Friday, May 29, 2015

The State of the Caliphate: The Fortunes of War

By The Economist
May 30th 2015
IF SENTIMENT in the towns in or bordering the so-called “caliphate” of Islamic State (IS) is anything to go by, the jihadists are winning the war. “IS is here to stay,” a doctor in Falluja says of the group’s grip on Anbar, Iraq’s largest province. It is a sharp reversal from just a few months ago, when the campaign against IS seemed to be going quite well.
Then, Syrian Kurdish fighters had defeated IS in Kobane. In Iraq the jihadists had been pushed out of 25% of the territory they had grabbed in their blitzkrieg advance a year ago and been expelled from Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown. There was even talk of an offensive later in the year to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second-biggest city. But after the retreat of Syrian regime forces from Palmyra, the black flag of IS now flies over the ancient city; while Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, fell on May 17th. The idea that IS was in retreat has thus taken a severe jolt.
Barack Obama describes the loss of Ramadi as a mere “tactical setback”. But a blame game has since broken out. America’s defence secretary, Ash Carter, complained that the collapse of the Iraqi security forces against numerically inferior opposition was due to a lack of “will to fight”. Domestic critics of Mr Obama, such as John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, talked of a half-hearted and failing military effort. They all have a point.
The capture of Ramadi is not a game-changer. It had been under attack for many months and it is quite possible that an attempt already under way by Iraqi forces and their Iranian allies to retake the city will succeed. In April media screamed that IS was poised to enter Damascus after it popped up in Yarmouk, a Palestinian area on the outskirts of the capital. With much less fanfare, the group disappeared—one Syrian says the capital feels safer than it has done for months. In recent days Iraqi forces have recaptured Husayba, a small town in Anbar, and halted IS’s approach towards Habbaniya, a military base.
In any case the group’s recent successes owe more to the weakness of the forces opposing it than to its own strength. The regime of Bashar Assad in Syria is looking wobblier than at any time since 2012. Its army fled Palmyra. Although Iraq’s Shia militias put up a good fight in places, its Shia-dominated and often badly led army is reluctant to fight and die for Sunni territory. Unless it improves the jihadists may advance further. The government remains reluctant to arm the Sunni tribesmen who might defend their homes.
The recent gains by IS also do little to address its weaknesses. It needs to generate huge funds to maintain its pretension to be a caliphate, yet its income streams, such as those from illicit oil sales, ransoms and looted antiquities, are all vulnerable to concerted pressure and windfalls from conquest are dwindling.
Its top-down structure leaves it vulnerable to “kill or capture” raids by American special forces (like one in Syria on May 15th that resulted in the death of Abu Sayyaf, the outfit’s financial brain). A more concerted air campaign could also set it back. Western forces are managing a meagre 15 strikes a day (compared with the 50 a day NATO carried out against Qaddafi’s less formidable forces in Libya). Mr McCain says that 75% of sorties fail to fire a weapon or drop a bomb, because targets are not identified. That might change if America provided forward air controllers. Were American military advisers and trainers embedded with Iraqi forces when they go into action it would stiffen their resolve.
The Iranians also need to reflect on their strategy. Propping up the increasingly fragile regime of Bashar Assad is a failing policy that serves only to strengthen IS. As for the Iraqi government of Haider al-Abadi, it ought to honour its promises of inclusivity. Sunni tribal fighters in Ramadi, denied weapons and military support by a mistrustful Baghdad, are hopelessly out-gunned. America could do much more to help. But, above all, it is Iraq’s poisonous sectarianism and the Syrian regime’s brutality that feeds IS.

Borders We’ve Forgotten

By An Editorial in Pioneer
28 May 2015
Ajit Doval’s remark brings focus on Afghanistan
National Security Advisor Ajit Doval's comment that India has a 106km long border with Afghanistan has, understandably, taken many by surprise. In these past few decades, it has become an almost uncontested fact that India has no land boundary with Afghanistan. The commentariat here has also devoted much time and space to how this cartographic reality limits the role that India can play in Afghanistan, allows an unfair advantage to Pakistan, and also hurts Afghanistan’s chances of an economic revival (as it is effectively held hostage to Pakistani whims for land access to Indian markets). In the midst of it all, it has been forgotten, and for quite some time now, that at least officially India still claims as its own the parts of Kashmir that border Afghanistan and are currently administered by Pakistan. Thankfully, Mr Doval has sought to make a course correction.
It is nobody's case that his one comment can change the realities on the ground, but it can modify the narrative about Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. At this point, for all practical purposes, India seems to have given up on Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and accepted the Line of Control as the de facto border. There is no reason why India should make this concession given that the border question is still an open one. As and when border negotiations re-start, India should go in with a full deck of cards. Moreover, there is nothing to suggest that Pakistan has compromised on its claims and demands.
On the contrary, its aggressive tactics in the region, be it supporting the infiltration of armed irregulars into India, encouraging militancy and separatist activity in Kashmir, or engaging in outright military conflict, show that it still has its heart set on grabbing all of Kashmir. That it will never be successful in doing so, is a different matter. But ‘freeing' all of Kashmir from ‘Indian occupation' is a part of Pakistani state discourse. But India, takes no interest, for example, in the affairs of Shia-majority Gilgit Baltistan, where the Pakistani state machinery has sought to engineer a demographic shift by settling Sunni Muslims, especially Sunni priests. Human rights abuses in this region happen every day (as they do across Pakistan), but India remains unperturbed. Pakistan, in comparison, is forever whining about the supposed atrocities of the Indian Army in Kashmir.
Mr Doval made his comments while addressing the Border Security Force. It is possible that his focus on Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is linked to recent Chinese forays in the region. These threaten India's already precarious strategic position. China has built the Karakoram Highway there and now plans to connect it to the multi-billion dollar economic corridor it will be constructing across Pakistan. Notably, after the plans were announced during Chinese President Xi Jinping's Pakistan visit, India officially opposed China's construction plans in the disputed area.

Breaking the Silence on Menstruation

By Bina Shah
May 29th, 2015
We have a lot of days related to women on the calendar, but May 28th is one that I hadn’t heard about before: Global Menstrual Hygiene Day.
I was alerted to this by Irise International, an NGO that addresses inadequate Menstrual Hygiene Management in developing nations. Irise educates girls and women about their periods, supports local social businesses where women make reusable sanitary products, and conducts research to find out the effectiveness of their programs.
Menstrual periods, which are natural and happen to every girl and woman around the world, can actually be a problem for women who are economically disadvantaged.
Without the resources to manage their hygiene during days they have their periods, they may not be able to go to school or university, or their jobs, and their abilities to make good decisions about their menstrual health are compromised.
This results in more gender inequality and disempowerment.
There’s also a campaign which challenges the taboos of writing about menstrual hygiene, which I am breaking by writing about this very important topic on World Menstrual Hygiene Day.
It is especially important to break the silence on this topic, so that millions of young girls every year don’t see their period as a disability, but a natural, normal part of their lives.
We need this all over the world, including Pakistan, where although girls are not ostracised from society during their periods, not having access to sanitary pads or toilets makes a girl a prisoner of her home during her period.
She can’t go to school if she can’t find pads to wear, or a toilet in which to change them in the school premises.
So, why not speak up about it today? In our culture, we’re brainwashed into thinking that we should be ashamed about periods, that we should keep it to ourselves.
It was a revolution when commercials for sanitary products started to appear on television.
“Sharam” and “Haya” are still words used to condemn conversations about menstruation; important conversations that we need to have with our children, girls and boys, about these facts of life.
In the early days of Islam, people would ask the Prophet (PBUH) about technicalities regarding menstruation and prayer, without any shame. Then, information was more important than sensibilities.
This is an attitude that we need to bring back into our conversations, but also our attitudes, towards all matters related to sexual and reproductive health. Periods change lives, and they're nothing to be ashamed of.
We, women, are the bringers of new life into the world, and our periods are a part of that process. If you have a daughter who’s of an age where she’s menstruating or about to start, share this information with her.
You can help break the silence surrounding this neglected issue today here.
May 28th marks the Global Menstrual Hygiene Day, which was created to publicly recognise the right of women to hygienically manage their menstruation wherever they are.
Bina Shah is a writer and columnist in Karachi; she is the author of the novel Slum Child and A Season for Martyrs.

Bangladesh: Bloggers in Peril

By Shahedul Anam Khan
May 29th, 2015
BETWEEN 2012 and now, four bloggers in Bangladesh have fallen victim to the wrath of extremists who choose violence to articulate their differences. It is only very recently that in Bangladesh the word ‘blog’, or for that matter ‘bloggers’, has come to be seen in pejorative terms by some quarters. Bloggers in general are being portrayed as sinister people involved in vilification, defamation and disparagement of religion, particularly Islam. And some of these bloggers who used social media to vent their feelings about religion have become the targets of extremists.
Not surprisingly, their murders have sullied Bangladesh’s secular and liberal credentials. It is unfortunate that the acts of a few are being made to appear representative of the majority. In this Muslim-majority country, which the West anoints with the honorific ‘liberal Muslim’ label, those predisposed to extremism represent a minuscule number. However, the worrisome aspect is that these elements are well-organised, well-funded and, it now appears, have organic links with international terrorist groups.
The killings have brought into sharp focus the underlying conflict between liberal thought and extremist reaction, between freedom of expression and how far that freedom extends without offending the sentiments of others, and between the right to feel offended and how that right should be expressed. They also expose the fault lines in the nation’s social fabric. Internal dynamics compelled by poor governance and failure to strengthen state institutions have thrown up several challenges — one of them being the rise of religious extremism.
The murders have sullied Bangladesh’s liberal credentials.
Religious extremism, or for that matter terrorism, to which Bangladesh’s exposure is more recent than most South Asian countries, has been caused more by external dynamics. However, political flux has provided the space for the germination of extremism and religious radicalism coupled with the fact that external dynamics, such as the US occupation of Iraq, the global war on terrorism, and the West’s double standards in the Middle East have been internalised by extremists to propagate their charter. The current Islamist phenomenon is also partly a fallout of the Afghan war in which jihad was as exalted a term as it is a maligned one now.
The founding members of extremist groups, most of which have been banned since, were part of the anti-Soviet coalition in Afghanistan who were hoping to replicate an Afghanistan in Bangladesh without realising that the socio-political conditions in the two countries were so vastly different as to make such an attempt impossible. But they continue to try. Their actions are directed against the people’s ethos — one that is enriched doubly by both its Bengali as well as Islamic influences with their long tradition of religious tolerance.
These radicals are also opposed to the basic principles that motivated our war of liberation in 1971, pitting the people’s ethnic identity against Islam, as if they were mutually exclusive. The killings are a part of their sporadic effort to publicise their existence.
Regrettably, in spite of Bangladesh’s stated secular leanings, religion has come to influence politics here and secularism may be losing out to majoritarianism. If the military dictators found it an easy expedient for political gains — and in the process rehabilitated the anti-liberation forces — that has continued even under the democratic dispensations since the resurrection of democracy in 1991. It greatly modulates the reactions of the government and the political parties not only in dealing with this particular issue, but also with extremism and terrorism in general.
The government has been blamed for pussyfooting on the issue; its predicament is exposed by the statement of an advisor to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina that the government is very circumspect about speaking openly for those dead bloggers, they being atheists. This is a classic example of discretion being the better part of valour, and exposes the contradictions within, which play into the hands of the extremists. One cannot find a more contradictory situation than when the state claims to be secular yet retains Islam as the state religion. And this is where the courage of conviction and politics come in.
The issue of extremism has been used politically by the two main political parties to the country’s detriment. Soft-pedalling on the issue on the one hand while overplaying it on the other has resulted in a lack of a coherent counter-extremist strategy. If the state has been unable to deal effectively with religious extremism it is also because at times some of these groups have received ruling party patronage.
While on the anti-terror front we have been able to arrest many of the leaders and pre-empt their operations, the state has not yet been able to come up with a potent counter narrative to offset the extremists’ propaganda.
Shahedul Anam Khan is editor, op-ed and defence & strategic affairs at The Daily Star, Dhaka.

Arab Leaders and Insanity of Sectarian Warfare

By Mahboob A. Khawaja
27 May, 2015
Wars are Planned to Entrap the Mankind
Wars kill human beings and destroy human habitats. But the Western warmongers flag it as a positive development for change and economic necessity. Its net result is the militarization of the societal thinking and geopolitics. Peace is not the outcome of wars and human cruelty. The ongoing Arab sectarian warfare spells out dark images of human paradoxes. The global community is watchful of all the developments shaping the sectarian bloodbaths in the Arab Middle East. What surprises most across the Arab bewildered human consciousness that continuing deaths and destructions are the agenda-making items, whereas, reconciliation and peace-making leading to conflict management are not the top strategic priorities. America and Britain control and manage the Arab leadership mindset.
Terrorism myth and the ISIL war advances warrant rethinking and nobody is ready to face the reality check. Facts speak the language of reality loud and clear. Time and history are not on the side of American-led war adventures and humanitarian disasters happening daily throughout the Arabian Peninsula. All war monsters are on the losing end. None can explain logically why and for what purpose are they engaged in humanitarian catastrophes. Logic seeks truth. Simply put, America, Britain and its Arab coalition do not have the moral and intellectual capacity to face the truth. The fake war paradigm is expanding to create favorable opportunities for the warmongers to trade-in oil supplies for weapons of mass destruction to the affluent oil exporting Arab countries. Arab leaders do not enjoin moral and intellectual capacity to think of their own national interests and priorities. There is no critical thinking and no public institutions amongst the Arab elite to determine what is right and what is wrong. They are faithful followers of foreign military dictum.
Conflicts Can Be Managed By Reconciliation and Peacemaking
In an interview to AlJezeera TV news (05/22/2015), Hillary Leverett, a former official of the US State Department and a current Professor at Georgetown University clarified that American and British invasion of 2003 had created the political disasters in Iraq. She outlined how both of them had incapacitated the Iraqi political governance and ushered the era of sectarian warfare. When asked, what is needed to change the strategic balance against ISIL advances, she made it known that reconciliation and peacemaking should have been the strategic agenda and now it is a lost game. America and Britain are fighting proxy wars and the ten years of illegal occupation of Iraq and deliberate dismantling of its institutions are the real factors for Iraq’s political defeat. Do the US leaders have any strategy for a navigational change? The Arab coalition and America are not winning the war but creating Arab cultural annihilation and destruction of the human habitats.
Ironically, America and Britain both have enriched capacity in military planning and strategic development. Yet, none seems to offer any possibility for change and successful strategy to encounter the ISIL fighting strategy. Is it a deliberate policy to imagine the enriched Arab nations to be bogged down in foreign dictates of bloodbath and human destruction on such large scale unknown in modern history? If so, who will gain most out of the religious divides and political defeats across the Arab world? Even most intelligent strategic planners lack understanding of the immediate and long terms consequences of their own military actions. Most would draw comfort that wars are the continuing phenomenon across the Arab world, not in any parts of Western Europe or American sphere of ethnic and cultural influence.
The rise of sectarian bloodbath, the ISIL-Alqaeda and the emergence of Arab military coalition are planned distractions from the real issues of the Arab Middle East. The issue of Palestine and the prospective establishment of an independent State of Palestine and formation of normal ties with Israel are the pertinent issues to be addressed. The Western proponent of animosity view it blessing in disguise for opportunities to distract and to carve-up a war theatre by collapsed Arab leadership lacking courage and intellectual vision for change and political development. There is no righteous cause and harmony between the rulers and the ruled. They live in conflicting time zones manned and infested by foreigners to support the secretive police apparatus and continuity of authoritarian governance denying Islam a place for change and human manifestation as was the case in the Arabian history.
Arab Leaders Lack Rational Understanding of Global Affairs
What went wrong to the Arab leadership mindset? They are so divided and enjoin moral and intellectual discord that one cannot foresee any signs of modest recovery in the near future. Often leadership’s individuality is a factor to propel belligerency and feuds. There is no creative thought or coherent search for a navigational change and more so, to look for reconciliation and innovative approaches toward conflict management and peacemaking. Professor Fouad Ajami (Arab Predicament) noted it all: “the problems of Arab world are the result of self-inflicted wounds.” Why can’t the Arab leaders initiate a dialogue for reconciliation and problem-solving to deal with ISIL? Until the 2003 US-led attack on Iraq, there was no al-Qaeda, no ISIL and no terrorism in the Arab heartland. The US and Britain created the havoc societal conditions to divide the Arabs into Sunnis-Shias animosities to occupy Iraq. How can the sectarian bloodbath resolve the multifaceted inherent problems when there is no viable institutionalized mechanism to address the political issues? Strangely enough, all oil exporting Arab rulers appear to rely on America and Britain for military support and conflict resolution. John Scales Avery (“Is the Threat of Terrorism Real?” Information Clearing House: 01/06/2014), is a member of the TRANSCEND Network and Associate Professor Emeritus at the H.C. Ørsted Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. Professor Avery outlines the true motives propagated for the threat of terrorism:
Is the threat of terrorism real? Or is it like the barking of a dog driving a herd?..... Millions starve. Millions die yearly from preventable diseases. Millions die as a consequence of wars….Terrorism is an invented threat. Our military industrial complex invented it to take the place of the threat of communism after the end of the Cold War. They invented it so that they would be able to continue spending 1,700,000,000,000 dollars each year on armaments, an amount almost too large to be imagined….So the people, the driven cattle, have been made to fear terrorism. How was this done? It was easy after 9/11. Could it be that the purpose of the 9/11 disaster was to make people fear terrorism, so that they could be more easily manipulated, more easily deprived of their civil rights, more easily driven into a war against Iraq?
Towards Unity of Purpose and New Thinking for Political Change
Islam taught and practiced unity in cultural diversity. Yet, the message of Islam has been ignored and denied a rightful place in the contemporary Arabian political governance. There is a rational criterion for moral and political accountability to God if they believe- in and the people they claim to serve. None of the Arab leaders have capacity to face the reality check. They are wrong people, embedded with wrong thinking and continued to do the wrong things in global political affairs. All Arab states appear to be on the path self-engineered destruction because of the authoritarianism. The wars in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt, Yemen and entrapment of Saudi Arabia will continue until the Western masters are sure of ultimate cultural, economic and political destruction to make the Arabs captive for future-making. It is already happening, why to wait for the coming future.
To change the course of time and history, Arab people deserve new thinking and new- age proactive and intelligent leaders from the young and educated generations to imagine a new world of hope and optimism for political change and future-making. Wars and man-made conflicts will not disappear on their own but will continue to have ripple effects on the future generations. The cancerous egoism of the few has dislodged the world of new thinking and political change through peaceful means. Why are there more than four millions Iraqi refugees in their own homeland? Why the Government of PM Al-Abaidi not allow several thousands displaced Sunni people from Ramadi to enter Baghdad’s protective sanctuary? Why do Shias and Sunni daily commit crimes against each other? Do they long for paradise by cold-blooded massacres of fellow Muslims? Are the Arabs and Muslims so mean and inhuman that they cannot distinguish between right and wrong? Arguably, wickedness and piety cannot be combined in one human character. Arab leaders and the masses live in conflicting time zones often unable to connect with one another. The US orchestrated militarization has dehumanized the Arab moral, spiritual and intellectual culture in which all positive and creative thinking for political change are viewed as anti-state acts of terrorism. Its imagery is fast becoming a culture of political nuisance and absurdity draining out the primary values and principles of Islam as a way of life. The Arab masses urgently need transformational leaders who can think rationally out of the box and act intelligently to protect the people, the culture and future from deaths and destruction. This does not sound like a day dream but an attainable goal only if the Arab people take action to change the course of history or else wars and perpetuated sectarian belligerency will consume all that is morally and intellectually valuable and credible assets for a sustainable future. There is no military triumph in seeking a peaceful transformation for political change and future-building.
(Dr. Mahboob A. Khawaja specializes in global security, peace and conflict resolution with keen interests in Islamic-Western comparative cultures and civilizations, and author of several publications including the latest: Global Peace and Conflict Management: Man and Humanity in Search of New Thinking. Lambert Academic Publishing, Germany, May 2012).

Scholars Failing Islam

By Syed Kamran Hashmi
May 29, 2015
“Maybe Adam was pregnant with Eve,” Professor Ahmed Rafique Akhtar, a renowned religious scholar, shared his understanding of evolution with me one day, “This can be the only explanation of Eve coming out of Adam’s rib,” he said. To avoid unnecessary arguments, I did not confront him then. However, his words shook me up, compelling me to revaluate my own ideas about Islam and to reconsider my fundamental values as a human being. Years later, and after numerous sleepless nights, my faith has both matured and evolved. As an ordinary person, I do not claim to bear the real knowledge of Islam and the universe but the scholars and sufis who do, without realising the gravity of their assertion, stupefy me.
I must also admit that I have not felt as bad for anyone else lately as I have felt for our Creator who has to deal with the colossal incompetence of Muslim clerics who interpret the Quran in modern times. Considering the speed with which science is making headway, it would have been difficult for a full time researcher to understand the depth of the book of God. However, in the hands of modern day clerics, it has become just an impossible task to accomplish, a responsibility way above their intellectual capacity.
Then why do scholars even attempt to explain science with religion? To stay relevant in society? I am sure that at least some religious authorities, at some point, must have realised that they had to come up with a strategy to respond to attacks on religion from scientific progress. But how could this task be managed? Was it even possible? Without understanding physics, biology or mathematics, they were handicapped, and they knew it too. Just a few of them, if any, had taken entry-level courses a long time ago and, since then, all they have learnt as far as science is concerned is how to drive a car or work on their smart phones. They have no interest in research, no passion for writing, no inclination to understand the scientific method and absolutely no reason to appreciate an article in a peer reviewed scientific journal. The whole system of modern education was alien to them.
So, they contrived a two-way action plan to solve their predicament. First, they discouraged Muslims from learning science and encouraged them to focus on sharia law. Less information will lead to less questions, which will reduce pressure on them and make their jobs a little easier. Second, they had to focus on Semantics, the study of the meaning of words. If that worked, it might be the key to their success. The linguistic part provided many advantages to these scholars over the scientific community; their understanding of Arabic was better, there is an immense depth in Arabic language with multiple meanings of a single word and most scientists were not able to understand Arabic. On top of that, there would be reluctance among scientists to involve themselves in an unnecessary religious debate and risk being labelled as heretics or blasphemous.
To put that into practice, they first paid close attention to the language and terms used by the scientists. Once they had memorised those terms almost half of their job was done. For the other half, they just had to find a phrase in the Quran or Hadith that could be translated into English as its modern day equivalent. Sometimes, it was not easy and a few words needed arm twisting to further ‘expand’ the meaning or required newer interpretation to change its essence altogether. Let me give you an example.
Remember E = mc2, Einstein’s theory of mass energy equivalence, which unfolds the conversion of matter into energy at the speed of light? After long and complex mathematical calculations, Einstein simplified the concept into this short formula, a brilliant accomplishment. In response, the religious scholars just needed one word in Arabic to equate Islam and science together. They found one, of course. It lay in front of their eyes: the burraq.
In Arabic, burraq stems out of the word burq, which means electricity. Burraq, if we remember, is the name of the animal that the Prophet (PBUH) rode on through his journey across the heavens during the night of Isra and Miraj. With that baseline information, I am sure you have already heard the following explanation: burraq must have been able to convert mass (human body) into energy as it travelled with the speed of light through the universe. It went to the heavens in the form of energy and then converted back to mass for a safe return to Earth. Wow! What a great shortcut; I am sure Einstein would have been amazed himself with this explanation.
Similarly, the Arabic word zarrah from the Quran, which means particle or weight of a red ant, becomes atom, to prove the Bohr atomic model. If Nebula was our concern in astronomy or the understanding of a supernova caught our interest, then again we found the word al-dukhan in the Quran and Hadith as an explanation, which means ‘the smoke’ and is a close equivalent of the above-mentioned scientific terms.
At the same time, if democracy is the way to go nowadays and Khilafat is out of date, we have to start stretching the meaning of the word shura, which means consultation and has never been interpreted as an election process in the last 1,400 years, but who can stop an Islamic scholar from doing it now?
Equipped with five or six such examples, any scholar can surprise his listeners with the ‘depth’ of his religious knowledge and amaze them with his grip on scientific matters. Being the audience, you just need to acknowledge his intelligence and sincerity to Islam. However, if you do not comply and/or criticise them, then they carry the divine authority to decide if you are a Muslim or not and if you need to live or die. So beware and pray.
Syed Kamran Hashmi is a US-based freelance columnist. He tweets at @KaamranHashmi and can be reached at

Art, History and Artefact

By Rafia Zakaria
May 27th, 2015
“IT was painful to see the state chair of gold of late lion of the Punjab ... with a mere picture upon it, shawls without babes, musical instruments without a Hindu player, jezails and swords without sipahis and sowars; and above all hookahs without the fume of fantastic shapes.” These words, spoken by student Rakhal Das Halder in 1862, are quoted by scholar Bernard Cohn in his book Colonialism and its Forms of Knowledge.
Halder had just been to see an exhibit at Fife House in London, where objects from his native land were now shut up behind glass cases and edified into relics. As Cohn argues, the valuation of Indian objects — as art, as antiquity or as everyday objects — changed with the arrival of the British in the subcontinent, first as traders then as administrators and conquerors. Changing the metric of worth in the subcontinent was crucial to the success of the British Empire.
In this particular postcolonial moment, whose own losses weigh so large and heavy, it can seem futile to reflect on the ravages of empires past. With the forces of Daesh, as the self-styled Islamic State is also known, rolling into Palmyra and the announcement of the world’s largest hotel to be constructed in the holy city of Makkah, there seems to be plenty in the present to save from the ravages of capitalism or conquest. These present threats of looming destruction are, however, the very reasons for reflection — an analysis of wounds past can in rare cases prevent future injury.
Whether it is the Taliban in Bamiyan or IS in Palmyra, the wilful destruction of history has become a self-destructive form of anti-colonial resistance.
The British arrived in the subcontinent to trade and to extract goods. Unsurprisingly, crucial to this venture was the commodification of what could be found in the subcontinent. In simple terms, then, early in the colonial endeavour, the classification of objects from what could be taken away as raw material to what could not was a central part of the project of empire. After the fall of Seringapatam in 1799, when Tipu Sultan was defeated and the pretence of only trade over actual occupation was exposed, the project expanded to include mementoes of conquest that could be taken back as tokens of power. The items that Halder recounts were of this second kind.
If the development of the supply chain was crucial to the initial success of setting India up as the producer of raw material for the Industrial Revolution in England, the recording of ‘history’ and consequently ‘antiquity’ was crucial to establishing the status of the British as the ‘conquerors’ of India. Interestingly, the records and recollections of the British officials who undertook the task of categorising Indian history and historical objects betray little guilt about this. One recounted in Cohn’s book is typical: it details a British officer arriving to rescue a statue of the Buddha in the nick of time. A few days more and it would have been melted by the corrupt priests of a local temple who, after melting the gold that was on the statue, were about to melt the copper statue itself, just so they could use it to make copper pots.
Taking away bits and pieces of the subcontinent from its uncivilised natives, who would melt it to make cooking pots or sell it for a pittance, then, was all out of benevolence. The act of colonisation, along with its looting tendencies, was to save the subcontinent and its inhabitants from themselves. The history that would be preserved in the British Museum or Windsor Castle was the only history that would survive such vagaries, a valiant attempt at a civilising mission that would impress on the ignorant natives the value of what they refused to value.
The ‘saving India from Indians’ was of course the sort of gloss necessary to package the vast project of plunder that was under way. In the guise of knowledge collection and creation, the codification of Hindu religious texts, the categorisation of objects, and ultimately the commodification of all that is Indian, the British were able to fuel their own dominion for nearly two long centuries.
Over half a century after its culmination, however, its ideas are being replicated in equally grotesque ways. Whether it is the Taliban in Bamiyan or Daesh in Palmyra, the wilful destruction of history has become a stunted and self-destructive form of anti-colonial resistance. The ironies abound: not only are both of these groups reproducing the vilest caricatures of the ignorant native, they are proving correct the thesis that the only way to preserve the past of former colonised territories is to extricate it. If the intent of these destructive gestures, however marginally, is to reclaim an authentic history untouched by colonialism, it does exactly the opposite by ensuring its destruction.
It isn’t just extremist groups that are participating in the reincarnation of colonialism’s technologies of control and commodification. Saudi Arabia’s transformation of sites of religious pilgrimage into sites of conspicuous consumption is also a neo-imperial recasting of history. In making the religious experience synonymous with the consumer experience, it trivialises the historical as incidental.
The religious experience, then, is imagined as an ahistorical one, unconnected to any particular context save the monetary, an eagerness to maximise the sales of malls and hotels attached to its value.
The tragedy of history is that it is unchangeable, and for postcolonial societies the truth of foreign conquest and past humiliation can be painful enough to engender a denial that is just as corrosive. The deliberate destruction and disavowal of history, however, cannot free societies from either the reality of that past or the tenuousness of their future. If colonialism enabled the first estrangement from the historical, this denial and its attendant destruction cause a second one. The worst consequences of empire, thus, may not be what they took away, but the methods of subjugation that they left behind and that continue to be replicated and renewed.
Rafia Zakaria is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

The Necessity of Tolerance among Muslims: Hazrat Said Nursi on Bridging the Sunni and Shi’a Sectarianism

By Prof. Henry Francis B. Espiritu, New Age Islam
29 May, 2015

Hazrat Bediuzzaman Said Nursi (circa 1877-1960), the Turkish Islamic mystic-theologian, who is considered as the renewer of Islam in post-Ottoman and early republican Turkey, devoted many treatises that exhort for the unity among Muslims the world over. For instance, his book Damascus Sermon (Istanbul: Sozler Publications, 2004; pp.78-81, 83-89) called on Muslims of the world to manifest what Nursi calls, Ittihad Muhammadi or Union of the Followers of Prophet Muhammad. According to Nursi, this is the most important step in achieving Islamic Renaissance so that Muslims will rise up once again to become leaders of a righteous society and a just civilization throughout the world. The whole content of Damascus Sermon from beginning to end is indeed a passionate call for Muslims to be united in their Islamic faith, civilization, and identity.

Hazrat Bediuzzaman Said Nursi’s fervent call for Islamic Unity is all the more needed in our contemporary times especially when Muslims nowadays seem to forget the very Qur-anic maxim of fraternal unity; “And hold fast to the secure rope of Allah and do not be divided from among yourselves (See Al Qur’an Surah Ahl Imran: 103).” Let us look at the contemporary situation of the worldwide Muslim Ummah (Community). Islam is divided into numerous bickering sects and groups that constantly fight each other even in so trivial a matter! It is indeed sad how efforts and resources are being wasted in Muslim brethren’s fighting each other instead of preaching the glories of Islam to the world. What is more heart-rending is when Muslims of different sectarian groupings physically commit violence against each other just to further their own points of view! May Allahu Taala have mercy on us, and save us from this sorry and pitiful situation of our Muslim Ummah. May Almighty Allah teach us to love one another since our Holy Prophet clearly declares that no person can be a true Muslim until he desires for his brothers and sisters what he desires for himself (Hadith Sharif from Bukhari and Muslim [Kitab’ul Akhuwwah]).

 In this essay, I will focus my attention to Hazrat Bediuzzaman Said Nursi’s impassioned call for Sunnis and Shi’a Muslims to love each other in unity and peace. This Naseehat (holy advice) of Nursi can be found in Risale-i-Nur: Flashes Collection (Istanbul: Sozler Publications, 2004 edition), specifically, in the Fourth Flash (pp. 35-43). In this section of his work, Hazrat Nursi singled out the Sunni and Shi’a Muslims for his holy advice on unity, since they both comprise the majority of the Ummah of the Prophet. It is deeply regrettable that throughout the past centuries, as attested by numerous instances in history, the rift between Sunni Muslims and Shi’as has done incalculable damage to the “Union of the Followers of Muhammad” (Ittihad Muhammadi); such sectarian divisions lead to much animosities, painful strife and unnecessary violence committed against each other. It behooves both Shi’a and Sunni Muslims to heed the call of Hazrat Nursi to live in the spirit of Islamic fraternity and unity. Let us now examine what Said Nursi has to say to us, believers in the One God, as to how both Shi’a and Sunni Muslims should manifest this Ittihad Muhammadi.

Nursi began his treatise in the Fourth Flash, by describing the great concern of the Blessed Prophet Muhammad for Islamic Unity. In the Prophet’s intense prayers and fervent supplications—during his lifetime and indeed, up until the Day of Judgment—the phrase, “oh my Community, oh my Community” (Ya Ummati! Ya Ummati!) can be heard as his constant prayer of intercession for his people. Hence as per Said Nursi, Muslims should imitate the Holy Prophet in praying for, and working towards Islamic fraternity and unity. This treatise clearly reveals Nursi’s adherence to the Prophet’s example of unity that although Nursi himself was a dedicated and orthodox Sunni Muslim, in his philosophical and theological writings, he always refers to Shi’as as his “brothers”, “fellow Muslims”, “fellow companions of Divine Unity”, “fellow lovers of the Prophet”, etc. He therefore considers the Shi’as Muslim believers for they too declare the fundamental basis of Islam, which is Allah’s Unity (Tawhid), and they likewise adhere to the belief in the Risalah (Messengership) of the Holy Prophet Muhammad. As per Nursi, “there are a hundred fundamental sacred bonds between you [i.e., Sunnis and Shi’as] which command brotherhood and unity (Risale-i-Nur: The Flashes Collection, op. cit., pp.36, 43). He therefore requested both Shi’a and Sunni Muslims to “leave aside unimportant matters, which necessitate division” (op. cit., p.43), and to assiduously labour for harmony, amity, concordance and unity among all Muslims of the world regardless of their sectarian affiliations.

Hazrat Bediuzzaman Said Nursi was aware that the issues dividing Shi’as and Sunnis are minor and trivial, and in his estimation, these matters should not be elevated to the point of causing division between these two major groups of Islam. Furthermore, he says that the quarrels between them are caused by misunderstandings and extreme partisanship among their respective adherents; rather than legitimate disagreements on the fundamental doctrines of Tawhid (Divine Monotheism) and Risalah (Divine Prophethood). Shi’as should understand that genuine Sunnis truly love the Ahlul-Bayt (the Holy Family of the Prophet) and true Sunnis always pray for their welfare. Sunnis, especially belonging to the school of Tasawwuf (Islamic Mysticism) always acknowledged Hazrat Ali as a fountainhead of marifat (gnosis) together with Hazrat Abu Bakr Siddiq. All authentic Sunni Muslims accord great respect to Hazrat Ali and his family by mentioning them in their Khutba (sermons), and by supplicating for the welfare of the Ahlul-Bayt in all their formal liturgical prayers. In addition, Sunnis understand and sympathize with the Shi’as’ extreme and oftentimes, exaggerated love for the Ahlul-Bayt since Shi’as feel that by doing so, they are complying with Rasulullah’s request for all true believers to love his immediate family (Holy Quran 42:23). Nursi however reminded the Sunnis who are the “People of Truth and Moderation”, to tolerate and forgive the extreme devotion of Shi’as to Hazrat Ali, since “it is always within the nature of unrestrained lover (Aashiq) to exaggerate the worth of the beloved” (op. cit., p.40-41).

While forgiving the Shi’as for their exaggerated love of Hazrat Ali and theAhlul-Bayt, Nursi, likewise exhorted the “Sunni People of Truth” to continue giving due respect to the Holy Family of the Prophet. Sunnis should however be careful that they would not engage in extremism and exaggerations characterizing Shi’a devotions and partisanship to the Ahlul-Bayt. He asked the Sunnis to be people of moderation (Ahl-Ut-Tawwasat) and prudence (Ahl-Al Wasatiyyah), since these virtues promote unity and discourage division. He reminded both Sunni and Shi’a sectarians that exaggerations and extreme heroic admiration of holy personages in Islam would lead to the same sad fate of the Christians who were not able to appreciate the divine mission of the Holy Prophet Muhammad due to their excessive and exclusive love for Jesus Christ. The Shi’as also fall in the same mistake of the Christians, since in the former’s excessive and exaggerated devotion to Hazrat Ali, they deny the first three holy Caliphs of Islam; what is worse, they indulge themselves in cursing these holy Caliphs and Companions in their misguided infatuation and frenzied devotion to Hazrat Ali. As for the Shi’as, Hazrat Nursi advised them to cease and desist from attacking, slandering, hurling abuses, and cursing the Rightly-Guided Caliphs and the Holy Companions because cursing even ordinary believers is un-Islamic, unethical and is not characteristic of a properly cultivated human being. All the more unethical would it be, if one curses those Righteous Caliphs and Holy Companions who were sincere helpers, supporters, and friends of the Holy Prophet! Prophet Muhammad enjoined believers to be kind to one another, and to forgive one another. Indeed, it is against the beautiful etiquette of Islam Aadab-al Islamiyya) to love Hazrat Ali while at the same time abusing, slandering, maligning, insulting and cursing the Holy Companions of the Blessed Prophet (op. cit., pp.39-43).

 According to Hazrat Nursi, the Shi’as’ denial of the right of the Righteous Caliphs to rule the Islamic Ummah is also an outright denial of Allah’s Taqdeer (Divine Plan) since everything comes from the Will of Allah. Therefore, Almighty Allah permits the historical circumstances leading to the succession of the Righteous Holy Caliphs, Hazratan Abubakr Siddiq, Umar Farooq, Uthman Dhun-Nurain, and Ali Ibn Abi Talib. This historical succession of the Righteous Caliphate (Khulafa ur-Rashidin) was due to Allah’s Will, since nothing in this world happens without Almighty Allah’s expressed permission. In addition, not to accept the Righteous Caliphate’s sequence of succession is tantamount to non-acceptance of the Immutable Will of Allah which is always reflected in human history, circumstances, and events in life (op. cit.). Even Hazrat Ali himself submitted to the rule of his predecessor Caliphs and he even helped and advised them in whatever way he can in order for their Islamic reign to be successful. Shi’as who pride themselves by the name, “Alevis” (i.e., partisans of Hazrat Ali) should imitate this magnanimous act of Hazrat Ali towards his predecessor Caliphs. Shi’as should contribute their part to the amity and harmony of Muslims by respecting the Righteous Caliphs, and by standing beside their Sunni brethren in promoting Islamic understanding, cooperation and mutual goodwill (op. cit., pp.41-43). Thus, Hazrat Nursi advised both Shi’as and Sunnis alike to come to a just and mutual agreement with each other and to remove the trivial misunderstandings that divide each other for centuries.

 Hazrat Nursi reminds both Shi’as and Sunnis (and indeed all Muslims) that the purpose why they should always be in harmony with each other is for the realization of the success and victory (faith) of Islam in this present world. Amity and fraternity among all Muslim groups (Jamaat) are for the purpose of Ittihad Muhammadi (unity of all the followers of Prophet Muhammad). All Muslims are Ahl-al Qiblah (people of one direction and perspective); thus, they should manifest this oneness of mind and heart at all times (Cf. Damascus Sermon, op. cit.). In Hazrat Nursi’s Damascus Sermon, he plainly states that when the worldwide Islamic Ummah will comply with this call of unity, then Nusrat (help) from Allahu Taala will come from on high, and will make the Muslim Ummah victorious once again. Nursi says:

 “And so, O Sunnis who are the People of Truth and Alevis [i.e. Shi’a sectarians], whose way is the love of the Prophet’s Family! Quickly put an end to this meaningless, disloyal, unjust, and harmful dispute between you. Otherwise, the atheistic current, which is now so influential, will make one of you a tool against the other, and use the one to crush against the other. And after defeating the one, it will destroy the tool. Since you are believers in Divine Unity, it is essential to leave aside unimportant matters, which necessitate division while there are a hundred fundamental sacred bonds between you, which command brotherhood, and unity.” (Risaleh-i-Nur: Flashes Collection, op. cit., p. 43)

 In the above-mentioned quote, Nursi makes it very clear that if Sunnis and Shi’as fail to live in harmony, the enemies of Islam—who themselves are the very ones who fanned these sectarian quarrels within the Islamic World—will stand benefited from all these irrelevant wrangling among Muslims. God forbid that these anti-Islamic and atheistic forces will use one group of Muslims to destroy the other. The Islamic belief in Divine Unity (Tawhid) should be carried in its practical manifestations of unity, goodwill, understanding, cooperation, and harmony, for Muslims to be able to thwart and confound the divisive machinations of the enemies of Islam. It is only by applying the practical dimensions of Tawhid in our dealings with our fellow Muslim brethren that Almighty Allah’s help (Nusrat) will once again descend on the Muslim Ummah.

As for Hazrat Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, it is a divine sign of the truth of Islam that all Muslims, despite their adherence to varying schools-of-thought (in Fiqh or jurisprudential rulings)—yet when it comes to the fundamental principles that makes the person a Muslim (i.e., the Kalima-the foundational creed of Almighty Allah’s Unity and the Messengership of the Holy Prophet Muhammad)—the whole Islamic Ummah is truly united in upholding such fundamentals of faith. According to Nursi, the Holy-Quran-an itself is a living symbol of how Muslims from different backgrounds, nationalities, and sectarian or jurisprudential persuasions are truly in unanimous agreement and are absolutely united in the certainty of their conviction as to the veracity and integrity of its contents and the purity of its texts (See, Hazrat Said Nursi’s book, The Staff of Moses (Asa-i-Musa). Istanbul: Sozler Publications, 2002; pp. 162-172). Therefore, since all Muslims are truly one and united in upholding all the fundamental truths of the Islamic faith and the integrity of the texts and contents of the Holy-Quran, it is indeed useless and counterproductive to the propagation of Islam if Muslims continuously fight, wrangle, and quarrel over superficial, minor, and trivial issues.    

To close this essay, allow me to offer my sincere Naseehat (advice) in pursuance to Hazrat Bediuzzaman Said Nursi’s call for all Muslim brethren to dwell together in peace and harmony with each other. Dear brothers and sisters, Almighty Allah’s help (Nasr/Nusrat) can only come if Muslims will begin to love their fellow brethren as themselves. With Allah’s Nusrat also comes His faith (victory) [See, Al Qur’an, Surah Nasr: 1-3]. The first step therefore to achieve Islamic Renaissance is for Muslims to live together in peace and unity. Insha Allah, if both Shi’a and the Ahlus-Sunnah Muslims (and indeed all differing Muslim Jamaah) will heed to this spiritual advice of Hazrat Nursi, Islam will become a great spiritual force in the world and there will be a true Islamic Renewal (Tajdeed Islamiyyah) on the face of the earth. Let us fervently pray and passionately labour to achieve Hazrat Said Nursi’s dream and vision of a Universal Muhammadan Unity (Ittihad Muhammadi). May the All-Loving Allah have mercy on the Ummah of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may all believers in Allah’s Oneness manifest unity and fraternity among each other so that Allah’s religion will be victorious in this whole wide world. Ameen, Summa Ameen!

 Professor Henry Francis B. Espiritu is Associate Professor-VI of Philosophy and Asian Studies at the University of the Philippines (UP), Cebu City. His research interests include Islamic Studies particularly Sunni (Hanafi) jurisprudence, Islamic feminist discourses, Islam in interfaith dialogue initiatives, Islamic environmentalism, the writings of Imam Al-Ghazali on pluralism and tolerance, Turkish Sufism, Muslim-Christian dialogue, Peace Studies and Public Theology.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

IS Recruits by Presenting an Idealised Utopia


By Syerleena Abdul Rashid
26 May 2015
Many unassuming individuals fall for this heavily romanticised fallacy that also ‘promises’ some level of excitement and sense of adventure, observes Syerleena Abdul Rashid.
According to Jamil Khir Baharom, who is in charge of Islamic Affairs, women who join IS are often lonely and fragile. “Lonely women who can’t sleep at night will stay awake and be online on their Facebook. They are still online on Facebook at 2.00am or 3.00am”.
His remarks only provide an extremely oversimplified generalisation and are not coherent enough to provide the solution our government needs to combat the rapid ‘radicalisation’ of Malaysian men and women.
Radicalisation is a process where individuals embrace extreme socio-political and religious ideologies. They become enthralled by a dangerous idea; consequently, these individuals will downright reject any notion of freedom, social justice and human rights that is understood in our progressive world.
The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, an organisation based in the UK, has identified three main reasons why some women may be inspired to join: the alleged oppression of Muslim people, a desire to establish an ideologically pure Islamic state, and a sense of personal religious duty to facilitate this process.
Even though some of the recruits may experience some level of culture shock — as they are thrust into a very different environment and made to live in a social structure that is incredibly misogynistic, the level of radicalisation they have experienced allows them to part with their families and leave the comforts of their homes. This kind of reckless abandonment is dangerous to democracy.
Reports estimate that about 550 women from western countries have travelled to Isis-controlled territories. So far, in Malaysia, 173 Malaysians have been arrested for joining IS and the youngest recruit (to date) was a 14-year-old girl. Past reports also emphasise the possibility of these numbers being higher as many other recruits have not been detected or may have simply ‘fallen of the grid’.
IS has gained quite a reputation for being internet savvy and skilled at spreading its radicalised version of religion through social media. Potential recruits are motivated by the romantic idea of fighting for a divine cause and by a desire to rectify the wrongdoings brought upon by Western civilisation. Hence, many unassuming individuals fall for this heavily romanticised fallacy that also ‘promises’ some level of excitement and sense of adventure.
The reasons that individuals join IS vary from one case to another; each case is highly complicated and has more to do with radicalisation than the quest for love, unlike what Jamil Khir Baharom insinuated in his statement (“Women who felt empty, alone and lonely, and decided to join the Isis militants, might end up falling in love”).
The threat of IS is real and the atrocities committed against women, men and even young children are repulsive. Therefore, it is only in our country’s best interest that those in power refrain from making chauvinist statements that alienate and demean women. Sweeping statements that provide very little practicality and lack prudence are also incredibly hurtful to the families that are affected by these recruitments.

Madrasas Are Dens Of Vice and Homosexuality: AMU Professor's Alleged Remarks Spark Uproar

By First Post Staff
May 27, 2015
An Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) professor has sparked controversy by allegedly calling Madrasas "dens of vice and homosexuality".
Waseem Raja, History department professor at AMU and a teacher at the university for around 30 years, allegedly said in a WhatsApp message which was sent to a TV channel that "Maulanas are involved in such activities", adding that the condition of Muslim youth will only improve if Madrasas are banned, according to India TV.
The report added that a grab of the chat read, "We want removal of Madrasa... Where homo sexuality is rampant...Maulanas are part of it."
However, the professor denied saying any such thing. "I did not say anything like that," The Times of India quoted Raja as saying. "I have been part of SAARC conferences in the past and I have always spoken about reformation of the community. Are Madrasas not part of the community? That does not mean I said such things, my phone was hacked and I have blocked the chat group now."
On the other hand, the students at the university condemned Raja's remarks and many slammed him on social media for his comments. "People like you (Raja) spoil the name of the university. God has given you reason, so think before speaking," TOI quoted one of the students as saying.
Madrasas Dens of Gays, Ban Them: AMU Professor
TNN | May 27, 2015
ALIGARH: An Aligarh Muslim University professor's alleged comments on madrassas that they are "dens of vice and homosexuality" has triggered a storm of protest in the campus.
The professor, Waseem Raja of the university's history department, has been accused of saying in a WhatsApp message that he sent to a TV channel that "maulanas are involved in such activities" and that the fortunes of Muslim youth will only change for the better if madrassas in the country are banned.
Chat grabs show Raja saying, "We want removal of madarsa... Where homo sexuality is rampant...Maulanas are part of it".
The professor, who has been teaching in AMU for the past three decades, has, however, denied he said any such thing. "I did not say anything like that," he told TOI on Tuesday. "I have been part of SAARC conferences in the past and I have always spoken about reformation of the community. Are madarsas not part of the community? That does not mean I said such things, my phone was hacked and I have blocked the chat group now."
But students have taken to social media to condemn Raja's remarks. Shah Alam Turk, a research scholar, said, "I was chatting on the group when Raja popped saying such things -- his personal views. I messaged him saying 'You have constitutional rights to express (your views), but don't defame (madrassas) without verifying facts first. This is prejudice, not logic, and will weaken the community, not strengthen."
Other students hit back equally hard. One of them said: "People like you spoil the name of the university. God has given you reason, so think before speaking."
Mustafa Zaidi, AMUTA secretary, said the professor should have "calculated" what to say. "Such statements can be misconstrued and can result in anger," he said, adding, "If he said so in the first place."
Rashid Shaz, director of AMU Bridge Course that deals with madrassa students, condemned Raja's views and said, "Students of madrassas are very cultured and have standards of morality. One should show evidence before questioning them en masse."
AMU PRO Rahat Abrar said course of action against the professor will be decided only when the VC returns. "VC is away, decision will be taken only when he returns," he said.

Mankind's True Enemies: Islamic State is out to Destroy Human Heritage

By An Editorial in Pioneer
27 May, 2015
Since the 2011 Arab uprising, Islamist terror groups in West Asia have not only destablised entire nations but have also threatened to snap mankind's civilisational linkages with its ancient past. Not satisfied with having laid waste to modern-day Iraq and Syria, the savages of the Islamic State are steadily obliterating the historical remnants of the ancient empires of Mesopotamia, Rome and Greece — one museum, statue, temple and tomb at a time. The Syrian city of Palmyria, which was recently run over by the Islamic State, is only the latest casualty in this civilisational clash. The oasis town to the north of Damascus has a history that goes back to 7500 BC. It reached the zenith of its glory during the Roman era when it became an important thoroughfare for caravans on the southern branch of the Silk Road.
Autonomous since 129 AD, the city grew into a mini-empire in its own right and boasted of a unique amalgamation of Greek, Roman and Persian cultures. This was best displayed in Palmyrian architecture, which the jihadis now seek to destroy — much as they have demolished the ruins of other ancient Syrian and even Iraqi cities and archaeological sites. In Syria, World Heritage Sites such as the Saint Simeon Church and the Aleppo Citadel have become battlefields and suffered irreversible damage. In Iraq, sites that may have survived the civil war have been deliberately destroyed by the extremists looking to impose their puritanical (read, warped) vision of Islam. In March, the Islamic State attacked the ruins in Hatra in northern Iraq.
Hatra, which lies about 110km south of the group's stronghold in Mosul, dates back 2,000 years to the Seleucid empire and is famous for its pillared temple which blends Greco-Roman and West Asian architectures. The Islamic State also ransacked the Mosul museum, after having burnt thousands of Ottoman-era books and rare manuscripts from the Mosul Library. The 3,000-year old city of Nimrud, the first capital of the Assyrian empire, was also not spared: Islamic State terrorists attacked the ruins with sledgehammers, before to blow it up. Khorsabad, another Assyrian capital, has also been destroyed. This list can go on, especially if one includes the numerous churches and temples that have been attacked, including the tomb of St Jonah's, revered by Christians, Jews and Muslims alike.
Much of what the Islamic State is razing to the ground today in the name of Islam was built before the time of Prophet Mohammed. But perhaps that is the point: To destroy the region's heterogeneous civilisational identity, which predates Islam and includes other religions. This is precisely what the world had seen more than two decades when the Taliban bombed the sixth century Buddha caves and statues in Bamiyan. They too had the same aim: To disfigure Afghanistan's civilisational identity and impose a monolithic view of Islam that excludes indigenous traditions, cultures and beliefs.

Righteousness from a Global Perspective

By Iftekhar Hai, New Age Islam

28 May, 2015

God/Allah has favoured every person with a conscience.  Every person in his/her conscience knows what is right and what is wrong. Muslims believe in the revelations that came before Islam.  The Quran says, “To every people was send an Apostle, in their own language, in their own country – to clarify (misunderstandings).” 14:4, 16:36 & 10:47

The Quran also says in a very pluralistic tone in 5:48 that Holy Guidance/Scriptures were also given to people who came before our Prophet was born and before the Quran came into existence.

The Quran also commands Muslims to respect Freedom of Religion and to never coerce believers from other faiths in 2:256.

Hence to be correct, to be fair and to be righteous is not exclusively a Muslim domain.  Righteousness is multifaceted with doing good, i.e., believing in ONE GOD, praying, giving money in charity, helping the poor, homeless and the downtrodden, doing work honestly, not taking advantage or robbing the weak etc. etc.  However, the Quran not only supports all of the above, but also connects it to JUSTICE.  Justice has to be understood in a Global context and across inter-religious lines across all spiritual traditions.

Humanity is work in progress.  We have not reached to perfection.  But we all are striving towards making the global community more just and fair regardless of caste, creed, religion and ethnicity.

The structures or institutions that dispense justice have undergone changes as knowledge spread across the world.  Today,

the structures of justice are the same all over the world, namely, various Courts of Law - where judges, witnesses, jury, defendants, the accusers and law enforcement personnel play vital part in dispensing justice.

 The Quran teaches us to examine the character of people in charge of dispensing justice as GUIDANCE to delivering verdict which will be as fair and just as possible.

 The Quran says they should be free from hatred, political and national agendas, religious affiliations, etc. These are the only people that Quran recommends for dispensing justice through the Courts of Law and they could be from any religion because the honest and truthful people are found in all religious traditions because all spiritual GUIDANCE for all people has the same source.......namely, Allah/God/Bhagwan, Adonia, etc.

 UMAIA scholars are well aware of the following verses in the Quran.......please concentrate of them.

 Be just for this is closest to righteousness “Oh you who believe! Be consistent in your devotion to God, bearing witness to the truth in all equity, and never let hatred of others lead you to deviate from justice.  Be just for this is closest to righteousness, and remain conscious of God, because God is well Aware of all you do.” 5:8

(An ideal judge must have these characteristics – be honest and not have hatred)

 Stand out firmly for Justice “Oh you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even against yourself, against your parents and against your children, against people who are rich or poor, because God is the best of all Protectors.  Do not follow your inclinations or your desires, lest you should deviate from justice.  Verily God is well acquainted with all that you do.” 4:135 (Ideal witnesses must have these qualities)

 Real Righteousness:  “It is not righteousness, that you turn your attention/concentration towards the East or towards the West (supporter of socialism, capitalism, etc.) but it is righteousness, to believe in God, The Last Day, The Angels, The Book (Quran) and the (all) Messengers.  It is righteousness, to spend out of your income, for the love of God, for your relatives, for the orphans, for the needy, for the traveller, for those who ask and for the ransom of slaves.  To be steadfast in prayers, practice regular charity and to fulfil the contracts that you have made.  It is righteousness to be firm and patient in pain, suffering or adversity, and throughout all periods of panic – such are the people of truth, the God conscious (God fearing).” Quran 2:177 (These are the characteristics of ideal jury). 

 The act of righteousness or surrender (which is Islam) is explained in all the religions through, belief in One God, prayers, charity, fasting and going for pilgrimage to their own designated holy places. However, Quran expands the meaning of righteousness to include Justice - which leads to reconciliation and forgiveness in all the religions.

 These Qualities Are Essential For We People To Turn This Sinful World Into Heaven-Like Conditions For All People.

  You Will Find That Righteousness (To Do Justice) That Quran Speaks About Is Also There In Other Holy Scriptures..............See Below:

 In Christian Bible in Matthew 5:6 & 10- Righteousness is also mentioned:

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

In Jewish traditions – All the wisdom is reduced to one sentence, that is, “To live a righteous life.”

"Justice, Justice, thou Shall Pursue” Deuteronomy 16:20

Buddhists scriptures talks about the Noble Eight Fold Path: of right view, right conduct, right livelihood, right behaviour, right thought, right effort, right speech, right concentration.

Native Americans sayings on righteousness:  “You must learn to speak righteousness so that your words may go as sun’s rays warming the hearts (satisfying) and confirming the eternal truth.”


1) Do not to others what ye do not wish done to yourself; and wish for others too what ye desire and long for yourself.  This is the whole of righteousness, heed it well.

2) He who is of the same mind (righteousness/just) to the good-hearted, friends, enemies, the indifferent, the neutral, the hateful, relatives, the righteous and the unrighteous, he will be the one to excel. Bhagvad Gita & Mahabharata

Hence righteousness from Islamic perspective, in a Pluralistic Global Village, namely the Earth which by the Grace of God is connected ecologically, economically and spiritually today, is to establish justice through the courts of laws.  Common problems that are hurting humanity like, poverty, tremendous gap between the rich and the poor nations, drug and alcohol abuse, violence prone divorces, teenage violence, crimes, ethnic and racial prejudice, hatred, bias, bigotry, wars, anarchy, rampant materialism, sexual debasement of women and children, depletion of natural resources and ecological problems can be tackled by humans as one nation under God, living on one piece of real estate the Earth.

The Quran backs the above research by saying, “All Mankind was One Nation – but they differed (in selfishness) and created separation (different nation states vying for power.)” 10:19, and the Quran also says, “We have created you into nations and tribes (with diversity) to know (help in bettering each other’s lives not to despise) each other in 49:13.

Hence we have better days as ONE HUMANITY AHEAD OF US.  Let us never give up hope.  God is love, compassion, mercy and forgiveness.

Iftekhar Hai is President of United Muslims of America Interfaith Alliance