1. U.S. Foreign Policy in the Muslim World
Justice as Grand Strategy: The Missing Dimension in American Foreign Policy Toward the Muslim World
The ancient Roman philosopher, Cicero, wisely advised that before one begins to discuss anything whatsoever one should first define terms. This would apply to perspectives and entire paradigms of thought. Perhaps the most illusive words in the world today are the terms “American” and “Muslim World”.
Was there, is there, and can there be an essence of America that constitutes its identity? This issue of identity is developed by Seyyed Hossein Nasr (#44, p. 95) in his recent book, The Garden of Truth: Vision and Promise. He begins by generalizing that humans, both as individuals and as communities, act according to the image they have of themselves.
American foreign policy emphasizes freedom and democracy, but does this self-image translate universally? What about justice, particularly as a governing paradigm for action? Freedom and democracy both focus on the pursuit of individual human rights, but what about human responsibilities to pursue justice, from which human rights are merely a product?
President Barack Obama attempted to inaugurate a new American identity in his Cairo speech shortly after taking office. He wrote the first draft by emphasizing justice as America’s new foreign policy paradigm. In the process of vetting by the White House, however, his professional advisers and speech writers deleted the word “justice” from five successive drafts. Each time President Obama inserted it again, and each time it disappeared from the text. On the flight to Cairo he found that the final text presented to him had no mention of justice. He therefore inserted it impromptu seven times in his oral delivery. Unfortunately, that was the last time he even attempted to present justice as the basis of a rational foreign policy strategy for America.
Two questions emerge from this episode. Why has this higher dimension of policy become radioactive? Does official America have a grand strategy to pursue the image of America as a model of justice, which motivated America’s Founders?
One answer may be found in the Neo-con paranoia of fear first formalized by Robert Strausz-Hupe in the first issue of his journal, Orbis: A Quarterly Journal of World Affairs. His article, “The Balance of Tomorrow”, forecast that Communism would disappear before the end of the century and that it would be replaced by a period of global chaos triggered by a population explosion in the Third World accompanied by radical ideologies and proliferating weapons of mass destruction.
Strausz-Hupe, Leo Strauss, and other grand strategists of what became known as the Neo-Conservative ideology and movement cultivated an image of themselves as the guardian of global stability in reliance primarily on the military power of the United States of America. Unfortunately, this effort to preserve the status quo, with all of its injustices, was an inherently impossible quest.
These injustices include, for example, the maintenance of artificial states divorced from organic nations composed of people with a common sense of their own history, common values in the present, and common hopes for the future.
Most dramatically these injustices include the inevitably escalating wealth gaps within and among countries that result from a system of money and banking based on privileging past accumulated wealth rather than on future profits from productive capital as collateral for credit, best explained at www.cesj.org and www.americanrevolutionaryparty.us. Reversing these wealth gaps requires institutional reform of money and banking through a third way beyond socialism and capitalism. As a by-product, this would address a major cause of global terrorism and terrorist counter-terrorism.
Unfortunately, the seekers of truth perhaps wisely remain in the background because they know that in order to preserve their own integrity and for political reasons of public relations the truth must be compromised in action by such fictions as “nation building” and “democratic capitalism”.
The ironic dilemma of American foreign policy is that America’s attempt to maintain the alleged stability of the status quo by calling for freedom and democracy engenders an image of injustice throughout the world contrary to its own self-image. This was most clearly demonstrated by a survey conducted by a think-tank based in the United Emirates and presented at a think-tank in the Qatar Foundation, which recorded hundreds of the placards and graffiti in Syria during the so-called Arab Spring. All of them called for justice, but not a single one called for freedom and democracy.
Why this gross disconnect between American foreign policy and the rest of the world? There is a conflict of paradigms within every civilization, but in recent centuries the conflict between the spiritual and the material has been cast as a civilizational conflict between the “West and the Rest”, sometimes referred to as the “East and the Beast”. The conflict centers on the importance of justice.
Since justice resonates so well almost everywhere except in America and Europe, the question arises what is justice and what are true freedom and democracy.
American positivist law, which has reigned since the time of America’s Civil War in the mid-19th century, restricts the term justice to the enforcement of law created by human fiat. This differs from its opposite known as natural law, which defines justice as a system of spiritual and moral guidance based on a search for the noumenal, sapiential, perennial, and primordial truths that gave rise to the first human communities millions of years ago. When justice-based law has to be enforced its very purpose has failed.
Justice as defined by the greatest Islamic scholars in opposition to the positivist law declared by various Muslim tyrants is based upon and is a product of tawhid, which is untranslatable in English but refers to the coherence of the diversity in creation that points to the Oneness of its Creator.
Within this ontological and epistemological approach to reality all of the maqasid al shari’ah (the objectives of Islamic law) are interdependent in a peaceful harmony, so that each must reflect the others in a transcendent beauty. They may be divided into four principles of guidance and four of application. The guiding principles are haqq al din, respect for freedom of religion, haqq al nafs, respect for the sacredness of the human person, haqq al nasl, respect for the human community, and haqq al mahid, respect for the physical environment. The principles of application are haqq al hurriyah, respect for political self-determination, haqq al mal, respect for individual ownership of productive property, haqq al karama, respect for gender equity, and haqq al ‘ilm, respect for freedom of access to knowledge.
What then are true freedom and democracy? The ultimate freedom is freedom from ignorance of transcendent truth and justice. The ultimate in political freedom is not democracy as a technique of decision-making but recognition that democracy is a reliable guardian of human rights only in a “republic”, which by definition acknowledges that justice is not a product of human will but must be discovered from a higher source of truth.
This concept of justice and of freedom as its product is contrasted by Seyyed Hossein Nasr with the “outwardness, forgetfulness, selfishness, and falsehood” (page 6) that gave rise to “secular humanism, rationalism, empiricism, behaviorism, and deconstructivism”.
The essence of this amalgam of power, prestige, plutocracy and rampant pleasure as the ends of existence is necessarily the opposite of justice, because it seeks meaning superficially and contextually from the bottom up, from “facts on the ground”, rather than from the essence of the whole, that is, from what Nasr calls the “spiritual hermeneutics” (pages 14, 31, and 49) and consequent awareness of the reality embodied in the existentiation (pages 15, 18, 40, and 45) of the ultimate Beyond Being (pages 6, 38-42, and 50), known as Al Haqq, through the emanationist metaphysics of the Great Chain of Being (page 41), which is found in all the world religions.
To my knowledge, no-one has yet studied the connection between this source of ultimate truth and its manifestation in the system of justice in classical Islamic thought known as the maqasid or irreducible and universal principles and purposes of Islamic jurisprudence (the shari’ah).
The first person to develop both of these systems systematically was Imam Jafar al Siddiq in the second Islamic century. Exploring the common origin of these two systems, the spiritual and the jurisprudential, as a source of both truth and its application through justice might illuminate the missing dimension in 21st-century American foreign policy as first articulated by the author of the American Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson.
This perhaps spiritually most profound author of the “Great American Experiment” in self-determination through one’s Ultimate Self, wrote, “No people can remain free unless they are properly educated. Education consists of teaching and learning virtues. And no people can remain virtuous unless both the personal and public lives of the individual person are infused with awareness and love of Divine Providence”, by which he meant God.
This wisdom is encapsuled in Surah 6:15 of the Qur’an, tama’at kalimatu rabika sidqan wa ‘adlan, “The Word of your Lord is completed and perfected in truth and justice”. Jesus Christ, ‘alayhi al salam, spoke the truths so much needed in the world today, respectively in John 14:6 and 8:32, “I am the way, the truth, and the life”, and “the truth shall set you free”.
— Dr Robert Dickson Crane
Full professor, Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies,
The Qatar Foundation
Everything about the term Islamophobia is contested: when, and where and by whom the term was first coined, whether or not it describes a “real” phenomenon, what is the precise definition, why the term might be needed, whether or not the term itself is problematic linguistically. These debates will continue, but in the meantime the term itself has become common usage as evidenced by popular magazine articles, numerous books, and serious reports and studies utilizing the term.
The Center for American Progress, Fear, Inc. report provides the best and simplest working definition: Islamophobia is an exaggerated fear, hatred, and hostility toward Islam and Muslims that is perpetuated by negative stereotypes resulting in bias, discrimination, and the marginalization and exclusion of Muslims from social, political, and civic life.
When Muslims raise the issue of the existence of Islamophobia, we are often accused of trying to stifle dialogue, or of undermining free speech, or told simply that we are whining in order to make ourselves into the victim rather than the perpetrator of all that is wrong with the world. We are even told that Islamophobia is a “myth” or that it is a reasonable position to hold. Whatever you believe about Islamophobia, for many of us (Muslims in America and Europe), anti-Muslim prejudice is very real.
There is a relatively small, but effective cadre of organizations and individuals devoting full time effort to promoting Islamophobic memes. SIOA/SIOE/SION are the most organized and visible of such groups, and they work cooperatively in both Europe and the United States. They focus on creating fear and passing on stereotypical, negative views about Islamic symbols (e.g. minarets, veils, mosques), rituals (e.g. circumcision, halal food), and most aggressively “Sharia”.
SIOE, the parent group of SIOA has as its motto “Racism is the lowest form of human stupidity, but Islamophobia is the height of common sense.”
The ADL describes them as promoting “a conspiratorial anti-Muslim agenda under the guise of fighting radical Islam.
None of this is new, as Edward Said noted: “I have not been able to discover any period in European or American history since the Middle Ages in which Islam was generally discussed or thought about outside a framework created by passion, prejudice and political interests.”
What is new is the widespread availability of the internet and social media. This effective tool allows such dedicated groups to get their Islamophobic memes to an incredibly large audience, and to bounce these memes around in an Islamophobic echo chamber. The funders, “experts”, bloggers, and media outlets work together like a well-oiled machine, producing and disseminating misinformation. They recycle and popularize the same memes over and over ultimately making them seem “credible” to their listeners who have “heard that before”.
This Islamophobic enterprise will certainly not win hearts and minds, open possibilities for dialogue, or make any of us safer. Insisting on an Islamophobic world view leaves only one option – a violent clash of civilizations, a final Crusade to convert or annihilate one group. And, one might wonder what a world without Islam would really look like.
— Sheila Musaji,
Founder and editor of The American Muslim quarterly journal (1989–1995), the Muslim Resource Directory of America (1990,1992), and most recently The American Muslim online publication (since 2001).
More information: Read The Center for American Progress’ Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America (free downloads from http://www.americanprogress.org/) and the recently released Islamophobia Studies Journal, a bi-annual peer reviewed academic periodical focusing on emerging research on and analysis about the nature of Islamophobia and its impact on culture, politics, media, and the lives and experiences of Muslim people published out of UC Berkeley.
Theater of Hate
5 Incidents attacking Islam and the Prophet (PBUH)
1. Danish Cartoons: 30th September, 2005
Details: The Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, commissioned 12 cartoonists to caricature the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The 12 cartoons were published on 30 September 2005, with the one drawn by Kurt Westergaard becoming most notorious (a man wearing a turban which has a bomb with a lit fuse). Flemming Rose, Jyllands-Posten’s culture editor, announced that the publication was an attempt to contribute to the debate regarding criticism of Islam and self-censorship. The same cartoons were later republished in 50 newspapers around the world.
Flemming Rose: Flemming Rose was Jyllands-Posten’s culture editor at the time the cartoons were published. Rose interviewed Daniel Pipes, a well-known Islamophobe and neo-con, in 2004 and has shared the stage many times with well-known pseudo-scholar and Islamophobe Robert Spencer.
Double-Standards: The very same newspaper had three years earlier turned down Danish illustrator Christoffer Zieler caricatures of Christ (PBUH) on the grounds that they could be offensive to readers and were not funny. The paper’s Sunday editor, Jens Kaiser said: “I don’t think Jyllands-Posten’s readers will enjoy the drawings. As a matter of fact, I think that they will provoke an outcry. Therefore, I will not use them.” In February 2006, Jyllands-Posten also refused to publish Holocaust cartoons, which included cartoons that mocked or denied the Holocaust, offered by an Iranian newspaper.
Reaction: The reaction to the caricatures varied all through the Muslim world and the West. Countries like Jordan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Syria withdraw their ambassadors from Denmark. Egypt and Saudi Arabia started a campaign to boycott Danish products and Iran canceled its commercial ties with Denmark. Some Muslim protests escalated into violence with instances of police firing on crowds of protestors resulting in a total of more than 100 reported deaths. The Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen described the controversy as Denmark’s worst international crisis since World War II.
2. Anti-Islamic film: ‘Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West’: 21st October, 2005
Details: An anti-Islamic film which used clips and footage from Arabic Channels attempted to focus on the alleged threat of Islam to the West. It also compared between World War II’s Nazi movement and Islamism.
Wayne Kopping directed and edited the film along with co-writer, Raphael Shore (a Canadian-Israeli scriptwriter), who was the producer of the film and is the founder of The Clarion Fund.
The Clarion Fund: The Clarion Fund is a pro-Israel US-based organization churning out propaganda against Islam and Iran. It has strong ties to the Israeli-Zionist group Aish HaTorah and it’s Advisory Board includes Frank J. Gaffney, Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, Daniel Pipes, and Dr. Harold Rhode. The Clarion Fund also produced the films: ‘The Third Jihad: Radical Islam’s Vision For America’, and ‘Iranium’.
Distribution: The film was initially distributed on college campuses in 2007. In September 2008 the Clarion Fund, in cooperation with the Endowment for Middle East Truth, distributed 28 million DVDs of the film by mail, and in newspaper advertising supplements, predominantly in swing states. The film was included in the first issue of the publication “The Judeo-Christian View”, which was sent to priests, pastors and rabiis in churches and synagogues in the United States. The DVD was also distributed to all 30,000 members of the Republican Jewish Coalition.
Reaction: The left-wing group Hate Hurts America, launched a campaign against the film titled “Obsession for Hate,” calling it a “classic work of hate propaganda, thinly disguised as a critique of radicalism that attempts to subliminally demonize Muslims and their faith wholesale.”
Gregory Ross, spokesman for the New York-based Clarion Fund stated: “We are not telling people who to vote for, we’re just saying no matter who gets in office, the American people should know radical Islam is a real threat to America. We don’t feel radical Islam is getting its fair share of press.”
3. Fitna Movie: 6th April, 2008
Details: The film was written by Greet Wilders and shows clips from the Holy Qur’an, along with newspaper clippings illustrating acts and news about crimes and violence committed by Muslims. The film aims to present Islam as a source of terrorism which espouses hatred towards all those who do not follow its teachings, violence against women, and the Islamization of the universe.
Screenings: In 2008, the Ruder Finn PR company arranged a conference in Jerusalem entitled “Facing Jihad” to screen the film and arrange for its distribution around the world. Those present included Geert Wilders, Arieh Eldad, Robert Spencer, Itamar Marcus, Daniel Pipes, Shlomo Sharan and John David Lewis.
During February 2009, Geert Wilders visited (or planned to visit) several European capitals to present the Fitna film. He was barred from entering the UK, but his film was nonetheless screened at the House of Lords. Wilders also presented Fitna in Rome on 13 February, 2009.
Reaction: Reactions varied throughout the Muslim World. Indonesia banned the use of social networks for a couple of days, while Jordan issued an arrest warrant against Wilders and called upon its people to boycott Dutch products. Several Muslim organizations and political parties organized boycotts against Dutch products.
Dutch Prime Minister: Jan Peter Balkenende, the Prime Minister of the Netherlands stated: “The film equates Islam with violence. We reject this interpretation. The vast majority of Muslims reject extremism and violence. In fact, the victims are often also Muslims…We therefore regret that Mr Wilders has released this film. We believe it serves no purpose other than to cause offence.”
4. Terry Jones: Qur’an Burning, 20th March, 2011
Details: Jones enjoyed worldwide media coverage thanks to his plans to burn copies of the Holy Qur’an. In early September 2010, Jones cancelled his plans and pledged never to burn a copy of the Qur’an. He then burned a copy on 20th March, 2011 at his Gainesville church.
Reactions: Prominent voices of condemnation included: President Obama, Hillary Clinton and, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. The incident sparked protests all over the Muslim world, some turned violent, leading to the deaths of more than 30 people.
Planner: Terry Jones led the Christliche Gemeinde Köln (CGK) in Germany from 1981 until 2008. He was accused of fraud, and Church-goers reported the following: “[Jones] didn’t project the biblical values and Christianity, but always made himself the center of everything.”
German press agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported that church members said Jones ran the Cologne church like a sect leader and used psychological pressure on members, “subordinating all activities to his will.” Der Spiegel reported that Jones had been ejected by Cologne church for creating “a climate of control and fear.” Following Jones’ departure, the CGK closed, then reopened under new, independent, leadership.
5. Film: Innocence of Muslims: The film’s trailer was published on YouTube on July 2, 2012
Details: Claiming to be a trailer for a feature-length film, the 12 minute trailer ridicules the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) and was released on YouTube on July 2, 2012.
Reactions: The film set off protests not only throughout the Muslim world but also in Europe, Australia and Canada. Some of those protests turned violent and resulted in the death of more than 50 people, including the US Ambassador to Libya. The trailer has been banned by Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Sudan. YouTube access in these countries has been blocked until, according to official statements, the film is removed. Iran has announced that it is blocking Google and Gmail who own YouTube. The trailer was labeled as having “extremist material” and was also banned in Russia by a court in Moscow. The Pakistani Railway Minister placed a personal bounty of $100,000 for the death of the filmmaker, but this was strongly condemned by the Pakistani government.
People behind the movie: The film was produced by Nakoula Basseley Nakoula: an American Coptic Christian from Egypt, who has been convicted of bank fraud and possession of ephedrine and hydroiodic acid. It has been reported that Nakoula used over 12 pseudonyms, one of which was “Sam Bacile”, during the film’s production. Steve Klein, the spokesperson for the movie is an enthusiastic commenter on well-known Islamophobe Pam Geller’s website. Klein also has strong ties with another Islamophobe, Joseph Nasrallah, an extremist Coptic broadcaster. American non-profit Media for Christ, which is owned by Nasrallah, obtained permits to shoot the movie in August 2011, and Nakoula provided his home as a set and paid the actors, according to government officials and those involved in the production.
The Actors: The actors released a statement saying that they were misled about the movie. When recruiting for actors, the title of the movie was ‘Desert Warrior’ and there was no mention of Islam and the Prophet (PBUH). Subsequent dubbing changed all that. Two actors at least are taking legal action.
3. Circumcision Controversy
On June 26, 2012 a German court in Cologne ruled that circumcising young boys represents “grievous bodily harm” and according to the court violated the child’s “fundamental right to bodily integrity”, which was more important than the parents’ rights. Obviously conscious that its ruling would be perceived – at the very least by Muslims and Jews – as an attack against freedom of religion, the court argued that religious freedom “would not be unduly impaired” because the child could later decide, as an adult whether or not to be circumcised. Of course for particularly militant atheists in the West, even parents raising their children in their own religion is a violation of children’s rights and the child should be left without religious education and then be able to choose whatever religion, or none at all, which would presumably be, for militant atheists, the preferred choice.
The court’s ruling was based on a particular case involving a four year old Muslim boy who was circumcised by a licensed German Muslim doctor. There were minor complications, renewed bleeding, so the doctor had the child taken promptly, as a precaution, to a hospital and apparently the hospital, just as promptly, notified the police.
(The court, the press, the public (both German and global) and the Muslim 500 use the word “circumcision” to mean “male circumcision”. From the German legal perspective so-called “female circumcision” or “female genital cutting” is forbidden by law. And what passes for “female circumcision” in the Muslim world – which really means the African world, Egypt and Sudan as well as the Christians of Ethiopia and other non-Muslims peoples – is genital mutilation or euphemistically “genital cutting”. It is not the basically symbolic light touch of young girls that would not hinder sexual satisfaction but conceivably improve it as alluded to in Hadith, and since then rarely practiced anywhere.)
Leaders and spokesmen for both the larger (well over a million) Muslim community in Germany and the far smaller (over 100,000) but far more influential and positively perceived Jewish community immediately and fiercely denounced the court decision in separate statements, citing the freedom of religion guaranteed in the German constitution. By September hundreds of German Muslims and Jews would hold a joint rally in Berlin.
The symbolism of the site was clear –Berlin’s Bebelplatz Square, known as the site for the infamous Nazi book burning ceremony. As early as June the spokesman for Germany’s Prime Minster Angela Merkel declared “we know a swift solution is necessary and that it can’t be put off…circumcisions that are carried out responsibly must be possible in this country without punishment.” At the time, the German parliament was in summer recess, and in the Fall the Christian Democratic Party dominated government announced it would join with the Social Democrats and the Green Party in preparing legislation that specifically legalized male circumcision but protests continued. While the Cologne court was a local court, meaning that the ruling did not apply to the other states that make up the German Federal Republic, there has been concern that a number of doctors elsewhere in Germany might refuse to carry out the procedure for fear of arrest.
In Islam it is the Prophet’s Muhammad’s (PBUH) sayings (Al-Hadith) including the most Canonical Sunni collections of Hadith, Bukhari, Abu Daoud and Ibn Hanbal that require the circumcision of male children. Historians have suggested that circumcision was carried out by many Arabian tribes prior to the time of the Prophet and there is even a traditional text stating that the Prophet was born without a foreskin. For the Prophet as well as for the Jews (The Bible: Genesis 17.9-14 and Leviticus 12:1-3) it is Ibrahim ( Abraham) who is told by God to circumcise: for the Muslims this is implicitly a covenant with God; for the Jews it is explicit but clearly applicable, according to the biblical text (Genesis 17.6-7) to the descendants of Ishmael. And for the Muslims, again, according to canonical Hadith, the Prophet said there are five things which are part of the fitra (the innate nature of mankind, recognized by the Abrahamic Prophets), and the first is circumcision (or the 5th aspect of fitra in other versions.)
There are a few curious aspects to this contemporary issue. The first, that public opinion polls suggest most Germans supported the Cologne court, whereas the press and the political leaders, more sensitive to global opinion, possibly including concern about the reaction of Muslim countries, but clearly concerned about global memory of Hitler’s systematic murder of the Jews of Europe, responded with across the mainstream political board condemning the court decision. The lead was taken by the more left wing parties, the Social Democrats and the Green party, most likely because during Nazi rule it was the leaders of the German Left that were more vigorously and extensively persecuted and murdered in the camps, than from the German Centre and conservative parties.
But elsewhere in the West, in Europe, and particularly in American and British left-liberal circles there has been a growing chorus against circumcision over the past few decades that reflects the increasing shift of liberal concerns from social justice issues to what might politely be called “lifestyle issues.” In 2011, the city of San Francisco – a stronghold of American lifestyle liberalism – was about to put a measure calling for a municipal ban on circumcision on the November 2011 ballot, until a judge ruled, on a technical point, that local authorities did not have jurisdiction to regulate health care professionals.
Indeed the percentage of American children being circumcised – where it was practiced by a majority of Americans who were neither Jewish nor Muslim but who did it for hygienic reasons – had begun to decline from a highpoint of 70 per cent by the turn of this past century. And the American Medical Association no longer recommended the practice.
Typical of the times: as early as the year 2000 an American scientist published with quite reasonable hesitation in fear of a backlash, the findings of scientifically controlled research in East Africa where two tribes, neither Muslim, but sharing similar cultural and moral practices and differing only in that one tribe practiced circumcision as an initiatory rite and the other tribe did not. The circumcised tribe had significantly lower rates of HIV infection than the uncircumcised. This finding was not widely publicized and was even ignored or dismissed by a growing number of secular opponents of circumcision. But in more recent years as reported in the U.S. government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (link: www.cdc/hiv/malecircumcision) a number of scientific studies have consistently established that male circumcision not only significantly reduces the danger of HIV for heterosexual genital sex, but also for other STD (sexually transmitted diseases.)
Despite these latest findings, the undertow of opposition to circumcision continues to surface in numerous blogs in the West that echo the language of the Cologne court. What this suggests: just as recent political events in Egypt have demonstrated that when defeated in free elections, some of the most militantly secularist liberal democrats are ready to sacrifice liberal democracy for the sake of secularism, so it appears that the Faith (which is beyond a rational appreciation) in Science, almost as an alternative religion, and known as such as Scientism, will be sacrificed for the sake of militant atheism.
The age of circumcision varies in practice from region to region. The majority of Sunni Ulema have declared it should take place before the child’s10th birthday, but there are Hadith in the Sunni collections (Al-Hakim and Al-Baihaqi) that the Prophet circumcised his grandsons on the 7th day. No doubt for that reason, the Shi’a jurists also call for circumcision on the 7th day.
But increasingly educated urbanized Sunni Muslims in Egypt, elsewhere in the urbanized Arab and Islamic world have the procedure performed at the birth by a doctor at a hospital.
In Judaism, following the letter of the biblical version of the covenant, circumcision has always occurred on the 8th day and it is a moment of great celebration. So it has been in Islam for many centuries in the Arab world, in Turkey, Indonesia, Malaysia and many other Muslim countries, with sheep or cattle sacrificed on the occasion, even if the procedure takes place several years after birth. It is a pity if the positive factors of a clinical procedure in a hospital should preclude a sense of celebration that has characterised Traditional Islam.
As for adult male converts there are different understandings in Hadith and within the schools of law; in some citations circumcision is mandatory and in other citations it is not. Of course Muslim converts of Jewish origin since the time of the Prophet and the sahaba (Companions of the Prophet) never have been concerned with that problem.
—S. Abdallah Schleifer
Professor Emeritus & Senior Fellow
Kamal Adham Center for Television & Digital Journalism
The American University in Cairo
While most media coverage of interfaith deals with interfaith conflicts there have been significant progress in interfaith dialogue. Amongst the more prominent projects are the following:
A Common Word (ACW)
The ACW interfaith initiative celebrated its 5 year anniversary on October 13, 2012. Starting as an open letter from a group of 138 Muslim scholars and clerics addressed to Christian leaders everywhere, the ACW has become the catalyst behind a global bridge-building effort between Christians and Muslims. ACW focuses on the common ground between both religious communities, highlighting points of commonality found in the commandments to love God and one’s neighbor; (see the recently redesigned website at: www.ACommonWord.com).
The Muslim-Catholic Forum
From November 21–23, 2011 the second Muslim-Catholic Forum was held at the Baptism Site of Jesus in Jordan. Twenty-four Catholic and twenty-four Muslim religious leaders, scholars, and educators met and in continuation of the first Catholic-Muslim Seminar held in Rome in 2008, discussed together the theme: Reason, Faith and the Human Person and issued a joint declaration surrounding these issues.
The World Interfaith Harmony Week
Extending the principles of A Common Word to include people of all faiths, and those with no faith, King Abdullah II of Jordan in his address to the UNGA 2010 proposed ‘Love of God and Love of Neighbour’, or ‘Love of the Good and Love of Neighbour’ to designate the first week of February, every year, as a World Interfaith Harmony Week (WIHW). A month later, the resolution, a brainchild of H.R.H.Prince Ghazi, the Chief Advisor for Religious and Cultural Affairs to H.M. King Abdullah II’ was adopted. The first week of February is now observed as an official week and has seen hundreds of events each year in dozens of countries with up to 50,000 attendees at the events. The second annual week, held in February 2012, saw a large increase in gatherings and the upcoming WIHW 2013 looks even more promising with the recent announcment of annual prizes, including $25,000 for the best event.
More information: Download RISSC’s A Common Word: Between Us & You, 5th Anniversary Edition for free at http://www.ACommonWord.com. To learn more about the WIHW visit their website at: www.WorldInterfaithHarmonyWeek.com.
Prominent Influencers: Sheikh Dr Ali Gomaa (p. 63), Sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyah (p. 87), Habib Umar bin Hafidh (p. 91), H.E. Dr Mustafa Ceric (p. 96), Dr Aref Nayed (p. 97), Dr Timothy Winter (p. 98), Dr Ibrahim Kalin (p. 113), and Dr Ingrid Mattson (p. 114).
Since the very beginning of the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, the holy sites of the Old City of Jerusalem have been under attack, particularly Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa, one of Islam’s three holiest sites. The explicit goal of these attacks and violations is to build the ‘third temple’ on the site of Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa.
Attacks & Violations
In recent years economic, social, political and physical attacks on Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa have intensified. Calls for the demolition of Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa, once the preserve of extremists and fundamentalists, have now become pervasive, commonplace and to be found even in mainstream media. This, coupled with an almost daily violation of Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa by violent settlers and their ilk make the partition or even destruction of Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa a distinct possibility. The partition of the Ibrahimi Mosque into Jewish and Muslim parts in neighbouring Hebron in the early 1990s is the blueprint for these ambitions for one of Islam’s most holy and sacred sites.
Breaking of a Taboo
On 28 February, 2012, during a meeting for the Arab League in Doha, Qatar, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas made a plea for Muslims to visit Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa. On April 18, 2012, H.R.H. Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad of Jordan, accompanied by the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Sheikh Ali Gomaa, broke what had been, in some parts of the Islamic World, a 45 year taboo by visiting Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa in order to pray there and support the beleaguered Jerusalemites. The visit was viewed as controversial in Egypt, but set off a change of public opinion in the Islamic World. During the trip to Jerusalem, the Prince and the Grand Mufti also visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This visit was much appreciated by the Christian community of Jerusalem.
Role of H.M. King Abdullah II
H.M. King Abdullah II of Jordan is the custodian of the Muslim holy sites in the city of Jerusalem. He has gone on record in March 2010 to condemn Israel’s inclusion of West Bank religious sites on its national heritage list. The Jordanian Awqaf and Islamic Affairs Ministry announced in 2010 a donation of over 2 million Jordanian Dinars from H.M. King Abdullah II for projects around the Al-Aqsa compound.
More information: Read Dr Wasfi Kailani’s Why Should Muslims Visit Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa? and Keys to Jerusalem (free downloads from www.rissc.jo).
Prominent Influencers: HM King Abdullah II ibn Al Hussein (p. 49), Sheikh Dr Ali Gomaa (p. 63), Habib Ali Al-Jifri (p. 93), Sheikh Dr Yusuf Al-Qaradawi (p. 67), Sheikh Dr Ikrima Sa‘id Sabri (p. 125), and Dr Sari Nusseibeh (p. 119).
6. Palestinian Statehood
On Friday 23 September, 2011 at the UN headquarters in New York, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority submitted a request for formal recognition of a Palestinian state along pre-1967 lines. Although this move has the support of most members of the UN, the US vowed to veto it. The statehood bid at the UN has not been met with approval by all. Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, criticized Abbas for accepting pre-1967 borders, and thus foregoing 80% of Palestinian land. The Israeli Prime Minister dismissed the whole process. Apart from these two reactions, most other responses have been overwhelmingly in favour of Abbas’ move, with an estimated 80% of countries supporting the bid.
Prominent Influencers: HE President Mahmoud Abbas (p. 90), Ismail Haniyah (p. 119).
The Gaza Strip, bordering Egypt and Israel, covers approximately 25 miles by 4-7 miles and has a population of 1.7 million people. Israel withdrew its occupying force in 2005, but the Gaza Strip has been subject to a crippling economic blockade since 2007. Attempts by international peace activists to break the blockade have led to fatal confrontations with the Israeli Defence Force.
Border skirmishes between the Palestinians and Israelis happen consistently, and have in 2008-2009, and in 2012 (as of print) led to massive destruction and killing in Gaza by the combined might of the Israeli air, navy and ground forces. The 2008-09 conflict saw approximately 1,400 Palestinian and 13 Israeli deaths. There was international outcry at the number of civilians, particularly children, who were killed, and there was much evidence of the use of banned weapons (white phosphorous) by Israeli forces. The current conflict is following a similar pattern with much of Gaza being reduced to rubble, high civilian casualties, and Hamas rocket and mortar attacks targeting southern Israel. It has also fired a rocket at Jerusalem (Hamas says the target was the Israeli parliament but the rocket landed miles away.) Islamic Jihad (a more militant Gaza group) took credit for two rockets which targeted Tel Aviv but ended up landing in the sea nearby. The Israelis say these are their “red lines” and have continued to call up reserves, with a large IDF armour and infantry force now poised at the Gaza border.
The international community has again condemned the killing of civilians, and much support has again mobilised for the people of Gaza. An unexpected source of support has been from the hacktivist group ‘Anonymous’ which has launched cyber attacks on over 700 Israeli websites.
The current conflict is being fought not just on the physical ground, but also on social-media sites, and in cyberspace.
8. Massacre of the Rohingya Muslims
According to the UN, the Rohingya Muslims are one of the most persecuted minorities in the world, and have been described: “among the world’s least wanted”. Living in the state of Rakhine (Arakan) in western Myanmar (Burma), they are a people who nobody wants. The Myanmar government classifies them as stateless Bengali Muslims, and the Bangladesh government refuses to acknowledge them. Many have fled to refugee camps I Bangladesh (where they receive no aid), or along the Thai-Myanmar border (there have been reports of boatloads of Rohinga being abandoned in the open sea). They been subject to all kinds of persecution and recently they have become targets of violence by Rakhine Buddhists.
According to the President of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, 650 Rohingyas have been killed, 1,200 are missing, and more than 80,000 have been displaced since the riots. The Burmese army and police have been accused of targeting Rohingya Muslims through mass arrests and arbitrary violence. A number of monks’ organizations that played a vital role in Burma’s struggle for democracy, have taken special procedures to block any humanitarian assistance to the Rohingya community.
9. Destruction of Sufi Shrines
The past year has seen a troubling trend of systematic grave desecration done by various Wahhabi groups in Libya, Mali, and Egypt. With the fall of ruling powers resulting from the Arab Spring many Wahhabis have decided to utilize power vacuums that opened up in Libya and susequently Mali to ravage these lands by destroying all signs of their holy sites, which according to their puritanical view are heredical, pagan-like, grave worshipping, despite the fact that the vast majority of Sunni scholars throughout history have held them to be valid and even praiseworthy to maintain. Spurred on by some popular scholars in Saudi Arabia the trend continues to happen although their destruction of centuries old heritage has been condemned by all other Muslims as sacrilege.
March 2012 – the Tomb of a 15th-Century scholar Abdel Salam al-Asmar in Zlitan, about 160km (100 miles) south-east of Tripoli.
Al-Shaab Al-Dahman mosque housed close to 50 Sufi graves inside and, outside, the tombs of Libyan Sufi scholar Abdullah al-Sha’ab and a martyr who fought Spanish colonialists.
October 2011 – Desecration of the Al-Masry shrine in Tripoli
In January 2012 – fanatics wrecked the cemetery of Sidi Ubaid in Benghazi, stealing 31 corpses
August 2012 – digging out the blessed resting place of Hazrat Shaykh Ahmad Zaruq
Tomb of Sidi Mahmoud who died in 955 A.D
July 2012 – Sidi Mokhtar Ben Sidi Mohammad and Alpha Moya Lamtouni
Ansar Dine tore down one of the doors of the 15th century Sidi Yahya mosque.
September 2012 – The destruction of the tomb of Almirou Mahamane Assidiki in Goundam
2010 – extremists bombed the shrine of well-known sufi master and wali, Hazrat Data Ganj Baksh Ali Hujweri, in Lahore, Pakistan, killing 42 people.
In April 2011, during the annual festival at a large Sufi shrine in southern Punjab in Pakistan, two suicide bombers set off an explosion killing more than 40 worshippers and injuring hundreds more.
April 2011 – in the Egyptian town of Qalyoub, armed with crowbars and sledgehammers, two dozen salafi fanatics arrived at the Sidi Abdel Rahman shrine in the middle of the night aiming to smash it to pieces. Five other shirnes in Qalyoub were destroyed soon after Hosni Mubarak’s fall from power.
In November 2012 a Salafi cleric called on Egyptians to destory all ancient Egyptian landmarks, including the popular Sphinx and pyramids: the vital bloodline of Egyptian tourism revenue.
In addition to this destruction, one can add the tragic assassination in August 2012 of Said Afandi, the Muslim Sufi leader of Dagestan. An outspoken critic of Wahhabism, the leader was murdered by a female suicide-bomber.
10. The Fight for Al-Azhar
Al-Azhar University is the oldest university in the world (some say that the Qarwiyyin University in Morocco is older) being founded in 975CE. It is also the largest university in the world with about 500,000 students in its university campuses and another 1.5 to million students in its schools. In addition, it runs the accreditation programs for hundreds of Islamic schools and universities all over the world. Added to this is the fact that over 45,000 of Egypt’s 110,000 mosques are owned and run by Al-Azhar (and their preachers are Azharis – graduates of Al-Azhar).
The Grand Imam of the Azhar (who appoints the head of the University and heads the Higher Council of the Azhar—currently Sheikh Ahmad Al-Tayyeb) is a lifetime appointment, that once appointed, cannot be removed even by the President of Egypt. The Grand Imam is considered the highest religious highest authority of the Sunni world. (90% of the world’s 1.7 billion Muslims are Sunni).
All foreign students studying at the Azhar study for free. There are perhaps 75,000 foreign graduates from religious sciences colleges in Egypt alone all over the world. These graduates form the religious elite of the entire Islamic world.
Most important of all, the Azhar is the bastion of traditional, orthodox, moderate Sunni Islam, i.e. the Islam of Ash’arite-Maturidian doctrine, Sufi practice and ‘four Madhhab’ (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i and Hanbali) Jurisprudence. In other words, the Azhar is the spiritual and intellectual home of 90% of Sunni Islam (i.e. of 1.7 billion Muslims all over the world): of all Sunnis except Salafis, Muslim Brotherhood and Secularists. The Azhar student body is 95% traditional, and the teaching staff is 99.9% traditional. The Azhar openly and regularly criticizes and dismisses Salafi thought.
So important is the Azhar that the previous Egyptian (Mubarak) government did not allow any foreign funding (especially from Saudi Arabia or the Gulf) to the Azhar—in order not to allow any outside influence. It regarded the Azhar as one of Egypt’s greatest strategic assets, and paid US $ 800 million from the national budget to the Azhar annually. That was not nearly enough for the Azhar to reach its full potential, but given Egypt’s impoverishment, it shows how importantly the government regarded it.
It is impossible to overstate the Azhar’s importance and influence in the Islamic world. It is the single most important reason—perhaps the only serious factor—in keeping heavily-funded Salafi thought down to less than 10% of the Sunni world, despite all the Salafi money and the impoverishment of traditional Muslims. (Salafis are fundamentalists, but not militants as such. Nevertheless, militant fundamentalism is largely an offshoot of Salafism).
In short: The Azhar is the Harvad-Yale-Princeton-Oxford-Cambridge-Sorbonne-cum-Vatican-and-Catholic-Church of the Sunni world (i.e. for 90% of Islam’s 1.65 billion Muslims):
The Muslim Brotherhood has publicly stated that they want to ‘reform’ the Azhar, the Egypt Ministry of Religious Affairs, and the Grand Mufti directorate. In 2011, they stated they want these more than they want the Presidency of Egypt. Even if they do not get direct control of the Azhar, they will likely seek to control it indirectly by controlling its government funding or by parliamentary legislation.
If the Muslim Brotherhood gain control of the Azhar and the Salafis gain control of the Fatwa council, it will mean a fundamental change for Islam in Egypt, and beyond, with the oldest and most powerful university in the world having its classical Islamic Asharite doctrine replaced by Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi ideas. Perhaps as a sign of things to come, on 16 November, 2012, Shaykh Qaradawi, the spiritual guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, delivered his frst ever Friday Khutbah (sermon) at the Al-Azhar mosque. Thus, the battle for control of the Islamic World’s greatest institution, the Azhar, and all this implies, has begun in earnest.
Prominent Influencers: H.E. President Mohamed Morsi (p. 57), H.E. Sh. Ahmad Al-Tayyeb (p. 51), Sheikh Dr Ali Gomaa (p. 63),
11. The Integral Chairs
The International Initiative for the Islamic Integral Professorial Chairs.
The sciences of traditional Islamic knowledge are very poorly understood in the Islamic World, and taught only in selective, abbreviated versions. Fundamentalism increasingly rules the mosques while secular academic methodologies rule the institutes of learning in the Islamic World. Even in the West, though Muslims have donated hundreds of millions of dollars to create professorial chairs and academic centres in leading western universities, these chairs and centres are invariably run or occupied by non-Muslims (or secular Muslims), and so the centres and chairs—funded by Muslims!—wind up being hostile, or at least unhelpful, to traditional Islam. This situation is leading to intellectual and spiritual impoverishment in the Islamic World, a rise in fundamentalism, and ironically, at the same time, a rise in secularism.
The purpose of this initiative is to restore knowledge and teaching of traditional Islamic orthodox high culture and scholarship in philosophy, theology, mysticism, jurisprudence, Qur’anic exegesis, sociology, history and Arabic language and grammar in the Islamic World in combination with traditional Islamic teaching and preaching methods. The goal of this initiative is to set up around 50 Integral Chairs in the Islamic World each as a waqf (religious endowment) in mosques and universities combined, occupied by practicing Muslim scholars, and dedicated to the intellectual and spiritual legacy of the greatest Muslim scholars and sages. Thereafter, an international institute to connect and support their activities must be established.
The Integrals Chairs project, the brainchild of H.R.H. Prince Ghazi, the Chief Advisor for Religious and Cultural Affairs to H.M. King Abdullah II, was officially launched on January 30, 2012 in honor of the 50th birthday of H.M. King Abdullah II ibn Al-Hussein (p. 49), under whose name the waqfs for the first two chairs were established. The first chair, The Integral Chair for the Study of Imam Al-Ghazali’s Work at the Holy Al-Aqsa Mosque and Al-Quds University will formally launch in January 2013 with Professor Mustafa Abu Sway (p. 103) as the first Integral Chair along with an Academic Board that consists of H.R.H. Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad, H.E. Sheikh Ali Gomaa (p. 63), H.E. Sheikh Dr Muhammad Said al-Bouti (p. 86), Habib Omar bin Hafiz (p. 91), Habib Ali Al-Jifri (p. 93), and others. For further information see www.rissc.jo.