By Amir Suhail Wani
Equipped with science as a major epistemological dispensation and unaware of the contours, specifications and implications of scientific hermeneutics on one hand and the wholesale subscription of constricted and constrained existential ontology on the other hand seems to have left our generation between the sea and the devil. Science seems no more analytic and philosophy seems no more integrating. About faith, that once claimed to define existentially man’s position within the cosmos and to smoothen his relationship with the horizontal and vertical dimensions of existence, seems to be losing its own battle and being victim of its own uncritical assumptions. The quest for reinterpretation, revaluation and re-examination of hitherto infallible and unanimous institutions of social sanctity among the youth and the simultaneous impasse imposed by orthodoxy on any fresh thinking has not only left the minds stifled, but at times inspired them to turn rebellious, apostate and heretic.
People of book in general and people from Islamic creed in particular are not only facing challenges on various fronts from outside, but the magnitude and multitude of challenges lying at the very foundations of Islamic discourse has made the contemporary generation to oscillate on the spectrum of ideological impermanence. Faced with challenges emerging from scientific and philosophical trends, Muslim youth, like their fellows from parallel faiths have time and again tried to rush to the doctors of faith – – – mostly to return dismayed. They don’t get satisfactory and satiating answers from scholars, instead they end up as being branded as traitors and heretics within the faith. This is not merely an instance of wrong answers to brilliant questions but seen in its broader perspective this is very much the problem of epistemic mismatch. A student under the spell of Existentialism,postmodernism,positivism, feminism, Scientism etc., (as most of our youth are) looking for answers from traditional seminaries is accountable for his error of steering the wheel eastward with the intention of going west. Those of our scholars brought up in seminaries of traditional learning are, by virtue of their syllabi and structure, left in total eclipse with regards to the dynamics of contemporary literary, scientific and philosophical landscape. This brings about an unavoidable collision between youth, with their ever expanding horizons and traditional scholars, with their specific approach to textual interpretation and religious understanding. The burden of mismatch can be placed neither on youth, for their right to question shall be placed only next to their right to live. Nor can the scholars of traditional learning be accused of their oblivion of contemporary academic landscape. We owe many things to these scholars of traditional learning and the seminaries they belong to, for they have not only preserved our traditional sciences but also embodied the methodology of dealing with hermeneutics of traditional sciences. Therefore problem here is of mismatch and the ways of addressing this grave quandary and not of rebuking one another.
Universally the fact remains that men can be deprived of anything but not of their questioning spirit. Quran, recognising this spirit of free enquiry in men not only endorsed it but fostered it by virtue of divine injunctions. The Quran commands contemplation within and without and no authority shall deprive any thinking men or women to give up this act of contemplation and the consequent questioning spirit. To surrender questioning and to distance oneself from legitimate rational enquiry is unbecoming of a sapient creature. Among the companions of prophet we come across a daring questioning spirit and rarely do we come across an instant when the companions were bashed or their questioning spirit was discouraged. The disapproval came only at certain instances when questions were more of metaphysical character. Despite that the books of Ahadith are filled with questions of companions and the answers of the Prophet. At times God intervened and responded to the questions coming to prophet either in terms of explicit revelation or in terms of Hadith Qudsi. The point to be emphasised is that to question is not to sin but a virtue instead. Ali, the door of learning is reported to have said in pulpit “ask me, whatever you want, before you find me no more among you”. The Islamic history with isolated intellectual skirmishes is otherwise resplendent with a healthy atmosphere of questioning and rational enquiry. The existence of philosophers like Farrabi, Razi, Ghazali, the theological schools Asharites, Muatazillites, Maturidis and mystics like Suharwardi, Ibn I Arabi, and others was possible only because of the spirit of free enquiry. Unfortunately and tragically a narrative is and has been floated for long that to question in matters of faith amounts not only to sin but to apostasy and heresy. This has made the problem doubly impenetrable. On the one side we have youth with their heads boiling with questions and spirit of enquiry and on the other hand we are facing an intellectual impasse and the position of status quoism.
As far as the nature of questions is concerned our contemporary generation is least interested in issues concerning jurisprudence or traditional fiqh. By this, I don’t, in any sense tend to undermine the significance of fiqh in Islamic creed. But the flood of skepticism and unexamined rationalism that has brought with a host of specific questions are of primary concern for Islamic youth. The responsibility therefore for scholars is to primarily understand these questions and the nature of answers youth expects from them. This bilateral exchange in which students come up with their specific questions and the nature of answers they expect can be, for the sake of brevity summed as :-
- Confronted with plethora of religious and secular ideologies our youth is in utter delusion with regards to the uniqueness, universality and peculiarity of Islam. The arguments floating from other shores are at times more concrete than what our scholars usually tend to offer. So the first responsibility of our learned scholars is to understand Islam not only in its traditional idiom but with its all emergent versions and in all possible frames so as to assert the ideological and pragmatic vitality of Islam. Any failure in this regard shall amount to an intellectual revolt within the tradition – – – A revolt that’s overtly operational all over the Muslim lands.
- Youth aren’t satisfied, by virtue of their specific academic upbringing by the quotations from traditional sources. Despite the fact that they aren’t entirely correct in their approach, but they tend to seek scientific and rational answers to their questions. They seem to be least interested in metaphysical gymnastics and grammarian dissection of a text. The very nature of their questions makes traditional answering pattern quite redundant.
- Their acquaintance with Western sciences unnecessarily makes them to revolve under the spell of self-constructed intellectual superiority – – – – Mistakenly so.
These and many other issues coupled together makes the problem of addressing youth and their questions highly tedious and demanding. They don’t come to you and ask if the hands are to be raised or not during prayers. They come with their questions revolving around epistemology, theodicy, eschatology, textual interpretation in light of literary criticism and literary theories, modern philosophy, fresh approaches to Seerah, new dimensions of hermeneutics and alike. Before exploring the theme further, the youth and particularly those who raise genuine questions are to be held accountable on few things. Primarily they tend to be over informed in matters of secular sciences and totally naive or in different towards sacred or religious sciences and tragically they aren’t ready to accept this lacuna on their part. Secondarily as a matter of first-hand experience there are people who keep selectively gathering the questions and spend their entire lives with the notion that these questions can have no possible answers. This is not only a sign of regression but a conspicuous symbol of intellectual bankruptcy. The Quran has thankfully instructed us to “ask the people of knowledge in case we don’t know” and has simultaneously blessed us with the glad tiding that “Those who strive for us – we will surely guide them to our ways”. Both these verses read together are a sustainable and perennial source of learning and inspiration for a traveller. Philo said that “I have never risked in matters of faith”. But our generation under the influence of various compulsions and influences goes on not only experimenting but repeatedly risking on matters of faith.
What ought to be done in this era of crisis. In an age where people tend to know more and more about less and less until they sarcastically end up knowing everything about nothing. The challenge at hand is a herculean one and so the society, the intellectuals and those who share a common concern to this end need to reboot themselves to tackle the issues of atheism and consequent moral relativism. The response needs indeed to be a one rooted in intellect and not mere rhetoric or emotional wordplay. The steps that I think can be perused as a short term measures and that I believe will benefit the youth at large are as follows:
- An active, continuous and positive exchange of ideas and individuals needs to be started between traditional madrasas and modern day universities. A professor from University may be called upon for a lecture at a traditional seminary to aware the students to the impulses and requirements of modern times. Likewise a muhaddith, a mufasir, a Faqih may be made to interact with students of secular institutions of learning so as to give them an outline of what traditional sciences look like, how they are to be approached and how they are to be appropriated in the wake of contemporary challenges.
- The department of Islamic studies as it exists in various universities across the state may be calibrated as per the intellectual requirements of society. These departments ought to be aware of the fact that their purpose is not to prepare men of pulpit or the men of Jurisprudence but they ought to prepare minds who can counter, by virtue of their intellectual capacity the intellectual crisis that we are going through on the front of faith. At this point it becomes important to emphasise that the role of teachers here is not to indoctrinate students to their specific ideology, but to instil in them the spirit and sense of independent critical evaluation within the pattern specific to religion itself.
- Both inside and outside academia authors like Allama Iqbal, Khalifa Abdul Hakeem, Ameer Ali, Frithjof Schoun, Burhan Ahmad Farooqi, Schimmel, Gulen, Maulana Maudoodi, Javed Ghamdi and their likes need to be read, understood and appreciated on a wider scale. The list indeed reflects my personal reflections, but in any case the point of emphasis is to open up our minds to those authors who have understood and consequently approached Islam, keeping in mind the modern sensitivities. The readers may come up with an equally well weighed parallel list of authors for their own benefit at their respective places.
- Orientalists have appeared like an unavoidable externality and unnecessary evil vis a vis the Islamic discourse over a past century and so. They have dominated the Islamic narrative both outside Islam and within Islamic intellect. Thus it becomes incumbent upon scholars both from traditional and modern school of thought to keep themselves well informed about “oriental poison” and offer it a rebuttal in most appropriate scholarly idiom.
- Our learned scholars need to understand that the very nature modern times has left little scope for condemning each other. Their mutual condemnations and war within the house has to be given up in case we are sincerely interested in addressing the challenges that threaten our faith and institutions of faith at large. There is no wisdom in being polemical, but only in accepting and tolerating the different opinions thriving within the religion and to accord to each view its due share of intellectual and moral respect. We need to bear in mind the words of Allama Iqbal that “Don’t fight the interpretations of the truth when truth itself is in danger”.
These are the least and minimum number of steps we expect scholars from all schools of thought to take in unison so as to avert the impending clouds of disbelief and religious unrest among youth. There are no doubt institutions and individuals operating in different capacities and in different magnitudes in different forms and formats. But all these individuals and institutions need to wake up to the magnitude of challenge and realise that it deserves a consolidated response and not a fragmented one. The scholars who specialise in specific academic disciplines need to pool in their knowledge and understanding together both for their mutual benefit and for the mitigation of incoming challenges. This may call upon the formation of some body, official or unofficial, with name or without name, with office or without office. But a dedicated body is needed to work devotionally to this end not only to save this generation but to pave a model for generations following this one. We shall not shy away or be scared of rising to the occasion of inter religious dialogue starting from intra religious understanding in case the need arises for the same.
Any failure on part of our scholars to understand and address the burning issues of contemporary religious episteme is bound to cost us all both terrestrially as well as in terms of cosmic balance. The responsibility of scholars is to come up with “Baraheen” within their respective domains of understanding. Their job, thereafter, is neither to condemn youth (public) on the basis of their questioning spirit nor is it a binding upon them to drag people to the path of God, for guidance and salvation, is in the end, a divine prerogative.
(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: [email protected])
Why EVMs must go
By G. Sampath
The recent Assembly elections — the last major polling exercise before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls — were not devoid of Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) malfunctions.
Though the discourse at present makes no distinction between a ‘malfunction’ (which suggests a technical defect) and ‘tampering’ (manipulation aimed at fraud), there were several reports of misbehaving EVMs. Alarmingly, in Madhya Pradesh alone, the number of votes polled did not match the number of votes counted in 204 out of the 230 constituencies. The Election Commission’s (EC) explanation is that the votes counted is the actual number of votes polled — a circular logic that precludes cross-verification.
A discrepancy of even one vote between votes polled and votes counted is unacceptable. This is not an unreasonably high standard but one followed by democracies worldwide. It might therefore be helpful to briefly look beyond the question that has hijacked the EVM debate — of how easy or tough it is to hack these machines — and consider the first principles of a free and fair election.
The reason a nation chooses to be a democracy is that it gives moral legitimacy to the government. The fount of this legitimacy is the people’s will. The people’s will is expressed through the vote, anonymously (the principle of secret ballot). Not only must this vote be recorded correctly and counted correctly, it must also be seen to be recorded correctly and counted correctly. The recording and counting process must be accessible to, and verifiable by, the public. So transparency, verifiability, and secrecy are the three pillars of a free and fair election.
Regardless of whether one is for or against EVMs, there is no getting away from the fact that any polling method must pass these three tests to claim legitimacy. Paper ballots obviously do. The voter can visually confirm that her selection has been registered, the voting happens in secret, and the counting happens in front of her representative’s eyes.
EVMs, however, fail on all three, as established by a definitive judgment of the German constitutional court in 2009. The court’s ruling forced the country to scrap EVMs and return to paper ballot. Other technologically advanced nations such as the Netherlands and Ireland have also abandoned EVMs.
If we take the first two criteria, EVMs are neither transparent nor verifiable. Neither can the voter see her vote being recorded, nor can it be verified later whether the vote was recorded correctly. What is verifiable is the total number of votes cast, not the choice expressed in each vote. An electronic display of the voter’s selection may not be the same as the vote stored electronically in the machine’s memory. This gap was why the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) was introduced.
But VVPATs solve only one-half of the EVMs’ transparency/verifiability problem: the voting part. The counting part remains an opaque operation. If anyone suspects a counting error, there is no recourse, for an electronic recount is, by definition, absurd. Some believe the VVPATs can solve this problem too, through statistics.
At present, the EC’s VVPAT auditing is restricted to one randomly chosen polling booth per constituency. In a recent essay, K. Ashok Vardhan Shetty, a former IAS officer, demonstrates that this sample size will fail to detect faulty EVMs 98-99% of the time. He also shows that VVPATs can be an effective deterrent to fraud only on the condition that the detection of even one faulty EVM in a constituency must entail the VVPAT hand-counting of all the EVMs in that constituency. Without this proviso, VVPATs would merely provide the sheen of integrity without its substance.
The third criterion is secrecy. Here too, EVMs disappoint. With the paper ballot, the EC could mix ballot papers from different booths before counting, so that voting preferences could not be connected to a given locality. But with EVMs, we are back to booth-wise counting, which allows one to discern voting patterns and renders marginalised communities vulnerable to pressure. Totaliser machines can remedy this, but the EC has shown no intent to adopt them.
So, on all three counts — transparency, verifiability and secrecy — EVMs are flawed. VVPATs are not the answer either, given the sheer magnitude of the logistical challenges. The recent track record of EVMs indicates that the number of malfunctions in a national election will be high. For that very reason, the EC is unlikely to adopt a policy of hand-counting all EVMs in constituencies where faulty machines are reported, as this might entail hand-counting on a scale that defeats the very purpose of EVMs. And yet, this is a principle without which the use of VVPATs is meaningless.
Despite these issues, EVMs continue to enjoy the confidence of the EC, which insists that Indian EVMs, unlike the Western ones, are tamper-proof. But this is a matter of trust. Even if the software has been burnt into the microchip, neither the EC nor the voter knows for sure what software is running in a particular EVM. One has to simply trust the manufacturer and the EC. But as the German court observed, the precondition of this trust is the verifiability of election events, whereas in the case of EVMs, “the calculation of the election result is based on a calculation act which cannot be examined from outside”.
While it is true that the results come quicker and the process is cheaper with EVMs as compared to paper ballot, both these considerations are undeniably secondary to the integrity of the election. Another argument made in favour of the EVM is that it eliminates malpractices such as booth-capturing and ballot-box stuffing. In the age of the smartphone, however, the opportunity costs of ballot-box-stuffing and the risk of exposure are prohibitively high. In contrast, tampering with code could accomplish rigging on a scale unimaginable for booth-capturers. Moreover, it is nearly impossible to detect EVM-tampering. As a result, suspicions of tampering in the tallying of votes — as opposed to malfunction in registering the votes, which alone is detectable — are destined to remain in the realm of speculation. The absence of proven fraud might save the EVM for now, but its survival comes at a dangerous cost — the corrosion of people’s faith in the electoral process.
Yet there doesn’t have to be incontrovertible evidence of EVM-tampering for a nation to return to paper ballot. Suspicion is enough, and there is enough of it already. As the German court put it, “The democratic legitimacy of the election demands that the election events be controllable so that… unjustified suspicion can be refuted.” The phrase “unjustified suspicion” is pertinent. The EC has always maintained that suspicions against EVMs are unjustified. Clearly, the solution is not to dismiss EVM-sceptics as ignorant technophobes. Rather, the EC is obliged to provide the people of India a polling process capable of refuting unjustified suspicion, as this is a basic requirement for democratic legitimacy, not an optional accessory.
Doctor to serve the Humanity but ……….
By Sheikh Umar Ahmad
Doctors profession is regarded as a noble profession world over and is given due dignity and honor in global community for their selfless service to humankind.Every educated person aims to become a doctor in order to serve humanity in best and better of their capacities, but as it is, everybody can’t become a doctor and there are other professions as well to serve the humanity in general. Among all other professions, the medicine is regarded as one of the coveted both in terms of requirement of its service as well in terms of monetary benefits. This profession is only among existing ones that cater to global community involvement as well as service dissemination. Every person has expectations from doctors to deliver in close coordination anytime, rather 24*7 when the need arises without any internal or external excuses, including personal ones. There is a deeper dissatisfaction & grudges when any person from medicine community refuses any other person of consultation when it is time for them to serve. If they are unable to deliver to society with utmost satisfaction, then their purpose of serving the society through this profession only does not hold any merit. A similar kind of episode some days before than happened at state’s premier maternity hospital, so called as Lal Ded has shaken the whole Kashmiriyat that is otherwise known world over for their hospitality and generous behavior but some doctors who in literal sense are there to grab the greater public shearing and for their mere monetary benefits, have deceived and decimated the expectations of one of economically, socially and educationally backward section of our society who yet hold equal weightage at the measures table when it comes to Kashmir diversity and harmonious ethnicity.
Their refusal to admit a women in labor pain and then her parturition at a roadside, has shackled the immediate conscience of whole educated lot of Kashmir who now think that there should be a humanity course for every doctor before only he is allowed to practice medicine. A doctor in true essence should be ready to work in any society, with any person, and to serve any other person in need irrespective of his caste, creed, colour, religion, sect and above all ethnicity. If a doctor is unable to work in any multi-cultural society, he loses his position in the eyes of society to be called as a doctor. This person dashes the hopes of weaker section of society as they think that such persons can never pay attention towards them being economically and culturally senile. The death of a newborn on the roadside at Srinagar area speak volumes about those gross irregularities that still exist in best of our essential & emergency services. This should not have been the case and nothing such things happen in world over but are common in Kashmir only and there is a greater need to overhaul the whole system so to debug these bogus and nefarious elements in society that tarnish the whole image.
There should have been a commission in place to look at those gross malicious activities thatdiscord the whole organisational setup. Now as we know, the enquiry will be put in place and at the end what will be seen, nothing but the ball will be put in the court of victim by falsifying & negating the whole episode. The little one has gone now and no one on earth can bring him back. This episode brings this message forth, that doctor being the representative guardian of life our earth, protect lives every day in every part of world and there is a greater sense of satisfaction and this dealing makes the person feel happy internally & eternally for this greatest benefit to mankind. But for us, it is high time now, that we repent of our past sins and relook at our duties to disseminate it properly at every time it is required. Every person will be suitably rewarded for his good deeds and kind gestures that he has done on humanity and doctors are none as exception.
They are the best representatives of selfless service and moral attitude, and kind reflection of ultimate hope. State administration in Kashmir at the helm of affairs need to reaffirm their responsibilities and duties, so that utmost discipline is maintained in hospitals both from public & doctors end. If public outrages over anything that may be the reflection and agony of intermix of pain and grief. It is the responsibility of doctors on duty to deal with those situations quite humbly and morally, so that the professionals deliver their duties in its true essence and totally error free. There should be limited biasness in dealing with culturally and economically down-centric groups of society. We need to be first ambassadors of humanity before guardians of life through practising medicine to protect the lives of people. We need to safeguard the hopes and expectations of our ethnic groups before we deliver our best to save the lives.
These episodes nevertheless should be repeated in the times to come, else this profession will loseits dignity and honor world over for not withstanding with the requirements of and fulfilling the criteria of being a doctor humanely. There are doctors who treat animals even, this never mean that we need to make an animal human first to be treated by a human doctor as animals are animals, rather we need to be real doctors to understand the physiology of animals before only we can treat them. This is the only message I can conclude with… ! Hence a change is imperative.
(The author is Doctoral Research Scholar, currently working as DST INSPIRE Fellow at CSIR Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine Jammu)
The angry Pakistani
By Arifa Noor
IT takes an outsider to point out the anger within us. Last week, a former US ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, spoke at an event, arguing that our anger prevents us from telling the good story about Pakistan to the world.
It reminded me of an interaction that took place nearly 20 years ago. Back in 2000, a soft-spoken Indian professor from Delhi had asked why the Pakistani people were always so pessimistic about their country — present and future — despite the fact that till the 1990s, Pakistan had always enjoyed better social and economic indicators (including a higher growth rate) than India. It was a question I had no answer to. The hostile questions about Kargil and military rule were easier to answer during that trip to India than this gentle insight and a sense of bewilderment about our state of being.
But since that morning in New Delhi, there have been so many moments when the professor’s question has come back to mind. Countless memories that came spilling out echoed what former ambassador Munter said. Some as clear as the question asked by the Indian professor; some a little less sharp. But each one testifies to our despair, anger or lack of confidence in what is known as Pakistan.
We have been living in an age of anger, decades before Pankaj Mishra wrote about it.
Fast forward from 2000 to the last months of 2007 or the beginning of 2008: a faded memory, I am unsure of the exact month, but it was during the days of that heady yet difficult transition from dictatorship to democracy. Musharraf was fighting for his survival. Benazir Bhutto and the Sharifs were clawing their way back to relevance (followed by the devastating assassination of the former). A lawyers’ movement had caught Pakistan’s imagination. And there were terrorist attacks galore.
In the midst of these trying yet hopeful times, an op-ed had discussed Pakistan as a possible failed state. I was told that the writer had gotten a call from an amused friend in Afghanistan who said that despite all that had happened in and to Afghanistan, no Afghan would ever call his country a ‘failed state’.
We, of course, have used this term so often for the country that many of us believe it is a failed state — despite the term’s problematic origins as one used by Washington to describe countries it ‘disapproved’ of rather than an empirically established concept.
Then there are jumbled up memories of various track II dialogues. Each such seminar or conference is coupled with at least one discussion (on the sidelines) of how the Indians (and more recently the Afghans) present a united stand unlike Pakistanis. There is always a sense of frustration at how we end up helping ‘their’ cause rather than supporting our interest.
Why do we do this, as the professor asked?
Perhaps it stems from our long bouts of dictatorships. Denied their due and rightful say in policymaking has made entire swathes of the populace angry, hostile and critical of the state. They are angry at being left out: it’s an anger that is accompanied by a sense of helplessness at the direction that the country and society have taken. And in recent times, too, there is a sense of outrage because course correction (if there is any in their opinion) has not included their input. Hence, many refuse to believe that there has been any course correction, or criticise it for moving too slowly.
This is why perhaps the anger is most palpable when it comes to foreign policy, especially relations with India, and the radicalism that has engulfed state and society.
Being denied a voice, there is little left to do but express rage at the state, what it has come to stand for and to also conclude that there can be little hope for the future. (Pakistan has not just been at the crossroads ever since I can remember, it has also forever been in danger of being torn apart).
The rage has gotten worse post-2008, for the hope that accompanied the transition then has turned bitter. We thought that the worst was over, that ‘true’ democracy had returned to Pakistan and politicians would now rule — fixing all that had gone wrong. The 10 years of exile and powerlessness had also given the politicos a sheen of competence and maturity. But it was yet another shab gazida sahar (night-bitten dawn).
Ten years later, the anger has grown for it seems that decision making was never transferred. But because the hope this time was greater, so has the rage been too. And perhaps because the urban middle class fought for this transition in greater numbers than before, the disappointment is greater. They are angry for they cannot see the change they had fought for or protested against.
The judiciary turned out to have feet of clay. The military didn’t really share as much as they had promised. And the politicians didn’t deliver the reform or show any inclination for democratic norms once in power. And we continue to rail, against all of them or the one we had placed most hope in, or the one we hated most.
In addition, the rage has turned into hatred of the institution that has disappointed us the most. Indeed, the anger is expressed with malicious glee at times: the Sahiwal incident is a case in point, as was the controversial statement by a former high court judge, Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, or any terrorist attack which reveals chinks in the armour of the security forces. And, of course, the various JITs revealing the shenanigans of our political ruling class.
It is as if we have no option but to express our rage, so all energy is poured into it.
But expressing outrage, however cathartic it may be, is not a strategy, which is what Cameron Munter was trying to say.