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Iraq Soldier Discusses His “Kills”

Omar Usman

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This is a must watch, eye-opening, video from the Huffington Post.

In the spring of 2008, a conference was held on the outskirts of Washington, DC. Entitled Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan, it hearkened back to the Winter Soldier testimonies held three decades ago during the Vietnam War. Of the testimonies we filmed, this one, by Iraq War vet Jon Michael Turner, was the most compelling and intense.

See Also: American Soldier Exposes US Policy in Iraq

Omar Usman is a founding member of MuslimMatters, Qalam Institute, Muslim Strategic Initiative, and Debt Free Muslims. He is a regular khateeb and has served in different administrative capacities in various national and local Islamic organizations. You can follow him on Twitter @ibnabeeomar. Check out his latest project at Fiqh of Social Media.

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Journey to the Holy Land: Reflections on Palestine | Part 3 of 4

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By Zainab Chaudry

To travel to the Palestinian city of Hebron is to glimpse the grit, resilience and tenacity of the human spirit under extreme duress. 

Located about twenty miles south of Jerusalem, it is the largest city in the occupied West Bank and the second largest Palestinian city after Gaza.

It is home to Masjid Ibrahimi – a centuries-old mosque constructed above the tombs of four of the most beloved Prophets in Islam: Ibrahim (Abraham), Ishaq (Isaac), Yaqub (Jacob), and Yusuf (Joseph). 

Recognized by Jews as the Cave of the Patriarchs, a growing presence of Zionist settlers in the area has escalated tensions to boiling point. During Ramadan in February 1994, in one of the worst terrorist attacks in the city, an American-Israeli settler named Baruch Goldstein entered the mosque during the morning prayer service and opened fire, murdering 24 worshippers and wounding dozens of others.

Palestine

In the aftermath of the massacre, the Israeli government seized control of the city, set up multiple checkpoints, and divided the mosque – restricting Muslims to 40 percent of the space, and allocating 60 percent exclusively for Jews.

One survivor of the massacre, Hosni Rajeba described it as the Israeli government “rewarding the murderers.”  

He and others still struggle with the psychological trauma – reliving it every time settlers harass them, or when Israeli soldiers unjustly bar entry at whim. 

The day we visit Hebron coincides with the 12th of Rabi’ al-Awwal on the Islamic calendar – a day many Muslims observe as Mawlid, the date of birth of the beloved Prophet Muhammad. 

Our guide announces that since it’s a special religious occasion, both the “Muslim” and “Jewish” sides of Masjid Ibrahimi will be open to us to visit.

Everyone is excited at the prospect of praying at the mosque constructed at the gravesite of the Prophet known as the “Friend of God” for his devotion to Him.

But entering into Hebron, our enthusiasm diminishes at the sight of a large, ominous sign declaring the entrance illegal for Israeli citizens, and warning visitors it is “dangerous to their lives.”

The messaging scapegoats the oppressed as the oppressor, deliberately disregarding the existential threat Israeli settlers pose to Palestinians. 

In some ways, its reminiscent of World War II-era signs in the United States that once read “Japs Keep Moving, This is a White Man’s Neighborhood.” 

Although those signs targeted immigrants, they were also used to alienate and marginalize an oppressed minority community. 

We drive by Palestinian homes cloaked in netting to shield them from garbage thrown by settlers. 

Many doors and windows have been welded shut by Israeli soldiers, so families that have not abandoned their property have to enter and exit through the roof. 

Our bus driver pulls in to a parking lot that once used to be crowded with tour buses. On this day, it is vacant.

Boys as young as 3 and 4 nimbly race down the slope and eagerly gather around to sell colorful trinkets, postcards, chewing gum.

Tourists are good for business, but too few and far between. I quickly discover that my willpower and wallet are no match for their vending skills. 

After making our purchases, we make our way to Shuhada Road – the sealed-off street that is named after the martyrs murdered in the 1994 massacre.

Even in broad daylight, it is bleak and desolate – resembling a ghost town, except for the handful of Palestinian children defiantly playing in the streets under the hawkish glare of Israeli soldiers nearby. 

It wasn’t always this way. 

Hebron was once a thriving city, home to many shops and businesses that have long been forced to shut down – effectively choking off the source of income for many families.

Now, the H2 area around the mosque is a closed military zone with Israeli guards stationed every 100 meters. 

Zionist forces impose strict curfews, restrict prayers at whim, and randomly body search residents including women.  

At the base of the hill leading up to the mosque, soldiers scrutinize our tour group – demanding to see passports, interrogating us on the purpose of our visit.    

Curbing my anger at this intrusive, unjustified questioning, I break from the group and move to continue to walk. 

A soldier steps forward and blocks my path, his hand resting on the rifle at his side. 

He appears to be about 25 years old. His standard-issue military helmet casts shadows over most of his face but does not conceal the steely glint in his eyes. 

I’ve often wondered what it would be like to come face-to-face this way with an Israeli soldier. To discern any sign of regret or conscience in their demeanor. 

To demand to know why loyalty to state mandates oppressing God’s people, and what part of their faith permits them to lie, harass, steal and commit crimes against humanity.

As our unwavering gazes meet, I feel curious, as one would when meeting a distant relative – or a cousin – for the first time. 

I also feel repulsed, as one would when confronting an instigator or bully who preys on the powerless. 

I can’t forget that is among the soldiers who routinely fire sound grenades and tear gas canisters to terrorize Palestinian youth struggling for liberation. 

He knows I – an American tourist – pose no threat. 

And yet, I am absolutely certain that if I do not stop, he would not hesitate to draw the trigger and kill me in an instant.  

In my privilege, that imposed restriction on my movement under threat of violence is not something I have experienced often.

But experiencing it even once is enough for the memory to remain with you for a lifetime.

The Prophet Ibrahim 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) was willing to sacrifice his most beloved to show his love and dedication to God. In fact, one of the two major Islamic holidays commemorates this abiding devotion. 

In the mere seconds that have passed, I wonder what I will be required to sacrifice to offer prayers in this sanctuary situated at his gravesite, with my dignity intact. 

Our tour guide intervenes- speaks with the soldiers, and our group is granted permission to pass. I think of countless others who are never admitted simply because they are Palestinian, and I feel no relief.  

The “Muslim” entrance to the mosque sits atop an incline, far less accessible than the “Jewish” entrance. An elderly uncle’s labored breathing upon exertion worries me.  

A group of Palestinian boys observes our ascent from a stone wall topped with iron bars flanking the hill.

The word “hope” is scrawled on the wall in large, black letters – a desperately needed beacon that attempts to illuminate a dark and dismal reality.  

As we enter the mosque, the fist of anger clutching my gut slowly unclenches at the sight of the cenotaph, or grave marker, of Prophet Ibrahim 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him).

It is richly decorated; its green tapestries embroidered with gold inscriptions. 

Words and pictures cannot adequately describe the experience of being in this sacred place. Of the serenity that encompasses the heart.

The opportunity to stand in this space is all the more meaningful for the obstacles and harassment that must be endured to arrive here. 

I offer my prayers, mindful of the Israeli cameras perched in every corner – an unwelcome intruder monitoring every movement, capturing every sound. 

seated at concealed monitors are reviewing the footage; they surveil our mosques not even barely comprehending the love and devotion that will continuously draw us here.

Despite the religious significance of the day, the Jewish side is not open for us to visit as we’d been told it would be. 

We learn that it’s common for the occupying forces to renege on granting full mosque access on Islamic holidays. 

One of our group members remarks how he’s “grateful we’re even allowed to enter” at all. His ingratiating comment doesn’t sit well with me. 

I feel a mixture of emotions while visiting one of the holiest Islamic sites in the world under these circumstances. 

“Gratitude” for “permission” from Israeli soldiers to enter it is not one of them.  

As we exit, I’m approached by a Palestinian vendor, Qasim*, who invites me to buy prayer beads. He is about 20 years old, a native of Hebron who speaks almost perfect English. 

Before settlers arrived, Qasim and his friends went to school every day. 

Those schools are now boarded up too. This helps explain why children are playing in the streets in the late morning hours. 

I want to know his story. I ask him if he could go to school, what would he study?

Matter of factly, he replies he wants to be a lawyer. He wants to work for justice because without justice there will never be peace.

I wonder if he’s read Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s quote: “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”

Wanting to hear his logic, I gesture around us, ask what compels him to stay when he has slim hopes of fulfilling his dream here. 

He shrugs. “Education is important. But if I leave, I won’t have a home to return to.” He points up Shuhada Road in the direction of Masjid Ibrahimi. “If we all leave, Muslims will lose our holy mosques.”

His story shakes me as reality hits home. Many of these youth have passed up opportunities for a better life in order to protect our Ummah’s legacy.

The painful irony is that in protecting their homes and these blessed holy sites from centuries past, they have been forced to sacrifice their own futures.

I ask him if he has a message for brothers and sisters in the United States.

He hesitates as if searching for the words. “I invite you to visit us, pray here. This belongs to you too.” Palestine belongs to all of us.

The machine guns and rifles Israeli soldiers carry are far more deadly than the rocks Palestinian children throw in acts of resistance.

But they are not more powerful than the willpower and courage these youth have in their hearts. 

One day, humankind will learn you cannot destroy a people’s dreams with guns and grenades. 

You cannot end their thirst for freedom and liberation with rockets and bullets. 

Qasim’s generation has only known life under occupation. They deserve access to resources and education. They represent our hope for the future. 

He didn’t choose to be born into his circumstances. But he deserves the opportunity to change them. 

We owe youth like him our gratitude and respect. We are indebted to them for the sacrifices they are making. 

Go visit the children of Hebron. Go tell them that the world has not turned its back on them. 

We are with them. We will uplift them. We will never stop advocating for their right to self-determination. 

To The Holy Land: Crossing The Border | Part 1 of 4

 

To The Holy Land: Jericho | Part 2 of 4

 

Zainab Chaudry sits on the Maryland State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and is the Director of Maryland Outreach at CAIR. She writes about her trip in her personal capacity.

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Shaykh Abdallah Bin Bayyah: A Genuine Muslim Voice for Peace

Mufti Mustafa Ceric

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By Mufti Mustafa Ceric, Ph.D,

Grand Mufti Emeritus of Bosnia

The essence of the faith of Islam comes from two primary sources: the Qur’an, which is God’s revelation, and the Sunnah, which is the teachings, traditions, and attributes of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. But the nature of Muslims come from their many peoples and tribes:

“O men, God has created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes so that you may know one another. But, indeed, the most noble of you is the most morally correct among you. God knows and is well informed about everything.” (Qur’an, 49:13).

Thus, the experience of the faith of Muslims is as diverse as the nature of their national and tribal backgrounds. Therefore, both a specific God-given nature and a specific societal experience of Muslims must be recognized and appreciated within a global Islamic civilization, as long as the principle of tawḥīd (oneness of God), as is expressed in Lā il ā ha illa Allah, and the principle of an ultimate nubuwwah (prophethood of Muhammad, peace be upon him) are properly upheld. This diversity in the unity of the faith of Islam is a blessing for our ummah. Hence, Muslims must see the various natures and experiences of their fellow Muslims as a blessing from God that enriches an overall Islamic culture and civilization in the world.

Inspired by the reality of this blessing, I would like to share with you my perspective which stems from my God-given nature, my war and peace experience as a Muslim in Bosnia and a genocide survivor in Europe, and how I also see myself as belonging to the universal Muslim community today. Indeed, I would like to tell you why I believe that the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies in Abu Dhabi, UAE, led by the esteemed Muslim scholar Shaykh Abdallah Bin Bayyah, is a right path of Islam and a good program of peace for Muslims around the world.

My testimony is based on my personal nature and my own first-hand experience of war and peace in Bosnia without a need of apology to anyone. It starts from the fact that, during the war and postwar time in Bosnia, it was hard to find a peace initiative from a credible Muslim group or institution to help me engage in dialogue and trust building with others. All the peace initiatives were coming from Christian groups or institutions that, by this very fact, had an advantage in presenting their case. So, when a major Muslim peace initiative was introduced by Sheikh Bin Bayyah in 2014 in Abu Dhabi, I was delighted to be invited to join it. Indeed, I was praying for its success and continuity because rarely do genuine Muslim ideas survive the tremendous pressure of staunch opponents who oppose such initiatives if they are not in— if it’s not their own idea. Fortunately, it seemed that the Forum for Promoting Peace in Abu Dhabi was spared this destiny—until the last, and in my opinion, the best of all Forums so far—the Fifth Forum of 2018. We know from the Qur’an and Sunnah that right and constructive critique is an important aspect of the nature of Islam, but the recent hate-speech and false accusations against the Forum are not in accordance with the nature of Islam and as such are not of an Islamicʼ adab (ethics) and ʼakhlāq (morality).

Let me say that neither the esteemed Shaykh Abdallah Bin Bayyah nor Shaykh Hamza Yusuf is in need of my defense. They are capable and upright people; their lifelong dedication to Islamic work speaks for itself. I feel the need to raise my voice clearly and loudly in defense of the importance of promoting peace, and the work of both esteemed scholars towards that goal. I humbly claim to be aligned with them in this purpose. And we should be grateful to the government of the UAE for supporting this project that has already engaged prominent religious, academic, cultural, and political leaders from around the world and earned their respect and commitment to this cause of peace.

First, no one has a monopoly on peace, but everyone has a duty to promote peace in their own way because, by its very definition, “Islam” is the concept of peace, and thus a “Muslim” is also by definition a peaceful man or woman. Therefore, the Forum for Promoting Peace is an application of this unique and powerful concept of Islam, namely the concept of peace.

Second, no one has a monopoly on tolerance, but everyone has an obligation to learn and teach tolerance in his or her neighborhood and surroundings because Islam is the faith of tolerance, made clear in the Qur’anic injunction: “there is no compulsion in religion” ( lā ikrā h a fī l-dī n) .

Third, no one has a monopoly on dignity, but everyone is entitled to enjoy the right of life (al-nafs), faith (al-dī n), freedom (al-ʿaql), property (al-māl), and dignity (al-ʿirḍ) because Muslim scholars defined these peace-oriented principles, and they did this long before the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These principles are based on the letter and spirit of the Qur’an and the Sunnah as an amānah (trust) of the entire Muslim ummah, not just a part of it.

Fourth, no one has a monopoly on alliance, but everyone has the right to seek alliance with peace-loving persons and nations based on the example of the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), who participated in an alliance prior to Islam, known as the ḥilf al-fu ḍūl (the Alliance of Virtues) that he also approved in Islam.

Fifth, no one has a monopoly on democracy, but everyone has the right to speak about democracy, even if they believe it can sometimes lead to tyranny. The Greek philosopher Socrates had that right as well. He used to say that oligarchies become democracies for predictable reasons: “Democracy comes into power,” Socrates says, “when the poor are the victors, killing some and exiling some, and giving equal shares in the government to all the rest.” It’s an “agreeable form of anarchy,” Socrates tells us and adds that “the insatiable desire for freedom occasions a demand for tyranny.”

Sixth, no one has a monopoly on moral preaching, but everyone has a duty to improve his own morality before preaching to others. Islam teaches us that a right moral praxis is better than empty preaching.

And finally, no one has a monopoly on Islam, but everyone has the duty of farḍ ʿayn (personal responsibility) and far ḍkif ā yah (collective responsibility) to behave in such a way that does not corrupt the moral teachings of Islam and does not compromise the right image of Islam and Muslims in the world for the sake of personal gains. The work of Shaykh Abdallah Bin Bayyah and Shaykh Hamza Yusuf is their due of farḍ ʿayn and farḍ kifāyah for repairing a damaged picture of Islam and Muslims in the world, due to some irresponsible and militant groups who have claimed to act on behalf of Islam. Those who don’t understand the importance of the message of these scholars are out of touch with reality, and thus, cannot claim to be the right guide for the Muslims, especially in the West. Those among the Muslims, wherever they are, who still support a catastrophic regicide that has happened recently in some major Muslim countries ought to be advised that suicide, individual or collective, is not part of the nature of Islam. Indeed, Islam has never been a religion of destruction. Islam has always been a religion of constructive and inclusive culture and civilization.

Let me say that no Muslim with a good heart and sound mind can be indifferent to what is happening in Yemen, Libya, Syria, Myanmar (Burma), and elsewhere, where our Muslim brothers and sisters suffer. But this pain will not be removed by additional destructive ideas that would cripple the rest of the Muslim countries just because some others are in an internal or external conflict. On the contrary, our duty is to do whatever we can to prevent further destruction of the Muslim states and societies. The Muslims today don’t need more Palestines. They need more hearts and minds like Shaykh Abdallah Bin Bayyah and Shaykh Hamza Yusuf. Indeed, they need more countries and societies like the UAE to support the promotion of peace and security among Muslim societies and others in the world.

And my final note to my Muslim brothers and sisters in the West is not to make a hasty judgment that is instigated by some people (and institutions) who do not have sympathy for Muslims who are suffering. If you cannot help the plight of Muslims today, then at least don’t make the Muslim situation worse than it is. Those who have not tasted the bitterness of war cannot fully appreciate the sweet taste of peace. I have tasted both. Therefore, my dear Muslim brothers, sisters, and friends, wherever you are, pray for peace and support those who work for peace, whoever they may be.

Mustafa Ceric, Ph.D.
Grand Mufti Emeritus of Bosnia

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Keeping Our Eye on the Ball: The Problem with the UAE Summit

Jonathan Brown PhD

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Ed. Note: We understand that this is a matter of current public debate, MM welcomes opeds of differing points of view. Please use this form.

Public debates on matters of importance can be noisy and disorganized. From Ad Hominem to Appeal to Extremes, argumentative fallacies fly through cyberspace like so many ethereal cream pies. I offer this short essay as what I hope is a productive contribution to the current debate over the ‘UAE summit,’ in particular the question of participating in it and how that relates to dangerous aspects of UAE foreign policy. Because this is only one aspect of a knot of interrelated issues that must be understood as a whole, this essay covers a good deal of ground. First, I address the immediate question of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies (henceforth the Forum), held annually in Abu Dhabi since 2014. Second, I lay out the three main problems with what I term Agenda MBZ, or the political and social vision shared by the current governments of Egypt and Saudi Arabia but shaped by Muhammad Bin Zayed (MBZ), the crown prince and de facto ruler of the UAE. Finally, I discuss the issue of ulama and Muslim leaders cooperating with these governments or this agenda.

I. ‘Moi ou le chaos’: Placing a Ceiling on Muslims’ Political Expectations

During the winter of 2012 and the spring of 2013, Egypt was rocked by progressively worse protests against the government of the elected president Mohamed Morsi, including anarchic attacks by a shadowy mob of hoodlums known as ‘Black Block.’ In May and June of 2013 the Egyptian army made it clear that it would only intervene if protests against President Morsi descended into chaos. What could (wrongly) be read as a mild affirmation of civilian rule was, in fact, a subtle hint at what lay ahead: if anyone could plunge the country in chaos, then they’d get the army takeover they wanted. Sure enough, the country descended further into chaos, protests grew, and the army deposed the president. The message was clear from Sisi as it was from Bashar al-Asad: it’s me or chaos, even if I have to make the chaos myself. Black Block has not been heard from since.

One of the most prominent themes in Sunni political thought is what we might call the No Rebellion Principle: that, as the Prophet (s) commanded, Muslims should not take up arms in rebellion against their ruler unless he displayed ‘egregious kufr (kufr bawāḥ).’[1] Why? Because as al-Ghazali (d. 1111) reports, ‘A tyrannical ruler is better than endless strife (imām ghashūm khayr min fitna tadūm).’ There is certainly much wisdom in this line of thinking, as the conditions in Iraq after 2003 and Syria today suggest. But it does not come close to addressing all the concerns around governance today. In the pre-modern period, the No Rebellion Principle morphed into a rule of total quietism – that there should be no opposition to or pushback against the ruler (this transformation seems to have solidified in the Mamluk period). This conflation was relatively unremarkable in the context of pre-modern states; governance was small-scale and states were thin on the ground even at the best of times. Subjects and citizens did not ask much from their governments because the state did little more than provide basic law and order in return for the collection of taxes. Civil society, charity, and social networks provided key social services and even mundane legal infrastructure.

In modern times, however, the conflation of the No Rebellion Principle with total quietism, combined with the immense and pervasive role of the modern state, has proven disastrous. The state no longer simply provides law and order. It often provides whole areas of crucial welfare and services, controls everything from education to how we raise our children, and it surveils, in some cases or on some subjects, even what we say to each other in private.

As a result, in recent decades the claim that the Sunna ordered total quietism has been used to prevent any efforts to hold kleptocratic and/or autocratic governments accountable or to demand better or more transparent governance. The Egyptians who gathered to protest peacefully in Tahrir Square in January 2011 were told by pro-government ulama that God would curse those who fomented civil strife; those who gathered in Rab’a square in 2013 for a peaceful sit-in protesting the military coup were called Kharijites whose blood was licit. Some extreme quietist Sunni scholars today have even prohibited any public display of discontent with the ruler, calling it ‘rebellion with the tongue (al-khurūj bi’l-lisān)’ (as opposed to the normal phrase ‘rebellion with the sword’). According to this school of thought, the only acceptable opposition to the policies of the ruler is to offer advice in private.[2]

Of course, not only is it totally fallacious to conflate a duty not to take up arms against the state with a prohibition on any public display of discontent, this was not the only school of political thought in Sunni Islam. Indeed, there remains a minority strand of Sunni political thought that allows deposing an unjust ruler if the decision-making elite (ahl al-ḥall wa’l-ʿaqd) of the society supports this, a strand that stretches back to Imam Abū Ḥanīfa (d. 767).[3]

Ultimately, what parroting the misreading of No Rebellion as quietism leaves Muslims with today is the idea that we have no right to make public demands for better government. Every other country, nation or religious community can demand that their governments do a better job using the only means that ever convince the powerful to change, namely some public display of displeasure by sufficiently large numbers or sufficiently influential individuals. But not for Muslims. For us, there can be no calls for accountability, transparency, less corruption, better provision of services, etc. because any display of discontent is allegedly a slippery slope to chaos. Whether the activities of opposition parties, civil society, the press or peaceful public protests, any expression that could actually put pressure on a government to change is by definition a threat to the precious and allegedly so very fragile order that government allegedly provides.

In March 2014 I attended the first Forum in Abu Dhabi as an observer, not a speaker. The speeches I saw (and I saw most) ranged from the lunatic conspiratorial (the UN was behind all the current conflict in the Middle East) to the erudite and specific. But by far the most consistent and dominant theme was the absolute duty of all Muslims to bend to the will of the state. By ‘the state’ no one meant some idealized caliphate or benevolent government. They meant the status quo holders of power, in particular, the governments of the Muslim world that shared a common anxiety over ‘extremism.’ And here we must refresh our understanding of when this conference occurred. It was organized not in the wake of ISIS’s massive conquest of territory, its declaration of a caliphate and its ultra-violence, all of which took place only months later in the summer of 2014. This conference was convened to address what had happened in Egypt and Libya in 2013-14. So by ‘extremism’ the participants in the conference did not mean just groups who called to or employed violence against civilian or even military targets. They meant Muslim organizations or movements that did not see the status quo holders of power and the systems by which they ruled as the end-all and be-all of legitimate government.

If all this was not totally clear in listening to the speakers over two days, it was crystal in the draft declaration that I (and I’m sure many others) was sent days later to review. In what struck me as the only non-anodyne language of the declaration and the only section to address current political events, the draft asserted that democracy is a not an end in and of itself, and that people should not sacralize it and make it into a cause for civil war. Responding to the draft, I wrote the following comments to the organizers:

This is clearly a reference to Egypt and the coup against Morsi.  I do not think it’s appropriate to suggest very strongly that the conflict in Egypt has been protracted by people who are obsessed with democracy and are thus causing a civil war without mentioning 1) the injustice and harms of a corrupt and kleptocratic regime that tortured and killed people while failing in its basic duties to its people; 2) that the current regime in Egypt has killed innocent men, women, and children (many, many more than those killed by those who are insisting on ‘democracy’), and imprisoned and tortured thousands more, in the name of fighting “terrorism” or “khawarij.” These two [threats] are used to excuse violence and civil war much more than democracy is. The presence of that clause (#5) would be enough for me, at least, not to sign the document.

In light of the current debate among Western Muslims, it’s ironic that, among the presentations I saw, by far the most conscientious were those by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, Mufti Taqi Usmani and the host, Shaykh Abdallah Bin Bayyah. Shaykh Hamza urged that injustice (ẓulm) to be called out wherever it is found. Mufti Usmani reminded the audience that many of the youth who turn to violence do so because they are sincerely pious Muslims who find no possibility to improve their societies among the ranks of crony and cowardly Muslim leadership, ulema included. And Shaykh Bin Bayyah included the subtle but – to my mind even at the time –extremely important reminder that for reconciliation (ṣulḥ) to be achieved – as it must be – compromise must be made on both sides. (I was not able to attend Dr. Sherman Jackson’s speech, so I cannot comment on its content).

I note the above exceptions not to detract from the heavy criticism that the Forum is due but only to be fair to the occasional notes of divergence from what was a clear message: that contesting governance – even peacefully – was to contest the notion of law and order itself and to invite chaos.

Beyond what I consider to be this insidious ideological message, the Forum has also clearly been a tool of the narrow and extremist UAE political agenda. Within 48 hours of the announcement of the Saudi-UAE led boycott of Qatar in June 2017, the Forum issued a statement condemning Qatar’s alleged role in supporting terrorism, stoking the fires of sectarianism and undermining stability I the region (see for a full translation). As Usaama Al-Azaami notes in his article on this, however, the announcement did not appear on the personal social media accounts of Shaykh Bin Bayyah (more on this below).

II. A Trail of Bloodshed and Famine: The Agenda MBZ Abroad

Since 2013, the features of Agenda MBZ have been clear. All the calls of the Arab Spring must be silenced categorically and with unprecedented ruthlessness. There can be no acceptable challenge or even public corrective to the status quo of authoritarian government by established elites (the military in Egypt, the Alawi-industrial alliance in Syria, the royal families in the Gulf). For the Gulf monarchs, gone are the days of ruling by balancing interests, forging consensus amongst stakeholders and avoiding rifts that risk upsetting the whole system. Confident in their capacities of suppression and social control, made possible by new surveillance technology and monopolies on the media, governments need no longer tolerate dissident voices. Now they can be silenced for good.

A major feature of Agenda MBZ has been its ambitiousness. By financial support or lobbying, it is promoted wherever and whenever possible. A second major feature is a total disregard for the Agenda’s human cost. A few points make this clear:

  • The UAE government was responsible for partial funding of the 2013 coup in Egypt that unseated a democratically elected president, and the UAE paid millions of dollars to cover DC lobbying efforts on behalf of the Sisi government to make itself more palatable to the American government. The Sisi regime not only engaged in the shocking massacre of civilians at the Rab’a square, but since 2013 well over 60,000 Egyptians have been arrested, with the systematic torture and rape of prisoners and hundreds of death sentences handed down after absurd show-trials.
  • The UAE and Egypt have been intimately involved in continuing the civil war in Libya, in particular supporting the warlord Khalifa Haftar against the internationally recognized Libyan government in Tripoli.
  • The Saudi and UAE governments launched and have led a bloody military intervention in Yemen that has plunged the country into humanitarian disaster. This trauma has been so severe that even the US Senate has come around to condemning it and it has passed a bill to end US military support for the Saudi-led coalition.
  • In 2013, the previous king of Saudi Arabia (whose chief adviser, Khaled al-Tuwaijri, had a vision similar to Agenda MBZ) authorized the transfer of $681 million the bank account of the now disgraced but then Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak to help him win the general election that year, as the Saudi government was worried about the potential victory of the reformist Pakatan Rakyat party, which it saw as an expression of political Islam.

III. Agenda MBZ Hits Home: The Islamophobic Attempt to Criminalize Muslim Life in the West

In 2014, the UAE issued a list of organizations it designated as terrorist organizations. It included major US and European Muslim organizations, such as CAIR, Islamic Relief, Muslim American Society (MAS) and the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB). Its efforts to push this list have continued since then. Even as recently as this summer (2018), the UAE state publication The National ran an article trying to drum up global support to condemn Islamic Relief as “a cog” in a dangerous terrorism machine.

The significance of all this cannot be over-emphasized: The government of the UAE has been trying —and is continuing to try— to convince the US and other Western governments to declare Muslim organizations – organizations that Muslims in the West engage with often on a daily basis – terrorist organizations.

This is not because the governments of the UAE or Egypt or Saudi Arabia harbor some hatred for Muslims in the West. Rather, it is a direct and inevitable result of the disastrous mixture of clumsiness and extremism that characterizes Agenda MBZ. That Islamophobes like Frank Gaffney and Andrew McCarthy have long dreamt of the US government designating ‘The Muslim Brotherhood’ (whatever that means) as a terrorist organization is no secret. This would be the key to holding the threat of criminal prosecution over any Muslim who manifested even a shed of activist energy: ‘The Muslim Brotherhood’ and ‘Islamism’ more broadly are terms so amorphous and contested that they could be applied one way or another to almost every Muslim leader or organization in the world. Fortunately for Muslims in the US and for the semantic integrity of the English language itself, these Islamophobe efforts have so far failed. As Ben Wittes, no dove or serial defender of political Islam by any means wrote, to designate ‘The Muslim Brotherhood’ as a terrorist group would be to stretch the language of US law and conceptions of what the Brotherhood is beyond the breaking point: 

… the Brotherhood is not in a meaningful sense a single organization at all; elements of it can be designated [as terrorist organizations] and have been designated, and other elements certainly cannot be. As a whole, it is simply too diffuse and diverse to characterize. And it certainly cannot be said as a whole to engage in terrorism that threatens the United States.

What is simply stunning is that, while even US foreign policy hawks acknowledge the absurdity of the Agenda MBZ demands on criminalizing Muslim organizations, American Muslim acolytes of that agenda have worked alongside Islamophobes to advance it. In testimony given before Congress in 2016, a well-known young American Muslim scholar affirmed Republican Congressmen’s worst fears that the Muslim Brotherhood is “on the spectrum” with ISIS (see 1:44 on the C-SPAN video).

The overlap of Agenda MBZ and the Islamophobia industry has been demonstrated again and again in increasingly shocking ways. In the immediate wake of the 2017 decision by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain to boycott Qatar, the head of the US branch of the CVE-dollar-suckling Quilliam Foundation penned a Newsweek article calling Qatar a “pariah” and a “destabilizing force” in the Muslim world and urging President Trump to designate the country as a sponsor of terrorism. Just recently, the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya news outlet featured an unconscionable and generally absurd attack on newly elected US congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib as well as the well-known Muslim social justice activist Linda Sarsour. All are, according to the article, part of a Muslim Brotherhood conspiracy to hobble President Trump’s noble policy agenda in the Middle East. Again, we need to restate this with emphasis:

1) the head of an allegedly Muslim organization (one that has worked with numerous people who promote anti-Muslim views) is writing in support of the Qatar boycott, an Agenda MBZ item that even adults in the Trump administration saw as pointlessly destructive.

2) The type of Islamophobic talking points that the likes of Pamela Geller employ to prevent American Muslims from participating in public life are now propagated in exaggerated form in a Saudi media source.

In summary, Agenda MBZ is an unequivocal and devoted ally of extreme Islamophobes in the US and other Western countries. And Agenda MBZ is not just vilifying Muslims. It is advocating for the criminalization of their organizations and the destruction of many innocent lives. This cannot be ignored by Muslims in the West. Any Muslim who works to advance this agenda in the West should be privately alerted to what they are doing, and if they continue to do so they should be publicly called out.

Muslim Scholars and Agenda MBZ

And this brings us to our last question: How should we react to Western Muslim scholars who participated in the Forum? Debates over this have lapsed into hyperbole on both sides. Extreme critics lambaste these scholars as unsalvageable stooges of oppression who must be uniformly condemned. Staunch defenders accuse critics of ‘making war on the awliya’ of God’ and trying to tear down scholars who have done so much to build up Islam in America.

Neither of these extreme claims is valid and both distract us. This debate is not about denying people’s value or contributions or consigning them the dustbin of the damned. But it is about accountability and calling for better consideration of how Muslim leaders undertake engagement. I offer what advice I can here:

  1. Be Cautious and Accept Responsibility: As I wrote two years ago on this site, Muslims need to agree on and adhere to certain guidelines on engagement with government. One that I proposed was: ‘There is nothing wrong with proximity to power (sultan) if it is presented with the truth and if the general good expected outweighs any expected harm.’ In the recent debate around the Forum, many have cited the strong tradition of Muslim scholars avoiding any entanglement and even contact with government. This is certainly true, but as great scholars like al-Shawkānī (d. 1834) noted, since the time of the Companions, scholars have also served as judges and even as viziers. “It is not possible,” he wrote, “to fix the number of scholars who had dealings with the rulers of just one century, let alone in several centuries across the world.”[4]

But there is one clear rule. As an earlier giant of scholarship in Yemen, Ibn al-Amīr al-Ṣanʿānī (d. 1768), concluded, “The only thing prohibited by agreement and consensus is mixing with oppressors in order to assist them in their oppression,” whether this is done by the tongue, the pen or merely by the scholar’s silent affirmation of the ruler’s misdeeds.[5]  Whatever we disagree on, Muslim leaders and scholars should not facilitate oppression or become its tools. That Shaykh Abdallah Bin Bayyah is one of the most learned and insightful scholars of Islamic law today is beyond doubt to me. But he has allowed himself to be used as a legitimizing symbol to bolster Agenda MBZ’s Islamic credentials and has publicly endorsed the ‘anti-extremist’ policies of Saudi Arabia. He may or may not agree with some, all or none of the actions carried out by these states, but he has not made this clear and his public positions can be publicly criticized.

  1. So Make Your Involvement and Position Clear: Some defenders of the ulama who participated in the Forum have argued that the UAE’s policies would be even worse if those scholars hadn’t been there to ameliorate them. I have talked to almost all the American scholars who have spoken at the Forum, and I have no doubt that they condemn unjust policies like the war in Yemen and recognize the immense danger of Agenda MBZ for Muslims in the West. I have no doubt that they have done their best to advise decisions makers in the UAE to alter their course.

But absent any public statements by these scholars about how they view different aspects of Agenda MBZ, an agenda that directly touches on Muslims in the West, it is not surprising that their involvement in the Forum will be seen as an endorsement. The Forum is not a workshop on interpretive dance being organized by Dubai’s ministry of culture. Someone who attended that event could be excused from questions about their views on UAE foreign policy. But the Forum is devoted to a core element of Agenda MBZ (the problem of ‘extremism’ and political Islam vs. the role of state authority) and to shoring it up. And the Forum has already been instrumentalized to support feeble planks of its policy (the Qatar boycott). Scholars are certainly free to attend the Forum, but they should not allow themselves to be pictured or quoted in support of a political agenda they do not support. Instead, they should make clear their positions for all to know. Earlier I proposed a guideline that ‘The presumption is that mere attendance does not entail approval unless it is preceded by a specific claim or announcement.’ I would add that, in the case of an event like the Forum, which so clearly serves a political agenda, participation entails approval unless the participant makes it clear otherwise.

  1. We Need to Keep Perspective… as Hard as that Is: This is one of the hardest things for me to write because it runs so much against my own sensibilities. As deep and all-consuming as they are, even the fiercest of political or cultural conflicts do not transcend a common belonging to the umma of Muhammad (s). I wrote what follows in the preface for my book Hadith (2017) in an attempt to make sense of what often seemed to me beyond all sensibility. It is the best thing I can offer on a painful topic:

It has been almost ten years since I wrote the preface to the first edition of this book, sitting in an upper-floor room in a house in Sana, the red and orange light bathing the battered furniture through colored glass. How much the world has changed, how much people have suffered, and how many of the pillars of my own world have fallen. Sana is bombed and besieged. Its already impoverished people starve. Syria lies in ruins beyond tragedy. Egypt, the place I felt most at home, has mutated from the warm and open world of deep knowledge that drew me in, to a kitschy-dark caricature of mid-twentieth-century fascism. Those Egyptian scholars from whom I had benefited and learned so much have either died or become loyal servants of a dictatorship that only fools and the myopically vicious could embrace.

So then either my teachers were fools, in which case, does the knowledge they imparted to so many have any value? Or they were vicious, in which case, can such a vessel truly carry ‘this knowledge, which is religion,’ without sullying it? How does one make sense of things when one’s exemplars make choices that seem so profoundly wrong? I’ve long pondered this, and the answer I’m led to again and again is both comforting and supremely disturbing.

The political sphere appears of supreme import. Men triumph or are humiliated or killed; innocent women and children suffer unspeakable abuse; war is fought, peace is made, prosperity nurtured or squandered. But in the vaulted chamber of ideas, of knowledge, this sphere occupies just a portion of one of many shelves. Some who have brought great misery in human history have aimed only at satisfying themselves, but far more have been pursuing the same abstract goods as their righteous, often martyred, opponents. Bond villains are often very well intentioned. Political trauma, as total as it is, is created less by ideas than by their interpretation and implementation. Like all those who have reflected on human polity, my teachers valued both justice and order. But order had priority for them. Others would put justice first. This is a question of priority, and it has consequences. But, phrased like this in the abstract, reasonable people can disagree. And in that small space of disagreement the dimensions of our world are warped in inversion, and endless wrongs and suffering are inflicted. All on part of one shelf in the great library of our human heritage and its divine inspiration.

As impossible as it seems, as impossible as it is for me, we must keep our political disagreements in perspective. A report in Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī describes how, as Islam’s first, bloody civil war erupted, there was a diplomatic meeting. On one side was ʿAmmār bin Yāsir, who would soon die in the war, and on the other Abū Mūsā and Abū Masʿūd. The two men said to ʿAmmār, ‘In all the time since you’ve been Muslim, we haven’t seen you undertake anything more distasteful to us than your haste in this matter.’ ʿAmmār replied, ‘And I haven’t seen from you two, since the time you became Muslims, anything more distasteful to me than your hesitation on this matter.’ Then Abū Masʿūd dressed each of the other two in robes, and they all headed off to the mosque for prayer.[6]

God knows best.

[1] Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī: kitāb al-fitan, bāb qawl al-nabī ṣ sa-tarawn baʿdī umūran tunkirūnahā.

[2] Ayman Diyāb al-ʿĀbidīnī, Manhaj al-salaf al-qawīm fī al-ʿalāqa bayn al-ḥukkām wa al-maḥkūmīn, 3rd ed. (Cairo: Mu’assasat Sabīl al-Mu’minīn, 2009, first edition 2008), 38-45.

[3] Muḥammad b. Aḥmad al-Qurtubī, al-Jāmiʿ li-aḥkām al-Qur’ān, ed. Muḥammad Ibrāhīm al-Ḥifnāwī and Maḥmūd Ḥamīd ʿUthmān, 20 vols. (Cairo: Dār al-Ḥadīth, 1994), 1:520; Abū Bakr al-Jassās, Aḥkām al-Qur’ān, 3 vols. (Beirut: Dār al-Kitāb al-ʿArabī, n.d., reprint of Istanbul: Maṭbaʿat al-Awqāf al-Islāmiyya, 1917), 1:85-87.

[4] Muḥammad b. ʿAlī al-Shawkānī, “Rafʿ al-asāṭīn fī ḥukm al-ittiṣāl bi’l-salāṭīn,” in Majmūʿ fīhi sabaʿ rasā’il li’l-imām al-muḥaqqiq Muḥammad b. Ismāʿīl al-Amīr al-Ṣanʿānī, ed. Muḥammad al-Ṣaghīr Muqaṭṭirī (Beirut: Dār Ibn Ḥazm, 2004), 451.

[5] Muḥammad b. al-Amīr al-Ṣanʿānī, “Izālat al-tuhama mā yajūzu wa yaḥrumu min mukhālaṭat al-ẓalama,” in Majmūʿ fīhi sabaʿ rasā’il, 201-203; al-Shawkānī, 439-40.

[6] Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī: kitāb al-fitan, bāb 19.

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