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Thursday, February 02, 2006

This Man's Blues

Moved on! Check TheCairoCalls

Unless he had been living under a rock for the past 5 years or something, any reasonable human being can see that the world is spinning out of control. And to be extremely frank and up front, let me say this: whether we like it or not, mean to or we don't, Muslims are involved in a lot of the tragic events that are unfolding all around us. That's far from saying that they're responsible for all the tragedies in the world, but increasingly they are the highest common factors among those tragedies.
Of course if you're being purely academic about Islam, it will be really hard to see how this situation came around. In essence Islam is a religion that promotes tolerance and peace. It is a religion whose prophet, while triumphantly entering Mecca, gave amnesty to it's "infidels" (whom I'm pretty sure had done much more than mocking him in a cartoon). It is also a religion that promotes intellectual discussion. Long before Voltaire said his immortal quote ("I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it"), El-Imam El-Shafeai established that "my opinion is right, that can turn out to be wrong; and yours is wrong, that can turn out to be right" (approximate translation). I guess you know all of that, and are starting to get tired of the repetition.
So, let's just move to how that Islam, ended in today's "Islam". Again, let me stress that I am talking about the Islam the west is seeing, the louder, violent "Islam", but that's not IT. I for one have lived, and been taught another kind of Islam which is centered around "You have your religion and I have mine"--a Quranic verse, and was first asked to pray as Muslims do, by a nun. I swear, it's a true story. But let's again focus: how was Islam distorted in such a way, not just in the minds of Westerners, but more importantly in the minds of its followers in the first place.
I've talked about how the coalition between Arabic "secular" governments and the forces of radical political Islam is to be blamed for part of the insanity that is going around. But more importantly, I guess, is the effort by these groups to debase any sort of moderate Muslim leadership.
Nowhere is that more evident than in Egypt. For centuries, the Azhar mosque and University had been the de facto leader of the Sunni Muslim world (ironically enough, it was established as a Shiite mosque, but this is another story). Muslims came from al over the world to Cairo to learn about Islam. And it had always been a form of Islam that promoted tolerance and respect for science, and knowledge. One of the most prominent Azhar alumnus, Mohammed Abdo, traveled to Paris in the 19th century, and returned to Egypt to tell his fellow Azharians that he found there "Islam, but no Muslims, and what we have here is Muslims, but no Islam" (i.e. the values of "western" Paris are more in line with Islam, than the values of "eastern" Cairo). To give you another example of how open minded were Azhar scholars, let me tell you this. In the 20s of the last century, an Azhar scholar led a movement to close legalized brothels in Cairo. So what? you might say, that's expected. Well, hear this: his justification was: health hazards!!! Nothing about halal or haram or stoning anybody...he knew that others might not share his faith (Cairo at that time was a truly cosmopolitan city) and he wanted to speak to them in their own language: reason, and science.
Of course, Azhar had been through so many changes since those times, but we won't get into that now. I will zoom forward to the current Grand-Sheikh of Azhar (Sheikh Mohamed Tantawy). He is a very soft spoken man. For most of his career he was a very respected man, until he was appointed (as opposed to elected, which I'll give you that, doesn't make him any more credible) to his position and was asked to give a fatwa about whether bank interest was permissible by Islam or not (can you believe we are still debating this!) He answered with what a lot of moderate scholars said before: it is ok! All kinds of criticism was targeted to him by Islamists: from being called a government "puppy" to questioning whether he was a true Muslim. But the man never budged. For Islamists that was a big deal, because ruling banks as haram would really undermine one of the pillars of modern society, and will make people rush to invest in some money management companies they founded under religious pretenses, and which had shady relations with terrorist groups at the time.
Today, the image they had drawn for him is, sadly, the image most people have. Most people, at least younger ones, consider the man a joke.
When he was asked by a Danish minister about the Prophet's cartoons, he, true to form, answered with an answer that caused a firestorm. "The prophet is a dead man, and I don't think that it is respectable or decent to portray him like this". For everybody that was outrageous. People started saying things like "he is alive in our hearts", and "is that all you can do?". And again there were all the accusations, and name-calling.
What the man simply done was trying to talk to the Danish guy using his sensibility. If he said that portraying the Prophet is haram, the guy wouldn't care less. If he said that you'll be punished, and thrown to hell, I wouldn't imagine the Danish guy getting on his knees and crying. Instead, he talked about decency, respect and responsibility. Values which I think the majority of the west would uphold.
And now we find ourselves in this whole mess, which I believe that nobody except this man (the Grand Sheikh of Azhar, not necessarily Tantawy), the one they're calling a hypocrite and government agent, can only turn around.

update: I have a suggestion to end this raw. Check it out here.

Moved on!


Hey Toman Bay, this is just another great post and I agree with you there. Nevertheless, I disagree with you that the Grand Sheikh of Al Azhar was correct to answer that way. You said "What the man simply done was trying to talk to the Danish guy using his sensibility. If he said that portraying the Prophet is haram, the guy wouldn't care less. If he said that you'll be punished, and thrown to hell, I wouldn't imagine the Danish guy getting on his knees and crying."

Well do you expect a Danish guy to fall on his knees and regret publishing the cartoons just because they disrespected "a dead man"?

I say if he is to speak about respect and decancy he should should speak about how everyone's religion is a privacy that should be respected and never offended. I think this could have made sense.

Similarly I have to admit that I agree with you that the today's version of Islam tarnishes the true Islam which calls for tolerance and peace. Muslims should know the true Islam before they start showing the world the truth about it. Till then, we keep blogging lol.

By Blogger Jimmy, at February 03, 2006 5:40 AM  

The complaints about the cartoons would be a lot more convincing if those same people had shown half as much concern about the murder of Theo Van Gogh, or the murder of 50,000 people in Darfur. Where did the Arab governments ever call for boycotts or demand meetings with the Sudanese prime minister? But let there be 12 cartoons and the world has to apologize. Almost no one ever notices that the cartoons were published because illustrators were afraid to work on a book about Mahomet. Self-censorship and whitewash are common now in the West with regard to Islam, for fear of this exact sort of physical intimidation. By this I mean death threats, bomb threats, the fatwa on Rushdie, not the boycotts and protests.

By Blogger Doubting Thomas, at February 03, 2006 8:31 AM  

JC: I never imagined the Danish minister will drop on his knees and cry whatever Tantawy said... but I guess that he was trying to speak to everybody then, not just the minister....and let me till you that at those kinds of situations, there isn't really any sort of "knockout" (i.e. I dont expect anybod to win this)...what you can do is to try to act with the best of your values, so as to score respect points with other people, because in my humble opinion that is the only thing that will prevent them from mocking you in the future...
By the way, thanks for being such a good sport, hope you continue checking the blog!

By Blogger Tomanbay, at February 03, 2006 11:58 AM  

Great post TB! It makes me realize that no matter what you say, there will always be somebody against you.

I think it's really sad though that Islam is so distorted nowadays. And people judge (insult) it by it's distorted and tarnished image.. The thing is, if you had any idea of what Islam really is, you wouldn't find anything to insult about it.. But browsing forums and blogs, I find statements like: "Islam is the best way to develop backwards", "Islam is the most destructive, most dangerous cult on Earth, ..." and so on. Statements that are so easy to defy, and ideas that show how little the people know about Islam (Anybody with a remote idea of the true meaning of this religion wouldn't say half what they said). Sadly, the arab world got this reputation onto itself..

I'll be around here more often from now on :-) Cheers!

By Blogger The Sphinx, at February 03, 2006 4:55 PM  

Tomanbay, i agree with u completely at this point, it is not a knockout. I just wanted to make it clear that if Tantawy really wanted to take the right path which is the talk to the Danish with western values expressing his own values , then he should talk about respect in its general meaning when it comes to religions and beliefs. That guy "bel 3arabi keda geh yeka7alha 3amaha", he spoke of respect but he called them to respect a dead man, not to respect that values and religion that Prophet Muhammad stands for in particular, and religions and beliefs in general. One comment I read about his statements was: "Well, we don't respect dead men, like it or not"...

I have to say you have a great blog that attracts me to whatever you write despite the fact that your posts are long. Yet, they are long but to the point. Keep it up!

By Blogger Jimmy, at February 04, 2006 3:05 AM  

TB & JC, I agree with both of you. Simply, I don't think that this was the only thing that Tantawy said exactly (well if it were, then JC is totally right on this one). Yes, he could've talked in the direction of respect towards religion instead of just respect to dead people.
TB, another example of how tolerant and open minded Azhar scholars were in the past; in the 1930s, a very well known writer wrote a book (probably, maybe it was an article, can't remember for sure now) saying that he's an athiest. And supporting his argument for why he didn't believe in God. As much as this contradicted with all the Azhar scholars believed in, one of them simply wrote an article replying to that. It wasn't full of crap, as any similar one in such a situation would include these days, but he was discussing the writer's point of view and arguing with him in a very civilised manner. Exactly as two top scientists would argue about the relativity theory.
Anyways, good blog. Keep it up.

By Blogger Galal Mazhar, at February 05, 2006 11:43 AM  

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