A Global Networking for Muslim Intellectuals & Activists

islam21
Issue No. 20, December 1999

Islam21 P.O. Box 21272 London W9 3YN, UK Tel/Fax: (+44) 870 0130286 Email: inquiry@islam21.org Homepage: http://islam21.org

The International Forum for Islamic Dialogue (IFID) Editor: Dr. Mansoor Al-Jamri

Islamists & Freedom of Expression
On 16 October 1999, Islam21 organised a one-day round-table discussion in London entitled "Islamist Approaches to Freedom of Expression- Values & Criteria". The seminar brought together leading Muslim intellectuals and activists who tackled several critical areas vsv. freedom of expression. The seminar was not aimed to be a reactive one. But several contributors raised their concern that Islamists might be under an external pressure to respond to such issues. Many in the West claim to be the greatest exponents of freedom of speech and many thinkers and statesmen have championed, with great passion, the cause of this freedom along with human liberty. Voltaire proclaimed: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." In more recent times, when former American president Franklin D. Roosevelt propounded his Four Freedoms, he said: "The first is freedom of speech and expression - everywhere in the world." Writers, artists, cartoonists and film-makers have ventured to express their ideas and opinions about religion. Some of these might have been accused of indulging in blasphemy. This is because they might have maligned, ridiculed, insulted or lampooned God, Prophets and their religious teachings, thereby hurting people's feelings. In the cases of Salman Rushdie's book 'The Satanic Verses' or Martin Scorcese's film 'The Last Temptation of Christ', a Bangladeshi feminist writer's remarks about the Holy Qur'an and Sharia, Marcel Khalifa's recent song, or Dr. Baghdadi's remarks about Prophet Mohammed (SAW) - human rights activists have raised the banner of freedom of expression and called for freedom of individual to express themselves freely even if some people find what these people have said to be offensive to their beliefs. One may ask: can the civilised world give unlimited freedom to the expression of all sorts of indulgence, and if yes on what basis? Does freedom of expression mean "total freedom" in all circumstances? A renowned American statesman and former president, Thomas Jefferson, advocated freedom of reason to correct any lapses of unbridled freedom of speech and expression. Drawing a distinction between truth and falsehood and recognising the possibility of error in freedom of expression, Jefferson cautioned: "It is better to have no ideas than false ones." And, "Error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it." Going a step further, John Stuart Mill stressed: "The liberty of the individual must be thus far limited: he must not make himself a nuisance for other people." The impact of new technology on freedom of expressions cannot be ignored any more. Soon, the World Trade Organisation might eliminate barriers in the telecommunication industry. In the near future, some countries may be considered breaking international law if they jam satellite TV that may transmit sexually-explicit materials which are considered as taboo in Muslim societies. Many Islamists affirm that Islam is the greatest exponent of freedom of expression but on the condition that it must be related to truth and justice. Islam preaches to bear witness to the truth at all cost and in all circumstances. To witness involves freedom of expression on the part of one who bears witness. The Holy Qur'an says: "O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest you swerve, and if you distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well-acquainted with all that you do." (4/135) But who defines truth and justice? And what may constitute a propagation of falsehood, or ridiculing the sacred? And who defines the limits of the sacred? Are we geared-up to respond positively to such challenges or would we be adopting a reactive and negative approach?

Mohammed Shahrour In my book "Al'Kitab W'al Qu'ran" (The Book and the Qu'ran). The shari'a (Islamic law) is the message. and also failed. particularly the Qu'ran? If someone listened to programs about Islam on Arab televisions. which is a notion widespread in the Arab/Muslim world. with principles such as usul al fiqih (jurisprudence) and ilim alqalam (theology). All the beings in the universe are words of God. democracy and opposition. Islam21. Then I began to approach the problem of predestination. Christ and to Mohammad. I addressed fundamental questions. The Middle East problem is not secularism. within the framework of an oppressive political authority. Anyhow. but parts of it that deal with prophecy. is the word which. is kalam. After the first century of Islamic history. In 1982 I found the difference between the kitab (book) and the Qu'ran. I differentiate between "Islam" and "Islamization". published in 1990. it is impossible to ignore it. pluralism. it means that God is an Arab. There is no need for a new Islam. and concluded that al-furqan are the Ten Commandments which are the same to all prophets. or to the state? To what extent our ideas have been shaped by reading. Kalimeh. as if Islam is something free in space. These sciences were created by political officials. Kalimeh. starts with the definition of what Islam is. Liberals tried to do so. My understanding of meaning of Islam and of the situation of the Muslim world. Therefore. the Qur'an. One plural of kalimeh (word). There is only elaboration on how to justify the power of ruler. The secular state has been there for seventy years. "Islam" as such is the holy Qu'ran. because Islamization is bounded by history and geography. Therefore. prophecy and message. After establishing the difference between the message and the prophecy. It is said in the Qu'ran that the same al-furqan was given to Moses. and they failed in their attempt to transport Western political formula to the Arab/Muslim states. The Qu'ran is not the whole book. such as: What is the basis for authority? What is the basis for our relationship to one another. "the rights of the people". but the law is different between Moses and Mohammad. or Jesus Christ. So. or a misreading. which is called "The Mother of the Book". The Mu'tazilite ideas about the Qur'an is that it is a created text. This necessary for understanding the text in a different way. Marxists wanted to impose a secularization. is created. The only predestination that . I began working with the analysis of the Qu'ran in 1970. which can be understood by sociology. new methods of Islamization were created. unlike Islam itself which is a pure teaching and commandment. The word "sun" for God is the sun itself. The term "word" in Arabic has two different plurals. a place for concepts such as "constitution". A religious state was created in Iran and it is the strongest state in the Middle East. both in its Sunni or Shi'a versions. So. I focused on al-furqan. is kalimat. But now.PAGE 2. For twenty years I worked on the book "Al'Kitab W'al Qu'ran". but there is a need for a new Islamization. is word as an objective being. because if it is not created. The other plural of kalimeh. With this information I began to cross-examine the verses. as a word. I concluded that there is no basis in the Qur'an for predestination. December1999 Reading the religious text: A new approach By: Dr. because it emerged from religion and appealed to the culture of the people among whom it appeared. The world "sun" in English is shams in Arabic. it is impossible to find in the usul al-fiqih. but democracy. since religion has an important normative role in the Middle Eastern societies. the Middle East is facing new concepts such as constitution. the problem is how these concepts can be introduced into the Islamic religious tradition. there could be secularism in the Arab or Islamic states. it was imposed upon society and it did not work. The Qu'ran and "The Mother of the Book". with the plural kalam. to deconstruct religion. civil society. with the plural kalimat. because His words have no language. I consider that. or "the rights of the government". he or she would see that the shaykhs preaching on TV say that Islam is good and Muslims are not good. of fundamental religious texts. but for God "sun" is the sun itself. but it would not solve anything. is pronounced. and not the eternal word of God. the Ten Commandments are main pillar of Islam. were put together and this is al-kitab (the book). But "Islamization" is what people see in the phenomenon.

but for "istifta'a". Some people said you are not right to discuss it like that. But if anyone wants to give a lower punishment. and the result is that if a man is caught with women and says that she is his second wife he goes to prison. so long as such referendum is bounded by the upper and lower limits set-out by God. On the other hand we find that there are issues which come up in our societies which are not related to this. To commit a murder is forbidden in Mecca. This kind of instances can be duplicated and multiplied many times if you just read the newspapers in Iran today. and nobody is capable of making it halal. and nobody can exceed it. Polygamy in Tunisia and Turkey was prohibited by force. That is fine. The same magazine always had a few articles on different aspects of Muslims existence. On two occasions we had to go the Higher Courts to get it released. in the name of progress and development. So a subterfuge was . in China. It is not defined in advance how long each one will live. We never had any problem in distributing any issue of "Inquiry" in Pakistan even though the country was under military rule. we can see the are two determinations for Haram (forbidden things). I reviewed the principles of jurisprudence and I can say we are not in need for a "mufti" (the person who issues a fatwa). there are also lower limits in it.PAGE 3. So we have to look at that as separate category. At that time General Zia Al Haq was in power. We should probably find another term to describe ourselves. I find this is a very negative and defensive term which we should not use. But if he says she is a lover. the first is that haram is exhaustive. The Prophet's doctrines are within the prohibited and non-prohibited domain. Newspapers shut down and open. Secondly the appearance of freedom is not necessarily the existence of freedom. Freedom versus interests By: Mohammad Iqbal Asaria I would like to point out that I have a big issue with the use of this world "Islamist" for ourselves. After this theological part of my work. Such as the one who rules that everyone will die. The field of halal is everything in exception to what is divinely defined as haram. It is a pure and simple debate within Muslim societies. Some of the issues which have been raised by Dr. because it is absolute. but it is only written that everyone will die some day. These are internal problems. This is not related to any external. or referendum. the second is that it is eternal. I believe there is room for pluralism and civil society within the limits defined by God. But. Thee is no need for "fatwa" anymore. Now regarding the issue of freedom of expression. gone. I analyzed the legal system of the Qur'an and identified three different parts in the legal aspects of the Qur'an: the code of moral. There is a reaction and debate goes on. not by a force. in Boston. Nobody asked what have you done. and a parliament has the same task of regulating the field of halal. This has nothing to do with these programmes of freedom we have here or in the West. This is haram. we have here two submissions which say on the one hand that we are actually reacting to an external kind of complex which has been imposed on us. Ahmed Al-Baghdadi (of Kuwait) include a comment that the Prophet's mission in Mecca was a failure. We questioned in detail the whole concept of the existence of Pakistan. What Prophet Mohammed did in his life was to establish the rules of prohibited and non-prohibited things in the field of halal. Therefore. For example the execution of murderer. colonial or intelligence threat. but only through a referendum. a nation bounded by the limits of God can exercise the process of legislation through a parliament. for example. and the rituals. the legal system. We sent the magazine out. and in the seventh century as well as in the twentieth century. We did an issue on Pakistan and the cover of that issue was a big question mark over a flag of Pakistan. Islam21. After that issue I went to Pakistan and there was no problem. I reached the possibility of pluralism and democracy in Islam. God only defines Haram. incest is a lower limit of marriage rules. For example in the days when I used to publish the "Inquiry" magazine we used to send it to all the countries. it is accepted and both are freed. If a society wants to abolish polygamy. which is the upper limit of punishment to murder. what have you said. Instead. But when the magazine was released three months after its publication date it was dead. it is perfectly acceptable. Somebody questions "hudud" and somebody else questions something else. This is because haram has two implications. What do we say about this? We are reacting and saying we never had this problem before and we do not know why it has come up now. Islamic law served to organize everyday life. he did not touch the field of haram. they could do so. In reviewing the Qur'an. At the time there were communal riots in India and every issue was held up in India. December 1999 exists are the universal laws for all humanity. From the analysis of the legal verses. As there are upper limits in the Qur'an. The magazine entered Pakistan and was distributed.

their freedom will be curtailed. We were stopped at the border and all the copies were confiscated. Therefore. These are not easy issues but they are long term issues. Now we come back to our societies and the question I raised before is that outside of this there are a number of issues which have come up. There are either internal political factors or factors of legitimacy of people who are questioning which are important. our own perception of freedom is. individual rights have taken precedence over societal rights and in law individual rights are now protected by libel. You need several things in place before you can do that. Under the modern state or under modern ways of organisation. That is one way in which an individual protects his/her freedom of expression. We need to think seriously about what our own question. We can discuss what failure is and what success is. if you are powerful enough and wealthy enough to issue libel suits nobody will say anything against you. Thirdly the important thing is that freedom as a neutral factor is useless. The same problem which hit Murdoch himself as a person has not been reported anywhere because 80 percent of the media is owned by him. It never entered Malaysia on time. Who is going to decide what the sacred space is? I have analysed several of the issues which have been flagged-up and behind every one of them you find that the religious agenda is not paramount. December1999 used to prevent the magazine going into India even though it is a small circulation magazine which was not posing any threat to anything. That is shaken and other people may come out. But he is not in power. If some people are going to claim a link with divinity for their actions it is impossible to question them. . are using their own agendas to suppress any kind of freedom of expression. What happens here is that there is a balancing between different people's power and wealth and sooner or later with every political dispensation it settles down. We need to study each one in detail and see that underlying it is either a proxy battle for other things or a false implied link with divinity . Both parts of society. religious and secular unfortunately for us. The same problem which hit somebody like Maxwell who was a complete fraudster was no reported any where because he controlled the media and he had a very quick predilection to libel suits so everybody just shut up. When I was working with "The Crescent" magazine we took copies of the magazine from Canada and traveled to the United States. You can question Pakistan and nothing will happen. Islam21. Whenever there was an article on Malaysia it would be stopped. For example. So the appearance of freedom and democracy in Malaysia and India and military rule in Pakistan clearly was no a factor in determining what people could or could not see. So we have to answer the question about who is going to question. The same thing happened in Malaysia. This is how mass mobilisation can take place on these issues. if people are going to question over the past 20 years the presence of two dynasties trying to rule. So we have to find ways of decoupling this. If you imply a link as soon as you question them.PAGE 4. But if something they are going to say is part of dynamic plan to change things it poses a danger. for example. Oscar de Fontaine who was the finance minister of Germany before he resigned published his memoirs and started to sling mud at all kinds of people. You can come to bigger issues as in Pakistan. It is very different. That is where we have to decide what is the proper place for a freedom struggle? How does society go about protecting a freedom struggle or creating space for struggle and dynamism within the framework of freedom? That is where we should lead into the debate on representative societies. The third point to look at is the question of the modern state. even in our societies we are really looking at the proxy issues which are small. I find it very difficult for a whole Muslim establishment to react to something like the Prophet's mission in Mecca. Freedom has to be linked with dynamic action. Therefore. If he were in power it would be something else. This has to deal specifically with the area we consider to be sacred space. This is only rhetoric and semantics but when it assumes a bigger dimension and you go behind it and ask does this mean religion to destabilise him or his position. Here we come up against our standard programme which also impinges on other areas. But this is completely aligned to power and wealth. transparency and legitimacy. The treat here from Muslims is not that they are going to say something. So you could arbitrate freely in that way if you wanted to. Why don't we want that to be violated and what we propose to do if it is violated. the amount of wealth they have accumulated and what has happened to this wealth. divinity itself is questioned. It is not a simple game to play. It does not disturb me. This is a model you could select and it is a model which is working here. If you couple this with the growth in media power you can see for example that the break-up of the degeneration of morality in the White House was paraded all across the world. So the appearance is not necessarily what exists inside. So if you take that route you will have power and wealth determining the question of freedom.trying to protect something which is not protectable.

I do not believe Islam and force (coercive order) are identical. We cannot accept any concept of freedom which is a mere instrumental value. I think from the moral and political point of view freedom of expression is intimately connected with the problem of modernity and the rise of the modern state. December 1999 Freedom of expression: the questioning of values By: Dr. there is no coercion. this is haram." There have to be limits. It may not be sacred in the traditional sense but it has the same values. Absolute freedom is unacceptable to us. even in Western philosophy people like Heidigger and others accept that the moral-will is submissive and sets boundaries for itself.and Iam not making a distinction between east and west . The secular state says that is has no moral values to propound. If the truth of the soul is not consolidated how can we create a public one. So basically in this moral sense the problem of freedom of expression is totally redundant to Islam. There is also a confusion in our thought here. It does not to anywhere. is totally meaningless for us Muslims because ultimate freedom is only enjoyed by the devil or God." They will pretend but they will not believe. It is a question of Muslim order. S. Islam will insist whatever truth it has to offer it is valid publicly as well as privately. One is definitely metaphysical or philosophical because freedom of expression is a sacred tenet of modern polemics. Muslims create states and Muslims create political order. So ultimately it is not a question of Islam and freedom of expression. So any human being. Modernity creates private and public. I think the problem demands three approaches. Secondly. I would like to bring some kind of conciliation between ourselves and the others. I think this is one of the tragedies of our times because post-modernity forces are writing of Islam in terms of a doctrine of governance on us. We confound Islam as a faith with Islam as a political order. There is a sacred theory behind it. as an instrumental value. they must say this is illicit. as long as it is confined to logistics. So we have to examine what we mean by freedom. for example in Pakistan or Algeria etc. this is halal. whoever they may be. We want to present Islam only as a doctrine of governance. There is a distinction between the private world which may be anything. We cannot say that everything should be allowed. Every state has its secret police and its dirty tricks department. I do not think this is anything new. Pervez Manzoor When you look into human beings . Simply as we say what is right and wrong has to be observed. as an ideology. This does not work. Islam is not coercive order. What is right will be right whether you are in private or in public because from our point of view Islam is the guidance of Allah to mankind and it is not a logistical problem. but the public world has to guarantee that expression should be free. this is not allowed. What do they follow? . not in the political sense but in the moral sense. any world order that wants to have some kind of morals has to set boundaries. In this sense no moral human beings. It has no doctrine to salvation. There are other values and therein lies the whole problem. The other issue that we have to clearly bear in mind is that it has to do with the acceptance of the model of the secular state. The only thing is the public sphere and in the public sphere there have to be certain methods of conducting affairs.and look into the political structure it will be rotten somewhere. We call them "munafikun. This question will keep on coming up and we must tackle it. So in faith there is no compulsion. We have a lot of Muslim states and we have so many examples. least of all Muslims. It does not lead you anywhere in the afterlife. We as human beings. We want to set limits.PAGE 5. If this is not done it is not valid for our time. The sense in which it is very relevant is in the political sense today. Those who believe will believe because otherwise we have in our experience those who do not believe. When it comes to real dissent. Something has to be "haram. Then it makes sense. We should call it freedom of expression in Muslim states today. want freedom. I am not happy with this rhetoric at all. Islam21. It affects people emotionally and otherwise. But Islam as a faith cannot make this distinction between public and private. Islam cannot be thrust down anyone's throat. You have freedom of expression but what about the content of these satellite TVs? So the first thing is that Islam is a faith and therefore we have a question mark about the notion of freedom. it is expressed by Islamists not only in the political sense but also in the moral and metaphysical sense because it is only Islam which holds that this world has something beyond it. So this is my first point. Islam as a faith demands something more than just a public sphere. My first submission is that freedom. this is wrong. without specifying what this freedom is to be used for. Therefore in the public sphere everyone should have equal right of expression. Some of us have fallen into this trap. Whenever anybody talks about freedom of expression they are not talking only in terms of practice. How can Muslim consciousness give up its right to say this is right.

And that is good for us that we can think in terms of moral values and think in terms of some common values. There is a similar law in the USA. posing a complex problem with far reaching consequences. December1999 They do not follow the Western freedom of expression. ultimately that too much freedom has to be balanced by the ideals of justice and equality. The setup in which these events took place is the secular state. Our problem is the lack of a humane and free political culture in the Muslim world. Dr. But the tendency we are discussing is now growing in strength. Islam21. there is no way in which we can avoid the pragmatics of the world situation. So let us not waste our intellectual energy by talking about Islam and freedom of expression. Why do states feel threatened so much they have to exercise control everywhere? Most of these Muslim states are not based on Shura. Sweden is one of the great liberal and democratic societies. It is not freedom of expression. neither for Islam and those involved in such campaigns. Freedom without equality and justice is anarchy. Bearing this in mind. Abu-Zaid practised “ijtihad” and people might agree or disagree with his views. Abdelwahab El-Affendi Recently. the do not follow the Islamic one." Dr.PAGE 6. Nasr Hamid Abu-Zaid. Freedom of conscience becomes paramount only if you believe in some sort of substantive values. Measured Language: This raises an important point in this complex issue. he used a language that was considered inflammatory by some. Freedom of expression can only be looked at strategically. an Egyptian court ruled that he must be divorced from his wife. The West is also in a quandary. Ahmad Al-Baghdadi. If we accept that this world is as it is and it will develop in certain ways that we can rationally and pragmatically analyse who will be the beneficiaries of greater freedom? Will it be the multinational corporation? Why is Muroch buying up all channels? So despite all the freedom. So the reverse side of the question of freedom is control by the state. Here. Who is the beneficiary of the freedom? The rich and the mighty or the poor and disadvantaged? Does freedom lead to the rule of the strong? Freedom must be balanced with the ideal of equality. Freedom of expression is not absolute anywhere either in theory or in practice. and the case is then transferred to the judiciary to deal with the matter as a criminal offence. which might be found offensive or even abusive by the Muslim masses. They have no popular support and their policies are ones of self preservation which have nothing to do with Islamic sentiments. In theory it is restricted to the public sphere. was jailed for a month in Kuwait because he stated in an article that Prophet Mohammed (SAW) “had failed in his mission in Makkah. a Kuwaiti academic. The have to know how much freedom and how much control. The threatened prison sentence against a Lebanese singer. So. In practice we have heard what even the most civilised and freedom-loving democracies can do to their own citizens. Marcel Khalifa. a Muslim grouping raises an issue about what someone said or wrote about Islam. The end result of such an endeavour is not a positive one. That is our problem. unfortunately. accused of insulting the Quran was just one of a series of recent events which underlined the problem. Globalisation will mean that fewer people will control. So this is the paradox of freedom. We need a debate with the West which treats us badly in some ways but also stirs our conscience. whose apparatus is being appealed to by those calling for implementation of Islamic laws. This month (October 1999). Neither will his advocate. Unholy Alliance: It is strange to observe how parts of the traditional Islamic establishment and some modern Islamic movements have joined forces with secular state establishment to undermine freedom of expression. In many cases. Using Islam to undermine democracy: A dangerous endeavour By Dr. indicating the prevalence of a tendency to concentrate on trivial issues in circumstances calling for the concentration on bigger ones. But they have laws where a person mostly of foreign origin can be accused and put into prison and he will not know what the charges are. However. The Machiavellian order still prevails everywhere. This is because a person’s beliefs are an essential component of his identity. that of the necessity to use measured language and to avoid unnecessary inflammatory language. the question of freedom of expression has been raised by a number of high profile court cases in at least three Muslim countries. to the extent that an attack against beliefs will be seen as a attack against his whole existence. How much control should the state exercise? Here we have to look at the Muslim world. Where are the Muslim states and why are they not democratic? In this sense we can have meaningful dialogue both with ourselves and with the people you see running Muslim affairs. it is clear that such attacks are . nor for the cause of freedom. otherwise it will lead to greater conflict. In the case Dr. the concentration of the media is in fewer hands than earlier.

It is the same secular state that imprisons and illtreats Muslim activists whose only sin is to meet to discuss political issues or read books which are on public sale anyway. There is a question about the legitimacy of these largely undemocratic states. If. He consistently draws a distinction between Islam as a religion and Islamic fundamentalism as a political ideology. Tibi adopts a secular approach and sees Islamic fundamentalism as the result of Islam's confrontation with modernity. or specific non-religious circles. can contribute to dismantling conspiracy perceptions and to averting the clash of the Islamic and Western civilizations. Tibi maintains. If it were valid then locking up its author is not going to refute it. The counterproductive nature of attacks on freedom of expression is seen in the case of Abu-Zaid. If it were erroneous. " . the latter seen to be in continuity with the former. has enough problems to solve within its own confines. It is for this reason that the secular state consolidates its dictatorial nature as forces of civil society continually seek its assistance to wage war against each other. and stability. An idea could either be valid or not. then it makes no sense to dwell on religious questions that are of no concern to this audience in the first place. This is because in the end they offer a golden opportunity for others to blame Islam as a religion of zealots who care less about human values. While the Islamists have sought the assistance of the secular state to curb freedom of expression. Ideas vs. For if she/he wanted acceptance for his views among the majority. The campaigns they initiate are usually the trigger of the process. They both do not have it and they both need it. a recognized expert on Islam and Arab culture. Tibi cites the fundamentalists' interpretation of the Gulf War and the war in Bosnia. Tibi's study is not a litany of sensational events and outrageous tactics. The Arab World. This is certainly the case if the thinker were directing his/her discourse to the masses. Ideas: In principle. ideas must be countered with ideas. he/she were addressing the outside world. which have no religious or popular legitimacy.PAGE 7. when earnestly pursued. a distinction not always understood in the West. Bassam Tibi. Book Review The Challenge of Fundamentalism Political Islam and the New World Disorder By Bassam Tibi Published: 1997 ISBN (Cloth): 0520088689 Islamic fundamentalism has had a significant impact in nearly every corner of the world in recent years. but rather an in-depth analysis of the politicization of religion. Their effort is misplaced and counterproductive. in turn strengthening political Islam's stronghold. as recent examples of this perceived threat. To the contrary. a global phenomenon that extends beyond Islam. it is easy to refute it. he/she might benefit a lot from the publicity. Islamic fundamentalism poses a grave challenge to world politics. It is also not in the interest of intellectuals to utilise such offensive language. offers an important and disquieting analysis of this particular synthesis of religion and politics. which leads to bringing cases in court against intellectuals and artists. These twin goals should become the substance of an international cross-cultural morality. As an alternative to religious fundamentalism he proposes a compact based on secular democracy and human rights. says Tibi. The lack of appropriate Western policies and the insensitivity of some Western politicians contribute to the fundamentalists' sense of being threatened. He says: "Adequate Western policies. however. as for example the solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. we can also see that liberals have continually sought the protection of the secular state from Islamists. Islam21. More controversial issue here is the role of the states that are asked to back the action against thinkers and artists. The movement is unprecedented in Islamic history and parallels the inability of Islamic "nation-states" to integrate into the new world secular order. Such global issues must be addressed within the framework of worldwide solutions. it makes no sense to antagonise them unnecessarily. not to mention the fact that they strengthen and legitimise the despotic secular state of which they are the prime victim. after all. one that could bring people of different civilizations to live together in peace. Few people heard or knew about him before some Islamists decided to file a case against him. An added element is the role of Islamists in cases involving expression of views on Islam. December 1999 not conducive to civic peace. security. and no inclination to promote freedom of Islamic values. The sound policy for Islamists and liberals alike is to abandon this suicidal policy and try instead to cooperate in furthering freedom and human right.

Historically. Islam21. engineers. In the days of the Prophet. the potential leader would ascend to the leadership position. Historically. this was usually done by visiting the potential leader. customs and needs of each. they ruled in accordance with the laws of God. The will of the people is expressed in two major ways: first. in an Islamic nationstate of tens of millions of people. The mechanics of this process would be immensely facilitated by the use of the media and electronic voting and tallying. there is generally no history of claims to rule by divine right. there was no specific mechanism for selecting them or removing them. doctors. teachers. depending on the circumstances. In the first stage certain individuals. there was no general election of the Wise Ones to their preferred position. They were simply recognized in their society as the Wise Ones. bay'ah is the act of accepting and declaring allegiance to a potential ruler. The details of such a process may vary from country to country. therefore. workers and homemakers. however. This choice was tantamount to nomination and it carried great weight. as Islam grew and Muslim communities prolif- . Indeed. A. Despite an abundance of examples of authoritarian rule in the Arab and Muslim world. Individuals engaging in consultations at the first stage had to meet certain requirements. was chosen as the leader of the Muslims through the process of bay'ah. Each would provide a valuable perspective which would enrich the selection process. Hence the use of the term bay'ah. farmers. women sent a delegation to the Prophet to inform him of their support and allegiance to him. Many of his successors were selected in a similar fashion. referred to as "Ahl al-Hal wa'l Aqd" (those who can enter into a contract or dissolve it). As the requirements were sufficiently loose to qualify a large number of people. Among the Wise Ones would be members of various segments of society. As heads of an Islamic state. not as his representatives on earth. for example. the process of the bay'ah of the khalifah came to consist of two stages. Of course. the general public gave its bay'ah to the chosen candidate. racial or gender-related requirements for obtaining such a status in society. December1999 Democratic Principles An Islamic Point of View By: Professor Azizah Al-Hibri This article examines the Islamic system of government in light of the democratic principle "the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of the goveranment". In addition. including lawyers. Bay'ah The word "bay'ah" is derived from "bay'" which means "selling. least of all by the Prophet. the doctrine asserting that the will of the people was the basis of the authority of the government was formulated in the West as a response to monarchs who claimed to possess a divine right to rule. in the small community of the Sahaba and the early Muslims. the number of Wise Ones (unless deliberately limited by the people or otherwise reduced by requiring additional qualifications) could run into the millions. Theoretically. such Wise Ones may in turn decide to elect a limited number of the most qualified amongst them to choose a khalifah. engaged in extensive consultations to build a consensus and then gave the bay'ah to a potential khalifah they agreed upon. expressing allegiance face to face and shaking his hand as is traditionally done when concluding a sale. If the majority of the people gave their support. Basically. on the procedure for the choice of a head of the Muslim state. no bay'ah is valid without the acceptance of the potential leader. through the people's choice of a head of state. Bay'ah takes place when one or more individuals inform another that they support his assumption of the leadership position and pledge the allegiance to him. Historically. In second stage. it is necessary to examine this process with an eye to determining any democratic features it may have. They also had to be capable of making a wise choice in light of all the relevant circumstances at that time. However. In the past. nor were there any economic. the latter being the one engaged in bay'ah. no limitations were placed on the number of individuals who could be considered part of Ahl al-Hal wal' Aqd (hereinafter referred to as "Wise Ones"). and second. In the case of political succession. Since this process of bay'ah was used repeatedly for choosing heads of the Muslim state.PAGE 8. they had to be just and had to possess the kind of knowledge which would enable them to make the best choice for khalifah in light of the requirements that such khalifah had to meet. Originally. such recognition was easily achieved." As such it connotes a contract between someone who makes an offer and another who accepts it. The messenger of God.

Islamic governance took a different direction. in any case. the system of government would allow for a majlis shura (consultative council of mujtahids) whom the khalifah may or ought to consult when making certain decisions. the democratic character of the process of choosing a head of state is at least partially related to whether the bay'ah of general public (or its representatives) is viewed as necessary. the khalifah is supposed to be the leader of the Muslim ummah and. Some of these latter views were infected by outside political pressure exerted by dynastic rulers. Some of the early Muslim rulers. however. Note that if the Wise Ones are democratically elected. Very few people today would satisfy this combination of requirement and if they did it is unlikely that they would be the best mujtahids or the best political leaders. in this age of the global village. Some jurists. did choose their own successors and this form of transfer of power later took root. According to the Sunni view. To the extent this diversity was the result of flexibility and the free exercise of ijtihad in light of the Qur'an and sunnah it was healthy. suggested to some the need to modify the concept of khalifah so as to make them more realistic. . On the other hand. less common form of choosing a head of the Islamic state. Muslims chose his successor though bay'ah. After his death. These facts. similar to that engaged in by the Wise Ones at the initial stage of the traditional process of bay'ah unless the nominee is a parent or child of the khlifah. This was not done. however. arguing from early Islamic precedents. whether the role being played by the khalifah is akin to that of a constitutional monarch or is more akin to that of an absolute on. Given Islam's flexible approach to ijtihad. C. Since the Qur'an did not specify mechanisms for the choice of a head of state. then even if the bay'ah of the general public is dispensed with. The variety of views on such an important topic should not be surprising. a brief comment about the applicability of the concept of khalifah to today's world is in order. the task was left to the Muslims. the khalifah must be knowledgeable enough to engage in ijtihad and be a very wise prudent political leader. the Prophet did not use this form. because istikhlaf is merely a form of nomination. at the present. its proponents argue. In exchange. could be used to bolster democracy. the democratic character of succession by istikhlaf depends on whether the nomination is followed by bay'ah and. But. For example. as interpreted with the help of the sunnah. the democratic character of the process will remain significant. scholars formulated different proposals. B. under such proposals one would require the khlaifah to be pious but not necessarily a mujtahid. each more suitable to the milieu and epoch in which the scholar lived. the system of government can somewhat be revised to provide additional support for the khalifah. however. have approved of this method of succession only if istikhlaf was based on extensive consultation. was to be developed by Muslims in accordance with their times and circumstances and the other principles. Still others have argued that a bay'ah after any istikhlaf is not necessary at all. A succession system. the flow of such information should be easily attainable. Istikhalf There was another. whether directly or indirectly. consistent with the teachings of the Qura'an. Today. It was that of istikhlaf (choosing one's own successor). then the group of Wise Ones would be no different than a democratically chosen nominating (election) body. Some Observations The democratic character of selection by the Wise Ones depends in part on the process through which the Wise Ones are chosen. A khalifah must meet several requirements that are very demanding. There is no such thing as an absolute monarch in an Islamic state. the ummah is part of numerous nation-states. Furthermore. If the Wise Ones are chosen by the people as such. Islam21. In exchange. December 1999 erated. These various approaches reflected the political realities and pressures to which the scholars were subjected. more may be needed to familiarize a growing community with the qualifications of its members.PAGE 9. (henceforth. it became necessary to develop new ways for choosing the Wise Ones which could cope with the sheer size of the Muslim state. There is no reason in Islam why the Wise Ones cannot be so chosen and historically the spontaneous recognition by the community of their status was tantamount to a vote of confidence. there is some disagreement in the literature as to whether such a bay'ah is necessary after istikhlaf. Instead. referred to collectively as "Sharia'ah Principles"). Clearly. which existed during early Islam. as well as its diverse communities. Before concluding these observations. considered in light of the Sharia'ah Principles. For example. While it is generally agreed that the bay'ah of the Wise Ones to a nominee must be followed by the bay'ah of the general public. Such an approach.

literally.PAGE 10. but the essence of all religions . on the other hand. its own customs and tradition. The differences of laws and ways of life should not become cause of disharmony and differences. liberalisation and globalisation. It will lead to disturbances and breach of peace. unity of religion. "the way to a watering place" (from which men and animals derive the element indispensable to their life). even 'un-Islamic'. laws and ways of life). from theological perspective. It is the best way to do away with interreligious and inter-cultural conflict and to promote acceptance of the `religious and cultural other' with dignity and grace. Vie. feudal socio-economic and socio-political structures have either crumbled or crumbling very fast in the third world also of course with certain exceptions. The term minhaj on the other hand. It was not difficult for Allah to make entire mankind one community. Each community has its own unique way of life. what is attitude of Islam towards pluralism? Does Islam approve of pluralism or promotes a monolithic society? Also. And that test is to live in peace and harmony with each other which is the will of Allah. The human beings should only vie one with the other in good deeds. I think the Qur'an is pioneering in this idea. Here it is important to examine. Thus it will be seen that the notion of civil society is very fundamental to the modern pluralist society.e. Asghar Ali Engineer Today's world is fast becoming pluralist with variety of religions. What is desirable for human beings is to live with these differences and vie with one another in good deeds.e. "And if Allah had so willed. denotes an `open road' that is a way of life. then. verifying that which is before it of the Book and a guardian (muhayman) over it. Thus it will be seen that the prophets of Allah sent to different communities gave laws and indicated way of life to their people in keeping with their genius and that which could ensure their spiritual and material growth. has to concede well defined rights to the citizens. December1999 Principles of Pluralism: An Islamic Point of View By: Dr. And if Allah had so willed. howsoever different and unique they might be. In the past. All religious. He could surely have made you all one single community: but (He willed it otherwise) in order to test you by means of what He has given you. The modern democratic state. The term `every one of you' obviously denotes different communities. The civil society has its own autonomy in a democratic setup and the notion of human rights has acquired great significance. languages and cultures in one country particularly due to fast developing processes of modernization." Thus it is not for human beings to decide for themselves who is right and who is wrong. The earlier part of this verse (5:48) says. If one goes by the Qur'anic pronouncements Islam not only accepts the legitimacy of religious pluralism but considers it quite central to its system of beliefs. its own law. The term shir`ah or shari`ah signifies. But Allah graced us with pluralism as it adds richness and variety to life. different scriptures. He could surely have made you all one single community'. and in the Qur'an to denote a system of law necessary for a community's social and spiritual welfare. the state (king) was all powerful and the subject-people did not enjoy rights. and then He will make you truly understand all that on which you were wont to differ. The most significant and operative part of this verse is "Unto every one of you have We appointed a (different) law and way of life. There are very clear statements to this effect. First we will refer to the verse 5:48 in this respect. Most of the Islamic countries do not have full fledged democracy and there is no respect for human rights in these countries. with one another in doing good works! Unto Allah you all must return. it is very seminal for religious and cultural pluralism. Islam21. It is unfortunate that the Islamic world is yet to cope up with the notion of civil society. Allah does not want to impose one law on all and creates communities rather than community. But these laws or way of life should be such as to ensure growth and enriching of life. Many classical as well as modern commentators have commented on this significant verse." This is also very significant pronouncement and most modern in its approach. "And We have revealed to thee the Book with the truth. All religions are based on . have not considered seriously. It leads to what some scholars like Shah Waliyullah and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad from India have described as the concept of wahdat-e-Din i." This is very seminal statement in favour of religious and legal pluralism which Muslims.has its own law (shir`atan) and its own way of life (minhaj) and i attains its spiritual growth in keeping with this law and way of life of its own. Every community . Also. The shari`ah. This verse has also another important dimension. In fact most of the rulers condemn human rights as a western notion and some.is the same. the law and the way of life may be different as we have discussed above.e. In the last part of the verse Allah says that unto Him all will return and it is He who "will make you truly understand all that on which you were wont to differ. The verse goes as follows:" Unto every one of you We have appointed a (different) law and way of life. Allah has created different communities on purpose: to try and test human beings in what has been given to them (i. when we talk of pluralism.Din . linguistic and cultural groups should enjoy well defined rights and should not live at the mercy of the state or the majority community. This is further emphasised in the next part of the verse i. Thus it should be left to Allah to decide when they return unto Him.obviously religious or religio-cultural community . are we referring to political pluralism or religious and cultural pluralism? As far as this paper goes we are referring to religious and cultural pluralism though political pluralism has its own importance. The notion of human rights is quite fundamental to a society which is pluralistic. The Qur'an has thus come to vouchsafe for what was revealed earlier to different communities through their prophets. specially the Muslim regimes.

And only such persons are truly muttaqun i. December 1999 the revelation from Allah. as act unjustly. All of them. not exhaustive. "O mankind. The Qur'an does not maintain that there could be only one way of prayer to Allah.PAGE 11. and the angels and the Book and the prophets. surely We have created you from a male and a female. Thus the Qur'an says: "For each community there is direction in which it turns. These identities are projected as signs of God. The sufi saints from India were inclined to include Indian religions also. And none but the very people who were given it differed about it after clear arguments had come to them." Thus the above verse proves beyond any doubt that the real aim of the Qur'an is to produce an ideal human person who is virtuous. having the same earth as a resting place and the same heaven as a canopy. This is further corroborated by the Qur'an in the verse 2:177. however. That is not the purpose of divine guidance. The Qur'an does not take narrow sectarian view as many theologians tend to do. It does admit of inter-religious dialogue but with decorum: "And argue not with the People of the Book except by what is best. And it strongly condemns evil deeds which harms the society and humanity at large. This verse also makes a very significant statement: "It is not righteousness that you turn your faces towards the East and the West. Different identities are for recognition and hence necessary. Surely there are signs in this for the learned. and He revealed with them the Book with truth. God conscious and keepers of their duty to Allah. envying one another. This verse clearly refers to different directions different religious communities have adopted whereto they turn for prayer. There could be more than one. again that they are all descended from the same parents (49:13)." (29:46) The Qur'an lays great stress on unity of humankind. Muslim or the people of the Book. much less. so vie with one another in good works. In this respect also it makes no distinction between Muslims and non-Muslims. Thus the Qur'an clearly accepts the legitimacy of diversity. But then people start differing from each other and envying one another instead of respecting each others specificity and this people get divided. It also makes it clear quite forcefully that all places of . may differ and yet din. Thus more faith traditions could be included in the list of those mentioned by the Qur'anic commentators. The theme of oneness of humankind is repeated in the Qur'an in different ways. the divine truth. is sensitive to others suffering and hence spends of his wealth on the needy. submit to God and pray to Him. So Allah raised prophets as bearers of good news and as warners. the Qur'an says. The Qur'an has come to be guardian of earlier truth revealed through other scriptures. In the verse 49:13 it is said. whatever its symbolic value for a religious community. The Qur'an has named several prophets and the list of prophets in the Qur'an is illustrative." This whole verse is suffused with the spirit of pluralism and freedom of belief and conscience. Thus it is our human ego which rejects the religious other and not the falsity of other faith traditions. Its view is very broad humanitarian and its emphasis is not on dogmas but on good deeds." (99:7) The Qur'an is very particular about freedom of conscience and freedom of conscience is key to pluralism. So Allah has guided by His will those who believe to the truth about which they differed. the divine essence. depending on their specific situation." Thus national and tribal or for that matter other identities are necessary for knowing each other and it should not lead to any conflict. and the patient in distress and affliction and in the time of conflict. in all spiritual traditions and we humans have no right to reject the 'other' as illegitimate. can claim any exception from this iron law of Allah. and our God and your God is One. does not represent the essence of the prayer or faith. Allah guides those who believe to the truth about which they differed. And Say: We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you. and these are they who keep their duty. It is reflected in all religions." (2:148) All commentators from companions of the Prophet down to others interpret this as a reference to the various religious communities and their different modes of `turning towards God' in worship. and the performers of their promise when they make a promise." (30:22) Thus diversity is projected by the Qur'an as sign of God and hence to be respected. Whoever does evil. lends great support to the basic premise of religious pluralism by deemphasising a particular way of prayer and extolling the importance of human conduct and sensitivity to others suffering and ones own steadfastness in the face of calamities and afflictions. in his commentary on this verse. will be requited for it and will not find for himself besides Allah a friend or a helper. taking care of orphans. Ibn Kathir. different ways of life emerge. false. Thus the Qur'an says in 4:123: "It will not be in accordance with your vain desires nor the vain desires of the people of the Book. It says in 2:213. needless to say. Islam21. "So he who does an atom's weight of good will see it and he who does an atom's weight of evil will see it. According to this verse entire mankind is one but different prophets in their given situations come with revealed scriptures to guide them or warn them and thus. still again that they are as it were dwellers in one home. stresses its inner resemblance's to the phrase occurring in 5:48 (discussed above) "Unto every one of you have We appointed a (different) law and way of life". linguistic and national identities. and gives away wealth out of love for Him to the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and to these who ask and to set slaves free and keeps up prayer and pays the poor rate. "And of His signs". and the Last Day. This is inclusive approach and is very vital for acceptance of the 'religious other'. "And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your tongues and colours. but righteousness is the one who believes in Allah. The Qur'anic pluralism finds different expressions in different places.e. Elsewhere the Qur'an states. The Qur'an conveys that the direction of the prayer. the ways of life. Thus different identities are product of national and tribal diversities and play a useful social role. We are told that all human beings have been "created of a single soul" (4:1). one who does good will be rewarded and one who does evil will be punished. Apart from oneness of humankind the Qur'an also lays stress on racial. and made you nations and tribes that you may know each other. The Qur'an clearly states that there is no compulsion in religion (2:256) and maintains that all children of Adam are honourable (17:70). that it might judge between people concerning that in which they differed. save such of them. The laws." Thus no one. is the same. on setting slaves free. "Mankind is a single nation. is true to his word and is patient in times of distress and conflict. and to Him we submit. This verse too.

and churches. Human rights respect the dignity and freedom of conscience of every individual. Allah's name is much remembered in these places. cultural and linguistic or ethnic interests. the Constitution states that 'whatever there is anything about which you differ.. . In many Muslim countries like Turkey and Iraq. The concept of civil society which respects autonomy of a citizen and his/her religious. There was of course no question of any concept of civil society because the ruler was all powerful and followed his own personal whims or went by compulsions of power rather than the injunctions of the Qur'an. at the same time. religious and racial diversity. The freedom of conscience cannot be taken away form any human person. And. Unfortunately many Muslims use these terms very loosely and describe every religious other as kafir or mushrik. even Muslims of other nationalities and ethnic origin like the Kurds are severely persecuted. he was only marked off from other clan chiefs on two counts: firstly that for the group of believers i. Thus it will be seen that Islam does not come in the way of promoting a pluralist civil society ensuring dignity and freedom of conscience to all. This of course includes right to live with dignity and to promote ones own religious. in any way. The idea seems that the holy Prophet should act as arbitrator between rival factions and maintain peace in Madina." This agreement can be called the constitution of Madina and it was definitely a milestone which sought to lay the foundation of a new political and religious culture. a dignified existence and rights of their own. The Prophet of Islam when he migrated from Mecca to Medina found himself in a pluralist situation. enables us to live freer life and life of full dignity while. on the other. contradictory to the Qur'anic injunctions. that the Prophet had accepted different religious and tribal groups as part of a single community . There was religious as well as tribal diversity. and the Prophet was their chief. Also the arrogance of power and all pervasive authoritarian atmosphere also influenced for formulation of Islamic political doctrines. The Qur'an states. cloisters. "And if Allah did not repeal some people by others. They argued. These being terms of contempt are resented by others. Many 'ulama and the Sufi saints.. extended it to the Hindus also. the Christian other and the Jewish other with full dignity and respect for their beliefs. thus. Thus here too religious pluralism is stressed. No single religious place is being privileged in this respect. These medieval doctrines can hardly have any validity today.an Ummah. accepting the dignity of the other. accepted. The Qur'an has given the kuffar also the right to worship in their own way and have heir own beliefs. and they are not wronged. This is writing of Muhammad the prophet between the believers and Muslims of Quraysh and Yathrib (Madina) and those who follow them and are attached to them and who crusade along with them. even kafirs and mushriks would have civil rights as long as they do not cause any disturbances in society and maintain peace. It is unfortunate that most of the Muslim countries do not adhere to this spirit of pluralism and diversity in the Qur'an and sunnah. secondly. It begins thus: In the name of God. An Islamic civil society should treat all with equal degree of dignity and accord them equal citizenship rights. So when their messenger comes. It is in clear violation of the Qur'anic injunctions. it is to be referred to God and to Muhammad'. fourteen hundred years ago. and mosques in which Allah's name is much remembered. cultural and political rights does not.together constituted a single community . it is also important to note. December1999 worship should be respected and protected. He not only accepted this diversity but legitimised it by drawing up an agreement with different religious and tribal groups and accorded them. let alone nonMuslims. The Qur'an clearly states that all children of Adam have been honoured (17:70). Muslims of Madina belonging to the tribes of Aws and Khazraj and Jews belonging to different tribes . It is interesting to note that the words 'kafir' and 'mushrik' have definite historical connotation and should be used with great caution and restraint.ummah wahidah . We must enter the 21st century not with the imitative (taqlidi) mind set but with a creative and critical mind set which. It was later accepted to the Zoroastrians and even Berbers. the matter is decided between them with justice . citing the Constitution of Madina. There need not be any sharp contradiction between the two. The Holy Prophet did not claim to be the ruler of this community. in fact. this agreement is known in history of Islam as Misaq-i-Madina. They are a single community distinct from other people.e. The extremists and fundamentalists among the Muslims in these countries attack the spirit of pluralism and want to create a monolithic society. as shown above. The Qur'an also describes as one of the functions of the prophet as an arbiter. The emigrants (Muhajirs) were. and there were eight other clans with their chiefs." (22:40) It is significant that Qur'an maintains that be it church or synagogue or mosque. while adhering to the Qur'anic values. as pointed out above. would have been pulled down.PAGE 12. It says: "And for every nation there is a messenger. and takes the realities of modern world. The agreement was also quite democratic in spirit. If the Constitution is a good evidence at this point. the Merciful. They opposed separate nationalism based on religion advocated by the Muslim League. The modern democratic civil society cannot become a strong stable and prosperous conflict free society unless religious diversity or pluralism is accepted as legitimate way of life. The Medinese society was. Muslims he was a prophet and whatever was revealed to him was binding on the believers. Islam21. a democratic civil society which had tribal. It is for the Islamic political theorists of today to develop new political theories which are in keeping with the Qur'anic injunctions and sunnah on one hand. But it has yet to be realised in all Muslim countries. and synagogues. treated as a clan. Only those who refuse to accept truth in any form and negate good (ma'ruf) completely and advocate munkar (evil) would qualify as kafirs and those who refuse oneness of God and associate partners with Him will qualify as mushrik. whatever his or her beliefs. through this agreement. Many socio-political doctrines which we consider as 'pure Islamic' and worthy of emulation today developed during medieval age when mulukiyat (personal and monarchical power structure) had become all pervasive and the Qur'anic values and Islamic spirit were hardly practiced." (10:48) It is interesting to note that the eminent Muslim theologians of India represented by Jami'at ul-'Ulama-iHind had cited this constitution of Madina drawn up by the holy Prophet in support of their acceptance of composite nationalism. the Compassionate. The Qur'an. What is significant to note in this agreement is that all together Muslims of Quraysh from Mecca.

those who mention and remember God . fasting men & women. believers. ignored. in other words. Omaima Abou-Bakr How valid or appropriate is it for Muslims -women and men. practices that have developed historically as a result of a very complicated process of acculturation. I am one of the people. he is calling for the men." What is the significance of these narratives? (a) They demonstrate the concern on the part of the women for being included in the public affairs of the community or the Divine address itself. in the legal arena. Whereas we want to bridge the gap between theory and practice in this area. you are one of another… . patient men & women. Muslim societies are called upon to take seriously the issue of the humane and equal treatment of women-respect for their common human-ness-a theme that is reiterated throughout the Qur'an but is never allowed by interpreters and religious scholars to be a governing principle in constructing gender relations. obedient men & women. (b) They reflect concern for the recognition and acknowledgement of what women do and participate in.PAGE 13. is there any goodness in us to be mentioned and commended?" Hence. men & women. humble men & women. Muslims.-are to be addressed. underscores a woman's perspective. (a) It was related that Um Salama." (b) Um Salama went to the Prophet and wondered: why are the men being praised for their sacrifices in the hijra and not the women? Hence. or the expression of this view. These constitute the inherited cultural concepts and notions about gender distinctions and women.men & women--. initiative. and historical texts? Or. when she heard the Prophet calling for a community gathering for an announcement in the mosque: "O people!" Her maid says. or sometimes pre-Islamic ideas that heavily influenced religious thought and were thus incorporated and canonized. depending on the issues needed to be addressed? Is there a need? What is it or what kind of need? Women's legal and religious rights in Islam are wellknown to us all and are unquestionable. and to be a visible part of Muslim life-its public aspect as well as its religious aspect. (d) A final important point here is that God (Almighty) "responded" (the Qur'anic word) to the questioning by a revelation that inscribes and hence validates women's right to voice concerns and questions. male or female. through facilitating opportunities for education or work. we can never emphasize too much the difference between the basic equitable religious principles of the Qur'an and the authenticated Sunna-acting as referential framework-and culture or cultural trappings. This view. etc. we can reverse the question: can we study gender issues from a Muslim woman's perspective? In attempting to answer such a question. verse 35 of chapter 33: "Verily. was in her room with her maid combing her hair. The divergences between theoretical statements about the rights and status of women in Islam and the actual implementation or application of these rights within present-day state policies. December 1999 A Muslim woman's reflections on gender By: Ms. men & women. not the women. If God Himself and the Prophet (PBUH) gave ear to Muslim women's queries then why not reproduce the same situation if there is need for it at another point of our history or in a particular Muslim community. cultural. we can refer to three incidents related in the authenticated Traditions. a wife of the Prophet (PBUH). chaste men & women. and agency in questioning and debating. truthful men & women. two of them are in the context of the "occasions for revelation" of two particular Qur'anic verses. a gendered view that is also holistic and seeking equity. I suffer not the work of any worker of you. Islam21." (c) Narrated is the incident of a group of women complaining to the Prophet that the Qur'an only mentions the wives of the Prophet and not women in general: "Men are mentioned in everything and we are not. so as not to be excluded." Um Salama replies: "Indeed. for all those God has prepared forgiveness and a great reward. the revelation of verse 195 of chapter 3: "And God has heard them and responded: verily. or marginalized. to be lost. (c) Such narratives also show observing the necessity of a certain balance between the two groups of the community. Eventually these notions have become part of the popular understanding and prac- . charitable men & women.to adopt a so-called gender-sensitive perspective or approach to the study of religious. They just need to be more defined in terms of actuality. "You don't have to go.

Whereas Tabari (10th century exegete) treats it as the balancing of rights and duties among men and women through kindness and goodness. and religious egalitarianism. There is also the gender perspective that analyses power relations and their cultural application. Apprehensions or reservations of Muslims concerning such discourses as feminist consciousness. and finally to promote women's agency and negotiating stance in our culture and history. promoted illogical assumptions about gender differences. considering seriously the Qur'anic view on women's integration to the public sphere and the evolving problematic of the private-public dichotomy (i. Already within the last 10 to 15 years there has been a growing trend among women researchers and scholars (I'm interested particularly in those who are Muslim or adopt a Muslim standpoint) to studycoming from various disciplines-such issues. verse 71). but a balanced.e. A variety of approaches have developed along the years. fair. consideration of inner-Qur'anic references to view the overall picture of certain themes and issues. I try to do this from within an indigenous and Islamic frame of reference. Examples of issues being debated that might have positive implications for Muslim women are: a return to a more direct examination of the Qur'anic text and message.g. to religious & evangelical feminism. my position would be not so much seeking sameness. as well as to apply the intelligent use of Islamic principles and fields of meaning for the acquisition of rights or for revisioning discourses that encourage subordinate gender consciousness. 2) changes between earlier and latter exegetes. to include women's perspective for holistic purposes. etc. Some of these specific issues are simply irrelevant (e. thus God-ordained. One approach would be to examine the historicity and development-or devolution-of some of these cultural constructions that proved unfair to women. thehigher paradigm of egalitarian values should be made to prevail. to socialist/ Marxist feminism." in complete contradiction to another verse that clearly and directly states that believers. and then to the French school of ecriture feminine . regarding distinctions are strictly legal and functional and not inherent). This. to problematize issues of unequal distribution of power.). the problem of secularism. thus focusing on the general 'just' intent and purpose of the Divine message. ranging from radical feminism. and egalitarian kind of difference. Zamakh-shari (12th century) and much later Muhammad Abdu (20th century) define it as adhering to people's established customs concerning gender roles and duties. and were (in my opinion) so oblivious of the higher Qur'anic paradigm of moral. leads to discussions among interpreters-especially the more modern-of domestic chores and managing households as being also inscribed in the verse. which can be employed or developed to articulate gender awareness. Islam21. ch. studies on the formation of the legal tradition of Islam (fiqh) incorporating nonQur'anic cultural pre-suppositions (derived from . Hence. These have become the characteristic criticisms of women generally working on women's or gender issues in Muslim societies. as well as the sheer compassion and humanity of the Prohpet himself in his treatment to the women around him. AlQurtubi (end of 13th century) in his commentary states that men are preferred over women in their ability to "enjoin what is righteous and admonish what is unlawful. Examples: The interpretation of the concept of ma'ruf (in verse 228. I don't have to subscribe to any foreign/Western agenda or discourse on feminism and gender. Personally. seeking not so much to empower women (over and above men) as much as to redress balance and fairness. December1999 tice of religion.e. homosexual rights. gender issues. to essentialist womanism (stressing female culture and intrinsic differences). one can define one's own context and paradigms for a gendersensitive perspective. Abdu at one point contests the very early commentaries that a wife has no specific domestic responsibilities-since no Qur'anic text enjoins itand insists that this would be relieving women of their necessary and established duties as wives. This is where the hard part lies: working up the care and patience to sift through all of this entanglement and specifically tracing the cultural history of Muslim societies. are supporters of each other in "enjoining that which is righteous and admonishing that which is unlawful" (Chapter of alTawba. the charge that western feminism is anti-family and an expression of excessive individualism. ethical. men and women. etc. to modernist feminists. how much of it is actually Qur'anic and how much is cultural and historical). However. to more egalitarian feminists.PAGE 14. and patriarchy can be answered by emphasizing that we can develop our own agenda. exaggerated gender distinctions should be superseded by the Qur'anic egalitarian world-view and repeated emphasis on ethico-moral religious equality (i. with negative implications for gender-role division. in turn. They are discussing and analyzing discourses and methodologies from within our indigenous tradition. We should also not forget that feminism or feminist scholarship now is not one entity any more.

public life and economics. when I started getting interested in learning and researching these areas. or redefines (unconsciously) the Orientalist view that Muslim woman stands for/ symbol of success or failure of our progress and march towards the western model of modernity. Science was viewed as the rational force which would conquer and control the unpredictability and irrationality of nature. The other linking the spiritual with the mind. women's subjection arises from the subjection of the feminine principle. In this way the suppression of women and nature are historically and ideologically linked. Woman as part of nature and associated with the physical world. and had far reaching implications for Muslim countries. one linking the material with the body. but a certain commonality remains. Islam21. Granted there are divergences and convergence among them. has to submit to the rule of man. December 1999 the wider region of the pre-Islamic middle east). then we should be all right. culture. neoOrientalists or not. her inferior position taken as a symbol for an inferiorculture and religion. women's views and place in religion and culture is important. speaking on my behalf. we do not want to be naive in denying that there have been specific problems concerning women's life conditions. Egyptian Arab woman to acquire the necessary knowledge. interpreting and 'writing' me. We are not seeking a woman-centered hermeneutic or a repudiation of a 14 century. A Change in the conception of Muslim women By: Ms. we create our own discourse. It is my responsibility as a Muslim.etc. theologians gender-sensitive or not. who are studying cultural and religious roots to validate present-day concerns. More commodities and more cash means less life in nature (ecological destruction). the physical is subject to the spiritual (intellect). etc. Zahra Seif-Amirhosseini It is generally agreed that after the scientific revolution of the 17th century there was a shift from an organic conception to an mechanic conception of the world. Patriarchal categories which understand destruction as "production" and regeneration of life as "passivity " have generated a crisis of survival. etc. . secularists or not. emotions. Progress was viewed in terms of the extent of scientific control over nature and 'development' in terms of generating and accumulating profit. or that they haven't been treated fairly or provided with equal opportunities for education and work. Modern science provided the ethical license to fully exploit nature necessitated by the shift from production for sustenance to production for accumulation. rather a rectifying of historical biases and imbalances. The vision of development based on the market seeks to manage nature and human needs through the mechanisms of the market. what may be called "maldevelopment". the list of names in this area is increasing in the Arab region or Muslim countries or Muslims in the US. Within this schema. We do not want to be defensive and apologetic so that we end up defending passionately the wrong side of the culture or wrong perception and application of religion. The industrial revolution laid the foundation of the mode of economic development in industrial capitalism. and if gender is going to be an issue. representing me. private life and the natural process. based on the exclusion of women (of the west and non-west) and on the exploitation of nature and on the erosion of indigenous culture. I thought that there are going to be in the field dozens of researchers any way. let us study it our way and for our own benefit and betterment.PAGE 15. A deep dichotomy is thus created between men and women. Development became an expansion of the project of wealth creation in the modern western Patriarchy's economic vision. as indeed a cherished part of the religion and religious tradition proper.long tradition. reason. As I said. (c) At the same time. (b) One has also to be wary of the secularist or modernist position (sometimes pro-Western) that seeks either to completely exclude religious/cultural specificity from the picture when discussing improving women's lives. Nature was to be used and controlled purely on this principle. This intellectual tradition spilt nature into two exclusive categories. one has to avoid the Orientalist tone and standpoint that historically represented Muslim woman as across the board the eternally downtrodden oppressed female. (whether Muslims or not. Within this paradigm. Personally. (d) Ifas Muslim women we are aware of all these dimensions and can intelligently maneuver our way out of this maze of discourses. Its continuation was also reduced to the continuation of the process of colonialisation.). qualities of nature and women. objectivity. . . Development in the post-Colonial project was based on the western model. Pitfalls to avoid: (a) In trying to be reformist or critical. In short.

It is only through positive action that Muslim women can re-assume their important position in society. The position of women has been pivotal in this process.) The European analyses of women's situation in the non-European world needs to be understood in terms of a set of power relations. High fertility rate. We need to acknowledge that women's histories do not simply begin with the colonial penetration. The question of Muslim Women must be placed within a theoretical framework of structural determinants which take into consideration the sex/gender system. We must be fully conscious of the some times 'non-apparent' structural restraints which have come to shape our views of ourselves as Muslims but have also had a direct influence in re structuring our societies. class. The position of women in Muslim countries should be viewed in relation to a set of double determinate. The objectives of the focus group were defined as follows: 1. one recognizes that the status of Women in Muslim societies is neither uniform. Activists are invited to contribute to this important task. To restore the status of women in Muslim societies by promoting and encouraging the rights of women to assume a public role. "unmodern". namely Christianity and Judaism. This can be achieved through anticipating the counter arguments and the problems we are to encounter and to provide authentic 'Quran. To generalize "Muslim women" is to over look regional. unchanging nor unique. . To help eliminate violation of women's rights in the name of Islam. In Iran for example upper class women have more mobility. the state.focused' reasons to support our position.PAGE 16. Through examining changes over time and variation within societies and by comparing Muslim with non-Muslim gender patterns. ethnic and class differences. "uncivilized" customs. If one attributes all gender relations and the status of women in the Muslim world to Islam. As Muslim women we must not only be aware of our own histories but of the historical roots of development. December1999 Traditionally women have cared for the natural environment. there are degrees of variation. To bring about reform from within the Islamic framework. access to education and career opportunities than lower class women. low literacy and low labor force participation are commonly linked to the low status of women. regional differences. 1) gender relations. rural/urban divide and development strategies that operate within the Capitalist world system. 3. which seem to be taken as 'proof' of their 'oppression' may alternatively be viewed as the refusal to part with ones own religious and cultural identity. To help promote an awareness for the elimination of gender discrimination. Development has brought with it destruction of this renewal process and as a result women's strategies for survival have been severely effected. This process has not only by and large marginalised women and deprived them of their religious and cultural identity but it has placed an external burden of being labeled as 'oppressed'. To identify the obstacles in this process and bridge the gap between theory and practice. The maintenance of one's own identity instead of making oneself over in the form desired and accepted by another. (From both external global forces and the economic organization of society. Particularly when external influences have not been for the better. The onus of objectivity is not on us but on those who deem us repressed. In fact not only do Muslim Women's experiences vary according to particular society. 2) relations derived from the dynamics of Capitalism. 6. Islam21. The refusal of many Muslim women to give up their cultural and religious way of dressing has provided a direct challenge to the 'homogenization' process of the so called 'coca cola' culture. Is the Middle East so different from other 'developing' regions? Can we understand women's position in terms of Islam alone? Furthermore how feasible is it to judge the position of women in Muslim countries within such a biased framework? Tradition in the Muslim world is neither more or less patriarchal than any other major religion. arising from the internal organization of gender roles. The same can be said of urban women as compared with rural women. 4. The refusal of Muslim women to give up these "backward". To integrate the women's program into an Islamist pluralist charter. especially Hinduism and the other two Abrahamic religions. 5. Islam21 "Women Focus Group" "Islam21" focused a significant part of its main project for activating a "Women Focus Group" for defining an enlightened role for Muslim women in public life. 2. but also within their own society. as well as using its resources. It is only in this way that we can challenge the dominant discourse and be at ease with our religious heritage. whether in the name of religion or secularism. then how can one account for the differences in women's experience through out the Muslim world.

PAGE 17. Islam21. December 1999 .

In this hierarchy. In the history of philosophy the notion of human nature has often been a normative one: being fully human is seen as a goal to be achieved. and should not. Islam21. An example of this is the way in which belief about the nature of women has been used to justify their social standing. By what means is this objective and universal good to be known? Our everyday awareness is of things which change . they are merely viewed as extensions to the male. if good is the unchanging and permanent it can only be known by means of these unchanging and permanent conceptual relationships. on the other hand. some theories of human nature have suggested that the constraints operating on human nature are different and that these constraints account for both differences in social roles and psychological characteristics of the sexes. in the sense that they exclude those qualities termed as feminine. This connection between the notions of good as objective and universal. the dualism of good and evil. The question of human culture and history mediating concepts and normative rules of behavior as "natural" or "unnatural" is hence dismissed. December1999 absurd. The argument which is often used is that the female is more emotional. in the hierarchy of human nature. but the same cannot be said of its interpretations. of female biology is used to negate her spirituality and relationship to her creator. one should know 'good' in order to act in accordance with it . women are seen as incapable of excellence and selfrealization. while the masculine characteristics are at the highest scale.PAGE 18. For example two plus two equals four seems to be permanent. Finally. however is unchanging. less rational and therefore subservient to the rational and logical male. An important task is to be able to construct an adequate theory of human nature while at the same time rejecting biological determinism. is an important one. In the Qur'an there are no direct references to the differences in male and female nature. The Qur'an itself is both timeless and a-historic. ideals of human potentiality have often been viewed in terms of masculine characteristics. by denying women any sense of reason is to exclude them from humanity. Many accounts of human nature have appealed directly to biology and it becomes problematic to distinguish between natural behavior and social behavior. It is highly probable that the rational of male/female differences. the egalitarian message of Islam does not differentiate between the nature of the sexes: "Oh mankind! reverence your Guardian . "inadequacies".Lord who created you from a single person and created of like nature his mate!!. Concepts of "human-ness" have often been linked to a series of characteristics which are essentially masculine.. good is assumed to be an absolute and eternal objective existence it is thought to exist in a way that is not reachable through ordinary sense experience. and the notion of the superiority of the mind over the body.. We cannot however treat nature as completely given without any understanding of normative forces and the socialization process which are essentially both historic and cultural. In this respect cultural influences in defining human nature become relevant and deciding factor. The biological differences. for the following reasons:Since 'good' is conceived of as an ethical or moral good." Sura IV verse I To deny any sense of human nature is of course . These characteristics differentiate human beings from other animals and men from women. which have been present in the curriculum of our religious schools from the early formative years. female characteristics are at the lowest. The most defining character of the human being is rationality. Firstly. Because of this it is concluded that the good can be known only through the conceptualizing part of the person (usually called the mind). Thus. To take into consideration various interpretations of human nature one cannot ignore that these concepts are heavily gendered. The normative force of natural behavior cannot. The arguments which emphasis differences between the male and the female as justification of female subordination are based on secondary interpretations of the Qur'anic verses. nature (including human nature) is divinely ascribed. Hence. as these relationships appear in mathematics and logic seem to be permanent and unchanging. The concept of unnatural behavior throughout the history of humankind has been used to justify and legitimize various forms of social oppression. be ignored. if not the rights themselves are heavily influenced by Greek philosophy. particularly the works of Aristotle and Plato. Secondly. Islam does not do this. The conceptu- The underlying reason for women's oppression is not Islam but Biological determinism The notion that the differences between the sexes is inherent in their natures and determined by their biological differences which in turn leads to psychological differences have been used both in the East and the West to justify the social inequalities of women. in fact. as the human being is a social being. Good . This dualism is hierarchical . which no amount of experience can ever change. develop and die. not by feeling or emotional part of the person (usually called the body). In Islam. Conceptual relationships. Biological determinism and the emotion/reason dichotomy is not specifically Islamic and in parts is in fact contradictory to the teachings of the Qur'an. objective and universal hence these ordinary perceptions and feelings cannot be relied upon to provide us with a knowledge of good. Most ethical evaluation of human nature in Western philosophy have inherent within them a dualism which reflects in some way or another.

alizing part of the person is called the mind and operates in terms of rationality. her behavior is unfree and determined to the extent that she acts out of a sense of emotion. To bring about reform from within the Islamic framework. Only the mind can know goodness. These functions placed within the dualistic framework come to be expressed in terms of a relationship of superiority and inferiority. To provide a point of reference for Muslim Women activists. To help eliminate violation of women's rights in the name of Islam. To channel resources and network. There is no inherent value placed on man and woman. To integrate the women's program into an Islamist pluralist charter. their rationality (mind) is closer to good and their animality (body) is closer to evil . but based on mutual fulfillment. she is identified with the body. To publish and make available these case studies to interested parties. It is through the unity of these two aspects that one attains inner contentment. To highlight and publicise particular cases and problems faced by Muslim Women activists around the world. To make case studies of Muslim Women's activities across the world. To identify the obstacles in this process and bridge the gap between theory and practice. 3. but within the application of these ideas in the context in which Muslim societies operate. . To restore the status of women in Muslim societies by promoting and encouraging the rights of women to assume a public role. emotional. To utilise the support of public figures for our agenda. 6. Answers to the questions that are about gender relations can only be answered through the Women Focus Group Objectives 1. The relationship between the sexes is not hierarchical but rather mutually interdependent. 2. 10. 5. pointing these out. human beings have a dual nature . The Qur'an does not support a specific stereotype role for its characters. To help promote an awarence for the elimination of gender discrimination. man (male) stands closer to good than the rest of nature. The view of male and female differences is not in terms of a dualism is not Islamic. 7. Means 1. 8. the body is irrelevant to goodness or detracts from it. Islam provides the framework for a polarity which is not hierarchical. but in terms of a microcosmic reflection of a higher reality. 9. From a Quranic perspective the difference between the sexes is not reducible to anatomy or biology. the feeling. In this framework the mind and the body become essentially separated. 2. Since that which is good should control that which is evil. 4. Female nature within this perspective is held at a high value and as necessary and integral to the nature of man. perceiving part of the person is considered the body. This can be achieved through anticipating the counter arguments and the problems we are to encounter and to provide authentic 'Quran.focused' reasons to support our position. for they serve separate functions. In the same way as the mind should control the body . To link academic activists with grassroots activists. To use the media to promote a 'positive' image of Muslim women. 3. The Qur'an does not strictly delineate the role of women and the role of men to such an extent as to propose only a single possible outcome for each gender. To provide links and a forum for Muslim Women activists around the world. The mind should thus control the body . 5. Woman stands closer to evil. Nowadays . Muslim apologists also bring forth all sorts of sociological consideration with a view to answering certain western inspired objections. Many popular and dominant ideas about the role of women do not have sanctions from the Qur'an . People are judged in accordance to the degree of rationality manifest within them Women are denied rationality as they are said to be "not fully in control of themselves. Islam21." In this hierarchy. 6. there is no arbitrary preordained and eternal system of hierarchy. We have come to inherit this dualistic framework although it is contradictory to Quranic teachings as a means of justification for the oppression of women. as a result of his rationality. causes problems not so much with the logical analysis of the texts.PAGE 19. December 1999 deeper reason that the intellectual Islamic tradition addresses. In this dualistic framework . 4. To provide a 'Quran focused' program which is enlightened by authentic ahadith to highlight the doctrinal position of women in Islam. it follows that man should control and regulate women. whether in the name of religion or secularism. male or female.

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