New Age Islam Edit Bureau
23 November 2016
Islam and Politics: Indonesia's Identity
By Dina Afrianty
Iranians, With Light in Hand, Look
By Camelia Entekhabi-Fard
Commemorating Allama Iqbal on His
By Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi
Aleppo Assault Aims To Displace
By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
Modern Indonesia is testimony to the
ability of transition democracies to construct a constitutional framework that
can guarantee equality, security and freedom from discrimination for all
Since 1998's Reformasi (the period of
transition after the fall of Indonesia's dictator, Suharto), Indonesians have
seen how political reforms can deliver freedom of expression, consolidate the
role of political parties - including Islamic parties - and for Indonesians to
exercise their right to vote in open and transparent elections.
Yet, almost two decades later, we are
witnessing a significant political crisis that suggests there is a widening
gulf between those who support constitutional government, and those who use
Islam as a basis to challenge the pluralist assumptions behind contemporary
Indeed, the now-regular appeals to
Indonesians to promote their identity as members of the ummah as a priority
over being members of the voting public, means that religious identity
threatens to displace citizenship as a key organising principle.
The raising of a charge of blasphemy
against the Chinese Christian governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama,
known as Ahok, is presenting a major challenge for President Joko Widodo (also
known as Jokowi).
The case arises in the middle of a
hard-fought campaign in which Ahok is seeking to be elected in his own right,
after assuming the post following Jokowi's move into national politics.
The Blasphemy Charge
Ahok was formally named a suspect on
November 16 by the Indonesian National Police, after less than two weeks of
mounting pressure, driven by radicals and conservative Muslims who mobilised
tens of thousands in a rally on November 4, in Central Jakarta.
The key group behind the rally was the
notorious Islamic Defenders Front (FPI). FPI accused Ahok of insulting the
Quran when he encouraged a small audience, during his work visit, not to be
deceived by those who sought to use Quranic verse of Al-Maidah 51 to prevent
voters selecting a non-Muslim leader.
The allegation of blasphemy against Ahok
was validated by a fatwa issued by National Ulema Council (MUI). This
quasi-government institution was created under the authoritarian government of
Suharto in the early 1970s, and it regularly seeks to express authoritative
rulings on issues of public interest.
The meaning and application Al-Maidah 51
was subject to debate in the weeks leading up to the rally. Opinion among
everyone, from noted Islamic scholars to ordinary members of the public, ranged
across fundamental questions, including the importance of both the Quran and
"ulama" to Muslim identity and citizenship, to the meaning of the
verse itself, and methods of Quranic interpretation.
Despite this open and public debate, those
attacking Ahok are adamant that the faith had been insulted.
Moreover, the candidate and all others not
sharing their view have been labelled "liberal" or "kafir"
Even respected scholars including Professor
Syafii Maarif, the former Chairman of the leading modernist Muslim group
Muhammadiyah is not exempt from attack and criticism.
For moderate Muslims, however, the case is
primarily political and represents driven a classic, multilayered Jakarta
The leader of FPI, Habib Rizieq, a member
of the small Indonesian Arabic community, is known to have strong links with
Jakarta's indigenous population, the Betawi.
More controversially, former President
Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is suspected to be behind the rally, since he is
assisting his son, Agus Yudhoyono, in his bid for the governorship.
Yudhoyono favoured conservative religious
causes during his time as president and the candidacy of his son, who retired
from the military to stand, is a political gamble to keep the family's
political fortunes alive.
The crisis engages significant issues
beyond these merely political dimensions. In fact, it is hard not to conclude
that it may help determine the future of Indonesia's national identity.
Long applauded as a moderate and pluralist
Muslim nation (the home of "smiling Islam"), Indonesia has regularly
resolved political debates about religion and the state by settling upon
constitutional and democratic mechanisms. However, conservative Muslim voices
regularly seek to challenge the country's status as a, broadly, secular state.
This current challenge is particularly
dramatic, involving as it does, political elites, radical conservatives and the
most high profile subject to date of the blasphemy regime. It is also
troubling, due to the confluence of racial and religious themes, which are
being exploited for electoral gain.
A Test for Indonesia's Democracy
Even the option of allowing the legal
process to run its course does not offer great comfort. The legal provisions in
the blasphemy regime are ambiguous, at best, and the various legal institutions
including the courts can be subject to political influence. Further, both
conviction or acquittal are likely to attract a negative response from
Therefore, ultimately, the Ahok case will
be a fascinating and critical test of Indonesia's democracy. Assuming he
remains able to contest the election, the public, appropriately, will have the
most important contribution to make through casting their ballots.
Success for Ahok will likely be read as
vindication by the few who have sought to defend constitutional governance over
populist, religiously inspired protests.
Failure may prove harder to interpret. It
could be seen either as a reward for radical brinkmanship, as a legitimate
critique of the candidates, or as morally inspired condemnation.
One thing seems clear, and that is, that
the intensity and scale of the actions by the anti-Ahok coalition has,
arguably, taken to a new level the deployment of Islam as a tool in Indonesian
Dina Afrianty is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Institute for
Religion, Politics, and Society, Australian Catholic University. She is also a
fellow at the Centre for Social Difference at Columbia University and
affiliates of State Islamic University, Jakarta.
Iranians, With Light in Hand, Look After
22 November 2016
A year ago, the foreign ministers of Iran
and the United States engaged in seemingly friendly relations, sparking
speculation that ties between the two countries could warm in the wake of the
This came after almost four decades of
animosity and bitter relations between the two nations that not only saw Iran
suffer but also impacted regional and international diplomacy.
When the founder of the Islamic Republic
Ayatollah Khomeini died there was still no improvement in relations and under
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s leadership mixed signals were indicative of internal
conflicts of interests.
The hostility reached a level of possible
military confrontation over Iran’s controversial nuclear program back in
2012-13. Then a page turned to the most friendly time since the revolution when
Hassan Rowhani was elected president in 2013.
Obama offered an olive branch to Iran, one
which resulted in the Iranian nuclear deal. However, even if particular presidents
seek to restore relations with the US, Iranian politics are much more
A beautiful description of post-revolution
Iran was made by the former US Ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq Zalmay
Khalilzad who talked about the two faces of Iran.
“One Iran is the Iran of Mohammad Javad
Zarif who was negotiating with us and the other Iran is the Revolutionary
Guards (IRGC) who have a mission to destroy what the government has built,”
Khalilzad said that in his book “The Envoy: From Kabul to the White House.”
The Softer Iran
But during the Iranian nuclear talks, the
softer Iran represented by the government gained traction over the hard Iran
represented by IRGC. Their success at reaching the nuclear agreement gave them
an incredible opportunity to reduce tension with the US but, unfortunately,
tension in Syria and across the Middle East caught Zarif and Rowhani off-guard.
Iran has a nuclear deal which protects its
right to enrich low-grade uranium and allows them to enter the international
market. However, what they missed out on was the opportunity to improve their
image. Hostile and frowning, Iranian diplomats didn’t miss a chance to label
everyone their enemy. It is hard to say if even Rowhani can mend ties with the
next US administration to the level he had with Obama.
It looks like the good times between Iran
and the US is coming to an end. The era of phone calls between Secretary John
Kerry and Mohammad Javad Zarif, shared meals at Iranian restaurants in Montreux
and Nowrouz tables at the White House is coming to an end.
The Iran of the IRGC didn’t seize upon
President Obama’s generosity and extraordinary softness toward the Islamic
Republic. The cold wind of change with the new administration in Washington is
chilling and reminds me of the time when George W. Bush called Iran a part of
the “Axis of Evil” along with North Korea and Iraq.
Of course, the situation and circumstances
wouldn’t be as bad as the early 2000s but will never be as good as during
“It will be a day that us, with light in
hand, look after Obama and Kerry,” prominent Iranian scholar Sadeq Ziba Kalam
said to Nasim online to express his concern over Donald Trump’s presidency.
Camelia Entekhabi-Fard is a journalist, news commentator and writer who
grew up during the Iranian Revolution and wrote for leading reformist
newspapers. She is also the author of Camelia: Save Yourself by Telling the
Truth - A Memoir of Iran. She lives in New York City and Dubai.
Commemorating Allama Iqbal on His Birth
Nov 23, 2016
The Pakistan Repatriation Council (PRC)
recently organized a seminar to mark the 139th birth anniversary of the
world-renowned Muslim poet and philosopher Dr. Allama Muhammad Iqbal. Several
prominent figures from the Pakistani community in Jeddah attended the function,
which began with the recitation of a few verses from the Holy Qur’an.
Some great poems of Iqbal were recited on
the occasion. Some of the attendees also recited their own poems, eulogizing
this great Muslim icon who made outstanding contributions in the fields of
poetry, philosophy, law, politics and economy. But his popularity as a poet
outshone all other aspects in which he was a distinguished figure. Iqbal was
widely known as the “Poet of the East” and the “Philosopher of Islam”. The
poems of Iqbal were translated into several languages, including Arabic.
Several famous singers have recited his poems.
The Guest of Honor at the Jeddah seminar
was Saeed Farah Al-Ghamdi, former permanent representative of Saudi Arabia to
the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). He commended the
Pakistani community in general and the organizers of the event in particular
for commemorating Allama Iqbal, who was a legend in philosophy and poetry,
which is recognized not only in Pakistan and in Muslim counteies, but all over
He pointed out that Pakistan is a country
rich in natural resources with people who have intelligence and creativity to
work for the betterment of the country. However, Pakistan, like other countries
in the Third World, is in need of good governance so as to be able to rise to
the ranks of developed nations.
At the outset of my speech, I thanked the
PRC for holding such an event to commemorate Allama Iqbal. I pointed out that
those who spoke before me had dealt at length with the unique personality of
Iqbal. Therefore, I wanted to focus on the poetic talents of this great genius.
Allama Iqbal became famous in the Arab
world mainly because of his poetry. Renowned Indian Islamic scholar and thinker
Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi wrote a book about Allama Iqbal called “Masterpieces of
Iqbal.” These include translations and interpretation of some of Iqbal’s poems.
These poems include one that is an address
to the Arab nation. In the seminar, I shed light on the theme of this poem as
explained by Iqbal. In the beginning of the poem, Iqbal explains the virtues
and characteristic features of the Arab nation as it was blessed with the first
opportunity to carry the eternal message of Islam brought by Prophet Muhammad
(peace be upon him), who was instrumental in bringing about a renaissance of
humanity with the divine religion revealed to him.
Allama Iqbal then addresses the Arab
nation, saying that the eternal message of Islam came out of the Arab desert
and subsequently lit the world. He emphasized that the Arabs were honored by
God to take precedence in reading the Holy Qur’an and Allah revealed to them
the secret of monotheism, and He blessed them to become brothers bound by the
ideology of Islam.
Iqbal also emphasizes that the Prophet
(pbuh), an illiterate, brought back fertility and growth to the barren desert,
and gave the human body heart and soul, and smashed all idols. The Prophet
(pbuh) created several heroes and leaders of believers. Science, wisdom, law,
religion, power and administration took their origin from the light of
religion. He also says that Al-Hamra Palace in Granada whose beauty and majesty
mesmerized even great artists, is a manifestation of the genius of the Muslim
nation, after having been inspired from the divine book revealed to the Prophet
Allama Iqbal mentions in the poem the
backwardness and chaos in which the Arabs were engulfed before the time of the
Prophet (pbuh). After speaking about the glory and victories gained by Arabs
because of Islam, he laments their plight due to their disunity and failure in
holding fast to the teachings of Islam. Islam united them to become a single
nation and a single party. However, later they became different nations and
different parties because of their loss of the essence of Islam.
Iqbal warns Arabs about the machinations of
the West and its poisoned arrows. He then asks the Arabs to regain their glory
and strength and lead the caravan of humanity to its lofty level. He then turns
to the spirit of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh), complaining: “The unity of your
Ummah has been shaken, O Muhammad: the Messenger of Allah; to where shall we
head for peace and shelter?”
Concluding the event, Syed Ehsanul Haque,
convener of the PRC, thanked the speakers and attendees. He urged Pakistani
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to give due acknowledgement to Allama Iqbal’s
contributions to Pakistan. Haque condemned cancelation of the national holiday
on Iqbal Day, saying that it will send a negative message to the younger
generation about the great poet. He appealed to include Iqbal’s mission as part
of the curriculum to be taught to the young in Pakistan. Haque also called for
establishing a university named after Allama Iqbal exclusively for teaching his
poems and philosophy.
The PRC leader demanded the United Nations
to hold a plebiscite in Kashmir in line with its earlier resolutions. He also
thanked the Pakistani prime minister for the creation of a parliamentary
committee, headed by the deputy foreign minister, to discuss the issue of the
repatriation and rehabilitation of the stranded Pakistanis who have been
languishing in squalid camps in Bangladesh for 45 years.
Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast
Aleppo Assault Aims To Displace 275,000
East Aleppo is living through tragic and
bleak days which neither words nor photos can describe. The Russian air force
is shelling the city, while Bashar al-Assad’s forces and Iran’s militias are
attacking the outskirts of the city. Meanwhile, Hezbollah militias are blocking
the roads which provide supplies to the area. Five hospitals have been
destroyed. The one which was most recently destroyed is a children’s hospital
which jets shelled using Chlorine gas. There are no longer any places where
people can transfer the thousands of injured to.
Most attacks deliberately target the areas
where there are civilians and not fighters. Why do they do that? It’s because
they want to aggravate the tragedy, twist the world’s arm and displace whoever
is left in the residential areas towards the Turkish borders. This is why they
rejected requests to allow international relief supplies through and rejected
Turkey and the UN’s proposal for the city’s autonomy. They’ve refused all
solutions that end the tragedy. Meanwhile, the increasing operations of
destruction continue around the clock. As one woman said, she tries to sleep
just to escape the tragedy.
Despite all this, Syrian Foreign Minister
Walid al-Mouallem said: “We do not accept the solution of the city’s autonomy.
We will not allow aid to be delivered to the city, and we will not leave East
Aleppo - with the 275,000 residents left in it - the captive of 6,000
The truth is the opposite of that. Assad’s
forces and his Iranian and Russian allies are the ones who have taken the
city’s residents as hostages and exploited them. They besiege and attack the
city through the policy of starving its people, destroying houses and targeting
hospitals. This does not only aim to eliminate 6,000 members of the Free Syrian
Army but it is part of a plan to make Aleppo uninhabitable.
Aleppo’s massacre is happening before the
entire world’s eyes. But despite the statements, no one is doing anything to
stop it, which is the basis that paves the way for the upcoming phase of
Syria’s “wars,” even if the Syrian army manages to storm the last FSA post and
seize control over it.
Those we are talking about are FSA
fighters, not terrorist group fighters such as al-Nusra Front. The regime and
its allies have come nowhere near to the militants, but still use them to
justify their tactics, like they do to justify the resumption of their plan
which will displace people and seize control of the city under the excuse of
fighting Nusra and ISIS terrorists.
Ever since the fighting widened last year,
Assad’s forces, Hezbollah militias, the rest of the extremist Shiite groups and
the Russian air force have not fought ISIS like they pledged they would. The
party that is fighting ISIS in ar-Raqqah and other areas is the US-led
coalition which facilitated Iran’s and Assad’s task and strengthened extremist
Shiite militias which devoted their time to fight people in several areas that
are mainly Sunni in order to solidify a sectarian Alawaite governance that
follows a very small minority. What’s happening today is really mad and it will
have deep and long-term repercussions in the near future.
The Domino Effect of Defeat
What’s the next phase after Assad’s fall?
The FSA, which represented the major power against the regime over the last
five years and which represents the majority of Syrians, will weaken and may
even disintegrate. Many of its fighters will leave its ranks to join armed,
extremist Islamist groups like ISIS, al-Nusra Front and others.
Some may wonder what the difference between
the FSA and al-Nusra Front is, since they all fight Assad. There is a huge
difference and it lies in the purpose of fighting. FSA fighters are Syrians
whose patriotic goal is to liberate their land and country from the regime
which they disagree with. Al-Nusra Front fighters, who are mostly Syrians
unlike ISIS fighters who are mostly foreigners, have religious goals such as
fighting infidels as they believe that most people are infidels - including
their own countrymen who are Sunnis - and they aspire to establish their
extremist caliphate and pursue jihad across the world.
The current massacre in Aleppo and the
massacres in Edleb’s and Hama’s countryside will push thousands of Syrians to
join al-Nusra Front because it’s the only remaining party that’s willing to
fight the regime. It’s through al-Nusra Front that they can get back at their
enemies and the entire world. I am not talking about this for the purpose of
begging support for the FSA; however. What the Russians, Iranians, Hezbollah
and the Syrian regime are currently doing, i.e. sowing sectarian divisions in
addition to the expanded murder of civilians and systematic displacement, will
not be forgotten.
East Aleppo may fall within days and other
cities may fall afterwards as well. However the crisis will expand and the
threat on the region and the world will double.
al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran
and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the
London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly
writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq
al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has
interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide
recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded,
thriving and influential position it is in today.