A Question of Appearances: Obama Will Bypass Sikh Temple on Visit to India Question of Appearances: Obama Will Bypass Sikh Temple on Visit to India

Mr. Obama was expected to visit the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, next month, but there were questions about how he would cover his head. Sikh tradition requires that men tie a piece of cloth on their heads before entering the spiritual center. The president, who is Christian, has fought the perception that he is Muslim. Sikhs are regularly mistaken for Muslims. A Pew Research center survey in August found that nearly one in five Americans say Mr. Obama is a Muslim.

“We have worked so hard to establish in America that Sikhs have a very different identity than Muslims,” said H. S. Phoolka, a prominent Sikh lawyer in New Delhi. “It is very unfortunate that even the White House is conveying the message that there is no difference between Muslims and Sikhs.”

US Open: Indo-Pak Express

With NYC city in the midst of a fractious debate about whether an Islamic center and mosque should be built near ground zero, and the country closely following the twists and turns of a Florida pastor’s threat to burn copies of the Quran- the “Indo Pak Express” closed down the US Open on the eve of Sept. 11 with a message of peace and solidarity.

Pakistani, Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi and India’s, Rohan Bopanna, have been playing tennis together since 2003, and have forged an alliance to create a message of peace through sportsmanship. “The Indo-Pak Express,” as they call it — really gathered steam earlier this year when they started wearing sweat shirts with slogans reading “Stop War, Start Tennis” as part of a campaign backed by a group called Peace and Sport.

After a two set loss, Qureshi took to the microphone and stated: “There’s a bad perception that Pakistan is a terrorist nation,” Qureshi told the crowd in 23,000-seat Arthur Ashe Stadium. “We’re a friendly, loving, caring people. We want peace as much as you guys. May God bless us all.”

Following the match, the ambassadors of the two nations met and conveyed goodwill toward each others nations. “It’s the message it sends that India and Pakistan are playing on the same side,” said India’s ambassador, Hardeep Puri.

Halal holidays for British Muslims

28 August 2010

British tourists flock to Turkey’s coast for cheap bars, clubs and beaches. And yet, as a Muslim country, Turkey has been selected as the main destination for a new breed of holiday, one that targets Muslims who want the same things as everyone else on the beach, bar a few concessions, and minus the alcohol.

Under the slogan “Sun, sea and halal!”, a handful of hotels in Turkey are offering what are being dubbed halal holidays – beach holidays that adhere to Islamic values. That means no alcohol and no wearing a bikini in front of a man who is not your husband.

Crescent Tours and Islamic Travels, which both started trading last year, are two operators selling the concept to Britain’s estimated two million Muslims. Until recently, the Muslim travel market was dominated by agencies specialising in pilgrimages to Mecca; flights to countries such as Pakistan and India account for the rest of the market; first generation immigrants, for whom holidays mean trips home to see close relatives.

A Personal Quest for an Understanding of Modern Islam

Aatish Taseer is a British writer and journalist of British-Indian origin. In this interview with Richard Marcus, he talks about Islamic identity, the ailments of the Islamic world, and his most recent book, the highly acclaimed Stranger to History: A Son’s Journey through Islamic Lands.

Stranger to History is about an absence: the absence of your estranged father, the Pakistani politician Salmaan Taseer. Before you began your journey what, if any, expectations or hopes did you carry into it, with regards to both your Muslim heritage and how it might help to bridge the gap between you and your father?

Aatish Taseer: I was never in search of any personal religious fulfillment or identity of any kind. I wanted only to understand the distances that had arisen between my father and me. The reason I wanted to do this was because I felt instinctually that there was something deeper behind those distances, something that would help illuminate a situation wider than my own personal context. And if there was anything that aroused my curiosity at that early stage, it was only the question of what made my father – a disbeliever by his own admission – in some very important way still a Muslim.

Why did you consider it so important to make the journey – you had been estranged from your father for nearly two decades. What type of connection were you hoping to forge between the two of you?

Aatish Taseer: I had overcome that initial estrangement with my father. The silence between us was new. And I found it difficult to turn my back on the goodwill and hopefulness that that reconciliation between my father and me had produced. It was not just our personal relationship, but Pakistan too, which formed such an important cultural and historical component of my family history, both maternal and paternal, as well as the history of the land I grew up in. It would have been very hard to pretend that the new estrangement with my father was not wrapped up in a deeper feeling of loss. But I was not traveling in search of reconciliation; I would have found it strange to travel with those kinds of personal objectives in mind. I was traveling to understand.

What inspired you to tell a very personal story – your relationship with your father – and why is it integral to the book? Could you have undertaken a similar examination of the Muslim faith without raising the subject of your father?

Aatish Taseer: No. The personal, though it had wider ramifications, as the personal often does, was what lay behind my interest. I am not a professional writer of books on Islam; I wrote about the subject because I felt I had to. And it would have been very strange for me to ignore, especially in a book like this, a first book, the reasons that I was drawn to the subject. Which, by the way, are not simply my relationship with my father; that was one aspect; but much bigger than this, in fact towering over the narrative, is the Partition. And it is in relation to this event – in my opinion, the forerunner of what began to happen throughout the Muslim world during the latter part of the last century – that my parents’ relationship became important, as did my maternal grandfather’s grief at being separated from his country.

Although you visited more than just the countries mentioned in the book during your journey, you chose only to talk about four, aside from Pakistan. What was it about Turkey, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iran that decided you to talk about them instead of some of the others?

Aatish Taseer: They all represented, in different ways, the trouble Islam had had in adapting to modern political life. In Turkey, secularism had been turned into a soft tyranny, where the state was writing sermons and choosing clerics. In Syria, it was for years not part of the program, but was slowly creeping back. In Iran, the fury of the revolution had come and gone, and we could have a window into what might come next. Finally there was Pakistan, which, in my opinion, had paid the heaviest price for the faith. It had broken with itself and its history to form a nation on the thinnest of thin grounds. And the nation had been, from start to finish, a disaster. It had left millions of people sixty years later dispossessed and full of hateful lies.

All of that remained to be dealt with; the ugly idea of a religiously cleansed society had yet to be fully discredited in the minds of people, though on practical terms, it had completely perished. And to have to do all of this in a climate of war and insecurity, with interference from foreign powers! It was a very bleak picture; hard to see how the land – not the country – would return to itself. I won’t speak of Saudi Arabia, because it formed a small part of the narrative in the book.

At one point in the book you mention the Wahhabis and their influence upon modern Islam, especially in Arabic countries like Saudi Arabia. Who are they, what is their influence and how is it expressed?

Aatish Taseer: They have had forerunners, and interestingly, always at times when Islam felt itself in danger. Some consider Ibn Taymiyyah, a 13th-century scholar, living in the times when the Mongols sacked Baghdad, to be the first Wahhabi. But truly, the movement began in the 18th century with an alliance between a Najd scholar and a chieftain. The movement, mainly decrying the excesses that had come into the faith and preaching a purer, more Arab Islam, had some political and religious success before it was crushed, and crushed completely, by the Ottomans.

Its resurgence in the 20th century can be linked to the rise of Saudi Arabia and its tremendous oil wealth, which it has used to spread Wahhabism to places, which practiced milder, more tolerant forms of the religion. But I think it would be too easy to say that, and it doesn’t explain the first Wahhabi success. My own feeling is that Wahhabism represents a tendency within Islam – and perhaps also in other forms of organized thought – to close its doors, and retreat within itself, when it is faced with a political or intellectual threat too great to confront.

In the book you talk about how history is being distorted by certain religious leaders in order to justify the notion that Muslims are persecuted. What purpose is served by creating this attitude among the faithful?

Aatish Taseer: It is comforting to them. It makes them feel that they are not responsible for their wretchedness, that it is all the work of a grand conspiracy which seeks to keep them down. They then can carry on feeling envious and resentful about the big, modern world, without ever having to do the hard work of engaging it. But it is a very pernicious cycle. Because the less you engage it, the faster you fall behind, the harder it becomes to pick yourself up. And in the end when you’re nothing it becomes very easy for some greasy-faced fanatic to feed you comforting lies.

You’ve ended up presenting a rather negative view of the current state of Islam, from your depiction of Iran and Syria, the sentiments expressed by young religious Muslims in Turkey and Britain, to your description of your father’s “moderate Muslim” as practicing “too little moderation and in the wrong areas”. Was there anything you came across in your travels that countered that impression – that perhaps gave you something you could identify with or the hope there was more to Islam than anger and resentment?

Aatish Taseer: This is the kind of question that makes assumptions I do not share. I don’t consider it ‘positive’ to travel in a country and shut your eyes to its realities. Neither do I think it is at all helpful for schoolboy English travelers to go to these places and come back with reports of their teeming bazaars and lavish hospitality. Fortunately, I come from the sub-continent, which has its fair share of crowded bazaars and generous people, so I feel no need, when I am traveling in the Islamic world, to overlook the gloom of Syria or the tyranny of Iran, in the interest of feeling upbeat when I come home. I think it is cynical and patronizing to go to these places and tell tales of how the people are capable of a good joke and a cheerful chat as if people and societies should not amount to more. And for people who are coming from societies that have achieved more, this kind of attitude expresses the worst kind of foreigner’s disregard.

Do you have any concerns about what non-Muslims will think after reading this book? What do you hope they will take away from it?

Aatish Taseer: No. The book is published in eleven countries, some of which I have never even visited. It would be impossible for me to conceive what ‘non-Muslims,’ as a whole, might think.

The hardcover edition of Stranger to History was released a year ago, and I was wondering what the reaction to it has been from Muslims in general and your family in particular?

Aatish Taseer: Again, this is not the kind of judgment I’m in a position to make. What I will say is that despite the fact that the book is only distributed and not published in Pakistan, I have received the maximum number of letters from that country. I was particularly moved by one Pakistani student who wrote: “A lot of us agree with you but wouldn’t write this sort of thing for reasons that need not be explained to you.” However, I know that Muslim reviewers, whether they be in Australia, India, England or Pakistan, have all given the book a rough time. Which is an interesting thing in itself.

At one point you refer to both yourself and your father as the “Stranger to History” of the book’s title.

Aatish Taseer: The title, I feel, works on different levels. In the case of my father, I was thinking of Pakistan and how it turned its back on its shared history with the sub-continent in the interest of realizing the aims of the faith. That was one historical break. But I was also thinking of a more general rejection of pre-Islamic India among the sub-continent’s Muslims, a rejection, which has translated into deeper illusions about their place of origin, many believing they came from “Islamically purer” countries, such as Afghanistan and Persia. There was also, of course, the personal estrangement, when it came to my father’s relationship with me. That was my estrangement, too, along with an estrangement from the land that is Pakistan, and to which both my parents are linked.

You mention near the end of the book, the one benefit you derived from your journey was, it reconnected you to Pakistan. What makes that connection so important to you in light of the divide between your father and yourself?

Aatish Taseer: It is the connection to the land and people of Pakistan that is important. That land, and its culture, is still, for all the distances that have been created, a part of the shared culture of the sub-continent. The things shared are language, dress, ideas of caste, poetry and song. And it is of these things that nations are made, not religion; that has shown itself to be too thin a glue. When one considers that enduring shared culture, despite everything that has been done to break it, one is forced to reject the intellectual argument for the Partition as false. There is no two-nation theory; there are no separate Indian nations; there is just the giant plural society of India, held together by an idea no less subtle, and yet no less powerful, than that of Greece or Europe. It is this society that must on some level regain its wholeness, not along angst-ridden national or religious lines, but as part of a peace worthy of a continent.

You set out to find common ground with your father by seeking to gain an understanding of how someone who doesn’t practice the religion can still call themselves a Muslim. After what you observed in your travels, do you still refer to yourself as a Muslim in spite of the fact that you appear to have nothing in common with people like your father?

Aatish Taseer: No. During the journey itself, I realized that neither on a religious level nor on a ‘cultural’ one could I ever be part of the ‘civilization of faith’, which is, in the end, a vision of purity. I have too much hybridity in my life, welcome hybridity, to accept a world-view such as that.

Interview: Richard Marcus

© Qantara.de 2010

Editor: Lewis Gropp/Qantara.de

India requests Sikh turbans be granted leniency in French identity card photos

The Indian government has requested that the French remove the rule that Sikh men must remove their turbans for identity photographs. According to minister of state for external affairs Preneet Kaur, India has taken up the issue of French authorities taking photographs as identity markers and conveyed that if Sikhs are photographed without turbans, it would create a faulty database. “The plea that we have taken is that the French government is taking photographs and fingerprints as identity markers. However, if Sikhs are photographed without turbans, then they are accumulating wrong records because normally, a Sikh will always wear a turban,” Kaur said.

So far, all attempts made by Sikhs to convince the French government have failed. The 4,000-strong Sikh community in France maintains that it needs a commitment in writing from the French government ensuring that Sikh children who have graduated from the French education system will be free to work in any government job with their turban.

Sikh will be first non-white in far-right BNP to fight Islamic extremism

An Indian-born Sikh pensioner is hoping to become the first non-white member of the far-right British National Party (BNP) because he wants to fight Islamic extremism. Rajinder Singh, 78, is joining the BNP — whose policies include stopping immigration — after the party voted Sunday to change its constitution to admit ethnic minorities for the first time, following a court ruling.

Singh said he had seen the “potential of Islam”, witnessing extensive violence after partition in 1947, and wanted to “save” Britain by working to prevent similar scenes here. “Islam is global, it has zero loyalty to Britain,” he said. The BNP are sons of soil and they are standing up for their soil. I wish we had a counterpart of the BNP in India in 1946.”

This is an exceptional case of the transfer of a conflict (Indian-Pakistani) to the situation of contemporary Islam in Britain, and of a representative of an ethnic minority joining a far-right party.

The integration of Islamic people

Giovanni Sartori, considered one of the most important political scientists specializing in the study of comparative politics in Italy and internationally, has suggested that Islam is impossible to integrate.

He gives historical examples to support his thesis: the Moghul Empire that dominated India from the XV century for two hundred years, the recent Islamization of Turkey and Indonesia, all demonstrate that Islam, unlike Buddism (considered pacific and “pacioso”) and Induism ( polytheistic, hence more open to diversity) is a theocratic monotheism, that has just reborn and inflamed.

For this reason, as shown by the English and French case, trying to integrate Muslims by “Italianizing” them is a political mistake that Italy doesn’t have to make.

Call for Papers: “Negotiating and Accommodating Religious Identity in Public Arena”: New Delhi, February 2010

Papers are invited for an international seminar at Jamia Millia Islamia (A Central University), New Delhi, India. “Negotiating and Accommodating Religious Identity in Public Arena: Comparing Indian and European Experiences with Special Reference to Muslim Minorities”

The conference will take place February 10-12, 2010.

The major goal of the seminar, bringing together prominent scholars from different parts of the globe, is to undertake a comparative examination of Indian and European perspectives and policies dealing with the issues related to religious minorities, particularly their Muslim populations.

Europe today is facing new challenges of cultural and religious diversity. Muslim immigrants constitute the most important aspect of this diversity. Multiculturalism has emerged as a dominant discourse to deal with this challenge. India has historically lived with cultural and religious diversity but is facing new challenges in managing this age-old diversity since it launched the project of creating a nation-state after its independence. The focus of this seminar proposal is to undertake a comparative study of the approaches to accommodation of cultural and religious diversity in Europe and India. The seminar will reflect the ways both India and Europe can learn from the experiences of one another; negotiating and accommodating the religious identity of minorities, particularly Muslims, in public arena.

A comparative focus on state behavior is crucial to understand the process of political integration as it shapes and structures the relationship between individual citizen, communities and the state.

How the demands of unity and diversity are reconciled cannot be determined in the abstract, for the mode of reconciliation would obviously vary from society to society. Traditional societies like India have been historically multicultural and evolved better institutional mechanism to harmonize the demands of multicultural groups, though these mechanisms are today put to severe strain in the context of nation-building processes. In contrast, western modern societies have produced culturally homogenous nation-states which however have difficulties in dealing with community based cultural demands, though at the present time a good many experiments are underway for accommodating distinctive community identities. For example, Britain represents a case of a conscious policy that promotes and allows space for communitarian existence within the broader political framework. In general, much of Western Europe can live with individual differences but feels threatened in the absence of an organized, institutionalized, clearly defined, and singular source of unity.

On the other hand, the Indian Constitution aspires to strike a balance between individual and group rights and Indian political process has historically managed the various identity based demands-whether minority or majority-without demanding the authentic representation with such groups

Europe, having already evolved as a group of nation states in preceding centuries, is now being called upon to accommodate and incorporate a substantial religious minority into the dominant national ethos. On the other hand, India has devised a political framework where the attempt has been to incorporate minorities as an integral part of the polity while
allowing them a modicum of religious space. A comparison between these two divergence cases is premised on the assumption that such a comparative study would provide insights and lessons that might be extremely relevant for both. Muslim minorities within the framework of the nation states suggest strong points of mutual convergence.

The organizers are particularly interested in papers that address the following question/issues:

1. How do European and Indian approaches towards religion, particularly Islam, shape policy making towards Muslims?

2. How political institutions in European countries (especially in those with the largest Muslim populations, i.e., France, Germany and Britain), and in India at various levels of government are managing the demands of cultural and religious diversity. What modifications in these institutional mechanisms are suggested by comparative analysis?

3. What have been the Islamic responses to multiculturalism in Europe and in India?

4. How does the colonial past and experience of the immigrant groups in Europe and in India affect the post-colonial reality?

5. What are the different approaches of European countries and India towards citizenship and naturalization laws?

6. What are the forms and expressions of discrimination against Muslims in law and in social practices in Europe and India? Do these differences impact the way cultural groups respond to the state?

7. What measures of protection exist against religious discrimination in European countries and India?

8. What is the role of education in public schools and in Muslim schools in terms of promoting integration in both European countries and India?

9. How does Islamic religious identification interact with other social factors, such as class, language, and ethnicity, gender national and regional origin and shape the state policies in both, European countries and India?

10. What have been the impacts of the ‘securitization’ of Islam in Europe and India on their Muslim populations?

11. Who speaks for European and Indian Muslims? How has the debate on the issue of representation of Muslims in public sphere in India and Europe been framed?

12. Key features of the current politics of Muslim identity in Europe and India, including:

1. Approaches towards religion
2. Political institutions and religious minorities
3. Islamic response to multiculturalism
4. Citizenship and naturalization laws
5. State, law and discrimination
6. Legal protection against discrimination
7. Education, school and integration
8. Islam and securitization debates
9. Muslim representation in public spheres
10. Politics of Muslim identity

Please email 300-word abstracts by November 15, 2009 to Dr. Konrad Pedziwiatr at k.pedziwiatr@gmail.com.

Submissions should be in MS Word or PDF format and should include your name, academic title and institutional affiliation. Respective speakers will be informed of the approval by the end of November. The organizers will take care of accommodation, internal travel and food. Due to financial limitations the organizers are unable to cover participants’ airfare.

Islamic groups in Europe condemn Mumbai attacks

The Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe (FIOE) condemned the “inexcusable and reprehensible” terror attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai. “The Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe reminds of the vital importance of exercising self-restraint, and respect for the principle of peaceful coexistence and harmony in community relations in the multi-ethnic Indian society,” said a statement released by the Organization. The FIOE is an association that encompasses hundreds of Islamic organizations in Europe.

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Look elsewhere for the enemy within

The devastation wreaked last week in Mumbai, India’s economic capital, has already been presented as India’s 9/11. Terrorism is far from uncommon in India; this event was given prominence because, for the first time, a significant minority of the victims was western. While Pakistan and Islamist terrorist networks allegedly harboured there were the focus of initial suspicion, it was not long before the media started to point a finger at Islamists with British roots; a link strongly denied by the British Foreign Office. The claims echoed the popular fears that escalated when it was discovered that the perpetrators of 7/7 were “homegrown” – a discovery which seemed to shock the country, proud of its multicultural heritage, to the core, particularly as those responsible seemed to be well-integrated and well-educated British Muslims.

Britain and other western countries undeniably contain within their boundaries minorities engaged in terrorist activity. However, the extent of this has been unjustifiably exaggerated as the press runs scare stories about British Muslims’ involvement in “madrasas” in Pakistan, (considered to be training camps for terrorists), or imams from overseas supposedly importing radicalism and infecting a suggestible cohort of disaffected youth in British mosques. The involvement of highly-educated Muslims in terrorist attacks has led to a perception of British Muslims, especially those at college or recently graduated, as an increasing threat to national security and social democracy, with the cases such as the Yorkshire-based Muslims involved in 7/7 and the Muslim doctors’ involvement in the attack on Glasgow airport, presented as evidence.

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