Saturday, 16 February 2008

Women as Arab Leaders?

Radical Islam?

Qaradawi: The Man Refused a Visa to Britain

An interesting article by Mona Eltahawy on Qaradawi the Muslim cleric who was refused a visa for the UK (see

Qaradawi damages Palestine’s cause by turning global issue into Islamist weapon

By Mona Eltahawy

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a Muslim issue. It is a dispute over land, it is about an occupation that must end and it is about a people who deserve a state. But it is not a religious dispute. Clerics, rabbis, priests and any one else who claims religious authority for his opinion should stay out of it. As a Muslim, I’m particularly eager to keep our clerics away from Palestine.

For too long the easiest Friday sermon to give began and ended by cursing the “Zionists”, often interchanging Zionist with Jew, stopping along the way to enflame the worshippers with news of the latest humiliations or atrocities committed by the Israelis against the Palestinians.

The conflict has been one of the most jumped upon bandwagons in both the Arab and the Muslim world – but framing it in religious terms serves no one’s interest, least of all the Palestinians. With the Islamist Hamas at the helm of the Palestinian government the temptation is great to lose ourselves in the religious kaleidoscope they would love to wrap around the conflict. But just as Islamists are more about power than religion, so is the conflict less about religion than land.

Which is why it always rankles to hear the Egyptian-born cleric Youssef al-Qaradawi opine about the conflict as he did when asked if he had a message for Arab leaders who held a two-day summit in Saudi Arabia recently to revive an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.

Qaradawi said Arab countries should not take any step toward normalizing ties with Israel until a Palestinian state is created and the Jewish state withdraws from their territories. “Some people (Arab nations) have normalized with Israel, some of them reject the idea. We will not normalize and we don't accept normalization as long as the occupation is still there,” Qaradawi told a news conference in Algeria on the sidelines of a meeting attended by Muslim and Christian figures.

Moderates and martyrs

Since when do Arab leaders or Muslim leaders need the opinion of a cleric on the permissibility of ties with another country? Answer: when politics so disastrously weds religion as the Arab-Israeli conflict did almost exactly 40 years ago. The humiliation of the 1967 defeat – the Naksa, as it is known in Arabic – not only dealt a deadly blow to pan-Arabism – which up till then had been the patron father of the Palestinian cause – but it also opened the door for Islamists to claim the Israeli-Palestinian issue as their own. And ever since, they have steadily shaped it to their liking.

The Muslim Brotherhood – of which Qaradawi and Hamas are both products – and other fundamentalist groups in the Arab world used the 1967 defeat to remind the region’s mostly secular leaders that their defeat was because of those leaders’ godlessness. And ever since, the more Islamic you could make Palestine, the more legitimate you appeared.

I am not a fan or follower of Qaradawi, who astoundingly is often considered a “moderate” by non-Muslims looking for a cleric to speak for all Muslims. That they would settle on Qaradawi is typical of those who want their authenticity with an extra dose of conservatism on top. Nowadays he is instantly recognizable for his al-Jazeera show on Islamic issues, which he has famously used to brand the pan-Arab satellite channel with the Muslim Brotherhood stamp he has long carried.

True to fundamentalist colours, Qaradawi obsesses over “moral values” – homosexuality, Muslims who convert to other religions, women’s rights – but his position on Palestine will guarantee him a spot on the list of clerics who have brought ruin to the Muslim sense of justice. His support and endorsement of suicide bombings – or “martyrdom operations” as he calls them - led not only to the lionization of death among too many Palestinians, but oiled the slippery moral slope along which suicide bombings began as a “legitimate” weapon against the Zionists and Occupiers and ended as the means by which hundreds of Iraqis are torn to shreds.

So it is no wonder that Hamas has moved to the forefront of Palestinian politics. Encouraged to flourish by Israel in the 1980s as a counterweight to the secular Fatah – in the same way that the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat encouraged the Muslim Brotherhood in a bid to keep in check Nasserites and leftists – Hamas was all too happy to frame the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis in religious terms that pitted Muslims against Jews.

The less democratic and more corrupt Palestinian politics became under the late Yasser Arafat, the more the Islamist way of doing things moved centre stage. And so suicide bombings, which had long been the bloody signature of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, were adopted by the al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade.

The first Palestinian intifada gained international sympathy because it pitted Palestinians and their rocks and caterpaults against Israel’s considerable armoury. Much of that international sympathy was squandered during the second intifada with its bloody string of suicide bombings that portrayed less a people nobly fighting an occupation than the nihilism that lies at the heart of the Islamist embrace of Palestine.

When Muftis and clerics like Qaradawi gave their blessings to suicide bombings they had to have known they did not come with an “off” button: once they were made legitimate against Israelis, what was to stop them from being used against others?

A culture of death

Over the past few years, we’ve seen suicide bombings migrate out of Israel to kill Muslims and non-Muslims alike on public transport in London, in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Afghanistan and Egypt, and yet our imams and scholars could not condemn them outright. Suicide bombings were wrong when they killed civilians in Israel and they were wrong when they killed civilians anywhere else. When they were used to kill Israeli soldiers and were justified with the excuse that their targets were military they were still wrong because such reasoning promoted that culture of death and nihilism that will take years to erase from the Palestinian narrative. Life is desperate indeed under occupation, but the promotion of a culture of death through suicide is ruinous for the Palestinian future. Suicide is one of the gravest sins in Islam and yet the clerics inserted their asterisks making exceptions to that sin.

And what were the attacks on September 11, 2001 but suicide bombings writ large? To read Qaradawi’s condemnation of those attacks, and the pains to which he went to distinguish them from “martyrdom operations” in Israel, is to appreciate the myopic immorality of his values. And nowhere is the bloody apotheosis of Qaradawi’s views more realized than in Iraq, where suicide bombings have slaughtered hundreds of Muslims.

Was anyone paying attention when two young British men of Pakistani descent went to Israel to carry out a suicide attack on a Tel Aviv nightclub on April 30, 2003? Assif Muhammad Hanif, blew himself up at Mike's Place, a Tel Aviv nightspot, killing three other people. Two weeks later, the body of another British citizen, Omar Khan Sharif, who Israeli investigators say fled the bar after a bomb he was carrying failed to detonate, was found in the sea off Tel Aviv. Who persuaded these young men to leave Britain and go to Israel to die for Palestine?

Yes Israel must end its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and yes the Palestinians deserve a state. But cynical terrorist masterminds who are all too willing to send young Muslim men to their deaths have long exploited the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for their own ends. And irresponsible clerics and religious leaders, radical or otherwise, use the conflict to flesh out the ‘victimized-Muslim’ scenario. Would they deliver equally impassioned sermons encouraging our young people in the West to become more active members of their communities and to not live caught between two worlds: a Muslim one at home and in the mosque, an “infidel” one outside?

Holy lands

Muslims do not own the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - it concerns Christians too. Jerusalem is holy to Muslims, Jews and Christians. Jerusalem is home to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher; Bethlehem is home to the Church of the Nativity. There are plenty of Palestinian Christians also living under occupation and their plight is not made any easier because they are Christian. Israeli soldiers and Israeli tanks do not distinguish between Muslim and Christian Palestinians.

But by allowing Islamists to co-opt the conflict, by allowing it to become an issue that is supposed to inflame Muslim anger around the world, the Palestinian cause loses the sympathy of many people who might otherwise lend support but feel alienated by the increasingly Muslim terms within which the conflict is expressed.

It is long past time to wrestle back Palestine from the Islamist grasp. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a Muslim issue. It is a human issue.

This essay originally appeared in

Lebanese Ayatollah Says Women Should Hit Back Men!

Ayatollah's Advice Startles Conservatives
By Borzou Daragahi

February 10, 2008

BEIRUT, Lebanon

The ayatollah has a simple piece of advice for any Muslim woman abused by her husband: Hit him back.

"A woman can respond to physical violence inflicted on her by a man with counter-violence as a self-defense measure," Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, Lebanon's senior Shiite cleric, wrote in a fatwa late last year that shocked conservative Muslims around the world.

Fadlallah has long been considered a leader of the most radical faction of Shiite Muslims in Lebanon. He endorsed Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's Islamic Revolution in Iran and was accused of ordering or at least encouraging the 1983 bombings of the U.S. Marine barracks here, a charge he and his supporters have denied.

He issued fatwas, or religious edicts, calling on the faithful to resist the United States and urged Muslims to boycott American products.

But the 72-year-old cleric, who agreed to an interview recently in his South Beirut compound, has toned down his rhetoric in recent years. Instead, he espouses a more modest vision for the faithful than the ambitious agenda set forth by Iran, which considers itself the patron of Shiites worldwide and has been trying to increase its influence throughout the Muslim world.

"I don't see there is a unity in the situation of Shiites in the world," he said.

He leaned forward, his piercing brown eyes becoming animated as he discussed religion, politics and international affairs. "I think the current Iranian president lacks diplomatic skills, and I think he creates problems for Iran," he said of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Fadlallah, whose black turban identifies him as a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, focuses on daily bread-and-butter issues of concern to his followers, such as parenting.

"One of the general principles in raising children is that parents should not consider their child as part of their possessions," he wrote in a religious ruling translated and placed on the English section of his Web site, english.

"Instead, they should consider him God's trust that Allah ... has put in their hands. This is done by loving the child, listening to him and respecting his mind."

Grand ayatollahs, the highest-ranked clergy in the Shiite hierarchy, have the right to interpret primary religious texts and serve as marja, or source of emulation, for their millions of followers in countries with large Shiite populations such as Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, India and Bahrain. Most search for a niche. Khomeini espoused a highly politicized version of Islam, while Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani in Iraq advocates piety, modesty and good deeds.

Fadlallah's fatwas and statements seem more like daytime talk-show fodder.

"Sistani is very popular in the Shiite world, but he's not involved in the daily lives of Shiites," said Fadlallah's aide Hani Abdullah. "This is why Fadlallah is more of a reference for modern Shiites."

On gender issues in particular, he takes positions that raise eyebrows among his conservative counterparts, such as questioning the conventional Islamic prohibition on female judges and challenging the traditional view that a woman's place is in the house and the man's in the workplace.

"The belief that it is disgraceful for the man to manage household tasks is derived from the social culture and not from Islam," he says in a statement on his Web site. "Personally, I think that no woman would be obliged to bring her social life to a standstill just because she is being occupied with her children."

"Knowledge is a merit for man and woman equally, and the importance of acquiring it is identical to both of them," he wrote in a statement on the Web site.

A statement from Fadlallah's office said he opposed a man "using any sort of violence against a woman, even in the form of insults and harsh words."

He has addressed issues such as cloning and plastic surgery. "Mostly his fatwas are on the side of modernity and progress," said Fawwaz Traboulsi, a Lebanese historian and journalist. "He's very influential, and he's got a lot of money."

His most liberal rulings and attempts to distance Lebanese Shiites from Iran's policies have angered some of the Shiite clerics close to the Islamic militant group Hezbollah and its leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah. Fadlallah was once Hezbollah's spiritual leader, but now the two camps compete for donations from wealthy Shiites, who traditionally have given more money to him.

"There's a real rivalry with Nasrallah, who has become both a military and religious leader," Traboulsi said. "Many conservative Hezbollah clerics are reacting against Fadlallah's rulings."

Fadlallah appears to have eased his anti-American stances, even though he and others suspect U.S. operatives were behind an attempt on his life in 1985, apparently as retaliation in the belief that he ordered the Marine barracks attack. The huge car bomb near his home killed more than 80 people in an apartment block, but he was unhurt.

He is strongly critical of the Bush administration but takes pains to underscore that he's not anti-American. He recently answered a question about astronomy and Ramadan posed to him by a U.S. Marine, a decision criticized by other clerics. He was among the first religious leaders in the Middle East to condemn the Sept. 11 attacks.

"Sayyed Fadlallah is always keen on sending positive messages to the Americans," said his aide.

But Fadlallah remains a staunch critic of Israel, once describing the Jewish state as "a conglomerate of people who come from all parts of the world to live in Palestine on the ruins of another people."

During the interview, he warned that the Jewish state would pay the price if Lebanon's political stalemate over picking a president descended into civil war.

"A civil war will give a chance for al-Qaida, all the Palestinian groups in Syria and Lebanon, as well as Hezbollah, to enter into a war against Israel," he said.

Borzou Daragahi writes for the Los Angeles Times.

Copyright © 2008, The Baltimore Sun

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Between Glasgow and Karachi: Atta Yaqub and Modern Pakistan?

I have a lot of respect for Atta Yaqub but at times I think his reflections have all the hallmarks of a movie star. However, I came across this on youtube and thought it might be of interest. I'm finding it annoying that Pakistanis are using more and more English in their speech. Mixing English with Urdu may seem quite 'modern' for some but for me it is a dilution of a pretty modern language, Urdu. I recently began a very important journey back to the Urdu language and boy has it been a mind blowing one! I think being able to understand Arabic has helped greatly as a lot of Urdu is a mixture of Arabic and Persian. So, maybe I need to learn Persian now too! I need folk to comment on these clips! There is a comments tab at the end! Let's get a discussion going!

Valentines Day: Roses or Chocolates? or Shah Jehan's Taj Mahal?