Sunday, April 06, 2008

COMMENT: Tanveer on terror ...

Some time ago, a friend of mine (Tanveer Ahmed) wrote an article for The Australian that tried to link Islamic theology to terrorism.

Tanveer made this interesting observation in his article ...

Muslim communities must openly argue precisely what it is they fear and loathe about the West.

I'm not sure which Muslim communities he is talking about. Perhaps the Bangladeshi Muslims he grew up with might hate the West. But most Muslims I grew up with would rather live in Australia than any nominally Muslim country.

However, what interests me about this quote is Tanveer's invitation for us to "openly argue". With that in mind, I wanted to start a conversation based on my own observations of Tanveer's article.

At its core, Islam is deeply sceptical of the idea of a secular state. There is no rendering unto Caesar because state and religion are believed to be inseparable.

I'm not sure if Tanveer can provide evidence for this claim beyond the rants of groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir. Tanveer should provide relevant texts (verses from the Qur'an and/or ahadith), as well as references from classical and modern jurists of Islamic sacred law.

Perhaps Tanveer doesn't quite understand Islam or even secularism in the same manner as I do. I touched on this topic in an article for The Canberra Times on May 26 2006:

Classical Islamic sacred law was codified by private imams supported by Muslim civil society with minimal state involvement. The earliest and most authoritative imams of Islam frequently found themselves on the wrong side of rulers ... Islamic history is, therefore, a case of reverse secularism. In the Catholic West, the State fought to keep itself independent of the Roman Church. Throughout the Islamic world, Muslim religious authorities struggled to remain independent of rulers who attempted to usurp the mantle of religious leadership.

In Sunni theology, religious and temporal leadership was united in the person of the Prophet Muhammad and his four, rightly-guided successors. In Shi'ite theology, the two forms of leadership were united in the prophet and his 12 direct descendants, whom Shi'ites refer to as the 12 imams of the prophet's household, and who are also held in high esteem by Sunnis.

Yet rulers of both persuasions have tried to re-unite the two leadership forms, and have often suffered greatest resistance from imams themselves. Modern Muslim states have tried to regulate religious institutions by establishing ministries to employ and train imams, often with only minimal success.

Surely to claim that Islamic sacred law insists on the unity of religious and temporal authority is a highly suspect position.

Tanveer's article continues ...

It was completely normal to view Jews as evil and responsible for the ills of the world. It was normal to see the liberal society around us as morally corrupt, its stains to be avoided at all costs. It was normal to see white girls as cheap and easy and to see the ideal of femininity as its antithesis. These views have been pushed to more private, personal spheres amid the present scrutiny of Muslim communities.

How is anti-semitism, racism and sexism the norm in non-Bangladeshi (or even Bangladeshi) Muslim societies? Is Tanveer suggesting Bosnian and Albanian Muslims teach their children to regard white women as cheap?

Further, how does this tie in with the fact that, for many Muslim migrants and in many Muslim communities, friendship with Jews is a given? Is Tanveer suggesting, for instance, that my mother's relationship with my Aunty Annie is something atypical? Is Imam Khalil Chami's and Sheik Fehmi El-Imam's close friendship with people in the Jewish community something strange?

Has Tanveer done any fieldwork among different ethnic Muslim communities, or is he aware of any fieldwork among ethnic Muslim communities, which supports this thesis?

Finally, Tanveer makes this claim, already mentioned above ...

Muslim communities must openly argue precisely what it is they fear and loathe about the West. Much of it centres on sexuality. This is the first step in rooting out any Muslim ambivalence about living in the West.

On what basis does Tanveer assume that Muslim comm unities fear and loathe the West? Has he done, or is he aware of, any research which suggests Muslims in Australia loathe the West? Further, on what basis does he suggest this is based on sexuality?

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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COMMENT: Did Daniel Pipes learn to read Arabic at madressah?

It’s something I always resented about coming from a South Asian background. This insistence on kids learning how to read and make the noises of the Arabic text of the Qur’an. But not being able to understand what the Qur’an is actually saying.

My old teacher at Jamia al-Falah in Karachi used to say to me: “read the Qur’an with attention and respect, as if it is a letter from someone you love”. That’s all good and fine, but no one who has loved me has ever sent letters in a language I don’t understand.

So many critics of the madressah system rightly point out that it produces graduates who can read and memorise the Qur’an, but don’t know how to implement it in their lives. OK, so you know how to read it out aloud. Yes, that in itself is a source of blessing. But what happens after that?

However, I’m pleased to now learn that one chronic anti-Muslim bigot from the United States shares something in common with millions of kiddies of South Asian Muslim background. According to a profile published by the organisers of the Intelligence Squared Australia debate on the alleged incompatibility of Islam and democracy

Mr Pipes speaks French and reads Arabic and German.

Fantastic. That should be enough to make him an expert on political Islam. The fact that he can read Arabic is enough. Whether he understands it or not is a different thing altogether.

Pipes makes much of his ability to read Arabic. The problem is that so many influential texts on 20th century political Islam were not written in Arabic. Syed Maududi wrote most of his work in Urdu. Ali Shariati, regarded as one of the ideologues of the Iranian revolution, wrote in Farsi. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, the closest thing Turkey has to a political Islamist, wrote in modern Turkish.

The extent to which Pipes has any understanding of political Islam is open to question.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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