Inside the Middle East
September 5, 2010
Posted: 1136 GMT

By Harmeet Shah Singh

NEW DELHI, India (CNN) – Hindu, Sikh and Muslim prayers fill the morning air and numerous religious processions besiege streets of cosmopolitan cities every year.

On the ground, India’s constitutionally guaranteed freedom of faith often takes precedence over larger public convenience and environment. But benefits from the nation’s growth haven’t reached all communities evenly, with its second-largest religious group of Muslims starkly left out on the lowest of rungs.

India says it’s striving to bring them up to par after a national study barely four years ago established the country’s 150 million-plus Muslim population trailed badly on key indices more than half-a-century after independence.

The man who supervised the 2005-06 survey is hopeful of a change ahead as India works to eliminate imbalances revealed in its damning report.

In a clogged, largely Muslim neighborhood in New Delhi, Syed Zafar Mahmood traces the genesis of issues facing the community in modern India to the partition of the Asian subcontinent in 1947.

The blood-soaked birth of Pakistan unleashed mass migration, fueling prejudices that Mahmood notes remained entrenched in India for most of the later half of the 20th century.

“Muslims who chose to stay back in India felt marginalized for three to four decades later,” he says.  “But time is a great healer. Eventually, Muslims found their moorings as perceptions begin to change.”

However, the community seemed to have lost its pace by then.

According to official figures, Indian Muslims have a literacy rate of 59.1 percent against the national average of 65 percent. For employment, they generally work as casual labor, according to the study that Mahmood monitored as officer-on-special duty appointed by prime minister Manmohan Singh.

In comparison, Christians, Buddhists and Sikhs surpass Muslims in education and jobs in Hindu-majority India, census data show.

Based on the recommendations of the survey, India’s government has unveiled a slew of measures that it insists aim not only at improving educational standards of Muslims but also their social and economic conditions, such as through easy banking.

On its website, India’s minority affairs ministry posts regular updates on the status of those programs.

“It’s all about facilitating opportunities. And I see this happening with affirmative action in place,” says Mahmood, who is overseeing the state-funded plans for the community.

India has for long battled Islamist insurgency in the Kashmir region under its control, the country’s only Muslim-majority state.

It has also suffered numerous terrorist attacks blamed both on home-grown as well as Pakistan-based militants. At the same time, India’s credentials as a secular haven have been blemished by murderous attacks on different religious minorities in the past.

Surveyors have found the Muslim community at large has been stereotyped and that steps for its uplift too have met with resistance.

“Muslims carry a double burden of being labeled as anti-national and as being appeased at the same time,” according to the findings of the study quoted by the national commission for minorities, the country’s religious rights watchdog, on its website.

On the brighter side though, the community has emerged as a powerful voting bloc in India’s multi-party democracy. Various regional political players now vie for Muslim support, let alone Singh’s Congress grouping at the national level.

Some of India’s top Bollywood stars, sports icons and political figures are also Muslims.

At least four universities of modern higher education stand out as tall examples of Muslim contribution to nation-building, says Mahmood.

“It’s wonderful being a Muslim in India,” he asserts. Yet, Mahmood feels state projects are inadequate for complete success.

The 59-year-old bureaucrat has for years been involved in the Islamic concept of Zakat, or charity, to help members of his community in need.

Such volunteerism, he says, has to gain momentum.

“(The) community should take care of itself to a certain level so that the community makes a dent in public life. Therefore those like me… who have volunteered to look after the community actively… will have to be more active,” remarks Mahmood.


Filed under: Islam

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August 13, 2010
Posted: 533 GMT

Click here to submit photos and video

CNN is planning a four-week series on modern Islam that will run daily throughout the month of Ramadan, and we want you to get involved.

The series will look at what it means to be Muslim and how people live as Muslims in 2010. CNN invites you to grab your camera and show us how you are embracing your faith.

Show and tell us what it means to be Muslim today. Show us how Ramadan is observed where you live. Show us your life during Ramadan, including special customs or traditions.

Your story can be told through photos or video. The best images and stories will appear on air or online as part of CNN's global coverage.

Filed under: iReport •Islam

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May 15, 2010
Posted: 715 GMT

Filed under: Culture •Islam •Kuwait •Obama •Video

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May 2, 2010
Posted: 629 GMT

High fashion and Islamic values don't have to be mutually exclusive, as CNN's Ivan Watson reports.

Filed under: Culture •General •Islam •Video

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April 2, 2010
Posted: 1105 GMT
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October 14, 2009
Posted: 710 GMT

Filed under: Egypt •Islam

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August 21, 2009
Posted: 1058 GMT

As the Muslim holy month of Ramadan is set to begin tomorrow, people around the Arab world have been preparing for its arrival.

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Filed under: Dubai •Gaza •Islam •Jerusalem •Jordan •Lebanon •Syria

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August 5, 2009
Posted: 859 GMT

By Manav Tanneeru

Part of "Generation Islam" – CNN's startling investigation into the heart of a generation at the crossroads. Christiane Amanpour reveals the struggle for hearts and minds of the next generation of Muslims. Be sure to tune in Thursday, Aug 13, 9 p.m. ET, Aug 14, 1 a.m GMT

(CNN) - Esra'a al Shafei, a recent university graduate in Bahrain, is young, Muslim and frustrated.

Andrew Tkach/CNN. Young Muslims, pictured here in Afghanistan, are increasingly using technology to engage the world.
Andrew Tkach/CNN. Young Muslims, pictured here in Afghanistan, are increasingly using technology to engage the world.

The 23-year-old says the complexity of who she is as a Muslim is being distorted by extremists and the media coverage of them.

Channeling her frustration, she started, a Web site she describes as a place for young people in the region to "show a different side of our religion" and discuss topics big and small, taboo and not.

She represents a generation of Muslims who are using technology to express themselves, connect with others, challenge traditional power structures and create an identity in an era when Islamic extremists often grab the headlines.

"I think the word that clearly defines the younger generation and also separates them from their parents is 'globalized,'" said Reza Aslan, the author of two books on Islam, including the recently published "How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization and the End of the War on Terror."

Access to technology lags in countries with large Muslim populations compared with Europe and the United States. Access also varies between those countries depending on a variety of factors such as governmental control and economic development.

But the numbers of people using the Web and cell phones are growing - and quickly. "The percentage increases of Internet users in places like Iran, Pakistan and Egypt are astronomical during the past five years," Aslan said.

A recent study by Forrester Research predicted growth rates for Web usage would continue to soar in the region during the next five years.

A battle over interpretation

Al Shafei, who spoke to CNN by phone from Bahrain, said her Islamic identity was partly shaped by a childhood that included Christian classmates and American and British teachers.

She also grew up in a country that was relatively progressive enough to appoint a female Jewish ambassador recently. "Islam is much more relaxed here," she said. "But it doesn't mean we're not good Muslims."

She discovered blogs, and the more she read, the more she grew frustrated with the nature of the dialogue. "No one was talking to each other," she said.

The conflict between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006 was the turning point for her. "I was really annoyed by how the Western and Arab media were covering it," she said. "Both sides were sticking to the extremes."

She said she started her Web site that year to provide the world - and media - a different perspective on Islam. "We're not as simplistic as the media would often make of us," she said.

Al Shafei said the Web site's discussion subjects range from the political to the taboo, including homosexuality, premarital sex and atheism. The anonymity provided by the Web helps foster such discussion, she said.

She is, however, careful to avoid talking about some topics, which could get her in trouble. "I always remind myself that I have my limitations," she said. "There are various issues that I am unable to tackle for security reasons."

Al Shafei said she hopes that Web sites such as hers could help fight extremist Islamic groups by defeating their arguments through cultural and religious dialogue. But she concedes there's catching up to do.

"We have to move faster" because extremist groups are more widespread in traditional media such as newspapers and radio stations, which are still consumed by more people than new media such as Web sites, she said.

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Filed under: CNN Coverage •Islam

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June 23, 2009
Posted: 1051 GMT

PARIS, France (CNN) - The French National Assembly announced on Tuesday the creation of a parliamentary inquiry into whether women in France should be allowed to wear the burka.

A woman wears traditionnal Muslim dress n Venissieux, near Lyon.
A woman wears traditionnal Muslim dress n Venissieux, near Lyon.

A cross-party panel of 32 lawmakers will investigate whether the traditional Muslim garment poses a threat to the secular nature of the French constitution, Agence France-Presse reported.

The announcement follows French President Nicolas Sarkozy's declaration in a keynote parliamentary address Monday that the burka, which covers women from head to toe, is "not welcome" in France.

"The problem of the burka is not a religious problem. This is an issue of a woman's freedom and dignity. This is not a religious symbol. It is a sign of subservience; it is a sign of lowering. I want to say solemnly, the burka is not welcome in France," Sarkozy told lawmakers.

The right of Muslim women to cover themselves is fiercely debated in France, which has a large Muslim minority but also a staunchly secular constitution. Read full story

Filed under: France •Islam

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February 16, 2009
Posted: 618 GMT

Millions of Shia Muslim pilgrims defy bomb threats and arrive, many on foot, in the central Iraqi city of Karbala to mark the 40th day after Ashura or "Arbaeen".

Iraqi security forces have deployed in force in the city, about 110 km south of Baghdad, to protect pilgrims in the aftermath of several deadly bombings.

AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images. Tons of food being prepared for pilgrims in Karbala.
AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images. Tons of food being prepared for pilgrims in Karbala.
AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images. Karbala, Iraq
AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images. Karbala, Iraq
AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images. Karbala, Iraq
AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images. Karbala, Iraq

On Friday a female suicide bomber detonated in a crowd of mostly women and children on their way to a religious festival, killing at least 38 people and wounding 50 others, according to an Iraqi Interior Ministry official.

For Shia Muslims Ashura commemorates the death of the Prophet Mohammed's grandson the Imam Hussein in the seventh century by armies of the caliph Yazid in Iraq.

Filed under: Iraq •Islam

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