Malaysia’s Islamic family laws have gone from best to worst, says activist

Of note:

Malaysia’s Islamic family laws suffered two rounds of regression in the 1990s and early 2000s following amendments to the law, according to a rights activist.

Zainah Anwar, executive director of international rights group Musawah, said the law reforms took away many progressive reforms made previously, adding that Malaysia’s Islamic family laws went from one of the best in the Muslim world to one of the worst.

“In 1984, the Islamic family law was amended and new laws were provided, which was amazing. It gave us so many rights and expanded the rights for women to get divorced,” she said with divorce and polygamy decided by the courts.

“With the 1994 amendments, you can divorce outside the court. Without going to court, you can just pronounce talak.

“Your wife doesn’t even know she’s being divorced because the husband has disappeared. She gets a letter from the religious authorities sometime later to say that she has been divorced.”

Another regression, she said, saw the responsibility of children born out of wedlock being wholly given to the mothers, which meant they could not make any claims for maintenance or inheritance from the father.

In 2003, another round of reforms meant that husbands in polygamous marriages could make a claim for a share of their wife’s matrimonial assets despite taking a second wife.

“We’re not even asking to ban polygamy. We just want them to ensure that the rights of the first wife and existing children are protected, especially their financial wellbeing.

“What is galling is the fact that for non-Muslim women, law reforms have moved forward to recognise equality. But for Muslim women, in the name of Islam, you can be discriminated against.”

Zainah, who led the rights group Sisters in Islam (SIS) previously, blamed these regressions on the rise of “political Islam”, adding that these issues remain due to the current patriarchal state of society.

She said groups such as SIS and Musawah would not have to exist if Islam was practised the way it should be.

“I go to Geneva for the women’s convention sessions and it’s shameful and disgraceful that Muslim governments stand before the Cedaw (Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women) committee and say they cannot reform the laws to recognise equality because it will be against Islam.

“So you’re standing there telling the whole world that Islam is an unjust religion, that Islam is a religion that discriminates against women and shamelessly say that.”

However, she signalled that the “reality on the ground” was beginning to shift.

Source: Malaysia’s Islamic family laws have gone from best to worst, says activist

Sheema Khan: Misbehaving imams must be held to account

Another strong commentary by Khan. In addition, the Canadian Council of Muslim Women (CCMW) issued the fallowing call: We ask Imams to speak out against gender-based violence (GBV):

The Arabic word “imam” literally means “leader,” or the one who precedes. In North America, the role of an imam is best summed up by Ottawa’s Imam Sikander Hashmi: “Imams, who are usually hired by mosque boards, are often overworked and underpaid. They are expected to preach, lead daily prayers, teach children, conduct outreach, do interfaith work, handle media requests, engage youth and offer religious guidance. In short, it’s a tough job.”

There are local, regional and national councils of imams – designed to bridge cultural, linguistic and juridical divides among imams of diverse Muslim communities. The vast majority of imams fulfill their roles with integrity, humility and a sincere commitment to serve their communities. They fully deserve the respect accorded to them.

However, there have been disturbing exceptions. Given the lack of accountability mechanisms in place and the reverential attitude toward religious authority by congregants, it is not surprising that abuses can occur.

Take, for example, the solemnization of marriage. An Islamic marriage, sanctioned by an imam, must also be registered with civil authorities, thereby providing both spouses with basic legal rights. Yet, a number of imams knowingly decline civil registration – to the detriment of women.

In May, 2018, a Quebec imam signed off on an Islamic marriage contract of a 15-year-old girl. His actions were sharply criticized by Justice Bruno Langelier, who granted the teen’s request to be removed from her home.

In January, 2019, The Fifth Estate investigated the prevalence of polygamy in Toronto’s Muslim community. Imam Aly Hindy, of Salaheddin Islamic Centre, was caught on a hidden camera, offering to solemnize a second marriage of an undercover reporter – without the knowledge of the first wife. When confronted, he brazenly declared: “sue me” – confident that his actions were legal. However, the performance of any type of second marriage clearly contravenes the Criminal Code. Why is he still registered, by the Ontario government, as a religious official authorized to perform marriages? In fact, common knowledge is that every major Canadian city has a “go-to” imam who will solemnize a second, third or fourth marriage – no questions asked.

The same Fifth Estate investigation unearthed court records that revealed a prominent Toronto imam who physically assaulted his wife, sending her to hospital, after she confronted him on his secret, second marriage.

Within the past five years, there have been three Canadian imams charged with sexual assault. In British Columbia, Imam Saadeldin Bahr was sentencedto 3½ years for sexually assaulting a female congregant who sought spiritual advice. He was also placed on the Sex Offender Registry for 20 years. In Ontario, Imam Mohammad Masroor was charged with multiple sexual offences that occurred between 2008 and 2011. He was acquitted on all counts after standing trial in 2013. A day after his acquittal, he was extradited to the United States where he was sentenced between 35 to 50 years for sexually abusing his nieces between 2000 and 2003. In June, Toronto Imam Syed Zaidi was charged with sexually assaulting two female congregants. He is awaiting trial.

Muslim communities face an unenviable challenge of holding their religious leadership to account, without having guidance on how to proceed. However, a number of efforts are under way to address spiritual abuse.

Two Muslim lawyers have devised a “Code Of Conduct For Islamic Leadership” for individuals and Muslim organizations, based on nine years of working with victims of spiritual abuse, consultation with lawyers, cult experts, religious scholars and mental-health professionals.

Facing Abuse in Community Environments (FACE) has created a framework to address the leadership accountability gap. They provide tools and resources to report abusive leaders and help protect the community from their continued abuse.

Finally, the Hurma Project – a Canadian initiative – seeks to examine the personal and communal effects of abusive practices, along with practical solutions.

Muslims are painfully realizing that among their leaders, clergy, teachers and religious scholars are individuals who abuse their positions of power and violate their ethical responsibilities.

Too often, justice for victims is sacrificed in the name of keeping the reputation of an institution or an individual intact. Too often, imams have been quietly dismissed, without any meaningful accountability or reporting to authorities. Why is the onus placed on victims? They are either blamed or told to be patient, to pray, to forgive. Let us accord them a modicum of dignity by standing up for justice on their behalf.

Source: Misbehaving imams must be held to account: Sheema Khan

Navigating The Fallout Of Alleged Abuse And Betrayal In A Sacred Muslim Space

All religions appear to have comparable problems:

Nearly two years ago NPR profiled Usama Canon, a celebrated Muslim preacher facing his own mortality. He’d been public about his diagnosis of Lou Gherig’s disease or ALS, a degenerative neurologic condition that robs people of their ability to move, to speak. Eventually it takes your life. The reaction to the news, an outpouring of grief from thousands of American Muslims that looked to Canon as a spiritual guide and to his non-traditional Muslim space, Ta’leef, as a place that felt welcoming without judgement. It’s in the motto: “come as you are, to Islam as it is.”

At that time Canon reflected on his legacy.

“It’s only as lasting as the women and men that have hopefully benefited and learned,” he said.

Today that legacy is in jeopardy. The organization he founded with spiritual gathering spaces in Northern California and Chicago, publicly severed ties with him last month in a statement. It announced “he has deeply betrayed the sanctity of the position of spiritual teacher.” It went on to describe allegations that included “verbal abuse and abuse of authority” and accusations of a “more serious nature.” Allegations, the statement said Canon “remorsefully admitted to.”

People inside and outside of the organization say those more serious accusations are him allegedly using his position to engage in secret and “pleasure” marriages. Pleasure or temporary marriages are a controversial practice among some Muslims that have no U.S. legal standing, the religious justification for the marriages is fiercely debated and the practice is sometimes used to exploit women.

The reaction to the statement from Ta’leef was swift, public and messy in a long thread on the organization’s Facebook page that has since been taken down. The comments, a window into the way these scandals divide, confuse and bereave communities as they grapple with a beloved figure being accused of abuse.

One Canon supporter wrote, “Burden of proof lies on the accusers.” Another wrote, “You as a Muslim should be ashamed of yourself that you are willing to jump the gun and automatically believe an accusation without ample proof.”

Other comments were filled with questions about what the nature of the abuse was, still others asking why Ta’leef went public when Canon was so sick. And then there were the expressions of grief, pain and disbelief. Through the hundreds of online posts someone wrote, “I hope the survivors aren’t reading these comments. I am very ashamed and saddened of the ummah [Muslim community] thinking more of the abuser than the abused.”

It’s the latest public scandal involving a respected figure to roil Muslims in the west over the past few years. In 2017, it was a sexting scandal from a rigidly conservative American Muslim celebrity preacher, Nouman Ali Khan, accused of using his position to lure women into sexual relationships under the guise of a secret marriage. In another, a prominent Swiss scholar of Islam, Tariq Ramadan, is facing charges in France for the alleged rape of at least two women. Accusations he denies. It’s reignited a conversation around how to deal with abuse by Muslim community and faith leaders.

While Muslim victim advocates commended Ta’leef for the rare public stance it took, they also worried the statement was too vague and left people to fill in the blanks themselves.

“You have this lack of clarity that doesn’t do justice to what these victims experienced,” said Alia Salem, the founder and executive director of a Muslim organization called FACE. It provides resources for victims and investigates abuse allegations against spiritual and community leaders. “But you also have a really difficult position that the administration found them self in because of his health condition.”

In the weeks since the statement, Canon’s organization has tried to figure out how to navigate the fallout of alleged abuse and betrayal in a sacred space. In a post on their Facebook page asking for donations on Giving Tuesday, they expressed “uncertainty around the future of Ta’leef.” Meanwhile the man in question is in the late stages of ALS, unable to speak or text, according to his wife. She answered a message requesting comment on Canon’s behalf. No further comment was given. Canon is communicating though, with a computer that reads eye movements. Some say they’ve received texted apologies from him.

In the wake of the accusations, at least three people have gone to Salem’s organization, FACE, which stands for Facing Abuse in Community Environments, for help. She also observed a healing circle at Ta’leef’s northern California campus.

“They fell short once again, because in that healing circle, which is for the community that’s left to deal with what has just happened. They went to extreme lengths to talk about how much they loved this person, even though he was a violator, and how their actions were only to protect the institution,” she said.

It took over an hour before a mention of any possible victims came up and only in response to Salem’s question.

“[They were] extolling all of these praises for this individual who had violations that were so severe they had to completely cut ties with him. All I’m thinking about in that moment is, ‘oh my God I know that there are victims in this room,'” she said. “What are they going through in this moment? This is the furthest thing from healing.”

And that focus Salem said, is how abusers get away with financial, sexual, physical or spiritual abuse. There’s also the issue of people conflating the Islamic practice of not gossiping about people’s sins with the real need to root out and warn of abuse.

These manifests themselves almost identically in other religious groups. But minorities, like American Muslims, have the added burden of being scrutinized and demonized.

“We are already such a targeted and marginalized community. We don’t want to air dirty laundry in the public sector because we don’t want to bring more negative attention. We’re already so inundated. We’re already so targeted. Why are you going to make our lives harder?” she said. “That’s the other reason they keep it quiet.”

In order to create a cultural shift, she said, Muslim organizations need to focus on victims rather than accused leaders like Canon and other popular figures.

And in the era of #TimesUp and #MeToo there are some breaking the silence. More Muslims, specifically women, are speaking up. An American Muslim rapper, Mona Haydar, released a song a couple years ago, Dogs, calling out lascivious religious leaders.

Muslim groups such as Salem’s aimed at preventing abuse by powerful leaders, are popping up across the United States. There’s the northern California-based In Shaykh’s Clothing, it focuses on spiritual abuse. There’s also the Chicago-based Heart Women and Girls focused on sexual health and sexual violence. Salem started her Dallas-based organization, FACE, because she didn’t know where to turn when a mother came to her for help. The woman’s daughter was allegedly manipulated into sex with a married Texas-based cleric, three times her age. She says the cleric met the woman at 13. He was the imam at her mosque. He then allegedly groomed her for years before luring her to a Motel 6 to have sex with her at 18.

“I was trying to figure out how to help and realized we had no mechanism in the community to authoritatively deal with this,” she said.

So she created the mechanism. In some cases, her organization releases public misconduct reports to warn Muslim communities, like in the Texas case. The victim sued the accused cleric Zia Ul-Haq Sheikh and won. The judge ordered him to pay his accuser more than two and half million dollars for mental anguish and other damages. Haq denied any wrong doing in an email to NPR and has begun the appeals process. This month, FACE released it’s second report. This time documenting the alleged abuse of a Phoenix-based imam.

Salem’s work, she says, is driven by her Muslim faith.

“I take the work that I do as a commandment. When we talk about leadership and accountability and trying to purify our communities from abuse and corruption. That is a is a huge responsibility,” she said. “And if we don’t do it, somebody else will. So we might as well clean house ourselves because we’re obligated to, from a religious perspective anyways.”

She references a passage from the Q’uran that translates “O you who believe. Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin.”

Some of the abuse is a result of absolute negligence by institutions, said Ingrid Mattson, the London and Windsor Community Chair in Islamic Studies at Huron University College at the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada. She’s a leading Muslim figure and her work focuses on how to solve societal problems.

But, she said, it also often stems from a lack of oversight and understanding about how to handle allegations of abuse when they’re brought forward. Most mosques and other American Muslim institutions are small, operate independently and don’t have procedures in place to institute background checks or investigate complaints.

“Up to now, most communities are doing that in-house, if at all, if they even understand the need to have something, a grievance committee,” she said. “So that’s really where research into best practices, protocols and investigative functions need to be gathered together collectively by the community, in order to really meet the requirements of due diligence and accountability. And allowing these spaces to be known to operate as they are supposed to operate, which is a space for learning and community.”

Right now she’s heading a research project to put together best practices aimed at addressing predatory behavior, abuse of religious authority and neglect in Muslim organizations.

Her work is based on her area of scholarship, Islamic ethics.

“This is very much an ethical problem and it’s a pressing one,” Mattson said. “Spiritual abuse is something that is harmful at the deepest level of the person. It can end up creating a barrier to the very things that person might find healing: prayer and community, their own sense of dignity in the relationship with God.”

Source: Navigating The Fallout Of Alleged Abuse And Betrayal In A Sacred Muslim Space

Maldives overcomes Islamic opposition and appoints two women as Supreme Court judges

Of note:

Male, September 5 (Maldives Independent): In a historic vote on Tuesday, parliament confirmed the president’s nominationsof former judges Dr Azmiralda Zahir and Aisha Shujune Mohamed as the first female justices of the Supreme Court.

Both nominees were approved with 62 votes in favour. Independent MP Mohamed Nasheed Abdulla cast the sole dissenting vote while Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim abstained.

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s Maldivian Democratic Party controls 65 seats in the 87-member People’s Majlis.

Shujune, whoresignedfrom the civil court in 2014, was among the first two female judges appointed to the bench in 2007. Dr Azmiralda was the most senior female judge in the country until herresignationfrom the High Court in May 2016.

President Solih’s nomination of the pair last month sparked a backlash from religious scholars who contended that Islamprohibitswomen from serving as judges.

Clerics condemned the move on Twitter and some shared an opinion issued by the fatwa council, in which the advisory body backed the view that women cannot pass judgment on criminal matters or property disputes. There was a consensus among scholars of all sects of Islam that judges must be male, they said. Some scholars from the Hanafi sect say women can adjudicate civil matters and family disputes but most scholars do not agree with any exceptions, the council noted.

The religious conservative Adhaalath Party, which is part of the MDP-led ruling coalition,backedthe council’s opinion but acknowledged the lack of consensus on the question. The party called for respect of differing opinions on disputed matters and appealed against branding people as disbelievers or apostates. A person who endorses an incorrect opinion should not be considered a sinner, it added.

Tuesday’s confirmation vote came after parliament’s judiciary committee evaluated the nominees, both of whom were sent for approval after endorsement from the Judicial Service Commission.

During the final debate, MDP MPs reiterated the ruling party’s stance that the appointments would be an important step towards empowering women and achieving gender equality. Opposition lawmakers also backed the appointment of women to the bench and Independent MP Ahmed Usham commended the nominees as qualified and capable individuals.

The former judges were nominated after parliamentamendedthe Judicature Act to increase the size of the Supreme Court bench from five to seven justices.

Source: Maldives overcomes Islamic opposition and appoints two women as Supreme Court judges

Identity politics in the West: Islam – no longer the bogeyman

Not sure that this is the case but interesting read:

When the head of the economic wing of Germanyʹs CDU party, Carsten Linnemann, publishes a book titled “Political Islam does not belong in Germany”, SPD party member Thilo Sarrazin interprets the Koran under the title “Hostile takeover”, and Germany’s new defence minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, chairwoman of the CDU party, explains on her first trip to the Orient how the Bundeswehr’s Tornado reconnaissance planes are stopping the caliphate of the “Islamic State” from rearing its ugly head again, we may get the feeling that we’ve hit rock bottom.

We are scraping at the last vestiges of some already quite solidified dregs. All that talk about the Islamic menace, the Islamic challenge, the Islamic threat so keenly cultivated in the West over the past thirty or forty years has now run dry.

Not long ago German policymakers were still busy planning hundreds of new positions in the police forces and intelligence services to observe and track down political Islam. But in the meantime it seems to be dawning on the more alert minds among us that Islam is not (or no longer) an appropriate spectre to be combatting.

This trend is somewhat linked to the situation on the ground. Political Islam has lost its inner credibility, across all the forms in which it appears.

The failure of political Islam

The authoritarian regime of the Islamist Erdogan is wobbling: Turkey is weaker now than it was ten or fifteen years ago, when Recep Tayyip Erdogan was “only” a democratically elected prime minister and could present Islam as a source of inspiration for modern governance. The radiance of his early days has faded.

The AKPʹs political swan song: “the authoritarian regime of the Islamist Erdogan is wobbling: Turkey is weaker now than it was ten or fifteen years ago, when Recep Tayyip Erdogan was ʹonlyʹ a democratically elected prime minister and could present Islam as a source of inspiration for modern governance. The radiance of his early days has faded,” writes Buchen

The Sunni Muslim Brotherhood was not able to rise to power anywhere, with the exception of its brief interlude with Mohammed Morsi in Egypt. The fact that the latter collapsed and died while acting as a defendant in court resonates with its own symbolic power.

The heir to the throne of the “Keeper of the Holy Places” of Islam, Mohammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, has been exposed to the whole world as a cowardly murderer.

The caliphate of the “Islamic State” has foundered, vanished from the map. Who would have thought that possible? Talk shows aired in 2015 made mention of the name “Islamic State” a dozen times at least. Coming from the mouths of academic and non-academic experts, it had a ring of permanence, of a lasting challenge.

That talk has turned to ashes. Even criminal organisations have to abide by certain rules in their internal relations and forms of provocation against the general social norm if they are to survive for long. This is ancient knowledge, recorded for posterity by the Jewish-Arab philosopher Bahya ibn Paquda, who lived in Zaragoza in the 11th century.

Fragile existence

Al-Qaida and its competitor, the “Islamic State”, continue to exist in the supra-national underground; this cannot be denied. But they are fragmented, and the rivalry between the two groups vying for leadership in the violent spectrum of Islamism is now leading to some curious phenomena.

In Yemen, Al-Qaida got its hands on an unreleased propaganda video made by its rival and used it to expose the “Islamic State” to public ridicule. And here we are in the midst of a satire, which the British film “Four Lions” presented as early as 2010 as a suitable form for portraying the Islamic menace, long before the current CDU leadership took up the subject in all seriousness and without any black humour.

It is of course intellectually risky to name Erdogan, the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammad bin Salman and al-Qaida in one breath. But it’s a risk that those warning of the threat of political Islam are only too glad to take. It is after all part of their raison d’etre. If we want to be realistic, though, we have to look this construct or – to put it in ultramodern terms – “frame” squarely in the eye.

The French scholar Olivier Roy was perhaps the first to recognise the pitfalls of this way of looking at the world and to discern the real weaknesses of “political Islam”. His book – “L’echec de l’Islam politique” (The failure of political Islam) – was published way back in 1992.

Roy warned against trying to explain modern Islamism, particularly its most radical manifestations, based on Islam alone. Trying to derive the current phenomena mainly from the nature, history and culture of Islam runs the risk of constructing something that does not stand up to a realistic and enlightened diagnosis of the present.

Roy pointed out that contemporary Islamism is instead a by-product of the globalised world, of its unshakeable belief in progress and its forms of communication. These forms and thought patterns are so pervasive that Islamism must be understood more as a reflection of modernism (or post-modernism) than as a new edition of classical, original Islam. Simply believing everything the Islamists claim about themselves makes things too easy.

Olivier Roy met with a great deal of resistance to his insights. 11 September 2001 then seemed to furnish incontrovertible proof of the Islamic threat and its overwhelming importance.

But what has happened since then? Wars have been waged to eradicate this threat. Military interventions in Islamic countries have come one after the other. Thanks to the immense resources thrown at the project, several advances in military technology have been made in the process, the perfecting of remote-controlled drone war, for example.

But wiser minds agree today that no progress has been made in resolving any problems. While a partial problem like Osama bin Laden was “solved”, many new ones have been created. What is the situation like today in Afghanistan, in Gaza, in Yemen, in Libya, in Mali, in Syria and in Iraq? An error seems to have been made in the analysis of the underlying issue. Olivier Roy was right from the start.

Islamic states in dissolution

The dire new problems do not consist of ever-new Islamist movements that throw themselves in the paths of the invaders and their helpers and strike with steadily growing brutality in the countries of the West. They consist of the disintegration of entire societies, the dissolution of regional structures and the collapse of what were once quite sovereign states.

Successfully allied against the USA and its partners in the Middle East: it would be a mistake to attribute the regional successes of the Islamic Republic to the power of Shia fundamentalism, i.e. to a further manifestation of “political Islam”. In the chaos that prevails, Iran appears to some – despite or because of its anti-American rulers – to be a force for order whose claim to regional leadership is accepted as being the lesser evil

In the resulting chaos, those who have somehow survived to this point can appear to be strong. They include – besides Israel – the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Although the mullahs are skating on thin ice in their domestic policies, they are succeeding in their foreign and regional efforts in exploiting the weaknesses of their main opponent, the USA, and its alliances. Iran has mobilised Shia allies on a large scale. The conflict between Shias and Sunnis is indeed a major factor in the Middle East today.

But here as well it would be a mistake to attribute the regional successes of the Islamic Republic to the power of Shia fundamentalism, i.e. to a further manifestation of “political Islam”. In the chaos that prevails, Iran appears to some – despite or because of its anti-American rulers – to be a force for order whose claim to regional leadership is accepted as being the lesser evil.

Islam is breaking up on its own and no longer fits the image of a major enemy. Donald Trump has been quicker to grasp this than the leaders of the CDU and those who oppose the “Islamisation of the West”. At the beginning of his presidency, his identity policy still focussed on imposing entry restrictions on citizens of certain Islamic countries. In the meantime, however, he has begun directing his rage more at blacks who live in cities he describes as “rat and rodent infested messes” and “Hispanics” who want to cross the border from Mexico or live “illegally” in the USA and who should be deported.

Giving way to old-fashioned racism

Islamophobia is segueing into old-fashioned racism. The new enemy in Western identity politics are people of colour, those who speak a different language and those who are judged to be somehow or other inferior. Racism has the advantage of being more comprehensive. Of course, Muslims are also included.

The trend has long since washed up on Europe’s shores. Arab clan criminality, the frightening reproductive power of Africans, uninhibited by civilisation, or their genetic predisposition to pushing children in front of ICE trains: it is impossible to overlook the shift in the discourse on the question of identity.

The hairdresser Alaa S. from Chemnitz was not sentenced to nine and a half years in prison for an alleged but unproven knife attack because he is a Muslim, but because he is an asylum seeker and refugee. Without thorough indoctrination in racist dehumanisation, it would not be possible to let refugees drown in the Mediterranean, or to turn away those who are rescued from Europe’s coasts for days and weeks on end. The duplicity of events taking place at America’s and Europe’s southern borders has already been noted, and rightly so.

Demonstrators in front of Berlinʹs Brandenburg Gate, “#indivisible” against racism and right-wing populism: of course this new racism is provoking resistance. Those affected are raising their voices. Many citizens reject such identity politics, partly on the basis of the historical experiences in America and Europe. They are aware of the fact that the prosperity of our middle classes is bought on the backs of people in other parts of the world. Climate change threatens to make this truth even more evident

Of course this new racism is provoking resistance. Those affected are raising their voices. Many citizens reject such identity politics, partly on the basis of the historical experiences in America and Europe. They are aware of the fact that the prosperity of our middle classes is bought on the backs of people in other parts of the world. Climate change threatens to make this truth even more evident.

In time, one could cynically say, there will come a further intensification of the discourse. The American journalist James Kirchick tells the tale of a “race war of the left”. He sees “white men” as victims of a new racism practiced by progressive forces. Kirchick turns perpetrator into victim and victim into perpetrator. This follows exactly the same line as Donald Trump, who set out at the beginning of his term to put an end to the “carnage” his white followers were allegedly suffering from and to restore their rights.

Kirchick’s essay on “the leftʹs race war” was published on 15 August under exactly that title on the website of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. That’s not a good sign. “Race war” was a key term in Adolf Hitler’s vocabulary. He already used it early on to describe the political programme of the Nazis. What do Kirchick and the F.A.Z. insinuate as being the intentions of “the left”?

When asked, the F.A.Z. responded that the author had addressed the “political debate in the United States, which is being carried out partly with racist arguments”. The newspaper deemed the text to be “an important contribution to the debate.”

The victory of global capitalism and liberal democracy are apparently the end of the story. To some, it would appear, any means are justified to enable this culmination – something of an eternal coronation – to continue as undisturbed as possible under “white supremacy”.

Source: Identity politics in the West: Islam – no longer the bogeyman

With hajj under threat, it’s time Muslims joined the climate movement

Given the dependence of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries on oil and oil revenues, strikes me as secondary issue in relation to climate change. However, it might provide an entry point for discussions:

According to research published last week by US scientists, hajj is set to become a danger zone. As soon as next year, they say, summer days in Mecca could exceed the “extreme danger” heat-stress threshold. The news comes just weeks after over 2 million people completed their journey of a lifetime. The environmental threat to the holy pilgrimage is a panic button for British Muslims like me, signaling that the climate crisis is endangering an age-old sacred rite.

Hajj is a pillar of Islam that I’ve yet to undertake, and the physical endurance required will only become more gruelling in coming decades – scientists predict that heat and humidity levels during hajj will exceed the extreme danger threshold 20% of the time from 2045 and 2053, and 42% of the time between 2079 and 2086.

Environmental stewardship may well be advocated by my faith – the Quran states that humans are appointed as “caretakers of the Earth” and the prophet Muhammad organised the planting of trees and created conservation areas called hima – but it hasn’t mobilised Muslims on a mass scale for what the world needs now: a global eco-jihad.

Fazlun Khalid, founder of Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences and author of Signs on the Earth: Islam, Modernity and the Climate Crisis, has been on a green mission for over 35 years, but his biggest challenge has been to motivate Muslims. “Islam is inherently environmental, but modernity has induced all of us to distance ourselves from nature. The reason I don’t give up is my grandchildren – what kind of planet will they inherit? How can they perform hajj under those conditions?”

Khalid previously gathered a team of scholars and academics who drafted the Islamic declaration on climate change adopted at the International Islamic climate change symposium in Istanbul in 2015 (an event co-sponsored by Islamic Relief, a global charity that is again calling on Muslims to take action now if they want to safeguard the pilgrimage for future generations). Maria Zafar of Islamic Relief UK said: “Hajj has physically demanding outdoor rituals which can become hazardous to humans. It isn’t only Mecca, other sacred sites will be at risk too, like the religious sites in Jerusalem, the Golden Temple in India – it will affect what we hold dear to our hearts. We think that climate change is distant from us, but there is no area of life that it won’t touch.”

If we are truly to tackle a catastrophe as huge as the climate crisis, we have to make it personal. Without a personal stake, it remains an abstract and we unite in perpetuating it. So if money is the only form of emotional investment for some, and if economics wields more power than the will to save our planet, we must use it. Next year Saudi Arabia is hosting the G20 summit, so let’s pressure the country to consider the financial threat due to a loss of religious tourism. Hajj is lucrative: economic experts have said revenues from hajj and umrah (a lesser pilgrimage undertaken any time of year) are set to exceed $150bn by 2022.

Source: With hajj under threat, it’s time Muslims joined the climate movement

Ground shifts in Indonesia’s economy as conservative Islam takes root

Of note:

Arie Untung, a former video jockey for the Indonesian offshoot of MTV, says he used to drink alcohol regularly and – back then – was a jeans-clad, spiky-haired rocker who was only a nominal Muslim.

But he says his religious fervor was rekindled by online preachers promoting more conservative interpretations of Islam, which are gaining ground in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country and bringing profound changes in its economy.

Untung has now reinvented his career by linking up with other celebrities to run a sharia (Islamic law)-friendly entertainment business in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy, including hosting popular Muslim prayer festivals.They are part of a growing body of “born-again” Muslims driving social changes that are also having an economic impact, encouraging everything from Muslim-targeted housing to sharia banking.

“We have become some sort of like endorsers, the endorsers of Allah,” said Untung, who now sports a beard and a more restrained hair style, referring to his celebrity colleagues.

The celebrities, who jointly have over 20 million followers on Instagram and Twitter, are part of what has become known as the “hijrah” movement in Indonesia and, according to Untung, aim to make an Islamic economy more mainstream.

Hijrah, Arabic for migration, is used to refer to Prophet Mohammad’s journey from Mecca to Medina to escape persecution, and represents the beginning of the Muslim era.

Indonesia’s 215 million Muslims have traditionally been moderate and their beliefs often included elements of mysticism and local customs.

The number of conservatives is now growing and more companies have embraced Islamic branding and marketing, said Edy Setiadi, secretary general of the non-profit Shariah Economy Society.

Restaurants have raced to secure halal certification, which means they comply with Islamic law. There are now hospitals where drugs are halal compliant and shampoos claiming to be suitable for headscarf wearers. Japan’s Sharp sells refrigerators labeled halal.

“PEACE OF MIND”

Many born-again Muslims are young, earn regular salaries and prepared to go the extra mile to feel they are living an Islamic lifestyle, said Setiadi.

“They don’t think about how much they spend, they just want peace of mind,” he said in an interview at his office in Jakarta.

Conservative Islamic groups were largely repressed during the 32-year rule of strongman Suharto, but since his downfall in 1998, they have emerged as a growing force, although officially, Indonesia remains secular.

During April elections, President Joko Widodo, a moderate Muslim, picked elderly conservative cleric Ma’ruf Amin as his running mate, a move seen as helping him secure more Muslim votes for his re-election.Amin, chairman of the Ulema Council of Indonesia, a group of clerics, has promoted laws for Islamic banking and mandatory halal certification and his vice presidency may usher in more incentives for the Islamic economy, analysts say.

A report by Thomson Reuters, the parent of Reuters News, estimated Indonesians spent more than $219 billion on halal food, tourism, fashion and cosmetics in 2017, compared to $193 billion in 2014.

Islamic banking assets were 486.9 trillion rupiah ($34.26 billion) by June 2019, representing more than 300% growth in the last nine years, even though they remain less than 6 percent of total banking assets at around $580 billion.

There has been particularly rapid growth in demand for halal food, modest fashion and Islamic travel, Dody Budi Waluyo, a deputy governor of Bank Indonesia (BI), told Reuters.

“BI sees a potential growth in the sharia economy amid demand for products certified halal and a halal lifestyle,” said Waluyo. He said the central bank and the government were trying to pin down the sharia economy’s share of GDP, and could not vouch for the accuracy of some estimates of the sector accounting for 40%.

MUSLIM HOUSING

Some housing developments now target Muslims, like the Az Zikra gated community near Jakarta, which offers 400 households “the chance to follow in the footsteps of Prophet Muhammad.”

At its center is a mosque, built using a grant from late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, and it hosts an archery range and horse riding, both pastimes regarded as favored in Islam.

In 2014, Indonesia adopted measures to make companies label whether products are halal, although the deadline was pushed from last year by as much as 7 years amid concerns from industry that the move could cause chaos and threaten supplies.

Still, marketing of halal products is becoming mainstream.

At a halal exhibition held in Jakarta last month, a foundation cream from Korean cosmetics line SOS Beauty was being offered to women in colorful headscarves.

“This doesn’t close your pores, so when you go to wudu, this will let the water come through,” said Lisa, a company representative, referring to the Islamic ritual washing of parts of the body, including the face, before prayers.

At Thamrin City, a popular 10-storey mall in central Jakarta, Muslim fashion stalls have taken over space in areas once occupied by sellers of traditional Indonesian batik.

Yesi, who runs a shop there called “Al-Fatih”, said her popular products were khimars, headscarves that go down to the stomach, and niqabs, veils that cover most of the face, at prices ranging from 20,000 rupiah to 200,000 rupiah ($1.40-$14).

Media Kernels Indonesia, a data consultancy, said its research showed words like “hijrah” and “halal” were mentioned on social media over 5,000 times in the past 30 days indicating Islamic phrases were being used more in product marketing.

“This wouldn’t happen without the demand or trend in society,” said company founder Ismail Fahmi.

Source: Ground shifts in Indonesia’s economy as conservative Islam takes root

HASSAN: UN should press Islamic nations for more inclusive societies

Valid critique of many members of the OIC:

Last year, the United Nations Council on Human Rights passed a resolution acknowledging defamation of religion as a human rights violation. Pakistan led the delegation representing the 56-nation Organization of Islamic Conference and proclaimed that “Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism.” Pakistan asserted that nations must “deny impunity” to those showing intolerance and ensure respect for religion.

But which religion, how and by whom?

Last Tuesday, the editor of a moderate Islamic website criticized the UN measure, citing freedom of speech issues. More important, he accused Muslim nations of expressing most of this so-called defamation of religion. He said reports from Muslim countries, such as Pakistan, not only tell horrific tales of local misogyny and terror but also reveal ways the rights of non-Muslim minorities are constantly violated. He cited many examples of this, including the publication of jihadi literature and laws that marginalize religious minorities and discriminate against women. In Pakistan, for example, Hindu girls continue to be forcibly converted to Islam and sold into marriage. This is the worst kind of intolerance based on faith.

New Age Islam editor Sultan Shaheen has tried hard in the past decade to salvage Islam from its darker manifestations and to encourage a more humane version of the faith. Like other South Asian moderates, such as Javed Ahmed Ghamidi, he has offered newer interpretations of religious precepts in an attempt to rid Islam of bigotry, violence and fundamentalism.

In drawing attention to these heinous practices in the Muslim world, Shaheen has identified the valid reasons for the bad reputation Islamic countries have earned. In a letter to the UN, he stated that, while this resolution seeks to protect Islam from defamation through any association with terrorism, other religions are routinely defamed in Muslim countries by radical Muslims. For example, propaganda is often published justifying violence against non-Muslim civilians. He cited a long essay in the Taliban mouthpiece Nawa-e-Afghan Jihad entitled Circumstances in which the Killing of Innocent People among Infidels is Justified.

Shaheen’s novelty is to interpret intolerance by Muslim extremists as defaming not only other religions but primarily distorting the essence of Islam itself. He urges the Council to “ask the Muslim countries to treat intolerance of minorities and jihadi literature too as defaming the religion of Islam.”

Shaheen quoted some jihadi literature in his letter, such as by radical Islamic scholar Sheikh Yusuf Al Abeeri, who has openly justified destroying American cities and killing enemy civilians. Shaheen characterized such literature as a tirade against Islam. He also highlighted the anti-Semitism of many of these radical scholars.

Sultan Shaheen has rightly identified the main reason for the negative image of Islam. It is the actions of radical Muslims more than anything else, coupled with the fact that moderates do not actively challenge them or distance themselves from their parochial ideas, that defame Islam the most.

The UN Council on Human Rights must look beyond its own naive resolution and urge Islamic nations to enact laws that enable freer and more inclusive societies. Instead of Pakistan urging consequences for those who supposedly defame its state religion, it should seek real consequences for those who openly and aggressively promote violence against women and non-Muslims.

Source: HASSAN: UN should press Islamic nations for more inclusive societies

Are Sweden, Norway and New Zealand really the most Islamic countries?

Hadn’t heard of this before. Like all indices, depends on the indicators and their weighting, an OIC index or a Salafist one would have a different ranking:

Each year the Islamicity Foundation, a U.S.-based non-profit organisation, publishes an index of which countries comply most with Islamic teaching.

Each year countries such as Sweden, Norway and New Zealand top the Islamicity Index, but many Muslim countries do not do so well. The overall ranking is made up of scores in four areas according to the principles of the Quran; economic, legal and governance, human and political rights and international relations.

But is it correct to define these standards as being Islamic? The same standards are also endorsed by other belief systems such as socialism, Christianity and Buddhism. Values such as integrity, justice, honesty and peace are not the monopoly of a specific religion or ideology. Given that, it is also possible to declare countries like Norway or New Zealand as the most socialist or Buddhist countries in the world.

The countries that top the Islamicity Index also do well in the United Nations’ Human Development Index.

The Islamicity index also reads the Quran selectively. For example, it is not clear how the index weighs aspects of Islamic law in matters such as gender equality, the freedom to change religion and Islamic punishment. Thus it is not clear how countries like Norway and New Zealand are seen as the most Islamic when they recognise gay marriage for example.

New Zealand, rated by the Islamicity Index as the Islamic country, has a prime minister who gave birth out of wedlock while in office. I do not think there is any recognised interpretation of Islam that would concede that a woman has the right to have baby out of wedlock, let alone remain in the highest office while doing so.

While the Islamicity Index defines Islamic values in terms such as justice and rights, in the Muslim world it is more often defined by adherence to ritual. Being Islamic in the Muslim world is firstly about praying five times a day and performing other forms of worships. Today no mainstream interpretation of Islam endorses a religiosity based on morality without an emphasis on ritual. There is almost no Islamic approach that is ready to label a person as religious or pious only by judging their morality independent of whether they perform prayers five times a day. Islamic orthodoxy is clear today: If you are not performing five times prayer, you are not religious. Contemporary Islam has almost been transformed into a religion of ritual and worship rather than morality.

That is the value of the Islamicity Index – to remind Muslims that Islam is firstly about moral values rather than ritual.

Source: Are Sweden, Norway and New Zealand really the most Islamic countries?

Roger Scruton is a friend, not a foe, of Islam

Ed Husain on the recent and less recent controversies regarding Scruton (Government sacks Roger Scruton after remarks about Soros and Islamophobia):

I am not a right-winger. I am ashamed to say that I discovered Sir Roger Scruton only four years ago when an argument in a Washington DC think-tank led to a search for contemporary philosophers who took a long view of civilisation, history, ideas, and implications of philosophy. 

It happened when I was an advisor to Tony Blair and visited Washington DC for a think-tank meeting representing Tony. There, left-wing Muslim activists, who put their community’s interests before their country, accused me of being a ‘neoconservative’ because I argued that the national security of our countries and peoples mattered more than any Muslim community identity. A safer country, logically, meant a safer Muslim community.

The attacks from them kept coming that I was a ‘neo-con’. To better understand what was really meant by ‘neo-con’, I started to read Leo Strauss, the so-called founder of neo-conservatism. This German Jewish philosopher worked wonders for my growing appreciation and learning of how the West was built on the ideals of Athens and Jerusalem; his own struggles as a Jew with the modern West were instructive for me.

I discovered, through Strauss, the great Muslim philosophers, particularly al-Farabi (d.950) and Avicenna (1037). I was hooked. Here were renowned Muslim luminaries who honoured Socrates, Plato and Aristotle and merged early Islam with the classical West. Knowledge was not limited to the Quran or the Bible, but came from the great Greek pagans too.

This encounter and subsequent discovery drew me to seek out Sir Roger as the supervisor for my doctoral research for six reasons.

First, he is fair to the contributions made by Muslim philosophers to the West. He is not dismissive of God and divinity, as is fashionable among too many Nietzschean academics. In his seminal A Short History of Modern Philosophy he writes how al-Farabi, Avicenna and Averroes ‘all of them Muslims’ ‘systematised and adapted’ Aristotelian thought. Where others sought to downplay or ignore Muslim contributions to the emergence of the modern West, Scruton was true to the historical record.

In his book on Spinoza, among the greatest of the Enlightenment thinkers, Scruton repeatedly emphasises that Spinoza was reading the Muslim philosophers of Andalusia before Spinoza read Descartes or Hobbes. Commenting on Spinoza’s Spanish Jewish ancestry, Scruton writes:

‘For several centuries such people had lived relatively securely in the Spanish peninsula, protected by the Muslim princes, and mingling openly with their Islamic neighbours. Their theologians and philosophers and scholars had joined in the great revival of Aristotelian philosophy […]’

In The Soul of the World Scruton admiringly quotes Muslim mystics and heaps praise on Ghazali and Rumi, quoting from the latter’s verses and shows a grasp of the Muslim mystical mind.

For me, it was clear that Scruton’s objection was not to the Islam of beauty, co-existence, spirituality, poetry, civilisation, art and architecture. But like millions of Muslims, his fight was with the literalists, the supremacists, the Islamists and Salafists. Islam of the philosophers and mystics belongs firmly in the West and is part of the West’s heritage.

Second, sitting in class I was taken aback by his polymathic mind. In addition to his mastery of an array of disciplines, not a single tutorial has passed to date where he has not referenced the Quran in Arabic or Avicenna’s thoughts, Ghazali’s writings, Rumi’s poetry or others. Even when discussing the Austrian genius Ludwig Wittgenstein, Scruton could see and identify parallels with Islamic Sufism, the immersion in God. It is often Scruton evoking verses from the Quran on the soul, the Sun, the galaxy, and I am left catching up trying to match my Arabic recall with his.

Third, leading Muslim theologians in the West understand and respect Scruton. Here is Shaikh Hamza Yusuf, described by the Guardian as ‘arguably the West’s most influential Islamic scholar’, in deep and detailed discussion with Scruton on ‘sacred truths’. Then here is Scruton and Yusuf discussing ‘What Conservatism Really Means’. Shaikh Hamza’s admiration for Scruton has directed many Muslim influencers around the world to better understand conservatism as explained and advanced by Scruton: identify what we love in civilisation and then protect these virtues and values from current threats so that our children can also find a beautiful world. 

Fourth, Arab Muslim princes and scholars are asking questions about how they can reform, and what went wrong with the Arab spring that led to Islamist revolutionaries taking over in Egypt, and to this day angling in Damascus, Gaza, Jordan, Tunisia, Libya, Kuwait, Bahrain, even Saudi Arabia. What is the way forward to head off Marxism-influenced Islamist revolutionaries, but still make political reforms? Like Scruton, they wish to take the long view and in that I have seen them reading Scruton’s Fools, Frauds and Firebrands to better understand the dangers to civilisation. If the kids are reading Chomsky and Zizek, the grown-ups are with Scruton.

Fifth, he cares deeply for the values informing architecture and aesthetics in the Muslim world. It was from Scruton that I heard about Marwa al-Sabouni, an architect, hijab-wearing Muslim, trying to rebuild her native Homs in Syria. Not only has Scruton mentioned her book to every willing audience, he has invited her to think-tank events in London, including here at Policy Exchange. Here was a philosopher who applied his thinking and worked with Muslim women to build and bolster places and identity in the most difficult parts of the world.

Finally, Scruton does not shy away from the tough questions, the true hallmark of a philosopher with a philosophy. I liked his courage and the fact that the mob could not silence him. For me, yes, anti-Muslim hatred exists and must be uprooted but ‘Islamophobia’ is an oxymoron: Islam seeks peace and how can people have a fear of peace?

The Muslim Brotherhood, their naïve acolytes, and their left-wing allies have used accusations of ‘Islamophobia’ to try to silence criticism of Islam and Muslim practices. Scruton often tells me that Islam and Muslims need to remember the spirit of the witty and wise 13th century Molla Nasreddin Hodja, who laughs at himself. Scruton is right to say that we Muslims take ourselves too seriously, too mired in victimhood narratives and need to re-embrace the Greek spirit of comedy and mockery.

Scruton is not a binary thinker: he admires Islam, but is critical of it too. Scruton is asking tough questions: can Muslims learn to put country before faith community? Do away with notions of blasphemy and accept liberty? Those questions need answers. For all of our futures depend on it.

If Muslim countries and communities make progress towards liberty, pluralism and peace, it will be because their conservative instincts were helped, understood, and respected by an Englishman fond of wine and hunting, music and aesthetics. And long may he live.

Source: Roger Scruton is a friend, not a foe, of Islam