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The Shaping of the Modern Muslim World

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By Abdullah Izzadin

Many of us are unfortunately completely unaware of the events which occurred from 1914 onwards, and the lasting drastic impact these have had in shaping the Muslim world as we know it today. From the dismantling of the Ottoman Caliphate, to the occupation of Palestine and all the way up to today; it is important to be aware of certain key moments in history in order to understand why the Ummah finds itself in its current position.

Background

 

Turning our attention to 1914, we find the British Empire ruled much of the world, controlling over a quarter of the globe, whilst the USA was not yet a world power. Other large empires of varying strengths included the German Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Russian Empire and of course, the Ottoman Caliphate. The Muslim world may have had its share of issues and certainly was not as strong as it once was, yet it still had a united caliphate, global ummah and therefore, a ray of hope.
However, on 28 June 1914, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire led to the “war to end all wars” and the collapse, or at least significant weakening, of many of the globe’s superpowers. The archduke was killed by a group of Serbian nationalists in Sarajevo, igniting nationalistic and ethnic tensions which had been simmering for decades and led to an ultimatum being issued to Serbia by the Austro-Hungarians.

Eventually, they attacked Serbia, leading the Russians to come to their ally’s defence; indeed, European alliances at the time were very complicated and it was all-too-easy to get sucked into war. Soon the Germans got involved; allied with the Austro-Hungarians. They used the war as an excuse to invade a number of neighbouring countries including France, Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Slowly but surely, every European and world power was forced into the war, ending up with two camps; the “Allied Forces” of the Russians, the British, French, Italians and USA, versus the “Central Powers” of the Germans, the Austro-Hungarians, the Bulgarians and, crucially for Muslims, the Ottomans.
Whilst there was the odd skirmish in Muslim lands, what became known as The Great War (and later known as World War One) was largely fought within Europe, as it was very much a European issue.

The involvement of the Ottomans

Sultan Mehmed V ruled the Ottomans from 1909 through to 1918. Although the empire ruled much of the Arab lands, it had been in decline for some time already and it is said that the Sultanate had become a figurehead position for the last 100-150 years. The empire had lost Bosnia and Albania before the Great War began and the economy was in tatters, whilst European nations were colonising various lands in their military ascendancy.

In sharp contrast to early Muslim civilisations and much like today’s Muslim world, the Ottoman’s had to rely heavily on others for technological support. The British had provided this support through much of the 1800s until the relationship broke down in 1880, leading to a partnership with the Germans instead. This partnership eventually grew very strong, symbolised by the famous Orient Express in 1889; a luxurious direct train between Germany & Turkey.

When the war broke out, the Sultan was determined to keep it a European issue, and thus attempted to remain neutral. However, certain groups including a nationalistic secular movement known as the Young Turks as well as the Grand Vizier Sa’id Halim Pasha and Minister of War Enver Pasha were working in the background to form a secret agreement with the Germans in August 1914 which became known as the “Ottoman-German Alliance”.

The Minister of War, Enver Pasha is said to have instigated an attack on a Russian vessel in the Black Sea in late October 1914, resulting in the Russians declaring war on the Ottomans on 3 November, with the British and French following suit days later. The Sultan was now left with no choice but to support the secret alliance and, in his role as caliph, proclaimed jihad against the Allied Forces on 14 November.

Various battles ensued, and in early 1915, the British and the French launched the Gallipoli Campaign; a joint attack seeking to conquer the great capital Constantinople. Starting with a failed attempt to take control of the Dardanelles Straits, a land invasion was then launched on the Gallipoli Peninsula in April 1915. The Allied Forces faced fierce resistance and the invasion proved to be a disaster for them, losing over 150,000 servicemen in an eight-month battle. In January 1916, the Allied Forces withdrew in defeat.

The battle was brutal for the Ottomans too, losing 60,000 of their forces with nearly 100,000 injuries. This victory would end up being their only one of note during the war yet its significance toward the future of Turkey cannot be understated. Victory saw great praise heaped on one commander in particular, a former member of the Young Turks and secular revolutionary seeking the end of Islamic rule; Mustafa Kemal. On the back of his role in this battle and through a wave of a national pride, he would later go on to become the first president of the newly formed Republic of Turkey, with lasting implications.

Returning to the war, various Ottoman lands began to fall to the Allied Forces in quick succession. In 1915, the British invaded Iraq and by March 1917 they marched to the former Abbasid capital, Baghdad – taking down the Ottoman flag and raising the British flag. Later that year General Allenby, who was based in Egypt (which was under British “protection” at the time), launched a series of campaigns into Gaza and Jaffa and eventually marched into Jerusalem victorious on 9th December, ending four centuries of Ottoman rule of the Holy City and fulfilling his promise to capture it “before Christmas”.

Large cities continued to fall; Damascus in October 1918 and eventually Istanbul on 13 November. By now, three of the great capitals of Islamic history were held by the Allied Forces, as was Jerusalem. This was amongst the lowest points that the ummah had witnessed throughout its history.

The immediate aftermath of the war

The war officially came to an end on the 11 November 1918 when Germany surrendered, marking the conclusion of the largest conflict seen by humanity. 70 million had fought, and nearly 10 million soldiers had died. It was the first time that modern technology had been used with such savagery, including air forces and the development of chemical weapons.

By the end of the conflict, four of the world’s largest empires were decimated; the German Empire, the Russian Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and of course, the Ottoman Empire. Whilst the impact of the fall of the Ottoman Empire is our main concern in this discussion, it is worth noting that this was perhaps a mere side-point for the West at the time.

The Great War naturally had severe consequences across the globe; some European lands had lost more than 20% of their men whilst famine soon ensued, resulting in the death of millions more. Some reports suggest 3 or 4 times more than the number killed in battle. Worse-still, the world was in the midst of an influenza pandemic commonly known as Spanish Flu, which was widespread between 1918 – 1920. This was the worst plague man had seen since the Black Death of 1320. It is estimated that up to 5% of the Earth’s population (100 million people) died as a result, spanning the entire globe.

One result of these combined factors was the obvious damage to worldwide economies and the vast shortfall in manpower in the work-place. Large social reforms were needed and, for the first time in human history, the roles of men and women were to be re-studied. The workforce was in short supply of men, and women were needed; the majority leaving the sanctity of the home for the first time.

It is worth noting that in 1918, nearing the end of the “first-wave feminism”, women in the West were still greatly discriminated against and it was considered a victory when the Suffragettes succeeded in securing the right for women over 30 to vote, provided they owned a property. It would be some time yet before Western women in general would share equal voting rights (amongst other rights) with their male counterparts. However, a big turning point in the feminist movement was the introduction of women to the workforce on a mass scale from 1918 onwards.

(In the next part, read the total collapse of the Ottoman Caliphate and the resulting British-led conversations on how to divide the Muslim lands.)


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Opinion

Theology of Presence

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Amir Suhail Wani

“O you who believe! Remember Allah With much remembrance”: Al Quran

To believe is to be in a state of presence. Presence, though not the climax, but is, one of the most cherished states and authentic manifestations of belief. To let God stay far away in the realm of abstraction and beyond-ness not only dilutes the spirit of worship, but it brings under scrutiny the very notion of belief. Religion, in its finest form, aims at invoking in man the spirit of presence, so that the believer may feel and experience the himself in presence of divine and may thus be able to envision a living and existential relationship with his creator and his object of devotion. Religion, even in its basic etymological connotation invokes the sense of “connectedness and attachment” with the object of devotion. It is in the very essence of man that he wants to be greater than what he is and when submitting before the divine, the individual, finite and subjective ego undergoes an existential, psychological and spiritual transformation of unique nature which expands its contours beyond those of physical perimeters. In any act of worship, the subject envisages the object of devotion as infinite and it not only pays homage to that infinite by bowing to it, but it very much desires to expand its own finitude under the radiance of that eternal infinite. This is what is meant by the philosophical benediction that “make me Thou, not an it”.

 

This human urge of finding means of self expansion by submitting before the divine is the greatest expression of human will and self sacrifice. But this spirit is rendered meaningless and antithetical when religion, in its state of decline, reduces to mere theology. In this reductionism, God remains no longer a living reality in the life of believer. He is rather replaced by a set of axioms and statements which fail to stimulate and satisfy the deepest spiritual yearnings of man and this deepest spiritual yearning is nothing but an aspiration to come in living contact with the divine and transcendental. Islam and for that matter most of the religions strongly condemn the deistic notions about God for it leaves absolutely no scope for religious indoctrination and creates an unimaginable void in the realm of Transcendence. It is in response to nuances like these that the notion of presence assumes multifold importance. It is not only prayer but our entire life that demands, by virtue of its spiritual dimension, that we live perpetually under the spell of divine. Thus religions teach us not merely to pray and thus make prayer a part of our life, but they come to turn our entire life into a sort of prayer. This transformation of life itself into prayer is what has best been embodied by Islamic teachings which reiterate time and again that all acts shall be done according to the law/s prescribed by God and at the beginning and end of each of our activity, the name of God shall be invoked. Not only this, the orations we recite at various instances from entering a washroom to starting our prayer are nothing but a beautiful way of making God a perpetual and living presence in our lives. None of our activities shall be divorced from Transcendent and while we are bodily constantly engaged in acts of world and matter, our heads, hearts and souls shall be perpetually turned to the divine. This act of remembering God in world of forgetting paves the way for “discovering God through material representations”. The highest form of this discovery is prayer and within prayer itself it is dua that marks the height of living relationship between God and believer. The purpose of prayer, as has been narrowly appropriated lately is not merely to make God change his mind and to bring our naive desires to fruition. Prayer is in fact the testimony of our living and real time relationship of servitude and dependency on God. Thus when God asserts “If My servants ask you regarding Me, I am indeed Near. I answer the call of those who call upon Me when they call. So let them answer My call and let them believe in believe in Me–in order that they be truly guided.”, he makes us understand in most emphatic and explicit way that he is very much existentially related to us and responds to our prayers. This response to prayer shall not be seen as the fulfilment of our prayers in material realm (which is true on its own), but it shall invoke in us the existential quest and inspire us to awaken our slumbering spiritual sensibility so that we may truly feel that God is indeed responding to us as our creator and as an object truly worthy of our devotion and worship.

This notion of presence has been subjected to double irony. The religious centric people lost sight of this appeal and dedicated their energies in confining and codifying God in their formulae of logical atomism. They rigidly tried to fix God in their self made definitions made out of untenable language as if trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. While as the role of this intellectual cum theological process can’t be belittled, but their overemphasis on making God comply to their abstractions and creating an unsurpassable chasm between the creator and creation surely set them on too rigid a path. The aftermath of this theorization of God not only created uncompromising hostility among different religions, but within the same religion it gave birth to unending clashes, unforseen intolerance and created such shameful examples that served the purpose of latter day anti religious forces. The second threat, and that is more dangerous, to this “theology of presence” has come from movements like new age spirituality, occult practices and pseudo spiritual shopping malls. Whereas traditional religion and traditional metaphysics taught us to see this world as a reflection and reverberation of transcendental realm, the new age spirituality has tragically represented the divine realm as an “extended expression” of human realm and this immanent universe. This has been sort of shifting the frame of reference and with this shifting of frames, the meaning of spirituality and metaphysics is inverted on its head. This misplaced mysticism and consumerist spirituality is far dangerous than no spirituality at all. In absence of spirituality, one may set out to discover the genuine and true spiritual traditions, but the presence of fake and pseudo spirituality creates a halo effect around man and his genuine thirst and quest is buried under the garb of this “materialistic spirituality”.

There are no palatable solutions to this malice that has invaded our religious obligation of perpetual presence and taught us to be satisfied with rituals without knowing their meaning. What one can do is to read, if one can, the religious scriptures and try to get to the roots of these scriptures. Look out for commonalities among scriptures and try to make a sense out of these commonalities. Another suggestion is to read the authors like Rene Guneon, Frithjof Schoun, Martin Lings, William Chittick and others of their class. What is special about these authors is that they speak about traditional metaphysics in contemporary idiom with an insight that is both inspiring as well as awakening. Finally we must note and note it seriously that life is not a profane activity sprinkled with events of sacred prayers, rather life is sacred as a whole and the existential realisation of this axiom is fundamental postulate on which all religions stand.

(The author is a freelance columnist with bachelors in Electrical Engineering and a student of comparative studies with special interests in Iqbaliyat & mystic thought. He contributes a weekly column for this newspaper that appears every Monday. He can be reached at: amirkas2016@gmail.com)

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Kathua verdict: fact, fable and fiction

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Shabbir Aariz                                   

Finally some relief has been accorded to the family of the victim, Asifa by the trial judge Mr Tejwinder Singh by convicting and punishing the guilty. But it is too little if not too late. The investigating agency has undoubtedly done a commendable job in piecing together the evidence against the odds and succeeded in obtaining conviction for criminal conspiracy, gang rape, poisoning and murder of 8year old Asifa on 17th of January 2018 in Rasana village near Kathua in Jammu. Rape is the fourth most common crime against women in India. The National Crime Records Bureau of India suggests a reported rape rate of 2 per 100,000 people, much lower than reported rape incidence rate in the local Indian media. However, Times of India reported the data by National Crime Records Bureau unveiling that 93 women are being raped in India every day. Every year 7,200 minors are raped as the statistics suggest without unreported ones. Rape is, surprisingly a weapon of punishment in India. In 2014, in Jharkhand village elders ordered the rape of a 14year old. The husband of the woman who was assaulted sexually was told to carry out the rape. As the woman’s husband dragged the girl to a nearby forest, villagers only looked on. Earlier West Bengal village reportedly ordered the gang rape of a 20 year old woman for falling in love with a man from another community. Even in case of Kathua, two BJP ministers stood in favor of the accused. Sexual crimes being committed with impunity not even sparing foreign tourists led to issuance of rape advisories like women travelling should exercise caution when travelling in India even if they are travelling in a group, avoid hailing taxis from streets or using public transport at night. India feels like it is going through an upsurge of sexual violence against children and after several incidents including Asifa’s, received widespread media attention and triggered public protest. The Prime Minister condemned it and UN Secretary General, Antonio Guiterres said “guilty must be held responsible” describing the incident “horrific”. This led the Government of India to reform its penal code for crimes of rape and sexual assault. As such India’s cabinet approved the introduction of death penalty for those who rape children. The executive order was cleared at a special cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Modi. It allowed capital punishment for anyone convicted of raping children under the age of 12. India’s poor record of dealing with sexual violence came to fore after 2012 gang rape and murder of a student on a Delhi bus. The four men involved were sentenced to death. The Supreme Court maintained the death sentence of the convicts; Akshay Thakur, Vinay Sharma, Pawan Gupta and Mukesh. Rejecting their appeal Justice R Banumathi said the men committed “a barbaric crime” that had “shaken society’s conscience”. It is worthwhile to mention that the death penalty to the said persons was given in the year 2013 while as the executive ordinance came in April 2018 after Asifa’s incident and of a 16year old girl in northern Uttar Pradesh by a member of BJP, Kuldeep Sengar (ironically, victim’s father was arrested and thereafter killed by the Kuldeep’s supporters.) Prior to 2012, there was no single law specifically dealing with children as victims of sexual offences. Then came Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act in 2012, India’s first comprehensive law to deal specifically with child sex abuse and surprisingly the number of reported cases of child abuse rose by nearly 45% the next year.

The new amendments enable a court to hand out a death penalty to someone convicted of raping a child under 12, even if it does not result in death. In countries like China, Egypt, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan, rape is punishable with nothing short of death by hanging, beheading or firing squad. Despite the changes to the law and arming Indian courts, there is reluctance to carry out the death penalty. Is there anything wrong with the collective Indian psyche that deters even courts from putting curbs on sexual crimes against even minors? One feels disgusted for the punishment not being exemplary in Asifa’s case when on trial crimes like gang rape and murder were proved. The court was saddled with the law and verdicts of Supreme Court where death penalty awarded was not interfered with and also its observations emphasizing the gravity of such crime with its impact on the society. Do the laws also have a fiction value? When do we really implement them? Is something more needed to shake society’s conscience? It is more likely that the convicts in this case will go in appeal to the higher court against the judgement. The verdict of the lower court also calls for a counter appeal by the prosecution seeking enhancement of punishment to death of the convicts.

 

(A leading lawyer and eminent poet, author contributes a weekly column. He can be reached at:  vaklishabir@gmail.com)     

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Let’s Become Environmental Protectionists!

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Dr. Shahid Amin Trali

It’s very alarming to find the unending disturbances to our environment. Man’s foul play with the nature is not going well with the present as well as our future. The environmental problems are mounting towards a bigger trouble in future but we are yet to recover from deep hibernation/sleep mode. This menace of pollution has existed for centuries but increased at an alarming rate after industrial revolution in the 19th century. Pollution is one of the biggest global killers, affecting over 100 million people. The world’s population is ever increasing and the treasures of the resources are getting overexploited.

 

There is greater need that we must promote better and efficient use of resources. Mass production of plastics, which began just six decades ago, has accelerated very rapidly—most of it in disposable products that end up as trash. If business goes on as usual, plastic pollution will double over the next thirty years. That would mean there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Plastics have several health hazards, both for humans and animals. Not just that, it is detrimental for the environment too. We must encourage the reduction, recycling and re-use of wastes as raw material for new products. Our younger generation is highly creative and all they must be given is ample support and opportunities. We must promote ‘Jugaad’ creation, the idea of using the waste to make something novel and save resources. We need to set examples from our home places and re-use what we would easily throw away and conserve for a future.  What we cannot recycle let us try not use them. Let’s promote paper products as they break down better in the environment and don’t affect our nature as much.

Learning to be more environmentally friendly is not that difficult task than we think. We must start by living with a greater awareness of the resources that we use in our daily life.  For example we must turn off the lights as soon as we leave a room in our homes and offices or even schools and colleges.  We must be environmental friendly when it comes to building our homes and buildings. Trees are necessary for us to survive. We must plant small trees around our home, don’t cut them unless it’s necessary, work with local environmental groups to plant more trees and educate others about the beauty and benefits of trees.

Water needs to be conserved. Few ways to conserve water are – take short showers, keep the running tap close while we brush our teeth, recycle water in our home, use water saving appliances etc. More good ways to contribute will be consume less energy, buy recycled products, and create less waste and many more. We must refrain from open burning as backyard trash and leaf burning releases high levels of toxic compounds. We must use public transit as much as possible. Let us walk more and drive less to conserve fuel and prevent auto-emission. Let’s use bicycles and scooters for shorter distances to save resources.

Cleanliness leads to cleanliness. We can easily find that a dirty place adds to its dirtiness. When we come across a fresh place, we think twice before turning it bad and dirty. It is sad when we think for our clean homes and hardly care for the roads, hospitals, educational institutions, offices, markets etc. Our mindset has to undergo a big overhaul that our public property is our own property.

India is one of the three worst offending countries when it comes to environmental performance. Corporate leaders have started joining the race to save the planet. Being environment-friendly, eco-friendly, going green are huge claims referring to goods and services, laws, guidelines and policies that inflict reduced, minimal, or no harm at all, upon ecosystems or the environment. But the attempts need to be strong and concrete. Small and medium sized companies in particular generate a lot of pollution and need awareness and support policies to safeguard the environment.

Individuals, organizations and governments need to join hands to protect our environment.  Let’s educate others about the significance of living an environmentally friendly life. The more we will share an awareness of the richness of the environment, the more we can do together to protect it. Environmental love and care must receive an all time attention and priority. Let’s go beyond the model building exercises for safer environment and turn them into reality. Organizations must appreciate and reward the employees for their environmental care.

The Philippines recently has taken a unique and wonderful initiative. The island country passed a law under which every student there has to mandatorily plant ten trees in order to get their graduation degree. The law if it is implemented properly will ensure that over 175 million trees will be planted every year. The law will be applicable for college, elementary, and high school students as well. Our education system must owe greater responsibility towards environment and find some unique strategies to safeguard it. Let’s go green and pledge to protect our environment. (The author is Assistant Professor, ITM University Gwalior, Youth Ambassador, International Youth Society. He can be mailed on: dr.shahidamin15@gmail.com)

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