Sunni-Shiah Rivalry: Myths and Reality

Dr. Elmira Akhmetova

The conflict in Syria, which began in 2011 as peaceful demonstrations against the Ba’ath government of Bashar Al-Assad within the context of the Arab Spring protests, has soon turned into a civil war allegedly pitting the Shiah Alawites against the Sunni Muslims. According to the Syrian Centre for Policy Research report released in February 2016, at least 470,000 people were killed since March 2011 with 1.9 million wounded (reaching a total of 11.5% of the entire population wounded or killed), many of whom were civilians and children.[1] As of March 2015, Al-Jazeera estimated 10.9 million Syrians, or almost half the population, have been displaced.[2] The real figure is likely to be even higher, especially after the Russian military involvement in the conflict. The emergence of DAESH as a dominant extremist militant group of Syrian opposition caused many brutalities and transgressions that violate the core principles of Islam and humanity. The evils of sectarianism and tribalism became rampant and are now threatening the fabrics of society and state in the entire MENA region.

Analyses of the roots of sectarian conflict in the Middle East tend to look at the historical schism between Sunnis and Shias as the fundamental driving factor behind contemporary tensions existing in the entire Muslim world. Discussions on the existence of a “1,400 Year War” between Sunni and Shiah Muslims are today increasingly common. No doubt, differences between Sunnis and Shias, which started at the early years of Islamic caliphate after the death of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), regarding his legitimate successor, are real and cannot be denied. Despite some disagreements between Sunni and Shiah interpretations of the Shari’ah, yet, scholars from both sides have long engaged in dialogue and influenced the religious thought of one another for centuries. As a legacy of this, today the greatest seats of learning in Islam also teach Shiah theology as an integrated school of thought.[3]

Historically, ordinary Sunnis and Shias have lived together side by side in peace and harmony, intermarrying and living in the same neighbourhoods up to the 21st century. A Toronto-based writer and analyst on issues related to Middle Eastern politics, Murtaza Hussain, observed that even where Sunnis and Shias have exerted power through distinct political structures, the argument that this has equated to conflict does not stand up to even a cursory analysis.[4] While the Sunni Ottoman Empire (1299-1924) and the Shiah Safavid Empire (1501-1736) experienced their share of conflict, they also lived peaceably alongside one another for hundreds of years, even considering it shameful as Muslim powers to engage in conflict with one another. The prevailing claims that these two empires have been in a perpetual state of war and animosity throughout their existence are absurd. In early Safavid rule, for example, Sunni nobles continued to feature as courtiers, bureaucrats and prayer leaders. The confrontation between an established empire, that of the Ottomans, and the newly formed Safavid empire was not about their religion, but rather it was an Ottoman reaction to the political aspirations of the Safavids, who nurtured expansionist design with regards to Anatolia.  It is also a fact that each of these empires conducted extensive religious propaganda against each other. Yet, the Ottoman-Safavid conflict should be considered within the framework of the entire geopolitical pattern of the Middle East and Transoxania at the end of the fifteenth century and the sixteenth rather than within the simplistic framework of Sunnism versus Shiism.[5]

There are also considerable Shiah minorities in South Asia. Until the end of the twentieth century, however, there was no history of any large-scale Sunni-Shiah conflict. Also, by the end of the seventeenth century, the Ottoman-Safavid enmity has subsided and, since the early eighteenth century, with a few brief periods when internal turmoil in Iran invited Ottoman interference, relations between the Ottomans and the successors of the Safavid empire and, later, between the Republic of Turkey and Iran have been peaceful and even friendly. The clashes between Sunni and Shiah Muslims in the past have been the exception rather than a norm. It is illogical, therefore, to examine the present-day tensions between the Sunnis and Shias in the framework of Christian religious wars happening in Europe. In the history of Sunni-Shiah relations, there are no analogies to the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism.

The tangible manifestation of the concept of Ikhtilaf (the recognition and tolerance of disagreement among the scholars over juristic issues) in Islam opens ways for the tradition of diversity and pluralism in religious and intellectual assessment. At present, there are at least seven different recognized schools of jurisprudence throughout the Muslim world under the Sunni and Shiah branches of Islam. All these schools, incorporating equally valid interpretations of the Shari’ah, are united into one nation, which believes in One God, one Scripture and one Shari’ah. The conflict brewing between certain Sunni and Shiah political factions in the Middle East today, therefore, has little or nothing to do with religious differences. It is more about modern identity politics, power and privilege.

The gradual rise in sectarian tension at present times, which had begun in the early 1970s and escalated following the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and the Afghan Wars (1979-2001), is a product of very recent global events. It was mainly related to competition for influence and power in the region, notably between Iran and the Arab countries, especially Iraq and Saudi Arabia. In that competition, both sides tried to exploit religion as an instrument in their politics, contributing to a sharp rise in sectarian tensions in the entire Middle East. Iraq’s invasion of Iran in 1980 and its aftermaths also played a sizeable part in this respect. The part of Israel in destabilizing the Middle Eastern countries should also be taken into consideration.

Declaration of the US-led global ‘war on terror’ as a result of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States initiated a new chapter in Sunni-Shiah rivalry. Western powers and their local allies have sought to exacerbate the false divisions between Sunni and Shias in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Bahrain, and at this moment in Syria in order to perpetuate conflict and maintain the Middle East being divided, unstable, corruptible and incapable of asserting itself.

Therefore, stability and peace in the region depend on the quality of Sunni-Shiah relations. Until the followers of these two branches of Islam adopt a more humane and civilized attitude toward each other, which had been dictated by their religion and practiced for long centuries, there will be almost no chance for peace and prosperity in the Middle East. Within the last fifty years, a series of noteworthy attempts were made on the parts of Sunni as well as Shiah scholars and politicians at reconciliation and harmony between these two groups of Muslims. In the late 1950s, for instance, the Sheikh Mahmoud Shaltut of Al-Azhar and Ayatollah Muhammad Taghi Ghomi of Iran established very good personal and scholarly relations, which serves as an exemplary meeting point between the two schools of Islam. Following these efforts, Sheikh Mahmoud Shaltut issued a fatwa in 1958 declaring the Shiah Ja’fari school as legitimate in Islam.

Also, on 3 March 2007 King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad held an extraordinary summit meeting, displaying mutual warmth with hugs and promised a thaw in relations between the two regional powers. On 6 February 2013 Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, then-secretary-general of Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), stated to Ahram Online that rapprochement between different Muslim sects is essential.  He also said that, “The conflict in Syria is not either a sectarian conflict, although some tries to make it look so.”[6]

Another important step was recently undertaken by HE Dr Tun Mahathir Mohamad, the former Prime Minister of Malaysia (1981-2003), and HE Syed Muhammad Khatami, the former President of the Islamic Republic of Iran (1997-2005). On 22 May 2013, they called a Media Conference in Malaysia to launch A Joint Appeal to Sunnis and Shi’as to end violence, bloodshed and killing between Sunni and Shiah Muslims. Yet, these noteworthy endeavours could not find any considerable media interest or attention from the international community; and their encouraging results remained unnoticed. In reality, many segments of the Arab and the international media, not excluding Al-Jazeera, have today been occupied with the supposedly growing clash between Sunni and Shiah Islam.

Respecting the reality that good and proper relations between Shiah and Sunni Muslims are the solution to stability in the entire region, several steps can be taken to prevent sectarian conflict from spreading. First, in order to amend the situation, religious scholars, academicians, activists, and politicians from Sunni and Shiah communities should propagate the fundamental values of Islam such as peace, tolerance, freedom, and respect for human dignity. The sincere commitment to the Qur’anic core principles of wasatiyyah (moderation), peace, equilibrium, dignity, justice and freedom in all aspects of life may bring more balance and security to Muslim societies in particular and mankind in general. Adhering to this, the validity in principle of reasoned disagreement (ikhtilaf), or pluralism of ideas and interpretations, in religious and intellectual matters, should be recognised as the fundamental essence of Islam in dealing with different schools of thought. At the same time, the tactics of manipulation of religious or sectarian differences for political and economic purposes, as well as the false images of self-righteousness and rejection of one another in academic spheres should be prohibited as an immoral attitude, which opposes the very basic values of Islam.

Secondly, Muslim governments, whether Sunni or Shiah, shall respect the rights of their citizens regardless of their religious beliefs. Hence, nation-states with Sunni majority should treat their Shiah citizens as equals, and countries with Shiah majority should do the same regarding their Sunni minorities.

In addition, more voices should be raised from Muslim scholars and religious leaders to reject crude myths about a 1,400 year sectarian war between Muslims. This absurdity should be stopped. Otherwise, the strategy of divide-and-conquer may eventually result in untold crimes against humanity and Islam. Ongoing bloodshed in Syria today should be recognized as a civil war, and not to be simplified as a continuation of 1,400 year-long conflict between Sunni and Shiah Muslims.

Lastly, the super powers should not manipulate the ideological differences existing in the Muslim world in the pursuit of their political agenda. All human beings, regardless of their ethnic origins, religious and educational backgrounds, and geographical locations, should be respected as equals, and their dignity, well-being and security should be granted.

*The writer is faculty member, Department of History, International Islamic University Malaysia.

References:

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/11/report-on-syria-conflict-finds-115-of-population-killed-or-injured (accessed 12 June 2016).

[2] http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/interactive/2015/03/left-syria-150317133753354.html.

[3] Murtaza Hussain, “The Myth of the 1,400 year Sunni-Shia War,” Al Jazeera, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/07/2013719220768151.html (accessed 26 August 2013).

[4] Murtaza Hussain, “The Myth of the 1,400 year Sunni-Shia War,” Al Jazeera, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/07/2013719220768151.html (accessed 26 August 2013).

[5] See, Adel Allouche, The Origins and Development of the Ottoman-Safavid Conflict (906-962/1500-1555) (Berlin: Klaus Schwarz Verlag, 1983), 4-5 and 146-148; and Shireen Hunter, “Sunni-Shia Tensions are More About Politics, Power and Privilege than Theology,” Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, Georgetown University, http://acmcu.georgetown.edu/135390.html (accessed 4 September 2013).

[6] Dina Ezzat, “OIC Chief: We Need Shia-Sunni Dialogue”, Ahram Online, http://english.ahram.org.eg/News/64183.aspx (accessed 9 September 2013).

Reflections on Brexit

Dr. Khairil Ahmad

I begin with my personal stake on the issue. In a way, without wishing to be overly sentimental, the European Union (EU) has had a hand in the creation of my family. I met my wife, a Swedish citizen, in Britain while studying for a Master’s and later a PhD degree. She, along with many friends who I met there, are part of a generation of Europeans who have benefited from the ease in cross border mobility that came with the EU. Far from diminishing the national identities of its citizens, the EU has managed to allow national belongings to be expressed through its presence. My wife, for one, is a proud Swede who also identifies as a European citizen.

In Britain, through a congregation of people from all over the EU and beyond, my horizons were broadened, my cultural outlook was enriched, and my lifelong resolve to defend and celebrate diversity, pluralism and difference was strengthened. Like me and my wife, many of our friends have gone on to establish cross border families, embracing all the challenges that come with it, challenges that the EU has helped to greatly mitigate.

However, a few days ago, on 23 June 2016, in an in/out referendum on Britain’s membership, the British people voted to leave the EU. Unprecedented and historic, the result, a ‘Brexit’, sent shockwaves throughout the world. David Cameron announced his resignation as Prime Minister, and negotiations for Britain’s exit are expected to begin soon. As I awaited the results that were slowly coming in from across the country, I was overcome by sadness once it became clear that the ‘Leave’ camp would defeat the ‘Remain’ camp. Fifty two percent of those who voted in the referendum had decided to “take back control” of their country, to echo the flagship slogan of the Vote Leave campaign, whatever it means. Colchester, the town which had been my home for five years, and which had benefitted economically from the presence of the University of Essex and its multinational and diverse student and staff population, also voted to leave.[1]

Are there justifiable reasons to want to leave the EU? For sure, the EU is not without its problems and flaws. In the wake of the result of the referendum, Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Podemos party in Spain, rightly mentioned that while Britain’s decision represented a “sad day for Europe”, “(n)o one would want to leave a fair and supportive Europe.”[2] For some time now, the EU has been seen as driving a neoliberal ideological agenda through its economic institutions, the effect of which has been felt across its member countries. There is certainly a democratic deficit in the EU’s decision making arrangement and process, as has been highlighted by Yanis Varoufakis who, briefly as Greece’s finance minister, was dealing with unelected officials representing the European Central Bank (ECB) and the European Commission (together with the International Monetary Fund, they are simply called the ‘Troika’), who held considerable power to determine Greece’s future as a country. We could also add the recently at times appalling response by some member states towards refugees fleeing conflicts in the Middle East to the list. But rather than becoming the reasons to abandon the EU project, we can argue that these would exactly be the reason to stay and exert demands for reforms. Iglesias and Varoufakis, two of the most radical critics of the project, as well as Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the British Labour Party, themselves see the EU as a project to be saved and democratised rather than abandoned.[3][4]

In the case of Turkey, within a context of democratic deliberation between member states on the merits of its future membership, it could be justifiably argued that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ongoing assault on free speech and academic freedom runs counter to the liberal and democratic values which the EU would demand to see from its members. But instead of focusing on this issue, the Vote Leave camp preferred to use the entire of the Turkish population as a scapegoat of their campaign, by drumming up the potential threat that Turkey would pose to the EU with its 76 million citizens if it were to be accepted as a member. As incredulous as such argument may sound, it was indeed the message about immigration which played a leading role in helping voters make up their minds. It served as the basis for a right-wing, populist campaign by its leading figures, culminating in the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), Nigel Farage’s now infamous campaign poster. It featured a picture of a queue of refugees with the caption “Breaking point. The EU has failed us all. We must break free of the EU and take back control of our borders.”[5]

UKIP-Leave-Project-Fear-800x450
UKIP Leave campaign’s ‘Project Fear’

In addition, economic scaremongering tactics were deployed. For example, voters were told that the EU has been systematically undermining the British manufacturing industry, which, ironically, has been continuously undermined from within, since the time of Margaret Thatcher’s premiership. The EU was also said to undermine British workers’ labour rights. And, even as and after the UK Statistics Authority had denied that the country sends £350 million weekly to the EU, the Vote Leave campaign continued to drum up this figure. This was to justify their claim that if they were to take back control of Britain, most of the money could be channelled to the National Health Service (NHS). The British people are very proud of the NHS, so the prospect of increased funding would always appeal to their sentiments.

On the other side, to a significant extent, the Remain campaign fared not much better. Apart from Corbyn’s and the approach of a number of Remain supporters which rested on the need for a calm and rational evaluation of the pros and cons of Britain’s relationship with the EU, the message of the Remain side was largely seen as scaremongering by many voters. Numbers and statistics were thrown around to demonstrate what Britain would lose if it left the EU, as though these were the punishment that awaited those who would be foolish enough to want to leave.[6][7] The resentment against such a line of campaigning also has an underlying cause. For some time now, there has been a growing feeling of disenfranchisement among the poorer and working class segments of the British society, which is both physically and financially removed from the riches that are available in London (London itself, as a matter of fact, is a place with great inequality, poverty and ghettoised communities). While the Scottish people have found a voice in the Scottish National Party (SNP), for example, the northern parts of England remain excluded. Scotland as well as Northern Ireland had overwhelmingly elected to remain in the EU, prompting Nicola Sturgeon, the former’s First Minister, to seek lobby member states to allow Scotland to remain in the EU.[8]

Cameron himself, who had put his political career on the line by promising the referendum as part of his general election manifesto in 2015, is not particularly a popular leader among the working class. Not only is he seen as part of the elite Westminster political class which is disconnected from the realities of everyday life, his premiership has been marked by an assault on public and welfare services through budget cuts and austerity measures, and shall be remembered as such now that he is resigning. Therefore, in analysing this issue, the journalist John Harris correctly reminds us that the referendum, for millions in Britain, is about class, inequality and exclusion.[9] This trend of disconnection between people and the political processes of their societies, it has to be remembered, is one which is prevalent the world over. The political philosopher Michael Sandel reminds us that there is now a “widespread frustration with politics, with politicians and with established political parties”, with people feeling left out from making meaningful contributions in shaping the political processes of their communities. “A large constituency of working class voters”, says Sandel, “feel that not only has the economy left them behind, but so has the culture, that the sources of their dignity, the dignity of labour, have been eroded and mocked by developments with globalisation, the rise of finance, the attention that is lavished by parties across the political spectrum on economic and financial elites, the technocratic emphasis of the established political parties.”[10]

Why, then, should people not be cynical of the EU? At our mundane level of interaction, beyond helping the lucky and educated few like me and my friends establish multinational families, what has and could the EU do to secure a dignified life for people? Perhaps it is the fundamental aims of such project of cross-border integration and cooperation that are worth fighting for. Fundamentally, since its creation in its preceding forms in the aftermath of World War II until it became the European Union in 1992, the aim has been to secure peaceful economic and cultural exchanges between member states. As a result, European communities became less closed and insular, which we can argue as being two of the reasons which contributed to the two world wars that we have had. Beyond peaceful economic exchanges, the EU’s role in providing common frameworks for national governance and legislation, ideally, could become a bulwark against the recurrence of events such as the Holocaust. The EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights legally secures the basic rights of all residents of the EU against unjust treatments by its institutions. The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), with articles and protocols that affirm fundamental rights and freedoms, is a piece of document that must be respected by all EU member states, including the rights of minority communities. As imperfect as these may be, things may be worse without them. They would still provide protection against, for example, Islamophobia. This is part of the reason why British Muslims overwhelmingly voted to remain in the referendum.[11][12] Smaller communities could depend on the EU’s fundamental and human rights proclamations to protect their rights and interests. For example, indigenous communities, such as the Sami people in the Nordic countries, could use the European Court of Human Rights to seek legal redress against the possession of their lands by the state. The ECHR also provides safeguards against national legislations which are discriminatory against, for example, members of sexual minority groups. From a non-European perspective, the EU is still a model for cross border integration and cooperation which many could still only dream of.

As the shock of Britain’s decision begins to settle, more and more questions have emerged. What would happen to the thousands who have established cross border families because they thought that they would be able to depend on the EU and its institutions? What about the many British citizens who are currently serving in the EU bureaucracy? What about those from EU member states who are now working and raising their families in Britain, many of whom are indispensable members of the British labour force, such as the NHS doctors and nurses? What about the thousands of British citizens who have expatriated themselves to other EU countries such as Spain and France? Perhaps, for the remaining member states, there would soon be a renewed effort to engage and debate in a constructive manner about making the union stronger and more democratic. Back in Britain, what is worrying is that the result of the referendum could mean that the British people have placed the future of their children in the hands of some unsavoury characters in British politics, such as Farage. Already we are hearing unashamed backpedalling on some of the most fundamental promises of the leave campaign by its own leaders, including on the pledge to channel more money to the NHS.[13] It must also be remembered that the run up to the referendum itself witnessed the murder of Jo Cox, the Member of Parliament for Batley and Spen, a principled Labour politician who devoted her life to fighting for humanitarian causes and for the rights of migrants and refugees.

*The writer is faculty member,  Department of Political Science, International Islamic University Malaysia.

References:

[1] http://www.theguardian.com/politics/ng-interactive/2016/jun/23/eu-referendum-live-results-and-analysis

[2] http://www.theguardian.com/politics/live/2016/jun/24/eu-referendum-brexit-live-europe-leave-remain-britain?page=with:block-576d38dee4b030d83eb4a3c3#liveblog-navigation

[3] http://www.theguardian.com/politics/commentisfree/2016/may/28/brexit-empire-era-trick-radical-case-for-europe-lucas-mcdonnell-democracy-eu

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/05/yanis-varoufakis-why-we-must-save-the-eu

[5] http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jun/16/nigel-farage-defends-ukip-breaking-point-poster-queue-of-migrants

[6] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/pm-uk-will-lose-billions-of-pounds-in-infrastructure-funding-if-it-leaves-eu

[7] http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/north-lose-out-120000-jobs-11467931

[8] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/jun/25/sturgeon-seeks-urgent-brussels-talks-to-protect-scotlands-eu-membership

[9] http://www.theguardian.com/politics/commentisfree/2016/jun/24/divided-britain-brexit-money-class-inequality-westminster

[10] http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2016/06/michael-sandel-energy-brexiteers-and-trump-born-failure-elites

[11] http://lordashcroftpolls.com/2016/06/how-the-united-kingdom-voted-and-why/

[12] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/mar/29/british-muslims-europe-remain-brexit

[13] http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jun/25/leave-campaign-rows-back-key-pledges-immigration-nhs-spending

Legacy of Al Faruqis: 30 Years On

A forum was held on Friday 27 May 2016 titled “Legacy of Al Faruqis: 30 Years on” at the International Islamic University Malaysia. The event, organized by the Current Affairs Forum to commemorate the life and legacy of the great scholar Ismail Raji Al-Faruqi and his wife Lamya Lois Al-Faruqi on the 30th anniversary of their assassination on 27 May 1986. The forum brought together a lively audience of scholars and students. The forum was moderated by Professor Tan Sri Kamal Hassan, IIUM’s former Rector. The panel speakers, Professors Ibrahim Zein and Abdul Rashid Moten, passionately shared their experience with and thoughts regarding the late Ismail Faruqi, drawing from their personal acquaintances with him.

The forum was kick started by Prof. Kamal, who introduced the audience to Ismail Faruqi and his work. In addition to his pioneering role in the establishment of the Institute of International Islamic Thought (IIIT) in the USA and his social and political, it was shown to the audience thatFaruqi was not an armchair scholar, but a scholar who engaged in intellectual jihad. Prof Kamal then invited Prof. Zein to share his thoughts on Faruqi.

Prof.  Zein, in a highly personal yet critical reflection of Faruqi’s academic and intellectual legacy, highlighted several important aspects of the late scholar’s work. Zein focused on a number of Faruqi’s known works,  such as Cultural Atlas of Islam, Tawhid: Implications in Thought and Life and Christian Ethics: A Systematic and Historical Analysis of Its Dominant Ideas. According to Zein, apart from his contributions towards the project of Islamization, Faruqi contributed towards developing the concepts of ‘meta-religion’ and ‘Islamic humanism’.  Zein then embarked upon a detailed discussion on those concepts and and Faruqi’s lasting contribution through them. In this regard, he also warned of  attempts which had been made to distort the meaning of such concepts which Faruqi had earnestly developed during his later years (Zein identified the period during which they were developed as the period of the ‘final Faruqi’) to serve our present-day agenda. Further, members of the audience were told that in person, Faruqi was warm, loving and dedicated towards his students. The Islamization project was his crowning achievement, and through his intellectual work, scholarly dedication and organizational aptitude, he channeled his energies into the project through his engagement with various initiatives such as the Islamic universities and the IIIT.

The moderator thanked Prof. Zein for his presentation, and agreed with the speaker’s view of the importance of formulating the image of the final Faruqi. The moderator then introduced the next speaker, Prof. Moten, a renowned political scientist and senior academic fellow at IIUM’s Centre for Islamisation (CENTRIS), and invited him to speak.

Moten’s first meeting with Faruqi was in 1983, while he was teaching at Bayero University in Nigeria. At that time, Faruqi came to the university to deliver a seminar lecture on research methodology from an Islamic perspective. After the lecture, they met, and a friendship was forged through mututal intellectual interest. Meeting Faruqi left a lasting impact on Moten. He reminisced that Faruqi had said to him that the erstwhile socio-economic system in the Muslim world was rotten and lacked the appropriate values. The dualistic modern education system, which is divided into the secular and religious, had produced graduates who were at odds with one other. They needed to be brought together. The education crisis in the Muslim world translated into a Muslim intellectual crisis, which Faruqi believed could only be remedied by the process of Islamization. Fast forward to the present, Moten made a critical evaluation of Islamization as understood in the present context. He iterated that Islamization was never meant to be an individual effort, but an institutional one, more so if one were to take into account the twelve-step work plan as formulated by Faruqi and the IIIT towards Islamization of education. In the course of his reflections, Moten praised Faruqi for taking the initiative to initiate correspondence with the former Prime Minister of Malaysia Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, which served as a basis towards the establishment of the IIUM.

After thanking the speaker on his thoughtful presentation, Kamal summarized the words of the two speakers and offered his own thoughts on Faruqi and his legacy. He brought into the discussion the eulogy written on Faruqi by one of his well-known students, John Esposito. He appreciated the finer points in the eulogy, such as the fact that Faruqi was not only at ease with multiple languages, but was also adept at looking into both Western philosophy and Islamic philosophy. Kamal also mentioned a lesser known fact about Faruqi’s appreciation and knowledge of classical music. Kamal then mentioned of his possession of the handwritten letter which Faruqi sent to Mahatir. He also mentioned that Faruqi, in light of his appreciation and awareness of his Palestinian roots, was conscious of his reality as a migrant (muhajir) on the face of this world, lived  as an ‘alim and passed away as a martyr (Shaheed). In light of his immense contributions, Kamal reiterated the importance of knowing the definitive Faruqi. Islamization was the legacy of Faruqi, and the IIIT, which he helped set up and establish, was part of his vision and concept of Ummatism.

Prof. Kamal then opened the floor for questions from the audience. Responding to the first question on the contributions of Lamya Faruqi, the wife of Ismail, Zein praised her contributions as an academic at Temple University, that of a specialist in ethnomusicology, and as a successful homemaker and intellectual shadow of Ismail at the same time. In addition, Zein noted that Ismail Faruqi was a great cook and used to invite his students to his house and cook for them. He also specialized talented interior designer, a skill he used to earn money in his earlier years, which helped fund his PhD studies. As an academic and faculty at Temple University, he was a vocal activist for the Palestinian cause and encouraged his students to engage in community activities. In the 1980s, out of 50 who studied in Master and PhD programmes in Islamic studies at Temple, 35 students, who hailed from different parts of the world, were studying under Faruqi.

The discussion also involved other distinguished guests present at the forum. Responding to a question on the influence of Faruqi’s works in the Arab world, Dr. Tahir el Mesawi, a faculty of KIRKHS, responded by affirming that Faruqi was well read and understood in the Arab world due to his initiative in writing in various Arab journals and other publications. However, many of the works are currently not accessible due to the lack of compilation and also translation. El Mesawi followed this up with a reflection of his own experience and memories of the late Faruqi.

After the extensive Q & A session, Prof. Kamal brought the programme to an end. He concluded the seminar with the summation of the various points that were raised in the course of the discussions, and closed the forum with a prayer to the Almighty for the soul of the deceased Faruqis and the well-being of the Muslim Ummah.

SOME PRELIMINARY THOUGHTS ON ORLANDO SHOOTING

By Elmira Akhmetova

The world is horrified by a tragic mass shooting again. This time, it took the lives of at least 49 people and wounded another 53 at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, on 12 June 2016. This tragedy is considered to be the deadliest mass shooting by a single gunman in United States history and the deadliest incident of violence against LGBT people. The murderer was identified as 29 years old Omar Mateen, a U.S citizen born to Afghan immigrant parents. Pundits and social media jumped into hasty conclusions, describing the religion of Islam to be the sole explanation of Mateen’s hatred against LGBT people. Very soon, Mateen’s “potential inspiration by foreign terrorist organizations”[i] and his declaration of allegiance to DAESH were revealed to public. My brief observation of media coverage of the tragedy can be summarized in four points.

Firstly, Noor Zahi Salman, the ex-wife of Mateen, described him as a “violent, mentally unstable person beating her repeatedly when they were married.”[ii] In fact, the world has witnessed such cases of brutality and mass murder conducted by violent or mentally disturbed individuals before. On 17 June 2015, for example, a mass shooting at the Charleston Church in the U.S. left nine people dead. This massacre, committed by Dylann Roof, who believed in white supremacy, has been ruled as a hate crime. On 22 July 2011, a Norwegian criminal, Anders Breivik, slaughtered 77 people and called it a “crusade against multiculturalism and Islam.” Breivik was diagnosed by the court-appointed forensic psychiatrists as having paranoid schizophrenia and narcissistic personality disorder[iii] although a visibly healthy Breivik demonstrated his commitment to Nazi ideology in his court appearance. Neither of them was labelled as a ‘Christian terrorist’ or, at least, an ‘atheist terrorist’. In the case of Omar Mateen, it was a matter of hours on Sunday before local authorities and national politicians began labelling him an ‘Islamic terrorist’ even before the report that he had pledged allegiance to DAESH during the attack had appeared. The media coverage of this massacre once again reveals the continuation of subtle biases in the language that public officials and media use to define terror and who is eligible to perpetrate it.[iv]

Secondly, the supposed iron link between terrorism and Islam is still used by mass media and some politicians shrewdly. On 13 June 2016, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump called on President Barack Obama to resign because he refused to equate terrorism with Islam and “disgracefully refused to even say the words ‘radical Islam.’”[v] Such kind of hatred speeches alleging Islam’s links with terrorism demonize the Muslim population of the U.S. in particular and the entire Muslim world in general. It is worth mentioning here that, according to the FBI reports, 94 percent of the terrorist attacks in the U.S. since 1980 were carried out by non-Muslims. Most mass shootings were not carried out by Muslims.[vi] At the same time, no one can deny that there are thousands of successful Muslim women and men in America, who significantly contribute to the development, wellbeing and success of the country.

Thirdly, the pundits and investigators are largely inclined to focus on Mateen’s Afghan ethnic background while the fact that he is a product of American educational system and social interactions is barely addressed. Omar Mateen was born in New York to an Afghan immigrant parents. He held two degrees in science from Indian River State College, which he received in 2006 and 2007. After his graduation, he worked for seven months as a prison guard for the Florida Department of Corrections, leaving the position for an “administrative matter unrelated to misconduct.” Since 2007, Mateen had worked as a licensed security officer for G4S, one of Florida’s largest private security companies.[vii] Although FBI Director James Comey suggests that Mateen had “strong indications of radicalization” and “potential inspiration by foreign terrorist organizations,”[viii] yet no direct ties of him with DAESH or any other terrorist organizations have been clearly established to date. Most probably, he was ‘self-radicalized’.  But what were the main reasons for his radicalization? Why did he grow up in the U.S. as a mentally disturbed and brutal person as had been described by his ex-wife? Had he been accepted by American society as its full member? Are there any cases exposing that he had repeatedly been discriminated in his society due to his ethnic and religious backgrounds? Lastly, why did this young man answer to an inspiration coming from foreign terrorist organizations as claimed by James Comey, while the rest of American Muslims do not? These questions need to be answered. But one thing is definite- the Orlando tragedy did not happen due to Mateen’s faith, Islam.

The timing of Orlando massacre is significant: Islamic values received huge world-wide publicity following the death of legendary hero Muhammad Ali. This didn’t seem to go well with some elements. So this massacre “neutralized” the positive image of Islam. Mateen is reported to have been known to the FBI for his extremist views: he was interviewed twice by the agency. Why wasn’t he under surveillance by the agency? Earlier we were told that the Boston bomber brothers were under FBI’s surveillance and yet they were able to commit the crime. Similarly we are told that in 2008 Mumbay’s Taj Mahal hotel attack some terrorists came from Pakistan’s Karachi by a merchant boat, got private taxis to reach the hotel and killed the counter terrorism chief of the state who was scheduled next morning to reveal his findings on another terrorist act in the country. The question that arises here is – what role are the security agencies playing. Are they fulfilling their responsibilities to secure the people? Aren’t they being paid by the taxpayers’ money? Investigation reports about most terrorist acts are not generally made public because of “national security interests.” Should we put the so-called national security interests above truth? Don’t the taxpayers have the right to know the truth? The civilized world must come up with convincing answer to these questions if we are really interested in universal values such as human dignity and transparency.

Lastly, such a horrible act of violence, indeed, has never been justified in Islam, which sanctifies human life and confers dignity on all humans regardless of their race, religion, creed, or sexual orientation. Therefore, this crime against humanity should not be used to portray Islam negatively as a monolithic entity, which poses a growing threat to world peace and security. For many centuries, Islam exposed itself as a religion of moderation, committed to establishing a system of truth and justice that shuns laxity on one side, and extremism and radicalism on the other. In fact, terror and violence are universal phenomena that have existed throughout human history, and are not particular to any religious, social or ethnic group. Yet, in recent years, radicalism and violence are expanding, both in the West and East; people are becoming more radical and much brutal, and this needs to be addressed urgently. The media and educational systems, both in the West and East, should be utilized to train the youth to adopt more peaceful and harmonious ways of life. Until the governments will learn to respond to the needs and benefits of their own people, the future of global peace and stability remains bleak.

References:

[i] http://www.tampabay.com/news/publicsafety/crime/omar-mateen-what-we-know-about-orlando-nightclub-shooter/2281484

[ii] http://abcnews.go.com/US/omar-mateen-suspected-orlando-night-club-shooter/story?id=39790797

[iii] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-17663958

[iv]http://fusion.net/story/313760/omar-mateen-orlando-dylann-roof-terror/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=fusion&utm_content=link

[v] http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman/ct-donald-trump-orlando-shooting-muslims-20160613-story.html

[vi] http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman/ct-donald-trump-orlando-shooting-muslims-20160613-story.html

[vii] http://www.tampabay.com/news/publicsafety/crime/omar-mateen-what-we-know-about-orlando-nightclub-shooter/2281484

[viii]http://www.tampabay.com/news/publicsafety/crime/omar-mateen-what-we-know-about-orlando-nightclub-shooter/2281484

In Memoriam of Muhammad Ali The Legend

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Muhammad Ali, former world heavyweight boxing champion and one of the greatest heavyweights in the history of the sport, passed away at a hospital in Phoenix city in Arizona State, USA on 3 June, 2016. He was suffering from a respiratory illness, a condition that was complicated by Parkinson’s disease.

Muhammad Ali was one of the first public figures in America to be identified with Islam. He was also a civil rights activist and poet who transcended the bounds of sport, race and nationality. Ali was born Cassius Marcellus Clay in 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky. He started boxing when he was 12 and by the time he was in his twenties, many considered him the greatest fighter of all times. After winning the Rome Olympics in 1960, he became the darling of the American public-handsome, charming, and greatly successful.

In 1965, just a few days before becoming the world champion, Clay joined the “Black Muslims,” influenced by Malcolm X, and changed his name initially to Cassius X and eventually Muhammad Ali. Adopting the Muslim name Muhammad Ali, he has always insisted, was one of the most important occurrences in his life. The boxing commission was furious, and from a boxing hero Ali quickly became the object of suspicion.

In 1967, Ali took the momentous decision of opposing the US war in Vietnam. Although a move widely criticised by his fellow Americans, it was the moment which truly showcased who he was; a man standing up for his beliefs, even at the prospect of losing his entire career. He refused to be drafted into the US military and was subsequently stripped of his world title and boxing licence. In a flash, Ali, already controversial for his conversion to Islam and name change from Cassius Clay, became one of the most debated public figures in the country. Nobody close to Ali’s level of fame had resisted the draft, and his seemingly flippant opposition to the war made him a target of ridicule from the mainstream media, the government and his sport. The New York State Athletic Commission suspended his boxing license and withdrew his recognition as champion. In response, Ali threw away his Olympic medal to Ohio river and decided to fight back legally. But in the end, his faith in Allah and strength of character prevailed. His conviction for refusing the draft was overturned in 1971 by the Supreme Court of the United States. Muhammad Ali became a symbol of resistance for the truth and justice and returned to the ring. He joined the sport and soon regained his championship title.

His decision and unwavering stance inspired countless people who took inspiration and followed his example in voicing their positions against wrongful acts by the US. Ali is reported to have inspired Martin Luther King, Jr., who had been reluctant to address the Vietnam War for fear of alienating the Johnson Administration and its support of the civil rights agenda. After Ali’s brave stance, King began to voice his own opposition to the war for the first time.

 Ali’s stance on the war in Vietnam was loud and clear. He said,

“Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars. But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality. If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail, so what? We’ve been in jail for 400 years.”

Retiring from a glittering career in boxing in 1981, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1984, a condition which contributed to his failing health over the years. This however, did not stop him from active participation in contributing to various humanitarian, social, political and philanthropic causes and spreading awareness on various socio-political issues in America. Even as his health gradually declined, Ali threw himself into humanitarian causes, traveling to Lebanon in 1985 and Iraq in 1990 to seek the release of American hostages. In 1996, he lit the Olympic flame in Atlanta, lifting the torch with shaking arms. He travelled incessantly for many years, crisscrossing the globe in appearances he promoted philanthropic causes, met with presidents, royalty, heads of state and the Pope, among many others. Regarding his impact, Muhammad Ali’s legacy is too vast to detail here, but an article on Wikipedia detailing his legacy in media and popular culture list more than thirty books written about the legend and numerous movies and film biographies where many individuals have portrayed him , including Ali himself in the 1977 film, the Greatest.

He had been a significant contributor to the financing of Islamic institutions such as Masjid al-Faatir, the first mosque built from the ground up in the city of Chicago. The truly great men of history, he has said, want not to be great themselves but to help others and be close to God. That Islam played an instrumental role in his belief in social justice and the dignity of all men, irrespective of their differences is discernible from his memoirs. After his conversion to Islam and going to Hajj, Ali stated,

“I have had many nice moments in my life. But the feelings I had while standing on Mount Arafat (just outside Makka, ) on the day of the Hajj , was the most unique. I felt exalted by the indescribable spiritual atmosphere there as over one and a half million pilgrims invoked God to forgive them for their sins and bestow on them His choicest blessings.

It was an exhilarating experience to see people belonging to different colours, races and nationalities, kings, heads of state and ordinary men from very poor countries all clad in two simple white sheets praying to God without any sense of either pride or inferiority. It was a practical manifestation of the concept of equality in Islam.”

Asked how he would like to be remembered, he once said: “As a man who never sold out his people. But if that’s too much, then just a good boxer. I won’t even mind if you don’t mention how pretty I was.”

Although Muhammad Ali has passed away in person, his spirit for social justice lives on, as does his glittering legacy. Mohammad Ali remains a true epitome of what one could achieve through relentless pursuit of one’s goals, shaped by strong faith and belief in social justice and the dignity of all men. He remains an embodiment of what faith and perseverance can achieve in the face of massive societal and political hurdles, and win over the hearts of millions at the end of the day. Muslim leaders all over the world have a lot to learn from him. We pray that the Almighty grants this champion of humanity the highest of levels in Paradise.