Prominent Muslim clerics form national council

Senior Muslim Imams are creating a national body to promote an understanding of Islam that reflects British values. Qari Asim, a prominent British Imam of a Leeds mosque, said the community needs a central authority to deal with doctrinal, theological, and social issues.

Asim said, “The attempt is to embed Islam in a 21st-century British context. It’s about contextualising Islam in Britain.”

The national body will not be state-backed, which will help it maintain credibility. The body would supplement the Muslim Council of Britain which does not determine religious doctrine.

Asim related the need for theological clarity to the dangers of radicalisation. He hopes the new body can show that the Muslim community is actively and resolutely against terrorism, which is needed especially after the terrorist attacks in Spain.

The chimaera of a ‘liberal’ Islam: the fate of the new mosque in Berlin

The opening of a self-styled ‘liberal’ mosque in Berlin – marked by the mixing of genders, the absence of headscarves, and the openness to pluralistic understandings of Islam – by lawyer and activist Seyran Ateş has sparked a media frenzy both in Germany and abroad.

Liberal and conservative media outlets have celebrated the mosque. Liberals see it as much-needed proof that Islam is capable of ‘reform’ and that Islamophobic discourse is not only morally objectionable but also factually mistaken. Conservatives welcome the establishment of the mosque as heralding an Islamicality that is thoroughly ‘integrated’ and ‘assimilated’ to the German context.

Muted reaction at home

The reaction of Islamic institutions from abroad – most notably from Turkey and Egypt – has been similarly loud, although fiercely critical: religious authorities in Ankara and Cairo have castigated the new mosque as a doctrinal abomination.

Yet while many media outlets were quick to pick up on the pugnacious hostility coming from state-controlled Muslim institutions in the Middle East, the arguably more important aspect of the Muslim response to the mosque went almost completely unscrutinised: hardly anyone bothered to take into account the perspective of German Muslims themselves. And in contrast to journalists across the world and state clerics in the Middle East, German Muslims have so far been comparatively unfazed by the mosque.

Isolated high-level endorsements

To be sure, a number of Muslim public figures have given their largely favourable opinions. Sawsan Chebli, high-ranking Social Democratic member of the government of the state of Berlin, took to Twitter to greet the mosque’s establishment. (She was then heckled by both an Islamophobe on the one hand and an infamous former journalist-turned-Salafi-activist deeming the mosque to be a desecration of Islam on the other hand).(( https://twitter.com/SawsanChebli/status/878268593359642625 ))

Beyond these isolated exchanges, however, responses of high-level Muslim actors have been scarce. Most notably, the ‘conservative’ Islamic foundations – i.e. the main targets of the mosque – have kept an icy silence.

Even the chairman of the ZMD association, Aiman Mazyek, the most vocal representative of the established foundations, contented himself with asserting that those who seek to distinguish a ‘liberal’ from a ‘conservative’ Islam unduly politicise the religion. When asked how he felt about Ateş’ mosque, he refused to comment, simply stating: “she should do whatever she wants”.(( http://vorab.bams.de/der-vorsitzende-des-zentralrats-der-muslime-aiman-mazyek-lehnt-eine-unterteilung-des-islam-in-liberal-oder-konservativ-ab/ ))

Lack of popular engagement

Yet the true disappointment for Ateş must be the extremely limited response of ordinary Muslim believers to her mosque. At the first Friday prayers, the congregation was far outnumbered by journalists; and one week later barely any faithful bothered to show up.

According to Ateş herself, this lack of attendees is due to the fact that liberal Muslims must be afraid of recriminations if they display their progressive ideas about religion openly.(( https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article165832629/Die-meisten-liberalen-Muslime-haben-Angst.html )) Of course this possibility cannot be discounted and might very well be true in some cases.

Yet the much larger problem that appears to beset the new mosque is its lack of religious credibility. Most notably, Ateş herself has given very little indication in the past of any will to thoughtfully engage with Islam. Instead, she has chosen the populist route, with for instance her past polemics against headscarf and religious conservatism antagonising virtually all active Muslim politicians from among Greens, Social Democrats, and Christian Democrats.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/reaktion-auf-kommentar-gruene-muslime-greifen-islamkritikerin-seyran-ates-an/1603712.html ))

What is more, although Ateş has stated that she wishes to become an Imam, so far she does not hold any formal qualification to lead prayer. The fact that she also decided to publish a self-referential book on the day of the mosque’s opening – the work is titled Selam Mrs. Imam: How I Founded a Liberal Mosque in Berlin – adds to the perception that the project is too much about her rather than about a genuine attempt at religious reflection.

“Liberal Islam is a chimaera”

In a piece for Qantara.de, journalist Loay Modhoon takes up many of these issues, arguing that “liberal Islam is a chimaera”.(( https://en.qantara.de/content/berlins-new-mosque-liberal-islam-is-a-chimaera )) According to Modhoon, “fervent enthusiasm in the media and political realm cannot […] gloss over two fundamental problems”:

Firstly: so-called “liberal Islam” consists of individuals, public personalities; it has no structure to speak of. In Germany there are now a number of civil society initiatives by liberal Muslims, but their level of organisation is still low, as is their ability to connect with the conservative Muslim mainstream.

Secondly: so far, those who represent liberal Islam are still very vague as far as content is concerned. They usually define themselves by their rejection of conservative Islam. And that’s just too little substance to have a big impact.

Not the first mosque of its kind

Modhoon goes on to note that the Berlin mosque is not the first of its kind, and criticises the vacuity of the supposedly ‘liberal’ Islamic project:

No question about it: the opening of the Ibn Rushd-Goethe Mosque is a courageous and remarkable step. But outside Germany liberal mosques like these are not a new phenomenon. Similar mosque projects have already existed for a long time in Britain and the United States.

In addition, the heterogeneous supporters of liberal Islam should have explained – well before the mosque opened – on what Islamic principles their liberal understanding of the religion is based. They should, for example, have held a pertinent debate on the role of Sharia in a secular constitutional state. This would certainly have been helpful in terms of drawing a distinction between acceptable and unacceptable aspects of Sharia.

In other words, just as Turkey’s state authority for religious affairs, Diyanet, cites the “tenets of the Islamic faith” as its reference point, the liberal Muslims should also have justified their efforts with reference to genuine Islamic sources.

State-enforced ‘liberalism’ lacks credibility

In some sense, then, Ateş’ mosque suffers from a set of fairly predictable problems. At the same time, the political environment in which a liberal Islam is being articulated is particularly challenging:

Neither the meagre response to the Muslim peace and anti-terrorism demonstration in Cologne nor the hostile reactions to the opening of the mosque in Berlin can be taken as evidence that Islam is incapable of reform. We are, after all, seeing efforts by Muslim activists all around the world who are striving for reform. The battle over who has the prerogative of interpreting and defining “Islam” is being fought almost everywhere, with a vengeance.

In any case, politicians would be well advised not to privilege particular versions of Islam – neither liberal nor conservative. An Islam protected or even controlled by the state would have no credibility and would be unworthy of a pluralist democracy.

For the ongoing development of Islam in Germany it would therefore be better, in the spirit of our liberal-democratic constitution, to respect the real-life plurality of Muslims and their different understandings of what Islam is – and continue to promote its institutional naturalisation.

‘Anti-Sharia’ Marchers Met With Counter-Protests Around The Country

Protesters who gathered on Saturday, June 10th, to denounce Islamic law were met across the country with equally sized or larger counter-protests.  The rallies were organized by the conservative group ACT for America, which the Southern Poverty Law Center calls the “largest grassroots anti-Muslim group in America, claiming 280,000 members and over 1,000 chapters.” The organization describes itself as “the NRA of national security.”

The rallies were held in about two dozen cities and about 20 states.

Organizers called the “March Against Sharia” rallies to protest what they say is the threat to U.S. society posed by the set of traditional Muslim practices, which they say includes oppression of women, honor killings, homophobic violence, female genital mutilation and other abuses.

 

Minneapolis Muslims protest ‘sharia’ vigilante in Cedar-Riverside area

A man trying to impose what he calls “the civil part of the sharia law” in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis has sparked anger among local residents and Muslim leaders.

Minneapolis police received reports in February from concerned residents who saw Rashid in a dark green uniform that said “Muslim Defense Force” and “Religious Police” and had two flags associated with ISIS and other terrorist groups.

“We’ve had conversations with community members that live over there,” said Officer Corey Schmidt, a police spokesman. “Sometimes it takes a little bit of time to deal with it, but it’s something we’ve been monitoring.”

From the Lone Wolf to the Management of Savagery Amidst violence worldwide, it is time to take religion seriously

In the early phases of the war in Syria, ISIS did not appear as a major threat to the West. Jihadists made their way to Syria to fight the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad with little interest to carry out attacks in their respective countries. The November 13 attacks in Paris reveal a shift of strategy, but also, a change in actors of the global jihad.

Until this point, global attacks were the defining feature of Al Qaeda, especially in the West. Ironically, a few days before the Paris attacks, Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri sent a message to the Muslim youth to intensify their fight in the West.

Many observers have noted that the November 13 coordinated attacks endorsed by ISIS illustrate not only a change of players but also of the rules of the game. Yet they fail see that this strategy is not driven only by the material, institutional, and geopolitical features of the Islamic State. It expresses a binary vision where the merciless and relentless “fighters of God” aim to destroy the “forces of Evil.” We should not underestimate the influence of such a vision, which provides an ideology of resistance to the disenchanted youth, and therefore will require mobilization of religious and cultural narratives that could offer credible alternatives to this “cosmologic” vision.

The November attacks in Paris and Beirut follow a war strategy inspired by Abu Bakr Naji (a pen name), author of the tract called the Management of Savagery, which was released online in 2004 and used by the Iraq branch of Al Qaeda in 2005-07. In this pamphlet, he advocates for restless violence and massacre in order to scare and exhaust the enemy. In his own words:

“The tyrants plan and plot together for the continued humiliation and pillage of the Ummah, the suppression of the jihad, and the buying off of the youth and the (Islamic) movements. Therefore, we must drag everyone into the battle in order to give life to those who deserve to live and destroy those who deserve to be destroyed … Thus, we must burn the earth under the feet of the tyrants so that it will not be suitable for them to live in …” (p.176)

The means to achieve this goal are not only military, but also psychological. It entails attacking everywhere and at anytime in order to destabilize populations across countries. It is what Naji calls “waves operations”–which never end and maintain high levels of fear among masses. The fight is also about capturing the hearts and minds of youth in the lands of savagery by raising their belief and turning their energy and enthusiasm into lethal weapons against the “armies of Evil.” The November massacres in Paris and Beirut, and the downing of the Russian jetliner in the Sinai, are signals that the whole world will be the target of successive waves, which will be more intense and restless than those of Al Qaeda ones.

A military response to destroy ISIS’s infrastructure in Iraq–and to dismantle its material resources beyond oil–is with no doubt an important component of any attempt to defeat them. But will it diminish their global appeal? Probably not.

First, because only a military response cannot defeat such an apocalyptic vision. Beyond the combat zones in Syria and Iraq, ISIS provides a narrative–or “ideology of resistance”–not only against the pitfalls of domestic and international politics, but also against the personal disenchantment and anxiety of the youth. What is needed is an alternative global narrative that is appealing across nations and cultures. Attempts of counter-narratives are doomed to fail from the start if initiated by western political actors.

Second, such a narrative has to include some religious references, because interventions based only on secular motivations run the risk of actually increasing the solidarity and empathy of Muslims with ISIS, especially if those interventions are pitching the West against Islam, as some American politicians have already done.

Like an efficient military strategy, the search for an alternative narrative is actually a global issue and requires involvement of all Muslim countries, and most importantly, non-state Muslim actors.

In these conditions, it is imperative that political leaders take religions seriously both domestically and internationally and include it in any response to ISIS. However, it is easier said than done because of the secular culture that prevents or inhibits governmental and international agencies to take into account the religious dimension of peace building, conflict resolution, and any form of positive development.

The main reason for this inhibition is related to the dominant but false perception that religious groups and actors are not as rational, nor inclined to compromise, as non- religious ones. It also neglects the crucial influence of political and cultural contexts that fashion and shape the readings and interpretations of religious texts.

In other words, the understanding of the context in which religious actors are operating is key to identifying the ones that could support international initiatives in favor of peace or rapprochement.

It also means that such international policies inclusive of religion will require specific information and understanding that cannot be gathered in the high peak of crisis or conflict, but rather through a prior understanding of religion across nations and regions.

It is also important for Muslims and non Muslims alike to stop repeating that Islam needs a reform. ISIS are the heirs of the eighteenth-century reform in the Arabic peninsula, known as Salafism, which is based on the imitation of the Prophet Mohammad at Medina. This interpretation undermines the principles of plurality and flexibility of opinions that are central to the Islamic tradition.

The exportation of this “reform” from Saudi Arabia to the whole world since the 1970s, benefited also of the discredit of traditional clerics seen as tools of the authoritarian nation-states. It has therefore gained influence across Muslim countries while presenting itself as “the true” Islam. The challenge is for Muslims to regain ownership of their tradition in all its diversity. For this purpose, centers for education and transmission of Islam outside authoritarian Muslim countries are deeply needed.

To avoid isolating Islam as the “problem,” it would also be critical to create a global network of religious groups and actors of all denominations and traditions who work locally in favor of peace, economic development, and social justice. The key word here is “local.”

Too often, the action of religion at the international level consists of high profile religious figures signing a document enunciating the broad principles of peace and tolerance. In most of the cases, these documents do not have any impact on the ground.

For example, the “Amman Message,” initiated by the King of Jordan in 2004, is a remarkable document bringing prominent Muslim figures to assert–or re-assert–the tolerance of the Islamic message. Regretfully, this document is not known or referenced by religious actors in different localities. In contrast, a more positive action would provide greater visibility to groups and actors who are not automatically religious scholars and authorities, but who act positively in the name of religion.

Introducing religious actors and organizations into policymaking is not angelic or naïve; it is sorely needed to overcome the one-sided perception of religion that is dominant, not only within political agencies, but also among religious radical actors as well.

Dutch filmmakers make documentary about IS victims

© Long Road Ahead
© Long Road Ahead

The young Dutch filmmaker Paul Voors (21) travelled together with three other young filmmakers to the North of Iraq to film victims of the Islamic State (IS). “Once you return home and try to sleep you finally realize what you have actually seen.”

The documentary “Long road ahead” by Felix Govers (20), Pauls Voors (21), Laurens van de Geer (20), and Stephan Valkenier (27) tells the story of four IS victims in Iraq. Poignant was especially the 15 years old Yezidi girl that was kidnapped, beaten, and raped by IS. “The girl wanted to commit suicide,” Voors tells. “She changed her mind when she heard men from the IS laugh about yezidis who did. She did not want to grant them the pleasure.”

Paul’s mother worked at the charity organization Dorcas and would travel frequently to Iraq. The stories he heard from his mother were so terrible that it motivated him to do something about the situation. The four filmmakers were guided in Northern Iraq by Dorcas. “It was safer to travel under their protection but we made the film independently.”

“One of the things I found most striking was to see how the yezidis live there,” Voors tells. “The environment stinks and their living spaces are demarcated by canvas.” A refugee had showed Voors a tape they brought with them when they ran. “It showed a wedding party of several months earlier. Everyone looked gorgeous. Now they were like drifters. The women looked much older and their gaze was exhausted and hopeless.”

The men hope their documentary will attract attention to the humanitarian crisis in Iraq. Voors: “The past couple of months the amount of Iraqis that are in need has risen to more then eight million people. I hope that people realize that we have much riches in the Netherlands. It doesn’t hurt to share some of that.”

Watch the trailer here:

https://vimeo.com/129705999

New book on Dutch Islam: Islam in transformation

A new book in Dutch was published recently on Islam in the Netherlands called: “Islam in transformation: Piety and pleasure amongst Muslims within and outside of the Netherlands,” edited by the prominent Dutch scholars on Islam Joas Wagemakers and Martijn de Koning (Radboud University).New Book

This is a translation of the pamphlet of the book:

The Islamic State, headscarves, questions regarding integration, and opinions in Dutch politics: Islam is continuously in the headlines. Is Islam inextricably connected to violence as the IS wants to assert? Or does Islam stand for peace, as many Muslims in the Netherlands tend to stress?

Often the impression arises that “the” Islam is dominated by ages old texts that determine the behavior of Muslims today. Based on personal research, specialists show that Islam is dynamic and that Muslims experience and apply their faith in various ways. Thus there are large differences in the experience of celebrations, cultural expressions, interpretations of the Qur’an, and multifarious approaches to relationships with  people of different persuasion.

Part 2 in the Series Islam in Transformation treads a broad band of subjects and makes accessible complex themes for those who wish to contribute to the public debate. An earlier publication in this series was “Salafism: Utopian ideals in an unruly reality” (see the item on Euro-Islam: http://www.euro-islam.info/2014/11/18/book-review-salafisme/)

Read the first chapter here (in Dutch):

http://www.uitgeverijparthenon.nl/inkijkexemplaar_islam_in_verandering.pdf

Curriculum initiative by British Muslims

On the initiative of the Islamic scholar Dr Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri, British Muslims have introduced an “anti-terror curriculum” designed to supply Muslim clerics with arguments against the misuse of theological arguments by terrorist organisations such as IS. By Stefan Weidner

In principle, one can only welcome the fact that Muslims’ reactions to the terrorist misinterpretation of religion are becoming more and more sophisticated and explicit – with every attack, as it were.

They can achieve a variety of goals at once here. For one, they show resistance to attempts made to equate Islam with terrorism, an attitude that is fuelled just as much by notorious enemies of Islam as it is by political events, with the self-proclaimed “Islamic State in Syria and Iraq” at the forefront. Secondly, they are repudiating the allegation that Muslims are not distancing themselves sufficiently from terrorism. This is important, even if this insinuation is nearly always the product of ignorance, for example of the debates being waged in Arabic, and is partly based on plain distortion.

The initiative for a Muslim curriculum against terrorism is, however, not only geared toward appeasing Islam-critical observers; it is also an attempt to defeat with their own arguments those who espouse an aggressive and narrow-minded understanding of religion. The arguments against terrorism are derived here theologically from the religion itself and not, as so often is the case, from common sense, which is unfortunately in short supply among those who look to the religion to justify violence.

Of course, many scholars of Islam have tried to do this in the past. However, they have never before worked out such a systematic plan for a theological fight against terrorism and undertaken such great efforts to publicise it in the world press. That this has not yet been attempted can be explained by the religious diversity and local fragmentation of Islam, rather than assuming that Islam offers no arguments against violence.

IS supporters in Syria (photo: DW)

IS supporters in Syria. “We must not forget with regard to this initiative that religion is often used only as a pretext when young Muslims make their way to Syria. Very few of those who go to war are theologically savvy. And precisely because they lack religious education, they are susceptible to radical arguments that present themselves in a religious guise,” writes Stefan Weidner

No choice anymore

Such an initiative takes to its logical conclusion the fact that the Muslims have no choice anymore but to do the same thing with good arguments that the preachers of hate and violence are trying to do with bad ones, namely to reach a broad spectrum of Muslims all over the world. This is admittedly a Herculean task, but it just might lead – if it succeeds – to the kind of Islam that believers around the world are longing to see: a religion whose global standards would be supported by undisputed, universal and humane principles.

We must not forget with regard to this initiative that religion is often used only as a pretext when young Muslims make their way to Syria. Very few of those who go to war are theologically savvy. And precisely because they lack religious education, they are susceptible to radical arguments that present themselves in a religious guise. In this respect, the curriculum initiative could indeed provide a remedy. However, it also reinforces the misleading notion that “terror tourism” really does have primarily religious and cultural motives.

This form of culturalisation, as one might call it, hides other, more likely reasons for the suicidal decampment to the war zone, namely the social, political and economic marginalisation of many immigrants. And it could be, therefore, that the initiative seeks more to meet the expectations of Western policymakers and suspicious non-Muslim observers than to fulfil the needs of the Muslims concerned.

Seen in this light, the initiative could even end up having the opposite effect to what it purports to achieve. By chiming in with the chorus of those who interpret the phenomenon of Muslim terrorism as a problem with the religion, it relieves neo-liberal policymakers of their responsibility for the poverty and neglect of wide swathes of the population, including, of course, the converts looking to compensate for the lack of fulfilment and prospects in their lives in West by fighting for Islamic State, where they can earn the recognition they are denied in the West, even if they have to pay for it with their lives.

David Cameron (photo: Reuters/O. Scarff)

British Prime Minister David Cameron. Says Weidner: “That multiculturalism has failed, as conservative politicians like Merkel and Cameron like to claim today, must not be understood to imply that some Muslims are not interested in taking part in an open society, but indicates instead that this society is perhaps not as open as we would like to believe.”

Model Muslims and marginalised migrants

Finally, Western societies need to ask themselves some probing questions. What good is it if Muslims distance themselves from IS and come up with good arguments against radicalisation as long as the West still does its most lucrative business with countries that have supported this very radicalisation for decades and to this day have in many ways more in common with the social ideology of IS than they do with the Western nations? We are talking here about Saudi Arabia and other states on the Persian Gulf that may have neo-liberal economies but are, in political terms, decidedly anti-democratic.

A second question we must ask ourselves – and one that is perhaps even more important – is to what extent Western democracies are really willing to offer people from different backgrounds and cultures, besides a few very well-integrated model Muslims (and even they can be found above all in the purely symbolic worlds of culture and the media, but not in the crucial realms of business and politics) an equal opportunity and to show them respect and appreciation.

That multiculturalism has failed, as conservative politicians like Merkel and Cameron like to claim today, must not be understood to imply that some Muslims are not interested in participating in an open society, but indicates instead that this society is perhaps not really as open as we like to believe.

And it could soon prove to be the case – to the horror of conservative politicians in particular – that, despite the inherent risk of specific groups sealing themselves off, multiculturalism was a comparatively inexpensive solution to integration issues – at any rate compared to the aspiration to grant immigrants, no matter what their origin, a genuine opportunity in accordance with their abilities and desires and to provide the requisite, government-funded structures for this purpose.

Stefan Weidner

Are halal shares a marketing trick?

Raphie Hayat conducted a research on ‘Islamic finance’ concluding that this is not safer than ‘regular financing’, as is often argued.

  • Question: Is Islamic financing nothing more than a trick to attract Muslims?

Hayat: It is a bit too farfetched to call it a trick. For a company to be called ‘halal’, it has to meet strict requirements. Companies that produce alcohol or pork are excluded for example. And a company’s debt ought not to be higher than 33% of the total balance. And not more than 5% of income should be derived from interest. It is mainly because of this last requirements that shares of many regular banks can never be traded as a ‘halal’ product.

  • Question: There are clear rules. But you do warn for Islamic investment to become a marketing trick.

Hayat: Besides the Financial rules, Islam also requires companies to take into consideration the environment, to have a positive influence on society and good governance. However, these are requirements that are often not met yet. And thus until now, according to my opinion, there is no full ‘seal of quality’.

  • Question: According to the Qur’an, interest is a bad thing. But an Islamic investor does receives efficiency on his shares. Is this an example of ‘special’ Sharia interpretation?

Hayat: I disagree. Interest is forbidden, because it is not dependent upon the profit. Effiency in contrast, ís dependent upon profit. So an investor shares the risk with a company, and this is the essence of the Islamic way of doing business.

  • Question: But religious shares do not withhold the Islamic investor to take excessive risks.

Hayat: this is the responsibility of this person himself.

  • Question: You also write that a small group of Sharia scholars, that are involved in ‘halal’-certificates within Dow Jones Index and FTSE earn around 4.5 million dollar a year.

Hayat: they get paid per certificate. So I have the impression there is a tendency to apply the rules flexible. This is why I propose companies to be judged by an independent institute, for example by a institute from the Netherlands, Sweden or Switzerland.

Two Girls Murdered in Texas Taxi: Were They Honor Killings?

The chilling emergency call opens the documentary “The Price of Honor”, which recounts the lives of two vivacious American teenagers growing up in the Dallas suburb of Irving, Texas, and their attempts to escape the grip of an Egyptian father who planned Muslim marriages.
Honor violence is a crime without a name in the United States. No data is collected on its prevalence, many people think it happens in countries far, far away from the United States, experts on gender-based violence said.