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July 28, 2005

At last - a voice of reason from within Islam!

A recent edition of "The Times" carried a no holds barred leader comment [full text in the extended entry] by a gentleman named Amir Taheri. I have heard of this gentleman before, and I have also heard that he is considered, by those in a position to know at first hand, to be a forthright man and a very intelligent one with his feet firmly on the ground, to boot. I am equally sure that what he has said in his lead article will not sit well with the many in his community who will find his views uncomfortable reading!

First of all, he points out that the people of Egypt staged an altogether unprecedented demonstration against the extremists in their midst. Even more importantly they prayed for and made no distinctions between those of the Muslim faith who died and those of any other in their public prayers and mourning for the dead and injured. That must have sent a shockwave of fear through the extremist clerics who hide behind the ignorant and ill-educated many who take for granted their Imam's right to lead and to interpret the Koran.

Next he lambasts the many, including the leading Muslim clerics in this country, who have issued "fatwas" against the bombings in Sharm el Sheikh, while "deploring" the bombings in London or attempting to link those and 9/11 to the usual catalogue of real and imagined Muslim grievances. As he says, they do themselves and their faith no favours by playing semantics when what is needed is a clear and distinct distancing themselves and all true Muslims from the acts of a few who follow a perverted and frankly unacceptable version of the faith.

Most interestingly he attacks the wearing of the hijab and of the khaksari dress worn by the men who think it is a sign of piety. As he points out the hijab is not a sign of Islamic faith, it is not required dress in the Koran nor is the wearing of great bushy beards by the men. The hijab is worn by women in the Arabian deserts to protect their faces and skin from the harsh desert sun and wind and was adopted and "re-invented" in the 1970's as a symbol of the militant women joining the terrorist cells then growing in the Near East. The men's garb is even worse, it has nothing to do with being a pious Muslim and everything to do with showing support for the militant ideas of the founder of modern Islamic terror, one Abu Ala al-Maudoodi. So too with the beards, an Afghani fashion adopted by the Taleban and al-Qaeda followers of the Salafi ideology, thus all those wearing the hijab, the khaksari (literally "Down to earth) and the bushy beards are in effect declaring their support for the Salafi ideologues and the al-Qaeda and taleban perversions of Islam.

As he points out, the Prophet himself never wore a bushy beard - his style was a neat Van Dyke, nicely trimmed and combed and almost all paintings of his immediate successors and followers show similar neatly trimmed beards and moustachios.

Tellingly he finishes his article by stating:

"Islam must decide whether it wants to be a faith or a political movement. It cannot be both without being highjacked by the Salafis or the Khomeinists who have transformed it into a breeding ground for terror"

Therein lies the problem, the radicalisation of the Islamic faith does not go back to the Crusades or the Western expansion, it goes back to the radicalisation of the 1970's and the Cold War powers who exploited the tensions within Islam between Salafi-ism and Wahabi-ism on the one hand and moderates of all Sects on the other. Thanks to the power politics played out between the West and the Communists, the radicals won and have re-invented the grievances of history to support their campaigns of hate and blood with only one ambition. Power.

I am heartened by the likes of Amir Taheri, but I am also saddened by the complete lack of understanding of the realities of the tensions within Islam and between radical Islam and the West that lies at the heart of the present governments inept and frankly misguided attempts to "integrate" Islam into British society. Much of what they are doing will fuel the problem instead of disarming it precisely because they are creating new divisions instead of creating new bridges.

Let us hope that the likes of Mr Taheri can help overcome the entrenched ideologies and begin to restore common sense and reason - before the world goes up in real flames over these issues!

Copyright 2005 Times Newspapers Ltd.

July 27, 2005

Beards and scarves aren't Muslim. They're simply adverts for al-Qaeda

Amir Taheri

LAST SUNDAY, hours after the terrorist attacks in Sharm el-Sheikh, a few dozen men and women gathered in front of the local town hall to vent their anger against those who had transformed the resort into a scene of death and desolation.

With cries of “No to murderers”, they invited others to join. At first many hesitated — after all, Egypt has sweated under a state of emergency for 25 years. And the ordinary citizen has little incentive to provoke either the Government or the terrorists. Nevertheless, in almost all parts of Egypt people followed the example of Sharm el-Sheikh with symbolic funerals for the 90 or so victims of the tragedy.

Remarkably, in almost all demonstrations the participants also remembered and prayed for the victims of the suicide attacks in London. For the first time crowds of Muslims were condemning terrorism without making a distinction between the victims on the basis of their faith. So, is this the beginning of the long-awaited Muslim awakening to a dark force that threatens civilised world everywhere in the name of Islam?

Sadly, the answer cannot be better than: perhaps, perhaps not. The 7/7 attacks in London inspired some sympathetic comment throughout the Muslim countries. But even then many commentators could not resist taking a swipe at Britain for having “hosted Islamist terrorists” for years. A number of self-styled clerics, including 58 Pakistanis, have issued fatwas (opinions) that, on the surface, look like a rejection of terrorism. A closer look, however, shows that they still have a long way to go before they could be taken seriously.

Some self-styled clerics, including many in the British Muslim community, have used semantic trickery to hedge their bets. They condemn the attacks in Sharm el-Sheikh but when it comes to the attacks in London, all they are prepared to say is that they “do not condone” them. More disturbingly, their statements include the usual litany of Muslim woes about Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan, and the assertion that “our youths” are right to be angry. The more they speak the more unspeakable they become.

In some cases sophistry is at play. For example, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian televangelist based in Qatar, has issued a fatwa pronouncing as “illicit” the murder of people who have “temporary or permanent accords” with an individual Muslim or an Islamic state; such as foreigners invited to work in a Muslim country. As for Muhammad Khatami, Iran’s outgoing President, it is “illicit” to murder “innocents”. The trouble, however, is that he does not define who is innocent and who is not.

Such people use ambiguities because a blanket condemnation of terrorism would extend to attacks on Israelis and Americans, whom they do not regard as “innocent civilians”.

But Muslims everywhere need to get to grips with a phenomenon that threatens all Muslim countries and Islamic communities in the West. This requires Muslim opinion-makers to take a number of steps.

The first is to discard the notion that anyone who is not a Muslim is an “infidel” and thus not a proper human being. Next, it is important to reject the belief that, since the goal of converting mankind to Islam is a noble one, any means to do so are justified. Muslims should accept diversity and compete in the global market place of faiths through normal channels, rather than ghazvas (raids) against “infidel” centres.

Since there is no power of excommunication in Islam the terrorists cannot be formally banned from the community. But the community can distance itself from them in accordance with the Islamic principle of al-bara’a (self-exoneration). This means that a Muslim must publicly dissociate himself from acts committed by other Muslims that he regards as sinful.

One way of doing this would be to organise a day of bara’a in all British mosques — and hopefully in mosques throughout the world — to declare that terrorism has no place in Islam.

Muslims could also help by stopping the use of their bodies as advertising space for al-Qaeda. Muslim women should cast aside the so-called hijab, which has nothing to do with Islam and everything to do with tribal wear on the Arabian peninsula. The hijab was reinvented in the 1970s as a symbol of militancy, and is now a visual prop of terrorism. If some women have been hoodwinked into believing that they cannot be Muslims without covering their hair, they could at least use headgears other than black (the colour of al-Qaeda) or white (the colour of the Taleban). Green headgear would be less offensive, if only because green is the colour of the House of Hashem, the family of the Prophet.

Muslim men should consider doing away with Taleban and al-Qaeda-style beards. Growing a beard has nothing to do with Islam; the Prophet himself never sported anything more than a vandyke. The bushy beards you see on Oxford Street are symbols of the Salafi ideology that has produced al-Qaeda and the Taleban.

Some Muslims also use al-Qaeda and Taleban-style clothing to advertise their Salafi sentiments. For men this consists of a long shirt and baggy trousers, known as the khaksari (down-to-earth) style and first popularised by Abu Ala al-Maudoodi, the ideological godfather of Islamist terrorism. Muslims who wear such clothes in the belief that it shows their piety, in most cases, are unwittingly giving succour to a brand of Islamist extremism.

It would also be useful if Muslim preachers paid a bit more attention to God, which means doing some theology, rather than making speeches about Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq which are, after all, political, and not religious issues. The excessive politicisation of Islam has created a situation in which the best-known Muslim today is Osama bin Laden.

Islam must decide whether it wants to be a faith or a political movement. It cannot be both without being hijacked by Salafis or Khomeinists who have transformed it into a breeding ground for terror.

Posted by The Gray Monk at July 28, 2005 10:07 AM