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Give me religion that does not polarise society

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hijab

A few years ago in Aceh, a poster was put up by the Islamic Sharia Department in Banda Aceh of the communications and information agency office, stating:

“A woman whose strand of hair is seen deliberately by a man who is not her husband will be punished by 70,000 years in hell. One day in the afterlife is equivalent to 1,000 years in this world. A woman who enters hell will draw in with her two of her menfolk: her father, her brothers, her husband or her son. This is how terrible the punishment is!”

I received a photo of the poster through one of my WhatsApp groups and shared it with friends. One of them, Harry (not his real name), hilariously pointed out the absurdity of it all.

“What? Do radicals see women’s hair as pubic hair, and are hijab underpants for women’s heads?” he asked incredulously, referring to the headcover worn by Muslim women in Indonesia.

Harry added, to his knowledge, there is nothing in the Quran about women’s hair. “What’s written on the poster is a 1,000 percent deviant!” he exclaimed.

It’s also a mind-crushingly asinine, idiotic and imbecilic fantasy based on nothing but an overly fertile, sick and twisted imagination!

Lucky for him, Sinta Nuriyah, the widow of Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid, Indonesia’s fourth president (1999-2001), known for his liberal and often eccentric views, corroborated Harry’s view. Like many respected ulema before her, she stated recently that it was not obligatory for Muslim women to wear hijab. The statement of Bu Sinta, 71, a well-respected figure in the prodemocracy movement, went viral.

Bu Sinta pointed out that she always tries to interpret Quranic verses contextually, not textually. She conceded that many Muslims misinterpret the Quran because it has gone through many interpretations, including by those who have their own personal agenda.

It’s also a matter of deliberate distortion, which has reached alarmingly ridiculous proportions. The poster in Aceh is just one example; there are many others, for example, related to circumcision for girls, child marriage, polygamy, mut’ah (temporary marriage, in fact, thinly veiled prostitution), marital rape, violence against women, notions of halal and haram, prohibition to wish Christians a merry Christmas, the trigger-happy way some Muslims accuse others of being kafir (infidels), teaching kids intolerance, and even the abuse of Islam to protect corruption and to scam people by using (or misusing) the sharia label.

It’s part of what I see as being a three-pronged phenomenon across the nation: one, creeping radicalization and intolerance; two, public duping by distorting Quran verses or just making things up that have no basis at all in sharia, Islamic fiqh (jurisprudence) or hadits (the Prophet’s sayings); and three, a kind of moral panic meant to distract from the real issues people face that obviously differ from region to region.

Remember the Chernobyl nuclear and radiation disaster in 1986 in what was then the Ukraine Soviet Socialist Republic?

The ongoing deliberate distortion and manipulation of Islam by a bunch of ignoramus radicals could be said to be Indonesia’s Chernobyl. In fact it’s worse, because it’s not an accident but deliberately engineered — not just by radicals but also by mainstream politicians taking advantage of it to support their political agenda. Notions of sharia and halal are also being commercialized, where even fridges can be labeled halal.

The “system” — if you can call it that — is rotten to the core. It’s a deliberate fabrication of toxic and evil lies intended to control the minds of many young Indonesian Muslims and turn them into mindless zombie robots that eschew any form of logic or true knowledge of Islam and Islamic history.

Radicals ultimately want Indonesia to become a caliphate. On YouTube, an “influencer” known as Ustad Haikal Hassan, explains that the caliphate system is an ideal political system that we should aim for. Unfortunately, he says that the caliphate concept is not used by Muslims but by Europeans and it is now the basis for the European Union. What?? Talk about being utterly clueless about what both the EU and a caliphate are!

Since the beginning of the Reform Era in 1998, Indonesian Muslims have become more and more conservative, abiding by (mis)interpretations of text rather than going by the spirit of Islam that embodies peace, mutual respect and love.

But now, over 20 years into the Reform Era, I reckon we are now in jahilliyah (age of ignorance) of Islam in Indonesia, which thrives on hypocrisy, greed and ego and power-driven motives. Radicals so easily point their fingers at others accusing them of blasphemy, when in fact it is they who are committing blasphemy — of the worse kind because it’s done with evil intent.

Islam, born in the seventh century, was intended as an “antidote” to Arabia, which was then considered an age of jahiliyah. So, it’s a pretty ironic state of affairs that we have become what we once fought against.

In relation to the pressure to wear a hijab (though many wear it voluntarily), women are starting to fight back. Many now see it as part of the Arabization of Indonesia and of the caliphate-pushing radical agenda.

Late last year, Indiah, a friend who has been wearing the hijab since 2003 after she went on the haj, told me she was planning to unveil herself in 2020.

She is also one of the proponents of the Selasa Berkebaya (Kebaya on Tuesdays) movement, kebaya being a blouse usually worn with a batik sarong, considered the Indonesian traditional costume.

A young progressive ustad known as Gus Miftah (Miftah Maulana Habiburrahman) recounts how his wife now no longer wears the hijab. She wore it for almost three years, especially when accompanying her husband. One day, he suggested that she take it off “to save Indonesia from the raging influence of Arabic culture”.

She was pretty happy about it, as she didn’t wear the veil before marrying him. Gus Miftah is now the only ustad whose wife doesn’t wear a hijab. You can imagine the bullying they both received, but they stood their ground.

In relation to Ibu Sinta, some women activists have respectfully asked: Why doesn’t she take off her headcover, even though it’s not a hijab, but it’s still a headcover. Ayo Bu Sinta, just do it! You’d go triple viral!

Early version published by Jakarta Post under the title: Cover men’s eyes, not women’s hair!

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The plight of the Muslim in India

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There is a hue and cry in India that the Muslim population in India may outnumber the current Hindu majority before long. The fanatic Hindus point out that Islam, unlike the Hinduism, allows polygamy. As such, a Muslim household is likely to have more siblings than a Hindu. The BJP wants to enforce a uniform Civil Code that outlaws polygamy.

Not all the projections about the phenomenal growth of the Muslim population may be correct. Above all, the Muslim population in India has always been under-represented in the Lok Sabha. Pew Research Center estimated that there were 195 million Muslims in 2015. By 2060, Pew estimates, there will be more Muslims in India than anywhere else in the world (outnumbering even Indonesia), and they will constitute 19% of Indians.

Riaz Hassan’s study

Riaz Hassan, in his study Indian Muslim: Sociology of a religious Minority infers:

The largest and most consequential change [in population] however will be in India. Its Hindu population will increase by 35 percent from 1.03 billion in 2010 to 1.38 billion in 2050, but Indian Muslim population will increase by 76 cent from 176million to 310 million in the same period. This means that the largest increase in the Muslim population of South Asia will occur in India.

India will acquire a new global status in terms of the religious composition of its population. Not only will it be the largest Hindu nation but also with a population of 310 Muslims, India will become the largest Muslim nation in the world. While Hindus will remain the majority population at 77 percent, the proportion of Muslims will increase from 14 percent of the population in 2011 to 18 percent in 2050. This means that nearly one out of every five Indians will be a Muslim (p. 2., ibid.)

Disadvantageous dispersal of Indian Muslim population

Unlike the Christians who have their chief minister in Christian majority Indian state, The Indian Muslims have no chief minister. Even the Indian held Kashmir state has been illegally converted into a centrally controlled Union territory.

Indian Muslims live in all parts of the country, but more than half of them live in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Assam, west Bengal, and Kashmir. As per Census of India 2011, States with sizable Muslim population  are : Lakshadweep (64,473, 99%), Indian occupies Kashmir (12, 541, 302, 68%), Assam (31,205,576, 34%), West Bengal (91,279, 27%), Kerala (33, 404,061, 27%), Uttar Pradesh (199,812,341, 19%), , Bihar (104, 099, 542, 17%), Jharkhand (32,988,134, 15%), Uttaranchal (10,086,292,14%), Karnataka 961,095, 297, 13%).Delhi (16,787,941, 13%), Maharashtra (132,374,333, 12%), Gujarat (64,739692, 10%), Rajasthan (68,548,437, 9%).

Legislative voice in the wilderness

Most of the winning candidates are from opposition parties while only one candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 303 out of 542 seats across the country. But, only one Muslim candidate (a turncoat) could make it to the Lower House (lok Sabha,  house of the people).

Muslims have always been underrepresented in the lok sabha. In the 1980 election, almost 10% of those elected were Muslim. In 2014, it was less than 4%.

As the result of poor representation in the lok Sabha, critical questions about the plight of the Muslim in India are never asked. Most questions about Islam are usually asked by the Hindu legislators. These questions revolve around rituals like hajj. A set of 276,000 questions were asked in parliament from 1999 to 2017. Few questions are asked about plight of the Indian Muslim women, for instance harassment of hijab-wearing women at public places.  The number of Muslim women is less than 1per cent of lok Sabha.

Trend

The majoritarian policies of the BJP are likely to further reduce Muslim representation. Many Hindu nationalists express the idea that Muslims can never be truly Indians because, unlike Hindus, their holy sites are not in India. The BJP’s growth was catalyzed by the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992. In the 2002 riots, over 1,000 people, most of whom were Muslims, were killed in the state of Gujarat (Modi was then the state’s chief minister).  

The Muslim’s dilemma

During the freedom movement, the Indian Muslim was the avant-garde of the All-India Muslim League. With creation of Pakistan, they lost their charismatic leader, Quaid-e-Azam. The Indian Muslim felt orphaned and leaderless in a Hindu majoritarian state. They had to suffer the travails of living under a cosmetically-secular constitution unable to protect their minority rights.

Historically, Jamiyat Ulema-e-Hind, associated with Deoband seminary, remained affiliated with the Congress. The Jamiyat’s sole preoccupation was religious endowments. Key issues like Organisation of Islamic Countries, Kashmir and Palestine issues remained out of their focus. Similarly, Jamaat-e-Islamai was no longer in a position in the post-Partition India  to argue that secularism and democracy are alien to Islam. And the Muslim should strive for an Islamic state. In the post-Partition India, the prominent Muslim parties, Muslim League and Ittehadul Muslimeen were able to send representatives to the parliament. But, the ML is confined to northern districts of Kerala and the latter retained its political base in Andhra Pradesh, generally Hyderabad. The Indian Muslim who during Pakistan movement fought for a separate homeland is still under burden to prove that they are loyal to India and hence, worthy of Indian citizenship.

Physical insecurity

Indian Constitution and successive governments failed to ensure physical security to the Muslim minority (as also other minorities). Since Partition, over 40,000 Muslim have been killed or injured in anti-Muslim riots. In recent Delhi riots, Muslim houses and shops were bulldozed despite a Supreme Court stay order. The hapless Muslim was later compelled to participate in a joint Hindu-Muslim Taranga (Indian flag) march to show it was all hunky-dory with the law-and-order situation.

The Sachar Committee

This seven-member High Level Committee established in March 2005 by then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, highlighted the social marginalisation  of the downtrodden Muslims. The committee was headed by former Chief Justice of Delhi High Court Rajinder Sachar to study the social, economic and educational condition of Muslims in India. The Committee, inter alia, recommended setting up an Equal Opportunity Commission to provide a legal mechanism to address discrimination complaints, including in matters such as housing and employment.

The Committee observed:

“Their [Muslims’] conditions are only slightly better than those of Hindu Scheduled Castes/scheduled Tribes and worse than those of Hindus belonging to other backward castes [read mandal Report also]”.

Sachar Committee found that their identity marks such as address and names often lead to suspicion and discrimination by people and institutions. Discriminations are persuasive in employment housing and schooling. Muslim women who wear religious head and face covering can experience particularly acute discrimination. At the same time, most of the fellow non-Muslims fellow citizens regard the socio-cultural characteristics of the Muslim community as the cause of its “backwardness”.

Concluding reflections

The socio-economic condition of the Indian Muslim, like that of the dalit (the downtrodden untouchables) has worsened over the years. The golden words of the Indian Constitution about fundamental rights, justice liberty, equality and fraternity (Articles 25 to 30 in Part III of the Indian Constitution) remain unfulfilled.

The Muslim community should coalesce with other persecuted communities to forge an oppressed-people-of-India movement.

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India unconcerned about US “concern” about worsening religious freedoms

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For the third straight year, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom has recommended adding India to religious freedom blacklist over alleged abuses. The panel called for

targeted sanctions against India (Religious freedom in India ‘significantly worsened’: US panel, Al Jazeera Apr 25, 2022) Arundhati Roy in a lecture, at the University of Texas at Austin on April 19. (Published April 21, 2022) Focused plight of minorities and curtailment of religious freedom in India. Roy is the author of the recently published Azadi: Fascism, Fiction, and Freedom in the Time of the Virus (Haymarket Books),

Roy drew attention to the increasing numbers of prisoners of (scholars, activists, singers, and lawyers who are known as the Bhima Koregaon). The “intellectual terrorists” or ‘urban naxals” were jailed for protesting against the CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act). An elderly arrestee, Father Stan Swamy died in custody for lack of medi-care. A Kashmiri activist Khurram Parvez, was arrested five months ago in Kashmir. He worked for, the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society. Sin was that he “meticulously documented the saga of torture, enforced disappearances, and death visited upon the people of Kashmir”.

All dissent has been criminalized in India. Roy recalled ‘to mark Ram Navami, violent Hindu mobs armed with swords and staff rampaged through as many as eleven cities. Led by swamis and BJP activists, they entered Muslim settlements, dog-whistling outside mosques, chanting obscene insults, openly calling for the rape and impregnation of Muslim women and the Narsinghar—genocide—of Muslim men”. A Hindu priest Yati  Narsinghar openly called for genocide of the uslims. He exhorted Hindus to arm themselves with attest firearms. A so called Hindu religious parliament (dharma sansad) endorsed his decisions.

Roy reminisced, ‘Any response by Muslims has led to the bulldozing of their property by the government or burning by mobs. Those arrested, almost all Muslims, are accused of conspiracy and rioting, and will likely spend years in jail. One of those charged was in jail on a different charge long before Ram Navami. Another, Wasim Sheikh, accused of pelting stones at the Hindu procession, is a double amputee and has no forearms. Their homes and shops were bulldozed by the government. In some cities crazed TV anchors rode inside the bulldozers.

Though the Supreme Court ordered “status quo”, the bulldozing operation was not halted. Later, the frightened Muslims were compelled to take part in a joint Hindu –Muslim procession to hoodwink the world that it was all hunky dory in Delhi.

BJP leaders who openly provoked Hindu rioters in the run up to the 2020 Delhi massacre were recently acquitted by the Delhi High Court, which held that “there is no criminality when provocative things are said with a smile”. “Some of them are back on the streets of other cities, stoking similar violence. Yet the young Muslim scholar Umar Khalid is in prison. His speech about brotherhood, love and nonviolence upholding the Indian Constitution and delivered during the anti-CAA protests, is, according to a police charge-sheet, a smokescreen for a conspiracy that led to the 2020 Delhi massacre. Apparently, Muslims conspired to riot and kill themselves during Donald Trump’s state visit in order to besmirch India’s good name”.

quest for legitimacy.

The US panel report is just tip of the iceberg

The administration and judiciary act in tandem to stifle the Muslim voice. India’s Supreme Court held that a mosque was not sine qua non of the Muslim mode of worship. Yogi Adityanath monk chief minister of Uttar Prdesh witheld funds for building perimeter walls around Muslim graveyards. Muslims offering prayers at Gurgaon were mercilessly beaten. Yogi ordered a state-wide crackdown on loudspeakers us3ed in mosques upon complaint by Allahabad University vice-chancellor Sangita Srivastava. She had written letters to authorities complaining that the prayer-call (azaan) “shouted” through loudspeakers in a nearby mosque disturbed her sleep. As such, the Muslim prayer call, azaan, should be banned altogether (Mosque lowers loudspeaker volume after Allahabad varsity V-C seeks ban on azaan, The Hindustan Times March 17, 2022).

Though the mosque administration removed the obnoxious loudspeakers, the Uttar Pradesh government under Yogi Adityanath swung into action. It removed 53,942 unauthorised loudspeakers throughout the state declaring them “unauthorised”. No action was ever taken against the Hindu processions for loud music played particularly before the mosques.  During the recent Navratri, or the Hindu New Year, this April, the fanatic Hindus from Karnataka to Himachal Pradesh took out processions with novel –pro-Hindutva music. The youth “danced to DJs, or disc jockeys, spinning electronic music that blended techno and trance, devotional and national, bhakti and vibration, speech, beat and slogan to create a toxic environment of hatred”. The Scroll magazine reportage called it “the music for “Disc Jockey Hindutva” , “assault on  minorities”, “communal tracks, sexist tracks, casteist tracks, racist tracks”. “The sound of Hindutva is no longer Om but it is its obverse: BOOM BOOM BOOM. High on hatred, it dances on the rock and plays on the beat. Hindutva has showed that music can lead to silencing the minority and a festival can be a harbinger of hate” (Brahma Prakash, By taking a leaf out of the fascist playbook, hate music is successfully communalising common sense and culture., The Scroll, April 25 , 2022). Another reportage in the Scroll pointed out” “Government action, including the continued enforcement of anti-conversion laws against non-Hindus, has created a culture of impunity for nationwide campaigns of threats and violence by mobs and vigilante groups, including against Muslims and Christians accused of conversion activities”.

Bharatiya Janata Party MLA Aseem Goel took an oath to make India a Hindu nation at an event in Haryana’s Ambala city. The oath was administered by Suresh Chavhanke, the editor-in-chief of the television channel Sudarshan News, who is facing trial in a hate speech case for similar actions at an event held in Delhi in December.

At the event, Chavhanke also said it was unfortunate that a Uniform Civil Code had not been implemented in the country even after 75 years of India’s independence; Hindi daily Dainik Jagran reported.The BJP has plns to outlaw polygamy in Muslim marriage.

Concluding thoughts

India is nowadays hobnobbing with the USA to strengthen the QUAD.  US President Joe Biden held a virtual meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier this month and the two leaders are set to meet in Tokyo next month as part of a summit for the leaders of the Asia-Pacific “Quad” alliance, which also includes Japan and Australia.

The USA is unlikely to punish India with sanctions for its maltreatment of minorities.

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Exploring Yinka Olomojobi’s Daring in “Pentecostalism and the Gospel of the Belly in Nigeria”

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From the Malawian Prophet Bushiri to Brighton Elliot Moyo, the rise of Pentecostalism in Africa has brought with it, a wave of elaborate scams and has provided an outlet for a social catharsis. It has produced pastors who were more illusionists than they were evangelists of the gospel of the truth. In the past, Pentecostalism in Nigeria has seen a bizarre trade of bottles of miracle water, handkerchiefs of deliverance and car stickers of breakthroughs. Miracles packaged like magical solutions are the selling point, and the theatrics of Pentecostal divinity has become an art to be learnt. The image of attention-seeking preachers who contrive dramatic ways to transcend the usual, now defines the superficialness of Pentecostal showmanship. The image of men in fancy suits and deliberate glitz has now become the identity of Pentecostalism on the continent.

From Nigeria to South Africa, general overseers who walk on red carpets and fly private jets and who are worshipped by their members are a sign of the desperation of many Africans to get respite in a divine alternative in the absence of good governance. The commercialization of divine hope across the region is a multi-billion dollar industry that has thrived despite economic recessions across African countries in the wake of COVID-19. In Nigeria, during the COVID-19 lockdown, a Nigerian pastor, Jonhson Suleman had boasted in a video that went viral on social media, that he bought his third private jet during the pandemic and wished the pandemic stayed. The aspiration for non-taxable opulence has inspired many to exploit faith without consequences.

Yinka Olomojobi’s book, Pentecostalism and the Gospel of the Belly dares the norm by criticizing the materialistic pursuit of Pentecostalism in Nigeria. But Nigeria is not the only country where the exploitative materialism of Pentecostalism holds ground. Around Africa, Pentecostalism has grown, with churches springing up everywhere on the continent. Olomojobi’s criticism of Pentecostalism is that it has not attempted to dissociate itself from the practices that cast a shadow on its authenticity. Olomojobi points to the fact that Pentecostalism with its claim to a redemptive value has not saved a country like Nigeria from corruption, just like elsewhere in Africa. What could be worse? Olomojobi might have understated the problem since, many times, it has been seen that many Pentecostal pastors have impliedly supported the ills perpetrated by members of their church and sometimes have been at the fsore of the crime itself. An instance was the pastor, Emmanuel Ekwem, who was caught with drugs at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos by the drug law operatives while trying to board a flight to Kenya for a three-week crusade. Ollomojobi has argued in his book that the obscene materialism that plagues Pentecostalism is a threat to the image of Christianity.

The book is a reminder that the criticisms of Pentecostalism that are lost to the din of rowdy congregations that assert that their exploitation is not the business of outsiders, are well-founded on the logic that the materialism that has come to define modern Pentecostalism is a dangerous one, not just to the church but to societies. Olomojobi’s book holds a distinguished merit as a scholarly exploration of the dangers of a flawed gospel. A gospel that redirects social priorities and dilutes political consciousness is one that will continue to delay the emergence of an African Age of Enlightenment. The book is a manual for the deconstruction of the inanities of Pentecostalism and a firm attempt to force the African Christian to reason beyond the flawed dogmas instituted by eccentric general overseers.

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