Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Giant Pandas and Kailash women

What is common between giant Pandas and Kailash women - both are endangered species now. According to media reports there are around 1590 pandas alive (most of them in China) and there are around 3000 of Kailash people remaining in the world (most of them living in the North West of Pakistan.

While Pandas are one of the most pampered endangered species on earth enjoying massive global funding and support to keep them alive in their natural habitat - there are those who want them dead.
TV wildlife presenter and personality Chris Packham has put forward his opinion that we should "pull the plug" on giant panda conservation, claiming the species "has gone down an evolutionary cul-de-sac" and we should "let them go".
Similarly Kailash people who are a fast disappearing civilisation decreasing in number without any support to maintain their indigenous life style and are now a target of Taliban fundamentalists who do not like their pagan life style and would like to either change them or finish them.
Kailash people believed to be descendants of Alexander the Great's invading army, were shielded from conservative Islam by the steep slopes of their remote valleys.

While Sikhs, Hindus, and Christians were slowly driven out of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province by Muslim militants, the Kalash were free to drink their own distilled spirits and smoke cannabis.
According to daily Telegraph Taliban are now targeting those who are helping build schools, clinics, clean water projects, etc. Why are Taliban rearing for wiping out an endangered civilisation because they are not Muslims? Muqtedar Khan writes that in an Islamic society the objectives of Islamic laws and the way of life are

falah (welfare) and hayat-e-tayyabah (good life) for the members of the community. But when contemporary Islamists operationalize this divine vision of the Islamic state, they define the Islamic state as that which implements the Islamic law. seeking to impose Islamic law and create an Islamic state, Islamists are actually in direct opposition to the spirit and letter of the Quran. The Quran is very explicit when it says “there is no compulsion in religion,” (Quran 2: 256). Elsewhere the Quran exhorts Jews to live by the laws revealed to them in the Torah. In fact The Quran expresses surprise that some Jews sought the arbitration of the Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him) rather than their own legal tradition (5:43).

The Quran also orders Christians to live by their faith; “So let the people of the Gospel judge by that which Allah has revealed therein, for he who judges not by that which Allah has revealed is a sinner,” (Quran 5:47). From these verses it is abundantly clear that an Islamic state must advocate religious pluralism even to the extent of permitting multiple legal systems.
In an Islamic state envisioned by the Prophet (saw) and his companions Kailash people would be enjoying state protection (better than what Pandas get in China) and would be free to practise their religion and their way of life. In a Taliban infested North West Pakistan they are in danger of becoming a lost civilisation soon. Here is another begging bowl for our erst while president to carry on his trips abroad.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Divided we stand: moon sighting, science and Muslims

By some miracle this year a vast majority of Muslims in the UK managed to celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr on the same day (Sunday 20th September). Unfortunately this was not the case in Pakistan where people of the North West celebrated Eid a day ahead of rest of the Country. While the head of the Moon sighting establishment in Pakistan declared this illegal many like me wondered that how come in this day and age of science, when it appears all so easy to determine state of the moon, we still cannot agree on a single day for Eid. Anwar Ahmad, a good friend wrote the following article for Bazm-e-Iqbal to describe the issue in detail and offer possible solution.

Divided We Stand [by Anwar Ahmad]

It is again one of those occasions when the entire Muslim community enthusiastically pursues their favourite game, “moon sighting”. Or is it "moon fighting"? Generally a reductionist approach is observed and the issue is conceived as inability of the orthodox Muslims to comprehend, trust and apply modern technology. The issue is more complex than choosing between actual sighting of the moon and relying on scientific calculations to mark the beginning of an Islamic month.

So what is the issue, exactly? Before I comment on the existing approaches to determine the arrival of new month, let us briefly review the relevant Quranic verses and Hadith literature on the topic.

The Quran does not offer a clear injunction concerning the method which should be applied to establish the beginning of an Islamic month. In Surah Al-Baqrah, the Quran states:
they will ask thee about the new moons. Say: “They indicate the periods for [various doings of] mankind, including the pilgrimage.” [2:189]
A quick review of the Quranic verses that mention the moon does not provide any specific information as to what measure should the Muslims adopt to establish the beginning of new month.

So, what does the second source of Islamic law, the authentic Hadith collection, tells us about it. Well, here we are fortunate to find some specific information which would subsequently become the basis for our judgement on the issue.

Both Bukhari and Muslim report a tradition that the Prophet (saw) said:
fast (Muslims) when you see the crescent. If it is obscure, then complete thirty days in the count of Sha'aban. And break your fast when you see the crescent. If it [is] obscure to you, then fast thirty days. [Bukhari and Muslim]
It is reported on the authority of Hazrat Ayesha (ra) that the Prophet (saw) used to be more concerned about [determining the beginning of] Sha'aban than about other months.
Then he used to fast at the sighting of [the crescent of] Ramadhan. If it were obscure, he would count thirty days [of Sha'aban] and then fast. [Narrated by Abu Dawud and Ahmad]
There is a Hadith regarding the number of witnesses required to have sighted the new moon:
if two just Muslim witnesses testify the sighting then fast or break your fast. [Narrated by Ahmad, Al-Nassa’i and Al-Daraqutni]
There is, however, an authentic Hadith which informs us that the Prophet (saw) fasted and ordered other people to fast on the testimony of one person, in this case Ibn-e-Umar.

Having looked at the relevant Quranic verses and traditions of the Prophet (saw), we come directly to the most important question: is the “sighting of moon” a measure to establish the beginning of an Islamic month or a requirement? The answer will determine if we can use scientific calculations as a substitute measure to ascertain the beginning of a month. And this is precisely the point where opinion among the Muslims is divided. Both the proponents and opponents of actual sighting of the moon draw their conclusions on the basis of available Hadith and traditions.

A Hadith is reported by Ibn-e-Umar that the Prophet (saw), on the suggestion of using then available computational methods, said:
we are an illiterate nation. We do not use astronomical writing or computation. A month is so and so and so (and he pointed with his hands three times, folding the thumb on the third time, meaning twenty nine days) or so and so and so (and he pointed with his hands three times, meaning thirty days). [Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud and Al-Nassa’i]
Imam Ibn Taymiyyah, who belonged to the Hunbali school of thought and professed the return to original sources of Islam, commented by saying:
the description of this nation here as being illiterate is a praise to it in that it is independent of any complicated means in performing its basic worships. Anyone who rejects this would indeed overstep the consensus of the worthy Ulema [religious scholars], would be attempting to spoil the beauty and simplicity of this religion, and, worst of all, would be bluntly disobeying the Prophet (saw).
There are some other traditions that are presented in support of the view that actual sighting is a requirement to establish the beginning of new moon.

Before I move on to discuss the reasons offered by the group favouring scientific computations, I would like to highlight another issue. This is related to the “local sighting” of moon. A tradition reported by Muslim relates a discussion between Abu Kuraib and Ibn-e-Abbas in which Ibn-e-Abbas did not accept Abu Kuraib's witness of sighting of the moon in a different town as the basis to begin Ramadan in Makkah. Let’s clarify this issue first. In the absence of any clear Quranic injunction and tradition of the Prophet (saw), it seems justified to deduct from the Hadith reported earlier that the entire Muslim Ummah [nation] has been addressed and not a people in a particular land. This issue is a remnant of a historical process. In the past it was difficult to send the news across countries and continents and hence local sighting was a necessity. All too often a tradition becomes sacred and thus remains in practice long after the requirements that necessitated it have disappeared.

From the discussion so far, it seems fair to conclude that:
  • it does not matter if the new moon has been sighted in a different location; witnesses from one location should be accepted as the basis for confirmation of the advent of next month in Islamic calendar
  • an unequivocal reference to “sighting” of the moon and witnesses required indicates that the new moon should be old enough for human beings to be able to see it in the sky.
When we consider the possibility of using scientific computation for the purpose of ascertaining the beginning of a new lunar month, we face two important questions:
  • given that the Prophet (saw) did not like astronomical writing as a method to determine the visibility of new moon, are we not committing ourselves to abrogate an authentic Hadith reported by four important Hadith scholars?
  • which phase of the moon shall we accept as the basis for beginning of a new Islamic month: geocentric conjunction or visibility?
The group which supports the use of scientific computations offers the following reasons in favour of their argument:
  • we need to keep in mind an important difference between the astronomical writings at the time of the Prophet (saw) and highly accurate calculations available to us today with the help of sophisticated technology and scientific research
  • here “illiterate nation” can’t be interpreted literally as there were highly literate personalities among the companions [of Prophet (saw)]. It probably refers to the lack of esoteric astronomical knowledge which was the domain of people professing magic, applying guess work and calculations not backed by scientific methods
  • here another important principle of Islam, management of conflicting priorities, can be called in. If two virtues somehow collide with each other, Muslims would consider choosing the one which brings greater good and lesser harm. In this case the unity of the Ummah is at stake. The reputation of Islam as a rational faith is often questioned on this basis.
On the basis of these arguments, it seems fair to adopt scientific calculations as a means to ascertain the beginning of new month. Also experience suggests that scientific calculations offer more accuracy than actual sighting of the moon. A large number of Ulema [religious scholars] now maintain and support this view.

The answer to the second question has already been covered above. The emphasis on “sighting” and “witnesses” suggest that we can only accept “visibility stage” to establish the beginning of a new month. Geocentric conjunction of new moon does not mean that it will be visible [to human eye]. Technically, though, the new moon is ‘born’ but it cannot be sighted until it enters the visibility zone. It may take several hours before this happens. Whether we are able to sight the moon depends on weather conditions, pollution in the sky and location of the town among others factors. At this stage, however, sighting becomes somewhat less important because we know from reliable scientific calculations that moon would be visible if the sky is clear. This, however, is not a universally held view. Some countries, e.g. Turkey, consider the geocentric conjunction as the basis for beginning of a new month.

It seems fair to conclude from the above discussion that:
  • Muslims should employ scientific computations to determine the visibility of moon and wherever possible should attempt to sight the moon. But precedence should be given to scientific calculations
  • throughout the Muslim world, beginning of a lunar month should be marked when visibility of moon is confirmed through scientific calculations or moon is witnessed anywhere in the world.
This, however, does not mean that no further issues will arise. Certain situations - such as if visibility of moon is confirmed for North America in the evening, people in the Far East may not be able to begin the new month on the same date in the Gregorian calendar – will continue to bother the faithful. However, as long as a unanimous position based on logic and common sense is held by the Muslims throughout the world, that should not be a problem. The rigidity of the Gregorian calendar makes it incompatible with Islamic activities. We don’t need to be apologetic about it. It would not bother me if my brothers and sisters in Australia and USA celebrate Eid on different days but I would be as I was shell shocked when, a couple of years ago, I offered Eid greetings to a Muslim neighbour and found out, to my utter embarrassment, that he was fasting.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Increasing bad taste and need for self regulation in Pakistani media

Scan of main stream Pakistani electronic and print media over the last two weeks makes you believe that the biggest issue faced by the nation is to find out the truth about film actress Meera's marriage to an unknown businessman - did she! or didn't she. And I am talking about the main stream media not the tabloids - though, now-a-days I fail to find a difference between the two in Pakistan.

Well! where is the bad taste in reporting about Meera! One could argue. This is a nation that is suffering from acute shortage (created artificially by hoarders) of staple diet wheat and sugar, and the acute shortage of electricity (in a country where summer temperatures go above 45C), and abundance of Taliban, corrupt governance, corrupt law and order infrastructure and corrupt politicians who are eating away the country like there is no tomorrow. This nation for sure has a right for some light humour! Doesn't she!

Bad taste that I talk about is running through the veins of our current media reporting in all forms and nature. I object to the way our journalists have begun to behave in the way they report (or don't).

For example, I do not find appropriate the way anchors on most watched television channels have been making off the cuff remarks about Meera's character while reporting the story. These would constitute defamation in any other civilised society. News presenters on some channels have been using inappropriate language and innuendo while offering unsolicited personal opinions ridiculing the actress.

Comments like "Bakray ki maan kab tak khair manaye gi" litterally meaning 'How long can the lamb escape slaughter' or "Urdu tak tau baat saheeh thi lekin Angraizi mein train pathri se uttar gayi" meaning 'Matters were all right in Urdu, but English derailed the train', commenting on her English language skills. Meera has, for the last few weeks, facing trial by media. I am not interested in whether she is married or not, but I am interested in treating a woman with common decency that should be a virtue of a Muslim society.

Bad taste in reporting on television is beaten only by even worse taste and tact in anchoring talk shows. Our current political leadership might have strengths in many other areas but being tactful while dealing with media is not one of them. A number of the male politicians are known to use filthy language in their personal conversations but using the same on prime time talk shows should be a criminal offence. Talk show hosts who encourage such behaviour and allow this to go an air are equally irresponsible in their conduct. Recent example of a conversation where a senior female politician from the ruling party accused a female parliamentarian from opposition of bed hopping to promote her political career and of using participation in talk shows as a means for increasing her going rate as a call girl was absolutely abhorring. Only person protesting and encouraging the talk show host to put a stop to this was Dr. Sheeren Mazari, editor of a prominent national daily, The Nation.

I hope that as the Chief Editor Dr. Mazari could lead on putting a stop to bad taste in print media, including her own paper. Bad taste or rather absolute lack of taste in print media is evident from publishing of distasteful and detestable photographs depicting violence is now becoming a norm. Only this week while reporting the story of a rickshaw driver who gave up his fight against poverty and committed suicide after killing his wife and baby daughter the paper carried graphic images of the scene of crime showing dead bodies of the man, woman and child lying where they died.

Showing images of physical violence including dead bodies of victims of violent crimes still at the scene is abhorrent. Whether these are images of robbers being burnt alive by Karachi mob watching with glee, or bodies lying in street of policeman killed during attack on Sri Lankan cricketers, they do not serve the purpose of reporting news.

I believe that there is need in Pakistan to introduce a code of conduct aiming at self regulation in key areas of illegal content, such as obscenity, defamation and copyright infringement, and access to content that may be harmful to children.

There is a now a need for independent bodies like the UK Press Complaints commission for maintaining an Editorial Code of Practice and investigating complaints into reported breaches of the Code.

The code should include clauses on accuracy of content, the opportunity for reply, respect for privacy, harassment, intrusion into shock or grief, the interests of children, the reporting of crime, the protection of victims of sexual assault, discrimination, the protection of confidential sources, etc.

Media in Pakistan is going through growing pains. Having played a vital role in the fall of military dictatorship and restoration of independent judiciary it is still trying to come to grips with the new found power it holds. With great power comes great responsibility. I do not believe that legislation or government control should be used to ensure that the media behaves responsibly. Only self regulation is the answer.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

A Community united in charity for Swat IDPs

I owed readers a report on charity iftar dinner fund raising event in Cheshire, UK that I have promoted through my blog posts earlier.

The Muslim community in Cheshire and surrounding areas got together on 30th August to generate funds for the rebuilding of a school for girls in the Swat valley that were burnt or blown up during the war between Taliban and Pakistan army. Seventeenth Century Elizabethian venue Davenport Green Hall in Hale Barns provided the right atmosphere for over 550 Muslim men, women and children to get together in the holy month of Ramadhan to break their fast and contribute to the charitable cause.

Over 550 Muslim Community members gathered for the Iftar dinner
The event was hosted by International Foundation for Mother and Child Health (IFMCH) a Cheshire based UK registered charity. Its founder, Dr. Saleem Khan, talked of the plight of women in Pakistan where every minute a woman dies due to lack of knowledge of basic female health issues. He hopes the school could also be used in the evenings to educate the masses about female health with the help of IFMCH.

Members of Swat Iftar Dinner Organising teamThe Emerald Network (a network of young British Muslim professional) and major UK charities like Muslim Hands and Human Appeal helped to raise awareness for the event and contributed to its success. A brand new charity The Allama Mashriqi trust was also inaugurated at this event by Nina Khan. It is hoped that this new organisation will be able to help to reduce some of the social injustices throughout Pakistan.

Proud winners of signed Manchester United shirtDr Nighat Awan OBE lead the charity auction after the dinner and helped raise over £10,000 through the auctions of items such as a signed Manchester United shirt and a cricket bat signed by members of the Pakistan cricket team. These funds will be used to support the building of the school in the Swat valley through Friends of the Citizens Foundation charity. They have already built 600 schools in Pakistan and are aiming to increase the number to a 1000 by 2012. A large number of young Muslims boys and girls from all over the North West demonstrated their community spirit by joining the event as volunteers.

a large number of young Muslim boys and girsl joined the event as volunteersOver two million people from the Swat Valley and surrounding region were displaced this year, as the Pakistani army fought against the Taliban. Many men, women and children were forced to abandon their homes leaving their livestock and belongings behind as they moved into makeshift camps and temporary accommodation. They have been refugees in their own homeland as provincial governments have been restricting their movement out of the war zone.

Women and children have been the main victims of Taliban oppression and the military action. A vast majority of Girls schools were destroyed by Taliban along with other public infrastructure. The children of Swat especially girls now need help to rebuild their lives. This school will not only support repatriation of Swat girls into normal life but will continue to serve as a platform for raising awareness among women of health issues too.

Reverend Robert Hinton of All Saints CE Church in Hale Barns attended the event and spoke of his support for the project and Rabbi Joel Portnoy of Shay Lane Synagogue in his message to the community highlighted how their efforts were also in line with teachings of the Torah and wished the project success.
Reverend Robert Hinton of All Saints CE Church in Hale Barns”Subhannallah, it is wonderful to see so many people here today from different places, backgrounds and faiths coming together to support the children of Swat” said Dr Amir Hannan.

“The community is full of caring people who have much to offer to help each other as well as other fellow human beings. As a community, we are not helpless and blind to the suffering, especially of Children of Swat.”

Pictures and videos from the event are available on the event facebook page. [m859wpvx6a]

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Taliban award certificate to dead terrorists

Die for the cause of terrorism and the Ameer [the leader] of Pakistani Taliban will give you a formally signed and sealed certificate of martyrdom. We have heard that families of brainwashed young men from economically deprived families in the North West Frontier Province and Southern Punjab were being given around Pound Sterling 5000 in order to recruit them as suicide bombers. Giving them posthumous certificates for successfully getting themselves killed while "fighting for the greatness of Islam and for the cause of downtrodden Muslims" is a joke too far. The certificate records the date and geographical location of "martyrdom" and is very formally stamped and signed by the "Ameer". I am not sure whether to laugh or vomit.

Certificate courtesy Dr KM from Five Rupees