Too Diverse to Domesticate

Since 9/11, a debate has raged in Europe about whether the principles
and tenets of Islam are compatible with modern European culture and its
values. Might “Bosnian Islam” be the model Europe is looking for? Or
should Europe avoid trying to domesticate Islam altogether? Scholars
meeting in Stuttgart took a fresh look at these questions.

Islamic Scholars Plan for America’s First Muslim College

Sheik Hamza Yusuf and Imam Zaid Shakir share a vision for the next step in the evolution of Islam in America: creating the country’s first four-year, accredited Muslim college.

The two men, American scholars of Islam and leaders in the Muslim community, are criss-crossing the country building support for an institution they call Zaytuna College, which they plan to open next fall. The college will serve the nation’s growing Muslim population, blending traditional Islam and American culture and establishing a permanent place for the religion in American society.

Before any of that can happen, Zaytuna’s founders face steep challenges. They must hire a staff, establish a curriculum, develop admissions policies, and raise at least $5-million just to open their doors, all during a particularly trying time for college fund raising. At the same time, government scrutiny has put a chill on Muslim philanthropy.

Sheik Hamza Yusuf (left) and Imam Zaid Shakir, the Muslim scholars who are creating Zaytuna U., are often called upon to speak on behalf of mainstream Islam in the United States. Kathryn Masterson reports.

Scholars in the United States planning on starting an Islamic college

A plan to launch the country’s first four-year accredited Islamic college is moving closer to fulfilling its vision. Advisors to the project have scheduled to have a June vote to decide whether the proposed Zaytuna College – what some are calling a “Muslim Georgetown” – can open in the fall of next year. Imam Zaid Shakir and Sheikh Hamza Yusuf of California have spent years planning the school, which will offer a liberal arts education and training in Islamic scholarship. “As a faith community our needs aren’t any different than the needs of any other faith community,” Shakir told the Council for the Advancement of Muslim Professionals. Others have tried to start Muslim colleges around New York and Chicago, but such previous plans have remained obscure or quickly unfolded; Zaytuna college, however, appears to be a real potential.

Scholars call for international law to against religious insults

The re-publication of the Prophet cartoons by seventeen Danish newspapers last week was denounced by Muslims the world over. The controversy is not one of press freedom, but rather it feeds cycles of hatred and ignorance which only increase the gulfs between religions, according to the Prime Minister, Dr. Ali Mohammed Mujawr, in a support meeting organized by the Al-Eman University last Monday calling for defending the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH). In his speech, Mujwar called for an international law that criminalizes religious insults and enforces mutual respect of religions, calling on all rationalists in the West to avoid such negative acts. This can only increase the instability in relations among Islamic and Western nations, said Mujwar. The publication of these cartoons has nothing to do with press freedom, a device used by some as a shield to insult others. This was an act that violates human values, laws and rights, satisfying only the devilish whims of those who put the cartoons to print, said Mujwar.

U.S. Muslim Scholars’ Edict Denouncing Terrorism Stirs Debate

By RACHEL ZOLL As they issued an edict condemning religious extremism, American Muslims hoped to silence complaints from outsiders dating back to the Sept. 11 attacks that the community has done too little to confront terrorism. But as soon as the statement was released, sharp criticism came from another source — within the U.S. Muslim community itself. Several American Muslim academics now say the edict, or fatwa, was so broad it was meaningless, and should have denounced specific terrorist groups including al-Qaida. Critics also said the declaration seemed geared more toward improving the faith’s image rather than starting an honest discussion about Islamic teaching. “The bulk of the Islamic tradition as it exists does stand against these lunatic, savage attacks on civilians,” said Omid Safi, a Colgate University religion professor and chairman of the Progressive Muslim Union, an American reform group. “But I would be more inclined to say there are elements of extremism in many parts of our tradition. Rather than simply saying these are not a part of Islam, I would acknowledge that these trends are there and do away with them.” Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based civil rights group which endorsed the fatwa, said no specific groups were named because “it would have been a laundry list.” “I think you can safely regard anyone listed on the State Department list (of terrorist groups) as included,” Hooper said. That list includes the Islamic militant group Hamas, which many Palestinians believe is waging a legitimate fight against Israel. “It’s not likely that someone who is already considering some act of terrorism would be dissuaded by this, but you never know if you’re going to prevent someone from going on the ideological road that would lead them to this activity,” Hooper said. Muslims around the world have been under renewed pressure to denounce terrorism following July’s deadly bombings in Britain and Egypt, along with the drumbeat of insurgent attacks on civilians and coalition troops in Iraq. The U.S. fatwa, written by the Fiqh Council of North America, an advisory committee on Islamic law, said nothing in Islam justifies religious extremism or terrorism targeting civilians. The council further declared that Muslims were obligated to help law enforcement protect civilians anywhere from attacks. Fiqh Council chairman Muzammil Siddiqi said the edict applied even when a Muslim country has been taken over by a foreign power. In Britain, two groups of Muslim leaders separately denounced the July 7 London attacks, but one said suicide bombing could still be justified against an occupying power, while another said it could not. “Occupation is wrong, of course, but at the same time this is not the way,” Siddiqi said. But Abdullahi An-Na’im, who specializes in Islamic law and human rights at Emory University, said the American fatwa was misleading. He said the scholars could not say “in good faith” that Islamic law, called Shariah, required Muslims to assist an invader. “What is Shariah’s position on an invasion or occupation of a Muslim country by a non-Muslim country? Put bluntly in those terms, I don’t think that any credible scholar could say this is legitimate,” An-Na’im said. “If the same group of scholars were asked to issue a fatwa over the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, which is the underlying thing, what would that fatwa be and how would Americans feel about it?” The debate is complicated by the fact that Islam has no ordained clergy or central authority, like a pope, who can hand down definitive teaching. Islamic leaders with conflicting views regularly claim they are authorized to issue the edicts. An-Na’im pointed out that Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued fatwas promoting violence against what he saw as Muslim oppressors; An-Na’im wondered why any Muslim would feel bound, then, to follow the American declaration denouncing it. Muqtedar Khan, a political scientist at the University of Delaware and author of American Muslims, said it appeared the main aim of the U.S. fatwa was protecting U.S. Muslim leaders and organizations from criticism. And the edict may have fallen short of even that goal, he said. Disagreement over the declaration was inevitable – American Islam is a diverse mix of millions of immigrants and U.S.-born converts. Also, there is no major centre of Islamic learning in the United States. Yet even critics acknowledged something constructive could develop from the fatwa, despite its shortcomings. Said Safi: “There should be a follow-up conversation about what you do with the medieval legacy of how jihad (struggle) is undertaken, rather than saying these things are never a part of Islam.”

Islamic Banking ‘Goes Mainstream’

The bank has taken advice from Islamic scholars A new High Street bank account compatible with Islamic sharia law is due to be introduced. The Lloyds TSB account will offer no interest or overdraft facilities, as under Islamic law the receipt and payment of interest is forbidden. The introduction of the account follows the opening of a specialist Islamic bank in the UK last year. Gordon Rankin of Lloyds TSB said its new account would make Islamic banking “mainstream”. “Our research shows that over three-quarters of British Muslims want banking services that fit with their faith. “However, until now their banking needs have been largely uncatered for and many British Muslims have often had to bank in a way that is against their principles,” Mr Rankin said. Scholars’ Guidance Ibrahim Mogra, the chairman of the Muslim Council of Britain’s Mosque and Community Affairs committee, agreed that many of the UK’s two million Muslims have had little choice but to use interest-paying accounts. I think all High Street banks will take this route sooner or later because there’s a huge Muslim market in the UK. “What the sharia scholars tell us to do is whatever interest you gain you get rid of it without the intention of gaining reward from God. “Even though at the end of the year I just take the interest out and give it away, I’ve still, in a way, handled money from interest which I really shouldn’t be doing,” he said. Until the opening last year of the first UK-based specialist financial institution – the Islamic Bank – Muslims were able to access sharia-compliant current account facilities only through Middle Eastern banks with branches in the UK. The Islamic Bank opens its third branch in Leicester on Tuesday and plans to open five more by the end of 2005. Ibrahim Mogra of the MCB believes other high street banks will now follow Lloyd’s TSB’s lead: He said: “The high street banks want to hang on to their customers and now there is an Islamic bank available they may be anxious they might lose their customers. “I think all High Street banks will take this route sooner or later because there’s a huge Muslim market in the UK.”