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On the night of 11th July 2010, most of Kampala’s popular hangouts and nightspots were crowded with people eager watch the final match in the first World Cup tournament to be held on African soil.
At about 10.30pm, there was a massive explosion at Ethiopian Village Restaurant, a place mainly frequented by expatriates, and about 30 minutes later 2 bombs exploded at Kyadondo Rugby Club where hundreds of football (soccer) fans had also gathered to watch the final between Spain and Holland.
Scores were killed, with the total death toll from these attacks reported at 74 dead.
Ugandan government officials immediately suspected that fundamentalist Islamist group al-Shabaab were the perpetrators, given the open threats that the group had issued to Uganda for their role in AMISOM peace keeping mission in Somalia. Al-Shabaab eventually claimed responsibility for the attacks:
“We will carry out attacks against our enemy wherever they are.” Sheikh Ali Mohamed Rage, an al-Shabaab spokesman in Mogadishu told the Associated Press news agency, claiming responsibility for the explosions.” No one will deter us from performing our Islamic duty.
Al Shabaab is just one out of dozens of fundamentalist Islamist groups in existence that justifies acts of violence against civilians in the name of their religion. Naturally, many moderate Muslims are unhappy with the fact that terrorist organisations such as al Shabaab, al Qaeda and others, commit acts of violence in the name of their religion.
Many moderate Muslims are also embarrassed by the extremist antics often displayed by their more radical counterparts in the public sphere:
Many apologists for Islam have thus had a difficult time trying to convince the rest of the world that Islam is indeed the religion of peace its adherents claim it is.
So why is it that some Muslims read the Qur’an and conclude that it justifies violent acts if done within the context of ‘holy war’, and there are other Muslims who are convinced that the Qur’an does not justify the killing of civilians under whatever context?
Moderate Muslims will argue that the fundamentalist extremist radicals have ‘misinterpreted’ or ‘misunderstood’ the Qur’an, or that the moral guidelines prescribed in the Hadith were specific to its time and are not to be applied in this day and age. They will go as far as state that those who would engage in acts of terrorism are in fact NOT true Muslims.
The fundamentalist extremists (radicals and conservatives) instead say it is the moderates who have misinterpreted and misunderstood the Qur’an and are the ones who are not true Muslims.
So , who is right? Who, among these, is being the true Muslim?
Let’s try to find out.
Applied to religious belief the term fundamentalism has a number of definitions, which for the most part are closely related:
The interpretation of every word in the sacred texts as literal truth.
Fundamentalism refers to a belief in a strict adherence to a set of basic principles (often religious in nature), sometimes as a reaction to perceived doctrinal compromises with modern social and political life.
Religious fundamentalism is an ideology or philosophy that gives the religion absolute precedence over any other norm. It is usually accompanied by a literal, monolithic interpretation of sacred texts.
A belief in the infallibility, and literal interpretation, of a particular religion’s doctrine or holy books. When applied in Abrahamic sects, it can lead to extreme prejudice and violence due to the nature of the Bible.
Religious orientation grounded in an attempt to return to fundamental or core beliefs and practices in a tradition; often associated with rigid, literal, and narrow interpretations based on readings of primary scriptures.
Literal interpretation and strict adherence to a set of basic principles (usually religious; many can take these beliefs to an extreme and even violent level.
(From: Google define:fundamentalism)
The reason religious fundamentalism is dangerous is that once an edict in a religious document has been labelled “the will of God” or “God’s command”, in the mind of the believer that edict is immutable, unchallengeable, and unquestionable.
The fundamentalist believer acting on that edict cannot be persuaded through reason or logic to reconsider his actions or prejudices because to do so would, in his mind, constitute heresy and/or disobedience to the supreme ‘God’.
The potential problems that can arise with fundamentalism become immediately apparent once one reads the contents of the Qur’an that seem to justify violence, such as:
Qur’an (2:191-193) – "And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution [of Muslims] is worse than slaughter [of non-believers]…and fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for Allah."
Qur’an (2:244) – "Then fight in the cause of Allah, and know that Allah heareth and knoweth all things."
Qur’an (3:151) – "Soon shall We cast terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers, for that they joined companions with Allah, for which He had sent no authority"
Qur’an (4:74) – "Let those fight in the way of Allah who sell the life of this world for the other. Whoso fighteth in the way of Allah, be he slain or be he victorious, on him We shall bestow a vast reward."
Qur’an (4:76) – "Those who believe fight in the cause of Allah…"
Qur’an (4:89) – "They but wish that ye should reject Faith, as they do, and thus be on the same footing (as they): But take not friends from their ranks until they flee in the way of Allah (From what is forbidden). But if they turn renegades, seize them and slay them wherever ye find them; and (in any case) take no friends or helpers from their ranks."
Qur’an (4:95) – "Not equal are those believers who sit (at home) and receive no hurt, and those who strive and fight in the cause of Allah with their goods and their persons. Allah hath granted a grade higher to those who strive and fight with their goods and persons than to those who sit (at home). Unto all (in Faith) Hath Allah promised good: But those who strive and fight Hath He distinguished above those who sit (at home) by a special reward.”
Qur’an (8:12) – "I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them"
And from the Hadith:
Bukhari (52:177) – Allah’s Apostle said, "The Hour will not be established until you fight with the Jews, and the stone behind which a Jew will be hiding will say. "O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, so kill him."
Bukhari (52:220) – Allah’s Apostle said… ‘I have been made victorious with terror’
Muslim (1:33) – the Messenger of Allah said: I have been commanded to fight against people till they testify that there is no god but Allah, that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah
Bukhari (8:387) – Allah’s Apostle said, "I have been ordered to fight the people till they say: ‘None has the right to be worshipped but Allah
If a believer were to adopt a fundamentalist attitude towards the above verses from the Qur’an and the Hadith, there is little doubt as to whether or not he or she will resort to actions that might be described as acts of terrorism by those who are subjected to it. Such acts would be seen by this person as his or her duty.
“We are confident, with the permission of God, praise and glory be upon him, that Muslims will be victorious in the Arabian Peninsula and that God’s religion, praise and glory be to him, will prevail in this peninsula. It is a great pride and a big hope that the revelation unto Mohammed, peace be upon him, will be resorted to for ruling. When we used to follow Mohammed’s revelation, peace be upon him, we were in great happiness and in great dignity, to God belongs the credit and praise.”
Osama bin Laden from The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11
Usually, moderate Muslims, in an attempt to distance themselves from the terrorist elements, will accuse the radicals and terrorists of ‘misunderstanding’ Islam. Non-Muslims, on the other hand, are often accused of misrepresenting Islam, or of being Islamophobic.
Frequently verses such as the following are presented by moderates as evidence that Islam does not condone any form of violence:
"Take not life, which Allah hath made sacred, except by way of justice and law: thus does He command you, that ye may learn wisdom." (al-An’am 6:151)
"Nor take life – which Allah has made sacred – except for just cause. And if anyone is slain wrongfully, We have given his heir authority (to demand Qisas or to forgive): but let him not exceed bounds in the matter of taking life; for he is helped (by the law)" (al-Isra’ 17:33)
On the face of it, it would seem that these verses advocate fairness and justice. However, once they are scrutinized critically, the problem becomes apparent. The problem is that these verses raise the question of what criteria is used to establish just cause, or what is meant by ‘justice and law’. If we were to assume that Muslims considered secular civil law as being above all other laws, in principle, there wouldn’t be much of a problem. The problem is, for most Muslims, Sharia Law is..
a reflection of God’s will for humankind. Sharia must therefore be, in its purest sense, perfect and unchanging.
According to Muslims, Sharia law is founded on the words of Allah as revealed in the Qur’an, and traditions gathered from the life of the Prophet Muhammad. So if the Sharia Law provides the criteria for ‘just cause’, and the Hadith contains verses such as..
Muslim (1:33) – the Messenger of Allah said: I have been commanded to fight against people till they testify that there is no god but Allah, that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah
..it is difficult to see how it could be argued by the moderate Muslim that the fundamentalist believer, who engaged in what might be construed by others as violent acts in the name of his religion, was acting contrary to Islamic teachings. In fact, it would appear that such a believer was acting consistently with what is prescribed in his/her scriptures.
While moderation in religion may seem a reasonable position to stake out, in light of all that we have (and have not) learned about the universe, it offers no bulwark against religious extremism and religious violence. From the perspective of those seeking to live by the letter of the texts, the religious moderate is nothing more than a failed fundamentalist. He is, in all likelihood, going to wind up in hell with the rest of the unbelievers. The problem that religious moderation poses for all of us is that it does not permit anything very critical to be said about religious literalism. We cannot say that fundamentalists are crazy, because they are merely practicing their freedom of belief; we cannot even say that they are mistaken in religious terms, because their knowledge of scripture is generally unrivalled.
The texts themselves are unequivocal: they are perfect in all their parts. By their light, religious moderation appears to be nothing more than an unwillingness to fully submit to God’s law. By failing to live by the letter of the texts, while tolerating the irrationality of those who do, religious moderates betray faith and reason equally. Unless the core dogmas of faith are called into question — i.e., that we know there is a God, and that we know what he wants from us—religious moderation will do nothing to lead us out of the wilderness.
Some reform-minded Muslims have recognised this problem and have tried to take steps to address the issue head on, by calling on the moderates to be more proactive in engaging with the radicals and conservatives. One such Muslim is Irshad Manji, the Ugandan born Canadian author, journalist and advocate of reform and progressive interpretation of Islam. Writing in The Australian, she said:
Moderate Muslims denounce violence in the name of Islam but deny that Islam has anything to do with it. By their denial, moderates abandon the ground of theological interpretation to those with malignant intentions, effectively telling would-be terrorists that they can get away with abuses of power because mainstream Muslims won’t challenge the fanatics with bold, competing interpretations. To do so would be admit that religion is a factor. Moderate Muslims can’t go there.
Reform-minded Muslims say it’s time to admit that Islam’s scripture and history are being exploited. They argue for reinterpretation precisely to put the would-be terrorists on notice that their monopoly is over.
Reinterpreting doesn’t mean rewriting. It means rethinking words and practices that already exist, removing them from a 7th-century tribal time warp and introducing them to a 21st-century pluralistic context. Un-Islamic? God, no. The Koran contains three times as many verses calling on Muslims to think, analyse and reflect than passages that dictate what’s absolutely right or wrong. In that sense, reform-minded Muslims are as authentic as moderates and quite possibly more constructive.
Good luck to the reform-minded Muslims such as Irshad Manji. However, as long as religious fundamentalism persists, her struggle is going to be a long, and difficult one.
Making things worse is the problem highlighted earlier, in which it is technically impossible to demonstrate that the actions of those who would resort to violence or terrorism are acting in a manner inconsistent with the teachings in their scriptures. In fact, for all their good intentions, what is clear is that it is the moderates and reformists whose (re)interpretation of the Qur’anic scriptures is inconsistent.
As with the Christian Bible, once one can arbitrarily pick and choose what verses to accept literally, and which ones to interpret metaphorically (or put in context, as Christians love to say), then anything goes, and no interpretation can be considered authoritative.
For many of us who are non-religious today, this was one of the factors that led to our abandoning religion.
In this post, we’ve only scratched the surface of what promises to be an interesting debate on Thursday, 29th July 2010 at 4 Points, Centenary Park, at 6.00pm.
The topic is “Religious Fundamentalism & Terrorism”.
If you are an open minded person whose opinions are formed on the basis of science, logic, and reason and are interested in meeting like-minded individuals – you are WELCOME to join us at the meeting.
See you there.
In my previous post, Pondering The ‘Afterlife’ (Part 3 – ‘Hell’ and Various Christian Interpretations Of It), I discussed various Christian schools of thought with regard to ‘Hell’ and what they think happens to the damned after they die.
Today I discuss the concept of ‘Hell’ in Islam.
How is ‘Hell’ understood in Islam? According to Wikipedia:
Muslims believe in jahannam (which is related to the Hebrew word gehinnom and resembles the versions of Hell in Christianity). In the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam, there are literal descriptions of the condemned in a fiery Hell, as contrasted to the garden-like Paradise (jannah) enjoyed by righteous believers.
In addition, Heaven and Hell are split into many different levels depending on the actions perpetrated in life, where punishment is given depending on the level of evil done in life, and good is separated into other levels depending on how well one followed God while alive. The gate of Hell is guarded by Maalik who is the leader of the angels assigned as the guards of hell also known as Zabaaniyah. The Quran states that the fuel of Hellfire is rocks/stones (idols) and human beings.
According to islamicinformation.net:
Islam teaches that Hell is a real place prepared by God for those who do not believe in Him, rebel against His laws, and reject His messengers. Hell is an actual place, not a mere state of mind or a spiritual entity. The horrors, pain, anguish, and punishment are all real, but different in nature than their earthly counterparts. Hell is the ultimate humiliation and loss, and nothing is worse than it.
Here are a few Qur’anic passages that describe ‘Hell’:
“Soon I will cast him into Hell Fire. And what will explain to you what is Hellfire? Nothing does it allow to endure, and nothing does it leave alone! Darkening and changing the color of man! Over it are nineteen (angels as keepers of Hell).” (Qur’an 74:26-30)
“Surely, the disbelievers will be in the torment of Hell to abide therein forever. (The torment) will not be lightened for them, and they will be plunged into destruction with deep regrets, sorrows and in despair therein. We wronged them not, but they were the wrongdoers. And they will cry: ‘O Malik! Let your Lord make an end of us’ He will say: ‘Surely, you shall abide forever.’ Indeed We have brought the truth to you, but most of you have a hatred for the truth” (Qur’an 43:74-78)
“Take him, and fetter him, and then roast him in Hell, then in a chain of seventy cubits’ length insert him!” (Qur’an 69:30-32)
“..then fear the Fire, whose fuel is men and stones, prepared for the disbelievers.” (Qur’an 2:24)
“For the damned garments of fire shall be cut, and there shall be poured over their heads boiling water, whereby whatsoever is in their bellies and their skins shall be melted; for them await hooked iron rods; as often as they desire in their anguish to come forth from it, they shall be restored into it, and: ‘Taste the chastisement of the burning!’” (Qur’an 22:19-22)
According to Islam, who will be sent to ‘Hell’?
If you believe in only part of the Scripture, you will suffer in this life and go to Hell in the next. (Qur’an 2:85)
Jews are the greediest of all humankind. They’d like to live 1000 years. But they are going to Hell. (Qur’an 2:96)
Those who fail in their duty to Allah are proud and sinful. They will all go to Hell. (Qur’an 2:206)
Those who disbelieve shall be overcome and gathered unto Hell. (Qur’an 3:12)
Those who brag about doing good will go to Hell. (Qur’an 3:188)
Disbelievers will go to Hell. (Qur’an 3:196)
Don’t steal from orphans (or Allah will burn you forever in Hell). (Qur’an 4:10)
Believers who kill believers will face the awful doom of Hell. (Qur’an 4:93)
Those who oppose the messenger and become unbelievers will go to Hell. (Qur’an 4:115)
Allah will gather hypocrites and disbelievers into Hell. (Qur’an 4:140)
Disbelievers are the rightful owners of Hell. (Qur’an 5:10)
Christians will be burned in the Fire. (Qur’an 5:72)
A comprehensive list of ‘sins’ that get you sent to ‘Hell’, according to Islam, can be found here.
It is believed, in Islam, that Muslim sinners that have been sent to ‘Hell’ (i.e. adherents of Islam who unfortunately didn’t ‘make the grade’, as it were) will be pardoned by ‘God’ at some point, and allowed entry into ‘Paradise’. This somewhat resembles the Catholic concept of purgatory.
The description of ‘Hell’ as described in the Qur’an is indeed horrific, much worse than any description of it that can be found in the Christian bible. It is interesting to ponder whether Christians lose sleep over the prospect of spending an eternity in this ‘Hell’ as described in the Qur’an.
Of course, as an atheist, I don’t believe in an afterlife; nor do I believe there is a ‘Heaven’, let alone a ‘Hell’. The prospect of going to a ‘Hell’ is therefore not something I worry about because I have no reason to believe such a place exists in the first place.
Other posts in this series:
Maybe you’re baffled at the title of this post. To you it perhaps seems obvious that Islam does not tolerate freedom of expression given what you’ve seen in the news over the last 20 years or so.
You’re probably only too familiar with the fatwa that was declared against Salman Rushdie after he published the book The Satanic Verses. The gruesome killing of the Theo Van Gogh, director of the controversial movie Submission, by a Moroccan immigrant is probably still fresh in your memory. It’s also hard to forget the riots that followed the publication of cartoons in a Danish magazine depicting the Prophet Muhammad – and most recently the death threats that were issued against the creators of South Park after they announced plans to feature the Prophet in one of their episodes..
Anyone observing these events would not be blamed for concluding that Islam is very intolerant towards dissenting views, and does not allow people to freely express themselves – especially when it comes to criticisms of it.
Not so, says Irshad Manji, who sees herself as, in her own words, a “faithful Muslim who’s trying to educate her fellow Muslims that Islam can be reconciled with free expression.” She is the director of the Moral Courage Project at New York University which aims to develop leaders who will challenge political correctness, intellectual conformity and self-censorship.
In her most recent blog post, she outlines 3 reasons why she believes Islam IS compatible with freedom of speech. She said:
The Prophet Muhammad warned Muslims not to put him on a pedestal. That’s because he’s not the one to be revered; God alone is to be worshiped. Welcome to the hypocrisy of those who claim to be protecting the Prophet while violating one of his core teachings.
The Qur’an expressly affirms that “there is no compulsion in religion” (2:256). Which means nobody should be forced to follow Islamic traditions, even if they’re “mocking” the religion.
The Qur’an advises Muslims to deal with hurt feelings by getting up and walking away (4:140). That’s it. Don’t retaliate. Just “do not sit with them.” Change the channel. Click the mouse. Move on. Once the dust has settled, come back to discuss the issues with those who’ve offended you.
Well, well.. it would be nice if her words were taken seriously by the Muslim community at large, wouldn’t it?
One small problem. She’s a lesbian… and as we all know, Muslim clerics generally don’t take too kindly to gays and lesbians.
What are the chances they’ll give a damn about what she has to say?
Slim, to say the least.
Regardless, her efforts are to be commended, and greatly so. Even when the odds seem insurmountable, change is possible, and it always begins with a few brave people taking the first step. Christianity wasn’t all that different in the past in terms of how it dealt with ‘heathens’, dissenters, and heretics – and it can be said that today Christians (in the West anyway) are a far more tolerant bunch than they were just a few centuries ago.
With increased, education and enlightenment, maybe one day we shall see a world where Muslims and fellow Muslims – and Muslims and non-Muslims – can engage in frank dialogue without either side being ‘offended’ by what the other says. For freedom of speech to exist, there needs to first of all be people who are open and tolerant of others, even when their views might be ‘offensive’ to them. We should all work towards making this kind of world a reality.
Irshad Manji was born in Uganda, by the way! Check out her blog.
In Somalia it is now unlikely that you’ll hear pop music playing on the radio, thanks to Hizbul-Islam (a militant Islamist group) who ordered more than a dozen stations to stop playing music, beginning April 13th. The BBC reports:
Most radio stations in Somalia have stopped playing music, on the orders of Islamist Hizbul-Islam insurgents who say that songs are un-Islamic.
The stations said they had to comply with the ban as if they did not, they would be putting their lives at risk.
The poor radio presenters aren’t even allowed to play jingles! Some are using gunfire, car horns and animal cries to act as a bridge between programs.
"We are using other sounds such as gunfire, the noise of the vehicles and birds to link up our programmes and news," said Abdulahi Yasin Jama, Tusmo radio’s head of the programmes.
As if this isn’t bad enough, yesterday it was reported that the Somali government was threatening to close radio stations that were complying with the orders from the Islamist insurgents. The staff at these radio stations are now confused, not knowing who to obey – the government, or the Islamist insurgents.
Radio workers said they felt trapped between violent insurgents who are known to stone people to death and an ineffectual government that controls only a few blocks of the capital city and cannot protect them.
Somalia is basically run by a wide assortment of militant fundamentalist Islamic factions that control various areas of the country (the government doesn’t really have much control). Many of them have made life difficult for Somalis in different ways. Some militant groups have recently banned bras and musical ringtones. Another group last week banned school bells in one southern town, saying they sound too much like Christian church bells.
But hey, cheer up – Somalia does have its share of freethinkers. Be sure to check out the blog Somali Atheism. Then of course, there is the ever awesome Ayaan Hirsi Ali (she currently resides in the United States). This lady was born to be interesting, I swear:
I will soon begin a series on Somalia – in which I will try to present an overview of the history of that country, and chronicle the rise of Islamic fundamentalism.
…if you are a Muslim living in the UK, and are doing so as a ritual form of protest:
Muslims who launch a shoe at another person may not be committing a crime because the practice is Islamic symbolism, guidance from the Metropolitan Police says.
The rules are likely to be contrasted to police action taken against a Christian couple in Liverpool who were arrested and prosecuted because they verbally criticised Islam in a debate about religion.
At the weekend it emerged that a Muslim man charged with violent disorder for throwing a shoe at a protest had his case dismissed.
The court accepted that shoe-throwing was “simply a ritual form of protest”, according to the Muslim man’s lawyer.
Maybe that other famous Iraqi reporter should have waited for George W. Bush to visit the UK before pulling his famous stunt:
Muslims believe shoes, and in particular the soles of shoes, are ritually ‘unclean’, and hurling a shoe at someone is considered the worst insult imaginable. Now a court in the UK has set a dangerous precedent by making this act legally permissible.
Normally when we hear that an Islamic cleric has issued a fatwa against somebody we think that someone’s death has been ordered because that person purportedly said, wrote or did something some Muslims may have found ‘offensive’.
Of course those of us who value human rights – especially freedom of speech – have often been put off by such pronouncements which, in this day and age, strike us as draconian, cruel and outdated.
Given the rise in the number of Islamic terrorist cells around the world, and increased incidences of terrorist acts, their arguments have tended to ring hollow to many. Their apologetics seemed like mere lip service – for how could one successfully argue that Islam was a religion of peace given the horrific acts of violence that have been committed in its name over the last 10 years alone?
But there is now an interesting new development that could help convince skeptics. A fatwa has finally been issued that might signify greater sincerity by Muslim clerics in their denouncement of terrorism. A fatwa… against terrorists.
The UKPA reports:
The leader of a worldwide Muslim movement with thousands of followers in the UK is to issue a fatwa – or Islamic religious ruling – in London condemning terrorism and warning suicide bombers that they are "destined for hell".
Pakistan-born Dr Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri, founder of the global Minhaj-ul-Quran movement, will make the formal UK proclamation of a fatwa, or religious edict, condemning terrorism and suicide bombing at a news conference.
The 600-page fatwa announces that "suicide bombings and attacks against civilian targets are not only condemned by Islam, but render the perpetrators totally out of the fold of Islam, in other words, to be unbelievers".
Shahid Mursaleen, spokesman for Minhaj-ul-Quran UK, said: "He has hit hard on the terrorists as it prevents Islamists from considering suicide bombers as ‘martyrs’. This fatwa injects doubt into the minds of potential suicide bombers.
"Extremist groups based in Britain recruit youth by brainwashing them that they will ‘with certainty’ be rewarded in the next life and Dr Qadri’s fatwa has removed this key intellectual factor from their minds."
The fatwa has been billed as "arguably the most comprehensive" theological refutation of Islamic terrorism to date by counter extremism think tank the Quilliam foundation.
We should all hope that this fatwa against terrorists will make a difference. Of course, it would be naive for anyone to expect an overnight change of heart among those that would otherwise consider acts of terrorism or suicide bombing against civilians in the name of Islam. It would also be naive to expect that this fatwa will go unchallenged or not be dismissed outright by more conservative Islamic clerics.
But it is a good start. After all, where reason fails, one of the best ways of getting people to stop doing something is by telling them that their deity forbids it.