What if Rajiv Gandhi hadn’t unlocked the Babri Masjid in 1986?

This article first appeared in the online version of the newsmagazine
‘Outlook India’ (issue dt. 23 August 2004) at the URL
http://outlookindia.com/full.asp?fodname=20040823&fname=UCol+Koenraad&sid=1

In 1985, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi gave in to Muslim pressure in the Shah Bano affair. Overruling a secular court�s decision that the repudiated wife Shah Bano was entitled to alimony from her ex-husband, he enacted a law abolishing the alimony provision in conformity with the Shari�a. Since India, unlike secular states, already had religion-based Civil Codes, this concession merely brought the minor matter of alimony under the purview of the prevailing arrangement. More importantly, it prevented riots.

Only months later, Gandhi restored the balance by giving the Hindus something as well: he ordered the locks on the Ram Janmabhoomi Babri Masjid in Ayodhya removed. Until then, a priest had been permitted to perform puja once a year for the idols installed there in 1949. Now, all Hindus were given access to what they consider as the birthplace of Rama, the prince posthumously deified as an incarnation of Vishnu.

Fundamentally, this decision didn�t alter the Ayodhya equation. Architecturally, the building was and remained a mosque, while functionally, it had been and continued to be a Hindu temple. That is why in my opinion, not taking this decision wouldn�t have changed the Ayodhya developments except in their timing. The different players, their strategies and goals, and their resolve to pursue these, all remained the same. The Babri Masjid Action Committee and the Vishva Hindu Parishad would have gone about their �business� just the same.

However, the VHP would have been forced to continue pushing the rather petty demand for removing the locks, rather than move on to the more ambitious and more mobilizing next step of planning the construction of a new temple. Most probably, the BJP would likewise have reaped smaller dividends from such a campaign. In 1989, it might not have jumped as high as 86 seats. Conversely, Congress might not have lost the North-Indian Muslim vote to the Janata Dal. In 1989, it could have remained just strong enough to cobble together a coalition rather than leave the initiative to the unwholesome and unstable Janata-BJP-Communist combine. So, at the level of party politics, Rajiv Gandhi�s decision may have made a big difference. Continue reading “What if Rajiv Gandhi hadn’t unlocked the Babri Masjid in 1986?”

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Islamic Renaissance now


By Hamid Golpira

The Islamic world is at the crossroads — either we have an Islamic Renaissance now or we will experience many years of backwardness.

The Islamic world has been in decline for over five centuries.

Once we experienced a golden age, and there is good reason to mourn its loss.

But the Moor’s last sigh shouldn’t last 500 years.

Something must be done to rectify the problem now.

It seems that we need a bit of etherealization, which is an expression used by historian Arnold Toynbee to describe what takes place when a civilization is flourishing.

So how do we etherealize the Islamic world?

Well, first we have to understand what we got right in the golden age.

To start an Islamic Renaissance, we have to return to our roots, but this does not mean returning to the past as Taleban-type elements would like to do.

We have to balance modernity and tradition.

And this is what we got right at the advent of Islam and during the golden age.

We understood and adapted to the times we lived in while maintaining our religious ideals.

We had spirituality and also academic scholarship and science.

Muslims never had a great Dark Ages where science was superstitiously rejected like the Europeans experienced.

However, we are in the middle of a 500-year decline that is like a dark age.

We Muslims have to understand that we live in the Information Age.

Yet, we must learn how to balance Information Age modernity and Islamic tradition.

We should not become materialists with little or no spirituality, like the Westerners, but we should also not try to become spiritual people disconnected from the times we live in.

Everything is in the balance and we must learn to strike that balance.

The new Islamic Renaissance must be an Information Age Islamic Renaissance because this is the era we live in.

The beauty of Islam is that it is adaptable to every era.

When the Europeans were in the middle of their Dark Ages, the Islamic world reached the heights of art, culture, science, philosophy, literature, architecture, and many other fields.

Many historians say the Islamic civilization actually inspired the European Renaissance.

So what went wrong in the Islamic world?

The answer is obvious.

We forgot who we are. We lost our identity.

We lost sight of that beauty of Islam which is adaptable to every era.

Most of the Islamic world was colonized by the Europeans, and our identity crisis became exacerbated.

After the colonial era ended, we became the victims of neocolonialism.

Even the minds of most Muslims have become colonized in the ongoing cultural war.

South African revolutionary Steve Biko once said: “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”

The Muslims broke up into different groups.

One group is influenced by the Westerners and tries to be secular materialists like them. They are sometimes called moderate Muslims but most of them are not very Muslim at all in reality.

Another group rejects the West and has adopted a form of Islamic traditionalism that is sometimes called fundamentalism but which is really not fundamentalism because they are out of touch with the modern world, whereas the fundamental teachings of Islam require Muslims to be in tune with the times we live in.

A third group rejects both of these approaches and opts for a form of Islamic mysticism disengaged from the world, which is not really Islamic mysticism because true Islamic mystics are engaged with the world and seek to help people, especially the oppressed masses and those who are spiritually lost.

All of these groups are going in the wrong direction, but each of them also has a piece of the answer.

We Muslims must synthesize these three approaches to regain our identity and start the new Islamic Renaissance.

We must utilize Information Age technology, but avoid getting lost in materialism.

We must hold fast to the Islamic tradition and the Islamic law, the sharia, but avoid stiff interpretations of the law, arrogant self-righteousness, and intolerance.

And we must understand mysticism and live the mystical life, but avoid selfish individualism and narcissistic fantasy.

If we can do this, we can reconnect with the beauty of Islam which is adaptable to every era, balance modernity and tradition, regain our Islamic identity, and start the new Islamic Renaissance.

Fears for daughters’ rights lead some Sunnis to adopt Shiaism

Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Fears for daughters’ rights lead some Sunnis to adopt Shiism
Vast difference in inheritance formulas causes many couples to convert – and not everyone approves
 
By Agence France Presse (AFP)

 

Ines Bel Aiba

Agence France Press

BEIRUT: Nada had no choice. The Sunni Lebanese woman decided to become a Shiite because that branch of Islam guarantees that her daughters will one day be her sole heiresses.

“If I became a Shiite it was not out of conviction,” Nada told AFP. Had she not converted, the girls’ uncle would receive the bulk of her inheritance when she died, in line with Sunni laws.

Shiites, a minority community in Islam, have sometimes been at odds with the Sunnis in the Arab world, but in Lebanon conversions between the two branches are easy and mostly done for practical purposes.

In Lebanon, religious tribunals rule on marriage, divorce and inheritance. For both Sunnis and Shiites, women receive one-third and men two-thirds of an inheritance.

Problems arise when a Sunni couple only has girls. They would inherit just a small part of the assets, while the larger part of the inheritance would go to the closest male relatives – grandfathers, uncles or cousins.

One solution for Sunni couples in such a situation is to become Shiites, as the sect’s religious regulations allow daughters to be the sole heiresses in the absence of male offspring.

Sunni couple Hassan and Sana Tawil became Shiite about 30 years ago because they had two daughters.

“We saw atrocious things happening in the family, such as an uncle who wanted to take everything from a cousin. It made an impression on us when we were children,” Hassan said.

They may be Shiites on paper but the Tawils remain deeply Sunni in practice.

 “I stayed profoundly Sunni,” said Sana, confirming that she raised her daughters “in line with Sunni values.”

“Even famous Sunni politicians became Shiites for the same reason,” she explains, citing Riad Solh, who was prime minister at the time of Lebanon’s independence in 1943 and who had five daughters.

In line with Lebanon’s confessional political system, the country’s prime ministers are Sunni – although at least four of them became Shiites because they did not have sons.

Like other couples in the same situation, the Tawils went to a Shiite court, where they converted before a sheikh who, they said, seemed to be very aware of the real motives behind their conversion.

“The sheikh looked at me and asked: ‘Do you have children?’ I said yes,” recalled Sana.

“He said: ‘How many?’ I said two. He asked: ‘Boys?’ I said no.

“Then he just looked at me and nodded. And I became a Shiite,” the 63-year-old woman said with a smile.

Sheikh Mohammad Noqari, director general of Dar al-Fatwa, the highest Sunni religious authority in Lebanon, confirmed that some Sunnis were becoming Shiites – but expressed disapproval.

“It is true that some Sunnis are doing this,” he said. “But if someone converts from one Muslim confession to another for material reasons, it is not really correct.”

But for Sheikh Jaafar Fadlallah, from the Shiite Sharia Islamic Institute, converting is “an issue of personal choice.”

“Nothing should prevent a Muslim from converting to the  branch that suits him best,” Fadlallah said.

Shiite authorities say that about 350 Sunnis become Shiites every year.

According to sociologist Marlene Nasr, the ramifications of such decisions are not always pleasant. “There are sometimes cases where people are ostracized” after converting, she said, “but not by the religious authorities – rather by their own families.”

Talal Khodari, a lawyer specializing in family legal affairs, said such conversions were “common,” although often “not accepted and not taken very well” in Lebanese society.

He also said that the issue sometimes causes additional family problems because male relatives feel that they are being accused, by implication, of being willing to take what rightfully belongs to their female relatives.


Copyright (c) 2007 The Daily Star

Islam Without Muslims; Muslims Without Islam

“What happens if a woman goes to court here [Saudi Arabia]?” asked my father.

“What do you mean?” I counter-questioned.

What I mean is that if a woman goes to court is she treated as an individual or are her rights based on her gender?”

Depends on the case, I guess,” I said.

“Come on,” he interjected sarcastically. “Don’t start telling me that women are treated in the manner that has been commanded by God. According to His Law they should be treated as equals. You know that that’s not the case here.”

“You just have to look around at the horrific miscarriages of justice to know that that’s definitely not the case,” he emphasized. “My point is that as much as we try to find fault with the West, one thing is for sure: I would feel far more secure with their system of justice if I were a woman than I would with the one we have here.”

Yes, in a way you’re right,” I began, “but Islam did give women rights over 1,400 years ago that the so-called civilized world has only started to recognize recently.” Continue reading “Islam Without Muslims; Muslims Without Islam”