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Muslims need a theology of pluralism and inclusion, not a theology of exclusion and confrontation

Muslims in the United States need to develop an American Muslim sensibility, but mosques have been a hindrance in the process, says Salam Al-Marayati, President of the Los Angeles-based Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC). The organisation works with American Muslims and represents their interests to decision-makers in government agencies, media outlets, interfaith circles and Hollywood studios. In an interview with Saif Shahin of NewAgeIslam.com, Al-Marayati says Muslims in the country and worldwide need “a theology of pluralism and inclusion, not a theology of exclusion and confrontation”. Edited excerpts:

Photo: Salam Al-Marayati, President of the Los Angeles-based Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC)

This split is the project of the West, the American project which was already probed in Iraq and other places. As a closest ally and satellite of the United States, Saudi Arabia is actively investing in the second civil war in the Islamic world. The consolidation of all countries of the Arabian peninsula from Saudi Arabia to Qatar proceeds actively. But today, they failed to set them all under the Saudi banner. Salaphites do not constitute the majority in the Islamic world but there are other political forces which view the Saudi Arabia as a refuge of the dark forces. Israel and the United States also show cautiousness, because from time to time, they get signs of Iranian unpredictability. -- Heydar Jemal, Chairman of the Islamic Committee of Russia in an interview with News.Az

 

Talking about the Salafis, even the word is difficult because the term Salafi has meant so many different things. The most basic meaning has to do with the early followers or companions of the Prophet. Then, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, you had the great Islamic reformer Mohamed Abdu, whose movement was also called Salafi. Recently, the term has tended to be applied to people who are what I would call ultra-conservative, and it gets used at times interchangeably with Wahhabi. What surprised people in Egypt and outside was to see the kind of "quiet Salafis" turn into political players who have done well in the elections. In some areas they are not that different from the ikhwan, but in other areas they are quite different from them. -- John L. Esposito in an interview with Ezzat Ibrahim (Photo: John L. Esposito)

 

The German poet-philosopher Goethe believe that the central message of every great religion was of a universal nature. Applying his doctrine to Islam, I found that Islam fully answers the description. The Quran puts emphasis on man's relationship with God, and men's personal and social conduct, rather than on religious belongingness. To make explicit that there is no essential difference between various religions, the Quran declares the founders of all religions to be the messenger of God, “to every people we sent messenger” (10:47). -- Ziya Us Salam

 

In the ‘social contract’ philosophy of people like Locke and Rousseau the idea was that people are living in a constant fight of what Thomas Hobbs refers to as ‘everybody against everybody’, and the justification behind the formation of a state is to create law and order and security for the people. Locke went even beyond that; he said that the main aim, which you’ll find it in the Declaration of Independence, of a constitutional government is to protect the natural human rights of its citizens. The concept of sovereignty was developed in a very state-centred manner. It says that you are sovereign as long as you can effectively control your own territory and your people. If torture is systematically practiced by the police, by the military or by the intelligence, it is similar to the death penalty, in that it contributes towards the brutalisation of society and vice versa, of course. If society is very violent, I give you examples from my fact-finding missions, Nigeria for example, has very, very high levels of violent crime like robbery or Jamaica as another example, and Papua New Guinea where you have a lot of violence and organised crime in Jamaica with the trafficking of arms and drugs.-- Manfred Nowak, United Nations Former Special Rapporteur  in an interview with Wajahat Masood

 

Pakistan has recently experienced the enormous growth of anti-Americanism in public opinion. It was always present but it was submerged much of the time. The real problem is that the Pakistani military officers and political leaders are all driven by this anti-American public opinion, which is fanned by the media. One example of how anti-Americanism can appeal to public opinion is the emergence of Imran Khan as a politician of consequence. -- William Bryant Milam, a former US ambassador to Pakistan and Bangladesh in an interview with Malik Siraj Akbar (Photo: William Bryant)

 

Almighty God has created us all with unique qualities. By expressing this creativity, we pay respect to the creative power of God. If that is being provocative, then I am provocative! Yet I truly believe that there is something deeply religious in this. By encouraging young people to accept themselves with all their individual traits, we intensify our relationship with our Creator. I believe in my fellow Muslims and know we are capable of being better than our mullahs and imams – and even the media – think we can be. -- Irshad Manji in an interview with Christoph Dreyer (Photo: Irshad Manji)

Art is always going to go beyond boundaries. Primarily, all a good film needs to do is entertain. Enjoyable cinema will always transcend boundaries and we are so similar as a people that we laugh at the same things and cry at the same things. But why restrict the question to India and Pakistan? I’m glad people liked Khan (My Name is Khan) all over the world for a very simple reason. I’m not claiming to know everything but I do know that as a Muslim it’s important for me to tell the world who we really are. It’s important for us to explain Islam to the world and it’s important for the world to know Islam and what it truly stands for. -- Shah Rukh Khan in an interview with Aamna Haider Isani (Photo: Shah Rukh Khan )

 

I had seen the Jamshedpur riots of 1979, and was here during the Babri Masjid period. Then Gujarat 2002 happened. I felt helpless in the US. I joined online discussions but realised that Muslims have no hard facts to go by. So I started gathering data in 2005 and set up IndianMuslims.info. I was asking a Hindi newspaper editor in UP about how they cover Muslim issues, and he said they are cautious, these are sensitive issues. Thanks to us, mainstream media can learn how to cover Muslims without offending sensibilities.—Kashif-ul-Huda in an interview with Jyoti Punwani

 

One problem is that, today everyone uses a human rights discourses, both defenders and violators. So what do they mean now? SCAF uses it, even Mubarak's regime used it. The people using it the least are in fact the revolutionaries, because they are living it. What we do is to remind the government of its obligations under international human rights conventions it has signed, which it is obligated to follow. Yes, the human rights violations continue in the post-Mubarak era, most notably deadly violence against protesters, arbitrary detention and military tribunals, restriction of media freedom whether online or on TV and press, and incidents of sectarian violence continued without the state taking any real action to circumvent them or to absorb the tension. -- Representatives of human rights organisations in an interview with Mark LeVine

 

Wiping things from the face of the earth is not the prerogative of any nation, state, group of persons or person. It is the prerogative of the Almighty. He disposes of the destinies of nations and decides whom to destroy, and whom to leave. That problem does not cause us concern. Another point along the way is to reflect on the prospects of coexistence with the enemy. There are many factors involved. But if we are to talk in terms of one side being bound to lose or, conversely, achieving victory, one often recalls the saying: "All wars end in negotiations." Yes, indeed, sooner or later negotiations are inevitable, but of the two contracting parties one is certain to be the loser. Or military action may cease because both sides run out of strength and resources and find it unprofitable to continue the conflict. There are many such moments in the history of Islam. In the places where the authority of the Muslims was established there was no coercion in religion, as the Koran states. There are fixed conditions for the spreading of Islam and relations with the countries of the kufr. -- Movladi Udugov, head of the Informational-Analytical Service of the Caucasus Emirate in an interview with Prague Watchdog

…… the main motive for enslaving Muslim states and blocs is to prevent Islamic states developing technologically. The West is satisfied with the role the Middle Eastern countries have acquired. These are raw commodity exporters. But the fact that Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt may eye the benefits of technological progress does not meet the interests of those who are now concerned with instability on world markets. The controllers don't need any more trouble. Realizing the impossibility of slowing down development in some Islamic countries, the West is doing everything to cause a clash between Muslims. Religious differences can be exploited to cause a quarrel among brethren. A Muslim has no right to kill a fellow Muslim even if they refuse to practice Islam. -- Tofiq Abbasov, Azerbaijani political scientist in an interview with News.Az

It goes without saying that freedom, independence, political independence and sovereignty are a very important moral boost for a nation, a people, and those who feel themselves to be part of it. The self-esteem of an ethnic group is based on this. But the situation has begun to change rapidly, both in Chechnya and in the world at large. In the place of those who with absolute sincerity went to fight under the slogan of national liberation there has come a new generation of young people who believe in the promise of Allah and the saving force of jihad. It’s not just the ideology that has changed – the people who were willing to sacrifice their lives have begun to interpret the world quite differently. The new generation of mojahedin has moved away from the perception of ethnicity as an absolute value, and has turned to God. In the first place, the leaders of the jihad, the mojahedin, have identified themselves by their goal and their flag. These are not merely symbols we have chosen – they are the driving belts of our struggle. -- Movladi Udugov in an interview with Prague Watchdog

 

They are more indigenous than anyone else there, except for a few people whose great-great-great-great grandparents were also there. They have more rights, in a certain way of understanding rights, than anybody else, and they certainly have the right to be citizens of the state they live in, an Israeli state, and that has to be squared with the idea of Jewish nationhood, of Jewish people, of Israel as the national home of the Jewish people and those things could probably be solved – but it’s not an external thing, that’s not “we’ve solved the borders now shut up and let us deal with our Arabs”. The Israelis are free to do it. They have the power to do it. But it won’t work. In fact, one of the things that Palestinians resent is that the PLO leadership ignored this issue in the 1990’s. That won’t be possible in the future. Israel is a huge prosperous economy, Israelis can deal with that themselves, that’s something for Israeli protestors to deal with, Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Dizengoff, whatever. That’s their issue. People who are living off the fat of the land in Gaza and off the much more fat in Ramallah – that’s their issue. New York without spending seventy five per cent of their time talking to Congress, talking to the media. No Palestinian delegation that has come to New York has ever spent serious time doing public diplomacy. -- Prof. Rashid Khalidi in an interview with Chemi Shalev (Photo: Prof. Rashid Khalidi)

Such incidents pose a great threat to academic freedom. The academic space has become very vulnerable today. The educational institutions are being besieged by outside forces, both political and social, to shape the academic programmes in accordance with their world view. The political agenda of Hindu fundamentalists is to redefine the nation as Hindu and the ideological foundation of this re-articulation is monolithic Hinduism. When SAHMAT organised the exhibition Ham Sab Ayodhya in 1993, one panel depicted different versions of Rama Katha. This exhibition was disfigured and those involved in its organisation were assaulted by the members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. While Delhi University succumbed to political pressure exerted by the Hindu fundamentalists, in Kerala it was the turn of the Catholic Church to influence the type of history taught in the classrooms. It is common knowledge that Renaissance and Reformation in Europe cannot be made intelligible without explaining the practices of the medieval Church. -- K.N. Panikkar, renowned historian in an interview with G. Krishnakumar (Photo: K.N. Panikkar)

‘Was USSR imperialist? Well, imperialism has to do with capitalism, capitalist accumulation, and transfer of wealth from other countries to the imperial centre, extraction of surplus value from the labouring masses of the imperialised countries, the enrichment of the imperialist bourgeoisie, enforcement of capitalist relations of production in the dominated countries. I don’t see how the word imperialist could be applied to USSR’ “You don’t have to be for the Taliban, and you don’t have to be for the Americans. Whether in Pakistan or elsewhere...the best thing is to build a left movement on grounds that are peculiarly and specifically the arena of left politics”, says Aijaz Ahmad. In liberal discourses Soviet Union is also delineated as an imperial power. Given the Soviet role in Poland, Finland and later Hungary, Czechoslovakia, or Afghanistan, can we characterize Soviet Union as an imperial power? -- Farooq Sulehria

 

William F. Engdahl believes the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa is a plan first announced by George W. Bush at a G8 meeting in 2003 and it was called “The Greater Middle East Project”.

It was masterminded to take under control for the “democratization” of the entire Islamic world from Afghanistan down through Iran, Pakistan and the oil producing Persian Gulf area, across North Africa all the way to Morocco.

“The so-called Arab Spring had been planned, pre-organized and used by the instigators of the ‘spontaneous’ protests and Twitter revolts in Cairo and Tunisia and so forth,” insists the historian.

Engdahl exposes that the some of the leaders of the protests had been trained in Belgrade, Serbia, by activists of Canvas (the Center for Applied Non-Violent Actions and Strategies) and Otpor (a youth movement that played a significant role ousting the former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic), organizations financed by the US State Department.

Engdahl names two reasons for the US State Department’s designs on the Islamic world.

The first reason is a vast wealth in the hands of the Arab world’s leaders, sovereign wealth funds and resources. The agenda – exactly as it was done with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 – is “the IMF privatization, ‘free market’ economy and so forth so that Western banks and financial agencies and corporations could come in and take the plunder.”

“The second agenda is militarize the oil sources in such places as Libya and the so-called Republic of South Sudan, that are directly strategic to China’s future economic growth,” points Engdahl.

“This is all about controlling Eurasia, something Zbignew Brzezinski talked about back in 1997 in his famous book The Great Chessgame, especially about controlling Russia and China and any potential cohesion of the Eurasian countries economically and politically,” he says.

And the results are already there – in Egypt and Tunisia the democracy has already brought weak economy, while Libya, the country with the highest living standards in all of Africa before the NATO bombings, today is in ruins.

The concern of the Western powers, especially the Pentagon, is the military control of the troubled region, not restoring normality, the historian evaluates. The NTC puppet government’s main concern is giving NATO prominent basing rights – something unheard of during the 42 years of Gaddafi rule. -- William F. Engdahl in an interview with Irina Galushko

 

 

Well, everything is raised in a meeting with people sitting around a table, and that has – that reflects the worry and the frustration for this reason. I was just at our Embassy in Kabul. The Haqqani Network bombarded our Embassy for many hours. We were very fortunate that no Americans lost their lives, although some Afghans waiting for visas were unfortunately killed. And I’m the Secretary of State. I’m responsible for the lives and the well-being of the people who are our diplomats and our American employees and our local employees in embassies across the globe. I just want you to put yourself in our position. We have been warning about the Haqqanis, we’ve been warning about safe havens, we have presented information and evidence, we have shared intelligence.

Suppose they had gotten lucky. Suppose that car bomb had killed 77 American soldiers or suppose a car bomb or an effective barrage of assault weapons had killed Americans. Put yourself in the position that suppose that had happened to the Pakistani Embassy in Kabul or some other place. We don’t want to act unilaterally. We want to act in concert with our friends, our partners, our strategic allies in Pakistan, but we don’t want there to be any misunderstanding that we have to act, otherwise there will be perhaps an incident in the future that takes it out of the hands of any president. We don’t want to get to that, and it’s something that we are doing everything we can to avoid.

So when we talk about actions, as I was just talking to Munizae about, we talk about specific things we can do together. But a lot of it depends upon cooperation with our Pakistani counterpart. We think that is far better than having some disaster happen that requires some kind of response, which we are not at all interested in getting to. We want to avoid that. -- Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of State

 

I think old ghazals had no discipline. People sang them without realising they were ghazals. Also they were not sufficiently structured. Now, if you think back, most popular Hindi film songs from the 1950s were based on ghazals. If you hear any old Hemant Kumar number, say Yaad kiya dil ne kahan ho tum, they were mostly ghazals. Composer Madan Mohan set so many ghazals to his inimitable tunes. To give just some examples, Yun hasraton ke daag or Mai re main kaase kahun peer. Even then ghazals were preferred because they reflected sensible poetry, there was no silly tukbandi (rhyming). When I branched out on my own, I was determined to polish up the genre and make it more acceptable to modern tastes. I read ghazals thoroughly and in my early years I would select classics by Ghalib, Mir, Jigar, Firaq and Daagh. Later, I turned to more contemporary writers like Nida Fazli, Wasim Brelvi and Bashir Badr. My knowledge of Urdu being limited, I chose only simple poems and set them to simple tunes. I also introduced Western instrumentation to make the overall effect livelier. Incidentally, that idea I borrowed from film music, it wasn’t exactly original. -- Jagjit Singh in an interview with Chandan Mitra (Photo: Jagjit Singh)

 

I often ask my audience if they have heard of Aurangzeb. Everyone says yes. But when I ask if they have heard of Dara Shikoh, very few say they have. We remember Aurangzeb because he has been presented as a villain - but we have forgotten his brother Dara Shikoh, who championed Hindu-Muslim unity by translating Hindu scriptures into Persian. He also penned a classic called Majma-ul-Bahrain (co-mingling of the rivers). We need to teach our children correct history. The reformist movement in Dawoodi Bohras has met limited success, but we have not given up. I have fought against narrow interpretations of Quranic verses and the Hadiths. I have always maintained that Islam should be understood in a modern context, not with a prism formulated by medieval scholars. – Asghar Ali Engineer in an interview with Mohammed Wajihuddin

These days, with the advent of modern communications and transport, we have many people coming from many schools. Even in the Middle East you have many ways of teaching and practicing religion, from the Gulf states to the more conservative Saudi Arabia. When they come back, they bring their own views of Islam, and how they have been taught. In some ways this is unfortunate in a society that has had a very strong accord with religion. People are coming back with different religious experiences, and when they try to practice it here it sows discord. We have always seen religion as a force that bound the people of Maldives together as one, we are now seeing it as a source of discord. And that is a pity. We hope that rather than stick to dogmatic views, we will be able to stick to a point of view that brings us together as one. The more you study the more you become aware of the complexities – whereas when you have only the basics, you can accept unquestioningly. -- Abdul Ghafoor Mohamed, Maldives Ambassador to the UN in an interview to JJ Robinson (Photo: Abdul Ghafoor Mohammed)

Even as the controversy saw these groups grapple with wrenching First-Amendment questions of religious freedom, the man at the centre of the controversy, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, persisted with his decades-long efforts to promote a multi-faith dialogue for better understanding across faith traditions. He ultimately won the approval of not only the Manhattan community board where Park51 is located but also NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and even U.S. President Barack Obama.

What does this mean? It means a number of things. It [raises the question,] how do we express our values? Every religious tradition has a perennial challenge, which is, what are the eternal values of our faith and how do we express them in a different time and in a different place? So we now have a task to do [and that is to ask,] how do we express ourselves as British Muslims, French Muslims, German Muslims and American Muslims? This is the task I am working on and one of the key aspects of this Cordoba House project [is that it] has been my vision and it will be built, whether it is on that site or this site.

-- Imam Abdul Rauf spoke to Narayan Lakshman (Photo: Narayan Lakshman)

Islamic Studies used to happen under the rubric of “Orientalist Studies” which was mainly philological and text-based, and was carefully sealed off from wider currents of cultural criticism. But in the 1980s, scholars began to take Islamic Studies out of this narrow field and merge it more with Religious Studies, connected to wider intellectual trends like feminism, interfaith dialogue, and progressive political analysis.  In the 1990s, this yielded a new intellectual climate. Mature scholars trained in Islamic Studies and textual traditions began to make bolder inquiries, and homosexuality was no longer considered a taboo subject; so for instance we see the books and articles of Everett Rowson (such as “The Effeminates of Medina” which you published in Que(e)rying Religion) who is a scholar of Arabic literature and Middle Eastern Studies. What was missing was a more intimate engagement with the religious tradition of Islam. This came with feminist Muslim scholars. They provided the techniques of skeptically critical yet faithfully engaged scholarship that nurtured a next generation of scholars. There was the cautiously secular approach of Leila Ahmed and the audaciously zealous approach of Amina Wadud; both styles of feminism provided tools and perspectives for sexuality-sensitive scholars to appraise the religious tradition of Islam from within. -- Scott Kugle in an interview with Susan Henking (Photo: Scott Kugle)

 

The revolution is completely unfulfilled. The situation is very frustrating for the youth that led the protests, came together and were there on Tahrir Square pushing for change. The youth are unorganized and have been pushed out, co-opted and fragmented into different groups. So we are disenfranchised and disappointed – maybe even more disenfranchised then before. I blame the US for not taking a strong stance on the Military Council – but I cannot just blame them completely. The revolutionary forces have not organized their demands or brought together their activities. There are over 70 political parties being created, there are over 210 coalitions of which only 5 or 6 are efficient. The scene is very fragmented and all over the place. The winners are the Muslim Brotherhood – but I am not scared of them. Why should I be? The liberals are using rhetoric like that of the previous government against them to try and keep the Muslim Brotherhood out of politics. They are trying to scare the West.-- Egyptian Activist Ahmed Naguib in an interview with Ben Judah

 

It is much easier to deal with so-called terrorists from beyond your borders and from beyond your frontiers. It is much more difficult when it is someone raised in your country that is supposed to uphold Christian values. The man is a Christian they reported. Why someone in a country like Norway carried such an attack? No government seems to be taking a swing at it; actually it is giving a pass, by constant attacks and dehumanization of Islam and constant attack on migrants coming to their countries. Currently we see both of them coming together ironically as Britain and France fight a war in Libya. There is a growing refugee crisis from North Africa and they welcomed these people. Strangely, we see growing hysteria about Islamic refugees coming into Western Europe. I think these governments find it difficult because they themselves created the atmosphere in which something like this can be created. -- Chris Bambery, Author and Journalist

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