Persecution Terrorism and Extremism The Middle East

Current Topics – Dehumanizing Islam

MAY 1985 DEHUMANIZING ISLAM 35 Current Topics: DEHUMANIZING ISLAM by Dr. Syed Barakat Ahmad On October 16, 1983 an Israeli patrol in Lebanon attacked 50,000 Shiites of Nabatieyeh commemorating Ashura—the martyrdom of Hussain (October 680). Two Shiite mourners were killed and 15 wounded. On October 6, this year the Sunnis of Pakistan did better. They attacked an Ashura procession in Karachi. Five people were killed, 300 were wounded and two Shiite mosques were burnt. The Shiite persecution continues and the Sunni ulema are now demand- ing restrictions on this minority (15 percent). Burning and destroying mosques is, unfortunately, not a new thing in Muslim history. In 1801, on the day of Eid festival, the followers of the Najdi reformer, Abdul-Wahab (1703-1787), sacked the Shiite mosque of Kerbala where Hussain is buried. It was stripped of the rich hangings, the gold and silver plates, the girdles of precious stones and the priceless carpets which were accumulated for centuries. The tradition goes back to Yazid bin Muawiah who in 683, hardly fifty years after the Prophet’s death, sent an army which included the Christians of Syria to capture Mecca and Medina. After sacking Medina, Yazid’s army proceeded to Mecca which was besieged. Catapults were directed against the inviolable sanctuary of the Holy Mosque and the Kaba was burnt to the ground. The Black Stone (Hajri Aswad) was split in three pieces. That tradition endures. In 1924 the Ikhwan army and its commander, Luwai, classed the Mec- cans with other unbelievers as kafirs, smashed the decorations of the Grand Mosque and demolished some of the tombs and shrines sacred to the whole Muslim world. The Grand Mosque in Mecca was again occupied and desecrated by Muslim extremists in November 1979. ENDURING TRADITION Now, in Pakistan no day passes when an Ahmadi mosque is not desecrated or destroyed. Some mosques have been locked, some others have been disfigured. The Muslim profession of faith, “There is no God, but Allah and Muhammad is His messenger” has been 36 THE REVIEW OF RELIGIONS MAY 1985 forcibly removed from those mosques where prayers are still held. In Doshipura (Varanasi) a Shiite community had to be protected by an elaborate Supreme court order. Anticipating Sunni-Shiite clashes on the Ashura day, the Supreme Court restrained the Sunni community from causing any hindrance or disturbance to the perfor- mance of religious rituals and rites by the Shiites on the eight plots in dispute during the period of the Muharram mourning. The court further ordered that the graves of the Sunnis on the plots should be cordoned off by barbed wire fencing on all sides, except that of Hakim Badruddin where the Sunnis would be allowed to recite Fatiha and lay chadar on specified dates only. Culturally and educationally better off than the Sunnis and with a greater consciousness of their religion, Shiites as a minority have not always been well treated by the Sunnis. Though Shiites contribution to Muslim thought, education and political consciousness has been prominent in any age, they have been usually the victims of Sunni prejudice. But as a majority community under Ayatollah Khomeini, Iranian Shiites have not shown that tolerance which they themselves expect in the Sunni world. The suffering and tribulations of the Shiite people in Iran deserve world sympathy and their religious fer- vour warms the hearts of the Muslim ummah. But the use of that fervor by Iranian leaders has not been that glorious. Iran is now link- ed with world-wide terrorism, from suicide bombings in Beirut to street violence in Jakarta. Last month, Malaysia’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir, said that religious extremists had established contacts with militant groups in Iran. “The activities of these groups are regarded by Malaysians as interference by the Iranian Government”, the Minister added. SUNNI VIOLENCE Although Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran has attracted greater atten- tion, Sunni Muslims have not been far behind. In 1981 President Anwar al-Sadat was assassinated by Muslim extremists (The Muslim Brotherhood) while in February 1982 the Alawi President of Syria, Hafez al-Assad, pounded the Sunni town of Kama for almost three weeks with tank and artillary fire, killing an estimated 20,000 people. Whole neighborhoods had been plowed up like cornfields and bulldozed. In fact, Ayatollah Khomeini is far behind President Hafez al-Assad and General Zia-ul-Haq in political repression and MAY 1985 DEHUMANIZING ISLAM 37 ruthless religious persecution. There is no other country, except Pakistan, where minions of people were deprived of their fundamen- tal right to call themselves Muslims and practice Islam. The enormity of this human rights violation is shocking beyond words. For the time being the resurgence of fanaticism has been diverted towards Ahmadis and to a smaller extent Shiites, but it is bound to consume the very fabric of Pakistani society. The sponsoring of the death squads by the Libyan leader, Muammar al-Qadafi, and Hujjat-ul-Islam Muhammad Musawi’s at- tempts to use Hajj as a cover for subversion in Saudi Arabia are well known. The purpose is to incite the Saudi Shiite minority concen- trated in the eastern oil fields of Saudi Arabia. It is reported that Ira- nian agents have made contacts with some of the 10,000 Pakistani soldiers who serve as guards for the Saudi regime. Nine years of civil war, the mutual distrust, fear and greed have driven Christians, Sunnis and Shiites in Lebanon to their most ex- treme positions. On a larger scale this is the position of the whole West Asia where Syrians are involved in the anti-Saudi plotting, Li- byans are trying to overthrow the Egyptian government and Iranians are attempting to destabilize the Gulf. All these plots to subvert the neighboring Muslim regimes are of course overshadowed by the self- destructive Iran-Iraq war. Compare all this with the teaching of the Qur’an: “Whoso saves a life, it shall be as though he had saved the life of mankind.” (5.32). EUPHORIA AND FRUSTRATION The fifteenth century Hijrah began with a great deal of un-Islamic fervor. But it soon became apparent that religious revival is not a political or academic exercise. Inaugurated by bemedalled heads of state and military dictators, dressed up with scriptural verses and high sounding theological terms, but devoid of spiritual and devo- tional content, such as an exercise can only stimulate euphoria. And euphoria always leads to frustrations. Having enjoyed the festivals of Islam and five-star celebrations, the Muslim world sank deep in frustration. There is a spiritual vacuum, a tormenting feeling that all the oratory of the mulla, the erudite narration of Muslim past by the historian and all the elucidation of the ‘ ‘Islamic” political system by the time-serving political scientist have proved to be ineffective and incapable of solving the social, economic and political problems of Muslim societies. They looked to their non-Muslim neighbors which 38 THE REVIEW OF RELIGIONS MAY 1985 were liberated along with them from the European dominance and are doing well as stable democracies with a high degree of in- dustrialization. This has produced a sense of impotence and created frustration. This void has now been filled by extreme religious fun- damentalism. A mulla does not wield a sword, but he knows how to wield words. He understands the importance of language. He also understands the importance not only of language but of simplicity. He is willing and able to simplify his position into short cliches and divert attention from the complexities of the real problem. “Jihad” and “kufr” are two important items of his armory. When he fails with them he exploits the love and reverance in which Muslims hold their Prophet. Iqbal summed up that love in his Javidnama in the following words: “you can deny God, but you cannot deny the Pro- phet!” The Canadian orientalist, Wilfred Cantwell Smith, put it in another way: “Muslims will allow attacks on Allah: there are atheists and atheistic publications, and rationalistic societies; but to disparage Muhammad will provoke from even the most ‘liberal’ sec- tions of the community a fanaticism of blazing vehemence.” So anyone who is to be condemned is accused of showing disrespect to the Prophet. This charge so infuriates the Muslim masses that the ac- cused is not given even a chance to deny the charge. It is a simple cliche which answers emotional needs of finding a scape-goat. It was this simple cliche which was used by the mulla to divert the public at- tention from the movement to restore democracy in Pakistan. Ahmadis were accused of showing disrespect to the Prophet and the Pakistani people, who were demonstrating against President Zia, started burning Ahmadiyyah mosques instead. When the Ahmadis appealed to the highest court in the country saying that the charge was false, it was dismissed. It may be recalled that Pakistan’s relatively independent judiciary was dismissed when in March 1981, nineteen Supreme Court and provincial High Court judges refused to endorse an order allowing General Zia to amend the Consitution. Today in Pakistan there are no enforceable rights. Infact there is no Muslim country, except probably Malaysia, where there are en- forceable rights with an independent judiciary. It is a sad commen- tary on the followers of a religion which enshrines human rights in its holy book, the Qur’an. GOETHE AND ISLAM The well-known orientalist, Sir William Muir, who lived among MAY 1985 DEHUMANIZING ISLAM 39 Muslims and wrote his Life of Mahomet after a painstaking study of Arabic sources, has made an unfortunate remark about Islam. He wrote: ‘ ‘the sword of Mahomet and the Koran are the most stubborn enemies of Civilization, Liberty and Truth which the world has yet known.” Sir William, a British civilian, served in India in the later part of the nineteenth century and learnt Islam from the mulla, who opposed Sir Syed Ahmad Khan; Muir was still under the influence of 1857 mutiny. The tragedy is that the fundamentalist mullah of today still confirms what Sir William Muir wrote. During the last forty years Muslim armies have been soundly and repeatedly defeated by their non-Muslim neighbors and yet the mulla’s sword of “Jihad” cannot be sheathed and the Muslim blood flows freely. Faith has been replaced by “ideology”, the Sharia courts have taken the place of persuasion and consul, the denunciation ofdisserb___ ting faiths has supplanted retrospection and hypocracy”has superced- ed piety. The mulla has dehumanized a religion which taught com- passion, charity and grace. Goethe’s West Ostlicher Divan contains the most beautiful and Islamic approach to the Prophet’s message in European poetry: Thus the right thing seems to be the way by which Muhammad succeeded: Only by the concept of One has he conquered this world. — ~—–— — __. „ Fortunately Goethe was not influenced by the Mulla’s intolerant in- terpretation of Islam nor did he live among the Muslims. Another German scholar. Prof. Annemarie Schimmel, who read her Islam from the Qur’ an and the life of the Prophet without the benefit of the Mulla’s tones of interpretation has some pertinent advice for the Muslims: “Just as Muhammad was the ‘Seal of Prophets’ Muslims should be the ‘Seal of Nations’, and as he was sent as ‘mercy for the world’, Muslims, too, should become mercy for the world.” FORGIVENESS AND FORBEARANCE “Those who suppress their anger and forgive people and Allah loves the benevolent. (The Holy Quran, 3:135) “Make forbearance thy rule and enjoin equity and turn away from the ignorant.” (The Holy Quran, 7:200) 40 THE REVIEW OF RELIGIONS MAY 1985 Book Review: Islam in the World by Malise Ruthven New York, Oxford University Press, 1984, 400 pp., $8.95 (paperback). What is the essential message of Islam to late 20th century mankind? Journalist-author Malise Ruthven, in his most recent work, Islam in the World, concludes that even more important than the injunctions to the faithful to build the good society by obedience to Quranic Law, ‘ ‘is the message that proclaims the Eternal Trandes- cent and man’s special responsibility as guardian of this planet. It is a message which calls on men and women to show gratitude for the -world’s Jbounty, to use it wisely and distribute it equitably. It is a message phrased in the language and imagery of a pastoral people who understood that survival depended upon submission to the natural laws governing their environment, and upon rules of hospitality demanding an even sharing of limited resources. In a world riven by the gap between rich and poor nations, and in cons- tant danger of nuclear -catastrophe, this message has an urgent relevance and it is one that we ignore at our peril.” An avowed agnostic, he nevertheles presents a refreshing examina- tion j3f_the-4mpact of Islam in the world. He makes the obvious ~ assertion that political agitation against corrupt or unjust Muslim governments will continue for decades, fired by Quranic prohibi- tions against social injustice and improbity and by the activist exam- ple of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of God be upon him). Ruthven envisions a time when Islam, like other religions, will become subsumed into an amorphism of international culture: he predicts that high Sufism, whose occult ritualism is more universal than Judaism and less “anthropocentric” than Christianity, could become less rigid in terms of literal interpretation of the Shari’a; thus he infers that the way may be opened for the scientific age to have a much greater interchange with Islam. Wise reading of the Holy Quran, even for a non-Muslim, makes it clear that Almighty God has taught man how to use both spiritual and natural Law for his own benefit (22:19, 64:4, etc.). The number of Muslims now engaged in scientific and technological pursuits indicates clearly that Islam enjoins upon man to use whatever the Creator has placed in the earth for his salutary utility. The purpose of Islamic teaching is