Saturday, 3 January 2009

Pro-Israel camp would be wise to heed Muslim cries for peace

By Roi Ben-Yehuda

As technology advances and televisions get flatter, bigger, and clearer, one subject will always be broadcast to the world in black and white: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The recent events in Gaza have engendered a predictable world reaction: polarization, anger, hatred, and fear. The left screams "massacre," while the right wants to get tougher.

Watching the mass protest and reading about strident calls for Israel's dissolution, we Jews can't help but get that lonely feeling in the pits of our stomachs: The world is against us. Call it a Pavlovian response conditioned by persecution on a mass scale. But the pro-Israel camp would be wise to pay attention not only to the bellicose cries coming from the mosques and streets, but also to the Muslim voices courageously speaking out against Hamas.

The Muslim Canadian Congress, for example, has issued a statement holding Hamas responsible for precipitating the recent conflict in Gaza. The statement begins by condemning the recent Israeli attacks in Gaza as "disproportionate," but quickly turns its attention to censuring Hamas. According to the congress, Hamas is responsible for using the Palestinian people as "human bait," in an effort to kindle an all-out war in Gaza.

In words that would have made Alan Dershowitz blush, the statement asserts that: "No other national liberation movement in modern history has offered martyrdom as a substitute to freedom and statehood. Hamas has set back the clock for the Palestinians and it is time for all Palestinians to recognize that Hamas offers only death, destruction and a place in Paradise, not a Palestinian State."

The columnist Mona Eltahawy, to give another example, who writes for Egypt's Al Masry Al Youm and Qatar's Al Arab, published a piece in which she lambasts Hamas and the Arab world for their self-destructive addiction to Israel. "It is difficult to criticize Palestinians when so many have died this weekend," she writes, "but the Hamas rulers of Gaza are just the latest of their leaders to fail them. For those of us who long to separate religion from politics, Hamas has given the truth to the fear that Islamists care more about facing down Israel than taking care of their people. The Palestinians of Gaza are victims equally of Hamas and Israel."

Eltahawy originally published her article on Facebook, where bashing Israel is a full-time occupation. But even on the popular social networking site, a quick glance at some threads reveals that Muslim are far from intellectually monolithic on the operations in Gaza.

"Israel is no angel among nations," writes a man who identifies himself as a secular Muslim, "but Hamas is a disgrace to the freedom struggles of countless peoples - offering its own people to die so that it can serve some sick allegiance to Iran." And putting the matter succinctly and evenly, one young Palestinian writes, "I've never felt so angry the way I do now? F%#K HAMAS, F%#K ISRAEL."

So what can we make of all this? Why are more Muslims publicly voicing their opposition to Hamas? Is this an example of buyer's remorse? Has Hamas' gross blundering of an occupation-free Gaza finally cost them the privilege of representing the Palestinian cause? "The simple reason we see Muslims speaking out against Hamas," says the Muslim activist and writer, Raquel Evita Saraswati, "is that the organization has proved itself to be terrorist by nature and function; and while the larger Muslim community has always stated its rejection of terrorism, we see the pressing need to make our voices louder in these especially contentious times."

Many pro-Israel readers will see this statement, along with the ones above, and feel vindicated. But that would be a mistake. These letters should not be seen as an endorsement of Israel?s Spartan policies - which most of the writers correctly see as futile and morally abhorrent - but rather as a type of self-reckoning; a kind of honest awareness that is necessary for peace to flourish.

That said, the recognition that Israel is not always the problem and that occupation is not the only reason Palestinians fight is of no small significance. It is imperative, therefore, that we do what is in our power to ensure these voices are front and center competing in the great suk (market) of ideas, because once an idea is out there, it can never be un-thought.

Roi Ben-Yehuda is a writer based in N.Y. He regularly writes for Jewcy and France 24.

Friday, 2 January 2009

"The Future of Sharia Is the Secular State"

Professor Abdullahi Ahmed An-Naim
"The Future of Sharia Is the Secular State"

According to law professor Abdullahi Ahmed An-Naim, the application of the Sharia, as propagated by current-day Islamists, contradicts international law. Cem Say has spoken with him on the compatibility of Sharia with modern life

Western views on the Islamic world are generally marked by arrogance, An-Naim claims | Islamic law, the Sharia, has a bad reputation – especially in the West, but also among many secular Muslims. It stands for the oppression of women, contempt for human rights, and backwardness. Abdullah An-Naim, Professor of Law at Emory University in Atlanta, USA and anything but a fundamentalist, understands the concept of Sharia quite differently. Sharia, he says, is positive and has a future.

According to An-Naim, the legal doctrines of the Sharia in their original form, which go back to the seventh century, are simply incompatible with the realities of life in the 21st century. An-Naim attempts to convey his thought in his new book project, "The Future of the Sharia." In addition to an Arab language edition, the book will be published in a total of seven languages ranging from Farsi to Russian aimed at readers in Central Asia. The debate over the Sharia is quite topical among many Muslims.

"Islamic law has always been subject to change"

Sudanese-born An-Naim is strictly against the concept of an Islamic state as currently practiced in Iran and Afghanistan. It contradicts Islamic tradition, he claims. An-Naim, therefore, supports secularism, in which a neutral state makes the laws for all citizens, while leaving enough room for them to lead their lives according to the rules of their own religion. A Muslim businessman, for instance, could thereby conduct his business without charging interest – even when the state doesn't prohibit interest in general. At the same time, the many extant interpretations of Islam must be developed, stresses the Sharia expert. Islamic law has always been interpreted in very different ways.

His liberal position is not a result of his living twenty years in the West, emphasizes An-Naim. Even though Europeans know somewhat more about Islam and its history than Americans do, Western views on the Islamic world are generally marked by arrogance, he claims. Abdullah An-Naim was first introduced to these ideas as a 22-year-old law student in his native Sudan. At the time, he was a follower of the Islamic reform movement under Mahmoud Mohamed Taha. In 1986, after Taha was executed for his divergent views, An-Naim left his country as a political refugee.

Support within the Islamic world

Since then, he has continued to work in the USA on developing Taha's theories – "without implicating anyone in Sudan," he is quick to add, as the Islamic reform movement is still heavily persecuted in the African country. Adhering to such views could result in the death penalty, although An-Naim hopes that the situation will gradually improve. He does not feel isolated in his ideas and even finds support within the Islamic world.

"In fact, I am far from being alone," An-Naim says. "My voice is actually the voice of the majority! The spectacular, violent, and theatrical expressions of today's terrorism are the direct result of a minority wanting to impose their views upon everyone else through force. Yet, we also call out to democratic and constitutional governments and states that respect human rights and let them know that we are the majority! Our voices are not heard as much, because these are not the voices that shape today's headlines."

The Arab world, in particular, and its Islamic scholars are constantly searching for alternatives to the traditional interpretations of Islam. They could learn something from the experiences of Muslims living in non-Islamic or, at least, non-Arab countries, for instance in matters such as human rights, democracy, and secularism. An-Naim regards himself as part of the international community of Islamic intellectuals that is debating the current challenges facing the Islamic world. He sees the need to take part and to search for the right way as his duty as a practicing Muslim. "We meet and discuss issues. My own (Sharia) project, the attempt to specifically reach Muslims in their own language, is also a part of this process."

After publishing his book, Abdullah An-Naim plans to journey to a number of Islamic countries in order to present his ideas. The now 60-year-old legal scholar, who became an American citizen five years ago, can once again travel to Sudan. Even there, public discussion has been able to take place and An-Naim is pleased that great interest has been shown towards his work. He is full of hope that things will also change in Sudan.

Cem Say


Translated from the German by John Bergeron

Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Wafa Sultan: "Islam is not above criticism"

Happy New Year 2009

This was sent to me by a good friend, I was left saying...'so true, so true'...enjoy...

"It is hard to believe 2009 is tomorrow / or even today depending when you read this.
I hope next year will be a good one for everyone.

There comes a point in your life when you realize:
Who matters,
Who never did,
Who won't anymore.
And who always will.
So, don't worry about people from your past,
There's a reason why they didn't make it to your future.
Because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.”

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

The Price of Dissent in Islam

An interesting article.

By Rafi Aamer - 3/31/2008

Individual disagreements on many issues are common occurrences but when this disagreement involves religion, things have the potential to become really nasty. Faith invokes strong emotions. Disagreements with someone’s belief can earn you pronouncements of apostasy--and even a death threat is not out of question. Such has been the case with people belonging to almost every religion at one time or another. Lately, though, it has become predominantly a Muslim phenomenon.

Most of the times, the death threats are not carried out but a very few that are, make every threat equally scary. The murder of Dutch film maker, Theo Van Gogh, for making a 10-minute long movie called “Submission”, is still fresh in memories. Just delivering a death threat to someone’s door is enough to wreck lives and mental peace. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a recipient of many death threats herself, writes in her book, “People are always asking me what it’s like to live with death threats. It’s like being diagnosed with a chronic disease. It may flare up and kill you, but it may not. It could happen in a week, or not for decades.”

I had been observing these demonstrations of intolerance by Islamists from a distance but recently it hit too close to home for me when two of my friends, Farzana Hassan-Shahid and Tarek Fatah of Muslim Canadian Congress (MCC), received a chilling death threat (1). Someone left a voice message on MCC’s answering machine saying, "This is a warning to Tarek Fatah and Farzana Hassan and to all the members of your Munafiq [hypocrite] organization. Wa Allah al-Azeem [by God who is great], I swear… on all 99 names of Allah, if you do not cease from your campaign of smearing Islam...Wa Allahi, Wa Allahi, Wa Allahi [by God, by God, by God], I will slaughter all of you." (2)

Hassan-Shahid and Fatah do not belong to the category of people who have received death threats for renouncing their faith in Islam. They are being victimized because they are moderate Muslims. The mission statement of their organization, MCC, states that they want to make Muslim communities an equal and active partners in the development of a just, democratic and equitable society in Canada. Some of their views—for example, their positions regarding secularism and their opposition to Shariah laws in Canada—are quite different from the fundamentalist Muslims so the death threat to them, while sad and scary, is not really surprising.

A death threat, fundamentally, is an instrument to stifle speech but it’s not the only instrument to achieve that end. Intimidations and accusations are also employed in the same pursuit and moderate Muslims, like Tarek Fatah and Farzana Hassan-Shahid, are no strangers to them. I, personally, am a witness to ad hominem attacks against Farzana the likes of which I have not seen in my life. The most frequent charge leveled against moderate Muslims by Islamists is that they don’t represent the larger Muslim community--as if the Islamists do. No matter how many times one claims that he/she is not trying to be the representative of the entire community and all he/she is doing is voicing his/her opinion, the charge won’t go away. The superfluous nature of this charge is apparently lost on the people who hurl it but what is more important is to see what is implied by this assertion. Is it a caution to the people out there to not to mistake moderate Muslims for mainstream Muslims or is it saying that since one has different ideas than the larger Muslim community, one should not express those ideas?

Another frequent accusation is that moderate outfits like MCC bring divisive issues to the fore. Such accusations, once again, are attempts to dictate the agenda. The issues usually dubbed as ‘divisive’ are the ones which some shrewd Islamists do not want to discuss publicly in North America lest the incompatibility of their views on those issues with the norms of North American society is exposed. They would rather sweep the issues like homosexuality under the rug of ‘divisive issues’ than openly state their positions on them. Maybe there are some people who are genuinely concerned about the divisiveness but, seemingly, it hasn’t occurred to them that there is nothing wrong in being divided over certain things. It is actually good for the outlook of a community. Had it not been for the moderate Muslims, the entire Muslim community would have looked as a monolithic one. The moderate and progressive Muslims elevate the image of Muslim communities by bringing diversity of opinion to the discourse and by giving the Muslim communities an alternative outlook; one that is not homophobic, misogynist and intolerant. The diversity of opinion, however, is not that important to Islamists who generally do not encourage dissent and so the moderates are rewarded for their services with death threats.

One can dismiss the importance of such threats by calling them acts of fanatic minds but simple analyses of what culminates in a death threat present a very disturbing picture. Most of the moderate Muslims either never speak out in the first place fearing Islamist backlash or bow out when the intimidation tactics are applied. The ones that decide to take on the challenges, who keep speaking despite all the efforts of stifling their dissenting voices, are usually the ones who end up getting death threats. In this sense, a death threat is metamorphosis of earlier efforts to silent the opposition. Once a death threat is made, all kinds of organizations instantly jump in to issue condemnations against the threat but what is sadly missed is that a death threat is the natural result of continuous negative propaganda targeted at a person or a group. If you keep saying that someone is defaming Islam just by opining about it, you can be rest assured that some fanatic somewhere will decide to do something about it. And some of the organizations who issue condemnations after the violent act are usually part of that negative propaganda so they can't absolve themselves fully just by issuing a press statement deploring the act of making a death threat. If they are serious about curtailing death threats, they need to understand what John Stuart Mill meant when he said, “He who knows only his side of the case knows little of that.” That would make them more appreciative of dissenting views and they would engage moderates in discussing the issues rather than trying to silence them by accusations of divisiveness and non-representation.

Probably the saddest part of this entire sorry state is the role played by the liberal-left of North America. The Left, unashamedly, allies itself with Islamists in North America in the name of politically correct cultural relativism that says that the social and moral values of immigrants, who constitute the overwhelming part of Muslim communities in North America, should be interpreted in the terms of the culture they have migrated from. Tarek Fatah aptly calls such attitude “racism of lower expectations”. The real and unstated basis of this alliance, though, is the common anti-U.S. Administration rhetoric of the Left and the Islamists. It is quite ironic that the Left that is in constant struggle against Christian Right on issues like abortion, gay marriage, teaching evolution in public schools, etc. is engaged in this unholy alliance with Islamists who have an identical social agenda as Christian Right. For the sake of political expedience, the Left has deserted the very people who should have been their natural allies due to their progressive ideas. It seems that the Left has decided to completely ignore the plea of Salman Rushdie to support people victimized by Islamists for these moderate and progressive Muslims, as Rushdie put it, are involved in the struggle for the soul of Islam (3).


1. The Toronto Star. March 22, 2007
2. The actual recording of the threat can be heard at muslimcanadiancongress
3. Salman Rushdie, “The Struggle for the Soul of Islam,” New York Times, July 11, 1993.

The pain of the heart knows how to drip from the eyes

One of my favorite songs sung by Mala (below) and also a latest rendition by Fariha Parvez (below). Enjoy...

Gham-e-dil ko inn aakhon se chalak jana bhi aata hai
The pain of the heart knows how to drip from the eyes
Tarapna bhi hamein aata hai tarpaana bhi aata hai
I know how my heart flutters in pain and how I can make it happen to you

Kisi ki yaad mein jo zindagi hum ne guzaari hai
I have spent my life in the remembrance of some one
hamein woh zindagi apni mohabbat se bhi pyari hai
That life is dear to me more than the actual love

woh aayein ru-ba-ru hum dastaan apni sunayein ge
If they come in front of me I will tell them my story
kuch apna dil jalayein ge, kuch unnko aazmayein ge
I will let my heart burn a bit and let their heart burn a bit

Sare Mehfil Hamein to Shamma Bhi bun jana bhi aata hai
I know how to be the heart of the party at the peak of the party

Dabe paaon hamein aa kar kisi ka gud-gudaa dena
Somebody who comes silently and tickles me
Woh apna rooth jana aur woh unnka manaa lena
That act of me being angry in love and that making up with me

Woh manzar jhaankte hain aaj bhi yaadon ki chilman se
These scenes trickle from the curtains of life
Bhula sakta hai kaise koi woh andaaz bachpan ke
How can someone forget these acts of youth?

Hamein aata nahi hai pyar mein be-aabru hona
I do not know how to be ashamed in love
Sikhaya husn ko hum ne wafaa mein surkhuroo hona
I have taught beauty how to be proud in faith

Hum apne khoon-e-dil se zindagi ki maang bhar dein ge
I will colour life with my hearts blood
Yeh dil kya cheez hai, hum jaan bhi Qurbaan kar dein ge
The heart is nothing I will sacrifice my life as well

Khilaf E Ulfat hum ko Mar jana bhi hamein aata hai
Unlike love I know how to die.
Tarapna bhi hamein aata hai tarpaana bhi aata hai
I know how my heart flutters in pain and how I can make it happen to you