Final statement issued by the International Islamic Conference held in Amman, Jordan titled: ‘True Islam and its Role in Modern Society'
In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful
Peace and Blessings be upon our master Muhammad and his Family
Sura 4 Aya 1 to 1
[Shakir 4:1] O people! be careful of (your duty to) your Lord, Who created you from a single being and created its mate of the same (kind) and spread from these two, many men and women; and be careful of (your duty to) Allah, by Whom you demand one of another (your rights), and (to) the ties of relationship; surely Allah ever watches over you.
Statement issued by the International Islamic Conference held in
Amman, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, under the title:
‘True Islam and its Role in Modern Society'
27-29 I Jumada 1426 H./4-6 Tammuz (July) 2005 C.E.
In accordance with the fatwas issued by the Honourable and Respectable Grand Imam Shaykh al-Azhar, the Grand Ayatollah Al-Sayyid Ali Al-Sistani, the Honourable and Respectable Grand Mufti of Egypt, the Honourable and Respectable Shi‘i clerics (both Ja‘fari and Zaydi), the Honourable and Respectable Grand Mufti of the Sultanate of Oman, the Islamic Fiqh Academy in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Grand Council for Religious Affairs of Turkey, the Honourable and Respectable Grand Mufti of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the Respectable Members of its National Fatwa Committee, and the Honourable and Respectable Shaykh Dr. Yusuf Al-Qaradawi;
And in accordance with what was mentioned in the speech of His Hashemite Majesty King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein, King of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan during the opening session of our conference;
And in accordance with our own knowledge in sincerity to Allah the Bounteous;
And in accordance with what was presented in this our conference by way of research papers and studies, and by way of the discussions that transpired in it;
We, the undersigned, hereby express our approval and affirmation of what appears below:
1) Whosoever is an adherent of one of the four Sunni Schools of Jurisprudence (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi‘i and Hanbali), the Ja‘fari (Shi‘i) School of Jurisprudence, the Zaydi School of Jurisprudence, the Ibadi School of Jurisprudence, or the Thahiri School of Jurisprudence is a Muslim. Declaring that person an apostate is impossible. Verily his (or her) blood, honour, and property are sacrosanct. Moreover, in accordance with what appeared in the fatwa of the Honourable and Respectable Shaykh al-Azhar, it is not possible to declare whosoever subscribes to the Ash‘ari creed or whoever practices true Sufism an apostate. Likewise, it is not possible to declare whosoever subscribes to true Salafi thought an apostate. Equally, it is not possible to declare as apostates any group of Muslims who believes in Allah the Mighty and Sublime and His Messenger (may Peace and Blessings be upon him) and the pillars of faith, and respects the pillars of Islam and does not deny any necessary article of religion.
2) There exists more in common between the various Schools of Jurisprudence than there is difference. The adherents to the eight Schools of Jurisprudence are in agreement as regards the basic Islamic principles. All believe in Allah the Mighty and Sublime, the One and the Unique; that the Noble Qur'an is the Revealed Word of Allah; and that our master Muhammad, may Blessings and Peace be upon him, is a Prophet and Messenger unto all mankind. All are in agreement about the five pillars of Islam: the two testaments of faith (shahadatayn), the ritual prayer (salat), almsgiving (zakat), fasting the month of Ramadan (sawm), and the Hajj to the Sacred House of Allah. All are also in agreement about the foundations of belief: belief in Allah, His Angels, His Scriptures, His Messengers, and in the Day of Judgement, in Divine providence — good and evil. Disagreement between the ‘ulama' is only with respect to the ancillary branches of religion (furu‘) and not the principles and fundamentals (usul). Disagreement with respect to the ancillary branches of religion (furu‘) is a mercy. Long ago it was said that variance in opinion among ‘ulama' “is a good affair”.
3) Acknowledgement of the Schools of Jurisprudence within Islam means adhering to a fundamental methodology in the issuance of fatwas. No one may issue a fatwa without the requisite personal qualifications which each School of Jurisprudence defines. No one may issue a fatwa without adhering to the methodology of the Schools of Jurisprudence. No one may claim to do absolute Ijtihad and create a new School of Jurisprudence or to issue unacceptable fatwas that take Muslims out of the principles and certainties of the Shari‘ah and what has been established in respect of its Schools of Jurisprudence.
4) The essence of the Amman Message, which was issued on the Blessed Night of Power in the year 1425 H. and which was read aloud in Masjid al-Hashimiyyin, is adherence to the Schools of Jurisprudence and their fundamental methodology. Acknowledging the Schools of Jurisprudence and affirming discussion and engagement between them ensures fairness, moderation, mutual forgiveness, compassion, and engaging in dialogue with others.
5) We call for casting aside disagreement between Muslims and unifying their words and stances; reaffirming their mutual respect for each other; fortifying mutual affinity among their peoples and states; strengthening the ties of brotherhood which unite them in the mutual love of Allah. And we call upon Muslims to not permit discord and outside interference between them.
Allah the Sublime says:
<> (Al-Hujurat, 49:10)
Praise be to Allah alone.
There is a suggestion that an appendix be added to the Final Statement of the Conference which includes the two following important recommendations:
- Participants in the International Islamic Conference, while meeting in Amman, the Capital of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, close to the Holy Aqsa Mosque and occupied Palestinian territories, underline the necessity of exerting all possible efforts for the protection of the Holy Aqsa Mosque against the dangers and encroachments it is exposed to. This can only be done through putting an end to occupation and through the liberation of holy places.
- Participants stress the necessity of consolidation of the meanings of liberty and respect of opinion and opinion of the other side (s) in our Muslim Worlds.
July 4, 2005
In the name of God, the most merciful, the compassionate
And praise be to God, Lord of all worlds; prayers and peace be upon our master, Muhammad, and on all his house and companions,
Honoured ladies and gentlemen,
Peace, God's mercy and blessings be upon you,
It is a real pleasure for me to welcome you at your meeting today in Amman, to discuss the different issues and challenges facing the Muslim Ummah (nation). You are most welcome, guests and scholars, for whom we hold respect and appreciation.
Over the ages, Islam has established a basis for better human relations between individuals, nations and peoples, irrespective of differences in religion, colour or gender, on the principles of tolerance and dialogue with others; this was meant for the good of mankind, everywhere, at all times. Yet today, the Ummah is defamed, abused and falsely accused when it comes to discussions of the Ummah's role in this age.
As a start, let us confess that we, Muslims, have not always fulfilled our obligations towards our religion and towards ourselves. Some Muslims, or those who promulgate “Islamic” slogans, have defamed Islam and Muslims, and harmed Muslims, intentionally or non-intentionally.
The divisions between the children of the Ummah, acts of violence and terrorism practiced by some groups and organizations, what is going on in Iraq, Pakistan and other Muslim countries in the form of accusations of apostasy and the killing of Muslims in the name of Islam, do not correspond to the principles and spirit of Islam, and Islam disavows them. Such practices generate turmoil and corruption on earth, because they give justification to non-Muslims to judge Islam according to acts that Islam disavows, and subsequently interfere in Muslims' affairs.
We find it incumbent on us as Muslims, whose hearts are filled with love for God and His Prophet, to be the first to face these unjust campaigns to which Islam is presently subjected, and to be the first to call on fellow Muslims to reject discord and to unite their words and their positions. Thus came the Amman Message which was launched by us in the holy month of Ramadan last year, from the Hashimiyyeen Mosque in Amman. Then we called for convening this conference in which representatives of the eight Muslim schools of thought (Madhahib) congregate from different countries to discuss the many issues and challenges to the Ummah and to specify fundamental basic solutions to overcome them.
The first, and most important of these challenges, is unifying the position of the adherents to the eight Islamic schools of thought: the four Sunni schools, the Ja`fari Shi`i school, the Ibadi school, the Zaydi school and the Thahiri school. We can begin by acknowledging that, in the practice of their faith, the adherents to each of these eight schools of jurisprudence are practicing true Islam, and that declaring any one of them an apostate is unacceptable. Disagreement among scholars (ulama) is a blessing. Let us follow the example of Imam al-Shafi`i's saying: our school of thought is right, but might be wrong, and other schools of thought are wrong, but might be right.
Great Muslim scholars and trusted Muslim authorities issued fatwas - which are familiar to you - affirming that this principle is right and acceptable, because the adherents to the eight schools of thought are in agreement on the fundamental principles of Islam: they all believe in God the Almighty and Sublime, the One and Unique, that the noble Qur'an is the word of God revealed, and that our master, Muhammad, peace be upon him, is a Prophet and Messenger unto all mankind. All agree on the five pillars of Islam: the two testaments of faith (shahadatayn), ritual prayer (salat), almsgiving (zakat), fasting the month of Ramadan (sawm), the pilgrimage (Hajj) to the Sacred House of God, and also on the foundations of belief: belief in God and His Angels, His Scriptures, His Messengers and the Day of Judgement, in divine providence - good and evil.
Disagreement between scholars is only with respect to some of the ancillary branches of religion (furu') which came into light after the death of our master, the Prophet, peace be upon him. These disagreements originated with matters pertaining to worldly and political affairs of the Caliphate. The fatwas of the prominent scholars of the Islamic Ummah also accepted as legitimate all forms of worship practiced by adherents to the eight Islamic schools of thought in accordance with their own Madhab, and the Grand Imam of al-Azhar's fatwa included that moderate Sufi thought is acceptable as long as it is based on the two testaments of faith that God is the One and Unique and that Muhammad is Allah's messenger, and as long as it adheres to the five pillars of Islam and the Holy Quran.
Acknowledgement of the schools of jurisprudence within Islam would permit the emergence of a fundamental methodology in the issuance of fatwas, and the definition of who is qualified for this undertaking. This, with God's will, would end the practice of defaming others as apostates and close the door on ignorant people who practice killing and terrorism - of which Islam is innocent - in the name of Islam.
You meet today with so many issues and challenges facing the Ummah on your agenda. You are, with God's guidance, qualified to deal with these issues and challenges, and to define Islam's position on each one of them. Primary among our obligations as Muslims is to present to the world the true essence of Islam - the religion of moderation, forgiveness, mercy and rational, scientific dialogue. Islam is not the religion of violence and terrorism, or prejudice and isolation. God Almighty says:
“Call unto the way of thy Lord with wisdom and fair exhortation, and reason with them in the better way. Lo! Thy lord is best aware of him who strayeth from His way, and He is best aware of those Who go aright” (al-Nahl: 125).
Islam provided us with rules to best protect human rights and to guard man's freedom and his human dignity, irrespective of his religion, gender or colour. God Almighty says:
“O mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. Lo! the noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct. Lo! Allah is knower, Aware” (al-Hujurat: 13).
Islam emphasized the need to respect the rights of minorities and non-Muslims who live within Muslim society. It established for us a clear methodology to honor relations, conventions and agreements between Muslims and other nations and peoples. God Almighty says:
“And keep the covenant. Lo! Of the covenant it will be asked” (al-Isra' :34).
Islam does not accept prejudice and isolation, but calls upon us to seek scholarship and knowledge. God Almighty says:
“Are those who know equal with those who know not” (al-Zumar:9)
It also calls us to be open to others, and to benefit from their experiences in all fields of life. God Almighty says:
“Ask the followers of the Remembrance if ye know not” (al-Nahl:43).
I am confident that you are aware of the challenges facing Muslims today, and of the malicious attack on Islam, through slander and misrepresentation, due to some Muslims' lack of understanding of the essence of their religion, and the ignorance of many non-Muslims of the nature and noble values of our religion.
From this arises the importance of your role, and the responsibility you shoulder in unifying the Islamic Ummah, with all its schools of jurisprudence, and presenting the truth about our faith and its great message.
May God, the Almighty and Sublime, grant all of us success in serving our religion and our Ummah, and unifying the Islamic nation.
The following article comments on the Amman Islamic Conference. Highlighted in bold are interesting remarks that allude to the fact that there has not been the spirit of pluralism since the time of the Fatimids in the Muslim Umma.
Jul 28th 2005
From The Economist print edition
The men of learning against the men of violence
OVER the few days before the attack on London of July 7th, something historic was happening in the world of Muslim theology. After some careful deliberations in the air-conditioned comfort of a hotel in Jordan's capital, Amman, the world's leading Muslim scholars—over 170 of them from 35-odd countries—made a series of pronouncements designed to affirm their own authority, soften differences and deal a blow to advocates of terror.
The things these august gentlemen decided on may sound arcane to non-Muslims. But for the hosts, including Jordan's King Abdullah, the agreement was an encouraging first success in what will have to be a long ideological war against readings of Islam that lend support to violence.
In several ways, the muftis and professors agreed to minimise their own (previously sharp) differences and work together to promote what they regard as "good theology" over some superficial, violence-promoting interpretations of Islam that have circulated, electronically and in print, all over the world. Among the scholars' main conclusions is that nobody who accepts Islam's basic beliefs should be denied the label of Muslim. A statement of the obvious? Far from it, because a hallmark of virtually all the shrillest voices in Islam is that they reject the Muslim credentials of anybody who disagrees with them. As an example of a Muslim thinker who rejects anybody less extreme than himself as an apostate, many would cite Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian who is one of the leaders of al-Qaeda.
Equally important, the scholars announced a sort of "mutual recognition" agreement between Islam's eight main schools of legal interpretation: four Sunni ones, the two main Shia traditions, the Ibadis of Oman and the small but prestigious Zahiri school. While these schools' leaders will never concur on everything, they recognised each other's authority in their respective communities—and resolved to deny authority to anybody who purports to be a scholar but lacks the training.
At least in theory, this implies a degree of mutual respect between rival versions of Islam that has not been seen since the Fatimid empire a millennium ago. More practically, the pronouncement should act as a restraining influence in Iraq, by denying Sunni Muslims any right to attack their Shia compatriots as heretics.
As an instance of bad theology being used to ignoble ends, many scholars cite the notorious fatwa, or religious ruling, issued in 1998 by Osama bin Laden and his comrades from Egypt, Pakistan and Bangladesh. It cited some of the gorier lines from the Koran—"slay the pagans wherever you find them, seize them, beleaguer them, lie in wait for them with every stratagem"—to justify attacks on "Crusaders" (ie, westerners) and Jews. More traditional readings of the Koran would argue that these lines refer to a specific situation—when the Prophet and his companions faced a surprise attack from adversaries who had torn up a treaty—while the more emollient passages of the Koran, urging tolerance, state a more general rule. The precise meaning of the Koran's so-called "sword verses" is hard to discern. But moderate scholars make a plausible case when they argue that only well-grounded theology can cure the effects of the bad, extremist kind.
Still, how much will the Amman decisions resonate with ordinary believers in the so-called Arab street, where many may still be more impressed by al-Qaeda's spectacular actions than the careful thoughts of the greybeards? A lot, insists Abdallah Schleifer of Cairo's American University. "The ordinary Egyptian is troubled by the sight of Sunni Muslim fighting Shia Muslim in Iraq, and this will help to clarify his thinking," he says. "It will also be a blow against the bad effects of store-front religion—extremism spread by ignorant, self-appointed preachers."
Contrary to widely held view, Saudi Arabia is not a rigorously held monolithic Wahhabi brand of Islam. As the following article illustrates, there are diverse cultural and religious undercurrents trying to assert themselves and even rebelling against the Saudi regime. It appears that it will not be too long for the system to crack – an optimistic sign for the cause of pluralism in the Muslim Umma.
August 17, 2005
A Glimpse of Forces Confronting Saudi Rule
By WILLIAM GRIMES
Western reporting on Saudi Arabia has been in attack mode ever since Sept. 11. Not since the Borgias has a ruling family received such bad press as the House of Saud, and the United States-Saudi connection is probably the one that Americans would most like to sever, if it could be done without raising gasoline prices.
In "Saudi Arabia Exposed," John R. Bradley, a British journalist who spent two and a half years as a newspaper editor and reporter in Saudi Arabia, will not make Americans feel any better about the Saudi royals, whom he calls "perhaps the most corrupt family the world has ever known." But he does provide a highly informed, temperate and understanding account of a country that, he maintains, is an enigma to other Arabs, and even to the Saudis themselves.
The book's accusatory tabloid title does not reflect its tone. "Inside Saudi Arabia" might have been better. Mr. Bradley, although based in Jedda, traveled far and wide throughout the country in an effort to map the regional tensions and cultural distinctions that make Saudi Arabia much more diverse and complicated than the smooth propaganda of its government would allow.
The House of Saud and the religious establishment, fired by the puritanical form of Islam known as Wahhabism , hold sway in the central region, al-Najd; elsewhere rifts and tensions abound. Mr. Bradley's heart is in the Hijaz, and the lingering cosmopolitanism of Jeddah, whose great merchant families tend to take a much more worldly view of politics and religion, including (with one notable exception) the bin Ladens. When the Saudi religious police objected to the use of a plus sign instead of an ampersand in a company's name because it resembled a Christian cross, a writer for the region's main newspaper, Al-Medina, suggested that perhaps the symbol should be replaced with a "tasteful Islamic crescent" in the country's math books.
In the 1920's and 1930's, Ibn Saud created a unified state from the disparate tribes of present-day Saudi Arabia by force, imposing a brand of Islam that, in many areas of the country, is regarded as alien. In Asir, on the border with Yemen in southeastern Saudi Arabia, Wahabbism has been accepted only reluctantly. Mr. Bradley sees women driving pick-up trucks, and in the remote hills he encounters a strange sect known as the flower men, who wear garlands of flowers and herbs and douse themselves in perfume.
In the southwest, Shiites, who constitute a majority, chafe under religious oppression and an official policy intended to convert them to Wahabbism. One official put the matter starkly: "We don't eat their food, we don't intermarry with them, we should not pray for their dead or allow them to be buried in our cemeteries." In April 2000, armed Shiites in Najran rose up against Saudi security forces, and their co-religionists in the Eastern Province, site of huge oil reserves, are also restive.
Saudi Arabia's young people make up another worrying constituency. Mr. Bradley strolls the malls and sits in secluded bedrooms with many disaffected Saudis. Those who travel to the West seem to bring back little more than a degree and a pile of consumer goods. Those who do not travel sit and fester. Waited on hand and foot, they watch satellite television or, using illegal computer cards to bypass the censors, log on to X-rated chat rooms on the Internet. Parents, Mr. Bradley writes, have delegated traditional responsibilities to a despised class of mostly Asian drivers, servants and nannies. As never before, young Saudis have been left to their own devices and easily fall prey to jihadist recruiters.
It comes as a shock to find that Saudi Arabia has something like a gay scene and a nascent feminist movement. In severely repressing all forms of interaction between men and women, the country leaves a large social space open to men, who are free to pursue relations with one another. "I don't feel oppressed at all," one gay man tells the author. "We have more freedom here than straight couples. After all, they can't kiss in public like we can, or stroll down the street holding one another's hands."
Half inch by half inch, the government has been opening the professions to women, who can now obtain commercial licenses and who now account for more than half of the kingdom's university graduates. Since liberal arguments have failed to move the clerical establishment, a new wave of Saudi women have turned to Islam, and Muhammad's earliest teachings, to develop legal ideas that are, so to speak, more fundamental than Wahabbi fundamentalism.
Mr. Bradley tends to leap at the merest glimmer of light. His liberals and reformers, however attractive, hold very weak cards, and the regime has shown itself extraordinarily resistant to change. But modern communications, and the government's grudging baby steps toward democratic reform, he argues, may be the first cracks that, spreading inexorably, could bring down the House of Saud.
Saudis and their tribal leaders have been changed by the oil money that bought their loyalty in the 1970's. Expectations have risen, as well as disillusionment that so few benefited from oil revenues. The war in Iraq, Mr. Bradley argues, "will come back to haunt the Al-Saud." Already, home-grown terrorists have adopted the insurgent tactics being used in Iraq, and battle-hardened Saudi volunteers will eventually return home. Prince Turki bin Khalid, a member of the ruling family, recently bought two apartments in the Time-Warner Center on Columbus Circle in Manhattan for a reported $8.1 million. One is for friends; the other he plans to keep empty. Mr. Bradley has a strong suspicion that he may need it.
The following is an interesting article about how the Muslim youth are overcoming some of the barriers which divide Muslims. Perhaps they could serve as role models for other Muslims and a bridge between Islamic world and the West.
Islam: A New Welcoming Spirit in the Mosque
A younger generation finds its shared faith is erasing the old boundaries that separated their immigrant parents.
By Lorraine Ali
Aug. 29 - Sept. 5, 2005 issue - When the youth group at southern California's Mission Viejo Masjid met recently, the scene looked like a public-service announcement for racial tolerance. The Sudanese imam sat next to a Palestinian-American student, who sat next to a female Anglo convert, who sat next to a son of Pakistani immigrants, who ... well, you get the idea.
But this isn't a clever ad; it's mosque life on any given weekend in Orange County and cities across America. "You are finding a new kind of climate in a lot of Muslim communities," says Naim Shah Jr., a Los Angeles Muslim raised in the Nation of Islam who's now an orthodox Sunni. He is assistant to the imam at the mostly African-American Masjid Ibaadillah in the city's Crenshaw district. "I just got a call from a largely immigrant [Muslim] group who wanted to organize a camp together on Labor Day weekend," Shah says. "We never got those calls five years ago. I attribute a lot of that to the young people; they are knocking down old and unnecessary boundaries."
Children of immigrants are the fastest-growing group among the nation's estimated7 million Muslims, and they're changing the face of Islam in this country by combining their faith with the American tradition of diversity. In Orange County, youth-group members have similar stories: their strong ties with Islam really started in college, when they bonded with a mixed group of Muslims. This scenario was unthinkable even 15 years ago for immigrants who stuck with their own for support and for African-American Muslims who were still working through the racial exclusivity of the Nation of Islam. Those divisions mean little to the twentysomethings in Orange County. "It's all about Muslim identity now," says Haider Javed, 25, the center's youth coordinator. He wears jeans and a skullcap and seems to know everyone in the giant building. "You're searching for yourself," Javed says. "I'm not an American kid who goes out and drinks. I'm not entirely Pakistani either. But I am thoroughly Muslim. I feel comfortable at the Islamic center, like this is where I actually belong."
During a discussion between prayers, Javed's peers agree that stripping away cultural baggage from their parents' home countries (such as customs limiting women's rights and racial dictates) is the only way to practice a purer Islam. Amber Atwat, 28, is one of many converts who showed up at the Islamic center that day with her husband and 15-month-old son. Raised Southern Baptist in Tennessee, she found peace in Islam three years ago after a hard life that included an abusive husband and the death of her infant daughter. "In our church, I saw all whites," she recalls. "Then there was the black Baptist church down the road. Even though they taught the same thing, we did not mix. But in the mosque, there is no one identity. I love that."
Posted: Mon Aug 22, 2005 3:34 pm Post subject: Wahhabis have taken over....
Maybe that's what's happening in Orange County, Ca, but not in the rest of the USA. Where I live (northern VA, metro DC) if you're not Wahhabi you're not considered a Muslim. The Saudis have taken over all the mosques.
Even my Palestinian friends who wear hijab won't go to the mosques because they don't want to be told they'll go to hell for this or that.
The JK here is in a crummy office building, no sign, no flag.
Posted: Tue Aug 23, 2005 7:15 am Post subject: Re: Wahhabis have taken over....
Maybe that's what's happening in Orange County, Ca, but not in the rest of the USA. Where I live (northern VA, metro DC) if you're not Wahhabi you're not considered a Muslim. The Saudis have taken over all the mosques.
Even my Palestinian friends who wear hijab won't go to the mosques because they don't want to be told they'll go to hell for this or that.
The JK here is in a crummy office building, no sign, no flag.
It's just shameful.
What's shameful? JK in a crummy office bldg or your hijab wearing friend not visiting a mosque? .... you forgot to clarify dear.
One in every five people worldwide is a Muslim, some 1.3 billion believers. Islam is the world's fastest growing religion and it has spread across the globe.
Muslims everywhere agree on the Shahadah, the profession of faith: "There is no God but Allah; Mohammed is the prophet of Allah." But Islam is far from homogenous”the faith reflects the increasingly diverse areas in which it is practiced.
"Islam is a world religion," said Ali Asani, a Harvard professor of Indo-Muslim Languages and Culture. "If you think about doctrine and theology, when these sets of religious ideas and concepts are transferred to different parts of the world ”and Muslims live in many cultures and speak many different languages ”the expressions of those doctrines and theology will necessarily be influenced by local culture."
Other easily grasped regional distinctions have their origins at the level of language. While Arabic is Islam's liturgical language, used for prayer, most Muslim's understanding of their faith occurs in their local language.
"Languages are really windows into culture," Asani explains. "So very often what you find is that theological Islamic concepts get translated into local idioms."
Asani sees Islamic diversity as a multi-sided issue of doctrinal and cultural diversity. "It's a very complex group of factors that influence and determine how the religion is practiced and understood in a particular region or part of the world," he said.
Some Islamic fundamentalists might frown upon the diversity caused by local characteristics, but such are the predominant forms of Islam.
"Rather than discussing Islam, we might more accurately talk about 'Islams' in different cultural contexts," Asani said. "We have Muslim literature from China, for example, where Islamic concepts are understood within a Confucian framework."
In the region of Bengal, now part of the nation of Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal, a popular literary tradition created a context for the arrival of Islam. The concept of the avatar is important to the Hindu tradition, in which these deities become incarnate and descend to Earth to guide the righteous and fight evil.
"What you find in 16th century Bengal is the development of what you might call 'folk literature' where the Islamic idea of the prophet becomes understood within the framework of the avatar," Asani said. "So you have bridges being built between religious traditions as concepts resonate against each other."
This example is quite different from conditions in pre-Islam Arabia, at the time of Mohammed, where the poet held a special place in society.
"If you consider the Koran, the word means 'recitation' in Arabic, and it's primarily an oral scripture, intended to be recited aloud and heard; to be performed," Asani said. "Viewed from a literary perspective, its form and structure relate very well to the poetic traditions of pre-Islamic Arabia. It's an example where the format of revelation was determined by the culture. In pre-Islamic Arabia the poet was often considered to be inspired in his poetic compositions by jinn from another world. So when the Prophet Muhammed began receiving revelations which were eventually compiled into the Koran, he was accused of being a poet, to which he responded 'I'm not a poet but a prophet.'"
John Voll, Professor of Islamic History at Georgetown, notes that characteristic social structures and expressions of Islam are common in other nations from Nigeria, with over 65 million Muslims, to Indonesia with over 200 million. "This kind of distinctive locally colored Islam has been the more characteristic foundation," he said, "and the more puritanical Muslims have to cope with the fact that the baseline is really more accommodationist. This is what's involved in Indonesia."
Islam came to Indonesia with merchants who were not theologians but simply practicing Muslims who people looked to as an example. There were also Sufi teachers who were quite willing to create devotional exercises that fit the way people in Sumatra or Java already practiced their faith.
The two largest Muslim groups in Indonesia today, and perhaps in the world, are Muhammadyya and Nahdlatul Ulama. Each of them has over 30 million members, and each began as local reform movement rooted in the promotion of a more modern education within the framework of Islam.
"The more fanatical puritans have to cope with the fact that those two groups are basically the baseline for education," Voll said. "A lot of attention is given to Indonesia's militant, puritanical groups like Jemaah Islamiah, but when you look at membership you're looking at maybe 10,000 people."
The Muslim Minority
A large number of Muslims, of course, don't live in Islamic nations at all but as minorities in other countries. The emergence of some minority Muslim communities has been an interesting and important development of the last 25 to 30 years.
Some relatively small communities can have a large impact. The European Muslim populations, for example, have a high component of refugee intellectuals. They've had an effect on their adopted countries, and also on the rest of the Islamic world.
"Consider the guest workers in Germany who come primarily from Turkey," Voll said. "You had a reasonably large Muslim community outside of Turkey, and part of the development of an Islamic political orientation in Turkey was that the Turks in Germany were free to write and publish things that would have been illegal in Turkeyâ€”and ship them back."
In South Africa the Muslim community is less than three percent of the populationâ€”but it's highly visible and highly educated. In the days of apartheid they had the advantage of being an intermediary, a community that was neither black nor white. By the 1980s the younger Muslim leadership became very opposed to apartheid on Islamic grounds and on basic human rights grounds. Muslims became quite active in the African National Congress (ANC). Though they were only a small minority when apartheid was destroyed, a number of Muslims became quite visible in the new South African regimeâ€”and throughout the larger Muslim world.
Encompassing both Islamic states and minority communities, Islam is the world's fastest growing religion and an increasingly common topic of global conversation. Yet much of the discourse paints the faith with a single brush. As more people become familiar with Islam around the world it may be well for them to first ask, as Professor Asani suggests: "Whose Islam? Which Islam?"
One of the chapters on my book The Seven phases Of Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH) Life is titled “The Pluralistic Leader.” The title of pluralistic leader I believe is appropriate because of his conduct when he took over the administration of the city of Yathrib.
Yathrib (later called Madinat an-Nabi, the city of the Prophet, and for short, al-Madinah) was an old city, the second largest in Arabia. Its population consisted mostly of two large Arab tribes and three Jewish tribes who lived in small forts around the city. The two Arab tribes are later remembered in Muslim history as the "Ansars" (helpers), were the Aws and Khazraj. The political fortunes of the two Arab tribes and the three Jewish tribes of Madinah waxed and waned. Sometimes they were allies, but mostly there was hostility. The Aws and Khazraj had been weakened by internecine warfare, leaving the Jewish tribes as the ascendant group.
During the Hajj pilgrimage, which is a pre-Islamic ritual, Muhammad r used to go to the various tribal groups who were visiting Makkah and personally convey the message of the new religion Islam to them. This practice brought him in touch with the Madinan tribes of Aws and Khazraj. Because of their contact with Judaism, the Madinan Arabs were conversant with the concept of monotheism. Additionally since the Jewish tribes held messianic expectations, the concept of a new Prophet was not alien either. The Madinan Arabs were impressed by Prophet Muhammad's r personality and message. They may have thought that he was the Messiah the Jews of Madinah often talked about. In the tradition of the times they wanted him to administer the strife torn city-state of Madinah as an outside person with wisdom and no vested interest in the local dispute. They also wanted this potential Messiah to be part of their group and not the rival Jewish tribes.
The Madinan tribes invited Prophet Muhammad r to migrate and administer the city. Muhammad r accepted the Madinan invitation. Upon arrival in Madinah he set about getting all parties together to sign a covenant, arguably the first of it's kind in history, which would set standards for pluralism, tolerance and cooperation between various religious and ethnic communities.
The Covenant (Constitution) of Madinah
This covenant set out many of the principles essential to the peaceful functioning of a pluralistic society. It gave equality to all its citizens and accepted the coexistence of different religions in the community. All religious, ethnic and tribal groups had equal protection, rights and dignity. Muhammad's r inspiration for this pluralistic model was the Qur'an (Koran), which makes it incumbent upon Muslims to accept and respect all the previous messengers without distinction and respect their communities.
The Apostle believeth in what had been revealed to him from his Lord, As do men of faith. Each one of them believeth in God, His angels, His books and His Apostles. “We make no distinction between any of the Apostles” (Qur'an 2:285).
“Say, We believe in Allah (God) and that which has been sent down to us And that which was send down to Ibrahim (Abraham), Isma'il (Ishmael), Ishaq (Isaac), Ya'qub (Jacob) and his progeny. And that which was given to the Prophets from their Lord. And we make no distinction between any of them And to Him we are resigned.” (Qur'an 2:136).
In the Covenant the city of Madinah was to be a sanctuary for all signatories. Loyalty to the constitution was encouraged. The phrase "loyalty is a protection against treachery" appears many times in the text of the covenant. The concept of religious pluralism emphasized in the Covenant differs substantially from tolerance alone. Pluralism presupposes equality amongst various groups, rather than one elite group merely tolerating another inferior group out of charity. The Covenant of Madinah allowed for coexistence of different religious communities that would live by their own beliefs, judge themselves by their own laws, and help each other against any outside threat.
Religious Pluralism In The Qur'an
The Qur'an is quite explicit in promoting pluralism and condemning its anti-thesis “particularism” (a theological belief that only an elect few who follow a particular faith are eligible for redemption). The Qur'an states on more than one occasion that if the “people of the book”, Jews, Christians and Sabeans (a religious group whose identity is obscured by history) lived by their tenets they would have their just reward.
“Verily they who believe and they who are Jews, Christians, and Sabeans Whoever believes in God and the Last Day, and does that which is right shall have their reward with their Lord. Fear shall not come upon them and neither shall they grieve. (Qur'an 2:62)
Qur'an Supports Ethnic Diversity And Tolerance
“O humankind God has created you male and female and made you into diverse nations and tribes so that you may come to know each other. Verily the most honored among you is he who is the most righteous.” (49.13)
In other verses the Qur'an appears to be implying that diversity is part of divine intent and purpose of creation:
“To each of you God has prescribed a law (shiratun) and a way (minhaj). If God had willed he would have made you a single people. But God's purpose is to test you in what he has given each of you. So strive in the pursuit of virtue. And know that you will all return to God and He will resolve all matters in which you disagree. (Qur'an 5.4
“If thy Lord had willed He would have made humankind into a single nation. But the differences will continue among them even then.” (Qur'an 11.118)
Tolerance And Pluralism In Muslim Societies
Historically a sense of tolerance was prevalent in Muslim societies. Both the second Caliph of Islam Umar and the well-known and highly admired warrior Salahuddin (Saladin) on arrival in Jerusalem signed contracts with the local Christian groups to allow for personal protection, as well as protection of their places of worship. Both invited extant Jewish communities to resettle in the city of Jerusalem. Jews thrived religiously, intellectually and culturally in Muslim Spain. Christian communities survived and even thrived in many Arab countries and the Balkans. Coerced conversion to Islam was a taboo in these societies. The Qur'an is explicit in prohibiting coerced conversion to Islam:
“There is no compulsion in matters of faith.” (Qur'an 2.256, 10.99, 18.29)
Amongst modern Muslim majority states pluralism is the norm in some like Malaysia and Indonesia. In other states not only pluralism but also tolerance of heterodoxic groups within Muslims like Shias and Sufis is non-existent.
Islamic ideology is fundamentally pluralistic.
Prophet Muhammad's r example in setting up a pluralistic state in Madinah “The constitution of Madinah”, needs to be studied, analyzed and emulated.
Pluralism is essential for the health of all societies, even those that have a single predominant religion (intra-religious pluralism.)
Pluralism is as essential for the moral health of the majority as it is for the protection of the minorities.
Pluralism is a cure for stereotyping, racism and violence.
Pluralism in the US is a relatively new phenomenon and needs much improvement. For example US educational system and analysis of history as well as current problems suffers from a largely Euro-centric bias.
Minorities, especially dispersed religious minorities in the US and elsewhere, suffer most from insensitivity of the majority community to pluralism. These minorities need creative tools to make their voices heard in the public square.
All of us may learn from the life and writings of a religious leader like Paulos Mar Gregorios who not only preached but also practiced pluralism in this century.
Faith based communities can play a significant role and should take the lead in promoting pluralism.
Here are views of Some Muslim Tv Actors of India on Issue of Sania Mirza.
Begin to imagine Sania Mirza in a long skirt or probably a loose fitting salwar kameez while she serves her powerful forehand.
The reason for this wild mind's eye? Err…nothing much, just a strong worded request from a portion of a religious community that wants to see rising tennis star suitably attired when she steps on to the court.
Riya Anandwala spoke to a few TV stars to find out what they think, if they have heard of the ruckus around the issue.
Definitely, one has to be in one's limits. But on the other hand, Sania or anyone for that matter, can't really wear a long flowing skirt and get on court. As long as it isn't affecting her performance, there's no harm. And don't forget, she is doing our country proud!
"As long as it isn't affecting her performance, there's no harm!"
Yes, in our community wearing such clothes and showing off one's body is not permissible. But considering the fact that she's representing India, I don't think there's anything wrong. She's not walking the ramp in skimpy clothes, is she? Personally, I don't think anyone should oppose her.
She is just doing her job. If guys can wear shorts, what's the harm in girls opting for short skirts? There are a group of fanatics in every religion, unfortunately more in Muslims, but I don't think that anyone should bother about that. If we leave the religion aside, our life would be so beautiful.
"If guys can wear shorts, what's the harm in girls opting for short skirts?"
I have not been in touch with the broadsheets as I am preoccupied with my work. I personally don't have any reservations. It's her life, and she is free to do whatever she wants. There are many who do things according to their convenience. She might believe in somethings and not in some, so it all depends upon her belief!
As an Indian, and as a person, I feel it's stupid to take objection to a tennis player's attire. While playing tennis, there are certain things which are supposed to be kept in mind, like freedom of movement. One cannot expect her to wear a long skirt and go on with the game. Even as a Muslim, I feel that there is nothing wrong, as long as she is doing our country proud. The Quran definitely condemns Muslim girls from wearing revealing clothes but nowhere is there anything about tennis!
by Faiza Saleh Ambah ("Washington Post," May 2, 2006)
Jiddah, Saudi Arabia - A hush came over the crowd as the young man
sitting cross-legged on the floor picked up the microphone and sang, a
cappella, a poem about Islam's prophet Muhammad. His eyes shut tight,
his head covered by an orange-and-white turban, he crooned with barely
contained ardor of how the world rejoiced and lights filled the skies
the day the prophet was born.
The men attending the mawlid -- a celebration of the birth and life of
Muhammad -- sat on colorful rugs, rocking gently back and forth, while
the women, on the upper floor watching via a large projection screen,
passed around boxes of tissues and wiped tears from their eyes.
The centuries-old mawlid, a mainstay of the more spiritual and often
mystic Sufi Islam, was until recently viewed as heretical and banned by
Saudi Arabia's official religious establishment, the ultraconservative
Wahhabis. But a new atmosphere of increased religious tolerance has
spurred a resurgence of Sufism and brought the once-underground Sufis
and their rituals out in the open.
Analysts and some Sufis partly credit reaction to the Sept. 11, 2001,
attacks in the United States for the atmosphere that has made the
changes possible. When it was discovered that 15 of the 19 hijackers
were Saudi, the kingdom's strict Wahhabi doctrine -- which had banned
all other sects and schools of thought -- came under intense scrutiny
from inside and outside the country. The newfound tolerance Sufis have
come to enjoy is perhaps one of the most concrete outcomes of that
"This is one of the blessings of September 11. It put the brakes on the
[Wahhabi] practice of takfir , excommunicating everyone who didn't
exactly follow their creed," said Sayed Habib Adnan, a 33-year-old Sufi
teacher. The government "realized that maybe enforcing one religious
belief over all others was not such a good idea."
When Adnan moved to Saudi Arabia from his native Yemen four years ago,
Sufi gatherings were often clandestine, sometimes held in orchards
outside the city, or in basements and without microphones, for fear of
drawing attention. "I couldn't wear this," he said, pointing to his
turban. "Or this," he said, pulling at his white cotton overcoat. "Or I
would be branded a Sufi. You couldn't even say the word 'Sufi.' It was
something underground, dangerous, like talking about drugs."
Sufis here say they are not a separate sect or followers of a separate
religion, but adherents to a way of life based on the Muslim concept of
ihsan . Muhammad explained ihsan to the angel Gabriel as "worshiping
as if you see Him. Because if you don't see Him, He sees you." Another
Sufi characteristic is a strong belief in the power of blessings from
the prophet, his close relatives and his companions.
Sufism had previously been predominant in Hejaz, the western region of
Saudi Arabia, which includes Muhammad's birthplace, Mecca; Medina,
he is buried; and the Red Sea port city of Jiddah. Muslims prayed often
at shrines where the prophet's daughter Fatima, his wife Khadija and
companions were buried. Mawlids were public affairs with entire cities
decked out in lights, and parades and festivities commemorating the
prophet's birthday and his ascension to Jerusalem.
When the al-Saud family that would later come to rule Saudi Arabia took
over Hejaz in the 1920s, the Wahhabis banned mawlids as a form of
and destroyed the historic shrines of Khadija, Fatima and the prophet's
companions, fearing they would lead to idolatry and polytheism.
Wahhabis, crucial allies in the Saud conquest of the disparate regions
that became Saudi Arabia in 1932, were awarded control of religious
Discrimination against Sufis, among others, intensified after armed
Wahhabi extremists took over Mecca's Grand Mosque in 1979, demanding
that a more puritanical form of Islam be applied in the country. Though
the government quelled the uprising and executed its leaders,
authorities were shaken by the incident, and lest other Wahhabis defy
them, they allowed them more rein.
Soon after, extremist clerics issued a religious edict, or fatwa,
declaring Sufi's spiritual leader, Muhammad Alawi Malki, a nonbeliever.
He was removed from his teaching position, banned from giving lessons
the Grand Mosque, where both his father and grandfather had taught, and
interrogated by the religious police and the Interior Ministry. After
Malki was later attacked by a throng of radicals incensed at his
presence in the mosque, he could pray there only under armed guard.
Meanwhile, thousands of cassettes and booklets circulated calling Sufis
"grave-lovers" and dangerous infidels who had to be stopped before they
made a comeback. Their salons were raided, and those caught with Sufi
literature were often arrested or jailed.
The tide finally turned in 2003, with the new atmosphere that took hold
following the Sept. 11 attacks, when the future King Abdullah, then the
crown prince, held a series of meetings to acknowledge the country's
diverse sects and schools of thought. One of the guests was Sufi leader
Malki. When he died the following year, Abdullah and the powerful
defense and interior ministers attended his funeral. The rehabilitation
of his legacy was almost complete.
"We were then upgraded from infidels, to people who are ignorant and
practicing their religion wrong," said Wasif Kabli, a 59-year-old
But many Sufis complain that despite outward appearances, Wahhabis
continue to destroy shrines in and around their holy places, their
salons continue to be raided and their literature is still banned.
Wahhabis and Sufis view Islam from opposite directions. To Wahhabis,
emerged from the kingdom's stark, harsh desert, a believer's
relationship can be only directly with God. To them, Sufis'
of the prophet's life smack of idolatry, and supplications to him, his
relatives and companions appear to replace or bypass the link with God.
Sufis answer that the prophet celebrated his own birthday by fasting on
Mondays, that he himself offered to intervene with God on behalf of
Muslims and that he could often be found in the evenings at the grave
sites of his wives and companions.
Last month, on the occasion of the prophet's birthday, a crowd of more
than 1,000 gathered to celebrate at a private residence. Sufi books,
cassettes and DVDs were selling out in one corner of the large garden
where the event was held. Adnan, the Sufi teacher, was one of four
speakers who addressed the crowd. He asked: Why are we Sufis always on
the defensive? "Nobody asks [soccer] fans for religious proof that
sanctifies their gatherings at the stadium because of their devotion to
their team," he said. "How come we are always asked for an explanation
of our devotion to our beloved prophet?"
Muhammad Jastaniya, a 20-year-old economics major and part of a new
of young Saudis who have embraced Sufism, said what drew him was the
focus on God.
On a recent moonlit evening, Jastaniya sipped sugary mint tea with his
friends on rugs spread on the rooftop of a Zawiya, or lodge where Sufis
go to meditate, chant or sit in on lessons. The words 'God' and
'Muhammad' were written in green neon lights, and Islam's 99 names for
God were stenciled in black paint around the wall. "To be a Sufi is to
clear your heart of everything but God," he explained. "The Islam we
were taught here is like a body without a soul. Sufism is the soul.
not an alternative religion -- it can contain all Muslims."
That thought seems to be taking hold, even in faraway corners.
Salman al-Odah, the country's most popular puritanical cleric, who was
jailed in the 1990s for opposing the presence of U.S. troops in the
kingdom, accepted an invitation to visit Sufi cleric Abdallah Fadaaq's
mawlid and lesson last week. The scene at Fadaaq's house was an obvious
sign of conciliation.
Al-Odah sat with his hands neatly folded in his lap, wearing a
red-and-white checkered headdress and clear wraparound glasses and
sporting the short scraggly beard that indicates a conservative.
who at 39 is emerging as the new symbol of Hejazi Sufism, wore the
turban, the white overcoat and shawl typical of Sufis, wooden prayer
beads resting on his lap. "It's true that there are differences between
the way people practice their faith in this country, and this is an
indication that people are using their minds and thinking, which is a
good thing," Fadaaq said. "But what we should concentrate on are the
expanses that bring us together, like the prophet. We must take
advantage of what we have in common."
Much of the anger and criticism sparked by President Hosni Mubarak's recent statements on Arab Shia was the result of them being taken out of context and misinterpreted. In the interests of restoring calm and objectivity, I believe it would be useful to set those statements and their regretful effects to the side for a moment and take a look at how Egypt really stands towards Shia Islam and its adherents.
Egypt is a Sunni country but with strong Shia leanings. It is the country that gave refuge to the descendants of the Prophet Mohamed in the first century AH and continues to venerate them today. Its venerable Al-Azhar University is one of the few Sunni academic institutions to teach Shia Jaafari jurisprudence alongside the four schools of Sunni jurisprudence. This is of no small import given the historical and symbolic significance of Al-Azhar. In addition, Egypt was the first officially Shia state which, founded in the mid-10th century AH, did more than its predecessors to shape the traditions and values of Egyptian society.
Many are unaware that the conversion of Egyptian society to Islam did not take place overnight. Indeed, Egypt remained predominantly Christian (Coptic) for a full two centuries after the Islamic conquest and it was only with the arrival of the Shia Fatimids and the founding of their new capital in Cairo -- Al-Qahira, "The Victorious" -- that the ratio shifted in the other direction. So intent were some Fatimid rulers upon collecting taxes and the heavier jizya, or head tax, from non-Muslims that huge sectors of the non- Muslim populace converted to Islam as a means of reducing the financial burden.
Nor should we forget that the Fatimids established Al-Azhar as a bastion of Shia jurisprudence and a theological centre in general. Fatimid rulers were open, however, to other religious influences and drew heavily on the expertise of non-Muslims, both Christian and Jewish. This was the state, after all, in which the Jewish Maimonides rose to power as vizier. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that this was the epoch to which we can date the homogenisation of Egyptian society and therefore, also, many characteristics of Egyptian religious rites: fervent veneration for the descendants of Ali Ibn Abu Taleb expelled by the Ummayid rulers, worship at a plethora of sacred tombs and pilgrimage destinations, moulid celebrations commemorating the anniversaries of Muslim holy men and women, and any number of daily religious rituals. This was also the era in which Egypt became fully culturalised as an Arabic speaking society, for it was around this time that the churches adopted Arabic alongside Coptic as a liturgical language.
Concrete testimony to the enduring influence of Shia Islam on Egyptian society is to be found in the "saints'" tombs dating from the Fatimid era. The widely venerated Sidi Abul-Hassan Al-Shazli, Al-Sayed Badawi, Al-Mursi Abul-Abbas and Ibrahim Al-Dessouqi all hailed from Fatimid North Africa. In fact, on the outskirts of Damanhour -- the city I have the honour of representing in parliament -- you will find the tomb of Abu Hasira. We had originally thought that this was the tomb of a Muslim holy man. It turns out, however, that it is of a Jewish holy man and, hence, a source of some intermittent difficulties in Egyptian-Israeli relations because of the desire of some Israelis to make a pilgrimage to this tomb. I believe Abu Hasira was one of the North African Jews who came to Egypt when the Fatimid state opened its doors to immigrants of all religious persuasions, in keeping with this country's long tradition of religious and cultural tolerance and openness.
Egyptian Muslims, whether rightly or wrongly, must vie with the Shia in their adoration of the descendants of the prophet. We, thus, find further tangible evidence of our Shia leanings in the millions of pounds that worshippers leave yearly as offerings in the donation boxes at the tombs of Hussein, Sayeda Zeinab and Sayeda Aisha. The Ayyubids may have overthrown the Fatimid caliphate and Sunni rites of worship and codes of jurisprudence may have supplanted Shia rites and jurisprudence in mosques and in courts, but popular faith has clung to some Shia ways.
Even official Sunni Islam in Egypt could not turn its back on Shia Islam forever. In the early 1960s, the Imam Mahmoud Shaltout went down in Islamic history for his fatwa declaring that Sunnis and Shias were equal in the eyes of Islam. The famous Al-Azhar grand sheikh declared that the sectarian differences between Sunni and Shia Islam were secondary and that both were fully in keeping with the essence of the creed and Islamic law. Immediately afterwards, Al-Azhar scored the precedent for an Islamic centre of learning by entering Jaafari jurisprudence into its curriculum on equal footing with the other schools of Islamic jurisprudence. We should also note that for many years Cairo was the location for a Muslim ecumenical bureau. Its activities were overseen by a Shia sheikh, the Imam Al-Qumi, who was assisted by a number of Sunni imams, among whom was Sheikh Abdel-Aziz Eissa, who became minister of Al-Azhar affairs in the 1970s.
Egypt, thus, has always taken the lead in offering its Sunni hand in friendship and respect to its Shia brothers. What better event can serve to illustrate this than the marriage, in the early 1940s, of Princess Fawzya, daughter of King Fouad and sister of King Farouk, to the young Shah Mohamed Reza Pahlavi, the emperor of Shia Iran. The marriage, joyfully celebrated by the peoples of both countries, symbolised not only the joining of the two thrones but the unity of Islam. I should add, here, that the Iranian people continue to harbour great affection and respect for the Egyptian people, sentiments that I experienced personally during my visit to Tehran several years ago. I also cannot forget the famous remark by former Iranian president Rafsanjani who told Egypt's celebrated journalist Mohamed Hassanein Heikal that he was looking forward to the day when he could visit "the noble Al-Azhar" and pay tribute to that great Islamic institution which had emerged from the fold of the Fatimid Shia state.
This brief survey of Egypt's position with respect to Shia Islam represents an effort to offset attempts to fan the flames of discord between Sunni and Shia Islam. Such incendiary agitation is alien to our faith and lending ourselves to it benefits no one but the West. Indeed, it has been suggested that the US is currently working to place the Shia in power in Iraq in order to counteract the effects of Britain's championing of the Iraqi Sunnis when, during the monarchical period, the British Foreign Office installed the descendants of the Sherif Hussein on the throne in Baghdad. In all events, we, in Egypt, see the situation in Iraq much differently. Iraq is an indivisible whole. There is no difference between Shia and Sunni, Kurd and Arab, Muslim and Christian. Iraq is for the Iraqi people regardless of their diverse ethnic or religious affiliations and this national affiliation should remain the only criterion for citizenship and citizenship rights.
In fact, we in Egypt do not give much thought to the differences between Shia and Sunni Islam, if only because the differences are not visibly there to remark upon. At the same time, the Egyptians have much to offer by way of testimony to their esteem and fondness for Shia Iran, not least of which are the famous royal union mentioned above and the fact that Egypt offered itself as the last refuge for the shah of Iran, who, in spite of his sins, was a former ruler of a major Islamic nation and who now lies in peace in the capital city founded by Muezeddin Al-Fatimi, the Shia ruler and founder of Al-Azhar.
All told, the excessive criticism being levelled at Egypt by our fellow Arabs who belong to the Shia sect comes as something of a surprise to me. After all, Egypt, with its many Fatimid minarets, domes and tombs, with its moulids, Ramadan rites and Shia holy men, and with its particular social character, is far from hostile to Shia Islam. This highly homogenous Sunni nation has a solidly Shia quality in its core.
* The writer is chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee at the People's Assembly.
Muslims in America represent almost every variety of Islamic thought and experience. The heavily secular and prosperous Iranian community in Southern California has little in common with orthodox Yemeni laborers near Detroit. College-educated white converts whose interest in New Age concepts leads them to the spiritual Sufi branch of Islam do not resemble poor black prison inmates who embrace Muslim beliefs behind bars as a source of discipline and solace. Indeed, as Business Week Assistant Managing Editor Paul M. Barrett explains in his new book, American Islam, the U.S. can be seen as a vast experiment in how Islam can adapt to the West.
Business is good these days at The Arab American News. The bilingual weekly newspaper in Dearborn, Mich., bulges with dispatches on strife in the Middle East. Its columnists bristle over what they see as America's many misdeeds in the region. And, boosted by readers' anxiety over bloodshed in Iraq, Gaza, and Lebanon, circulation has risen 60% over the past year, to 36,000, says Osama Siblani, the publisher and editor-in-chief. More advertisers have come with the growing readership, and among employers buying substantial help-wanted ads is the U.S. Homeland Security Dept., which desperately needs Arabic linguists. A fierce critic of American foreign policy, Siblani acknowledges the irony of his profiting from the U.S. security establishment. "It seems like the niche we have is working for us," he deadpans.
Such incongruities permeate Muslim lives in Dearborn, where auto factory jobs have drawn Arab immigrants since the 1920s, making the gritty Detroit suburb the unofficial capital of Arab America. Muslims there and around the country are the objects of suspicion and in some cases prejudice, especially since the attacks of September 11, 2001. But as a group, they offer a model of assimilation and material success. An astounding 59% of Muslim adults in the U.S. have a college degree, compared with only 28% of all American adults. Surveys show that median family income among America's Muslims exceeds the national figure of $55,800. And four out of five eligible Muslims are registered to vote, slightly higher than the overall rate.
The duality of Muslim-American life often surfaces in the tension between allegiance to an adopted land and to causes back in the old country that most Americans view as dangerous. For example, in addition to running his newspaper, Siblani relishes his role as a leader of the Dearborn-based Arab American Political Action Committee. The group's endorsement has been avidly sought by candidates of both parties running for everything from Michigan county judgeships to the White House. But during last summer's clash between Israel and Hezbollah, Siblani and some fellow Lebanese immigrants made no secret--at rallies and in statements to the media--of their sympathy for Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed Lebanese militia and political movement.
Jewish leaders attacked Siblani and his allies for supporting an organization committed to Israel's destruction and considered terrorist in nature by the U.S. government. And during the fall election season, a number of state and national politicians who normally woo the Detroit area's large Arab-American constituency steered clear, at least in public. This infuriates Siblani, who insists that his main concern last summer was pressuring Washington to seek a swift cease-fire in Lebanon.
Siblani, a pro-business, anti-abortion Republican who drives a sleek black Mercedes and lives in a comfortable house complete with white pillars in front, helped organize Arab American support for George W. Bush in 2000. But the President's "war on terror" after 9/11 left him feeling that his adopted country had turned against Muslims. He abandoned Bush in 2004 and publicly branded the current administration the "Taliban in Washington."
Siblani reflects the complexity of American Islam, an intricate mixture of creeds and cultures: immigrant and native-born, devout and secular, moderate and radical. By comparison, most immigrant Muslims in such countries as France, England, and Spain have remained poorer, less well educated, and more marginalized. Europeans encouraged Muslim immigration as a source of menial labor, but until recently did little to integrate workers as citizens. And more generous welfare benefits in Europe allow Muslims and other immigrants to live indefinitely on the periphery of society. The American combination of a comparatively modest social safety net with greater economic opportunity appears to have drawn Muslims willing to adjust to new customs and acquire education needed for good jobs. So the ideologically motivated violence that has erupted in Muslim enclaves in Western Europe so far hasn't surfaced from within the U.S.
What follows are glimpses into the lives of four successful American Muslims. They suggest both the variety and flux within Islam in this country.
Osama Siblani arrived in Detroit from Lebanon in 1976 at the age of 21. He had $180 in his pocket and little else. Within days he held three jobs: parking cars, pumping gas, and delivering pizza. In the space of four years he earned an engineering degree at the University of Detroit and landed a high-paying post with an export company selling equipment to Middle Eastern builders. He lived well in the Detroit suburbs and fixed up his mother's house in a village near Beirut, the same house where he was raised. "This is the American dream," he says. "It doesn't matter who you are or whether you have anything to start. You can make something of yourself."
But the trajectory of Siblani's life shifted in June, 1982, when Israel invaded Lebanon, seeking to crush the Palestine Liberation Organization and install a friendly Christian government in Beirut. An Israeli aerial bomb destroyed his mother's house. She and other family members survived unhurt, but the dwelling was left in cinders. The furniture, washer-dryer, and television Siblani had bought his mother were ruined. "My letters from lovers I had when I was in school, my pictures. I don't have any pictures from when I was little," he said. "Who burned it? Israeli jets."
His admiration for Hezbollah stems from the movement's resistance to Israel and its provision of social services to the poor, not from any enthusiasm for Hezbollah's goal of establishing an Islamic theocracy. Siblani, who rarely attends mosque, favors secular democracy. Determined to provide an alternative to what he saw as the pro-Israeli perspective of the American media, he quit his export job and started The Arab American News in 1984.
He lacked any journalism experience and had to use savings and credit cards to finance the venture. Arabic typesetting equipment wasn't available in the Detroit area, so he shipped some in from England and Saudi Arabia. The newspaper quickly gained notice among Arab immigrants, but Siblani's enthusiasm for growth led to costs outstripping revenue. By 1994, his credit cards tapped out, the publisher declared personal bankruptcy, losing his home and car.
Gradually, he pieced things back together, and today, he says, the paper has achieved financial stability. The real payoff for Siblani is that he can vent his plentiful political opinions via a First Amendment-protected business--something he acknowledges isn't possible in most Arab countries. "I would never pretend that I am a journalist out to tell the story without feelings, without bias," he says. "I am a journalist on a mission. I want to tell my story. I don't want somebody else to come and tell it."
Nazish Agha recognizes that many Americans would be surprised that an observant Muslim woman can work comfortably at a tony New York law firm, let alone one with a name like Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft. Many Muslims, even in this country, would similarly be surprised--and disapproving. Agha is used to it. As an undergraduate at Yale University in the early 1990s, she encountered male Muslim classmates who savagely criticized her friendships with non-Muslims and failure to wear hijab, the traditional Muslim head covering. "I had a Muslim guy tell me I was a lost cause," she recalls. By contrast, in the high-end law world, her religion has seemed a nonissue. "People look at the work you do," she explains.
Agha, who is in her mid-30s, wears subdued business suits and has long wavy chestnut-brown hair. She came to America from India with her family as a small child. An observant Shiite Muslim, she nevertheless describes her path to accomplishment as defined by "the typical Protestant work ethic." Public school teachers in suburban New Jersey persuaded her parents to send her to Groton, the quintessential New England prep school, where she took French and Latin. Yale followed and then law school at Georgetown University. Today she has a 32nd-floor office with a sweeping view of New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty. She helps engineer corporate mergers and acquisitions as an associate with Cadwalader, which boasts a Wall Street practice dating from the 1790s. On top of working long hours for paying clients, Agha has offered pro bono counsel to fledgling artistic groups and those protecting abused women.
She explains that opinions among American Muslims vary widely on whether women should work outside the home and on what sorts of jobs they ought to hold. Law, in particular, seems like an appropriate pursuit, she says, pointing to the Islamic tradition in which being "a jurist is considered a quite noble profession." For more than a millennium, Muslim legal scholars have imparted influential interpretations of the Quran and the sayings of the prophet Muhammad. During medieval times, some of these scholars were women, although they are mostly forgotten today. Agha sees her practice of corporate law as growing from this jurisprudential heritage: "It is about relationships and fairness--between human beings, between industry and government, and between contracting parties."
Idris Abdul Wasi runs Abu's Homestyle Bakery just down the street from Masjid At-Taqwa, a well-known house of worship in the tough Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, N.Y. One of the mosque's respected elders, Wasi does a brisk business in sweet-potato and bean pies, as well as heavy German chocolate cake. Wasi is African American, a convert to Islam but not a follower of Louis Farrakhan. In recent years, Farrakhan's idiosyncratic Nation of Islam has dwindled in prominence, as the majority of black Muslims have switched their allegiance to increasingly independent African-American and nonblack imams.
A native New Yorker, Wasi sang in the choir at Bushwick Methodist Church as a boy, but he says that "the whole Trinity thing never really penetrated my heart or my head." This is a common complaint from American converts to Islam, both black and white: that they couldn't make sense of the idea that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are all parts of one God. Wasi, now in his early 50s, saw Islam as a more logical approach to monotheism: one deity, pure and simple. He also appreciated what he saw as Islam's more clear-cut rules. "Coming up a child of the '70s, I was into the intoxicants, the lifestyle," he explains. His father, a longshoreman, drank himself to an early death. Wasi's mother was remarried to a Muslim and converted. Wasi's two younger brothers embraced Islam as well. In 1976, while a junior at John Jay College on Manhattan's West Side, Wasi followed suit. The only college graduate in his generation of his extended family, he has six children, all raised as Muslims. Not one drinks or smokes, he says.
About three years ago, when Wasi fell ill for a time, his oldest son, also named Idris, left the Web development firm he ran and came to work at the bakery. The younger Idris, though a practicing Muslim, decided that the family business, which serves a mostly black, non-Muslim clientele, would benefit if the religious motif were slightly toned down. "Abu," which means father in Arabic, remained in the shop's name, but the younger Idris inserted "Homestyle." He removed a sign declaring, "There is no god except Allah." But the bakery still distributes pamphlets proselytizing Islam and doesn't sell Christmas cookies in December. "It may hurt business, but we have certain values," the younger Idris, 35, says.
African-American Islam began with Muslim slaves brought from West Africa. But Christian slave owners suppressed Muslim belief and ritual, and African-American Islam faded. In the early twentieth century, black fraternal associations reintroduced Islamic themes to assert an independent identity in a still hostile white society. That tradition continues today, lending black Islam a rebelliousness to which the elder Wasi sometimes gives voice.
"There are elements in the media and society who are clearly enemies to Islam," he asserts. "They'll do anything they possibly can to turn the society against Muslims." He enjoys talking about business and has an inventive theory about one force generating the assault against Islam. He thinks manufacturers of cigarettes and alcohol have grown alarmed over the religion's ability to steer African Americans and others away from smoking and drinking. The companies "are not going to sit back and allow that to happen," he says, and they could be the ones influencing the media to depict Islam unfavorably. He has no proof but still says: "It's almost as if, whenever there's a concerted effort to do something positive to uplift ourselves, there's this [opposing] effort to divert us."
Monem Salam aims for understatement: a charcoal-gray, buttoned-down look, soft voice, and modest demeanor. But when pressed, he admits he has achieved a pretty impressive formula for combining spiritual and material interests. The 34-year-old Pakistani immigrant oversees Islamic investing for Saturna Capital Corp., a Bellingham (Wash.) firm offering Muslims mutual funds that hew to the strictures of Shariah, or traditional Islamic law. With $400 million in client money, Saturna's two Islamic stock funds are tiny by industry standards. But historically they have reported solid results. For 2006, the more conservative stock fund reported a 22% return; the more aggressive growth fund, 15%. And the mere existence of the funds and a handful of rivals are a source of pride among American Muslims, including many who don't always observe the Shariah's prohibitions.
Salam moved to Saturna in 2003, leaving behind a money manager's job in Dallas with Morgan Stanley (MS ). Nowadays he and his wife and three young children live in Bellingham, the picturesque harbor town where Saturna has its 25-person office. Salam says he is "more at peace, doing something to help Muslims and doing it in a way [with which] God would be happy."
With guidance from Islamic scholars, Salam helps shape a portfolio that excludes companies that deal primarily in alcohol, pork, or pornography. There are no gambling stocks and, most challenging, no equity in banks, because Islamic law bans the imposition or payment of interest as a form of usury. Small impurities are permitted: The funds can own airline stocks, even though flight attendants serve liquor. Lately the funds have favored technology and telecommunications. The fact that companies borrow money doesn't preclude Salam from buying their shares, but he monitors the ratio of debt to market capitalization and avoids corporations that leverage to the hilt. "You have to allow some leeway, or you can't do anything," he tells audiences at Muslim investing seminars around the country. Only a small minority of American Muslims, perhaps 15% by Salam's estimate, even attempt to follow Shariah restrictions in all of their financial dealings. His goal is to make that percentage grow.
In his spare time, Salam takes flying lessons. His father, a retired commercial pilot, flew Boeing 747s for airlines based in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Salam knows that after 9/11 a Muslim showing up at an American flight school could suggest something ominous to some people. That's part of the reason he's doing it: to show that Muslims can fly planes as innocuously as other Americans. Even as he sells mutual funds with an Islamic twist, he hopes his life demonstrates that "being an American Muslim is not an oxymoron." So far his flight training has gone smoothly, and Salam, whose surname means "peace" in Arabic, expects to get his pilot's license in the spring.
Adapted from American Islam: The Struggle for the Soul of a Religion, by Paul M. Barrett, published on Jan. 2, 2007, by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Copyright 2007 by Paul M. Barrett
sunnis have the worst attitudes ever. If anyone is going to go down in the future, it's them. I don't wish anything bad upon them, but what they do to shia muslims isn't right. It goes down to simple things like muslims asking other muslim girls why they don't wear hijaab. Why is it their business? Do they need to do that to feel muslim enough or something....that's why religion should be a private thing between you and god and there's no need to make a big show of it and cause trouble by parading around with your beliefs and imposing them on muslims different from you.
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