DAWN - Opinion; 23 July, 2004

July 23, 2004

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Essence of accountability

By Haider Zaman

Among the entire creation of Allah, why have only the human beings been chosen for stringent accountability and appropriate requital on the Day of Judgment? The Holy Quran answers this question when it says, "We offered the trust to the heavens and the earth and the mountains, but they refused to bear it and were afraid of it, but man accepted it" (33:72).

It says again, "Had We sent this Quran upon a mountain, you would have seen it humble itself and cleave asunder for fear of Allah" (59:21). The word "trust" in the context of the first verse implies responsibilities of the office of Allah's vicegerent along with the guidance and resultant accountability. This is evident from the very object of the creation of human beings, which, according to the Quran, was to place them as Allah's vicegerents on earth (2:30).

As Allah's vicegerents they have to perform certain functions and discharge some responsibilities - in a nutshell, understanding, acting upon and implementing what Allah has ordained with the resultant accountability. This is what the word "worship" in the context of the verse (51:56) implies. These responsibilities, according to the verse (33:72), were offered to the heavens, the earth and the mountains but all of them refused to accept them. It was, however, the man who accepted them.

The next verse (59:21) says that if the Quran, which, inter alia, spells out the whole range of responsibilities of Allah's vicegerency and the necessary guidance for discharging them in a proper way, had been sent upon the mountains they would have shattered out of the fear of Allah. Such is the weight and awe of the burden of responsibilities of Allah's vicegerency and its accountability.

It is, however, not that Allah placed human beings as His vicegerents on earth, entrusting them with the responsibilities of the office and making them accountable for the same, without support. Allah has set a principle on which He acts, and it is that He never places such burden on them which they cannot bear (23:62). That's why Allah has provided them all that they need to facilitate the discharge of the responsibilities entrusted to them.

In the first instance, they have been created in the best possible form (95:4). Secondly, they have been endowed with all the faculties necessary for discharging their responsibilities as Allah's vicegerents. These faculties are: the ability to think, to reason, to hear, to feel, to see, to talk, to love, to be merciful and to make a distinction between right and wrong (16:78) (30:21) (91:8).

Thirdly, they have been provided necessary guidance, starting with Adam and ending with Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) (20:123, 124) (76:3). Fourthly, whatever is on the earth and in the heavens has been subjected to them (31:20). Fifth, Allah has prescribed a common and the easiest possible way for seeking forgiveness for any deviations and the wrongs done by them, namely, sincere repentance (11:90). All these endowments have been summed up by the Quran thus "and conferred on them special favours above a greater part of Our creation" (17:70).

At the same time, human beings have been made accountable for the responsibilities entrusted to them. As the Quran says "Thus We shall most certainly call to account all those to whom We sent Our Messengers and shall also ask the Messengers" (7:6). It further says "but you shall certainly be called for your actions" (16:93).

The reason for such accountability is not the entrusting of responsibilities of the office of Allah's vicegerency alone or the favours bestowed, but also the free will (76:3) that human beings have along with their soul (91:7) and its three inclinations, namely, the inclination towards doing wrong and evil deeds (12:53), the inclination towards repentance and self-rapprochement for wrong done (75:2) and the inclination towards doing good and righteous deeds (89:27).

It is here that the question of accountability assumes special significance. Man has his own will, yet he is required to submit to the Will of Allah, i.e., to discharge his responsibilities as Allah's vicegerent in the manner ordained by Allah. He has been provided necessary guidance about the way he has to discharge his responsibilities, yet the soul (Nafs-i-Ammarah) impels him to deviate. Hence the need for accountability.

Thus, if human beings have been created to act as Allah's vicegerents on earth and endowed with all the faculties they need to discharge their responsibilities in a befitting manner and also provided the necessary guidance, it is only just and equitable that they have been made accountable to the responsibilities entrusted to them. In fact, the whole scheme of placing human beings as Allah's vicegerents on earth and guiding them to discharge their responsibilities as such would have been meaningless without accountability and the due process of requital.

Accountability will be on an individual basis and will take place on the Day of Judgment. As the Quran says "no bearer will bear the burden of another" (17:15). It further says "We have fastened the augury of every man to his neck, and on the Day of Judgment We shall bring forth a writing which he will find like an open book. (It will be said to him) Here is your record: read it. Today you yourself suffice as a reckoner against yourself" (17:13, 14).

About the requital, the Quran says "whoever adopts righteous ways, his righteous conduct will be for his own good, and whoever goes astray, his deviation will bring its consequences on himself" (17:15). It further says "but those who believe and do righteous deeds, He will give them their due rewards and more, out of His Bounty" (4:173). And "whoever does evil will be requited accordingly" (4:123).

Intercession will be possible but only by those who will be permitted by Allah. As the Quran says "who is there to intercede with Him except by His own permission" (2:255) and "no one can intercede in any manner except with His permission" (10:3). The Quran further says that "Shirk (disbelief in the unity of Allah) is the only sin that Allah does not forgive. He may forgive whosoever He will, other than this sin, for whoever associates a partner with Allah does, in fact, go far astray into deviation" (4:116). It means that all sins except disbelief in the unity of Allah are forgivable.

There can be three possible ways of forgiveness for the wrongs done. One is when a person sincerely repents in the life of this world. The other is through intercession subject to the conditions laid down in the above-mentioned verses. The third is when Allah Himself forgives some one.

According to a saying of the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him), Allah divided mercy in a hundred parts. He kept 99 of these with Himself, most of which He will make use of on the Day of Judgment, and one part was sent down to earth to be distributed among human beings and all other living creatures (Muslim). Thus making use of His Mercy, Allah may forgive many of the wrong-doers except those who associated partners with Him.

BJP looks into causes of defeat

By M.H. Askari

Judging from Indian media reports and comments, although the defeat inflicted by the Sonia Gandhi-led Congress on the Vajpayee-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been most convincing, Hindutva politics in India seems not prepared to face the reality.

The ousted prime minister of India has decided to opt for the title of chairman of BJP in order to continue to be at his party's head. The BJP's constitution had to be amended to provide for a party chairman in order to accommodate Vajpayee's wish. Indian media comments also make it quite clear that the defeat in the election did not put an end to his ambition of holding a mainstream political office.

He has said that he is "neither tired nor retired" and that he had no intention to sit in the opposition for five years, assuming apparently that his National Democratic Alliance (NDA) could return to power in a possible mid-term election.

Addressing his parliamentary party after the defeat in the elections, the former prime minister declared: "We will come back. We have to come back. The need of the hour is to think of how to accomplish this." As an Indian political commentator, Saba Naqvi Bhaumik, points out he is in no mood to hang up his boots.

She has also quoted his life-long friend, Appa Ghatate, a law commission member, as saying of Vajpayee: "He has been in public life since the age of 25. So when people expect him to sit at home and write poetry, they should remember that Parliament is a second home for him." In any case, in accordance with a decision of the Manmohan Singh government, Vajpayee will be able to retain two of the six BMWs which were bought by the previous administration. Moreover as a former prime minister he will get a staff of 13 including one IAS (Indian Administrative Service) officer.

The BJP has been engaged in a hectic exercise to identify the reasons for its humiliating defeat in the general elections. There is virtually a consensus inside the party that the single most relevant factor was the anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat. While the BJP was in power both at the centre and in the states, the BJP leader whose personal anti-Muslim venom apparently precipitated the riots was the chief minister Narendra Modi. According to official estimates, 2000 Muslims were killed in the riots. Unofficial estimates are of course much higher.

Comments also suggest that by his personal arrogance and autocratic style of governance, Modi brought the party and the state into disrepute. Some 60 members of the state assembly were said to have been demanding his ouster before the elections and one of them had in a TV interview even described him as Hitler. However, there have also been reports that the BJP high command, even though unhappy with Modi, did not wish to precipitate a crisis by condemning him since the state elections were yet to be held.

According to BJP's official post-election assessment, the Gujarat verdict went against all calculations "because of lack of enthusiasm in the party at the grassroots level." It is also said that Modi was "blinded" by his own arrogance and confidence. He did not want even Vajpayee to campaign in his state.

However, a section of the Indian media has also gone on record to say that while he was resting in the hill station of Minali after the national election campaign, Vajpayee from "his poetic isolation bared his conscience" maintaining that the party lost the Lok Sabha elections because of Gujarat."

In their selection of nominees for the Upper House (Rajya Sabha) after the general elections both the Congress and the BJP have "stuck to the adage that old is gold, relying on veterans who had served them well." Incidentally, among the BJP nominees to the Rajya Sabha is Ms Najma Heptullah, who is said to be a close kin of the late Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. An Indian news magazine in its report of the nominations maintained that "she had been awarded for attacking Sonia Gandhi."

The veteran Indian editor Arun Shourie has also been nominated by BJP. Shourie's nomination was said to be strongly opposed by BJP hawks as they felt that Shourie's policies as disinvestment minister in the BJP's last government had been responsible for the party's defeat. However, at Mr Vajpayee's insistence, Shourie's name was retained on the BJP list. Of the Congress nominees for the Rajya Sabha seat, is an old timer, Mohsina Kidwai described as having been rewarded by Sonia Gandhi for her close association with her late mother-in-law.

Indian media reports have highlighted the setback suffered by the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) in the general elections. As fortnightly India Today put it, in the Malayalam constituency of Manjeri in South India "the impossible happened". For the first time ever, the IUML was routed, incredibly enough, by the CPI (M) which had fielded T.K. Hamza, a former minister and Islamic scholar." The magazine has quoted Hamza as saying that Manjeri proved the latest alarm bell "signifying the decline in the standing of once unassailable IUML among Kerala's six-million strong Muslim community..."

The India Today in its comment on IUML's debacle has also recalled that at the party's recent district conference in Malappuram the local cadres took the party to task on many issues. The main charges allegedly were: greed for power which made the party a mute witness to the 'misdeeds and soft Hindutva policies of state chief minister A.K. Anthony; the leadership's pandering to "a minuscule section of the Muslim elite and neglect of the ordinary sections of the community; and concentration of power in a coterie around Thangal, party president."

A graphic writeup on the IUML's poor performance journal maintains that across Kerala and the IUML strongholds in Kerala's northern districts, Muslims came out against the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) and the IUML...." a prominent Muslim, O. Abdullah, described as an ideologue of the Jamaat Islami has been quoted as saying that the IUML did nothing about chief minister Anthony's disregard for Muslim sentiments...." According to Abdullah, Muslims moved away from the UDF, of which the IUML is a leading constituent because of Anthony's anti-minority statements and his refusal to ban the VHP's trident distribution programme.

This is an incredible charge against Anthony, himself belonging to a minority community, but could be believable because of the tendency among some minorities to kowtow to the leadership at the top.

A former director-general of Kerala police, P.J. Alexander, maintains significantly that in his views the Muslim community, had largely lost faith in the traditional leadership," with the younger elements gravitating towards militancy and the space from where moderate organizations like IUML are being crowded out being taken up by fundamentalist groups." However, the recently elected Marxist MP Hamza (a Muslim) categorically contradicts this. He contends that the space being vacated by communal organizations like IUML is being taken up by "secular forces like the left."

Post-script: The eminent Indian author and lawyer, A.G. Noorani, in his eminent study The RSS and the BJP: A Division of Labour has observed that...RSS men deliberately march in a procession through Muslim areas shouting offensive slogans and the slightest response is seized as pretext to launch preplanned attacks...This explains why Ashok Singhal of the VHP said, in the presence of Advani in New Delhi on April 4, 1991: Our religious processions should pass through every locality. This was the technique used by Fascists in London, in the 1930s when they would march through Jewish areas. This, perhaps, could explain partly if not entirely why the BJP lost to the Congress in the recent elections in India.

Bad times for British Muslims

By Iffat Idris

"Muslims are the new Blacks". This comment was made recently by Trevor Phillips, Chairman of Britain's Commission for Racial Equality. Phillips was referring to the fact that, just as yesterday it was Britain's black (West Indian) minority who were the targets of racial attacks and discrimination, today it is Britain's Muslims.

Post-9/11, it is headscarves and beards that are viewed with suspicion and distrust. But his comment also reflected the enhanced wider (in politics, business, culture and so on) prominence of British Muslims - a consequence of them asserting themselves and their religious identity with much greater vigour and activism.

Changing perceptions on the part of the white 'host' community, and changing attitudes among the religious minority. One does not need to look far to find evidence of both these phenomena. For hardly a week goes by without some 'Muslim' story making the headlines in Britain. In May radical Finsbury Park Mosque preacher Abu Hamza was arrested, following a request for extradition by the United States.

Washington believes Hamza was involved in the 1998 kidnap of western tourists in Yemen. The preacher is currently in jail fighting the extradition. Even without that, he is a controversial figure. His hard-line views have alienated many moderate Muslims, while his hook arm and one eye make him a ready target for demonization by the press.

In June a fifteen-year old schoolgirl, Shabina Begum, lost her legal battle to wear a full-length jilbab to school. The judges upheld the school's argument that wearing a shalwar-kameez and headscarf - something the uniform allowed - adequately met the Muslim requirement for modesty. Many others, though, criticised the school and the decision as a denial of religious rights: comparisons were drawn with the French ban on headscarves in the classroom.

Also in June a new Islamic centre opened in Whitechapel, East London. At a cost of #10.4 million, comprising six floors, and with room for over 10,000 people, the East London Islamic Centre is the biggest of its kind in the world. Its construction in Britain's capital is testimony to the permanent presence of Muslims in British society and of multi-cultural Britain adjusting to meet their needs.

Emel, a pioneering Muslim lifestyle magazine, has been making steady inroads into the market. With features on everything from home decor to cookery and fashion, Emel challenges many of the traditional stereotypes about Muslim magazines and - more important - Muslim life. Emel tells its readers it's alright to be Muslim and take an interest in 'worldly' things like fashion, music and food - novel indeed.

Guantanamo returnees made the headlines as they recounted tales of physical and mental abuse at the hands of their American jailors. In Britain the issue was not so much how they were treated, as what the British government did (or did not do) to safeguard their rights. On one level, Guantanamo forced Tony Blair to make a choice between helping George Bush and helping his own people. But on another wider level, it made people in Britain confront the issue of what makes identity - nationality or religion? While some sympathized with the Guantanamo detainees as fellow Britons, many others saw them through US eyes - as Muslim extremists.

Disturbing figures released by the Home Office showed a dramatic increase in the number of 'stop and search' incidents involving Muslims. For the period 2002-03, the number of stops of Asians was up 300 per cent. Even Lord Nazir Ahmed, the sole Muslim member of the House of Lords, has twice been subjected to this. Being stopped by police because of their appearance used to be the standard complaint of black drivers.

In July Home Secretary David Blunkett announced proposed changes to the law to make incitement of religious hatred a specific offence: in the past everything fell under the rubric of 'racial discrimination'. The law is designed to protect Muslims (and Christians) - who are not covered under the existing anti-discrimination legislation, but also to curb inflammatory preaching by Muslim leaders.

Most recently, there has been a huge hullabaloo about the Egyptian-born but Qatar-based preacher Yusuf Al-Qaradawi. Invited to speak in London at a series of conferences, Jewish groups and others angrily demanded his arrest for incitement. Al-Qaradawi's endorsement of Palestinian suicide bombing was particularly played up by opponents and the media. The Prosecution Service eventually decided not to press any charges, and Qaradawi shared a platform with the controversy-loving London Mayor Ken Livingstone. A model of moderation in that meeting, Al-Qaradawi was invited by his host to return in October.

One week ago, an undercover investigation by the BBC into the British National Party (BNP) made for riveting viewing. Secretly taped footage showed BNP leader Nick Griffin lambasting the Muslims and their Holy Book: other members were shown boasting of attacks they had carried out on Muslims. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the whole report was that it aroused no shock among Muslims: for them, the BBC was just reporting something they know too well already.All the above incidents/developments took place against a backdrop of growing 'Islamization' among British Muslims.

The number of 'practising' Muslims is increasing - so much so that commentators now talk of 'Islamic fashion'. Urban Islamic chic rules that the hijab is 'in' for girls, while for young Muslim men it is 'hip' to sport a beard, cap and tunic. A whole terminology has sprouted up to accommodate the outlook of these second- and third-generation British Muslims: the politically correct term for 'converts' (Islam is the fastest growing religion in Britain), for example, is 'reverts'.

The examples cited above all fall into one of the two phenomena highlighted at the beginning of the article: a growing perception among the majority white population that Muslims are a threat (or at least a group to be despised and hated); and a growing assertion of religious identity by the minority Muslim community. When you have a community increasingly seen with hostile eyes by the rest of the population, and at the same time you have that community loudly proclaiming its identity and culture, there can be only one outcome: trouble. The simultaneous rise of anti-Muslim feeling and 'British Muslimness' is laying the ground for conflict.

One point to stress here is that - unlike in the United States or other western countries - Muslims in Britain do not see themselves as immigrants or foreigners. For second- and third-generation British Muslims, it is Britain - not Pakistan, or Bangladesh - that is home. Many of them have only rarely visited the countries from which their parents and grandparents had migrated. For these people, Britain is the only place they know: exit from Britain is therefore not an option. It is this 'we're here to stay' factor, more than any other, that makes a conflict involving British Muslims not just possible but likely.

As one leading Muslim activist put it: "All it needs is one Madrid-type bomb, or something smaller, and Muslims won't be able to go out of their homes." His comment would be true of areas where Muslims live in isolation, but where there are significant Muslim communities they will most certainly not sit at home. Even without a Madrid-type terror catalyst, the pressures building up between Muslims and the non-Muslim majority will have to be let out somehow. There is a limit to how much tension a society can sustain without erupting.

There are groups on both 'sides' - moderate Muslims, the Muslim Council of Britain, the CRE, the government, some in the media - who are making efforts to address the rising tensions and defuse them. But the negative forces - mass opinion, the tabloid and (albeit to a lesser extent) broadsheet press, parties like the BNP, extremist Muslim groups - fuelling the tensions are still too strong. Unless this balance shifts, Britain and its Muslim minority remain on course for collision.