Another pretentious approach to praise Islamic inventions is made through the internet. An article titled “How Islamic inventors changed the world” was written by Paul Vallely, begins with the following statement: “From coffee to checks and the three-course meal, the Muslim world has given us many innovations that we take for granted in daily life.” In his article, Vallely lists twenty “Islamic inventions that changed the world” and reveals their actual inventors and the true role of Islam/Muslims behind the inventions.
The answer to these atrocious claims is heavily taken from the internet article: “how Islamic inventors did not change the world.” Regrettably, this inaccurate piece of writing not to say full of sheer lies, has received much praise from Muslims and is still being widely circulated on Islamic websites, forums, blogs, and is even used as a source to validate false claims of Islamic inventions in many separated articles on Wikipedia.
Coffee. According to Vallely it was invented by an Arab named Khalid, in the Kaffa region of southern Ethiopia. He boiled berries of a tree to make the first coffee. However, this man was an Abyssinian; that is he was an Orthodox Christian. So, if this legend were to be true, Khalid (or Kaldi) would not have been a Muslim, but a Christian.
Vision. According to Vallely, the first person to realize that light enters the eye, rather than leaving it, was Ibn al-Haytham. He invented the first pin-hole camera and set up the first Camera Obscura (from the Arab word Qamara, for a dark or private room). He was also the first man to shift physics from a philosophical activity to an experimental one.However,the basic optical principles of the pinhole are commented on in Chinese texts from the 5th century BC. Both the claims, that Ibn al-Haytham created intromission theory, and that he invented the pin-hole camera, are false. Intromission theory originated in Greek philosophy by Aristotle and Galen. The term “camera” was not derived from Arabic, but the opposite: the Arabic word “Qamara” has been borrowed from the Latin word “camera.” The term camera was first coined by Johannes Kepler (1571–1630). “Camera Obscura” means literally a “dark room.”
Chess. According to Vallely Islam developed and was the cause of the spread of chess to Europe. However, this is an offence to the Islamic religion as chess is forbidden. It was condemned by Muhammad who compared playing chess with dying ones hand with the flesh and blood of a swine (Sahīh Muslim, 28:5612.al-Muwatta, 52:7). The internet publication “history of Chess” is commonly held that the first version of the game was invented in India. It spread to Persia before the Islamic conquests, and was carried by the Byzantine Empire to Europe. From there it was introduced by the Moors in Spain in the 10th century.
Flying. According to Vallely, a Muslim poet, astronomer and engineer Andalusian named Abbas Ibn Firnas made several attempts to construct a flying machine. In 852 he jumped from the minaret of the Grand Mosque in Cordoba, creating what is thought to be the first parachute. In 875, he perfected a machine of silk and eagles’ feathers he jumped from a mountain. He flew to a significant height and stayed aloft for ten minutes. This is a thousand years before the Wright brothers. As far as flying is concerned, at the beginning were the kites, and these were a Chinese invention. They date back as far as 3,000 years. The earliest written account of kite flying was about 200 BC. In 478 BC a Chinese Philosopher, Mo Zi. Kites were also used in Chinese warfare for years, meant to frighten the enemy. The ancient Greek engineer, Hero of Alexandria, worked with air pressure and steam to create sources of power. One experiment that he developed was the aeolipile, which used jets of steam to create rotary motion. The importance of the aeolipile is that it marks the start of engine invention. Given all of the above information, how can anyone possibly accredit the invention of flight to a 9th century Muslim jumping off a mosque in Spain?
Bathing. According to Vallely, since washing and bathing are religious requirements for Muslims, which perhaps explain why they perfected the recipe for soap which we still use today. The ancient Egyptians had soap of a kind, as did the Romans. But it was the Arabs who combined vegetable oils with sodium hydroxide and aromatics such as thyme oil. Shampoo was introduced to England by a Muslim.However, Sumarians produced thousands of years before the formal invention of soap from a mixture of alkaline ash and fat-containing substances. A soap-like material found in excavation of ancient Babylon as early as 2800 BC. The “Muslim” that Paul Vallely is referring to who introduced shampoo, was not a Muslim but a Christian convert. Moreover, the Jews have strict rules concerning washing and hygiene related to religious rituals. Olive oil soap and lighting was known from the beginning of Jewish history in the Land of Israel. This happened thousands of years before Islam, and all evidence prove that Islam’s religious ritual was taken from Judaism. Like the ancient Egyptians before, daily bathing was also an important event in the ancient Roman world. Soap-making by guilds was an established craft in Europe by the 7th century. The English began making soap during the 12th century.
Distillation. According to Vallely, the means of separating liquids through differences in their boiling points, was invented around the year 800 by Islam’s foremost scientist, Jabir Ibn Hayyan, who transformed alchemy into chemistry, inventing many of the basic processes and apparatus still in use today. As well as discovering sulphuric and nitric acid, he invented the alembic still, giving the world intense rosewater and other perfumes and alcoholic spirits. Ibn Hayyan was the founder of modern chemistry. However, distillation apparatus from the Chinese Han dynasty, dated around the first century AD. The earliest evidence for its invention is a distillation apparatus and terra-cotta perfume containers recently identified in the Indus Valley, dating from around 3,000 BC. The first firm documentary evidence for distillation comes from the Greek historian Herodotus, dated 425 BC. The Arabs may have improved upon the process of distillation some 3500 years later, but they most definitely did not invent it.
The crank-shaft. According to Vallely, this was one of the most important mechanical inventions in the history of humankind. It was created by an ingenious Muslim engineer called al-Jazari to raise water for irrigation. His 1206 Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices shows he also invented or refined the use of valves and pistons, devised some of the first mechanical clocks driven by water and weights, and was the father of robotics. Among his 50 other inventions was the combination lock. However, the crank-shaft was known to the Chinese of the Han Dynasty. It was also used on Roman medical devices. In year 834 AD the crank was used in Europe. Piston technology was also used by Hero of Alexandria in the 1st century AD with the creation of the world’s first steam-powered engine—the aeolipile, more than a thousand years before al-Jazari. Hero of Alexandria deserves the title “father of robotics” and not al-Jazari. As for the water clock, the ancient Egyptians used a time mechanism run by flowing water. One of the oldest was found in the tomb of an Egyptian pharaoh buried in 1500 BC, and the Chinese began developing mechanized clocks from around 200 BC. The more impressive mechanized water clocks were developed between 100 BC and 500 AD by Greek and Roman horologists and astronomers. Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, and astronomer Archimedes (287–212 BC) is also said to have made such a device. As about the Combination Lock, it was on use during the Roman period.
Quilting. It is a method of sewing or tying two layers of cloth with a layer of insulating material in between. According to Vallely, it is not clear whether it was invented in the Muslim world or whether it was imported there from India or China, but still Vallely chose to include quilting as an Islamic invention. However, again the evidence is clearly against. The actual origins of quilting remains unknown, but its history can so far be traced to ancient China, Egypt of the first pharaonic dynasty, in 3400 BC, and in Mongolia somewhere between the 1st century BC and the 2nd century AD.
Architecture. According to Vallely, the pointed arch so characteristic of Europe’s Gothic cathedrals was an invention borrowed from Islamic architecture, allowing building of bigger, higher, and more complex buildings. Other borrowings from Muslim genius included ribbed vaulting, rose windows and dome building techniques. Europe’s castles were also adapted to copy the Islamic world. However, there is no basis or credible evidence for Vallely’s claim that Europeans “copied” the structural elements of Muslim castles. When it comes to revolutionary architectural inventions, nothing is greater than the creation of concrete, a material perfected by the Romans. This enabled them to erect buildings that would have been impossible to construct using the traditional stone system. As about the pointed arch, it was in fact the Assyrians and not the Muslims who first used it as early as 722 BC. The best example of a dome in the ancient world is the Pantheon in Rome, built almost 500 years before Islam. It remained as the greatest dome in the world until the 15th century construction of the Florence Cathedral (1420–36). The second most impressive pre-Islamic dome is that of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, built during the years 532–537 AD. In fact, it was the Muslims who borrowed from older Christian architecture. As about rose windows, the invention depends entirely on glass and craftsmanship, originated around 2,000 BC. The best glass manufacturers and exporters were the Phoenicians, who had a great supply of silica rich sands. The invention of the arrow-slit is attributed to Archimedes during the Siege of Syracuse in 214–212 BC.
Instruments. According to Vallely, many modern surgical instruments are of exactly the same design as those devised in the 10th century by the Muslim surgeon, al-Zahrawi. His devised 200 instruments are recognizable to a modern surgeon. In the 13th century, another Muslim medic named Ibn Nafis described the circulation of the blood, 300 years before William Harvey discovered it. Muslims doctors also invented anesthetics of opium and alcohol mixes and developed hollow needles to suck cataracts from eyes.However,the Greek and Roman physicians had access to a variety of surgical instruments. These medical instruments, which are now on display in museums around the world, were all available to the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates (460–370 BC) who lived more than a thousand years before Islam. It was also the Greek physician and medical researcher Claudius Galenus (129–217 AD), who first used catgut to close wounds and not al-Zahrawi. As for the circulation of the blood, the Chinese Book of Medicine describes this 1,600 years before Ibn Nafis. Cataract surgery has been performed for many centuries. The earliest reference was written by a Hindu surgeon in manuscripts dating from the 5th century BC. In Rome, archaeologists found surgical instruments used to treat cataract dating back to the 1st and 2nd century AD. Anesthetics of opium and alcohol mixes were used both by the ancient Chinese and Romans.
The windmill. According to Vallely, it was invented in 634 for a Persian caliph and was used to grind corn and draw up water for irrigation, 500 years before the first windmill was seen in Europe.However, a lie again. Contrary to the Vallely’s claim, there was no caliph in Persia in 634, and there was no Islamic windmill in 634. The first rotary mills were discovered in Turkey and existed 8,000 years ago. As about grain-grinding and water-pumping, one of the earliest can be found in 1st century BC in Greek writings. China is also often claimed as the birthplace of the windmill, but the earliest actual documentation was in 1219 AD.
Inoculation. According to Vallely, the technique of inoculation was not invented by Jenner and Pasteur but was devised in the Muslim world and brought to Europe from Turkey by the wife of the English ambassador to Istanbul in 1724. Children in Turkey were vaccinated with cowpox to fight the deadly smallpox at least 50 years before the West discovered it. However, this is most inaccurate. Indeed, Jenner and Pasteur were not the inventors of inoculation but neither were the Muslims. Inoculation against smallpox began in China during the 10th century, but the earliest documented reference comes from text written in 1549. In India, physicians conferred immunity by applying scabs to the scarified skin of the healthy. The technique of inoculation spread west to Turkey and then Europe.
The fountain pen. According to Vallely, it was invented for the Sultan of Egypt in 953 after he demanded a pen which would not stain his hands or clothes. It held ink in a reservoir by a combination of gravity and capillary action.However, this nice story is provided without any proof or corroboration. The history of the fountain pen begins with the quill pen, which was used by the Pharaonic kings 4,000 years ago. Though the first pencil was invented by Conrad Gessner in 1567, until the end of the 18th century when the metal pen was invented. A fountain pen which functioned as a pen with a piston was created by Folsch in 1809.
The system of numbering. According to Vallely, the system of numbering in use all round the world is probably Indian in origin but the style of the numerals is Arabic and first appears in print in the work of the Muslim mathematicians, al-Khwarizmi and al-Kindi around 825. Algebra was named after al-Khwarizmi’s book, al-Jabr wa-al-Muqabilah, much of whose contents are still in use. The work of Muslim maths scholars was imported into Europe 300 years later by the Italian mathematician Fibonacci. Algorithms and much of the theory of trigonometry came from the Muslim world. al-Kindi’s discovery of frequency analysis rendered all the codes of the ancient world soluble and created the basis of modern cryptology.However, today’s system of numbering evolved from the Indian Brahmi numerals which were developed in the beginning of the first century. Even Arabs themselves refer to as “Hindu numerals.” Theorigins of algebra is traced to the ancient Babylonians who were able to do calculations in an algorithmic fashion. The mathematician Diophantus of Alexandria (214–298 AD) who authored a series of books called “Arithmetica” and is commonly referred to as “the father of algebra.” It is universally accepted that the system of numbering we use today (the digits 0 to 9) was invented in India. The use of zero as a number is found in many ancient Indian texts. The concept of negative numbers was recognized between 100–50 BC by the Chinese.
Greek and Indian mathematicians studied the theory of rational numbers. The best known is Euclid’s Elements, dated 300 BC. Euclid is also often referred to as the “Father of Geometry.” The earliest use of irrational numbers is in the Indian Sulba Sutras (800–500 BC). The earliest known conception of mathematical infinity appears in the Hindu text Yajur Veda. The earliest reference to square roots of negative numbers were made by Greek mathematician and inventor Heron of Alexandria (10–70 AD). Prime numbers have been studied throughout recorded history. The mathematical branch of Trigonometry has been studied by ancient Egyptians and Babylonians, but the ancient Greeks are responsible to modern trigonometric formulae. And finally, the earliest known algorithms were developed by ancient Babylonians (1600 BC). Cryptology itself can be traced back to the time of Julius Caesar.
Three course meal. According to Vallely, Ali Ibn Nafi’ came to Cordoba in the 9th century and brought with him the concept of the three-course meal – soup, followed by fish or meat, then fruit and nuts. He also introduced crystal glasses (which had been invented after experiments with rock crystal by Abbas ibn Firnas).However, indeed having to include the three course meal in any top 20 list of inventions is embarrassing. Still, it is not a Muslim invention. It is Roman’s one. It was the pre-Islamic Persians who introduced the dessert into Asia Minor. Also, Abbas ibn Firnas did not invent crystal glass. Clear glass appeared during the 15th century in Venice, and was called cristallo. Crystal was invented 175 years later, after glassmaker George Ravenscroft added lead oxide to glass, creating lead crystal glass.Carpets. According to Vallely, carpets were regarded as part of Paradise by medieval Muslims, thanks to their advanced weaving techniques. , new tinctures from Islamic chemistry and highly developed sense of pattern and arabesque which were the basis of Islam’s non-representational art. Europe’s floors were distinctly earthy, until Arabian and Persian carpets were introduced. However, the earliest known carpet was discovered in the Altai Mountains in Siberia, dated from the fifth century BC and is now kept in the Hermitage museum of St. Petersburg. Evidence suggests that some forms of rug-weaving were used in Pharaonic Egypt, Babylon and Persia about 4,000 years ago. The Romans were fond of rugs and used them intensively.
The modern check. According to Vallely, the modern check comes from the Arabic word, Saqq, a written vow to pay for goods when they were delivered, to avoid money having to be transported across dangerous terrain. In the 9th century, a Muslim businessman could cash a check in China drawn on his bank in Baghdad.The Pharaonic Egyptians invented the book, as well as the material on which it could first be written, via papyrus. Up until the middle of the tenth century, papyrus was the main source of writing material. The only surviving copies of two works of the third century BC, Greek mathematician Archimedes, were on papyrus (Huff, The Rise of Early Modern Science).
Earth is round.According to Vallely, by the 9th century, many Muslim scholars took it for granted that the Earth was a sphere. The proof, said Ibn Hazm, “is that the Sun is always vertical to a particular spot on Earth”. The calculations of Muslim astronomers were so accurate, the Earth’s circumference to be 40,253.4km, less than 200 km out. Along these lines, Science and Technology Minister, Fikri Işık, claims that Muslim scientists working around 1,200 years ago (some 700-800 years before Galileo Galilei) were the first to determine that the Earth is a sphere.However, everything that has been attributed to Muslim Arabs, had already been discovered by not only the pre-Islamic East, but also by the pre-Christian Greeks. The fact that the Earth is spherical was common knowledge among Ancient Greeks Pythagoras (570–495 BC), Aristotle (384–322 BC) and Hipparchus (190–120 BC). Eratosthenes (275–194 BC) measured the circumference of the earth to a figure very close to what we know of at present. The Greek philosopher and mathematician Aristarchus (320–230 BC) even knew the Earth revolves around the Sun and not the other way around. Indian astronomer and mathematician, Aryabhata (476–550 AD), also deal with the sphericity of the Earth, the motion of the planets, and that its circumference is 39,968 km, which is close to the current equatorial value of 40,075 km. He also calculated the length of the day to be 23 hours, 56 minutes, and 4.1 seconds.
Gunpowder. According to Vallely, though the Chinese invented saltpetre gunpowder, and used it in their fireworks, it was the Arabs who worked out that it could be purified using potassium nitrate for military use. By the 15th century they had invented both a rocket and a marine torpedo. However, indeed the Chinese invented saltpetre gunpowder, and saltpetre is in fact potassium nitrate. The Chinese were also the first to fire cannon in war, gun, grenade, and fire arrows carried flammable materials or sometimes poison-coated heads. By the end of the 13th century, armies of Japan and India are believed to have acquired sufficient knowledge of gunpowder propelled fire arrows. At the same time,scientific papers on the subject of the preparation of gunpowder and its application in weaponry were being published in Europe. Notable works were prepared by Roger Bacon, Albertus Magnus, and Marchus Graecus before the close of the 13th Century. In 1379, an Italian named Muratori used the word “rochetta” when he described types of gunpowder propelled fire arrows used in medieval times. This was the first use of rocket.
Gardens. According to Vallely, Medieval Europe had kitchen and herb gardens, but it was the Arabs who developed the idea of the garden as a place of beauty and meditation. The first royal pleasure gardens in Europe were opened in 11th-century Muslim Spain. Flowers which originated in Muslim gardens include the carnation and the tulip.However, gardens were in Middle Eastern tradition long before Islam, to mention the legendary Hanging Gardens of Babylon around 600 BC. It also ignores the beautifully artistic Chinese Suzhou gardens (770–476 BC) which were designed for relaxation. The Roman tradition of gardens and fountains used for meditation. The oldest pictorial records of gardens are from Ancient Egyptian tomb paintings.
It is much more important, to accredit inventions to a religion is complete nonsense. Inventions are the result of ingenuity on the part of one or more people. In fact, what have the Arabs invented lately? The answer is not much in the last one thousand years. Moreover, many Islamic nations are stuck in the dark ages because of their corruption, religion and wars. Millions of people live in squalor with inadequate toilets and water. The West patents hundreds of thousands of inventions a year whereas the entire Muslim world has only a handful in its entire history, if any. The reason for this is plain: Islam forbids creativity and ingenuity. It discourages resourcefulness and innovation. It promotes strict observance of religion instead. How is that, the Science Museum publish and exhibit these mere lies? Simple again: money. Big money is being used to propagate these lies to the public in the name of diversity and multiculturalism. Unfortunately, Muslim strategy to conquer the world and to subdue humanity is highly successful, also due to the policies of ignorance, appeasement and oblivion.
For those who wish to balance: imagine history of the Arab life in Arabia, tribes with two main occupations of day by day living: Ghazawāt (raids) and Ghanā’im (booty). This was also their main occupation during Muhammad’s times and the conquest eras (al-Khulafā’ ar-Rāshidûn, the Umayyad and the Abbasid Dynasties). These tribes were not acquainted with sciences and culture. Their religion does not recommend investigation, criticism, open-mindedness, rationalism, skepticism and free thinking. Were from one suddenly expects the Arabs to dwell with sciences?
Philip Carl Salzman sketches out two patterns of rule that historically have dominated the Arab-Muslim Middle East and are key to understanding it: tribal autonomy and tyrannical centralism. Tribal autonomy means, tribal confederations seize control of the political system and exploit their power unabashedly to forward their own interests, and cruelly exploiting their subject population. Tyrannical centralism means autocratic rule, political mercilessness, and economic stagnancy that account Islam’s “bloody borders:” widespread hostility toward the infidels, non-Muslims.
Tribesmen and subjects, not citizens, populate the region. Middle Eastern countries retain “us-versus-them mentality” which dooms universalism, the rule of law, and constitutionalism. Trapped by these ancient patterns, Middle Eastern societies “perform poorly by most social, cultural, economic, and political criteria.” As the region fails to modernize, it falls steadily further behind. For Fouad Ajami it is clear: under the modern cover, the reality of clans and tribe persists and the calling voice of antagonism.
André Servier, historian of North Africa, has related to the issue boldly: “Islam was not a torch but an extinguisher.” Conceived in a barbarous brain for the use of a barbarous people, it was and it remains incapable of adapting itself to civilization. Wherever it has dominated, it has broken the impulse towards progress and checked the evolution of society. Islam is all the unimaginative brain of a Bedouin that copies, and in copying it distorts the original. The Arab has borrowed everything from other nations, even religious ideas. Incapable of rising to high philosophic conceptions, It has distorted, mutilated and desiccated everything. This destructive influence explains the decadence of the Muslim nations and their powerlessness to break away from barbarism. Islam is a doctrine of death and it formally forbids any change, any evolution, and any progress. In the history of the nations, Islam has never been an element of civilization and the Islamic nations have been stricken with intellectual paralysis and decadence.
Bertrand Russell, the British philosopher and historian, also relates to this issue: “Mohammedanism and Bolshevism are practical, social, unspiritual, concerned to win the empire of the world. It was the duty of the faithful to conquer as much of the world as possible for Islam… The first conquests of the Arabs began as mere raids for plunder, and only turned into permanent occupation after experience has shown the weakness of the enemy… The Arabs, although they conquered a great part of the world in the name of a new religion were not very religious. The motive of their conquests was plunder and wealth rather than religion… In modern politics this embodied in imperialism.”
Von Grunebaum, the distinguished orientalist, suggested that Islamic science was a mimic of Greek science. Islam failed to put natural resources to such use as would insure progressive control of the physical conditions of life. Inventions, discoveries, and improvements might be accepted but hardly ever were searched for. Ernest Renan, the French philologist, believed that Islamic science could only flourish in association with heresy, and that Islam was simply a vehicle transmitting Greek philosophy to the Renaissance in Europe. Pierre Duhem, the physicist-philosopher-historian believed: “There is no Arabian science. The wise men of Mohammedanism were always the more or less faithful disciples of Greeks, but were themselves destitute of all originality…”
The truth is simple: the Arabs conquered the most cultured scientific peoples, in Iraq, Persia, India, and the Hellenist-Roman Christianity. Their peoples came under Islamic rule and were Islamized. They were forced to write in Arabic, they were forced to convert to Islam. Does that mean their scientific contribution is Islamic? Science does not emerge out of nothing, science is a continuous process of thesis, anti-thesis and synthesis. How that relates to the situation in Arabia? There were admittedly few Arabs that accepted and absorbed the age of scientific development, but they unfortunately were few and negligent. Even Ibn Khaldun refers with contempt to the retarded savage “Bedouins of the desert,” as compare to the city dwellers.
To the Islamic falsifications, Assyrians reacted to what they call “Islamic imperialistic expropriation behavior.” Arab-Islamic civilization is not a progressive, but regressive. It does not give impetus, but retards. The great civilizations in the Middle East have never been Arab-Muslim, but Babylonian, Persian, Pharaonic, Buddhist, Jewish and Christian. Arabs-Muslims were plundering Bedouins, engaged in an explicit ongoing campaigns of destruction and expropriation of cultures, identities and ideas, of ethnic cleansing and Arabization and Islamization. Wherever Arab-Muslim civilization encounters a non-Arab-Muslim one, it attempts to destroy it, to Arabize and Islamize it, and to expropriate its achievements. This is a pattern that has been recurring since the advent of Islam, 1400 years ago.
If the “foreign” culture cannot be destroyed, then it is expropriated, and revisionist historians claim that it is an Arab. This is exactly the case of the Land Israel, when the so-called “Palestinians,” a new invention of the second half of the 20th century, expropriate the Jewish history and rights over the land. This is the case of the Assyrians in Babylon, who first settled Nineveh in year 5000 B.C. Even the word ‘Arab’ is an Assyrian word, meaning “Westerner” (‘Ma’rabiyeh’), first used by King Sennacherib, 800 B.C. The Assyrian group end their declaration by claiming: one must be very sensitive not to unwittingly and inadvertently support Arab-Islamic Imperialism, with its attempts to wipe out all other cultures religions and civilizations by expropriating their cultural scientific achievements.
One has to look into the history of Islam of the occupied territories. What happened to the ancient Middle East that has become Arabized and Islamized? What happened to the glorious Christian centers of Alexandria in Egypt and Antioch in Syria; what happened to the great Babylonian scientific achievements led by the Assyrians; what happened to the wondrous of Persian civilizations; what happened to the Buddhist achievements and glorious sites? Why all these and many others magnificent civilizations have disappeared? Indeed, they all had gone with the wind of the stormy desert of Arab-Islamic primitive invasions. And today, what is the fate of the minorities during the last 1400 years in the Middle East under the so-called Islamic “tolerance”? What is the fate today of the Nubians in Egypt; the Berbers in North Africa; the Negroid in Sudan; the Assyrians in Iraq and Syria? Can one really imagine the existential threats posed on Israel as a Jewish nation and a Zionist state if it fails?
*part of a larger book titled, Why Islam is a Danger to the World: A Scholarly Rebuttal of Muslim Propaganda, be published by Mellen Press.
Muslim-Evangelical alliance strives to create religious and political middle ground
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.
Defining moderate Islam: Muslims and Evangelicals forge an alliance
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.
Sedition law: Hand-maiden of the Modi’s government
Sedition laws have become a handmaid of India’s government under Narendra Modi to stifle dissent, incarcerate political opponents or persecute minorities. Shouting a slogan, wall chalking, social post “azadi” (liberty), wearing a prayer cap, or offering prayer on adjoining roads when a mosque is overcrowded could attract sedition charges. Even interfaith marriages or cow related offences could be tried as sedition. The Hindu-monk chief minister of Uttar Pradesh had directed his administration to try cow related offences under the National Security Act. Some states have passed love-jihad laws to prevent interfaith marriages. The over-ebullient Hindu extremists haul up even such people to the police stations who are happily married long before enactment of the law banning inter-faith marriages.
Apathy of India’s Supreme Court
Till recently, the Supreme Court had looked the other way in cases where there was blatant misapplication of the sedition law. Some verdicts smacked of communal bias. India being a secular country, the Supreme Court should have avoided dabbling into religious matters of different communities particularly of the largest minority, the Muslim. But, in vain. The Supreme Court pronounced that a mosque was not essential to Muslim way of worship. It allowed demolition of the ancient Babri Mosque. Thus it accepted the fictitious contention that Ram god was born at the site of the mosque millennia ago.
In marked contrast to its “Islamic” judgments, the Supreme Court had a benign attitude toward the Hindu religion. It admitted that a temple was necessary to the Hindu mode of worship. It allowed menstruating women to visit Sabarimala temple.
Supreme Court’s awakening
The plethora of sedition cases awakened the SC from its slumber. While quashing the sedition case against journalist Vinod Dua, the Supreme Court expressed ennui on slapping sedition charges to gag journalists. A Bench of the Supreme Court led by Justice UU Lalit upheld “ the right of every journalist to criticise, even brutally, measures of the government with a view to improving or altering them through legal means”.The case against the journalist had been filed by the ruling BJP and was fervently defended by the Himachal Pradesh state government. The journalist was accused of “criticising the prime minister and the Union government for mishandling of the migrant crisis during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic”. The court drew attention to the 1962 Nath case judgment. That judgment took the sting out of the sedition cases filed under Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code. In the aforementioned case, the Supreme Court had ruled that Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code can be used only when someone’s word actually leads to violence or generates an inclination for violence. The Section 124A describes sedition as punishable with imprisonment from three years to life, a fine or both.
Among journalists facing sedition cases is Siddique Kappan based in Kerala. He was arrested by the Uttar Pradesh police while on his way to Hathras to cover a rape case last year and had been denied bail. Kappan and 21 other journalists covering the Hathras rape case were charged under Section 124A.
Similarly, several prominent journalists were charged under the sedition law for their coverage of the farmers’ tractor rally in Delhi on Republic Day. The Supreme Court stayed the arrest of all of them. The Court observed that the Constitution has varying criteria for permissible restrictions on freedom of speech and expression and draws a boundary between serious and aggravated forms of public disorder which are calculated to endanger the security of the State and the relatively minor breaches of the peace of purely local significance.
India’s Supreme Court had earlier observed in its 1950 judgment on Romesh Thapar versus State of Madras. “Only a higher degree of threat pertaining to endangerment of the foundations of the State could justify curtailment of the rights to freedom of speech and expression,” Thapar was editing a weekly journal called Cross Roads which was constantly at loggerheads with the Congress government of the day.
Disregarding the guidance in this judgment, the successive governments continued to mis-apply the sedition law.
Birth of the sedition law
When the Indian Penal Code was enacted in 1860, the sedition law was not included in it. It took another 10 years for Section 124A to be included. Mahatma Gandhi was tried under this law in 1922. He told the court that the law had malafide intent. It was tailor-made to suppress the liberty of the citizen.
India’s Law Commission issued a directive in 2018 that cautioned that a simple expression of a thought inconsistent with the government’s policy did not qualify as “sedition”. One has to be circumspect while invoking the sedition law. Yet, the Commission’s voice has proved to be a voice in the wilderness. Sedition law is a handy tool to stifle dissent. It is hoped that India’s Supreme Court will define the contour of the law more stringently to preclude its misuse by the fanatic Modi government.
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