Thursday, April 23, 2015

You guys have such a Hindu culture!

"You guys have such a Hindu culture!"

The above was said to me by a Pakistani acquaintance just as we were discussing the 3-0 drubbing that Bangladesh handed out to Pakistan in the recent cricket ODI series. He wanted to know if our player Soumya Sarkar was a Hindu. 

"Honestly, I don't know." I replied. "I was curious about it as well. Sarkar is a last name common to both Hindus and Muslims in Bangladesh, and Soumya is just a first name."

That's when he said it. 

"You Bengalis are so much like Hindus!"

"Please explain." I asked him, in the mood for a good argument.

He struggled, of course.

"I ... don't know exactly," He said. "Your names. I knew a Bengali Muslim called Bijoy. That's a Hindu name. Your dresses ... Your culture ... You guys celebrate holidays like new year that is un-Islamic."

In a calm (so unlike me!) and logical manner, I tackled all his arguments (but of course he wouldn't budge from his opinion).

Typical Arrogance

Realize the statement "Bengali has a huge Hindu influence", no matter it's validity or lack thereof, comes from a base of arrogance. There is a huge arrogance amongst speakers of Urdu (and sometimes Farsi) - that they are somehow more Islamic, just by virtue of their language and lineage.

In 1952, the ruling West Pakistani elite viewed support for Urdu as support for an Islamic identity, and support for Bangla as being a traitor to "Islamic" Pakistan. Jinnah actually had the audacity to say, "Urdu embodies the best that is in Islamic culture and Muslim tradition and is nearest to the languages used in other Islamic countries." His arrogant nature was at its peak when he asked a few Bengali students, on a visit to then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), whether Bengalis could boast of any great men of letters in their history.

Pakistanis also uniquely believe Pakistan is an "Islamic" country, and therefore anyone who is Muslim should support Pakistan (and anything Pakistani, like the Urdu language). Thus Shoaib Malik infamously thanked all Muslims for supporting Pakistan in the first World T20 final when they played against India, ignoring the man of the match award which went to an Indian Muslim. Anything not seen as "Pakistani", such as the Bengali language, must therefore be non-Muslim, or Hindu.

Pride of Lineage

Urdu speaking Muslims of the South Asian subcontinent are almost always proud of their heritage. They see themselves as more Muslim, or more authentic Muslim, while the dark skinned Bengalis are seen as recent converts from Hinduism and therefore less pure. Nothing of course, could be further from the truth. Islam came to the subcontinent at roughly the same time, and whether you are a Muslim from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka or Bhutan - all of your ancestors were likely Hindus or Buddhists. The Arabs who conquered and settled in the Indian subcontinent viewed everyone as from "Hind". Yet, look what Ayub Khan, the President of Pakistan, once said.

Bengali Islam was the religion of the indigenous depressed peasant convert; in West Pakistan, Islam was the faith of the conquerors, the rulers, the courtiers. Bengali Islam was a faith associated with the "downtrodden races".

You say Hindu influence like it's a bad thing

It is obvious, undeniable and academically incorrect to say there is no Indian influence in the South Asian culture. From Peshawar to Chittagong, we have similar food, clothes, mannerisms, and so on. We all watch the same Bollywood movies and dance to the same Bollywood songs. We also have our regional variances, and thus you have Pashto, Malayalam, Bengali, Tamil etc. - multiple languages and cultures. And all these cultures have some common elements, and some variances - and within them you have people of many religions.

Where Bengali Muslims have differentiated from Urdu speaking Muslims is that even by adopting Islam, we have not lost our culture or language. In Pakistan (especially) there is a drive to Arabize themselves - seeing it as more Islamic. This was prominent under the Zia regime. When Bangladesh was part of Pakistan, they tried it on the Bengalis (and failed). In 1949 the government of East Pakistan (an Urdu speaking governor) set up a East Bengal Bhasha (Language) Committee which said Bengali should be written in Arabic script. The government saw the whole language as "corrupt" and tried to change it. The report actually stated, ""Sanskritization of the language should be avoided" and it was to exclude the Sanskrit words from Bengali and replace them by Urdu, Arabic or Persian words to “conform to the Islamic ideology."

Bengalis reject such false standards of "Islamism".

The small stuff - cultural, not religious

So when an Urdu speaking person complains we Bengali muslims have a lot of Hindu influence, all what I said above is what is really going on. Arrogance, a false pride of lineage and Islamism, and an attempt to be Arab. Yet, of course they can point to the small stuff like our names, our dress and our celebrations. Let's get to that.

What is wrong with a name like Bijoy?

It means victory. Same as Fatih. And it has the same roots as say Nasr. Yet, is Fatih and Nasr more "Islamic", simply because it's Arab? What about the names of the famous Tabiyeen who lived during the Prophet's time, whose name was As-hum? You know him better as the Najjashi. Those are not Arabic names. Neither is Bilal. And we know Salman as a Persian name. It is a good meaning and being Muslim that makes your name Islamic, not just Arabic. And may I remind you, of the 25 prophets named in the Quran, only 4 were Arabs. The rest all had non-Arab names.

Is there anything wrong with celebrating Boishakhi?

No, not really. Depends on what you do when you "celebrate". There is nothing really Islamic, or un-Islamic, about a holiday. It's just a day with an interesting history.

However, as I said, those are the small stuff. Undeniably, we have commonalities with people who lived in our lands for centuries and share the same culture and food. No, a statement like that is not about the small stuff. It has darker roots.

And the ironic tragedy is that such arrogance, coming from a supposedly "Muslim" culture, is what broke up the largest Muslim state of the twentieth century.


 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Why Muslims Should Educate Their Women, and Learn From Them

Note: This article was first published, with minor changes for format, in The Message, the official magazine publication of the Muslim Students Association at the University of Toronto, Scarborough. To contact The Message, please email themessage@msautsc.com.

On December 7, 2013, Al Maghreb Institute, a leading institute teaching Islamic education around the world, announced a news so revolutionary, so ground breaking, that it was reported on multiple Islamic websites, channels and forums around the world. A special Youtube commercial was put out days before advertising that a revolutionary announcement was coming. There, in front of a crowd of 10,000 at an Islamic conference, Al Maghreb made the news official. Ustadha Yasmin Mogahed, a qualified Islamic speaker and scholar, was joining Al Maghreb as an instructor, and would be teaching a class on “purification of the heart”. She would become the first female instructor to join Al Maghreb.

Now, if that seems shocking, know this: Mogahed was just walking in the path trod upon by many women scholars before her; yet for some peculiar reason a female instructor teaching Islamic knowledge now seems so out of place, so wrong that it’s shocking. It wasn’t always so.

Sheikh Navaid Aziz once said, “When we look into our deep and rich history we find that women played a big role in Islamic scholarship and academia.” He quotes Abu 'Abdillah Al-Hakim (author of the Mustadrak) as saying, “If we were to abandon the narrations only found by women we would be forced to abandon a quarter of the shariah.” This indicated that not only did women attend the sermons and teachings of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in the mosque, they narrated them to others after his death.

Indeed the other three quarters also have hadith narrated by both men and women. Aisha bint Abu Bakr, the young wife of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), has recounted a large number of hadith to her nephew Urwah. She also used to hold classes and lecture the masses in the mosque of the Prophet, teaching from behind a curtain. Umm al-Dardaa was another woman whom all seven compilers of Hadith (Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawood, Tirmidhi, Nasaai, Ibn Majah, and Ahmad) narrated from. In the 15th century, Fatimayah al-Bataihiyyah taught Hadith in the Prophet’s mosque in Medina, and the chief male scholars of the day, from as far afield as Fez, were her students.

Some of the famous male scholars also had female scholars as their teachers. Imam Bukhari, the famous collector of Hadith, was taught by his mother, a scholar in her own right. Ibn Hajar was taught seventeen books of Hadith by Abdil Hadi, another female scholar. Ibn Hajar’s wife, Anas Khatun, regularly gave public lectures that were attended by both men and women.

Our rich history shows that women were not restricted to religious scholarship alone. While many scholars of science (such as Ibn Haitham, the father of optics) were also religious scholars, by the 9th century students in Islamic lands had lots of options for specialization. The University of Karaouin, currently the world’s oldest university, was established by a Muslim woman in Fez, Morocco in 859 AD. Men and women studied there, as well as in Baghdad, where Caliph Mamun established the House of Wisdom – a university, a library, a research center all in one.

The jewel in the crown is the book by Sheikh Mohammad Akram Nadwi, a famous Indian scholar of fiqh, Hadith and Arabic. In 1999, he started to research on female hadith scholars, or muhaddithat, expecting to find around 20-30 such scholars throughout the 1400 years of Islamic history. Instead, in 2007 he finished writing a 53-volume book documenting the lives of over 8000 such female scholars, starting with Umm al Darda, a Companion of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Looking at all of this rich history of female scholarship, it is really a surprise that today, for Muslims and non-Muslims alike, the stock image of an Islamic scholar is an old gray bearded man. Women are seen often as victims and subjects of Islamic law, rather than its shapers and teachers. Today, many women dare not even pray in the mosque, let alone lecture leaders in them on the finer points of Islamic law. Today, there are a few Muslim countries where men shoot and kill girls as young as ten for the simple “crime” of going to school. They are not allowed to interact, study with, or talk to men. Whereas during the medieval times women used to constitute around 15% of the elite scholarship, today it’s a ground breaking news when one, ONE woman scholar is appointed to teach a single class. Such misogyny, looking from history, has no place in Islam.

The decline has several reasons. In the ninth century the Mu’tazila movement spread in the Muslim capital Baghdad, and even the Caliph was heavily influenced by Greek philosophy. As ancient Greek works and ideas encroached into Islamic thought, so did their views of women as soul less and sub human. The often cited (and scientifically nonsensical) point, “men are smarter than women” or “men are better at science” has its origins in ancient Greek philosophy.

During the tenth to the thirteenth centuries, the Muslim empires (and centres of scholarship) were under constant sustained attack by foreign forces such as the Crusaders and Mongols. Scholarship took a backseat as survival became the name of the game. In fact, many historians say the remnants of the impact of the Mongol devastation of Baghdad can still be felt today – this was the precise moment in history where the Muslims stopped their efforts to lead the world and soon (a few hundred years later), the Western world would pick up that mantle.

Today, we cannot allow this to continue. Women make up to 50% of our population and any nation that ignores half of its resources cannot be fruitful. Even Saudi Arabia recognized this, and the late King Abdullah established the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology where women were allowed to freely study and mix with men in the pursuit of knowledge.

To free our women from this intellectual bondage, and empower them, we don’t need to look far; Allah provides a glorious example in the Quran. The most manliest of all men that we know of is the Prophet Musa (Moses, peace be upon him). One Hadith says Musa (peace be upon him) once punched the Angel of Death, who had appeared in the shape of a man before him, knocking his eye out. This was the brave and fearless man who stood up to an Egyptian who he thought was torturing a Jew. This is the same Musa who single-handedly and bravely stands up against the gang men harassing Saphurah and her sister at the wells of Madian (little knowing that soon he would marry Saphurah). Such was Musa, peace be upon him.

And yet, Allah also mentions the women who all played a part in making Musa (peace be upon him) who he was. We start with his mother, who bravely takes an inspired decision and carries out Allah’s command, even if that meant abandoning her own baby in the river. Her knowledge would later benefit Musa (peace be upon him) when he would say, after killing the Egyptian, “This is from Satan. Oh Allah, forgive me.”

Miriam, his sister, is the intelligent girl who is told to follow the basket down the river. Miriam is the brave girl who follows the basket in a distance. She is living a religious life in a land where she is the oppressed minority, yet she keeps her wits about her when she finds a way to reunite mother and child, thus fulfilling the promise of Allah. Asiah, the wife of the Pharoah, and one whom the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) has said is a lady perfect in her faith, is the next woman to influence Musa (peace be upon him). She tolerates the torture of the Pharoah with patience and forbearance, praying a beautiful prayer to Allah that is mentioned in the Quran. Finally, we have the wife of Musa (peace be upon him), a woman brave enough to go out to work in a land full of dangerous men, a lady bashful and modest enough when her father sends her to fetch Musa (peace be upon him), a lady intelligent enough to spot the potential of Musa (peace be upon him) as she suggests to her father to employ him, a lady religious enough to support her now husband Musa (peace be upon him) as he begins his Prophethood ten years later.
Such were the women mentioned in the Quran as an example for us to follow, and it is about time we followed them.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

"Spring" in Canada

Spring in Canada was supposed to begin on March 20, 2015. The news channels gleefully report the low temperatures as "spring" officially begins. Yet, I have to say to these folk - you use the word "Spring", but I don't think it means what you think it means.

So last week (in fact on Good Friday, two days ago) it was a brilliant, sunny 17 C. A perfect Spring day. Yet this morning, we in Toronto woke up to this.


Yup, snow. And temperature a chilly 3 C. That's lower than what is in your fridge (the bottom portion). Sometimes I wonder why I am here. If it wasn't the peace and security of life, a good sense of law and order, freedom of speech and religion, top notch healthcare, a First World life style of convenience and comfort, liberty to pursue a life of happiness and accordance of full rights as a citizen and a sense of belonging - not many people would live here.

For the last 2 years I worked at a job that required a lot of travelling within the United States. Whenever I would go visit San Diego or Southern California, during the winter, and see that their lowest temperature is what we would consider Spring, I would rethink my decision to live in Toronto. If only Canada had an area like that!



Meanwhile, let's enjoy Spring. Summer can't be too far away.

If you were to have told me, when I lived in UAE, that I would actually look forward to summer, I would have called you crazy. It just tells you, the grass on the other side ...

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Cricket World Cup 2015 Final Prediction

Finally, after a month and a half, we are on the cusp of crowning a new ODI champion. The World Cup finalists are the two co-hosts, Australia and New Zealand.

New Zealand were lucky to get through their semi final. It was the first time their all out attack policy was looking to backfire. They had used up all their premier bowlers, and South Africa still had enough wickets and overs left to launch their own batting attack. While 350 was always on the cards from then on, I would not have been surprised had they made 400. Batting first, lots of wickets, no pressure - you get that target easily - as South Africa has already done twice this World Cup.

And then came the rain - South Africa's nemesis in knock out games - and knocked off 7 important overs that South Africa was looking to accelerate in. They still set New Zealand a stiff target, a stiff target in a short chase is easier than a stiffer target in a longer chase. And the rest was history as New Zealand held on to their nerves just a wee bit better than the South Africans.

Australia, on the other hand, had an easier semi final. India chocked and collapsed while chasing a stiff target, just like Bangladesh had in their quarter final against India. Australia had the relatively easier group as well, beating the likes of England and Sri Lanka easily (although up until Chandimal's cramps, Sri Lanka were remarkably in the game chasing 370). There was only one game they lost - coincidentally to New Zealand - and it's this game that will give New Zealand some confidence going into the final.

Everything, every card, speaks against New Zealand. The final is in Australia, at the vast MCG, and Australia are simply the boss of their home situations. They have an awesome batting line up that bats deep, with X factor players such as Maxwell, and a fearsome bowling line up that features Mitchell Starc as one of the leading wicket takers of the tournament.

Yet the same could be said of the New Zealand team. They have an awesome batting line up that bats deep, with X factor players such as McCallum (leading from the top), and a fearsome bowling line up that features Trent Boult as one of the leading wicket takers of the tournament. They also have one thing Australia doesn't have - a quality spinner in Vettori.

It would be a fitting finale between two teams that really are evenly split. I am going to give the prediction to New Zealand - simply because it's time for them to win. And I think they can do it.