Mr S Thayaparan, only Islamic’s Solution the Democratic Solution

Who is more hypocritical, UMNO or PAS or both? Sometimes it is UMNO. Sometimes it is PAS. Sometimes both are equally hypocritical. It is hypocrisy and a conduit to gain and sustain power. My read is there shall never be Islamic state or hudud or whatever irrespective of who is eventually in power. The Muslims themselves do not want it or cannot take it too. In view of City Harvest Church in Singapore, I think it is time to confront and challenge all religious leaders. They are not god. We fight toe and nail for democracy but only to succumb like a dove to these self-appointed leaders in the name of the father, the son and the Holy Spirit. What an irony.

All you could see was dust. Dust and stones. The barren lands of Ralegan Siddhi spoke not only of its geographic terrain but also embodied the angst of its families. Dry and hopeless. Like thousands of villages in India, Ralegan Siddhi was drastically behind its times. Seventy percent of the villagers were land holding farmers but with water barely available, farming was not a viable economic option. Lack of exposure to water conservation meant that farmers only relied on rain water and unfortunately the Gods were not always kind. Most years it was difficult to produce even a single crop!

There has been a ratcheting up of racist rhetoric against the Chinese community of late by Umno, culminating in the rather odious challenge to PAS by Umno’s Kemelah state assemblyperson Ayub Rahmat that ‘hudud law’ be implemented in Johor for everyone, Muslim and non-Muslim.

NONENotice Ayub’s unfortunate choice of words, “The Syariah Criminal Code (II) 1993 State of Kelantan does not reflect the true requirements of Islam. It creates discrimination in terms of execution (among Muslims and non-Muslims).”

In other words, it’s “unIslamic” to have a set of laws that discriminates between Muslim and non-Muslim and because this is Malaysia, between Malay and non-Malay. Do you see where I’m going with this?

Like most Umno politicians Ayub does not see the contradiction between the Umno obsession of upholding Malay rights, which in turn is translated into unofficial and official institutionalised discrimination, and the so-called egalitarian perspective of Islam..

Grazing cattle was another option for the villagers. But without any rain and green fodder, what would the cattle eat? In search of employment, most men set out to cities or other villages. Those who remained, worked as daily wage laborers in breaking quarry stone outside the village. If matters weren’t already bad, the opening of liquor stores in the village made it worse.

Alcoholism grew rampant amongst frustrated villagers. Domestic violence became the norm and women were brutally oppressed within the household. Outside, women were teased and harrassed on the streets. Dowry became an acceptable way to trade women leading to their further oppression. It is not surprising that education was not a priority on any ones mind and so the local school only went up the grade four. It seemed like everyone was suffering in the village until a leader was born on the battle field.

More than 5,000 people in Britain converted to Islam last year. That’s an average of 14 a day, and most of them are women, including Lauren Booth, Tony Blair’s sister-in-law. Academic studies in the U.K. have concluded that the idea that these conversions are driven mostly by marriage is a myth, and that most converts are simply attracted by the values of Islam. But there’s a paradox here. In a controversial speech this week, Britain’s first female Muslim Cabinet minister complained of growing intolerance toward Muslims in the U.K.

Britain is often seen as a country of remarkable tolerance and diversity. There, an average of 14 people convert to Islam every day. But a senior British politician, who is herself a Muslim, says things are changing, and that British are becoming more hostile to members of her faith.

NPR’s Philip Reeves has the story.

PHILIP REEVES: Sayeeda Warsi is the first Muslim woman to sit in Britain’s cabinet. She co-chairs the Conservatives, the party that leads the coalition government.

This week, Warsi had this blunt message for her fellow Britons.

Baroness SAYEEDA WARSI (Co-Chair, Conservative Party): It has seeped into our society in a way where it is acceptable around dinner to have these conversations, where anti-Muslim hatred and bigotry is quite openly discussed.

REEVES: Plenty of people worry about this.

Mr. FIYAZ MUGHAL (Founder, Faith Matters): There’s a growing gulf of misunderstanding within faith communities and a growing gulf of misunderstanding between Muslim and non-Muslim communities.

REEVES: Fiyaz Mughal is founder of Faith Matters, an organization that promotes better inter-faith relations.

Mr. MUGHAL: This is worrying. This is a trend, and this is a trend that if we do not stop is going to lead to major divisions within the U.S., within Europe.

REEVES: Faith Matters commissioned the largest ever survey of Britain’s converts to Islam. The survey shines a light on the contradictory attitudes that confront Muslims living here. It says most converts actually do feel British and Muslim and don’t generally consider most Britons hostile to Islam.

Yet, says Mughal, the media usually takes a different view.

Mr. MUGHAL: The typical view taken of somebody converting to Islam is that they are somehow unbalanced, that they are somehow brainwashed, that they are missing or lacking something in their life.

REEVES: The report calculates just over 5,000 people in Britain converted to Islam this year. It says they often feel isolated from their families and from the men who run the mosques. About two-thirds of the converts are women. Marriage is usually not the reason, despite popular belief.
Recent converts include Lauren Booth, sister-in-law of Britain’s former Prime Minister Tony Blair. Booth remembers how she called her mother to tell her she’d been to a Muslim shrine and was deeply moved. She was encouraged by her mom’s positive response.

Ms. LAUREN BOOTH (Journalist and Activist): So I said, I’m thinking of converting, and she said, that’s no problem to me at all, and I was amazed.

REEVES: When she met her mother a week later, Booth wore the hijab, the traditional Islamic scarf.

Ms. BOOTH: She asked, why are you wearing that? And I said, because I’ve converted to Islam. And she said, Islam? I thought you said Buddhism, not those nutters.

REEVES: Booth hasn’t yet told her brother-in-law Tony Blair.

Ms. BOOTH: I believe he’s a war criminal, so I can’t say we’ve had this discussion personally.

REEVES: On a windswept day at a mosque in the University of Swansea on Britain’s western edge, Friday prayers begin.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

REEVES: The women are in a separate room. The imam’s address is relayed to them by loudspeaker.

Unidentified Man: So when he was dying, he commands his people to look after women. Again, he didn’t tell people: Go and fight.

REEVES: Some worshippers here are white British converts. They include a young mother, Helen Brooks-Wazwaz(ph). After prayers, she talks about her conversion, which was inspired by a visit to Egypt. She says her fellow Muslims welcomed her decision, but her father found it hard.

Ms. HELEN BROOKS-WAZWAZ: My dad’s first reaction was you’re going to have trouble all over the world, because his immediate instinct was, well, look at all these troubles that Muslims make, look at all these troubles that Muslims cause.

REEVES: There’s a commonly held belief in secular Western societies that Islam represses women by compelling them to cover up. Brooks-Wazwaz says that’s not her view of Islamic dress.

Ms. BROOKS-WAZWAZ: It makes me feel actually liberated rather than oppressed. As a woman in a Western society, you’re very pressurized to try and wear something that you look your best and that people will look at you and think, oh, they look nice, they look attractive. But in Islam, your body is protected.

REEVES: Complex currents are at work here: Muslim resentment over the West’s military role in the Middle East and elsewhere, Western resentment over Islamist attacks, the Muslim view of the West only as a hotbed of drinking and sex and so on.

Fiyaz Mughal of Faith Matters says everyone now needs to give a little.

Mr. MUGHAL: We need to stop just accepting the stereotypes about the other and start asking some questions about who we are and where we are going as societies.

Driving a truck through Khem Karan a bomb had struck all but his truck. Suddenly he was surrounded by death and violence. He looked around and all he saw fire. Fire that finishes everything. Fire that gives light to the new a new path. And it was in the midst of this violence that he was re-born. Born to serve other people. Born to help those in need. Born to unite and empower a village to become productive and turn their story around.

Baburao returned to Ralegan from his service in the military but this time with a mission. With Rs. 22,000 he wanted to win the hearts of people and build a credibility that would help him share his vision and mission with the village. Even though the entire village was in shambles his first step was to rebuild the center of faith. A place to inspire people. So he spent his entire savings to rebuild the village temple. Seeing this incredible act of charity, the village elders were inspired. They were willing to donate their time and effort to build the temple. The momentum quickly built up and suddent the village united to donate their time and physical labor to rebuild the temple. Donating physical labor, time and effort to rebuild the community became the hallmark of Ralegan after that.  Shramdhaam, donating labor, was key to the success of Ralegan.

Baburao’s next step was to build support amongst people to fix the economics of the village. Through the state and central rural development program people were found employment. But employment was only a stop-gap arrangement because most villagers were farmers. So Baburao mobilized the community to build watersheds and canals. The constituents became part of the solution. They were deciding their own fate by developing their home. Conserving water during monsoon and sowing the right kinds of vegetables inevitably led to financial success. But empowering a community requires much more than just ensuring that they have financial security.

Schools were built up to grade ten through Shramdhaam. But while much was given to the youth, much was expected as well. Youth communities known as Tarunmandal, were formed and they were critical in keeping the village clean (specifically the community bathrooms). From a young age, they were not just taught civic responsibility but also how important it is to be a part of a solution.

One of the most important leadership steps of Baburao was prohibition. Through shaming (and even physical violence) men were banned from drinking. Banning alcohol resulted in a dramatic decrease in domestic violence. Moreover, woman were empowered by being encouraged to be a part the gram sabha in Ralegan Siddhi and a woman was also elected to head the gram panchayat. Baburao believed that it is critical for women to lead in the household and outside for a successful community. Subsequently dowry was prohibited for marriages in Ralegan.

Today, Ralegan’s success story is considered to be every development practitioners dream and Baburao has grown to become a national figure known as Anna Hazaare.

Though Anna Hazaare’s leadership in the development of Ralegan from 1975 to 1996 (and continued growth) is laudable, what is equally important is to recognize how important civic participation was in this success story. After Anna had built the temple, the village had united unlike ever before. Every major project required shramdhaam and villagers felt a responsibility toward improving their own lives. Even in the political governance, rather than observing the typical opaque-ness that had led to corruption, open discussions were held. Eight committees were created to take on public programs and projects. People became responsible for their own fates.

Ralegan’s functioning epitomizes the democratic thought. A government created by the people to serve the people. Today, we see an incredible frustration amongst people and that is because there is no leadership that has mobilized us to make us a part of the solution. Instead we see most politicians simply blaming each other or steering clear of the problem. The irony is that most people want to be a part of the solution or else we wouldn’t see the millions come out and support Anna Hazaare. Across the world today, we are seeing protests come up. Whether it is in Russia, Syria or even Mexico. People are frustrated about having a leadership that is focused on the problems and not the solutions. Even in the American Presidential election, both the candidates focus more about the “jobs problem” rather than the “jobs solution.” Today, more than ever before we need answers. We need to be empowered to execute on those answers. And we need to bring change.

Anna’s success came not because he reinvented the wheel with new innovative programs but because he was able to execute on the old ones with the help of the people. When will this story go beyond Ralegan and become that of other villages, cities and countries?

Franfurt, January 04: For Muslim women, the dawn of 2011 awakes hopes but also fears. Its a story of the New York Times reporter on his way to Germany.

En route to Germany from Abu Dhabi on Dec. 31, I chatted with Fayza, a Pakistani woman, 42, divorced in 2001 and long since a resident in Europe.

“It is not easy to find the right man, who would understand my cultural background,” she said, echoing a sentiment I often hear from educated Muslim female friends.

Fayza, who preferred to be identified only by her first name, pinpointed 2001 as the year when she started to find answers in, and about, her religion.

“That year I had to deal first with my divorce and then with the attacks in the U.S.,” she said. “And I asked myself: How was it possible for my ex-husband and those attackers to find justification for what they have done?”

Entering the 10th year after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Muslims know that their religion will be debated extensively, around all those questions that surfaced a decade ago. Is Islam violent? Why can’t Muslims just integrate in Western society? Is there a clash of cultures?

One question will surely arise again and again: What are the rights of women in Islam?

Fayza’s experience hints at the quandary in the Muslim world, in which some men pick from the religion whatever helps to justify their actions.

For 11 years, Fayza was the wife of a cousin, an arranged marriage, nothing unusual in Pakistan. Her husband considered himself a practicing Muslim. He prayed five times a day, and on Fridays in the mosque.

He did not allow her to work, and in the end turned out to have cheated on her from the start. “He was treating me like his slave, and the other women with more respect,” she said.

When she complained, he said she was his, and that the Muslim religion gave him every right to behave so.

But the Koran does not give men the right to treat women badly. “I told him, the Koran does not support what you do,” she said, and recited Sura 3, Verse 195: “Their Lord responded to them: ‘I never fail to reward any worker among you for any work you do, be you male or female — you are equal to one another.”’

She waited 10 years for better treatment. In the end, in August 2001, her father helped her get out of the marriage.

“Then the attacks of 9/11 happened,” she said. “At first I did not think that would affect my life, but it eventually did.”

A new marriage in Pakistan seemed out of the question, but living divorced in Pakistan was not easy, either. Women are generally blamed for a marriage breakup, she said. “Society will even try to find excuses for the men’s behavior, and in Pakistan, many men cheat on their partners and don’t feel any guilt.”

I asked Fayza what her ex-husband’s mother, aunts and sisters said to him when they found out about the cheating? She smiled faintly: “Nothing.”

As Pakistan became less stable, Fayza’s parents encouraged her to leave. She went to Britain and then Germany, where she teaches at international schools.

Conflict in the Swat Valley and Waziristan region of Pakistan has displaced thousands of people, and reports of attacks are basically daily fare in the country. “You go out in the morning and pray that you will come back home again,” said Fayza.

Troublingly, women have started to take an active part in the conflict. As the West celebrated Christmas on Dec. 25, a female suicide bomber attacked a food distribution point in the tribal region of Bajaur in northwest Pakistan, killing at least 46 people and wounding 105. “We are expecting more women who will play increasingly roles in attacks,” a senior Pakistani intelligence official said.

Officials in Western and Arab intelligence services also predict that women will take more important roles in militant organizations, particularly those groups weakened by a decade of war against U.S. and NATO forces. Women, these officials said, do not get as much attention as men in many countries, and thus less scrutiny as potential bombers.

In the West, both Fayza and I noticed, we are often hauled through special airport security procedures.

Guido Steinberg, a terrorism analyst for the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, attributed the special checks to Western intelligence observations of the Internet and elsewhere that women were more involved in jihadist movements, for instance traveling to Pakistan or Afghanistan with their husbands.

Fayza said she was scared not only of female radicalization, but also what she saw as the rise of rightist politics and anti-Muslim sentiment in the West.

Fanning her fears are the success of rightist populists like Gert Wilders in the Netherlands, who envisages a tax on women who wear a head scarf; politicians trying to block immigration in once-welcoming Sweden or Germany; and Thilo Sarrazin, the German banker who wrote a best seller with controversial theories about inherited rather than nurtured intelligence.

Such sentiments augur especially poorly for Muslim women in 2011, said Sevgi Meddur-Gleissner, 49, a psychoanalyst of Turkish background who has lived in Germany for 30 years. “It will be the women who will be affected the most,” she said. “They are the ones who such populists use for all negative projections, and for attacking Islam, for example when they debate the head scarf or burqa.”

Mrs. Meddur-Gleissner said she saw more young Muslim women deciding to wear the head scarf as a badge of identity. Contrary to assumptions that this symbolizes alienation and suppression, “no one is forcing them,” she said.

She remembers when the Sept. 11 attacks happened, “how people looked even at me back then, though I don’t wear a head scarf.”

Many educated Muslim women have concluded that almost the only way to break this cycle is constructive conversation inside and outside the Muslim community. “I had to realize,” Fayza said, “that actually it is us, Muslim women, who should have more influence inside our families but also in the society.”

Two days ago, Fayza sent me a message, ending with a poem: “Happiness keeps you sweet, trial keeps you strong, sorrow keeps you humble, success keeps you glowing but only God keeps you going.”


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