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Book Review

The Greed for Oil
Reviewed by: Yoginder Sikand
Oil Crusades: America Through Arab Eyes
Author: Abdulhay Yahya Zalloum
Publisher: Pluto Press, London
Year: 2007
Pages: 231


This book does a remarkable job of presenting, in succinct form, the basic contours of American foreign policy vis-a-vis the Arab world and subjecting that policy to vigorous critique. The author, a noted international oil consultant, marshals facts and figures to argue that American foreign policy is the single most deadly factor responsible for the ongoing conflicts in the Arab world and for growing anti-American sentiments in the Muslim world.

War, the author shows, is central to sustaining America’s bloated capitalist economy. It is thus not an aberration, but, rather, the rule. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Western ideologues and political leaders deliberately sought to project Islam as the new ‘enemy’ of the West to justify massive increases in spending on armaments and efforts to expand Western hegemony in the name of defending ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’.

This, says the author, has come at an enormous cost. On the domestic front, the series of wars that the US is engaged in, in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere, has meant a sharp curtail of civil liberties, and an economic crisis of unprecedented proportions with massive increases in government spending on financing its foreign imperialist offensives. On the external front, it has meant rising anti-American sentiments, particularly, but not only, among Muslims. It has caused tragic loss of life on an unimaginable scale. The West’s seeming unquenchable thirst for oil has led to the fiasco in Iraq, which, causing the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians, has further inflamed Muslim passions against Western aggression.

In addition to the West’s insatiable greed for oil, the author writes, is the enormous, and growing, clout of extreme right-wing Christian evangelical groups, fired by a theology of hate and perpetual war waged in the name of Jesus Christ. Such groups have powerful allies and spokesmen in the present American administration, and George Bush is one of them. Believing in the supremacy of Christianity and the bizarre notion that they alone possess access to God, all others being, so they claim, doomed to everlasting damnation in Hell, they are one of the fiercest backers of America’s imperialist offensives in large parts of the Muslim world.

No analysis of American foreign policy in relation to the Arab world can be complete without taking into account the central role that Israel and pro-Zionist lobbies play in shaping this policy. The book provides detailed references in this regard—to the role of pro-Israel organisations in America in influencing American domestic and foreign policies, to the close links between American and Israel secret services agencies, to the massive amounts of aid that Israel receives from the American government and various American charities, much of which is used to wage war against the Palestinians. Ironically, the author points out, although without elaborating, this might not have been possible, at least not to the same extent, had oil-rich Arab regimes such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, clients of the USA, had not helped keep the bankrupt American economy afloat with their massive recycling of petrodollars back to America.

In conclusion, the author rightly stresses that solving some of the most intractable ongoing conflicts in the Arab world require a drastic change in American foreign policy, for that is a key factor in their genesis. Furthermore, he suggests, this also requires genuine democratisation of Arab states that are ruled by dictatorial cliques kept in power by America, despite the American rhetoric of defending ‘democracy’.


Dispelling Myths
Reviewed by: Nasir Khan
Madrasa Reforms—Indian Muslim Voices
Edited by: Yoginder Sikand
Published by: Vikas Adhyayan Kendra, Mumbai (www.vakindia.org)
Year: 2008
Price: Rs. 100


What exactly needs to be reformed in the present system of madrasa education? Why? How? And, equally importantly, who should take on the responsibility for this? These are issues that are being hotly debated today in the media, in policy-making circles and also among Muslim scholars, including the ulema of the madrasas themselves. Because in India most ulema write in Urdu, their voices are not heard outside a narrow circle of Urdu readers, who are almost wholly Muslim. Consequently, their views on the entire gamut on issues related to the question of madrasa reforms generally go unheard of in the so-called Indian ‘mainstream’ media. This book, a collection of interviews by Yoginder Sikand with almost two dozen Muslim scholars, mostly ulema and graduates of madrasas, highlights the little known and even less understood ongoing debates within Muslim circles about the reform of traditional madrasa education. As the noted Islamic scholar-activist Asghar Ali Engineer rightly remarks in his preface to this work, ‘The book will help dispel many myths about madrasa education in India’.

The scholars whose views are contained in this book, in the form of in-depth interviews, represent a variety of schools of thought. They include two graduates of the Dar ul-Ulum Deoband, two from the Nadwat ul-Ulema, Lucknow, one Firanghi Mahali, three from an Ahl-e Hadith background, four from institutions associated with the Jamaat-e Islami, and two leading Shia ulema, besides some Islamic scholars who have not studied in madrasas themselves but who write extensively on Islamic issues, including on the madrasas. Most of these scholars are well-known figures in the field of Indian Muslim scholarship. They include Maulana Salman Husaini Nadwi of the Nadwat ul-Ulema, the Lucknow-based Shia scholar, Maulana Kalbe Sadiq, the Jamaat-e Islami scholar and noted Islamic economist, Muhammad Nejatullah Siddiqui, Maulana Muhammad Fazlur Rahim Mujadiddi, the rector of the Jamiat ul-Hidaya, Jaipur, one of India’s most innovative madrasas that combines traditional Islamic and modern education, the noted Deobandi scholar and senior leader of the All-India Milli Council, Maulana Asrar ul-Haq Qasmi, the prolific Delhi-based writer Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, and the editor of the official organ of the Deoband madrasa’s Old Boys Association, Maulana Waris Mazhari. Other noted India Muslim scholars interviewed in this book, but who are not themselves trained ulema, include Professor Akhtar ul-Wasey, Head of the Department of Islamic Studies at the Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, Zafar ul-Islam Khan, editor of the popular Delhi-based Muslim fortnightly Milli Gazette, one of the few Indian Muslim magazines in English, and the well-known Mumbai-based Islamic scholar Asghar Ali Engineer. In addition, the book also contains lively interviews with half a dozen young graduates of madrasas who have also studied in universities and who are now working in capacities other than as traditional ulema, including in such fields as documentary film-making and journalism. In this sense, the book departs from much of the existing writings on madrasas, which tend to focus almost exclusively on just one or the other school of Islamic thought and on traditional ulema who have little or no exposure to alternate forms and systems of education.

A major demand on the part of these scholars is that madrasas should introduce at least a basic modicum of ‘modern’ subjects, particularly social sciences and English, in their curriculum. They offer various arguments for this. Some stress that Islam does not recognise any strict division between religion (din) and this world (duniya). Indeed, they argue, in Islam this world is regarded as the arena where religion and religious commitment must be played out, and that it is a ‘field’ for the Hereafter. Several of the scholars whose voices are highlighted in the book also call for reforms in the ways in which madrasas perceive or relate to the outside world: to fellow Muslims, including Muslims of other sects, non-Muslims, women, and to the state.

This book makes a very valuable contribution to our understanding of madrasa education in India, particularly concerning the issue of madrasa reforms. It is thus indispensable reading for all those interested in the subject. It well deserves to be translated into local languages, most specially Urdu, so that it can benefit the ulema as well.