Showing posts with label society. Show all posts
Showing posts with label society. Show all posts

Monday, July 30, 2012

Sufis and Scholars of the Sea

Sufis and Scholars of the Sea - Book ReviewYemen Post Staff 28th July 2012
There is a need to understand the Indian Ocean area as a cultural complex which should be analyzed beyond the geographical division of Africa, the Middle East, the Indian Subcontinent, and South-East Asia, as its coastal population intermingled constantly. Family networks in East Africa (1860 – 192, originating in the South Yemeni region of Hadhramawt, the Alawi tariqa, mainly spread along the coast of the Indian Ocean. The book discusses the renowned scholar, Ahmed b. Sumayt. The "Alawis" are portrayed as one of several cultural mediators in the multi-ethnic, multi- religious Indian Ocean world in the era of European colonialism.

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Indian Ocean had a profound influence on the lives of the people who lived on its shores. Fishermen, sailors, and merchants traveled its waters linking the world`s earlier civilizations from Africa to East Asia in a complex web of relationship.
Trade under-pinned these relationships but the Ocean was also a highway for the exchange of religions cultures and technologies, giving the Indian Ocean an identity as a largely self-contained world. It was the expansion of Hinduism Buddhism, and Islam helped to define the boundaries of the "world" which by the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries was one of the most prosperous and culturally complex regions on earth.
By the sixteenth century, Europeans were part of this "world" as partners in trade with the indigenous peoples. But from eighteenth century this economic relationship changed as the economies of the Indian Ocean "world" integrated with the capitalist economies of the West. The change from commercialism to capitalism ended the insularity of the Indian Ocean "world" and began its integration, as region, into the global economy and its territorial division among various European powers. This transition altered the ancient web of regional cultures. The Ocean was no longer a major force binding the peoples on its shores in a self-conscious entity, but the legacy of the past is still evident in their common religious, cultural and historical experience.
Mwambao is the Swahili name for the East African Coast, the chosen habitat of the Swahili people. The Swahili were called Coast People by the Arabs, and the Swahili Coast was being referred to as "Murudi al Dahab" or Golden Pastures. Numerous bays, creeks, and inlets resulting from coral rock being eaten away by the sea, providing excellent harbors e.g. near Mtwapa, Kilifi, Mombasa and Vanga while the majority of the rivers are in Mozambique. The entire coast is composed of coral rock and most of it provides soft beaches, useful for landing of small crafts. The presence of water in Lamu, for example, helped to cool the hot coast climate; the choice of site ensured a maximum of fresh breeze from the sea upon the sandstone rock.
Regular rainfall has given the coast and the islands south of Equator rich vegetation, unlike the arid Somali coast north of it. Regular trade winds brought sailors and traders in search of resins, and gums for carpentry furniture making, cosmetics, perfume etc. Mangrove poles growing abundantly in the Lamu archipelago were used for ship building and roof beams. Of the animal products, ivory, rhino horn and tine cat perfume were the most sought artifacts already in antiquity. Of mineral products it has been export market for gold, while Ethiopia exported gems such as emeralds, and after year 1100 also coffee.
Arabs were traveling to East Africa with the monsoon from South Arabia and Gulf even in pre-Christian times. The earliest inscriptions were found on the island of Zanzibar c. 1070 AD. There is also the oldest datable discovered mosque in East Africa. Arabs continued to visit the Coast and to settle there throughout the centuries as individual traders, or as empire builders accompanied by large families, or establishing themselves as independent rulers. The Arab were known by their family names, some of which they have planted in African soil. They were identified by the region, Yemen, Oman, Hadhramawt or even by the name of towns, Muscat, Shihr, Mukelle, Aden from which they sprang, even though they may have lived in Africa for generations. They made Pate, Lamu, Malindi, Mombasa and other towns their home.
Mombasa, in the land of the Zanji, boasted wonderful orchards, which contained lemons and banana trees, all of which still grow, and rose apples. Carpets lay on the floors of the guest house. The meal consisted of rice, cooked or fried in butter, dishes of meat, fowl, fish and vegetables, pickles, lemons, bananas, ginger, and mangoes. Similar meals are still served in the Swahili tows today. There were mosques built in coral stones. The Arabs functioned as teachers and preachers, traders or rulers on all parts along the Swahili Coast bringing their own Arabic textbooks for prayer sessions, and hymns to be sung in the mosques.
The numerous elegant dhows connected the colorful ports of the Swahili Coast. Then the creeks were filled with dhows blown down by the monsoons, dhows of all shapes and rigs from Lamu, Bombay, Persian Gulf and from Arabia, some high and dry, some in repair. The dhows, known also as the Silent Wanderers of the sea, were patiently awaiting the southern breezes to blow them back to their homes.
Long ago before petroleum was discovered in the Middle East, incense, fragrant resins, spices and perfumed wood dominated Arab trade. Southern Arabia as the centre of trade prospered and its maritime history is the subject of tales. The talk would be incomplete without mentioning "the Yemeni era", which was an intensely human and cultural civilization that promoted and enriched various facets of social, economic and political life of East Africa. They participated actively in various dimensions of the emerging civilization, including domestic and international trade, underpinned by their vast experience in traveling the world seas.
"Sufis and Scholars of the Sea" is an important text which synthesizes chronological and historic graphical range into its compact frame. The work researches the directly relevant histories of Hadhramawt, Oman and East Africa during 1860 – 1925 through the life of one of the most influential Hadhrami East African scholar of that period Ahmed B. Sumayt.
Zanzibar`s future, an island off the coast of present day Tanzania, thus was shaped by its geographical position, right in the middle of the Indian Ocean trade routes. It is a place of winding alleys, bustling bazaars, mosques and grand Arab houses, whose original owners viewed each other over the extravagance of their dwellings. It boasts not only natural beauty, rich culture, and breathtaking architecture. Zanzibar during Ibn Sumayt`s time emerged as an important centre of learning in East Africa eclipsing previous centers such as Lamu and Mombasa.
Today Zanzibar is also the name of a town in southern Yemen while Yemeni jewelry is sold in the shops of Zanzibar. Unlike Oman, Hadhramawt (a governorate in the present Republic of Yemen) does not have a history of a colonial power in the Indian Ocean. Hadhramawt is known for its continuous export of people to the land of the Indian Ocean, including the East African coast. They were religious scholars, traders, cultural brokers, whose impact on both recipient and home country is a topic which has aroused much interest in recent years.
To them, the Ocean was no barrier rather a long established arena for cultural and intellectual exchange. With them traveled goods and ideas, word of mouth, and word in writing, fashion, habits, linguistic patterns, and seeds for new agricultural crops. They left their imprint on the place, the most notable being the religion of Islam, and absorbed cultural elements that were not Arab in origin. The Indian Ocean ports were not distant exotic cities but actual real places, and where the human chain, the "silsila", extended through space and time. This is the "world" into which we enter with A.K Bang`s "Sufis and Scholars of the Sea".
The topic of this fine scholarly study is the scholarly exchange of ideas between Hadhramawt and East Africa. It is the history of Islam during the nineteenth and early twenties century. The study beautifully reconstructs the channels through which "Alawis", a Sufi tariqa, originated in the South Yemeni region of Hadhramawt spread along the coast of the Indian Ocean. It discusses and focuses on life of one of the most influential Hadhrami – East African scholars of the period Ahmed B. Sumayt. Thru Ibn Sumayt`s life, it explores how links were maintained, reinforced, and how their "world" related to other ideas emerging at the same time. How they formed a tight knit, a transoceanic network of individuals linked together by blood, and common experience, which remained open until well into the twentieth century when colonial frontiers came to be decisive factors, when the peoples actually transformed themselves into nations.
It researches what the "Alawis" actually thought in East Africa, what inspired their teachings, its explores their scholarly links, and further the impact of Hadhrami Alawis on nineteenth century East African scriptural Islam. It places the highly scriptural widely traveled and deeply learned tradition of Hadhramawt in East Africa in the frame work of Islamic learning.
The Alawis were traveling widely for seeking out knowledge beyond their local communities, and in Ibn Sumayt`s case, in his mature years he traveled equally wide to spread knowledge. As result families became not only transoceanic, but also trans-regional. Time flies and things change: as nineteenth century drew closer, the Alawis in East Africa, like their fellow residents in the Indian Ocean shores, were exposed to European colonialism.
The central figure of this research, Ahmed B. Abo Bakr b. Sumayt (1860– 1925)-
was one of the most prominent Hadhrami-East African scholars of that period. Born in the Comoro Islands, to a father who had immigrated from Hadramawt, Ibn Sumayt returned to his father’s homeland. But he achieved his greatest fame in East Africa, as a pious man, a scholar, and qadi in Zanzibar. As East Africa came under colonial rule he earned great respect from those British administrators who came into contact with him. It was he - who made them appreciate the true Arab reactions - to foreign rule.
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Through focusing on the life of Ibn Sumayt and his life within a network, it presents the life "in the middle", of a "man in the middle". Ibn Sumayt is the link between sail ships and oil tankers, between the empires of the monsoon, via the period of European imperialism, and the ear of the notion states. Especially the later half of the nineteenth century when he saw European influence in East Africa and British influence in Zanzibar.

Ibn Sumayt was also a reformer and teacher, at the same time fully aware of developments in the Middle East. We meet him as propagator of improved agricultural methods, and even discussing new breed of crops with friends. However, Ibn Sumayt`s importance lays in his work as qadi and how the Ulama found their place in the "colonial space" as active partners. Ibn Sumayt is presented here as pious and learned man - yet intensely human, who possessed a reputation which extended far beyond the limits of Zanzibar.
"Sufis and Scholars of the Sea" is well researched, focused in excellent presented. It will be of interest to scholars, researchers, students but also as general reading to all those interested in the role and contribution of the Yemeni Hadhrami Arab scholars to the history and culture of the Indian Ocean.
Book Reference
Anne K Bang – Sufis and Scholars of the Sea, Published by RoutledgeCurzon
ISBN 0-415-31763-0
About Anne K Bang
Is Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Bergen, Norway. Historian of Islamic societies with a special focus on Arabia and the Muslim communities of Eastern Africa as well as the wider Indian Ocean rim. Her research has primarily focused on factors that cause ritual and devotional life, intellectual discourses and political ideologies to change in different Muslim societies. Focusing on the Muslim societies of the Indian Ocean (east/southeast Africa) and Southeast Asia her research has mainly focused on migration and cosmopolitan Muslim societies and the ensuing family- trade- and scholarly networks. She has also worked on Islamic education and on the transmission of scriptural cultural heritage in Africa. In addition, she has worked on the role of Norwegian traders in during the colonial era. She has published several books and articles on these topics.
Irena Knehtl, Sana`a, Yemen

Friday, July 20, 2012

Good Day :US and the Confusion between the "Two Extremes"!

http://news.sudanvisiondaily.com/details.html?rsnpid=211533

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Issue #: 2701, Issue Date: 19th July, 2012 
 by Mekki Elmograbi
Lastly, Egypt has chosen - what so called by secular intellectuals - political Islam. The Military Council and the Constitutional Court are trying to put obstacles and impediments on the road for more advancement of Muslim Brotherhood. Game is over! Islamists are trusted because people have had enough of bloody years of corrupt military authoritarian regimes backed and supported by US and other Western countries. Islamists in Egypt has been long-sufferingly waiting for this moment for nearly seven decades. Moreover, they did not take over power by a coup or through cheating and violence. Many Egyptians voted for Islamists because they have the flourishing Turkish model in mind.
US Administration at the beginning of the "Arab Spring" launched a diplomatic campaign against Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt but after a while Obama "turned the official mode" and said very positive statements about the "Democratic Role" of Egyptian Islamists. US from the time of September 11 till now is moving between the extremes; combating and supporting "Islamic movements" in Middle East and in Africa.  In Sudan, US – according Natsios' article – promised the Sudanese Government four times to start the process of "Normalization" and broke its promises. World wide, US financed Sufi Orders and now they are looking for a deal with Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
Do you remember the statements of the deputy of the American diplomatic mission in Sudan Mr. Denis Hankinson. It was about the American appreciation for the role of Sufism in Sudan and I was shocked with it.  He mentioned the positive role of Sufism in
Counterterrorism in Sudan. He did not mention the American support for some of Sufi Orders, but this fact was documented in the article: (hearts, minds and dollars) published in US news and reports, written by By David E. Kaplan.
First of all, the term (terrorism) is not clear yet in the Islamic mentality, and the definition is still a controversial issue. Western governments consider Hamas and Hizbullah as terrorist parties. In contrast, Sufis themselves – Dear Mr. Denis Hankinson - people see these groups (Freedom fighters or Mujahideen). The said article was a good layout for the biggest intellectual strategic plan related to religions. The strategy titled (Muslim World Outreach).
The strategy stated clearly that US will support Sufi Orders and classified them as the pacific side of Islam.
This is a piece of the article: (Records drawn from the State Department, USAID, and elsewhere reveal a striking array of Islamic projects bankrolled by American taxpayers since 9/11, stretching to at least 24 countries. In nine of them, U.S. funds are backing restoration of Muslim holy sites, including historic mosques in Egypt, Pakistan, and Turkmenistan. In Kirgizstan, embassy funding helped restore a major Sufi shrine. In Uzbekistan, money has gone to preserve antique Islamic manuscripts, including 20 Korans, some dating to the 11th century. In Bangladesh, USAID is training mosque leaders on development issues. In Madagascar, the embassy even sponsored an inter-mosque sports tournament. Also being funded: Islamic media of all sorts, from book translations to radio and TV in at least a half-dozen nations. Often the aid doesn't need an explicit Islamic theme, as in what boosters are calling Muppet Diplomacy.)

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Courses on Sufism

By DHNS, *Central University to offer courses on Sufism, Mysticism* - Deccan Herald - Bangalore, India; Saturday, June 2, 2012

Central University to offer courses on Sufism, Mysticism

Bangalore: The Central University of Karnataka (CUK), Gulbarga, has planned a centre for the study of mysticism and sufism to study the birth, evolution, and spread of the two denominations, and bring out publications on them.

The varsity thought of such a centre as the Hyderabad-Karnataka region has produced many mystic and Sufi figures. Few scholars of the region, however, have chosen to study and research the two denominations, according to S. Chandrashekar, Pro Vice-Chancellor of the varsity.

“It’s mostly the Western scholars who have carried out research on these two religious denominations. There has been little work by the local people,” Chandrashekar told reporters after the first convocation of the university here on Saturday.

As part of the research, the centre will carry out extension work such as field visits to gather data that would be analysed and published later. Chandrashekar said that the varsity had already conducted a national seminar on the subject.

A. M. Pathan, Vice-Chancellor, CUK, said that the proposal for the centre had already been sent to the University Grants Commission (UGC). A response was expected by September-October, Chandrashekar said. The university also plans centres for the study of the lives of eminent personalities.

Kannada litterateur U. R. Ananthamurthy and Chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) Nandan Nilekani were conferred with honorary doctorates on the occasion.

The CUK would move to its new campus spread over 650 acres on Aland Road, 30 kilometres from Gulbarga, this August. At present, the varsity works out of a building rented by Gulbarga University. Three academic blocks are being built on the new campus. To begin with, the varsity would start courses in Advanced Science. Basic Ccience courses would commence later, Prof. Pathan said.

The Vice-Chancellor admitted that the university had not been successful in attracting the best of talent. For example, the university’s five-year integrated courses in arts and science have few takers. “It’s primarily the lack of awareness among the people. They still prefer the conventional degrees,” he explained.

The university has proposed several initiatives to attract students. For instance, the entire course and hostel facility are free for girls, irrespective of their caste or community. They just have to pay for food and other miscellaneous charges. Nearly 40 per cent of the posts of teachers (mainly mid- and high-level) in the university are vacant, Pathan said in response to a query.

The Central University Website.

[Picture: Location of Karnataka in India. Photo: Wiki.]

Friday, May 25, 2012

Business of the Heart

By Ibrahim Sajid Malick, *Sufism and the city* - The Express Tribune - Karachi, Pakistan; Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sufism and the city: Where else but in the world’s melting pot would you find a blend of Yoga and Sufi thought?

Completely exhausted and enervated three quarters into a 90-minute hot yoga workout, the voice of Kathryn Leary — an instructor at a Bikram Yoga facility in New York City reciting the great Sufi poet Rumi — invigorates and refreshes me. As the entire class lies on the floor focused on their breathing, Kathryn quotes from Rumi:

“This being human is a guest house. Every morning is a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor … Welcome and entertain them all. Treat each guest honorably. The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in. Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.”

Kathryn teaches more than Asanas — the physical exercise to optimise posture, endurance and strength. Like a good Sufi, she also encourages her students to open their heart to possibilities.

But before you make a mad dash to find a Sufi-Yogi hybrid, remember, she is still largely an exception! Most yoga instructors are extremely mechanical in their approach and act more like drill sergeants than mystical gurus.

With 18 million yogis spending nearly $6 billion annually, the business of meditation has undoubtedly reached an epochal moment in its deep engagement with mainstream America. Sufism, too, appears to be crossing the chasm to a more spacious public understanding of a once marginal group.

In the island of Manhattan, where I live, I can find more yoga studios than health clubs, and more people carrying yoga mats than any other sporting gear. The number of Sufi institutions has also grown — not nearly with the same pace, but nevertheless noticeably. Why is it, you may wonder, that the capital of materialism has taken to yoga? Physical and emotional health is, in my opinion, the main driver but there are a handful of yogis in New York seeking enlightenment as well.

Starting from when Parmahansa Yogananda came to America back in 1920, yoga has taken off in the United States for a variety of reasons.

In 1935, the Los Angeles Times reported on one of his lectures, saying: “The Philharmonic Auditorium presents the extraordinary spectacle of thousands … being turned away an hour before the advertised opening of a lecture with the 3,000-seat hall filled to its utmost capacity. Yogananda emphasised the underlying unity of the world’s great religions, and taught universally applicable methods for attaining direct personal experience of God.”

Since those early days, eastern mysticism has made a home for itself in the US.

Another spiritual teacher, Swami Rama, a family friend with whom I had an audience more than two decades ago, was also able to establish himself quickly in the US. Sent by his teacher who had taken him into the Himalayan Tradition of cave yogis at the age of three, Swami Rama came to the West with traditional teachings from the cave monasteries and Patanjali’s sutras. When his teacher, Bengali Baba, sent him on his mission to the West, Sri Swami Rama asked him what he was to teach Americans. “Teach them not to be afraid,” he was instructed.

Swami Rama worked with the Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kansas. The Menninger experiments were deemed significant in the scientific community because it provided powerful support to biofeedback research. Swami Rama was able to demonstrate that body functions that had formerly been considered involuntary could be controlled through training the mind.

According to the National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicines, Americans practice yoga “for a variety of health conditions including anxiety disorders or stress, asthma, high blood pressure and depression. People also use Yoga as part of a general health regimen—to achieve physical fitness and to relax.”

And it is very consistent with my informal research of yogis — and I call it informal because my primary methodology was chatting with fellow yogis in and outside of the studios. I have heard everything: yoga improves mood and sense of well-being, reduces stress, heart rate and blood pressure, increases lung capacity, improves muscle relaxation and body composition, and positively affects levels of certain brain chemicals. Very few have said they are looking for nirvana.

Compare that to Sufism — pretty much everyone claims to be searching for the higher truth — to elevate consciousness — reparation of the heart from all else but God. My fellow Sufis in New York want to travel into the presence of the Divine and purify their inner self. But of course, there are exceptions to this rule as well.

Abdul Rahim, the secretary of the Nur Ashki Jerrahi Sufi Order, tells me that people want to get to the “core” and build a direct relationship with God. He thinks that the increasing popularity of Sufism is also due to a rejection of “dogmatic” religion.

Sheikha Fariha al Jerrahi, who leads this community of dervishes, delivers a weekly lecture after Maghrib prayers every Thursday in downtown New York at the Dergah al Farah, in which people from all religious and even non-religious backgrounds participate. Some observe the ‘Zikr’, while others simply observe — and my own personal observation is that the crowd just keeps getting larger. This order has circles throughout the US and Mexico and allows entry to “seekers and students of all religious and non-religious paths.”

I ran into two Pakistani men at a Thursday Zikr session, both of whom confirmed that it’s the ‘progressive’ nature of worship that attracts them to this Sufi order. A young woman was called on to recite the Azaan before Maghrib and men and women stood side-by-side to offer prayers. I asked these Pakistani men if they would go to a mosque in their hometown of Karachi if the call for prayer was led by a woman and the response was inconclusive and hedged at best. It’s particularly telling that they didn’t want to be identified in this article because they didn’t want to be ostracised by their families and friends.

Both of these Pakistani men had come because Thursday Zikr at this downtown dargah is open to the public and anyone can join this interesting and rather musical session.

This open and inclusive approach is just another reason Sufism seems to be gaining currency in the US.

Many Americans are now familiar with the great Sufi mystic writer Rumi. His words of wisdom are found not only on Facebook pages and on Twitter but also in the cubicles of offices in corporate America.

Elliot Miller, who writes for the Christian Research Institute, states: “The current interest in Sufism can be largely explained by pointing to the same factors which account for the popularity of several diverse Eastern mystical traditions among Westerners. These factors include a hunger for life transforming spiritual experiences, and an attraction to monistic belief systems.”

British Orientalist Martin Lings comments: “A Vendantist, a Taoist or a Buddhist can find in many aspects of Islamic mysticism, a ‘home from home’, such as he could less easily find in Christianity or Judaism.”

Oprah Winfrey recently did Sufism a favour by including it in Super Soul Sunday on her OWN Network. Sufi mystic Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee defined Sufism and explained why it’s about love and the heart. The fact that he was sitting under the oaks at Oprah’s home in California, was the best endorsement Sufism has had thus far.

I recently had a very interesting and candid conversation with Adnan Sarhan, the 80-year-old head of the Sufi Foundation in America. Hailing from Baghdad, he now teaches in New York, London, Paris and San Francisco as well as in his 40-acre Albuquerque, New Mexico, facility. When asked what Sufism is about, he replies: “It is about breathing, movement and heart.”

When the University of New Mexico asked him to teach a course on Sufism, he agreed but requested to change the title from ‘Sufism’ to ‘Dance’. “People lined up to take this ‘dance’ class- and I showed them how to control their body by mastering breathing techniques.” Many of his students eventually took a spiritual path after this gentle introduction.

Adnan drops a Hadith here and there and a Quranic verse enter his conversation every once in a while but his discourse is not specific to Islam. Religion, he says, is a code of conduct. It’s a matter of intellect, while Sufism is the business of the heart.

But Adnan has found a more grounded and perceptible technique for those of us who demand empirical evidence — he primarily dwells in the physicality of the practice. Instead of teaching mysticism, he demonstrates to his students how to control breathing to optimise flexibility of muscles, enhance postures and unleash creative potential. Therefore, it is no surprise that many of his followers are artists and dancers hoping to find a secret key that will take them to the top of their artistic ventures.

“Taking action is critical,” says Adnan. “It is more fun to dance, play sports and engage in physical activities rather than being lazy and inactive. Dance comes from the heart and it brings spirituality and peace. Dance is the yearning of the soul for freedom.”

Many cynics and puritans frown upon people like Bikram Chaudhry or Adnan Sarhan for making mysticism a consumer product — a kind of ‘McYoga’ or ‘McSufism’ for lack of a better term. But I personally believe a consumerist approach also makes these experiences accessible to mere mortals such as myself. And once you have that access and you take a step on this particular journey, who’s to say where it will lead you?

[Visit the Nur Ashki Jerrahi Community]

[Visit the Sufi Foundation of America].

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Peace Is the Precondition

By TCN News, *MSO holds annual meet in Ajmer, vows to work for peace in society* - Two Circles Net - Cambridge, MA, USA; Thursday, May 17, 2012

MSO holds annual meet in Ajmer, vows to work for peace in society

Ajmer: Muslim Students Organization of India MSO, an apex body of Sufi oriented Muslim youths organised its annual general meeting at Ajmer Shareef where various burning Muslim issues including education, employment, Terrorism, Extremism were discussed.

The Meeting was attended by various dignitaries of national level and from Dargah Ajmer Shareef.

The two-day convention started on 16th May. The State committees of almost all the states of the country participated in which Babar Ashraf, National Secretary of All India Ulema and Mashaikh Board gave a brief description of the current scenario of Sufism which is “facing threat because of the intolerant, extremist infamous Wahabi ideology which is getting a space among peaceful traditional Indian Muslims indoctrinating wrong beliefs which is against the beliefs of Sunni Sufi Community who represents majority of Muslims in India.”

He further emphasized that it’s the need of hour especially “to the young to come forward and strive hard to combat Wahabi menace and contribute to deliver the true and peaceful message of Islam so that the coming generation may play a vital role to form a Peaceful developing nation as Peace is the precondition for development.”

Director of Sunni Markaz, Calicut, Kerala Dr. Abdul Hakeem Azhari asked the youths to first learn and develop character to serve mankind. In all the societies, Islam must be preached in most tolerant manner. “Our duty is to spread this message of Islam to save humanity from darkness.”

They decided that MSO and SSF (Sunni Students Federation) will strive hard to spread this message among the youths in Universities and colleges from July across the country.

MSO National president Syed Muhammad Quadri conducted special class on Purification of the heart. He told the youths that our heart must be clear from all evils and self egos. Our services should be without self interest. Today society needs peace of mind and humane touch. We can win the heart of society through selfless and love based services. To serve humankind is true message of Islam.

Dr. Sarwar Razwi Alig from Allahabaad, Shahnawaz Warsi, Gen Secretary of MSO, Shujaat Ali Quadri, National Secretary, Er Abdul Raoof, SSF Convener Banglore, Zuhairuddin Noorani from West Bengal also spoke on the occasion.

The Meet was inaugurated by Dr. Wahid Hussain Chishti, Secretary of Dargah Committee. Mohammad Habeeb Khan Member of Rajastahn Public Service Commission also encouraged the youths to work hard in their education.

Picture: Syed Dr. Wahid Chishti Sahi (Secretary of Dargah Ajmer Shareef) inaugurating the National delegates conference.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Innocent Pawns

By Sohail Hashmi, *Heritage encroached* - The Hindu -India; Saturday, May 12, 2012

Heritage encroached: The controversy over the camping of Myanmar refugees in a protected area in Delhi has several dimensions, the most important being that the land is home to a 13th Century mausoleum for Altamash's son, the second to be built in the Indian subcontinent.

The first monumental mausoleum built in the Indian subcontinent belongs to Qutub-ud-Din Aibak, built in 1210, it is to be found at the bustling Anarkali Bazar in Lahore. The second, the Mausoleum of Nasir-ud-Din Mahmood, the eldest son of Altamash (Iltutmish) built in 1231 is located opposite Pocket C of Vasant Kunj in Delhi

Nasir-ud-Din Mahmood was governor of Bengal, then known as Lakhnauti, and was killed there, his body was brought to Delhi and Altamash started building the mausoleum to his beloved son. What stands today is an incomplete structure because the octagonal platform atop the grave was clearly meant to be built over. Had Altamash not died within five years of his son's death a dome would probably have come up above the platform with a cenotaph as is the pattern repeated in all monumental mausoleums.

The structure that looks like a small fortress with its four bastions, one at each corner, is popularly known as Sultan Garhi. This is a corruption of the original Sultan-e-Ghaari (the king of the cave) so called because the original grave is located in a kind of a crypt that one has to climb into.

Over the centuries the mausoleum has come to be venerated by the local population as the shrine of a Sufi or Peer. This conversion of a dead prince into a Sufi is strangely responsible for the preservation of this remarkable structure and is now the cause of its encroachment and this is the dilemma that conservationists face in preserving what are known as living monuments.

The graves of Nasir-ud-Din's brothers Ruknuddin Feroze Shah and Muizzudin Bahram Shah, a stone inscription that mentions the building of a water tank in 1361 and a mosque probably dating to the time of Firoze Tughlaq and the ruins of an old village that was inhabited till 1947 are other structures that lie scattered about this 30 acre piece of land under the protection of the ASI.

The village that grew around the mausoleum was a Muslim majority village and those that lived in the ruins that lie scattered were either consumed by the madness of the times or those who were lucky escaped, virtually by the skin of their teeth. The mausoleum remained because it had come to be venerated, both by the Hindus and the Muslims.

Post 1947 the locals, now almost exclusively Hindus, continued to flock here every Thursday, gradually as things settled down some Muslims too started coming here and so an ASI protected monument, recently preserved through ASI-INTACH joint effort, was gradually being turned into the shrine of a non-existent Sufi. Some had even begun to present the joint ownership as a fine example of communal harmony

It would have continued to lead its obscure existence, probably one day quietly turning into a shrine just as many other monuments have in Delhi, turning into temples or mosques or Sufi shrines with local politicians lending support to encroachers and conservationists eventually reconciling to losing one more part of a heritage that no one seems to be too worried about. This well established routine has however been disrupted through the intervention of a new player, the arrival of more than a 1000 refugees from Myanmar, the erstwhile Burma.

Why the refugees from Myanmar are camping here is a strange story of callousness and apathy that this city exhibits on a fairly regular basis. The Myanmar refugees were initially camping in front of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Vasant Vihar. They were demanding that they be recognized as refugees and be given that status, the UNHCR was taking his time, such bodies always do.

Meanwhile, the residents of Vasant Vihar, who did not like so many hungry and ill clad people crowding their neighbourhood complained. The voices of the complainants were heard with alacrity. Such voices are always heard with alacrity. Had the same alacrity been shown to solve the problems of the refugees they would have been taken to a place where they would not be exposed to the elements, but the idea was to remove them from Vasant Vihar and then when they were out of sight things could go back to routine.

Unfortunately things show no signs of going back to normal, the villagers who venerate the non-existent Sufi have threatened action if these people are not moved out by May 15 and they have been promised results by that date. Meanwhile, an uneasy peace prevails with a police picket in position keeping the curious away and no one seems to be asking the questions that need to be asked.

Who told the Myanmar refugees about this place, who told them that they could shift there, who arranged the shift, who gave the permission. Did anyone bother to ask the ASI or the National Heritage Commission? Is this another encroachment being orchestrated with the poor refugees being innocent pawns, just as poor migrants have been used on earlier occasions in other parts of the city.

Picture: The Mausoleum of Nasir-ud-Din Mahmood, the eldest son of Altamash (Iltutmish) built in 1231 is located opposite Pocket C of Vasant Kunj in Delhi. Photo: V. V. Krishnan.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Burying the Hatchets

By Ruslan Kurbanov, *Dagestani Muslims: From Confrontation to Peace* - OnIslam.net - Egypt - Sunday, May 6, 2012

Dagestani Muslims: From Confrontation to Peace

Dagestan is the most unique region of Russia located between Caspian sea and Chechnya. Beginning from the moment of its being part of Russia 200 years ago till now, it has continued to impact very seriously on social and political processes of all Caucasian region. During all this period Dagestani Muslims have been trendsetters for their neighbors in the matters of Islam, Shariah, war and peace.

Religious and Ethnic Structure

First of all, Dagestan, with its 3 million population, is the most Islamized region of Russia. The process of spreading Islam has begun here since 642 AD, in the period of Caliph Umar, when the Muslim army occupied Derbent (or Bab aul-Abwab) - the biggest Dagestan city of that time.

Throughout its Muslim history, Dagestan has turned to be a center of Islamic knowledge, science and enlightenment. But in the Soviet period all Islamic heritage and potential of Dagestan to a great extent has been terminated. Nevertheless, the booming process of Islamic revival in Dagestan started immediately after the collapse of the USSR

Second, Dagestan, being the biggest Caucasian region within Russia, has the most complicated ethnic structure. According to the specialists, about 40 native indigenous tribes live in Dagestan: Avars, Dargins, Lezgis, Kumyks, Laks, Tabasarans, Noghays, Rutuls, Aghuls and others. The biggest Dagestani tribe is Avars (about 800 thousand people). The population of smallest tribes like Archis, Gunzibs, Ginukhs consist only of one village (about 500 people).

Third, the Muslim society of Dagestan is extremely heterogeneous. Among Dagestani Muslim communities with longest history can be named Sufis, Salafis and Fuqaha of Imam ash-Shafi’i Madhab. The community of Islamic reformers who follow the ideas of Jamaluddin al-Afghani, Rashid Rida, Muhammad Abduh appeared here about a hundred years ago.

Today the number of new Muslim communities is continuing to grow. They include jamaats of Ikhwan ul-Muslimeen, Hizb ut-Tahrir, at-Tabligh, Said Nursi and so on. But the most influential communities till now are Sufis and Salyafis. Yet even these two communities are not homogeneous too.

As for Sufi community, there are three Tariqahs in Dagestan – Naqshbandiyah, Qadiriya and Shaziliyah. Every big Dagestan tribe has its own Sufi sheikhs, but with no recognition for each other. The main groups within Salafi community are Salafiya al-Jihadiya and Salafiya ad-Da’wiya.

Since the collapse of the USSR, the Dagestan Muslims have gained wide freedom in organizing their religious activity, building Mosques, going for Hajj or traveling abroad for Islamic education. But some kinds of religious activities in Dagestan still remain restricted, such as the idea of establishing political Islamic parties or establishing alternative spiritual boards on Muslim affairs.

It’s worthwhile to say that the Sufi community has managed to control the official spiritual board of Dagestani Muslims during post-Soviet period, and has worked very close with the government. As for the Salafi community, on the contrary, it has been oppressed. In Dagestani constitution till now there is a law which prohibits “the Wahhabism and other extremist activity”.

Ideological struggle

The key moment in understanding the Dagestani realities is that during last 20 years after the collapse of the USSR the ideological struggle between Sufi and Salafi communities, according to some experts, has led Dagestan to the brink of latent civil war.

During the 20 years of confrontation between two communities many spiritual and political leaders of Dagestan have been killed, like Dagestani Mufti Sayyid Muhammad Abubakarov, first Russian to have obtained PhD in Shariah Murtaza, Ali Muhammadov, deputies to the Mufti, Ahmad Tagaev and Kura-Muhammad Ramazanov, Interior Minister Adilghirey Muhammad, Tahirov, two ministers for national and religious affairs Muhammad Salih Gusaev and Zahir Arukhov, hundreds of Imams, policemen and secret service officers.

The direct consequence of this conflict was the appearance of militant Jihadi groups which aim to destroy the secular political system of Dagestan and to establish an Islamic emirate on the territory of Northern Caucasus. Everyday clashes between these groups and police result in series of suicide bombing attacks in Dagestan and even in Moscow, in addition to kidnappings and executions of Muslim leaders, which has become a usual practice in the region.

In the heat of this struggle the two communities have blamed each other and accused each other of kufr (disbelief) bidaat (heresy) and “spoiling the pure Islam”. During these years the Dagestani officials, NGO’s leaders and some representatives of both communities have tried to bring the parties to the negotiating table. But all these previous attempts have failed.

Last two years the Salafi community has rapidly grown and intensified its activity. For example the leaders of Salyafi community have established an Association of Ahlu s-Sunnah wa l-Jamaah Ulama, taken part in organizing three protests which attracted thousands of people to denounce the extra-judicial prosecution of Salafi Muslims by the authorities. The community has also prepared a set of requirements to authorities including abrogation of “anti-Wahhaby law”, permission to Salafi community to establish their own mosques, madrasahs, university and media.

The way to peace

Everyday clashes between these groups and police result in series of suicide bombing attacks in Dagestan and even in Moscow

During these two last years Dagestan government has made several serious steps aimed to put an end to this tension, as well as meeting some of the requirements put forward by the Salafi community.. In addition the Dagestani Mufti Ahmad Abdullaev has appealed to all Dagestani Muslims to stop “pining labels on each others”

“Everyone who obeys the Shariah should follow as-Salaf as-Saliheen, should consider himself from Ahlu s-Sunnah and be a Murid in the way of serving Allah,” said Mufti.

Moreover the Spiritual Board of Dagestani Muslims has liquidated its department on religious expertise of Islamic books, audio and videos production which during last years has cracked dow on what it termed as Wahhaby propaganda”. In addition to that, at the end of April, 2012 the leaders of Salafi and Sufi communities of Dagestan have met in the Central Mosque of Dagestan capital, Makhachkala, for burying the hatchets.

This meeting can be described as historical because of the past 20- year ideological struggle and tension between the two communities. At this meeting the Salafi and Sufi communities’ leaders managed to reach an agreement on stopping the ideological confrontation.

In his opening address at the meeting, Dagestani Mufti Ahmad Abdullaev declared: “Today’s meeting proves that Dagestan is the land of Allah’s grace. Our ancestry always had courage to fight for Islam and now we should have courage to sit around negotiating table and remove disagreements between Muslim communities of Dagestan”.

At the end of the meeting the leaders of two communities adopted a common resolution presented by the Spiritual Board of Dagestani Muslims and Association of Ahlu s-Sunnah wa l-Jamaah Ulama. Highly featuring in this document are the phrases like “compliance with the Qur’an and Sunnah”, “following the four Imams of Muslim Ummah – Abu Hanifa, Malik, ash-Shafi’i and Ahmad ibn Hanbal”.

The leader of the Association of Ahlu s-Sunnah wa l-Jamaah Ulama Halil-Rahman Shamatov believes that “the results of this meeting will appear in the nearest future”. “We have outlined the complex of problems and we’ll solve them step by step,” said Shamatov.

The Imam of the Central Mosque of Makhachkala Muhammad-Rasul Saaduev thinks that “this meeting will help to overcome existing disagreement between Dagestani Muslims”. “We have agreed to work together in order to bring peace, stability and prosperity to Dagestan,” he said.

As for Dagestani Minister for National and Religious Affairs Bekmurza Bekmurzaev at the end of that meeting he expressed assurance that “Dagestani Muslims will come to the accord”. The President of Dagestan Magomed-Salam Magomedov also supports this peacemaking process. “We need in joint efforts of all social, ethnic and social groups to defeat an evil, - he said, - Only by this way we can ensure peace and order in Dagestan”.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Archaeology and Sufi Shrines

By Jini Reddy, *Saints and singers in Pakistan's Punjab* - The Guardian - London, UK; Friday, May 4, 2012

Saints and singers in Pakistan's Punjab: A new tour of Pakistan's Punjab province offers mystical culture, amazing food and friendly homestays

"Come to Islam," says 16-year-old Mohammed Irfan, as I enter the courtyard of the exquisite blue-tiled Eidgah mosque in Multan, a hot, dusty town in Pakistan's Punjab province, known – or rather, barely known – as the City of Saints.

"I come here and pray for wealth, a long life, so that we're able to eat, and for good results in school. I've been coming for a long time, and as a result, I've come first in my class in my exams," he beams, his smile as dazzling as the mirror mosaics that adorn the shrine to Sufi saint Ahmad Saeed Kazmi, a scholar and spiritual teacher.

Sufism is the mystical arm of Islam, and the Punjab is the Sufi heartland of Pakistan. The scene of centuries of cultural invasions, it's also the country's wealthiest and greenest province (despite the blistering expanses of the Cholistan desert, on its south-eastern edge), stretches from Sindh province in the south to the foothills of the Himalayas in the north, and is home to more than half of Pakistan's population.

Alas, the few tourists who make it here usually shoot up the Karakoram Highway to the rugged, frontier northern districts. Understandably so, as Pakistan's mountains are unendingly beautiful, but the Punjab, with its Mughal and pre-Mughal architecture, jewel-like shrines and mosques, desert dunes and farmland, and ancient towns and cities, begs to be explored, too.

Which is how I come to travel five hours south from Lahore to the 4,000-year-old city of Multan. It's a traffic warden's nightmare, with mopeds, autorickshaws and donkey carts doing battle on the streets. I'm with a small group, led by Sohail Azhar, the British-Pakistani founder of London-based tour operator TravelPak, chatting to a group of schoolboys in the mosque. They, like everyone I meet in the Punjab, are balm to the soul: warm-hearted, jolly, and politely curious about the visitors in their midst.

The Eidgah mosque aside, Multan has its share of must-see monuments, (including the stunning mausoleum of Sufi saint Shah Rukn-e-Alam, and the lovely, if unimaginatively titled, Institute of Blue Pottery Development – great for watching the artists at work, and buying gifts ) but it is also our base for an excursion to the small town of Uch Sharif.

Once controlled by Alexander the Great, and one of the oldest centres of learning in Pakistan (the name means "holy high place"), the town is about three hours' drive to the south of Multan. It's on the edge of the Cholistan desert, a vast, thorny acacia-dotted landscape, with nomadic herders leading camels and goats to water holes. The bastions of the derelict Derawar Fort are visible for miles. Every year in February and March, pilgrims flock to this part of the desert to pay their respects at the shrine of the "sand dune saint", Channan Pir, a child abandoned in the desert, according to legend.

As I climb the steps to Uch's exquisite blue-tiled shrine to the (tongue-twisting) saint Jalaluddin Surkh-posh Bukhari, I'm intercepted by a stocky fellow in a red hat, who places his hand on my forehead and mutters a few words, before shuffling away. Have I been blessed by a Pir, a Sufi religious leader-cum-faith healer?

"Genuine Pirs are thought to have inherited their spiritual powers," Sohail had said on the way here. "People consult them on anything from religious matters to medical problems like infertility – or even family relationships." Sadly, my benediction is a false one: a small boy sidles up, points to the man in the hat, and makes a "crazy" sign.

I pass a handful of devotees in the courtyard and at the entrance to the darkened shrine, a guardian leads me to the saint's tomb, which is wreathed in velvet drapes. My head is placed under the fabric, and muffled blessings for health, wealth and prosperity wash over me. It's a long, disorienting moment, but also a comforting one.

There are more poetic incantations later that night, when we walk over to the mausoleum of Baha-ud-Din Zakaia to listen to a Qawwali singer. Qawwalis, or devotional songs, are at the heart of Sufi religious practice – the aim of the music is to lead listeners into a state of spiritual ecstasy. There is certainly a mystical quality to it, and the complex is thick with incense, candles and the shapes of followers quietly padding about barefoot.

"The poet Rumi likened a Qawwali to listening to the divine creaking of the gates of heaven," says Sohail.

Later we enjoy sustenance of a different nature, in the village of Daultala, four hours north-west of Lahore, when Sohail whisks us off to the home his late father had built shortly before his retirement. Expecting modest quarters, I'm taken aback when we reach a three-storey compound, behind high gates and surrounded by meadows.

Within, I count 10 bedrooms, most with en suite bathrooms. The welcoming committee – Sohail's aunt, Hala, lives here, as do various cousins, nieces and other members of his extended family – is as large as it is gracious. Within minutes of arriving there's a home-cooked meal on the table: lamb curry, rice, patties made from meat and chickpeas, a kind of raita with vegetables, chapatis and rice pudding. It's utterly delicious, and my attempt to express my thanks, shukriya in Urdu, feels woefully inadequate.

"Are you married?" 23-year-old Huma, the glossy-haired wife of one of Sohail's cousins, wants to know. It's a question I'm asked over and over in Pakistan. And the reaction to my response – an embarrassed shake of the head (I'm no spring chicken) – is always the deepest, sweetest sympathy.

After dinner, I head up to the roof and, in the fading light, survey a pastoral scene that would be timeless – blossoming flowers, fragrant air, kids playing cricket in the fields, flat-roofed and pastel-coloured houses, the silhouettes of villagers bent over their crops – were it not for the rather incongruous sight of a ferris wheel in the distance. Yes, the funfair has come to Daultala, and we are going.

Butterflies and passersby flit around us as we stroll along the country lanes. Foreigners are a rarity and special fascination is reserved for Ryan, the young American in our group. "Now I know how Madonna feels," he quips.

The funfair rides would make a health and safety officer shudder – they're rickety, rusty and divinely antiquated. Still, the merry-go-round doesn't collapse under my weight, and how often does one get to ride one surrounded by a mesmerised 20-deep crowd of grown men?

Later, we weave past colourful food and fabric stalls to the gurdwara, or Sikh temple. It's a crumbling ruin – the Sikhs left after Partition in 1947, explains Sohail, and the gurdwara was used as a school until it was damaged in the 2005 Kashmir earthquake – but my torch illuminates stone pillars, balconies and delicate lattice-work.

The walk back to the village in the cool of the evening feels like a strange dream. One of Sohail's nieces takes my hand and begins to sing. The tune sounds familiar: it's Celine Dion's My Heart Will Go On. Not in Urdu though. Or English. But Mandarin Chinese. "I learnt it at school," she says casually. I'm startled, but perhaps ought not to be – the friendship between the two countries is an enduring one.

We wind up our Punjab tour in the city of Lahore, the cultural and artistic mecca of Pakistan. A former Mughal capital, it's home to the sublime Badshahi Mosque, its creamy marble domes and sandstone minarets much more than the sum of its parts. Opposite it, and adjacent to the walled Old City, is the Lahore Fort, containing a maze of gardens, halls and palaces. My favourite, the Palace of Mirrors, filled with glittering, multicoloured mosaics, was built by Emperor Shah Jahan in 1632 for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It's not known whether she saw it before she died in childbirth – and her grief-stricken husband had the Taj Mahal built in her honour.

The best views of the mosque and fort – all soft and rose-tinted at sunset – are from the roof of Cooco's Den, a restaurant in the Heera Mandi, or red-light district, in the Old City. It's a stylish, if kitsch, restored haveli (mansion) and the owner, Iqbal Hussain, is a painter. His pictures of Lahore's voluptuous Nautch dancers – descendants of the city's fabled royal courtesans – adorn the walls. The home-style Pakistani fare, heavy on grills and kebabs, and once sampled by the likes of cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, isn't bad either.

One night, we check out Lollywood, Pakistan's answer to Tinseltown. A few weeks before, outside a mosque in Chitral, up in the mountains, I'd bumped into a film producer/actor (or "Hero", as leading men here like to be known). On hearing that we'd be in Lahore, he'd invited us to a shoot.

I'm not sure what we'd been expecting: lashings of glamour – and perhaps a contraband mini-skirt or two – however, but the forlorn complex in a back lot that our driver Rachid, nearly cannot find is anything but. Shan, our minder and as luvvy as they come, tells us that Shahid Khan, a star of Pashto-language films, is on set right now. When the cameras whirr, neither he nor his leading lady can deliver more than two words of dialogue, before the director screams "cut". Stifling our giggles, we leave them to it.

The next night Javed, a guide, English teacher and friend of Sohail, takes me to his home he shares with his wife and children, in the red-light district. We wander down narrow streets, ablaze with neon. There are vendors hawking savoury fried snacks, sweets and paan, dozens of dhabas (informal food joints).

The Phajja Paye restaurant is famous for its sticky goats' trotters, although tongue, brain and jawbone are also on the menu. "It's the best known restaurant in all of Lahore,'' says Javed. "Men are drawn here like bees to honey." It's not just for the food. The air is thick with anticipation, but the ladies of the night, so vividly rendered in Cooco's Den, won't be putting in an appearance until the wee hours of the morning, he tells me.

We veer off sharply, down an alley that is momentarily plunged into darkness, thanks to nightly electricity shortages. Javed flicks on his lighter, and I follow him through a narrow entrance and up a cramped staircase, into the tiny, immaculate flat. Waiting to greet us are his wife, Selma, and three young children. I'm ushered into the living room, which also doubles as the bedroom.

After a little chit-chat, Selma produces a dinner of barbecued chicken, even though I've only come for tea, and the household has eaten. The family watch me tuck in, and when I've finished licking my fingers, Javed, who is also a poet, reads from his work.

It's an exalted moment – the flickering flame, the haunting verse. I don't need Qawwalis or Sufi holy men to experience a communion with the divine – it is right here, around the hearth of a warm and open-hearted Lahori family.

Way to go

The trip was provided by TravelPak (08445 558855, travelpak.co.uk). The firm runs two tours which feature the Punjab – Pakistan's Cities: 5,000 Years of History and Culture (13 days, from £1,445 excluding flights) and Pakistan's Archaeology and Sufi Shrines (14 days, from £1,495, excluding flights). Both tours run October–May.

International flights were provided by Oman Air (08444 822309, omanair.com) which flies from Heathrow to Lahore from £625 return

Picture: Ornate family tombs near Derawar Fort, Uch Sharif, Pakistan. Photo: The Guardian.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Splitting the Society

By Riyaz Wani, *The Fight for Kashmir’s Soul* - Tehelka Magazine - India; Vol 9, Issue 13, Dated 31 Mar 2012

The Fight for Kashmir’s Soul: Wahhabis. Deobandis. Tablighi Jamaat. Orthodox outfits have been turning the Valley into a bastion of puritanical Islam. But the Sufis are fighting back to regain their moorings.

A colourful procession stretched a mile long along the picturesque Dal lake. A truck carrying preachers in green turbans was followed by thousands of faithfuls waving green flags. Some people were busy at makeshift kitchens on the roadside where tehri (turmeric-dyed rice), salt tea and kehwa were served to the devotees.

The occasion was not a political rally but the celebration of Eid Milad (Prophet’s birthday) on 12 February. Organised by Minhajul Islam, a newly-floated Barelvi outfit, the procession was a not-so-veiled attempt to reassert the Valley’s Sufi tradition and reclaim the religious space ceded to the conservative Wahhabi Islam.

It was the first time in the past two decades that the festival attracted such a massive crowd — estimated to be around 1 lakh [one hundred thousand] people.

Similar events were held at shrines housing the Prophet’s relics. Bazaars and government offices were lit up, adding to the festive air. Understandably, this uninhibited display of festivities didn’t go down well with the adherents of puritanical Islam, who want celebrations to be “austere and exclusively devoted to worship”.

Over the past two decades, the orthodox Deobandi Islam has spread through an extensive network of madrassas, followed by the Wahhabi Islam propagated by the Jamiat Ahle Hadith (JAH). Together, they have gone a long way in reshaping the Valley’s religious landscape.

The JAH owns around 700 mosques, 150 schools and claims a membership of 15 lakh people, which has made it an influential entity even though it doesn’t indulge in any demonstrative political activity.

It is between these religious traditions — antithetical in their stance on Islam — that Kashmir is getting inexorably split. Even though the conflict is not yet out in the open, the two religious sects are busy building up their mutually exclusive domains that don’t see eye to eye.

It is a battle for the soul of Kashmir between the Valley’s Sufi moorings and its newfound fascination with a mix of Deobandi and Wahhabi Islam.

After having a free run in the Valley for the past two decades, conservative Islam, which saw its influence rise with the growth of the separatist movement, is confronted with a sudden proliferation of Barelvi outfits. In the past four years, several Barelvi organisations claiming to be the custodians of Kashmir’s Sufi moorings have sprung up to challenge the growing power of the Wahhabi faith.

“We are here to resurrect Sufi Islam,” says Minhajul Islam chief Maulana Mohiudin Naqeeb, who thinks Wahhabism is primarily a political strain of Islam. “It is the Sufis who brought Islam to the Valley. Their shrines have a spiritual significance as they mediate our relationship with God. Nobody should stop us from visiting them.”

Minhajul Islam is part of an amalgam of 45 Barelvi outfits called Karwan-e-Islam, which is working for the revival of the Valley’s “Sufi soul”. The alliance is led by Maulana Ghulam Rasool Hami, the Imam at Srinagar’s Dastigeer Sahib, one of Kashmir’s pre-eminent Sufi shrines.

The Karwan-e-Islam has plans to establish the Valley’s first Sufi university, named after Sheikh-ul-Alam, Kashmir’s patron saint. The university, besides teaching all modern subjects, will sponsor research on Kashmir’s Sufi saints.

However, the proposal is still hanging fire with the state government, which, incidentally is also sitting over a similar proposal from the JAH. In fact, the government has already allotted land for the Jamiat university, to be called Transworld Muslim University. But the final nod has yet to come after differences arose during discussions in the Assembly in 2009.

But the bid for the universities — Minhajul Islam also has an individual proposal to revive Shah-i-Hamdan’s Sufi university at the shrine of Makhdoom Sahib — is a sideshow to the competitive grassroots work that is redrawing the battlelines.

If a recent study by the Union home ministry is anything to go by, a majority of youth are seeking refuge in religion. And a substantial portion of them make up the ranks of conservative Islam, propagated by the JAH and Darul Ulooms inspired by the Deobandi school of thought.

This generation rejects the idea of the Sufi shrines being a source of salvation or the saints being the agency mediating the connection between their followers and God.

These youth are not satisfied with their individual sense of salvation. They want to transform society. Over the past two decades, their sphere of operation has widened from the Darul Ulooms into everyday community life. A new debate about the nature of “essential Islam” is raging in Kashmiri households. As a result, there is an emerging polarisation that is not easily discernible to the naked eye.

Ordinary Kashmiri households are a living proof of this new reality. One such house is that of Sufi-oriented Abdul Gafoor at Ganderbal. Two years ago, his trendy, jeans-wearing son Sajid Gafoor, 23, went through a sudden spiritual transformation after his chance association with the followers of Tablighi Jamaat, an offshoot of the proponents of conservative Islam. He started praying five times a day, donned a skullcap and grew a long beard. And it wasn’t long before he started questioning his parents’ faith in Sufi dargahs, saying the shrines had no divine authority and the saints buried there were mere mortals.

“He told us we were committing shirk (worshipping anyone other than God) and therefore transgressing the boundaries of religion. Our rebuff made him only more rebellious,” says Gafoor. “But we told him that Kashmir is a Pir Waer (Valley of dervishes) and it was because of these dervishes that Islam had spread here.”

The tension at Gafoor’s house, if not transparently evident, is palpable in the evolving religious discourse of the Valley. It plays out in every locality, village and mosque with the debate centered on the rival claims to the allegiance to what is perceived to be bona fide Islam.

Some people such as Sufi scholar Hameed Naseem Rafiabadi call this transformation one of the most radical in the 700-year Islamic history in the Valley — a sweeping transition from the Sufi tradition to the puritanical Islam. “A few decades ago, it was only a few families in Srinagar who espoused conservative Islam. Now, there are thousands of followers, a constituency that is now duly played to by the political parties,” says Rafiabadi, the author of the book Islam and Sufism in Kashmir.

But there is now a deliberate effort to reverse this orthodox juggernaut. And it is here that things are getting complex. For the first time in history, Sufi Islam is getting organised and aggressively promoting devotion to shrines. What is more, there is now a competitive race to enlist followers.

“We have around 4,000 khatibs (prayer-leaders) and 30,000 more are undergoing training,” says Karwan-e-Islam head Hami. The amalgam also has 50 Darul Ulooms and madrassas where they teach Quran and Hadith. “Around 30,000 students study in the madrassas but we plan to take the number to three lakh in another five years.”

Karwan-e-Islam also plans to hold an international Islamic conference in May where it will invite leading Sufi scholars such as Allaudin Siddiqui from the UK, Syed Ali Jami of Egypt, Dr Tahir-ul-Qadiri and Alama Hanif-u-Din from Pakistan and Sheikh Abubaker Shafi from Kerala, besides a number of others from Central Asia.

On the other hand, the JAH is pinning its hopes on the expected visit of the Imam of Mecca later this year. “We have invited him and he has assured that he will come,” says JAH general secretary Abdul Rehman Bhat. With 700 mosques and 150 Darul Ulooms, JAH has already deeply entrenched itself in the Valley. “We have two part-time madrasas in every village,” says Bhat.

Similarly, the Deobandis have networked the Valley with some of the biggest Darul Ulooms in the state. Their Darul Uloom at Poonch has around 1,500 students and the one at Bandipora has 1,000 students. The Deobandis also have two major Darul Ulooms in Srinagar. They are the centres of exclusive religious learning, which between them turn out hundreds of moulvis and a number of muftis who then enter mainstream Kashmiri life and try to remould it in their own image.

But Barelvis don’t think Wahhabism encompasses the full gamut of faith. “Sufism takes care of Zahir and Batin (exterior and interior self ) whereas other schools of thought focus exclusively on the exterior meaning of Quran and Hadith,” says Hami. “We believe that only Sufism helps in full development of spirituality, recycles our self and liberates us from all ills.”

However, senior JAH leader Maulana Riyaz Ahmad says there is only one authentic version of Islam — “one prescribed by God and his Prophet”. He suspects there are deliberate efforts to “twist Islam” to suit the needs of the establishment.

“There cannot be a compromise Islam. Islamic principles cannot be adapted to taste,” says Ahmad, who is the brother of the late JAH president Maulana Showkat, who was killed in an IED explosion on 8 April 2011. “But we aren’t worried. Even if one percent follow the true path of Islam, they can usher in a revolution.”

BUT THE issue doesn’t end with this deepening polarisation. What is vitiating the atmosphere is the endemic perception about the government’s role in setting up Barelvi organisations as a counter to the proponents of conservative Islam. Equally, the conservatives themselves are not free of blame. They are also suspected to be the recipients of foreign funding.

Lending some credence to these suspicions was the home ministry’s reply to an RTI last December, in which it revealed that 362 madrassas in Jammu & Kashmir had been funded under the Scheme Providing Quality Education. However, all the religious outfits have denied any kind of government funding with Hami even holding a press conference to distance his madrassas from the controversy.

Besides, the distance both the Barelvis and conservatives have maintained from the politics of Kashmir have sowed doubts about their ideological outlook, more so in the separatist quarters who tellingly point to their silence through the successive summer revolts from 2008-10.

“We are witnessing the growth of an army of maulanas who maintain a safe distance from the ongoing turmoil in the state. But at the same time they are splitting the society along sectarian lines. We see their emergence as part of a deliberate strategy to weaken the movement,” says a leader of hardline Hurriyat, an amalgam that is otherwise accused of being a proponent of fundamentalist Islam.

A moderate Hurriyat leader has a similar take. “We have a hunch that there is a well-planned conspiracy to embroil Kashmir in a sectarian war. We look worryingly at this development,” he says.

Riyaz Wani is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka

Sunday, March 25, 2012

I am His kite

By Raza Rumi, *Lost spring in Lahore* - The Indian Express - India; Thursday, March 22

Lost spring in Lahore: With the ban on Basant in its fifth year, the city is a poorer place

Lahore, a centre for the arts and learning in the early 20th century, has been the custodian of a plural, vibrant culture for decades. Its walled city, unlike several other old settlements, has continued to survive despite the expansion of the city. So have its peculiar features: its dialects, cuisine, community linkages and, of course, rich festivals such as Basant. As the capital of Punjab, Lahore used to celebrate Basant — the arrival of spring — in a colourful manner.

Since the medieval times, Basant was acknowledged and celebrated by the Chishti saints. Nizamuddin Auliya of Delhi turned it into an act of devotion, and Amir Khusrau’s songs captured the multi-layered evolution of this festival.

Punjabi poets such as Shah Hussain gave a Sufi flavour to it. Hussain, in one of his kaafis, says: “The Beloved holds the string in his hand, and I am His kite.” The festival offered a meaning to all and sundry: from playful kids to lovers and Sufis; from profit-seekers who developed livelihoods around the festival to the community as a whole.

Basant was celebrated by all communities prior to Partition: Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs treated it as a Lahori festival with an identity linked to the city. In this milieu, Allama Iqbal was known to be an avid kite flier. But the post-1947 rise of clerics meant that inclusive cultural practices were to be treated with suspicion. For many decades, the Pakistani mullahs have ranted against Basant as an “unIslamic” festival and one that endangered public morality.

Unfazed by these fatwas, Lahoris continued with the festival. It even received state patronage on various occasions. A citizen of Lahore, Mian Yousaf Salahuddin (the grandson of Iqbal), turned his old Lahore haveli into a cultural hub and, over time, Basant celebrations became an international attraction. By the 1990s, proactive civil servants turned Basant into a great regional festival. Lahore’s then deputy commissioner, Kamran Lashari, provided full backing to the holding of this event in the 1990s. That was perhaps the time when Basant also became most controversial due to its scale and the increased hazards of unregulated kite-flying in which metallic or chemical-coated string was used.

The use of this string instead of the traditional dor caused many deaths each year and the local government was unable to enforce regulations on its usage. The metallic wire would get entangled in electricity cables in the old city, leading to electrocution. The courts intervened and asked the Punjab government to ban the festival in 2007.

Ironically, the banning of Basant did not take place in the name of religion but through a public interest litigation. However, the ideological opponents of Basant have been happy with the outcome and have created an uproar each time someone raised the question of reviving Basant after putting safety measures in place. But Lahore is a poorer place now. It is devoid of this public celebration, especially for thousands of impoverished workers in the old city and neighbouring towns where Basant was celebrated with great fervour.

The last time a major Basant controversy erupted was when Punjab’s constitutional head was the slain governor, Salman Taseer. He was keen on the festival restarting in his tenure and he also asked the provincial government to introduce the required measures. But the court ban could not be undone. Thus, in 2009, he held a Basant festival in the lawns of the Governor House and made it an open house for Lahoris. Little did he know that, in a couple of years, a bigot would kill him for his secular and tolerant views.

Like several other realities of Pakistan, Basant deaths are a governance failure. Local governments tasked with the mandate to enforce social regulation are no longer there. Pervez Musharraf had introduced a system of devolved governance, which was undone by the ruling PPP and its allies and now no political party wants to revive them. With local participation, the use of inappropriate kite-flying materials could be checked and controlled.

But the PML-N, the ruling party in Punjab with a conservative support base, and an even more conservative judiciary have truncated a cultural continuum. It is a separate matter that terror outfits which celebrate death in the name of religion and preach violence are free to operate while a people’s festival is under intense judicial scrutiny and executive control.

Such are the ironies of contemporary Pakistan. The rich and the powerful organise their private parties with great fanfare in well-manicured gardens, while the ordinary people have to be content with doses of public safety and disguised religiosity.

Lahore’s true spring will return the day the Basant ban is removed and its pluralism is rescued from further vandalism in the name of “public interest”.

Rumi is a writer from Lahore

[Picture: A kite shop in India. Photo: Wiki.]

Thursday, March 22, 2012

To Empower the Locals

By Amrita Jain, *Young Storytellers’ Guild* - The Indian Express - New Delhi, India; Monday, March 19, 2011

At cave no. 9, Ajanta Caves, Akhtar Pervez is perched on a stone, watching tourists walking in. He offers to tell them the story of these caves.

His narrative is delivered in a loud and clear voice. His story is not like the parroted lines of professional guides; instead Pervez, 28, talks about the caves as if they were old friends.

They are old friends, for Pervez, a resident of Aurangabad, grew up in their shadow. “Researchers, painters and photographers have come here and they needed help. I would assist them. They, in turn, gave me a better understanding of the area,” he says.

Pervez isn’t the only local who has been roped in to guide visitors and academics through monuments. A number of initiatives across India have realised that localites bring a personal perspective into a narrative about a site.

Their renditions give history an emotional intensity and turn ruins into living memories.

In Delhi’s crowded Nizamuddin Basti, for instance, a heritage walk is in progress. At the helm is local lad Amir Ahmed, who points out the important places and the events that played out centuries ago. Yet, two years ago, Ahmed had no idea of the rich past of his birthplace.

“I used to play cricket here with other boys. We would only regard these structures as purani imarat,” he says.

He was trained in heritage by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC). Today, Ahmed coordinates the volunteer’s self-help group of AKTC.

“Our group consists of 15 boys from the basti. We undergo training, update our knowledge, plan routes and deliver talks to the locals about conservation,” he says.

The group also conducts heritage walks at Humayun’s Tomb and recently started the Sufi Trail by Rickshaw to include Sufi shrines around Nizamuddin.

In Bhuj, Gujarat, 20-year-old Vimal Shah was selected for training at the tourism programme by Kutch University. Now, he works as a guide for three months during the annual Kutch Festival.

“I have grown up in Bhuj and take pride in showing people around. It makes me realise the heritage value of this place,” he says.

Deeti Ray, Programme Officer, Cultural Revival, AKTC, says,

“Our idea was to empower the locals. This would make them sensitive to their area and aid conservation efforts as well as provide employment opportunity to the locals. The self-help volunteer groups are very independent. After we train them, they plan walks and activities independently. We are only facilitators.”

[Picture: Ajanta Caves, entrance of cave no. 9. Photo: Wiki.]

Monday, March 19, 2012

Kirtan

By Zeeshan Khan, *The Sultanate’s return* - Himal Southasian - Kathmandu, Nepal; Monday, March 12, 2012

The Sultanate’s return: Tracing the origins of Islamic Bangladesh.

In 1342, Shamsuddin Iliyas Shah, ruler of the kingdom of Shatgaon, annexed two other Muslim kingdoms in medieval Bengal, shortly after all three had declared independence from Delhi.

This enlarged kingdom, now called the Sultanate of Bangala, survived as an independent country for over 230 years, and in some sense can be considered a prototype for present-day Bangladesh.

Much of what Bangladeshis have inherited as their cultural and political legacy comes from the sultanate era: the name of the country, the currency, religious leanings, language and literature, many folk and spiritual traditions, and roughly the current territorial borders. Indeed, the political identity of Bengal through the ages – first as an independent sultanate, then as a Mughal, British and Pakistani province, and finally as a republic – has its genesis in this period.

Despite establishing a strong, self-assured and independent kingdom, however, the Iliyas Shah dynasty, hailing originally from Iran, remained a foreign presence in the Ganga delta.

Whether the largely Bengali-speaking Hindu and Buddhist population viewed their Persian-speaking Muslim rulers as occupiers cannot be known for certain. However, since as early as the reign of Shamsuddin Iliyas Shah’s grandson Gyasuddin Azam Shah, the dynasty’s rule was being undermined by an influential Hindu aristocratic landlord, Raja Ganesh.

In 1410, Ganesh successfully captured the state – aided in part by the infighting within the Shah family, with sons killing fathers for the throne – and became the de facto ruler of Bengal for the next five years.

Ostensibly, this rebellion was a reaction against the foreign nature of the sultanate administration; realistically, it was about control. Religious prejudices must also have played a significant part, as Raja Ganesh, upon seizing power, proceeded to persecute the Sufis of Pandua, site of what was then the largest mosque in Southasia.

Bengal had already become home to numerous Sufi saints of the Chishti order who, as was the custom of the time, enjoyed a close relationship with the king through a system of mutual patronage. A ruler’s legitimacy came from the moral endorsement implicit in his closeness to a respected saint. Conversely, the absence of patronage meant that the moral health of a reign could not be assured.

After coming to power, Raja Ganesh was neither afforded such patronage nor did he seek it, setting off alarm bells throughout the kingdom. Disturbed by the takeover, Nur Qutb i Alam, the foremost Sufi of Pandua, even invited the Muslim king of neighbouring Jaunpur to invade Bengal and overthrow the new king. Interestingly, however, Raja Ganesh was equally unpopular among the Hindu elite, whom he claimed to represent.

Chishti Sufis first entered Bengal in 1296. Shayekh Akhi Sirajuddin, the third saint of this order, arrived in 1357 on the command of his spiritual guide, Nizamuddin Awliya of Delhi. Sirajuddin left behind him a line of spiritual successors, of whom Nur Qutb was one.

Sufis were seen both by themselves and by the population as bringing social justice to a place with deep caste divisions, and where a militant Hinduism dealt heavy-handedly with Buddhists. Before the sultanate was established, a number of Sufis were killed for attempting to introduce social egalitarianism, and the rise of Raja Ganesh looked, for a time, like a return to the bad old days.

The intense power struggle that ensued between the Sufi saints and the new ruling dynasty finally ended with a compromise, whereby Ganesh’s son, Jadu, was allowed to ascend to the throne, but only after he converted to Islam.

The offer had originally been made to Ganesh himself, but he had declined. Evidently, Islam, above anything else, was the qualifier for ruling the sultanate, which for the first time was to be governed by a Bengali. This established the precedent that neither ethnicity nor lineage was of consequence in the government of Bengal, but also, more crucially, it preserved Islam as the moral authority in the Ganga delta.

As the first Bengali Muslim king, Jadu, now renamed Jallauddin, set off a process that saw Islam in the delta uncoupled from Persian-Arabic culture. Throughout his reign, Islam continued to fuse inextricably with Bengali culture, as is evident in the architecture of that period and in the development of Bangla as a parallel court language. Thus, by indigenising itself, the sultanate was able to outlive the dynasty that established it, and it would continue to exist as such despite several changes in leadership.

A state had emerged, and a nation – a Bengali Muslim one – was following close on its heels.

Gaur Vaishnavism

The Iliyas Shah family did return to power after the rule of Jallauddin’s son. But instead of reversing the policies of its Bengali predecessors, the reinstated dynasty continued to expand the process of indigenisation.

With the descendents of the Iranian Shah content to accommodate themselves in the new culture, the sultanate hastened to become a Bengali kingdom. This transformation signalled not just the robustness of Bengali civilisation, but also Islam’s ability to embed itself among the people it reached. To put it simply, Islam became Bengali, and Bengal became Muslim.

The Bengali sultanate reached its pinnacle under another ruling family – the Hussein Shah dynasty. After a series of coups and counter-coups by Abyssinian military officers, in 1493 Allauddin Hussein Shah came to power, ushering in the golden age of medieval Bengali history.

During this period, Bengali language and literature found patronage and subsequently proliferated throughout the sultanate. The system of imposing per capita tax on non-Muslims, called jizya, was abolished, and non-Muslims were also appointed to high ranks within the administration. Territorially, the sultanate expanded and also experienced an unprecedented era of peace and prosperity, during which Bengali Hindu society transformed to give rise to a fusion of Hindu mysticism and Sufism.

Mutual curiosity between different religious orders had existed in Bengal since as far back as the 12th century, when Amrtakunda (The pool of life), a Sanskrit manual on tantric yoga, was translated into Persian as Bahr al hayat, and into Arabic as Hawd al-hayat, and circulated as far away as Kashmir.

While the Sufis of the time sought to incorporate the esoteric philosophies and practices of local yogis into their own religious lives, the Hindu mystics began redefining their ideology according to the Sufi worship of divine love. And underlying both of these newer layers was a 1000-year-old Buddhist perspective.

The resulting confluence of these three traditions produced a spiritual practice reliant on devotional singing and chanting, called kirtan, as a means to both profess and transmit the love of God, manifested in this case as Krishna. The parallels between kirtan and Sufi practices such as qawwali and zikr are unmistakable. What makes the parallel clearer is that Gaur Vaishnavism, as this new cult came to be known, registered itself as a monotheistic religion and disregarded the traditional Hindu polytheistic perspective.

Naturally, this created friction with the Hindu orthodoxy. But the Muslim court, including King Hussain Shah and the Sufis, received the new religion favourably and allowed Sri Chaitanya, the founder, to propagate it freely throughout the delta.

It is possible that with its conceptual similarities to Sufism as well as its emphasis on casteless equality, the spread of Gaur Vaishnavism actually helped the proliferation of Sufi teaching, and eventually of Islam, in Bengal. However this is conjecture at best, and cannot be verified.

Whatever the reason, the Vaishnavis would later join forces with the Sufis to spawn the syncretic Baul tradition, arguably the most significant vehicle of spiritual enrichment in Bangladesh today.

Mughal chauvinism

The sultanate of Bengal became embroiled in the politics of northwest India once again when droves of Afghans fleeing the expanding Mughal Empire arrived in eastern India after 1526.

Finding themselves dislodged from power in Delhi and Kabul, these Afghans built an alternative nexus of power in Bihar and Bengal. Viewing the rising Sher Shah Suri in Bihar as a buffer between Bengal and the Mughals, Hussain Shah’s successor, Nusrat Shah, fostered friendly relations with leaders of the Pashtun influx.

His brother, however, was less astute, and his hostility towards Sher Shah brought an end to the sultanate’s neutrality in 1537 when it came to blows with the Afghans and lost. Bengal then became a launching pad for Sher Shah’s conquest of North India, expelling the second Mughal emperor, Nasir ud-din Muhammad Humayun, from Delhi.

Humayun later reconquered Delhi and parts of northwest India, but Bengal remained in the hands of Afghan kings until 1576. The next 30 years were a period of resistance against the advancing Jallauddin Muhammed Akbar, with an ebb and flow of success on either side.

Then, in 1605, the Mughals finally consolidated their rule in Bengal. This ended 233 years of sultanate independence and reintroduced Persian and Urdu into the Ganga delta – and with them, social elitism along foreign and local lines. The Mughal chauvinism evident in the new architecture and institutions of government would sideline Bengal’s own Muslim culture, threatening the existence of the unique syncretism nurtured by the sultans of Bengal.

Amazingly, however, despite remaining a province for almost 400 years thereafter, an independent Bengali state reappeared in 1971.

The creation of Bangladesh has put Bengali culture on centre stage once again, and encouraged a pluralistic secular environment where the Baul tradition and Bangla language, literature and art receive patronage in a way that they didn’t during the British, Mughal or Pakistani years.

Islam in Bengal is also far less dogmatic than it might have been had Bangladesh remained a part of Pakistan. From Bangladesh’s very beginning, all faiths have been allowed to practice freely, and numerous non-Muslims hold high positions in government departments.

In this way, then, the re-birth of the Bengali state can be seen as having brought with it its own revitalised worldview and cultural orientation, as well as a new commitment to the Bengali school of synthesised mysticism.

~ Zeeshan Khan is a Bangladeshi living in Australia, where he is currently writing his first book. He studied international relations and now works in media.

Picture: Mirhab (prayer niche) at Adina Mosque, Pandua. Photo: Zeeshan Khan/HS.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

"Peasant's Religion"

By Ayesha Siddiqa, *Pakistan's modernity: Between military and militancy* - The Friday Times - Lahore, Pakistan; March 09-15, 2012 - Vol. XXIV, No. 04

Pakistan's modernity: Between military and militancy

Pakistan's modernity is structured along two axes: neo-liberal nationalism and right-wing radical nationalism. The meeting of the two trajectories has turned Pakistan into a hybrid-theocratic state which encapsulates a mix of economic neo-liberalism, pockets of social liberalism, formal theocracy and larger spaces experiencing informal theocracy

There is a new kind of literature on Pakistan in the market which claims to present an alternative view of the country, a view that is more positive and talks of the huge potential of the Pakistani state to become a success story on par with the emerging economies of the world. Instead of focusing on religious radicalism, the war on terror, the problematic politics or the excessively powerful military, the new works highlight the progressive, liberal and democratic tendencies of the state and society. One of the key arguments presented in the new literature is that given some structural changes in politics, especially by replacing the traditional elite with the growing middle class, the country can be turned into a success story. The emphasis, thus, is on empowerment of the middle class, greater urbanisation, political order and economic development. This is the formula for socio- political and socio-economic modernity.

This essay examines the above notion and argues instead that this peculiar formula for modernity is deeply flawed. The empowerment of the middle class or economic progress does not automatically translate into liberal progressive modernity mainly due to the nature of the state.

Pakistan's modernity, I argue, is structured along two axes: neo-liberal nationalism and right-wing radical nationalism. While the neo-liberal nationalism axis depicts an authoritarian and top-down model of economic and political development marked with the expansion of a national security-obsessed middle class and ruling elite, the right-wing radical nationalism axis denotes the growth of religious radicalism and militancy as symbols of geopolitical modernity and anti-imperialism. The terms - military and militancy - are both used here in symbolic terms. While military denotes all forms of authoritarian behaviour, militancy refers to all the shades ranging from latent radicalism to extremism and religious fascism which will also be referred to here as jihadism. I also argue that liberalism is one of the many consequences of modernity, but not the only one. The meeting point of both trajectories has resulted in turning Pakistan into a hybrid-theocratic state which encapsulates a mix of economic neo-liberalism, pockets of social liberalism, formal theocracy and larger spaces experiencing informal theocracy.


The neoliberal-nationalism axis:

The new or alternative view literature is represented by three works: (a) Maleeha Lodhi's Pakistan: Beyond 'The Crisis State' (2011), (b) Anatol Lieven's Pakistan: A Hard Country (2011), and (c) Javed Jabbar's Pakistan - Unique Origins; Unique Destiny? (2011).

What is common in these books is a propensity to consider modernity as a "rational or social operation that is culture-neutral" (Taylor 1995: 25) which means looking at modernity purely in material terms and as a goal that can be fulfilled through good neo-liberal policies.

There are two angles of such scholarship: (a) take the emphasis away for any weakness or failure of the state from the civil and military bureaucracy to the political elite that is also considered the traditional elite, and (b) present an alternative formula for the country's progress through improving governance and transferring power to the middle class. This indicates a fair amount of heating up of the inner conflict between the traditional elite and those that aspire to and are taking place of the old elite.

Significance of armed forces: According to this type of literature, an alternative but successful Pakistan can be created by fulfilling certain sociopolitical conditions and honouring the right agents of change such as the urban middle class largely represented by the state bureaucracy, especially the military. All the three works highlight the significance of the armed forces as an organisation with an unquestioned reputation, especially in comparison with other players such as the politicians. This is not simple propagandist literature, but the type which is arguing for a structural sociopolitical shift - movement of power from the traditional elite to the emerging middle class.

Although modernity has several dimensions, the concept of modernity envisioned by this set of authors has a strong neo-liberal flavour that espouses economic progress as a key indicator of modernity, which, in turn, requires political order and building up of a strong and centralised national-identity that seems to be missing at the moment. These authors envision a modern Pakistan as economically progressive, ideologically secular-liberal, increasingly urbanised with a fairly strong industrial and technical base. The greatness of the state is not evaluated through political and social progress or lack of it but from mundane material aspects such as the size of the country being the sixth largest country in the world.

The latest prescription for progress also calls for strengthening of the nation state and deepening a sense of nationalism. Therefore, it is necessary to downplay all such elements such as ethnicity and sectarianism that might weaken the nation state project. It is not as if the formula is not being adhered to by the state machinery which likes to minimize the emphasis on ethnic politics and downplay sectarian differences. The state bureaucracy, especially the military, even uses brutal force to curb ethnic differences as is obvious from the case of Baluchistan.

The ethnic differences are not viewed as positive diversity but as part of the traditional-elitist political framework which must be replaced with another that proposes top-down nationalism to attain progress.

The fact that Pakistan is the sixth largest country in the world has begun to figure in the statist literature. But a centralised national identity is even more important, hence, the emphasis on defining and streamlining what the former information minister Javed Jabbar calls Pakistaniat which is a set of positive attributes of a committed Pakistani citizen. But most important, Pakistaniat is about a sense of homogeneous nationalism. These characteristics such as resilience in the face of adversity, feeling concern in the face of national humiliation, sense of pride in being a Pakistani are some of the 57 characteristics that in the eyes of the former information minister, Javed Jabbar, constitute positive characteristics of "Pakistaniat" and will guarantee the country's development. Intriguingly, the author also includes respect for religious and ethnic minorities as one of the prominent characteristics of Pakistani nationalism which is a misrepresentation of facts or figment of his imagination. Given the attacks on religious, sectarian and ethnic minorities that have increased in the past couple of decades, Jabbar's assertion is more of propaganda and pretense rather than a fact.

While the state tends to use coercion, it has also tried other means such as generating a new national narrative and build institutional mechanisms to rope in dissidents towards this narrative.

However, these factors have to be matched with two essential drivers for change: the nationalist-urbanised middle class and the military.

Progressive nationalist middle class: The alternative view literature completely discards the traditional elite as the engine of progress. Progress, it is believed, can only be brought about by the burgeoning middle class.

The bulk of the rural middle class represents medium-sized (less than 100 acres) farmers and the burgeoning trader-merchant class that live in towns small cities that have cropped up from villages and depend on the agrarian economy. The urban middle class, on the other hand, comprises trader-merchants, small business and professional class belonging to various vocational groups in intermediate cities and large cities. The middle class also includes the bulk of the state bureaucracy such as civil servants and military.

The urban upper-middle class, on the other hand, represents the intermediate class that will eventually become the upper class and it comprises the echelons of the burgeoning media, the elite of the civil and military bureaucracies, the top leadership of the judiciary and the legal community, the non-governmental organisation (NGO) sector and professional expatriate Pakistanis that are keen to build their influence in their home country by remaining central to its politics.

The underlying assumption is that the empowerment of this socio-economic class is bound to bring liberalism and progress to the country.

There are four issues with such formulation. First, it suffers from serious lack of clarity in defining the socio-economic origins of the ruling elite. We get an impression as if the ruling elite comprises mainly of landowners or entrepreneurs. The reality is that the bulk of the ruling elite no longer comprises traditional feudal-landowners but is instead of middle class and even lower middle class background.

Second, these authors tend to borrow a Marxian political formulation without understanding its historical linkages. The entire debate of middle class and progress is essentially borrowed from western history that is not necessarily applicable to most developing countries where the bulk of the middle class is not liberal or politically progressive.

Third, there is a problematic suggestion that middle class is liberal, secular and progressive that can guarantee Pakistan's internal political and economic integrity. Such notion does not take into account the fact that in a pre-capitalist culture like Pakistan's, the middle class is intellectually an extension of the ruling elite.

Fourth, it artificially links political development with economic progress. In fact, democratic norms and politics can be ignored for ensuring a top-down economic progress that is best attained through military bureaucratic dictatorial regimes.

Finally, political development is not directly linked with economic development and the focus of the middle class is the latter not the former. Moreover, this class has always supported and benefited from authoritarianism.

The middle class needs attention due to its ideological leanings which are conservative, pro-authoritarian and increasingly latent-radical. The bulk of the emerging rural or even urban middle class is not socially or politically liberal. The same can be said of the middle class in major cities. The urban middle and upper middle class both have an inclination towards authoritarianism and even latent religious radicalism. Most recently, new political movements denoted by urban- based political parties, such as the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (the justice party) run by the former cricketer Imran Khan, espouse wrangling political control through the army's help. The other two pillars of the middle class, that is, the media and the legal community (including the judiciary), both have authoritarian, centre-right nationalist and even latent radical perspectives.

In any case, the media and the legal community have exhibited authoritarian tendencies with an interest in acquiring unquestioned power, a behaviour that the traditional elite is accused of.

The military: The country's six-lakh strong military and its extended families, which include retired personnel and their kith and kin, are critical to the presentation of a progressive-modern Pakistan narrative. There are several reasons for this. First, the military is considered as an institutional representation of middle class ethos. The assertion is that the military is neither authoritarian nor a detriment to political development. It only intervenes to protect the state from internal and external threat. Moreover, unlike the traditional elite, which establishes a patron- age system of politics and is essentially authoritarian, the military, being a representative of middle class values, encourages the establishment of sustainable democracy.

Since the military has brute force, which is so critical to Pakistan's praetorian politics, the middle class views the armed forces as critical for change.

Third, due to the character of the military being middle class it is seen as a source of political and economic modernity in the country. According to the new narrative, not only is the current army chief Kayani progressive, he is also liberal with great concern for strengthening democracy.

The military prefers a strong president, especially when the army chief himself is the president or when the office- bearer is a favourite of the armed forces. However, it is the second time in the country's history that the president is not of the army's choosing and the service was unable to remove President Asif Ali Zardari due to his ability to compromise and negotiate space for himself. Some analysts believe that this balancing act will result in prolongation of the civilian government, which, in turn, will result in strengthening of the democratic system.

According to an expert of Pakistan's civil-military relations, Saeed Shafqat, the accommodating behaviour of the army top brass has encouraged the civilian leadership to respond positively and give an extension to the army chief, which Shafqat presents, as an example of elite accommodation ("Praetorians and the People", in Maleeha Lodhi (ed.), Pakistan beyond the Crisis State, 2011).

There are three problems with Shafqat's formula. First, he wrongly assumes that such accommodation is unprecedented. In fact, a glance at Marxian literature in Pakistan, especially the works of authors like Hamza Alavi indicate a partnership between the ruling elite and the civil-military bureaucracy in the country that dates back to the early days of the state. The army has historically used crisis to replace unfriendly political leaders with others considered loyal. Thus, the elite accommodation existed even under the seemingly liberal dispensation of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto during the 1960s and the 1970s.

Second, he does not ask the basic question if a major shift in civil-military balance could happen without a major transformation of the rules of the games regarding civil-military balance. What may actually appear as accommodation is based on some tactical adjustment of the military taking charge of some areas while leaving the less important issues for the civilian government.

Third, what Shafqat calls elite negotiation is essentially an adjustment between the two power poles in the country - military and civil - to protect overall elite interests. Such an adjustment does not in any way indicate a fundamental shift in the political system and structure or a movement away from authoritarian rule.

Supporting the middle class narrative helps the military in remaining relevant to the country's politics and establishing its own image as being above board. It uses the corruption of the politicians and its own image as a representative of the middle class to influence national psychology. This is part of the exercise of establishing intellectual control of the people.

The right-wing radical-nationalism axis:

There is an increasing non-liberal trend in the country which follows two inter-related trajectories: (a) latent militant radicalism that is found mainly amongst the poor and the lower middle classes (but does not preclude the middle class), and (b) latent radicalism found amongst the middle class, the upper middle class and (to a certain extent) the upper class as well.

Latent militant radicalism can be defined as a tendency towards adopting violence as means to suppress people of opposing religious ideology. Latent radicalism is defined as the inability to imagine the "other" that is defined on the basis of religious dogmatic differences. Although representing a class divide, the two trends feed on each other and on the modernity debate as well.

First, the state presents these trends not as a regressive behaviour, but as an indicator of growing anti-imperialism and anti-neo-colonialism in the society. Such an argument is even made by elements who once represented the liberal left. Today, some believe that the Taliban must be tolerated as they are the only bulwark against American hegemony. The political right, which is a bulk of the parties today including the mainstream political parties, has an element that is sympathetic to the militant and latent militant radical elements in the society and view the war on terror as a foreign conspiracy. Such belief has created a certain amount of psychological confusion and infested the society with conspiracy theories in which Pakistan emerges as a victim of American expansionist designs.

There are quite a few urban and educated people who stand up to defend Afia Siddiqui, an Al Qaida member, or support Mumtaz Qadri, a religious bigot and the killer of the Punjab governor Salman Taseer. This is not a result of any confusion but an extension of the victimhood discourse that then allows people to target the native "other" who is viewed as an agent of the imperialist force.

Second, there is an increasing societal ownership of the radical discourse, especially at the level of the middle and upper-middle classes. For instance, one of the emerging icons is a rabid televangelist Zaid Hamid, who preaches hatred of the US and India, rejects democracy and propagates the establishment of an Islamic caliphate. Another popular character is the former cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan who approves of the tribal system for adjudication and is known for his links with the religious right parties.

Such support indicates an increasing acceptance of right-wing politics as an alternative to the existing political parties that are viewed as lackeys of imperial power, the US. It is a fact that Pakistan's nationalism today has a deeper shade of ideological right, which is now being legitimised, through a new scholarly discourse that presents radical and religious forces as part of the native culture. In doing so, the new narrative even provides justification for jihadi outfits and jihadism.

New face of Pakistani modernity? The growing number of Pakistani postmodernist scholars such as Humaira Iqtidar, Kamran Asdar Ali, Saba Mehmood, Amina Jillani and many others in western and elite Pakistani universities are now proposing the religious right-wing forces as the new face of Muslim and Pakistani modernity. Iqtidar, a UK-based Pakistani anthropologist has argued in her book Secularising Islamists that forces such as Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamaat-ud-Dawa have a secularising influence over the society. Others such as Mehmood and Jillani present Islamists as the new face of feminism in Pakistan and the Muslim world in general. They are similar and different from the modernists of the early days who advocated inclusion of religion in politics from the perspective of keeping the state away from turning into a theocracy. The traditional modernists (1960s and 1970s) believed that religion should remain fundamental to the state but should be kept in a most liberal form. The post- modernists, on the other hand, are of the view that radical elements should be allowed to pursue their agenda that would eventually result in the religious right toning down its rhetoric and become more inclusive. There is a definite effort to legitimise both the political and religious right which makes the mix of Lieven-Lodhi-Jabbar and postmodernist scholars' narrative a dangerous brew. While the former present nationalist right-wing military authoritarianism as representing the face of progressive-nation-statist-modernity, the latter highlights the same for the religious radical forces.

Third, the growing radicalism is part of the evolving politics and psychology of the middle class. A general perception created about militants and radical forces in Pakistan is that they belong to the poor and the disgruntled strata of society. If poverty indeed were the key driver, the volume of violence would have been much greater especially in areas that were identified as highly food insecure. In fact, the recruitment for jihad is from areas which are relatively food secure such as south and central Punjab. Poverty becomes a driver only when combined with other factors such as weakening of the traditional power structure, weakness or absence of the state in occupying the space, and the relative strengthening of the militant structure. In Pakistan's case, the rise in militancy is directly linked with state support, be it from the military or provincial governments.

The various militant outfits recruit their foot soldiers from amongst the poorest segments of the population, but these are not the only ones recruited for jihad. Over the years, jihadi outfits have exhibited a propensity to recruit capable youth who are literate or semi-literate. It is also mainly the middle class that is eager to give donations to the militant outfits and madrassas.

The expansion of jihadism in Pakistan, in certain respects, rep- resents the breakdown of the feudal system which many would consider as a socially modernising development. The absence of an alternative force and discourse has favoured radical forces more than anything else.

Impact of Urbanisation: Another influence pertains to the growing urbanisation in the country. The fact that Pakistan is moving very rapidly towards urbanisation as a result of which almost 50% of population is projected to be urban by 2030. It not only influences the mode of production, but also alters cultural norms. For instance, the social and economic structures have an impact on psychological, intellectual and even spiritual needs. Pakistan's foremost social scientist Hamza Alavi believed that Barelvi and Sufi Islam, which denotes "peasant's religion", would become less relevant with growing urbanisation, particularly sophistication in modes of production. Deobandi and Wahabi Islam, as opposed to Sufi and Barelvi Islam, have textual basis and offer a form of modernity. Allama Mohammad Iqbal, the poet-philosopher of Pakistan, also recognised this factor. While Sufi shrines will continue to attract people, they will fail to fulfill the spiritual and intellectuals needs of those marching towards some form of material progress.

The militants benefit from the rise in Deobandism-Wahabism since it enhances the ideological pool from which they can recruit fighters at will.

But the most noticeable development pertains to the impact of Deobandism-Wahabism on Barelvi religious norms that face the pressure of competing for political and ideological space. The Barelvi clerics and organisations seem under pressure to generate a popular discourse that matches the Deobandi ideology. This behaviour is most obvious from the Barelvi reaction to the blasphemy issue.

The fact of the matter is that the Sufi-Barelvi ideology has gradually lost ground, as it could not play the role in creating an ideology needed by the state to fight its foreign battles.

Those that represent the Sufi culture have failed to develop an alternative narrative which is needed to counter extremism.

Conclusion:

Are these ideological forces relatively benign and will eventually get tamed by forces of capitalism, as suggested by Syed Vali Nasr? In his latest book on forces of fundamentalism in some of the Muslim countries Nasr has proposed that ultimately the fundamentalist forces will be tamed mainly because people do not want violence. However, such an analysis is based on a certain amount of naivety and simplicity in understanding various societies particularly Pakistan, which has already turned into a hybrid theocracy. This means that the country comprises small pockets of liberalism, small spaces where sharia law is formally enforced and larger spaces where it is informally implemented. This is not simply an issue of implementation of the sharia, but the use of force in various forms to restructure the power base and the ideological structure of the state.

At a micro level, the use of force translates into cases like the torture of the Christian woman Aasiya Bibi who is jailed for blasphemy. Notwithstanding the veracity of the claim against her, the fact is that the state is unable to provide her some form of protection while she is incarcerated.

Similarly, the state is increasingly less capable of providing protection to its citizens as the more violent forces dictate their ideology such as the case of the school in Rawalpindi where masked men entered and threatened the young girls who had not worn the hijab. The militants are, in fact, the neo-feudals who are gradually gaining the same kind of power that the traditional feudal-landowners used to have.

This is not to suggest that all militants are above the law, but the fact is that the state has established a principle according to which some favoured militants are propelled to being above the law. Since the militant forces have both the power and authority of religion, it has become difficult to contest their power. Geopolitically, the militant forces and their ideological network have gathered influence due to their efficacy for the military-strategic objectives of the state. The militants have established a partnership with the security apparatus of the state, which also considers the partnership beneficiary in pursuance of its military-strategic goals. The Pakistani state has often been viewed by its military establishment as a fortress of Islam. Religion is also seen as a source for propelling the state's influence in adjoining regions such as central Asia for which a partnership with militant forces is necessary.

The military's new partnership is different from its older linkage with the traditional elite. The powerful establishment of the Pakistani state is in a process of reinventing itself because of which it seeks newer partnership and narrative. The emphasis on the power of the middle class that is audible in some of the recently written books that are sponsored by the establishment is meant to produce a new set of political stakeholders that can challenge the traditional and the old elite.

Although the establishment, which is dominated by the military, has been central in creating the traditional elite as well, it is now eager to produce a new crop which has a more exciting narrative. The middle class is presented as an epitome of liberal-progressive Pakistan. However, it is an erroneous assumption to consider the middle class as liberal since the bulk of it seems to be ridden with latent radical tendencies are on the verge of it. Such an attitude will affect Pakistan internally before it has an impact on its external relations. In Pakistan the growth of the middle class accompanied with increasing urbanisation is an evolving socio- economic and sociopolitical phenomenon.

While the liberal political forces have been receding in terms of providing a forceful narrative, the radical forces have been gaining momentum. Religion, which was made the logic for the creation of the state, has become an even more powerful tool that could be used to determine internal and external relations. The newer political stakeholders view the Taliban and other militants as forces that challenge neo-imperialism by the US and other western forces. Even some of the new scholarly discourse tends to legitimise the jihadis.

The liberal-western elite, which dominated the state at the time of partition and even later, has gradually lost its legitimacy. Such developments are taking place in an environment where there is very little space for a liberal discourse. The liberal elements in the country that can liberalise the religious-political discourse and rescue it from the clutches of latent radicalism are few and far between.

More important, it will take decades before a movement towards counter-radicalisation picks up speed. Meanwhile, any change that will happen will be through connivance with the security apparatus of the state which will remain relevant for any change in the political system for many years to come.

This is an abridged version of the paper which was published by Economic and Political Weekly, India earlier this year.
Showing posts with label society. Show all posts
Showing posts with label society. Show all posts

Monday, July 30, 2012

Sufis and Scholars of the Sea

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Sufis and Scholars of the Sea - Book ReviewYemen Post Staff 28th July 2012
There is a need to understand the Indian Ocean area as a cultural complex which should be analyzed beyond the geographical division of Africa, the Middle East, the Indian Subcontinent, and South-East Asia, as its coastal population intermingled constantly. Family networks in East Africa (1860 – 192, originating in the South Yemeni region of Hadhramawt, the Alawi tariqa, mainly spread along the coast of the Indian Ocean. The book discusses the renowned scholar, Ahmed b. Sumayt. The "Alawis" are portrayed as one of several cultural mediators in the multi-ethnic, multi- religious Indian Ocean world in the era of European colonialism.

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Indian Ocean had a profound influence on the lives of the people who lived on its shores. Fishermen, sailors, and merchants traveled its waters linking the world`s earlier civilizations from Africa to East Asia in a complex web of relationship.
Trade under-pinned these relationships but the Ocean was also a highway for the exchange of religions cultures and technologies, giving the Indian Ocean an identity as a largely self-contained world. It was the expansion of Hinduism Buddhism, and Islam helped to define the boundaries of the "world" which by the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries was one of the most prosperous and culturally complex regions on earth.
By the sixteenth century, Europeans were part of this "world" as partners in trade with the indigenous peoples. But from eighteenth century this economic relationship changed as the economies of the Indian Ocean "world" integrated with the capitalist economies of the West. The change from commercialism to capitalism ended the insularity of the Indian Ocean "world" and began its integration, as region, into the global economy and its territorial division among various European powers. This transition altered the ancient web of regional cultures. The Ocean was no longer a major force binding the peoples on its shores in a self-conscious entity, but the legacy of the past is still evident in their common religious, cultural and historical experience.
Mwambao is the Swahili name for the East African Coast, the chosen habitat of the Swahili people. The Swahili were called Coast People by the Arabs, and the Swahili Coast was being referred to as "Murudi al Dahab" or Golden Pastures. Numerous bays, creeks, and inlets resulting from coral rock being eaten away by the sea, providing excellent harbors e.g. near Mtwapa, Kilifi, Mombasa and Vanga while the majority of the rivers are in Mozambique. The entire coast is composed of coral rock and most of it provides soft beaches, useful for landing of small crafts. The presence of water in Lamu, for example, helped to cool the hot coast climate; the choice of site ensured a maximum of fresh breeze from the sea upon the sandstone rock.
Regular rainfall has given the coast and the islands south of Equator rich vegetation, unlike the arid Somali coast north of it. Regular trade winds brought sailors and traders in search of resins, and gums for carpentry furniture making, cosmetics, perfume etc. Mangrove poles growing abundantly in the Lamu archipelago were used for ship building and roof beams. Of the animal products, ivory, rhino horn and tine cat perfume were the most sought artifacts already in antiquity. Of mineral products it has been export market for gold, while Ethiopia exported gems such as emeralds, and after year 1100 also coffee.
Arabs were traveling to East Africa with the monsoon from South Arabia and Gulf even in pre-Christian times. The earliest inscriptions were found on the island of Zanzibar c. 1070 AD. There is also the oldest datable discovered mosque in East Africa. Arabs continued to visit the Coast and to settle there throughout the centuries as individual traders, or as empire builders accompanied by large families, or establishing themselves as independent rulers. The Arab were known by their family names, some of which they have planted in African soil. They were identified by the region, Yemen, Oman, Hadhramawt or even by the name of towns, Muscat, Shihr, Mukelle, Aden from which they sprang, even though they may have lived in Africa for generations. They made Pate, Lamu, Malindi, Mombasa and other towns their home.
Mombasa, in the land of the Zanji, boasted wonderful orchards, which contained lemons and banana trees, all of which still grow, and rose apples. Carpets lay on the floors of the guest house. The meal consisted of rice, cooked or fried in butter, dishes of meat, fowl, fish and vegetables, pickles, lemons, bananas, ginger, and mangoes. Similar meals are still served in the Swahili tows today. There were mosques built in coral stones. The Arabs functioned as teachers and preachers, traders or rulers on all parts along the Swahili Coast bringing their own Arabic textbooks for prayer sessions, and hymns to be sung in the mosques.
The numerous elegant dhows connected the colorful ports of the Swahili Coast. Then the creeks were filled with dhows blown down by the monsoons, dhows of all shapes and rigs from Lamu, Bombay, Persian Gulf and from Arabia, some high and dry, some in repair. The dhows, known also as the Silent Wanderers of the sea, were patiently awaiting the southern breezes to blow them back to their homes.
Long ago before petroleum was discovered in the Middle East, incense, fragrant resins, spices and perfumed wood dominated Arab trade. Southern Arabia as the centre of trade prospered and its maritime history is the subject of tales. The talk would be incomplete without mentioning "the Yemeni era", which was an intensely human and cultural civilization that promoted and enriched various facets of social, economic and political life of East Africa. They participated actively in various dimensions of the emerging civilization, including domestic and international trade, underpinned by their vast experience in traveling the world seas.
"Sufis and Scholars of the Sea" is an important text which synthesizes chronological and historic graphical range into its compact frame. The work researches the directly relevant histories of Hadhramawt, Oman and East Africa during 1860 – 1925 through the life of one of the most influential Hadhrami East African scholar of that period Ahmed B. Sumayt.
Zanzibar`s future, an island off the coast of present day Tanzania, thus was shaped by its geographical position, right in the middle of the Indian Ocean trade routes. It is a place of winding alleys, bustling bazaars, mosques and grand Arab houses, whose original owners viewed each other over the extravagance of their dwellings. It boasts not only natural beauty, rich culture, and breathtaking architecture. Zanzibar during Ibn Sumayt`s time emerged as an important centre of learning in East Africa eclipsing previous centers such as Lamu and Mombasa.
Today Zanzibar is also the name of a town in southern Yemen while Yemeni jewelry is sold in the shops of Zanzibar. Unlike Oman, Hadhramawt (a governorate in the present Republic of Yemen) does not have a history of a colonial power in the Indian Ocean. Hadhramawt is known for its continuous export of people to the land of the Indian Ocean, including the East African coast. They were religious scholars, traders, cultural brokers, whose impact on both recipient and home country is a topic which has aroused much interest in recent years.
To them, the Ocean was no barrier rather a long established arena for cultural and intellectual exchange. With them traveled goods and ideas, word of mouth, and word in writing, fashion, habits, linguistic patterns, and seeds for new agricultural crops. They left their imprint on the place, the most notable being the religion of Islam, and absorbed cultural elements that were not Arab in origin. The Indian Ocean ports were not distant exotic cities but actual real places, and where the human chain, the "silsila", extended through space and time. This is the "world" into which we enter with A.K Bang`s "Sufis and Scholars of the Sea".
The topic of this fine scholarly study is the scholarly exchange of ideas between Hadhramawt and East Africa. It is the history of Islam during the nineteenth and early twenties century. The study beautifully reconstructs the channels through which "Alawis", a Sufi tariqa, originated in the South Yemeni region of Hadhramawt spread along the coast of the Indian Ocean. It discusses and focuses on life of one of the most influential Hadhrami – East African scholars of the period Ahmed B. Sumayt. Thru Ibn Sumayt`s life, it explores how links were maintained, reinforced, and how their "world" related to other ideas emerging at the same time. How they formed a tight knit, a transoceanic network of individuals linked together by blood, and common experience, which remained open until well into the twentieth century when colonial frontiers came to be decisive factors, when the peoples actually transformed themselves into nations.
It researches what the "Alawis" actually thought in East Africa, what inspired their teachings, its explores their scholarly links, and further the impact of Hadhrami Alawis on nineteenth century East African scriptural Islam. It places the highly scriptural widely traveled and deeply learned tradition of Hadhramawt in East Africa in the frame work of Islamic learning.
The Alawis were traveling widely for seeking out knowledge beyond their local communities, and in Ibn Sumayt`s case, in his mature years he traveled equally wide to spread knowledge. As result families became not only transoceanic, but also trans-regional. Time flies and things change: as nineteenth century drew closer, the Alawis in East Africa, like their fellow residents in the Indian Ocean shores, were exposed to European colonialism.
The central figure of this research, Ahmed B. Abo Bakr b. Sumayt (1860– 1925)-
was one of the most prominent Hadhrami-East African scholars of that period. Born in the Comoro Islands, to a father who had immigrated from Hadramawt, Ibn Sumayt returned to his father’s homeland. But he achieved his greatest fame in East Africa, as a pious man, a scholar, and qadi in Zanzibar. As East Africa came under colonial rule he earned great respect from those British administrators who came into contact with him. It was he - who made them appreciate the true Arab reactions - to foreign rule.
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Through focusing on the life of Ibn Sumayt and his life within a network, it presents the life "in the middle", of a "man in the middle". Ibn Sumayt is the link between sail ships and oil tankers, between the empires of the monsoon, via the period of European imperialism, and the ear of the notion states. Especially the later half of the nineteenth century when he saw European influence in East Africa and British influence in Zanzibar.

Ibn Sumayt was also a reformer and teacher, at the same time fully aware of developments in the Middle East. We meet him as propagator of improved agricultural methods, and even discussing new breed of crops with friends. However, Ibn Sumayt`s importance lays in his work as qadi and how the Ulama found their place in the "colonial space" as active partners. Ibn Sumayt is presented here as pious and learned man - yet intensely human, who possessed a reputation which extended far beyond the limits of Zanzibar.
"Sufis and Scholars of the Sea" is well researched, focused in excellent presented. It will be of interest to scholars, researchers, students but also as general reading to all those interested in the role and contribution of the Yemeni Hadhrami Arab scholars to the history and culture of the Indian Ocean.
Book Reference
Anne K Bang – Sufis and Scholars of the Sea, Published by RoutledgeCurzon
ISBN 0-415-31763-0
About Anne K Bang
Is Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Bergen, Norway. Historian of Islamic societies with a special focus on Arabia and the Muslim communities of Eastern Africa as well as the wider Indian Ocean rim. Her research has primarily focused on factors that cause ritual and devotional life, intellectual discourses and political ideologies to change in different Muslim societies. Focusing on the Muslim societies of the Indian Ocean (east/southeast Africa) and Southeast Asia her research has mainly focused on migration and cosmopolitan Muslim societies and the ensuing family- trade- and scholarly networks. She has also worked on Islamic education and on the transmission of scriptural cultural heritage in Africa. In addition, she has worked on the role of Norwegian traders in during the colonial era. She has published several books and articles on these topics.
Irena Knehtl, Sana`a, Yemen

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Friday, July 20, 2012

Good Day :US and the Confusion between the "Two Extremes"!

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http://news.sudanvisiondaily.com/details.html?rsnpid=211533

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Issue #: 2701, Issue Date: 19th July, 2012 
 by Mekki Elmograbi
Lastly, Egypt has chosen - what so called by secular intellectuals - political Islam. The Military Council and the Constitutional Court are trying to put obstacles and impediments on the road for more advancement of Muslim Brotherhood. Game is over! Islamists are trusted because people have had enough of bloody years of corrupt military authoritarian regimes backed and supported by US and other Western countries. Islamists in Egypt has been long-sufferingly waiting for this moment for nearly seven decades. Moreover, they did not take over power by a coup or through cheating and violence. Many Egyptians voted for Islamists because they have the flourishing Turkish model in mind.
US Administration at the beginning of the "Arab Spring" launched a diplomatic campaign against Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt but after a while Obama "turned the official mode" and said very positive statements about the "Democratic Role" of Egyptian Islamists. US from the time of September 11 till now is moving between the extremes; combating and supporting "Islamic movements" in Middle East and in Africa.  In Sudan, US – according Natsios' article – promised the Sudanese Government four times to start the process of "Normalization" and broke its promises. World wide, US financed Sufi Orders and now they are looking for a deal with Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
Do you remember the statements of the deputy of the American diplomatic mission in Sudan Mr. Denis Hankinson. It was about the American appreciation for the role of Sufism in Sudan and I was shocked with it.  He mentioned the positive role of Sufism in
Counterterrorism in Sudan. He did not mention the American support for some of Sufi Orders, but this fact was documented in the article: (hearts, minds and dollars) published in US news and reports, written by By David E. Kaplan.
First of all, the term (terrorism) is not clear yet in the Islamic mentality, and the definition is still a controversial issue. Western governments consider Hamas and Hizbullah as terrorist parties. In contrast, Sufis themselves – Dear Mr. Denis Hankinson - people see these groups (Freedom fighters or Mujahideen). The said article was a good layout for the biggest intellectual strategic plan related to religions. The strategy titled (Muslim World Outreach).
The strategy stated clearly that US will support Sufi Orders and classified them as the pacific side of Islam.
This is a piece of the article: (Records drawn from the State Department, USAID, and elsewhere reveal a striking array of Islamic projects bankrolled by American taxpayers since 9/11, stretching to at least 24 countries. In nine of them, U.S. funds are backing restoration of Muslim holy sites, including historic mosques in Egypt, Pakistan, and Turkmenistan. In Kirgizstan, embassy funding helped restore a major Sufi shrine. In Uzbekistan, money has gone to preserve antique Islamic manuscripts, including 20 Korans, some dating to the 11th century. In Bangladesh, USAID is training mosque leaders on development issues. In Madagascar, the embassy even sponsored an inter-mosque sports tournament. Also being funded: Islamic media of all sorts, from book translations to radio and TV in at least a half-dozen nations. Often the aid doesn't need an explicit Islamic theme, as in what boosters are calling Muppet Diplomacy.)
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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Courses on Sufism
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By DHNS, *Central University to offer courses on Sufism, Mysticism* - Deccan Herald - Bangalore, India; Saturday, June 2, 2012

Central University to offer courses on Sufism, Mysticism

Bangalore: The Central University of Karnataka (CUK), Gulbarga, has planned a centre for the study of mysticism and sufism to study the birth, evolution, and spread of the two denominations, and bring out publications on them.

The varsity thought of such a centre as the Hyderabad-Karnataka region has produced many mystic and Sufi figures. Few scholars of the region, however, have chosen to study and research the two denominations, according to S. Chandrashekar, Pro Vice-Chancellor of the varsity.

“It’s mostly the Western scholars who have carried out research on these two religious denominations. There has been little work by the local people,” Chandrashekar told reporters after the first convocation of the university here on Saturday.

As part of the research, the centre will carry out extension work such as field visits to gather data that would be analysed and published later. Chandrashekar said that the varsity had already conducted a national seminar on the subject.

A. M. Pathan, Vice-Chancellor, CUK, said that the proposal for the centre had already been sent to the University Grants Commission (UGC). A response was expected by September-October, Chandrashekar said. The university also plans centres for the study of the lives of eminent personalities.

Kannada litterateur U. R. Ananthamurthy and Chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) Nandan Nilekani were conferred with honorary doctorates on the occasion.

The CUK would move to its new campus spread over 650 acres on Aland Road, 30 kilometres from Gulbarga, this August. At present, the varsity works out of a building rented by Gulbarga University. Three academic blocks are being built on the new campus. To begin with, the varsity would start courses in Advanced Science. Basic Ccience courses would commence later, Prof. Pathan said.

The Vice-Chancellor admitted that the university had not been successful in attracting the best of talent. For example, the university’s five-year integrated courses in arts and science have few takers. “It’s primarily the lack of awareness among the people. They still prefer the conventional degrees,” he explained.

The university has proposed several initiatives to attract students. For instance, the entire course and hostel facility are free for girls, irrespective of their caste or community. They just have to pay for food and other miscellaneous charges. Nearly 40 per cent of the posts of teachers (mainly mid- and high-level) in the university are vacant, Pathan said in response to a query.

The Central University Website.

[Picture: Location of Karnataka in India. Photo: Wiki.]
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Friday, May 25, 2012

Business of the Heart
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By Ibrahim Sajid Malick, *Sufism and the city* - The Express Tribune - Karachi, Pakistan; Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sufism and the city: Where else but in the world’s melting pot would you find a blend of Yoga and Sufi thought?

Completely exhausted and enervated three quarters into a 90-minute hot yoga workout, the voice of Kathryn Leary — an instructor at a Bikram Yoga facility in New York City reciting the great Sufi poet Rumi — invigorates and refreshes me. As the entire class lies on the floor focused on their breathing, Kathryn quotes from Rumi:

“This being human is a guest house. Every morning is a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor … Welcome and entertain them all. Treat each guest honorably. The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in. Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.”

Kathryn teaches more than Asanas — the physical exercise to optimise posture, endurance and strength. Like a good Sufi, she also encourages her students to open their heart to possibilities.

But before you make a mad dash to find a Sufi-Yogi hybrid, remember, she is still largely an exception! Most yoga instructors are extremely mechanical in their approach and act more like drill sergeants than mystical gurus.

With 18 million yogis spending nearly $6 billion annually, the business of meditation has undoubtedly reached an epochal moment in its deep engagement with mainstream America. Sufism, too, appears to be crossing the chasm to a more spacious public understanding of a once marginal group.

In the island of Manhattan, where I live, I can find more yoga studios than health clubs, and more people carrying yoga mats than any other sporting gear. The number of Sufi institutions has also grown — not nearly with the same pace, but nevertheless noticeably. Why is it, you may wonder, that the capital of materialism has taken to yoga? Physical and emotional health is, in my opinion, the main driver but there are a handful of yogis in New York seeking enlightenment as well.

Starting from when Parmahansa Yogananda came to America back in 1920, yoga has taken off in the United States for a variety of reasons.

In 1935, the Los Angeles Times reported on one of his lectures, saying: “The Philharmonic Auditorium presents the extraordinary spectacle of thousands … being turned away an hour before the advertised opening of a lecture with the 3,000-seat hall filled to its utmost capacity. Yogananda emphasised the underlying unity of the world’s great religions, and taught universally applicable methods for attaining direct personal experience of God.”

Since those early days, eastern mysticism has made a home for itself in the US.

Another spiritual teacher, Swami Rama, a family friend with whom I had an audience more than two decades ago, was also able to establish himself quickly in the US. Sent by his teacher who had taken him into the Himalayan Tradition of cave yogis at the age of three, Swami Rama came to the West with traditional teachings from the cave monasteries and Patanjali’s sutras. When his teacher, Bengali Baba, sent him on his mission to the West, Sri Swami Rama asked him what he was to teach Americans. “Teach them not to be afraid,” he was instructed.

Swami Rama worked with the Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kansas. The Menninger experiments were deemed significant in the scientific community because it provided powerful support to biofeedback research. Swami Rama was able to demonstrate that body functions that had formerly been considered involuntary could be controlled through training the mind.

According to the National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicines, Americans practice yoga “for a variety of health conditions including anxiety disorders or stress, asthma, high blood pressure and depression. People also use Yoga as part of a general health regimen—to achieve physical fitness and to relax.”

And it is very consistent with my informal research of yogis — and I call it informal because my primary methodology was chatting with fellow yogis in and outside of the studios. I have heard everything: yoga improves mood and sense of well-being, reduces stress, heart rate and blood pressure, increases lung capacity, improves muscle relaxation and body composition, and positively affects levels of certain brain chemicals. Very few have said they are looking for nirvana.

Compare that to Sufism — pretty much everyone claims to be searching for the higher truth — to elevate consciousness — reparation of the heart from all else but God. My fellow Sufis in New York want to travel into the presence of the Divine and purify their inner self. But of course, there are exceptions to this rule as well.

Abdul Rahim, the secretary of the Nur Ashki Jerrahi Sufi Order, tells me that people want to get to the “core” and build a direct relationship with God. He thinks that the increasing popularity of Sufism is also due to a rejection of “dogmatic” religion.

Sheikha Fariha al Jerrahi, who leads this community of dervishes, delivers a weekly lecture after Maghrib prayers every Thursday in downtown New York at the Dergah al Farah, in which people from all religious and even non-religious backgrounds participate. Some observe the ‘Zikr’, while others simply observe — and my own personal observation is that the crowd just keeps getting larger. This order has circles throughout the US and Mexico and allows entry to “seekers and students of all religious and non-religious paths.”

I ran into two Pakistani men at a Thursday Zikr session, both of whom confirmed that it’s the ‘progressive’ nature of worship that attracts them to this Sufi order. A young woman was called on to recite the Azaan before Maghrib and men and women stood side-by-side to offer prayers. I asked these Pakistani men if they would go to a mosque in their hometown of Karachi if the call for prayer was led by a woman and the response was inconclusive and hedged at best. It’s particularly telling that they didn’t want to be identified in this article because they didn’t want to be ostracised by their families and friends.

Both of these Pakistani men had come because Thursday Zikr at this downtown dargah is open to the public and anyone can join this interesting and rather musical session.

This open and inclusive approach is just another reason Sufism seems to be gaining currency in the US.

Many Americans are now familiar with the great Sufi mystic writer Rumi. His words of wisdom are found not only on Facebook pages and on Twitter but also in the cubicles of offices in corporate America.

Elliot Miller, who writes for the Christian Research Institute, states: “The current interest in Sufism can be largely explained by pointing to the same factors which account for the popularity of several diverse Eastern mystical traditions among Westerners. These factors include a hunger for life transforming spiritual experiences, and an attraction to monistic belief systems.”

British Orientalist Martin Lings comments: “A Vendantist, a Taoist or a Buddhist can find in many aspects of Islamic mysticism, a ‘home from home’, such as he could less easily find in Christianity or Judaism.”

Oprah Winfrey recently did Sufism a favour by including it in Super Soul Sunday on her OWN Network. Sufi mystic Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee defined Sufism and explained why it’s about love and the heart. The fact that he was sitting under the oaks at Oprah’s home in California, was the best endorsement Sufism has had thus far.

I recently had a very interesting and candid conversation with Adnan Sarhan, the 80-year-old head of the Sufi Foundation in America. Hailing from Baghdad, he now teaches in New York, London, Paris and San Francisco as well as in his 40-acre Albuquerque, New Mexico, facility. When asked what Sufism is about, he replies: “It is about breathing, movement and heart.”

When the University of New Mexico asked him to teach a course on Sufism, he agreed but requested to change the title from ‘Sufism’ to ‘Dance’. “People lined up to take this ‘dance’ class- and I showed them how to control their body by mastering breathing techniques.” Many of his students eventually took a spiritual path after this gentle introduction.

Adnan drops a Hadith here and there and a Quranic verse enter his conversation every once in a while but his discourse is not specific to Islam. Religion, he says, is a code of conduct. It’s a matter of intellect, while Sufism is the business of the heart.

But Adnan has found a more grounded and perceptible technique for those of us who demand empirical evidence — he primarily dwells in the physicality of the practice. Instead of teaching mysticism, he demonstrates to his students how to control breathing to optimise flexibility of muscles, enhance postures and unleash creative potential. Therefore, it is no surprise that many of his followers are artists and dancers hoping to find a secret key that will take them to the top of their artistic ventures.

“Taking action is critical,” says Adnan. “It is more fun to dance, play sports and engage in physical activities rather than being lazy and inactive. Dance comes from the heart and it brings spirituality and peace. Dance is the yearning of the soul for freedom.”

Many cynics and puritans frown upon people like Bikram Chaudhry or Adnan Sarhan for making mysticism a consumer product — a kind of ‘McYoga’ or ‘McSufism’ for lack of a better term. But I personally believe a consumerist approach also makes these experiences accessible to mere mortals such as myself. And once you have that access and you take a step on this particular journey, who’s to say where it will lead you?

[Visit the Nur Ashki Jerrahi Community]

[Visit the Sufi Foundation of America].
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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Peace Is the Precondition
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By TCN News, *MSO holds annual meet in Ajmer, vows to work for peace in society* - Two Circles Net - Cambridge, MA, USA; Thursday, May 17, 2012

MSO holds annual meet in Ajmer, vows to work for peace in society

Ajmer: Muslim Students Organization of India MSO, an apex body of Sufi oriented Muslim youths organised its annual general meeting at Ajmer Shareef where various burning Muslim issues including education, employment, Terrorism, Extremism were discussed.

The Meeting was attended by various dignitaries of national level and from Dargah Ajmer Shareef.

The two-day convention started on 16th May. The State committees of almost all the states of the country participated in which Babar Ashraf, National Secretary of All India Ulema and Mashaikh Board gave a brief description of the current scenario of Sufism which is “facing threat because of the intolerant, extremist infamous Wahabi ideology which is getting a space among peaceful traditional Indian Muslims indoctrinating wrong beliefs which is against the beliefs of Sunni Sufi Community who represents majority of Muslims in India.”

He further emphasized that it’s the need of hour especially “to the young to come forward and strive hard to combat Wahabi menace and contribute to deliver the true and peaceful message of Islam so that the coming generation may play a vital role to form a Peaceful developing nation as Peace is the precondition for development.”

Director of Sunni Markaz, Calicut, Kerala Dr. Abdul Hakeem Azhari asked the youths to first learn and develop character to serve mankind. In all the societies, Islam must be preached in most tolerant manner. “Our duty is to spread this message of Islam to save humanity from darkness.”

They decided that MSO and SSF (Sunni Students Federation) will strive hard to spread this message among the youths in Universities and colleges from July across the country.

MSO National president Syed Muhammad Quadri conducted special class on Purification of the heart. He told the youths that our heart must be clear from all evils and self egos. Our services should be without self interest. Today society needs peace of mind and humane touch. We can win the heart of society through selfless and love based services. To serve humankind is true message of Islam.

Dr. Sarwar Razwi Alig from Allahabaad, Shahnawaz Warsi, Gen Secretary of MSO, Shujaat Ali Quadri, National Secretary, Er Abdul Raoof, SSF Convener Banglore, Zuhairuddin Noorani from West Bengal also spoke on the occasion.

The Meet was inaugurated by Dr. Wahid Hussain Chishti, Secretary of Dargah Committee. Mohammad Habeeb Khan Member of Rajastahn Public Service Commission also encouraged the youths to work hard in their education.

Picture: Syed Dr. Wahid Chishti Sahi (Secretary of Dargah Ajmer Shareef) inaugurating the National delegates conference.
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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Innocent Pawns
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By Sohail Hashmi, *Heritage encroached* - The Hindu -India; Saturday, May 12, 2012

Heritage encroached: The controversy over the camping of Myanmar refugees in a protected area in Delhi has several dimensions, the most important being that the land is home to a 13th Century mausoleum for Altamash's son, the second to be built in the Indian subcontinent.

The first monumental mausoleum built in the Indian subcontinent belongs to Qutub-ud-Din Aibak, built in 1210, it is to be found at the bustling Anarkali Bazar in Lahore. The second, the Mausoleum of Nasir-ud-Din Mahmood, the eldest son of Altamash (Iltutmish) built in 1231 is located opposite Pocket C of Vasant Kunj in Delhi

Nasir-ud-Din Mahmood was governor of Bengal, then known as Lakhnauti, and was killed there, his body was brought to Delhi and Altamash started building the mausoleum to his beloved son. What stands today is an incomplete structure because the octagonal platform atop the grave was clearly meant to be built over. Had Altamash not died within five years of his son's death a dome would probably have come up above the platform with a cenotaph as is the pattern repeated in all monumental mausoleums.

The structure that looks like a small fortress with its four bastions, one at each corner, is popularly known as Sultan Garhi. This is a corruption of the original Sultan-e-Ghaari (the king of the cave) so called because the original grave is located in a kind of a crypt that one has to climb into.

Over the centuries the mausoleum has come to be venerated by the local population as the shrine of a Sufi or Peer. This conversion of a dead prince into a Sufi is strangely responsible for the preservation of this remarkable structure and is now the cause of its encroachment and this is the dilemma that conservationists face in preserving what are known as living monuments.

The graves of Nasir-ud-Din's brothers Ruknuddin Feroze Shah and Muizzudin Bahram Shah, a stone inscription that mentions the building of a water tank in 1361 and a mosque probably dating to the time of Firoze Tughlaq and the ruins of an old village that was inhabited till 1947 are other structures that lie scattered about this 30 acre piece of land under the protection of the ASI.

The village that grew around the mausoleum was a Muslim majority village and those that lived in the ruins that lie scattered were either consumed by the madness of the times or those who were lucky escaped, virtually by the skin of their teeth. The mausoleum remained because it had come to be venerated, both by the Hindus and the Muslims.

Post 1947 the locals, now almost exclusively Hindus, continued to flock here every Thursday, gradually as things settled down some Muslims too started coming here and so an ASI protected monument, recently preserved through ASI-INTACH joint effort, was gradually being turned into the shrine of a non-existent Sufi. Some had even begun to present the joint ownership as a fine example of communal harmony

It would have continued to lead its obscure existence, probably one day quietly turning into a shrine just as many other monuments have in Delhi, turning into temples or mosques or Sufi shrines with local politicians lending support to encroachers and conservationists eventually reconciling to losing one more part of a heritage that no one seems to be too worried about. This well established routine has however been disrupted through the intervention of a new player, the arrival of more than a 1000 refugees from Myanmar, the erstwhile Burma.

Why the refugees from Myanmar are camping here is a strange story of callousness and apathy that this city exhibits on a fairly regular basis. The Myanmar refugees were initially camping in front of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Vasant Vihar. They were demanding that they be recognized as refugees and be given that status, the UNHCR was taking his time, such bodies always do.

Meanwhile, the residents of Vasant Vihar, who did not like so many hungry and ill clad people crowding their neighbourhood complained. The voices of the complainants were heard with alacrity. Such voices are always heard with alacrity. Had the same alacrity been shown to solve the problems of the refugees they would have been taken to a place where they would not be exposed to the elements, but the idea was to remove them from Vasant Vihar and then when they were out of sight things could go back to routine.

Unfortunately things show no signs of going back to normal, the villagers who venerate the non-existent Sufi have threatened action if these people are not moved out by May 15 and they have been promised results by that date. Meanwhile, an uneasy peace prevails with a police picket in position keeping the curious away and no one seems to be asking the questions that need to be asked.

Who told the Myanmar refugees about this place, who told them that they could shift there, who arranged the shift, who gave the permission. Did anyone bother to ask the ASI or the National Heritage Commission? Is this another encroachment being orchestrated with the poor refugees being innocent pawns, just as poor migrants have been used on earlier occasions in other parts of the city.

Picture: The Mausoleum of Nasir-ud-Din Mahmood, the eldest son of Altamash (Iltutmish) built in 1231 is located opposite Pocket C of Vasant Kunj in Delhi. Photo: V. V. Krishnan.
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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Burying the Hatchets
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By Ruslan Kurbanov, *Dagestani Muslims: From Confrontation to Peace* - OnIslam.net - Egypt - Sunday, May 6, 2012

Dagestani Muslims: From Confrontation to Peace

Dagestan is the most unique region of Russia located between Caspian sea and Chechnya. Beginning from the moment of its being part of Russia 200 years ago till now, it has continued to impact very seriously on social and political processes of all Caucasian region. During all this period Dagestani Muslims have been trendsetters for their neighbors in the matters of Islam, Shariah, war and peace.

Religious and Ethnic Structure

First of all, Dagestan, with its 3 million population, is the most Islamized region of Russia. The process of spreading Islam has begun here since 642 AD, in the period of Caliph Umar, when the Muslim army occupied Derbent (or Bab aul-Abwab) - the biggest Dagestan city of that time.

Throughout its Muslim history, Dagestan has turned to be a center of Islamic knowledge, science and enlightenment. But in the Soviet period all Islamic heritage and potential of Dagestan to a great extent has been terminated. Nevertheless, the booming process of Islamic revival in Dagestan started immediately after the collapse of the USSR

Second, Dagestan, being the biggest Caucasian region within Russia, has the most complicated ethnic structure. According to the specialists, about 40 native indigenous tribes live in Dagestan: Avars, Dargins, Lezgis, Kumyks, Laks, Tabasarans, Noghays, Rutuls, Aghuls and others. The biggest Dagestani tribe is Avars (about 800 thousand people). The population of smallest tribes like Archis, Gunzibs, Ginukhs consist only of one village (about 500 people).

Third, the Muslim society of Dagestan is extremely heterogeneous. Among Dagestani Muslim communities with longest history can be named Sufis, Salafis and Fuqaha of Imam ash-Shafi’i Madhab. The community of Islamic reformers who follow the ideas of Jamaluddin al-Afghani, Rashid Rida, Muhammad Abduh appeared here about a hundred years ago.

Today the number of new Muslim communities is continuing to grow. They include jamaats of Ikhwan ul-Muslimeen, Hizb ut-Tahrir, at-Tabligh, Said Nursi and so on. But the most influential communities till now are Sufis and Salyafis. Yet even these two communities are not homogeneous too.

As for Sufi community, there are three Tariqahs in Dagestan – Naqshbandiyah, Qadiriya and Shaziliyah. Every big Dagestan tribe has its own Sufi sheikhs, but with no recognition for each other. The main groups within Salafi community are Salafiya al-Jihadiya and Salafiya ad-Da’wiya.

Since the collapse of the USSR, the Dagestan Muslims have gained wide freedom in organizing their religious activity, building Mosques, going for Hajj or traveling abroad for Islamic education. But some kinds of religious activities in Dagestan still remain restricted, such as the idea of establishing political Islamic parties or establishing alternative spiritual boards on Muslim affairs.

It’s worthwhile to say that the Sufi community has managed to control the official spiritual board of Dagestani Muslims during post-Soviet period, and has worked very close with the government. As for the Salafi community, on the contrary, it has been oppressed. In Dagestani constitution till now there is a law which prohibits “the Wahhabism and other extremist activity”.

Ideological struggle

The key moment in understanding the Dagestani realities is that during last 20 years after the collapse of the USSR the ideological struggle between Sufi and Salafi communities, according to some experts, has led Dagestan to the brink of latent civil war.

During the 20 years of confrontation between two communities many spiritual and political leaders of Dagestan have been killed, like Dagestani Mufti Sayyid Muhammad Abubakarov, first Russian to have obtained PhD in Shariah Murtaza, Ali Muhammadov, deputies to the Mufti, Ahmad Tagaev and Kura-Muhammad Ramazanov, Interior Minister Adilghirey Muhammad, Tahirov, two ministers for national and religious affairs Muhammad Salih Gusaev and Zahir Arukhov, hundreds of Imams, policemen and secret service officers.

The direct consequence of this conflict was the appearance of militant Jihadi groups which aim to destroy the secular political system of Dagestan and to establish an Islamic emirate on the territory of Northern Caucasus. Everyday clashes between these groups and police result in series of suicide bombing attacks in Dagestan and even in Moscow, in addition to kidnappings and executions of Muslim leaders, which has become a usual practice in the region.

In the heat of this struggle the two communities have blamed each other and accused each other of kufr (disbelief) bidaat (heresy) and “spoiling the pure Islam”. During these years the Dagestani officials, NGO’s leaders and some representatives of both communities have tried to bring the parties to the negotiating table. But all these previous attempts have failed.

Last two years the Salafi community has rapidly grown and intensified its activity. For example the leaders of Salyafi community have established an Association of Ahlu s-Sunnah wa l-Jamaah Ulama, taken part in organizing three protests which attracted thousands of people to denounce the extra-judicial prosecution of Salafi Muslims by the authorities. The community has also prepared a set of requirements to authorities including abrogation of “anti-Wahhaby law”, permission to Salafi community to establish their own mosques, madrasahs, university and media.

The way to peace

Everyday clashes between these groups and police result in series of suicide bombing attacks in Dagestan and even in Moscow

During these two last years Dagestan government has made several serious steps aimed to put an end to this tension, as well as meeting some of the requirements put forward by the Salafi community.. In addition the Dagestani Mufti Ahmad Abdullaev has appealed to all Dagestani Muslims to stop “pining labels on each others”

“Everyone who obeys the Shariah should follow as-Salaf as-Saliheen, should consider himself from Ahlu s-Sunnah and be a Murid in the way of serving Allah,” said Mufti.

Moreover the Spiritual Board of Dagestani Muslims has liquidated its department on religious expertise of Islamic books, audio and videos production which during last years has cracked dow on what it termed as Wahhaby propaganda”. In addition to that, at the end of April, 2012 the leaders of Salafi and Sufi communities of Dagestan have met in the Central Mosque of Dagestan capital, Makhachkala, for burying the hatchets.

This meeting can be described as historical because of the past 20- year ideological struggle and tension between the two communities. At this meeting the Salafi and Sufi communities’ leaders managed to reach an agreement on stopping the ideological confrontation.

In his opening address at the meeting, Dagestani Mufti Ahmad Abdullaev declared: “Today’s meeting proves that Dagestan is the land of Allah’s grace. Our ancestry always had courage to fight for Islam and now we should have courage to sit around negotiating table and remove disagreements between Muslim communities of Dagestan”.

At the end of the meeting the leaders of two communities adopted a common resolution presented by the Spiritual Board of Dagestani Muslims and Association of Ahlu s-Sunnah wa l-Jamaah Ulama. Highly featuring in this document are the phrases like “compliance with the Qur’an and Sunnah”, “following the four Imams of Muslim Ummah – Abu Hanifa, Malik, ash-Shafi’i and Ahmad ibn Hanbal”.

The leader of the Association of Ahlu s-Sunnah wa l-Jamaah Ulama Halil-Rahman Shamatov believes that “the results of this meeting will appear in the nearest future”. “We have outlined the complex of problems and we’ll solve them step by step,” said Shamatov.

The Imam of the Central Mosque of Makhachkala Muhammad-Rasul Saaduev thinks that “this meeting will help to overcome existing disagreement between Dagestani Muslims”. “We have agreed to work together in order to bring peace, stability and prosperity to Dagestan,” he said.

As for Dagestani Minister for National and Religious Affairs Bekmurza Bekmurzaev at the end of that meeting he expressed assurance that “Dagestani Muslims will come to the accord”. The President of Dagestan Magomed-Salam Magomedov also supports this peacemaking process. “We need in joint efforts of all social, ethnic and social groups to defeat an evil, - he said, - Only by this way we can ensure peace and order in Dagestan”.
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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Archaeology and Sufi Shrines
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By Jini Reddy, *Saints and singers in Pakistan's Punjab* - The Guardian - London, UK; Friday, May 4, 2012

Saints and singers in Pakistan's Punjab: A new tour of Pakistan's Punjab province offers mystical culture, amazing food and friendly homestays

"Come to Islam," says 16-year-old Mohammed Irfan, as I enter the courtyard of the exquisite blue-tiled Eidgah mosque in Multan, a hot, dusty town in Pakistan's Punjab province, known – or rather, barely known – as the City of Saints.

"I come here and pray for wealth, a long life, so that we're able to eat, and for good results in school. I've been coming for a long time, and as a result, I've come first in my class in my exams," he beams, his smile as dazzling as the mirror mosaics that adorn the shrine to Sufi saint Ahmad Saeed Kazmi, a scholar and spiritual teacher.

Sufism is the mystical arm of Islam, and the Punjab is the Sufi heartland of Pakistan. The scene of centuries of cultural invasions, it's also the country's wealthiest and greenest province (despite the blistering expanses of the Cholistan desert, on its south-eastern edge), stretches from Sindh province in the south to the foothills of the Himalayas in the north, and is home to more than half of Pakistan's population.

Alas, the few tourists who make it here usually shoot up the Karakoram Highway to the rugged, frontier northern districts. Understandably so, as Pakistan's mountains are unendingly beautiful, but the Punjab, with its Mughal and pre-Mughal architecture, jewel-like shrines and mosques, desert dunes and farmland, and ancient towns and cities, begs to be explored, too.

Which is how I come to travel five hours south from Lahore to the 4,000-year-old city of Multan. It's a traffic warden's nightmare, with mopeds, autorickshaws and donkey carts doing battle on the streets. I'm with a small group, led by Sohail Azhar, the British-Pakistani founder of London-based tour operator TravelPak, chatting to a group of schoolboys in the mosque. They, like everyone I meet in the Punjab, are balm to the soul: warm-hearted, jolly, and politely curious about the visitors in their midst.

The Eidgah mosque aside, Multan has its share of must-see monuments, (including the stunning mausoleum of Sufi saint Shah Rukn-e-Alam, and the lovely, if unimaginatively titled, Institute of Blue Pottery Development – great for watching the artists at work, and buying gifts ) but it is also our base for an excursion to the small town of Uch Sharif.

Once controlled by Alexander the Great, and one of the oldest centres of learning in Pakistan (the name means "holy high place"), the town is about three hours' drive to the south of Multan. It's on the edge of the Cholistan desert, a vast, thorny acacia-dotted landscape, with nomadic herders leading camels and goats to water holes. The bastions of the derelict Derawar Fort are visible for miles. Every year in February and March, pilgrims flock to this part of the desert to pay their respects at the shrine of the "sand dune saint", Channan Pir, a child abandoned in the desert, according to legend.

As I climb the steps to Uch's exquisite blue-tiled shrine to the (tongue-twisting) saint Jalaluddin Surkh-posh Bukhari, I'm intercepted by a stocky fellow in a red hat, who places his hand on my forehead and mutters a few words, before shuffling away. Have I been blessed by a Pir, a Sufi religious leader-cum-faith healer?

"Genuine Pirs are thought to have inherited their spiritual powers," Sohail had said on the way here. "People consult them on anything from religious matters to medical problems like infertility – or even family relationships." Sadly, my benediction is a false one: a small boy sidles up, points to the man in the hat, and makes a "crazy" sign.

I pass a handful of devotees in the courtyard and at the entrance to the darkened shrine, a guardian leads me to the saint's tomb, which is wreathed in velvet drapes. My head is placed under the fabric, and muffled blessings for health, wealth and prosperity wash over me. It's a long, disorienting moment, but also a comforting one.

There are more poetic incantations later that night, when we walk over to the mausoleum of Baha-ud-Din Zakaia to listen to a Qawwali singer. Qawwalis, or devotional songs, are at the heart of Sufi religious practice – the aim of the music is to lead listeners into a state of spiritual ecstasy. There is certainly a mystical quality to it, and the complex is thick with incense, candles and the shapes of followers quietly padding about barefoot.

"The poet Rumi likened a Qawwali to listening to the divine creaking of the gates of heaven," says Sohail.

Later we enjoy sustenance of a different nature, in the village of Daultala, four hours north-west of Lahore, when Sohail whisks us off to the home his late father had built shortly before his retirement. Expecting modest quarters, I'm taken aback when we reach a three-storey compound, behind high gates and surrounded by meadows.

Within, I count 10 bedrooms, most with en suite bathrooms. The welcoming committee – Sohail's aunt, Hala, lives here, as do various cousins, nieces and other members of his extended family – is as large as it is gracious. Within minutes of arriving there's a home-cooked meal on the table: lamb curry, rice, patties made from meat and chickpeas, a kind of raita with vegetables, chapatis and rice pudding. It's utterly delicious, and my attempt to express my thanks, shukriya in Urdu, feels woefully inadequate.

"Are you married?" 23-year-old Huma, the glossy-haired wife of one of Sohail's cousins, wants to know. It's a question I'm asked over and over in Pakistan. And the reaction to my response – an embarrassed shake of the head (I'm no spring chicken) – is always the deepest, sweetest sympathy.

After dinner, I head up to the roof and, in the fading light, survey a pastoral scene that would be timeless – blossoming flowers, fragrant air, kids playing cricket in the fields, flat-roofed and pastel-coloured houses, the silhouettes of villagers bent over their crops – were it not for the rather incongruous sight of a ferris wheel in the distance. Yes, the funfair has come to Daultala, and we are going.

Butterflies and passersby flit around us as we stroll along the country lanes. Foreigners are a rarity and special fascination is reserved for Ryan, the young American in our group. "Now I know how Madonna feels," he quips.

The funfair rides would make a health and safety officer shudder – they're rickety, rusty and divinely antiquated. Still, the merry-go-round doesn't collapse under my weight, and how often does one get to ride one surrounded by a mesmerised 20-deep crowd of grown men?

Later, we weave past colourful food and fabric stalls to the gurdwara, or Sikh temple. It's a crumbling ruin – the Sikhs left after Partition in 1947, explains Sohail, and the gurdwara was used as a school until it was damaged in the 2005 Kashmir earthquake – but my torch illuminates stone pillars, balconies and delicate lattice-work.

The walk back to the village in the cool of the evening feels like a strange dream. One of Sohail's nieces takes my hand and begins to sing. The tune sounds familiar: it's Celine Dion's My Heart Will Go On. Not in Urdu though. Or English. But Mandarin Chinese. "I learnt it at school," she says casually. I'm startled, but perhaps ought not to be – the friendship between the two countries is an enduring one.

We wind up our Punjab tour in the city of Lahore, the cultural and artistic mecca of Pakistan. A former Mughal capital, it's home to the sublime Badshahi Mosque, its creamy marble domes and sandstone minarets much more than the sum of its parts. Opposite it, and adjacent to the walled Old City, is the Lahore Fort, containing a maze of gardens, halls and palaces. My favourite, the Palace of Mirrors, filled with glittering, multicoloured mosaics, was built by Emperor Shah Jahan in 1632 for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It's not known whether she saw it before she died in childbirth – and her grief-stricken husband had the Taj Mahal built in her honour.

The best views of the mosque and fort – all soft and rose-tinted at sunset – are from the roof of Cooco's Den, a restaurant in the Heera Mandi, or red-light district, in the Old City. It's a stylish, if kitsch, restored haveli (mansion) and the owner, Iqbal Hussain, is a painter. His pictures of Lahore's voluptuous Nautch dancers – descendants of the city's fabled royal courtesans – adorn the walls. The home-style Pakistani fare, heavy on grills and kebabs, and once sampled by the likes of cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, isn't bad either.

One night, we check out Lollywood, Pakistan's answer to Tinseltown. A few weeks before, outside a mosque in Chitral, up in the mountains, I'd bumped into a film producer/actor (or "Hero", as leading men here like to be known). On hearing that we'd be in Lahore, he'd invited us to a shoot.

I'm not sure what we'd been expecting: lashings of glamour – and perhaps a contraband mini-skirt or two – however, but the forlorn complex in a back lot that our driver Rachid, nearly cannot find is anything but. Shan, our minder and as luvvy as they come, tells us that Shahid Khan, a star of Pashto-language films, is on set right now. When the cameras whirr, neither he nor his leading lady can deliver more than two words of dialogue, before the director screams "cut". Stifling our giggles, we leave them to it.

The next night Javed, a guide, English teacher and friend of Sohail, takes me to his home he shares with his wife and children, in the red-light district. We wander down narrow streets, ablaze with neon. There are vendors hawking savoury fried snacks, sweets and paan, dozens of dhabas (informal food joints).

The Phajja Paye restaurant is famous for its sticky goats' trotters, although tongue, brain and jawbone are also on the menu. "It's the best known restaurant in all of Lahore,'' says Javed. "Men are drawn here like bees to honey." It's not just for the food. The air is thick with anticipation, but the ladies of the night, so vividly rendered in Cooco's Den, won't be putting in an appearance until the wee hours of the morning, he tells me.

We veer off sharply, down an alley that is momentarily plunged into darkness, thanks to nightly electricity shortages. Javed flicks on his lighter, and I follow him through a narrow entrance and up a cramped staircase, into the tiny, immaculate flat. Waiting to greet us are his wife, Selma, and three young children. I'm ushered into the living room, which also doubles as the bedroom.

After a little chit-chat, Selma produces a dinner of barbecued chicken, even though I've only come for tea, and the household has eaten. The family watch me tuck in, and when I've finished licking my fingers, Javed, who is also a poet, reads from his work.

It's an exalted moment – the flickering flame, the haunting verse. I don't need Qawwalis or Sufi holy men to experience a communion with the divine – it is right here, around the hearth of a warm and open-hearted Lahori family.

Way to go

The trip was provided by TravelPak (08445 558855, travelpak.co.uk). The firm runs two tours which feature the Punjab – Pakistan's Cities: 5,000 Years of History and Culture (13 days, from £1,445 excluding flights) and Pakistan's Archaeology and Sufi Shrines (14 days, from £1,495, excluding flights). Both tours run October–May.

International flights were provided by Oman Air (08444 822309, omanair.com) which flies from Heathrow to Lahore from £625 return

Picture: Ornate family tombs near Derawar Fort, Uch Sharif, Pakistan. Photo: The Guardian.
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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Splitting the Society
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By Riyaz Wani, *The Fight for Kashmir’s Soul* - Tehelka Magazine - India; Vol 9, Issue 13, Dated 31 Mar 2012

The Fight for Kashmir’s Soul: Wahhabis. Deobandis. Tablighi Jamaat. Orthodox outfits have been turning the Valley into a bastion of puritanical Islam. But the Sufis are fighting back to regain their moorings.

A colourful procession stretched a mile long along the picturesque Dal lake. A truck carrying preachers in green turbans was followed by thousands of faithfuls waving green flags. Some people were busy at makeshift kitchens on the roadside where tehri (turmeric-dyed rice), salt tea and kehwa were served to the devotees.

The occasion was not a political rally but the celebration of Eid Milad (Prophet’s birthday) on 12 February. Organised by Minhajul Islam, a newly-floated Barelvi outfit, the procession was a not-so-veiled attempt to reassert the Valley’s Sufi tradition and reclaim the religious space ceded to the conservative Wahhabi Islam.

It was the first time in the past two decades that the festival attracted such a massive crowd — estimated to be around 1 lakh [one hundred thousand] people.

Similar events were held at shrines housing the Prophet’s relics. Bazaars and government offices were lit up, adding to the festive air. Understandably, this uninhibited display of festivities didn’t go down well with the adherents of puritanical Islam, who want celebrations to be “austere and exclusively devoted to worship”.

Over the past two decades, the orthodox Deobandi Islam has spread through an extensive network of madrassas, followed by the Wahhabi Islam propagated by the Jamiat Ahle Hadith (JAH). Together, they have gone a long way in reshaping the Valley’s religious landscape.

The JAH owns around 700 mosques, 150 schools and claims a membership of 15 lakh people, which has made it an influential entity even though it doesn’t indulge in any demonstrative political activity.

It is between these religious traditions — antithetical in their stance on Islam — that Kashmir is getting inexorably split. Even though the conflict is not yet out in the open, the two religious sects are busy building up their mutually exclusive domains that don’t see eye to eye.

It is a battle for the soul of Kashmir between the Valley’s Sufi moorings and its newfound fascination with a mix of Deobandi and Wahhabi Islam.

After having a free run in the Valley for the past two decades, conservative Islam, which saw its influence rise with the growth of the separatist movement, is confronted with a sudden proliferation of Barelvi outfits. In the past four years, several Barelvi organisations claiming to be the custodians of Kashmir’s Sufi moorings have sprung up to challenge the growing power of the Wahhabi faith.

“We are here to resurrect Sufi Islam,” says Minhajul Islam chief Maulana Mohiudin Naqeeb, who thinks Wahhabism is primarily a political strain of Islam. “It is the Sufis who brought Islam to the Valley. Their shrines have a spiritual significance as they mediate our relationship with God. Nobody should stop us from visiting them.”

Minhajul Islam is part of an amalgam of 45 Barelvi outfits called Karwan-e-Islam, which is working for the revival of the Valley’s “Sufi soul”. The alliance is led by Maulana Ghulam Rasool Hami, the Imam at Srinagar’s Dastigeer Sahib, one of Kashmir’s pre-eminent Sufi shrines.

The Karwan-e-Islam has plans to establish the Valley’s first Sufi university, named after Sheikh-ul-Alam, Kashmir’s patron saint. The university, besides teaching all modern subjects, will sponsor research on Kashmir’s Sufi saints.

However, the proposal is still hanging fire with the state government, which, incidentally is also sitting over a similar proposal from the JAH. In fact, the government has already allotted land for the Jamiat university, to be called Transworld Muslim University. But the final nod has yet to come after differences arose during discussions in the Assembly in 2009.

But the bid for the universities — Minhajul Islam also has an individual proposal to revive Shah-i-Hamdan’s Sufi university at the shrine of Makhdoom Sahib — is a sideshow to the competitive grassroots work that is redrawing the battlelines.

If a recent study by the Union home ministry is anything to go by, a majority of youth are seeking refuge in religion. And a substantial portion of them make up the ranks of conservative Islam, propagated by the JAH and Darul Ulooms inspired by the Deobandi school of thought.

This generation rejects the idea of the Sufi shrines being a source of salvation or the saints being the agency mediating the connection between their followers and God.

These youth are not satisfied with their individual sense of salvation. They want to transform society. Over the past two decades, their sphere of operation has widened from the Darul Ulooms into everyday community life. A new debate about the nature of “essential Islam” is raging in Kashmiri households. As a result, there is an emerging polarisation that is not easily discernible to the naked eye.

Ordinary Kashmiri households are a living proof of this new reality. One such house is that of Sufi-oriented Abdul Gafoor at Ganderbal. Two years ago, his trendy, jeans-wearing son Sajid Gafoor, 23, went through a sudden spiritual transformation after his chance association with the followers of Tablighi Jamaat, an offshoot of the proponents of conservative Islam. He started praying five times a day, donned a skullcap and grew a long beard. And it wasn’t long before he started questioning his parents’ faith in Sufi dargahs, saying the shrines had no divine authority and the saints buried there were mere mortals.

“He told us we were committing shirk (worshipping anyone other than God) and therefore transgressing the boundaries of religion. Our rebuff made him only more rebellious,” says Gafoor. “But we told him that Kashmir is a Pir Waer (Valley of dervishes) and it was because of these dervishes that Islam had spread here.”

The tension at Gafoor’s house, if not transparently evident, is palpable in the evolving religious discourse of the Valley. It plays out in every locality, village and mosque with the debate centered on the rival claims to the allegiance to what is perceived to be bona fide Islam.

Some people such as Sufi scholar Hameed Naseem Rafiabadi call this transformation one of the most radical in the 700-year Islamic history in the Valley — a sweeping transition from the Sufi tradition to the puritanical Islam. “A few decades ago, it was only a few families in Srinagar who espoused conservative Islam. Now, there are thousands of followers, a constituency that is now duly played to by the political parties,” says Rafiabadi, the author of the book Islam and Sufism in Kashmir.

But there is now a deliberate effort to reverse this orthodox juggernaut. And it is here that things are getting complex. For the first time in history, Sufi Islam is getting organised and aggressively promoting devotion to shrines. What is more, there is now a competitive race to enlist followers.

“We have around 4,000 khatibs (prayer-leaders) and 30,000 more are undergoing training,” says Karwan-e-Islam head Hami. The amalgam also has 50 Darul Ulooms and madrassas where they teach Quran and Hadith. “Around 30,000 students study in the madrassas but we plan to take the number to three lakh in another five years.”

Karwan-e-Islam also plans to hold an international Islamic conference in May where it will invite leading Sufi scholars such as Allaudin Siddiqui from the UK, Syed Ali Jami of Egypt, Dr Tahir-ul-Qadiri and Alama Hanif-u-Din from Pakistan and Sheikh Abubaker Shafi from Kerala, besides a number of others from Central Asia.

On the other hand, the JAH is pinning its hopes on the expected visit of the Imam of Mecca later this year. “We have invited him and he has assured that he will come,” says JAH general secretary Abdul Rehman Bhat. With 700 mosques and 150 Darul Ulooms, JAH has already deeply entrenched itself in the Valley. “We have two part-time madrasas in every village,” says Bhat.

Similarly, the Deobandis have networked the Valley with some of the biggest Darul Ulooms in the state. Their Darul Uloom at Poonch has around 1,500 students and the one at Bandipora has 1,000 students. The Deobandis also have two major Darul Ulooms in Srinagar. They are the centres of exclusive religious learning, which between them turn out hundreds of moulvis and a number of muftis who then enter mainstream Kashmiri life and try to remould it in their own image.

But Barelvis don’t think Wahhabism encompasses the full gamut of faith. “Sufism takes care of Zahir and Batin (exterior and interior self ) whereas other schools of thought focus exclusively on the exterior meaning of Quran and Hadith,” says Hami. “We believe that only Sufism helps in full development of spirituality, recycles our self and liberates us from all ills.”

However, senior JAH leader Maulana Riyaz Ahmad says there is only one authentic version of Islam — “one prescribed by God and his Prophet”. He suspects there are deliberate efforts to “twist Islam” to suit the needs of the establishment.

“There cannot be a compromise Islam. Islamic principles cannot be adapted to taste,” says Ahmad, who is the brother of the late JAH president Maulana Showkat, who was killed in an IED explosion on 8 April 2011. “But we aren’t worried. Even if one percent follow the true path of Islam, they can usher in a revolution.”

BUT THE issue doesn’t end with this deepening polarisation. What is vitiating the atmosphere is the endemic perception about the government’s role in setting up Barelvi organisations as a counter to the proponents of conservative Islam. Equally, the conservatives themselves are not free of blame. They are also suspected to be the recipients of foreign funding.

Lending some credence to these suspicions was the home ministry’s reply to an RTI last December, in which it revealed that 362 madrassas in Jammu & Kashmir had been funded under the Scheme Providing Quality Education. However, all the religious outfits have denied any kind of government funding with Hami even holding a press conference to distance his madrassas from the controversy.

Besides, the distance both the Barelvis and conservatives have maintained from the politics of Kashmir have sowed doubts about their ideological outlook, more so in the separatist quarters who tellingly point to their silence through the successive summer revolts from 2008-10.

“We are witnessing the growth of an army of maulanas who maintain a safe distance from the ongoing turmoil in the state. But at the same time they are splitting the society along sectarian lines. We see their emergence as part of a deliberate strategy to weaken the movement,” says a leader of hardline Hurriyat, an amalgam that is otherwise accused of being a proponent of fundamentalist Islam.

A moderate Hurriyat leader has a similar take. “We have a hunch that there is a well-planned conspiracy to embroil Kashmir in a sectarian war. We look worryingly at this development,” he says.

Riyaz Wani is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka
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Sunday, March 25, 2012

I am His kite
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By Raza Rumi, *Lost spring in Lahore* - The Indian Express - India; Thursday, March 22

Lost spring in Lahore: With the ban on Basant in its fifth year, the city is a poorer place

Lahore, a centre for the arts and learning in the early 20th century, has been the custodian of a plural, vibrant culture for decades. Its walled city, unlike several other old settlements, has continued to survive despite the expansion of the city. So have its peculiar features: its dialects, cuisine, community linkages and, of course, rich festivals such as Basant. As the capital of Punjab, Lahore used to celebrate Basant — the arrival of spring — in a colourful manner.

Since the medieval times, Basant was acknowledged and celebrated by the Chishti saints. Nizamuddin Auliya of Delhi turned it into an act of devotion, and Amir Khusrau’s songs captured the multi-layered evolution of this festival.

Punjabi poets such as Shah Hussain gave a Sufi flavour to it. Hussain, in one of his kaafis, says: “The Beloved holds the string in his hand, and I am His kite.” The festival offered a meaning to all and sundry: from playful kids to lovers and Sufis; from profit-seekers who developed livelihoods around the festival to the community as a whole.

Basant was celebrated by all communities prior to Partition: Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs treated it as a Lahori festival with an identity linked to the city. In this milieu, Allama Iqbal was known to be an avid kite flier. But the post-1947 rise of clerics meant that inclusive cultural practices were to be treated with suspicion. For many decades, the Pakistani mullahs have ranted against Basant as an “unIslamic” festival and one that endangered public morality.

Unfazed by these fatwas, Lahoris continued with the festival. It even received state patronage on various occasions. A citizen of Lahore, Mian Yousaf Salahuddin (the grandson of Iqbal), turned his old Lahore haveli into a cultural hub and, over time, Basant celebrations became an international attraction. By the 1990s, proactive civil servants turned Basant into a great regional festival. Lahore’s then deputy commissioner, Kamran Lashari, provided full backing to the holding of this event in the 1990s. That was perhaps the time when Basant also became most controversial due to its scale and the increased hazards of unregulated kite-flying in which metallic or chemical-coated string was used.

The use of this string instead of the traditional dor caused many deaths each year and the local government was unable to enforce regulations on its usage. The metallic wire would get entangled in electricity cables in the old city, leading to electrocution. The courts intervened and asked the Punjab government to ban the festival in 2007.

Ironically, the banning of Basant did not take place in the name of religion but through a public interest litigation. However, the ideological opponents of Basant have been happy with the outcome and have created an uproar each time someone raised the question of reviving Basant after putting safety measures in place. But Lahore is a poorer place now. It is devoid of this public celebration, especially for thousands of impoverished workers in the old city and neighbouring towns where Basant was celebrated with great fervour.

The last time a major Basant controversy erupted was when Punjab’s constitutional head was the slain governor, Salman Taseer. He was keen on the festival restarting in his tenure and he also asked the provincial government to introduce the required measures. But the court ban could not be undone. Thus, in 2009, he held a Basant festival in the lawns of the Governor House and made it an open house for Lahoris. Little did he know that, in a couple of years, a bigot would kill him for his secular and tolerant views.

Like several other realities of Pakistan, Basant deaths are a governance failure. Local governments tasked with the mandate to enforce social regulation are no longer there. Pervez Musharraf had introduced a system of devolved governance, which was undone by the ruling PPP and its allies and now no political party wants to revive them. With local participation, the use of inappropriate kite-flying materials could be checked and controlled.

But the PML-N, the ruling party in Punjab with a conservative support base, and an even more conservative judiciary have truncated a cultural continuum. It is a separate matter that terror outfits which celebrate death in the name of religion and preach violence are free to operate while a people’s festival is under intense judicial scrutiny and executive control.

Such are the ironies of contemporary Pakistan. The rich and the powerful organise their private parties with great fanfare in well-manicured gardens, while the ordinary people have to be content with doses of public safety and disguised religiosity.

Lahore’s true spring will return the day the Basant ban is removed and its pluralism is rescued from further vandalism in the name of “public interest”.

Rumi is a writer from Lahore

[Picture: A kite shop in India. Photo: Wiki.]
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Thursday, March 22, 2012

To Empower the Locals
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By Amrita Jain, *Young Storytellers’ Guild* - The Indian Express - New Delhi, India; Monday, March 19, 2011

At cave no. 9, Ajanta Caves, Akhtar Pervez is perched on a stone, watching tourists walking in. He offers to tell them the story of these caves.

His narrative is delivered in a loud and clear voice. His story is not like the parroted lines of professional guides; instead Pervez, 28, talks about the caves as if they were old friends.

They are old friends, for Pervez, a resident of Aurangabad, grew up in their shadow. “Researchers, painters and photographers have come here and they needed help. I would assist them. They, in turn, gave me a better understanding of the area,” he says.

Pervez isn’t the only local who has been roped in to guide visitors and academics through monuments. A number of initiatives across India have realised that localites bring a personal perspective into a narrative about a site.

Their renditions give history an emotional intensity and turn ruins into living memories.

In Delhi’s crowded Nizamuddin Basti, for instance, a heritage walk is in progress. At the helm is local lad Amir Ahmed, who points out the important places and the events that played out centuries ago. Yet, two years ago, Ahmed had no idea of the rich past of his birthplace.

“I used to play cricket here with other boys. We would only regard these structures as purani imarat,” he says.

He was trained in heritage by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC). Today, Ahmed coordinates the volunteer’s self-help group of AKTC.

“Our group consists of 15 boys from the basti. We undergo training, update our knowledge, plan routes and deliver talks to the locals about conservation,” he says.

The group also conducts heritage walks at Humayun’s Tomb and recently started the Sufi Trail by Rickshaw to include Sufi shrines around Nizamuddin.

In Bhuj, Gujarat, 20-year-old Vimal Shah was selected for training at the tourism programme by Kutch University. Now, he works as a guide for three months during the annual Kutch Festival.

“I have grown up in Bhuj and take pride in showing people around. It makes me realise the heritage value of this place,” he says.

Deeti Ray, Programme Officer, Cultural Revival, AKTC, says,

“Our idea was to empower the locals. This would make them sensitive to their area and aid conservation efforts as well as provide employment opportunity to the locals. The self-help volunteer groups are very independent. After we train them, they plan walks and activities independently. We are only facilitators.”

[Picture: Ajanta Caves, entrance of cave no. 9. Photo: Wiki.]
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Monday, March 19, 2012

Kirtan
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By Zeeshan Khan, *The Sultanate’s return* - Himal Southasian - Kathmandu, Nepal; Monday, March 12, 2012

The Sultanate’s return: Tracing the origins of Islamic Bangladesh.

In 1342, Shamsuddin Iliyas Shah, ruler of the kingdom of Shatgaon, annexed two other Muslim kingdoms in medieval Bengal, shortly after all three had declared independence from Delhi.

This enlarged kingdom, now called the Sultanate of Bangala, survived as an independent country for over 230 years, and in some sense can be considered a prototype for present-day Bangladesh.

Much of what Bangladeshis have inherited as their cultural and political legacy comes from the sultanate era: the name of the country, the currency, religious leanings, language and literature, many folk and spiritual traditions, and roughly the current territorial borders. Indeed, the political identity of Bengal through the ages – first as an independent sultanate, then as a Mughal, British and Pakistani province, and finally as a republic – has its genesis in this period.

Despite establishing a strong, self-assured and independent kingdom, however, the Iliyas Shah dynasty, hailing originally from Iran, remained a foreign presence in the Ganga delta.

Whether the largely Bengali-speaking Hindu and Buddhist population viewed their Persian-speaking Muslim rulers as occupiers cannot be known for certain. However, since as early as the reign of Shamsuddin Iliyas Shah’s grandson Gyasuddin Azam Shah, the dynasty’s rule was being undermined by an influential Hindu aristocratic landlord, Raja Ganesh.

In 1410, Ganesh successfully captured the state – aided in part by the infighting within the Shah family, with sons killing fathers for the throne – and became the de facto ruler of Bengal for the next five years.

Ostensibly, this rebellion was a reaction against the foreign nature of the sultanate administration; realistically, it was about control. Religious prejudices must also have played a significant part, as Raja Ganesh, upon seizing power, proceeded to persecute the Sufis of Pandua, site of what was then the largest mosque in Southasia.

Bengal had already become home to numerous Sufi saints of the Chishti order who, as was the custom of the time, enjoyed a close relationship with the king through a system of mutual patronage. A ruler’s legitimacy came from the moral endorsement implicit in his closeness to a respected saint. Conversely, the absence of patronage meant that the moral health of a reign could not be assured.

After coming to power, Raja Ganesh was neither afforded such patronage nor did he seek it, setting off alarm bells throughout the kingdom. Disturbed by the takeover, Nur Qutb i Alam, the foremost Sufi of Pandua, even invited the Muslim king of neighbouring Jaunpur to invade Bengal and overthrow the new king. Interestingly, however, Raja Ganesh was equally unpopular among the Hindu elite, whom he claimed to represent.

Chishti Sufis first entered Bengal in 1296. Shayekh Akhi Sirajuddin, the third saint of this order, arrived in 1357 on the command of his spiritual guide, Nizamuddin Awliya of Delhi. Sirajuddin left behind him a line of spiritual successors, of whom Nur Qutb was one.

Sufis were seen both by themselves and by the population as bringing social justice to a place with deep caste divisions, and where a militant Hinduism dealt heavy-handedly with Buddhists. Before the sultanate was established, a number of Sufis were killed for attempting to introduce social egalitarianism, and the rise of Raja Ganesh looked, for a time, like a return to the bad old days.

The intense power struggle that ensued between the Sufi saints and the new ruling dynasty finally ended with a compromise, whereby Ganesh’s son, Jadu, was allowed to ascend to the throne, but only after he converted to Islam.

The offer had originally been made to Ganesh himself, but he had declined. Evidently, Islam, above anything else, was the qualifier for ruling the sultanate, which for the first time was to be governed by a Bengali. This established the precedent that neither ethnicity nor lineage was of consequence in the government of Bengal, but also, more crucially, it preserved Islam as the moral authority in the Ganga delta.

As the first Bengali Muslim king, Jadu, now renamed Jallauddin, set off a process that saw Islam in the delta uncoupled from Persian-Arabic culture. Throughout his reign, Islam continued to fuse inextricably with Bengali culture, as is evident in the architecture of that period and in the development of Bangla as a parallel court language. Thus, by indigenising itself, the sultanate was able to outlive the dynasty that established it, and it would continue to exist as such despite several changes in leadership.

A state had emerged, and a nation – a Bengali Muslim one – was following close on its heels.

Gaur Vaishnavism

The Iliyas Shah family did return to power after the rule of Jallauddin’s son. But instead of reversing the policies of its Bengali predecessors, the reinstated dynasty continued to expand the process of indigenisation.

With the descendents of the Iranian Shah content to accommodate themselves in the new culture, the sultanate hastened to become a Bengali kingdom. This transformation signalled not just the robustness of Bengali civilisation, but also Islam’s ability to embed itself among the people it reached. To put it simply, Islam became Bengali, and Bengal became Muslim.

The Bengali sultanate reached its pinnacle under another ruling family – the Hussein Shah dynasty. After a series of coups and counter-coups by Abyssinian military officers, in 1493 Allauddin Hussein Shah came to power, ushering in the golden age of medieval Bengali history.

During this period, Bengali language and literature found patronage and subsequently proliferated throughout the sultanate. The system of imposing per capita tax on non-Muslims, called jizya, was abolished, and non-Muslims were also appointed to high ranks within the administration. Territorially, the sultanate expanded and also experienced an unprecedented era of peace and prosperity, during which Bengali Hindu society transformed to give rise to a fusion of Hindu mysticism and Sufism.

Mutual curiosity between different religious orders had existed in Bengal since as far back as the 12th century, when Amrtakunda (The pool of life), a Sanskrit manual on tantric yoga, was translated into Persian as Bahr al hayat, and into Arabic as Hawd al-hayat, and circulated as far away as Kashmir.

While the Sufis of the time sought to incorporate the esoteric philosophies and practices of local yogis into their own religious lives, the Hindu mystics began redefining their ideology according to the Sufi worship of divine love. And underlying both of these newer layers was a 1000-year-old Buddhist perspective.

The resulting confluence of these three traditions produced a spiritual practice reliant on devotional singing and chanting, called kirtan, as a means to both profess and transmit the love of God, manifested in this case as Krishna. The parallels between kirtan and Sufi practices such as qawwali and zikr are unmistakable. What makes the parallel clearer is that Gaur Vaishnavism, as this new cult came to be known, registered itself as a monotheistic religion and disregarded the traditional Hindu polytheistic perspective.

Naturally, this created friction with the Hindu orthodoxy. But the Muslim court, including King Hussain Shah and the Sufis, received the new religion favourably and allowed Sri Chaitanya, the founder, to propagate it freely throughout the delta.

It is possible that with its conceptual similarities to Sufism as well as its emphasis on casteless equality, the spread of Gaur Vaishnavism actually helped the proliferation of Sufi teaching, and eventually of Islam, in Bengal. However this is conjecture at best, and cannot be verified.

Whatever the reason, the Vaishnavis would later join forces with the Sufis to spawn the syncretic Baul tradition, arguably the most significant vehicle of spiritual enrichment in Bangladesh today.

Mughal chauvinism

The sultanate of Bengal became embroiled in the politics of northwest India once again when droves of Afghans fleeing the expanding Mughal Empire arrived in eastern India after 1526.

Finding themselves dislodged from power in Delhi and Kabul, these Afghans built an alternative nexus of power in Bihar and Bengal. Viewing the rising Sher Shah Suri in Bihar as a buffer between Bengal and the Mughals, Hussain Shah’s successor, Nusrat Shah, fostered friendly relations with leaders of the Pashtun influx.

His brother, however, was less astute, and his hostility towards Sher Shah brought an end to the sultanate’s neutrality in 1537 when it came to blows with the Afghans and lost. Bengal then became a launching pad for Sher Shah’s conquest of North India, expelling the second Mughal emperor, Nasir ud-din Muhammad Humayun, from Delhi.

Humayun later reconquered Delhi and parts of northwest India, but Bengal remained in the hands of Afghan kings until 1576. The next 30 years were a period of resistance against the advancing Jallauddin Muhammed Akbar, with an ebb and flow of success on either side.

Then, in 1605, the Mughals finally consolidated their rule in Bengal. This ended 233 years of sultanate independence and reintroduced Persian and Urdu into the Ganga delta – and with them, social elitism along foreign and local lines. The Mughal chauvinism evident in the new architecture and institutions of government would sideline Bengal’s own Muslim culture, threatening the existence of the unique syncretism nurtured by the sultans of Bengal.

Amazingly, however, despite remaining a province for almost 400 years thereafter, an independent Bengali state reappeared in 1971.

The creation of Bangladesh has put Bengali culture on centre stage once again, and encouraged a pluralistic secular environment where the Baul tradition and Bangla language, literature and art receive patronage in a way that they didn’t during the British, Mughal or Pakistani years.

Islam in Bengal is also far less dogmatic than it might have been had Bangladesh remained a part of Pakistan. From Bangladesh’s very beginning, all faiths have been allowed to practice freely, and numerous non-Muslims hold high positions in government departments.

In this way, then, the re-birth of the Bengali state can be seen as having brought with it its own revitalised worldview and cultural orientation, as well as a new commitment to the Bengali school of synthesised mysticism.

~ Zeeshan Khan is a Bangladeshi living in Australia, where he is currently writing his first book. He studied international relations and now works in media.

Picture: Mirhab (prayer niche) at Adina Mosque, Pandua. Photo: Zeeshan Khan/HS.
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Saturday, March 17, 2012

"Peasant's Religion"
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By Ayesha Siddiqa, *Pakistan's modernity: Between military and militancy* - The Friday Times - Lahore, Pakistan; March 09-15, 2012 - Vol. XXIV, No. 04

Pakistan's modernity: Between military and militancy

Pakistan's modernity is structured along two axes: neo-liberal nationalism and right-wing radical nationalism. The meeting of the two trajectories has turned Pakistan into a hybrid-theocratic state which encapsulates a mix of economic neo-liberalism, pockets of social liberalism, formal theocracy and larger spaces experiencing informal theocracy

There is a new kind of literature on Pakistan in the market which claims to present an alternative view of the country, a view that is more positive and talks of the huge potential of the Pakistani state to become a success story on par with the emerging economies of the world. Instead of focusing on religious radicalism, the war on terror, the problematic politics or the excessively powerful military, the new works highlight the progressive, liberal and democratic tendencies of the state and society. One of the key arguments presented in the new literature is that given some structural changes in politics, especially by replacing the traditional elite with the growing middle class, the country can be turned into a success story. The emphasis, thus, is on empowerment of the middle class, greater urbanisation, political order and economic development. This is the formula for socio- political and socio-economic modernity.

This essay examines the above notion and argues instead that this peculiar formula for modernity is deeply flawed. The empowerment of the middle class or economic progress does not automatically translate into liberal progressive modernity mainly due to the nature of the state.

Pakistan's modernity, I argue, is structured along two axes: neo-liberal nationalism and right-wing radical nationalism. While the neo-liberal nationalism axis depicts an authoritarian and top-down model of economic and political development marked with the expansion of a national security-obsessed middle class and ruling elite, the right-wing radical nationalism axis denotes the growth of religious radicalism and militancy as symbols of geopolitical modernity and anti-imperialism. The terms - military and militancy - are both used here in symbolic terms. While military denotes all forms of authoritarian behaviour, militancy refers to all the shades ranging from latent radicalism to extremism and religious fascism which will also be referred to here as jihadism. I also argue that liberalism is one of the many consequences of modernity, but not the only one. The meeting point of both trajectories has resulted in turning Pakistan into a hybrid-theocratic state which encapsulates a mix of economic neo-liberalism, pockets of social liberalism, formal theocracy and larger spaces experiencing informal theocracy.


The neoliberal-nationalism axis:

The new or alternative view literature is represented by three works: (a) Maleeha Lodhi's Pakistan: Beyond 'The Crisis State' (2011), (b) Anatol Lieven's Pakistan: A Hard Country (2011), and (c) Javed Jabbar's Pakistan - Unique Origins; Unique Destiny? (2011).

What is common in these books is a propensity to consider modernity as a "rational or social operation that is culture-neutral" (Taylor 1995: 25) which means looking at modernity purely in material terms and as a goal that can be fulfilled through good neo-liberal policies.

There are two angles of such scholarship: (a) take the emphasis away for any weakness or failure of the state from the civil and military bureaucracy to the political elite that is also considered the traditional elite, and (b) present an alternative formula for the country's progress through improving governance and transferring power to the middle class. This indicates a fair amount of heating up of the inner conflict between the traditional elite and those that aspire to and are taking place of the old elite.

Significance of armed forces: According to this type of literature, an alternative but successful Pakistan can be created by fulfilling certain sociopolitical conditions and honouring the right agents of change such as the urban middle class largely represented by the state bureaucracy, especially the military. All the three works highlight the significance of the armed forces as an organisation with an unquestioned reputation, especially in comparison with other players such as the politicians. This is not simple propagandist literature, but the type which is arguing for a structural sociopolitical shift - movement of power from the traditional elite to the emerging middle class.

Although modernity has several dimensions, the concept of modernity envisioned by this set of authors has a strong neo-liberal flavour that espouses economic progress as a key indicator of modernity, which, in turn, requires political order and building up of a strong and centralised national-identity that seems to be missing at the moment. These authors envision a modern Pakistan as economically progressive, ideologically secular-liberal, increasingly urbanised with a fairly strong industrial and technical base. The greatness of the state is not evaluated through political and social progress or lack of it but from mundane material aspects such as the size of the country being the sixth largest country in the world.

The latest prescription for progress also calls for strengthening of the nation state and deepening a sense of nationalism. Therefore, it is necessary to downplay all such elements such as ethnicity and sectarianism that might weaken the nation state project. It is not as if the formula is not being adhered to by the state machinery which likes to minimize the emphasis on ethnic politics and downplay sectarian differences. The state bureaucracy, especially the military, even uses brutal force to curb ethnic differences as is obvious from the case of Baluchistan.

The ethnic differences are not viewed as positive diversity but as part of the traditional-elitist political framework which must be replaced with another that proposes top-down nationalism to attain progress.

The fact that Pakistan is the sixth largest country in the world has begun to figure in the statist literature. But a centralised national identity is even more important, hence, the emphasis on defining and streamlining what the former information minister Javed Jabbar calls Pakistaniat which is a set of positive attributes of a committed Pakistani citizen. But most important, Pakistaniat is about a sense of homogeneous nationalism. These characteristics such as resilience in the face of adversity, feeling concern in the face of national humiliation, sense of pride in being a Pakistani are some of the 57 characteristics that in the eyes of the former information minister, Javed Jabbar, constitute positive characteristics of "Pakistaniat" and will guarantee the country's development. Intriguingly, the author also includes respect for religious and ethnic minorities as one of the prominent characteristics of Pakistani nationalism which is a misrepresentation of facts or figment of his imagination. Given the attacks on religious, sectarian and ethnic minorities that have increased in the past couple of decades, Jabbar's assertion is more of propaganda and pretense rather than a fact.

While the state tends to use coercion, it has also tried other means such as generating a new national narrative and build institutional mechanisms to rope in dissidents towards this narrative.

However, these factors have to be matched with two essential drivers for change: the nationalist-urbanised middle class and the military.

Progressive nationalist middle class: The alternative view literature completely discards the traditional elite as the engine of progress. Progress, it is believed, can only be brought about by the burgeoning middle class.

The bulk of the rural middle class represents medium-sized (less than 100 acres) farmers and the burgeoning trader-merchant class that live in towns small cities that have cropped up from villages and depend on the agrarian economy. The urban middle class, on the other hand, comprises trader-merchants, small business and professional class belonging to various vocational groups in intermediate cities and large cities. The middle class also includes the bulk of the state bureaucracy such as civil servants and military.

The urban upper-middle class, on the other hand, represents the intermediate class that will eventually become the upper class and it comprises the echelons of the burgeoning media, the elite of the civil and military bureaucracies, the top leadership of the judiciary and the legal community, the non-governmental organisation (NGO) sector and professional expatriate Pakistanis that are keen to build their influence in their home country by remaining central to its politics.

The underlying assumption is that the empowerment of this socio-economic class is bound to bring liberalism and progress to the country.

There are four issues with such formulation. First, it suffers from serious lack of clarity in defining the socio-economic origins of the ruling elite. We get an impression as if the ruling elite comprises mainly of landowners or entrepreneurs. The reality is that the bulk of the ruling elite no longer comprises traditional feudal-landowners but is instead of middle class and even lower middle class background.

Second, these authors tend to borrow a Marxian political formulation without understanding its historical linkages. The entire debate of middle class and progress is essentially borrowed from western history that is not necessarily applicable to most developing countries where the bulk of the middle class is not liberal or politically progressive.

Third, there is a problematic suggestion that middle class is liberal, secular and progressive that can guarantee Pakistan's internal political and economic integrity. Such notion does not take into account the fact that in a pre-capitalist culture like Pakistan's, the middle class is intellectually an extension of the ruling elite.

Fourth, it artificially links political development with economic progress. In fact, democratic norms and politics can be ignored for ensuring a top-down economic progress that is best attained through military bureaucratic dictatorial regimes.

Finally, political development is not directly linked with economic development and the focus of the middle class is the latter not the former. Moreover, this class has always supported and benefited from authoritarianism.

The middle class needs attention due to its ideological leanings which are conservative, pro-authoritarian and increasingly latent-radical. The bulk of the emerging rural or even urban middle class is not socially or politically liberal. The same can be said of the middle class in major cities. The urban middle and upper middle class both have an inclination towards authoritarianism and even latent religious radicalism. Most recently, new political movements denoted by urban- based political parties, such as the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (the justice party) run by the former cricketer Imran Khan, espouse wrangling political control through the army's help. The other two pillars of the middle class, that is, the media and the legal community (including the judiciary), both have authoritarian, centre-right nationalist and even latent radical perspectives.

In any case, the media and the legal community have exhibited authoritarian tendencies with an interest in acquiring unquestioned power, a behaviour that the traditional elite is accused of.

The military: The country's six-lakh strong military and its extended families, which include retired personnel and their kith and kin, are critical to the presentation of a progressive-modern Pakistan narrative. There are several reasons for this. First, the military is considered as an institutional representation of middle class ethos. The assertion is that the military is neither authoritarian nor a detriment to political development. It only intervenes to protect the state from internal and external threat. Moreover, unlike the traditional elite, which establishes a patron- age system of politics and is essentially authoritarian, the military, being a representative of middle class values, encourages the establishment of sustainable democracy.

Since the military has brute force, which is so critical to Pakistan's praetorian politics, the middle class views the armed forces as critical for change.

Third, due to the character of the military being middle class it is seen as a source of political and economic modernity in the country. According to the new narrative, not only is the current army chief Kayani progressive, he is also liberal with great concern for strengthening democracy.

The military prefers a strong president, especially when the army chief himself is the president or when the office- bearer is a favourite of the armed forces. However, it is the second time in the country's history that the president is not of the army's choosing and the service was unable to remove President Asif Ali Zardari due to his ability to compromise and negotiate space for himself. Some analysts believe that this balancing act will result in prolongation of the civilian government, which, in turn, will result in strengthening of the democratic system.

According to an expert of Pakistan's civil-military relations, Saeed Shafqat, the accommodating behaviour of the army top brass has encouraged the civilian leadership to respond positively and give an extension to the army chief, which Shafqat presents, as an example of elite accommodation ("Praetorians and the People", in Maleeha Lodhi (ed.), Pakistan beyond the Crisis State, 2011).

There are three problems with Shafqat's formula. First, he wrongly assumes that such accommodation is unprecedented. In fact, a glance at Marxian literature in Pakistan, especially the works of authors like Hamza Alavi indicate a partnership between the ruling elite and the civil-military bureaucracy in the country that dates back to the early days of the state. The army has historically used crisis to replace unfriendly political leaders with others considered loyal. Thus, the elite accommodation existed even under the seemingly liberal dispensation of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto during the 1960s and the 1970s.

Second, he does not ask the basic question if a major shift in civil-military balance could happen without a major transformation of the rules of the games regarding civil-military balance. What may actually appear as accommodation is based on some tactical adjustment of the military taking charge of some areas while leaving the less important issues for the civilian government.

Third, what Shafqat calls elite negotiation is essentially an adjustment between the two power poles in the country - military and civil - to protect overall elite interests. Such an adjustment does not in any way indicate a fundamental shift in the political system and structure or a movement away from authoritarian rule.

Supporting the middle class narrative helps the military in remaining relevant to the country's politics and establishing its own image as being above board. It uses the corruption of the politicians and its own image as a representative of the middle class to influence national psychology. This is part of the exercise of establishing intellectual control of the people.

The right-wing radical-nationalism axis:

There is an increasing non-liberal trend in the country which follows two inter-related trajectories: (a) latent militant radicalism that is found mainly amongst the poor and the lower middle classes (but does not preclude the middle class), and (b) latent radicalism found amongst the middle class, the upper middle class and (to a certain extent) the upper class as well.

Latent militant radicalism can be defined as a tendency towards adopting violence as means to suppress people of opposing religious ideology. Latent radicalism is defined as the inability to imagine the "other" that is defined on the basis of religious dogmatic differences. Although representing a class divide, the two trends feed on each other and on the modernity debate as well.

First, the state presents these trends not as a regressive behaviour, but as an indicator of growing anti-imperialism and anti-neo-colonialism in the society. Such an argument is even made by elements who once represented the liberal left. Today, some believe that the Taliban must be tolerated as they are the only bulwark against American hegemony. The political right, which is a bulk of the parties today including the mainstream political parties, has an element that is sympathetic to the militant and latent militant radical elements in the society and view the war on terror as a foreign conspiracy. Such belief has created a certain amount of psychological confusion and infested the society with conspiracy theories in which Pakistan emerges as a victim of American expansionist designs.

There are quite a few urban and educated people who stand up to defend Afia Siddiqui, an Al Qaida member, or support Mumtaz Qadri, a religious bigot and the killer of the Punjab governor Salman Taseer. This is not a result of any confusion but an extension of the victimhood discourse that then allows people to target the native "other" who is viewed as an agent of the imperialist force.

Second, there is an increasing societal ownership of the radical discourse, especially at the level of the middle and upper-middle classes. For instance, one of the emerging icons is a rabid televangelist Zaid Hamid, who preaches hatred of the US and India, rejects democracy and propagates the establishment of an Islamic caliphate. Another popular character is the former cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan who approves of the tribal system for adjudication and is known for his links with the religious right parties.

Such support indicates an increasing acceptance of right-wing politics as an alternative to the existing political parties that are viewed as lackeys of imperial power, the US. It is a fact that Pakistan's nationalism today has a deeper shade of ideological right, which is now being legitimised, through a new scholarly discourse that presents radical and religious forces as part of the native culture. In doing so, the new narrative even provides justification for jihadi outfits and jihadism.

New face of Pakistani modernity? The growing number of Pakistani postmodernist scholars such as Humaira Iqtidar, Kamran Asdar Ali, Saba Mehmood, Amina Jillani and many others in western and elite Pakistani universities are now proposing the religious right-wing forces as the new face of Muslim and Pakistani modernity. Iqtidar, a UK-based Pakistani anthropologist has argued in her book Secularising Islamists that forces such as Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamaat-ud-Dawa have a secularising influence over the society. Others such as Mehmood and Jillani present Islamists as the new face of feminism in Pakistan and the Muslim world in general. They are similar and different from the modernists of the early days who advocated inclusion of religion in politics from the perspective of keeping the state away from turning into a theocracy. The traditional modernists (1960s and 1970s) believed that religion should remain fundamental to the state but should be kept in a most liberal form. The post- modernists, on the other hand, are of the view that radical elements should be allowed to pursue their agenda that would eventually result in the religious right toning down its rhetoric and become more inclusive. There is a definite effort to legitimise both the political and religious right which makes the mix of Lieven-Lodhi-Jabbar and postmodernist scholars' narrative a dangerous brew. While the former present nationalist right-wing military authoritarianism as representing the face of progressive-nation-statist-modernity, the latter highlights the same for the religious radical forces.

Third, the growing radicalism is part of the evolving politics and psychology of the middle class. A general perception created about militants and radical forces in Pakistan is that they belong to the poor and the disgruntled strata of society. If poverty indeed were the key driver, the volume of violence would have been much greater especially in areas that were identified as highly food insecure. In fact, the recruitment for jihad is from areas which are relatively food secure such as south and central Punjab. Poverty becomes a driver only when combined with other factors such as weakening of the traditional power structure, weakness or absence of the state in occupying the space, and the relative strengthening of the militant structure. In Pakistan's case, the rise in militancy is directly linked with state support, be it from the military or provincial governments.

The various militant outfits recruit their foot soldiers from amongst the poorest segments of the population, but these are not the only ones recruited for jihad. Over the years, jihadi outfits have exhibited a propensity to recruit capable youth who are literate or semi-literate. It is also mainly the middle class that is eager to give donations to the militant outfits and madrassas.

The expansion of jihadism in Pakistan, in certain respects, rep- resents the breakdown of the feudal system which many would consider as a socially modernising development. The absence of an alternative force and discourse has favoured radical forces more than anything else.

Impact of Urbanisation: Another influence pertains to the growing urbanisation in the country. The fact that Pakistan is moving very rapidly towards urbanisation as a result of which almost 50% of population is projected to be urban by 2030. It not only influences the mode of production, but also alters cultural norms. For instance, the social and economic structures have an impact on psychological, intellectual and even spiritual needs. Pakistan's foremost social scientist Hamza Alavi believed that Barelvi and Sufi Islam, which denotes "peasant's religion", would become less relevant with growing urbanisation, particularly sophistication in modes of production. Deobandi and Wahabi Islam, as opposed to Sufi and Barelvi Islam, have textual basis and offer a form of modernity. Allama Mohammad Iqbal, the poet-philosopher of Pakistan, also recognised this factor. While Sufi shrines will continue to attract people, they will fail to fulfill the spiritual and intellectuals needs of those marching towards some form of material progress.

The militants benefit from the rise in Deobandism-Wahabism since it enhances the ideological pool from which they can recruit fighters at will.

But the most noticeable development pertains to the impact of Deobandism-Wahabism on Barelvi religious norms that face the pressure of competing for political and ideological space. The Barelvi clerics and organisations seem under pressure to generate a popular discourse that matches the Deobandi ideology. This behaviour is most obvious from the Barelvi reaction to the blasphemy issue.

The fact of the matter is that the Sufi-Barelvi ideology has gradually lost ground, as it could not play the role in creating an ideology needed by the state to fight its foreign battles.

Those that represent the Sufi culture have failed to develop an alternative narrative which is needed to counter extremism.

Conclusion:

Are these ideological forces relatively benign and will eventually get tamed by forces of capitalism, as suggested by Syed Vali Nasr? In his latest book on forces of fundamentalism in some of the Muslim countries Nasr has proposed that ultimately the fundamentalist forces will be tamed mainly because people do not want violence. However, such an analysis is based on a certain amount of naivety and simplicity in understanding various societies particularly Pakistan, which has already turned into a hybrid theocracy. This means that the country comprises small pockets of liberalism, small spaces where sharia law is formally enforced and larger spaces where it is informally implemented. This is not simply an issue of implementation of the sharia, but the use of force in various forms to restructure the power base and the ideological structure of the state.

At a micro level, the use of force translates into cases like the torture of the Christian woman Aasiya Bibi who is jailed for blasphemy. Notwithstanding the veracity of the claim against her, the fact is that the state is unable to provide her some form of protection while she is incarcerated.

Similarly, the state is increasingly less capable of providing protection to its citizens as the more violent forces dictate their ideology such as the case of the school in Rawalpindi where masked men entered and threatened the young girls who had not worn the hijab. The militants are, in fact, the neo-feudals who are gradually gaining the same kind of power that the traditional feudal-landowners used to have.

This is not to suggest that all militants are above the law, but the fact is that the state has established a principle according to which some favoured militants are propelled to being above the law. Since the militant forces have both the power and authority of religion, it has become difficult to contest their power. Geopolitically, the militant forces and their ideological network have gathered influence due to their efficacy for the military-strategic objectives of the state. The militants have established a partnership with the security apparatus of the state, which also considers the partnership beneficiary in pursuance of its military-strategic goals. The Pakistani state has often been viewed by its military establishment as a fortress of Islam. Religion is also seen as a source for propelling the state's influence in adjoining regions such as central Asia for which a partnership with militant forces is necessary.

The military's new partnership is different from its older linkage with the traditional elite. The powerful establishment of the Pakistani state is in a process of reinventing itself because of which it seeks newer partnership and narrative. The emphasis on the power of the middle class that is audible in some of the recently written books that are sponsored by the establishment is meant to produce a new set of political stakeholders that can challenge the traditional and the old elite.

Although the establishment, which is dominated by the military, has been central in creating the traditional elite as well, it is now eager to produce a new crop which has a more exciting narrative. The middle class is presented as an epitome of liberal-progressive Pakistan. However, it is an erroneous assumption to consider the middle class as liberal since the bulk of it seems to be ridden with latent radical tendencies are on the verge of it. Such an attitude will affect Pakistan internally before it has an impact on its external relations. In Pakistan the growth of the middle class accompanied with increasing urbanisation is an evolving socio- economic and sociopolitical phenomenon.

While the liberal political forces have been receding in terms of providing a forceful narrative, the radical forces have been gaining momentum. Religion, which was made the logic for the creation of the state, has become an even more powerful tool that could be used to determine internal and external relations. The newer political stakeholders view the Taliban and other militants as forces that challenge neo-imperialism by the US and other western forces. Even some of the new scholarly discourse tends to legitimise the jihadis.

The liberal-western elite, which dominated the state at the time of partition and even later, has gradually lost its legitimacy. Such developments are taking place in an environment where there is very little space for a liberal discourse. The liberal elements in the country that can liberalise the religious-political discourse and rescue it from the clutches of latent radicalism are few and far between.

More important, it will take decades before a movement towards counter-radicalisation picks up speed. Meanwhile, any change that will happen will be through connivance with the security apparatus of the state which will remain relevant for any change in the political system for many years to come.

This is an abridged version of the paper which was published by Economic and Political Weekly, India earlier this year.
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