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True scholars

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The Arabic word ‘aalim’, which means one who possesses knowledge, is often used, particularly in the subcontinent, for only those who profess to have studied at some madressah. There is a proliferation of mostly men and a few women who may have learned the Quran and books of ahadith and are deemed capable of preaching their version of religion and offering fatwas (decrees) on any issue.
However, the scholarly credentials of many of these people could be questioned. Thus, the real ulemawho may be truly learned in Islamic sciences tend to be hidden from the public eye.
Seeking knowledge and developing an understanding through rational thought is an oft-repeated theme in the Quran and ahadith. The basic characteristics of scholarship have remained unchanged over centuries. It requires a deeply inquiring mind; the capacity and patience to read extensively and deliberate upon varying and even opposing hypotheses and theories and then formulate views that can be argued rationally and with evidence.
A scholar seeks truth and this journey is never-ending — hence s/he always remains a student as well. A true scholar will never expound her/his opinion as the final word and will preface it by saying that these views are subject to change when faced with convincing arguments. Scientific facts can be discovered and hypotheses proved through experiments and deductive logic, but in the realm of religion and faith, that involves interpretation of the word of God and application of ahadith and Sunnah, scholars owe it not only to themselves but also to the Muslim community to remain true to the spirit of scholarship, by constantly reviewing, questioning and analysing their conclusions.
Humility is one of the requirements of being an Islamic scholar. It is absolutely essential to be able to express doubt or lack of one’s own clarity about a particular issue, and not appear to know everything there is to know about religion or even the Quran. There are innumerable mufassirs (exegetes) who have written interpretations of the Quran, but rare is the one who may have referred to an interpretation differing from his or who may have suggested that a particular verse could possess more than the meaning s/he is inclined to see.
To be honest to truth also means accepting the rigour of and giving credit to others even if one might disagree with their views. It is common to find people who ridicule and use disparaging language when mentioning others who may have affronted their religious opinions. Attacking personalities and not taking an intellectually honest path to understanding the other’s arguments is dishonesty and lack of integrity towards that most precious asset of the human mind — rational knowledge.
Islamic scholarship demands assessment of an issue from as many perspectives as possible, particularly those that might be in opposition to what the scholar is inclined to believe. In fact, a scholar should approach an issue without pre-formed beliefs and opinions. S/he should play the devil’s advocate and attempt to look at a situation objectively. Of course, it is impossible to be completely neutral, but a conscious effort needs to be made to dilute one’s biases.
With knowledge comes responsibility to share, carefully and consistently. Unfor­tunately, this sharing sometimes takes the form of preaching in strong and emotionally charged language. It leaves the audience no opportunity to question or to disagree or to research on its own. Listeners become eager to follow the preaching of their teachers. This tends to close one’s mind to question any statement of the preacher, however irrational. Taqleed (emulation) in itself is not condemnable, but people may need to consider what other scholars think, and scholars need to be less categorical when providing their views. Blind followership may create a curtailing of one’s own thinking abilities.
Scholars in a truly Islamic society should lead the process of creation of knowledge and its dissemination for training and raising awareness, and, simultaneously, opening new pathways for further research and knowledge growth. Their role should not be to dictate, rule and control the minds of people. They should also not attempt to close lines of intellectual inquiry and debate. Their role is to encourage asking of questions though not always to supply readymade answers which the questioner may take for a decree but which may require deeper assessment and recourse to other forms of human knowledge.


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Editorial

Bad news from Islamabad

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Pakistan is in its history’s worst economic crisis. With no end in sight, Prime Minister Imran Khan has removed his finance minister Assad Umar from his position, and appointed a new chief Abdul Hafeez Sheikh for the finance ministry. Sheikh has served as economic advisor in General Musharraf’s government. But keen observers believe that removal of Assad would hardly bring any positive change in the current crisis without a huge bailout package from International Monetary Fund (IMF). While the exact amount of this package has not been determined, Pakistan already owes the IMF billions from previous programs. Since Pakistan is already on Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) grey list, any bailout package from friendly countries too is the most unlikely. It is a serious challenge that is starring at Imran Khan’s face so freighting. Imran Khan’s eight-month-old government has faced sustained criticism from political opponents, independent commentators and the business community over the government’s handling of the economic crisis facing the country. Much of that criticism was leveled against his finance minister Assad Umar. In his bid to pacify his critics and wriggle the country out of these crises, Imran Khan, last week, removed Assad from finance ministry for the lack of effective financial strategy. He was given other ministry but Assad took it as insult and he resigned from the government. Assad’s removal came immediately after he worked out a bailout package with the officials of IMF in New York. An IMF mission is expected to visit Islamabad next month to work out more details though, according to Assad, all major issues had been settled and documented. Assad was made the butt of criticism for taking months to finalize the IMF deal which resulted in serious economic crisis. The critics said that the delay in working out deal with the IMF shattered the confidence of the investors in Pakistan economy.
Pakistan is reeling under huge international debt. It can well be understood from the fact that currently around 31 percent of Pakistan government’s expenditure is earmarked for debt servicing. What ails Pak economy further is the decreasing revenues. Dwindling foreign exchange reserves, low exports and high inflation is adding menacingly to growing fiscal deficit, and current account deficit of Pakistan. The country has no other option but to knock on the IMF doors. It would 22nd bailout loan from the international body to Pakistan since 1980. Dr Kaiser Bengali, Dean of the Faculty of Management Science at the Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology, in Karachi, last week, warned that Pakistan’s economy has reached the “point of collapse”. “For the first time in four decades of research, I am deeply worried. The alarm bells are ringing. We have no choice but to beg. I fear starvation, poverty and unemployment,” he warned. Pakistan government is likely to present the budget on May 24. Pakistan needs to ensure investment friendly environment to attract the international investors. Pakistan is facing a serious image problem that is scaring global investors. It is in the interest of Pakistan to improve its image as a responsible and credible nation-state by getting better the security scenario of the country to attract foreign direct investment. According to the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business report, Pakistan ranks 136th out of 190 economies. To improve this ranking and draw more investment, Pakistan should ease customs laws and regulations and rebrand and boost its international image as a desirable destination for tourism and industry alike. It should also encourage domestic investment through more flexible tax policies, particularly targeting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Such measures would reposition Pakistan on the international stage as stable, competitive ground for foreign investment.

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Editorial

Ominous signals

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The highway in Kashmir is not just a road these days. It is a statement, a very strong statement that tells the people that they are dominated 24×7. A statement that rings in your ears, reminding you that you may live here but the place isn’t yours. The highway is also a proof of the Kashmir imbroglio at its worst these days. You reside along the highway, you need a permission to cross it. You need to drive to a hospital and use the highway, you need to ask a magistrate first. You dare question the men in uniform, you end up beaten and humiliated, not matter who you are. On Tuesday, the Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) of Dooru in Anantnag, who’s supposed to permit civilians to use the road, was himself beaten black and blue by army personnel manning the highway. Ironically, the Magistrate was facilitating India’s ‘democracy’ in Kashmir. He was on election duty and also heading towards Qazigund to resolve the matter of traffic congestion on the highway in the morning. The Magistrate and his subordinates, who, as per his written statement, were travelling in a government vehicle, were stopped at Dalwach crossing by the army men ordering them to halt till the convoy passed. The magistrate complied. But for no reason, his driver was dragged out and beaten by the armed personnel. When the magistrate tried to intervene, telling the men in camouflage that he was an SDM and was called in by the District Magistrate Anantnag, who, as per the statement was waiting for him at Vessu, he was picked up by collar, abused and dragged, and then thrashed on gunpoint. The officials, as per the SDM’s statement, were held on gunpoint, their vehicle and other belongings, including their phones and election-related material, were searched and damaged. As if that wasn’t enough humiliation, the officials were then held hostage for about half an hour, during which the army personnel removed the safety locks of their weapons, aimed guns at them and threatened to kill them. It was only after the Deputy Commissioner Anantnag reached the spot that the SDM and other officials were set free. Imagine what a commoner would be facing if a magistrate goes through such disgrace and ordeal! The government forces in Kashmir are not concerned about who, or in what state, you are. You can be a busy government official, who needs to reach some place of importance, you can be a patient in an ambulance, who needs immediate medical care, you can be anyone but for the gun-wielding troopers, you are the same. They treat you as cannon fodder, lesser human beings, who can be jack-booted on the might of laws like AFSPA. The claim is not rhetorical. Only last Wednesday, an ambulance ferrying a cancer patient, was stopped on the highway to let the convoys pass through. The man eventually died. A video of the incident when the ambulance was stopped had gone viral on social media. A person can be seen telling the paramilitary trooper that they were carrying a patient, but the trooper does not allow him to pass through until the long, serpentine convoy clears. Another video that had gone viral on social media shows a young lad being choked down by an armed trooper. Apparently, the incident happened on the Sanat Nagar highway intersection in Srinagar. The youth literally has a fight with the armed forces, who pounced upon him, thrashing him with their long, wooden batons. All these incidents carry a clear message for the people of Kashmir: that the oppressors will treat you as second-class citizens in your own homeland, and they will do so with impunity. Still for the sake of argument and the fact that we believe in the near-hollow image of whatever little freedom is left in this place, the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, Satya Pal Malik is expected to use his office and establish some sanity on the ground. How do you expect to conduct elections, an exercise of democracy, in a place where the electorate is suppressed with muscle power? Mr Governor, it is time to do something even if that means just a face-saving act for you.

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Editorial

Speaking Truth to Power

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The people who are either in power or with wealth and influence like to be followed or obeyed and usually don’t like detractors challenging their wrong views or opinions. Speaking truth to power is not easy and requires moral courage and deep conviction. Thus, it is not difficult to see the rarity of such a trait in today’s human beings who seem to be motivated more by material gains than what’s morally right and just.
The religion of Islam puts great emphasis on upholding truth and justice under all circumstances, even against one’s loved ones. Let me share below some relevant verses of the Qur’an:“O ye who believe! Be ye staunch in justice, witnesses for Allah, even though it be against yourselves or (your) parents or (your) kindred, whether (the case be of) a rich man or a poor man, for Allah is nearer unto both (them ye are). So follow not passion lest ye lapse (from truth) and if ye lapse or fall away, then lo! Allah is ever Informed of what ye do.” –(4:135)
“O ye who believe! Be steadfast witnesses for Allah in equity and let not hatred of any people seduce you that ye deal not justly. Deal justly, that is nearer to your duty. Observe your duty to Allah. Lo! Allah is informed of what ye do.” –(5:8)
Prophet Muhammad said, “Speak the truth even when it is bitter.” He also said, “No man can attain a firm faith, unless he developed strength of character and that cannot be achieved unless one acquires the habit of speaking the truth.” He said, “By Allah, you must enjoin good and forbid evil, and hold the hand of aggressors to persuade them to act justly and make them steadfast on truth, failing which Allah will punish you along with others (i.e., wrong doers) and you will be cursed like the Bani Israel.”
Caliph Umar famously said to a congregation of Muslims gathered in a mosque near Jerusalem, “… And speak the truth. Do not hesitate to say what you consider to be the truth. Say what you feel. Let your conscience be your guide. Let your intentions be good, for verily God is aware of your intentions. In your deeds your intentions count. Fear God, and fear no one else.”
It is not difficult to understand how and why the Qur’anic commandments and Islamic teachings had emboldened many Muslims throughout the Islamic history, dating from the time of the first call of pure monotheism to more contemporary times, to dare to speak the truth. When Prophet preached pure monotheism amongst the pagan Arabs of his time, he and his followers) faced much resistance from the leaders of the community. Islam was a new faith amongst the Arabs of the 7th century C.E. that challenged the old order – customs, traditions, rules and regulations, requiring uncompromising belief in an unseen God – Allah. It challenged the Makkan aristocracy. It required the believer to change his/her lifestyle so that he/she won’t lie, deceive, gamble, intoxicate, kill, murder, steal, fornicate, commit female infanticide, etc. It required fasting (without food and water) from dawn to dusk, during the entire month of Ramadan, a task which was very difficult in unusually hot summer days of Arabia. It required praying five times daily to remind the believer of his/her servitude to Allah and accountability of his/her deeds – good and bad, large and small. It demanded paying the poor-due (zakat) and making regular charity (sadaqah), feeding the indigent and relieving pains and sufferings of fellow creatures – acts that are against innate human attitude towards wealth and possession. It advocated freeing of slaves. It demanded fair treatment of all – especially, the women and orphans. It preached brotherhood and sisterhood of mankind, irrespective of one’s upbringing, colour, race, nationality and wealth. It demanded standing out for truth and justice, even if it was against one’s own soul (nafs). It demanded leading a clean life away from sin and vice that is always mindful of relationship with Allah, fellow creatures and environment, and his/her own self.

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