Friday, February 24, 2006

Will the "Ummah" do anything?

"We hear every day one Muslim leader or another speaking of Islamic brotherhood. In recent days I have also heard a lot of calls for violence, killing and destruction in the name of Islamic brotherhood.
I have yet to see anyone quoting an authority from the Qur’an or the Sunnah requiring Muslims to go on a rampage in cases of provocations such as that has come from Europe.

What I have seen is, as in the Qur’an 3:186, “And ye shall certainly hear much that will grieve you from those who received the Book before you and those who worship many gods. But if ye preserve patiently, and guard against evil, — then that will be the determining factor in all affairs.”

In the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) lifetime, his enemies had said harsher things about him, but he never asked his followers to go to war on that account. His response was, as the Qur’an had ordered him to, to exercise “sabr”.
When he spoke of the brotherhood of believers, he defined it as a brotherhood of those who helped each other — to live. He who eats his fill when his neighbor starves is not a Muslim, he said

What Oxfam says about the condition of Muslims in Somalia should make many of us wonder if we are Muslims as defined by the Prophet (peace be upon him).
“People are walking up to 70 kilometers in search of water... People in southern Somalia are starting to die from thirst in the worst drought in over 40 years... Tens of thousands are now at risk... People are surviving on the equivalent of three glasses of water a day, in temperatures of over 40C (100F)... All surface water has gone, wells are running dry. The 830 ml available per person per day has to be used for drinking, cooking and washing... Children are drinking their own urine because there is simply no water available for them to drink ... Schools and local groups have collected $100,000 — a large sum in an impoverished country — to pay for a relief effort ... Livestock in the south have been dying because of hunger... The United Nations estimates more than 11 milion people in parts of Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, Tanzania and Burundi need food aid for the next six months.”
Will the “Ummah” do anything? Allah’s reward awaits those who do.
Rahila Bello, Abuja, Nigeria published 24 February 2006

[Letter published in Arab News]

Thursday, February 23, 2006

What's going on in Nigeria?

80 Killed in Nigeria's Anti-Muslim Violence
ONITSHA, Nigeria, February 26, 2006

( & News Agencies)

At least 80 people, mainly Muslims, were killed by Christian mobs in violence in the southeastern Nigerian city of Onitsha, a prominent rights group said on Thursday, February 23.
"We counted 60 bodies on Tuesday and 20 on Wednesday and there could be more," Emeka Umeh, head of the local chapter of the Lagos-based Civil Liberties Organization (CLO), told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
He confirmed that "most of the victims are Muslims."
Umeh described what happened as "a great massacre that should be condemned by any right-thinking person."
The human rights activist said bodies "littered the streets in Onitsha" and can still be found on Upper Iweka road in the city, which is home to the predominantly Christian Igbo people.
Trouble flared in Onitsha earlier this week when, according to rumors on the street, two truckloads of corpses of Igbos slain by Muslim rioters in weekend sectarian violence in the north arrived in town.
Christians targeted the sizeable Hausa community, the main ethnic group in northern Nigeria who are mostly Muslims.
Nigerian Muslims strongly condemned on Monday, February 20, attacks on churches and local Christians in northern Nigerian during protests against Danish cartoons mocking Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him).

At least 15 people were killed and a dozen churches, 200 shops, 50 houses and 100 vehicles were razed and vandalized when Muslims protesters in Maiduguri, the capital of the state of Borno, turned on local Christians after police broke up a rally against the drawings on Saturday, February 19.

Umeh said the victims had been slaughtered "with machetes, knives, metal objects, clubs and in some instance, even guns."
He added that two policemen were among the victims, believing they had died "while trying to save the lives of the Muslims."
The activist said the relative calm in Onitsha was deceptive.
"The police should not relax. What we have now is graveyard peace," he maintained.

Thousands of Muslims fled Onitsha over the Niger River Bridge to neighboring Asaba to seek shelter in police stations and hospitals.
Some of them said a machete-wielding mob descended on the market and began to kill.

Christians burned the corpses of Muslims Thursday on the streets of Onitsha, according to Reuters.
"We are very happy that this thing is happening so that the north will learn their lesson," said Anthony Umai, a motorcycle taxi rider, standing close to where Christian youths had piled up the corpses of 10 Muslims and were burning them.
Dozens more corpses had been thrown into the back of pick-up trucks by security services overnight, residents said.

The city's central mosque was also burnt down, with religious and political slogans daubed on its inner walls, according to AFP.
Nigeria’s recent census shows that Muslims make up 55 percent of the country’s 133 million, Christians 40 percent and five percent atheists.
However, other estimates indicated that Muslims make up some 65 percent of the country.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Is Islam incompatible with the West?

Muslims and the West: A Culture War?
By John L. Esposito

Feb. 14, 2006

Newspaper cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad have set off an international row with dangerous consequences, both short and long term. The controversial caricatures first published in Denmark and then in other European newspapers, target Muhammad and Islam and equate them with extremism and terrorism. In response to outcries and demonstrations across the Muslim world, the media has justified these cartoons as freedom of expression; France's France Soir and Germany's Die Welt ass\erted a "right to caricature God" and a "right to blasphemy," respectively.

One of the first questions I have been asked about this conflict by media from Europe, the US, and Latin America has been "Is Islam incompatible with Western values?" Are we seeing a culture war? Before jumping to that conclusion, we should ask, whose Western democratic and secular values are we talking about? Is it a Western secularism that privileges no religion in order to provide space for all religions and to protect belief and unbelief alike? Or is it a Western "secular fundamentalism" that is anti-religious and increasingly, post 9/11, anti-Islam?

What we are witnessing today has little to do with Western democratic values and everything to do with a European media that reflects and plays to an increasingly xenophobic and Islamaphobic society. The cartoons seek to test and provoke; they are not ridiculing Osama bin Laden or Abu Musab al-Zarqawi but mocking Muslims' most sacred symbols and values as they hide behind the façade of freedom of expression. The win-win for the media is that explosive headline events, reporting them or creating them, also boosts sales. The rush to reprint the Danish cartoons has been as much about profits as about the prophet of Islam. Respected European newspapers have acted more like tabloids.

What is driving Muslim responses? At first blush, the latest Muslim outcries seem to reinforce the post 9/11 question of some pundits: "Why do they hate us?" with an answer that has become "conventional wisdom": "They hate our success, democracy, freedoms…"—a facile and convenient as well as wrong-headed response. Such answers fail to recognize that the core issues in this "culture war" are about faith, Muhammad's central role in Islam, and the respect and love that he enjoys as the paradigm to be emulated. They are also more broadly about identity, respect (or lack of it) and public humiliation.

Would the mainstream media with impunity publish caricatures of Jews or of the holocaust? As France's Grand Rabbi Joseph Sitruk observed: "We gain nothing by lowering religions, humiliating them and making caricatures of them. It's a lack of honesty and respect," he said. He said freedom of expression 'is not a right without limits'." (AP Feb 3)

A recently completed Gallup World Poll, that surveyed Muslims from Morocco to Indonesia, enables us to find data-based answers about Islam by listening to the voices of a billion Muslims. This ground-breaking Gallup study provides a context and serves as a reality check on the causes for widespread outrage.

When asked to describe what Western societies could do to improve relations with the Arab/Muslim world, by far the most frequent reply (47% in Iran, 46% in Saudi Arabia, 43% in Egypt, 41% in Turkey, etc.) was that they should demonstrate more understanding and respect for Islam, show less prejudice, and not denigrate what Islam stands for. At the same time, large numbers of Muslims cite the West's technological success and its liberty and freedom of speech as what they most admire. When asked if they would include a provision for Freedom of Speech, defined as allowing all citizens to express their opinion on political, social and economic issues of the day if they were drafting a constitution for a new country, overwhelming majorities (94% in Egypt, 97% in Bangladesh, 98% in Lebanon etc.) in every country surveyed responded yes, they would.
Cartoons defaming the Prophet and Islam by equating them with terrorism are inflammatory. They reinforce Muslim grievances, humiliation and social marginalization and drive a wedge between the West and moderate Muslims, unwittingly playing directly into the hands of extremists. They also reinforce autocratic rulers who charge that democracy is anti-religious and incompatible with Islam.

Where Do We Go From Here?
Islamophobia should be as unacceptable as anti-Semitism, a threat to the very fabric of our democratic pluralistic way of life.
By the US' seeking to more closely incorporate Europe in its hegemonic designs in the Muslim world, and Europe’s seeming readiness to do so, the West would be greatly enhancing the dominant view among many that this is in fact a clash of civilizations and an anti-Islamic crusade that is guided by an Islamophobic West.

Recent revelations involving the degradation of the Koran by US interrogators in Guantanamo Bay and the EU’s absurd display of solidarity with Denmark in the recent cartoon controversy which inflamed Muslim passions, is further proof, in the eyes of many Muslims and Westerners alike, that a clash of civilizations is being fueled by the West.

This is further augmented if one notes how Rumsfeld described Europe and the US during the Munich conference not only as partners with common strategic interests but rather as the “civilized world” and as “a community, with shared histories, common values, and an abiding faith in democracy” facing a war that was declared by forces wishing to establish “a global extremist Islamic empire.”
Rumsfeld’s whimsical, self-serving depiction of the conflict leaves no room for any criticism of the West. In fact, during his speech at the Munich conference we do not see any attempt made to distinguish between the goals of various Islamic movements nor do we see any acknowledgement of America’s failed policies in Iraq or the role that the West had historically played in creating many of the legitimate grievances that Muslims repeatedly mention. Instead, Rumsfeld reiterated the convenient, self-gratifying cliché that the conflict is within the Muslim world, as Muslims are constantly depicted as hopelessly struggling to come to terms with the benevolent message of freedom that the West is supposedly busy propagating.

The US’ newly declared strategic posture aims at the liquidation of whatever is left of the concept of national soveregnty.
Core principles and values, like freedom of speech, cannot be compromised. However, freedoms do not exist in a vacuum; they do not function without limits. In many countries, hate speech (such as holocaust denial, incitement to racial hatred, advocating genocide) is a criminal offense prohibited under incitement to hatred legislation. Our Western secular democracies represent not only freedom of expression but also freedom of religion. Belief as well as unbelief needs to be protected. Freedom of religion in a pluralistic society ought to mean that some things are sacred and treated as such.

The Islamophobia which is becoming a social cancer should be as unacceptable as anti-Semitism, a threat to the very fabric of our democratic pluralistic way of life. Thus, it is imperative for political and religious leaders, commentators and experts, and yes, the media, to lead in building and safeguarding our cherished values.

And what about Muslim responses? Muslim leaders are hard pressed to take charge, asserting their faith and rights as citizens, affirming freedom of expression while rejecting its abuse as a cover for prejudice. A sharp line must be drawn between legitimate forms of dissent and violent demonstrations or attacks on embassies that inflame the situation, and reinforce Western stereotypes. The many Muslim leaders, from America and Europe to the Muslim world, who have publicly urged restraint and strongly condemned violence, play a critical role.

Globalization and an increasingly multicultural and multi-religious West test the mettle of our cherished democratic values. As the current cartoon controversy underscores, pluralism and tolerance today demand greater mutual understanding and respect from non-Muslims and Muslims alike.

**John L. Esposito is Professor of Religion and International Affairs and of Islamic Studies at Georgetown University. He is the founding director of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, a consultant to the Department of State as well as corporations, universities, and the media worldwide. He is also author of What Everyone Needs to Know about Islam, Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam, and co-author of the forthcoming, "Can you Hear Me Now: What a Billion Muslims are Trying to Tell Us."

Thursday, February 09, 2006

What's the difference between Sunni and Shia Muslims?

The Origins of the Sunni/Shia split in Islam
excerpt from an article by Hussein Abdulwaheed Amin,
Editor of

Many Sunni's would contend that Shias seem to take the fundamentals of Islam very much for granted, shunting them into the background and dwelling on the martyrdoms of Ali and Hussein. This is best illustrated at Ashura when each evening over a period of ten days the Shias commemorate the Battle of Karbala, with a wailing Imam whipping the congregation up into a frenzy of tears and chest beating.
It is alleged that instead of missionary work to non-Muslims, the Shia harbor a deep-seated disdain towards Sunni Islam and prefer to devote their attention to winning over other Muslims to their group. There is ongoing violent strife between Sunnis and Shias in Pakistan. On the other hand, in recent years there has been signification co-operation between the two groups in the Lebanon. And some of the most dynamic developments in Islam today are taking place in Shia-dominated Iran.

Practical Differences
On a practical daily level, Shias have a different call to prayer, they perform wudu and salat differently including placing the forehead onto a piece of hardened clay from Karbala, not directly onto the prayer mat when prostrating. They also tend to combine prayers, sometimes worshipping three times per day instead of five. The Shias also have some different ahadith and prefer those narrated by Ali and Fatima to those related by other companions of the Prophet (pbuh).
Because of her opposition to Ali, those narrated by Aisha count among the least favored. Shia Islam also permits muttah - fixed-term temporary marriage - which is now banned by the Sunnis. Muttah was originally permitted at the time of the Prophet (pbuh) and is now being promoted in Iran by an unlikely alliance of conservative clerics and feminists, the latter group seeking to downplay the obsession with female virginity which is prevalent in both forms of Islam, pointing out that only one of the Prophet's thirteen wives was a virgin when he married them.

Monday, February 06, 2006

What can Muslim reactions to the cartoons teach the West?

By John Simpson, BBC World Affairs Editor

Western embassies in Middle Eastern cities have been torched. Angry crowds have marched in the streets of London carrying placards calling for beheadings and massacres.
Yet despite how it looks on television news, the response to the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad has mostly been non-violent so far.
There were no demonstrations at all in a sizeable number of Muslim countries. In Iran, Egypt, Pakistan and Iraq, the demonstrations passed off quietly.
There has been serious trouble in Gaza, Damascus and Beirut, but in each case, local tensions clearly boiled up and found their expression in this particular issue.
In Syria, such violence is so rare that some people have wondered whether the attacks on the Danish and Norwegian embassies might not have been provoked by government agents, in order to discredit the beleaguered Islamists there.
In Lebanon, the continuing tension between supporters of the Syrians and supporters of the Americans played a part in the violence in Beirut.
When a breakaway group started to attack a Christian church at Ashrafiya, a group of Muslim clerics did everything they could to stop them.

Delayed reaction
How did a series of not particularly well-drawn or funny cartoons, published on 30 September in a Danish newspaper, produce such anger in Europe and the Middle East four months later?
If anyone fanned the flames, it was not Osama Bin Laden.

Danish interests have been targeted across the world Instead, it was the mild, distinctly moderate figure of Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the Foreign Minister of Egypt.
As early as November, he was protesting about the cartoons, and calling them an insult.
"Egypt," he said, "has confronted this disgraceful act and will continue to confront such insults."
Perhaps it was a convenient way for the Egyptian government to demonstrate some Islamic credentials while not attacking any of the countries which really matter to Egypt.
He raised the issue at various international meetings. Slowly the news filtered out to the streets.

Past reminders
There are various similarities with the case of Salman Rushdie's book The Satanic Verses.
That also took months to come to general attention in 1989.
It was only when Ayatollah Khomeini was told about the way the book dealt with the Prophet Muhammad that he issued his condemnation of it and his threat to Rushdie's life.
The demonstrations became increasingly violent.
Much the same arguments were used then as now, about where freedom of speech ends and gratuitous insults begin.
Militant secularists clashed on air and in print with militant Islamists, each talking past each other.
At one point, Rushdie recanted and asked for forgiveness. At least one of the book's translators seems to have been murdered.
We wouldn't allow a deeply anti-Semitic book to be published, and we have made it a criminal offence to deny the Holocaust
But The Satanic Verses continued to make good money, and the British government asked Rushdie to pay part of the high cost of his own protection.
Eventually the threat faded, and he went to live in America.

Double standards
In 1989, when the Satanic Verses demonstrations were at their height, I was making my way across Afghanistan to Kabul, which was still in the hands of the pro-Soviet Communists.
My guides came from a group of Islamic mujahideen.
In a cave in the mountains outside the city, I was invited to meet a number of local elders who wanted to know why Britain, or any other Western country, would allow a book which seemed to be so insulting to Islam to be published.
In the chilly gloom of the cave, with a glass of tea and a plate of sugared mulberries in front of me, the magnificent old men with their turbans and beards filed in and sat down on the carpets, their AK-47s beside them.
I began with the quote - attributed to Voltaire - about hating what other people say but fighting to the death for their right to say it.
I told them that the West wanted people to be free to express themselves as they wanted - this, I said, was why Europe and the US had supported the Afghan mujahideen against the Soviet invaders.
They nodded politely, but I could see they were not convinced.
Why, one of the elders asked again and again, did we allow the Prophet Muhammad to be insulted when we knew how much distress it would cause individual Muslims?

He had a point; after all, a number of European countries would not allow a deeply anti-Semitic book to be published, and have made it a criminal offence to deny the Holocaust.
Why should it not also be illegal to insult the Prophet?
Yet insulting and openly anti-Semitic cartoons and articles often appear in the press in Muslim countries, and we in the West rightly find that deeply offensive.
And when extremists march through the streets, applaud bloodthirsty crimes like the attacks of 11 September and 7 July, that is no less insulting than publishing unfunny and deliberately goading cartoons.
We must not imagine this has the support of the great mass of British Muslims.
Quite the contrary: the groups with their ill-spelt placards are just an unrepresentative, repudiated fringe.
In much the same way, we should not think the entire Muslim world is in flames about it.
But we must understand that many Muslims around the world feel increasingly beleaguered.
Increasing that sense will do nothing to help anyone.