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An IslamicReformation is Best Chance for Peace
An Islamic reformation would mean the sharp diminution of the power of the Imams; frontal challenges to the
moral framework of millions, and to the power of religiously based dynasties, like the House of Saud
f a young woman, before her mar-
riage or after it, is found to have had
sexual relations with another man
not her betrothed, she is sentenced
to be stoned to death. By contrast, a
man who rapes or seduces a young girl
usually must pay a fine to her father, and
offer to marry her himself.
This punishment, ordained by God, is
not confined to the ideologues of Islamic
State. It is to be found in the holiest
books of Jews and Christians: in a part of
the Jewish Torah, known to Christians as
Old Testament’s book of Deuteronomy.
The Jewish literary critic AdamKirsch
writes that “in Deuteronomy, we find the
same kind of panic about female sexual-
ity, the same need to control women’s
feelings and behavior…(while) under
Talmudic law, (a woman) is not a legally
competent individual, but the responsi-
bility of a man.” The Talmud is a com-
pendium of centuries of Jewish thought
and commentary on the Torah.
Why, then, should those born within
the cultures of the two older monotheis-
tic faiths – Judaism, the oldest, and
Christianity – recoil in horror from the
obedience of some Muslims to these
commands of God, since our cultures
contain the same observances and our
cultures’ holy figures approved them?
Because both Christianity and Ju-
daismwere profoundly changed by the
Reformation and the European Enlight-
enment. The Enlightenment’s apostles
included large figures from the Christian
tradition – David Hume, Immanuel Kant
and Rene Descartes; and from the Jew-
ish, in Baruch Spinoza and Moses
Mendelsohn. They, and a legion of oth-
ers, thought “freedom and toleration
were … essential to the pursuit of en-
quiry, both religious and secular.” Their
belief became, especially in France, a
cause, a militant proclamation of free-
dom of thought and of publication, a
definition of the rights of man.
“Man” to a degree meant also
“woman” – but far from completely. The
idea of male supremacy continues
worldwide. Only under the influence of
liberal and socialist reformers, emanci-
patory movements and feminism did
(some) cultures recognize real, substan-
tial equality of the sexes – rarely com-
pletely.
Islam did not join the renaissance, the
rebirth, of Judaic and Christian cultures
that began at the end of the 1500s and
then evolved over centuries. Islam has
within it millions
of devotees who
are liberal in their
thoughts and ac-
tions, and who be-
lieve that nations
should be secular,
tolerating all reli-
gions and those
with none. But the
religion and the
commentators on it do not lend them
support: the religion still, in theory and
in much of its practice, aspires to be the
spine to a nation’s politics, the guide for
its judiciary.
Last month, two powerful voices – one
Jewish, one a Muslim breakaway – have
been raised to give voice to the same be-
lief: that until Islam undergoes its own
rebirth, in which its divine commands
are generally allowed to give way to secu-
lar, enlightenment practices, the major-
ity of Muslimmoderates will be held
hostage by the minority of Muslim ex-
tremists.
Benny Morris is professor of history at
the University of the Negev: he is the
most prominent member of the revision-
ist historians of the 1980s who broke
with Zionist orthodoxy and who wrote a
searing, detailed
book about the
Arab-Israeli war of
1948, and the ex-
pulsion of hun-
dreds of thousands
of Palestinians. An
ardent leftist, he
became a much
more conservative
figure, seeing in the
failure of the negotiations in the early
2000s between Israel and the Palestinian
leadership proof that the Palestinians
would never agree to accept the exis-
tence of Israel as a Jewish state.
At a talk in London, Morris poured
scorn on thoseWestern leaders –As Pres-
ident Obama and UK Prime Minister
David Cameron – who argued the attacks
on the magazine Charlie Hebdo in Janu-
ary had “nothing to do with the true reli-
gion of Islam.”
Islamist violence, Morris said, is per-
petrated in the name of Islam. Denying it
doesn’t promote good community rela-
tions. It obscures a real problem that
must be faced.
Morris’ other view – that all Muslims,
militant or moderate, “hated” theWest –
seems to me to be wrong. I asked him if
he thought the Palestinian Israelis were
biding their time before turning on their
Jewish fellow citizens? He replied that the
Israeli government’s demonizing of them
was wrong. Instead, the government
must do all in its powers to bring Israeli
Arabs into full citizenship.
Yet if they are suffused with hatred,
how would that help?
The “renegade” Muslim I spoke of ear-
lier is Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Her journey began
with escape a forced marriage in Soma-
lia, through the Netherlands and to the
United States, where she now lives. She
has also traveled from being a devout
Muslim to a challenger of Islam’s basic
precepts. She has been the subject of
powerful memoirs, such as The Caged
Virgin and Nomad and has been forced
to live behind armed protection. Last
month, she wrote that “the theological
warrant for intolerance and violence is
embedded in (Muslims’) own religious
texts. It simply will not do for Moslems to
claim that their religion has been ‘hi-
jacked’ by extremists. The killers of Is-
lamic state and Nigeria’s Boko Haram
cite the same religious texts that every
other Muslim in the world considers
sacrosanct.”
Judaism and Christianity, she writes
“gradually consigned the violent pas-
sages of their own sacred texts to the
past” so that extremism in both is con-
fined to the fringes. “Regrettably in Islam
it is the other way around: it is those
seeking religious reformwho are the
fringe element.”
Continued on page 21
I
John Lloyd
Director of Journalism
University of Oxford
3
News India Times
April 17, 2015
ust asking for an address in the
Railway Mandi area of
Hoshiarpur in Punjab might elicit
blank stares. But the moment I
uttered the word ‘Brighu’, I was
not even allowed to say anything more
and the directions followed to the T.
One particular street in the area is vir-
tually dedicated to the Brighu astrologers
who are keeping alive a 5,000-year-old tra-
dition of looking into the past and gazing
at the future.
The “Brighuan di gali” (street of the
Brighu astrologers) is a destination for
people from all parts of the country and
even from abroad as they seek out the
Brighu Shastris who, despite facing stiff
competition from Internet-driven mod-
ern-day astrology, still rely on the Brighu
Samhita, a religious book (granth) that, as
per legend, was penned by Rishi Brighu
over 5,000 years ago.
“We continue to get a lot of people
from all over the country and from across
the world. Many of those coming here in-
clude foreigners and NRIs,” says Brighu
Shastri Ramanuj Sharma.
“Foreigners are great believers in the
Brighu tradition. They are leaning towards
traditional concepts like Brighu astrology,
meditation and vegetarianism. Followers
of the Brighu tradition come from all reli-
gions,” said Sharma, who has a doctorate
in Sanskrit.
He said that the Brighu Samhita has
been safely kept in the common store-
house of three families here.”The granth
lies in a strongroom and weighs tons. An
index has been devised for the available
pages of the granth so that only the re-
quired portions are picked up when re-
quired,” said Sharma, 43, a
third-generation Brighu Shastri in his
family.
Once an individual shares with the
Brighu Shastri his details like name, date
and place of birth, parents’ name and the
like, the search begins for his details in the
Brighu Samhita.
Since it is not physically possible to
check all documents, the Brighu families
have indexed them.”If the name is found,
the individual is called and told about his
past lives and future. It is even mentioned
in the documents whether the person has
to be physically present to come and see
his past and future.
Everything is read from the exact docu-
ment concerning that person and he is
supposed to note it down.
Sometimes, if the person, living abroad
or, for some other reason, is unable to
come, then our staff writes down for them
and the same is e-mailed to them or sent
by post,” Sharma pointed out about the
process.
Politicians like former president Zail
Singh, former prime minister Indira
Gandhi, union minister Maneka Gandhi
and former Haryana chief minister Bha-
jan Lal and film stars Dharmendra, Hema
Malini, Sanjay Dutt and Bollywood’s fa-
mous Kapoor family, among others, have
come calling on the Brighu Shastris. But
not everyone’s details may be recovered
from the granth.
The original Brighu Samhita, a massive
database of charts of millions of people,
was partially lost during various invasions
of the country in the 12th and 13th cen-
turies. It was a chance incident that a
Brahmin family discovered a major part of
the granth with a junk dealer here in 1923.
However, not everyone is ready to be-
lieve in the Brighu tradition.
“I have got my records checked. Some
part of it was true but all major happen-
ings in my life were not there. I cannot be-
lieve in it blindly. But some people believe
in this a lot,” Hoshiarpur resident Bhag-
want Singh says.
– IANS
5,000-year-oldTraditionThrives inPunjab
J
By Jaideep Sarin
Opinion
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