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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Vol. 6    Issue 21   01-15 May 2012

Professor A. R. Momin

Reclaiming Waqf Properties in India

According to Islamic law, Waqf (plural, awqaf) constitutes an inalienable endowment, such as a building, a plot of land or a public facility like an inn or caravanserai, that has been dedicated for charitable purposes. In the course of time, Waqf came to represent a highly important institutional form of charity and philanthropy and a potent instrument for the promotion of learning and the welfare of the disadvantaged sections of society. Large endowments instituted by Muslim rulers, members of the nobility and wealthy individuals, including women, supported a wide range of institutions, including orphanages, caravanserais, hospitals, universities, public libraries and madrasas. Income from Waqf properties was also utilized for rendering assistance to the poor and the needy.

India is one of those countries where hundreds of thousands of endowments were created during the medieval period, especially in the course of Muslim rule over the Indian subcontinent. According to the Justice Sachar Committee report, there are nearly 5 lakh registered Muslim endowments in the country, which encompass an area of approximately 600,000 acres. West Bengal has the largest share of these endowments, with an estimated 184,000 Waqf properties. According to the report of the Joint Parliamentary Committee, headed by K. Rahman Khan, former deputy chairman of the Rajya Sabha, the third largest ownership of land, after the Indian Railways and the Defence Department, rests with Waqf endowments.

Unfortunately, an overwhelming proportion of Waqf land in India has been misappropriated, usurped and illegally disposed off or is under illegal occupation or encroachment, thanks to a deeply-entrenched nexus and collusion between trustees and custodians, State Waqf Boards, politicians and ministers, officials and the land mafia. The report of the Joint Parliamentary Committee says that nearly 70 per cent of Waqf properties in the country have been encroached upon.

Karnataka has more than 33,000 Waqf properties, spread over more than 54,000 acres of land. A 7000-page report, submitted by Anwar Manipaddy, chairman of the Karnataka State Minorities Commission to the state government in April 2012, reveals the shocking state of Waqf properties in the state. According to the report, nearly 50 per cent of Waqf properties in the state (spread over 27,000 acres), worth a whopping Rs. 2 lakh crores, have been misappropriated or illegally sold by State Waqf Board members and influential politicians. The land adjoining the shrine of a Sufi saint, Hazrat Ataullah Shah, which measures about 3 acres, was sold in 2008 for just one crore. The market value of the premises today is more than 90 crores. In Bangalore, the land on which Windsor Manor Hotel has been constructed, which is worth more than 600 crores, has been leased out on a paltry rent of Rs. 12,000 a month.

Hazrat Husain Shah Wali Trust

Hazrat Husain Shah Wali (d. 1620) was a renowned Sufi saint of Golkonda in Hyderabad, who lived during the reign of the Qutb Shahi dynasty in the 16th century. Like most Sufis, he was deeply concerned about easing people’s hardships, and built a large artificial lake to serve as a source of water for the local population, which came to be known as Husain Sagar. The lake is spread over an area of 5.7 square kilometers on a tributary of the Musi river. The lake has been a perennial source of water for the city over the past four centuries.

Manikonda village in Golkonda, which originally measured 1,898 acres, was endowed to the shrine of Hazrat Husain Shah Wali by the fifth Nizam of Hyderabad, Mir Afzaud Dawla. It officially became Waqf property in 1935. According to a notification issued by the Andhra Pradesh State Waqf Board in 1989, Manikonda village was in possession of the Dargah of Hazrat Husain Shah Wali, along with the adjoining land measuring 5,500 square yards. In the Waqf Board’s first survey carried out in 1989, the vast land surrounding the dargah was not included in the Waqf property. However, the error was rectified in the second survey carried out in 2006 and the surrounding land measuring 1,654 acres was notified as Waqf land.

The Andhra Pradesh government, then headed by Chandrababu Naidu, rejected the claim of the State Waqf Board and converted the property into government land. The government then started giving parts of this land to MNCs, IT companies and private firms ostensibly for the development of the IT industry. The policy was continued by Babu’s successor, Y. S. Rajashekhar Reddy. Some prominent institutions, IT companies and corporate houses such as EMAAR, Microsoft, Wipro, Indian School of Business, Maulana Azad National University and Lanco Hills are located on the Waqf land. Lanco Hills is owned by the Congress MP L. Rajagopal. When these companies, which were the beneficiaries of the government’s largess, started construction work on the site and began using the premises for commercial purposes, the State Waqf Board took the matter to the Waqf Tribunal, which issued orders not to alienate the land or to take up any construction activity on it. This was challenged by the Andhra Pradesh government and the concerned parties in the Andhra Pradesh High Court. Their contention was that it was a jagir land and with the coming into effect of the Act on the abolition of jagir, the land reverted to the government.

In a landmark judgement delivered on April 3, 2012, the Andhra Pradesh High Court dismissed the plea of the Andhra Pradesh government and the corporate houses and ruled that 1,654 acres of land adjoining the Dargah of Hazrat Husain Shah Wali was Waqf land. The High Court ordered the government and other petitioners to prove the merit of their claim before the Waqf Tribunal. It is note-worthy that the current market value of the land is about Rs. 32,000 crores.

The initiative taken by the Andhra Pradesh State Waqf Board, the ruling of the Waqf Tribunal and the judgement of the Andhra Pradesh High Court have set a commendable precedent in respect of the restitution of Waqf lands which are under illegal occupation. Muslim organizations across the country need to take a leaf from this heartening episode and make an expeditious and concerted move for reclaiming Waqf properties.

Mali’s Islamic Legacy

Mali is a land-locked country located in western Africa. Currently it has a population of about 14.5 million, of which 90 per cent are Muslim. The major ethnic groups in the country are the Bambara, who constitute about one-third of the total population, Fulani and the Berber. Mali has rich mineral resources, including iron ore and bauxite, gold and copper. Agriculture is the mainstay of the economy. In the early medieval period, Mali was on a trans-Saharan caravan route. Between the 12th and 15th century, two major trading empires, the Malinke empire and the Songhai empire, flourished in the region. Islam reached Mali in the 11th century from the Maghreb through the trans-Saharan trading networks. In the medieval period, merchant caravans brought, in addition to salt, gold and slaves, scholars, Sufis and teachers, who set up madrasas and built mosques. Mali became a French colonial outpost in 1907. The independent Republic of Mali was formed in 1960.

The history and culture of Mali represent a fascinating mixture of African and Arabic influences. In the early 12th century, Timbuktu, now in Mali, became famous for its fabulous wealth, especially gold, and for its scholarly tradition. A culture of high literacy and scholarship flourished in the city from the 13th century, which lasted for nearly 700 years. It earned a reputation as the most important centre of Islamic learning and culture in west Africa. By the mid-16th century it boasted well over 150 Islamic schools. Timbuktu, Djenne and other cities in Mali are dotted with hundreds of mosques as well as tombs of scholars, Sufi saints and teachers. In recent years nearly a million manuscripts, written in the Sudanese-Arabic script, have been discovered in Timbuktu. These manuscripts cover a wide range of subjects, including Quranic exegesis, Hadith, Islamic law, history, geography, mathematics, physics, optics, chemistry and astronomy.

The Great Mosque at Djenne is one of the most remarkable monuments of African architecture. It has been constructed entirely from sun-dried mud bricks, coated with clay, and palm-trunk inserts. The original structure was built in the 13th or 14th century. After it crumbled due to the ravages of the weather, it was reconstructed in 1907. It stands on a raised plinth measuring 250 feet.

Since the mosque is made of mud, it develops cracks due to the scorching desert heat and therefore requires to be maintained with regular care. Every year the whole town comes together to replaster the walls with clay, which provides an occasion for great festivity and rejoicing and reinforces community solidarity. In 2006 the Aga Khan Trust for Culture declared the mosque in danger of collapse and launched an extensive restoration project. The mosque has been designated as a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Adjacent to the Great Mosque is the Djenne Manuscripts Library, which has thousands of Arabic manuscripts. Some of the manuscripts date from the 11th century. The British Library has launched, under its Endangered Archives Programme, a project to preserve the collection through digitization. Some 40,000 images of manuscripts have been put online.

A Saudi Princess on Desirable Changes in Saudi Arabia

Princess Basma bint Saud bin Abdul Aziz is the youngest daughter of Saudi Arabia’s King Saud. She was educated in London and Switzerland. She is now divorced and with her children in Acton, London. She spoke to Outlook on the BBC World Service. The following are excerpts from the interview.

I speak as the daughter of King Saud, the former ruler of Saudi Arabia. My father established the first women's university in the kingdom, abolished slavery and tried to establish a constitutional monarchy that separates the position of king from that of prime minister. But I am saddened to say that my beloved country today has not fulfilled that early promise. Our ancient culture, of which I am very proud, is renowned for its nobility and generosity, but we lack, and urgently need, fundamental civil laws with which to govern our society.

As a daughter, sister, (former) wife, mother, businesswoman and a working journalist, these are the things that I would like to see changed in Saudi Arabia.

I would like to see a proper constitution that treats all men and women on an equal footing before the law but that also serves as a guide to our civil laws and political culture. For example, today in Saudi courts, all decisions are made according to the individual judge's interpretation of the holy Koran. This is entirely dependent on his own personal beliefs and upbringing rather than universally agreed principles or a written constitution as a guide. I am not calling for a western system but an adaptation of that system to suit our needs and culture. Thus our constitution should be inspired by the philosophy of the Koran with principles that are set in stone and not open to the whims of individual judges as is the case now. In particular, the constitution should protect every citizen's basic human rights regardless of their sex, status or sect. Everyone should be equal before the law.

Our religion should not be a shield behind which we hide from the world but a driving force that inspires us to innovate and contribute to our surroundings.” I strongly believe that current divorce laws are abusive. Today in Saudi, a woman can ask for a divorce only if she files for what is called "Khali and Dhali". This means either she pays a big sum of money running into tens of thousands of dollars or she has to get someone to witness the reason why she is filing for a divorce - an impossible condition to fulfil given that such reasons usually are the kind that remain within the four walls of a marriage. Another way to keep a woman in the marital home against her will is the automatic granting of custody of any children over the age of six to the father in any divorce settlements. This state of affairs is in complete contradiction to the Koran, upon which our laws are supposed to be based. In it a woman is given full rights to divorce simply in the case of "irreconcilable differences".

The way women today are treated in Saudi Arabia is a direct result of the education our children, boys and girls, receive at school. The content of the syllabus is extremely dangerous. For one, our young are taught that a woman's position in society is inferior. Her role is strictly limited to serving her family and raising children. They are actually taught that if a woman has to worship anyone other than God it should be her husband; "that the angels will curse her if she is not submissive to her husband's needs". Girls are also strictly forbidden from taking part in any physical education. This is a result of a complete misinterpretation of the Koran. I consider these ideologies to be inherently abusive.

Aside from that, the focus in most of our educational system is on religious subjects such as hadith (sayings attributed to the prophet), Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), tafssir (interpretation of the Koran) and of course the Koran. The attitude is that "learning itself, anything other than religion won't get you into heaven so don't waste your time". I would like to see religious teaching limited to the Koran and the Sunna (the way the prophet lived), where the true ethics of Islam lie. The rest is blind rote learning of the most dangerous kind. It has left our youth vulnerable to fundamentalist ideologies that have led to terrorism and abuse of the true meaning of the Koran.

Instead of wasting our youths' intellect on memorising quotations whose origins is uncertain (such as those found in hadith, Fiqh and tafssir) we need to encourage them to think freely, innovate and use their initiative for the betterment of our society. Early Islam was a time of great creativity. Scholars excelled in sciences and literature. Our religion should not be a shield behind which we hide from the world but a driving force that inspires us to innovate and contribute to our surroundings. This is the true spirit of Islam.

The ministry of social affairs is tolerating cruelty towards women rather than protecting them. The only refuge homes that abused women can turn to are state ones. In these, women are continuously told that by seeking refuge they have brought shame on their families. If they come from powerful families then they will be sent straight back to their homes in fear of the wrath of a powerful patriarch. As a result we have seen many cases of suicide by educated women, doctors and scientists who were sent back to their abusers. We need independent women's refuges where the rights of women are upheld and backed up by powerful laws that can override family traditions and protect women. The ministry of social affairs not only abuses women's rights but is also one of the reasons poverty is rife in the kingdom. A corrupt system that lacks transparency has meant that more than 50% of our population is poor and needy even though we are one of the wealthiest countries on earth.

Today women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to drive. This one seems to concern western observers the most but there are more essential rights we need to obtain first. I am definitely for women driving but I don't think this is the right time for a reversal of this law. In the current climate if a woman drives, she could be stopped, harassed beaten or worse to teach her a lesson. This is why I am against women driving until we are educated enough and until we have the necessary laws to protect us from such madness. Otherwise we might as well hand out a licence to the extremists to abuse us further. If as drivers we get harassed, they will say to the Islamic world "see what happens when women drive, they get harassed they get beaten" and they will call for even more stringent laws to control women. This is something we can't afford. Fundamental changes in the law and its attitude to women are needed before we take this step. On the whole it is the rights and freedoms of all citizens that are crucial in Saudi Arabia and from those the rights of women will emanate.

(Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17446831)

Anti-Islam Rally in Denmark Flops

Far-right, anti-immigrant political parties have been steadily gathering strength across large parts of Europe, especially in Switzerland, Austria, Finland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Italy, in recent years. France’s far-right, anti-immigrant National Front (FN) is enjoying a resurgence under its new leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, the daughter of France’s most famous far-right leader, Jean-Marie Me Pen. She garnered 18 per cent of the national vote in the first round of France’s presidential elections. In Denmark and Norway, populist, anti-immigrant parties continue to be successful. The far-right Swiss People’s party (SVP) emerged as the largest group in the Swiss parliament in the October 2007 elections, scooping nearly 29% of the vote. Belgium’s anti-immigrant party, Vlaams Belang, which took 20.5% of the votes in the Belgian city elections in September 2010, remains strong in Flanders. The far-right Freedom Party (FPO) in Austria, led by Heinz-Christian Strache, did quite well in the 2008 elections, securing 17.5% of the popular vote. Hungary’s far-right, anti-immigrant Jobbik party, which campaigned on anti-Semitism and anti-Roma sentiments, entered parliament for the first time in the April 2010 elections. In the Netherlands, the anti-immigrant Freedom party (PVV), led by Geert Wilders, secured 24 out of 150 seats in the Dutch parliament in the June 2010 elections and emerged as the country’s third largest party. Wilders has set up an “International Freedom Alliance” in July 2010, with the twin objectives of “defending freedom and stopping Islam.” In Sweden, which has consistently followed a generous and accommodating policy towards immigrants over the past few decades, the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats exceeded the 4% threshold needed to enter parliament in the September 2010 elections. Jimmie Akesson, chairman of the Sweden Democrats, described Islam as “our biggest foreign threat since World War II”.

The backdrop to the growing popularity of far-right parties across large parts of Europe is provided by the economic downturn, public spending cuts, and austerity packages which make voters anxious about their jobs and living standards. The number of people without a job in the European Union rose to 23.15 million in October 2010, the highest since 1998. The economic crisis faced by the industrialized countries has led to the slashing of millions of jobs. The unemployment rate in Spain has reached 20.7%. Britain has imposed a “migration gap” for immigrants from outside the European Union. Immigrants, most of them Muslim, are used as an easy scapegoat, who are blamed for dwindling jobs, soaring welfare bills and rising crime rates. Non-European immigrants and ethnic minorities, including their descendants born and raised in European societies, are generally perceived and portrayed as the Other. The dynamics of this process of othering involves two interrelated dimensions. For one thing, it indirectly affirms and reinforces the unity and superiority of mainstream society and strengthens an ethnocentric, exclusionary view of national identity. Second, it ascribes a monolithic, essentialising and largely distorted identity to the immigrants, which serves to legitimize their exclusion.

Far right groups from Denmark, Britain, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands and Poland organized a rally in the Danish city of Aarhus on March 30, 2012, to call attention to what the organizers described as the “Islamification of Europe” and to set up an anti-Islamic alliance across Europe.

What the organizers failed to anticipate was that only a handful of people would positively respond to their racist and xenophobic agenda and that there would be fierce resistance to the rally from mainstream Danish society. Fewer than 200 people participated in the rally. They were massively outnumbered by counter demonstrations, which condemned the Danish Defence League that had organized the rally as well as other far-right groups, and carried placards saying “Aarhus for Diversity.” There were brief scuffles between those who participated in the rally and the counter demonstrators. A couple of days before the rally, thousands of local people attended an open air concert organized against the proposed rally. The utter failure of the rally shows that even though racist and xenophobic parties across large parts of Europe are on the rise, they remain on the margins of mainstream European societies.

A similar rally was taken out on September 20, 2008 in the German city of Cologne, when about 200 far-right activists from different parts of Europe descended on the city to hold a rally against what they called “the Islamization of Europe”. The rally was organised by the local Pro Cologne group, set up to protest against the construction of a mosque in the city, and was joined by prominent members and leaders of Europe’s far-right political parties. An estimated 40,000 protesters and counter-demonstrators turned up in Cologne’s downtown Heumarkt area to disrupt the rally. Police cancelled the rally after 45 minutes. The demonstrators comprised all sections of Cologne’s population, including Christian Democrats, trade unionists, Muslim groups, Left-Party members and students, writers and intellectuals, and Christian groups. The hugely successful demonstration in the heart of the city sent a clear message to the far-right groups in the country and across Europe that the people of Cologne would not tolerate racist ideologies and outbursts in their city. Interestingly, the plan of the proposed mosque in Cologne has been designed by a local Christian architect.

Yusuf Islam: Music is the Message

Former rock star Cat Stevens, who became Yusuf Islam after his conversion in 1977, is set to release his latest musical Moonshadow: A Musical Fantasy, which would contain a mix of his musical hits from the 1970s and some freshly composed songs. The musical, which Yusuf describes as a lifelong dream, will be premiered in Australia on May 31 this year.

Yusuf gave up the guitar after conversion and dedicated himself whole-heartedly to the promotion of Islamic causes, including education for Muslim children in the UK. The situation in the West that unfolded in the aftermath of 9/11, which was suffused with mistrust and hostility towards Muslims, led him to think that there was a pressing need to construct bridges of understanding between Muslims and the West. He thought that he could contribute to this effort through his music. He decided to pick up the guitar again, albeit with a specific purpose in mind.

Many Muslims believe that music—any kind of music—is at variance with Islamic law and is therefore forbidden (haram). However, Yusuf believes, as did Imam Ghazali (d.1111), that music per se is neither forbidden nor permissible. Rather, what matters are the quality, social context and motivation of music. He says that music is certainly forbidden if it is accompanied by things that are clearly forbidden in Islam, such as drinking, drugs and sex. In other words, a distinction needs to be drawn between music that is permissible and one that is forbidden.

The dominant and recurrent themes in Yusuf’s latest musical compositions relate to the predicament of present times, especially in the West: the alienation, insecurities and uncertainties experienced by large numbers of people in an abstract, mass society, the anxiety and despair about finding one’s roots in a society that has increasingly become individualized and atomized, and the possibility of a utterimmer of hope amid the surrounding gloom. Yusuf composed a song “My People” against the backdrop of the popular uprising in Egypt in 2011. While watching the rapidly unfolding scenario in Egypt on television, Yusuf thought that Muslims around the world needed to express their support and solidarity with the Egyptian masses. He got in touch with people from different parts of the world who supported the uprising and asked them to participate in the composition of a musical by contributing their voices, with a view to express their solidarity with the Egyptian people. He put out a call to this effect on Facebook, adding a song that he had composed as a demonstration of what the key should be, and asked people to sing the chorus and to send it back. The response to the call was overwhelming. Yusuf then got all the voices on the track and put it back on Facebook. Yusuf’s innovative idea shows that modern information and communication technologies can be put to socially productive uses and that one can fruitfully engage with one’s society as well as with the wider Muslim ummah in a variety of ways.

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