Why Chetan Bhagat shouldn’t speak for Indian Muslims


Though written in the voice of an Indian Muslim, the author’s take is in fact the standard response of the textbook majoritarian

Prayaag Akbar Mail Me
First Published: Mon, Jul 01 2013.T
Jama Masjid during Ramzaan. Chetan Bhagat postitions himself as a young Indian Muslim angry at his exclusion from the mainstream capitalist, neoliberal project. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Jama Masjid during Ramzaan. Chetan Bhagat postitions himself as a young Indian Muslim angry at his exclusion from the mainstream capitalist, neoliberal project. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Updated: Mon, Jul 01 2013. 04 28 PM IST
Chetan Bhagat, ever the well-meaning bull in a china shop, wrote this weekend about the Indian Muslim. In his regular Times of Indiacolumn (in a piece headlined “Letter from an Indian Muslim Youth”), Bhagat appropriates the voice of—he doesn’t specify this, but it is easily surmised from the tone and content of the letter—a young Indian Muslim angry at his exclusion from the mainstream capitalist, neoliberal project. The piece is predictably disappointing in its understanding of the Muslim experience in India, but let us put that aside for the moment and discuss first this assumption of voice.
In India, we are perhaps overly protective of identity groupings. If a debate arises over the actions of a religious or caste group, or over the legacy of a historical figure, fear of giving offence sometimes leads to submission to loud voices instead of the safeguarding of freedom of information and thought. It is precisely this kind of criticism that Bhagat seeks to preempt when he writes, with splendid crudity, “I don’t have a name like Ahmed or Saeed or Mirza, anything that will clearly establish me as a Muslim.” Bhagat is saying, I am not a Muslim, so what? But what he is doing is actually pretty sneaky: His disclaimer is in fact a way of positioning himself, to the great majority of his audience, as someone qualified to write on this subject. The understanding he hopes to transmit to his reader through his mea culpa is that he should still be allowed to speak for the entirety of the Muslim population in India.
There are two problems with this. First, while anyone should be encouraged to produce scholarship and analysis about communities or historical figures, Bhagat’s casual ownership of the voice of 150 million people is patently not that. Second: It is precisely because I am an Indian and a Muslim that I would never dare to speak for all of us. I see the great variance in outlook, experience and especially opportunity that exists even within my own family. I compare my own privilege with the rest of Muslim India. I can understand why my views on the publication of The Satanic Verses might differ from a man or woman with a greater love for religious scripture. I cannot claim to speak for the lot of us.
Bhagat does not suffer such inadequacies. He drops, somewhat confusingly, the Indian Muslim voice for a moment to explain that he is an author of fiction, which means he might well be making fabrications—he leaves that to you, dear reader, to decide. This is another artless pretence, as if fiction writers are regularly permitted to write abject nonsense in op-eds—they are not, and certainly should not be allowed to in the future, millions of adoring readers or not.
Bhagat has a canny perceptiveness that sometimes serves him well. He has identified a major problem with the political experience of Indian Muslims, which is the capture of a great deal of the community’s vote by political parties who play the “secular card” without offering much else, especially quantifiable economic and political benefit.
This is a point that has been made numerous times. Where most differ is in the solution to this problem. Bhagat’s solution, though written in the voice of an Indian Muslim, is in fact the standard response of the textbook majoritarian, steeped in its favourite imagery (maulvis make an appearance in the first paragraph, skullcaps in the fourth) and couched in its favoured paternalist idiom.
What Bhagat is doing here is talking not as the Indian Muslim but to the Indian Muslim. His argument is basically a well-tuned representation of the argument Hindu nationalism has with Indian Muslims. As he points out first: “There is no shortage of Muslim achievers. There are Muslim stars in almost every field.” I imagine he means Shah Rukh Khan and Zaheer Khan and A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and others like them. The implication here is that the success of some from the community is indication that any Muslim “with a modern outlook and a desire to come up [sic] in life” should be able to achieve identical success. What seems like a neurotic celebration of Muslim achievement is in fact a stick that is used to beat the rest of the community with: Look what those people have managed to do in India. Why can’t you do the same? Bhagat fails to see, or perhaps understand, the forms religious discrimination can take; there is scant acknowledgment that it even exists in India.
His cloying condescension is hard to take: “We don’t need it as a handout. We are willing to work hard for it.” Again, his implication adheres to that hoary Hindutva chestnut: that the experience of Muslims in India has been of the “secular” state apportioning handouts and freebies that the community has unthinkingly grasped at. Someone should perhaps explain to Bhagat that Muslims have worked as hard as any other community before and since independence; that, as the Sachar Committee Report showed, it is the state that has, in fact, failed to provide service and opportunity for such a substantial number of its people.
What Bhagat will not admit is that this piece is the latest in his sporadic series in support of Gujarat’s chief minister Narendra Modi and the bring-BJP-to-power-2014 effort. His argument is with the “secular” parties, the Congress and regional parties that garner Muslim votes, like the Samajwadi Party or Trinamool Congress. There is merit in this argument, as these parties’ abysmal record with Muslim communities, and their pandering to the most regressive elements within these communities, has proved. But—and this is only my suspicion—I wonder if his desire is the uplift of the long-marginalized Muslim community, or if this piece is a roundabout expression of his vexation with a religious group that he believes might well keep his favoured party and candidate out.
Years ago, I went to Madhya Pradesh to report on the last assembly elections there, a battle between the Congress and the incumbent BJP. I was fresh out of college and very indignant about the nature of minority politics in India. I was sitting, on one of my first days there, in a Muslim neighbourhood in Bhopal, talking to a group of young men. I asked them what the BJP had done for them.
“Nothing.”
I asked what the Congress had done for them.
“Nothing.”
I became excited. “Don’t you see,” I said, “why there is no difference between them? Neither of them do anything for you. Why should you think one is better than the other?”
One of the men, a taxi driver, said there was a difference. “It’s a personal thing. You know when the BJP is in power, these gangs, they can come to our mohalla, they can start a fight, break or burn something. We can’t respond. We go to the police, they won’t file a case. I suppose it’s a question of safety.”
I hadn’t used that exchange in my journalism until I wrote this response today. It was this man’s belief, and visceral as it was, it was unfair to the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government, which had a good record in these matters. But that man opened my eyes about two things. That I, from the elite, had a substantively different experience of my country than any disprivileged Indian, Hindu or Muslim. And that I should never presume to lecture people about the political choices they make. For the poor especially, the vote is their one connection with their political environment, with the factors and decisions that will shape their lives. They do not make that choice without thought.
Prayaag Akbar is the associate editor, The Sunday Guardian.

 

Two Faced Subramaniam Swamy #Hatespeech


Mr. Subramanian Swamy‘s Venom spitting speech

 

Mr. Subramanian Swamy’s wife is a PARSI, his daughter married to a MUSLIM, another member married a CHRISTIAN, and another married to a JEW. Why then is he threatening both Muslims and Christians.

Please listen his venom spiting speech :

 

 

Crusader against communalism


Published: May 15, 2013 02:31 IST | Updated: May 15, 2013 02:31 IST

ASGHAR ALI ENGINEER 1939 – 2013

Meena Menon

 

The Hindu Asghar Ali Engineer.

Asghar Ali Engineer.

All his life he tirelessly worked for interfaith peace and harmony and religious reform in his own community

As a child in Wardha at the time of Partition, Asghar Ali heard “horrible stories of people being killed and trains full of dead bodies.” Those stories, he wrote in his autobiography, A Living Faith, disturbed him so much that he began thinking very early in his life about why people killed each other in the name of religion.

Then, as a student in 1961, he was deeply affected by the riots in Jabalpur, the worst till then in independent India. For Engineer, those riots were the beginning of his lifelong battle against the pathology of communalism and the engagement with creating interfaith harmony.

Only last December, on the 20th anniversary of 1993 Mumbai riots in Mumbai post the Babri Masjid demolition, he was part of a campaign to mark a bloody phase in the city’s history. At the launch, though unwell, he was spirited about the need to remember those riots: “Not for revenge but to ensure that it does not happen again.”

All his life he spoke for peace and communal harmony, his other passion being the democratisation and accountability of the religious establishment. He was physically attacked six times for his beliefs and his advocacy of religious reform. His family often worried about his safety, said his son Irfan.

Born on March 10, 1939, at Salumbar, a town near Udaipur, Rajasthan, Engineer grew up in an orthodox atmosphere. His father was a priest and was posted to different towns to provide religious guidance to the Bohra communities there. But, as he recalled, he never spoke anything against other religions.

It was at school in Dewas, when he and other Muslim boys were teased as being “pro Pakistani” that he became aware of religious and caste distinctions. Engineer was already writing articles in school, mostly on Islam and the problems of Muslims, something that he continued to do almost until the end.

In February, from his hospital bed, he typed out a keynote address on his laptop for an interfaith meeting in Indonesia. Two years ago, he delivered a speech, again from hospital, over the cell phone for one and a half hours, for a conference. A commitment was a commitment for his father, said Irfan.

A scholar and writer of over 70 books and numerous articles, Engineer, his son said, was a very humble person who could relate even to his critics, arguing differences with patience. Irfan, who has taken up Engineer’s crusade, remembers him to be a kind and understanding father who was also a friend.

Women’s rights

Women’s rights and equality was another of his missions. Engineer fought for understanding the Koran which he believed had given women equal rights. Medieval jurisprudence had cheated women and he wanted those rights restored. To support religious reforms, a conference to launch a democratically-elected Central Board of Dawoodi Bohras was held in February 1977 in Udaipur where he was elected general secretary. He later set up the Institute of Islamic Studies, in Mumbai and the Center for Study of Society and Secularism.

He counted Ghalib among his favourite Urdu poets and confessed to being deeply influenced by the Sunni thinker Iqbal among others. Initially repelled by Marxism because of its atheism, Engineer said he was later “won over” by Marxist doctrines “as I found them close to Islamic values,” and that it was not necessary to be an atheist to be a Marxist. Engineer’s father had decided not to force him to continue the priesthood tradition. The first time he had taken him to Bombay was for the ritual of kissing the feet of the Syedna, which Engineer had found revolting.

Arriving in Bombay again in 1963, he found a job with the city municipal corporation as an engineer but quit in 1983. He started writing against the oppression of the Dawoodi Bohras in Udaipur. For this he faced threats and demands for an apology. His family boycotted him. Some of the attacks on him were serious enough for him to be hospitalised. His Center for Study of Society and Secularism was vandalised.

Along with his intense participation in efforts to get to the bottom of communal riots that affected India’s social fabric, and his interfaith initiatives for harmony, Engineer was a scholar of Islam. In his Muslims in India since 1947: Islamic Perspectives on Inter Faith Relations, Yoginder Sikand says Engineer’s principal concern was to evolve a theology of Islam that seeks to grapple with the modern condition even while being rooted in it. Engineer’s main contribution was in articulating a contextual hermeneutics of the Koran one that he believed could help guide Muslims in dealing with the challenges of contemporary life.

Engineer combined a passion for knowledge and religion with action on the ground, taking along leading writers, journalists and members of progressive movements of the day in his battle for religious reform and what he believed was an “un-Islamic” imposition of the Syedna’s tenets.

Before he succumbed to diabetes-related complications on Tuesday, he had partially recovered from a prolonged illness (of three months), and had returned home from hospital on April 26. His passing comes at a time when many of the issues he fought for and deeply cared about are still far from settled. More than ever, we need the values of tolerance, communal harmony and inter-faith dialogue that Engineer stood for all his life.

meena.menon@thehindu.co.in

 

Asghar Ali Engineer: Simple, fearless, straight from the heart


May 14, 2013

Renowned Islamic scholar Asghar Ali Engineer, who passed away in MumbaiImages ] on Tuesday , was opposed to all forms of religious bigotry including by the clergy of his own faith. For opposing the Syedna, spiritual of Dawoodi Bohras, Engineer faced scorn, boycott and even, sometimes, violence. In February 2000 Dilip D’souza had chronicled in Rediff.com one such assault on Asghar Ali Engineer; we reproduce it here. In Tribute.

If you want to find Asghar Ali Engineer on a working day, you’ll have to make your way to his office in Santa Cruz, Bombay. To get there, you edge through the chaos outside the railway station: buses and rickshaws bear down on you, hawkers of everything conceivable are everywhere, the occasional cow meanders about. Past them, the grubby building has a too-low entrance on which I’ve rammed my forehead more times than I can count. That negotiated, you walk up the narrow stairs to a small office, overflowing with books, papers, newspapers and magazines.

Invariably in a white or beige kurta and pajama, Asghar Ali sits in a room at the back. It’s a near-sure bet he’s busy pecking intently at a keyboard. Earlier, that keyboard belonged to a small red typewriter; lately it is part of a laptop. He writes with energy and passion people half his age can’t match, turning out articles and pamphlets and books on a wide range of subjects. He’ll be the first to acknowledge that it’s not high literature he’s producing in that room. But he writes like he talks to you: simply, fearlessly and straight from the heart. Never a hint of hedging or obfuscation.

That is why this man is so widely respected. That is why, too, he is so hated. Hated enough, that at Bombay airport on February 13, three goons beat up this 60-year-old heart patient. Hated enough, that pals of those goons have since gone into a kind of accusatory overdrive, making public statements that it was actually Engineer who was doing the beating and abusing.

To anyone who knows Asghar Ali even slightly, the idea of him assaulting someone is so absurd, it might have been funny. But it is not funny in the least.

To understand what happened at the airport that day, you have to know that Engineer is a Dawoodi Bohra. This is a Muslim sect of traders, originally from Gujarat. Their spiritual head is the 85-year-old Dr Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin (now 102) known simply as The Syedna. The Syedna maintains strict control over his flock via a system of seven taxes and multiple regulations, all enforced by his priests.

For many years, Asghar Ali has campaigned for reform within the Bohra community, asked over and over again for an accounting from the Syedna for the money he collects through those taxes. As reformers usually are, he is unpopular among the clergy, among the faithful. They have attacked him four times already, going back to 1977.

February 13 saw the fifth attack. That day, Asghar Ali was on an Alliance Air (a subsidiary of Indian Airlines) flight from Bhopal to Bombay, via Indore. It was supposed to be a half-hour halt at Indore, just enough to drop off and pick up passengers. But an hour passed and still the plane stayed put on the ground. Turned out the Syedna himself was to board the flight there, and the great man was delayed.

Nearly 3,000 of the Syedna’s followers had gathered to wave tearful goodbyes to him at Indore. Seeing this crowd, the airport Indian Airlines personnel ‘felt it could be risky to let the airplane take off without [the Syedna].’ So they delayed the departure, hoping ‘to prevent a law and order problem.’ (Quotes from The Times of India [ Images ], February 17).

Apparently several of the passengers on the flight objected to this delay, and Asghar Ali Engineer joined the protest. Of course, the protest had no effect. But when the Syedna finally arrived and the flight took off, Engineer told Outlook, two of his followers, ‘after consulting the Syedna, began abusing … [T]hey said, “You shaitan, get down and see what happens to you.” ‘

What happened to the ‘shaitan’ was that in the terminal at Bombay, three men assaulted him. One was one of the Syedna’s fellow flyers, the other two were from among the hordes who had turned up to fondly greet him on arrival. The assault continued for several minutes. Asghar Ali fell to the ground, bleeding. Eventually the police rescued him and took him to Nanavati hospital.

Meanwhile, more of the Syedna’s followers paid visits to Asghar Ali’s home and that crowded first-floor office in Santa Cruz. These were not courtesy calls to express concern for his health. No, they ransacked both places, up to the fans on the ceiling. As Asghar Ali wrote to me some days later: “My household things have been destroyed completely. Office computers were also destroyed.”

The story does not end there. The Syedna’s followers have wasted very little time cranking up the propaganda machine. They took a delegation to the chief minister to demand protection for the Syedna from Engineer. (There was one extremely interesting feature of this delegation that I will get to in a bit). Then they flooded the newspapers with letters recounting what they say really happened on that Indore-Bombay flight.

The assaulter, the propaganda would have it, was Engineer. First, he had stood at the entrance with his arms outspread, preventing the Syedna from entering. After waiting “quietly” for some minutes on the ladder, the Syedna managed to make his way into the plane. That’s when Asghar Ali began “abusing” him in “foul language”, “provoking” him and his 20 followers throughout the flight to Bombay. The delegation said that Asghar Ali’s language was “unbearable and intolerable to any follower of the religion.” To top it all, Asghar Ali actually mounted a “physical assault” on the Syedna.

“The fact remains”, one letter said, “that it was Engineer who took the law in his hands first and whatever happened afterwards was a result of that.” Another expressed these lucid opinions: “Engineer [doesn’t] even know how to behave with a person of [the Syedna’s] dignity and class. Engineer is … a curse on society. … May [the Syedna’s] enemies burn in the fires of hell.”

Florid accusations aside, who ransacked Asghar Ali’s home and office? The Syedna’s nephew, Badrul Jamali Bhai, used strangely familiar language at a press conference: “Someone whose feelings may have been hurt could have done it.” More familiar language came from a Syedna spokesman: “It was the natural feelings of his followers that broke out into violence. If someone abuses our father, how can we tolerate it?”

Ah yes, that language of intolerance again. Feelings were hurt, some things just can’t be tolerated, the assault was only an expression of those “natural feelings.” I didn’t catch it in the reports I found, but I am confident someone among the Syedna’s men used that word loved by goons intent on lying propaganda, whether during Nazi Germany’s [ Images ] Kristallnacht or after the demolition of the Babri Masjid [ Images ].

“Spontaneous.”

As in: the attacks on Jews that November 9 night in 1938 were, said Joseph Goebbels, a “spontaneous” demonstration by the German people against the murder of a German embassy official in Paris. As in: leaders of the Shiv Sena [ Images ] admitted that their “boys” were out rioting in Bombay in 1992-93, but that they appeared “spontaneously” to “prevent the massacre of Hindus.” As in: the destruction of the Babri Masjid, leaders of the BJP told us, was a “spontaneous” reaction of Hindus whose “feelings had been hurt” enough.

Yes indeed, when it is bigotry, when it is intolerance of differing opinions, there are no religious boundaries. The defenders of the Syedna could be the defenders of German purity could be the defenders of Hinduism.

Apart from his calls for reform among the Bohras, Asghar Ali Engineer is a strong and learned spokesman for religious sanity. In particular, his was a prominent voice after the demolition of that mosque and the 1992-93 Bombay riots. His team of volunteers fanned out to speak to riot victims all over the city. The report he issued based on their findings (Bombay’s Shame) is a sad and damning commentary on the destruction the so-called defenders of Hinduism brought on the heads of all Bombay, Hindus and otherwise. His subsequent writings have kept up that commentary. They have brought him hatred from the defenders of Hinduism just as severe as he gets from the Syedna’s flock.

And that’s why the Syedna’s delegation that went to the chief minister was so interesting. It was led by two prominent Bombay politicians: Maharashtra’s [ Images ] ex-Minister for Housing Raj Purohit and Khetwadi MLA Atul Shah.

Both belong to the BJP.

Dilip D’Souza

Image: Asghar Ali Engineer passed away on Tuesday  | Photograph: Wikimedia Commons

 

‘Asghar Ali Will Be Remembered As A Creative Interpreter Of Islam’


In a career spanning over four decades, Asghar Ali was in the forefront of anti-communal movements and upholding the spirit of our secular constitution

MUSHIRUL HASAN

May 15, 2013

Photo Courtesy: www.csss-isla.com

Photo Courtesy: http://www.csss-isla.com

He never wrote his full name. AA Engineer is how he was widely known. I wrote a column on him in the Indian Express and followed it up with another article on his 70th birthday. Now, regrettably, I write his obituary.

Like many in this country and abroad I am deeply grieved by his sudden death. He was a man of extraordinary energy and unshakable conviction. Above all, he was on a mission to reform his own Bohra community, to expose the menace of communalism and to plead for a liberal and modernist version of Islam. What is amazing is that he actually believed that these changes would take place during his lifetime. Sadly, that did not happen.

Asghar Ali Engineer’s chief mission was to make India a safer place to live in for the minorities. For this, he did not adopt the reckless course of many a protagonist of Muslim causes. Instead, he endeavoured to instill confidence in the minorities. At the same time, he argued for reforms and innovations within inherited traditions. He wanted Muslims in particular to move forward and shed their psychological inhibitions. He wanted them to remain true to their faith, because he believed that Islam, contrary to its current demonization, championed social equity, justice and tolerance. He would quote chapter and verse from the Quran to defend his position. Unlike other reformers, he was a well-read person and linguistically equipped to interpret the Quran and the traditions of the Prophet. Therefore, he consistently argued, for example, that gender justice is enshrined in the Quran.

In a career spanning over four decades, Asghar Ali spearheaded many important movements. He was in the forefront of anti-communal movements, upholding the spirit of our secular constitution. Global peace and interfaith dialogue was lately, his principal passion. He tried to work out a synthesis between different religions, traditions and underline their commonalities. In this respect, his dialogues with Christian and Hindu priests are quite important. It marked an advance on a tradition pioneered by social reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and Mahatma Gandhi.

When I first visited Asghar Ali at Irene Cottage in Santa Cruz East, I expected to be greeted in a large palatial house. Instead, I walked through a decrepit staircase which led me into a rather modest two-room apartment. It was barely furnished. There were only books and printed articles strewn all over the place. This is not surprising. He was a dedicated scholar who spent several hours every day writing his own books, articles and reports on communal riots in different parts of the country. Many of these were published in the Economic and Political Weekly. He will be long remembered for his bold and courageous interventions on leading public issues and in the service of communal peace and secularism. His judgement on most matters was objective and reasonable.
Asghar Ali was a reckless individual, with a junoon to transform the world. He travelled ceaselessly and kept odd hours which ultimately took a toll on his health. Whenever I asked him to take it easy, he would brush aside my suggestion. He said that he had miles to go and much more work to do.

His life offers many lessons to be learnt, of paths taken and not taken. But whatever may be the verdict of history, Asghar Ali Engineer will be remembered as a creative interpreter of Islam and as a champion of the liberal and secular values. His life clearly demonstrates that it is possible to be wedded to one’s own tradition and at the same time be a quintessential liberal. There is no conflict of vision in Asghar Ali’s public life or writings.

We will miss this enlightened and dignified man. We will miss a principled and conscientious citizen and dissenter who recognised no caste or community differences. And finally, we will miss a scholar who was relentless in his search for ideas and solutions to contemporary conflicts and divisions.

The author is Professor of History, former Vice-Chancellor, Jamia Millia Islamia and the former Director General, National Archives of India

– See more at: http://tehelka.com/asghar-ali-engineer-will-be-remembered-as-a-creative-interpreter-of-islam/#sthash.QGfpi43O.dpuf

There will never be another Asghar Ali


 Jyoti Punwani
Mumbai Mirror | May 15, 2013, 12.00 AM IST
There will never be another Asghar Ali
Asghar Ali Engineer passed away on Tuesday. He was 74
By: Jyoti Punwani

Scholarly, courageous and secular, Asghar Ali Engineer spent his life combating regressive beliefs and practices while presenting a modern, humanistic interpretation of Islam

The passing away of Asghar Ali Engineer leaves everyone poorer. He wasn’t only the face of the Bohra reform movement – a movement for human rights supported by the tallest intellectuals of the country. He was a scholar of Islam, whose interpretation of it was progressive and humanistic, embracing the egalitarian ideals of Marxism and feminism. The world, including the bastion of conservative Islam, Saudi Arabia, invited Engineer to share his knowledge and liberal reading of his religion.

Engineer was a brave man. Assaulted six times, twice almost fatally, by orthodox Bohras, simply for fighting constitutionally against the absolute hold of the Syedna over the community, it would have been easy for him to give up a fight he began openly in 1973, with an article in The Times of India. The social boycott against him declared by the Bohra clergy cut him off for years from his family, including his mother, and in his words, “almost drove (me) mad”.

The political establishment, all the way up to Indira Gandhi and Vajpayee, stood solidly behind the Syedna. Yet, Engineer remained a Reformist throughout, and not just in his personal life. Under his guidance, the Reformists became a force to reckon with, with women at the forefront of the movement. He showed the same courage in openly organising support for the Shahbano judgment, when the Muslim establishment mounted acampaign against it.

For me, Asghar Ali Engineer was many things – a fount of knowledge and a guru, yet one so devoid of arrogance that I was able to, over the past 20 years, interact with him as a friend. I first met him as a member of the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights, of which he was both founder and vice-president. In the late ’70s and early ’80s, CPDR members used to demonstrate holding placards in a narrow lane across the road from Badri Mahal, Fort – that was as close to the Bohra headquarters as the police would allow us to get. Yet this insignificant bunch of youngsters, led by Engineer and a few other Reformists, would be considered enough of a threat to be stoned by orthodox Bohras. I used to be terrified, but not the much older Engineer.

As a novice in journalism, I turned to Engineer for everything concerning Muslims – be it history, the freedom movement, communal politics. Always ready to share his immense knowledge, he never grew impatient at my endless questions. I would interview others too, but no one had his rounded, secular, yet scholarly perspective.

In 1984, after seeing the partisan conduct of the police towards the Shiv Sena, during the riots that broke out in Bhiwandi, Thane and Mumbai, I told him I supported those young Muslims who felt revenge was the only solution. “No, never,” was his immediate response. “Revenge will only set off an endless cycle of violence, which will help no one, Muslims least of all.”

His way was to change minds. But that will take forever, I replied. Yet that’s what he never stopped trying to do through his writings and interactions with youngsters, policemen and IAS trainees. Every communal riot was investigated by him personally, or by his team, to trace the root causes, for as he said, religion was not the cause of conflict, its political use was.

Engineer won many awards, but the one that suited him best was the Right Livelihood Award or the Alternate Nobel, given to him in 2004 “for promoting religious and communal co-existence, tolerance and mutual understanding”.

With all his qualities, Engineer was essentially a simple man. I remember him walking outside his ramshackle building holding his little daughter Seema’s hand; remonstrating and embarrassed as his wife grumbled to me about being left behind for weeks as he travelled all over the world; chuckling at some wry comment on the irrelevance of pseudo-secularists.

Engineer had told his family he would like to be buried where his friends from the Progressive Writers Association, Kaifi Azmi, Jan Nisaar Akhthar and Ali Sardar Jafri, were. No doubt, he’ll be happy reciting Urdu poetry with them. But we, who still need him, will wonder where to find another like him.

WHEN ENGINEER BOWED BEFORE THE SYEDNA

The first and last time Engineer bowed in front of the Dawoodi Bohra high priest was when he was physically forced to by a marshal in the Syedna’s chamber. He had been taken there by his father, himself a priest, after his matriculation result was declared. Seeing others “fall on their knees and crawl with folded hands to the Syedna’s chamber, where he sat on a high chair like a king, (then) prostrate, lie with face down in submission before him,” Engineer refused, believing that sajda was to be performed only before Allah. Abusing him as ‘shaitaan’, a marshal caught his neck and forced it down. (From A Living Faith, Engineer’s autobiography)

 

Obituary – Asghar Ali Engineer (1939-2013)


RIP Asghar Ali (1)

MAY 14, 2013
by , kafila.org

B_-_portrait.Ashgar_Ali_Engineer-Salzb05__c__RLA_Foundation__Ulrike_AltekruseAn obituary by ZAHIR JANMOHAMED: I first met Asghar Ali Engineer in January 2002 in Mumbai. I was a fellow with the America India Foundation and a few weeks later I would be posted to work with an NGO in Ahmedabad.

A few minutes before his presentation, I noticed him standing off to the side in silence, staring at the ground. I walked up and introduced myself. I was young, in my twenties, and I did not know what to say.

As-salaam alaikum,” I said.

“Wa-alaikum salaam,” he replied.

I am not sure what response I expected but I thought that perhaps because he and I share the same faith that we might have a special bond, that my greeting would spark a conversation. After all, I always thought phrases like these serve less as greeting and more as an announcement, as in, I am part of the same religion as you.

But Asghar saab just held my hand and then put his hand on his heart. “Nice to meet you,” he said, and then stared at the ground again in silence. I thought it was odd, rude even.

As I continued to meet Asghar saab, I realized that he had very little patience for superficial connections. I witnessed this when I saw him greet crowds after his lectures. If you told him you were from the same caste or city he would not be as excited as if you told him that you also believe that we must fight patriarchy with the same vigor that we must fight communalism.

What set him apart was his fearlessness, something he showed from a young age. He was born on March 10, 1939 in Salumbar, Rajasthan to a family of priests in the Bohra community and schooled in the traditional Islamic sciences like Qur’anic study (tafseer). Islamic schooling is often based on the idea that you should teach a child as much as he/she can digest and then later they will develop the intellect to question what they have learned. The idea, as Willim Chittick writes in his book The Sufi Path of Love, is that form precedes meaning. But Asghar saab began to question at a young age, at a time when he was told he should only be memorizing. Later he would become one of the first to question the transparency of the Bohra leadership, something completely unheard of during his time.

He was effective and very hard to argue with (as I learned first hand) because he was grounded in Islamic law. When an Islamic scholar would make an argument that a particular verse in the Qur’an supports denying a woman her rights, Asghar saab would draw on his extensive knowledge of the Qur’an to argue that that very verse means the antithesis.

Each time he spoke out, the more he isolated himself but this never bothered him. Part of what made him so unique was that he never saw himself as part of a community. He believed this was the surest way to stifle your voice. Be independent, he always told me.

After I witnessed the Gujarat riots, we met on a few occasions. But he never liked hearing my stories from Ahmedabad. It was not that he was not interested but he did not want it to rattle his core belief that humans are inclined towards goodness and reason, two things he saw lacking during the 2002 carnage.

We ended up growing apart because he was so ideal about India and religion that that idealism which I always saw as his virtue I began to see as his blind spot. But I always appreciated how he never gave up and more importantly, how he was always re-examining his beliefs.

The last time we corresponded was in 2005. It was a few months after Modi was denied a visa and I was active in Washington DC in raising awareness about Gujarat. But I was burned out and frustrated by my fellow Indian Americans who could not be bothered with what happens in India. What I wanted, I told him, was more support, more people to stand with me.

“You will not find many friends on this path,” he wrote to me.

It is these words and that image of him—standing off to the side, staring at the ground as when I first saw him—that I will always remember about him. Yes he was alone, as many are who push for change, but he was also something very unique and rare. He was his own person.

(Zahir Janmohamed is a writer in Ahmedabad.)

 

#RIP- Renowned Islamic scholar, progressive thinker, author Asghar Ali Engineer no more


RIP Asghar Ali (1)

 

Mumbai, May 14 (IANS) Renowned Islamic scholar, progressive thinker, author and Dawoodi Bohra reformist leader Asghar Ali Engineer passed away here Tuesday after a prolonged illness, family members said. He was 74.

Engineer, a widower, is survived his son Irfaan and daughter Seema Indorewala. He was ailing for several months and breathed his last at his Santacruz East home around 8 a.m. The funeral is likely to be held Wednesday, Irfaan indicated.

Born in Salumbar, Rajasthan, in a Dawoodi Bohra Amil (priest) family March 10, 1939, Engineer acquired his training in Quranic tafsir (commentary), tawil (hidden interpretations of Quran), fiqh (jurisprudence) and hadith (Prophet’s teachings, sayings) during his early days.

His father, Sheikh Qurban Husain, was the Amil who also taught the young Engineer Arabic. Later, Engineer studied all the major religious works and scriptures by eminent scholars.

He graduated as a civil engineer from Indore, Madhya Pradesh, and went on to work for nearly two decades in the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC).

In the early 1970s, he sought voluntary retirement from his BMC service and plunged into the reformist movement in the miniscule Dawood Bohra community, estimated at around 1.20 million worldwide.

In 1972, he assumed a leading role in the movement from Udaipur and also mobilised national and international public opinion through media articles and speeches.

In 1977, he was elected general secretary of Central Board of Dawoodi Bohra Community at its maiden conference in Udaipur and guided the reformist movement.

Later, Engineer devoted his time and energies to work for communal harmony and combat communalist forces in the country.

The recipient of several awards and honours from around the world, Engineer travelled across the globe speaking at international conferences, seminars and universities on Islam, peace, human rights and other issues.

He founded the Institute of Islamic Studies (1980) and the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism (1993), and also authored around 50 books on various topics and believed in treating all religions with equality.

According to reformists, Engineer never believed in blind acceptance of dogmas inherited from the past but strived to rethink issues and reinterpret Islam in keeping with modern times.

Asghar Ali Engineer, leader of the Progressive Dawoodi Borah movement speaks to Madhu Trehan on how priestly families in the community are distorting Islam, challenging fatwas, how Satanic Verses should be challenged but not banned & more.

 

Bangladesh SC uphold death penalty to 2 army officers


30 April 2013

Press Trust of India

DHAKA, 30 APRIL: Bangladesh‘s Supreme Court today upheld the death sentences of two fugitive junior military officers awarded by a local court for killing four top national leaders, including the then acting president Syed Nazrul Islam, inside the Dhaka Central Jail in 1975.

“The appeal is allowed,” ruled Chief Justice Mozammel Huq, who headed a six-member Bench of the Appellate Division, turning down the 2008 High Court judgment in this case.

The High Court had acquitted sacked junior commissioned officers Marfat Ali Shah and Abdul Hashem Mridha in 2008. The state attorneys submitted a petition challenging the acquittal of several accused five months ago.

The two accused, who are on the run, are believed to be hiding in India. New Delhi has assured Dhaka of sending them back if tracked them down.

The four leaders ~ Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin Ahmad, AHM Qamruzzaman and Captain Mansur Ali ~ were brutally killed inside the high security Dhaka Central Jail in captivity by a group of army men.

Islam was the acting President and Ahmed performed as the Prime Minister of the then government in exile in India while two others were senior ministers of the interim administration to steer the 1971 Liberation War in absence of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who was in captivity in Pakistan at that time.

They were gunned down inside their prison cells by a group of army personnel months after the killing of Sheikh Mujib along with most of his family members in August 1975.

The post coup administration installed by the putsch leaders had put them behind the bar as they declined to support the “illegitimate government” and eventually killed just ahead of a counter-coup that ousted the August plotters.

The then self-proclaimed president Khandker Mushtaq Ahmed, however, had constituted visibly a “show case” enquiry commission to investigate into the carnage, though prosecution evidence suggested he himself had ordered the assassins entry inside the prison to kill the four leaders.

The SC, however, ordered immediate surrender of two absconding army officers as it allowed government to file the appeal more than three years ago.

The Metropolitan Sessions Judge’s court in October, 2004, originally sentenced to death three fugitive former military personnel and life term to 12 others for the jail massacre while it had acquitted four politicians and another former military officer.

Several of the suspects of the jail killings, however, were convicted and already executed under a separate judgment in Bangabandhu Murder Trial four years ago.

But the family members and the prosecution lawyers were not satisfied even with the lower court verdict in the jail killing trial as the belated trial began in 1996 alongside the Bangabandhu Murder Case. The two trials began simultaneously after Awami League‘s returned to power in 1996 general election after 21 years of political wilderness and scrapped an infamous indemnity law, which until then protected the killers from justice.

Foster Hindu parents bring up Farzana in Islamic tradition #Sundayreading


The Hindu , By J. S. Ifthekhar

Farzana with Madhu and Laxmi Reddy.

Farzana with Madhu and Laxmi Reddy.
When they marry off their daughter Farzana on Sunday, Madhava Reddy and Lakshmi Reddy will have set a new benchmark for secularism. The couple raised Farzana, who lost her parents, from the age of four as their own child and according to Islamic traditions

Take heart. All is not lost yet. There are still people around who stand by values, pluralism and tolerance. While most cry hoarse about religious co-existence, here is a family that lives by it. Madhava Reddy and his wife Lakshmi Reddy are perhaps the best hope for humanity.

When they marry off their daughter Farzana on Sunday, they will have set a new benchmark for secularism. If you do a double-take, you must be an outsider. For the people of Gouraipally, a sleepy village 7 km from Yadgirigutta in Nalgonda district, it is nothing unusual.

They have seen Reddy and his wife raising Farzana right from the age of four as their own child. The girl, who lost her parents at an early age, could not have asked for better foster parents. When none of her relatives came forward to adopt her, Madhava Reddy took her in his care.

The Reddy couple, who have two sons, took an instant liking for Farzana.

They not merely showered love and affection on her but brought her up according to Islamic traditions. Apart from giving her modern education, they ensured that Farzana was not deprived of Islamic teachings.

“We never forced our religion on her but allowed the girl to perform ‘namaz’, read the Quran and observe fast during Ramzan,” says Madhava Reddy, who retired from the Electricity Board.

No wonder, as 22-year-old Farzana prepares for a new phase of life on Sunday, she is sad to part with her parents.

“I will miss mummy and daddy a lot,” she says in a choked voice.

A bright student, Farzana passed 10th Class and Intermediate in first division. Later, she did nursing course in Hyderabad and got a job at Yashoda Hospital, Malakpet.

Qazi Akhter of Yadgirigutta is expected to perform Farzana’s ‘nikah’ with a Nalgonda boy, Mohd. Rasheed, on Sunday. Ghiasuddin Babukhan, chairman, Hyderabad Zakat and Charitable Trust, who supported Farzana’s education, is lending a helping hand in her marriage, too.

Reddy’s two sons, who are working in the U.S., are fond of Farzana and keep in touch with her. Treat others as you would like to be treated yourself is the golden principle of the family. Sure, an ounce of practice is worth tonnes of preaching.

 

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