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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Vol. 7    Issue 24   01-15 May 2013

Professor A. R. Momin

Afghanistan’s Unending Travails

Afghanistan is passing through one of the most turbulent, unsettling periods in its history. Three decades of violence and war have brought the country to the brink of utter devastation and ruin. Since 2001, when Afghanistan was invaded and occupied by the US-led military forces, thousands of Afghans, including large numbers of innocent civilians, women and children, have been killed. Afghanistan has the highest proportion of people with disabilities – an estimated one million people. About 80,000 people have become disabled as a result of landmines. More than 2.7 million Afghan refugees are still living in Pakistan and Iran.

Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world. More than 42 per cent of the country’s population of 35 million live on less than $1 a day. The unemployment rate is nearly 40 per cent. The nation’s GDP stands at about $29 billion and GDP per capita at $ 1,000. There is a complete absence of foreign direct investment, thanks to violence, political instability and widespread corruption. According to Transparency International, Afghanistan ranks as the third most corrupt country in the world. The New York Times reported on April 29, 2013 that, for more than a decade, tens of millions of dollars have flowed from the US Central Intelligence Agency to the office of Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai. The CIA is known to have supported some relatives and close aids of Karzai. The cash flow has fuelled corruption and added to the clout of Afghan warlords. In fact, some US officials point out that the biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan is the United States.

Afghanistan has one of the worst human development indices in the world. According to the United Nations Human Development Index, Afghanistan is the 15th least developed country in the world. The average life expectancy in the country is less than 50 years. The overall literacy rate is about 28 per cent and less than 10 per cent of Afghan women can read or write. Afghanistan has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world, estimated at 1,400 deaths per 100,000 live births. The country also has the dubious distinction of having the highest infant mortality rate in the world. One in ten Afghan children dies before attaining the age of five.

The World’s Drug Capital

One of the gravest problems faced by the country is the flourishing narcotics trade and the alarming increase in the number of drug addicts, including women and children. Afghanistan accounts for nearly 93 per cent of the world’s supply of opium, whose global retail supply exceeds $52 billion. In 2012 the cultivation of poppy covered an area of 154,000 hectares, up from 1311,000 hectares in the previous year. A report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, released on April 15, 2013, shows that Afghanistan is moving towards record levels of opium production. From Shaddle Bazaar and other markets, where thousands of kilos of opium are openly bought and sold, opium is taken to heroin labs in the border areas set up by local drug lords, where it is processed into heroin and smuggled into Europe and the US. Heroin, which is refined from raw opium, is relatively cheap – about $6 for a gram -- and easily available. Drug trafficking is controlled by powerful warlords, many of whom enjoy protection from the government. The thriving drug trade is a great source of financial support for the Taliban as well as for many people in the government.

There are an estimated one million addicts in Afghanistan’s population of 35 million, including some 60,000 child drug addicts – the highest figure in the world. Women and children make up nearly 40 per cent of drug addicts. The addicts include refugees who came back from Pakistan, farmers, female carpet weavers and war veterans who lost limbs in the war. It is common to see men and teenage boys sitting huddled and smoking and injecting heroin in the heart of Kabul. Jawid, an 18-year-old Afghan man, has been hooked on heroin for ten years. His father is dead and his handicapped mother begs on the streets to help him buy drugs and to prevent him from stealing. The addicts also include educated people, doctors and engineers. Children are introduced to opium, often by parents and grandparents, as early as the age of five. Sometimes toddlers are given opium by their mothers to stop them from crying for food, which is always in short supply. Afghanistan’s health ministry runs 95 de-addiction and rehabilitation centres across the country, but the rehabilitation programme is severely hampered by the shortage of funds and trained personnel.

Human Rights Watch Slams Burmese Government

The Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar experienced a horrifying spate of killings, arson and forced displacement in June 2012. Following reports of the rape of a Buddhist woman by a Rohingya man, rampaging Buddhist mobs attacked the Rohingyas from all sides, systematically burning every building, and were supported by the police and the army. Entire villages were wiped out and a number of mosques were raised to the ground. The violence left more than 700 Rohingyas dead and nearly 100,000 displaced. Amnesty International denounced the Burmese security forces as well as the majority Buddhist population for violent attacks on Rohingya Muslims, which were systematically carried out and were state-sponsored.

Commenting on the massacre, Amnesty International researcher Benjamin Zawacki said, “Most cases have meant targeted attacks on the minority Rohingya population and they were bearing the brunt of most of that communal violence in June and they continue to bear the lion’s share of the violence perpetrated by the state security forces”. Human Rights Watch said on November 18, 2012 that satellite imagery showed violence, arson and extensive destruction of Rohingya settlements in Arakan State in October 2012, which was carried out with the support of the state security forces and local government officials. Amnesty has called on Myanmar’s parliament to amend or repeal the 1982 Citizenship Law to ensure that Rohingyas are no longer stateless. The United Nations calls the Rohingya community as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities. (See “Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar: Victims of Xenophobia, Demonization and Hatred” The IOS Minaret, December 16-31, 2012)

A new report by Human Rights Watch, released on April 23, 2013, says that there was clear evidence of government complicity in ethnic cleansing and murderous attacks on Burmese Muslims in Rakhine state in 2012. The report says the Burmese security forces stood aside or joined in when Buddhist mobs attacked Muslims in 9 townships, razing homes and entire villages and killing the inhabitants. Satellite images show that nearly 5,000 houses of Rohingya Muslims were destroyed. The report says that the attacks on Rohingya Muslims in October 2012 were coordinated by government officials, Buddhist monks and an ethnic Rakhine nationalist party. The report says, “The Burmese government engaged in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingyas that continues today through the denial of aid and restrictions on movement.” The Human Rights Watch team discovered four mass grave sites in Rakhine state, which Burmese security forces had used to destroy evidence of the crime.

The report says that more than 125,000 ethnic Rohingya Muslims have been forcibly displaced in the months of May and October 2012 and more than 110 Muslims were killed. The report says that Myanmar’s government did nothing to prevent the violence and in fact in some places, government forces joined in the attacks on the Rohingyas. The report exposes the much touted political and economic reforms – called the “golden promise”—launched by Thein Sein’s government. Ironically, the European Union plans to lift all remaining sanctions against Myanmar. President Thein Sein has been given a peace award -- ‘In Pursuit of Peace Award’ – by the International Crisis Group. The award praised the president for his efforts to “bring us closer to a world free of conflict.”

Despite an outcry from international human rights groups, the atrocities on Burmese Muslims have not come to an end. On March 20, 2013, armed Buddhist mobs in the central Burmese city of Meiktila set fire to Muslim houses and terrorized them with sticks and iron bars as they fled the streets. Then they ransacked the houses and looted the belongings. Though Meiktila has been under the control of the army, soldiers and the police looked the other way as the rioters reduced Muslim houses to rubble. At least 43 Muslims were killed in the attack, some mosques were ransacked and destroyed and thousands were rendered homeless. In April 2013, 15 Muslim children and young boys died from smoke inhalation and suffocation when their madrasa was attacked by Buddhist arsonists who set fire to the school. The next day five Buddhist men were apprehended by the army for carrying petrol cans into a mosque near the city centre. The woes of Myanmar’s hapless Muslim minority are compounded by the boycott of Muslim-owned shops and businesses at the urging of a movement of Buddhist monks, known as 969. The movement is led by a Buddhist monk, Ashin Wirathu, who was jailed in 2003 for inciting hatred against Muslims.

The BBC reported in April 2013 that videos, shot by the Burmese police themselves, showed that Burmese police officers simply stood by and watched as Buddhist rioters attacked Muslims in the city of Meiktila on March 20, 2013. One sequence in the footage shows a Buddhist mob destroying a Muslim gold shop and thereafter setting fire to Muslim houses. Another sequence shows a Muslim man being burnt alive. In another sequence, a young Muslim man is shown as attempting to run away from a rampaging mob but is caught and mercilessly beaten. Finally, he is struck with a sword and left to die.

On April 30, 2013, a 400-strong Buddhist mob ransacked and destroyed two mosques and set fire to more than 100 Muslim homes in the central Burmese town of Okkan.

Meanwhile, Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace laureate and much feted champion of democracy, continues to maintain a shrewd and politically calculated silence over the complicity of the Burmese government in the pogrom against the country’s Muslim minority.

International Conference on Ijma in Istanbul

The edifice of Islamic law rests on two foundational sources, namely, the Quran and Hadith, and two methodological principles: analogical deduction (qiyas) and juristic consensus (ijma). Technically, Ijma refers to a state of consensus among Islamic scholars and jurists over a given issue in a given age. However, the connotation and scope of the term are much broader, which is reflected in a Hadith: “My people will never agree on a misleading issue.” The principle of Ijma has played a crucial role in forging and reinforcing unity and cohesiveness in the Muslim ummah, in translating the inherent dynamism of Shariah into reality and in offering a creative response to the challenges of time and space.

An international symposium on “Ijma as a Common Roadmap and Collective Consciousness” was held in Istanbul on April 27-28, 2013. The symposium, organized by Hira and Yeni magazines, which have a bimonthly circulation of one million, was attended by leading Islamic scholars, jurists and intellectuals from 80 countries, including Egypt, North Africa, India, Sudan, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Bosnia. Nearly 4,000 people attended the symposium. The speeches at the symposium were simultaneously translated into Turkish, Kurdish, Arabic, French and English.

The theme of the symposium was proposed by the renowned Turkish scholar and educationist, Fethullah Gulen. Gulen, 72, is one of the most charismatic and influential preachers, educationists and intellectuals in the contemporary Muslim world. The Gulen movement, inspired by his ideas, runs more than 800 schools in more than 100 countries and regions, including Turkey, Central Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, China, India, Russia, Germany, France, Cambodia, Australia and Singapore. The Gulen movement can be regarded as a transnational Islamic movement with a universal educational and interfaith agenda, which has influenced millions of Muslims in Turkey, Central Asia and other parts of the Muslim world.

Gulen sent a congratulatory message to the symposium, saying that there was a pressing need for forging closer cooperation and unity among Muslims in the world. The backdrop to the symposium was provided by the growing sectarian and doctrinal strife and clashes in the Islamic world, which threaten to undermine the unity and solidarity of the Muslim ummah.

The delegates focused on the unity and cohesiveness of the Muslim ummah in the face of external and internal threats, including the prevailing climate of Islamophobia in Europe, USA and other parts of the world, sectarian clashes in Muslim countries, the nexus between sectarian strife and politics, and growing doctrinal rigidity and intra-community intolerance and aggression.

Muslims Invited to Pray in a Christian Church in Scotland

Islam is the second largest religion in the UK and according to the 2011 census, the population of Muslims in the country is 2.7 million, making up 4.8 per cent of the population. There are now more than 100,000 converts to Islam in the country, of which 66 per cent are women. The vast majority of Muslims in the UK live in England and Wales. The population of Muslims in Scotland, according to the 2011 census, is 42, 557. Aberdeen is the third largest city in Scotland with a population of over half a million. The city is home to about 5,000 Muslim families. Like their coreligionists in many parts of Europe, Muslims living in Scotland are faced with shortages of mosques and prayer halls and are often forced to offer prayers, especially on Fridays and on feasts, on the streets.

The Rev Isaac Poobalan, Rector at St. John’s Church in Aberdeen, Scotland, made a large-hearted and generous gesture to the city’s Muslim community by opening the doors of the church premises to offer daily prayers. Rev Poobalan, who is originally from Kerala, India, asked his congregation for permission to allow Muslims to offer prayers in a part of the church premises, to which they agreed. Rev Poobalan then conveyed this to the local Muslim community who accepted the offer after some initial hesitation.

The mosque in Aberdeen, which is situated close to the church, is too small for Muslim worshippers and many of them are forced to pray on the streets. Recalling the backdrop to the offer, Rev Poobalan said, “It was a very cold day, and when I walked past the mosque I saw dozens of male worshippers praying outside, on the streets, right near the church. Their hands and feet were bare and you could see their breath in the freezing cold.” He then added, “Jesus taught his disciples to love your neighbor as yourself, and this is something I cannot just preach to my congregation; I had to put it into practice.”

Dr Robert Gillies, the Episcopal Bishop of Aberdeen, approved and appreciated the move and said that the arrangement at St. John’s could serve as a model for the rest of the world. He said: “What we are doing here is something local that has global significance. We have demonstrated that Christians and Muslims do not have to agree with one another. But they can learn to respect each other’s different beliefs and actually come to get along and even like one another. Internationally, the news speaks of tension and struggles between Islam and Christianity. Yet here in Aberdeen a mosque and a church have built bonds of affection and friendship.”

The initiative taken by St. John’s church in Aberdeen undoubtedly represents a laudable example of intercultural understanding and convivencia. The edifice of intercultural understanding and accommodation can be built on an open and ungrudging recognition of cultural and religious diversity, a spirit of tolerance and peaceful coexistence and an appreciation of shared cultural and spiritual spaces.

Since its inception, Islam has shown a refreshing openness towards other religions and cultures and espoused inter-religious understanding and accommodation. The attitude and behaviour of the Prophet Muhamamd towards the beliefs and traditions of the followers of other religions exhibited exemplary tolerance, understanding and magnanimity. A deputation consisting of some 60 prominent Christians from Najran, including a bishop, visited the Prophet in Madina. They were allowed to stay in the Prophet’s mosque and to worship there according to their beliefs and rituals. The charter of rights and assurances issued to the Christian population of Najran by the Prophet included the following passage.

    An assurance is hereby extended, on behalf of God and the Prophet, to the people of Najran, that their lives, religion, lands and wealth will be protected. No change in their existing conditions will be effected. Their rights will not be violated. Their commercial caravans and deputations will be protected. No cardinal will be dismissed from his position, nor will an ascetic be denied the right to his way of life. The custodians of churches will face no interference in respect of their functions. The Christians will not be obliged to pay the tithe-tax (obligatory on Muslims) nor will the Muslim army enter their areas.

Thus the Pax Islamica included not only Muslims but also Jews, Christians and the pagan Arabs, and guaranteed to them religious, cultural, and judicial autonomy. In fact the Islamic state assumed responsibility for the maintenance and even defence of Jewish, Christian and pagan identities. The protection of minority rights under the Islamic dispensation has no parallel in the annals of history. The Prophet exhorted his followers to scrupulously protect the legitimate rights and privileges of the dhimmis (non-Muslim subjects of the Islamic state). During the conquest of Khaybar, Muslim soldiers found some copies of the Bible captured in booty. The Prophet ordered that they should be returned to the city’s vanquished Jewish population. Incensed by their defeat at the Battle of Badr, the Meccans sent a deputation to the Negus in Abyssinia, urging him to repatriate the Muslims to Mecca who had taken refuge there, so that they could be persecuted and punished at home. To counter their move, the Prophet sent Amr ibn Umayyah al-Damri, who was not a Muslim, as his envoy to the court of the Negus. Islamic history is replete with instances that illustrate Islam’s tolerance and accommodation of other cultures and religious traditions.

Though the issue of construction of new mosques in some European countries such as Switzerland, Greece, Italy and Austria continues to be surrounded by controversy, there are also refreshing instances of Christian churches supporting mosque projects. In Germany, Catholic churches have generally supported the construction of new mosques in the face of opposition by far-right groups. Cologne’s Catholic church has supported the construction of a new mosque in the city and St Theodore Catholic church has even offered to raise funds for the mosque project.

France’s Catholic schools are quite popular among Muslims. Muslim students make up more than 10 per cent of the two million students in Catholic schools. In the ethnically mixed areas of Marseille more than half of the students are Muslim. Nearly 80 per cent of students in Saint Mauront Catholic school in Marseille are Muslim. During the month of Ramadan, the school provides a special room for prayers to Muslim students.

Rachid Ghannouchi on the Dangers of Radicalism

Rachid Ghannnouchi (born 1941) has emerged as the most popular and powerful political figure in Tunisia as well as in the Arab region as a whole. He founded the Islamic Tendency Movement in 1981, which was later rechristened as Ennahda Party, which aimed, in the Tunisian context, at the “reconstruction of economic life on a more equitable basis, the end of single-party rule and the acceptance of political pluralism and democracy.” After spending several years in prison, Ghannouchi moved to Britain and obtained political asylum there. He returned to Tunisia on January 30, 2011 after 22 years in exile.

Ghannouchi’s writings and recorded speeches have become extremely popular in large parts of the Arab world. His writings are avidly read by educated youth in Arab countries as well as in Turkey and Malaysia. His views reflect a refreshing openness, accommodation and flexibility. He is widely credited for having emphasized the centrality of democracy, social justice, human rights and political pluralism in the current Islamic discourse and in Islam-inspired political and social movements in the Arab region in particular and in the Islamic world in general. He argues that the values of justice, human rights and public consultation are embedded in the Quran and in the Islamic tradition. For more than three decades, Ghannouchi has consistently argued that democracy and pluralism are compatible with Islamic values and principles. He espouses a tolerant and inclusive vision of society and polity and is against the forcibly establishment of an Islamic state. He has repeated denounced violence and terrorism, saying that “rulers benefit from violence more than their opponents.” He has said, “We consider that a state is more Muslim, more Islam, the more it has justice in it.” He said in an interview to BBC’s Radio 4 in February 2012 that the type of state he envisions is one that “doesn’t interfere in people’s private lives.” The state, he said, should not have anything to do with “imposing or telling people what to wear, what to eat and drink and what they believe in, and what they should not believe in.”

Like many Muslim leaders and intellectuals who espouse balance and moderation, Ghannouchi is deeply anguished over the increasing incidence of intra-community intolerance, radicalization and extremism, and a propensity to aggression and violence in a section of Muslim youth in many parts of the world. He warns that radicalization was damaging the image of Islam and said, “radicalism is a project of creating a civil war in the Muslim community”. “No good can come out of radicalism,” he added. In an interview to the Turkish newspaper Today’s Zaman on April 25, 2013, Ghannouchi emphasised that solving problems through dialogue and negotiation was an essential principle of Islam. “Our religion considers killing and shedding blood as hideous and calls on people to cooperate with one another in piousness and goodness. It calls on people to do favours to both Muslims and non-Muslims,” he added. Ghannouchi regretted that as a result of growing radicalization, a section of Muslim youth are now killing their own Muslim brothers and sisters, which is one of the greatest sins in Islam.

Dutch Far-Right Politician Embraces Islam

The far-right Freedom Party (PVV) in the Netherlands has persistently demanded a halt to all immigration in the country, a ban on the building of mosques and Islamic schools and on veils worn by Muslim women. Geert Wilders, a leader of the party, has called Islam “the ideology of a retarded culture” and the “enemy of freedom”. He has carried out a vicious campaign against the Quran, comparing it to Hitler’s Mein Kampf, and demanding a ban on it in the Netherlands. He said in an article in a Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant: “I’ve had enough of the Quran in the Netherlands: Ban that fascist book”. Wilders has said that if Muslims wish to stay on in the country they should tear up half of their holy book. He says Europe is in danger of being “Islamised” and that there would soon be more mosques than churches in the country. Wilders argues that the Quran is “an inspiration for intolerance, murder and terror” and that the “Islamic ideology has as its utmost goal that destruction of what is most dear to us, our freedom”.

Wilders made a short film “Fitna” in March 2008, which shows certain verses from the Quran, interspersed with media clips and newspaper clippings showing acts of violence and terrorism by Muslims. The film also reproduces a caricature of the Prophet wearing a bomb-shaped turban (published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2006) and footage of the September 11 attacks on the US, the Madrid train bombing and the terrorist attack on London. The film conveys the message that Islam encourages acts of violence and terrorism, anti-Semitism and violence against women. Wilders described the film as “a call to shake off the creeping tyranny of Islamisation”. As Robert Fisk has observed, “the film is crass in its presentation, crude and vulgar in its message.”

Incredible as it may seem, some of the sworn enemies of Islam have ultimately sought refuge in the fold of Islam. Arnoud Van Doorn, a leading member of the Islamophobic Freedom Party in the Netherlands and a close associate of Geert Wilders who was involved in the making of the film “Fitna,” has recently embraced the Islamic faith. Doorn, a member of the Dutch parliament and of The Hague City Council, entered the fold of Islam after a long and deep reflection and study of Islam and the life of the Prophet Muhammad. He says that the widespread outrage against the film “Fitna” led him to explore and reflect over the reasons for the deep esteem and reverence in which Muslims hold the Prophet.

After conversion, Doorn visited the holy cities of Makka and Madina to perform “umrah” and to seek forgiveness for his slanderous campaign against Islam. Doorn serves as a regional advisor at the City Hall in The Hague. He has now filed an application to the mayor asking for permission to offer prayers at his office.

Palestinian Prisoners: Fatherhood through IVF

More than 4,800 Palestinians are languishing in Israeli jails on charges of indulging in terrorist activities. More than 1,000 of them have been sentenced for 20 years and more. Their wives are not allowed to visit them in the prison.

Ammar al-Ziben, a Palestinian, has been sentenced to a life term in prison after being charged with plotting deadly attacks against Israelis in Jerusalem in 1997. In late 2011 he managed to send out a sample of his sperm from the prison, which was used to impregnate his wife, Dallal, through the technique of in vitro fertilization. In August 2012 she gave birth to a baby boy, Muhannad. Since then this innovative method, combing sperm smuggling with in vitro fertilization, has become quite popular among the wives of Palestinian prisoners. "We women are growing old, and our chances of having babies in the future are diminishing," said Rimah Silawi, 38, who is one month pregnant following IVF treatment through her imprisoned husband's sperm. Her husband, Osama, has been sentenced to life for killing an Israeli and three Palestinians in the West Bank town of Jenin 22 years ago. The Razan Medical Centre in Nablus receives one or two sperm samples every week. So far, 22 Palestinian women have conceived through this technique. The procedure costs about $3,000, but the centre does it for free for Palestinian prisoners.

In vitro fertilization (IVF) is one of the assisted reproductive technologies in which the ovum is fertilized by sperm in a laboratory at about 196 degrees Celsius and then placed into a woman’s womb. Muslim jurists are of the opinion that in vitro fertilization is permissible only if the donor of the sperm and the receiving woman are legally married and if fertilization takes place in the duration of the marriage. This ruling is endorsed by the Islamic International Fiqh Council as well as by the renowned Islamic scholar, Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi.

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