habitat for both predator and prey species. The forests impartially shelter leopards, tigers, wild boar, Muntjac, and Sambar. The thick shade hides the hunters and helps the hunted to escape. Depending of course on who sees whom first. Grass Hills and that entire ridge is also home to the Nilgiri Tahr (mistakenly called Ibex). These mountain goats live on the rocks walking up and jumping down from one invisible fold in the rock to another sometimes to get away from predators but often just for the fun of it. Their main predator is the leopard and they retreat to the inaccessible vertical ridges in the night to rest in relative safety.


The Grass Hills are also home to elephants and it is amazing to see how these huge animals negotiate steep ridges. First of all, they follow the easiest gradients as they go to the top. Many a savvy road engineer in these parts has simply widened an old elephant track to convert it into a motorable road, saving himself some arduous surveying. Then when they reach the top and have to actually negotiate the ridge, they walk in single file, each holding the tail of the one before it. And as they climb over the ridge, the one behind gives the one ahead a push as he needs it. On the way down they do it more simply – they sit down, keep their forelegs extended before them to act as speed breakers, and toboggan down the slope on their behinds.

As you climb up from Akkamalai Estate in the Anamallais after walking about 14 kilometers you eventually come upon a substantial stream. In the 70’s and 80’s it used to be stocked with Brown Trout. Check dams were built to make shallow pools and maintained by enthusiastic planters from nearby estates (Mr. Basith Khan of Tea Estates India was one) so that the level of water in the pools did not fall too low. These pools are important for the trout to feed and make good places to fish for them.

The check dams and the little pools they created became good drinking places for Gaur, Sambar, and elephant. While Sambar do not do any damage to the dam, Gaur and elephant sometimes inadvertently broke the dam and the water would drain away. This was disastrous for the fish, which would either be stranded or in the case of the young fry, would become easy prey for the many Kingfishers in the area. So, these dams had to be regularly maintained. Given that maintenance, the Grass Hills stream provided some excellent fly fishing in an ambience that simply can’t be equaled. Where else in the world could you imagine being able to watch a herd of elephants or a lone Sambar while you were standing on the bank of the stream casting your fly? I won’t talk about what the sight does to your casting because that is something that you have to experience.

The APA (Anamallai Planter’s Association) had built a cottage at one point, called the Grass Hills Hut. It was a substantial two-bedroom cottage with a small veranda and an elephant trench all around. There was a flimsy bridge made of planks that you had to walk across to get inside. This was essential because without it elephants would try to re-engineer the hut; something which they did manage to do on a couple of occasions. It then fell into disuse and later the Forest Department took it over and has now constructed a big concrete structure in its place at a huge cost, totally incongruous and sticking out like a sore thumb. But then how else can you spend public money if not in such obvious ways?

I used to go to Grass Hills as often as I could with my two companions, the Raman brothers. They were cousins and had the same name. We would leave my motorcycle in the garage of the Assistant Manager of Akkamalai Estate – it didn’t matter if you knew the person or not. It was our code of hospitality that at such places your house was open to anyone who needed help. If someone wanted to park a car or motorcycle or needed some petrol or a cup of tea, he only had to ask and it was all provided with a smile. As I mentioned the distance to the APA Hut is about fourteen kilometers. If you don’t take the road and instead walk up the hillside it is a couple of kilometers shorter, but you need a lot of stamina for the climb. The climb is steep, the elevation (six thousand feet) takes its toll especially if you are not used to it – as I discovered when I went to the Grass Hills in 2007 after a gap of twenty years. The footing is very rough and uncertain as the tough tussocky grass grows in clumps and you have to find your way between clumps. If it has been raining, then almost every single blade of grass will have a leech or two on it and you are more than likely to be viewed as manna from heaven by them. But if you can overcome the effort and the bloodshed then you are rewarded with some of the most spectacular views that you could ever imagine. The road is simpler and easier but like all simpler and easier tasks, less rewarding.

On one occasion the Raman brothers and I decided to walk up to a high ridge, which has some caves. When we eventually reached there, we discovered that there was a whole field of marijuana being cultivated in the valley behind the ridge and the cave was the living quarters of the farmers. In the middle was the cooking fire with their bedding stacked neatly in the corners. In one corner, there were wires to make snares for small game. Come to think of it, it was a very nice place to live with spectacular views, a stream of clear, cold water to drink from, a waterfall of ice cold water to shower under if you like that kind of thing, dry and warm accommodation, fresh meat, and safety from the long arm of the law. And if the arm did get extended this far, it was sent away with a handful of money. The occupants of the cave were not present when we reached there, which was probably a good thing for us.  
We descended the ridge and made our way to the APA Hut. There the Raman brothers got busy with the cooking of our evening meal, the makings of which we had carried with us while I went downstream with my rod to catch a fish or two for the pot. To my disappointment, the check-dams had been broken by elephants and the pools had been drained and so there were no fish to catch except some very small fingerlings which were not worth the effort. But that didn’t detract from the wonderful view of the sun going down behind the high ridge leaving behind an orange glow long after it had disappeared. I sat there until Raman the Elder came to call me. We ate our meal together and I got into my sleeping bag while the Ramans had their last smoke for the day before turning in. There was no need for a watch as we were surrounded by a trench around the hut. There is no danger in sleeping in the wild except from men with evil intentions.


Grass Hills is very cold at night so a good sleeping bag is essential. It is a very rare pleasure to be able to lie in your sleeping bag and listen to the sound of silence, broken occasionally by the call of the hunter or the unlucky hunted as it ends its life. Then there is the hooting of the owl and the occasional moan of the tiger. But for the most part the night at that elevation is silent. As the sky lightens, the precursor of dawn, I hear stirring in the kitchen where the Ramans made their bed. Social barriers (I was the manager) remain despite my every attempt at destroying them. But the fact that I don’t practice them gets me loyalty that transcends time.

When I visited the Anamallais in 2007, one of the things I did was to revisit Grass Hills with my friends, the Ramans. They were as eager to go there again as I was. This time we didn’t spend a night in the hut, but we did the walk up the hill, a source of great satisfaction and achievement for us all as we were still able to do it, despite being twenty years older. Almost nothing has changed in Grass Hills, mainly because the road is unmotorable and people are too lazy to do the climb. So it remains relatively untouched. We did see a dozen forest guards with backpacks walking back from the Forest Department Cottage, which is what the APA Hut has been transformed into. What they are doing there in those numbers, I have no clue. But I hope it is something for the preservation of that wonderful habitat.

The Anamallais in general and the Grass Hills in particular are surely one of the most beautiful places on earth. I was privileged to live there and visit the Grass Hills on many occasions. I hope those who live there today feel equally privileged to do so and make the effort to leave these places alone and undisturbed. Going by what I saw when I was there last, I must say that I was not reassured.

Respect earns respect

Respect earns respect

There are ocean people and others who are mountain people; and yet others who are city people. I, am of the forest people. Wildlife, open spaces, mountains and forests have always been a very significant influence in my life. There is an instant connection that I find with forests. And every once in a while I rejuvenate myself by spending time in forests, listening to them, watching animals, and simply being.

The sounds of the forest herald the passing of time and the arrival of the night and day. And they vary from place to place. In the Anamallais, the rain forests of the Western Ghats, there are no peacocks, who are usually the first heralds of the coming night in the forests of central India. In the Anamallais, the first heralds are Jungle Fowl roosters. They start calling (as they do at the approach of the morning) as they go to roost. They make sure that they are perched high up out of harm’s way well before it becomes fully dark. I must add this piece here. I was in the Anamallais in April, 2013 and to my intense surprise found peacocks thriving. This is a clear indicator that the amount of rainfall has decreased, for peacocks don’t survive in high rainfall areas like the rain forests of the Western Ghats. I asked around and everyone agreed that this was the first time in living memory that anyone had seen peacocks in the Anamallais. Alarming news.

To go back to our story, after the Jungle Fowl roosters come the calls of the Lion Tailed Macaques and the Langur sentinels who boom out their announcement to the world. These calls are not alarm calls. They are just to let their troops know that it is time to settle down for the night. Closer at hand you can hear the ‘Brrrrr!!’ of the Night Jar as it settles in the middle of a path or in a clearing and suddenly darts up to catch the unwary moth. As the sky darkens, you hear the hoot of the newly awake owl (many different species) as it ruffles its feathers and gets ready to take off on its nocturnal hunt. Then there is silence for a while. As the night progresses and if you are lucky, you can suddenly hear the ‘Dhank! Dhank!’ alarm call of the Sambhar as it sights a Tiger or Leopard out on the prowl. Sometimes you will hear the sawing growl of the leopard.  The sawing call of the leopard is for courtship. Usually the cats go on silently so as not to alarm their prey unduly. 

In the winters late in the night you will hear the moaning roar of the tigress, during which she literally bends down and booms off the earth and the sound of which travels for many miles. Sometimes the tigress calls continuously for hours. At other times you will hear her on and off. At all times it is a thrilling sound guaranteed to raise the hair on the back of your neck. Tigers don’t have a breeding season as such but I seem to recall hearing them mostly in the winter in the Aravallies. The primordial memories of the hunter and the hunted travel through the genes. As do their responses.

In the Anamallais, which is prime elephant country you can also hear the king of the forest as the whole clan moves along, grazing. Branches breaking, sometimes a tree pushed over so that the hungry pachyderm can get at the succulent leaves at the top, which he loves. The rumbling of their bellies and the snorting of mothers and aunts as they try to keep the calves in line. Calves squealing and the sounds of playful trumpeting as they sometimes engage in mock battles. Sometimes you can hear the long moaning rumble of the matriarch as she calls to others who only she knows about. This low frequency sound carries for many miles and is answered by other family groups in the vicinity. As they are all happily going about their business of feeding and playing, the wind changes and they get a scent of you sitting in the tree. And there is change as if by magic. The noisy group of huge animals instantly falls silent and moves through the forest like shadows. It seems amazing to those who have not had the good fortune of encountering elephants in the wild and have not seen how silently and quickly they can move in the thick forest. Not a leaf crackles. Not a branch snaps underfoot. When the elephant wants to move silently he becomes a ghost. And he is gone.

On one occasion I was walking along a forest path in Manamboli in the Anamallais when I smelt elephants. So, I simply got off the path and into the forest, not more than a few meters away, hidden in the foliage. As I stood there, waiting for them, the whole herd emerged around the corner, all headed to the river from which I had just come. Believe me, they knew I was there and knew I was coming down that path far better than I could ever sense their movement. There was the matriarch who led the herd, some other females, young calves and a couple of bulls. But all of them simply walked past me without any comment. The one thing you learn in the forest is that respect gets respect. You respect the animals and they respect you and leave you alone. You are not in the slightest danger unless you do something silly like trying to scare them, or run away in fright or in some cases if you are completely unaware of their presence and blunder into them. Otherwise a normal wild animal will never attack you unprovoked. Animals are far better mannered than humans.

On another occasion, I was on my Royal Enfield motorcycle with a bag of cash on the petrol tank. The tradition in the tea gardens where I was the Manager is that workers are paid in cash directly by the Manager. This is considered the respectful way to do it. Workers would all line up outside the Muster on payday and come in when their name was called and greet you and take the money and thank you. For each one you returned the greeting, paid the money, waited for them to count it, returned their thanks and then called out the next name. Sounds tedious but it is a brilliant way to learn people’s names and to build relationships. To do this, we used to take the cash out of the safe in the Estate Office, count it – amounting sometimes to half a million rupees – and take it to the Divisional Muster for the payment. It is a mark of the safety of the times that we could do all this without any ‘security’. I can’t recall a single instant when anyone was ever held up and the cash stolen.

To return to my story of respecting animals, on this day I was going to the Candura Division in Lower Sheikalmudi Estate and decided to take a shortcut through our coffee plantation which bordered the forest. This was one of my favorite routes as in the short drive of perhaps five kilometers I could be sure to see several species of animals or birds. There were Grey Hornbills, Malabar Squirrels, Lion Tailed Macaques (which the locals called Yel-Tee-Yam). In season, Green Imperial Pigeons beautifully camouflaged and usually on the topmost branches of the figs that attract them when they start fruiting. The fig is the best tree to attract birds. So there I was, gently riding my bike, looking around to see what I could spot; the finely tuned engine just turning over almost silent when I turned a corner and right in the middle of the road was a very large Gaur bull. Lone bulls usually mean trouble. And when that is a Gaur, standing six feet plus at the shoulder and weighing half a ton or more, it is generally not good news. But what could I do? I was on my bike on a narrow forest road with a steep bank on one side and a drop on the other. The only way I could even turn the bike would have been to get off and do many back and forth pushing and pulling. Anyone who has ridden a Royal Enfield can understand what I was facing. Trying all these gymnastics on a jungle track, balancing half a million rupees in a duffel bag on the tank with a bull Gaur as your audience is not my idea of fun.

So, I did what any sensible person who knows animals would do. Nothing. I did nothing. I just stopped, kept the engine idling and looked at him. He looked at me for what felt like a couple of hours but was perhaps ten seconds, snorted and with great dignity, moved aside to let me pass. He didn’t run away. He didn’t even go far from the road. He just moved aside. I knew what he was telling me and so I put the bike in gear and also with dignity, unhurried, rode past him. He could have ambushed me or attacked me as I passed him or after, but I knew he wouldn’t do it. He knew he didn’t need to. And here I am remembering him and our meeting.

The final story of this dispatch is to do with Wild Dogs, the dreaded Dhole. Anyone who has read Rudyard Kipling will remember the Dhole. Romantic notions apart, they are a top predator and hunt in packs. The Dhole is a very handsome animal with a reddish-brown coat and a black-tipped tail. They can’t bark and communicate in whistles. Their favorite prey in the Anamallais is Sambhar. The individual dog can’t possibly kill the Sambhar which is far bigger and heavier but the pack working together is an unbeatable team. They literally run the animal to the ground and when you are talking about thick forests on steep mountains, that doesn’t take too long. Then they hamstring it and when it drops, start eating it alive. Nature is sometimes very ugly. But there it is. An ecologist friend said to me that the Sambhar at the end is probably so pumped full of adrenalin that it doesn’t feel a thing, but I am not so sure because sometimes they take a very long time to die, mostly due to loss of blood. Meanwhile they have the Dhole tearing into them and eating their living flesh. Definitely not a sight for anyone.

My story has to do with one day when one of my workers came racing to me and between panting breaths told me that a pack of Dhole had taken down a pregnant Sambhar doe and were eating her, very close to the worker’s quarters which we called Labour Lines. There is a lot of military terminology in the tea gardens, a memory of the first British planters who were military officers who came to India after being de-mobbed. I followed the man to the site. The doe was lying on her side in the middle of a clearing, almost all of it covered by sheet rock, in the middle of a valley surrounded on two sides by tea and on one side by the forest. She had been chased out of the forest and seemed to have come there to take refuge with people who Dhole avoid but before she could reach the quarters, she had collapsed. The pack was in a feeding frenzy, making excited yelping sounds. There were fifteen animals in the pack which is quite large for a single pack but when food is plentiful they tend to have large litters.

I watched from the edge of the valley for a bit and thought I could see the doe still kicking. I decided to put the poor animal out of its misery and drew my knife and walked down into the valley. The Dhole saw me coming, whistled to each other and moved off a few meters away and sat down in a semi-circle watching me. I walked up the doe and realized that she was dead. The kicking I had seen, was the result of the Dhole pulling at her carcass. They had ripped open her belly and eaten her unborn fetus, udders and were feeding on the stomach contents from which they get minerals. Definitely not a pretty sight. I made sure the Sambhar doe was dead and turned around and retraced my steps. The Dhole watched me go and returned to their kill. They never threatened me or made any attempt to attack. They knew I was not going to steal their prize. I don’t know what else they thought. But I do know that when you respect animals, they respect you. 

Is Islam a religion of peace?

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

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

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


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

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

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

To look at the three things that I have advocated:

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

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

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

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