Collective Effort Is Required To Resolve the Issues of Terrorism, Fundamentalism, Wars, Poverty and Illiteracy That Threaten Security And Stability of the Middle East

In his speech addressed to the participants of the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly last September, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed highlighted four major obstacles that threaten the security and stability of the region, and they are “foreign interferences in affairs of the Arab world, the spread of extremism and terrorism (including the exploitation of modern technology by terrorists to spread their dangerous ideas), settling with managing current crises amid the absence of solutions, and finally the exacerbation of economic, social and humanitarian conditions.”

These complex overlapping obstacles have turned consecutive and inherited problems into a state of an “ongoing crisis” that cannot be resolved by the individual effort of one state or by focusing on a specific aspect of its many branches.

Collective, persistent effort

Instead, these issues require collective, strong and persistent effort that neutralizes points of dispute and focuses on points that constitute a common threat thus taking it from here and moving forward by promoting trust among all parties and establishing this trust via joint action since the crisis surrounds all of the countries in the Middle East and its repercussions spare no one.

In his book ‘For a Crisiology’, French philosopher Edgar Morin points out that there has been a change in the meaning of the word ‘crisis’, which originally meant “decision” in Greek, i.e. “the decisive moment, which during the development of an uncertain process, allowed a diagnosis.”

According to Morin, in the present times, the meaning has taken on a contradictory meaning, which is “hesitation”, explaining that now the word refers to “the moment out of which uncertainties as well as disruption originate.”

Going back the speech of Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, we find that there has been in fact ‘uncertainty’ which characterizes policies in the Middle East regarding the issues he has pointed out and there is a reluctance to come up with radical solutions, which prompted him to call upon the international community to “take an assertive stance towards countries with hostile policies that violate international law and the charter of the organization,” because this inconsistent policy towards rogue states or groups would exacerbate crises and make the latter more difficult to resolve.

Regional security

According to the UAE Foreign Minister: “It has become inevitable that we become more effective in maintaining regional security by strengthening partnerships to address existing challenges. We are aware that we cannot continue to rely on other countries to resolve the crises of the region, and that no single country, irrespective of its capacities, can alone restore security and stability.”

This frank call by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed to “remove problems” should be taken seriously by major capitals.

These states should work to find some sort of formula for serious dialogue and understanding, not just make meaningless slogans or statements because ongoing crisis would mean that terrorism, fundamentalism, wars, poverty and illiteracy will find suitable environments for growth and wise men and wisdom will have no influence whatsoever and the region will drown in a sea of crises, which will produce more of them.

Hassan AlMustafa is Saudi journalist with interest in middle east and Gulf politics. His writing focuses on social media, Arab youth affairs and Middle Eastern societal matters. His twitter handle is @halmustafa.

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How Will Pakistan Handle Asia Bibi’s Case and Retain Global Standing; By Appeasing Extremist Elements or Taking a Stand?

Naya Pakistan is treading further away from Quaid’s Pakistan and the economy is suffering. On September 7, Prime Minister Imran Khan cowed to pressure from far-right groups and asked Dr. Atif Mian, professor at Princeton University, to step down as an advisor from its Economic Advisory Council (EAC). The highly qualified professor, named one of the top 25 young economists in the world by the IMF, was removed from the EAC because he belongs to the Ahmadia faith. In protest, Asim Ijaz Khwaja, Professor of International Finance and Development at Harvard, and Imran Rasul, Professor of Economics at University College London also resigned. This puts Pakistan at a further disadvantage to not utilize the best minds to deal with an economic crisis as it seeks the largest IMF loan in its history.

At first the country’s Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry applauded Mian’s placement onto the EAC stating, “…Pakistan belongs as much to minorities as it does to the majority […] we will not bow down to extremists.” He was made to eat his own words when the government forced Mian to resign. Human Rights Minister, Dr. Shireen Mazari, defended Mian’s dismissal. In an interview she explained, “Our civil society and religious leaders, shall we ignore them? Isn’t it better we step back and revisit that decision? Looking at Pakistan’s interests we cannot afford a confrontational approach…” Ironically just days prior Mazari had tweeted in agreement with the appointment saying it was “…time to reclaim Quaid’s Pakistan.” She had spoken too soon.

While risking increased threats of isolation, is it in Pakistan’s interests to reverse important decisions on the whims of extremist clerics? Can Pakistan afford a confrontational approach with the rest of the world? Discrimination on an official level not only weakens Pakistan’s standing as a serious partner on countering violent extremism but also undermines the country’s moral foundations.

Pakistan’s founding father had made a promise to protect the rights of all citizens of Pakistan. He declared, “…you may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the state.” He backed his words with action. Pakistan’s first foreign minister appointed by Jinnah, Muhammad Zafarullah Khan, was from the Ahmadia faith. Zafarullah Khan led the first Pakistani delegation to the United Nations and was later appointed president of the General Assembly from 1962-1963. It was under his leadership that Pakistan became a signatory of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, barring discrimination, including that based on religion.

While risking increased threats of isolation, is it in Pakistan’s interests to reverse important decisions on the whims of extremist clerics? Can Pakistan afford a confrontational approach with the rest of the world? Discrimination on an official level not only weakens Pakistan’s standing as a serious partner on countering violent extremism but also undermines the country’s moral foundations

But outside the 2018 United Nations General Assembly when a reporter asked foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi a question on Ahmadi rights, he scurried away, speechless. At the Asia Society in New York City, Qureshi failed to give an adequate reply. He changed the subject when Vali Nasr questioned him on Mian’s forced resignation, one of the first questions addressed to him. Rising tensions, Pompeo’s short visit, suspension of joint military training, and the US Defence Department’s recent cancellation of $300 million in aid are due to the U.S. perception that Pakistan is not taking decisive action against terrorists.

It does not help Pakistan’s troubled relationship with India either. India recently cancelled a scheduled meeting with Pakistan at the sidelines of the UNGA after the death of an Indian border guard it blamed on “Pakistan-based entities.” Pakistan vehemently denied the allegations. Nonetheless, as Moeed Yusuf, South Asia director at the United States Institute of Peace, said in an interview, Pakistan must give the international community “something to be excited about” not frightened of.

Imran Khan regularly invokes Pakistan’s founder and merit in his rhetoric but such promises shouldn’t be empty words. When radical cleric Khadim Rizvi, founder of a new political party, the Tehreek-e-Labbaik, had shut down the Capital last year and attacked the writ of the government, the extremist organization should have been condemned across the board. Instead Imran Khan fuelled the fires of bigotry by falsely accusing the PML-N government of catering to a Western agenda and campaigned in favour of anti-Ahmadi laws.

Mazari recently responded to Human Rights Watch acknowledging that more needs to be done to align Pakistan’s national laws with the international treaties Pakistan has ratified. “Our government is committed to ensuring the fulfilment of all our international obligations,” she explained. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom in a recent report also called on the US to prioritize religious freedom in its bilateral relationship with Pakistan.

Above all Pakistan’s own values are at stake. During the PML-N party’s tenure, despite extremist outcries, Mumtaz Qadri was hanged for assassinating Salman Taseer, governor of Punjab and outspoken critic of the misuse of the blasphemy laws. Taseer was assassinated for defending Asia Bibi, a Christian woman on death row many believe has been wrongly accused of blasphemy. On October 8, the Supreme Court of Pakistan heard the final appeal to her death sentence and reserved their judgment.

No date has been set for the judgment to be announced. If her appeal is rejected, and if she does not get a Presidential pardon, it would make her the first person to be executed under the infamous blasphemy laws by court order. Already extremist clerics, the same groups against Atif Mian’s appointment to the EAC, have threatened action against any judge or official who pardons Asia Bibi. How will Pakistan continue to respond to these threats; by appeasing extremist elements or taking a stand?

The author is a freelance journalist and former contributor for Al-Jazeera America. She has a Master’s degree in Political Science. She can be reached at or twitter @meriamsabih

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There Are Ways We Can Rally Against Islamophobia

Islamophobia. I am reluctant to use labels, but I am forced to do so because the term is now common in the political discussions in North America and Europe.

The Bridge Initiative at Georgetown University defines Islamophobia as: “Prejudice towards or discrimination against Muslims due to their religion, or perceived religious, national, or ethnic identity associated with Islam. Like anti-Semitism, racism, and homophobia, Islamophobia describes mentalities and actions that demean an entire class of people. It does NOT include rational criticism of Islam or Muslims.”

This definition varies from the one used in Canada’s federal Motion M-103, which states: “Irrational fear of Islam and/or Muslims and leads to discrimination.”

The term first used by the British Runnymede Trust states: “Unfounded hostility towards Islam and fear or dislike of all or most Muslims.” This is manifested in violent acts and exclusion in various areas such as employment.

Islamophobia presumes that Islam, the religion, and not the people, is inherently violent, that it encourages alienation and is unassimilable. Islamophobia influences attitudes and behaviour against Muslims in the fields of employment, education, politics, media, justice system and the internet.

Islamophobia is part of Xenophobia — the “unreasonable fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers,” such as people of other cultures, race or religion.

Foreigners are seen as barbarians, one culture is viewed as superior to others and is the basis of imperialism, racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

This fear and hatred dehumanizes others, as can be seen in current global affairs.

U.S. President Donald Trump has tapped into the anger, resentment and racism of those “white people” who see themselves as being swamped by those of us who are different from them. It puzzles me as to how the so-called disenfranchised can see a New York billionaire as their advocate and leader.

All of us need to be aware that though African-Americans are also “natives,” as are Indigenous Peoples, they are seldom included in the nativism grouping. We must remember that many African-Americans are Muslims and so the call of “Black Lives Matter” is addressed to us immigrant Muslims as well.

Trump and Alt-righters are anti-immigrant and racist, especially against Muslims. This is a loosely connected, ill-defined group of “white” supremacists, and white here is not restricted to the colour of one’s skin but to attitudes and behaviour.

The ban on Muslims, the choice of Muslim-haters such as Mike Pompeo (secretary of state) and now John Bolton (national security adviser) creates prejudicial actions against Muslims.

But Canadians need not only look south to find examples of racism and bigotry in our political leaders. We should not forget Conservative leadership contender Kellie Leitch’s call for reporting “barbaric cultural practices.” Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was no fan of Muslims, either, stating that “Islamism is the greatest threat to Canada.” He is now chairing the International Democratic Union of centre-right politicians.

Surely we Muslims can do something about the association of Islam with conflict, terror and lack of integration? As Muslims, we can either feed into this perspective or work to present an alternative counter-narrative.

Please bear with me when I say that there are some valid grounds for non-Muslims to be hesitant with us.

One of the realities is that the leadership of Muslim majority countries is abysmal. Most countries lack democratic principles and institutions and few have created any positive changes for Islam or for Muslims.

Another negative is that there are some Muslim males who are preaching a narrow, monolithic, literal interpretation of Islam. They are encouraged by states who have forcefully taken on the mantle of religious leadership. Their teachings uphold patriarchy as if it is an integral teaching of Islam.

As there is research showing that non-Muslim Canadians tend to be more accepting if they get to know Muslims, it is important that Muslims engage with others and not keep themselves segregate or separate.

One of the disturbing laws in many Muslim majority countries is that of blasphemy. It matters not that there are no verses in the Qur’an to support any punishment for blasphemy. In fact, there are gentle verses about other faiths.

Blasphemy laws have been horribly used to suppress any criticism of Islam by Muslims and others such as Christians.

I do have some trepidation that under the banner of Islamophobia we don’t suppress any criticism of Islam or Muslims. I say this because I have the same fears for those of us who may be critical of Israel being targeted as anti-Semitic.

Last but not least is the lack of clear definition and clarity on the concept of Sharia. I think it is incumbent on Muslims to do this.

That is why CCMW, along with other Muslim groups, clarify Sharia as the “path to the source of water,” meaning the beliefs and practices that govern our lives. It is a deep and broad concept about GOD’S LAW, and is NOT restricted to manmade laws that are best defined as FIQH.

Let me tell you about some of the wonderful actions of the world’s Muslim women, especially to do with family laws.

There are many scholars, men and women, who strongly proclaim that gender justice and gender equality are an integral part of Islam. There is open discussion amongst Muslim scholars and women about the true meaning and understanding of Shariah and fiqh.

In Morocco, scholar Asma Lamrabet is advocating for changes in the inheritance laws. Along with other scholars, she believes in a contextual reading of the Qur’an as distinct from a literal unchanging one. In India, a group of Muslim women fought against the “triple Talaq” and won when the Supreme Court agreed that this is unfair to Muslim women.

Tunisia has outlawed polygamy and Lebanon has outlawed the cultural practice of rapists forced to marry their victims. Other scholars have advocated against any hitting, gentle or rough, of women by their husbands. Women are dignified and equal partners in a relationship and violence is not condoned in Islam.

The other strategy our organization uses is to create partnerships with similar organizations to fight against racism of any kind. Collaborating with others strengthens our position and brings Muslims closer to others in fights against any injustices.

Sadly, I think there is some truth that some Muslims preach against integration and civic participation. From simple things such as celebrating Christmas to larger issues of sex education in schools.

It would be naive to believe that discrimination and Islamophobia will dispel soon, but there are ways we can rally against it. As Muslims, we must be cognizant that fighting for our own rights must be accompanied by advocating for the rights of others, and this must be founded on the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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Trump, the White House, and the Den of Islamophobes

While growing up, reading the adventures of Ali Baba provided steady stimuli for my imagination and a unique conduit to contemplate virtue, chivalry and the criteria to ascertain right from wrong. The story of Ali Baba and the 40 thieves is still fresh in my mind as if I had just read it yesterday. Comparatively speaking, the current White House is akin to Ali Baba’s story with the 40 thieves, in the sense that it currently serves as a den for Islamophobes with President Donald Trump himself acting as the “Islamophobe-in-chief”. The comparison does not have to be precise to be valid since we cannot count a total of 40 Islamophobes in the White House, but nevertheless, the number should not distract us from the concentration of anti-Muslim bigotry within the Trump administration, especially with the arrival of two new members into the Islamophobia den.

The recent addition of both John Bolton as a national security advisor, and CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who is nominated for secretary of state, proved that the White House serves as a den of Islamophobia.”John Bolton’s Cozy Relationship with Anti-Muslim Hate Groups Should Disqualify Him from Public Service” was a spot-on and perceptive online headline on Dec. 14, 2016, of The Nation – a left-leaning publication that opposed the possibility of Bolton’s inclusion in the new Trump administration. Fast-forward to March 2018, and Bolton has found his way into an important office at the White House, adding to the Islamophobia den’s membership and the cast of characters that made anti-Muslim bigotry a ladder to slither-up into positions of power. Trump’s presidency should be rightly called the Islamophobia administration with the White House serving as the den. During his campaign, Trump promised to drain the swamp, but ended-up deepening and filling Washington’s political gorges with bigotry, racism and a steady stream of anti-Muslim venom. The current administration has created a swamp of indecency, built walls of anti-immigrant ignorance and promoted Islamophobic spokespersons who spew bigotry and conspiratorial arguments at every turn.

Bolton is the latest figure to join the den of the Islamophobes in the White House in a long line of such personalities who have been given a new role in the Islamophobia administration. The president himself arrived at the White House riding on an Islamophobia float, having been able to translate anti-Muslim bigotry and animus into votes at the ballot box. Islam is the Ali Baba of today. It is chased and demonized so as to keep filling the thieves’ den with stolen gold, silver, and valuables while all along diverting attention away from the real robbers. Islamophobia is a winning ticket and is tried and tested in the U.S., U.K., Netherlands, France and other European countries with society’s problems dumped on the backs of the Muslims and migrants while those 40 or more thieves are running back and forth to their metaphorical or real den to stash away the wealth of the poor and impoverished populations around the globe.

Here, we have the successful formula of misinform the people, starve education, cut healthcare, disrupt elections with massive contributions, stash away funds in off-shore accounts, out-source jobs, destroy the environment, dig for oil in natural reserves, stoke racial tension, sharpen cultural wars, rally around guns and patriotism, free market thievery of the southern hemisphere, pile on debt to unsuspecting and structurally made ignorant people and then hoist up Muslims as the source of all the problems and the cause of the undermining of Western civilization itself. Also extend the blame-Islam type of Islamophobia in the form of anti-Islamist political engagements in Muslim-majority countries, which has been utilized likewise as a winning strategy to counter the possibility of change in the Arab world. Islamophobia works, and if you doubt it does, I give you Trump and Brexit as exhibits A and B, and can provide many more if needed.

This is the game plan for the Islamophobia industry that resides now in the White House with a president who is firmly committed to this worldview. Indeed, Bolton has deep and direct links to the leadership of the Islamophobia industry. In 2010, he wrote the foreword to a book authored by Pamela Geller and fervent anti-Islam activist Robert Spencer, “The Post-American Presidency: The Obama Administration’s War on America.” The book is filled with racist and venomous insults and conspiratorial attacks on then President Barack Obama. Throwing the book into the recycling bin would be an insult to the bin and would undermine the concept of recycling itself, for bigotry should not be given any breathing room, even if it comes in recycled form. Furthermore, Bolton appeared at least twice on Geller’s internet radio program, “Atlas on the Air,” twice on her video blog and gave interviews on Frank Gaffney’s radio show. The Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC) describes Gaffney as “one of America’s most notorious Islamophobes.” Geller’s Atlas Shrugs website served for a period as a central clearing site for all types of Islamophobic content and often engages in explicit, racist attacks on Muslims, Obama, African-Americans and other communities of colour. In the book, Geller addresses the already discredited notion of creeping Sharia, which is one of the key concepts that fuses together many groups within the Islamophobia industry. She mentions: “On foreign policy, Europe is committing slow cultural and demographic suicide.” Geller and Spencer gave credence to Trump’s birther movement, which erroneously maintained that “Obama went to extraordinary measures to obfuscate his Muslim background. The more proof that bloggers like me produced, the more we were marginalized. So secretive was Obama that he refused to release his long-form birth certificate, his school records, his thesis, his passport on which he travelled as a teen … the list itself was a looming red flag.”

We have to say that Bolton’s forward is a direct indication of his agreement with the book’s content since no other evidence to the contrary exists. Keeping company and endorsing the writings and works of Islamophobes means that one finds intellectual, ideological and political affinity with them on their anti-Muslim bigotry as well as the readiness to express sympathy with these views.

Eli Clifton of The Nation cites the SPLC’s report on Geller’s “assertions that President Obama is the ‘love child’ of Malcolm X and that he was ‘involved with a crack whore.’ “According to the SPLC, Geller is “probably the best known – and the most unhinged – anti-Muslim ideologue in the United States.” Furthermore, Clifton points to Spencer maintaining that Shariah enclaves exist and has predicted that they will grow across America, has called Obama “the first Muslim president,” has claimed that Islam “mandates warfare against unbelievers,” has said that “traditional Islam is not moderate or peaceful” and has even suggested that “the media may be getting money to depict Muslims in a positive light.”Bolton’s appointment as national security advisor should be alarming to anyone concerned with domestic and international affairs. We must be reminded that Bolton is very much a hawk and comes from the depth of the neoconservative movement. As a reminder, neoconservatives, who played a central role in President George W. Bush’s first term in office, led the country to the disastrous invasion of Iraq and are the brain trust for the “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” a blueprint to end the Oslo peace process and facilitate Israel’s annexation of additional Palestinian territory.

More alarming, Bolton called for a pre-emptive strike on Iran, which has to be understood as a key strategic goal, not for the U.S., but certainly for the current right-wing-led Israeli government. Bolton’s entry into the Islamophobe’s den at the White House means that war with Iran is a matter of when, not if, which would translate to another few million Arabs, Iranians and Muslims sacrificed on the altar of a supposed mission of civilization and protection of Israel. The Iran deal is dead and the Arab and Muslim worlds should prepare their young, old, men and women for another war. Theirs is to do and die, theirs is not to ask why, but I will say it is to keep the military industrial complex humming, protect Israel, create jobs in North America and prepare the grounds for Trump’s election campaign in 2020. How does it feel to be a never-ending, radicalized wedge issue as an electoral and job-creation strategy?

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Thanks, but A ‘Love a Muslim Day’ Isn’t Enough To Counter Islamophobia

Twenty-four hours on from the “Punish a Muslim Day” and the well-meaning but deeply reductive framing of “Love a Muslim Day”, the UK’s Muslim communities and no doubt the police and authorities are breathing a huge sigh of relief that this designated day of hate passed off without major incident.

“Punish a Muslim Day” started off last month, with a number of anonymous letters arriving at the homes of Muslims in the north of England, the Midlands and east London. Four Muslim MPs received it, including at least one copy being received in parliament, leading to a security alert. The letter boasted of horrific “rewards”, encouraging people to carry out attacks on Muslims, including torture, burning down mosques and throwing acid in Muslims’ faces. It is still not known who was behind them, although counter-terror police are investigating,

Muslim women were picked out and slotted in a special category – as we’re used to – with points being offered to those who pulled off hijabs from women’s heads.

There may not have been a major incident, but “Punish a Muslim Day” did what it was designed to do – strike fear in the hearts of individual Muslims and those already being impacted by hate crime and racism.

The impact cannot be underestimated – especially on the mental health of Muslim women. I personally know of four women who refused to leave their homes yesterday, taking the day off work or changing their social plans. One told me that she had taken her daughter out of nursery for the day because she didn’t want to risk anything happening to her child or to her. Another friend, feisty, independent, and very visible in her community, sent me a WhatsApp message the night before, asking: “What do you think? This is a farce isn’t it and it should be ignored, right?” I understood that this was her checking in with me to show solidarity with me as much as it was to silence any niggling doubt that she was going to go ahead with her day as planned.

Many argued that the best way to deal with “stunts” such as “Punish A Muslim Day” is to ignore them. Best not give oxygen to whoever is responsible for orchestrating this campaign of terror. But to me, that’s burying one’s head in the sand. We cannot avoid the fact that British Muslims are facing rising levels of Islamophobia, anti-Muslim hate and the mainstreaming of racism in our country on a daily basis.

This “Punish a Muslim Day” is not a one-off day of hate targeting Muslims; for many it represents the daily structural Islamophobia we are up against and the increasingly poisonous rhetoric directed against Muslims in everyday life.

Only last month the leaders of the far-right group Britain First were jailed for a series of hate crimes against Muslims. The group’s leaders, Paul Golding and Jayda Fransen, were found guilty of religiously aggravated harassment after being investigated for the distribution of leaflets and online hate material.

A few weeks later, Paul Moore, 21, was convicted of attempted murder after running over a Muslim woman and trying to hit a 12-year-old girl with his car in Leicester as “revenge” for terrorist attacks in London.

Moore targeted Zaynab Hussein with his car in September last year. She was thrown into the air. He then turned his car round and drove over her. Hussein, 47, was left with severe fractures to her pelvis and spine and a broken leg. She was in hospital for almost three months, and remains confined to a bed.

Anti-Muslim hate can’t only be measured by the increased reported hate crimes and acts of terrorism such as that carried out against worshippers at Finsbury Park mosque last summer – Islamophobia is fully mainstream and is part of our daily public and political discourse. Take the research paper by academics in Portsmouth and Birmingham, which found that Muslim parents are homeschooling their children because of bullying.

Or the carelessness displayed by our public figures including Bob Blackman, the Conservative MP for Harrow East, who a week ago expressed “regret” after sharing a Facebook post from an American anti-Muslim website. It wasn’t the first time Blackman had made such an apology. In 2016, Blackman retweeted far-right extremist Tommy Robinson, later saying he made an “error” and apologising. Blackman is not alone in making such “errors”; the voices and views of violent Islamophobes are commonly amplified on social media.

To counter Islamophobia at its roots, we need a grounded and honest national conversation about the extent of the problem. We also need a prime minister and government that will lead by example and make it crystal clear those structural barriers impacting Muslims’ lives and the racism Muslim communities face will be tackled robustly.

We also need a strong and diverse anti-racism movement willing to tackle the politics of bigotry and division head-on. “Love a Muslim Day” is a worthy gesture but most Muslims I know are not bothered about being loved – we just want to feel safe and secure in our country. We’d like the right to live with dignity, to be seen and valued as full human beings and citizens without having to prove how good or how British we are.

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Rethinking Islamophobia: Race and Racism Are Central To Any Understanding of Islamophobia

“Why is a Black woman on your book cover?” asked the middle-aged, South Asian woman, shortly after I finished lecturing at an event in Michigan. The woman posing the question was a Muslim, as was the young lady featured on the cover of my book, American Islamophobia: Understanding the Roots and Rise of Fear, manifesting a dissonance about how Muslim identity is perceived, and misperceived, beyond and even within Muslim American communities.

The narrow racial framing of Muslim identity, deeply embedded in the American imagination and still potent today, not only converges with the rising tide of anti-Muslim animus we now understand and know as Islamophobia – but indeed, an integral part of it. Islamophobia in the United States is, in great part, a racial project, spawned by a master discourse that drove European supremacy and today powered by popular views and state policy seeking to safeguard its domestic progeny, white supremacy.

Race and racism are central to any understanding of Islamophobia, as brilliantly examined by sociology scholar and author Erik Love, and they configure in myriad ways with the advancement of the aggregate enterprise of Islamophobia in the United States, and beyond its borders. While racism is central, there is more at play – Islamophobia is anchored in an Orientalist underbelly that precedes the creation of the formative American racial enterprise and its modern form, and a protracted War on Terror that extends it through formal law and policy.

Islamophobia is far more than merely “dread or hatred of Muslims,” or “fear or dislike” of the faith and its followers, and these prevailing definitions tend to fixate on explicit or irrational animus, and far too often, the activity of private actors. The role of the state, and its vast network of agencies and agents, and the fluid exchanges and interaction between the state and its polity, is central to understanding Islamophobia.

Islamophobia is also law, expressly found in its letter and hidden in facially neutral terms intended to discriminate, affixed with the state seals of approval that obliges the polity to adhere to the message that Muslim identity is presumptive of terror threat, and Islam a civilisational foil that must be confronted, or contorted in a form palatable to the state. Approaching a definition and framework for understanding Islamophobia, in all of its complexity, enables an appreciation of its numerous tentacles, and how these tentacles intersect with other forms of racism and bigotry, are extended by law and policy, and reach to colour the perspectives of not only non-Muslims, but also Muslims, and everybody and anybody conditioned by the American Islamophobia that prevails today.

Tracing the History of Islamophobia

In 2015, I embarked on the project of redefining Islamophobia, during a moment when explicit bigotry and hate violence against Muslims in the United States were emboldened by (then candidate and now president) Donald Trump. My search for a new definition, however, was less motivated by contemporary animus, but rather, my examination of “legal Orientalism,” and the centuries’ long position of US civil courts that ruled that Muslim identity was antithetical to whiteness. From 1790 until 1952, American naturalisation law mandated whiteness as a prerequisite for naturalised citizenship, and until the Ex Parte Mohriez decision 1944, Muslims were viewed as a distinct racial group that was not only non-white, but members of a faith held out to be the civilisational antithesis of whiteness.

The tropes that drove the formative legal position that Muslims were non-white, and oriented Islam as antithetical to whiteness, were “redeployed” after the 9/11 attacks. That moment that spurred the bleak aftermath that gave rise to Islamophobia as we know it today, spearheaded by the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the initiation of the war on terror. Therefore, the ideas and images, distorted narratives and misrepresentations thrust to the surface after 9/11 that steer Islamophobia today were sowed and legally sealed by Orientalism, which must be understood as the mother of modern Islamophobia. In short, any discussion of Islamophobia must be prefaced by a synopsis Orientalism, and the definitions of the former grounded in its precedent system.

American Orientalism was, in large part, a white supremacist project that collaborated with anti-Blackness and Manifest Destiny to determine whiteness and define citizenship (both formal and substantive), and underneath this all, respond to the underlying existential question: who we are (as Americans), and who we are not? A question that rings at the heart of presidential slogans and immigration policy, a best-selling book by Samuel Huntington and a protracted War on Terror that provides the engine for Islamophobia in America today. Investigating this question, and the myriad actors that seek to answer it by the force of slurs, weapons or policy, steers us towards a more robust understanding of Islamophobia.

A New Definition and Framework

This historical context, coupled with its modern complexity, inspired my new definition and framing of Islamophobia. Above all, Islamophobia is founded upon the presumption that Islam is inherently violent, alien, and inassimilable – driven by the belief that expressions of Muslim identity correlate with a propensity for terrorism. In addition to this foundational definition are three attendant dimensions: 1- private Islamophobia; 2- structural Islamophobia, and; 3- dialectical Islamophobia.

First, private Islamophobia is the fear, suspicion, and violent targeting of Muslims by private actors. These actors could be individuals or institutions acting in a capacity not directed to the state. Craig Hick’s murder of the three Muslim America students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina in 2015 is a clear example of private Islamophobia, as are arsons on mosques or attacks on visible Muslims. Acts of private Islamophobia, oftentimes driven by caricatured understandings of Muslims and Islam, also menace non-Muslim individuals and institutions thought to be Muslim, such as South Asian Americans or Sikh temples.

Structural Islamophobia, the second dimension, is the fear and suspicion of Muslims on the part of government institutions. This fear and suspicion are manifested and enforced through the enactment of and advancements of laws, policy, programming, or formal pronouncements by state agents. Laws like the US PATRIOT Act or Countering Violent Extremism, the vile anti-Muslim rhetoric of President Trump and the campaigns of state congressmen to pass anti-Sharia legislation distinctly and diversely illustrate structural Islamophobia. Structural Islamophobia has been openly extended by statesman on the Right, including Presidents George W. Bush and Trump, but also democrats like President Barrack Obama, who established counter-radicalisation policing as his signature counterterror policy. Unlike private Islamophobia, structural Islamophobic policy and positions are just as often driven by rational motives as they are irrational, strategically deployed to carry forward specific domestic and international state objectives.

Third, dialectical Islamophobia is the process by which structural Islamophobia shapes, reshapes and endorses views or attitudes about Islam and Muslim subjects. State action legitimises prevailing misconceptions and misrepresentations of Islam and communicates these damaging ideas through state-sponsored policy, programming or rhetoric. Law is not merely policy, but also a set of messages and directives disseminated to broader society, instructing them to partake in the project of policing, punishing and extra-judicially prosecuting Muslims. We see this process functioning most vividly during times of crisis, such as the direct aftermath of a terror attack, when hate incidents and violence towards Muslims and perceived Muslims are pervasive.

Beyond the Cover

This definition enables an understanding of the epistemological and legal roots of American Islamophobia, and its ferocious rise during the past several decades. Just as critically, this framework enables analyses of Islamophobia as it interacts and converges with other systems of stigma and subordination, and indeed, the most ominous among them.

Beyond its popular cover, Islamophobia is everything from law to Hollywood misrepresentations, violent assaults on conspicuous Muslims and innocent bystanders wrongly profiled as Muslims. Islamophobia is all of this, but also far more. It is, above all, a fluidly shifting and intricate system that cannot be reduced to mere “fear or dislike” of Islam and its followers, who occupy a range of distinct stations in society and experience it differently, and for the most vulnerable, disproportionately.

Reckoning with Islamophobia requires situating it within the American context that feeds and foments it, which perils a broad population of could-be victims that manifest the multi-layered diversity of the country they strive to call home – against the collaborative efforts of the state and elements in society that fight to keep Muslims at the margins.

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A World without Islamophobia

Turkey’s leaders, most notably President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, have a habit of expressing their loathing for “Islamophobia” in the West. They are right to do so. All the same, their condemnation of the bad is, almost always, incomplete and selective.

Ahmet Örken is one of Turkey’s best-known professional cyclists and the multiple Turkish time trial champion. In September, he signed a two-year contract with Israel Cycling Academy. In the aftermath of the Turkish public outcry over U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, Mr Örken, under pressure, had to quit his Israeli team and join a home-grown Turkish team. “It was a difficult period in the last two weeks,” he said, referring to pressure on himself and his family for having signed up with an Israeli sports team.

What phobia so powerfully hates peace and love? Islamophobia?

What phobia could have forced an athlete to quit his team just because a foreign head of state recognized a city as the official capital of another foreign country? Islamophobia?

In November, during the Miss Universe Pageant contest in Las Vegas, Miss Iraq (Sarah Idan) and Miss Israel (Adar Gandelsman) uploaded images of themselves on their Instagram accounts, with the words “peace and love from Miss Iraq and Miss Israel.” A month later the family of Miss Iraq was forced to flee the country because of this photo. Miss Israel’s family still lives in Israel peacefully.

What phobia is it that forced an Iraqi family to flee their country just because their daughter posed with an Israeli contestant and posted the words “peace and love?” What phobia may have prompted threats of violence against the Iraqi family? What phobia so powerfully hates peace and love? Islamophobia?

The UK branch of Amnesty International, the global defender of civil liberties, recently banned UN Watch from speaking at their headquarters, joining politicians like Ahmadinejad, Assad, Qaddafi, Castro, and Chavez, who, over the years, have all tried to intimidate and silence UN Watch.

“In debates of the UN Human rights Council, ambassadors from Iran, Syria, Cuba, and the PLO routinely interrupt testimony from victims we bring, and urge the chairman to rule that I am out of order. I’m used to that by now. Yet never did I imagine that the world’s largest human rights organization would join their ranks,” said Hillel C. Neuer, executive director of UN Watch. “In a patent display of bigotry and intolerance, a human rights group that is supposed to defend freedom of speech and the right to argue is shutting down a debate in their offices.”

Why, really, would a human rights watchdog ban another watchdog? It’s not too difficult to guess. On February 5, UN Watch released a fifty-page report documenting ten years of UN indifference to combating Anti-Semitism. Would Amnesty ban UN Watch if it documented UN indifference to combating Islamophobia? Again, not too difficult to guess.

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In Afghan’s Long War, Many Possible Endgames but No Sign Of US Victory

The likeliest outcome may be allowing the status quo to continue

Neither the government nor the Taliban are strong enough to retake control

Eventually, the stalemate would almost certainly break, hurtling Afghanistan into one of its possible endgames

After 16 years of war in Afghanistan, experts have stopped asking what victory looks like and are beginning to consider the spectrum of possible defeats.

All options involve acknowledging the war as failed, American aims as largely unachievable and Afghanistan’s future as only partly salvageable. Their advocates see glimmers of hope barely worth the stomach-turning trade-offs and slim odds of success.

“I don’t think there is any serious analyst of the situation in Afghanistan who believes that the war is winnable,” Laurel Miller, a political scientist at the RAND Corp., said in a podcast last summer, after leaving her State Department stint as acting special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

This may be why, even after thousands have died and over $100 billion has been spent, even after the past two weeks of shocking bloodshed in Kabul, few expect the United States to try anything other than the status quo.

It is a strategy, as Miller described it, to “prevent the defeat of the Afghan government and prevent military victory by the Taliban” for as long as possible.

Though far from the most promising option, it is the least humiliating. But sooner or later, the United States and Afghanistan will find themselves facing one of Afghanistan’s endgames — whether by choice or not.

  1. Nation-Building, Minus the Nation

“I’ll tell you what my best-case scenario would be,” said Frances Z. Brown, an Afghanistan expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

That, she said, would see the US-led coalition abandon its efforts to impose a centralized state and instead allow Afghans to build their own state from the bottom up.

It would mean accepting a central government that acts more like a horse trader among local strongmen and warlords. American and allied troops would guarantee enough security to sustain the state. Afghans would figure out the rest for themselves.

Over time, ideally, Afghans might develop a functioning economy, then something like real democracy and, finally, peace and stability.

“But what we know from other cases is that this takes generations,” Brown said. “So the 18-month time frames we’ve always had for Afghanistan are not realistic.”

The perpetual occupation necessary for this to work might also doom it. Continued foreign aid incentivizes Afghan elites, who are already on the verge of splintering, to compete rather than come together.

This approach would involve tolerating the Taliban’s presence in rural areas. And rolling crises would be built into this model, so Afghans would have to hope that they would somehow never derail the decades of progress needed before lasting change could take hold.

  1. Starting Over

If Afghanistan were forced back to square one, it might, some scholars think, be able to rebuild itself from scratch.

After all, humanity lived for millenniums in something resembling low-grade anarchy. Modern nation-states grew out of that chaos only recently.

This would start with the effective collapse of the state and US withdrawal. Because the Taliban are too weak and unpopular to retake the country, as most analysts believe, Afghanistan would splinter.

Out of the ashes, local warlords and strongmen would rise up. Without the United States forcing them to take sides in an all-or-nothing war, they might eventually accommodate one another, and the Taliban. Their fiefs, once stable, could coalesce over years or decades into a fully realized state.

Research by Dipali Mukhopadhyay, a Columbia University political scientist, suggests that the warlords would gravitate toward the kind of state building that occurred in medieval Europe over centuries.

Jennifer Murtazashvili, a University of Pittsburgh political scientist who studies state building and failure, said the process might unfold more quickly and stably in Afghanistan. She has studied rural Afghan communities that outside the reach of the state, have begun reproducing the basic building blocks of one.

But hers is only a theory, untested in modern history.

  1. The Somalia Model

In a sign of how far hopes have fallen, the war-torn East African country of Somalia is increasingly being raised as worthy of emulation.

The Afghan government would retreat to major cities. Formally, it would switch to a federal system, as Somalia did in 2012. But power would effectively flow to whichever warlords and strongmen — potentially including the Taliban — rose up in the countryside.

This would, in theory, combine the first two models. The government could reconstitute itself as it mediated between local enclaves that would one day reintegrate with the state.

“This is the outcome we have de facto ended up with, but not in a peaceful sense,” Murtazashvili said. The government is receding and the warlords are rising, but the two are in conflict.

The Somalia model would manage that process of disintegration, like crash-landing a plane rather than waiting for it to fall from the sky.

It would leave communities to find their own peace with the Taliban, which some in remote parts of the country are already doing.

In Somalia itself, this model has found mixed success. Security has improved nationwide, but a devolving state has been left unable to root out extremists, who still carry out devastating attacks.

  1. A Peace That Satisfies No One

The paradox of peace deals is that, while all sides benefit, each fears that it will not do as well as it could — or that its enemies might do too well. This gives each an incentive to block all but the perfect deal, a dynamic so pronounced in Afghanistan that, in 16 years, talks have never advanced far enough to make clear what each side considers acceptable.

“I doubt the Taliban has even given any thought at a higher level to what a government looks like that it could have a stake in,” said Courtney Cooper, a Council on Foreign Relations analyst.

The fear of losing out is not misplaced. Afghan elites already squabble over control of ministries and lucrative patronage networks, and their infighting grows as those resources shrink. In any peace deal, they would need to surrender many or most of those resources to the Taliban.

The Taliban, too, would probably need to surrender or curtail their hopes for dominating Afghanistan. That could anger the extremists rising in the group’s ranks.

And any US president would risk a political backlash for appearing to usher the Taliban back into power. Veterans and military leaders might reasonably ask what they had fought for.

The clearest winner of any deal might be the Afghans themselves, but they are largely at the mercy of political actors for whom peace is risky.

  1. A Post-American Civil War

There is a more pessimistic version of the collapse-then-rebuild model in which warlords compete until one prevails over all.

Afghanistan itself offers a particularly vivid example of this scenario: After the 1992 collapse of the Soviet-backed government there, the country was gripped by a terrible civil war.

If the Americans abandoned the government now in place, that history could repeat.

“There is a strong possibility that this county could splinter, and not in consensual ways,” Murtazashvili said.

That war culminated, in 1996, with one faction prevailing: the Taliban. It then sheltered al-Qaida, prompting the US-led invasion and the war still raging all these years later.

That history, too, could repeat. Research by Barbara F. Walter, a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego, has found that extremists tend to prevail in civil war, and to do better as the war drags on. If the Americans exit Afghanistan, it might not be for long.

  1. Perpetual Stalemate

The likeliest outcome may be allowing the status quo to continue, even as all sides suffer under rising violence.

Neither the government nor the Taliban are strong enough to retake control. Outside actors like the United States and Pakistan may be unable to impose their vision of victory, but they can forestall losing indefinitely.

Foreign aid can sustain the government, even as its control of the country shrinks. There is little to stop the Taliban from carrying out ever more brazen attacks in the capital. The death toll, already high, would probably rise.

Eventually, the stalemate would almost certainly break, hurtling Afghanistan into one of its possible endgames. But it is difficult to say when.

“It’s hard to think of an analogous case,” said Brown, the Carnegie Afghanistan expert.

Few modern wars have raged this long, this destructively and with this much outside intervention. If there is an obvious way out, history does not provide it.

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Lessons from Iraq

The ‘shock and awe’ campaign that began with the US and UK’s illegal invasion of Iraq may have ended many years ago, but Iraqis who bore the brunt of this aggression are still in a state of invisible shock.

Their country, which was once described in a UN report issued in October 1991 as a state that was rapidly approaching the standards of the developed world in the 1980s, now lies in shambles. Iraqis still wonder what happened to their country that once had one of the most advanced healthcare systems in the Middle East and witnessed high rates of literacy in the 1980s. So, how did they get to this stage?

Alerted by the Iranian Revolution of 1979, Baghdad was lured into waging war on Tehran, which spelt disaster for the oil-rich country as it resulted in the loss of over 250,000 people. Money was also squandered on a conflict that benefited its Arab neighbours rather than the country itself. A sense of betrayal prompted Saddam Hussein to invade Kuwait, creating a ripple of excitement in Western capitals that were eagerly awaiting this moment. In the aftermath of the attack, the vultures of the Western capitalist world started descending on the desert to spread their pernicious tentacles across the Arab world.

Operation Desert Storm in 1991 pushed the country towards a conflagration, destroying its civilian infrastructure and imposing harsh sanctions that crippled the economy of the Arab state. According to a UN report, there were more than four million people – one-fifth of Iraq’s population – who were at severe nutritional risk by 1995. As per the report, this number “included 2.4 million children, about 600,000 pregnant/nursing women and destitute women, heads of households as well as hundreds of thousands of elderly without anyone to help them”. The report added that 70 percent of the population had little or no access to food and almost everyone seemed to be emaciated. Even this catastrophic situation did not deter Saddam from unleashing the reign of terror that claimed thousands of lives. His brutal regime turned the lives of Iraqis into hell. But the worst was yet to come.

Former US president George Bush and his poodle across the Atlantic planned a terrible war against the people of Iraq. Their tedious acolytes were selling concocted stories about the imagined weapons of mass destruction that Saddam was apparently hell-bent on making in addition to seeking the capability to target the UK within 45 minutes.

Millions of people took to the streets of Western capitals and asserted that this war sought to grab Iraq’s oil resources. But gullible Western citizens were lured into believing that the Iraqi dictator was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Even the frank statement issued by Dick Cheney, vowing not to allow Saddam to control ten percent of the world’s oil reserves, could not convince the most conscious and educated people in the world about the real intentions of the invasion.

The corporate media ratcheted-up a war frenzy by according unlimited coverage to the rhetoric of the warmongers while paying little attention to the millions who thronged prominent places in several Western cities to vent their anger against the possible invasion of Iraq.

The collusion between the military-industrial complex, corporate media, Western oligarchs and oil companies – which could go to any extent to satiate their gargantuan appetite of profit – not only destroyed Iraq but also all those states that fell prey to this war-on-terror plot. According to some reports, more than 2.4 million Iraqis died in the war.

Around four million became refugees. One-third of Iraq’s population was pushed into the merciless world of abject poverty. By 2016, more than 3.6 million children were at serious risk of death, injury, sexual violence and recruitment into armed groups. Over 11 million people were forced to rely on humanitarian assistance from international bodies. These were the effects of an illegal war imposed on the hapless Iraqis.

The war could be described as one of the biggest plunders in modern history. It opened Iraq’s entire economy to the risk of corporate plunders. The vultures of the capitalist world, on the one hand, planned to destroy Iraq’s infrastructure and, on the other, hatched conspiracies to fund reconstruction through oil revenues. Contracts were doled out to American and other Western firms that made a great deal of money out of Iraq’s destruction.

Even the country’s artefacts were not spared and over 1,500 priceless items were stolen by corporate plunderers. From hospitals, roads and water facilities to bridges, schools and colleges, nothing was spared from strafing and blitzkrieg. Despite all the destruction, plundering, massacres and bloodshed, the corporate media termed the Iraq invasion a “blunder [and] strategic error [that involved] bad planning”, evidently still reluctant to call it an outright war crime.

It is distressing to note that the war on terror, especially Iraq’s invasion, did not serve Americans in any conceivable way. The ruling elite pumped more than $5.6 trillion into the war on terror from the hard-earned money of Americans. This means $32 million was directed towards the war every hour. It can be concluded that every American paid $24,000 for this ever-expanding-war on terror that has resulted in anti-terror operations all across the world – in at least 76 nations or 40 percent of the world. Despite all the funds that went into this war, Western capitals are not safe from sporadic attacks by religious fanatics who use American invasions on Muslim countries as an excuse to target innocent civilians in advanced capitalist states.

According to some statistics, the war claimed over 8,000 lives of American soldiers and military contractors and wounded more than 32,226 others. The people of Iraq are not the only ones who will bear the brunt of this illegal invasion. The families of American soldiers have also been affected because these wounded soldiers need round-the-clock care for which their family members might even have to quit their jobs. So, they may have to pay at least $300 billion over several decades to pay for their injured family members. This doesn’t include the income lost from the jobs that they have quit to care for their relatives.

Since people in the West, especially Americans, have failed to rein in their ruling elite, they have opened more fronts to wreak death and destruction. Western-sponsored Jihadis have imposed a war on Syria that killed over 500,000 people, turning 11 million people into refugees and leaving 13.5 million at the mercy of humanitarian assistance. The war also cost $226 billion to the Syrian economy. The policy of the Western ruling elite didn’t just bring destruction to Syria but also affected Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya, Egypt and several parts of the world. How is one going to be able to live in peace if one goes around the world destroying countries, turning millions of people into refugees and sowing the seeds of hunger and starvation?

No amount of argument or persuasion can stop warmongers from wreaking havoc in various parts of the world. Only the people of the West can rein in such agents of death and destruction by exercising their democratic rights. They should simply vote out those who seek to wage war and create misery, hunger and starvation. They should demand bans on any party or individual that advocates an illegal war. War is a form of xenophobia. If hating foreigners can be described as abnormal, then there is no reason why such wars and invasions should not be treated in the same way.

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Making of a Composite Culture: Lively Interactions between Hindus and Muslims Were the Hallmarks of Seven Centuries before Colonial Rule

Allow me to begin with some recollections. In the 80s of the last century, I spent four happy and purposeful years in this city, a resident of Mugga Way, travelling across the length and breadth of the continent, dividing my time fairly evenly in robust discussions with Australian friends, watching cricket, learning to play golf, endevouring to rejuvenate Indo-Australian relations and highlighting the communality of interests that characterize it. Some of this was acknowledged in a reference made to me in the House of Representatives on April 6, 1989 and in a Report of the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade later that month. Since then our two countries have travelled a good distance and today have a vibrant relationship.

The recollections of those years are vivid in the minds of the Ansari family. I was therefore happy to receive today’s invitation from my old friend, Professor Amin Saikal, to talk to this learned audience on a subject that, one way or another, is of relevance to humanity in terms of history, culture and contemporary geopolitics.

Professor Saikal had suggested a lecture ‘on any aspect of the civilization of Islam’ and utilizing this leeway I propose to focus today on the interaction that characterized the role played for over seven centuries on the soil of India by people of Muslim faith. Today, they constitute the third, perhaps the second, largest community of Muslims in the world. They are geographically dispersed, linguistically heterogeneous, unified in faith, influenced by its culture as well as by local cultural practices, and are citizens of a vibrant democracy. By the same logic, they are called upon to respond to contemporary domestic and global challenges having an impact on them,

A look at the map is helpful. India as a geographical entity was not terra incognita to the Arabian Peninsula or other lands of western Asia where Islam had its first followers. This was particularly true of contacts with the trading communities of the coastal regions of western and southern India; records show that established trade route existed well before the advent of Islam. So was the presence of Indian trading communities in those lands and tradition records Prophet Mohammad’s familiarity with persons ‘who looked like Indians.’

India was thus a known land, sought after for its prosperity and trading skills and respected for its attainments in different branches of knowledge. Long before the advent of Muslim conquerors the works of Al Jahiz, Ibn Khurdadbeh, Al Kindi, Yaqubi and Al Masudi in the 9th and 10th centuries testify to it. Alberuni in early 11th century studied Indian religion, philosophy, sciences, manners and customs and produced a virtual encyclopaedia remarkable for its detail and objectivity. In fact, a closer reading of his short second chapter ‘On The belief of Hindus in God’ might have saved centuries of misperceptions arguably on theological grounds.

The new faith came to India through diverse channels – through traders in the south and through conquerors and travellers in north-west. A historian has noted that ‘the presence of Muslims in India can be traced to three different sources: conquest, immigration and conversion with the mingling of different stocks taking place in a manner that was beyond social or political control,’ adding that the vast majority of Indian Muslims are converts and that the main agency for conversions were the mystics, principally in the 15th and 16th centuries.

The imprint of this interaction is writ large and was delineated many years back with some precision by another historian. Indian culture, he wrote, ‘is synthetic in character. It comprehends ideas of different orders. It embraces in its orbit beliefs, customs, rites, institutions, arts, religions and philosophies belonging to society in different stages of development. It eternally seeks to find a unity for the heterogeneous elements which make up its totality. At worst its attempts end in mechanical juxtaposition, at best they succeed in evolving an organic system.’

Heterogeneity was the core of this process. It was a characteristic of the social, cultural and philosophical landscape. Interaction with its own people who had opted for a new faith produced a variety of responses, conscious and sub-conscious. One aspect was formal and political, another was social and intellectual. The first adapted to the ground reality, benefited from it and in turn induced the second.

What was the ground reality? In a general sense and right through the medieval period of Indian history two sets of readings are available: the imperial system in northern India and the more modest principalities in the south that developed their own distinctive identities before eventually succumbing to the political pressure from the north.

It is a historical fact that for almost seven centuries from the eleventh to the eighteenth century the state system in India was headed by persons who professed to be Muslim. Despite this at no stage in this period was the state theocratic nor was Islam declared to be the State religion; instead, the norms of governance were regal in a non-denominational sense. Practice thus drew a clear distinction between rules emanating from the Sharia and those from Zawabit or Jahandari (secular state laws). Overtime, the imprint of the structure of Indian society was visible, and so was adaptability. Professor Richard Eaton has observed that ‘the Indo-Islamic traditions that grew and flourished between 711 and 1750 served both to shape Islam to the regional cultures of South Asia and to connect Muslims in those cultures to a worldwide faith community.’ He adds that ‘it is precisely this double –movement between local cultures of South Asia and the universal norms of Islam that makes the study of Indian Islamic traditions so rewarding.’ He also notes that ‘even within South Asia, one finds enormous variations of Islamic traditions not only across social classes and over time, but also across space.’


Adaptability and accommodation, and attendant creativity, can thus be depicted as two dimensions of Muslim culture as it developed and flourished in the Indian subcontinent. This was reflected on a wide canvass in many segments of social life. A survey of these in a single lecture can only be illustrative. I therefore propose to explore this in four areas: statecraft, social life, creative arts, and spirituality.

I begin with statecraft. There is a consensus among historians that ‘it is a mistake to see the Moghul Empire either as an Islamic state, in which Sharia prevailed, or a Muslim state in which the Muslims, as an entire community, were part of the ruling class.’ Thus a doctrine of ‘supra-religious sovereignty’ became the operative norm. This was reflected, among other things, in ‘the composition of the Moghul governing class where, by 1707, the Rajputs and other Hindus came to have a share in the resources as well as positions of authority within the state roughly to the extent of a third of those available.’

The same was also true of earlier dynasties. The classic text on the medieval Indian theory of kingship is Ziauddin Barani’s 14th century work, Fatawa-I Jahandari, on the techniques and rules of government. It is based on an examination of the working of the institutions of Delhi kingship for over ninety five years. Its postulates were amplified and re-enunciated in the 16th century by Moghul Emperor Akbar’s chief secretary Abul-Fazl Allami in his monumental work The Ain-I-Akbar, which itself is part of a larger work The Akbar Nama.

Barani’s principal dictum was that the institution of monarchy was necessary for social order and the enforcement of justice and that ‘the king should have the power to make state-laws ‘even if in extreme cases had to override the Shariat.’ Barani defined Zawabit or state-laws as ‘rules of action which a king imposes as an obligatory duty on himself for realizing the welfare of the state and from which he never deviates.’ Abul Fazl’s observations on the subject followed and amplified a line of thought no different from the earlier Indian prescriptions of Kautalya’s Arthashastra written in 4th century BC.

Two instances recorded by historians substantiate the Moghul approach. Responding to a letter from the Persian king Shah Abbas I, Jalaluddin Akbar said ‘we must be king to all people who are the treasures of God and have mercy for everybody no matter what their religion and idea is (since) the state of each religious group has two alternatives: either he has made the right choice or if he has made a mistake in choice, he must be pitied not blamed.’ Several decades later Aurangzeb, not withstanding his anxiety to restore the primacy of Sharia in state matters, wrote to one of his officers: ‘What have worldly affairs to do with religion? For you there is your religion and for me mine.’ In another letter, he observed: ‘what concern have we with the religion of anybody? Let Jesus follow his own religion and Moses his own.’

The same was the policy in the Deccan kingdoms where in the philosophy of governance the necessity of a pragmatic approach towards the subjects of the state prevailed. Thus, in the Qutbshahi kingdom of Golconda, ‘very little differentiation was made between the Hindus and the Muslims so far as the affairs of the state were concerned’ and ‘the whole outlook of the state as centred in the person of the Sultan was non-communal.’

The resulting situation has been summed up by another historian: ‘Thus the Akbarian concept of a state based on peace and harmony with votaries of all religions, a composite ruling class representing basically the regional ruling elites and a section of middle bureaucracy, and promotion of a culture based on the poly-cultural traditions of the country combined with Persian and Central Asian culture had struck deep roots and could not be dislodged, despite the efforts of some narrow minded theologians enjoying state support.’

This approach to governance reflected itself in the social life of society. While religious communities, and caste sections within each, lived in segments, compulsions of daily life led to normal cooperation. A study of the pre-Moghul period has observed that ‘it was somewhat difficult to distinguish the lower classes of Muslims from the masses of Hindus’ and that even in the case of conversions ‘the average Muslim did not change his environment which was deeply influenced by caste distinctions and a general social exclusiveness. As a result Indian Islam slowly began to assimilate the broad features of Hinduism.’ Record shows that ‘there was in principle no change in the basic pattern of life and thought between 1350 and 1600.’ Thus ‘the blending of social customs was prompted by necessity but it was not hindered by sectarian or caste considerations. The result was a cultural pluralism that continued for centuries.’

In an essentially feudal order, any assessment of social life has to be in terms of social classes. The condition of the poor was aptly described by a 17th century Dutch trader who observed that ‘the common people lived in poverty so great and miserable that the life of the people can be depicted or accurately described only as the home of stark want and the dwelling place of bitter woe.’ Those at other steps of the social order, middle classes and higher nobility, were better of. The empire had 120 cities and around 3200 towns. Trade and commerce flourished though by the middle of the 18th century the direction of external trade changed and some of the traditional centres of foreign trade suffered considerable losses.

Developments in creative arts were distinctive and constitute a significant phase in the annals of Indian art. The period saw the arrival of a new style of architecture reflected in the mosque and the tomb in the religious domain and the palace, pavilions, town gates, gardens and landscape architecture in the secular domain. The combination of scale, detail and good taste is breath-taking.

The same was the case with painting in which the refined Persian style was combined with the lively vision of Indian artists. The Hindu art of mural painting underwent a remarkable change with the arrival of the Mughals. The themes of the paintings were varied and often focused on religion and mythology. Towards the later part of the Mughal rule, the Rajput School and Pahari School of painting began to develop under local patronage. Though Rajput school was indigenous by nature, after coming in contact with Muslim painting it was completely transformed and gave birth to Kanga School of painting in the 18th century.

Particular effort, under royal patronage, was made to translate religious texts and other major Sanskrit works into Persian. The cultural intermingling in Persian and Sanskrit literatures was a characteristic of the age and has been dwelt upon by scholars. Akbar had the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, and the Atharvaveda translated in Persian. Yet another area of excellence was the writing of history and so was calligraphy, vividly visible to visitors on the panels of the Taj Mahal.

Nothing characterized the medieval Indian society as well and as comprehensively as the broad realm of spirituality. The 11th and 12th centuries were a period of vigorous Sufi tradition in Khurasan (eastern Iran and western Afghanistan) that was transmitted to northern India and later to other areas. This coincided with the growth of the Bhakti movement that stood for intense personal devotion and complete surrender to God and in the unity of the godhead and brotherhood of humans. It began in South India in the 7th-8th century to bridge the gulf between the Shaivas and Vaishnavas. The Bhakti preachers disregarded the caste system. It is in the life and teachings of Kabir (b 1440), Guru Nanak (b 1439) and Chaaitaya (b 1485) that the Bhakti movement may be considered to have attained its zenith.  Their teachings had an impact on the development of local languages. The two trends imbibed each other’s thoughts, traditions and customs. Both minimized the differences and distinctions between the Hindus and the Muslims and promoted mutual understanding and had a perceptible impact in the cultural domain.

The liberal ideas and unorthodox principles of Sufism had a profound influence on Indian society. ‘By the thirteenth century, Sufism had become a movement and it would not be an exaggeration to say that it brought Islam to the masses and the masses towards Islam… The Sufis made an intuitive choice of the common ground of spirituality between Hindus and Muslims and opened the way for a mutual appreciation of aesthetic values which could revolutionize the whole cultural attitude of the Muslims.’ The liberal principles of Sufi sects restrained orthodox Muslims in their attitude and encouraged many Muslim rulers to pursue tolerant attitude to their non-Muslim subjects. Most Sufi saints preached in the language of common man. This contributed to the evolution of various Indian languages like Urdu, Punjabi, Sindhi, Kashmiri and Hindi. The impact of Sufi Movement was deeply felt on some renowned poets of the period, like Amir Khusrau and Malik Muhammad Jayasi who composed poems in Persian and Hindi in praise of Sufi principles.

A later manifestation of this, at a philosophical level, was Dara Shikoh’s attempt to identify the convergence of the two faiths. In his tract ‘The Confluence of the Two Oceans’, he ‘thirsted to know the tenets of the religion of Indian monotheists…and did not find any difference except verbal in the way they sought and comprehended the Truth.’ Another example is a mid-17th century work, Dabistan-e-Mazahib, described by a scholar as the greatest book ever written in India on comparative religion.


This manifestation of Muslim life and thought in India over many centuries depicts adaptability, creativity and diversity. It is sui generis. This is reflected in scholarly assessments: ‘Indian Islam has been remarkable for its identification with India without ceasing to be Islamic’. It adds ‘colour to the bizarre pageantry of India.’ A study on Muslim practices in medieval Punjab cites Barbara Metcalf’s observation that ‘Islam in India has found its expression in both local and cosmopolitan contexts and both these levels have shaped Muslim religious thought and practices.’

This situation underwent a drastic and traumatic change with the advent of British rule and brought forth a multiplicity of responses from social groups and religious leaders ranging from religious reform to militancy. Resistance to the creeping foreign control took the shape of a series of peasant revolts in different regions. The theologian Shah Abdul Aziz proclaimed resistance as religiously valid. The uprising of 1857 was thus the culmination of a process in whose aftermath serious introspection about the Muslim condition took divergent routes, all focused on education. Barbara Metcalf has written in some detail about ‘the diversity of Islamic movements’ that surfaced and has cited with approval Albert Hourani’s judgment that eighteenth century was ‘the Indian century of Islam. On the one side, new theological institutions of repute like Darul Ulum at Deoband and Nadwat ul Ulema at Lucknow were established while on the other Syed Ahmad Khan and his colleagues struggled against odds to bring to segments of the community modern education in the shape of the MAO College that later became the Aligarh Muslim University. Individuals apart, however, modernism made limited headway unlike the reformist currents engendered by the Brahmo Samaj in Bengal and the Arya Samaj in Punjab.

Politically, Muslim approaches to British rule after 1857 ranged between general allegiance (to seek some modest benefits), to protestations on specific issues, and occasional resort to revolutionary language and behaviour. After World War I Mahatma Gandhi’s effort to forge a broad Hindu-Muslim front by linking and supporting the Khilafat Movement with the Non-Cooperation Movement met with some success but could not be sustained. Record shows that in the late 20’s and 30’s leaders of the freedom movement having varying viewpoints struggled with competing impulses on political and societal challenges confronting them. Scrutiny also shows that a lesser dose of cultural bias and a greater element of cultural accommodation may have brought forth greater harmony and, perhaps, prevented the tragic happening of 1947. The political perceptions and maneuvers accompanying it did not have the support of most of the religious scholars, exemplified by Hussain Ahmad Madani of Deoband.

Ten years after the event, the resulting situation was graphically expressed by the McGill scholar Wilfred Cantwell Smith: ‘The Indo-Muslim community, battered by outward circumstances and gripped inwardly by dismay, has stood disconcerted, inhibited by effective self-recognition and from active vitality. And yet not only is the welfare of that community is at stake, now and for future generations is at stake. Also the histories of both India and Islam will in part turn on the success or failure of this community in solving its present problems, on its skill and wisdom in meeting the challenge of today.’ Three factors, he observed, would impact on this response: size, past tradition, and involvement in ‘the transcending complex of India.’

The process of recovery from the trauma has been gradual and uneven, at times painful, and was and continues to be influenced by three impulses: autonomous initiatives, policy correctives, and stated or unstated impulses to discriminate.

Indian Muslims have hesitatingly sought to tend their wounds, face the challenges and seek to develop response patterns. Success has been achieved in some measure; much however remains to be done. Educational levels remain below the national average and are particularly noticeable in regard to women where slow pace of social reforms also results in low social mobility and workforce participation.

Autonomous correctives are one aspect of the matter; interaction with the larger community of citizens is another and requires candid dialogue and careful calibration without a syndrome of superiority or inferiority. The failure to communicate with the wider community in sufficient measure has tended to freeze the boundaries of diversities that characterize the Indian society.

In 2005 the government appointed a committee to delineate the contours of the problem. Its findings (The Sachar Committee Report) showed that on most socio-economic indicators – education, livelihood, access to public services and employment market across the states – Muslims were on the margins of structures of political, economic and social relevance and that their average condition was comparable to, or even worse than, the country’s most backward communities whose condition is officially acknowledged. This was followed by the Report of the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities (the Ranganath Mishra Commission) in 2007. Another report, in 2014, evaluated the implementation of the decision taken and concluded that though ‘a start has been made, yet serious bottlenecks remain’ and asserted that ‘the development of the Muslim community must be built on the bed-rock of a sense of security.’

It is evident from the compendium of official and civil society reports that the principal problems confronting India’s Muslims relate to (a) identity and security, (b) education and empowerment, (c) equitable share in the largesse of the state, and (d) fair share in decision-making. Each of these is a right of the citizen in terms of the plural, secular and democratic dimensions of the Indian polity. The defaults by the state are therefore to be corrected at policy and implementation stages by the state at the federal and state levels. Political sagacity, the imperative of social peace, and an informed and educated public opinion play an important role in this.

Is this being done in sufficient measure in word and deed? There are questions in the minds of many citizens about it, about our commitment to the core values of pluralism and secularism, about our capacity to resist the onslaught of ideas and practices that militate against values of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity prescribed for us by the Constitution.

The urgency of giving this a practical shape at national, state and local levels through various suggestions in the public domain is highlighted by enhanced apprehensions of insecurity amongst segments of our citizen body, particularly Dalits, Muslims and Christians. The objective of various groups indulging in strong-arm tactics ‘is to make minorities feel unsafe and insecure, to force them to become furtive and fearful while practicing their faith or celebrating their festivals and thereby destroy India’s pluralist heritage.’ These, along with other manifestations of distress in different social segments and regions, tend to suggest that we are perhaps a polity at war with itself in which the process of emotional integration has faltered and is in dire need of reinvigoration.

This rejuvenation is unavoidable given Indian society’s living experience of diversity and plurality, tolerance and co-existence. The challenge today is to educate opinion about the consequences of intolerance, of narrow nationalism and of illiberal democracy and to ensure that it does not become pervasive by associating with fellow citizens who wish to retain secular principles and practices.

The Muslims of India, inheritors of a rich legacy, cannot but be a part of this process as actors and as beneficiaries. They recall with pride Abul Kalam Azad’s advice to them in October 1947 on the morrow of the Partition: ‘come, let us vow that this is our land, we are for it, and that basic decisions about its destiny will remain incomplete without our voice.’ They are committed to the Constitution and to the constitutional procedures for grievance redressal. They are concerned over rising incidents of intolerance and violence but there is no inclination in their ranks to opt for ideologies and practices of violence. This is reflective of their moorings in a composite society and their non-alienation. They retain and reiterate their claim of being citizens, endowed with rights and duties bestowed on them by the Constitution, and ‘a form of citizenship that is marked neither by a universalism generated by complete homogenization, nor by particularism of self identical and closed communities.’

Despite some shortcomings and occasional aberrations, the Indian model of accommodation of diversity in a country with a complex societal make up remains a relevant example for a globalizing world that requires all members of its citizen-body to go beyond mere tolerance to acceptance of diversity in all aspects of life. Imperatives of ultra-nationalism and geopolitics in recent decades have resulted in projecting the Muslim as ‘the new Other’ and this Otherness is being perceived as a spectre haunting the world very much like radical ideologies of earlier ages. This drift into apprehension and intolerance has to be resisted and reversed; sanity demands that all of us pull back from the precipice and anchor thought and action on civic virtues national and global.

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