Posts tagged ‘religion’


Delhi shaped South Asia’s Muslim identity, Pakistani author says

Reuters: “Raza Rumi is based in Lahore, but the public policy specialist and Friday Times editor’s new book is based in another milieu entirely. “Delhi by heart” is a kind of travelogue about a city that is the source of a shared heritage that spans hundreds of years.

By his own admission, it is a “heartfelt account” of how a Pakistani comes to India, an “enemy country”, and discovers that its capital has, in fact, so many things common with Lahore.

“I wanted to write the biography of Darah Shikoh, the great Indian Mughal prince,” Rumi said. “While researching for that, and while visiting Delhi all the time, I felt really it merits a Pakistani version as well because for these five years we have been so much cut off and we have misunderstood each other so much that it is time to sort of build bridges. Hence the book.”

Just two days after the book came out in July, there was fighting on the India-Pakistan border in Kashmir that resulted in the deaths of five Indian soldiers. Relations between the neighbours have since been strained, and there have been reports of cultural and religious exchanges being cancelled.

This backdrop and the past 66 years of separation, mistrust and aggression have forced Pakistan into recasting its history and its heritage in ways that create a blind spot where India used to be, Rumi noted.

“Is this Indian music or Pakistani music? Is it Indian food or Pakistani food?” Rumi said. “For example, the poet Ghalib, the greatest of Urdu poets, is Ghalib an Indian or a Pakistani? It’s very difficult. Amir Khusro, who gave us the Urdu language as we speak (it)… the kind of language that is popular in Bollywood… is he Indian or Pakistani? So Pakistan had a harder task to create an identity and it’s still grappling with that.”

Traveling to Delhi, he said, sharpened this impression. The first thing he noticed, and which reminded him of home, was the azaan, the Muslim call to prayer, which he could hear throughout the city. Then there was the Mughlai food, the qawwali music, the Urdu and Hindi languages with their origin in “Hindustani,” and the shared heritage of Mughal architecture and the common Punjabi character of both cities.

After about a dozen visits to attend various conferences and do research, he sat down with a pile of notes and wrote a book that builds on the shared past and common culture of south Asia. “I think it’s a mix of travelogue and personal narrative with a bit of history thrown in.”

In the beginning, he said, he worried that Delhi is a city that foreigners and Indians have written about at length. He also doubted that anyone back home would be interested in reading about Delhi. He was wrong, he said.

“When I gave the chapters to my father to read, I thought he would object to my whole search for common history and kind of challenging the state narrative of nationalism but, quite interestingly, I found him to be most supportive of the idea …”

There may be differences between the two faiths and countries, but according to Rumi, “through the 1000 years of their shared experiences and interaction, the two did develop a certain composite culture. That composite culture, in many ways, still survives in India.” So much so that despite the political acrimony between the two countries, Rumi sees hope for the future in Pakistan. And Delhi gave him a glimpse of that future.”

via Delhi shaped South Asia’s Muslim identity, Pakistani author says | India Insight.


Kashmir militants rebuild their lives as hopes of a lasting peace grow

The Observer: “Shabir Ahmed Dar has come home. His children play under the walnut trees where he once played. His father, white-bearded and thin now, watches them. The village of Degoom, the cluster of traditional brick-and-wood houses in Kashmir where Dar grew up, is still reached by a dirt road and hay is still hung from the branches of the soaring chinar trees to dry.

Shabir Ahmed Dar with one of his children

But Dar has changed, even if Degoom has not. It is 22 years since he left the village to steal over the “line of control” (LoC), the de facto border separating the Indian and Pakistani parts of this long-disputed former princely state high in the Himalayan foothills. Along with a dozen or so other teenagers, he hoped to take part in the insurgency which pitted groups of young Muslim Kashmiris enrolled in Islamist militant groups, and later extremists from Pakistan too, against Indian security forces.

“I went because everyone else was going. The situation was bad here. I had my beliefs, my dream for my homeland. I was very young,” he said, sitting in the room where he had slept as a child.

The conflict had only just begun when he left. Over the next two decades, an estimated 50,000 soldiers, policemen, militants and, above all, ordinary people were to die. Dar’s aim had been to “create a true Islamic society” in Kashmir. This could only be achieved by accession to Pakistan or independence, he believed.

But once across the LoC, even though he spent only a few months with the militant group he had set out to join and never took part in any fighting, he was unable to return. “I was stuck there. I made a new life. I married and found work. I didn’t think I would ever come back here,” Dar said.

But now the 36-year-old has finally come home, with his Pakistani-born wife and three children. He is one of 400 former militants who have taken advantage of a new “rehabilitation” policy launched by the youthful chief minister of the state, Omar Abdullah.

Dar’s father heard of the scheme and convinced his son to return last year. “I am an old man. I wanted to see my son and grandchildren before I die. I wanted him to have his share of our land,” said Dar senior, who is 70.

The scheme is an indication of the changes in this beautiful, battered land. In recent years, economic growth in India has begun to benefit Kashmir, the country’s only Muslim-majority state. At the same time, despite a series of spectacular attacks on security forces by militants in recent months, violence has fallen to its lowest levels since the insurgency broke out in the late 1980s. The two phenomena are connected, many observers say.

It is this relative calm that has allowed Dar and the others to return – and allows even some hardened veterans who have renounced violence to live unmolested. “A few years ago the [Indian intelligence] agencies would have shot this down because they would have seen it as another move to infiltrate [militants from Pakistan],” Abdullah, the chief minister, said.

The scheme is not, however, an amnesty. “If there are cases against them they will still be arrested [and] prosecuted … Largely this scheme has been taken up by those who have not carried out any acts of terrorism. Either they never came [across the LoC], or if they came we never knew about it,” Abdullah said.”

via Kashmir militants rebuild their lives as hopes of a lasting peace grow | World news | The Observer.


* Uyghur Jailings Highlight Chinese Media Controls

Eurasia review: “China’s jailing of 20 ethnic Uyghurs this week on terrorism and separatism charges using online activism as a basis for their conviction reflects government moves to increase media controls and use weak laws to suppress voices in the troubled Xinjiang region, Uyghur rights groups say.

Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China

The courts said the 20 Uyghur Muslims had had their “thoughts poisoned by religious extremism” and used cell phones and DVDs “to spread Muslim religious propaganda,” the government of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region said on its official news website.

Nineteen of them were given prison sentences ranging from 5 years to life in prison in Xinjiang’s Kashagar prefecture while the 20th suspect was sentenced to 10 years in jail on the same day in the Bayingolin Mongolian Autonomous Prefecture.

They were accused of using the Internet, mobile phones and digital storage devices to organize, lead and participate in an alleged terrorist organization with the intent to “incite splittism,” reports have said.

Leading Uyghur activist Rebiya Kadeer of the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC) said that the sentences showed the new Chinese leadership’s “indifference for human rights and democracy” and that it will “continue with the ‘strike hard’ practices of the previous regimes.”

“It further indicates that the Chinese government will not contribute to the peaceful resolution of the conflict in the region in the near future, preferring instead to continue its counterproductive and destructive practices,” the WUC president said in a statement Thursday.”

via Uyghur Jailings Highlight Chinese Media Controls Eurasia Review | Eurasia Review.


* Tibetan students protest, as four more self-immolations reported

China needs to rethink its policy on Tibet. The issue of autonomy is not going to go away. Unlike the Muslim Uighurs, who are mainly domiciled in Xinjiang, Tibetans reside in large numbers in at least four provinces of which Tibet is only the main one.

BBC: “A crowd of Tibetan students has protested in Qinghai province, activists say, as four more self-immolations were reported.

A man taking a photograph in front of a screen displaying propaganda about China's Tibet Autonomous Region in Beijing, 12 November 2012

Reports said more than 1,000 students took part in the protest, which was reportedly provoked by the contents of a book.

Twenty students were in hospital, media reports and activist groups said.

The four self-immolations, meanwhile, occurred in Gansu, Sichuan and Qinghai provinces on Sunday and Monday.

Foreign media are banned from Tibetan regions, making reports of protests and self-immolations hard to verify independently. Chinese state media reports some of the protests and burnings but not all.

The student protest took place on Monday in Gonghe county in Qinghai province, London-based Free Tibet said.”

via BBC News – Tibetan students protest, as four more self-immolations reported.


* Hope rule of law will prevail in Pak in 26/11 case: Khurshid

The Hindu: “With the execution of lone surviving Mumbai attacks gunman Ajmal Kasab, India hopes “rule of law” will prevail in Pakistan as well, said External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid even as civil society organisations were saddened by the end to the country’s moratorium on capital punishment.

Mr. Khurshid was referering to a trial in Pakistan of seven persons accused of masterminding the Mumbai attacks. The Minister said India had not received any request from Pakistan for handing over the body of Kasab whose hanging came barely 12 hours after India voted against a non-binding resolution in the United Nations banning the death penalty.”

via The Hindu : News / National : Hope rule of law will prevail in Pak in 26/11 case: Khurshid.


* Muslims help in construction of Hindu temple in Bihar

It is gratifying to learn that Hindu-Muslim relationships are not always about antipathy and violence.

Times of India: “While violence over the expansion of a Hindu temple near Charminar in Muslim-dominated Hyderabad’s Old City is hogging media attention, in Bihar’s Sitamarhi district, Muslims have been quietly helping Hindus construct a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, ahead of the Chhath festival.

Muslims help in construction of Hindu temple in Bihar

“Muslims are not only donating money for temple construction, they are also actively involved in ensuring that it should come up soon,” Rajkishore Raut, president of the Shiva Temple Construction Committee, told IANS.

Raut, a school teacher, said the construction of the temple was a fine example of Hindu-Muslim brotherhood.

Mohammad Sadre Alam Khan, a villager, said that dozens of Muslims, including village head Akbari Khatoon, have contributed in one way or another for the construction of the temple.

“This is a positive development for the village as a whole,” Khan said.

Another villager, Lalbabu Sah, said that villagers of both the communities were working jointly for the construction of the temple.

“The construction of the temple will strengthen harmony between the two communities and pave the way for greater cooperation in future,” Sah told IANS.

Sitamarhi town, which had a history of communal conflict, witnessed rioting in the mid-1990s. Muslims comprise around 16 percent of the 105 million people of Bihar.

Just months ago, Muslims observing Ramadan helped in the construction of a Jain temple in Bhagalpur town in the state.

Mohammad Janeshar Akhtar even demolished a portion of his house in Bhagalpur to enable the movement of a 70-foot truck laden with a granite stone block meant for an idol in the temple.

Other Muslims had helped widen the street so that the vehicle could reach the temple without difficulty.

Earlier this year, some Muslims had helped in building a Hindu temple dedicated to goddess Durga in Bihar’s Gaya district.

Muslims there not only donated money but engaged in the actual construction of the temple.

Earlier, a Muslim had donated land for a temple dedicated to god Shiva in Begusarai district. Mohammad Fakhrool Islam had given his land for the temple in the Muslim-dominated Bachwara village.

via Muslims help in construction of Hindu temple in Bihar – The Times of India.

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* More Chinese Muslims head for Mecca pilgrimage

Xinhua: “A total of 332 Muslims from northwest China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region flew to Mecca, Saudi Arabia Sunday evening for the annual pilgrimage.

This is part of the government-organized pilgrimage tours that will carry 13,800 Chinese Muslims via 41 charter flights to the holiest city of Islam this year.

Previously, more than 2,700 Muslims from neighboring Gansu Province had flown to Mecca in eight groups.

In Ningxia, one of major regions inhabited by Muslims in China, 2,676 Islamic followers will go on the pilgrimage this year, according to Li Yushan, vice president of the regional Islamic association.

The Mecca pilgrimage, also known as the Hajj, is a Muslim religious tradition that specifies that all able-bodied Muslims who can afford to travel to Saudi Arabia must visit Mecca at least once in their lives.

China has more than 20 million Muslims, about half of whom are from the Hui ethnic group. In addition to Ningxia, Chinese Muslims mainly live in the western provinces of Qinghai, Gansu and Yunnan, and Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.”

via More Chinese Muslims head for Mecca pilgrimage – Xinhua |


* Does China’s next leader have a soft spot for Tibet?

Reuters: “For decades, Beijing has maintained that the Dalai Lama is a separatist, but Tibet‘s exiled spiritual leader once had a special relationship with the father of Xi Jinping, the man in line to become China’s next president.

China's Vice President Xi Jinping speaks with Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi (not pictured) during a meeting at the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing August 29, 2012. REUTERS/How Hwee Young/Pool

Few people know what Xi, whose ascent to the leadership is likely to be approved at a Communist Party congress later this year, thinks of Tibet or the Dalai Lama.

But his late father, Xi Zhongxun, a liberal-minded former vice premier, had a close bond with the Tibetan leader who once gave the elder Xi an expensive watch in the 1950s, a gift that the senior party official was still wearing decades later.

The Dalai Lama, 77, recalls the elder Xi as “very friendly, comparatively more open-minded, very nice” and says he only gave watches back then to those Chinese officials he felt close to.

“We Tibetans, we get these different varieties of watch easily from India. So we take advantage of that, and brought some watches to some people when we feel some sort of close feeling, as a gift like that,” the Dalai Lama said in an interview in the Indian town of Dharamsala, a capital for Tibetan exiles in the foothills of the Himalayas.

The Dalai Lama gave the watch to the elder Xi in 1954 during an extended visit to Beijing. Xi was one of the officials who spent time with the young Dalai Lama in the capital where he spent five to six months studying Chinese and Marxism.

The Dalai Lama fled to India five years later, after a failed uprising against Communist rule, but as late as 1979, Xi senior was still wearing the watch, the make and style of which the Dalai Lama can no longer remember.

Xi senior was a dove in the party, championing the rights of Tibetans, Uighurs and other ethnic minorities. He also opposed the army crackdown on the 1989 Tiananmen student protests and was alone in criticizing the sacking of liberal party chief Hu Yaobang by the Old Guard in 1987. Xi senior died in 2002.

The Dalai Lama has never met Xi junior but his fondness for the father is, for some, a sign that China’s next leader may adopt a more reformist approach to Tibet once he formally succeeds President Hu Jintao next March. Some expect him to be more tolerant of Muslim Uighurs in the western region of Xinjiang, and also of Taiwan, the independently ruled island that China has vowed to take back, by force if necessary.

“To understand what kind of leader Xi Jinping will be, one must study his father’s (policies),” said Bao Tong, one-time top aide to purged party chief Zhao Ziyang. Bao was jailed for seven years for sympathizing with student-led demonstrations for democracy centered on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989.

“No (Chinese) Communist will betray his father,” he added.”

via Insight: Does China’s next leader have a soft spot for Tibet? | Reuters.


* One killed in fresh Assam violence

BBC News: “One man has been killed and five others have been injured in fresh violence in India’s Assam state, police said.

An Indian riot refugee woman sleeps as her child reads a book at a relief camp during India’s ruling Congress party President Sonia Gandhi visit in Deborgaon in Kokrajhar, India, Monday, Aug. 13, 2012

In the first incident, a man was killed and four others were wounded, while the second incident left one man injured. Both clashes occurred in Kokrajhar.

At least 87 people have died in fighting between indigenous Bodo tribes and Muslim settlers in Assam since last month.

More than 300,000 people fled their homes after the fighting.

Most of them are still living in relief camps.

There has been tension between indigenous groups and Muslim Bengali migrants in Assam for many years.

Last week, police arrested a local politician, Pradeep Brahma, for his alleged involvement in the recent ethnic violence.

Kokrajhar, Dhubri and Chirang were some of the districts worst affected by the clashes.

An indefinite curfew has been enforced in Kokrajhar and the army has marched through the streets of some of the troubled neighbourhoods.”

via BBC News – India: One killed in fresh Assam violence.


* Pakistani Hindu pilgrims allowed to cross into India after detention

BBC News: “Pakistan officials have allowed a group of Hindu pilgrims who were detained at the border to cross into India.

More than 200 Pakistani Hindus were held at the Wagah crossing near Lahore after local media reported that they intended to emigrate.

Although the group had valid pilgrimage visas, it was rumoured they planned to remain in India because of growing attacks against minorities in Pakistan.

They were allowed to pass after they assured officials they would return.

A spokesperson for the pilgrims, Santosh Puri, told the BBC the group had assured the authorities that “this is a pilgrimage” and no one intends to emigrate.

Pakistani rights activists say dozens of Pakistani Hindu families have moved to India to escape killings, abductions and forced conversions in recent years.

According to Indian officials, Pakistani Hindus have often entered India on visit visas, only to settle there permanently.”

via BBC News – Pakistani Hindu pilgrims allowed to cross into India after detention.

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