Prophet Muhammad – The Benefactor of Humanity

If grandeur of design, pettiness of means and immensity of results, be the three measures of human genius, who could dare to compare any great men with Mohammed? Head of the State as well as of the Church, he was Caesar and Pope in one; but he was Pope without Pope’s pretensions, Caesar without the legions of Caesar. If ever any man had the right to say that he ruled by the right divine, it was Mohammed, for he had all the power without its instruments and without its supports.

Every philosopher or reformer who has influenced the world came from a privileged family or a prosperous civilisation. Prophet Muhammad was, in this regard, unique. He was born among the Bedouin tribes of Arabia, in a region ignored by all the great empires and civilisations. His only advantage was that he lived in the full light of recorded history. Born to Abdullah and Aamena, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was orphaned at the age of 4 years. Thereafter he lived with his grandfather Abdul Mutallib, who was a highly respected tribal leader in Mecca, a first among equals. The only matter of pride for the Prophet was a respectable lineage and a noble character. He was the most trustworthy person in Mecca, even among his adversaries. When all the great civilisations had sunk into the Dark Ages, he gave the humanity a universal message that raised a golden civilisation of scientific discoveries, technological inventions, medical and philosophical revolutions, multicultural coexistence and marvellous arts.

M N Roy, the founder of Communist Party of India, writes in his essay, Historical Role of Islam, “the phenomenal success of Islam was primarily due to its revolutionary significance and its ability to lead the masses out of the hopeless situation created by the decay of antique civilizations, not only of Greece and Rome but of Persia and China, and of India”. The Qur’an aptly points it out, “It is Him (God), Who has raised among the illiterates a Messenger from them, who recites unto them His revelations and purifies them, and teaches them the Scripture and wisdom; before which they had clearly gone astray.” (The Friday, 62:2)

The Old Testament perhaps prophesised Muhammad’s above-mentioned trait of reciting revelations,

And the Lord said unto me [Moses], They have well spoken that which they have spoken. I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.

– Holy Bible, Deuteronomy 18:17-18; KJV

The word ‘Islam’ basically means instituting peace, acceptance and submission to God. The Qur’an says, “O people! Verily, We (God) have created you in male and female, and have cast you in communities and tribes, so that you may recognise each-other. Indeed, the noblest of you in the sight of God are those who restrain themselves. Verily, God is All-Knower, All-Aware.” (The Shacks, 49:13) The Prophet (pbuh) spoke for a universal equality, liberty and fraternity. At his Farewell Sermon he announced, “Indeed, your Lord is One, your father is one. An Arab is not superior to a non-Arab, nor is a non-Arab superior to an Arab. A White is not superior to a Black nor a Black superior to a White; except by righteousness.

Islam, as a system of life, has five cornerstones: the Testimony of faith, the daily five times prayers (Salaah, Namaaz), fasting in the month of Ramadan, obligatory charity (Zakah) and Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. Jihad also has an important place in Islam, which basically means utmost struggle and striving. The Greater Jihad (Jihad ul Akbar) is to make oneself free of vice and submissive to Allah the Almighty. The Prophet (peace be upon him) once also said that the greatest Jihad is to speak the word of truth in front of a tyrant (critical journalism?). Muslims believe that Prophet Muhammad is not the founder of Islam but only the last and final prophet of God, preaching the pristine legacy of Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus (peace upon them all). There came about 120,000 prophets before him who preached the same message of monotheism and justice. Whenever people forgot the true message of God, another messenger was sent to revive the same old message. Islam, i.e. peace and submission to God, is thus the primordial way of existence of every living and non-living thing.

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was born in Mecca in 570 CE. He proclaimed prophethood in 610 CE at the age of 40 years. He preached for over 13 years in Mecca, which he fled after bearing cruel persecution and two attempts of assassination. Very few people know that Prophet Muhammad gave the first secular constitution of the world in 622 CE as he migrated to Yathrib (Medina), where he found great following and continued his mission. There, he raised an enlightened society with a revolutionary mission and sent missionary envoys to neighbouring rulers, including the emperors of Persia, Byzantine and Abyssinia.

The Prophet and his Companions also fought several battles and skirmishes against the oppressive and exploitative chieftains. The most difficult battles were fought against the Quraish of Mecca, tribal confederates of northern Hejaz and a Herculean expedition to Tabouk against the Byzantine incursions. The Islamic forces mostly fought defensive battles and defeated much larger and well equipped armies. Some Jewish tribes of Medina were expelled for violating the Medina Charter (constitution), committing high treason and conspiring to assassinate Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). He conquered Mecca in 630 CE without any bloodshed or revenge and forgave his adversaries, en masse. An interesting passage from the ninth oration of the Qur’an, The Repentance (Al-Taubah), instructs elimination of the treacherous, peace with the decent and protection of innocent pagans.

The Prophet passed away in 632 CE. His grave is located under the dome of the Masjid-ul-Nabawi in Medina. The Prophet (pbuh) spent his entire youth married to only one woman, Khadeeja, who gave him great strength and bore four daughters. At a time when he had enough power and popularity to have as many wives and concubines as King Solomon or Lord Krishna, this humble Apostle never had more than 11 at any given time. Most of his wives were widows or divorcees whom he married only to foster alliance with rival tribes and prevent war.

The Prophet also gave an equal status to women, besides emphasising on education; he was the first in recorded history to give the right to individual property and inheritance to women. The Prophet (pbuh) said in his famous Farewell Sermon, “O People, it is true that you have certain rights with regard to your women, but they also have right over you. If they abide by your right then to them belongs the right to be fed and clothed in kindness. Do treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers.” Eventually, a woman named Fathima al-Fihri built the University of Qarawiyyin, Morocco, in 859 CE, which is now the oldest surviving university of the world.

Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) had the best manners and judgement. The Prophet once said that he has been sent by God only to perfect people’s manners. He was the most polite and soft-spoken and he commanded the same to his Companions. He said that a servant of God may utter a word without thinking whether it is right or wrong, and because of that, he may slip down deep into the Hell-Fire. Of course, we do realise that careless speech can sometimes hurt our friends and family and it can become very difficult to undo that grief.

Another trait with Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was a humble lifestyle of simplicity. One of his companions, Qataada, reported that the Prophet hardly ever saw a thin well-baked loaf of bread in his life, and he never saw a large piece of roasted meat with his eyes. Thus, one of the Prophet’s most guileful critics, Edward Gibbon, cannot help but admit, “the good sense of Mohammed despised the pomp of royalty. The Apostle of God submitted to the menial offices of the family; he kindled the fire, swept the floor, milked the ewes, and mended with his own hands his shoes and garments. Disdaining the penance and merit of a hermit, he observed without effort of vanity the abstemious diet of an Arab”. Yet, the Apostle won the hearts of the masses in Arabia and the people of Hejaz region respected him more than the Persians or Byzantines respected their emperors. Bosworth Smith acutely observes this in his book Mohammed and Mohammedanism, “Head of the State as well as of the Church, he was Caesar and Pope in one; but he was Pope without Pope’s pretensions, Caesar without the legions of Caesar … if ever any man had the right to say that he ruled by the right divine, it was Mohammed, for he had all the power without its instruments and without its supports.”

Islam places a great importance on family values. Conjugal rights, upbringing children with benevolence and respecting parents & elders is essential to maintain a well integrated society. The Prophet said that whoever longs for more wealth and a prolonged life, he should keep good relations with his kith and kin. “Keeping peace and good relations between people is better than charity, fasting and prayers, since quarrels and bad feelings destroy mankind.” Forbearance and mercy are the greatest values demonstrated by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Almost all orations in the Qur’an begin by invoking God’s Mercy. The Prophet said that whoever is not merciful to others will not be treated mercifully (by God). He advised everyone to be often forgiving so that God may forgive their sins. Patience is perhaps the blood cousin of mercy. A great advice was that a strong person is not the one who wrestles his opponent on the mat but the one who controls himself when struck by anger.

A scourge of our society today is rampant corruption. Most people indulge in corruption due to greed of wealth or position. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) described this vulnerability in a very amusing manner. He said, “If the son of Adam (man) had two valleys of gold, he would wish for a third; for nothing can fill the belly of Adam’s son except dust (grave), and Allah forgives him who repents unto Him.” The solution to this greed is contentment. The Prophet thus said, “riches don’t mean having a great amount of property, but it is self-contentment.” No doubt, whoever is humble and content with what they have will enjoy the solace that a rich consumerist can never have. Many people want to reach a high position just due to envy, in order to equal someone else. The Prophet (pbuh) advised that envy should be reserved towards only two kinds of people: a person whom God has given wealth and he spends it in the right way, i.e. by helping the poor, needy, spending in education, in God’s way etc. The other person who can be envied is whom God has given wisdom and he gives his decisions accordingly and teaches other people.

Religion is not merely about rituals and mundane customs. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) bonded social welfare with religion. He said that whoever plants a tree is rewarded by Allah as much as the produce yielded by that tree. We know that no person can perform righteous deeds after death but among the good deeds that continue to benefit a believer (of God) after death are: knowledge that he taught and disseminated, a righteous child who lived after him, a copy of the Qur’an that he left as inheritance, a mosque that he built, a house that he built for travellers, a stream of water that he ran or a charity that he gave from his wealth during his healthy lifetime. So, the deceased gets credit with God for every person who drinks from his canal and everyone who benefits from the knowledge he taught.

Amazingly enough, the Prophet was keen about water bodies and environment as well. He commanded his followers not to excrete in stagnant water because people may use that water to bathe. He also forbade us from releasing refuse under a shady or a fruit-bearing tree, on roads, on a river bank, the edge of a water tank or at places where people bathe. It is well known that many of our lakes besides the great rivers of Ganga and Yamuna have today been destroyed by releasing sewage and industrial waste. If India can restore only half of its water bodies, it might become water adequate once again. The Prophet also promoted greenery by announcing that whoever plants a tree and it benefits people after maturity, God plants a tree in paradise for that person. What a great way of conserving the environment and enjoying its fruits in paradise as well!

Thus, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) didn’t just preach about worshipping God and following certain customs but he brought a great message of peace, harmony and serenity for the entire humanity. Alphonse de Lamartine, a founding father of the French Second Republic, sums up about the Prophet in his Histoire de la Turquie, “If grandeur of design, pettiness of means and immensity of results, be the three measures of human genius, who could dare to compare any great men with Mohammed? The most famous men created only arms, laws and empires. They founded, if anything at all, no more than material powers which often crumbled away before their eyes. [But] Mohammed transformed the armies, legislations, empires, peoples and millions of men. More than that, he moved the altars, gods, religions, ideas, beliefs and the souls. His forbearance in victory, his ambition, entirely devoted to ideas and not to an empire; his endless prayers, his mystic conversations with God, his death and his triumph after death; all these attest not to an imposture but to conviction. Philosopher, orator, apostle, legislator, conqueror of ideas, restorer of rational beliefs – of worship without images – the founder of twenty terrestrial empires and one spiritual empire – that is Mohammed. As regards all standards by which human greatness may be measured, we may well ask, is there any man greater than he?

Interested readers can read Prophet Muhammad’s biography The Sealed Nectar by Safi-ur-Rahman Mubarakpuri besides several scholarly works. Sceptics or critics might consider Misquoting Muhammad by Jonathan Brown; Islam at Crossroads by Muhammad Asad or Orientalism by Edward Said.


Islam and the West

A speech by HRH Charles George, The Prince of Wales, at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, Oxford on 27th October 1993

Ladies and gentlemen, it was suggested to me when I first began to consider the subject of this lecture, that I should take comfort from the Arab proverb, ‘In every head there is some wisdom’. I confess that I have few qualifications as a scholar to justify my presence here, in this theatre, where so many people much more learned than I have preached and generally advanced the sum of human knowledge. I might feel more prepared if I were an offspring of your distinguished University, rather than a product of that ‘Technical College of the Fens’ – though I hope you will bear in mind that a chair of Arabic was established in 17th century Cambridge a full four years before your first chair of Arabic at Oxford.

Unlike many of you, I am not an expert on Islam – though I am delighted, for reasons which I hope will become clear, to be a Patron of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies. The Centre has the potential to be an important and exciting vehicle for promoting and improving understanding of the Islamic world in Britain, and one which I hope will earn its place alongside other centres of Islamic study in Oxford, like the Oriental Institute and the Middle East Centre, as an institution of which the University, and scholars more widely, will become justly proud.

Given all the reservations I have about venturing into a complex and controversial field, you may well ask why I am here in this marvellous Wren building talking to you on the subject of Islam and the West. The reason is, ladies and gentlemen, that I believe wholeheartedly that the links between these two worlds matter more today than ever before, because the degree of misunderstanding between the Islamic and Western worlds remains dangerously high, and because the need for the two to live and work together in our increasingly interdependent world has never been greater. At the same time I am only too well aware of the minefields which lie across the path of the inexpert traveller who is bent on exploring this difficult route. Some of what I shall say will undoubtedly provoke disagreement, criticism, misunderstanding and, knowing my luck, probably worse. But perhaps, when all is said and done, it is worth recalling another Arab proverb: ‘What comes from the lips reaches the ears. What comes from the heart reaches the heart.’

The depressing fact is that, despite the advances in technology and mass communication of the second half of the 20th century, despite mass travel, the intermingling of races, the ever-growing reduction – or so we believe – of the mysteries of our world, misunderstandings between Islam and the West continue. Indeed, they may be growing. As far as the West is concerned, this cannot be because of ignorance. There are one billion Muslims worldwide. Many millions of them live in countries of the Commonwealth. Ten million or more of them live in the West, and around one million here in Britain. Our own Islamic community has been growing and flourishing for decades. There are nearly 500 mosques in Britain. Popular interest in Islamic culture in Britain is growing fast. Many of you will recall – and I think some of you took part in – the wonderful Festival of Islam which Her Majesty The Queen opened in 1976. Islam is all around us. And yet distrust, even fear, persist.

In the post-Cold War world of the 1990s, the prospects for peace should be greater than at any time this century. In the Middle East, the remarkable and encouraging events of recent weeks have created new hope for an end to an issue which has divided the world and been so dramatic a source of violence and hatred. But the dangers have not disappeared. In the Muslim world, we are seeing the unique way of life of the Marsh Arabs of Southern Iraq, thousands of years old, being systematically devastated and destroyed. I confess that for a whole year I have wanted to find a suitable opportunity to express my despair and outrage at the unmentionable horrors being perpetrated in Southern Iraq. To me, the supreme and tragic irony of what has been happening to the Shia population of Iraq – especially in the ancient city and holy shrine of Kerbala – is that after the western allies took immense care to avoid bombing such holy places (and I remember begging General Schwarzkopf when I met him in Riyadh in December 1990, before the actual war began to liberate Kuwait, to do his best to protect such shrines during any conflict), it was Saddam Hussein himself, and his terrifying regime, who caused the destruction of some of Islam’s holiest sites.

And now we have to witness the deliberate draining of the marshes and the near total destruction of a unique habitat, together with an entire population that has depended on it since the dawn of human civilisation. The international community has been told the draining of the marshes is for agricultural purposes. How many more obscene lies do we have to be told before action is actually taken? Even at the eleventh hour it is still not too late to prevent a total cataclysm.I pray that this might at least be a cause in which Islam and the West could join forces for the sake of our common humanity.

I have highlighted this particular example because it is so avoidable. Elsewhere, the violence and hatred are more intractable and deep-seated, as we go on seeing every day to our horror in the wretched suffering of peoples across the world – in the former Yugoslavia, in Somalia, Angola, Sudan, in so many of the former Soviet Republics. In Yugoslavia the terrible sufferings of the Bosnian Muslims, alongside that of other communities in that cruel war, help keep alive many of the fears and prejudices which our two worlds retain of each other. Conflict, of course, comes about because of the misuse of power and the clash of ideals, not to mention the inflammatory activities of unscrupulous and bigoted leaders. But it also arises, tragically, from an inability to understand, and from the powerful emotions which, out of misunderstanding, lead to distrust and fear. Ladies and gentlemen, we must not slide into a new era of danger and division because governments and peoples, communities and religions, cannot live together in peace in a shrinking world.

It is odd, in many ways, that misunderstandings between Islam and the West should persist. For that which binds our two worlds together is so much more powerful than that which divides us. Muslims, Christians – and Jews – are all ‘Peoples of the Book’. Islam and Christianity share a common monotheistic vision: a belief in one divine God, in the transience of our earthly life, in our accountability for our actions, and in the assurance of life to come. We share many key values in common: respect for knowledge, for justice, compassion towards the poor and underprivileged, the importance of family life, respect for parents. ‘Honour thy father and thy mother’ is a Quranic precept too. Our history has been closely bound up together.

There, however, is one root of the problem. For much of that history has been one of conflict; 14 centuries too often marked by mutual hostility. That has given rise to an enduring tradition of fear and distrust, because our two worlds have so often seen that past in contradictory ways. To Western schoolchildren, the 200 years of the Crusades are traditionally seen as a series of heroic, chivalrous exploits in which the kings, knights, princes – and children – of Europe tried to wrest Jerusalem from the wicked Muslim infidel. To Muslims, the Crusades were an episode of great cruelty and terrible plunder, of Western infidel soldiers of fortune and horrific atrocities, perhaps exemplified best by the massacres committed by the Crusaders when, in 1099, they took back Jerusalem, the third holiest city in Islam. For us in the West, 1492 speaks of human endeavour and new horizons, of Columbus and the discovery of the Americas. To Muslims, 1492 is a year of tragedy – the year Granada fell to Ferdinand and Isabella, signifying the end of eight centuries of Muslim civilisation in Europe.

The point, I think, is not that one or other picture is more true, or has a monopoly of truth. It is that misunderstandings arise when we fail to appreciate how others look at the world, its history, and our respective roles in it.

The corollary of how we in the West see our history has so often been to regard Islam as a threat – in medieval times as a military conqueror, and in more modern times as a source of intolerance, extremism and terrorism. One can understand how the taking of Constantinople, when it fell to Sultan Mehmet in 1453, and the close-run defeats of the Turks outside Vienna in 1529 and 1683, should have sent shivers of fear through Europe’s rulers. The history of the Balkans under Ottoman rule provided examples of cruelty which sank deep into Western feelings. But the threat has not been one way. With Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1798, followed by the invasions and conquests of the 19th century, the pendulum swung, and almost all the Arab world became occupied by the Western powers. With the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Europe’s triumph over Islam seemed complete.

Those days of conquest are over. But even now our common attitude to Islam suffers because the way we understand it has been hijacked by the extreme and the superficial. To many of us in the West, Islam is seen in terms of the tragic civil war in Lebanon, the killings and bombings perpetrated by extremist groups in the Middle East, and by what is commonly referred to as ‘Islamic fundamentalism’. Our judgement of Islam has been grossly distorted by taking the extremes to be the norm. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a serious mistake. It is like judging the quality of life in Britain by the existence of murder and rape, child abuse and drug addiction. The extremes exist, and they must be dealt with. But when used as a basis to judge a society, they lead to distortion and unfairness.

For example, people in this country frequently argue that Sharia law of the Islamic world is cruel, barbaric and unjust. Our newspapers, above all, love to peddle those unthinking prejudices. The truth is, of course, different and always more complex. My own understanding is that extremes are rarely practised. The guiding principle and spirit of Islamic law, taken straight from the Qur’an, should be those of equity and compassion. We need to study its actual application before we make judgements. We must distinguish between systems of justice administered with integrity, and systems of justice as we may see them practised which have been deformed for political reasons into something no longer Islamic. We must bear in mind the sharp debate taking place in the Islamic world itself about the extent of the universality or timelessness of Sharia law, and the degree to which the application of that law is continually changing and evolving.
Islam and West

We should also distinguish Islam from the customs of some Islamic states. Another obvious Western prejudice is to judge the position of women in Islamic society by the extreme cases. Yet Islam is not a monolith and the picture is not simple. Remember, if you will, that Islamic countries like Turkey, Egypt and Syria gave women the vote as early as Europe did its women – and much earlier than in Switzerland! In those countries women have long enjoyed equal pay, and the opportunity to play a full working role in their societies. The rights of Muslim women to property and inheritance, to some protection if divorced, and to the conducting of business, were rights prescribed by the Qur’an 1,400 years ago, even if they were not everywhere translated into practice. In Britain at least, some of these rights were novel even to my grandmother’s generation! Benazir Bhutto and Begum Khaleda Zia became prime ministers in their own traditional societies when Britain had for the first time ever in its history elected a female prime minister. That, I think, does not necessarily smack of a mediaeval society.

Women are not automatically second-class citizens because they live in Islamic countries. We cannot judge the position of women in Islam aright if we take the most conservative Islamic states as representative of the whole. For example, the veiling of women is not at all universal across the Islamic world. Indeed, I was intrigued to learn that the custom of wearing the veil owed much to Byzantine and Sassanian traditions, nothing to the Prophet of Islam. Some Muslim women never adopted the veil, others have discarded it, others – particularly the younger generation – have more recently chosen to wear the veil or the headscarf as a personal statement of their Muslim identity. But we should not confuse the modesty of dress prescribed by the Qur’an for men as well as women with the outward forms of secular custom or social status which have their origins elsewhere.

We in the West need also to understand the Islamic world’s view of us. There is nothing to be gained, and much harm to be done, by refusing to comprehend the extent to which many people in the Islamic world genuinely fear our own Western materialism and mass culture as a deadly challenge to their Islamic culture and way of life. Some of us may think the material trappings of Western society which we have exported to the Islamic world – television, fast-food and the electronic gadgets of our everyday lives – are a modernising, self-evidently good, influence. But we fall into the trap of dreadful arrogance if we confuse ‘modernity’ in other countries with their becoming more like us. The fact is that our form of materialism can be offensive to devout Muslims – and I do not just mean the extremists among them. We must understand that reaction, just as the West’s attitude to some of the more rigorous aspects of Islamic life, needs to be understood in the Islamic world.

This, I believe, would help us understand what we have commonly come to see as the threat of Islamic fundamentalism. We need to be careful of that emotive label, ‘fundamentalism’, and distinguish, as Muslims do, between revivalists, who choose to take the practice of their religion most devoutly, and fanatics or extremists who use this devotion for their political ends. Among the many religious, social and political causes of what we might more accurately call the Islamic revival is a powerful feeling of disenchantment, of the realisation that Western technology and material things are insufficient, and that a deeper meaning to life lies elsewhere in the essence of Islamic belief.

At the same time, we must not be tempted to believe that extremism is in some way the hallmark and essence of the Muslim. Extremism is no more the monopoly of Islam than it is the monopoly of other religions, including Christianity. The vast majority of Muslims, though personally pious, are moderate in their politics. Theirs is the ‘religion of the middle way’. The Prophet himself always disliked and feared extremism. Perhaps the fear of Islamic revivalism which coloured the 1980s is now beginning to give way in the West to an understanding of the genuine spiritual forces behind this groundswell. But if we are to understand this important movement, we must learn to distinguish clearly between what the vast majority of Muslims believe and the terrible violence of a small minority among them – like the men in Cairo yesterday – which civilised people everywhere must condemn.

Chancellor, ladies and gentlemen, if there is much misunderstanding in the West about the nature of Islam, there is also much ignorance about the debt our own culture and civilisation owe to the Islamic world. It is a failure which stems, I think, from the straitjacket of history which we have inherited. The medieval Islamic world, from Central Asia to the shores of the Atlantic, was a world where scholars and men of learning flourished. But because we have tended to see Islam as the enemy of the West, as an alien culture, society and system of belief, we have tended to ignore or erase its great relevance to our own history.

For example, we have underestimated the importance of 800 years of Islamic society and culture in Spain between the 8th and 15th centuries. The contribution of Muslim Spain to the preservation of classical learning during the Dark Ages, and to the first flowerings of the Renaissance, has long been recognised. But Islamic Spain was much more than a mere larder where Hellenistic knowledge was kept for later consumption by the emerging modern Western world. Not only did Muslim Spain gather and preserve the intellectual content of ancient Greek and Roman civilisation, it also interpreted and expanded upon that civilisation, and made a vital contribution of its own in so many fields of human endeavour – in science, astronomy, mathematics, algebra (itself an Arabic word), law, history, medicine, pharmacology, optics, agriculture, architecture, theology, music. Averroes and Avenzoor, like their counterparts Avicenna and Rhazes in the East, contributed to the study and practice of medicine in ways from which Europe benefited for centuries afterwards.

Islam nurtured and preserved the quest for learning. In the words of the tradition, ‘the ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr’. Cordoba in the 10th century was by far the most civilised city of Europe. We know of lending libraries in Spain at the time King Alfred was making terrible blunders with the culinary arts in this country. It is said that the 400,000 volumes in its ruler’s library amounted to more books than all the libraries of the rest of Europe put together. That was made possible because the Muslim world acquired from China the skill of making paper more than 400 years before the rest of non-Muslim Europe. Many of the traits on which modern Europe prides itself came to it from Muslim Spain. Diplomacy, free trade, open borders, the techniques of academic research, of anthropology, etiquette, fashion, various types of medicine, hospitals, all came from this great city of cities.

Medieval Islam was a religion of remarkable tolerance for its time, allowing Jews and Christians the right to practise their inherited beliefs, and setting an example which was not, unfortunately, copied for many centuries in the West. The surprise, ladies and gentlemen, is the extent to which Islam has been a part of Europe for so long, first in Spain, then in the Balkans, and the extent to which it has contributed so much towards the civilisation which we all too often think of, wrongly, as entirely Western. Islam is part of our past and our present, in all fields of human endeavour. It has helped to create modern Europe. It is part of our own inheritance, not a thing apart.

More than this, Islam can teach us today a way of understanding and living in the world which Christianity itself is the poorer for having lost. At the heart of Islam is its preservation of an integral view of the Universe. Islam – like Buddhism and Hinduism – refuses to separate man and nature, religion and science, mind and matter, and has preserved a metaphysical and unified view of ourselves and the world aruond us. At the core of Christianity there still lies an integral view of the sanctity of the world, and a clear sense of the trusteeship and responsibility given to us for our natural surroundings. In the words of that marvellous 17th century poet and hymn writer George Herbert:

‘A man that looks on glass,
On it may stay his eye;
Or if he pleaseth, through it pass,
And then the heaven espy.’

But the West gradually lost this integrated vision of the world with Copernicus and Descartes and the coming of the scientific revolution. A comprehensive philosophy of nature is no longer part of our everyday beliefs. I cannot help feeling that, if we could now only rediscover that earlier, all-embracing approach to the world around us, to see and understand its deeper meaning, we could begin to get away from the increasing tendency in the West to live on the surface of our surroundings, where we study our world in order to manipulate and dominate it, turning harmony and beauty into disequilibrium and chaos.

It is a sad fact, I believe, that in so many ways the external world we have created in the last few hundred years has come to reflect our own divided and confused inner state. Western civilisation has become increasingly acquisitive and exploitative in defiance of our environmental responsibilities. This crucial sense of oneness and trusteeship of the vital sacramental and spiritual character of the world about us is surely something important we can re-learn from Islam. I am quite sure some will instantly accuse me, as they usually do, of living in the past, of refusing to come to terms with reality and modern life. On the contrary, ladies and gentlemen, what I am appealing for is a wider, deeper, more careful understanding of our world; for a metaphysical as well as a material dimension to our lives, in order to recover the balance we have abandoned, the absence of which, I believe, will prove disastrous in the long term. If the ways of thought found in Islam and other religions can help us in that search, then there are things for us to learn from this system of belief which I suggest we ignore at our peril.

Ladies and gentlemen, we live today in one world, forged by instant communications, by television, by the exchange of information on a scale undreamed of by our grandparents. The world economy functions as an inter-dependent entity. Problems of society, the quality of life and the environment, are global in their causes and effects, and none of us any longer has the luxury of being able to solve them on our own. The Islamic and Western worlds share problems common to us all: how we adapt to change in our societies, how we help young people who feel alienated from their parents or their society’s values, how we deal with Aids, drugs, and the disintegration of the family. Of course, these problems vary in nature and intensity between societies. The problems of our own inner cities are not identical to those of Cairo or Damascus. But the similarity of human experience is considerable. The international trade in hard drugs is one example; the damage we are collectively doing to our environment is another.

We have to solve these threats to our communities and lives together. Simply getting to know each other can achieve wonders. I remember vividly, for instance, taking a group of Muslims and non-Muslims some years ago to see the work of the Marylebone Health Centre in London, of which I am Patron. The enthusiasm and common determination that shared experience generated was immensely heart-warming. Ladies and gentlemen, somehow we have to learn to understand each other, and to educate our children – a new generation, whose attitudes and cultural outlook may be different from ours – so that they understand too. We have to show trust, mutual respect and tolerance, if we are to find the common ground between us and work together to find solutions. The community enterprise approach of my own Trust, and the very successful Volunteers Scheme it has run for some years, show how much can be achieved by a common effort which spans classes, cultures and religions.

The Islamic and Western world can no longer afford to stand apart from a common effort to solve their common problems. One excellent example of our two cultures working together in common cause is the way in which the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is working with Oxford Univeristy to set up a research centre into schizophrenia for an organisation called SANE, of which I am Patron.

Nor can we afford to revive the territorial and political confrontations of the past. We have to share experiences, to explain ourselves to each other, to understand and tolerate – and I know how difficult these things are – and to build on those positive principles which our two cultures have in common. That trade has to be two-way. Each of us needs to understand the importance of conciliation, of reflection – TADABBUR is the (Arabic) word, I believe – to open our minds and unlock our hearts to each other. I am utterly convinced that the Islamic and the Western worlds have much to learn from each other. Just as the oil engineer in the Gulf may be European, so the heart transplant surgeon in Britain may be Egyptian.

If this need for tolerance and exchange is true internationally, it applies with special force within Britain itself. Britain is a multi-racial and multi-cultural society. I have already mentioned the size of our own Muslim communities who live throughout Britain, both in large towns like Bradford and in tiny communities in places as remote as Stornaway in Western Scotland. These people, ladies and gentlemen, are an asset to Britain. They contribute to all parts of our economy – to industry, the public services, the professions and the private sector. We find them as teachers, as doctors, as engineers and as scientists. They contribute to our economic well-being as a country, and add to the cultural richness of our nation. Of course, tolerance and understanding must be two-way. For those who are not Muslim, that may mean respect for the daily practice of the Islamic faith and a decent care to avoid actions which are likely to cause deep offence. For the Muslims in our society, there is the need to respect the history, culture and way of life of our country, and to balance their vital liberty to be themselves with an appreciation of the importance of integration in our society. Where there are failings of understanding and tolerance, we have a need, on our own doorstep, for greater reconciliation among our own citizens. I hope we shall all learn to demonstrate this as understanding between these communities grows.

I can only admire, and applaud, those men and women of so many denominations who work so tirelessly, in London, South Wales, the Midlands and elsewhere, to promote good community relations. The Centre for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations in Birmingham is one especially notable and successful example. We should be grateful, I believe, for the dedication and example of all those who have devoted themselves to the cause of promoting understanding.

Ladies and gentlemen, if, in the last half hour, your eyes have wandered up to the marvellous allegory of Truth descending on the arts and sciences in Sir Robert Streeter’s ceiling above you, I am sure you will have noticed Ignorance being violently banished from the arena – just there in front of the organ casing. I feel some sympathy for Ignorance, and hope I may be permitted to vacate this theatre in a somewhat better condition…

Before I go, I cannot put to you strongly enough the importance of the two issues which I have tried to touch on so imperfectly this morning. These two worlds, the Islamic and the Western, are at something of a crossroads in their relations. We must not let them stand apart. I do not accept the argument that they are on course to clash in a new era of antagonism. I am utterly convinced that our two worlds have much to offer each other. We have much to do together. I am delighted that the dialogue has begun, both in Britain and elsewhere. But we shall need to work harder to understand each other, to drain out any poison between us, and to lay the ghost of suspicion and fear. The further down that road we can travel, the better the world that we shall create for our children and for future generations.

Knowledge, Education & Wisdom: Maladies and Remedies

Superior intelligence is the only human ability that enables us to overcome all other species. We use our intelligence to gain knowledge of all the living and non-living things in the world around us. As we gain more knowledge we also develop wisdom that guides us to carefully use the power that comes with knowledge. These are the only trait that sets humans apart from all the other living beings and allows us to tame the most ferocious beasts and make medicines from snake venom.

A very important advantage we humans have is the capability of beliefs and opinions; animals are only capable of emotions and intuition. As we acquire wisdom, we understand that our lives are temporary and everything changes with time. Our health and abilities, possessions and power will cease to exist sooner or later. Governments, cultures and civilisations will rise and fall over time just as the great civilisations of Indus and Nile have long disappeared. But the only thing that continues to flourish and pass from one generation to other, from one civilisation to other is knowledge. For example, the people who first invented the wheel are now in complete oblivion, but wheels are used every day in bullock carts, the smallest toys as well as the largest power stations.

Knowledge, unlike myths, cannot be fabricated but only acquired after careful study. Since the dawn of civilisation, humans have tried to organise and acquire more knowledge and impart it with discipline. The ancient Sumerians of Mesopotamia had scribal schools about 5,000 years ago which trained children during the day. Education is perhaps the greatest utility in history that mankind has been developing continuously. Peaceful societies cannot exist without good education and a country that patronises scholars and reformers will eventually reach its zenith. The Supreme Court of India had observed in September 2012 that democracy, though cannot be flawless, depends for its very life on a high standard of general, vocational and professional education. “Dissemination of learning with search for new knowledge with discipline must be maintained at all costs”, said the apex bench.

After fighting two devastating world wars, the great powers of the world realised that mere political and economic agreements are not enough to build a lasting peace. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) was thus created in 1945, to build networks among nations that promote knowledge, build intercultural understanding and pursue international cooperation. “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed. Peace must be established on the basis of humanity’s moral and intellectual solidarity.”

Good quality education, however, has mostly remained a privilege of the dominant classes, since it requires well qualified and methodically trained teachers. It is therefore the greatest necessity of mankind to educate the coming generations besides fostering such moral values and intellectual growth in society which will enable better access to good education. The most important uses of education are building a sound intellectual environment, fostering social and cultural values and equipping youngsters with disciplined knowledge to achieve a just and sustainable development for society.

Education in schools and colleges is not for memorising certain disjointed pieces of information, concepts and methods. Education is to unleash the best intellect and aptitudes in humans, and train those abilities in a manner that can be best utilised for the welfare of society simultaneously giving a wholesome satisfaction to the individual. The success of education lies in its ethical energy to coordinate all aspects of human life, instead of compartmentalising them, and in the integration and upliftment of all sections of the society. Education would remain only an administrative or economic tool if remains a prerogative of the mainstream and privileged classes.

Education in India

Education in the sense of learning is undoubtedly a life-long process, both individually and collectively. Both formal and cultural education in India still have a long way to go. While it’s a well known fact that no Indian citizen has won a Nobel Prize in science or literature after 1930, other indicators are quite depressing. The reader might be surprised to learn some bleak realities of education in India. The following passage can be potentially disturbing, reader’s discretion is advised.

  • The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) publishes rankings of countries based on an indicator called Human Development Index (HDI). It’s a summary measure of three key aspects of human development: a long and healthy life, being knowledgeable and having a decent standard of living. Unfortunately in this arena, India is behind some countries struck by civil wars like Iraq, Palestine, Libya, Sri Lanka and Lebanon. India is a member country of international associations like G20 and BRICS. Except India, all developing members of the two associations like China, Brazil, South Africa, Mexico, Argentina, Turkey and Indonesia belong to a different league of High Human Development. India is slightly ahead of Pakistan and Bangladesh, the three neighbours have Medium Human Development.
  • The Times Higher Education Rankings are published every year by an independent audit, in which Indian universities show abysmal performance. In the 2016-17 rankings, 19 out of top 20 universities are British or American. There are 2 Chinese universities in top 35 and 3 from Hong Kong in top 80 (Hong Kong is a Chinese province). But there is not a single Indian university in the top 200 ranks. Indian media however projected it as some kind of a victory deserving praise.

Domestic statistics perhaps give some insights to understand the cause of such an abysmal situation.

  • Due to the ever increasing costs of academic education, less than 12% Indians have completed matriculation and about 5.6% have completed graduation.
  • In September 2015, over 23 lakh candidates, including 2.22 lakh engineers and 255 Ph.D. holders besides thousands of M.Com., M.Sc. and M.A. holders had applied for 368 peon positions in the Uttar Pradesh State Secretariat.
  • This is in sharp contrast to the fact that the Uttar Pradesh Secondary Education Council had invited applications to recruit 6,645 Assistant Teachers a year before. Over 10 lakh posts of teachers are lying vacant in India today.
  • About one-third of faculty positions in central universities are lying vacant. More than 53% positions of associate professors are vacant and most universities rely on ad-hoc, contractual and guest faculty.
  • Only 20% of all the engineering graduates in India are employable.
  • Over 4,400 students had dropped out of the prestigious IITs and NITs between 2012 and 2015.
  • IIT Bombay, Delhi and Kharagpur have over 33% shortage of staff.
  • India registered 8,048 student suicides across the country in 2014, with the highest cases in Maharashtra which also has a lead in farmers’ suicide and wine production.

The purpose of this assessment is not to express cynicism towards the educational system and policy makers but to take an un-romanticised account of the situation and contemplate some holistic solutions and reforms.

Perhaps one of the reasons for such abysmal education standards in India is the budget that the government allots for the education of its people. India is among the few countries that dedicate less than 4% of its GDP to education. Again, India spends the least fraction among G20 and BRICS countries on education. Brazil and South Africa, despite smaller populations and economies than India, spend more than 5.5% of their GDP on education. Scandinavian countries, known for their excellent education and HDI, spend more than 7% GDP on education.

Eventually, academic education remains substandard in India and youngsters are left unemployable. The problems of education are endemic and are entrenched in our socio-economic system. Dr. Craig Jeffrey, a former Professor at Oxford University is the Director of the Australia India Institute, Melbourne, Australia. In his book titled Time pass: Youth, Class and the Politics of Waiting in India, he calls Indian education as a ‘time pass’ for the idle middle class youth who are unable to get a decent job on the basis of their degrees. They take admission in a variety of courses for ‘killing time’ and look for a jugaad to get a government job.

In a society where teachers, parents and media perpetuate a notion that possessions and influence precede happiness, the primary purpose of the education system seems contradictory. Instead of sensitising virtues, cultivating intelligence and wisdom, the agenda of education becomes the creation of knowledgeable workers for a ‘service system’ and a citizenry that is socially passive and intellectually mediocre. In this framework, the pedagogic enterprise is to prepare human capital for the labour market and the central thrust of educational policy is to supply labour for industry and the free market.

As a result of this approach to education, hundreds of private schools and colleges have cropped up in the past 15 years which provide better education at exorbitant prices. Education is becoming privatised which is just one aspect of an increasing socio-economic segregation in India. It is a part of an entire privatisation system which includes housing, healthcare, security, electricity and an ever narrowing journalism.

The neoliberal lobbies propose better quality of education through free market policies. They promote corporatisation to evolve elite institutions that mostly serve the upper classes. They foster competition amongst students and between institutions. Neoconservative policies, as if to complement these efforts, attempt to shape the personality of students and teachers so that they become susceptible to the propaganda of the dominant social classes. The result is that mass education is turned into a commodity akin to fixed deposits or insurance policies, under which lower classes receive humble packages of education and upper classes receive premium deals. Education now serves as a sophisticated and pernicious tool to perpetuate social and economic stratification.

No wonder, even with all these educational problems prevailing, privileged Indian candidates do exceptionally well in Ivy League universities and multi-national corporations. The present education system thus promotes a self-perpetuating class system where the children of the rich mostly go on to rule over the children of the poor. Education thus defeats its very purpose of fostering social mobility and justice and goes into maintaining inequality in society.

Educators and policy makers, therefore, ought to understand that the success of education does not consist in the acquisition of a great amount of material knowledge to be used for a life-exhausting career or amassing wealth through complex schemes of consumerism, exploitation and expansionism. Nor does it consist in the enthusiasts’ indulging in arts, aesthetics and addictions or the elites spending their wealth on luxurious mansions and aesthetical decorations, even as the living conditions of the public are deteriorating and man-made floods and droughts are on the rise.

A great problem of some education systems is that they tend to fit the world to their skewed perceptions based on limited knowledge, instead of being open to new perceptions and understanding the stupendous world better. As the 18th century German philosopher Immanuel Kant said, “It seems surprising at first, but is nonetheless certain, that our reason does not draw its conclusions from nature, but prescribes them to it.”

The problems of education seem similar in developed countries, and sooner or later will also affect the privileged classes. Robert Putnam, a Harvard Professor of Public Policy, published a book titled Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis in March 2015. The book presents ground-breaking research on the decline of social mobility in the United States over the past 50 years. Putnam finds an alarming “opportunity gap” in the American education system and warns that the United States could soon cease to be a “land of opportunities”. Independent incidences have also revealed a racial bias in the curricula and examinations of America’s most prestigious schools. The Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), a commonly used exam for college admissions in USA and many other countries, tends to be biased against Black and Hispanic candidates while most universities in USA clearly show racial and economic marginalisation. John Goldthorpe, an eminent sociologist in the United Kingdom, warns of a new situation emerging in Britain. He says young people entering the labour market today are far unlikely to move up economically than their parents did. He appeals to radical changes in educational policy besides a whole new range of economic and social policies.

The first step towards solving a crucial problem is to develop a comprehensive understanding of the problem and its various facets. The union government in India has taken many initiatives like National Curriculum Frameworks by NCERT, National Policy on Education (1986), Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (2000), Midday Meal Scheme, Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE), 2009 and many others by state governments. The syllabi of National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) books are also designed in order to discourage rote learning or confining studies to the prescribed textbook, erasing compartmentalisation of subjects, and to encourage children to reflect on their own learning. There are a few “islands of excellence” where some schools and educational societies have shown impressive results.

All the above efforts, though encouraging, lack a proper implementation with a wholesome approach. The Indian Republic is still far from achieving the Directive Principles of State Policy under the Constitution, like

  • “to provide, within a period of ten years from the commencement of this Constitution, for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years.” (Article 45)
  • “the operation of the economic system does not result in the concentration of wealth and means of production to the common detriment” (Article 39(c))
  • “promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people, and, in particular, of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.” (Article 46)

Good education and opportunity to undergraduate courses is still a privilege of less than 5.6% Indians. It is therefore indispensably urgent to rethink education and revive the system with a comprehensive outlook.


Rethinking Education

From the crudest words uttered by a toddler to the most enlightening words spoken by a luminary, every form of communication has a purpose. The purpose of any action determines its real worth and its results. If education determines the future of society and democracy, it too must have a lofty purpose with far-reaching motives. An education system therefore, if designed merely to provide employment or serve the state’s workforce requirements, would fail its purpose. It would be great injustice to the populace who pay taxes and trust the government and intellectual classes with managing school and university curricula.

There are some ideas about formal institutional education that are well accepted in academic and intellectual circles, viz. education is supposed to encourage the students to analyse and evaluate their experiences, to doubt, to question, to investigate, to be inquisitive and to think independently. New and unfamiliar experiences must enable us to question our old ways of thinking. Education must enable the learner to analyse preconceived notions, formulate new concepts and new ways of looking at the world and life. Natural growth of human rationality must be promoted and give the young mind enough courage to challenge established norms.

But education, time and again, tends to become overladen with inert ideas. Education with inert ideas is extremely harmful; it causes corruption of the best minds. Except at rare intervals of social or intellectual ferment, education becomes radically infected with inert ideas and stifles the growth of the very human traits that it verbally states to revive. It must therefore, be the primary and perpetual purpose of education, no matter how brilliant it is, to guard itself from inert ideas which lead to the corrosion of intellect.

The great American reformer Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke in one of his speeches on the purpose of education. He said that education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction. The function of education, King said, is to enable intensive and critical thinking. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but bad morals. We must remember that intelligence alone is not enough. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education. A thief with a gun may rob a bank, but a thief with knowledge and intelligence can rob a stock exchange.

An essential purpose of education must hence be, to pre-empt the development of such thieves and imbue them with morals since childhood so that robbery becomes a rare phenomenon. Only then “a complete education would give not only the power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate”, King said. As the ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras had said, “Educate the children and it won’t be necessary to punish the men”. If education and economic class remain the only differences between a pickpocket and Vijay Mallya or Bernard Madoff then the purpose of education remains unfulfilled. Societies, as in USA, will inevitably idolise Britney Spears and be brainwashed by intellectuals like Thomas Friedman, Bernard Lewis, Christopher Hitchens, besides mainstream media, who endorse neoliberalism or all the invasions and manipulations in the Middle East.

Life, in all its manifestations, is complicated and everyone must have the character and sense of moral purpose to succeed. The high standards of academic rigour and professional training are already being threatened with vice, dishonesty and prejudice. This in turn is worsening the long malignant cancer of corruption in every social domain. Corruption of state agencies and private businesses is not just an economic or administrative problem but the direct result of the moral and social corruption that plagues society. Character development, honesty and ethos must therefore be the urgent and indispensable aspects of the education system.

John Dewey, an American philosopher and educational reformer, strongly advocated that education and learning are social and interactive processes, and thus the school itself is a social institution through which social reform can and should take place. The purpose of education should not revolve around the acquisition of a pre-determined set of skills, but rather the realization of one’s full potential and the ability to use those skills for the greater good. Dewey said that education and schooling are instrumental in creating social change and reform.

Education must enable graduates to acquire an eagle eye’s view of the environment in which they live. When college undergraduates look at poor people around, they must possess the insight that poverty is perhaps caused by some kind of inequality in society and mostly affects those who suffer from insecure work and low income, which may also affect their social life, personal health and individual psyche. If the educated class think that poverty exists because some people are lazy workers, come from ‘problem families’ and cannot budget properly because they suffer from low intelligence, then we know that education has largely failed. The educated class, then, has acquired skills but has neither acquired wisdom nor cultivated intelligence. Education must engage the human mind with enough enthusiasm for self and social reform, and cure the human fixations of possessions, power, fame and addictions.

René Descartes, considered to be the father of modern philosophy and mathematics, held that learning is a personal quest comprised of external worldly experiences and internal ponderings. It is very important to gain knowledge through questioning supposed truths, and this “enlightenment of cognition” is individual and personal. Students can generate new knowledge by engaging with the information passed on to them by their elders. It is therefore essential for school education to arouse and cultivate curiosity in students’ minds. There can be no mental development or intellectual progress unless the pupils are continually sustained by the evocation of interest, the acquirement of technique, and the excitement of success. The young mind will otherwise consider education as a burden.

Formal and general education must be well articulated so that every individual naturally approaches their inherent and unique aptitude. Humans can work most effectively when their thoughts, beliefs and actions are in tandem. The natural passion of the individual must go along with his everyday toil, only then can every person give his best performance. Education must facilitate students to discover their aptitude and build the right attitude to fully harness that aptitude. Universities have to serve as a connection between knowledge and the zest of life, by uniting the young and the old.

A robust working class and a thriving economy can be realised only by producing workmen and employers who enjoy their work. For example, it is impossible that a person, who has the talent of a teacher but ends up as a factory supervisor, will produce a large output of first-class work, however skilful his hands. He will inevitably limit his production, scamp his work, and be adept at evading inspection; he will be slow in adapting himself to new methods, be a focus of discontent, full of impractical ideas with no apprehension of the real working of trade conditions. If society is full of such anomalies of individuals, then it will deserve only inefficient organisations, haywire administration and demagogic leaders.

Wholesome Education

An important reason for such mismatches of talent and jobs is the upbringing of the young generation. Many parents do not raise their children to bring up a responsible citizen who intends to develop the community and society, but to produce youth who are professionally successful and can maintain if not raise the family’s financial status. The ideal of such parents is to purchase luxuries and flaunt their family before the community; very much like the farmer who fantasies a golden egg laying goose. Pressure is placed on students to take multiple advanced classes, participate in resume building extra-curricular activities, get super-high grades, and be admitted to prestigious universities.

Such upbringing of students can produce extraordinary stress in youngsters and create a mental health crisis in the community. Higher education, in such societies, is then reduced to a cultural exercise; you take a course because your community is taking it. Education and especially an undergraduate course then, is not a personal passion or inner conviction of the student but a dream of their family. The student who is taking the course has no idea about how the course will benefit him personally, morally or socially. If this is the prevalent purpose of education in a society then not only will the youth comprise of lethargic and under-qualified manpower but consumerism and social disparities will also prosper. Peace and solace will remain utopian dreams.

Wholesome development of students is of prime importance. In 2015, an American Superintendent of Schools of a high-achieving New Jersey school district located near Princeton University sent a letter to parents, stressing the urgent necessity of developing a “whole child”. In the year 2014-15, 120 middle and high school students from the district were recommended for mental health assessments; 40 were hospitalized. On a survey administered by the district, students wrote things like, “I hate going to school,” and “coming out of 12 years in this district, I have learned one thing: that a grade, a percentage or even a point is to be valued over anything else.”

Most students are too naïve to comprehend that they are lunging headlong into a purposeless maze. This is because they are told by their parents and teachers to confine their study just to the prescribed textbooks, which is especially true in the Indian subcontinent. Instead, students must be consistently encouraged to learn from a diversity of sources. The prescribed textbook is just a bare minimum necessity, it’s not at all sufficient to develop the personalities of future citizenry. Periodic assessments must be designed around judging and rewarding the students’ abilities to learn from such non-prescribed sources. Extra-curricular activities, besides reading literature, newspapers and encyclopaedias, scouts and guides, visiting museums and industries and going on excursions must be fully integrated with the mainstream textbook learning, all getting equal attention from the Boards of Education. Secondary level assessments by these educational boards must fully embrace the ‘peripheral’ education and give equal weightage as the state or nationally standardised exams. All knowledge is interconnected and wisdom comes by exploring those connections. This should be the guiding principle of every educational board. Knowledge will then be treated as a vast network of information, concepts and ideas instead of a concatenated string of uninteresting concepts.

Of course, these upgradations would certainly require a much better educational infrastructure, which is why the government must plan larger budgets for education, as do South Africa, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and other countries with better HDI. Otherwise, the Indian workforce will continue to be mediocre and passive and unemployment will remain persistent.

Contrary to a popularised notion, religion is not necessarily a hurdle in the process of scientific enquiry or modern education; the hurdle is rather ritualism or twisted doctrines. The greatest luminaries of modern philosophy, science, mathematics and education like Rene Descartes, Immanuel Kant, Thomas Aquinas and Isaac Newton had strong beliefs in God. Abdus Salam, a Nobel laureate, was a pioneering proponent of the Standard Model of Particle Physics, which seeks to explain matter and energy in the universe. As he spoke at the Nobel Banquet in 1979, he quoted from the Qur’an, “You will see no imperfection in the creations of the Merciful (God). Turn your vision again, can you see any flaw? Then turn your vision again, and then again; in the end your vision will return to you, worn out and frustrated !”. (The Dominion, 67:3-4). The Standard Model, though very successful, can explain only 4% of the known universe. The first Education Minister of independent India was an Islamic scholar named Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. He played a crucial role in India’s freedom struggle and founded India’s premier institutions like the University Grants Commission (UGC), Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) etc. Maulana Azad worked together with Dr. Radhakrishnan, who was also a great scholar of religion and philosophy. Both had presided over the UNESCO General Conferences in 1952, 1953 and 1956.

Technical vs Socio-Cultural Orientations

Education becomes effective if it is an integral part of the students’ culture. However, the prevalent culture in India is many times in conflict with the modern ideals of education system. On the one hand, most Indian students do realise that academic learning encourages them to challenge old ways and formulate better ones. But on the other hand, their elders at home often force them to adhere to the culture of their elders and even arrogate unconditional obeisance. Elders want their children to attend school but not bring their learning to home. Such a culture also discourages the students from taking seriously the values taught in the curricula.

Greater the gap between education and culture, greater will be the ‘generation gap’ which may also create a ‘class conflict’ or a conflict of cultures; since certain sections of the newer generation are increasingly exposed to ideas and knowledge that might be foreign or contradictory to the prevalent culture. In such a situation, it becomes the greatest challenge of educators to disperse reformist ideas in much faster and wiser ways. Since the middle-aged generation can no longer be directly educated, but continues to steer society, young generation has to be imparted with vast and superior knowledge which will enable them to reform the archaic culture at home while minimising the friction with their elders. It would be extremely beneficial in this regard if the elders are also exposed to progressive ideas through various kinds of media. Looking at the kind of soap operas and news channels broadcast on television today, it’s very clear that this social education, which must complement the academic education, is dreadful. Very few programmes like Satyamev Jayate are broadcast, because some media houses are scornful of awareness campaigns which focus on real issues.

Owing to a market oriented education system, the syllabus is inclined towards technical education. Perhaps because many people favour employment in the industrial and service sectors, topics such as quadratic equations, analytical geometry, metallurgy etc. are also taught in 9th and 10th classes. However, as fewer than 30% graduates in India are engineers, most Indian graduates will never use these concepts in their vocational lives. On the other hand, a majority of Indian graduates including engineers, doctors and managers, are unaware or callous of the crucial socio-cultural maladies and environmental degradation. In such a situation, it would be much better to reduce the emphasis on the purely technical topics, like polynomials and atomic structure, from secondary school education and advance the subjects of social studies and languages. Only those technical topics may be retained which serve to impart familiarity with abstract thought, its application to particular concrete circumstances, and the general methods of logical investigation.

If we can abandon the unnecessary habit of cramming young minds with recondite theorems which they do not understand, and will never use, there will be plenty of time to concentrate on really important topics. Literature and social studies go a long way in imparting moral and cultural education. It can also restore the balance of education between market orientation and society orientation. There can be no prospect of industrial peace with environment so long as the elite and working classes are engaged in a soulless operation of extracting money from the public. The policy makers and the people at large have to abandon the false hope of remediating social inequalities with technology-boosted markets.

Another improvement would be to scrap the “no detention policy” in primary classes, which is a way to whitewash the shortcomings of undertrained teachers, poor teaching practices and infrastructure. The results, as observed in the past few years, are undereducated pupils. For example, students of secondary classes sometimes struggle to answer basic questions or solve mathematical problems of primary classes.

A very controversial issue is the caste reservations in educational institutions. On the one hand it is perhaps the only hope for the discriminated classes to catch up with the mainstream working class and thought process, while on the other hand it can compromise the proficiency and skill of the working class. If the government and educational societies can provide special tuition and coaching of remarkable quality within the premises of institutions under a legal framework (like midday meals scheme), then social equality, justice and work quality may be achieved simultaneously. The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has chalked out a scheme on these lines but it needs much more maturity, organisation and a full-fledged implementation. If the weaker sections successfully catch up with the mainstream, reservations can then be gradually done away with. Such methods can also be beneficial in districts (such as in North-eastern states) or countries (like USA) with ethnic discriminations.

Finally, it is the responsibility of educators, academics and intellectuals to step out of their closed circles and actively engage with the public; diffuse the truth and expose lies. They are the only class in society that can effectively keep the public policies and journalism from becoming narrow and discriminatory. They are also the backbone of the educational system that requires several reforms and upgradations. If they fail, or remain passive, then they will inevitably be ruled by demagogic leaders and inefficient bureaucrats; since the responsibility of intellectuals and the ultimate goal of education is to perpetuate wisdom and cultivate a society that acts on beliefs, opinions and understanding but not on emotions or intuition.

good academic writing – what’s your list?


I asked people in one of my Australian writing workshops to tell me what they thought was essential in good academic writing. The purpose of the activity was to generate criteria that participants could use to steer their own writing. The list was not meant to be an evaluative rubric, something that could be used to assess distance from the ideal. No, the list was an expression of aspirations.

So here is the list that the workshop participants produced – with just a bit of editing from me.

The text is written clearly – complex ideas are explained and difficult terms are defined – the content is accessible to the reader. Even when concepts and theories are obscure, complex or difficult, they are not overcomplicated, but made comprehensible.

The text is well organized – it is clearly structured so that you know where you are in the argument.

The text…

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Zakir Naik Media Trial: Defamation aka Journalism

Indian media has an uncanny habit. It gets obsessed with certain issues and controversies for a short time that last less than a fortnight. Trivial news items and discussions are blown out of proportion and important ones left out. Issues related to politics and ideology do usually eclipse the issues useful to general society. Eventually, the everyday necessity of general awareness is unwittingly ignored. The obvious setback of a controversy-addicted news media is that it cannot quench the hunger of knowledge which leaves the society morally and intellectually malnourished thereby perpetuating social evils besides administrative and economic disorders. This sensationalist attitude of the media, that resembles a cannabis addicted youngster, has left the populace longing for uncontaminated food, water and unpolluted air. A generation has grown up that doesn’t remember the taste of delicious mangoes and can hardly see a locality with families of different communities living as neighbours.

Media’s Crusade Against the Islamic Preacher

The recent controversy around Dr. Zakir Naik, an Islamic preacher, was one such pill, carefully administered by a fascist lobby. The controversy began with a cunning report. The Daily Star, the leading newspaper in Bangladesh published a story about the terrorist attack in Dhaka. It reported that the gunmen who killed 22 people at a café in the Bangladeshi capital had posted some of Dr. Naik’s ideas on social media. This news was then reported by the Indian Express, Times Now and NDTV on July 5 and in Scroll which further added that the controversial preacher is banned in UK, Canada and Malaysia.

Dr. Zakir Naik responded by uploading a video on his YouTube and Twitter blogs on July 8 in which he exposed the lies of these media houses. The Islamic preacher was never banned in Canada or Malaysia but was actually honoured with the Tokoh Ma’al Hijrah Award for Distinguished International Personality in 2013 by the King of Malaysia, which is Malaysia’s highest civilian award.

The Daily Star then quickly removed the news page from its website and published another one clarifying that it stands corrected and expressed protest against the misunderstanding. Though media outlets had reported that the responsibility for the Dhaka attack was claimed by the misattributed Islamic State (ISIS), the Bangladesh government’s investigation shows otherwise.

Zakir Naik Media Trial

Since then, all the media agencies have been running a smear campaign against this soft-spoken preacher who is a household name for millions of Muslims around the world. Besides being given highest national honours by the heads of states of Saudi Arabia, UAE and Gambia, Zakir Naik is also the founder of the Peace TV network, available free-to-air in 200 countries and has a total viewership of over 200 million. This makes Peace TV the largest religious TV network in the world, which is uplinked to satellite from United Kingdom and UAE. Dr. Naik has shared stages with lawyers, journalists, bureaucrats, judges, politicians, Bollywood personalities and religious leaders including the famous Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. But all the media outlets have published guile reports to falsely associate Zakir Naik with Wahhabi extremists while none of them have reported in the recent days about his public dialogue with Ravi Shankar in 2006. This is because Dr. Naik had exposed the spiritual guru’s supremacist views in his erroneous book on Hinduism and Islam which was published after the 2002 Gujarat riots.

Zakir Naik’s Peace TV does not have a cable licence in India, so cable operators are prohibited from relaying it. But like the thousands of channels available around the world, it can be viewed using a private antenna, which is not prohibited. As of now, Bangladesh has banned the Peace TV on cable, but private viewing is still permitted. Dr. Naik, as usual, is on a foreign tour holding peace conferences and other events.

Liberalism – Slander Journalism

Mainstream media and politics are distant cousins. Media outlets have the tendency to flirt with political/ideological sides and become a narrow pool of like-minded journalists who gradually lose the touch of reality and public opinion. This is why many leading news agencies gave terribly wrong analyses on the popularity of Narendra Modi and Donald Trump.

Among the most misleading criticisms published by such journalists was by Saba Naqvi in the Times of India on July 9 calling him a “preacher from hell”. An essay of not more than 700 words, Naqvi has written 10 blatant lies about Zakir Naik, terrorism, sectarianism, current affairs and history. Naqvi seems to believe that Islam is nothing more than a cultural identity, which is exactly the narrative of Sangh Parivar. Shekhar Gupta, who had interviewed Dr. Naik on NDTV, writes that Zakir Naik is a “dangerous misinterpreter of maladies” and promoted religious fundamentalism. Ironically, Gupta has neither studied religion nor geopolitics. In fact, Shekhar Gupta and Saba Naqvi have hardly ever studied or reported the complexities of theology, religion, geopolitics or terrorism. TV channels, as usual, got their choicest pseudo-intellectual critics who are obsessed with maligning certain Islamic Schools of Thought.

Mainstream media can easily support the opinions of a Bangladeshi or Pakistani exile to criticise Islam but cannot understand the swarm of Islamic scholars and Muslim intellectuals who preach Islam and build communal harmony.

Liberalism, therefore, is emerging as a fanatic ideology whose supporters would resort to all kinds of sinister methods and lies when faced with a formidable challenge. All the constraints of journalistic professionalism, objectivity, integrity and fact checking are candidly broken. Character assassination is also a card to be played lest all the other methods fail. This is when mainstream journalism turns into toxic propaganda. Social Media channels too, that are otherwise liberal and fairly objective, have shown their talent of misinterpreting Zakir Naik’s talks. This kind of attitude that conceals and belies the truth is referred to in Arabic as ‘kufr’ and a person who does this consistently is called a Kaafir (which by the way is a word of secular and pre-Islamic origins). Everyone in this world who tries to reform the society goes through such trials.

Zakir Naik, Wahhabism and the Middle East

Contrary to Arnab Goswami’s defamation, Zakir Naik frequently condemns terrorism and violence by quoting the Qur’anic verse in his programmes, “… whoever kills anyone, unless for murder or spreading corruption in land, it is as if he has killed the whole mankind. And if he saves anyone then it’s like saving all the people” (The Table Spread, 5:32) But none of the news or opinion platforms, whether print, electronic or online have mentioned it anywhere. Anyone who watches Dr. Naik’s programmes in their unedited entirety knows that the preacher is all against violence and has been actively promoting inter-faith dialogue and understanding.

Mahatma Gandhi had said that all religions proceed from the same God but are all imperfect because they have come down to us through imperfect human instrumentality. Dr. Zakir Naik, therefore, holds public gatherings for free, to present a practical path that is free from human manipulations. He commands respect from several Muslim and non-Muslim guests who thank him for opening their eyes to brightness and clarity.

Almost every media house, of late, has been associating the Mumbai based preacher with Wahhabism which they consider to be an extremist Islamist ideology. Bewitched by a habit of naively buying the narrative of Western lobbies, almost every Indian media agency is propagating the notion that neo-Wahhabism (known as Salafism) is the cause of global terrorism. Salafism, in reality, is just a theo-jurisprudential School of Islamic Thought that emerged in the twentieth century. Ironically, articles in the print media criticising Salafism are never written by anyone who is a proper cleric from a madrasa or at least has a master’s degree in Islamic Studies from a university. All of them are poets, writers, historians or at best professors of cultural studies.

Contrary to the media portrayal, Salafism is a very broad creed and is not synonymous with the Saudi Wahhabism. It has gone through many changes and bifurcations since its founding by Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab in the eighteenth century in the Najd region of Arabia. Salafism traces its legacy to Imam Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 14th century CE) and the Ash’ari School of Islamic theology. It emphasises a pure and pristine monotheism (Tauheed) based on Qur’an and the Prophet’s tradition (Sunnah). Similar to other revivalist movements around the Muslim world, it opposes superstition, hero worship, grave reverence, extravagant celebrations, the transactional nature of religion which accumulates wealth by exploiting the ignorance of laymen and blind loyalty to scholars or creeds. Through its influence in the House of Saud it also reunited a fragmenting Muslim world, in the matters of religious jurisprudence (Fiqh), during a declining Ottoman Empire.

The famous School of Deoband in India is closer to Salafi jurisprudence, and also opposes extravagance and grave reverence. Interestingly, the most respected Salafist scholars drew inspiration from an Indian Sufi luminary named Shah Waliullah Dehalwi, who was a contemporary of Ibn Abdul Wahhab. Salafism therefore, like Buddhism, Sufism or Marxism is far from a monolithic creed. Noted Salafi scholar Dr. Yasir Qadhi, who studied under the most influential Salafi scholars, has listed seven strands diverging from Salafism. Six of them are concerned only with theological and jurisprudential issues and the seventh strand – the terrorist one – has emerged only in the late 1990s. Ironically, the very word ‘salafi’ was popularised by a scholar named Rashid Rida whose views differ widely from the contemporary mainstream Salafism.

Several Salafist scholars have denounced and condemned terrorism as much as military aggressions in the past few decades. Dr. Yasir Qadhi, besides many others, who graduated from the Islamic University of Medina, has repeatedly condemned terrorism and also criticised the Saudi regime for its indifference towards the Syrian refugee crisis. Some scholars like Yusuf Qardhawi, who condemn the 9/11 attacks, opine that suicide terrorism may be allowed by a military commander when a country is besieged and extreme conditions like those in Palestine prevail.

Most critics of the misattributed Islamist terrorism don’t know that Palestine is a centrepiece territory in the Middle East and has been occupied since about 100 years. Some prominent terrorist organisations in Palestine are Communist groups founded by Christians. More than 9 million Palestinians live under horrible conditions like refugee camps, military occupation, economic suffocation, systematic deprivation and poisoning of water bodies to name a few.

Terrorism is Not a Muslim Monopoly

This explains why terrorism by a fringe of radical Muslims has emerged only since the 1980s while Wahhabism is about 250 years old. In fact, suicide terrorism, before the Iraq War 2003, was dominated by the LTTE of Sri Lanka which is now a defunct Hindu Communist organisation. Hezbollah, a Shia group in Lebanon resorted to terrorism after the Israeli invasion in 1982. Indira Gandhi was assassinated when she ordered the violent removal of Khalistani (Sikh) terrorists from Harminder Sahib (Golden Temple) in Amritsar. Taliban, which subscribes to Deoband School in India and emerged only to reconcile the tribal infightings in Afghanistan, had not employed terrorism before the American invasion in 2001. They were actually supported by CIA against the Soviets and Hollywood had dedicated the movie Rambo III to Mujahedeen of Afghanistan. The assassin of Governor Salman Taseer of the Punjab province in Pakistan was eulogised by the largest Sufi School.

Terrorism, therefore, is neither a monopoly of Muslims nor Wahhabism. It is always, without exception, a desperate reaction to military aggression by a foreign or a mainland government. Presence of a ‘conflict zone’ or excessive ‘military intervention’ is always the cause of terrorism. Religious fundamentalism is hardly the cause. The above explanation is not a justification for terrorism but an empirical cause of its rise, understood through several years of academic research. Two wrongs, of course, do not make a right. It only aggravates the problem.

The Ulterior Motives

When Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was preaching in Mecca and nothing seemed to stop the spread of Islam, some Meccan chieftains offered reconciliation to him. They promised to make him the king if he could accept only a few aspects of their paganism, if not all. In our times, a prominent leader of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) had once said to his karsevaks that the only problem between Hindus and Muslims is about the mode of practices and rituals. If Muslims, he said, can understand that there isn’t much difference between qawwali and bhajan or between idol worship and grave worship, then all differences would disappear.

Dr. Zakir Naik, along with the mainstream Schools of Islamic Thought outrightly rejects both qawwali and grave worship as infringements to Sharia (as a result of monotheism). But mainstream media believes that non-clerical and non-practising Muslims are the proper representatives of Islam and Sharia, just because they are rich or famous. This is a grave logical flaw and can be very dangerous if similarly applied to extremists, who can also acquire riches and fame (though bad fame).

The Portuguese imperialists, in Sri Lanka, had used the divide and rule policy to weaken the Buddhists and Hindus, even as both the belief systems are based on Dharma, Karma and Moksha. In a similar move today, fascist divisive forces in India are working to weaken the Muslims along sectarian lines, even as they all believe in Monotheism, Prophethood and Final Judgement. These are the fanatics who judge people’s right to citizenship by the religion of their ancestors.


If India is to flourish as a great land of peace and prosperity, then the government and media should refrain from targeting sections of the society. The police and intelligence agencies must stop the policy of making scapegoats to conceal their inefficiency of catching the real culprits. Journalists of different inclinations need to strengthen their integrity and learn to acknowledge and tolerate the conflicting religious views instead of ignoring them and lobbying a majoritarianist approach. Indian journalists and scholars need to independently report and analyse international affairs instead of copy-pasting articles (and geopolitical narrative) from Western media. Until that happens, the best Indian talent will continue to migrate away from the misinformed lot, only to be later appeased by a demagogic leader at the Madison Square Garden.


Cathy Sultan blog

The issue of water or the lack thereof is an urgent one for many countries in the Middle East. Water-fueled conflicts paint a dark picture of a future without adequate freshwater supplies.

Israel’s voracious consumption and lack of environmental responsibility has turned its water problem into a crisis. To continue its settlement expansion, Israel needs new sources of water, by any means necessary.

For decades, Israel has seen permanent occupation of South Lebanon and continued access to Lebanon’s Litani River as the answer to some of its water problems.

The 170-kilometer-long Litani River, with its 2, 290 square kilometer basin, is located entirely within the borders of Lebanon. The river’s proximity to Israel, a scant four kilometers, makes it very tempting for Israel to exploit.

I document in Tragedy in South Lebanonthat in a 1920 letter to Prime Minister David Lloyd George, Chaim Weizmann then head of the World…

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What are the prospects of democracy in India? – By Dr. B. R. Ambedkar

60 years after the death of Dr. Ambedkar, how well have we cultivated Democracy in India ? How much have we changed ?

Dr. B. R. Ambedkar's Caravan

The subject assigned to me is, “What are the prospects of democracy in India?” Most Indians speak with great pride as though their country was already a democracy. The foreigners also, when they sit at a dinner table to do diplomatic honor to India, speak of the Great Indian Prime Minister and the Great Indian Democracy.

From this, it is held without waiting to argue that where there is a Republic, there must be democracy. It is also supposed that where there is Parliament which is elected by the people on adult suffrage and the laws are made by the People’s Representatives in Parliament elected after few years, there is democracy. In other words, democracy is understood to be a political instrument and where this political instrument exists, there is democracy.

Is there democracy in India or is there no democracy in India? What is the truth? No positive…

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Yakub Hanged. And Who Else ?

The last week of July 2015 saw a high drama on TV and social media, about the death penalty of the March 1993 Bombay blasts convict Yakub Memon. On July 30, his 53rd birthday, Memon was executed at around 7 am at the Nagpur Central Jail after his last mercy petition was rejected by the Supreme Court at 3 am, the same morning. His body was later brought to his residence in Mumbai for last rites. The funeral was attended by over 10,000 people at the Bada Qabristan amidst tight security, supervised by intelligence agencies. The entire story from the Bombay bombings of 1993, to the rejection of mercy petition and the after events of his execution were covered by the television channels like a reality show. Yakub was sentenced to death on charges of “criminal conspiracy to carry out terrorist act and disruptive activities, and murder. Aiding, abetting and facilitating in a terrorist act.” The Supreme Court found him guilty of financing and providing logistical support to the deadly bombings that took over 250 lives and left many more injured.

Scores of people, who professed patriotism, peacefully gathered outside the Nagpur Jail and shouted slogans celebrating their motherland. Some of them broke into dance and took their selfies, as a reminder of the moment when justice was delivered in the country. There was chest-thumping pride and bonhomie outside the jail. Even the press joined them and did a humane coverage talking about Yakub’s last breakfast, the compassionate way of execution, and secretly expressing their feelings too.

The 13 coordinated Bombay bombings on March 12, 1993, were a direct fallout of the Bombay riots of December 1992 and January ‘93, according to the Srikrishna Commission. These Bombay riots broke out in two weeks after the Babri Masjid demolition on December 6, 1992. These three horrific events stained the national secular fabric of tolerance and harmony and affected the political discourse thereafter. It also gave the Kashmiri separatists and insurgents another excuse to continue with their political and militant activities. The prime accused in these bombings are Dawood Ibrahim and Ibrahim ‘Tiger’ Memon (Yakub’s brother), who masterminded the attacks and have fled from India.

Before the riots of 1992-93, Bombay was the busy and bindaas city of black & white taxis, high rise buildings, Victorian monuments, Bollywood dreams and cricket on the maidans. It was India’s seaport to world trade and the free world. For a few years after the turmoil, the metropolis witnessed caste & religious streaks, its cosmopolitan spirit buried under the debris of bigotry. Later investigations have brought up the complex intricacies between the police, political parties and the underworld.

In the past week, a variety of reactions flooded the media, especially social media, ranging from solidarity, to opposing death penalty on humanitarian grounds to proud celebration that justice has been finally delivered. They said that a strong message went out to all the traitors and their sympathisers. Some said that Yakub was sent to the gallows because they couldn’t catch his brother, ‘Tiger’, the real culprit. Evidence about his involvement is still being questioned and some say that he “surrendered” in order to prove his innocence. The Governor of Tripura, Tathagata Roy, raised controversy on Twitter. He tweeted, “Intelligence shd keep a tab on all (expt relatives & close friends) who assembled bfr Yakub Memon’s corpse. Many are potential terrorists”. He later said, “There must be some potential threat element in these people. They ought to be kept under surveillance”.

Yakub Abdul Razak Memon, a chartered accountant, was the most educated member in the Memon family. Professionally and financially successful, Yakub was running an accounting firm, exporting meat and investing in buildings by 1992. In connection with the Bombay bombings, a 10,000 page primary charge-sheet was filed against 189 accused, including the actor Sanjay Dutt and the case was handed over to CBI in November 1993. The trial was heard at the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (TADA) court, Bombay. According to the CBI, Yakub was arrested at the New Delhi Railway Station on August 5, 1994. Whereas, Yakub says he was arrested at the Delhi International Airport on July 24, 1994. The claim of the competent authority always outweighs that of the accused. After the arrest of Yakub Memon and many others, written submissions of his case were made in the Mumbai TADA court by January 1996. Some 1,000 witnesses and 50,000 pages of evidence were examined. The trial period spanned from 1995 to 2006. Yakub, along with 11 others, was sentenced to death on September 12, 2006 by the TADA court. 20 others were given life sentence. Thereafter, the case was appealed at the Supreme Court which upheld the death penalty for Yakub in March 2013. President Pranab Mukherjee rejected his mercy plea in May 2014, and along with the Governor of Maharashtra again, in July 2015. The Supreme Court had later rejected all the review and curative petitions repeatedly, the last being on July 30, 2015 at 3 am. After this last rejection, Memon’s lawyers and activists cited a Supreme Court judgment in a different case to argue that he can’t be hanged for at least 14 days after his mercy plea is rejected. The Supreme Court rejected these arguments, saying that ample opportunity had been given to Yakub to file his petition after his mercy plea was first rejected.

Then, on the same morning, Dr. Anup Surendranath, Deputy Registrar (Research) at the Supreme Court, who was appointed more than a year ago on contract, resigned just two hours after the court had upheld the death warrant. He resigned, criticising the judgment clearing the death penalty for the 1993 Bombay blasts convict, saying that two decisions within a span of hours are instances of “judicial abdication” that should count among the “darkest hours” of the apex court. Prof. Surendranath is a faculty member at National Law University, Delhi, and Director of Death Penalty Research Project. He was also associated with the filing of the petition for stay of Memon’s death warrant.

yakub hanged

The entire operation of Yakub Memon’s capture was coordinated by an IPS officer, Bahukutumbi Raman. He had worked at the Intelligence Bureau, held a high rank in the Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) and was the Additional Secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat under the P V Narsimha Rao government. In a revealing article written in 2007, but published recently, Raman wrote about Yakub Memon’s arrest that, he (Yakub Memon) had come to Kathmandu secretly from Karachi to consult a relative and a lawyer on the advisability of some members of the Memon family, including himself, felt uncomfortable with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, returning to India and surrendering to the Mumbai Police. The relative and the lawyer advised him against surrender due to a fear that justice might not be done to them. They advised Yakub to go back to Karachi. Before he could board the flight to Karachi, he was picked up by the Nepal Police on suspicion, identified and rapidly moved to India.

Late Mr. Raman also said, “There is not an iota of doubt about the involvement of Yakub and other members of the family in the conspiracy and their cooperation with the ISI till July 1994.” Arguing for Yakub however, Mr. Raman, one of the most respected bureaucrats of the country, says “if one takes into consideration his conduct and role after he was informally picked up in Kathmandu, there is a strong case for having second thoughts about the suitability of the death penalty in the subsequent stages of the case”.

The story of Yakub Memon’s life, his involvement in the bombings, the trap & capture and the later due process was indeed a story full of twists and turns. His end was also shown on TV, and the ‘media circus’ resembled a tribal procession to the sacrifice. Only in this case, instead of the ‘Bollywoodesque’ “jhinga-la-la”, the urban tribals were shouting “democracy”.

With regards to the police and judicial functioning, some legal experts have reservations. In 2012, 14 retired judges wrote to the President, pointing out that since 1996, the Supreme Court had erroneously given the death penalty to 15 people, of whom two were hanged. Former Supreme Court judge, Justice Markandey Katju, known for his controversial remarks, said that the evidence against Memon’s conviction is ‘very weak’ and called the execution a “gross travesty of justice”. He said that the evidence of ‘retracted confessions’ of the co-accused is unreliable. The judiciary relies completely on the evidence provided by the police and there’s no provision to independently confirm them. Another former Supreme Court judge, Justice P B Sawant had once said, “For a criminal justice system to work properly, three different institutions – the investigating agencies, the prosecution and the courts – need to work in tandem”.

The treatment with death penalties in the past 20 years also raises questions. In the ten years spanning from 1983 to 1992, over 35 death penalties were executed. In the five years period of 1993 to 1997, over 12 were hanged from the noose. The period between 1998 and 2011 – 13 years – had only one execution in 2004. But from 2012 to 2015, three convicts were executed – Ajmal Kasab, Afzal Guru and now Yakub Memon. The assassins of Rajiv Gandhi and the former Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh were pardoned and their death sentences were commuted to life imprisonment. The Gujarat rioters of 2002 Naroda Patiya case, like Maya Kodnani and Babu Bajrangi have been out on bail. Maya Kodnani, a gynecologist, held the office of MLA of the Naroda constituency, Gujarat, from 1998 to 2012. Some riot instigators have even got state funerals. Many of Yakub’s co-accused, including those who actually planted the bombs, have had their death penalties commuted. Yakub, therefore, is now the first convict to be hanged for the Bombay blasts.

Dr. Syed Abdul Rahman Gilani, a Kashmiri professor at Delhi University was accused in connection with the attack on the Parliament House that occurred in December 2001. He was falsely convicted and sentenced to death by the Special Court designated under the infamous Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA). Later, the Delhi High Court acquitted him and observed that the police had forged documents and fabricated evidence. Another six men were sentenced to death in connection with the Akshardham Temple attacks of September 2002 by POTA court. Their death sentences were upheld by the Gujarat High Court, but were quashed by the Supreme Court in May 2014, due to lack of evidence.

On the other hand, the Nirbhaya gang-rape case of December 2012 is still pending in courts, despite a nationwide public outrage. It’s been pending since one year in the Supreme Court and is almost at a stand-still. And then we remember the recent acquittal of Jayalalitha and how Ramalinga Raju and Jagan Mohan Reddy were released on bail.

A recent study by the National Law University, Delhi, shows that a mindboggling 94 per cent of people on death row are from minorities and weaker sections of the society. Many organizations, therefore, on the grounds of judicial errors and humanitarianism, have been opposing death penalties, including Amnesty International India. While most developed countries have abolished death penalties, the US executed over 35 convicts in 2014 alone and China 607.

There are certain things about which we can be sure. No doubt, desecrating historic religious monuments is evil. No doubt, avenging one massacre with another is also evil. Two wrongs do not make a right. It will only lead to a vendetta. Mahatma Gandhi had said, “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind”.

The police-judicial system doesn’t seem effective enough in bringing all the perpetrators of crimes against the nation to justice. Law would be equal for all only if all the perpetrators of mass murder are given the same punishment and if granting clemency did not depend upon the convict’s political backing. The police, international diplomacy and intelligence agencies seem to be quite frustrated about catching the real culprits, or negotiating their repatriation with other countries. India had to put a lot of diplomatic and political effort to bring back Abu Salem from Portugal.

Of course, the success of the public institutions rests on the integrity and unity of the society. As we celebrate our 69th Independence Day anniversary, we need to assess how far have we come from the social evils that made us slaves of the British. As our first law minister, Dr. B R Ambedkar said, “So long as you do not achieve social liberty, whatever freedom is provided by the law is of no avail to you”. The three pillars of a democracy are Legislature, Executive and Judiciary. In the recent days, we have seen how the monsoon session of the Parliament has been going. We know that some state agencies are large violators of law, despite the Prime Minister’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Mission). Media is said to be our fourth pillar while Indian journalists are more likely to face hostilities than their Pakistani counterparts. We are witnessing the recent news of Army jawans’ encounter with Usman Khan at Udhampur, Jammu & Kashmir. Our retribution to Afzal Guru or Ajmal Kasab certainly did not deter him. It also raises questions about the leniency of the security forces after so many incidences of intrusion.

The health of a human body depends upon the ability of its immune system to counter the pathogens. As the immune system weakens, the body becomes increasingly vulnerable to diseases. It doesn’t matter how strong its bones & muscles are, or how beautiful the individual is. Similarly, the health of any regime depends upon the society and its ability to raise some people, who will revive it from time to time and nuetralise those who seek to weaken it internally and externally. Our society is one that asks nudity from its government, while ignoring the rampant human trafficking and exploitation. Yakub Memon, as of now, has become the poster boy against death penalty. To prevent more Yakubs and Kasabs from cropping up, not only do we need robust institutions and system, but also changes in society that will treat its vulnerabilities and prevent the yield of anti-social elements. For indeed, the condition of a people will not change, until they change what is in themselves.

The Adolescence Crisis

Teenage is tender. Parents, school and environment have crucial responsibilities.

We all go through our teenage years to grow up into adults. Many of us experience a lot of internal disturbance, turbulence and confusion during our adolescence. Very few teenagers are so lucky as to get the best from their environment to grow up as confident and strong adults by early twenties. Most teenagers in the world face identity crisis also known as “adolescence crisis”. It’s a struggle a teenager faces to gain a self-image, self esteem and ultimately “find themselves”.

Teenagers can be vulnerable and may be affected for life. This period requires careful guidance from parents, elders, school and the society at large.

Adolescence is no doubt a tender age. Besides rapidly physical changes like height, bodily development, hormonal and sexual growth known as puberty, a teenager also experiences lot of mental and emotional development. It’s a time when the individual prepares themselves to function as a grown adult in the society after a few years. The individual starts to think on their own and their maturity will depend immensely on their social circle and environment. As a coherent sense of ‘self’ is necessary for functioning productively in society, adolescents ask a crucial psychosocial question: Who am I ? At about the same time society begins to ask them related questions. Parents have a very responsible role to play for their children at this age and it directly affects their children emotionally and intellectually. Orphans or teenagers whose parents are negligent can have a really rough time and might be affected for their entire lives.

Thus, a teenager is required to work on it, in order to arrive at an “identity achievement” by the age of 20. If in the age group of 15 to 19, an individual doesn’t ask serious questions about life, roles of men and women, career, society or politics etc., then it means they are going through an identity crisis.

Environment, needless to say, plays a crucial role. A good environment makes an adolescent into a successful adult. Adolescents in average like environments show tendencies of excessive indulgence into movies, video games or binging. A bad environment leads them towards drug and alcohol abuse or sexual confusions.

One must carefully introspect themselves about their future roles, career, cultural or ideological preferences. Failure to do so will cause the identity crisis to haunt them again in their lives.

We as a Society Accept:

Introspect thyself before you blame anything or anyone else. “Verily ! God does not change the condition of people until they change that which is in themselves; and if God wills something bad for a folk, there is none that can stop it, nor do they have any supporter except Him. (Qur’an, Surah Raad; 13:11)”

Basically Thinking

We as society’s accept:

Dwindling work ethics, Judgmental people, Arrogance, Faulty family values, Substance abuse, Ignorance, War, Poor economy, Suppression, False preachers, Police state, Loss of freedom, Immorality, Political abuse, Lies, Faulty celebrities, The darker side of life, Occupiers, The thought that Sex sells, False profits, PA-C’s as doctors, Liberalization, A lack of teaching history, Everything cool that isn’t, Medical marijuana that’s being use by the recreationalist, Childish arrogance, Fashion dictates, Drones in private hands, Drones still in private hands but in the governments control, Multiple invasions of personal privacy; fueled by public apathy, non-patriotic compliance, and blind complacency.
And, God is bad, people destroy the lives of others through Scams, Legal trickery; and God … is bad?
With great amazement, as a society, people should be able to see what they are living within their lives; but they seemingly never do. They look outside at the sky, when they…

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