Archive for October, 2009

A madrasa in mind

An article by Javed Anand, co-editor at “Communalism Combat” and General Secretary, Muslims for Secular Democracy. The article talks about the medieval mindset of the Deoband, and its hardline interpretation of the Quran, leading to keeping India’s muslims in clutches of ignorance, and away from the true message of the Quran. This we feel, has a direct relationship with poverty, as well as fanaticism.


To those who might have concluded from media reports that Indian Muslims are not interested in the HRD ministry’s proposed bill to give madrasa students access to subjects like mathematics, science and maybe English, here’s some Breaking News: a significant section of Muslims, including maulanas and maulvi sahibs, are very keen. But the number of “Ayes” is difficult to assess because in this respect at least Muslims are more like Hindus than Christians: there is a great deal of decentralisation and there is no universally accepted hierarchy among the ulema even within the same sect.

We also have another problem on hand. Even in the ranks of the interested there are many who have serious issues with the draft bill — the Central Madrasa Board Bill 2008 — currently in circulation. This is because it does not adequately address legitimate concerns about autonomy, non-interference and corrupt babus.

Responding to strong objections raised by several delegates present at the October 3 all-party meeting in New Delhi, HRD Minister Kapil Sibal gave a categorical assurance that if the Muslims do not want it, there will be no central madrasa board. The assurance, paradoxically, has the pro-board maulanas really worried. Their fear is that for the lack of a well-conceived draft, what in principle is a most welcome idea might be prematurely buried. This column, however, is not concerned with offering advice on how to revise the draft. Rather, the intention is to address the objections of that section of the ulema who will continue to object no matter how satisfactory the revised bill.

Though they are not the only ones, in the forefront of the opposition to the idea of a board is the Darul-uloom Deoband, arguably India’s largest and most influential madrasa. Deoband’s objections were well encapsulated in the inaugural address of its rector, Maulana Marghub ur-Rahman, at a massive all-India meeting of the ulema convened in late 2008. For reasons of space, of the many anti-arguments, let’s deal with the two most important ones:

The conspiracy argument: The Government of India is trying to please its Western masters who have hatched a “sinister conspiracy” to dilute or destroy the Islamic character of madrasas through a variety of strategies. The “madrasa modernisation” call is but a part of this devious game-plan. Why should the Western powers, the US particularly, be targeting madrasas?

Because madrasas have historically been “a major hurdle in their expansionist and imperialist designs”.

Comment: Interesting! But then, what was Deoband doing when in the ’80s innumerable madrasas in Pakistan and Afghanistan that proclaimed Deoband-lineage ganged up with “American imperialists” (in addition to Pakistan’s General Zia-ul-Haq and the Saudi regime) to transform what would have been a legitimate war of national liberation against the occupying Soviet forces into a “Holy War” (Islamic Jihad?) against the Evil Empire? There is more to be said on the subject but leave that to another day.

The hypocrisy argument: The Sachar Committee reports that only 4 per cent Muslim children go to a madrasa for education, the remaining 96 per cent depend on secular education. Why doesn’t the government concentrate on the education of the 96 per cent instead of losing sleep over the future of 4 per cent?

Comment: Good point. How our secular UPA government responds to this is its business. But I for one have a serious Islamic objection to raise against this compartmentalised method of learning.

You might have heard of Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall, who converted to Islam and whose English translation of the Quran is considered to be among the most authentic by Muslims. In a 1924 public lecture in India, bemoaning all the damage the sub-continent’s ulema had done to Islam in Allah’s name, he recalled a tradition of Prophet Mohammed: “To acquire knowledge is the sacred duty of every Muslim (male) and Muslimah (female)”.

Reminding his Muslim audience that in Islam “all knowledge is

sacred”, he added: “Islam teaches us that the man with the widest knowledge and experience of life is the man best qualified to expound religious truths to resolve the problems which arise among Muslims in connection with the practice of religion. I deny the right of men with limited knowledge and outlook to exclusive interpretation. I deny their conclusions and I also deny their premises”.

Lest you dismiss his words as the ranting of a neo-convert ignoramus, please recall that in the heydays of Islam, a Muslim from Baghdad, Bokhara, Cairo, Damascus, Samarkand and elsewhere learnt his theology in the same madrasa (educational institution, literally) where he was also taught science and mathematics, logic, philosophy and mysticism, music, literature and architecture.

You adore Imam Ghazali; consider his to be among the most respected names in the field of Islamic theology. But do you teach in your madarsas what Imam Ghazali did: “He who has never doubted is not a true believer”, or that every ayat (verse) of the Quran can be interpreted in 60,000 ways? Do you tell them ever that this highly learned Imam believed that Allah has prescribed two basic texts for the ummah: one, the Quran, the other is His “open book”, otherwise known as the Universe/ Cosmos. And that the Quran itself repeatedly asserts that to even begin to fathom Divine Intent, in addition to imaan (faith) you need aql (intellect) and ilm (reasoning).

A rounded education for the 4 per cent is critical, for it is they from whom the 96 per cent learn their Islam. Because of the compartmentalised, fragmented, insular and sectarian nature of his education, the Maulvi Sahib’s ignorance of the world he inhabits is tragic — and the Mr Muslim’s knowledge of Islam pathetic.

But of course, Muslims must be part of the battle against the neo-cons, the neo-colonialists, the uncritical Westophiles and the diehard Islamophobes. The good news is that there is a growing tribe of Muslim men and women who are engaged in this battle for hearts and minds and I can rattle off a long list of names. Sadly, or maybe not, almost all of them occupy distinguished positions in the top universities of the West. They are proud of their Islam which is different from yours and the West is listening with interest and respect. A pity not one of them will find a place in any madrasa or university in the Islamic world.

To end, more Breaking News: A fortnight ago, Saudi King Abdullah cut the ribbon opening the gates of a multi-billion dollar, co-educational, postgraduate university. A fatwa on Deoband’s website declares this to be strictly “unlawful”.

On October 8, the Grand Mufti of Egypt and head of Al-Azhar university, Sheikh Mohammed Syed Tantawi, issued a fatwa against the niqab. (Ideally, says a Deoband fatwa, even a woman’s eyes should not be seen.) Strict instructions have been issued that no woman draped in a head-to-toe burqa will now be permitted to enter the university or any of its affiliated institutions. Al-Azhar, among the oldest madrasas in the Islamic world, is also “old-fashioned”: it seems to treat all knowledge as sacred.


Just A Smile

Mr Watwani has sent this message for all

Just smile pleaseeeeeeee

Smile, it is the key that fits the lock of everybody’s heart.

A smile happens in a flash, but its memory can last a lifetime

There are hundreds of languages in the world, but a smile speaks them all

Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy

A warm smile is the universal language of kindness

Smiling makes you feel better about yourself, even if you don’t feel like it. And it always makes other people think better of you.

A smile is a light in the window of a face that signifies the heart is at home and waiting

Life is like a mirror, we get the best results when we smile at it

You are never fully dressed until you wear a smile

A smile is an inexpensive way to improve your looks

Beauty is power; a smile is its sword.

Keep smiling – it makes people wonder what you’ve been up to

Peace begins with a smile

Every tear has a smile behind it.

Keep a smile on your face and let your personality be your autograph

No matter how small, a SMILE on your face tells all

What sunshine is to flowers, smiles are to humanity

Smiles are unbreakable- -and mend broken hearts

Smiles are great investments: the more you collect, the better you feel

Be multilingual; smiles are the universal language

A laugh is a smile that bursts

A smile is just a frown upside-down

A smile is as nice to give, as it is to receive

Most smiles start with another smile…

Though Smile cannot erase our burden, but it sure does make us feel lighter…

Just smile pleaseeeeeeee


Myth of separation between Indus Valley and Vedic Civilization

Professor K.P.N. Rao and his associates assert, on the basis of their recently published computer studies on the Indus script, that this script has statistical regularities which are in line with other natural languages. Thus, the various signs of the Indus script cannot be explained away as only symbols of different sorts. The latter opinion was expressed by an American group sometime back and apparently taken seriously enough by Rao and his colleagues to undertake their own analysis. That the Indus script represents a language is amply shown by the way its signs were found scratched from the right to the left on an inscribed potsherd from Kalibangan and the way in which the signs were arranged on the seals of Mohenjodaro. Further, the rarity with which many of these signs occur is almost a certain indication of the fact that much of the textual corpus of the Indus civilisation was written, on the analogy of the Indian tradition which continued down to the end of the nineteenth century, on perishable materials like palm and birch leaves.

The basic problem, however, lies elsewhere. There is a conscious attempt in certain quarters to disassociate this civilisation from the later mainstream tradition of Indian/ Vedic culture. Historically, the beginning of this attempt can be traced to the period around India’s Independence when Mortimer Wheeler proposed that the impetus for this civilisation came from Mesopotamia. Earlier, when India was a jewel in the British crown, there was no compulsion to depict it as an offshoot of Mesopotamian or other contemporary civilisations. The early excavators had no problem hypothesising that this civilisation was deeply rooted in the Indian soil and that many of its features could be explained with reference to the later Indian civilisation.

The current attempts to disassociate the Indus civilisation from the mainstream Indian tradition has assumed many forms. The term ‘Indus valley civilisation’, which is being increasingly common, suggests that this civilisation was primarily a product of the Indus valley alone, which is far from being the case. The civilisation is also bandied about as the product of what is dubiously dubbed as the ‘middle Asian interaction sphere’ and not as a product of a vast region of the sub-continent. Its chronology has been needlessly shortened, suppressing a long and continuous developmental span of about 2500 years in the modern Indian section of its distribution area. The civilisation is also visualised at the end of a straight arrow-line of wheat-barley-based development beginning in Baluchistan at c.7000 BC, completely ignoring the contribution which came from the east — from the early farming and metallurgical developments in the Aravallis or from the rice-cultivating tradition that began in the Ganga plain and its Vindhyan periphery in the seventh millennium BC. The famous Sramana image from Mohenjodaro, which shows the bust of a shawl-wearing man with a meditative expression, is now advocated as belonging to an artistic tradition of north Afghanistan and beyond. Notorious Hindu-baiters are aghast at the thought that anything related to Hinduism could occur in that civilisation, whereas the first excavators’ frame of reference for the study of the religion of this civilisation was Hinduism. That Siva was worshipped in this civilisation is proved not merely by the phallus-shaped stone objects found at Mohenjodaro and Dholavira but also by the find of an indisputedly Sivalinga set in a Yonipatta at Kalibangan. If anybody is interested, Bhang and Dhatura , both favourites with a class of Siva-worshippers, occur in the Indus civilisation.

The battle raging these days is whether there can be a relation between the life depicted in the Vedic literature and this civilisation. Without trying to pull down this debate to the all-too-common Indian level of ‘progress versus reaction’ syndrome which implies that that any talk in favour of Veda-Indus civilization relationship is a ‘right reactionary’ proposition ( a la Irfan Habib), we note that scholars of the stature of M.S.Vats, R.P.Chanda, B.N.Datta and P.V.Kane had no difficulty in arguing for a relationship between the two.

The opinions which we have noted above and which try to disassociate the Indus civilisation from the mainstream Indian tradition are endemic in modern First World archaeological literature on the subject and its followers in India. First World Archaeology, as my long familiarity with it tells me, suffers from a sense of inordinate superiority in relation to the archaeologists of the Third World. By allowing it to enjoy a free run in the country as the present archaeological policy of the government does and by allowing it to set up ‘Indus Centres’ in Vadodara or Pune, grievous damage is being caused to national archaeological scholarship in India.

The writer is emeritus professor of South Asian archaeology, Cambridge University.


Aryan-Dravidian divide a myth: Study

HYDERABAD: The great Indian divide along north-south lines now stands blurred. A pathbreaking study by ancestral Indian populations says there is a genetic relationship between all Indians and more importantly, the hitherto believed “fact” that Aryans and Dravidians signify the ancestry of north and south Indians might after all, be a myth.

“This paper rewrites history… there is no north-south divide,” Lalji Singh, former director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) and a co-author of the study, said at a press conference here on Thursday.

Senior CCMB scientist Kumarasamy Thangarajan said there was no truth to the Aryan-Dravidian theory as they came hundreds or thousands of years after the ancestral north and south Indians had settled in India.

The study analysed 500,000 genetic markers across the genomes of 132 individuals from 25 diverse groups from 13 states. All the individuals were from six-language families and traditionally “upper” and “lower” castes and tribal groups. “The genetics proves that castes grew directly out of tribe-like organizations during the formation of the Indian society,” the study said. Thangarajan noted that it was impossible to distinguish between castes and tribes since their genetics proved they were not systematically different.

The study was conducted by CCMB scientists in collaboration with researchers at Harvard Medical School,
Harvard School of Public Health and the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT. It reveals that the present-day Indian population is a mix of ancient north and south bearing the genomic contributions from two distinct ancestral populations – the Ancestral North Indian (ANI) and the Ancestral South Indian (ASI).

“The initial settlement took place 65,000 years ago in the Andamans and in ancient south India around the same time, which led to population growth in this part,” said Thangarajan. He added, “At a later stage, 40,000 years ago, the ancient north Indians emerged which in turn led to rise in numbers here. But at some point of time, the ancient north and the ancient south mixed, giving birth to a different set of population. And that is the population which exists now and there is a genetic relationship between the population within India.”

The study also helps understand why the incidence of genetic diseases among Indians is different from the rest of the world. Singh said that 70% of Indians were burdened with genetic disorders and the study could help answer why certain conditions restricted themselves to one population. For instance, breast cancer among Parsi women, motor neuron diseases among residents of Tirupati and Chittoor, or sickle cell anaemia among certain tribes in central India and the North-East can now be understood better, said researchers.

The researchers, who are now keen on exploring whether Eurasians descended from ANI, find in their study that ANIs are related to western Eurasians, while the ASIs do not share any similarity with any other population across the world. However, researchers said there was no scientific proof of whether Indians went to Europe first or the other way round.

Migratory route of Africans

Between 135,000 and 75,000 years ago, the East-African droughts shrunk the water volume of the lake Malawi by at least 95%, causing migration out of Africa. Which route did they take? Researchers say their study of the tribes of Andaman and Nicobar islands using complete mitochondrial DNA sequences and its comparison those of world populations has led to the theory of a “southern coastal route” of migration from East Africa through India.

This finding is against the prevailing view of a northern route of migration via Middle East, Europe, south-east Asia, Australia and then to India.