Be Thankful

That’s a picture I took flying over South Africa. The patterns of fields is a factor of the ariel view. Perspective is a factor of distance. And so is learning in life. That’s why documenting incidents, reflecting on them and trying to conceptualize learnings is so important. So is sharing. And that’s why this blog. To share what I learned with you. Why? Why not?

As I mentioned earlier, the funny title of this blog (and the book) is the date on which I was fifty-five years old. I don’t believe birthdays are things to ‘celebrate,’ cut cakes, blow out candles, or have parties. Being alive is not my doing, so what is there to celebrate? Rather, birthdays are an opportunity to reflect on what we did with the time that passed, to be thankful for the good, to be aware of the mistakes, to ask what we learned, to ponder over opportunities we seized and let go, with the intention to learn from mistakes, leverage wins, and add value to the life that begins on that date. The past is only good as a means of learning lessons, not to brood or gloat over. It is past and done with. However, it can teach us things if we are willing to learn. And it will repeat if we don’t learn until we do.  So birthdays are reminders to reflect. Birthdays are also reminders that our life will end; there will be a year when you won’t be alive on your birthday. If only people understand the symbolism – blowing out the candles – and then strangely people clap and laugh, instead of recognizing the symbolism of the extinguishing flame.
So what did I learn in fifty-five years of living? Let me see what I can recall.
They won’t remember what you did but they won’t forget 
how you made them feel.

Perhaps the most important learning in half a century and a bit of life is to be thankful. First and foremost to Allah. I truly feel His presence and guidance in my life. Then to all those who were good to me in many different ways. They are too many to be named here but I remember them all with honor and gratitude and pray for them. Some have passed on, but their memory lives on in my heart. As my mother says, ‘People pass on, but memories stay back.’ I remind myself to be conscious of what memories I will leave behind when I pass on.
The Prophet said that the one who is not thankful to the people is not thankful to Allah. I learnt that it is essential not only to be thankful, but also to express that thankfulness. People need to hear from you how grateful you are. Even if they know that you are grateful, there is something about hearing it acknowledged which makes a huge difference, much more even than receiving a cash bonus or other material reward. People tend to take the reward as their due – which it is – but they give far more importance to the words. So simple and inexpensive, yet so powerful are the words – Thank You – yet we are so stingy in saying them. Thank You is the lever that moves the hearts of people and leaves behind memories. That’s why I say, ‘They won’t remember what you did, but they won’t forget how you made them feel.’ I’ve always made it a point to thank everyone for everything and have reaped the rewards all through my life.
Sadly, we take people for granted, especially the ones we deal with every day, who serve us, whose value we realize only when they are not there. I was once teaching a course in Chennai once to a group of engineers who were all Tamil Brahmins. In Tamil Brahmin homes there’s an invariable morning ritual – the lady of the house wakes up before anyone else, bathes, and then makes coffee (brilliant filter coffee from freshly ground beans) for all the men of the house, no matter how young or old. To make my point about expressing gratitude I asked them, ‘Do you enjoy the coffee in the morning?’
There was a chorus of ‘Yes Sir!’
Then I asked, ‘Would you miss it if it wasn’t there one day?’
Once again a chorus, ‘Yes Sir!’
Then I asked, ‘Did you ever thank your wife or your mother who makes that coffee for you every single day without fail?’
There was absolute silence and some very sheepish looks. I didn’t belabor the point any further as I thought my point had been made. At least they were honest and I hoped that my reminder would yield some good results. I didn’t think any more about this interjection and continued with my teaching.
The next morning one of the men came up to me and said, ‘Sir, my mother told me to thank you.’ I was surprised and said, ‘Well, thank her very much, but what did she want you to thank me for?’
He said, ‘Sir, last night I went home and thanked her for the coffee.’
Her reaction was, ‘Who told you to do this?’ I tried to say that I was doing this on my own, but she refused to believe me. ‘I know you,’ she said. ‘Someone told you to thank me. Who was that?’ I told her about your conversation with us. So she told me, ‘Go and thank your teacher on my behalf. I wish there were more like him.’
We take service for granted, be it from family or others. I learnt that it is essential never to take service for granted and always to thank people for doing anything for us.

May our hearts come together

The story, in a manner of speaking started a long time before this tragic event. It started during the Khilafa of Sayyidina Othman ibn Affan (RA) (644-56). He was a member of the Makkan clan of Bani Umayya. He remained in power for 12 years. Due to many circumstances which are outside the scope of this article, rebellion against him started in Egypt. Among the grievances which are cited is the replacement of the governors of Basra and Kufa with his relatives and the summary dismissal of Amr Ibn Al Aas (RA) conqueror and governor of Egypt and the appointment of his own foster brother Abdullah Ibn Sa’ad in his place. In his favor it is argued that there were independent and valid reasons for all these actions, but they gave reason to people who used these incidents to foment discord.

Opposition to Sayyidina Othman (RA)’s rule became widespread and especially in Kufa, Basra and Fustat people began openly defying the central government. Egypt and Iraq were up in arms against the Khalifa though Shyam which was under the rule of Muawiyya Ibn Abi Sufyan (RA) was peaceful. The rebels led by Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr (son of Abu Bakr As-Siddique®) marched on Madinah from Egypt. The other leader of the rebellion was Malik al Ashtar who was an experienced soldier.

When Sayyidina Othman (RA) heard about this and was warned by his well-wishers that these people did not mean well, he in his typical peace-loving and kind manner told them to allow the group to come and that he was willing to talk to them. As this group traveled from Egypt, it gathered followers and a large armed group finally came to Madinah. Sahaba in Madinah including Sayyidina Ali ibn Abi Ta’alib (RA), Abu Hurairah (RA) and others offered to fight these people on behalf of Sayyidina Othman (RA) but he forbade them. Muawiyya ibn Abi Sufyan (RA), the Governor of Shyam, offered to send his army to fight these people. He offered to send the army even while they were traveling to Madinah and when Sayyidina Othman (RA) refused this help, he requested him to come to Damascus where he would be protected.

Sayyidina Othman (RA) refused saying that he would not leave the Madinatur Rasool for any reason. When the leaders of the rebels attempted to enter Sayyidina Othman (RA)’s house, Abu Hurairah (RA) stood before them and challenged them but Sayyidina Othman (RA) prevented him from fighting and physically pulled him inside the house and said that he would never allow Muslims to kill each other in the city of Rasoolullahﷺ.

Sayyidina Othman (RA) was fasting and reading the Qur’an when the rebels entered his house and demanded that he resign from the Khilafat. Sayyidina Othman refused and quoted the hadith of Rasoolullahﷺ when Rasoolullahﷺ ordered him and said, “O Othman, Allahﷻ will give you a garment to wear which you must never take off, of your own accord.” He said, “I am bound by the order of the Rasoolullahﷺ. Then they said to him, “In that case get ready to die.” He said, “Last night I saw the Rasoolullahﷺ in my dream and He said to me, “O Othman, tonight you will have your Iftaar with me.” So, I am ready. And he was martyred.

The Qur’an which was in his hands bears traces of his blood to this day and is preserved in the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul. Many tragic events of this day are narrated including the fact that one of the leaders of the rebels was the son of Abu Bakr (RA), Muhammad Ibn Abi Bakr. He caught the beard of Sayyidina Othman (RA) who said to him, “My son, if your father had seen you doing this, he would not have approved.” Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr got so frightened by this statement that he ran away. Interestingly Abu Bakr (R) married Asma (R) who was married to Jafar bin Abi Talib (R), the elder brother of Ali (R) after Jafar (R) was martyred in the battle of Moa’ta. They had a son, Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr who Ali bin Abi Talib (R) brought up as his own son after he married his mother and who (very sad to say) led the rebellion against Othman (R).

When this evil deed was done, the rebels went to Sayyidina Ali (RA) and compelled him to become the Khalifa and forcibly gave him the Bayah (Oath of Allegiance) threatening that they would massacre all the Sahaba in Madinah if Sayyidina Ali (RA) did not accept. At that time Sayyidina Ali (RA) said, “The breach that you have created in Islam today will remain till the Day of Judgment.”

And Allahﷻ knows this is true.

This was the first time that the blood of Muslims was shed by Muslims and that too in the holy city of Madinah Munawwarah. It is called the First Civil War. This event was a watershed in Islamic history, as a tragedy of a magnitude that was never imagined and the effects of which last to this day.

After the Shahada of Sayyidina Ali (RA) at the door of the mosque in Kufa, at the hands of a fanatic Kharijite (Kharijiyya – a group that formed who were against both Ali and Muawiyya – RA) his elder son, Al Hasan ibn Ali (RA) was declared in Kufa to be the legitimate Khalifa. However, Muawiyya ibn Abi Sufyan (RA) who was the Governor of Ash Shaam (comprising of what is today Syria, Jordan and Palestine) successfully persuaded Hasan (RA) to abdicate in his favor in return for a substantial pension for himself and his family. Hasan (RA) increasingly unwilling to plunge the Muslims into yet another civil war agreed to Muawiyya’s terms and abdicated after a shadowy rule of 6 months. He and his younger brother Hussain (RA) then left Kufa for Madinah leaving the way open for Muawiyya to enter Kufa with no serious contender for the Khilafat. Hasan (RA) lived in retirement in Madinah for 8 years where he died at the age of 45 in the year 669.

Muawiyya (RA) declared Yazid as his heir. Yazīd ibn Mu‘āwiya (647 –683), commonly known as Yazid I, was the second Khalifa of the Banu Umayyah (and the first one through inheritance). Yazid ruled for three years from 680 CE until his death in 683 CE. The concept of hereditary rule was alien to the Arabs and the Muslims who elected the Khalifa. Many senior people in the Ummah including Sahaba in Makkah and Madinah protested this decision. However, Muawiyya (RA) using his exceptional diplomatic skill persuaded many of the provincial delegations to recognize Yazid as his heir to the throne. In 680 Muawiyya (RA) died at the age of about 75.

Sayyidina Hussain (RA) who was living in Madinah from 661 onwards, refused to accept the Khilafat of Yazid. When he refused, they harassed him to the point where he decided to move to Makkah, a place declared by Allahﷻ as a place of peace where any kind of violence is prohibited and said that he would not accept the Khilafat but would also not contest it. He asked them to leave him alone to spend the rest of his life in Makkah in prayer. However, they did not leave him alone even there.

At that time many letters came to him from Kufa from people who invited him to come to Kufa and declare himself as the true Khalifatul Muslimeen and promising to support him. When these letters continued to come, and a large number had come, Sayyidina Hussain Ibn Ali (RA) sent Muslim ibn Aqeel (RA) to Iraq to determine the actual situation on the ground.

When Muslim ibn Aqeel (RA) reached Kufa, he was greeted by a huge crowd of several thousand people asking him to recommend to Sayyidina Hussain ibn Ali (RA) to come to Kufa and declare himself the Khalifa and saying that they would support his claim. Based on this intelligence Muslim ibn Aqeel (RA) sent a letter to Sayyidina Hussain ibn Ali (RA) to travel to Kufa immediately.

Meanwhile however, when news of this gathering reached Yazid in Damascus, he sent an armed detachment under the command of Obaidullah ibn Ziyad to assess and control this rebellion. On reaching Kufa, when Obaidullah ibn Ziyad saw the gravity of the situation, he made an announcement at the time of Dhuhr salah that anyone found to be with Muslim ibn Aqeel (RA) at the time of Asr would be arrested and executed. At Asr time, the number of people around Muslim ibn Aqeel (RA) had reduced considerably. Then at Asr, Obaidullah ibn Ziyad made the same announcement that if anyone was found with Muslim ibn Aqeel (RA) at Maghrib he would be executed. At Maghrib Muslim ibn Aqeel (RA) found himself totally devoid of supporters. The very people who had invited Sayyidina Hussain ibn Ali (RA) to Kufa had all vanished in the face of Yazid’s army. Obaidullah ibn Ziyad then arrested Muslim ibn Aqeel (RA), took him to the top of the minar of the masjid in Kufa and decapitated him such that his head and body toppled off the minar and fell to earth. Thus, was Muslim ibn Aqeel (RA) martyred.

Meanwhile, Sayyidina Hussain ibn Ali (RA) had already left Makkah for Kufa. Enroute several people came to him with news of what had happened to Muslim ibn Aqeel (RA) and advised him to return to Makkah. But he preferred to go by the letter that he had received from Muslim ibn Aqeel (RA) and did not change his plans and continued to Kufa. When he reached Karbala, on the bank of the Euphrates and about fifty miles north-west of Kufa he was faced by Obaidullah’s army. Obaidullah insisted on an unconditional surrender and when Sayyidina Hussain ibn Ali (RA) refused, he murdered Sayyidina Hussain (RA) and his entire band. Thus, died the grandson of the Rasoolullahﷺ who stood for his principles even in the face of death.

The poet said:

KAAFIR HEY JO MUNKIR HEY HAYAT-I-SHUHADA KA

HAM ZINDA-I-JAAVEYD KA MAATAM NAHEEN KARTEY

Yazid then sent an army of 12,000 under the command of Muslim Ibn Uq’bah in August 683 to punish the people of Madinah. The Madinese fought with great bravery but were no match for the trained Syrian soldiers and were defeated in a desperate battle at a place called Harrah, a lava field just north of Madinah. When the army entered Madinah, Muslim Ibn Uq’bah declared to his soldiers that Madinah and all in it was ‘halaal’ to them for 3 days. Imam Ibn Katheer, in his history records that what this army did to Madinah and its people is beyond description. The things they did there, the extent of looting, murder and torture were such that one could not even imagine that such things could be done by people who called themselves Muslim to the people of Madinah, many of whom were Sahaba of Rasoolullahﷺ.

Imam Bukhari records in his Saheeh that all the Sahaba of Badr were martyred at the time of the martyrdom of Othman (RA) and all the Sahaba of Bayt-ur-Ridhwan were martyred at this time, the Battle of Harrah.  Among those killed were Ma’aqal Ibn Sinaan, Muhammad Ibn Hudhiafa and Ibn Abdillah Ibn Zama’a (RadhiAllahu anhum), all Sahaba of the Rasoolullahﷺ. It is recorded that for many, their arms and legs were chopped off and they were left to die slowly among the rocks in the lava field of Harrah.

This was a crime of a magnitude that had never been committed before and deprived the Ummah of the guidance of the Companions of the Rasoolullahﷺ and did harm to the Ummah that is impossible to calculate. One of the most famous of the Taabiyyun, Sa’eed Ibn Musayyib (Rahimahullah) records that for 3 days there was no Salah or Adhaan in Masjid An-Nabawi. He himself hid in the masjid and used to pray by himself. He said that he knew the times of the Salah by the voice he used to hear from the grave of the Rasoolullahﷺ. This is recorded by Imam Da’araami in his Sunan.

This army then moved to Makkah. Muslim died enroute to Makkah and was succeeded by Hussain ibn Numair who besieged Makkah in September 683. They first surrounded the city and then bombarded it from the surrounding hills using catapults throwing flaming shells. This set alight the Ka’aba and destroyed its cover and set fire to its roof and the Hajr Al Aswad (the Black stone) was split into pieces. Abdullah Ibn Zubair (RA) a grandson of Abu Bakr as Siddiq (RA) who had declared himself the Khalifa, put up a stiff fight. However, the death of Yazid in 683 made the army lift the siege and return to Damascus leaving Arabia under the sway of defiant Abdullah bin Zubair (RA). He rebuilt the entire Ka’aba and tied together the pieces of the Hajr Al Aswad and put it back in its place.

Abdullah ibn Zubair (624–692) was a Sahabi whose father was Zubair ibn al-Awwam (RA), and whose mother was Asma bint Abi Bakr (RA), daughter of Abu Bakr As-Siddique (RA). He was the nephew of Aisha (RA) Abduallah bin Zubair (RA) was the first Muslim to be born in Medina after the Hijra. Starting from 683, Abdullah bin Zubair (RA) contested the title of Khalifa and rebelled against the ruling Umayyad Khilafa for nearly a decade.  Ibn Zubair established his power in Iraq, southern Arabia and in the greater part of Syria, and parts of Egypt. Ibn Zubair benefited greatly from widespread dissatisfaction among the populace with Umayyad rule. Yazid tried to end Ibn Zubair’s rebellion by invading the Hejaz and took Madina after the bloody Battle of al-Harrah. He then invaded the Tihamah and lay siege to Makkah but his sudden death, in 683 ended the campaign and threw the Umayyads into disarray with civil war eventually breaking out.

Almost 10 years later (692), the Umayyad Khalifa Abd al-Malik bin Marwan then sent against ibn al-Zubair the general al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf. When Hajjaj approached Mecca, he sent a letter to Abdullah ibn al-Zubair (RA) telling him he had three choices; to be chained and taken to Abd al-Malik who was then the Khalifa in Damascus; to leave by himself wherever he wished, renouncing claim on all the lands he had under his control; or to continue fighting to the death.

Abdullah bin Zubair (RA) then went to his mother (Asma bint Abi Bakr ®) who was over a hundred years old for advice. Abdullah ibn al-Zubair (RA) said to his mother, “In death I will find peace and tranquility. My people have deserted me, even my children and my family, and I am left with a handful of men around me. And the people (al-Hajjaj) are willing to give me whatever I want from this world (i.e. they would let him leave freely without hindrance). What is your counsel?”

Asma (RA) replied, “You know better than me your circumstances. But I say to you this: if you know you are upon the truth, go forth and die like your companions; and if you are after this world, then you are the most wretched of men, for you have wasted yourself and those who are with you. And for how long shall you live in this world? And if you are upon the truth, but now that your companions have left you, you have become weak… this is not the action of a free man and a man of the Deen.”

He said to her, “I am afraid I will be mutilated by the people of al-Sham.” She replied, “My son, a slaughtered goat does not feel the pain when it is skinned.” He kissed her upon the forehead and said, “I swear by Allah, this is my opinion. I have no desire to live in this world, for my aspiration is the life of the hereafter, and all my life I have stood up for truth. But I wanted to know your opinion so that your opinion strengthens my opinion!”

His mother said, “Come closer my son!” When he came closer to her, she embraced him and when she did so, she felt that he was wearing chain mail. She exclaimed, “O’ my son! What is this? People who want Shahadah don’t wear this!” He said, “O’ my mother! I only did this to comfort you!”

She said, “My son, take it off. Tie your belt so when you fall, your ‘awrah is not exposed! Fight with bravery for you are the son of Zubair and the grandson of Abu Bakr and your grandmother was Safiyyah.”

That day he fought bravely and repelled huge numbers of men until finally, he was martyred. al-Hajjaj went to Asma bint Abi Bakr (RA) and wanted to break her resolve, and he said, “How has Allahﷻ dealt with His enemy?” She answered, “You have ruined his life, but he has ruined for you the hereafter!”

They beheaded Abdullah ibn Zubair (RA) and stuck his body up on a cross. The men of al Hajjaj shouted, “Allahu Akbar, Takbir!” Abdullah ibn ‘Umar (RA) went by and he heard them calling that. He turned towards the body of Abdullah bin Zubair (RA) and said, “I was there the day Abdullah was born and I am here the day he has died, and I heard those who said Takbir the day he was born, and I heard those who have said Takbir the day he has died. I swear by Allahﷻ those who said Takbir the day when he was born were far greater than those who have said Takbir today!”

The soldiers went to al Hajjaj and said, “Take his body down, it has been up for days.” to which he responded, “I swear by Allah I will not take it down until Asma’ begs me.” When they told Asma’ that, she said, “Take me to where the body of my son is.” She made dua for her son and said, “Isn’t it time that the knight of Allahﷻ was allowed to dismount from his horse?” And when they told al-Hajjaj this, he felt so ashamed and mean that he brought the body down.

Incidentally Al Hajjaj was the uncle and father in law of Mohammed bin Qasim, the great general and conqueror of Sindh.

Imam Bukhari in his Saheeh in Baab-ul-A’ataamil Madinah records a hadith where the Rasoolullahﷺ climbed a small hillock and addressed his Sahaba and said to them, “I see what you don’t see. I see a time that will come upon you when fitan (trials and suffering) will enter your homes and its landing places will be like the raindrops. And the people who do this will then melt away like salt.”

Muslim Ibn Uqabah died even before his army reached Makkah and Yazid Ibn Muawiyya died of a wasting illness with no apparent cause within a few months in 683. Haafiz Ibn Hajar al Asqalaani in his famous book Fath-ul-Bari writes that the time of Harrah, every word of this prophecy came true.

It must be remembered that none of the Sahaba who were alive at that time approved of or in any way supported the actions of Yazid. And that all the Ulama and people of knowledge of the Ahl-us-Sunnah (Sunni) have condemned these evil deeds. Unfortunately, despite this, much misinformation is spread, and much misunderstanding exists in the Muslim Ummah on this accord.

The biggest lesson we can learn from these tragic incidents in our history is that all that happened, the irreparable, incredible damage to Islam, its knowledge and traditions, the teachings of Rasoolullahﷺ , were all the result of greed and power politics. Yet centuries later we still see the same games being played between Muslims all over the world. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the greatest damage to Islam and Muslims was done by Muslims themselves, thanks to their love of Dunya (life of this world) and total ignorance and carelessness about the Aakhira. Who but someone with no Imaan on Allah, no love for Rasoolullahﷺ and no belief in the meeting with Allahﷻ would kill the grandson of Rasoolullahﷺ or the grandson of Abu Bakr Siddique (RA)? Yet they were both killed by people who called themselves Muslim.

We don’t mourn their deaths because they both died Shaheed in the path of Allahﷻ and Allahﷻ said about them and all such people:

وَلاَ تَحْسَبَنَّ الَّذِينَ قُتِلُواْ فِي سَبِيلِ اللّهِ أَمْوَاتًا بَلْ أَحْيَاء عِندَ رَبِّهِمْ يُرْزَقُونَ

A’al Imraan 3: 169. Think not of those who are killed in the Way of Allah as dead. Nay, they are alive, with their Lord, and they have provision.

They are alive as are all the Shuhada, so there is nothing to mourn on that account. What we need to mourn and try to learn from is the terrible lessons about the result of greed, hatred, naked ambition and a total ignorance about the Aakhira. May Allahﷻ have mercy on us all.

I hope that this article will help to dispel these mistaken impressions and bring the hearts of Muslims together.

 

When the voiceless get a voice

If there’s one overwhelming sign that numbers mean nothing and organization means everything, it is the plight of Dalits and Muslims in India. Dalits and Muslims are officially 17% and 13% of the population. That means that together one in three Indians is a ‘Dalim’ – Dalit Indian Muslim (my coinage today – in case it ever makes it to the Oxford Dictionary like Ayya and Ayyo have done). Yet these two are the most powerless and oppressed communities in the largest democracy in the world. That sounds like an oxymoron because in a democracy where one man may not have food, clothing or shelter, but he has one vote (and so does every woman); how can it be that the most populous segments of citizenry are the weakest? But so it is. Like snake charming and the Indian Rope Trick, this is also the essence of being Indian.

To know what the meaning (linguistic) of Dalit is, please see the website of the NCDHR http://bit.ly/2e5Kcso
Do notice the ticker tape at the top which gives you an idea of what being Dalit means in real life terms, not merely linguistic. But to understand what it means, there is only one way; be reborn as one. I believe that it is literally impossible to understand what it means to be Dalit (untouchable) unless you are born as one. I have had the privilege of living off and on with my Gond friend, Shivaiyya (his photo graces this article and I have written about that in my book, ‘It’s my Life’ (it’s on Amazon and Kindle). I would spend every waking hour with him all my summer and winter holidays which I spent with my dear mentor and friend Venkat Rama Reddy. Shivaiyya belongs to the Gond tribe (forest tribals are also Dalits) and was my hunting partner. He and I would walk about the forests of the Aravalli hills in search of game. In that process we would share food, time and stories. Especially on cold nights sitting by a small fire trying to keep warm and alive. When you are in that situation what you have a lot of, is time.

Once we became friends, Shivaiyya talked freely about his life and circumstances to the 17-year-old boy from another planet who was his friend. This story doesn’t have a happy ending; quite common in Dalit stories. The last I saw of Shiviyya was in the 70’s when I went off to Guyana. Then in 2012 more than 40 years later I visited Sethpally village in Adilabad District where Shivaiyya lives and went looking for him. I found two things; one changed and one the same. Shivaiyya now had cataract in both eyes and no money to have it operated. And Shivaiyya still had the smile that I remembered so well.

All the rest was the same. Same mud and grass huts, emaciated cattle walking into the forest to graze every morning and little Gond children (3rd generation from the ones I walked with) still following them collecting dung because that was the main produce of those cattle, not milk. Too many more details to go into here. Read my book. That’s my tribute to Shivaiyya and his people and all those who walked into my life. The purpose of this story is to tell you that despite having lived so closely with Shivaiyya (and with many more over the years) can I say that I ‘understand’ what it means to be Dalit? The answer is, ‘NO!’ It is not possible to understand that unless you are born one. And that it is because until then you don’t understand what it means to be born into a cage. There is a difference between visiting prisoners and being a life convict where only death can set you free. That is what it means to be a Dalit in India.

I am a Muslim from one of the so-called Ashraf castes of Indian Muslims. Then there are the Ajlaf and the Ardhal (which consists basically of Hindus of lower castes who converted to Islam thinking that they would now be treated as human). How sadly they were disappointed to find out that what the Prophet of Islam declared (absolute equality of all people irrespective of race or origin) and what Indian Muslims practice are two opposite things. Please see these two articles which explain the situation very well. Same situation in Christianity with even graveyards segregated.

Masood Alam Falahi’s excellent book, Zaat-Paat aur Musalman deals with the caste system among Indian Muslims in detail but to the best of my knowledge it has had as much effect on the Indian Muslim caste system as the many anti-untouchability laws have had on the situation of the Dalits in Hindu society. The caste system among Muslims in India goes back to the time of Qutubuddin Aibak, the founder of the Delhi Sultanate in the 13th century and the politics of convenience. Like all kings he was interested in ease of administration and so did nothing to change the social order amongst his subjects. He realized that if he tried to abolish caste, it would raise all kinds of conflicts with the powerful Brahmins and Kshatriyas which he could neither afford nor was he interested in. Islam came a far second as it does to this day with all manner of politicians and political groups all over the world. Sultanate scholars (Ulama) declared that the invaders were superior to the locals (not surprisingly) but they went on to declare that they were also superior to local Muslims (Hindus who converted to Islam). It didn’t end there. They also declared that among local Hindu converts, those upper caste Hindus who converted to Islam would retain their class superiority over lower caste Hindus who also converted to Islam. The Prophet of Islam declared that all human beings are equal. Indian Ulama starting with Qutubuddin Aibak’s Court Muftis declared that some human beings are more equal than others. 

Please see Falahi’s interview below.  http://bit.ly/2ebngLY 

Muslim kings, and the Muslim ruling elites more generally, in collaboration with so-called upper caste Hindus, supported the caste system and the oppression of the so-called ‘low’ castes, both Hindus and Muslims. As Mullah Abdul Qadir Badayuni’s “Muntakhab Al- Tawarikh”, Maulvi Sayyed Ziauddin Barni’s “Tarikh-e-Firoz Shahi” and Kunwar Mohammad Ashraf’s “Hindustani Maashra Ahd-e-Usta Main” make amply clear, they refused to allow so-called low or razil castes, both Hindus and Muslims, to be educated or even to enter their courts, which was preserved as a monopoly of the ‘high’ caste Hindus and Muslims. 

In fact, Muslims’ caste-consciousness runs so deep Allama Iqbal reprimanded them in a couplet: “Yun to Syed bhi ho, Mirza bhi ho Afghan bhi ho/Tum sabhi kuchch ho batao ke Musalman bhi ho? (You are Syed, Mirza and Afghan/You are everything but tell me are you Muslim?)”.

What is tragic is that this caste system didn’t end with the Delhi Sultanate but continued to be supported by the Ulama of India all through the history of Muslim rule in India, into the period of British rule and to this day into post-independence free India. Free from the British, but still chained by caste. Falahi has quoted from the published works of Indian Ulama and I was shocked to see some of the names. May Allah have mercy on those who tried to change the religion that He sent and who denied to the people what Allah had promised and who contradicted His Messenger Muhammad. Truly these people have some serious answering to do before Allah who many have met and all the rest will meet. The greatest disservice to Islam and Indian Muslims was that it took away from Islam one of its cardinal benefits, equality and non-discrimination; all for the benefit of ruling elites. Everyone else be damned.

This is my own history of how I came to be interested in Dalit affairs. The result was that when I returned home from America in 2000 and was invited by Chindu, a newly formed organization to promote Dalit art and Dalit human rights to help them in leadership development, I gladly agreed. It is a matter of honor for me to be listed among their teachers http://www.chindu.org/teachers.html I was also honored to be invited to be on their Board of Directors, on which I served for five years before I left due to other engagements.

So what is this article about? Rather late in the day to ask this but it is neither about Dalit history nor my own. It is about what I believe needs to be done today and done at the level of a national emergency to bring about measurable change in the situation of Dalits (and Muslims for that matter) so that 33% of the population comes into the mainstream of productive employment. It is suicidal for any nation to have one third of its population living in and subject to conditions which won’t stand the light of day. They can only be a drain on the economy and add little value while breeding all kinds of extremism as anger grows at the situation they find themselves in for no fault of theirs. So what is necessary to bring this about?

There are two things which are required to remove caste discrimination:

1.    Changing religious sanction for discrimination and bringing up a new generation which believes in and lives by the new ideology of equality.

2.    Create a level playing field where irrespective of caste the historically oppressed can compete on equal footing with the historically preferred.

I am an idealist. But I am also a realist. So while advocating the first with all my heart and soul, I admit that it is beyond my capability to bring this about except in my own life. That I have always done but to try to change people’s beliefs is at best a long term matter and can’t be done by force. Laws must be passed and have been passed. Equality must be and is a guaranteed right in our Constitution. But as everyone knows, there is a huge gulf between what the law dictates and what happens in practice.

It is not in the scope of this article to go into how the anti-discrimination laws actually work when it comes to implementation especially where cases of discrimination are sought to be redressed. I will leave you to lose some sleep over this research if you are interested with the guarantee that the amount of sleep you will lose searching, will be far less than what you will lose once you find what you are looking for. I hope then you will join the ranks of those who are trying to bring about this change and together we can hope to achieve something in our lifetimes.

It appears that to discriminate, to look down upon others is such a powerful need of the human being that even where religion decrees the opposite as in the case of Islam and Christianity, people who claim to follow those religions seem to find ways to discriminate and legitimize it by creating convenient self-serving arguments in the disguise of theology. The fact remains that Allah made people equal and no argument or Fatwa of any so-called A’alim can change that Hukm (Order or Ruling) of Allah and His Messenger. Class inequalities have always been prevalent in all societies but what is particularly heinous about caste inequalities is that there is no escape. Class inequalities also have this element to various degrees in different societies. But when caste comes into the picture, religion sanctions it and so the force is much more powerful. Mobility out of your caste is practically non-existent and when such people are faced with the same situation even when they try to escape the oppression by changing their religion then the situation appears truly hopeless.
For the record Islam doesn’t recognize any caste or class inequality at all. 

Allah says: Hujuraat 49: 13. O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may recognize (honor, appreciate) one another. Verily, the most honorable of you with Allah is the one who is the most pious. Verily, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware.
Rasoolullah  said in his last sermon of Hajj, popularly known as Khutbatul Wada (Farewell Sermon):

All mankind is from Adam and Hawwa (Eve). An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab. A white has no superiority over black nor does black have any superiority over white except by piety (Taqwa) and good action. 

Let nobody blame Islam or its Prophet  for what people do in its name.

Discrimination comes out of a lack of self-confidence and self-hate where a person feels confident and good about himself only when he compares himself to someone else and feels superior. You can’t talk about equality of Dalits until you remove all inequality of all the Varnas. For it to work, you have to dismantle the entire system, which is not easy to do when it is sanctioned by religion. The reality is that you either have caste or you don’t. Like pregnancy you can’t have it partially. In 1933 Dr. Ambedkar said, “There will be outcastes as long as there are castes, and nothing can emancipate the outcaste except the destruction of the caste system.” So either there is no inequality between Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vysyas and Sudras or you can’t say that Dalits are equal to…to whom?? Gandhiji made this mistake when he was unwilling to talk about dismantling the Varna system but wanted the Dalits to be included into it as the 5th Varna. For this he invented the term Harijan (Children of God). However, that was not a solution because even if it had come about, it would have meant that the Dalits would still be the lowest and have to be beholden to those who deigned to recognize that they were at least human.

The second matter has also sought to be addressed firstly by creating ‘Reservations’ in education and jobs for Dalits by lowering the standards of entry (not Muslims who are equally discriminated against but since they are not part of the Hindu caste system, they don’t qualify. I consider this poetic justice for their having joined the discriminators when they had the upper hand and so I say, ‘Jolly good.’). The purpose was to try to help those who had been discriminated against for centuries and so didn’t have the advantage that wealth and education brings by making it easier for them to enter institutions of higher learning and to get jobs.

This action, irrespective of the good intentions behind it, created more problems than it solved. It had a reverse effect by retaining discrimination in another form and actually increasing hatred against the historically deprived people who are seen as ‘stealing’ the rights of others. That others stole their rights in broad daylight for centuries is neither here nor there because logic, historical data and reason have no place in emotion based hate mongering which is standard political strategy in our country. Xenophobia ennobled by affiliation to a higher cause (religion) supported by gross, deliberate ignorance always works wonders.

American politics today is a classic example of the efficacy of this time-tested method. Historical data from the Affirmative Action movement in the United States of America where after its official beginning in 1961 http://bit.ly/1U1f509 decades in time and billions of dollars in Federal funding notwithstanding, has not resulted in achieving even a fraction of what it was supposed to do. To this day there are more African American young men in prison than at university or in the higher echelons of the corporate world and Donald Trump is the Republican nominee for President in 2016. Truly fact is stranger than fiction.

So what works and how can we bring that about?

What works is quality. So create quality. Focus on creating quality and the rest will follow.
Here is what I believe we should do.

1.    Create world class primary and secondary schools in Dalit areas but open to everyone. Let anyone who wants a world class education send their children to these schools. However, what happens to this day even in government schools our villages, segregation of children based on caste, will not happen here. All children will be treated as children should be treated, equally with love and compassion. They will sit together, study together, eat together, rest together, play together and be trained to the highest standards in education.
There are numerous instances where upper caste children will not sit with Dalit children in government schools and Dalit children are relegated to a separate seating area. When the government insists that this kind of discrimination will not be allowed, upper caste Hindus don’t send their children to these schools. However, it is interesting to note that everyone goes to the Christian schools in the area and sits in the same room without demanding segregation. The reason is that the quality of education which those Christian schools provide is incentive enough to put caste considerations on hold.

Of course if the anganwadi cook is Dalit, upper caste children won’t eat the food he or she cooks and teachers may discriminate against Dalit children, but at least there is no ‘official’ discrimination against a child because he or she was born in a particular family.

2.    Create a Vocational Training Center in each school with vocational training as a part of the curriculum. To learn a trade and work with your hands must be a compulsory part of education. This will teach children dignity of labor and give them the joy that you only get from creating things with your own hands. It will give them also training in systems, quality, time management, leadership and teamwork; all of which are excellent life skills that one needs and which are not part of our standard school curricula. The centers will also provide employment for artisans and experts in different arts and crafts who are scrounging for jobs today and in the process many are even losing their skills.

3.    Create a Center for Entrepreneurial Development where students of these Vocational Training Centers (and others) are trained in setting up small businesses. All kinds of training in hiring, organizational development, selling, raw material procurement, product development and organizational leadership can be provided so that new businesses have a good chance to succeed. The Center will also run a mentorship program where new entrepreneurs will be mentored by experienced entrepreneurs and will have access to consultant services through the Center.

4.    Create a Venture Capital Fund which will offer interest free loans to entrepreneurs. These will be given after a rigorous annual selection process where hopefuls will have to present their business plans and pilot projects to a team of experts who will decide on the viability of the project. This is to ensure that businesses funded actually succeed and the process can continue ad infinitum. 

http://bit.ly/2dHP5YZ is a very interesting TV show about venture capitalist/entrepreneur interaction. I know that reality is not exactly so neat and neither do decisions to fund always get taken so fast but it is a very good example of participation of haves and want-to-haves which can lead to everyone-has-more.

In short what I am suggesting is that while we need to continue to work to change our beliefs and ideology to promote justice, we need to do something that is more easily doable and can show results and will hopefully also result in a change of heart which must eventually come. The world wants quality products and services. If we prepare people well by enhancing the standard of education, then they will be respected when they gain entry beating others over the same high entry standards. More importantly it will enhance their own confidence and self-respect which is more critical than anything else. That will be real service. That will truly add value and will take away discrimination over time because when people can stand on their own feet, they don’t need others to affirm their humanity. Those who provide quality will automatically get clients, customers and friends and will not be beholden to anyone.

In time, it is my hope that we can completely dismantle the caste system in all religions. Any religion which considers one human being superior to another because he was born into a certain caste is not a religion that I recognize as coming from the Creator. 

Caste prejudice is a shame on our honor as human beings, which we must remove.

Advice to a young friend going to university

Five things to keep in mind:

1.      Always be thankful. It is true that we succeed by our own efforts but it is good to remember that some of them were made standing on someone else’s shoulders.  And they helped us when they didn’t need us and without expectation of reward. Don’t forget them because without them you would still be crawling. The biggest fallacy is the so-called ‘self-made man or woman.’ There’s no such thing. We are all the products of the Grace of God, of our time, environment, nation, family, friends – of all those who stopped by to lend a hand. To every one of them we owe a debt which must be repaid. So always be thankful and express thanks. People are not mind readers and even mind readers like to hear it from you. So tell them. Thankfulness increases blessings, opens new doors, inspires people to do things for you and increases your circle of influence. Thankfulness also fills your own heart with joy. Try it and see.

2.     Never compromise your legacy. Never lose sight of your purpose. Ask, ‘Why am I here?’ Write it down and stick it on your wall. Look at it every morning and re-dedicate yourself to that. Stick to that. There will be times when all sorts of other things will seek priority. Different issues will demand importance. Friends will pull in various directions. At such times look at your purpose and know that everything else must be subordinated to that if you are serious about success. Ask, ‘What do I want to be remembered for?’ Focus is the art of ignoring.

3.     Everyone has friends. The worst of them and the best of them, all have friends. Ask Mother Teresa and ask any drug dealer or pickpocket. They all have friends. The key is to have the right kind of friends. Who is the right friend? Someone you can look up to. Someone you can learn from. Someone who challenges you to be your best. Someone who tells you what you need to hear, not only what you want to hear. So it is not how many friends you have but who those friends are, which is important. Also ask, ‘What kind of friend am I to my friends?’ Do you measure up to the same criteria? Being a leader means to take hard decisions and not follow the herd. Sheep have lots of company all the way to the abattoir.

4.     No one walks alone: Every one of us is a reflection of his family, community, nation and humanity. We are never alone. Everything we choose to do or choose not to do, reflects brand value and character. Character is the tree and fame is its shadow. But of the two only the tree is real. So judge every action not only by whether it pleases you but by how it will reflect on your parents, family and nation. And most importantly how it reflects on humanity. We are human because of our values alone. That is what distinguishes us from animals. So focus on values. Compassion supercedes them all. Do to others better than what you would have them do to you. That is the Platinum Rule. A picture is worth a thousand words. An action is worth a million.

5.     Finally remember that popularity doesn’t matter: So never buckle under the pressure of popularity. It doesn’t matter at all. Dr. Rene Favaloro invented the technique and performed the first bypass surgery in 1967. Michael Jackson began his solo career in 1971 (he made his debut in 1964). Who was more popular? Whose contribution has more value? So think contribution, not popularity. In our world today, if you stand up against injustice, oppression, cruelty and discrimination, you will be very unpopular. But the world owes a debt of gratitude to those who do. Otherwise oppressors would rule unchallenged. Peace as defined by oppressors has always been, ‘Absence of resistance to my oppression.’ All those who resisted were given the honorifics of ‘insurgent, terrorist, traitor etc.’ But history is witness that it is thanks to those who disturbed that peace that we abolished slavery, have human dignity and continue to fight for freedom. So it is not whether you won or lost which matters. What matters is which side you fought on. Pick your side for you will be known by it. That is your signature.

I wish you every great dream in life and the courage to make it come true.

The Hope Forum

The Hope Forum

Welcome to The Hope Forum
Imagine a desert. That is our world. A desert of hatred, suspicion, violence and despair. Imagine wandering in this desert, throat parched, fearing enemies all around, nearing the end of your strength and just as you think you can’t go any further, you see an oasis. That is The Hope Forum. It is an oasis in the desert.
What does an oasis have that the desert doesn’t? Life giving water, shade giving trees, fruit to eat, grass to lie down on and gaze at the sky through the fronds of the trees, listening to the birds singing in the trees, the croaking of frogs on lily pads and the occasional plop of the Kingfisher when he dives for the unwary fish. The scorching life sucking wind of the desert, cools down and becomes the cool breeze that’s now wafting over your face. That is what breaking its force in the wind breaks and passing over water and does to it. It cools it down.
What else do oases do? They attract rain clouds. What’s the good of that in a desert? Have you ever seen a desert after the rain? For a brief span the desert blooms. The bleak, parched landscape turns overnight into a carpet of green and flowers. That’s not because flower seeds rain out of the sky. It is because every desert has in it, seeds of flowers. All it takes is some rain to make them grow. So eventually if oases grow and multiply – lo and behold – no more desert.
That is what we hope The Hope Forum will do. Give sustenance and life to those exhausted of traveling in the desert. Let them drink crystal clear, clean, cold water; eat sweet fruits, listen to birdsong and rest on the grass. Let them meet. Listen to each other. And think of how to create more oases.
If we can do this together and if we can do this enough, then a day will come, when people of the world will take charge of their destiny and wrench it back from those who control it today. The people of the world will put more value on life than on death, on virtue than on vice, on compassion than on cruelty, on justice than on greed. Then and only then can the wars end. Refugees will go back home. People will smile once again. TSA guys will have to look for gainful employment and our children will read about how the world was saved, because their elders broke the cycle. The cycle of hatred. The cycle of suspicion. The cycle of violence.
The Hope Forum is a place that the injured from Twitter, Facebook and other social media can come, to detox and cure themselves from the negativity of the world. There’s much good happening in the world that gets no lift. Bad news sells. So we’ll give each other good news for free. And you’ll be automatically chucked out if you post anything negative. The rule for this forum will be that only productive and positive things can be shared. Nothing negative. No criticism of anyone or anything. No praising yourself. Praise others and let others praise you. No pontificating, no proselytizing. No promoting of any particular religion, ideology, politics, shop, product, service or yourself. Only appreciating what others are doing. Let others speak about your work while you do it quietly and sincerely because you believe in it and in yourself. The Hope Forum is something that seeks to change the whole culture of social networking which is simply another name for self-promotion and one-upmanship. We have nothing against any religion, ideology, politics, shop, product, service or yourself. Just that if you want to promote any of this go somewhere else. This is not the place for it.
The Hope Forum is about promoting others. Showing the world how many good people there are, in every country, every nationality, every race, who are working quietly to make this world a better place. Your job as a Hope Forum member is to find them and tell the world about them through The Hope Forum. That is if you want to join.
Share a good song, story, picture, thought, dream, idea. But only good, only positive, only thankful, only appreciation. Tell all of us who are with you on The Hope Forum, what you liked, appreciated and recall with pleasure.

This is my first post. It is about this young man I saw in Pune – Samir Key Maker. Samir is a very Indian name and can belong to someone from any religion. Mohammed Samir (my nephew), Samir Joshi (a very good friend), Samir Singh, Samir Joseph. So Samir represents Indian youth to me. The best in Indian youth. A symbol of courage and confidence. He doesn’t just sit there on the pavement. He announces who he is. He has his phone number on the sign so that people can call him if they don’t have the time to stop by. He has a white sheet on which the tools of his trade are set out. What does a white sheet signify? To me it signifies quality. He is saying, “Look at my sheet and see if it is clean to decide what the quality of my work is going to be.” Now that is a statement of great confidence. His sheet is spotless. If you meet him, tell him I remember him. He doesn’t know me. But I know him. I remember him. I honor him. And I tell the world about him.  Samir is the symbol of hope. 

If you want to share a problem, a pain, a complaint; then reflect on it and think of a solution. Then share it with the solution. So the only problems we will allow are problem definitions of solutions. As someone said, ‘Every problem has at least two possible solutions. Do not enter this room until you have thought of both of them.’
The Hope Forum is open to everyone; any age, gender, religion or not, nationality, race, ethnicity, waist measurement, height, weight, strength; whether you can sing or croak, whether you can dance of shuffle, whether you can run or toddle, whether you are tall in your imagination or in people’s eyes, whether you can eat your cooking or others also can, whether anyone else loves you or not – we do. So join us. But read the condition below and stick to it.
The Hope Forum is open to everyone who accepts and agrees with our conditions of being a member i.e. good only, positive only, appreciation only, smiles only, solutions only.
No other conditions for joining.

October 20, 2016 is the day The Hope Forum was born. Long may it survive. Fast may it grow. And great may be the goodness it brings to all the world.


I will not allow what is not in my control, to prevent me from doing what is in my control.