Religion (Important Articles)
Europe’s failure to integrate MuslimsJonathan Laurence
Eight years have passed since France's Assemblee Nationale launched the opening volley of a decade-long effort to reduce Islam's visibility within migrant-origin communities across Europe.
In the last few months alone, an anti-burqa law was passed in the Netherlands, a new headscarf bill and restrictions on halal slaughter are under consideration in France, and a German Supreme Court ruling banned Muslim prayer in public schools.
As Muslims and non-Muslims despair about the prospect of long-term Islamic integration in 21st century Europe, disagreement over the urgency and necessity to restrict Islamic symbols in the public sphere - from clothing to architecture and food - is at the origin of a potentially grave misunderstanding.
Religion is not the primary factor of identity for most European Muslims, but the current atmosphere has enhanced a feeling of group stigmatisation and a shared sense of injustice where previously few bonds existed. This has fed a growing confrontation, foreshadowed in two competing narratives of victimisation dividing Muslims from non-Muslims in Europe, which continue to gain strength.
In the first narrative, "native" European populations are told by political parties that many mainstream Muslim religious practices - from headscarves to halal meat - are in fact insidious attempts to impose Islamic rules on non-Muslims and they must be halted. As the Norwegian right-wing terrorist manifesto unoriginally put it, the year is 1683 and the Gates of Vienna are under siege.
Against this narrative is the view, held by many Muslim community leaders, that European governments are uniformly repressive and intolerant of diversity. In that account, it is not 1683 but 1938 all over again. Prohibitions against mainstream religious symbols (minarets and headscarves) as well as less common practices (burqas, polygamy and forced marriages) are a harbinger of worse to come.
In reality, the relevant analogy is not 1683 Vienna or 1938 Berlin, but rather several crucial nation-building moments in between. In what are mundane but arguably critical domains for religious integration - such as mosque construction, the training of imams, chaplains, the availability of halal food and visas for the hajj - Muslim communities and European governments have begun to talk and to act in the Islam councils coming into existence across the continent. Thanks to the public nature of these consultations, Islam is no longer a black box to the general electorate.
This bears repeating in light of recent legislative efforts that adumbrate what Europeans already know well: Formal legal equality is not everything and emancipation is not irreversible. There is the growing danger that the modest accomplishments of religious integration will be undone before Muslims' incorporation has taken place. Europe's Muslims increasingly perceive the sum total of public debate about them as simple religious persecution - an uncanny admixture of the political distrust that drove the Kulturkampf and the religious resentment that fuelled traditional anti-Semitism.
In Germany, headscarf ban on public employees led one newspaper to run the headline "Mit Kopftuch nur als Putzfrau" (If you wear a headscarf, you can only be a cleaning lady), suggesting that the government was trying to keep Muslim women in menial labour positions. After the German high court's decision to ban Muslim prayer in public school, one German Muslim federation said that authorities were "trying to drive the Islamic religion out of all public spaces". The 1930s are also on the mind of Muslims elsewhere in Europe. Last year, a former presidential adviser in France called on fellow Muslims to start wearing a "green star" and when the French parliament considered a new headscarf ban, petitioners against the bill made explicit reference to the Nuremberg laws.
The tide of restrictions shows little sign of receding. Their pursuit is too electorally rewarding - and too politically risky to oppose. This is a path on which many politicians find rewards, but it is on a slippery incline. Few observers contest the danger of Islamic fundamentalism or its deadly consequences. But if the obsession with Islamic symbols formed part of a coherent national security agenda, it would be complemented by trust-building measures in one of the few areas where the state has real power to influence outcomes, for example guaranteeing religious liberty under the rule of law. Instead, a disproportionate focus on cases of extreme piety or excessive religious modesty has produced one self-defeating legislative measure after another.
Take the headscarf and burqa restrictions that have been endorsed to date.
Their implementation will impact directly only hundreds or perhaps thousands of families at most, less than one per cent of the many millions in the countries where parliaments passed them. The few women living under the weight of burqas in countries with new prohibitions, furthermore, will now be banished to their apartments. The handful of girls forced to choose between their faith and a public education will rarely encounter their non-Muslim peers in a neutral setting. As for discussions of restricting halal slaughter, this will affect little other than the ability of Islamic federations to raise funds locally. Suitable meat would just be imported and there would be no diminishment of the foreign cash needed to fund local religious associations.
Those who would impose limits on Islam's presence in the public sphere have gone, in the space of a decade, from banning headscarves on behalf of women's rights to the questioning of basic practices of religious toleration, such as the right to ritual animal slaughter, or the construction of houses of worship, with or without a minaret. In Milan, when the Deputy Mayor attended a Ramadan break-fast last August, she was accused by her predecessor of "sending the wrong institutional signal" and of seeking "equality for Islam as a religion", which would lead straight to Sharia law.
While the best intentions of secularists, liberals, feminists or animal welfare activists are often at work in the formulation of these measures, their net effect is to sacrifice golden opportunities to impart republican values in a shared setting. And the impression remains that these advocates' passions are less stirred by the illiberalism of non-Muslims. The pursuit of progressive social and political causes, such as women's rights, animal welfare and free speech, can take on discriminatory overtones if they are not pursued with similar alacrity to bring reform to non-Muslim religious groups.
The wind and the sun
In July 1917, the former American president William Howard Taft gave a speech pondering the fate of Europe's Jewish minorities as the United States joined the Great War. Calling for the unqualified emancipation of Jews and for their integration into every last national community in Europe, Taft warned that "harsh and repressive measures have not helped" and worse, are "always harmful". Taft didn't appeal to the legacy of Enlightenment or even the American and French Revolutions to bolster his argument. He cited Aesop's fable of the contest between the wind and the sun in removing a man's coat from his back. The harder the wind blew, the closer the man held the coat to his body. Likewise, Taft wrote, "persecution and injustice merely strengthen the Jew's peculiarity in his adherence to his ancient customs, religion and its ceremonials".
His solution amounts to a Victorian aphorism - persuasion is superior to force - but that does not lessen the wisdom of the 7th century BCE: "It was only when the sun with its warm rays increased the temperature and created discomfort that the man removed his coat." Taft's counsel continues to resonate today. Populist gesticulation around headwear, street prayer or halal food cannot substitute for serious strategies of socio-political inclusion.
If European leaders don't step up to this challenge, finally, someone else will. There is a new pack of suitors on the continent. Qatar recently stepped into the French banlieues with a gift of €50m ($65m) investment and the courting of French Muslim elites. The ancestral nations of many European Muslims, especially Turkey and Morocco, have also intensified their outreach efforts. They've built elaborate institutions and consultative mechanisms of their own to stay in touch with and to protect what they consider to be increasingly vulnerable minorities. Even the US has developed programmes that aim to enhance the integration of European Muslims.
These other countries are wooing European Muslim elites into their orbits because they're often the only ones taking them seriously. If things continue like this, European governments will waste the opportunity to capitalise on recent political sacrifices and progress made in the name of integration and regress to an era before they began to take responsibility for their own citizens.
Once all of the low-hanging fruit has been picked - the last burqa banned, the last foreign extremist deported - European governments will still need to raise their game and forge consensus on the far more critical and hard-to-reach goal: A coherent integration policy that engages full constitutional rights and responsibilities for all citizens. For now, party competition and unfavourable public opinion seem to have convinced many European governments that those grapes are sour.
Source: WEEKLY CUTTING EDGE
Female heirs: public policy in Islam
April 6, 2012
Hina Hafeezullah Ishaq
Another feather in the cap of the federal government was the passage of the anti-women practices law that amended the Pakistan Penal Code. One such amendment was an addition of a new section, which specifically addresses the issue of female inheritance, or the lack thereof.
Section 498-A has been added to the penal code. It places a “prohibition of depriving a woman from inheriting property” and states “whoever deceitfully or by illegal means deprives any woman from inheriting any movable or immovable property at the time of opening of succession shall be punished with imprisonment for a term, which may not be less than seven years and a fine in amount of Rs.1,000,000.”
When a Muslim dies, there are four main issues that need to be taken care of, with respect to his estate. They are: the funeral and burial expenses need to be paid; debts need to be settled; if there is a will, up to one third of his total property needs to be executed and then the remaining property needs to be distributed in accordance with the shares as laid down in the Holy Quran. There is no concept of intermediary intervention, including that of a father, brother, son or husband or vice versa, in the matters of inheritance and succession in Islam. As soon as a person, irrespective of gender, dies, his or her property, both moveable and immovable, is to be immediately vested to his legal heirs, including females.
Islamic law is extremely clear on female inheritance. Even before the recent amendment to the law, our superior courts have dispensed justice to female heirs who had been deprived of their inherited property. There is a substantial amount of case law on the subject, which should ideally have been used as a beacon by the lower judiciary but unfortunately has been ignored in most cases, the result being years and years of litigation, with many claimants dying before the end of the process.
It is a well settled principle of law that regardless of the fact that the male co-sharers, mostly brothers, have claimed exclusive possession over the property of their sisters, it would be deemed that the sisters are in constructive possession. As is so rampant in our culture, the brothers often claim that the sisters have relinquished their right to the lawful inheritance in favour of the male co-sharers because of a contract or natural love and affection; such a claim has been held to be against the public policy of Islam. Firstly, it is unthinkable that natural love and affection only flows one way — brothers hardly ever give up their share of inheritance in favour of their sisters. There are exceptions of course, but the norm is the sisters being forced to give up their share on the pretext of natural love and affection. Secondly, any contract that is based on undue influence or coercion is void and cannot be enforced against a person. Again, the rules of interpretation when such alleged contracts are relied upon have to be in consonance with the spirit of the Quran and as set out in the Objectives Resolution in the Constitution of Pakistan.
Another mode of depriving females of their inherited property is through court decrees. Ex-parte and fraudulent decrees are obtained by the male co-sharers, with help from some black sheep in the legal fraternity and the judiciary, by which they transfer all the property in their own names. The Supreme Court has ruled that such mutations in revenue records have no value as they do not create any right to title and are maintained only for purposes of realisation of land revenue. Even if a female co-sharer has not been given a share in profits of the inherited land, this cannot serve to deprive her of her inalienable right in the property. In an attempt to secure females, the superior courts have also ruled that the question of limitation in filing for suits in courts to assert their rights in respect of their inherited property would not apply as they would be at all times deemed to be in constructive possession of the same.
Although the major victims of this deprivation are our rural, uneducated women, our urban and often educated women too have often not been given their inheritance. The urban female suffers due to emotional and cultural pressures; there is a fear of being ostracised from the family as a result of exercising the right to inherited property, which is ideally perceived as belonging to the brothers or other male members. The rural women suffer mainly because either their name is not included on the heirs list with the active connivance and collusion of the revenue officers or they are made to thumb-mark documents of relinquishment, power of attorneys, fraudulent sale deeds or bogus contracts. Another well settled principle of law is that all beneficiaries of such executed documents have to prove to the court that not only were the contents of such documents read over and explained to the female in question but that she had the mental capacity to understand the same and had access to independent advice and nothing was concealed and there was no misrepresentation and undue influence when she purportedly executed it. This rule has been extended to purdah-nashin, ignorant and illiterate women and applies in cases of alleged gifts in favour of male co-sharers as well.
A practice in vogue is to deny a female her right in inherited property on the basis of having provided her maintenance or dowry. The Quran has in most cases, with a couple of exceptions, allocated the male with twice the share of a female; there is a purpose behind this. According to Islamic injunctions, a female is not bound to provide maintenance to anyone; her property is solely hers to be enjoyed as she wishes, whereas the male is obligated to provide for his wife, children, parents and other needy relatives. Although an orphan female can be maintained out of the profits of her own inherited property, such maintenance does not deprive her of her right to inheritance. Even otherwise, it is deemed that a brother steps into the shoes of his deceased father in respect of being morally obligated to maintain his needy close relations.
The inheritance of females is a matter of public policy in Islam. They cannot opt out of this protection even if they wanted to. Any relinquishment of their right in such property is opposed to the public policy of Islam and even if it is proved against them it would be void. Any inheritance that accrues in favour of a female heir is deemed to remain intact at all relevant times regardless of any contract or relinquishment.
The legislation to make depriving a female of her inheritance a penal offence is a step in the right direction. Another good step is not making it religion-specific: not only females belonging to the majority religion but members of the minority ones will have an equal opportunity of benefiting from their inheritance provided their personal laws entitle them to such a share. There are still more steps that need to be taken but most important of all is the implementation of the law and following the rules laid down by the superior courts: it needs to be seen if those responsible for legislation, implementation and judicial dispensation would be subject to them. As Sophocles said, “Nobody has more sacred an obligation to obey the law than those who make the law.”
The writer is an advocate of the high court
When Islam becomes French poll issueApril 6, 2012
By Marwan Kabalan
Over the past couple of weeks, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been doing everything possible to guarantee a second term in office ahead of the April 22 first round of the presidential elections. The killing of seven people by an Al Qaida-inspired gunman last month came as an unexpected gift for Sarkozy to increase his chances in the forthcoming elections. Having lagged behind in recent opinion polls, he won several percentage points following a range of measures against the Muslim community in France. In a show of strength, Sarkozy did not only target radical elements in the Muslim community but has also assumed his security mantle by making every Muslim a suspect until proven otherwise. Imams were deported, moderate Muslim preachers were denied access to the country, mosques were monitored and several schools were shut down.
The exploitation of Mohammad Merah’s shooting in the southern city of Toulouse for election purposes has become a major source of irritation and anger among French Muslims and human rights activists around the world. But, in many other aspects, the response of the Sarkozy government to the incident reflected a deep-seated paranoia of the French elite about religion and its role in public life. Beyond going against the very notion of freedom and undermining the tenets of western democracy, which underlines tolerance and diversity, Sarkozy’s policies exposed the eradicationist leanings of extreme secularists in French political and cultural circles.
Since its revolution, which was fought against clericalism, France has been preoccupied with its historical legacy and has, therefore, been firmly committed to the separation of the secular and the religious in the public domain. But, Sarkozy’s response to Merah’s case demonstrated that militant secularism does not simply mean the separation of religion and politics, but an anti-religious and anti-clerical belief, an ideology per se.
Hence, the simplest visible affirmation of faith by French Muslims has been regarded by hardcore secularists as a challenge to their determinedly secular state. The deportation of imams and the closure of schools is only one aspect of this type of secular extremism. Going against the fundamentals of the modern French republic, based on the 1789 Revolution’s “liberty, equality and fraternity”, did not discourage the translation of this ideology into policies, targeting free-born citizens in a seemingly liberal democracy.
To the mind of France’s secular fundamentalists, Muslim individuals and groups who speak of Islam as a way of life are regarded as fundamentalists or fanatics who constitute a threat to French culture and social values. Images of militant groups and the violent actions of a minority of individuals are often taken as representative and proof of the inherent danger of mixing Islam, politics and social life. This stereotype is a major obstacle to the understanding of Islamic culture and has contributed to a tendency that reduces Islam to fundamentalism and fundamentalism to religious extremism.
This erroneous perception, it must be said, does not emanate only from misrepresentation or misinformation about Islam and Muslims, but also from the mind of secular fundamentalists, which is oriented in a way that tends to view the world in terms of two opposite extremes: traditions and modernity, religion and rationalism, Islam and progress. This sort of understanding tends to relegate religion to the stockpile of traditional beliefs, valuable in understanding the past but irrelevant to modern life.
The tendency to define religion as a system of belief restricted to personal life, rather than a way of life, has seriously hampered the western ability to understand the nature of Islam and many of its manifestations. Islam has generally been regarded in the West and particularly among French secular elites as a static, anti-modern and retrogressive phenomenon. This explains why France has rejected multiculturalism and required integration when its Muslim populations are implicated. Today, French Muslims are subject to a malicious war, targeting their religious and cultural values. It is a battle to define their very identity and soul. Many of them, like Muslims throughout the world, wish to live in a modern, but Islamic community. They are eager to enrich the political process and enjoy their rights for greater freedom and democracy. Ironically, the forces of secularism opt for greater authoritarianism rather than democratisation in order to impose their militant secularism.
Taking this path is extremely dangerous. French policy-makers must try to acquire better understanding of Islam, religion and culture, in order to win, rather than alienate, their Muslim citizens. More important, perhaps, they must respect the beliefs of the local Muslim community, which is French first and foremost. They may need to check through the constitution of the French Republic, which — among many things — guarantees all citizens the right to choose their religion and practice their faith. For a person to believe, and to follow his or her beliefs, does not mean that that person is fundamentalist or fanatic.
Dr Marwan Kabalan is the Dean of the Faculty of International Relations and Diplomacy at the University of Kalamoon, Syria.
source: Gulf News
The search for interfaith harmonyApril 17, 2012
S Iftikhar Murshed
Seventeenth-century philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal was convinced that “men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it for religious conviction.” It is said that the infliction of cruelty with a good conscience is a delight to moralists, and this explains the wars of religion in previous centuries, as much as it does the creed of Al-Qaeda in the contemporary era or the current sectarian nightmare in Gilgit-Baltistan.
Sadly, it is irrefutable that the three major monotheistic religions of the world have been primarily responsible for most of the faith-based violence through history. Since the 1960s, however, there has been an effort, particularly by the Roman Catholic Church, to revisit the past, acknowledge previous mistakes and make amends.
A similar exercise was undertaken by Muslim theologians and resulted in the historic Mardin Conference in March 2010. There has also been an endeavour since 2005 to set in motion a dialogue process between Jewish and Muslim scholars in the United States. The most remarkable of these diverse initiatives has been that of the Vatican.
Pursuant to the deliberations of the Second Vatican Council (October 11, 1962-December 8, 1965), the Office for Non-Christian Affairs at the Vatican issued a publication titled Orientation for a Dialogue between Christians and Muslims. The document exhorted Christians to shun the “outdated image, inherited from the past, or distorted by prejudice and slander” of Islam. It appealed to the followers of the Church to “recognise the past injustice towards the Muslims for which the West, with its Christian education, is to blame.”
The manuscript was also severely critical of preconceived notions Christians have about Muslim fatalism, the sharia, and fanaticism. While stressing the unity of God, it recalled how pleasantly surprised the Muslim audience at Cairo’s Al= Azhar University was when Cardinal Franz Koenig (1905-2004), the archbishop of Vienna, emphasised this unity in a speech at the Great Mosque in March 1969.
The Second Vatican Council, known also as Vatican II, was convened by Pope John XXIII to harmonise relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the modern world. It is significant that among those who participated in the three-year-long colloquium, four were to become pontiffs. Thus, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini succeeded Pope John XXIII as Paul VI; Bishop Albino Luciani was to become Pope Paul I; Bishop Karol Wojtyla was the future Pope John Paul II; and Father Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger, the theological consultant at the council, is the incumbent Pope Benedict XVI.
Vatican II spurred a series of significant contacts between the Roman Catholic Curia and Islam in an effort to foster interfaith harmony. Thus in April 1974, Cardinal Pignedoli, president of the Vatican Office of Non-Christian Affairs visited Saudi Arabia and conveyed a message from Pope Paul VI who was “moved by a profound belief in the unification of the Islamic and Christian worlds in the worship of a single God…”
This was reciprocated six months later by a visit to the Holy See of the Grand Ulema of Saudi Arabia. The Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano, in its October 26, 1974, issue reported the event in detail. The Grand Ulema were subsequently received by the Ecumenical Council of Churches of Geneva and by the “Lord Bishop of Strasbourg” who invited them to offer their midday prayers in his cathedral.
The Bishop of Strasbourg was probably not even aware that more than one thousand four hundred years back it was Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) who was the first person in recorded history to display such broad-minded magnanimity. The scholar and biographer Ibn Saad (784-845) recounted in his Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir that when a delegation of Christians from Najran called on the Holy Prophet in Medina a few months before his death, he offered them his mosque for prayers in accordance with their own beliefs and rituals.
The discussions between the Najran Christians and the Muslims of Medina centred on the doctrinal commonalities and differences between the two religions. This was history’s first interfaith dialogue and was completely in accord with the Quranic injunction: “And do not argue with the followers of earlier revelation otherwise than in a most kindly manner-unless it be such of them as are bent on evildoing-and say: ‘We believe in that which has been bestowed from on high upon us, as well as that which has been bestowed upon you: for our God and your God is one and the same, and it is unto Him that we (all) surrender ourselves.’ “ (Quran, 29:46.)
The positive response to the Vatican II initiative by the Grand Ulema of Saudi Arabia and the scholars of Al Azhar were unfortunately overtaken by subsequent events. The Iranian Revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan traumatised the world. But it was the successful Mujahideen resistance supported by the West that not only resulted in the eventual collapse of the Berlin Wall but also gave birth to Al-Qaeda and other terrorist outfits. The Taliban movement emerged from a remote village near Kandahar in August 1994 and by September 1996 captured two-thirds of Afghanistan, including Kabul.
The hope for interfaith harmony generated by Vatican II faded and was replaced in the 1990s by Samuel P Huntington’s theory of a clash of civilisations which envisaged that people’s cultural and religious identities, particularly the differences between Islam and the Christian West, will be the main cause for conflict in the post-Cold War world.
In response then Iranian president Mohammad Khatami advanced the idea of Dialogue among Civilisations. The proposal was accepted by the United Nations, which designated the year 2001 for this purpose. But a few months later 9/11 occurred and it seemed that Huntington’s theory was becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy.
But despite this, the Alliance of Civilisations initiative was proposed at the 60th UN General Assembly session in 2005 by the Spanish president, Jose Luis Rodriquez Zapatero, and was co-sponsored by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. This concept was built around the galvanisation of collective action to combat extremism, demolish cultural barriers primarily between the West and the Muslim world and reduce interfaith polarisation and tensions.
A parallel effort for the advancement of understanding between Muslims and Jews was launched in 2005 by Pakistan’s Dr Akbar Ahmad, chair of Islamic Studies at American University, and Professor Judea Pearl, the father of Daniel Pearl who was beheaded in Karachi in 2002 by Al-Qaeda. This initiative is based on the belief that reconciliation between the two faiths can be achieved through a frank dialogue ranging from theological issues, historical perceptions to current events.
By far the most important recent initiative for the advancement of global peace and harmony was taken by Muslim academics, scholars and theologians during their meeting at the Turkish resort of Mardin on March 27-28, 2010. The delegate from Saudi Arabia laid bare the textual distortion of the Mardin fatwa (decree) of Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328) which Al-Qaeda has exploited to justify terrorism in the guise of religion.
The New Mardin Declaration adopted by the conference urged the faithful to live up to Islam’s high moral and ethical values. It condemned in the strongest terms the vigilantism of radicals and appealed to all Muslims to foster global peace and conviviality.
But true progress towards interfaith harmony cannot be made unless there is self-criticism and a willingness to atone for and learn from past follies, as demonstrated by Vatican II. This was also recognised by President Richard Nixon, who in his book Beyond Peace, published posthumously in 1994, had the courage to admit with stunning honesty that conflict between the West and Islam was not necessarily inevitable but could become a self-fulfilling prophesy if the West continued to be indifferent to conflicts in which Muslims were the victims.
The writer is the publisher of Criterion Quarterly. Email: iftimurshed@ gmail.com
Religion: More similarities than differences
Humans always have seemed to prefer one race over another. This has been going on since the first man acquired thinking skills and was able to sort people into groups based on their physical features.
Although America is currently a "colour-blind" society, it still contains many forms of discrimination. I am not talking just about race, but also religion.
September 11, 2001 - At 8:46 am, the turn of this generation occurred. Innocent lives were lost when American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the World Trade Centre's North Tower. The hijackers were extremists who had their so-called "reasons," despite the fact there is no reason to take anyone's life. Let's revisit what I just stated. The people who plotted those evil deeds were extremists - not Muslims. However, nowadays that is what we hear.
People decide to associate terrorism with Islam; however, that is not the case. Islam promotes peace - just like every other great religion. However, as
Americans, we fail to understand that great piece of information.
Honestly, has America lost its ability to accept all individuals, regardless their class, religion, race, disabilities, and gender? And did it ever even have this so-called "ability" in the first place? Why is it that many times when a Muslim woman walks into a public area with her hijab, everyone stares and makes rude racial comments? Why is it that Islam is looked at so disrespectfully? We are living in the 21st century, yet religion is still not understood. Islam, Christianity, and Judaism are three of the world's most-practised religions. However, there is more to the story! All three of these religions believe in the same Creator. Allah, God, and Yahweh are the names of the same Creator!
The only differences between these great religions are the sub-themes. For example, Jesus is believed to be the son of God in Christianity; however, in Islam, Jesus is a noble prophet. The bigger picture of these religions is that they promote PEACE. Despite my attempt to get others to understand how all religions, except those that worship Satan, have the same concept - doing good and defeating evil through spiritual ways - I failed. There are still people who are ignorant and just do not want to learn other religions because they feel superior. No religion is superior to another - in front of the Creator, we all are equal. A good deed is a good deed just as a sin as a sin, despite who we pray to.
"Hijabs, Sunday clothes, yamika, kufi, same mission beneath. We all tryin' to get to where the sufferin' ends. In front of the Most High bein' judged for our sins." Lupe Fiasco greatly summarised my point through his song "Muhammad Walks." (I strongly recommend listening to this.) At the end of the day, regardless of our beliefs, we all are the same kind: human. True, we stereotype at times but we can try our best to change that. We should open ourselves to learning about a person from a different background. There are usually more differences within a group than between two groups. The ability to take the time to learn about someone else's culture and religion and accept them for who they are is a BIG thing -- and by big I mean revolutionary. Revolutionary to the point that refines the meaning of mankind.
Terrorism has no place in Islam
Ajoy Ashirwad Mahaprashasta
Dr. Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri is one of the most renowned scholars of Islamic theology and jurisprudence from Pakistan. Formerly a professor of Constitutional Law in the University of the Punjab, Lahore, Pakistan, he founded Minhaj-ul-Quran International, an organisation that teaches non-extremist Islam and is present in at least 55 countries.
He was in New Delhi recently to launch his book, Fatwa on Terrorism and Suicide Bombings. He has a huge following in the Islamic world and many have declared him the true leader of Islam. While talking to this writer, he tried to explain the meanings of Islamic theology and how it is being misinterpreted across the world for political reasons. Belonging to the Barelvi sect, historically seen as opposed to the Deobandi and Wahabi schools, he says differences of opinion always existed in Islam but none of the schools ever taught the killing of non-combatants.
Congratulations on your new book. In recent times, many Muslim scholars have tried to interpret the meaning of jehad politically, but you have tried to rationalise its meaning religiously to suggest that there is no place for terrorism and suicide bombings in Islamic philosophy.
I find some people within the religious circles justifying terror activities to achieve their ulterior aims. So, I thought it was necessary to explain that terrorism has nothing to do with Islam, with the Quran, and with the Sunnah [habits, practices and teachings of the Prophet]. In order to establish that, it was necessary to look into the Hadith [Islamic law], Quranic commentaries and works of Islamic jurists followed by the Islamic Ummah [community]. Extremist interpretations are deviations from true Islamic teachings, which only emphasise peace and calmness.
For example, the words “jehad” and “shahadat” [martyrdom] or the concept of fighting were never used in any of the Islamic literature as killing of non-combatant non-Muslims. None of these terms means killing women and children or old people, priests or sick people. You are not allowed to do these. You are not allowed to demolish temples or churches or synagogues and other places of worships. These words are used only in the context of a “just” war or a war where you are only defending yourself. These words are valid only if there are two armies fighting each other in a battlefield, as is mentioned in various religious sources.
A separate group cannot declare jehad, as is being seen now. This is not their prerogative, not their right. And even when there is a war between two armies or countries, Islamic teachings have put lots of restrictions. You are not allowed to kill women, children and other such groups as I have mentioned. You are not even allowed to kill non-Muslim traders and farmers as they sustain our economy. You are not even allowed to cut trees unnecessarily. These are prohibitions, which the Muslim Ummah knows. But a few terrorist organisations have led the world to believe that Islam is a violent religion, and I, through my book, wanted to clarify all these doubts by examining the religious texts and other sources. These organisations have misinterpreted the Quran by propagating that the killing of a Muslim is equivalent to the killing of the whole of mankind. Instead, the Quran has specifically said that the killing of a “human being”, not just a Muslim, is equivalent to the killing of the whole of mankind. The word “Nafsan,” meaning human being, is used throughout in the Quran.
Most of the extremist organisations owe their allegiance to the Deobandi or the Wahabi theological schools. How does your book interpret their teachings?
I have interpreted the writings of all the great jurists belonging to all the Islamic schools of law in the world. If you talk of Deoband, I have devoted many pages in my book to talk about the Ulema [scholars] of the Deoband school. I have quoted scholars of the Wahabi, Salafi, Hanafi, Shiites, and all the other prominent schools. And none of them has disagreed with my point of view. I have not neglected a single school of law which is of academic concern in Islamic history.
Are you saying that it is the political agenda of organisations that has led to such construed understanding of Islamic law?
Not only political agenda or international agenda. There can be social and economic factors, local ideologies of governments, which may be responsible. Such violence, with its ideological understanding steeped in Islam, can also be an articulation of social and political frustration of people across the Muslim world. However, these political issues and religious understandings should not be intermingled. There can be democratic and peaceful ways to solve political problems. But it should be made amply clear that Islam and Islamic teachings do not allow killing of non-Muslims and even Muslims who are non-combatant. This is a prevailing phenomenon, which should not only be condemned but should be explained in the light of Quranic teachings.
You have argued in your book that terrorists are like the Kharijites, who appeared during the time of the messenger and formed a rebellious sect to fight against Muslims during the reign of Ali. You also say that Islamic scholars considered it a religious duty to fight and kill the Kharijites if they refused to renounce the violent doctrine. Could you elaborate on this aspect of Islamic history?
The theological school at Damascus had a political dispute with the fourth Khalifa, Ali (AS). There was a battle. Hazrat Ali (AS) had advocated arbitration between the two sides. It was then, when a few sentimental young people saw that the battle could be settled peacefully, they defected and raised the slogan of violence and took up arms. They formed a new group called the Kharijites, who believed in settling the issue through force. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) declared them as outside the ambit of Islam. I have tried to explain that violent means were not the ideas of our caliphs and our scholars but were, in fact, a deviation from Islamic principles. Violence has always been a Kharijite philosophy and of those who have political agendas. They believed that those who disagreed with them should be killed. Even in the present times, there are groups like these, though under different names.
In the present times, there is a positioning of modernism and its principles as a phenomenon that is against pre-modern religiosity. In this context, what do you have to say about theological states that believe in brutal punishments?
I would not like to comment on theological states and their functioning, but for me, there is no contest or contradiction between modern principles and Islamic theology. It depends on how you look at it. Islam is about restoring social order and dynamics. As I said, such brutalities are outcomes of only some people who misinterpret Islamic texts and have no knowledge of modern scientific principles.
Political interests have guided states, and the name of Islam is wrongly given to misguided decisions. In this context, dictatorships and monarchical rules have been there and improper decisions in the name of Islam are perpetuated to prolong those dictatorships and rules. Monarchical rules are not patronised by Islamic teachings. Democratic decisions are the basic tenets of Islamic teachings. Therefore, the basic principles of Islam and modern requirements of society have no contradiction, in my opinion. The Quran and the Sunnah are wrongly used for political reasons.
The book talks about liberal principles in Islam. Can you also, then, talk about the space for dissent in Islamic history and how it was justified theologically?
The differences of opinion are accommodated right from the 14th century. The Quran says “La-Iqra-Fi-Deen.” There is no compulsion on anybody to embrace Islam. And at the same time, there is no compulsion within the deen of Islam. That is why you find differences of opinions in many schools of jurisprudence in Islam. We have, in those schools, different verdicts for the same incidents in Islamic history which have been made because of different reasoning and different traditions. There is a universal framework, but within that there are different opinions. That is why different schools of jurisprudence were established. None of them, including the Shiite philosophy, has declared that kafirs [non-believers] are outside the ambit of Islam. They are also allowed to go for the Haj. The philosophy of Hadith-Ikhteda-Ummati-Rahmatul is stressed all the time. It means that the differences of opinion in good faith is mercy in the Ummah. It gives you alternatives, substitutes. In the last two years, young people have received this kind of understanding with great ease.
Finally, what is the history of fatwas?
The word “fatwa” originated in the Quran and the Sunnah. This word was commonly used during the days of the Holy Prophet and his companions as a governance tool. The problem with the word arose when some clerics, especially in South Asian countries, misused this word because of their personal prejudices. These clerics are to Islamic philosophy as quacks are to medicinal studies. Fatwa is a highly qualified juristic term. Qadis [judges] and muftis [lawyers] have used it constantly. Fatwa and Ifta are similar terms, which are used only in crucial judgments.
Laws against veils, mosques fuel anti-Muslim prejudice, says Amnesty
European laws on what girls and women wear on their heads are encouraging discrimination against Muslims and against a religion that has been part of Europe's fabric for centuries, Amnesty International says in a new report.
Far-right gains in French election
Extremist political movements targeting Muslim practices for criticism have enjoyed a rise in several European countries - as witnessed by French far-right leader Marine Le Pen's surprisingly strong showing in presidential elections recently.
In that climate, the Amnesty report released on April 24 lists a raft of examples of discrimination against Muslims from Spain to the Netherlands and Turkey, spurred on by laws viewed as anti-Islam.
The report, titled "Choice and Prejudice," pays special attention to national laws or local rules against wearing headscarves or face-covering Islamic veils. France and Belgium ban them outright, as do some towns in Spain and elsewhere.
"Amnesty International is concerned that states have focused so much in recent years on the wearing of full-face veils, as if this practice were the most widespread and compelling form of inequality women in Europe have to face," the report says.
Proponents, such as French President Nicolas Sarkozy, say face-covering veils imprison women and violate France's values of equality. France also bans headscarves in schools.
The niqab, a veil with just a slit for the eyes, and the burqa, with a mesh covering for the eyes, are worn only by a very small minority of European Muslims. But banning them creates an atmosphere of suspicion of anyone with visibly Islamic dress, the Amnesty report says.
It cites French Muslim women who wear headscarves, which cover the hair but leave the face exposed, as saying they have experienced epithets and public pressure since Sarkozy started calling for a face-veil ban.
The human rights group spoke to Muslims who have had trouble getting jobs or had to change schools because of discrimination over their head coverings.
The report says Spain and Switzerland, in particular, don't have strong enough laws against discrimination. Switzerland has banned the construction of new minarets.
In Spain, Amnesty highlighted cases in the northeastern region of Catalonia where Muslims are sometimes obliged to pray in the street because their congregations have grown too big for existing mosques, yet permission to build new ones is denied because local residents have objected. It said at least 40 disputes over new mosques had arisen in Catalonia between 1990 and 2008.
Belgium has seen several legal disputes in recent years involving Muslims who say they lost work because of their headscarves, and Muslim communities barred from building a minaret for their mosques because "this doesn't fit the landscape," said Mehmet Saygin of moderate group Muslim Vigilance.
Amnesty urges European authorities to allow mosque-building regardless of whether non-Muslim residents disagree.
"If a proposed Muslim place of worship meets all requirements, public authorities should not deny authorisation solely on the grounds that some people living locally may not want a mosque in their neighbourhood," it says.
Many Europeans wrongly assume all Muslims are immigrants, even though Islam has been a leading religion in Europe for centuries, the report notes. That makes the discrimination especially painful for the millions of Muslims born in Europe who are told to "go home" - when they have no other "home" to flee to.
In France, candidate Le Pen and her anti-immigrant National Front party have singled out Muslim practices such as ritual slaughter of animals for criticism.
Conservative Sarkozy has borrowed from Le Pen's rhetoric as he heads into a runoff vote May 6 with Socialist Francois Hollande. Le Pen scored a strong third place in April-20's first-round election, handing her party new political influence ahead of parliamentary elections in June.
European Union officials warned this week against flirting too much with the extreme right and sacrificing European unity, built on the ashes of World War II.
One of the most vivid signs that European authorities have failed to root out a growing Islamophobia was the massacre in Norway last year by a man who fears Muslims are taking over Europe. Images of him defending his rampage in court have been televised across the continent over the past week.
America’s ‘total war’ on IslamMay 16, 2012
By Linda S. Heard
I’ve written often about the US military’s endemic culture of hate towards Muslims. The disdain for human life that produced the Dasht-i-Leili massacre in Afghanistan that the Bush administration declined to investigate, the inhumane treatment of chained detainees at Guantanamo Bay, the bestiality and torture that took place at Abu Ghraib — and soldiers’ holiday snaps of themselves taken while they were holding up body parts of Afghans they’d killed like sick trophies destined for pride of place above their mantel pieces. I’ve talked about amphetamine-popping US pilots who cheerfully drop bombs on civilian populations in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
I’ve highlighted soldiers’ dehumanising of Muslims in US-occupied lands with labels such as “rag heads” and worse. I’ve queried the few bad apples theory propagated by former US secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld and other senior officials. But never did I imagine that Hiroshima-style ‘Total war on Islam’ was being taught in class at the Joint Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Virginia.
The course that endured for a year without even a single student raising a complaint dealt with America’s waging of “total war” against all the Muslims on the planet on the basis that Islam, rather than extremist Muslim elements, was the enemy of the United States. It criminally advocated the abandonment of the Geneva Conventions, the destruction of entire civilian Muslim populations and the use of nuclear weapons to wipe out Islam’s holiest cities Makkah and Madinah.
Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey is engaged in damage control but when this abhorrent indoctrination of commanders and officers was going on right under his nose, his excuses ring hollow. The course was “counter to our values of appreciation for religious freedom and cultural awareness,” he maintains. That might be more believable had Matthew A. Dooley, the lieutenant-colonel responsible for introducing this bigoted curriculum, been instantly given a dishonourable discharge. But no, he’s merely been suspended from lecturing.
How could anyone in their right mind advocate war on all followers of one of the world’s greatest faiths that has almost 1.6 billion adherents, representing around 23 per cent of the global population! Why isn’t he being discredited, charged with criminal incitement or shut-up in a loony-bin when he’s clearly cut from the same cloth as Adolf Hitler?
The Guardian quotes part of Dooley’s July presentation. “We have now come to understand that there is no such thing as ‘moderate Islam’. It is therefore time for the United States to make our true intentions clear. This barbaric ideology will no longer be tolerated. Islam must change or we will facilitate its self-destruction,” he announced before setting-out a four-step plan to reduce Islam to a “cult status”.
Could it be that the Pentagon was well-aware of those vicious teachings all along — and because his course had been approved he can’t be brought to account? This isn’t so far-fetched when the Pentagon has admitted that the course material appeared on its own website. Indeed, Al Jazeera maintains that it has material evidence, including slides, of another course on similar lines to the one taught in Norfolk, which the network received from a nauseated US officer who said “this bigoted conspiracy cabal is both disgusting and so deeply un-American”. Yes, that’s true. The material sounds like it’s been filched from Mein Kampf. America’s founding fathers must be turning in their graves.
The slides, that had been approved by two three-star generals and a former CIA director, imply that Muslim extremists have succeeded in infiltrating the US government, media and educational establishments through the offices of American-Islamic organisations such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which is, in fact, a respected civil liberties advocate fostering multi-faith cooperation and unity. Just imagine the outcry if there was a course on Jews infiltrating government, colleges, TV and newspapers via American Israel Public Affairs Committee! Or, if any Arab country politically allied to the US was preparing its military graduates to murder all the world’s Christians.
I naively imagined that mankind is now more enlightened than it was at the time of the Crusaders who massacred Muslims and Jews in the name of religion between the 11th and 13th centuries. I was wrong. The only difference is that men have painted themselves with a sophisticated veneer. Then the protagonists used swords. Today, a US military college is promoting the use of nukes!!
It seems to me that the international community has a duty to come together to take the Obama administration to task. President Barack Obama should apologise to Muslims everywhere and especially to American Muslims who must surely be shocked and scared by this news which has been compounded by reports of FBI counter-terrorism training materials referring to Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) as a “cult leader” and US Muslims as mostly terrorist sympathisers.
America’s predominantly Muslim allies in the Middle East and North Africa and in south-east Asia should seek iron-clad assurances that these offensive courses were not rubber-stamped in compliance with official government policy; they should also remain wary of a so-called friend whose military teaches how to obliterate Muslims from the face of the earth. Sorry folks! America has lost any vestige of moral authority it had left. It should be internationally shunned until the government admits its institutions are riddled with Islamophobia and takes concrete action to root it out.
Linda S. Heard is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Some of the comments may be considered for publication.
Source: Gulf News
Jihad and Anti-JihadMay 27, 2012
First, my gratitude to all of you who showed concern about my eyes, wished me well, prayed for me and raised my morale.
I submitted this article last Friday, a day earlier than usual, because on Saturday morning, a day before you read this in ‘Pakistan Today’, I will have gotten the first injection in my left eyeball and, if I’m normal (about which there may be reservations amongst some), I should be out of action for the day. So to save my eyes from further strain, let me make just a few universal points in light of the chatter going on about the NATO supply routes and what people refer to as our strategic and diplomatic failure in Chicago.
First, we should always remember that we chose to call Pakistan an Islamic state in all three of our constitutions. Thus we can make no law that is repugnant to the Quran and Sunnah. That also means that we cannot do anything that is repugnant to the Quran and Sunnah. Now let’s see the extent to which we live up to Islamic ideals.
For those of you who believe that the Quran is God’s Word, He says that the utmost and every possible effort must be made to avoid war. For those who don’t, read on, for no civilised and truly educated person can think otherwise.
God repeatedly emphasises in the Quran, particularly in verses 2:190 to 2:194 in its second chapter, Surah Al Baqarah, and in verse 4:90, the conditions in which Muslims can go to war as a last resort. The Prophet (pbuh) also gave us rules of war. These conditions were revealed to him at a time when he and his small band of followers had been evicted from Mecca to Medina and their homes and properties taken over by the rulers of the city. Thus was fought Islam’s first armed Jihad at the wells of a place called Badr, which the heavily outnumbered Muslims won.
To put it in a nutshell:
1. First and foremost, every effort must be made to avoid war.
2. War can only take place after all peaceful efforts to prevent it fail.
3. All war in Islam is defensive, a struggle for liberation to vacate one’s home, property or homeland from occupation and to help other Muslims to do the same provided it has been sanctioned by the central authority to which one belongs. This is the only kind of war sanctioned in the Holy Quran. It is called armed Jihad.
4. Jihad means struggle. Armed Jihad is not to be confused with higher forms of Jihad or struggle, like Jihad against one’s baser instincts, Jihad of the Pen or Jihad with or against one’s own wealth or against illiteracy, poverty and so forth.
5. Justice must prevail during armed Jihad.
6. Action can be taken only against armed combatants.
7. No action can be taken against women, the elderly and children.
8. Animals, crops and trees are to be spared.
9. There can be no loot and plunder, the supreme example of which was set by the Holy Prophet (pbuh) after the peaceful conquest of Mecca.
10. Even during conflict, all possible efforts must be made repeatedly through all means to end war. (Verse 8:61).
11. Prisoners of war must be treated humanely, they cannot be tied, when they walk, walk with them, feed them from what you eat.
12. If a POW teaches 10 Muslims to read and write, free him.
13. If ransom is paid for a POW, free him.
14. There is no compulsion in religion and every one has freedom of religion. (Verse 2:256). Thus POWs cannot be forced to become Muslims.
15. If a POW embraces Islam freely and willingly, free him.
Talk of the Geneva Conventions that came centuries later.
Thus, we must understand that fighting to protect oneself or liberate oneself against invaders and occupiers is the only kind of combat, skirmish, battle or war sanctioned in Islam. Verses 2:192 and 4:90 also tell us that relations with all states, whatever their religion, if any, should be peaceful. Verse 49:13 enjoins that necessary wars should be limited in time and space, meaning you cannot go on fighting forever, anywhere and everywhere, for no rhyme or reason, once the cause for war has been removed. As soon as the occupier is ejected, the cause for war ceases to exist so all hostilities must cease forthwith and peace return, or at least an absence of war should prevail.
Assuming it indeed was Al-Qaeda led by Osama Bin Laden operating out of Afghanistan that was the perpetrator of 9/11, alone or unwittingly being used by some agency, did the United States of America have just cause for war? Yes, it did, for their homeland had been attacked and many of its citizens killed. They had every right to take action against them. It matters little whether the US is an Islamic state or not, God’s principles are universal in time and space and applicable to all humankind.
Did the US first use peaceful means to prevent war? Yes, it did. It asked the Taliban government of Afghanistan led by Mullah Omar to either hand over Osama Bin Laden to them or, at the very least, evict him from there. We helped the US in this effort, which was not the wrong thing to do. We tried for a month. Mullah Omar refused. Only then did the US attack on Afghanistan take place with the avowed purposes of either killing or arresting Bin Laden and toppling the Taliban government for giving him refuge and thereby becoming accessory to the crime, so that another such attack could never take place again. They failed in their first objective; they succeeded in the second, though Mullah Omar escaped on a Honda motorcycle we are told.
So far so good. But for the US and NATO to have occupied Afghanistan for over a decade, subjugate it and install their puppet government there is totally wrong. Thus, for us to ally ourselves with them in this latter endeavour is un-Islamic and not a Jihad by any means. Further, for the US to kill our innocent citizens even as collateral damage is a disgrace to us and to Muslims. Making impotent threats and noises makes it pathetic as well. With the Taliban government gone, with Osama Bin Laden killed as they claim on May 2 last year, with Al-Qaeda in disarray and out of Afghanistan and virtually out of Pakistan, the causes for war against Afghanistan don’t exist any longer, nor certainly do they exist for its continuing occupation. They talk of getting out by 2014, but only to get their troops out of harm’s way. They will still retain 20,000 troops there till 2024 and have military bases. That is wrong, to put it mildly. What makes it comical is that such conditions are imposed by the victor, not the vanquished, which America, NATO and by extension all those that helped the US are. To help them in this endeavour is un-Islamic too. Our effort should be to assist America and NATO to get out of there as soon as possible. That would be Islamic, to help liberate the Afghans from their occupation and subjugation by foreigners.
Second question: are the USA and NATO using every means possible to end the war, the occupation and subjugation of Afghanistan? No. Yes, they are certainly creating the optics of making such efforts, like talking to some Taliban and holding bootless meetings in Bonn and Chicago, but that is only to get their troops out of harm’s way by 2014 and to create the impression of liberation. But that will remain an impression only so long as 20,000 or whatever number of troops and military bases remain.
Thus, in the light of God’s injunctions, I would suggest that the war we were involved in during the Eighties in alliance with the USA and others to expel the Soviet Union from Afghanistan was truly a Jihad – just, moral and Islamic. Today, the war in which we are allied with the USA and NATO in their continuing occupation and subjugation of Afghanistan is an anti-Jihad – truly unjust, truly immoral and totally un-Islamic.
Now decide for yourself whether we should open the NATO supply routes or not.
The writer is a political analyst. He can be contacted at email@example.com
The face of Islam, according to Foreign Policy
The most recent issue of Foreign Policy magazine (May/June 2012), titled "The Sex Issue" created a huge controversy, especially among Muslim women who live in the West.
They divided into two camps - criticising or celebrating the featured article written by Mona Eltahawy, the Egyptian-American journalist who became known globally during the Tahrir Square demonstrations after she was badly beaten by Egyptian police.
Thanks to her article, highly sophisticated arguments have been created among Muslim feminists as to how to deal with the highly politicised and contested subject of women and Islam. Among them, Noura Erakat's article in Jadaliyya, and Sarah Mousa's Al Jazeera piece are excellent works that give readers a feeling for the larger picture.
To say the least, there was nothing new in Eltahaway's article. Many of the issues she raised were already well known, thanks to Western media that has been issuing frequent alarmist warnings to the public about the menace of Islam. Especially, if such articles come from a Muslim woman, such as Ayan Hirsi Ali or Irshad Manji, their audience is automatically larger, and possesses a certain credibility due to the fact that they were born as Muslims.
Anthropologists use the term "native informants" to identify the witness of insiders. Giving a platform to Muslim women writers critical of Islam has also become a very popular tactic in Europe. These commentators claim to speak from bitter experience about how Islam is bad for women. This makes the European public feel comfortable when they adopt public policies against Islamic practices.
It is of course understandable, and entirely natural, that Eltahawy should feel very hostile toward the Egyptian police. Their behaviour was inexcusable, no matter what happened in Tahrir Square on that very day. Many people, men and women lost their lives. It is still unknown which direction the struggle will take. It is also important to follow the struggle of young women and men respectably, so that they can freely practice their right of self-determination.
West conveniently left out
It has long been a popular theme among critical US race scholars in the post-9/11 era to explain how Muslims are being racialised in the United States. This picture is a good example of this pattern of "implicit" racialisation of Muslims. It also recalls Orientalist Mind, how the West became fascinated by Eastern private life and women, an alien and exotic domain that the coloniser could not fully grasp or penetrate. Edward Said's writings provided a seminal understanding of the origins and evolution of Orientalism, and how its legacy lives on in the form of cultural and political discrimination.
You might wonder about what happened recently to persuade the editors of FP to have this feature devoted to sex and foreign policy (rather than to the more neutral phrasing of "gender and foreign policy"). Also, it is fair to ask why was not the theme focused on women globally (including in the United States), rather than to present this unbalanced and harshly critical depiction of sexuality in the Muslim world. Perhaps, to soften any impression of an Islamophobic intention, FP included articles on gender issues associated with China and Russia, countries about which the US public harbours serious suspicions and are thought of as geopolitical adversaries.
In this respect, it could be alleged that FP intends to address the issue of the human rights relevance of sex in civilisational and geopolitical settings that pose threats to US global supremacy.
Sex is resonant with various aspects of US electoral politics. Recently, there has been a "War on Women" being waged by the Republicans. Obama is very popular among women voters for obvious reasons; his social policies are more progressive and gender friendly compared with those of the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney. The Romney campaign organisers seem in a panic mode, desperately trying to find ways to compete with Obama for the hearts and minds of female voters. As the US political lexicon is comfortable using the word "war" in non-military contexts - as in "war on poverty", "war on drugs" and "war on terror"; it was not hard to see why "war on women" has become the latest battle cry.
In light of this, you might have expected that there would be some articles about US political controversies relating to sex. However, when American people hear about war these days, they think first and last of the Islamic world. The FP editors reflect this mood, accordingly twisted their approach, and rather than dealing with domestic US politics on such key questions as abortion, contraception rights, women's reproductive life, how to stop insurance companies from proscribing birth control pills to women who work for religious organisations - or, more importantly, how to interpret the gay marriage controversy. Instead, they simply reaffirmed how bad Islam as a religion and culture is for women.
'Why they hate us'
They invoke George W Bush's tag line about "why they hate us" to reinforce their indictment of Islam. At first glance, it is not so clear who hates who, and for what reason. When I first saw the FP cover I assumed that the focus would be on why Westerners hate Muslim women, because some wear a burqa. But its message was different, namely, that Muslim men hate Muslim women, something that the US public clearly needs to realise and do something to correct.
The featured section of the magazine contains several articles addressing a range of issues: "The Bedroom States", by Joshua E Keating, describes - from Iran to India - a variety of public policies hostile to women in one way or another. It is informative and interesting, yet it avoids mention of any Western countries' public policies. Don't you think that some European countries refusing to grant a visa to immigrants who marry a person from their native country is a bad policy? Or what about the French law banning girls from wearing a headscarf in high schools, or a burqa in public spaces? Are not
such public policies hostile towards the women affected?
If a French immigration officer shows a picture of men kissing men or of a man beating his wife and asks whether this is acceptable, is this not insulting and discriminatory behaviour, because in French practice these pictures and exams are only given to Muslims? Or take Karim Sadjapour's article on "the Ayatollah under the bed (sheets)", which certainly warrants an equivalent piece talking about sex scandals in Catholic churches worldwide. Or why do equally problematic rules about sexual discrimination against women among Orthodox Jews not receive any notice? For instance, how many of us know that an Orthodox Jewish man can refuse to take a driver's license exam administered by female officers - in Canada? But, we all know that women are not permitted to drive a car in Saudi Arabia, and cannot even be in the same car alone with a man with whom they are not related or married.
Thanks to Western media we all have an extensive knowledge about many unacceptable behaviours of Islamic religion and culture, but we know little about comparable practices in other religions and cultures. Even small news, for example, in Saudi Arabia the government prohibits men from working in women's clothing stores in order to create more job opportunities for women - this became front page news, without even pausing to consider that this restriction might actually be helpful for Saudi women.
We hear when Chechnya mandated women to wear a headscarf, but we are not often informed that such a decree was a matter of government discretion, and not a mandatory precept of Islam - nor considered respectful of human rights in many Muslim countries. When a Muslim government makes a law that bans women from wearing a headscarf in universities, this does not make news in the West. Instead, it is treated as a step forward for women - because it is discouraging religious traditionalism that is supposedly blocking the embrace of Western secularism and modernity.
A global issue
Violence against women does not respect religious, cultural or state borders. Statistics are very clear on that. Women in politics in high level positions have to pay a big price no matter which country we consider, although some do better than others.
FP only pointed to the United States as a good example, how Secretary of State Hillary Clinton works on women's issues while shaping US foreign policy. I am sure she has many things to say about the United States, if FP would ask, about the relevance of her gender to her unsuccessful presidential campaign. But, this is not what readers seem to care about. It would have been much more impressive and acceptable if such critical issues were presented not only for selected adversary countries and cultures, and if there was not exhibited such bias and partisanship.
I think we are in a period when women's rights can and should be dealt with in an equal and just manner that befits 21st century globalisation, distinguishing between what is acceptable what is not through an optic of cultural respect and universal standards.
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