What’s Wrong With This Picture? Saudi Arabia
What’s Wrong With This Picture? Saudi Arabia
The Islamic world has been suffering an intellectual crisis in the modern era since the decline of the Ottoman Empire. This has accounted for the intellectual malaise and stagnation found internally within the Islamic umma, or community at large. While this stagnation has occurred, those voices of reason and intellect that have tried to stimulate and resuscitate an ‘intellectual jihad’ within the umma have not only been stifled, but outright repressed and marginalized by the orthodoxy. They’ve been silenced, bullied, and threatened. Rational thinking has been banished; unquestioning compliance with the orthodoxy and blind dogma have become the order of the day and the status quo, even today. Intellectual jihad has been defeated, but it has not been tossed in the dustbin just yet. Intellectual jihad must be revived. The Boston bombings are only one of many ominous signs of the dangers of repressing intellectual jihad and rational thinking.
One voice that strongly urged the Islamic umma to undertake the ‘intellectual jihad’ was the late Professor Fazlur Rahman (d. 1988), originally from Pakistan. He was exiled for speaking for rational thinking and against fanaticism and fundamentalism, which were on the rise in Pakistan. Professor Rahman wrote many books and articles, and his book, Islam (1979), in particular explains the sources of fundamentalism and fanaticism in puritanical Islamic movements, since early Islamic history to the post-colonial era. His advocacy for ‘intellectual jihad’ remained marginalized, while the voices and power of the puritanical orthodoxy in the umma became popularized. Violent jihadism has managed to eclipse what used to be considered “the Greater Jihad,” that of struggling for self-improvement. Intellectual jihad is yet another vein in Islamic exegesis and the need for reinterpretation in order to adjust to modernity, which has for too long remained suppressed.
The puritanical orthodoxy, then, has perpetuated intellectual stagnation and impeded the much-needed Islamic renaissance and reformation in the modern era. The spread of harmful, intolerant ideologies, such as Wahhabism and Salafism, are documented sources of indoctrination into violent jihadism. Online and satellite TV self-proclaimed clerics, who are usually uneducated in Islam and Classical Arabic, have easy access to impressionable Muslims, appealing to their emotions. Rational thinking never enters their spheres and domains. Counter-terrorism strategies need to address the source of the problem – these clerics, their messages, and the dangerous emotive ideologies they profess – rather than dealing reactively with just the symptoms.
Islamic schools usually teach rote memorization of the Quran, without understanding the meanings of the verses. Classical Quranic Arabic is difficult even for native Arabic speakers, because it’s an obsolete and extremely difficult language. Religious seminaries do not encourage questioning. Memorizing verses, but failing to understand them, and also authoritatively forbidding any questioning of the curricula, all constitute a recipe for disaster. Such curricula will never lead a student to a comprehensive education with competent skills for a viable career, nor would such students be contributing anything to social progress.
Muslims and Islamic religious authorities bear the responsibility to support and promote intellectual jihad and rational thinking. This is imperative, and without such reformation those embracing the violent form of jihad will continue to capitalize on its use of violence and terror. Hence, the proponents of violent jihad will continue to perpetuate insecurity, and governments will continue to react with harsher constraints on civil liberties and rights. The vicious cycle will revolve indefinitely.
Religious reform is embodied in the intellectual form of jihad. Given that religion and politics are not separate in Islam, such reform is imperative for facilitating progressive intellectual, spiritual, and political discourses. One of the methodologies of Islamic jurisprudence is ijtihad, which is ‘reinterpretation,’ or ‘original thinking,’ applying reasoning and analytical thought to Islamic laws and principles. Ijtihad allows for change and reform, without modifying the essence of Islamic principles and laws. In modern history, ijtihad has been static, as the ultra-orthodox religious authorities and institutions have suppressed the process of change, which has been urgently needed in order to adjust to modernity. In the field it’s said, “the gate of ijtihad has closed.” Hence, Islamic fundamentalism and fanaticism have predominated in modern history. But is the gate truly closed, or is it blockaded by unsavory forces? And if it’s closed, at least it is not locked!
It’s worth examining Fazlur Rahman’s forthright assessment of Islam and the roots of fundamentalism and fanaticism, and heeding his caveats and recommendations. Otherwise, violent jihadism will continue to hijack Islam and perpetuate the worst that criminal behavior can offer. It’s in no one’s interest to allow that to happen.
Hayat Alvi, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the National Security Affairs Department at the US Naval War College. The views expressed are personal.
The shooting of the brave Pakistani teenager, Malala Yusufzai, underscores a reality, without exaggeration, about the degree and severity of misogyny of Islamic extremists. The shooting, which the 14-year-old activist and campaigner for girls’ education survived, is an ever-growing stain on Pakistan’s fabric of militancy and mindless misogynist orthodoxy. The list of threats and violence against women and liberal voices is long. This week BBC profiled an Afghan female rap artist, who is a proud patriot, yet receives regular threats by militants, including threats of acid attacks. In Dagestan, militants murdered the fourth Sufi cleric this year.
What drives these hyenas to commit senseless acts of violence against innocent civilians and even children? Are they so threatened by girls that they have to resort to such tactics as acid attacks and shootings of school buses? Is this what their seminary curricula have taught them, to hate everyone who doesn’t conform to their own way of thinking, and to fear girls, especially educated ones? I once reprimanded my students for using the word “barbaric” for the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, but now I lament my actions. The behavior of these militants and extremists, which are not restricted to the Af-Pak region, is beyond barbaric. They transcend the Dark Ages in their regressive madness and extremes. They make me hate the news and cringe every time I reach for BBC or NPR. They are a dark cloud hovering ominously over the “modern” Muslim world today, and sadly many Muslims remain defensively in denial or apologetically rationalize the existence of these ugly elements, or re-frame Shariah (Islamic law) to distance themselves from such ideologies.
If so called moderate and liberal Muslims fail to acknowledge the reality of these extremists and their agendas, and, more importantly, fail to counter these militant and extremist forces in their midst, dire consequences await Muslim communities worldwide. Some of these consequences are already occurring, including:
The end result of this religious fascism is nothing but destructive, oppressive, intolerant, and violent, authoritarian male-dominated communities living anachronistically in a 7th century time warp. In fact, that itself is an untruth, because much of these extremists’ attitudes and behaviors pre-date Islam. Yet, they insist on attributing their take on Islam as replicating the time of the Prophet Muhammad in 7th century Arabia. Still, even the latter was not such a shining example of women’s emancipation and rights, certainly not by modern standards, nor was it brimming with religious tolerance and harmony. Pre-Islamic Arabia fared even worse of course, but to compare these historical contexts to modern times is a non-starter. Hence, the extremists’ backward regression is far worse than anticipated. We all thought the Taliban were the worst when they emerged in the 1990s, but now they have parallel groups and ideologies that mirror them in many respects. And we have the Saudis to thank for the proliferation of Wahhabi / Salafi ideologies that are inspiring these extremists and militants.
Last year and even earlier this year, I had high hopes for post-revolution political and socioeconomic development in Tunisia, where the 2011 Arab Awakening began. Now, Salafist thugs are threatening to derail stability and security in Tunisia, while continuing their violent agendas and attacks. Even as recent as October 31st, there have been fierce clashes in Tunis, as Al Jazeera reports:
“Wielding sharp tools and swords, the protesters went on the attack in the Tunis suburb of Manouba after police arrested a Salafist suspected of assaulting the head of the suburb’s public-security brigade, Khaled Tarrouche, interior ministry spokesman, said.
‘There has been a reinforcement of security, of the National Guard, of the army to prevent any retaliation’ by the Salafist movement, Tarrouche said on Wednesday.
‘The response by the security forces led to the death of an attacker who was hit by a bullet.’
Two security force members were also seriously injured, he said.”
These extremist elements are enemies of knowledge. They are haters of peace and harmony. They are the most intolerant towards tolerance. Muslims must not bury their heads in the sand about this. There is way too much at stake.
NOTE: Everything I write in this blog constitutes my personal opinions and views
The last couple of weeks have been filled with bad news across the Middle East, South Asia, and even the Caucasus. The sheer destructiveness, outrageous, deplorable behavior, and intolerance manifested in the events are extremely disheartening, to say the least.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has a real challenge on his hands. Militants have attacked a number of moderate Muslim clerics in the Caucasus, and some have died. The clerics were known to be voices of moderation and criticism against the fanatical militants, who are proliferating in Russia’s southern edges. Reuters reports that in Dagestan, “more than a dozen young men from the village have ‘gone to the forest’ – the local euphemism for joining insurgents in their hideouts, says village administrator Aliaskhab Magomedov.” The reports indicate that these men are hardened Islamists as a result of working in the Gulf Arab states, returning home and spreading their Wahhabi ideology with violence.
Similarly, in two African countries we see Salafist and Al Qaeda-affiliated militants destroying Sufi mosques and shrines. In parts of Libya, they are literally bulldozing heritage sites, not unlike the Taliban’s destruction of the Bamiyan Buddha statues. In Mali, militants have literally chipped away at UNESCO heritage sites with hammers and chisels. These militants also want to target libraries and museums in order to destroy precious archeological icons and manuscripts that they deem “un-Islamic.” When you read Ahmed Rashid’s book on the Taliban, you learn that when the Taliban first came to power in the mid-1990s, and took over Kabul, one of the first institutions they attacked and destroyed were libraries. Nothing has changed, except the geography. Such mentalities still may be among minority fringe groups. Nonetheless, their propensity for violence and destruction is not only horrendous, but also, alarmingly, proliferating in other regions.
Such is the venom of Wahhabi/Salafi ideology, and let’s not forget that the seat of Wahhabism, Saudi Arabia, has long upheld policies for destroying sacred and heritage sites, and carried them out within the kingdom. The Saudis, after all, are one of the creators of the Taliban. That is very telling indeed. In fact, the “League of Libyan Ulema, a group of more than 200 Muslim scholars, on Tuesday evening blamed the attacks on a son of the late dictator Muammar Qaddafi, Saadi, and his Libyan Salafi allies it said were inspired by radical Saudi preachers. Sufi theologian Aref Ali Nayed said Libya had not seen such attacks for centuries. ‘Even Mussolini’s fascists did not treat our spiritual heritage with such contempt,’ he said” (Reuters). Italy under Mussolini occupied Libya until WWII.
While the West is preoccupied with vilifying Iran – and this is not to say that the Iranian regime is not a problem or a threat – we in the West are frighteningly myopic in terms of seeing the big picture: i.e., Salafism / Wahhabism is proving to be even more destructive, violent, intolerant, and hate-mongering on a daily basis than what we see coming from Iran, and not just in words, but also in action. The only thing is that the former is not on the radar, while the latter (Iran) is the object of obsession in the West. That scenario will only lead to repeating costly past mistakes: can we say “Mujahideen” in the Af-Pak region?
The Libyan Ulema and citizens are extremely frustrated with Tripoli’s seemingly inability to stop the Salafi assault on the country’s shrines, mosques, and heritage sites.
“The League of Libyan Ulema (Muslim scholars) urged Tripoli ‘to pressure the government of Saudi Arabia to restrain its clerics who meddle in our affairs’ by training young Libyans in Salafism and spreading the ideology through books and tapes.
It also urged Libyans to protect Sufi sites by force.
Nayed, who lectures at the old Uthman Pasha madrasa that was desecrated on Tuesday evening, said the attackers were ‘Wahhabi hooligans (and) all sorts of pseudo-Salafi elements’ while government security officials were ‘complacent and impotent.’
‘Libya has to make a clear choice – either a Taliban/Shabaab-style religious fanaticism or a true Muslim moral and spiritual civility,’ he told Reuters.”
The Salafists – or, as Nayed pointedly and correctly calls them “Wahhabi hooligans” – are an imminent threat to the stability and security of the regions and sub-regions in which they operate. And, that is exactly their intent, to destabilize, coerce, bully, and terrorize. Although their militant ideologies have been dealt a severe blow since the mostly peaceful 2011 Arab uprisings and revolutions successfully changed regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, the Wahhabi hooligans also see the same events and outcomes as an opportunity to fill any gaps that may appear in the nation building processes in respective countries. Effective policies and law enforcement are needed to preclude them from gaining even an inch. Think of them as hyenas lurking in the darkness, only now they are audaciously operating in broad daylight.
The other major recent incident is the disgustingly shameful “blasphemy” case in Pakistan, which has landed a young 14-year-old girl with mental disabilities, who happens to be a Christian, in prison. Instead of protecting this child and her family, the Pakistani authorities, in all their hollow wisdom, have thrown her in jail, and might make her stand trial. Blasphemy prosecutions can render death sentences. This has stirred outrage worldwide, and especially among human rights organizations. Perhaps in reaction to the outrage, police arrested the local imam who some claim is the culprit in framing the child. But, this case is about more than just the tragic circumstances of this child, her family, and the Pakistani Christian community at large. This ludicrous behavior by the authorities and even the government, which initially called for “an investigation,” rather than calling for her immediate release, only highlights the moral bankruptcy of Pakistan. The expediency with which the so-called “blasphemy law” is used especially against religious minorities underscores the nakedly transparent bigotry that streams through Pakistan’s fabric. Furthermore, it is not only an example of moral bankruptcy, but it also illustrates the most profound absence of intelligence and reason. Regarding this case, there is no hole deep enough in the sand that would be sufficient for heads to bury themselves in, as far as I’m concerned. I close with a quote by George Orwell:
“One defeats a fanatic precisely by not being a fanatic oneself, but on the contrary, by using one’s intelligence.”
NOTE: Everything I write in this blog constitutes my personal opinions and views
My recent post about Syria, the Russian bear, and Iran passionately describes the plight of innocent civilians being killed in Syria. While my supportive sentiments for the human rights of Syrians remain steadfast, there are some developments and stories within the stories that are not reaching the mainstream press, and are alarming signs that Syria may be spiraling into another Lebanon (i.e., the civil war in Lebanon, 1975-1990).
One of these signs is the sectarian strife, where reports about Sunnis and Alawites targeting each other, as well as kidnapping for ransom and release of detainees, are surfacing. Of course, the Assad regime itself has most likely intensified such sectarianism, but nonetheless, the fierce sectarian violence witnessed in the Lebanese civil war is a potential scenario in today’s Syria. I have already seen at least one anti-Shiite posting on Facebook in reference to Syria.
This brings me to the other specter pertaining to Syria: the Saudis, with their Wahhabi and very anti-Shiite (read “anti-Iran”) agenda for the region. No one should be surprised with Saudi propositions for the need to end the slaughter in Syria. But, we should read between the lines very carefully, considering the source. Al Arabiya quotes Saudi King Abdullah as calling for “‘critical measures’ to be taken on Syria, warning of an impending ‘humanitarian disaster’.”
Uh-huh. This is the same Saudi monarch who sent tanks and troops into Bahrain and viciously cracked down on and killed and abused countless civilians to quell the uprising there. But you see, the Bahraini protesters were mostly Shiites, and once the dust settled in Pearl Square, Shiite shrines were systematically bulldozed. Starting to see the picture folks?
In my book, the Saudi “government” is never sincere about humanitarian issues. Look at their own track record inside the kingdom; it’s the epitome of intolerance. The Saudis are one of the creators of the Taliban, and the supporters and exporters of the most intolerant, ultra-orthodox / literalist, violent, misogynist, and militancy-inspiring ideology in the world, that is, Wahhabism.
If you have any doubts about the Saudis’ human rights track record, go to the Human Rights Watch website and read the country report on Saudi Arabia (http://www.hrw.org/middle-eastn-africa/saudi-arabia). And, here is another example of Saudi intolerance, reported in David Keyes’ article in the Washington Post (Feb. 9):
“Saudi journalist Hamza Kashgari was detained in Malaysia on Wednesday night and is likely to be extradited soon to Saudi Arabia, where he will be tried for blaspheming religion. Kashgari, 23, had fled the kingdom Monday after he received thousands of death threats. His crime? He posted on Twitter a series of mock conversations between himself and the Islamic prophet Muhammad.
‘On your birthday I find you in front of me wherever I go,’ he wrote in one tweet. ‘I love many things about you and hate others, and there are many things about you I don’t understand.’
Another reads: ‘No Saudi women will go to hell, because it’s impossible to go there twice.’
The tweets came to light last week around a celebration of Muhammad’s birthday, and Kashgari’s ordeal began. Hours before he was detained, Kashgari spoke to me by phone from the house in which he was hiding. ‘I was with sitting with my friends and one of them checked Twitter on his mobile phone,’ he said. ‘Suddenly there were thousands of tweets of people calling to kill me because they said I’m against religion.’
… Kashgari noted with sadness that many young Saudis are leaving their country in hopes of escaping the government’s repressive policies. ‘It’s not logical that, if someone disagrees with the Saudi government, that he should be forced to leave the country. Many of those who have been arrested are fighting for simple rights that everyone should have — freedom of thought, expression, speech and religion.’
… The young writer surmised that the threats against him were, in part, a result of the tens of millions of dollars the Saudi king allotted to the religious police last spring. Many Saudi dissidents have noted increased repression in the past few months and are terrified of the ascent of Crown Prince Naif, who has served as interior minister for decades.”
Reports are indicating that Saudi King Abdullah has personally demanded Kashgari’s arrest. If Kashgari is extradited, he faces the possibility of execution for blasphemy. This is coming from a strong US ally.
All of this does not in any way exonerate the crimes of the Assad regime. But, we must remain vigilant about scrutinizing sources of information and news, and read between the lines when heads of state in the region so vociferously call for action to help the Syrian civilians. Clearly, they have their own agendas, and that couldn’t be more the case when it comes to the Saudi king. Hypocrisy, intolerance, and systematic anti-Shiite agendas constitute the Saudi specter concerning Syria.
NOTE: Everything I write in this blog constitutes my personal opinions and views.