Posted: Wed Jul 13, 2005 6:41 am Post subject: Perception of Islam
In the aftermath of the recent bombings in London, the following are two interviews that give fresh perspectives on the underlying causes behind them and how we should address them and what are the implications for the perception of the Islamic world.
The Theater of Sacred Terror
Historian of Islam and jihadi expert Juan Cole explains the reasons for the London bombings.
Interview by Deborah Caldwell
Juan Cole is a history professor at the University of Michigan and an expert on the "jihadi," or "sacred-war," strain of Muslim radicalism--including Al Qaeda and the Taliban. In the wake of the London attacks, we asked Cole to help explain the political and religious motivations behind this latest terrorist attack. He says the jihadists are acting out their version of a sacred drama, in which they are modern-day equivalents of the first Muslims, fighting against the evil and oppressive Meccans. In their imagination, the people of London--and by extension, all Westerners--are "Meccans" who must be destroyed in order for "true" Muslims to save the world. "There’s no sense of compromise in this cosmic struggle," Cole says. "For this reason the struggle can be imagined as a very long-term one."
Once again, we’re trying to make sense of the relationship between Islam and terrorism. Can you tell us about Muslims in Britain?
The Muslim community in the U.K. is predominantly South Asian--from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. It by now has decades-long roots in Great Britain. There are about a million and a half Muslims, in a population of about 60 million overall. It's quite a significant percentage of the population in the U.K
The British Muslim community is a bigger community proportionally [than the U.S. Muslim community] and it's been there longer. We didn't have more than 100,000 Muslims until 1965, when our immigration laws changed.
We always hear that, unlike American mosques, London's mosques are centers of Islamist ideology.
First of all, I don't like the term "Islamist." What you're really talking about are radicals. They're mostly Salafis. The term "Islamist" was invented by a few French social scientists in the early 1980s. In French, Christianity is actually called Cristianisme; they were convinced that what was going on in Islam was unlike what was happening in the other religions, that it was somehow unique. But I disagree with them.
In terms of the mosques, Finsbury Park Mosque is the famous center of Islamic radicalism, which recruited Zacarias Moussaoui and Richard Reid. Its imam, Abu Hamza al Masri, went on trial this week.
Do you think it's connected?
I can only speculate at this point. We don't know exactly who carried out the bombings; we have an [Arabic-language] website that claimed responsibility for a splinter group of Al Qaeda. But my best guess is, based on the modus operandi, that this is Al Qaeda, and if it is Al Qaeda, then certainly the trial of Al-Masri--who is Egyptian and from the same organization as Ayman el-Zawahri, an organization that joined Al Qaeda in 1998--then it seems to me impossible that it's not connected.
I sense that Muslims in Britain feel a kind of racial and ethnic discrimination I'm not sure they feel in the United States. Is that the case?
I know a lot of American Muslims who have the general feeling of being scrutinized and discriminated against here, too. It is more in Britain, though, without any regard for 9/11. Just in terms of the numbers involved, and the patterns of settlement. For instance, in Bradford, there were race riots. It's a town of maybe 30,000 that has a very large Muslim population that came there to work, but the local industries declined and they wound up unemployed. So they're more like the Southern African-Americans who came North to places like Detroit or in some instances like Mexican-Americans in some areas of this country. So some of the discrimination that they face is race and class discrimination, of a sort that we see often in urban situations in the United States. But which seldom involves this particular group here.
If the Muslim population there feels more discriminated against, does it follow then that it would be a breeding ground for a terrorist attack?
No. My own perception is that most major terrorist attacks by these Salafi groups have been done by outsiders, because long-term rooted residents have reasons for which they wouldn’t want a backlash against their own families and communities. And they’ve come to have a certain attachment to the place. So there’s virtually no evidence of long-term Muslim residents in the United States or Britain with anything like ties to terrorism. Now, there have been British Muslims, even second-generation ones, who have gone off to fight elsewhere. A couple showed up in Israel and got themselves killed. And several in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some of the people in Guantanamo were British. My best guess is that Al Qaeda did this, you’d find they were infiltrators from elsewhere.
What was the aim of this particular terrorist attack?
The Al Qaeda ideology believes that the Muslim world is weak and oppressed and dominated by the wealthy capitalist West. And that this West uses things like the establishment of Israel or the setting of Muslim against Muslim in Iraq or Afghanistan as a way of keeping the Muslim world weak. Ideally, all the Muslims should get together and establish a United States of Islam, which would revive the Caliphate. (In medieval Islam the Caliph was a kind of pope figure, a central spiritual authority.) Under the Caliphate, you’d have the wealthy Egyptian writers and engineers and you’d have the wealthy oil states come together to make the Muslim world into a united superpower.
Does that dream spring specifically from Salafi theology?
No, you could be a Salafi and not share that particular ideology.
So where does the idea come from?
It goes back to the 19th century. The Ottomans, when they were facing British and French incursion, put together this idea of pan-Islam back in the 1880s. They think that for the last 200 years or so, since Bonaparte invaded Egypt in 1798, Europe has been invading their countries, raping their women, subjecting their men, and stealing their wealth.
So they have a two-fold plan. In order to establish a united Muslim country, you’d have to overthrow the individual secular regimes that now exist—Algeria and Egypt, and so forth. Then you’d have to unite them all under Salafi Islam. And every time they’ve tried to overthrow the Egyptian government, they’re checked, in part because the Americans back [Egyptian President] Hosni Mubarak.
So then they put forward the theory in the 1990s of hitting the foreign enemy first. Basically there are two major impediments to their plan. One is the local secular military governments, which resist being dissolved into this Islamic state. The other is the Western superpowers that back the military regimes. So they became convinced that in order to go forward with their plans, they would have to find a way of pushing the United States and the other powers out of the Middle East—make them timid about intervening, make them pick up stakes and go home, leaving Mubarak and others to their fate. So the attack on London is part of this strategy—getting the British out of Iraq and Afghanistan, weakening British resolve for having a strong posture in the Middle East a la supporting the United States. Having gotten rid of Western dominance, they believe, they can then polish off the secular enemies and go forward with their plans for a revolution of the global south.
If the West pulled out of Iraq and Afghanistan, would that end the terrorism or slow it down?
The people who already hold these ideas are unlikely to have their minds changed. They look around and see Western influence everywhere. Certainly the U.S. occupation of Iraq is a great recruiting tool for al Qaeda. They can go to the mosques and find unemployed angry young men and say they are oppressed by Westerners and say, “Look what they’re doing in Fallujah.” So the images are very good recruitment tools.
Why do they think terrorism will work, since it’s unlikely Britain will change its policies?
The British were already planning to draw down their troops from 9,000 to 2,000 in the next nine months. I think the British will do that, and these bombings will not change British policy. The British have been bombed before and have not been timid; they’ve soldiered on in their activities. I don’t think Spain withdrew from Iraq mainly because of the Madrid bombings, either. The Iraq war had always been enormously unpopular—92 percent of the population didn’t want it.
But these people don’t do these bombings for immediate political purposes. Sacred terror has a lot to do with symbology. They’re like big theatrical events. As I said, they couldn’t even operate in Cairo; they would be arrested. So they feel very powerless. All the powers in the world are against them, and they feel very sure God is with them. What do you do if you’re a tiny fringe who is completely right and indeed only if your plan succeeds is the world saved? And you’re opposed by all of these massive states and powers? One of the things they’re doing is giving themselves heart. They’re saying we can make a difference, we can intervene in history, the enemy is not invulnerable, and we can strike it.
What is the psychology of sacred terror?
What’s different about sacred terror and ordinary political terror is sacred terror tends to be more based in absolutes. The IRA wanted England out of Northern Ireland, but the IRA didn’t think England was evil. It just wanted it out of Northern Ireland. Al Qaeda thinks the U.K. is evil, that it is a corrupting, oppressive influence for Muslims. So there’s no sense of compromise in this cosmic struggle. For this reason the struggle can be imagined as a very long-term one; it can go on for hundreds of years from these people’s point of view, and the signs of victory can be read in symbolic ways. So these bombings are a kind of victory of a sort that the early Muslims had against their much more powerful foes in Mecca.
So they view themselves as the early Muslims against the Meccans?
This is very clear in their literature. And remember, Mecca was a big center of trading in Western Arabia. It made its way through the caravan trade. So similar cities like London and New York are configured in the minds of these people as “Meccan.”
And therefore considered secular, pagan, and anti-Muslim?
Why is Islam—as opposed to other world religions--today the breeding ground for spectacular sacred terror?
Much of the Muslim world is relatively close to Europe and therefore was early on deeply colonized. Whereas many countries when they decolonized in the course of the 20th century could feel that they gained a great deal of autonomy—China or even Vietnam after 1975—most countries in the Muslim world are close enough to Europe that even when they de-colonized they suffered from neo-colonialism. If you look at Egypt, how many autonomous decisions does it make? Egypt gets $2 billion a year from the United States, and it has all kinds of relationships with the European Union. It cannot strike on its own very easily.
I would argue neo-colonialism is at the root of terrorism. But I should also point out that these groups are not just reactive. They have their own vision and ambitions and aggressions that are not always in reaction to something else.
Is there anything the West, or the Muslim world, can do to stop terrorism?
Yes. You resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict with a Palestinian state that the Palestinians are happy with. You end the U.S. presence in Iraq, and put efforts into properly rebuilding Afghanistan, which has not been done. If you did those three things, 90 percent of it would go away.
The London Bombings: Globalization's Revenge?
Jihadist violence has metastasized into a new brand of 21st-century radical Islam.
By Mark LeVine
As investigators sift through the carnage of yet another deadly terrorist attack, this time in the heart of the world's first world city, London, British subjects and citizens across Europe and the United States are anxiously demanding to know who is behind such acts and what can be done to stop them. So far, the best Western leaders can offer is a prolonged war on terror, for which yesterday's bombings can be considered Al Qaeda's latest counterattack.
There is good reason for the seeming intractability of the war on terror: Post-September 11 terrorism is, sadly, part of the fabric of 21st-century globalization. It is a direct product of the global economic and cultural transformations that have brought people of different worldviews into closer contact with each other than ever before, yet at the same time marginalized or unequally incorporated large swathes of humanity--including in the Muslim majority world--into the emerging world system.
If we look at the London attacks through the prism of globalization, there is evidence of three phenomena that help us understand what the attacks represent and where they might lead.
First, while those claiming responsibility for the bombings call themselves "Al Qaeda," and reporters, commentators, and government officials throw around such terms as "Al Qaeda and affiliated movements," the fact is that Al Qaeda today is more of a brand than an identifiable organization with a coherent organizational structure and operationally responsible leadership (the classic example of such an organization being the Palestine Liberation Organization).
As a brand with its own "lifestyle" and image attached to it, Al Qaeda is using the strategy developed by many of the biggest corporations in the global era. While in the 20th century, major industrial corporations such as General Motors or General Electric actually made the products they sold in their own factories, today, global corporations such as Nike or Microsoft are primarily brand-producers, engaging in research and development of products that are manufactured by others (mostly subcontractors in the developing world).
In a similar way, since 9/11 the core Al Qaeda leadership has been less involved in planning and orchestrating terrorist attacks than in providing the ideological trappings and motivation for self-starters (for example, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian national said to be the mastermind behind the Iraqi insurgency's beheadings and car-bombings) to follow their lead more or less independently. All it takes is a few veterans of fighting in Algeria, Afghanistan, or Iraq, a bit of technical know-how available over the web, ideological commitment, and a pool of young, disaffected, angry recruits, and you can start your own Al Qaeda franchise.
Second, the attacks are evidence of the enormous impact of globalization outside the United States. Most Americans have never experienced globalization physically, materially, and spiritually, in the way that the majority of citizens of the developing--and especially Muslim--world have felt its effects. Globalization's consequences for Muslims--massive politically and economically motivated population migrations, economic marginalization of the Muslim world, and intense cultural penetration and even military occupation by the forces of globalization in their home countries--all have created a potentially poisonous brew of alienation and rootlessness that groups like Al Qaeda expertly exploit to recruit new followers.
Perhaps the most important experience of globalization here is what scholars call the "deterritorialization" caused by the migration of (largely) young men from their home countries to the West, and especially Europe. These rootless young men, no longer grounded by their home cultures, have little in common with the long-established, mainstream if socially conservative Muslim communities in Europe. Most of these communities are in the midst of intensive efforts to become legally integrated, if not socially assimilated, into their host societies.
The economic prospects of these migrants in Europe are often quite narrow, as are those of the majority of second- or even third-generation children of the previous waves of Muslim immigration (which includes "shoe bomber" Richard Reid ). If the European Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan and others have called for the creation of a "Euro-Islam" that combines the best of both cultures, this group of Muslims, often economically marginalized yet constantly tempted by a hyper-secular and consumerist culture that is as difficult to afford as it is to resist, creates a "ghetto Islam" that is disconnected from the surrounding societies.
The inhabitants of these ghettos (which are as much a state of mind as a specific neighborhood) naturally feel their presence in the host country to be transitory. It is not surprising that unlike their more established religious counterparts, they have no stake in their host societies, and so feel little sympathy with or concern for its citizens. It is from these dynamics that an "Al Qaeda in Europe," the name of the previously unknown group that has claimed responsibility for the attacks, arises.
This process is evidence of a third phenomenon associated with globalized Islam that signals an important transformation in the nature of "radical Islam" epitomized by 9/11. From the Iranian Revolution of 1978 through the early 1990s, the dominant expression of Muslim activism was explicitly political: Islamist movements sought to create some sort of Islamic state. However problematic those movements were from a Western perspective, they had specific political goals and even used the language of contemporary politics--democracy, human rights, and free elections--to articulate their goals.
Even the terrorist movements of that era had clear political goals (most often some sort of sovereignty) that could be understood and potentially become the basis for negotiation. But as French Islamic scholar Olivier Roy points out in his new book, "Globalized Islam," as the chance for creating an Islamic state has been frustrated repeatedly, a new generation of "neofundamentalist" movements--led by Osama bin Laden and epitomized in its more violent tendency by Al Qaeda--emerged to fill the void left by the failure of political Islam. But these movements have few positive goals and are as unwilling to dialog with non-Muslim social systems as they are to accommodate Muslims who don't follow their narrow vision of Islam.
Who can successfully oppose Al Qaeda?
How do those of us who seek a more peaceful world compete successfully against the Al Qaeda image in a marketplace where it has the advantages of an established and instantly recognizable, if niche, presence?
There are three groups that can play such a role. The first is the larger Muslim communities in the societies in which the potential terrorists live. Certainly, Muslims world-wide must take a vocal and unflinching stand against the violence launched by their coreligionists. Yet the more established mainstream groups are often operating in a different universe of discourse and influence from their radical brethren. They have agendas and priorities (halal certification, religious schools, displaying religious symbols on state property) that do not concern the more radical neo-fundamentalist groups. Indeed, these groups are highly critical of, and in some ways emerged precisely as a challenge to, their increasingly "establishment" counterparts.
Moreover, the Al Qaeda brand of universalistic Islamist ideology is at odds with the existing communalist, ethnic, sectarian, or nationally based Muslim communities (such as Pakistanis in Britain, Turks in Germany, etc.). And ironically, while progressive Muslim intellectuals and lay preachers are working hard to reach out to the kinds of young people who might gravitate toward militant violence, their sometimes unorthodox approaches draw criticism from the Muslim establishment that is much more conservative in its outlook and not all that far removed from the neo-fundamentalists in their disdain for many aspects of the host nation's culture.
Second, Western governments could play a positive role in reducing the appeal of Muslim extremists by, as President Bush suggests, promoting "freedom and democracy" across the Muslim world. But however laudable their goals, the inconstistencies and contradictions in U.S. and European policies toward the region have won them few friends among the groups actively involved in challenging the political status quo. And even where rhetoric is matched by an effort to "walk the talk"--such as the G-8 leaders' current attempts to transform the industrialized world's relations with impoverished African nations--the complexities of the political process remind us that good intentions and even tens of billions of dollars in aid are no substitute for the major structural change in the world economy required to lift Africa out of its cycle of poverty, war, and debt.
The roots of contemporary Muslim extremism also lie as much in the structures of the world economy as in what New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman has called Islam's "jihadist death cult." Just as 20th-century terrorism was a structural response to the emerging third-world state system in which the Palestinians, the Kurds, or the Irish were left without sovereignty, contemporary terrorism is a structural part of the globalized world system in which huge numbers of people are left without a viable future.
Finally, the global peace and justice movement has the potential to play a positive role in taking the frustrations and economic and cultural injustice experienced by many Muslims in the West and to help to channel it into a larger cross-cultural movement for social change. However, as I wrote almost five years ago in an article for Beliefnet, throughout the late 1990s the burgeoning movement largely ignored Muslim voices and experiences, despite the fact that the two groups' critiques of Western corporations and government policies were quite similar.
It was only after September 11 and the worldwide protests against the invasion of Iraq that Muslims and the peace/anti-corporate globalization movements joined forces. But it was often the more politically and ideologically extreme representatives of both sides that came together, which produced little in the way of a holistic, systematic plan for positive change in their respective societies.
As long as we have a global system in which wealth is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, billions of people live on $2 a day or less, and real democracy is a distant dream most of the world's poor, there is little likelihood that terrorism will end. Terrorist "marketers" and franchisers will deftly use the opportunities presented by globalization to spread their brand of violently destructive religion to a small but willing group of consumers.
And so, if as Rand Corporation terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman warns, the thousands of terrorist suspects apprehended worldwide since September 11 "are being replaced as fast as we can kill or capture them," the horrible attacks in London will not be the last we'll see of Al Qaeda's European branch. Only an unprecedented coalition of Muslims and Westerners—leaders and ordinary people alike, both sides ready to question cherished beliefs and practices—would offer the possibility of ending the war, or at least calling a truce, before thousands more lives are lost.
The following article gives suggestions of what the Muslim leadership should do to improve the image of Islam in the wake of the recent bombings in London.
Moderate Muslims' citizenship duty
By Mansoor Ijaz
LONDON - The trust that binds citizens of free societies together was violated last week when suspected Islamist terrorists set off a wave of bombs at the height of London's morning rush hour, killing more than 50 people and injuring 700.
This tragedy follows at least 17 other bombings worldwide linked to Al Qaeda since 2002, according to Robert Pape, a University of Chicago political scientist who compiles data on the subject. The planning and execution of last Thursday's bombings indicate that Al Qaeda continues to function efficiently. For the perpetrators of London's attacks to escape the notice of the world's most formidable domestic counterterrorism service before the strikes underscores their resolve and cunning.
Al Qaeda's success in mutating from a centralized terror conglomerate into an amorphous ideology with local, homegrown cells in target countries challenges the big-power thesis of taking the war to the enemy before the enemy arrives on our shores. Most disturbingly, however, Al Qaeda's success defines the central failure within moderate Islam to identify, control, and stamp out its extremists. The enemy, it appears, is already among us. This is why the London bombings represent a milestone for moderate Muslims. They can either stand up now and fight Islam's radical fringes from within or sit haplessly by while Western governments do it for them.
Verbal condemnations and choreographed press releases against terrorist acts, as Britain's Muslim leaders produced last Thursday, are not sufficient.
Real action is needed - and fast.
America's Muslims largely failed to rise up to their citizenship responsibilities after the 9/11 attacks, often choosing instead to play the role of aggrieved victims. Their voices in America's body politic are now marginalized as a result. Indeed, that moderate Muslims everywhere do not take meaningful steps to weed out Al Qaeda's dangerous roots in their communities is a stunning failure of leadership and lies at the heart of the increasing distrust secular societies have for all Muslims.
Britain's Muslims have an opportunity to set an important example by elevating the duties of citizenship above fears of looming civil rights violations.
What to do? The action plan for moderate Muslims is uncomplicated if the political will to combat Islam's extremists from within takes hold. In Britain, three steps would be effective:
• Forbid the use of mosques and other religious institutions to discharge bigotry and hatred. As France has done, Britain should require imams to pass competency exams. Radical preaching must be replaced with knowledge of how the Koran relates to daily life within Britain's secular traditions. Any imam failing to comply should be shown politely to the departure lounge at Heathrow Airport. Those who pass must accept their citizenship responsibilities to become resources for authorities seeking data on criminal elements residing in Britain's Muslim communities.
• Open Britain's Islamic charities to greater financial scrutiny to identify those that fund terrorism. Charities should limit foreign donations to 10 percent of operating budgets and certify that the remaining donors are British citizens who give from taxable, transparent income sources. Stopping the flow of money is key to dismantling Al Qaeda's franchise strategy, where one or two foreign "masterminds" oversee attacks with foreign money and logistical support.
• Form community watch groups made up of Muslim citizens to reclaim Islam from terrorists - groups that are committed to contributing useful information to authorities. Britain's tolerant political environment has transformed it into a haven for militant Islam. Communities joining together to compile and analyze data on Muslim fanatics for use by British authorities in official proceedings is the best way for moderate Muslims to prevent the state's antiterror apparatus from appearing biased or being used inappropriately. It would also be the surest sign that British Muslims take their citizenship as seriously as their religion.
It is hypocritical for Muslims living in Western societies to demand civil rights enshrined by the state and then excuse their inaction against terrorists hiding among them on grounds of belonging to a borderless Islamic community. It is time to stand up and be counted as model citizens before the terror consumes us all.
• Mansoor Ijaz, chairman of New York-based Crescent Investment Management LLC, negotiated Sudan's offer of counterterrorism assistance to the Clinton administration in 1997. A version of this commentary appeared this week in the Financial Times.
MHI on numerous occassions has explained that terrorism is not an Islamic manifestation but rather an expression of some extremist views. The following article resonates these views by exploring all the wrong labels given to terrorists.
The label of Catholic terror was never used about the IRA
Fundamentalism is often a form of nationalism in religious disguise
Monday July 11, 2005
Last year I attended a conference in the US about security and intelligence in the so-called war on terror and was astonished to hear one of the more belligerent participants, who as far as I could tell had nothing but contempt for religion, strongly argue that as a purely practical expedient, politicians and the media must stop referring to "Muslim terrorism". It was obvious, he said, that the atrocities had nothing to do with Islam, and to suggest otherwise was not merely inaccurate but dangerously counterproductive.
Rhetoric is a powerful weapon in any conflict. We cannot hope to convert Osama bin Laden from his vicious ideology; our priority must be to stem the flow of young people into organisations such as al-Qaida, instead of alienating them by routinely coupling their religion with immoral violence. Incorrect statements about Islam have convinced too many in the Muslim world that the west is an implacable enemy. Yet, as we found at the conference, it is not easy to find an alternative for referring to this terrorism; however, the attempt can be a salutary exercise that reveals the complexity of what we are up against.
We need a phrase that is more exact than "Islamic terror". These acts may be committed by people who call themselves Muslims, but they violate essential Islamic principles. The Qur'an prohibits aggressive warfare, permits war only in self-defence and insists that the true Islamic values are peace, reconciliation and forgiveness. It also states firmly that there must be no coercion in religious matters, and for centuries Islam had a much better record of religious tolerance than Christianity.
Like the Bible, the Qur'an has its share of aggressive texts, but like all the great religions, its main thrust is towards kindliness and compassion. Islamic law outlaws war against any country in which Muslims are allowed to practice their religion freely, and forbids the use of fire, the destruction of buildings and the killing of innocent civilians in a military campaign. So although Muslims, like Christians or Jews, have all too often failed to live up to their ideals, it is not because of the religion per se.
We rarely, if ever, called the IRA bombings "Catholic" terrorism because we knew enough to realise that this was not essentially a religious campaign. Indeed, like the Irish republican movement, many fundamentalist movements worldwide are simply new forms of nationalism in a highly unorthodox religious guise. This is obviously the case with Zionist fundamentalism in Israel and the fervently patriotic Christian right in the US.
In the Muslim world, too, where the European nationalist ideology has always seemed an alien import, fundamentalisms are often more about a search for social identity and national self-definition than religion. They represent a widespread desire to return to the roots of the culture, before it was invaded and weakened by the colonial powers.
Because it is increasingly recognised that the terrorists in no way represent mainstream Islam, some prefer to call them jihadists, but this is not very satisfactory. Extremists and unscrupulous politicians have purloined the word for their own purposes, but the real meaning of jihad is not "holy war" but "struggle" or "effort." Muslims are commanded to make a massive attempt on all fronts - social, economic, intellectual, ethical and spiritual - to put the will of God into practice.
Sometimes a military effort may be a regrettable necessity in order to defend decent values, but an oft-quoted tradition has the Prophet Muhammad saying after a military victory: "We are coming back from the Lesser Jihad [ie the battle] and returning to the Greater Jihad" - the far more important, difficult and momentous struggle to reform our own society and our own hearts.
Jihad is thus a cherished spiritual value that, for most Muslims, has no connection with violence. Last year, at the University of Kentucky, I met a delightful young man called Jihad; his parents had given him that name in the hope that he would become not a holy warrior, but a truly spiritual man who would make the world a better place. The term jihadi terrorism is likely to be offensive, therefore, and will win no hearts or minds.
At our conference in Washington, many people favoured "Wahhabi terrorism". They pointed out that most of the hijackers on September 11 came from Saudi Arabia, where a peculiarly intolerant form of Islam known as Wahhabism was the state religion. They argued that this description would be popular with those many Muslims who tended to be hostile to the Saudis. I was not happy, however, because even though the narrow, sometimes bigoted vision of Wahhabism makes it a fruitful ground for extremism, the vast majority of Wahhabis do not commit acts of terror.
Bin Laden was not inspired by Wahhabism but by the writings of the Egyptian ideologue Sayyid Qutb, who was executed by President Nasser in 1966. Almost every fundamentalist movement in Sunni Islam has been strongly influenced by Qutb, so there is a good case for calling the violence that some of his followers commit "Qutbian terrorism." Qutb urged his followers to withdraw from the moral and spiritual barbarism of modern society and fight it to the death.
Western people should learn more about such thinkers as Qutb, and become aware of the many dramatically different shades of opinion in the Muslim world. There are too many lazy, unexamined assumptions about Islam, which tends to be regarded as an amorphous, monolithic entity. Remarks such as "They hate our freedom" may give some a righteous glow, but they are not useful, because they are rarely accompanied by a rigorous analysis of who exactly "they" are.
The story of Qutb is also instructive as a reminder that militant religiosity is often the product of social, economic and political factors. Qutb was imprisoned for 15 years in one of Nasser's vile concentration camps, where he and thousands of other members of the Muslim Brotherhood were subjected to physical and mental torture. He entered the camp as a moderate, but the prison made him a fundamentalist. Modern secularism, as he had experienced it under Nasser, seemed a great evil and a lethal assault on faith.
Precise intelligence is essential in any conflict. It is important to know who our enemies are, but equally crucial to know who they are not. It is even more vital to avoid turning potential friends into foes. By making the disciplined effort to name our enemies correctly, we will learn more about them, and come one step nearer, perhaps, to solving the seemingly intractable and increasingly perilous problems of our divided world.
· Karen Armstrong is author of Islam: a Short History
The following article underscores the importance of the Sunnis coming to terms with modernity and to open the process of "Ijtihad" in order to avoid similar issues in the future. Perhaps the bombings is a blessing in this respect. It could serve as a catalyst for the betterment of the future.
July 15, 2005
A Poverty of Dignity and a Wealth of Rage
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
A few years ago I was visiting Bahrain and sitting with friends in a fish restaurant when news appeared on an overhead TV about Muslim terrorists, men and women, who had taken hostages in Russia. What struck me, though, was the instinctive reaction of the Bahraini businessman sitting next to me, who muttered under his breath, "Why are we in every story?" The "we" in question was Muslims.
The answer to that question is one of the most important issues in geopolitics today: Why are young Sunni Muslim males, from London to Riyadh and Bali to Baghdad, so willing to blow up themselves and others in the name of their religion? Of course, not all Muslims are suicide bombers; it would be ludicrous to suggest that.
But virtually all suicide bombers, of late, have been Sunni Muslims. There are a lot of angry people in the world. Angry Mexicans. Angry Africans. Angry Norwegians. But the only ones who seem to feel entitled and motivated to kill themselves and totally innocent people, including other Muslims, over their anger are young Sunni radicals. What is going on?
Neither we nor the Muslim world can run away from this question any longer. This is especially true when it comes to people like Muhammad Bouyeri - a Dutch citizen of Moroccan origin who last year tracked down the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, a critic of Islamic intolerance, on an Amsterdam street, shot him 15 times and slit his throat with a butcher knife. He told a Dutch court on the final day of his trial on Tuesday: "I take complete responsibility for my actions. I acted purely in the name of my religion."
Clearly, several things are at work. One is that Europe is not a melting pot and has never adequately integrated its Muslim minorities, who, as The Financial Times put it, often find themselves "cut off from their country, language and culture of origin" without being assimilated into Europe, making them easy prey for peddlers of a new jihadist identity.
Also at work is Sunni Islam's struggle with modernity. Islam has a long tradition of tolerating other religions, but only on the basis of the supremacy of Islam, not equality with Islam. Islam's self-identity is that it is the authentic and ideal expression of monotheism. Muslims are raised with the view that Islam is God 3.0, Christianity is God 2.0, Judaism is God 1.0, and Hinduism is God 0.0.
Part of what seems to be going on with these young Muslim males is that they are, on the one hand, tempted by Western society, and ashamed of being tempted. On the other hand, they are humiliated by Western society because while Sunni Islamic civilization is supposed to be superior, its decision to ban the reform and reinterpretation of Islam since the 12th century has choked the spirit of innovation out of Muslim lands, and left the Islamic world less powerful, less economically developed, less technically advanced than God 2.0, 1.0 and 0.0.
"Some of these young Muslim men are tempted by a civilization they consider morally inferior, and they are humiliated by the fact that, while having been taught their faith is supreme, other civilizations seem to be doing much better," said Raymond Stock, the Cairo-based biographer and translator of Naguib Mahfouz. "When the inner conflict becomes too great, some are turned by recruiters to seek the sick prestige of 'martyrdom' by fighting the allegedly unjust occupation of Muslim lands and the 'decadence' in our own."
This is not about the poverty of money. This is about the poverty of dignity and the rage it can trigger.
One of the London bombers was married, with a young child and another on the way. I can understand, but never accept, suicide bombing in Iraq or Israel as part of a nationalist struggle. But when a British Muslim citizen, nurtured by that society, just indiscriminately blows up his neighbors and leaves behind a baby and pregnant wife, to me he has to be in the grip of a dangerous cult or preacher - dangerous to his faith community and to the world.
How does that happen? Britain's Independent newspaper described one of the bombers, Hasib Hussain, as having recently undergone a sudden conversion "from a British Asian who dressed in Western clothes to a religious teenager who wore Islamic garb and only stopped to say salaam to fellow Muslims."
The secret of this story is in that conversion - and so is the crisis in Islam. The people and ideas that brought about that sudden conversion of Hasib Hussain and his pals - if not stopped by other Muslims - will end up converting every Muslim into a suspect and one of the world's great religions into a cult of death.
Mowlana HazarImam's Message to The International Islamic Conference, Amman, Jordan
4th - 6th July, 2005
I am happy that we have been invited to participate in the
International Islamic Conference being held in Amman, from the 4th to
the 6th of July, 2005, under the auspices of the Hashemite Kingdom. In
light of the purpose of the Conference, I find it appropriate to
reiterate, in my message of greetings, the statement that I made in a
keynote address at a gathering of eminent Muslim scholars from 48
countries who attended the Seerat Conference in Karachi on Friday,
12th March, 1976, nearly 30 years ago, which I had the honour to
preside at the invitation of the then Minister for Religious Affairs,
Government of Pakistan.
In my presidential address, I appealed to our ulama not to delay the
search for the answers to the issues of a rapidly evolving modernity
which Muslims of the world face because we have the knowledge that
Islam is Allah's final message to mankind, the Holy Quran His final
Book, and Muhammad, may peace be upon him, His last and final Prophet.
These are the fundamental principles of faith enshrined in the Shahada
and the Tawhid therein, which bind the Ummah in an eternal bond of
unity. With other Muslims, they are continuously reaffirmed by the
Shia Ismaili Muslims of whom I am the 49th hereditary Imam in direct
lineal descent from the first Shia Imam, Hazrat Ali ibn Abi Talib
through his marriage to Bibi Fatimat-az-Zahra, our beloved Prophet's
I applaud Jordan, under the leadership of His Majesty King Abdullah,
for the foresight in hosting and organising this International Islamic
Conference for the purpose of fostering unity in the Ummah and
promoting the good reputation of our faith of Islam. Let this
Conference be part of a continuous process of dialogue in the true
spirit of Muslim brotherhood so that the entire wealth of our
pluralist heritage bears fruit for the Muslim world, and indeed the
whole of humanity; for ours is the heritage which premiates human
dignity, transcending bounds of creed, ethnicity, language, gender or
Our historic adherence is to the Jafari Madhhab and other Madhahib of
close affinity, and it continues, under the leadership of the
hereditary Ismaili Imam of the time. This adherence is in harmony also
with our acceptance of Sufi principles of personal search and balance
between the zahir and the spirit or the intellect which the zahir
I agree with our distinguished hosts and conference participants that
there is a need today to define which Madhahib will apply to the
Ummah. This clarity is critical for modem life in Islam as is evident
in areas such as law, access to Islamic banking, or in dealing with
the challenges of the rapid generation of new knowledge such as in
bio-medical and other scientific fields.
In keeping with our historic tradition of ever abiding commitment to
Muslim unity, we reaffirm our respect for the historical
interpretation of Islam by our brother Muslims as an equally earnest
endeavour to practise the faith in Allah and emulate the example of
our Holy Prophet, may peace be upon him, which illuminates Muslim
lives and which, Inshallah, will elevate all Muslim souls.
Once again, I congratulate His Majesty and the Hashemite Kingdom for
this timely initiative, and I pray for the successful deliberations of
the Conference in the spirit of Islamic brotherhood.
With fraternal greetings,
His Highness the Aga Khan
49th hereditary Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslim
The Islamic community needs to root out the cancer within'
By Prince Turki al-Faisal and Lord Carey
What makes a man take his own life and the lives of dozens of innocent people: mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters - the heroes and heroines of everyday life? We should be clear upon one thing which is that it has nothing to do with any faith.
Good people of all faiths, or of none, are united in seeing the London bombings as a terrible act against humanity. Not to see this is to be inhuman. There is no faith that condones the taking of innocent life and that celebrates suicide. The killing of innocent people is prohibited by all faiths. "Thou shalt not kill" is one of the 10 commandments passed down to us all from the Prophet Moses in the Holy Bible. "Whoever kills a person has killed the whole of humanity," says one of the best known Koranic verses.
Abu Hamza, who faces trial for inciting racial hatred
Suicide is a sign of an individual's alienation from God and their alienation from the human family to which we all belong. This shared human bond, on which we are all so widely and clearly agreed is a bond that can transcend other divisions. Our deeply shared humanity unites us.
We serve as co-chair of the Council of One Hundred of the World Economic Forum. In this we are committed to building bridges and to overcoming divides. One of us has served as Christian leader in the Britain and the other as a Muslim diplomat, but we share a common goal, which is to build a vehicle and a dialogue that can address this great challenge of our time.
We do this in the belief that it is possible to construct a world built upon cooperation and harmony sustained by meaningful dialogue. We reject the inevitability of a "Clash of Civilizations". We do not accept the concept of "Islam versus Christianity", or of "the West versus Islam". Differences are real and need to be acknowledged, but the bonds of common humanity, of common values, and of our being citizens together of one world are stronger. Islam, Christianity and Judaism are all Abrahamic faiths with the same core values.
Yet facts must be faced. There are those among our human family who are committing these deeds of horror and devastation and who do not see how evil and terrible they are. They claim to be faithful to Islam and faithful to God but they are not. This is not Islam and these acts are absolutely not the will of God. Their twisted vision is alien to the healthy body of the faith that holds the world's Muslim community together. It is a wicked perversion of the common values of faith.
The misappropriation of religious labels for violent ends is not a new problem, as past conflicts and experiences in Northern Ireland have made clear, but it is a very urgent one. Politicisation of any faith can be extremely dangerous. In the Middle East, the separation between politics and religion has, by some, been confused, and it is a highly volatile and dangerous confusion that must end. The fact that the laws of Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia, are Islamic laws and that their governance is guided by Islam, does not mean and never has meant that Islam can legitimately be used as a political tool.
Imams and teachers who have used Islam to bolster and preach their political beliefs have done so by perverting traditional Islamic texts. Declaring fatwas permitting suicide bombings goes against everything at the heart of Islam. These so-called Muslim scholars must be and are condemned. They are violating the most dearly held principles of Islam. The terrorists who have been led to kill themselves are the victims of bad teaching, resulting from this twisted ideology subjecting religion to political ends.
Al Qaeda is not and never has been an Islamic force. The vast majority of imams in the Muslim world both since and well before 9/11 have consistently and widely condemned suicide bombings in particular and terrorism in general.
The West does need to understand that while some Islamic scholars, within Saudi Arabia and in the wider world, may seek to follow a path that goes back to a fundamental view of Islam and may wish to lead a more conservative life, they do not accept suicide bombings or the taking of innocent human life. No one can do this and be a true Muslim.
What then must be done? The Islamic world needs to acknowledge the cancer within its own community and to root it out. Muslim scholars must come out loudly and strongly against suicidal bombing regardless of where, when and why they have happened. We must undertake a global act of collective self-examination.
In Islamic terms this is a project of muhasaba, a quest for the authentic Muslim voice that can dissolve the dark forces of destruction and point towards our true human values that cherish life and can bring about true human flourishing. In the words of the Koran: "God does not change the condition of a people until they change the condition of their own selves" (13:11).
This is happening: there is a deep significance in three declarations made immediately before and after the London bombings. First, more than 170 Muslim religious leaders met in Amman, Jordan, both Shi'ite and Sunni leaders as well as Ibadis and Ismailis.
They all agreed that only those trained within the traditional eight schools of Islamic jurisprudence have the authority to issue fatwas. This might seem an academic point, but it is fundamental to undermining the legitimacy of so called Islamist (rather than Islamic) terrorism. This declaration makes clear that none of these supposed fatwas is legitimate or Islamic: Islam has united and declared the terrorists to be in breach of the Islamic faith.
Second, immediately after the bombing, the Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al-alSheikh, issued a statement condemning the terrorists. He has consistently condemned suicide bombings which have no basis in Sharia. This week, 500 British imams put out a fatwa prohibiting suicide bombings and the killing of innocent people.
For its part, the West needs to be supportive of the vast majority of Muslims who are peace-loving citizens seeking a full and constructive part in society. The West also needs to understand the dangers encompassed in the liberal society which it advocates. That liberalism is the very tool used by extremists to foster and spread their twisted ideology.
We appeal to the West and world of Islam not to generalise but to differentiate the minority from the majority. It is time for us all to realize that true freedom is the freedom to live a moral life in fellowship with all mankind as citizens of one precious world. In the name of God we invite everyone to help build it.
• Prince Turki al-Faisal is the Saudi Arabian ambassador to Britain. Lord Carey is the former Archbishop of Canterbury
The following is an article on the composition and the organizational structure of Muslims in Canada. It clearly projects a pluralistic image of Muslims in terms of their cultural, geographical, interpretational, historical, ecomomical backgrounds. The others should view the community in Canada in this light and not as a monolithic block.
Muslims' search for a common voice
Canadian Muslims are grappling with how to protect their faith and
preserve their diversity, writes Mohammed Adam from Toronto.
When Prime Minister Paul Martin met a group of imams in Toronto last month
to discuss terrorism, the first thing he wanted to know was:
Who represents Canadian Muslims?
The imams had no answer.
The Canadian Muslim community is composed of diverse nationalities, ethnic
groups and sects, so it's not surprising that Islam in this country does not
speak with one voice. But in the post 9/11 world, Islam has been under
fierce scrutiny and many Muslims are seeking a certain unity with which to
address the issues confronting them.
A recent statement condemning terrorism and extremism, signed by 120 imams
from across the country, was part of the search for a strong unified voice.
In Greater Toronto, home to more than half of Canada's 700,000 Muslims,
several hitherto warring groups and mosques are working quietly to form
coalitions and reduce the cacophony of voices.
Canadians tend to see Muslims as a monolithic group, but in truth the
community is a cauldron bubbling with diverse, sometimes competing
identities, languages, political agendas and religious practices. It is a
rich stew of liberal and conservative, of Arab, Asian, African and European.
Consider what happened in the immediate aftermath of the meeting with Mr.
Martin. Even on an important issue like terrorism, long-simmering
differences boiled over into vicious name-calling. The secular wing of the
community accused the imams of being misogynists and homophobes who don't
represent the majority of Muslims, and it criticized the prime minister for
coddling up to them. In more conservative circles, some questioned why imams
such as the contrarian Aly Hindy were not invited.
For example, Tarek Fatah, of the small, but vocal, Muslim Canadian Congress,
took umbrage that women and leaders from minority sects were excluded from
the meeting. "Many of these imams have preached against gays, women, mixing
with Jews and Christians. We believe that the No. 1 step to extremism is the
exclusion of women from all walks of life and the prime minister bought into
the stereotype that Muslim leaders are primarily men," Mr. Fatah said.
Mr. Fatah argues that many Canadian Muslims don't attend mosque on Friday,
the holy day, and so religious leaders don't necessarily represent the
"The vast majority of Muslims are like all Canadians and the way to talk to
them is not just through imams but in community organizations,
parent-teacher associations and other such groups."
Other Muslim leaders dismiss Mr. Fatah as a publicity-seeking secularist who
rages against mainstream Islam to attract attention to his fledgling group.
Riad Saloojee, executive director of the Canadian Council on
American-Islamic Relations, said that just because Mr. Fatah has doctrinal
differences with some imams doesn't mean he should to denigrate a
significant effort to confront terrorism and extremism.
"The Muslim community is greatly decentralized and no one can purport to
speak for the entire community," Mr. Saloojee says. "But the 120 imams,
those that signed the declaration on terrorism -- I believe they do
represent the mainstream community opinion in a much more significant way
than Mr. Tarek and his group."
Mohamed Elmasry, president of the Canadian Islamic Congress, called Mr.
Fatah's criticisms gratuitous and unwarranted. "There are about 400 imams in
Canada and you cannot say that all of them are wrong and the prime minister
cannot meet with some of them," he said.
There have always been internal tensions in Islam, as in other religions,
but the recent squabbling exposes serious political rivalries and a struggle
for the souls and minds of ordinary Muslims. While traditional leaders like
Mr. Elmasry minimize the spectre of a power struggle, it's clear that new
voices are emerging to challenge the existing order.
"There is a fight going on for what it means to be Muslim in a secular,
post-modern society like Canada," says Mr. Fatah.
The root cause of the problem lies not just in the history of Islam, but
also in the way immigrant communities established themselves in Canada.
Unlike other religions, Islam is not formally hierarchical and power does
not devolve from a high authority to lower echelons. There is no pope or
Archbishop of Canterbury whose word or edict is generally accepted as law.
There isn't even the equivalent of Ottawa's Archbishop Marcel Gervais, who
speaks with an authority that many local Catholics accept. The Muslim
spiritual leader, the imam, speaks only for his congregation.
In the Greater Toronto Area, where 400,000 -- about 57 per cent -- of
Canadian Muslims live, there are at least 50 mosques. Conservative mosques
like Imam Aly Hindy's Salaheddin Islamic Centre live uneasily with liberal
ones like the Umma, an Ahmadi mosque where women can lead prayers. Imams act
and speak independently, as do the many Islamic organizations.
While the major divide in Canada is between the Sunni majority (about
490,000 people) and Shia minority, there are smaller sects like the Ismaili
and the Ahmadi, better known as Qadiyani, who originated in Pakistan and are
considered by some traditionalists not to be real Muslims. The Shia
population in Canada is said to be about 120,000. The Ismailis number
between 50,000 and 60,000, while Ahmadis have about 30,000 members.
The differences are sometimes exacerbated by ethnic rivalries. Muslim
immigrants to Canada came in waves -- South Asians from the Indian
subcontinent, Iranians fleeing from the revolution, Lebanese fleeing civil
war. There are Africans (many of them Somali, also fleeing civil war).
Recently, there've been Bosnians and, to a less extent, Kosovars, fleeing
Then there are skilled workers from all parts who came for a better life.
When they arrived, the various immigrant groups found comfort in numbers and
tended to stick together. The mosques they founded tended to be along ethnic
lines. The mosques were not just places of worship, but cultural and social
centres where ethic and national ties were reinforced.
Consequently, many mosques and organizations bear the imprint of individual
nationalities such as East Indian, Pakistani, Lebanese, Turkish, Somali,
Bosnian, Iranian, each with a particular identity and agenda. As one ethnic
group established its own mosque, another was compelled to do the same, if
only for reasons of cultural pride.
Each individual mosque may have been created out of a desire to forge unity
and cement an identity, but collectively the mosques have morphed into an
instrument of division and controversy.
This is not to say that no effort has been made to establish pan-Canadian
organizations. Groups such as the Islamic Forum of Canada, the Islamic
Centre of Canada, the Islamic Society of Canada, the Muslim Association of
Canada, Jamia Islamia Canada, and the Canadian Society of Muslims have names
that suggest a national orientation but in reality have little national
Historically, Mr. Elmasry's Canadian Islamic Congress, which claims to be
the country's largest independent Muslim organization, has been the most
recognized group. It is probably the group with the largest national
membership and Mr. Elmasry is a constant presence in mosques around the
country. But some Muslim leaders say that the congress's basic weakness is
that in the Toronto area very few groups are affiliated to it.
The Muslim Association of Canada, a largely Arab group, says it has 11
chapters across Canada but, even so, the organization has very little
profile and its leaders are hardly known.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations
(CAIR-CAN) has attracted much attention with its emphasis on human rights.
Founded five years ago, it has a paid staff of five but the number of
members is unknown. It scored a major coup when it persuaded 120 imams to
sign the declaration against terrorism.
It was the council that helped organize the prime minister's meeting with
the imams, a role that raised the organization's profile but also provoked
some criticism that it was deliberately cozying up with the government in
order to supplant the Canadian Islamic Congress as the leading Muslim
organization. Another complaint is that the council is essentially an
Mr. Saloojee calls such allegations nonsense.
"I've never thought that there is a rivalry and it would be wrong to try to
elbow others out," he says. "There was an opportunity to do something
historic with the imams and we did. There was an opportunity to meet the
prime minister and we did."
With a membership of only 200, the secular Muslim Canadian Congress may be
the new kid on the block, yet is still managing to attract much media
attention. Religious Muslim leaders dismiss him as a publicity hound who
represents no one but himself, but Mr. Fatah is equally dismissive of them.
"We may not represent the majority of Muslims but we resemble the majority
of Muslims," he retorts.
While the different groups are jostling for national attention, the real
power in the Canadian Muslim community resides in Greater Toronto, and that
power radiates from the many mosques spread around the city. Among the
leading ones are Madina, Salaheddin, the Islamic Society of Toronto mosque,
the International Muslim Organization mosque, the Islamic Foundation of
Toronto mosque and the Jami mosque, the oldest in Ontario.
There are even divisions within divisions. The minority Shia community, for
example, operates several different mosques to cater to the different
nationalities. The leading one is the Toronto Jaffari Islamic Centre, made
up largely of East African Muslims of Indian origin. The Imam Ali Centre,
also in Toronto, houses under one roof separate prayer spaces for Iranians,
Iraqis and Pakistanis.
The negative impact of so many discordant voices was the driving force
behind the establishment in Toronto of the Coalition of Muslim
Organizations, a body "to create a united and effective Muslim presence in
Made of more than 30 groups ranging from the very conservative to the very
liberal, the coalition pushed for, and received, a recent meeting with
Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan to discuss the Muslim community's
relationship with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
Muslim leaders agree that this is the best way to serve the community.
"There can never be one voice for Canadian Muslims. The Muslim voice has to
be a coalition of voices," says Mr. Fatah.
The following article gives a different spin on the 'cartoogate' underscoring the fact that the majority of the 1.5 billion muslims are not violent and that the political opportunists are cashing in from the controversy to further their ambitions. It also examines the socio/political realities of the Muslim world which in absence of civil society, creates a vaccum that engenders violence and discourages constructive dialogue or debate. The article concludes by revisiting the notion of civilization which points to both the western and Islamic societies as being uncivilised in the wake of the 'cartoongate'.
Cartoongate and the Long Road to Civilization
Twelve political cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad tell us more about Western fears of Islam than they do about Muslim attitudes.
By Mark LeVine
Has the Muslim world gone that mad? Do a billion Muslims really want to kill a few uncouth cartoonists because they violated Muslim religious sensibilities, however dear they may be?
Luckily, the answer to both questions is no. In fact, what some Islamic scholars are calling "cartoongate"--the publication in more than a half-dozen European papers of insulting cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad--is revealing more about the state of the Western world--particularly European fears of Islam--than about Islam today.
Originally published in September 2005 in a Danish newspaper, The depictions of Muhammad include some very insulting images indeed: Islam's Prophet with a turban-shaped bomb on his head; Muhammad at the Pearly Gates informing newly arrived suicide bombers that Heaven has "run out of virgins" (an allusion to the 72 heavenly virgins who supposedly await martyrs); Muhammad menacingly holding a sword with two veiled women behind him, and so on. The images were commissioned because the paper's editor was having trouble finding anyone willing to caricature the Prophet, depictions of whom are prohibited according to Muslim tradition.
These images have supposedly unleashed a firestorm of protest across the Muslim world. Yet the reality, as so often is the case when it comes to Western portrayals of Muslims, is different than the rhetoric. Yes, tens of thousands of Muslims have marched in protest against the cartoons; but out of 1.4 billion, that's not exactly a huge number. And death threats have been made by some extremist groups. But however upset they may be, most Muslims have not taken to the streets, and if they're protesting, it is through the modern democratic method of demonstrations and threatens to boycott Danish products.
As the latest protests in Beirut make clear, the reasons behind them combine elements of class, politics, and religious identity. The consulates are often located in wealthy neighborhoods that are home to the country's elites, wealthy foreigners, and expensive shops far beyond the means of most protesters. And the protest organizers are most often groups looking to gain political capital by challenging weak governments at a moment of heightened tension.
At the same time, however, the intense anger and occasional violence of the protests point to a central problem for Muslim activists across the world: the absence of leaders with a commitment to creative non-violence that can both rally angry co-religionists and transform the terms of the public debate.
Islam can't be blamed for this leadership vacuum. Among the successful political movements against war and autocratic rule in the past two decades, most of them (such as in Eastern Europe, South Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines, or Mexico) have occurred in places where either the state collapsed, or there was enough openness in the political system to permit the building of mass movements for social change. But the Muslim world is far too complex and varied for any single movement or leader, however charismatic, to unite it in a common purpose. And at the level of individual states, most Middle Eastern and North African regimes are strong enough to prevent the emergence of successful non-violent mass movements that could seriously challenge their power (as we saw in 2005 with the failed promise of the Egyptian elections and Lebanon's democracy movement). The limited ability of figures such as Iran's Shirin Ebadi, the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize-winning lawyer and human rights advocate, or Mubarak Awad, the respected founder of the Palestinian Center for the Study of Non-Violence in Jerusalem, to parlay their international recognition into successful movements for social change demonstrates the obstacles before even the most well-known and committed activists in the face of despotic regimes.
This stifling of the public sphere and the absence of civil society have had a profound impact in and outside the Muslim-majority world. It has fostered the growth of a younger, angrier, militant religious culture among the poor and middle class in Muslim countries and the disaffected segments of Europe's Muslim populations. Epitomized, at the extreme, by al-Qa'eda—and only slightly less threateningly by the protesters torching consulates and threatening death to cartoonists this past weekend--this culture appears incapable of breaking the cycle of violence. For these militants, the world is black and white--either for or against Islam--and the idea of engaging in difficult dialogues across the cultural divide is a waste of time.
But there's also a growing number of younger Muslims who move back and forth between their own and other cultures (not just Western, but African, Indian, and others as well). They are working to build an alternative to a culture of confrontation as the best way to solve the problems within their own societies and with the West. While the Danish cartoonists might have been exercising their right to free speech in penning the offensive cartoons, they have made it much harder for these moderate and progressive Muslims to build coalitions within and outside their communities.
And the reactions of the Western media generally have been almost as harmful, particularly toward moderate Muslims' attempts at peacefully registering their extreme distaste for the cartoons. For example, why do Western media portray large-scale protests and boycotts—time-honored tactics used by many other religious and ethnic groups--as undemocratic when Muslims engage in them?
Nor is the Western press helping to contextualize this controversy by pointing out America's own less-than-sterling recent record on free speech. Let's remember that the U.S. government has admitted targeting al-Jazeera news bureaus, and has both arrested and detained without trial journalists who were reporting news that challenged the official American version of events, particularly in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
It is certainly true, as the French newspaper Le Monde argues, that Western laws permit religions to be "freely analyzed, criticized, and even subjected to ridicule." But what editorial rationale is there for printing a picture of the founder of Islam as a bloodthirsty terrorist? How does it fulfill the role of the press in a free society? Just because a paper has the right to free speech doesn't mean that it should print insulting images that have no relationship to the reality of the situation they're meant to represent.
Another age old misconception about Islam is at the root of this controversy: the idea that Muhammad cannot be depicted visually in Muslim tradition. Jyllens-Posten's editor apparently felt that it was worth the time, money, and inevitably hatred the cartoons would generate to challenge this taboo.
The reality is, however, that the Prophet has been depicted by Muslim artists across Islam's history, particularly in the medieval period. Had the editors of Jyllands-Posten or any of their European colleagues who are so worried about free speech actually taken the time to understand the history of Islamic art and Muhammad's role in it, they would have learned that the issue is much more complicated than their simplistic conceptions about Islam allowed. (The general understanding in Islam is that Muhammad--like other Muslim prophets and, not surprisingly, God--cannot be depicted visually because to do so could lead to idolatry.) But since the editors' goal was apparently not to educate their readers but rather to prove they weren't afraid to provoke Muslims while defending freedom of expression (how it was threatened by the prohibition against depicting Muhammad no one has explained) yet another chance for dialog was turned into an opportunity for spreading anger and distrust.
In this context, the motivation of newspaper editors across Europe who have reprinted the cartoons "in solidarity" with the Danish newspaper are especially perplexing, as are their comparisons of the depictions of Muhammad to caricatures of a priest or rabbi. Exactly what are they supporting? It's hard to tell.
Aside from the fact that no mainstream paper in Europe has ever depicted a rabbi with a bomb in his yarmulke, the comparison underscores the arrogance and ignorance behind cartoongate. Muhammad is not the equivalent of a priest or even of a Pope.
Of course, Muslim newspapers have long depicted Jews in similarly hateful ways as the Muhammad cartoons. Perhaps the uproar will lead them to reconsider the practice, and in fact some Muslim commentators are reminding their readers, viewers, or listeners of this fact.
Ironically, the same day that editorial pages of U.S. newspapers began criticizing Muslims for their lack of respect for free speech, peace activist Cindy Sheehan was arrested and removed from her seat at the State of the Union speech for wearing a T-shirt under that listed the number of U.S. war dead in Iraq as of Jan. 31. A security guard saw the shirt, shouted "Protester!" (perish the thought!) into his walkie-talkie, and off she went, with nary a word of protest uttered by the U.S. media.
For most of the Muslim world, America's willingness to kill tens of thousands of Iraqis and thousands of our own young people for a war launched on a series of half truths and outright prevarications (which almost no one in our own journalistic establishment had the courage to expose, despite clear evidence at the time) is as "crazy" as their willingness to boycott or even threaten violence against Westerners over a few religiously insulting cartoons.
This sad state of affairs would seem to support the arguments of the "clash of civilizations" proponents, in which two incompatible cultures will fight it out for control of the world and its resources. But if we look at the original meaning of "civilization," among both European and Muslim intellectuals and until the 19th century, the term referred not to separate and competing cultural entities with different properties ("modern," "traditional," "backward," "advanced"), but to a universal concept--a state of maturity—in which all peoples could participate.
In that regard, cartoongate reveals how far both Western and Muslim civilizations still have to travel before they become as civilized as they imagine themselves to be.
From coffee to cheques and the three-course meal, the Muslim world has given us many innovations that we take for granted in daily life. As a new exhibition opens, Paul Vallely nominates 20 of the most influential- and identifies the men of genius behind them
1 The story goes that an Arab named Khalid was tending his goats in the Kaffa region of southern Ethiopia, when he noticed his animals became livelier after eating a certain berry. He boiled the berries to make the first coffee. Certainly the first record of the drink is of beans exported from Ethiopia to Yemen where Sufis drank it to stay awake all night to pray on special occasions. By the late 15th century it had arrived in Mecca and Turkey from where it made its way to Venice in 1645. It was brought to England in 1650 by a Turk named Pasqua Rosee who opened the first coffee house in Lombard Street in the City of London. The Arabic qahwa became the Turkish kahve then the Italian caffé and then English coffee.
2 The ancient Greeks thought our eyes emitted rays, like a laser, which enabled us to see. The first person to realise that light enters the eye, rather than leaving it, was the 10th-century Muslim mathematician, astronomer and physicist Ibn al-Haitham. He invented the first pin-hole camera after noticing the way light came through a hole in window shutters. The smaller the hole, the better the picture, he worked out, and set up the first Camera Obscura (from the Arab word qamara for a dark or private room). He is also credited with being the first man to shift physics from a philosophical activity to an experimental one.
3 A form of chess was played in ancient India but the game was developed into the form we know it today in Persia. From there it spread westward to Europe - where it was introduced by the Moors in Spain in the 10th century - and eastward as far as Japan. The word rook comes from the Persian rukh, which means chariot.
4 A thousand years before the Wright brothers a Muslim poet, astronomer, musician and engineer named Abbas ibn Firnas made several attempts to construct a flying machine. In 852 he jumped from the minaret of the Grand Mosque in Cordoba using a loose cloak stiffened with wooden struts. He hoped to glide like a bird. He didn't. But the cloak slowed his fall, creating what is thought to be the first parachute, and leaving him with only minor injuries. In 875, aged 70, having perfected a machine of silk and eagles' feathers he tried again, jumping from a mountain. He flew to a significant height and stayed aloft for ten minutes but crashed on landing - concluding, correctly, that it was because he had not given his device a tail so it would stall on landing. Baghdad international airport and a crater on the Moon are named after him.
5 Washing and bathing are religious requirements for Muslims, which is perhaps why they perfected the recipe for soap which we still use today. The ancient Egyptians had soap of a kind, as did the Romans who used it more as a pomade. But it was the Arabs who combined vegetable oils with sodium hydroxide and aromatics such as thyme oil. One of the Crusaders' most striking characteristics, to Arab nostrils, was that they did not wash. Shampoo was introduced to England by a Muslim who opened Mahomed's Indian Vapour Baths on Brighton seafront in 1759 and was appointed Shampooing Surgeon to Kings George IV and William IV.
6 Distillation, the means of separating liquids through differences in their boiling points, was invented around the year 800 by Islam's foremost scientist, Jabir ibn Hayyan, who transformed alchemy into chemistry, inventing many of the basic processes and apparatus still in use today - liquefaction, crystallisation, distillation, purification, oxidisation, evaporation and filtration. As well as discovering sulphuric and nitric acid, he invented the alembic still, giving the world intense rosewater and other perfumes and alcoholic spirits (although drinking them is haram, or forbidden, in Islam). Ibn Hayyan emphasised systematic experimentation and was the founder of modern chemistry.
7 The crank-shaft is a device which translates rotary into linear motion and is central to much of the machinery in the modern world, not least the internal combustion engine. One of the most important mechanical inventions in the history of humankind, it was created by an ingenious Muslim engineer called al-Jazari to raise water for irrigation. His 1206 Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices shows he also invented or refined the use of valves and pistons, devised some of the first mechanical clocks driven by water and weights, and was the father of robotics. Among his 50 other inventions was the combination lock.
8 Quilting is a method of sewing or tying two layers of cloth with a layer of insulating material in between. It is not clear whether it was invented in the Muslim world or whether it was imported there from India or China. But it certainly came to the West via the Crusaders. They saw it used by Saracen warriors, who wore straw-filled quilted canvas shirts instead of armour. As well as a form of protection, it proved an effective guard against the chafing of the Crusaders' metal armour and was an effective form of insulation - so much so that it became a cottage industry back home in colder climates such as Britain and Holland.
9 The pointed arch so characteristic of Europe's Gothic cathedrals was an invention borrowed from Islamic architecture. It was much stronger than the rounded arch used by the Romans and Normans, thus allowing the building of bigger, higher, more complex and grander buildings. Other borrowings from Muslim genius included ribbed vaulting, rose windows and dome-building techniques. Europe's castles were also adapted to copy the Islamic world's - with arrow slits, battlements, a barbican and parapets. Square towers and keeps gave way to more easily defended round ones. Henry V's castle architect was a Muslim.
10 Many modern surgical instruments are of exactly the same design as those devised in the 10th century by a Muslim surgeon called al-Zahrawi. His scalpels, bone saws, forceps, fine scissors for eye surgery and many of the 200 instruments he devised are recognisable to a modern surgeon. It was he who discovered that catgut used for internal stitches dissolves away naturally (a discovery he made when his monkey ate his lute strings) and that it can be also used to make medicine capsules. In the 13th century, another Muslim medic named Ibn Nafis described the circulation of the blood, 300 years before William Harvey discovered it. Muslims doctors also invented anaesthetics of opium and alcohol mixes and developed hollow needles to suck cataracts from eyes in a technique still used today.
11 The windmill was invented in 634 for a Persian caliph and was used to grind corn and draw up water for irrigation. In the vast deserts of Arabia, when the seasonal streams ran dry, the only source of power was the wind which blew steadily from one direction for months. Mills had six or 12 sails covered in fabric or palm leaves. It was 500 years before the first windmill was seen in Europe.
12 The technique of inoculation was not invented by Jenner and Pasteur but was devised in the Muslim world and brought to Europe from Turkey by the wife of the English ambassador to Istanbul in 1724. Children in Turkey were vaccinated with cowpox to fight the deadly smallpox at least 50 years before the West discovered it.
13 The fountain pen was invented for the Sultan of Egypt in 953 after he demanded a pen which would not stain his hands or clothes. It held ink in a reservoir and, as with modern pens, fed ink to the nib by a combination of gravity and capillary action.
14 The system of numbering in use all round the world is probably Indian in origin but the style of the numerals is Arabic and first appears in print in the work of the Muslim mathematicians al-Khwarizmi and al-Kindi around 825. Algebra was named after al-Khwarizmi's book, Al-Jabr wa-al-Muqabilah, much of whose contents are still in use. The work of Muslim maths scholars was imported into Europe 300 years later by the Italian mathematician Fibonacci. Algorithms and much of the theory of trigonometry came from the Muslim world. And Al-Kindi's discovery of frequency analysis rendered all the codes of the ancient world soluble and created the basis of modern cryptology.
15 Ali ibn Nafi, known by his nickname of Ziryab (Blackbird) came from Iraq to Cordoba in the 9th century and brought with him the concept of the three-course meal - soup, followed by fish or meat, then fruit and nuts. He also introduced crystal glasses (which had been invented after experiments with rock crystal by Abbas ibn Firnas - see No 4).
16 Carpets were regarded as part of Paradise by medieval Muslims, thanks to their advanced weaving techniques, new tinctures from Islamic chemistry and highly developed sense of pattern and arabesque which were the basis of Islam's non-representational art. In contrast, Europe's floors were distinctly earthly, not to say earthy, until Arabian and Persian carpets were introduced. In England, as Erasmus recorded, floors were "covered in rushes, occasionally renewed, but so imperfectly that the bottom layer is left undisturbed, sometimes for 20 years, harbouring expectoration, vomiting, the leakage of dogs and men, ale droppings, scraps of fish, and other abominations not fit to be mentioned". Carpets, unsurprisingly, caught on quickly.
17 The modern cheque comes from the Arabic saqq, a written vow to pay for goods when they were delivered, to avoid money having to be transported across dangerous terrain. In the 9th century, a Muslim businessman could cash a cheque in China drawn on his bank in Baghdad.
18 By the 9th century, many Muslim scholars took it for granted that the Earth was a sphere. The proof, said astronomer Ibn Hazm, "is that the Sun is always vertical to a particular spot on Earth". It was 500 years before that realisation dawned on Galileo. The calculations of Muslim astronomers were so accurate that in the 9th century they reckoned the Earth's circumference to be 40,253.4km - less than 200km out. The scholar al-Idrisi took a globe depicting the world to the court of King Roger of Sicily in 1139.
19 Though the Chinese invented saltpetre gunpowder, and used it in their fireworks, it was the Arabs who worked out that it could be purified using potassium nitrate for military use. Muslim incendiary devices terrified the Crusaders. By the 15th century they had invented both a rocket, which they called a "self-moving and combusting egg", and a torpedo - a self-propelled pear-shaped bomb with a spear at the front which impaled itself in enemy ships and then blew up.
20 Medieval Europe had kitchen and herb gardens, but it was the Arabs who developed the idea of the garden as a place of beauty and meditation. The first royal pleasure gardens in Europe were opened in 11th-century Muslim Spain. Flowers which originated in Muslim gardens include the carnation and the tulip.
"1001 Inventions: Discover the Muslim Heritage in Our World" is a new exhibition which began a nationwide tour this week. It is currently at the Science Museum in Manchester. For more information, go to www.1001inventions.com.
Amid intense international pressure, an Afghan court recently dropped the charges against Abdul Rahman, a 41-year-old Afghan man, who faced execution for converting from Islam to Christianity. But as many around the world uttered a collective sigh of relief, the tension continued to grow.
In Kabul, hundreds took to the streets protesting against the court's decision. Rahman is still very much in danger of being murdered. Afghan clerics had warned that if the charges were dropped, they would incite Afghanis to execute Rahman unless he reverted to Islam. Cleric Abdul Raouf said, "Rejecting Islam is insulting God. We will not allow God to be humiliated. This man must die."
But I ask why? Why must Abdul Rahman die?
"Because he is an apostate [traitor], and the apostate must die." This is not the first time I have heard this reasoning. Some Sunni militants kill Shi'as because they claim them to be "apostates." So many of Islam's detractors --as well as some Muslims--frequently claim that leaving Islam is punishable by death. Such a claim is absurd and has absolutely no scriptural basis in the Qur'an. None.
The Qur'an, in fact, is quite clear in matters of faith and personal conscience. The choice is left completely up to the individual. Let's reflect on these verses in the Qur'an:
"Unto every one of you have We appointed a [different] law and way of life. And if God had so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community: but [He willed it otherwise] in order to test you by means of what He has vouchsafed unto you ... (5:4"
"Have, then, they who have attained to faith not yet come to know that, had God so willed, He would indeed have guided all mankind aright? (13:31)"
"And [because He is your Creator], it rests with God alone to show you the right path: yet there is [many a one] who swerves from it. However, had He so willed, He would have guided you all aright. (16:9)"
"For had God so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community; however, He lets go astray that wills [to go astray], and guides aright him that wills [to be guided]; and you will surely be called to account for all that you ever did! (16:93)"
All of these verses imply that humans are free to make their own choice when it comes to matters of faith. It is part of God's plan to have different faiths and to allow the humans to choose their own path. The Qur'an is even more explicit about this. Consider the following verses:
"There shall be no coercion in matters of faith. Distinct has now become the right way from [the way of] error ... (2:256)"
"Say [O Muhammad], 'The truth is from your Lord:' Let him who wills believe it, and let him who wills, reject (it). (18:29)"
"If it had been your Lord's will, they all would have believed--all who are on earth. Will you, then, compel the people, against their will, to believe? (10:99)"
"It is not required of thee (O Messenger), to set them on the right path, but God sets on the right path whom He pleases. (2:272)"
The evidence is quite overwhelming. In Islam there is complete freedom of choice in matters of faith and religion. Furthermore, the Qur'an states that the reason war is sometimes necessary--as a last resort and in self-defense--is to preserve religious freedom: "If God had not enabled people to defend themselves against one another, [all] monasteries and churches and synagogues and mosques--in [all of] which Gods name is abundantly extolled--would surely have been destroyed. (22:40)"
So is it that if someone chooses to leave Islam, he or she is liable to be killed? Where is the scriptural basis for this? As far as I can tell, there is none.
Moreover, the Qur'an is not silent about apostasy. There are numerous references to apostasy, but not one verse says the apostate is to be killed for his or her choice:
"... [Your enemies] will not cease to fight against you till they have turned you away from your faith, if they can. But if any of you should turn away from his faith and die as a denier of the truth--these it is whose works will go for naught in this world and in the life to come; and these it is who are destined for the fire, therein to abide. (2:217)"
"Verily, as for those who are bent on denying the truth after having attained to faith, and then grow [ever more stubborn] in their refusal to acknowledge the truth, their repentance [of other sins] shall not be accepted: for it is they who have truly gone astray. (3:90)"
"O you who have attained to faith! If you ever abandon your faith, God will in time bring forth [in your stead] people whom He loves and who love Him--humble towards the believers, proud towards all who deny the truth: [people] who strive hard in God's cause, and do not fear to be censured by anyone who might censure them: such is God's favor, which He grants unto whom He wills. And God is infinite, all-knowing. (5:54)"
"Any one who, after accepting faith in God, utters unbelief--except under compulsion, his heart remaining firm in faith-- but such as open their breast to unbelief, on them is wrath from Allah, and theirs will be a dreadful penalty. This because they love the life of this world better than the hereafter: and God will not guide those who reject faith. (16:106-107)"
And even if someone were to leave Islam multiple times, there still is no death penalty imposed on him. The following verses are effective proof of this:
"Behold, as for those who come to believe, and then deny the truth, and again come to believe, and again deny the truth, and thereafter grow stubborn in their denial of the truth, God will not forgive them, nor will He guide them in any way. (4:137)"
Do the above Qur'anic verses warn of a severe chastisement for apostasy? Absolutely. In fact, these verses are akin to this passage in the Bible: "Ye shall not go after other gods, of the gods of the people which are round about you; (For the Lord thy God is a jealous God among you) lest the anger of the Lord thy God be kindled against thee, and destroy thee from off the face of the earth. (Deut. 6:14-15) "
Apostasy is chastised to some degree by all the Abrahamic faiths. Yet, could it be any clearer that the punishment addressed in the Qur'an is in the hereafter and not the here and now?
Given this enormous and overwhelming evidence against a scriptural basis for the murder of apostates, how could any Muslim cleric--such as Abdul Raouf in Afghanistan--claim that Islam calls for the murder of apostates? What sort of faith keeps its adherents in its fold by threatening death if one leaves?
If Islam claims that the humans have complete freedom of will--which they do--then how can an apostate be killed? What kind of faith is so threatened by the rebellion of some of its adherents that it mandates they be murdered? Contrary to the contention of many, Islam is not that kind of faith.
I am relieved that Abdul Rahman was released, and I hope he will not fall prey to a mob mentality. His murder would be a grave injustice. Like it or not, he chose to leave Islam for Christianity, and that was his prerogative. One day he will, like us all, answer to God for his actions.
I truly believe that God was not "humiliated" by Abdul Rahman's choice to become a Christian. But Islam is quite clear: There is no compulsion in matters of faith. God alone is the judge of our heart, and we should leave that judging up to Him. Believe me, He knows what He is doing.
Islam's conversion conundrum
Joe Woodard, Calgary Herald
Published: Sunday, April 02, 2006
Abdul Rahman is apparently safe, now that an Afghan court found him mentally unfit to stand trial and he was spirited off to asylum in Italy late last week.
Under pressure from western nations, Afghanistan's new constitutional democracy has ducked the issue of prosecuting Rahman for his conversion to Christianity 16 years ago.
"He is sick," said Attorney General Mohammed Aloko.
There was some concern that Rahman might not escape the country: Muslims staged a two-hour protest, early in the week, shouting "Death to Christians." And imams called on Afghans to kill him when he was freed.
While Muslim state executions for "apostasy" are rare, the law allows them in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Mauritania, Iran and Sudan.
In Egypt, the Supreme Court ruled that apostates are legally dead; and 150 Christian converts are reportedly in prison for "threatening national unity."
Pakistan and Indonesia have legal religious freedoms, but stories of village executions and blasphemy prosecutions dribble steadily onto the global news wires.
Is the sharia law forbidding irtidad (leaving Islam) and calling for execution of a murtad (apostate) central to Islam? Or is it a historical accident, a reaction to western colonialism?
"Things have not changed much since the Taliban," says Mount Royal College professor Mahfooz Kanwar. "These people have turned Islam into the Mafia: you get in alive, but you can get out only with death."
Asked whether death for apostates is central to Islam, however, Kanwar, a "secular Muslim," can say only that it is not in the Qur'an, but common in traditional sharia law.
"But God gave me intelligence," he says, "so I'm able to interpret things."
University of Calgary professor Karim-aly Kassim agrees the execution of apostates is "not supported in the Qur'an," and he questions its necessity in the Hadith, the memoirs of Prophet Muhammad.
Hadiths record the Prophet saying things like, "If a Muslim discards his religion, kill him."
When "the Apostle of Allah" once "put out with fire the eyes of those who apostacized," says the Abu Dawud Hadith, "Allah reprimanded him" and decreed that the proper punishment of "those who wage war against Allah" is crucifixion.
Kassim explains the Hadiths are records of the Prophet's words and deeds in particular situations, and not as authoritative as the Qur'an.
Executing apostates is usually politically motivated, punishing a treason against Muslim armies or governments, Kassim says. So when a Muslim has left Islam for solely spiritual reasons, jurists have usually refused to prosecute, obeying the now oft-quoted Qur'an verse, "No compulsion in religion."
But Kassim admits there are problems: illiterates and Muslims who can't read classical Arabic rely on fanatics to interpret Islam. So imams backed by "Wahabi Saudi Arabia and Khomeini's Iran" have undue influence in certain countries.
Trinity Western University professor Gordon Nickel, with a PhD in Qur'an studies and 15 years living in Pakistan and India, agrees that executing apostates is not in the Qur'an
However, almost all of the sharia laws come from not the Qur'an, but Hadith, Nickel says. And death for apostates has been the unanimous consensus of Islamic jurists since the start.
Nickel cites South Asian jurist Abul Ala Maududi's book, The Islamic Law of Apostasy. Maududi says a repeal of the hadud (obligatory death penalty) for apostates was momentarily popular only among Muslim modernists in British India. And while there are differences in details such as the "repentance period" or treatment of women, all acknowledge the authority of Hadiths calling for death to apostates.
Even in Canada, Nickel points out, Canadian Society of Muslims president Syed Mumtaz Ali has argued, in articles on the Internet, that multiculturalism and the Charter of Rights must permit (as "reasonable") the Ummah or Islamic community to execute any Muslim trying to leave Islam.
"Apostasy is the greatest sin; all the scholars are unanimous," says Nickel. "If I was a Muslim living in Canada, I'd want to put a good face on this, too. But this isn't a 'strict interpretation' of sharia law; this is the real thing."
Muslim rulers have always had difficulty holding together Islam's orthodox legal and mystical Sufi streams, Nickel adds. But in Islamic law, apostasy means death.
Islamic Supreme Council of Canada founder Sayed Soharwardy, a Sufi, does not deny sharia requires death for apostates. But he says sharia must be implemented only as a whole social system, "not only when rulers want to punish."
"No country today is truly
Islamic," Soharwardy says.
"It is a mandatory requirement of sharia that you have a complete welfare state, that you meet all the basic human needs before you can implement it.
"How can these rulers implement sharia, when they don't have the conditions for it, when they have people who are uneducated and hungry?"
Islam's problem today, he explains, is that rulers "customize sharia," enforcing prohibitions before achieving the kind of humane social conditions making such punishment unnecessary.
Meanwhile, Compass Direct news service reports that two more Afghan Christian converts have been jailed since Abdul Rahman's release, and another was beaten unconscious outside his home by six men.
Trinity Western's Nickel says that, for all the attention paid the Rahman case, "that's the situation for a great many people in Muslim countries, and do we care? Do we really give a rip?"
Allegations of "apostasy" among Muslims are presently a topic for
global controversy. To Westerners, apostasy from Islam seems to denote
conversion to Christianity, since the persecution of Muslims who have
changed their religion has gained media attention -- most recently in
the case of a Christian convert, Abdul Rahman, who was threatened by a
local judge in Afghanistan. It is also widely believed in the West
that apostasy from Islam is invariably punished by death.
Both views are distorted. The phenomenon of public abandonment of
Islam for Christianity did not become widespread until the last 150
years or so, and cases have remained rare enough that there is no
substantial body of Islamic jurisprudence dealing with it. In general,
apostasy from Islam was defined in the past as denial of foundational
concepts of the religion -- more as heresy than as a change of faiths.
Shafi'i Sunni jurisprudence, a school of shari'a which remains
widespread in Arab countries and Southeast Asia, defines apostasy as
straying from the religion, rather than leaving it or joining another,
and recommends repeated mercy and opportunities to correct alleged
errors. The Maliki school of jurisprudence, which is established in
northwest Africa, is severe on those who change religions, demanding
capital punishment. This may reflect the history of formerly-Islamic
Spain where, during periods when territory passed from Muslim to
Christian rule, Muslims who had converted from Christianity to Islam
returned to their earlier faith.
I have personally and extensively observed Islamic customs in which
the faith of Muhammad has fused with Christian elements (in the
Balkans), Buddhism and shamanism (in Central Asia), and local folk
religious traditions (in Indonesia). In the first two cases,
syncretism or religious merging attracted no criticism from mainstream
Muslim clerics, who considered porous borders between faiths a natural
phenomenon. In Indonesia, however, Muslim clerics influenced by the
Wahhabi sect in Saudi Arabia have preached against such variations
from the standard Sunni way, and recently have incited violence
against those who diverge from their path.
However, under the great Muslim empires, accusations of apostasy were
often pretexts for the suppression of political and intellectual
dissent, and that is how such charges are typically employed today in
such countries as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, and Pakistan. The Prophet
Muhammad is said to have warned against accusations of apostasy,
according to the Hanafi school of jurisprudence, which is prevalent
from the Balkans to India. The Prophet, it is said, opined that when
one Muslim accuses another of disbelief, the accuser is the unbeliever.
The accusation of apostasy or unbelief remained mainly a political
matter until the 18th century and the rise of the Wahhabis, who
practiced takfir or accusation of apostasy against all Muslims who
rejected Wahhabi doctrines, but especially against Shias and Sufis, or
spiritual Muslims. They most certainly followed such accusations with
death sentences, despoliation of property, and reduction of captive
women to servitude.
Such terms have now appeared on the margin of American Islamic
discourse -- literally: "We have issued our commands to the soldiers
of God to worship God by pouring out their blood and burning their
homes [i.e. of the supposed apostates]... Their women are to be
abducted; their children enslaved, and their money confiscated."
This brutal idiom appeared in a claim of apostasy and threat of death
issued on April 10 by a group, apparently in Egypt, called "Supporters
of God's Messenger [Muhammad]." Included in the list of those
condemned was Imam Ahmed Subhy Mansour, a Virginia-based Egyptian
Islamic dissident who is also a founder, with me, of the Center for
Islamic Pluralism (CIP), a think-tank supporting moderate Islam.
Subhy Mansour is not an apostate from Islam. He has not renounced the
religion or denied any of its essential precepts. He is a critic of
Sunni traditions. I do not agree with some of his views on the history
of Islam, but these opinions have nothing to do with basic matters of
faith, and therefore cannot be considered the basis for a charge of
apostasy. Subhy Mansour's views are controversial but certainly within
the norms of Islamic debate.
Commentaries on the April 10 death list have been published by other
CIP founders including M. Zuhdi Jasser in Phoenix, previously a victim
of Wahhabi ideological aggression, as reported in TCS, and CIP Canada
representative Salim Mansur, a journalist; and here.
Given the Sunni-Shia split and Wahhabi influence, accusations of
apostasy have led to horrific loss of life in Iraq, and a movement has
begun among Sunnis to ban the practice of takfir. Charges that all
Muslims except Wahhabis are unbelievers are more than a theological
position; they also promote the elitist mentality that every extremist
movement needs to recruit and maintain itself.
Nevertheless, issues of conversion from Islam to Christianity remain a
major issue in the threatened clash of civilizations. Aside from
general religious freedom in Saudi Arabia, which is an immediate
necessity, a global Islamic consensus with contemporary attitudes
about freedom of religious conscience will have to be developed by
Muslim authorities in a long series of colloquies inspired by the
utmost seriousness and intellectual weight. There is no simple answer
to these questions. Still, the intent of the April 10 death list was
not to clarify religious views, but to intimidate dissenters. This
must not be tolerated by Western authorities, who must assist those
threatened by such aggression, especially those residing in the
Stephen Schwartz is a TCS contributing writer and co-founder of the
Center for Islamic Pluralism.
When a person becomes a murtad, before carrying out any kind of punishment,
the person concerned must be questioned as to why and on what grounds did
s/he change their faith.
It may well be that the person is ignorant about Islam or ill informed in
which case he'll receive the right kind of education on Islam.
It may happen that the person has become an apostate because of poverty. In
such case, the person should be availed with livelihood.
It may be because the person cannot find a suitable spouse in which he
should be helped.
Its only after exploring all the avenues and giving a murtad a fair
opportunity to come back to Islam, that he can be punished, if he still
persists to remain a murtad.
If a prominent personality becomes an apostate, and there is a threat that
his apostacy will harm the Muslim community, then he'll be punished so that
he does not get an opportunity to spread his fitna in the Muslim community.
One should bear in mind that human life is very precious in Islam and
therefore before passing a death sentence, the judge should do soul
searching and explore all the avenues to get to the root of the matter.
May Allah grant Muslim Ummah tawfiq to undrstand the true spirit of Islam
and follow as shown and taught by the holy Prophet of Islam and his pure and
immaculate progeny (peace and blessings of Allah be upon them all). Ameen.
Fighting the Good Fight Many believe Muslims aren't doing enough in the war on terror. But we are fighting from within, and there's always more to do.
Much of the news about Islam and Muslims has not been very positive as of late. We are approaching the one year anniversary of the London subway bombings, where British-born Muslims killed themselves and many of their fellow Brits "in the name of Allah." That was enough to make me boil in anger.
Then last month came the arrests of 17 Canadian Muslims who allegedly were plotting to commit acts of terror and even behead the Prime Minister of Canada. Another blight for Muslims all over. And now we have learned of another terrorist plot that has been foiled: Seven men are accused of planning to blow up the Sears Tower in my home town of Chicago and an FBI building in Miami. Initially everyone said it was Muslims until the facts showed otherwise.
That is what is so frustrating. Almost every time a terrorist plot is exposed, the assumption is that Muslims are responsible. Unfortunately there is sense in this--almost every major act of terror in recent years have been attributed to some extremist Muslim (if you can call them Muslim) group. And even when a terrorist plot is the work of a group who's not Muslim (like the Miami seven, who were followers of a group called Seas of David), you can bet the finger is first pointed at Muslims.
But this is not about why radical Islamists continue to give the rest of the world's Muslim population a very bad name. This is about the claims by some in our society that Muslims are "not doing enough" to combat the extremists among them. It is so frustrating. I have lost count of how many times people have asked why Muslims haven't condemned the terror committed in Islam's name. Some have even told me that this apparent "silence" by the majority of Muslims either means that they are cowed by the extremists or are accepting of "Islamic terror."
The following article discussess how the behaviour of some of the Muslim extremists, intellectuals and leaders/politicians in the name of Islam is tarnishing its image.
August 16, 2006
By IRSHAD MANJI
LAST week, the luminaries of the British Muslim mainstream — lobbyists, lords and members of Parliament — published an open letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair, telling him that the “debacle” of both Iraq and Lebanon provides “ammunition to extremists who threaten us all.” In increasingly antiwar America, a similar argument is gaining traction: The United States brutalizes Muslims, which in turn foments Islamist terror.
But violent jihadists have rarely needed foreign policy grievances to justify their hot heads. There was no equivalent to the Iraq debacle in 1993, when Islamists first tried to blow up the World Trade Center, or in 2000, when they attacked the American destroyer Cole. Indeed, that assault took place after United States-led military intervention saved thousands of Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo.
If Islamists cared about changing Iraq policy, they would not have bothered to abduct two journalists from France — probably the most antiwar, anti-Bush nation in the West. Even overt solidarity with Iraqi suffering did not prevent Margaret Hassan, who ran a world-renowned relief agency in Baghdad, from being executed by insurgents.
Meanwhile, at least as many Muslims are dying at the hands of other Muslims as under the boots of any foreign imperial power. In Sudan, black Muslims are starved, raped, enslaved and slaughtered by Arab militias, with the consent of an Islamic government. Where is the “official” Muslim fury against that genocide? Do Muslim lives count only when snuffed out by non-Muslims? If not, then here is an idea for Muslim representatives in the West: Go ahead and lecture the politicians that their foreign policies give succor to radicals. At the same time, however, challenge the educated and angry young Muslims to hold their own accountable, too.
This means reminding them that in Pakistan, Sunnis hunt down Shiites every day; that in northern Israel, Katuysha rockets launched by Hezbollah have ripped through the homes of Arab Muslims as well as Jews; that in Egypt, the riot police of President Hosni Mubarak routinely club, rape, torture and murder Muslim activists promoting democracy; and, above all, that civil wars have become hallmarks of the Islamic world.
Muslim figureheads will not dare be so honest. They would sooner replicate the very sins for which they castigate the Bush and Blair governments — namely, switching rationales and pretending integrity.
In the wake of the London bombings on July 7, 2005, Iqbal Sacranie, then the head of the influential Muslim Council of Britain, insisted that economic discrimination lay at the root of Islamist radicalism in his country. When it came to light that some of the suspects enjoyed middle-class upbringings, university educations, jobs and cars, Mr. Sacranie found a new culprit: foreign policy. In so doing, he boarded the groupthink express steered by Muslim elites.
The good news is that ordinary people of faith are capable of self-criticism. Two months ago, 65 percent of British Muslims polled believed that their communities should increase efforts to integrate. The same poll also produced troubling results: 13 percent lionized the July 7 terrorists, and 16 percent sympathized. Still, these figures total 29 percent — less than half the number who sought to belong more fully to British society.
Whether in Britain or America, those who claim to speak for Muslims have a responsibility to the majority, which wants to reconcile Islam with pluralism. Whatever their imperial urges, it is not for Tony Blair or George W. Bush to restore Islam’s better angels. That duty — and glory — goes to Muslims.
Irshad Manji, a fellow at Yale University, is the author of “The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith.”
The following article that appeared in today's NYTimes describes how the extremists continue to abuse Islam for their hateful intentions even if it means violating the law of the land.
August 21, 2006
British Law Against Glorifying Terrorism Has Not Silenced Calls to Kill for Islam
By SOUAD MEKHENNET and DEXTER FILKINS
LONDON, Aug. 20 — From his home on the northwest edge of this city, Muhamad al-Massari runs a Web site that celebrates the violent death of British and American soldiers. It is visited by tens of thousands of people every day, he said.
Mr. Massari maintains the Arabic-language site, tajdeed.org.uk, in the face of a strict new law aimed at curtailing violent speech and publishing. Just last week, the Council of Holy Warriors, a group affiliated with Al Qaeda, posted a declaration on the site praising a suicide bombing in Iraq that killed or wounded 55 people.
“If you kill our civilians, we kill your civilians,” Mr. Massari declared during an interview.
Mr. Massari’s Web site, and his public remarks, appear to violate of the Antiterrorism Act of 2006, which makes it a crime to glorify or encourage political violence. Inciting violence has long been illegal here but the new rules, drawn up after the London subway and bus bombings in July 2005, are intended to be much tougher.
The law’s underlying assumption is that speeches and publications by Britain’s more extreme Islamists may play a role in leading disgruntled young men toward violence. In addition to banning speech that encourages terrorism, the new law also criminalizes reckless speech that may have the same effect.
Yet despite the antiglorification law, and an array of other measures approved since last summer’s bombings, Islamist leaders like Mr. Massari persist, some of them declaring it the duty of British Muslims to kill in the name of Islam.
Some British leaders are beginning to publicly question why such clerics are allowed to continue. Last week, David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative Party, chastised the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair for failing to enforce laws intended to make it more difficult for political extremists to operate.
In remarks to the press, Mr. Cameron, a possible successor to Mr. Blair, accused the government of failing to “follow through when the headlines have moved on.”
“I do not believe that our government is doing enough to fight Islamist extremists at home or to protect our security,’’ he said. “Why have so few, if any, preachers of hate been prosecuted or expelled, with those that have gone having done so voluntarily?”
In addition to curtailing political speech, the British government outlawed 15 militant groups, most of them Muslim. It took a sterner attitude toward Islamists who had preached violence in the past, barring one well-known Syrian-born cleric, Omar Bakri Mohammed, from returning to the country. Earlier this year, it secured the conviction of Abu Hamza al-Masri, the country’s most militant cleric, for soliciting murder and racial hatred.
Yet for all those actions, the new measures do not appear to have silenced those either praising or calling for violence in the name of Islam. Some Islamist preachers have carefully scaled back their language, even if, in context, the meaning seems clear.
On Sunday, speaking before 8,000 followers in Manchester, Azam Tamimi extolled the glories of suffering for the faith.
“The greatest act of martyrdom is standing up for that is true and just,” Mr. Tamimi said. “Martyrs are those who stand up in defiance of George Bush and Tony Blair.”
The remarks by Mr. Tamimi, one in a line of Islamist scholars and clerics to address the Manchester crowd, were the latest in a series of carefully worded public statements by British Islamist leaders that seemed aimed at testing the limits of the new law. In the Islamic world, “martyrdom” means sacrificing one’s life, often violently, for the faith.
Others, meanwhile, have carried on as before, speaking in support of political violence or publishing tracts that do the same.
One of them is Atilla Ahmet, leader of the Islamist group Supporters of Shariah. In meetings with supporters and in interviews, the British-born Mr. Ahmet speaks freely about what he considers the necessity for violent action, both here and abroad, to avenge what he considers unjustified attacks on Muslims abroad.
“You are attacking our people in Muslim countries, in Iraq, in Afghanistan,’’ Mr. Ahmet said, referring to the British and American governments. “So it’s legitimate to attack British soldiers and policemen, government officials, and even the White House.”
Mr. Ahmet, a 42-year Briton of Cypriot descent, went on to include bank employees as legitimate targets “because they charge interest,” which he says is in violation of Islamic law.
Mr. Ahmet said he is aware of the new law, but that he could not shirk his duty to defend Islam, which he believes is under assault by Britain and the United States in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. He says he often addresses his followers, who he says number 3,000.
“If you are going to kill a Muslim, then I will do everything in my power to kill you,’’ he said.
Mr. Massari, the Web site operator, said he approved of violence against British and American soldiers in Iraq, as well as against most of the governments in the Middle East. He said, for instance, that it “is legitimate for Iraqis to kill Tony Blair, the same with Bush.’’
The posting on his Web site about the Iraqi bombing said of the attackers, “We ask God to accept our brothers as martyrs.’’
Mr. Massari makes several distinctions that he says insulate him from being deported or prosecuted by the British government. He says, for instance, that he does not post any material on the Web site himself; he lets his members do that, most of whom sign up anonymously. The other important distinction, he said, is that he does not call for violence in Britain.
It does not appear that British law makes such distinctions. The law on the books defines terrorism as violence, or the threat of violence, to influence a government or further a political or religious cause. It does not limit the application of the law to targets in Britain.
Some legal experts here say the British law is so broadly drawn that it may encompass speech that is not necessarily intended to promote terrorism.
A group of Britons of Pakistani descent arguing loudly on a street corner about British or American policy in Iraq, for example, could conceivably be prosecuted under the law, said Gareth Crossman, director of policy for Liberty, a nonprofit legal organization in London.
“It’s an extraordinarily vague statute,’’ Mr. Crossman said. “No two people can agree on what the law means.”
Under those circumstances, Mr. Crossman said, it is hardly surprising that no one had been arrested under the law.
Asked why no one had been arrested or prosecuted for encouraging terrorism, a spokesman for Scotland Yard, the national police force, declined to comment.
The Bush administration, under laws toughened after the Sept. 11 attacks, has prosecuted a number of people for encouraging terrorism.
In one of the more high-profile cases, a Muslim scholar in northern Virginia, Ali al-Timimi, was sentenced to life in prison in 2005 for urging his young Muslim followers to wage war against the United States overseas.
At a dinner meeting on Sept. 16, 2001, Mr. Timimi told some of the men in the group that it was their Muslim duty to fight for Islam overseas and to defend the Taliban in Afghanistan against American forces, according to testimony at his trial. In an Internet message in 2003, he described the destruction of the space shuttle Columbia as a “good omen” for Muslims in an apocalyptic conflict with the West.
In Britain, some experts say they believe the difficulties in the law will be worked out in practice. Indeed, almost no one here is predicting that the recent attacks and plots described by the government will be the last, least of all the Islamists themselves.
“Anyone who supports Tony Blair,’’ said Khalid Kelley, an Irish-born convert to Islam, “is not a civilian.’’
Eric Lichtblau contributed reporting from Washington for this article. This article was also supplemented by material from the Press Association of Britain.
For Daisy Khan, gathering young Muslim leaders was more than a meeting of intellect. It was a crucial step in taking back Islam.
By Dilshad D. Ali
Five years after 9/11, Muslims continue to find themselves in a defensive position, with violence by and against Muslims continuing to escalate around the world. The London bombings of a year ago, the Danish cartoon controversy, the recent bombings in Mumbai, India, and the current fighting in the Middle East have prompted Muslims to search for answers to the problems plaguing Islam in its relationship with the Western world and other faiths. Muslims are also trying reconcile the varying ideologies within their own faith.
To explore these vital issues, Daisy Khan, founder of the American Society for the Advancement of Muslims, held the first Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow conference in July, which brought together more than 100 participants from around the world. Over three intense days in Copenhagen, Denmark, the young Muslims hashed out questions about their identity, their varying ideologies, and how they can reconnect with other young Muslims and create positive dialogue with the West. Dilshad D. Ali, Beliefnet’s Islam editor, spoke with Khan about the conference.
Listen to Daisy Khan Talk About:
Differences Between American & European Muslims
What American and European Muslims Share
Using New Media to Fight Islamic Extremism
Where Muslims Find Guidance
I Aspire to One Thing
My Favorite Prayer
What did you hope to achieve with such a gathering?
I wanted to gain a nuanced understanding of what the Muslim community is--that it is not monolith, that it has very divergent views. That was one of the biggest lessons for most conference participants. Some people felt deeply stretched because their thinking was being altered as they were listening to other views.
And any time there’s knowledge transference then you inevitably adjusting your thoughts to understanding the best practices of the Muslims and their struggles within the West. That was probably the best thing we achieved: We brought people from extreme points on the spectrum--all the way from absolute progressives to literalists. We were able to bring them to the center where they could listen to each other.
What were the challenges and concerns identified by the conference participants?
The Difference Between American and European Muslims
The biggest concern for everybody was that they don’t feel they are respected in the West. And we discovered a very big difference between American Muslims and European Muslims: The integration issue for American Muslims was almost a non-issue, whereas it was the most important thing for European Muslims. How does a religious community that is so God-centered reconcile with a society that is so secular?
And this is a challenge that American Muslims don’t face at all. We don’t feel under attack as a religious community; we feel under attack because--due to world affairs--people have a negative perception about how Muslims are.
What advice did conference participants have for each other’s unique problems?
There was some sharing of best practices. All the conference participants are beginning to create partnerships with other Muslims around the world so they can invite each other to come and speak in their countries.
For instance, we had a session called “The imam circle” with six imams from different countries. These were Western imams who were young, who are extremely modern, but who are very thoughtful and deeply religious leaders. These imams gave the group an air of hope. We all wanted to bring these religious leaders to their communities and get advice from them on how to energize Muslims.
Since this first conference was for Western societies, the imams all hailed from the Americas and Europe (though some were of Middle Eastern, Turkish, and South Asian descent. We had an imam from California who, even though he had an appearance of a conservative person, turned out to be a speed demon with his car. That was a very humanizing thing that people talked about that endeared him to people--to see that side of religious leaders that they hadn’t seen before.
People commented that their faith has been renewed, or that they have hope in the Muslim community now, or that they feel spiritually uplifted just by the presence of the open-minded people there.
Harnessing the Future of Islam
What things did the European Muslims learned from the American Muslims, and vice versa?
What American and European Muslims Share
There was this sort of deep regret from the European Muslims that the American Muslims are so well-adjusted. The difference was not intellect, because most European Muslims are educated. But their socioeconomic spectrum and the policies of their local governments have prevented them from becoming fully integrated citizens in their country. So, maybe some of the European Muslims will push for some reform within their own societies, because now they see how American Muslims are different than them.
The lessons for American Muslims were that they’re not alone in the challenge of being Muslim in the West--it’s also being shared by European Muslims. And the recognition of that commonality will help Muslims to create a rapid change. We have some shared concerns, such as that we want to be viewed differently as a community. We want to be viewed as a community that is contributing to Western societies. Muslims are not outsiders anymore.
What were the major themes that emerged in the conference?
The biggest theme is that in order to reshape the perception of Muslims in the West, this generation actually has to be effectively engaged in it. They understand the culture of their own countries and the concerns of their religious communities. They are almost a perfect bridge between the two. The recognition that this generation has to step up to the plate and lead the reshaping of Western perceptions of Muslims became very clear and very serious to them.
How will the participants spread the message of what they’ve learned at this conference?
We are asking them to set up local Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow chapters, where they will invite people from diverse viewpoints so we can have conversations about the shared concerns that we have so that we can advance our community’s concerns. Because only then are you representing the Muslim community. Otherwise, you are representing a singular voice within the Muslim community. And this is what has created the biggest problem we have--why does one person speak for me?
And in the absence of having a major religious authority, this is about the best thing that we can have right now: Small groups of people who represent the mosaic of the Muslim community. But it’s important that these small groups know that they represent a collective body of the Muslim community.
Are there any plans to expand this conference to other parts of the world, to move the focus away from Western Muslim leaders of tomorrow?
This conference represented the Ummah (Muslim collective body) in the West. We wanted to launch it in the West first because we wanted to address the concerns of Western Muslims before we went far and wide. Now we have decided expand the MLT conference around the world and take this idea of a collective consciousness to create a global Ummah.
This conference came on the one-year anniversary of the London bombings. Was it a reaction to that, and to the Danish cartoon?
The conference was not a reaction to anything. It was not a memorial for anybody. It was not an apology for the [Danish] cartoons. It was none of that.
We used these incidences as a backdrop for why we Muslims feel that we need to be very proactive in our actions. Because our community is being held responsible for certain negative actions. The reason why we chose this place and this time was to show people that an incredibly constructive movement is happening within Islam and within the Muslim community. Of course, there is deep regret for what has happened and deep regret for what continues to happen in the world. But we cannot apologize for everything that’s going on in the world, because many of us have nothing to do with any of that.
But as civil-society leaders, we can create a deeper understanding amongst our faith communities about what is right action and what we consider to be wrong action.
How do you reconcile the exhilaration your feel after such a gathering with news of more violence, like the Mumbai blasts and the fighting in the Middle East?
Well, I just heard from somebody saying that thank God they had been to this MLT conference because, had they not, they would have been shaken up by what happened in the world right after we all returned home. But there was a certain kind of empowerment and a feeling of hope in the community. So when a catastrophic world event unfolds in front of you, you don’t get shaken up, because you know so many other people who think like you, who are doing their best to reverse this trend. And that hope overrides your distress over what happened.
This is probably the one unexpected thing that you can’t account for when you are planning these conferences.
Harnessing the Future of Islam
How can Muslims retain hope and pride when their religion is frequently being maligned?
Using New Media to Fight Islamic Extremism
I think it’s a matter of holding on to your principles and continuing to do constructive work. We don’t have control over these world events that are unfolding. We know there are political agendas behind most of these actions. And the misuse of Islam as a framework to further that agenda has become clear to Muslims the world over.
And the fact that people can openly speak about how extremists use new media and use violence to further their agenda was a very lively debate at our conference. We had this panel discussion called “Extremism Within New Media,” that focused primarily on how people are recruited through the Internet, and how extremist rhetoric is kept very simple. Young minds are basically being brainwashed with mediocre rhetoric--a scholarship that is not even recognized as scholarship.
Many people were speaking from their own country’s viewpoint about how they are trying to push back extremism by creating blogs and websites, by engaging youth by bringing them into the fold, and by recognizing that there is an attack on identities.
And as long as you are responsible for building a healthy community, then that’s what gives you motivation and hope, and prevents you from losing hope.
Who do Muslims look to for guidance in defending their religion and reaching out to the youth, and helping fight against radical groups that? Where Muslims Find Guidance
Most Muslims feel very strongly that ultimate guidance comes from their relationship with God. And that is how people feel a sense of empowerment, that there is a direct relationship between God and the creature. There is no intermediary. But the main role model for Muslims is the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), who actually was a man, who was a husband, who was a political leader. He had all the different components of what we call a societal leader.
People can actually model themselves after the Prophet. And I think this is why when so many people were so upset about an attack on the Prophet [in the political cartoons published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten], because an icon that they relate so strongly to was insulted.
Muslims also get their guidance good scholars, who are like the messengers of the messengers of the messengers of the messengers of God. But another thing that I noticed at this conference was that people were being guided by each other. This was the power of companionship, and this is something we know very well in Islam. The Prophet was always surrounded by his companions, and they all were empowered by each other.
What inspires you to important work that you are doing? I Aspire to One Thing
I only aspire to one thing, and that is to bring peace and harmony to the world by trying to instill a peaceful atmosphere amongst people, because I believe that peace--at the end of the day--is Islam. Islam is peace through submission to the will of God. I genuinely believe that God has created all of humanity, all six billion of us, in different forms, in different religions. And we are all different rivers leading into the same ocean, and the ocean represents God Almighty.
Bringing together people of divergent views who are all headed to the same ocean is something that guides me every day. It’s what I think about. It’s what I sleep with. It’s what I get up with. It’s a great motivating factor for me.
Is there a favorite prayer that you have? My Favorite Prayer
There is a Hadith in which the Prophet says believers are like the bricks of a building. They hold each other. And I believe that a good society is created by all believers, not only of one religion, who represent the different bricks of a building. I would like to impart to people this beautiful thought of the Prophet, who invited people to think like a collective body, like one house where a foundation is being built by different believers coming together.
This is my aspiration for people. And this is my prayer for people: that we should think of ourselves as different bricks of a building that are there to build this beautiful House of God.
When the Islamic Society of Northern American (ISNA) elected Ingrid Mattson, the director of the Islamic chaplaincy program at the Hartford Seminary and vice president of ISNA, as its president last week, Muslims and non-Muslims took note. Mattson is the first female to head the organization, which is the largest, most inclusive Muslim group in North America, with a sizeable political and social reach.
Mattson takes ISNA’s helm at a challenging time when American Muslims are struggling to promote their religion, encourage interfaith dialogue, create standards for their community, and separate themselves from the views of extremists. Mattson spoke with Beliefnet’s Islam editor Dilshad D. Ali about her goals for ISNA, why women’s rights isn’t her primary platform, and the new obligation American Muslims have in the fight against terrorism.
What does your election mean for the women in Muslim leadership roles? Does it have an impact on religious or spiritual leadership as well?
Certainly, it’s both things. First of all, women have been involved on the board of ISNA for many years. In fact, women were founding members of the Muslim Students Association--MSA national--more than 40 years ago. The presidency is looked at by many people as a form of religious leadership. And to that extent I do believe it’s a significant step for the Muslim community to choose a woman as a leader of this organization.
ISNA Secretary-General Sayyid Saeed was quick to say that you will lead “ritual worship” for women–and not lead prayer. What does that mean?
It means salat, the five daily prayers and the Jumaa (Friday) prayer--the congregational prayer. It doesn’t mean invocations or supplications or du’a, which are all other forms of prayer.
So you’ll lead prayer for women, but not for mixed gender groups?
That’s correct, and that’s what I’ve always done.
A lot of women are seeing this election as a victory for Muslim feminism. What does the term “Muslim feminism” mean to you?
Feminism--the idea that women have rights, that women and men should exert themselves to ensure that women have a meaningful way to achieve their rights--is a good concept. But it shouldn’t be a defining worldview. My agenda is not a narrow one of only looking at the interests of women. I’m looking at the interests of our whole community. We live in a world where we have to be concerned if anyone is suffering injustice. Muslim women shouldn’t be parochial in the sense of only being concerned about women’s issues.
One of the popular misconceptions about Islam is that women are seen as lesser figures, that they don’t have rights.
This perception that women in Islam are oppressed is based both on misinformation as well as am amplification of certain unfortunate tendencies in some parts of the Muslim world. It’s true that people have seen some Muslim authorities using Islam as a justification for the oppression or suppression of women. That’s a reality, we can’t deny it. But we have to balance those incidents with what’s going on in the rest of the Muslim world, in which most women are participating in their societies. We’ve seen that within recent times four Muslim-majority nations have had female heads of state. In most countries that I’ve traveled to, Muslim women are involved in all aspects of society.
Some conservative pundits see ISNA as a shield for shady practices, and as an organization that harbors radical thinking. What would you say to these critics?
I would say they have to support their views with evidence and not simply resort to vague conspiracy theories or general, unsubstantiated accusations. We are what we do. We’re an umbrella organization that’s inclusive of Sunni, Shi’a, and Sufi and provides a broad and open platform for all North American Muslims. And our goal is to bring the diversity of the Muslim community together so that we can get to know each other as the Qur’an compels us to. We want to offer the Muslim community the opportunity to know the greater American society, especially faith groups--to come to understand our Christian and Jewish neighbors and others and find ways that we can come together to do something good for this society.
What are your goals for ISNA? Where do you want to take the organization?
My major concern is institution-building and to emphasize the need for standards in our community. There is no ordination in Islam, no hierarchical church that determines what all communities should do. We don’t want to be that, but at the same time we can help the community develop some standards for religious leaders and our religious community. We can raise the level of professionalism in our communities and harness the energy and goodwill that is in our congregation.
Unfortunately, many of our communities are not functioning in a really dynamic and vital fashion. So we need to implement more training, provide educational opportunities for those running these institutions, and give models of successful communities that engage both their congregants and the broader community.
How do the standards you speak of differ from the fatwas that many imams, sheikhs, and Islamic organizations issue?
What I’m speaking about are skills of the religious leaders themselves. For example, our imams, our chaplains, and community leaders are called upon to mediate domestic disputes. Do these religious leaders have the qualifications and the knowledge to provide this advice and counseling? What about public speaking? Do they have the skills to engage the congregation? What about the Islamic centers themselves? Do they know how to organize adult-education programs that are engaging, interesting, relevant, and informative? This is what I’m talking about, not forming legal opinions.
You wrote an essay for Beliefnet after 9/11 about American Muslims having a special obligation to condemn violence committed by Muslims in the name of Islam. Five years later, have they lived up to that obligation?
I do believe that American Muslim communities have been good in this respect--have worked hard to write their opinions about terrorism, about extremism, about violence committed in the name of Islam. Unfortunately, those positions are not being heard by the general American public. Many Muslims engaging in public speaking find themselves in the frustrating position of being asked why Muslims do not condemn terrorism. Sometimes people are not hearing the message despite our best efforts.
That can be frustrating. I want to also make sure people understand that although American Muslims do have a responsibility to clarify their views on terrorism and violence done in the name of Islam, we don’t have control over these situations. We don’t have some sort of magic power over all Muslims in the world.
And at the same time it’s important that people understand that a justification for an action is not the same as the motivation or cause for an action. What I mean by that is that there may be Muslims around the world who claim that the actions they are taking are justified in Islam. But if we analyze the political context of that situation, we will see that in fact the cause of their actions is not a religious motivation, but it is a political reason. Because Islam is the dominant, normative discourse in their society, they will call upon Islam as a justification for their actions.
Have American Muslims successfully found ways to fight terrorism and also oppose the oppression of Muslims around the world?
I think we’re in a very difficult position in our time. Unfortunately, there are many groups that continue to try to use current conflicts to further political agendas that have nothing to do with fighting or preventing terrorism. And some of these groups are opposed to Islam and Muslims—ideologically and politically and are making it very difficult for Muslims to separate true Islam from extremism. These groups are encouraging the use of terms like “Islamic fascism” that simply confuse the issue further. So there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done.
Many Muslims in this country say they have repeatedly denounced acts of violence, and that they’re working with FBI and government officials and doing dialogues to get their point across. Why aren’t they being heard?
Because the actions of American Muslims are not being televised. What’s being televised are bombings from Iraq and kidnappings from Gaza and so on. We live in a time in which what is shown on TV is thought to be reality. Not many people read alternative publications or even mainstream newspapers anymore. So although we may be doing all of these good actions, and some of them may be publicized here and there, it’s not brought to the attention of the mainstream American audience. That’s just the reality of media and the dissemination of information in our time.
What’s the next obligation for the American Muslim community?
We have to keep exemplifying the right way of living as Muslims. We should be working with international organizations that monitor human rights in all places, including those places where our own government is suspected of violating human rights. We should be as diligent in doing our duty as citizens of our country in making sure that our government does not violate its values and laws and international law.
It’s a difficult time that we live in, but we need to recommit to universal human rights, to true engagement and realize that there are lots of great people out there working for peace and justice. We need to publicize those efforts so that we can get some hope to our youth.
A few weeks ago, I was working with an American Jewish lawyer who took a case of a Muslim inmate who was being denied his religious rights. And to me, working as a partner with this lawyer on this case was really encouraging and reminded me of how much good there is in this country. We need to continue reaching out to those people from every segment of American society who are interested in furthering the dignity of human beings and the stewardship of this earth. This is our work. That’s the only way we can go forward into the future
The following story is an example of how fundamentalist attitudes and thinking distorts the perception of Islam as a faith that encourages the participation of women in society.
Mosque may be barred to women
Some women say they are already being kept away
The Associated Press
Friday, September 08, 2006
Officials are considering an unprecedented proposal to ban women from performing the five Muslim prayers in the immediate vicinity of the Grand Mosque, Islam's most sacred shrine in Mecca.
Officials are considering an unprecedented proposal to ban women from performing the five Muslim prayers in the immediate vicinity of Islam's most sacred shrine in Mecca. Some say women are already being kept away.
The issue has raised a storm of protest across the kingdom, with some women saying they fear the move is meant to restrict women's roles in Saudi society even further.
But the religious authorities behind the proposal insist its real purpose is to lessen the chronic problem of overcrowding, which has led to deadly riots during pilgrimages at Mecca in the past.
It was unclear why the step was being considered now, but officials say they have growing concerns about overcrowding, particularly at Mecca's Grand Mosque. The mosque contains the Kaaba, a large stone structure that Muslims around the world face during their daily prayers.
The chief of the King Fahd Institute for Hajj Research, which came up with the plan, told The Associated Press on Thursday the new restrictions are already in place. There have been word-of-mouth reports of women being asked to pray at new locations away from the white-marbled area surrounding the Kaaba in recent weeks.
But Sheik Youssef Khzeim, deputy chief of the Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques Affairs, a Saudi government organization in charge of implementing the proposal, denied the reports, saying the old arrangements that allow women to pray in the Kaaba's vicinity are still in effect. He said if any woman were asked to move to the back "it's only to maintain order.
"This is still a study and nothing has been implemented," Khzeim said.
Such discrepancies are not unusual in Saudi Arabia and could signal an attempt to introduce the controversial arrangements slowly.
Many Saudis say the proposal, released two weeks ago in the form of a study, violates the spirit of Islam.
"The prophet, who is the first leader of Muslims, didn't do it," said Mohsen al-Awajy, an Islamist lawyer and cleric. "Those who are proposing the change after him have to come up with legal justification for it."
Al-Awajy urged the Saudi government to put an end to "such a rigid and austere mind-set that could become the core of a violent trend in the future."
Prominent Saudi female writers have written angry editorials denouncing the plan as discriminatory and urging authorities not to adopt it.
Osama al-Barr, head of the hajj institute, said the fuss was unwarranted because the study was meant simply to find a solution to the problem of overcrowding at the Grand Mosque.
But historian Hatoon al-Fassi wondered why the study did not restrict men. Plus, she said, such a decision should be made by all the Muslim world, not simply by Saudi authorities.
Islam and the West: How Great a Divide?
Monday, July 10, 2006
On July 7, 2006, the Pew Global Attitudes Project released an international survey focusing on Muslim and Western perceptions of each other and on the Muslim experience in Europe. The poll surveyed more than 14,000 people in 13 nations: India, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Turkey, the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Spain. A survey of Muslim populations in the four European countries was conducted in partnership with the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
In a wide-ranging interview at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, Amaney Jamal, assistant professor in the department of politics at Princeton University and a specialist in the study of Muslim public opinion, commented on the survey's findings and their implications. Jamal is also a senior advisor for a Pew Research Center project on a comprehensive study of the views and attitudes of Muslim Americans. The Forum is a partner in this year-long survey project, which will be completed by next summer.
In the interview, Jamal discusses, among other things, the negative perceptions Westerners and Muslims have of each other, the role of the media in perpetuating stereotypes and what the findings mean for U.S. foreign policy.
Amaney Jamal, Assistant Professor, Department of Politics, Princeton University
Mark O'Keefe, Associate Director, Editorial, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
Do the results of this survey, as you look at them, reveal a growing divide between the Islamic and Western worlds?
The results certainly reveal that there is a divide. Whether it's growing or not is not very clear, however, because we don't have very good data across time in all these countries. Where there is systematic data across time, we tend to see that attitudes have remained pretty constant.
Were there any survey results you found particularly encouraging in terms of bridging the divide?
Is it encouraging that we still have these decades-old stereotypes emanating both ways: the West versus the Muslim world, and the Muslim world versus the West? No, it is not encouraging at all. Actually, it's quite disappointing. It's more disappointing if you look at the fact that it is in the United States' strategic interest in the region to win the hearts and minds of people in the Muslim world. U.S. troops are on the ground in Iraq. Where there is a need for U.S. involvement and U.S. mediation of conflicts, such as the Arab-Israeli and Afghanistan conflict, there is a total loss of trust in the Muslim world of all things American or Western. This also hurts our ability to deal with issues and problems diplomatically because there is this huge tension.
Similarly, the Muslim world is not effectively communicating with the Western world. What we do see is that [Osama] bin Laden is communicating with the Western world or the president of Iran, [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad is communicating with the Western world. What we don't see are the moderate Muslim voices communicating with the Western world.
On the topic of democracy and Islam, you do see some hope in the survey findings from Western Europe. Are you optimistic there?
What we see among the Western European Muslim population is great enthusiasm reflected in percentages of more than 75 percent and 80 percent of people who believe Islam and democracy are compatible. That's because they are living experience and proof of the compatibility of the two. They are maintaining a cultural, religious tradition, and also enjoying the freedoms of democracy.
What, in your view, is working and what isn't, to increase communication and dialogue between the Islamic world and the West?
I think what's not working, or what we're underestimating, is the influence and power of media, including satellite television, to circulate irresponsible statements made by public officials on both sides, the dehumanizing of Westerners in the eyes of Muslims and of Muslims in the eyes of Westerners.
The U.S. has acknowledged the problem and that's why it is funding an Arabic language satellite television network for the Middle East. But we're not doing much to combat the stereotypes that exist. Muslims want Westerners to think of them more respectfully, to think of them as equals. Westerners don't see Muslims as thinking similarly to them. When it comes down to it, humans think alike, but we have to listen to one another more carefully. That type of communication is missing.
What stereotypes are you seeing?
If we were to survey popular movies that have captured the interest of Muslims and Americans that come out of Hollywood, the pattern in those movies is often of a fundamentalist Muslim raging wildly for some lunatic reason.
The same pattern of portraying the Muslim “other” can be seen in the findings of the Pew survey. Again, Muslims are not seen as tolerant. They are seen as fanatics, not respecting democracy. And yet, if you deal with Muslims on a daily basis — and I don't say this because I'm Muslim — you see this is not the reality.
I'm also saddened by the fact that Muslims also tend to misunderstand what Westerners are all about: They see Westerners as arrogant, greedy and selfish — through the lens of colonialism.
The more erroneous and pervasive these stereotypes, the more justification it gives people to hold images of the other as less human, which ultimately leads to conflict. Once you dehumanize another people, it becomes easier to use a military option against those people.
You say that neither the Muslim world nor the West see the moderate middle in the other. What role is the U.S. media playing in perpetuating this problem?
If we examine what type of news is being broadcast from the U.S. to the Muslim world we are likely to see statements that come off as anti-Islamic, as implicating an entire religion. You are likely to get statements, however irresponsible, that there is this ongoing rift between Christianity and Islam.
How do you see Islamic media portraying the West?
As a society obsessed with sex, drugs and alcohol, a society that doesn't understand the larger meaning in life. And there is nothing further from the truth. When you know Americans and Westerners and you know about their values, they're very committed to many of the same values that Muslims take pride in holding and cherishing.
It's not that there is a cultural divide; it's that we've constructed this cultural divide. And what this survey report illustrates is that we've been all too successful in constructing this cultural divide, this constructed dichotomy of good and evil. Which side you are on determines who is called good and who is called evil.
The survey shows that Muslims in Muslim countries view the West as immoral. Is this an Islamic perception of Western culture gleaned from movies, TV and the Internet, or a perception of government policy, such as the Iraq war? Or is it a combination of factors?
I think it's certainly a combination. I think Muslims know the West through the type of shows and movies that are broadcast in the region. The type of movies that will sell are those that are either overtly violent or tend to be more sexual. That's unfortunate.
Muslims then think that American culture stands for alcoholism and relationships that are outside of the boundaries of marriage. Those are still big taboos in the Muslim world. So you're dealing with a very conservative, traditional society on these issues. And what they see from the West is basically the flaunting of these immoral acts in the media.
Muslims also hear news stories of teenage pregnancy and child molestation, and these stories are given increasingly more attention in the Muslim press than they are even here. In the minds of Muslims, you have this sad civilization in the West that is trying to dictate to the rest of the world how to live their lives. There is a strong conviction that the Western world does not have the moral foundation to be dictating to Muslims how to lead a decent life.
You have said that the West increasingly sees Osama bin Laden as the primary spokesperson for the Muslim world, but the survey shows bin Laden is losing credibility in the Muslim world.
Look at the last year of news coverage coming out of the Middle East. Who has been covered in Western media? Hamas spokespeople, the Iranian president; Osama bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri and that little video of Abu Musab al Zarqawi when he was killed. What other speakers or images from the Muslim world have we seen? Have we seen intellectuals? Have we seen researchers? Have we seen thinkers? Have we seen ordinary people on the street?
As you point out, and as the data point out, support for bin Laden is falling in the Muslim world. Yet it is almost as if the Western media has still “elected” him as an evil icon. In the Arab Muslim world, where we tend to see the highest levels of anti-Westernism, bin Laden has never really enjoyed solid support. Yet he has become an icon to the West, and that is a great concern. It affects and angers Muslims, and it also frightens Westerners. It reifies the divisions.
The survey shows declining support for terrorism in some Muslim countries. For example, we see a significant drop in support for suicide bombings in Pakistan and Jordan between 2004 and 2005. What explains this drop and do you think this represents a lasting development?
I think it is a lasting development because the suicide bombers have used their operational tactics in these countries. We have seen the Jordan hotel bombings in November 2005. We have seen suicide bombers attack hotels in Morocco in 2003. We have seen the Bali attack in Indonesia. We have seen many suicide bombings happening in various mosques in other locales, such as Pakistan.
The Muslim world has come to understand that if you support suicide bombings, there may be attacks targeting your own people. In addition, they see the daily images emanating out of Iraq, the senseless loss of life due to suicide bombings in marketplaces, mosques and whatnot. These images are having a huge effect across the Muslim world. Muslim suicide bombers are killing other Muslims, and I think a lot of people are beginning to question what is going on in the lives of suicide bombers.
This is one of those topics that have to be dealt with and negotiated internally within Muslim societies. If you give Muslims this opportunity to learn through trial and error, we see that they are rational people who have rational interests and regard for human rights.
The survey shows there is no common view of Muslims in Europe. Great Britain, for example, seems to have a much more negative view of Muslims than France. What explains this difference from country to country?
I think each European country's view of its Muslim minority population is really contingent on the relationship the country has had with their Muslim communities and with the broader issue of immigration. For example, Britain has just emerged from the July 7, 2005, bombings.
France has a better relationship with the Muslim community because it has a better understanding and a more favorable opinion about immigration. Therefore, it will have a more favorable stance toward Muslim immigrants. Also, remember that France just emerged from the riot issue last fall, and there is a lot of questioning, self-doubt and almost guilty feelings about the Muslim population.
We're fast approaching the fifth anniversary of 9/11, yet a majority of the public in several Muslim countries, including 65 percent in Indonesia, does not believe Arabs were responsible for the attacks on New York and Washington. What, in your view, explains this?
In parts of the Muslim world, there's a sense of victimization and the feeling that 9/11 epitomizes the culmination of Western imperialism. In their opinion, 9/11 set the stage for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, for complete U.S. domination of the region. The U.S. needed a reason, a justification, to go into Iraq and 9/11 provided it. People from these regions believe this.
People wonder how 19 hijackers ordered and directed by a man in a cave can attack the largest nation, which also owns a vast military arsenal. They say it's simply impossible, that the U.S. wanted it to happen so it could set the stage for complete domination of the region.
They believe the U.S. doesn't care about people, doesn't care about their religion and that, in fact, implicating their religion serves U.S. interests in a grandiose fashion. That, I think, is what's more remarkable about this disbelief about 9/11. It's not that Muslims are in denial, or however you want to characterize it. It is that there's no trust. The only thing that they understand about the West is that the West is out to get them.
This transcript has been edited for clarity, spelling and grammar.
The following article discusses the internal weaknesses of the Ummah some of which of tragic dimensions, which have lead to the misconceptions of the faith of Islam.
Identity Politics and the Ummah
By Sheila Akbar
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof asked a shrewd question on April 23rd, 2006. Writing about the Muslim silence on the genocide in Darfur, he asked, "Isn't the murder of 300,000 or more Muslims almost as offensive as a Danish cartoon?"
Isn't it? Well, yes, of course it is. But the reason there haven't been any KFC-burnings or kidnappings over Darfur is complex. Mainly, it's because Muslims have to be told which conflicts "matter," and no Muslim leader has had the courage to say that this one matters a hell of a lot more than anything else Muslims have protested of late.
The conflict in Darfur is a long-standing political and economic one that has taken on racial dimensions: those being wiped out are ethnically African Muslims, and those committing these crimes against humanity are ethnically Arab Muslims, affiliated with the fundamentalist Islamic government of Sudan. So it's not just that thousands of Muslims are being murdered, starved to death, or forced to flee their homeland; the real kicker is that all of this is at the hands of Muslim brothers. Even more shockingly, the tragedy in Darfur includes a variety of what we would call religious hate-crimes. Human Rights Watch reports mosques being burned, Qur'ans desecrated, Imams (prayer-leaders) and worshippers killed during prayer.
Yet, we've witnessed fierce riots over pen-and-ink cartoons, and utter reticence on the mass-murders and hate crimes in Darfur. What is the root of the pick-and-choose outrage of the Muslim world? It starts with the concept of a single, united "ummah," the Arabic word for community. Raised in a Muslim household myself, I was taught to think of my fellow mosque-goers as brothers and sisters in faith. I was taught to look out for them, to help them in times of need, and treat them with the respect and love with which I'd treat my actual family. This principle is practiced on a global level: Muslims are called upon by their very faith to help their brethren in times of need, oppression, and turmoil.
Unfortunately, this strong sense of community is easily manipulated. The resulting mentality is often one of communalism – defined as "strong devotion to the interests of one's own minority or ethnic group rather than to those of society as a whole." Case in point: when Osama bin Laden rallies his mujahiddeen to protect Islam from the West, he preys upon their radical communalist tendencies.
Communalism is a particular form of identity politics, a more general term for a political agenda motivated by a pre-defined identity. These political models are not only found within Muslim populations, they exist in our own society, too. Even groups like the NAACP, Christian Coalition, or GLBTQ are identity-based political bodies, as their agenda is based on some facet of identity: race, religion, sexual-orientation or any of a whole host of demographic indicators. In fact, it is probably true that every political body buys into some form of identity politics.
But because identity can be defined by so many different components, identity politics can be easily exploited. For example, what happens when one aspect of an identity is at odds with another aspect? A gay Christian would most likely not be welcomed by Focus on the Family, even though he may espouse their political beliefs on everything but the issue of homosexuality. Likewise, an American Jew who criticizes Israeli policy is often labeled a traitor to his people. Here, identity is being prescribed and circumscribed: in order to be considered a valid member of the group, a person must accept an imposed definition of that identity while repressing his own interpretation of it. This internal conflict and the resulting self-doubt are extremely vulnerable to manipulation.
Such is the case within the Muslim world. Because of the Islamic notion of the ummah, communalism and identity politics are built into the religion. This, combined with low literacy rates, widespread poverty, a flood of anti-American propaganda, and a tribal tit-for-tat mentality that has plagued Islam since its inception, many Muslims fall prey to the hate-mongering of "religious authorities." These men (and they are always men) claim the authority to decide who is a Muslim or not, and label anyone who disagrees with them an unbeliever and a traitor. Most are not trained in Islamic history, philosophy, or law. And, as Islam has no institutionalized clerical system, none are ordained religious leaders. Yet these men enjoy popular authority simply because most Muslims don't know any better. Just as many Catholics do not understand Latin, many Muslims do not understand the Arabic of the Qur'an. Instead, they depend upon the loose translations and often warped interpretations of these religious demagogues.
It is these men who have fixed their own definition of a Muslim and expect others to conform to it; it is these men who have taught their followers not to think for themselves. It is these men who incite their followers to violence and hatred by filling their heads with stereotypes, half-truths, and "religious" fervor; it is these men who decide when or when not to riot. In the end, it is these men who have betrayed Islam.
So, why haven't Muslims spoken out against the Sudanese government? Are they afraid to criticize fellow Muslims, for fear they may be labeled traitors? Are they afraid to view themselves as critically as they view the West, for fear they may have to lower their standards? Are they afraid to denounce the racist motivations of the Arab Janjaweed militia, for fear they must address racism against non-Arabs, which is rampant in many Muslim communities (including those in America)? Or is it simply because no one has told them to speak out?
Maybe all of the above.
Incidentally, someone else was trying to get Muslims riled up about the situation in Darfur on that very same day: Osama bin Laden, trying to take control of the situation in his typical inflammatory and communalist manner, released a new video. In it, he urges Muslims to fight the "Zionist-Crusaders" in Darfur, portraying the West's involvement as a pretext for taking over the oil-rich lands of Sudan. He cites other conflicts involving the ummah (Bosnia, Chechnya , East Timor , Kashmir) precisely in order to provoke communalist reactions from Muslims around the world. He even criticizes the Sudanese government for not meeting his fundamentalist standards. He calls upon the ummah to protect Islam and Muslims in the region – not from each other – but from the West, ensuring that any peace-keeping effort mustered by the West will meet a jihadist resistance.
I hope Muslims will ask themselves whom that jihad would serve, their fellow Muslims in need, or Osama and his ilk. I hope Muslims will ask themselves whether protecting Islam should mean protecting lives, livelihoods, and mosques, or whether it should mean blowing up Western transports with RPG's and landmines (as Osama explicitly suggested). I hope Muslims will ask themselves by what authority does Osama demand that they commit murder in the name of Islam, and then, call them sinners if they don't support him.
But instead of merely hoping, how can we combat this type of communalist exploitation? The shameful silence of Muslim leadership, religious and political, has allowed despicable men and their actions to color the image of Islam itself. This cannot continue. For a start, the legitimate Islamic scholars must use the Qur'an and the example of the Prophet Muhammad to condemn the ideology and reactionary violence of figures like Osama and lesser "authorities" who abuse communalism.
Muslim heads of state must acknowledge and condemn the evils done by some Islamic regimes, and cease to give them political cover. (Unbelievably, the Arab League held its most recent conference in Sudan, effectively undersigning the murder of thousands of Muslims in Darfur.) Muslim political leaders must also appeal to Islam's core values of peace and respect, as well as take steps to provide an effective alternative to rioting.
Most importantly, Muslims must take their faith back into their own hands. It is indeed time for an Islamic Reformation (as scholar Reza Aslan has described), and the first step is for the ummah to stand up to those who bully it. Muslims must think for themselves, rebuff anyone who intimidates them into conforming to his vision of Islam, and never compromise their Islamic values, even in the heat of protest.
Meanwhile, the next time you wonder why Muslims seem to be in a perpetual uproar, remember that wherever widespread ignorance, complacency, and frustration are found, demagogues are sure to flourish. Just ask Rush Limbaugh.
Sheila Akbar is currently a doctoral student in Comparative Literature at Indiana University. She received her BA and MA from Harvard University in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.
The following article discusses the changing perception of Islam within the political spectrum in the wake of recent events. It is quite alarming and I hope Muslims can correct it through projecting the correct vision of Islam.
October 11, 2006
Across Europe, Worries on Islam Spread to Center
By DAN BILEFSKY and IAN FISHER
BRUSSELS, Oct. 10 — Europe appears to be crossing an invisible line regarding its Muslim minorities: more people in the political mainstream are arguing that Islam cannot be reconciled with European values.
“You saw what happened with the pope,” said Patrick Gonman, 43, the owner of Raga, a funky wine bar in downtown Antwerp, 25 miles from here. “He said Islam is an aggressive religion. And the next day they kill a nun somewhere and make his point.
“Rationality is gone.”
Mr. Gonman is hardly an extremist. In fact, he organized a protest last week in which 20 bars and restaurants closed on the night when a far-right party with an anti-Muslim message held a rally nearby.
His worry is shared by centrists across Europe angry at terror attacks in the name of religion on a continent that has largely abandoned it, and disturbed that any criticism of Islam or Muslim immigration provokes threats of violence.
For years those who raised their voices were mostly on the far right. Now those normally seen as moderates — ordinary people as well as politicians — are asking whether once unquestioned values of tolerance and multiculturalism should have limits.
Former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw of Britain, a prominent Labor politician, seemed to sum up the moment when he wrote last week that he felt uncomfortable addressing women whose faces were covered with a veil. The veil, he wrote, is a “visible statement of separation and difference.”
When Pope Benedict XVI made the speech last month that included a quotation calling aspects of Islam “evil and inhuman,” it seemed to unleash such feelings. Muslims berated him for stigmatizing their culture, while non-Muslims applauded him for bravely speaking a hard truth.
The line between open criticism of another group or religion and bigotry can be a thin one, and many Muslims worry that it is being crossed more and more.
Whatever the motivations, “the reality is that views on both sides are becoming more extreme,” said Imam Wahid Pedersen, a prominent Dane who is a convert to Islam. “It has become politically correct to attack Islam, and this is making it hard for moderates on both sides to remain reasonable.” Mr. Pedersen fears that onetime moderates are baiting Muslims, the very people they say should integrate into Europe.
The worries about extremism are real. The Belgian far-right party, Vlaams Belang, took 20.5 percent of the vote in city elections last Sunday, five percentage points higher than in 2000. In Antwerp, its base, though, its performance improved barely, suggesting to some experts that its power might be peaking.
In Austria this month, right-wing parties also polled well, on a campaign promise that had rarely been made openly: that Austria should start to deport its immigrants. Vlaams Belang, too, has suggested “repatriation” for immigrants who do not made greater efforts to integrate.
The idea is unthinkable to mainstream leaders, but many Muslims still fear that the day — or at least a debate on the topic — may be a terror attack away.
“I think the time will come,” said Amir Shafe, 34, a Pakistani who earns a good living selling clothes at a market in Antwerp. He deplores terrorism and said he himself did not sense hostility in Belgium. But he said, “We are now thinking of going back to our country, before that time comes.”
Many experts note that there is a deep and troubled history between Islam and Europe, with the Crusaders and the Ottoman Empire jostling each other for centuries and bloodily defining the boundaries of Christianity and Islam. A sense of guilt over Europe’s colonial past and then World War II, when intolerance exploded into mass murder, allowed a large migration to occur without any uncomfortable debates over the real differences between migrant and host.
Then the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, jolted Europe into new awareness and worry.
The subsequent bombings in Madrid and London, and the murder of the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Dutch-born Moroccan stand as examples of the extreme. But many Europeans — even those who generally support immigration — have begun talking more bluntly about cultural differences, specifically about Muslims’ deep religious beliefs and social values, which are far more conservative than those of most Europeans on issues like women’s rights and homosexuality.
“A lot of people, progressive ones — we are not talking about nationalists or the extreme right — are saying, ‘Now we have this religion, it plays a role and it challenges our assumptions about what we learned in the 60’s and 70’s,’ ” said Joost Lagendik, a Dutch member of the European Parliament for the Green Left Party, who is active on Muslim issues.
“So there is this fear,” he said, “that we are being transported back in a time machine where we have to explain to our immigrants that there is equality between men and women, and gays should be treated properly. Now there is the idea we have to do it again.”
Now Europeans are discussing the limits of tolerance, the right with increasing stridency and the left with trepidation.
Austrians in their recent election complained about public schools in Vienna being nearly full with Muslim students and blamed the successive governments that allowed it to happen.
Some Dutch Muslims have expressed support for insurgents in Iraq over Dutch peacekeepers there, on the theory that their prime loyalty is to a Muslim country under invasion.
So strong is the fear that Dutch values of tolerance are under siege that the government last winter introduced a primer on those values for prospective newcomers to Dutch life: a DVD briefly showing topless women and two men kissing. The film does not explicitly mention Muslims, but its target audience is as clear as its message: embrace our culture or leave.
Perhaps most wrenching has been the issue of free speech and expression, and the growing fear that any criticism of Islam could provoke violence.
In France last month, a high school teacher went into hiding after receiving death threats for writing an article calling the Prophet Muhammad “a merciless warlord, a looter, a mass murderer of Jews and a polygamist.” In Germany a Mozart opera with a scene of Muhammad’s severed head was canceled because of security fears.
With each incident, mainstream leaders are speaking more plainly. “Self-censorship does not help us against people who want to practice violence in the name of Islam,” Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany said in criticizing the opera’s cancellation. “It makes no sense to retreat.”
The backlash is revealing itself in other ways. Last month the British home secretary, John Reid, called on Muslim parents to keep a close watch on their children. “There’s no nice way of saying this,” he told a Muslim group in East London. “These fanatics are looking to groom and brainwash children, including your children, for suicide bombing, grooming them to kill themselves to murder others.”
Many Muslims say this new mood is suddenly imposing expectations that never existed before that Muslims be exactly like their European hosts.
Dyab Abou Jahjah, a Lebanese-born activist here in Belgium, said that for years Europeans had emphasized “citizenship and human rights,” the notion that Muslim immigrants had the responsibility to obey the law but could otherwise live with their traditions.
“Then someone comes and says it’s different than that,” said Mr. Jahjah, who opposes assimilation. “You have to dump your culture and religion. It’s a different deal now.”
Lianne Duinberke, 34, who works at a market in the racially mixed northern section of Antwerp, said: “Before I was very eager to tell people I was married to a Muslim. Now I hesitate.” She has been with her husband, a Tunisian, for 12 years, and they have three children.
Many Europeans, she said, have not been accepting of Muslims, especially since 9/11. On the other hand, she said, Muslims truly are different culturally: No amount of explanation about free speech could convince her husband that the publication of cartoons lampooning Muhammad in a Danish newspaper was in any way justified.
When asked if she was optimistic or pessimistic about the future of Muslim immigration in Europe , she found it hard to answer. She finally gave a defeated smile. “I am trying to be optimistic,” she said. “But if you see the global problems before the people, then you really can’t be.”
Dan Bilefsky reported from Brussels, and Ian Fisher from Rome. Contributing were Sarah Lyall and Alan Cowell from London, Mark Landler from Frankfurt, Peter Kiefer from Rome, Renwick McLean from Madrid and Maia de la Baume from Paris.
Looking for Islam’s Luthers
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Islam sometimes comes across the airwaves in the West as the faith of medieval fanatics wielding swords and wearing explosive vests. Western doubts are bolstered when the pope accuses Islam of violence and fundamentalists protest by killing a nun.
But the public images of Islam we sometimes see — the violence in the name of God, the intolerance, the obsession with the past — represent only some stones in a complex mosaic. And those images can’t explain why Islam appears to be in percentage terms the fastest-growing major religion in the world today.
Islam is on the rise for many of the same reasons evangelical Christianity is surging: they provide a firm moral code, spiritual reassurance and orderliness to people vexed by chaos and immorality around them, and they offer dignity to the poor.
While the thread of fundamentalism is real in Islam, so is the thread of reform. The 21st century may become to Islam what the 16th was to Christianity, for even in hard-line states like Iran you meet Martin Luthers who are pushing for an Islamic Reformation. One of the most surprising elements of this push for reform has to do with the emergence of a school called “feminist Islam.”
I’ve written often about the honor killings and other abuses suffered by women and girls in some Muslim countries, and many Westerners think Islam is inherently misogynistic. But Muslim women themselves naturally resent that kind of Western paternalism, for they want opportunities and equality — and yet they frequently don’t want to discard their faith (or even their head scarves).
“Yes, sexism exists in our culture, but that is not due to Islam,” says Rima Khoreibi, an author from Dubai who wrote a children’s book about an Islamic superhero who is female — Iman, a teenage girl with a cape, head scarf and deep religious convictions. That book, “The Adventures of Iman” (www.theadventuresofiman.com), was so successful that she is publishing a sequel in December.
Ms. Khoreibi says that she wrote “The Adventures of Iman” because of her “passion to promote Islamic feminism.” She cites Koranic verses that promote gender equality and call for treating sons and daughters equally.
A Koran-quoting female caped crusader is part of a broad ferment for more gender equality in the Muslim world. Islamic feminists often argue that the Koran generally raised the status of women compared to earlier Arabian society — banning female infanticide, for example, and limiting polygamy — and that what is needed today is that larger spirit of progress and enlightenment rather than precise seventh-century formulations that would freeze human society.
Often the battles are over Koranic verses. For example, some note that the Koran permitted up to four wives as a way to care for orphans after wars that had left many women widowed. So they turn the verse on its head and say that in today’s world where that situation doesn’t apply, the Koran actually bars polygamy.
Likewise, Saudi women sometimes argue that since the Prophet Muhammad’s wife drove camels, they should be able to drive cars.
“Islam, like any religion, is subject to interpretation,” Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate from Iran, writes in her autobiography. “It can be interpreted to oppress women or to liberate them.”
Female Muslim scholars like Fatima Mernissi of Morocco have also turned up evidence that Prophet Muhammad’s youngest wife (and the person he said he loved most in the world), Aisha, vigorously contested the chauvinism of early clerics. Indeed, she sometimes comes across as the first Islamic feminist.
A well-known statement once attributed to Prophet Muhammad says that a man’s prayers are ineffective if a woman, dog or donkey passes in front of the believer. Aisha denounced that as nonsense: “You compare us now to donkeys and dogs. In the name of God, I have seen the Prophet saying his prayers while I was there.”
Likewise, Aisha denied various suggestions that her husband considered menstruating women to be unclean.
Aisha had prepared a series of corrections to early Islamic writings, but these have been largely ignored. Finally, these days, they are beginning to get a hearing.
All this underscores that Islam is much more complex than the headlines might suggest. The violence and fundamentalism gets the attention — and should be more loudly condemned by ordinary Muslims — but we would be close-minded ourselves if we ignored the more hopeful rumblings that are also taking place within the vast Islamic world ... including, perhaps, steps toward a Muslim Reformation.
An alarming and disturbing trend of radicalization of the Muslim youth in Britain.
October 21, 2006
Covered Faces, Open Rebellion
By PAUL CRUICKSHANK
ON the streets of London and other cities in Britain, an incongruous sight has become increasingly common: young Muslim women covered from head to toe in black robes, including the niqab, a veil that obscures the face except for the eyes.
The niqab sets these young women off not just from most passers-by, but even from Muslim women who choose to wear the simple headscarf, or hijab, which covers only the hair and neck. And it is causing discomfort even in multicultural Britain. When Jack Straw, the former foreign secretary, declared earlier this month that the niqab made positive relations between Muslims and non-Muslims more difficult because it was "such a visible statement of separation and difference," he struck a chord with many British voters, only 22 percent of whom think that Muslims have done enough to fit into mainstream society.
Having spent time getting to know young British Muslims, I believe that comments like Mr. Straw's will be counterproductive. That is because the niqab is a symptom and not a cause of rising tensions. Few young Muslim women in Britain are forced by their families to wear the niqab. British Muslims come predominantly from South Asia, where the prevalent school of Islam, Hanifi, makes no insistence on a woman fully veiling herself. Indeed, only one of the four schools within Sunni Islam, Hanbali, which is followed in Saudi Arabia, requires women to completely cover up.
The young British South-Asian Muslim women who veil Saudi-style are rejecting not just mainstream British society, but their parents' and grandparents' accommodation with its values. Ghulam Rabbani, an imam in East London, told me he was proud to be both British and Muslim but that some "misguided" youngsters in his congregation did not share that view. Khalil Rehman, one of Mr. Rabbani's congregants, told me he was worried about his children's generation. The young women who choose to wear the niqab, Mr. Rehman told me, are "rebelling against what their parents tell them to do, they're trying to differentiate themselves."
Frustrated by unemployment rates more than double those of members of other religious groups, put off by stereotyping in the news media, and estranged from British foreign policy, many alienated Muslims have turned to more overt forms of religiosity to express a contrarian identity. Says Murad Qureshi, the only Muslim councilor in London's Assembly: "Girls are choosing to reaffirm their Muslim identity because the community feels a sense of besiegement."
That sense of besiegement, not wardrobe decisions, is fueling the real problem that British politicians should be addressing, which is the creeping fundamentalism and Islamist radicalism of a significant portion of Britain's Islamic youth. In a recent poll, more than a quarter of British Muslims under the age of 24 said that the July 7, 2005, attacks on the London Underground were justified because of British foreign policy. Thousands of young British Muslims have been influenced by fundamentalist organizations like Hizb ut-Tahrir and militant groups like Al Muhajiroun.
These are the groups that have persuaded some Muslim girls that it is their religious duty to adopt the niqab. Kemal Helbawy, the influential founder of the Muslim Association of Britain, says that a very different message is coming out of the country's mainstream mosques, where most imams advise their congregations that the hijab is sufficient.
Calls by British politicians for Muslim women to stop wearing the niqab will only enhance the political symbolism of this act and make its practice more widespread. Instead, what is needed is an ambitious program to address the core grievances of Britain's young Muslims, for example by creating economic opportunities and tackling discrimination.
Britain's young Muslims need to be brought into the country's political process. More Muslims should be encouraged and selected to run for Parliament and to aspire to high office.
It will then be much harder for radicals to claim that the British government is at war with Islam. And then we will start seeing far fewer young Muslim women fully veiled.
Paul Cruickshank is a fellow at the Center on Law and Security at New York University School of Law.
Islam, West clash fuelled by politics not religion
poll: Most Canadians blame 'intolerant minorities'
CanWest News Service
Monday, February 19, 2007
Most Canadians reject the notion the Islamic and western worlds are engaged in a clash of civilizations based on culture and religion, according to a new international poll.
The GlobeScan survey found a majority, 56 per cent, of Canadians regard the conflict between Islam and the West to be primarily about "political power and interests."
Only 29 per cent said religious and cultural differences are to blame.
Many Canadians, 55 per cent, also cited "intolerant minorities" on both sides of the divide as an important contributor to the tension. Canadians were much more likely to assess shared blame than to specifically cite Muslim, 12 per cent, or western, seven per cent, minorities.
Pollsters interviewed 1,008 Canadians in December and January as part of an international survey in 27 countries. In theory, in 19 cases out of 20, the results of the poll wouldn't differ by more than plus or minus three percentage points from those obtained by interviewing all Canadian adults.
Canadian attitudes broadly reflected international sentiment.
Worldwide, 52 per cent of those polled said the current tension between Islam and the West is primarily due to conflicting political interests. Most, 58 per cent, blamed intolerant minorities -- rather than fundamental cultural differences -- for exacerbating the situation.
In the United States, the views were slightly more guarded. While 49 per cent said the conflict was primarily about political power and interests, 38 per cent also said differences in religion and culture were at the root of the problem.
Worldwide, Muslims tended to put most of the blame on politics with significant majorities holding that view in Lebanon, 78 per cent; Egypt, 56 per cent; Indonesia, 56 per cent; and Turkey, 55 per cent.
"Most people around the world clearly reject the idea that Islam and the West are caught in an inevitable clash of civilizations," said Steven Kull, director of University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes, which helped design the poll.
The clash of civilizations is a notion popularized by Harvard University Prof. Samuel P. Huntington.
The international poll, conducted for the BBC World Service, found 56 per cent believe common ground can be found between Islam and the West, while 29 per cent said violent conflict is inevitable. Canadians were decidedly optimistic: 73 per cent of respondents told pollsters a peaceful accommodation is possible.
Don't Be Fooled by Propaganda
by Charley Reese
by Charley Reese
There is an ongoing slander campaign against Islam, claiming that it is a religion that promotes violence and hinting that it seeks world conquest.
Before you buy the malarkey that is being produced by people with their own agendas or prejudices or who are just plain ignoramuses, follow these few suggestions:
Compare the history of Islam with the history of Europe, which for centuries was called Christendom. An objective look will show you that Christendom wins by a landslide when it comes to violence and wars. After all, Europe and its offspring did not come to dominate the world, including the Islamic countries, because they practiced the gentle virtues of Jesus.
As for the common practice of cherry-picking Scripture from holy writings and presenting it out of context, just check out what Christians call the Old Testament. There you will find God advocating a double standard of morality, condoning slavery, ordering the Israelites to commit genocide and committing infanticide himself on a mass scale. I don't believe you will find anything comparable in the Quran.
The word "jihad," which is so over-used these days, has, like a lot of words, more than one meaning. It means basically to struggle, but this can be personal or spiritual, or a peaceful political struggle. Only if Islam is attacked are Muslims required to defend it. As for that obnoxious propaganda term "Islamo-fascist," just recall that fascism is a European invention by nominal Christians. To my knowledge, the only fascist governments ever to exist on this planet were all European and nominally Christian.
Another canard is that Islam promotes forced conversion. Not so. Even when the Arab empire was expanding, rarely were any of the conquered people forced to convert. The Quran even forbids it, as I recall. Naturally, once Muslims were in charge, a lot of people decided it was in their own self-interest to convert, but this is just one of the sleazy aspects of human nature.
I remember when Florida elected its first Republican governor of the 20th century. I saw plenty of people crawl out from under their rocks and convert to the Republican Party, drawn by the smell of patronage. With some rare exceptions, human beings always act in what they perceive, rightly or wrongly, to be in their self-interest.
It was Christian Europe that slaughtered the Jews, and nothing remotely resembling the Holocaust is to be found in the history of Islam. In fact, during the past, when Jews were being persecuted by Christian Europe, they frequently fled to and found sanctuary in the Muslim countries. Until Israel was established, practically every Muslim country had sizable Jewish populations dating back centuries. And there are still Jews and Christians in some Muslim countries.
A final suggestion is that when you hear some individual radical Muslim being quoted, just remember he is one of a billion people and speaks only for himself and his small following. And be wary of the quotations he uses, for they are often deliberately fabricated or distorted.
If Muslims really desired to conquer the world, don't you think it's strange that we've been living in peace with them for nearly a millennium and a half, except for those times when we attacked them (the Crusades, the European colonial movement and our invasion of Iraq)? Don't forget either that some of the countries the Bush administration calls allies are themselves Muslim – Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, etc.
You have nothing to fear from Islam. The al-Qaida movement is a tiny percentage of Muslims and wouldn't be the force it is except for the fact that the Bush administration has gone out of its way to make all of Osama bin Laden's propaganda become true.
May 5, 2007
Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.
Monday, May 28, 2007
KUALA LUMPUR: Can the Muslim world be rebranded? Led by Malaysia and Indonesia, political and business leaders from Asia, North Africa and the Middle East vowed at a conference here Monday to reshape the image of Islamic countries, aiming to replace visions of poverty and violence with vibrancy, trade and, ultimately, prosperity.
"We must change our partners' perception of the Muslim world," said Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the president of Indonesia, who gave the keynote address.
"We must change their attitudes toward us from something negative or indifferent - if not hostile - to something positive and enthusiastic."
Whether or not the mission is successful, the meeting here of the third annual World Islamic Economic Forum put on display the frustration that many leaders in Muslim countries have for being associated with corrupt, dysfunctional governments and intractable conflict.
The speakers, including government ministers from Kuwait, Malaysia, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates, hardly mentioned the Palestinians, Iraq or terrorism.
Instead, they talked about job creation, streamlining bureaucracy and strengthening intellectual property rights.
By holding the conference in Kuala Lumpur, its organizers hoped to underline the successes of Malaysia and neighboring Indonesia in marrying moderate Islam with modernity.
Both are multicultural countries, a contrast to the rigid Wahhabi tradition of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia, for instance.
In a series of speeches notable for their self-deprecation, leaders castigated Muslim societies for neglecting education and for offering copious rhetoric but little action.
"We as leaders of the Muslim world need to take responsibility for ourselves and our citizens," said Sheik Saud bin Saqr al-Qasimi, the crown prince and deputy ruler of Ras al-Khaimah, a part of the United Arab Emirates. "We need to make sure that our young people can find jobs."
Shortfalls in education in Muslim countries "make people vulnerable to misinformation," he added.
Yudhoyono said Muslim countries needed to change what is taught in madrasas, the Islamic schools that have been criticized for being heavy on religious training and light on science, technology and the humanities.
Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi of Malaysia, the host of the gathering, said Muslims needed to steer their populations toward the "idea of work as worship."
"We must break the shackles of rigidity and dogma that currently envelop Islam," he said, restating the theme that underlies his policies in Malaysia. "We must go beyond rituals and ceremonies."
Abdullah and Yudhoyono both said that the Muslim world should leverage its control over the world's oil resources - more than two-thirds of the world's energy needs are provided by Muslim countries, Yudhoyono said - to gain access to knowledge and technology.
"The wealth is there for us to invest," Abdullah said.
Despite a similar name and logo, the World Islamic Economic Forum has no connection to the annual meeting of business leaders in Davos, Switzerland.
The Islamic forum, which met for the first time in 2005, expanded this year to include meetings dedicated to the role of women and young people in Muslim countries.
By focusing on business both among Muslims countries and with the wider world, Islamic countries can help play down the stubborn issues that divide Muslims and non-Muslims, said P. Miles Young, the chairman of Ogilvy & Mather in Asia, which co-sponsored the conference.
"Business itself is a bridge for what seem to be two competing worlds or two clashing civilizations," Young said. "It is through business that there is common ground."
The notion of the "Muslim world" as an economic bloc is still mainly wishful thinking. Muslim countries conduct very little trade among themselves. Defined as the 56 member nations of the Islamic Development Bank, Muslim countries send 51.5 percent of their exports to industrialized countries, compared with just 13.5 percent to fellow Muslims nations, according to the bank.
Perhaps for that reason, some participants found the emphasis on Muslim solidarity retrograde and unhelpful.
Hakima el-Haite Mounir, director of the largest waste management company in Morocco, said the focus at the conference on Muslim solidarity could backfire.
"Aren't we moving backward in putting up religious boundaries?" she asked. "We should all be trying to remove barriers, to move against the segregation of the world."
Khalida Azbane Belkady, director of Groupe Azbane, a cosmetics company also based in Morocco, said the emphasis should be more squarely on business - whether among Muslims or non-Muslims.
"We are Muslims and we are women," she said. "But maybe we should stop talking about Muslim this-and-that and just get to work."
The meeting of women business leaders, which took place Sunday, was a feisty session that could have been mistaken for a convention of American feminists in the 1970s.
Norraesah Mohamad, a Malaysian who chaired the meeting, said Muslim countries neglected women entrepreneurs.
"The playing field is not about to be leveled, not soon enough," she said, adding: "We are quantitatively and qualitatively better than the guys in universities and the workplace."
Women face difficulty getting financing for projects, Norraesah said. "Every year, year in and year out, women get to eat only the humble pies," she said.
Suryani Sidik Mokti, head of a metalworking company in Indonesia, Prima Group, said women in business were getting more respect today.
She recalled early in her career inquiring at a bank about interest rates for a loan her company was seeking. "They said, 'Ma'am, this is too difficult for you. Why don't you bring your husband?' "
Illustrating the moderate form of Islam practiced in Malaysia and Indonesia today, the trade ministers in those countries, the Indonesian finance minister and Malaysia's central bank governor are all women.
Suryani said she found it logical that women would have these top jobs.
Traditionally, she said, men have handed over their paychecks to their wives, who pay the bills and budget for expenses.
"In day-to-day life women are managing finances in their houses," Suryani said. "Now it's happening at the level of the country."
Here is the full text of Tony Blair's speech to the "Islam and Muslims in the world today" conference in London on 4 June 2007:
I would like to thank Cambridge University and their partners, the Coexist Foundation and the Weidenfeld Institute for Strategic Dialogue for hosting this important conference. As many of you will know, the Cambridge Inter-Faith Programme is at the forefront of innovative teaching and research in terms of the study of world religions, their inter-relations and their relations with secular society.
The first and most obvious question about this Conference here in London is: why? The first and most obvious answer is that Britain is today a country of two million Muslims in a Europe that has over 20 million Muslims. I would like to pay tribute to our British Muslim communities today. In overwhelming part, they make a significant positive and growing contribution to modern Britain.
We have successful Muslims in all areas of our national life - business, sport, media, culture, the professions. We have our first Muslim MPs, first Muslim Members of the House of Lords; hopefully the next election will bring more and hopefully also the first women Muslim MPs.
Secondly, and again obviously as a result of what is happening in the world today, there is an interest and appetite across all sections of society to know more about Islam in all its diversity. This is not, repeat not, about equating interest in Islam with anxiety over extremism. But it explains, in part, the desire to learn about what moves and motivates our Muslim communities.
However, most of all but less obviously, the reason for this conference is to allow the many dimensions of Islam to speak about themselves in a more considered, more profound way than the short bursts of news coverage normally permit. When I have met groups of Muslims, especially younger ones - and in any part of Britain - of course the normal issues about foreign policy arise.
But actually the predominant complaint is about how they believe their true faith is constantly hijacked and subverted by small, unrepresentative groups who get disproportionately large amounts of publicity.
It is the way of the modern media world that what counts is impact. Those willing to come on television and articulate extreme and violent views make so much more impact than those who use the still small voice of reason and moderation.
The principal purpose of this Conference therefore is to let the authentic voices of Islam, in their various schools and manifestations, speak for themselves.
Some of the most distinguished scholars and religious leaders the world over are gathered here. I ask people to listen to them. They are the authentic voices of Islam. The voices of extremism are no more representative of Islam than the use, in times gone by, of torture to force conversion to Christianity, represents the true teaching of Christ.
In doing this, there is yet another purpose: to reclaim from extremists, of whatever faith, the true essence of religious belief. In the face of so much high profile accorded to religious extremism, to schism, and to confrontation, it is important to show that religious faith is not inconsistent with reason, or progress, or the celebration of diversity. Round the world today, along with the images of violence, are the patient good works of people of different faiths coming together, understanding each other, respecting each other.
Religious faith has much to contribute to the public sphere; is still a thriving part of what makes a cohesive community; is a crucial motivator of millions of citizens around the world; and is an essential if non-governmental way of helping to make society work. To lose that contribution would not just be a pity; it would be a huge backward step.
We shall be studying the outcomes of the conference with the keenest interest. We hope that the discussions over the next two days will produce ideas which we can explore and take forward - perhaps in partnership with some of you here today. We are especially interested to consider how the messages from this conference can best be conveyed to grassroots communities.
I want to set this conference in a broader context. Round the world today there is a new and urgent impetus being given to promulgating the true voices of Islam.
This is especially the case in the field of education. When I visited Indonesia last year, a Muslim majority country of over 200 million, I saw at first hand the way in which religious schools there are reforming to equip their students not just with a sound religious education, but also with training to boost their employment prospects. This work challenges the myth that religious schools need only focus on orthodox religious education.
The Pakistani Government too has undertaken an ambitious and difficult programme of madrassa reform, encouraging schools to register and develop a common syllabus and basic standards.
In Singapore, new more interactive teaching methods have been introduced by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore, moving away from teaching by rote to teaching which is specific to age group, more relevant to the wider context in which students live and more lively.
Many in our Muslim communities in the UK are encouraging reform and change in our madrassas here.
The Bradford Council of Mosques has agreed to incorporate citizenship education in the curriculum for their madrassas, an important initiative, which we hope will be adopted right across the country. And it is right to encourage links between schools in the state sector and institutions that provide religious education, given the hugely important role these institutions play in so many children's education and well-being.
But the role of education goes much wider than simply religious education. At the recent Middle East World Economic Forum, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, announced the creation of a groundbreaking $10 billion foundation to promote education in Arab countries.
The foundation will focus on human development, supporting and empowering young minds and focusing on research, education and investment in the infrastructure of knowledge. It will provide scholarships for study at world-reputed institutions. In neighbouring Qatar, the Government has invited top international universities to develop an "Education City" with the aim of becoming the beacon of educational excellence in the Arab world.
Many of these initiatives are designed to tap into the ages-old tradition of Islam where - in line with the Koran - knowledge is revered and Muslims urged to pursue it.
Then there are the many signs of political reform in the Muslim world, and the encouragement of women's rights. Suffrage has been awarded to women in Kuwait and women stood for the first time in Bahrain's elections last year.
In Morocco, fifty women have been appointed as state preachers for the first time. They will be able to give basic religious instruction in Mosques and support in prisons, schools and hospitals.
As highlighted by Emine Bozkurt's work, the position of women has improved in Turkey over recent years, with, in particular, a strong emphasis on education for girls.
In Afghanistan, the Afghan Women's Hour is a programme that would have been inconceivable not long ago. It offers girls, their mothers and their grandmothers a place to speak and to listen to one another. The full gamut of issues has been aired: standing for Parliament, learning to read, starting a business, the prevention of maternal mortality.
In Jordan, last month, a conference took place, with the assistance of Queen Rania, to build and empower Muslim female leadership across the Middle East.
There is also a clear move across the world to assert strongly the moderate and true authority of Islam.
In Jordan, in 2004, under the leadership of HM King Abdullah, a statement, the Amman Message was released seeking to declare what Islam is and what it is not, and how it should be manifested.
I was deeply impressed when, the next year, the King convened 200 leading scholars from no less than 50 countries, who unanimously - unanimously - issued a Declaration on 3 basic issues: the validity of different Islamic schools of thought and theology; the forbidding of declarations of apostasy between Muslims; and criteria for the issuing of fatwas - religious edicts - to pre-empt the spawning of illegitimate versions.
This was a clear message that Islam is not a monolithic faith, but one made up of a rich pattern of diversity, albeit all flowing from the same fount. This rich diversity needs to be more clearly appreciated and to inform our public debates more fully.
Also in 2005, the summit meeting of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference issued a declaration and a 10-year action plan. The summit reaffirmed Islam as a religion of moderation and modernity. It rejected bigotry and extremism. It supported work to establish the values of Islam as those of understanding, tolerance, dialogue and multilateralism. It adopted the principles of the Amman Message - as indeed did other gatherings of scholars around the world.
And in 2006 the Topkapi declaration emphasised that Muslims have long played a distinguished part in European history and encouraged them to continue doing so. It stressed the opportunities for Muslims to flourish as full citizens the pluralistic societies which increasingly characterise every country in this continent, especially since the fall of Communism.
I draw four lessons from these and other similar examples.
Firstly, that the role of theology and philosophy is vital to Islam, indeed as it is to any religion, in helping its adherents to engage with the modern world whilst drawing on its core principles.
Secondly, Muslims overwhelmingly want to play a full part in the complex and diverse societies in which they find themselves - both contributing and shaping those societies. Most seek to play a part as loyal citizens of their countries and as loyal Muslims. This is of course contrary to the often crude portrayals in the media or by those who deal only in stereotypes and seek to whip up Islamophobic sentiment.
Thirdly, others in societies in which Muslims are co-citizens must also evolve and adapt in how they respond to the changing nature of their societies. This is a two way street. Each must learn from the other, about the other.
And fourthly, and as a natural consequence of my first three points, the great religions of the world most continue the dialogue between them, and help interfaith work to grow. Greater mutual understanding should be the aim of all of us. And a closer working together to tackle the needs of our shared world - needs which are often pressing and cry out for action.
We publish today the Siddiqui Report on the UK and what more we need to do to encourage the right intellectual and academic debate on these issues here in Britain.
We intend to follow-up on many of Dr Siddiqui's recommendations and will be providing significant funding to deliver on this commitment.
None of this, incidentally, is designed to screen out a healthy rigorous debate about the controversies of foreign policy.
Many Christians disagreed with the decisions I took over Afghanistan or Iraq. Leave aside for a moment whether they were the right or wrong decisions. What is damaging is if they are seen in the context of religious decisions.
The religious faith of either country was as irrelevant to the decision as was the fact that the Kosovo Albanians we rescued were Muslims, suffering under a Serbian dictatorship, whose religion happened to be Christian Orthodox; or in helping the people of Sierra Leone, 70 per cent of whom are Muslim.
This point is crucial at a number of different levels. The problem between faiths and communities, as too often in life and in politics, is not where there is disagreement about decisions; but where there is misunderstanding about motives. In turn, this is often derived from a misunderstanding of a deeper sort: a basic ignorance about the other's faith. I was asked the other day by a young person if it was true Muslims wanted to kill all Christians.
"No", I said. "And did you know that Muslims revere Jesus as a Prophet?" The youngster was astounded, barely able to believe there are significant passages in the Koran devoted to Jesus, and to Mary. I recommend the book "The Muslim Jesus" to anyone interested in this aspect.
But the point is this: one part of such a Conference is to explain Islam to the world: its common roots with Judaism and Christianity, how it began, how it developed, how far removed it is, from the crude and warped distortion of the extremists. Where there is ignorance, there is distrust, and sometimes hatred. Understanding is a great healer.
So this Conference is not about Government lecturing the Muslim world, or our Muslim communities. It is rather an opportunity to listen; to hear Islam's true voice; to welcome and appreciate them; and in doing so, to join up with all those who believe in a world where religious faith is respected because faiths respect each other as well as those of no faith; and are prepared in holding to their own truth, not to disrespect the truth clear to others. I wish you well in your deliberations.
From the Los Angeles Times
Leaders of 5 faiths decry violence in name of religion
Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus and Jews meet in Indonesia, where they urge others around the world to practice tolerance.
By K. Connie Kang
Times Staff Writer
June 30, 2007
In a historic action, top leaders of five great religions met this month in Indonesia — home to 200 million Muslims — to condemn violence inflicted in the name of religion.
The leaders representing Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish and Muslim traditions came from five countries and included former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid and Los Angeles Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
The group said in a joint communique that the world's spiritual leaders have a "special obligation" to denounce "horrific acts" committed in the name of religion. The Los Angeles-based Wiesenthal Center was a co-sponsor of the event.
"If we are honest with ourselves, we have not been up to the challenge," Cooper said in an interview last week after his return from Indonesia. "Part of it is that we have to get by the [politically correct] and just deal honestly."
The interfaith meeting was an important step toward that goal, participants said.
In the communique, the religious leaders said: "A blessing to all creation, religion is a constant reminder to humanity of the divine spark in every person. Yet, today the world shudders as horrific acts are justified in the name of religion. All too often, hatred and violence replace peace as religion is manipulated for political purposes."
They also urged that their counterparts around the world follow their example and commit to mobilizing their communities to "not only respect, but also defend, the rights of others to live and worship differently."
Political scientist Fred Balitzer, special ambassador to Brunei in the Reagan administration and an attendee at the meeting, called it an "extraordinary achievement."
"It's not exactly a Martin Luther King's letter from Birmingham jail, but it's kind of like that," said Balitzer, who for 35 years taught political science at Claremont McKenna College. He referred to the passionate letter in which King called on the nation's clergy to live out their Christian faith by fighting injustice, "not sit on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities."
Balitzer said the conference also made other important points: Major Muslim and Jewish leaders met in a Muslim nation to discuss the Holocaust and affirm that it happened. The meeting also showed, he said, that there are "moderate Muslims in the world."
Meeting organizers said the event was partly aimed at countering a conference backed by the Iranian government last December that questioned the Holocaust. The organizers chose Bali — the scene of nightclub bombings in 2002 that killed more than 200 people — for its symbolism.
Called "Tolerance Between Religions: A Blessing for All Creation," the event was also sponsored by the LibForAll Foundation, a U.S.-based group that opposes Muslim extremism, and the Wahid Institute, which advocates peaceful Islam. The institute was founded by Indonesia's Wahid, who led the world's largest Muslim nation from 1999 to 2001.
Wahid set the tone when he said Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was "falsifying history" by claiming that the Holocaust did not happen.
"Although I am a good friend of Ahmadinejad … I have to say that he is wrong," he said. "I visited the Auschwitz's Museum of Holocaust and I saw many shoes of the dead people in Auschwitz. Because of this, I believe Holocaust happened."
Wahid is thought to be the first major Muslim figure to publicly rebuke Ahmadinejad, who has called the Holocaust a myth.
In addition to his presentation, Wahid also co-wrote with Israel Lau, the former chief rabbi of Israel, a Wall Street Journal column in which they denounced the Iranian president and the December conference.
"By denying the events of the past, the deniers are paving the way toward the crimes of the future," said the piece, which was read in its entirety at the conference. "Last year, Muslims from Nigeria to Lebanon to Pakistan rioted against what they saw as the demonizing of their prophet by Danish cartoonists. In a better world, those same Muslims would be the first to recognize how insulting it is to Jews to have the apocalypse that befell their fathers' generation belittled and denied."
Cooper, who moderated the plenary session, praised Wahid for "having the guts" to say what needed to be said.
An interfaith conference may not be news in L.A., he said, but convening one with top leaders in Indonesia and taking on "the most important questions of the day — namely to have religious leaders say that terrorism is a sin" — were significant, he said.
Security was tight, and not everybody who had been invited to participate in the all-day event at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel went.
Lau wanted to attend, but the Indonesian government wouldn't let him because, as Israel's former chief rabbi, he carries a diplomatic passport. Indonesia does not recognize Israel.
But Rabbi Daniel Landes of Jerusalem's Pardes Institute was allowed. He began his presentation with a quote from Psalm 34 in Hebrew:
Which man desires life,
who loves days of seeing good? Guard your tongue from evil
and your lips from speaking deceit.
Presenters also included Hindu leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar of India; Buddhist scholar Yoichi Kawada of Japan; Trahjadi Nugroho, president of the Indonesia Pastors' Assn.; and Father Franz Magnis-Suseno, a Catholic leader in Indonesia.
Also speaking at the meeting were survivors of the Holocaust and terrorist attacks who choked up as they described their suffering to the predominantly Muslim audience.
Sol Teichman, 79, a Holocaust survivor from Los Angeles, tearfully recalled his family's deportation to the Auschwitz death camp in Poland and their demise in its gas chambers.
But Teichman, who said he was "blessed" with a family of his own after the war, urged survivors of terrorism to "never, never give up hope."
He was deeply touched when, after his talk, Muslim students asked if they could take a photograph with him, he said in an interview. "Here I am, a Jew. Here is the Muslim," he said.
For 90% of the people in the room, this was their first encounter with a Jew, let alone a rabbi from Israel, Cooper said. He underscored the importance of having religious leaders gather for such a conference.
"The truth is that we're in this mess primarily because of religious leaders, and we're only going to get out of it if we find religious leaders who will have the guts to change this. That's the bottom line," Cooper said.
Where do they go from here?
They need to replicate the Bali summit elsewhere, participants said.
"If we wait for governments to do these things, we may be waiting for a very long time," Balitzer said.
Islam and the West
A former Catholic nun and author of books on many of the world's religions including Islam, English writer Karen Armstrong speaks about Western views of Islam, the mood after 11 September and her hopes for better relations between Islam and the West.
"What more concessions should the West make to Muslims? When should we draw the line and stop sacrificing our ideals?" The question was posed by a young Englishman at the end of a lecture on "Understanding Islam" at Oxford University's Institute for American Studies in England. While the question revealed many Western concerns and assumptions, as well as the extent to which an anti-Islamic mood has prevailed in the West since the attacks on New York and Washington on 11 September last year, the answer, however, was quick. "Muslims did not ask us to give up our ideals and values. On the contrary, it is the West which does not honour these very ideals when dealing with Muslims and Islam," said the lecturer, Karen Armstrong, a Catholic nun turned Christian theologian.
After studying English at Oxford, Armstrong became a nun, and 17 years later she left her convent and wrote a book called Through the Narrow Gate (1981), an account of her years spent there. This was followed by further books, including The First Christian, Tongues of Fire, The Gospel According to Woman, Holy War and Muhammad. In 1993 she published an important work on the three monotheistic religions called The History of God: From Abraham to the Present. This sold well and was followed by another best-selling book, Muhammad: a Biography of the Prophet in 1996.
In Armstrong's view, what 11 September revealed was "a new awareness" striking at the integrity of Western culture and its value system. "We were posing as a tolerant society, yet passing judgment from a position of extremes and irrationality," the 58-year-old Armstrong told the Weekly in an exclusive interview at her house in London.
Since the attacks, Armstrong has been on mission in the United States and South America lecturing on Islam. It has not been an easy task. "September 11th has confirmed a view of Islam that is centuries old, which is that Islam is inherently violent and intolerant of others," she said, going on to offer a first-hand account of the situation in the United States nine months after the attacks.
"The events have been a great shock to the Americans, and they are now in a state of numbness and depression," Armstrong explained. "There is still a lot of hostility and anger directed against the Muslim community there. There is, however, some reason to believe that a change in the American perception is not impossible."
"On the East Coast where I spent most of my time, people descended en masse on the bookstores and took off the shelves everything they could find about Islam. While some did this to confirm old prejudices and fears -- depending on who you choose to read -- the majority was keen on learning about Islam." In fact, Armstrong's own handbook, Understanding Islam, has sold more than a quarter of a million copies on the East Coast of the United States alone. And many of the questions posed to Armstrong during her lecture tour reflected not only a sense of wanting to know more about Islam, but also how deeply rooted were media representations of Islam in the American psyche.
The key question would be, "why do they hate us?" Armstrong said, followed by others, such as: "What do Muslims think of Christians and Jews? Is Islam an inherently violent religion? Why do we always hear bad rhetoric about Christians? What about women in Islam? Is Islam against modernity?"
In responding to such questions, Armstrong walks a fine line between deconstructing long- held stereotypes while at the same time not becoming apologetic. She noted that there are differences in the way her views are received in the US and in Europe. "One of the good things about the Americans is that they do like to know," she says. "There is earnestness about them that one does not observe in a European society such as Holland, for example. They are open to criticism in a way that does not exist in Europe, where people assume they know it all."
At the age of 19, Armstrong joined a Catholic convent, staying there for 17 years before deciding to leave in order to study the world's monotheistic religions, beginning with Islam. Does she think that the religious establishment in the West -- ie the churches themselves -- are responsible for Western hostility to Islamic culture?
"Anti-Islamic doctrine is in-built in the Western ethos that was formulated during the Crusades," she says. "This was the period when the Western world was re-defining itself. The 11th century marked the end of the Dark Ages in Europe and the beginnings of the new Europe. The Crusades were the first co-operative act on the part of the whole new Europe, and the whole crusading ethos shaped the psyche of the key actors performing at this crucial time."
"Islam was the quintessential foreigner, and people resented Islam in Europe much as people in the Third World resent the US today. One could say that Islam then was the greatest world power, and it remained so up until the early years of the Ottoman empire. Muslims were everywhere in the Middle East, Turkey, Iran, South- East Asia, China. Wherever people went, there was Islam, and it was powerful, and people felt it as a threat."
The period of the Crusades was a crucial historical moment during which the West was defining itself, and Islam became a yardstick against which it measured itself. "Islam was everything that the West thought it was not, and it was at the time of the Crusades that the idea that Islam was essentially a violent religion took hold in the West. "Europe was projecting anxiety about its own behaviour onto Islam, and it did the same thing too with the Jewish people," Armstrong said.
Even in non-religious societies such as England, Armstrong believes that prejudice against Islam remains, saying that "I think it is in-built into people that Islam is a violent religion." These hostile feelings were given a new lease of life during the colonial period, Armstrong believes, since many of the colonised countries were Muslim countries, and the colonial powers saw in them what they regarded as 'backwardness', attributing this to Islam.
Although she feels that university campuses are almost the only places in the US where big questions are asked, Armstrong says that the events of 11 September divided US academics into two camps. The first camp, led by Martin Kramer, head of the Near and Middle East Studies Institute in Washington DC, accused Armstrong, together with academics such as John Esposito, head of Islamic-Christian Dialogue at Georgetown University, of 'duping' people into believing that Islam was not a threat, an argument Kramer claimed had been proved wrong by the attacks. Only a few weeks after 11 September, Kramer wrote an article, Ivory Towers Built on Sand, in which he put the blame squarely on academics for failing to predict the atrocities.
Armstrong explains how the media in the US attempted to silence opposing voices after 11 September. For example, she had been commissioned by the New Yorker magazine to write an article on Islam, but the article was killed and the magazine published one by the academic Bernard Lewis instead.
"They thought I am an apologist for Muslims, because my article was about the prophet as a peacemaker, and this did not suit their agenda as much as Lewis's did. Both Lewis and Kramer are staunch Zionists who write from a position of extreme bias. But people need to know that Islam is a universal religion, and that there is nothing aggressively oriental or anti-Western about it. Lewis's line, on the other hand, is that Islam is an inherently violent religion," she said.
Earlier, in the mid 1980s, Armstrong was commissioned by Channel Four television in Britain to make a documentary about the life of St. Paul. This required visits to the Holy Land and to Jerusalem. However, when Armstrong went to Israel and saw the kind of racism against Arabs that dominated Israeli society, she realised that "there was something fundamentally wrong" going on in Israel.
"I was deeply shocked that people could call other people 'dirty Arabs' when some 30 or 40 years before they had talked in Europe about 'dirty Jews'. I was struck by the inability of the Jewish people to learn from past sufferings, but of course it is human nature that suffering does not make us better. The problem with Israel now is that it cannot believe that it is not 1939 any more; the Israeli people are emotionally stuck in the horrors of the Nazi era," she says.
Could it be that this is an Israeli ploy to manipulate public opinion? Armstrong answers that "I don't think that this is the case at a profound level. Of course, there are politicians who will use this, but I think there is a profound inability among Israelis to believe that they have left the past behind. They still regard the present as a period of Jewish weakness, when in fact it is a period of Jewish power."
"The West has to share a responsibility for what is happening in the Middle East. If it had not persecuted the Jews, there would not have been the need for the creation of the State of Israel. The Muslim world did nothing to the Jews, and the Palestinians are paying the price for the sins of Europe. Therefore, a solution has to be found because there will be no peace in the world without one. But if Israel has America behind it, it does not have to worry about what the rest of the world thinks. This gives a sense of omnipotence. At the moment there is no hope; they, the Israelis, can do what they want because America will always support them. I wish Europe would play a better role, but Mr Blair is running after Mr Bush like a poodle."
Armstrong believes that the Israeli occupation is responsible for the kind of violent resistance it meets from the Palestinians. "The resistance will be as ruthless and violent as the occupation is," she says. "Every occupation breeds its own kind of resistance." Armstrong believes that the phenomenon of the Palestinian suicide bombers has more to do with politics and hopelessness than it does with religion. "I don't think people sit at home and read the Qur'an and say, yes, I must go and bomb Israel. This is not how religion works, and I see just absolute hopelessness when people have nothing to lose. Palestinians don't have F- 16s, and they don't have tanks. They don't have anything to match Israel's arsenal. They only have their own bodies."
"Violence of any sort always breads violence, and the occupation itself is an act of extreme violence, domination and oppression. The way things have been moving has been aggressively against the Palestinians."
While she believes that there has been a shift in the way British public opinion views the Palestinian struggle, she warns that the killing of civilians could create a backlash. "In the news coverage after every suicide bombing you see Israeli mothers with their children talking in plain English about their sufferings. One does not get to see the same sufferings of the Palestinian mothers and their children, though they are the weaker party in the conflict."
Armstrong thinks that charges of anti-Semitism in Europe play into the hands of the Zionist lobby in America because "this will discredit anything Europe says. They say Europe is anti- Semitic because for the first time Europe is becoming aware of the plight of the Palestinians. It is part of a campaign to discredit European input in any future peace process."
Turning to the recent rise of the extreme right in European politics, Armstrong feels that this has been more hostile to Europe's Muslim population than it has to European Jews.
However, she says, "I think it has to do with race rather than religion, especially in Britain where people are uninterested in religion. The riots in places like Bradford, for example, had to do with race. In Northern Europe, there is very little interest in religion, or knowledge about religion. It is not the case here that people are fired with religious zeal when they go after Muslims, since they are not interested in religion at all. In America, on the other hand, people are interested in religion and want to know what Muslims believe. Here, they don't care; they simply don't want Muslims in their country. They want a white England for white English people."
"We have to take the extreme right- wing groups very seriously," she says. "This is the European form of fundamentalism; because we don't express discontent in a religious form it comes out in a right-wing way. It's the desire to belong to a clearly defined group combined with a pernicious fear of the other -- a sense of pent-up rage and disappointment with multi-cultural society giving way to this kind of emotion, which feeds into fundamentalism."
Armstrong's Muhammad: a Biography of the Prophet has sold millions of copies since it appeared in 1996, and she has become used to accusations of being "an apologist for Islam", while not taking much notice of such rhetoric. "It is very nice that people think that the book was written by a Muslim," she says, "but what a religious scholar tries to do is to enter into a religion by a leap of the imagination, in order to understand not just the beliefs, or the history and doctrine, but also the underlying feel of the religion, and I try to do this with all religions and not just with Islam. I did the same when I wrote the history of Judaism, and I am doing the same now that I am writing a biography of the Buddha."
Armstrong is currently also working on a history of the period from 800 BC to 200 AD when many great world faiths came into being. "Europe," she says, "is about the only place where religion does not matter much. People in Europe might need to rinse their minds of all their bad and lazy theology. People in Europe have not yet asked the big questions about religion; they have tried get rid of primitive forms of religion, but very often what we see in the churches today is exactly the kind of religion that these people are trying to get rid of... Jesus would be horrified by the practices of the church today. I would love to show him around the Vatican, when Christians cannot even share a church together. He would be appalled, much as Mohamed would be appalled if he knew that September 11th was done in the name of Islam."
How does she think that the Western world and Islam can come together? Is there any common ground between them?
Armstrong believes that both sides should try and deal with the extremism in their midst. "The West, like it or not, is a fact of life," she says. "Muslims should try to use the media; they have got to learn to lobby like the Jews, and they have got to have a Muslim lobby, if you like ....this is a jihad, an effort, a struggle, that is very important. If you want to change the media, then you have got to make people see that Islam is a force to be reckoned with politically and culturally. Have a march down the street at Ground Zero in New York, call it 'Muslims against Terror'. They need to learn how to manage the media and how to conduct themselves in the media."
"Similarly, the West has got to learn that it shares the planet with equals and not with inferiors. This means giving equal space in a conflict such as that between Israel and Palestine. It doesn't mean just using governments to get oil: you promote Saddam Hussein one day, and the next day he becomes public enemy number one. The West promoted people like the Shah of Iran simply because of its greed for oil, even though he had committed atrocities against his own people. There should be no more double standards, because double standards are colonialism in a new form. Western people have also got to disassociate themselves from inherited prejudices about Islam."
"Muslims can run a modern state in an Islamic way, and this is what the West has got to see... There are all kinds of ways in which people can be modern, and Muslims should be allowed to come to modernity on their own terms and make a distinctive Islamic contribution to it."
WAS it George Bernard Shaw who argued that Islam is the world’s best religion and the Muslims are the worst followers?
I have often wondered what might have prompted Shaw, a diehard socialist with a life-long affair with Islam, to reach this conclusion.
But you don’t have to be Bernard Shaw to know that if Islam is constantly under fire around the world, it is not entirely because of some elaborate Zionist conspiracies or Western machinations.
If Islam faces an acute image crisis today with every imaginable atrocity attributed to it, you need not look too far to see who really is responsible for this state of affairs. Trust me, we Muslims are as responsible as Islam’s enemies, if not more, for discrediting our noble faith.
Just look at what the new defenders of Islam from Hyderabad have just done. I found the spectacle of a literally cornered Taslima Nasreen and her equally vulnerable hosts fend themselves helplessly against the physical and verbal onslaught by the rabble-rousers of Majlise Ittehadul Muslimeen too sickening to watch.
Disgusted, I switched the television off. But you couldn’t escape this bit of reality TV as most Indian and global networks ran the story ad nauseam for nearly a week. Clearly, anything involving the Muslims sells.
The incident was all the more shocking because all this happened in Hyderabad. Not because the city of Charminar once happened to be my home. But because the great city, at the confluence of the North and South, has always been known for its cosmopolitan culture.
HYDERABAD has always loved and pampered its intellectuals, writers, poets and artists. While the world has moved on and other traditional centres of culture like Delhi and Lucknow have performed the last rites for their once great civilizations and ethos, Hyderabad still lives in its rich past and the so-called Ganga-Jamni culture that celebrates the best of Islamic and Indian traditions.
Not long ago, accomplished men and artists from other parts of India and the globe regularly descended on the Nizam’s Hyderabad and they were richly rewarded for their talents.
From Dagh Dehelvi to Fani Badayyuni and from Josh Malihabadi to Maulana Maudoodi, Hyderabad had been home to some of the best names in literature and arts. And this patronage wasn’t limited to Muslims. It was in this great city that those brave foot soldiers of the Majlis attacked Taslima Nasreen and her hosts.
I am no defender of the Bangladeshi writer. I am not familiar with her work. And I don’t care for what she stands for. That is, if she indeed stands for something. Men and women like Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen do not stand for anything. They stand for themselves. And they know how to sell themselves.
The Rushdies and Nasreens of this world are smart enough to know that the quickest way of attracting the Western attention and making big bucks is to assail Islam and Muslims. Like I said, anything against Islam sells. This is all the more true in the post September 11 times.
This does not however mean we should go after everyone and anyone who seeks to target Islam and the Prophet. Just think for a moment what the Prophet himself or early Muslims, faced with men and women like Taslima Nasreen and Salman Rushdie, would do?
The gentle soul who forgave all his tormentors and enemies baying for his blood when the whole of Arabia fell at his feet wouldn’t want his followers to physically target a woman. He even pardoned the woman who killed his beloved uncle Hamza and desecrated his body.
And the Book this Prophet brought us says, "Call to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and argue with them (Islam’s detractors) in the best manner." (16:125). Elsewhere the Quran says: "Do not be transgressors, Allah does not like transgressors." (2:190).
Do the actions of our Hyderabadi friends come anywhere close to these teachings of Islam? But then whoever said these men were driven by their love of Islam!
Whatever their motives, such vandalism in the name of Islam is not exactly likely to promote the cause of our faith.
Just pause and ponder for a minute. What has this particular episode given us? Only shame and acute embarrassment in the eyes of the international community. While the world once again debates our alleged intolerance, Muslims everywhere stand with their heads bowed in shame.
What is the difference between these men and the Hindu fanatics who have meted out the same treatment to artist MF Hussain? Would anyone respect the faith whose followers behave in this scandalous fashion? With friends like these, do Muslims need any more enemies?
Besides, this episode has come as a Godsend to a mediocre writer, loathed by her own people. Taslima Nasreen couldn’t have found better promoters of her sagging career.
I know we have been here before. But today more than ever, Muslim intellectuals, leaders and ordinary believers need to come forward to protect Islam from such dangerous defenders of the faith. They must tell the world that Islam has nothing to do with these shameful actions.
Never has Islam in its 15-century long history ever faced such a challenge to its image and identity. It is under siege everywhere facing as it does a massive character assassination campaign from both within and from without.
On the one hand, you have the gargantuan global propaganda machine, controlled and manipulated by the powerful Jewish lobby in the West that is gunning for Islam.
Armed with their satellite television networks, think tanks, newspapers and countless other publications and of course the Hollywood, these forces are running a relentless campaign against Islam and Muslims.
The idea is to totally discredit Islam as a religion that is driven by a hatred of the civilized world and its followers as a people who are savage enemies of peace, progress and all that the West stands for. I consider this ideological offensive far more dangerous for the Muslim world than the neocons’ War on Terror.
On the other hand, you have the champions of Muslims like the Majlis variety. Their contribution in undermining Islam and Muslims is equally phenomenal. Steeped in ignorance and driven by their own partisan interests, they are ever ready to exploit and distort the teachings of this noble faith to suit their own narrow agenda.
What happened in Hyderabad is a case in point. Under pressure on their own turf, Majlis leaders have rushed to ‘defend Islam’ by visiting this disgrace on us.
So who gives a damn if Muslims as a result come under fire for their intolerance of dissent and freedom. So who cares if this episode has once again exposed Muslims to accusations of being mean to their women.
This is what we do to Islam day after day, from one end of the Muslim world to another. We dump all our insecurities, our wretchedness, our sins and all our crimes in Islam’s account.
Just look at how our brave defenders have exterminated nearly 400 innocent people, many of them young girls and boys, from the Yazidi community in Iraq’s north.
FROM the killing fields of Iraq and Afghanistan to the streets of Islamabad and Hyderabad, Islam suffers daily at the hands of its followers.
You have the insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan threatening to slay hostages with a gun in one hand and the Quran in another.
You have all sorts of militants, from Al Qaeda to Abu Sayyaf, promising death and destruction in the name of Islam to the West for its historical injustices against the Muslim world.
But even if the militants indeed believe theirs is a just and holy war, must they parade Islam and Quran before the whole world every time they take on their enemies? Who would ask them what the Holy Book has to do with it! If you are fighting oppression and injustice, fight them by all means. But must you, in God’s name, drag Islam and Quran into the mess.
This distortion and misrepresentation of Islam and Muslims has been going on for years. But Muslim intellectuals and leaders have been mostly silent, except for some lone and feeble voices here and there, over this continuing atrocity against their faith.
Do Muslim leaders and Ulema realise what our silence means to the rest of the world? It means we implicitly support and justify what is being perpetrated in our name by desperate and self-seeking men.
This is no time to remain silent. If we care for Islam and genuinely believe in what it stands for, then we must speak out and speak out now. We can take on the enemies of Islam by presenting the true face of this great faith. We must fight the falsehood being purveyed in the name of Islam by taking the true message of the religion to the world. As the Quran suggests, let us “Repel evil with what is better,” — not with greater evil.
Aijaz Zaka Syed is a senior editor and columnist of Khaleej Times. The views expressed here are his own. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A lesson in humility for the smug West Many of the western values we think of as superior came from the East and our blind arrogance hurts our standing in the world
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About 100 miles south of Delhi, where I live, lie the ruins of the Mughal capital, Fateh-pur Sikri. This was built by the Emperor Akbar at the end of the 16th century. Here Akbar would listen carefully as philosophers, mystics and holy men of different faiths debated the merits of their different beliefs in what is the earliest known experiment in formal inter-religious dialogue.
Representatives of Muslims (Sunni and Shi’ite as well as Sufi), Hindus (followers of Shiva and Vishnu as well as Hindu atheists), Christians, Jains, Jews, Buddhists and Zoroastrians came together to discuss where they differed and how they could live together.
Muslim rulers are not usually thought of in the West as standard-bearers of freedom of thought; but Akbar was obsessed with exploring the issues of religious truth, and with as open a mind as possible, declaring: “No man should be interfered with on account of religion, and anyone is to be allowed to go over to any religion that pleases him.” He also argued for what he called “the pursuit of reason” rather than “reliance on the marshy land of tradition”.
All this took place when in London, Jesuits were being hung, drawn and quartered outside Tyburn, in Spain and Portu-gal the Inquisition was torturing anyone who defied the dogmas of the Catholic church, and in Rome Giordano Bruno was being burnt at the stake in Campo de’Fiori.
It is worth emphasising Akbar, for he – the greatest ruler of the most populous of all Muslim states – represented in one man so many of the values that we in the West are often apt to claim for ourselves. I am thinking here especially of Douglas Murray, a young neocon pup, who wrote in The Spectator last week that he “was not afraid to say the West’s values are better”, and in which he accused anyone who said to the contrary of moral confusion: “Decades of intense cultural rela-tivism and designer tribalism have made us terrified of passing judgment,” he wrote.
The article was a curtain-opener for an Intelligence Squared debate in which he and I faced each other, along with David Aaronovitch, Charlie Glass, Ibn Warraq and Tariq Ramadan, over the motion: “We should not be reluctant to assert the superiority of western values”. (The motion was eventually carried, I regret to say.)
Murray named western values as follows: the rule of law, parliamentary democracy, equality, and freedom of expression and conscience. He also argued that the Judeo-Christian tradition is the ethical source of these values.
Yet where do these ideas actually come from? Both Judaism and Christianity were not born in Washington or London, however much the Victorians liked to think of God as an Englishman. Instead they were born in Pales-tine, while Christianity received its intellectual superstructure in cities such as Antioch, Constanti-nople and Alexandria. At the Council of Nicea, where the words of the Creed were thrashed out in 325, there were more bishops from Persia and India than from western Europe.
Judaism and Christianity are every bit as much eastern religions as Islam or Buddhism. So much that we today value – universities, paper, the book, printing – were transmitted from East to West via the Islamic world, in most cases entering western Europe in the Middle Ages via Islamic Spain.
And where was the first law code drawn up? In Athens or London? Actually, no – it was the invention of Hammurabi, in ancient Iraq. Who was the first ruler to emphasise the importance of the equality of his subjects? The Buddhist Indian Emperor Ashoka in the third century BC, set down in stone basic freedoms for all his people, and did not exclude women and slaves, as Aristotle had done.
In the real world, East and West do not have separate and compartmentalised sets of values. Does a Midwestern Baptist have the same values as an urbane Richard Dawkins-read-ing atheist? Do Aung San Suu Kyi and the Dalai Lama belong to the same ethical tradition as Osama Bin Laden?
In the East as in the West there is a huge variety of ethical systems, but surprisingly similar ideals, and ideas of good and evil. To cherry-pick your favourite universal humanistic ideals, and call them western, then to imply that their opposites are somehow eastern values is simply bigoted and silly, as well as unhistorical.
The great historian of the Crusades, Sir Steven Runciman, knew better. As he wrote at the end of his three-volume history: “Our civilisation has grown . . . out of the long sequence of interaction and fusion between Orient and Occident.” He is right. The best in both eastern and western civilisation come not from asserting your own superiority, but instead from having the humility to learn from what is good in others, as well as to recognise your own past mistakes. Ramming your ideas down the throats of others is rarely a productive tactic.
There are lessons here from our own past. European history is full of monarchies, dictatorships and tyrannies, some of which – such as those of Salazar, Tito and Franco – survived into the 1970s and 1980s. The relatively recent triumph of democracy across Europe has less to do with some biologically inherent western love of freedom, than with an ability to learn humbly from the mistakes of the past – notably the millions of deaths that took place due to western ideologies such as Marxism, fas-cism and Nazism.
These movements were not freak departures from form, so much as terrible expressions of the darker side of western civilisation, including our long traditions of antisemitism at home.
Alongside this we also have history of exporting genocide abroad in the worst excesses of western colonialism – which, like the Holocaust, comes from treating the nonwestern other as untermenschen, as savage and somehow subhuman.
For though we like to ignore it, and like to think of ourselves as paragons of peace and freedom, the West has a strong militaristic tradition of attacking and invading the countries of those we think of as savages, and of wiping out the less-developed peoples of four continents as part of our civilising mission. The list of western genocides that preceded and set the scene for the Holocaust is a terrible one.
The Tasmanian Aborigines were wiped out by British hunting parties who were given licences to exterminate this “inferior race” whom the colonial authorities said should be “hunted down like wild beasts and destroyed”. Many were caught in traps, before being tortured or burnt alive.
The same fate saw us exterminate the Caribs of the Caribbean, the Guanches of the Canary Islands, as well as tribe after tribe of Native Americans. The European slave trade forcibly abducted 15m Africans and killed as many more.
It was this tradition of colonial genocide that prepared the ground for the greatest western crime of all – the industrial extermination of 6m Jews whom the Nazis looked upon as an inferior, nonwestern and semitic intrusion in the Aryan West.
For all our achievements in and emancipating women and slaves, in giving social freedoms and human rights to the individual; for allthat is remarkable and beautiful in ourart, literature and science, our continuing tradition of arrogantly asserting this perceived superiority has led to all that is most shameful and self-de-feating in western history.
The complaints change – a hundred years ago our Victorian ancestors accused the Islamic world of being sensuous and decadent, with an overdeveloped penchant for sodomy; now Martin Amis attacks it for what he believes is its mass sexual frustration and homophobia. Only the sense of superiority remains the same. If the East does not share our particular sensibility at any given moment of history it is invariably told that it is wrong and we are right.
Tragically, this western tradition of failing to respect other cultures and treating the other as untermenschen has not completely died. We might now recognise that genocide is wrong, yet 30 years after the debacle of Vietnam and Cambodia and My Lai, the cadaver of western colonialism has yet again emerged shuddering from its shallow grave. One only has to think of the massacres of Iraqi civilians in in Falluja or the disgusting treatment meted out to the prisoners of Abu Ghraib to see how the cultural assertiveness of the neocons has brought these traditions of treating Arabs as subhuman back from the dead.
Yet the briefest look at the foreign policy of the Bush administration surely gives a textbook example of the futility of trying to impose your values and ideas – even one so noble as democracy – on another people down the barrel of a gun, rather than through example and dialogue.
In Iraq itself, we have succeeded in destroying a formerly prosperous and secular country, and creating the largest refugee problem in the modern Middle East: 4m Iraqis have now been forced abroad.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, the US attempt to push democracy in the region has succeeded in turning Muslim opinion against its old client proxies – by and large corrupt, decadent monarchies and decaying nationalist parties. But rather than turning to liberal secular parties, as the neocons assumed they would, Muslims have everywhere lined up behind those parties that have most clearly been seen to stand up against aggressive US intervention in the region, namely the religious parties of political Islam.
Last week, the Islamic world showed us the sort of gesture that is needed at this time. In a letter addressed to Pope Benedict and other Christian leaders, 138 prominent Muslim scholars from every sect of Islam urged Christian leaders “to come together with us on the common essentials of our two religions.” It will be interesting to see if any western leaders now reciprocate.
We have much to be proud of in the West; but it is in the arrogant and forceful assertion of the superiority of western values that we have consistently undermined not only all that is most precious in our civilisation, but also our own foreign policies and standing in the world. Another value, much admired in both East and West, might be a simple solution here: a little old-fashioned humility.
William Dalrymple’s new book, The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty, Delhi 1857, published by Bloomsbury, has just been awarded the Duff Cooper Prize for history
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