Categories
Commentaries

Review: Voices of Resistance: Muslim Women on War, Faith & Sexuality

Voices of Resistance: Muslim Women on War, Faith & Sexuality. Sarah Husain, ed. 320 pages, 2006, $16.95 (paper) Seal Press, Emeryville, CA

(Previously published in Postcolonial Text Vol. 3   (2) 2007)

The metropolitan representation of Muslim women is invariably couched in the language of victimhood. It seems that female Muslim subjects have never been able to transcend the passive state of existence allotted to them in the metropolitan imaginary. The burqa-clad Afghan women became emblems of suffering requiring the U.S post-9/11 invasion of Afghanistan. Thus, it seems that the alleviation of female victimhood still serves as a convincing legitimizing strategy for imperial wars. Lost in this whole process of imperial design and native patriarchy are the very voices of the so-called recipients of imperial benevolence: the Muslim women.

Sarah Husain’s timely anthology intervenes in this discourse and inserts hitherto silenced voices of Muslim women as agents who speak for themselves. The book is divided into four parts followed by an Afterword by Miriam Cooke, a renowned scholar in the field of Muslim Women Studies. Combining poems, short stories, essays, letters, and art work, the collection lets Muslim women formulate their diverse, often conflicting, views of the Islamic as well as the Western world. Cooke calls the contributions “brave writings” (261) that challenge the status quo both within the Islamic world and the metropolitan West.

Husain informs us of the multivalent scope of this collection in her candid and eloquent introduction. She declares that for the Muslim women “the struggles we face today are not just limited to those against colonial legacies and its inherited regimes of control, or against today’s imperial war, but. . . also. . . the struggles we face within our own ‘Muslim’ communities, our families, our homes—indeed the struggles within ourselves” (3). It is within this complex view of the Muslim female identity that most of the contributors to the anthology express themselves.

While all the contributions are worthy of note, in the interest of brevity, I will include only a few examples. Not surprisingly, Part One, (UN) NAMING WARS, starts with a poem entitled “Woman” by S.N, a South-Asian poet and writer. Written in a patriarchal voice, the poem displays the prejudices that manifest themselves upon women’s bodies, for the woman’s body, in the poem’s male perspective, “is for us to mark our territory/and to conduct our wars” (20). Anida Yoeu’s “The Day After: A Cento Based on Hate Crimes Filed Shortly after 9/11” chronicles various individual and communal acts of hate in the U.S against the bodies, minds, and sacred sites of Muslims. The most moving account combines an act of public hatred with social apathy, a recipe for larger racial tragedies:

Two women at a bagel store.
Woman attacked for wearing a Quranic charm around her neck.
Attacker lunges,
yells, “look what your people have done to my people.”
No one in the store tried to help.
The owner apologized to the attackers for any inconvenience. (25-26)

Part Two of the book, WITNESSING ACTS, includes work that provides a testimony to the impact of native patriarchy and imperial wars on the bodies of women, while also articulating women’s resistance to all these powerful dictates. Shahrzad Naficy’s “On Loan to the Public,” a story “inspired by a glimpse of two orphans in Afghanistan on CNN” (111) plays with the idea of public display of Third World victimhood, and makes us privy to the thoughts and suffering of her protagonist, a female-child rape victim. The narrator’s references to happy childhood scenes elsewhere render her experience even more heartbreaking and also serve as testimony to her courage in intolerable circumstances.

Part Three, (UN) NAMING FAITHS/UNCLAIMING NATIONS, complicates the two major signifiers of identity: religion and nationalism. The works included in this part provide insightful critique of the nation and religion as imagined by Muslim women themselves and not by their Western benefactors. The critique of religion employs the very language of faith that has often been the medium through which the native Muslim patriarchy has articulated women’s place in Islamic societies. In a moving essay at the end of this section entitled “Infinite and Everywhere! My Kaleidoscopic Identity,” Mansha Parven Mirza captures the traumas, trials and ambivalences of maintaining a hybrid identity in a world obsessed with cultural and religious purities. Challenging the purists, she ends her essay with this courageous statement: “For those who cannot deal with the likes of me, tough luck! I’m here to stay, and this time I won’t drift away” (213).

Part Four, RE-CLAIMING OUR BODIES/RE-CLAIMING OUR SEXUALITIES, deals with, as is obvious, women’s bodies and sexuality, most sensitive subjects in Muslim societies. The challenge to a stereotypical view of the Muslim womanhood becomes obvious in a few lines of Nor Faridah Abdul Manaf’s poem “The Veil, My Body”:

It’s just a piece of cloth

But after Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Maluku, Kosovo

This is all I have. (246)

The Muslim female identity is constructed within the larger imperatives of native patriarchy and the international power politics, and in such a complex scenario any reading of the female Muslim subject will have to be much more nuanced and complex. Voices of Resistance brilliantly places itself in between the two extremes of politics of representation—the West and the Islamic East—and lets the female Muslim subject speak for herself. The collection, besides being interesting for a non-academic reader, will be a useful text in fields as diverse as literature, politics, cultural studies, women studies and studies of gender.

(Also published by Reads4Pleasure)

Categories
Commentaries Education

An Interview with Fayyaz Baqir, Director Akhter Hameed Khan Resource Center, Pakistan

Fayyaz Baqir

Interview contributed by Maggie Ronkin, Georgetown University

Q1. Could you share a brief history of the kind of work you did before joining the Akhter Hameed Khan Resource Center?
In 1968, I joined the struggle for social change in Pakistan as a campus activist at Punjab University, Lahore. I hailed from an extremely conservative religious family in Multan and my father was Ameer of Jamaa’t Islami Multan (an extreme right wing religious political party). He taught me to be rational, disciplined, honest, and hard working. However, my compassion for the downtrodden and sinners urged me to seek new avenues for serving humanity. At the age of 17, I turned into a fire brand communist and organized the largest left wing students’ organization in the Punjab, which was known as the Nationalist Students Organization. I was its Chief Convener in early 1970s. Soon after graduating from the University, I joined the South Asian Institute and chose research and teaching as my career. In 1979, Pakistan’s popular elected Prime Minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, was hanged by the military dictator General Zia ul Haq. After Bhutto’s death, several cases were registered against me in different police stations of the Punjab on charges of sedition, inciting people to rebellion, and disturbing law and order. The police raided various places to arrest me, and they locked up my brother when they failed to find me.

I went into self exile in 1980 and lived in North America for the next seven years. During this period, I gradually got disillusioned with Marxist politics. My stay in North America enriched my life and understanding of human potential, but my thirst for finding the truth kept me restless. In spite of my intense and short-lived love affairs with socialism, capitalism, and other contemporary rationalist ideologies I always thought there was something missing in all these ideologies. There was something wrong in their assessment of human potential. In 1986, I happened to meet a Sufi teacher and my life changed forever. Sufism is based on sound understanding of human limitations and brings into play human potential through love, compassion, tolerance, and infinite faith in Allah’s mercy. Sufis kindle the light of hope in the lives of the wretched of earth. Sufi thinking is nicely captured in a statement of the great Sufi Master Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jilani. Shaikh once was asked that if his good disciples will go to paradise, what will happen to his bad disciples. The Shaikh replied, “My good disciples love me and I love my bad disciples.” Akhter Hameed Khan followed the same thinking in working for social change. Through his love, wisdom, and knowledge, he lit up thousands of hearts with the glow of hope, self confidence, self pride, and passion for change.

Q.2 Can you briefly discuss the Center’s mission and its major accomplishments.

The Akhter Hameed Khan Resource Center (AHKRC) in Islamabad is a repository of knowledge on rural development and poverty alleviation. It was established to commemorate the life-long services of the great development activist Dr. Akhter Hameed Khan. The Center’s main objectives are to accumulate, generate, and disseminate research-based knowledge for policy advocacy with the government, influence public opinion, create reading materials for higher education, and assist policy makers and CSOs  (Civil Society Organizations) in future programming.

The principal objective of the AHKRC is to promote a macro and micro level understanding of the causes and processes of change in the rural areas of the south in general and in Pakistan in particular. The purposes of stressing this objective are to promote the use of such understanding to develop and/or support rural development initiatives and programmes; to influence government, donor, media, and NGO policies; and to facilitate necessary human resource development to make all this possible.

AHKRC is supporting the International Islamic University (IIU) in running a masters’ degree Programme on Rural Development, and the Director of AHKRC is represented on IIU’s Board of Studies. Recently, AHKRC also formed a unique partnership with Maggie Ronkin at Georgetown University and Nadeem Akbar, Islamabad Director of the American Institute of Pakistan Studies, to create a videoconferenced summer course for US-based undergraduates on Justice and Peace in Pakistan in 2010.

AHKRC has started a research group to support the work of leading scholars from local universities who seek to understand and analyze development programmes led by development icons from Pakistan. The goals achieved by the support will include reviewing literature on the programmes; formulating research questions in consultation with practitioners; consolidating and analyzing existing data and collecting additional data in light of the research questions; undertaking comparisons with similar programmes, and anchoring the research process in the field.

AHKRC facilitated the publication of Shoaib Sultan Khan’s book “Aga Khan Rural Support Programme: A Journey through Grass Roots Development” and the Urdu translation of “Rural Development in Pakistan” by Oxford University Press in 2009 and 2010. The Center plans to publish a volume commemorating Dr. Khan’s remarkable intellectual, social, and literary achievements and “RSPs–Growth and Change” by Mahmood Hassan Khan in 2010. The Director and AHKRC-affiliated scholars are widely published in national and international research journals. The Director received UNDP’s award for being one of the ten most prolific contributors to the Global Poverty Reduction Network in 2008 and 2009.

Q3. What prompted you to this kind of work?

Pakistan allocates much less of its GDP to social development than do other countries at the same level of income. A large part of this modest budget is not even spent during each financial year. The amount which is spent produces much lower results than its potential. This low performance is not due to lack of resources. It is caused by the lack of administrative infrastructure below the district level, the disconnect between the socio-economic reality of the poor and technical solutions of the formal sector, and the progressive deterioration of the government’s planning capacity. There is no social infrastructure below the district level to fill the gap caused by the absence of administrative infrastructure.

However, during the past 25 years, some very innovative experiments by CSOs have created the possibility of replicating their successful experiments by government and NGOs on a large scale. This, in turn, has produced the need to create a repository of knowledge on sustainable social development. I believe deeply in the effectiveness of discourses of knowledge in solving human problems, which cannot be handled by discourses of power. AHKRC offered me the opportunity to undertake this work. The opportunity, in fact, is why I resigned from a position with the UN and joined AHKRC.

Q4. Are there any particular experiences that you would like to share with our readers?

From my school days, I grew up with friends who belonged to the working class–sons of street vendors, donkey cart drivers, bicycle mechanics, wood cutters, and domestic servants. Most of them were very bright, hard working, intelligent, and well behaved. As I started moving to higher levels of study, many began to drop out of school because they had to help their parents earn a living. It made me very sad at that time and it makes me sad even now. The motivation to turn life around has been with me since. However, my Sufi teachers as well Dr. Akhter Hameed Khan made me realize that profound and meaningful change begins with self-change. The importance of this teaching is ignored by most revolutionary and political ideologies. All authoritarian and extremist ideologies overlook this truth and use enormous force to “change” others. That gives rise to intolerance, violence, and extremism. I was attracted to the work of Dr. Akhter Hameed Khan because it helps me to be what I am. He taught people humility, simplicity, hard work, patience, love, and care through his personal example.

Q5. How did you get involved in the course on Justice and Peace in Pakistan?

Maggie Ronkin

I met Maggie Ronkin through Nadeem Akbar last year, and she shared her vision of starting a course to open channels of communication between undergraduates on North American campuses and Pakistani civil society. This idea touched my heart. The need to do away with stereotyping by means of both Pakistani and American images is equally important. Pakistan is an amazing melting pot like the USA, and both societies need to understand each other well. Pakistan is a very diverse, vibrant, and complex country brimming with talent. It has a rich cultural heritage and has been at the crossroads of many civilizations–Arab, Persian, Chinese, Central Asian, European, and Hindu. Pakistanis’ broad mindedness, hospitality, and enormous capacity to assimilate positive external influences is not widely known in the Western world. The commercialization and sensationalism of the media has largely strengthened and perpetuated negative stereotyping of Pakistanis. This has severely hampered the potential for meaningful interaction between Pakistanis and people in other parts of the world. Not only is this Pakistan’s loss; it is the loss of the entire global community. We must make efforts to change the situation in both nations’ schooling, because reducing human choices for interaction reduces human freedom.

Please visit our website on Justice and Peace in Pakistan at http://www.justpak.com and spread the word about our summer course!

Categories
Commentaries Culture

An Interview with Fayyaz Baqir, Director Akhter Hameed Khan Resource Center, Pakistan

Fayyaz Baqir

Interview contributed by Maggie Ronkin, Georgetown University

Q1. Could you share a brief history of the kind of work you did before joining the Akhter Hameed Khan Resource Center?
In 1968, I joined the struggle for social change in Pakistan as a campus activist at Punjab University, Lahore. I hailed from an extremely conservative religious family in Multan and my father was Ameer of Jamaa’t Islami Multan (an extreme right wing religious political party). He taught me to be rational, disciplined, honest, and hard working. However, my compassion for the downtrodden and sinners urged me to seek new avenues for serving humanity. At the age of 17, I turned into a fire brand communist and organized the largest left wing students’ organization in the Punjab, which was known as the Nationalist Students Organization. I was its Chief Convener in early 1970s. Soon after graduating from the University, I joined the South Asian Institute and chose research and teaching as my career. In 1979, Pakistan’s popular elected Prime Minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, was hanged by the military dictator General Zia ul Haq. After Bhutto’s death, several cases were registered against me in different police stations of the Punjab on charges of sedition, inciting people to rebellion, and disturbing law and order. The police raided various places to arrest me, and they locked up my brother when they failed to find me.

I went into self-exile in 1980 and lived in North America for the next seven years. During this period, I gradually got disillusioned with Marxist politics. My stay in North America enriched my life and understanding of human potential, but my thirst for finding the truth kept me restless. In spite of my intense and short-lived love affairs with socialism, capitalism, and other contemporary rationalist ideologies I always thought there was something missing in all these ideologies. There was something wrong in their assessment of human potential. In 1986, I happened to meet a Sufi teacher and my life changed forever. Sufism is based on sound understanding of human limitations and brings into play human potential through love, compassion, tolerance, and infinite faith in Allah’s mercy. Sufis kindle the light of hope in the lives of the wretched of earth. Sufi thinking is nicely captured in a statement of the great Sufi Master Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jilani. Shaikh once was asked that if his good disciples will go to paradise, what will happen to his bad disciples. The Shaikh replied, “My good disciples love me and I love my bad disciples.” Akhter Hameed Khan followed the same thinking in working for social change. Through his love, wisdom, and knowledge, he lit up thousands of hearts with the glow of hope, self-confidence, self-pride, and passion for change.

Q.2 Can you briefly discuss the Center’s mission and its major accomplishments.

The Akhter Hameed Khan Resource Center (AHKRC) in Islamabad is a repository of knowledge on rural development and poverty alleviation. It was established to commemorate the life-long services of the great development activist Dr. Akhter Hameed Khan. The Center’s main objectives are to accumulate, generate, and disseminate research-based knowledge for policy advocacy with the government, influence public opinion, create reading materials for higher education, and assist policy makers and CSOs  (Civil Society Organizations) in future programming.

The principal objective of the AHKRC is to promote a macro and micro level understanding of the causes and processes of change in the rural areas of the south in general and in Pakistan in particular. The purposes of stressing this objective are to promote the use of such understanding to develop and/or support rural development initiatives and programmes; to influence government, donor, media, and NGO policies; and to facilitate necessary human resource development to make all this possible.

AHKRC is supporting the International Islamic University (IIU) in running a masters’ degree Programme on Rural Development, and the Director of AHKRC is represented on IIU’s Board of Studies. Recently, AHKRC also formed a unique partnership with Maggie Ronkin at Georgetown University and Nadeem Akbar, Islamabad Director of the American Institute of Pakistan Studies, to create a videoconferenced summer course for US-based undergraduates on Justice and Peace in Pakistan in 2010.

AHKRC has started a research group to support the work of leading scholars from local universities who seek to understand and analyze development programmes led by development icons from Pakistan. The goals achieved by the support will include reviewing literature on the programmes; formulating research questions in consultation with practitioners; consolidating and analyzing existing data and collecting additional data in light of the research questions; undertaking comparisons with similar programmes, and anchoring the research process in the field.

AHKRC facilitated the publication of Shoaib Sultan Khan’s book “Aga Khan Rural Support Programme: A Journey through Grass Roots Development” and the Urdu translation of “Rural Development in Pakistan” by Oxford University Press in 2009 and 2010. The Center plans to publish a volume commemorating Dr. Khan’s remarkable intellectual, social, and literary achievements and “RSPs–Growth and Change” by Mahmood Hassan Khan in 2010. The Director and AHKRC-affiliated scholars are widely published in national and international research journals. The Director received UNDP’s award for being one of the ten most prolific contributors to the Global Poverty Reduction Network in 2008 and 2009.

Q3. What prompted you to this kind of work?

Pakistan allocates much less of its GDP to social development than do other countries at the same level of income. A large part of this modest budget is not even spent during each financial year. The amount which is spent produces much lower results than its potential. This low performance is not due to lack of resources. It is caused by the lack of administrative infrastructure below the district level, the disconnect between the socio-economic reality of the poor and technical solutions of the formal sector, and the progressive deterioration of the government’s planning capacity. There is no social infrastructure below the district level to fill the gap caused by the absence of administrative infrastructure.

However, during the past 25 years, some very innovative experiments by CSOs have created the possibility of replicating their successful experiments by government and NGOs on a large scale. This, in turn, has produced the need to create a repository of knowledge on sustainable social development. I believe deeply in the effectiveness of discourses of knowledge in solving human problems, which cannot be handled by discourses of power. AHKRC offered me the opportunity to undertake this work. The opportunity, in fact, is why I resigned from a position with the UN and joined AHKRC.

Q4. Are there any particular experiences that you would like to share with our readers?

From my school days, I grew up with friends who belonged to the working class–sons of street vendors, donkey cart drivers, bicycle mechanics, wood cutters, and domestic servants. Most of them were very bright, hard working, intelligent, and well behaved. As I started moving to higher levels of study, many began to drop out of school because they had to help their parents earn a living. It made me very sad at that time and it makes me sad even now. The motivation to turn life around has been with me since. However, my Sufi teachers as well Dr. Akhter Hameed Khan made me realize that profound and meaningful change begins with self-change. The importance of this teaching is ignored by most revolutionary and political ideologies. All authoritarian and extremist ideologies overlook this truth and use enormous force to “change” others. That gives rise to intolerance, violence, and extremism. I was attracted to the work of Dr. Akhter Hameed Khan because it helps me to be what I am. He taught people humility, simplicity, hard work, patience, love, and care through his personal example.

Q5.  How did you get involved in the course on Justice and Peace in Pakistan?

Maggie Ronkin

I met Maggie Ronkin through Nadeem Akbar last year, and she shared her vision of starting a course to open channels of communication between undergraduates on North American campuses and Pakistani civil society. This idea touched my heart. The need to do away with stereotyping by means of both Pakistani and American images is equally important. Pakistan is an amazing melting pot like the USA, and both societies need to understand each other well. Pakistan is a very diverse, vibrant, and complex country brimming with talent. It has a rich cultural heritage and has been at the crossroads of many civilizations–Arab, Persian, Chinese, Central Asian, European, and Hindu. Pakistanis’ broad mindedness, hospitality, and enormous capacity to assimilate positive external influences is not widely known in the West. The commercialization and sensationalism of the media has largely strengthened and perpetuated negative stereotyping of Pakistanis. This has severely hampered the potential for meaningful interaction between Pakistanis and people in other parts of the world. Not only is this Pakistan’s loss; it is the loss of the entire global community. We must make efforts to change the situation in both nations’ schooling, because reducing human choices for interaction reduces human freedom.

Please visit our website on Justice and Peace in Pakistan at http://www.justpak.com and spread the word about our summer course!

Categories
Commentaries Politics

Rawalpindi Bombing–Close to Home

Policemen_secure_the_site_7941
Image borrowed from The Nation, Pakistan

Yesterday’s bombing of the National Bank was so close to my home that had I been there I would have felt the tremor and heard the blast from my room. What the newspapers have failed to mention is that this particular bank branch primarily dealt with the pension accounts of army retirees. So, most of the people killed were probably those who had served their country honorably and were there to collect their monthly pension: my own pension account is (was) also in this  branch. So, in a way the bombs hit home in more than one way for me.

We should also know that quite a few people go to this bank branch to collect the pensions for widows and spouses of retired/fallen army soldiers. Thus, the bomb killed those whose personal lives, in one way or the other, were linked to serving their country. This is the true face of Taliban: the killers of women, children, and defenseless retirees. If this is how they deal with their so-called enemies, what can we construe from this? What kind of an ‘Islamic’ system will they implement if they were given this chance? Would their justice system be based on the same principle of dearth, torture, and total disregard of human life?

A bigger question that we must now ask of these bearded cowards is simply this: What kind of a Jihad is this? And which book are they reading to understand it? For as for as I am concerned there is nothing Islamic about this kind of cowardly war. And if all these idiots are so interested in fighting, why aren’t they in in the mountains? it should not be hard to find thirty thousand Pakistan soldiers to match their own jihadist  vigor with. Or maybe, for these cowards, unsuspecting, defenseless civilians are a better target.

While this is a tragedy for us and for the city of Rawalpindi, this incident should also be added to the Taliban and Alqaeda “Roll of Shame.”

Categories
Commentaries Editorials Religion

Climbing Mount Hira

The Prophet and His Message : “Force when necessary, love all the time.”

(Naguib Mahfooz)

photo-thumbOn a hot July afternoon in 1991, I climbed Mount Hira. Compared to towering Himalayas of Pakistan, Hira is no giant, but the climb was made hard by my pilgrim’s sandals and the intense heat. It is a barren, forbidding mountain, a place to go to if you want to be alone. After about an hour’s climb I reached the hidden cave: cave of Hira. I had probably traced the footsteps of the prophet who used to climb this mountain to seek solace in the womb of the cave. This is where he walked, the last of the prophets, the orphan, the perfect being, the savior of all worlds, known and unknown. The experience was elating and terrifying: it is not easy to walk the path of the prophets. When you reach the cave, you have to stoop low to enter; there is place only for one person in there. Entering the cave is like leaving the world behind, like entering a parallel universe. I prayed there, two rakkat’s of naf’l. And then it struck me: I have probably rested my forehead at the very spot where the prophet might have, fourteen hundred years ago. This is where it all began, fourteen hundred years ago. A man entered the cave as a deeply troubled, introspective forty-year old, and came out as the savior of the universe. Quite a transformation.
In that cave one evening, the Muslim historians inform us, Angel Gibreel, God’s messenger to the prophets, revealed himself to Muhammad. The prophet was terrified, for the angel’s stature covered the entire universe, North, South, the East and the West. And then Gibreel said the most profound words in human history. He said: Iqra, read! “I am unlettered and cannot read” the prophet replied. Gibreel said again: Iqra bisme rabbe kalla zi khalaq, Read in the name of your God, who created you! The prophet repeated the verses, which became the first installment of a revelation that would last for twenty three years and would eventually become the Qur’an. We know this story, for it is included in all our records. But there is another part of it that we mention in our histories, but then chose to forget.
When the prophet left the cave that evening, he was shocked. He had seen and experienced something unbelievable; he had been given a burden that the “mountains had refused to carry.” So when the prophet reached his home, he was shaking. It was Khadija-tul-Kubra, his wife, who reassured him, who covered him in a blanket, consoled him and gave him her seal of acceptance, she said la takhaf, don’t be afraid. This is the story, for when the prophet of God was unsure of his mission and terrified of having faced the unthinkable, the kind words of Khadija restored his confidence in himself: she was the first convert to Islam. Let us not forget that. It was also Khadija’s wealth that enabled the prophet to focus more on the inner turmoil instead of wasting his energies on the day-to-day struggles of existence. Let us not forget that either.
The Saudis, who discourage pilgrims from climbing Mount Hira, will have you believe that the only true Islam is the one sanctioned by their King and their Mullahs. Don’t believe that either, for in Islam there is no room for absolute kings, nor is there any place for self-appointed interpreters of the tradition. The Saudis will also have you believe that women need to be secluded, hidden, and silenced, and that men have a right to have four wives as long as they can provide for them. The Saudis will have you believe all these things because through the accident of time and space, they have somehow ended up with the custodianship of the holiest places of Islam, which gives their assertions greater legitimacy. But find me a justification for hereditary kingship in the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the prophet, and I will probably hear them out.
So what was Muhammad’s message? What’s the essence of it? Where to look for it? What was he sent for as last of the prophets? The Qur’an tells us that Muhammad was sent as a gift to the world as Rehmatul-lil-Aalameen, as blessing to all the worlds. This means that for all practical purposes his example is the one that every Muslim must cherish and emulate. His main message was to remind the world of one basic truth: La ilaha illallah he Muamad ar rasulallah, there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet. These are the two basic conditions for becoming a Muslim: There is but one God and that Muhammad is his prophet. A belief in God is inextricably liked with a belief in Muhaammad’s prophethood, and hence by extension the more prophet-like a Muslim is the better Muslim he or she becomes. Foregrounding the prophet serves an important function: it makes the relationship of humans and God, a relationship of love and not fear, for Muhammad, after all, is God’s Mehboob, His beloved. The Sufis understood this, and their branch of Islam is full of love, the Saudis have eliminated this from their tradition, hence the harshness of their world-view. I will say Muhammad’s message was love: Love of humankind.