Sunday, December 05, 2010

Omar Khalidi: An Icon says Goodbye

Omar Khalidi addressing April 2010 workshop at MIT (Pic:

The fallen leaves outside the magnificent building of MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) will not rustle with the step of a man who walked inside the famous university each morning with a purpose. The infinite corridor of MIT will feel the emptiness and void left behind a scholar whose works overshadow the unending corridor. The books of massive MIT library have lost their best friend; an intellectual who was not merely a librarian but a book-lover as well. The sudden demise of Dr. Omar Khalidi in a train accident in Boston on November 29 was a severe blow to Indian Muslims in India and United States. The best way to honour him would be to constitute a chair in his name at Osmania University or Aligarh Muslim University or Jamia Millia Islamia. The chair should should promote the kind of research work Dr. Khalidi had been doing for the past 30 years.  
I first heard the name of Omar Khalidi in 2006 when he wrote an article in Hindustan Times passionately arguing that Sachar Committee should do a consensus of minorities in armed forces. The demand was indeed provocative but Dr. Khalidi never shied away from taking a firm stand by substantiating his point of view with solid facts. Persistence finally paid off and his demand was quietly accepted by the Sachar Committee though no official till date has acknowledged this! Dr. Khalidi proved the age-old proverb that pen is mightier than the sword. From then on, I have read almost all articles written by him. To me, Dr. Khalidi signified the power of pen. Sittings 12,000 kms away in MIT office, his flawless yet simple prose had the potential to cause unrest in Prime Minister’s minority agenda.
When I was introduced to him via email on ninth of April, 2009, he was working on the second edition of his pathbreaking book ‘Khakhi and Ethnic Violence in India’. Without any customary exchange and flattery, he directly asked a question:  
“I understand from a Mumbai-based activist (takes a leading activist’s name) that she and another journalist in Nanded obtained from Maharashtra government the statistics about Muslims in Maharashtra police. Do you anything about this matter? The activist was going to send me that document but did not - she said she will send the document in November last year (2008) but nothing happened. She did not disclose the name of the journalist. I am revising ‘Khakhi and Ethnic Violence’ and can use the document if you are able to procure it.”
I pursued this matter for two months to get the report but the activist never cooperated. At no point in my email exchange with Omar Khalidi, he lost his cool at such unprofessionalism on the part of the activist. He took this denial with a pinch of salt. In the last email on this subject, he retorted to Hyderabadi sarcasm. He wrote, “Have you spoken to masruf logan (busy people) as we say in Hyderabad sharif? Let me know if you find out anything from them.”
In his career spanning over 30 years, Dr. Khalidi was always the target of Hindutva brigade. In April 2010, he organised a workshop on a theme which rattled the ranks of Sangh Parivar. The workshop was titled ‘Terrorism and Group Violence - Challenges to Secularism and Rule of Law in India’. There was a sustained campaign to call off the workshop but the higher authorities of MIT had faith in Dr. Khalidi. The workshop was successful but Dr. Khalidi was branded “anti-Hindu” and “soft Jihadi”. 
I discovered the humility of Dr. Khalidi when I first met him on November 13, 2010 in Cambridge. Accompanied by his family, Dr. Khalidi had come to listen to me on the subject of Malegaon. He was fascinated by history of Malegaon. He sat on my left like a commoner. When I broached the topic of his book ‘Khakhi and Ethnic Violence’ thinking that he would talk about the activist, he said, “Send me an email, I will ask the publisher to despatch you a copy of the revised edition.” Here was a man with no ill-will and malice against anybody. He was a walking embodiment of dictum of Dr. Abdul Haq, “Baat kum aur kaam zyada.”
For 16 days, I didn’t send him any email. On the 17th day, Allah took away a leading light from us.

Sunday Inquilab, December 5, 2010

Monday, November 08, 2010

US Media on President Obama's India Visit

US President Obama with Indian Pime Minister Manmohan Singh
New Orleans, Louisiana: There is a famous line in American lexicon: When the President fails at home, he travels abroad to succeed! As President Obama starts his 10-day Asian tour starting with India just after his party lost majority in the House of Representatives, the saying still rings true for most Americans. 

Unlike Indian media which has gone euphoric on President Obama's visit, the US media tends to view Obama's India visit as a "routine Presidential obligation" and there is no front-page sensationalism and hype. Only a small segment of media has came out against his visit to India. Here are some of the key issues raised by American media about President Obama's India visit:

Indo-Pak Relations and Afghanistan:

New York Times in its November 5 edition says that President Obama will not push India "hard" on the issue of Pakistan though senior American military commanders strongly believe India must disavow from an "obscure military doctrine" which they believe is fuelling tension between India and Pakistan thus affecting American war efforts in Afghanistan. The doctrine is officially known as "Cold Start" which means a plan to deploy new ground forces that could strike inside Pakistan quickly in the event of a terrorist attack or conflict. India has always denied the very idea of a "Cold Start". New York Times has termed this issue as "victory for India" since President Obama may not touch on this issue when he meets Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Sunday. The newspaper also narrates the Indian point-of-view that both the countries should focus on broader issues including "commercial ties, military sales, climate change and regional security". And that US must stop looking at India from the lens of Pakistan and the war in Afghanistan. 

Miami Herald quotes Richard Armitage, the deputy secretary of state under President George W. Bush, thatIndians' frustration about the United States in connection with the 26/11 attacks had been receding but the recent Headly developments gave them a new life. CNN says that terror battle will likely be the top Obama agenda in India.

False reports in Indian Press:

American media has slammed the reports in a section of Indian Press that US government would be spending approximately 200 million dollars (Rs. 900 crores)  per day on President Obama's India visit! New York Timesblogger Michael D. Shear has termed this report as "false". Writing on White House blog, Dan Pfeiffer, the communications director, called the story as “a long trip from reality” and said the rumour so far overstates the amount actually to be spent that “it’s not even close to being true.” The story which originated from India has found some takers in pro-Republican American press. Fox News host Glenn Beck calculated the total 10-day cost of Obama's Asia tour as just “$2 billion"! Pentagon has termed this figure as "comical". One US website Fact Check says that the per day figure of 200 million dollars would be higher than the daily cost of entire Afghanistan war!

Military assistance to Pakistan:

Voice of America has raised Indian concerns about US policies particularly its billions of dollars in military assistance to Pakistan. It quotes Lalit Mansingh, a former foreign secretary who says, "If it is used for fighting terrorism, we have no complaint. If its is for using arms to fight India, we have a real problem." It must be noted that Obama administration has pledged to increase its military aid to Pakistan to $2 billion per year to help the country fight terrorism.  Voice of America also says that delicate subjects like violence between security forces and separatists in Kashmir will remain off the table.

Economy and Job Creation:

A large section of American Press has highlighted that creating jobs and bolstering US economy would be the topmost agenda of President Obama. This assumption is rooted in Obama's statement just before leaving for India. He said, "One of the keys to creating jobs is to open markets to American goods made by American workers. Our prosperity depends not just on consuming things, but also on being the maker of things." He also said he wants to double American exports by 2016. Washington Post said that President Obama has left for Asia tour "preaching jobs and open market". The newspaper asked whether India is a "neglected power". It says that the value of US goods exported to India has quadrupled to $17 billion annually over the past 7 years. It said, "Indian officials want Obama, who will address India's Parliament in New Delhi, to take the next step by expanding military-to-military relationships, removing business barriers such as the increase in US visa fees." USA Today says that Obama's agenda in Asia will be the same as it is in America: job creation.

"Unnecessary Trip" to India:

Conservative television host Glenn Beck has come down heavily on Obama's visit to India terming it "unnecessary". In a programme on Fox News he provocatively said, "The President has blocked off 800 hotel rooms. Do we still - do even know if he's travelling with 3, 000 people? Do we know if that's true?" He also said that Obama is visiting Mumbai just in time for Diwali, the festival of lights. "I don't know if that's why he is going, you know? I don't know if that's why we are paying all of this money, for lights," he said. He also drew parallels between 9/11 and 26/11. "He'll also be talking to survivor of the Mumbai attacks. I personally think he could probably spend less money and talk to the 9/11, you know, family victims here."

Inquilab, November 8, 2010

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Mosque Ruling Angers India Muslims

Tight security in Ayodhya (Pic Courtesy: Reuters)
MUMBAI – A court ruling over the site of a demolished mosque that largely favored the majority Hindus has angered India’s Muslims, raising fears of a new bout of ethnic tension in the Asian country.

 “The judgment is inextricably confusing because it is not a straight two-to-one judgment,” Syed Shahabuddin, President of All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat (AIMMM), told on Saturday, October 2.

 “There are in fact three judgments and they go on shifting their verdict on vital issues. Therefore essentially the judgment does not settle or resolve the issues.”

 A court in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh on Thursday ruled that the site of the Babri mosque to be divided between the Hindus and Muslims.

The 2-1 majority verdict gave Muslims one-third of the land, while two-thirds were given to two Hindu groups.

“The judgment is extra-legal based on myths and legends, ‘faith’ and superstitions, and not on the evidence on record,” said Shahabuddin.

“The judgment ignores the fact that the Supreme Court order of 1994 treated the disputed site as one entity and did not envisage any division,” he said.

Thousands of Indian Muslims rallied Friday after the weekly prayers to denounce the mosque verdict.
Despite the anger, the Muslim reaction was measured with no violent protests reported.
The 16th century-mosque was demolished by Hindu mobs in 1992.

More than 2,000 people were killed in ensuing ethnic violence between Hindus and Muslims over the mosque demolition.

Muslims want the ancient mosque to be rebuilt, while Hindus want the lands to build a temple.


Muslim leaders and political analysts lamented that the verdict lacked legal grounds and largely favored the majority Hindus.

“First Hindus installed idols in Babri Masjid in 1949, and then they demolished the Masjid in 1992. What is the fault of Indian Muslims,” Dr. Rehan Ansari, a political commentator, told

“Nobody asked for the one-third share in the disputed site yet the court has ordered trifurcation of the land.”

Navaid Hamid, member of the National Integration Council, was also critical.

“I am crying for my future generations, what they would respond when they will be teased that they have demolished a temple and an Indian court proved that they were guilty,” he said.

“Indian Muslims need to seriously think of surrendering all rights in Ayodhya and announce that they would not accept any land of piece as given by court because they think that this country would be run on astha (belief) rather than judicial rationale.”

Muslim leaders warned that the ruling risks to fuel sectarian tension in the country, vowing to appeal against the verdict.

“It (verdict) will only mean a mini-Masjid and a mini-Temple next to each other giving rise to constant friction,” Shahabuddin said.

“The Muslim community is dissatisfied and shocked by the judgment and is determined to exercise its right of appeal to the Supreme Court with a view to reverse the judicial stand from the mythological to the legal.

“The Muslim community is ready to accept the final judicial verdict of the Supreme Court as it is committed to the Constitution and the rule of law. It does not see any scope for negotiations among the parties until the final judicial verdict establishes the rights and status of parties concerned,” he said.

Muslims make up 13 percent of India’s 1.1 billion population, while Hindus account for 80 percent.

Note: This story which I wrote for Egyptian website has been badly edited thus omitting some of the positive comments by members of Muslim community. 

Sunday, September 12, 2010

‘Schools are like maintenance workshops’

                     Abu Saleh Anis Luqman Nadwi

On a damp summer night of 1976, an 11-year old boy walks inside a tiny classroom of Madrasa Faizul Uloom located in a narrow lane behind Islampura’s Juni Masjid. An Arabic class led by the late Maulana Mafuzurrahman is in progress where the students are in their late 40s, 50s and even 60s! Escorted and asked by his father, the boy joins the night class and becomes the “youngest” and the “brightest” student in no time! 23 years later, the “boy” becomes the first and the only Indian approved by United Arab Emirates’ Ministry of Education to teach Arabic and Islamic studies! The boy’s name was Anis Ahmed.

How Anis Ahmed became Maulana Abu Saleh Anis Luqman Nadwi is an inspirational story of sheer obsession with Arabic. All these years, the soft-spoken Islamic scholar-turned-teacher has dangled between “obsession” and “madness”. He took pride when people labelled him “mad” in 1980s; for him the word MAD was an acronym which stood for ‘Make A Difference’!

After passing standard 7 from a Municipal Urdu school, Maulana was enrolled by his father Luqman in Malegaon’s Madrasa Baitul Uloom. It was the late Maulana Mafuzurrahman who persuaded Luqman that Anis must join full-time madrasa. After securing two degrees of “Alimiyyah”, first from Baitul Uloom and second from Darul Uloom Nadwatul Ulama, Lucknow, Maulana taught Arabic, literature and Islamic sciences in Malegaon. He also designed and taught a crash course on Modern Standard Arabic for young Muslims, school teachers, doctors, engineers and businessmen in Malegaon, Mumbai, Delhi and Abu Dhabi.

A student of renowned Islamic scholar Syed Abul Hasan Ali Miyan Nadwi, Maulana has closely worked with renowned Islamic scholar Maulana Wahiddudin Khan for seven years as a full-time research assistant and translator at Delhi-based Islamic Centre for Research and Da’wah. “I have critically revised/thoroughly rechecked/minutely edited almost every single page ever penned by Maulana Wahiddudin Khan”, he told Inquilab from Abu Dhabi.

He has translated Wahiddudin Khan’s Tazkirul Qur’an into Arabic, revised and edited the famous translation and commentary of Qur’an by Abdullah Yusuf Ali. He was also on the editorial board of the Encyclopaedia of the Qur’an.

In 1996, Maulana shifted to Abu Dhabi and joined Islamia English School as a senior teacher. He was simultaneously assigned the job of school’s PRO (Public Relation Officer) in view of excellent command over Arabic language and effective negotiation skills.

In 1999, Maulana became the first Indian to get Ministry of Education’s licence to teach Arabic which, as per the existing bylaws, is granted exclusively for the native Arabs nationals who have to pass a number of extremely tough written and oral tests. He had challenged Ministry officials to exceptionally allow him to appear for the exam. To the surprise of officials, he passed the exam with the highest marks ever! This breakthrough remained a “secret” for three years because Maulana was not keen to “publicise” it. In 2002, Ministry of Education organised a programme for the Arab teachers to launch a nationwide campaign for raising the standards of teaching Arabic. He delivered the keynote address of the programme which was attended by 500 Arabic teachers. It was at this programme that Government Inspectors of Arabic language narrated the tale of how Anis Luqman had challenged them!

Maulana has translated not less than 8,000 pages from English and Urdu into Arabic or vice versa. “As a matter of routine, every month I translate no fewer than 150 – 200 pages consisting of Ministerial Circulars, official letters, documents, welcome addresses, etc. from Arabic into English and vice-versa”, he said.

Maulana became “passionate” about learning Arabic at a much later stage in life after passing out from Baitul Uloom and Darul Uloom Nadwa. His ‘mastery’ in Arabic is a “byproduct” of his “voracious reading” of Arabic books and his “madly” attempt during 20s to revolutionize traditional Madrasa education starting with an unprecedented experiment of teaching Arabic to non-Madrasa people without any textbook! “I consider it a ‘byproduct’ because to get mastery over any language had never been my aim”, he said.

Maulana’s obsession with Arabic can be gauged from the fact that from mid 1983 he stopped reading Urdu except few books! He used to converse in Arabic at home. “Since then on I started unconsciously speaking a language which may be called as’Anglo-Arabic Urdu’; that is Urdu in Arabised accent ‘loaded’ with Arabic and English phraseology”, he said. In the meantime, Maulana’s ‘command’ over Arabic unconsciously improved but he didn’t realise that his spoken or written Arabic is good according to the Arab scholastic standards until a compliment by Dr. Abdul Halim Owais, a renowned Egyptian thinker and widely read author in mid 1987. After hearing Maulana and reading some of his translated pieces, Dr. Abdul Halim was impressed. He asked Maulana for how long he has been studying in Egypt or Saudi Arabia. Upon realisation that Maulana has not spent a single day in both the countries yet, he was stunned and said, “Wow, you write and speak Arabic much better than some of those who teach there in the Arab universities!”

Maulana has always taken an alternate stand in matters of education. “Education is generally defined as ‘answering the questions’ but I would prefer to define it as ‘questioning the answers’!” he said.

Maulana considers himself as a “natural-born teacher”. His teaching style contradicts traditional methodology and is extremely popular among the students. He says that traditional teaching hardly constitutes 10% of real teaching.

“Teaching is essentially a mind-activating activity which can be exercised between two or more young or old persons. Text books, charts, writing board, lesson plans, e-devices and other ‘teaching stuff’ are useful but not indispensable tools for this ‘mind-activating activity’”, he said.

Maulana is a harsh-critic of traditional as well as modern education and schools run by Muslims. “Education, theoretically, is supposed to be an ongoing process of ‘behaviour modification’. But, practically, education has caused throughout the generations more ‘behaviour distortion’ than positive ‘behaviour modification’”, he said.

Maulana is known to sum up his lectures in the form of 5 to 10 keywords. For instance, QE=EBUC (i.e. Quality Education is equal to Expected Behaviour Under Unexpected Circumstances/Mutawaqqa kirdar ghayr mutawaqqa halat mein).

Maulana counters the long-held view that school is a place where “the destiny of a nation is shaped.” He claims that school, at best can be likened to a “maintenance workshop” where students are either “well-maintained” or at worst would even be “spoilt and mutilated.”

Apart from this, Maulana has been closely working to help Indian Diaspora living in United Arab Emirates. He has voluntarily handled a number of tough labour disputes involving Indian workers. Indian Embassy often requests him to appear for legal disputes concerning immigration, release of passports from Labour Ministry etc. During the 2007 Amnesty period, Maulana facilitated release of thousands of Indian passports’ from Ministry of Labour. In recognition of voluntary services, he was awarded an Appreciation certificate and a Memento by the then Indian ambassador Talmiz Ahmed.

Maulana says that with the rapid commercialisation of schools, his concept of teaching, though theoretically much appreciated, would hardly get general acceptance.

“It is, therefore, most likely that within next few years I will have to quit teaching as a ‘profession’ and devote my time and energy to Dawah and research.”

Inquilab, September 11, 2010

Sunday, August 29, 2010

How Cordoba House became “Ground Zero Mosque”?

The proposed Cordoba House near Ground Zero
G.K. Chesterton, English author and mystery novelist once wrote, “Journalism largely consists of saying ‘Lord Jones is dead’ to people who never knew that Lord Jones was alive! Seven decades later, Chesterton’s words still stand true. Journalism is synonymous with truth but these days media neither tells full truth nor complete lie. Media employs a pendulum that prefers to swing in the space between the full truth and the complete lie. It is in this context, we must zero on the so-called ongoing “Ground Zero Mosque” debate.    

Media barons and editors transact with their readers in the currency of words. Words can be loose as well as loaded. Loose words can convert an issue into a non-issue. Loaded words act like a burning matchstick on dry grass. Therefore, the word “Iraqi insurgent” or “enemy combatant” is example of the loose words which have been heavily used by American media in Iraq war. On the contrary, “Jihadist” or “Muslim fanatic” is the example of loaded words which have been employed by a section of American press. The word “Cordoba House” will fall in the category of loose word while “Ground Zero Mosque” consists of loaded words.  

So at what point proposed “Cordoba House” became “Ground Zero Mosque”?

Cordoba House is two long blocks away in north from the World Trade Center site. The five-storey building housed Burlington Coat Factory till September 11, 2001. The factory building was lying vacant since then until a group of Muslims led by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf bought it in July 2009. The factory building is being used for Friday prayer.  New York Times was the first newspaper that ran a front-page feature on December 9, 2009 on the proposed Islamic centre but it never used the term “Ground Zero Mosque.” The front-page report did not attract any attention. On December 21, 2009, Daisy Khan, wife of Imam Abdul Rauf was interviewed by conservative media personality Laura Ingraham on Fox TV. The interview was cordial and Ingraham seemed to support the Cordoba Project. It was on this programme that the misnomer “Ground Zero Mosque” was used onscreen for the very first time. The term may have been used unconsciously on the programme but there was no controversy immediately after that. In fact, according to a search on Nexis newspaper archive, there was not a single news article on the mosque for next five and half months!  

On May 6, 2010, New York City community board committee unanimously voted in favour of the Cordoba House. On the same day, anti-Islam blogger Pamela Geller wrote against the Cordoba House terming it as “monster mosque”. It is precisely at this point that a proposed 13-storey proposed Islamic cultural centre, which, in addition to a prayer room, will include a basketball court, restaurant, swimming pool and 9/11 memorial, was just reduced to a “mosque”! Geller went further to plant a lie that the “mosque” was being built on the site of World Trade Center! “What better way to mark your territory than to plant a giant mosque on the still-barren land of the World Trade Center?” she wrote on her Atlas Shrugs blog. “This is Islamic domination and expansionism. The location is no accident. Just as Al-Aqsa was built on top of the Temple in Jerusalem.” 

On the same day, Rupert Murdoch owned New York Post ran a story which deliberately identified Cordoba House as “WTC Mosque.” News agency Associated Press (AP) ran a story on May 7 quoting relatives of 9/11 victims with differing opinions on the “mosque”. On the same day, Geller’s group Stop Islamization of America (SIOA), launched a campaign “Stop the 911 Mosque!” She posted the names and contact information for New York mayor and members of the community board, encouraging people to write. Uninformed, gullible Americans and anti-Muslims from all across the world wrote to the board without verifying the details that there is no mosque being built on the site of the terrorists attack! 
On May 8, 2010, Geller and Robert Spencer, a known-Muslim-hater and associate director of SIOA, announced first protest against the “911 Mosque” to be held on May 29. One May 10, New York Post columnist Andrea Peyser becomes the first journalist-victim of Geller campaign. She openly wrote against the “mosque” saying that “there are better places to put a mosque.” On May 13, she devoted an entire article to Cordoba House provocatively titled “Mosque Madness at Ground Zero”. The article played an important role in raising and shaping the debate in the sense that it was the first article to be published in a newspaper which portrayed the Cordoba project as inherently wrong and suspect. Peyser quoted Geller thus giving credence to an agony aunt! (Geller once suggested that Malcolm X was Obama’s real father!)  
Thus within a month, Cordoba House, unnecessarily became controversial. It began with anti-Islam blogger Pamela Geller. Andrea Peyser peddled it into conservative media. Mainstream media lapped it up further. A serious newspaper like The Wall Street Journal used the erroneous term “Ground Zero Mosque” in its headline several times. Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York, termed the mosque as “desecration”. Politicians like Sarah Palin, Peter King,   Newt Gingrich and Tim Pawlenty followed suit. 
Today, the atmosphere has become so much charged and heated in America that according to CNN poll 7 in 10 Americans say that they are against the Cordoba Project. By joining the words “Mosque” and “Ground Zero”, peddlers of hate have succeeded in creating fear in American hearts. To many Americans, “mosque” is still a dangerous place. “Ground Zero” is another dangerous word. Two meanings from the American Heritage dictionary would suffice. Ground Zero means;  a) Area where an atomic bomb is detonated, b) A center of explosive change. 
It is also true that many Americans including Mayor Bloomberg of New York have spoken in favour of Cordoba House. But men like Bloomberg seem to be in minority. There is another mosque in Manhattan, near WTC and Pentagon, another terrorist attack site, has a prayer room. Why have not Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer spoken against these two “mosques” in the ongoing debate?
Americans aren’t dumb but an average American is more ignorant than an Indian. According to a recent poll one in five Americans believes Barack Obama is a Muslim, even though he isn’t! A quarter of those who believe he is a Muslim also claimed he talks about his faith too much! Where are they getting their information? Sixty per cent said they learned it from the media!
America needs to have a mass public awareness campaign against the likes of Gellers and Spencers and misleading media. Barack Hussein Obama must make a distinction between “full truth” and “complete lie.”

Till then Pamela Geller will laugh that her wildest dream has crossed the Atlantic.
The Sunday Inquilab, August 29, 2010

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Indian Dates Ready for Ramadan

“Ramadan is the most fruitful month for the business of dates,” Shaikh told
MALEGAON – Zaheer Shaikh, a dates’ retailer is a busy man. He sits in the middle of dates showcased in small glass cubicles of his Arabic Dates Center in this small town of Maharashtra state.

A flurry of potential buyers throngs the center to get a taste of season’s biggest fruit draw: dates. With the holy month of Ramadan on the doorstep, dates sell like hotcakes.

“Dates are the lifeblood of Ramadan,” Shaikh told

“Since the Ramadan fasts are usually broken with dates, there is no Ramadan without dates.”

In Ramadan, adult Muslims, save the sick and those traveling, abstain from food, drink, smoking and sex between dawn and sunset.

Most dedicate their time during the holy month to become closer to Allah through self-restraint, good deeds and prayer.

Fast-breaking with dates is the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) and therefore given prominence in Indian subcontinent especially in Ramadan.

Abu Osama, an accountant, believes that since breaking the fast with dates is Sunnah it is an act of virtue during Ramadan.

“I am going to buy the dates tomorrow,” he told OnIslam.

“I enjoy dates when mixed with watermelon. It tastes delicious.”


Shaikh, the dates’ retailer, has been busy preparing for this season.

“We have stocked all kinds of dates for the holy month,” he explains.

“Ramadan is the most fruitful month for the business of dates.”

His father Najmuddin, a former mayor of the town and the biggest dealer as well as retailer, notes that date-sale skyrockets during Ramadan.

“In Ramadan alone, 40 tons (equal to 40000 kgs) dates are imported in Malegaon alone from different Arab countries,” he told

He compares that to minimal date-sale in normal days. “In Ramadan, date sells ten times more.”

With Ramadan on the doorstep, even street vendors have put up temporary stalls which do quick business.

“Dates are the most sold out fruit in Ramadan. It makes business sense to sell dates,” Imran Ahmed, a street vendor on Malegaon’s Kidwai road, told OnIslam.

Ahmed sells fruits like bananas and watermelon in usual days but switches to dates in Ramadan.

He earns up to 1000 rupees now and hopes that his earning will go up as Ramadan starts.

“I rush to date shops to fill my cart. The big shop owners always cooperate with us though we are competitors.”

Malegaon’s dealers offer almost all types of dates including popular Mabroom, Ajwah and Anbarah.

Prices of dates range from 25 rupees to 300 rupees per kilogram.

This, according to Abu Osama, is a double blessing.

“Dates are cheaper as compared to other fruits and therefore even poor Muslims can afford it,” he explains.

“The wide range of variety offers convenient choices. From poor to rich, everybody can afford dates depending upon one’s economic condition.” August 11, 2010

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Kashmir Diary-I

Shikaras on Dal Lake
From the sky Kashmir looks serene. Snow-clad peaks of Pir Panjal range emerge in sight. For a moment, it looks like that some brainy child has erected ice-toys by splattering snow in his snow-covered apple orchard! Kashmir can be an illusion for perceptive thinkers. One enters into hibernation looking at the marvellous mountain-range. The serenity of Kashmir gets a break as the plane touches the tarmac of Srinagar International Airport with a bang. After a violent sprint, pilot applies brakes and the plane comes to a screeching halt. Its 11.15am and the outside temperature is 30 degree; a bright and sunny day. Gun-trotting CRPF men guard the entrance of the terminal but there is no security check.  Kashmir seems to be an integral part of India for an incoming tourist…

The car slowly drove out of Srinagar airport. We drove past soldiers, bunkers, loops of barbed wire, armoured vehicles, school children both boys and girls stand waiting for school bus, and pedestrians walking slowly as if time has come to a standstill. There is an air of suspicion on the street. Suspicion and Kashmir go hand in hand. Kashmir is India’s most suspicious state. Big Urdu hoardings and signboards instantly create an impression that one is in Pakistan! Shahrukh Khan smiles from a Dish TV ad beautifully done in Urdu. Tata sheets and Airtel ads are every where in Urdu. Kashmir is India’s only state where Urdu has become the language of commerce.

The new city – which lies very close to the airport – is an architectural wonder. On both sides of a long artery, red brick houses covered with tin-sheets sit squarely. This part of the city is known as ‘new city’ but it resembles like British countryside! The other two portions of the city are called ‘Old city’ and ‘Civil Lines’.

After half an hour’s drive, we reached our destination Dal Lake where accommodation is on a houseboat. Houseboats are peculiar to Srinagar and offer the most memorable accommodation. At least there are 1000 houseboats moored on the banks of river Jehlum, Dal and Nagin lakes. Boulevard road runs next to the Dal Lake. The road in many ways is Kashmir’s marine drive or far better than that. It starts at Tourist Chowk and makes a circular angle leading to Hazratbal mosque.

A Shikara ride over Dal Lake is the most spectacular adventure in Srinagar. Away from the clutter and clang of city life, we step onto a beautifully decorated Shikara for a smooth 2-hour ride over the still waters of the Dal. A thick layer of silence engulfs the Dal. The depth of silence can acquire frightening proportions for the weak-hearted. Dal is the place where one is with oneself. One can converse with nature without uttering a word! Silence is the only form of communication over a tranquil Dal lake. Floating flowers and plants on Dal are called floating garden. The shimmer of floating garden against the Lake water creates an aura of gratification and eternal bliss. The lake is 6 km long and 3km wide. In winter, Dal is frozen and children play cricket on it! In the middle of the lake there is an island. There are four princely chinar trees on the island; it’s popularly known as char chinar. There is a beautiful garden under the shadow of four chinar trees.

Srinagar is also famous for Mughal gardens which were beautifully built and maintained by Mughal emperors. Nishat Bagh is the biggest Mughal garden and lies at the east side of Boulevard road overlooking Dal lake. One can see the citadel of Emperor Akbar known as Hari Parvat on the west side of the Dal Lake. It is in ruins now and under the control of Army. Nishat is constructed stepwise and divided in 10 parts. The water channel flows from centre of the garden. There are so many fountains, fruits of garden and flowers. Chinar, cypris and lush green grass creates a soothing atmosphere.

Shalimar Bagh lies on north side of Nishat. It was constructed in 1616 by Emperor Jahangir for his wife Noor Jahan. The garden served as a meeting point for the two. The garden has four terraces, rising one above the other. A canal runs through in the middle of the garden. There is a small hut-like palace in the middle of the garden where Emperor Jahangir used to sit with Noor Jahan.

Chashme-Shahi is a small tastefully-laid garden with terraces. A cold water spring runs through in the centre. The water of spring is said to cure many diseases. One will forget the taste of mineral water after drinking the spring water. A road upside leads to Pari Mahal. Pari Mahal is situated on a hillock overlooking the beautiful Dal lake. The terraced arched garden was built by Dara Shikoh, the eldest son of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in mid-seventeenth century. In the upper most terrace, there are ruins of two structures resembling a baradari and a reservoir. In the middle of second terrace is a large tank. The façade of the retaining wall is ornamented with a series of twenty one arches built in descending order. The third terrace has the main entrance. On either side of it are a series of specious rooms. The fourth terrace has the remains of the tank. The fifth terrace has an archade retaining wall with pigeon holes. The sixth terrace has a rectangular tank in the middle and octagonal bastions at its ends. Fragments of earthen water pipes are still to be seen in the structure.

Pari Mahal and Chasme-Shahi are located in highly sensitive and VIP area. It was by sheer chance that I spotted Omar Abdullah descending from a helicopter with his family. As I zoomed the lens of my camera on the helicopter from the top terrace of Pari Mahal, a gun-trotting CRPF jawan stood next to me making sure that young Abdullah family is safe. Omar came out of the helicopter with his Sikh wife Payal and son Zahir. It seemed that Omar was returning from a holiday as Kashmir was in turmoil.

A memorable meeting with legendary journalist M.J. Akbar in Lalit Grand Palace, former Palace of Raja Gulab Singh, will always be etched in memory. M.J. Akbar argued that two irreligious men Nehru and Jinnah were responsible for partition of India while two deeply religious leaders Gandhi and Maulana Azad never accepted partition and therefore were sidelined after 1947. In the lawn of the Palace, there is a 110-year old historical chinar tree under which Gandhi sat with Maharaja Gulab Singh in June 1947, just two months before the partition.

Shankaracharya temple was built in 220 BC on a hillock overlooking Dal Lake. It offers the panoramic view of Dal Lake and Srinagar. The legend has it that the temple was built on Takhte-Sulemani. Archeological Survey of India confirms it!  My driver insists that there existed a mosque before the temple.

On the left bank of Dal Lake, the imposing dome of Hazratbal Mosque makes its presence felt. It may not be as grand as the Dome of Rock in Jerusalem but it can certainly be viewed from a distance. The mosque is considered holiest shrine as it preserves Moi-e-Muqqadas (the sacred hair) of Prophet Muhammad. The history of holy relic requires another article but suffice it to note that it was Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb who helped to restore it. There is a huge hand-written Qur’an from Aurangzeb era inside the mosque.

In a narrow lane outside the Hazratbal Shrine, Gulzar Ahmed sells sweets. A poster of Pakistani cricket team adorns the filthy wall behind him. Kashmiri patriotism has changed in the last six decades. The deep sense of alienation and betrayal has resulted in pictorial protest and patriotism.  Not far from Gulzar Ahmed’s sweet shop, Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, the lion of Kashmir, rests on the banks of a tranquil Dal. A lone gun man guards the empty and deserted marble mausoleum of Kashmir’s greatest contemporary leader. Sheikh Abdullah was betrayed by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru but he did not lose hope. Gulzar Ahmed needs to visit the grave of Sheikh Abdullah to understand his message.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Return of Holy Cow!

Saffron souls clash with police on July 22 in Malegaon
At what point did in Indian history cow become holy to Hindus? The question is obviously rhetorical but needs an honest deliberation. The cow has never been sacred to all Hindus. The view that cow is sacred is merely a sectional Hindu view. It has been a matter of inter-religious debate for decades but one thing is certain: cow slaughter and beef-eating are proven Hindu traditions. Beef used to be served as honour to guests in ancient India. Therefore, the cow became holy at a much later period as part of Hinduism reforms. In traditional or ancient Hinduism, cow has never been sacred.

The month of July can be rightly described as the month of holy cow! It has returned to haunt us in more than one way: Malegaon-Manmad-road cow row was just a flashpoint. The holy cow made a quiet entry from down South in Karnataka assembly. The controversial Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Prevention of Cattle Bill, 2010 was passed in the legislative council on July 15 amid protests by the opposition. If the bill becomes a law, it will affect eating habits of many communities, sportspersons, animals in the zoo etc.

The holy cow entered Maharashtra on July 21. We do not know the exact entry point but the holy cow did a road-show on the outskirts of Malegaon before landing in Mantrayla on July 22!

Why did the Opposition protest the passing of the bill in Karnataka assembly? Does the opposition consists of only Muslims?

The sacredness of cow is not a Hindu-Muslim question alone as it has been persistently made out in the media. Karnataka opposition was representing millions of Hindus who still eat beef. Dalits and tribals have always eaten beef as part of ancient Hinduism. A ban in would mean imposition on hundreds of millions of Dalits and tribals. Also, beef is eaten regularly in India’s North-East.

The “Malegaon cow slaughter”, as the mainstream media reported, never took place. Ignorance, as we say in journalism, is bliss. The phrase “Malegaon cow slaughter” is a misnomer. First, the incident did not take place in Malegaon town; eight cows were found dead on Malegaon-Manmad road. By highlighting the word ‘Malegaon’ with the cows, media is playing in the hands of communalists; they want to defame a peace-loving town which did not lose its cool after witnessing two deadly bomb blasts. Media must remember that Malegaon is not a slaughterhouse of all goodness! The word ‘Malegaon’ immediately creates a sensation. Anything sensational in media sells these days.

Second, there was no ‘slaughter’ of the cows; eight cows died because of suffocation and the post-mortem report confirms this. There was no trace of injury or cuts on the body. But not all are convinced. Miscreants belonging to Hindutva brigade are spreading a lie with the help of some pictures. Any sane man would know that body needs to be cut in order to perform autopsy. Veterinary surgeon performed autopsy of the cows. The pictures of cuts borne by the vet’s knife are being circulated over the internet. It is being claimed that cows were indeed ‘slaughtered’! (Hindu Jan Jagruti Samiti is one such website; it puts the number of “slaughtered cows” to 25!) These pictures serve as the propaganda weapon for the right-wing brigade which is consistently becoming violent. Some of the Muslims might interpret the cow incident as part of a “conspiracy” to cause riot. The cow incident does not seem to be part of any conspiracy as of now; it seems more like a co-incidental accident. But people of Malegaon may have reasonable doubts which may or may not be valid. After all, one such ‘conspiracy’ has already taken place in Malegaon in 1984. A Hindu deity was garlanded with a bone-necklace by an RSS activist in order to cause riot. Malegaon could have witnessed a massive riot because the temple of the deity stood next to a mosque. It was the genius of S. M. Mushrif, the then ASP of Malegaon, who unearthed the mystery of bone-necklace and prevented Malegaon from communal frenzy.

The right-wingers are in a mood for mischief. Kesari Chand Mehta, president of Gau-Raksha Samiti spit venom against Muslims on July 22 while presenting a memorandum to the local administration. Muslims must maintain the traditional chain of peace culminated in the aftermath of 2006 and 2008 blasts.

Interestingly, opposition survived the day of July 22 on a lie. A lie can breathe transient life in the lungs of an almost dead opposition but the life of a lie is shorter than a hyphen.

Mother cow, on whose horns universe survives according to Hindu worldview, must be angry over the lie. A slight movement of the horns will send Sena-BJP alliance into deep ravine of eternity.

The Sunday Inquilab, July 25, 2010

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Paradise Lost?

          A deserted Lal Chowk, Srinagar, June 22, 2010

“How shall I write its praise? As far as the eye could reach flowers of various hue were blooming, and in the midst of flowers and verdure beautiful streams of water were flowing: one might say it was a page that the painter of destiny had drawn with the pencil of creation. The buds of heart break into flower from beholding it.”
(Mughal Emperor Jahangir on seeing Guri valley of Kashmir, Tuzuk-I-Jahangiri, Memoirs of Jahangir)

Peace in Kashmir is a delicate illusion. The placid calm of magnificent Dal Lake in Srinagar can be confused with peace. But Dal Lake has been silent for centuries. So how does one measure peace in the Valley? One need not take a dip in Dal Lake to measure the depth of peace. Peace floats on its surface in Shikaras and houseboats. Floating Shikaras are a sign of peace. The absence of any human activity over Dal is a proof that all is not well in the “earthly paradise”, a phrase uttered by Mughal emperor Jahangir.

The present trouble began on June 5 when Tufail Ahmed, a 17 year old student who passed SSC exam with distinction, was shot in head by security forces while he was playing in Ghani Memorial stadium. This gave rise to protests in northern areas of Kashmir. For the next 14 days, protests and stone-pelting followed. Omar Abdullah government did nothing concrete to contain the situation. The flashpoint came only on June 19, the day this writer landed in Srinagar. Mohammed Rafique Bangroo – a shawl weaver who has lost seven members of his family to security forces – was severely beaten up by CRPF (Central Police Reserve Force) and breathed his last a day later. During his funeral procession on June 20, people shouted anti-India slogans (One of the most famous slogans of the past 60 years is: Hum kya chahate hain?....Azaadi…Azaadi…Allah-o-Akbar). CRPF fired on the funeral procession resulting in the death of Rafique’s cousin, 17-year old Javed Ahmed Malla.

On June 21, CRPF camp was attacked in Sopore by militants of self-proclaimed Jamiatul-Mujahideen in which one CRPF died and a dozen got injured. When people protested on June 25 about the “fake” encounter, CRPF went berserk and killed 17-year old Firdous Ahmed Kakroo, a farmer and 18-year old Shakeel Ahmed, an electrician. 22-year old Bilal Ahmed of Sopore was shot in his throat when he was watching a protest march against rampant killings. More deaths followed in Baramulla, Anantnag and Srinagar.

Where was Omar Abdullah for almost a month?

Omar Abdullah, chief minister of India’s only Muslim-majority state entered into the picture only on June 19. The local media reported that Omar Abdullah was “extremely angry” over the death of Tufail Ahmed. He came down heavily on CRPF officers. Later, he addressed a press conference.

Is this the way to dissuade street anger?

Street anger can only be contained by stepping on the street. Omar Abdullah realised this only on July 5 when he visited Baramulla and patiently listened to peoples’ grievances. Contrast this with the behaviour of his grandfather, the late Anwaar Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, the lion of Kashmir. On October 4, 1947, addressing Kashmiris, Sheikh Abdullah said Rajas and Nawabs had no right to act on behalf of the people; the people must speak for themselves. Sheikh Abdullah said this as a response to Maharaja Hari Singh’s desire that Kashmir should remain an independent state.

Central government does not seem to have any concrete solution to the present crisis of Kashmir. Deployment of army may bring transient relief but in the long run it will further alienate Kashmiris. A territory cannot be ruled by application of force. As Pandit Kalhana, the first celebrated historian of Kashmir wrote in Rajtarangini:

“Kashmir may be conquered by the force of spiritual merit but never by the force of soldiers.”

Ashoka the Great and his soldiers brought Kashmir under the control of Mauryan Empire and made Srinagar its capital. But it did not last. In fact, spiritual merit of Buddhist missionaries had more impact. Same was the case with arrival of Islam. The message of Hazrat Bulbul Shah and Shaikh Nuruddin had a lasting impact.

Why do Kashmiri Muslims indulge in Kani Jung (stone-pelting)?

If only a stone can change the destiny of a nation. A stone is no equivalent to AK-47 which was once a popular form of Kashmiri resistance. Perhaps to a Kashmiri mind stone-pelting is the only way they can draw the world’s attention. A psychologist will term this as a sign of frustration and helplessness.

A thick layer of humiliation has formed over Kashmiri mind. How would one react if forced to prove one’s own identity? In one’s own state? To a Kashmiri, a valid identity card is his passport to nationalism.

Every nook and corner of Kashmir is guarded by CRPF. In the words of Pratap Bhanu Mehta, “I cannot imagine what it is to live like under half a million troops…”

So when will peace return to Kashmir? The last line must be left to M.J. Akbar:

“Kashmir will never be at peace with itself as long as the mazar of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah needs to be protected with guns.”
Sunday Inquilab, June 11, 2010

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Alvidaa “Head Sir”?

 Our Head sir: Ansari Mohammad Raza sitting on my right

In my head, I swim, slow laps in the chilly waters of a long rectangular pool that exists only in my imagination. My arms, pale and thin, dip in and out of the water in methodical strokes. I am alone, and the sun is shining. It seems the sun is always shining…. I swim whenever I start to panic: when my breath comes in short gasps and I feel like I will float away, a drifting, tattered kite that disappears into the endless red glow of a desert sunset. If I don't keep moving, I won't survive.                                                                            (Jackie Spinner, an American Journalist)

The year was 1990. A lean man in his mid thirties walks inside a tiny classroom full of tiny tots wearing a light-grey safari suit. There is a sense of sincerity as the deep penetrable eyes of the lean man pore over students. The deep sockets quickly scan over its innocent audience to familiarize with young Turks. The lean man leaps forward on the teacher’s bench and clears his throat. Then his composed voice breaks the eerie silence and fills the vacuum left by the chatter of students. Sentences of advice and inspiration that flowed from mouth of the lean man on a June 1990 morning are a blur. Suffice it to note that was my first impression of our “Head Sir” as we affectionately called our principal. The first indelible and brief encounter left me with awe and reverence. I was in second standard. It’s been twenty years and a lifetime but the impression still remains etched in memory. So does the phrase “awe and reverence”.
So how does one say farewell to the man who has given many farewells to thousands of students over the last 33 years of service? Words fail me as I punch my keyboard in the last nerve and muscle wrenching phase.
The word ‘farewell’ would be gross injustice; I would rather use the word ‘tribute’. We will never say farewell to Ansari Mohammad Raza, our beloved “Head Sir”.
It is true that “Head Sir” never taught us. He inspired us to dream. Dream shapes in one’s imagination. And imagination is far more important than education. It is also true that he didn’t educate us. He inspired us to seek knowledge. And knowledge is far more important than education. It was head sir’s pat on the back that made me distinguish between ‘education’ and ‘knowledge’. I literally fainted in class 7 when I was ranked 4th in the annual examination. It was Mohammad sir who consoled me by patting my back as if nothing went wrong. That was one of the finest moments of non-verbal communication in my life. That pat signified the difference between education and knowledge. From then onwards, I have never chased for numbers. Mohammad sir would never know how many students he must have inspired; each in unique way.  Inspiration has always been the core ideology of “Head Sir”; he devised new means to inspire students.
As William Arthur Ward, the American teacher, once said, “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” Lebanese philosopher Khalil Gibran adds, “The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind.”
I have coined 3 ‘I’ of success which can be applied in almost all walks of life: Imagination, Implementation and Introspection. As far as I know Mohammad sir has always believed and followed in these three words. I am tempted to quote writer Hanif Kureishi who once remarked, “It’s not the lack of opulence that disturbs me, but the poverty of imagination”.
Mohammad sir departs from us at a crucial time when the post of “head master” like that of an editor is under threat from proprietors and school management. In the heydays of journalism, editor enjoyed full editorial control. Same was true with the post of “head master”. I have no hesitation to declare that Mohammad sir belongs to that rare and vanishing breed of head masters who have always maintained independent control over educational matters.
It is often said that a good teacher is like a candle - it consumes itself to light the way for others. This is a canard. At least I will not use the analogy of candle for Mohammad sir. He is that candle who will always light us. The time has come for the candle to move o
As Jackie Spinner wrote, “If I don’t keep moving, I won’t survive.”