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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Aslim Taslam, Three Cups of Tea, and Pakistan's Blasphemy Laws

In the Toronto Star of Friday January 21, an article was published with the headline 'Pakistani Christians seek safety in Islam'.  It described a steady stream of Christians who are converting to Islam in Pakistan in order to ensure their safety and the safety of their children. 

Many incidents have been reported from Pakistan where Muslims have threatened their Christian neighbours with a blasphemy charge out of vindictiveness, or to extort something from them.  This is a potent threat, because in Pakistan the penalty for blasphemy against Islam is death.  The Star reported that Nadeem Anthony, a member of Pakistan's Human Rights Commission, has said:
"No one feels safe right now. People are scared. If you want something from your neighbour or you are angry at him, you say 'blasphemy' and that's it."
It is not only Christians who are targeted with the blasphemy law.  The  Star article also describe a recent case of a Shi'ite doctor who was charged with blasphemy after he threw a travelling salesman's business card in the trash. The salesman, whose name was Muhammad,  complained to religious authorities that throwing his business card aaway was blasphemy, because Muhammad is also the name of Islam's founder. It seems that the salesman was annoyed that the doctor had refused to buy his product, and accused him of a capital offence out of spite. (Shi'ites are a religious minority in Pakistan.) In Pakistan putting a piece of paper in the trash can be capital offense.

Although most of the Star's Canadian readers would view such an incident with horror, these days sentiment in favour of the blasphemy law is riding very high in Pakistan.  This can been seen in reactions to the murder of Salman Taseer, governor of Punjab, for his opposition to the law and support for Asia Bibi, a Christian women who has been charged with blasphemy.  When Taseer's self-confessed killer, Malik Mumtaz Qadri, was being taken to court, he was showered with rose petals by 400 lawyers, who clambered over each other to offer him their services, and a rally held in Karachi to demonstrate support for the killing attracted 40,000 people.

Zafar Hilali, a former Pakistani ambassador and foreign secretary, has insisted that Pakistan's tensions over the blasphemy law are more to do with class divisions than religion. Certainly the blasphemy law is working as a tool to encourage conversions, but is the idea of people becoming Muslims to be safe supported in Islam?

There is a basis in Islam's core texts for using fear to encourage conversions.  Converting to be safe goes all the way back to Muhammad. The concept is summed up in the well known Arabic phrase aslim taslam 'Convert to Islam and you will be safe'.

In the Sahih Muslim - a canonical collection of traditions of Muhammad, the following incident is reported:
"… the Messenger of Allah … came to us and said: ‘(Let us) go to the Jews’… The Messenger of Allah … stood up and called out to them (saying): ‘O ye assembly of Jews, accept Islam (and) you will be safe [aslim taslam].’ [And after repeating this another two times, he said]: ‘You should know that the earth belongs to Allah and His Apostle, and I wish that I should expel you from this land. Those of you who have any property with them should sell it, otherwise they should know that the earth belongs to Allah and His Apostle’ (and they may have to go away leaving everything behind)." (Sahih Muslim, Book of Jihad and Expedition 3:17:4363):
In fact a few Jews did agree to save themselves by converting:  ‘they went and became Muslims and saved their lives, their property, and their families’ (Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad, pp.94-95).

Later, when Muhammad led a military expedition against the peaceful Jews of the oasis of Khaybar, his cousin Ali asked him why the Muslims were fighting: 'Allah’s Messenger, on what issue should I fight with the people?'

To this Muhammad replied:
"Fight until they bear testimony to the fact that there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is His Messenger, and when they do that, then their blood and their riches are inviolable [safe] from your hands." (Sahih Muslim. Book of the Merits of the Companions of the Holy Prophet 4:29:5917).
Later Muhammad would again use the phrase aslim taslam as part of his declarations of war against Christians. 

I am often asked why people convert to Islam.  In reality there are many reasons, both individual and more general, but one reason can be fear. Islam offers an assurance – as modeled by Muhammad in his dealings with the Jews and Christians of his time – that people will be 'safe' if they convert.  Or conversely, they will be in danger from Muslims if they refuse Islam.  By his example, Muhammad blessed the used of threats to encourage conversion.

In this respect Pakistan is following in Muhammad's footsteps. 

The tragic deterioration of the human rights of religious minorities in Pakistan is the result of a long-standing program of intentional religious indoctrination, which has seen millions of young men pass through conservative madrassas.

This radical Islamic reform movement, carefully nurtured for more than a a century, makes a mockery of the naivety of Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea, a book which proposed that the solutions to Pakistan's problems will be found in alleviating poverty and improving access to education, especially for girls. 

Mortenson's compelling and best-selling narrative has been enthusiastically welcomed by countless Western readers (consider the 2,500 reader reviews on Amazon).  However in pandering to the failing worldview of western readers, Three Cups of Tea has merely worked as an anaesthetic to dull their minds and wills.

Mortenson has declared that:
"The only way we can defeat terrorism is if people in this country (Pakistan) where terrorists exist learn to respect and love Americans, and if we can respect and love these people here." (p.268)  
However the key issue in bringing long-lasting respect for fundamental human rights to Pakistan is not what Pakistanis feel about Americans, but what Pakistani Muslims think about their non-Muslim fellow citizens. 

Contrary to Mortenson's account:
  1. Pakistan's radicalization was not simply the result of the influx of Saudi money in the 1990's: it does not go back to the activities of Al-Qa'ida or Saudi Wahabbis, but to the influence of Deobandis since the 19th century, and to scholars such as Abul Ala Maududi, who was already active in India before World War II. The radicalization movement is indigenous to the sub-continent.
  2. The 400 Pakistani hundred lawyers who showered Taseer's murderer with rose petals had had no problem accessing education. Their problem was not ignorance. Radicals can be well-educated people and often are. A good education doesn't necessarily make people less likely to hate.  The experience of the UK has shown that a better educated younger generation of Muslims can be more radicalized than their parents.
  3. Islamic radicals can build schools too: moderates don't have a monopoly on compassion for kids.  Indeed, each and every school Mortenson built can easily be used for radical ends.
  4. Mortenson's claim that universal human values are the same in all religions is not valid for radical Islam, which does not recognize the equality of all people before the law.  Radical Islam insists that non-Muslims should be treated as second class citizens.
  5. The warm welcomes Mortenson received were because of his service to Muslim communities.  He would not have been so well treated if he had been building schools for non-Muslim minorities in Pakistan.
A true respect and love for the people of Pakistan — including its Christian and other non-Muslim citizens — demands that the bitter legacy of Pakistan's radicalization be challenged, including its blasphemy laws.  Until the root is dealt with, the fruit will continue to be bitter.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Organization of the Islamic Conference: Fatwas on Freedom and Democracy


The Organization of the Islamic Conference: Fatwas on Freedom and Democracy
January 19, 2011, 12:30 - 2:00 - Hudson Institute, Washington, D.C. Headquarters

The Organization of the Islamic Conference:
Fatwas on Freedom and Democracy

Wednesday, January 19
12:30 - 2:00 PM

The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), through its Saudi-based Islamic Fiqh Academy (IFA), seeks to bring Islamic jurisprudence to bear on key matters affecting modern life and international law. Since the 1980s, IFA has been offering guidance to Muslims worldwide. IFA's goal is to unify Muslims, and restore the cultural authority of the global Muslim community. Because it consults widely with the most eminent religious scholars, and its contributing members are themselves internationally recognized as eminent jurists, IFA's pronouncements represent the closest thing that exists to an authoritative religious consensus from the Muslim world. They also enjoy the political backing of the OIC.

Dr. Mark Durie discussed recent IFA fatwas on religious freedom, freedom of speech, and the question of whether and under what conditions Muslims are permitted by religious principles to participate as free citizens of non-Islamic, democratic states. He discussed the implications of these fatwas for religious freedom in the world today, for Muslims' ability to participate freely in secular societies, and for reformation of Islam.

Durie is a theologian, human rights activist, and pastor of an Anglican church. He has published many articles and books on the language and culture of the Acehnese, Christian-Muslim relations, and religious freedom. A graduate of the Australian National University and the Australian College of Theology, he has held visiting appointments at the University of Leiden, MIT, UCLA, and Stanford, and was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 1992.

Hudson Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for Religious Freedom Nina Shea introduced and moderated the event.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Religious Character of the Massacre at Our Lady of Salvation Cathedral in Baghdad

The massacre of Christians at Our Lady of Salvation Cathedral in Baghdad on October 31 2010 gained extensive world-wide media attention.  This Assyrian Catholic church was taken over by jihadis, and during the course of the several hours during which they controlled the church, the insurgents killed many of the worshippers, until the Iraqi army forces finally stormed the building.

I have been viewing reports from survivors of the massacre, posted on YouTube (here, here and here).  From these, and earlier published reports (e.g. here), a picture emerges of the jihadis as religiously motivated people who engaged their victims in theological conversations about Islam, and justified their actions based on the Islamic sharia.

It is good to note well the testimony of these survivors, because there is a view, widespread among the secular professional terrorism analysts of Western nations, that contemporary terrorism is not essentially religious in nature, but is a political movement which exploits the religion of Islam to serve what are in reality political goals.

One of the dangers of this rhetoric is that it causes the Western media to overlook or 'filter out' incidents of terrorists attacking indigenous Christians (and other religious minorities), because these attacks cannot be accommodated in the category of 'political violence'.

However there was no political advantage to be gained by killing unarmed Christian worshippers in Baghdad.  It was a purely religious act.  Thus, according to the survivors, their attackers:
  1. Cried out Allahu Akbar 'Allah is greater' each time they shot Christians.
  2. Called the Christians kafir 'infidel'.
  3. Witnessed to the Christians that Allah is one.
  4. Said it was halal (religiously permitted in Islam) to kill them, because they were Christians.
  5. Rebuked their victims for 'worshipping' the cross and Christ and told them not to do so, e.g. they said, 'Don't worship the cross'.
  6. Selectively targeted young men for killing: one of the attackers said 'Don't leave a young man alive.'  This is in accordance with the laws of jihad, which stipulate that male captives can be killed. Authentic hadiths (traditions) of Muhammad report that when he eliminated the  Jews from Medina, he had the men executed.  (A Jewish boy called Atiyyah later reported that when an examination revealed he had not yet begun to grow pubic hair, he was allowed to live).
  7. Declared that they themselves would go to paradise but their Christian victims would go to hell.  They seemed to presume that they would be killed as an outcome of the seizure.
  8. Refused to put a wounded victim out of her misery, by ending her life, although she was begging for this, on the grounds that it was fitting for her to suffer in this life because she was on her way to hell anyway.
  9. Deliberately targeted Christian symbols for destruction, e.g. destroying crosses and a statue of Christ. (It was a tradition reported by Waqidi that Muhammad would destroy anything he saw which had a cross on it: W. Muir, The life of Muhammad. Volume 3, p.61, note 47.)
Of course many Muslims have been horrified by and deplored this shocking act, as well as several other more recent attacks on Christians in the Middle East.  My point is simply that the attackers claimed to be motivated by religious principles, their talk was dominated by religious references, and their behavior was in certain respects consistent with well-documented aspects of Islamic sharia.

This massacre was an attack motivated and shaped by religious principles.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Warning to the US: Don't play by Islamic rules. by Douglas Murray

Douglas Murray has written an important lucid article on the subversion of the debate on Islam in America:

Murray on the paradox of the so-called Islamic reformers:
The tragedy is that for many of the so-called reformers, ... their task can, they believe, only be fulfilled by attacking those who speak the truth about Islam. They attempt to retain what little credibility they have by denying what are to very many of us self-evident and demonstrable truths about Islam. It has become the default position of European — and now American — governments to ground their resistance to Islamic extremism in the bolstering of people who are going out and telling what to our societies must be seen to be untruths. It is as though we had fought the Cold War while disallowing any criticism of communism.
And questions for America:
Do Western liberal democracies have the right to say the truth as we see it or must we be truth-neutral? Must we pretend we have no past but rather simply a clean slate on which whoever is loudest can write most surely? Are our societies to be forced to have every debate not on our own terms but rather in an increasingly Islamic key? Are we always to be the aggressor or are there times when we can justifiably claim to be the victims?
Read the whole article at STANDPOINT.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Condolences for Al-Qiddisin Church in Alexandria and Copts everywhere

I write to express my profound sorrow beyond words, and to extend condolences to the families and friends of the 22 martyrs killed and to the over 90 people who were wounded in the bomb attack on Al-Qiddisin (The Saints) church in Alexandria on New Year's Eve.

I also extend my condolences to the whole Coptic people, and the Coptic church and its leaders, including a community of over 100,000 Copts living in Australia.  As an Australian Anglican priest, I wish particularly to express my support for Pope Shenouda at this time, and also for  Bishop Suriel of the Diocese of Melbourne and Affiliated Regions, and for Father Tadros, Vicar General of the Diocese of Sydney and Affiliated Regions.  These leaders carry a weighty burden of care for their people, as they prepare to lead them in celebrations of Christmas this Friday, January 7, 2011.

So many have been deeply affected by this shocking atrocity, which targeted peaceful worshipers in a way intended to exact maximum casualties. People came to pray, seeking peace for the new year ahead, and were instead subjected to an inhuman act of cruelty and hatred.

The Alexandria attack is the worst in recent memory of a series of assaults on Copts and their places of worship.  Indeed the year of 2010 began with a shooting massacre of Christian worshipers outside Nag Hammadi Cathedral on January 7, the occasion of the Coptic Christmas Eve.

Although this latest attack has been denounced by Egyptian authorities, it has taken place in a climate of growing official discrimination against the Christians of Egypt, including against converts to Christianity.

I deplore the lack of freedom of religion in Egypt,  the authorities' apparent unwillingness to protect the indigenous Christian minority and its places of worship, and the lamentable track record of the Egyptian justice system in securing criminal convictions against those who have targeted Christians for attack.  I call upon Egypt's leaders to respond to these abuses honestly and with integrity, without making excuses or indulging in denial.

I also deplore the complicity of some Middle Eastern community leaders and media organizations, who have inflamed a climate of incitement against indigenous Christians, one of the worst recent examples being the interview of Mohammad Salim Al-Awwa by Ahmed Mansour on Al-Jazeera TV, which went to air on September 115, 2010.  This interview made repeated outrageous and false allegations against the Coptic church and its leaders, which have subsequently even been invoked by Al-Qa'ida in connection with deadly attacks on Christians elsewhere in the Middle East.

The Copts are the direct continuation of the indigenous Christian community in Egypt, founded by St Mark.  They have maintained a faithful witness to Apostolic Faith in Christ through two thousand years of trials and persecution.  I am confident that this latest attack will not shake their will to maintain this witness in their ancestral land.  In the spirit of Matthew 10:42, I call upon Christians throughout the world to offer compassion, practical support and prayers for the Copts, which they sorely need at this most painful of times.