Even though pluralism is a loaded term, its generic meaning suggests a phenomenon of peaceful coexistence between entities of diverse cultural, religious, and political inclinations. It is important to remember that pluralism does not mean the elimination of difference, nor does the word “tolerance” do justice to its intended purpose. Pluralism is not merely tolerating the other but engaging with the beliefs of others with peaceful dialogue and action. The scope of inter-religious puralism within Islam proposes this kind of pluralism.
What does Pluralism mean in Islam?
Looking at the subjective meaning of pluralism within the ambit of Islam, the proponents of various Islamic discourses have proposed that pluralism is a pronounced feature of Islam. Many Muslim intellectuals claim that pluralism is central to the fundamental essence of Islam. A convincing case can be made for the presence of a compelling pluralistic ethos within the Islamic scriptures.
In his essay, Reformist Islam in Comparative Perspective, Mehran Kamrava claims that the rise in the level of religiosity amongst Muslims has given rise to other forms of Islam. One of which according to him is “likely to have the most resonating consequences for Islamic jurisprudence in both the near and the distant future” and calls it “intellectual Islam”. He claims that it is through this form of Islam that a Muslim reformist discourse is introduced. Which has produced significant work to locate the place of inter-religious pluralism in Islam. He further derives some themes out of the reformist discourse, very important with their reference to pluralism in Islam:
“First is a deep and abiding conviction in Islam as faith and a system of belief. In its current manifestation, the discourse of reformist Muslim intellectuals does not seek to instrumentalize Islam for purposes of achieving modernity in a manner palatable to the masses at large. Islam is not a means to an end; it is an end in itself. It simply needs to be re-thought and reformulated. The reformists’ reliance on and endless references to the Qur’an bespeaks of the text’s cultural centrality to them.”.
Such display of absolute faith by Muslim reformists whilst having reformist inclinations bespeak of their balanced position. A flexible modern vision can develop interfaith dialogue. The abiding conviction to Islam earns a sense of authenticity for their thought process in the eyes of fellow Muslims.
Read here, Islamophobia: Impacts on Muslim Women
What is Democratic Pluralism?
The next theme of the reformist discourse is “democratic pluralism”: “Pluralism, the reformist discourse’s proponents maintain, is a salient feature of the spirit of the Qur’an and the hadith.” (Kamrava )
To support his claim he cites another Muslim intellectual Abdulaziz Sachedina who quotes:
The challenge for Muslims today, as ever, is to tap the tradition of Koranic pluralism to develop a culture of restoration, of just intrareligious and interreligious relationships in a world of cultural and religious diversity. Without restoring the principle of coexistence, Muslims will not be able to recapture the spirit of early civil society under the Prophet.
In the globalized world, the facets of modernity like its political model of the nation-state have become a governing principle for all ethnic, cultural, and religious pluralism. This means the only larger identity governing the religious identity of the people is that of the nation-state. In the religiously pluralistic society of today, people may have different identities, but the model of the nation-state promises all of them the same status. People might identify with different religious inclinations, but the state identifies them as either citizens or residents of the state. This is exactly the kind of challenge that Sachedina talks about when he implores Muslims to revive the tradition of pluralism that is central to the Islamic texts for peaceful coexistence in the globalized world.
The Case of Muslims living as a minority
If Muslims live in a minority in a nation-state that runs on one of the political models of modernity like democracy or secularism, then for the sake of the welfare of Muslims they need to fulfill the duties that the nation-state demands from them. Andrew March talks about the jurisprudence of Muslim minorities also called Fiqh al-aqalliyyat al-muslima in Arabic:
Fiqh alaqalliyyat tends to be a discourse where departures from traditional Islamic commitments are not seen as desirable, and certainly not goals in and of themselves, but where creative rethinking often occurs in subtle and pragmatic guises. It is thus an important object of study for those interested in the ideal moral encounter between a public religion like Islam and modern/post-modern secularism. (March 6).
Important questions of interest toward non-Islamic institutions have been addressed from within internal Islamic discourses that advocate for a positive Muslim attitude concerning the issue of pluralism.
Islam’s relation with other Faiths
The third theme within the reformist Islamic discourse is “Islam’s relations with other great faiths”. An important aspect central to the Muslim understanding of pluralism is the conception that god’s message in the Quran is universal and that the revelation was made through more than just one prophet, which means that the revelations had multiple manifestations. The basic underpinning for this idea can be seen in the Quran which mentions the monotheistic traditions of Judaism and Christianity. Far from denying the Quran in fact validates that Torah and Bible were predecessor scriptures affirming that their message has come from the same god. Many Quranic verses echo the sentiments which envisage a world where diversified people are united by their pious intentions and mutual devotion to God.
Also, read Islam in 2075: World’s Largest Religion!?
Some Important Milestones in the Islamic History
Apart from the theoretical contributions to promote Islamic pluralism, efficient action has also been taken within the Muslim discourse on a practical level to perpetuate inter-faith harmony.
One such historic step was the “1981 adoption of the Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights, whose article XIII states: Every person has the right to freedom of conscience and worship in accordance with his religious beliefs.”.
Apart from this, another significant step was taken in 1990 when the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam was adopted, Article 1(a) of which states:
“All human beings form one family whose members are united by submission to God and descent from Adam. All men are equal in terms of basic human dignity and basic obligations and responsibilities, without any discrimination on the grounds of race, color, language, sex, religious belief, political affiliation, social status or other considerations. True faith is the guarantee for enhancing such dignity along the path to human perfection.”
Islamic Tradition of Peaceful Coexistence
The Quran recognizes fundamental rights for all humankind whether Muslims or non-Muslims and explicitly forbids compulsion in faith. The Islamic texts also provide a practical model of implementing pluralistic ideals which have greatly affected the treatment of non-Muslims in Muslim lands. Contrary to the Islamophobic stereotypes, Islam not only acknowledges pluralism, but it also goes beyond the reductive concepts of tolerance and intolerance to endorse and encourages a tradition of peaceful coexistence.
Also, read Islamophobia: Impacts on Muslim Women
BBC’s Modi Documentary Rattles Modi Government
BCC recently released a documentary on India’s controversial right-wing Prime Minister Narendra Modi rattling Modi and his ruling party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The documentary’s first episode titled “India: The Modi Question” which was released in the UK on 17th January drew a sharp reaction from the Modi government.
Modi Government Blocks the Documentary in India
The Modi government moved swiftly to block the documentary in India. Proving right the critics of IT Rules, 2021, the Modi government’s Ministry of Information & Broadcasting invoked emergency powers under the IT Rules, 2021 to order YouTube to take down all the videos that had published the first episode of the documentary. Orders were also issued to Twitter to take down all the tweets that had posted the link to the documentary. Both YouTube and Twitter complied with the orders, removing all the posts and videos flagged by the government.
The government alleged that the documentary was found to be “undermining sovereignty and integrity of India, and having the potential to adversely impact India’s friendly relations with foreign states”, which allowed for the invocation of the emergency powers under the IT Rules, 2021. The government also alleged that the documentary questions the credibility of the Supreme Court of India and attempts to sow divisions among different communities while also making unsubstantiated allegations regarding the activities of foreign governments in India.
Earlier India’s External Affairs Ministry spokesperson dismissed the documentary as a “propaganda piece that lacks objectivity and reflects colonial mindset”. The spokesperson also questioned the timings of the release of the documentary.
The documentary’s first episode produced by the BBC tracks Modi’s “first steps into politics”- his association with the right-wing Hindu extremist organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), his rise through the ranks of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and further his appointment as Chief Minister of the state of Gujarat in 2001 till 2014. As the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Modi’s involvement in and his response to a series of communal riots in 2002 remains a source of controversy.
The documentary highlights a previously unpublished report, obtained by the BBC from the British Foreign Office, which raises questions about Modi’s actions during the religious riots. The report claims that Modi was “directly responsible” for the “climate of impunity” that enabled the violence.
The report cited by the BCC was part of an inquiry ordered by the then foreign secretary Jack Straw. The reports say that “the extent of violence was much greater than reported” and “the aim of the riots was to purge Muslims from Hindu areas”.
Jack Straw is heard in the documentary saying, “these were very serious claims that Mr Modi had played a proactive part in pulling back police and in tacitly encouraging the Hindu extremists. That was a particularly egregious example of political involvement to prevent police from doing their job to protect the Hindus and the Muslims.”
Modi’s Role in Gujarat Riots of 2002
It is the documentary’s highlight of the Gujarat riots of 2002 that has rattled the Modi government.
The Gujarat riots of 2002 claimed the lives of more than 1,000 people. Most of those killed were Muslims. Modi is alleged to have instigated the riots and further prevented the police and the army from taking any action to stop the riots. Most of the reports published on the Gujarat riots by the Indian media as well as the international media point out Modi’s direct role in facilitating the riots. It has been claimed that Modi gave a free hand to Hindu extremists to kill Muslims and the aim was to purge Hindu localities of Muslims.
Modi has rejected these accusations. Further, in 2013 an investigation approved by the Indian Supreme Court absolved Mr. Modi of complicity in the rioting. Based on that finding, a court in the state of Gujarat found that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute him.
Action Taken by Foreign Countries against Modi
Like the above-cited British Foreign Office report, there were many countries that were convinced of Modi’s role in the killing of Muslims during the riots. Concerned countries acted against Modi at different levels.
Modi was banned entry into the U.S. for more than a decade for his role in the riots. In 2005, Modi became the only person ever to be denied a U.S. visa under the 1998 law on violations of religious freedom. The U.S. State Department invoked a little-known U.S. law passed in 1998 that makes foreign officials responsible for “severe violations of religious freedom” ineligible for visas. The ban on Modi’s travel to the U.S. was revoked by the Obama administration in 2014 after he became the prime minister of India.
A Permanent Stain on Modi’s Career
Modi may have achieved great things in his political career, but the stain of the Gujarat riots is permanent on his career.
Modi loves the camera. He loves advertising and branding himself. Modi puts his picture on everything. He loves hearing his voice. However, ever since he became the prime minister of India, he has never given an unscripted interview to the media. He has also never held a press conference in India or abroad. It has been claimed that Modi does not want difficult questions about his attitude towards the Muslim minority of India thrown at him.
When Modi became the prime minister of India, Indian liberals were hopeful that Modi had changed. They were wrong in their assessment that Modi as a prime minister would be inclusive. However, after Modi’s eight years as a prime minister now, he has not changed his attitude towards Muslims. As of now, Muslims are increasingly persecuted by his government.
This author highly recommends that you watch the BBC documentary on Modi. Its first episode has been released here (if you are outside the UK watch it here or use VPN). The next episode will be available on Tuesday, January 24, 2023, at 21:00.
19.4 Million Afghan Women Struggling to Survive Under Taliban
Women banned from schools and colleges. Women flogged in markets with dozens of spectators. Girls, as young as 15, mandated to wear complete body covering: These are the horrifying reality Afghan women are forced to live in every day.
Rules of Sharia on Every Moment
Women’s freedom of movement and access to their bodies continue to be restricted in Taliban-run Afghanistan. The draconian group imposed huge barriers on women’s even basic needs: health, education, migration, and expression, depriving thousands of many of their right to earn a livelihood.
Women in Afghanistan have already suffered the most significant losses due to the war and militarization. However, with the control of the Taliban over the nation, the future and dreams of Afghan women are collapsing drastically.
Afghan Women: The Future Looks Dark
The Taliban treat women and girls brutally, and they are forbidden from attending secondary and higher education. Migration and independent travel for women is prohibited. They are not even permitted to migrate or travel without a male chaperone. Girls as young as 13 are forced into marriage.
The Taliban administration has abolished the Ministry of Women Affairs in Afghanistan due to its extreme depravity. There are now no female cabinet members in the Afghan government, thereby ending political participation of 50% of the population.
Following the takeover of Afghanistan, the schools and colleges were forcibly compelled to enact new regulations. It includes gender-apartheid entrances and classrooms. Only female professors or older men can instruct female students. Additionally, the authorities closed the Madressa that solely taught female students.
The future of Afghan women appears bleak with such harsh restrictions and draconian rules. The local women have various aspirations. Young girls want to finish their education and pursue careers in large corporations. But at the moment, it looks gloomy and almost impossible for Afghan women.
Lost Careers & Starving Families
Women-founded business is facing the worst time under Taliban.
Women investors have left their positions or hired males to do their business Women entrepreneurs claim they have invested thousands of Afghanis in the previous government but are currently compelled to close their firms.
The current environment prevents women from freely engaging in small-scale business or employment. Even when women are the only source of income for their families, Afghan women no longer dare to start their businesses.
If these conditions persist, many Afghan families will go hungry.
In Afghanistan, the handicraft industry thrived before the Taliban’s leadership, giving thousands of women jobs. Clothing, goods, and handicraft products were exported to Australia and New Zealand.
However, after the Taliban seized control, the industry went bankrupt due to a policy that discriminated against women and flying restrictions that reduced trade and affected the business adversely.
Afghan Women’s Lives at risk
The women’s crisis in Afghanistan keeps escalating — the restrictions, limitations, and dictatorship have gone too far ahead.
Due to a shortage of healthcare services, Afghan women face significant difficulties. They are restricted from visiting doctors without a male companion, and in some cities, women are not allowed to visit male doctors while the number of female physicians in the nation is closing to nil.
Additionally, women and girls are denied access to healthcare, and reports even imply that they are subjected to assault with no means of fleeing.
The restriction of female students from secondary and higher education violates their right to education and limits female students from reaching their full potential.
Banning female students from getting an education increases child marriages, early pregnancy, abuse, and violence.
Almost every house headed or led by women has lacked sufficient food due to the rise in fuel, food prices, and no source of income. The situation has worsened due to the drought and the war in Ukraine. It is difficult to see women becoming beggars along with their children.
The current situation of Afghan women is deteriorating in the virtual prisoner environment. Taliban restrictions have made women’s financial hardships worse. The lives of Afghan women are seriously at stake, and many women feel it would be better if they had died in the war.
The Silver Line But a Long Way Ahead
UNICEF and NGOs are defending Afghan women and trying to help them as much as possible. The United Nations has repeatedly emphasized that it is committed to carrying out its mission in Afghanistan and promoting the rights of women and girls in the region.
UNFPA is enhancing its existence and helping women through Afghanistan socialism and is collaborating with national partners. UNICEF assumes responsibility for paying the teachers’ monthly salaries and providing them with the necessities for survival. UNFPA is also contributing its share to expand the provision of sexual and reproductive health services, again, for women in rural areas.
But it’s not enough, especially with Taliban banning female NGO employees from coming to work.
To rescue innocent women and children from this catastrophe, more social organizations must advance in light of their responsibility and the current state of Afghan women.
The Taliban should be put under pressure by international organizations and governments to fully implement gender equality and defend the human rights of all Afghan women and girls.
Organizations must quickly realize that women should be given the reins for recovery, peace, stability, and basic rights. Unless that is, the lives of Afghan women continue to deteriorate, and their dreams continue to collapse EVERY SINGLE DAY!
The Humanitarian Crisis in Syria 2023: A Forgotten War
Has the World Forgotten Syria?
2023 marks almost 12 years since the peaceful uprising in Syria turned into an aggressive conflict provoking a regional humanitarian crisis. Since the offset, parties to the conflict have flagrantly violated human rights and international human rights law protections. 15.3 million people are expected to require humanitarian aid in 2023. This is a 1.9 million increase from 2021.
The estimated death toll is 400,000 people. However, reports suggest that this number underestimates the actual death toll. 12.3 million have been forced to flee the country, according to United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, with 6.7 million currently internally displaced in Syria. As a result, Europe and neighbouring countries have endured significant pressure.
What is happening in Syria in January 2023?
Authorities Unlawfully Violate Civilian’s Rights
Syrian security forces and government-affiliated militias continue to detain, disappear, and mistreat civilians arbitrarily. Vulnerable groups such as children, people with disabilities, and the elderly living in retaken areas have signed so-called “reconciliation agreements”. However, their rights continue to be violated. Moreover, authorities unlawfully confiscate property and restrict freedom of movement to areas of origin for returning Syrian refugees.
In September 2022, the chair of the United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Syria warned that larger-scale fighting might return.
Syria is Unsafe For Returning Refugees
Syria remains unsafe for returning refugees. Even though intelligence services are not bombing some parts of Syria daily, at any moment, the regime can attack any house and kill, arrest, rape, torture or steal money from any family.
Syrians cannot fight back as the regime will not be held accountable for their actions. Despite this, countries such as Turkey and Lebanon began advocating for large-scale returns of Syrian refugees in 2022.
Millions Face Starvation and Denied Basic Human Rights
Currently, Idlib stands as the last anti-government territory in Syria. Despite a ceasefire, the Syrian-Russian military alliance still poses a threat to over 3 million civilians trapped in this territory. The anti-government armed groups continuously restrict their freedoms and deny the people their fundamental human rights.
Throughout 2022 the government diverted humanitarian aid from civilians as Syrians faced the worst economic crisis since the conflict began in 2011. Thus, millions face starvation and are malnourished with minimal access to food and clean water. Shockingly, an estimated 90% of Syrians lived below the poverty, and more than 600,000 children were chronically malnourished in 2022. A deadly cholera outbreak spread across northern Syria, leading to fears that it may reach other parts of the country.
Furthermore, electricity and fuel shortages resulted in millions of people without access to essential healthcare services. Moreover, the Syrian pound fell to record lows resulting in many state agencies being closed for several days at a time.
ISIS’s Territorial Defeat
Turkey and local factions continuously violate human rights in Turkish-occupied territories with impunity. Following ISIS’s territorial defeat in northeast Syria, Kurdish-led authorities and the US-led coalition have yet to provide compensation for civilian casualties, offer support for identifying the fate of those kidnapped by ISIS, or address the tens of thousands of former ISIS family members that are trapped in camps and prisons. Consequently, this has led to a deteriorating security situation and higher risks of re-radicalization of those who escape.
Bashar al-Assad Continues to Violate Human Rights
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Iran and Russia, has emerged militarily victorious from the ongoing war. In May 2021, Bashar al-Assad secured a fourth term as president, meaning he will serve until 2028.
Moreover, the presidential elections did not occur under the auspices of the United Nations-led political process. Thus, the elections failed to adhere to standards for free and fair elections.
The Assad regime caused brutal repression, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Assad has used chemical weapons such as chlorine gas against civilians and conducted torture and extrajudicial killings. Assad used disproportionate aerial bombardment and shelling, resulting in millions of civilian casualties and trauma. There are ongoing international condemnation and widespread calls to convict Assad in the International Criminal Court (ICC). However, Syria has become a forgotten conflict in which the Assad regime’s crimes go unpunished.
Pederson’s “Six-Point Agenda”
Geir O. Pedersen of Norway, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, has appealed to the UN Council to shift these worrying dynamics by outlining a “six-point agenda” moving forward in 2023.
- Point 1: Stepping back from escalation and restoring relative calm on the ground.
- Point 2: Renew its framework to provide unfettered humanitarian access to all Syrians who require assistance.
- Point 3: Resume the meetings of the Syrian Constitutional Committee.
- Point 4: Pushing for the release of detained, disappeared and missing persons.
- Point 5: Improving and increasing dialogue towards identifying and implementing initial step-for-step confidence-building measures with Syrian stakeholders and international actors.
- Point 6: Increasing engagement with Syrian civil society, including the Syrian Women’s Advisory Board.
Western Media’s Selective Empathy to Humanitarian Crises
The Western media portrayed “selective empathy” towards various countries facing war and violence. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is classified as “different”. Europeans considered Ukrainians as more “civilized” than those suffering in countries like Yemen, Libya, Ethiopia, Palestine and Syria. People on social media are now classifying the 2015 “refugee crisis” as a “racist crisis”.
The despicable selective empathy, double standards and discrimination have uncovered a deep-rooted undertone of injustice across Western media. The West has ethnicity, “whiteness” and location as driving forces behind the amount of empathy shown.
Read more: Children in Syria with no Future.
International Actors Influencing Syria’s Humanitarian Crisis
Russia, Turkey, the United States, and Iran willingly provide military and financial aid to warring factions and allow the hostilities to continue with impunity across Syria.
Israel frequently conducted aerial strikes in Syria, in places such as Aleppo and Damascus airports, in 2022. According to the UN, the Israeli attack on Damascus International Airport in June 2022 disrupted the UN aid supply for approximately two weeks.
After nearly 12 years of conflict, Syrians need hope for the future. Syria’s forgotten conflict must be addressed before a catastrophic deterioration is reached in 2023.
Millions are desperately in need of humanitarian aid and are suffering. Syria is on the verge of another “flare-up” that could lead to the return of a large-scale war. Millions are dying in displacement camps as resources are becoming scarcer. Furthermore, donor fatigue is rising as other conflicts, and wars like Ukraine dominate media headlines.
We must continue to support UN cross-border humanitarian assistance in Northwest Syria and urge the members of the UN Security Council to renew the cross-border resolution. Moreover, as mentioned above, Pederson’s six-point agenda is imperative in alleviating the desperate humanitarian disaster that has been unfolding in Syria for many years.
Syria’s forgotten conflict must be of top international concern, and international human rights protections must be respected.
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