Islamic Voice A Monthly English Magazine

SHAWWAL 1424 H
December 2003
Volume 16-12 No : 204
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Shackled Press, suppressed voices
Signs of the times
Why this haste?

Shackled Press, suppressed voices

By Maqbool Ahmed Siraj

TScribes world over received early last month the 'World Press Freedom Ranking', the report prepared after second such exercise by the 'Reporters Without Borders', a Paris based organisation. Where do the Muslim societies (read nations) stand when it comes to freedom of the press. The latest makes a sad reading. It has judged 166 world nations for their status of freedom of the press with no. 1 being the most free and no. 166 for the least free. Only two Muslim countries, both in Europe namely Albania and Bosnia-Hercegovina find a place among the nations ranked between first and the 50th. As we know, both threw away the yoke of Communism only a decade ago. Going by this, this ranking achieved during the short span of time must be held creditable. Barring African nations of Mali and Niger which stand at 57 and 68, no other Muslim country figures till 100. Surprisingly Gulf Sheikhdom Kuwait is placed at 102 followed by Nigeria (103), Kyrgyzstan (104), Malaysia (105), Algeria (108), Egypt (110), Indonesia (111) and several others. Curiously, India and Pakistan figures at 128 and 129. Given our own experiment with India, the placing seems highly unfair. Azerbaijan, Tajiskistan, Qatar, Turkey, Bahrain, Mauritania, the UAE, Jordan and of all places, Iraq have all ranked ahead of India. Saudi Arabia is placed at 156 and Iran is further down at 160. Readers would naturally be curious to know as to where the champions of freedom of the media, nations of the West, find a place. It is not the United States of A that ranks on the top. It occupies the 32nd position, much behind countries like Jamaica, Estonia, Lithuania, Hungary, and even Timor-Leste. First few places have been taken by the Scandinavian countries. Even the United Kingdom is at 27th place. Israel stands on 44 but its treatment of the press in the Occupied Palestine earns it a second ranking at 146. Similarly, the US treatment of press in the Occupied Iraq earns it a second ranking at 135. Russia has not made any worthwhile progress and still figures at 148. Wealth and developed status has brought no cheer for press in Singapore. The island country continues to downgrade freedom of the press and has a seat at 144th position. The position of Muslim societies is indeed worrying. Several of the oil-rich sheikhdoms have no doubt become rich. But the status of the press keeps them from becoming 'advanced'. Wealth without distributive justice and governance without sense of accountability are bane of these societies. A free press could be a boon in bridging this gap.

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Signs of the times

Itikaf is all about being in close communion with God during the last 10 days of Ramazan. But seizure of mobiles from a host of mu'takif faithfuls revealed that even this most private of rituals is not free from invasive gadgets like the now ubiquitous cell-phones. Interestingly, the faithfuls were found in not merely in communion with God but also in communication with household folk.

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Why this haste?

We all celebrated Eid-ul-Fitr on November 26. But almost the entire Kerala and coastal cities in Karnataka observed the Eid a day earlier i.e., on November 25. This haste defies my understanding of the simple astronomy involved in moon-sighting. The moon was scheduled to set ahead of the sunset on November 24 at least all over the Indian sub-continent. Newspapers of the day bear witness. How could then the narrow nail of the crescent could have been visible to naked eye much after the sunset. It must be an ophthalmic wonder. My astronomer friends testify that there was no scope for the crescent to be visible to the naked human eye before November 25 evening. I therefore strongly suspect that there is more to moon-sighting in Kerala (and by its extension in the entire West coast) than the poor crescent. Are there people vying to align the Islamic calendar in that region with that of the Saudis and the Gulf Arabs? It neither gels with the spirit of the shariah nor with the scientific temper. There is a section of the opinion among the Muslim astronomers that even Saudis err grossly in determining the visibility of the moon and most often confuse the new moon with the birth of the moon which in their calculation coincides with the dark night (amavas as it is called in India). It has to be admitted that mere synchronization of Eid-ul-Fitr cannot be sufficient to achieve the universal brotherhood among Muslims. Somewhere the ummah is downgrading the scientific temper and chasing the fašade of solidarity with the Saudis. That this should tempt them to break away from their own compatriots is unfortunate. I being no expert in astronomy, hold no opinion. What is more urgent and imperative is that we develop a scientific temper and seek the cooperation from experts in order to determine the visibility of the crescent. There can be parallel efforts to unify and universalize the Islamic calendar too. But such an exercise needs to be led by experts and astrophysicists. Not the ignoramuses, whatever nationality they might belong to.

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