Friday, October 10, 2014

Ababil and Abraha: Historical evidence to Holy Quranic verses on protection of Holy Kaaba

From Arab News 
(October 10, 2014)

A group of young Saudi history enthusiasts has retraced the path of the People of the Elephant who tried to destroy the Holy Kaaba centuries ago.

The Holy Qur’an, in a short chapter, briefly refers to the story of the army of elephants led by Abraha Al-Ashram, who was a governor of Yemen. God destroyed Abraha and his army that included 13 elephants, by sending flocks of birds that dropped small stones on them.

“There never fell a stone on a soldier except it dissolved his flesh and burst it into pieces … Abraha Al-Ashram fled while his flesh was bursting into pieces and died on the way back to Yemen,” said the 14th century scholar Ibn Kathir, an authentic Qur’an commentator.
During their tiring journey across mountains and rough terrain, the young Saudi men took photographs of important landmarks, beginning from north of Najran, to the east of Asir, and then east of Baha.
Some of the most important historical sites along the way included inscriptions of elephants on rocks in the Al-Qahr Mountain, southeast of Tathlith; an old well in Hafaer, east of Asir; and a paved road near Kara in Aqeeq principality in the Baha region.
Mohammed Al-Amry, head of the geology department at King Saud University, said he had seen the path of Abraha and his army in Tathlith and Baha. “The army had passed the Arabian shield region comprising rocks and there were writings in the Humairiya language on some mountains,” he said.
According to historical Islamic sources, Abraha, who was a Christian, had thought of building a church similar to the Kaaba in Sanaa. He wanted the Arabs to perform the pilgrimage in Sanaa instead of Makkah, with the intention of diverting trade and benefits to Yemen.

He presented the idea to the then king of Ethiopia who agreed to it.
Abraha built the church but the Arabs refused to come for pilgrimage in Sanaa. This infuriated him, prompting him to form an army to invade Makkah and demolish the Kaaba.

He defeated all Arab armies on the way until he reached Makkah where he was attacked by the flocks of birds sent by the Almighty.

The story behind Hudhud storm: The Indian Ocean cyclone named after a bird mentioned in the Holy Quran

By Syed Akbar

Hudhud and the Holy Quran

I am a bit surprised when many people and vernacular newspapers in India misspelled the term Hudhud (name of the latest cyclone in the Indian Ocean) though they know that the storm has been named after a bird. For them, Hudhud or hoopoe is the national bird of Israel. But what many have failed to understand is that long before Israel was created, Hudhud had been the darling bird of the Arabs and the Africans. Israel had recognised the importance of Hudhud only a few decades ago. According to Muslim traditions, Hudhud is the winged messenger of Prophet Solomon (Hazrat Sulaiman) who brought the news of the existence of a kingdom ruled by a woman (Queen of Sheba). The hudhud also carried a letter written by King Solomon to the Queen of Sheba.

Hudhud (pronounced Hud-Hud) is one of the three birds mentioned by name in the Holy Quran. The other two being crow and quail. Islam holds birds in high esteem and the Holy Quran refers to birds forming communities like we human beings do. In fact, the Holy Quran refers to the term bird five times, and birds as many as 13 times. The Holy Book has also referred to tiny birds called Ababil, which had rained stones on an army of elephants and soldiers when a tyrant king named Abraha came to destroy the Holy Kaaba in Mecca.

The Holy Quran refers to Hudhud in Surah Naml or Chapter Ant, which forms the 27th chapter of the Islamic scripture. The following verses of the Holy Quran with reference to Hudhud or hoopoe, the bird, clearly shows that man can understand the language of animals and birds provided he shows interest in the things around him. The study of behaviour of animals is known as ethology and the Holy Quran had made it clear 15 centuries before the term ethology was coined that birds and animals including insects like ants can communicate with man and vice versa. Prophet Sulaiman or Solomon had pioneered the language and behaviour of animals and birds.

Here is the Quranic reference:  (Quran 27: 20-29): 

"He (Solomon) inspected the birds, and said: "What is the matter that I see not the hoopoe (hudhud)? Or is he among the absentees?

"I will surely punish him with a severe torment, or slaughter him, unless he brings me a clear reason."

"But the hoopoe stayed not long, he (came up and) said: "I have grasped (the knowledge of a thing) which you have not grasped and I have come to you from Saba' (Sheba) with true news.

"I found a woman ruling over them, and she has been given all things that could be possessed by any ruler of the earth, and she has a great throne.

"I found her and her people worshipping the sun instead of Allah, and Shaitan (Satan) has made their deeds fair-seeming to them, and has barred them from (Allah's) Way, so they have no guidance,"

"Allah, (none has the right to be worshipped but He), the Lord of the Supreme Throne!

"(Solomon) said: "We shall see whether you speak the truth or you are (one) of the liars.

"Go you with this letter of mine, and deliver it to them, then draw back from them, and see what (answer) they return."

"She (Queen of Sheba) said: "O chiefs! Verily! Here is delivered to me a noble letter..."

And now something about the bird as explained in the Encyclopedia Britannica:
hoopoe, (Upupa epops), strikingly crested bird found from southern Europe and Africa to southeastern Asia, the sole member of the family Upupidae of the roller order, Coraciiformes.

About 28 centimetres (11 inches) long, it is pinkish brown on the head and shoulders, with a long, black-tipped, erectile crest and black-and-white barred wings and tail.

The hoopoe takes insects and other small invertebrates by probing the ground with its long, downcurved bill. Some systems of classification recognize one other species (U. africana), found from Ethiopia to South Africa.

The hudhud had meekly served the king and prophet Solomon. Let's hope and pray the cyclone Hudhud would not cause any damage to human, plant or animal life or property. Let the cyclone Hudhud turn into a meek storm.

Monday, February 4, 2013

John Zubrzycki takes Hyderabadis down the memory lane of the Asaf Jahs

By John Zubrzycki
(Author of The Last Nizam and The Mysterious Mr Jacob)

Most of the books I read are either biographies or histories. A great deal of course depends of how they are written but I find both genres equally enjoyable. When it comes to putting pen to paper, however I prefer concentrating on the lives of individuals. For me biographies add a special dimension to the study of history. As the American historian Arthur M. Schlesinger pointed out, political leaders, whether they be presidents or prime ministers are not supermen but human beings, “worrying about decisions, attending to wives and children, juggling balls in the air, and putting on their pants one leg at a time”.

I for one am constantly searching for the next eccentric figure living an extraordinary life in an exotic setting to write about. But writing about such a figure without describing the historical milieus in which they lived would be a futile exercise - we would get only half the story. For me the great satisfaction in writing biographies is that not only to do I get to pluck often obscure or misunderstood figures from the past and bring them to life, I get to read about the historical tide they were swimming with or struggling against.

Biographies, of course, do not have to be about great heroic figures such a Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru or Barack Obama. They can be about people from all walks of life and social classes. Indeed the lives of less-exalted and ordinary people can give us extraordinary insights into the ways in which particular institutions and events and larger-scale social, economic and political developments were felt, experienced and understood by those who lived through them.
A biographical approach in history, therefore offers an important addition to the understanding societies and historical eras.

So far I have written two biographies about two very different individuals.

Alexander Jacob and Mukarram Jah never met. Jacob died in obscurity in 1921, whereas Mukarram Jah was not born until 1933. But their lives intersected right here in Hyderabad. It was Mukarram’s Jah’s great grandfather, Mahboob Ali Khan, who tried to purchase what was then known as the Imperial Diamond from Jacob in 1891.

While I will be concentrating on the legacy of the Nizams, I do want to briefly is to compare and contrast these two fascinating individuals. What struck me most when researching the pasts of Alexander Jacob and Mukarram Jah was their relationship to the events around them. Whereas Jacob took advantage of the social and historical milieu -- the West’s fascination with the occult and Eastern mysticism, the weakness of Indian rulers for what the British dismissed as “pieces of sparkling vanity” and the geopolitical tensions stirred up by the Great Game, Mukarram Jah was very much a slave to his dynasty’s past and the tumultuous changes that took place during his lifetime. Jacob exploited every opening he could find, whereas Mukarram Jah found himself at times exploited by those around him.

Jacob turned his skills at performing sleights of hand into a reputation for the being the greatest wonder worker of his time, a man credited with making grapes grow out walking sticks and projecting past lives onto the walls of his dining room. He turned a rudimentary knowledge of precious stones acquired as an apprentice at a small British firm in Calcutta into the most famous jewellery and antique business on the subcontinent. And he took full advantage of the Raj’s lack lustre intelligence gathering network to position himself as a spymaster of sorts to the British.

Mukarram Jah, was the exact opposite turning down the many openings that came his way. He refused to capitalise on his religious status (he is still revered by some Muslims as the Caliph of Islam), his political pulling power or the opportunity to invest his wealth productively. Quite a few Indian princes turned their palaces into hotels, ran for Parliament or became entrepreneurs. Jah bought a half million acre sheep station in one of the most remote parts of Australia and decided to live like a hermit.

So how did it come to pass that Mukarram Jah would swap the greatness of Hyderabad for a kingdom of kangaroos and acacias. The answer lies not only in Mukarram Jah’s unique personality but also in Hyderabad’s history.

As we all know the Asaf Jahis were one of the greatest ruling dynasties in India. Hyderabad was the largest, richest and most powerful state and the most important centre of Islamic culture and learning east of Mecca. The groundwork for this extraordinary dynasty was laid by someone i regard as one of the most interesting figures of 18th century India, Nizam ul-Mulk.

First known as Qamruddin, Nizam ul-Mulk, was just six years old when he was brought to the Emperor’s court in Agra by his father in 1677. According to the Imperial records Aurangzeb told his father: ‘The star of destiny shines on the forehead of your son.’

That destiny was to see the young Qamruddin carve a new state out of the chaos that accompanied the disintegration of the Moghul empire following the death of Aurangzeb in 1707. After a decisive battle in 1724 in which he defeated his main rival Mubraiz Khan, the emperor Muhammad Shah bestowed on Qamrudddin the highest title that be be awarded to a subject of the Mughal empire, that of Asaf Jah, or the Equal to Asaf, the Grand Wazier in the court of the biblical ruler King Solomon.
What I find fascinating is that Nizam ul-Mulk never formally declared his independence and insisted that his rule was entirely based on the trust reposed in him by the Mughal Emperor to whom his swore eternal loyalty. The Nizam’s dominions yielded an income that was almost equal to the rest of the Mughal empire, yet there was no throne, no crown and no symbol of sovereignty. Coins were still minted with the Emperor’s name until 1858. It was in the name of Mughal ruler and not the Nizam that prayers was read out in the Khutba or Friday Sermon.

As the Viceroy of the Deccan, the Nizam was the head of the executive and judicial departments and the source of all civil and military authority. Assisted by a Diwan the Nizams drafted their own laws, raised their own armies, flew their own flags and formed their own governments, but they refused to adopt the title of king even when it was offered to them by the British in 1810. It was not until India was granted its independence in 1947 that the Seventh Nizam, Oman Ali Khan, formally claimed to be a ruler in his own right. But by then it was too late for a sovereign Hyderabad to coexist with a free India. Its independence lasted less than 400 days.

Nizam ul Mulk’s first priority was to consolidate his empire and establish security which was constantly under threat from rapacious highway robbers, Marathas and zamindars. In 1739 he answered a desperate plea from Mohammed Shah for help to prevent the invasion of Delhi by the Persian conqueror Nadir Shah. Nizam ul Mulk was unable to prevent the march on Delhi but he was able to stop what would have been the complete annihilation of the city by Nadir Shah’s troops using a Persian couplet to appeal to the ruler’s sense of justice.

Ironically Nizam ul Mulk would become a beneficiary of Delhi’s downfall as the steady stream of exiles from the Mughal capital to the Deccan became a flood. Administrators, artisans, musicians, poets and religious teachers were welcomed into the Nizam’s court. Despite the unrest that spread through his Dominions in the final years of his rule, Nizam ul-Mulk is remembered as laying the foundation for what would become the most important Muslim state outside the Middle East in the first half of the 20th century.

Just days before he died in 1748, Asaf Jah dictated last will and testament. The document was a blueprint for governance and personal conduct that ranged from advice on how to keep the troops happy and well fed to an apology for neglecting his wife. He reminded his successors to remain subservient to the Mughal Emperor who had granted them their office and rank. He warned against declaring war unnecessarily and he urged fiscal restraint. There is enough money in the treasury to last seven generations -- if properly spent.’ he said. Finally, he insisted: ‘You must not lend your ears to tittle-tattle of the backbiters and slanderers, nor suffer the riff-raff to approach your presence.’

Had the wishes of the First Nizam been followed not only until the reign of the Seventh Nizam but until today it would have moulded a very different dynasty from the one that would totter between plenty and penury and be constantly prey to slander and court intrigues. Rather than building on the foundations that Nizam ul-Mulk had laid for statehood, his successors began tearing it down. Power hungry rulers obsessed with their own comfort, security and wealth, conveniently forgot the more salient points of Nizam ul-Mulk’s testament. His warnings about the folly of wars fought for the sake of conquest were ignored. His belief that the income of the state would last seven generations did not anticipate the firesale of territories and their revenue that his heirs were forced to undertake for the dynasty to survive.

The British and the French were well placed to take advantage of the chaos that followed Nizam ul-Mulk’s death. The crumbling might of the Mughal empire had stirred their empire-building ambitions. The first Nizam had maintained a strict neutrality in his dealings with the European powers, perceiving correctly the danger of becoming a pawn in hostilities that were being played out half a world away. But that advice too was forgotten as his sons fought over the spoils of empire, losing much of their territory in the process.

Into this unfolding scenario stepped Richard Wesley -- an uncompromising empire-builder who between 1798 and 1804 expanded the company’s holdings from a few small pockets of territory to most of southern India, the entire eastern coastal strip, all of Bengal and parts of northern India. By the end of his reign as governor general British troops would be in occupation in Hyderabad and Pune and Residents stationed at every native court.

The crowning point of Wellesey’s career was the Treaty of Perpetual and General Defensive Alliance signed on October 12, 1800 with the second Nizam, Nizam Ali Khan. The treaty was a masterstroke of British diplomacy. It gave the British complete control over the Nizam’s external affairs without imposing on them any stringent or matching obligation. By signing the Treaty, the Nizam signed away his status as an independent ruler for the next 150 years. The treaty guaranteed the integrity of the Nizam’s dominions against all threats. But the Nizam was forbidden to enter into any negotiations with an eternal power without reference to the Company’s Government.

By 1803, when Nizam Ali Khan was succeeded by Sikander Jah, the real power in the state lay in the hands of the British resident. The Resident was in many ways a ruler in his own right maintaining Britain’s supremacy, approving executive appointments and ensuring, with varying degrees of success, that the local administration was efficient and free of corruption.

Of  Britain’s residents, a number like James Kirkpatrick whose liaison with Khair un-Nissa was so wonderfully described by William Dalrymple in the White Mughals, were enlightened men who spoke fluent Hindustani and Persian, wore Mughal-style dresses at home, smoked hookahs, chewed betel-nut and became so enamoured of Hyderabad’s rulers. Others like Henry Russell were fierce critics of all the Nizam stood for.

I want to spend just a little time on period when Russell was resident in the 1810s as for me it represented perhaps one of the lowest points in Hyderabad’s history and in many ways was a dress rehearsal for what happened a century and a half later when Mukarram Jah took on the mantle of Nizam.

Vain, ambitious and corruptible, Russell had arrived in Hyderabad in 1801 as an assistant to Kirkpatrick. He had little time for the Nizam, who he believed presided over a system that ‘was rotten to the very core. He was also a strong supporter of Chandu Lal a Hindu moneylender who became the defacto diwan in 1809. From then until his resignation in 1843 Chandu Lal exerted more influence over Hyderabad than any other individual, obliging both the British and the Nizam through the reckless expenditure of Hyderabad’s revenues that in the process nearly sent the state broke.

When the third Nizam Sikander Jah demanded that Russell sack Chandu Lal, he was so stung by this rebuke that withdrew to the Chowmahallah Palace and took no further role in the administration of the state. The seclusion was so complete that four years elapsed before he ventured outside the palace on the pretext of going on a hunting expedition with his harem and 4000 foot soldiers. The Nizam’s seclusion only served to strengthen Chandu Lal’s position in the court. The defacto Diwan became the sole authority for the conduct of any business at the royal court. He also became the lynchpin in Russell’s ingenious plan to strengthen the Company’s stranglehold over Hyderabad while enriching himself in the process.

In 1812 two battalions of the Nizam’s army mutinied, and threatened to blow their British commanding officer out of the mouth of a cannon unless they were paid on time and their offences pardoned. To Russell the episode underlined the need to professionalise the Nizam’s forces. With the help of Chandu Lal, he established the Russell Brigade. Chandu Lal made sure that payment for the Brigade came from the state treasury. As the Brigade grew so did its cost. The commander was paid £5000 a month and like other officers received a house and free servants. Keeping a cut for himself. Russell kept on creating fresh posts for new applicants until the proverbial expression in Hyderabad became ‘Poor Nizzy pays for all.’

However poor Nizzy could not pay for all without borrowing money and here again Russell and Chandu Lal came up with the perfect solution, namely to allow the establishment of a banking firm known as William Palmer and Co. Under the arrangement the Nizam’s treasury borrowed money from Palmer & Co to pay the troops of the Russell Brigade to the tune of 4 million rupees a year, or roughly half the entire tax revenue of the state. Palmer & Co then paid the troops and recovered what they had spent plus interest, which was charged at 24 per cent from villages mortgaged by the Nizam. Forced into paying for troops he had no control over and little if any use for, the Nizam was soon caught in a dangerous debt trap. By the end of the 1810s the Nizam owed Palmer & Co a staggering 6 million rupees.

Charles Metcalfe who became Resident in 1820 was so shocked by what he saw that he wrote : ‘I can hardly imagine a situation more entitled to pity, or more calculated to disarm criticism, than that of a Prince so held in subjection by his servant under the support of an irrepressible foreign power.’

I'm not saying that all of Hyderabad's rulers responded to the unequal power structures the British imposed on them in the same way as Sikander Jah. Hyderabad benefited from the foresight and experience of Salar Jung, the prime minister from 1853 until 1883 who steadied the state's finances and introduced important administrative and fiscal reform. Mahboob Ali Khan was so revered by the population he was nicknamed the beloved. And Osman Ali Khan was credited with transforming Hyderabad into a semi-modern state through his vast public works, the creation of educational institutions such as Osmania University and reforms.

But there was a certain pattern that marked the workings of the royal court for much of its history. Hyderabad's rulers did everything possible to keep the government of the day off their back while leaving the administration of the state to their own handpicked lieutenants, who were often untrustworthy or incompetent. This hands-off approach encouraged corruption, the siphoning of assets to corrupt officials and a general unwillingness to rein in extravagant expenditure and address basic cash-flow problems. These sycophants kept their rulers in the dark, knowing that their interests were best served by pretending that everything was in order.

When Mukarram Jah was crowned the 8th Nizam in 1967, very little of this medieval character changed. Despite two decades of being groomed in the finest British public schools, universities and military academies and at one point being placed under the guidance of India’s foremost statesman, Jawaharlal Nehru, Jah was totally unprepared for the responsibilities expected of him. He had few friends in Hyderabad, and was more at home listening to jazz at London nightclubs than to ghazals in the great hall of the Chowmahalla palace.

The burden of history weighed heavily on Jah right from the beginning. In 1948, When he was just 15 years old Hyderabad it’s lost independence in the police action. In 1971 Indira Gandhi would abolish the privy purses. India’s tax officials were determined to get a slice of the whatever revenue they could from his vast estate.

Jah also had to misfortune of coming from a rather dysfunctional family. In an arranged marriage meant to cement ties between the world's two most important Muslim families Jah's father and uncle were matched with the daughter and niece of the last Ottoman caliph, Abdul Mejid. For Osman Ali Khan, Jah's grandfather this arrangement was more than just an alliance of convenience. The offspring of such a union would be the next Caliph of Islam.

Jah's father Azam, however, proved to be a poor role model spending much of his time accumulating vast gambling debts and neglecting his wife, the beautiful Durrushevar. The situation became so intolerable that Osman Ali Khan disinherited Azam and decided that the princely crown be passed onto Mukarram Jah instead.

When the seventh Nizam died, Jah aged 33 was tasked with sorting out what was, at the time, the largest inheritance in the world. Unable and unwilling to manage such a vast estate with its 14,700 servants, hundreds of aging concubines and inestimable quantities of jewels and antiques stashed away in dozens of decaying palaces, he bought a half- million-acre sheep station in Western Australia where he could indulge in his real passion—driving bulldozers through the desert.

Unfortunately Jah was destined to repeat all the mistakes of his forefathers. Instead of retreating into his palace for four years without emerging like Sikander Jah, he escaped to the Australian Bush. He left the administration of his vast inheritance to a succession of Chandu Lal’s -- largely corrupt and incompetent officials who over the years would do their best to hide the real financial position of the estate from him, the prying eyes of bankers and insatiable tax officials. Substitute the Bank IndoSuez in Geneva for Palmer and Co and I think you are being to see a pattern. Of course not all those who advised Mukarram Jah in these early years can be categorised in this way. Indeed I met many of his friends who warned about what was happening.

As we now know by the late 1980s, Mukarram Jah was in serious financial trouble, His first impulse was to auction off part of the crown jewels which included what was now known as the Jacob diamond. Unfortunately, his grandfather had put the crown jewels into various trusts precisely to guard against them being squandered in this way. The trustees decided to give the Indian government first option at buying the Jewels. Not surprisingly, New Delhi was offering only a fraction of the estimated 6 to 7 billion rupees the 173 pieces would fetch on the open market and it would not be until 2002 that Jah would pocket his share of the proceeds of the sale. But, by then, it was too late. In 1996, after being forced to sell his sheep farm to cover his debts he left Australia and went to Turkey.

So was Mukarram Jah just a slave to history or did his personality have something to so with it. I do believe is that his upbringing played a role. His mother Durrushevar wanted to give him the best education and training, but she also estranged him from his Indian roots. But his grandfather Osman Ali Khan also played a role. Time and time again when Durrushevar insisted that her son be given a normal education among his peers at say the Doon school, Osman Ali Khan found some pretext to send him back to Hyderabad where he would attend one of the small palace schools. As Philip Mason, who briefly tutored Mukarram and his brother Muffakham, wrote in his memoir A Shaft of Sunlight, Durrushevar wanted them preserved from the corruption that grew from continual flattery and from wealth without responsibility. There was no one in the whole state who would say no to them except their mother, who was not always around, and their grandfather, who they rarely saw.
Bilkees Alladin, who lived behind Mukharram Jah’s Banjara Hills house told me how she had once seen him spending all day and night in the garage under one of his cars. “He never made out he was royalty. It was frustration probably. The set up here was very medieval,” she said to me.

I couldn’t end this talk without mentioning something of Mukarram Jah’s legacy. It is unfortunate but true that Hyderabad’s architectural and cultural heritage is poorer for the fact that he didn’t remain here prevent palaces being encroached on or pulled down and tonnes of priceless antiques ending up in the catalogues of southeby’s and Christie's when they should have stayed in India.

Luckily that neglect is being rectified. I have yet to see the Chowmahalla Palace since the completion of its renovation. But from what I have read Princess Esra and her team of restorers deserve the highest praise from making it into one of the finest museums in India. The Falaknuma of course is now one of the world’s most luxurious hotels and I understand that steps are even being undertaken to renovate the King Kothi palace.

Hyderabad’s potential as an IT hub and industrial powerhouse has clearly been realised. Now its cultural heritage needs to be brought to the fore. If my book has helped even in a slight way of raising awareness of the this city’s enormous potential in that regard then I am honoured. 

(Full text of speech delivered by the Australian author at Maulana Azad National Urdu University on February 1, 2013)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The tales of Pharoahs: The secrecy behind the death of Ramessess III now revealed

Who Killed Ramesses III?

by Heather Pringle

For more than a century, Egyptologists have puzzled over the mysterious demise of Ramses III in 1155 B.C.E.

According to trial records preserved on the Judicial Papyrus of Turin, an assassin murdered the pharaoh during a bloody palace coup, reports the journal, Science.

But was this truly the case, and if so, who led the plot? A new study published on December 17, 2012 in BMJ shows that Ramesses III died violently after conspirators slashed his throat and reveals that one of the alleged ringleaders, Ramesses's son Pentawere, may have later been strangled.

The research team arrived at these findings after analyzing both DNA samples and CT scans from two mummies: Ramesses III (with linen bandage, above right) and a previously unidentified young man found with him in a cache in Deir el Bahari.

The unidentified 20-year-old (shown with arrows pointing to unusual compressed skin folds) proved to be one of Ramesses's sons: He appeared to have been strangled (also evidenced in the scan by overinflated thorax) and buried with a goat skin, a pelt that ancient Egyptians deemed ritually impure and therefore a mark of dishonor befitting an assassin. Sitting on a throne has long been a perilous business, it seems. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

How the seeds of communalism were sown in India in 1857


By Justice Markandey Katju

Communalism, which was almost non-existent in 1857, is widespread in our society today. Muslims often face discrimination in getting jobs, houses on rent, etc, as the Justice Sachar Committee report has highlighted.

Muslims are often falsely implicated in bomb blasts and they have to spend years in jail though ultimately found innocent.

As I mentioned, up to 1857 communalism was almost non-existent in India. There were no doubt differences between Hindu and Muslims, but there was no enmity between them. In the Mutiny of 1857 Hindus and Muslims jointly fought against the British.

After crushing the Mutiny the British decided that the only way to control India was divide and rule. Consequently, the policy came from London to create hatred between Hindus and Muslims.

The British Collector used to secretly call the Panditji and gave him money to speak against the Muslims, and similarly he gave money to the Maulvi Saheb to speak against Hindus. All communal riots began after 1857. The communal award in the Minto-Morley ‘Reforms’ of 1909 introduced separate electorates for Hindus and Muslims.

Year after year, decade after decade, the communal poison was injected by the British into our body politic, and even after 1947 there are elements which continue this (see online ‘History in the Service of Imperialism’ and my article ‘What is India’ on my blog

Certain agent provocateurs take advantage of our backwardness to incite communal riots, and unfortunately many people fall prey to these evil designs and get emotionally carried away by communal propaganda and fight with each other.

(Excerpts taken from a reply by Justice Dr Markandey Katju to two young law students, who served him a legal notice for his remark that 90 per cent of Indians are fools. Full text can be had on the following link:

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Haj is a major opportunity for scientific and health research: The annual Haj season is a major opportunity for scientists and health planners to do research on the impact of mass gatherings on human health

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: The annual Haj season is a major opportunity for
scientists and health planners to do research on the impact of mass
gatherings on human health. Dozens of scientists the world over are
now researching on emerging pathogens and diseases and how infectious
diseases can be controlled through scientific planning during mass
gatherings like Haj.

According to science journal Lancet, “the exchange of experiences
between the organizers and hosts of the 2012 Olympic Games and the Haj
provides an ideal platform to take the formal discipline of mass
gathering forward. Both events will provide the opportunity for
appropriate research to obtain an evidence base and for guidelines
approved by the World Health Organisation”.

The Haj is growing by two lakh people every year. A Global Mass
Gathering Network led by Saudi Arabia has been formed to study
initially 2012 Olympics and the Haj. This will be extended to other
mass gatherings like the Kumbh Mela scheduled for next year.
“In 2013, the plan is to devise indicators to measure the health of
people attending mass gatherings, alongside a research agenda in
partnership with the WHO and others.”

Dr Shuja Shafi, deputy secretary-general of the Muslim Council of
Britain and honorary consultant medical microbiologist, NW London
Hospitals NHS Trust, London, is an expert on studies on mass gathering
and their impact on people’s health. “Apart from its religious and
spiritual significance, almost anything else that is associated with
the Haj is unique and amazing. The larger it grows the more
fascinating it becomes, seemingly worldly problems associated with the
Haj attract attention of Muslims and non-Muslims alike,” he said.

The international outbreak of meningitis associated with an otherwise
unknown strain of meningococcus among pilgrims returning from Haj in
the years 2000 and 2001 are summarised have helped in better planning
by health authorities. Introduction of a specific vaccine
(quadrivalent ACW135Y) vaccine brought about an abrupt end to the
outbreak and the infection being acquired during Haj.

“As large gatherings increase in number and complexity and grow
bigger, managing them effectively an efficiently is perhaps the
biggest public health challenge facing the world”, said Dr Shuja
Shafi, who hails from Hyderabad.

Communicable diseases, respiratory infections, blood borne infections
(associated with head shaving), gastro intestinal infections are
common. Control and management of infections in the wake of Pandemic
H1 N1 influenza (in 2009) placed the Saudi authorities in good stead
to deal with issues relating to the Coronavirus infection (SARS-like)
reported recently.

Dr Shafi said with a high prevalence of diabetes and heart disease,
there is now focus on these non-communicable diseases. Appropriate
advice and prevention of complications or adverse events while at Haj
is now emerging as the major health challenge for organisers.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

On foot for the Haj: Bosnian walks 3,600 miles to perform Haj in Saudi Arabia

He crossed six countries on foot because he had no money

October 22, 2012

A 47-year-old Bosnian Muslim man reached Saudi Arabia this week to perform the annual pilgrimage after travelling nearly 3,600 miles (5,900 km) on foot from his Bosnian village, Saudi newspapers said on Monday.

Senad Hadzic set off from Banovici in north Bosnia Herzegovina in December 2011 during which he crossed six countries, including Turkey, Jordan and Syria before entering Saudi Arabia this week.

Newspapers quoted him as saying in a You-Tube film that he walked all that distance because he had no money.

“I wanted to perform Haj but I had no money…I decided to walk to Saudi Arabia, having only 200 euros,” he said.

“I slept at mosques, schools and other places, including houses offered to me by good people…some people asked me whether I was scared when passing through wild places and I told them ‘why should I…God is with me.”

The Bosnian pilgrim left last December on pilgrimage to Makkah by foot arrived in the holy city of Mecca after passing through seven countries including war-torn Syria.

“I arrived Saturday in Makkah. I am not tired, these are the best days of my life,” Senad Hadzic, 47, told AFP when reached by phone.

He said he had covered some 5,700 km in 314 days of walking through Bosnia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Syria and Jordan to Makkah, with a backpack weighing 20 kg.

He charted his progress on his Facebook page, where he posted a picture apparently of an entry/exit card for foreigners issued by the Syrian Interior Ministry.

“I passed through Syria in April. I walked some 500 km in 11 days. I went through Aleppo and Damascus and passed dozens of checkpoints held by pro-government and rebel forces alike, but I was never detained,” Hadzic said.

“I walked in the name of Allah, for Islam, for Bosnia-Hercegovina, for my parents and my sister,” he added.

On his Facebook page, he said God had shown him the way in dreams, including to go through Syria instead of Iraq.

During the pilgrimage, Hadzic faced temperatures ranging from minus 35 Celsius in Bulgaria to plus 44 Celsius in Jordan.

He said he had to wait in Istanbul for several weeks to get permission to cross the Bosphorus Bridge on foot and two months at the border between Jordan and Saudi Arabia to obtain an entry visa.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Film on the Holy Prophet: The truth behind the "Muslim Rage"

Who's afraid of Muslim Rage?

by Avaaz Team 

A US magazine cover (below) screams out the general media slant of the last two weeks: the Muslim world is burning with anti-western anger over an Islamophobic film, with hordes of violent protesters on the streets threatening us all ... but is it really? Citizens and new media are responding, and Gawker has brilliantly satirised the hype with alternative images of "Muslim Rage":

When Newsweek asked readers to tweet their own stories about #MuslimRage, many thousands did, hilariously:

Seven things you may have missed in the 'Rage':

Like everyone else, many Muslims find the 13 minute Islamophobic video "Innocence of Muslims" trashy and offensive. Protests have spread quickly, tapping into understandable and lasting grievances about neo-colonialist US and western foreign policy in the Middle East, as well as religious sensitivities about depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. But the news coverage often obscures some important points: 
1. Early estimates put participation in anti-film protests at between 0.001 and 0.007% of the world's 1.5 billion Muslims – a tiny fraction of those who marched for democracy in the Arab spring.

2. The vast majority of protesters have been peaceful. The breaches of foreign embassies were almost allorganised or fuelled by elements of the Salafist movement, a radical Islamist group that is most concerned with undermining more popular moderate Islamist groups.

3. Top Libyan and US officials are divided over whether the killing of the US ambassador to Libya was likely pre-planned to coincide with 9/11, and therefore not connected to the film.

4. Apart from attacks by radical militant groups in Libya and Afghanistan, a survey of news reports on 20 September suggested that actual protesters had killed a total of zero people. The deaths cited by media were largely protesters killed by police.

5. Pretty much every major leader, Muslim and western, has condemned the film, and pretty much every leader, Muslim and western, has condemned any violence that might be committed in response.

6. The pope visited Lebanon at the height of the tension, and Hezbollah leaders attended his sermon, refrained from protesting the film until he left, and called for religious tolerance. Yes, this happened.

7. After the attack in Benghazi, ordinary people turned out on the streets in Benghazi and Tripoli with signs, many of them in English, apologising and saying the violence did not represent them or their religion.

Add to that the number of really big news stories that were buried last week to make room for front page, angry Muslim "Clash" coverage. In Russia tens of thousands of protesters marched through Moscow to oppose Russian President Vladimir Putin. Hundreds of thousands of Portuguese and Spaniards turned out for anti-austerity protests; and more than a million Catalans marched for independence.

Muslim rage or Salafist strategy?

Meet Sheikh Khaled Abdullah, the Salafist TV host who peddled the film (Ted Nieter)
The "Innocence of Muslims" was picked up and peddled with subtitles by far-right Salafists – radical followers of an Islamic movement long supported by Saudi Arabia. The film was a cheaply made, YouTube failure until an Egyptian Salafist TV host, Sheikh Khaled Abdullah (right) began promoting it to viewerson 8 September.
Most insulted Muslims ignored the film or protested peacefully, but the Salafists, with their signature black flags, were leading instigators of the more aggressive protests that breached embassies. Leaders of the Egyptian Salafist party attended the Cairo protest that broke into the US embassy.
Like the far-right in the US or Europe, the Salafist strategy is to drag public opinion rightwards by seizing on opportunities to fan radical anger and demonise ideological opponents. This approach resembles that of anti-Muslim US pastor Terry Jones (who first promoted the film in the west) and other western extremists. In both societies, however, the moderates far (far!) outnumber the extremists. A leading figure in Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood (the more powerful and popular political opponent of Egypt’s Salafists) wrote to the New York Times saying: "We do not hold the American government or its citizens responsible for acts of the few that abuse the laws protecting freedom of expression".

Good reporting

A lonely band of journalists and scholars have approached the protests with an intent to truly understand the forces behind them. Among them, Hisham Matar, who powerfully describes the sadness in Benghazi after J Christopher Stevens' killing, and Barnaby Phillips, who explores how Islamic conservatives manipulated the film to their advantage. Anthropologist Sarah Kendzior cautions against treating the Muslim world as a homogenous unit. And Professor Stanley Fish tackles a tough question: why many Muslims are so sensitive to unflattering depictions of Islam.

COP 11 biodiversity: Hyderabad mosque puts up display boards on what the Holy Quran says on biological diversity

What the Holy Quran says on conversion of biodiversity
Courtesy: Azizia mosque, Mehdipatnam, Hyderabad

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The medicinal benefits of Hyderabadi haleem: This Ramadhan dish strengthens muscles, burns fat fast, and increases sperm count in men

The unique feature of  this Hyderabadi dish is that it contains both slow-digesting and fast-burning ingredients. The fibre content is also relatively high. The legumes that go into its
production increase muscle strength and sexual potency. The ingredients are also rich in potassium and magnesium. Whole grains like wheat, nuts, vegetables and dry fruits solve the problem of low sperm count, which has of late become a major health and reproductive problem in industrialised nations.

By Syed Akbar
Haleem, the special Ramzan dish of Hyderabad known for
its unique taste, has several
medicinal properties that improve semen production and stimulate ovulation.
Studies by city Unani physicians and researchers show that Haleem and its
variant Harees increase sperm count and
promote sperm health and motility in men and assist in better ovulation in
women. The special ingredients that go
into the preparation of Haleem and Harees stimulate blood circulation to
vital body organs thereby reducing sexual
dysfunction and the problem of low sperm count.
"The unique feature of  this Hyderabadi dish is that it contains both
slow-digesting and fast-burning ingredients. The
fibre content is also relatively high. The legumes that go into its
production increase muscle strength and sexual
potency. The ingredients are also rich in potassium and magnesium.
Whole grains like wheat, nuts, vegetables and dry fruits solve the problem
of low sperm count, which has of late
become a major health and reproductive problem in industrialised nations,"
says Dr Fazal Ahmad, senior Unani
Dr Fazal, who also edits Unani monthly Cure for All, points out that
Haleem and Harees acquire the aphrodisiac
properties primarily because of the five "Gs" that go into its
preparation. "Gur (jaggery), gond (natural gum), ghost
(meat), ghehoon (wheat) and ghee are special Unani prescriptions. A
combination of all five or some of them
increases sexual potency primarily by increasing the sperm count. Our
research has shown that those who consume
Haleem or Harees on regular basis are sexually more active than who
don't," he says.
Many residents of Barkas locality in Hyderabad consume Harees at breakfast
everyday and this is reflected on their
good physique and better reproductive health.
According to senior Unani physician Dr Ilyas Khan, Haleem contains
minerals selenium, folic acid, and zinc and
vitamins A, C, and E. "It has been scientifically proved that foods rich
in these compounds increase the sperm count
and sperm motility, thus assisting in reproductive health. Studies have
shown that Haleem and Harees increase blood
circulation and assist in blood production. The system of Unani medicine
says any food that increases blood
circulation will promote sperm production," he says.
Hakeem Tariq Mehmood Chughtai in his research publication on the health
benefits of Haleem and Harees points
out that one should not take water immediately after consuming this
special festival dish to derive maximum benefit
from it. Since Haleem/Harees contains both "slow and fast digestion
ingredients" the benefits will be more if the dish
is consumed soon after breaking the day-long fast during Ramzan.

The tiger of Mysore: Tipu Sultan, a royal freedom fighter

Sri Ranganatha temple was hardly a stone's throw from his palace from where “he would listen with equalrespect the ringing of temple bells, and the Muezzin's call from the mosque”.
"It is far better to live like a Tiger for a day than to live like a
Jackal for a hundred years." - Tipu Sultan

By Syed Akbar

More than two hundred years have passed since Tipu Sultan, the Tiger,
roared against the invading Britishers with his magical statement to
inspire the people of his kingdom to fight the enemy.
And his words still reverberate in the ramparts of Srirangapattinam, his
beloved city dedicated to Lord Sri Ranganatha Swami, and in the hearts of
millions of Indians. True to his statement, Tipu Sultan lived and died
like a tiger.
Perhaps he is the only ruler, who took over the reins of a kingdom amidst
a war and relinquished it in a battlefield while protecting the life and
honour of his subjects.
Tipu Sultan, the Tiger of Mysore, is as enigmatic as ever. Critics despise
him with charges of religious bigotry and persecution. Admirers label him
as one of the most secular rulers and a king with vision far ahead of his
times. To him goes the credit of discovering and perfecting the art of
rocketry and no less a person than the Missile Man, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam,
describes Tipu Sultan as the father of Indian rocket technology.
The arguments of his staunch critics notwithstanding, Tipu Sultan was the
first native ruler, who fought against the British rule tooth and nail,
much before the first war of independence. There was perfect communal
harmony during his regime and this was evident from the fact that there
was not even a single uprising of people, despite the numerous wars he
fought. The people of his kingdom were solidly behind him in all the wars.
Historians recall how Tipu Sultan donated money to Sri Shankaracharya of
Sringeri to reinstall the displaced image in the Sharda temple. More than
30 letters written by the Sultan to the Shankaracharya in chaste Kannada
testify to the magnanimity and religious tolerance of the Tiger of Mysore.
As mark of honour to the Hindu religious head, Tipu Sultan departed from
his usual tradition of beginning his letters with the Arabic invocation
“In the name of God”. Instead he wrote the name of the Shankaracharya at
the top of the letter while he put his name at the bottom, without the
usual honorifics and titles that go with the nobility.
As one noted historian points out, Sri Ranganatha temple was hardly a
stone's throw from his palace from where “he would listen with equal
respect the ringing of temple bells, and the Muezzin's call from the
“The Britishers”, says Prof Sheik Ali, historian and former
vice-chancellor of Goa and Mangalore University, “had never been
confronted with a more formidable foe. His regime begins in the midst of
war against the English, and ends in the midst of war against them. He
built up an efficient system of administration and was almost the first
Indian ruler to apply western techniques
in the heart of government.
“Long before the events of 1857, when a spirited reprising attempted to
throw of the English and before the formation of the Indian National
Congress, which set the pace for National
Movement, Tipu struggled hard to rouse a consciousness of his neighbours
to the impending danger to Indian Independence from the English,” says
Prof Ali in his biography of Tipu Sultan.
Not many know that Tipu Sultan was an able journalist too. He launched a
local newspaper “Fauji Akhbar” (Soldier News). Tipu was a multi-linguist,
well versed in Kannada, Marathi, French, Arabic, Persian and Urdu.
Sultan Fateh Ali Tipu was born on November 20, 1750 and died at a young
age of 49 on May 4, 1799. He inherited the kingdom, principles, values and
traditions, besides valour and strength from his father Hyder Ali. At the
age of 17, Tipu Sultan fought against the British army forcing the latter
to retreat.
Instructed in military tactics by French officers, employed by his father,
Haider Ali, a de facto ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore, Tipu first
accompanied him in a war against the British in the First War of Mysore in
He also commanded a corps of cavalry in the invasion of Carnatic in 1767.
He, however, went on to distinguish himself in the First Anglo-Maratha War
of 1775-1779. Tipu helped his father defeat the British in the Second War
of Mysore and negotiated the Treaty of Mangalore with them.
He was defeated in the third and fourth Anglo-Mysore War by the
combined forces of the English East India Company, the Nizam of
Hyderabad, the Maratha Confederacy, and Travancore.
An able administrator and planner, Tipu Sultan laid the foundation for a
dam where the Krishna Raja Sagar Dam across river Cauvery today stands. He
also completed the project of Lal Bagh, the extensive gardens started by
his father. He built roads, public buildings, and ports along the Kerala
During Tipu Sultan's reign, a new calendar, new coinage, and seven new
government departments, were introduced. Tipu also had a penchant for
innovations, especially in weaponry.
All of them were exquisite and had great workmanship. He was a great
promoter of agriculture and industry, trade and commerce. He built a navy
and opened factories far and near, which ultimately linked the State of
Mysore with the outside world. His trade extended to countries which
included Sri Lanka, Afghanistan,
France, Turkey, and Iran.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Islamic months: The religious, spiritual, economic, social importance of Ramadhan

The Night of Power or Lailat-ul-Qadr falls on one of the odd nights in the last 10 days of Ramadhan. Muslims spend in prayers all through the night supplicating to the Almighty for peace and blessings on all people and all creatures. Ramadhan is the occasion for Muslims to mend their ways and establish a direct link with the Creator
By Syed Akbar
Ramadhan is the ninth month of the Islamic Higera calendar. Literally 
Ramadhan means "heat" or "something that burns up". The name assumes 
significance as fasting, charity and noble deeds in Ramadhan burns away 
sins, Satanic filth and ego from the hearts and minds of the people, who turn 
to the Almighty during this holy month.
A notable feature of Ramadhan is that fasting during this month had been in 
vogue even before the birth of the Holy Prophet, Hazrat Muhammad (peace 
be upon him). The righteous and pious among the Arabs used to observe 
fasting and pay charity during Ramadhan. The Holy Prophet has streamlined 
the system of fasting and charity and made them mandatory on all Muslims.
Of the 12 lunar Islamic months, Ramadhan is considered holy primarily because the Almighty God had revealed the Holy Quran on Hazrat Muhammad during this month about 15 centuries ago.
The Holy Prophet was deep in meditation in the Cave of Hira in the outskirts of Mecca when he 
received the Divine Message through Archangel Gabriel (Hazrat Jibrail). The 
Message from God continued to be revealed on the Holy Prophet thereafter 
for the next 23 years. This Divine Code is the Holy Quran, the last of the 
Scriptures of God sent to prophets and messengers from time to time to all 
places and to all people.
"Ramadhan is also considered holy because God has prescribed fasting and 
ordained charity. While fasting is obligatory on all Muslims, men and 
women, without exception, charity is enjoined on only those who are 
financially sound. The charity given during Ramadhan is of two types, Zakat 
(compulsory charity) and fitra (alms). Zakat like fasting is one of the five 
pillars of Islam, the other being Kalima (assertion that there is only one God 
and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God), Namaz (five daily prayers) 
and Haj (pilgrimage to Mecca)," says Islamic scholar Hafiz Syed Shujath 

Referring to the importance of Ramadhan, the Holy Quran (2:185) observes, "Ramadhan is the (month) in which the Qur'an was sent down, as a guide to mankind, also clear (Signs) for guidance and judgement (between right and wrong). So every one of you who is present (at home) during that month should spend it in fasting "
The Holy Quran is also specific about the time of revelation during the month 
of Ramadhan. Elsewhere, the Scripture says, "Indeed, We have revealed this 
(Message) in the Night of Power. And what will explain to thee what the 
night of power is? The Night of Power is better than a thousand months" 
Qur'an (97:1-3).
"The Night of Power or Lailat-ul-Qadr falls on one of the odd nights in the 
last 10 days of Ramadhan. Muslims spend in prayers all through the night 
supplicating to the Almighty for peace and blessings on all people and all 
creatures. Ramadhan is the occasion for Muslims to mend their ways and 
establish a direct link with the Creator," points out Islamic teacher Moulana 
Abdul Kareem.
In commemoration of the revelation of the Holy Quran, special night prayers 
called the Taraveeh are held in all mosques and at select homes and other 
places. Hafiz (those who know the Quran byheart) recite the Holy Quran in 
parts on 30 nights. In Hyderabad and other Indian cities, special 
arrangements are also made for women to offer the Taraveeh prayers.
Referring to the importance of fasting, the Holy Prophet observed: Allah, the 
Almighty has said: "every act of man is for him except fasting, it is done for 
My (Allah's) sake and I will give reward for it. The breath of a person on fast  
is sweeter to Allah than the fragrance of musk." 
Muslims the world over take to heavy charity work during Ramadhan as they 
believe that Almighty God will reward them 70 fold or even more. According 
to an Hadith (sayings and traditions of the Prophet), "when Ramadhan starts, 
the gates of paradise are opened and the gates of Hell are closed and the 
Satan is chained.
The Prophet has also said: The affliction of a person in his property, family  and neighbours is expiated by his prayers, fasting and giving in charity. Whoever fasts the month of Ramadhan out of sincere faith and hoping for a 
reward from Allah, then all his previous sins will be forgiven.

Apart from its religious significance, Ramadhan has social importance too. 
While fasting makes a person understand the pangs of hunger and thirst so 
that he help the poor and the underprivileged. On one hand Ramadhan makes 
Muslims understand the sufferings of the poor and on the other it makes it 
mandatory on every well-to-do Muslim to donate in the cause of the 
Almighty God. Fasting also makes one physically fit and mentally agile.
"The money collected from Zakat and Fitra, if properly utilised, will solve the 
problem of poverty in many countries. In Hyderabad alone Zakat and Fitra 
worth Rs 100 crore is given every Ramadhan. The amount runs into at least 
Rs 2,000 crore for India. Unfortunately, there is no centralised agency to 
collect and spend the Zakat money for the common good of all. We should 
have the concept of Bait-ul-Maal (charitable treasury)," says Moulana 
Rafeeuddin Qasmi.
Muslims end this great month by celebrating the Id-ul-fitr or the festival of 
alms-giving as a gratitude to the Almighty for having Blessed them with the 
opportunity to fast and make amends. Fitra is compulsory before the Id 
prayers so that the have-nots too join the festivities.

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