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Debates about Islamic reform loom larger as Ramadan approaches

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Reform of Islamic jurisprudence was the elephant in the room when two prominent Saudi clerics recently clashed publicly on whether apostasy was punishable with death under Islamic law.

The debate’s timing on a Saudi state-controlled, artsy entertainment channel, Rotana Khalijiya, suggested as much.

The debate aired days before the kingdom’s Ministry of Islamic Affairs severely restricted celebrating Ramadan. Islam’s holy month of fasting begins on March 22.

What lends debates like the discussion about apostasy greater significance is that they feed into a competition between Saudi Arabia and various other players for religious soft power in the Muslim world.

The rivalry pits Indonesian reformists against state-aligned Saudi and Emirati propagators of a socially liberal but autocratic interpretation of Islam.

Saudi and Emirati-backed Islamic scholars reject jurisprudential reform and reserve the right of legal interpretation for the ruler and his clerical surrogates.

Last year, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman went as far as nominating himself as the primary interpreter of Islamic law.

Mr. Bin Salman asserted in an interview with The Atlantic that “in Islamic law, the head of the Islamic establishment is wali al-amr, the ruler.”

Mr. Bin Salman meant that literally. The crown prince, in contrast to many Muslim rulers, seldom, if at all, solicits the opinion of Muslim scholars to legitimise his policies.

“Bin Salman puts religion at the service of his politics while protesting against the use of religion by his opponents,” said scholar and author of a book on the Muslim World League Louis Blin. The League is Mr. Bin Salman’s principal vehicle for propagating his autocratic version of a moderate form of Islam.

To be sure, Mr. Bin Salman and United Arab Emirates President Mohammed bin Zayed have enacted far-reaching social reforms that have enhanced women’s social rights and professional opportunities. Also, the two men have eased restrictions on gender interaction and embraced Western-style entertainment.

However, they anchored these changes in civil law and ignored the need to synchronise religious jurisprudence.

What drives the reformist zeal of Messrs. Bin Salman and Bin Zayed is not change because it is the right thing to do.

The two men’s primary concern is securing the survival of their autocratic regimes. To do so, they need to cater to youth aspirations, diversify their oil export-dependent economies, ease social restrictions to compete for foreign talent, and project an image of tolerance.

Their reforms serve that purpose but go no further.

Exhibit A is Saudi Arabia’s first-ever personal status law.

A recent Amnesty International analysis of the law suggests that it remains rooted in orthodox Islamic jurisprudence.

The law codifies problematic practices inherent in the kingdom’s male guardianship system.

It entrenches a system of gender-based discrimination in most aspects of family life, including marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance, even though it also sets a minimum age for marriage.

Under the law, women are required to obtain the consent of their male legal guardian to get married.

The law further obliges a wife to “obey” her husband. It conditions her right to financial support, such as food and accommodation, on her “submit(ting) herself” to her husband.

Moreover, men can initiate divorce without conditions, while women face legal, financial, and practical barriers. In divorce, a mother does not have equal rights to her children; the father is granted guardianship as a matter of principle.

Finally, the law institutionalises discrimination between men and women in inheritance, giving men a much larger share of assets than their female counterparts.

Similarly, recently announced restrictions on the public celebration of Ramadan were designed to shift the core of Saudi identity from religion to nationalism. They also intended to strengthen government surveillance and control.

With the restrictions, Mr. Bin Salman apparently wanted to be seen as walking in the footsteps of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the 20th-century visionary who carved secular Turkey out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire and abolished the caliphate.

The new rules curtail the time allotted to evening prayers, forbid worshipers to bring their children to the mosque, ban the filming and broadcasting of prayers, curb donations for organising the breaking of the fast by worshippers, and oblige mosque officials to supervise the fast-breaking in courtyards rather than inside the mosque.

The measures resemble restrictions the government tried to impose last year. However, online uproar forced the government to retract a ban on broadcasting uninterrupted live Ramadan footage from the two mosques viewed by Muslims worldwide.

Looking for a silver lining in the restrictions, Indian Muslim thinker and Secretary-General of the Islamic Forum for the Promotion of Moderate Thought A. Faizur Rahman, said in a telephone interview that Mr. Bin Salman likely sees the reported measures as a way to counter the ritualisation of Islam.

That also is the message in the crown prince’s plan to build a futuristic downtown Riyadh with the Mukaab, a 400-metre-high square virtual reality cube, at its centre.

Critics have denounced the plan because the envisioned cube resembles the Kaaba, a black cuboid-shaped stone structure at the center of Mecca’s grand mosque.

Mr. Rahman described the Ramadan restrictions as “a bad imitation of Ataturk. It’s an expression of power. It’s saying I am the ruler.”

Some analysts believe that Mr. Bin Salman, like Mr. Ataturk in the past, wants to remove religion from the public square and relegate it to the private sphere.

In contrast to the waning years of empire and Turkey’s early republican period, Mr. Bin Salman has opted for achieving his goal by decree with no semblance of public debate.

To be sure, Mr. Ataturk’s reforms, including introducing French-style militant secularism, were unpopular and enacted by a one-party state.

Nevertheless, they followed a fierce battle of ideas in rival publications in the last 15 years of the empire about the role and the nature of Islam that was fresh in people’s minds.

Clerics, nationalists, and intellectuals voiced opinions ranging from the advocacy of European positivism and materialism, secular nationalism, calls for religious reform, and even rebukes of Islam and the Qur’an to fierce opposition to any reformation of religious discourse and rejection of the notion of a nation as opposed to a pan-Islamic state.

Citing Sura 16 Verse 125 of the Qur’an, Mr. Rahman, the Indian Muslim intellectual, argued that Mr. Bin Salman’s approach, that brooks no dissent and  in which debate is often choreographed, was “not the way to reform society. Reform has to be voluntary through the art of persuasion. It’s neither Islamic nor good to impose your will.”

Where Mr. Bin Salman opts for a top down-dictate that focuses on form rather than content, his foremost ideological rival focuses on a bottom-up approach that embraces jurisprudential reform in pursuit of a moderate Islam that is pluralistic, inclusive, and unambiguously endorses the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Last month, Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama, the world’s largest and most moderate civil society movement, called in a document composed in the tradition of Islamic jurisprudence to abolish the caliphate and replace it with the notion of the nation-state.

The document was issued after consultations in the second half of 2022 in some 230 religious seminaries across the Indonesian archipelago in which the proposition of jurisprudential reform was debated.

In 2019, 20,000 Nahdlatul Ulama religious scholars issued a fatwa or religious opinion that erased the concept of the kafir or infidel in Islamic jurisprudence and replaced it with the notion of a citizen.

While apostasy, like blasphemy, is on the bucket list of Nahdlatul Ulama’s jurisprudential reforms, it was unusual for Saudi clerics to clash on television over interpretations of Islamic law.

The debate pitted Saudi Islamic scholar Abd Al-Rahman Abd Al-Karim, a proponent of the classical Islamic legal proposition of the death penalty for apostasy, against Ahmad al Ghamdi, the former head of the Mecca chapter of the Authority for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

In 2016, Mr. Bin Salman clipped the wings of the Authority, a once-feared religious police force, by banning it from “pursuing, questioning, asking for identification, arresting and detaining anyone suspected of a crime.”

Since leaving the Authority, Mr. Al-Ghamdi has emerged as a religious liberal advocating the very things on which his police unit once cracked down. These include mixing genders, listening to music, and the forced closure of shops and businesses during prayer time.

In the debate with Mr. Al-Karim, Mr. Al-Ghamdi appeared to adopt Mr. Rahman and Nahdlatul Ulama’s approach of bottom-up reform based on persuasion.

Countering Mr. Al-Karim, Mr.Al-Ghamdi asserted, “People who do not adhere to the Islamic faith are free to do so. They must not be coerced. The same is true for people who converted to Islam and then became apostates. There are unambiguous verses in the Quran regarding their freedom to do so. Allah said (in the Quran), ‘there is no coercion in religion.’”

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and three forthcoming books, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africaas well as Creating Frankenstein: The Saudi Export of Ultra-conservatism and China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom.

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Who are genuine Muslim moderates? Separating the wheat from the chafe

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If you think Islamic scholars discussing the religious legitimacy of the United Nations and the nation-state will put you to sleep, think again.

A call by Nahdlatul Ulama or the Revival of Islamic Scholars, arguably the world’s most moderate Muslim civil society movement, to anchor the nation-state as opposed to a caliphate and the United Nations in Islamic law is at the forefront of the ideological fight against extremism and jihadism as advocated by groups such as Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.

The call, launched on Tuesday at a mass rally in the Indonesian city of Surabaya commemorating the Indonesian group’s centennial and a gathering a day earlier of Islamic scholars from across the globe, lays down a gauntlet for the Muslim world’s autocratic and authoritarian leaders.

Anchoring the United Nations and its charter in religious law would legally oblige non-democratic regimes to respect human rights.

The charter compels states to honour “fundamental human rights…the dignity and worth of the human person, (and)…the equal rights of men and women” and makes it legally binding for its Muslim signatories, according to religious law.”

Indonesian President Joko Widodo seemingly endorsed the call by speaking at the rally immediately after senior Nahdlatul Ulama leaders read it in Arabic and Bahasa Indonesia at the gathering.

The call constitutes the latest move in a sustained Nahdlatul Ulama effort to spark reform of Islamic jurisprudence and inspire other faiths to take a critical look at their potentially problematic tenants as a way of countering extremism and religiously motivated violence.

“Nahdlatul Ulama believes it is essential to the well-being of Muslims to develop a new vision capable of replacing the long-established aspiration, rooted in Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh), of uniting Muslims throughout the world into a single universal state, or caliphate,” the group said in the declaration read out at the rally.

“It is neither feasible nor desirable to re-establish a universal caliphate that would unite Muslims throughout the world in opposition to non-Muslims. As recently demonstrated by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, attempts to do so will inevitably be disastrous and contrary to the purposes of Sharia (Islamic law): i.e., the protection of religion, human life, sound reasoning, family, and property,” the declaration went on to say.

Yahya Cholil Staquf, the chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama’s executive council, framed the group’s proposition in questions about the need for jurisprudential reform that he posed at the scholars’ conference.

Mr. Staquf’s questions were based on an unpublished discussion paper that asserted that the view that Muslims “should have a default attitude of enmity towards non-Muslims, and that infidels…should be subject to discrimination is well established within turats al-fiqh (the tradition of Islamic jurisprudence.”

The attitude towards non-Muslims described in the paper is at the core of the response of the Muslim world to religious extremism and jihadism.

An open letter to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the late leader of the Islamic State, written after he declared in 2014 a caliphate with himself as caliph, signed by 126 prominent Islamic scholars, including participants in this weeks, insists that “there is agreement (ittifaq) among scholars that a caliphate is an obligation upon the Ummah (Muslim community).”

The letter was typical of Muslim leaders, parroted by their Western counterparts, who, for more than two decades since 9/11, have insisted that Islam and Islamic jurisprudence need no reform. Instead, they assert that jihadis misrepresent and misconstrue the faith.

In doing so, autocrats drown out criticism of their brutal, repressive rule that brooks no dissent and potentially provokes violence.

Moreover, casting jihadists as deviants rather than products of problematic tenants of jurisprudence that justify violence stymies criticism of the justification of autocracy as a necessary means to combat violence and promote moderate Islam.

As a result, the Nahdlatul Ulama challenge goes to the core of a battle for the soul of Islam that involves a competition for religious soft power and leadership in the Muslim world as well as who will define what constitutes moderate Islam.

The ideological rivalry pits Nahdlatul Ulama’s concept of Humanitarian Islam, which calls for religious reform and unambiguously endorses pluralism, the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights against an autocratic definition of moderate Islam that rejects religious and political reform but supports a formalistic, ceremonial form of inter-faith dialogue and the loosening of social restrictions long advocated by orthodox Islam.

Among the letter’s signatories were proponents of autocratic forms of moderate Islam.

They included Egyptian Grand Mufti Shawqi Allam; Egypt’s former grand mufti, Ali Goma, who religiously endorsed the killing on a Cairo square in 2013 of some 800 Muslim Brotherhood protesters by security forces; several members of Egypt’s state-controlled Fatwa Council; and scholars At Al Azhar, Cairo’s citadel of Islamic learning.

Also among the signatories were Abdullah Bin Bayyah, the head of the fatwa council of the United Arab Emirates, and one of its other members, popular American Muslim preacher Hamza Yusuf, men who do the Gulf state’s religious bidding.

The strength of the Nahdlatul Ulama challenge was evident in the fact that some of the world’s foremost opponents of the Indonesian group’s reformism felt the need to be represented at this week’s conference in one way or another, even if some backed out of the conference after initially suggesting that they would attend.

Messrs. Bin Bayyah and Goma chose not to attend. Mr. Allam used his video remarks to express opposition to Nahdlatul Ulama’s call for replacing the caliphate with the notion of the nation-state and endorsing the United Nations.

Muhammad Al-Issa, the head of the Muslim World League, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s vehicle for propagating his autocratic version of moderate Islam, chose to ignore Nahdlatul Ulama’s proposition. Mr. Al-Issa made his remarks on video after cancelling his attendance.

Nahdlatul Ulama threw down its gauntlet by asserting that Muslims need to choose between maintaining the obligation to create a caliphate or reforming Islamic jurisprudence so that it would “embrace a new vision and develop a new discourse regarding Islamic jurisprudence, which will prevent the political weaponization of identity; curtail the spread of communal hatred; promote solidarity and respect among the diverse peoples, cultures, and nations of the world; and foster the emergence of a truly just and harmonious world order,” according to the declaration.

In its unpublished paper, Nahdlatul Ulama asserted that “Muslims should acknowledge that a socio-political construct (or imperium) capable of operationalizing these normative views across the Muslim world no longer exists” and that “as a consequence of choosing to retain the established fiqh view and norms associated therewith…would automatically be a religious duty incumbent upon Muslims to revive the imperium. This, in turn, would necessarily entail dissolving any and all existing nation-states, under whose governance Muslims currently live.”

With one-third of Indonesia’s 270 million inhabitants identifying themselves as Nahdlatul Ulama and a religious authority of its own, the group is likely to formally announce its reform of relevant Islamic jurisprudence, potentially supported by various non-Indonesian scholars, mosques, and other Muslim associations, irrespective of opposition to its moves.

While the group’s legal move would not be binding in a Muslim world where legal authority is decentralised, it lays down a marker that other Muslim legal authorities will ultimately be unable to ignore in their bid to be recognised as proponents of a genuinely moderate Islam.

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How divine books guide and socialize an individual into society

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When an individual born it  interact with social group in which it is present. The term socialization refers to the process of interaction through which the growing individual learns the habits, attitudes, values and beliefs of the social group into which one has been born. … Socialization prepares people to participate in a social group by teaching them its norms and expectations. But why there is need of socialization ? The answer is we are born there is something in our DNA that make us feel there should be some one who we need to follow, that there is someone who make us, who is very superior to us.

Very interesting question. what a religion actually is. As per the Oxford dictionary, “religion” is:   “The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.”

That is what religion is very simply put .strictly speaking, all “religions” in the world revolve around this same concept: a belief in a superhuman controlling power. They all build on this central concept, assigning various different attributes and holy books to this superhuman controlling power.

In Hinduism, this “power” is called Brahman and has many forms, manifesting itself in every sentient being, In Islam it is called “Allah” and so on so forth. But the bottom line of all these religions is: There is a god.

There is God who have sent us and give us the way to live the life. Through the learning process one give  priority to the religion it follow. The religion guide us through holy book. Divine books are four in numbers revealed to different Prophets i.e.

Tawrat to  Prophet Musa

Zabur to Prophet Dawud

Injil to Prophet Isa

Quran revealed to Prophet Muhammad SAW

but Muslim believes that they all carry a same message or guidance for humanity. Divine books provide set of rules to live a life. They can also act as a source of history and motivation for the followers. Quran is last Divine book but it contains some  references of all other Divine Books.

Divine books act as source of religion provider. Beliefs, values and practices related to spiritual concerns are described by religion. It is also known as crucial roadway of socialization for many people. In many religious institutions like temples, churches and mosques individual of many religious communities assemble to glorify and to grasp knowledge. Many ceremonies related to structure of family like marriage and birth are also related to religious celebrations. Shared set of socialized value which passes through society are foster by organized religion. Each social theorist define religion according to their own perspective

The purpose of sending divine books to the followers of certain religion was to give them the principles of religion. The teachings of Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Christianity are very similar to each other. The conflict occurs in their ideology and oneness of God. Reforms in individual life and society’s life like harmony and unity are brought by these books. They act as a balance between life of both the individual and society by safeguarding rights, assigning individual responsibilities which are guided by Divine books. Divine books deals with the demand of society and behave as building block of thinking and behavioural processes and lay stress on Faith  , through this human hearts and minds are completely transformed and remodelling  of our thinking and behavioural pattern occur  which as a result changes the whole society.

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Pakistan On Its Way to Promote Interfaith Harmony

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People from various cultural, racial, and religious backgrounds live in Pakistan.  96.28 percent of the country consists of a Muslim population. Minority groups make up 4% of the population, with Christians at 1.59%, Hindus at 1.60%, and Ismaili and Qadianis make 0.22 %. Unluckily this diversity is now being mistreated. Whether it is the ongoing violence against non-Muslims or the sectarian violence among Muslims across the nation, these misperceptions about other religions are a major contributor to violence among religious communities. Unfortunately, Pakistan has fallen prey to these social ills.

The government of Pakistan has contributed significantly by carrying out numerous initiatives and plans to guarantee all of Pakistani society with various religious and ethnic backgrounds the opportunity to socialize with one another.  The 1973 Constitution of Pakistan specifically mentioned the rights of minorities to preserve interreligious harmony.  To represent religious minorities’ voices Article 51 (2A) of the Constitution grants ten additional public services to the Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and Parsi religious communities in the national assembly. The Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan mandated the establishment of a National Council for Minorities. The prime objective of the Council is to oversee, the effective application and protection of rights guaranteed to minorities by the Pakistani Constitution. The Council also demands from the Federal and Provincial Governments to structure the policy proposals to uphold and defend the rights of minorities as per the 2014 Jurisdiction of SC.

Since the last decade Pakistan has been working on the issues of protection of religious minority’s rights however, the process speeded up in 2018.  The Ministry of Human Rights created the Action Plan against Religious Persecution in 2016. The election campaign of the political Party “Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf” introduced, in their manifesto to establish a “legally empowered, well-resourced, independent National Commission on Minorities, followed by provincial Commissions/Departments”.The strategy outlines a strenuous effort to be undertaken with numerous stakeholders to protect and advance religious minorities so that they are better able to contribute to the peace and development of the nation and become a part of Pakistan’s mainstream social fabric fearlessly. It constitutes a task force at the federal level for developing a strategy for promoting religious tolerance. Curb hate speech in social media. The creation of an endowment fund for student scholarships, development of a complaint/redress mechanism, review/proposal of amendments for discriminatory laws, and protection of places of worship are just a few of the initiatives mentioned in the Action Plan. Others include raising awareness and providing training on interfaith harmony, reviewing and revising education curricula at all levels to foster a peaceful and inclusive society, and raising funds for student scholarships.

Subsequently, it is pertinent to mention here that religious harmony is crucial for maintaining interreligious relations. For this purpose, On January 16, 2018, a National Narrative (Paigham e Pakistan) for Peaceful and Moderate Pakistani Society based on Islamic Principles was presented under the watchful eye of government officials. In January 2019, the Paigham-e-Pakistan Centre for Peace and Reconciliation Studies released a fatwa (verdict) signed by over 1800 Pakistani religious scholars denouncing suicide bombings, armed uprisings, and other acts of terrorism committed in the name of Sharia.

One of the main issues facing minorities, which is being echoed around the world, is the forced conversion of young girls. The Hindu Marriage Act of 2017 was passed by the National Assembly in response to this challenge, covering all of Pakistan except Sindh. To make it easier for the Hindu community to get married under the Sindh Hindu marriage Rules, 2019, the Sindh government passed the Sindh Hindu Marriage Act 2016 (amended in 2018). Additionally, to resolve the issue and dispel any negative perceptions about forced conversion, the Pakistan Hindu Council and Ulema confined an agreement. According to this agreement, the law approved by the Parliament will be adopted regarding conversion. Any Hindu who approaches ulema for conversion will be reported to the local Hindu community leader, to meet with their parents (in absence of Ulema), until the law is approved. Still, if he/she wishes to convert will be allowed to do so.

The Pakistani religious and political elite have used religious segregation by emphasizing “divide and rule” and discouraging the idea of “unity in diversity to effectively consolidate their power. Segregation based on religion has become a major tool for encouraging violence against non-Muslims. This encourages extremism by instilling the desire in jihadist groups to commit acts of religious terrorism against members of other faiths. It is therefore essential to oppose any misuse of religion. Likewise, we must guard against religious fanaticism and extremism to promote interfaith harmony. Under the guise of religion, encourage hatred or even terrorist acts are destructive and poses a serious threat to the peace and prosperity of Pakistan.

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