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DAWN - Opinion; 16 July, 2004

Published Jul 16, 2004 12:00am

Universalism in Islam

By Prof Mohammad Rafi

Islam has a unique role to play being vehemently committed to salvation and reward in both the worlds. It laid the foundation of universalism. For the first time it proclaimed that every great religion came from God, every nation was given a warning.

If this Quranic teaching is accepted, there would be mutual understanding and tolerance leading to a spirit of co-existence so essential for peace and prosperity. Islam is universal in its outlook. It seeks the welfare of all humanity and not of Muslims alone.

Tolerance is the essence of Islam as it is the only religion which preaches total respect for all religions. It is a great factor for unification and its chief object is to create harmony among the discordant and divergent units of humanity and never has the need for such harmony been more evident than today.

The Quran does not appeal to the passing emotions of man; nor does it stoop to humour him. It faces the problems of life in a realistic manner and offers practical solutions for them. 'Return a bad act by one that is beautiful and good. It

may be that he, between whom and you there is enmity, becomes your bosom friend (41:34). At another place, a Momin is described as 'one who repels wrong with right (28:54).

The Quran categorically says that 'Allah has conferred dignity and respect on all humanity (17:70). At many places it lays stress on the fact that all human beings belong to one community (44:33, 2: 213).

While the western world is happy in its so-called clash of civilizations and their claim as the torch-bearers of human rights, it must remember that tolerance and respect of all humanity are virtues amply highlighted by Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him).

Under the Islamic system, it is incumbent upon every Muslim to establish justice and balance (57: 25). This is meant for all citizens. Furthermore, to establish the freedom of conscience, everyone, according to Quranic teachings, has the right to choose his own faith and no one should force his religious beliefs on others by persecution or otherwise. Muhammad ensured the protection of life and property of the followers of other religions in the same way as he did in the case of a Muslim.

According to Ameer Ali, 'No faith has given to its subjects a nobler guarantee than is to be found in the following words of the Nabi: "To the Christians of Najran and the surrounding territories the security of God and the pledge of His Prophet are extended for their lives, their religion and property.

No bishop shall be removed from the bishopric, nor any monk from his monastery, nor any priest from his priesthood and they shall continue to enjoy everything." Muslims and non-Muslims are absolutely equal in the eyes of law. "Their blood" said Ali, the fourth caliph", is like our blood".

This spirit of toleration and co-existence was observed everywhere under Muslim rule. After the conquest of Egypt, Caliph Umar preserved intact the churches. Muslim rulers in India granted subsidies and estates for the upkeep of Hindu temples.

The last Surah of the Quran reflects God Almighty as the cherisher, nourisher and judge of the whole mankind. Muslims have to realize that God forbids them to kill or destroy. They have been raised for the benefit of mankind (3: 108).

Concerning the non-Muslims, the Quran says 'If a pagan asks thee for asylum, grant it to him so that he may hear the word of Allah and then escort him to where he can be secure' (9:6).

How would the perpetrators of crimes in mosques, imambargahs, temples and churches reflect on this ayat. If anyone slew a person, it would be as if he slew the whole mankind '(5: 32).

The real interests of the individual are not interwoven from, but are interwoven with those of mankind. They are not antithetical to, but are identical with, each other. Man, therefore realizes himself by furthering the interest of mankind.

Sectarianism is not allowed in Islam "as for those who divide their religion and break up into sects, you (Nabi) have nothing to do with them '(6:159) 'Be not amongst those who split up their religion and become sects - each sect rejoicing in that which it has '(30: 32).

Muslims have been commanded never to deviate from the path of 'Adl' and 'Ihsan'. 'Adl' means to give each man his due and 'Ihsan' means to actively contribute to make good the deficiency of others.

A society based on these values would definitely be a tolerant one and would ultimately end all prejudices, exploitations and injustice. Quran tells us to be strictly just even in our dealings with the enemies: 'O You who believe, be steadfast witnesses for Allah in equity and let not the enmity of any people seduce you that you deal not justly. Deal justly' (8: 8).

Islam not only tolerates the followers of other religions, but also bestows on them all the rights of humanity and solemnly undertakes to protect and guard their places of worship.

'And if Allah did not repel some people by others, cloisters, churches and synagogues and mosques in which Allah's name is oft remembered would have been pulled down and surely Allah will help him who helps Him in this regard' (22:40).

Manipulation of intelligence

By M.H. Askari

For President George Bush, the chickens seem to be coming home to roost. For the past few days his aides have been busy trying to obstruct the release of a special Senate Committee report into what evidently was the manipulation of certain intelligence information concerning the nuclear capability of pre-war Iraq.

The motive apparently was to keep the actual information from the American people and the world community in order to gain an endorsement for the Administration's decision to go to war against Iraq whether it was justified or not.

The Senate report jointly compiled by Republican and Democratic Senators is due to be released today (Friday). However, for the present the public will know only part of what the Senate committee found out.

It will not know whether the administration's decision to go to war was based on an objective view of Iraq's nuclear capability and what the CIA actually had reported on the subject from inside Baghdad after its extensive search into facts about Iraq.

This portion will apparently be known only after the US presidential election which is scheduled for later this year. It is known that President Bush had concocted lies about Iraq's nuclear capability and to its imaginary stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). Bush knew that what he was telling the people about Iraq and President Saddam Hussein was without basis.

In this act of deception President Bush was closely supported by the British Prime Minister Tony Blair. On April 10, 2002, Blair told his country's parliament that "the development of WMDs by Saddam Hussein posed a threat not only to the region but to the wider world."

When the UN inspectors after an extensive search operation in Iraq, in which Saddam Hussein fully cooperated, found out that Iraq had no such weapons Blair tried to change his track.

He said at a press briefing: "The idea that we can suddenly discover such weapons in a country of the size of Iraq is lot more difficult". Ultimately, on July 6 he had to confess to the House of Commons that no weapons were actually found.

Prime Minister Blair unfortunately knew that as he made the statements on Iraq he had not been speaking the truth. His former cabinet colleague, foreign secretary and leader of the House of Commons, Robin Cook, who had parted company with him in disgust shortly before the declaration of the war against Iraq, has gone on record to say: "The case that George Bush and Tony Blair made for war was that containment had failed and that we must launch a pre-emptive strike before Saddam used his imaginary weapons.

Robin Cook said that while he did not want to accuse the prime minister of cooking up a "flat untruth", the fact was that "they were not candid with the British public."

Robin Cook has given a graphic account of the whole episode in his book Point of Departure (explaining his resignation from Blair's cabinet) and in extracts of his articles at least one of which has been carried by this paper.

President Bush has no second thoughts in the matter and sticks to his original charge against Saddam Hussein. He has also succeeded in getting the Senate report on the subject to be withheld for the present.

Blair nevertheless could be in serious trouble as a result of public statements. According to reports carried by important western papers, he may have suffered a significant loss in his popularity even though he had led the Labour Party to "landslide election victories" in 1997 and 2001.

His party will be required to face two major by-elections before the end of the year. One of these, in Leicester, incidentally will be contested by a Sikh British national who reportedly has the strong support of the Muslim electorate in his constituency.

However, President Bush is up against mounting problems. His country's troops and those of the allied nations continue to face a severe armed resistance from the Iraqis.

The resistance seems to have escalated since the US decision to hand over the administration of the war-ravaged country to an Iraqi government. The American and the allied troops continue to suffer heavy casualties in encounters and ambushes day after day.

This can only mean grave uncertainty for George Bush as he gets down to the business of fighting for another term as president of the US. According to most accounts, his popularity ratings have been falling in the recent weeks.

There have also been reports in the American press that the partial withholding of the Senate Committee report on CIA is generally being seen as attempts at deflecting from Bush the responsibility from the exaggerated pre-war assessments of the Iraqi situation.

In view of the part of the report not being immediately made public, the Democratic members of the Senate have decided to publicize some half a dozen "views" of their own. A top Senator, Democrat J. Rockefeller, is leading the campaign.

There can also be nothing but embarrassment for President Bush over the reported statement of John Kerry, his rival for the Presidential post, that if he gets elected, US-Saudi ties could come in for an "overhaul."

There is a view among a section of the Americans that President Bush has been too soft on Saudi Arabia even though the 9/11 terrorist attacks were launched by "Saudi-born militants."

Kerry has reportedly said: "While stability of relations and oil are both of obvious concern (for the US), the US and Saudi Arabia need to sit down in a frank dialogue at the senior most level and talk about what the future looks like."

John Kerry and the Democratic party has spoken of a tough action against those providing funds to terrorists. Kerry has said: "We cannot continue this administration's policy of a kid-glove approach to the supply and laundering of terrorist money." With the presidential election round the corner, this approach may evoke a positive support from sections of American people.

On top of everything else, the continuing militancy and kidnapping of foreigners in Iraq continues to be a source of serious concern to the American administration. They may have handed over the government in Baghdad to an Iraqi but they cannot turn their back on problems which are rooted in the time when they were directly in control.

The question of beefing up the occupation force in Iraq has also not been settled. India and Pakistan which continue to be approached by Washington for sending their troops to Iraq have apparently not yet made up their minds.

Reports of a certain downgrading of protocol to be extended to US deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage, when he visits India need perhaps not be actually an indication of a chill marking US-India relations.

However, how the US officials go about getting over India's resolve, as the Indian prime minister described it the other day, against sending troops to Iraq remains to be seen.

Post script: A report of the US National Endowment for the Arts says that the number of adults who do not read books in the US has increased by more then 17 million to 89.9 million as against 72.1 million in 2002.

Perhaps, for the Americans books are not the only source of knowledge. There are also videos and TV programmes in which nuggets of knowledge come along with nuggets of entertainment and are gaining in popularity.

Politics, religion and polio

By Gwynne Dyer

'Unsophisticated' is not a word that springs to mind when somebody mentions Nigerians. Indeed, all across Africa Nigerians have the reputation for being not just clever but - how shall we put this? - a bit too clever for their own good. So what can explain the strange events in the northern state of Kano over the past year?

Only months after he was elected governor of the predominantly Muslim state in April of last year, Ibrahim Shekarau suspended all vaccinations against polio in Kano in response to claims by local religious leaders that the vaccine made women infertile and 'rumours' that it was a western plot to reduce the number of Muslims.

For almost a year now no children in Kano have been vaccinated, and as a result over 250 Nigerian children have been paralysed by the polio virus so far this year. But it gets worse.

Polio was scheduled to be the next infectious disease (after smallpox) to be exterminated entirely in the wild. If enough people are vaccinated at the same time all around the world, the virus will simply die out. Work has been underway since 1988 (when the disease was endemic in 125 countries), and huge progress has been made.

In 1998, when the Global Polio Eradication Initiative went into high gear, about a thousand children were being stricken by polio around the world each day. There were only 783 cases worldwide in all of 2003.

Three billion dollars have been spent, 20 million volunteers have helped with the immunization blitzes, and by last year the disease still had a foothold in only six countries. There were hopes that the disease would be extinct in the wild by the end of this year.

Unfortunately, one of the six countries where polio still survives is Nigeria. Good progress had been made with immunization there, too - but then came last year's ban in Kano.

And since Nigerians travel a lot, polio has also shown up recently in half a dozen formerly virus-free countries elsewhere in Africa including (ominously) in a refugee camp in Darfur, in western Sudan, where the war may prevent a crash immunization programme.

Polio cases are up fivefold in West and Central Africa this year, and Dr Bruce Aylward, the global coordinator of the Eradication Initiative (which is backed by the World Health Organisation, Unicef, and Rotary International) warns that "the virus is gathering steam to come roaring out" of northern Nigeria during the rainy season this autumn, when new polio infections traditionally peak.

The whole continent could be reinfected, knocking the eradication programme back by many years. An synchronised vaccination drive for the 22 African countries most at risk is being organised for this October and November, but it may already be too late.

So what can have led Governor Shekarau of Kano, not at all an unsophisticated man, to ban polio vaccinations in his state on the strength of mere rumours? The answer, alas, is 'politics.' Convoluted, cynical, ruthless, Nigerian-style politics.

Nigeria is a seething cauldron of different languages, religions and ethnic groups, but the great divide is between the mainly Muslim north and the largely Christian south. Yet Nigeria's politics are not really about religion.

It's just that the army used to be dominated by Muslim officers from the north who used it as a springboard to the presidency (Nigeria has been under military rule for thirty of the past forty years), and then shared the wealth with their political patrons among the politicians and traditional rulers of the north.

It was a cozy deal that died with the last dictator, Sani Abacha, in 1998. In 1999 Olusegun Obasanjo, a former military dictator with a reputation for honesty (the only one who ever left power voluntarily) won the presidency with much support from northern Muslim voters - even though he is a Christian.

They were revolting against the privileged clique of emirs, religious grandees, local politicos and ex-generals who have long relied on appeals to Islamic solidarity to secure their stranglehold on power across the north. So the clique panicked, and started pushing Islam even harder in an attempt to restore their power base.

Suddenly sharia (Islamic) law was imposed across all the northern states in violation of the Nigerian constitution and of minority (non-Muslim) rights, in an attempt to provoke a polarising confrontation with Obasanjo over religion. (He didn't rise to the bait.)

Elements of this clique have probably had a hand in the wave of religious riots that have killed an estimated 10,000 people in cities across the north in the past four years. And still their presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari (another former military dictator) didn't win last year's election.

It was shortly after that that Governor Shekarau banned polio vaccinations in Kano because they were allegedly a Western plot to cut the Muslim birth-rate. This is not ignorant fanaticism; it is cold-blooded political manipulation, and his political machine may even have started the rumours itself.

Under pressure from the Islamic Conference (which passed a strong resolution demanding the resumption of vaccinations at its Istanbul summit last month) and from his own voters in Kano state (who are now experiencing a polio epidemic), Shekarau has promised to resume vaccinations this month. But much damage has already been done, and he may have a few more tricks up his sleeve yet. - Copyright

Future of nation-state

By Saquib Karamat

Nation state has been there in its current form for the last three hundred years or so. There were a few political and economic factors that necessitated the formation of the nation-state. Now there are a few trends in the world that may pose a question to the utility of nation-state.

One such trend is the proliferation of global bodies exercising (limited) authority over nation-states. Most of the countries are signatories to the GATT and members of the WTO. They have surrendered a part of their sovereignty to the world body.

These countries can now exercise little power in determining tariffs and quotas and providing subsidies. Other than WTO there are regional blocs that have taken over even more powers of the nations states.

Most notable among them is the European Union. Member states of the EU have surrendered the control over their monetary policies and to some extent over their defence and foreign policies.

There is further movement towards standardization of legislation in many areas of internal affairs. EU has become a quasi-confederation and in a few decades it might formally transform into the United States of Europe.

Other regional blocs like Nafta and Asean now have European footsteps to follow. International financial institutions like the IMF and the World Bank have also made some intrusions into the sovereignty of a large number of countries. The monetary policy of many countries is now made according to the advice of these institutions.

Another phenomenon which is above the scale of a single nation-state is the rise of the multinational corporation. After the Second World War there has been a tremendous rise in the number and the size of the multinational corporations. And these MNCs are increasingly becoming non-national in their identity.

Many MNCs have only a small fraction of their business in their home countries. They move their operations to where there is a bigger profit-making opportunity and sometimes in this process hurting the interests of their home countries.

The executives of these corporations are international citizens who live in many countries during their careers and then after retirement settle in a country which may not be the country of their birth.

The influence of the largest MNCs is greater than a majority of nation-states. They are in a position to affect the policies of national governments. Internally they provide welfare to their workers and formulate legislation in the form of code of ethics for their employees.

With the passage of time the power of the MNCs is likely to increase. There are many global issues that are outside the scope of a single nation-state. However these issues profoundly affect the life of every individual.

Most important of these issues is the environmental problem. Emission of greenhouse gases in North America can cause desertification in Asia and vice versa. No single country is in a position to address these problems on its own.

The institution of nation-state is incapable of solving this collective problem of mankind. There are other issues such as global terrorism, internet laws etc. that are not possible for a single nation-state to resolve.

Nation-states will have to join hands to develop international legislation in order to address these issues. This implies erosion of sovereignty in making and implementing these laws.

Nowadays the most potent life changing phenomenon is the information technology revolution. Our generation is witnessing one of the four or five great information revolutions in the entire human history.

Various tools of communication have played a pivotal role in the development of civilization and sciences. With the help of the communication tools human minds can talk to each other.

They share their experiences and with the help of the collective power of the individual capabilities of human minds, new worlds of reality are discovered. The first communication device to be formed in the world was spoken language.

The second information revolution was the development of written language. With the help of the written language a person could communicate not only with the people of his time more easily, but also with the coming generations. This facilitated continuity in the mental development of human race and the result was the development of great civilizations.

The third information revolution was the development of paper. With the help of paper it became possible to accumulate large inventories of information in the form of a single book. This created a revolution in the development of human civilization.

Europe lagged behind the Chinese and Muslims until the invention of printing press in Europe in the fifteenth century, which was the fourth information revolution. The invention of printing press made it possible to mass produce books and publish newspapers.

The result was an enormous increase in communication among different scholars in different parts of the continent. This was the starting point of the renaissance and the pace of development has been continuously accelerating since then.

Right now the mankind is witnessing another great leap forward in the form of the information technology revolution. Such a vast amount of information is being processed in the brains of the computers throughout the world that it is mind-boggling.

Instant sharing of this vast information through internet has exponentially magnified the impact of the computing power. With every passing day the power and the number of computers are increasing, and more and more computers are getting connected through the internet.

The development of information technology is perhaps more potent than the development of language, paper or the printing press. Information technology is not just a by-product of scientific development; it is the determinant of the scientific and cultural development of the human race.

Immigration is another factor that can alter the way people see the world. Twentieth century witnessed unprecedented movement of people across countries and continents, and in the twenty-first century the trend will continue.

With the increase in the average life expectancy and decrease in the birth rate a tremendous demographic shift is taking place in the developed countries and the proportion of old people has already reached an unprecedented level.

After 2010 this process will accelerate when the baby boomers will reach retirement age. Very few babies were born in the 1980s and 1990s to replace the retirees after 2010.

There will be severe shortages of manpower in the developed countries that will have to be met through massive immigration. The developing countries on the other hand have been producing young people in unprecedented numbers who will provide the new generation of immigrants.

This massive immigration will further blur the framework of nation-states as points of reference in determining the identity of individuals. For example it is estimated that the income of the Pakistanis living abroad is equal to the income of Pakistanis living in the country. It is difficult to determine what is the extent of Pakistani nation, who is Pakistani and who is not.

The ideological differences between different nations are also diminishing. One reason for the formation of strong nation-states was the difference in the ideologies and world views of different groups of people. Some countries preferred supremacy of religion; others held people the ultimate authority while in some countries the monarch was the final authority.

Similarly there were different economic systems that were adopted by different countries and the world was in fact divided into two blocs. At a less tangible level different countries had different cultural values and habits that set them apart from each other.

Now most countries more or less agree on a broader set of principles in economic, democratic and cultural areas. At least the ideal and the target picture of their country is not very different in the minds of the people of different countries.

We can say that ninety per cent of the nations in the world agree on an ideal economic system, ideal system of government and ideal cultural values. To name a few ideals, these are freedom, justice, equality, welfare, free enterprise, democracy, human rights, transparency etc. People may ask why we have separate nation-states when so much is common.

There are many areas where nation-state still provides the best possible system for solving a wide range of problems of the human beings showing its need and utility will not end in the near future.

However the above factors are creating an environment where the nation-state may not remain the sole mechanism for providing identity to the people and for producing an atmosphere where they can spend their lives according to their values and aspirations. A time may come when a world order other than that of nation-states will emerge as a better alternative for reference to mankind.