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

Jonathan Brown PhD

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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.

Jonathan Brown is the Alwaleed bin Talal Chair of Islamic Civilization in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, and he is the Director of the Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim Christian Understanding. He received his BA in History from Georgetown University in 2000 and his doctorate in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from the University of Chicago in 2006. Dr. Brown has studied and conducted research in countries such as Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, South Africa, India, Indonesia and Iran. His book publications include The Canonization of al-Bukhari and Muslim: The Formation and Function of the Sunni Hadith Canon (Brill, 2007), Hadith: Muhammad’s Legacy in the Medieval and Modern World (Oneworld, 2009) and Muhammad: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2011), which was selected for the National Endowment for the Humanities' Bridging Cultures Muslim Journeys Bookshelf. His most recent book, Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenges and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet’s Legacy (Oneworld, 2014), was named one of the top books on religion in 2014 by the Independent. He has published articles in the fields of Hadith, Islamic law, Salafism, Sufism, Arabic lexical theory and Pre-Islamic poetry and is the editor in chief of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Law. Dr. Brown’s current research interests include Islamic legal reform and a translation of Sahih al-Bukhari.

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Abubakr

    December 18, 2018 at 7:35 AM

    A fair critique, ending with a timely and poignant reminder. Thank you, Jonathan

  2. Avatar

    Umm Al-Ameen

    December 20, 2018 at 6:26 PM

    Great piece. We ask Allah for His guidance and protection in these difficult times. Truly, only Allah knows what every soul conceals. And we take solace in the knowledge that we shall be called to account for all our actions.

  3. Avatar

    ASA

    December 20, 2018 at 8:11 PM

    A refreshing well researched piece Alhamdulillah. The conclusion however is a little disappointing – the example used is of 2 Muslim groups who had sincere political differences however neither party sided with blatant anti Muslim oppressors as is the case today. We can’t treat their actions as a legitimate political difference, thereby legitimising their major wrongdoings.

  4. Avatar

    DI

    December 22, 2018 at 8:48 PM

    Salam,
    LOL. The pot calling the kettle black. Jonathan Brown you’ve criticized sahabas in your books and have some pretty strange views yourself. And you are promoting your own books in this post. So sure, I’d like to agree with many of your fair points, but I don’t see your hands being very clean…

    For those unaware Google: Book Review of Jonathan Brown’s book “Misquoting Muhammed” By Abd al-Nur ibn Ahmed 02/01/2017

    If you have changed your views, alhamdulillah. If not, may Allah guide you.

    • Avatar

      Sherry Khan

      May 5, 2019 at 10:05 AM

      The problem for the MBZ agenda as you call it, is that of democracy itself. Muslims in the west are able to openly analyze and criticize the political and social conditions not only in the MENA region, but in other countries with Muslim populations, just as you have done in this article. The tyranny and oppression that has flourished in places like Egypt and Syria has more to do with their own history than with adherence to Islamic principle. Although these states are not mono-religious, Islam has been co-opted both as the raison d’etre for social order as well as political agendas. What a sorry state we find ourselves in when only God knows the intention of those who wield economic power!

  5. Avatar

    Fritz

    December 24, 2018 at 1:33 PM

    Good article. This is how a mature adult writes.

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#Islam

What Does Sharia Really Say About Abortion in Islam

Abortion is not a simple option of being pro-life or pro-choice, Islam recognizes the nuance.

Reem Shaikh

Published

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The following article on abortion is based on a research paper titled ‘The Rights of the Fetus in Islam’, at the Department of Sharia at Qatar University. My team and I presented it to multiple members of the faculty. It was approved by the Dean of the Islamic Studies College, an experienced and reputed Islamic authority.

In one swoop, liberal comedian Deven Green posing as her satirical character, Mrs. Betty Brown, “America’s best Christian”, demonized both Sharia law as well as how Islamic law treats abortion. Even in a debate about a law that has no Muslim protagonist in the middle of it, Islam is vilified because apparently, no problem in the world can occur without Islam being dragged into it.

It is important to clarify what Sharia is before discussing abortion. Sharia law is the set of rules and guidelines that Allah establishes as a way of life for Muslims. It is derived from the Qur’an and the Sunnah, which is interpreted and compiled by scholars based on their understandings (fiqh). Sharia takes into account what is in the best interest for individuals and society as a whole, and creates a system of life for Muslims, covering every aspect, such as worship, beliefs, ethics, transactions, etc.

Muslim life is governed by Sharia – a very personal imperative. For a Muslim living in secular lands, that is what Sharia is limited to – prayers, fasting, charity and private transactions such as not dealing with interest, marriage and divorce issues, etc. Criminal statutes are one small part of the larger Sharia but are subject to interpretation, and strictly in the realm of a Muslim country that governs by it.

With respect to abortion, the first question asked is:

“Do women have rights over their bodies or does the government have rights over women’s bodies?”

The answer to this question comes from a different perspective for Muslims. Part of Islamic faith is the belief that our bodies are an amanah from God. The Arabic word amanah literally means fulfilling or upholding trusts. When you add “al” as a prefix, or al-amanah, trust becomes “The Trust”, which has a broader Islamic meaning. It is the moral responsibility of fulfilling one’s obligations due to Allah and fulfilling one’s obligations due to other humans.

The body is one such amanah. Part of that amanah includes the rights that our bodies have over us, such as taking care of ourselves physically, emotionally and mentally – these are part of a Muslim’s duty that is incumbent upon each individual.

While the Georgia and Alabama laws in the United States that make abortion illegal after the 6-week mark of pregnancy are being mockingly referred to as “Sharia Law” abortion, the fact is that the real Sharia allows much more leniency in the matter than these laws do.

First of all, it is important to be unambiguous about one general ruling: It is unanimously agreed by the scholars of Islam that abortion without a valid excuse after the soul has entered the fetus is prohibited entirely. The question then becomes, when exactly does the soul enter the fetus? Is it when there is a heartbeat? Is it related to simple timing? Most scholars rely on the timing factor because connecting a soul to a heartbeat itself is a question of opinion.

Web MD

The timing then is also a matter of ikhtilaf, or scholarly difference of opinion:

One Hundred and Twenty Days:

The majority of the traditional scholars, including the four madhahib, are united upon the view that the soul certainly is within the fetus after 120 days of pregnancy, or after the first trimester.

This view is shaped by  the following hadith narrated by Abdullah bin Masood raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him):

قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: إن أحدكم يجمع خلقه في بطن أمه أربعين يوما ثم يكون في ذلك علقة مثل ذلك ثم يكون في ذلك مضغة مثل ذلك ثم يرسل الملك فينفخ فيه الروح..

“For every one of you, the components of his creation are gathered together in the mother’s womb for a period of forty days. Then he will remain for two more periods of the same length, after which the angel is sent and insufflates the spirit into him.”

Forty Days:

The exception to the above is that some scholars believe that the soul enters the fetus earlier, that is after the formation phase, which is around the 40 days mark of pregnancy.

This view is based on another hadith narrated by Abdullah bin Masood raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him):

قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: إذا مر بالنطفة إثنتان وأربعون ليلة بعث الله إليها ملكاً، فصوره، وخلق سمعها وبصرها وجلدها ولحمها وعظمها…

“If a drop of semen spent in the womb forty-two nights, Allah sends an angel to it who depicts it and creates its ears, eyes, skin, flesh and bones.”

Between the two views, the more widespread and popular opinion is the former, which is that the soul enters the fetus at the 120 days (or 4 months) mark, as the second hadith implies the end of the formation period of the fetus rather than the soul entering it.

Even if one accepts that the soul enters the fetus at a certain timing mark, it does not mean that the soul-less fetus can be aborted at any time or for any reason. Here again, like most matters of Islamic jurisprudence, there is ikhtilaf of scholarly difference of opinion.

No Excuse Required:

The Hanafi madhhab is the most lenient, allowing abortion during the first trimester, even without an excuse.

Some of the later scholars from the Hanafi school consider it makruh or disliked if done without a valid reason, but the majority ruled it as allowed.

Only Under Extreme Risks:

The Malikis are the most strict in this matter; they do not allow abortion even if it is done in the first month of pregnancy unless there is an extreme risk to the mother’s health.

Other Views:

As for the Shafi’i and Hanbali schools of thought, there are multiple opinions within the schools themselves, some allowing abortion, some only allowing it in the presence of a valid excuse.

Valid excuses differ from scholar to scholar, but with a strong and clear reason, permissibility becomes more lenient. Such cases include forced pregnancy (caused by rape), reasons of health and other pressing reasons.

For example, consider a rape victim who becomes pregnant. There is hardly a more compelling reason (other than the health of the mother) where abortion should be permitted. A child born as a result in such circumstances will certainly be a reminder of pain and discomfort to the mother. Every time the woman sees this child, she will be reminded of the trauma of rape that she underwent, a trauma that is generally unmatched for a woman. Leaving aside the mother, the child himself or herself will lead a life of suffering and potentially neglect. He or she may be blamed for being born– certainly unjust but possible with his or her mother’s mindset. The woman may transfer her pain to the child, psychologically or physically because he or she is a reminder of her trauma. One of the principles of Sharia is to ward off the greater of two evils. One can certainly argue that in such a case where both mother and child are at risk of trauma and more injustice, then abortion may indeed be the lesser of the two.

The only case even more pressing than rape would be when a woman’s physical health is at risk due to the pregnancy. Where the risk is clear and sufficiently severe (that is can lead to some permanent serious health damage or even death) if the fetus remained in her uterus, then it is unanimously agreed that abortion is allowed no matter what the stage of pregnancy. This is because of the Islamic principle that necessities allow prohibitions. In this case, the necessity to save the life of the mother allows abortion, which may be otherwise prohibited.

This is the mercy of Sharia, as opposed to the popular culture image about it.

Furthermore, the principle of preventing the greater of two harms applies in this case, as the mother’s life is definite and secure, while the fetus’ is not.

Absolutely Unacceptable Reason for Abortion:

Another area of unanimous agreement is that abortion cannot be undertaken due to fear of poverty. The reason for this is that this mindset collides with having faith and trust in Allah. Allah reminds us in the Quran:

((وَلَا تَقْتُلُوا أَوْلَادَكُمْ خَشْيَةَ إِمْلَاقٍ ۖ نَّحْنُ نَرْزُقُهُمْ وَإِيَّاكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ قَتْلَهُمْ كَانَ خِطْئًا كَبِيرًا))

“And do not kill your children for fear of poverty, We provide for them and for you. Indeed, their killing is ever a great sin.” (Al-Israa, 31)

Ignorance is not an excuse, but it is an acceptable excuse when it comes to mocking Islam in today’s world. Islam is a balanced religion and aims to draw ease for its adherents. Most rulings concerning fiqh are not completely cut out black and white. Rather, Islamic rulings are reasonable and consider all possible factors and circumstances, and in many cases vary from person to person.

Abortion is not a simple option of being pro-life or pro-choice. These terms have become political tools rather than sensitive choices for women who ultimately suffer the consequences either way.

Life means a lot more than just having a heartbeat. Islam completely recognizes this. Thus, Islamic rulings pertaing to abortion are detailed and varied.

As a proud Muslim, I want my fellow Muslims to be confident of their religion particularly over sensitive issues such as abortion and women’s rights to choose for themselves keeping the Creator of Life in focus at all times.

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#Current Affairs

Faith Community Stands With Peace And Justice Leader Imam Omar Suleiman During Right Wing Attacks

Hena Zuberi

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In a follow up to the right-wing media platforms attack on Imam Omar Suleiman – calling him anti-semitic, a common tactic used to discredit both Muslim activists, as well as criticism of Israel policies, Faith Forward Dallas issued a statement.

Faith Forward Dallas at Thanksgiving Square – Faith Leaders United for Peace and Justice is a Texas-based interfaith organization that has worked on many initiatives with Imam Omar Suleiman.

The statement reads:

“Imam Omar Suleiman a spiritual and moral voice for peace with justice!!!!!

Time after time in our city, in the United States and around the world, Imam Omar Suleiman has been a spiritual and moral voice for peace with justice. When others seek to divide, he calls for unity. Faith Forward Dallas at Thanks-Giving Square works to unite faith leaders for justice and compassion. Imam Suleiman has been a trusted leader among us. In the wake of his beautiful prayer to open the House of Representatives on May 9, he has received threats of violence and words of vilification when instead he should have our praise and prayers. We call upon people of good will everywhere to tone down the rhetoric, to replace hate with love, and to build bridges toward the common good.

Faith Forward Dallas at Thanks-Giving Square”

Commenters on the Faith Forward Dallas statement have left comments of support.

The group has invited locals and other leaders to endorse and share the statement. “Endorsed! I love and fully you Imam Omar Suleiman!” wrote Karen Weldes Fry, Spiritual Director at Center of Spiritual Learning in Dallas (CSLDallas), commenting on the statement.

Some commentators do not understand the manufactured controversy.  Heather Mustain writes, “What people are writing is so vile. They obviously didn’t even listen to his prayer!” Imam  Omar Suleiman delivered the opening prayer in the US House of Representatives on May, 9th, 2019  at the invitation of Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D) of Dallas, TX.

“I’m grateful for the faith leaders with whom I’ve built relationships with and served with for years that have shown full support throughout this process. Together we’ve stood with one another in solidarity in the face of bigotry, and in the support of others in any form of pain. We will not let these dark forces divide us,” said Imam Omar Suleiman in response to the outpouring of love from the people he has worked with on the ground, building on peace, love, and justice.

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#Current Affairs

#UnitedForOmar – Imam Omar Suleiman Smeared by Right-Wing News After Opening Prayer at US House of Representatives

Zeba Khan

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Sh. Omar Suleiman delivered the opening prayer in the US House of Representatives yesterday, May, 9th, 2019  at the invitation of Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D) of Dallas.

Immediately since, right wing media platforms have begun spreading negative coverage of the Imam Omar Suleiman – calling him anti-semitic, a common tactic used to discredit both Muslim activists as well as criticism of Israel policies.

News outlets citing the criticism have pointed to a post from The Investigative Project on Terrorism or ITP, as the source. The  ITP was founded by and directed by noted Islamophobe Steven Emerson. Emerson’s history of hate speech has been documented for over two decades.

Since then, the story has been carried forward by multiple press outlets.

The immediate consequence of this has been the direction of online hate towards what has been Imam Omar Suleiman’s long history of preaching unity in the US socio-political sphere.

“Since my invocation I’ve been inundated with hate articles, threats, and other tactics of intimidation to silence me over a prayer for unity,” Imam Omar Suleiman says. “These attacks are in bad faith and meant to again send a message to the Muslim community that we are not welcome to assert ourselves in any meaningful space or way.”

MuslimMatters is proud to stand by Imam Omar Suleiman, and we invite our readers to share the evidence that counters the accusations against him of anti-semitism, bigotry, and hate. We would also encourage you to reach out, support, and amplify voices of support like Representative E.B.Johnson, and Representative Colin Allred.

You can help counter the false narrative, simply by sharing evidence of Imam Omar Suleiman’s work. It speaks for itself, and you can share it at the hashtag #UnitedForOmar

JazakAllahuKheiran


A Priest, a Rabbi, and an Imam Walk Into a Church in Dallas

At an interfaith panel discussion, three North Texas religious leaders promoted understanding and dialogue among Muslims, Jews, and Christians. Amid a vexed political and social climate, three religious leaders in North Texas—a priest, an imam, and a rabbi—proved it’s possible to come together in times of division. Source: DMagazine.com


Muslim congregation writes letters of support to Dallas Jewish Community

The congregation, led by Imam Omar Suleiman, penned more than 150 cards and letters. source: WFAA News


Historic action: Muslims and Jews for Dreamers

“We must recognize that the white supremacy that threatens the black and Latino communities, is the same white supremacy that spurs Islamophobia and antisemitism,” -Imam Omar Suleiman

Source: Bend The Arc


Through Dialogue, Interfaith Leaders Hope North Texans Will Better Understand Each Other

“When any community is targeted, they need to see a united faith voice — that all communities come together and express complete rejection of anything that would pit our society against one another more than it already is.” -Imam Omar Suleiman

Source: Kera News

 


Conversations at The Carter Center: Harmonizing Religion and Human Rights 

Source: The Carter Center


Imam: After devastating New Zealand attack, we will not be deterred

My wife and I decided to take our kids to a synagogue in Dallas the night after the massacre at Tree of Life in Pittsburgh to grieve and show solidarity with the Jewish community. My 5-year-old played with kids his age while we mourned inside, resisting hate even unknowingly with his innocence…” Source: CNN

 

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