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

Friday essay: how Western attitudes towards Islam have changed

Interesting historical account:

Less than a week after the attack on the Twin Towers in New York on 11 September 2001, US President George W. Bush gave a remarkable speechabout America’s “Muslim Brothers and sisters”. “These acts of violence,” he declared, “violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith.” After quoting from the Quran, he continued, “The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace.”

This speech is remarkable, not only for its compassion towards Muslims in the face of the attack on the US, but also because Bush was contradicting what has been, since the beginnings of Islam, the standard Western perception of this religion – namely that it is, at its core, a religion of violence.

Since its beginnings in the Arabia of the 7th century CE, the religion of Muhammad the prophet had pushed against the borders of Christendom. Within 100 years of the death of Muhammad in 632 CE, an Arabian empire extended from India and the borders of China to the south of France. Militarily, early Islam was undoubtedly successful.

Since that time, for the Christian West, regardless of the Islamic precept and practice of religious tolerance (at least as long as non-Muslims did not criticise the prophet), Islam has remained often threatening, sometimes enchanting, but ever-present. Indeed, the West created its own identity against an Islam that it saw as totally other, essentially alien, and ever likely to engulf it.

Thus, from the 8th century to the middle of the 19th, it was the virtually unanimous Western opinion that Islam was a violent religion whose success was due to the sword.

 

That Islam is, at its core, a violent religion is an attitude still present among some today. In the aftermath of the horrific murder of 50 Muslims in Christchurch by an Australian right wing nationalist, the conservative Australian politician Fraser Anning declared (straight out of the West’s medieval playbook), “The entire religion of Islam is simply the violent ideology of a sixth century despot masquerading as a religious leader, which justifies endless war against anyone who opposes it and calls for the murder of unbelievers and apostates.” Any violence against Muslims, he suggested, was therefore their own fault.

Anning has been roundly condemned for his statements by both sides of politics. He is clearly wildly out of step with mainstream public opinion in Australia. A change.org petition with more than 1.4 million signatures has been delivered to Senator Mehreen Faruqi, Australia’s first Muslim senator.

Clearly, blaming innocent people at prayer for their deaths at the hands of a right wing zealot crossed all the boundaries. But Anning’s view of Islam does echo an historic Western emphasis on the use of force in Islam as an explanation for its success.

This was, of course, part of an argument about the relative truth of Christianity and Islam. According to this, the success of Islam was due solely to the sword. The success of Christianity, having renounced the sword, was due to divine favour. The one was godly, the other Satanic.

This Western image of a benign, peaceful Christianity against a malevolent, violent Islam was a mythical one. With few exceptions, its proponents ignored both the violence that often went along with the spread of Christianity and the religious tolerance that often accompanied the extension of Islam. But the myth did reflect the deep-seated Western horror, always potent in the collective imagination, of being literally overrun by the fanatical hordes.

A 14th century miniature depicting Crusaders at The Battle of Wadi al-Khazandar (Battle of Homs) of 1299. Wikimedia Commons

Ripe for colonialism

In the 19th century, however, attitudes did begin to change. Muhammad was, on occasion, imagined not as the ambitious, profligate impostor of old but as a “silent great soul”, a hero who spoke “from Nature’s own heart”, as Thomas Carlyle called him. The Dublin University Magazine described him in 1873 as “one of the greatest ever sent on earth”.

Grigory Gagarin. Muhammad’s Preaching (circa 1840-1850) Wikimedia Commons

Islam too now came to be seen more benevolently. The increasing cultural and global political power of the West rendered obsolete the traditional fear of being overwhelmed by Islam. The “religion of force” was now meeting a greater secular force, that of the imperial West. Islam no longer looked as threatening as it once had. The doctrine of Jihad (holy war), declared The Quarterly Review in 1877, “is not so dangerous or barbarous a one as is generally imagined”.

Islamic cultures now came to be seen as spheres of Western patronage, secular and religious. The image of a vibrant, active, progressive West against a passive, inert Islam was congenial to colonial enterprise. Ironically, the religion of aggressive action now came to be viewed as passively stagnant, decadent and degenerate, ripe for domination by an assertive West.

The inability of Western commentators in the 19th century to endorse a newly submissive Islam arose from a deep-seated Western incapacity to treat Islam on equal terms. Indeed, the greater value of the West over all those it variously characterised as backward, degenerate, or uncivilised was a central feature of most discussions of non-Western forms of life.

In short, Islam and progress were incompatible. And there was a strong tendency throughout the Victorian period to blame Islam for all the imagined ills of Oriental societies – the moral degradation of women, slavery, the physical and mental debilities of men, envy, violence and cruelty, the disquiet and misery of private life, the continual agitations, commotions, and revolutions of public life.

Contemporary times

Cut to the 21st century and a post-imperialist age, and Muslim nationalisms are again on the rise, not only in the Middle East and North Africa, but in Indonesia, India and Pakistan. The West once again feels under threat. The myth of Islam as essentially violent has re-surfaced. But, interestingly, it has done so in a different way.

On the one hand, the growth of terrorism has moved the imagined military threat of Islam from the borders of the West to its very centres – to London, Paris, New York.

On the other hand, Islam is now seen as a cultural threat as much as a military one. Even at its most benign, it is perceived as threatening Western values by virtue of the Muslims in its midst, stubbornly refusing to acquiesce to Western values. Thus the need to keep Muslims out. In December 2015, to the outrage of many Americans, then presidential candidate Donald Trump called for a ban on Muslims entering the US. Better the enemy kept outside the wall than the enemy within.

The refusal of the UK to allow Shamima Begum, the school girl who left London in 2015 to join ISIS, to return to England is the most recent example of the fear of home-grown terrorism and the enemy “within”. That she appears to endorse a violent Islam and is lacking in remorse has not helped her cause.

In addition, a new discourse has emerged of Islam as having failed to have a Reformation and an Enlightenment as did the West. Thus, for example, former Prime Minister of Australia Tony Abbott declared in December 2015 that Islam has never had its own version of the Reformation and the Enlightenment – the two events that seem to symbolise for Abbott the transition from barbarism to civilisation.

“It’s not culturally insensitive,” he declared, “to demand loyalty to Australia and respect for Western civilisation. Cultures are not all equal. We should be ready to proclaim the clear superiority of our culture to one that justifies killing people in the name of God.”

Does Islam need an Enlightenment like Europe had in the 18th century? Well yes, in the sense that European governments finally legislated freedom of religion to stop Catholics and Protestants slaughtering each other. Like Christianity in Europe in the 17th century, Islam in the 21st is as much at war with itself (especially in the conflict between Sunnis and Shiites) as it is at war with the West.

So, in the light of this history of Western attitudes to Islam, what are we to make of President Bush’s claim that Islam really is a religion of peace and that Muslim terrorists are, as a consequence, not true Muslims?

At its simplest, it is a recognition that there are vast numbers of Muslims, indeed the majority by far, both inside and outside the West, who endorse the virtues of tolerance, compassion, kindness and – simply put – just getting on with each other and with others.

It is also a recognition that multicultural and multi-religious societies thrive on unity and not divisiveness. As then Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull put it in March 2017, “What I must do, as a leader, and what all leaders should do in Australia, is emphasise our inclusivity, the fact that we are a multicultural society where all cultures, all faiths are respected and that is mutual. So, trying to demonise all Muslims is only confirming the lying, dangerous message of the terrorists.”

Many religions under one name

It is foolish to deny that there is a violent edge to Islam, as there is to Christianity and Judaism. In all these traditions, there is the tension between the idea of a God whose will is always good and a God whose will is always right.

And where God is seen as a being whose will can transcend the good (as he is in Islam, Christianity and Judaism), evil acts committed in his name can abound. Both peace and violence can equally find their justification in the Muslim, Christian and Jewish idea of God.

The willingness of the Islamic State group to accept reponsibility for the horrific bombings in Sri Lanka indicates their belief that such acts are in accord with the will of God.

That said, the question of whether Islam is essentially violent is not one that any longer makes much sense (if it ever did). The supposed fundamental oppositions between the West and Islam fail to map on to any reality.

“Islam” and “the West” are no longer helpful banners behind which any of us should enthusiastically rally. There really is no clash of civilisations here, not least because the notion of “civilisation”, Islamic or Western, really doesn’t have any purchase in a globalised world.

Moreover, we now know that it is difficult to identify the essence of any religion and futile to search for one. Any one religion is really many religions under the one name. So there are many Islams – Sunni and Shiite, but also Indonesian, Albanian, Malaysian, Moroccan, Pakistani, all culturally nuanced in quite different ways. This was evident in the many nationalities of those at prayer in the Christchurch mosques.

So too, there are many Christianities, often so different as to be hardly recognisable as parts of the same tradition – think Pentecostal snake handlers in the American south, Catholic peasants in Sicily devoted to the Virgin Mary, or cool Lutherans in Scandinavia.

The fault line in modern religion doesn’t go to a clash between civilisations or even to a clash between religions so much as to a struggle within religions and within cultures, between theologies, ethics, political ideologies, ethnicities, exclusivism and inclusivism.

It is a struggle between liberals and conservatives, fundamentalists and moderates, reason and revelation. It is a battle within theologies between a God who is thought to be knowable through nature, man and history and a God who is thought to be only knowable through the revelations contained in the inerrant pages of the Torah, the New Testament or the Quran.

It is a struggle within all religions between those who believe there are “many paths to Heaven”, endorse freedom of religion, encourage tolerance and support mutual respect against those who believe there is only “one way to Paradise” and desire to impose this on everyone else, whatever it takes.

Source: Friday essay: how Western attitudes towards Islam have changed

Stoning Gay People? The Sultan of Brunei Doesn’t Understand Modern Islam

Akyol on blind literalism:

At a time when Islam’s place in the modern world is a matter of global contention, Brunei, a small monarchy in Southeast Asia, has offered its two cents. By April 3, the nation, which is predominantly Muslim, had begun adhering to a new penal code with harsh corporal punishments. Accordingly, gay men or adulterers may be stoned to death, and lesbians may be flogged. Thieves will lose first their right hand, and then their left foot.

Understandably, these bits of news brought outcries from the United Nations, human rights organizations and celebrities like George Clooney. In return, the Brunei government dismissed all criticisms, reminding the world that the country is “sovereign” and “like all other independent countries, enforces its own rule of laws.”

As a Muslim, I should first tell my coreligionists in Brunei that their argument is not very good. Of course every country can enforce its own laws, but the content of those laws isn’t immune from criticism when it violates human rights. Otherwise, we would have no basis to criticize China’s totalitarian persecution of Uighur Muslims or the illiberal bans on “religious symbols,” including the Islamic head scarf, in France and, more recently, Quebec.

However, the real issue isn’t Brunei. It is Islamic law, or Shariah, the penal code from which law is applied not just in Brunei but in about a dozen other nations as well, such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Sudan. It includes brutal corporal punishments that shock the rest of the world. It also criminalizes acts that shouldn’t be crimes at all — such as consensual sex, loss of faith in Islam (“apostasy”) and the right to criticize it (“blasphemy”).

Muslims who insist on keeping or reviving these measures have a simple logic: Shariah is God’s law, and enforcing it is a religious duty. But their blind literalism is wrong for three reasons.

First, the corporal punishments in the Quran — amputation of limbs and flogging — may simply be related to the context of the Quran. In seventh-century Arabia, where the Prophet Muhammad lived, there were no prisons in which to incarcerate and feed people for a long time. For the same reason, corporal punishments — much cheaper and easier than imprisonment — were the universal norm until a few centuries ago. The Hebrew Bible commanded many of them, as did pre-modern European laws.

Second, much of the Shariah is actually man-made. Islamic scholars expanded jurisprudence based on debatable reports about the words and deeds of the Prophet, as well as the norms of their time. That is how blasphemy, apostasy and drunkenness, none of which is penalized in the Quran, became crimes.

Third, Islamic jurisprudence was developed for Muslims only, whereas Christians and Jews had their own laws. But all modern nation-states, including Brunei, are both centralized and diverse. So imposing Shariah as the law of the land will go against the rights of minorities, in addition to unorthodox Muslims.

All of those arguments are persuasively made by reformist thinkers in Islam. But I doubt that conservative authorities in Brunei will have much heart for them. So let me call on them to check an authority they can’t dismiss that easily: the Ottoman Empire, the last Islamic superpower of the world and the last seat of the Sunni Caliphate.

The Ottomans, who followed the flexible Hanafi school of jurisprudence, were pragmatic about law from the beginning. Decrees issued by sultans introduced fines or prison sentences instead of corporal punishments, rendering the latter often practically obsolete.

Moreover, in the mid-19th century the Ottomans initiated a major Reform (Tanzimat) era, which included the Imperial Ottoman Penal Code of 1858. The French-inspired law was designed to be valid for all Ottoman citizens, regardless of their religion, and remained in practice until the end of the empire with some modifications. It replaced all remaining corporal punishments in Ottoman law with prison sentences or forced labor. It also decriminalized apostasy and penalized blasphemy, or “interference with religious privileges,” with only “imprisonment of from one week to three months” (Article 132).

The penal code’s section on sexual crimes is worth a look, for it is much more liberal than the laws Brunei just began implementing 161 years later.

According to Article 200, for example, “an abominable act” with “a girl who has not yet been married to a man” was an offense — but only when done “by force.” In other words, consensual premarital sex was not a crime.

Extramarital sex, or adultery, was an offense under Article 201 — but to be punished with a prison sentence of “three months to two years,” not stoning to death.

What about homosexuality? The Ottoman penal code didn’t say anything about it. John Bucknill and Haig Utidjian, who translated the law into English in 1913, noted, “It will be observed that unless committed with force” or upon a minor, “sodomy is not a criminal offense under the Ottoman Penal Code.”

Malaysia’s government spots a vote-winner: ‘defending’ Islam

Not encouraging:
As Malaysia’s ruling Pakatan Harapan government contends with a marriage of convenience between the two largest opposition parties, pressure is mounting on it to show it can defend the interests of Malay-Muslims, who make up 75 per cent of voters.

Enter a new initiative to crack down on insults against Islam. On March 7, the Department of Islamic Development (Jakim), the country’s most powerful Islamic affairs agency, set up a special unit to police insults against Islam on social media and other platforms.

Each complaint would be scrutinised and legitimate ones reported to the police or the communications regulator, said Deputy Minister Fuziah Salleh, who is overseeing the unit.

In just a week, the complaints body received 10,000 reports and as of Wednesday, it had 13,498 reports.

In Mahathir’s new Malaysia, a perfect storm for Pakatan Harapan?

The agency’s creation came soon after a 22-year-old Malaysian, whose details were withheld by the authorities, was given an unprecedented sentence of 10 years for posting content online that insulted Islam and the Prophet Mohammed, a decision that lawyers said went against the rule of law.

And police are investigating the organisers of the International Women’s Day March under the colonial-era Sedition Act, on the back of public accusations that the presence of LGBT activists at a Women’s Day parade on March 9 glorified behaviour not in accordance with Islamic teachings.

In Muslim-majority Malaysia, same-sex relations are banned, and sedition laws have been used against those who express dissent or excite disaffection against state institutions.

Observers such as Oh Ei Sun of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs have pointed out the irony of these developments. Pakatan Harapan, led by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, won office on promises of legal reform and improved human rights for all Malaysians.
But it is now moving to stem the growing appeal of an alliance between former ruling party the United Malays National Organisation (Umno) and the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) – the former championing Malay rights and the latter milking pro-Muslim sentiments.
Umno-PAS’ attractiveness to voters has been heightened by the government’s struggle to realise its election pledges of higher salaries and a lower cost of living.

“The Malay parties in Pakatan Harapan have to pander to the conservatives by regressing to religio-racial supremacy in order to maintain a foothold in the Malay vote bank, especially in view of their successive crushing defeats in recent by-elections,” Oh said.

Political economist Terence Gomez, along with prominent local activists, also criticised this political “trend” of political parties capitalising on perceived insults to religion to gain popularity.

“In the application of laws prohibiting insulting religion, we must strive for a rational and liberal balance with the protection of the freedom of expression while being mindful of the religious sensitivities of our multi-religious communities. Hence open mindedness and moderation should be the norm in the interpretation and application of the existing laws,” the group said.

It added that criticising issues such as child marriage or female circumcision – permitted under Malaysia’s sharia laws – was “perfectly defensible”.

Fuziah said the complaints received by the unit regarded insults to Islam and the Prophet.

“One touches on insulting the Agong,” she said, referring to Malaysia’s ruler and head of state. She did not comment on whether any police reports had been filed.

Where does Malaysia stand on gay rights? Nobody knows

But so far only 28 links had been sent to the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, which is supposed to take them down. Another 15 complaints were being investigated, Fuziah said.

The commission told the South China Morning Post it had not received any reports as of Wednesday, but would “provide assistance to Jakim as required”.

When the new Jakim unit was launched, Fuziah told local media she was aware some insults online were published by those with fake accounts. Some were also “unhealthy retaliations”, she said, sparked by comments by opposition politicians against non-Muslims.

Source: Malaysia’s government spots a vote-winner: ‘defending’ Islam