Muslim Identity - An Analysis on NDTV Panel discussion
Staff Writer, April 4, 2010

On March 7, 2010, New Delhi Television Limited (NDTV) 24/7 televised Barkha Dutt's show on topic, "Muslim Identity" a lively discussion with eight prominent Muslim figures in India -- Najeeb Jung, Vice-Chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia University, Dr. Zakir Naik, President and Founder of Islamic Research Foundation, Soha Ali Khan, Bollywood actress, Shahrukh Khan, Bollywood actor, Karan Johar, Bollywood filmmaker, Alyque Padamsee, President of AP Associates, Maulana Mahmood Madani, General Secretary of Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind and Kabir Khan, Bollywood filmmaker.

One of the important reasons behind the analysis of this show is that Muslims who saw this panel discussion are either confused because they are not sure whose opinion counts while the blogs and opinions posted on the websites simply chose to accuse the panelists who they don't like and blamed the media for not giving much time to the panelists who they like very much.

We agree that the idea of this panel discussion is not to please everyone and one does not have to agree with all of what is said but it is quite important that this type of discourse is not only essential but very much needed since it provides opportunity for both Muslims and people of other faith to know and learn more about of Islam and Muslims.


Prayer in Islam

Shahrukh Khan was honest about himself that he does not pray five times a day although he loves to. Shahrukh said if someone does not want to pray in public as the couple chose to in the movie "My Name is Khan" because they were concerned that the people around them who may not understand what they are doing or may look down upon them as opposed to the character of Rizwan Khan who chose to pray in public; both these actions are perfectly alright as long as they do not pick on each other that the other was wrong.

Analysis

We agree that five times prayer is an essential and integral part of Islam and Muslims and at the same time we also agree that as Muslims we need to respect each other's way of practicing the faith without criticizing each other and leave the decision to Almighty God since he is the best judge of our intentions. God knows the best.


People vs. Scripture

Dr. Zakir Naik said that Muslim is the person who submits his/her will to the Almighty God and said that to understand Islam do not look at the Muslims; to understand Hinduism do not look at the Hindus but go to the original scriptures.

Karan Johar explained the reason behind his making of the ground breaking post- 9/11 film "My name is Khan". Three years ago he was in New York with six people who are all from Indo-Asian orientation; three of them were Western bankers and the other three were graduates from Oxford. He was completely disgusted about their thoughts and ideologies about Islam and Muslims. They were educated, affluent and well travelled people yet they knew nothing about Islam and Muslims.

Karan said that he is not a Muslim but a human who have been taught certain values by his parents. If those people who have lined up their nice certificates in their cabinets, portray themselves as liberals in front of the world but can go against a particular community just based on certain information they read in the New York Times or heard the news, then he felt the need to address this issue since he as a filmmaker had a platform to offer. That's the reason, he made the movie.

Analysis

We partly agree with Dr. Zakir Naik that it is not always possible for a common citizen to go and look at the scriptures but to realize how a person deals or interacts with the other person at home, at school and at work. One of the reasons Karan Johar felt the need to making a movie and to portray the Muslim characters in a humanizing way is not necessarily because he has read and understood the scripture although he said he worked with Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) but mainly because of the Muslims he dealt with in his day to day life. God knows the best.


Head covering and beard issue in Islam

Najeeb Jung said that Hijab or the covering of the head is a mark of respect and in nowhere in Islam it is required that you need to be covering your head all the time.

Dr. Zakir Naik said he feels proud when he sees a Muslim man wearing a cap or sporting a beard and a Muslim woman covering her head. He said according to the Quran and Sahih Hadith (Prophetic Traditions), there are various traditions that have been reported that Prophet (PBUH) covered his head. Hence he argued that to say that covering the head by wearing a cap or hijab is not part of Muslim identity is totally wrong.

A Muslim woman in the audience said she does not find any difference between her wearing hijab and with those who chose not to wearing hijab. When asked what would be her response if someone asks about her hijab, she said that she will have a discussion about it with the other person of why she chose to wear the hijab.

Maulana Madani said if a woman chooses to wear hijab out of her own will like he chose to sporting a beard out of his own will, it is a person's right and made a point with humor that the media will still not consider that person as a "reasonable" Muslim and that was his point of concern.

A woman in the audience made a comment that if a Muslim woman who never used to wear the hijab suddenly chooses to don one, the people around her will start worrying. Later, another woman rebutted her if a woman suddenly started wearing western clothes will someone be worried about that person's psychological effect? Though the person who made the initial comment agreed that she used the wrong word, "worry," it was indeed an enriching debate.

Analysis

"And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and to be mindful of their chastity, and not to display their charms [in public] beyond what may [decently] be apparent thereof; hence, let them draw their head-coverings over their bosoms. And let them not display [more of] their charms to any but their husbands, or their fathers, or their husbands' fathers, or their sons, or their husbands' Sons, or their brothers, or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their womenfolk, or those whom they rightfully possess, or such male attendants as are beyond all sexual desire, or children that are as yet unaware of women's nakedness; and let them not swing their legs [in walking] so as to draw attention to their hidden charms And [always], O you believers - all of you - turn unto God in repentance, so that you might attain to a happy state!" (Quran 24:31)

The following footnote from Muhammad Asad's translation will clarify the fact that God Almighty instructed to cover a woman's bosom using the head-covering that was worn customarily by Arabian women and NOT the head-covering itself.

The noun khimar (of which khumur is the plural) denotes the head-covering customarily used by Arabian women before and after the advent of Islam. According to most of the classical commentators, it was worn in pre-Islamic times more or less as all ornament and was let down loosely over the wearer's back; and since, in accordance with the fashion prevalent at the time, the upper part of a woman's tunic had a wide opening in the front, her breasts cleavage were left bare. Hence, the injunction to cover the bosom by means of a khimar, (a term so familiar to the contemporaries of the Prophet) does not necessarily relate to the use of a khimar as such but is, rather, meant to make it clear that a woman's breasts are not included in the concept of "what may decently be apparent" of her body and should not, therefore, be displayed.

It is perfectly alright to wear the hijab or choose not to wear the hijab but what is more important in Islam is to wear dress in modesty, which applies to both men and women. Likewise Prophet Muhammad did not mandate Muslim men to cover their head and sport beard. Hence it should not be an argument about right vs. wrong over the issue of hijab for women and wearing a cap or sporting a beard for men.

Hence wearing hijab should be a matter of personal choice as said by the other Muslim woman in the audience. If a discussion were to happen then that should revolve around modesty of the dress in an easy and respectful way. In either case, it shouldn't be a matter of intimidation. God knows the best.


Definitions of a Muslim

Alyque Padamsee said, "You do not have to be liberal or anything to be accepted in the society, the idea of God should be a God of love & peace and not God of violence."

Dr. Zakir Naik said, "You cannot say someone is liberal or moderate Muslim but practicing Muslim, partially practicing Muslim or non-practicing Muslim."

Maulana Madani humorously said that the people whom you are thinking extremists are the ones who are standing right in front of you and fighting against you.

Burkha Dutt said that all of us no matter what faith we come from, interpret our faith differently; do something we like, don't do something that we don't like and asked the panelists if that does make us any less Muslim, Hindu or Christian for which the responses from the panelists varied.

Analysis

Though we agree that we do not want to be called by any other term besides Muslim, we heard various other definitions both from the panelists and from those who were present in the show such as conservative, orthodox, mainstream, reasonable, regular and easier going Muslim. In order to escape from these definitions, we also heard an alternative set of definitions proposed such as practicing Muslim, partially practicing Muslim or non-practicing Muslim. This attests to the fact that we are just trying to portray different versions of being a Muslim.

At this time, it is quite important for us to understand the Creed (Aqeeda in Arabic), which is the common ground for all Muslims.

The Creed consists of two important sources and six articles of faith.

The two sources are:
- "Muhkam" Qur'an; those verses in the Qur'an that are 100% clear in the meaning and that cannot be interpreted in more than one way. e.g. "Say: He is Allah, the One and Only; Allah, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not, nor is He begotten; And there is none like unto Him." (Qur'an 112: 1-4)
- "Mutawatir" (consecutive) hadith; i.e. narrated by so many people in each generation that it is not possible to have any doubt of their authenticity. e.g. The form of prayer i.e. components like standing, bowing and prostrating is mutawatir whereas the actual details on the style of prayer like hand position while standing is not mutawatir.

The six articles of faith are:
- Belief in the oneness of God
- Belief in all the Angels
- Belief in all the scriptures (Suhuf of Abraham, Psalms revealed to David, Torah revealed to Moses, Gospel revealed to Jesus and Qur'an revealed to Muhammad)
- Belief in all the Messengers (from Adam to Muhammad (Peace be upon them)
- Belief in Al-ghaib, an Arabic word what is known as something that is beyond human perception
- Belief in the day of judgment

There are certain verses in the Qur'an, which are speculative (mutashabih or texts that could be interpreted in more than one way without violating basic rules of interpretation) and that can be debated. Likewise, a person can believe or choose not to believe in a prophetic tradition that is categorized as hadith al-ahad (Single chain; isolated) even though it is sahih (authentic).

Hence we argue that it is perfectly alright for someone to be called as a conservative, moderate or liberal Muslim as long as the person does not violate the creed of Islam. However, we need to strive for moderation since it is inherent in our religion. But we don't agree that a person is a moderate Muslim because he consumes alcohol. We also don't agree that a person is a practicing Muslim because she prays five times a day and at the same time endorses killing of innocent civilians just because they are of different faith.

In Islam, on those areas where we are allowed to have disagreements, one can interpret the religion differently; follow certain things they believe in or leave certain things aside and is perfectly acceptable as long as those things are not part of the creed and the discourse must go on in those issues, which will enrich Islam and Muslim community at large. This will in no way make a person a less Muslim or a non-Muslim. God knows the best.


The Issue of Terrorism

Dr. Zakir Naik said he does not believe that Osama bin Laden is responsible for the 9/11 attacks since he does not believe in CNN and BBC news. When Barkha Dutt asked about Al Jazeera channel that showed the same visuals, he said that he does not believe in that too. But at the same time, he does not consider Osama bin Laden as sane either.

Maulana Madani said with firmness that all those people whoever carried out this heinous crime no matter what name they carry they are indeed the enemies of humanity and the enemies of Islam. It is important to note that he was the one who was instrumental in getting the Deoband Clergy to pass a fatwa against terrorism in 2007.

Analysis

We need to understand that two things really did happen -- firstly, the 9/11 attack did happen and secondly, the innocent people lost their lives to this senseless terror attack. The conspiracy theory whether it is an insider's job may or may not become a reality unless until the investigations are completed. If Muslims start playing right into the conspiracy theories by ignoring the facts then it is not going to help them in anyway. In these situations, Muslims should condemn the terrorists whether or not those who committed such heinous crime claim to act in their name. God knows the best.


Muslim Identity

Soha Ali Khan said she happens to be a Muslim but wants to keep her faith a private matter between her and her maker.

Shahrukh Khan argued that it is more important for him to feel Muslim as opposed to look Muslim or see Muslim.

Dr. Zakir Naik also seconded Shahrukh Khan that practicing the religion is more important than the appearance of a Muslim.

Shahrukh Khan's statement about Muslim identity knocked the socks off the audience. He said, "If you don't know about your religion, well enough, if you are not able to practice it, well enough, if your knowledge is less, God will forgive you. But being a Muslim, if you are not able to explain your religion to the other people who do not understand it then this world will never forgive you."


Food for thought

Kabir Khan said people should be given an option to choose their religion at the age of 21 instead of being born into a religion.

Analysis

We agree that this is an interesting thought that puts onus on parents, teachers and especially scholars of all faiths. In that case we recommend that the kids should be taught about their religion not just in the ritualistic way but the value behind it that will help a person to make a decision to choosing a religion of his/her own choice when they reach their age of maturity or at least will learn to respect other's faith and stand up for one another. This is something that Karan Johar also claimed that it has been passed on to him by his parents.


Blogs posted on various websites claim that Dr. Zakir Naik was given very little time to speak.

Analysis

There are two possible options -- the mainstream media can give more time for a person who has more knowledge about Islam or on the other hand the Muslims with the religious knowledge should equip themselves to answer to the impromptu questions where they can organize their thoughts quickly and inform the audience through clear, comprehensive and knowledgeable expression in 1-2 minutes. In our opinion, a Muslim scholar getting invitation from the mainstream media itself is an opportunity and on top of that placing a request to give more time for answering the questions will only deter the scholar from getting future invitations. Hence we would consider the latter one would be the best option since Maulana Madani spoke very little in this discussion but made his point stand out very well. He used humor a lot, which was a big plus and he did not hurt anyone's feelings either.


Muslim perspective on those people who are liberal almost only if they are non-religious.

Analysis

Prof. Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl, Professor of Islamic Law at UCLA said in a recent lecture in Los Angeles that it is important not to discount a person who says his/her parents are Muslims or he/she is from Muslim origin -- though we lost an asset but we might still have that person as our ally because at a minimum that person might help us to make our voice reach out loud and clear especially when we are trying to make a point. This is so true that Alyque Padamsee was very much supportive of Islam and Muslims throughout the discussion in spite of the fact that he said that he gave up on his parent's religion when he was 21 years old.


Conclusion

We would like to thank NDTV and especially Burkha Dutt for inviting the panelists from different background to discuss about Islam and Muslims in the mainstream media. We thank the panelists for sharing their candid views and importantly the audience who were present over there for being cooperative and supportive during the entire discussion. We look forward to seeing such intriguing discussions in the future as well.


SEE Video (parts 1-7):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zyh9jP3FbV8&feature=PlayList&p=D02344678F8B03C4&playnext_from=PL&playnext=1&index=6