How Islam empowers women

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Syed Zafar Mehdi

The western discourse has consistently argued that the women in Islam are oppressed, subjugated and degraded. Muslim women, the vociferous feminists in the West contend, have no ‘voice’ and need to be ‘liberated’.

Hijab has drawn tremendous amount of attention and backlash, often seen as a ‘symbol of oppression’ and perceived as a threat in countries like France where the government has banned it in public spaces.

Western mainstream media has played a key role in perpetuating these fallacies and stereotypes of Muslim women. On the contrary, what the veiled women have to say about hijab is totally different from the critique of feminists in the West.

The concept of women’s rights and women’s emancipation in Islam has a fairly long history. Before the advent of Islam in Arabia, referred to as the ‘age of ignorance’, young girls were buried alive and women were degraded and used as objects of lust. Islam liberated them and empowered them. Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) enforced justice, making it obligatory for men to respect the rights of women. Women were freed from slavery of men and given the ownership of their life and property.

Prophet Mohammad’s (pbuh) first wife Hazrat Khadija (sa), who was the first person to accept Islam and divine revelations that culminated into the Holy Qur’an, was also a successful and independent businesswoman. She inherited her father’s business empire which she expanded by trading goods from Mecca to Syria to Yemen.

Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) enforced justice, making it obligatory for men to respect the rights of women. Women were freed from slavery of men and given the ownership of their life and property

Holy Prophet’s daughter, Fatima (sa) was another exemplary woman in the history of Islam.

As Dr. Ali Shariati notes in Fatima is Fatima, Holy Prophet (pbuh) was the inheritor of Abraham, Noah, Moses and Jesus, while Fatima (sa) was his only heir. “In a society that felt the birth of a daughter to be a disgrace which only burying alive could purify, where the best son-in-law a father could hope was called ‘the grave’, Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) knew what fate had done to him. Fatima knew who she was. This is why history looked in amazement at the way Holy Prophet (pbuh) behaved towards his young daughter, Fatima (sa), at the way he spoke with her and at the way he praised her.”

Then we have an example of another woman in the history who shook the foundation of an evil empire with her extraordinary resistance and resilience. When Yazid ibn Muawiya asked “who is this arrogant woman?” The woman rose to answer: “Why are you asking them? Ask me. I will tell you who I am. I am Muhammad’s granddaughter. I am Fatima’s daughter.”

There was stunned silence in the court of Yazid. Zainab’s (sa) delivered a historic sermon. “O Yazid, You can never reach the level of our lofty position, nor can you destroy our remembrances, nor can you wipe out the ignominy you have earned for yourself by your abominable and vile actions. Your decisions are poor and your days are numbered. Your party will disperse the day when the Announcer will announce – Allah’s curse be on tyrants and transgressors.”

There are many examples of women in Islam who changed the course of history through their actions, something you don’t see in any other religion. As Annie Besant writes in The Life and Teachings of Mohammad (1932), it is a slander to suggest that the women in Islam are subjugated and denied freedom. “It is only in the last twenty years that Christian England has recognized the right of woman to property, while Islam has allowed this right from all times.”

In modern times, we have seen Muslim women play an instrumental role in peace building processes in places like Sierra Leone, Philippines, Afghanistan, El Salvador, Nigeria, Lebanon etc

Contrary to the popular perception, Islam does not promote gender disparity. “And whoever does righteous deeds, whether male or female, while being a believer – those will enter Paradise and will not be wronged, [even as much as] the speck on a date seed” (Quran 4:124). A man, in Islam, has the responsibility to safeguard and strengthen the family, provide food, shelter and other basic needs. In terms of rights, both women and men share the same pedestal which is clearly illustrated by this verse: “And for women are rights over men, similar to those of men over women.” (Quran 2:228)

In modern times, we have seen Muslim women play an instrumental role in peace building processes in places like Sierra Leone, Philippines, Afghanistan, El Salvador, Nigeria, Lebanon etc. For example, in Afghanistan, many progressive steps have been taken towards women’s inclusion in the peace process with Taliban, especially since the landmark UN resolution 1325 (2000) that enables women’s intervention at all stages of peace building, peacemaking, peacekeeping and conflict prevention.

From Pakistani teenage activist Malala Yousufzai, Muslim American fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, Yemeni journalist and Noble Peace Prize winner Tawakkul Karman, Malaysian feminist Zainah Anwar, Afghanistan’s first female prosecutor general Maria Bashir, to Kashmiri activist and APDP chairperson Parveena Ahangar, there are numerous stories of extraordinary courage, conviction and resilience.

In Kashmir, which is the modern world’s longest and most militarized occupation, women have been at the forefront, demanding justice for the crimes committed against them. They are not passive, voiceless victims but the agents of change. Many accomplished women writers, poets, artists, teachers and scientists have emerged in Kashmir in recent years, making their presence felt, in and outside their homeland.

Of course, not everything is hunky-dory. There are still numerous challenges on multiple fronts and lot of work is still required to empower women and make them equal partners. In Kashmir, where has traditionally been a patriarchial society, things are changing for good, which is evident from the way girls are outshining boys in academics and competitive

And it’s important to remember what the great Khan Abdul Ghaffar said once: “If you wish to know how civilized a culture is, look at the way they treat their women.”

(First published in The Witness)

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Islamic unity key to defeat takfirism and sectarianism

 

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Syed Zafar Mehdi

For Muslims, the staggering fall from grace can largely be attributed to fragmentation in their ranks, exacerbated by the scourge of sectarianism fanned by divisive forces. The condition of Muslims today, in both the realms of spiritual and temporal, is appallingly poor.

Having ruled the world for eight to nine centuries, bringing people out of barbarism into civilization, abolishing idolatry and advocating monotheism, Muslims have gradually and worryingly slipped into an abyss of despondency and darkness. While the Holy Quran promises that the “honor, power and glory belongs to God and to His apostle and to the believers” (Surah Munafiqun), it also cautions that the “Almighty does not change the condition of a people until they change it themselves” (Surah Ar-Ra’ad).

How can we leap forward as a divided house, with so many warring groups baying for each other’s blood. How can we progress without clutching hands and pulling in the same direction as emphasized in the Holy Quran in unequivocal and unambiguous terms. “And hold firmly to the rope of Allah all together and do not become divided” (Surah Aali Imran).

Even hardnosed European evangelists admit that the modern world was built on the scientific breakthroughs made by Muslim scholars at a time when the Europeans were struggling and stumbling. So what led to the decline and degeneration of Muslim Ummah?

In the words of Scott Gilmore, a social entrepreneur and writer, the easiest response is to say Muslims did this to themselves. “From the jungles of Sulawesi to the deserts of Libya, Muslims are killing Muslims at a rate that dwarfs the more highly publicized conflict with the West,” he says.

How can we progress without clutching hands and pulling in the same direction as emphasized in the Holy Quran in unequivocal terms. “And hold firmly to the rope of Allah all together and do not become divided” (Surah Aali Imran)

At a time when the contemptible project of sectarianism and takfirism is being promoted by unscrupulous elements to create fissures in the Muslim Ummah, it has become essential for every conscientious Muslim to uphold the banner of unity and be the vocal advocate of truth and justice.

The enemies of Islam succeed not because they have superior ideas or moral high ground but because we are fragmented and vulnerable. Unless Muslims close ranks, bury the hatchet and develop mutual-understanding, they will continue to be afflicted with misery and despair.

Holy Quran reminds us: “Muhammad is Allah’s Apostle and those who are (truly) with him are firm and unyielding towards disbelievers, (yet) full of mercy towards one another (Surah Fatah).” This beautiful element of ‘mercy towards one another’ is what actually defines the essence of Muslim unity and brotherhood.

Takfirism – the phenomenon of declaring ‘others’ as heretics – has gained traction across the world today, engulfing many Muslim societies. It is a grand project spearheaded by forces that fear Muslim unity, because if Muslims band together the enemy wouldn’t have the temerity to bombard Muslim countries and exploit their rich resources.

What makes matters worse is the fact that some of us are willfully playing into the hands of enemies. Zionists, aided by the Western imperialist powers, have occupied Palestine because some Arab countries don’t wish to antagonize their friends in Tel Aviv. For them, petty political interests overshadow the larger interests of Muslim Ummah.

Takfirism is a grand project spearheaded by forces that fear Muslim unity, because if Muslims band together the enemy wouldn’t have the temerity to bombard Muslim countries and exploit their rich resources

Today, Muslims are being mercilessly killed in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan because our Arab-Muslim leadership is apparently sleeping with the enemy, aiding and abetting the genocide of Muslims. When innocent civilians are killed in Brussels or Berlin, whole world erupts in anger and fury; but when there is a massacre in Kabul, Quetta or Baghdad, only few odd voices speak out.

That is because they are united and we are divided. This divide-and-conquer strategy works well for our enemies.  The need of the hour is unity and rapprochement, and what better time to shun antagonism and embrace the spirit of camaraderie than the birth anniversary of our beloved Prophet (pbuh).

In mid-1980s, Ayatollah Rohullah Khomeini, the architect of the Islamic revolution in Iran, proposed an idea of ‘hafta e wahdat’ (week of unity and solidarity) in the month of Rabiul Awwal so that Muslims, cutting across sects, can come together to honor the memory of their Prophet (pbuh), who championed the cause of Islamic unity and tolerance all his life. “The origin of this question concerning Shia and Sunni, the one on one side and the other on the other side, is caused by ignorance and by the propaganda spread by enemies,” said Ayatollah Khomeini.

In 1990, a year after Ayatollah Khomeini’s death, The World Forum for Proximity of Islamic Schools of Thought was set up by his successor Ayatollah Syed Ali Khamenei, which organizes the International Islamic Unity Conference in Tehran every year to mark the birth anniversary of the Holy Prophet (pbuh). Last year, the theme of the conference was ‘The Muslim World’s Current Crises’ and more than 600 Muslim scholars from 70 countries were in attendance. In the final statement, the participants agreed that the crisis facing Muslim world today is due to disintegration of Islamic world and lack of trust amongst Islamic states. “This has led to division which has paved the way for penetration of enemies into Islamic communities in a bid to fuel clashes between Muslims,” it said.

In contemporary times, Ayatollah Khamenei and Ayatollah Sistani have played an instrumental role in forging Muslim unity and countering the vicious campaign to divide Muslims

Looking back, many Islamic luminaries made indefatigable efforts to bridge the chasm between Shias and Sunnis. Sheikh Mahmoud Shaltut, a legendary Islamic scholar who served as the grand Imam of Al-Azhar between 1958 and 1963, issued a famous fatwa (religious edict) in 1959 pertaining to the faith and beliefs of Shias, which continues to be a symbol of hope for those who advocate unity and proximity between the two schools of thought.

Ayatollah Syed Hussain Borojerdi, who was a leading Shia religious authority in 1950s, also worked untiringly to foster unity among Muslims and established close contact with Dar ul-Taqrib Center in Egypt. Other Islamic scholars who deserve a mention include Muslim Brotherhood founder Sheikh Hassan al-Banna, Egyptian scholar Sheikh Muhammad al-Ghazali, Iranian scholar Allameh Seyed Mohammad Hossein Tabatabaei, Iraqi cleric Ayatollah Syed Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr and Pakistani scholar Dr. Allama Mohammad Iqbal, Afghan ideologue Syed Jamaluddin Asadabadi to name to few.

In contemporary times, Ayatollah Khamenei and Ayatollah Sistani have played an instrumental role in forging Muslim unity and countering the vicious campaign to divide Muslims.

The efforts of Hassan al-Banna deserve a special mention. Abd al-Mutaal al-Jabri, a student of Hassan al-Banna, in his book Limatha Yuqitla Hasan (Why Hasan al-Banna was Assassinated), writes about the historic meeting between Hassan al-Banna and Ayatollah Kashani in Mecca in 1948, shortly before the former was assassinated. “If the life of this man (al-Banna) had been longer, it would have been possible to gain many benefits for this land, especially in the agreement between him and Ayatullah Kashani to uproot the discord between Sunnis and Shi’ites. They met each other in Hijaz in 1948. It appears that they conferred with each other and reached a basic understanding but Hasan al-Banna was quickly assassinated,” he writes.

That is what has happened throughout history. Those who have championed the cause of Islamic unity and brotherhood have paid the ultimate price, but the idea has lived on.

There is clearly more that unites us than what divides us. In his book Al-Muslimun Man Hum (The Muslims – Who are they?), author Samih Atif Zayn says the most important basis of differences lies in understanding the Holy Book, and both Sunnis and Shias have never disagreed on Holy Quran. “We must eradicate the sectarian spirit, full of hatred, and bar the road of those who spread rumors and quarrels in religion, until Muslims return to how they were before: one society, cooperative and friendly, rather than divided, separated and hating each other,” he writes, stressing the importance of brotherhood as mentioned in the Holy Quran: “Verily, this brotherhood of yours is a single brotherhood, and I am your Lord and Cherisher” (Surah Al-Anbiya).

So, it is binding on all the believers of Islam to collectively strive towards a common goal, lest they go astray. “Indeed, those who have divided their religion and become sects – you, (O Muhammad), are not (associated) with them in anything. Their affair is only (left) to Allah; He will inform them about what they used to do” (Surah Al-Anam).

The warning is clear for those who stoke the flames of sectarianism or aid the efforts in dividing Muslims into sects. And the warning is also for those who don’t advocate unity, amity, tolerance and brotherhood.

(First published in The Witness magazine)

Deconstructing Iran’s traditional position on Kashmir

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Syed Zafar Mehdi

In his Eid ul Fitr message earlier this year, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Syed Ali Khamenei, who is known to weigh his words carefully, spoke of the “many wounds inflicted on the body of Muslim world” and urged the Ummah to “express its disdain for the oppressors”. Interestingly, he singled out Bahrain, Yemen and Kashmir, and said the Muslim world should “openly support” people in these countries.

The statement was, much to the chagrin of mandarins in New Delhi, welcomed in Kashmir. The octogenarian resistance leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani hailed the statement as “timely and pragmatic’, while his Hurriyat counterpart Mirwaiz Umar Farooq expressed his gratitude to Iran for supporting the “just freedom struggle” of the people of Kashmir.

The succinctly-worded statement generated a palpable buzz on social networking sites, where young and thoughtful netizens weighed its pros and cons.

What truly defines the new internet-savvy Kashmiri generation is its political awareness and activism, able to distinguish between a faithful friend and a flattering foe, between a trusted ally and a scheming adversary.

Was Tehran trying to send a stern message to New Delhi which has lately been sucking up to Donald Trump and Bibi Netanyahu or was Ayatollah Khamenei merely reiterating and reaffirming what his predecessor Ayatollah Khomeini said quite unequivocally decades ago? Why did he club Kashmir with Bahrain and Yemen and why didn’t he also mention Palestine, Afghanistan, Syria, Myanmar and Pakistan? Who are the “oppressors” he was referring to and what did he mean by “open support”? Should the statement be seen as an open endorsement of Kashmiris’ right to self-determination or does it primarily address the issue of humanitarian crisis in Kashmir?

Barely a week after Eid ul Fitr, Ayatollah Khamenei mentioned Kashmir again, this time while addressing an important meeting of top judiciary officials in Tehran. Reaffirming his country’s support to Kashmir, he asked his country’s judiciary to support the “oppressed figures and people of the world, like Sheikh Zakzaky (of Nigeria), and the Muslims in Myanmar and Kashmir”.

Was Tehran trying to send a stern message to New Delhi which has lately been sucking up to Donald Trump and Bibi Netanyahu or was Ayatollah Khamenei merely reiterating and reaffirming what his predecessor Ayatollah Khomeini said quite unequivocally decades ago?

Iran’s supreme leader generally speaks with clarity and precision. He does not beat around the bush neither does he make polemical arguments to reap paltry political dividends. So it is essential to deconstruct his statements and put them into context.

A former Indian diplomat, writing in Quint, said Ayatollah Khamenei mentioned Kashmir to warn India against cozying up to the U.S. or hostile neighbors in the Middle East. A very simplistic way of reading the statement. There is no denying that the growing proximity between India and Israel would not be viewed favorably in Tehran but to suggest that it provoked Iran’s supreme leader to issue a statement on Kashmir would be too naïve.

Ayatollah Khamenei has often issued statements of support and solidarity with the people of Kashmir and he mentions the “just struggle” of Palestinians and Kashmiris in every Friday sermon. His plain-speaking has many a times put a spanner in Indo-Iran relations.

For instance, in November 2010, on the occasion of Eid ul Zuha, he made a passionate appeal to the Muslim community to support the “struggle” in Kashmir and put it in the same category as Afghanistan and Palestine. New Delhi took strong exception to his statement, which had come barely three months after Iran’s foreign ministry denounced the military crackdown on peaceful protests in Kashmir, and summoned the Iranian envoy to lodge a formal protest.

India subsequently voted against Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), almost five years after it had reported Iran to the UN Security Council for alleged violations of its NPT obligations. Ironically, Iran is a signatory of NPT while India has refused to sign the treaty.

Mentioning something twice in two weeks, in two important speeches, with great emphasis, is significant. So, does it denote a shift in Iran’s traditional position on Kashmir, as some analysts wondered? Iran’s official position on Kashmir, clearly spelt out by Ayatollah Khomeini, has been consistent since the Iranian revolution of 1979.

Ayatollah Khomeini, the architect of the Iranian revolution, who traces his roots to Kashmir, once made it categorically clear to a visiting Indian delegation that the ties between the two countries would not improve until the bloodletting in Kashmir continued. His successor has followed the same line on Kashmir, which is reflected by his statements and Friday sermons.

Mentioning something twice in two weeks, in two important speeches, with great emphasis, is significant. So, does it denote a shift in Iran’s traditional position on Kashmir, as some analysts wondered?

Before these statements, Iran’s supreme leader had on several occasions raised the issue of Kashmir. In May 1990, Ayatollah Khamenei said Kashmir cause is about “truth and justice” and those who silence them “have an unjust cause”. In September 1994, he said the “issue of Kashmir is the issue of humanity” since people of the region are “subjected to oppression and tyranny”. In April 2001, he called for the political settlement of Kashmir as per the wishes of the people.

More recently, he brought up Kashmir in a conversation with Slovenian president Borut Pahor in November 2016, basically referring to West’s interest in “keeping wounds open”.  “The Americans do not have a plan for uprooting Daesh (ISIS). Like the English who have kept the wound of Kashmir open since the era of colonialism in the Indian subcontinent,” he said. I don’t think any leader in the Arab world has championed the cause of Kashmir as vigorously as he has.

Like his mentor Ayatollah Khomeini, Ayatollah Khamenei has deep love and affection for the people of Kashmir. He had visited Kashmir valley in 1980, soon after the Islamic revolution in Iran, and delivered a historic lecture at Srinagar’s Jamia Masjid, in which he emphasized the importance of Muslim unity and brotherhood. He also joined congregational prayers led by late Mirwaiz Mohammad Farooq. His official website has a detailed account by late Qalbi Hussain Rizvi of his visit to Srinagar.

Yes, there have been moments when Kashmiris felt betrayed by Iran. A story that is often recounted goes back to March 1994 when Iran under Hashemi Rafsanjani backed out of the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) resolution on Kashmir at UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, which could have led to economic sanctions on India.

Recently, when Rafsanjani passed away and we looked at his political legacy, I had this deep urge to know why he killed that important resolution on Kashmir in 1994. I spoke to some senior journalists and political observers in Iran and they made interesting revelations, which essentially suggested that then Indian PM Narasimha Rao had assured Rafsanjani that human rights abuses in Kashmir would be stopped immediately and a referendum would be held in accordance with the wishes of Kashmiris, if Iran withdrew from the resolution. Rafsanjani had been conned without him knowing it.

Ayatollah Khamenei’s latest statements on Kashmir are a reminder that Iran will never abandon Kashmir, a journalist friend in Tehran told me recently. It should not be seen as a knee-jerk reaction but reassertion of Iran’s stated position on Kashmir.

The timing of the statements, soon after Modi’s honeymoon with Trump and before his rendezvous with Netanyahu, is likely to get people thinking. Modi is the first Indian head of state to visit Israel since the partition of British India. Netanyahu termed his visit as “historic” and said India-Israel ties are on a “constant upswing”.

But, the Iran’s supreme leader’s Eid statement on Kashmir should not be linked to growing India-Israel relations. Iran’s stated position on Kashmir is clear and time-tested.

Al-Quds Day: Rallying for the liberation of Palestine

Syed Zafar Mehdi

“And for those who after having been treated badly bring about justice themselves, against them no action can be taken. Action will only be taken against those who are unjust to people and who without reason become violent on earth. These are the ones who will receive painful punishment.” (Surah Ash Shura: 41-42)

For the campaigners of truth and justice, International Al-Quds Day (Yaumul Quds Al-Alami) has an extraordinary historical significance. Al-Quds is Arabic for Jerusalem. It is an affirmation of our solidarity with the oppressed and subjugated people of Palestine in their struggle for the liberation of Jerusalem, the third holiest sanctuary for Muslims. It is an expression of unwavering commitment to end the Tel Aviv regime’s horrendous atrocities in the occupied territories of Palestine.

Al-Quds Day was first observed in 1979 in Iran by Ayatollah Rohullah Khomeini, soon after the Islamic Revolution. Since then, the day is observed across the world every year on the last Friday (Jumatul Wida) of Ramadan to express solidarity with Palestinians and to protest the Zionist entity’s illegal occupation of Jerusalem. It also calls for the political unification of Muslims, cutting across the ideological divide, for the cause of justice and righteousness. Last year, Al-Quds Day demonstrations were held in 770 major cities in more than 80 countries across the world.

The holy month of Ramadan granted Muslims a historic victory in the Battle of Badr. It is the month in which the holy city of Mecca was conquered and cleared of idol worshippers (mushrikeen). It is the month in which all the Abrahamic scriptures, including the Holy Quran, were revealed. It is the spirit of this month that inspired our brave forefathers to struggle in the way of Allah and overcome insurmountable odds. So it is highly appropriate that the last Friday of this blessed month is dedicated to the struggle of Palestinians and all other oppressed people of the world.

The idea of Al-Quds Day solidarity rallies was conceived by Ayatollah Khomeini, who appealed to Muslims across the world to extend moral support to their brethren in Palestine. In August 1979, Khomeini declared the liberation of Jerusalem ‘a religious duty of all Muslims’. “I invite Muslims all over the globe to observe the last Friday of Ramadan as Al-Quds Day, and to pledge support and solidarity to the people of Palestine and their legitimate rights. I ask all the Muslims of the world and the Muslim governments to join hands and sever the hand of this usurper and its supporters,” he said.

It is highly appropriate that the last Friday of this blessed month is dedicated to the struggle of Palestinians and all other oppressed people of the world.

It is also a day to remember people in other occupied lands, who are abused and crushed by strong military powers. “The Al-Quds Day is a universal day. It is not an exclusive day for Quds (Jerusalem). It is a day for the oppressed and the supporters of oppressed to rise and stand up against the arrogant oppressors,” Khomeini said.

During the first Palestinian Intifada in January 1988, the Jerusalem Committee of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) declared that Al-Quds Day be observed publicly throughout the Arab world. Their official endorsement of Al-Quds Day was significant as some Arab countries who had strategic ties with Israel found themselves isolated.

Every year, on the Al-Quds Day, hundreds of people pour into the narrow streets of Gaza to protest the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The officials of Hamas, Islamic Jehad Movement (IJM), Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) and other resistance groups also take part in these public gatherings. Massive rallies are also taken out in Britain, Canada, Sweden, Russia, India, Pakistan, Kashmir, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, United States etc. Protestors wave Palestinian flag and raise slogans like ‘Death to Israel and America’, ‘Israel Your Days Are Numbered’, ‘Zionism Must Go’ and ‘From River to Sea Palestine Will Be Free’.

Every year, on the Al-Quds Day, hundreds of people pour into the narrow streets of Gaza to protest the Israeli occupation of Palestine

In Britain and US, many anti-Zionist Jews and Christians also attend these rallies and join the chorus for the liberation of Palestine. Rabbi Joseph Kohn, speaking at the Al-Quds Day rally in Houston last year, said the city of Quds was forcibly occupied by the Zionist state of Israel. “When the state of Israel was formed, Palestinians were totally ignored, as the Zionist slogan went ‘a land without a people for a people without a land’. They were displaced, oppressed, killed and robbed – unjustly and illegally – in order to make room for the creation of the modern state of Israel,” he said.

According to Ramazan Sharif, the head of the Quds Center at Iran’s Islamic Propagation Coordination Council, Al-Quds Day has a major influence on the issue of Palestine and prevents it from sliding into oblivion. Al-Quds rallies seek to raise awareness about the plight of Palestinians and the atrocities unleashed on them by the Zionist state.

Al-Quds Day will continue to be observed every year until there is a complete and unconditional withdrawal of Israelis from the occupied territories, including Jerusalem. The return of Palestinians who were forced to leave their land after the 1948 Nakba should be facilitated, and they must be compensated for the damage of land and property. There should be a complete ban on the construction of new settlements and immediate evacuation of all existing settlements. More than half a million Israelis occupy over 120 illegal settlements built since 1967. These settlements blatantly violate the Hague and Geneva Conventions, threaten Al-Aqsa Mosque and violate the sanctity of the sacred Islamic sites.

Hence, it is a sacred duty of all Muslims, and people of conscience, to raise their voice, individually and collectively, against the naked aggression, in Palestine and all other occupied lands across the globe, on Al-Quds Day.

(First published in Press TV website)

Brief history of American terrorism

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Syed Zafar Mehdi

“There are two ways to approach the study of terrorism,” notes Noam Chomsky in widely-acclaimed book Western State Terrorism. “One may adopt a literal approach, taking the topic seriously, or a propagandistic approach, construing the concept of terrorism as a weapon to be exploited in the service of some system of power. It comes as no surprise that the propagandistic approach is adopted by governments generally, and by their instruments in totalitarian states.”

Chomsky maintains that there are many terrorist states in the world, but the United States puts its rivals to shame when it comes to perpetuating ‘international terrorism’. A 2010 research undertaken by Professor Mark Sageman of University of Pennsylvania lends credence to what Chomsky says. The research findings establish the fact that terrorism is a product of the West.

Let’s make no bones about it, the menacing threat of ‘nuclear terrorism’ does not come from some ruthless jihadist cluster, but from the hard-nosed western nuclear powers who form the core of the NATO alliance, and keeping intimidating and threatening the non nuclear weapon states.

The history of US imperialism is replete with stories of unilateral belligerent military strikes, gory massacres and socio-cultural aggression. In this no-holds-barred brinkmanship, the US and its allies have sought to impose their writ on other nations, more so on those who have refused to swear allegiance to Uncle Sam’s hegemony. The blatant war-mongering and sinister desire to inflict suffering on others is best explained by these words of American writer Andre Vltchek.

The menacing threat of ‘nuclear terrorism’ does not come from some ruthless jihadist cluster, but from the hard-nosed western nuclear powers who form the core of the NATO alliance

“West has always behaved as if it had an inherited, but undefined, right to profit from the misery of the rest of the world. In many cases, the conquered nations had to give up their own culture, their religions, even their languages, and convert to our set of beliefs and values that we define as ‘civilized’.

Guatemala Civil War that continued from 1960 to 1996 was bitterly fought between the government of Guatemala and ethnic Mayans, in which the government of Guatemala committed worst human rights abuses and engineered genocide of Mayan population of Guatemala. Historical Clarification Commission set up under the Oslo Accords of 1994 concluded that the Guatemala military committed murder, torture and rape with the tacit support of CIA. The commission stated the “government of the United States, through various agencies including the CIA, provided direct and indirect support for some state operations.”

Noam Chomsky in his book What Uncle Sam Really Wants writes, “Under Reagan, support for near-genocide in Guatemala became positively ecstatic. The most extreme of the Guatemalan Hitlers we’ve backed there, Rios Montt, was lauded by Reagan as a man totally dedicated to democracy. In the early 1980s, Washington’s friends slaughtered tens of thousands of Guatemalans, mostly Indians in the highlands, with countless others tortured and raped. Large regions were decimated.”

Direct or indirect support for death squads has been an integral part of CIA operations. CIA’s death squad operations in Vietnam led to killing of over 35,000 people. The Vietnam War dominated 30 long years of Vietnam’s history from 1940s to 1970s. President Ford, reacting to Senate and House committee reports, conceded that the CIA had become a ‘rogue elephant’ crushing foreign citizens under foot in its bid to win the Cold War. More than 20,000 Vietnamese were killed during the CIA-guided Operation Phoenix intended to weed out communist ‘agents’ from South Vietnam.

American role in the violent overthrow of the democratically-elected Popular Unity government of Salvador in 1980s was a watershed moment for the country. Bush family loyalists maintain that President Bush senior’s policies paved the way for peace, turning Salvador into a democratic success story. However, it took more than 70,000 deaths and grave human rights violations, before peace was brokered. To crush the rebels, the US trained an army that kidnapped and killed more than 30,000 people, and presided over large-scale massacre of old, women and children.

Direct or indirect support for death squads has been an integral part of CIA operations. CIA’s death squad operations in Vietnam led to killing of 35,000 people

In the mid-1970s, a major scandal broke out after revelations that President Richard Nixon had ordered the CIA to ‘make the economy scream’ in Chile and to prevent Allende from coming to power. Years later, CIA acknowledged its deep involvement in Chile where it dealt with coup-plotters, false propagandists and assassins.

In a review of Lubna Qureishi’s book Nixon, Kissinger, and Allende: US Involvement in the 1973 coup in Chile, Howard Doughty writes, “The United States and its allies have an unseemly history of hostility to democracy abroad that seems to conflict with their expressed political principles and their stated purpose in engaging in military and diplomatic action abroad. Not only in Latin America, but in Africa, Asia and occasionally in Europe, it has openly and clandestinely supported dictatorships.”

The US government’s cozy relationship with its illegitimate offspring Israel is no secret. It has paid Israel almost one hundred billion dollars over the years, major part of which is used for occupying Palestinian territories, in blatant breach of international laws and umpteen UN resolutions. Veteran Middle East reporter Robert Fisk draws parallels between Israel and apartheid regime of South Africa. “No matter how many youths are shot dead by the Israelis, no matter how many murders and no matter how bloody the reputation of the Israeli Prime Minister, we are reporting this terrible conflict as if we supported the South African whites against the blacks.”

US has paid Israel almost one hundred billion dollars over the years, major part of which is used for occupying Palestinian territories, in blatant breach of international laws and UN resolutions

Likewise, Columbia, arguably one of the most violent countries in the world, is the beneficiary of massive U.S. aid. Some political observers like Professor John Barry are of the opinion that US influence has only managed to catalyze internal conflicts and substantially expand the scope and nature of human rights abuses in Colombia. And ironically, most American people remain naïve about the shady role of their country in Colombia’s historical development and the unremitting violence.

In Cuba, America’s record is again appalling. It has been involved in attempted assassinations of state heads, bombings, military invasions, crippling sanctions et al. And, recent reports suggest that the U.S. government’s covert attack on Cuba’s sovereignty continues unabated. Even after half a century, economic blockade remains in force. The country has been designated a ‘terrorist state’, figuring prominently on the State Department’s list of ‘State Sponsors of Terrorism’. The five Cuban political prisoners are still behind bars. Now a report from the U.S. General Accounting Office reveals that money is being pumped into projects directed at changing Cuba’s government.

Washington’s support for the Contra terrorists in Nicaragua between 1981 and 1990 is one of the most shocking and shameful secrets. The heinous terrorist activities contras engaged in had full backing of their masters in Washington. “The decision of the International Court of Justice in June 1986 condemning the United States for the ‘unlawful use of force’ and illegal economic warfare was dismissed as an irrelevant pronouncement by a ‘hostile forum’,” notes Noam Chomsky in Western State Terrorism. “The guiding principle, it appears, is that the US is a lawless terrorist state and this is right and just, whatever the world may think, whatever international institutions may declare.”

On March 8, 1985, in an assassination bid on Sheikh Mohammed Fazlullah by CIA, a powerful car bomb exploded outside a Beirut mosque in Lebanon, leaving 81 civilians dead. Celebrated investigative reporter Bob Woodward says that CIA director William Casey had admitted personal culpability in the attack while he lay on his deathbed, which he said was carried out with funding from Saudi Arabia. In December 1989, almost 27,000 US soldiers invaded a small Central American country of Panama to arrest General Manuel Noriega, a CIA asset-turned-rebel. In the ‘Operation Just Cause’, bombs rained down on three neighborhoods – Colon, San Miguelito and El Chorillo. El Chorillo was burnt to the ground and got a new nickname – ‘Little Hiroshima’. As per conservative estimates, between 2,000 and 6,000 people were killed in the events that unfolded. Many of them were dumped into mass graves.

Back in 1953, a joint British-American operation toppled the democratic government chosen by the Iranian parliament, and installed their loyal dictator

Congo has been through violent times since its independence. Many observers trace it to the murder of Patrice Lumumba, the first prime minister of independent Congo, which was apparently done at the behest by the then U.S. President Eisenhower. In Haiti, the U.S. backed the Duvalier family dictatorship for 30 years, during which the CIA worked closely with death squads, executioners, and drug traffickers. The father-son duo’s three decades at helm was marked by brutally crushing dissent with the assistance of secret police and the Haitian army. Thousands were killed and tortured – many of them dumped in mass graves. Hundreds of thousands fled the country to escape from mindless violence.

The 1983 invasion of Grenada was the first major American military assault since Vietnam War. The news was blocked as the U.S. government didn’t want the world to witness the great superpower bashing up a small island nation. Why did the United States invade Grenada? “Many believe that Grenada was seen as a bad example for other poor Caribbean states,” opines Stephen Zunes, author of Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism. “Its foreign policy was not subservient to the American government and it was not open to having its economy dominated by U.S. corporate interests.”

In Greece, America supported a coup against an elected leader George Papandreou, which followed the years of murder, torture, and fear in the late 1960s. In Cambodia, the US resorted to carpet bombing to overthrow President Prince Sihanauk, who was replaced by Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge and that led to millions of civilian casualties between mid 1950s and 1970s. In 1965, which New York Times called ‘one of the most savage mass slayings of modern political history’, U.S. embassy had compiled lists of ‘Communist’ operatives in Indonesia, from top echelons down to village cadres, as many as 5,000 names, and handed them over to the army, which then hunted them down and killed.

Between 1946 and 1958, the U.S. used the Marshall Islands to conduct nuclear tests. All the inhabitants had to flee their homes. It is still not safe to consume food grown there. In the words of Robert Alvarez, “the people of the Marshall Islands had their homeland and health sacrificed for the national security interests of the United States”. The nuclear attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 remain the darkest chapter of history. Almost 150,000 people paid for their lives instantly, while millions more died of radiation poisoning later. Truman ordered the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, followed by a plutonium bomb on Nagasaki on August 9. The same day, the Soviet Union attacked the Japanese and, in the following two weeks 84,000 Japanese were killed.

The myth of the “outside enemy” and the threat of “Islamic terrorists” was the cornerstone of the Bush administration’s military doctrine

Back in 1953, a joint British-American operation toppled the democratic government chosen by the Iranian parliament, and installed their loyal dictator. The coup restored the Shah to absolute power, initiating a period of 25 years of repression and torture, while the oil industry was restored to foreign ownership, with the US and Britain each getting 40 percent. That was before Ayatullah Khomeini mobilized masses and threw out the Western puppet.

Marjorie Cohn, a professor of international law, in an article written in November 2001 maintained that the bombings of Afghanistan by the United States were illegal. His argument was based on the premise that, according to UN Charter, disputes have to be brought to the UN Security Council, which alone may authorize the use of force. Also, if your nation has been subjected to an armed attack by another nation, you may respond militarily in self-defense. Afghanistan did not attack the United States. Indeed, the 19 men charged with the crime were not Afghans. Twelve years down the line, the foreign military troops are still stationed in Afghanistan, hundreds of billion dollars have been spent, and at least 31,000 people in Afghanistan (civilians, insurgents, Afghan military forces, and others) have been killed in the war.

The myth of the “outside enemy” and the threat of “Islamic terrorists” was the cornerstone of the Bush administration’s military doctrine, used as a pretext to invade Afghanistan and Iraq, writes Michel Chossudovsky, author of The Globalisation of Poverty. More than a decade after U.S. invaded Iraq, it’s still not clear why they did it. But it’s a fact, even acknowledged by the western media, that the war for Iraq was a war for oil. “Before the 2003 invasion, Iraq’s domestic oil industry was fully nationalized and closed to Western oil companies. A decade of war later, it is largely privatized and utterly dominated by foreign firms,” reads a CNN report

There is this concept of ‘good terrorism’ and ‘bad terrorism’. For the US and its closest ally Israel, the Tunis bombing was not an act of terror but justifiable retaliation for the murder of three Israelis in Cyprus. The 1985 Iron Fist operation of the Israeli army in southern Lebanon was also guided by the same logic. “From 1945 to the end of the 20th century, the USA attempted to overthrow more than 40 foreign governments, and to crush more than 30 populist-nationalist movements struggling against intolerable regimes. In the process, the USA caused the end of life for several million people, and condemned many millions more to a life of agony and despair,” writes William Blum in his book Rogue State. It will not qualify as ‘terrorism’ because the perpetrator is the world’s only super-power. In a 1986 interview, Noam Chomsky argued that the word “terrorism” had been redefined in political and popular discourse to only refer to the violent acts of small or marginal groups – what he refers to as “retail terrorism”. This is in contrast with violent acts performed by the State in its own interest which orthodox terrorism studies often exclude from consideration.

The political leaders and scholars in Muslim countries have to muster courage to condemn the so-called ‘good’ terrorism spearheaded by US and its allies like Britain, Israel, France. A few years ago, Iran’s parliament speaker Ali Larijani took the lead, blaming the West for spreading terrorism across Asia, and warning that the policy will ultimately backfire. “This evil phenomenon is the gift of the West to the region, but nurturing terrorist and extremist groups is bad and worrying even for the future of Western countries, notably the United States,” said Larijani.

Tailpiece: The breeding ground of terrorism is not any Muslim country, but the United States.

(First published on Press TV website)

Setting the ground for Imam’s reappearance

Syed Zafar Mehdi

Imam Asr

The idea of a messiah or savior or redeemer is common to all religious schools of thought, including Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism and Christianity. In the Islamic context, the concept of messianism, which is the belief in a messiah, revolves around an eschatological figure who is expected to rise and fill the earth will peace, justice and social order.

Holy Quran and Prophetic traditions have in unequivocal terms predicted the glorious triumph of the forces of right and the establishment of an Islamic society built on the foundations of justice and righteousness. The wait and anticipation for that bright tomorrow continues. As Imam Sajjad (as) says, “The greatest success is to wait for the reappearance (of Imam)”. (Al Ihtejaj vol.2 Pg.154. Kamaaluddin vol.1 Pg.320)

Awaiting is primarily the result of two main conditions: not satisfied with the status quo and expecting things to change for good. But, merely being disgruntled with the status quo is not sufficient. A person has to step out of his comfort zone and prepare the ground for visible and productive change to happen. In more precise terms, he has to participate in the process of change.

In the words of British historian Eric Hosbawm, the concept of messianism, which we call Mahdism, can be broadly divided into two categories: passive and active. In the passive Mahdism, people immerse themselves in prayers and hope for the savior’s early reappearance. In the active or revolutionary Mahdism, people run the gauntlet and participate in the process of change.

In today’s era – with the moral bankruptcy, endemic corruption, grinding poverty, and scourge of illiteracy, ignorance, misrule and barbarism reaching the climax – what should a waiter wait for? What are the responsibilities of a person waiting for the change to happen?

The forces of imperialism have become menacingly stronger than ever. Human rights abuses have become frighteningly rampant. Weak and voiceless continue to be oppressed and subjugated by mighty and powerful

There is a clear instruction in Holy Quran for believers waiting for the change. “And say to those who do not believe that you act as much as you can. We are also trying. You all wait and surely we all are waiting.” (Quran 11:121-122).

But, what does this wait entail and what are the believers waiting for. The narration attributed to the Holy Prophet (pbuh) makes it amply clear. “The world will not perish until a man among the Arabs appears whose name matches my name.”  (Sahih al-Tirmidhi, V9, P74)

We are witnessing social, political and cultural upheaval across the world today. Morals and ethics have degraded alarmingly. Grinding poverty has resulted in the poor quality of life. Illiteracy and educational backwardness has sent us back to dark ages. The forces of imperialism have become menacingly stronger than ever. Human rights abuses have become frighteningly rampant. Weak and voiceless continue to be oppressed and subjugated by mighty and powerful.

In such a scenario, when the darkness of despair prevails everywhere, there is an elixir of hope. The hope lies in the divine intervention. The hope is the divinely guided leader, the Mehdi (ajtf), who is expected to come out of the occultation and establish a system based on the divinely ordained laws. It will be an ultimate victory of truth, justice and righteousness. “Mehdi (ajtf) is no longer an idea waiting to be materialized nor a prophecy that needs to be substantiated,” Shaheed Baqir as Sadr writes in An Inquiry Concerning Al Mahdi, “he is a living reality, a particular person, living among us in flesh and blood, who shares our hopes, suffering and sorrows is waiting for the appropriate moment to stretch his hand to every oppressed and needy person and eliminate the tyrants.”

Allah (swt) says in Holy Quran, “O’ Muhammad (pbuh), you are but a warner, and for every community, there exists a guide.” (Quran 13:7). There will always be a divinely gifted guide for people in every age and every time. For us, the people of this age, it is the Mehdi (ajtf).

Looking at the state of affairs today, the discourse around the reappearance of Imam Mehdi (as) and the responsibility of setting the ground for his reappearance has assumed huge significance. With the world sinking into the abyss of darkness and people across the world grappling with myriad self-inflicted woes, the responsibility on our shoulders has increased. Imam’s occultation, however, does not mean he has abandoned us or that we must despair about the present state of affairs. Imam Ali (as) said: “Await for the reappearance (of Imam) and do not despair of the divine mercy. Because the best deed in the eyes of Allah, the great and the mighty, is to wait for the reappearance (of Imam). It is the duty of those who are believers.” (Al Khisaal, vol2, Pg616).

The hope is the divinely guided leader, the Mehdi (ajtf), who is expected to come out of the occultation and establish a system based on the divinely ordained laws. It will be an ultimate victory of truth, justice and righteousness

What are our responsibilities as believers to prepare the ground for Imam’s reappearance? A tradition attributed to Imam Hasan Askari (as) exhorts people to remain vigilant and participate in the process of educational change. “Be aware, if somebody teaches ignorant, guides a misguided, instills the teachings of Ahlulbayt (as), then on the day of Qiyamat (judgment day), he will be with us. We will give him a seat next to us wherever we may be.” Hence, it is amply clear that during this period of Imam’s occultation, among the biggest responsibilities on our shoulders is to bring about educational reformation in our society.

Such educational reformers enjoy supreme position in the eyes of Allah (swt). Imam Ali Naqi (as) extols the virtues of these reformers. “Had there not been such scholars in the period of occultation who call people towards the Ahlulbayt (as), guide towards them, defend their religion with the proofs of Allah, protect weak Muslims from the devilish designs, deception of the tyrants and tentacles of the enemies of Islam, then surely all would have deviated from the religion of Allah.” (Mahajjatul-Baizaa, Vol. 1, Pg. 32)

It’s important to enjoin others to pursue good deeds (amr bil maaruf) and advocate against sinful practices (nahi anil munkar). Spreading awareness about the sinister plots and conspiracies being hatched by the enemies of Islam is another big responsibility. We must promote and propagate the divine message of Islam and develop scientific temper in our youth through education and reformation.

The practice of writing ariza must be encouraged so that the youngsters become more aware of their duties and responsibilities. We must strive to expose the corrupt rulers and extend helping hand towards poor and needy in our society. We must constantly try to polish our morals and ethics to be able to join Imam’s army.  Above all, we must raise our voice – individually and collectively – against corruption, injustice, terrorism, crime, immorality and other such menaces.

What is important is the right strategy and approach to pave the ground for educational awakening and social reformation. Grooming children from the elementary level, making them understand the purpose of existence and their responsibilities, explaining how Islam is not just a religion but a complete way of life, stressing on the need to analyze with a free mind, the need to inquire and argue fearlessly, the need to debate and discuss passionately, and the need to exchange ideas generously. The approach has to be thoughtful, progressive and result-oriented. It must ensure the gains of education are properly utilized to bring up children who are educated, informed, aware and enlightened.

Considering that we are impatiently waiting for someone who is a righteous and virtuous messiah, it’s important that we familiarize ourselves with the ideals of deliverance and act on them in letter and spirit. To prepare the ground for his reappearance, we have to develop a reformist spirit in ourselves and others so that the society undergoes change. To protect society from social infirmities, ethical degeneration, cultural disorder, misrule and anarchy, it’s important to educate ourselves and others around us. If we remain trapped in the vortex of ignorance; social anomalies, cultural dilemmas, and orthodox beliefs will continue to hinder our personal growth and that of the society.

As Allah (swt) says in Holy Quran, You are the best nation brought forth for mankind. You enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and believe in Allah” (Quran 3:110). The seeds of the promised rule of Mehdi (as) shall soon sprout and our agonizing wait shall end.

How social media has changed the way businesses are conducted

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Syed Zafar Mehdi

Earlier, companies used to advertise jobs in the newspapers, magazines, job boards or through word of mouth.

Those traditional methods continue to exist, however with the advent of powerful social media tools, companies are increasingly adopting innovative social media strategies to survive in this highly competitive business environment.

When Ford ran its 2011 Explorer launch on Facebook, it created flutter in the business circles, as it was the first time a major car company was opting for web unveiling.

The gamble turned out to be extremely effective, prompting business leaders around the globe to stand up and take notice of the power and reach of social media.

Howard Schlutz, CEO – Starbucks made pertinent remarks about the role of social media in an interview with Harvard Business Review.

“Whether you are creating a brand, building one, or running a big one, you’d better understand social media, because there is a seismic shift in how people are gaining access to information and, as a result, how they are behaving,” he said.

In this globalized world, with great inter-connectivity, it has become critical to incorporate social media elements into business for myriad reasons.

The explosion of social media has been incredible. A paper Social Networks and their Impact on Records and Information Management by Arma International Educational Foundation states that social networks started as a means for people to have a social connection with other people with similar interests.

“They were once considered a tool for youthful revolution, but over the course of the last seven years, social networks have been used both for social purposes as well as for conducting business by a variety of organizations and industries. Examples of industry sectors using social networks include private companies, non-profits, political organizations, government and education,” reads the report.

In this globalized world, with great inter-connectivity, it has become critical to incorporate social media elements into business for myriad reasons.

The interactive nature of social media allows businesses to reach out to prospective candidates and tap information about their background, experience and expectations.

It helps in marketing and brand management and increases the opportunities for enterprises to understand the consumers and build instant connection with them.

Two-thirds of the 21,000 companies who participated in a survey by Harvard Business Review Analytical Services said they are either currently using social media channels or have social media plans in the future.

Generally, business professionals are known to be late-adopters, but the world of possibilities thrown up by social media has led many of them to it.

But many still say that it is an experiment, as they try to understand how to best use the different channels, gauge their effectiveness and integrate social media into their strategy.

“While still searching for best practices and measurements, two-thirds of the companies surveyed are convinced their use of social media will grow, and many anticipate investing more in it next year, even as spending in traditional media declines,” says the report The New Conversation: Taking Social Media from Talk to Action.

Generally, business professionals are known to be late-adopters, but the world of possibilities thrown up by social media has led many of them to it.

Social media experts believe that it is high time for businesses to accept and recognize that social media is a positive tool they can use to their advantage, irrespective of whether or not the job deals with social media or the internet.

According to a research report Social media and HR: how to stay ahead of curve by Sage (UK) Limited, human resources is lagging slightly behind other business functions such as sales and marketing in using social media to their advantage, however its value has started to be recognized.

“It has a potentially game-changing role to play in recruitment and a significant role in creating a positive employer brand. It can also drive greater collaboration within organizations, and can help HR professionals to share best practices and learn from the experiences of their counterparts in other organizations,” reveals the report.

In big companies, social media plays important part in centralizing the data sharing, by enabling employees at various locations to share information instantly.

As the practice of social media picks up, there is still a disparity in different countries, as found out in a report Social Media and Resourcing: the impact of Social Media on Recruitment and HR in Asia Pacific by Australia-based Alexander Mann Solution and The Chapman Consulting Group.

None of the Australian respondents say they used social media to vet or reject job applicants, while in Singapore, 17 per cent confess to have rejected a candidate based on information available on social media site and 29 per cent of recruiters in Hong Kong reveal they actively vet candidates online.

In big companies, social media plays important part in centralizing the data sharing, by enabling employees at various locations to share information instantly.

It also plays a crucial role in supporting and cultivating the corporate culture within an organization by creatively engaging the employees to ensure higher productivity at work.

Incorporating the engagement aspect in social media strategy is important to create a corporate culture. In future, as the role and importance of social media becomes more defined in the business world, it is likely to extend to other aspects of business.

According to Wikipedia, there are more than 200 active social networking sites, most prominent being LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Skype, and MySpace, besides Yahoo Groups, Google groups etc.

In future, as the role and importance of social media becomes more defined in the business world, it is likely to extend to other aspects of business

Social media has emerged as a powerful way to expand the reach of business, generate publicity, keep the workforce in good humor, and to ensure greater productivity and growth.

However, it is important for business professionals to understand which social media strategies or tools will work to their advantage.

Ray Ponter in his book The Handbook of Online Social Media Research: Tools and Techniques enlists some important social media tools for the public sector, which includes online communities, online research communities, twitter, social networks like Facebook, blogs and public discussion forums, virtual worlds etc.

The tools are aplenty. Business professionals may use Twitter to stay updated with industry events and happenings. They may do blogging to spell out their business methodologies and practices.

More popular platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn can help them engage with employees, both new and old. Staying in touch with the alumni network – an art perfected by many prominent consulting firms – can pay back when they recommend new hires.

The effective use of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn in recruiting people can eliminate the cost involved in hiring head-hunters, or paying consultancies or job sites.

The role of CEOs and top leadership is also critical. There is a growing trend of young CEOs upstaging older ones in many companies, and that means the disparity in terms of social media is also diminishing.

The effective use of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn in recruiting people can eliminate the cost involved in hiring head-hunters, paying consultancies or job sites

Business leaders in the present scenario need to have firm grip over the intricacies of social media and its application to various aspects of business, be it recruiting, scouting, engaging or brand building.

A study by Wipro revealed that 63% of the CEOs’ use social media in their respective industries, though this is not indicative of the extent of usage and effectiveness.

“Majority of the CEOs’ are in agreement with the fact that social media is relevant and the usage should be emphasized upon to gain maximum of it,” says the report.

As Arthur L Jue, Jackie Alcalde Marr, and Mary Ellen Kassotakis write in their book Social Media at Work: Networking Tools Propel Organisational Performance, “the social media wildfire rages on, fed by high winds of at least three converging forces: the nature of the business environment, changing workforce demographics, and rapid advancements in software technology that enable social connection.”