Sunday, December 20, 2009

Salient Features of Progressive Muslim Thought –Social Justice, Gender Justice and Irreducible Religious pluralism

    Sunday, December 20, 2009   No comments
by Adis Duderija

(Paper presented at the World Parliament of Religions Conference, Melbourne,3-9 December 2009)



In my presentation I use the term Progressive Muslims (PM) as that developed and employed by the contributors to the book titled “Progressive Muslims” edited by O.Safi. The book “Progressive Muslims” was:

a result of almost an entire year of conversation, dialogue, and debate among the fifteen contributors. It had its real genesis in the aftermath of September 11,2001 in what we [the contributors] saw as the urgent need to raise the level of conversation, and to get away from the standard apologetic presentations of Islam.

The progressive Muslims’ cosmovision’, to use the words of F. Esack one of its leading proponents, is best characterised by its commitments and fidelity to certain ideals, values, practices and objectives that are expressed and take form in a number of different themes.
One of the most prominent of these ideals and practices is the commitment and the engagement of its adherents to what Esack terms ‘principled or prophetic solidarity’ with the marginalized and the oppressed communities of the world which are confronted with the actual context of injustice . This principled solidarity ought not be confused with and must be distinguished from what Esack labels the ‘expedient or situational ethics’ that ‘dominate current Muslim public discourses’ which are strategic, utilitarian, and accommodationist in character. In the words of Esack the primary concerns of Progressive Muslims

[r]elate [far more directly] to global structures of oppression whether economic, gender ,sexual etc., and ensuring that the oppressed are once again active agents of history. This fight for us[ Progressive Muslims] involves the centrality of God , the imagining of mankind as al-nas – a carrier of the spirit of God and an appreciation of Islam as a liberatory discourse.

In this context the hegemony of the modern free market–based economics and political and social structures, institutions and powers (“The Empire”)that either support, maintain or are not critical of the (unjust) status quo are strongly resisted and are seen by PM as antithetical to their overall Weltanschauung including their understanding of Islam. This is so because “The Empire” is considered to have brought about the transformation and the reduction of a human (al-insan) ,a carrier of God’s spirit, into a primarily economic consumer ( homo aeconomicus) producing great economic disparities between the majority world of the poor South and the minority world of the rich North. According to Safi this “Empire’ consists of a multitude of forces “among them the oppressive and environmentally destructive forces of multi-national corporations whose interests are now linked to those of neo-imperial, unilateral governments…..that put profit before human rights and ‘strategic interest’ before the dignity of every human being.”
Furthermore, PM wish to bring about the centrality, the uniqueness and inherent worthiness of each and every human being as the recipient and carrier of God’s spirit. This view is perhaps best illustrated with the following statements of Safi

[A]t the heart of a progressive Muslim interpretation is a simple yet radical idea: every human life, female or male, Muslim and non-Muslim, rich or poor, “Northern” or “Southern” has exactly the same intrinsic worth.

A progressive Muslim agenda is concerned with the ramifications of the premise that all members of humanity have this same intrinsic worth because, as the Qur’an reminds us, each of us has the breath of God breathed into our being.

The discourse on democracy and human rights stemming from the geographical regions of the Empire’s centre is viewed with great deal of suspicion bacause it is considered often functioning as a “Trojan Horse of Recolonisation”. It is viewed with suspicion also because it is considered not to be living up to its own ethico-moral standards, especially (but not only) in relation to issues directly affecting Muslims.
In this connection one important aspect and objective of being a PM ,argues Esack, is the “speaking truth to power” by engaging : i.) “in relentless self-critique that enables the adherent of PM thought to be true to the ideals of a just society in a way that also prevents his or her co-optation by those who have their own agendas or the expansion of the Empire as their primary reason for wanting to engage Islam”; ii.) engaging the Empire in the light of i.) without jeopardizing the inherent humanity of those comprising it; and iii.) engaging the ummah by confronting those within it who in the guise of protecting Muslim societies from the Empire violate Muslims’ basic human rights.
This means that PM are engaged in a ‘multiple critique’ that “entails a multi-headed approach based on a simultaneous critique of the many communities and discourses Progressive Muslims are positioned in”. It means to challenge, resist and seek to overthrow the structures of injustice regardless of the ideational origins and phylogeny.

In conjunction with the emphasis on the inherent dignity of every human being the values of social and gender justice , and irreducible religious pluralism are the main driving forces behind the PM ethico-religious outlook. As such PM are characterized by their

striv[ing] to realize a just and pluralistic society through critically engaging Islam, a relentless pursuit of social justice, an emphasis on gender equality as a foundation of human rights, a vision of religious and ethnic pluralism, and a methodology of nonviolent resistance.

Gender justice and equality in particular, play a very important part in the overall PM thought because they are seen as “ a measuring stick for the broader concerns of social justice and pluralism.” Gender justice and equality are ,therefore, regarded as an essential and fundamental feature of progressive Muslim thought. In the words of Safi
…the Muslim community as a whole cannot achieve justice unless justice is guaranteed for Muslim women. In short there can be no progressive interpretation of Islam without gender justice. Gender justice is crucial, indispensable and essential. In the long run any progressive Muslim interpretation will be judged based on the amount of change in gender justice it is able to produce in small and large communities.

As such PM strive for a legitimately recognized Islamic feminism.

At the core of this CPM ‘cosmovision’ is also a very strong emphasis on spirituality and interpersonal relationships based on the teachings of some of the “romantic or idealistic” Sufi ethics of dealing with fellow human beings in a way that “always recall[s] and remember[s] the reflection of Divine Presence and qualities in one another. PM thought can indeed be seen as an intellectualized form of Sufism.
Another important facet of PM thought is its emphasis on grass-roots activism that reflect its ideals and values. In the words of Safi,
A progressive commitment implies by necessity the willingness to remain engaged with the issues of social justice as they unfold at the ground level in the realities of Muslim and non-Muslim communities. Vision and activism are both necessary. Action without vision is doomed from the start/vision without activism quickly becomes irrelevant.

The proponents of PM thought are to be found spread throughout the Muslim and non –Muslim world. Many of the leading PM intellectuals live in the West and teach at western universities. Some of them obtained their graduate and post-graduate qualifications from these institutions and, in some cases, have also received traditional training in the Islamic sciences. In the words of Safi:
unlike their liberal Muslim forefathers, progressive Muslims represent a broad coalition of female and male Muslim activists and intellectuals. One of the distinguishing features of the progressive Muslim movement as the vanguard of Islamic (post)modernism has been the high level of female participation as well as the move to highlight women’s rights as part of a broader engagement with human rights.

Another prominent aspect of PM thought is that besides awarding a vital role to the concept of the socio-cultural embeddedness of certain aspects of the Islamic tradition and its primary sources, ethico-religious considerations are the highest hermeneutical tool in the PM approach to interpretation of the fountainheads of the Islamic teachings, the Qur’an and Sunnah.. As such PM thought is characterized by a “search for moral and humane aspects of Islamic intellectual heritage and is a force against moral lethargy that has crept into it.” Indeed one of its central guiding principles argues El Fadl, another one of the most important proponents of PM thought is “ to reclaim the beautiful in the vast and rich moral tradition of Islam and to discover its moral imperatives.” As part of this approach PM call for a “careful analysis of some of the more complex and foundational presumptions in Muslim legal and ethical philosophy” and the necessary epistemological and paradigm shift in, what Moosa terms, the post-Empire Islam context. In this respect PM thought strongly opposes , accounts for and challenges the “great impoverishment of thought and spirit brought forward by all Muslim literalist-exclusivist groups such as (but not only) Wahhabism.”
Lastly, PM thought places a strong emphasis on irreducible religious and ethnic pluralism where plurality of interpretations of religious texts and religious experiences is considered a norm and the Will of the Creator of all humanity. Each religion is therefore considered to be sui generis and a self-sufficient complete whole operating within its own broader weltanschauung.

O.Safi, Progressive Muslims, op.cit.
Safi, Progressive Muslims, p.18.
See F. Esack, ‘Contemporary Democracy and Human Rights Project for Muslim Societies’, in ed. Abdul Aziz Said, M. Abu Nimer and M. Sharify-Fumk, Contemporary Islam-Dynamic not Static, Routledge, London and New York, 2006, pp. 117-129.
Esack, ‘Contemporary Democracy’, op.cit, pp. 125-126
Ibid, p. 127
O.Safi, Progressive Muslims, op.cit., p. 3.
Esack, ‘Contemporary Democracy’, op.cit, pp. 120-121.
S.Mahmood, ‘Secularism, Hermeneutics, Empire: The Politics of Islamic Reformation’, Public Culture,Vol.18, No.2, pp.323-347.
F.Esack, ‘Contemporary Democracy’,op.cit., pp.125-126.
O.Safi, Progressive Muslims, op.cit., p.2.
O.Safi,’Challenges and Opportunities for the Progressive Muslim in North America’,op.cit.
O.Safi, ‘What is Progressive Islam?, International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World, December 2003, pp. 48-49, p.49.
Safi, Progressive Muslims,op.cit.p.7
Safi,’Challenges and Opportunities for the Progressive Muslim in North America’.
See A.Duderija, The Interpretational Implications of Progressive Muslims’ Qur’an and Sunnah Manhaj in relation to Construction of a Normative Muslimah Representation, Journal of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, 19,4,2008,409-427.
El-Fadl,’The Ugly’, pp.33-78.
Moosa, ‘The Poetics’, p.3.
Safi, Progressive Muslims,p.8.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Debates Among Muslims About the Nature of Prophetic Authority –Implications for the Role Of Islam in the World Today

    Friday, December 18, 2009   No comments
By : Adis Duderija

The contemporary inter-muslim disputes on the nature, character and scope of Prophetic authority centre around the central notion in Islamic thought that of nature of Sunnah and by extension the nature of the Revelation revealed to Prophet Muhammad, namely the Qur'an. These questions in turn are so fundamental that an enormous body of literature has been/ and is still being written in the fields of "Islamic" law, theology, mysticism, politics, philosophy and ethics. It is outside the scope of this written discourse to offer even a brief account of any of these. As such the essay will be selective in nature and try to address issues that are more "pragmatically oriented" or in other words which are more directly relevant to the global political dynamics and the role Muslim societies play in them.

Concept of Sunnah ,or what has been commonly coined as Prophet's example , existed in pre-Qur'anic Arabia . Over time the concept itself underwent several semantical changes during the development of Muslim creed, as Ansari pointed out lucidly. Sunnah's initial vagueness and generality in terms of its semantics was increasingly linked to its usage in Islamic Jurisprudence. However it always contained and carried , according to Ansari, a meaning of normativeness in itself. This inherent normativeness of Sunnah as applied to the Prophet confirmed by the Qur'an was to give rise to, inter alia, a multitude of views as to what the actual function of Prophetic figure was along with debates on the sphere of influence prophet was to exert on the believer . Was Prophet a lawgiver,a politician and a statesman or a mere spiritual reformer and an ethico-moral guide ( by the way the same questions can be asked with regards to the nature and aims of Qur'anic revelation) ? In other words to what extent did the concrete socio-historical situation on ground faced by the Prophet dictate /influence his universalist message and vice-versa? The mainstream view of the Muslim creed downplayed the importance of socially contingent elements of Prophetic activity/authority in the development of subsequent "catholic" version of the dogma and elaborated an extensive , largely literalist doctrine of Prophetic authority not restricted to ethico-moral guidance only. The epistemological sources and methodological tools applied to the process of derivation of normative values based on this concept of Sunnah (and thus to the nature of Prophetic authority) saw the Prophetic authority as being all comprehensive, thus not just exerting influence over the fields of ethics and morality ( which one might add has been largely neglected in terms of its systematic elaboration and definition as Prof. F. Rahman argued) but also in the socio-political sense , especially in the area of law.
What are the implications of such a view on nature and scope of Prophetic authority for the role of Islam in the arena of contemporary international politics? Questions such as whether Islam is compatible with democracy, human rights and gender equality ,(post)- modernity and values underlying its worldview ;its views on the nature of the relationship between predominantly Muslim societies and western liberal societies; issues pertaining to non-Muslim minorities in Muslim societies and Muslim minorities in Non-Muslim societies ; institutions of secular nation/state-hood , validity and viability of global governance and other international bodies are some of the most important questions in the international political realm concerning Islam and Muslims today.
Let us briefly explore some of them.


The mainstream Muslim political governance model throughout its history, as embodied by the early Muslim community just after the Prophet's death, was based on the notion of caliphate ( a qur'anic term pertaining to the role of human beings on earth as viceroys /representatives of God ) which from the very beginning translated itself into a hereditary and dynastical rule of the caliph belonging to a particular tribe or family related to the Prophet in one way or another . There was , in theory, no separation between the religious and the non-religious spheres of governance. The caliph was not only a ruler but also "a shadow of God"( as the tradition puts it) on earth, custodian of revealed knowledge and ensurer of its implementation . In reality, however,the caliph largely assumed a political and military position while the 'ulama, being under the discretion and the mercy of the caliph, were entrusted the extrapolation and application of what was seen to be as The Divine Law( Shari'ah). The masses, did not take any significant part in the matters of governance and running of the Empire and were not consulted on political or societal issues. The literalist exclusivist interpretation of Prophetic authority as taking place in a spatio-temporal vacuum and it being completely divorced from the reality/historical context in which it unfolded,( during the time of the prophet and the first four "rightly guided" caliphs) , sees the re-establishment of pan-Islamic caliphate as the only form of "Islamic " government that is in accordance with the concept of Sunnah.

The evidence of caliphate as a the only legitimate form of Muslim government , cannot not be found neither in the Qur'an nor in Sunnah as the Prophet himself , according to the majority view( excluding the Shi'a) did not leave any explicit instructions on what form of government/governance the post-Prophetic Muslim community is to adopt. If anything, the Qur'anic principles of shura ( consultation) and its partial adaptation in early Muslim community ( restricted to a particular tribe or family) in the election of caliphs along with the socio-historical context of its development (e.g. low literacy rates, socially and culturally accepted gender norms) can be seen as valid historical antecedents for the viability of parliamentary democracy , under the aegis of Shari'ah- in a sense of a Divine Law inherently subject to human interpretation-, as a legitimate model of governance in Muslim societies. This view of Islam being essentially compatible with democratic institutions and democratic form of government is of course of immense importance in today's society if we consider the current debates in Muslim countries , especially in Iraq and Afghanistan where efforts to democratise societies , internally and externally, are currently taking place. The democratising tendencies and the idea of democratisation of a society are slowly gaining ground in other Muslim countries such as S. Arabia but due to the socio-political realities of the world today are they are often forced to take a back-seat given the immediate appeal and simplicity of Salafo-jihadi politics. Additionally, another main obstacle democracy is facing in Muslim societies is that the democracy is largely seen as foreign , western concept that is being imposed on and is at odds with traditional Islamic values. This view is further consolidated by at times direct and explicit involvement of Western countries, such as the USA and Britain, in stipulating and guiding Muslim societies towards democratic -like models of government (such as Iraq and Afghanistan) without taking the will and readiness of the native population into consideration.


During the time of the Prophet apart from the Arab pagans Muslims in Medina were in contact with its large Jewish and smaller Christian communities. Prophet's attitude towards mom Muslims was largely context dependent . The Qur'an itself bears witness to this in many places. The signing of the peace treaty between various faith communities in Medina soon after the Prophet's arrival indicated his willingness and readiness for peaceful co-existence. A number of incidents that happened during Prophet's time in Medina , such as his order to execute the male members of a particular Jewish tribe in Medina after their repeated breaking of an agreement, along with Qur'anic injunctions which often , if taken literal and decontextually, could be seen as ambivalent , even contradictory towards ahl-Kitab ( recipients of previous revelations) resulted in a certain uncertainty and lack of definition as to how the subsequent generations are to approach people belonging to non-Muslim faiths.
It is only after the Prophet's demise the expanding Muslim Empire was confronted and exposed to the realities beyond the Arab peninsula. The concept of Ahl-Kitab was largely applied to majority of people who, over time, were brought under the rule of the caliph. They did not have same rights and responsibilities as Muslim citizens ( this distinction was also applied to Muslim men and women not just as citizens but also as spouses ) and they enjoyed (limited) religious freedom and protection by the Muslim government as al-dhimmi .
The traditional doctrine developed, among others, specific terminology such as dar-ul-harb ( realm of war) and dar-ul-islam (realm of Islam) designated to particular geographical areas in its relation to the Muslim empire and Muslim populace . These , binary concepts of the world developed a millennium ago, are being coined by certain contemporary Muslim movements in Muslim societies as well as those living in western-democracies as being eternally valid and part of the Prophet's Sunnah. Thus the west is the dar-ul- harb and inherently antagonistic to Islam as embodied by the Prophet. Muslims duty, according to this dialectic, is either to "convert" the dar-ul harb into dar-ul-islam through missionary ( da'wa) activity or to isolate and distance itself form it (with the exception of in some cases of the sphere of economics) or even engage in military conflict until it itself becomes dar-ul Islam( a rather rare opinion ).

Theories, concepts , policies and views elaborated and accumulated during medieval times pertaining to the Muslim non -Muslim dynamics are largely socio-historically contingent and cannot be applied in the current context and the state of affairs in which the humanity is in. The medieval worldview cannot longer be considered as being faithful to the Prophetic model and action. Prof. Ramadan brings in another concept, namely that of dar-ul-shahada (abode of testimony) to say that Muslims in vast majority of cases , especially but not exclusively in the context of Muslim minorities living in liberal democracies, enjoy constitutional rights as citizens allowing them to remain faithful to their faith and be witness bearers of God .This, in turn ,enables them not only to remain faithful to their religious principles but also to meaningfully engage in the betterment of their societies in accordance with Islamic values that are universalist and socially non-contingent such as social justice, freedom of belief and thought etc.
Thus depending upon the approach and interpretational models of Qur'an and Sunnah the Muslim -Non-Muslim dynamics can take two diametrically opposed pathways, a pathway of peaceful co-existence based on commonly shared values or that of animosity and oppositional dialectics that can seriously affect the future course of international affairs/politics .

The concept of Prophetic authority , its underlying epistemological parameters and methodological tools have occupied a central place among the debates between Muslims ever since the conception of Muslim Ummah. Often the conclusions have been quite diametrically opposed with enormous consequences for not only individuals but also societies at large may they be Muslim or non-Muslim. Author has just scratched the surface by choosing the examples of democracy and Muslim-non-Muslim dynamics as just two of many issues that are of great importance for understanding the role of Islam and Muslims in contemporary international politics ands the future nature of that dynamics.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Only “Them” Can Commit Acts of Violence?

    Tuesday, December 01, 2009   No comments


Linking Islam to violence is not new trend any longer. However, after the tragic Fort Hood shooting, many people are making the connection unabashedly. I am not about to write a rebuttal. I would state, instead, that Islam—as practiced by many self-proclaimed Muslims—does have a violent side. In fact, it has some indoctrinated notion of violence manifested in the institutions governing war and peace and social order. As a religion that developed in the arms of political entity (Madinah), Islam could not have escaped the use of violence because that is what state/government does: monopolize the institutions and the uses of violence. What is also true is this: the use of violence in Islam is governed by the rules put forth by the founder of Islam, Muhammad.

But I am also absolutely sure that other religions have some indoctrinated notion of violence, too. But, the rules in the use of violence were not even put in place by the founders (or first leaders) of these religions. This is particularly true for Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism. These facts, coupled with other historical facts, ought to make the case for the propensity of all humans to engage in violent acts, not just “them, Muslims.”
Here is an observation: People who single out one religion as violence-prone are narcissistically masking their own faith’s propensity to embrace violence. Moreover, the accusatory tone is generally indicative of a fractured self torn between the manufactured image of a faith’s pacifism and the naked reality of blatant reversion to violent means. Overcompensation for failure to follow-through with one’s faith-based teachings and the demands of reality may lead  one to embark on a mission to demonize others in hopes of winning arguments by default rather than by merit.

Supportive evidence for this observation can be found in numerous specious arguments presented by many politicians, pundits, and commentators. The common link between these otherwise persons of different backgrounds is the shared commitment to supremacist ideology although most of them avoid making it the issue of discussion at any cost. It suffices to examine three figures: a Hindu commentator, a Jewish politician, and a Zionist ideologue. The first argues that Islam is inherently violent, the second claims that extremism is inherently Islamic, and the third contends that Islam is pure evil—no matter what shade of Islam; all of Islam is dangerous.

 Recently, the commentator, Tunku Varadarajan, recycled the phrase “Going Postal” to suggest that, because of the violent nature of Islam, one must be wary of someone next to them “Going Muslim.” By reading his other commentaries, one would easily discover that Varadarajan sees the world as a static mosaic of good people—Hindus—and bad people—Muslims. In his mind, Muslims are violent the same way Hindus are tolerant. Let us consider what he thinks of his own faith to see the failure of his logic.
In an article entitled A Democratic Inclination, Varadarajan declared that “there is a strong correlation between electoral democracy and Hinduism.” To be sure, he added, “Hinduism, more than any other religion—with the possible exception of mainstream Protestant Christianity—has an intensely tolerant core, one that encourages religious and intellectual plurality in society… Indian society is predominantly Hindu, and mainstream Hinduism tends to be big-hearted, broad-minded, easygoing, indulgent... in my estimation, preponderantly Hindu societies will always be predisposed toward democracy.”

Of course, he is talking about the same Hinduism that enshrined the lovely cast system whose dehumanizing effects were only mitigated through secular institution; the same Hinduism whose adherents destroy mosques in India; the same Hinduism that produced Hindus who gleefully cut and murdered pregnant Muslim women alive in Gujarat; the same Hinduism that he himself described in a piece written for The New York Times, on January 11, 1999 by saying, "What we are witnessing in India is the growth of a sort of Hindu Taliban movement.” Of course, he needed to use “Taliban” just like he used “postal” to indicate the foreignness of violence in “true” Hinduism.
The politician is Sen. Joe Lieberman who took advantage of the Fort Hood tragedy to push his political agenda of making connection between Islam and murder. Speaking to Fox News Sunday, Lieberman  declared, "If Hasan was showing signs, saying to people that he had become an Islamist extremist, the U.S. Army has to have zero tolerance, he should have been gone.”

Every word spoken by Sen. Lieberman is problematic and it is, I believe, deliberately worded to suggest to his listeners that Islam is a disease, an illness that has “signs” (symptoms). Then by suggesting that the army should have fired “Hasan,” he leaves no doubt that being Islamic extremist is bona fide criminal. I am not sure which part of the phrase denotes a crime, being Muslim, being extremist, or being extremist Muslim?

Given Sen. Lieberman’s political savvy, it would not surprise anyone if he responds that he is not anti-Muslim; which leaves us with him being against extremism. If this were to be the case, then why would Sen. Lieberman attach the adjective “Islamic “to “extremism”? In other words, is Sen. Lieberman ambivalent to extremism linked to Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, nationalism, and all other forms of isms that have been historically linked to acts of violence?
Since Sen. Lieberman is a self-described Jew, let me remind him that it was a self-declared Jew who assassinated Yitzhak Rabin (Prime Minister of Israel); it was in the fold of Judaism that the Stern Gangs, Meir Kahanes, and Baruch Goldsteins were born and raised… Judaism, Senator, has its extremists, too.

Here are the facts: in a democracy, neither being a Muslim nor being an extremist is a crime. There are extremists in every society and no civilized community ought to criminalize extremism. Doing so will take humanity back to the dark ages of absolutism. To put things in context, many Americans think that Rev. Wright, Minister Louis Farrakhan, David Duke are extremists. Many Americans, especially Democrats, think that Senator Lieberman is an extremist and that is why they fired him during the primaries last time he ran. Another Lieberman, Avigdor Lieberman, is by most accounts an extremist Jew who is now the Foreign Minister of Israel. Every Jewish prophet was dubbed extremist when he first arrived. The right to hold extreme views (as long as they do not break the law) is what separates a nation of laws from a nation of tyrants.

Christianity, too, has had its share of violence and extremism. Christianity nurtured the crusades and Spanish conquistadors who burned native Americans alive in bundles of 13 in honor of the Twelve Apostles and Jesus Christ. Not just in the past, but also in the present, Christianity continues to justify—in the mind of many—the murder of those who violate some Christian dogma: in the last two decades alone, 24 murders or attempted murders, 179 bombing and arson or attempted bombing or arson, 2795 of other acts of violence (invasion, assault & battery, death threats, etc…) were undertaken by self-proclaimed Christian activists against doctors who worked in clinics that provided abortion.
The most outrageous thesis is authored by Daniel Pipes who is in favor of interning all American Muslims during times of war because, in his mind, they cannot be trusted. In a piece written for The Jerusalem Post (Nov. 14, 2009), not only did Pipes compare Recep Tayyip Erdogan (the Prime Minister of Turkey) and Keith Ellison (US Congressman) to Osama bin Laden, but he actually declared them to “pose a greater threat to Western civilization.” Pipes dislike of Muslims extends to elected leaders, suggesting that Muslims should be shut down even if they come to govern through democratic means.

Unlike these representative demagogues, I am not suggesting that only religious people commit acts of violence; violent individuals are as diverse as American society. After all, it is American society that produced Seung-Hui Cho who killed 32 students at Virginia Tech, John Wayne Gacy, Jr., who raped and murdered 33 young men and boys in Chicago, Illinois, in the 1970s; Robert Lee Yates and Gary Ridgway of Washington who murdered 61 women, and more than 125 serial killers who killed hundreds of innocent men, women, and children.

The idea of linking all of Islam to extremism is absurd given that there are 1.57 billion Muslims who did not “go Muslim” or “go extremist.”  In the U.S. military alone, there are more than 5000 American-Muslim service men and women who served, continued to serve, and gave their lives in the most heroic fashion to save the lives of their fellow soldiers.

The Liebermans, the Pipes, and the Varadarajans will always continue to look for imperfections in an imperfect world, for faults in faulty religious views, for reasons to hate others. Yes, there is a propensity to violence in any religious and secular ideology. They are human discourses and as such, they are shaped by all that is human. If one feels the urge to condemn violence, one should have the courage to condemn it for what it is not for where it came from. In the end, we may all be complicit in fomenting hate and violence by preaching our own supremacy and by looking for foreignness to explain away instances that make one’s faith look like any other: to some extent, violent. There is nothing foreign about violence in human societies. There will always be criminals, psychotics, lunatics, murders, and rapists amongst us, especially among those who insist that none are amongst them.

 *Dr. Ahmed E. Souaiaia teaches course in International Studies, Islamic studies, and law at the University of Iowa; he is the author of the book, Contesting Justice.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

"Speaking in God's Name"- Book Review

    Thursday, November 26, 2009   No comments
Khaled Abou El Fadl : "Speaking in God's Name". Oneworld. Oxford. 2001
By Adis Duderija

In his perpetual, compassionate search for and revival of the lost legacy of beauty (husn), the humane, the just and the moral in Islam (Islamic jurisprudence in particular) Abou El Fadl, an Egyptian born expert in Islamic jurisprudence residing and working in US (UCLA), writes this timely and much needed book. The book is calling for the return to the archetype ethico-moral premises governing early traditional Islamic juristic practice and resistance to and deconstruction of the dominant contemporary Wahhabi authoritarian approach towards interpreting God's signs/indicators ('adilla) .This search for the Beautiful and Ethical in Islam faithfully reflects El Fald's overall personal philosophy and approach to Islamic heritage as evident in his other works which ,among numerous others, include "Islamic Law of Rebellion " (1999) , "The Conference of the Books" ( 2001) , " Place of Tolerance in Islam" (2001) and his latest book "The great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists'( 2005).

"The Authoritative and Authoritarian in Islamic Discourses : A Case Study", a book that was translated into Arabic but was subsequently banned in some "influential Muslim countries" and never published in the Arab world due to its wide-spread "demonisation" , was conceptually and content-wise the precursor of the book under review ( one fears that this effort might suffer similar response ).

As self -identified "intellectual refugee" working from within the Islamic tradition , often given epithets by the mainstream Sunni community in US of a CIA protégé , instrument of the Judeo-Christian propaganda "the big devil" and alike , a fate shared by other contemporary academics and intellectuals such as Farid Esack and Mohamed Arkoun, Abou El Fadl 's " Speaking in God's Name " aims to bring back the rich , complex and inherently moral dimensions of Islamic intellectual heritage into the foreground of contemporary Islamic discourses, especially to that of Islamic jurisprudence .

El Fadl is a strong critic of contemporary authoritarian , superficial, arrogant and intellectually dishonest juristic practices which "have corrupted the integrity of Islamic legal heritage " and which "threaten to disintegrate and abandon the traditional premises on which Islamic law was constructed".

Having defined the nature of and critically analysed primary textual sources of Islamic jurisprudence ( i.e. Qur'an and Sunnah) , El Fadl concludes that for numerous reasons ( which will be discussed subsequently) , a current authoritarian reading ( vs. authoritative-deeemed necessary for pragmatic reasons) of the sources is not warranted. To substantiate this claim El Fadl cites Qur'anic verses upholding the principle of God's Souverenity and Omnipotence and the ontological relationship between The Creator and the created, namely that of the Lord and His vicegerent. He claims that due to this very hierarchy in the natural order , the human representatives of God on Earth can never self-identify themselves with God's intent or profess to have grasped His Knowledge beyond any shadow of doubt or ambiguity, a practice that has, in his opinion, become quite wide-spread among present-day authorities on religious issues.

Their "authoritarian hermeneutics", oblivious to the intricate and subtle relationships existing between the author, text and the reader regulating "the determinacy of meaning" of God's indicators equates Author's intent with that of the reader , violating the principles inherent to the Qur'anic Weltanschauung and its ethico -moral foundation. . So instead of speaking FOR God they speak IN God's Name.

El Fadl, on the other hand, proposes a more balanced approach when engaging in the task of interpreting texts such as the Qur'an in which neither the Author's intent, nor the language nor the reader have the upper hand in determining its meaning. It is the balance between these three, which upholds the "inherent ambiguity", embedded in the textual sources, thus acting as an anti-authoritarian interpretative measure. Thus, El Fadl is an advocate of what Umero Eco terms as "an open " (versus closed) interpretation which is capable of sustaining "multiple interpretative strategies

Another element in his conceptual framework aiming to analyse " the theory of authority within Islamic tradition and its misinterpretation/misuse in contemporary setting" pertains to the notion of what El Fadl terms as "multiple authorship" and "authorial enterprise " inherent in the second most important source of Islamic jurisprudence, that of Ahadith literature (the word Hadith is used and not the word Sunnah as it is my belief that these two concepts are qualitatively and quantitatively different). The unsuitability of an authoritarian approach to Ahadith interpretation des not only rest on the premises established by the traditional ulum-ul-hadith (sciences pertaining to hadith interpretation such as isnad/ chain of transmitters criticism) but also on the notion that sayings attributed to the Prophet are result of "what a number of Companions have seen/heard, recollected, selected, transmitted and authenticated in a non-objective medium (multiple authorship) ". Thus, in each report a "personality of the transmitter is indelibly imprinted upon the report (authorial enterprise) ". To disregard the importance of socio-historical circumstances in which the genesis of many Prophetic reports took place, without scrutinizing the validity and reliability of processes pertaining to mechanisms inherent in evolution, shaping and forming of ahadith literature and in addition to lack of moral insight to guide this process when interpreting the same, the practice El Fadl accuses many contemporary ulama of , leads , in El Fadl's opinion, to a distorted picture of Prophetic message/intention.

Another way in which present-day authorities on Islam assert their authoritarianism is, argues El Fadl, by adopting methodologies and principles which are selective, are guilty of suppression or non-disclosure of evidence as well as basic underlying assumptions guiding their legal determinations, practices which clearly contradict practices of early Muslim jurists.

By ignoring and turning their backs to above mentioned anti -authoritarian measures which are, in El Fadl's view, at the heart of Islamic heritage and by adopting an unjustified "paralysing dogmatism" reflected in a literal, ahistorical and unethical interpretation and reading of ahadith literature , the present -day ulama, asserts El Fadl, are not only eroding the rich and complex intellectual legacy of Islamic jurisprudence but severely curtailing freedoms and rights of Muslim citizens in certain "Muslim "countries , who in vast majority of cases happen to be women.

Perhaps the most alarming characteristic of contemporary practices of some of the self-proclaimed custodians of Islamic knowledge, the traditional 'ulama, according to El Fadl, is the lack of their consideration to the moral and the ethical in Islam. El Fadl argues further that this "ugliness " and distorted picture of the Qur'anic God is particularly evident in fatawas (legal opinions) concerning women whose mere presence in public spaces /forums is to be considered a moral threat to their male counterparts. Here, El Fadl follows closely the views of and arguments put forward by Muslim female intellectuals/ scholars such as Prof. Mernissi (see her works " The Veil and the Male Elite " or " The Male-Female Dynamics in Traditional Muslim Societies") and Prof. Leila Ahmed (see her work "Women and Gender in Islam").

El Fadl's coherent and analytical conceptual framework does tremendously well to expose the "unislamicity" (in a normative sense of the word) of the authoritarian, unethical approach to interpretation of Islamic heritage but it does lack, as he himself concedes, a systematic ethico -moral theory which would give more credence to his philosophy of reviving the concepts of Beauty and Moral in Islam. One fears that his call for the use of reason and atextually or textually-based moral principles guiding interpretation of primary sources of Islamic jurisprudence, tools that have not always found acceptance among authorities on Islam in the past especially among conservative circles which dominate current Islamic discourses, will fall on deaf ears where they are needed most and be limited to more educated, academic spheres where they are needed less.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Axis of… Power: Emerging Alliances in the Islamic World

    Friday, October 23, 2009   1 comment
By Ahmed E. Souaiaia*
October 19, 2009

War is very destructive. However, despite the human and economic costs, war also creates new opportunities and ends oppressive political and administrative stagnation. The human cost of the
Iraq war could be mitigated by the economic and political return of the reshuffling of the cards in the Middle East. There are ample indications that a new alliance is emerging that will change the balance of power in the Islamic world (and the world over) for a very long time.
When the Bush Administration officials failed to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which was originally the stated pretext for war, they argued that the war practically removed a tyrant and that should legitimatize the war. Many members of the Administration further contended that a new era of democracy is ushered in. They promised an era of freedom and peace that will marginalize the extremists and empower the moderates of the region. Six years later, Iraq is still a war zone, Iran (an element of the axis of evil (or the exemplar of extremism)) is still getting stronger, Saudi Arabia and Egypt (the moderates) are still abusing the rights of their citizens, the Israelis and the Palestinians stopped talking peace, and certainly no emerging
democracies in the Middle East are taking their cues from the Iraqi model.
Here is what is happening and what will be happening in the next 25 years and beyond.

Turkey is realigning itself to play a major role in the politics of the Middle East. Turkish leaders
mediated a series of indirect negotiations between the Syrians and the Israelis, they criticized Egypt and Israel for their treatment of Gazans before and after the Gaza War, they mediated and resolved an extradition conflict between Syria and Iraq in September, and they offered to help the West deal with Iran (they even offered to host the first direct talks between Iran and the G-5+1).

Moreover, during the last three weeks alone, Turkey held a high profile meeting with the Syrian leadership and signed a plethora of security, economic, and cultural agreements. Just last week the first fruits of these agreements were cultivated: Passport-holding Turkish citizens no longer need an entry visa to visit Syria and vice versa, Syrian citizens who carry valid passports of any kind can travel to Turkey without an entry visa. Days later, the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, visited Baghdad and signed no less than 50 agreements with the Iraqi government. The most significant development is yet to take place (as this piece is being written). Upon his return from New York where he spoke on behalf of the Islamic world in the UN general Assembly, the Turkish leader announced that he "will make a trip to Iran towards the end of October... We will discuss regional problems, including this (nuclear) one," Turkey's Anatolia news agency quoted him as saying.

It seems that neither the extremists nor the moderates (as defined by the Bush Administration) have fulfilled the expectations of the West. Instead, pragmatism is about to transform the region and create a new axis of power right in the heart of the Islamic world. This new axis will consist of Turkey, Iran, Syria, and Iraq (and possibly Lebanon). This alliance makes sense: Iran needs Turkey to ease Western pressure and to provide it with a path to European markets where it will sell its natural gas and petroleum. Syria and Iraq need Turkey to secure the flow of water. Turkey needs Syria, Iraq, and Iran to secure its borders and defeat the Kurdish separatists. Moreover, Turkey needs Iran and Iraq to power its emerging economy with reliable and inexpensive energy.

For Turkey, this new alliance is either a Plan B that is a good substitute should its bid to join the European Union fails or a trump card that Turkey will use to goad the Europeans vis-à-vis its membership in the EU.

Even if Turkey were to join the EU, this alliance could only offer it more leverage over other members of the EU. First, Turkey will be a reliable gateway between Europe and Asia. Second, Turkey will be the “middleman” (or shall we say middle state) between the EU and the Islamic world. Third, Turkey will be a reliable conduit of Middle Eastern energy to starving European markets.

The natural gas shortage that threatened some EU states when Russia shut off gas supplies in 2008, has convinced the EU to consider alternatives to Russia’s energy. Iran, who has the second largest natural gas reserve in the world, is a very reasonable option that will supply Europe and enrich Turkey in the process.
In addition to the economic benefits, this emerging axis makes sense socially and culturally.
Although the form of Islam practiced in Turkey is Sunni Islam, Turkey is not appreciative of the conservative Islam that Saudi Arabia and its allies espouse. Iran, being a Shi`ite country, will be willing to ease sectarian tension by embracing the Sunni Islam that is practiced in Turkey rather than that of Saudi Arabia.
In terms of demographics, should this new alliance materialize, the center of gravity of the Islamic world will shift to this axis. After all, when considering that the population of Iran, Turkey, Iraq, and Syria combined will approach or exceed 200 million people, the economic benefits—given the concentration of natural resources—are positively significant.
The Iraq-Iran relations are not good; they are spectacular when considering that these two neighbors had fought a war that lasted eight years and that killed nearly two million people on both sides. If the U.S. did not invade and remove Saddam from power and replace him with a Shi`ite-run government, it would have taken the two countries generations before normalizing relations. This war, however, instantaneously made strong allies out of bitter foes.

The blueprint for this axis of power is further enhanced by existing warm relationships. Ties between Iran and Turkey are very strong. For instance, the most recent figures show that the total volume of mutual commercial relations surpasses 10 billion dollars, of which Iran's share of exports is six billion dollars. Additionally, Iran is the second largest exporter of oil and gas to Turkey. Turkey enjoys utmost importance as a transit route for Iran and Europe. Iran and Turkey can act as complimentary economies. Turkey can import raw material from Iran and export industrial goods to the country. Iran and Turkey are important members of two regional cooperation organizations, the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) and the Developing Eight (D-8), comprising the eight most populous Muslim countries of the world. If Turkey joins the European Union, it can work as a bridge between the Union, the ECO and D-8, a step that will further enhance Turkey's status among its neighboring countries, including Iran.

There is no need to highlight the reliable and strong relationship between Iran and Syria given that Syria was the single Arab state most supportive of Iran during its war with Iraq. The Syrian-Iranian bilateral relations are in fact the strongest when compared to the ties between any combinations of the other three states.
Should these predictions materialize, how should the world consider and characterize this new axis?
Despite the drum-beating for war against Iran under the pretext of world peace and security, the records of these countries do not raise serious alarm, especially the current Turkish regime. Together, they are the most stable countries in the region. They are, to some degree, nationalists and are eager to preserve their borders as they are (no expansion). The ruling regimes are fairly vested in the welfare of their people and each of these countries realize that it will be in its best interest to preserve these ties. Moreover, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are more popular in the eyes of the Arab and Muslim public than any other Arab or Muslim leader.

Turkey’s vibrant democracy and temperate social conservatism will interact with Iran’s ordered social conservatism and muffled democracy to produce a new model for Islamic governance. Together, they will influence the Syrians and Iraqis to produce a pluralistic, stable, and powerful block that can be emulated by their neighbors. The axis has huge potential and can be harnessed to produce stability and peace in a very volatile region.

The elements needed for stability and growth are nearly immeasurable (compared to their Arab neighbors): the members states together constitute a highly educated population that is 2/3 the size of the U.S. population with direct access to 2/3 of the world’s most sought after natural resources, like oil (oil reserve estimates for 2009 is 745.998 bb in the Middle East vs. 275.657 bb in the rest of the world).

Given the ethnic, religious and linguistic diversity within and without each of these countries (Arab, Kurd, Turk, Turkic, Persian; Sunni, Shi`ite, Zoroastrian, Christian…), only a pluralistic democracy that emphasizes and promotes responsible citizenry instead of zealous nationalism and civility instead of exclusion can emerge should this alliance actually materialize.

This axis is, indeed, an axis of power. But it is a constructive and stabilizing power given the level of self-reliance and pride these peoples take in developing their respective countries. In short, this axis is the needed one to stabilize the region and stimulate positive political change in the region without Western direct interference; a region that has seen enough war, enough bloodshed, and enough abuse of human rights. President Obama should find in these Turkish leaders reliable allies to advance his agenda of peace and mutual respect with the Islamic world.

*Dr. Ahmed E. Souaiaia teaches course in International Studies, Islamic studies, and law at the University of Iowa; he is the author of the book, Contesting Justice.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Assimilation; Seriously?

    Friday, October 02, 2009   No comments
by Ahmed E. Souaiaia

President Nicolas Sarkozy of France has become the most vocal supporter of the ban on religious symbols worn by people in public (government) institutions; specifically, the ban on the headscarf worn by Muslim women. His foundation for this argument is this: France is for French and anyone wishing to live in France must be fully integrated and assimilated. At one point, he used the following analogy: If I am in a Muslim country visiting a mosque, I would remove my shoes. I respect others’ cultures and I would want others to respect France’s.

The shoes’ analogy, besides the fact that it is a false analogy, speaks also to the double standard and hypocrisy of Western elite who privilege their own way of life as the “standard” that must be emulated by everyone else.

It is utterly disingenuous for Mr. Sarkozy to make use of the cliché, when in Rome act like the Romans. For, if that were his position, then he would not have an issue with women being forced to wear some form of Islamic dress while in Saudi Arabia or in Iran. Western nationalists such as President Sarkozy are not supportive of a culture that forces women to dress according to an Islamic code because it violates women rights. If the aim is to protect women and individual rights, then the universal argument is that no culture is above the standards that protect human rights and personal autonomy.

The real issue is that universal standards for the protection of human dignity and individual rights are a double-edged sword: legal and social restrictions on women (and men in many cases) necessarily and universally infringe on individual rights. The fact is, the ban on Islamic dress, like the prescription of an Islamic dress, equally infringes on personal autonomy and personal choice.

Choice, as the expression of free will and the prerequisite of responsibility, must be available and protected in all societies that recognize personal autonomy. It is counterproductive to legalize limits on women’s right to dress in France and other European countries while condemning prescription of Islamic dress in some Muslim countries. To argue that a woman in Europe should not wear an Islamic dress, is not different from arguing that a woman must wear Western clothes. After all, the same argument has been made by some repressive regimes in some Muslim countries: women in Muslim societies must wear Islamic attire.

Here is the important point: Mr. Sarkozy, in the name of integration thinks that Muslim women should dress the way the French women dress. Would he accept the argument by his counterparts in Saudi Arabia who also say that in the name of integration, all women must dress like Saudi women? Or is assimilation a good thing only when it leads to Western lifestyles being preserved and privileged? For these reason, President Sarkozy earned to be highlighted in What the &%@#!?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Right to Say ‘No’ to Vaccine

    Tuesday, September 29, 2009   No comments
Neerja Singh

I am feeling confused and stupid, not normal states of mind for me. The world is making elaborate preparations to protect itself against a disease that has killed 3,500 people and nobody is batting an eyelid? In a world where many more routinely die from a lack of clean drinking water, we are prepared to roll out a global vaccination drive for a disease that mostly presents with mild symptoms and nobody thinks it’s odd?

I wonder why nobody is questioning the numbers being bandied about and why we are all accepting the lies that are being dished out in the name of saving humanity from H1N1. Happily, seeing as I am not employed by a newspaper and free to share my views, I would like to shine some light on things that have been bothering me.

On April 4, the World Health Organisation started reporting on a new form of influenza that had probably come from pigs and infected several hundred people. Subsequently, daily updates tracked how quickly the H1N1 infection was travelling through the world and killing hundreds. The term ‘swine flu’ was retracted after a while because the virus was found to be an odd ‘cocktail’ of viruses, containing six genes from the swine flu virus H1N1, but also some from various strains of influenza virus seen in birds and humans.

Researchers now claim the strange mix of virus strains could only have occurred in a research laboratory, and there is even a public litigation suit filed by a Jane Burgermeister who has proof that 72 kilos of this ‘virus’ was actually shipped to various ports by Baxter to start this entire hullabaloo. Getting back to the story, the hysteria whipped up by alarming new numbers on a daily basis has scared several governments into ordering millions of H1N1 vaccines and the FDA into bypassing crucial testing checkpoints to approve new vaccinations in a matter of months.

Again, Burgermeister claims to have proof that the vaccine was patented by Baxter in 2007, much before the virus was known. Also, the efficacy of any vaccine against a virus is dubious because the organism keeps mutating. In the UAE, 3.2 million vials have been ordered and mandatory vaccinations are set to be rolled out for schoolchildren when shipments are received some time in October.

Fortunately, His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s Facebook page gives the average Joe a platform to reach out to powers that be, and a discussion board has been created asking him to give us the choice to refuse vaccinations for our children. There are enough links out there to several independent studies and Youtube videos. Anybody who wants to educate himself/herself can see the overwhelming evidence that the H1N1 scare is a ruse, and that the vaccinations may in fact be more dangerous than the virus.

First of all, let’s get some perspective on the actual damage being done by the disease. Since the WHO started reporting on H1N1 deaths on April 4, about 3,500 people had died across the world as on September 18. According to the Canadian Medical Association, seasonal influenza routinely kills an average of 36,000 Americans and 2,500 Canadians each year in North 
America alone.

Australia’s minister of health for Queensland Paul Lucas has also called for a rational media response, saying regular flu kills about 1,000 to 3,000 Australians each year, where 200 have succumbed to H1N1 this year.

Yet the WHO Director General Margaret Chan declared it a pandemic level 5 – level 6 being the highest – claiming that ‘large-scale disease’ was imminent. This was on April 29, when 129 people had died from H1N1. On the same day, Prof Paul Ferguson, leading the WHO task force on H1N1, predicted that ultimately 40 per cent of global population would contract the disease. Really? Three billion people would fall sick with a disease that 129 had succumbed to? On what basis were these dramatic predictions made?

Whatever their motivations for these dire warnings, I believe we owe it to ourselves to educate ourselves and find ways of protecting our loved ones and countrymen. For one, several studies have directly linked vaccinations to the outbreak of diseases like AIDS, autism and all kinds of cancer.

For those who’d like to delve, there are papers to this effect that have been ignored by the medical fraternity for obvious reasons. If that is too heavy a read, Youtube also has several interviews with guilt-ridden vaccine researchers who’ve resigned from their jobs to give media interviews confirming that pharmaceutical companies are aware of vaccinations’ connection with autoimmune diseases, but keep touting these money-spinning ‘essential drugs’ to Third world countries in the name of aid. In some cases — like small pox — doctors admit they recommend vaccinations despite their inherent risks because not taking a vaccine could result in death. However, in the case of H1N1, this is not the case because the largest majority of people who contract it suffer mild symptoms.

There are some truths to the nature of H1N1, sure. It is highly contagious, for one. The Communicable Diseases Centre (CDC) in Atlanta estimates that H1N1 must have touched about two million Americans by now. However, of the several hundred thousand who fell sick, only about 2,000 died of the disease. If only one in every thousand people who get the disease will die from it, why not focus on finding what is protecting the balance 999?

The fact is the human body has been designed to fight infections, it does so on a routine basis. We have all fretted over our children when they were young and got a cold every second week. But we’ve also seen that as they grow older and their immune system matures, they don’t fall sick as often because their bodies have developed antibodies to the germs in their environment along the way.

As long as we eat nourishing fresh foods, get plenty of rest and moderate amounts of exercise, we could — as I have — spend an entire lifetime away from hospitals. And this is what I believe governments must support individuals on. Vaccines, I believe, are invasive procedures; they bypass the body’s natural defence mechanisms and introduce bacteria straight into the blood stream: a bit like breaching a fortress and tunnelling under its wall to bomb the castle directly.

For any government to take away the right for people to participate in a decision affecting their bodies is wrong, and I hope all countries including the UAE will make the humane choice in 
this matter.

Neerja Singh is a Dubai-based writer and can be reached at

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Ramadan in September-Forever !?

    Saturday, September 12, 2009   No comments
By Adis Duderija

First a disclaimer. What follows below is not meant to be an exhaustive or academic treatment of the issue at hand but more or less haphazard reflections and “thinking aloud’ on behalf of the author.

Islam , not unlike other universalist-claiming faiths, face a number of challenges in the contemporary world ranging from bioethics ( eg. Human cloning) to that of politics (relationship between religion, state and society) , socio-economic development and education.
Much has been and will be written about these issues, including by this author.This piece of writing will tackle a question that is not as ‘grande’ as those mentioned above which ,however, has been just as much debated and contested. The question relates to the issue of fasting , in particular, finding a solution to the question of fasting in geographical areas very close to the earth’s two poles. While this at first, might be considered a very marginal issue ,especially compared to those mentioned above, hopefully the merit of discussing this issue and the author’s proposal will be disclosed as the reader reads on. This is so because some of the reasons why this issue is worthy of examination opens the door to other bigger questions pertaining to the Islamic tradition and the shaping of its future contours

Some years ago in the late 1990s I followed some of the discussions of this issue on a number of Muslim forums and websites and to the best of my knowledge two solutions were proposed in relation to the dilemma posed above in relation to fasting:
1. Following the fasting times in Makkah.
2. Having breakfast and dinner as one would normally have if it was not a fasting month.
While I personally do not have problems with any of the two solutions offered above and believe that the question of fasting is a personal matter a following idea ( that some other people might have though of before but I am not aware of ) : Why not fix the fasting month to that of the month of September when the autumn equinox takes place ? Before I address possible objections to this let me elaborate first on , from my point of view , proposal’s benefits.
1.) Unlike the other two solutions this proposal would be closer to the spirit and the letter of the Qur’anic beginning and ending the fasting day cycle because one would be able to commence and end the fast in accordance with the actual sun setting and sun-rising(or dawn braking) times.
2.) The fluctuations in the duration of night and day all around the world is minimised.
3.) The temperatures in both hemispheres are as similar as they can possibly be
4.) More people would be willing top take up the fast
5.) Just like in the lunar calendar the month of fasting would fall be in the same month as it is in the lunar calendar ( the ninth month –Ramadan)

Points two and three are particularly important because as all of us who have fasted understand that fasting can be a very demanding task both spiritually and physically often impacting considerably on one’s ability to fulfil one’s responsibilities and duties on a daily basis . (I remember several years ago fasting in Australia’s summer with temperatures constantly in the high thirties to low forties and the daily fasting period exceeding 16 hours’ –fortunately I was a student at the time so was able to complete the fast without major problems but think about the less fortunate people who are exposed to and at the mercy of the weather elements !) . This has important implications in terms of one’s productivity at work and in the case of Muslim majority nations economic performance. ( Now ,please don’t think that I am writing this as an ‘excuse’ for myself for not to fast or to make it easier for me to fast - As a university researcher I am effected much, much less by the harshness of climate than most other people-although I must admit that my productivity does go down somewhat ). It could also potentially have implications for one’s health and well being. Namely, many devout and conscientious Muslims would often fast in conditions under which their health and well-being is put at risk based on their strong desire to please their Lord.
Now , my proposal would to a large extent mitigate the effects of extra long daylight cycles and the harsh climate which would impact upon both the collective and individual productivity and well-being of the people.
Again I would like to stress that this proposal should not be seen as a means of ‘coping out’ because even fasting in the month of September can certainly be demanding in a number of real-life contexts.
I also am not suggesting that fasting , as we are being constantly reminded in khutbas and bayans, is all about refraining from drinking and eating but ,nevertheless, a major component of it is!
Now to possible objections.

Probably the first one would relate to switching from the lunar to that of the solar calendar. Now if one considers that many pre-Qur’anic Hijazi practices and customs were incorporated into the budding Qur’anic worldview and the prophet’s Sunnah ranging from cultural mores and norms pertaining to gender relations, modesty and virtues to that of law ( e.g. unilateral right of divorce for males only ,talaq) , war ( women and children taken as war bounty, the prohibited months of fighting) and societal practices ( such as slavery and day of communal weekly day congregation jawm al juma’ah falling on day when people were gathering traditionally in the markets or even the Arabic names of the lunar months themselves) that are often ( mistakenly) considered as an integral part of Islam as an ethico-religious and law system , the proposed new change , I hope , would be seen in a different light and thus more acceptable.

Perhaps the coming about of the institution of the lunar based Hijri calendar is also a pertinent consideration . Hijri calendar was introduced and instituted by the second caliph ‘Umar and thus ought not to be seen as an Qur’ano-Sunnahic practice per se. As such adhering to it is not a question of doctrine or faith.

The second objection would probably relate to the issue of loss of identity and imitating the ‘West’ . Now while this certainly has some merit it ought to be evaluated in the broader context . Firstly, regardless whether we like it or not the common era solar Gregorian calendar is, based on the ‘west’s economic ,cultural and political dominance, the internationally accepted civil calendar by which most Muslim conduct their lives in any case. It would have the benefit of non-Muslims (as well as Muslims) knowing exactly when the fasting month starts and ends (like Christmas) in order to foster and facilitate inter-faith sensitivities with the exchange of greeting cards etc . In respect to this I would add that Muslims could also make it a custom to celebrate a life of Jesus Christ ( as some of them already do) in theologically acceptable ways with their Christian friends and neighbors (or the New Year with their humanist secular friends and neighbors-New Year Eve celebrations have lost their religious significance in most places ) in order to foster inter-religious harmony ( here a possible objection would become from a series of isolated ahad and therefore not legally or culturally binding ahadith which stress the importance of distinctiveness of Muslims in relation to customs, festivals and dress that have been abused by many a narrow –minded and semi-informed Muslim and mistakenly interpreted in a decontextualist, ahistorical and universalist manner . As I have shown elsewhere in a more academic treatment of this subject these and similar ahadith have no place in a holistic and systematic methodology of interpretation of Qur’ano-Sunnahic teachings)

Lasly, related to the last point, the proposal would , even in a small but significant way, move us away from the history of mutual antagonistic identity construction that has been prevalent and in some cases still exists between the ‘Muslim’ and “Western civilisations’( which in actual fact are mere constructions of the Self and the other rather then reflecting actual historical circumstances which point strongly in direction of hybridism and inter-connectivity).

That is it. I am rather pessimistic about this proposal of mine ever taking effect but my aim would have been achieved if I have persuaded the reader to at least consider my proposal seriously and the broader questions relating to the Islamic tradition mentioned above.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Capitalism – From the Standpoint of Its Victims

    Friday, August 28, 2009   No comments
by M. Shahid Alam

It has never been easy offering a critique of capitalism or markets to my undergraduate students. Most have never heard an unkind word about these bedrock institutions, which they know to be the foundations of American power and prosperity.

These are hallowed institutions. The power of private capital to produce jobs, wealth and freedom is one of the central dogmas that many Americans absorb with their mother’s milk. To hear this dogma challenged – in any context – is unsettling. I sometimes suspect that this bitter pill is harder to swallow because it emanates from someone who, so transparently, is not a native-born American.

As the weeks pass, however, my students appear to settle down. In the past, they have been reassured to learn that markets have done a good job at delivering prosperity to a few centers of global capitalism. They do work for us, even if they have not worked for most Asians, Africans and Latin Americans.

Nevertheless, the thesis that ‘free’ markets have rarely worked for economies lagging far behind the economic leaders, does not quite take root. The fault could not lie with markets. For too long, the West has believed that Asians, Africans and Latin Americans failed because they were lazy, spendthrift, venal and unimaginative.

My students – like most Americans – have been conditioned to look at capitalism from the standpoint of the winners in global capitalism. Because of the accident of birth, they have been the beneficiaries of the wealth and power that global capitalism concentrates at the nodes of the system. They cannot conceive how a system that has worked so well for them could produce misery for others in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

I have been away from my teaching duties as the United States has led the world into a deepening recession. Within a few months, the titans of Wall Street have been laid low, rescued from extinction by tax-financed bailouts. Teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, the auto giants have been placed on life-support also by taxpayers, their future still uncertain. In this maelstrom, there steps forward Bernard L. Madoff, the Einstein of Ponzi schemes, who operated his colossal con for twenty years without notice from regulators.

Millions of Americans have lost their jobs; millions are threatened with loss of their homes; millions have seen their retirement funds melt before their eyes; millions are threatened with loss of health care. As Americans on Main Street were being devastated, executives of bailed out banks continued to receive millions in bonuses. That straw now threatens to break the back of the fabled American tolerance for the foibles of the capitalist system.

Ordinarily, American democracy directs its venom against writers and activists on the left, foolish enough to want to defend the underprivileged. For a change, Americans are threatening captains of finance, venerable bankers, with dire consequences – even death threats.

I was on sabbatical when Al-Qaida brought down the Twin Towers on September 11. Then, I was relieved to be away from my students, afraid that some of them might want to lump me with those who had perpetrated these attacks.

I am on sabbatical, again, as the towers on Wall Street were being toppled by greed, recklessness and fraud; by a free-market ideology that has no regard for human life; by capitalist elites and their partners in the White House and Congress, who had turned the financial sector into a giant Ponzi scheme.

Americans have been subjected to acts of ‘terrorism’ whose final human toll will make September 11 look like a tea party. The perpetrators of this terror are all homegrown; they were trained not in the mountains of Afghanistan but at Harvard, Yale and Stanford; the bankers, executives and legislators who preyed on Americans are the crème de la crème of American society.

When I return to teach in Fall of this year, I expect to meet students chastened by their experience. Nothing undermines capitalist ideologies faster and more effectively than capitalist crises. No critique of capitalism can be more penetrating than the depredations of unemployment, immiseration, homelessness that it inflicts on its victims. So recently victimized – at the very center of global capitalism – perhaps, Americans might learn to empathize with victims elsewhere – in Africa, Asia and Latin America – who have been ravaged by this system for centuries.

Capitalist ideologues will be working overtime to deflect American anger away from the system to a few villains, to a few rotten apples. Congressional hearings will identify scapegoats; they will hang a few ‘witches.’ A few capitalist barons will be sacrificed. As public anger subsides, attempts will be made to shift the blame to feckless homebuyers and compulsive consumers. At all costs, the system must be saved. The capitalist show must go on, with as little change as possible.

Quite apart from this crisis, however, new technologies, in combination with the irreversible shift of sovereignty to some segments of the capitalist periphery, have been changing the dynamics of unequal development. The high-wage workers – the so-called middle classes in the developed countries – have been losing the protection they have long enjoyed against competition from low-wage workers in China and India.

More and more global capitalism will enrich some workers in the ‘periphery’ at the cost of workers in the ‘centers’ of capitalism. In the years ahead, the great alliance that was forged between capitalists and workers in the centers of capitalism will come under greater strain. More and more, the interests of these two classes will diverge.

Powerful corporations will still insist on openness, while growing ranks of workers will press for protectionism. This revival of class conflict in the old capitalist centers will strain existing political arrangements. After a co-optation that has lasted for more than a century, the demos will begin to threaten the corporate elites. New demands will be placed on intellectual mercenaries in the media and academia to use new, more effective tools to dumb down the demos.

As growing segments of high-wage workers in the rich countries become the new victims of capitalism, will they slowly learn to see capitalism from the standpoint of its victims? In this new emerging reality, will orthodox economics migrate from its old centers in London, Cambridge and Chicago to new centers in Bangalore and Beijing?

A curious world this will be when seen from the old centers. In truth, this will only be a long-delayed correction to two centuries of unequal development, dominated by Western centers. Sadly, the correction will not go far enough: it will leave much of the world mired in poverty and disease.

M. Shahid Alam is professor of economics at Northeastern University.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Hizb-ut-Tahrir and Fighting the War of Ideas: Myth and Reality

    Friday, July 31, 2009   No comments
by Dr. Mohammad Malkawi, Argosy University-Chicago


Research papers on Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HT) have become recently more frequent. Interest in the activities of HT worldwide has also increased. Some major research institutes have published papers on the issue. In 2003 the Heritage Foundation published a paper by Ariel Cohen [9] and in 2004 the Nixon Center did the same for Zeyno Baran [11, 12]. The Khilafah Conference organized by HT-America in Chicago (on July 19, 2009) has promoted several articles and interviews in different media platforms, including the CBS News report (July 17), the Southtown-Star article on July 17, 2009, and many others. Several Blogs and online articles continue to label HT as a radical supremacist group, although they admit that the group does not engage in violent militant activities. The most significant among these publications is "Fighting the War of Ideas" by Zeyno Baran, published in the Foreign Affairs in its 2005 November/December edition [10]. In that article, Baran argues that HT is a radical organization which poses a real and potent threat. She states:

“HT is not itself a terrorist organization, but it can usefully be thought of as a conveyor belt for terrorists. It indoctrinates individuals with radical ideology, priming them for recruitment by more extreme organizations where they can take part in actual operations. By combining fascist rhetoric, Leninist strategy, and Western sloganeering with Wahhabi theology, HT has made itself into a very real and potent threat that is extremely difficult for liberal societies to counter.”

In this article, I discuss the claims made by Baran from the perspective of a student of both HT literature and the Marxist-Leninist culture. I would like to stress the academic nature of this article, maintaining the integrity of my profession as a professor of business and information technology. My knowledge of Marxism-Leninism goes back to my undergraduate studies in the former Soviet Union, where Marxism-Leninism studies were part of the degree curriculum. My knowledge of HT literature is attributed to extensive study of Taqiuddin An-Nabhani's (the founder of HT in 1953) publications.

HT: The Conveyor Belt

Baran claims that HT acts as a conveyor belt for terrorists. She first made this claim in the extensive report "HIZB UT-TAHRIR: Islam's Political Insurgency" published by The Nixon Center in December 2004, where she wrote:

“It [HT] is in fact more of a conveyor belt, whereby people who have for several years been indoctrinated with HT ideology are produced and who then move to more radical platforms on which they can carry out a common mission.”

In the report published by the Nixon Center, Baran does not provide a proof for this concept; although she cites examples of some groups whose members or founders were once members of HT. The nature of the Nixon Center report may allow a claim to be made without formal and thorough investigation of its accuracy and integrity. However, once the claim is made in a well respected journal such as Foreign Affairs, the proof and evidence requires more scrutiny and elaboration. I read the Nixon Center report and spotted the inadequacy of justification. I only decided to write and question the claims when the article appeared in Foreign Affairs.

The core claim is that HT serves as a conveyor belt for radicals and terrorists "… whereby people who have for several years been indoctrinated with HT ideology are produced and who then move to more radical platforms on which they can carry out a common mission." If one were to prove such a claim, one would investigate the ideology of HT and search for that type of indoctrination which, once undertaken, enables a member to graduate and move into violence. Given that the publications of HT are open to the public since it was established in 1953, the task of verification becomes possible. It is to be noted that the publications of HT were banned only by governments and regimes in the Muslim world, rather than by HT's administration. With the advent of the Internet, the publications of HT have become more accessible to all interested groups.

Having said that, I would like to provide a detailed and structured account of HT ideology and doctrines on the issue of using violence for achieving political goals. Before doing so, I would like to explain the method of HT for adopting ideas, means, rules, methods, strategies, tactics and styles.

HT's Ideological Framework

The ideology of HT is based on the principle that man, life and universe are created by God, and that the relationship between people and God is that of complete obedience and servitude to God's orders and that the people will be held accountable for their behavior in front of God in the hereafter. HT maintains that this principle is the foundation of the creed of its ideology upon which it established all its rules, thoughts, regulations, etc. HT states that this creed serves as its ideological foundation as well as its ideological leadership [1]. The doctrines of the creed are collectively compiled and found in two main sources according to HT: the Qur'an and the Sunnah (statements and acts of Prophet Muhammad). In addition to these two sources, HT believes that the unanimous agreement of the companions of Prophet Muhammad on a certain issue comprises another source of Islamic jurisprudence. A fourth source, Qiyas, or analogical deduction from the texts of the Qur'an and the Sunnah is also admissible by HT as a means of deriving rules and regulations [2].

HT defined two objectives to be undertaken by the party following its establishment in 1953. These objectives are firstly to carry the call for Islam and secondly to revive the Islamic way of life through the re-establishment of the Caliphate (Khilafah).[3]

HT also defined the method by which it will achieve its objectives. In 1954, HT published an internal memorandum, entitled "The Starting Point". In this memorandum, HT clearly defined the objectives it wants to achieve as well as the method it would use to achieve these objectives. I will cite some sections of this publication, which clearly defines the doctrine with which HT 'indoctrinates' its followers. Article 9 says [4]:

“Preparing the Ummah (i.e. Islamic Nation) to carry the Islamic Call means exactly to prepare the Ummah for the political work on the basis of Islam. This task cannot be accomplished unless the Islamic ideas become the dominant ones and unless the political method in the Islamic context becomes clear and dominates all other ideas.”

In this article, HT clearly states that the political process is the only process that it will use.

In article 10, HT states:

“Since the Hizb (i.e. Party) carries the Islamic Call in its form as an intellectual leadership from which the systems of life emerge, and it uses the political process as the only method for this Call…”

HT clearly states here that the political method is the only method it will use in its endeavor to accomplish its objectives. In this context, HT argues that the imperialist foreign powers will try to create rock solid obstacles to prevent the party from achieving its objectives. Nevertheless, HT warns that it must always avoid getting in verbal or physical conflict with these powers, which create these obstacles [5]. In article 12, HT states:

The only weapon in the hand of the Hizb is Islam. It must not use anything else; and the intellectual aspect is what the party as a whole should be equipped with.

In article 20, HT reasserts the concept of only using the thought process and the political method in its work:

“And therefore, the intellectual aspect must always be the foundation, and its connection to the political work only shall be the corner stone of the party's work.”

HT argues that the intellectual and political processes are in complete compliance with the objectives and activities it will carry:

“The mission of HT is to carry the Islamic Call. This makes amongst its main activities the following:

1. To change the way of thinking of the world to that of the Islamic way of thinking.
2. To change the intellectual foundation upon which people base their opinions and ideas to the Islamic intellectual foundation.
3. To replace the thoughts carried by people with Islamic ones.
4. To connect all the thoughts to the Islamic intellectual foundation”

It is important to note that all activities that the HT defined for itself are purely ideological, intellectual and thought related. None of these activities require nor warrant the use of force or violence. In article 33, HT states that this mission requires thinkers, rather than militants.

Article 34 states:

“The method (of HT) in carrying its ideas to the people in the society is to invite them using the method of wisdom, excellent invitation, and the best of argument. Allah says ‘Call to the path of your Lord with wisdom, excellent invitation, and argue with the best of the arguments’ [Qur'an 16:126].”

This method is completely based on the intellectual and political process.

Since 1953, HT has continued to be committed to its ideological framework and to the political and intellectual processes that it sketched out as its only method. In the 1980s the militant Islamic groups gained significant attention in the Muslim world, especially in Afghanistan and Egypt. The militant approach had a great appeal to a significant portion of the Muslims, particularly the youth. Furthermore, the militant Islamic work was, by and large, supported by the USA due to the cold war relationship with the former Soviet Union. Within that atmosphere, HT confirmed its continued belief in the political and intellectual processes and rejected the militant approach. It is important to observe that the pressure against the party to clarify its position related to militancy did not come from regional or international powers. Rather, it was pressed upon the party by peer pressure from Islamic movements and the Muslim masses. The party chose to declare its commitment to the political process at a major conference in December 1989, in St Louis, Missouri, USA [6]. HT presented at the conference "The Method of HT for Change". In page 8, HT restates its objectives:

“Accordingly, HT defined its objective to be the revival of the Islamic life and carrying the Islamic Call, and it mobilized in the Ummah to achieve this objective”

HT also defined the method by which it will achieve its objectives:

“He (i.e. the party) also arrived at the method which he must follow to achieve his objective. The method is based on the method used by the Messenger of Allah since he was chosen by God as a Messenger until he established the Islamic State in Medinah.”

HT believes that the method it has to follow must be based on the method and steps taken by Prophet Muhammad, which led him to create the first Islamic State in Medinah, thirteen years after his mission had begun. HT outlines the reason why its method should be political (page 9):

“And this group work must be a political work, and cannot be anything but political. That is because the establishment of the Caliphate, and the appointment of a Caliph is a political work, and because the ruling according to Allah's revelation is political as well, and cannot be anything but political.”

HT goes further in its argument to claim that any group that assumes any work besides the political work will not be able to achieve the objective of re-establishing the Caliphate. The party goes further to examine all the other differing methodologies which HT thinks should not be followed. Those include the charity oriented groups, the spiritual groups, educational groups, the militant groups that engage in preventing evil by force and groups calling for moral behavior. HT explains how these differing methodologies are not suitable for achieving the objective of re-establishing the Caliphate.

In its literature and teachings, HT discusses at length the issue of violence and carrying arms against regimes which are not ruling according to the Shari'ah (laws) of Islam. The militant Islamic groups use a statement (Hadith) of Prophet Muhammad to justify the use of violence to create the necessary change. The statement was in response to a question posed by one of the companions of the Prophet, called Obadah Bin Samit, who asked "Shall we fight them (the rulers) with our swords?" The Prophet replied "No, unless you see them ruling you with laws other than those revealed by Allah". HT maintains that this Hadith does not apply to the current situation in the Muslim world. That is because the Hadith talks about an already existing Islamic State in which the ruling regime diverts the state from its Islamic status to a non-Islamic one. In other words, the Hadith talks about the potential use of force to preserve the Islamic ruling in an Islamic State. However, the current situation in the Muslim world is one in which the Islamic rulings are absent altogether. As such, the issue at hand is not to preserve an Islamic code, but rather to establish one from scratch. This case is more similar, in HT's opinion, to the case when Prophet Muhammad was in Mekkah and was working to build an Islamic State. HT states (page 18):

“The Hizb is committed to the ruling of Shari'ah and to the steps taken by the Messenger to establish the state.”

The Prophet is known to have established the first Islamic State without using any form of violence or military action. When he was urged by some of his companions to use force against the infidels of Mekkah, his response was “we are not ordered to fight back”. This case is depicted in the Qur'an (Chapter 4, Verse 77):

“Have you not turned your vision to those who were told to hold back their hands (from fight) but establish regular prayers and spend in regular Charity? When (at length) the order for fighting was issued to them, behold! a section of them feared men as - or even more than - they should have feared Allah”

To make the point absolutely clear, and to assert beyond a shadow of doubt that HT will not resort to the military option no matter what the conditions are, it states (page 23)

“Even though the Hizb is committed to his open, frank and challenging approach; he will constrain his activities to the political ones only. He will not resort to material actions against the rulers, or against anyone who stands in the face of its mission, or against anyone who seeks to harm the Hizb. This commitment is in line with the acts of the Messenger of Allah in Mekkah being constrained only to verbal acts without using any material means during his struggle until he migrated to Medinah. When the people who pledged the allegiance to support him in Medinah asked his permission to fight his enemies in Mekkah, he replied to them ‘We have not been permitted to fight yet"’ Allah also asked him to be as patient as the Messengers before him when he is harmed; ‘Messengers before you were rejected, and they remained patient when rejected and harmed until our victory came to them’ [Qur'an 6:34].”

The permission to fight and use military actions was revealed later in Medinah after the establishment of the state. Hence, the rules of fighting in Islam (Jihad) are associated with the state (the Caliphate) rather than with the method of establishing the Caliphate. HT believes that the Caliphate will define the rules of war and peace in light of the Islamic rulings of the political system and the foreign policies of the state. But that will be within the scope of the state rather than the scope of the Hizb and its methodology.

What should be noted here is that HT requires every one of its members to adopt all the ideas and thoughts that HT as a group believes in. Adopting the methodology of HT is a core requirement as much as adopting the basic beliefs of the Hizb. It is reported in the history of the Hizb that in the early 1960s when the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) was on the rise, several members of HT were let go because of their inclination towards the militancy of the PLO. Similarly, HT expelled others who sought to follow the militant examples in Afghanistan or Egypt in the 1980s. So the truth of the matter is that some of those who fail to comply with HT's strict political nature leave the Hizb or the Hizb removes them, and they find their way to other groups. In other words, it is not the indoctrination of HT that makes some members more militant. It is the other way around. It is the failure of certain members to be indoctrinated with the ideas of HT that takes them to rather violent and non-political groups.

Therefore, the theory of HT being a "conveyor belt" for militant groups does not hold at all. The contrary is true. The main case that Baran cites as an example of the conveyor belt phenomenon is Omar Bakri Fostoq [aka Omar Bakri Mohammed], the leader of the Muhajiroon group (now dissolved). Fostoq was removed from HT in the mid 1990s because of his disagreement with HT on the basics of the methodology of HT. The doctrines he learned at HT were those outlined in this article, i.e., the political and intellectual struggle. In other words, he was not taught or indoctrinated with militant ideas and was in fact asked to leave the party.

The other case brought by Baran is the case of Sheikh Asad Tamimi who founded the Islamic Jihad Organization in Jerusalem. Sheikh Tamimi was dismissed from HT in 1956 due to conflicts with HT on issues related to parliamentary elections in Jordan. He came back into political action after the revolution led by Khomeini in Iran in 1979.This case should not be brought in connection to HT. A more interesting case, in my opinion, could have been the case of Mr. Hani Al-Hasan, who left HT to become one of the founding members of the Al-Fatah Palestinian organization. He later became a committee member of the PLO. Al-Hasan believed that the military struggle is the only means for liberating Palestine and that HT's approach is not sufficient. Had the relationship between HT and PLO been on the positive side, one would be tempted to assume that Al-Hasan was HT's link into the PLO. The truth of the matter is that HT had a very strong stand against the PLO since it was initially established on January 1st 1964. Only a few days after it was formed, HT declared that the PLO was an illegitimate organization from the Islamic perspective. HT declared that it was prohibited in Islam (Haram) to join the PLO or to support it by money or by any other means.

The conveyor belt theory implies that HT graduates people who are prepared within the Hizb to be militant and ready to pursue violent means of change. The facts, based on HT literature and behavior, clearly show that HT indoctrinates its members only with the political means for change. In fact the arguments that HT brings to the table are far more convincing than all the arguments that argue in favor of the military approach. Lastly, it remains a fact that the number of people who left HT or were removed by HT to join or to form groups with a more militant agenda are far less than those who join HT for the opposite reason. In Uzbekistan, the IMU (a militant Islamic group) witnessed a large turnover from its ranks to HT.

It is also interesting to note that Baran, in her testimony in front of the House Committee on International Relations Subcommittee on the Middle East and Central Asia on June 15, 2004 stated that “Unlike many others, however, HT hopes to achieve this goal (the Caliphate) peacefully.” This testimony is based on Baran’s analysis of HT work.

Does HT have a Leninist Strategy?

Baran claims that HT adopts a Leninist strategy, among other things which make HT a real threat:

“By combining fascist rhetoric, Leninist strategy, and Western sloganeering with Wahhabi theology…”

I believe that the mere labeling of HT with a communist flavor is sufficient to discredit the Hizb and to place it on the black list of many, including the Western governments, public opinion, and other organizations. I personally have not seen a study, credible or otherwise, that compares HT with Lenin's communist party or any other communist party for that matter. Certainly, Baran has not drawn any comparison and has not made a reference to any such study. She simply made the claim in her article. From a purely academic perspective, this claim is sufficient to render the article defective. I do not intend to carry a thorough comparative study in this article (though I may do that later). However, I will use my recollection of my studies of the history of the communist party in the former Soviet Union to make some clarifications. My recollection goes back to my undergraduate studies in the old Soviet Union, where the study of communist doctrines was part of the official university curricula.

One of Lenin's strategy articles was under the title "We Shall Not Take This Road". This statement was a declaration of strategy change. Lenin's brother was executed by the Russian government after he was accused of blowing up bridges in Moscow. Lenin decided that the violent approach is not the right approach for the revolution. He made the change in favor of the political revolutionary approach.

In contrast, HT never used the violent approach. Also, HT believes that the approach it follows is derived from divine rules and thus is not subject to change due to harsh conditions or hardships encountered. HT has not made any change in its strategy since it was formed in 1953. HT believes that the tactics and means can change, but not the main approach.

Lenin derived the rules of his revolution from his philosophy of dialectic and historical materialism. This philosophy suggests that the revolution takes place based on the natural struggle between the classes of society. On the revolutionary side is the class of workers and farmers. On the other side is the class of landlords and owners of the means of production. Lenin grew his party and supporters among the two classes of the proletariat.

In contrast, HT derives the rules of political change from the divine revelation as found in the Qur'an and Sunnah. The grassroots of the movement of HT includes all types of people such as farmers, workers, employees, landlords, merchants, teachers, doctors, engineers, professors and others. Lenin propagated the conflicts between the classes of the society in an attempt to create a big rift between the classes as a pretext for the revolutionary change. HT, on the other hand, believes that all the people in the society should be the base for the change, and no antagonism is propagated. HT states [7]:

“The three groups which stand in the face of HT's mission are the rulers, the dark forces, and the ones obsessed with the foreign culture. The plan of the imperialists is to place these forces as rocks in the face of the Call to delay its progress towards achieving the objective. The imperialists know that these rocks do not prevent the Hizb from achieving the objective, although it causes delays. Therefore, the Hizb must avoid the clash with these groups (rocks) and any other rock to be placed in front of him. These rocks must become building blocks of the castles rather than obstacles. In other words, these groups must be won towards the Call. At least it must be understood by them and by all that they are only tools in the hands of the imperialists. If it is not possible to win them over, at least avoid their impact.”

This philosophical argument of HT is fundamentally distinct from the Leninist strategy, which is based on the struggle and conflicts between classes. As I said in the beginning of this section, I do not intend to carry a thorough comparative analysis in this article. However, there is clear evidence that there is no resemblance between HT's strategy and the Leninist one. In the mean time, I think that a thorough analysis is worth pursuing. It is worth mentioning though, that HT published a book entirely devoted to the disproof of the Marxist-Leninist theory [8]. HT provided a thorough criticism of the communist ideology in the book "System of Islam", which is considered the foundation of HT doctrines. The communist economic system is heavily criticized in the book "The Economic System in Islam" published by HT in 1953.

Does HT have a Wahhabi Theology?

Baran claims that HT has a Wahhabi theology, among other things which make HT a real threat:

“By combining fascist rhetoric, Leninist strategy, and Western sloganeering with Wahhabi theology …”

Here again, Baran does not provide any reference for such a claim and nor does she highlight any aspects of similarity between HT doctrines and those of Wahhabism. The purpose of associating HT with Wahhabism is to build an indirect link between HT and terrorism. The western media has already built a case that many of those who are accused of terrorism belong to the Saudi Wahhabi theological school. When Baran says that HT adopts the Wahhabi school of thought, she immediately builds a case against HT. The irony is that she provides no evidence to substantiate this claim, even though it should not be difficult to prove or disprove it. The Wahhabi school of thought is well known in the Muslim world, and the scholars who belong to this school are many and accessible via their websites and official status in Saudi Arabia. It suffices to quote any of the Wahhabi scholars and seek a professional opinion. This is only a shortcut which leads to fair conclusions. A more thorough analysis is warranted if this claim were to bear any credibility.

My quick thought on this issue is that, historically, the Wahhabi movement has been closely associated with Saudi Arabia. Its propagation outside Saudi Arabia has always been enabled by scholars who studied in Saudi schools of Shari'ah. The founder of HT (An-Nabhani) was educated in Al-Azhar in Egypt, which is known not to be on friendly terms with the Wahhabi school of thought. The successor of the first leader of HT (Abdul Qadeem Zalloum) was also educated in Al-Azhar. HT has been heavily criticized by Wahhabi scholars for some of its basic ideas that are related to the foundation of belief. Again, it takes a quick search on pro-Wahhabi websites to find out how much HT is criticized by this school of thought. The claim that HT is a Wahhabi faction is not founded on any evidence. Such a claim will be looked at with surprise by a great majority of Muslims who know HT and Wahhabism. I do not intend to comment on the Wahhabi school of thought in this article. I only want to emphasize that there is no correlation between HT and Wahhabism.


The conclusions of this research paper are clear: HT's methodology and approach have not and will not deviate from the political and intellectual path. The commitment of HT not to be involved in any violent activity is based on its faith and understanding of the revelation of God, which makes its involvement in any terrorist or violent activity impossible, either in theory and practice. No person can integrate into the body of HT until he or she adopts this political and intellectual methodology and approach. Thus, the claim that HT acts as a conveyor belt of terrorism is baseless and lacks any credible evidence. It contradicts 53 years of HT's activities and HT's documented literature that is accessible by the public at large. Any research paper that claims otherwise is defective and does not adhere to the norms of academic research that necessitate approaching any topic with the intention to get correct conclusions, not holding the conclusions in mind and framing the research to justify them. The claims of any resemblance between the strategy of HT and that of Leninism-Marxism, and between HT ideas and those of Wahhabism are contradictory to everything HT stood for since it was established in 1953. Leninism-Marxism stands for the total denial of the existence of God and its strategy is based on the conflicts between society classes, while HT is totally opposite to that. Wahhabism, on the other hand, gained credit among its followers during the times of the Ottoman Caliphate due to its denial of the legitimacy of that Caliphate, while HT stands firmly on the opposite of that. Recent papers by Baran of the Nixon Center and by Cohen of the Heritage Foundation concerning HT were conducted in contravention of standard academic research norms and approached the issue in an entirely subjective manner. Understanding HT must go through the total understanding of its well-documented literature, available to the public. In case any questions are not answered by the literature, HT has official spokesmen in Sudan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Turkey and Indonesia. HT also has official media representatives in the UK, Netherlands and Denmark. Also, HT has media offices in Lebanon, Turkey, Yemen, Iraq, and Jordan. Any of these officials or offices can be approached with questions to be answered. In addition, such questions could be conveyed to HT's global leadership through these officials. Research based on such an approach and dependent on such official answers would gain significant credit and would be able to stand its ground when cross-examined against standard academic research norms and measures.


1. An-Nabhani, Nidhaam Al-Islam (The System of Islam), 1953
2. An-Nabhani, Shakhsiyyah Islamiah (The Islamic Personality) 3rd volume, 1959
3. Hizb ut-Tahrir, The Starting Point, 1954
4. Previous source, article 9
5. Previous source, article 10
6. "The Method of Hizb ut-Tahrir for Change", Muslim Arab Youth Association Conference, Dec. 1989, St. Louis, Missouri, USA
7. The Starting Point, pg. 3
8. Hizb ut-Tahrir, "Refutation of Socialist Marxism", 1962
9. Ariel Cohen, “Hizb ut-Tahrir: An Emerging Threat to U.S. Interests in Central Asia”, Heritage Foundation:; May 30, 2003

10. Zeyno Baran, “Fighting the War of Ideas”, Journal of Foreign Affairs,, November/December 2005

11. Zeyno Baran, “The Challenge of Hizb ut Tahrir: Deciphering and Combating Radical Islamist Ideology”, edited by Zeyno Baran, Washington, D.C., The Nixon Center, 2004
12. Zeyno Baran, “HIZB UT – TAHRIR, Islam's Political Insurgency” The Nixon Center, December 2004


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