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Islam and the Other: the al-Wala wal-Bara Doctrine

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Muslims’ own image is that they are peaceful tolerant human beings, while the non-Muslims are aggressors, imperialist-colonialist occupiers. Therefore, it is the role of Islam to retaliate and fight back against oppression and evil as a defensive policy.

This ethnocentric approach explains the Muslims self-image of being always the victim who takes only defensive measures, while the Kuffār are always the war-instigators.

This duality is a conspicuous characteristic of Arab-Islamic political culture. It means that Muslims can viciously attack at almost every situation possible and at the same time to cry out they are victims being under oppression and aggression. They can perpetuate obscene inhuman acts of violence, to terrorize and intimidate, while they accuse the other of colonialism, apartheid, racism, and Islamophobia.

Sheikh Muhammad al-Sha‘rawi, the al-Azhar Egyptian exegetes, explains in his book al-Jihād fil- Islām that Islam is in no way aggressive violent, that it does not live and expend on the sword, and that it does not coerce the infidels to convert to Islam or be killed by Jihad. Islam tolerates the non-Muslims and bases its approach only on peace, mutual security and cooperation, and not on war, killing and coercion. Jihad is defensive and intends to repulse hostility and to fight back oppression and aggression. The call of Islam is only through Da‘wah and good intentions.            

This idea is so common among the Muslims that they wholeheartedly believe in it, and that is why Islamic propaganda, the Da‘wah, the political deceit of the Kuffār, the infidels, is so successful. It also explains how Islam is the most ethnocentric religion and political culture. It differentiates the world between Dār al-Islām against Dār al-Harb; between the good and righteous society and the bad and unclean society; it is the right against wrong; and it is the pious against the evil-doers; it is Paradise or Hell. There are no legitimacy, consensual recognition and acceptance of the other, unless he becomes Muslim or he is subdued to Islamic rule.

Moreover, everything in Islam is perfect, un-comparable and un-imitative: Allah is the one and only. Muhammad is the seal of all prophets, the perfect human and the most praised and blessed one; the man with Nûr Allâh (the light of Allah) and ‘Isma (immunity of error) who was sent as a mercy to the world, “the excellent example” for the believers to be entirely imitated, wholeheartedly admired, and totally followed without any doubt or question. The Qur’ān is the perfect replica of the mother book which exists eternally in heaven, a literary masterpiece ever written that no human can imitate. Islam is the perfect religious system, the only supreme ultimate true religion upon Earth; and the Muslim believers are the favored, the best of all peoples ever rose upon mankind, with three objectives commanded upon them: to seize power over the universe, to subjugate the world under the Sharī‘ah, and to establish a world Islamic Ummah.

That is where the doctrine of al-Walā’ wal-Barā’ operates. Literally it means the total loyalty to Islam and the total disavowal and enmity to the other. It has become one of Islam’s main foundations and of paramount importance, directly representing Imān, and is second only to Tawhīd, the oneness of Allah. The total allegiance and love are only to be given within the Islamic community, and rejection, hate and enmity against the other is commanded, based upon Qur’anic foundations.

In his introduction to the book of Sheikh Muhammad al-Qahtani, al-Walā’ wal-Barā’, Sheikh Abdar Razaq Afīfī, Deputy President of the Department of Guidance and Member of Board of Great `Ulamā’ of Saudi Arabia, declares:

The subject matter is of paramount importance and utmost interest: it is concerned with one of Islam’s main foundations, which has two major prerequisites of true faith: al-Walā’ is a manifestation of sincere love for Allah, his prophet and the believers; al-Barā’ is an expression of enmity and hatred towards falsehood and its adherents. Both are evidence of Imān.

Ibn Taymīyah, the medieval exegete, one of the most cited authorities by Wahhabi jurisprudence, has referred to the issue:

Whoever loves for the sake of Allah, and hates for the sake of Allah, and whoever seals a friendship for his sake, or declares an enmity for his sake, will receive the protection of Allah. No one may taste true faith except by this.

al-Walā’ wal-Barā’ and the Kuffār

The issue of the Kuffār, infidels, is one of the most important in the Qur’ān. The amount of verses devoted to the Kuffār is huge: 64% of the total Qur’ān; 81% of the Sīrāh; and 37% of the Hādīth; that is 60% of the Sharī‘āh is devoted to the Kuffār. The Qur’ān makes it clear that Islam is not about universal brotherhood, but about the brotherhood of believers only under Islamic Ummah, and the total denunciation of the other. There are over 400 verses in the Qur’ān alone that describe the torment in Hell-fire that Allah has prepared for the Kuffār. The Qur’ān dehumanizes the Kuffār, being vile animals and beasts, the worst of creatures and demons. They are perverted transgressors and partners of Satan to be fought until religion is Allah’s alone. They are to be beheaded; terrorized; annihilated; crucified; punished and expelled; and burn in Hell-fire. The believers must fight the Kuffār as a constant matter.

The Qur’ān tells Muslims to be compassionate with one another but ruthless to the Kuffār, it is commanded that the Kuffār must not be taken as friends. “Hostility and hate” exist between them forever until the Kuffār “believe in Allah alone.” They are unclean people who wish to extinguish the light of Allah. Bernard Lewis has put it:

Islam is still the ultimate criterion of group identity and loyalty. It is Islam that distinguishes between self and other, between insider and outsider, between brother and stranger… the ultimate definition of the other, the alien outsider and presumptive enemy, has been the Kāfir…  

The Qur’ān and other religions

The Qur’ān says that all other religions as such are cursed by Allah. All those who join idols, or false gods to Allah, or invent lies about him, or deny Allah, or change even one word of Allah’s Book, or does not believe in Muhammad — are to be “seized wherever found and slain with a slaughter.”

Narrated Ibn ‘Umar: Allah’s Apostle said: “I have been ordered to fight against the people until they testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that Muhammad is Allah’s Apostle.”

Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah’s Apostle said, “I have been made victorious with terror, and while I was sleeping, the keys of the treasures of the world were brought to me and put in my hand.”

al-Walā’ wal-Barā’ by the Tawhīd

A second aspect of al-Walā’ wal-Barā’ is when the Muslims solemnly declare the Tawhīd: La Illāh ila-llâh (there is no god but Allah), it means they clearly state that all other religions are denied, sinful and unlawful. According to Ibn Taymiyah:

It is not possible to achieve complete happiness by loving Allah, except by the full rejecting all other things. This is what the words, “There is no god but Allah” mean; this is the spirit of Dīn.

On many verses, the Qur’ān reiterates the commandment that it is forbidden to associate other gods with Allah, and Islam should be adhered to become the only legitimate religion on earth. It is followed by the swear-belief that Muhammad is his messenger, that his conduct embodied Islam and Qur’ān. Muhammad’s words are absolutely the best to follow, being religiously unassailable. Moreover, the mission of Muhammad is to all humanity, so actually humanity must obey Muhammad as much as Allah. Those who disobey Allah and his messenger will be led into the torment of Hell-fire to live forever. Tawhīd will never be achieved on earth until the believers apply the doctrine of al-Walā’ wal-Barā’, by total following of Muhammad’s way of life, al-Sirāt al-Mustaqīm.

al-Walā’ wal-Barā’ by the prayer

In each of the five daily prayers, Muslims declare the total allegiance and submission to Islam and objection to the other, as appears in Surat al-Fātihah, 1:5-7

Guide us to the straight path, the path of those whom you have favored, not of those against whom there is wrath, nor of those have gone astray.

Those who have incurred Allah’s wrath are the Jews, and those who go astray are the Christians. al-Tabari (838-923), in his Tafsīr, cites Surat al-Ma’idah 5:60, which name the Jews as those with whom Allah is angry with, turned into apes and pigs; and al-Mā’idah 5:77, which name the Christians as those who go astray from the right path. Narrated by Adi bin Hatim: I asked Allâh’s Messenger about the statement of Allâh ‘not (the way) of those who earned your anger,’ he replied: ‘They are the Jews; ’and ‘not those who went astray,’ he replied: ‘they are the Christians.’

al-Walā’ wal-Barā’ and the supremacy of the Muslims

Another aspect of al-Walā’ wal-Barā’ is based on the Qur’anic declaration that the Muslims are the best of all peoples ever raised up for mankind, and their profit is a luxurious life in Paradise. Islam is the perfect religious system, beyond and above all other religions. It clearly declares that its aim is to subjugate the world under the Sharī’ah, until Islam is the only religion upon earth. Its utmost goal is the establishing of a world Islamic Ummah under the Khilāfah, Caliphate.

The believers follow in total submission and devotion to Allah, and are “kneeling and bowing in reverence, seeking Allah’s favor in acceptance; their mark is on their foreheads from the effect of prostrations.” That is why the believer whose heart is at peace welcomes with a smile death and all worldly obstacles. Death is seen as the most desired result of life. This is according to the verses in Surat al-Fajr: “Return to your Lord, pleased and well-pleasing. Enter among my servants, and enter my Garden.”  

al-Walā’ wal-Barā’ and the ‘Just war’ (Siyār)

The last aspect of al-Walā’ wal-Barā’ is related the issue of war and peace. Since the world is divided into two distinct realms: Dar al-Islām and Dar al-Harb, the normal and only justified relationship is a state of infinite war. There is no peace in Islam toward the other but temporary, elaborated by Majid Khadduri. Islam has no concept of “Just War,” since any war directed against the Kuffār, whatever are its grounds and circumstances is morally justified and religiously legitimized. A lasting peace between Dar al–Islām and Dar al–Harb is impossible, until Dar al–Harb no more exists.

Jihad reflects the normal relations existing between the believers and the Kuffār. There are no unbelievers or disbelievers in Islamic scriptures but only Kuffār. That is why the Islamic wars are Futuhat, in the sense of opening the world to the call of Islam, whereas the Kuffār wars are Hurub. Any territory conquered during history by Islam becomes Waqf, never to be returned, while any territory conquered by the Kuffār is considered occupation that must be returned by force. By this reasoning all territories of the Kuffār must be occupied and subdued by Jihad.

When the entire world becomes Dar al–Islām, submission to Allah will be the law of the whole universe, and Jihad al-Akbar reigns. Until then, war is the normal and lasting state of affair (Jihād al-Saghīr). Jihad as a Just War against the Kuffār appears as follows: Qur’an – 24%; Sīrah – 67%; Hādīth – 21%. The total Sharī‘āh – 31%.

Domestic realm: al-Walā’ wal-Barā’ and al-Tā’ifah al-Mansūrah

The issue of Walā’ wa-Barā’ has also a domestic framework. Salafi-Jihadi groups and the Wahhabi Muslims believe they are the Saved Sect (al-Tā’ifah al-Mansūrah), the only group who has the correct Islamic beliefs. They are the real Ahl al-Sunna wal-Jamā‘ah, while all other manifestations of Islam have deviated from the ‘straight path’ (Sirāt al-Mustaqīm), and by that destined for hell as ‘apostates’. This principle is the basis of Takfīr doctrine the Jihadists use to identify their domestic Muslim enemies and to justify their elimination, as we see in Dawlat al-Khilāfah al-Islāmiyah.

Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhāb’s concept of Takfīr, includes the command that anyone who does not show sufficient levels of Walā’, allegiance to ‘true Muslims’, and adequate Barā’, rejection of ‘sinners’, is at risk of committing apostasy. Abū Qatāda, the Jordanian-Palestinian preacher, has written on the subject. al-Tā’ifah al-Mansūrah reinforces Jihadists’ self-belief being righteous; strengthen their mutual solidarity; and allows them to fight opposition to their views.

This has also to do with the issue is Tāghūt (false deity). Muslims have an obligation to struggle against Tāghūt on the mere assumption that it is against Allah or what Allah has revealed. This approach of Tāghūt depends on religious rulings issued by Wahhābi clerics, yet it is defined as anything that is antithesis of Islamic monotheism. ‘Abd al-Majīd bin Muhammad al-Munī‘, a leading scholar for al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia, explained that in order to achieve Tawhīd, which is the highest requirement of every Muslim, one must explicitly reject Tāghūt, otherwise he is an apostate.

Tāghūt is at the heart of the Salafi-Jihādi struggle against Arab-Muslim regimes that do not comply with their Islamic conceptions, and it legitimizes religious rationale behind their terrorist attacks. These are also based on the Hādīth: “Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.” Salafi-Jihadi groups can accuse any ruler who implements a political system that conflicts with their exact interpretation of Islam as being Kafir.

al-Walā’ wal-Barā’ and al-Fitrah doctrine

The Fitrah doctrine is the Islamic concept of human nature, as the right action of submission to Allah. Fitrah is associated with the Dīn, as how Allah has created mankind and universe. Islam is called Dīn al-Fitrah, the religion of human nature, because its laws and its teachings are relevant to all universe and human beings.

The highest important Islamic use of Fitrah is the belief that actually all mankind from eter¬nity are Muslims. Allah, having created humankind, took a covenant with them that they all will believe only in Islam and obey only him and his messenger. All babies who come to the world were born Muslim, and only their cruel inconsiderate parents have changed their religion. The proof comes from the Old and New Testaments: all Jewish and Christian patriarchs and prophets were Muslims who preached Islam from the outset, and clearly testified that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah and the ‘Seal of all Prophets.’

In Sūrat al-Baqarah, Abraham prayed: “make us submit, oh Allah to your will.” Later on one finds Jacob’s sons declaring: “We shall worship your Allah and the Allah of Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac, the one and only Allah; and to him we submit.” And later on, Jesus declares: “I am indeed a slave of Allah. Allah is my lord and your lord, so worship him alone.” Then he asked: “Who will help me in the way of Allah?’ And his disciples answered: we shall be the helpers of Allah. We believe in Allah; and you are our witness that we submit and obey.” In Sūrat al-Nisā’, one learns that Jesus, son of Mary, was only an apostle of Allah.

In its outrageous impudence, Islam declares that there are proofs of Muhammad’s prophecy in the Old and the New Testaments. They quote Deuteronomy 18:17-9 and 34:12 that promise the coming of Prophet Muhammad as the seal of all prophets. In Deuteronomy, 33:2, when they quote: “The Lord came from Sinai and dawned over them from Seir; He shone forth from Mount Paran.” For the Muslims, Sinai is the place where the Moses spoke to Allah and received the Taurât; Seir, is the place where the Jesus received Divine Revelation; and Paran is in Mecca in which Allah manifested himself to mankind for the last time through his revelation to Muhammad.

This is the basis of Islamic Messianic conversion. Aslim – Taslim was the strategy, the slogan-message that Muhammad sent to the non-Muslims, literally meaning “submit and you will be safe”. This was accepted by all Muslim leaders: Da’wah Qablal-Jihād: the call to submit to Islam before Jihad war. Nowadays, the Da’wah, the propagation arm to deceive the infidels, works effectively to conquer the world by conversion, and the Fitrah doctrine has become the means to achieve it.

Summary

The doctrine of al-Walā’ wal-Barā’ signifies critical importance to understanding Islamic worldview and its conceptions towards the other. Befriending believers and battling infidels are critical pillars in Islam. It is so important that is it second only to Tawhīd, the oneness of Allah. Faith is incomplete without it, including renouncing and fighting domestic rulers. It is the criterion of distinguishing between the believers and the enemies of Islam. That is why Tawhīd will never be achieved on earth until the believers apply al-Walā’ wal-Barā’, by total following Muhammad’s way of life, al-Sirāt al-Mustaqīm.

According to the Fitrah doctrine, it is the deep Islamic belief that Islam has the obligation to rule the world and to impose its Sharī‘āh on humanity. The Kuffār who resist Islam and do not accept it by their own free choice are responsible for the persistence of violence and the absence of world peace. If only they were to accept the unavoidable reality and submit to the propagation of Islam, then the Muslims would not have to use al-Barā’ and would not have to resort to Jihad to kill them. Submission is the only solution to world peace and it is for the best interest of humanity.

He who wishes to understand why the Muslims hate us so deeply; why Islam is a murderous automatic machinery system of hatred against the other; why this venom is so thoroughly implanted in every Muslim from infancy — al-Walā’ wal-Barā’ doctrine is the source and the answer.

Religion

The sunset of the West and Islam: From US bombs to the return of the Taliban

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With regard to the issue of Islamic proselytism in Europe, where some countries (Belgium, Great Britain, France, etc.) have large minorities of Muslim believers – who, according to many, should be Americanized with sheriff’s hats, miniskirts and reducing the faith to smartphone apps – some clarifications must be made regarding the ignorance that leads newspapers, television and social networks to absolutely not understand what Islam is, i.e. a religion that does not look at races, but aims at the universalism of the God of Abraham.

The Muslim law is a legal science of ancient tradition based on the Holy Koran. Islam is a religious, political and legal system of a reality that is a whole: dogmatic, moral, ritual, pertaining to private and public law (according to our Roman law categories).

A whole – as said above – stemming from the same sacred sources and bearing the overall name of šarī’a (following the straight path revealed by God), which, being based on the Old and New Testament (prophets of Islam: Adam, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Mary, Muhammad), can be “translated” correctly into religious law of divine origin.

This is of absolute importance and it must be kept in mind – as a peculiarity of Islam – that this religion regulates – with very detailed positive precepts – every manifestation of the life of believers, even in those areas that might appear to be the farthest from the field of religion, according to the parameters of secularism.

The science of law (‘ilm al-fiqh) according to the Muslim jurists (fuqahā’, sing. faqīh) has a first bipartition in the sources of law (usul al-fiqh, sing. asl al-fiqh): the Koran, the Sunnah (ahadīt, sing. hadīt: sayings of the Prophet), the ijmā’ or consensus of the community (ummah) and the qiyās or deductive analogy.

The šarī’a, in turn, is divided into ‘ibādat and mu’āmalat. The former includes the five pillars of faith: acceptance of God, daily prayer, legal almsgiving, fasting and abstinence until sunset in the month of Ramadān (9th), pilgrimage to Mecca and its surroundings in the month of Dû l-Hijja (12th). The second covers all other aspects of the social, economic and political life of the community, and can be adapted to the varying needs of times and places, provided the results do not deviate from the word and spirit of the šarī’a itself.

Prof. Giorgio Vercellin (1950-2007) recalled that Westerners have always pretended not to see this fact, for contingent interests, first of colonial expansion – in trying to impose their own laws and exploit territories – and then of attempted internal assimilation (cancellation of national and fideistic individuality), and

«in essence, therefore, the Muslim world, and particularly the Islamic Near East (and in the manuals there is no trace of the presence of numerous and active Christian and Jewish communities in those territories over the centuries) is described as having an autonomous history worthy of attention only in the remote past. It is not by chance that the pages on Muhammad and his immediate successors follow the much more copious pages describing the Persians – i.e. the Achaemenids – the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Phoenicians, etc. In other words, Islam and the Muslim world are presented on the same “archaeological” level (and therefore devoid of evolution until today) as the ancient Greeks and Romans. […] The real crux is that the Society of Italian Historians has considered the “Muslim world”, so to speak, automatically as part of the “ancient world».

Instead, it is contemporary and present. Muslims are men and women of faith, and for them religion is also pure lawfulness. Islam is not just a confession, but a culture, a multicontinental and cross-sectoral civilisation, a way of life in which the relationship with the divinity is spiritual and temporal at the same time.

The history of Western thought, from the age of Enlightenment to the present day, is marked by the conflict between faith and science: there is a constant loss of ground of the areas of influence of religion in favour of the side hegemonised by technology.

By this we mean secularisation, rationalisation, relativism, etc. The most striking manifestation of all this is the recognition of the right to ‘believe’ but also to ‘not believe’. Tout court, it is the right to atheism, which Muslim jurisprudence – which, as seen above, is identified with faith – does not admit and which the West tries to impose with the violence of American weapons and with the soppy and cloying European do-goodism and political correctness. Whatever some well-meaning sociologists may say, Islam does not distinguish between religion and politics, between confession and law.

The trend that is being strengthened in the Islamic world consists in a reaffirmation of both regulations and general Shariah principles, which have been established either through legislation or as a practice in Muslim and Islamic countries, i.e. the places from where migrants come.

In the Islamic tradition, the principle that Islam as such must be both religion and State (dīn wa-dawla wa duniyā), and that the term secularism (‘ilmaniyya) is synonymous with atheism, materialism, permissiveness, moral decadence, etc., is fundamental, especially in the countries allied with the West (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, etc.), and in those which are not allied with it. In each of them the institutional presence of other faiths is rarely allowed – and this from a purely legal viewpoint.

The illusion with which weak-minded or mean-minded people (to say the least) and others pursue the so-called multiculturalism has no basis in the experience and beliefs of the other party. Therefore, imagining a Muslim who adheres to the canons and principles of the liberal system – which is atheist insofar as it turns faith from a value into a subjective choice or into an “evangelical” sociological solution and welfarism for the desperate or destitute people – is a deadly naivety: a historical suicide on the part of a society that no longer has anything to offer and on the part of a production system that is leading the planet to destruction.

Any person, whether Christian, Muslim or Jewish, who puts forward his or her own viewpoint – either in writing or in a speech, which subsumes his or her thinking – clearly believes it to be right and true, and does not accept – on principle – a contrary or different opinion.

It is practically the parallel of a Westerner who, for various reasons, moves to a Muslim country and ex abrupto denies his way of thinking and living. Sometimes you do not understand whether this candid hope is the result of the Westerner’s ignorance or, worse, the absolute malice of a few, since cheap and profitable workforce and caregivers are much more needed than ethics, respect and safety and security of our citizens.

This shows that it is not the West that tolerates the Muslim presence in Europe, but the opposite. In a society such as ours – in full social and environmental deterioration (see the Laudato si’ by Pope Francis), which has denied the sacred and has mixed genders; which is based on consumerism, servitude to money, exasperation of profit, the race for the useless, the triumph of technologicism, the race for pleasure, hedonism, the reduction of the ruling class and of politicians to zero; which has relegated women to the role of sexual icons and has reduced the sense of heroism to fiction; a society in which liberal-free market thinking generates embarrassing choices – the believers, including Catholics, Christians in toto, Jews and Muslims here, are instead tolerating the system that hosts them.

This is proved by the fact that the criminal horrors and atrocities we witnessed on November 13, 2015 were carried out by an infinitesimal percentage of Muslims present on our continent – on top of it, European citizens and not emigrants, i.e. legal children of those States where they committed crimes. It is not for me to explain why they have done so. In a millennium and a half, what has been happening for the last sixteen years, since the “humanitarian” bombs began to devastate the Afghanistan of the Taliban in the past and of the Taliban today, has never happened.

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Muslim-Evangelical alliance strives to create religious and political middle ground

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A recent unprecedented alliance between Muslims and Evangelicals takes on added significance in a world in which human rights are on the defensive, religious groups tend to forge political as well as ideational partnerships, and the role of the clergy in multiple Muslim-majority countries has come under scrutiny.

The alliance potentially could create a platform for voices in the Muslim world, particularly the Middle East, in which significant segments of the youth who constitute a majority of the population, increasingly reject state-controlled, ritualistic forms of religion and distrust clerics subservient to the government.

It could also offer a middle ground on which elements of the secular centre-right and centre-left could meet based on shared faith-based values in deeply polarised parts of the world, particularly in the West.

International affairs and inter-faith scholar Michael Driessen suggested in an email to this writer that the recently forged alliance between Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), one, if not the world’s largest Muslim civil society organization, and the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), fits a pattern of partnerships between diverse religious groups that goes beyond seeking to protect minorities to promotion of social cohesion and fraternity.

Speaking at a virtual meeting of the Interfaith Forum of the Group of 20 or G20 that brings together the world’s largest economies, Tunisian Islam scholar Nejia Al-Ourimi seemed to anticipate the alliance when she argued that reform of Islam would have to be bottom-up and originate in civil society rather than top-down and directed and controlled by autocratic rulers who see it as a way of branding themselves and their nations as well as and one way of ensuring survival.

Ms. Al-Ourimi reasoned further that genuine inclusivity was precluded in much of the Middle East because most Arab constitutions assume that the state has a religion. She went on to say that “what we need to do is reframe the traditional approaches of linking religion to legislation. We must find leaders who are willing to withdraw from the traditional way of participating in the public sphere—through the legal and legislative dimensions—and return from a ‘values’ perspective to guide ethical efforts.”

In a contribution to a recently published report on Human Fraternity and Inclusive Citizenship issued by the Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI) and the Beirut-based Foundation for Diversity, Solidarity and Human Dignity (Adyan), Ms. Al-Oumiri points to a series of lofty, lovey-dovey inter-faith statements issued in the past decade by different combinations of Arab Muslim and non-Muslim clerics, religious and secular intellectuals, and politicians.

The statements constituted attempts by Muslim religious authorities and autocratic governments to keep ahead of the curb of youth aspirations and project themselves as voices of moderation by emphasizing religious freedom, religious pluralism, and inclusive citizenship irrespective of religious belief.

The statements include the 2012 Statement on Basic Freedoms issued by Al Azhar, Islam’s Cairo-based oldest institution of Islamic learning that has long been swayed by Saudi and United Arab Emirates financial support, the 2016 Marrakech Declaration that called for the development of a jurisprudence of that enshrines the concept of inclusive citizenship, and the Document on Human Fraternity signed in the UAE in 2019 by Pope Francis and Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar.

Referring to the 2012 Al Azhar statement, Ms. Al-Oumiri highlighted the fact that the statement was issued in the wake of popular revolts that in 2011 toppled the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen. Saudi and UAE manoeuvres helped roll back the revolts’ achievements in all of the countries except for Tunisia.

The manoeuvres did not roll back what Ms. Al-Oumiri described as a “new awareness” among “all the components that participated in the protest movement, secularists, liberals, Christians, Muslims and others, (that) became aware of the fact that the bilateral polarization and exclusionary relations prevailing at that time were the main reason for the dispersion of forces capable of inducing positive change and extricating Arab society from its chronic crisis.” It is an awareness that expresses itself today among others in changing youth attitudes towards religiosity.

Ms. Al-Oumiri’s ‘new awareness’ is one factor that hampers autocratic efforts to shape a moderate form of Islam that serves the needs of social change and economic diversification without conceding democratic freedoms, projects autocrats as religious moderates as part of their nation branding and furthers their quest for religious soft power.

The ‘new awareness’ is borne out by research and opinion polls that consistently show that the gap between the religious aspirations of youth and state-imposed interpretations of Islam is widening. The polls and research suggest that youth are increasingly sceptical towards religious and worldly authority. They aspire to more individual, more spiritual experiences of religion.

As a result, Nahdlatul Ulama’s opportunity to turn its alliance with the WEA into a vehicle of change in both the Muslim world and the West is enhanced by the fact that religious reform in rival contenders for religious soft power like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, and Egypt is top-down by decree or changes in common or civil rather than, more sustainably, bottom-up and anchored in religious law and jurisprudence.

The point was highlighted when Nahdlatul Ulama’s religious leaders took the first step towards reform of religious law and/or jurisprudence in 2019 by replacing the notion of the kafir or infidel with the concept of muwathinun or citizens to emphasize that Muslims and non-Muslims were equal before the law.

Leaders of the group say that they intend to tackle other outdated, intolerant, or supremacist concepts such as the dhimmi or People of the Book, and slavey that remain reference points even if large numbers of Muslims do not heed them in their daily life, as well as eventually blasphemy and apostasy.

Nahdlatul Ulama’s opportunity is further both bolstered and complicated by the fact that autocratic Muslim rulers wittingly or unwittingly reinforce Islamophobic tendencies in multiple ways by their often brutal abuse of human rights at home and their support of policies in various parts of the globe that encourage negative perceptions of Islam and Muslims.

These policies include the blurring in countries like France and Austria of the lines between political Islam and piety as well as autocratic Muslim acquiescence, if not endorsement of the crackdown on Turkic Muslims and Islam in China’s north-western province of Xinjiang.

Nahdlatul Ulama, despite its tangible adherence to principles of democracy, human rights, and tolerance, has yet to clearly distinguish itself from autocratic religious soft power rivals when it comes to its shared rejection of political Islam and identity politics. In other words, how it handles Islamophobia is likely to be a litmus test for Nahdlatul Ulama as well as its alliance with the Evangelicals.

Making that distinction clear is likely to also enhance the Nahdlatul Ulama-WEA alliance’s ability to bring together elements of the centre-right and centre-left could meet based on shared faith-based advocacy of human rights, democratic freedoms, and tolerance at a time that democracy is on the defence.

The linkage between the Nahdlatul Ulama-WEA alliance’s opportunity to serve as a bridge in both the religious and political domain is evident not only when it comes to countering religious supremacism but also far-right extremism. It is that linkage that adds a geopolitical dimension to the alliance’s potential.

Germany, where ultra-nationalist supremacists, despite recent electoral setbacks for the Alternative for Germany (AfD), have infiltrated the security and armed forces, spotlights the importance of creating a religious and political centre that is driven as much by shared values as it is by interests.

Security services recorded more than 1,400 cases of suspected far-right extremism among soldiers, police officers and intelligence agents in recent years. The German defence ministry last year disbanded a whole company of special forces after explosives, a machine gun, and memorabilia of the Nazi’s SS were found on the property of a sergeant major.

The geopolitical significance of developments in Germany is enhanced by the fact that some German ultra-nationalists and members of the far-right are believed to have links to Russia and /or far-right Russian nationalists.

In the latest German incident, prosecutors are investigating an official of Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), the country’s domestic intelligence agency, suspected of helping plan the assassination of a Chechen dissident as part of a campaign across Europe that targets critics of Ramzan Kadyrov, the president of the Russian republic of Chechnya. Mr. Kadyrov is widely viewed as an associate of President Vladimir Putin and maintains close ties to Middle Eastern autocrats.

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Religion

Defining moderate Islam: Muslims and Evangelicals forge an alliance

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A major Muslim and Evangelical organization joined forces this week to significantly advance hitherto state-backed ceremonial inter-faith dialogues that seldom go beyond platitudes and lofty statements.

This week’s launch at a Washington DC mosque of an inter-faith alliance and a book published by the Institute for Humanitarian Islam and the Germany-based World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) as well as the Center for Shared Civilizational Values constitutes an Evangelical endorsement of Humanitarian Islam.

It also amounts to a rare Muslim celebration of an Evangelical authority, WEA secretary general Archbishop Thomas Schirrmacher, who played a key role in building a relationship between the Evangelical group and Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama, one, if not the world’s largest Muslim movement.

“Dr. Schirrmacher’s decision to engage with the Humanitarian Islam movement may prove to be singularly consequential, and perhaps even historic, in its ramifications for the relationship between Christians and Muslims,” the editors of the book, Thomas K. Johnson and C. Holland Taylor said in their introduction.

Entitled ‘God Needs No Defense: Reimagining Muslim – Christian Relations in the 21st Century,’ the book is an anthology of essays written by preeminent Muslim and Christian scholars.

Based in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, the Institute for Humanitarian Islam was established by Nahdlatul Ulama to advance globally its humanitarian interpretation of the faith.

Nahdlatul Ulama sees the concept as an alternative to state-backed less developed and less tolerant and pluralistic notions of a moderate Islam as propagated by countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as well expressions of political Islam represented by Turkey, Iran, and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Nahdlatul Ulama was founded almost a century ago in opposition to Wahhabism, the austere interpretation of Islam propagated for decades by Saudi Arabia until the rise in 2015 of King Salman and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The Indonesian group positions Humanitarian Islam as advocating genuine religious reform rather than self-serving social and rhetorical change advocated by rulers eager to implement long-overdue economic and social reform and project themselves as genuine religious moderates in a global battle for Muslim religious soft power and the soul of Islam.

The differences between Nahdlatul Ulama’s Humanitarian Islam and the interpretations of the faith put forward by its conservative monarchical and republican Islamist soft power rivals are stark and raise fundamental questions about what constitutes genuine reform and how it can sustainably be achieved.

The differences pitch an independent civil society group, albeit one with close ties to the state, against states themselves.

Nahdlatul Ulama’s independence has allowed it to start a process of real change rooted in religious law and jurisprudence rather than a ruler’s decree or opinion issued by subservient clergymen.

The group challenges outdated, intolerant, or supremacist concepts such as the kafir or infidel, the dhimmi or People of the Book, and slavey that remain reference points even if large numbers of Muslims do not heed them in their daily life, as well as eventually blasphemy and apostasy.

The group’s religious leaders took the first step in 2019 by replacing the term kafir with the word muwathinun or citizen to emphasize that Muslims and non-Muslims were equal before the law. “The word ‘kafir’ hurts some non-Muslims and is perceived to be theologically violent,” Nahdlatul Ulama cleric Abdul Moqsith Ghazali said at the time.

Independence also enabled Nahdlatul Ulama to embrace the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, parts of which are exempted by its religious soft power rivals. That is not to say that liberals may not take issue with some of the interpretations of the declaration by Nahdlatul Ulama, a socially conservative movement.

The differences raise questions about Nahdlatul Ulama’s ability to succeed beyond the significant inroads that the group has made among political and religious elites in the United States, Europe, the Vatican, and parts of Africa and Asia.

The launch in Washington of the unprecedented alliance and the book is together with Nahdlatul Ulama’s association with the Centrist Democrat International (CDI), the world’s largest grouping of political parties, the most publicly visible evidence of its success among elites.

The alliance puts flesh on the skeleton of recent inter-faith dialogue by bringing together two of Islam and Christianity‘s major groups. Nahdlatul Ulama has tens of millions of followers while the World Evangelical Alliance says it represents 600 million Protestants and national evangelical alliances in 140 countries. The alliance with Nahdlatul Ulama casts a different light on Evangelicals as opposed to Evangelists, who particularly, in the United States have often come to be identified with Christian nationalism and Islamophobia.

The alliance aims “to prevent the political weaponization of identity; curtail the spread of communal hatred; promote solidarity and respect among the diverse people, cultures and nations of the world; and foster the emergence of a truly just and harmonious world order founded upon respect for the equal rights and dignity of every human being,” the Institute for Humanitarian Islam and the  Nation’s Mosque in Washington, said in a press release.

With the creation of the Center for Shared Civilizational Values, the alliance also constitutes an effort to create a platform for a dialogue that moves beyond elites to nurture a grassroots movement in favour of religious reform across major religions that emphasizes inclusivity, pluralism, tolerance, and common values rather than exclusivism and supremacy fueled by identity politics. (In the spirit of transparency, this writer has been invited to be a member of the centre’s advisory board).

In doing so, the Center hopes to build on Nahdlatul Ulama’s substantial popular base in Indonesia, the WEA’s reach across the globe and a range of contacts and interactions with Catholic, Jewish, and Hindu groups and personalities.

The choice of Masjid Mohamed, the Nation’s Mosque, as the venue of the launch, suggests an outside-in strategy in trying to garner grassroots support in the Muslim world. Located in Washington’s historic African-American Shaw district, Masjid Muhammad is the first mosque in the United States built by descendants of slaves.

As such, the launch constitutes an outreach to a minority Muslim community in a Western democracy that despite upheaval in the United States as the country struggles to come to grips with its history of racism is likely to be more accessible and perhaps more open to Humanitarian Islam’s message than significant segments of the population in Muslim-majority countries like Pakistan or the Middle East where many see what has long become a global faith through the lens of its Arab origins.

The alliance takes on added significance in a Western world that despite the electoral defeat of former US President Donald J. Trump and setbacks in Europe suffered by populists and ultra-nationalists has in recent years increasingly mainstreamed prejudice, bias, and authoritarianism.

“Rather than the world becoming more like the United States, as so many of us expected after the Cold War, the United States has become more like the rest of the world—in particular, its authoritarians,” noted foreign policy analyst Steven A. Cook, debunking the projection of the US as a beacon of liberty and freedom.

In a twist of irony, Nahdlatul Ulama’s book publication coincided with a more narrowly focused and transactional Saudi-backed launch in Lebanon of a book, ‘The relationship between the Maronite patriarchate and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.’ Written by Maronite Father Antoine Daw, Saudi support for the book and outreach to the Maronites was part of the kingdom’s effort to counter Iran’s regional influence and engage the Islamic republic in direct and indirect issue-oriented dialogues.

The launch in Bkirki, the Maronite patriarchate’s episcopal see, followed a call by Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi, Lebanon’s most senior Christian cleric, for a meeting with Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia that is Iran’s closest ally in the Arab world.

The patriarch urged Hezbollah, one of Lebanon’s most powerful groups that played a key role in Iranian support for the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad to move towards a position of neutrality in a bid to salvage Lebanon that is teetering on the brink of economic and political collapse.

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