29 October 2007

A Prayer

God, give me
the Strength to change what I can,
the Grace to accept what I cannot, and
the Wisdom to tell the difference.
(But above all, give me Strength)

25 October 2007


Continuing from where I left off...

Nobody ever changed the world just by reading books.
The amount of knowledge needed to change the world is very little.
Knowledge is not an end in itself; it is the means to an end. And the end is action. Knowledge finds its fulfillment in action.

Which of these images, in your opinion, better captures the relationship between man and his life/world?
a) A rock in a lake
b) A raft on a river (a whitewater rapid)
What is your own expectation from life? What is your view of 'the perfect life'?
Life is not static; it is dynamic. Life is flux.

At any point of time, you either have problems or you don't. If you don't have any problems then be happy. If you have problems, then be happy that life is happening to you. Because this is what life is about - problems. Either way, you are always happy.
Right here, right now, life is perfect - and I am happy.

16 October 2007

Karen Armstrong's Islam - 2

Another issue is the matter of reform. Karen Armstrong says that Islam has periodically produced reformers who have tried to renew the faith and infuse fresh energy into it. As examples she cites Ibn Taymiyyah and Abd al-Wahhab (in West Asia) and Ahmed Sirhindi and Shah Waliullah (in India). The problem is these men are notorious, even among Muslims, as fathers of Islamic fundamentalism. Which brings us to the heart of the problem of reform in Islam.

The way of life developed by the Prophet was suitable for 7th century Arabia - which was a primitive tribal society. It may not be suitable for, say, 21st century India, or even 14th century Syria. And to be fair to Islam, like any other great religion it has always adapted itself to changing times and circumstances. That is why it has survived for 1400 years. That is also one of the reasons why it is the second largest religion in the world, in spite of being the youngest.

When things are going well for the Ummah there is no problem. But whenever there is a crisis, it is very easy for someone to come up and say that the Ummah is in trouble because it has strayed from the True Path and the Word of God. Ergo, the solution is to return to the fundamentals - as expressed in the life and times of the Prophet and the Quran. This is what 'reform' - unfortunately - has come to mean in Islam: fundamentalism. And we can only imagine what will be the consequences of implementing 7th century Arabian norms in the 21st century. 'Reformer' is usually a positive label. But in the context of Islam it has a specific, and potentially dangerous, meaning. Again Karen Armstrong doesn’t seem too bothered by this point.

Finally, it is clear that the Karen Armstrong doesn’t know anything about Hinduism and India. When she writes about Islam in India, she cuts a sorry figure. She talks about 'Hindu fundamentalism'; she says that the BJP is a 'Hindu fundamentalist group' and that Muslims in India 'get a bad press'. One should not write about something if he/she knows nothing about it.

But such arguments apart, it is still an excellent book to start one's study of this fascinating subject.

PS: It is possible that I have said some incorrect/unfair things above. My study of Islam has only just begun, so I welcome any criticism and correction. Book recommendations are also welcome.

15 October 2007

Karen Armstrong's Islam - 1

I read the book last week. Karen Armstrong is a former Catholic nun who has written many books on the three Semitic religions. In this one she takes on the history of Islam. It is not easy to cover 1400 years in just 200 pages. But she does a good job, taking us through all the major developments - the Prophet, the first four Caliphs, the Umayyad Caliphate, the Abbasid Caliphate, the Mongol invasions, the three empires (Ottoman, Safavid, Moghul) and European colonisation.

So what does Karen Armstrong say? Critics have called her an apologist for Islam. In this book she does paint a totally positive picture of the religion (the unkind would call it a whitewash). Take the key (and controversial) issue of violence. She does not deny the violence in Islam's history, but offers justifications and explanations for it. So the massacre of the Jewish Qurayzah tribe (in Medina, 627 AD) was due to extenuating circumstances. And when the Arabs poured out of their peninsula to invade and conquer their neighbours, it was not out of an urge to spread Islam, but because they needed wealth.

Further, Karen Armstrong takes care to point out the positive aspects of Islam. Two such 'positive' features that she talks about, at some length, are the concepts of Ummah (community) and Tawhid (unification).

1. Ummah
Islam is not a personal/private faith. It is a communal/societal one. It is not enough for a Muslim to live by the rules of Islam. It is also important that he live in a society/community that also lives by these rules. Islam is not something you observe just within the four walls of your house. It is something you live everywhere - at school, at work, on the street, everywhere. Living in such an Islamic community is necessary for Muslims to achieve the ultimate goal of perfect 'Islam' (submission to God's will).

2. Tawhid
Islam is a 'total religion'. It is not just a way of worship. It is a way of life. Since it covers the whole ambit of life, all spheres of human activity - religion, culture, society, politics, economics - must be unified to achieve complete 'Islam'. The Quran is the Word of God that teaches people not only how to pray, but also how to eat, drink, sleep, work, marry, raise children, resolve disputes, make laws, collect taxes, distribute wealth, wage war, sign peace treaties, etc. One consequence of this is that secularism (separation of religion and politics) is ruled out.

Note that these two are not peripheral ideas in Islam. They are among its core concepts. What to make of them? No doubt they are beneficial in some ways: they foster a spirit of brotherhood and God-consciousness. In a predominantly Muslim country, pursuing these two ideals may not be much of a problem. But what when Muslims are a minority in a country? What if they insist on Ummah and Tawhid (as their religion requires them to)? These are problematic questions. But Karen Armstrong doesn’t seem to be too bothered by them.

05 October 2007

Two Heroes

Major K P Vinay and Major Dinesh Raghuraman. May we never forget your sacrifice. And the sacrifice of many others like you.

Pradeep's immortal song is apt for the occasion...

Ae mere watan ke logon
Tum khoob lagaa lo nara
Ye shubh din hai hum sab ka
Lahra lo tiranga pyaara
Par mat bhoolo seema par
Veeron ne hai praan ganvaye
Kuchh yaad unhen bhi kar lo
Kuchh yaad unhen bhi kar lo

Ae mere watan ke logon
Zaraa aankh mein bhar lo paani
Jo shaheed hue hain unki
Zaraa yaad karo qurbani

Jab ghaayal hua Himaalay
Khatre mein padi azadi
Jab tak thi saans lade wo
Phir apni laash bichhaa di
Sangeen pe dhar ka matha
So gaye amar balidani
Jo shaheed...

Jab desh mein thi Diwali
Wo khel rahe the Holi
Jab hum baite the gharon mein
Wo jhel rahe the goli
The dhanya jawaan wo apne
Thi dhanya wo unki jawaani
Jo shaheed...

Koi Sikh koi Jat Maratha
Koi Gurkha koi Madrasi
Sarhad pe marnewala
Har veer tha Bharatvasi
Jo khoon gira parvat par
Wo khoon tha Hindustani
Jo shaheed...

Thi khoon se lathpath kaya
Phir bhi bandook uthake
Das-das ko ek ne mara
Phir gir gaye hosh ganvaa ke
Jab ant-samay aya to
Kah gaye ke ab marte hain
Khush rahnaa desh ke pyaaron
Ab hum to safar karte hain
Kya log the wo deewane
Kya log the wo abhimani
Jo shaheed...

Tum bhool na jao unko
Is liye kahi ye kahaani
Jo shaheed...

Jai Hind! Jai Hind ki sena!
Jai Hind! Jai Hind ki sena!
Jai Hind! Jai Hind! Jai Hind!