Symposium: One Islam?
By Jamie Glazov
FrontPageMagazine.com | April 13, 2007
What are the differences between Arab Islam and Islam elsewhere -- such as in India, Indonesia and in Africa? What do these differences signify? To discuss these questions with us today, Frontpage Symposium has assembled a distinguished panel. Our guests are:
Dr. Timothy Furnish, a Ph.D in Islamic History (Ohio State), former U.S. Army Arabic interrogator, and college professor. He is the author of Holiest Wars: Islamic Mahdis, their Jihads and Osama bin Laden (Praeger/Greenwood, 2005), as well as a number of articles on Islamic messianism and fundamentalism.
Dr. Hans-Peter Raddatz, a scholar of Islamic Studies and author of two books on the subject of women in Islam, Allahs Schleier - die Frau im Kampf der Kulturen (Allah's Veil - Women in the Clash of Civilization) and Allahs Frauen - Djihad zwischen Demokratie und Scharia (Allah's Women - Jihad Between Democracy and Sharia). His next book, Allah and the Jews, will be published next month in Berlin.
Robert Spencer, a scholar of Islamic history, theology, and law and the director of Jihad Watch. He is the author of six books, seven monographs, and hundreds of articles about jihad and Islamic terrorism, including Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World’s Fastest Growing Faith and the New York Times Bestseller The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades). He is the author of the new book, The Truth About Muhammad.
Thomas Haidon, a Muslim commentator on legal issues involving counter-terrorism measures and Islamic affairs, he also serves as an advisor to the International Qur'anic Centre in Washington DC and the Free Muslim Coalition. He has provided guidance to several governments on counter-terrorism issues and his works have been published in legal periodicals, and other media. Mr. Haidon has also provided advice to and worked for United Nations agencies in Sudan and Indonesia.
FP: Mike Ghouse, Thomas Haidon, Dr. Hans-Peter Raddatz, Robert Spencer and Timothy Furnish, welcome to Frontpage Symposium.
Thomas Haidon, let me begin with you.
Let’s start on a general theme.
Is there just one Islam?
Haidon: Thank you Jamie.
The simple answer is no. There is no one singular, universal vision of Islam. There are divisions (sometimes radical) amongst groups who call themselves Muslims on a range of historical, ritualistic and hermeneutical issues. On the whole however, while there are a number of important differences among the predominant Muslim sects, there are also a great deal of consistency in approaches and beliefs. The predominant sects of Islam, obviously, share the common bond of holding the Qur'an as the core central text which guides worship. They also share, to varying degrees, adherence to the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) and common approaches to Islamic jurisprudence. I would argue that these similarities and common approaches are more significant, and hold greater implications, then do dissimilarities.
I believe that external factors, such as culture can have a positive (and of course negative) impact on how Islam is practiced in a particular country or region. Currently I am residing in Jakarta, Indonesia. The Islam that I have viewed thus far, while sharing many characteristics of Islam that is practiced in the Arab world, appears to be far more pluralistic and tolerant. There are Muslim liberal/reform movements here which have widespread support and there are a number of progressive fuqaha among the ulaema. That said there are strong radical elements which exist and thrive; however they do not appear to hold a stronghold in the main centres of Indonesia. Whether this "success" is a reflection of Islam itself or the culture of the Indonesian people is a separate question, which we may explore here.
So to summarise my perspective, while there is "no one Islam", there is a predominant body of Islam containing a number of sects, which, while maintaining some differences on ritual and historical perspectives, share common perspectives and approaches on key issues. These similarities are more significant and hold greater implications than do any differences.
FP: Thank you Mr. Haidon.
Let me follow up for a moment. You say that you observed in Jakarta, Indonesia an Islam that appears to be far more pluralistic and tolerant than Arab Islam. What would you say to those who would argue that this pluralism and tolerance is the product of a relaxation of Islamic principles rather than the application of them?
Haidon: I certainly cannot dismiss those perspectives. However, I tend to look at the issue slightly different. At play, may not be a relaxation in Islamic principles per se, but a paradigm shift away from dogmatic thinking and literal approaches to understanding Islam, thanks to thinkers like Quraish Shihab who have developed progressive commentaries to the Qur'an.
Among Indonesians, there is a strong sense of ownership of Islam. Many Indonesians resent the total Arabisation and Wahabi domination of Islamic practices in Islam (that said a number also embrace it). I have observed that Indonesia is generally a pluralistic society, with Christians, Hindus and Buddhists living in relative peace (in main city centres at least; there are numerous examples in rural Indonesia where Christians and Hindus are murdered at Muslim hands).
In some regions, Islamic practices are actually infused with Hindi and other paganistic practices (although this certainly should not be considered predominant). But from what I have witnessed (please note these are just my observations), there is relative harmony between faiths that does not exist in many places.
In Indonesia there are a number of Islamic organisations taking the lead to begin to address issues around terrorism and intolerance and are actively pursuing discussion. Discussions about reform are emanating from Islamic circles, not the government (although the government and President SBE have been supportive). So when I see mainstream Islamic organisations taking the lead in discussions on moderation and reform through Islamic principles (al'adl justice), I tend to think that Indonesian Islam is not necessarily a relaxation of Islamic principles but a shift in thinking of Islamic principles (a positive shift at that), However, I remain cautious, very cautious. Only time will tell if there really is a paradigm shift in the making, or just posturing.
I would argue, however, that absent a significant paradigm shift in thinking about Islam (which appears to be happening in some circles in Islam), and continued reliance on the seminal scholars and jurisprudence which are centuries old, only the relaxation of "Islamic" principles could lead to tolerance and harmony, as the significant body of Islamic jurisprudence that is relied upon does not promote the sort of harmony that is consistent with international human rights standards.
FP: Ok before we move forward, can you give us some examples, in terms of daily life that you have observed, how Muslim life in Jakarta, Indonesia is different from, let us say, Arab Islam? Tell us some observations about normal every day life that shed light on the variety of Islam. Perhaps something that even surprised you.
Haidon: I have witnessed a number of examples that have surprised me. One of the things that have struck me the most is the relationship between women and men in worship. I have personally witnessed at several mosques in Jakarta women and men praying side by side, which would be an unheard of practice in the Arab world (except in the Holy city of Mecca at al harim al sharif). Such practices in the Arab world should actually be considered dangerous. In general, I have viewed a higher esteem for women in Jakarta than anywhere in the Arab world. While women still face significant challenges in terms of inequality, women play a greater role in Islam. There are even respected female ulaema here, something which struck me particularly.
However, these pluralistic Islamic practices, I believe, are at risk. As some ulaema move for the total Arabisation of Islam in Indonesia, tolerant cultural practices are likely to be subsumed by harsher practices. This has happened in a number of other Asian countries, including Malaysia and Thailand. This shows, unfortunately, that more moderate models of Islam may be susceptible and vulnerable to more conservative models, which may lead to catastrophic results for Muslims, and their non-Muslim counterparts. I am pleased however, that some ulaema here have had the foresight to see this as a potential problem and are working towards solutions and "future proofing", or at least are beginning to talk about it.
FP: Robert Spencer, what are your thoughts about what Thomas Haidon has observed in Jakarta? What do they signify in the context of our topic?
Spencer: Jamie, there is absolutely no doubt that in many areas of the Islamic world, for many reasons a cultural Islam has evolved that deemphasizes the militancy of the Qur’an and Muhammad’s example, and often contains significant syncretistic elements. This is true in varying ways in West Africa, Central Asia, and Southeast Asia. However, Thomas Haidon is correct when he notes that “these pluralistic Islamic practices, I believe, are at risk,” and that there is a movement fostering the “total Arabisation of Islam in Indonesia” and elsewhere. This will involve, as Haidon says, “tolerant cultural practices” being “subsumed by harsher practices.”
Haidon is also unfortunately correct that “more moderate models of Islam may be susceptible and vulnerable to more conservative models” – and this is part of the Arabization phenomenon. This is because the proponents of Arabization and radicalization present themselves as the exponents of a “true” and “pure” Islam, purged of the cultural syncretism that, because it lacks foundation in the Qur’an and the Sunnah, they are able to portray as illegitimate. For instance, in his delightful book The Caliph’s House, Tahir Shah recounts how Wahhabi recruiters from Saudi Arabia set up a trailer in a shantytown in Casablanca, from which they endeavored to recruit the locals for the jihad.
Their exhortations to return to a more “authentic” form of Islam also involve, in non-Arab lands, a measure of Arabization – since after all, it is an “Arabic Qur’an” (12:2), “a decisive utterance in Arabic,” (13:37), “Arabic, pure and clear” (16:103). Islamic prayers and recitation of the Qur’an must always be in Arabic, and that along with the fact that Muhammad and the early Muslims were Arabs has always led to a sense among some Muslims that Arab-ness is an essential component of being a true Muslim. One manifestation of this with which Americans are familiar is the phenomenon of American Muslim converts taking Arabic names; akin to this is the lesser-known phenomenon of non-Arab Muslims in Pakistan and elsewhere claiming to be descendants of Muhammad. While the authenticity of such claims is wildly improbable, the fact that they are made at all is another manifestation of the fact that even among non-Arab Muslims there is a sense that being an Arab or connected in some way to Arabiyya gives one a certain status.
At the same time, there has always been a movement within Islam against Arabic supremacy. The Shu’ubites – the “confessors of equality” – proclaimed the equality of all Muslims before Allah, and flourished in the ninth and tenth centuries. Elements of the views of this party remain in the Islamic world, and are sometimes invoked by those attempting to resist Arabization. Nonetheless, for the reasons I explained above, at this point the exponents of “pure Islam” are in the intellectual ascendancy in the Islamic world.
FP: Mike Ghouse?
Ghouse: Thank you Jamie, both Thomas Haidon and Robert Spencer have touched upon various ways Islam is practiced in different countries.
Islam is certainly not a monolithic religion. The plasticity of Islam hinges on the culture it is embedded in, and the ensuing practices are shaped by the values of co-existence.
In a singular society like Saudi Arabia, where individuals do not interact with people of other faiths on a routine basis, their comprehension is exceptionally limited. A major example for this lack of reference is found in how they teach the Qur’an in their grade schools.
Literal translation: (The) way/road (of) those You blessed on them, not (those) the angered on them, and nor the misguided.
The student does not have an idea who has earned God’s anger or what is misguided. Who are these people?
The likes of Hilali Khan figured out how to explain this to them and came up with this translation; “The Way of those on whom You have bestowed Your Grace, not (the way) of those who earned Your Anger (such as the Jews), nor of those who went astray (such as the Christians).” One can guess the imprints on the young minds and where it would lead them to.
The words Christian or Jews are not mentioned in that verse, let alone the whole of chapter 1, the beginning.
In pluralistic societies like India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Egypt and Turkey, co-existence is at stake, and doing business together is the way of life. The societies are interdependent on each other and the following translation of the same verse is the norm: “The path of those whom you have blessed, not those who have incurred your wrath, nor the misguided.”
Thomas Haidon is right on the money when he says “there is a great deal of consistency in approaches and beliefs.” And they also share, to varying degrees, adherence to the Sunnah.” The statement would apply to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh as it does for Indonesia, Malaysia and South Africa.
Pluralism or tolerance is a product of co-existence rather than the application or relaxation of Islamic principles. In fact the history of civilization can attest to that; Members of rival clans fighting and killing each other for the limited resources of farming land or animals for protein, figured out a way to respect each other’s resources for peace, and sleeping well in night without the fear of a raid.
Haidon: “Women continue to face challenges in terms of inequality, women play a greater role in Islam”. The culture of the subcontinent, as well as the population mixture, has a significant impact on Muslims in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh -- all three nations have produced women heads of the state: Indira Gandhi, Benazir Bhutto and Hasina Shaikh respectively. Meanwhile, in the United States, people are still not ready for it. I would like to say it has do with the securities or insecurities of the male population, more so than religion.
Wearing a burqa may have been a symbol of oppression once, not as much now. There are parallel developments where some women simply do not wear Hijab, and some wear out of their own volition. No one should expect the change to be dramatic. A moderate Anglo-Saxon girl would not be comfortable wearing a mini-skirt to school, work, church or a family event, so the Muslim women are not comfortable wearing any thing less than full clothing either, the thresholds are different and modesty is graded. Let the change happen in smaller increments and be sustainable.
Spencer’s point is incredible. The Subcontinentians eagerly claim a family tree leading to Prophet Muhammad in the hopes of feeling on par with Muslims in Arabia. They tend to forget that each one is responsible for their own deeds, even if they were to be direct descendants; salvation comes to only those who do the good deeds, treating others, as they would want to be treated. Prophet Muhammad did not give a free pass to his daughter; he told her that she has to earn it the old fashion way, doing one good deed after the other. Qur'an, Al-Hujurat, Surah 49:13: ……. The noblest of you, in sight of Allah, is the best in conduct.
The Wahhabis on the other hand destroy any such claims, and go to extremes. Presently they are planning to bulldoze the historic house where Prophet Muhammad was born in the belief that divinity is reserved to God alone.
The Muslims in general celebrate Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, but the Wahhabis’ on the other hand consider it to be kosher.
American Muslim converts have gone both ways, keeping their name as it was before or adding a Arabic sounding name to perhaps make the announcement that they are indeed Muslims. However, this is not a requirement. The very names Mohammad, Abu Bakr Siddiq, Ali, Umar, and Uthman remained the same when they became Muslims, and when they went out conquering lands they did not ask or impose their names either.
There is indeed one Islam but different manifestations. There are four different schools of thought in Sunni Tradition that very few Muslims show any disrespect towards the other. The Shia Sunni debate is as old as Islam, hitherto it remained in the realm of discussion and debate, but it has gone on high gear of destruction now. My hypothesis is that whenever a group reaches a certain elusive number, it splits itself into two due to the political need to have the influence. Then there are cultural differences that abound.
FP: Mr. Ghouse, with all due respect, your comments on wearing a burqa don’t stand up. The analogies to some Anglo Saxon girl being comfortable or not wearing some mini-skirt completely ignores the main issues involved. The bottom line is that human beings must have the right to live by their own conscience. If a woman must fear for her life if she does not wear a veil, then that is the mark of barbaric oppression. Zilla Huma Usman, a Pakistani minister and woman’s activist, was, as you know, recently shot dead by an Islamic extremist for refusing to wear the veil. I would really like to know: where are the mass demonstrations of Muslims vehemently protesting this murder? Should a woman have the right to decide whether she wants to veil or not veil without having to fear getting shot to death or facing some other persecution? That is the question. And many Muslims worldwide have been deafeningly silent on this question, just as they have been deafendingly silent after the tragic murder of Zilla Huma Usman.
Peter Raddatz, go ahead.
Raddatz: What I was invited to this refreshing possibility to join a round table of participants, I presumed that the panellists would fortunately know what they are talking about. This is by far not always the case with European let alone German symposiums -- especially when it comes to the aspect of Islam being or not being a "monolith" but rather a multitude of cultural "facets" which in turn develop or not a self-sufficient life of their own. You may meet a whole new species of believers over here who tell you that Islam is so differentiated that it ultimately does not exist at all.
Fortunately, we have arrived at a more qualified interim stage so far. As I see, Mr. Ghouse and Mr. Haidon entertain a quite different point of view as compared to what Mr Spencer represents. Allow me to tend to the latter's sceptical impression as far as "tolerant cultural practices” are endangered by Arabic conformity pressure are concerned. Age-wise I am in the position to compare the Islam in some key countries like Egypt, Pakistan and Saudi-Arabia with the conditions 30 years ago. From my experience I may tell you that Mr. Spencer is quite right to the very point. What the first two countries have in common is a distinct tendency towards assimilation to Saudi or rather Wahhabi standards of legal thought and practice.
To make the situation understandable from a more general and simultaneously practical point of view, I may concentrate on the particular character of Islam as a cultural contingency system. Due to its body of dominant shariatic rules which I call the HQ complex (Hadith and Qur'an), each respective Islamic society develops its own variant inside the shariatic purity/impurity spectrum. If it is "subsumed by harsher rules", as Mr. Haidon formulates, we are almost always talking about a stricter application of the HQ complex. In another abbreviation some people call it also "HadQur" which may or may not activate more or less intentional, phonetic associations with the English "Hardcore"
Here the contingency aspect comes in. The question is when and why the harsher rules are applied and, moreover, why we cannot register the other way around. The dominant tendency of Islamic contingency points rather towards "harsher rules" than "tolerant practices". Whenever the latter occur - like the common prayers of men and women in Indonesia - they remain rare exceptions and are observed closely by the higher levels of theological and political control. On the whole, Islamic contingency is a function of the extent to which the QH complex finds reasons and room to be applied - the main reason being, of course, is the progress of Western civilization that Islamic societies have to deal with in some way or other.
Mr. Haidon is well advised to regard the "shift in Islamic thinking" from a "very cautious" standpoint as it, so far, did not show any realistic sign to shift to "tolerant cultural practices" in terms of a paradigmatic world view change. Its contingency may be compared to the criteria of a health insurance. The older an insured person, the higher his/her insurance premium. And, correspondingly, the stronger the Western modernization pressure, the better the arguments and conditions for shariatic purification, often meaning the increased inflow of Wahhabi money and personnel - one important part of so-called "Arabization".
In other words, each and every Islamic society bases on a contingent hardcore of "HadQur" rules defending its people against the "Fitna", the threat from un-Islamic influences. As hardly any Muslim denies, this rule set contains also the legitimization of internal violence against women and dissidents as well as the right to external deception and violence towards unbelievers, especially Western influence. This violence potential is a latent and virtual one, though, but under suitable circumstances it can become and often has become actual and acute. So far the system switch still points towards "harsher rules" and there is nobody who is able or prepared to guarantee for the opposite, the "tolerant practices" as Islamist power bases on this very set of rules and its permanent preservation.
Among other aspects, Mr. Ghouse gave us a good example of what kind of "hermeneutics" we are talking about when it comes to what is usually referred to as "dialogue with Islam". He mentions the female Prime Ministers of the Indo-Islamic region as opposed to the United States, which is apparently "not ready for it". Here we may see the whole "range" of Muslim eclecticism compressing the fundamental freedom of approximately 150 million American girls and women into the female constraint in Islam to which the said Prime Ministers are an exception. This kind of comparison is completely off the point, of course, but illustrates lively, how difficult if not impossible it is to argue from a standpoint which is not bound by HadQur "hermeneutics". And, if you please, I feel a little uncomfortable with Mr. Ghouse's very unpluralistic certainty about when and why female human beings supposedly feel uncomfortable in mini-skirts.
As on the other hand Western "hermeneutics" - at least in Europe - include the shariatic rule set within the general freedom of religion, this human right includes then in turn the latent potential of Islamically legitimized violence. The first results can be seen in the 2005 riots in France as well as the current semi-riots in London and elsewhere blackmailing the British government into a proper "Dhimmi" submission. Thus, Tony Blair and Prince Charles recently called the people in England to regard the Qur'an as the most progressive book of all time. As this is in perfect line with not only the dominance ideology of Islamic orthodoxy but also the official EU policy, with Germany closely following suit, there is no realistic reason why the Wahhabi expansion, led by the Muslim Brotherhood, should not only succeed in the leading part of the Islamic region but also in selected European countries.
What I want to stress here is the fact that more than three decades of "dialogue,” "interpretation", "hermeneutics" and what have you did not arrive at something one could call a lasting compromise. On the contrary, what we have to take note of in Europe as well as in the American universities and especially in the UN is a strong progress of Islamist lobbying accompanied at times by very real corruption. So, if Mr. Haidon asks rightly for the change "to happen in smaller increments," we should define a little more precisely what kind of change we are talking about.
Currently there is certainly little room for change on the Islamic side if "consistency of belief" prevails in politics, the "volition of women" is rigorously dictated by men, and the contingent power potential of Islam stays firmly geared towards confrontation without trying to plausibly contribute to obliging criteria of "hermeneutics" which may pave a way to some realistic co-operation. If what we call "tolerance" i.e. a conciliatory attitude which is only interrelated as weakness to be exploited for power purposes, the outlook for a constructive solution for co-existence in a civil society must stay quite obscure. Insofar the cultural multitude aspect has not contributed any feasible development.
Furnish: Once again, it’s an honor to participate in a Frontpage symposium.
Is there just one Islam? In one sense, of course not—any more than there is just one Christianity. Christianity and Islam are the two most missionary-oriented religions the world has ever produced and together make up about half of the world’s population (Christians number over 2 billion, Muslims close to 1.5 billion) and thus each spread over an enormous geographical area. Each has differentiated over the millennia in terms of cultural and geographic zone, language, ethnic inclinations and traditions, etc. Today, in terms of space, the Islamic world can at the least be divided into Arab, Persian, Turkish, South Asian (Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi), Southeast Asian (Indonesia, Malaysia, etc.), various African (North, West and East, especially) and “Diasporan” (Islam in Europe and North America) zones. Of course, the differences within the Islamic fold over time are also important to note.
The unity of the early Islamic community, or ummah, quickly degenerated into political power struggles that resulted in the split between the Sunni and Shi`i branches, and the latter in particular further split along lines based on which descendant of Ali (Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law) would return at the end of time as the Imam Mahdi—thus Fivers (Zaydis), Seveners (Isma’ilis) and Twelvers (the majority in Iran and Iraq today). The Sunnis, too, had and have their differences, most notably today—as Mr. Haidon and Mr. Ghouse note—that between the Wahhabis and other, less fundamentalist Sunnis.
One theological strain that must be mentioned is Sufism, Islamic mysticism which in earlier periods of Islam could be either Shi`i or Sunni but has for the most part today been subsumed under the latter. Sufi orders have been historically, normally, more inclusivistic that most Muslim groups; however, some of the most violent revolutions in Islamic history have been led, and manned, by Sufis (such as those of Usman don Fodio in west Africa in the late 18th/early 19th century, the Sanusis of Libya and the Mahdists of Sudan in the 19th century, for example).
Islam also, over time, differentiated into dozens of often-warring polities, such as the Abbasids v. the Fatimids in the Middle Ages, or the Ottomans v. the Safavids in the early modern period. Note, too, that in each of these struggles the former state was Sunni while the latter was Shi`i—which demolishes Mr. Ghouse’s allegation that the “Shia Sunni debate…hitherto remained in the realm of discussion.” Sunnis and Shi`is did not start killing each other when George Bush sent the U.S. military into Iraq. The same can be said of Mr. Ghouse’s ahistorical claim that “in Sunni traditions very few Muslims show any disrespect towards the other.” The Ottomans conquered their fellow Sunni Mamluks of Egypt in 1517—rather disrespectful, it seems to me; and the Sunni al-Muwahhids conquered the Sunni al-Murabits in Morocco and the Maghrib in the 12th c. CE—again, not exactly manifesting Muslim brotherhood.
And this brings me to the sense in which Islam can be said to be one: at the level of certain doctrines which continually are reified in Islamic history. At a minimum, of course, belief that God spoke to Muhammad as the final prophet to humanity, and that these revelations were later collected into the Qur’an, is something that unites all Muslims. Ditto for the other four pillars of Islam (prayer five times daily; tithing; fasting during Ramadan; and the hajj). But I speak of a constant in Islamic history, one that mystics and generals both have agreed on the importance of, and one that has, for some very influential Islamic thinkers over the years, been ranked as the sixth pillar of Islam: jihad.
Mr. Ghouse and Mr. Haidon will no doubt pull out of the quiver the argument that “jihad means being a good Muslim” but—as Mr. Spencer will no doubt argue better than me—that mainly Sufi understanding of jihad is based on a spurious hadith, or tradition, attributed to Muhammad. Any examination of Islamic over the course of 1,400 years will show that jihad-as-conquest is the normative meaning and is, I would argue, perhaps the most defining feature of Islam going back to the time of Muhammad. The Bin Ladins of the world did not create violent jihad ex nihilo. And even moderate Islamic polities such as the Ottoman Empire declared, and waged, violent jihad against (mainly Christian) states—as recently as World War I!
Until Islam can divest itself of the proclivity to violence, originating in the Qur’an itself and the activities of its founder—then all the appeals to, and claims of, “progressive” Islam will remain vacuous.
Haidon: I am in agreement with Mr. Spencer, who further illustrated the point of the susceptibility of cultural Islam to succumb to puritanical Islam. Why does puritanical Islam appear to be winning out, and why has this been the case for almost the duration of Islam's existence?
Puritanical Islam holds support from the full range of recognised Islamic schools of thought and foundational scholars. Pluralistic Muslim practices are a reflection of cultural life in an eggshell existence, because there may be little basis for them according to the body of usul al fiqh that has been developed. Further, given that the exercise of itjihad is considered bid'a in the Arab Islamic establishment, tolerant cultural practices are not likely to be subsumed into the monolithic bod(ies) of Islam. There is no real divergence of views on this issue with Mr. Spencer. Mr. Spencer has written extensively in this area, and I will not dispute his position; in fact, I endorse it.
As a side note, I would caution my fellow panelists from over-emphasising the role of Wahabbism (which is a sub-sect of the Hanbali school of jurisprudence) as the source of Islam's problems. Islam's hermeneutical problems arise from all schools of Islamic thought and their respective bodies of jurisprudence which are remarkably consistent in areas such as jihad and huduud.
For progressive Islamic practices to be truly successful, and not just transient and capable of toppling, they must be justified by Al'Qur'an and usul al'fiqh. There must be an intellectual and hermenueutical basis for their existence; legal arguments to justify their presence. For this process to begin, there needs to be high level and grass roots conversations about these practices within Islamic societies.
While I agree with some of Mr. Ghouse's sentiments and views, particularly in relation to highlighting how some Islamic scholars malign the Qur'an, I would have to disagree with my Muslim brother on a couple of points. Like the other co-panelists, I am uneasy about Mr. Ghouse's burqa/miniskirt comparison. The burqa is a tool of oppression and to compare its usage to that of a miniskirt in the Western context is misguided. Mr. Ghouse appears to assume that there is an equal level of choice involved, which there is not.
Similarly I find I think Mr. Ghouse's attempt to somehow compare the United States failure to elect a woman president and the situations of India, Bangaldesh and Pakistan where women have held highest office as misleading and unhelpful. The election of women leaders in these countries has more to do with the modalities and machinery of parliamentary democracy, where voters vote directly for political parties as opposed to candidates than it does with Muslim modernity and progressive thinking. As Mr. Ghouse is aptly aware, women are denigrated in the worst of ways in these particular countries. The positition of women as leaders are anomalies only and should not be seen to reflect Islamic tolerance.
Mr. Raddatz makes some interesting remarks, which I generally agree with. He makes normative observations about cultural practices and their relation to Islam that I accept. Mr. Raddatz's observation that decades of interpretation, dialogue and herneneutics have only exacerbated problems between the West and Islam and has led partially to Western capitulation to the Islamist lobby. There has never been an open, concerted effort by Western governments to challenge Muslims to reform, to the contrary. Yes, reform in Islam must be methodical, systemic and incremental. But before we can even begin discussing reform or the integration of cultural practices as a way forward, Muslims have to recognise that there are problems and a justification for reform. To date there have been no concerted global efforts at this by Muslims. There cannot be effective inter-faith dialogue without intra-faith dialogue that explores these issues within Islam.
Dr. Furnish should not attempt to put words into other people’s mouths, and he is not in a position to speak for myself or for Mr. Ghouse. I do not believe that engaging in jihad makes one a good Muslim. To the contrary, Muslims have been conditioned to see jihad as an aggressive offensive tool which seeks to subjugate, as opposed to defend and seek justice. Until Muslims develop a vision of jihad that is consistent with modernity and international human rights law (perhaps akin to the legal doctrine of humanitarian intervention), jihad as a practice and a tool should be curbed by all means.
I support Dr. Furnish's points with respect to Sufism, that while it appears to be tolerant and pluralistic in many respects, it has also promoted jihad and violence as a means of propagation; not merely for self-defence and the pursuit of justice. Dr. Furrnish's final point about what is required for a progressive Islam to truly take its place is correct and I support it.
Spencer: Mr. Ghouse criticizes a Saudi translation of the Qur’an for adding negative mention of Christians and Jews into parenthetical glosses on the Fatiha, the first sura of the Qur’an. He suggests that in “pluralistic societies like India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Egypt and Turkey” this interpretation is unknown. However, Mr. Ghouse does not mention the fact that this interpretation of the Fatiha is mainstream in Islam. The classic Qur’anic commentator Ibn Kathir explains that “the two paths He described here are both misguided,” and that those “two paths are the paths of the Christians and Jews, a fact that the believer should beware of so that he avoids them. The path of the believers is knowledge of the truth and abiding by it. In comparison, the Jews abandoned practicing the religion, while the Christians lost the true knowledge. This is why ‘anger’ descended upon the Jews, while being described as ‘led astray’ is more appropriate of the Christians.”
Ibn Kathir’s understanding of this passage is not a lone “extremist” interpretation. In fact, most Muslim commentators believe that the Jews are those who have earned Allah’s wrath and the Christians are those who have gone astray. This is the view of Tabari, Zamakhshari, the Tafsir al-Jalalayn, the Tanwir al-Miqbas min Tafsir Ibn Abbas, and Ibn Arabi, as well as Ibn Kathir. One contrasting, but not majority view, is that of Nisaburi, who says that “those who have incurred Allah’s wrath are the people of negligence, and those who have gone astray are the people of immoderation.”
What’s more, the ideas that the Jews have earned Allah’s anger and the Christians have gone astray can be found elsewhere in the Qur’an, Wahhabi glosses aside. Ibn Kathir notes that in Qur’an 5:60 the Sabbath-breaking Jews are referred to as “those who incurred the curse of Allah,” and 5:77, in the context of scolding Christians for deifying Christ, characterizes them as those who “misled many, and strayed (themselves) from the even way.”
These passages and others that are abusive toward Jews and Christians and proclaim that they are under Allah’s curse (cf. Qur’an 9:30) are, unfortunately, in the Qur’ans that Muslims read in India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Egypt and Turkey. While there is no doubt that the expression of Islam in those countries and others has been less virulent than it has been in, say, Saudi Arabia and Iran, I respectfully ask that Mr. Ghouse not patronize us by suggesting that this is because material in the Qur’an that incites Muslims to hateful intolerance of non-Muslims has been inserted into the book by Wahhabis. I would ask the same thing of him in regard to my points about Arab and non-Arab Muslims. Bringing up Muhammad’s exhortations to his daughter tells us absolutely nothing about the existence of the Shu’ubites, or the conditions that led to their creation as a party within Islam.
I applaud Mr. Haidon’s honesty in acknowledging that “Muslims have been conditioned to see jihad as an aggressive offensive tool which seeks to subjugate,” and enthusiastically agree with him that “until Muslims develop a vision of jihad that is consistent with modernity and international human rights law (perhaps akin to the legal doctrine of humanitarian intervention), jihad as a practice and a tool should be curbed by all means.”
Ghouse: “Should a woman have the right to decide whether she wants to veil or not veil without having to fear getting shot to death or facing some other persecution?” The Answer is most certainly yes, a woman should have the right to decide whether she wants to veil or not. Undoubtedly, there are social and family pressures for conformity in many Muslim communities -- more than their religious needs. Women, regardless of their faith have endured oppression in the hands of men. The world community needs to continue working for the emancipation of women, we are behind, I mean, men of all socieities need to understand full value of the woman individual.
Mr. Raddatz notes that “The dominant tendency of Islamic contingency points rather towards "harsher rules" than "tolerant practices". Whenever the latter occur - like the common prayers of men and women in Indonesia - they remain rare”. I agree with the note and further add that the later practice is gaining momentum. The societies are at different milestones, the remotest societies are about 100 years behind us in terms of human rights, and we have made a tremendous progress in terms of human rights and women’s emancipation in the last 50 years. None of the societies are fully emancipated, though we are all on the trajectory.
On the burqa/mini-skirt issue, it seems that my comment has been misunderstood. In that comparison, I was trying to emphasize that the definition or standard of modesty varies from culture to culture. However, that example did not have anything to do with the women’s volition issue. That observance of dress codes, to a great extent, has to be a matter of personal volition. To me as a Muslim, it can’t be any other way. However, as in so many cases, Muslims have to contend with totally conflicting situations. The levels of emancipation of women in different communities vary, but certainly it is moving forward towards a just society.
While many Muslims are trying to emphasize the volitional issue in the Muslim world, the same Muslims are also confronted with the bigotry and double standard of the same societies sermonizing about freedom and volition that they won’t let women wear Islamic dresses (excepting niqab or face-covering) as they want. Even the same pundits and advocates who get animated about the imposition of dress code of women have no problem of secular democracies, such as France, imposing dress code (that is, Muslim women can’t wear as they like). We need to have a principled stand. Many Muslims like us are trying to approach such issues from women’s volitional perspective. However, such principled stance requires that as we uphold women’s volition in wearing if they don’t want to wear a veil (headcovering), it is also important that we uphold the volition of those women who do want to.
My comment about women reaching leadership position in certain Muslim-majority countries may not be on the target, but what I was trying to say is that there are opportunities in the Muslim-majority countries to articulate a vision and foster a culture that accords women their due rights. This does not require bashing Islam. Ayesha, wife of the Prophet, was a religious scholar and jurist of her time. Women have participated in the battlefront in both support and combat role, of course, on a voluntary basis.
During the earliest period covering the Prophet and post-prophetic era, Muslim women used to engage in many income-earning professions. A woman was appointed as a market inspector in Madinah under 2nd Caliph Umar. All these were part of an evolving culture, in accordance with Islam, the progress of which was thwarted and even choked over time. Of course, it is the responsibility of Muslims to take up the challenge to cut through the socio-cultural taboos that have piled up over time and re-chart the future connecting with the Qur’anic values and the Prophetic legacy. We don’t ride on camels any more to show our affinity to the Prophet. Riding on a camel has nothing to with Islam. Similarly, the guidance of the Qur’an and the Prophetic legacy ushered in a new era in women’s empowerment. Within the essential guidance of the Qur’an and the Prophet, Muslims need to resume the task of women’s empowerment in the Muslim societies, a task the Prophet initiated.
Notably, the Muslim community in North America is moving forward in an exemplary fashion. The election of Dr. Ingrid Mattson as the first female president of Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) is indicative of those positive changes. This change did not cause a decline in the membership of ISNA. Rather, the entire ISNA community has welcomed it, and we haven’t seen any protest and complain about it from the rest of the broader Muslim community.
Lest we gloss over, it should also be noted that not everything in the West is to be taken as a model. Family as an institution is now more vulnerable than ever. Much of the tensions and alienation in a society has its root in dysfunctional family. We all need to benefit from our collective human experience.
In regard to Zilla Huma Usman, let me state unequivocally that as a Muslim and a human being I see it as a murder and there is no justification for it. I work with many Muslims with a pluralistic bent and I can say without reservation that I haven’t come across anyone who justifies or defends such killing.
If we take the religious labeling out and observe how humans behave we may find surprising commanalities in doing the right and the wrong things. There have been reports of rape in subway trains, the passengers simply watch and do nothing about the disadvantaged, people also watch the murders and do nothing about it, and at the same time we always find a hero who speaks up and does her or his part against the injustice. We need to subject every one to the same principle and logic as we do with Muslims, then some of the unjust criticism has to be done with.
We must have a principled approach in this regard. In 1971, our government ended up providing political, diplomatic and, yes, military support too to the genocidal army of Pakistan. Where were our conscientious voices in support of women, when such gendercide was taking place in then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh)? Please refer to the chapter on Bangladesh in Susan Brownmiller’s Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape. When the U.S. Consul General Archer Blood in Dhaka sent a telegram (known as Blood Telegram) informing Washington that genocide is underway and urged urgent intervention, he was summarily transferred away from Dhaka.
Muslims are constantly being asked to condemn this or condemn that, and in many cases, condemnation is our moral obligation. However, do we not have some common problems in which we all are entangled and have common interests in approaching these issues in a principled-manner? We ourselves patronize, endear and defend (militarily) barbaric autocracies like that of Saudi monarchy with close tie to puritanical Wahabism, and then many rotten things that we see happening from that Kingdom, Muslims are held responsible for condemning the Wahabism.
I do appreciate Mr. Spencer’s acknowledgement “While there is no doubt that the expression of Islam in those countries and others has been less virulent than it has been in, say, Saudi Arabia and Iran,”
Mr. Spencer is not a fan of Wahabism or Saudi Arabia, and I am not either. However, instead of asking me or others like me to condemn all that is rotten, why don’t we come together to condemn such autocratic monarchies with puritanical-cum-fanatical religious connections on the one hand, and also condemn those powers that patronize or protect such undemocratic entities on the other?
Mr. Raddatz may have the reason to believe that all people behave the same way, “As hardly any Muslim denies, this rule set contains also the legitimization of internal violence against women and dissidents as well as the right to external deception and violence towards unbelievers, especially Western influence.” This is way too general and vague, and a few will buy this, but most will reject this characterization.
Raddatz asks, “…what kind of change we are talking about.” Clearly the “incremental changes” as Mr. Haidon puts it. No society or culture has had a dramatic change in values and practices. Except some historical and trailblazing aspects, most changes occur gradually and far-reaching ideas usually take time to gain wider acceptance. Change is the most difficult thing for the masses and at times for individuals. We have to go from familiar turf to the new one in a gradual fashion. None of us, who speaks about freedom, ought to entertain the thoughts of imposing our ideas onto others in a rush.
Mr. Haidon’s comment, “There has never been an open, concerted effort by Western governments to challenge Muslims to reform, to the contrary. Yes, reform in Islam must be methodical, systemic and incremental.” While agreeing with the 2nd part of the statement, I would not pass the responsibility to any one, reform is in our interest, indeed, and in this case, reform means correcting ourselves to what was meant in Qur’an and the authentic Hadith in the light of creating a just society.
In Muslim societies a few of our practices are not in tune with the Qur’an, like; divorce, wife beating, Jihaad and pluralism to name a few. And these issues are being tackled now with a strong commitment. Mr. Haidon has expressed it well. “There cannot be effective inter-faith dialogue without intra-faith dialogue that explores these issues within Islam.”
And I have emphasized a similar thought to the Muslim Organizations that I work with, “For progressive Islamic practices to be truly successful, and not just transient and capable of toppling, they must be justified by Al'Qur'an and usul al'fiqh.” We have to tread from familiar territory to have acceptance and one of the flaws of many a progressive organization is that they are not on the familiar grounds.
I agree with Mr. Spencer when he says “In fact, most Muslim commentators believe that the Jews are those who have earned Allah’s wrath and the Christians are those who have gone astray. This is the view of Tabari, Zamakhshari, the Tafsir al-Jalalayn, the Tanwir al-Miqbas min Tafsir Ibn Abbas, and Ibn Arabi, as well as Ibn Kathir. One contrasting, but not majority view, is that of Nisaburi, who says that “those who have incurred Allah’s wrath are the people of negligence, and those who have gone astray are the people of immoderation.”
No doubt, this view has existed, but the majority of Muslims really did not believe in it as it did not translate into major warfare and subjugation of people, any more than the wars and destruction in Europe and elsewhere. It was the politics of the people in government, most of whom through out the world, with the exception of United States and Canada, were dictators and kings who fought the wars for their power rather than religion or the people.
Spencer “Bringing up Muhammad’s exhortations to his daughter tells us absolutely nothing...” Well, Mr. Spencer, it does speaks capaciously about individual responsibility, it was in response to your comment that the Pakistanis aspire to claim in the family tree of Prophet Mohammad or Arabs that I wrote. When he told his own daughter that she has to earn her righteous place through her good deeds, and that she will not get a free pass because she is his daughter speaks volumes about taking individual responsibility for one’s behavior and negating the hereditary nobility and bringing every one par as the Qur’an says “The noblest of you, in sight of Allah, is the best in conduct”.
I am glad Mr. Spencer finds agreement with the statement of Mr. Haidon “until Muslims develop a vision of jihad that is consistent with modernity and international human rights law (perhaps akin to the legal doctrine of humanitarian intervention), jihad as a practice and a tool should be curbed by all means.”
Mr. Haidon reflects the attitudes among Muslims today “To the contrary, Muslims have been conditioned to see jihad as an aggressive offensive tool which seeks to subjugate, as opposed to defend and seek justice.” And it has got to change.
It is unfortunate that the word Jihad has taken the meaning of holy war against infidels. This understanding of Jihad was further crystallized as an outcome against the crusades and has stuck with the Muslim psyche till recently. It did not have any more steam in it and had stayed dormant for a long time; the words started playing the games again from the early 50’s as a political tool to galvanize the masses to protect the kingdoms in the name of religion.
The tragic 9/11 was a wake up call to Muslims around the world. They felt a sense of betrayal to learn that the aggression part of Jihad was not in their religion, but was developed as a political tool, just as much as the crusades, inquisitions were political tools using religion to consolidate the hold of Kings over their people.
Jihad is an Arabic word meaning a struggle or an effort in the fulfilling of the commandments of God in order to become a better human being. The war is not holy and there is nothing in the Qur’an to aggressively go after any one, unless you’re defending against an aggression. Even then, there is a command that says, if the aggressor has stopped the aggression, you need to stop as well.
It is most certainly a duty of all human beings to help each other against oppression and injustice. This is what Islam teaches. (Power point on Jihad at www.worldMuslimCongress.com )
Therefore, Islam has laid out clear rules and regulations for Muslims to follow in the event of war, which is only used as a last resort. Qur’an, Surah 2:190-194 “Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for God loves not transgressors.” And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in God; but if they cease, let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression.
It is time to wake up and see the changes that are evolving, Mr. Raddatz’s statement would have been valid a decade ago “Currently there is certainly little room for change on the Islamic side if "consistency of belief" prevails in politics, the "volition of women" is rigorously dictated by men..” and “the outlook for a constructive solution for co-existence in a civil society must stay quite obscure. Insofar the cultural multitude aspect has not contributed any feasible development.”
The changes that have missed the radar of many a people in the writing business are:
 Human rights issues. Muslims are seeking an understanding if the just values of Qur’an are reflected in Socio-political Sharia Laws, Muslims are relentlessly pursuing to understand the wisdom of Sharia laws and the intensity of the pursuit is refreshing. The political Apostasy laws are losing ground to Qur’anic understanding of no compulsion in religion led by several scholars.
 Emancipation of Muslim women’s rights. Never in the history of Muslims has the pursuit of this been so strong. Muslims women having their own Personal Law board in India, Women Mayors around the Subcontinent, Women’s seminary in Morocco, Women speaking up in Indonesia against terrorism, Women’s heading major Muslim Organizations, Nobel Prize winners, An Iranian American Muslim women going into space, Air Force Pilots in Pakistan, Sania Mirza in international tennis, and all the way to paving the way to Women’s only Mosques in India, equal space for women and even Women lead Friday Congregational prayers in Canada and the United States. Not all these are without controversy, of course. But the Muslim community is moving forward through a more encompassing discourse. Muslims are even trying to make case for taking non-Muslims into consideration as stakeholders in Islamic discourse. See “Apostasy and Reform in Islam.”
The major change that is taking root, which Mr. Spencer keeps hammering at is the verse 4:34 about wife beating. This verse has been mis-understood for a long time. Dr. Laleh Bakhtiar has just written about, and Dr. Abusulayman and Dr. Mohammad Omar Farooq have also written about it and can be found at: www.WorldMuslimCongress.blogspot.com
The word "Idribuhunna" is usually translated as "beat them" in Sura 4:34. This word with the root "Dharaba" has a very long list of meanings. The word is used in Qur’aan in 10 different ways – for example the meaning “to beat” is used 2 times, “to strike” is used 9 times and “to give” is used 17 times. Most Muslims are finding the new interpretation more congruent with the overall spirit and perspective of the Qur’an and these works are circulating rapidly.
 Co-existence – There is plethora of organizations emerging on the principles of Co-existence, certainly not enough, but considering the birthing that has begun in 2001, the growth is impressive. I am a member of a few organizations that espouse those Qur’anic values of Pluralism. In fact Our Mission is driven by the Qur'an, Al-Hujurat, Surah 49:13: “O mankind! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. The noblest of you, in sight of Allah, is the best in conduct. Allah Knows and is Aware.” And our Mission is to work for a world of co-existence through inclusiveness and participation. As a member of diverse family of faiths, our efforts will be directed towards justice and equity to attain peace for the humankind with a firm grounding in commonly held values. We cannot have advantages at the cost of others. Such benefits are temporary and deleterious to lasting peace. We believe what is good for Muslims has got to be good for the world, and vice versa, to sustain it.
The first step to peace on earth is to rejuvenate the United Nations, where all of us need to join together to create a Just World. All aggression ought to be fought jointly and justly by the entire community of Nations. For short term gains, the big nations have acted un-justly, each one has taken their turn to be wrong, this has got to go. The big brothers have to demonstrate a sense of justice and fairness in dealing with different nations, when there is justice, peace is bound to come.
FP: Mr. Ghouse, I am not so sure how a few words of lip service regarding how the world must stand up for women’s rights deals with the problem of gender apartheid under Islam in any real way, nor how it deals with the problem that such apartheid has its roots in the teaching of the Qur’an.
In terms of forced veiling, I am not so sure what you mean when you say that “The levels of emancipation of women in different communities vary, but certainly it is moving forward towards a just society.” If you are saying that there is a progressive movement in Islamic communities toward free choice regarding wearing the veil, this is news to me. The pressures are moving in the completely opposite direction, and surely you are aware of what is happening to unveiled women in Iraq and even in certain areas of France, where non-Muslim women veil themselves in terror of physical punishment from Muslims. The tragedy of Zilla Huma Usman represents this phenomenon well.
Peter Raddatz, your turn sir.
Raddatz: We all know how difficult it is to realize democratic measures in an Islamic society. Therefore, in terms of Mr. Ghouse’s assertions, it would be much more helpful to skip assertions that are obviously too palliative, be it the "just society", the position of women, the question of apostasy, or the general "wisdom" of Sharia laws as such. Moreover, I wonder how one can be sure about any statement to be 10 years out of date while on the other hand, as he rightly says, the harmonization of different concepts in civil society and Islam necessarily take a vastly elongated period of time, impossible to define.
Likewise we should not bewilder our readers by an allegedly "long list of meanings" of the word "daraba" = to beat. If Mr. Spencer is blamed for insisting on this meaning in the framework of Qur’an 4/34: "...beat them" (the women), this reproach certainly cannot be supported by the established variants of the Arabic language. "Daraba" simply means "to beat" - full stop. If you want another meaning like - for instance - to play (an instrument), to write (on a typing machine), to calculate, to avert, to separate, to delete, you would have to combine each of it with a pertaining conjunction, the Qur’anic text does not offer, however.
So dozens of famous traditionists and Qur’an exegetes over dozens of generations of the Islamic history have based, correspondingly, on this one single meaning - "to beat". This may be regarded as only one small but typical and not unimportant example of what makes the contemporary, orthodox Islam so predictable: the charismatic decision which goes usually in favour of Shariatic rules whenever the actual power practice is concerned. Insofar Mr. Haidon's statements on law hermeneutics may be confirmed and Mr. Furnish's on the Islamic "multitude" relativated a bit, for the same reason.
Last but not least, Mr. Ghouse's view of the role of the United Nations seems particularly obscure. I think our round has deserved better than generally blaming the UN for "short term gains", acting "unjustly" and so on. If you take a closer look at the UN history as from the early 1970s you may register a slowly but surely rising influence of Islamic, especially Arab countries may confirm the theory of "one Islam" from a somewhat unexpected point of view.
I may recommend to read Pedro Sanjuan's book on "The UN Gang" where he describes the genesis of an extremely anti-Semitic Arab state mafia blackmailing the "international community" to spend an enormous portion of its time on Israel and to vote for "just decisions" against the "terror state". Pretending to be a "secular institution", the UN administration offers a prayer facility to the believers in Islam - as the only religion. Already in 1974, against all written and unwritten rules, the UN gave standing ovations to Yassir Arafat, having spoken, armed with a Smith & Wesson revolver. So far for "unjust treatment" of Islamic and/or Palestinian interests in the UN.
Furnish: Mr. Haidon’s warning about “over-emphasising the role of Wahhabism” is well-taken, and I think I have been careful about not doing so. Wahhabi Islam has only existed for two centuries, and the martial trends of Islam long pre-date it. I do find it interesting that he also cautions me about “put[ing] words in other people’s mouths”—when I predicted that he and Mr. Ghouse would argue that “jihad means being a good Muslim,” and not expanding the Dar al-Islam at the expense of the rest of us—but then Mr. Ghouse, at any rate, proceeds to say exactly what I predicted: that after 9/11 Muslims “felt a sense of betrayal to learn that the aggression part of jihad was not in their religion, but was developed as a political tool, just as much as the crusades,” and that “it is unfortunate that the word Jihad has taken the meaning of holy war against the infidels.”
Indeed, it is unfortunate: but the word has meant that going back to Muhammad’s time, and Mr. Ghouse is woefully ignorant of Islamic history when he states that jihad as holy war “crystallized as an outcome against the crusades.” Please. In this ahistorical view, Islamic rule was spread from the border of France to the Indus River in a little over a century by what—handing out brochures? Note that I am not saying Islam spread only by the sword; there were peaceful da`is, or “missionaries,” especially among the Sufi orders. And Islam also spread across the Sahara, and the Indian Ocean, via traders on camels and ships. But it takes a massive ignorance, or misrepresentation, of history to argue with a straight face that jihad—bringing the non-Muslim Dar al-Harb under the political sway of the Dar al-Islam—had nothing to do with the spread of Islam as a religion and a civilization.
I find it also extremely disingenuous for Mr. Ghouse to maintain that “wife-beating “is “not in tune with the Qur’an.” Perhaps this is a conscious echo of Laleh Bakhtiar’s new “exegesis” of the Qur’an, most notable in her rendering of Surah Nisa’ :34. For 1,400 years that passage has been understood thus: “As for those women on whose part you fear disloyalty and ill-conduct: admonish them, refuse to share their beds and beat them.” Bakhtiar’s new version has it that the verbal form idrabuhunna does not mean “beat them” but, rather, “send them away.” I’m a historian who reads Arabic, not an expert in pre-modern Arabic, but for the verb daraba to mean “send them away” or “shun them,” there must be a preposition after the verb—which is not the case in the Qur’anic text—as Professor Raddatz observes correctly.
In any event, I truly hope that Bakhtiar’s “progressive” view of that passage takes hold in the Islamic world; but in the meantime it is just, well, silly to maintain that that passage has meant, for most Muslims over the last 14 centuries, something other than what the plain text says. Likewise, I hope that the world’s Muslims eventually do come to see jihad as something other than holy war against Jews and Christians. But in the interim it does no one, Muslim or non-Muslim, any favor to deny how such terms hahave
November 25, 2007
The Case for Illegal Mingling
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
One of the most talked about stories in the Middle East last week came out of Saudi Arabia, where the government affirmed the sentence of 200 lashes for a 19-year-old Shiite girl who was sitting in a car with a male acquaintance last year when they were attacked by seven men who gang-raped both of them.
The Saudi Justice Ministry said the young woman deserved 200 lashes and six months in prison, even though she had been raped, because she was guilty of “illegal mingling” — sitting in a car with a man who was not related to her.
Two hundred lashes for a woman who was raped, under any circumstances in even the most traditional country, is barbaric — period. But what also keeps tripping off my tongue is this phrase “illegal mingling.” It seems to me that if the Middle East could use more of anything these days it is more mingling — if not between the sexes then at least between the sects.
From Gaza to Lebanon to Pakistan to Iraq there is a huge struggle going on today, primarily between Muslim sects, over who can mingle with whom. This is the central issue in Iraq: Can Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis mingle anymore, after all the blood that has been spilled, and, if so, can the country be stable enough for us to reduce our troops? By mingling I mean something less than embracing each other, but more than total segregation.
To the extent that the surge in Iraq has worked, it’s largely because those Shiites and Sunnis ready to tolerate some mingling, some interaction, have risen up against those Shiites and Sunnis who want to just wipe out the other sect and any of their own who don’t agree.
There is only one good thing about extremists: They don’t know when to stop. That was key to the surge. The anti-mingling, pro-Qaeda Iraqi Sunnis went way too far — in beheading people, suicide-bombing mosques, forcing marriages with the daughters of Sunni tribal sheiks and demanding that men grow beards and stop drinking whiskey.
It was this extreme fundamentalism that prompted something you so rarely see in Arab-Muslim politics: moderate Sunnis going all the way, rather than just going away. That is, rising up, risking their own lives, even aligning themselves with America, to defend their more moderate, traditional, Sunni way of life from the jihadists.
And Al Qaeda knows it went too far, which is why, as David Ignatius pointed out in The Washington Post, Osama bin Laden, in a little-noticed Oct. 22 audiotape, scolded his followers for tactics that had alienated Iraqis. “Mistakes have been made during holy wars,” bin Laden said.
The same thing has happened among Shiites. Iran seems to have dialed down its support for Moktada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army in Iraq — which has been purging Sunnis and Shiites to prevent any mingling — because many ordinary Iraqi Shiites had become fed up with this pro-Iranian militia and had begun to blame Tehran.
On Nov. 8, Agence France-Presse reported that the local police had publicly accused the Mahdi Army of carrying out a four-year killing spree in Iraq’s central shrine city of Karbala. “The Mahdi Army murdered and tortured and kidnapped people under Sharia law,” the police statement said. “They are the cause of the deaths of hundreds of people.” The news agency added that “the statement marks the first time the Iraqi authorities have directly accused Iraq’s most powerful Shiite militia of carrying out killings.”
The reason these events are important is that Iraq has become center stage for the struggle between a more moderate, modernizing Islamic outlook, advanced by the United States and some of its Iraqi allies, and another outlook, advanced by the Mahdi Army and Al Qaeda, that wants to “purify” the Muslim world of “the other.”
The jihadists know that if they can defeat America — in the heart of their world — it would influence the whole region. Gen. David Petraeus understands that if we can defeat them in the heart of their world, it could do the same. But the locals have to lead the fight — we can’t want mingling more than they do. What the U.S. surge seems to have done is embolden more of them to fight. Attention: These pro-minglers are not Jeffersonian Democrats. But they do represent relatively more moderate strands of Sunnism and Shiism.
The questions that we and our presidential candidates need to be asking are: How real are these uprisings? Do they represent a larger, moderate push back against the extremists that can be built upon to produce a decent Iraq? And can we do that with fewer U.S. combat troops? Casualties are down in Iraq, but we need to see a lot more. If we do, let’s make sure that our own debate keeps pace with any shifting reality there. Most Americans would still like to see us salvage something decent in Iraq — if it can be done at a reasonable cost.
Pope Benedict on Friday issued a strong call for religious freedom in Arab countries, saying everyone should have the right to practise their faith openly and to convert to other religions if they want.
The Pope, making his call in an address to Catholic bishops from Arab regions, also said he was concerned that parts of the Middle East risked becoming just "an archeological site" if an exodus of Christians forced out by violence continued.
"I dearly hope that authentic religious freedom could become reality everywhere and that everyone's right to practise their religion freely, or to change it, should not be impeded," he told the bishops working in the Middle East and Africa.
"This is a primordial right for every human being," he added in his French-language speech.
The Vatican has long called for greater rights for Christians in Muslim countries, particularly in Saudi Arabia, where members of the tiny Christian minority are not allowed to practise their faith in public.
King Abdullah seeks stability by reaching out on religion
By Andrew England
Many Wahabi clerics not only are intolerant to non-Muslim faiths but also deem other sects of Islam, such as Shia, Sufi and Ismaili, as heresy.
Published: June 23 2008 19:18 | Last updated: June 23 2008 19:18
A photograph of King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia’s ruler, walking through a palace in Mecca flanked by two other notables was no doubt exactly the type of image the kingdom’s leaders hoped to portray. Clearly, too, it was one intended for both internal and external consumption.
To the king’s right was a beaming Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al al-Sheik, Saudi Arabia’s top Sunni religious leader, while to his left was Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president of Shia Iran. Together the trio represented the Middle East’s powerhouses – two nations with a history of fraught relations but that lay claim to leadership roles for the Sunni and Shia communities respectively.
The snap was taken at a conference in Islam’s holiest city this month that brought together some 500 Muslim leaders and scholars from around the world. The meeting was intended to assemble often fractious groups and present a united front.
Saudi Arabia is known for the religious intolerance of its puritanical brand of Wahabi Islam. But King Abdullah (left), tired of what many in his country see as a constant barrage of Islam-bashing since the attacks of September 11 2001, is hoping to change that image. His latest initiative is to foster dialogue between Moslems and Christians and Jews. The idea, a Saudi official says, is for the Abrahamic religions – Christianity, Islam and Judaism – to explore their shared values to positive effect.
But, before serious wider dialogue can happen, Muslim leaders recognise they have to put their own house in order and that means going some way to healing the divisions between Shia and Sunni communities – tensions that have been exacerbated by the sectarian violence in Iraq and Lebanon. Those factors, combined with Iran’s rising influence in the Middle East, have brought the spectre of a widening Sunni-Shia conflict to the uppermost of the minds of many Arab leaders.
Having American troops stationed in Iraq is one thing, says Diaa Rashwan, an analyst at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. “But what is happening on the other side in Iraq and Lebanon between Muslims could be considered more dangerous – because the Americans will leave but the Muslims will stay.”
Yet that is only one facet of King Abdullah’s initiative. Launching a high-profile religious dialogue also tackles the more immediate challenge facing the kingdom: how to deal with extremism within his own shores and widen the country’s influence in world affairs.
It is not the first time such initiatives have been raised and Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, is not alone in putting forward the notion of interfaith dialogue. In May, the gas-rich emirate of Qatar hosted more than a dozen Jewish rabbis – including two from Israel – as it held its sixth interfaith dialogue meeting.
Some analysts suggest there is a degree of regional rivalry in the different initiatives as states jostle for influence and Saudi Arabia, buoyed by the unprecedented oil boom, tries to consolidate its status as a regional leader. Until now, however, the kingdom’s religious reputation and the restrictions imposed by its brand of Islam have kept Riyadh from attempting interfaith initiatives. Many Wahabi clerics not only are intolerant to non-Muslim faiths but also deem other sects of Islam, such as Shia, Sufi and Ismaili, as heresy.
It is not uncommon for a radical Wahabi to issue a fatwa, or religious edict, condemning the Shia. Shortly before the Mecca conference, more than 20 Wahabi clerics sent a letter to the king attacking the Shia. While leading Wahabi clerics who were instructed to go to the Mecca meeting did attend, many others who were not directly told to be there chose to stay away.
Non-Muslims and Muslims who do not adhere to the state’s interpretation of Islam face significant economic, political and social discrimination, according to the US State Department. There has also been a spate of charges against the kingdom’s notorious religious police, alleging their involvement in killings and harassment.
But in King Abdullah’s mind “there is a misconception of what the Wahabi movement has meant and he thinks it is misunderstood”, the Saudi official says.
Indeed, observers say a crucial factor behind his push for dialogue is to dilute the influence of the more radical elements of Wahabism. The kingdom has waged its own battle against Islamist extremists linked to al-Qaeda and bent on overthrowing the al-Saud royal family. The Saudis have attempted to counter the threat via security measures, including waves of arrests, but have also turned to ideological means that include rehabilitation programmes and a more tolerant government discourse.
Moreover, the king – who met Pope Benedict at the Vatican last November – at home introduced a “national dialogue” that brings together Saudis from different segments of society to discuss issues ranging from education to women’s rights and the place of the Shia community, which complains of widespread discrimination. There are estimated to be 1.5m-2m Shia in the kingdom, mainly in the oil-producing east. Jafar al-Shayeb, a Shia political activist, says the dialogue could help “because here the religious establishment consider themselves above all other Muslims”.
The tricky thing is for the authorities directly to take on powerful clerics, he adds. “Having the international dialogue will influence some of the radical positions here which cannot be dealt with directly because they [Wahabis] are powerful and socially rooted.”
A Saudi adviser, however, disputes the analysis, saying the radical elements have to be taken on directly. He argues that the king is already trying to reform from within, with changes to legal and education systems as well as through the government’s re-education programmes. “We will never weaken the religious establishment,” the adviser says. “It is about reforming.”
The influence of the Wahabi movement dates back to the 18th century, when an Islamic scholar and the Saud family joined forces to form a political entity. Since then, the country’s rulers and religious leaders have used each other to boost their legitimacy.
The king’s message at the conference was that the scholars and leaders needed to “counter the challenges of isolation, ignorance, narrow vision and convey to the world the broad Islamic messages based on humanitarian principles and away from hostility and aggression”.
The key will be whether the words translate into actions – internally and externally. A year ago, Shia in the eastern town of al-Ahsa were proudly showing off the site of what was to be one of the biggest Shia mosques in the nation. Its construction was seen as a sign of changing attitudes. But work on the building has since been stopped by the authorities, according to a Shia website.
“The government has to stop and say enough is enough,” says a Saudi editor, referring to the more radical Wahabis. The king should “knock some sense into people and instil in them the principle of dialogue, tolerance and acceptance”.
Rare show of Islamic unity in Saudi Arabia
By Mariam Al Hakeem, Correspondent
June 15, 2008
http://archive. gulfnews. com/articles/ 08/06/16/ 10221429. html
Qatif: In a rare gesture of unity and amity with their brothers in
Islam, a delegation of Sunnis performed Juma prayers at one of the
Shiite Mosques in the eastern city of Qatif, the only part of Saudi
Arabia where Shiites are a majority.
Observers see it as an unprecedented move to soothe the feelings of
alienation among the Shiite minority in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The delegation, headed by Shaikh Mukhlef Bin Daham Al Shamri, were
attentive to the Friday sermon delivered by the well-known Shiite
Shaikh Hassan Al Safar, in which the preacher underscored the
significance of strengthening Islamic and national unity and closing
ranks among followers of Islam.
"This is part of our duty to promote virtue and prevent vice," he
noted. The new initiative on the part of Sunnis and Shiites to close
their ranks received wide media coverage and some foreign media such
as BBC also covered it extensively.
Shaikh Al Shamri is one of the shaikhs of Shamr tribe, which spreads
over a vast area in various regions of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf
countries. In yet another gesture to express the significance of
national unity, Shaikh Al Shamri and those accompanying him, covered
their shoulders with the Saudi flags while they were praying at the
mosque, according to witnesses.
During the talks with the Shiite community, Shaikh Al Shamri
proposed that a similar delegation of Shiites would come over to one
of the Sunni mosques in Al Khobar next Friday. This move was
regarded as a bold initiative from the part of the majority Sunnis
to bury the hatchet and show their reciprocal respect to fellow
members of the community.
This also comes as part of repairing the damage caused by a
statement issued two weeks ago by some 22 Sunni clerics blaming
Shiites. In their statement, radical Sunni clerics accused Shiites
of destabilising Muslim countries and humiliating Sunnis.
However, the Saudi officials disclosed then that the clerics who
issued the statement do not represent the official Saudi religious
establishment, and their views do not reflect those adopted by the
Do you think such steps will have a positive impact on Sunni-Shiite
relations? What other steps can be taken to encourage dialogue
between the two sects? Tell us at letter2editor @ gulfnews.com
Lucknow: Sunnis pray at Shia mosque
1 Jun 2008
Times of India
http://timesofindia .indiatimes. com/Lucknow_ Sunnis_pray_ at_Shia_mosque
LUCKNOW: Setting a new tradition in Lucknow which has a long history
of Shia-Sunni riots, a handful of Muslims belonging to the Sunni
sect offered namaz at a Shia mosque here this Friday.
The proposal, considered as a move to end the decades long animosity
between the two sects that had clashed several times, especially
during the month of Moharrum over taking out of processions and
their routes, had come from noted Shia cleric, Maulana Kalbe Sadiq,
who is also the vice president of the Muslim Personal Law Board.
Sadiq had proposed to offer the Eid namaz led by the Naib Imam of
Idgah on Eid which is still some months away but this Friday,
Padamshri Haji Kalimullah of Malihabad led a delegation of about 20
to the historical Asifi mosque to offer namaz.
The namaziz were led by, Maulana Kalbe Jawwad, who welcomed the move by the Sunnis of Malihabad.
In reciprocation, Shias would offer namaz next Friday at a Sunni
mosque in Malihabad, he said.
Terming the move as a new beginning, Jawwad said a message of unity
would go from here and prove a dampener on the designs of some
vested interests bent upon creating rift within the community.
A Sunni scholar who also offered prayers at the Asifi mosque said
when both sects offer namaz together at Kabaa why can they not do
the same here.
The "Shiite crescent" - an alliance of Shiite Iran with Arab Shiite movements in Iraq and Lebanon allegedly committed to dominating the Middle East - has become a popular intellectual shortcut to explaining Muslim affairs in the West.
Yet the theory is a flawed one. It ignores the complexity of religious, national, local and tribal allegiances that include, exclude or overlap one another throughout the region. Moreover, it does not account for a number of other factors, for example, the reasons behind the occasional inter-Shiite fighting in Iraq.
In an interesting twist, the Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - two Shiites - happen to be considered the most popular foreign leaders in overwhelmingly Sunni Egypt (and probably most of the Middle East) according to a poll conducted by the Ibn Khaldun Center in Cairo.
Since the death of the Prophet of Islam, Muslims have split into two groups with distinct theological, cultural and even political outlooks: Sunnis (85 percent) and Shiites (15 percent). For most of the past 14 centuries, the two have got along, but often Shiites have been ruthlessly repressed by the Sunni majority. Today, non-Arab Iran is the largest Shiite country (more than 90 percent of its 70 million inhabitants) and the two other important Shiite communities are Iraq (65 percent) and Lebanon (40 percent).
Though inadequate and overinflated, the Shiite crescent theory nevertheless refers to a real problem, which is that of rising tension between Sunnis - the main branch of Islam - and Shiites in various parts of the Middle East.
One crucial but under-discussed arena of Sunni-Shiite relations is Saudi Arabia. Approximately 10 percent of the kingdom's population is estimated to be Shiite. Since the country was established in 1932, Shiite rituals have been subjected to significant constraints and Shiites have been marginalized and intermittently repressed. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group have all pointed out the systematic social, political, religious and economic discrimination of Shiites by the Saudi state institutions and ulema, or clergy. Since 1993, Saudi rulers have attempted some rapprochement, by engaging Shiite leaders, although significant advances have yet to materialize.
Sunni-Shiite relations in Saudi Arabia are important for the rest of the Muslim world. Indeed, the kingdom's religious establishment holds sway over many radical Muslim circles, thanks to its worldwide network of mosques, and usually adheres to a puritan and intolerant version of Sunni Islam. As a result, the Saudi ulema bear much responsibility in the propagation of anti-Shiite feelings, but they are also in a strategic position to soothe the occasional tensions between the two communities.
A radical break with well-established anti-Shiism is unlikely; observers of the kingdom know that an inhibited political culture there that puts excessive emphasis on consensus makes Switzerland look like a fast-changing country.
However there are two reasons to believe that time is ripe for some sort of bold action by the rulers. First, despite the slight détente in the kingdom in the 1990s, tensions are mounting since civil war in Iraq and the reassertion of Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon increased alarm about regional Shiite domination. Many young Saudis who engage in jihad in Iraq are motivated, among other things, by fervent anti-Shiite sentiments. This heated situation has also engendered an increased number of despicable acts of vandalism, like cemetery profanation or the burning down of Shiite mosques, threatening the inter-communal status quo.
Secondly, King Abdullah is investing much hope in his calls for interfaith dialogue. Earlier this month, he concluded an interfaith conference in Madrid, which he hopes to be the first step in a sustained dialogue process. Christian and Jewish religious authorities worldwide have been involved and many declared their support for the king's overture. It is quite an undertaking for the leader of a country that constrains or bans any non-Islamic religious act, sign or place of worship. The legitimacy and credibility of the king's move will, to a large extent, depend on the state of Sunni-Shiite relations within Saudi Arabia.
Recent moves indicate that the king is aware of this situation, and wants to make advances, even at the price of infuriating some members of the ulema.
This month, 22 radical Saudi clerics issued a fatwa, or religious edict, saying that Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah movement's fight against Israel is a disguise to conceal its anti-Sunni agenda. They proclaimed Shiites followed "infidel precepts."
Reaction was swift: Mohammed al-Nujaimi, a prominent cleric from the religious establishment was dispatched recently to mend fences with Shiites. He met with Hassan al-Saffar, the leader of the Shiite community in Saudi Arabia, and other representatives to condemn the edict. There is good reason to believe that the king was behind this effort.
By Saudi standards, this is a bold move, as the rulers of the kingdom are always wary not to antagonize the ulema, who provide them with legitimacy. Anti-Shiite sentiment is one of the main tenets of the ulema's ideology, usually referred to as Wahabbism, a very puritan and intolerant version of Islam. The king's overture is unlikely to be appreciated by them.
There are reasons to be skeptical about the outcome of the king reaching out to the Shiite community, but mounting tensions and the king's interfaith projects have created a state of affairs in which the Saudi Shiite situation cannot be shunned any longer. If a decent modus vivendi is worked out there, then it can have some impact on Sunni-Shiite relations worldwide thanks to the kingdom's special position within the Islamic world as the guardian of the religion's two most holy sites, and reassert the House of Saud over an obscurantist and anachronistic ulema. Inshallah.
Reza Zia-Ebrahimi is a Middle East consultant and commentator based in Oxford, England.
HRW urges Saudi to end 'discrimination' against Ismailis
Published Date: September 23, 2008
DUBAI: Human Rights Watch urged the Saudi government on Monday to end its "systematic discrimination" of minority Ismaili Shiites, charging that they are treated as second-class citizens. "The Saudi government preaches religious tolerance abroad, but it has consistently penalised its Ismaili citizens for their religious beliefs," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director of the New York-based watchdog.
The government should stop treating Ismailis as second-class in employment, the justice system and education," he said in a statement. A HRW report released documents "a pattern of discrimination against the Ismailis in government employment, education, religious freedom and the justice system," the statement said. HRW said that several hundred thousand, "perhaps as many as one million," Ismailis live in Saudi Arabia, which hosts Islam's holiest shrines and applies a rigorous doctrine of Sunni Islam known
Most live in Najran province on the southwestern border with Yemen. Saudi Arabia took control of Najran from Yemen in 1934, incorporating into the kingdom the local Sulaimani Ismaili community, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. More than 70 years on, "Saudi authorities at the highest levels continue to propagate hate speech" against them, HRW said. In April 2007, the Council of Senior Religious Scholars, the body tasked with officially interpreting Islamic faith, termed Ismailis "corrupt infidels, debauched ath
Hundreds of Ismailis were arrested following clashes with security forces in Najran in April 2000 and some 400 others were purged from the local bureaucracy, the rights watchdog said. Seventeen Ismailis are still serving jail terms over the unrest. According to HRW, Wahhabi judges in Saudi Islamic courts "routinely discriminate against Ismailis," such as when a judge annulled the marriage of an Ismaili man to a Sunni woman in March 2006 on grounds that he lacked religious qualification.
HRW noted that King Abdullah opened an interfaith conference initiated by Saudi Arabia in Spain in July. But "the measure of Saudi religious tolerance will be its practice at home, not only what it preaches abroad," Stork said. The rights group called on Riyadh to set up a national institution to recommend remedies for discriminatory policies and respond to individual claims.
In its annual International Religious Freedom Report issued on Friday, the US State Department said community leaders in Najran reported government discrimination against Ismailis, including "allowing Sunni religious leaders to declare them unbelievers" and relocating them to other parts of the country.
The Najran Ismailis are a separate branch of the broader Shiite sect and do not follow the Aga Khan who heads the mainstream Ismailis. Ismaili activists have also alleged that the government is seizing lands in Najran to settle Sunni Yemeni tribesmen who are granted Saudi citizenship in an attempt to alter the area's demographic and religious composition. The State Department report said that while Saudi Arabia continued to place severe restrictions on religious freedom, there were "incremental improvement s in specific areas, such as better protection of the right to possess and use personal religious materials." - AFP
Following orders by President Jammeh for the Gambia Supreme Islamic Council (SIC) to put its house in order and for it to regulate the apparent Islamic differences in the country, the council has finally indicated its position on the Shia movement in The Gambia.
A news release from the Supreme Islamic Council noted that based on the controversy surrounding Shia activities in The Gambia, the council has conducted a thorough investigation and has decided on various issues.
The council, according to the release, noticed that Shia beliefs contradict the teachings and beliefs of Ahlus Sunna wa- Jam’ah (the followers of Prophet Muhammad [PBUH]).
“The council has also decided that the proprietors of all the print and electronic media should ensure that all religious programmes aimed at propagating or defending the belief that contradicts the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) should be stopped,” the release added.
The Supreme Islamic Council went further to direct the General Secretaries of Islamic/Arabic Education in The Gambia to take all necessary measures to stop all syllabi that seek to teach Shia beliefs. This directive, according to the release, is based on the fact that education is the most effective tool in the dissemination of ideas, thoughts and beliefs.
The release also noted that all cultural and educational institutions, foundations and individuals propagating or disseminating the Shia beliefs and teaching among Muslims in The Gambia must be stopped.
It would be recalled that a Daily Observer story on the occasion of the official opening last Thursday of the new Supreme Islamic Council Training Institute for Imams and Scholars quoted President Jammeh as calling on the SIC to put its house in order, giving a one-week ultimatum for the council to regulate the apparent Islamic differences in the country.
Source: Picture: Alh. Banding Drammeh (President of the Supreme Islamic Council)
Governor of Saudi province leaves under cloud
By Agence France Presse (AFP)
Thursday, November 06, 2008
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RIYADH: Saudi King Abdullah has removed a ruling family member accused of discrimination against the minority Ismaili Shiite community from his post, ostensibly at his own request.
A royal decree relieved Prince Mishaal bin Saud bin Abelaziz from his post as governor of southwestern Najran Province "at his request," the official Saudi Press Agency said late Tuesday. It did not give details or any other reason for the move.
But Prince Mishaal has been accused by Ismaili activists, who belong to an offshoot of Shiite Islam, of encouraging the seizure of lands in the Ismaili stronghold of Najran to settle Sunni Yemeni tribesmen who are granted Saudi citizenship in an attempt to alter the area's demographic and religious makeup.
The Najran Ismailis are a separate branch of the broader sect and do not follow the Aga Khan, who heads the world's mainstream Ismailis.
Last April, a group of Ismaili activists presented to King Abdullah a petition signed by 77 Najran notables demanding the sacking of Mishaal.
Saudi Arabia is dominated by a rigorous doctrine of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism, and both Ismailis and other Shiites frequently complain of state-sponsored repression.
Governor of Saudi province leaves under cloud
By Agence France Presse (AFP)
President Bush and Secretary of State Rice greeted his words with cautious optimism, as did President Shimon Peres of Israel who said, "I wish that your voice will become the prevailing voice of our region, of all people."
Other responses ranged from cynical to critical. One Saudi Shia in exile said it was like South Africa decrying racism during the apartheid era.
Imam Moustafa al-Qazwini, an important Shia American leader, wrote in an Open Letter to the UN gathering: "Since the inception of the kingdom, it has institutionalized a systematic and deliberate process to discredit and marginalize its own citizens who follow the Shia belief. From the educational institutes, to the state funded media outlets, and employment the Saudi government has continued its religious prosecution, distortion, and denigration of the Shias."
I am a Shia Muslim, and have heard my fair share of personal stories of Shias being persecuted in Saudi Arabia. Moreover, the Saudi government has supported a culture of ill will towards Jews and Christians, really towards anyone who is not a Salafi Muslim. None of these things make the Saudi King the most likely messenger of interfaith cooperation.
But I am choosing to approach this at a slight angle. Sometimes the external articulation of a message sets of a string of internal changes.
Consider America during World War II, fighting across Europe to free the Jews while its own swimming pools and water fountains were segregated. Americans were too smart to stomach their government's hypocrisy for long. The American external message of freedom during World War II played a crucial role in catalyzing our internal Civil Rights Movement.
Maybe King Abdullah, by articulating the central Muslim value of religious pluralism on the world stage, will find the citizens of his Kingdom demanding that he implement it at home.
Please e-mail On Faith if you'd like to receive an email notification when On Faith sends out a new question.
Islamic countries Monday won United Nations backing for an anti-blasphemy measure Canada and other western critics say risks being used to limit freedom of speech.
Combating Defamation of Religions passed 85-50 with 42 abstentions in a key UN General Assembly committee, and will enter into the international record after an expected rubber stamp by the plenary later in the year.
But while the draft's sponsors say it and earlier similar measures are aimed at preventing violence against worshippers regardless of religion, religious tolerance advocates warn the resolutions are being accumulated for a more sinister goal.
"It provides international cover for domestic anti-blasphemy laws, and there are a number of people who are in prison today because they have been accused of committing blasphemy,"said Bennett Graham, international program director with the Becket Fund, a think-tank aimed at promoting religious liberty. "Those arrests are made legitimate by the UN body's (effective) stamp of approval."
Passage of the resolution is part of a 10-year action plan the 57-state Organization of Islamic Conference launched in 2005 to ensure "renaissance" of the "Muslim Ummah" or community.
While the current resolution is nonbinding, Pakistan's Ambassador Masood Khan reminded the UN's Human Rights Council this year that the OIC ultimately seeks a"new instrument or convention" on the issue. Such a measure would impose its terms on signatory states.
"Eachtimetheresolutioncomesup, we get a measure of where the world is on this issue, and we see that the campaign has been ramped up," said Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based monitoring group UN Watch.
While this year's draft is less Islamcentric than resolutions of earlier years, analystsnoteitismoreemphaticinlinking defamation of religion and incitement to violence. That"riskslimitingabroadrange ofpeacefulspeechand expression,"Neuerargues.
The 2008 draft "underscores the need to combat defamation of religions, and incitement to religious hatred in general, by strategizing and harmonizing actions at the local, national regional and international levels."
Western democracies argue that a religioncan'tenjoyprotection fromcriticism because that would require a judicial ruling that its teachings are the "truth."
"Canada rejects the basic premise that religionshaverights;humanrightsbelong to human beings," said Catherine Loubier, spokeswoman for Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon.
Canada says governments have abused laws against defamation or contempt of religions to "prosecute and imprison journalists, bloggers, academics students and peaceful political dissidents."
Posted: Wed Dec 24, 2008 12:05 pm Post subject: THE UNIVERSAL MESSAGE OF THE IMAM OF THE TIME,
THE UNIVERSAL MESSAGE OF THE IMAM OF THE TIME,
PLURALISM, AND TOLERANCE FOR DIVERSITY.
The elected 44e American President Barack Husein Obama's land slide victory heralds a significant change in the near future not only in American national and foreign policy, but also expects positive changes towards peace in the entire world.
Not so long ago, in the early sixties, according to USA law, there was segregation between whites and blacks in American schools, and it was also banned to have socially mixed unions and the voting right to the Africans –Americans was also restricted.
It is not only the financial crisis, which led Barack Husein Obama to the political triumph over his opponent, rather his campaign based on the principle of Pluralism, Diversity, Tolerance, to unite and elevate the spirit of Americans, which is the source of the unity and integrity in a multi-racial society in a country like America. In the future, if the elected American President would like to view the world on the same criteria of pluralism, with respect and tolerance for other cultures and religions of the world, America will not only restore it's lost prestige and respect, but will also lead the world to disseminate and spread the values of democracy and peace.
The Imam of the time has explicitly emphasised already the universal importance of pluralism for peace, as the world has become a global village. The Golden Jubilee of the 49th Imam will be ear marked in the history of the Ismailism. The fifty years of the Imamat, which is one of the glorious periods of Ismaili history, is not only for the material development and progress in the community, but also for the remarkable events in the history of the humanity of the world. The first Russian satellite Sputnik was sent into the space in 1957, which is considered a tremendous scientific achievement in human history, it is also noteworthy, that in the same year Mawlana Hazir Imam became the 49th Imam of the Ismailis.
The all positive changes such as the end of the Cold War, and the demise of the communist totalitarianism and to the immediate aftermath, the appearance of new Muslim states on the map of Central Asia, and also the dismantling of the Berlin wall, and opening up of the Socialist Republic of China to the external world. The most important current event is the newly elected American President from a humble and multi-racial background, educated from Harvard with political acumen for changes in America and quite optimistic for world peace.
Hazir Imam has elucidated the importance of pluralism, the difference in the form of the culture and linguistics, a diversity that is not a weakness rather it is a blessing and strength. Hazir Imam has reprimanded and strongly disapproved the theory of the Harvard professor Samuel Huntington " the clash of civilizations" by saying that it is simply "a clash of ignorance", which is caused by the lack of knowledge and respect for other cultures and religions.
It is a time for reconciliation through dialogue and negotiations and not to make confrontations for any kind of issues in the community or outside the community.
According to the principle of "Preach,what you practice and practice, what you preach" The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) with global pluralistic vision engaged in various economical and cultural development programmes in all over the world from Africa to the Central Asia and in the mountainous region of Northern Areas of Pakistan.
The Ismaili community is the best example of the pluralism living under auspicious guidance of Mawlana Hazir Imam. The love for the Imam transcends the languages and cultural barriers, Syria had been a cradle for the Ismaili history, which had been reinforced to establish Fatimid Khalifate in Cairo, The Indian Ismailis have been able to establish first headquarter (Darkhana) in Bombay in 1848 under guidance of the first Aga Khan, the 46th Imam, which was of historical importance for all the Ismailis of world after the 13e century of Alamut period in Iran. The Ismaili delegates from all over the world used to come to Darkhana Bombay, to pay homage to their beloved Imam. The Ismailis from central Asia, and Chitral and Hunza, Northern Areas of Pakistan, from the tradition of Nasir Khusraw, Mawlana Hazir Imam has elucidated the esteem about the Nasir Khusraw, in his holy Farman in India, and said: "the tradition of Nasir Khusraw is very important and must not be forgotten".
The Hunza ex-state was another example of pluralism, it was an independent state with its own independent judicial system until 1974. It was the only state in the world, with pluralistic views, and the state subjects of other Muslim sects such as Shia-Ithnasharis and Sunni Muslims were equally treated and fully respected.
The Hunza state was feudal and hierarchic in its ruling system, but at the same time it was very open to the external world unlike Nager state and others regions in Northern Areas. Several books and articles have been written by western travellers about the hospitality and openess of the Hunza people. The famous American novelist James Hilton wrote his well known fiction novel, the lost Shangrila "The lost horizon" in 1933 had chosen Hunza for his imaginary and ideal world for peace and tranquillity. The American lady writter Renée Taylor's famous book "Hunza Health Secrets for Long Life and Happiness" written in 1964 and published by Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, is another positive image of Hunza in the world. Burushaski is one of the world's ancient languages and most difficult to learn according to the world linguists. Besides Burushaski, Wakhi, Shina, and Domaski are also spoken in Hunza, but within Hunza, Burushaski remained a lingua-franca and was also spoken with different accents in Nager and in Yasin. The diaspora of Hunza people is in Gilgit, and in Skardu, in the various different professions.
In 1940 on the 10th March, Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah sent a Farman in persian through Delhi radio, at a time there were merely two radios in the whole of Hunza, one belonging to Mir Gazan Khan 11 (d.1364/1945) and the second to an English doctor serving at the Aliabd in the civil hospital.The translation of the farman runs as follows:- (Translated from persian by Dr.Faquir Mohammad Hunzai IIS. London, published by Instituto per l'oriente C.A Nallino,Isam in South Asia)
"I remember all jammats of the Northern Frontiers of India, such as Chitral, Hunza, Gilgit and Badakhshan and all friends and devotees with benediction. Be certain that the light of my love and kindness will reach the whole jammat of Hunza just like the rays of sun. Men and women, small and big,young and old, all of you are my spiritual children. I never forget you and will never forget you both in this wold and in the next. Try to educate your children and strive to learn European languages and the English language"
Mawlana Hazir Imam is the first Imam in Ismaili history, who went to Hunza in 1960, after a hard journey from Gilgit to Hunza of 16 hours. For several hours by feet and also crossing hazardous rivers by suspended bridges and cable wires pulled by the volunteers. It is a life long unforgettable memory and historical event for the jamat in Hunza.
The few Ismailis from Hunza who had been able to attend the Platinum and Diamond Jubilee of the 48th Imam Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah, in Bombay, on their return were honoured by the Mir of Hunza. The perilous trip from Hunza to Bombay was taking almost a month at that time. Once the delegation from Hunza with Mir Ghazan Khan reached Bombay and were presented to the 48th Imam for blessings. Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah assured the delegation that came from Hunza after a hard and long journey, and said: "one day in near future your children will be able to travel by car to Hunza, which will be like little London". Now, it is the blessings of the Imam of the Time that Hunza is one of the most developed areas in the Northern Areas of Pakistan, where there is the highest percentage of female education. It is famous for visitors from all over the world, not only for its natural beauty but also for its peaceful environment, and for its openess to the external world with pluralistic views and respect for differences on the basis of humanity, which is the real spirit of Islam that "Al-khalqu ciyalu'llah = All the creation is like one family of God".
’People lived separately but side by side. That is now under threat’ Who’s who in Muslim India
By Wendy Kristianasen
The three biggest Sunni movements are:
Deobandis, named after the Darul Uloom religious seminary in Deoband, Uttar Pradesh (see main article). There are also many Deobandis in Pakistan and among emigrant communities.
Barelvis, who take their name from the town of Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh, home to the Islamic scholar Ahmed Raza Khan. The movement follows many Sufi practices and is considered deviant by other Sunnis. Though poorly organised, the Barelvis have many followers in India, Bangladesh and particularly Pakistan; they oppose reform.
Jamaat Ahle Hadeeth, who are Salafists; unlike those in many other countries they are seen as the most progressive of the main Sunni movements.
There are also:
Tablighi Jamaat. India is home to the world’s biggest Muslim evangelical movement, proselytising door-to-door among other Muslims. Its absence of structure has, in some countries, allowed in militants, creating suspicions of extremism.
Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH), the Indian branch of the Islamist organisation founded by Abul Ala Maududi in Lahore in 1941. Although it has only 25,000 members it has considerable influence. Ex-JIH members founded the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and, in Kerala, the National Development Front (NDF), which is engaged in armed self-defence against Hindu rightwing groups, and its new umbrella group, Popular Front of India.
Among the minority Shia are:
Ismailis, who follow the Aga Khan and form a progressive, prosperous community across the world.
Dawoodi Bohras, who are a tightly knit community of about one million, mostly in India and Pakistan. Mainly traders (‘bohra’ means trade) they are often affluent and live apart from other Indian Muslims. Their lives are rigidly controlled by their amir, based in Mumbai.
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1. Imam Ali (p): Jibrael (p) (Gabriel) descended to meet Prophet Adam (p) and said, “O Adam, I have been ordered to offer you the choice of one out of three things. Therefore, choose one of them and leave the other two.”
Adam (p): And what are those three things, O Jibrael?
Jibrael (p): Intelligence, Modesty and Religion.
Adam (p): I choose Intelligence.
Jibrael (p) then asked Modesty and Religion to leave Adam. But they said, “O Jibrael, we have been ordered to remain with Intelligence wherever it may be.”
Jibrael (p): Lo! That is your choice.
Jibrael (p) then ascended to his heavenly abode.
Translator’s note: This tradition clearly asserts that reason is an integral part of religion and modesty. Also, religion is based on reason and sound logical deductions. All commandments, rulings and forms of worship are based on sound reasoning. There is nothing irrational in religion. Similarly, norms of modesty emanate from sound reasoning.(B1,T2)
2. On request Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (p) defined ‘intelligence’ as that by which God is worshipped and Paradise earned.
He (p) was then asked: What did Muawiyah posses?
Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (p): That was craftiness, a satanic trait which appears like intelligence but is not.(B1,T3)
3. Imam Ali ar-Reza (p): The best friend of a person is his intelligence and his worst enemy his ignorance.(B1,T4)
4. Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (p): One who has intelligence is blessed with religion and one who is blessed with religion will enter Paradise.(B1,T6)
5. Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (p): Surely, God will subject his servants to close scrutiny on the Day of Judgment according to the degree of intelligence bestowed on them in their worldly life. (B1, T7)
6. Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (p): God created the faculty of intelligence and bestowed upon it the power of speech. God then said, “Come forward.” It came forward. He then ordered, “Go back.” It went back. He then proclaimed, “By My Power and Majesty, I have not created anything dearer to Me than you and I have not made you perfect except in those I love. Lo! Verily to you alone will I issue My commandments, to you alone will I issue My prohibitions, you alone will I punish and you alone will I reward.”
Translator’s note: The brilliance and sublimity of the priceless gem of wisdom quoted above deserves further elaboration. This is a symbolic parable, which beautifully illustrates the exact definition of the faculty of reasoning. A person endowed with reason recognizes, realizes, understands, appreciates and obeys the orders of his superior unquestioningly and without hesitation provided the Superior is Perfect, All-Knowing, Wise, Just and Matchless. Therefore when Intellect was asked to come forward, it did so and when it was ordered to go back, it went back. On the second order Ignorance could have instigated it to protest, “O Glorious One, You ordered me to come forward and now You ask me to go back! Why did You order me to come forward at all if I had to go back?” But Intellect did not protest, did not argue but complied, because it knew that God is All-Wise, All-Knowing, Just and Almighty and the secrets of Divine Commandments cannot be gauged by created intelligence. ‘My’ only duty which in reality is God obedience willingly with the firm conviction that every Divine Commandment has a reason beyond the comprehension of any created intelligence.
In the beginning of our note to this tradition, we have said that this tradition is a symbolic parable. The use of this term requires an explanation (we have used this expression to illustrate the beauty of this tradition). A ‘parable’ is a story, especially in the Bible and other Holy Scriptures, told to illustrate a moral or spiritual truth. But our use of this term is figurative. In ancient literature, religious or ethical, parables have been the best vehicles for conveying and disseminating knowledge and wisdom and even today they are being used for the same purpose (in educational institutes) and some of them are so illuminating that not only youngsters but adults also can draw inspiration from them. These parables are generally miniatures of fiction designed to teach morals on spiritual truths. The tradition under discussion can, under these circumstances, be termed as a parable but as it has been narrated by an Imam (p), it cannot be a parable merely in the generally accepted sense of the word. It is a parable as well as a true story. Common sense does not come in our way in accepting this story exactly as it has been narrated. This is the underlying beauty of this tradition. Some skeptics, however, may protest that this story is just symbolic. This goes in our favour. We have already termed it – figuratively of course – to be a symbolic parable. Symbols are used in modern education, art, science and literature. However, if they say it is symbolic, we have no objection provided that it is a factual symbol and not a symbolic symbol. A brilliant example of unhesitating obedience to the commandments of God is a significant event in the life of Prophet Ibraheem (p) (Abraham), which is narrated in the Noble Quran. He saw in a dream that he was slaughtering his son Prophet Ismaeel (p) (Ishmael). Prophet Ibraheem (p) had correctly interpreted that the dream was the commandment of God to slaughter his son. When the boy began to move about with him, Ibraheem said to him, “Son, I have seen in my dream that I am slaughtering you. So consider what you think of it.” The boy replied, “Father, do as you are commanded. You will find me steadfast if God so wills” (Q, 37:102, 103). Both father and son were prophets and were endowed with prophetic wisdom by God. On the face of it this order did not appear to be in keeping with the Justice of God. A person of ordinary intelligence could protest as to why a young innocent boy was ordered to be slaughtered for no mistake of his. Prophet Ibraheem (p) said nothing to the effect, and both father and son were ready to submit to God’s Will. Prophet Ibraheem (p) laid his son on the ground. He blindfolded himself not to witness his son’s slaughter. Then, as commanded, he took the knife and enacted exactly what he had seen in his dream and thus carried out the command of his Lord. God called to him: O Ibraheem, you have indeed fulfilled the dream. Thus, do We reward those who do their duty to the utmost. That was surely a manifest trail, and We ransomed the boy with a noble sacrifice (Q, 37:104-107). The explanation of the verse is that Prophet Ismaeel (p) was saved by God and a lamb was substituted in his place. Both father and son accepted this withdrawal of the Divine Commandment without the slightest protest to the effect that if after all Prophet Ismaeel (p) was not to be slaughtered, why did God order Prophet Ibraheem (p) to do so? Such questions could come up in the mind of an ordinary human being. But the case of a super-intellectual mind is different. Prophet Ibraheem (p) knew that the Wisdom of God is Infinite and All-Pervading and there is definitely some significance in the commandment and its subsequent withdrawal. Reason obeyed the order to go back. Prophet Ibraheem (p) also did likewise because he was a Prophet and his reasoning was Infallible. (B1,T1)
7. Muhammad ibn Suleiman al-Dailami spoke about the devotion, religious acts and piety of a certain individual to Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (p).
Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (p): What about his common sense?
Muhammad: I have no idea.
The Imam (p): Reward depends on the degree of his common sense.
The Imam (p) explained his statement with a story.
A person belonging to the tribe of Israel used to worship God on an island, verdant, full of greenery and blossoming trees and an abundant supply of pure and fresh water. One of the angels happened to pass that way and was impressed with the sincerity and the devotion of the worshipper.
Angel: O my Lord! Show me the reward destined for this servant of Yours. God, the Elevated One, showed him that (reward). The angel thought that the reward was less than what the worshipper deserved. God, the Elevated One, then inspired the angel to befriend him and the angel approached the worshipper in a human form.
Worshipper: Who are you?
Angel: I am also a devoted worshipper. I have been told about your worship and this place. Therefore, I have come to you to worship God in your company.
That day the angel remained with the worshipper. A conversation took place between them the following morning.
Angel: Your place is exhilarating and most suitable for worship.
Worshipper: There is, however, one drawback in this place.
Angel: And what is that?
Worshipper: Our Lord does not have any grazing animals. If He had a donkey, I would have let it graze in this place because all this grass is just being wasted.
Angel: So, doesn’t your Lord possess a donkey?
Worshipper: If He had a donkey, the grass would not have been wasted.
God then revealed to the angel that He rewards (His servants) according to their intelligence.(B1,T
8. Prophet Muhammad (p): Whenever you hear about the absorbing devotion of a person in worship, pay attention to the degree of his intelligence. He will be rewarded according to his intelligence.(B1,T9)
9. Prophet Muhammad (p): God has not given to His servants anything better than the intelligence. The slumber of an intelligent person is better than the wakefulness of an ignorant one and the staying of a wise person at one place is better than the journeying of an ignorant one. God has not raised any Prophet or Apostle without perfecting his intelligence so that it is higher than that of all the members of his community. The wisdom which is found in the repository of a Prophet is far superior to the effort of the scholars (and those who strive for knowledge). No servant of God can discharge the duties assigned to him by God unless he comprehends their significance. No ordinary worshipper can reach the height of excellence in his devotion to God as an intelligent wise person can. And it is the intelligent men who are men of understanding about whom God has said: … And none takes heed save those gifted with understanding (Q, 3:.(B1,T11)
10. Imam Musa al-Kazim (p) advised Hisham ibn Hakam: O Hisham! God, the Glorious, the Elevated One, has given good tidings to the people of reason and understanding in His Book: … So you convey the glad tidings to My servants that those who hearken unto the word and follow the best of it are the ones whom God has guided and they are the people with intellect (Q, 39:17, 1.
He (p) further said:
O Hisham, God, the Glorious and the Elevated One, perfected the proofs of His existence for men according to their capacity for reasoning. He helped His Messengers and Apostles by bestowing on them the gift of exposition and guided them to realize His overlordship through His portents and said in the Noble Quran: Your God is one God. There is no God but He, the Beneficent, the Merciful. Lo! in the creation of the heavens and the earth and in the alternation of night and day, and in the vessels that sail the seas carrying that which profits people, and in water that God sends down from the clouds and therewith activates the earth after its deathliness and scatters therein all kinds of beasts, and in the circulation of the winds, and in the conditioning of the clouds between the heaven and the earth, are indeed signs for the people who understand (Q, 2:163, 164).
O Hisham, God has presented the above truth as proof of His existence. These facts are related to His Will who has designed them saying: God has made the day and the night, the sun and the moon, and all the stars subservient to you by His command. In this there is evidence of the truth for people of understanding (Q, 16:12).
It is He, Who created you from clay, turning it into a living germ, then into a clot of blood, and then brings you forth as a child. He then made you grow into manhood and become old. He causes some of you to live for the appointed time and some of you to die before so that perhaps you may have understanding (Q, 40:67).
God further said:
And in the alternation of night and day, and what God sendeth down from heaven, of the provision and therewith revives the earth after its death, and the turning about the winds, there are signs for people who understand (Q, 45:5).
God revives the earth after its death; we have indeed made clear for you that haply you will understand (Q, 57:17).
… And garden of vines, and fields sown, and palms in pairs, and palms single, watered with one water; and some of them We prefer in produce above others. Surely in that are signs for a people who understand (Q, 13:4).
And of His signs He shows you lightning, for fear and hope, and that He sends down out of heaven water and he revives the earth after it is dead. Surely in that are signs for a people who understand (Q, 30:24).
Say: Come, I will recite what your Lord has forbidden you; that you associate not anything with Him, and to be good to your parents, and not to slay your children because of poverty; We will provide you and them; and that you approach not any indecency outward or inward, and that you slay not the soul God has forbidden, except by way of justice: thus does He command you, that you may understand (Q, 6:151).
…do you have, among that which your right hands own, associates in what We have provided for you so that you are equal in regard to it, you fearing them as you fear each other? So We distinguish the signs for a people who understand (Q, 30:2.
After dwelling on this sublime subject in detail, the Imam (p) addressed Hisham:
O Hisham! Then He has advised the intellectuals and has drawn their attention towards the Hereafter and has said in Noble Quran: And what is this worldly life but play and vain sport. Certainly the abode of the Hereafter is the best (and perpetual) for those who guard themselves against evil. Do you not then understand? (Q, 6:32)
The Imam (p) continued his sermon:
O Hisham, thereafter God has put the fear of His chastisement in the hearts of those who do not ponder. He says: Then We utterly annihilated the others. And verily, you pass by them (their ruins) in the morning and by night. Do not you then understand? (Q, 37:137, 138)
And God also said:
We are about to inflict upon the people of this city a chastisement from heaven because of their disobedience. We have left a clear sign thereof for a people who would understand (Q, 29:34, 35).
The Imam (p), then, said something worth remembering:
O Hisham! Intelligence is interlinked with knowledge. And God says: These are the parables that we set forth for people, but no one comprehends them except those who possess knowledge (Q, 29:43).
The Imam (p) continued this extraordinary sermon:
O Hisham! God has further censured those who do not put their reason to good use, saying: And when it is said to them, ‘Follow that which God has sent down’, they say, ‘Nay, but we shall only follow in the way of our fathers.’ But what if their fathers had no sense and did not follow the right path? The similitude of those who disbelieve is like that of one who calls out an animal which pays heed only to the sound of the voice without comprehending its meaning. Deaf, dumb and blind they are and, therefore, are not capable of understanding (Q, 2:170,171).
And God has said:
And some of them give ear to thee; what, wilt thou make the deaf to hear, though they understand not? (Q, 10:42)
Or deemest thou that most of them hear or understand? They are but as the cattle; nay, they are further astray from the way (Q, 25:44).
They will not fight against you all together except in fortified cities, or from behind walls. Their valour is great, amongst themselves; you think of them as a host; but their hearts are scattered; that is because they are a people who have no sense (Q, 59:14).
…And (you) forget yourselves while you recite the book? Do you not understand? (Q, 2:44)
O Hisham! The Almighty God has censured numerical superiority with the words: And if thou obeyest the most part of those on earth they will lead thee astray from the path of God … (Q, 6:116)
And if thou askest them: Who created the heavens and the earth? Certainly they will say: God. Say: All praise belongs to God. Nay, but most of them have no knowledge (Q, 31:25)
And if thou askest them: Who sends down out of heaven water, and therewith revives the earth after it is dead? Certainly (they) will say: God. Say: All praise belongs to God. Nay, but most of them have no understanding (Q, 29:63)
The Imam (p) further said:
O Hisham! Then God has praised the few in numbers with the words: A few of My bondmen are thankful (Q, 34:13)
And they are just a few (38:24)
Then said a man, believer from among the people of Pharaoh, who concealed his faith, “Will you slay a man simply because he says, ‘God is My Lord’” (Q, 40:2
And those who believed, but believed not with him but a few (Q, 11:40).
But most of them have no knowledge (Q, 6:37).
But most of them lack wisdom (Q, 5:103).
But most of them are ungrateful (Q, 10:60).
The Imam (p) continued:
O Hisham! Then God has praised the men of reason in good words and has praised them with fine comments and said: He gives the wisdom to whosoever He wills and the one who is given wisdom, has been given much good and no one retains in his memory except men of understanding (Q, 2:269).
And those firmly rooted in knowledge say, “We have faith in it. It is all from our lord, yet none remembers, but men of reason” (Q, 3:7).
Surely in the creation of the heavens and the earth and in the alternation of night and day, there are signs for men of intellect (Q, 3:190).
Is he who knows what is sent down to you from your Lord is the truth, like him who is blind (to the signs)? Only intellectuals remember (Q, 13:19).
He who is prayerful during the hours of the night, prostrating in obedience and standing, he being sure of the world to come and hoping for the mercy of his Lord! Say, “Are they equal, those who know and those who know not?” Only those possessed with reason remember (Q, 39:9).
O Muhammad, We have sent a book down to you, blessed, that man possessed of reason may ponder over the signs in it and remember (Q, 38:29).
We also gave Musa (Moses) the guidance and We bequeathed upon the Children of Israel the book for guidance and for a reminder to men of intellect (Q, 40:53, 54).
And reminder without fail profits the believers (Q, 51:55).
The Imam (p) continuing his sermon; said
O Hisham, God in Noble Quran says: Therein is verily a reminder for him who has a comprehending heart* (Q, 50:37).
* In this verse the expression ‘heart’ signifies ‘reason and wisdom’; denotes the capacity for learning and understanding.
And indeed we endowed Luqman with wisdom (Q, 31:12).
The Imam (p) further continued his sermon:
O Hisham! Luqman advised his son: Submit to truth and you will be the wisest among men, and surely a wise person when confronted with truth, accepts it. O my son, this world is like a deep ocean in which many a creation has sunk. Let, therefore, the fear of God be your boat in this ocean and let your firm conviction be the main plank of your boat. Let your complete reliance on God be its sail, let your wisdom be its motive force, let your knowledge be its compass, and let your patience be its navigator.
O Hisham, for everything there is a pointer and the pointer towards wisdom is contemplation and the pointer towards contemplation is silence. Also, for everything there is a climax and the climax of wisdom is humility, and to do what is prohibited by God is sufficient proof of ignorance.
O Hisham, God has sent His Prophets and Apostles for His servants to realize the existence of God through reasoning. Those who respond most favorably are foremost in their God-consciousness and the well-versed with the commandments of God, are the wisest, and the most perfect in intelligence. These enjoy the highest rank in this world and the Hereafter.
O Hisham, God has provided His servants with two irrefutable proofs: the explicit and the implicit. The explicit ones are the Messengers and the Apostles and the implicit one is the faculty of reasoning. O Hisham, a man of reason does not neglect thanking God for his lawful acts and (in adversity) his patience is not overwhelmed by temptation for prohibited acts.
O Hisham, one who lets three specific drawbacks overcome three of his specific commendable qualities, undermines his wisdom. One who darkens the enlightenment of his reason by unwarranted ambitions and tarnishes his wisdom by unnecessary talks and extinguishes the light of his inhibition by his pleasure-seeking desires, verily, it is as if his desires had conspired in the impairment of his reason, and one whose reason is impaired, both his life and faith are destroyed.
O Hisham, how could your conduct be pure in the eyes of God when you have turned away your heart from God and His commandments and when you have followed your worldly desires that have got better of your reason?
Addressing Hisham, the Imam (p) further said:
Patience in solitude (with no one to support you) is a sign of the strength of reason. One who ponders on God becomes detached from the people of the world and from those who are obsessed with worldly pleasures and turns his attention towards God. God becomes his solace in his moments of depression, an escort in his solitude, a source of affluence in his adversity and prestige without any social support.
Truth depends on obedience to God and there is no salvation without obedience and obedience depends on knowledge, which is gained by learning which again is based on intellect. There is no knowledge except through divine religious scholars and the recognition of knowledge is through intelligence.
O Hisham, a little virtuous act of a learned man is acceptable to God at its multiplied value and the virtuous conduct of a greedy and ignorant person is totally rejected.
O Hisham, wise people avoid worldly affluence (and abundance of worldly material). How then can they indulge in sins? Avoiding vain worldly pleasures is excellence while avoiding sins is obligatory.
O Hisham, wise man looked at the world and its people and came to conclusion that its pleasures could not be gained without hard struggle. Then he considered the Hereafter and concluded that its joys also shall not be available without hard struggle, therefore he decided to strive for the everlasting (bliss of the Hereafter) …
O Hisham, people of intellect avoids the worldly things and look for the gains of the life Hereafter. They know that the worldly gains are needed and the gains of the life Hereafter are also needed. But whoever seeks the gains of the life Hereafter, the world will be after him presenting to him his livelihood and the one who is after the worldly gains, the Hereafter would not be after him. Finally the death will destroy his world and he will miss the gains in the life Hereafter.
O Hisham, One who is content without wealth and desires is comfortable. He is free from jealousy and security for his faith. He perfects his intellect beseeching God from the depth of his heart. One with intellect is satisfied with the basic needs. He is content and feels rich without any further wants. He does not need any thing more than what he has. Where as the one who is not satisfied with what is with him is never content.
O Hisham, God has stated the following in respect of the people of virtue: They say, "Lord, do not cause our hearts to deviate from Your guidance, and grant us mercy. You are the Most Awarding One” (Q, 3:. They are aware of the fact that if hearts deviate, they will be led to destruction.
Those who do not understand God have no fear of Him and they never look for guidance and intellect from Him. Their hearts do not establish any firm gnosis about God with awareness in their hearts. Those who are not blessed with intellect always feel the awareness of God that could acknowledge the truth about God in their hearts. No one can be like this except those whose deeds conform to their words. Further their private and public activities agree with each other. This is because God the Almighty never guides the innate reason, except what comes out of it through deeds and words.
The Imam (p) continued his discourse:
Imam Ali (p) used to say: God was never worshipped better than on the basis of deductive reasoning and the reasoning faculty of a man cannot achieve perfection without certain characteristics in him: immunity from disbelief and evil, expectation of guidance and virtue, giving away in charity of everything in excess of the bare necessities of life, abstinence from vain gossip, availing worldly goods just sufficient for subsistence, insatiable craving for knowledge, preference for humiliation before God over vain glory before fellow beings, preference for the love of meekness over pride, considering ordinary favours of others as great and his own great favours to others as mere trifles, and also considering all others better than himself and thinking his own self as much inferior to others, and these are the last words on this subject.
O Hisham, a wise man never tells a lie in spite of extreme temptation.
O Hisham, he who has no courtesy has no religion and he who has no reason has no courtesy. The greatest man is he who never equates himself with the worldly life. Your bodies cannot be sold except in exchange for Paradise, therefore, do not sell yourself for anything less than Paradise.
The Imam (p) further continued:
Imam Ali (p) said that the sign of a wise man is that he has three characteristics:
a. he replies whenever he is queried,
b. speaks with confidence when all others are at a loss to say anything, and
c. tenders advice which is good for his people.
Anyone who does not posses these three characteristics is stupid. He said that one who does not possess all these three qualities or at least one of them should not occupy the president’s chair at a meeting and the one who does not have any of these qualifications yet sits in that chair, is stupid.
Then Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (p) quoted Imam al-Hasan (p): Whenever you want your needs to be fulfilled, ask them from those who are capable of the same.
He (p) was asked: O son of the Prophet Muhammad (p), who are the capable ones?
Imam al-Hasan (p) replied that those whom God has mentioned in Noble Quran and described them as: It is only those gifted with understanding who take heed (Q, 13:19) are the people who possess wisdom.
Then the Imam (p) quoted Imam Zainul Abideen (p): Company of the pious leads to reformation, and to draw inspiration from the etiquette of the learned men enhances wisdom, and to obey those who rule with justice is the height of power and prestige, and investment of wealth in virtuous deeds is the climax of generosity and guiding the seekers of advice properly is discharging obligations concerning the bounties of God and total abstinence from inflicting pains on others is the apex of wisdom. In this lies happiness, sooner or later.
O Hisham, if a wise man is afraid of being falsified by someone who does not speak in his presence and if he fears rejection by someone from whom he does not seek any favour and does not promise what he cannot fulfill and never aspire for anything for which he fears he will be reprimanded and never takes the initiative in a task if he is afraid of failure due to his disability.(B1,T12)
11. Imam Ali (p): Wisdom is a covering curtain and accomplishment is a glory, therefore, cover the flaws of your being with your accomplishments and eliminate your evil desires with your sound reasoning. This will earn popularity for you and make the love of people for you manifest.(B1,T13)
12. Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (p): The Prophet Muhammad (p) never talked to people on the basis of his own supreme intelligence. And he (p) used to say that the Prophets have been ordered to speak to the people at the level of their intelligence.(B1,T15)
13. Imam Ali (p): The hearts of the rustics are driven recklessly by lust, mortgaged by their cravings and entrapped by delusions.(B1,T16)
14. Some companions of Imam Ali ar-Reza were discussing the exact connotations of ‘reasoning’ and ‘cultural education’. The Imam (p) clarified the meaning of these two terms. He (p) said that ‘reasoning’ is a divine gift (bestowed on all men more or less) but cultural education is acquired by conscious efforts and one who struggles to acquire it is successful and the one who struggles in acquiring intellectual reasoning never gets anything except ignorance.(B1,T18)
15. A believer: I have a neighbour who says his prayers regularly, doles out charity nervously, goes for Hajj pilgrimage very frequently and there is nothing wrong in his character.
Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (p) asked him about his reasoning faculty.
Believer: He is devoid of it.
The Imam (p): Then his position will not be enhanced on account of his acts of worship.(B1,T19)
16. Hassan as-Sikkeet, a prominent scholar of his time, asked Imam Ali an-Naqi (p) the reason why God sent Prophet Musa (p) (Moses) with the miraculous staff and the luminous hand and the devices to dispel magic and why Prophet Esa (p) (Jesus) was sent with miraculous medicines and why Prophet Muhammed (p) and his Holy Descendants (p) were sent with the gift of oratory and polemics.
Imam Ali an-Naqi (p): It was because in the days of Prophet Musa (p) magic had its sway over people. So Prophet Musa (p) was given by God such Divine Powers as the people of those days did not possess and that power made the magic of the people completely ineffective. This Divine Power proved the authenticity of the Prophethood of Musa (p) and God sent Prophet Esa (p) at a time when people were suffering from chronic diseases and were in dire need of good physicians. So God provided Prophet Esa (p) with medicines which people did not possess. By the Will of God Prophet Esa (p) brought the dead back to life, restored sight to people born blind, cured the lepers and thus established his authenticity as a Prophet of God. God sent Prophet Muhammed (p) at a time when people were under the sway of the excellence of their speech (and language) and oratory (Translator’s note: The narrator here expresses his belief that the Imam (p) used the word ‘poetry’ also with the word ‘speech’). Under these circumstances God sent Prophet Muhammed (p) with such sermons, warnings (and eloquent discourses) that their pride (regarding the excellence of their oratory, language and poetry) became null and void and the Prophethood of Prophet Muhammed (p) was firmly established.
Ibne Sikkeet: By God, I have never seen any intellectual like you. Now, what is the undeniable proof (of the existence of God) for the people in these days?
The Imam (p): It is the reasoning faculty through which the claims of a truthful man about God are established and the claims a pretenders of God are falsified.
Ibne Sikkeet: This, by God is the correct answer.(B1,T20)
17. Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (p): When our Qaim (atfs) (the living divinely ordained Imam, the twelfth religious leader al-Mahdi) will reappear, God will put his hand on the heads of the people of that time through which the faculty of reasoning of those people will be restored and their expectations will be accomplished.(B1,T21)
18. Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (p): The Prophet is the proof of the existence of God for His subjects and the proof which exists between God and His subjects is sound reasoning.(B1,T22)
19. Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (p): Wisdom is the guiding light for the believer.(B1,T24)
20. Prophet Muhammad (p): Ignorance is the extreme form of poverty and no asset is more profitable than intelligence.(B1,T25)
21. Prophet Muhammad (p): If you find a man deeply engrossed in prayers and fasting, do not extol his piety unless you find out the level of his intelligence.(B1,T28)
22. Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (p) addressed to Mufazzal bin Umar:
O Mufazzal, one who does not use his intelligence will not succeed and one who does not use his knowledge will have no intellect. One who understands will attain nobility and excellence, and one who is tolerant will triumph. Knowledge is a shield (against evil), truth begets honour and ignorance disgrace, understanding is distinction, generosity is salvation and good manners command love and respect …(B1,T29)
23. Imam Ali (p): If I find someone credited at least with one virtue out of many virtues, I will admit him in my fold and I will forgive him his lack of other virtues but I shall never forgive the lack of intelligence and religion because lack of religion is lack of peace and security. Without doubt, life in fear is unpleasant and lack of intelligence is equivalent to absence of life, and a person devoid of intelligence cannot be counted except among the dead.(B1,T30)
24. Imam Ali (p): Self-conceit is proof of an unsound mind.(B1,T31)
25. Some companions of Imam Ali ar-Reza (p) discussed intelligence in his presence.
Imam Ali ar-Reza (p): The people who are devoid of intelligence are of no consequence among the believers.
One of the companions: There are people in our community who in our eyes are not at any fault but they do not have intelligence and understanding of religion.
The Imam (p): Such people are not among those whom God addressed. When Almighty God created intelligence, He ordered it to come forward. It came forward. Then He ordered it to go back. It went back. God said, “By My power and Majesty, I have not created anything more handsome and dearer to Me. On thy basis I shall take people to task and on thy basis I shall grant them My awards.”(B1,T32)
26. Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (p): There is nothing between faith and disbelief except paucity of the intelligence.
He (p) was asked: And how is that?
Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (p): Man turns to others for the fulfillment of his desires. If he is sincere in his intention towards God, He will give him what he wants sooner than he expected.(B1,T33)
27. Imam Ali (p): Depths of wisdom are brought out and discovered by means of intelligence, the depths of intelligence are brought out and discovered by means of wisdom, and excellence of policy brings good conduct. Sound thinking is the life of the perceptive heart, like a man walking in darkness, with the light of immaculate sincerity and warding off dangers with minimum effort.(B1,T34)
27. Imam Ali (p): Depths of wisdom are brought out and discovered by means of intelligence, the depths of intelligence are brought out and discovered by means of wisdom, and excellence of policy brings good conduct. Sound thinking is the life of the perceptive heart, like a man walking in darkness, with the light of immaculate sincerity and warding off dangers with minimum effort.(B1,T34)
this is form ithna asheri belif pint
This is a good article. However it has nothing to do with pluralism. It is about the role of intellect in worship. It would be better to move it to:
Rites and Ceremonies --> Concept of Knowledge Revisited
Saudi Arabia's Shia press for rights
By Anees al-Qudaihi
BBC Arabic Service
Underlying tensions between Sunni and Shia in the Middle East have escalated to full-scale crises in the past few years in countries such as Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain, and, most recently, in Saudi Arabia.
Although they only represent 15% of the overall Saudi population of more than 25 million, Shia are the dominant population, according to the International Crisis Group, in key towns such as Qatif, Dammam, and al-Hasa, which are home to the largest oil fields and processing and refining facilities.
In February, clashes between Shia Muslims and the religious police in Madina, Islam's second holiest city, triggered a wave of unrest, resulting in the arrest of dozens of people.
Tensions were eased by King Abdullah's decision to release all the detainees but the situation remains volatile.
Many Shias in Saudi Arabia relate far more to fellow Shia in Iraq, Iran, Lebanon and Bahrain, than with fellow Saudis who follow the puritan Wahhabi school of Islam. Wahabbis often class the Shia as heretics, or even to have left the faith entirely.
And at a time when many Arab officials point to the predominantly Shia Iran as the most serious security threat they face, there is a general attitude in the Arabic media that suggests Saudi Shia are somehow led by or follow an Iranian agenda.
But Saudi Shias deny this and say they face unfair discrimination.
Accusations of discrimination are backed by many western governments, led by the United States, which repeatedly express their concerns about religious freedom in Saudi Arabia.
“ Activity by the opposition both at home and abroad are clear indications of the need for change and for an end to deeply rooted grievances which the Shias have suffered ”
Fouad Ibrahim Saudi opposition activist based in London
In 1913 King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, founder of the kingdom, promised Shia safety and freedom of worship when their representatives swore allegiance to his government.
But Tawfik al-Saif, a Saudi political activist, told the BBC that he does not think the promises were honoured.
"There are lots of problems each of which has the potential to trigger unrest. However, the Saudi elite, both the Shia and Sunni, is determined to stop public disorder whether motivated by internal or external agents."
Mr Saif believes that only if the government introduces wide-reaching political and social reforms can long-term stability be achieved.
Shias want equal opportunities in government and the military as well as freedom of worship.
They want to be able to build their own mosques, have their civil courts granted more power and to print their own religious books.
The Shia of Saudi Arabia have not been able to avoid the effects of instability in the region.
In 1979, the leaders of Iran's Islamic revolution called for change across the Middle East.
The calls lead to Shia protests Qatif, and dozens of people were killed.
During the 1980s, sectarian tensions led many Saudi Shia to go into exile, mainly to Iran, Syria, the UK and the United States.
The US invasion of Iraq in 2003 which brought that country's majority Shias to power, resulted in calls for equality in many countries in the Gulf.
Shia liberals, including left-wing intellectuals, are a relatively small minority within their community and are far less organised than the Islamists.
Nevertheless, religious activists have combined with their liberal coreligionists, as well as Sufis, to call for more respect for human rights in Saudi Arabia.
In its report, entitled The Shia Question in Saudi Arabia, the International Crisis Group said that King Abdullah, widely believed to have been at the forefront of efforts to engage Shia and promote their integration, may now be in a position to effect greater change.
But the leaders of a newly established opposition movement, Khalas (Deliverance), say that during the past 15 years there have been plenty opportunities for the government to reform its policy towards the Shia but they have been found wanting.
Dr Fouad Ibrahim, a Saudi activist based in London, says the recent murmurings in the Eastern Province could be described as a manifestation of disappointment among Shias who have waited for promised reforms for so long.
"Activity by the opposition both at home and abroad are clear indications of the need for change and for an end to deeply rooted grievances which the Shias have suffered," Dr Ibrahim told BBC.
Dr Ibrahim says the Saudi government has failed to integrate the Shia with other minorities, including the Ismaili community in the South and Sufis in the Hijaz.
But Mr Saif believes that while the Shia want an end to discrimination they are committed to negotiating a settlement to their grievances.
The article below highlights the drawbacks to the recent "religious defamation" resolution engineered by the Islamic states, which can go counter to the spirit of pluralism by potentially normatizing one interpretation by restricting criticism and nuance...
Religion and human rights
The meaning of freedom
Apr 2nd 2009
From The Economist print edition
Why freedom of speech must include the right to “defame” religions
Illustration by Peter Schrank
AT FIRST glance, the resolution on “religious defamation” adopted by the UN’s Human Rights Council on March 26th, mainly at the behest of Islamic countries, reads like another piece of harmless verbiage churned out by a toothless international bureaucracy. What is wrong with saying, as the resolution does, that some Muslims faced prejudice in the aftermath of September 2001? But a closer look at the resolution’s language, and the context in which it was adopted (with an unholy trio of Pakistan, Belarus and Venezuela acting as sponsors), makes clear that bigger issues are at stake.
The resolution says “defamation of religions” is a “serious affront to human dignity” which can “restrict the freedom” of those who are defamed, and may also lead to the incitement of violence. But there is an insidious blurring of categories here, which becomes plain when you compare this resolution with the more rigorous language of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948 in a spirit of revulsion over the evils of fascism. This asserts the right of human beings in ways that are now entrenched in the theory and (most of the time) the practice of liberal democracy. It upholds the right of people to live in freedom from persecution and arbitrary arrest; to hold any faith or none; to change religion; and to enjoy freedom of expression, which by any fair definition includes freedom to agree or disagree with the tenets of any religion.
In other words, it protects individuals—not religions, or any other set of beliefs. And this is a vital distinction. For it is not possible systematically to protect religions or their followers from offence without infringing the right of individuals.
What exactly is it the drafters of the council resolution are trying to outlaw? To judge from what happens in the countries that lobbied for the vote—like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan—they use the word “defamation” to mean something close to the crime of blasphemy, which is in turn defined as voicing dissent from the official reading of Islam. In many of the 56 member states of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, which has led the drive to outlaw “defamation”, both non-Muslims and Muslims who voice dissent (even in technical matters of Koranic interpretation) are often victims of just the sort of persecution the 1948 declaration sought to outlaw. That is a real human-rights problem. And in the spirit of fairness, laws against blasphemy that remain on the statute books of some Western countries should also be struck off; only real, not imaginary, incitement of violence should be outlawed.
Good manners, please; not censorship
In much of the Muslim world, the West’s reaction to the attacks of September 2001, including the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, has been misread as an attack on Islam itself. This is more than regrettable; it is dangerous. Western governments, and decent people everywhere, should try to ensure that the things they say do not entrench religious prejudice or incite acts of violence; being free to give offence does not mean you are wise to give offence. But no state, and certainly no body that calls itself a Human Rights Council, should trample on the right to free speech enshrined in the Universal Declaration. And in the end, given that all faiths have undergone persecution at some time, few people have more to gain from the protection of free speech than sincere religious believers.
The United States, with its tradition of combining strong religious beliefs and religious freedom, is well placed to make that case. Having taken a politically risky decision (see article) to re-engage with the Human Rights Council and seek election as one of its 47 members, America should now make the defence of real religious liberty one of its highest priorities.
August 31, 2009
Memo From Cairo
Hints of Pluralism in Egyptian Religious Debates
By MICHAEL SLACKMAN
CAIRO — Writing in his weekly newspaper column, Gamal al-Banna said recently that God had created humans as fallible and therefore destined to sin. So even a scantily clad belly dancer, or for that matter a nude dancer, should not automatically be condemned as immoral, but should be judged by weighing that person’s sins against her good deeds.
This view is provocative in Egypt’s conservative society, where many argue that such thinking goes against the hard and fast rules of divine law. Within two hours of the article’s posting last week on the Web site of Al Masry al Youm, readers had left more than 30 comments — none supporting his position.
“So a woman can dance at night and pray in the morning; this is duplicity and ignorance,” wrote a reader who identified himself as Hany. “Fear God and do not preach impiety.”
Still, Mr. Banna was pleased because at least his ideas were being circulated. Mr. Banna, who is 88 years old and is the brother of Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, has been preaching liberal Islamic views for decades.
But only now, he said, does he have the chance to be heard widely. It is not that a majority agrees with him; it is not that the tide is shifting to a more moderate interpretative view of religion; it is just that the rise of relatively independent media — like privately owned newspapers, satellite television channels and the Internet — has given him access to a broader audience.
And there is another reason: The most radical and least flexible thinkers no longer intimidate everyone with differing views into silence.
“Everything has its time,” Mr. Banna said, seated in his dusty office crammed with bookshelves that stretch from floor to ceiling.
It is a testament to how little public debate there has been over the value of pluralism, or more specifically of the role of religion in society, that so many see the mere chance to provoke as progress. But now, more than any time in many years, there are people willing to risk challenging conventional thinking, said writers, academics and religious thinkers like Mr. Banna.
“There is a relative development, enough to at least be able to present a different opinion that confronts the oppressive religious current which prevails in politics and on the street, and which has made the state try to outbid the religious groups,” said Gamal Asaad, a former member of Parliament and a Coptic intellectual.
It is difficult to say exactly why this is happening. Some of those who have begun to speak up say they are acting in spite of — and not with the encouragement of — the Egyptian government. Political analysts said that the government still tried to compete with the Muslim Brotherhood, a banned but tolerated Islamic movement, to present itself as the guardian of conservative Muslim values.
Several factors have changed the public debate and erased some of the fear associated with challenging conventional orthodoxy, political analysts, academics and social activists said. These include a disillusionment and growing rejection of the more radical Islamic ideology associated with Al Qaeda, they said. At the same time, President Obama’s outreach to the Muslim world has quieted the accusation that the United States is at war with Islam, making it easier for liberal Muslims to promote more Western secular ideas, Egyptian political analysts said.
“It is not a strategic or transformational change, but it is a relative change,” said Mr. Asaad, who emphasized that the dynamic was for Christians as well as Muslims in Egypt. “And the civil forces can unite to capitalize on this atmosphere and invest in it to raise it to become a more general atmosphere.”
Two events this summer highlighted the new willingness of a minority to confront the majority — and the overwhelming response by a still conservative community.
In June, a writers’ committee affiliated with the Ministry of Culture gave a prestigious award to Sayyid al-Qimni, a sharp critic of Islamic fundamentalism who in 2005 stopped writing, disavowed his own work and moved after receiving death threats for his writing.
Muhammad Salmawy, a committee member and president of the Egyptian Writers’ Union, said he thought Mr. Qimni had been honored in part because “he represents the secular direction and discusses religion on an objective basis and is against the religious current.”
What happened next followed a predictable path, but then veered. Islamic fundamentalists like Sheik Youssef al-Badri asked the government to revoke the award and moved to file a lawsuit against Mr. Qimni and the government.
“Salman Rushdie was less of a disaster than Sayyid al-Qimni,” said Mr. Badri in a television appearance on O TV, an independent Egyptian satellite channel. “Salman Rushdie, everyone attacked him because he destroyed Islam overtly. But Sayyid al-Qimni is attacking Islam and destroying it tactfully, tastefully and politely.”
But this time Mr. Qimni did not go into hiding. He appeared on the television show, sitting beside Sheik Badri as he defended himself.
A second development involved a religious minority, Bahais, who face discrimination in Egypt, where the only legally recognized faiths are Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Nine years ago the state stopped issuing identification records to Bahais unless they agreed to characterize themselves as members of one of the three recognized faiths. The documents are essential for access to all government services.
An independent group, The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, won a court order on behalf of the Bahais that forced the government to issue records leaving the religious identification blank. The first cards were issued this month. While the decision was aimed specifically at solving the problem faced by the Bahai community, the case tapped into the evolving debate, said the group’s executive director, Hossam Bahgat.
“It is an unprecedented move to recognize that one can be Egyptian and not adhere to one of these three religions,” Mr. Bahgat said. Still, he remains less than optimistic; most of the public reaction to the Bahais’ legal victory was negative, Mr. Bahgat said.
“It is known that you are apostates,” read one of many comments posted on Al Youm Al Sabei, an online newspaper.
But there has been at least a hint of diversity and debate in response to Mr. Banna’s remarks on belly dancers. Hours after they were posted, some readers began, however tentatively, to come to his defense. “Take it easy on the man,” an anonymous post said. “He did not issue a religious edict saying belly dancing is condoned. But he is saying that a person’s deeds will be weighed out because God is just. Is anything wrong with that?”
LONDON, Oct 24 (APP): A leading scholar has spoken of common roots of Muslim and European cultures and in discussing examples of their dynamic interactions has debunked claims of “clash of civilisation” in the wake of 9/11 events.
Dr.Kathryn Spellman Poots, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at The Aga Khan University, London campus, spoke on the topic of ‘Gender and Identity in Muslim Cultures: The interlacing of Europe and the Muslim World’ at the Houses of Parliament on Friday evening.
The event was organised by Conservative Muslim Forum which is headed by Lord Altaf Sheikh.
Dr.Poots explored the diversity of gender identities, expectations and realities in Muslim cultures. She challenged stereotypical understandings of gender relations in Muslim societies and highlighted multiple and changing constructs of gender roles both historically and in contemporary contexts.
She looked at various ways that Muslim women and men have reproduced, transgressed and challenged gender hierarchies by engaging in scholarship, activism and the creative arts.
She drew parallel between conservatism of Iranian women and their Libyan counterparts for whom the Government has decreed military service as compulsory and the liberalism among the Turkish women.
Dr.Poots said the British Muslims enjoy many greater rights than their counterparts in other Muslim countries specially those of the Middle East. She praised the measures adopted by the British Red Cross Society to collect blood from donors on the occasion of ‘Ashura’, the tenth of Muharram rather than allow the mourners to indulge in self-flagellation as an act of penance to mark the martyrdom of Hazrat Ali.
Speaking on the occasion Lord Sheikh said the British Muslims have done very well in every walk of life in the UK and hold key positions in the financial and IT sectors.
However, he expressed his disappointment over lack of general interest on the part of the UK Muslim community to join Police or the Armed Forces and said the community leaders ought to encourage young people to join these two professions as this will further help to contribute positively towards the British society.
Saudi authorities close two more Shia mosques
Mon, 09 Nov 2009 17:36:37 GMT
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The Ismaili Mosque in Khobar was closed by cement blocks.
The number of Shia mosques closed in Saudi Arabia has reached nine after authorities sealed shut two more mosques in the Kingdom's Eastern Province.
According to the Rasid News Network, security forces closed the only Ismaili mosque in Ras Tanura and have been preventing Shia citizens from performing daily prayers since last Friday.
The Shia mosque of Abqaiq was closed on the same day and some online sources reported the closure of another Shia mosque in Jubail.
Authorities also ordered all Shia mosques to be closed in the cities of Khobar, Dammam and Khafji last month and issued orders banning Shias from building mosques outside Najran and religious centers and cemeteries outside Qatif and Al-Hassa.
Shia Muslims, who comprise nearly one-fourth of the Saudi population, have long complained of being treated as second-class citizens in the Kingdom.
The Saudi government has been closing Shia mosques using various excuses, and has refused to issue building permits for the erection of new places of worship.
A recent report by the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) strongly lashed out at Saudi Arabia over its” systemic state discrimination" against Shia Muslims across the Kingdom, saying that the unfavorable treatment of Shia Muslims "extends from education and employment to the justice system."
The publication 500 Most Influential Muslims contains information about 500 most infuential Muslims based upon the diverse socio/economic/cultural/political criteria of the Umma. MHI is one of them. It can be accessed at:
Saturday, January 30, 2010 - A Glimpse of Islam in America
AIF will bring together representatives from different Islamic communities for a discussion about similarities, differences and how to work together.
Melissa Robinson - American Islamic Fellowship, Independent
Dr. Saeed Raees - Sunni
Fereydoun Taslimi - Quranist
Melody Moezzi - Progressive/Liberal
Andreyah James - Nation of Islam
Jannah Godlas - Sufism
Dorrah Nensey - Ismaili
•Nation of Islam
1. To raise audience awareness (both Muslim and Non-Muslim) of some of the many different expressions of Islam in the United States.
2. To familiarize the audience with some unique characteristics of these expressions of American Islam.
3. To share unique ways these various facets enhance the greater Islamic community as well as the society at large.
4. To demonstrate tolerance, respect, understanding, cooperation and value in the discussion of differences of faith and practice as fellow seekers of God's Mercy and Grace.
5. To spiritually enrich the panelists and audience in the discussion of faith and help us strengthen our faith/ submission to God and to serve our communities in more compassionate and grace-filled ways.
February 5 Discussion Meeting
Follow-up to A Glimpse of Islam in America Panel
Two Securities Building - 3500 Piedmont Rd, Atlanta, GA 30305 (map)
AIF will continue its dialogue from the January 30 Islamic Intrafaith Panel with a discussion about American Islam. The group will also look for ways to further the goals set during the panel discussion, which include raising awareness of different Islamic expressions in the United States, familiarizing people with some of the unique expressions of American Islam and sharing unique ways the various facets of American Islam can enrich both the greater Islamic community and society at large.
Thousands of Egyptian Muslims Show Up as "Human Shields" to Defend Coptic Christians From Terorism
Saturday 08 January 2011
by: Zaid Jilani | ThinkProgress | Report
On New Year’s Day, a devastating terrorist bombing at a Coptic church in Egypt killed 21 people and injured 79 others. Although the identity of the culprits was not known, it was assumed that they were Muslim extremists, intent on targeting those they saw as heretics. Religious tensions immediately rose in the country, and angry Copts stormed streets, battled with police, and even vandalized a nearby mosque. The riots and heightened tensions between the Muslim and Coptic communities was likely what the terrorists wanted — to divide the Egyptian community and create sectarian strife between different religious groups.
Yet by Coptic Christmas Eve, which took place Thursday night in Egypt, things had changed completely. As Egyptian Copts attended mass at churches across the country, “thousands” of Muslims, including “the two sons of President Hosni Mubarak,” joined them, acting as “human shields” to protect from terrorist attacks by extremists. The Muslims organized under the slogan “We either live together, or we die together,” inspired by Mohamed El-Sawy, an Egyptian artist:
Egypt’s majority Muslim population stuck to its word Thursday night. What had been a promise of solidarity to the weary Coptic community, was honoured, when thousands of Muslims showed up at Coptic Christmas eve mass services in churches around the country and at candle light vigils held outside. From the well-known to the unknown, Muslims had offered their bodies as “human shields” for last night’s mass, making a pledge to collectively fight the threat of Islamic militants and towards an Egypt free from sectarian strife.
“We either live together, or we die together,” was the sloganeering genius of Mohamed El-Sawy, a Muslim arts tycoon whose cultural centre distributed flyers at churches in Cairo Thursday night, and who has been credited with first floating the “human shield” idea. Among those shields were movie stars Adel Imam and Yousra, popular preacher Amr Khaled, the two sons of President Hosni Mubarak, and thousands of citizens who have said they consider the attack one on Egypt as a whole. “This is not about us and them,” said Dalia Mustafa, a student who attended mass at Virgin Mary Church on Maraashly. “We are one. This was an attack on Egypt as a whole, and I am standing with the Copts because the only way things will change in this country is if we come together.”
Al Jazeera English covered the attacks and reported from the site of one of the solidarity events where Muslims and Christians stood side by side, protesting discrimination against Copts and calling for an end to violence. Watch it:
It is a frequent complaint among opinion makers in the United States that the global Muslim community does not condemn and prevent terrorism. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has even said that Islam needs a civil war similar to the one the United States fought in order to deal with its extremists. But the truth is that moderate and progressive Muslims all over the world are battling extremism. Here in the United States, one-third of al-Qaeda related terror plots have been broken up thanks to intelligence provided by Muslim Americans. It is up to the press to report these positive stories and not exaggerate the sway that extremists hold over the global Muslim community.
ZULFIKAR HIRJI IN CONVERSATION WITH SHENIZ JANMOHAMED AT “DIVERSITY AND PLURALISM IN ISLAM” LAUNCH
How do Muslims talk about their own diversity and deal with their internal differences? How did the perception arise that all Muslims are the same and why is it perpetuated? This Is Not A Reading Series presents an informed and engaging discussion between poet & spoken word artist Sheniz Janmohamed and author Zulfikar Hirji about how pluralism and diversity manifest themselves in Muslim contexts at the launch of Zulfikar’s new book, Diversity and Pluralism In Islam: Historical and Contemporary Discourses Amongst Muslims. Sheniz will launch the evening with an awe-inspiring reading of selections from her book, Bleeding Light (also available for purchase at the event).
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
The Gladstone Hotel, Ball Room
1214 Queen Street West
Doors open at 7:00; Event starts at 7:30
Admission is $5.00 or FREE with a book purchase
By MOHAMMED AZHAR ALI KHAN
Canada remains a model of mutual respect
The Toronto District School Board of Canada and the news network CNN stood out this month for fairness and refused to jump on the Islamophobia wagon.
For North American Muslims, enjoying equal rights with fellow North Americans but harassed by malicious allegations, these actions reflect the decency of the Canadian and American people and offer them hope.
In the Walid Shoebat saga, CNN performed its journalistic duty faithfully. It investigated Shoebat who has been raking money, sometimes a half a million dollars a year, speaking and writing denouncing Islam and calling American Muslims a threat to the United States. He spoke even at US government institutions, basing his expertise on Islam and terrorism on being a former Muslim and terrorist. He was born in Beit Sahour, close to Bethlehem, to a Palestinian father and an American mother. He claims that he bombed Bank Leumi’s former branch in Bethlehem and was jailed by Israelis before moving to the US. He said he converted to Christianity in 1993.
As CNN's Anderson Cooper stated in two reports, which included interviews with Shoebat, his claims are dubious. CNN found no evidence of the bombing of Bank Leumi’s former branch in Bethlehem or of Shoebat being a former Palestinian terrorist or ever being in Israeli jails. His relatives in his village denied his having being an activist. Hopefully, Americans will now see Shoebat as a self-serving Islam basher whose words are not to be trusted.
In the Canadian case, the Muslims’ freedom to worship was challenged.
For three years Muslim students of the Valley Park Middle School in Toronto have prayed on Friday noon in congregation. Canadian schools, universities, private offices and government institutions routinely make “reasonable accommodation” to meet the religious obligations of all Canadians. Sikhs, for example, are allowed to wear the kirpan. Prayer and/or meditation rooms are also provided at Canadian airports.
Suddenly, the Canadian Hindu Advocacy objected to the use of school premises for prayers. A Jewish Defense League spokesperson called for monitoring the prayers to ensure that the imam conducting such services doesn't preach intolerance. The president of Canadian Muslim Congress expressed concern that Ismailis and Ahmadis might not be invited to such prayers because they are not viewed as mainstream Muslims while another CMC official objected to girls praying in the back rows. CMC has said it might sue the school board. The International Campaign against Shariah Courts leader called the service a “political statement” by Muslims. A Canadian Council of Muslim Women official also called for monitoring the prayers.
Friday congregation prayers are obligatory on Muslims. All that the school did was to enable Muslim students to follow their faith. This is no more a political statement than are services at synagogues, churches or temples. As for “monitoring,” media, students and politicians of different faiths often attend Muslim Friday prayers at mosques to listen, exchange views or to just meet Muslims. No Muslim objects.
There is no evidence that Ismaili or Ahmadi students at the Toronto school, if any, wanted to join the prayers and were refused. Ismailis pray at their own jamaatkhanas and their prayer services are reserved only for Ismailis. Ahmadis visit mainstream mosques for funeral services of friends. They never pray, however, behind Shiite or Sunni imams. They pray only behind an Ahmadi who owes allegiance to Ahmadi prophets and caliphs. Mainstream Muslims, Ismailis and Ahmadis maintain excellent relations in Canada. But they pray among their own and, like Canadians of other faiths, neither join nor invite others for prayers. As to the claim that women have to pray in the back rows, this argument could be used to ban Muslim prayers throughout Canada — and the practices of many other faiths.
Most Canadians cherish freedom and do not want agitators to sow divisions and acrimony. Christian groups, the Hindu Canadian Alliance, the World Sikh Organization and Jewish Community Council support the right of Muslims, and all other Canadians, to freedom of religion. In many cities Muslims prayed at churches, at their invitation, before their mosques were built.
The Toronto District School Board has stood firm and reiterated that it upholds the religious freedom of all students and will continue to provide them with reasonable accommodation without discrimination or favor. It said Muslim students will continue to pray as they wish.
So Canada remains a model of mutual respect despite occasional efforts to sow dissension. Muslims are grateful for this blessing but they and all Canadians have to remain vigilant to safeguard their freedom and harmony.
— Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan is a retired Canadian journalist, civil servant and refugee judge.
There is a rare glimmer of hope from Pakistan. A court on Saturday found Malik Mumtaz Qadri guilty of the assassination of Salman Taseer, the courageous and outspoken governor of Pakistan’s Punjab Province who was gunned down in January.
Mr. Taseer defended the rights of women and minorities. He pressed hard to repeal the country’s outrageous blasphemy law that imposes a mandatory death sentence on anyone convicted of “insulting” Islam. Mr. Qadri, who was one of the governor’s bodyguards, admitted to the killing and said it was justified because of what he called Mr. Taseer’s “blasphemous” statements.
Mr. Qadri’s sentence of death, like all such rulings, is barbaric. There is little doubt that Mr. Taseer’s close ties to President Asif Ali Zardari and the ruling party gave the government extra incentive to bring the killer to trial.
But the fact that Judge Syed Pervez Ali Shah and the special prosecutor were willing to bring the case to a conclusion is a reminder that there are still people of courage in Pakistan. The government must protect them from retribution.
The reaction in Pakistan to the January killing was repugnant. Many people, including lawyers, cheered Mr. Qadri and showered him with rose petals at a court appearance while most of the country’s political leaders remained silent. After Saturday’s ruling, some of Mr. Qadri’s supporters burned tires and denounced the sentence.
Mr. Qadri is expected to appeal his conviction, so the test for Pakistan’s judicial system is far from over.
Pakistan’s leaders, and all of its people, are facing an even more profound choice: Do they want a country in which the zealots like Mr. Qadri can intimidate and murder anyone who dares to disagree with them? Or do they want a country in which tolerance and justice can prevail. That was Salman Taseer’s vision for Pakistan. It must not be forgotten.
This is an edited version of extracts from speeches delivered by Dr Reza Shah-Kazemi at Milad al-Nabi Celebrations held in Atlanta and San Francisco, USA, in 2007. It first appeared in The Ismaili, USA, 2008.
Dr. Shah-Kazemi opens this article with the narration of Prophet Muhammad’s invitation to a group of Christians in 631 CE to perform their rites in his own mosque. This remarkable event was reported by Ibn Ishaq and others. As Dr Shah-Kazemi says “one observes here a perfect example of how disagreement on the plane of dogma can co-exist with deep respect on the superior plane of religious devotion”. This is one of a series of acts of the Prophet which indicate the sanctity of religions which preceded Islam. Based on a reading of certain Qur’anic verses on the subjects of salvation, the Umma and religion, the author argues that “the essence of religion is immutable, only its forms vary”. He goes on to state that ”the universal message of the Qur’an invites the Muslim to manifest respect, tolerance and reverence for that same essence which resides at the core of all the revealed religions of mankind”.
In a sign of Tolerance, Salman al-Odah, left, the country's most popular puritanical cleric, accepted an invitation from Sufi cleric Abdallah Fadaaq, right, to attend a Sufi celebration. (Izzat Zeiny - Photo By Izzat Zeiny)
Network NewsX Profile
By Faiza Saleh Ambah
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, 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 shift.
"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 God 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, where 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 his 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 heresy 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 affairs.
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 at 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 businessman.
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, who emerged from the kingdom's stark, harsh desert, a believer's relationship can be only directly with God. To them, Sufis' celebrations 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 wave 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. It's 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. Fadaaq, who at 39 is emerging as the new symbol of Hejazi Sufism, wore the white 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."
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