Archive for the ‘Dr. Ahmad’s blog’ Category

Hagia Sophia, Just War, the Inviolability of Awqaf, and the Meaning of “Prayer”

Thursday, August 27th, 2020

I received many gratifying letters of appreciation for my blog “Sincere Advice for Erdoğan on Hagia Sophia” published in July, in which I urged Mr. Erdogan to let Christians as well as Muslims pray in the Ayasofya now that it was to be reopened for prayer.  Only one person protested my suggestion. On the Sociology of Islam listserv, our dear brother Dr. Yusuf Ziya Kavakci (Emeritus Professor, Advocate, Ankara Bar Association), while expressing satisfaction with my summary of the controversy, expressed deep disappointment in my proposal, declaring it to be “unexpectedly  inconsistent” with my summary and “a reflection of a very non legal liberal way of thinking.”

To my attempt to explain why my policy proposal is not in conflict with Islamic law, Prof. Yusuf replied that the conquered church had become personal property of Fatih Sultan Mehmed who then established a waqf with specific conditions. He objected to the subjecting this analysis to any just war considerations “that that may bring us to discuss the legitimacy of whole past of the world today including USA, Canada, whole South America and Europe etc.” expressing his opinion that the Ottoman contribution to the structure “is over 70/80%” and “totally owes its existence to Ottomans care and very carefully observed maintenance, for which concerned Christians must be thankful to Ottomans.” Further, he argued that there is an ambiguity in the term “prayer,” and that while “Christians and any other faiths’ followers can pray in terms of duas [supplications] and zikr [remembrance of God]” that the only formal prayer permissible in a mosque is formal Muslim prayer [salah]. He also claimed that various Christian denominations will not allow other denominations to hold formal prayers in their “consecrated halls,” let alone allow Muslims to pray salah there.

Here is my response:

I most definitely do wish to incorporate just war theory into this discussion. Just war theory is integral to Islamic law and I shall not betray the law by ignoring it.  As to the practical consequences of just war theory, that it raises questions about the legitimacy of all kinds of things including the colonization of America, well, “Let the justice be done though the heavens fall.” Having said that, I do not expect the heavens to fall since the passage of generations since the time of the theft of property does indeed affect the degree of the injustice on living generations since the maintenance of property does affect its ownership.

But to your main point: That the charter of a waqf is inviolable. Whether the property donated to the waqf was the legitimate property of the donor is a fair question of justice and must not be ignored. If the donor did not have just title to the property, then the owner cannot donate it. However, let us set that aside for the moment and for the sake of argument stipulate that Hagia Sophia was fair booty of war after the Muslims successfully defended themselves from aggression by the Byzantines, forced to the use of arms because the Byzantines would not surrender or negotiate terms of a treaty.  Let us further stipulate that the church and state in Byzantium were so intertwined that there is no merit in distinguishing state property from church property and that therefore the building did indeed become state property administered by the Sultan on behalf of the ummah. Even so, as I and others have argued that does not mean that they building cannot be shared with Christians, as was done in Cordova, Damascus, and elsewhere.

Although it is not necessary for my argument above,  I do wish to challenge the premise that the charter of a waqf cannot be changed no matter what.  The jurists do admit of cases when the waqf charter may be terminated: such as when the goods of the waqf have been altered or destroyed, or if it is used to perform acts against Islamic law, or if it comes to violate the notion of waqf.  I would argue (against the prevailing thought) that, by the same token, when the charter of a waqf becomes counter-productive or harmful, then means for amendment of the charter must be allowed. It is important to understand that at the time that the colonial powers occupied the Muslim world, many of the awqaf had become obsolete and the fuquha’s insistence that amendment of their charters was haram gave the colonists the excuse to destroy the awqaf and in some cases to dismantle the waqf system itself. To claim that a waqf charter cannot be amended when its purpose is obsolete is a legal absurdity that leaves the ummah vulnerable. It is as absurd as a system that insists on the production of buggy whips long after automobiles have rendered them obsolete. Rather than double down on this claim, the fuquha should be divining Islamically permissible means for waqf charter amendment, and any new waqf should include procedures for amendment in the charter itself. (I have set up such a waqf that provides income for the Minaret of Freedom Institute and the Islamic-American Zakat Foundation.  The charter specifies what should happen in the event that either of these institutions should become extinct.)

Let me address your objection that the word “prayer” is ambiguous and that du`a must be distinguished from salat or mass which must be distinguished from one another. Mass is as essential to formal prayer for the Orthodox Catholics as salah is to Muslims, and I cannot conceive that the Christians of Damascus would consider that the space allocated to them in the Grand Mosque is being used for prayer were it confined to supplication and exclude the mass any more than the Muslims who pray jum`a at a synagogue in northern Virginia would consider themselves to have prayed jum`a if they were restricted to du`a.

That the Christian denominations dispute among themselves is irrelevant to the question. The Christians disputed among themselves over the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem to the point that some sought to lock others out.  They resolved the problem by entrusting the keys to a Muslim family that to this day opens and closes the church without discrimination among them. I again echo Omar Mukhtar: “They are not our teachers.”

May Allah guide us all closer to the truth,

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute
www.minaret.org

Sincere Advice for Erdoğan on Hagia Sophia

Monday, July 20th, 2020

The Vatican message marking the advent of Ramadan this year, addressing “Christians and Muslims: Protecting Together the Places of Worship,” says, “For both Christians and Muslims, churches and mosques are spaces reserved for prayer, personal and communitarian alike. They are constructed and furnished in a way that favors silence, reflection and meditation. They are spaces where one can go deep in himself/herself, so favoring for God-experience in silence. A place of worship of any religion therefore is ‘a house of prayer’.”

This is an important perspective to bear in mind as a controversy erupts over the declaration of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that he intends to open the Hagia Sophia Museum to Muslim prayers in the wake of the Turkish high court decision that takes away its status as a museum, raising concerns over its status as a UNESCO world heritage site. Hagia Sophia was a Greek Orthodox Church that became a mosque after the Turkish conquest of Constantinople and then a museum under Kemal Ataturk. The fact that the Muslims had not destroyed the Christian murals allowed their restoration.

Erdoğan’s decision has sparked a lively debate on the “Sociology of Islam” listserv. Some have defended this move on the grounds that Turkey is a sovereign state and as such has the right to do whatever it pleases with state property. Others, like Sayyid Syeed of the Islamic Society of North America have objected that Islamic law itself requires respect for the places of worship of other religions, especially of the “People of the Book” citing Umar-al-Khattab’s scrupulous defense of the rights of Christians to the their churches in Jerusalem.

The mere fact that secular international law allows us to convert a museum into a mosque doesn’t mean we should do it. I am not the only one whom this controversy reminds of the incident in the Libyan teacher-turned freedom fighter Umar Mukhtar’s fight against the Italian fascists. When some of his troops wanted to kill the prisoners of war they had captured, Umar insisted there would be no killing of prisoners. When his men protested that Mussolini’s troops would surely have killed them had the battle gone the other way, Umar firmly responded, “They are not our teachers.” (And, no, I am not comparing exclusion of Christian worshipers from a mosque to murder of prisoners. I am saying that in freedom of religion no less than in the rules of war, the worshipers of the nation state are not our teachers.)

Hagia Sophia has been a church, a mosque, and a museum in its long history. We do not wish to see Turkey follow in the steps of Spain where at the Great Mosque at Cordoba, which has been originally been a church, one now sees a sign warning “Roman Catholic prayers only.” Rather than dwell on fine legal points (whether from secular law of the nation state or Muslim fiqh), let us seek a resolution facilitated by good will, magnanimity, and a common devotion to the Lord God Almighty.

Some have defended Erdoğan’s actions on the grounds that Hagia Sophia was the subject of a waqf established by Muhammad Fatih Sultan and that therefore Ataturk’s conversion of the site into a museum is a violation of the terms of the religious endowment. That Ataturk violated the terms of the waqf is beyond doubt, but the implication that restoring the right of Muslims to pray in this mosque prevents respectful tourists from visiting or Christians from praying within is flatly wrong and misrepresents Islam to the world.

President Erdoğan himself can turn this public relations disaster into a teaching moment about Islam. All he need do is unambiguously declare that his intention is to allow both Muslims and Christians to be allowed to pray in the museum (as both Muslims and Christians prayed in the Church of St. Vincent in Spain under Muslim rule and Muslims and Christians do to this day at the Great Mosque in Damascus). This would make it functionally both a church and a mosque even as it also remains a museum open to secular tourists that still want to admire a beautiful architectural achievement that is also a testimony to the faith of adherents of two great religions. It is surely a building such as those mentioned in the Qur’an of which Allah (swt) says, “Did not God check one set of people by means of another, there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of God is commemorated in abundant measure.” Let His name be commemorated there in abundant measure once again.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute
www.minaret.org

N.B: While I have attempted to reflect some of the points raised in the discussion of this issue on the Sociology of Islam listserv, I speak only for myself and am responsible for any shortcomings herein.

Black Liberty Matters

Tuesday, July 7th, 2020

With the murder of George Floyd, the demand for respect for the lives of black Americans has exploded into the streets. Yet, after two decades of imprisonment of Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin (f/k/a H. Rap Brown), the demand for the respect of the LIBERTY of black Americans remains shockingly mute. Is it that Americans value liberty less than life (Patrick Henry is turning over in his grave) or is it that a century and a half after passage of the 13th amendment abolishing slavery Americans are still loath to admit that liberty, no less than life, is right for black people as well as whites?

On July 1, 2020, the Islamic Circle of North America live-streamed a conversation between Imam Khalid Griggs and Imam Jamil’s son Kairi Al-Amin, Esq. on the story of Imam Jamil Al-Amin’s struggle and updating his situation. Kairi explained that his father has seen more clearly than most the necessity of a bridge between the youth and the elders of a community. Imam Khalid noted that Imam Jamil is an excellent example of the hadith that the Prophet (pbuh) said that the best before Islam will be the best in Islam once they understand the din. Jamil “was who he was before Islam, and just became a better version after he embraced Islam.”

Imam Khalid asked Kairi in his professional opinion as a lawyer if there is any precedent for someone having a lifetime gag order imposed after his conviction so he can never discuss the falsehood of his conviction. Kairi responded that there is no official gag order, but, rather, that any request for an interview has been routinely denied for twenty years. Even Mumia Abu-Jamal has a radio show. But knowing “the power of [Imam Jamil]’s words to move people” (when “they put the leader of the Aryan Nation in a cell next to him he took shahadah“) so after that they used solitary confinement and federal custody to prevent his words from reaching a public kept in darkness. It’s never been about the murder (of which a video of the actual murderer confessing now has definitively shown Imam Jamil to be innocent), Kairi says, but “about his influence.” If he has the power to convince the leader of the Aryan Nation to embrace Islam, what impact might his words have on a sleeping nation that had to wait for a video of a man being strangulated before they realized that black lives matter?

In 2002 Imam Jamil was convicted of killing a police officer two years earlier. Deemed too high profile to be held by state authorities, he was transferred to a federal “supermax” detention in 2007. In 2014 he was transferred to a federal medical center due to his deteriorating health under incarceration, and since 2018 he has been incarcerated in a federal penitentiary in Arizona. He should be released completely, not on humanitarian grounds, but on the grounds of his innocence.

Kairi reviewed all the evidence that demonstrates his father’s innocence. The strongest piece of evidence is that even before the trial ended another man confessed to the crime and continues to profess his guilt to this day. There are now 48,000 signatures on a petition for his release or for at least a new trial in which evidence in his defense would be admitted. You can contact the Fulton County district attorney’s office directly.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute
www.minaret.org

Getting Real About Israeli Annexation Plans

Tuesday, June 30th, 2020

The diversity of reactions to Netanyahu’s planned formal annexation all West Bank settlements have been fascinating. While disinterested parties, such as the EU, have generally been opposed to the proposal, not all Zionists favor it and not all Palestinians think it means a whole lot.

Christian Zionists love it for the same reasons some pragmatic Zionists hate it: because it will bring closer a horrible war that the Christian fundamentalists think is the fulfillment of a Biblical prophecy of an Armageddon in which non-converting Jews are killed. Dennis Ross and David Makovsky are concerned that the Netanyahu’s rashness will alienate the Arab states undoing “recent seismic shift that has taken place in Arab attitudes about Israel. Many of the region’s leaders now believe that, if the United States retreats from the Mideast, Israel is not only a necessary bulwark against the threats Arab states face but also a potentially useful ally. Unfortunately, the willingness of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to push annexation for his near-term political benefit could damage the emerging alignment between Israel and the Arab states. Arab leaders certainly won’t want to look as though they are even indirectly helping Israel take what they consider to be Palestinian territory.”

Naturally, anti-Zionist Jews such as Jewish Voice for Peace are alarmed that Israel’s de facto annexation is now to be practiced as in-your-face de jure Jewish supremacy. Not only are signs being raised that certain areas are off limits to Palestinians, but signs signifying areas under the Palestinian authority are coming down.

Also skeptical are pro-peace Zionists like J-Street (which bills itself as “the political home of pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans”). For them, annexation “would fundamentally betray the vision and democratic principles of Israel’s founders, severely imperil the US-Israel relationship and make it nearly impossible to maintain broad support for Israel in the US.”

The pragmatists and the peace-lovers are joined by even such a self-described “ardent Zionist” as Robert Satloff, for whom annexation “abandons a relatively secure and surprisingly durable status quo for no real reason. If the U.S. and Israeli governments can’t convince even me of the logic here, there is no hope they will convince others that annexation is anything but a domestic political maneuver fueled by the growing electoral power of Israel’s ideologically motivated settlement movement, devoid of strategic rationale.”

The Palestinians too are divided in the same ways. For some it crosses a red line and for others it is just Israel’s admission to the world that yes, all the accusations of brutality, apartheid, and colonization are true. For the latter group annexation is a step in the right direction that brings the insidious infection into the sunlight where international opinion shall finally have an opportunity to resolve to treat it.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute
www.minaret.org

U.S. Policy on Human Rights in the Middle East

Thursday, April 30th, 2020

[On November 21, 2019, the National Interest Foundation held program on “U.S. Policy on Human Rights in the Middle East.” These notes summarize my impression of highlights of the presentation and are not an attempted transcription.]

Opening Remarks by Congressman Gerry Connolly (D – Virginia), House Committee on Foreign Affairs

No American, no resident of America should feel threatened. Despite its contradictions, America was meant to be a place where one must feel free. Human rights abuses in Syria and Egypt are routine. We still don’t have justice for his constituent Jamal Kashoggi, whose criticisms of the Saudi government were moderate. The Saudis have lied at every step since his murder. The fifteen assassins were flown in on planes owned by the crown prince, and Saudi denials ring hollow.

Panel I: “Human Rights in the Middle East” Moderator: Kelley Beaucar Vlahos (The American Conservative)

Areej Al Sadhan (Human Rights Activist) is a Saudi/American dual citizen whose brother, a humanitarian aide worker for Red Crescent, had been held for twenty months by the secret police, brutally tortured, and denied any contact with his family for social media postings on human rights issues.

Matthew Hedges (Durham University, UK) spoke as a victim of a false charge and of forced medication at the hands of the UAE. Although the UAE was founded by Shaikh Zaid bin Sultan Al Nahyan in alignment with the West, his successors have turned authoritarian. They originally charged him with distributing secret information, but on demonstration that the information was open, they changed the charge to distributing sensitive information. His case is not unique: He met a man who had been detained without charge for two years. He has now been under detention for ten years and does not expect ever to be released. He believes that the persecutors now have new tools and are emboldened by the complete absence of an international reaction. He alleges that Abu Dhabi uses its seat on the NYU board to suppress criticism. Although the charges against him have not been made clear, the evidence was completely on his masters thesis and why it is part of an MI-6 report. People he had met had been picked up by various securities services and his family had to leave the area.

Amel Ahmed (Nala Films for HBO) was in Sana working as a journalist and she saw Yemenis take to the streets. America took no action regarding Ali Abdullāh Salih and the Saudis installed Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, who attempted to split Yemen into six disproportionate regions for the benefit of the Saudis. When the Houtis rebelled the Saudis declared Yemen a battleground in the fight against Shia regional influence. Twenty million of the twenty nine million residents are now suffering what the UN calls the worlds worst humanitarian crisis. Terrorist groups have been given American weapons and victims taken to black sites. Many do not realize that Saudis participated in the Arab Spring. One imam who urged demonstrators to respond to Saudi violence only with their voices has been executed. You cannot obtain justice for Kashoggi without demanding justice for the others who have been detained or driven underground for demanding the change that President Obama advocated.

Abdullah Alaoudh (Georgetown University) says that the same individuals who murdered Kashoggi are the ones waging war in Yemen, persecuting critics, and who are behind his fathers arrest, mistreatment, and secret trial, seeking a death sentence on bogus charges including “seeking to establish a constitutional monarchy” and “possession of banned books.” There is no due process. They expected a verdict on his father later that month. He believes the people who extra-judicially killed Kashoggi are capable of anything, including judicially killing his father.

Panel II: “U.S. Foreign Policy and Human Rights” Moderator: Bruce Fein (Fein & DelValle PLLC) asks, “Do we have the credibility to put human rights above crass national interests?”

Former Congressman Nick Rahall (D–WV) said that in his time in Congress he saw human rights become more and more of an issue. The U.S. was good about speaking up for human rights, except for the Israeli-Palestinian issue. We know the Gazans live in sewage conditions and the human rights of Palestinians are unrecognized. There is more debate about US policy in the Israeli Knesset than in the US Congress. He doesn’t say that the US could be a panacea, only that we have no right to claim any moral superiority. In regard to Saudi Arabia and “moderate” Arab allies, we let them get away with anything. We overlook a lot in the Saudi rivalry with Iran because we want them to ally with Israel.

Doug Bandow (Cato Institute) says human rights is a stepchild of US foreign policy even under the best of circumstances, and these are not the best of circumstances. In Egypt, thousands are yet detained under conditions far worse than they were under Mubarak. In Turkey, tens of thousands have lost jobs and/or are in detention. In Israel/Palestine, the State Department no longer views the settlements as illegal. We seem to sanction our adversaries over everything except human rights. The more insecure you make a country, the less likely they are to take risks involved in improving human rights. Of tools, the US has the bully pulpit, and the President should be able to employ high sanctimony, despite the role we have played in those problems. We have aid, military security guarantees, arms sales, and sanctions. Bandow would argue the US should disentangle itself and first do no harm. We should recognize that these countries will continue to trade with us. They will sell oil irrespective of our position on human rights. The mere statement of interest in the subject, especially by US civil society, is essential.

Mohamed Soltan (The Freedom Initiative) says that two months after he got out of prison, the US wanted a photo op to show it could engage with the other side. He met with Sec. Kerry and was baffled not only that he didn’t see the human side of things, but that recruitment in prisons leads to radicalization. Although Soltan’s presence at the program is living testimony to the Obama administration policy, the region is a hot mess from policy developed under a national security lens. On his way to a meeting with the Trump administration, he got a message about a woman from Lancaster, PA, arrested in Egypt and separated from her children because of a tweet. Understanding our leverage requires understanding how much these regimes depend on us for their legitimacy. He believes the Arab Spring is alive and will come back depending only on the US government being true to its values. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died in sectarian violence that was the consequence of our intervention. It doesn’t matter that it was not intended. Much of what we think are legitimate tasks for the world’s policeman has horrible consequences.

Sarah Leah Whitson (Human Rights Watch) encourages reflection on the absence of accountability in US foreign policy. It must grapple with the violation of human right for which we are responsible. The grave crimes committed by American military and intelligence personnel in Iraq have not been reckoned with. The US is currently responsible for the violations of human rights and international law, for example, in Yemen. It is a party to the conflict. She is happy Pompeo ended refueling support, but intelligence support continues, which has been so dumb as to result in bombing of schools, hospitals, and funeral homes. The US continues to provide support and cover for the continued occupation of the Palestinian Territories, and the murder of demonstrators at the Gaza border. All who claim to be foreign policy realists abandon their realism when it comes to Israel. Their challenge is to justify assistance to an apartheid state. Put aside the myth of nonintervention in Syria; Egypt after overthrowing Egypt’s only fairly elected government uses its weapons against its own people in Sinai as well as in its interior. She does not look to the US to fix human rights problems. Pompeo weeping with Iranian demonstrators while demonstrators in Gaza are cut down just doesn’t cut it. She wants the US to realize that while it can’t fix everything, it must stop ruining so much.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute
www.minaret.org

A Question on Racism

Monday, March 30th, 2020

[A reader made the following inquiry.]

Q. Please share with me Qur’an and Hadith verses and authoritative Islamic Commentary on Race/Racism, etc. (via .pdf or otherwise) demarcative of the limit beyond which The Deity requires absolutely no thought or action greater than mere disagreement with the clearest of wrongdoing in one’s own heart.

A. From the Qur’an:

“And among His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the variations in your languages and your colors: verily in that are Signs for those who know.” (30:22)

“O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).” (49:13)

From the hadith:

“All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black nor a black has any superiority over a white – except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood. Nothing shall be legitimate to a Muslim which belongs to a fellow Muslim unless it was given freely and willingly. Do not therefore do injustice to yourselves. Remember one day you will meet Allah and answer your deeds. So beware: do not stray from the path of righteousness after I am gone.” Farewell Pilgrimage Sermon

“Whosoever of you sees wrongdoing, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so [i.e., lacks the power], then [let criticize it] with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then he should detest it in his heart — and that is the weakest of faith.” [Muslim]

Finally, I commend this narrative: http://racisminislam.com/racist-statements-unacceptable.html.:

The Prophet (saws) used to talk to his companions, joke with them, and listen to their needs. He would correct any errors he saw them doing, especially when they were racial mistakes. Abu Hurairah said:
“Two people swore at each other once, and one of them insulted the other by ridiculing his mother. This reached the Prophet (saws), and he called the man and said: ‘Did you scoff at his mother?’ and he kept repeating it. The man said, ‘O Messenger of Allah (swt), ask Allah (swt) to forgive me.’ He said to him: ‘Raise your head and look about, you are not better than any individual regardless whether he is of a red or black skin color. No one is better than the other except through piety.’” (Ibn Rahawaih)

The Prophet (saws) would not stand for another to make fun of anyone else in his presence. Once, while his Companions got together in a gathering and the Prophet s had yet to come, Khalid B. Al-Walid, Abdurrahmann B. Auf, Bilal B. Abi Rabah, and Abu Dharr were among those in attendance. The only dark skinned companion present was Bilal the Abyssinian. Abu Dharr began speaking, and Bilal corrected him. Abu Dharr exclaimed out of anger, “Even you, O son of a black woman, try to correct me?”

Bilal got up, visibly upset at what was said, and said: “By Allah (swt), I will report you to the Prophet.” He went to him and informed him of what was said and the Prophet (saws) became very angry.

Abu Dharr rushed to meet the Prophet (saws) and said “Peace be upon you, O Prophet of Allah (swt).” He continued, “I am not sure if he responded to my greeting due to his extreme anger.” Then he said: “O Abu Dharr! Have you ridiculed him on account of his mother? Indeed you are a man in whom there remain traits of the pre-Islamic era!” Abu Dharr wept and said: “O Messenger of Allah (swt), ask Allah  (swt) to forgive me.” He left the Masjid weeping and when he saw Bilal, he put his head on the ground and said to Bilal, “O Bilal, I will not move from my position till you put your foot on my head. You are the honorable and I am the disgraced.” Bilal wept, and kissed the cheek of Abu Dharr and said: “A face that has prostrated to Allah  (swt) is not to be stepped on—rather, it is to be kissed.” (Bukhari)

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute
www.minaret.org

Nonviolent Resistance and Palestinian Self-Development

Monday, February 3rd, 2020

[On January 24, 2020, Ali Abu Awwad discussed his work to mobilize a movement of nonviolent resistance to the occupation in the Palestinian Territories at the Middle East Institute. These notes summarize my impression of highlights of the presentation and are not an attempted transcription. To see the entire program click here.]

Ali Abu Awwad: It was a long journey from being part of the problem to being part of the solution. I was born a refugee in the West Bank to a very political family. My mother was a principal in the PLO under Yasir Arafat and was arrested several times. I remember the second time the Israelis came to arrest her. I was fifteen and watched her being beaten. It was enough to drive me to into the streets to throw stones at Israeli soldiers. I was not a politician, not a fighter, just a kid who wanted his basic human rights and his identity, to be who I am as a free person. With my actions, thoughts, and dreams under the daily control of the military occupation, I needed no curriculum, no one to teach me, how to hate. The Israeli kids who have to hide in shelters for hours need no one to teach them how to hate the Palestinians.

When by mother was arrested in 1967, for the second time, I became more active. The fourth time, in 1990, I was also arrested and tortured as they tried to coerce me into giving information against my mother, which I refused to do. I was sentences to ten years in prison and my mother to seven and a half.

My dreams of travel and study, and my crazy dream of becoming a pilot, were crushed by that sentence. Yet, prison turned out to be an amazing educational experience. I learned English and Hebrew, my dignity was not taken away. I felt respect from the other prisoners and even from the Israeli guards. My mother and I engaged in a hunger strike of seventeen days to get to see one another. What forced the Israelis to recognize my right to see my mother? I realized I had been blind to the strongest weapon I could have: my humanity.

We were released under the Oslo process. The process ended in 2000 by a second, this time more militant, intifada. I was wounded by a settler and then my brother was killed. The loss of my brother was a loss that left me in dilemma. Only his return would be justice but that was not possible. I remembered reading in prison that Malcolm X said that “justice is just us,” but I couldn’t understand what he meant. Then we got a phone call from a rabbi who said some Israelis who had lost people and wanted to meet. When we met with them and saw the tears of these Jewish people, I realized we were not the only victims on earth. Yet, still, though we were equal in sharing what is under the ground, we were not equal above the ground. Reconciliation requires sharing values.The struggle is more than just sharing hummus with Israelis.

I became a Palestinian spokesperson. My heart was changing, but not my life conditions. I was meeting with lefties but not with the right wing. It is insufficient for those who do not engage in violence to say leave us alone. They must share in the task of dealing with those who are violent. My biggest dream is a National Palestinian Non-Violent movement. The peace movement has failed in changing living conditions or the political situation. Retired politicians become part of the peace industry yet there is no peace. When we send our kids to one week summer camps and then back to refugee camps they become more traumatized. We must do that, but we cannot do just that.

Nonviolence is not about “normalization” and giving up your rights. The majority of Palestinians who hear me speak want to join the Taghyeer (Change) movement. After six month with zero budget, 3,500 people came to our program in Jericho, community leaders, not politicians, are the key. Politicians manage the conflict on the ground but leaders invest in the future.

Stop saying, “Educate women about their rights.” They know their rights. Stop saying you will empower them, they are powerful. I know, I am the son of one of these powerful women. What they want is respect. Instead we educate men about women’s rights. The new generation is not political but social. The one who brings a knife into a crowd comes not just to kill but to die. We listen to young people rather than talk to them and help them to implement their ideas. They are peaceful, but desperate. For them nonviolence is not a tactic or a strategy; it is who they are. You don’t fix a broken car by changing the driver. We have no hate for anyone. We are for ourselves and against no one. We managed to get 42 organizations to sign the charter. It is time to partner, not to lead.

The village of Jubbet al-Dhib is a great example of nonviolence. They had no water, no electricity, but the reached out to an Israeli group that provides solar systems and now they have electricity. Even after the system was confiscated by the Israelis, they hired lawyers and got the system back plus water and other resources. J Street provided them a clinic and Taghyeer is providing a guest house. We want to create the first Palestinian nonviolent college. I know that peace requires a high price in compromise and healing but it is much cheaper than the price of conflict. I am not here to compete as to who has suffered more. That competition solves nothing. 

[In response to a question accusing Palestinians of harboring a jihadist ideology rooted in Islam]: Whether you believe in God or not is irrelevant to whether you are a terrorist or a peacemaker. As a Muslim I can tell you my book orders me if they incline to peace you must incline to peace, yet others can read the book differently. The same is true of Judaism–and believe me I have the best teachers on Judaism. I believe politicians should be forced to create a system in which all can practice there religion and identity in peace. My problem is not with Jews living in Hebron but with the occupation. I am not the best person to speak about religion, but I believe the Creator put all these different religions in one land for a reason. My Qur’an says to know those who differ from you (not to despise them). If there is another Qur’an, I don’t know it. 

[In response to a question about torture in prison]: You can fight behavior, but you cannot fight identity. If we change behavior, we can secure identity. If I am not a citizen and I am not a fighter who the hell am I?

[In response to a question about how to get international support for the Palestinians]: Palestinians today feel abandoned by both the international community and their own leaders. We should teach the world of humanity and nonviolent struggle. If you lose the support of the government, get the support of the people. Political leaders get their support from the political system, leaders get their support from the people. 

[In response to a question about outreach to the Palestinian diaspora]: We are in the first stage to create unity and leadership. We are not a political party. Our conflict is not like the British in India because the Jews believe they have a connection to the land; so we need to come up with our own nonviolent approach. 

[In response to a question about a role for Palestinian nonviolent pioneer Mubarak Awad in the proposed Nonviolent University]: Mubarak Awad was deported by Israel and we have worked with him. There are some people who are Non-Violent with hate, and we are working with Mubarak to create a different model.

[In response to a question about working with other groups]:There are 32,000 nonprofits in Israel and 4,000 in Palestine. When I formed Taghyeer, we invited ten Israeli and ten Palestinian organizations. Eight of the Palestinian organizations are active in the movements but none of the Israeli organizations were able to work together. Taghyeer is not a organization. It is a movement.

[In response to a question as to the prominence of Taghyeer in the Palestinian psyche]: The first things organizations do is bring in media to spread the message. We do not. We focus on the community leaders. As we grow there may be a time when we are in danger, but it won’t matter because the ideas and the movement will be established no matter what happens to the individuals in the movement. I hate it when people call me the Palestinian Mandella. In Palestine it doesn’t work like this. If you call me the Palestinian Mandela, people will talk to me. Our culture is different. There is a joke about Arafat going to India where he was asked to reach out to a Palestinian who had joined a movement where million people worshiped a man as their god. When that man died, they elected the Palestinian to be their new god. When Arafat’s people asked the Palestinian to meet Arafat he refused, so Arafat went to him, saying, ” I am Yasir Arafat. How dare you not come to me?” The guy replied, “I am a god to six million people!” Arafat replied, “I am a god to eleven million gods like you.”

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute
www.minaret.org

Demolishing Democracy: How Annexationism Is Bulldozing Israeli Institutions

Friday, January 31st, 2020

[On January 27, 2020, just before the release of the Kushner Plan, J Street’s Debra Shushan interviewed former IDF (Isrtaeli Defense Forces) commander Yehuda Shaul, founder of the Breaking the Silence movement aimed at facilitating IDF veteran’s confronting and speaking about the true nature of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. This heavily condensed transcript of Shaul’s presentation provides essential highlights of his talk and answers to questions from the audience. The entire program may be viewed here.]

I grew up in what you would call the political right in Israel. I did my high school in a settlement. I joined the IDF and served the typical three years. I was an infantry soldier and commander. Out of two years [in the field] I was fourteen months in Hebron. I started having questions about things we were doing, but you are a soldier, and there is no real time for a thousand questions. The most important thing is this bond of comradeship of the combat unit. It doesn’t really matter what you think politically or morally. That’s the way the military works.

It was only towards the end of my service [I thought about the world around me from the perspective of a civilian rather than the perspective of a combat soldier. I could no longer justify most of the actions I took part in. The ways I had justified doing what we were doing stopped making sense. That’s when I felt I could not go through life without doing something about it. I turned to my comrades [and] found that we all felt the same. That’s how Breaking the Silence was born. [We realized that] people back home did not know what we were doing, [did not understand] what “doing the job” means.

[On my leaving the service in 2004] we opened a photo and video exhibition in Tel Aviv … and found ourselves in a hell of a huge mess. It was the first time a group of veterans organized themselves in this way. We were invited to present the exhibition in the Israeli Knesset–something that is unthinkable today–[and were joined by others from other units]. Here we are, more that 1,200 men and women who served.

The biggest lie in Israeli politics [is] the perception that everybody serves … but the truth is that not everybody serves. Put aside Palestinian Israelis, ultra-Orthodox, religious women, health issues, mental health, 40% of those who are supposed to be called do not serve. The second thing is that the majority of the army is not in combat. Hundreds of thousands [have served] in combat positions from ’67 to today, but it is much less than we think. Add to that the fact that soldiers don’t talk for various reasons [including fear of being judged]. The most important thing is that silence is a human epidemic. It’s very easy to look through a window at a different army, far from home, as we’re doing here, as humans putting on guns and helmets and becoming monsters. For an Israeli father or mother to accept that this is what we do is to accept that your son, your daughter, who is there now or who was there, your husband who was there or is in reserve duty, because it doesn’t end with the draft, this is your reality; so it just makes sense that the walls of silence would be higher.

When you think of occupation, you probably have an image of a soldier with a machine gun standing at post or a checkpoint but that is actually not military occupation. Military occupation means that everything you think of as government is military. Planning, judiciary–the Palestinians are under complete rule by the Israeli army.

If I look at all the testimonies of the occupation, I would divide them into three categories: [1] cases of soldiers breaking the rules of engagement: beating up detainees, looting. There is no dispute that these are immoral, illegal, problematic, wrong. Here the only dispute is how common they are. We argue they are more common than the official side would want you to believe. [2] Cases of illegal, immoral orders [from higher up].  One example from the second intifada was an order for the execution of everyone at a Palestinian police checkpoint; fifteen Palestinian policemen were killed, executed. [3] Official army tactics that are not necessarily illegal but definitely immoral. Example: What we call in the military, “making our presence felt.”  You break into a random house, wake up the family, search the place, noisily go back into the street and break into another house to create a sense or feeling of being chased or of being pursued in the Palestinian population. This is a tactic because the only way to rule a people forever is to make them feel fear.

[To understand Israeli politics and annexationism you must understand that] I don’t believe we have an Israeli right, center, left. The occupation is not a right-wing project but an Israeli project. I don’t care if you are neoliberal or a socialist, [I care] only what do you think about our relationship to the Palestinians. I divide the Israeli political sphere into four camps. The driving principle of the annexation camp is that all the land between the river and the sea needs to be formally ours. They want to copy the South African model of apartheid. A second camp is the control camp, driven by the national security concept, that wants Palestinians under direct Israeli control. The most progressive in the camp wing wants [Palestinian] state-minus, not a [truly sovereign] state; the conservative wing wants municipality-minus, more or less. For Netanyahu it is about population swap rather than land swap. The third camp is where I am, the equality camp in which equality is the driving factor. Some want two states and some a single secular democracy. The fourth camp wants a pure clean ethnic state from which all Palestinians must be evicted.

This is Israeli politics. Deal with it. For 52 years politics has been dominated by the clash between the annexation camp and the control camp. The control camp usually dominates Israeli politics. What people call the drift of Israel to right is the complete eradication of the equality camp from the political sphere. Labor did not mention occupation once on the recent election. A majority of the cabinet favors annexation without granting rights. The control camp is seriously challenged by the annexation camp for the first time.

I say 85% of the [reason for the change is Donald] Trump. We are on a dangerous road. Annexing only the settlement blocks [is the annexation camp’s worst nightmare]. Ganz is the priest of the control camp. [Once the annexation takes place and apartheid is formalized the pretense that one can distinguish between Israel and occupation becomes impossible.] 

I fear [that rather than openly call for annexation, which would be easy to oppose, the Kushner plan will call what is really annexation, a Palestinian] State giving to Palestinians fragments of fragments of the West Bank. They’ll say “two states.” Four “Trump parameters” are very clear: (1) permanence of settlements; [under] that condition there is no Palestinian state; (2) permanent security control of Israel from the river to the sea. That means permanent occupation; (3) trying to sell us the status quo, the reality on the ground, as the normalized solution; (4) not looking at Palestinians as a nation, as a group of people that have rights, political rights, self-determination, etc., just like us Israeli Jews.

This is an attempt to destroy the two state paradigm. A strong rejection is a necessity from the [U.S.] Democrats, from the E.U., from the Arab states, from progressives in Israel, We need to say very loud, “I believe in the rights of Jews to self determination, but I refuse to strip my Palestinian neighbors of the exact same right. That is undermining my [own] legitimacy. That is unacceptable. Palestinians should have everything we aspire to ourselves.

Israel controls both sides of the Green Line as one state but two regimes, a nominal democracy on one side and a military occupation on the other, with the extension of Israeli law to settlers in the occupied territory (a Chinese wall). That was the reality up to a few years ago. Now they are dismantling the Chinese wall brick brick by brick, annexation by a million cuts. Israeli laws and regulation to the occupied territories. Sovereignty is gradually extended until we are in a one-state [discriminatory] regime. We call Abu Mazin a president but he cannot drive from Ramallah to Nablus without a permit from nineteen-and-a-half-year-old officer in the civil administration of Israel. The level of democracy in Israel will go down to ten or five percent. The assault on democracy in Israel is about preparing Israeli institutions for the annexation. An independent judiciary won’t swallow it, an independent civil society will criticize it, an academia with free expression and thought is not good [for it], free media is not good [for it, etc.]. In order to formalize apartheid, it is not enough to crush Palestinians, you must transform Israel. About a year and a half ago the Israeli parliament passed the “Breaking the Silence Law” giving the Minister of Education the right to create a blacklist of individuals and organizations banned from taking part in educational activities in schools or on school premises. In February 2017 [on orders from] the highest level, physical attacks, cyberattacks, sending moles under cover to try to spread paranoia and mistrust in the ranks, using the legal system to try to shut us down. For Palestinians in the occupied territories it way worse, Visiting Theresa May in London Netanyahu told the press “I’ve asked the Prime Minister to stop funding Breaking the Silence and other subversive organizations.” Great Britain does not fund us. This is not the beginning of the occupation bleeding into Israel. We are just seeing the consequences now.

We need to stop talking about interests and politics and start talking about values. Netanyahu has a vision. If we don’t have a spine and care about the direction of the wind rather than what we believe we shall lose. No, we have a clear idea. I want to live in a state of Israel which is a democratic country where everyone is equal under the law. I want to be a soldier in a military of defense and not of oppression and occupation. Painting every criticism of Israeli policy as antisemitism is a means of exporting [the war over the annexation project] outside of Israel. Then we are not only taking over our democracy, but your democracy. For the settlers their political allies here are ideological. Our allies here have been talking but not doing, not implementing. We have not seen our allies pursuing an end of occupation. I want you not to be shy and apologetic in taking a principled position against occupation.

There is no equality camp without everyone who believes in equality. More Palestinians believe in equality than Israeli Jews because privileged people are loathe to give up their privileges. There is no equality camp without Palestinian Israelis. Trying to do that is like a civil rights movement in America without African-Americans. To change the direction of the country, we also need international actors. 

There are several [reasons why more soldiers won’t] break the silence. Part of it is resources, but there are different levels of silence one must break. First is standing in front of a mirror and understanding what we have done as individuals. Any army in the world that gets these orders will behave like the IDF if not worse. There is no moral way of carrying out an immoral mission. 

Will ending the occupation bring peace? I don’t know. What I do know is that rockets from Gaza didn’t start in 2005. The regular talking points “we left Gaza” [are hollow]. A child born in Gaza now will get their ID number from computers in the Israeli army. Is that called “We left Gaza?” Another thing I know is that the only way I would allow you to argue that what we are doing there is about security is if tomorrow afternoon all the settlers are in buses coming back to Israel, and we leave the army there. As long as we continue to build and expand [settlements] what we are telling Palestinians, us, and the world is that this is not security; this is a colonial project. My older brother served in an eighteen-year occupation of south Lebanon. We didn’t have settlements (although we tried). I will still argue to end the occupation, but at least then it will be an honest conversation about [defense]. I am not a pacifist, but the kind of country I would be willing to kill and die for would not be an occupying power. In the war for independence 1% of the Jewish population died and we didn’t blink an eye. 

Israel is my home and no have no choice but to fight until we prevail. I don’t believe it is hopeless. I believe we didn’t try enough, and it takes time. There is a saying that I’ll freely translate, “If it’s not for you to finish the job, that doesn’t mean you should take time off.” The driving force has to be ending what we see as wrong.

[Yehuda Shaul’s prersentation and answers as transcribed, condensed, and edited by Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D., Minaret of Freedom Institute]

Impeachment: Republicans Hate to See Trump Treated Like an African, Latino, or Muslim American

Monday, December 30th, 2019

Democrats say that Republicans focus on the process of the Trump impeachment because they are unable to defend him on the merits. Maybe. But neither major party seems to care about the fact that the procedural weaknesses of the impeachment process are the same challenges faced by blacks, Latinos, and Muslims every day by the grand jury system.

The impeachment process is the equivalent of a grand jury hearing.  The poor people who are indicted by grand juries also get to call no witnesses and their attorneys are denied access to the grand jury room. An article in the Cornell Law Review describes the grand jury process this way:

“By traditional trial standards, a grand jury is allowed to consider a surprising, even shocking, mix of evidence. The prosecutor is not required to inform the grand jury of evidence that favors the suspect, even if that evidence is exculpatory. Jurors are allowed to consider hearsay, illegally obtained evidence, tips, rumors, or their own knowledge of the alleged crime. The Rules of Evidence do not apply, so the prosecutor can ask leading questions and pursue matters that would be considered irrelevant if presented at trial. The decision of which evidence to present is also in the prosecutor’s hands: the suspect has no right to testify in his own defense, and if he does testify, is not allowed to bring counsel with him into the grand jury room. The suspect may not put on contrary evidence, is not given access to the testimony of his accusers until the trial begins, and indeed, may not even be told he is being investigated.  The result of these lax evidentiary standards, when combined with the prosecutor’s discretion over the presentation of the evidence, is that grand jurors hear only what the prosecution wants them to hear — the most inculpatory version of the facts possible, regardless of whether that version is based on evidence that will be considered at trial.”–Andrew D. Leipold, Why Grand Juries Do Not (and Cannot) Protect the Accused , 80 Cornell L. Rev. 260 (1995). http://scholarship.law.cornell.edu/clr/vol80/iss2/10.

The process is even harsher than impeachment. Whereas some of the committee hearings were criticized by Republicans for being “secret” in that not all Republican representatives were invited to the hearings, the entire grand jury process is secret, whereas the deliberations and votes of the House were broadcast on live television.

To be fair, both the impeachment and grand jury processes are meant to be preliminary screenings and not trials. They are only meant to require that some shred of a case can be made against a defendant before an actual trial begins. I here take no side on whether they serve that job well or poorly.  I only ask where were the critics of the process used against Trump when the harsher version was used against Sami Al-Arian? Where are they as it is used right now against countless other Muslims, Latinos, Afro-Americans, and other disadvantaged groups?

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute
www.minaret.org

Islam and African Americans

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2019

[A student interviewed me on Islam in the African-American community. Here are his questions and my responses.]

Q. Who are some African American Muslims that you’ve heard of, what did you learn.

A. Warith Deen Mohammed (one of the handful of powerful people in history to voluntarily give up power for the sake of his people), Hajj Malik El-Shabazz ([a/k/a Malcolm X] a figure of such charisma and integrity that people of radically different backgrounds and views seek to co-opt his legend), Hisham Tawfiq (an actor whose authentic articulation of Islam is so compelling that the non-Muslim creators of “The Blacklist” incorporated the backstory he developed for what was originally intended to be an unidentified body guard of no particular religion into a Sudanese Muslim refugee character that was so compelling it became a part of the story so popular that fans are calling for a spin-off centered on him), Omar Ibn Said (the slave whose “autobiographical manuscript has been translated from its original Arabic and housed at the Library of Congress, where it ‘annihilates’ the conventional narrative of African slaves as uneducated and uncultured”), Muhammad Ali (at one time the most popular athlete in the world, and forever to be remembered for courageously standing up to the American War machine). There are way too many others to mention, but I will mention the chief case manager at the Islamic-American Zakat Foundation who is also Treasurer of our Masjid, and my friend Br. Yusef Amin (who not only evaluates the applications for assistance and provides them with practical advise for attaining self-sufficiency, but counsels them spiritually with sensitive Islamic guidance.

Q. Who are some people who have influence you in a good way, what did they do?

A. Warith Deen Mohammed was a member of the board of advisers for the non-profit think tank I founded (Minaret of Freedom Institute) and spoke on the Importance of Liberty to Muslims at our fourth annual dinner.

Q. What teachings of Islam resonate with you most and why?

A. Above all, that there is NOTHING AT ALL worthy of worship except the Creator of all things who is not only the God of Abraham but also the Lord of all the worlds. After that, its corollaries that the rule of law applies equally to all and that aggression against anyone is prohibited.

Q. Can you speak to why many African American Muslims who grew up in poverty converted to Islam?

A. There are multiple reasons.  The two that I think are most pronounced are: (1) the realization that they had been stripped of their historical identity and a reversion (rather than conversion) to Islam is an important step in reclaiming that identity and (2) a desire to take pride in the spirituality of their culture  while at the same time embracing and promoting the  intellectuality and rationality that was actually part of their heritage as well, but of which they had been deprived by the stereotypes imposed upon, and the discrimination against, them.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute
www.minaret.org