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Thursday, March 02, 2006

A Breath of Fresh Air

Moved on! Check TheCairoCalls

When I first began writing this blog, I didn't intend to delve into religious topics. Part of the reason is that, the way I was educated, mixing religion into other topics (political, social, etc...) was just a way for dominating the conversation, and ridiculing any other points of view; as no mortal point of view can possibly surpass "God's". Actually, I still believe in that, because I can still see people arguing vehemently in support of doubtful ideologies, and shady politics, and attributing all of this to divine messages, and nonnegotiable facts.
But, unfortunately, you don't get to choose your battles.
So, amid all the confusion that I can see all around the world about Islam, I felt, as a Muslim, that I had to throw in my 2 cents.
It just happened that at the same time I have been following the writings and TV interviews of Egypt's Mofti (religious judge, sort of) Ali Gomaa, and to tell you the truth, he provided hope for me amid all the depression that is all around.
You see, religion will continue to play dominant role for people in this part of the world; this is just the way it is. It has nothing to do with Islam in particular. Mid-eastern Christians, for example, are on average more religious than other Christians. The same goes for Jews. And it goes all the way back to the times of the pharaohs. For better or worse, religion is crucial to the self identity of people around here, and the most we can hope for is that there is strong religious leadership which is aware of what's happening around it and is able to evolve and integrate with the times and the state of the world.
This is where Al-Azhar comes in, and where people like Ali Gomaa come in. Read through this interview he gave Al-Ahram Weekly 5 years ago, before he was appointed as Mufti (really read it, take your time, and stop juggling between windows!), and you'll see signs of somebody who is really in sync with the world, and who sees progress as the natural development of religion, unlike the stuck-in-time mentality of Ossama and Co.
Of course, he is strong on cultural specificity, which I respect, and kind of agree with, as the topic of globalization and how the world should integrate together is still a topic of debate for a lot of "western" thinkers as well. But even though, take notice of how he sees those cultural differences should be ironed out.
People like Ali Gomaa, and similar moderate Muslims are very important smearing targets for fundamentalist groups. Those groups have realized long ago that those enlightened scholars are the main obstacle between them and dominating the public mind. To overcome this, they relentlessly try to debase them through different means. The most common for somebody like Ali Gomaa, or the Grand Sheikh of Azhar, is pointing out that they're government-appointed, and are therefore as credible as their employer. Which I think is stupid, because even an entity intent on taking all the wrong decisions, will, without doubt, take at least one right one if even out of error. In this case I think this would be Ali Gomaa. But don't take my word for it, read the interview. A Must Read!!

Moved on!

25 Comments:

That was a great article, thanks for that! We seriously need more of that type nowadays..

By Blogger The Sphinx, at March 03, 2006 9:04 AM  

I was just watching Ali Gomaa on the new channel El Resala. He was on a program called Yatasa2aloon. He was impressive.

By Blogger BP, at March 03, 2006 4:13 PM  

Sadly, Tomanbay, I had the opposite feeling when I read the article. Literally over the last week I have changed my opinion. My belief had been that a "Reformed Islam" was a very desirable theoretical possibility that was almost certainly a political impossibility -- that those who spoke in favor of it, like the many Egyptian and Middle Eastern bloggers, would, if the ever got within a mile of real power, be stopped by the hard-liners and crazies.

My belief now is that a "Reform Islam" isn't even a theoretical possibility because so much would have to be changed that there would be almost nothing left. And you, inadvertently, have been a prime reason for my change, not because of what you have said, but because you were the first to post the 'manifesto,' -- I Googled and read about each of the signers -- and because you posted an article like this.

I'll write a brief (for me) comment on the problems I see in Ali Gomaa's thinking, and, later today, write a ridiculously long detailed critique as an e-mail, send it to you, and post it on my web site. Hopefully, in either place, you and your readers will dispute it and convince me I am wrong.

Briefly, he misunderstands the west, misstates history, demonstrates what I refer to as 'Muslim paranoia,' and, most importantly, demonstrates his -- and, arguably, most Muslims -- inability to grasp the concept of 'self-criticism.'

The 'Western Axis' (which he sees, absurdly, as currently being a Washington-Moscow axis) was 'fighting the Muslim Axis' because Muslims attacked Europe, and because they took over what were the 'Holy sites' of Christianity. There was no attempt to fight Islam 'at the tie of the Prophet,' rather there was an attempt to fight off the Muslim attacks on Europe, that continued until the 18th Century.
He may be right about Spain 'kidnapping' Muslim children, but the institution of the Janizarries was a Muslim invention, which he ignores. He criticizes the Spanish Inquisition, rightly, but spreads the myth that Islam never conquered by the sword, attempted to force conversions, or that it, even today, does not penalize the unbeliever -- ask a Copt, ask a Pakistani Christian, ask a Christian in Saudi Arabia.

He predicts that the west will never have a black or America a woman political leader, yet few doubt that Colin Powell would have won the Presidency, most people think Hilary Clinton is a major contender -- I hope not since she would be too vulnerable on other things, not on her femaleness -- and even a liberal Democrat such as myself has little doubt that Condolezza Rice could and would be elected if she ran.

He claims that "Something basic is crying out here, saying: these people are good, and these people are evil." He also claims that the problems with Islam today come from the fact that
"Muslims today are confused, he insists, because they are brought up according to contradicting doctrines and philosophies. When Muslims were raised according to the truths of Islam, they were civilised people, they were productive. "Now Muslims are lost between two worlds and confused, not knowing what to belong to. There is no consistency between their faith and the governing systems and regimes they live under: educationally, legally, socially, and even politically. The public order Muslims live within is all taken from non-Muslim sources. There is a contradiction here. We need to restore a Muslim public order. "

Yet it was when Islam was an open society, not contstrained by too strict adherence to the Qur'an -- before the society was closed in the 12th Century -- that it was civilizied. Since then it has stagnated, and has been NEITHER civilized nor productive, until the influence of the West brought changes in the last century.

But the main problem in Islam changing is the question of self-criticism. Yes, there was plenty of evil in the West, and there still is. Yes there was slavery (and many of the slaves were bought from Muslim traders) and racism, and the Inquisition, and Communism (if you put Moscow in the Axis) and other horrors. But in the West people were free to criticize these things, and work for them to get changed, and to fight, verbally and even militarily to stop them, because the West accepts self-criticism.

But Muslims rarely seriously criticize other Muslims, without then excusing them. Criticism is seen as hurting the unity of Islam. Christians and Jews can even criticize their holy books without ceasing to be Christians and Jews. They are free to say "This is Wrong" to a President, a King, a Pope, or the mass of their co-religionists. This is not true in Islam.

Read, carefully, the paragraph before the one I just quoted. Two lines:
"After you teach [a young Muslim] nonsense -- that there is nothing beyond this world, nothing except conflict, and that man is by nature violent..." But this is not the mindset of the Muslims who attack the West, attack Christians, attack other Muslims.

And finally
"he approaches the books haphazardly and finds that God says 'faqtulu al-mushrikin haythu wagadtumuhum (slay the idolaters wherever ye find them)' (Al-Tawba 9:5) But who is the mushrik, the polytheist? He really doesn't know. Anybody could be a mushrik and so he shoots just anybody."

What is he saying here but that the command to 'kill the idolaters' is RIGHT, the problem is that the young Muslim just gets it wrong when it comes to identifying the idolaters? Is there any single statement that demonstrates the likelihood of a true clash of civilizations than this.

Sorry for the length, but this really is the short version. I'll send you a more detailed critique either later today or tomorrow.

Please, show me where I am wrong. I don't LIKE thinking the way I find myself doing.

By Blogger Prup (aka Jim Benton), at March 03, 2006 5:57 PM  

Thanks for your thoughtful remarks. Really. I think this kind of level-headed argument is the only road, literlay, to spare us the horrors of the "clash of civilizations"
Listen, I would be lying if I say that I didn't raise an eyebrow on a couple of things which you yourself found issues with. But, I'll have to admit that the past couple of weeks had really made me lower my expecations a bit. Meaning; I always thought that there would always be a way for all people to exist together in an environment of understanding, and tolerance. Now, the most I'm hoping for, at least at this point of time, is for everybody to just take a step back and think about what they're saying (like we're doing now) and find a way around our differences.
As I said before, religion is very important for people in this part of the world. And as I said also there will always be differences between the world views of "east" and "west". People like Ali Gomaa, whom we both can find issues with what they're saying, provide a better alternative to the divisive rhetorics of other Muslim hardliners. I am a pargmatic person, and I think that supporting those people would in effect help take some grounds from the hardliners who are effectively dominating both sides of the discussion. I also learnt to look past historical debates which inveitably manage to sneak into any similar discussions.
I predicted some sort of a similar response. But I was pleasently surprised at the objectivity of your argument. I hope that you find the fact that I posted both the manifesto, and this article about Ali Gomaa in two successive posts, a sign that some Muslims are really capable of self-criticism and tolerating opposing points of view. And, I guess that this blog (and many others) provide numerous examples of self-criticism.

I'm waiting for your detailed response (my e-mail is tomanbay.blog@gmail.com). An I would like to take your permission to post our exchange as a seperate post, as I see this as a very constructive start!
Take Care

By Blogger Tomanbay, at March 03, 2006 7:57 PM  

Please post the exchange as a separate post, and I will get that long criticism in the mail over the next few days.

Certainly there are people like you, like SandMonkey and BP, like any number of people from the Pakistani group I was on for months who do give signs of hope.
You are sensitive, humane people who have used Islam as an excuse for bringing out the best in yourselves -- as I would argue others have used it as an excuse for bringing out the worst.

As for self-criticism, that's a close call. In general I would agree, but self-criticism in the sense I use it involves a looking at foundations as well. (Have you read any of the work on the ISIS (Institute for the Secularization of Islamic Society) site
http://www.secularislam.org/Default.htm
which seems to be jointly run by Ibn Warriq and Irfan Khawaja -- though they may just be fans of Ibn Warriq and run articles in his favor)

In most cases I would agree that Ali Gomaa gives a practical alternative to the hardlines, but the comments about 'the young Muslim just being confused as to who the polytheists are' is truly repugnant, and other comments about 'the door worshiping God' are just silly.

Anyway, I'll get the long letter out, and you might stop by at my web site and see what i had already put up -- hopefully I will have a post on how my views have altered later today.

I WANT to be shown wrong. I want to believe that there is not a serious and dangerous clash that the people like you will be helpless to avoid. I consider myself a tolerant atheist who has no problem with what people believe unless it impinges on my lack of belief. Were Muslims not in power in secular, predominantly Muslim societies, were they, in the West, willing, while living their lives, willing to accept our values -- INCLUDING the value that allows someone to leave a religion without fear -- I'd have no more problem with Muslims than i do with Christian Scientists or Mormons.

But 'those guys got guns!" and bombs, and, in much of the world, state power -- and the 'secular governments' always try to 'bribe the Muslims' by kowtowing to them because their main opposition is the hard-line religious element.

More later, in the letter, on my site, and as we continue the discussion here.

By Blogger Prup (aka Jim Benton), at March 03, 2006 8:48 PM  

Prup,
I totally disagree with you about almost everything you've listed, which I think is more about lack of knowledge of the history of islam and a typical projection of medieval european practices than out of any kind of ill intentions (I hope), I'm really buisy today, but I'll dispute some of your points, first of all your idea about lack of self criticism, just because you haven't heard about it doesn't mean it doesn't exist, through the entire islamic history moslem, christian and jewish scholars living in moslem countries have always criticized and raised questions about the religion, for example the ninth century arab scholar and physician Abu Bakr Al Razy wrote down a critique of the Koran acknowledging the extreme beauty of it's poetry but at the same time claiming that it doesn't prove its divinity and went as far as claiming that he could come up with better verses, also the great jewish scholar Ibn Maymun (known in the west as Maymonides) wrote relentlessly about the superiority of judaism compared to islam and christianity debating moslem scholars and the sultan of egypt himself, and in the twentieth century, Taha Hussein broke all the taboos regarding the koran and wrote a comparative study between the Koran and preislamic literature highlighting the similarities between both, yet were those people persecuted or punished for their ideas? No,they were highly respected during their life time and are still held in high regard until now. Now, just imagine if one of them wrote what he wrote about christianity while living in medieval europe. One thing I have to agree with you on howeever, is that currently and for the past thirty years moslems have become highly deficient when it comes to self criticism, I agree, we need more of it.
Also your claim about islam's spread by the sword and forced conversions, first of all, let me tell you that one of the rules the Koran was absolutely adamant about and reinterated and emphasized over and over again was the unequivocal prohibition of compulsion in religion, that's theoretical wise, history wise, when the moslems after the death of the prophet conquered neighboring byzantine and persian empires, they usually had a period in which a moratorium on any kind of conversions to islam was imposed even if it's out of free conviction, that's why it took a country like Egypt almost five hundred years to become a moslem majority, also doesn't it really strike you that the moslems stayed in Spain for seven hundred years with the christians as the majority throughout the entire period, if they were being coerced into conversion, which what exactly took place after roles were reversed and the moslems and jews were either given the choice of conversion or leaving or being killed, that's why I thought of your medieval projection. And by the way, not a single moslem soldier stepped foot in the largest moslem country now, Indonesia, can you explain where does the sword and the forced conversion fit here?
One other point that you didn't mention but I have to bring it up, why is it that whenever a moslem country has a free election they almost always elect a woman? (from Benazeer Bhuto in super religious and nutty pakistan, to Megawaty in indonesia to Khalda Diaa in Bangladesh to Tansu Chiller in Turkey), is that a coincidence or what.
You've also mentioned the moslem paranoia of the west, can you deny that the west have similar and even higher paranoia of islam?
Also can you please reference your sources regarding your statement about the slaves being bought from moslem traders, and when I say reference I don't mean a movie or a comic book :).
Got many other points, but got to go now. Later.

By Anonymous Mohamed, at March 03, 2006 9:46 PM  

I second a lot of mohammed points. You see Prup, the problem that we're really having with Islam, is that there is alot of confusion between Islam and Muslims. I'm serious now...Islam is effictively hijacked nowadays by some people who really don't get it all. So as mohamed said, while you see a lot of intolerance from some Muslims nowadays, that doesn't mean that Islam is intolerant, it just says that there are Muslims today who don't get what Islam is about, and are only worshipping the "text". That's why I found Ali Gomaa's point about the two books appealing. Extremists don't even know about the second book "life"...they make no effort to reconcile with that.
Also, sound bite culture doesn't work with major religious or philosophical paradigms. For example you're taking issue with Ali Gomaa mentioning the "Killing the infidels" verse in the quran. You may find that repugnant, and it is if taken out of context. But when you think about it in historical context, you'd find that this was a time when those polytheists were actually fighting muslims, so it makes sense to fight back. You might say that a rule in Quran should be generic and applicable to all times, and I agree. And actually the more general, less quoted rule, which is also mentioned in quran is that "God doesn't dissuade you from doing God to those who didn't evict you out of your houses, and land"...so the rule is really general and simple...if somebody didn't kick you out, you have to be good with...its as simple as that, and frankly any rational being would agree that this would be the normal inclination of most rational, and level-headed persons.

By Blogger Tomanbay, at March 04, 2006 3:31 AM  

I will comment at my usual excessive length to both you and Mohammed tomorrow, since personal matters and an early doctor's appointment -- and an attempt to discuss something on my own blog that is not connected with Islam -- limit my time this evening.

But I have to comment on your discussion of the 'kill the polytheists' quote. If the Qur'an is what it appears to be to a non-believer, a collection of sermons delivered by a religious leader who was both commander and (to use an anachronism) 'chaplain' of an army in wartime, then your discussion makes sense.

BUT this is not what most Muslims consider the Qur'an to be. They consider it the final, unchangeable revelation dictated by Allah, through Gabriel, to Mohammed. This was, by this theory, meant not just for Mohammed's hearers, but for all Muslims for all time. (For all men of all time if you accept the idea of the eventual universal triumph of Islam.)

Allah has, once and for all, compressed his message for mankind into 114 Surahs -- and we will ignore the abrogations, contradictions and repetitions. That's not a lot of space for Allah's complete message to mankind. How can you argue he took part of it to speak to a specific situation? And if you DO make that argument, how can you tell which verses are meant for 'then' and which are meant for 'all time'?

I point out that this is NOT what the mufti is saying. He DOESN'T say that the confused young muslin discovers the passage and 'not realizing it was for then' shoots just anybody. He implies the command is STILL valid, and that, because the young Muslim is confused
"who is the mushrik, the polytheist? He really doesn't know. Anybody could be a mushrik and so he shoots just anybody."
The clear implication of this is that if the Muslim KNEW who was a 'mushrik' and shot HIM, he would be justified.

More tomorrow.

By Blogger Prup (aka Jim Benton), at March 04, 2006 6:22 AM  

Actually I think that the mufti meant exactly what I said. He is effectively saying that those young people are so ignorant that they fail to see the real reason of the revelation of this specific verse, which is to fight the 'mushrikin' of Mecca at that very specific time.
And yes, Quran has some verses that are specific to certain situations, and the key to know which is specific and which is general is the study of the reasons of revleation of each verse (which is a really established science in respectable instiutions like Al-Azhar). That's why radicals base most of their interpretation of Islam on specific subset of Quran which, most scholars would agree, was intent on adressing certain situations, and was later amended, by God also, to provide a more general rule.
Wine is, as you probably know, prohibited in Islam. But it wasn't actually prohibited right away. In fact there is a verse that tell Muslims to not go to prayers drunk, only. Of course that was later generalized (modesty, and giving people chance to adapt is a tenant of Islamic law), but some people to our very day still in believe in the first verse only.
The reason why I am confident in the interpreation I gave you of Ali Gomaa's comment, is that I read for him, and listen to a lot of his interviews. He recently said that a Muslim is not porhibited from selling alchohal in non-muslim countries (a comment which is reason enough to kill him for a lot of radicals), becaue integrating into society and living peacfuly is of more paramount importance. He also commented saying that it is ok to celebrate Valentine day in muslim countries, because the whole world is celebrating it, and it is the duty of Muslims to participate in the world (again something that can get him killed in Saudi Arabia for example).
So, as you can see, the man is all for integration and understanding of the other. Also bear in mind that the article was more or less a profile of the man, i.e it wasn't intent on knowing his stand on the specific issue, so dont expect a complete answer from him.
Again, thanks for the civilized discussion

By Blogger Tomanbay, at March 04, 2006 4:17 PM  

Tomanbay,
I greatly appreciate the discussion you have started as I think it is avery important one. i also believe that any reform of Islam needs to come from muslim communities themselves, but I also think there is a great difference between Islamic reform in the parts of the world where muslims are the majority and those where they are a minority. Muslims in the west need to find a way to relate to societies that are "secular", bearing in mind that secular doesn't mean atheist. The way I see it there are two main strategies, one being a form of (more or less)self imposed isolation, with as little contact with the majority as possible. The problem with such a strategy is that this will make a muslim minority vulnerable as they will most probably be seen as an alien "other" by the majority community and even possibly as a threat. The other strategy is one of assimilation, but this could lead to a watering out of the faith and a loss of identity so to follow this strategy I think there needs to be a reform of Islam based on a "western" perspective. So a cleric who to such a strong degree oposes wetern influence in the east (as I read it), wont be of much help to the latter strategy. I do, however, agree with you that it is possible be inspired by someone without agreeing with everything they say. Many western philosophers who contributed to our idea of a liberal society and the universal human rights, had opinions that would be completely unacceptable today!
Prup and Mohamed,
For info on slavery, check out Wikipeedia under "slavery".
K from Oslo

By Anonymous Anonymous, at March 04, 2006 10:10 PM  

K:
Thanks for your input. You made a couple of points I was about to, particularly about the comments referring to the West as 'evil.' As for the discussion of 'slavery,' I was going to refer Mohammed to the section specifically on the slave TRADE. Slavery is, of course, enshrined in the Qur'an in many places (The first one that comes to mind is the rule that 'if you kill a believer by mistake' the punishment is to free a believing slave. Then there are many rules that ASSUME that Muslims own slaves.)

I have to yield to Tomanbay's statement that he has read many other statements by the mufti. Perhaps there is more tlerance and understanding than he showed in the interview, which was my only experience with his thought. (I still cannot accept that your reading of the 'mushrik' statement is anything more than wishful thinking, unless the translation is VERY poor. And this is so often a problem I have seen in discussions with Muslims, so strong a desire to see something that they convince themselves it is there. As I stated on my web site, I consider this a general failing of a certain type of religious mindset, and think it is a good explanation for the Iraq war -- that Bush so needed to believe in the WMD and the AlQaeda links that he just ignored the evidence against them. "I know the TRUTH, don't confuse me with facts.")

By Blogger Prup (aka Jim Benton), at March 05, 2006 2:34 AM  

I don't know - I regularly watch Ali Gomaa on TV and sometimes read his fatawi (for example the one he did against women leading prayer) and find him not nearly as awe-inspiring as you seem to. However there is an Azhari shaikh I really do like/respect and usually find him convincing when I listen to him and that is Ahmed Omar Hashim (I think the first name is Ahmed, and am sure about the last two names). He wrote a very impressive fatwa about smoking that is on the World Health Org site, and when he is on the TV shows I find what he says to be convincing and not just circular reasoning (like so many other muftis I hear).

By Blogger Anna in Portland (was Cairo), at March 05, 2006 11:22 AM  

Yes, that's his name. He is a very educated person; he is the president of the Azhar university.
Again, I'm not crazy about anybody, I just find the fact that there are lots of educated, tolerant (to different degrees) muslim scholars, as an indication that there is hope for discussion and improvement. The fact that their voice aren't as loud as we would like them to be, and that they're systematically riducled by radicals, give an indication that there is a real battle to be fought among Muslims between forces of intolerance, and those of moderation.

By Blogger Tomanbay, at March 05, 2006 11:58 AM  

I'm beginning to get that impression too. Unfortunately western media hasn't been very good at reporting about the alternative voices in the muslim world, so you and your fellow bloggers are doing a very important job. Keep up the good work!
K from Oslo

By Anonymous Anonymous, at March 05, 2006 7:42 PM  

The trouble I have with your argument is that -- while I have no doubt that someone like the men you mention ARE moderates, in Egyptian terms, a preacher -- of whatever religion -- who preached similarly in the West, even in America, would be viewed as an extreme radical on the level of a Pat Robertson. And yet, even you admit that voices like these are the exceptions who get ridiculed by the majority, not the voice of the majority.

If people who had opinions such as these WERE the majority, were people who had political power, there wouldn't be such problems, but they are not. The political 'center' is considerably to their right in religious matters, and that center is under far more attack from THEIR right, the true extremists, than it is from the people who represent the points you rightly praise. Meanwhile, people like you -- who I would be overjoyed to see come into power -- aren't even a fringe political movement.

Finally, I am still waiting to see a Muslim government, of whatever stripe, with enough power AGAINST the religious radicals to seriously crack down, ARREST and TRY, the people who riot and create political disturbances.

By Blogger Prup (aka Jim Benton), at March 06, 2006 1:03 AM  

Prup aka: Um, no, they are not "exceptions who are ridiculed by the majority." They are the establishment in Egypt. He is talking about the second highest ranking person in the Egyptian religious heirarchy (the highest is the Shaikh of Al Azhar). The guy I referred to would be up there as well in the top 5.

It is true that establishment religious leaders are so normal and banal that they are not often considered "news' the way that radical freaks are.

Also, I don't understand why you think Ali Gomaa, although I personally think he is too consrvative for my taste, is anything like the race-baiting nasty jerk Robertson. As for the guy I mentioned, I doubt you have ever read anything by him or have anything on which to base an opinion of whether he is extreme or not. I do, and he is not.

By Blogger Anna in Portland (was Cairo), at March 06, 2006 12:59 PM  

Anna:
First let me agree with you that I should not, at the time, included Ahmed Omar Hashim in my comments, since I had not read anything by or about him. (I am Googling him as I write. The first reference to him is not promising, but I will read more.)

My point about Abu Gomaa and Pat Robertson was not to compare the two men's ideas -- though there are more similarities than you might think -- and Robertson is not a race-baiter precisely. My point was to state that a Western religious leader who expressed several of the views that Abu Gomaa did in his article would not be considered a moderate but as much a fringe figure as Robertson is - I could have mentioned others, his name jumped to my mind.

I stand by my opinion, and give just a few quotes that demonstrate it.

(All are from the article Tomanbay posted. Later today I will google Abu Gomaa as well and make further comments on both people.)

"A Muslim deals with reality, he deals with this door you see here, realising it too worships God;"

"I mean the West, the Moscow- Washington axis, has been fighting the Tangier- Jakarta axis ever since the Prophet was sent and is still doing so today. We, on this axis of Tangier- Jakarta/Ghana-Fergana, now referred to as the South, mind our own business; but the other axis, the North, has been fighting us across ages."

"Not one black [political leader] has risen, nor will one; no woman has ruled America, nor will one. "

"Something basic is crying out here, saying: these people are good, and these people are evil." (The reference to evil refers to the West. Were it to be turned around by a prominent American preacher, the headlines and editorials condemning him would fill a book.)

"You see, a non-Muslim reads only one reading, in God's visible book only, the universe. He does not see a God behind this universe, and when a God is recognised He is seen as detached from this world and man does what he wants" Even liberal Christians and Jews would find this insulting.

"There is no consistency between their faith and the governing systems and regimes they live under: educationally, legally, socially, and even politically. The public order Muslims live within is all taken from non-Muslim sources. There is a contradiction here. We need to restore a Muslim public order."

And the comments he made about 'mushriks,' that I have commented on before.

Certainly he says some things that I agree with, but if THIS is a moderate, establishment figure, my worries continue, and this in a somewhat more progressive Muslim country than most.

By Blogger Prup (aka Jim Benton), at March 06, 2006 4:33 PM  

I won't be able to complete my search right now for Ahmed Omar Hashim's comments -- I will do it later. The first three mentions I find for him (ignoring a mention of a party he attended) were his attacking a book and claiming it should be burned, his anti-smoking crusade (I am a smoker, but understand those against it, but not from a religfious point of view) and his statement
"Israel is the fortress of terrorism since it was set up, Hashim added in National Democratic Party (NDP) youth meeting in Fayoum."

So far, he is not looking all that moderate to me. But I will look further on both him and Abu Gomaa.

By Blogger Prup (aka Jim Benton), at March 06, 2006 4:43 PM  

I looked at the first 150 entries under Ahmed Omar Hashim and about 100 for Ahmad Omar Hashim, and found nothing but the above. (A major reason for this is the commonness of the names, so a large number of lists of Muslims had the three names listed. A larger reason was the facy that "Ahmed Omar" and "Hashim" -- or variants -- were names involved in the kidnapping/murder of Daniel Pearl.)

Rather than plow through the long list of cites to find the right AOH, I'll simply ask me if you have any references to his talks or writings -- in English, please. I am, sadly, incurably monolingual.

I'll do a search for Abu Gomaa later and report on that. There shouldn't be as much confusion.

By Blogger Prup (aka Jim Benton), at March 06, 2006 11:39 PM  

Oops, meant "Ali Gomaa." Sorry.

By Blogger Prup (aka Jim Benton), at March 06, 2006 11:47 PM  

There's much more about him, and it is fascinating. He speaks the 'language of moderation and modernism' yet he usually comes down on the conservative side of most questions.

Not, by the way, on a woman leading prayers. He ducked that question, leaving it up to the sheik of each country to decide -- I think other discussions had him saying that it was up to the individual congregation. And if a man were more knowledgeable that the woman, she could not lead, but I was under the impression that the leader of prayers was, theoretically, the most knowledgable. Ironically, Anna, the person who did declare that, under no circumstances could a woman lead prayers was Ahmed Omar Hashim.

I'll keep looking, because there was a report that Gomaa had called the Danes "stupid, ignorant and fascist." It was discussed on SandMonkey's blog -- in the comments, not by him, and the report cited was in Danish. This was fairly recent, so I should be able to turn up a translation.

By Blogger Prup (aka Jim Benton), at March 07, 2006 2:10 AM  

Great article about Chomsky Anna, it's really sad that very few people in Egypt know that people like Chomsky even exist, most probably it's because the views and the policies advocated by the Samuel Huntingtons and the Fukoyamas are the ones being implemented right now.
May I suggest you write about Edward Said and Robert Fisk next?
PS: I couldn't post a comment on your blog unless I'm a blogger, is there anyway to change that?

By Anonymous Mohamed, at March 07, 2006 7:38 PM  

To Mohamed, I don't know. I am not very clever at HTML and use Blogger because it is easy for end-user types like me. Maybe someone else here could give you advice?

To Jim Benton, yes I don't agree with every fatwa and I dont' like the overall methodology used in traditional Sunni fiqh as it is so tradition heavy that there is very little possibility within it for bold changes like women leading prayer and I personally was very underwhelmed by the fatwa you refer to. On the other hand, it was meticulously researched by the mufti. If you want to read a fatwa by Ahmad Omar Hashim that impressed me, there is a very good one at the WHO's section about the dangers of smoking. He says smoking should be considered "haraam" (forbidden) and has a very good andl ogical set of arguments to back it up.

How fiqh is developed over time is a subject that requires a lifetime of study and I don't expect any critic of fiqh to know as much about it as a really qualified mufti. However doing some background reading in how the overall process works is probably a good idea.

Omid Safi, an American academic, has published a collection of articles in a book "Progressive Muslims" which includes a very interesting article about the fiqh of marriage and divorce by American scholar Kecia Ali, which will give you a good idea of how fiqh works in that particular arena. I actually highly recommend the entire book.

By Blogger Anna in Portland (was Cairo), at March 08, 2006 9:14 AM  

Thanks Anna, and again, great blog.

By Anonymous Mohamed, at March 08, 2006 8:15 PM  

Hey how long have you been running blogging. I know several other readers that enjoy reading this. If you want to you could take a look at my personal blog and let me know if you like it.

By Anonymous Fresh Breath, at March 23, 2006 7:38 AM  

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