FaithWorld

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan’s Lashkar-e-Taiba and the power of religion

Following up on earlier posts here and here about Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), I've been looking closely at the arrest in Chicago on anti-terrorism charges of two men linked to LeT and accused of plotting attacks in Denmark.

Analysts say the Chicago case demonstrates the global reach of the militant group and its ability to plot attacks in India and around the world. The court documents submitted by U.S. authorities also allege that Lashkar-e-Taiba had suggested that attacks on India be given priority over the planned attack in Denmark, highlighting the threat still posed by the group one year after Mumbai.

As discussed in this factbox, analysts cite several reasons for Pakistan's reluctance to dismantle Lashkar-e-Taiba. These include its role in Kashmir and in India-Pakistan rivalry, and popular support for the humanitarian work of its Jamaat ud-Dawa sister organisation. They also cite an unwillingness to create a new enemy right now when Pakistan is already fighting the Pakistani Taliban in Waziristan and facing a wave of reprisal attacks in its cities. Lashkar-e-Taiba is the only Pakistani militant group which is not believed to have been involved in attacking targets within Pakistan itself.

None of that makes the group any less dangerous. But while researching the subject, I also found myself asking questions about the nature of the group and the kind of support it has -- beyond its alleged state backing. This is not to condone violence. But by failing to look at this support, particularly for Jamaat ud-Dawa's  humanitarian work, are we perhaps missing at least part of the point?

The religious ideology of the Markaz ud-Dawa wal Irshad which gave birth to Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jamaat ud-Dawa is Ahl-e-Hadith, a Salafist school of thought which seeks a return to what it sees as the "purer" practices of the early Muslims. This ideology originally sprang from a rejection of the corruption of religion by political power and of the syncretism which had thrived in South Asia through a blending of Hinduism and Islam, and which also underpinned the popularity of the Sufi tradition.

Indian villagers see rare sea turtle as incarnation of God

turtle (Photo: Sea turtle hatchlings make their way to sea in Orissa, 26 April 2008/Sanjib Mukherjee)

Hundreds of poor Hindu villagers in Orissa state in eastern India have refused to hand over a rare sea turtle to authorities, saying it is an incarnation of God. Villagers chanting hymns and carrying garlands, bowls of rice and fruits are pouring in from remote villages to a temple in Kendrapara, a coastal district in Orissa.

Policemen have struggled to control the gathering and have failed to persuade the villagers to give up the sea turtle. “We have asked the villagers to hand it over as it is illegal to confine a turtle, but they are refusing,” said P.K. Behera, a senior government wildlife official.

The turtle is protected in India and anyone found keeping one without permission can be jailed for a year or more and fined. The Indian Coast Guard is patrolling offshore to protect the turtles from fishing trawlers that trap turtles in their fishing nets.

October a busy month for Indian religious festivals

October is a busy month for Indian religious festivals in India. Here are Reuters videos from three of them.

Diwali, the five-day festival of lights, was celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains across the country with fireworks and prayers. It marks the return of Lord Raama to his kingdom Ayodhya after defeating Ravana, the ruler of Lanka, in the ancient epic Ramayana.

The three-day Chhath Puja, an ancient Hindu festival dedicated to Surya, the chief solar deity, concluded on Sunday with thousands of devotees offering prayers to Sun God across India. Most devotees are married women praying for their families.

from India Insight:

Are Muslims of troubled Kashmir treated unfairly by Indians?

Parvez Rasool, a Kashmiri cricketer, was briefly detained in Bangalore on suspicion of carrying explosives, an incident which triggered anger in the Muslim-dominated Kashmir valley.

This is not an isolated case.

Earlier actor and model Tariq Dar, a Kashmiri Muslim, was mistakenly imprisoned in New Delhi for weeks for having terror links. But Dar was later found innocent.

Delhi University lecturer S.A.R. Geelani, a Kashmiri, was even awarded the death sentence in connection with the 2001 Parliament attack case, but was later released.

Pew maps the Muslim world

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life just released a demographic study of the Muslim world it says is “the largest project of its kind to date.” Click here http://pewforum.org/docs/?DocID=450 to see the report ”Mapping the Global Muslim Population: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Muslim Population.”

SAUDI/PILGRIMAGE-ECONOMY/

The report drew on data from 232 countries and territories and involved Pew researchers working with nearly 50 demographers and social scientists around the world. It is certainly a useful reference for anyone interested in the Islamic world. (PHOTO: Hundreds of thousands of Muslims pray inside the Grand Mosque in Mecca Sept. 15, 2009. REUTERS/Susan Baahil)

Among its highlights:

from India Insight:

Are displaced Kashmiri Hindus returning to their homeland?

Tens of thousands of Kashmiri Hindus, locally known as Pandits, fled their ancestral homes in droves 20 years ago after a bloody rebellion broke out against New Delhi’s rule in India's only Muslim-majority state.

Now encouraged by the sharp decline in rebel violence across the Himalayan region, authorities have formally launched plans to help Pandits return home.

Will Pandits, who say they "live in exile in different parts of their own country" return to their homeland in Kashmir where two decades of violence has left nothing untouched and brought misery to the scenic region, its people and its once easy-going society?

Hindus and Muslims worship side-by-side in Uttar Pradesh

News stories about Hindu-Muslim relations in India usually stress strains between followers of the two faiths. Here’s a short Reuters video from our partner ANI on Hindus and Muslims worshipping side by side in a temple and a mazar (mausoleum) in Uttar Pradesh state:

India’s defeated Hindu nationalist party faces survival test

advaniRiven by squabbling, India’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will be forced to name a new leader in a crisis that could reshape the main opposition party, strengthening the left and hindering government efforts at financial reforms.

An election defeat in May touched off a leadership struggle and a debate over whether its Hindu-revivalist agenda, once its passport to power, was now irrelevant for younger voters. Moves are underway to replace 81-year-old leader L.K. Advani with someone from a younger generation, but the BJP is struggling to find a candidate who balances its pro-Hindu ideology (“Hindutva”) with its history of pro-market reforms. (Photo: L.K. Advani campaigning, 29 April 2009/Jayanta Shaw)

Narendra Modi, the firebrand chief minister of western Gujarat state whose pro-market image saw leading Indian industrialists float his name as a potential future prime minister, appears to be sidelined. That signals the party is worried about losing the middle ground by boosting Modi, accused of turning a blind eye to religious riots in Gujarat in 2002 in which hundreds of people, mainly Muslims, were killed by mobs.

Indians add green touch to religious festivals

ganesha-11 (Photo: Procession with Ganesha statue in Mumbai, 15 Aug, 2009/Punit Paranjpe)

Few events can rival the ancient rituals and riotous color of India’s religious festivals. This year, the months-long celebration season is also becoming eco-friendly.  Alarmed by the high levels of pollution caused by firecrackers, toxic paints and idols made of non-recyclable material, schools, environmentalists and some states are encouraging “greener” celebrations.

In Mumbai, where the 10-day festival for the elephant-headed Ganesha (the Hindu deity of prosperity) is underway with giant, colored idols and noisy street parties, radio and TV stations are airing environmental messages and school children are learning to make eco-friendly idols.

The statues, made of brightly painted plaster of Paris, are usually immersed in the sea or a lake after a lively procession that can sometimes take half a day to navigate the choked streets, and which ultimately leaves dismembered idols strewn along the shore.

Dry spell casts pall over Ramadan in India

foodseller (Photo: Food sellers on Ramadan evening near old Delhi’s Jama Masjid (Grand Mosque), 23 Aug 2009/Parth Sanyal)

For Imrat Salaam, the holy month of Ramadan couldn’t have come at a tougher time: India’s weakest monsoon in decades has hiked food prices, and her eldest son, the main breadwinner, lost his job in the economic downturn.

The start of the fasting month, the holiest in the Muslim calendar and which began on Saturday in most countries, is usually a joyful occasion, but the mood at the Salaam household in Delhi’s old quarters is somber, as the family is unable to put together a decent meal to break their day-long fast.