Heeding the Times from Harry Antonides' Desk

Islam, a House Divided

May 16 2005


Free Muslims’ efforts are unique; it is the only mainstream American-Muslim organization willing to attack extremism and terrorism unambiguously. Unfortunately most other Muslim leaders and organizations believe that when it comes to terrorism, the end justifies the means.
(Free Muslims Against Terrorism)

When Daniel Pipes, the outspoken critic of militant Islam, recently addressed a crowd at the University of Toronto, he stressed two important points. One, Islamic terrorists constitute a small minority of a billion-plus Muslims; two, the militant Muslims are the problem while the moderates are the solution. 

This theme has been echoed by many other commentators. The problem is that moderates have been slow in speaking up publicly. There may be a number of reasons for this reluctance. One has to do with fear of being denounced and even threatened by the militants and their enablers, of whom there are not a few. The latter are well organized and savvy in their use of the media, including the Internet, in order to present Islam as a religion of peace and to denounce their critics as hate-mongers and racists. 

The good news is that there is an increasing number of Muslims who are prepared to take on the militants and their apologists. It is vital that their courageous public stand be recognized and at least morally supported. 

An Unusual Canadian Muslim

Dr. Khaleel Mohammed, professor of religion at San Diego State University, who specializes in Islamic and Arabic studies, was born in Guyana, South America, and now is a Canadian citizen. He received his M.A. in religion at Concordia University and his Ph.D. (Islamic law) at McGill University. He has lectured at mosques and churches and at universities in North America, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Mauritania and Yemen. 

Speaking recently at a lecture series co-sponsored by the Winnipeg Zionist Initiative, Mohammed cautioned his audience to realize that the successor to Arafat is really of the same mind as Arafat.  

What must be a major offense to Arabs and Muslims is his conviction that the Koran teaches that the land of Israel belongs to the Jews. In an interview published in FrontPage Magazine (June 3, 2004) he elaborated: 

The idea that Israel does not belong to the Jews is a modern one, probably based on the Mideast rejection of European colonialism etc, but certainly not having anything to do with the Qur’an.  The unfortunate fact is that most Muslims do NOT read the Qur’an and interpret it on the basis of its own words; rather they let imams and preachers do that for them.

Dr. Mohammed continued this interview in the same forthright manner, pointing out that he is often subjected to angry critique from leading Muslims. After he presented a speech in Montreal he was publicly accused of being a racists for saying that 95 per cent of contemporary Muslims are exposed to anti-Semitic teaching.  When he requested space for a response to that charge in the Montreal Gazette, his request was refused. 

Despite the influence of the Muslim fundamentalists, Dr. Mohammed is hopeful that Islam will have a reformation, but he thinks that will have to come from Muslims in the West. He predicts that “the voices of women will be loud and pivotal in that reformation.” 

Free Muslims Against Terrorism

On March 11 a number of Muslim clerics from the Islamic Conference of Spain issued a strong condemnation of Osama bin Laden and his murderous followers, declaring him to be an apostate and an infidel for violating the teachings of Islam. 

The American-based organization FMAT enthusiastically endorsed this declaration and stated (on its website) that they want to go a step further “by offering a road map to winning the ideological battle against all terrorists who justify their crimes by relying on a fascist misinterpretation of Islam.” They continue: 

Now that these faithful and brave Spanish clerics have broken the ice and have declared an authentic Jihad against the al Qaeda evildoers, other terrorists and suicide bombers, we request the Muslim clergy and Muslims in general to reiterate their support for this condemnation without equivocation or explaining their refusal to do so. 

In redefining Bin Laden, all terrorists, including ALL suicide bombers as criminals we offer the following Resolution of Condemnation:  

a) we denounce the ongoing attack on America, the West, Muslims and all innocent people of the world. This attack is not “Jihad” (Holy War) but a heinous crime and a mortal sin of Hirabah (Unholy War which is forbidden “war against humanity);… 

c) we affirm that unless these evildoers cease their evil ways, turn themselves to the proper authorities, we will oppose them, expose them, fight them with writing, speaking, and organizing for they are criminals, and enemies of Muslims and all civilization;… 

g) we affirm that it is a moral, ethical and Islamic duty for all Muslims to uphold these declarations by aiding and abetting established authorities around the world in apprehending these mufsidoon (evildoers) and muharibun (unholy warriors). 

This hard-hitting declaration concludes by stating that this is not just the opinion of the authors but represents what they know to be the true teaching of the Koran. They insist that their effort is nothing less than taking back their religion “from the criminals who hijacked it and encourage all Muslims around the world to stand up to the terrorists, fanatics and extremists because no Muslim can afford to remain silent. The civilized world is counting on us.” 

Democracy Requires Freedom of Religion

The same website of FMAT touches on a variety of related topics in a number of clearly written position statements about modern Islam, democracy, economic development, Israel/Palestine, and “Don’t Blame the ‘Jews.’” 

It explains that Muslim extremists cleverly adopt popular Arab and Muslim causes in order to draw peaceful Muslims to their side. In that context FMAT points out that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the single most important issue that  unifies the  entire Muslim and Arab world. 

It is this “liberation” of Palestine that every terrorist group exploits to obtain legitimacy.  Even Saddam Hussein responded to the world’s request that he leave Kuwait by demanding that Israel first leave the West Bank and Gaza. And Osama bin Laden also invoked the Palestinian issue to justify the September 11 attacks on the U.S.  

Behind this preoccupation with Palestine, FMAT detects the even more ambitious goal of creating a “fundamentalist Muslim empire made up of every Muslim nation.”  This objective, they believe is based on the delusion that modernity is a threat to Islam and that if the Muslim community would only return to a strict interpretation of Islam, then the problems of the  Muslim world would be solved. But it is this kind of “paranoia, ignorance and fear that inspired and supported the Taliban and the creation of a medieval society in Afghanistan,” according to FMAT. In contrast, it is unequivocal in its rejection of the terrorists’ goals and methods. 

The FMAT believes that democracy is needed in the Arab and Muslim world. But they realize that such is not possible without first establishing freedom of religion and thus a separation of mosque and state.  They write that Islam is a religion, not a blueprint for the creation of a modern state:  

The Koran does not contain sufficient guidance for the creation of a state.  All modern states which have been founded and inspired by Islamic extremists  are fascist, reactionary, impoverished and do not boast the features of democracy…. If fair and free elections were held tomorrow, the majority of Arab countries would probably elect totalitarian leaders with an intolerant pro-Islamist agenda.  The election of extremists would spell death to democracy. We must first expel Islamic extremists and terrorists from Arab and Muslim societies before democracy sweeps the region. 

A Canadian Muslim Refusenik

Irshad Manji is the most visible and outspoken Canadian Muslim whose book, The Trouble with Islam, has been translated into more than a dozen languages, with plans for an Arabic version to be published in Baghdad. Manji is uncompromising in her call for change. She writes: “Through our screaming self-pity and our conspicuous silences, we Muslims are conspiring against ourselves. We’re in crisis and we’re dragging the rest of the world with us. If ever there was a moment for an Islamic reformation, it’s now.” 

Not surprisingly, she has evoked strong feelings of support as well as rejection among fellow Muslims. She acknowledges with gratitude that it is only in the free West that she is able openly to express her true convictions. But even here she is not without danger to her own safety. She posted* this chilling warning from an irate Muslim: “I swear by Allah that some brothers are planning to take action against you … Just as Van Gogh was taken care of. This is your last warning.” 

Dr. Mohamed Elmasry, president of the Canadian Islamic Congress, dismissed her book as inconsequential and the author as a self-loathing Muslim who lacks the credentials to write about Islam. 

But Professor Khaleel, Mohammed who wrote the foreword to the U.S. edition of Manji’s book, has a very different opinion. He said that as a learned Islam scholar he should hate Manji because her book will make Muslims stop listening to a scholar like him. He continued: she says things about Islam that he wished were not true; she has a big mouth; she is a lesbian, all reasons aplenty to hate this woman. Then he concludes: 

But then I look into my heart and engage my mind, and I come to a discomfiting conclusion: Irshad is telling the truth.  

Not a bad endorsement of a book that has stoked the fires of controversy and made a significant contribution to a much needed public discussion, especially within the Muslim community itself. 

* See www.muslim-refusenik.com

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