Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Political: A Palestinian play on the Israeli Wall

A Palestinian theatre production in Arabic and with English subtitles at Singapore Arts Festival 2006
13th June and 14th June 8 pm.

The Wall
Al – Kasaba Theatre & Cinematheque

(The Palestinian Territories)
This is story-telling theatre at its gem best: simple, direct and personal.
A professional theatre company based in Ramallah, Al Kasaba unfolds the stories of ordinary folks living behind the wall that divides Israel and the Palestinian territories on the West Bank of the Jordan River.
With a minimal but dynamic set of panels, the actors sing, dance and narrate hard facts and funny truths about separation and segregation.
Hamlet’s "To be or not to be" speech is recited by a corpse who is not entitled to a proper funeral as his will decrees he be buried in another cemetery on the other side of the wall.
A human story rather than a political story, The Wall is by turns playful, poignant and painful.
"…a fresh combination of the traditional story telling with an original set" –, Israel
"The audience in Jerusalem strongly connected with the piece – in turns laughing uproariously, silent and appreciative."–, UK
Performed in Arabic with English surtitles
Post-show dialogue with director George Ibrahim on 13 June
tickets at $20, $30, $40, $50

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

My pic

finally a pic for my profile

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Social: Inconsistent Representation of Muslim world

below are urls & thumbnails for pretty nice photos of mosques/shrines in pakistan taken by umair ghani. in the past, even nicer pics can be taken using colour saturated film and filters though it is a difficult and tedious these photos are extremely a lot easier to do with digital photography though they are not as nice as slide photos. yet even today there are far few photos of the Muslim world and majority of the ones that are actually being taken are either orientalistic or post-modernistic.even this photographer spends only a fraction of his efforts on Islamic stuff.there is an vaccum for consistent representation of the Muslim world pictorally.

Shrine of Shah Rukan E Alam

Old Mosque

Other Photos by Umair Ghani

Economics: Economic impoverishment of the Muslim world and the insufficient commitment by the affluent Muslim countries to tackle it.

Being trained as an economist, I tend to spend time looking at different kinds of data and indicators that reflect the economic conditions of countries. I particularly and naturally often get distracted to pay attention to Muslim countries. However the results are more than often dismal.

Much of the Muslim world today lives in dire poverty while much of Muslim world lives in unimaginable wealth. Though sense of Muslim Brotherhood has always traditionally been central and pivotal in Islam, because Muslims have drifted away from the traditions to adopt secularism, culturalism, nationalism and puritanism, this sense of Ummah has naturally died as everyone commonly feels their cultural or national identity stronger than the identify of their faith. Hence there is little concern for one “limb of the ummah” when the “other limb of the ummah” suffers, in absolute contradiction to the message and guidance delivered by the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him). What is even worse is that in many instances, there is no concern shown by Muslims for the people of their own ethnicity even. Instead in almost every Muslim country one can find, a minority proportion of population hoarding the wealth of the nation and refusing to share it with the impoverished. The worst rascals are always the ones who has the access and means to use their office to swindle public money.

I was reading an article in BBC where they were reporting on a Muslim widow with three kids in Afghanistan. She explained how her life became so miserable when her husband died, disabling her ability to feed herself and kids. However when some NGO donated a cow to her, she thereafter ever since has been able to sustain supporting her family. Indeed the economic impoverishment of Muslims around the globe cannot be remedified by giving each a cow. However this life story shows there are simple solutions that can be implemented to alleviate much hardships and poverty of many impoverished Muslims around the world. A cow will probably cost around US$500. What is US$500 to the Saud family that used to spend $6million per day in Switzerland whenever the late King Fahd went to Switzerland for treatment? What is US$500 to the Dubai royals who are spending more than US$200 million to build the largest luxury yacht? What is US$500 to Colonel Gaddafi who spends millions to finance IRA and other fringe groups?

I don’t believe these thoughts never cross their minds even once. Yet their indifferent attitude and continued indulgence in satisfying their insatiable lust to spend on themselves or their self-defined objectives blind them to the sorrow and agony of their fellow brethren.

What is US$500 to Osama Bin Laden, who I bet have had much more first hand experience encountering not just the reality of the poverty, impoverishment and agony of Afghanis but also the extent of it? What mission can any Muslim argue to be more important when he has a duty to save the lives of his brethren, who are dying at his feet from hunger and disease, using his abundant wealth?

When I was in university I had a friend from Chad who informed me of how Chad don’t even have a proper library and how the kids go to school with no paper, pen or pencil. How difficult will it be for any Muslim country to fund the establishment of a comprehensive library in Chad?

I have also heard from Palestinian friends and read in research papers during economics development classes of how Palestinians do not even have proper running water. Indeed what proportion of Muslim world has access to running water, electricity, food and shelter? More importantly where is the commitment by the affluent Muslim countries to do their part to help out?

Affluent Muslim countries love to showcase their sense of charity to impoverished nations to show otherwise. Dubai royal family always likes to display that they give out large amount of donations. Quwait government also love showcasing their development foundation. However they need to realize their relief aid amounts to an insignificant proportion of their GDP i.e. what they give out, from the abundance that Allah has given them, is insignificant.

Saudis also love showcasing their relief efforts which include funding schools and providing Qurans. From the experience and knowledge of everyone, we all know the intentions of Saudis to construct schools i.e. to spread their ideology of wahhabism. Indeed if only they realize their aid recipient countries such as Indonesia, have better technology, better paper and better printing and binding standards enough to print better and nicer copies of Quran than the Saudis themselves, they will see their foolishness in bothering to even send their copies of the Holy Quran to Indonesia.

Indeed affluent Muslim countries need to focus their current aid initiatives to high impact aid for recipient countries and commit a lot more to match their duties to give as Muslims. Token aid by affluent Muslim societies changes no real situation of no impoverished Muslim society.

What are the areas in which commitment by the affluent members/countries of the Ummah is urgently and pertinently required?

1) Emergency relief – A shameful section of the Ummah lives each day with no clean drinking water nor three meals. These areas need to be identified and continual emergency relief action need to be urgently set up. Sadly this role is played by non-Muslim organizations set up by non-Muslim countries, while leaders of our every affluent Muslim country contribute only his/her rhetoric for these distressed.

2) Basic amenities of life – A huge section of the Ummah lives with no basic amenities of life such as clean drinking water, electricity, heating or sanitation. Muslim relief organizations set up by affluent Muslim countries pride themselves whenever they undertake any such project. But least do these countries realize their relief efforts are a fraction of what they really need to commit and the change their contributions will bring about will be marginal until they commit as much as they are required to and responsible for.

3) Mass Employment – The above measures and subsequent measures cannot be undertaken without this one. Muslim aid countries need to develop sources of mass employment to employ unemployed labour force within the impoverished sections of the Ummah. Areas that which can yield mass employment opportunities when developed are agriculture, fishing and labour intensive industries. This creation of mass employment opportunities are an effective way to speedily bring out the impoverished sections of the Ummah from deprivation.

4) Universal Healthcare

Even within the affluent Muslim countries, healthcare remains not available or accessible to every Muslim but only to those who can privately afford it. In this the affluent Muslim countries including U.A.E etc, share the ranks of the most impoverished Muslim countries. They are equally incompetent in making healthcare services universally available to their native, resident and immigrant population. In this there is a room for collaborative effort since a coordinated and partnered development of universal healthcare throughout the Ummah through health insurance and effective planning can be more effective and yield economies of scale.

5) Universal Housing

Housing too remains not universal through the Muslim world. Islamic finance led real estate/housing developments ironically target only the affluent Muslims. I truly wonder what is Islamic about that kind of financial framework. Islamic finance need better models to facilitate mass housing projects across the Muslim world with the goal of achieving universal housing for the Ummah.

Muslim nations need to shrink their defense expenditures and re-allocate their resources to the earlier mentioned efforts. Affluent Muslim nations who are foolishly embarking on edification of their city landscapes need to better manage their resources intelligently and reallocate some resources to the earlier mentioned efforts. It is about time Muslim leaders allow their actions speak and their words shut.

Economics: New chapter of capitalist narrative — Farish A Noor

New chapter of capitalist narrative — Farish A Noor

Dr Farish A Noor is a Malaysian political scientist and human rights activist, based at the Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO), Berlin

The issue is not Islam or being Muslim; but rather racial and class discrimination which is not exclusive to Muslims. As long as the poor working class Muslims of Europe do not realise this, and do not try to bridge the gap with other poor working class communities, they will remain a culturally-defined minority that will remain perpetually on the margins

Across Europe today Islam and Muslims are being put to question. In early May the British National Party (BNP) contested local elections across the country calling the elections a “referendum on Islam”. In France similar questions were posed by the Front National on May 1. Likewise in Denmark and the Netherlands. All across Western Europe, citizens are being asked if they are willing to “put up” with the presence of Islam and Muslims in their midst.

Europe’s universalist pretensions have been laid bare and rendered hollow by the parochialism that now masks itself as nationalism. These countries look, sound and feel more like villages in the outback, where villagers are scared of the first black or brown face they see.

To make things worse, thanks to the vociferous campaigning by the extreme right, the political mainstream has also shifted to the right. In Britain, France, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy not a day passes without yet another flaccid editorial piece about “European identity being under threat” and the “failure of multiculturalism”. Western Europe bemoans the end of cosmopolitan pluralism and yet cannot grapple with the structural-economic reasons for the failure of nation building.

Rather than deal with concrete issues of class, power relations and power differentials between the majority and migrant communities, we have passed onto the more ambiguous and abstract register of cultural difference. If Europe cannot deal with Islam and Muslims, so we are told, it is because Muslims are “culturally different”. (Little is said about the “Others” who reside in Europe, including the millions of Jews, Hindus and Buddhists...)

The starting point of this spurious non-debate is the question of violence and instability. The right-wing Islamophobes point to the recent instances of riots by young Muslims in the ghettos and suburbs of London, Paris and other major cities of Western Europe. These instances of civil disobedience and conflict are, for many right-wingers, “proof” that Muslims are generally a burden and troublemakers who ought to be pacified, integrated or repatriated to their home countries. Muslims are presented as a “problem” that needs to be pathologised, analysed and solved. But was this not part of the programme in the first place?

The “programme” here refers to the Liberal-Capitalist project of Western Europe itself. Let us remember that the countries facing the “problem” of failed integration and failed multiculturalism happen to be developed capitalist states. As good political scientist or historian will remind us, capitalist states have always thrived on civil dispute, precariousness, instability and the politics of divide-and-rule.

Capitalism requires a surplus working class that can be played against itself and exploited at will. It requires a surplus of workers who can be domesticated, disciplined and co-opted when the needs of the market arises. Throughout the history of capitalism, the ruling commercial and political elites have sought to keep the workers divided along racial or communal lines so that they do not unite and stir up a revolution.

In the late 19th century the poor workers of England were pitted against the poor migrants from Ireland. The Irishman was cast as the poor white parasite who had descended upon the shores of England to steal jobs from honest English workingmen. Irishmen were contemptuously referred to as the “white niggers” of Europe who were savage drunkards and hooligans best kept at bay by the police baton (later rubber bullets and teargas).

The history of migration to countries like America, the United Kingdom, Netherlands, France and Germany is a record of successive waves of poor migrants being abused, demonised, exploited and turned against other equally poor communities.

Today the debate about “violent Muslims” strikes a resonant chord with this older narrative of mistrust and alienation. Europe’s Muslims are cast in culturalist terms as backward, violent, anti-social and untrustworthy; the way earlier migrants from Ireland and Greece etc and the Jews were portrayed. In all these cases the discussion of cultural difference is a convenient way to avoid a discussion on class, power differentials, institutionalised discrimination and exploitation by capital.

The net effect is also the same. Like the anti-Irish campaigns of the 19th and early 20th century, what is happening today is the division of the poor working classes of Europe along racial, ethnic and religious lines. Yet we often forget that the plight of poor Muslims in Europe is similar to the plight of poor Europeans as well. All these minority communities suffer from unequal mediatic and political representation, less access to education and the tools of governance, less legal protection (and too much policing).

How can the problem be solved? One way out would be for Muslims in Europe to emphasise their class and political identities more and their religio-cultural identity less. The issue is not Islam or being Muslim; but rather racial and class discrimination which is not exclusive to Muslims. As long as the poor working class Muslims of Europe do not realise this, and do not try to bridge the gap with other poor working class communities, they will remain a culturally-defined minority that will remain perpetually on the margins and treated like outsiders.
For too long Europe’s Muslims have blindly walked into the right-wingers’ trap of sectarian communal-religious identification and allowed themselves to be cast and seen exclusively as members of a religious community. Now they need to emphasise the universality of their class condition and see themselves for what they are: the poor and exploited of Europe, no different to the poor Irish of the past.

Political: Burma remains ASEAN’s weakest link - Farish A Noor

Burma remains ASEAN’s weakest link— Farish A Noor

Dr Farish A Noor is a Malaysian political scientist and human rights activist, based at the Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO), Berlin

Following the nationalisation of the Burmese private sector in the 1960s that led to the so-called “12 economic sectors”, there has emerged a 13th: corruption. It remains unchecked till today
Since early this year the level of violence in the south-eastern regions of Burma has been escalating. The Burmese army remains caught in a bloody counter-insurgency conflict with the KNU (Karen National Union), the armed wing of the Karen autonomy movement that purports to represent the minority Karen community whose homeland lies in Burma and borders neighbouring Thailand.

Already thousands of Karens have been forced to flee into Thailand, straining Thai-Burmese relations that have hardly been rosy in the first place. Burma’s numerous insurgencies have thus become the problem of Thailand, and by extension ASEAN as well.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) remains one of the more successful models of international cooperation and regional bloc-building in the world today. Compared to the European Union (EU) ASEAN cannot be said to be a union of any sort: vast disparities of wealth and power remain within the assembly of 10 nation-states and despite talk to the contrary ASEAN remains at odds with itself as some of the bigger ASEAN powers — notably Indonesia — continue to play the role of “big brother” watching over the junior members.

Notwithstanding ASEAN’s failure to develop anything resembling a common economic and trading bloc, it remains successful in the sense that it has managed to maintain relatively good relations among its members and ensured that at the height of the Cold War it stayed neutral, albeit neutral on the side of the West. ASEAN’s greatest moment came with the fall of Vietnam, and the rest of Indochina, following the US defeat in 1975. The world, fearing the worst, turned the other way and predicted an “inevitable” collapse of Southeast Asia that would then be devoured by the Soviet bloc.

Despite the negative prognosis, ASEAN’s original founding states — Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines — cobbled together a loose coalition based purely on pragmatism and the need to survive. By supporting each other the member states not only managed to weather the storms of the Cold War era but also engineered their own economic miracle in the 1980s with the help of foreign (notably Japanese) direct foreign investment. In the post-Cold War era, ASEAN’s greatest success has come in the form of its gradual expansion to include countries like Brunei, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. After all the bombs and troops the US sent, it was ASEAN that finally brokered the peace in Indochina and helped bring about the global acceptance and rehabilitation of Vietnam.

There remains, however, one major stumbling block: Burma. Burma closed its doors to the world following the army coup led by General Ne Win in 1963. Since then the country has become a hermit’s kingdom that was once guided by the left-leaning military regime’s ideology, dubbed the “Burmese way to Socialism”. The net result was more than three decades of isolationism, rampant abuse of human rights by the army, the marginalisation of ethnic minority groups, total news blackout and the stagnation of the economy. Following the nationalisation of the Burmese private sector in the 1960s that led to the so-called “12 economic sectors”, there has emerged a 13th: corruption. It remains unchecked till today.

ASEAN is at pains to show the world that it can deal with the Burmese problem on its own terms. Thus far it has little to show for its efforts. Last month Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar cut short his visit to the country after it became evident that the military junta has done little to improve its record of governance and that all the talk of Burmese human rights commission etc was mere eyewash. Following the denial of his request to visit representatives of the country’s opposition such as Aung San Su Kyi, Minister Albar returned to Malaysia, with the news that nothing has changed.

The news about the military campaign against the Karen minority in the region bordering Thailand is therefore serious for those who have been working hard to limit the excesses of the Burmese junta and to talk sense to the generals in charge. With increasing pressure being brought to bear by international bodies and NGOs such as the United Nations and Human Rights Watch, the Western powers seem to be growing less and less patient with ASEAN’s failure to deliver results. Ironically it is ASEAN’s slow and cautious approach towards integration, that helped bring Vietnam back into the fold, may undo the situation for good in the case of Burma. While Burma can count on its relative strategic insignificance to ensure that it will not become a military target for the USA, it has indeed become a point of embarrassment for the rest of ASEAN and the stick to beat it with.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Political: Soeharto gets away with it — Farish A Noor

Saturday, May 20, 2006

VIEW: Soeharto gets away with it — Farish A Noor

Dr Farish A Noor is a Malaysian political scientist and human rights activist, based at the Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO), Berlin

Guided by the best of naïve intentions yet blinded by Soeharto’s own militarist and authoritarian values, he will probably pass his life as yet another casualty and mistake of the 20th century: the failed Asian dictator whose dreams of glory for his country were nonetheless paid for by the blood of his countrymenThe news that former Indonesian president Soeharto is now deemed “unfit” to stand trial for abuse of power in Indonesia has hardly come as a surprise to those who know the country well.

Few really believed that the man who had ruled Indonesia for three decades (from 1966 to 1998) could be brought to trial and sent to jail. The issue, however, is not that the man “got away with it”, but rather what this bodes for the future of Indonesia.Despite the euphoria that greeted the fall of the Soeharto regime and the hope that the country would finally make the transition to a working democracy of sorts, there remain problems that still deny the country and its people the dignity they deserve.

Indonesia remains a country on the verge of collapse, the great giant of Southeast Asia which increasingly looks like the sick man of the region; whose frail condition is matched only by the frailty of decrepit neighbours, Thailand and the Philippines.That the former president has been allowed to slip away is understandable considering how the military elite of the Soeharto era have managed to preserve themselves.

The country’s current president, Bambang Susilo Yudhoyono, is likewise a former general, trained by the Americans. He too is in the good books of Washington for his willing complicity in the US-led “global war on terror”. Yudhoyono was also part of the Soeharto regime. Indeed he served his president very well till almost the end, when he tactically allowed himself to be sidelined just before the pro-democracy movement took to the streets in mid-1998 following the East Asian economic crisis.

Well placed, deeply embedded yet marginal enough to be spared the wrath of the public, he has managed to carve a place for himself in the convoluted and messy political terrain of post-Soeharto Indonesia.Other generals and aides to Soeharto have also managed to inch their way back into the country’s Byzantine corridors of power. Notable among the old stalwarts was General Hendropriyono, once dubbed the “butcher of Lampung” for his part in the bloody suppression of the Islamist movement in Lampung, South Sumatra. Just when other Indonesian officers — like Generals Wiranto and Moerdani — were being dragged to court for their part in the atrocities in East Timor, Hendropriyono found himself saved by the events following September 11, 2001.

He was put in charge of anti-terrorism operations by none other than Megawati Sukarnoputri, the former president. Indonesian human rights groups were aghast at Megawati’s decision that betrayed a total neglect of local sensibilities and an all too evident desire to cosy up to Washington.Now that most of the old military and business elite are back in power, it would seem that the time is right to absolve Soeharto for the ills and mistakes of his period in power. His defenders and supporters claim that he was in many ways a visionary, a man who took Indonesia from a dependent import-substitution economy to the status of an emerging “Asian Tiger” economy in the space of two decades.

Soeharto’s defenders are certainly not wrong here: Indonesia is a model of successful nation-building against impossible odds. In an archipelago made up of 14,000 islands it is a country where literacy is almost universal and where even in the most remote island or village there are post offices, clinics, schools, roads and communication facilities. The state-controlled media reaches out to every citizen. Indonesia’s painful birth amid an anti-colonial struggle and several subsequent civil wars persuaded many that like some former colonies in Africa it would be a failed state.

Yet that did not happen.But along with the laying down of the infrastructure for nation-building came the centralising logic of a maximalist state at the hands of a military elite whose understanding of democracy, civic and civil participation and popular representation remained rudimentary. By the time of political reforms of the 1970s Indonesia had become a thoroughly depoliticised state.

Its economy grew thanks to the influx of foreign capital (much of it Japanese and American) and thanks to the structural adjustment policies formed by Soeharto’s handpicked “Berkeley mafia” led by men like the German- and American-trained BJ Habiebie. Thus Indonesia’s economic takeoff was not without its own costs — most notably in the loss of political rights, press freedom and fundamental liberties.Soeharto was also one of the most vocal exponents of what was then known as the “Asian values” school, led by Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore that argued that in Asia economic rights should come before political ones.

It was in this depoliticisation process that Indonesia found wealth but lost its soul. The violent annexation of East Timor in 1974 showed that this former colony could itself become a colonising power and impose the same colonial logic on other societies and states. The suppression of the people’s movement in East Timor remained and shall remain a blight on Indonesia’s record. Central to this crisis were Soeharto and his generals, who masterminded the annexation and the policies of pacification and resettlement that followed.

In this respect Soeharto was not merely a dictator in his own country but also a coloniser of others.Linked to the shameful conduct of Soeharto and his cronies is the equally shameful conduct of the more powerful Western states — notably the USA, Australia and Britain — who aided and abetted the Soeharto regime during the worst years of military rule and violent authoritarian government. America’s role in propping up Soeharto and promoting Indonesia as the “bulwark” against Communism in Asia ended only with the culmination of the Cold War in the West.

This reduced Southeast Asia to a mere sideshow of little import. Yet in this eastern corner of the world millions of lives were lost thanks to the realpolitik considerations of technocrats and ideologues in Washington who were prepared to turn a blind eye to Soeharto’s excesses as long as he stayed “neutral on the side of the West” — like Ferdinand Marcos.One can only wonder what Soeharto’s final fate will be. Marcos and the Shah of Iran were spirited away as their tattered empires fell about their feet, only to die lonely deaths in exile and shame.

Soeharto, the fervent nationalist and patriot till the end, will probably die in his own country surrounded by his countrymen whom he led and oppressed. Guided by the best of naive intentions yet blinded by his own militarist and authoritarian values, he will probably pass his life as yet another casualty and mistake of the 20th century: the failed Asian dictator whose dreams of glory for his country were nonetheless paid for by the blood of his countrymen.

Dr Farish A Noor is a Malaysian political scientist and human rights activist, based at the Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO), Berlin

Economics: Why doesn’t Islamic Economics study the more serious questions of allocation and reallocation of resources in Ummah/Muslim societies?

Why doesn’t Islamic Economics study the more serious questions of allocation and reallocation of resources in Ummah/Muslim societies?

I am still struggling to find a consistent definition of I.E. and after having talked/discussed with a number of Islamic economists, I discovered they too don’t quite have an universal definition. Anyway I guess failure by Islamic economists to hold an universal definition has resulted in the growth and direction of Islamic Economics being influenced by the champions of it. You see when any field is not properly or consistently or appropriately or concisely defined then the direction it will take will be dependent upon its champions whose values, perceptions, bias and ideals will be influencing factors. In the case of I.E. we have seen finance dudes, businessmen and politicians have been the main champions. I.E academics also have been mainly those who come from cultures where thought, ideas and information are dominated by the earlier group. Hence naturally I.E. have grown in the direction of money, finance and banking.

I find it sad to see this because if we simply take a generalized definition of I.E. which is that it’s a study on the allocation and reallocation of resources in society, then we find that in this question of allocation and reallocation of resources in any Muslim society or Ummah as whole, the greatest challenges, problems and need are not in areas of money, finance and banking. Yet the direction the best and powerful amongst the Ummah can take in analyzing allocation and reallocation of resources within our Ummah is towards those less pressing areas. It reviles me further when I realize there are such painful problems for the Ummah such as poverty, which manifests in two severe forms which have been given lesser priority by fellow Muslim leaders, scholars and academics. In the worst form of poverty, there is a good proportion of Ummah who are within the scope of poverty called “poverty without hope” where they are struggling each day for basic food, water and medicine. To them each day is a question of life and death. There is the other lesser form of poverty which afflicts an even greater proportion of the Ummah, where those within this fold of poverty do not have jobs, ability to go to school, roof over their heads, clean drinking water, basic sanitation etc. There is such great enthusiasm in erecting institutions and organizations to study and carry out allocations and reallocations of resources in the areas of “Islamic” finance and banking. But where are the institutions to address the allocations and reallocations of resources in the areas of poverty and economic deprivation.

A shameful proportion of the Ummah still does not have a roof over their head. With housing being not universal for the Ummah why are politicians, businessmen and academics only concerned about housing for the affluent such as Riba free mortgages etc? Where is the egalitarianism that Islam is all about in the practice of Islamic finance in the housing market? Why isn’t there decent efforts being employed to devise solutions within Islamic finance to improve house ownership rates amongst the less privileged?

Much of the Muslim world remains without decent public transportation systems. Why isn’t there decent efforts being employed to devise solutions within Islamic finance to address the problem of universal basic transportation whereas every effort is not spared to address the problem of automobile car ownership for the affluent ones?

It is so disgusting to see the discourse, study and implementation of Islamic Economics being focused along the marginal and not the social or ummah which is even more wider than the social. The evolution of Muslim societies till the fall of the Ottoman caliphate simply worked in the opposite direction building on the social and Ummah and not on the marginal like the post Caliphate, post Independence Muslim societies. Perhaps this may explain the failures of the Ummah where it remains to see any form of barakah(blessings) not even equivalent to proportions in fractions that Muslim societies till fall of Ottoman caliphate reaped.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

General: "Islamic Jeans" - The futile pursuit of puritanism

this "islamic jeans" is just part of the ever continuing process of contemporary Muslims to Islamicise everything by creating the "Islamic other", purifying it from the "ill" of the conventional alterative and isolating the "Islamic other" from it.

a good part of the development of "islamic finance or economics" since the second part of 20th Century, is precisely influenced by the same process of Islamicising where it was created, purified to be isolated in the other sphere, for it to be the "Islamic other" of conventional finance and economics. what is interesting is how the secular Muslims have also followed a similar process of Islamicising but in their idiosyncratic defintion of Islamic economics, they have seperated state and religion and desacralized nature. the modernist Muslims also have followed a similiar process of Islamicising but with their catch up game of trying to "perfect" the perfected religion with the latest discoveries/inventions/changes while not having any qualms about compromising on Islamic principles. The recent phenomenon of apologists Muslims also are working on their Islamicising process of "Islamic economics" where they are ardously trying to catch up with the west while being apologetic for lagging behind their sahibs. the modernists, secularcrats and apologists not only concentrate their Islamicing efforts on economics but on all aspects of life.

In this postingfor simplicity sake let me just discuss the contemporary Muslims' approach of Islamicising everything by creating the "Islamic other", purifying it and isolating it from the conventional alternative.

let me parallel this contemporary Muslims' attitude with that of traditional Muslims in traditional Islamic societies with regards to how they redefined their cultures and space to counter influences that were not in accordance to their faith (or if you want to look at it as Islamicing also.)

lets take the Islamic Jeans for example. i have seen numerous other examples in the last ten years. the Islamic swimming suit, Islamic this and Islamic that of conventional apparels. in each of this, the initial challenge faced by the contemporary Muslim was that the conventional apparel infringed on some Islamic principle. the response hence was then to labour to find something alternative that does not compromise any Islamic principle, which then is classified and labelled as an Islamic other, hereby explicitly isolating it from the conventional alternative. This puritanistic attitude is somewhat new and pretty recent.interestingly in the traditional Islamic societies, the usual response, when faced with similar challenges, was different.

when Islam came to Indonesia, the biggest Muslim country in the world, it was already deeply entrenched in Hinduism, Buddhism and paganism. Batik was the conventional fabric used to make both the common male and female attires. however the batik then included iconic motifs that depicted sacred Hindu/Buddisht/paganistic icons such as snakes, dragons, eagles etc. When the Indonesians became Muslims they were unable to use this fabric, as it was against the Islamic principle of tauheed and aiconicism. The indonesians instead of discarding batik away, they creatively replaced these icons with a-iconic motifs representing flowers, flaura, geometric shapes etc. now up to here, this may seem similar to what contemporary Muslims are doing.The traditional Muslim then also engaged in an Islamicisation process. however that was vastly different from that of the contemporary Muslim.

Firstly the traditional Muslims never called it Islamic batik. They just called it batik like all other batik before it and after it from then till now over a period of 1000 years. The indonesians did the same for their furniture and others which also had strong hindu/paganistic iconic features. They never categorized those as Islamic furniture, Islamic this or Islamic that etc after transforming them to exclude those characteristics which violated/compromised certain Islamic principles. Here you see that which the traditional Muslims created, did not, thereafter, exist isolated from the precedent conventinal alternative. It coexisted but remained different and not isolated. It was still batik. Not Islamic batik. This allowed non-Muslims to also hence use it as it was not something solely for Muslims alone. They effectively transformed that thing that infringed upon the universal Islamic principle, into something that was not only consistent with that principle but which was universally applicable and accessible to people, hereby preserving the universality of Islam.

Secondly and most importantly, the traditional Muslim endevoured to transform that thing which infringed upon the universal Islamic principle, only as a consequence of his/her continued and constant perfection of his/her Islamic faith. It was part of their process of perfection (Ihsan) after having gone through the stages of ritualistic practise(Islam) and faith(iman)[refer to the Hadith Jibreel]. The approach contrasts distinctly from that of the contemporary Muslim who is stuck in his idiosyncratic way to create an Islamic other for everything and thereafter isolate it from the conventional alternative due to his zealous pursuit of puritanism and blind pursuit of ritualistic/literal practises only even when the practises in some instances compromise Islamic principles.

Therefore the remedy approach needed for contemporary Muslims is nothing different than that pursued by their predecessor traditional Muslims, whose contributions and changes benefited not just the Ummah but Mankind while the contributions and changes of the contemporary Muslims(or for that matter secular/modernist/apologists Muslims) have yet to reach and benefit their own kind. The contemporary Muslim must strive beyond ritualistic practices and seek revival of one's own Iman(faith) and subsequently pursue perfection of faith(Ihsan). The outcome of such a journeying will be the natural ability of Muslims to redefine their space and environment(in every aspect including "Islamic Economics") over time eternally, through absolute reliance and surrendering to divine destiny, such that the output transformation is not only in accordance to Islamic principles, but remain integrated and not isolated with the conventional alternative though remaining different from it and most importantly be universally accessible, applicable and beneficial to whole of mankind.