Posted: Fri Dec 10, 2004 7:52 am Post subject: Interpretation of faith in Islam
The following article in today’s NYTimes discusses the debate about the violence that is perpetrated in the name of Holy War in the Islamic World. What is more interesting to me is that the debate is overflowing into more important and substantial issues of reinterpretation of faith. How will that happen? Is there a mechanism in place for it to happen? Who will guide it? I can clearly foresee an important role for MHI in this process - perhaps a precursor to his Zahurat.
The other aspect that this article portrays is that there is diversity of opinion in the Muslim world. Hence promoting pluralism in Islamic world is not difficult as it appears. Our Jamat through its institutional activities can provide the catalyst or stimulus for it.
NYTimes.com Article: Muslim Scholars Increasingly Debate Unholy
Muslim Scholars Increasingly Debate Unholy War
December 10, 2004
By NEIL MacFARQUHAR
CAIRO, Dec. 9 - Muhammad Shahrour, a layman who writes extensively about Islam, sits in his engineering office in
Damascus, Syria, arguing that Muslims will untangle their faith from the increasingly gory violence committed in its
name only by reappraising their sacred texts.
First, Mr. Shahrour brazenly tackles the Koran. The entire ninth chapter, The Sura of Repentance, he says, describes a failed attempt by the Prophet Muhammad to form a state on the Arabian Peninsula. He believes that as the source of most of the verses used to validate extremist attacks, with lines like "slay the pagans where you find them," the
chapter should be isolated to its original context.
"The state which he built died, but his message is still alive," says Mr. Shahrour, a soft-spoken, 65-year-old
Syrian civil engineer with thinning gray hair. "So we have to differentiate between the religion and state politics.
When you take the political Islam, you see only killing, assassination, poisoning, intrigue, conspiracy and civil
war, but Islam as a message is very human, sensible and just."
Mr. Shahrour and a dozen or so like-minded intellectuals from across the Arab and Islamic worlds provoked bedlam
when they presented their call for a reinterpretation of holy texts after a Cairo seminar entitled "Islam and
Reform" earlier this fall.
"Liars! Liars!" someone screamed at a news conference infiltrated by Islamic scholars and others from the
hard-core faithful who shouted and lunged at the panelists to a degree that no journalist could ask a question. "You
are all Zionists! You are all infidels!"
The long-simmering internal debate over political violence in Islamic cultures is swelling, with seminars like that
one and a raft of newspaper columns breaking previous taboos by suggesting that the problem lies in the way Islam
is being interpreted. On Saturday in Morocco, a major conference, attended by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell,
will focus on increasing democracy and liberal principles in the Muslim world.
On one side of the discussion sit mostly secular intellectuals horrified by the gore joined by those ordinary Muslims dismayed by the ever more bloody image of Islam around the world. They are determined to find a way
to wrestle the faith back from extremists. Basically the liberals seek to dilute what they criticize as the clerical
monopoly on disseminating interpretations of the sacred texts.
Arrayed against them are powerful religious institutions like Al Azhar University, prominent clerics and a whole
different class of scholars who argue that Islam is under assault by the West. Fighting back with any means possible is the sole defense available to a weaker victim, they say.
The debate, which can be heard in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, is driven primarily by carnage in
Iraq. The hellish stream of images of American soldiers attacking mosques and other targets are juxtaposed with
those of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi beheading civilian victims on his home videos as a Koranic verse including the line
"Smite at their necks" scrolls underneath.
When the mayhem in Iraq slows, events like the slaying in September of more than 300 people at a Russian school -half of them children - or some other attack in the Netherlands, Egypt, Turkey, Indonesia or Spain labeled
jihad by its perpetrators serves to fuel discussions on satellite television, in newspapers and around the dinner
tables of ordinary Muslims.
"Resistance was never like this - to kidnap someone and decapitate him in front of everyone," said Ibrahim Said,
delivering pastry in the Cairo neighborhood of Nasser City recently.
"This is haram," he went on, using the Arabic word for something forbidden or shameful, and then quotes the Koran
on his own. " 'Verily never will Allah change the condition of a people until they change it themselves.' That means
nothing will change unless we change ourselves first."
Abdul Rahman al-Rashed, director of the Dubai-based satellite network Al Arabiya and a well-known Saudi
journalist, created a ruckus this fall with a newspaper column saying Muslims must confront the fact that most
terrorist acts are perpetrated by Muslims.
"The danger specifically comes from the ideas and the preaching of violence in the name of religion," he said,
adding, "I am more convinced there is a problem with the culture, the modern culture of radicalism, which people
have to admit. Without recognizing that as fact number one, that statistically speaking most terrorists are Muslims, we won't be able to solve it."
Mr. Rashed senses there is a movement in the Arab world, if perhaps not yet a consensus, that understands that Muslims have to start reining in their own rather than constantly complaining about injustice and unfairness. The violence has not only reduced sympathy for just causes like ending the Israeli occupation, he says, but set off resentment against Muslims wherever they live.
On the other side is Abdel Sabour Shahin, a linguistics professor at Cairo University and a talk show stalwart, who
says the Muslim world must defend itself and most foreigners in Iraq are fair game. In the new middle-class
suburbs stretching into the desert beyond the Pyramids, Professor Shahin greets visitors inside a small gated
compound of high white walls that includes his own mosque where he preaches each Friday.
"There is a large group of people who wear civilian clothes but serve the occupying forces," he said. "So how can we
demand from someone who is resisting the occupation to ask first if the person is a civilian or not?"
When asked what he thinks of those who chop off heads, he responds: "When a missile hits a house it decapitates 30 or 40 residents and turns them to ash. Isn't there a need to compare the behavior of a person under siege and angry with those who are managing the instruments of war?"
His remarks echo those of Sheik Yousef Qaradawi, an Egyptian-born, now Qatari cleric whose program "Islamic Law
and Life" on Al Jazeera satellite television makes him about the most influential cleric among mainstream Sunni
Muslims, the majority sect.
Last August Sheik Qaradawi seemed to imply that all Americans in Iraq could be targets. Asked whether that
included civilians, the sheik responded with a question, "Are there civilians in Iraq?" In the ensuing uproar across
the region he issued a clarification, suggesting that he meant only those who abetted the occupation, and pointed
out that he had previously condemned beheadings.
Yet late last month, right after the renewed United States assault on Falluja, the sheik again put the Islamic seal of
approval on anyone fighting back.
"Resistance is a legitimate matter - even more, it is a duty," he said on television.
While few Muslims argue with the right to resist a military occupation, the problem is that such sweeping, ill-defined statements are interpreted as a mandate to undertake any violence, no matter how vicious.
"You condemn the beheading and then on a different question you say anybody who supports the occupation is worth fighting," said Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi expert on Islamic movements. "So the message does not sink in."
In November, 26 prominent Saudi clerics signed a petition supporting the "defensive jihad" in Iraq. Although their
statement ruled out attacking relief workers or other uninvolved parties, it was interpreted as a signal for
Saudis to volunteer. Osama bin Laden and his followers emerged from a similar call 25 years ago to fight in
Afghanistan, a fight that they subsequently spread around the globe.
The discussion on the reinterpretation of Islam remains largely confined to an intellectual elite, but even raising
the topic erodes the taboo that the religion and those schooled in it are somehow infallible. There are no opinion
polls on the subject, but in talking to people on the streets, one gets the sense that they are grappling with
these issues within their own understanding of their faith.
Some utterly reject any criticism and immediately identify Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and President Bush as those
bearing the most responsibility for the butchery. They inevitably also mention the abuse of prisoners at Abu
Ghraib as needing to be avenged.
But others exhibit a certain introspection.
One sense of the growing public dismay in the Arab world is the muted reaction to the Falluja assault last month compared with the one six months ago. This has been partly attributed to the atrocities committed by the insurgents, including suicide attacks killing many Iraqis.
The wide public sympathy enjoyed by those fighting the American or Israeli soldiers, however, makes it difficult
to mount any campaign against violence and terrorism, advocates of a change say.
Proponents of jihad argue that it is only natural for Iraqis and Palestinians to fight back, and point to what
they call American hypocrisy.
Sheik Khalil al-Mais, the mufti of Zahle and the Bekaa region in Lebanon, compares the treatment of two despots,
Saddam Hussein and Muammar el-Qaddafi, both with a long history of abusing dissidents and other ills. One did not
yield to the West, while the other abandoned his unconventional weapons programs.
"Qaddafi bought his way out, but Qaddafi is still Qaddafi," the sheik said, donning his carefully wrapped white turban before leaving to deliver a Friday Prayer sermon. "Why did they put Saddam in jail and leave Qaddafi in power? America should not talk about principles."
Asked about those who say the problem lies deep within restrictive interpretations of Islam itself, Sheik Mais
grimaced and exclaimed, "Take refuge in God!" summing up the viewpoint of most Islamic scholars.
You cannot divide Islam into pieces, he says. You have to take it as a whole.
But whose whole, the would-be reformists respond, lamenting what one Saudi writer calls "fatwa chaos." A important difficulty under Sunni Islam, as opposed to, say, the Shiite branch predominant in Iran or the Catholic Church, is that there is no central authority to issue ultimate rulings on doctrinal questions.
Those in the liberal trend believe that Islam, now entering its 15th century, needs to undergo a wholesale
re-examination of its basic principles. Toward that end, the Cairo conference this fall recommended reviewing the
roots of Islamic heritage, especially the Prophet's sayings, ending the monopoly that certain religious
institutions hold over interpreting such texts and confronting all extremist religious currents.
Those taking part were harshly accused of dabbling in a realm that belongs solely to the clergy, with the grand
sheik of Al Azhar, Muhammad Sayed Tantawi, Egypt's most senior religious scholar, labeling them a "group of
But Mr. Shahrour says he and an increasing number of intellectuals cannot be deterred by clerical opposition.
He describes as ridiculously archaic some Hadith, or sayings, attributed to Muhammad - all assembled in nine
bulky volumes some 100 years after his death and now the last word on how the faithful should live.
"It is like this now because for centuries Muslims have been told that Islam was spread by the sword, that all Arab
countries and even Spain were captured by the sword and we are proud of that," he said. "In the minds of ordinary
people, people on the street, the religion of Islam is the religion of the sword. This is the culture, and we have to
Joined: 05 May 2003 Posts: 56 Location: Deerfield, IL, USA
Posted: Fri Dec 10, 2004 9:18 am Post subject:
Asslamu aleikum min Mowla Hazir Imam!
This shows, once again, how Nizari Ismailism has kept Islam pure and undefiled and how it continues to occupy a position of great importance in Islam.
As a non-Ismaili, it is very clear that the Ismaili jamaat has a very crucial role in not only helping non-Muslims understand the diversity within Islam (as well as the belief that warfare is not an intrinsic part of Islam) but also help Muslims themselves see the diversity amongst themselves and help them open their minds and hearts to the purer teachings, beliefs, and practices of Islam.
Posted: Sat Dec 18, 2004 6:51 am Post subject: Sharia Issue on Apostates
To illuminate the issues of reinterpretation of faith facing the Islamic world, the following is a news item that appeared in today's Calgary Herald about Prince Charles brokering on an issue stemming from an archaic Islamic law.
Charles brokers Islamic talks
Saturday, December 18, 2004
Prince Charles is brokering efforts to end the Muslim death penalty on converts to other faiths, The Telegraph has learned.
He held a private summit of Christian and Muslim leaders at Clarence House this month to explore the centuries-old Islamic law, under which apostates face persecution and even death.
His intervention follows mounting anger at the treatment of Muslims who have converted to Christianity in a number of Islamic states.
As an advocate of inter-faith dialogue, the Prince has come under pressure to criticize the religious law that, campaigners say, has resulted in hundreds of executions in countries from Iran to Sudan.
Among the Christians at the confidential meeting was an Anglican archbishop from a part of Nigeria where Islamic Sharia law is enforced.
Others included the Bishop of London, the Rev. Richard Chartres, and the Pakistani-born Bishop of Rochester, Rev. Michael Nazir-Ali.
It is understood that the Muslim group, which included the Islamic scholar Zaki Badawi, cautioned the Prince and other non-Muslims against speaking publicly on the issue.
It argued that Islamic moderates could have more influence on the traditional position if the debate remained largely internal.
Posted: Wed Jan 12, 2005 11:49 am Post subject: An Initiative to Combat terrorism
MHI on numerous occasions has underlined the main cause of terrorism as being poverty. The following article in today’s Calgary Herald describes an initiative to combat poverty in the heartland of fundamentalist Islam.
U.S. takes hearts and mind campaign to fundamentalist heartland
CanWest News Service
FORWARD OPERATING BASE RIPLEY, TARIN KOWT, Afghanistan - Like an outpost of the Roman Empire, Forward Operating Base Ripley squats in a distant and dusty plain, encircled by the snow-capped mountains of central Afghanistan.
Ripley's walls comprise an eight-kilometre-long palisade of wire and paper bins called Hesco Bastions. Each bastion is 1.5 metres in diameter and two metres high and filled with gravel to protect against a rocket attack. As in an imperial outpost where locals served with Romans, Afghans work alongside Americans, slinging rifles and doing much of the camp's day-to-day work.
Ripley is located in the Islamic fundamentalist heartland that gave birth to the Taliban. Its existence speaks of America's determination that never again will terrorists use a failed Third World state as a training ground.
"Make no mistake, the 9-11 terrorist plot wasn't hatched in Kandahar or Kabul," Lt.-Col. Bill LaFontaine said Tuesday.
"It was hatched right over there, in Tarin Kowt. This was a fertile breeding ground for people who wanted to do mischief."
LaFontaine runs the area's provincial reconstruction team, a collaboration between the U.S. State Department, the United States government's main aid agency, the American army and local Afghan officials. That collaboration is intended to make friends of provincial officials, tribal chieftains and village elders by supplying aid, security and advice.
LaFontaine's 10-acre brick-walled compound anchors Ripley's west flank. Most of the work that went into constructing the PRT's masonry barracks and administrative centre was done by Afghans, providing much-needed work and salaries.
That work includes the widening and paving of the road linking Tarin Kowt to Kandahar, 100 kilometres to the south. During the Soviet occupation, the Russians dubbed the route the "Road to Hell" after many of their convoys were ambushed by mujahedeen. It's the U.S. hope the improved road will serve as a major economic corridor that will breathe prosperity into the area and prompt farmers to switch from poppy production to legitimate cash crops.
"We'll soon get delivery of two road graders, two compactors, a bulldozer and a rock crusher from the United States forces," said LaFontaine.After being trained to use them, the machines will be turned over to the Afghans.
"There has been a paradigm shift in the past year," says Capt. Robert Creason, one of Ripley's operations officers. "It was war-fighting. It's now nation-building in a combat zone.
"The Americans hope that someday their work will be finished and they can go home, leaving Ripley's permanent facilities - its generators, masonry buildings, its plywood-walled gymnasium, the immense area covered by crushed rock to keep down the dust - for the Afghan national army. That's why Ripley's wiring system includes both North American 110-volt outlets and Asian 220-volt connectors.
A 1,500-metre landing strip of compacted earth on Ripley's southern flank allowed C-130 Hercules transports to deliver container loads of supplies and equipment. Most deliveries are now performed by massive twin-rotor Chinook helicopters or by Afghan "jingle trucks," named for the rows of decorative chains hanging from their bumpers.
At the west end of the base are four 105-millimetre howitzers. Each gun is light enough to be airlifted by a Chinook, together with the Humvee vehicle needed to tow it. Each has a range a Second World War navy captain would envy.
With its rocket-assisted shells, the guns hit targets up to 19 kilometres away."At seven kilometres, we try to get them to land within a 30-metre radius," says Staff Sgt. Marshall Poland, the soldier who operates the guns' computerized aiming system.
Using anti-personnel rounds set to burst nine metres off the ground, each shell has a 35-metre kill radius and a 90-metre wounding radius. By way of comparison, insurgents who targeted Ripley a half-dozen times in the past six months with Soviet- or Chinese-manufactured rockets never landed a single round within its perimeter.
Six months ago, Ripley's howitzers were used in an operation against 40 to 50 hostile soldiers - either Taliban or anti-coalition militia. The Americans estimate they killed 15 of the enemy, nine with artillery fire. The survivors melted into the local population.
Herbert Lehman Professor of Government and Anthropology, Columbia University
Ever since September 11, there has been a growing media interest in Islam. What is the link, many seem to ask, between Islam and terrorism? The Spectator, a British weekly, carried a lead article a few weeks ago that argued that the link was not with all of Islam, but with a very literal interpretation of it. This version, Wahhabi Islam, it warned, was dominant in Saudi Arabia, from where it had been exported both to Afghanistan and the US. This argument was echoed widely in many circles, more recently in the New York Times. This article is born of dissatisfaction with the new wisdom that we must tell apart the Good Muslim from the Bad Muslim.
Is our world really divided into two, so that one part makes culture and the other is a prisoner of culture? Are there really two meanings of culture? Does culture stand for creativity, for what being human is all about, in one part of the world? But in the other part of the world, it stands for habit, for some kind of instinctive activity, whose rules are inscribed in early founding texts, usually religious, and museumized in early artifacts?
When I read of Islam in the papers these days, I often feel I am reading of museumized peoples. I feel I am reading of people who are said not to make culture, except at the beginning of creation, as some extraordinary, prophetic, act. After that, it seems they just conform to culture. Their culture seems to have no history, no politics, and no debates. It seems just to have petrified into a lifeless custom.
Even more, these people seem incapable of transforming their culture, the way they seem incapable of growing their own food. The implication is that their only salvation lies, as always, in philanthropy, in being saved from the outside.
When I read this, or something like this, I wonder if this world of ours is after all divided into two: on the one hand, savages who must be saved before they destroy us all and, on the other, the civilized whose burden it is to save all?
We are now told to give serious attention to culture. It is said that culture is now a matter of life and death.
But is it really true that people's public behavior, specifically their political behavior, can be read from their religion? Could it be that a person who takes his or her religion literally is a potential terrorist? And only someone who thinks of the text as not literal, but as metaphorical or figurative, is better suited to civic life and the tolerance it calls for?
How, one may ask, does the literal reading of religious texts translate into hijacking, murder, and terrorism?
Some may object that I am presenting a caricature of what we read in the press. After all, is there not less and less talk of the clash of civilizations, and more and more talk of the clash inside civilizations? Is that not the point of the articles I referred to earlier, those in The Spectator and The New York Times? After all, we are now told to distinguish between good Muslims and bad Muslims. Mind you, not between good and bad persons, nor between criminals and civic citizens, who both happen to be Muslims, but between good Muslims and bad Muslims.
We are told that there is a fault line running through Islam, a line that divides moderate Islam, called genuine Islam, and extremist political Islam. The terrorists of September 11, we are told, did not just hijack planes; it is said that they also hijacked Islam, meaning genuine Islam!
Here is one version of the argument that the clash is inside - and not between - civilizations. It is my own construction, but it is not a fabrication. I think of it as an enlightened version, because it does not just speak of the other, but also of self. It has little trace of ethnocentrism. This is how it goes.
Islam and Christianity have one thing in common. Both share a deeply messianic orientation. Each has a conviction that it possesses the truth. Both have a sense of mission to civilize the world. Both consider the world beyond a sea of ignorance, one that needs to be redeemed. Think, for example, of the Arabic word al-Jahaliya, which I have always known to mean the domain of ignorance.
This conviction is so deep-seated that it is even found in its secular version, as in the old colonial notion of "a civilizing mission," or in its more racialized version, "the White Man's Burden." Or simply, in the 19th century American conviction of a "manifest destiny."
In both cultures, Christian and Muslim, these notions have been the subject of prolonged debates. Even if you should claim to know what is good for humanity, how do you proceed? By persuasion or force? Do you convince others of the validity of your truth or do you proceed by imposing it on them? The first alternative gives you reason and evangelism; the second gives you the Crusades.
Take the example of Islam, and the notion of Jihad, which roughly translated means struggle. A student of mine gave me a series of articles written by the Pakistani academic and journalist, Eqbal Ahmed, in the Karachi-based newspaper, Dawn. In one of these articles, Eqbal distinguished between two broad traditions in the understanding of Jihad. The first, called "little Jihad," thinks of Jihad as a struggle against external enemies of Islam. It is an Islamic version of the Christian notion of "just war". The second, called "big Jihad," thinks of Jihad as more of a spiritual struggle against the self in a contaminated world.
All of this is true, but I don't think it explains terrorism. I remain deeply skeptical that we can read people's political behavior from their religion, or from their culture. Remember, it was not so long ago that some claimed that the behavior of others could be read from their genes. Could it be true that an orthodox Muslim is a potential terrorist? Or, the same thing, that an Orthodox Jew is a potential terrorist and only a Reform Jew is capable of being tolerant of those who do not share his convictions?
I am aware that this does not exhaust the question of culture and politics. How do you make sense of politics that consciously wears the mantle of religion? Take, for example the politics of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida, both of whom claim to be waging a Jihad, a just war against the enemies of Islam? How do we make sense of this?
I want to suggest that we turn the cultural theory of politics on its head. Rather than see this politics as the outcome of an archaic culture, I suggest we see neither the culture not the politics as archaic, but both as very contemporary outcomes of equally contemporary conditions, relations and conflicts. Instead of dismissing history and politics as does culture talk, I suggest we place cultural debates in historical and political contexts. Terrorism is not a cultural residue in modern politics. Rather, terrorism is a modern construction. Even when it tries to harness one or another aspect of tradition and culture, it puts this at the service of a modern project.
In what follows, I would like to offer you a perspective on contemporary terrorism from an African vantage point.
An African Perspective on Contemporary Terrorism
Eqbal Ahmed writes of a television image from 1985, of Ronald Reagan meeting a group of turbaned men, all Afghani, all leaders of the Mujaheddin. After the meeting, Reagan brought them out into the White House lawn, and introduced them to the media in these words: "These gentlemen are the moral equivalents of America's founding fathers."
This was the moment when official America tried to harness one version of Islam in a struggle against the Soviet Union. Before exploring the politics of it, let me clarify the historical moment.
1975 was the year of American defeat in Indochina. 1975 was also the year the Portuguese empire collapsed in Africa. It was the year the center of gravity of the Cold War shifted from Southeast Asia to Southern Africa. The question was: who would pick up the pieces of the Portuguese empire, the US or the Soviet Union?
As the center of gravity of the Cold War shifted, from Southeast Asia to Southern Africa, there was also a shift in US strategy. The Nixon Doctrine had been forged towards the closing years of the Vietnam War but could not be implemented at that late stage - the doctrine that "Asian boys must fight Asian wars" - was really put into practice in Southern Africa. In practice, it translated into a US decision to harness, or even to cultivate, terrorism in the struggle against regimes it considered pro-Soviet. In Southern Africa, the immediate result was a partnership between the US and apartheid South Africa, accused by the UN of perpetrating "a crime against humanity." Reagan termed this new partnership "constructive engagement."
South Africa became both conduit and partner of the US in the hot war against those governments in the region considered pro-Soviet. This partnership bolstered a number of terrorist movements: Renamo in Mozambique, and Unita in Angola. Their terrorism was of a type Africa had never seen before. It was not simply that they were willing to tolerate a higher level of civilian casualties in military confrontations - what official America nowadays calls collateral damage. The new thing was that these terrorist movements specifically targeted civilians. It sought specifically to kill and maim civilians, but not all of them. Always, the idea was to leave a few to go and tell the story, to spread fear. The object of spreading fear was to paralyze government.
In another decade, the center of gravity of the Cold War shifted to Central America, to Nicaragua and El Salvador. And so did the center of gravity of US-sponsored terrorism. The Contras were not only tolerated and shielded by official America; they were actively nurtured and directly assisted, as in the mining of harbors.
The shifting center of gravity of the Cold War was the major context in which Afghanistan policy was framed. But it was not the only context. The minor context was the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Ayatullah Khomeini anointed official America as the "Great Satan," and official Islam as "American Islam." But instead of also addressing the issues - the sources of resentment against official America - the Reagan administration hoped to create a pro-American Islamic lobby.
The grand plan of the Reagan administration was two-pronged. First, it drooled at the prospect of uniting a billion Muslims around a holy war, a Crusade, against the evil empire. I use the word Crusade, not Jihad, because only the notion of Crusade can accurately convey the frame of mind in which this initiative was taken. Second, the Reagan administration hoped to turn a religious schism inside Islam, between minority Shia and majority Sunni, into a political schism. Thereby, it hoped to contain the influence of the Iranian Revolution as a minority Shia affair.
This is the context in which an American/Saudi/Pakistani alliance was forged, and religious madresas turned into political schools for training cadres. The Islamic world had not seen an armed Jihad for centuries. But now the CIA was determined to create one. It was determined to put a version of tradition at the service of politics. We are told that the CIA looked for a Saudi Prince to lead this Crusade. It could not find a Prince. But it settled for the next best, the son of an illustrious family closely connected to the royal family. This was not a backwater family steeped in pre-modernity, but a cosmopolitan family. The Bin Laden family is a patron of scholarship. It endows programs at universities like Harvard and Yale.
The CIA created the Mujaheddin and Bin Laden as alternatives to secular nationalism. Just as, in another context, the Israeli intelligence created Hamas as an alternative to the secular PLO.
Contemporary "fundamentalism" is a modern project, not a traditional leftover. When the Soviet Union was defeated in Afghanistan, this terror was unleashed on Afghanistan in the name of liberation. As different factions fought over the liberated country - the Northern Alliance against the Taliban - they shelled and destroyed their own cities with artillery.
The Question of Responsibility
To understand the question of who bears responsibility for the present situation, it will help to contrast two situations, that after the Second World War and that after the Cold War, and compare how the question of responsibility was understood and addressed in two different contexts.
In spite of Pearl Harbor, World War Two was fought in Europe and Asia, not in the US. It was not the US which faced physical and civic destruction at the end of the war. The question of responsibility for postwar reconstruction did not just arise as a moral question; it arose as a political question. In Europe, its urgency was underlined by the changing political situation in Yugoslavia, Albania, and particularly, Greece. This is the context in which the US accepted responsibility for restoring conditions for decent life in noncommunist Europe. That initiative was called the Marshall Plan.
The Cold War was not fought in Europe, but in Southeast Asia, in Southern Africa, and in Central America. Should we, ordinary humanity, hold official America responsible for its actions during the Cold War? Should official America be held responsible for napalm bombing and spraying Agent Orange in Vietnam? Should it be held responsible for cultivating terrorist movements in Southern Africa and Central America?
Perhaps no other society paid a higher price for the defeat of the Soviet Union than did Afghanistan. Out of a population of roughly 15 million, a million died, another million and a half were maimed, and another five million became refugees. Afghanistan was a brutalized society even before the present war began.
After the Cold War and right up to September 10 of this year, the US and Britain compelled African countries to reconcile with terrorist movements. The demand was that governments must share power with terrorist organizations in the name of reconciliation - as in Mozambique, in Sierra Leone, and in Angola.
If terrorism was an official American Cold War brew, it was turned into a local Sierra Leonean or Angolan or Mozambican or Afghani brew after the Cold War. Whose responsibility is it? Like Afghanistan, are these countries hosting terrorism, or are they also hostage to terrorism? I think both.
Official America has a habit of not taking responsibility for its own actions. Instead, it habitually looks for a high moral pretext for inaction. I was in Durban at the World Congress Against Racism (WCAR) when the US walked out of it. The Durban conference was about major crimes of the past, about racism, and xenophobia, and related crimes. I returned from Durban to listen to Condoleeza Rice talk about the need to forget slavery because, she said, the pursuit of civilized life requires that we forget the past.
It is true that, unless we learn to forget, life will turn into revenge-seeking. Each of us will have nothing but a catalogue of wrongs done to a long line of ancestors. But civilization cannot be built on just forgetting. We must not only learn to forget, we must also not forget to learn. We must also memorialize, particularly monumental crimes. America was built on two monumental crimes: the genocide of the Native American and the enslavement of the African American. The tendency of official America is to memorialize other peoples' crimes and to forget its own - to seek a high moral ground as a pretext to ignore real issues.
I would like to conclude with the question of responsibility. It is a human tendency to look for others in times of adversity. We seek friends and allies in times of danger. But in times of prosperity, the short-sighted tend to walk away from others. This is why prosperity, and not adversity, is the real litmus test of how we define community. The contemporary history of Southern Africa, Central America, and Afghanistan testifies to this tendency.
Modernity in politics is about moving from exclusion to inclusion, from repression to incorporation. By including those previously excluded, we give those previously alienated a stake in things. By doing so, we broaden the bounds of lived community, and of lived humanity. That perhaps is the real challenge today. It is the recognition that the good life cannot be lived in isolation.
I think of civilization as a constant creation whereby we gradually expand the boundaries of community, the boundaries of those with whom we share the world - this is why it is so grotesque to see bombs and food parcels raining on the defenseless people of Afghanistan from the same source.
The following article describes an example of some of the challenges facing the Islamic world as it seeks to come to terms with the modern world. Who will regulate these issues and on whose authority?
Cairo tries to tune 3,500 calls to prayer into one
By Gretchen Peters | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
CAIRO - Nasr Ahmed started delivering the predawn call to prayer at his local mosque in 1947, when he was just a sprightly lad of 10 who loved to play ball in the streets.
Now he hobbles those same narrow lanes stroking a thick gray beard, but he's still known for the robust, clear voice that has awoken the Muslim faithful in his teeming neighborhood for more than a half-century. Perhaps not for much longer, though.
The city government is finalizing plans - first announced last September - to wire Cairo's 3,500 mosques so they will broadcast a live, unified call to prayer that would replace the chaotic cacophony which now bursts forth five times a day, amplified in some places through squeaky speakers.
What would seem to be a simple, modern solution to the din is upsetting both traditionalists and those who see it violating the spirit of more open expression emerging in the region.
The Ministry of Religious Endowments, which oversees public issues of worship, says it's responding to a flood of complaints about high noise levels, especially in tightly populated areas, and argues that it's up to the mosque to set a standard for greater order in this tumultuous megalopolis of 15 million.
But in one of the world's noisiest cities, where incessant honking is deemed vital to pilot a vehicle, and where piling friends and family into a riverboat thumping with music is considered fun, the idea that orderliness might be closer to godliness falls on very deaf ears indeed.
"This plan is haram," declares Mr. Ahmed, using the same Arabic word for 'forbidden' that's slapped on pork products and alcohol. "How can you try to stop something that God has called for?"
The wording of the calls is set, but the way each is sung - melodious or strident - sets a tone for the mosque.
Cairo's government has produced senior religious leaders to reassure people that the plan does not contravene Islamic law, but many Egyptians spot a sinister conspiracy, backed by Washington, to stifle the voices of more conservative religious leaders.
The US government has pressured Cairo on various issues of religious reform, arguing for example that textbooks in many of the country's mosque-backed institutions teach anti-Western principles. But officials here insist there's no nudging from Washington behind this effort, and say the radio broadcasts will feature a revolving group of religious leaders, who will offer a range of religious viewpoints.
But at least one conservative imam has argued that "technologizing" the call to prayer will start the nation down an ungodly path that will one day terminate with people bowing down before TV sets tuned to pictures of Mecca.
Officials point out that many Islamic countries, including Turkey, Jordan, and Yemen unified their calls to prayer years ago, and Muslims there have continued to perform their duty.
But coming as it does at a time when the entire Arab region seems to be taking a tentative step toward greater openness, the bid to unify the call to prayer seems inconsistent to many here.
"Just like every mosque has a different minaret, every mosque has a different voice," says Ashraf, who like many interviewed for this story would not to give his full name.
He works out of the Al Ghuri mosque in Cairo's old city, which has serviced the local community from behind towering ramparts for more than 500 years.
"The call to prayer has always come from here," he says, gesturing to the delicate Mameluk-era minaret, these days slung with a large loudspeaker. "The people won't accept any other way."
But a few independent voices have risen up in support of the government plan.
"The call to prayer, when I first heard it as a child, was beautiful to hear. It wafted over the city in soft and sometimes musical tones," wrote activist Nawal El-Saadawi in the Al Ahram Weekly. "Now it has become a cacophony of strident voices, a threatening call shot through with violence."
Mahmoud Hamdy Zaqzouq, the minister in charge of religious affairs, says he's trying to protect a sizable population here that quietly views the current state of affairs as more rowdy ruckus than religious freedom.
"Everyday I receive complaints from people about the loudspeakers and when I ask them to make official complaints, they say they are afraid of being accused of being infidels," he told the BBC.
Analysts and historians point out that Egyptian authorities have long run into trouble when they tried to regulate religion, and noted that few efforts through the ages to make Cairo less noisy and chaotic have met with success.
"They can't even organize traffic in Midan Tahrir," says political analyst Walid Kazziha, referring to Cairo's congested downtown plaza. "How do they think they are going to regulate the mosques?"
Some argue that a simpler plan might just be to ban amplifiers, and return to the way muezzins called the faithful to prayer in the prophet's day, using just their unamplified voices.
"Won't work any more," harrumphs Mr. Ahmed, who began calling prayers long before his local mosque had a loudspeaker. "Back then they did not have tall buildings and cars. Nowadays, we just have to be louder."
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The following article is about the controversy created by a Muslim woman leading prayers in a church in the US. What is interesting about it is that there are clearly issues of modernity that need to be acknowledged by Islamic tradition. How to integrate women into faith. Perhaps our Tariqah can lead other Muslims on these issues.
Muslims in America
Woman led Muslim Friday service despite illegitimacy
By Mounir El Boughdadi 3/19/2005 | 5:23 pm GMT
A female professor has broken with Islamic tradition by leading the Friday prayer service in a New York chapel, where men and women sat together, sparking outrage among religious scholars in the Middle East who affirmed that what she did was against Islamic Shari'a (law).
Amina Wadud leading Muslim Friday prayers. AFP
The event, heavily protected by police forces, was held at the Synod House, a small chapel next to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan's Upper West Side in New York, after several locations had refused to host the service.
The Muslim Women's Freedom Tour, a US grass-roots organisation, and the Web site MuslimWakeUp.com sponsored the service, said to Reuters.
According to Islamic traditions, Muslim women sit separately from men in worship services and, in some places, enter mosques through a back or side door. Orthodox Jews also segregate men from women during religious services. Roman Catholics do not allow women to hold important leadership roles.
Amina Wadud, an associate professor of Islamic studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, led the Islamic weekly service where 50 men and women prayed behind her, after she delivered the sermon, thus defying the basic Islamic rules.
Wadud said at a news conference before the service that she didn't want to "change Muslim mosques, but to encourage the hearts of Muslim men and women to believe that they are equal." She added that she wished to help remove "artificial and inconvenient restrictions" aimed at Muslim women.
Outraged Muslims gathered outside the chapel accusing Wadud of betraying Muslim fundamental principles.
"That woman does not represent Islam at all. This is blasphemy, and the penalty for blasphemy is death and that is what this woman deserves," said a protester named Nussrah.
"Today, Muslim women are moving from the back of the mosque to the front of the mosque," said Esra Nomani, the lead organiser of the service. "This is a historic event," she added.
Nomani created an uproar last year by entering her Morgantown, West Virginia, mosque through the front door. Some critics accused her of using this event to publicise her new book about women and Islam.
Contradictions and principles
Wadud just before leading the prayer service. The unveiled woman behind her is probably Suheyla al-Attar, the person who called to prayers. AFP
The Guardian said that, at the same event, an American woman of Egyptian descent, Suheyla al-Attar, who didn't wear the Islamic traditional headscarf, called to starting the prayer. A simple rule for a Muslim woman is to cover all her body but the face and hands while praying. Furthermore, the Shari'a specifies that only men are allowed to call to prayer.
Women in Islam have to abstain from raising their voices in the presence of strange men (apart from their families and relatives).
However, a woman can lead a prayer service, but only among other women or children. She also must not stand alone in the front of the group, as does a male Imam (prayer leader), but should be in the middle of the first row and very slightly ahead of the other women next to her.
Another of Wadud's contraventions of Islamic traditions is that Muslims never pray in churches or synagogues, in remembrance of a historic Caliph who ordered his soldiers not to pray in churches, fearing that they might take it as an excuse to destroy other faiths' holy places.
One of the basic reasons preventing a woman from raising her voice in Islamic mixed gatherings or religious services is that it might distract men's attention and even lead them to lose their spiritual purity while worshiping.
Mosques, which cannot be accessed by Muslims (men and women) unless purified by ablution, are meant to host believers for spiritual purposes. Thus, women take a separate space usually in the rear part of the mosque or in an upstairs floor, since performing prayers, which include kneeling and prostration, could display their bodies in inappropriate positions.
The following article expresses the revulsion felt for the explanations offered by various authorities on the issue of women not being allowed to lead prayers which was discussed in the previous post. Although the language may not be appropriate, the sentiments are quite stunning and can damage the image of Islam in the eyes of others. Clearly there is a need for reinterpretation ('ijtihad') on these issues.
Women Imams !
A woman leads prayers? What's left of Moslem men's dignity?
By: Siamack Baniameri
March 29, 2005
On Friday March 18, 2005, something interesting happened. Amina Wadud, a professor of Islamic studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, led an Islamic prayer service before a congregation of 100 Moslem men and women at Synod House at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan. As expected, a few hours later, all hell broke loose.
The imam of a London mosque declared the practice against Islam. A woman should never lead prayers, he elaborated, because during the menstrual cycle, there is always the possibility of an accident during the service: if a man happens to glance at the female imam's behind and spots blood, then the gates of heaven will forever be shut to the poor chump.
Thank you, dear imam, for clarifying a few things for me. First of all, I had no idea women bled from their behind during the menstrual cycle. I guess that means I was pulled out of my mother's ass. Silly me... I was completely in the dark.
Secondly, as an avid ass-looker, I can assure the good imam that in all my years of looking at women's behinds from all different angles, I've never spotted blood. Maybe I'm not looking hard enough. Who knows? Maybe the imam is a better ass-looker than I am! I've never claimed to be good at anything.
And by the way, I didn't know there's a shortage of tampons in London. What's up with that?
Meanwhile Soad Saleh, who heads the Islamic department of the women's college at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, said women should not lead prayers because "the woman's body, even if veiled, stirs desires."
What can I say? Like many of my Middle Eastern brothers, I have a lifetime subscription to Play Veil magazine. Miss January was absolutely gorgeous and even though I couldn't see anything behind her veil, in some perverted way, she stirred my desires.
I can't explain it. Only we Middle Eastern men are capable of looking at women who are covered under lumps of unforgiving black sheets and feel aroused. Heck, I sometimes look at drapes hanging from windows and get horny!
According to Ms. Saleh, we Middle Eastern men are sexually so out of control that there's a strong chance we might hump a female imam in the middle of Friday prayers. Thank you Ms. Saleh! Thank you very much for your in-sight!
But I think the best line came from the cleric of a mosque in Saudi Arabia. The honorable sheikh expressed outrage by mentioning several times, "how can a woman who touches her husband's organ lead a prayer... it is inconceivable!"
Obviously the sheikh is unaware that married women do not touch their husband's organ. As a matter of fact that's the main reason women get married ... so they don't have to touch, fondle or stroke any part of a man's body. In fact women are done with sex the day after they get married. Obviously the sheikh is enjoying an unusually active sex-life with his wife.
I feel the anger of my fellow fundamentalist brothers. We're not only challenged by an intellectual who knows her Islam but, even worse, we're challenged by a woman. The very fact that a woman is more intelligent, and makes no apologies for it, insults our very existence.
This has nothing to do with Islam; it's about what we've learned from our fathers and grandfathers. This is about money and power -- the very essence of our manhood. This is not about menstrual cycles, stirring desires or fondling organs. It's about fear and insecurity. Nothing is more intimidating to a man than a woman who sees right through him.
Personally, as an Iranian Moslem man, it would be a privilege and honor to stand behind a female imam and pray to my God. I promise I'll never glance at her behind -- unless, of course, God has blessed her with one that is too divine to ignore.
Who knows? Maybe one day women can have several husbands too. Reversal of fortune is entertaining -- don't you think? Maybe we'll see the day when women with their Gucci purses and Prada shoes walk in front and we follow them two steps behind covered in thick dark sheets, pushing strollers and gasping for air. Imagine me and the sheikh and a couple of other fellows being some woman's bitches. Oh, the payback!
Siamack Baniameri is the author of The Iranican Dream, (Virtualbookworm.com Publishing, December 2004). Also see Iranican-Dream.com.
This article was first published in iranian.com
The following article discusses the present debate in Pakistan between the two facets of Islam; the extremist/fundamentalist approach advocating return to the seventh century Islam on the one hand and the progressive/moderate one which advocates change and progress within an ethical framework, on the other. To illuminate the debate it focuses on the current controversy that the Mullahs are creating over the inclusion of the Aga Khan University Education Board (AKUEB) among the examining boards for school leaving students.
Ever since 9/11, many in the West see Muslims as being involved in terrorism, and Islam as somehow encouraging violence. Defenders of Islam have constantly and correctly pointed out that their faith is one of peace, tolerance and love.
So a foreigner visiting Pakistan could be excused for asking why these virtues are virtually absent from our society. Why, he could well ask, is the rhetoric of the religious parties so full of hate and venom?
What, for instance, would he make of this recent headline: "NWFP minister threatens to throw people planning girls' marathon into Kabul River"? It seems that Mr Sirajul Haq, senior minister in the NWFP government, wants to drown anybody contemplating an athletic event for women.
When a number of armed men led by an MMA member of parliament attacked a women's 'mini-marathon' event in Gujranwala, the incident made headlines around the world. This only reinforced the image Muslims have acquired in the West.
Photographs of bearded, lathi-wielding zealots are frightening reminders of the growing gap between two world views. For the mullahs, there should be no progress, no scientific enquiry, men should have unkempt beards, and women should be locked securely indoors. In this Talibanesque vision, we should march backwards to the 7th century.
Mercifully, there is a gentler, more tolerant version of Islam practised elsewhere in the Muslim world. Here, progress is seen as something to strive for; women have equal rights; the minorities are protected; and education is not seen as an adjunct of Islamic studies. But in these societies, too, there are limits on the freedom of thought and expression that run counter to the demands of free enquiry and rational thought.
In the modern, secular world view that today shapes the West and other dynamic societies in Asia, there are no eternal truths: everything is questioned, and nothing is beyond criticism.
In this intellectual ferment, theories are advanced and demolished; new ideas come and go; and the frontiers of human knowledge are advanced all the time. There are many religious people in these societies, but their faith does not block progress. Indeed, most developed nations have secularism inscribed as a basic tenet in their constitutions.
A current example of the conflict between extremism and modernism is the unnecessary controversy raised by the clerics about the decision to include the Aga Khan University Education Board (AKUEB) among the examining boards for school leaving students.
Considering that there are a score or so of such bodies, affiliation to the AKUEB is entirely voluntary, and it has no power to change the curriculum, the furore raised by the mullahs is hard to understand.
In a leading Urdu daily, Allama Ayaz Zaheer, the chairman of the Pakistan Madressah Foundation makes this odd accusation, followed by the usual threats: "Very soon, AKUEB is going to be given the charge of madressahs in Pakistan.
We will not accept it... The consequences would be horrible if AKUEB tried to take over our madressahs... We would besiege all Aga Khan Foundation offices and teach the infidels an unforgettable lesson..." Our clerics are fond of declaring their targets non-Muslims while threatening them with violence. They have given themselves the authority to declare who is a believer and who is not.
And while these threats are flying around, what does the government do? Cave in yet again. Just as it meekly gave in to the MMA's demand to include a religion column in the new passports, I expect it will soon withdraw the ordinance it had earlier issued making the AKUEB an examining board.
Actually, this vicious anti-AKUEB campaign makes eminent sense for the mullahs. Ever since Zia and the army virtually handed over public education to the religious parties, they have steadily eroded its quality. The result is before us all to see. Now, a high school certificate is not accepted by any decent college or university unless it holds its own admission test.
The clerics, backed by many education department officials, believe that an independent examining body would insist on higher standards, thereby exposing the shoddy system they have created. These vested interests would be unable to manipulate results for money or for influence, at least for those schools opting to be examined by the AKUEB.
In reality, this debate goes to the very heart of the struggle between extremism and modernity. Mullahs see this as the thin edge of the wedge. If the AKUEB succeeds in raising standards, government boards will be under pressure to emulate it, and just possibly, public education might be improved to acceptable levels.
An example of this knock-on effect exists in the shape of the Aga Khan University hospital that, by offering world class health care, has influenced other private and public hospitals into changing the way they function.
At the core of this struggle lies a deep insecurity in the minds of many clerics. They know in their heart of hearts that they are not really educated in any meaningful sense, whatever the election commission might say. If their ignorant followers acquire a real education, they might well question the authority the mullahs have gained.
Islam recognizes no church, no over lordship of any religious leader or party. Each believer prays directly to God without any intermediary. So in a way, the authority of our clergy rests on very shaky foundations.
Returning to where we started, why is the language of our religious parties so filled with hate and violence? Where are the love and peace the Holy Book teaches us? Why cannot Pakistani clerics engage in calm and constructive debate? Why must they brandish arms and utter death threats all the time? Is it because they lack the tools of civilized discourse?
Uneducated in everything, their only intellectual weapon is a poorly understood and ill-digested rote learning of the scriptures. With this, they seek to browbeat the rest of us into silence. Unable to contribute anything to the great deeds and thoughts of our times, they want to drag us all back to the mediaeval era. And since they have no answer to real problems of the day, they are forever creating unnecessary controversies in an unending effort to distract the poor and the ignorant from demanding a better life.
The following article is the aftermath of the controversy surrounding Dr. Amina Wadud, a Muslim woman leading prayer in the US. It examines the consequences of various points of view on this issue. What is interesting is that not all Muslims think alike on this issue - a need to exercise patience and tolerance and not to judge others.
A Midwestern Muslim -- Hesham A. Hassaballa
Is She An Apostate?
A woman leads Islamic prayer, and detractors go
ballistic. Why can't we disagree without being
On March 18, Dr. Amina Wadud--a professor at Virginia
Commonwealth University--led a historic Friday prayer,
or jumu'a, service in New York City. Traditionally,
Muslim scholars have said and written that Muslim
women are not allowed to lead other men in formal
prayer, on Friday or otherwise. Wadud's belief to the
contrary challenges centuries of Muslim thought on
this issue; naturally, the event has caused an
enormous amount of controversy.
The event drew a number of protesters. They held signs
saying, "Mixed-Gender Prayers Today, Hellfire
Tomorrow" and "May Allah's curse be upon Ameena
Wadoud." Many have called Wadud an "apostate" for
leading a mixed-gender Friday prayer. Brooklyn native
Mohammed Nussrah, as quoted by the Associated Press,
said, "If this was an Islamic state, this woman would
be hanged." According to someone who attended the
event, a bearded man was dragged out of the venue
yelling "Allahu Akbar," or "God is the Greatest."
The prayer was held at the Cathedral of St. John the
Divine, an Episcopal church in Manhattan. Yet, that
was not the original choice: the Sudaram Tagore
Gallery in New York. After a bomb threat was received,
the venue was dropped out of concern for the safety of
the participants, and organizers did not announce the
new location. Three mosques refused to host the event,
although no reason was reported.
My purpose in speaking about this issue is not to
debate the merit of Wadud's argument about women
leading mixed gender prayer. I'll leave that to the
scholars of our community. What motivates me to write
is the reaction by some in the Muslim community to
Wadud is an "apostate"? God's curse should be upon
those who organized the event? Hellfire is in store
for those who attended the mixed-gender Friday prayer?
A bomb threat to the gallery? Why? Because Wadud
believes that women are allowed to lead a mixed-gender
prayer? One of the prayer service's chief sponsors,
MuslimWakeup.com, was repeatedly hacked in the days
and weeks before the event. On one of these occasions,
the hackers re-directed the site to one entitled,
"Murtad Wakeup." Murtad is the Arabic term for
This angers me very deeply. Why can't these detractors
disagree without being violently disagreeable?
First of all, the Qur'an clearly states that Muslims
should not accuse each other of not being Muslim.
Verse 4:94 says, "O ye who believe! When ye go abroad
in the cause of God, investigate carefully, and say
not to any one who offers you a salutation of peace:
'Thou art not a believer!' Coveting the perishable
goods of this life: with God are profits and spoils
abundant. Even thus were ye yourselves before, till
God conferred on you His favours: Therefore carefully
investigate. For God is well aware of all that ye do"
This verse was revealed after companions of the
Prophet killed two people along a road--even though
they greeted them with "salam," indicating they were
fellow Muslims--and took their possessions, thinking
they were members of a hostile pagan tribe. God
rebuked them, saying "you used to be barbarians like
this before I blessed you with Islam." Now, this does
not mean that it is OK to kill non-Muslims (just in
case you were thinking that). It just means that
Muslims should not be in the business of questioning
the faith of their brothers and sisters in faith.
The Qur'an also said: "...do not defame or be
sarcastic to each other, and do not call each other by
(offensive) nicknames: Ill-seeming is a name connoting
wickedness, (to be used of one) after he has believed:
And those who do not desist are (indeed) doing wrong"
I don't have a problem with those who disagreed with
the event taking place protesting and voicing their
disagreement. That is their right. I do have a
problem, however, with their cursing Wadud and those
who supported her stance and condemning them to Hell.
They have no right to say that.
This situation frustrates me enormously. Why can't we
simply disagree? Since the event was announced, I have
watched a vigorous debate take place about female
leadership in prayer--and it was refreshing.
Refreshing because age old traditions are being
questioned, and this is healthy for the Muslim
community, even if the age old traditions end up
surviving a stern re-examination.
It is refreshing also because I learned something new:
there are some Muslim scholars who agree with women
leading the prayer. I never knew that before, and I am
happy to learn something new about my faith. The most
refreshing aspect of the debate, however, is that it
has largely been civil and respectful, becoming of the
community God and His Prophet wanted us to be.
Intimidation, making threats, hurling insults,
invoking the curse of God, and condemning to Hell, on
the other hand, is not becoming of the community God
and His Prophet wanted us to be. It stifles debate; it
hardens hearts; it further divides, and it destroys
the bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood that both God
and His Prophet stressed were paramount.
And it makes the news. Although these tactics of
"defending the faith" are being used by a small
minority of Muslims, the damage has already been done:
all Muslims are made to look like intolerant
barbarians. When will this madness end?
The following is an article expressing another woman's views relating to her personal experience of leading congregational prayer which hitherto has been regarded as Taboo.
From the ritual to the spiritual
At the rate poison darts are soaring towards me, one would think I led a chorus line and not an Islamic prayer!
Yes indeed, the fatwas are flying (I already have one from a Saudi network based in the United States, thank you!). The GTA Muslim community, even those who profess to be liberal, are doing what has become the norm — condemning without considering, labelling without listening and judging without justice. Since the Talibanization of Pakistan, I'm well aware of stoning first and debating later.
Let me confess where all this began. About three weeks ago when Tarek Fatah, founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress (MCC), asked me if I would lead a mixed-gender group in prayer, I said No! I wasn't ready to be part of a media frenzy.
Tarek and I have agreed to disagree on many points, but we have what I call "a dignity of difference" — a respectful exchange of ideas, which is a characteristic abysmally lacking in some parts of the Muslim community. My husband convinced me that it would be a natural progression from giving sermons in churches, praying in synagogues and temples to lead prayer for my own community.
I checked with a professor of religious studies who was an imam in Toronto. He said categorically that nowhere in the Qur'an does it specify women can't lead prayer. Also, when the Prophet Muhammad preached his message in a male-dominated society, he did not speak out for or against women leading prayer. As a matter of fact, women at that time were entrepreneurs, theologians, mystics and also participated in war. I'm extremely impressed by these female role models.
The three men in my life (two sons and spouse) encouraged me to take this leap of faith — what more could I ask for? I've always believed God created us equal and that spirituality is not dependent on gender.
However, there are many people who are barred from places of worship. Some women have stopped going to the mosque because they are stuck near the bathrooms or kitchen due to their gender.
More important, all worship in Islam begins with a declaration of intent. My intention was not reactionary, not defiant and definitely not a show of militant feminism. It wasn't about a battle between progressive and conservative — it was about sharing some profound thoughts with my fellow Muslims and also to help other women find a safe space to worship.
April 22 was Earth Day, and after moving the venue twice (because so-called liberal and culturally progressive centres refused to have a woman lead prayer), a backyard in Cabbagetown became the sanctuary. A motley crowd of about 40 people from as far as Oakville and Pickering came to join in this historic Friday prayer, among them an imam, women in hijab and diverse Muslims from various backgrounds.
There was no security guard posted at the door to check ID credentials or people's intentions since I don't believe that is our mission in life. I am responsible only for my conscience and answerable only to God. This event also was an attempt to break the domination of a few misguided bigots who try to reduce God to a policeman.
Although physically I led the prayer by standing in front and reading the sermon before the prayer, we all were bound by our united submission to God. I felt we were truly blessed.
Why? Because the brave men and women who chose to stand behind me and pray empowered me with a responsibility that made my own prayer more poignant and meaningful. It allowed me to move away from the ritual to the spiritual and actually hear and understand myself better than I ever have.
At the end of the prayer, some of the non-Muslim observers had tears in their eyes and were touched to the core. Some participants told me they had not prayed in years and were thrilled to come back into the fold.
As for the critics, let me try and understand where their problem lies. Our message was one of tolerance, peace, spiritual equality, compassion and love of Allah and His Prophet. Obviously that is not the message coming from mosques that base their sermons on negating others.
While this service was not the ultimate move for reclaiming our place in Islam, it's a fact that our faith is frozen in time. Dialogue and debate, also known as ijtehad — an important cornerstone of Islam — have been deemed an unnecessary evil and stopped since the 16th century. So the hope is that events like this one will open the doors to that much needed discourse and put us on the path to enlightenment together as men and women in faith.
The following article discusses the increasing role of Muslim women in society in Turkey. More women are getting educated and demanding equitable opportunities in relation to men. This presents an interesting prospect in regard to the many facets of Islam as presently practiced by the mainstream Sunnis which require rethinking or reinterpretation. Traditionally women have not been involved in these issues. Perhaps their involvement will force new perspective and change and set an example to other Muslim countries.
In Turkey, Muslim women gain expanded religious authority
A new class of educated women are demanding more rights. Some now monitor the work of imams in local mosques.
By Yigal Schleifer | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
ISTANBUL - Covered in a pink and gray head scarf that tightly frames her round face, and adorned in a long, dark-blue overcoat, Zuleyha Seker hardly seems like a rebel. But as one of 400 women preachers, known as vaizes, currently working in several of Turkey's state-run mosques, Ms. Seker is making waves.
"The vaizes like me are seen as revolutionaries in religious circles - we are always pushing for change," she says with a gentle smile.
Indeed, women have brought significant change to Turkey's Muslim order in recent years. Two years ago, women were appointed for the first time to lead groups of Turks making the pilgrimage to Mecca. And last year, Diyanet, a government body that oversees the country's mosques and trains religious leaders, added 150 women preachers across Turkey.
Now, Diyanet is selecting a group of women who will serve as deputies to muftis, or expounders of religious law. From this post, they'll monitor the work being done by imams in local mosques, particularly as it relates to women.
While these changes come in response to what Diyanet officials describe as a growing demand from women for more and better religious education, academics and Islamic intellectuals say these developments are also being forced by the rise of a new class of educated religious women who are demanding more rights within the country's Islamic milieu.
"Now, women are more educated, they participate more in social life, and they are mixing more with men, so they are demand- ing more," says Nevin Meric, a women's education expert at the Istanbul mufti's office. "Today they are aware of their rights and they are learning by reading and asking," she says.
Buket Turkmen, a sociologist at Istanbul's Galatasaray University who has studied the role of women in Turkish Islam, says that for many women who come from traditional homes where they would normally be limited in what they are allowed to do, religious education becomes a path to a certain kind of independence.
"It's very paradoxical, but by choosing Islam, they can gain their individuality and their emancipation. In this context, Islam means modernization," Ms. Turkmen says.
It's a path that more women seem to be exploring. In Istanbul, for example, the mufti's office has 583 women teaching courses on the Koran to women across the city. Women now also make up the majority of students in the theology departments of several Turkish universities.
Mehmet Gormez, Diyanet's deputy head, says the growing demand from women has forced Turkey's religious institutions to act. "In Islamic doctrine, men and women are equal. This should also be applied in practice," Mr. Gormez adds.
The changes begun by Diyanet appear to put Turkey in a leading position within the Islamic world on women's issues. "Turkey has been more open to [theological] change," says Yurdegul Mehmetoglu, a vice dean in the theology faculty at Istanbul's Marmara University.
While there are signs of loosening in Turkey, Muslim orthodoxy remains clear that women cannot lead prayers, particularly in the Arab Muslim heartland.
When Amina Wadud, an American Muslim and professor, announced that she would lead Friday prayers at an annex of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City last month, condemnation rang from orthodox circles. Sunni preacher Yusuf al-Qaradawi of Qatar issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, saying "that leadership in prayer in Islam is reserved for men only," and warning that a women leading prayers might arouse men.
In early Islam, there were a number of female religious scholars. But women were eventually excluded from taking part in theological debates.
Gormez says Diyanet is hoping the vaizes and deputy muftis will act as advocates for women's issues in mosques, making them friendlier environments for other women.
As one of 18 vaizes in Istanbul, Seker, a university graduate in theology, doesn't actually lead prayers or give sermons in mosques. Instead, she helps organize seminars and teaches religious classes for women.
"In the past, [women] believed anything told to them by their older brother, father, or teacher. But as they are becoming more educated, they are coming up with more questions," she says. "We need new answers for new questions."
On a recent afternoon, though, Seker deals with the timeworn topics of tradition and prayer. Teaching in a community center in an Istanbul neighborhood, Seker tells the seven head-scarfed women that not all of the traditions they have been taught are necessarily part of Islam.
She brings up so-called honor killings - the murder of young women considered to have damaged a family's honor - that still take place in Turkey.
"There is no such thing in Islam, and to kill someone is considered to be the biggest sin," she tells the women, who sit motionless throughout her talk. She also encourages them to read the Koran more.
Seker acknowledges that her work might not sit well with the husbands of the women she teaches. "They feel like their throne is being shaken," she says.
• Staff writer Dan Murphy contributed to this report from Cairo.
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The following article explores the various dimensions of Hijab in it's social, cultural, political context and then goes on to discuss the real Hijab or Hijab in it's broadest sense which the author calls the epistemological Hijab which is isolation of women from any social, cultural and religious apects of life. The changes in Turkey that were alluded to in the previous post, perhaps can be called the removal of this Hijab.
EPISTEMOLOGICAL HIJAB by M. A. Muqtedar Khan
The issue of "Hijab", its various implications and the politics surrounding it, has become a globally polarizing issue. Whether in France or in Turkey, between Muslims and others and between liberal Muslims and traditional Muslims, the Hijab has become a site for the cultural struggle between Islam and modernity and between contemporary and traditional interpretations of Islam.
The Hijab is to some a symbol of Islam's ascendance in the world, while for others it is a reminder of the intransigent Muslim resistance to things that first emerge in the West - modernity, secularism, feminism, liberalism and globalism. For some Muslims in France, it is a symbol of their resistance to French cultural occupation over Arabs and Muslims in France. For Islamists in Turkey, it is an important means to preserving the Islamic heritage of Turkey from secular fundamentalism. For non-Muslim observers, it is often an introduction to an Islam that has misogynistic proclivities.
No matter what the perspective one employs, the fact remains that the Hijab is an instrument of segregation and containment.
The Hijab in its philosophical sense marks the Muslim woman for separation and for "different" treatment in all aspects of life; the most egregious being the moral differentiation it engenders. Muslims who claim that Hijab is an instrument that compels society to treat women in a special, even exalted way (in terms of security and respect) do not work to ensure that the society has special affirmative laws in place that will guarantee equal outcomes for women, since the Hijab ultimately undermines equal opportunity.
But the sartorial Hijab, and its attendant social practices of segregation, disenfranchisement and marginalization of women, is but a symptom of a more profound and civilizationally debilitating form of Hijab that is practiced by contemporary Muslim society. What is significant and must be confronted with vigor is the Epistemological Hijab that "good" Muslims insist on imposing on "good" Muslim women. The Epistemological Hijab is the traditional barrier that exists between women and Islamic sources. Women have played a marginal role in the interpretation of Islam and articulation of the laws and rules that are forced upon them. The Epistemological Hijab - the barrier between women and Islamic sources - has fundamentally rendered the articulation and enforcement of Islamic laws undemocratic. This undemocratic tradition privileges men and exploits women. Its reconstitution is important and more so now than before.
In the postcolonial era, a strange paradox has captivated the global Muslim community. The nearly hundred-year-old Islamic revivalist movement that is singularly responsible for the global significance of Islam, has been driven by lay intellectuals. Consider the following key figures of Islamic revival; Jamaluddin Afghani, Hassan Al Banna, Syed Qutb, Ali Shariata, Muhammad Iqbal, Abul A'la Maududi, Khurshid Ahmed, Malik Bin Nabi, Rashid Ghannoushi were all lay intellectuals, many educated in the West. Many of them were of course exposed to traditional Islamic sciences, but none of them was an Islamic jurist.
But for some inexplicable reason, the ascendant Islam today is highly legalistic and Shariah-obsessed. Islam in the mind of many Muslims is nothing but Shariah - what it really means in operational terms is that the beauty, the virtues and the meaning of Islam is confined to the rather mundane domain of medieval Islamic legalist discourse - Fiqh - which lacks the intellectual depth of Falsafa (Islamic philosophy), the aesthetics and the mystery of Kalam (Islamic theology) and the spirituality and charisma of Tasawwuf (Islamic mysticism).
We live today in an era of Islamic banking - Shariah-compliant transactions - and Halal hamburgers; we ponder over the legality of eating marshmellows, and deliberate over the propriety of women shaking hands with men. Mind you, all serious legal matters, such as for example state-military relations, international transactions, have very little input from Islam or Muslim jurists, since the Muslim world merely follows the conventions of Western/international laws. Islamic legalism is itself confined primarily to issues of personal matters only.
This peculiar legalism, which has colonized Islam and the Muslim conscience, is a product of the vulnerabilities of the Muslim man who has tried to cope with his own insecurities in a world dominated by other men. Muslim men today are not sovereign beings. Other men dominate their world. The only area where they exercise absolute sovereignty is over the tiny domain called Islamic law. Here they realize their manhood. They glorify themselves, grant themselves exotic privileges and assure themselves of their power by exercising it on their women. This exercise of power is realized by complete exclusion of women from participating in the process of deriving and interpreting Islamic rulings from the sources.
There is perhaps no other legal tradition extant today where one has no say in the articulation of laws that govern one's entire life. Muslim women have very little if no role in the process of developing Islamic Fiqh. Even historically, men and men alone have developed all the Madhahib - legal schools, and legal principles, even those that deal with the most private aspects of female existence. Thus Islamic legalism has descended as a shroud on the Muslim women, covering her very essence from the world, disconnecting her from her own reality, depriving her of the right to understand and interpret her own being and disabling her from being able to navigate her own life. Islamic legalism fundamentality veils the Muslim woman's consciousness. Frankly it dehumanizes women.
Muslims scholars and philosophers of every tradition maintain that the essence of humanity is either our moral compass or our reason or both. By preventing Muslim women from exercising their reason to derive the moral laws by which they live, Islamic legalism denies them the most human of all exercises using our reason to become capable of making moral judgments. In a way Islamic legalism steals women's God given humanity from them.
Islamists are fond of repeating that in Islam, God is sovereign since He and He alone has the right to make laws. Unfortunately, this is a very superficial understanding of Islam and fails to recognize the distinction between revealed principles (Wahy), human product (Fiqh). They obfuscate the distinctions between the two and call it law (Shariah). By insisting that the opinions and arguments of long dead medieval jurists are actually divine law, Islamists make jurists the God of Muslim women and introduce a new and oppressive partition/veil between the women and her real God. In some cultures this divine status of men over women is recognized since men are sometimes referred to as the "majazi khuda" (manifest God) of women.
If Muslim women wish to regain their humanity and gain an equal moral status with men, which is not denied to them in principle but only in practice [within Islamic society], they must tear the partition that separates them from their right to understand and interpret Islamic sources and act upon their own understanding.
They must tear asunder this Epistemological Hijab imposed by Islamic legalism that stands between them and their God. Until then all discussions about the cultural and physical will remain superficial and contained within the context of the masculine logic that currently exercises such supreme sovereignty over Islamic principles and its derivative laws.
In the following article, the author discusses the issues arising from the recent report in the Newsweek magazine on the disrespect shown to the Quran. While she acknowledges that there were flows and insensitivities on part of the press, she also criticizes Muslims for regarding the Quran as infallible and not questioning it's content. She also asserts that violence is not the appropriate response on the part of Muslims.
Do Riots Save Islam's Honor?
By Irshad Manji
Irshad Manji is author of "The Trouble With Islam Today," recently published in paperback by St. Martin's Press.
May 17, 2005
So Newsweek has retracted its report about the defiling of Islam's holy book, the Koran, by interrogators at Guantanamo Bay.
But it's too late. Muslims everywhere are questioning America's respect for all religions. Journalists are wondering what standards allowed the charge to be printed without proof. Foreign policy analysts are asking how the riots incited by the charge will affect the war on terrorism. Still, at least one more question needs to be asked: Even if the Koran was mistreated, are violent riots justified?
"What do you expect?" my critics will declare. "Abusing the Koran is like abusing basic human rights. If you're a good Muslim, your identity and dignity are bound up in revering the Koran. It's the literal word of God. Unsullied. Untouched. Unedited. Unlike the other holy books."
Sorry. That argument just doesn't wash. One can appreciate the Koran's inherent worth, as I do, while recognizing that it contains ambiguities, inconsistencies, outright contradictions — and the possibility of human editing. This is not simply a reform-minded Muslim speaking. This is Islamic tradition talking.
For centuries, philosophers of Islam have been telling the story of the "Satanic Verses." The Prophet Muhammad accepted them as authentic entries into the Koran. Later, he realized they deify heathen idols rather than God. So he belatedly rejected the verses, blaming them on a trick played by Satan. Which implies that the Prophet edited the Koran.
Let's push this point further. Because pious Muslims emulate Muhammad's life, those who compiled the Koran's verses after his death might have followed his example of editing along the way. The compilers were, after all, only human — as human as Muhammad himself.
Moreover, they collected the Koran's verses from sundry surfaces such as bones, stones and bark. How did the passages get there? According to Islamic lore, the Prophet, an illiterate trader, couldn't personally record them. His companions served as scribes, often writing from memory. Given so much human involvement, isn't it possible that errors infiltrated the "authoritative" Koran?
In asking this question, I'm neither impugning the allegorical wisdom of the Koran nor inviting another fatwa on my life. I'm saying that Muslims have to get comfortable asking such questions — and not merely whispering them — if we're going to avoid a further desecration of human life. Riots in Afghanistan have already resulted in at least 14 deaths. Aid workers have been attacked; their offices burned. How does this benefit the cause of dignity — for anyone?
Many will insist that I'm undermining the dignity of Muslims by challenging a pillar of their identity. By urging my fellow Muslims to consider these questions, I'm showing faith in their capacity to be thoughtful and humane. I'm appealing to their heads rather than only their hearts. Ultimately, I'm fighting not Islam but the routinely low expectations of those who practice it.
Contrast that with the strategy of Imran Khan, the Pakistani cricketer-turned-politician who rallied his countrymen to express rage based on one paragraph in Newsweek. A fierce rival of Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, Khan objects to cooperating with the U.S. on security matters. He knew his comments about Newsweek would feed the most reflexive of Muslim impulses: to treat the Koran with uncritical veneration.
Such lazy tactics remind me of those used to drive the Miss World Beauty Pageant out of Nigeria in 2002. That fiasco led to more than 50 deaths. It wasn't the affront of immodestly clad women that sparked the uproar. Rioting began only after a columnist suggested that the Prophet would have gotten a kick out of the pageant and taken its winner as his wife. An imprudent remark, but should it have caused banditry and murder?
When people believe that certain aspects of religion are off-limits to questions, it doesn't take much to incite violence — or to withhold forgiveness. In the Nigerian case, even though the offending newspaper apologized three times, Muslim protesters set its offices ablaze.
As I write, Muslims worldwide are scheduling demonstrations for the end of this month against those who insult Islam. They'll peacefully protest not just the possibility of the Koran's desecration at Guantanamo but the proven torture at Abu Ghraib as well as civil rights violations suffered by ordinary Muslims in the United States. They have every right to condemn these injuries.
Will they also speak out against the bloody, fiery riots that, in the name of honoring Islam, are killing an increasing number of Muslims and non-Muslims?
The folllowing comment is totally wrong in the above article"For centuries, philosophers of Islam have been telling the story of the "Satanic Verses." The Prophet Muhammad accepted them as authentic entries into the Koran. Later, he realized they deify heathen idols rather than God. So he belatedly rejected the verses, blaming them on a trick played by Satan. Which implies that the Prophet edited the Koran. "
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