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.
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