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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Hatred Sounds Sweeter in Arabic?

See here for my recent media foray over the proposed invitation of eminent Meccan Sheikh Al-Sudais to Melbourne in March 2013.
I was interested to read the response of Mr Razvi from IREA, organizer of the oddly named 2013 Australian Islamic Peace Conference:  ‘But he’s just one speaker, and all he will do is [Koran] recitation.  For us the public speakers have to be in English.’

In other words, one shouldn’t be so concerned that the Imam of Mecca has called for annihilation of the Jews, referring to them as ‘the scum of the human race, rats of the world, violators of pacts and agreements, murderers of the prophets, and grandsons of apes and pigs’ (see here for a contemporary Kuwaiti news report, and here for MEMRI’s translation) because if and when this eminent personage comes to Melbourne to be part of the ‘best-ever’ Islamic event held in Australia, Al-Sudais will only be speaking Arabic and reading the Koran in Arabic. 

The thing is, several of the libels made collectively by Al-Sudais against the Jews can be derived from passages in the Koran. Will these passages be the ones he will be reciting here in Melbourne?  Will the ears of visiting dignitaries from other faiths – whom Mr Razvi reports will be invited – be regaled by Al-Sudais with these very same verses?

If interfaith visitors do visit the Melbourne Showground for the ‘Peace Conference’ they might inquire what Koranic verses they are being asked to listen to, and whether the following passages will be included:
  • Jews are pact breakers  – Sura 5:13 and 2:27
  • Allah turned some Jews into apes (and pigs) (the inference being that some of today’s Jews are descendants of those people who were turned into apes and pigs: hence they referred to as ‘grandsons’ or ‘descendants’ ‘of apes and pigs’) – Sura 2:65, 5:60 and 7:166
  • Jews are murders of the prophets – Sura 3:181, 2:55
What sense are the people of Melbourne meant to make of the proposition that they needn’t worry that the preacher has called for the annihilation of Jews, because he was only speaking Arabic?

If something is offensive in English, it is no less offensive in classical Arabic, however expertly and mellifluously it may be intoned.

Mark Durie is an Anglican vicar in Melbourne, Australia, author of The Third Choice, and an Associate Fellow at the Middle Eastern Forum.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Spengler's review of Escape from North Korea: The Untold Story of Asia's Underground Railroad, by Melanie Kirkpatrick

David Goldman has written an important review of Melanie Kirkpatrick's new book on the Underground Railroad from North Korea.

Can North Korea's agony find an end?
Reviewed by Spengler

Escape from North Korea: The Untold Story of Asia's Underground Railroad by Melanie Kirkpatrick

A regime that organizes one part of its citizens to police the other in return for a few more calories, and holds the world at bay with atomic weapons, may not be so easy to dislodge. As food shortages become more frequent in a world market dominated by price-insensitive grain buyers, we may see more rather than less of this kind of political control, as Pyongyang's political success is noted by other prospective totalitarians.

Read the whole review here.

Friday, August 24, 2012

'Insider Killings' in Afghanistan

This article first appeared with Frontpage Magazine.

In the past two weeks at least nine Americans have been killed by their Afghan allies in what is known as ‘insider killings’.  Members of the Afghan army, having been trained and armed by NATO forces, are turning their weapons in increasing numbers against their foreign allies, killing at least 40 NATO troops this year so far.

These killings are demoralising, not only for the troops, but also for the folks back home.  They make people war-weary.  Mrs Marina Buckley, the mother of Lance Corporal Gregory Buckley who was killed by one of his Afghan allies just before he was due to return home, spoke for many when she said: “Our forces shouldn’t be there.  It should be over. It’s done. No more.”

These killings have been blamed on foreign spies and Taliban infiltrators, but such theories have been discounted by military investigators, who could only link one in ten killings to Taliban infiltration.

The generals seem to be mystified, for Colonel Lapan, spokesman for the US Joint Chiefs of Staff commented, “we don't know what’s causing them, and we’re looking at everything.”

They could also look at Islam, and at history.

Let us wind the clock back 120 years to Aceh, today part of Indonesia.  In 1892 the sultanate of Aceh, a staunchly Islamic region, had been under Dutch military occupation for twice as many years as the Americans have been in Afghanistan.  When the Dutch first stormed the Acehnese capital Kutaraja (now Banda Aceh) in 1871 they naively assumed that control of the rest of the countryside would quickly follow. Instead they became entangled in a conflict which lasted for decades.

A poignant legacy of the Aceh-Dutch war is a military cemetery in Banda Aceh, reputed to be the largest graveyard of Dutch troops outside Holland.

As the decades passed, the Acehnese waged a tenacious insurgency from jungle hideouts, and Dutch leaders cycled through various theories to explain their military failures.  One theory was that the passing of time would see a steady reduction in hostilities.  Time did pass, and this theory ended up in the trash.  Another theory was that a ‘concentration line’ of forts could effect a safe haven around the capital to guarantee security, but the attacks continued.

A particularly demoralising aspect of the conflict was a pattern of Acehnese allies turning against and killing Dutch soldiers.  Teuku Umar was an early leader of the Acehnese resistance who became an ally of the Dutch, as a result of which he was rewarded with weapons, money and command of hundreds of troops.  Then he turned these weapons and troops against his supposed ‘allies’, inflicting heavy casualties.  The Dutch regarded this as an odious betrayal, yet today the name of Teuku Umar is recognized as one of Indonesia's greatest heroes and boulevards all over the country are named after him.

The problem of deceipt and betrayal was also a rank-and-file problem.  There was no shortage of would-be Acehnese martyrs who, for the sake of gaining a victim, were willing to feign friendship with the Dutch, before drawing their knives against them.  The phenomenon of unpredictable killings by the Acehnese came to be known as Atjèh-moord ‘Acehnese murder'.

The failure of Dutch military policy in Aceh – and the resulting drain of Dutch blood and treasure – caused a host of political difficulties for governments back in Holland.  The war became intensely unpopular.

The turning point in the Aceh-Dutch war came in 1891-92 when Christian Snouck Hurgronje, an expert in Arabic and Islam, was sent to do field research into ‘the pernicious Aceh Question’ (het verderfelijke Atjeh-questie).

Snouck Hurgronje was the preeminent Western expert on Islam of his generation.  After completing a PhD on Islamic theology in Holland, he spent a year in Mecca in 1884-85, living as a Muslim, studying at the feet of the Sheikhs, and making a special study of Indonesian Muslims.

After his field trip to Aceh, Snouck Hurgronje published a two-volume report on the Acehnese society in 1893, which included a military analysis, and offered a blueprint for winning the insurgency.

At the heart of Snouck Hurgronje's explanation of the ‘Aceh Question’ was a theological analysis.  The Acehnese war, he explained, was jihad, a theologically motivated struggle against the Dutch as infidel-occupiers of Islamic territory.

Because it was a theological struggle, grounded in the deeply held Islamic convictions of the Acehnese people, the Aceh war could not be won by capturing a few key cities or neutralising a handful of key leaders.  Indeed, as time passed, and the early chieftain leaders were superseded, the insurgency came to be dominanted by clerics, whose influence greatly increased as a result of the jihad.  (This same pattern can be observed in Afganistan over the past decade.)

Snouck Hurgronje's thesis was rejected by many when it first saw the light of day.  In time however, it proved triumphant, and provided the basis for the successful pacification of Aceh.  It was only when the Dutch authorities aligned their military strategy with Snouck Hurgronje's insights that they began to win the war.  Military success came as a huge relief to the Dutch authorities, and meant that by 1902 Snouck Hurgronje was able to write, “Now no one any longer doubts that the dogmas of Islam on the subject of religious war, so fanatical in their terms, supplied the principal similes to the obstinate rebellion.”  (However individual acts of ‘Acehnese murder’ did continue – albeit in significantly decreasing numbers – right up until the Japanese occupation in 1942.)

The theological framework for the Acehnese jihad, which Snouck Hurgronje exposed to the understanding of Dutch leaders in 1893, happens to be exactly the same as that used by jihadi scholars such as Abdullah Azzam in the late 20th and early 21st centuries to stimulate what western elites refer to as ‘terrorism.’

It is a classical dogma of Islam that when Muslim lands are occupied by infidel forces, it is an individual religious obligation upon all Muslims to do their utmost to defend their lands against the infidels.  This belief drove the Acehnese insurgency over a century ago, and it drives the Afghan conflict today.

Snouck Hurgronje also explained that the practice of deceipt – manifested in feigned friendship leading to what we would now call ‘insider killings’ – can be derived from the dogmas of Islam and specifically from religious attitudes to infidels.

It is disappointing that after a more than a decade of war, the US Joint Chiefs of Staff are mystified by the phenomenon of ‘insider killings’. Has political correctness so neutered their capacity to wage war?  Are they so blind to the religious nature of the war they are fighting?  How can they be unfamiliar with the classical dogmas of jihad, which make it a compulsory religious duty for individual Muslims to fight against infidel occupiers of Muslim lands?

The US generals, indeed any army fighting a jihad insurgency in Muslim lands, would do well to read read Snouck Hurgronje’s report, especially volume I (see here).

The insider killings of Afghanistan today are essentially the same phenomenon as ‘Acehnese murder’ of over a century ago. The straightforward, rational explanation for Afghan soldiers turning their US-supplied weapons against their ‘allies’ can be found in the beliefs outlined by Snouck Hurgronje in the late 19th century: the dogma that Muslims have a duty to defend Muslim lands against infidel occupation; the dogma that if Muslims are killed in jihad, paradise will be their reward; and the dogma that in jihad, deceiving the infidel is no sin.

Reuters has reported that in Afghanistan:

“Field commanders have also been given discretion to increase numbers of so-called “guardian angel” sentries who oversee foreign soldiers in crowded areas such as gyms and food halls, to respond to any rogue shooting incidents.”

This is reminiscent of remarks by the Acehnese poet Anzib Lamnyong, reflecting on the assassination of a Dutchman by Lém Abah, an Acehnese man from his own village:

“Very often people attacked the Dutch like that, so that the Dutch had to keep a very close guard on Banda Aceh, night and day, all around the whole city.  But no matter how well those guards kept watch, they still kept getting attacked by our people, who would strike them down …  The Dutch were in great consternation about our brave people, who did not fear the bullet that might strike them dead in the twinkling of an eye.”

One expects that, when the last infidel troops have left Afghanistan, and Muslim sovereignty has been fully restored, the memory of the Afghan jihadis who are even now perpetrating ‘insider killings’ may come to be held in high renown, just as the name of Teuku Umar is revered in Indonesia to this day.

Mark Durie is an Anglican vicar in Melbourne, Australia, author of The Third Choice, and an Associate Fellow at the Middle Eastern Forum.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Ramadan Olympics and Islam's "Law of Necessity"

This article first appeared with the Gatestone Institute.
Because Islam's "Law of Necessity" fully permits Muslims to find creative ways to adapt when Sharia Law conflicts with practical life, the argument that societies are obliged to make concessions to privilege all the demands of strict Sharia Law is considerably weakened.
Islam Is a flexible religion: religious obligations allow exceptions, subject to circumstances. Muslim religious scholars balance countervailing obligations to determine when exceptions apply. Understanding such balancing of necessities in Islam is not only important for public policy, but also for understanding how an identical set of religious beliefs can be used to justify war or peace, terrorism or peaceful coexistence.


Fasting During a Ramadan Olympics

As the London Olympics are underway, London organizers of the Olympics, according to a report in the New York Times, are supporting the needs of Muslims athletes, "with more than 150 Muslim clerics on hand to assist athletes, as well as fast-breaking packs including dates and other traditional foods."
As it is also the month of Ramadan, during which Muslims are obligated not to eat or drink, even their own saliva, from sunrise to sunset, spare a thought for the more than 3,500 Muslim competitors, who, if they strictly observed Ramadan, would be abstaining from food and drink from the first prayer of the day (Fajr) at 2.44 am through to the dusk prayer (Maghrib) at 8.53 pm (as at July 29, 2012, see
Optimum sporting performance cannot be expected from athletes who go without food or drink for over 18 hours -- a circumstance which would not be fair to them.
Many Muslim Olympians now in London will therefore not be fasting. Some may rely on religious rulings (fatwas) which exempt sportspeople from the Ramadan fast, such as a ruling issued in 2010 by the German Central Council of Muslims, that Muslim professional footballers, because they depend upon football for their living, need not fast during Ramadan.
The United Emirates, using a different approach stated that players may omit the fast as long as they do not stay in one place for more than four days. This is based upon a standard exemption for travelers during Ramadan (Sahih Bukhari, 3:31:167). Another exemption, following advice from imams in Morocco, is being used by English Olympic rower Moe Sbihi, who announced that he will donate 60 meals to poor people in Morocco for each missed fast day. Many Olympic athletes are postponing their fasts until their sporting commitments are completed. However, the Moroccan football team are fasting and trusting that Allah will help them to victory. All Muslims agree that fasting is obligatory during Ramadan; they differ in the exceptions they make.


"Necessity": Balancing What Is Forbidden with What Is Permitted

There is a powerful principle in Islamic jurisprudence, the "Law of Necessity," that permits what is forbidden -- the end justifying the means. If a goal is obligatory, then the means can also be obligatory, even if otherwise they might be forbidden.
In Islam the universe of possible human deeds is divided into what is obligatory, permitted neutral, disliked, or forbidden. Then there is the need to balance the pros and cons of every act. This is a world of choice which can embrace a necessary evil, or take a pass on a good deed for the sake of a greater good.
Some "Law of Necessity" exceptions go back to Muhammad; they are hard-wired into Islamic law. A case in point is the exemption for travelers during Ramadan, which some athletes rely on. Another exemption for travelers, which also comes straight from Muhammad, allows Muslims to catch up on prayer times later than the correct hour.
Life raises many complex challenges, and the balancing of obligations and prohibitions may require more subtle reasoning, dependent on context. The renowned medieval Muslim scholar al-Ghazali explained how the principle of balancing necessities can be used to make lying permitted or even compulsory, according to the circumstances:
"Speaking is a means to achieve objectives. If a praiseworthy aim is attainable through both telling the truth and lying, it is unlawful to accomplish it through lying because there is no need for it. When it is possible to achieve such an aim by lying but not by telling the truth, it is permissible to lie if attaining the goal is permissible … and obligatory to lie if the goal is obligatory . …" (The Reliance of the Traveller, p.745-46, paragraph r8.2)
Yusuf al-Qaradawy has written extensively about the jurisprudence of "balancing necessities." He explains that interests and pros and cons of any deed must be balanced, one against each other and weighed carefully.
Al-Qaradawy's focus was politics, not sport. He cited an example of the support given by the Islamist political leader Maulana Maududi to Fatima Jinnah in the 1965 presidential elections in Pakistan. Previously Maududi had declared that it was not permissible in Islam for a woman to govern (based on the teachings of Muhammad). He came, however, to regard Jinnah as the lesser of two evils, so he commanded his followers to vote for the female candidate, and against General Ayub Khan.
Understanding such balancing of necessities in Islam is important for public policy -- to grasp how an identical set of religious beliefs can be used to justify war or peace, terrorism or peaceful coexistence -- or any other decision, based solely on the circumstances at the time.


Balancing Necessities and Public Policy

Consider the issue of the timing of the Olympics: Was Juan Cole correct to suggest that the Olympic Games should be rescheduled so they did not fall in Ramadan?
The fact that the "Law of Necessity" allows Muslims to get around restrictions suggests that although it might certainly have been thoughtful or considerate, it would not in any way necessary to reschedule the Olympics for the sake of Muslim religious sensitivities.
The possibility of balancing necessities needs to be taken into account when organizations and governments are faced with demands that they make concessions for the sake of complying with Islamic Sharia Law. Because the Islamic "Law of Necessity" fully permits Muslims to find creative ways to adapt when Sharia law conflicts with practical life, the argument that societies are obliged to make concessions to privilege all the strict demands of Sharia Law is considerably weakened.
Non-Muslims in particular need to take balancing necessities into account. Consider Sheikh Ahmed al-Mahlawi of Egypt who accepts that it is not a sin for Muslim religious scholars to see women in the streets with unveiled faces: the need for Muslim scholars to get around in public places outweighs the prohibition against men seeing women's unveiled faces. He boasted, all the same, that he had compelled a US consular official to wear the hijab [headscarf] when she met with him. If the U.S. official had been better informed, she might have asked that Sheikh al-Mahlawi take a more moderate, balanced approach. She might have refused to submit to the hijab, pointing out that the Sheikh copes very well with looking at the unveiled faces of women whenever he goes into the street.


Balancing Necessity and Terrorism

Al-Qaradawi concluded that although it is wrong in general for Muslims to participate in non-Islamic governments or to make alliances with non-Muslim nations, compromises may be made when such lesser evils are 'balanced' against the greater good of the Muslim cause.
He also made the observation that many of the conflicts between different factions working for the success of Islam exist because of different interpretations about how to "balance" the different necessities and interests in Islam. Of course, Muslims who agree on their fundamental principles of faith can have very different views on how to balance these beliefs in any given situation.
Jihadi martyrs make use of theological balancing necessities when they justify their methods for killing enemies. In Islam, for example, it is forbidden to kill oneself, but suicide, if it can be justified in the cause of Allah or furthering Islam, is not only permissible but heroic. Jihadi clerics are more than willing to write fatwas which ensure that a would-be martyr goes to his death with a clear conscience. In Islam, it is forbidden to kill women and children, but "collateral damage" is acceptable if a greater end is in sight. It is also forbidden in Islam to lie, but it is recommended that a pious jihadi use deception if necessary to achieve, say, a "martyrdom operation." The Al-Qaeda manual, for instance, appeals to the principle that "necessity permits the forbidden" to justify criminal acts; and the Indonesian jihad cleric Abu Bakar Bashir argued that jihadis were entitled to hack foreigner's bank accounts to obtain funds (see The Crime-Terror Nexus, New York State Office of Homeland Security). (For a bizarre example of the extremes to which jihad fatwas can go, see this report by Raymond Ibrahim.)
The ramifications can be momentous for Muslims and non-Muslims alike: consider the difference in opinion between the Saudi leaders and Usama Bin Ladin concerning the presence of American soldiers in the Kingdom after the invasion of Kuwait. Bin Ladin opposed this infidel 'occupation'. In his 1996 fatwa declaring war on America he counted the presence of US soldiers as "one of the worst catastrophes to befall the Muslims" since the death of Muhammad.
Saudia Arabia's Grand Mufti and supreme religious authority Sheikh Ibn Baz, however, allowed American troops into Saudi Arabia, although in another fatwa he had stated that Christian servants could not be employed in Arabia:
"It is not allowed to have a non-Muslim maid. It is not allowed to have a non-Muslim male or a non-Muslim female servant, or a worker who is a non-Muslim for anyone living in the Arabian peninsula. This is because the Prophet Muhammad ordered the Jews and Christians to be expelled from that land. He ordered that only Muslims should be left there. He decreed upon his death that all polytheists must be expelled from this Peninsula. (Islamic Fatawa Regarding Women, p. 36 compiled by Abdul Malik Mujahid).
Both Usama Bin Ladin and the Saudi authorities agreed on the principle that infidels could not be permitted to live in Saudi Arabia. What they disagreed on was how to balance this against other requirements, such as the need to safeguard the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This difference was enough to trigger Bin Ladin's war on America.
What distinguishes a jihadi terrorist from a more peaceful Muslim, therefore, may not be any fundamental difference in belief, but merely in a given instance, how the religious legal principles of his faith should be applied.
Mark Durie is an Anglican vicar in Melbourne, Australia, and an Associate Fellow at the Middle Eastern Forum.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Islamic Tradition of Breaking the Cross

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Female Circumcision in the Maldives, the Islamic Movement and Islamophobia

I was struck today by a comment from a Maldives women's rights activist about the direction her nation is taking.  In a report published the Melbourne Age, which discussed female circumcision and the local practice of flogging female adulterers, Shadiya Ibrahim remarked:
"Being a woman is harder now. The religious Wahhabist scholars preach more forcefully than anyone else can. They have this backing of religion as a tool."
"No one can make the argument to have a more liberal, a more positive attitude towards women. Day by day, it is becoming harder for women to live in this country."
When Shaidya Ibrahim says that 'no one can make the argument' for a more positive attitude towards women I take it that she means is that no one can mount a persuasive argument on behalf of women on religious grounds. This is because the Islamic canon — the Qur'an and the Sunna (the example and teaching of Muhammad) — are heavily stacked against women.  Consequently, Islam itself does not provide persuasive doctrinal support for a more 'positive attitude', wishful thinking notwithstanding.

This is why pious religious leaders in the Maldives are winning the argument for reducing women's rights: in a society which Islam trumps all other considerations — it is illegal for a citizen of the Maldives not to be a Muslim — no-one is able to counter their arguments. The increasing limitations on women's rights has 'the backing of religion', as Shadiya Ibrahim puts it.

What does this mean in practice?  Consider the example of female circumcision.  The Shafa'i school of Islam, which is followed in the Maldives, is the only one of the four Sunni schools which makes circumcizing females a compulsory religious obligation.  Other Sunni schools of sharia regard female circumcision as recommended or preferred (sunnat).  Ironically, if only the Maldives followed Hanbali jurisprudence (the school mainly followed by Wahhabis), they might practice female circumcision less.  (In Saudi Arabia it is the minority Shafa'i areas where female circumcision is most prevalent.)

The reference in the article to 'Wahhabist' influence does not refer to strict adherence to Wahhabi teachings, but to a newly empowered and very self-confident revivalist approach to Islam, often backed by Saudi finance — which insists on the application of pure religious teachings, especially the authority of Muhammad's example, giving it priority over all other considerations, including medical evidence.  As this argument becomes more compelling, on religious grounds, it empowers the traditional teachings of Shafa'i Islamic jurisprudence, including the obligation of female circumcision.  Thus the women of the Maldives are called to bear the marks of Islamic revivalism on their very bodies. 

The world is in the midst of global Islamic revival.  This is actually a "reformation" in the sense that many of the world's Muslims are returning to Islam's roots.  According to many Islamic activists, it is a matter of Muslim pride that global Islam is on a reform path to become more authentic, returning to its origins in Muhammad's life and teaching.  This movement has been building momentum for over a century and it is far from exhausted.

Muslim women are among those (along with non-Muslims and Muslim dissenters) who bear the brunt of Islam's progress in the modern era.  For example, see here for a recent discussion by a Muslim writer, Veli Sirin, of how the Islamic Movement is impacting women's rights in Turkey.

Mary Robinson, in an infamous speech given to the UN Human Rights Commission way back March 15 2002, stated:
"No one can deny, from a historical perspective, the revolutionary force that is Islam, which bestowed rights upon women and children long before similar recognition was afforded in other civilizations. … And no one can deny the acceptance of the universality of human rights by Islamic States."
If Robinson's thesis were correct, states which make it illegal for their citizens not to be a Muslim (such as the Maldive or Saudi Arabia) and which officially give priority to Islam above all other values ought to be world leaders in protecting the rights of women (and one might add, the rights of girls).  Sadly, the opposite is the case.

The UN official media reported Robinson's speech as "UN’s top human rights official urges action to combat ‘Islamaphobia’".  This is a prime example of how anti-Islamophobia rhetoric can be used — albeit at times unwittingly — to gloss over and provide a cover of denial for human rights abuses.

Robinson argued that "Islamic communities need to become more active in countering ignorance through offering positive information on Islam and Islamic beliefs," yet of course this is exactly the recipe being followed in the Maldives, where Muslim leaders are teaching 'forcefully' with the 'backing of religion' as they counter 'ignorance' by providing what they consider to be 'positive information' about Islam, such 'positive information' including the great value of circumcising girls and stoning adulterers.

The proven principle, lamented by moderate Muslims all over the globe, which should by now be clear to all, is that the more Islamic a state, the worse the plight of its female citizens becomes.  This is because of, not in spite of Muslim leaders 'countering ignorance through offering positive information on Islam', as Robinson put it.  It is a grotesque, Orwellian distortion to call naming such truth 'Islamophobia', and the first — but not the last — victims of this lie are Muslims.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Outlawry in Egypt: the disturbing case of Sayyid Al-Qemany, friend of freedom

Things are not going well for lovers of freedom in Egypt.

Egypt is under a moral and spiritual siege.   Freedom of speech is deteriorating rapidly, because of rather than in spite of the 'Arab Spring'.  A recent incident illustrates the critical state of affairs for free-thinking Egyptians.

Sayyid Al-Qemany is a well-known 64 year old prize-winning intellectual and writer on religious and political topics who  has emphasised the importance of critical thinking, and opposed Islamic radicalism.  He has argued for the separation of religion and state and demanded the repeal of article 2 of the Egyptian Constitution, which stipulates that the Islamic sharia is the main source of the nation's legislation. 

Al-Qemany identifies as a Muslim, but believes the Islamic faith should apply to the domain of personal belief and sacred ritual, not politics.  He has also pointed out that not all the verses of the Qur'an are applicable today – such as laws permitting slavery and concubinage –  and some are not even followed in any Islamic jurisdiction in the modern world.

In many ways Al-Qemany is representative of the kind of Islam which Western political leaders hope will characterize the faith of their growing Muslim minorities in their states.

For Western people, Al-Qemany's views would be regarded as 'normal' and rational.  However in Egypt he is bitterly opposed by conservative Islamic leaders, thousands of whom have declared him to be a blasphemer.

Even the Dar Al-Ifta, the office of the Egyptian Grand Mufti, Ali Gomaa, issued a fatwa implying that Al-Qemany was a heretic and apostate from Islam.  This was after he had been awarded a prize by the Egyptian state for achievement in the social sciences (the selection was made by a free ballot of Egyptian intellectuals).  The Dar Al-Ifta fatwa states:
The statements [from Al-Qimni's writings] quoted by the [individual] who requested the fatwa are heretical, regardless of who wrote them; they remove their author from the fold of Islam… and [also] constitute a crime according to Article 98 of [Egypt's] penal code. If these depraved, loathsome, and invalid statements were indeed made by a specific individual, then this individual should be convicted rather than awarded a prize, and punished to the full extent of the law.
This fatwa was subtly written to allow Al-Qemany a way out by disavowing his writings, hence the wording: 'if ... these statements were indeed made by a specific individual'.  The purpose of this fatwa is to intimidate Al-Qemany into retracting his views, for the charges made against him attract the death penalty under Islamic law.  One of the principles of dealing with apostates in Islam is that they should be given a chance to repent.

It is not hard to understand why Islamic leaders oppose Al-Qemany, for he has been fearless in challenging them on many counts.

For example he exposed examples of Muslim leaders who have lied to Western media about Islam.   Among other examples, Al-Qemany reported that:
  • When questioned by broadcaster Barbara Waters, the Saudi Foreign Minister expressed surprise and even denied the existence of a well-known tradition of Muhammad about trees which will cry out in the last days saying, "There is a Jew hiding behind me, kill him."
  • The Revd Jerry Falwell referred to Muhammad's marriage to Aisha when she was 9 and he was 52.  Although this is a well-known fact of Islamic history, Hussein Ibish, spokesperson for the Armerican-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee 'vehemently denied' Falwell's statements and claimed he had slandered Islam.  Al-Qemany pointed out that Falwell's report was accurate, that marrying girls as young as 9 is accepted in Sunni Islam as a result, and even Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi is reported to have taken a new wife more than 60 years younger than himself, younger even than his youngest granddaughter.
  • The high-profile American Muslim Nihad Awad, executive director of CAIR (The Council on American-Islamic Relations) and signatory of the Common Word letter, boasted that he had successfully lobbied a publisher to remove from a school textbook a(n accurate) reference to Muhammad's "marriage" to the Jew Safiyya after killing her male relatives including her husband, on the grounds that the reference was Islamophobic.  Al-Qemany commented that this historical erasure made a 'mockery' of America's democracy:  "The Americans, out of respect for Muslims and their religion … ordered that the story be expunged from the [school] book, and even accused its authors of ethnic extremism."
Al-Qemany pointed out that such mendacious strategies, far from defending the honour of Muhammad and Islam, in fact manifest contempt for Islam and embarrassment about Muhammad because they attempt to deny and conceal matters which are well-known and not disputed in the religion.  Such 'protection' through lies implies a fundamental lack of confidence in Islam.

The question today is how much longer thinkers like Al-Qemany will be able to exist in Egypt, given the rise of expectations that strict sharia must regulate public discourse.  Al-Qemany is a key voice for the anti-sharia opposition: he has spoken out against a culture in which 'one group is in possession of the absolute truth, and is obligated to correct the others, or, if it can't correct them, to destroy them...'.

On January 2, 2012 a debate was filmed between Al-Qemany and popular Al-Azhar sheikh and celebrity television presenter Kaled al-Gindy (see here).  Al-Qemany had agreed to the debate on the grounds that it was to be a dialogue with Al-Gindy to discuss their differences in a respectful manner.  However the interview, in which the 'moderator' was Fadel Soliman, turned into a kind of trial, in which videos of Al-Qemany's past statements were repeatedly aired, and it was demanded that he respond to them.  This was in essence a trial designed to prove that Al-Qemany is a murtad or apostate from Islam.  Al-Gindy kept using very derogatory, contemptuous language towards Al-Qemany, which would be very inappropriate to use towards a respected fellow Muslim.

Al-Qemany felt ambushed by this approach.  It was not what he had agreed to.  Initially, for the sake of the viewers, he did respond, but eventually, in protest, he broke off the interview. 

Al-Qemany later reported that as he was leaving the studio, the moderator, Fadel Soliman, struck him from behind on the back and the back of his head with a mug full of water,  and threatened his life.  Al-Qemany is reported to be undergoing treatment for head and back injuries in a Cairo hospital.  (An interview with Al-Qemany - in Arabic - is posted here, in which he speaks of his shock at what is happening in Egypt.)

What should make this incident especially attention-grabbing for Western readers is that Fadel Soliman, the alleged assailant, has been a well known interfaith speaker in the West who claims to promotes harmony through peaceful dialogue.  A member of Al-Qaradawi's International Union of Muslim Scholars, Soliman heads up Bridges Foundation, which claims to bridge the gap between Muslims and non-Muslims: "Bridges Foundation aims to bridge peoples from different religious and ethnic backgrounds through educational interfaith activities, like power point presentations, gatherings, discussions etc…"  Its website reports that Soliman offers workshops on how to present Islam to non-Muslims and 'refute misconceptions' about Islam. Soliman has given presentations on Islam to more than 65,000 people in the USA, including in churches, universities, and to government departments, such (see here; and also here for testimonials, including from a US lieutenant colonel, a member of congress and a Christian pastor).

One of the 'misconceptions' Soliman addresses in his workshops is that Islam is a violent religion (see here). He 'strongly believes that educating each other about our differences is the best way to bridge peoples and facilitate the peacemaking process, because people do not fight when they communicate with each other' (see here).

The idea that violence can always be prevented by communication may appeal to some.  Of course talking can sometimes help prevent violence, but it is no silver bullet against it. And many people do not regard using violence and communicating to be mutually exclusive activities!

To appreciate the implications of the verbal attacks on Al-Qemany, it is essential to grasp the religious context.  There are precedents in Islamic law when Muhammad exonerated people who took the law into their own hands to kill his critics, including one incident in which a man killed his own wife for disparaging Muhammad.  (A discussion of whether such vigilantism is lawful in Islam, which cites the text of this and some other relevant traditions, can be found here).

Although some authorities insist that only the caliph has the authority to execute apostates, the point is that for an ordinary Muslim to do so is not considered murder.  Thus, according to the Shafi'i sharia manual, The Reliance of the Traveller, killing an apostate without lawful authority at worst attracts a minor disciplinary action, for 'arrogating the caliph's perogative and encroaching upon his rights' (p.596 of the Keller translation).  More than this, some scholars judge killing an apostate to be a righteous act, especially when the state is unwilling to apply the sharia's rulings.  Consider for example the remarkable outpourings of support for convicted assassin of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer, including a scene in which hundreds of Pakistani lawyers showered the killer with rose petals.

Al-Qemany understands all this.  He himself has remarked that the allegation of his defection from Islam 'means, in our country, that I could be slain; any citizen is allowed to kill me and be awarded by God in Paradise'.

Of course the concept of outlawry — of declaring an open season on a human person — is rejected by modern legal thinking, for reasons which do not need to be explained here.  It may have been good enough in the era of the Vikings and Robin Hood, but it won't wash in Europe today (although the Third Reich did made heavy use of the concept).  The thing is that conservative Islam has not made this adjustment.  (To which statement an optimist might add the word 'yet'.)

The Islamic version of outlawry means that an accusation of heresy made by a respected Muslim authority leaders can be tantamount to a threat against a person's life by proxy.  For example, the fatwa issued by the Egyptian Dar Al-Ifta against Al-Qemany gives a justification for anyone who takes Al-Qemany's life to claim immunity from prosecution before an Islamic court.   These are lethal words.

In a Western country, if someone says about another in a debate 'you should be taken out and shot,' it would be considered rhetorical or at best a joke.  But if an Islamic leader declares in a debate that his opponents' views are heretical or he is a blasphemer, this is in effect signing a warrant for the person's execution, as well as issuing a get-out-of-jail-free card for whoever performs the deed.

It is very difficult for those who are outside a sharia-oriented Islamic context to understand the intensity of the fear generated by such tactics. Let no-one be so unrealistic as to imagine that the Egyptian state would prosecute those who incite the killing of others through allegations of apostasy.   Dr Ali Gomaa, the official Chief Mufti of Egypt could never be charged for the deadly fatwa issued from his office against Al-Qemany.  And how could the state prosecute anyone else for saying the same thing as the Chief Mufti?  There is no likelihood that Al-Qemany's assailant will be prosecuted, for Al-Qemany already bears the mark of the outlaw, inscribed upon his life by his zealous Muslim fellow citizens.

Of course the fact that the sharia encourages and licenses incitement to murder under certain circumstances, extolling it as righteousness, makes an absolute mockery of the international campaign to prohibit 'Islamophobia', and fools of Western leaders who would partner with Muslims in this misguided project. 

When will the West heed the wise counsel of Al-Qemany, and many others, to develop a healthy skepticism towards those who claim to speak for Islam, but conceal and deny its clearly established principles?  When will they comprehend how ridiculous – and tragic – their gullibility is?

When will Western political leaders – some of whom pride themselves in being 'progressive' thinkers –  stand up for the freedom and right to life of clear-thinking Muslim progressives in our increasingly sharia-compliant world?

Today some Western leaders profess high hopes that Islam can reform itself.  The White House has even promoted the idea that the Muslim Brotherhood, a radical and thoroughly Islamic institution, will become more moderate as it enters the political mainstream.  But how can reform take place if the West does nothing to support progressive Muslim thinkers?

See here for Al-Qemany's 2009 'Appeal to the Conscience of the Word', in which he calls out to "the conscience of all humanity in the free world to come to my and my children's rescue by providing moral support and the condemnation and denunciation" of incitement against him and his family.  He writes "This is a distress call to all bodies and individuals; a call to the consciences of every free individual in the world."

Are our consciences so seared by false ideas and failed, politically correct notions that we cannot heed this call?  Shall we be silent while brave voices like Al-Qemany's are snuffed out one by one?

If this is so, what right do we have to claim our own freedom, or the freedom of our children's children?