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Muslims and Islamophobia ( 22 Sept 2011, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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To Tackle Islamophobia, Both West and the Muslims Must Introspect: Sultan Shahin tells UNHRC

United Nations Human Rights Council, 18th session,

Geneva – 12 - 30 September 2011

Agenda item 4: Human Rights situations that require the Council’s attention

On behalf of World Environment and Resources Council

Full Text of the Oral Statement delivered by

Sultan Shahin, Editor, New Age Islam,

on 23rd September 2011


Madam President,

Several UN officials, independent experts and human rights groups have referred to the massive human rights violations now taking place in Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, Sudan, Egypt and other countries in the Muslim world. There is a growing danger of Islamist extremists sharing or coming to power in several countries. The only thing clear about the future shape of Libya, for instance, is that it will have a constitution based on Shariah. A supposedly democratic Iraq has come so much under radical Islamist Iranian influence that it is now supporting the violent suppression of dissidents in Syria. Dissidents in Bahrain have been suppressed by Saudi forces. Pakistan has kept going deeper into the morass of religious and sectarian intolerance. The Taliban appear to be once again resurgent in Afghanistan. And at a time like this the US too is preparing to leave the region, probably to the tender mercies of Pakistan’s military intelligence, the ISI, which it recently revealed continues to support Taliban outfits responsible for the bombing of American and Indian embassies in Kabul.

It should be a matter of serious concern for us Muslims that the optimism for real change in the Muslim world we had felt from the Arab Spring a few months ago is growing dimmer. But despite all these depressing developments, the Muslim world shows no signs of introspection. We continue to wallow in victimhood. Conspiracy theories abound. Denial continues. Even 9/11 is not yet accepted generally as the handiwork of Al-Qaeda. We Muslims could have utilised the killing of Osama bin Laden as an occasion for making a new beginning. But not only in Islamist Pakistan, even in secular, multicultural India had some Muslims offered funeral prayers in absentia for the world’s chief terrorist. A War within Islam is clearly going on but we mainstream Muslims ourselves don’t seem to realise its grave consequences.

I want to take this opportunity, Madam President, to appeal to all the Muslim countries represented in this august forum, to take this war within Islam seriously and devise strategies to win this war for mainstream peaceful Islam.

That we Muslims continue to be in complete denial of our situation cannot be in doubt. We just do not seem to recognise the danger inherent in allowing Petrodollar-funded Islamist groups taking over our mosques and mardrasas. Take the case of funeral prayer in absentia (ghaibana namaz-e-Janaza) for Osama bin Laden. Even in normal circumstances holding such prayers for people whose funeral is known to have been already performed with due Islamic rites is of dubious religious value, not even allowed by some theologians. But for Osama bin Laden! And knowing well that the US government had already organised proper rites for him! What message were these Muslims trying to give to the world? What exactly was the idea? One can understand the Taliban of Afghanistan and Pakistan, even Syed Ali Shah Geelani of Kashmir and his militant followers, wanting to bless Osama as they did. But Muslims of Chennai? Kolkata? Hyderabad?

Mercifully the numbers of Muslims gathered to say these prayers were few, but those who objected or did not participate did not make it a point, as they should have, to make their opposition and even revulsion at this display of support for the world’s chief terrorist known. Our religious scholars have never declared late Osama bin Laden a deviant or kafir, even though they keep doing that routinely to all members of sects other than their own from what can only be described as their kafir-manufacturing factories. The implication is not lost on the world and cannot but further fuel a growing fear of Islam in the West and elsewhere.

A bizarre incident in Norway recently brought out the issue of Islamophobia again to the world attention. The massacre of innocents in Norway laid bare what devastation intolerance based on religion or belief and its latest manifestation Islamophobia can wreak on the civilized society. That it happened on the eve of the 10th anniversary of 9/11 makes it especially instructive. The tragedy of 9/11 was caused by the intolerance of one set of people, the extremist Islamists and the Norway massacre by the intolerance of another set of people, right wing extremists in the West. Though a lone individual actually pulled the trigger in Norway, his manifesto reveals that his mindset was shaped by a whole host of Islamophobic groups.

It is imperative that the West recognises the dangers of such religious intolerance and finds ways of stopping motivated hate campaigns. Intellectuals and mass media should scrupulously stay away from Islamophobic groups and their Eurabia-like conspiracy theories. This also provides fodder to the hate campaigns of the so-called Islamist terrorists. Fortunately, there are signs that the Western mass media has already embarked on a course correction. It has exposed groups, for instance, that engage in massive funding of Islamophobes and their networks.

But this does not absolve us Muslims from our own duty to introspect. Are Muslims living in the West, for instance, doing enough to integrate? Or are they seeking to create separate enclaves of obscurantism ruled by some sort of Shariah? If the latter is happening, then how can they expect to be acceptable to their fellow citizens in the non-Muslim majority world?

Even more urgently, we Muslims have to try and rein in, expose and fight violent extremists within our community. This has to be done particularly on an ideological level. For, ultimately this is a war of ideas, even if Western strategists do not realise this. While these groups use Islamophobic campaigns in the West to further their own nefarious designs, ultimately it is a sickness of their own minds. They believe in, propagate and kill innocents to further the cause of an ideology completely alien to mainstream Islam. It tells them that Muslims should not interact with other religious groups except perhaps to convert them or kill them. But their first targets are Muslims who do not consider Islam a propagator of bigotry and violence.

Thus ultimately this is a War within Islam that has taken the lives of tens of thousands of Muslims at the hands of people who claim to be Muslims.

In this war, we can do nothing worse than looking up to the West for support. All that the Global War on Terror waged by the west since 9/11 has done is to hand over secular Iraq to Mullah Iran, hand over semi-secular Pakistan to one-party ruled China. It has protected the fountainhead of Islamic radicalism and allowed it to spend tens of billions of dollars of petrol money in radicalising each and every part of the world where Muslims live whether as a majority or a minority.

A recent interaction I had with top Western military strategists gathered in Geneva for a three-day security conference tells me that they are not in the least focussed on the religio-political dimension of this war. Had that been so, they could not have handed over Gaddafi’s Libya to Islamists whom his intelligence was torturing on their behalf.

This is a war waged by people who call themselves Muslim but clearly do not believe in the Islam that Prophet Mohammad brought to this world. If they did, they could not possibly ignore the fact that the Islamic state that Prophet Mohammad had established was actually a secular state. It was based on a convention called Meesaq-e-Madina, the first and only Islamic constitution adopted by the Prophet (peace be upon him). This was based on an agreement the Prophet had made with the Jews to establish a secular state.

Some of its provisions were the following:

1. Medina (which was a multicultural city and had people with differing philosophies, particularly Jewish, Muslims, polytheists and atheists) was declared a nation-state, not a religious state. Its entire population was referred to as Umma, a word Muslims now use exclusively for Muslims alone.

2. No religious group could impose their religious laws (i.e. Shariah) on a people who did not share the same set of beliefs. In such cases civil law was to be followed.

3. Muslims promised to fight anyone who attacked Medina, even if the attackers were Muslims. (Same applied to other religious groups).

Both the right wing supremacists in the West and militant Islam-supremacists are opposed to multiculturalism and believe in religions and cultures of exclusion. They are well-funded with influential mass media at their disposal. And both have been preaching for some time that Islam does not believe in pluralism and co-existence. This is beginning to have an impact on the masses of people both in the West and in the Muslim world. One has started hearing of ridiculous concepts like extremist Muslims in the West setting up what they call “Sharia-controlled zones, where Islamic rules are enforced” and hence there should be ‘no gambling’, ‘no music or concerts’, ‘no porn or prostitution’, ‘no drugs or smoking’ and ‘no alcohol’. But no matter how ludicrous it may sound, the mere talk of “putting the seeds down for an Islamic Emirate in the UK in the long term” is bound to further fuel a fear of Islam and Muslims.

What should mainstream Muslims do in such a scenario? They have to save their religion from a takeover by the obscurantist extremists and uneducated clerics. I think the only option is to state loud and clear our understanding of Islam as a religion of peace and harmony and co-existence in multicultural societies. Our biggest tools are the verses of the Holy Quran and the life and conduct of the Prophet (peace be upon him).

Any number of dispassionate observers who have studied the Prophet’s life consider him a man of peace. He spent a lifetime seeking harmony for his society. He avoided strife all his life, counselling patience and perseverance to his followers in times of great persecution. We have already talked of the Meesaq-e-Medina, the first constitution in Islam that was completely secular. He led his followers to a defensive war only when there was no way out. When it was suggested to him that he could avoid bloodshed by digging a trench around Medina, he did that and the Battle of Trench that is considered the biggest encounter with Islam’s Meccan enemies ended with little bloodshed. Then, when he was in a strong position, he signed the Treaty of Hudaibia on very humiliating terms for Muslims merely to avoid bloodshed. His final victory at Mecca came completely without bloodshed. After total victory he announced a general amnesty on a day Meccans expected no mercy and thus again avoided bloodshed and possible revenge-killings by those who had suffered greatly at the hands of Meccans.

Countless verses can be cited from the Holy Quran that speak of Islam’s belief in a plural society. Quran declared in absolute terms: “No compulsion in religion”. It called for “Justice”, “Absolute Justice” for all. It did not confer any superiority on any individual based on class, creed, colour, sex or descent.

Madam President,

Ideas can only be fought with ideas. The Jihadi idea too has to be fought with ideas enshrined in the Quran and the example of the Prophet Mohammad. Petrodollar-funded Jihadi Islam presents God as a wrathful God jealous of other gods, indeed jealous of even those of his devotees who spent their lifetime praying to Him and in the process earned the respect, even reverence, of many people, Muslim and non-Muslim, who believe that from their position of proximity to God they might be able to intercede on their behalf and so visit their shrines and pray to God from there.

This view is at great variance is from Islamic reality.  The revelation of Divinity in Islam is specifically described as Compassion: Allah is Rahmanir Rahim -- the very acme of kindness and compassion. Although Allah has ninety nine names, depicting all his varied attributes, He is known in the Holy Quran mostly as Rahman and Rahim. Some Quranic statistics would probably help at this point. The word Merciful, Most merciful, Most gracious (Rahmanir Rahim) has been used 124 times in the Quran. The word ‘Mercy’ has been used 173 times. Contrast this with the usage of the word ‘Wrath’ (anger) and ‘Wrathful’ (Angry).

The word Wrath or anger appears thrice in the entire Quran -- ( Sura Al-Fatiha 1.07, Al-Baqra 2.90, and Al Imran 3.11) And the word wrathful or angry occurs four times in the entire Quran --- Al-Mada, Al-Fath, Al-Mujadila and Al- Mumtahina.

It is clear that God is conceived in Islam as the personification of compassion. The world has nothing to fear from a people who believe in this original concept of Islam. But merely saying that is not enough. The Jihadis call themselves Muslim and source their evil to some verses of the Quran, as Osama bin Laden too did in his Jihadi Manifesto known as 'letter to America'. Therefore, we must explain to the world the context in which these verses came and our view of their applicability or non-applicability in present times. Islam-supremacist Jihadis have a 7th century mindset. They want to continue fighting the battles of Badr and Uhad. We live in the 21st century. We cannot allow this group to hijack our religion, indeed our life. It is still a small group, but growing enormously in influence, if not numbers, largely because we the silent majority continue to remain silent.

We must remember and state repeatedly that while Muslims were allowed to defend themselves when their very survival was at stake, killing of innocent men, women and children or committing suicide for killing and terrorizing others, etc., were never allowed.

Like many scholars who have studied the subject, renowned academic Bernard Lewis writes: “Because holy war is an obligation of the faith, it is elaborately regulated in the Shariah. Fighters in a jihad are enjoined not to kill women, children, and the aged unless they attack first, not to torture or mutilate prisoners, to give fair warning of the resumption of hostilities after a truce, and to honour agreements. The mediaeval jurists and theologians discuss at some length the rules of warfare, including questions such as which weapons are permitted and which are not. … The stated reason for concern is the indiscriminate casualties (chemical and some other weapons) inflict. At no point do the basic texts of Islam enjoin terrorism and murder. At no point – as far as I am aware – do they even consider the random slaughter of uninvolved bystanders.”

We have to tell the world again and again that defensive war was permitted in Islam only when the very survival of the nascent Islam was at stake. And even then we were told that you have to fight for religious freedom per se, not just the religious freedom of Muslims. Muslims were told by God that they were being permitted to defend themselves with arms (a form of Jihad, albeit a lesser form) because if they did not do so, people may not be able to worship in temples, monasteries, churches, synagogues, etc., all those places of worship were God is remembered and God’s praises are sung. Here are the exact words of God translated in English:

“And had it not been that Allah checks one set of people with another, the monasteries and churches, the synagogues and the mosques, in which His praise is abundantly celebrated would have been utterly destroyed.” (Holy Quran 22:40)

Clearly we are not short of ammunition in this war. But it is important to reiterate that this is an ideological challenge and must be fought at the level of ideas.

We must understand that the way the Global War on Terror has been conducted has merely strengthened Wahhabi and Shia radicals. The main beneficiaries of this war have been radical Islamists of both Sunni and Shia variety as well as China. So we should not expect any help from the West. We must recognise that the far right in the West alone is not responsible for the growing religious intolerance, xenophobia and Islamophobia in the world. We must take responsibility for our own silence and inaction and change that.