Letters to the Editor
Suggestions and Criticism
Sana Nooreen, via email
Young Muslim Digest seems to be an honest effort at a tremendous responsibility. I am, therefore, not surprised that the magazine has not fared quite so well. I have been its reader since six years; its continued deterioration is a cause of worry. It has miles to go to even come to a recognizably modest standard. The issue of June 2006, for example, was so terrible in print that the ink of text was smudged in nearly every page beyond recognition (especially in every single graphic). This isn’t the exception, but the regular case, rain or no rain.
If rains are ruled out as the cause, then we are driven to claim that the cause of smudging ink could imaginably be humidity; especially in Mumbai where it is high. We Bangalorians start sweating the moment we land in Mumbai. (For other, drier places, we will have to, of course, honestly assign other reasons).
Our printing press has other answers. They say that if you rule out both rain and humidity, then do not blame the machines and the worker in the press for not aligning the paper at second colorful strike. But rather, the true cause of smudged ink could be human tears at the proud production of smudged quality, year after year. Our Ummah, they say, has not forgotten how to shed tears, if it has forgotten how to shed money.
In my family, from being regular readers of the magazine, YMD remains unopened month after month. ‘Bad quality’ is now an understatement. We have moved on to reading magazines like Al-Jumuah and Islamic Voice.
Thus you can note the good thing about us. Either way YMD serves the Ummah. Its content forces your family to buy the magazine, (thus YMD is served) but poor presentation leads them to buy other Islamic magazines, thus they are served.
To bring out my point, all critique is from a single issue of your magazine. I would have provided a wider sampling but I haven’t the time.
Have no time? We can understand it. You are busy, we are busy (preparing the next issue), everybody is so busy. These are busy times.
Nonetheless, a wider sampling of our magazine was not required. We maintain our good quality through and through, month after month.
Muslims have long had a cheap-is-best attitude towards religion owing to their other-worldliness. Religious material was always printed on the worst quality of recycled paper, with the utterly wasted mind-set that religious material should always be distributed free of cost, suitably corresponding with the typically Indian ‘chalta hai’ attitude. While YMD is for sale, its proprietors ignore that something that is valuable is always well-priced. One cannot argue that ‘people would not be able to afford it’. If the Rs. 400 billion fairness cream industry can derive 60% of its profits from lowest classes, one can understand that the poorest people have enough money at their disposal to spend on YMD twice what it is worth now. One can give numerous other examples. In working for an organization that publishes well-planned, quality-controlled and well-priced material (a typical 70 page book with A4 paper costs Rs. 55), we have seen the most significant growth in the lower classes. A child who buys one of our books cherishes it as precious, and makes a point to read it from cover to cover, and absorb its contents. It is time Muslims realized that as with everything else, it is the packaging that matters.
Since the above does not criticize us, directly, everything you write has the possibility of being true. But, that’s our opinion. We are not sure everyone will agree.
I trust YMD realizes that as well, with its efforts to include graphics and cartoons. What is sad is that YMD delivers only half way. The graphics are usually in extremely poor quality, so that it would seem better if they weren’t there at all.
We find that hard to accept because, if we accept that if it is in such poor quality, that: “let the graphics not there be at all,” then, (and since, according to some, paper quality is simply not all the reason) the logic could be extended to smudged black & white pages and said that “if would seem better if YMD weren’t there at all.”
Being active in the intellectual-social arena with well-meaning Muslims, I have come across a plethora of Islamic magazines. All enterprises with an honest effort behind them will eventually prosper. I have seen the growth of many Islamic magazines in India itself, from penniless to rich, thriving journals of significant importance. Sadly YMD has only deteriorated – both in quality of paper and quality of articles. YMD must move with the time in order to make the best of both worlds.
After the attack on the quality of paper has been sufficiently well defended, we will have no difficulty in similarly defending the quality of articles had you cited some specific instances from other than June 06 issue.
[A side note: Please send us the addresses of the Islamic magazines that have grown from “penniless to rich”. We would like to honor them by announcing a suitable award].
Apart from quality, the content of the “Letters” column has serious issues. To begin with, readers have no idea who addresses their queries.
This adds an element of mystery to the column. If you look into successful literature, you will discover that suspense is one element which is skillfully employed to keep the reader pegged to the pages.
Besides that, the fact that the tone and approach frequently admonishes its questioners with a language and tone that is appalling. I have never come across a magazine that assumes the style of a chiding parent. A magazine is not to scold or correct someone’s behaviour, but to provide information.
That is where we part ways with every other school of thought. There are several kinds of magazines: leisure mags., pleasure mags., sports mags., informative mags., educational mags., (though few they are), and so on. Our staff has the instruction to go above all and make YMD a “reformative” mag.
Lecturing, admonishing, chiding, scolding, reproving, reproaching, blaming, disapproving, criticizing, objecting, censuring, lambasting, fault-finding, reprimanding, reprobating, tongue-lashing, rebuking, taunting, et al to the end, are the tools of the reformists.
In this case, it is only to lay out the good and bad, the right and wrong; not to literally scold them. Questions are cut up by editors to incomprehensible pieces with the obvious intent to admonish even more – as indeed I am sure my own letter here will be chopped to shreds which will change the meaning and intent of the original.
We are amazed at the correctness of your prediction.
It might also be obvious to you that the cutting up of the letters carries a bonus. “Divide and rule” is a wonderful tool. You can defeat the purposes of a piece of writing by shredding it to pieces.
But, seriously, you can see the advantage. A letter writer states a dozen points, each of which requires a response. Now, if we answered them point by point, below the letter, the readers will have to go back to the letter at every new paragraph to know what’s going on, that is, what’s the point, and what’s the answer? So, we break apart the letter so that a reader reads the point raised and its answer immediately below.
Earlier we tried to number the points raised, and then answer below in a continuous stretch, referring to points 1, 2, 3 and so on. But that too was cumbersome for the readers.
It might be worth noting that a “Letters to Editor” column is not meant for this purpose in any respectable magazine. Neither is a serious Letters column used for limericks and jokes (for e.g., “…We are reminded of a joke…” YMD Page 5, June 2006).
We are reminded of a story of a few innovative young men in Britain, not long ago, who declared that religious issues need not be so dealt with as to sound dry, serious and dreary. Lack of liveliness, not to say humor (the salt of speech) drives people away from religious materials to trendy magazines. Islamic magazines are, as they say, “so boring.” So, these young men decided to launch a new magazine to present religious material non-pontifically. Let there be fun, humor and laughter, they said.
[You might remember another story of how, after bursting into peals of laughter, first time in her life, Karen Armstrong said good-bye to the Church – ref., “Through the Narrow Gate”].
Back to our story of the young men, their fun ended on a sad note. The magazine did not prosper, despite the favorable response, especially by the youth. The young men might have learnt that bringing out a magazine requires more than the ability to crack a joke.
Responses, on their part, are unduly long and winding. It does not take two examples and one humourous tale for someone to understand a point.
Your complaint against the length of our answers reminds us of another joke. A man was carrying a 6 foot tall, ancestral wall clock on his back for repairs. His clock nudged a lady in the street. She remonstrated angrily: “Why can’t you carry a wristwatch just as everybody does?”
Sometimes the language is inexcusably extreme and informal. What does it say about a magazine that gives its opinion on a genuine concern of the reader in this awful way: “It does (answer the question) by making pooh-pooh of the idea.” I was scandalized, to say the least. On another occasion, it cuts short a question regarding a programme of TV by giving uninvited opinion on Islamic TV channels. Assuming YMD can afford a sheet of paper, it could have addressed the issue in a separate article explaining the what and why. Indeed, as one reader remarked on YMD’s complicated responses: “A simple and straightforward question deserves a simple and straightforward answer.” As for your response to that, I am sufficiently sure that you do not have a team of psychologists and psychoanalysts to guide you on the proper ways of convincing a reader. Indeed, it is not you who convince, Allah does. You can do no more than inform. I have studied psychology at the university level to know that the “psychology” in YMD is no more than pop science. YMD would show wisdom in trying to keep away from replies convincing at the ‘belief’ level’ and ‘psychological’ level, in doing solely what it is capable of doing. In any case, there is more than enough proof on part of eminent psychologists that a reproach does not work for majority of the cases and actually does long-term psychological damage. And since you cannot provide answers (“What would go wrong if the questioners opened up the Quran themselves?”, page 12) – and indeed we can open up the Quran, but that is not why readers ask you. It is not for you to lecture on who can open up the Qur’an and who cannot, for indeed we have our own lives and our own complications, our own urgencies. As a magazine, which does not know these complications, yours is only to provide answers. You obviously HAVE provided surahs in responses to other questions previously.
Your pity for there not being a psychologist or psychoanalyst around us to guide, is a matter of pride for us. Although, we do see some peripheral advantage of these disciplines, God forbid we should ever consult other than the Qur’an and Sunnah for guidance. We seek the assistance of these disciplines as tools for gathering data.
We might also point out with due respect to you, that as far as psychology is concerned, i.e., the Western type of psychology, a few other people have also studied it. Their belief is that insofar as probing the mind is concerned, and bringing out the hidden, this discipline, (along with psychoanalysis), is pretty successful. But when it comes to deciding what to make of the data, the two are failed disciplines. This is a vast topic, and cannot be dismissed in a sentence. But to put it in brief, when they move from the concrete to the abstract, they begin to show signs of mental fatigue. This is because of the atheistic nature of their developers. No surprise, many psychologists and psychiatrists are themselves sick, authoring books moaning their personal mental health.
We have, in contrast, faith in the wisdom that the Qur’an and Sunnah generate.
As for your criticism, we believe it stems from a narrow perspective. Widen your scope, and you will have less to complain of the style of answers in the “Letters to the Editor” column.
Our problem is to correctly judge – through trial and error – how far our readers will go. What is the exact line at which a humorous point, an innocent jibe, a witty suggestion, is perceived as a personal attack?
My suggestion for the improvement of this highly disorganized Letters section is that personal questions should be addressed in a separate section with guaranteed anonymity.
How will guaranteed anonymity affect the disorganized nature?
In any case, anonymity requests are always honored.
Please take this letter in the right spirit. I have spent an hour of my time on this letter not so that you will give me a long explanation and we could just keep sending clarifications back and forth. I need no justifications, it is your magazine and you can run it successfully or badly, it is up to you. As a reader, however, I have tried to tell you what other readers who you know personally may not. I am hoping your response to this letter will not be, “that part is not true,” or “this reader is twisting things”…..but rather, “Let’s see, which of the things mentioned here, can we change? Let’s work on this part. Okay, that is something I’ve been wanting to change too!” You should like to know that by now quite a few of your readers feel frustrated by the YMD’s reactive approach. Let’s hope that in future the magazine adopts a proactive approach, and does not sacrifice quality for quantity.
So, you wanted to lecture, delivered with the directive: “No discussions. I am right. And so are a few with me. So, its time you learn. Don’t even answer. Just change your ways.”
Many of our readers will agree that this kind of directive is only acceptable if it involves Halal and Haram. Where policies are concerned, there can and will always be several opinions, each with its own merit.
Our own findings tell us that there can never be any way you do things that will satisfy all classes of people. There are among the people the arrogant ones educated on Western lines, those who are humble before the truth and do not mind how the truth is stated, those who are extremely sensitive, others who enjoy a good joke, even if it is at their expense, those who are rational, while others sentimental, a few who are proud who cannot hear a remark against them, while others respect authority and know that religion is the other name of Naseeha and obedience to authority. There are others who have already formed their opinions, such as, e.g., “family planning is allowable in Islam.” When they receive an answer in negative, and all their justifications are shred to pieces, they are upset.
Then there are groups, each of which wants to hear what it holds dear: Modernists, Tableeghi, Jama’ati, Deobandi, Salafi, Hanafiyy, Qubooi, Mahdawi, Shi`ah etc., etc.
There are other classes, those educated on modern lines, the traditionalists, the Western-type, the conservatives, the well educated, the so-so type, the poorly educated, and so on. Add to this, the young, old, children, men and women over several continents. To increase complexity, there are the city-men who have no time for anything and so will read headlines, the townsmen who will read a bit more, and countrymen who read from end to end (including advertisements)!
We have amongst our readers: intellectuals, professors (Indian and foreign), engineers, doctors and other professionalists, as well as humbler kind: O God, if you knew how many classes we have to keep in mind while constructing our sentences. For a magazine (and that too with a reformative ambition), each of this class requires to be given something or the other, to keep them on the line. If the communication door is open, there is some chance of a word of truth penetrating through.
Also, while selecting articles, or answering questions, we keep every class, every group in mind, giving everyone a little bit of what he or she will appreciate and enjoy. We feel there are Islamic magazines that are read (for a variety of reasons), but not one which people enjoy reading. Humor, sarcasm, witticism, tongue-in-cheek manner, some taunting, dressed with humor, with a sparkling phrase thrown in here or there, compels thousands of people to read our “Letters”, otherwise, as you know, there is no dearth of Fatwa books, in print and on-line, that offer answers in simple, straightforward manner – the kind of answers you have suggested: “Allowed” or, “Not allowed.”
Indeed, Islamic libraries boast of innumerable works that contain questions and answers to every kind of situation that one can possibly face in real life. But, how many people refer to them? If what appears in our magazine is read (by a tiny minority), it is because we do not answer in that old, cold, protocol, which, although right, sounds boorish to the modern reader.
The ultimate truth that emerges from our discussion, (we look at this column as a platform for discussion), is that we can never accept that there is anything wrong with us, our magazine, our writings, our approach, our style. The form and format you see is dictated by a well-considered policy. But there is another truth that lurks behind: you are a reader, and a reader is always right.
Have a nice day.
Doctors and Dead Saints
Amatul Mohi, via email
Is it advisable to listen to “naatien” in Islam… because most of them contain sentences which defy the power of ALLAH (SWT) or associate someone at par with His qualities or likewise… for instance “bhardo jholi meri ya Muhammed “… isn’t this contradictory to the basic concept of ISLAM – “ONE GOD”.
The sample you have cited is contradictory to the demands of Tawheed. But, the entire class of panegyric poetry called “Na`tein” cannot be so classified, and condemned. The Prophet himself listened to one, the beautiful “Qaseedah Burdah” which starts with the memorable words, “Su`aad has left, and my heart is filled with grief.” (Su`aad is the poet’s beloved damsel).
Also, I find people prostrating in front of tombs – reasons being, that by doing so the concerned will cure him off evil spiritual influence…’ Is this permissible, and are women allowed to do the same? Considering that Muslim women are prohibited from visiting graves. I have confronted most of them in this aspect, told them they should simply ask ALLAH (SWT) for help. All they say is “why should we approach the Doctors when we are sick, why shouldn’t we ask for ALLAH’S help in that situation instead of going to doctors?” Perhaps I’m not right or lack of knowledge prevents me from answering. However, I’m sure, you would definitely share your views, knowledge and experience with us in this regard….
That prostration to a living or dead is absolutely prohibited in Islam has been quite adequately discussed in the November issue of this magazine. There is hardly anything for us to add.
As regards the argument that seeking help from the spirits is no different from seeking help from doctors in case of sickness, the folly is so obvious that no ignorant can fail to see. A doctor is alive, while the saint is dead. The doctor gives medicine for a sickness. A dead saint does not give any pill. A doctor cannot guarantee that his medicine will work. How can a dead saint guarantee that a sick person will have his health restored if he was supplicated to? A doctor examines a patient to suggest what medication will work. Does the saint in the grave examine the patient supplicating outside his grave? A doctor needs highly sophisticated expensive machines to detect, say, a developing cancer in the bone. How does the saint in the grave detect it, when, sometimes, without the machine, even the patient does not know that he is developing cancer? A doctor carries a degree which informs us of his skill: a ear and nose specialist, a skin specialist, a kidney specialist, etc. There are dozens of specialization courses and dozens of specialists who do not have any skill but within their own specializations. Is the saint in the grave a specialist who covers every discipline to send across cures from his grave to any kind of illness? A doctor suggests one medication, but it backfires because every patient’s body is differently built. In that event he tries a different kind of medicine to suit this particular patient. Does the saint in the grave know about every kind of cure for all kinds of diseases, and all kinds of physical make-up that the victims can have, to be able to cure every one of every disease?
The Sons of Islam
What are your views about countering Western threats to Islam and ‘Islamic’ countries.
Aatuif Muslim, via email
Fight back at every level of activity and every front of attack, depending on none but Allah for help.
On the other hand, struggle against oneself from within to make dear to the inner self the cause of attack, i.e. Islam. In simpler words, if we are being attacked because we are Muslims, then, let us be true Muslims first. Let us make Islam dear to ourselves, living by it and dying for it. It should not happen that we are slaughtered by them for possessing a thing, but which we do not possess.
In this fight, we need to weaken our enemy. And, everywhere we discover that we weaken him against us by being able to convert his people to our religion. This happens through our exemplary lives. It is impossible that some people live an Islamic life, and it does not attract a minority to Islam. Drops grow into streams.
If you did a little research you will discover that despite the war against Islam and Muslims, despite the human and material losses, Islam is still able to win over to its side men and women from within the enemy ranks, and this happens, primarily, not through literature, but through the effects of the Islamic lives lived by its sons.
Let us be the sons of Islam.
I am regular reader of YMD for the last 19 years. My Question is “Nowadays a TV channel called ‘QTV’ shows various sects and presents thoughts about Islam. Due to this a mixture of thoughts is generating. So my question: Is this channel truly serving Islam? Should we watch it?
Syed Danish, via email
That religion is not a complete religion which does not leave its followers on a clear path, which does not say with perfect clarity what is evil and what is virtue.
Photographing is prohibited in Islam. TV is nothing but photographical art and technological manipulation. It can never serve Islam. That which is declared undesirable by Islam will not serve it back. The declaration that a thing is undesirable, informs us that it is a Satanic property. Satan will not employ it to serve Islam.
What good you see in such Islamic channels that are not programmed by scholars, is only the by-product of what is mainly evil. This is because every evil comes laced with some good. This is Allah’s mercy. He does not deny His mercy even to those who indulge in what is declared unlawful. But its main character, that of being evil, remains. This applies to every Islamic channel not programmed by good quality scholars. Those that are not so programmed, their main character will remain as service to evil, although they might carry some good.
If a few good scholars participate in it, they will discover that soon the voice of good will drown in the voice of evil. Good will have to compete with evil: in quality of presentation, color, attractiveness, pleasantness to the carnal soul, etc. But, given a content which is serious, (against the frivolous of the evil competitor), deep (against the superfluous of the evil), profound (against the hollowness of the evil) and that which endeavors to touch the innermost parts of mind and heart, (against the evil which addresses itself to the carnal desires resting in the uppermost areas of mind and heart), they will discover that there is no way appeasing the appetite of the masses. Very soon, good will become ineffective and lose out to the evil.
By the good placing itself on a par with evil, instead of demanding a higher pedestal, which it deserves, it might feel that it has gained a foothold, but soon, the crowd around it will dilute its effect to nothingness.
The only effective manner of using the TV for the advantage of Islam would be to place scholars as its programmers who will axe its evil part, to leave only the good part alive, and then expand upon that good part to present that which is beneficial to the mind and the soul. But, we have already discussed in other issues the impossibility of this happening.
To sum up, we believe that Q TV or any other channel not programmed by the `Ulamaa, will not serve any but the evil.
I had been a regular reader of your excellent digest, but couldn’t continue as I got married and came abroad, I’ll extremely be grateful if you answer my query and give me required information.
About 5 years back I had read in your digest an article about pig fat, lard and its derivatives in various products, I want to know is it included in Lakme lipstick a popular brand available in India, and would also like to know by what scientific name it is known and used in products. I’ll be thankful if you could also send me the “E” list by which it is popularly used.
I hope I’ll get the information through mail only as I live abroad and can’t refer you dated issue.
Mrs. Farooq Farisa Sadia, via email
After publishing the article of your reference, we have asked our patrons to investigate this issue by getting a few sample products checked in a laboratory. So far, we have received no responses. We consider it unethical to give our opinion without confirmation from an authentic source.
The E-codes of normal reference are as follows. We will be glad if you could get them checked in a local lab.
E100, E110, E120, E 140, E141, E153, E210, E213, E214, E216, E234, E252, E270, E280, E325, E326, E327, E334, E335, E336, E337, E422, E430, E431, E432, E433, E434, E435, E436, E440, E470, E471, E472, E473, E474, E475, E476, E477, E478, E481, E482, E483, E491, E492, E493, E494, E495, E542, E570, E572, E631, E635, E904.