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The Haramness Of The Way Asia Bibi Was Treated In The Name of Islam

Saba Syed (Umm Reem)

Published

News of the dismissal of Asia Noreen Bibi’s case (a Christian woman accused of blasphemy and imprisoned for almost a decade) in Pakistan has erupted on TV screens and social media feeds. The more I read about the case and watch the hysteria unfolding in the name of preserving the sanctity of the Prophet, the more embarrassed I feel and frustrated with the misuse of Islamic doctrine. Obviously, this is not the first time nor the last when actions are being done in the name of Islam, but these actions have nothing to do with Islam.

Asia Noreen Bibi is a Christian woman, who lived in a small village in Pakistan; she was from one of the only three Christian families in the village. One day she accompanied her co-workers to a nearby farm for extra work.  As she fetched berries under the scorching sun, she wanted nothing more than a few sips of cold water. She walked up to the well in the farm, and as she drank some water in a metal-glass, another woman, Musarat, angrily told her that it was forbidden for a Christian to drink water from the same utensil from which Muslims drink and that some of the co-workers considered her to be unclean because she was a Christian.

Even though a lot of Asia Noreen’s story is “he said – she said”, I do believe this part of the story because I’ve heard this notion many times before. Muslims in Pakistan have asked me if they were allowed to share utensils with non-Muslims. This question often arises among the laborers, and most often amongst the affluent families who have Christian housemaids. 

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I was once visiting my in-laws in Lahore when a lady who offered on-call beauty salon services came over. She was Christian. While she was doing my pedicure, I started talking to her about her life as a minority in Pakistan. I could relate to some of the emotions and incidents she shared, because I grew up as a minority in the U.S. At the same time, there were some incidents she recalled that were completely ridiculous and I thanked God that I never had to go through them, like some “well-educated” women refusing to eat or drink from utensils that this woman had touched, because she didn’t share the same faith.

There’s a misconstrued belief among some people in Muslim majority countries that people of other faiths are “impure”, so much so that their touch can impurify our food and drink. This belief is obviously wrong.1 Much of this is class related discrimination, as the same people would have no issue serving dignitaries and CEOs (who are Christian) in their prized gold-plated crockery, in fact, it would be a matter of pride. They would also have no issues visiting non-Muslim countries and eating at restaurants and hotels. 

Going back to Asia Noreen’s story, an argument broke out among the working women in the field. Again, the story has a lot “he said – she said” but one thing is clear that it was the Muslim woman who raised the issue of Asia contaminating the water by drinking from it simply because she was a “filthy Christian.”

The argument was prolonged when Asia also insulted her co-worker Musarat’s faith which happens to be my faith too. However, I find my sentiments more sympathetic and align with Asia than Musarat and her co. Is it strange that I applaud Asia for speaking up and defending herself?

Although I don’t agree with Asia’s statement at all, the more important question right now is, was her “reaction” wrong? Was she to be blamed for becoming angry and insulting Islam or the Prophet in response to the Muslim women insulting her faith and her Prophet?

I’ve tried to evaluate the situation by putting myself in her shoe. What if I was in the U.S surrounded by a group of Christians and I was criticized for taking a few sips of water in a scorching hot day and was called a “filthy Muslim”?

Had I have not known any better, I might have insulted Jesus too in “reaction”. But those Muslims who actually study the simple basics of Islam, know that we are not allowed to insult anyone else’s religion, no matter what.

What About Musarat’s Blasphemy: Isn’t Esa Our Prophet too?

In the case of Asia, it just happens so that her Prophet Jesus 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), is my beloved Prophet too. So as I type this article, I’m wondering why isn’t Musarat on trial for insulting our Prophet Jesus (may God’s peace and blessings be upon him)?

This whole situation is wrong on so many levels. First of all, non-Muslims do not contaminate our water or food by touching it. Second, we are not allowed to put down other people’s religious beliefs. Third, a man was rewarded with Paradise for giving water to a thirsty dog– whose saliva can actually contaminate our utensils– and these women were more concerned about the religious beliefs of a thirsty woman– who was their coworker, and a neighbor– than her state of thirst on a hot summer day.

And most importantly, this Blasphemy Law of Pakistan is far from actual Islamic Law. Our Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), never punished anyone for insulting him neither did he ever instruct any of his companions to punish anyone who’d insulted our Prophet. This was not only the case when Muslims were the minority and were being persecuted, but it continued to be the case even after Muslims became stronger and gained political power.

In fact, in our religion, there is more emphasis on respect being earned than forcing it out of people. Non-Muslims, even the ones who opposed Prophet’s message, respected him for his good moral qualities. Islam emphasizes character building, earning respect through love and kindness rather than forcing it upon others through fear and authority. The woman who threw trash on Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) to irritate him, later converted to Islam because of his kindness towards her when he went to visit her after she got sick.

If the love of Prophet truly resides in our hearts, then it would show more in following into his footsteps and carrying on his legacy by showing kindness to a thirsty woman rather than declaring the water “haram” because of her touching the utensils.

Truth be told, the Blasphemy Law is a misrepresentation of Islam because we are taught to leave those people alone who mock or insult our Creator or His Verses in Qur’an, hence insulting the Prophet would fall in the same lines.

“And when you (Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)) see those who engage in false conversation about Our Verses (of Qur’an) by mocking at them, stay away from them till they turn to another topic…” (6:68)

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is instructing the Prophet to walk away from people who are insulting Allah or the verses from Qur’an, not punish them by any means. In fact, he’s being told to join them back after they’ve changed the topic.

So where does the blasphemy law come into the picture?

According to the story, Asia supposedly insulted our Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) after Musarat insulted Jesus 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him). Aren’t we told not to insult other people’s religion or religious deities for the exact same reason, i.e. so as not to provoke the reaction from them!

“And do not insult those they invoke other than Allah, lest they insult Allah in enmity without knowledge…” (6:108)

I am not an apologist but today I apologize from the bottom of my heart to Asia, her husband, her daughters and her family, and all the religious minorities living in “Muslim” countries on behalf of all the Muslims who are Muslims because they were born in Muslim families and have yet to learn their religion in its proper format. What Islam truly is and what it has become in the hands of Muslims can be two very opposing things at times.

Do I find it surprising that in some news outlets it has been reported that Musarat had some property disputes with Asia’s family in the past!

My religion has been long used and abused by people for their self-interest, be it political gain, power gain or personal gain. When nothing else works, then they use Islam to mobilize people’s sentiments to advocate their agenda and win the situation in their favor, whether its extremists using Islam for their political gain, or MBS calling Jamal Khashoggi an Islamic extremist to justify his brutal killing, or Musarat claiming to defend our Prophet by accusing Asia of insulting our Prophet.

It is also said that Musarat and other Muslim women asked Asia to convert to Islam to redeem herself. My sincere advice to Musarat and all those Pakistanis who are protesting against Asia being acquitted that they should be more worried about redeeming their own souls, and they should learn the basics of Islam and build Islamic character for their own salvation first.

 

1 Report from Abu Dawood (3839): “We live next to some of the People of the Book who cook pork in their vessels and drink wine in their vessels.” The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “If you can find anything else, eat from them and drink from them, but if you cannot find anything else, then wash them with water and eat and drink.” Saheeh Abi Dawood.

The Prophet subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) was invited to eat some barley bread and other food by a Jewish boy.  Narrated by Ahmad, in Irwa’ al-Ghaleel, 1/71.

The Prophet subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and his companions did wudoo’ from the leather water skin of a mushrik woman. Narrated by al-Bukhari, 337; Muslim, 682.

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Saba Syed (aka Umm Reem) is the author of International award winning novel, "An Acquaintance." Saba has a BA degree in Islamic Studies. She studied Arabic Language & Literature at Qatar University and at Cairo Institute in Egypt. She also received her Ijaazah in Quranic Hafs recitation in Egypt from Shaikh Muhammad al-Hamazawi. She had been actively involved with Islamic community since 1995 through her MSA, and then as a founding member of TDC, and other community organizations. in 2002, she organized and hosted the very first "Musim Women's Conference" in Houston, TX. Since then, she's been passionately working towards empowering Muslim women through the correct and untainted teachings of Islam. She is a pastoral counselor for marriage & family, women and youth issues. She has hosted several Islamic lectures and weekly halaqas in different communities all over U.S and overseas, also hosted special workshops regarding parenting, Islamic sex-ed, female sexuality, and marital intimacy.

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Umm

    November 10, 2018 at 5:21 AM

    I totally share the same sentiments on this issue. Racial discrimination in our communities is so common, we need to educate ourselves the basics of our faith, before reviling other faiths.

  2. Avatar

    A.Ahmed

    November 10, 2018 at 3:43 PM

    Do not state that Blasphemy laws are wrong all together, Islamic scholars have based them on strong sources of hadith. It is a part of Islamic law.

    Narrated Jabir bin `Abdullah:

    The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Who is ready to kill Ka`b bin Al-Ashraf who has really hurt Allah and His Apostle?” Muhammad bin Maslama said, “O Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ)! Do you like me to kill him?” He replied in the affirmative. So, Muhammad bin Maslama went to him (i.e. Ka`b) and said, “This person (i.e. the Prophet) has put us to task and asked us for charity.” Ka`b replied, “By Allah, you will get tired of him.” Muhammad said to him, “We have followed him, so we dislike to leave him till we see the end of his affair.” Muhammad bin Maslama went on talking to him in this way till he got the chance to kill him.

    Reference : Sahih al-Bukhari 3031
    In-book reference : Book 56, Hadith 238
    USC-MSA web (English) reference : Vol. 4, Book 52, Hadith 270
    (deprecated numbering scheme)

  3. Avatar

    AFJ

    November 10, 2018 at 9:38 PM

    I was speaking to a group of Muslim children here in the United States one day, and in the course of our conversation, I told them about a group of Christians being persecuted and driven from their majority Muslim homeland. I told the children that a number of these Christians had been killed.

    One of the Muslim children began cheering when I said that Christians were being killed.

    I was shocked, but he was oblivious.

    Please do not pretend that animosity towards Christians is not part of the Islamic faith and is not taught in your mosques. I know differently.

    Asia Bibi is simply the most famous case of persecution against Christians in Pakistan. From everything I’ve heard, it is absolutely an endemic attitude of that entire society and is based on Muslim teaching. Ditto Egypt. Ditto Iraq. Ditto Saudi Arabia.

  4. Avatar

    Shahla

    November 10, 2018 at 9:49 PM

    Indian/Pakistani Muslims have still not gotten over their Hindu heritage. Christians in that region are converts from ‘untouchable’ classes of Hindus or Dalits. Ironically, they chose Christianity over Islam because Christian missionaries treated them as humans. If our Muslim ancestors did not practice untouchability, they would have been Muslims.
    Blasphemy laws of Pakistan are the gift of military dictator Zia ul Haq. These laws were imposed on Pakistanis without their consent and are now used by all kinds of mafia to consolidate power and wealth unlawfully.

    • Avatar

      Ahmad

      December 11, 2019 at 9:47 AM

      Assalamu alaikum, whilst the article is well written there are a few points I’d strongly disagree.
      1) Whilst it is true the issue of using vessels used by Christians may be due to the fact many Christians were previously low caste Hindus. But also there is a concern that as they can drink alcohol eat swine they pass on impurities. Now this isn’t correct but should provide a context to the objection
      2) The majority of scholars do deem there is a punishment for those who insult the prophet (saw). This goes back to the schools of thought. Here is mufti taqi usmani discussing the issue (I assume based on your article you speak Urdu. https://youtu.be/x-dmufBMMno
      Mufti taqi is internationally recognised as one of the leading scholars of our age

  5. Avatar

    Ahmad

    November 10, 2018 at 10:33 PM

    So you are sympathetic to a woman who insulted our prophet (pbuh), there is no case where a muslim can feel sympathy to a person who insults our prophet even a little I don’t know if this kafira is innocent or guilty but there is no excuse for the insult to our prophet pbuh I suggest you study islam and make your views based on islam, not liberalism disguised as islam.

    • Avatar

      Hamayoun

      November 11, 2018 at 10:25 PM

      To the user calling himself Ahmad: what Abdullah Bin Ubay did was much worse than what this woman did, but the Prophet did not have him killed. I guess that was based on liberalism too?

  6. Avatar

    Spirituality

    November 12, 2018 at 1:45 PM

    As Salamu Alaikum,

    We should always, always, feel upset when the Prophet (s) is insulted. If not, there is something is wrong with our hearts. We need to examine our hearts and check ourselves.

    On the other hand, we should remember that some of the Sahabah insulted the Prophet (s), or worse – they fought against him, threw him out of his house and city, killed Muslims and mutilated them- before they became Muslim! And as Sahabah, their station with Allah is much, much higher than ours.

    “And not equal are the good deed and the bad. Repel [evil] by that [deed] which is better; and thereupon the one whom between you and him is enmity [will become] as though he was a devoted friend.” Surah Fussilat: 34.

  7. Avatar

    hussein

    November 14, 2018 at 5:02 AM

    Ahmad, did you even read the article? did you even read the Ayats she quoted in the article? One letter writer says even some Shahaba that hold exalted status in in Islam insulted the Prophet (pbuh). And you use the word Kafira? Are you even a Muslim? its people like you thta give Islam a bad name!

  8. Avatar

    Ahmad

    November 15, 2018 at 4:44 AM

    Hussein did you even read my comment, of course I would call her a kafir she is a christian or are we not to call christians kafirs no more no friend it’s people like you who give islam a bad name people who are scared of the west that you change the religion to better fit in , learn the religion first from scholars don’t read the quran and interpret in your liberal western views, people who insult must be punished

    • Avatar

      David

      November 15, 2018 at 9:12 PM

      “that you change the religion to better fit in”; you DO know that places you contrary to the civil law of many western countries, what do you think will result from that?

    • Avatar

      hussein

      November 16, 2018 at 12:51 PM

      you have no right whatever to call anyone kafir….if you are going to take such liberties than point your finger at saudi royal family and isis….you ask if if i read your comment i ask you did you read this column at all..? its wahabis liek you with the wrong interpretation of Islam who give our religion a bad name….

  9. Avatar

    Kristy

    November 18, 2018 at 12:46 AM

    How sad is it that in 2018, 1408 years after the revelation of the Quran, the discussion between muslims is not what muslims can do to help poor, uneducated minorities in their theocratic countries become productive members of Islamic-majority societies, but whether or not one-sided blasphemy laws should exist and are adequate.

    To create one-sided blasphemy laws, to copyright and limit the use of “Allah” to be the exclusive right of muslims-only, and to intentionally make the lives of any minority hell-on-earth is to commit the following sins:
    – hatred
    – anger
    – bigotry
    – controlling others belief and faith in “Allah” through man-made schemes replaces this exclusive role of Allah
    – lying about others committing blasphemy is enticing if you desire to have what is theirs which you do not have
    – attempting to thwart the Will of Allah as to who belongs where they have been put by his Will.
    – looking down on others as being inferior and lesser than yourself is practicing arrogance, deceit of yourself, and pride which puts you on the pedestal of your own self-worship.

    I’m sure there are other sins which could be included on this list.
    But suffice it to say that if these are not sins against your deity as well as against your minorities, then what exactly is the deity you are worshipping?

  10. Avatar

    hussein

    November 26, 2018 at 2:20 AM

    So MM deleted my comments!

    • Aly Balagamwala

      Aly Balagamwala

      April 10, 2019 at 3:42 AM

      Dear Hussein

      WHile MM reserves the right to remove of edit any comments to make them conform to our Comment Policy, I see several comments by you on this article. If any have been deleted it is possibly there was some reason identified by a member of our team. In any case feel free to resubmit the comment.

      Best Regards
      Aly
      Comments Team Lead

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#Society

Beyond 2020: Grounding Our Politics in Community

Kyle Ismail, Guest Contributor

Published

As tense and agonizing as these unending election days have been, it pales in comparison to the last four years.  I plainly remember how it all began on the night of November 07, 2016. I watched as the political map of the US became increasingly red late into the night. All the social media banter, conspiracy theories and left-wing critiques of candidate Hillary Clinton, formed an amorphous blob of white noise as I heard Trump announced as the next president. Now that Trump has run for re-election, half the country was hoping for a repudiation but will have to settle for the fact that despite a small margin, Donald J. Trump will not have a second chance to erode our democratic institutions and divide us. But we can’t move forward until each of us acknowledges our own pathological role in what we’ve become as a deeply divided country. 

We need to grapple with how we can gradually improve the circus-like reality that has become our ordinary, daily politics. We’ll relive more and perhaps improved “Trumps” if we don’t accept our own responsibility in creating a divided America. This starts with being better members of local communities. Here are a few of Trump-induced realizations that I’ve come to accept:

  1. Caring about our immediate neighbors and listening to their challenges and concerns is the part of political engagement that we all have to embrace above and beyond actually voting if we hope to be more than a 50/50 nation.
  2. Social media and its profit-driven algorithms are actually eroding how we see each other but could also be altered to help better educate us about our local social/political landscape.
  3. Local Politics has direct impact on our lives and is also at the heart our religious obligations to our neighbors. It also sets the tone for where the federal level derives policies that prove to be best practices (some examples are included below).
  4. Agitation and protest are not the same as being politically organized on a local level. Protest is sometimes needed, but it will never replace consistent and patient work. We learned this lesson with the Arab Spring as that movement failed to transform into a movement that was able to govern effectively. And the same appears to be true about the Black Lives Matter movement.

The voting is over for now. But voting is really the smallest part of being committed to bettering our communities. It was Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) who gave the most specific definition of community/neighbor and encouraged his followers to guard the rights of the neighbor:

“Your neighbor is 40 houses ahead of you and 40 houses at your back, 40 houses to your left and 40 houses to your right” Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)

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Why does this relate to being politically organized?? The need for political organizing comes when any group of people want to create change in accordance with their values. We’ve all watched protest after protest that change little to nothing at the neighborhood level. This will continue to happen without organization, which span school boards, block clubs, nonprofits, and religious community outreach.  How can Muslims enjoin right and discourage wrong in any meaningful way? It comes through having authentic relationships with neighbors and turning that into organized and engaged communities.

Rosa Parks

Nothing illuminates the value of such relationships better than the story of Rosa Parks in her role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. People often think that she was the first brave soul to defy the custom of allowing whites to sit before African-Americans could be seated on her city’s buses. Nothing could be further from the truth. The difference was that her sets of relationships were so interwoven into her local community that it forced a massive response. Park’s connections spanned socioeconomic circles as she had close friendships from professors to field hands. She held memberships in a dozen local organizations including her church and the local NAACP. She was a volunteer seamstress in poor communities and provided the same for profit in wealthy white circles. When someone with her relational positioning was able to leverage the political organizing ability of MLK and Dr. Ralph Abernathy, the Montgomery Bus Boycott was sparked.

When something happens to Muslims, who can we mobilize to respond? Who becomes angry? Who do we work with in our communities to create policies that reflect our values And what are our internal barriers to such cooperation?

“Whosoever of you sees an evil action, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart—and that is the weakest of faith.” Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)

Our Predecessors Organized Locally

At some point in time voting became the sum total of political engagement in the minds of many and is now deemed by some as worthless. We quickly forget that the organizations that battled for voting rights were first locally organized to improve communities. SNCC, SNCC, CORE, NAACP, and the Urban League all formed to create change in various ways and the fight for voting rights was a component of these local agendas. So when we’re tempted to believe that voting doesn’t matter, it’s likely due to our lack of engagement in local issues that form the contours of our community life. If you’ve ever heard of Ella Baker or Fannie Lou Hamer (worth researching!), you probably never bought into this type of logic.

One of the many lessons we can pull from this rich history is that we cannot pursue policies, seek alliances, or negotiate a position with political parties (see Ice Cube’s debacle in negotiating with Trump) without first being organized from within. No set of friendships or outside philanthropic support can supplant the need for internal organization. This lack of organized political engagement has weakened Muslims in general but has fatally weakened African-American Muslims as voices within the larger Black community – a voice that gave Islam its first fully accepted and influential place in American society.

Immigrant-based Muslim communities could also benefit from a local approach because despite being several generations in America, their American bonafides are still not set in stone. Concerns about Islamophobia will not change outside of developing authentic relationships with non-Muslims.

This also pushes back against a culture shaped disproportionately by social media algorithms that promote isolation and division for the sake of profit. Our attention to the national news cycle also takes our attention away from local communities where our power is formed. In this type of political malaise, re-engagement in local politics and community relationships can bring us back to important principles that resonate with the values of Islam.

Local politics help shape federal policy

The final word on any law or policy rests with the federal government, but much of what becomes orthodoxy begins with a few concerned citizens in local communities. As with community policing, criminal justice reform, climate sustainability, or any issues that has not caught on, the federal government will often step back to see how a new law plays out at state and local levels. Illinois didn’t wait for Obamacare but has a well-established program to ensure that anyone 18 and younger in Illinois has health insurance through a program called All Kids . Colorado has, in the midst of protests against police brutality, altered their law of Qualified Immunity to make police more accountable. And California has advanced the conversation on reparations  by sanctioning a study to understand how the state could benefit by redressing the descendants of American slavery.

By advancing issues and electing representatives who support the causes we believe in, we insert ourselves into a narrative that would’ve otherwise been forged without us. There’s no shortcut in this process short of rolling up our sleeves to understand our local systems and existing organizations. Moneyed interests are prepare to control the narrative regardless of who the president is and we have to remake this system from the ground up. Our history provides us with a roadmap to do this and it goes far beyond being citizens who only argue over national issues while standing on the sidelines. Remembering our 40 neighbors as advised by the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is the best place to start.

Some helpful links:

Local Elections

State Legislatures

School Boards

County Prosecutors

Mayors

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#Current Affairs

Why Boycotting France is the Wrong Response

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Published

“I don’t think it’s safe to come visit you in France with your Aunt…she wears a hijab, and she will have trouble getting around”, my mother nervously quipped as we discussed travel arrangements for their trip. 

“Of course it’s safe! How could you say that? There are women wearing hijab all over this country!”  I protested, as I tried to assuage her concerns.

I was living as an expat in France when my family was planning their visit to the country last year. I was surprised to hear the reservations from my own folk; it went on to highlight the pre-conceived notions Muslims often have about the French. “They hate Muslims!” “They are racists” “They insult our Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)!”. The list goes on.  

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Having spent a considerable amount of time in France, Quebec and Suisse-Romande, I’ve developed an affinity towards the French culture, language and people. I’ve never felt marginalized in these lands because of my dark skin, my Muslim faith, or my never-ending struggle with French conjugation. Yes, I am privileged in many ways, but that doesn’t negate the validity of my experiences. 

I was thus naturally taken aback by the recent calls to boycott France in light of the opportunistic and contemptable actions of Emmanuel Macron. If these boycotts made me uncomfortable, I can imagine how much more offended the average French person would have been. Macron’s decision to first politicize an unspeakable crime, and then to insult our Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was a deplorable move. It exposed his true colors and showed us that he is just another disdainful politician who seeks to divide, rather than build bridges. 

As pitiful as Macron’s actions are, is the Muslim response calling for boycotts of France justified? Is it fair to hold all of France guilty for the comments made by its President? Are we not only advancing the ‘Us vs Them’ narrative that extremists on both sides want? No one holds all of America responsible for the ridiculous comments that Trump makes – why a different standard for France? 

Collective guilt is a serious disease that we must overcome. We need to stop holding a people accountable for the actions of a few. We need to stop blaming a people for the actions of their ancestors. French corporations, that employ thousands of Muslims across the world, did not insult the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) – so why take them to task? French Muslims have not called for these boycotts, so why are we advocating for them?  If we collectivize and boycott all of France, how are we any different from those who hold all Muslims responsible for the violence perpetrated by a few? 

We need to abandon the ‘Us vs Them’ mindset; this parochial idea of ‘Islam vs the West’ or ‘Islam vs France’. We need to adopt a post-nationalist worldview where we look at all people as one, as our own. There is no ‘Them’ – it is all ‘Us’. It is ‘Us’ against hatred, bigotry, divisiveness, and racism. It is ‘Us’ against those in power, on both sides, who seek to exploit ‘Us’ for political and personal gain. 

As one people, we should never advocate for boycotts which seek to create divisions and animosity between ‘Us’. Blanket consumer boycotts are short lived and have a minimal impact regardless. What lives long past the boycott are the feelings of resentment, hatred and enmity directed towards an entire nation. Our Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is a prophet to all people, to the French people – our people. We must not partake in actions which alienate our kin from being receptive to his message.  

Know that paltry cartoons will not take away from the rank of the Chosen One. One of his miracles in these modern times, is that those wishing to disparage him have been unable to succeed. His enemies have caricaturized him over and over again, but none of their images have stuck around or gained acceptance. Despite all of these attempts, the only descriptor with which he continues to be universally recognized is that of prophethood. You read a headline: ‘Artist makes images of the Prophet’, and you know instantly who ‘the Prophet’ refers to regardless of who you are. Unqualified, the word always brings to mind the thought of one man!   

Even those that don’t believe in him call him ‘the Prophet Muhammad’ – lips refuse to utter his name with anything other than his noble epithet. So, fear not about the Prophet’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) rank – for the one being praised by angels in the Heavens cannot be belittled by lowly men here on Earth. 

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#Current Affairs

OpED: Sri Preston Kulkarni’s War on Facts

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“Things come apart so easily when they have been held together with lies.” — Dorothy Allison (American Writer)

By Ghazala Salam, Founder & President, Muslim Caucus

Elections are a time when stretching the truth is the norm rather than the exception, and “fact checking” an imperative for anyone who wants to make an informed decision about their vote. However, nowhere has the narrative collided as head on with the truth as in the campaign of Sri Preston Kulkarni, Democratic candidate for the Texas Congressional District #22. Such is the brazenness of Kulkarni’s lies that multiple groups that have vowed to vote President Trump out of office believe it is in the best interest of the district and the country if Kulkarni loses his second bid for a place in the US House of Representatives, his purported commitment to the Democratic platform notwithstanding.

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Many are understandably curious about the reason for so many Democrats turning against a candidate from the party they normally support. To be clear, it is not so much Kulkarni’s campaign narrative, as the conflict between that narrative and the truth. To many voters of District 22, Kulkarni’s campaign ostensibly stands for human rights and religious freedom, and against fascism and nationalism. Unfortunately, and as multiple exposes that are now going viral have demonstrated, Kulkarni’s association with fascist and nationalist elements both in India and the US run deep, and indeed are the key drivers of his candidacy.

Kulkarni is no ordinary immigrant success story, having come from a family with deep connections to India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The RSS is one of the world’s largest militia, and the ideological fountainhead of Hindutva, a fascist and supremacist ideology that seeks to turn India into a Hindu state, where Christians, Muslims and other religious minorities are relegated to the status of second-class citizens with few rights. In the last two decades, front organizations of the RSS in America have fielded multiple candidates for political office, some of whom have gone on to make significant contributions to advancing Hindutva’s agenda in Washington, DC. It is no surprise therefore, that the RSS’s American affiliate, the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS), are among the primary backers of Kulkarni’s candidacy. The irony of a man who claims to stand against racism, fascism and nationalism, being backed by the same forces that assassinated Mahatma Gandhi is something Kulkarni would prefer voters don’t pay attention to.

However, the connection with RSS is based on more than just mutual benefit. Kulkarni is the nephew of the late Pramod Mahajan, a highly influential Indian politician and minister, who was an RSS veteran and the BJP’s chief strategist. He held several important cabinet positions including Defense, and until his murder in 2006 by another uncle of Sri Kulkarni, Mahajan was considered the “heir apparent” to the Hindu nationalist Prime Minister A. B. Vajpayee. Mahajan was among the key organizers of L. K. Advani’s Rath Yatra, a campaign that finally led to the criminal demolition of the Babri Mosque and the subsequent killing of over 3,000 people in sectarian violence across India.

What is striking about Kulkarni’s candidacy is not just these RSS connections that are now falling out of the proverbial closet, but Kulkarni’s silly attempt at feigning ignorance about the RSS, claiming he did not know it was an organization until two years ago. This is rich, coming from a man who claims to have been a career diplomat, and whose next posting before he quit the Foreign Service was going to be in New Delhi. Kulkarni has gone on record to say that Ramesh Bhutada, the Vice-President of HSS, was “like a father,” to him, and his son Rishi Bhutada was among those without whose support the campaign itself might not have been possible.

Another relative of Sri Kulkarni is the well-known Indian politician Gopinath Munde, who married Mahajan’s sister. Munde was a member of Modi’s cabinet before his death in a road accident, and was once in charge of the RSS branches in the city of Pune. Kulkarni’s cousin Poonam Mahajan, currently a member of the Indian Parliament, was once the national President of the BJP “Youth Wing” and the Secretary of the BJP in 2013.

Much to Kulkarni’s discomfiture, his fascist friends are actually flaunting their connection to him, starting with BJP ideologue Subramanian Swamy, hailing Kulkarni’s candidacy as “Hindutva’s hope in Houston.” Yet, Kulkarni wants voters to believe him when he claims ignorance about the RSS.

The struggle with facts continues, with Kulkarni claiming without proof, a lineage from the famed General Sam Houston. Short on facts are also Kulkarni’s claims of expertise on issues of national security, as he has provided almost no details of his tenure in the Foreign Service. Kulkarni’s complete refusal to acknowledge his campaign’s connections to RSS should also be seen in light of the fact that the RSS’s nationalist and Islamophobic agenda finds a natural ally in the Republican Party, particularly in Donald Trump. It is no surprise therefore, that Prime Minister Modi was welcomed in Houston by President Trump and prominent Republicans at a massive “Howdy Modi” rally in September 2019. The same Rishi Bhutada who helped Kulkarni launch his campaign was one of the main organizers and spokesperson for the event. Not to be outdone, Prime Minister Modi broke protocol in giving President Trump a rousing endorsement for reelection during the latter’s visit to India.

None of these would have been uncomfortable truths for Kulkarni, had he been running as a Republican. However, Kulkarni’s candidacy as a Democrat flies in the face of facts, and the support he is getting from many of the district’s Democrat voters is more the result of revulsion against President Trump than a proper vetting of Kulkarni’s politics.

If Kulkarni makes it to Capitol Hill, expect stonewalling on issues of human rights and religious freedom by right wing forces around the world. With Kulkarni as their representative, South Asian voters can forget about any accountability for India, for its egregious violations of human rights and religious freedom. In a “letter to the Muslim community,” apparently conscious of the growing disquiet about his candidacy among Muslims, liberals and progressives, Kulkarni brags about having taken a stand on the “violence in Delhi” and the “situation in Kashmir,” as evidence of his commitment to human rights and religious freedom. In truth, both statements by Kulkarni are ritualistic expressions of standing for peace and human rights, while failing to call out the role of ideologically driven violence against religious minorities. The perpetrators of such violence are widely known to be proponents of the same ideology whose affiliates in the US are among his donors. Such statements are actually a disservice to the victims of sectarian violence for they seek to obfuscate the role of Hindu nationalism in driving such persecution.

Kulkarni’s has apparently promised to take a public position against the use of India’s National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) to strip citizenship away from India’s Muslim citizens. Absent from Kulkarni’s narrative is any mention of how the CAA and NRC are discriminatory in their essence against people of the Muslim faith, and a clear violation of India’s secular Constitution. Clearly Kulkarni is not on the same page as respected human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. How Kulkarni is expected to be vocal about civil rights in the US, while actively shielding those who are eroding these very rights abroad defies explanation.

Similarly, Kulkarni has issued a statement on the “situation” in Kashmir that does nothing to shine the light on the historic betrayal of the Kashmiri people represented by the revocation of Article 370, and the enormous human suffering caused by the Government of India’s tyrannical curfew and lockdown, imposed long before Covid-19. In this regard, Kulkarni apparently does not want to displease his RSS supporters by condemning the unprecedented human rights catastrophe in Kashmir, something many prominent Democrats have done, in the form of statements and House resolutions. For Kulkarni to call out the role of the India’s Hindu nationalist government in causing such suffering on Kashmir’s civilian population is unthinkable. In fact, Kulkarni is loath to even call out the Indian military’s tyranny in Kashmir, and instead prefers to advise the Indian government “behind closed doors,” through the “ladder of diplomacy.”

The truth about Sri Kulkarni’s campaign is closely tied to the money trail. Kulkarni has accepted in excess of $80,000 from just 10 families linked to RSS affiliates in the United States. Despite repeated demands by voters in his district to return such tainted donations, Kulkarni has instead doubled down, attacking those raising concerns as “nefarious actors,” while claiming he was unaware of the RSS as an organization.

It is possible that Kulkarni is genuine in his advocacy for the environment and his concern about gun violence. However, his janus-faced campaign is being weighed down by its own internal contradictions and his refusal to come clean on important facts that affect his prospective constituents. Among all the lies of the 2020 elections, Kulkarni’s claim that he is against fascism and nationalism must rank among the most brazen.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own.

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