Mohammed Chirani declares ‘jihad’ against Daech

A French Muslim who created headlines when he went on national television in France to declare jihad on Islamic State (IS) extremists says he is not deterred by the death threats he has received since.

In the wake of the Paris attacks, Mohammed Chirani, a specialist in religious radicalization, delivered an impassioned speech telling IS that Allah would not protect them.

“Know that our dead, the innocent French citizens, are in paradise,” he said.

“And your dead, the terrorists, are in hell.”

Holding up a copy of the Koran and his French passport, he said he would use both to wage jihad against the extremists.

“I’d like to say we’ll wage jihad against you with the Koran,” he said. “I’d like to tell the traitors who deceived France, betrayed their country and burned their IDs, that we are kissing our documents.”

His address received national acclaim in France, but he also received death threats from Islamic State.

Chirani told Lateline that he was not worried

“I believe in God. Until I achieve my destiny I will not leave this life I am sure of that,” he said. “I lived in Nigeria during the civil war from nine to 19 and I was prepared all my life for this confrontation against fanatics. So I am not surprised and I am ready.”

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.

Growth of Isis and Islamophobia putting British imams under huge pressure

A generation of young British imams is under huge pressure to develop better ways of showing leadership in social and political issues while also facing death threats from Isis extremists, according to the most senior imam at Leeds mosque.

Imam Qari Asim, the imam of Makkah masjid in Leeds, told the Guardian: “To them, Isis, I am not any different to any other person in this cafe, or in a restaurant in Paris. For them, I am not a Muslim either.”

In the aftermath of the Paris terror attacks, Qari, 37, spent the week speaking to imams to make sense of what happened; attending vigils and talking to senior government ministers , while also consoling members of his congregation who fear an anti-Muslim backlash.

Earlier this week, Qari wrote an article in his local paper condemning Isis, writing: “As a Muslim, a Briton and a human being, I will not stay silent on attacks on our societies in the name of my faith.”

But despite the condemnations of the attacks by British imams in the form of signed letters, sermons and social media posts – often not picked up by wider British press – he said his peers were met with accusations that Muslim leaders are not doing enough to tackle extremism.

Another British imam, Abdullah Hasan, said the view that imams were not doing enough to condemn extremism was not fair. He said: “I was given death threats by Isil sympathisers on TV. We are speaking out against extremists and we are hated by them.”

Qari said: “I think the first thing to understand is that the imam’s role has changed over the years. Imams basically were there to lead the congregation [in prayer] traditionally – we didn’t have pastoral role as part of the imam training.”

“Now we are expected firstly to have a pastoral role, and secondly to lead the community at a political and social level,” he said. “As a result we’re being unduly criticised, even though they are not trained and it’s not considered part of their role.”

Yet due to a previous vacuum of leadership in this area, Qari said he and his peers see it as their responsibility to give guidance on issues specifically affecting a British Muslim audience.

Abla Klaa, 21, a student at Leeds university, said it was frustrating to see community leaders apologise each time, but added: “It makes sense to make people aware that we are being proactive, to tackle the far-right narrative.”

Sample menus for state school lunches in Chilly-Mazarin

[with non-pork alternatives that will disappear from November].

Tuesday 13 October
Starter: Pork liver mousse and cornichon pickle [or chicken pâté] with navette (Marseille orange-flower biscuit)

Main course: Organic blanquette de veau (veal stew), rice

Dessert: Organic apple

 

Thursday 15 October
Starter: Potted salmon and Swedish bread

Main course: Roast pork [or turkey ham], peas and carrots in yoghurt sauce

Dessert: Banana

 

Thursday 22 October
Starter: Green salad with vinaigrette dressing

Main course: Tartiflette (a traditional Alpine gratin of potato mixed with bacon and reblochon cheese) [or pork-free tartiflette]

Dessert: Natural yoghurt, low-sugar apple and vanilla compote

A Gay Muslim Filmmaker Goes Inside the Hajj

In the film, Mr. Sharma, 41, struggles visibly with his fear, even as he prays. He also explores the enduring grief he felt after being rebuked by his late mother, a poet, for not finding a “nice girl” to marry.
The documentary, largely recorded on an iPhone strapped to Mr. Sharma’s neck with rubber bands, shows the pilgrimage in unflinching detail. The result is a religious reality film, but also a piercing indictment of Saudi Arabia, which influences, Mr. Sharma said, millions of pilgrims annually.
His new documentary, “A Sinner in Mecca,” about his 2011 hajj, or journey to Islam’s most sacred sites in Saudi Arabia, put him at even greater risk. Saudi religious police allow selfies or short videos, Mr. Sharma said, but they forbid pilgrims from taking extensive footage of the hajj, which attracts up to three million faithful a year. While Mr. Sharma said there were government-sanctioned videos of the ritual, his documentary shows images of the annual pilgrimage that Saudi officials do not want others to see.
Mr. Sharma’s discretion is no doubt borne of his experience growing up gay in a conservative city in India, but it has deepened since the release of his 2007 documentary, “A Jihad for Love,” which depicted the struggle of gay Muslims around the world to reconcile their faith with their sexual orientation. (Homosexuality is generally condemned in modern Islamic societies, said Everett Rowson, an associate professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at New York University.) After “Jihad,” Mr. Sharma was labeled an infidel, and in the intervening years, he has gotten more death threats than he cares to recall.

The hajj journey of black Americans 50 years after Malcolm X

MECCA, Saudi Arabia — As Shahidah Sharif, an African-American Muslim, joined millions of fellow pilgrims from around the world on the hajj this year, she felt a renewed connection. To her own “blackness,” she says, but also to humanity as a whole.
For American black Muslims, this year brought a significant landmark, the 50th anniversary of Malcolm X’s death. A year before his assassination, Malcolm X underwent a transformative experience on the hajj, seeing the potential for racial co-existence after witnessing, as he wrote, pilgrims “of all colors displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe could never exist between a white and a non-white.”

Converts to German Islam

Germans who adopt Islam not out of frustration but out of a sincere passion for the religion are often disappointed by those born into the Muslim faith, finding that they insufficiently embody the beauty of Islamic doctrine and spirituality. By Charlotte Wiedemann

Convert – the word has a metallic ring to it. When weapons are converted, there is a promise of a more peaceful future; in humans, the opposite appears to be the case: here, the ploughshare becomes the sword. Nowadays, those who convert to Islam are regarded as ticking time bombs.

In books on Africa’s colonial and missionary history, different phrasing is used: here, the Africans “accept Christianity”. This is a lovely way of putting it, connoting a decision freely made – religion as an invitation that one can either accept or reject (as though it all really happened that bloodlessly).

There is, of course, a reason why white history does not speak of “conversion” in this case. This reason is the widespread disdain for the older belief systems in Africa. They represented a primordial state of nature, paganism, not “religion” enough to be recognised as currency.

Among Muslims, it is likewise customary to speak of the “acceptance of Islam”. According to Islamic teaching, every human being is born Muslim – that is the broad definition of being Muslim: the human as image of God, without the construct of Original Sin. Consciously accepting Islam then becomes a mere “testimony” requiring few words, not a transformation.

The supremacy of Arab Islam

A large part of today’s Muslim world has a “conversion background”, as the Germans like to put it, because Islam once made inroads among Zoroastrians, Jews, Christians, etc. Those who can supposedly trace back their family tree directly to the Prophet consider themselves superior – even in Iran, where Arabs are not generally well-liked.

For all its multiculturalism, Islam has not been able to shake off the supremacy of the Arab branch of the religion. German Muslim converts frequently add an extra Arab first name to their given name, which is quite amazing really, as though the private avowal of the faith would require an act of baptism, a new sign on the door to one’s life.

The same practice was followed by the mothers and fathers of a German Islam almost a century ago. Islam has namely been part of Germany much longer than the tiresome debates about integration might lead one to believe.

Opinion rather than research

In the 1920s, the Ahmadiya Mosque in Berlin-Wilmersdorf was a meeting place for intellectuals and writers, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Converts were part of the elite back then, counting aristocrats among their ranks, and some later became members of the Nazi Party. These facts are cited by Esra Ozyurek, professor at the London School of Economics, in her research paper “Being German, Becoming Muslim”. In contemporary Germany, by contrast, people seem to prefer voicing opinions about converts rather than doing research on the history of Muslim converts in Germany.

The “German Muslim League” was founded in 1954 in the restaurant at the Hamburg Schauspielhaus theatre. Fatima Grimm, a veteran of the League, notes that the original statutes required members to have German nationality; Islam was not to be perceived as a “religion of foreigners”.

Her recently (posthumously) published memoirs, “Mein verschlungener Weg zum Islam” (My Winding Path to Islam), are in many respects a document of contemporary history. The author was the child of an SS general who was a friend of Himmler. Stepping out of his shadow, as Fatima Grimm puts it, was one of her motives for turning toward Islam.

In southern Germany, the first Muslims rented taverns for Islamic celebrations because there were as yet no mosques there. Headscarves were unknown, and the few German Muslim women even wore short skirts. The first mosques were later established in Munich, Aachen and Hamburg by people from academic settings: Arab students and German converts.

Members of the Muslim Brotherhood welcomed

The Archbishop donated the chairs for the auditorium of the Munich mosque. Back then, the political climate was unimaginably different from today: Egyptian members of the Muslim Brotherhood, welcome as opponents of Nasser, were even officially invited to the opening of Oktoberfest.

Fatima Grimm’s memoirs, which are written in conversational form, were published by the Narrabila publishing company, itself founded by a new Muslim. The “Islamische Zeitung” newspaper, which just celebrated its twentieth anniversary, was likewise established by converts. Their essays on the intellectual life of Islam are studiously overlooked by German majority society – in order not to jeopardise its own stereotypes.

Wolf Ahmed Aries became a Muslim in 1954, at the age of 16, in a middle-class household in Hanover. At the time, his family laconically remarked of his decision that some people became boy scouts, others Muslims. Aries was director of a Volkshochschule (adult education centre) for a quarter-century. That evidently doesn’t qualify him to be invited to speak on a talk show on the subject of Islam, however; on the contrary, producers today are only on the lookout for strident opinions, says Aries.

Focus on radical converts

People in Germany seem to feel the need to constantly talk about radical converts, about the crazies, the preachers of hate – the swords.

Theologian Rabeya Muller, who was born into the Catholic faith in the Eifel region in 1957, exemplifies a different brand of radicalism. She was already in the women’s movement before she converted, and then became a Muslim feminist and one of the founders of the Cologne “Zentrum fur islamische Frauenforschung” (Centre for Islamic Women’s Studies). She is an imam who leads prayers and performs marriage ceremonies.

Does the social history of conversion in Germany reflect a loss of prestige for Islam, asks Islam scholar Esra Ozyurek, who traces its path from an elite niche religion to the religion of foreign workers and finally today to an outcast faith. “The more Islam is marginalised and criminalised in German society, the more attractive it becomes for marginalised non-Muslims.”

But does this theory go far enough? The frequently cited figure of 100,000 converts in Germany may or may not be true – but in any case, there are too many converts in Germany to reduce them all to one single phenomenon.

Germans who embrace Islam not out of frustration but out of a sincere passion for the religion are often disappointed by native-born Muslims, finding that they insufficiently embody the beauty of Islamic doctrine and spirituality. Politics sees things the other way round, accepting Muslims (out of necessity), but not Islam.

Muslim Drag Queens, Channel 4, review: ‘a commendable film’

The cross-dressing Asif was one of three courageous characters who agreed to be filmed for this First Cut documentary Muslim Drag Queens (Channel 4). Courageous, because homosexuality remains a taboo in Islam and Asif has received death threats. The “Gaysian” club scene in London is clandestine, populated by young men who fear coming out not just to their families but to the wider Muslim community. In his Bhutto headscarf, Asif was on his way to a rally in memory of Nazim Mahmood, a doctor who committed suicide after telling his parents he was in a gay relationship. Muslim supporters were notable by their absence.

It could have been bleak, but this accomplished debut from first-time director Marcus Plowright, narrated by Ian McKellen, was everything a good documentary should be: powerful, often moving and expertly injecting the subject matter with a hefty dose of humour.

Asif was not afraid of controversy. In a deliberately provocative move, he dressed his alias, Asifa Lahore, in a burka and disrobed as part of his drag act. Yet it was a quieter moment that best illustrated his conflicted identity, when he was unable to hide his disapproval at fellow drag queen Ibrahim kneeling to pray in a pub.

There was one happy ending – Asif’s mother turned up to see him win an award for his LGBT campaigning, to tears all around. Too many documentaries are of the point and sneer variety – Channel 4 being one of the worst offenders with shows such as Benefits Street. This commendable film did the opposite, and it sparkled.