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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Vol. 5    Issue 14   01-15  December 2010

Professor A. R. Momin

Combating Extremism among Muslims

In the past few years, one of the gravest threats to peace, stability and societal cohesion in Europe and the United States in particular and in the wider world in general has come from transnational terrorist groups and networks, in which a radical section of Muslims is prominently involved. The growing tentacles of global terrorism have led to the killing of thousands of innocent civilians, including Muslims, damaged property and infrastructure worth billions of dollars, created an atmosphere of fear and insecurity, and reinforced mistrust and hostility against Muslims. The terrorist attack on New York and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, in which nearly 3000 innocent people, including 300 Muslims, were killed, the 2004 Madrid train bombings, in which 191 people were killed and more than 2000 wounded, and the July 2005 bombings on London’s public transport system, which killed 52 commuters and injured 700, have radically altered the global scenario and have widened the gulf between Muslims and mainstream societies across Europe and the United States. Global terrorism has strengthened xenophobic and racist sentiments in the continent and has reinvigorated far-right political parties across large parts of Europe.

Thankfully, the overwhelmingly majority of Muslims around the world have denounced violence and terrorism carried out by a fringe group of Muslim youth in the name of Islam. The 2007 Gallup data show that Muslims across the world denounce terrorist attacks on civilians as morally unjustified. Muslims in the Netherlands responded to the release of Geert Wilders’ highly provocative and anti-Islam film “Fitna” on the Internet with remarkable restraint. The Dutch AIVD intelligence service recently reported that among Dutch Muslims of Turkish origin “resistance to radical Islamic ideologies remains strong”. A recent Gallup poll showed that fears about the mass radicalization of Muslims in the European Union have not come true. Asked if violent attacks on civilians could be justified, 82% of French Muslims and 91% of German Muslims said no. Gallup’s Magali Rheault said, “It is important to separate the mainstream views from the actions of fringe groups, who often receive disproportionate attention. Mainstream Muslims do not appear to exhibit extremist behavior”.

Acts of wanton killings and reckless violence and destruction have been condemned by Muslims around the world, and especially by Muslim scholars and Islamic seminaries. In 2007 one of Osama Bin Laden’s most prominent mentors, Salman al-Awdah, wrote an open letter criticizing him for “fostering a culture of suicide bombings that has caused bloodshed and suffering and brought ruin to entire Muslim communities and families”. Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, one of al-Qaeda’s founders, who had described the 9/11 attacks on the US as “a catastrophe for Muslims,” said in 2007, “There is nothing that invokes the anger of God and His wrath like the unwarranted spilling of blood and wrecking of property”. The Al Azhar University in Cairo and Darul Uloom Deoband in India as well as many prominent scholars and institutions of Islamic learning around the world have condemned reckless violence and terrorism—which are ostensibly legitimated in the name of jihad--in unequivocal terms.

Dr Muhammad Tahir-ul Qadri

A leading Pakistani-born Muslim scholar, Dr Muhammad Tahir-ul Qadri, who is at present based in Canada, issued a fatwa on March 2, 2010, backed by extensive references to Islamic legal principles and precedents and judicial pronouncements, denouncing terrorists as the enemies of Islam. Dr Qadri, the founder of an influential religious and educational organization and a socio-religious movement called Minhajul Quran International, said in his 600-page edict that suicide bombers were destined for hell. “There is no room for any martyrdom and their act (of terrorism) is never, ever to be considered jihad,” he said. Dr Qadri emphasized that Islam is a religion of peace that promotes beauty, betterment, goodness and “negates all form of mischief and strife”. “Terrorism is terrorism, violence is violence, and it has no place in Islamic teachings and no justification or excuse on its behalf can be acceptable,” he said. Dr Qadri emphatically pointed out that attacks against innocent citizens are “absolutely against the teachings of Islam” and that Islam does not permit such acts under any excuse, pretext or reason.

Extremism and fanaticism need to be combated through a multi-pronged strategy, involving Islamic edicts, discourses, conferences and workshops, communitarian involvement and engagement, informal group discussions and youth outreach programmes such as summer camps. The use of modern information and communications technologies for this purpose would prove to be of great value. Minhajul Quran International organized a three-day summer camp, called Al-Hidayah 2010, On August 7-9, 2010 at the University of Warwick campus. The camp was attended by 1,300 Muslim delegates, mainly young men and women, who came from across Europe, the US and Canada. The camp comprised a series of lectures, workshops and presentations and informal discussions. The discussions focused on various ways of combating extremism and terrorism in schools, universities and in the neighbourhood and community, and sought to provide the participants with conceptual and methodological orientations and resources—drawn essentially from the Quran, the sayings and precepts of the Prophet Muhammad and the conduct of the righteously guided caliphs and Companions of the Prophet—to counter extremism.

Young Muslim girls arrive at al-Hidayah 2010 at the University of Warwick campus (Photograph: Jeremy Pardoe/News Team)

In his opening address, Dr Qadri argued that radicalization was a slow process that began with an “ideological infection”. Such an infection, he emphasized, could and should be treated before the sufferer turned violent. Dr Qadri announced that a caravan of vehicles, filled with mobile libraries, books and DVDs, would soon be launched, which would travel around the UK to spread awareness and provide motivation for countering extremism among Muslims.

Canada’s First Muslim Mayor

The presence of Muslims in Canada goes back to the 1870s. The first mosque in the country was constructed in Edmonton in 1938. There are 55 mosques in the country. Canada’s Muslim population, according to the 2001 census, is 5,79,740, comprising just under 2% of the country’s population. The majority of Muslim population is concentrated in Ontario. The overwhelming majority of Canadian Muslims are migrants from Lebanon, Iran, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Somalia, Algeria, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Yemen, Albania and Turkey.

Canada was the first country in the world to adopt multiculturalism as an official policy, which recognizes the country’s ethnic and cultural diversity and accommodates the rights and identities of minority groups. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom guarantees freedom of religious belief and practice. Unlike large parts of Europe and the US, Canadian Muslims experience much less of racially-motivated discrimination and Islamophobia. Canadian Muslims are visible in public life, including politics, education, civil society and the media. A Muslim woman, Fatimah Houda-Pepin, was elected to the Quebec National Assembly in 1994. Under Section 2(a) the Charter, Muslim girls and women are allowed to wear the headscarf in schools and the workplace. However, since Canada follows the federal system of government, provinces have the freedom to enact their own laws. Thus, the French-speaking province of Quebec has banned the wearing of face-covering veils or niqab in schools and hospitals.

Mosque in Ottawa

Naheed Nenshi, a 38-year-old Harvard-educated Ismaili Muslim became the mayor of Calgary on October 18, 2010. He braved a smear campaign launched by his opponents and defeated two candidates, Ric McIver, supported by the Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, and Barb Higgins. The Internet played an important role in Naheed’s poll campaign and in his ultimate victory. He has a fairly wide circle of online friends and admirers, thanks to Facebook.

Naheed Nenshi is surrounded by his supporters after being elected mayor of Calgary on October 18, 2010

Naheed’s parents migrated to Canada from Tanzania before he was born. After graduating from Harvard University, Naheed joined McKinsey and Company, one of the world’s top consulting firms, worked for the United Nations and taught at Mount Royal University. Naheed Nenshi’s victory brings out the role of education, societal engagement and grassroots networks in upward social mobility among minority groups, and the strength of Canada’s democratic system and its inclusionary political ethos.

The Plight of Guantanamo Detainees

The Guantanamo Bay prison represents one of the most shameful acts in the record of human rights violations by the US. There is overwhelming evidence which suggests that detainees at Guantanamo and elsewhere were subjected to brutal torture and humiliation by the US authorities during the Bush era. A number of topmost US authorities, including President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet appear to be implicated in the sordid affair. The most telling evidence has come from the horse’s mouth, from George W. Bush’s memoir Decision Points, in which he admits that he personally authorized the waterboarding of Khaled Sheikh Mohammed. US President Barack Obama made a number of high-sounding promises in his speech in Cairo in June 2009. He promised to close the Guantanamo prison by January 2010, but the promise remains unfulfilled. At least 176 prisoners are still detained at Guantanamo without charge or trial.

The UK has been a key ally of the US in the so-called war on terror. Recent revelations have exposed the implication of the UK government in the illegal detention and torture of innocent civilians and detainees. A high court in London ordered the Metropolitan police on 18 March 2009 to pay £60,000 to a British Muslim who was subjected to “serious, gratuitous and prolonged” attack by the security forces at his house in southeast London. Babar Ahmad, who was falsely accused of raising funds for terrorism, had been punched, kicked and throttled during his arrest by police officers in December 2003. Officers stamped on Ahmad’s feet and repeatedly punched him in the head and shouted, “Where is your God now? Pray to him”. The police had repeatedly denied its involvement in the torture, but lawyers for the police force’s commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, admitted at the high court that Ahmad was indeed tortured by the police. The court held that since no evidence had been produced against Ahmad and that he had never been charged with any offence, he should be set free and adequately compensated by the security forces.

Binyam Mohammad, an Ethiopian-born resident of Britain, was arrested in April 2002 in Karachi by Pakistani authorities, who later turned him over to American intelligence officials. After his interrogation there, he was taken on a CIA flight to a black site in Morocco, where he spent 18 months in detention and was tortured by the authorities. While in detention in Pakistan, the police hung him up by his wrists and he was not allowed to sleep for days together. In Morocco the torture got worse and they even cut his genitals with a razor blade. From Morocco he was brought to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba where he was subject to even more severe torture. British authorities who knew that Mohammad was being held illegally in Morocco did not do anything for him. In February 2009, Mohammad’s former military prosecutor declared that he presented no threat to Britain or America, and all charges against him were dropped. Mohammad subsequently returned to the UK.

In July 2010 British Prime Minister David Cameron ordered an official inquiry into allegations of Britain’s involvement in the torture of detainees. On November 16, 2010 the UK agreed to pay former Guantanamo detainees who are British citizens or residents millions of pounds in damages to settle law suits which allege British complicity in torture.

Shaker Aamer, who is still detained at Guantanamo

According to media reports (The Guardian, November 22, 2010), one of the detainees, Shaker Aamer from south London, who has been held without charge or trial at the prison for nearly nine years, is still holed up in Guantanamo. Despite repeated requests, neither the US nor the British authorities can give a clear reason as to why Aamer is still held without charge, even when the UK has asked for his return. His wife and four children are still denied access to him. Amnesty International is stepping up efforts for the expeditious release of Aamer.

Mass Weddings in Yemen

Weddings in Yemen, the poorest and one of the most conservative of all Arab states, are a highly expensive and unaffordable affair for large numbers of young people. The groom and his family are required to pay a customry dowry of about $5,000 to the bride’s father and also to bear the expenses involved in the wedding ceremony. The wedding ceremny involves renting a large-size tent, decorated with mattresses and cushions, hiring a local band, decorating the tent and the surrounding area with colourful lights and a feat in which lamb dishes are served. The celebrations go on for at least three days. After the wedding luch, guests are offered “qat,” a mildly intoxicating leaf which is chewed at weddings and other festive occasions. Many Yemeni young men who cannot afford to pay the dowry and the other wedding expenses remain unmarried. The situation is far worse in the case of orphans who have no family support.

Faced with the unaffordable and mounting costs of marriagea growing number of parents in Yemen now prefer to have all the sons in the family at the same time and venue. A new trend that has emergedin recent years is to arrange mass weddings involving 10 to 1,500 couples, in which government agencies, tribal chiefs and private companies are involved. MTN, a South Africa-based telecommunication company that operates mobile phone networks in Yemen, has organised an annual mass wedding for its local staff for the past few years.

Yemen’s largest mass wedding is attended by 1,600 grooms, their relatives and those of their brides in a sports hall in Sana’a (Photograph: Oliver Holmes)

In October 2010, Yemen’s largest mass wedding took place in a sports hall in the capital Sana’a, in which 1,600 orphans and their brides tied the knot. The event was organized by the Orphans Charitable Organisation and sponsored by Saudi Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, a brother of the Saudi monarch. In addition to funding the event, the Crown Prince presented a generous gift of $900 to each of the grooms.

Mass weddings have been prevalent in several parts of the Islamic world, including Iran, Indonesia, Bangladesh and India.

(Source: http://www.english aljazeera.net, November 15, 2010)

Islamic Law in German Courts

Of late there has come about a resurgence of sentiments and outbursts against Islam and Muslims in Germany. The context is provided by the growing popular resentment against immigration and the increasing visibility of Germany’s 4 million Muslims. According to a recent survey conducted for the tabloid Bid, nearly 66% of Germans believe that Islam does not belong to Germany. The rising public resentment and anger against immigration can be gauged from the popularity of a recently published book Deutschland schafft sich ab (Germany Does Away with Itself) by Thilo Sarrazin, a German economist who was until recently on the board of Germany’s Bundesbank. In his controversial book, which has sold more than a million copies since its publication in August 2010, Sarrazin says that German women are having far too few babies, while Muslims and other immigrant minorities are producing too many. The result, according to him, is that Germany’s population is shrinking and is getting dumber. Sarrazin has been thoroughly denounced by Germany’s political establishment and Chancellor Angela Merkel accused him of “dividing society”. The Bundesbank has sacked him. However, Sarrazin’s book remains on the best seller list. A study by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in October 2010 found that more than 30 per cent people questioned agreed that Germany was “overrun by foreigners.”

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel recently said that Islamic law or Shariah had no place in Germany. “In Germany it is the constitution that applies, not Shariah law,” she said. Merkel is wrong. Elements of Islamic law have been applied in Germany as well as other European countries such as the UK, Norway and Greece. Under Britain’s 1996 Arbitration Act, which allows disputes to be resolved through recourse to alternative legal avenues such as tribunals, Islamic tribunals are authorized to give rulings in matters relating to marriage, divorce and inheritance, which can be enforced by county and High Courts. Principles and provisions of Islamic law relating to marriage, divorce and inheritance are taken into account by German courts while deciding cases involving Muslims. Family matters involving Jordanian couples living in Germany, for example, are decided according to Jordanian law, which are at least partially based on Islamic Shariah. Similarly, multiple wives in a polygamous marriage involving German Muslims of immigrant background, provided such type of marriage is permissible in the country of origin, have legal rights, alimony and social security benefits stemming from the husband’s occupation and a portion of his inheritance in the event of his death.

A Cologne court forced an Iranian man living in Germany to pay his ex-wife 600 gold coins in bride price (mahr) upon divorce and cited the ruling applied in such cases in Iran. “We have long been practicing Islamic law,” says Hilman Kruger, a law professor at the University of Cologne. Mathias Rohe, a lawyer in Erlangen, says that the existence of parallel legal structures is an “expression of globalization” adding, “We apply Islamic law just as we do French law”.

(Source: http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,druck-722477,00.html)

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