Friday, April 29, 2011

Why did I Forsake Islam?

This is an account of Hossain Salahuddin who happens to be a man of letters at the same instant. While on one hand he is a poet, on the other hand he is also an essayist. He also happens to be the editor of the magazine Maverick, known for encouraging literature, freethinking in conjunction with rationalism. Nevertheless, he is also an ex-Muslim in spite of being a brilliant student of Islamic religious texts once. As a rational man, being disgruntled and shocked of basic tenets of Islam, he left the religion.

Here is an account of his own experiences (in his own words) regarding Islam.

I was born in 1984, into a Muslim family in Bangladesh . My family was rather orthodox and they made sure I learn the Quran properly even before they enrolled me in a school. I had a home tutor Mullah, who taught me reciting Quran in Arabic- and I was actually good at it. I remember completing the whole Arabic Quran three times before I turned 12 without even understanding a word of it. If I try to remember, I can feel that it was pretty suffocating with all sorts of do’s and don’t. You can’t do this, you can’t do that, and there was that constant reminder- “You are a Muslim, you should act like one.”

So, yeah, my childhood was not something that I am really proud of. There were all sorts of religious restraints around my neck and that actually affected my relationship with my family members. But, I should say I was still a believer back then; only there was a slight discomfort in me with the practicing form of Islam. I admit that I had a rather troubled childhood but I didn’t turn into a rebel just yet.

Well, when I was around 13 or 14, I developed a great interest in creative writing, especially in poetry and I started to spend a lot of time reading books and writing poetry. I remember borrowing up to ten books at a time and reading them in a row. History, Science, Philosophy, Religion, Literature name it, all sorts of books. It was a fascinating time I can tell you that. I guess I was mentally a bit matured than my actual age, and I really cherish that part of my life as a period of illumination.

I think books taught me to think and judge things rationally, to escape from the world of prejudice and irrational beliefs. Books were my true liberator, it’s the best companion I ever had. But, it wasn’t always fun. My family didn’t take it lightly as they were noticing some change in me and also my teachers at school. In fact it was the teachers who gave me all sorts of trouble. Unfortunately, most of my teachers were very orthodox Muslims and they didn’t like my writings. They even banned my writings from the school magazine which really upset me given that I was probably the only student who could write creative things. And they were constantly reminding me that Islam doesn’t approve poetry, music, painting, mixing with non-Muslims or reading texts of other religion and it really confused me.

There was only one way to find out: by reading Quran and Hadith in my mother tongue. I read the Quran over and over again and couldn’t believe what I was reading. I started to mark the questionable verses and wrote comments beside them. I wondered, are these versus full of hate being spread and preached everyday in all corners of my town? I was completely dumbstruck. Initially, I thought it was the translation that was to be blamed. But I collected many different translations of the Quran and very reputed Islamic scholars translated some of them. You can say I was really shocked and I spent almost two years of my year 9 and 10 searching for answers.

At year 10, my first book of poems was published and by year 11, I was convinced that Islam itself was a very violent belief. By reading the Quran or any other Islamic text in your mother tongue, there can be two effects on you: you could either turn into a violent, brainwashed Muslim ready to eliminate anything that opposes you, or you could abandon Islam altogether and become a free man. I choose the latter path and at a very young age.

Well, leaving Islam was not an instant decision; it was rather a gradual process. I think by the time I reached 12, I consciously abandoned Islam altogether. And some of my closest friends knew about my views on Islam. I think some of them were really shocked. So, leaving Islam was a private matter at the beginning, I didn’t share it with lot of people initially.

Obviously there was the fear of making a majority of Muslims upset. So, what I did was, I started to question a lot to spread my message. I learned it from the life of Socrates, that’s what he used to do, and it can be very effective sometimes. I started to question Islamic beliefs and traditions in a lot in my writing and that put me in trouble. Although I had some like-minded friends and we used to call ourselves Freethinkers, I made some nasty enemies as well and I was aware that they were watching my every step. But, you know I was young and careless—so I kept going.

Finally, the waiting game was over and they physically attacked me one night- I was very lucky to escape only with some sharp cuts and bruises. After that incident I slowed down a bit, stopped going outside and tried to concentrate on writing at home. I think it was in 2002, when an Islamist organization published a book and declared me a Nastik-Murtad or “Apostate-Infidel”. So, I didn’t really have to declare leaving Islam publicly, they did the honor for me.

After that I decided to leave the country and in 2003 I came to Australia as a student. And if you are asking whether I am still in danger today, well all I can say is that I never underestimate their reach. It’s not just me, anyone who is non-Muslim, or a born-Muslim who doesn’t care about Islam much -- anyone who is different from them is in danger today and it’s the sad reality.

What always struck me the most was that Islam is another form of Arab colonialism in disguise. In South-east Asia you will see people constantly cry about the British Colonialism and how they are still a victim of it. However, no one ever talks about the Arab colonialism which is very active in every single non-Arab Muslim country. Islam is in its origin an Arab religion, and it is not a religion of conscience, private belief or spirituality; it is very political and imperial. Its holy places are in Arab lands, its sacred language is Arabic, and its historical figures are all native Arab. So what happens to a non-Arab convert’s mind is very interesting.

A convert starts to dislike his own culture as non-Islamic and he becomes fascinated by the Arab influence and wants to be a part of the Arab story; ironically, he starts to praise the Arab Warrior who conquered his land. And to do that the first thing he does is to turn away from everything that is ethnically his and he lives in a world of fundamentalist fantasy to purify his non-Islamic culture.

You can see this neurosis and nihilism in the mindset of converts and you can say it is an incurable mental disease which has been affecting them and disturbing the societies for thousands of years. Arab colonialism is both political and cultural and I think it is the longest surviving form of colonialism. You see it is now a fashion to blame European Imperialism and colonialism, west and Israel in general - for every ill in this planet; Muslims are never ashamed to join this blame game. But, when it comes to Arab imperialism or Islamic colonialism, Muslims feel proud and they admire the warriors who once came from the Arab world and conquered their forefathers’ land.

This way, Islamic colonialism and Arab imperialism together have conquered and destroyed many advanced and ancient civilizations and brought catastrophic changes in the cultures of the conquered lands. You can say Arabs were the most successful imperialists of all time, because the faithful converts love to be conquered by the legendary “Holy Warriors” of the “ Holy land ” – it is some sort of salvation for the converts.

Islam has always been associated with political expansion and that’s where Jihad or holy war comes into affect. Quran and Hadith repeatedly say that nothing is greater, so far as goodness goes, than Jihad in the name of Allah. Some apologists will try to tell you that Islam is a religion of peace, Jihad is allegorical, and it does not mean violence etc. But the bloody history of Islam tells us a very different story. And the Quran is actually supposed to be taken literally. Muhammad repeatedly said that the Quran is not poetry or allegory; it is the clear voice of Allah himself so that everyone can understand and take it seriously; it is actually blasphemous even to think the Quran as an allegory.

In Hadith, the collection of traditions, Muhammad asked his followers to stop any un-Islamic practice by force many times. As a religion, Islam has a long tradition of deep rooted hatred towards unbelievers. In the Quran, Allah repeatedly commanded Muslims to engage in Holy war and promised unlimited reward in the afterlife if one becomes a martyr in the war for the glory of Allah.

If you ask a Turkish Sufi Dervish who does that beautiful swirling dance, you won’t get the literal picture of Islam. You will rather get a pleasant humanitarian view of the Mystic Sufi philosophy. But, unfortunately, Mainstream Islam considers Sufis heretics and they were regularly persecuted by orthodox Muslims throughout history.

To find out the true meaning of Jihad, you have to look at the life of Muhammad, his companions and the later rulers and thinkers of Islam. You will get an extremely violent picture. Even Muhammad’s immediate successors used the term Jihad to refer to the conquest of new territory, so I don’t see much scope for misunderstanding here.

No matter what apologists try to tell you about the meaning of Jihad, to most Muslims it simply means Expansion of Allah’s Kingdom in the command of Allah himself. If they die in the pursuit they are a martyr or Sahid, someone who is guaranteed by Allah to go to heaven straightway without facing the trial in the judgment day.

Islamic scholars like Taqi al din ibn Taymiyyah, Mohammad ibn abdul Wahhab, Sayyid Qutb, Abdullah Mawdudi, Hasan al Turabi have a lot to answer for in this matter. Modern Jihadists frequently cite these scholars as their source of inspiration. They argued that Muslims are in a cosmic battle against the force of darkness. These forces of darkness should not be tolerated, and although Allah is ultimately responsible for the destruction of darkness, Muslims are required to fight it. That’s why as of today no famous Muslim cleric or Muslim country condemned terrorism. You see, almost everything of the western way of life contradicts Islamic belief - the West automatically becomes the target, hence, Islamic scholars divided the whole world into two different spheres: Islamic World or Land of Peace and Un-Islamic World or Land of warfare.

No, terrorists are not misinterpreting Islam; in fact they are interpreting Islam very correctly. Theologically, it is a Muslim’s holy duty to fight until the whole world turns to one Allah because there can not be any other God. Allah is pretty autocratic among the Gods and he doesn’t like to co-exist with any other deity. It sounds funny but its true; how many Muslim countries practice democracy? Liberalism, individual privacy and freedom, freedom of speech and freedom of belief - all of this and any other component of modernity you can think of directly contradicts Islamic belief.

No matter what apologists say, “Islam” and “freedom” are two opposite words with opposite meanings. You see, unlike Christianity and Buddhism Islam is not a personal religion; Islam is very practical, social, highly political, and unspiritual and its goal is to win the world empire. Islam penetrates even very personal aspects of human life and dictates. Islamic law or Sharia is considered divine legislation and it dictates every single aspects of human life, from using toothpicks to how to perform sex; from slaughtering animals to what verse you should recite when you are in a toilet etc. Anything you can think of.

To me, Muhammad is undoubtedly one of the most influential characters of human history in the sense that billions of Muslims are still ready to die for him, and it is unique given the extent of his influence. However, one of Muhammad’s few likable characteristics was that he never claimed himself to be perfect although billions of Muslims think so today.

I think Muhammad was always aware of his human shortcomings and he did everything to ensure that he is not worshipped instead of God. But, to Muslims Muhammad is sinless, the most perfect and greatest man who ever lived in this planet, and he is even the greatest of all prophets. Every Muslim worships Muhammad, knowingly or unknowingly and reacts with unprecedented violence if he is defamed by a cartoonist or a novelists or anyone in that matter.

However, if you follow Muhammad biography recorded by famous Muslim scholars such as Bukhari, Ibn Ishaq, Al tabari you will find many incidences of Muhammad being far from a perfect, sinless man. His cruelty towards Jews, Meccan Pagans and his rivals is well recorded by Muslim historians. He massacred three entire Jewish tribes - Banu Nadir, Banu Qurayaza and Banu Qaynuqa; killed the prince of Khaibar and made his wife captive to his tent: there are numerous examples; you just have to read the Muslim biographers in any translation you wish.

Apologists of Islam will try to justify these actions with there hollow logics; but if you are a prophet you should have a better moral outlook than the average human. Muhammad married 12 or 13 times -- which contradicts his own preaching of a maximum four marriages, but what I find most disturbing is, Muhammad married his closest friend Abubakkar’s 6 year old daughter Ayesha. Now if you do that in a modern civilized world, you will be disgraced as a pedophile and spend the rest of your life in prison.

In another disturbing incident, Muhammad was attracted to his adopted son’s wife Zayanab and later even married her. As a leader, he failed to announce his successor which led to the bloody Shia-Sunni division in Islam and you see the second, third and fourth Caliphs of Islam all were assassinated as a result of this power struggle. These are just a few of the incidents of a very eventful life of a very influential man. But, as far as I am concerned, Muhammad was no saint. No doubt he is extremely influential, but I don’t see a perfect-sinless man in him as Muslims try to idolize.

As I said earlier, Islam is in a cosmic battle against the un-Islamic world. I think - apart from the mystical Sufi sects, who are mostly branded as heretics by mainstream Muslims - the rest of the Islamic world and its belief systems are undoubtedly totalitarian in nature.

You see, followers of no other religion try to create international associations of nation-states that are based on religion. Only Muslims do and they call it ummah or followers of Muhammad, very similar with socialists and communist revolutionaries.

In personal label, Islam tries to penetrate every phase of life; the sole purpose of Sharia law is to control religious, social and political life of mankind in all of its aspects. Jihad and Sharia are two ultimate tools of Islam’s control mechanism. Muhammad’s life reflects the very nature of a totalitarian system. There was no separation of church and state; not just a prophet Muhammad performed as a statesman, lawmaker, judge, community leader and in many other roles.

So, you can clearly see the beginning was totalitarian in nature. Muslims are required to follow the Quran, the Hadith (deeds and words of Muhammad) and the verdict of Islamic scholars in case the answer is not found in the scriptures. Interestingly, while all other law is human and constantly evolving, Sharia is divine and immutable - human intelligence cannot criticize it, it must be accepted without any doubts and questions.

So, you can see a very tightly controlled society here without any hope of individual freedom. Sharia contains all sorts of crazy principles, such as, intolerance towards pagans and Jews, inequality between man and woman, religious, social and financial restrictions for non-Muslims citizens, acceptance of slavery and polygamy, barbaric punishments like chopping hands and feats from opposite sides to pulling out eyes and beheading -- all sorts of things.

These laws were handed down over a thousand year ago and they didn’t evolve since then. Clearly Sharia is out of touch and not compatible in our twenty-first century. In the last thousand years we have progressed a lot, but the Islamic law and its worldview is stuck in the medieval desert, for generations Muslims are stuck with it as well and they need rescue. No surprise, there is hardly any intellectual progress in Muslim societies. How can there be progress if they regard the Quran as eternal truth and the final solution for all the problems? Progress requires change, Islam is unchangeable. This is why Islam is not just a religion, it is a totalitarian belief system and Muslims are the first victims of it -- but very few of them realize that.

I don’t think you can be a Muslim and a reformer at the same time; it’s a paradox and contradictory in terms. Islam forbids reformation, and Muslims feel proud boasting that unlike the Bible, the Quran didn’t go through different editions and versions; it is pure, holy and untouched.

Muhammad insisted throughout his life that the Quran is the literal word of God - the truth once and for all, that’s it. So how can you bring reformation and remain a true Muslim? That’s a puzzling contradiction and I think it is misleading too. These reformers will keep telling you that Islam is the religion of peace and real Islam doesn't approve the actions of the Talibans, Islam has nothing to do with Jihadists etc. You will eventually get tired of that. This denial is pathetic, you don’t have to go that far to see if real Islam has anything to do with these barbaric acts or not. Just read the Quran, Hadith, Sharia - Islamic texts and they are everywhere. That’s why it is so important to permit debate and criticism about Islam across the globe. Honest and sharp intellectual engagement is very crucial to create a democratic and modern nation.

London , New York , Sydney - all these big cities have one thing in common: most Muslims go there to improve their economic condition - big cities are like beauty queens- used by all and loved by none.

Most Muslims have already made it very clear that they have no intention of being assimilated into the host society; instead they are repeatedly asking to implement Sharia Law in Canada , UK , and Australia -- as if it is up to the host society to change instead.

To a Muslim mind, Islam is a universal religion and he hopes some day the whole of humanity will embrace Islam. So, there is an element of expansion mentality in them, because Islam is not limited to home and personal relationship. To Muslims, Islam is a complete code of life and society must adhere to that code. So, you see, the world view of Islam is very totalitarian and you have to fight it intellectually, not just militarily. It is also a war of ideologies, we must not forget.

Unfortunately, some western societies continue to turn a blind eye when there is a Muslim-on-Muslim violence: such as, teenagers forced by migrant parents to follow Islamic codes. Some western societies are too politically correct to take any action when a freethinker is attacked for his unbelief, scared of losing the popular Muslim vote or political support. I believe that the West must always adhere to its secular principles and take prompt actions when there is violence against women or somebody is forced to follow Islamic codes. This will send a very clear message to Islamists and potential jihadists. There are an increasing number of Islamic schools in western countries, this is another way to brainwash children at a very early age and isolate them from the mainstream society by implying that We are Muslims, they are Christians; we are different. They eat pig, we don’t; we are different, by forcing girls to wear hijab sends a clear message: we are sacred, they are not, and they are whorelike.

So, it is very dangerous to turn a blind eye in such incidences in the name of promoting multiculturalism. Respect for other cultures, other values is important and a crucial component of secularism and democracy; but, if these other values are here to destroy our own civilization and modernity - then we have fight them vigorously- with reason, argument, criticism, legal and military means if it turns into violence- so that our values of civilization are protected.

Religious belief is fine; but the practices, literal submission to scriptures; religious institutions should not be tolerated. By saying that, a Muslim should have absolute freedom to his personal religion; but if he jumps up and demands the death penalty of a writer or preaches hatred in a community he should be disciplined accordingly by law.

As I said, the West must adhere to its secular principle and defend its democratic right and freedom at all costs and politicians should stop being too politically correct and they should be unapologetic when it comes to defending the core values of civilization.

However, we should remember it is not necessarily a battle between the west and Islam -- as some like to portray it to fulfill there own agenda. As I said before, Jihadists divide the whole world into two spheres - Islamic world and un-Islamic world. I won’t do that. To me, it is the ultimate battle between those who value freedom, peace and humanity and those who do not, and we must triumph at all cost for the sake of our own existence.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Hindus in Australia become victims to Islamic assaults

Australia’s oldest Hindu temple, the Sri Mandir dedicated to Lord Shiva, considered as the holiest Shiva-Shakti Peetham, in Auburn, is under siege and its devotees are gripped by fear. On March 19, two Muslim miscreants in balaclavas stood at the intersection of a nearby road, spraying the front of the prayer hall with eight rounds of bullets. The building was unoccupied at that time; otherwise there would have been many casualties. This busy Hindu temple opened in 1977 and is surrounded by a predominantly Muslim population. It is no secret among locals that tensions have been building in recent years, caused by concerns mainly about noise and parking problems.

The trouble began with minor acts of vandalism, including egg throwing and smashing of window-panes, but instead of remaining periodic footnotes in the night log at Auburn police station, the incidents have grown so violent – and the issue is so culturally sensitive – that even authorities are reluctant to speak about them publicly.

“The attacks have been in retaliation for noise and parking problems”, says theSydney Morning Herald. In reality, they are more likely in retaliation for the Hindus’ irritating refusal to worship Allah alone and acknowledge Muhammad as his prophet.”There is no excuse for the gun attack,” says the editor of Sydney newspaper The Indian, Rohit Revo. . ”This was not the work of teenagers; neither was it a petty prank. This is part of a sustained and increasingly violent campaign to scare the temple devotees and drive them out. By definition, this latest attack was an act of terrorism”, says Mr Revo. According to the report of another newspaper The Sun-Herald, the ongoing feud has caused disquiet among some of the most senior police in western Sydney. In a rare move, details of the shooting were deliberately held back from the NSW police media unit through concern that publicity might inflame hostilities….Many believe that the Muslims are trying to occupy the temple land by terror and intimidation for building a mosque at the site.

In his article Just Looking Around gradual Islamization of Australia , Wendy Larkson writes, Auburn, located 19 kms from the centre of Sydney, has a greatly diversified population and it is a place with Turkish, Lebanese, Vietnamese, Somali, Sudanese, Bosnian, Afghan, Chinese and Indian immigrants. According to Mr Larkson, the area is gradually becoming Muslim dominated. “If you walk around Auburn you will see many signs in Arabic, African immigrants [who looked to me quite unhappy] and of course many hijabbed women walking past shops with names like ‘Medina Bakery’ and so on”, he says. It is the place where the Gallipoli Mosque is located

The Gallipoli Mosque in Auburn, a suburb of Sydney, is the first mosque in the locality and was opened for worship on November 3, 1979. Initially, it was a house with internal walls. But later on, the walls were removed to generate open space. The construction of the present mosque structure began in 1986. Its construction and external finishes were completed and officially opened on 28th of November 1999, twenty years after the first opening. Today, the Auburn Gallipoli Mosque is the largest Mosque in Australia.

According to the 2006 census, approximately 340,392 people, or 1.71% of the total Australian population were Muslims. At present, the five most prominent religions in Auburn are Islam (40.9%), Catholicism (15.3%), No religion (10.3%), Buddhism (6.8%) and Anglican (3.6%) and this statistics reflects an influx of Muslims in the area leading to a demographic change over the past decades and also a qualitative social change. In fact, Auburn was the first suburb in Australia in which security guards were introduced into supermarkets to patrol the aisles, because the burqa-clad women were stealing so much merchandise as to make them unprofitable.

Problem with the Muslim immigrants:

The author Larkson also says the he has noticed an unusual increase of Chinese presence in the area that may lead to a territorial battle between the increasing Chinese population and the Islamic groups. He also says that, perhaps these were the people who answered ‘no religion’ in the census. But, most of these Chinese people possibly are Buddhists by religion and it may be certain that they will not create any problem in future. But a large scale increase of Muslim immigrant population poses a serious threat for the non-Muslims of the locality and for the host country at large.

Firstly, the Muslim population grows very fast and faster than any other religious group. How much faster? Journalist Richard Kerbaj, after analyzing the data, has come to the conclusion that the Muslim population is rising ten times faster than the rest of the society (The Times, January 30, 2009). Experts are convinced that the said rapid increase of Muslim population was attributable to (1) large scale immigration, (2) a higher birthrate through planned and deliberate rejection of family planning measures and finally (3) conversions of indigenous people to Islam.

In fact, Islam is a non-spiritual and a totalitarian political creed. Or in other words, Islam is a political party; and each and every mosque is its party office and a military outpost. Furthermore, the religious sermons (khutba) delivered by the imams in mosques after Friday prayers are nothing but pure political lectures. Therefore Muslims, are politically more conscious and active than other religious groups. As a result, as soon as Muslims in a non-Muslim country could sense that major political parties are greedy for their votes and have adopted the policy of Muslim appeasement, they start bargaining to squeeze out as much privilege as possible. And they go on demanding unjust financial, religious or any other benefits and concessions from the government, because they know that government would bow to their most unjust and illegal demands for their votes. In this manner, they elevate themselves as citizens of first category, while the indigenous people of the country reduce to second category citizens.

In addition, they also intensify their jihadi and other unlawful and terrorist activities, knowing well that the government would turn a blind eye to those activities for the fear of losing their votes and the recent terrorist attack on the Hindu Mandir at Auburn is manifestation of this attitude. In another development, three men have been found guilty of plotting a suicide attack on an army base in Australian city of Sydney. A Melbourne court has found them guilty of conspiring to commit a terrorist act. Two other defendants were acquitted. The five men, all Australian citizens of Somali or Lebanese origin, were arrested in Melbourne in August 2009. They were accused of targeting Sydney’s Holsworthy military base. Police said the attack would have been the worst in Australian history.
A rise in Muslim population also poses a serious threat to the culture and social fabric of a host Christian country. This is because Islam is fundamentally a totalitarian political creed disguised as a religion and its followers reluctant to get assimilated with the mainstream population and hell bent on for retaining their Muslim identity. It is now well known that the aim of Islam is to destroy all other religions and establish Islam as the supreme religion over the entire world (see Quran 8:39, 2:193).

So, Muslim immigrants, who come to work as a labour in any foreign country, also come with the desire in the core of their hearts to conquer that country for Islam and to rule that country and, thus, to replace the present Judeo-Christian culture of the host country by Arabian religio-political and cultural order. In other words, they aim to turn that country into a colony of Arab religious imperialism. These Muslims do not have any loyalty to the host country. They are loyal, firstly to Allah, then to Allah’s messenger Muhammad and Allah’s book Koran, and finally to the holy places Mecca and Medina. From this viewpoint, each and every Muslim immigrant entertains hostility toward the host country so long it remains under non-Islamic rule.

It has been mentioned earlier that the Leftist political parties around the world are generally found to be more sympathetic to the Muslims. Following this trend, the Labour Party of Australia is showing more sympathy toward Muslims, simply to earn their votes. And as a return, Muslim immigrants pretend to be more loyal to the Labour. Commenting on this Muslim-Labour alliance, particularly in the UK, political observer Nick Spencer writes:

“There are good demographic and socio-economic reasons for that support. British Muslims are disproportionately younger and more urban. They come from lower-income households and experience higher levels of unemployment. These factors traditionally edge voters to the left. Perhaps the Muslim vote is actually made up of cross-currents of wider and more powerful demographic and socio-economic trends.”

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Amrtya Sen’s bid to venerate Hindu philosophical vision rejecting Dharma – too childish

After winning the Nobel Prize for Economics (1998) Amartya Sen took a fateful turn at freelance writing about Indian history, politics, religion, culture and what not. In 2005 he produced a book ‘The Argumentative Indian’ which sought to contain Hindu India by a well known technique, that of appropriating the merits of Hindu civilisation and adopting them as part of his new effort at a renaissance , while at the same time rejecting the ongoing strengths of that civilization which has provided the foundations for his contemporary project. His dual method seeks to appropriate the open ended vision and enquiry that has been characteristic of Hindu civilization since its earliest beginnings, while rejecting Hindu Dharma, which is the source of that very open endedness.

His attempt has failed because it is not an authentic one. Why he embarked on this project is a question mark. His future career may provide some answers.

Meanwhile, it is important for Hindus to recognize the aims of this project and its modus operandi. Unlike Arundhati Roy’s vindictive comments about her mythical evil Brahmanic Hindu state, Amartya Sen moves carefully and cautiously to build his case against Hindu India. The style is chatty and leisurely. Hindu civilization Sen intones has a long standing tradition of argument and debate, ever since the time of the open ended Vedas. It should be revived. It should not be abandoned in the face of Hindu nationalism which he alleges has rejected this open ended tradition and has “incarcerated Hinduism.”

The question ,ofcourse, is who is doing the incarceration, and indeed who is trying to deal a death blow to Hinduism ?

Sen cannot sound , does not sound, like Arundhati Roy. He cannot make blanket generalizations against Hinduism ( as she does) since that would take the bottom out of his project which stakes its claims of authenticity on an open ended Hinduism which he feels must be revived. Gradually, after the first salvo against the Hindu nationalists it becomes clear that he has an agenda. In a charming biographical essay in the book he speaks about his early atheism and materialism. Presumably, that still obtains.

What are the characteristics of his method in this book ?

1.Omissions : while speaking about the Ramayana he does not mention that Valmiki saw Lord Rama as a divine figure. Needless to say he does not even mention the other famous Ramayanas, Tulasidas’s Ramacharitamanas, the Kamban Ramayana and Ezuthatchan’s Ramayana.,all of which extol Rama as a divine figure. The songs and music , both of the north and the south view Rama as a divine figure. The Rama temples house a deity. Hanuman the quintessential devotee worships him as divine. Festivals, dance dramas, the classical music of India all focus on Rama as a divine figure.

Why does Sen omit all this ? He has to maintain the secular character of the Rama
figure because he needs to eliminate the central role of Rama bhakti in contemporary Hindu life and thought, especially among the masses. It is, therefore, a combination of lack of knowledge of the topic, snobbery (the aam admi’s religious sensibilities do not count in HIS view of a secular India) and a deliberate omission with an agenda in mind.

The second striking omission is the absence of the word Dharma in his rather superficial account of the dialogue between Arjuna and Krishna. He will repeat this argument in his later work The Idea of Justice (2009). Arjuna questions the wisdom of the war where there will be a great deal of bloodshed and devastation. Krishna advises him that since he is a warrior his DUTY is to defend his people against the wicked.

Sen uses the word ‘duty’ but not Dharma, which has huge moral and ethical implications in Hinduism and goes beyond the word ‘duty.’ He strenuously avoids that central word of Hinduism.

2.The inaacurate rendering of Indian history. Buddhism, according to him, dominated India for a thousand years. This is not quite accurate. Some three hundred years after the Buddha’s death Buddhism migrated to other countries such Tibet , China, Afghanistan, Central Asia, Sri Lanka and the far East. Its influence waned as early as the first years of the first millennium (CE )and lingered on till the rise of Sankara and his Vedanta in the 8tt to 9th century of the Christian era.

3.And certainly while Ashoka (3rd century B.C.) and Akbar (16th century of the Christian era) were great kings there were many other great kings in Hindu India.

It is embarrassing to have to repeat the long line of great Hindu kings that he has ignored, both in the north and in the south. With regard to the south the silence is deafening. Nothing about the great kings of Vijayanagar (Hindu kings) ,nothing about the Cholas, the Cheras and the Pandyas etc.

Indeed, anything south of the Vindhyas is omitted in his accounts. There are some brief references to Ujjain, to Kalidasa and so on with regard to the north. It soon becomes clear that Dr. Sen is not in his element.

4.The frequent references to the ‘greatness’ of the selective figures of his choice. For instance while talking about devotional Hinduism in the middles ages, he omits Tulsidas and hails Kabir as the greatest poet of the times ! No doubt Kabir was a great figure, but the greatest !

Medieval India was bustling with great poets, savants and sages.

The present writer is of the opinion that Dr. Sen is ill prepared to write about Hindu culture, philosophy and literature. He would be more credible if he stayed with economic issues, with development, with the issues of poverty and class injustices etc. This indeed is where he could make a difference.

By his own reasoning, the ‘argumentative Indian’, the one who is open and tolerant of diverse traditions, has been the Hindu norm. Amartya Sen’s advocacy of it is neither here nor there. It is nothing new. What is new about his project is his attempt to separate out this ethos from Hindu India and present it as something brand new under his aegis and his sponsorship of it. In other words, by his rather exaggerated notion of his own project if Amartya Sen had not appeared on the Indian scene this ‘argumentative ‘ tradition is alas bound to disappear !

As matters stand, his individual agenda is misplaced . Hindu India carries on. People still go to their temples, throng at festivals, pray at Kumbh Melas, watch in awe at the celebration of ancient rituals and celebrate Hindu festivals. Hindu syncretism is alive and well. The life affirmation vision of the Vedas, the worship of the terrestrial, the atmospheric, and celestial forces continues. The Devas and Devis continue to inhabit the land as they did since time immemorial. Hindus worship their gods and goddesses.

And Hindu Dharma is the order of the day.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Dr. Richard Benkin speaks on 3 rd Anniversary of Hindu Samhati

People often ask me why I have dedicated myself to fighting for the Hindus of Bangladesh. After all, I am not a Hindu; I am Jewish. And I am not South Asian but American. So what is a non-Hindu, non-NRI (non-resident Indian) American doing here in Kolkata today? There are so many ways to answer this question. I could talk about my love of the Hindu people and how knowing India has made me a better person; or I could speak about the imperative for people everywhere to stop violent jihad; but I most often begin this way.

What if you found yourself in Nazi Germany in the 1930s, or more recently in Darfur? You might have looked around and thought, ‘Something’s wrong. Something’s terribly wrong. You can see that. I’m afraid that something really bad is about to happen, and no one seems to be doing anything to stop it.’ Knowing what you know now, what would you have done? Gone about your life, pretending that you didn’t see what you saw? Or would you do everything in your power to stop the impending atrocity and save the lives of so many innocent people? Would it have mattered if you were not Jewish or African? We here today do not have to guess at what our answer should be. We have the lessons of history. Because of the Holocaust and what happened in places like Darfur, we know what will happen—and it is about to happen again.

Bangladesh’s Hindu population is dying. This is not opinion or “Islamaphobia,” or anything else people want to call it to deny reality. It’s a fact. At the time of India’s partition in 1948, Hindus made up just under a third of East Pakistan’s population. When East Pakistan became Bangladesh in 1971, they were less than a fifth; thirty years later, less than one in ten; and many put today’s Hindu population at less than eight percent. Professor Sachi Dastidar from the State University of New York estimates that about 49 million Hindus are missing from the Bangladeshi census. Still having trouble wondering where this is going? Take a look at Pakistan where a once robust Hindu population is down to one percent or Kashmir where Hindus are almost extinct. Take a look at the future of Bangladesh’s Hindus if we do not act.

Yet, in this topsy-turvy world, it is WE who have to prove that there is something wrong. What kind of sense does that make? One would expect justice to demand that the BANGLADESHIS explain why they should not be charged with complicity in eliminating an entire people numbering in the tens of millions. That very presumption should tell us why we cannot rest until WE stop this atrocity—completely and forever!

The world pretends that those numbers do not exist, and as it does reports of atrocities against the Bangladeshi Hindus flow like a waterfall. Every day we read about murders, gang rapes, assaults, forced conversions to Islam, child abductions, religious desecration. Bangladeshi officials might object that the perpetrators of these crimes are private citizens not members of the government, but they are equally guilty nonetheless. By half-heartedly pursuing only a token few of these cases and punishing even fewer perpetrators, the government of Bangladesh has given its tacit approval for these atrocities and sent that messages to both the ethnic cleansers and the ethnically cleansed.

Moreover, government officials actually have participated in many of the attacks. In 2009, for instance, there was an anti-Hindu pogrom in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka—right behind a police station with police present. Police on the scene justified the carnage with none other than the Vested Property Act. Bangladeshi-approved legalized plunder of its Hindu population and for more than three decades, the economic engine that drives this quiet case of ethnic cleansing. Later, officials including the Dhaka Metropolitan Police Commissioner and Awami League Members Parliament (Jatiyo Sangsad) carried out a cover up in an attempt to keep the pogrom a secret. If I can verify evidence of these atrocities and the government’s collusion from my home all the way in Chicago, the very notion that Sheikh Hasina does not know about them would be laughable were it not deadly!

I have spoken with hundreds of Bangladeshi Hindu refugees living in largely illicit colonies throughout North and Northeast India. In describing the attacks that forced them to leave their ancestral homes, they made it clear that their attackers were not necessarily radicals, but neighbors; everyday Muslims. They also said with near unanimity that when they went to the police and other officials for help, they were ordered to drop the subject—or else—and to “get out of Bangladesh.” I will never forget one family I interviewed in 2009 only 22 after they crossed into India. They told me about an uncle being killed, the father beaten, and their small farm being invaded by a large number of Muslims who forced them to flee. I also looked into the eyes of their 14-year-old daughter as she talked about being gang raped by them.

Who did it? Not al Qaeda or Jamaat; but simply Muslims who lived in the area and knew they could have their way with the family, seize their land, and get away with it. And that is chilling because history has shown that the most “successful” cases of genocide and ethnic cleansing occur when a small cadre of true believers incites average citizens to engage in heinous acts against a targeted minority; acts they otherwise would not dream of committing.

There might be no Gestapo or Janjaweed in Bangladesh, but its Hindu community faces the same fate as their victims did.

Some might argue that we should not bring religion into this, that religion should not be important in this discussion. Perhaps that is true—in theory—but let us be clear that this girl was not raped and, oh by the way, she happened to be a Hindu. She was raped because she was a Bangladeshi Hindu and therefore not subject to the usual protections of the law. And the men did not rape her and, oh by the way, they happened to be Muslim. They knew they could rape that little girl and get away with it because they were Bangladeshi Muslims. We were not the ones who injected religion into this. So if anyone’s sensibilities are offended, they need to address that with those who did.

Not surprisingly, the election of a supposedly pro-minority Awami League government in Bangladesh has done nothing to stop the atrocities; if anything, they are getting worse. In April 2009, Sheikh Hasina did a most amazing thing. A French delegation was in Dhaka to visit the new Bangladeshi Prime Minister who told them that her government would repeal all of the country’s anti-minority laws. Did she realize what she was saying? Here we have the Prime Minister of Bangladesh admitting that her nation in fact has anti-minority laws. Bangladeshi officials usually retreat behind the empty promises of religious equality in their nation’s constitution, but not that day. The Prime Minister was saying that these are not merely the crimes of a few bad actors but that discrimination against Hindus and others is enshrined in Bangladesh’s legal system!

And did she repeal those laws as she promised? No; even though she could have done so. Let’s take the Vested Property Act as an example. Late in 2008, Bangladesh’s Supreme Court challenged the government to explain why that racist law should not be repealed and the stolen property returned to its rightful owners. The military government at the time deliberately did not respond, in part, as its representatives told me, because making changes to the law exceeded its mandate as a caretaker. But they did this knowing that their non-action made it easy for the soon-to-be elected government to have the Vested Property Act dumped with a simple court appearance. But that never happened.

Instead of action, we get excuses; and the excuses have not stopped a single atrocity; neither have the current government’s empty promises. In fact, it does not matter whether the openly Islamist BNP or the more secretly complicit Awami League ruled Bangladesh. Both have been passive bystanders, failing—or refusing—to exercise their sovereign responsibility to protect the life and security of all their citizens; and both have shared in the spoils of stolen Hindu property. Thus they have sent radical Islamists and common citizens alike a clear message that these acts can be undertaken with impunity, and the victims can expect no justice.

So we have to ask ourselves: What kind of world is this when people listen to their excuses and wait for actions that they know will not come? The Bangladeshis admit that these things occur but ask us to “understand” the “difficulties” they face. They want us to believe that they would like to do the right thing but are afraid of the political consequences. And we give credence to such nonsense while millions are brutalized—or even worse! It is hard to say whose actions are more cowardly.

With Bangladesh’s admittedly discriminatory laws strong as ever, what nation or international entity has called Sheikh Hasina on her April 2009 duplicity? What nation has said that it cannot do business with a country that openly and officially discriminates against its own citizens who, oh by the way just happen to be Hindu? When did Amnesty International or the UN Human Rights Commission protest? What about the United States, or India? Never; and it is our responsibility to make sure they do. Because if we do not, no one else will, count on it, and we will see an end to the Bangladeshi Hindus in our lifetime!

Despite all of this evidence, it falls to us to connect the dots and draw the simple pictures that the international talking heads need to recognize what we see right before us; and that is simply the reality we face. Our challenge is to get the world to recognize this quiet case of ethnic cleansing; mass murder without concentration camps or killing fields; and to act!

So, what do we do?

First of all, we do not look for somebody else to stop the violence. It will not happen. Instead, I want each person here to ask this: Knowing that the Bangladeshi Hindus are being brutalized and worse, what kind of person am I if I do not do everything in my power to help them?

I grow weary of attending meeting after meeting, seminar after seminar, with everyone feeling oh so good about themselves, only to see the same people shake the same ineffective fists at the same enemies. We need to stop shaking our fists and do something! Insanity has been defined as doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. That is, no matter how much we “care,” whatever people have done thus far has not worked. If we are to save the lives of our brothers and sisters, we have to think and act strategically—and, why not, our enemies do.

There is an old expression, “light is the best disinfectant”; that is, we assume that if people are forced to confront the reality of these atrocities, they will do something about it. The government of Bangladesh and the forces of violent jihad benefit from the lack of “light” on their anti-Hindu assault. It allows international powers that be to ignore the matter and focus on pretty much anything else. We need to correct that. It is also clear that South Asian realties have somehow impeded area governments from taking the lead in defending the defenseless and giving voice to the voiceless. As an American, I look to my own country where we do not have to concern ourselves with these “realities” and instead can live up to the ideals of freedom and justice that are at the core of who we are as a nation and people. But we cannot—and should not—do it alone.

When I speak to other Americans about the Bangladeshi Hindus, I often hear: ‘Well, if things are as dire as you say they are, why are we not hearing anything from the Hindus themselves; or from India?’ It is a pretty powerful argument. We can understand if the refugees and other victims do not feel empowered to speak out, but we also know that there are many who can. There is a large NRI (Non-Resident Indian) population making waves throughout the world, but never about this issue. There are also plenty people inside India who can raise their voices through various legal means and let the government and media know that they will not stand for the continued murder of the Bangladeshi Hindus; that if they are not listened to today, they will return tomorrow, and next week, and next year, and so on and so on and will do so until their anguished cries become too loud to ignore.

It took little more than that sort of notoriety to rouse consciences over Darfur, and in an earlier era Biafra. And unlike those African populations, Indians can boast prominent members in positions of power and influence throughout the world. For instance, the governors of two US states (Louisiana and South Carolina) are both of Indian descent; not to mention prominent entrepreneurs and innovators like the Hindu inventors of the Pentium processor or one of the leading candidates to succeed American tycoon and pundit Warren Buffet. Take note, too, that the genocide in Darfur would not have grabbed the world’s attention as it did were it not for celebrity George Clooney. Why can’t that work for this issue? If we refuse to be silenced about what is happening, it could stir celebrity activists like soon to be Hindus Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, or Hindu Julia Roberts whose notoriety would shine that disinfecting light on these atrocities.

And with all due respect to our neighbors just east of here, we are talking about Bangladesh, after all, not China or Iran. Bangladesh is a nation with such an array of dependencies and vulnerabilities that finding a way to force an end to the atrocities is not difficult; for we must be clear: There is no internal dynamic among Bangladeshi leaders to stop attacks on their Hindu citizens. The only way it will stop is if some outside force “convinces” them to stop. Those who thought that the current Awami government has that internal dynamic learned that their “give them time” approach did nothing but increase the tally of victims. Giving it any more time now will ensure even more brutalities.

Those Bangladeshi vulnerabilities are called “pressure points” in Washington, and there are several. The most significant is trade. In 2008, the United States imported $3.74 billion worth of goods from Bangladesh—or 26.5 percent of all of that country’s exports. Making that even more powerful is the fact that Bangladesh had a $3.25 billion trade surplus with the US that year. For perspective, that’s an amount equal to 30 percent of Bangladesh’s entire national budget. Now imagine what it would mean to the Bangladesh government if that number dropped—or what it would mean if it grew! Do you see the power that we have?

When I first encountered Bangladeshi officials in Washington many years back, their number one goal was to win a Free Trade Agreement with the United States. Not only has that not happened thanks to the unrelenting work of a lot of good people, but we also have defeated several attempts to grant Bangladesh tariff reduction to increase its exports to the United States. We have done it all on human rights grounds and despite the efforts of Bangladesh and its lobbyists. I can tell you as well that US businesses are not going to buy products from a country that is guilty of ethnic cleansing—or more to the point that their customers know is guilty of ethnic cleansing. And lawmakers are not going to award it any tariff relief for such a country either.

So how do you gain control of that situation? First, monitor the legislation, which I have been doing; second, make sure your contacts in Washington become aware the facts, which I also am doing; third, enough prominent people need to see how serious an issue it is. That goes back to us making a noise loud enough here to be heard in Washington and other capitals; a noise so loud that the media cannot ignore it and remain credible. In the United States, Hindus and others need to contact lawmakers and register their outrage at what is being done to innocent people in Bangladesh—something we expect will happen more in 2011.

We have a very ambitious agenda for 2011. Loud and visible outrage from Hindus here and in the US will make success more likely and that disinfecting light more powerful. It will help Bangladeshis recognize that they only have to protect all of their own citizens in order to end the opposition and benefit over 150 million people. It sounds simpler than it is, but it does give you a good idea of how to tie economics to moral behavior.

Bangladesh is also heavily invested in advertising itself as a “moderate Muslim country.” We know that Bangladeshi Muslims are traditionally just that. But we also know that over the last few decades they have come more and more under the control of radical jihadis. Few Americans know that now but once they do will ask how a country can call itself “moderate” and wage jihad against its non-Muslim citizens? Again, that recognition will not come by itself; it will not happen just because we believe we are right. We have to shine that light so bright that Bengal’s Hindus can be ignored no longer.

Who knows what two nations contribute the greatest number of troops to UN peacekeeping missions; what two economies are bolstered more than any other by payments for these services? The answer is Pakistan and Bangladesh, which averaged over 10,000 troops each every month in 2010. By contrast, India averaged 8,815 and the United States 86. The Bangladeshi economy is so dependent on those receipts that the threat of losing them was the real reason behind Bangladesh’s 2007 military coup. There is no reason why we cannot—excuse me, there is no reason why we should not—challenge the United Nations over its support of ethnic cleansing. There is no reason why we cannot mount an effort—with the help of our nations’ leaders—to have the UN de-certify this ethnic cleanser for participation in peacekeeping missions. And that is an effort I hope to start this year.

These are just a few examples of what we can do to stop atrocities that we know are being committed against Bangladesh’s Hindus with government complicity. And they are not just for the United States.

Bangladeshi exports to Australia, for instance, jumped 176 percent between 2007 and 2008 and Bangladesh’s exports to India are expected to hit $1 billion in 2011.

There is a new human rights organization, Forcefield, and its entire Board of Directors is up here today to stand with you. We might not have the financial resources or name recognition of an Amnesty International but what we do have is real passion for the few causes we can take on. And we have something else that the others do not: a formal commitment to fight for the Bangladeshi Hindus and end the atrocities being perpetrated against them. We, of course, cannot do it alone, and we need your help. Please join us through our web site, Join us in this fight for our lives.

As I noted earlier, the first step in achieving all that—from the public support of celebrities to action from Washington and other capitals—is that disinfecting light. And there are things we can both do. I am making progress in getting the US Congress to hold hearings about this; hearings that will raise this issue in the national consciousness and start some major media attention. From there, we can move to those other areas like trade and peacekeeping troops. From here, you can start a similar effort to force attention on their plight with large public demonstrations, events that will grab press and public attention, and the sort of relentless effort that refuses to stop after a single event. Press your case as if your life depended on it; certainly the lives of our brothers and sisters do. I propose to our hosts—right here and right now—a new beginning; a joint task force—Hindu Samhati and Forcefield; Tapan Ghosh and Richard Benkin—dedicated to saving the Bangladeshi Hindus; a task force committed to action, not words, to events, not meetings; to results not efforts; and to organizing all of you into a great movement such as we have not seen.

It is way past time for the world to see and hear some collective—and loud—Indian and Hindu outrage at what is being done to our brothers and sisters in Bangladesh. You live in the world’s largest democracy where you enjoy the freedoms to express yourselves freely and within the law. At times, I believe, people have been stopped by their own fear, which we need to push aside. Consider, too, that if officials here in Kolkata or New Delhi wanted to stop today’s event, they could have.

At times, I know, the task seems daunting, and I can answer that, if you will excuse the expression from this vegetarian. Do you know how to eat an elephant? (pause) One bite at a time.

Let us start today, working together for those small victories that will lead to larger ones. We can do it! You can do it!

I want to thank Tapan Ghosh and Hindu Samhati for the honor of being here with my brothers and sisters. I also want to thank three people who are with me today and as such with you, too: Miriam Jones from Australia, and Amitabh Tripathi and Bikash Halder from Bharat. Do not let anyone tell you that you are too “small” or too “alone” to make a difference. It just is not so. We are living proof of that. Do not let anyone tell you that the only way to get people’s attention is with a lot of money or influence. That, too, is a lie, and we are living proof of it. No, you do not need all of that. What you do need is a just cause and the dedication and determination not to let ANYBODY stand in the way of a just end.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Can Muslim women get freedom ever?

Rehana, a Shiite Muslim woman, was 24 when she got married to a man from her own community. Her parents and her brother had some reservations about the man because he was known to be “mentally unstable”. But his family insisted that he had recovered from his mental illness. So despite opposition from her parents, Rehana married the man because she liked him.

But little did she know that her life would turn into utter misery right after her marriage. Her in-laws forced her to do all the household chores. If she failed to do their bidding, her husband — who earned as little as Rs 4,000 a month as a private tutor — would beat her up.

Things came to a head when Rehana got pregnant. Her in-laws alleged that she was carrying the child of another man. They even refused to take care of the new born. Complaints to the police proved futile as her in-laws were friendly with the local political leaders and even the mafia. Finally, Rehana’s family went to their local maulana and she was allowed to exercise her right to divorce.

“It was all because of dowry. Before marriage, they said that they did not want anything, but afterwards we had to keep buying them things to prevent them from hurting my sister,” says Arshad, Rehana’s brother.

For women like Rehana, the Lucknow-based All India Shia Personal Law Board (AISPLB) is ensuring that help is at hand. Founded in 1972 and dedicated to regulating the laws governing the Shia community, the AISPLB has decided to ostracise or excommunicate men who beat their wives or leave them on flimsy grounds. The new regulation is tantamount to a law that will be binding on every member of the Shia community, which apparently accounts for one-fifth of the total Muslim population in India.

According to Maulana Yasoob Abbas, AISPLB spokesperson in Lucknow, representatives of the board in each state will make sure that the Shia community there severs all links with men who are found guilty of assaulting their wives or deserting them. “It will be a social boycott. The punishment can be considered law and all Shias should abide by it,” says Abbas.

The board has also launched a helpline to receive complaints from Shia women regarding domestic violence. “We have formed a panel of lawyers from within the community who will help women,” says Mohammed Ahmad Ali Khan, the spokesperson of the AISPLB in Delhi. “We will also launch a website soon where women can mail us about their problems.”

So what prompted the board to come up with such an initiative? Ahmad Ali Khan says that they had been receiving a number of complaints from Shia women against domestic violence, dowry demands and even female foeticide. “We carried out a survey in cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bangalore and also parts of Uttar Pradesh,” says Khan. “We found that four out of every five women in the community have either suffered domestic violence or were divorced by their husbands on trifling grounds.”

The board also found that cruelty to women was not confined to the low income groups alone. “There’s a higher percentage of such cases among educated and well-to-do Shias,” says Khan.

The AISPLB wants to deal with female foeticide in the country as well. And once again, it has decided that anyone found guilty of female foeticide will be ostracised by the community.

Similarly, measures to punish unlawful dowry demands are on the anvil. Board spokespersons say that the demand for dowry is rampant across the community even though their religion ordains that it’s the groom who gives mehar (dower or nuptial gift) to the bride on the day of the marriage.

Legal experts have welcomed these initiatives in favour of women from the Shia board. But they add a note of caution. “Like Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, this edict from the Shia board can be misused by women to harass men. So the board should thoroughly look into complaints before ostracising men,” says Zafirul Islam, lawyer, Calcutta High Court.

Yet others argue that the new regulations are not practical. “Maulanas have their own way of interpreting our religious texts. They can issue farmannamas on boycotting men, but in this day and age, who’s going to listen to them,” asks Shayesta Bano, president of the West Bengal chapter of International Human Rights Protection Association, a non governmental organisation that offers counselling and legal services to women belonging to the minority community.

Moreover, she points out that despite being well educated and economically independent, few Muslim women come out in the open with complaints against their husbands and in-laws. “The social pressure is so much that they find it tough to walk out of their marriages. It will perhaps take another decade to gain that kind of independence,” says Bano.

But the AISPLB maintains that the new rules against domestic violence are pathbreaking, as they are the first of their kind in the entire Muslim community in India. Of course, this is not the first time that the board has tried to protect women from abusive husbands. It drafted a new model Shia nikahnama (marriage agreement or contract signed by the bride and the groom in the presence of arbitrators and witnesses) in 2006 which granted the right of divorce to women.

As a safeguard against desertion and cruelty, the bride’s part of the model nikahnamasays, “If the groom disappears for two consecutive years and does not provide essentials to me, I shall have the right to refer to Hakim-e-Shar'a for divorce (and) the groom should delegate power to divorce to me in this regard.” Further, it adds, “...if the husband uses physical force and if his action causes danger to my life or limbs,...the husband will delegate to me the right to divorce him...”

The AISPLB says that in addition to these clauses in the nikahnama, it has now instructed ulemas (Muslim priests) to ask the groom’s family to decide on the mehar well before the marriage so that the bride’s family can utilise the money for wedding costs. And should there be any dowry demands from the groom’s family, that too can be sternly handled.

With the AISPLB having taken a bold measure to tackle domestic violence in the Shia community, will the other two Muslim personal law boards — namely, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) and All India Women Muslim Personal Law Board (AIWMPLB) — follow suit?

Kalbe Sadiq, prominent Islamic scholar and vice-president, AIMPLB, says that the problem lies in the basic differences between jurisprudences of the all India board and the Shia board. “But of course such an initiative against domestic violence or female foeticide will work for women’s empowerment in the community,” he says.Some say it’s time for the Muslim personal law boards to sit together to find solutions to common issues. The need of the hour is to rise above difference, says Islam.

Women like Rehana could not agree more.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Sufism becoming hapless victim in Radical Islamist Bangladesh

Twenty-eight followers of Bangladesh's legendary Sufi lyricist and philosopher, Lalon Fakir were physically assaulted and humiliated by a group of radical Islamists in a southern district in Bangladesh on April 6, 2011.

According to media reports, a group of local Islamists attacked the Baul Fair on April 6, 2011 and started physically assaulting the Bauls as well damaged their musical instrument. The group of attackers was mostly from the ruling party in Bangladesh. Later, the attackers cut the Sufi-type long hair of the Bauls and their mustache and drove them to local mosque for offering 'Tauba' [seeking forgiveness from Allah for committing sin]. Those who were victim of the attack are aged above 60 years.

After such huge humiliation of these mystique singer and Sufi thinkers, the group of attackers claimed that, Baul songs contain lyrics, which goes against Koran and Sharia. They said any such activity against Islam, Koran and Sharia will not be tolerated in this country.

It may be mentioned here that, Baul songs contain message of peace and religious tolerance. It gives emphasis on humanity above religion and discourages any religious extremism and killing of innocent people in the name of religion.

Bauls are a group of mystic minstrels from Bengal. Bauls constitute both a syncretic religious sect and a musical tradition. Bauls are a very heterogeneous group, with many sects, but their membership mainly consists of Caishnava Hindus and Sufi Muslims. They can often be identified by their distinctive clothes and musical instruments. The origin of Bauls is not known exactly, but the word "Baul" has appeared in Bengali texts as old as the 15th century. The word is found in the Chaitanya Bhagavata of Vrindavan Das Thakur as well as in the Chaitanya Charitomrita of Krishnadasa Kaviraja. Some scholars maintain that it is not clear when the word took its sectarian significance, as opposed to being a synonym for the word madcap, agitated. The beginning of the Baul movement was attributed to Birbhadra, the son of the Vaishnavite saint Nityananda, or alternatively to the 8th century Persian minstrels called Ba'al. Bauls are a part of the culture of rural Bengal. Whatever their origin, Baul thought has mixed elements of Tantra, Sufi Islam, Vaishnavism and Buddhism. They are thought to have been influenced by the Hindu tantric sect of the Kartabhajas, as well as Tantric Buddhist schools like the Vaishnava-Sahajiva. Some scholars find traces of these thoughts in the ancient practices of Yoga as well as the Charyapadas, which are Buddhist hymns that are the first known example of written Bengali. The Bauls themselves attribute their lack of historical records to their reluctance to leave traces behind. Dr. Jeanne Openshaw writes that the music of the Bauls appears to have been passed down entirely in oral form until the end of the 19th century, when it was first transcribed by outside observers. The Bauls were recorded as a major sect as early as mid 18th century.

Attack on Bauls in Bangladesh is certainly a crime against humanity as well as it goes against the freedom of expression of any individual in the country. Unfortunately, radical Islam and Islamism are on rise in Bangladesh for past few months. Pro-jihadist clergies like Mufti Fazlul Huq Amini and Moulana Rezaul Karim are continuing to give jihadist instigation to people openly without any action from the government of law enforcing agencies. The government really needs to look into this matter forthwith for the sake of saving Bangladesh from becoming a safe haven of various Islamist and jihadist elements. Attackers on Bauls should also be brought into book and punished for the sake of maintaining secularist image of Bangladesh. Culprits must be punished irrespective of their political identities.