Tag Archives: Islam

Secularism and the Myth of ‘Hindu’ Tolerance

‘Secularism’ has now become a bad word and it is quite fashionable to attack, criticize and ridicule it. Just about anyone, regardless of whether s/he has spent even a minute thinking about it, can attack it. A television channel  recently even decided to have a vote on whether we should ‘have’ secularism or not, I understand, after an utterly ill-informed debate. It is almost as if the blame for everything that is wrong with Indian society can be laid at the door of this monster called ‘Secularism’. Modern Hindu ideologues have of course, mastered this art of blaming every evil practice of Hindu society on to some ‘Other’: From untouchability and sati to child marriage, purdah and the everyday violence of caste oppression –  everything apparently happened because of ‘Islam’ and Christianity’. Later, Marxism and secularism were added to the list. And while we are at it, let us remember that the great Bal Gangadhar Tilak led what was perhaps the first mass nationalist anticolonial mobilization, against raising the  Age of Consent of girls for sexual intercourse from 10 to 12 years! Much of that righteous indignation continues to be the hallmark of the new defensiveness that the 21st century ‘raging Hindu’  exhibits.

For everything wrong in the behaviour of these adult men with walrus moustaches, an explanation exists in some founding childhood trauma for which their adulthood can never be held responsible! ‘Secularism’ now is the name of the insistence that wants to hold the modern Hindu responsible for his acts today, rather than let it remain suspended in a permanent state of childhood. I suspect, the term ‘secularism’ today, in Hindu Right discourse, is no longer about the ‘separation of religion and politics’ or ‘sarva dharma samabhava‘ (equal respect for all religions) and ‘dharma-nirpekshata‘ (neutrality between religions) at all, but the ghost-house where all the pathologies of this traumatized child(hood) are played out.

Continue reading Secularism and the Myth of ‘Hindu’ Tolerance

An Attempt to Make Sense of Culture in Islam: Raoof Mir

Guest post by RAOOF MIR

Purity and corruption has remained one of the recurrent themes in the entire history of Islam. The arrival of Islam in Arabia did not mean a radical departure from the past. Wael B. Hallaq, a noted scholar on Islamic law and Islamic intellectual history establishes through his commendable work that “much of Arabian law continued to occupy a place in the Shari’ah, but not without modification.” Prophet Mohammed, who founded this new faith by introducing new nomos, also let several old customs and institutions to remain unchallenged. Despite his critical attitude toward the local social and moral environment, Prophet Muhammad was very much part of this environment and was deeply rooted in the traditions of Arabia.

Though the new converts to Islam entered into a new cosmological order, they at the same time, continued to adhere to the practices of old pagan culture. Since the arrival of Islam many individual reformists or reform movements have intended to reform Islam and decontaminate it from its ‘accretional’ aspects. These reformative endeavours envisaged a Muslim community that is not only socially distinct but also repudiates the pre-existing cosmological order. However, so far, there has been no end to this conflict. This conflict between the formal ideology of reformists (Textual Islam) and functional behaviour of the majority of the Muslims (Lived Islam) continues till today. Continue reading An Attempt to Make Sense of Culture in Islam: Raoof Mir

Women’s Mosque of America – Women Carving Out Spaces of Prayer: Azza Basarudin and Khanum Shaikh


In the past decade, the efforts of women in communities of Muslims to claim leadership roles within their communities of worship have animated heated debates around the role and place that Islam ascribes to women. Questions of whether women are allowed to call congregants to prayer (adhaan), deliver sermons (khutba), lead prayers, and participate in mixed-gender prayer with women and men standing side-by-side are religiously permissible acts have been thrown up into the air, gaining support from some Muslims, and intense resistance from others. Within the United States, these contemporary debates can be traced back to a mixed-gender Friday prayer service led by Dr. Amina Wadud at Synod House of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York in 2005.[1] Numerous women-led prayer sessions have since taken place in cities across the United States, and in various global locations such as Toronto and Barcelona.[2] Widespread condemnation, heresy charges, and death threats swiftly followed some of these acts of defiance by Muslim women who are tired of being excluded from and/or given marginal spaces/roles within mosques for prayer, i.e. usually behind men or in less than ideal spaces where it is difficult to see/hear the sermon (khutba). Nonetheless, voices of support and acceptance are also prevalent—not that the women trailblazing this mode of leadership in ritual practices need anyone’s approval. It is into one such space—a newly created women-only Friday prayer organized by the Women’s Mosque of America—that we made our way on May 22, 2015 in Los Angeles. Continue reading Women’s Mosque of America – Women Carving Out Spaces of Prayer: Azza Basarudin and Khanum Shaikh

Taliban Attack – the Limits of Savagery: Akhlaq Ahan

Guest post by AKHLAQ AHAN

Every sane person is aghast to see what has happened in Peshawar, where Taliban’s attack on a school has crossed all limits of savagery and senselessness. They killed over 140 innocents mostly children, after taking them hostage, burned a teacher with gasoline and made the students watch the ghastly act.

Historically the area is part of the region known as ‘Khorasan e Buzurg’ or the greater Khorasan spanning over the so called North West Frontier, Afghanistan, North East Iran and erstwhile Emirate of Bukhara. The area, for thousands of years, has been the heart and mind of Asia; as this was the region where Gathas of Avesta and Vedas were compiled, Buddhist teachings flourished and survived, Persian traditions were revived, the seekers of truth flocked around Sufi masters to be enlightened. This is the land that produced personalities like Zarathustra, Panini, Alberuni, Khwaja Ansari, Data Ganj Bakhsh, Khwaja Gharib Nawaz, Rumi, Jami, Rahman Baba and hundreds of others. Scores travelled to the region to seek knowledge and training like Faxian, Xuanzang, Yijing, Shams Taprez (Tabrez), Amir Khusraw, Guru Nanak, Jamali and countless others. Though the region has seen occasional strife in the past too but the traditions of inclusion had continued to prevail till about a couple of centuries ago, when these values began to face systematic attacks. A few like Bacha Khan, in his autobiography, gauged the extent of the spread of these exclusionist ideas and warned against them. Continue reading Taliban Attack – the Limits of Savagery: Akhlaq Ahan

I am a Muslim, an Atheist, an Anarchist: Salmaan Mohammed

Guest Post by Salmaan Mohammed

[ Salmaan Mohammed, a twenty five year old philosophy student was arrested in Thiruvananthapuram on 19 August 2014 for sedition, and for allegedly dishonouring the national flag and national anthem. The complaint against him originated as a response to his refusing to stand while the national anthem was played in a cinema during a screening. Salman is currently out on bail, but still faces the prospect of a life term in prison if he is found guilty of sedition by the judicial process. We at Kafila have been in touch with Salman and he has recently sent us a translation of an audio interview he did after coming out of prison on bail so that the world outside Kerala (and those who do not read or speak Malayalam) can understand what he has been thinking.]

Continue reading I am a Muslim, an Atheist, an Anarchist: Salmaan Mohammed

On The Real Tragedy of Secular Modernity: Anand Vivek Taneja

This is a guest post by ANAND VIVEK TANEJA


In the discussion around Aarti Sethi’s essay on Remembering Maqsood Pardesi some very important questions arose. As these questions are directly relevant to my work, but also to the larger concerns of the Kafila community, I decided to dwell on them at some length. As these reflections were written in response to the comments of one particular person, I address him directly in what follows below.

Dear Imtiaz,

In your comments on Aarti’s essay, you say the following things about my work:

The tragedy of secular moderns of India is their fascination with Islam… And it appears secular modern Hindus are too busy analyzing jinns of Delhi, which is really sad!

… what do I do with the knowledge of emerging liberal ideologues working for the empire writing enchanting texts about chattan baba or the jinns?


I think that your opening statement is profound. But to understand its true depth, we need to revisit the terms “secular”, and “modern”, as well as our understandings of “Hinduism” and “Islam.” As an entry point into these questions, I will address your (rhetorical) question about what one should, and can do with “enchanting” texts about jinns. Continue reading On The Real Tragedy of Secular Modernity: Anand Vivek Taneja

On Hasan Suroor’s “Islam and Its Interpretations”: Zeeshan Reshamwala


Many Interpretations are Still Better Than One

[Hasan Suroor suggests in an op-ed that one of the causes of Islamist violence is the ambiguity of the Quran and the hadith, adding that perhaps it is time to develop an “authorised” version of the Islamic tradition. This article critiques Suroor’s assumption that it is possible to achieve a “pure” interpretation of a text, whether it be from a religious tradition or otherwise. In addition, it argues against Suroor’s tendency to imagine violence as a “medieval” phenomenon, and world-history as a deterministic forward-moving arrow.]

Hasan Suroor suggests that the problem of Islamist fundamentalism and the violence that follows in its wake can be solved by untangling the multiple interpretations of ambiguous Islamic texts. In his op-ed in The Hindu (29 September), “Islam and its Interpretations,”  Suroor points out this apparent paradox: that although on the one hand Muslims cite verses and hadith that provide injunctions against violence, on the other hand a more violent strain of believers (such as the Taliban) are also able to cite Quranic verses and hadith that justify their violence. The problem, he claims, does not lie completely with the manner in which Islamic texts are interpreted, but instead with the fact that the Quran is an extremely ambiguous text, arranged athematically, and whose meaning is often dependent on the context of each individual revelation. More so the hadiths, written down from the sayings of Mohammed, are of variable authenticity. The lack of a single authoritative version of Islamic texts, says Suroor, leaves the tradition “open for fanatics to distort at will.” Continue reading On Hasan Suroor’s “Islam and Its Interpretations”: Zeeshan Reshamwala

As a religious minority, I empathize with sexual minorities: M Reyaz

This is a guest post by M. REYAZ

The Apex Court judgment of December 11, putting aside the Delhi High Court order on decriminalisation of homosexuality, pertaining to Section 377 of the IPC has clearly divided into two ‘queer’ camps, where on one side besides LGBTS are those liberals extending their support to the LGBT cause, and on the other side, there are religious leaders and groups, who otherwise would not even see eye to eye with each other (what is ‘queer’ about this second camp is not so much its sexual orientation, as the strangeness of its banding together against queer people despite their antagonism toward each other).

Continue reading As a religious minority, I empathize with sexual minorities: M Reyaz

An account of deadly clashes in Tahrir Square: Alia Allana

This guest post by ALIA ALLANA is a despatch for Kafila from Cairo, the eighth in a series of ground reports from the Arab Spring. Videos and photos by Alia Allana

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A peaceful protest with men selling candyfloss and making chai turned into an orgy of violence.

Tahrir Square had been quiet for the earlier part of the day today. The Sunday afternoon saw couples strolling, a mother carried her sleeping child, his face was buried in her bosom, scooters with loud speakers blared music.  There was no chanting and very few slogans. Small and sporadic groups of people protested. They called for change.

Continue reading An account of deadly clashes in Tahrir Square: Alia Allana

Of Mosques and Minars

The Jama Masjid at Mandu. Photo credit: Himanshu Joshi

I can’t really say when I first heard the Aazan  (the call for prayers given by the Muezzin, five times a day) it must have been in the early 50s when I was a little child and lived in Chabi Ganj, next to the Faseel (City wall) near Kashmiri Gate.

The sound of the Azan would have drifted in from one of the nearby Mosques, there were a few not too far away. The practice of using loudspeakers was not in vogue those days and yet the muezzin’s call for prayers travelled quite some distance, primarily because the horrible ambient sounds that assail our auditory nerves were almost non-existent at the time, in place of this cacophony there used to be other ambient sounds, the rustling of leaves, the chirping of birds and others, that have, it would seem, now been lost forever.  Continue reading Of Mosques and Minars


This is a guest post by Naeem, an artist friend. The post is a cull from a conversation regarding the recent ban in Switzerland imposed on building minarets.

In a vote that displayed a widespread anxiety about Islam and undermined the country’s reputation for religious tolerance, the Swiss on Sunday overwhelmingly imposed a national ban on the construction of minarets, the prayer towers of mosques, in a referendum drawn up by the far right and opposed by the government. The referendum passed with 57.5 percent of the vote and in 22 of Switzerland’s 26 cantons.

Continue reading Minarett-Verbot

Debating “Political Islam”

A number of activists from the South Asia Solidarity Initiative (SASI) in New York have initiated a reading group on South Asia.  The notes below are the second in a series of commentaries following reading discussions that some members of the reading group are posting on Kafila.  This is an attempt to broaden the discussions and in the process make it a productive dialogue to understand developments in the region and deepen our solidarity.

Debating “Political Islam”

– Svati Shah, Biju Mathew, Sumitra Rajkumar, Prachi Patankar and Ahilan Kadirgamar

The recent debate between Samir Amin and Tariq Amin-Khan on a left perspective on “political Islam” in the context of imperialism, published in Monthly Review (December 2007 and March 2009), provides an opportunity to reflect on a number of issues that have vexed the anti-war movement and the left with respect to the on-going wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The most vexing of these issues has been the question of whom the left should target as its allies in those countries, and what position the left should take toward so-called “political Islam,” represented by Islamist groups calling for an end to foreign occupation.  The definition of “political Islam” is presented below in relation to each critique.  Both Amin and Amin-Khan are in agreement that both “political Islam” and imperialism have to be challenged simultaneously.  There are no strategic questions here, in terms of joining one to fight the other.  The defeat or withdrawal of both is desirable in the interests of a people-centred politics.  In imperialism’s projection of capitalism and reactionary Islam’s comfort with capitalism (that class and gender do not trouble it) they are objective allies even if on the ground their adherents are military enemies.  This initial agreement then delves into a number of nuanced questions that must be considered in order to foster the return to a people centred politics in both of these countries, and the regions as a whole.

Continue reading Debating “Political Islam”

Swat Flogging and Public Outrage: Beena Sarwar

[This article was first published in Dawn 12 April 2009. It is reproduced here courtesy South Asia Citizens Web. The recent reports of the most spine-chilling instance of flogging of a young woman by Taliban goons unleashed a wave of indignation across Pakistan. This comment by Pakistani journalist Beena Sarwar is self-explanatory. For all the political illiterates and those given to anti-Muslim hate-speech in this country, this report and the innumerable discussions and posts on sites like Chowk, should indicate how much the Taliban and terrorism are hated and resisted by ordinary ‘secular’ people and women’s and human rights groups in Pakistan. They should indicate that ‘Islam’ and ‘being Muslim’ are themselves intensely contested ideas. But of course, we know that nothing can teach these hate-mongers anything, for they are the mirror-image of the Taliban. And as for us, as the old song goes: hum korea mein hum hain hindustan mein/ hum roos mein hain, cheen mein japan mein…And one might add: Pakistan mein bhi hain aur sare jahaan mein

(There we are in korea and in hindustan/in russia we are, in china and in japan/and in pakistan too we are, we’re in the whole wide world…)

It is people like us there who must fight the Taliban, and people like them here who must fight the Hindutva fascists  – always, relentlessly…Even when in the minority and especially when the political parties and leaders desert en masse. – AN]

Demo against womans flogging, courtesy LA Times
Demo against woman's flogging, courtesy LA Times

In the “flogging video’s” undated footage shot with a cellphone in Swat (judging by the language and clothes) a man whips a woman in red, her pinned face down on the ground and encircled by men. The leather strap strikes her back as she cries out in pain.

The video, circulated on the Internet before local television channels broadcast it, caused a furore both in Pakistan and internationally. What caused the outrage? The public punishment meted out to a woman — or the fact that it was broadcast?

Continue reading Swat Flogging and Public Outrage: Beena Sarwar

Mr Friedman’s Demagoguery

Guest post by SAADIA TOOR and BALMURLI NATARAJAN of the South Asia Solidarity Initiative (SASI)

A response to his op-ed piece in The New York Times, December 3, 2008.

Among Mr. Friedman’s long list of talents seems to be the ability to directly access the minds of dead people.  After all, how else could he know that the real attackers in the Mumbai shootings shared the same set of intentions and motivations as the fictional characters he creates who murder an imam and his wife purely for being Sunni?  Maybe his short sojourns in South Asia through airports and the plush suites of the Marriot and the Taj Mahal Hotel do not allow him to imagine any other kind of Muslim than a unidimensional protestor of xenophobic cartoon images (produced, distributed and hotly defended, incidentally, by the enlightened West).  Maybe this talent comes from the same well of wisdom that made him the biggest promoter of the “innovative genius” of Wall Street bankers not too long ago, a position that he now has some trouble justifying, except by calling them “stupid”.  Or just maybe, he has simply made it a habit to promote views and policies that have no basis in fact and do not stand up to the slightest scrutiny.  After all, those are the perks that come with a regular column in a major newspaper and a guaranteed readership just waiting for one to provide the ‘expert’ fuel to their fire.  Continue reading Mr Friedman’s Demagoguery