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News from Kolkata

A mini renaissance seems to be occurring among the Muslims of West Bengal of which Kolkata is the State-capital. They have managed to create their own daily Bengali newspaper (Kalom), which is becoming as influential as those media outlets owned and run by the majority community. The publication covers both general news as well as stories which are of interest and importance to the Muslim community.

One topic which captured my attention is the coverage of the “My Jihad” movement in America and Canada. The Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR) is engaged in a campaign to educate people about the real meaning of Jihad.

We are well aware that the West is very quick to label any opposition to Western actions or policies as Jihad. In this instance, progressive Muslims are engaged in various efforts to explain the concept of Jihad which, in simple terms, means one’s internal struggle to control and eradicate evil thoughts and desires and strive for good and pious deeds and positive actions. It also can be defined as a fight against injustice although this does not necessarily mean the use of violence.

Dr Usama Hasan of Quilliam Foundation once invited me to an evening class he was convening. There was detailed discussion of the concept of Jihad and I found his scholarly interpretation and open mind both interesting and useful.

On 25 January 2013, the Kalom paper had this to say:

What is the meaning of Jihad? As non-Muslims do not know the real meaning of Jihad there are many misconceptions about it in the West. Actions by the CAIR are helping to lessen the wrong ideas about Jihad among Americans and Canadians. 

Toronto resident and Syrian revolutionary Bayan Khatib said that the only reason for such negative thoughts is the prevalence of ignorance among common people. By looking at some Muslims and influenced by evil-minded and biased newspapers they cannot learn about Islam correctly. Even some highly educated people are misled by such newspapers. The activities of a few terrorists are being linked with the vast majority of good and innocent Muslims, giving a bad name to Islam as a whole.

To remove such misreporting action is being taken in websites, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, posters in buses and trains. Mr Khatib hopes these activities will remove the misconceptions from the minds of Americans. He considers though the Muslim population in Canada is only two per cent, it is the second biggest and is increasing rapidly and recent census indicates it. The multicultural policy of the Canadian Government is beneficial to the Muslims.

Some of the other news in the Kalom includes a piece on the State Chief Minister Miss Mamata Banerjee who wrote on the front page about Prophet Mohammad on his birthday acknowledging his messages for mankind.

The paper also remembered Hossain Ara Begum who flew the flag of India on 25 January 1932 disregarding the threat of arrest and imprisonment by the then British Government. It also reported the involvement of the BJP party with the saffron coloured Hindu terrorist organisation. Rising critic Pirzada Toha Siddique made a strong plea to the President of India for censorship of the Video “Innocence of Muslims” in Google and YouTube as it contains an objectionable depiction of Prophet Mohammad. These types of bold actions and confident reporting by Indian Muslims were rare in the past.

West Bengal is one of the 28 semi-autonomous states of India. It covers about 6% of the area and 13% of the population of India. The Muslim population is about 35% of the population of West Bengal and 20% of the 170 million population of India which is 1100 million roughly.

Mohammad Soukat Ali is a Fellow of the Muslim Institute. He was born in 1942 in Khidirpur near Kolkata, West Bengal, India. He graduated in Agricultural Science in 1963 from Brila College of Agriculture and began his career as an agricultural officer.

In 1966 he settled in the UK and worked for the Ministry of Agriculture and HM Customs and Excise. In 1971 he obtained a Post Graduate Diploma in Agricultural Economics from the University of Oxford. He retired in 2004 and now devotes his time to studying and writing about history, science and Islam.