Lalu, Mulayam, Mamata: stoking the religious politics fire
Why are Lalu Prasad, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mamata Banerjee so anxious about giving salaries to imams of mosques? Why, after 17 years, are the chiefs of three national parties — Rashtriya Janata Dal (Lalu), Samajwadi Party (Mulayam) and Trinamool Congress (Mamata) — raking up a Supreme Court judgement and this issue now?
The answer is clear: to garner Muslim votes in the upcoming elections in Bihar and West Bengal.
The issue is simple: Imams — who lead the prayers at mosques or answers questions about Islam — have to be paid a salary, as per a May 13, 1993 Supreme Court judgement. The judgement, arrived at after taking the views of the government and the Wakf Board and with citations from encyclopaedias, said that the Wakf Board (not the state) should pay salaries to Imams.
“I don’t think it’s a Muslim vote issue,” Hazrat Maulana Umer Ahmed Ilyasi told me when I asked why the Lalu-Mulayam-Mamata troika was pushing for this issue now.
“It is a rozi-roti issue.”
I then asked him whether such a salary was paid to Hindu Pundits, Christian Fathers or Buddhist Monks. He said, he was not against Pundits getting such a salary. “To me there is no difference between a pujari or an imam. It’s just that a Masjid does not get any chadhawa (money) from which to pay the priests. Besides, it is not the government that is expected to pay the salaries, it is the Wakf Board.”
While I have no view on whether or not imams should be paid a salary from the Wakf Board, I think the timing of the troika to raise this issue in Parliament, already burning under many other issues — including the salaries of Members of Parliament (see my take on the issue here) — is suspect.
“Congress did not implement it (the Supreme Court order) despite coming to power on Muslim votes,” he said in Parliament. “When our party comes to power in Bihar, we will implement the directive.”
It is quite useless for Lalu to say this — the Muslims are not going to vote simply because their imams ask them to do so because they are being promised a salary. He had 15 years to do what he could have for Bihar. Nitish Kumar’s focus on law and order and economic development is the way forward in that state.
On the imams’ side, as the president of 530,000 imams, Ilyasi would do well to throw away this false alignment that allows politicians to play with the Muslim vote and alienate themselves from the rest of India. Don’t allow politicians to play with Islam or with Muslims.
Obama’s religion, and the narrow-mindedness around it
One in five Americans believe that US President Barrack Obama is a Muslim, a new survey notes: “A national survey by the Pew Research Center finds that nearly one-in-five Americans (18 per cent) now say Obama is a Muslim, up from 11 per cent in March 2009. Only about one-third of adults (34 per cent) say Obama is a Christian, down sharply from 48 per cent in 2009. Fully 43 per cent say they do not know what Obama’s religion is.”
This single statistic has spawned 139 million pages on the Internet (pleading guilty to this statistic, this post adds one more).
Worse, as the survey points out, what people think about Obama’s religion are closely linked to political judgements about him. “Those who say he is a Muslim overwhelmingly disapprove of his job performance, while a majority of those who think he is a Christian approve of the job Obama is doing. Those who are unsure about Obama’s religion are about evenly divided in their views of his performance.”
What’s the big deal? Would it make any difference if he was a Hindu, a Buddhist or a Sikh? I find this entire discussion around the religion of a president or a personality silly.
Maybe it’s his predecessor’s proclivities. “This crusade, this war on terrorism is going to take a while,” President George W. Bush said on September 16, 2001, five days after September 11 and on the eve of the Iraq War. The word “crusade” brought anguish to Muslims, as it was a stark and crude reminder of the 200 year long war between Christianity and Islam, from 1095 to 1291.
Obama, on the other hand, is the diametrical opposite of Bush. In fact, he is trying to heal the wound inflicted on Muslims by Bush by taking steps to break the linkage between terrorism and Islam. His religion is of no consequence, whatsoever.
RELIGION THIS WEEK
Liberal German-Turkish politician Serkan Toeren has called for a ban on the full-body veil worn by Muslim women. Toeren wants to follow in the model set by France and Belgium, which banned the burqa earlier this year.
The liberal parliamentarian Serkan Toeren has demanded a ban on the burqa in Germany. Toeren, who represents the Free Democratic Party (FDP) in the Bundestag, says it was time to have an open debate on the issue.
An interesting issue recently fell for the consideration of the Bombay High Court – whether DEMAT accounts could be held in the name of deities. The Court answered this question in the negative, relying on largely practical and partially moralistic reasons in coming to its conclusions.
The decision was pronounced by a Division Bench of the Bombay High Court in Ganpati Panchayatan Sansthan Trust v. Union of India, on a writ petition filed against an order of the National Securities Depository Ltd. ["NSDL"], refusing to grant permission for the opening of a DEMAT account in the name of some deities. The petitioner was a private unregistered trust, of which the deities were shareholders. The primary contention of the petitioner was that the deities were artificial legal persons, and were recognised as such under Indian law and the Income tax Act. The Senior Counsel appearing for NSDL, Mr. Dwarkadas, contended that only natural persons could hold a DEMAT account, and that there was no provision which allowed an account to be opened in the name of a deity.
Scantily-clad mannequins and pictures of underwear models are to disappear from clothes shops in the Gaza Strip after officials announced new rules.
The Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, which controls Gaza, said that the new rules were to protect “public morality”.
The ruling comes two weeks after the organisation banned women from smoking water pipes.
Hamas has repeatedly denied it intends to impose Islamic Sharia law in Gaza.
A very good list that could help us get accurate and balanced information about Islam. I believe this would be useful to open minded people. “According to a 2005 Pew Research Survey, people who are most knowledgeable about Islam express more favorable opinions of Muslim-Americans and Islam than people who are less familiar with it.”