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Religion and Politics

What the results of the 2018 Turkish elections tell us: a preliminary analysis

What the results of the 2018 Turkish elections tell us: a preliminary analysis

While the Turkish president celebrates his re-election, we can reason that the results point to a difficult future for Erdogan and his party, due, in part, to Erdogan’s rhetoric that emphasized personality over ideas and loyalty over concern for the nation. 


1. Erdogan’s party lost its majority. In the re-do votes of November 2015, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) won 316 seats. It only needed 276 seats to form a majority government on its own. It should be noted that during the earlier June elections, the AKP also lost the majority and Erdogan ordered a redo to regain it. This time, too, the AKP needed 300 seats to have a majority in the parliament that would back up decisions by the executive president. It secured only 295 seats. The AKP is now at the mercy of its partner, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which won 11.1% of the votes, entitling it to 43 seats. This is a first for the AKP since 2002.

2. The People’s Democratic Party (HDP), increased the number of its MPs from to 59 to 67. The pro-Kurdish people party, whose leader is imprisoned on “terrorism” charges is now the third largest party (based on the percentage of votes) in the country. It would be highly damaging to Turkey’s standing in relations to civil and human rights to continue to persecute its leader, Selahattin Demirtaş.

3. Despite the loss of majority, Erdogan managed to keep the AKP party together thus far. However, the loss marks a hard ceiling that the AKP cannot breach. During the past 15 years, the AKP benefited from the election law rule that allowed them to fold-in seats of political parties that did not reach the 10% threshold. But it never won a true majority. Now with the emergence of a second center-right party, the IYI Parti, it will be even more difficult for the AKP to win a governing majority on its own. Therefore, the future of the party will remain closely tied to the performance and standing of Erdogan.

4. The election results show that, while Turkish citizens are highly mindful of the importance of elections (86% turnout), Turkish voters are consistent in voting for their party. This fact should worry Erdogan because his agenda will be checked by the leader of the MHP. Although the MHP controls only 43 seats compared to AKP’s 295 seats, the
MHP party leaders are likely to ask for some key posts in the next administration. The health of this alliance can be checked by the outcome of the negotiations for cabinet positions.


5. Although the AKP remained united during this electoral test, there are signs that show that a strong Islamist party is likely to emerge in the future should Erdogan continue his erratic foreign and economic policies. While Saadet party performance was poor, the fact that it garnished 1.3% of the votes without fielding any of former AKP possible defectors signal the potential for the emergence of a plurality of Islamist-leaning political parties. We believe that that will be good for the health of Turkish democracy.

 

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An Alternative Statement from President Donald J. Trump on Ramadan

An Alternative Statement from President Donald J. Trump on Ramadan


For Immediate Release
May 26, 2017

Statement from President Donald J. Trump on Ramadan
On behalf of the American people, I would like to say to my fellow Muslim Americans and  all Muslims around the world,  Ramadan Karim. 
During this month of fasting, many Muslims will find meaning and inspiration in acts self-control, charity, reflections, and prayers that strengthen our communities.  At its core, the spirit of Ramadan strengthens awareness of our shared obligation to care for the vulnerable, to forgive, and to give to those in need who are suffering from poverty.
This year, Ramadan begins while the world mourns the innocent victims of barbaric terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom and Egypt, acts of depravity that are directly contrary to the spirit of Ramadan.  The world mourns these victims as it has mourned tens of thousands of victims, 82-97% of whom were Muslim, killed in the last five years alone. Such acts only steel our resolve to defeat the terrorists and their perverted ideology.
I extend my best wishes to Muslims everywhere for a blessed month as you observe the Ramadan traditions of charity, fasting, and prayer.  May God bless you and your families.

 ________________

Ref.:

Qatar scapegoated by Saudi Arabia and its allies: Qatar Saudi Arabia relations tested, again

Qatar scapegoated by Saudi Arabia and its allies: Qatar Saudi Arabia relations tested, again

Trump would like to claim that all Arab and Muslim leaders he lectured in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, are united to fight terrorism and confront Iran. The reality tells a different story. Just a day after he left, Egypt, UAE, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia launched an unprecedented and coordinated media attack on one of their own: Qatar. 

The Saudi and Emirati owned satellite television station, Alarabiyya and Skynews-Arabic, reported that the Emir of Qatar issued statements defending Hamas and Hezbollah, refusing to  confront Iran, and praising US protection of his country against countries that are known sponsors of terrorism (a reference to Saudi Arabia). The two channels aired extensive coverage of these unverified reports even after the government of Qatar refuted them and claimed that its news agencies’ websites and social media accounts were hacked. 

The governments of Egypt, UAE, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia kept the pressure on Qatar, signaling that the crisis between them is deeper than a mere news report. In a coordinated action, they blocked 21 Qatari websites, including Aljazeera’s. Their main news outlets continued their attack on Qatar. 

These events show that Saudi Arabia is leading an alliance that is at war with itself. Representative of each of the countries that attended these so-called summits with Trump had no idea what to expect. Some asked if there were going to be a joint statement and they were told that there will be none. Yet, after all the delegates left, the Saudi rulers released a statement in the name of all the Arab and Muslim leaders. Many countries felt the need to release separate statements emphasizing the
so-called Riyadh Statement does not represent their official position.

Qatar is being signaled out because it is supposed to be, not only part of this fictitious anti-terror Islamic coalition, but member of the club of rich Arab nations— Gulf Cooperation Council GCC. That membership was supposed to force them to hold a united front against real and perceived enemies. The visit of Qatari foreign minister to Iraq, an ally of Iran, just days before Riyadh summits, must have angered the Saudi rulers. 
Trump wanted Muslim rulers to fight terrorism. He called on them to do so from Saudi Arabia, the nation that created and spread the creed of al-Qaeda and its derivatives: Wahhabi Salafism. The Saudi rulers and their allies want to shift the blame to Qatar, which is indeed a sponsor and supporter of Wahhabi Salafism too, but also supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is seen as a threat to Egypt and UAE, especially. These developments reveal the weakness and inconsistencies from which the so-called “Islamic anti-terror alliance” suffers. It is an alliance made for propaganda not for real action.
The crisis as reported in the media:
   



What went wrong with Turkey’s referendum?

What went wrong with Turkey’s referendum?

Ayla Gol*

Turkey has missed an historical opportunity to prove that liberal democracy could work in a Muslim country. On Sunday, the 16th of April, over 50 million people voted in a public referendum and approved a constitutional change leading to a stronger presidency with extended powers. The voters had two options in the ballot boxes for an executive presidency (Cumhurbaşkanlığı sistemi): Yes or No. Results released by the state-run Anadolu Agency were that 51.4% voted ‘yes’ to change Turkey’s political system from a parliamentarian democracy to a presidential one.

In the three largest cities – the capital Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir – as well as in the mainly Kurdish southeast Anatolia, the majority said ‘no’. The main opposition parties, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Kurdish People’s Democratic party (HDP) are preparing to contest the results within the period of objection.

There is one clear result after the referendum: Turkey is a deeply polarized country with a bitterly divided nation. Polarization has always been part of Turkish society but has never been as visible as it is now: pious and seculars; Turks and Kurds; Istanbulians (Istanbullular) and others, Europeans and Anatolians; and most recently women with and without headscarves, are the best examples. The rift between secularists and Islamists has become the main fault-line in Turkish politics under the AKP (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi, Justice and Development Party) rule. Post-referendum controversies indicate that the AKP miserably failed ‘the test of democratic change’ in a Muslim country.
The referendum’s legitimacy in question

Turkey’s referendum was free but unfair. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), of which Turkey is a member state, criticized the pre-referendum conditions that gave a disproportionate share of media coverage. The ‘no’ campaign was silenced since the pro-Kurdish party’s co-leaders, Selahittin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, were arrested in November 2016. European human rights observers stated that the referendum failed the marks on international standards expected by the Council of Europe due to irregularities and late changes in the voting system. The European Union (EU) questioned the legitimacy of the referendum and recommended Turkey to investigate the irregularities. Meanwhile, the US President Donald Trump congratulated President Recep Tayip Erdoğan. Mr Erdoğan immediately gave his victory speech on the referendum night and thanked all voters. He also said that Turkey ‘does not see, hear, or acknowledge the reports by the OSCE observer mission.’

According to Erdoğan, the change now opens the path to a much more rapid development so that Turkey will become a more democratic, secure and stable country. Many of us doubt this. There is no question that the current constitution, which was accepted after the military coup of 1980, needs to be amended but not in an illiberal way. I argue that the changes in the constitution embody the illiberal democracy of AKP’s political Islam and nationalist authoritarianism.

Turkey is a country full of paradoxes and contradictions. When the pro-Islamic AKP first came to power in 2002, Turkey was seen as a shining example of a secular democracy in the Muslim world. The AKP has ruled the country since then. Under Erdoğan’s leadership, it has achieved an exemplary economic development, tackled with ‘a state within a state’ (deep state) bureaucracy and clamped the military’s power while engaging with a peace process with the Kurds during the early days of the AKP governance. In 2017, none of these achievements is sustainable. Turkey is no longer a country governed democratically.
The failed coup of July 2016 as a catalyst

Within the last 94 years of its modern history, Turkey has suffered from military coups almost every decade, including the failed attempt of July 2016. The debates on changing Turkey’s political system to an executive presidency also had been on the agenda since the 1970s. Turkey’s previous presidents Turgut özal and Süleyman Demirel, who both had direct experience of military coups, initiated the debate that a presidential system similar to the US could address the ‘compelling issues’ that haunted the country for decades. We still do not know who was the mastermind of the failed coup attempt but Erdoğan points to the Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, who participated in Turkish politics in the 1970s and lives in exile in the USA since 1999. Within the last nine months, around 50,000 people have been arrested and over 100,000 state officers were fired because of presumed connections with the Gülenist movement. The country is governed under a state of emergency with fear and an ongoing purge.

Following the debates of özal and Demirel, President Erdoğan put the idea of change to a presidential system into practice. The crucial step was taken earlier in 2007 when the Turkish constitution was modified to have a public referendum on the presidency, but the failed coup attempt in July 2016 has acted as a catalyst for change. For Erdoğan, the change is essential to protect not only democracy from shadowy forces within, such as the deep state and the Gülen supporters, but also the unity of the country and the ‘Turkish nation’ against the outside security threats of the Islamic State jihadists and the Kurdish separatist groups in the Middle East. The irony is that both Erdoğan and his opponents argue in the name of protecting Turkey’s national interests and democratic future.
The poverty of democracy in Turkey

Since the transition to a multi-party system in 1950 Turkey has been on a trial whether or not a western type of democracy can be consolidated in a Muslim country. As argued in some of the literature on the subject, “in the west, democracy has meant liberal democracy – a political system marked not only by free and fair elections, but also the rule of law, a separation of powers, and the protection of basic liberties of speech, assembly, religion, and property”. Despite ‘free and fair elections’, Turkey is no longer governed by the rule of law: it holds the highest number of journalists, academics, judges, and lawyers in jail since the failed coup of July 2016.

Turkey’s main problem is the poverty of its democracy in a deeply polarized society. Secular, leftists and Kurdish groups not only said ‘no’ to the presidential system but have also voiced criticism saying that Turkey has never been a fully-fledged democracy with the protection of basic liberties.

Although Turkey’s current political system is imperfect, nevertheless political power is not concentrated in the hands of one-man because checks and balances operate through the separation of powers: the head of government (the prime minister) and the head of the state (the president) are two different people; the president is neutral without any political party ties and role; the executive branch of the government derives its legitimacy from its ability to command the confidence of the legislature; the power of two branches (executive and legislative) is balanced by an impartial judiciary. The separation of powers is protected by the constitution. Historically, constitutions are essential to establish the rules of a social contract as to how power is exercised within the state. In general, constitutions evolve to reflect the progressive change of societies but, unfortunately, this trend is going backwards in Turkey.

The package of 18 constitutional amendments has passed to abolish the post of prime minister; the president can keep ties with political parties, have the authority to draft the budget, declare a state of emergency; and will issue decrees to appoint ministries without parliamentary approval. More importantly, the impartiality of the judiciary branch suffers the most, as the presidency will have broad authority over the high council of judges and prosecutors. All these changes lead to the concentration of political power in the hands of one individual, president Erdoğan, with weakened checks and balances. In short, by eliminating the separation of powers and the impartiality of the judiciary, these changes reverse Turkey into illiberal democracy and increase Erdoğan’s authoritarianism.
Illiberal democracy and authoritarian nationalism

For some of us, this was an expected result given the fact that ‘illiberal democracies have become more the norm than the exception’ in many countries with different cultures and religions. Erdoğan’s authoritarianism is not a new type of political Islam and but old school nationalism combined with illiberal democracy, just like Putin in Russia and Modi in India. Erdoğan’s authoritarianism has nothing to do with Islam but uses religion supported by the ideology of Turkish nationalism. The main obstacles blocking Turkey’s democratic path are set up by the founding paranoia of the state about its enemies outside and its distrust of ethnic minorities inside. This nationalist tradition has been ruling the country, both in the name of conservatism and religion. In practice, Erdoğan has been in power for the last 14 years and mastered the paranoia of inside and outside enemies by using nationalist and anti-western discourses.

The referendum was about confidence in Erdoğan. One of the crucial changes that Erdoğan promised in October 2016 after the failed military coup is reinstating capital punishment. As one of the pre-conditions of its EU membership, Turkey abolished capital punishment legally in 2004. The AKP government promised to present a draft law reinstating the death penalty in Turkey and Erdoğan promised to approve it immediately after the referendum. It is a response to the nationalist and populist protests calling for the hanging of Fethullah Gülen and the jailed Kurdish leader Abdullah öcalan. For Erdoğan, it will send strong messages to Turkey’s enemies inside – Gülenists and separatist Kurds – and the enemies outside which he describes as the west’s ‘crusader mentality’. On the contrary, for his critics, this will widen the gap in a peace process with the Kurds. For Turkey’s EU membership, the abolition of capital punishment is a red line. Turkey has never been further away from its European path in its history and will reverse faster into illiberal democracy.

There is no doubt that authoritarian nationalism and populism continue to leech on the weaknesses of majoritarian politics. The 51% majority of voters decided to allow Erdoğan to remain in power possibly as late as until 2029, in other words being ruled by the same leader for 30 years, as it was under the Ottoman sultans. Moreover, majoritarian politics is a double-edged sword in a marginally divided country, like Turkey. Will Erdoğan continue to polarise the society, oppress the opposition and ignore the other half of society? Within the next two years, in November 2019 and probably earlier, presidential and parliamentary elections must be held. Once again, the majority of people – Turks and Kurds – will have time to observe how Erdoğan will use his extended powers in the coming months. In other words, a lot is at stake under the one-man rule for Turkey’s future, including for Erdoğan himself. The question is whether Turkish society has reached a level of maturity to distinguish liberal democracy from illiberal one or not.

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* Ayla Gol is a Reader and Director of Graduate School at the Department of International Politics, Aberystwyth University. She is the author of Turkey Facing East: Islam, Modernity and Foreign Policy.

Academic Integrity and the Problem of Profiting from Slavery and Racism

Academic Integrity and the Problem of Profiting from Slavery and Racism

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*
Abstract: Teaching future generations is indeed a costly endeavor, especially when governments allocate little or no money to higher education. Universities’ administrators are always under extreme pressure to keep their institutions afloat. However, as learning and training institutions, universities instill values and norms that guide future citizens and professionals towards a better future. Therefore, the source of money is just as important as the amounts of money for universities and for the people they serve. It has been revealed that Georgetown University would not have survived if it did not profit from selling hundreds of human beings and participate in the cruel slave trade. Ostensibly, Georgetown is unable to totally break from its legacy of profiting from slavery and racism. Its dependence on money provided by Muslim individuals and/or Islamic regimes with a history of human rights abuses, sectarian, and racist practices raises questions about its ability to overcome and dispose of both Catholic and Islamic legacies of depravity and decadence.
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About 200 years ago, to save Georgetown College, priests sold human beings thus fully endorsing and profiting from the brutal, dehumanizing institution of slavery. To date, we’ve learned of the existence of records documenting at least 272 human beings, like Mr. Frank Campbell, who were sold so that that college would survive to become the institution we now call Georgetown University.  Evidently, for these priests, the survival of an educational institution outweighed the abuse of the dignity of hundreds of human beings. Today, to gain prominence as an elite university, Georgetown has established financial ties to individuals and governments with social and ideological affinity to racism, sectarianism, and absolutism. Georgetown’s connections to Wahhabism and individuals who are interested in whitewashing that sect adds to the University’s legacy of exploitation in pursuit of elitism and financial advantages. Recently, Georgetown’s dark history with slavery was brought to the forefront once again when one of its faculty members used dubious logic and absolutist interpretation of ancient texts to argue that slavery is morally justified in Islam, a position that conforms to that held by groups like ISIL and al-Qaeda.

In an audio recording, the director of Georgetown’s Alwaleed Ibn Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, Jonathan Brown, is heard equivocating: “The Prophet of God had slaves… There’s no denying that. Are you more morally mature than the Prophet of God? No you’re not.”  The implication is that, since, reportedly, Prophet Muhammad had slaves 1400 years ago, it is morally right to own slaves and it is morally right to continue to own slaves today. While Georgetown sanctified the university and relativized slavery in the 1830’s, today, one of its faculty sanctifies Muhammad and relativized slavery the same way ISIL sanctifies the “Islamic State” and relativized slavery, rape, and religious and sectarian cleansing.

Parents sending their children to learn from faculty members who use this kind of logic and embrace a morality rooted in absolutist reading of contested texts should be concerned. Muslims who seek guidance from a scholar associated with an endowed chair funded by the ruling family of Saudi Arabia, demonstrably known for its abuse of human dignity, should be wary about the recasting of Wahhabism as Sunni Islam. Besides the conflict of interest and the methodological absurdity, Brown’s assertions are flawed for many factual and logical reasons.
 
First, there is no absolute evidence that Prophet Muhammad owned slaves. Those who contend that Muhammad had slaves rely on oral reports (written down three centuries removed from the time of Prophet Muhammad) invoked, preserved, and transmitted by figures who owned and even abused slaves themselves. Therefore, to emphatically assert that there is no “denying that Prophet Muhammad had slaves” amounts to suggesting the existence of a fact beyond any reasonable doubt. There is doubt beyond reasonable levels about events that took place more than 1400 years ago, especially when all the textual evidence is derived from only one school of thought: Salafism.  Indeed, leaders and wealthy individuals gave Prophet Muhammad slaves as “gifts” but he emancipated them: the women became his wives and the men became his mawāli (i.e. mu`taq [freed], as was the case with Zaid (given to him by the wealthy Khadijah, who married him later). However, many of the aristocracy of Arabia, who were absorbed into the newly established Islamic state, continued to own slaves. Considering that it was this aristocracy that monopolized most leadership positions after the death of Prophet Muhammad, it is easy to figure out why the institution was kept alive and by whom.
 

Second, while the Quran did not explicitly abolish slavery as a matter of law, the text and tone of the Quran left no doubt that enslaving human beings was morally wrong and that emancipating slaves was morally right. Moreover, the Quranic text consistently avoided the use of the word “slaves” [`abīd]. It referred to persons already in servitude as “what your right hands previously possessed” [mā malakat aymānukum] instead. Importantly, this wording, with the verb “possess” or “own” conjugated in the past tense, indicate that such a state of being lacks permanence. In other words, those who were enslaved before the start of Islam will continue to be so, but no new ownership of slaves shall be initiated moving forward. With that being the case, whether Prophet Muhammad had slaves or whether he was “more morally mature” becomes immaterial. The text of the Quran explicitly determined that slavery is immoral and it established a path (atonement and substitute for religious obligations with valid reason) to making it illegal. In fact, most proscribed acts were first judged morally contemptuous before they were explicitly prohibited in the Quran. The gradual prohibition of wine [khamr] is a good illustrative case in point.

Third, perhaps members of Brown’s audience were not “more morally mature than the Prophet of God.” However, inspired by the Quranic teachings, the same Prophet of God whom he is using to justify slavery made it abundantly clear that,

a. All human beings are equal in dignity,
b. Freeing slaves is moral,
c. Enslaving humans is immoral,
d. True belief in God is possible only when a person is free,
e.  The natural state of being for humans is to be free, and
e. Freeing slaves allowed a person to atone for unintentional homicide, breaking the oath, breaking the fast during Ramadan, and other “sins” and criminal offenses.

To override these established norms that became part and parcel of the Quranic and jurisprudential norms in favor of an analogy based on the chance that Prophet Muhammad may have had slaves is absurd. Because even if we were to assume that Prophet Muhammad had slaves, Prophet Muhammad had also determined that slavery is abhorrent. It follows, then, that it is immoral independent of him having had slaves or not. 

Fourth, the Quranic discourse is known for its graduate proscription of entrenched practices and social behavior not through abrupt prohibition. Subsequently, even if Prophet Muhammad may have had slaves in the early days of his life and the life of his disciples, it is likely that that practice would have been proscribed with time given the repugnancy of the institution and dehumanizing implications.

Fifth, considering the entirety of Quranic sanctions, it is certain that the dignity and sanctity of human beings cannot be overruled by the mere practice or temperament of the Prophet. After all, the Quran is dotted with passages admonishing Prophet Muhammad for some of his practices. In a plethora of passages in the Quran, Prophet Muhammad was reproached for his poor judgement concerning his actions relevant to certain war booty [fay’], forms of taxes, treatment of persons with disability, and other matters. Most Sunni Muslim scholars hold that Muhammad, like all other Prophets, is fallible in matters not related to purely religious matters. Therefore, he might have erred in economic, military, social, and administrative matters—including owning slaves if it were to be proven that he did own salves after being characterized in the Quran as immoral.

Sixth, most Sunni Muslim scholars believe in the principle of abrogation, which essentially contextualizes legal edicts and justifies temporary or permanent revocation of social and legal practices. Per Sunni exegeses, passages of the Quran were abrogated by later passages of the Quran and so were units of Hadith. Subsequently, the existence of a passage in the Quran or a tradition from the Sunna does not necessarily mean that laws that might be derived from it are still in effect.

Seventh, like many other Traditionist Muslims, Brown privileges reports found in Sunni collections of Hadith and Tafsīr. He ignores, or is unaware of the rich body of religious, legal, and political texts produced and preserved by Ibadi and Shia Muslims, which provided fuller narratives and contexts especially regarding the most divisive and controversial events and ideas. The logic Brown employs is common among many Traditionist Muslims (ahl al-ḥadīth), too. For them, it would suffice to point to an event or an act purported to be from the formative period of Islam where lived the Predecessors (salaf) for such an act to be applicable to all human beings and in all times. Their reasoning is simple: If something was practiced or said by the Prophet, his Disciples [ṣaḥāba), or the Predecessors in general, then it is binding—part of the canon. Traditionism, the method of deriving ethical and legal judgments, was foreign to Muslim scholars of the first three centuries of Islam, who were primarily Reasonists (ahl al-ra’y].

The methodological and logical flaws in Brown’s reasoning are further weakened by historical and substantive facts. With the rise of Islam and before the death of Prophet Muhammad, and because of the restrictions and measures that encouraged the emancipation of slaves, a person can end up in servitude only through two paths:
1. During war: members of the defeated armies who were not part of a prisoners’ exchange deal or whose ransom is not paid will be “owned” by the victorious army as spoils of war. Since there were no facilities at that time to house them, captives were distributed among fighters who took part in the campaign.

2. By birth: children of two slave parents continued to be considered slaves and remained under the ownership and responsibility of the person who had owned their parents until they are freed or sold. Once a slave is freed, even in jest, they are permanently freed and the pronouncement of their freedom cannot be withdrawn or revoked.

The legal rule that prohibits re-enslaving persons who were freed, the religious edict commanding believers to free slaves to atone for a variety of sins and offenses, the restrictions of entry paths into slavery, and the ruling that determined emancipation of slaves being praiseworthy, with time, all such factors would have necessarily led to slave-free Islamic societies. That point was in fact anticipated in Islamic law, when an alternative (feeding the poor) to emancipating slaves for atonement or substitute for obligations purposes was made available. Indeed, Islamic regimes that continued to rely on slaves for their economic prosperity resorted to raiding distant communities and kidnapping peoples who would be forced into servitude, as did a number of rulers from the Umayyad,  Abbasid and Ottoman dynasties.

Brown spent most of the ninety-minute-long talk highlighting the cruelty associated with the treatment of slaves in other civilizations. However, given the cruelty practiced by ISIS in the name of Islam and the abuses unleashed by the Saudi ruling family, also in the name of Islam, and given that he holds academic chair established by members of the Saudi ruling family, most of the time should have been spent speaking against the atrocities committed by some Muslims against other Muslims and non-Muslims. Instead, Brown glossed over the practices committed by many Muslim rulers throughout Islamic history, giving credence to the racist narrative championed supremacists (non-Muslims and Muslims), like Turkey’s Erdogan, who refused to take responsibility for Ottoman crimes by arguing that “Muslims do not commit crimes of genocide.” The same argument was made by an Australian legislator when his country debated the ratification of the convention proscribing the crime of genocide: “It [genocide convention] deals with a crime of which no Anglo-Saxon nation could be guilty… None of the crimes that are enumerated in it could ever be committed by the Anglo-Saxon race.” Indeed, as is the case with any dominating empire, Muslims who headed some of these powerful governments have committed crimes and many Muslims remained silent, when heads of governments, in their name and on their behalf, committed genocides, crimes against humanity, and failed to abolish slavery. Enslaving human beings was wrong then despite its rootedness in society and it is abhorrent now that there is no socioeconomic argument to justify it. There should be no equivocation, no qualification of who treated slaves better, and no hesitation in characterizing it as a crime against humanity. 

The crucial step for achieving Islamic societies free of slavery is for the holders of chairs of Islamic studies to speak forcefully about the nature of the struggles that defined Islam as a social movement before it was hijacked by theologians who were interested in sanctifying institutions, concepts, and persons while abusing the dignity of human beings. To that end, Muslim scholars must emphasize the place of critical and truth-centered interpretation of key events in Islamic societies during the formative period. Many of Islam’s ethical and legal norms were authored or transmitted by the generation of leaders who came after Prophet Muhammad. But that generation is also responsible for much bloodshed and abuses. The Umayyad rulers, who the Saudi rulers emulate today and from whom they draw legitimacy, carried out some of the most genocidal wars against Muslims who opposed their rule and challenged their practices. The Ottoman Sultans, too, committed genocides and oppressed indigenous communities. That, and many other important facts, ought to be revisited so that a credible leadership can stop the bloodshed, end the carnage, and break the cycle of abuse in modern Islamic societies.
___________________________
* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

Is Qatar training Egyptian fighters in Idlib, Syria?

Is Qatar training Egyptian fighters in Idlib, Syria?

Qatar’s global media outlet, Aljazeera, reported that 200 Egyptian military officers and experts are now in Syria. The report, is based on a Lebanese source, came days after the Egyptian president, Abdulfattah al-Sisi, in an interview to Portuguese media, said that he supported the Syrian national army in its war on terrorists. This seemingly new position has angered the Gulf States, especially Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who back the Syrian opposition fighters and have been pushing for the removal of the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
Some sources, however, have also revealed that Qatar is training Egyptian Islamists in Idlib, Syria. This revelation could explain the increased collaboration between the Syrian and Egyptian governments. Egypt, like Syria, has been battling Salafi and other Islamist militants. If these elements are being trained in Syria and supported by Qatar, Egypt will be forced to collaborate with the Syrian and Libyan governments who are facing the same threats. 
Fath al-Sham, formerly known as al-Nusra front, which is backed by Qatar, controls Idlib, and has released multiple videos showing individuals engaged in war games, with indication that some of these fighters are not training for the war in Syria, which could support the assertion that Idlib is turning into training grounds for fighters from other countries, including Egypt, China, Tunisia, France, and Algeria.
It should be noted also that when al-Julani, the leader of al-Nusra, announced the name change of his group’s name into Jabhat Fath al-Sham, sitting next to him was a known Egyptian Salafist, another reason for Egypt to be concerned about the role of Qatar in supporting groups that might pose a security threat to Egypt.
 al-Julani, announcing the name change of al-Nusra Front
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What is the difference between “Muslim” and “Islamic”?

What is the difference between “Muslim” and “Islamic”?

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia *
Abstract: Social labels and categories are exercise in control. They describe opponents, create boundaries, exclude social groups, justify discrimination, and promote persecution. They are imbued with sociopolitical power. Muslims used labels, internally for the first time, during the formative period of the community to privilege the elite and marginalize dissenters. They called those who challenged the established order, Khawarij [Outsiders]. Today, Muslims living in Western societies are often labeled radical Islamic extremists. But aside from this politically charged phrase, even common adjectives, such as Islamic and Muslim, are misused. So in what contexts should these adjectives be appropriately used and why is it important to use social labels judicially?___________
Though even advanced students and scholars of Islamic studies use the words Muslimand Islamic interchangeably, it is a mistake to do so in all contexts. The two words are both adjectives, but they have fundamentally different meanings and are properly used in very different contexts.
The word Muslim [مسلم] is Arabic in form and function. It is a descriptive active participle [ism fā`il] derived from the verb, aslama. This Arabic form connotes agency being embedded within the description. Therefore, it describes a person or a group of persons who consciously follow or adhere to the religion called Islam [الإسلام]. Since it is an Arabic term in origin, form, and meaning, the word should be used in the context appropriate in that language. The word Muslim is never used in Arabic to describe a thing, and idea, or an event. Rather, it is used to describe human beings who believe in and practice Islamic teachings. It is therefore incorrect to say Muslim architecture, Muslim music, Muslim art, Muslim thought, etc.
The word Islamic is an adjective that takes its meaning from the fact that it reflects some characteristics of Islam, in varying degrees. It can be used in two contexts. First, the adjective Islamic describes things, ideas, and events whose origins are in Islam. In this sense, it complements the adjective, Muslim, which describes persons. Second, the word Islamiccan be used to describe things that are present in Islamic societies and cultures, even if their origins are not rooted in Islam or produced by Muslim peoples. The Islamic civilization came to existence because Muslims’ ideas and ideals were dominant, but they were not the sole engines that produced its rich legacy. Therefore, the adjective Islamic was broadly used to account for all the productions of this civilization, authored by all–Muslims and non-Muslims.
It must be noted that it is possible to apply the adjective Islamic to a person or group of persons, but such use must be deliberate. For example, some people often ask the question, “are you Islamic?”, Instead of, “are you Muslim?”. This is a common mistake. However, it is possible that the questioner used Islamic as it is used in Arabic, islamiyy [إسلاميّ], in which case it would mean Islamist (discussed below). Such use would be appropriate, though unlikely to be the intended meaning.
To illustrate the different usages, let’s consider the phrases Islamic architecture and Muslim architecture. The phrase Islamic architecture refers to architecture that is broadly influenced, limited, inspired, informed by Islamic values, even if it is produced by non-Muslim persons. Islamic architecture might consist of purely Islam-inspired elements, but it might also consist of elements that are not inspired and influenced by Islam or Muslim architects. By contrast, the term Muslim architecture is attributive, not descriptive. It refers to architecture created by Muslim persons. Where Islamic architecture is a broad descriptive term, accurate use of the term Muslim architecture requires a specific context.
With this distinction in mind, it becomes clear that the adjective Muslim is exclusive whereas the adjective Islamic is inclusive. Not all Islamic things are produced by Muslims, but Muslim-produced things must be things produced by individuals who are Muslim. A musician who is not Muslim may produce an Islamic song. A Muslim band, meaning a band whose members are all Muslim, may produce and play songs that have no roots in Islam or in Muslim communities of any era of any background. Though in both examples Islam is present through the expressions, experiences, and backgrounds of the persons involved, that link is insufficient to merge the two terminologies.
This distinction is not merely technical. Rather, the misuse of these terms reflects and perpetuates power structures that elevate Western colonial thought and diminish the rich cultural, political, and social legacy of Islamic thought and the many peoples who have contributed to it. Conflating the meaning of the words Islamic and Muslim forces some to invent new words to communicate aspects that are already embedded within the meaning of these words. I will cite three examples of unnecessary descriptors whose use creates other conceptual and practical problems. First I discuss the use and utility of the words Muhammadan, Islamicate, and Islamicist. Second, I explore the conceptual, practical, and theoretical implications of conflating the meaning of the words Islamic and Muslim and the ensuing general problems.
When colonial Europe moved into Asia and Africa picking up the pieces of the collapsing Islamic civilization, which by then has morphed into an empire, its thinkers and intellectuals made up new labels like, Muhammadan religion and Muhammadan people, instead of Islam and Muslims, as if these communities were obscurely unknown, being defined and introduced by the enlightened, sophisticated Western discoverers. To my knowledge, besides its use mostly in modern Islamic thought as a rhetorical tool, the adjective Muhammadan was never used in classical Islamic religious and non-religious texts as a name for Islam. It is therefore bizarre that Orientalist scholars coined it to introduce a religion that has been organized, established, and defined for nearly 1400 years.
In the period when the use of the word Muhammadan was in decline, another Western scholar came up with the word, Islamicate, ostensibly, to meet the need for a descriptor that account for the productions of non-Muslims in Muslim majority communities. Marshall Hodgson invented the word, Islamicate, and many scholars and students of Islamic studies have used it ever since to describe things, ideas, or events that are influenced by Islam but whose origins or ownership cannot be fully attributed to Muslim individuals or Islamic values and teachings. I believe that the adjective Islamic accommodates this need when used consistently and appropriately.
The last example of made-up labels is the designation of academic specialization focusing on the study of Islamic societies and Islamic thought from the formative period until modern times: Islamicist. Some scholars and commentators have coined this term, perhaps for specificity purposes. However, in doing so, they reduced the academic study of the rich and complex legacy of all Islamic societies to a single approach that explores the Islamic civilization through the religious lens only, and often from within the discipline of religious studies. In doing so, they denied the fact that scholars from other academic disciplines like anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists, historians, political scientists, jurists, economists, philologists, philosophers, and others do in fact engage in the study of the legacy of the Islamic civilization from the perspective of the relevant theoretical and scientific lens.
Regardless of the context and justification of coining labels and categories to catalog and discuss the legacy of Islamic societies, such actions end up producing serious methodological, conceptual, and political problems.
First, conflating Muslim and Islamic obscures the meaning of and difference between phrases like, Muslim cultures versus Islamic cultures and Muslim civilization versus Islamic civilization. However, by keeping in mind the origins of the words Muslim and Islamic, in the English language, the phrase Muslim cultures can be used in the attributive context: cultures of the Muslim people, which is different from Islamic cultures, which would be partially influenced, limited, inspired, or informed by Islam but Muslims did not necessarily produce or live them. Islamic cultures are not necessarily filtered through Islam’s value and judgement systems. However, Muslim cultures, generally, are filtered and approved by some of Islam’s value and judgment systems since Muslims must reconcile them with their lived faith. The distinction becomes even more compelling when considering the often used phrases, Islamic civilization and Muslim civilization.
Some scholars of Islamic studies have applied the descriptor Arabcivilization instead of Islamic civilization, effectively denying the contributions of non-Arabs, like African Berber and Touereg peoples, Asian Kurdish peoples, Turkic peoples, Persian peoples, Indian peoples, and thousands of other ethnic and racial communities. Similarly, some use the label Muslimcivilization, instead of Islamic civilization, willfully ignoring the role and contributions of non-Muslim communities including Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, Copts, and hundreds of other religious communities who lived as full productive members of Islamic societies.
Second, with proper definition and understanding of civilization, it becomes evident that there could be no Muslim civilization. A civilization consists of the collective achievements and contributions (negative and positive) of all ethnic, racial, religious, ideological, economic, and national communities. One religious community might be dominant and contribute significantly more than the other communities, making its culture ever present and influential. However, a single culture can never become a civilization without borrowing from, incorporating, assimilating, and appropriating other communities’ legacies.
Since the adjective Muslim and the noun Islam are Arabic words, the rules governing how they are used in that language might shed some light on their use by Muslim scholars and grammarians of Arabic language as well. Since the rise of religiously inspired political parties in Arab and Islamic societies, the adjective Islamic [islamiyy] has been coined to refer to a personaffiliated with Islamist movements, but the adjective Muslim kept its original meaning, referring to followers of or adherents to the religion, Islam. In a sense, this conventional naming confirms at least two things about the word Islamic: (a) The adjective Islamic is a broader descriptor than Muslim, and (b) it signals that the thing or idea may not necessarily have roots in Islamic traditions, but it is part thereof.
In fact, its application in Arabic by some governments to describe Islamists suggests that Islamists’ ideas may not be rooted in Islam. These governments’ actions are reflected in their use of labels: Islamist groups are referred to as being Islamic[Islamiyyun], distinguishing them from being Muslim [muslimun]. These groups are often accused of corrupting Islam, making it possible for governments to ban their activities and imprison or kill their leaders. In other words, Muslims themselves have been keenly aware of the existence of a plurality of Islamic expressions (in politics, literature, arts, etc.) produced both by Muslims and non-Muslims, that may or may not conform to Islamic teachings. However, they also recognize cultural or artistic productions that are directly derived from Islamic traditions and filtered through Islamic value and judgement systems that can be said to be Muslim arts and Muslim cultures. Such things, however, are very specific and limited and are often produced and undertaken exclusively by Muslims.
Third, the richness and specificity of the words Islamic and Muslim make it unnecessary to invent new words to describe the legacy of the Islamic civilization. The adoption of these adjectives and their proper application relieves scholars of Islamic studies, especially those working within the confines of religious departments in state universities where they have to be mindful of the exigencies of Establishment Clause, from the burden of having to define who is Muslim and who is not. Importantly, when Western scholars manufacture adjectives or use adjectives carelessly, they perpetuate the diminutive, reductionist myth that other communities lack the necessary vocabulary to describe themselves, account for their rich legacy and acknowledge, and give credit to the diverse peoples within.
Indeed, misuse of adjectives and labels could be unintentional errors. But some made-up labels are deliberate and are often motivated by politics and prejudice. Labels and categories are consequential tools often used by those in power to keep certain social groups in check and to impose a specific narrative about them. Adjectives are qualifiers, and as such, they are instruments that are used to divide society into social classes, impose legal limitations on certain social groups, and draw boundaries between those with power and those who lack it. The capacity of labels to be used as tools of discrimination make it even more compelling that those who use such descriptors and those being described are aware and mindful of the potential social and psychological harm they could inflict and the legacy of inequality they help preserve. 

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* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His teaching and research interests cover both classical and modern legal and political thought in Islamic societies. He is currently documenting and writing about the social movements and armed conflicts triggered by the events popularly known as the Arab Spring. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.
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Saudi Mufti used ISIL’s favorite weapon, takfir, to declare Iranians non-Muslim

Saudi Mufti used ISIL’s favorite weapon, takfir, to declare Iranians non-Muslim

Proving the point raised by critics of Saudi religious figures who often use religion to silence dissenters, the Grand Mufti of the kingdom took a page from ISIL’s book and issued a fatwa declaring all Iranians kuffar (non-Muslim) after the leader of that country accused the rulers of the kingdom of negligence when managing Hajj. More than 450 Iranian pilgrims died last year-2015, among thousands more mostly from Africa and Asian countries, and no credible investigation was conducted to reassure pilgrims and punish those found guilty of negligence. The Kingdom established a committee headed by the crown prince, who is also the interior minister, the institution that is overseeing Hajj. In a sense, the rulers established an investigative committee headed by the same person accused of incompetence. Even so, the committee, still, has not published its findings.
Instead of addressing the issue, the Mufti, Abdul Aziz Al Sheikh, used religion and issued the exclusion decree, takfir, labeling Iranians “non-Muslim, majus, who worship fire.”

Perhaps realizing the gravity of this practice, the kingdom announced that the Mufti will not be giving the sermon in the pilgrimage this year, a first in more than 30 years.

Will Jabhat Fath al-Sham (aka al-Nusra), Jaysh al-Fath, and ISIL join forces?

Will Jabhat Fath al-Sham (aka al-Nusra), Jaysh al-Fath, and ISIL join forces?

With a Russian-U.S. agreement intended to isolate them from the so-called moderate opposition groups, Salafist fighters could end up joining forces to survive in Syria and Iraq. This scenario is made possible by a religious decree issued by the foremost religious guide for Salafists, Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi. The latter just issued a fatwa declaring the Turkish army and all opposition groups supported by Turkey “murtadd.”This declaration practically authorizes Salafist fighters affiliated with al-Qaeda and its derivatives to fight the Turkish government and rebel groups it supports.

It should be noted that al-Maqdisi intervened to keep peace between ISIL and al-Nusra and when that attempt failed he sided with al-Nusra. With both groups now being targeted by Turkey, Russia, U.S., non-Salafist rebels, and the Syrian government, Salafists may be forced to reunite again to spread the conflict zones and cause the cease-fire regime to which the U.S. and Russia has just agreed to fail. This unification option has been in the making since the U.S. and Russia began to talk early this year. Salafist leaders wanted to create a Sunni army  out of Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, Istaqim kama umirt, and Jaysh al-Islam and other smaller groups affiliated with these armies.

Grozny Conference: The first international conference dedicated to answering the question: Who are the Sunnis?

Grozny Conference: The first international conference dedicated to answering the question: Who are the Sunnis?

On August 25-17, more than 200 Sunni Muslim scholars from around the world convened in Grozny, Chechnya, to answer the question: who are the Sunnis? Representing the most prominent Sunni institution of learning and religious guidance, al-Azhar, the Grand Imam, Ahmed al-Tayeb, opened the international conference with a statement stressing the importance of reclaiming the true teachings of Sunni Muslims (Ahl al-Sunna wa-‘l-jama`a), which, he argued, have been corrupted by extremists and terrorists. This important event did not receive wide coverage because of the coordinated attack by religious and political leaders of Saudi Arabia who contended that the conference was meant to exclude Wahhabi Salafism
The conference is important because it started a conversation within the Sunni community about issues made taboo by Wahhabi Salafists and their political patron—the Saud family that rules Saudi Arabia. The kingdom used its huge wealth to redefine Islam by building religious institutions that preached Wahhabism disguised as Sunni Islam and publishing books on Islamic traditions that are derived exclusively from Salafism.

Saudi religious clerics accused the organizers of the conference of “dividing Muslims” and placing Salafism outside Islam. It is important to note, however, that the scholars attending the conference did not define who is “Muslim” and who is not. The conference‘s stated aims was to define Sunnism and religious groups that historically shaped Sunni Islam. Wahhabi Salafist scholars, on the other hand, preach that only Sunnis are Muslims and all other groups are deviant, heretic, and/or apostate. Scholars attending this conference, however, reject conflating Sunnism with being Muslim to the exclusion of all other religious groups:
Sunnis [Ahl al-sunna wa-‘l-jama`a] are the Ash`arites and the Maturidites in terms of theology (i`tiqad), the Hanafites, Malikites, Shafi`ites, and Hanbalites in terms of law (fiqh), and Sufis who adhere to Imam al-Junayd’s path in terms of ethics and practices.
This definition excluded Wahhabi Salafists from being Sunni simply because Wahhabi scholars disagree with it: Wahhabi Salafists consider Sufis (and followers of all other sects that are not Sunni) to be deviant, heretic, non-Muslim. It is that belief of exclusion (takfir) that is fueling and justifying the killings, beheadings, and civil wars. 

Saudi Arabia worked its sources to discredit the conference internationally. The Secretariat of the International Islamic Fiqh Academy(IIFA), part of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) (formerly Organization of the Islamic Conference), which is controlled by the Saudi rulers, released a press release defining Sunnis, in meaningless broad terms to appear inclusive: 

The IIFA Secretariat also believes that the Ahlu-s-Sunnah wa-l-Jamaa‘ah is anyone who testifies that there is no deity except Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, who respects the companions of the Messenger of Allah, who has high regard for members of the Prophet’s household and loves them.

The IIFA affirms that Ahlu-s-Sunnah wa-l-Jamaa‘ah is anyone who believes in the articles of faith, who is certain about the pillars of Islam, who does not deny any information that is self-evidently part of Islam,  including making lawful what is prohibited by religious law such as killing.


For the first time in nearly 50 years, Sunni Muslims are challenging the ideology that sustains the genocidal wars waged by groups like al-Qaeda and its derivatives who are waging wars with the intent to purge countries from people who are not followers of “true Islam” as they define it.

Islamic societies, including Sunni and Shia ones, need to interrogate some of the sources of modern Islamic teachings and practices. A conference like the one held in Chechnya is a good start. It constituted a legitimate voice directed at those who want to monopolize Islam in the name of orthodoxy and other labels of exclusion and racism.



Conference communique and recommendations:


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