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Islam, Gender Relations, and Women’s Agency Workshop – India contributions needed November 19, 2015

Posted by southasiamasala in : India , comments closed

Islam, Gender Relations, and Women’s Agency

A two-day international workshop exploring Islam, gender relations and women’s agency in terms of India–Indonesia connections and comparisons

17–18th December, 2015 (9am-5pm)

Room 1.04, HC Coombs Extension (Building 9), Australian National University

This workshop will investigate connections, comparisons and contrasts between Muslim cultures in India and Indonesia, with a particular focus on gender relations, family and personal law.  Keynote speakers will be Professor Emerita Pnina Werbner (Keele University, UK), Flavia Agnes (MAJLIS, India), and Nursyahbani Katjasungkana (LBH-APIK, Indonesia). (more…)

Why Pakistan is lagging behind India August 12, 2012

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, Pakistan , comments closed

Desh Gupta

Before the creation of Bangladesh in 1970-71 the then West Pakistan was economically more vibrant than India. There were a number of reasons for this.

It drew resources from the former East Pakistan to sustain its relatively large army. In addition during that period the Army, which even then determined whether it had direct or indirect control over the political apparatus, allowed its entrepreneurs drawn mostly from the Gujarati immigrants, a free reign and they drove economic growth. Fundamental Islam was weak and, muzzled by the army, Pakistan was politically and economically more liberal. This ensured a greater mobility of labour and capital, leading to greater efficiency in their use.

India’s economy, however, was highly regulated by the state. The government decided what should be produced and directed resources for this purpose. Economic efficiency was poor. This was reflected in the loss of competitiveness of Indian textile mills, which became ‘sick’ in the early 1980s. Even in steel production, which was a priority industry, the rate of increase was slow as it was limited to the public sector, and input of imports was difficult and low because foreign exchange was limited.

The loss of Bangladesh (but more so from 1980 onwards), brought economic change. It meant that Pakistan’s army could not be sustained at its then prevailing level. Cuts created dissatisfaction and were difficult to justify politically after its humiliation by India in the 1970 war. Its defence budget had to be bolstered after India’s explosion of a nuclear device in 1974, as Pakistan devoted resources to gain parity with India in nuclear defence technology. A redirection of defence resources from the army resulted in an alienation of the army that eventually led to the overthrow of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP), the elected government.

Had economic growth lifted it would have been easier to raise defence outlays without reducing those for the army. But Bhutto embarked on a nationalisation program. He stymied Pakistan’s economic dynamism by attacking its successful entrepreneurs who slowed investment, leading to a fall in investment and growth rates. Bhutto strengthened the power of the unions, which benefitted a very small segment of the labour aristocracy but created rigidities in the labour market. (more…)

Sri Lanka: Colombo orders Islamist clerics to leave February 2, 2012

Posted by southasiamasala in : Future Directions International, Guest authors, Sri Lanka , comments closed

Jahnu Russell, Future Directions International Associate

Reprinted from Future Directions International, Strategic Weekly Analysis, 1 February 2012. Read the full story.

The move by the Sri Lankan Government to order a group of 161 foreign Islamic clerics to leave the country by 31 January highlights the role of a global Islamic group that is challenging the more moderate indigenous form of Sufi Islam in Sri Lanka.

According to the Controller of Immigration and Emigration, Chulananda Perera, the clerics belonged to the Tablighi Jamaat group. They had entered the country on tourism visas in small batches, without officially applying for permission to preach. The clandestine nature of their arrival brings to light the activities of the largest Muslim proselytising organisation in the world. It is estimated to have between 80-150 million followers.

The South Asian Qurans September 21, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : Kumar, Vikas, South Asia - General , comments closed

Vikas Kumar

The Quran has been translated from Arabic into about 100 languages, roughly 1 per cent of the known living languages of the world, whereas Islam is the religion of more than 20 per cent people in the world (and Arabic is the mother tongue of less than one-fifth of the Muslims). In contrast, partial or complete translations of the Bible are available in more than a third of the known languages. Furthermore, most of the translations of the Quran are relatively recent whereas the Bible was the first printed text in a number of languages. In fact, a great majority of the extant translations of the Quran into South Asian languages appeared after the formal disestablishment of Islam in 1858 CE, roughly a thousand years after the arrival of Islam in South Asia. The few translations that pre-date 1858 CE appeared before the establishment of Islamic power in South Asia or only after the British emerged as the de facto rulers in North and East India in the late 18th century. A similar trend can be seen in other parts of the world. In the Ottoman Europe, the Quran was translated into the Balkan languages in the 19th and 20th centuries, that is, at the very end of the centuries-long Turkish rule.

One wonders why the Mughals, Akbar and Dara, who promoted large-scale translations from Sanskrit to Persian, and the Pathan rulers of Bengal and the Bahamani rulers of Deccan, who promoted local languages, overlooked the need for South Asian language Qurans. (A Deccani translation seems to have been carried out in the 16th century, which is now unavailable.) Explanations that invoke the intrinsic untranslatability of the Quran or the theological undesirability of translation will satisfy only those committed to theo-linguistic exclusivism. In fact, there are numerous Quranic verses, which can be cited in support of the need for translation (e.g., Abraham 14.4, Marium 19.97, Ha Mim 41.44, The Smoke 44.58, and Yusuf 12.2).


SAM recommends … Praveen Swami on Islam and the West August 3, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, South Asia - General , comments closed

EDITOR’S NOTE: ‘SAM Recommends …’ is a new feature of South Asia Masala. The editors will periodically identify what they consider to be important articles and commentary and post the link, along with a short comment.  This is the first offering under ‘SAM recommends …’

The prolific journalism and scholarship of Praveen Swami has produced a fascinating thesis in a recent op. ed. in The Hindu. See http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/article2201459.ece.

Swami’s thesis is that the US and its Western allies are resuming the characterisation of conservative Islam that served both the British and Americans so well over the long years of the British Empire, up to and including the Cold War.  According to Swami, during this period, conservative Islam was used as a bulwark against inconvenient democratic norms.  It was regarded as a monolithic force capable of delivering geostrategic gains by suppressing nationalistic urges.  There was also a conflation in the American mind between the God-loving, Christian revivalist defenders of democracy and equally uncompromising Islamic conservatives.  All of this is again on the table, as Washington searches for a dignified exit from Afghanistan on the basis of the dictum: ‘leave them alone and they will leave us alone’.

Swami won’t have a bit of it.  He says this constitutes a misreading of a conservative Islam that is profoundly anti-democratic and that has a wider international agenda to unseat the Western democracies from their current positions of power and influence.

One further thought: India is deeply unsettled by the approaching departure of NATO from Afghanistan and the near certainty that following this, we will in time see the re-emergence of the Taliban or something like it – a development that could also have an impact on India’s difficult neighbour, Pakistan.  India is part of the region and won’t be able to take up its kit bag and leave on the ‘big bird’ home.  Is this one of the main drivers of Swami’s concern?

Sandy Gordon, co-editor.

Whither goest thou, Saleem Shahzad’s Pakistan June 3, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : Kumar, Vikas, Pakistan , comments closed

Vikas Kumar

In January, when Ahmed Rashid commented on “Pakistan’s very unhappy new year” little did we know that Osama bin Laden would be found “hiding in plain sight” in a safe house in a garrison town close to Islamabad. Osama’s death, the subsequent “revenge” attacks, and the ongoing trial of Tahawwur Rana in the United States have put Pakistan under the spotlight like never before. But public debate has focussed entirely on the international implications of terrorist camps in Pakistan and what the international community can do to save a failing nuclear power from itself. There is hardly any discussion on whether Pakistan can save itself. And if we ignore apologists for extremists, who believe that the world rather than Pakistan has to change, then even domestic debate within Pakistan has only highlighted the impossibility of change or at least change from within. Honestly speaking, one cannot be blamed for being pessimistic about Pakistan, particularly after the gruesome murder of Syed Saleem Shahzad, an investigative journalist who was probing the relationship between the state and extremists.

The prospect of Deobandi-Wahhabi extremists taking over the Pakistani state is now giving sleepless nights to policy-makers across the world. But is it indeed time to conclude that domestic resistance to international terrorism and Islamic extremism breeding within Pakistan is impossible and the feared takeover is inevitable? Not yet, because the demographic mosaic of Pakistan rules out the possibility of countrywide dominance of extremists. Let us begin with religion. The Shias account for about a fifth of Pakistan’s population and a bewildering variety of small, heterodox Islamic communities dots the south-western, western, and northern borders of Pakistan. But even among Sunnis, the Deobandis and related Wahhabi extremists have a smaller following than their arch rivals, the Barelvis, and other traditionalist Sunni communities that are at home with Sufism.


The battle of Deobund: a straw in the wind? February 24, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : Gordon, Sandy, India, Pakistan , comments closed

Sandy Gordon


The battle for control of the large Dar-ul-Uloom seminary at the Uttar Pradesh town of Deobund is likely to represent more than the backwash from a longstanding family feud.  The seminary, founded in 1866/67 and with 4000 students today, represents a conservative brand of Islam espousing Sharia Law and opposed to the Hanafi school of jurisprudence introduced by the Moghuls, who realised they couldn’t rule Hindu-majority India according to strict Sharia principles.

Under the Moghuls, thousands of seminaries had flourished.  Many of them produced well-rounded individuals capable of assisting in the administration of the giant empire, which was part of their purpose.  The mathematical and astronomical achievements of Moghul period scholars are well recorded in history and are evident to anyone who visits Jantar Mantar in Delhi, built by Jai Singh 11 of Jaipur during the Moghul era.

Jantar Mantar in Delhi, representing the acme of Moghul-era mathematical and astronomical learning


Pakistan’s moment of choice February 14, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, Pakistan , comments closed

Guest author: Peter Drysdale

This article was first posted in East Asia Forum on 7 February 2011.

The precariousness of Pakistan’s future political and economic stability was highlighted no more starkly to outside observers than by the assassination of Punjab’s Governor, Salman Taseer, by his own bodyguard, offended by Taseer’s public support for review and amendment of Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws. It wasn’t the assassination itself so much, vile and treacherous though that would have seemed to many, but the outpouring of support for the assassin and the hundreds of legal volunteers that offered defence of him that shocked the rest of the world so deeply.

Sometimes we feel such dismay and anger at the expressions and acts of intolerance and hatred that confront us daily, so graphically in these sharp-focused digital days, in societies all around the world that we may be forgiven for despairing that such acts will render the prospects of peaceful or prosperous life impossible for the vast majority of humankind. Pakistan is a nation that currently induces such despair.


Pakistan: he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword January 11, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : Pakistan, Snedden, Christopher , comments closed

Christopher Snedden

Recent Facebook postings showed that many Pakistanis applauded Malik Mumtaz Qadri’s brutal assassination of the Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer.  So also did statements such as by Maulana Shah Turabul Haq Qadri, a scholar of the less hardline Barelvi inclination.  For either Qadri—the malik or the maulana—Taseer was engaging in blasphemy against the Prophet, Muhammad.  His death was necessary, even laudable.

Hardline Pakistanis advocating or employing violence against other Pakistanis should stop and think.  Such brutality has a nasty habit of getting out of control, with violence able to be used against anyone not considered politically or religiously ‘correct’.  And those delivering the violence invariably determine correctness.  Equally, someone ‘correct’ today could become incorrect—and therefore disposable—tomorrow.

History shows that illegal and arbitrary violence is a fickle master.  Two example of its capriciousness come to mind: the revolutionaries executed by ‘Madame Guillotine’ as the French Revolution ‘ate its own’; the millions of deaths of innocent, patriotic Soviet citizens that Stalin’s merciless KGB and gulag killed.

Closer to home, vicious Sunni-Shia violence in Pakistan claims an increasing number of victims each year—which, in turn, inspires further inter-sect hatred and violence.  Equally, the Pakistan Army’s forceful and bloody removal from Islamabad’s Red Mosque in 2007 of Muslims who had ‘strayed from the correct path’ helped to inspire the current crop of Islamic fundamentalists now rampant throughout Pakistan. (more…)