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One of the most contentious issues that have vexed the minds of Muslims is the concept of interest in the modern-day economy. The Islamic clerics (ulema) have exhibited an ambivalent stand on major issues concerning Islamic finance and on most occasions preferred to diplomatically deflect questions relating to it. Islamic finance is one of the greyest areas of both Islamic scholarship and practice and has attracted a very small pool of talented researchers. This is largely on account of the misplaced notions that discussions on Islamic finance are fraught with serious consequences and implications. People believe there are strong possibilities of one getting trapped in an act of heresy.
The Muslim economic life, along with their political and social norms, are regulated by a code known as shari?ah, (literally, “the path leading to the watering place”) It is a body of Qur’an-based guidance that governs, among other things,a Muslim’s economic and social life, dictating how believers should conduct themselves.
A careful reading of the Qur’an with respect to legal prescriptions) leaves no doubt that riba (any addition or interest) is haram (forbidden). Similarly, predetermined interest to depositors is also equally not approved by Islam. In Islam, capital is not capital in the conventional term; it is a potential capital which has to be channelised through businesses to generate additional income. Money cannot grow by itself. It has to be used entrepreneurially so that both the health of the economy and individual well-being are enhanced. The Federal Court of Pakistan, the highest judicial forum of Pakistan, has unequivocally declared the interest in any form, irrespective of the logic we use, is reprehensible.
Islamic economic theory, money is merely a medium of exchange, not a commodity to be traded. It has no intrinsic value and should therefore not grow over time. Idle cash cannot be a source of guaranteed income. However, capital can earn the returns derived from the productive use of capital. Islam regards Interest, in whatever form -ether disguised as “commission,” a fixed or variable add-on- or a discount, as usury and speculation as gambling
In addition to prohibition of riba, there are several other important provisions which govern financial transactions. These include the prohibition of ‘gharar’ (uncertainty or asymmetrical information), ‘maysir’ (gambling, speculation), activities and transactions involving alcohol and pork-related products, but also armaments, gambling, pornography and other activities deemed socially detrimental, like hoarding .
The basic instruments of Islamic finance include: profit-sharing (mudaraba), cost-plus financing (murabaha), partnership (musharaka) leasing (ijara), and forward sale (bay’salam). These constitute the basic building blocks for developing a wide array of more complex financial instruments.
In its most basic form, Islamic banking covers both savings and credit. Instead of being paid interest, depositors are considered shareholders and receive dividends when the bank turns a profit and lose money when it has a loss. Muslims are not allowed to pay or receive interest because Sharia, prohibits them from making a guaranteed profit on capital. Islamic finance uses a risk-sharing model. A typical risk-sharing arrangement is like an equity finance whereby the parties share the risk as well as the reward of a contract. The risk is transferred from the financier or lender to the borrower, where the financier retains both the property rights claim to the principle and interest but also to any collateral.
There are several Muslim scholars who question how “Islamic” this approach is and whether it is an appropriate ethical alternative to mainstream investments. Or is it a creative way of transplanting Islamic finance into conventional finance by tweaking the rules?
Although the accepted position in Islamic countries is very clear there are still several strands of conflict on the position in secular countries, particularly those which have seen a series of failures of Islamic financial institutions. In these countries, there is still no unanimity on the correct meaning of the term riba. Some prefer to translate it at as interest. There are others who believe that accepting the term as the modern equivalent of riba, particularly on account of modern finance having been cleansed of the element of usury and its coercive character, would amount to a very superficial interpretation of a term that has multiple layers that colour it. Riba, according to this school, has a sinister connotation and is actually meant to construe the coercive informal finance practices followed and pursued by rapacious moneylenders.
Many pragmatic Muslim bankers and financiers have argued that the Islamic injunction is aimed specifically against usury rather than interest. They say Prophet Muhammad was opposed to the loan-sharking techniques employed by money changers in the lawless markets of Mecca before the establishment of Islam. The liberalists say that there is nothing wrong with charging a reasonable price for the use of funds for a period of time. They argue that the Qur’anic prohibition applies to overcharging and usury, not money-market funds or interbank lending rates.
Islam lays great emphasis on entrepreneurship and believes that investors should become stakeholders in businesses in order to create wealth. It also emphasises that the business ventures must be carried out in true Islamic ethos of honesty, piety and trust. Otherwise, the precious investment of the depositors would be doomed. From my own experience as a conventional banker for almost four decades, I can attest that conventional banking in India is humane and just, and not usurious and exploitative.
One unique feature of public banks in India is that they offer soft and subsidised loans to the poor, self-employed and farmers. Similarly, in case of defaulters, if a bank is convinced that the default is not willful and deliberate and is on account of genuine circumstances, the loan is restructured or waived and the loss is absorbed by the banks. Every year, thousands of crores of rupees are being written off by banks. Where recoveries have to be enforced, it is done in a dignified manner and after following proper legal procedures. Similarly, the operations of banks are monitored very stringently by the Reserve Bank of India and the interest of depositors; particularly the small depositors are well protected. In short, banks in India are playing a developmental role besides providing banking services. Instead of demonising banks without any evidence, the Shariahexperts should build awareness of the status of public banks in India
One serious complaint against the prevalent model of Islamic banking is that interest is being charged in the garb of service fee. In fact loans from Islamic banks are much costlier than those from conventional financial institutions, particularly public banks. The defenders of the conventional banking, particularly the model followed by public and development banks, argue that they are far different from moneylending and various unethical practices of private sharks.
One issue that must engage us is that if Islamic banking is a viable alternative for us, how we can justify the collapse of so many Islamic financial institutions in India in recent times. We know full well that small investors have been duped in the past in a big way by hustlers claiming to offer Islamic financial services.The protagonists of Islamic banking must offer a satisfactory explanation. The real problem is that we are not prepared for a reasoned debate and the issue acquires emotional overtones whenever it comes up for discussion. Confusion continues to prevail with sharp division of opinion. As a result, the common Muslim is in a fix as to what is the right course of action for him because of lack of clarity on the issue.
Islamic banks have traditionally established sharia boards, employing scholars to rule on whether their products and processes do not infringe Islamic principles. The scholar needs to have expertise both in religion and finance –a strange combination. There is a severe dearth of this expertise .In India most Islamic banks collapsed because managements hired dubious and pliant scholars to endorse equally dubious products. Muslim countries a national body such as a central bank or capital market regulator appoints and oversees a sharia board that is independent from financial institutions.
The situation in India is much different. We do not live in an Islamic state. The spate of failures of Islamic banks in India has caused untold suffering to small depositors. There is no alternative except to transact with conventional banks. There are few reliable and authentic Islamic financial institutions but they have a very limited outreach.Moreover, the common Muslims themselves are increasingly wary of Islamic banking for all kinds of reasons,
Modern day banking has emerged out of the wisdom gleaned over the ages and is a direct weapon for eradicating usurious and unscrupulous moneylenders who have r turned borrowers into slaves and stripped them of all their self-dignity. It will be grossly unfair to equate modern banking with moneylending. In fact money lenders are treated as outcasts in the formal financial system. They have no presence in the universe of civilized finance .it will be foolish on our part if we try to get them into the whole debate .They are a totally alien species.
Development banking is very professionally operated, and in developing economies, interest rates are subsidized to enable individuals and institutions to set up their own livelihood businesses .The giant leaps in all spheres of life have been powered by financial institutions who have promoted healthcare, education, entrepreneurship, self-employment and a host of services that have profoundly influenced human life.
An enlightened discussion is all the more important on account of the complex perplexities that confront the contemporary society. If puritans feel conventional banks can’t fulfill the religious requirements, an alternative choice has to be offered to common Muslims. It will help to crystallize the true perspective for all the stakeholders: the flag bearers of sharia, proponents of Islamic finance, academics, jurists and the global banking community. It is an issue witch concerns the financial wellbeing of roughly 172 million Misaims- nearly 14 per cent of the country’s population o.
The great philosopher poet Sir Muhammad Iqbal argues in his magnum opus, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam: “The claim of the present generation of Muslim liberals to re-interpret the foundational legal principles in the light of their own experience and altered conditions of modern life is, in my opinion, perfectly justified…..Each generation, guided but unhampered by the work of its predecessors, should be permitted to solve its own problems.”
In Iqbal’s view, “the ultimate spiritual basis of all life, as conceived by Islam, is eternal” and that a “society based on such a conception of reality must reconcile, in its life, the categories of permanence and change”.
(The author is a regular contributor to this newspaper and can be reached at: moinqazi123@gmail.com)


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Opinion

A prayer for our times

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By Rajeev Bhargava

As all of us ordinary citizens recovered from the carnage in Pulwama, and wondered how the government would respond to this latest instance of cross-border terrorism, one television channel showed us poignant images of grieving relatives of the fallen soldiers. While a few, driven by moral hatred for the perpetrators, were understandably crying for revenge, others, even at this moment of utmost suffering, spoke of the futility of retaliation. “It would only bring similar suffering to fellow humans,” said one widow from the rural hinterland. Hers was a cry for peace, not for vengeful violence. “War can only be the last resort, after everything else has failed,” she wisely counselled.

Yes, war is sometimes necessary, especially in self-defence. But one doesn’t have to be an unconditional pacifist to acknowledge the misfortunes it begets or to decry war mongering. Nor is readiness to go to war the only indicator of patriotism. True, patriots must be prepared to die in defence of their ‘patria’, their mother or fatherland. But one is not any less a patriot if one strives for everyone in his country living peacefully, happily, flourishing, leading life to its fullness. Fighting the daily challenges faced by their countrymen, seeking to improve their lot, always loving them and their habitat, and expressing this love in word or deed as the occasion demands is the everyday vocation of a patriot.

 

 A country at war is different. War is disruptive, and because it is lethal and involves human sacrifice, a patriot must eschew any bravado about it. This is particularly expected from contemporary leaders, patriots who never themselves go to war; quite unlike the past where the ruler who declared war was expected to always lead from the front on the battlefield. After all, it is our Army officers and jawans who die, not the ones who call for and support war. Our rulers move about with elaborate security to protect their own lives. If they don’t allow others to play with their lives, they must ensure that no one plays with the life of their countrymen, most of all our soldiers. Decisions on war must then be taken responsibly, without haste, not for spectacular effect or as tactical ploys in a game.

The inner workings of the human mind are mysterious, however. For it is not these thoughts that crossed my mind when I saw those moving images on television. This reasoning is retrospective; thoughts that have occurred to me now, post-facto. At that time, a strange melange of emotions — feelings of grief, despair, shame, nostalgia — curdled up and then suddenly, from nowhere, the lyrics of an immortal song by Sahir Ludhianvi, set to tune by Jaidev and sung melodiously by Lata Mangeshkar in the 1961 Dev Anand classic Hum Dono, came unbidden to mind: “Maangon ka sindoor na chhutey, maa behenon ki aas naa tootey (may no one be widowed; may no mother or sister lose hope of their loved one returning).”

In the film, these lines are part of a prayer for peace led by the wife and mother of a Major of the Indian Army missing in action — a prayer not only that their own loved one returns home safe but that no wife, mother or sister may lose loved ones in war. Death in war is an interruption, an anomaly. It takes away from us young, active, lively persons who have not yet lived their full life. When a soldier dies in the prime of life, he leaves many tasks unfinished, many relationships incomplete, millions of desires unfulfilled. And according to popular belief, when a person at the height of his powers meets a bloody, violent, untimely end, his prana or atman remains in limbo, trapped in no man’s land; it leaves the body without reaching wherever it is meant to go and keeps hovering around us. May this never happen to anyone, says the poet. “Deh bina bhatke na praan (may the spirit not abruptly detach from the body and wander restlessly).”

But this mellifluous song is more than a comforting prayer for peace. It subtly points fingers at those who injudiciously push us into war, at the economically strong and politically powerful who bring war upon us for their own benefit, to serve their own nefarious purpose. “O saare jag ke rakhawaale, nirbal ko bal dene waale, balwaanon ko de de gyaan (jnana) (you, who watch over the entire universe, you who empower the weak, may you also grant wisdom to the mighty).”

Jnana here refers not simply to knowledge, but to wisdom, moral insight, indeed to conscience. May the rulers rule with a conscience! May they be able to distinguish right conduct from wrong. Really, only such people should guide us when we are faced with the dilemma of whether or not to undertake morally retributive action.

And this is not all. The prayer then becomes a plea that we all be endowed with sanmati — to put our intelligence to good use, to have sound judgments, that all have a conscience. Why? Because unsound judgments, faulty moral reasoning and suspension of good sense are not the lot of leaders alone but also of those who support them and legitimise their actions. It is after all we, ordinary folks, who are swayed by war hysteria. Those without good sense get the leaders they deserve. May the gift of sanmati be bestowed on us. For only people with sanmati can rein in leaders who have lost all sense of good and bad, right and wrong.

But who is this prayer addressed to? “Allah tero naam, Ishwar tero naam (You, whose name is both Allah and Ishwar). In this, his masterstroke, Sahir invokes not only Gandhi, but an entire, centuries-old religio-philosophical legacy of the subcontinent in which all traditions are believed to share the same semantic universe that enables the god of one religion to be translated into the god of another. This is inclusive monotheism at its best, where god is one but referred to in different traditions by different names. And so, the prayer is addressed to Allah, Ishwar, and implicitly to the god of every religion.

With men spewing venom, not satisfied with fighting a war with their own fellow countrymen, itching to go to war with others, nothing (empathy, reason, dialogue) seems to work. Helpless spectators, no longer in control of their collective life, in sight of a looming disaster on the horizon, often break into a prayer. What else can those stripped of agency do but hope that somehow good sense may prevail, that all of us be delivered from the collective insanity that shows no sign of loosening its grip? Thus, those who believe in one god, invoke him; those who believe in gods and goddesses, invoke them; and those who believe in neither, hope for some good fortune to fall in their lap! This is why this is a prayer for our times: we offer this prayer to you, Allah to some, Ishwar to others, that you miraculously bring an end to needless killings, wisdom and conscience to the rich and powerful, and peace and good sense to everyone.

(Courtesy: The Hindu)

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Opinion

The ‘Clash of Civilisations’ Thesis Stalks the World

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By Ram Puniyani

The horrific massacre in Christchurch on March 15 has shaken the world. The killer, Brenton Harrison Tarrant, is an Australian citizen. Nearly 50 people died in the attack in which Tarrant attacked two mosques. Those killed include nine from India.

Tarrant had fixed a camera on his head so as to live stream the massacre. The Christchurch terrorist was consumed by intense racism and hatred of Muslims. He posted a long statement online, a “manifesto” of “white nationalism” before undertaking the dastardly act.

 

New Zealand Prime Minster Jacinda Ardern, who at 38 years of age is among the youngest heads of government in the world, was the first to term the shootings an act of terrorism. Arden declared that the victims, many of whom may be migrants or refugees, “are us”, and the shooter “is not”. The overriding theme of the Prime Minister’s statements was that her country represents “diversity, compassion and refuge”.

The Pope in a touching speech said, “In these days, in addition to the pain of wars and conflicts that do not cease to afflict humanity, there have been the victims of the horrible attack against two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand… I am close to our Muslim brothers and all that community… ”

As in India, the phobia of Islam and Muslims is founded on the narrow version of history. This phobia against Muslims around the world gained momentum after the 9/11 Twin Towers attack in New York.

This phobia has by now constructed its own History, selective and distorted, that centres around Muslim invaders and their alleged crimes in the medieval past. This History generates endless accusations. It singles out and exaggerates, holding a large and diverse group of people collectively responsible for these acts.

It is tragic that Tarrant’s hateful note is being supported by those who believe in this notion of politics and history. Again, taking revenge for the past is one of the dimensions of the agenda governing these ideologues: “To take revenge on the invaders for the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by foreign invaders in European lands throughout history.”

Again, the radicalisation of the likes of Tarrant is due to the rabid propaganda current in the Western media – and many places besides – where Muslims are constantly presented in a negative light. Many newspapers and media groups – owned by a few – like the Daily Mail in the UK and Fox News in the USA have taken the lead in spreading negative perceptions against Muslims.

Such propaganda, along with many anti-immigrant and xenophobic websites, is spreading hatred against Muslims which in turn is the foundation of the attacks on Muslims. Muslims are also being demonised in terms familiar from anti-Semitism, portraying them as less than trustworthy, lesser citizens and inferior humans or not humans at all.

Many such biases and myths are prevalent in India also. In the Western mode of propaganda Muslims are now being portrayed as people whose wearing of the hijab is sufficient proof that they are against the norms of the West – against the US Constitution, for example. Similarities with prevalent perceptions in India!

One recalls the Norwegian Christian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik at this point of time. In a carefully planned attack in 2011, Brevik killed 69 youth with a machine gun and other assault weapons. He also had issued a manifesto, in which he said his primary goal was to remove Muslims from Europe.

Breivik also called for cooperation between Jewish groups in Israel, Buddhists in China, and Hindu nationalist groups in India to contain Islam. He wrote, “It is essential that the European and Indian resistance movements learn from each other and cooperate as much as possible. Our goals are more or less identical.”

We must note, that there are strong parallels between Tarrant’s and Breivik’s manifestos and the ideology of Hindu nationalism, or Hindutva, on the question of the nature of Islam: Muslims and coexistence with Muslims. Much like rightwing parties in the European mainstream, the BJP in India does condemn the violence for name’s sake, but participates in spreading the underlying ideology which is based on Islam-phobia.

Worldwide, this despicable politics is in a way the outcome of the ‘clash of civilisations’ thesis propounded by Samuel Huntington. At the end of the Cold War, with the collapse of Soviet Russia, Francis Fukuyama stated that now Western liberal democracy would be the final form of political system.

Building on this, Huntington stated that now the primary conflict would be around civilisations and cultures. Nation-states would remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics would occur between nations and groups belonging to different ‘civilisations’.

“The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.” As per this manifesto Western civilisation is faced with a challenge from backward Islamic civilisation, providing the basis for the American policy of attack on many Muslim-majority countries like Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, Iran among others.

To counter this thesis the United Nations undertook the initiative for an ‘Alliance of Civilisations’ when Kofi Annan was Secretary-General. The high-level committee he appointed gave a report which argues that all the progress in the world has been due to the alliances between different cultures and civilisations.

Today we are facing times where American politics of ‘control over oil wells’ led to the formations like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. After the 9/11 attacks perpetrated by men whom the US government formerly supported and armed, the US media popularised the phrase ‘Islamic terrorism’. What we are witnessing today is the fallout of this policy, which was pursued simply to control oil wealth.

The Islam-Muslim phobia this generated, in the West and elsewhere, has led in due course to White Nationalism. Like other forms of majoritarianism and violence, this needs to be countered ideologically, by demonstrating the inherent tendency of alliance between diverse cultures found throughout human history in the world.

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Opinion

The Sikh Empire’s Expedition to Balakot

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By Ananth Karthikeyan

A few weeks ago, the Indian Air Force’s Balakot air strike using French-built Mirage-2000s bought India and Pakistan to the brink of war, and perhaps changed the regional dynamics forever. Balakot has a history which has been a subject of much interest in the past few days: it was the site of the end of Syed Ahmad Barelvi’s jihad at the hands of the Sikh Empire. Today we look at this history and another curious fact – this was not the first time that French weaponry has been wielded against Islamist fanatics in this region.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh (r. 1801-1839) was aware of the superiority of Europeans in technology and modern methods of war. He sought to close this gap by importing talent and building an indigenous capability. Ranjit Singh welcomed experienced scientists, engineers, mercenaries and officers from European nations to ensure that his kingdom could withstand any threat. Besides, the Afghan kingdom, the Pathan tribes and jihadis were threatening his western borders. French know-how became a major element in the defence of his realm. After Napoleon lost in Waterloo (June 1815) thousands of French and allied European soldiers were dismissed: the governments of Europe, including the new government of France, distrusted those who served under Napoleon. A few settled into civilian life, but most could not: fighting was all they knew, and they did not wish to waste the skills they honed fighting in three continents. Many offered their services to Asian kings who wished to modernize their backward militaries.

 

At this juncture, Ranjit Singh accepted talented Napoleonic officers such as Jean-Francois Allard, Jean-Baptiste Ventura, Paolo Avitabile, and Claude Auguste Court into his service. Besides such officers, there were chemists, doctors, engineers and soldiers of American, German, Italian, Polish and Irish extraction also. Many foreigners were given plum roles in the Empire. Claude Auguste Court was a product of the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris and apparently knew the science of artillery. Paolo Avitabile also had considerable experience as an artillery officer. Court and Avitabile, along with the Sikh leader Lehna Singh Majithia (who possessed great skill in engineering), overhauled the Sikh artillery. They established the training program for the gunners. Court re-organized the artillery command structure and established arsenals and magazines on European lines. The existing weapon foundries and workshops (established by Ranjit Singh and Mian Qadir Baksh in 1807) were rebuilt with French know-how to manufacture a variety of high-quality guns and artillery. Ranjit Singh soon possessed a formidable artillery of about 500 pieces, including mobile horse-drawn artillery. Court was bestowed large cash awards and titles when he introduced his new shells, fuses and commenced full-scale production.

The meteoric rise of the Sikhs and the decline of the Muslim kingdoms of India had agitated many Islamic fundamentalists. The most influential of them was the popular preacher Syed Ahmed Barelvi, who hailed from present-day Rae Bareilly. In 1825, thousands of his followers from the Gangetic Plains took up his call for jihad against infidel powers and followed him to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Barelvi’s Jihad was supported by many Afghan chiefs, who were usually suspicious of all outsiders. Barelvi was able to field nearly 100,000 Mujahideen and launched a five-year guerilla war against the Sikh Empire.

However, Barelvi’s orthodox interpretation of scriptures and stern disregard of Afghan tribal traditions soon led to many Afghans leaving his cause. Barelvi suffered a crushing defeat in a battle with the Sikhs near Nowshera in March 1827. Later some Afghan tribes turned on Barelvi and massacred hundreds of his followers in Peshawar in November 1830. Barelvi and his loyalists now decided to move out and try their luck in Kashmir. However, a Sikh army led by Sher Singh surrounded the Mujahideen at a mountain fort in Balakot and annihilated them in May 1831.

Ranjit Singh’s French guns and artillery were widely used in such battles in the turbulent North West frontier. Artillery and firearms which performed reliably enabled the Sikhs to prevail against great odds. Perhaps even more critical was the discipline instilled in the new infantry battalions by the European officers. Officers such as Ventura and Court also led campaigns into the North West frontier. However, after Ranjit Singh died, neither their weapons nor their courage could save the Sikhs from civil war and treachery. During this chaos, the surviving Europeans returned to their homelands. Soon the British defeated the Sikhs and the Afghans also took back some of their lands.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region is still turbulent, and weapons from many nations are still used here in the name of pacification, anti-terror and innumerable internal conflicts. History is repeating in strange ways and there are irony and dark humour in the shadow of the mushroom cloud. India’s French Mirages are the latest entrants in this theatre — let us hope it is not a destabilising element.

(dnaindia.com)

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