Turkish Delight

Turkish Delight

There are four things that I have learnt in building a leadership consulting practice across the globe that are related to Customer Service. They are:

  1. The customer is not always right but the customer is always the customer.
  2. All rules related to customers must be clearly for the customer’s benefit.
  3. Good recovery after service failure results in more customer loyalty than good service which never fails because most people take good service for granted.
  4. A customer who complains is not a nuisance. He is someone who is interested in helping you to succeed by engaging with you when it would have been far easier simply to walk away.

I teach customer service to all kinds of global and local organizations which include, airlines, IT/ITES companies, hotels, hospitals, all kinds of service organizations, NGOs and the Police. In this connection, I collect real life stories of both heroic service excellence and failure. They help me to bring alive the lessons and to build credibility for myself, that I know what I am talking about. It also ensures that those mentioned in the stories get global exposure. I tell the story. The kind of exposure depends on what the actors in the story did. From my perspective therefore, both good and bad customer service experiences are useful and so I take them very seriously.

Below is one such story that happened to me in the last two weeks. I will leave you to decide what it was an example of.

On August 17, 2017, my cousin Mohammed Ahmed, I went to Abuja, Nigeria, to speak at a conference on leadership. My hosts kindly sent me a Business Class ticket on Turkish Airlines. Both of us normally travel only on Emirates but welcomed this change because it would give us an opportunity to stop over in Istanbul on the return journey. This was a ‘first’ for me all through; first time on Turkish Airlines, first time in Nigeria and first time in Istanbul. So, I was looking forward to it very much.

We left Hyderabad on August 16 by Jet Airways, reached Mumbai at 11 pm, spent the night at the airport and reported at the Turkish Airlines check-in counter at 3 am on August 17 for the Mumbai – Istanbul flight (TK 721) at 620 am. I am 63 years old and have a chronic back problem and am in almost constant pain, especially if I stand or sit for too long and if I lose sleep. The scheduling of this trip almost ensured that. The flight took off and 7 hours later, I was in Istanbul at 1035 am local time. I headed for the lounge and reached there after negotiating the milling crowds at about 1130 am.

Istanbul airport is clearly one of the busiest airports in the world and one of the most disorganized. The scene of people of multiple nationalities and races, some loitering, some parading, some taking the air and others rushing to catch flights is delightful to witness if you are a fly on the wall. But when are one of those milling, parading, loitering or rushing, it is anything but delightful. Clearly much can be done to channel traffic so that the movement of people is smooth, but that requires one presupposition; that Turkish Airlines believes that change is necessary. This story after all is about this, so read on.

We reached the Business Class Lounge, exhausted from lack of sleep and with my back aching badly. But I was not worried because my connecting flight to Abuja, TK 623 was at 6.20 pm, so I was looking forward to a good 4-5 hours of sleep in the lounge. Turkish Airlines proudly (and quite inaccurately) describes their Business Class Lounge as the ‘most luxurious and best’ lounge in the world. As I walked in, I thought to myself, ‘That’s because they haven’t seen the Emirates Lounge in Dubai.’ I know this will touch a lot of raw Turkish Airlines nerves, but seriously, they should take a look.

We headed for the Sleeping Suites. There is a plaque on the wall saying that these are for Business Class passengers only and only if you have a layover of 4-7 hours. I thought that the first condition was totally unnecessary to state because who, other than Business Class passengers are in the Business Class lounge, the entry to which is controlled and only on the basis of your boarding pass? Anyway, we felt confident as we satisfied both conditions. We were Business Class passenger and we had our boarding passes to prove it and our layover was from 11 am to 530 pm, when we would have to head off to my gate for the next 6-hour flight to Abuja.

I asked the lady at the desk if I could have a room to sleep. She pushed a laminated sheet of paper towards me and said, ‘Is your country on this list?’

‘I am from India and I came from Mumbai. They are not on this list.’
‘Where are you going?’
‘Is Nigeria on the list?’
I looked very hard. It wasn’t. ‘No, Nigeria is also not on the list.’
‘Then you can’t sleep here.’
‘Madam, do you think Indians and Nigerians don’t need sleep?’
‘I am asking why Indians and Nigerians are not allowed to sleep in your suites.’
‘That is the rule. Is your country on this list?’
“That is the rule”, is a phrase that I heard a lot more of and learnt to appreciate as being in the nature of ‘inscribed in stone where reason, compassion, logic or God forbid, initiative, must all bow in submission.’ That is the rule.

I tried to explain to her that my flight from India was not 8 hours long but 7. But I am 63 years old with a bad back and had been traveling from 10 pm the previous night and desperately needed to lie down. If I sat for another 7 hours in the lounge and then a further 6 on the plane on the next leg of the flight, it would be disastrous for my well-being. But needless to say, my well-being was not on her priority list. She was the enforcer of ‘THE RULE’, no matter what it cost me or Turkish Airlines or anyone. While I admired her slavish devotion to her task; (I have always been totally incapable of slavish obedience to rules – strongly believing in using the brain that I have been burdened with) I was markedly incapable of appreciating it when it was being applied to me that day.

I tried one last time to appeal to any vestigial pity glands that she may have had and pleaded, ‘Madam, I am an old man with a very painful back. Can’t you relax your rule a little and allow me to lie down? There is nowhere else in this lounge for me to do that. Please!!’ That is when I discovered that if she’d had any vestigial pity glands, they must have been removed when they removed her appendix (my assumption), in a package deal – buy one and get one free – pay for the appendix and pity goes for free.

I decided to accept defeat. I don’t think I am capable of actually slinking away, but I did whatever was the next best thing and tried to find an easy chair at least, so that I could recline, if not lie down. There were none. There was the floor of course but there was also my ego and the ego won. So, I sat in a chair and contemplated life. It was then that I decided that I wouldn’t simply die without a fight and so recorded my experience on WhatsApp and sent it to a few friends. I have good friends. They sent it out of their social networks and called Turkish Airlines offices in their countries.

Very soon, as I finished some excellent mushroom soup, followed by Turkish coffee, I started getting many messages of support.

[8/17, 1:47 PM] Mirza Yawar Baig: The Delhi Turkish Airlines manager called me and told me to go there again and apologized for the refusal.

I went there again and they refused again.

[8/17, 3:35 PM] Delhi Turkish Airlines manager: Sorry for inconvenience. I think the flight timing is less than 8 hours but they were not able to explain you the situation correctly. (Meaning: It is your own fault you old goat!)

[8/17, 3:36 PM] Delhi Turkish Airlines manager: Please let me know when you fly next time so that we can make it up to you

[8/17, 3:43 PM] Mirza Yawar Baig: The issue is not about how long the flight is. It’s about how long the wait is and how tired you get. I’m 63 years old with a bad back. To sit for 8 hours is very tough. Then I have another 7 hours flying ahead of me. I’ve been up since 3 am yesterday and won’t reach my destination until 11 p.m tonight. Given a five and a half hour time difference you know what that means. That means almost 24 hours without lying down. I always travel Emirates. In the Emirates lounge, if there’s place in the sleeping suites, you can sleep. Nobody tells you rules. What’s the point of such a rule? Nobody sleeps unless they are tired and need the sleep.

As for making up to me on another flight, I appreciate your intention but I don’t think I’m going to take that chance again.

I tried once again to appeal to reason: [8/17, 2:12 PM] Mirza Yawar Baig: Please explain to your people that rest is a factor of age and strength. Not of the duration of a flight. When I was 24 years old, I took a flight from Hyderabad-Mumbai-London-New York-Miami-Georgetown, Guyana and I was bright like a light at the end of that. I traveled economy and it was in 1979. I traveled in a Caravelle, then Boeing 707, then a McDonnell Douglas DC10. I doubt that you’ve even seen those planes. I didn’t need sleep or a bed then. I do now but your airline has this rule of 8 hours flight. Makes no sense at all. What does tiredness or sleep have to do with the country or duration of flight? We’re all paying for Business Class. 
They’re not doing us a favor. So how can they discriminate?

But to no avail. I got the standard answer, ‘But that is THE RULE.’

A couple of hours later a man came searching for me, introduced himself as the Manager of the lounge and said, ‘We are very sorry for what has happened. I apologize to you.’ I was delighted at the fast result of my voice mail. ‘So, can I go there and sleep now?’

‘O! No. You see, that sleeping suites facility is handled by an independent contractor. Not us. All this is their fault.’

I asked myself if I was hearing right. I took three deep breaths and counted to ten. ‘Can you repeat that please?’ I asked him.

‘The sleeping suites facility is handled by an independent contractor. Not us.’ So, I was not hearing things. He did say that. I counted to ten more and another ten. He had a silly smile on his face as if to say, ‘You see, it was your own fault and now that you realize it, God is in Heaven and all is well with the world.’

‘I am sorry, I don’t see’, I said. ‘What I do see is that you are trying to pass off your service failure onto someone else. What do I care who you employ? Whose lounge is this? Turkish Airline’s or your contractor’s? As far as I am concerned, you have an illogical rule that must change. And your apology has no meaning because it doesn’t change anything for me. I still can’t rest my back. I still have to suffer the pain and indignity of facing discrimination, albeit now, knowing that you are ‘sorry’ about it. Who cares if you are sorry or not? Not me. Goodbye.’ He buzzed off and I sat for another two hours. Then I went to the gate for my flight.

In Abuja, I was met at the doorway of the plane by one of the smoothest talkers I have ever met, the Turkish Airlines Commercial Manager, Mr. Ahmet Murat Kanturk. He said to me, with great authority as if he had been an eye witness to what had happened, ‘We are very sorry for what happened, but you see, you didn’t understand the lady. She didn’t say you couldn’t sleep because you are Indian. We have to follow rules.’ And then he disappeared, having parked me on a bench before the office of the Immigration officer. It was 11 pm. I had been traveling for over 24 hours, given the time difference and had neither the energy nor the motivation to argue with him.

‘Ah!’ I said to myself. ‘They are sorry but the fault is mine. Not theirs of course. They have THE RULE to follow. Now why can’t I see this? Why am I being so stupid and blind. The fault is mine. It is always mine.’ But did I see it? Do you?

I had a lovely five days in Kaduna where we went from Abuja for the conference. Met some lovely people, ate great food and enjoyed some lovely weather. Then we were back in Abuja airport to take our return flight to Istanbul. Meanwhile my friends were not willing to let this thing go and they continued to put pressure on Turkish Airlines not realizing how tough and change averse they are.

Abuja airport is chaos in progress. It is an experience to be had at least once in your lifetime. I am sure it results in the forgiveness of sins. We had our dear friend whose name shall remain confidential who helped us to run the gauntlet of fire. We emerged unscathed at the other end which opens in the Business Class lounge. The first thing I saw there was a section partitioned off to one side with beautifully made, clean beds with pillows and blankets for anyone who needs rest. Curiously, though there were many of us in the lounge, it was only a mother with a baby who was using that section. No RULE, no list of approved countries, no restrictions on fight durations, nothing.

‘How boring!’, I thought to myself. ‘Turkish Airlines can teach these Nigerians a thing or two.’ Suddenly the Turkish Airlines manager appeared with his assistant in tow. He said to me in an accusing tone, ‘You have a lot of friends. I didn’t know you had so many friends. I told you we are sorry for what happened. Now send out a message saying that everything is settled and that you are happy.’

‘You want me to send a message that everything is settled and I am happy when nothing is settled and I am not happy?’

‘Ah! I told you we are sorry. Now listen, let me take a photo with you. I want to post it on my Facebook to show that you are happy.’ He promptly did that. I made a face. I said I was not happy, but he talked and talked. I pointed out the sleeping section in the lounge and asked him why they didn’t do that in Istanbul. He said to me, ‘There are ten thousand people landing in Istanbul. How can we give them all beds?’

‘You don’t need to give beds to ten thousand. Or even ten. Just give whatever beds you can and let people use them if they need them. What’s the problem? Why put rules that make you look bureaucratic (which you are) and racist (which you appear to be)? Nobody goes to sleep just for the heck of it, if they are not tired or sleepy.’

But deaf ears and an arrogant attitude which never accepts that you can possibly be at fault, are both incredibly effective in creating suicidal blindness which prevents all development or beneficial change. Having lectured me and refusing to see a good example of effectively dealing with the beds problem right under his nose, he disappeared, wishing me a good flight.

He said to me in a cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die tone, ‘I will call everyone in Istanbul. Tomorrow they will meet you with a limousine, when you land in Istanbul. And now I must go. I will see you at the plane’. I looked for a bookie to place a bet of 1000:1 that I would never see him again. Sadly, there are no bookies in Abuja airport or I would have made a nice bit of money. It is beyond me, how people go through life, imagining that they have fooled others, when the only one they fooled is themselves.

The flight was scheduled to depart at midnight. We boarded. It was a Boeing 737, a small plane for a 6-hour flight. It departed late. We had dinner. At about 3 am, I started a nasty headache. I usually carry headache medication in my bag but didn’t feel like taking it out of the hat rack for fear of disturbing the sleep of my fellow passenger. So, I quietly got up and went into the galley and asked the steward if he had an Aspirin or Tylenol. He said to me, ‘I have the medicine but can’t give it to you.’

‘Ah!’, I said to myself, ‘looks like here we go again.’ ‘Why not?’, I asked him.

He said to me (yes, you guessed it), ‘According to our rules, I have to announce to see if there is a doctor on board. If there is, he will come here and prescribe the medicine.’

I asked him, ‘You mean that you will wake up the whole plane calling for a doctor to come and prescribe an off-the-counter medicine which you already have here?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ I looked deeply into his eyes to see what he had been smoking. But surprisingly he was sober. So, here once again, was an apparently sane, adult Turkish Airline employee exhibiting his total, blind, unbending loyalty to THE RULE.

I said, ‘If you wake up the whole plane to call a doctor and he comes up here only to discover that I have a headache, he will not prescribe a Tylenol, he will kill me.’

Then I asked him, ‘What if there is no doctor on board? What then?’ To my great delight, that stumped him. I decided that 3 am was not the best time for such esoteric discussions and went to pull down my bag and get out my headache medication which I should have done in the first place. But then I would never have learnt about this brilliant Turkish Airline rule for those who are sick on board. I believe in that case I would have been less of a man than I now am. I also would have missed out a great story to teach for a class of cabin crew about on-board service challenges.

In due course, we landed at Istanbul. Sure enough on the que there was another bright young man, washed behind the ears, shaking me by the hand, saying, ‘We are very sorry for what happened to you when you were here. Do you want to meet my manager?’ I had just had a rough overnight flight and was in no mood to go to meet any Turkish Airlines manager to advise him about customer service. I told him that I would be happy to meet the manager if he would like to descend from his office to where I was. That didn’t produce any result. The man accompanied us out of the airport building and said, ‘There is the taxi stand. You can take whichever taxi you want.’ I was so delighted to know this. Truly as they say, ‘It is a free country.’ I could take any taxi I want. Didn’t know that. I bet you didn’t either.

Final episode, August26, I got to the airport in Istanbul four hours in advance because I had seen the confusion that reigns supreme. I cleared immigration and customs and reached the lounge. Yes, the same lounge. I was well rested after three great days of eating and sight-seeing in Istanbul. I picked up a drink from the dispenser and found myself a nice seat and read my book for the next three hours. Then just as it was time to go to the gate for my flight back to Mumbai, along comes the ubiquitous Turkish Airlines employee – they seem to have an endless supply of these young men who are willing to take the rap for their employers and bosses.
‘Mr. Mirza Yawar Baig?’
‘Salaam Alaikum. I was waiting for you at the sleeping suites and showers. You didn’t come. Do you want to come now and take a shower and sleep?’
Pinch yourself you stupid chump? No. I am awake. And I am actually hearing this. Just as I am ready to go to the gate, would I like to take a shower and nap? I think at this point, all comments, speculations and statements are redundant. I rest my case.

Turkish Airlines plays a promo when you board and land. It uses three terms with some very nice photographs of scenery. Wonder! Discover! Broaden your world.

I wondered what Turkish Airlines was like.
I discovered what it is really like.
I shall broaden my world by making sure that I always travel on other airlines.

To close with the final rule of customer service excellence: No matter how big you, the service provider are and how small the customer, in the end the customer decides your fate. Not vice versa.

Turkish Airlines doesn’t seem to understand that, much less believe it.
But that, O! People, is the truth.

State of the Nation – South Africa (Indian Muslims) in 2005

State of the Nation – South Africa (Indian Muslims) in 2005

At the request of the General Secretary of the Jamiat ul Ulama, South Africa, I am writing this note with the following objectives:
1 .     To present my assessment (SWOT Analysis) of the Muslims in Gauteng
2 .     To present some solutions and courses of action

I would like to state that whatever I say is only from what I was able to observe and does not purport to be a global statement of fact. I did not have an opportunity to interact very much with Muslims in the Cape Province or with black African Muslims. So this assessment is restricted to the Muslims of Indian origin who were my hosts and who I had the privilege to meet and speak to. I tried to see as much as I could and to get as many different opinions and thoughts as I could, but in the end, this is the impression of one man working on his own.
I ask Allah  to put Khair in what I have to say and to protect me and the readers from the evil of that which I don’t know.
SWOT Analysis of South African Muslim society in Gauteng Province
1.     Muslims in Gauteng are today in an enviable position that is perhaps unique in the world in terms of Muslim populations living in non-Muslim countries. Muslims totally comprise 1.5% of the population with Muslims of Indian origin being a section of this. Thanks to the fact that many of their elders (some are still alive) took an active and prominent part in the freedom struggle, they enjoy high prestige and position. Their representation in parliament, government and their say in public opinion are far in excess of their number. They are prominent in business, also for the most part a historic legacy and are arguably one of the most affluent population segments of South Africa.
2.     Thanks also to the fact that the majority of the Muslims in Gauteng came originally from Gujarat, there is homogeneity in the population that combined with the segregation enforced by apartheid, led to a strong social structure founded on the ‘family’ and reinforced by ties of marriage. This led to the power of the elders and the teaching of Islamic values of respect for age, knowledge (Islamic) and the power of the Imaam, A’alim and Khateeb.
3.     English language is a very major asset both in terms of it making the South African Muslims global citizens as well as for the doors to knowledge and information it opens.
4.     There is a strong orientation towards helping other Muslims in South Africa as well as in other parts of the world and in supporting religious institutions and so Gauteng Muslims have a strong presence in these areas and are highly respected around the world. This has also led to the establishment of Darul Ulooms which attract many students from around the world. Since the Muslim community has the resources as well as a love for Islam, the Darul Ulooms are for the most part well funded and have good infrastructure. These Darul Ulooms have ensured that there is a much larger percentage of Huffaz and Ulama in the South African Muslim society than in comparative populations in the world. Naturally this adds to the influence of Ulama in this society.
5.     Thanks also to the influence of the Ulama and to the orientation of the South African Muslim towards practicing Islam, South Africa is probably the only nation with such a small percentage of Muslims (1.5%) to have not one but two Halaal certification bodies. India for example, with more than 300 million Muslims (15% of the population) does not have any body of this nature.
6.     The Jamiat ul Ulama South Africa is also a genuinely representative body unlike its counterpart in India which is a one-family enterprise. This gives the Jamiat a level of prestige and acceptability that is unique and enviable.
7.     Thanks to their presence in the world of business, wide travel and the
English language the level of awareness about the world, its politics, its business opportunities and its leadership among South African Muslims is far higher than in Muslims in other parts of the world.
1.     The homogeneity of the population creates an inward looking mentality that treats most things from outside with suspicion. This inhibits information, cultural and social exchange.
2.     The Jamiat ul Ulama does not control the Darul Uloom education and neither are the heads of the Darul Ulooms, its council members. The other Ulama organizations in the country, mainly the Jamiat, Kwazulu and the MJC also owe no formal allegiance to the Jamiat South Africa (formerly Jamiat Transvaal). As a result, two parallel power structures are created which have the potential for polarizing on important issues. The United Ulama Council of South Africa does exist but has no executive authority over any of the others. It has members from each of the other bodies and can actually be used as the central governing council or Majlis of a federated structure which would make it more powerful and effective. However that is not the case at present.
3.     Since the Darul Ulooms in South Africa were initiated by Ulama from India or those who trained in India/Pakistan, they are overly focused on teaching exactly what is taught in their parent institutions irrespective of the different world that they exist in. A good example is that Arabic books are taught in Urdu which the students who are primarily English speaking have to try to understand in English, doing their best to mentally translate what their teacher is saying, even though many understand little Urdu.
What happens to the sprinkling of students from Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia who also study in these Darul Ulooms, is anybody’s guess.
As it stands, since many teachers themselves have little or no knowledge of English or Arabic, they can do no better. Also any suggestion to the contrary raises insecurities as many rightly fear for their own jobs. Many come from India and earn salaries that are unheard of in India and fight to defend anything that threatens their position. That students suffer as a result seems to be of little or no consequence.
There is almost no networking between Darul Ulooms and other Islamic or secular institutions either in the country or worldwide. There are no student or teacher exchanges, no presenting of papers or symposia or seminars given or received. No cross institutional training. External influences are restricted to the periodic visits of Ulama from Indiawhich are mostly ceremonial in nature with almost no real or worthwhile direct contact between them and students/teachers/public. Visits of Ulama from the Middle East, Far East or other parts of the world are fewer and even less useful in any real sense.
4.     As is the case in India, no formal teacher’s training qualification is needed to teach in a Darul Uloom. Nor is there any way of measuring performance of teachers. So quality of teaching is haphazard and person dependent and inconsistent. It is a strange and sad reality that both in Indiaand South Africato teach in the meanest of government schools, a teacher needs a degree in education. But to teach in the most prestigious of Darul Ulooms, he needs nothing. Once again, it is students who suffer, but they have no voice.
5.     The Darul Ulooms and their curricula and qualification are not recognized by the South African university education system. I understand that the Darul Ulooms refused recognition when it was offered; in my view, a big mistake. This puts the students at a serious disadvantage where they find themselves not on par with their fellows qualifying from universities and colleges. They are essentially in a position where after qualifying from the Darul Uloom they are unable to pursue further study in the university system and have no qualification to be able to earn a decent living in society. Their only alternative is to become Imaams in masajid or teachers in Islamic schools or Darul Ulooms. Some of those who come from wealthy families are supported by the family.
Others whose families own businesses are absorbed in the business without any training in business on account only of their lineage. Neither is a satisfactory nor self respecting situation. Still others who have neither of these support systems are left to the mercy of the administrators of whichever masjid or school they join, with no bargaining or influencing power of their own.
It is a sad commentary on the lack of thought in blindly following a system which created exactly the same problems in its parent society in India with disastrous effects to the prestige of the Ulama. A simple look at the situation of Muslims in UP, India which has major Islamic institutions like Darul Uloom, Deoband, Nadwatul Ulama, Mazahirul-Uloom, Sahranpur; Madrassa Da’awatul Haq, Hardoi; still has one of the highest rates of illiteracy, backwardness, unemployment and crime in the country should tell us that something is seriously wrong with the way Muslims are educating themselves. Instead of learning from this experience, the same system is replicated in South Africa with predictable results.
The Darul Ulooms follow a curriculum that is mostly outdated and irrelevant today. There are parts in it relating to Islamic theology that are useful and must be retained. However there are other major parts which need to be discontinued and replaced with subjects and focus that is current and application oriented. This is a desperate need without which we will continue to produce Ulama who find it increasingly difficult to influence others or to bring about change in a society that needs changing very badly.
Strangely like India, there is no scope for post graduate education in theology in the Darul Ulooms. If a student wants to do a PhD, he has to go to a regular university to do it. I have never understood the logic of not creating a complete system of education even in our chosen field. The result is that we create people who are not expert in anything.
6.     The Muslim business community is Gauteng consists mostly of small to medium sized enterprises. (I am using here the universal size classification for industries: Upto $250M = Small; Upto $500M = Medium; $ 1 B+ = Large). There are no Muslim multi-national businesses to the best of my knowledge. There is no Muslim Chamber of Commerce. There is no formal forum for businessmen to network, strategize, influence or bargain. Businessmen as a body have no formal relationship with the universities. They don’t sponsor research or teaching (Chairs) in areas of strategic importance. There are no business sponsored training programs at the universities. Muslim business leaders don’t speak at university sponsored seminars on matters of interest to industry. Muslim businesses don’t sponsor case studies, best practice studies or industry analysis. There seems by and large to be a lack of awareness of the power of higher education in growing businesses and not much emphasis seems to be placed on university degrees or on IT and training as core developmental and investment areas. Consequently there is a general lack of awareness about global business and strategy and a lack of a global perspective.
This dangerously extends to a lack of awareness of the threats that global businesses can pose to the niche areas that Muslim businessmen operate in, in South Africa. Finally a lack of awareness that policy changes are brought about by global corporations, not by mom & pop shops, no matter how profitable they may be in themselves. (Test Questions: What was the last business study/book you read and what did you do after reading it? Which financial, business, corporate publication do you subscribe to and read?)
7.     The culture in business families seems to be of a structure consisting of first or second generation business founders who run a very close shop. The third generation youth are mainly big spenders with little or no visible focus on wealth creation. (Test Question: How many new businesses were started in the last 5 years?) Western pop culture of brand-snob ostentation, and claim to position without earning the ‘respect’ of subordinates, all point to a future that is far from rosy. Predictably this behavior does not inspire trust and so the older generation is reluctant to hand over the reins of business. The older generation tends to rule with an iron fist and businesses are individual driven instead of being process driven.
There is no formal system of people development or of succession planning in most Muslim businesses and there seems to be a lack of awareness of even the danger of this situation. This leads to frustration in the youth and the vicious cycle is complete. (Test Question: How many MBA’s are there per unit population of business families?)
8.     In many ways the political scene is much the same as the business scene. Laurels were earned by the elders who fought for freedom alongside other African leaders and consequently earned for the Muslim community its present status of high respect and visibility in parliament, government and industry. However the next generation seems content to enjoy that benefit with no apparent effort to maintain, much less to take forward the position of influence that the elders earned. They don’t seem to realize that once power is lost and the vacuum is filled, it is almost never regained. The example of India and the short-sighted role that Muslim leadership played in the formation of Pakistan as well as in post-independent India seems either to be unknown, un-reflected on or lesson not learnt. I believe this is a very critical mistake. Social groups that are wealthy but have no power have their wealth taken away from them by force. History is replete with examples. And nations which don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it. I sincerely hope the Gauteng Muslims are not among those who have to repeat the history of their own people in India.
1.     South Africais the land of dreams. The cap that apartheid placed on the aspirations of people and on their potential for power and influence has been lifted. The political leadership demonstrated to the world grit and determination to free itself from slavery followed by the magnanimity to forgive those who had oppressed them. It is not an exaggeration to say that a parallel does not exist in recent history. The only parallel to this is 1400 years old when the Prophet (SAS)  entered his own native land of Makkah as a victorious ruler and forgave those who had wronged him.
The land is wide open, to be taken and used for the power of good. In almost every area of social interaction there are virtually unlimited opportunities.
There is a growing buying power in the population as well as a growing awareness of quality, customer rights and the willingness to make choices that will make business fly or sink.
The first and biggest opportunity in this context is to showcase Islam in this new world as the best way to address all social, political and developmental needs of the new nation and make it a leader among nations of the world. A good starting point would be to draw the parallel that I mentioned above. Subsequently working models of the Islamic Way of Life need to be created to demonstrate the power of Islam it solve the real problems of people in this world. Simply lecturing about Islam giving examples that are centuries old does not cut any ice even with today’s young Muslims, let alone with non-Muslims. That is the real challenge and the opportunity. The window to take advantage of it is now open.
South African Muslims have the goodwill where others will listen to them if they speak about Islam. To this end, every means at their disposal should be used. It would be shortsighted in the extreme if they were to shun some of the most powerful means to influence minds and steer thought, like television and other visual media. We must remember that all technology and tools are value neutral. A knife is a knife. It is neither good nor bad. It can be used for either purpose. So controlling its use is important. Not banning its use totally. If we ban the use of the knife, what would we use to perform life critical surgery? So also the television, internet and other visual media.
The single biggest responsibility of the South African Muslims in my opinion is to use every means at their disposal and ensure that the true picture of Islam is communicated to all humanity in general and to all South Africans in particular.
2.     There is a huge opportunity to take Islam into every home in South Africa, especially into the homes of the hitherto deprived people who were forsaken by everyone including their own religion.
After all it was in the name of Christianity that they were oppressed and segregated for more than 50 years. Now is the opportunity to take them from the restriction of man-made laws into the expanse of the law of Islam. But there is one proviso: this will have to be done by action. Not be talk and lecture. If South African Muslims are willing to make the effort the black African population is ready to accept Islam. But the route to their hearts is through their bellies and the bellies of their children. Social, educational, developmental and spiritual work in the black communities, by people who live with them, is the key. Simply visiting Muslims will never have the same impact.
3.     There is a huge business opportunity in the mass buyer and a fortune to be made at the bottom of the pyramid. However coupled with this must come development of people and preparing them to become buyers. 65% of the GDP of South Africa in 2005 came from the Service industry.

There are huge areas that are unexploited. There are opportunities in education, social and economic development, creating small entrepreneurs, introducing micro-credit and strengthening the middle class, the mainstay of any healthy economy. Simply selling boxes will not be successful any more.
4.     Gauteng Muslims are poised with their education, affluence, historical significance and religious ideology to be at the forefront of political leadership. However here also there are some provisos: Muslims of Indian and other origins need to accept that they are ‘black’ and stop using excluding language and include themselves in affirmative action programs. I realize that some water has already flown under the bridge in this aspect and so the task is more of re-including but it is a task that needs to be done with the utmost urgency. The route to that is through aggressively pursuing the development of the black people using all the resources at their disposal. If Muslims make themselves indispensable they will be impossible to ignore. Otherwise it is very easy to ignore 1.5% of the population. India is a classic example where 20% of the population is ignored with impunity because they lack strategically wise leadership. The Muslim population of India is 10 times the entire populationof South Africa. Still they have no voice.
1.     The biggest threat that South African Muslims face is that the window of opportunity that opened for them 10 years ago is not going to remain open for too much longer. If they don’t take advantage of it, then they too will face the same fate as their counterparts in Uganda and India and be relegated to the garbage pile of history. Speed is of the essence however. Speed and significant action. Not tokenism. Enough effort and investment to make a huge difference that is visible and appreciated all around. The time to do this is fast running out. Once the time runs out it will be a case of too little too late as in the case of Jamiat-ul-Ulama Hind’s efforts to get close to Dalits. Dalits don’t care any more.
2.     Lack of succession planning at all levels of Muslim society; be it in Businesses, Muslim organizations, Jamiat ul Ulama and similar organizations, on the political front and in the Darul Ulooms combined with a marked absence of developmental planning activity. This is a very major threat with an impact that will span at least two generations.
3.     Excluding the Darul Ulooms from the national mainstream educational system is a very serious mistake and will make them redundant in a very short time. Even today the number of local students is dwindling. This is a major danger signal. The Darul Ulooms must and do exist primarily for South African society, not for foreign students who may come there. If local students don’t come then it means that the products of Darul Ulooms are seen as losing relevance in local society. Another major danger sign is the miniscule presence of black African students in the Darul Ulooms and Muslim Schools.
4.     Sticking to a curriculum and teaching methods that are of little relevance in South African society in terms of the ability to create change and make Ulama influential will result in Ulama becoming sidelined from all collective decision making in due course. The fact that they are unable to earn a living on their own will also negatively impact their image as has already happened in India.

India is a classic example of what may well be the face of South Africain 2 decades if corrective action is not taken today. Lessons of history though unpleasant, must be learnt and can only be ignored at great peril.
5.     There is a hardening of stances by Ulama (demonstrated in the Muslim Personal Law issue) where the larger interest of the South African Muslims is being sacrificed at the alter of personal differences of opinion. It is essential not to lose perspective that Muslims are 1.5% of the population of a secular, democratic republic. If necessary ijtihad must be made to find solutions that satisfy the demands of the constitution while maintaining the Muslim position on various issues. For this, it is essential to be inclusive in interpretation and rulings of the Shari’ah and use the rulings of any of the A’aimmah Arba’a or other jurists of the Salaf and not stick to the ruling of any one of them.
The danger of not accepting the ruling of an Imaam of Islam different from the one we follow is that we may be forced to accept the ruling of a non-Muslim judge of the Supreme Court. Once again India is a good example to see what not to do.
6.     Lack of interest among Muslims for higher education will mean that over the years the opinion and decision makers of society (university professors, writers, journalists, judges, administrators, military officers, scientists, doctors, global business leaders and engineers) will be non-Muslims. It is essential that young Muslims aggressively pursue university degrees in science, technology, politics, business and other areas and ensure that the percentage of Muslims in these areas increases. Currently young Muslims who do get business degrees don’t want to join their family businesses due to the restrictive atmosphere of traditional person driven management.
They prefer to work with multinationals or local companies which are more professionally managed. As a temporary post-graduate training exercise this is acceptable, even beneficial but if it is a longer term trend, then it is very debilitating for the community.
7.     The biggest danger that Muslim businesses face is their unwillingness to move from being person driven to becoming process driven. Without this critical change, they are destined to shrivel and die. Lack of awareness of the need to grow, professionalize management, introduce IT, formalize people development and career paths, measure performance and productivity, introduce quality standards and plan succession are all major threats to the future of business in the country.

There is a false sense of comfort basking in the glory of past success and current affluence. Unfortunately these people are either unwilling or unable to understand how the nature of business has changed globally and what threats loom over the future of their businesses unless they take some significant action, fast.
An attendant threat is that since the entire gamut of social work of the Muslims, be it educational institutions, zakat disbursement or help to calamity affected people around the world, is dependent on the health of the Muslim business, its preservation and growth is absolutely essential. If Muslim businesses fail it is not only the owner families who will suffer but a great many more people and institutions which are dependant on them will also be badly affected. Therefore the health and prosperity of the Muslim business is of great importance. But are their owners willing to change their ways?? That is the big question.
8.     Finally a major threat is the sparse population of Muslims in the military, judiciary and police. Especially in the military and police force. This is a very major danger as it gives the impression that Muslims are not patriotic and nationalistic. In the future this can be used to build opinion against the community. Also in times of threat, it is very unsafe to have a force that is commanded and populated exclusively by non-Muslims in whose hands lies the safety of the Muslims. It is very critical to have a strong presence in the forces of overt power. Once again this is an area which needs major action very fast otherwise it will create a self limiting cycle. Remember that it is Generals who make the decisions and a General is not created overnight.

Recommendations: A 4 pronged strategy to become indispensable
Strategy # 1:  Jamiat ul Ummah
1.     The first and most important strategic move will be to create a genuine partnership between all the leaders of the Muslim community. I propose that a body is created which is called the Jamiat ul Ummah. This body must work on the following tasks:
a.     Task Force on Strategic Planning to Project future scenarios that may arise for the Muslims and suggest courses of action.
b.     Task Force on Education which will examine the current curricula in the Darul Ulooms and Muslim Schools and suggest changes in both curriculum and methods of teaching to make them relevant and current. This Task Force will also make sure that the Darul Ulooms are included in the mainstream of education.
c.     Muslim Chamber of Commerce which will be the apex body for all trade and industry related work and which will aggressively follow a course of international networking to promote trade between Muslims worldwide.
d.     Task Force on Thought Steering which will monitor ‘Muslims in the News’ and make sure that the correct picture is projected about Islam and Muslims of both South Africaand the world. This Task Force will also deal with emerging propaganda threats and take preventive action for damage control and retaliation. This task force will also be in charge of publication, research related to it and media management.
e.     Legal Task Force which will take action through the courts on all legal matters relating to legislation and judgments concerning Muslims of South Africa.
f.       Task Force on Social Development which will work actively on projects in the deprived areas concentrating on all issues of health, education and entrepreneurial development.
g.     Task Force of Theologians who will be responsible for interpreting the Shari’ah and guiding all the above bodies in matters relating to Islam.
h.     Task Force for Nurturing Leadership with the responsibility to create a second line of leadership in all aspects of society. This Task Force will run a national talent search among Muslim students and select a small group each year which will be earmarked for various strategically important positions. These students will be personally mentored and nurtured through specially created educational and experiential opportunities to eventually take the leadership positions earmarked for them. (Case in Point: RhodesScholarships)
 Structure of the Jamiat ul Ummah
Key objectives of the Matrix Structure
1.     The policy making body will also be responsible for policy implementation.
2.     All decision making will be collaborative in nature practicing the Islamic principle of shura.
3.     There will be no possibility of power politics and electoral lobbying and position seeking.
4.     A second line of leadership will automatically be created with no chance of a cult being created around the personality of any particular leader.
5.     The central Majlis Ash Shura will be comprised of the Heads of the Task Forces. They will decide policy and then will be responsible for implementing it in their own areas.
Each Task Force will have its own Majlis
1.     The Head of the Majlis Ash Sura, called the Faisal will assume office by rotation. Each Faisal will be in that position for a period not exceeding one year. Every Majlis member will have the opportunity to be the Faisal when his / her chance comes.
2.     In the Majaalis Ash Shura of the Task Forces, the Head of the Task Force will be the permanent head, but for operational purposes the Faisal will also rotate to give each member a chance to learn leadership.
Strategy # 2:  Education: (Muslim Schools & Teachers Training Colleges)
Education is the single most powerful role to achieve the goals of the Jamiat ul Ummah. I propose that one black African child is educated with every one of our own children, at our cost if required. Two routes may be adopted simultaneously for this. Admit one black African child with every Muslim child in all our Muslim Schools.
This will have the dual benefit of not only educating the child but of creating an ‘Old Boy Network’ in the South Africa of the future between Black and Indian South Africans. There are numerous examples of the power of this strategy in the world. Harrow and Eaton in the UKand Doon Schoolin Indiaare classic examples of how the destinies of nations are shaped by shaping the minds of their young.
Simultaneously with this the current Maktab network in the black African townships must be expanded to include regular syllabus subjects. The quality of the Maktab education must be enhanced to create a situation where non-Muslims become interested in sending their children to these Makatib. That will be the route to the winning of their hearts to Islam. Scholarships must be set up to pay for the education of deprived children. A special fund must be created to pay for all this. The current situation of some Muslim schools being starved of funds and being unable to meet their needs is highly dangerous to the community.
An ancillary to this is to start Teacher’s Training Colleges. I propose that Muslims take over the teaching profession in the same way that Christian women from Kerala have taken over the nursing profession in India and many other countries. Muslim men and women must take over the teaching profession. Every teacher of every subject must be a Muslim. The way to do this is to train teachers and to help them to become role models for others. Design the Teacher Training course in such a way that there is an element of the Islamic way of teaching in it. That way the teacher also becomes a dayee. The focus as in everything else must be on quality. These colleges must become role models in teacher training for all others in the field.
Strategy # 3:  Health: (Primary Health Care Centers & Specialty Hospitals)
South Africa has a population of 44 million out of which 5 million are HIV positive and are living with aids. This is a catastrophic situation. That the Muslims are not a major part of it is a matter of some consolation but not a matter to become complacent about. Primary Health Care Centers must be set up in all the deprived areas to provide free medical aid to those who need it. These must be linked to major hospitals, which must be set up where they may not already exist. Funding will be available for such activity from global organizations provided the South African Muslims are willing to take on the implementation. Major medical facilities are also a source of good business, as Indiahas shown. Hyderabadhas become a center of what is beginning to be called, Medical Tourism. However the focus of this strategy must not be lost…to win the hearts of the deprived people. That people who set up such high quality hospitals will also make money is an incidental matter.
Strategy # 4: Entrepreneurial Development: (Training & Micro-credit)
In the words of George Bernard Shaw, “Lack of money is the source of all evil.” Whereas we may have a different view of this as Muslims, the axiom is certainly true of all non-Muslim, Western societies. Poverty leads to crime and sin.
Alleviating poverty is not simply a matter of doing good but a matter of survival of those who have more. Also people with more buying power means that the economy will grow stronger for the benefit of all.
Finally nobody is dearer than the one who makes you rich. Once we are seen as such, people will be willing to follow our lead in other matters.
Running entrepreneurial development programs, staring an Entrepreneurship Development Academy (maybe the government will fund that), financing small businesses, creating ancillaries to larger businesses and micro-credit on Islamic financial principles are all ways that can be explored.
It is my belief that if these recommendations are followed we will not only be able to address and positively influence the future of the South African Muslims but we would have put in place a system to ensure enduring leadership.
In my view the Jamiat ul Ulama must take the lead to spearhead this effort. Some of what I am suggesting may come across as a dilution of the position and power of the Jamiat. But let me assure you that India is a classic example of what isolation of the Ulama can do to the Ummah at large and to the Ulama themselves. South Africais in grave danger of replicating the mistakes that Indian Muslims made over more than a century and for which we today are still paying the price, literally in blood and lives.
What I am proposing is a system that will actually strengthen the hands of the Ulama and make them the true leaders of the community while leveraging the considerable strengths and talents of other Muslims in different leadership positions.
Just a no captain can sail any ship alone no matter how knowledgeable he may personally be, neither can the Ulama guide the ship of this Ummah by themselves. It is only with the active cooperation of all the Muslim leadership working together that the ship of this Ummah can remain on course and sail to its final destination of making South African Muslims, Standard Bearers of Islam and role models for the world.
I ask Allah  to help us in this matter and to use the Muslims of South Africa who He has blessed in so many ways to be the leaders for the Muslims of the world, and create a society that will truly reflect the beauty of the Islamic Way of Life from which all those who live in it, can benefit equally.
Which God?

Which God?

My take on the situation in our country today is that the BJP must decide what it is – bird or beast. It must decide what its core ideology is. I am happy to do a Core Ideology Workshop for them and the RSS if they want. The problem is that they seem to be confused in this respect and that is the fundamental problem.

Whatever be the historical philosophy of the RSS and its imaginary problems with Muslims, the reality is that every theocracy in today’s world has failed. That is because theocracies (no matter what the religion may preach) are based on the principle that people following the state religion are superior human beings and others are inferior. That simply doesn’t work and creates so much internal turmoil that the state’s major attention and resources will become tied down to quelling disturbances. Eventually it fails. Examples abound and so will be the case with a Hindu theocracy, assuming that they can make that happen. I won’t even go into the million reasons why that is a pipe dream, speaking from the point of view of Constitutional Law. I am saying that even if they managed it, it will fail because in today’s world, theocracies are outdated and finished.

As for the way, they are going about it, the fact is that they are out of control. They seem to have let loose forces which are not in their own control. I don’t believe that someone is sitting at the center of his spider’s web directing Operation Lynch. He and others are as clueless about how to control what they have (inadvertently?) started as anyone else. They have to support it as it is being done in their name and so they are supporting it by their silence. But that is a short-term strategy. At some point, very soon they will have to take a public stand on this. Murder remains a crime in this country and can’t be ignored forever. If they take a formal stance supporting it (I don’t think anyone is that insane) we can imagine what will happen.

Meanwhile, farmer suicides, the two major body blows to the economy of demonetization and GST (BJP fought tooth and nail against it at 18% and then brought it in at 28%??), the ongoing Maoist civil war, China and Pakistan and the huge unrest (what a nice word to describe another civil war) in Kashmir are real issues which are setting this country on fire. Only a completely insane person or someone who is an enemy of India will contemplate antagonizing another 20 crore Muslims, four times that number of Dalits as well as all the people with different food habits from the currently ‘approved’, in Goa, North Eastern states, Kerala and AP/Telangana, simultaneously. Remember that all these people were until now living peacefully and many even voted for the BJP. What sense does it make to antagonize them all on something as stupid as what they eat? It is not the job of the government to worry about or try to control what people eat, drink, wear, worship or marry.

It appears to me that this government has fallen into the fatal trap of believing its own PR. It doesn’t want to face the harsh reality that demonetization affected the poor, the housewife, the small trader, the person who saved up for years for a rainy day and overnight made them criminals and black-market hoarders. While the big players of the black-market, flew the coop. I would suggest that our national leaders, walk into the streets of East Delhi in disguise and talk to the small traders and manufacturers there about demonetization and the second surgical strike on the economy, the GST. I don’t say that GST is bad in itself but the way it was implemented has left people shell shocked. Surely that was not so difficult to foresee and mitigate.

I can’t believe that people who are educated and intelligent have become so blind as not to see what this is doing to the nation and to their own political future. The complete lack of opposition in this country today, leaves the BJP free to make history as one of the best parties to have ruled India in terms of economic development and poverty alleviation; provided it does that and doesn’t get side-tracked into a completely negative agenda of religious extremism, crony capitalism and power abuse.

Remember that in a nation that has no Social Security, National Health Service, State Funded Education or Elderly Care, it was these small businesses, which were doing the work of the State at their own expense. Every one of them was taking care of between ten and one hundred people. I am talking about businesses ranging from the Istiri-wala, vegetable vendor, snack carts to one-shop printing presses, lathe machines and cottage industries of all kinds. It is true that many were not under the direct tax umbrella but they all paid taxes in one form or another and what is more important, they took care of their families, relatives, employees and society. They kept the market alive, they fueled commerce, they created a credit flow, they paid for goods and services. They took care of the elderly, the sick, educated their children, paid their bills and were the blood of this nation which keeps the nation alive. These were the people who took the biggest hit in both demonetization and while they were reeling from that blow, the GST. All this while Vijay Mallya still goes to the Oval to watch cricket and Wimbledon to watch tennis.

Individual freedom is the glue that binds a nation. Take that away and the fabric of nationhood unravels. And as the Hindi song goes – even if you join the thread, there will be a knot in it. The job of the government (and the basis of the BJP’s election promise) is economic development of the nation. Nothing else. Add to this the responsibilities of public health and education which result in happier and more productive people which once again results in economic well-being. Any government that loses sight of this, sinks its own ship. America is a classic example today with Trump and his insane policies.

Taxation, money supply, encouraging and supporting entrepreneurship, safety and security of life and property, fair wages and employee benefits and care of children and the elderly must be the focus of the government. This must be visible from every statement made, budget spend, policy formation and implementation and time and energy spend of the leadership; not simply ad-agency inspired PR campaigns. In all these areas, today this government has failed the nation. There is still time to salvage the situation, but it will take above all, political will and a strong leadership stance to do an about-face.

I am aware that allowing the situation to get to where it is today by remaining silent has led to a situation where the leadership is riding a tiger. The longer they stay on its back, the more difficult and costly it will be to get off. Even today, if good sense prevails and the government simply applies the law of the land, reins in the goon squads, punishes the guilty, compensates the aggrieved (difficult though it is to put a price on human life) and makes its position clear both on maintaining law and order as well as economic development, the situation is salvageable. However, we are fast running out of time. And when that happens, then only God can save us. In this case we must ask, ‘Which God?’

In the words of the great MLK, ‘When the truth must be spoken, silence is culpable.’
Musings from my twilight

Musings from my twilight

“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact.
Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.” -Marcus Aurelius
Marcus Aurelius was a stoic and a man of great wisdom; very unusual in a ruler. So, I present my musings to you as something from my perspective and not “The Truth”.

As I reflect on our world, someone sent me a speech made by a 13-year-old young lady, Severn Suzuki at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, in 3-14 June, 1992, now 25 years ago. The speech that silenced the audience (they say ‘world’ but let’s get real) for 5 minutes. Today, 25 years later, when the situation of the world is far worse than what Severn Suzuki described so eloquently, Americans elected Trump who walked out of the Paris Conference in 2017. I wonder where Severn Suzuki is today and what she feels about it. So, what does it tell us about those we have chosen to hand over our future to?

I sometimes wonder what future archaeologists will say when they dig up the mound under which our ‘civilization’ (for want of another word) will lie buried. Will they not wonder how we, who prided ourselves on our scientific knowledge, technological advancement, material resources and high-class education, still managed to elect leaders who ensured that we and all that we hold dear was destroyed? We did this while knowing full well what we needed to do to stop this destruction and save ourselves. We chose not to save ourselves but committed suicide. Ask why?

Today we need drastic and urgent change. For this we need strong leadership with the ability to enforce compliance. Initially enforcement will be necessary. Then and only then can we expect change. The big problem with such leaders however, is that they tend to become dictatorial, don’t allow a second line of command to develop and so when they die or are removed, they leave a vacuum which brings with it chaos. Malaysia after Mahathir is a good example. Singapore is a good example of how the strong leadership continued because the second line developed was Lee’s son. Mercifully he didn’t go the way of the sons of other leaders and seems to be a conscientious and prudent ruler. The Middle East has many examples of the opposite some of whom are causing havoc as we speak, threatening to land us all into some very hot water.

Bottom line is that democracy as it is supposed to be in theory, seems to be unrealistic and doesn’t work and degenerates into a self-serving oligarchy without any sense of responsibility to the common people. That’s what’s happened in every single situation today, globally.  I doubt that democracy was an experiment at all. Either it was always a way for oligarchy to get legitimacy or an idealistic dream of theorists which was hijacked                       

Social media is a tool of subjugation designed to take the steam out of resistance by giving people a way to express their angst in a way that doesn’t disturb the establishment and doesn’t inconvenience them at all. It has two additional advantages: identifies potential rebel leadership early to be dealt with quietly and gives the world the message that you’re liberal and confident

Take the case of India and the ongoing social strife, brought to the forefront with the many lynchings of Muslims and Dalits for allegedly eating beef. The fact that they didn’t eat it, is neither here nor there. Neither does it matter that even if they did, death is not the penalty for this “crime” in Indian Law. 
My question here is not about Hindu sentiment at all but about the very visible failure of governance. And the fact that even those who have sworn to uphold the Constitution of India and the Law of the Land seem to have bought into the discourse of Hindu sentiment. What does Hindu sentiment or Muslim sentiment or any sentiment have to do with the laws that govern this country and those who have sworn to uphold them? That is why I don’t hold the government responsible for the lynchings but for what happened (or fails to happen) thereafter. We have a law and those who are sworn to uphold, implement and if necessary enforce it. The law is for the safety of the nation and all its citizens and what anyone’s sentiments are about it, is immaterial.

We are told that Hinduism is a peaceful religion (aren’t they all?) and that Hindus have always lived peacefully with mutual respect and tolerance with all other religions. I would love to believe that, but I am faced rather inconveniently, with history. History tells us about the fate of Buddhism which predated Islam and Christianity by many centuries. Its rooting out from the land of its birth is testimony to Hindu (more correctly Brahmanical) tolerance for other faiths.

Islam came much later and when Muslim kings ruled, Hindus didn’t live with Muslims but under Muslim rule. Indeed, they lived peacefully. Did they have a choice? Muslim rulers were rulers first and Muslim much later, so they didn’t disturb the status quo and casteism continued and conversions happened more by those who saw a political advantage than anything else. That is why after 700 years of Muslim rule Hindus are 80% of the population. No Muslim ruler in all those centuries can be accused of trying to spread Islam. Islam spread with the Sufis, not rulers. That is why in 700 years, there are only two major Masaajid built by Muslim rulers (both by the same man) and not a single religious school or seminary. Muslim rulers were in it for the money, land and power and they were aided and abetted by Hindu rulers and upper castes (both Brahmins and Kshatriyas) who prayed for the success of Muslim armies commanded by Rajput and Maratha generals and populated by Rajput and Maratha troops provided by Rajput and Maratha Mansabdars. This is a part of history that is inconvenient and embarrassing to recall, but history it is.

Christianity came in force with the British and once again Hindus lived under Christian rule, not with Christians. Muslims at least integrated with Hindus to some extent (Muslim kings had Hindu queens etc.) but the British treated all Indians, Hindu and Muslim with equal disdain. 1857 was the watershed (‘bloodshed’ would be a better, more descriptive term to use) a popular rebellion against a century of brutal British rule by one commercial company (Robert Clive was Country Manager, in today’s MNC terms). The rebellion however, was sabotaged and the British were able to defeat the rebel forces thanks to the excellent intelligence and material support of the Baniyas of Delhi and the military support of the Sikh rajas of Punjab. As a result, over a million Hindu and Muslim rebels were murdered and India was handed over to the British to rule and despoil for another century. The 80-year-old king of Delhi, Bahadur Shah Zafar’s sons and grandsons slaughtered and left to rot in the street for 3 days and himself exiled to Burma, never to return to his homeland. Again, a very embarrassing period of history. Bahadur Shah Zafar asked the only pertinent question when he was hauled up before the British kangaroo court accused of treason. He asked, “How can I commit treason against myself? This is my country. Not the country of the Company Sahib.” But of course, the Company Sahib (respectful form of address for the British East India Company) was not interested in any soul searching. (William Dalrymple’s excellent book, The Last Moghul is salutary reading).

In all these centuries two facts are clear:

  1.        India was never one nation until 1947
  2.        Indians never saw themselves as ‘Indian’ until the years leading to Independence

Up until then, India was a conglomeration of nation states living in fear of one another and willing to side with any outsider against their own brethren. This is what enabled the very first invasions by Pathans and later by Moghuls (the First Battle of Panipat was fought between Babur and Sher Shah Suri – Pathan versus Moghul helped by Hindus on both sides). Rani of Jhansi, Razia Sultana, Tipu Sultan, Shuja ud Dowla, the Mopla Rebellion and many others were all defeated by Indian troops commanded by British officers. Jalianwala Bagh massacre was done by Indian soldiers firing into an unarmed Indian gathering on the command of General Dyer. This sentiment was also exploited by the British, most significantly in 1857 when they were able to pit Indian against Indian for the simple reason that neither saw himself as ‘Indian’.

It was this sentiment which kept us subjugated for centuries and which once again threatens to subjugate us today. I think we need to ask why. As they say, ‘Nations that don’t learn from their history are condemned to repeat it.’ We have many problems today as a nation, but the most volatile and lethal of them is narrow-mindedness masquerading as nationalism that is threatening to disenfranchise everyone except those who subscribe to it. I want to stand up and say that I don’t subscribe to it and that I am a proud Indian who loves my country and am willing to do what it takes to save it from self-destruction. I don’t need anyone’s certificate to confirm my Indian-ness and neither do you.

The reality is that India as one nation, is a phenomenon since 1947 when for the first time this country has been truly independent and a unified territory governed by its Constitution. It is a tribute to the creators of the Constitution, the vast majority of whom were Hindu and could have created a Hindu Rashtra in 1947 (the main grudge of the RSS) that they didn’t fall into the jingoistic ideology on which Pakistan was created and instead wrote a Constitution which is a mark of pride for us Indians, as a document that treats all citizens equally. If you ask me, I don’t care one way or another whether India becomes a Hindu Rashtra or not, as long as people’s freedom and safety is assured and equal opportunity to live and prosper is not compromised. Nobody can stop me from worshiping who I want to or from practicing my religion. And so, whether the country is Hindu or Christian or Sikh or Muslim or nothing makes no difference to me as long as I am able to live peacefully and comfortably, with dignity and equality in every way.

The Constituent Assembly wrote the Indian Constitution which made us a Constitutional Democracy (not a Parliamentary Democracy) and declared India to be a “sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic, assuring its citizens of justice, equality, and liberty, and endeavours to promote fraternity among them.”This is what we accepted, this is what we stand for, this is our identity, because it is written in our name, ‘We the People of India.’
The Indian Constitution is the real savior of this nation because of its interpretation of the term ‘secular’. Unlike in Europe, ‘secular’ in India, doesn’t mean ‘absence of religion’ but ‘equal respect for all religions’ and by inference and even more specifically later, the wiping out of caste discrimination. It is this that makes us one nation. It is a wonder for many ethnologists, sociologists and political scientists, how India can be one nation, given our huge diversity of language, religion, ethnicity and culture. Yet we are and our concept of secularism is the secret. Without it, we will fracture once again into groups and subgroups as we have always been in our long history.

The big cause for alarm today is that this seems to have been forgotten by those who swore to uphold the Constitution and they are also speaking the language of Hindu sentiment etc. Whether we should have a Hindu Rashtra or not is a moot point. Whether we should respect our Constitution or not and uphold it, is not.

Ahem! Pardon me, may I say something?

We are living in a country that appears to have gone mad. All sane voices are being silenced. All insanity is being given free reign. Since fascists don’t read history it has no lessons for them. For it is too easy to see what happened every single time to those who went down this road of self-annihilation…they were very successful. This road looks very gung-ho to begin with and that is why it draws so many enthusiastic band wagon riders.
To give you an idea, someone sent me a question on Quora: When will India be Muslim free?
What should I answer? I haven’t answered him yet. But I could say, sticking purely to the math: If you kill 100,000 Muslims every year, it will take 2000 years to finish the present population.

Or should I attempt a moral answer? Seems futile for someone who asked such a question.
Believe me, I am not running scared. Not by a long shot. Just very sad about my country whose soul seems to have been hijacked. What is very painful also is that there is nobody among my Hindu friends who I can share my pain with. I say this from experience because when I did share some things with them, I got one of two reactions; Stoic silence or ‘Why are you blaming me?’ Pointless to tell them that I was not blaming them. If our years of friendship are not enough for them to understand that, then I must question the value of that friendship. So, what do I do? I decided not to share. After all, in the end we stand alone.

The fact is that murder for entertainment started the day this government got elected. A Muslim boy was lynched in Pune for no reason other than that he appeared to be Muslim. You may have forgotten that incident but believe me, it happened. Then these lynchings followed one after another, inevitably because success breeds success. To the extent that someone sent me a joke:
Gau Rakshakji ghar par hain?
Nahin, lynch par gay hue hain.
Of course, I laughed very hard.

I am not saying that the government is responsible for the lynching. But it certainly is for what happens thereafter. That is what a government is for, to act against law breakers such that future aspirants are discouraged. So, I ask one simple question. “What happened to the IPC and CrPC?” Does this country still have a CCD (Common Criminal Code) and police and judiciary? If so, then what happened to the people who murdered that boy in Pune? And then to all those who murdered all those thereafter? If murder is allowed, it will happen. From the look of it, it appears that as long it is a Muslim who is killed, nobody cares – not the media, nor the judiciary, nor the police, nor the executive or politician. So, where do we go from here?

This is where we are today. And we are moving fast ahead.
Some good articles are in the English press. However, I remind myself that all these are circulated among a small section of the elite. The vast majority of the non-elites as well as a considerable portion of the elite, subscribe actively or tacitly to the philosophy of making India Muslim free – either directly or indirectly (through disenfranchisement in one way or another). What this will do to the country is not something that they appear to be interested in considering. Soon, it will be too late and all considerations will be moot.

I am among those who bear witness. For he also serves, who only bears witness.

Of humanity, not airlines

I travel all the time, but never on United. I agree with all that has been said in this article. However, my question is not about airlines though I support #neverflyunited. It is about humanity and decency. It is about justice. It is about the maxim, ‘Injustice to one is injustice to all.’ That is why I am not even talking about the race of the passenger whose exit was facilitated. I am not speculating if United would treat a WASP in the same manner. It doesn’t matter. We are all human. Believe me, WASP or not. And injustice to one is injustice to all. Until we understand that, injustice will prevail.
There was a time when people stood up to support one another. What happened to that? Why did all the other passengers simply sit there and watch this horrific thing happen? I am not saying that they should have fought the security guards. They could have simply stood up and walked off the plane in solidarityall including the First Class passengers. But not a single one did that. Why? If they had, United would have had the privilege of flying its own staff and giving them the choice of any seat on the plane.
Try it people. As long as you are willing to take shit, shit shall be dished out to you. That is a law of nature. United didn’t invent it, it’s there, like gravity. United doesn’t enforce it. We do. By our silence in the face of injustice, we permit and support injustice.
Remember the man who said, ‘When the truth must be spoken, silence is culpable’? He too was American. You want to make America great again? Great idea. But then you have to get up and do something. You can’t simply sit on your situpon with your fingers crossed and mumble, ‘Thank God that didn’t happen to me.’ If you do that, one day it will. 
It surely will as the sun rises from the East.