Archive for category Islam

The ‘Rushdie’ Attack

So how many of us have really read the book, ‘The Satanic Verses’? Yes, we’ve been told its ‘blasphemous’, we’ve read about it in the newspaper, maybe heard it mentioned at the dinner table. We all know it’s a ‘bad book’, but do we know why? No we don’t, and neither do the thousand or so street protestors in Iran and Pakistan. Chances are that they hadn’t even heard the name Salman Rushdie prior to this.

So what makes this book so ‘sacrilegious’, so heretic? Why is it condemned, banned, and denounced across the Muslim world? My answer to you is: I really don’t know. And it doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, it’s an opinion. An extreme opinion, I’ll give you that. But still an opinion. Charles I of England was executed for defying Parliament and instigating a civil war. Prime Minister Bhutto was hanged in the 1970’s against charges of rigging elections and plotting to kill his political opponents. You don’t issue a death sentence against someone for holding a perspective. There’s a word that describes such an act; it’s intolerance.

Despite this, one might (and rightly so) consider the fatwa a serious matter; one that should be looked into. After all, you don’t have every author being issued a death sentence against. Let us consider the basis of this fatwa. In 1989, Supreme Leader of the Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, calling for the assassination of Salman Rushdie. He deemed the assassination a ‘religious duty’ for Muslims. In other words, us Muslims were given a ‘license to kill’ the author because he was…well, blasphemous. Why then did Khomeini fail to issue a fatwa against a group of Iranian students that seized the United States embassy in Tehran, taking 63 American citizens as hostage in 1979? Why was no fatwa issued against them? Khomeini supported the hostage takers, declaring ‘America can’t do a damn thing.’ So when a fatwa is issued by a leader who sat back during an emergency crisis, one should only regard it in one light: by not taking it seriously.

But we have taken it to heart. We were outraged that Salman Rushdie was knighted. None of us considered his contributions to Literature, his great writing, the numerous awards he’s achieved for his work. We only kept the weighty fatwa in mind, a fatwa that is not binding, and has no basis. So he said something disparaging about Islam. He wasn’t the first one to do it. He certainly won’t be the last. There are many more cartoons to come! Will be issue a fatwa against them all? Or will we just bomb or murder them, like Van Gogh’s grandson was by a Dutch Muslim? The Chinese didn’t broadcast celebrations of the Year of the Pig recently. They did it because they didn’t want to offend the Muslim community. But ultimately, they did it because they were scared of how we would react. We’ve instilled fear not only in the Western world, by in our own neighbors. When does it stop?

The real deserver of a fatwa isn’t an Indian-born author with an opinion. It isn’t tourism minister Nilofer Bakhtiar for hugging her parachute instructor. It isn’t tennis star Sania Mirza for failing to adhere to the ‘Islamic dress code’. The real deservers are the instigators of violence; a fatwa should be declared against the AK-47 armed students of Lal Masjid, and the burqa-clad miscreants from Jamia Hafza.

Salman Rushdie is innocent. Let’s try dolling out death sentences to the real criminals.

Minal Khan

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A Freer World

If Democracy means extending government for the people, by the people and a parliament aims for unanimous decision: should we really include those who limit the functions of a democratic process in a democracy? In every other third world country Islamic fundamentalists seem to be stemming the tide for reform and progress. They call for the full implementation of the Shariah or Islamic law. For them this is the sole approach to politics and the only way ahead. Recently the regime in Egypt is seriously considering the removal of Islamic fundamentalists from the parliamentary process. This might just be a wise decision.

The one essential thing we must understand about this position is that the Shariah law cannot be implemented in a modern day’s society. The full Shariah law in its entirety would call upon acts of punishments such as Stoning to death, castration and flogging. This can only be seen as crude and primitave rationale in the 21stcentruy. And if you may ask why refer to such punishments as un-fit, the answer is simple. Mankind has progressed beyond that stage in evolution. The French revolutionaries in 1789 marked a turn from the gruesome means of torture prevalent under absolutism. The revolution conceived the guillotine. Although this may seem horrible today, it was perhaps the most forgiving way to punish someone in that century. The iron blade would come clambering down on the criminal and within an an instant he was killed. Within an instant he was set free. Therefore humanity should not stand in oblivion to the progress they have so skillfully made over the centuries. We must accept developments and move with the times rather than idealize about turning back the clocks.

Islamic fundamentalism is a dangerous threat to regimes and coalition governments in the third world. It is almost tradition for each party to have at least some elements of fundamentalism on their agenda. This is particularly prevalent in Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. Both conservative and liberal parties appropriate Fundamentalism into their campaigns to boost popularity and support. The reason for this is evident. These countries have a narrow middle class electoral participation rate. With the majority of the lower groups of society remaining illiterate, it is only the religiously minded who jump to the call to give in their votes in the polls. Inevitably they chose to vote for the fundamentalists and their extremist propositions. Governments find themselves walking a tight rope. On one side they have their agenda and policy to consider. And on the other hand there remain those unfulfilled promises of bringing Islamic reform into the constitution.

These act as curbs on the entire government process. The government is forced to appease its poll supporters and cannot carry out simple policy. Even the most basic of reforms must be submitted for the approval of the fundamentalists. This makes us question as to who is really in power of the government. Martial law administrators are no exception to this. General Zia and General Pervez Musharraf have both followed a tight policy aimed at pacifying the fundamentalists. Terrorist cell activities and the works of A.Q khan have all been defended for this fundamentalist end.

When we hear pleas from Amnesty Internationals to Egypt to re-consider its move against fundamentalists we really wonder what the basis of their argument is. Are human rights being violated by banning fundamentalists from the parliament or are rights being violated by allowing them to be there.

Shahryar Malik FY

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Unwarranted

Jack Straw, former Foreign Secretary and backer of the war on Iraq said in an interview with the Lancashire Telegraph that he would ask Muslim women who wore a niqab to remove the veil when attending his surgery. He prompted a vigorous debate by saying that he would prefer it if Muslim women did not wear veils which cover the face because they make communication difficult. He suggested that he felt uncomfortable talking to someone whose reactions he could not ascertain as they had their faces covered. Also he believes that the niqab, which is optional according to most Muslims schools of thought, is a kind of ‘public statement, a proclamation about their faith’ which ‘physically separates those women from people outside their own communities.’

Countries across the continent have wrestled with an issue that deals with religious freedom, female equality, secular traditions and even fears of terrorism. In France a ban on Muslim headscarves and other “conspicuous” religious symbols at state schools was introduced in 2004. 80 years ago, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of Turkey rejected headscarves as backward-looking in his campaign to secularize Turkish society. Even so, it is estimated that as many as 65% of Turkish women cover their heads with a scarf. Nonetheless, scarves are banned in civic spaces, including schools, universities and official buildings. In November 2005 the European Court of Human Rights ruled the ban was legitimate. In Germany, in September 2003, the federal Constitutional Court ruled in favor of a teacher who wanted to wear an Islamic scarf to school. However, it said states could change their laws locally if they wanted to. At least four German states have gone on to ban teachers from wearing headscarves and in the state of Hesse the ban applies to all civil servants. In September 2004 local politicians in the north of Italy resurrected old laws against the wearing of masks, to ban women from wearing the all-over burqa. In July 05 the Italian parliament approved anti-terrorist laws which make hiding one’s features from the public – including through wearing the burqa – an offence. Moreover, Morocco is making major changes to religious education, in particular regarding whether young girls should wear headscarves. A picture of a mother and her daughter wearing headscarves is being removed from the latest editions of a text book. A verse from the Qur’an that says girls should don veils has already been taken out of the books. Other Arab countries have made similar changes, worrying that the veil could be used as a symbol of extremism. Education ministry official Aboulkacem Samir says the headscarf has political overtones: “This issue isn’t really about religion, it’s about politics,” he says.

There are few things that have become such obvious and controversial symbols of Islamic identity as the headscarf. The veil is perhaps a microcosm of a much broader dilemma – should Arab countries in North Africa and other Muslim societies turn towards secular democracies or to more conventional Islamist countries for their guidance and encouragement?

The veil is an iconic part of Muslim culture – for many women it is a statement of cultural identity, of social modesty and of religious adherence. A proportion may silently resent the fact that their husbands or families force them to cover up but there is a considerable group for whom it is a free and happy choice. It is that same sense of religious devotion that leads Sikhs to wear a turban, Jews a skull-cap or Christians a crucifix. The Qur’ an tells Muslims – men and women – to dress modestly. Male modesty has been interpreted to be covering the area from above the navel to below the knee – and for women it is generally seen as covering everything except their face, hands and feet when in the company of men they are not related or married to. But it may also be left to the Muslim woman to decide for herself, whether she wants to cover up fully with the niqab, as an expression of her faith and Islamic identity, or not. In countries where there are legal restrictions on religious dress, it becomes a matter of women’s human rights to wear what they want. But at the same time the niqab is such a powerful statement that more liberal Muslims sometimes object to it, especially in more urbanized societies, where women have fought long and hard to shake off restrictions seen as obsolete and imposed by men.

So what it all boils down to is the ‘evil veil.’ But if this is the case, then what about the wimple? You often see Christians of all nuances of faith kissing the hand of a nun and bowing down in respect. The nuns are not scorned or ridiculed; whereas they have become completely disconnected with this world. They don’t lead normal lives; they don’t study beyond a certain level, don’t work, don’t get married, and don’t have children- in fact they get ‘married’ to the church. Yet they are not extremists. They are not making any public statement. They are pious and are therefore revered by the common Christian. The wimple is thus a sign of simplicity – never evil.

Mr. Straw’s comments come in a year when a lot of Muslims feel under assault with cartoons about our prophet Mohammed (PBUH), a highly undiplomatic remark by Pope Benedict, eviction of innocent passengers from an aircraft, a raid on a Muslim school, the shooting of an innocent man in Forest Gate, a discussion about passenger profiling (want to guess which passengers?), criticism of a Muslim policemen etc. etc. Therefore, this is an unhelpful comment at present, particularly from a politician like Mr. Straw. Especially, when there is already too much negativity in the media and in people’s minds about Islam.

What people need to understand is that the veil is not a symbol of oppression but of status – a sign of cultural tradition and intense piety. Within all religious traditions there are trends underscoring the corrupting influences of the world and how one must keep them at a distance. Niqab is the response of a minority who feel that they are living in an antagonistic climate and if it’s not interfering with the public it should be left alone. It’s been happening for generations and has been handed down. So just because someone moves to a country overseas, it shouldn’t be a reason to change that culture. Also everyone should be allowed to follow their own religion. Mr. Straw can say what he wants, but it’s really none of his business. A Muslim citizen of UK was quoted saying, “We don’t need Jack Straw initiating debate for us – we don’t tell Jack Straw how to dress.” Therefore it really is as simple as that. This is really a religious issue, not something for politicians. The whole headscarf issue should come way down the list for politicians. People are not all the same. People have different religions and no religion. People dress differently and wear different clothes. Is it therefore considered bad to be “different”? Does that mean that our values have now come to include forced homogeneity? Should we all aim to dress and act the same?

The point is – how far do we have to go to blend in?

Mr. Straw says that he would prefer to see someone’s face when talking to them, but we all talk over the phone and write emails. Should those forms of communication be banned too? In reality, a Muslim woman’s choice of clothing is as irrelevant as that of a Goth. Why does no one impose bans when it comes to such factions as the Goths in the west? Nobody has imposed any bans on explicit advertisements promoting the over-sexualisation of women or vulgarity on television. Mr. Straw is not alleging that the women of his constituency are forced to wear niqabs. So if they wish to wear them why should anyone else object? And besides who should be the authority when discussing what any woman should wear? If our values are about freedom then freedom is not a conceptual notion. When the cartoons scandal erupted, Muslims were lectured on the sanctity of “freedom” in the west. What about the freedom to wear the niqab? Are Muslims really “rejecting the values of liberal democracy” by covering their faces on their own free will?

It is universally acknowledged that integration should be promoted, but does that mean discarding the things that some people hold dear to them? Harmony within society requires tolerance and acceptance. Thus it is equally important that Muslims aren’t portrayed as the only ones facing challenges to integrate. What we need to realize is that there are far more important barriers to successful integration in the world today. Are Muslims and non-Muslims receiving equal rights world wide? Is there awareness and compassion for the other? Are leaders of both worlds trying to pacify the extremists in their own divisions? The job of political leaders in today’s world is not to, “unleash a storm of bias, intensified division”, as put by Madeleine Bunting; but to pave the way for an open-minded, peaceful international community.

Anam Rizvi FY-L

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