Archive for the ‘Islam, the Arab World and Tribalism’ Category

Syrian Arab women battle IS, social stigma

Sunday, February 12th, 2017

by Middle East Online

Arab female fighters battling Islamic State group in Syria are also facing off against disapproval from their relatives, wider society.

SDF now counts more than 1,000 Arab women in its ranks

DAMASCUS – They are fighting the world’s most feared jihadists, but hundreds of Arab female fighters battling the Islamic State group in Syria are also confronting the disapproval of their relatives and society.

“I braved my tribal clan, my father, my mother. Now I’m braving the enemy,” says 21-year-old Batul, who is part of an Arab-Kurdish alliance battling to capture IS’s Syrian stronghold of Raqa.

She is one of more than 1,000 Arab women who have joined Kurdish male and female fighters in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance, according to a spokeswoman.

Standing in the desert some 20 kilometres (12 miles) from Raqa, Batul speaks passionately about her decision to fight IS, which holds the nearby village of Al-Torshan.

“My parents told me: ‘either you put down your weapons or we disown you’,” she says, wearing an ammunition vest and a floral scarf around her shoulders.

Her parents have not spoken to her since.

Batul comes from the Al-Sharabiyeh tribe, one of the best-known of the conservative Sunni Arab tribes of northeast Syria.

Her family views her as a rebel, who removed the headscarf worn by many Muslim women and refused her father’s orders to pray in front of him.

But she is proud of the decision she took two years ago to join the YPJ, the female counterpart to the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, which is a key component of the SDF alliance.

“I joined the YPJ to liberate my homeland, but also to free women from slavery,” she says.

“We must no longer remain cloistered behind four walls.”

– ‘My weapon is part of me’ –

Syrian Kurds and Arabs has been fighting IS since late 2015, with air support and other backing from the US-led coalition against the jihadist group.

But the current battle for Raqa is the first time Batul has been on the front line, where warplanes roar overhead carrying out strikes, and mortars boom in the distance.

“The first time I held a weapon, I was very afraid,” she admits.

“But now, my weapon has become part of me. It frees me and protects me.”

She speaks in Arabic, but her sentences are peppered with Kurdish words picked up from her fellow fighters.

“The relations between us and the Kurdish women are good. We don’t speak the same language, but we’re all here to free the country and women.”

Jihan Sheikh Ahmad, spokeswoman for the campaign on Raqa, said the SDF now counts more than 1,000 Arab women in its ranks.

“The YPJ’s experience has had a positive impact on society,” she said.

“The more territory we liberate, the more Arab female fighters have joined us.”

In a tent near the front line, six young Arab female fighters joke and share secrets as they sip tea.

– ‘Same rights as men’ –

“My goal is to liberate women from the oppression of Daesh (IS), but also societal oppression,” says Hevi Dilirin, an Arab woman who adopted a Kurdish nom de guerre when she joined the YPJ.

“In our society, women have no say. But they should have the same rights as men,” she says, dressed in a camouflage jacket and white-and-grey sneakers.

Syria’s Kurds have emphasised gender equality in both their militias and nascent autonomous institutions.

Since the outbreak of the conflict in March 2011, they have sided with neither rebels nor government forces, concentrating instead on developing a semi-autonomous region in north and northeastern Syria, as well as fighting IS.

But the Arab tribes there are among the more conservative segments of the population, and 21-year-old Doza Jiyan says most Arab families find the concept of female fighters “hard to accept.”

“In our Syrian society, we find it bizarre for a woman to take up arms,” adds Jiyan, from the town of Ras al-Ain in Hasakeh province.

But she speaks confidently as she discusses the military situation with male colleagues.

“IS is no longer invincible, they’re only fighting on motorbikes and mining the villages,” she says.

IS’s extensive use of IEDs and mines has slowed the SDF’s progress towards Raqa, the jihadist’s group most important remaining bastion in Syria.

The SDF announced a new phase in their bid to capture Raqa on February 4, pressing towards the city gradually from the north and northeast.

Jiyan is convinced that the SDF’s military successes will eventually sway the opinion of her relatives and society, and she has no plans to leave.

“I’m very happy here,” she says.

لماذا تركت الاسلام

Thursday, December 1st, 2016

علي سينا : Read here the article

Why I Left Islam (Islam Under Scrutiny by Ex-Muslims)

Friday, January 1st, 2016

by Ali Sina

Arabic Translation
German

I am often asked, Why I left Islam? As absurd as it may be, some Muslims cannot even allow themselves to think that leaving Islam is an option, or even possible. They rather think that those who leave Islam are paid Jewish agents than accept the fact that people have freedom to think and some may even think that Islam is not for them. The following are my reasons:

Until few years ago I used to think that my faith in Islam was not based on blind imitation but rather was the result of years of investigation and research. The fact that I had read a lot of books on Islam, written by people whose thoughts I approved of and delving into philosophies that were within my comfort zone, emphasized my conviction that I had found the truth. All my biased research confirmed my faith. Just like other Muslims I used to believe that to learn about anything one has to go to the source. Of course the source of Islam is the Quran and the books written by Muslim scholars. Therefore, I felt no need to look elsewhere in order to find the truth, as I was convinced that I have already found it. As Muslims say “Talabe ilm ba’d az wossule ma’loom mazmoom”. The search of knowledge after gaining it is unnecessary.

Now I realize this was a mistake. What if we want to learn the truth about one of these dangerous cults? Is it enough to depend only on what the cult leader and his deluded followers say? Wouldn’t it be prudent to widen our research and find out what other people have to say about them? Going to the source makes sense only in scientific matters, because scientists are not “believers”. They do not say something because they have blind faith. Scientists make a critical analysis of the evidence. It is very much different from religious approach that is based entirely on faith and belief.

I suppose it was my acquaintance with the western humanistic values that made me more sensitive and whetted my appetite for democracy, freethinking, human rights, equality, etc. It was then that when I reread the Quran I came across injunctions that were not on a par with my newfound humanistic values, I was distressed and felt uncomfortable to read teachings like these:

Q.3:90
But those who reject Faith after they accepted it, and then go on adding to their defiance of Faith,- never will their repentance be accepted; for they are those who have gone astray.

Q.16: 106
Any one who, after accepting faith in Allah, utters Unbelief,- except under compulsion, his heart remaining firm in Faith – but such as open their breast to Unbelief, on them is Wrath from Allah, and theirs will be a dreadful Penalty.

One may think that the dreadful penalty mentioned here pertains to the next world. But Muhammad made sure that these people received their penalty in this world as well:

Q 9.14
Fight them, and Allah will punish them by your hands, cover them with shame, help you (to victory) over them, heal the breasts of Believers,

There are also Hadiths that clearly says ” So, wherever you find them, kill them, for there will be a reward for their killers on the Day of Resurrection.”

Elsewhere we read:
Sahih Bukhari Volume 4, Book 52, Number 260:

Ali burnt some people and this news reached Ibn ‘Abbas, who said, “Had I been in his place I would not have burnt them, as the Prophet said, ‘Don’t punish (anybody) with Allah’s Punishment.’ No doubt, I would have killed them, for the Prophet said, ‘If somebody (a Muslim) discards his religion, kill him.’ ”

I found many tales of brutality of Muhammad like this story:

Sahih Bukhari Volume 4, Book 52, Number 261:

Eight men of the tribe of ‘Ukil came to the Prophet and then they found the climate of Medina unsuitable for them. So, they said, “O Allah’s Apostle! Provide us with some milk.” Allah’s Apostle said, “I recommend that you sh ould join the herd of camels.” So they went and drank the urine and the milk of the camels (as a medicine) till they became healthy and fat. Then they killed the shepherd and drove away the camels, and they became unbelievers after they were Muslims. When the Prophet was informed by a shouter for help, he sent some men in their pursuit, and before the sun rose high, they were brought, and he had their hands and feet cut off. Then he ordered for nails, which were heated and passed over their eyes, and they were left in the Harra (i.e. rocky land in Medina). They asked for water, and nobody provided them with water till they died.

And from Partial Translation of Sunan Abu-Dawud Book 38, Number 4339

Narrated Aisha, Ummul Mu’minin:
The Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) Said: The blood of a Muslim man who testifies that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is Allah’s Apostle should not lawfully be shed except only for one of three reasons: a man who committed fornication after marriage, in which case he should be stoned; one who goes forth to fight with Allah and His Apostle, in which case he should be killed or crucified or exiled from the land; or one who commits murder for which he is killed.

The more I read the more I questioned the sense of Justice of Muhammad. The following is very disturbing. I dare to say that any man who reads it and is not taken aback with disgust has a long way to go to become a human.

Sunan Abu-Dawud Book 38, Number 4348

Narrated Abdullah Ibn Abbas:
A blind man had a slave-mother who used to abuse the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) and disparage him. He forbade her but she did not stop. He rebuked her but she did not give up her habit. One night she began to slander the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) and abuse him. So he took a dagger, placed it on her belly, pressed it, and killed her. A child who came between her legs was smeared with the blood that was there. When the morning came, the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) was informed about it.
He assembled the people and said: I adjure by Allah the man who has done this action and I adjure him by my right to him that he should stand up. Jumping over the necks of the people and trembling the man stood up.
He sat before the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) and said: Apostle of Allah! I am her master; she used to abuse you and disparage you. I forbade her, but she did not stop, and I rebuked her, but she did not abandon her habit. I have two sons like pearls from her, and she was my companion. Last night she began to abuse and disparage you. So I took a dagger, put it on her belly and pressed it till I killed her.
Thereupon the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) said: Oh be witness, no retaliation is payable for her blood.

I felt the above story was a manifest injustice. Muhammad condoned a man killing a pregnant mother and his own unborn child just because he said that she insulted the Prophet!

(Arabs used to sleep with their maid slaves. Quran perpetuates this tradition Q.33: 52 Muhammad himself slept with Mariyah the maid slave of Hafsa his wife without marrying her.)

Forgiving someone for killing another human being just because he said she insulted Muhammad is unacceptable. What if that man was lying to escape punishment? What does this story say about Muhammad’s sense of Justice? During the past 1400 years, how many husbands escaped punishment for killing their innocent wives by accusing them of blaspheming the prophet of God and this Hadith made them get away with it?

Here is another one:
Sunan Abu-Dawud Book 38, Number 4349

Narrated Ali ibn AbuTalib:
A Jewess used to abuse the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) and disparage him. A man strangled her till she died. The Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) declared that no recompense was payable for her blood.

It was not easy to read these stories and not be moved. There is no reason to believe that all these stories were fabricated. Why should believers, who have tried to depict their prophet as a compassionate man fabricate so many stories that would make him look like a ruthless tyrant?

I could no longer accept the brutal treatment of those who chose not to accept Islam. Faith is a personal matter. I could no more accept that the punishment of someone who criticizes any religion must be death.

See how Muhammad dealt with the unbelievers:

Sunan Abu-Dawud Book 38, Number 4359

Narrated Abdullah ibn Abbas:
The verse “The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Apostle, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite side or exile from the land…most merciful” was revealed about polytheists. If any of them repents before they are arrested, it does not prevent from inflicting on him the prescribed punishment, which he deserves.”

How could a messenger of God maim and crucify people on the account that they resist accepting him? Could such a person really be a messenger of God? Wasn’t there a better man with more moral and ethical fortitude to bear this mighty responsibility?

I could not accept the fact that Muhammad slaughtered 900 Jews in one day, after he captured them in a raid that he started. I read the following story and I shivered:

Sunan Abu-Dawud Book 38, Number 4390

Narrated Atiyyah al-Qurazi:
I was among the captives of Banu Qurayzah. They (the Companions) examined us, and those who had begun to grow hair (pubes) were killed, and those who had not were not killed. I was among those who had not grown hair

Also, I found following story shocking:

Sunan Abu-Dawud Book 38, Number 4396

Narrated Jabir ibn Abdullah:
A thief was brought to the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him). He said: Kill him. The people said: He has committed theft, Apostle of Allah! Then he said: Cut off his hand. So his (right) hand was cut off. He was brought a second time and he said: Kill him. The people said: He has committed theft, Apostle of Allah! Then he said: Cut off his foot.
So his (left) foot was cut off.
He was brought a third time and he said: Kill him.
The people said: He has committed theft, Apostle of Allah!
So he said: Cut off his hand. (So his (left) hand was cut off.)
He was brought a fourth time and he said: Kill him.
The people said: He has committed theft, Apostle of Allah!
So he said: Cut off his foot. So his (right) foot was cut off.
He was brought a fifth time and he said: Kill him.
So we took him away and killed him. We then dragged him and cast him into a well and threw stones over him.

Seems that Muhammad passed judgment before hearing the case. Also by cutting a thief’s hand he is left with no other means to earn his bread except begging, which would be difficult since he is defamed as a thief and so hated by people. Therefore re-offending becomes his only means of livelihood.

After living many years in the West and being received kindly by people of other religions or of no religion, who loved me and accepted me as their friend; who let me into their lives and their heart, I could no longer accept the following mandates of the Quran as the words of God:

Q.58: 22
You will not find any people who believe in Allah and the Last Day, making friendship with those who oppose Allah and His Messenger’c

Q.3: 118-120
O you who believe! Take not as (your) bitaanah (advisors, consultants, protectors, helpers, friends, etc.) those outside your religion (pagans, Jews, Christians, and hypocrites) since they will not fail to do their best to corrupt you. They desire to harm you severely. Hatred has already appeared from their mouths, but what their breasts conceal is far worse. Indeed We have made clear to you the aayaat (proofs, evidence, verses), if you understand. Lo! You are the ones who love them but they love you not, and you believe in all the Scriptures [i.e., you believe in the Tawraat and the Injeel, while they disbelieve in your Book (the Qur’an)]. And when they meet you, they say, ‘eWe believe.’ But when they are alone, they bite the tips of their fingers at you in rage. Say: ‘ePerish in your rage. Certainly Allah knows what is in the breasts (all the secrets).’ If a good befalls you, it grieves them, but some evil overtakes you, they rejoice at it’c

And

Q.5: 51
O you who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians as awliya’ (friends, protectors, helpers, etc.), they are but awliya’ to one another’c

I also found the above statement false. The evidence is in the Bosnia and Kosovo crisis; where Christian countries, waged war against another Christian country, to liberate Muslims. Many Jewish doctors volunteered to help the Kosovar refugees, despite the fact that during the WWII, the same Albanian Muslims took sides with Hitler and helped him in his holocaust against the Jews.

It became obvious to me that Muslims are accepted by all the people of the world yet our prophet wants us to hate them, to disassociate ourselves from them, to force them into our way of life or kill them, subdue them and make them pay Jizya. How silly! How pathetic! How inhumane! No wonder there is so much inexplicable hate of the West and of the Jews among Muslims. It was Muhammad who inseminated the hate and the distrust of the non-believers among his followers. How can Muslims integrate with other nations while holding these hateful messages of the Quran as the words of God?

There are many Muslims who immigrate to non-Muslim countries and are received with open arms. Many of them get into politics and become part of the ruling elite. We suffer no discrimination in the non-Islamic countries. But see how our holy prophet tells us to deal with non-Muslims where we are the majority:

Q.9: 29
Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.

I also find the following verses completely against my conscience. I love all humanity and wish everyone to be happy in this world and forgiven in the next. But my holy prophet bade me not to seek forgiveness for the unbelievers even if they are my parents and beloved ones.

(Interpretation of the meaning by Muhsin Khan):

Q.9: 113
It is not (proper) for the Prophet and those who believe to ask Allaah’s forgiveness for the mushrikeen, even though they be of kin, after it has become clear to them that they are the dwellers of the Fire (because they died in state of disbelief).

Quran and hadith are full of outrageous verses like these that to me are clear proof that Muhammad was not a prophet, but a cult leader. To force people to denounce their own family is what cults do. He was an impostor who lied so loudly and so forcefully that the ignorant people of his time believed in him. Then the following generations echoed these lies passing them to the next. Philosophers and writers were born in this atmosphere of lies and elaborated on them, embellished them, and made them credible. But when you go to the core of the religion, when you read the Quran and study the hadith you see they are nothing but pure nonsense. Rumi was a great poet and a mystic, he tried to give Islam mystical significance that it lacked. But what Rumi said is Rumi’s thinkimg. Quran is bereft of mystical meanings. Muhammad’s concept of religion and god was extremely primitive. Why Rumi, Attar, Sohravardi or other mystics strive to attribute meanings to senseless verses of the Quran has to do with their upbringing as Muslim kids. On one hand, unlike the more rationalist thinkers such as Ar Razi, they could not denounce Islam altogether for it was ingrained in their subconscious mind. Nothing is more difficult to get rid of than religion. This is truly the most potent narcotic if it is administered to a person from childhood. Yet as intelligent people it was not possible for these great minds to accept the Quran for its face value. Therefore they tried to find esoteric meanings in meaningless verses of the Quran and it was they who gave birth to a new religion that had nothing to do with what was taught by Muhammad. Yet this religion was palatable to those with brains.

Thus we have two Islams. One that makes strives to attribute mystical significance and otherworldly meanings to the inane teachings of the Quran, as is professed by Sufis, and the other that rejects any interpretation of these verses beyond their literal meanings, as is practiced by the majority of Muslims with their hub in Saudi Arabia among the Wahhabis. And of course there is a myriad of sects that go in between these two extremes, each interpreting the Quran according to their own whims and caprices, each calling others mortad or heretics and constantly making war among themselves to impose their own “right” version of the pure Islam on others.

However, the real Islam is not what its philosophers and mystics have inferred but what is in the Quran and that is the Islam of the fundamentalist and the terrorist. The real Islam is the Islam that abuses women, that allows men to beat their wives, that imposes penalty tax on the religious minorities, that wants to dominate the world by subduing all the non-Muslims, that calls for Jihad and killing the non-believers until Islam becomes the only dominant religion of the World.

My rejection of Islam is not based on the bad deeds of the Muslims but on the bad teachings of its holy book and on the bad deeds of its founder. Many cruelties and heinous acts of violence, perpetrated by Muslims throughout the centuries were inspired by the Quran and the Sunnah (the examples of the prophet). That is why I condemn ISLAM for the bad things that Muslims do. Any effort to humanize Islam is a waste of time. The obstacle to any reform is Quran. The enemy is Islam and that is the target of my attacks. I do that, despite knowing that I have become the magnet of the hatred of fanatical Muslims and my own life could be in danger. Yet I know that by eradicating Islam we can save the world from the dangers of a catastrophe that otherwise is looming over our heads and could cause more disaster than the 1st and 2nd World Wars combined. Eradication of Islam means restoring peace among humanity and civility, democracy and prosperity in the Muslim world.

Islam and the west

Tuesday, December 1st, 2015

Islam, like any religion, is facing challenges to evolve and adjust to modernity and in particular to the economic and cultural power of a dominant West. Historically, what have been Islam’s ancient and modern conflicts with the West? In a modern globalized world, what issues are confronting Muslims? And what is the impact on the West of the Islamic resurgence? Here are excerpts from the full interviews with: Chandra Muzaffar, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, Akbar Muhammad, Nilufer Gole, and Amina Wadud.

Chandra Muzzafar
President, International Movement for a Just World and Professor at the Center for Civilizational Dialogue at the University of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Could you tell me what the key points are that have led to the misunderstanding of Islam in the West?

There are both historical and contemporary factors which would explain this misconception of Islam within certain circles in the West. I suppose one should begin with the fact that Islam occupied parts of Europe — which had never happened to European civilization before that. That was one of the factors.

Then you had the Crusades, which was Christendom trying to, I suppose, impose its will upon the Middle East. And I use the term “Middle East” deliberately, because it was not just imposing its will upon the Muslim population; the Jews were also victims of that process. And, some would argue, the Orthodox Christians were also victims of that process. So it was basically western Christendom imposing its will with the Crusades, and because it stretched over centuries and it ended in defeat for the Christian princes. This, I think, had an impact on the psyche of Western civilization.

Then, of course, you had colonialism, which affected both sides and created a situation where the antagonism became even more serious.

Now, after the colonial period, I think the major factor as being oil. The one commodity which is most important to industrial civilization, Western industrial civilization, happens to flow beneath the feet of Muslims, in the Arab world in particular. And I think the desire to control this source of power, as it were, on the part of the West has heightened the antagonism between Islam and the West. …

Now today, you have Muslim communities living all over Europe. It’s the Muslim that constitutes “the other” in Europe on European soil today. Now there is also, I think, complicated relations between the two civilizations. So you have all these factors which have led to a certain misconception of Islam and Muslims in the West. But let me also add very quickly that I find that, in the last decade or two, there have been some very sincere and serious attempts to overcome the prejudices and antagonisms of the past.

Do you think the Crusades actually affected the way Americans perceived the Islamic world? Can you take the American perception that far back?

This is an interesting question. To some extent, these historical events have influenced the American perception, too, because America in that sense is part of the larger European Western civilization, and it carries that baggage, to some extent.

But I suspect that the more important factor has been the United States’ economic and geopolitical position in the world today. And this one should link with not just oil, but also I think the whole question of Israel. In the case of the United States of America, more than in the case of Europe, I think Israel is a very important factor. The United States is perceived throughout the Muslim world as that superpower that protects Israel. And Israel is seen as the state that has usurped the rights of the Palestinians and the Arabs. The conflict of the last five decades which has also got a certain history behind it, has made it very difficult for Muslims to accept the United States of America as a friend. So you can see how the whole question of Israel has bedeviled relations between Islam and the West.

Talk about the impact of colonialization on the Muslim world.

As with other colonized people, Muslims were victims of the colonial process in almost every sense. It’s not just the loss of control over administration, politics, the economy… These are the more obvious aspects of colonialization.

What is not that obvious — but is certainly far more insidious and perhaps in the long run, much more fatal for the colonized — was the colonization of the mind. This has had a very profound effect upon people everywhere, and Muslims have reacted to it, partly because they are much more conscious than other colonized people of their own history and of their own identity. This is why you’ll find that, even in countries like India, where the majority of the population was Hindu, it was the Muslims who first asserted their will against colonial dominance in various parts of the British Empire in India.

This is also true of colonized communities in other parts of the world. So I think this whole question of reasserting identity, discovering oneself, trying to define one’s space — it has become very, very important to Muslims everywhere. Partly because of historical process, which in the long run, is perhaps much more powerful than the colonialism of the past, and that’s globalization.

Can you tell me what the impact of globalization, the dominance of the West, has had on the Muslim world? On Muslims?

There is the cultural dimension of globalization which Muslims are very conscious of. They feel that the sort of values and ideas, notions of living which are emanating from the West and beginning to penetrate their societies, influencing their young in particular — that these are harmful; at least some of the more obvious aspects linked to music and dance forms and films and so on. They see these things as injurious to their own culture and identity. …

They’re also conscious of the fact that the global political system is dominated by the United States, to a great extent, and some of the other big powers. And somehow there is perhaps wittingly, perhaps unwittingly, the exclusion of Islam from the global process. And they’ve also been reacting to that, I think. …

There have been I think two major trends. There is a dominant trend which is, to a great extent, negative. Meaning that Muslims have become very conscious of the fact of dominance and they have become exclusive. They have become inward looking, in some respects. They have become very reactive and sometimes very aggressive. While one can understand the historical circumstance that may have given birth to some of these trends and tendencies, I don’t think there is any justification for this from an Islamic point of view, or from the point of view of the relations between civilizations.

Now there is a subordinate trend, which unfortunately remains very weak at this point in time. These are Muslims who say that, in the midst of globalization, you have to reassert the essence of Islam. And that is its universalism, its inclusiveness, its accommodative attitude, its capacity to change and to adapt, while retaining the essence of faith. In other words, expressing faith as something that is truly ecumenical and universal. Now that is a trend which has its adherents in almost every Muslim country, but it has remained on the margins. …

Has there been a history of positive relationships between Western civilization and the Muslim world?

As in most other interactions between civilizations, there are always both positive and negative dimensions. And if one looks at some of the positive aspects of this relationship, one could argue that the way in which centers of learning in the West absorbed knowledge from Islamic civilization in the earlier period through the Iberian peninsula, in Sicily and even via the Crusades. The Crusades had a certain dimension to it which is not often emphasized. It was not just the wars. There was also the exchange of ideas by conquest and trade. You find that ideas pertaining to science and technology and navigation, all those ideas crossed borders and boundaries. So that was positive.

You had a person who later became pope studying in one of the great centers of learning in the Muslim world. And he adopted a very open approach towards Islam. There wasn’t the antagonism that his predecessors had shown. So that sort of interaction had existed in the past. And one could argue that, at the level of the mystics, there was a great deal of exchange — even if some of it took place without the mystics themselves being conscious of this. These were idea that traveled across time and across boundaries.

Now if one looks at the modern period, I would say that as far as politics and government go, Muslims have absorbed a great deal from the West, especially in relation to democracy, human rights, democratic forms of governance. There’s been as great deal of absorption on the part of Muslims from the West. And I don’t think there’s any Muslim society today including those which have remained closed and cloistered … that can ignore the force of democracy. It’s been one of the greatest political forces of the 20th and 21st century.

It seems the West has forgotten much about what Islamic civilization has brought to it. What do you think the main thing that has been forgotten that it should try and remember and learn about its debt to Islamic civilization?

I suppose the debt that the West owes to Islam in the realm of science would be something which the present generation should be made aware of, because science is so central to life in Western society. And if people are aware of the roots of science, and the evolution of science, the scientific method, for instance, which is so central to scientific inquiry, if people become aware of this, then I think the attitude towards Islam would also change.

And I suppose they should also be aware that there are ideas pertaining to inter-gender relations which would put Islam in a very positive light, because one doesn’t see that today. One sees Islam partly because of the media, but partly because of the behavior of certain Muslim groups as a religion that is somewhat contemptuous of the role of the woman. But if one is told, for instance, that chivalry as an idea actually grew out of Islamic civilization, that it was absorbed by the West… That there are all sorts of rights which are given to [to women], and these were rights that [Muslim] women enjoyed 1,400 years ago. If that sort of knowledge, that sort of information is disseminated in the Western world, then I think Western perceptions of Islam would change.

You talked about the colonization of the mind. Explain more about what that process was.

The essence of the colonization of the mind is how it influences the way in which we see ourselves. How we see the other, and the world as a whole. The way in which we see ourselves, for instance, in the larger hierarchy of things. The Muslim, like the Hindu, or the Christian, or the Buddhist who had been colonized sees himself as inferior to the West.

I think that perception is something that’s very, very serious, because what it means is that your history, your heritage, your patrimony, as it were, doesn’t have the sort of status that it should enjoy. You begin to judge everything that you have in terms of the West. So that becomes the yardstick. It becomes the ultimate criterion for determining whether something is good or bad.

You look at something very, very simple and yet profound, like notions of beauty. Why is that if you go to Shanghai, for instance, the mannequins now look very Caucasian? They don’t look Chinese at all. So there’s a certain notion of beauty which has come to be associated with the West. And others who will not be able to embody that notion of beauty, because physically, they are different. But somehow they see that as the ultimate, as far as beauty is concerned. So there’s something wrong. …

And it goes [further], for instance, if you look at the way in which the colonization of the mind expresses itself in things like the economy. We have come to accept the market and the way the market functions as a sort of God-given truth, if you like. You know that this is the only way in which it can function. And yet we forget that this is something very recent in human history. Markets have existed for a very, very long while, but markets operated in a different way. But today, you have a certain notion of the market that has become all pervasive.

One can say that of almost everything else. And I think this is what the colonization of the mind is. If you look at textbooks used in many parts of the post-colonial world, you’ll find that the way in which they look at world history is conditioned by this. The way in which they look at the history of their own societies somehow is defined and determined by the colonial experience.

When I was in school, for instance — and most of my primary and secondary school was after [Malaysian] independence, after 1957 — the history books told my generation that Francis Light had discovered Penang, Stanford Raffles had discovered Singapore. I mean, that is a lie. Because Penang and Singapore had existed before Francis Light and Stanford Raffles came to these places.

They had flourishing communities. They traded. They did all these things. They were part of larger empires. And yet somehow, the history books will tell you that they discovered these places. That is the myth of discovery, which is very, very dangerous, because what it means is that you did not have a history before that. You didn’t exist. This is what it means. And if you look at this myth of history, myth of discovery, as it were, that is a very, very dangerous idea.

So I used to tell my students when I was teaching that it’s not Francis Light that discovered Penang; it’s the people of Penang who discovered Francis Light standing on their shore one day. You know, this is what really happened.

So I think it’s this process of rewriting history that has to take place. But at the same time, one should be very careful about this. One should not go to the other extreme and deny everything that had happened, and try to glorify a past which should not be glorified. There are all sorts of warts and pimples on our own face, and we should acknowledge that. I find that sometimes Muslims, when they talk of their past and the glories of the past, tend to ignore the dark side of history. That, I think, is wrong.

They must also acknowledge this openly that if you look at, say, the first four caliphs, three of them were assassinated. That is historical fact that you can’t run away from. There were factions, that there were feuds. You did not have stability for long periods. You had corrupt caliphs. All these things are part of our history, and we must be willing to acknowledge that. And I think this is true of people everywhere. We must be willing to come to terms with our past. …

[Regarding] worldviews and a Western worldview versus an Islamic worldview, what do you see as the differences between those two different ways of seeing the world?

One should qualify the use of these two terms, “Islamic worldview” and “Western worldview” by saying that these are generalizations. Reality is much more complex.

But having said that, at this point in time, one can argue that faith is perhaps the principal distinguishing element between these two civilizations — that Islam is very much a faith-based civilization. Everything, at least in the theoretical sense, centers around faith, that you believe in God and as a result of that, you hold on to certain practices and rituals. And you believe that politics should be conducted in a certain way, the economy should be run along certain lines and so on. All that emanates from faith and the oneness of God and God’s revelation over time and the place of the Prophet Muhammad — may peace be upon him. That’s part of one’s belief system, rooted in faith.

Western civilization, contemporary Western civilization as a product of the enlightenment, is a civilization that centers much more around reason. It’s an enlightenment of the head, not of the heart. If you look at the way in which the Buddhists, for instance, talk of enlightenment, it is from the heart. But in the West, it’s basically, the head. It’s a rational attitude, it’s empirical, it’s secular in the sense that it’s not linked to the revealed truth or to a scripture. It’s different in that sense.

But if you begin to look at these two civilizations at another level, you’ll find that there are a lot of similarities. Today, for instance, in the West there’s tremendous concern about the environment. That is a value, a virtue that exists in other civilizations, from the Taoists and the American Indians, and to Islam. This is a very important principle: living in harmony with the environment.

And these are the meeting points that one should emphasize in a world where civilizational dialogue is, to my mind, the prerequisite for peaceful coexistence. We really have no choice. We have to learn from one another. We have to dialogue with one another. I’ve been very involved in this. I see this as my mission, to promote dialogue between civilizations and cultures.

You mentioned the environment as one example of what the West can learn from Islam. What other things do you think the West should and can learn from the Islamic world?

The nexus between faith and action, the way in which faith interpreted in a very universal inclusive manner can inform deeds in different spheres of human existence. In politics, for instance, it would mean a more ethical approach to power. In the economy, it would mean a more ethical approach to profits and to markets and so on. And the same thing with culture; a greater emphasis upon character, rather than what is sensate and immediate. And so on and so forth.

So I think that’s where faith comes in, this link between faith and action that’s very important. As I said a while ago, it’s faith interpreted in a very broad manner; it doesn’t mean that one has to attach oneself to a particular notion of God. It’s a notion of transcendence and a certain sense of awe, the mystery of life. I think this has to be restored in our lives.

I find that this is something that really separates very ordinary Muslims and people of other faiths — Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and in Asia and Latin America — from ordinary people in the West; this idea that life is a mystery, that there is something transcendent beyond all this. This, I think, is very important. …

[Some people] think that the idea of human rights is [somewhat] different in the West and the Islamic world. Can you just clarify to me how that is seen?

Many of the rights which are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 are rights which Muslim political thought would be able to accept and accommodate without any difficulty at all, whether it’s freedom of expression or the right to a fair trial, the right to food, shelter, the right to found a family. Those things are all there.

The difference is at another level. It is at the level of the underlying philosophical premises, because if you look at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is a document which is postulated on the notion of the individual. Now, in the case of Islam, as in some other civilizations, there is also a communitarian dimension that is very important. So it’s not just the rights of individuals; there is also a certain notion of the community that is very crucial. And you must bring that community dimension into your articulation of rights.

To give an example of this, which it would be very pertinent to our discussion, you take the Salman Rushdie phenomenon, the Salman Rushdie episode. He had a certain right as an individual, and he expressed that right. But in the course of expressing that right, Salman Rushdie hurt the collective feelings of a people. And one would argue that one should have taken that into account, too, while saying, “Look, a person has a right to articulate his position, this freedom of expression. [But] there is also a collective notion of honor that a community has.” The community felt that it had been demeaned, that had it had been denigrated.

So that sort of notion is something that one shouldn’t ignore, either. So this is something which Islamic philosophy is concerned about, where when you talk of rights, you must also think of the communitarian dimension. …

With the Rushdie affair, was this fatwa — this death threat — a suitable response?

A number of us wrote articles at that time criticizing Ayatollah Khomeini for issuing that edict. We argued that it was wrong, because a Muslim has a right to leave his faith and to take whatever position that he wants. And one cannot compromise as far as that right is concerned. You can criticize him for what he wrote, which is something else. But the right response to that is to write another book and attack the man. But you don’t put him to death. That was wrong. I think most Muslim intellectuals were appalled at Khomeini’s fatwa.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf
Imam of Masjid al-Farah, New York, New York

In what ways do Western values, morals, and cultural practices, intrude upon, and [in what ways] are they at variance with Islamic ideals?

I think there are two aspects to this question, in the broader sense of the word. There are Western values regarding governance; Western values regarding separation of powers; Western notions regarding what the role of government is in society; Western notions in terms of democratic institutions and principles and ideas. And to a large extent, Muslims are very enamored of these systems, and would like to implement them in their own societies … because these principles and norms are completely in sync with the principles of the Quran and the teachings of the prophet. And Muslims would like very much to implement these norms within their societies.

When you come to speak about things like behavioral norms, gender relationships, or the kind of things that people will do, this is a separate issue. And there is another aspect of the West, and that is the attitude of the West towards the non-Western countries, in terms of trying to be presumptuous in telling them how they should even live their lives in ways that they are not accustomed to — like modes of dress, for instance. In the 1930s, when the first shah of Iran forced his soldiers at bayonet point to force Iranian women to take off the chador, for instance.

People don’t like to be told how to dress. This is a matter of personal individual conscience. Even we here in the West do not insist that our students in public schools wear uniforms. We give them that level of freedom. People do not like to be told how to do certain things in their personal lives. …

Do you think we have witnessed a period of reactionaryism against the Western influence within the Muslim world in the past 50 or 100 years?

The 20th century was a century in which the Muslim world experienced at the hands of the West — in the perception of the Muslim world — a dismantling of some of its important constructs. The most significant of that was the dismantling of the Ottoman caliph. Because for the first time, the collective consciousness of Muslims, there is no caliph anywhere. And especially in major population centers of the Muslim world, those that were important at the turn at the beginning of the 20th century: Turkey, Egypt, Iran — the traditional forms of rulership were replaced by militantly secular regimes; not only secular regimes, but militantly secular regimes, which did not even support traditional values which were cherished by the people.

In Turkey, for instance, Ataturk himself forbade the calling of the prayer in the Arabic language. They changed the script of Ottoman Turkish from Arabic script to the Roman script. So the Muslim world felt that there was a deliberate attempt to create a split in that bond which Muslims had. … So what happened create[d] a split between Arabs and Turks … and refigure[d] the map and create[d] new identities of people.

People [had] thought of themselves as part of a group — you had the family, the clan, the tribe and extended notion of a tribe, a people, a nation. So you have for example the Uzbekis were split geographically. So you have some Uzbekis in Uzbekistan, some in what we call Afghanistan. The Pashtun people were split some in Pakistan, some in Afghanistan. The Hazaris were split between Iran and Afghanistan. We tell these people, this segment of Uzbekis, “Pashtuns and Hazaris, now think of yourself as … a completely new identification based upon geography” which people did not have before. And this seeded conflict. …

We did the same thing in Iraq, and the Kurds lost out; they are split between Iraq and Turkey. So the West planted the seed for some grave problems in the Muslim world. But at the same time, they robbed the Muslim world, in the minds of the Muslims, of a sense of identity that was based upon people, and also a sense of pluralism that existed within the Muslim dialectic. Within, let’s say, the Ottoman caliphate, they had had a principle of different peoples. So they had the notion that the sultan had political power over these different people. But these peoples had their different cultural norms, different religions, different religious leaders. As long as political homage was paid to the sultan, and they didn’t act in a way which was treasonous politically, [they could all live together under the sultan]. They had their own court system, dealing with matters of religious affairs and so forth.

So we had a method of pluralism which worked. There were instances of intermarriage between the people and so forth, but people lived harmoniously. [The Western influence] created what Samuel Huntington calls “torn societies.”… Huntington describes a torn society as “a society whose leadership, those who hold the reins of the power, identify with a different set of cultural norms than the people on whom they govern.”

And what would be the key implications that came of this fracturing, tearing apart, in the way Islam has been lived?

I think the major thing is that Muslims now think have been taught to think in certain ideas that are peculiarly Western — the idea of nationalism, the idea of nation states. And in their attempt to fulfill their natural urge to perfect themselves as Muslims individually and collectively, they therefore try to create some peculiar hybrids.

Like the notion of an Islamic state, for instance. Several generations of Muslims now have been educated in ways that their mindset and ways of thinking, if not their language even, is very much Westernized. So they think in terms of Western ideas and concepts, even if they speak their own native languages. So the urge therefore to develop an Islamic nation state — a concept which some people may regard as being an oxymoron, because the nation state is not something which developed out of the Islamic tradition … The Islamic philosophical tradition was based upon identification of grouping of peoples, who had governed themselves according to living in certain ways and structured in a slightly different way. …

There seems to be a growing conservatism, or conservative interpretation of Islam, taking hold. Is that something you have seen, or agree with?

I think that in the 20th century there are certain waves that occurred. When you go back to the first part of the 20th century, there were some well-known voices who grew out of Islamic tradition but who were exposed to the West … who felt the need to restate what it means to be an Islam in the 20th century, and they found many aspects of Western society to be highly admirable, and wanted to bring it to their own countries. …

So there was an attempt to meld the best of the of the East with the best of the West. These movements …were interrupted by events of World War II and the rise of militant dictatorial regimes, which completely changed the sociological complexion, the political complexion of much of the Muslim world. During that period of time — I would say 1950s and 1960s — there was a time when these regimes had the upper hand. And they felt that the way to fast-forward as societies, in terms of the industrial development, was to emulate the West in all of its aspects.

Their policies didn’t succeed. And this resulted in a reaction to much of these policies, because “This newfangled way of doing things didn’t work; let’s go back and revisit our traditions, and let’s find comfort in those traditions.” …

MUSLIMS IN AMERICA

What are the key differences between being a Muslim in America and being a Muslim in the Muslim world?

There are many aspects to that. There is the political aspect, the sociological aspect, the social and family aspect, the economic aspect. So there are many aspects to the to the difference between living in a Muslim country as a native especially, and living in this country. …

If I were to look at maybe the broadest difference — there is a sense of freedom in the United States. So one practices one’s faith in the United States as an act of deliberate choice. If you are not [doing so, it’s] not so much because of social pressure. There may be a certain amount of social pressure. But at a certain point in one’s life, one is relatively free to live one’s life as one chooses in this country.

And that sense of freedom makes one’s religiosity or the defining lines of one’s religiosity much sharper. Religion is a much more personal thing here. It is also a deeper experience within the personal envelope. One is forced to attach oneself to one’s religion in a personally deeper way in terms of the existential issues.

Another aspect about living in the United States is that one experiences a lot of negative media attention to one’s Islamicity. And that has resulted, and can result in, a reaction one way or the other by many people. Many Muslims feel in this country like the Christians did in Rome when they were fed to the lions. And here the lions are the media. We hope that perhaps things will change in the United States, as they did in Rome, as well.

It seems there is a societal dimension to being a Muslim, in terms of the ways one would like one’s society to be organized. Are there conflicts in that sense between how one would like society to be, and the realities of American society?

I would say that Muslims in America, especially those who come from other countries, experience both an attraction, a strong attraction, to the positive things that America offers: freedom, political freedom; economic mobility and well being — the ability to live a materially comfortable life. These are all the things that draws people from all over the world, Muslim and non-Muslim, to this country.

However, there are certain things that people even when they come from their own country, don’t like to give up. They don’t like to give up certain aspects of their cultural norms. Their practices of family relationships they try to maintain. Their cuisines they like to maintain. Those values, which they consider to be their ethics, they like to maintain.

And so Muslims who have come to this country generally believe that the democratic principles, the political principles, the economic structure of this country really resonates with the faith of Islam, and draw them to this country. In the sense that, let’s say, American social norms or values are not supportive of the families — in those issues, Muslims may happen to have a different opinion. [On] those values which violate their sense of decency, they may have a different opinion.

In a certain sense, much of the ethical and moral issues which Muslims feel strongly about in this country are shared by what you might call the Christian majority in this country — more of the moral mooring, or the sense of decency, which is commonly shared in other faith traditions.

… I also believe that, as the American Muslim community matures in this country, that the American Muslim community will be an interlocutor, and important intermediary between the West and the Muslim world. And more so today, because today, we have much easier communications between the immigrant Muslim population and their extended families in the Muslim world … unlike those who immigrated a century ago from Europe, there are maintained contacts with the Old World and the New [World]. And this phenomenon will give rise to a much different sense of what it means to be a Muslim in the world.

Tell me more about that. What is an American Muslim — if there is such a thing as “an American Muslim” — what is that?

I think it is very much a work in progress. If you look at what happened to the Muslim-American community over the last, say, 40 years, it is a mosaic; it is a cross-section of the Muslim world.

We look at the Muslim centers, or mosques, starting with the early 1970s as waves of immigration began to occur from the Muslim world. You found, as certain ethnic groups reached critical mass, that mosques sprouted with a very ethnic complexion. So we have a Turkish mosque in Brooklyn, an Albanian mosque. You will find a West African mosque, mainly from French-speaking West Africans from Senegal and Mali [in] the Bronx, for instance. You have also always had African-American mosques. You have Arab mosques, Hindu-Pakistani mosques, Bangladesh mosques. However, what we are seeing is that these mosques tend to be maintained in terms of their cultural complexion and their general collective psychology by the continued immigration from the from the Old World.

The second generation, the children of these immigrants, are finding themselves with a different psychic complexion, or psychological complexion. And I see a development of an American Islamic identity, which is currently a work in progress which will be kind of the sum total of these influences.

But amongst those who are born in this country, or came very early into this country at a very early age, they grew up with a sense of belonging to the American scene, which their parents did not have. The immigrants tend to come here with a little bit of a guest mentality. But those who are born and raised here feel they are Americans; we have to define ourselves as Americans. And just as I said earlier, when Islam spread to Egypt, and Iran, and India, it restated its theology and its jurisprudence within the cultural context of those societies. I also anticipated that Islam will restate itself within the language constructs, within the social constructs, within the political constructs of American society, as well. …

[What do you think will come of the American influence on Islam?]

I think the major lesson that will that will come out of it is the increased democratization of Islamic societies, and the sense of greater equality amongst people, whether on the basis of gender, the elimination of any vestiges of a class society. …

Akbar Muhammad,
Associate Professor of history and Africana studies at Binghamton University in New York

Has there been a resurgence of Islam and if so, what are its goals?

Yes, there is a resurgence. That’s very clear. Many non-Muslim peoples, after the end of colonialism, have attempted — in fact, during the period of colonization or European colonialism of the 19th, early 20th century — people have attempted to return to their roots, as it were, to give life to their earlier cultures. “We don’t want to be like Europe; we want to return to our roots.” Now, one can view the resurgence of Islam in a similar way.

We want to bring back Islam. One might ask, for example, “Well, why didn’t they do it at the time of independence, and immediately after independence?” The answer to that question is very simple. Governments which ruled Muslims were very often like colonial governments. They suffocated Muslims. They suffocated those wanted to go back to their original culture. With all due respect to Kamal Ataturk, in Turkey, I mean, this man attempted to suppress Islam. Now, there are several others who did the same thing, or they attempted to manipulate the repositories of Islam, the ulema, and to sort of thwart their efforts to bring Islam and Islamic values back to the public and make those values widespread and to rebuild Islamic institutions.

The question here for me is, are those Muslims who are engaged in this Islamic resurgence, this Islamic rebirth, if you like… Do they aim at building or rebuilding Islamic institutions? I would answer yes. Are they necessarily anti-West? I would say no. But I would say that they’re against anyone who would attempt to forbid them this rebuilding of these institutions.

And the reason I think that they’re so successful is because they’re working at the mass level. They are helping the masses, where governments have not helped. They are giving aid to poor people. They are giving them medical help. They are treating them. They are trying to find jobs for them. Therefore, these ordinary people are joining these ranks as well.

“The resurgence of Islam.” What does resurgence of Islam mean to me? It means to me the resurgence of Islamic principles. … For example, social justice: propagation of, advocacy of, work and earning. Don’t be lazy. Treat your neighbor, treat the other person, with equity, with love, et cetera, et cetera. Mercifully.

I think there are a lot of values that these people are, in fact, instilling in the mass population that governments have sort of ignored. I think here we must look at the resurgence of Islam amongst ordinary peoples. To a large extent, this is what Islam did in the seventh century. I mean, after all, a lot of the prophet’s converts had been slaves, or were freed slaves, and what we would call now low-income and uneducated people. These formed a large part of his following.

If the principles and values that are being reintroduced are work, earn, don’t be lazy, treat your neighbor — if those are the values that are being taught and reawakened, why does it seem so threatening?

Threatening to the West? I’m not so sure that the West is saying that it’s threatening to them. I don’t believe that the average Muslim on the streets of a Muslim city wants to threaten the West. I don’t believe that.

What I do believe is that the average Muslim is anti Western-overbearing-influence. What do I mean by that? I mean by that that their governments are following the West, doing the bidding of the West. Their governments seen as implementing programs which are easily connected to what some have called the “arrogant West.” In other words, you don’t rule us directly anymore; you rule us indirectly. …

I don’t particularly think that the ordinary Muslim is necessarily anti-Westerner. By that, I mean I don’t think the average Muslim is against the average Westerner. I think a lot of Muslims are against Western politics, Western governments, because of what they perceive that Western governments do and the influence they have in their countries — pure and simple.


In what ways is the morality of the West threatening?

I think that any cultural export of the West which violates Muslim sensibilities [would] be considered threatening. … Western perceptions of what is correct, for example, for women to wear, how they appear in public. They are against, for example, certain kinds of music, certain kinds of movies, even certain kinds of discussions on radio. For example, VOA and BBC carry certain kinds of discussions which Muslims find, not anathema, but against their moral values. Therefore they see this as a kind of imposition. You’re imposing your values on ours. “Our society should not become like Western societies.” … I mean, you’re talking about differences in values.


But there are so many inconsistencies with that. For example, when we met at the train station yesterday [you gave me] a warm handshake. Some Muslim men will greet me and not reach out their hand at all. There are places in Iran where men would like to, but it’s socially taboo for them to shake hands, so they don’t. What’s the value there? What is the truth?

Again, it’s interpretation. There was a long time when, for example, Saudi monarchs would not shake the hands of even female prime ministers or ministers from government. And that has changed. …

There is such a hadith which is attributed to the prophet. Now, the point is, how does one interpret touching? How does one interpret the circumstances in which the prophet made this statement? Does that circumstance apply? Should one not touch a woman who is not one’s relative, et cetera, et cetera, in a different circumstance? This is a matter of interpretation.

So there will be those who will take this literally and say, “I apply this across the board.” Then there are those who say, “No, this situation is quite different now. So I don’t mind shaking the hand of a woman, though she is not my wife’s sister, cousin,” or whatever. “No, I don’t mind shaking her hand.” Interpretations themselves become law for those who interpret it as such. Who interprets a text as such, that interpretation becomes law.

Nilufer Gole
Professor of Sociology at Bogazici (Bosphorous) University in Istanbul, Turkey

What we’re witnessing is a revival of Islamic civilization. If that is the case, what are the key things that differentiate it from dominant Western civilization?

Coming for those at the edge of Western modernity, like in Turkey … this was the formula. In order to be civilized, you have to be Westernized in your clothes, in your mind, in your education, in your habitation, the way you organize your interior space, nuclear family, even how you walk in the streets with a man.

…I would say, Islam challenges this formula today. Islam wants to be modern, but civilized not in the Western way, but Islam. So they are trying to tell us, like with the “black is beautiful” formula, Islam is beautiful and trying to be a reference point in different sets of civilizations. You take it, you don’t take it. You can be critical or not, as I am too, but they are trying to give a reference to a different source of being civilized in the modern world, with a lot of complexities. …

…Modernity is constructed, shaped, produced, invented by values which were not values of Muslim countries…. [Earlier, there] was this either/or thing. If you are modern, you can’t be a Muslim. Now we are going beyond this either/or and you can be both Muslim and modern. … I think this is one of the basic stakes that we face today. …

There is no other way. If these two cannot work together, there will be always authoritarianism, either coming from secularism or modernity. Secularism or modernity will be imposed from above and by authoritarian means, or from any fundamentalist movement, religious or ethnic, seemingly opposing itself to that, but also imposing another kind of authority. So there must be a kind of give-and-take, a kind of borrowing between two different cultural values, between two different sets of values. …

… When you look carefully to Islamist movements today, they speak more to modernity than to traditional religious rules. That’s the interesting thing. The majority of these people in Islamic movements…are not, I would say, religiously defined. They have maybe less knowledge of religion, but they have a lot of knowledge on what’s going on in modern society. They are more social-science students than coming from schools of religion. They have both religion and secular knowledge–but they are more in dialogue with modernity. Why today? Because, I think, it’s almost the end result of modernization in these countries. More and more social groups are [being included] into the areas of modernity, like education, market, politics, mass media.

So the question is, the moment you are included into the system, what is your reaction? Either you want to be more assimilated, as we have seen in the first wave of even feminism, because the first wave of feminism was a feminism of assimilation, right? We wanted to be like men, equal to men. Then the second wave said, “No, why should I take an example and be a second-class man? First of all, I’ll just be myself as a woman, different, and let them accept me through my difference and let me enrich the society through the values which was the real reason of my stigmatization, like emotionality, irrationality, or other things–privacy, intimacy.”

So I think it’s like this feminist mode of behavior, I would say. Islamists, the moment they are included into the system, instead of choosing to be assimilated to modernity, or to people like me or you, they say, “No, first of all, we want to reconstruct our identity through our difference and the reasons for our stigmatization, like Islamic faith, the dress code. We make it the forefront of our battle.” That’s an interesting thing…. Why don’t they leave behind their Islamic codes, because they have succeeded? Well, they have said, “No, we want to be even more Muslim than what you expect.”

There is this kind of exaggeration of this Islamic identity that we see today, which even disturbs their families, because their families were happy that their children were succeeding. So why do they make it so radical, so visible? I think this is because, instead of assimilation, that’s something which I would say is very common in all new social movements. In that respect, Islamism today, or the Muslim movement, is not different from other social movements like feminism, like migrants in Europe, the second-generation migrants saying that we want to be accepted through our difference.

It goes back to identity?

It goes back to identity politics, yes, exactly. This can be an enriching process as well. … If there is a kind of debate which is not purely political but more cultural, and we become aware of the questions which are raised by these new Islamic figures, movements–questions which concern not only Muslims but all societies–that’s my point. I think there is something to be enriched through that.

Where do you think that would lead? Where do you think this is going?

…The broader context is that I think Islam is the real dialogue with modernity today. It is not a clash of civilizations, as [Samuel] Huntington would put it, but on the contrary. In a way, Islam makes us aware of different aspects of modernity. So that is this intertwining process which interests me. I’m not working just on Islam being separate, but to what extent this dialogue, or this intertwining process–although, as with all intertwining process, there is a lot of cleavage, lots of conflict underlying it… I think it makes us aware of different problems, like different aspects of feminism–feminism seen from the Western angle, but now from Islam’s. They bring almost a new horizon, to Western feminism as well, I would say–reminding boundaries, reminding more ties among women, and so on.

Because Islam is working with modernity, it’s almost raising a mirror up to it and saying, “Look at yourself”?

Yes, exactly. We are used to reading modernity from the West, from the centers of the Western countries, right? Now we understand that modernity is not only under the monopoly of Europe already, neither only in the United States, but it spreads out. Through colonization it started, but also through voluntary modernization like in Turkey. But now it is becoming more and more indigenous. That’s something very important. We have adopted voluntarily modernization in Turkey, but without criticism. We thought we have to take it. And without processing it, in a way, without criticism.

But one of the basic aspects of modernity is this capacity of self-criticism, I would say. In a paradoxical way, I would say that Islam indicates another stage of indigenization of modernity, through criticism, because the only way to process modernity and to make it more indigenous is to criticize it, to take it through a kind of filtration. That’s what is happening. ….

Amina Wadud
Professor of Islamic studies at Virginia Commonwealth University

To what do you attribute the Islamic resurgence movement in recent decades?

I think the globalization of the economy, as an aftermath of colonialism, has pretty much universalized capitalism. The way to negotiate one’s relationship to the overall economic structure has been to identify one’s political agenda: to either be with or against that overall globalization of economy. And the democratic systems have shown themselves to be the most amenable to that. And the question of Islam and democracy has been a very strong component of the resurgence, articulation of Islam. And that is also one of the reasons why it’s deemed to be a political resurgence, even though I think that the stronger components have to do more with sort of a psychospiritual re-identification of the Muslim self in the context of modernity. And modernity means politics as well as economics. But also it has to do with the basic definition of what it means to be human.

And the notion of modernity comes because of the increased communications planetwide? How does modernity fit into this?

… I think postmodernity is really part of the reconfiguration of the idea of unity across the planet…meaning a greater homogeneity. Postmodernism has allowed us to understand that unity across the planet will be much more diverse. And that includes Islamic diversities. So the more recent manifestations of Islamic resurgence is very intimately tied to reconfigurations of identity, not only among Muslims, but across others. And that’s why I say that it dovetails very well with a reformation of what it means to be [a] human being. And therefore, it relates to issues like human rights, because now we are questioning, well, what does it mean to be human, and therefore how do we ascertain what are human rights. And then Muslims have to ask, well, are these human rights commensurate with our own tradition? Are they in contradiction to our tradition, etc.? So, the basic identity of a Muslim now is being aligned with rethinking what it means to be a human being in modernity.

Racism in the Arab world

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015

Racism in the Arab world covers an array of forms of intolerance against non-Arab groups, minorities in Arab countries of the Middle East and North Africa.

The previously forbidden topics of race and racism in the Arab world have been explored more since the rise of foreign, private and independent media. In one example, Al-Jazeera’s critical coverage of the Darfur crisis led to the arrest and conviction of its Khartoum bureau chief.
Read more . . .

Tolerance and Tension: Islam and Christianity in Sub-Saharan Africa

Friday, April 10th, 2015

ReportInteractive Database, Part of the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures Project

In little more than a century, the religious landscape of sub-Saharan Africa has changed dramatically. As of 1900, both Muslims and Christians were relatively small minorities in the region. The vast majority of people practiced traditional African religions, while adherents of Christianity and Islam combined made up less than a quarter of the population, according to historical estimates from the World Religion Database.

Since then, however, the number of Muslims living between the Sahara Desert and the Cape of Good Hope has increased more than 20-fold, rising from an estimated 11 million in 1900 to approximately 234 million in 2010. The number of Christians has grown even faster, soaring almost 70-fold from about 7 million to 470 million. Sub-Saharan Africa now is home to about one-in-five of all the Christians in the world (21%) and more than one-in-seven of the world’s Muslims (15%).1
Growth of Islam & Christianity in Sub-Saharan Africa Since 1900
While sub-Saharan Africa has almost twice as many Christians as Muslims, on the African continent as a whole the two faiths are roughly balanced, with 400 million to 500 million followers each. Since northern Africa is heavily Muslim and southern Africa is heavily Christian, the great meeting place is in the middle, a 4,000-mile swath from Somalia in the east to Senegal in the west.

Muslims and Christians in Africa
To some outside observers, this is a volatile religious fault line—the site, for example, of al-Qaeda’s first major terrorist strike, the bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, and more recently of ethnic and sectarian bloodshed in Nigeria, where hundreds of Muslims and Christians have been killed.

To others, religion is not so much a source of conflict as a source of hope in sub- Saharan Africa, where religious leaders and movements are a major force in civil society and a key provider of relief and development for the needy, particularly given the widespread reality of failed states and collapsing government services.

Countries in Sub-Saharan Africa
But how do sub-Saharan Africans themselves view the role of religion in their lives and societies? To address this question, the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, with generous funding from The Pew Charitable Trusts and the John Templeton Foundation, conducted a major public opinion survey involving more than 25,000 face-to-face interviews in more than 60 languages or dialects in 19 countries, representing 75% of the total population of sub-Saharan Africa. (View a PDF map of the 19 countries surveyed.)

Our survey asked people to describe their religious beliefs and practices. We sought to gauge their knowledge of, and attitudes toward, other faiths. We tried to assess their degree of political and economic satisfaction; their concerns about crime, corruption and extremism; their positions on issues such as abortion and polygamy; and their views of democracy, religious law and the place of women in society.

The resulting report offers a detailed and in some ways surprising portrait of religion and society in a wide variety of countries, some heavily Muslim, some heavily Christian and some mixed. Africans have long been seen as devout and morally conservative, and the survey largely confirms this. But insofar as the conventional wisdom has been that Africans are lacking in tolerance for people of other faiths, it may need rethinking.

The report also may pose some apparent paradoxes, at least to Western readers. The survey findings suggest that many Africans are deeply committed to Islam or Christianity and yet continue to practice elements of traditional African religions. Many support democracy and say it is a good thing that people from other religions are able to practice their faith freely. At the same time, they also favor making the Bible or sharia law the official law of the land. And while both Muslims and Christians recognize positive attributes in one another, tensions lie close to the surface.

It is our hope that the survey will contribute to a better understanding of the role religion plays in the private and public lives of the approximately 820 million people living in sub-Saharan Africa. This report is part of a larger effort – the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures Project – that aims to increase people’s knowledge of religion around the world.

The vast majority of people in many sub-Saharan African nations are deeply committed to the practices and major tenets of one or the other of the world’s two largest religions, Christianity and Islam. Large majorities say they belong to one of these faiths, and, in sharp contrast with Europe and the United States, very few people are religiously unaffiliated. Despite the dominance of Christianity and Islam, traditional African religious beliefs and practices have not disappeared. Rather, they coexist with Islam and Christianity. Whether or not this entails some theological tension, it is a reality in people’s lives: Large numbers of Africans actively participate in Christianity or Islam yet also believe in witchcraft, evil spirits, sacrifices to ancestors, traditional religious healers, reincarnation and other elements of traditional African religions.2

Christianity and Islam also coexist with each other. Many Christians and Muslims in sub-Saharan Africa describe members of the other faith as tolerant and honest. In most countries, relatively few see evidence of widespread anti-Muslim or anti-Christian hostility, and on the whole they give their governments high marks for treating both religious groups fairly. But they acknowledge that they know relatively little about each other’s faith, and substantial numbers of African Christians (roughly 40% or more in a dozen nations) say they consider Muslims to be violent. Muslims are significantly more positive in their assessment of Christians than Christians are in their assessment of Muslims.

There are few significant gaps, however, in the degree of support among Christians and Muslims for democracy. Regardless of their faith, most sub-Saharan Africans say they favor democracy and think it is a good thing that people from other religions are able to practice their faith freely. At the same time, there is substantial backing among Muslims and Christians alike for government based on either the Bible or sharia law, and considerable support among Muslims for the imposition of severe punishments such as stoning people who commit adultery.

These are among the key findings from more than 25,000 face-to-face interviews conducted on behalf of the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life in more than 60 languages or dialects in 19 sub-Saharan African nations from December 2008 to April 2009. (For additional details, see the survey methodology (PDF).) The countries were selected to span this vast geographical region and to reflect different colonial histories, linguistic backgrounds and religious compositions. In total, the countries surveyed contain three-quarters of the total population of sub-Saharan Africa.

Other Findings

In addition, the 19-nation survey finds:

Africans generally rank unemployment, crime and corruption as bigger problems than religious conflict. However, substantial numbers of people (including nearly six-in-ten Nigerians and Rwandans) say religious conflict is a very big problem in their country.
The degree of concern about religious conflict varies from country to country but tracks closely with the degree of concern about ethnic conflict in many countries, suggesting that they are often related.
Many Africans are concerned about religious extremism, including within their own faith. Indeed, many Muslims say they are more concerned about Muslim extremism than about Christian extremism, and Christians in four countries say they are more concerned about Christian extremism than about Muslim extremism.
Neither Christianity nor Islam is growing significantly in sub-Saharan Africa at the expense of the other; there is virtually no net change in either direction through religious switching.
At least half of all Christians in every country surveyed expect that Jesus will return to earth in their lifetime, while roughly 30% or more of Muslims expect to live to see the re-establishment of the caliphate, the golden age of Islamic rule.
People who say violence against civilians in defense of one’s religion is rarely or never justified vastly outnumber those who say it is sometimes or often justified. But substantial minorities (20% or more) in many countries say violence against civilians in defense of one’s religion is sometimes or often justified.
In most countries, at least half of Muslims say that women should not have the right to decide whether to wear a veil, saying instead that the decision should be up to society as a whole.
Circumcision of girls (female genital cutting) is highest in the predominantly Muslim countries of Mali and Djibouti but is more common among Christians than among Muslims in Uganda.
Majorities in almost every country say that Western music, movies and television have harmed morality in their nation. Yet majorities in most countries also say they personally like Western entertainment.
In most countries, more than half of Christians believe in the prosperity gospel – that God will grant wealth and good health to people who have enough faith.
By comparison with people in many other regions of the world, sub-Saharan Africans are much more optimistic that their lives will change for the better.
Adherence to Islam and Christianity

Large majorities in all the countries surveyed say they believe in one God and in heaven and hell, and large numbers of Christians and Muslims alike believe in the literal truth of their scriptures (either the Bible or the Koran). Most people also say they attend worship services at least once a week, pray every day (in the case of Muslims, generally five times a day), fast during the holy periods of Ramadan or Lent, and give religious alms (tithing for Christians, zakat for Muslims; see the glossary of terms for more information about tithing and zakat).

Indeed, sub-Saharan Africa is clearly among the most religious places in the world. In many countries across the continent, roughly nine-in-ten people or more say religion is very important in their lives. By this key measure, even the least religiously inclined nations in the region score higher than the United States, which is among the most religious of the advanced industrial countries.
Importance of Religion

Persistence of Traditional African Religious Practices

At the same time, many of those who indicate they are deeply committed to the practice of Christianity or Islam also incorporate elements of African traditional religions into their daily lives. For example, in four countries (Tanzania, Mali, Senegal and South Africa) more than half the people surveyed believe that sacrifices to ancestors or spirits can protect them from harm.
Belief in the Protective Power of Sacrifices to Spirits or Ancestors
Sizable percentages of both Christians and Muslims – a quarter or more in many countries – say they believe in the protective power of juju (charms or amulets). Many people also say they consult traditional religious healers when someone in their household is sick, and sizable minorities in several countries keep sacred objects such as animal skins and skulls in their homes and participate in ceremonies to honor their ancestors. And although relatively few people today identify themselves primarily as followers of a traditional African religion, many people in several countries say they have relatives who identify with these traditional faiths.

Quick Definition: African Traditional Religions
Handed down over generations, indigenous African religions have no formal creeds or sacred texts comparable to the Bible or Koran. They find expression, instead, in oral traditions, myths, rituals, festivals, shrines, art and symbols. In the past, Westerners sometimes described them as animism, paganism, ancestor worship or simply superstition, but today scholars acknowledge the existence of sophisticated African traditional religions whose primary role is to provide for human well-being in the present as opposed to offering salvation in a future world.

Because beliefs and practices vary across ethnic groups and regions, some experts perceive a multitude of different traditional religions in Africa. Others point to unifying themes and, thus, prefer to think of a single faith with local differences.

In general, traditional religion in Africa is characterized by belief in a supreme being who created and ordered the world but is often experienced as distant or unavailable to humans. Lesser divinities or spirits who are more accessible are sometimes believed to act as intermediaries. A number of traditional myths explain the creation and ordering of the world and provide explanations for contemporary social relationships and norms. Lapsed social responsibilities or violations of taboos are widely believed to result in hardship, suffering and illness for individuals or communities and must be countered with ritual acts to re-establish order, harmony and well-being.

Ancestors, considered to be in the spirit world, are believed to be part of the human community. Believers hold that ancestors sometimes act as emissaries between living beings and the divine, helping to maintain social order and withdrawing their support if the living behave wrongly. Religious specialists, such as diviners and healers, are called upon to discern what infractions are at the root of misfortune and to prescribe the appropriate rituals or traditional medicines to set things right.

African traditional religions tend to personify evil. Believers often blame witches or sorcerers for attacking their life-force, causing illness or other harm. They seek to protect themselves with ritual acts, sacred objects and traditional medicines. African slaves carried these beliefs and practices to the Americas, where they have evolved into religions such as Voodoo in Haiti and Santeria in Cuba. (back to text)

Tolerance, but Also Tensions

The survey finds that on several measures, many Muslims and Christians hold favorable views of each other. Muslims generally say Christians are tolerant, honest and respectful of women, and in most countries half or more Christians say Muslims are honest, devout and respectful of women. In roughly half the countries surveyed, majorities also say they trust people who have different religious values than their own.

Sizable majorities in every country surveyed say that people of different faiths are very free to practice their religion, and most add that this is a good thing rather than a bad thing. In most countries, majorities say it is all right if their political leaders are of a different religion than their own. And in most countries, significant minorities (20% or more) of people who attend religious services say that their mosque or church works across religious lines to address community problems.

Most Think Others are Very Free to Practice Their Religion and See This as a Good Thing
On the other hand, the survey also reveals clear signs of tension and division. Overall, Christians are less positive in their views of Muslims than Muslims are of Christians; substantial numbers of Christians (ranging from 20% in Guinea Bissau to 70% in Chad) say they think of Muslims as violent. In a handful of countries, a third or more of Christians say many or most Muslims are hostile toward Christians, and in a few countries a third or more of Muslims say many or most Christians are hostile toward Muslims.
Muslims More Widely Seen as Violent than

Christians

What Is a Median?
The median is the middle number in a list of numbers sorted from highest to lowest. For many questions in this report, medians are shown to help readers see differences between Muslim and Christian subpopulations and general populations, or to highlight differences between sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the world.

In charts showing results from all 19 countries on a particular question, the median for “all countries” is the 10th spot on the list. In charts where there is an even number of countries in the list and there is no country exactly in the middle, the median is computed as the average of the two countries at the middle of the list (e.g., where 16 nations are shown, the median is the average of the 8th and 9th countries on the list).

To help readers see whether Muslims and Christians differ significantly on certain questions, separate medians for Christians and Muslims also are shown. The median for Christians is based on the survey results among Christians in each of the 16 countries with a Christian population large enough to analyze. The median for Muslims is based on the survey results among Muslims in each of the 15 countries with a Muslim population large enough to analyze.

By their own reckoning, neither Christians nor Muslims in the region know very much about each other’s faith. In most countries, fewer than half of Christians say they know either some or a great deal about Islam, and fewer than half of Muslims say they know either some or a great deal about Christianity. Moreover, people in most countries surveyed, especially Christians, tend to view the two faiths as very different rather than as having a lot in common. And many people say they are not comfortable with the idea of their children marrying a spouse from outside their religion.

People throughout the region generally see conflict between religious groups as a modest problem compared with other issues such as unemployment, crime and corruption. Still, substantial numbers in all the countries surveyed except Botswana and Zambia say religious conflict is a very big problem in their country, reaching a high of 58% in Nigeria and Rwanda. In addition, substantial minorities (20% or more) in many countries say that violence against civilians in defense of one’s religion can sometimes or often be justified. And large numbers (more than 40%) in nearly every country express concern about extremist religious groups in their nation, including within their own religious community in some instances. Indeed, in almost all countries in which Muslims constitute at least 10% of the population, Muslims are more concerned about Muslim extremism than they are about Christian extremism, while in a few overwhelmingly Christian countries, including South Africa, Christians are more concerned about Christian extremism than about Muslim extremism. And in many countries, sizable numbers express concern about both Muslim and Christian extremism.

Views of Religious Conflict

Support for Both Democracy and Religious Law

Across the sub-Saharan region, large numbers of people express strong support for democracy and say it is a good thing that people from religions different than their own are able to practice their faith freely. Asked whether democracy is preferable to any other kind of government or “in some circumstances, a nondemocratic government can be preferable,” strong majorities in every country choose democracy. In most places there is no significant difference between Muslims and Christians on this question.

At the same time, there is substantial backing from both Muslims and Christians for basing civil laws on the Bible or sharia law. This may simply reflect the importance of religion in Africa. But it is nonetheless striking that in virtually all the countries surveyed, a majority or substantial minority (a third or more) of Christians favor making the Bible the official law of the land, while similarly large numbers of Muslims say they would like to enshrine sharia, or Islamic law.

Majorities of Muslims in nearly all the countries surveyed support allowing leaders and judges to use their religious beliefs when deciding family and property disputes, as do sizable minorities (30% or more) of Christians in most countries. Similarly, the survey finds considerable support among Muslims in several countries for the application of criminal sanctions such as stoning people who commit adultery, and whipping or cutting off the hands of thieves. Support for these kinds of punishments is consistently lower among Christians than among Muslims. The survey also finds that in seven countries, roughly one-third or more of Muslims say they support the death penalty for those who leave Islam.

The End of Christian and Muslim Expansion?

While the survey finds that both Christianity and Islam are flourishing in sub-Saharan Africa, the results suggest that neither faith may expand as rapidly in this region in the years ahead as it did in the 20th century, except possibly through natural population growth. There are two main reasons for this conclusion. First, the survey shows that most people in the region have committed to Christianity or Islam, which means the pool of potential converts from outside these two faiths has decreased dramatically. In most countries surveyed, 90% or more describe themselves as either Christians or Muslims, meaning that fewer than one-in-ten identify as adherents of other faiths (including African traditional religions) or no faith.

Second, there is little evidence in the survey findings to indicate that either Christianity or Islam is growing in sub-Saharan Africa at the expense of the other. Although a relatively small percentage of Muslims have become Christians, and a relatively small percentage of Christians have become Muslims, the survey finds no substantial shift in either direction. One exception is Uganda, where roughly one-third of respondents who were raised Muslim now describe themselves as Christian, while far fewer Ugandans who were raised Christian now describe themselves as Muslim.
Little Net Change From Religious Switching

Intense Religious Experiences and the Influence of Pentecostalism

Many Christians and Muslims in sub-Saharan Africa experience their respective faiths in a very intense, immediate, personal way. For example, three-in-ten or more of the people in many countries say they have experienced a divine healing, witnessed the devil being driven out of a person or received a direct revelation from God. Moreover, in every country surveyed that has a substantial Christian population, at least half of Christians expect that Jesus will return to earth during their lifetime. And in every country surveyed that has a substantial Muslim population, roughly 30% or more of Muslims expect to personally witness the re-establishment of the caliphate, the golden age of Islamic rule that followed the death of Muhammad.
End Times Beliefs
Many of these intense religious experiences, including divine healings and exorcisms, are also characteristic of traditional African religions. Within Christianity, these kinds of experiences are particularly associated with Pentecostalism, which emphasizes such gifts of the Holy Spirit as speaking in tongues, giving or interpreting prophecy, receiving direct revelations from God, exorcising evil and healing through prayer. About a quarter of all Christians in four sub-Saharan countries (Ethiopia, Ghana, Liberia and Nigeria) now belong to Pentecostal denominations, as do at least one-in-ten Christians in eight other countries. But the survey finds that divine healings, exorcisms and direct revelations from God are commonly reported by African Christians who are not affiliated with Pentecostal churches.

Morality and Culture

In nearly all the countries surveyed, large majorities believe it is necessary to believe in God in order to be moral and have good values. Clear majorities in almost every country believe that Western music, movies and television have hurt moral standards. South Africa and Guinea Bissau are the only exceptions to this finding, and even in those nations a plurality of the survey respondents view Western entertainment as exerting a harmful moral influence. On the other hand, majorities in most countries say they personally like Western TV, movies and music, with Christians particularly inclined to say so. And in many countries, people are more inclined to say there is not a conflict between being a devout religious person and living in modern society than to say there is a conflict.
Many Think Western Movies and Music Hurt Morality, But Many Also Like Western Entertainment
Throughout sub-Saharan Africa, Christians and Muslims alike express strong opposition to homosexual behavior, abortion, prostitution and sex between unmarried people. There are, however, pronounced differences between the two religious groups on the question of polygamy. Muslims are much more inclined than Christians to approve of polygamy or say this is not a moral issue.

Optimism and Progress

Sub-Saharan Africans commonly cite unemployment as a major problem. In most countries, more than half of the people surveyed say they are dissatisfied with the way things are going in their country. And compared with people surveyed in 2007 in other regions of the world, somewhat fewer sub-Saharan Africans today indicate they are highly satisfied with their lives. At least 30% in every country say there have been times in the last year when they did not have enough money to buy food for their families. And yet, many sub-Saharan Africans say their lives have improved over the past five years. In fact, the percentage of sub-Saharan Africans who indicate in 2009 that their lives have improved over the preceding five years rivals or exceeds the number of people in many other regions of the world who said the same in 2007. And people in the African countries surveyed are more likely than people in many other regions to express optimism that their lives will improve in the future.
Many Think Their Lives Have Improved

About the Report

These and other findings are discussed in more detail in the remainder of this report, which is divided into five main sections:

Religious Affiliation
Commitment to Christianity and Islam
Traditional African Religious Beliefs and Practices
Interreligious Harmony and Tensions
Religion and Society
This report also includes a glossary of key terms, a description of the methods used for this survey, and a topline including full question wording and survey results.

The survey was conducted among at least 1,000 respondents in each of the 19 countries. In three predominantly Muslim countries (Djibouti, Mali and Senegal), there were too few interviews with Christian respondents to be able to analyze the Christian subpopulation. In four predominantly Christian countries (Botswana, Rwanda, South Africa and Zambia), there were too few interviews with Muslims to be able to analyze the Muslim subpopulation. This leaves 12 countries in which comparisons between Christians and Muslims are possible.

Readers should note that the 19 national polls on which this report is based were not designed to provide detailed demographic profiles of households in each country. Rather, the survey aims to compare the views of different religious groups and the general population of the countries on a wide variety of questions concerning religious beliefs and practices as well as religion’s role in society. In other studies, such as “Mapping the Global Muslim Population” (2009), the Pew Forum provides estimates of the religious composition of countries in Africa and elsewhere based on very large datasets (such as national censuses and demographic and health surveys) that sometimes differ from the population figures presented here. An appendix (PDF) provides comparative estimates of religious composition from some recent surveys and censuses.

Download the full executive summary here

Footnotes

1 The 15% estimate is based on data from the Pew Forum’s 2009 report, “Mapping the Global Muslim Population“; other estimates based on data from the World Religion Database. (back to text)

2 Read a 2009 Pew Forum analysis of the extent to which Americans also mix and match elements of diverse religious traditions. (back to text)

The danger of saying ISIS is not Islam

Sunday, June 1st, 2014

By Liz Lightstone
comicSo I’ve been thinking about this a lot and posted this morning on twitter about David Cameron’s comment (“they are monsters, not Muslims”). I’m very concerned by growing reprise that “Islamic State” (IS) is not Islam, that they are not Muslims. I can understand where it’s coming from but its a very dangerous form of political correctness. Clearly not all Muslims support IS, nor are all terrorists Muslim. But there is no doubt that IS say they are acting on behalf of Islam, they are Muslims and they want to establish an Islamic Caliphate.

If you detach their monstrous ideology from what we like to think of as Islam, then do you detach from the Muslim community responsibility for denouncing it? I have no problem if moderate Muslims — as some have done (albeit late in the day) — stand up and say that IS does not represent what they believe to be Islam. I similarly say that Naturei Karta, the “ultra-Orthodox” anti Zionist Jews — who by the way simply throw words, not stones, not swords and are nonviolent — do not represent Judaism in any form that I know. But I want the moderates to stand up and say it.

More importantly, do you, by saying IS is not Islam, they’re not Muslims, detach from the Muslim community at large the responsibility for helping prevent radicalisation which we know full well goes on in certain mosques and on campuses? (It is astonishing how many campuses world wide have HUGE investment from Saudi and Qatar and huge investment in BDS, anti Israel, and radicalisation programmes.)

I am not blaming any particular Muslim community but just as I hung my head in shame when extremist Jews murdered that poor young man in Jerusalem after the death of the three Jewish teenagers, so the Muslim community worldwide must say, not that IS is an Israeli / CIA conspiracy (as Iran currently claiming) but that something is rotten within the Muslim world and it must be stopped.

There are Middle East and other Muslim societies, particularly Iran, bringing up their children on a relentless feast of hate — against Jews, against the US, against the West. There has also been dreadful oppression of Sunnis by Shias in Iraq, of Shias by Sunnis in Iraq (depends which year and who’s in charge) and all over the ME, Iran and Pakistan etc. IS, a radical Sunni movement, has grown out of those struggles and has been strongly funded by Qatar (they would claim not but even if not directly, certainly indirectly and they directly fund Hamas, another murderous Sunni regime). But we must wonder why so many well educated EU-born men AND women are flocking to take part in the barbaric IS regime. It is a shame for the whole of British society that some of the absolutely worst offenders (“Jihadi John”, the women in charge of the sex slaves) are British Muslims who have turned their backs on their homes and gone to Iraq. Some might just be hot headed young people looking for an ideology. But some have been indoctrinated and that must stop, now.

We need interfaith discussions; we need to avoid the vile rhetoric that appeared everywhere, instantly, over the Israel Gaza conflict. The rhetoric which painted the problems in black and white, condeming Israel without contemplating the impact, the propaganda and the lies that Hamas were feeding the West and that were so willingly believed (and spread by the media which apparently Jews control — if we do, we do it very badly!). We need to open our eyes to how the hate is poisoning the youth of our land.

We have to consider the anti-Semitism (and sorry that’s what it is) that led to the huge disparity (disproportion to use an emotive term) in the speed, ferocity and extent of the response to the Israel Gaza conflict compared with, for instance, how many months it took anyone to notice and even quietly protest that Assad was slaughtering hundreds and hundreds of civilians (nearly 300,000 dead in three years in the conflict, many many civilians including thousands of children but none of the emotive hour by hour accounts we had over Gaza); that IS was truly ethnically cleansing Mosul of Christians, was waging a genocide (still is) against the Yazidis, was systematically raping women and children as a punishment (there has never been a single case of rape by an IDF soldier — not something to celebrate but notable in modern warfare).

Why were so few people raging over these mass slaughters and war crimes and yet out on the streets in minutes over Israel defending itself against 100s of rockets raining down aimed at civilians.

My take was that it was fuelled fundamentally by anti-Semitism (the singling out of a particular state etc) but also importantly there is no sanction for criticising Israel (and Jews). However, Muslims don’t/won’t criticise Muslims and others are afraid of doing so. I realise that’s a generalisation and some, such as the Quiliam Foundation are doing wonderful work in this area. But you only have to look at how slow the UN (with one member one vote, and just one Jewish state but 50+ Muslim states) has been to denounce Syria and even ISIS, yet has criticism of Israel as a standing agenda item.

Muslims who support democracy, who reject a Caliphate, who reject the barbarism of IS now need to speak up. In Britain and the EU and all Western liberal democracies, we cannot have increasing ghettoisation, we cannot have areas run by Sharia law where police turn a blind eye to abuse of women and children, and we have to say, this is Britain and the law is British. We have to have mutual respect for all faiths and people of all faiths have to abide by the laws of the land.

I have not set out to offend with this post and I am trying to read it as if everything I’ve said about Muslims mentioned Jews instead (a la the terrible piece by Matthew Parris in The Times a few weeks ago). But we do not solve the problem by pretending that fundamentalist Islam is not Islam and is not run by Muslims. As Edmund Burke so wisely said “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” I truly believe the Muslim communities in Britain (I can’t speak for the rest of the world) are now speaking out louder and more strongly — from my perspective they weren’t and there has been a reluctance to criticise bad Muslims in direct contrast to the willingness to denounce Israel at the drop of the hat.

At least with IS it is very clear, no one can blame Israel and in fact Israel is the front line for the West against IS. Thank God Israel is there. Not least, it’s proving a safe haven for UN troops running away from IS in Syria on the Golan border. We need to unite in our condemnation of Islamic terrorists whether ISIS, Hamas, Al quaeda or the Muslim Brotherhood – they all subvert democracy, fail to respect other faiths and are murderous in their methods; they may differ in the detail but not in the fundamental ideology. And that is what all of us, Jews, Muslims, Christians, Atheists need to speak out and act against else evil will triumph.

Is female genital mutilation an Islamic problem?

Saturday, November 24th, 2012

Von der Osten-Sacken und Thomas Uwer
Middle East Quartely
Winter 2007

Among social activists and feminists, combating female genital mutilation (FGM) is an important policy goal. Sometimes called female circumcision or female genital cutting, FGM is the cutting of the clitoris of girls in order to curb their sexual desire and preserve their sexual honor before marriage. The practice, prevalent in some majority Muslim countries, has a tremendous cost: many girls bleed to death or die of infection. Most are traumatized. Those who survive can suffer adverse health effects during marriage and pregnancy. New information from Iraqi Kurdistan raises the possibility that the problem is more prevalent in the Middle East than previously believed and that FGM is far more tied to religion than many Western academics and activists admit.

Many Muslims and academics in the West take pains to insist that the practice is not rooted in religion[1] but rather in culture. “When one considers that the practice does not prevail and is much condemned in countries like Saudi Arabia, the center of the Islamic world, it becomes clear that the notion that it is an Islamic practice is a false one,” Haseena Lockhat, a child clinical psychologist at North Warwickshire Primary Care Trust, wrote.[2] True, FGM occurs in non-Muslim societies in Africa. And in Arab states such as Egypt, where perhaps 97 percent of girls suffer genital mutilation,[3] both Christian Copts and Muslims are complicit.

But at the village level, those who commit the practice believe it to be religiously mandated. Religion is not only theology but also practice. And the practice is widespread throughout the Middle East. Many diplomats, international organization workers, and Arabists argue that the problem is localized to North Africa or sub-Saharan Africa,[4] but they are wrong. The problem is pervasive throughout the Levant, the Fertile Crescent, and the Arabian Peninsula, and among many immigrants to the West from these countries. Silence on the issue is less reflective of the absence of the problem than insufficient freedom for feminists and independent civil society to raise the issue.

Detecting Female Genital Mutilation

It is perhaps understandable that many diplomats and academics do not recognize the scope of the problem. Should someone wish to understand the sexual habits of Westerners, he would not face a difficult task. He could survey personal advertisements, watch talk shows, and read magazine articles explaining the best ways to enhance sexual experience, not to mention numerous scientific publications on sex and gender relations. Public knowledge of trivial and even painful matters is incumbent in Western culture. The multitude of sexual habits and gender relations represents a vital element of life in the West, much the same as the economy, politics, sports, and culture.

If, however, someone wants to study sexual relations and habits in Middle Eastern societies, it would be difficult to find comparable traces in public. Almost everything connected with sexuality and personal relations is hidden in a private sphere. Advisory books and research on sexual habits are almost nonexistent beyond comprehensive rules and prohibitions outlined by Islamic law or, in Shi’ite societies, beyond the questions and responses submitted to senior ayatollahs. Sex education is not taught at the university, let alone in any high school. Psychology remains a shadow discipline, almost absent in the eastern Middle East and only slightly more present in North Africa where more than a century of French rule offered more opportunity for it to take root. The Library of the British Psychoanalytical Society, for example, holds only one journal on psychotherapy or psychoanalysis in Arabic. Arab psychoanalyst Jihad Mazarweh gave an interview in the German weekly Die Zeit in which he said, “For most people, speaking about sexuality, as it happens in psychoanalysis, is almost unthinkable.”[5] It would be a mistake to interpret lack of public discussion of many sexual issues in the Middle East as indicative of a lack of problems. Rather, the silence only reflects the strength of taboo.

Female genital mutilation has been a top priority for United Nations agencies and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) for almost three decades. As early as 1952, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights adopted a resolution condemning the practice.[6] International momentum against the practice built when, in 1958, the Economic and Social Council invited the World Health Organization to study the persistence of customs subjecting girls to ritual operations.[7] They repeated their call three years later.[8] The 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women denounced the practice,[9] and the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child identified female genital mutilation as a harmful traditional practice.[10] According to the Demographic and Health Surveys Program, a project funded by the United States Agency for International Development to assist in undertaking medical and reproductive health surveys, FGM affects 130 million women in twenty-eight African countries.[11] Rather than diminishing as countries modernize, FGM is expanding.[12]

Anthropologists and activists identify three main types of FGM. Pharaonic circumcision refers to the removal of the entire clitoris; the labia minora and medial part of the labia majora are cut with both sides of the organ stitched together to leave only a small opening. Clitorectomy requires the removal of the entire clitoris along with part of the labia minora. Sunna circumcision, the most common form in the Islamic world, requires removal of the prepuce of the clitoris.

Genital Mutilation: An African Phenomenon?

Many experts hold that female genital mutilation is an African practice. Nearly half of the FGM cases represented in official statistics occur in Egypt and Ethiopia; Sudan also records high prevalence of the practice.[13] True, Egypt is part of the African continent but, from a cultural, historical, and political perspective, Egypt has closer ties to the Arab Middle East than to sub-Saharan Africa. Egypt was a founding member of the Arab League, and Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser came to personify Arab nationalism between 1952 until his death in 1970. That FGM is so prevalent in Egypt should arouse suspicion about the practice elsewhere in the Arab world, especially given the low appreciation for women’s rights in Arab societies. But most experts dismiss the connection of the practice with Islam. Instead, they explain the practice as rooted in poverty, lack of education, and superstition.

Few reports mention the existence of FGM elsewhere in the Middle East, except in passing. A UNICEF report on the issue, for example, focuses on Africa and makes only passing mention of “some communities on the Red Sea coast of Yemen.” UNICEF then cites reports, but no evidence, that the practice also occurs to a limited degree in Jordan, Gaza, Oman, and Iraqi Kurdistan.[14] The German semigovernmental aid agency, the Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit, reports that FGM is prevalent in twenty-eight African countries but only among small communities “in a few Arab and Asian countries (e.g., Yemen, a few ethnic groups in Oman, Indonesia, and Malaysia).[15] Some scholars have asserted that the practice does not exist at all in those countries east of the Suez Canal.[16] Such assertions are wrong. FGM is a widespread practice in at least parts of these countries.[17]

Latest findings from northern Iraq suggest that FGM is practiced widely in regions outside Africa. Iraqi Kurdistan is an instructive case. Traditionally, Kurdish society is agrarian. A significant part of the population lives outside cities. Women face a double-burden: they are sometimes cut off from even the most basic public services and are subject to a complex of patriarchal rules. As a result, living conditions for women are poor. Many of the freedoms and rights introduced by political leaders in Iraqi Kurdistan after the establishment of the safe-haven in 1991 are, for many women, more theoretical than actual.

In early 2003, WADI, a German-Austrian NGO focusing on women’s issues,[18] started to work with mobile teams to take medical aid and social support to women in peripheral Kurdish areas such as in the Garmian region of Iraqi Kurdistan. These all-female teams consisting of a physician, a nurse, and a social worker built trust and opened doors in local communities otherwise sealed against outsiders. After more than a year of working in the area, women began to speak about FGM. Kurds in the area practice Sunna circumcision. Midwives often perform the operation with unsterilized instruments or even broken glass and without anesthesia on girls four to twelve years old. The extent of mutilation depends on the experience of the midwife and the luck of the girl. The wound is then treated with ash or mud with the girls then forced to sit in a bucket of iced water. Many Kurdish girls die, and others suffer chronic pain, infection, and infertility. Many say they suffer symptoms consistent with posttraumatic stress disorder syndrome.[19]

Subsequent research found that 907 out of 1,544 women questioned had undergone genital circumcision, a cutting rate of nearly 60 percent.[20] Follow-up research in the Irbil and Kirkuk governorates suggests rates of FGM consistent with those in Garmian. Nearly every woman questioned declared FGM to be a “normal” practice. Most women referred to the practice as both a tradition and a religious obligation. When asked why they subject their daughters to the operation, many women respond “it has always been like that.” Because the clitoris is considered to be “dirty” (haram, the connotation is forbidden by religion), women fear that they cannot find husbands for their daughters if they have not been mutilated; many believe men prefer sex with a mutilated wife. Others stress the religious necessity of FGM even though Islamic law is unclear with regard to FGM. While Western scholars may dismiss the religious roots of the practice, what counts is that many Islamic clerics in northern Iraq advise women to practice FGM. Should a woman consider abandoning the practice, she must be aware that she could appear as disreputable in the public eye.[21] Men usually avoid offering a clear statement about whether FGM is a good practice; rather, they refer to FGM as a female practice in which men should not interfere. None of the men said he had ever discussed the question with his wife.[22]

The reaction of locals to the findings has been instructive. When confronted with the study results, only a few women’s activists in the Iraqi Kurdish city of Sulaimaniya expressed surprise although most said they did not realize just how high a proportion of women was affected.[23] While a local researcher and women’s rights activist Ronak Faraj had published a study on female circumcision in Sulaimaniya in 2004,[24] the fact that an international NGO had become aware of the problem bolstered public attention. While many Kurdish authorities were at first reluctant to address the issue for fear that the Kurdish region might appear backward, they now acknowledge the problem and are working to confront it with both an awareness campaign and with legislation.[25] But some members of influential Islamic and Arabic organizations in the diaspora scandalized the findings, accusing WADI of trying to insult Islam and spread anti-Islamic propaganda. Tarafa Baghajati and Omar al-Rawi, both members of the Initiative of Muslim Austrians, called the data part of an “Islamophobic campaign” and declared no FGM exists in Iraq.[26] That Islamic and Arabic organizations in Austria, for example, make such arguments is indicative of the problem affecting FGM data: these groups believe that if there are no such anti-FGM campaigns or studies, then they can bypass an embarrassing problem.

Such campaigns take time. In Egypt, anti-FGM education campaigns inaugurated in the mid-1990s are only now bearing fruit.[27] The idea that rooted practices cannot be changed is false. For centuries, foot-binding crippled Chinese women. An anti-foot-binding society formed only in 1874, but the activists were successful in scaling back and, eventually, eliminating the practice.[28] In Western societies, too, open public discourse on sexuality became possible only by persistent struggle in the face of stark opposition. The heated reactions to the 1948 Kinsey Report—and the portion concerning female sexuality published in 1953—are a case in point.[29]

How Widespread Is Female Genital Mutilation?

The discovery of widespread FGM in Iraqi Kurdistan suggests the assumption to be incorrect that FGM is primarily an African phenomenon with only marginal occurrence in the eastern Islamic world. If FGM is practiced at a rate of nearly 60 percent by Iraqi Kurds, then how prevalent is the practice in neighboring Syria where living conditions and cultural and religious practices are comparable? According to Fran Hosken, late founder of the Women’s International Network News and author of groundbreaking research on FGM in 1975, “There is little doubt that similar practices—excision, child marriage, and putting rock salt into the vagina of women after childbirth—exist in other parts of the Arabian Peninsula and around the Persian Gulf.” [30] That no firsthand medical records are available for Saudi Arabia or from any other countries in that region does not mean that these areas are free of FGM, only that the societies are not free enough to permit formal study of societal problems. That diplomats and international aid workers do not detect FGM in other societies also should not suggest that the problem does not exist. After all, FGM was prevalent in Iraqi Kurdistan for years but went undetected by the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and many other international NGOs in the region. Perhaps the most important factor enabling an NGO to uncover FGM in Iraqi Kurdistan was the existence of civil society structures and popular demand for individual rights. Such conditions simply do not exist in Syria, Saudi Arabia, or even the West Bank and Gaza where local authorities fight to constrain individual freedoms rather than promote them.

But the problem is not only that autocratic regimes tend to suppress the truth. There also must be someone in place to conduct surveys. Prior to Iraq’s liberation, it was impossible to undertake independent surveys on issues such as malnutrition and infant mortality. Saddam Hussein’s regime preferred to supply data to the U.N. rather than to enable others to collect their own data which might not support the conclusions the Baathist regime desired to show. The oft-cited 1999 UNICEF study claiming that U.N. sanctions had led to the deaths of 500,000 children was based on figures supplied by Saddam’s regime, not an independent survey.[31] The U.N. undertook its first reliable statistical research on the living conditions in Iraq only after liberation.[32] Syrian, Saudi, and Iranian authorities simply do not let NGOs operate without restriction, especially when they deal with sensitive social issues.

Taboo—not social but political—is another factor undercutting research on FGM in Arab countries. Many academics and NGO workers in the region find it objectionable to criticize the predominant Muslim or Arab cultures. They will bend over backwards to avoid the argument that FGM is rooted in Arab or Muslim cultures even though no one argues that FGM is exclusively an Arab or Muslim problem. Statistical data from African countries indicate no clear relationship between FGM and a specific religion.[33] Still, this does not mean that the causes of FGM do not vary across regions and that religion has no influence. As California State University anthropologist Ellen Gruenbaum has explained, “People have different and multiple reasons [for FGM] … For some it is a rite of passage. For others it is not. Some consider it aesthetically pleasing. For others, it is mostly related to morality or sexuality.”[34] Hanny Lightfoot-Klein, an internationally known expert on FGM who spent years in Kenya, Egypt, and Sudan, explains that “it is believed in the Sudan that the clitoris will grow to the length of a goose’s neck until it dangles between the legs, in rivalry with the male’s penis, if it is not cut.”[35]

Most studies speak of “justifications”[36] and “rationalizations”[37] for FGM but do not speak of causes since this could implicate Islamic rules relating to women and sexual morality. Islam is regarded as a wrong “justification,” often with a citation that the Qur’an does not require FGM. That many women in northern Iraq—and presumably many women in Egypt—believe that the practice is rooted in religion is a factor ignored by Western universities and international organizations.

Islamic Scholars on Female Genital Mutilation

Islamic scholars disagree on FGM: some say no obligatory rules exist while others refer to the mention of female circumcision in the Hadith. According to Sami A. Aldeeb Abu Sahlieh, a Palestinian-Swiss specialist in Islamic law:

The most often mentioned narration reports a debate between Muhammed and Um Habibah (or Um ‘Atiyyah). This woman, known as an exciser of female slaves, was one of a group of women who had immigrated with Muhammed. Having seen her, Muhammad asked her if she kept practicing her profession. She answered affirmatively, adding: “unless it is forbidden, and you order me to stop doing it.” Muhammed replied: “Yes, it is allowed. Come closer so I can teach you: if you cut, do not overdo it, because it brings more radiance to the face, and it is more pleasant for the husband.”[38]

Abu Sahlieh further cited Muhammad as saying, “Circumcision is a sunna (tradition) for the men and makruma (honorable deed) for the women.”[39]

While some clerics say circumcision is not obligatory for women, others say it is. “Islam condones the sunna circumcision … What is forbidden in Islam is the pharaonic circumcision,”[40] one religious leader explained. Others, such as the late rector of Al-Azhar University, Sheikh Gad al-Haq, said that since the Prophet did not ban female circumcision, it was permissible and, at the very least, could not be banned.[41]

In short, some clerics condemn FGM as an archaic practice, some accept it, and still others believe it to be obligatory. It is the job of clerics to interpret religious literature; it is not the job of FGM researchers and activists. There is a certain tendency to confuse a liberal interpretation of Islam with the reality women face in many predominately Islamic regions. To counter FGM as a practice, it is necessary to accept that Islam is more than just a written text. It is not the book that cuts the clitoris, but its interpretations aid and abet the mutilation.

Conclusions

There are indications that FGM might be a phenomenon of epidemic proportions in the Arab Middle East. Hosken, for instance, notes that traditionally all women in the Persian Gulf region were mutilated.[42] Arab governments refuse to address the problem. They prefer to believe that lack of statistics will enable international organizations to conclude that the problem does not exist in their jurisdictions. It is not enough to consult Islamic clerics to learn about the mutilation of girls in Islamic societies—that is like asking the cook if the guests like the meal. U.N. agencies operating in the region ignore FGM statistics saying they have no applicable mandate to gather such data. Hosken describes it as a cartel of silence: men from countries were FGM is practiced “enjoy much influence at the U.N.”[43] and show no interest in tackling pressing social problems.

To tackle the problem, Western countries and human rights organizations need to continue to break down the wall of silence and autocracy that blights the Arab Middle East and better promote the notion of individual rights. They should withhold conclusions about the breadth of FGM and, for that matter, other social problems or political attitudes until they can conduct independent field research.

Thomas von der Osten-Sacken and Thomas Uwer are, respectively, managing director and board member of WADI.

Update from June 17, 2010: In this fresh study by Human Rights watch, which examines FGM in Kurdistan, the striking and disturbing thing is the extent to which Kurdish authorities have gone to minimize the problem and to ridicule the report’s conclusion. This is a repeated feature of official responses to this and other problems across the region, where fear of embarrassment before world opinion carries greater weight than the damage done to women, young girls, and babies. — The Editors

Update from February 4, 2016: The New York Times reports on a “new global assessment [that] documents for the first time that [FGM] is widespread in one of the most populous countries in Asia: Indonesia.” This underscores that authors’ claim that lack of reporting on the problem in a given country is not evidence that it doesn’t exist.

Notes

[1] See, for example, Marie José Simonet, “FMG: Sunna oder Verbrechen aus Tradition,” stopFMG.net, Vienna, June 24, 2005.
[2] Haseena Lockhat, Female Genital Mutilation: Treating the Tears (London: Middlesex University Press, 2004), p. 16.
[3] Weibliche Genitalverstümmelung: Geschichte, Ausmaß, Formen und Folgen (Vienna: Renner Institut, 2004), p. 6.
[4] See, for example, Innocenti Digest: Changing a Harmful Social Convention: Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (Florence: UNICEF, 2005).
[5] Die Zeit (Hamburg), May 11, 2006.
[6] See, for example, Changing a Harmful Social Convention, p. VII.
[7] “Fact Sheet no. 23, Harmful Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children,” U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Geneva, accessed Aug. 11, 2006.
[8] ECOSOC resolution 821 II (XXXII); ibid.
[9] “Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women,” U.N. General Assembly resolution 34/180, Dec. 18, 1979.
[10] “Convention on the Rights of the Child,” U.N. General Assembly resolution 44/25, Nov. 20, 1989, art. 24, 3.
[11] Dara Carr, Female Genital Cutting: Findings from the Demographic and Health Surveys Program (Calverton, Md.: Macro International, 1997), p. 1.
[12] Gerry Mackie, “A Way to End Female Genital Cutting,” Female Genital Cutting education and Networking Project, Tallahassee, Fla., accessed Aug. 4, 2006.
[13] Eiman Okro, “Weibliche Genitalverstümmelung im Sudan,” PhD dissertation, Humboldt University, Berlin (Hamburg: Akademos Science Publishing House, 2001); “Female Genital Mutilation in Africa: Information by Country,” Amnesty International, accessed Sept. 1, 2006.
[14] Changing a Harmful Social Convention, p. 3.
[15] “What Is Female Genital Mutilation?” Gesellschaft fuer Technische Zusammenarbeit, Frankfurt, Ger., 2005, accessed Aug. 4, 2006.
[16] See, for example, “Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Africa, The Middle East and Far East: Where, Why and How It Is Done,” Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, updated Mar. 2005.
[17] Fran P. Hosken, The Hosken Report: Genital and Sexual Mutilation of Females (Lexington: The Women’s International Network News, 1993), pp. 275-8.
[18] WADI, offices in Frankfurt and Sulaimaniya.
[19] Janet Menage, “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Women Who Have Undergone Obstetric and/or Gynecological Procedures. A Consecutive Series of 30 Cases of PTSD,” Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology, 11(1993): 221-8.
[20] Data derived from WADI field research in the Garmian region of Iraqi Kurdistan, 2005; Christian Science Monitor, Aug. 10, 2005; Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Jan. 21, 2005; “Widespread FGM in Northern Iraq,” Global Health Council, Jan. 6, 2005; “Iraq: Decades of Suffering, Now Women Deserve Better,” Amnesty International, London, Feb. 22, 2005.
[21] Mackie, “A Way to End Female Genital Cutting.”
[22] WADI field research, 2005.
[23] U.N. Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Mar. 16, 2005.
[24] Ronak Faraj, “Female Circumcision,” Women Information and Culture Center, Sulaimaniya, Iraq, 2004.
[25] The Irish Times (Dublin), Oct. 25, 2005.
[26] Judith Götz, ” Anmerkungen zu einer Veranstaltung‚ Die politische Lage im Irak,” Jan. 28, 2005, accessed Oct. 11, 2006.
[27] NBC News, Oct. 21, 2004.
[28] Mackie, “A Way to End Female Genital Cutting”; Marie Vento, “One Thousand Years of Chinese Footbinding: Its Origins, Popularity and Demise,” paper, City University of New York, Mar. 7, 1998.
[29] “American Experience: Kinsey in the News,” Public Broadcasting Service, Jan. 27, 2005.
[30] Hosken, The Hosken Report, p. 278.
[31] Michael Rubin, “Sanctions on Iraq: A Valid Anti-American Grievance?” Middle East Review of International Affairs, June, 2002.
[32] “Iraq Living Conditions Survey 2004,” United Nations Development Program, Baghdad, 2005.
[33] Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting. A Statistical Exploration (New York: UNICEF, 2005), p. 10.
[34] Ellen Gruenbaum, The Female Circumcision Controversy: An Anthropological Perspective. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000), p. 33.
[35] Hanny Lightfoot-Klein. “Prisoners of Ritual: Some Contemporary Developments in the History of Female Genital Mutilation,” presented at the Second International Symposium on Circumcision in San Francisco, Apr. 30-May 3, 1991.
[36] Julia M. Masterson and Julie Hanson Swanson, Female Genital Cutting: Breaking the Silence, Enabling Change (Washington, D.C.: International Center for Research on Women and the Center for Development and Population Activities, 2000), p. 5.
[37] “Female Genital Mutilation: A Joint WHO/UNICEF/UNFPA Statement,” Geneva, 1997.
[38] Sami A. Aldeeb Abu Sahlieh, “To Mutilate in the Name of Jehovah or Allah: Legitimization of Male and Female Circumcision,” Medicine and Law, July 1994, pp. 575-622.
[39] Ibid.
[40] Razor’s Edge: The Controversy of Female Genital Mutilation, IRIN, Mar. 2005; Sheikh Omer, interview, IRINnews.org, U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Mar. 8, 2005.
[41] “Appendix: Is Female Circumcision Required?” Jannah.org, accessed Aug. 11, 2005.
[42] Hosken, The Hosken Report, p. 277.
[43] Ibid., p. 375.
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My Journey to Freedom (Islam Under Scrutiny by Ex-Muslims)

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

My Journey to Freedom

by MA Khan

When on the otherwise fine morning of 9/11 (2001), I switched on the TV and witnessed two planes hit the WTC towers with the elegant building falling apart like a pack of card: I was amazed, stunned, somewhat delighted. A fitting response for the evil US foreign policy, especially toward Palestine. There was no doubt in my mind that it must have been orchestrated by a Muslim group, most likely by Osama bin Laden, but all that played in my mind was that it was largely justified; it was necessary to teach arrogant, unjust America a lesson. Yet, I was never a fan of bin Laden; I would never have wanted his ideology take hold in my country.

My housemate, a Hindu guy, came out to the living room. He had already had a glimpse of event. He obviously discovered a rather satisfying, obviously not saddened, look on face. Glum faced, he went back to his room to get ready for rushing to work. Having known Muslims pretty well, he probably knew it was useless to talk to this fellow; probably he was too depressed to talk about this appalling event.

I spent the next few weeks explaining to my mates and colleagues about how US has been killing the Palestinians, the bad American policies towards the Islamic world: US sanctions on Iraq, US military bases in Saudi Arabia and what not.

I was doing all these despite the fact that I was hardly a Muslim. Although born to religious parents, I was never pressed to follow the religious rituals; I never bother to engage in those stuffs. My only religious devotion was intermittent praying on Fridays, the Juma prayer, and on the two yearly Eid festivals. I would do fasting only on those days I would be invited for Iftar (fast-breaking) party by friend and relatives. Hindus have been my good friends; I kept a Hindu friend as my housemate in preference to Muslim ones. Even then, that was the kind of reaction the 9/11 attacks had created in me. I kind of celebrated the tragic event that occasioned the death of so many innocent men, women and children, who had nothing to do with Palestine or the US foreign policy.

A week after the 9/11 attacks, I called a childhood friend back home. He had failed to pass his 10th grade. I was in a goading mood while discussing the WTC attacks with him. He was rather cold to my zeal. He was, indeed, concerned that the US might start deporting Muslims as rumors were rife. He had depended on me for financial help from time to time. He knew that my family is heavily depended on me financially. He knew that a host of relatives and friends turn to me whenever in financial hardships. All that he said was:

“I don’t care whether Palestinians die or not. Palestinians are never going to come with money for me or your family. Neither are we going to come to help the Palestinians even if they die of hunger. Your staying in the US is important for your family, relatives and friends. Make sure, you don’t get into troubles.”

I was rather disappointed with his cold-hearted response. I had already called my parent the day after the 9/11 attacks; there was an air of satisfaction in tone regarding the bloody event. They too were not so interested. They are not well-educated people. They don’t keep up with the world. They hardly bothered to know what’s happening in Palestine. They reminded me not to get into troubles. “We are depended on you,” they reminded me. Getting a check at the end of the month from me was the most important thing for them; what’s happening to Palestinians hardly bore any importance to them. I was quite disappointed with the callous response of my friend and parents toward our Muslim brethren in Palestine.

I called my brothers; quite surprisingly, they were as elated as me. I felt very good talking to them. My brothers are well-educated in science, unlike my friend and my parents; they are well-respected in the community. I felt quite happy talking to them that my brothers at least cared for the undeserved sufferings of Palestinians. I thought they were educated; their concern for the Palestinian sufferings was a reflection of that; justice mattered for them. I felt proud that they have become truly educated, conscientious human beings.

As Islam and Muslims came under intense attack in the Western media following the 9/11 attacks, I was looking for all sorts of news on the web: I stumbled on the Faith Freedom International (FFI) Website sometime after the 9/11 attacks. That was the first time, I came across such an intensely hateful and anti-Islamic site. I took a couple of days reading; I was extremely angry with Dr. Ali Sina and his contributors for their mindless attacks on Islam, a religion of peace and humanity. I took pennames and started writing all sorts of abusive comments against FFI and its writers.

Initially, I would mainly write abusive comments without making any solid reference to the points raised by those Islam-bashers. But every time, they would come back with references from Islamic sources: Koran, Hadiths and prophetic sira (biography) to shut me down. I thought they were misinterpreting. Some references from Islamic scriptures sounded, indeed, very unsavory. But, I thought there was a special meaning in those verses which human mind cannot comprehend. Allah is beyond human comprehension. Human logic may not fit to Allah’s. And all such kinds of things!

One thing I have to make clear is that when I started writing abusing retorts to these Islam-bashers in FFI, I never had read the Koran or the Hadiths. My knowledge of Islam was from hearsay since my childhood. After engaging in such tug-of-war with the Islam-bashers on FFI for about 6–7 months, I slowly started looking into the Koran and Hadiths, so that I could write more fitting, irrefutable rebuttals to them. I found online Koran (in multiple English translations) and Hadiths. Then I got a Koran in my mother tongue also. I slowly started cross-checking the references cited by the Islam-bashing writers. All the translations were mostly agreeable amongst themselves; they were mostly agreeable to the interpretations of the Islam-bashing authors of FFI.

I slowly became quiet on FFI and kept reading more and more. I read Prophet Muhammad’s biography too. I started questioning what if I wanted to copycat Prophet Muhammad, who, I believed, was the perfect man for all times for 40 years of my life. I started questioning what if I try to be an ideal man and have 10–15 wives, a few concubines and wage numerous wars against the idolaters, Jews and Christians. I always felt, it would be gross injustice to my beloved wife, to the sanctity of my love for her, to take a second wife—even if, I was confident of doing justice to them, able to satisfy them sexually and materially. I thought it would the most shameful thing I would ever do; I thought it would turn my cozy, loving family into a sickly den.

Growing up in close proximity and friendship with the neighboring Hindu community, I thought, if I would model myself after Muhammad, I should’ve waged wars against the Hindus (idolaters) of my neighborhood. Instead, I found many good friends amongst them; they are a nice and honest people. They are more hard-working as compared to my Muslim peers. They have outdone my fellow Muslims in studies, innovations and businesses. Question after question started striking my head. I was loosing my faith; my 40 years’ of belief in my religion was being shattered; I was getting mad.

I started contemplating what the world will be like, if every Muslim today would model himself after Prophet Muhammad and his companions. I wondered how much blood of my Hindu neighbors would flow had all Muslims acted in the same way as did Prophet Muhammad and his disciples (Sahabas)—considered the finest-ever Muslims. Had all my Muslim coreligionists behaved in the same way as did Prophet Muhammad’s community in Arabia, I started envisioning in my mind all sorts of gory pictures in the neighborhood I grew up in. My idolater Hindu neighbors—hard-working, honest and affluent like the idolaters, Jews and Christians of Arabia—whom Prophet Muhammad’s ideal community of Muslims attacked, slaughtered, plundered, exiled and enslaved, the young women being kept as sex-slaves. I started envisioning how those sweet, nice and beautiful sisters of my Hindu friends are falling at the hands of my lustful Muslim peers.

About one year after the 9/11 attacks, I called my Hindu friend one day out to a restaurant for dinner: he ordered chicken; I ordered pork. He was in a daze. To respect my religious feelings, he never brought pork home although I always cooked beef totally disregarding his religious feelings and taboos. I did not know when I had left Islam, but that day formalized and ascertained that I was not a Muslims anymore.

Islamist Watch

Friday, April 1st, 2011

link to: Islamist Watch